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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

THE IMPERVIOUS HORRORS

Oh, were it mine with sacred Maro’s art
To wake to sympathy the feeling heart,
Then might I with unrivalled strains deplore
Th'
impervious horrors of a leeward shore. 
-William Mowatt (from The Ionian Mission)

It may be hard to believe, but conservatives such as myself are big fans of immigration.  My grandfather immigrated here from Denmark, and all people living in the USA, including those designated "Native American" tribes, at one point immigrated to this land.
This nation built by immigration, however, is one built also by the rule of law and a love of freedom.  And this is where conservatives part ways with other groups, in a love of both of these things, in proper perspective, without ignoring either.
Illegal immigration ignores the rule of law in favor of freedom.  Closed borders ignores liberty to focus only upon the rule of law.  These two pressures can be viewed as negatives as well: imagine a ship sailing through a narrow channel, with jagged rocks and cliffs on either side, beneath the choppy seas are hidden reefs and shoals.
So, if you would, consider with me an analogy that helps understand this tension and perspective.
THE ANALOGY
Think of the nation as the great ship America, a sailing ship from the times of wooden ships and iron men.  It sails down a passage between jagged, lethal rocks on either side, manned by sailors of independence and personal ambition, working together to move ahead in this treacherous channel.
The main passage, through the center of these deadly cliffs, is freedom.  To stay on course toward liberty is to stay away from the ruinous shores on either side.  Shores which, if examined closely, can be found to meet beneath the hull of the ship, hidden deep by the waves.
On the port side is the evil of tyranny, in which liberty is destroyed.  On the starboard side is anarchy, in which law is abandoned.  Charting a course between these two evils that destroy civilization and happiness is a treacherous and dangerous job.
For centuries, this nation has been piloted through that narrow channel with a rudder called the Constitution and captained by leaders of integrity and wisdom.  To veer too close to one side or the other means the ship is wrecked, and as we pass through the years, we can see the skeletons of ships that veered one way or the other too far.  Nations destroyed by abandoning the rule of law or tyranny litter the passage of history.
To drift too far to port crushes the ship of our nation on tyranny, grinding its hull to pieces on laws that control us, rules that dominate us, and a culture that obliterates liberty, ambition, creativity, productivity, and even hope.  This tyranny can come to us in many forms, and always, without exception, is presented as being better for us, for our own good, and from well-meaning notions such as equality, safety, or morality.
Drifting too far to starboard eliminates law and order, creating only chaos and anarchy.  This demolishes the nation with rioting, violence, instability, crime, and disorder.  Anarchy need not be a wild man with a bomb, or a mob rising in fury.  It comes from leaders who ignore laws, from laws which the nation refuses to heed, and from exasperation, frustration, or rage at leaders who will not lead or listen.  Anarchy can come from a culture so comfortable with ignoring ethics that it mocks virtues and avoids order.  
Anarchy is when every man does what is right in his own eyes, and every woman lives her own life without regard for anyone else. It comes to us in the name of equality and freedom, but in the end only gives us bondage when after all the violence and madness, the people cry for strong leadership to bring us safety and order -- leadership which is tyrannical.
For these two extremes are like a circle: tyranny often leads to revolution and anarchy, which leads to tyranny.  Anarchy leads to tyranny when people cry for strength and order.  The two evils are incestuous, connected with tentacles of corruption and injustice that reach far into the past and, if we are not careful, our future.  There is no safe port to either side.  Both lead only to rocks, destruction, and misery.
THE PROPER COURSE
Following the course between these two extremes leads ever onward to a future of liberty, prosperity, safety, comfort, ambition, achievement, equality and all the virtues of free civilization,  All of the benefits we are told lie on either side can be found down this course. 
At times our ship will be tossed by the storms of war and the doldrums of economic difficulty, but these difficulties are far better than the rocky doom of either shore.  These troubles are short-lived and the benefits are great, if only we keep this course.
 A wise captain will chart a course between jutting rocks and shoals from port or starboard that we must navigate between.  At times we will need to pilot the ship more to one side or the other, but always through the middle course, and never too close.
When faced with temporary difficulties, often voices call us like the siren to pull to one side or the other.  "Come to the side of tyranny, where you can give up the burdens of personal liberty" they cry; "steer toward the harbor of anarchy, where you can abandon the harsh demands of laws" they implore.  Often they do so out of ignorance, not knowing the terrors they call for.  Sometimes they do so out of malice, hoping to command the ship once the captain is undone.
THE MUTINOUS WHISPERS
When hardships or down times come sailing through the safe, true course, some aboard ship will grumble, hoping to mutiny and move us to one side or the other.  Their arguments may sound emotionally persuasive.  For those without the perspective of history and reason, these mutinous voices can be very compelling.
"Let us steer toward tyranny," they murmur below decks.  "There are those among us who do not have as much as others, surely this inequality is unfair.  If only there was some force to compel those who have more to give of what they have to those who do not have as much!  If only we could force equality of treatment and outcome, a strong leader, a controlling central council, a government that made sure no one felt bad, felt wrong, felt out of place."
"No, let us steer toward anarchy," another whispers in your ear.  "The chains of law and other people's standards are keeping you from having fun.  Imagine what you could do if only we abandoned these old, outdated morals.  Think of what you could have if you just stopped following their rules.  Are you not tired of this course driven by others?  Do you not wish to find your own way, without guidance or rules?"
And each of these would sound strong, if you could not but turn and look back to see where others have crashed, or looked to the side closer, to see the jagged rocks, the flash of bones, and the ribs of ruined ships that have gone before.  These arguments sound stronger when the economy slows or when war arises.  They can seem compelling in times of hardship, and only wise, sure leadership can move us through those epochs without disaster.
OUR PRESENT COURSE
Too easily we are moving to one side or the other, wildly veering about.  Wisdom and integrity are gone at the wheel.  We have no captains of virtue and honor.  We have no schoolmasters who teach us the evils of the past others have fallen prey to.  We have only voices of outrage and fury that they do not get their own way.
The entire concept of liberty as our dearest heirloom, bought at such a terrible price by those who have gone before, is abandoned.  Never do you hear politicians or pundits mention it any longer.  Our rudder is in tatters, broken and brought aboard only to bludgeon those we disagree with, not to guide us.
Our future inevitably, surely lies upon the rocks on either side -- and in the end, it matters not which, for they all lead to the same place.  Only through generations who move back into the proper course have we a future or hope as a nation.  Only by having children, teaching them well, and demonstrating the wisdom of this teaching in our lives can we hope to correct this course, repair the rudder, and replace our captains.
How close are we to the rocks?  I can hear the waves pounding in my ears.  I can see the spray of foam off the hull to the side.  I can see their slick, deadly surface dead ahead.  How much time do we have?  How much are we willing to do in order to right the ship?
I know what it took long ago when this nation was founded.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

REAL MEN COOK 29: Deviled Egg Salad

I grew up in a home where we didn't have a lot of money, so my my mom would work hard to make the limited food budget stretch the whole month for lunches when we went to school.  One of the things she'd make was egg salad sandwiches, which I never liked.  I finally got to the point I couldn't eat them and asked her to try something else.  To this day I feel queasy when I think about them.
It wasn't that her recipe was bad, everyone else loved them.  Its that it just didn't work for me.  So when my brother suggested maybe making some for lunches here, I was skeptical.  I wouldn't really be able to eat any of it, and I eat lunch at home more than he does.
But an idea occurred to me: I like deviled eggs.  And the very simple recipe I have for them works well, and is very well-received any time I make them (also mom's recipe).  So I thought: why not make egg salad sandwiches with that recipe?
It turned out super easy.  And it tastes great.  There are two keys to this:
  1. Chop the egg up fine
  2. Keep the ingredients simple
Forget those fussy overworked recipes you see on TV.  Simple, fresh: that's your key.  You keep that in mind, you get good food.
So, what does it take to make this?
  • Eggs
  • Mayonnaise
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Mustard Powder
  • Paprika
That's it.  No celery, no onions, no bacon, no onions, no cilantro or eggplant or whatever the heck people put into egg salad.  Just those simple six ingredients.  If your recipe looks like Alton Brown's shopping list, its too fussy and busy.
Just use the recipe linked above for Deviled Eggs to make perfect hard boiled eggs then chop them up and mix in the ingredients.  If you need more specific directions, here's some proportions that worked well for me:
6 eggs, hard boiled
1/2 cup Mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika

I recommend chopping the eggs up into small bits, a quarter inch or smaller.  That way its more a spread than chunks of white in your bread.  This is key to the recipe and letting people like me who don't like the texture of egg whites (or their extremely mild flavor) tolerate the food. Once you have the parts chopped, mix in the rest of the ingredients and store for a half hour or more in the fridge to blend together.
With enough mayo, you don't even need anything on your bread.  Easy, takes about a half hour or so, and this makes quite a bit; enough for a bunch of sandwiches.  I couldn't even find a good representative picture, because people hack the egg into gigantic bits and don't use paprika even in the simplest recipes.
*This is part of the Real Men Cook series.

Friday, June 24, 2016

THE MORAL INFANCY OF GEORGE LUCAS

"Let me say here once and for all: [Jar Jar Binks] was the best damn character in any of the six movies. He was by far my favorite."
-George Lucas

So I was watching the Star Wars commentary track recently.  This is sometimes very interesting and informative, but sometimes very unfortunate.  For example: Die Hard track, pretty great.  James Bond tracks: terrific.  But I almost shot myself after listening to the endless stupidity and sermons on diversity on the Lord of the Rings commentary tracks, and it turns out that Kirsten Dunst is dumb as a bag of wet sand based on the Spider-Man commentary track.  I lost IQ points listening to her.
The technical guys are terrific.  They have lots of details of how they set up a shot, what they used to get an effect, how the sound was designed, costuming, on and on.  They never disappoint.  But the directors and actors are usually vapid and pompous at best, and it goes downhill from there.  I've lost tremendous amounts of admiration and respect for directors and actors from having to sit through their self congratulation and grossly overblown sense of significance and meaning.
Star Wars was no different.  I didn't have a very high opinion of George Lucas to begin with.  I mean, he's a great idea guy and he really pushed the boundaries of film making technology, but he's an idiot and a terrible director and writer.  The guy claims he had this huge overarching story worked out in the same breath as explaining that they had to make stuff up to fill in the movies because the original script and story idea for Star Wars was so limited.
Basically he wrote a story for Star Wars, then rewrites and better writers cleaned it up, so he used unused parts for concepts for the later movies.  He never had a huge long story in mind, just one Saturday Matinee-style space opera/fantasy.  Then he started thinking he was as cool and important as his fans said.
But what really struck me was how morally immature and lost Lucas is.  He's really an infant when it comes to issues of ethics and morality, almost completely unconsidered but absolutely certain.
ABSOLUTES
George Lucas went on at some length about the significance of costuming and coloration in the Return of the Jedi commentary.
He said that it was significant that the Empire wore black and white, because they were so absolutist, and the rebels all wore earth tones, because they were so organic.  Now putting aside the bright red Imperial guard in that film, and the various grays the pilots wore in the Empire, putting aside the pure white costume Leia wore in the first film, consider.
This statement on "organic" vs "absolute" was repeated overtly in the dialog of Revenge of the Sith with Obi Wan quipping "Only the Sith deal in absolutes"  OK, sure, that was its self a tautology: an absolute statement denying he belives in absolutes.  But the problems go deeper than that.
George Lucas would say that the Emperor is evil.  That destroying Alderaan was an evil act.  Absolutely.  He further would not agree with the idea that "organic" morality allows us to support slave trading like Jabba the Hut engaged in.
The same writer that made the stupid "absolutes" statement also had Yoda quip in a faux zen statement "there is no try.  There is only do and do not."  Again, an absolute statement, in direct contradiction to Anakin's childish line.
REDEMPTION
This moral confusion and lack of awareness continues through the entire commentary.  Lucas makes some grand statements about redemption and moral redemption in the Han Solo character arc where he goes from allegedly cold-hearted mercenary to heroic savior in A New Hope.  But there's no arc.  he just suddenly shows up Deus Ex Machina style when he's needed.  There is no explanation, no scene showing his transition, no moment of realization.  There's no story to it.  He just suddenly cares more about his friends than money and his own life.
Lucas goes on about this, comparing the Lando Calrissian character to Han Solo: both are self focused, both are money hungry cold men, then become better men through a story arc of redemption.  Yet again, Calrissian has no such story.  The deal he made to save his friends falls through with Darth Vader, so he takes action against the Empire.  There's no transition.  He doesn't change his mind.  If anything, he's just being consistent.
Lucas doesn't have any idea what it takes to depict morality or redemption, because he doesn't understand good and evil or what redemption really even means.
Consider his depiction of Anakin Skywalker's fall in the latest trilogy, episodes I-III.  There's no real story of how he goes evil.  The kid is just a lucky kid in the first movie, a petulant brat in the third, then an apparently insane individual who almost murders his own wife out of the fear that she'll get hurt, then joins with the man who caused her danger because... well its never really explained.  he just is, because that's how he ends up in Episode IV, as Darth Vader.
Lucas doesn't understand the whole idea of corruption beyond a term.  Anakin doesn't naturally and "organically" end up as Darth Vader.  He ends up that way not out of a character progression, but out of the necessity for the story to end that way.
THE CAVE
The most significant moral scene in the films is the Cave scene in the Swamps at Degobah.  Plato had his analogy of the cave trying to explain the depth of meaning and how only through enlightenment by someone else can a person understand more than what they see around them.  Lucas uses the cave to... well it depends on who you ask.
Lucas thought the cave scene was obvious.  Yoda tells Luke he won't need his weapons to go into the cave, but Luke isn't so sure.  Yoda looks sad.  Lucas makes a statement about how clearly this was him showing weakness, that his need of a gun showed how weak and small Luke was.  
Lucas further went on to say how clearly it was if he took the gun into the cave, then he'd need to fight.  Obviously.  Then he met Vader, who showed that the violence in his heart was making him more like Vader, who he might turn into!
Except... nobody else got that out of the scene.  Not because its an implausible explanation, but because its not explained or even hinted at.  Yoda is disappointed, but why?  Because Luke doesn't trust him?  Because Luke doesn't rely on the force (the explanation most commonly given) instead?  Because Luke is too rash and won't stop and listen to instruction?  There's no way of knowing.
After all its a swamp full of snakes and water monsters, who knows what is in there?  Taking a tool belt including weapons along into an unknown cave on a wild alien planet doesn't strike me as particularly rash or foolish.  It seems completely rational, only the presumption that Yoda is right, a challenging one based on his bizarrely almost childish and annoying behavior when they first meet, makes you think Luke should obey him.
I get that Lucas had a short time to establish Yoda as a wise person, but since he spent a large portion of their scenes together establishing Yoda as whimsical and annoying, that doesn't come across well.  Which is again his poor writing skills on display.

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Monday, June 13, 2016

ROCK SOLID NO MORE

A butterfly with broken wings 
Is falling by your side 
The ravens all are closing in 
And there's nowhere you can hide 
Cymbaline 
Please wake me 
-Pink Floyd, "Cymbaline"

I have experienced a couple of earthquakes in my life.  Most of them were so tiny I didn't notice, but a big one happened in Scotts Mills, about 15 miles from the home in 1993.  The quake was 5.6 on the richter scale, and did some damage around the town, although little if any that I could see in the house.
I left the house when it started, in my bathrobe.  At just before 6:00 it was just getting light in March and cool outside, but I was alone.  I stood there, as the rumbling stopped and the movement died down staring at the ground.
What was once so solid and trustworthy, wasn't any more.  All the terms you use to describe something absolute and reliable: rock solid, rock bottom, foundation, all of them presume the place you can go for safe stability is the earth its self.  Now it was moving around, it couldn't be trusted.  Suddenly the world felt... untrustworthy.  I was filled with a queasy sense of unease and uncertainty.  There's simply nowhere else to go when you can't trust the solidity of the planet beneath your feet.
Welcome to 2016, where the entire nation of the USA is feeling that.
CULTURAL RAM
For decades now, the extreme left has been successfully pushing culture and society ever more radicalized and leftward.  But in the last few years, its accelerated to the point of madness.  In just a few years, many solid, reliable, absolute, and trustworthy things about society have been removed, replaced, or reversed.
What was once laughable and unthinkable has become mandatory.  What was once reliable and comfortable has been banned or shamed.  What you could just last year freely say or do is now considered hateful and horrific.
Now, putting aside whether these changes are good and proper or not, consider the state of a nation where this keeps happening over and over.  The very definitions of basic foundational fabric-of-society concepts such as marriage, gender, and language have been uprooted suddenly and radically.
When you combine that with the contrast between what the economy is like down on the streets and what we're told its like in the media and by pundits, people are more than confused.  Add to that continual murderous attacks by Islamic radicals which we're told aren't really radical or Islamic.  Americans are looking at the ground with suspicion and accusation. 
That fundamental distrust of the world and what was comfortable and predictable has hit everyone - even the people who basically support these changes.  Needing to shift from, say, thinking a guy dressing as a woman is silly to stating unequivocally that this is now a woman and heroic for doing so costs a person psychologically.
In the past, big changes of this sort tended to either be accompanied by huge upheavals of another kind (war, famine, etc) or were slow and organic.  New generations tried out an idea, and over the generation it became standard.  As the older generations died out, no one really remembered the difference.  That's something a culture can absorb and people can comfortably adapt to.
But this sudden, almost violent radical change - a series of one after another, after another - that's very difficult for an individual to absorb, let alone entire cultures.
You can see this all around us.  People are on edge, easily angered, easy to take offense, easy to fight.  There's an unease around us among everyone that people are seeking solutions for.  Most people, perhaps the vast majority, don't even know exactly why they wake up feeling as if things are not quite the same color as last night.  As if they've stepped into another, very slightly different world where all the furniture was moved 1cm while they slept.
OASES
There are some who aren't affected by this.  Some who are comfortable and feel no disruption or change.  They are rich, powerful, comfortable, and surrounded by all the same things they always were.  Their jobs are safe, they know no one who is in trouble.  These people are isolated from what the bulk of society goes through and knows.
The last time I saw this was when Jimmy Carter was demolished in the general election by Ronald Reagan.  The pundits were sure Carter was an easy win, because Reagan was an idiot and a radical and a fire breathing bigot.  Things were kind of tough, but not so bad, and voters understood Carter meant well.
VICTORY
The first politician that taps into this sense of unease and gives people what feels like - not seems or logically proves to be - a solution, that politician wins, and wins big.  It doesn't even matter if they have any actual solutions.  Just the feeling that this person gets it and can handle things is enough.  Just the sense that someone like that can bring us back to what Reagan campaigned on -- "normalcy" -- can win.
What that means for this year's election or the nation's future I don't know.  All I know is, this situation is not something that can continue indefinitely.