Philosophy

There are no silent saints

This video was posted back in October, but I just came across it yesterday and thought it worth sharing. Former child actor Bug Hall (best known for playing Alfalfa in 1994’s The Little Rascals) talks about living the Catholic faith with integrity vs working in Hollywood. He also discusses being a victim of abuse, so it is emotionally weighty:

Listening to the video, I could not help but think of our devoutly Catholic president1 and his support for objectively anti-Catholic policies. It is hard not to wonder at what point the “Catholic” label ceases to be meaningful. Regardless of what’s in his heart, you know the press will take the opportunity to further propagandize the notion that Catholics need not adhere at all to fundamental Catholic teachings in word or deed.2

(ETA: Oh look, right on schedule, about 4 hours after I posted this, some propaganda from NYT: In Biden’s Catholic Faith, an Ascendant Liberal Christianity. It’s so utterly blatant and predictable. Give me a break.)

Some institutions have it worse than others (academia, Hollywood), but there is immense social (and financial) pressure to conform by keeping such controversial Catholic views to the self; sharing such controversial views is “divisive” and you will quickly be villified as prejudiced, sexist, racist, etc. Even other Catholics will encourage you to keep “confrontational” beliefs on the down low until more “unification” has occurred, as though an acceptance of the Church’s teaching on abortion (or some other controversial issue) will somehow slip in through a friendly backdoor. As Bishop Robert McElroy states: “It is a pathway of reconciliation that places the healing of our society ahead of any specific policy issue, in the recognition that repairing the soul of our country is the pre-requisite for any sustainable effort to advance the common good.”

It’s true that we don’t want to miss the forest for the trees; the Church’s teaching on abortion is not a stand-alone issue, but part of a broader logically and spiritually consistent understanding. But how can you do any “healing” or “soul repairing” when purposefully silent about such fundamental issues? Again, what’s the thought process? That someone will say, “You know, you’ve been really nice to me for a long time, I think I’ll go ahead and listen to your thoughts on contentious issues now.” Being up front and honest about such contentious foundational issues are part of healing.3

As Hall says at the end of the video:

There are no silent saints. No one was canonized because they snuck around and were secretive about their beliefs. … I’m not talking about secretly going to Mass, I’m talking about speaking the truth when the opportunity presented itself.

¡Viva, Cristo Rey!

By S P Hannifin, ago
Stupid things

Propped Up Corpse

In the 2018 horror film The Nun, a young woman meets a kindly old abbess in a convent who keeps her shadowy face veiled in black. Later in the film, when the heroine returns and finds the old woman sitting eerily still, she is shocked to discover why the old lady’s face is kept veiled: the abbess is dead. The heroine’s been talking to the shriveled rotting flesh of a blackened corpse all along.

Maybe that’s not the best metaphor, but the 2020 presidential election does kind of remind me of it. Why is nobody allowed to examine the machines or audit the ballots? Why are profoundly important court cases rejected on trivial technicalities? Because not only was the last election full of fraud, but national elections have been that way for a while. The mask just slipped a bit too far this time. We’ve been living in the shadow of a propped up corpse.

As someone tweeted:

Prob the longest-lasting effect of Trump’s presidency will be that ppl saw the degree to which heretofore kinda hidden power had to reeeeally flex to oppose him. This is true whether one liked/supported Trump or not.

To which someone else replied:

We saw the sausages being made and it’s full of pig a******s and bugs.

Thanks for that lovely image. I’m reminded of the end of Sweeney Todd when Toby discovers what’s in the meat grinder.

So what now? Unfortunately I still have no idea.

Two things seem clear to me, though:

  1. You can’t vote your way to a fair election. There are a lot of politicians who seem to want to have their cake and eat it too; they want Trump out, but they want us to keep faith in elections. They suggest that we’ve just got to let the questionable results of this election slide and prepare for the next one, which will totally be more secure, for sure. Of course, if this election has taught us that it is impossible to investigate apparent election fraud and futile to try, why should the next election be any different? (This also means it’s pointless to listen to political pundits telling you what to be mad about next. What are you gonna do about it, vote?)
  2. The courts will not uphold election laws. So filing and arguing about lawsuits in regards to elections is also a waste of time and energy.

If the puppet masters care about the illusion of fair elections, perhaps investigations will continue and they’ll say, “aha, yep, there definitely was some fraud here, but not enough to change the outcome, and now we fixed it!” Perhaps there will be some “Republican” victories in the 2022 midterms. Perhaps they’ll even grant us another “Republican” president in 2024, after Biden and Harris finish whatever evil plots they’re being installed for.

And I do think they’re being installed for a reason. Four more years of Trump doesn’t seem like it should be too harsh of a price to pay for reinforcing the illusion of a fair election while sliding the slow knife further in, so something must’ve made the allowance of obvious fraud worth the risk. Maybe Trump’s anti-China policies were causing too much strife for the economic overlords. Maybe they want to get the Middle East war machine up and roaring again. Maybe they’re genuinely afraid for our national security for some secret reason.

Regardless, I don’t see the point in voting anymore. The mask slipped too far. You can’t just reposition it and make me think it’s your real face again.

I can’t blame other voters. I can’t say: “Well, you voted for this!” As I wrote in an earlier post, if an election is fraudulent, nobody’s vote counts. Voting differently would not have changed much.

The whole “storming the Capitol” stunt was a sad and evil exploitation of useful idiots1 to serve as news cycle fodder and distraction propaganda so we’d all gawk and share impassioned opinions about that instead and use it to justify preplanned political ends. Do you really think the Capitol of the most powerful nation in the world couldn’t keep out a couple hundred hooligans with flag poles if it thought it absolutely had to? I’m not saying police were in on it or that it was staged, just that there were bad actors who intentionally put the pieces in place for that to happen. The resulting propaganda is reaching North Korean levels of blatant ridiculousness. It should be glaringly obvious to everyone.

Speaking of stupid pills, I think you can abandon the preposterous “QAnon” hopium conspiracy theories, which promise shocking revelations and surprise victories just around the corner and encourage you to just keep holding your breath until you pass out.

As the execution of all power ultimately depends on the strength of the iron hand, those who are granted legal authority to use physical force to enforce the law (military, police) will have to decide from where that authority comes if not from fairly elected officials according to the US Constitution.

As for the rest of us, I’m not sure we peasants can do much at the moment. (Other than keep a level head.)

Although this election fraud is a serious issue, it is also a temporary and worldly one; our souls were made for a different world, so keep any spiritual distress in check by keeping things in perspective. The goal here is to grow in love of God and neighbor; let’s keep that our spiritual focus.

For further reading, here are a few other articles. I do not claim to agree or disagree with all their points, I just thought they were interesting:

By S P Hannifin, ago
Television

Random thoughts on Netlfix’s The Queen’s Gambit

I finished watching The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix recently. Here are some random thoughts:

Competent protrayal of chess

While the show’s story centers around competition chess, it’s not really about chess at all, it’s about characters, and in that regard it does a good job of capturing the drama of the game by focusing on characters’ emtional reactions to chess moves instead of the games themselves. This is the same sort of thing they did in Searching for Bobby Fischer. At the same time, it doesn’t try to dummy down chess concepts so the audience can understand them, like the stupid gravity assist scene in The Martian, where a character over-explains a relatively simple science concept to colleagues who should not be that stupid for the sake of the audience. Or this ridiculously stupid scene from Hidden Figures in which a NASA scientist is skeptical of Euler’s method because “it’s ancient”; trying to show the brilliance of a character by having others be over-the-top stupid.

I also appreciated that no one hit the clock with the wrong hand, a pet peeve of mine when chess master characters show up on TV.

Obsession as comfort

The “tortured genius” character is certainly cliché (Good Will Hunting, bleh!), and there is a bit of that, but chess does not really come easily or naturally to Beth Harmon. She is shown constantly studying the game. What is rare is not her innate “genius” but rather her ability to become entirely obsessed with it, to be able to focus on it for long periods of time, even without a physical board. This is likely a coping mechanism for dealing with personal trauma. As she says, “It was the board I noticed first. It’s an entire world of just 64 squares. I feel safe in it. I can control it. I can dominate it. And it’s predictable. So if I get hurt, I have only myself to blame.” Quite self-aware! Some have wondered if Bobby Fischer’s obsession with chess during childhood provided a similar escape or sense of comfort; he was raised by a single mother who was an outspoken political activist. Perhaps, but in the real world such an overpowering obsession at a young age is still rare, so whatever is going on in an obsessor’s brain is probably more complicated than that.

Pills!

The green pills Beth takes throughout the show appear to be fictional (unfotunately, because I want some) but they remind me of ADHD meds. They’ve been used to calm children down, they help people focus, people can abuse them, and they might improve your chess game. From this article:

According to a new study in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology, two prescription drugs can help chess players compete: modafinil and methylphenidate. The former is sold as Alertec, Modavigil, and Provigil, and the other is best known as Ritalin. Participants in the study were dosed with these drugs, and then their chess playing abilities were observed. While the drugs resulted in test subjects playing more slowly, they also increased their performance. Using modafinil improved player’s results by 15 percent, while methylphenidate improved results by 13 percent.

… International chess tournaments began incorporating drug testing in 2001

So Harmon is lucky that she got obsessed with chess at just the right time in American history when she could earn money and fame from the game and at a time when they didn’t do any drug testing! (She could even get a benzodiazepine over the counter in Germany!)

Overall

Overall, I have mixed feelings about the show. It was well-made and well-scripted, but the emotional journey wasn’t all that engaging to me, a lot of supporting characters were a bit cliché and two-dimensional, and of course chess tournaments are portrayed as very fancy and dramatic, very “Hollywood”. But then, like any movie or show about “geniuses”, the audience is never really asked to relate to all the boring studying that makes the rest possible; we are only asked to empathize with the fun parts: the attention, the applause, the success, the failures, the opportunities, the traveling, etc. It can give a very false day-dreamy impression of “genius”, which is really 99 percent perspiration. But that’s almost always the case in any fictional portrayal of someone successful. The grunt work is boring.

The real trick to being a genius is, as Harmon shows us: childhood trauma! No, not that, but rather love / obsession, not for the sake of fame and money that would make a biographical show interesting, but the willingness to work hard at something you’re interested in when there’s no guarantee of any reward beyond your self-satisfaction.

(On a side note, the word “genius” is really just an opinion of someone’s work. In fiction, you can create empathy for a character by having other characters admire their “genius”. But in fiction you have the advantage of being able to empathize with a character while also being able to consider them from the outside, to see them as other characters might see them. It’s a sort of strange dichotomy you can’t really experience in the real world.)

By S P Hannifin, ago
Fiction books

Fiction Books I Want to Read This Year 2021

The new year has arrived! I don’t think I’ll do a “Year’s Best” post for 2020. I did not see enough movies nor read enough books, and the ones I did really weren’t that great. Maybe 2021 will be a better year for new movies, but I’m not sure there’s much of interest on the horizon. I just hope some 3D movies will return to the big screen before the year’s end; the pandemic seems to have annihilated them completely.

I only read 5 books in 2020. To be more precise, I only completed 5 books. (I read a lot of miscellaneous chapters from various nonfiction books, but I’m not counting those.) These books include:

  1. Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement by Rich Karlgaard. A forgettable book in my opinion. “Some people achieve their greatest potential later in life.” That’s it. That’s the book.
  2. A Borrowed Man by Gene Wolfe. A fun little sci-fi / fantasy mystery, my favorite read of the year (not that there’s much competition.) I believe a sequel has recently been published posthumously which I’d like to get my hands on at some point.
  3. Farlander by Col Buchanan. An aging assassin takes on an unlikely apprentice while pursuing a dangerous vendetta. The writing is nice and the story has some interesting surprises. Fun read.
  4. Dune by Frank Herbert. Basically it’s The Lion King, but on a sandy planet with prophecies, mystical powers, powerful spice, giant worms, and weird names. And it’s dull, dull, unbearably dull. I hated it.
  5. Majipoor Chronicles by Robert Silverberg. A collection of short stories all taking place on the same weird planet. Some stories feature some interesting ideas, but most of them fluff out with stupid overly-convenient or uneventful endings. I think Silverberg does horror or dark fantasy the best; when he tries to have things end more nicely for the characters it just feels less satisfying to me for some reason.

Those are all the books I actually finished in 2020; in August I began reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and I’m still only about half-way through it. It’s a long book, and these characters are growing a bit dull on me, so I haven’t been reading it daily. (I suppose technically it’s a book series, as it was originally published serially.) Hopefully it will not take me another five months to finish the second half.

Here’s my current (non-exhaustive) to-read list for 2021, at least fiction-wise:

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Finishing the 2nd half.
  2. Stands a Shadow by Col Buchanan. This is the sequel to the aforementioned Farlander. I’m actually already about 80 pages into it as I didn’t want to lug around War and Peace one day.
  3. Fall; or, Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson. One of my favorite authors, and I really enjoyed Reamde, so I’m looking forward to this one as well. A long book, but his prose generally flows pretty nicely.
  4. Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson. This is the 3rd book in his Stormlight Chronicles series. The 4th book just came out in 2020, so I’m behind. I really enjoyed the 1st book, but the 2nd book was a bit “meh” for me.
  5. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Been wanting to read Mr. D for a while.
  6. The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub.
  7. The Drawing of Three and The Waste Lands by Stephen King. Books 2 and 3 of his Dark Tower series.
  8. The Vindication of Man by John C. Wright. The 5th book in his Count to the Eschaton Sequence. Another of my favorite authors. I’ve really enjoyed this series so far; it’s at times very thought-provoking, at times complete bonkers crazy, and sometimes both. Super fun sci-fi.
  9. The Kingdom of the Gods by In-Wan Youn. This is the graphic novel which inspired the recent Netflix series Kingdom, of which I enjoyed a couple episodes, although I think the book and show are quite different plot-wise. Looks like fun though.

Some of those books are a bit long, and I’m a slow reader, so there’s no telling if I can actually finish all those in a single year. And there’s of course plenty more I’d love to read, so I might change my mind about some of those in favor of others. That’s also not counting any non-fiction books, of which I have bookmarks in at least a dozen. We’ll see how it goes.

Happy New Year to all!

By S P Hannifin, ago