The wisdom of thugs

Mentioning The Catcher in the Rye is sort of like putting on high-end polarized glasses – it clarifies and contrasts. I knew a kid in middle school, for example, that really identified with Holden Caulfield.

* No, not me. And no, not everyone does. Even if we all rebel in some fashion, and even if some of us act that insufferably, not everyone thinks that he’s an example, much less a brave hero of sorts. In fact it’s an open question whether Salinger himself thought much of Holden, or if he wrote him in order to hold him up for ridicule in comparison to his younger and far-more-competent sister.

I’m thinking of this in light of Catcher’s inclusion in one of those “have you really read it?” lists that goes around the Web occasionally. (For the record, Catcher is one of the eleven books out of the twenty that I have read.) It’s also something of kismet since the Wil Wheaton flapdoodle about his “Hillary’s Harpies” tweet and subsequent cringing obeisance before crybully mob. What happened to Wheaton is actually a lot like what happened to Caulfield in his physical confrontations… which is depressing, because a Holden Caulfield who never grows up is truly sad to contemplate.

That all brings us here, and to this comment by e-migo Nate regarding bullies. Now, they’re bad, mind you. And bullies who never outgrow it are just as depressing as Holdens who never do. They become quite dangerous – in fact, the bullies and the Holdens grow in many ways to resemble each other. But when they come into conflict, well… as they used to say on the nature shows, “Sadly, there can only be one outcome.”

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Concerning recent events in music

One could do a lot worse than Dale Griffin, Glenn Frey, and Lemmy Kilmister in a band fronted by David Bowie.

It would be an extremely bizarre band, to be sure, but they’d be able to play.

They don’t really have a bassist, though. Hm. Guess that you could stretch the criteria a little bit and add Chris Squire to the lineup. Strange to think that it’s already been nearly six months since his passing.

Faces come out of the rain

You can’t base anything on trailers and publicity photos, really, but at the very least, they seem to be getting the look of it right. It has people looking forward to the movie.

I sure hope the final product is as good-looking as the appearance of it. After all, Peter Jackson set the Hobbit movies in the same lush world he helped to craft for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and that worked about as well as a concrete parachute.

Meanwhile, what a ride for Benedict Cumberbatch. Right now he is as sure a guarantee of customer anticipation as anything else in the entertainment business – hearing him attached to a project is a surefire way to get fandom squealing and casual moviegoers to say, “Hm, that sounds interesting, I may give it a chance.”

(On a tangential note – I would love for the Dr. Strange movie to have a scene with Fin Fang Foom, just so a movie dragon could have a conversation with a man who provided the voice for a movie dragon.)

His Sherlock is generally terrific, and the shooting schedule allows him to take on all sorts of other projects. Such is the quality of his work that his star remains undimmed despite Into Darkness’ many flaws and the Hobbit films’ gluttonous rot and bloat. In fact, the latest is that Marvel and Disney wanted him to lead this film badly enough to fit their intricate timetables around his availability.

Fingers crossed that it pays off, especially that scene where streets are all he has, because he’s down.

On the Move

And all the monkeys aren’t in the zoo
Every day you meet quite a few
So you see, it’s all up to you…
You could be better than you are
You could be swingin’ on a star

Via our blogfriend Morgan, musing on the Year of Review:

This paradigm shift of figuring out you need to re-evaluate the solution, that you’ve been chasing after the wrong one, is never a comfortable one. It is the scraping of the blade of theory getting shaped and sharpened against the stone of practice. And 2015 seems to have taken form as the year of the Great Sharpening.

The sharpening is not over. The blade is still dull. This year, after all, saw a man win the title of “Woman of the Year”. You can’t get much less-real than that, since men are not women. But on this I refer to a particularly inspiring sentence we heard from the audio book version of Glenn Beck’s The Christmas Sweater. Paraphrasing from my increasingly fallible memory, now loaded up beyond capacity with useless holiday details. The passage pointed out that the most challenging part of a journey is before the first step, wherein the traveler makes the decision that he is worthy of the journey.

I know nothing of Beck’s story, but for me, the important question isn’t whether we’re worthy of the journey. The simple answer is that we are not, and will never be – unless we take the journey. Therefore the question becomes, “Is the journey worth taking? Are we content to be always unworthy, or do we risk what little we have, do we invest the time and effort to be more?”

A lot of people don’t dare. They’re content to rub along. As long as enough other people are clearly on the move, these folks can sort of be carried by their surroundings, making small improvements here and there, and be quite decent folks. They take on the general tone of a society around them, in much the manner that tofu takes on the flavor of the surrounding spices and sauces and becomes sour or spice, sweet or savory. That’s not particularly awful, but you need a good dish to begin with, good flavors assembled by a skilled chef.

In a society such as our current one, however, there is an active, hostile cohort of people who resent the idea of betterment and, by extension, anything that reminds them that they’re fully-invested in going nowhere and doing nothing with themselves. Nearly every current strain of -ism and their strident acolytes is arrayed in open warfare against people wanting to be better selves.

I used to be quite confused about the methods often employed: the whole spectrum of nastiness, pettiness, and constant umbrage-taking; the grim thin pleasure of getting one’s own at all times, savoring every flinch and whimper of the victims. How could it possibly appeal to the average person? Here, be miserable like us! On top of that, they’re the ones accusing other people that their normalcy is really just hatred, their joys stultifying, and their happiness repression.

It’s impossible to miss that this is the direct opposite of reality. In society’s kitchen these would be people spiking the soup with paint thinner and using floor polish in the saute pan. Even if by some chance one could get unpoisoned food, one still couldn’t enjoy it because it would be intentionally left to wilt and spoil under the heat lamps, or else served raw. No kitchen would do this; why do they?

The sad truth is, they aren’t interested in making converts, really. One really doesn’t need too many people in such a movement. The true believers will self-select from the herd to carry on the work. The work itself is purely destructive – they just want to burn it down. After a certain point they don’t need that exhausting mask of pretense, the cover of “avante garde cookerie” or what-have-you. They want to put you off the idea of food entirely, and whether you starve yourself or let them poison you, you’re just as dead and they’re just as satisfied.

And if one should learn how to find and prepare actual meals, good ones, nourishing and refreshing? You’re the enemy, and be prepared to have them descend en masse, shrieking about imaginary health-code violations. That their own food is deadly makes no odds; did you know that guy didn’t wear gloves when he handed you the check?!?

The distinction between poison and nutrition, or the distinction between health and illness, have obvious and immediate differences. Moral differences take longer to tell, but as The Great Sharpening shows us, that time is reaching its fullness. Completely unremarkable statements have turned into cause for blackballing and social uproar. Real death and destruction are visited upon the innocent without a peep from the same fragile narcissists who will let slip the yappy dogs of flame war if their ego is crossed even mildly in a college course or on social media.

Even in the face of all this evidence I was stumped. “If that’s what you want, fine,” I used to think. “Leave me out of it. You do you and let other people live their way. You shout that in my face often enough, so follow your own advice.” Because it seemed to me – and still does – that unless the larger society is healthy, it can’t long endure such openly antisocial behavior from any subset. If it all went pear-shaped tomorrow, with no power grid, no supermarkets, no first responders, and no mass communications, then nobody would have leisure to obsess over the problematic othering of trans voices in the fishing industry.

A society that behaves this way can’t survive. What I had missed before, but now realize, is that it isn’t meant to. These poor deluded young’uns are cannon fodder in this conflict – their masters don’t mean for them to be the keystone to a new, better world, but as the kindling for the old. And when the pyre is built and ready to light, they intend to lay upon it themselves. For their rage against anyone trying to flee the torch is nothing next to their rage at themselves. Those who want to set out on this journey only reinforce that there is an escape available to them that they reject. They hate the reminder because it means that they need not perish so shabbily. They know, perhaps earlier than anyone else, that they are not fit to travel, but they despair and give up, and mock the very notion – but anyone who sets out robs them of the illusion that there is any place else worth going to. They dress up in high-sounding language and convoluted sophistry, but the plain truth is that they choose their fate; their desire for lots of fellow victims is no different than any other cult leader mixing up the fruit punch, to try to make grand and tragic what is nothing more than a garden-variety suicide.

Bing was right way back in 1944 when he sang the words I quoted at the outset. He sang to a generation sharpened by economic devastation sandwiched by two world wars, and yet the song is chipper, optimistic, and encouraging. We, who barely suffered any privation in our generation even while fighting two wars in the Gulf, can’t bear such advice and deride it as simple and foolish – yet we need it more than ever.

We will never be worthy of the journey, but we’d better set out anyway.

Pleasant surprises

It’s always interesting to me to stop back to check on my cobwebby domain and see the occasional spike in visitors. To all – thank you, sorry there’s nothing new, and I think the new year will bring about a bit of a change on that front.

Simply stated, I’m annoyed that I let it go for so long. I’m active online, just not here in my own forum, and that’s silly at the least – and unkind at the most. Some would argue that I owe nothing for neglecting this, my free blog that people read for free. My heart says otherwise. I owe a courtesy to visitors to find something of merit, even if it’s just a link to a bunch of old posts, or a notice saying that I’ve taken down the shingle. Sure, it’s more important to me, in the same way that mowing my lawn and raking my leaves is more important to me than to random passersby, but their concerns still have a rank, even if that rank is last to all others.

Besides, I’ve been blogging for eleven years now, five of them here in The Hive 2.0, and the whole while I’ve wanted what any writer likes to have: readers. I enjoy when people are interested enough to comment, I like to see that visitors have spent a few minutes searching through the archives, and I enjoy that I reach an audience, however small. But I can hardly expect anything other than a shrug from someone who’s sought out the blog to see a four-month-old post.

And anyway, I don’t want to see the whole thing just wander into the sunset. Beyond whatever I owe to whomever may stop by, I owe it to myself and to the effort I’ve put in up until now.

No more shrugs. Is that a promise? Well, having the blog itself is already somewhat of a promise; or at the least, its creates a reasonable expectation that I’ve failed to satisfy recently. To quote one of my own subject tags, I “can’t ignore my techno.” Let’s call it “conscience,” and conscience should be obeyed.

See you soon. In the meantime, please do check some of the archival stuff. Comments will be closed but I daresay some of it has held up.

Hugo’s Diner

I’m sad today, folks.

There’s a local restaurant I’ve been happy to patronize for many years now. My dad took me in there when I was a boy, and the habit’s never left me. Many of my friends also grew up hanging out there, and and we’ll stop in together from time to time, for company as much as for the wonderful fare. My own boy’s just a toddler, but they have a kid’s menu that will do just fine for him when the time comes. And best of all, they helped inspire me to cook my own meals around the house when I wasn’t in there sopping up every crumb they had.

That means that I don’t go in quite as often as I used to. Well, you know how it is. But it’s still a popular place. They cater to a lot of tastes and do it very well, through changes in ownership, through new cooks and staff, through competition from other places.

You can imagine how happy I was to hear that a very popular food writer, a chef himself, had been eating there for years, and spoke up about his regular hangout in print, encouraging new patrons to come in.

You can also imagine how shocked I was that many of my fellow regulars reacted to this by being ugly to the newcomers. It’s not that they didn’t tip well, it’s not that they didn’t like the food, it’s not that they were taking the regular patron’s tables. “All they eat is the chicken and steak,” they sniffed. It didn’t change the quality of the food that I saw, and of course they stuck to the vegan and gluten-free stuff – the only place in the whole town you could get it, and it was all right, even if it wasn’t my personal taste.

These things sometimes blow over, but this went from bad to worse. I heard people bad-mouthing the writer, as if it was a bad thing for a guy to have a favorite restaurant and do his part to continue its success. A lot of folks said he wasn’t a real chef and his opinion wasn’t knowledgable like theirs was – even though all he said was that fresher ingredients would improve the quality of the food, which he always enjoyed. Some people confused him with a guy from another city who had a poor experience with a few of the waiters. Other people accused the critic of not really liking the food at all just because he mentioned that the decor could be updated. A few people even ludicrously accused him of being one of the sportswriters who criticized the local team’s players and lobbied to have them all traded; when the team responded by winning the league and parading in triumph through the center of the big city, they watched it on a TV in the corner of the restaurant and booed, even though none of them at all had shown the least prior interest in the team or the game.

Well, I won’t bore you with my personal troubles. The long and the short of it is, the restaurant decided that they were going to have a grand reopening, expanding the seating, bringing back chefs who had gotten their start here and gone on to great things. The press and the local TV came – celebrity in our town! – and bookings were through the roof. It should have been the greatest day ever.

It never happened. The owners came up to the ribbon and cut it, we all went in, sat down, placed our orders – and then the lights went out. “We reserve the right to refuse service to everyone,” the chefs announced, and then left. The maitre’d even bawled out one patron in the middle of the lobby and went off in a huff.

We found out later that the hardcore regulars had threatened to have the whole place shut down for all sorts of bogus health violations. That didn’t stop them from looking well-fed – it also turns out the cooks had made a full variety of the gluten-free items just for them, while all the people ordering fish and steak and such went begging because “not enough people ordered it.”

So what happens now? Well, the diner’s just sitting there empty, and the regulars are actually gloating that nobody gets to eat there anymore. The only joint in town with decent gluten-free and vegan fare is belly-up. A few of the cooks who didn’t want to go along with it are afraid they won’t find work if they complain. And that chef/writer is seriously considering going back to cooking full-time and opening up his own place so folks have a place to eat and hang out and enjoy themselves again.

It’s all so pointless. There was a complete menu for the pickiest tastes and plenty of tables for everyone.

I guess I’ll have to go try out Noah Ward’s place across town. He’s gotten a lot of buzz recently.

The Code

A wonderful discussion over at Sarah Hoyt’s place got even better when the duplicitous weasel in question returned… and promptly demonstrated exactly what Sarah was complaining about.

The example of “Marquess of Queensbury” that I’m most familiar with goes by the unofficial name of The Code, and it describes an ideal for how people deal with each other on a hockey rink. Arm a dozen guys with clubs, strap razors to their feet, and toss them into an enclosed space, and it becomes a very practical matter to regulate their behavior – and rulebooks can’t do this alone. You have to have a system of social pressure passed down from veteran to rookie, teaching them “the right way to play” and “respecting the game” and all the other phrases that sound like cliché, but describe real concepts that are the only things making the game itself possible.

Despite some disagreements, there are things about the Code everyone understands – and the biggest thing is that if you disregard the Code you don’t deserve to be protected by the Code. Guys who square up and fight have a respect for each other that is never accorded to a guy who hits from behind, who fouls on purpose and away from the play, and then refuses to answer for himself.

To apply it to boxing – though I am not a fan either, I get why the sport (and similar, such as MMA) exists despite periodic attempts to outlaw it. It is an elemental test of mettle, courage, and strength. As such, it has a compelling quality. Those who do it have to have a core respect for their fellows. One of Ms. Hoyt’s commenters embedded the fight scene from The Quiet Man, so you can click that and watch a living, breathing example.

The “rules” exist in that context in the same way the rules and the Code do in hockey – to keep it a contest of will, skill, and technique. In a sport where one may legitimately damage one’s opponent during the normal course of play (it is indeed the entire point of a prizefight), it becomes even more important to have strong restrictions about low blows and such. I have seen a clip of an MMA fighter, for example, tapping out to save his opponent, who was essentially out on his feet but still trying to continue.

It was a magnificent gesture that only works because a referee then stops the fight and holds up one fighter’s hand in victory; then they hug and part as respected foes. In an alley fight it would be fatal. That brings us back around to the rules, right? They’re silly in a life-or-death fight, but without things like them, every fight must be to the death, or else to the boredom of the strongest fighter there is.

This is a big reason why the Geneva Conventions are binding only when all parties are signatories, and only when all abide by them. There may be very good moral and practical reasons to afford some of those protections in situations where they don’t apply – for example, the humane treatment of those who have been captured or who have surrendered – but on a battlefield doing it will get you killed. And too many times, those who merely disagree about politics or culture have turned that disagreement into a battlefield… and not in the figurative sense, either. Real people have really died when one subgroup has decided to stop regarding them as people at all. And this country and this culture, in this time, doesn’t get a pass. Real people really die here, too. The ones who merely have their reputations and businesses ruined are in that sense fortunate.

Our would-be elites are, of course, well aware of this, but they are at heart fantasists, and their primary fantasy is, “We will be the ones who ultimately decide what is done to anyone we choose whenever we like.” They never dream that someday they may find themselves the ones to whom other people choose to do whatever, whenever.

They know full well that behaving this way as an equal opponent will ring down the curtain on them, so they don’t actually do that – they invest their time, not in playing skill, but in become rulebook experts, exploiting this knowledge to corrupt the game itself. In effect, they seek to replace the referees, to be the ones with the power to enforce the rules, to control all outcomes and by so doing “win” every single time. That’s why they go in for the high-profile, high-influence spots: they all go into government, the media (either news or entertainment), education – seeking power itself and the means to acquire more. On a smaller level, it’s why all the really dirty players in my league are always the ones who squeal loudest about “calling it both ways” and “what about what HE just did?” It’s one of their most potent weapons. They know we care about such things, and exploit it so that we’ll let them off the hook. They will even lie and say that opposition to their cheating is opposition to rulebooks – as if they were engaged in making the world a fairer place and we’re the ones with the problem.

That’s the sign that playing against them as if they were still just one of the teams will be a losing strategy. They need to be removed, entirely, just to be able to have a game in the first place. They don’t actually care about the rule of law, much less the larger Code that any rulebook is a mere facet of. When they howl their protests, they are lying, trying to make us tap out so they can shiv us.

Once they’ve gone that crooked, we’re in a tough spot. Recall that it was Cromwell who eventually flattened the law in the case above, and as the movie itself reveals at the end, he wound up quite blown over by the winds he’d loosed upon England. How ought we to behave in such a situation? We’re not talking about theory, either – Thomas More was a real man who lost his actual head; there is no guarantee that such persecutions will not visit our shores the way they have been visited upon so many of our martyred brethren across the world in these times; and it may not just be the faithful, either, who are getting sent to camps and put to the sword. A world like that must be fought against, those who mean to build it must be stopped.

In Scripture, one of the hardest teachings is in Matthew 5:38-48. The Church has always held that this is meant to curb our appetite for revenge. Christ does not forbid us to protect our lives and our liberty. And if nobody ever stood against evil it would trample the world.

Just as certainly, if charity is never extended to those who may exploit it, true charity is impossible. The grace of God doesn’t work that way, and everyone is richer for the Father’s extravagance in this regard. In the admittedly-terrible movie, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, for example, there’s a spot where Henry Hyde saves the day, and Dr. Jeckel, in response to thanks, says, “Let’s not make a saint out of a sinner.” But this is foolish – there is no other material out of which to make them. If faith didn’t baptize, there’d be no faith. And likewise, if civilization didn’t seek to make civilized people out of enemies, civilization would perish… which is why we can never wholly fight on their terms. We have the ultimate goal of saving our enemies. Dropping the civilized rules of ritual combats is not the same as simply becoming like the beasts of the field and savaging each other, because then the fight becomes unwinnable. There will be nobody left to enjoy the fruits of civilization if no civilized people remain.

And people call being the good guy “easy”!

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