Friday, August 22, 2008

August narrowly escapes Marina's low opinion

Anya has started coming to the coffee shop in the morning occasionally to pray Morning Prayer with me, and of course it's much easier for her if we pray from her Russian Orthodox, Russian-language prayer book rather than my Book of Common Prayer. It's easier for her even though the Orthodox, being notoriously conservative, keep their prayer services in what Anya calls "pure" Russian but which is of course simply the liturgy frozen in the archaic Russian that once upon a time was common speech but now is preserved only in church.

So I've decided I need to learn some of the important prayers in Russian, or Old Slavonic, or whatever the correct term for "church" Russian is. And the obvious place to start is Molitva Gospodnya, that is, the Lord's Prayer. So, since I periodically have to sit and wait for a couple of minutes while my laptop processes trade information, I wrote it up on the whiteboard in my office, in my careful Russian cursive handwriting, so that while I sit and wait I can practice:

So my Russian co-worker Marina comes into my office to ask a question, glances at the board, and does a double-take. I explain why I have the Lord's Prayer up on my whiteboard in church Russian, and then we go back to discussing fees and ledger accounts, and having gotten what she needed, Marina goes next door to talk to Karl.

A few minutes later Project Manager August comes into my office, and as we're standing there talking, Marina sticks her head in the door and says, pointing at the whiteboard, "Hey, August, can you read that?"

August stares at it for five seconds or so, clearly trying to figure out whether anybody's handwriting can really be as villianously illegible as mine appears to be, until it dawns on him that it's in Russian. He chuckles and says, "Nope, it's beyond me."

Marina generously excuses him: "That's not surprising -- it's a relic."

Which left me wondering, given that her excuse seemed to be based on the fact that the prayer was writting in archaic Russian: if it had been in modern Russian, would she have expected him to be able to read it? ;-)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Presented without comment on the Freudian twists of TMQ's psychology

Hurrah, TMQ is back for the NFL season!

And his first column of the year includes this fascinating bit of legal trivia -- oh, to have been a juror for this day in court:

...Christie Brinkley's position at her fourth divorce, the testimony public because she requested pubic testimony: Your Honor...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Gene Stipe and his sleazeball co-horts: some things never change

Hey, Pittsburg County District Attorney Jim Miller:

It is my personal, non-anonymous opinion that you are...oh, never mind, it's a family blog.

Next time ex-State Senator Stipe has dinner at your house, you may tell him personally from me to go soak his head. Ah, yes, Gene Stipe...a man who has always had all the sleaziness and white-trashiness and open corruptibility of Bill Clinton, but without the intelligence and competence ever to get himself onto a bigger stage than Oklahoma backcountry county politics.

Oh, and may I recommend to your attention, Mr. Miller, the First Amendment to the Constitution? As surprising as the news may be to you, it protects the expression of personal opinions even when they are unflattering to friends and political patrons of small-time local D.A.'s.

Yours sincerely,
Redneck Peril, whose real name, to save you the trouble of a subpoena, is Darrell Kenneth Pierce, Jr., formerly of 1224 Pennsylvania Avenue, Hartshorne, Oklahoma, and sometime valedictorian of McAlester High School (Class of '85)

[chuckling] Of course I don't actually know any of the facts behind the story. I don't actually know Miller or what his justification of the subpoenas might be. Maybe he has a good one. Kinda doubt it, though.

But I grew up just outside of McAlester, and I know all I need to know about Gene Stipe. If Jim Miller is corruptible, then Gene Stipe will already have done whatever he had to do to corrupt him. A whole lot of my to-the-bone contempt for politicians has to do with growing up in the district that the contemptible Senator Stipe shamelessly exploited.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

One way to render yourself immune to parody... to take up permanent residence, in total seriousness and blissful unawareness of your own insanity, in realms of absurdity beyond the wildest realms of the parodist's imagination.

This would be a technique that PETA has mastered; as witness this article in the local Houston paper, describing PETA's request to put up signs warning illegal immigrants that they should stay in Mexico where their diet is healthy, rather than coming to America and getting fat. Plus they ought to be vegetarians.

The two money quotes from PETA's own advisors (granted, perhaps the Chronicle leaves out some redeeming context, but I doubt it):

"We think that Mexicans and other immigrants should be warned if they cross into the U.S. they are putting their health at risk by leaving behind a healthier, staple diet of corn tortillas, beans, rice, fruits and vegetables." Because, of course, it is impossible to purchase corn tortillas, beans, rice, fruits and vegetables in American supermarkets; and also, of course, it is impossible to get tamales, caldo de pollo, carne asado, or menudo in Monterrey.

And the same PETA spokesperson is quoted by the Chronicle, albeit without context, as saying that he thinks the advertising messages about the life-threatening risks of the American diet "might even be frightening enough to deter people from crossing into the U.S."

I gather that this article was actually submitted originally to The Onion, but they refused to run it because the absurdity content was too over-the-top for their publication...

HT: Ace.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Ah, That Explains It Dept

Why is it that Barack Obama finds it pretty much impossible to admit that he is ever wrong, or that any statement he makes or Messianic air he assumes could ever be ridiculous? I didn't think it was possible to be more conceited than McCain but Obama may have managed it. Up until now the Obamessiah's apparent inability for self-criticism had been a real head-scratcher to me. (Not really, of course -- he's a politician so of course he's a conceited ass -- but go along with me for the sake of the joke here.)

I am now relieved to find, as Instapundit informs us, Lexington Green has solved the conundrum. Barack Obama cannot admit that he is wrong, or laugh at his own expense...

...because that would be racist.

Finally, a candidate enters the race whom I trust more than McCain or the Obamessiah

See more Paris Hilton videos at Funny or Die

For one thing, her energy policy actually makes sense, which is more than I can say for Obama's policies on practically any subject (if one can refer to syrupy incoherence as a "policy" without committing assault on the English language), and I have reasonable confidence that Paris, while in office, will neither die, nor suffer Alzheimer's, nor take away my First Amendment rights, nor send engraved invitations to every man, woman and child south of the Rio Grande, any and all of which I strongly suspect to be on the McCain agenda.

For another, there is at least a possibility that if one of the other candidates points out to Paris, during a debate, that there are only 50 states in the Union, or that most Americans prefer winning wars to losing them, Paris's rejoinder will not be, "You're only saying that because you're prejudiced against blondes." And even if she does come back with such a blatant avoidance of the topic, she probably won't be serious about it and will be playing it strictly for laughs.

For another, Paris neither intends to start a religion starring herself, nor weighs every question of policy on a scale that consists almost entirely of the question, "To what extent can I use this to assure myself and the public that my fellow Republicans are morally inferior to the exalted magnificence of my incorruptibility?" Paris absolutely does not see herself as the Savior Of The World, and has probably never announced that she is The Incarnation Of The Promise That America Will Become Great Again. Nor is Mark Steyn ever likely to say of her that she is driven by "an indestructible belief in her own indispensability" (a line that I remember Steyn using in reference to McCain, but which he turns out to have aimed -- no doubt with perfect justice -- at at least five or six other Canadian and American politicians in their day, "his own indispensability" being about the only thing your ordinary politician really believes in). Paris emphatically does not consider herself morally superior to the rest of us. That makes her unique in the 2008 Presidential race.

And finally, while I would prefer a reasonably moral President, I at least feel quite confident that if when Paris gets busy while in office, unlike John Edwards or Bill Clinton, she won't lie to the American people about it.

So, you go, girl. I've surveyed the field; I've weighed the evils -- and you get my vote.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

There are worse ways to spend an evening, says the Voice of Experience...

...than sitting on the landing outside one's apartment, smoking a decently mild cigar and drinking a glass or two of a decent Côtes du Rhône, while reading Tristam Shandy in Russian.

Yes, indeed, yesterday I stumbled across a $5.00 used hardback copy of Tristam Shandy, one of my favorite books, in Russian. So I snatched that one up and made my plans for the evening's entertainment.

C. S. Lewis, in one of his letters, describes the experience of reading Tristam Shandy along these lines (quoted from my imprecise memory, alas): it's "like holding a conversation with an escaped lunatic while trying to read a newspaper in a high wind." He should have tried it in Russian; comprehensibility does not increase. ;-)

Okay, I admit that perhaps that last bit has less to do with the novel and rather more to do with my lack of fluency in Russian.

[deep, satisfied sigh] Good old Tristam Shandy...

Pray my Dear, quoth my mother, have you not forgot to wind up the clock?—Good G..! cried my father, making an exclamation, but taking care to moderate his voice at the same time,—Did ever woman, since the creation of the world, interrupt a man with such a silly question? Pray, what was your father saying?—Nothing.

Monday, August 04, 2008

On Solzhenitsyn

I thought I would sit down and write an appreciation of the man this evening.

I don't even know where to begin.

Has there ever been such a combination of literary genius and personal courage?

The best expression of the particular kind of moral courage that Solzhenitsyn embodied comes, I think, from Barack Obama, although Obama seems to have been setting out the words by which he aspires to live rather than praising some other person. "I find comfort," says Obama, "in the fact that the longer I'm in politics the less nourishing popularity becomes, that a striving for rank and fame seems to betray a poverty of ambition, and that I am answerable mainly to the steady gaze of my own conscience." I feel impelled to hold that quotation up as a quite perfectly phrased description of the man who does what he believes is right without worrying about what other people think -- and to hold up Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn as perhaps the most perfect example of such a man as the twentieth century was able to offer. No man ever cared less to flatter the opinion-makers who drive to and fro the winds of celebrity popularity. No man ever was driven more by the steady gaze of his own conscience, and by absolutely nothing else, than was Solzhenitsyn. And when you see Solzhenitsyn going for years without bothering to read a word of his own press clippings or to respond (except in one memorable instance) to his critics, all because he had too much of importance to accomplish to waste time on such trivialities -- surely it is clear that the fire that was Solzhenitsyn's soul blazed with hunger for deeds that would make the occupancy of the Presidency seem a children's plaything. Any fool can become President -- hell, Jimmy Carter and Dubya both made it. Solzhenitsyn played for far greater stakes.

And he won.

We need heroes; we need people who embody the great virtues, or else there can be nothing behind the words with which we label virtues. Barack's quotation is a lovely quotation, very aptly phrased, and when you hear it, you think, "Yes, it would be good to be such a person." But it is Solzhenitsyn who shows you what it really means to be such a person; and without persons such as Solzhenitsyn to give solid content to the eloquent phrasings, the words would be mere counters in a self-deceptive verbal game. I knew what great moral courage, and the willingness to stand alone in defense of the truth when all other voices spoke for lies...I knew what those looked like long before I heard Obama's felicitous phrases; for I had read GULag and The Oak and the Calf. Now, I could never have expressed it as well as Obama did, and I am genuinely (listen, I'm not being at all sarcastic here) grateful to Obama for his having found exactly the right phrase to describe the special type of virtue that one sees in Solzhenitsyn (and for that matter Socrates). But I knew what that virtue was, and I had a yardstick against which to measure my own behavior and an example to admire and, as best I could, to imitate; and that knowledge and that yardstick were there before Obama showed up to describe it.

But without the example of men like Solzhenitsyn and Socrates, I would never have understood that type of virtue no matter how long and with what eloquence I was harangued, no, not if Obama or Reagan or JFK had talked about it for a week.

And if the example of Solzhenitsyn has unfortunately caused Obama's rhetoric, for me personally, to have had the opposite effect that I suspect he wanted it to have...well, Obama doesn't need to lose much sleep over it. It's quite true that on the day I first read Obama's little burst of self-admiration, that my instantaneous reaction was not, "Wow, I'm very impressed with Obama's disdain for popular acclaim," but instead was, "Yeah, sure, Barry boy, why don't you come back and try that line on me again when you've started behaving quite a bit more like Solzhenitsyn and quite a bit less like George Clooney." (Yes, that was, really and truly, my instant and characteristically cynical first reaction; but then by the time I got around to reading the Obama quote he was in full-blown Obamessiah presidency-by-celebrity mode; and besides I dislike all politicians on principle.) But Obama shouldn't feel bad -- of the six billion people in the world there are, what, maybe ten or fifteen people who wouldn't look bad compared to Solzhenitsyn?

See, I know that Obama didn't intend to compare himself implicitly to Solzhenitsyn, and that he would not pretend to be Solzhenitsyn's moral equal. (At least I don't think he would; I admit that his self-regard appears to be, shall we say, extraordinarily healthy, but I don't think he's that conceited.) It's just that it is practically impossible for me to hear anybody refer to the particular kind of courage and single-mindedness that Barack was describing, and not think instantly of Aleksandr Isayevich, as I in fact did upon hearing the Obama quote. And that's my point -- not that Barack is no Solzhenitsyn, but that Solzhenitsyn was the very embodiment of the particular kind of virtue that Obama described so eloquently, so much so that for years I have been unable to hear that kind of virtue mentioned without thinking of Solzhenitsyn.

As another literary giant might have put it, at least if he had had no regard for metrical niceties:

"Here was a Solzhenitsyn. When comes such another?"

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Requiescat in pace

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose influence on my high school reading habits and understanding of totalitarianism would be hard to overstate, has died.

There are books I love more than Cancer Ward, but not many. There are books that have moved me and shaken me more than Arkipelag GULag...actually, come to think of it, I'm not sure there are any.

Go in peace, Aleksandr Isayevich.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Ozzie Guillen wants to leave no doubt that he's a jerk

Not that anybody had any doubts left on that score anyway, but this is exactly the sort of sarcastic b-s that sets the jerks apart from the constructive criticizers. What Ozzie wants to say is, "Our bullpen didn't get the job done today." There is nothing wrong with a manager's holding players accountable for poor performance. But Ozzie is a jerk, and he believes no wound is complete without its full ration of salt. So what Ozzie says is:

"I walked to the field like six times, and all six times I was wrong. Bullpen makes a good manager, and today I was pretty bad. I was making the wrong decision every time I went to the field."

Got that? "Bullpen makes a good manager, and today I was pretty bad." In other words, he wants to make sure you know that he really means, "I have an entire bullpen full of pitchers and none of them can pitch. Every pitcher I gave the ball to sucked today." He just wants to add that extra whip-flick that only sarcasm can provide.

Note to young persons who have heard the term "verbal abuse" but are not clear on what it means: had Guillen said, "Our bullpen was pretty bad today; they're going to have to do better than that or we're going to have to go find somebody else to pitch for us," that would have been unpleasant for the bullpen to hear, but it would not have constituted verbal abuse -- it would have constituted honest, albeit blunt, criticism. Sometimes the truth hurts; but that doesn't mean the truth doesn't need to be said. The question is not, "Did what you say hurt the other person's feelings?" The question is, "Did you go out of your way to phrase or intone what you said in a way that was calculated to cause more pain than the truth on its own would have caused?" Guillen's sarcasm served no purpose other than to ramp up the sting; and that is when you start seeing something that can reasonably be called verbally abusive.

In other words, a lot of times whether you're a jerk or not isn't determined by what you say -- it's determined by how you say it.

And Ozzie Guillen is one of the country's prize jerks.