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    From the Notebooks
    July 21, 2020

    20th Century Existentialism

    Four subjects that were wildly popular in the 20th century:

    Zen arose when Mahayana Buddhism merged with Taoism. Buddhism is steeped in a thing called “monism,” which teaches that all things are one. Individual things don’t exist; individual classes of things don’t exist. There is, in other words, no essence at all. In this, Zen might be the most radical form of existentialism. Its techniques—whether quiet meditation or sudden enlightenment or koans—are all designed to get its practitioners beyond “subject-object” . . . beyond the separateness of all things and beyond all essence.

    Jack Kerouac dripped Buddhism. He practiced dhyana, Buddhist meditation. He at times took vows to lead a Buddhist life. In one vow, he promised to limit his sexual activity to masturbation (apparently his idea of austerity), another time he vowed to eat only one meal per day and to write about nothing but Buddhism. He at times exclaimed, “I am Buddha,” and once asked the modern Zen master D.T. Suzuki if he could spend the rest of his life with him. His On the Road is a portrait of a young man with zero concerns about essence-filled societal conventions.

    J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye punches and weaves through everyday banalities that most people embrace. He disdains the ballyhooed elite prep school he attends; he thinks little of money; he is nauseated by the forms of entertainment most people find enjoyable. He intuitively sees the shallowness of the things that are the cheap fodder of existence for most people. Holden is merely a watered-down, less radical, version of Mersault. Both are existentialist characters that pull away from a society that is filled with essences, accidents, and definitions . . . things that Holden finds confining and Mersault doesn’t even condescend to acknowledge. Salinger would expand this theme in Franny and Zooey.

    The movie Forrest Gump is a 142-minute lesson in how a man with an IQ of 75 can make it in a world . . . if he is an existentialist. Intelligence is needed to navigate the world of essence and definitions: to be clever, to manipulate, to plan, to scheme. None of that is for Forrest. He simply exists. He never even tries to marry or win over his beloved Jenny, but rather, simply accepts her as his “all,” with no reference to himself.

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    CSL

    Meilaender’s in the House

    Gilbert Meilaender was recently featured on Mars Hill Audio. I haven’t listened to the interview yet, but I will. I honestly didn’t even know Meilaender was still “in the game,” so to speak. He wrote, in my opinion, the finest book on C.S. Lewis’ writings ever (and I’ve read a lot of such books): The Taste for the Other. The Social and Ethical Thought of C.S. Lewis.

    Copyright: 1978!

    I hope I can be forgiven for thinking Mr. Meilaender might not be active still. He must’ve been impressively young to write a masterpiece like he did with Taste.

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    Miscellany
    July 19, 2020

    Uncut Crap

    Worst. Movie. Ever. Uncut Gems. Actually, what I should say is, “Worst. Movie. Ever. That. Everyone. Is. Praising.”

    I’ve heard this movie praised on podcasts. I’ve heard it praised in private conversations. It has a 7.4 rating on IMDB and 92% of critics like it, according to Rotten Tomatoes. We tried watching it Saturday night. Ages in our home audience ranged from Tess (15) to me (54). Three males; two females. After an hour, Michael (21) said, “Is nobody else enjoying this either?” I sighed relief and we all agreed to watch Airplane! (1980) instead.

    The movie is, literally, exhausting. It starts with dialogue that you can’t hear because the intro music is way too loud. The movie score itself is incredibly annoying. And the movie consists almost entirely of Jews and blacks yelling non-stop, with a disjointed plot line that exists but is really hard to follow. After we were done, I read the story synopsis online (with spoilers, since there is zero chance I’ll ever finish it), and was like, “Oh, that’s what was happening. Man, this movie sucked more than I thought.”

    Anyway, don’t believe the hype. If you have a high tolerance for dysfunctional scenes, music, dialogue, and life, this movie might be for you, but otherwise? Read a book instead.

    Adam Sandler’s performance, btw, was good, as far as I could tell. I have no quibble with his first foray into drama.

    And if I had to guess, that’s one reason people are praising the movie. They were suspect that Sandler could pull off a serious acting role, so when he did, they were so pleasantly surprised, they gave it good ratings.

    That, anyway, is the only justification I can see for the high marks.

    The picture in today’s post is John Henry Newman’s library at the Oratory in Birmingham. I love pics of stately libraries. When coupled with a saint? The best. This picture will (literally?) grace TDE posts occasionally from this point forward.

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    Developing a Sense for History

    BYCU
    July 17, 2020

    Reasons to Drink

    I’ll drink to that: San Buenaventura has been declared a minor basilica. It’s a lovely place. We stopped there last year during our spring break trip up Highway One.

    Which I’ll also drink to: Highway One. My son, Jack, and his new bride are honeymooning along Highway One. They had planned on Hawaii (me: gag), but due to its staunch lockdown, opted for Highway One instead (me: yes!). Based on their texts, they’re having a splendid time. California is in lockdown, but a few places are open and so are the iconic views of the Pacific Ocean. For my money, if the lockdown in California means traffic is reduced, it’s a great trade-off: fewer restaurants for fewer cars.

    I’ll also drink to TDE numbers: They’ve doubled over the past three months. Since I resumed daily posting, the numbers have steadily increased, but really spiked in June, nearly doubling the March figures.

    Of course, we need no reason to drink. As Albert Jay Nock pointed out when ridiculing Prohibition, alcohol in nature flows almost as freely as water. Its consumption is as natural as bathing . . . and does much the same thing: cleanses us from the filth of everyday life.

    I plan on doing some bathing this evening.

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    Name Change
    July 16, 2020

    Virtue Signalling, Episode 3,477,011

    The Navajo Nation has an idea for the DC Redskins: “We strongly encourage the NFL Washington organization to rename their team in such a way that truly honors and respects the First Americans of this country. Renaming the team ‘Code Talkers’ to honor the Navajo Code Talkers, and other tribal nations who used their sacred language to help win World War II, would set the team on a path to restoring its reputation and correcting the historical misrepresentation of Indigenous peoples.” Link.

    I like the sentiment, especially the back-handed sentiment it delivers to the PC crowd, but Code Talkers? That just doesn’t have “the ring” you’d expect from a top NFL team.

    But then again, the Washington Redskins haven’t been a top NFL team in many years, though a tough name is, of course, irrelevant to a franchise’s success. There are very few animals as tough as the lions and, well . . . it’s been a long half century for me as a fan.

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    Current Events
    July 15, 2020

    The Senate and the Covid

    Trump ally Tommy Tuberville wins big in the Republican primary. I gotta believe he beats Doug Jones in November. Trump also appears to be rallying a bit. The MSM better crank up the negative COVID reporting even more.

    I’ve never been a COVID denier, but man, when you see articles like this, where Florida hospitals in urban areas are completely fabricating the COVID positive test results, combined with no reporting about the plummeting COVID death rates (but maybe they’re not plummeting . . . see this piece), lies told in the early stages of this debacle, and metrics like the one below, combined with the maniacal attempt by the MSM to bring Trump down and the fact that November 2020 looms just months away, you gotta wonder.

    Like I told one of my best friends, a real decent public official who is very cautious about COVID and keeps informed, there’s just “something wrong” about the information. One-sided? Incomplete? Exaggerated? Fabricated? I’m not sure. I just know there’s something wrong with the information being provided to us.

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    Essay
    July 14, 2020

    Read Free

    You wouldn’t think it to see me, but I’m a lusty man. As of this writing, I am seeing five highly attractive companions, and at least ten more are begging for my attention. In the past few years, I have dumped at least a score of escorts.

    I started seeing every one of them, incidentally, with the good intention of taking the relationship all the way but lost interest or found myself wooed away by other prey.

    Of the five currently in my arms, I’m thinking Percy is most likely to go all the way.

    Walker Percy, that is.

    I am, after all, talking about books. I am currently reading Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins; an anthology of Josef Pieper’s philosophy; Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America; and two academic books, one on psychology and one on economics.

    And the books I’ve dumped? They include Robert Graves’ Good-bye to All That, Flannery O’Connor’s The Habit of Being, Adams’ The Education of Henry Adams, Alberto Manguel’s A History of Reading (there’s irony in that incompletion), Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery, Russell Kirk’s Eliot and His Age. There are many more, including some Aristotle and some Shakespeare.

    They sit on the shelves, used and abused and dumped, with underlining in the first half and the hideous mark of rejection—the bookmark—sticking up from the middle. It pains me to walk by them. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned? Oh, what those fine books would say about being rejected and shelved by a nitwit like me, similar to a gorgeous model getting dumped by a bald fat man.

    Read the rest of this entry »

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    Miscellany
    July 12, 2020

    Wedding and Food

    Whew. Son’s wedding Saturday. It was an incredibly busy three days, but it’s over and everyone had a great time. The weather cooperated, their friends showed up, alarming amounts of alcohol were consumed. We celebrated until we couldn’t celebrate anymore and then celebrated some more.

    They’re now honeymooning in California. God bless ’em. They’re a great young couple. Just 24 and 21 years old. White and Mexican, fiercely Catholic, bracing for life. I hope we got them off to a good start.

    I don’t consider myself particularly learned, much less an expert, in any era of history, but if I had to pick a time period where I have the greatest level of knowledge compared to the average guy, I’d pick the early Middle Ages, but even I had never heard about the catastrophic year of 536: “The year began with an inexplicable, dense fog that stretched across the world which plunged Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia into darkness 24 hours a day, for nearly 2 years. Consequently, global temperatures plummeted which resulted in the coldest decade in over 2,000 years. Famine was rampant and crops failed all across Europe, Africa and Asia. Unfortunately, 536 AD seemed to only be a prelude to further misery. This period of extreme cold and starvation caused economic disaster in Europe and in 541 A.D. an outbreak of bubonic plague further led to the death of nearly 100 million people and almost half of the Byzantine Empire.”

    Historians now know a volcanic eruption in Iceland caused the fog problem, but in 536, people apparently had no idea what happened.

    Apparently, refrigerators with free food are popping up around New York City, combating “food insecurity” in the wake of COVID. Apples, lettuce, spinach, potatoes, eggs. Stuff like that. But do people who can’t afford food eat stuff like that? I thought they didn’t. I mean, why else allow food stamps to be used for fountain Mountain Dew, chips, and energy drinks? Oh, that’s right: The junk food lobby in DC is pretty big. The National Association of Convenience Stores alone spends $2-4 million a year on federal lobbying efforts.

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    BYCU
    July 10, 2020

    Wedding Neareth

    Well, it’s party time. My son’s 400-person indoor reception has been moved outdoors to my backyard, with social distancing measures put in place. Not only are numbers slashed almost in half, but there will be two separate reception areas to allow greater spread. There is also a space for those who want to get close to the action but keep distance: by going into a cleared-out area of the garden, they can be ten feet from the main reception area but stay behind a (largely) invisible deer fence, thereby thwarting the folks who just don’t “get” social distancing. Drinks will also be available at three locations, and I have offered to shoot any close-talkers who show up.

    The beer offerings: Modelo Negra (for the Mexican guests), Oberon (for all guests), and Miller Lite (for the guests who don’t like beer). There will also be copious amounts of tequila, vodka, and gin, as well as small amounts of bourbon and wine.

    I’m told we won’t be allowed to return the beer kegs due to Michigan Executive Order. I’m also told that there’s a keg shortage as a result. That wasn’t my experience. I still have the three kegs I ordered when I thought we were having 400 guests (sigh/smile).

    Well, that’s it for today. I gotta run . . . and run and run. Please pray for my son and new daughter-in-law; please pray for a happy weekend. It’s been a long and difficult haul these past two weeks. It’s time for something to go right.

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    July 9, 2020

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    From the Notebooks

    Thales

    He was born in 624 BC: just after Homer wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey and right before Judah would fall to the Babylonia in 589 BC to start the Babylonian Exile. It was the time of the great Athenian lawgiver, Solon, who, with Thales, is one of the Seven Ancient Sages, or Gnomics, of Greece. (The others: Pittacus of Mytilene, Bias of Priene, Chilon of Sparta, Cleobulus, Periander of Corinth.)

    Aristotle established that Thales was the first real philosopher. He looked at the world, saw that all things change and that one body becomes another, and concluded there must be one single substance that underlies all things. This thing was water. All things, to Thales, were water. It’s materialistic monism. All things consist of one (the monism part) material substance (the materialistic part).

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