Archive | August 17, 2008

Without You, How Would I Ever Manage?

I often disagree with Scott Adams’ “nonfiction” remarks (he’s neither sufficiently libertarian nor sufficiently left), but his comic strip continues to capture what the actual experience of being in the business world is like – as in today’s installment. As long as libertarians are perceived as offering denials of, rather than solutions to, this pervasive feature of most people’s everyday life, we won’t make many converts – nor will we deserve to.

Deconstruction on the Mount

During the Saddleback forum, when Obama was asked about evil, he replied:

Postmodern ObamaEvil does exist. I think we see evil all the time. We see evil in Darfur. We see evil – sadly – on the streets of our cities. We see evil in parents who viciously abuse their children. And I think it has to be confronted. It has to be confronted squarely. And one of the things that I strongly believe is that we are not going to – as individuals – be able to erase evil from the world. That is God’s task. But we can be soldiers in that process. And we can confront it when we see it.

Now, the one thing that I think is very important is for us to have some humility in how we approach the issue of confronting evil. Because a lot of evil has been perpetrated based on the claim that we were trying to confront evil, in the name of good. And I think one thing that’s very important is having some humility in recognizing that just because we think our intentions are good doesn’t mean we are going to be doing good.

Then during the televised postmortem, Charles Krauthammer referred to this remark as “postmodern.” Funny; I thought it was Christian.

The Wages of Sin

The following letter appeared in this morning’s Opelika-Auburn News. The passages in bold represent text present in my original letter but deleted from the published version. [Note added later: since the new format of this blog bolds everything indented, I’ve changed the bold to underlining.]

To the Editor:

Anita Bledsoe (Aug. 8th) argues that if we’re glad we’re alive, then we logically ought to oppose abortion, since we wouldn’t be alive if our mothers had chosen abortion.

Norman Rockwell's family tree - click for more detailBut this doesn’t follow. After all, if you go back far enough, most (maybe all) people alive today are also descendants of rape. That means that if no rapes had ever occurred, then most of the particular people who exist today would not have existed (since some of their ancestors would have formed mutually consensual, and so presumably different, genetic pairings from the ones that in the actual course of history resulted in us).

So does that commit us to approving rape? Of course not. Evaluating the present existence of something and evaluating the process by which it came about are two different things. Likewise, then, I can be glad of my own present existence and still think my mother would have been perfectly entitled to abort me – since the right to life does not include the right to exist in somebody else’s body.

Roderick T. Long

Incidentally, I said “most” and “maybe all” rather than simply “all” only to avoid having to explain “all,” but “all” is almost certainly correct. We don’t know what percentage of pregnancies among our earliest ancestors were the result of rape, but we don’t need to; even if it were a tiny figure, with each subsequent generation the “trait” of having been descended from rape would spread farther through the population.

The Memory of Shadows

I’ve been a fan of Lord Dunsany’s haunting novel The Charwoman’s Shadow since I was about nine. The Charwoman's Shadow - click for more detail (I read it in the edition pictured at right – click on it to see more detail. The beautiful cover has not much to do with the book’s contents [apart from the central figure’s being deficient in shadow] but is inextricably associated for me with the story’s feel – as well as with San Diego, which is where I was living when I first read it.)

But I only recently discovered and read the prequel, Don Rodriguez: Chronicles of Shadow Valley. And although I can see why it’s not as famous as its successor – it’s just not in the same league artistically – it’s still quite charming, and there are a number of references in The Charwoman’s Shadow that one won’t pick up on unless one has read Don Rodriguez first.

But to come to my topic – reading Don Rodriguez led me to speculate on the book’s possible influence on Tolkien (who is known to have read some Dunsany). Now regular readers of my blog know that I tend to detect possible Tolkien sources everywhere (see here, here, and here), so take this for however little it may be worth, but ….

To begin with, the Rodriguez/Morano pair – the noble if sometimes hapless hero and his faithful, more practical, less high-minded servant – reminded me strongly of the Frodo/Samwise pair. I suspect Dunsany modeled the Rodriguez/Morano pair on the Quixote/Sancho pair (especially given the common setting of Renaissance Spain), but Rodriguez/Morano stand halfway between Quixote/Sancho and Frodo/Samwise, just as a blue triangle stands halfway between a red triangle and a blue square. In other words, if one continues developing Quixote/Sancho in the same direction that Dunsany did, one would plausibly end up with a pairing something like Frodo/Samwise.

castle in Spain But what most struck me was the following passage in which several characters are passing through a great forest, searching for the elusive Green Bowmen of Shadow Valley:

They passed afterwards by the old house in the wood, in which the bowmen feasted …. They knocked loud on the door as they passed but the house was empty. They heard the sound of a multitude felling trees, but whenever they approached the sound of chopping ceased. Again and again they left the track and rode towards the sound of chopping, and every time the chopping died away just as they drew close. They saw many a tree half felled, but never a green bowman. And at last they left it as one of the wonders of the forest and returned to the track lest they lose it, for the track was more important to them than curiosity, and evening had come and was filling the forest with dimness, and shadows stealing across the track were beginning to hide it away. In the distance they heard the invisible woodmen chopping. (Don Rodriguez, ch. 10.)

This passage should remind any Tolkien fan of the passage in The Hobbit when Bilbo and the dwarves are passing through Mirkwood and stumble off the track in search of the ever-disappearing wood-elves. (There’s also a similar incident, though less directly so, in Tolkien’s poem “The Sea Bell.”)

I also wonder about the possible influence of Dunsany’s 1922 Don Rodriguez on Isabel Paterson’s 1924 novel The Singing Season: A Romance of Old Spain, which in addition to its similar milieu and similarly-named protagonist also contains Paterson’s most Dunsanyesque prose.

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