Thursday, October 29, 2009

Teaching Amnesia To British Youth

"Our face is our autobiography", historian Will Durant remarked in one of his 1,000-page volumes on the Story of Civilization. This observation compliments one made by another Will -- William Shakespeare, in As You Like It:
"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts..."

As we make our own individual entrances we are arriving at a mid-way point in an ongoing story. The players we see looking out at us when we face ourselves in the mirror can delude themselves into believing that the play began with the rise of their own individual curtain, but a more humble, and honest, recounting would reveal that the clock started ticking long before our arrival into the scene.

What story are we joining? What role is missing in the play, that we can fulfill? What are the hopes, and regrets, of those already having passed through the drama before us, from which we may take our cues?

Looking into their own mirrors, I wonder what the youth of Great Britain are seeing written into their autobiographies, now that they are no longer being taught about the story they are joining:

History Vanishes From One In 20 Schools
[Michael Gove, the Conservative shadow schools secretary] said: “History is effectively disappearing from some secondary schools. Giving children a proper knowledge of our island story so they can take pride in our historic achievements is the best way to build a modern, inclusive future for our country.
“But after a decade of decline under Labour less than a third of children now take the subject, and yet again we see that it is poorest pupils that are disproportionately missing out.”

Given how history's being taught when it is being taught, maybe it's disappearance is becoming the lesser of evils..?

[T]here is no doubt that something has gone badly wrong when seven out of 10 schoolchildren are no longer studying history at the age of 16, when two out of 10 think Britain was once occupied by the Spanish, and when some identify Sir Winston Churchill as the first man on the moon. And the blame lies at the very top, shared by politicians of both parties, who have been systematically cheating and betraying our children since the 1980s.

During the Thatcher years, it was meddling from the top that downgraded history from a compulsory to an optional subject at the age of 16 – which, because it was seen as "difficult", made it easy pickings for Mickey Mouse subjects such as Beauty Therapy. It was supposedly "progressive" interference, meanwhile, that did away with old-fashioned essay questions and replaced them with empathy exercises and multiple-choice quizzes that sacrificed any sense of intellectual depth or discipline.

And perhaps above all, it was in Westminster and Whitehall that officials designed our absurd Yo! Sushi approach to history, in which schools randomly pick unrelated historical topics like saucers from a conveyor belt, instead of studying our national story as a continuous narrative, which is how any sensible person sees it.
One student survived his youthful education with his curiosity intact, and pursued history as a more serious subject in university, but now admits he seems to spend more time defending his favorite topic than studying it:

Whenever I tell someone outside university that I'm taking history, they look puzzled, suppress a giggle, and ask "Why?"
People assume I'm deranged (or just a bit simple) when I mumble my reason for studying history: I enjoy it. I like reading and writing about history.
Basically, I'm doing a hobby degree. "But what will you do with a history degree when you graduate?" is often the next question.
Here's how you answer them: we study history as a precursor to greater understanding of other subjects, not just for its own sake; it helps us recognize the existence of cause-and-effect relationships, the fallibility of Man, the possibility of unintended consequences, and most especially, it teaches us how to learn, so long as history is approached as the study of stories... as learning from experience.

Sadly, in the UK such wisdom is fast becoming history.

How could you see a future, when you don't see a past?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Big Lessons From Small Voices

Small gestures can make a big difference.

Brooke and Keith Desserich have written a book about their daughter, Elena. At the age of six, Elena was diagnosed with pediatric brain cancer, and the family was told that she had only 135 days left to live.

While they struggled to find a way to cope with the news, and to help their other daughter, Gracie, learn about her big sister, Elena did some teaching of her own, for her family's sake.
During her final days, the girl began writing letters to her family and hid them all over their home.

“She would tuck them into bookcases, tuck them into dishes, china you don't touch every year and you'd lift it up and there'd be a note in it,” Keith Desserich, Elena’s father, said.
The cancer soon took away her voice, but did not deny the perceptive young soul the ability to still express her gratitude for the great treasure that filled her life: a loving family.

"We started to collect them and they would all say 'I love you Mom, Dad and Grace.' We kept finding them, and still to this day, we keep finding them," Keith Desserich said. "Literally, there are hundreds of notes that we found."

Elena’s parents each hold onto a sealed note they've never opened.
"We always want to know that there’s one more note that we haven't read yet," Keith Desserich said.

The Desserich family initially didn’t want the story published, but in the end, they decided they would if all the money went to their cancer foundation, The Cure Starts Now, dedicated to finding "home run" cures for all cancers.

Notes Left Behind went on sale yesterday, serving as an inspiring example of the renewal of love that springs from Gratitude, and the great things that can come from the humble act of giving thanks for all the good, big and small, that may come our way.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Hunger For Africa's Farmland

1849: The Irish Famine of the 1840s saw the death of a million people, yet during the five year period when the potato blight was at its worst, British-owned farms in Ireland continued to export food to Great Britain.

2009: Ethiopian famine is back in the news; 10 million of the 80 million inhabitants are suffering from the effects of a four-year drought, with over 6 million people urgently needing food.

Appeals have been made by the Ethiopian state minister for agriculture and rural development for over 150,000 tonnes of food to avert another tragedy.

The World Food Programme has pledged food supplies for Ethiopia's hungry poor, but their relief efforts will cross paths with large exports of food harvested from Ethiopian farms now owned by Saudi Arabian investors, suggesting that human history, like nature, works in cycles:
Early this year, the king of Saudi Arabia held a ceremony to receive a batch of rice, part of the first crop to be produced under something called the King Abdullah initiative for Saudi agricultural investment abroad. It had been grown in Ethiopia, where a group of Saudi investors is spending $100m to raise wheat, barley and rice on land leased to them by the government. The investors are exempt from tax in the first few years and may export the entire crop back home.
Is this to be the new "Scramble For Africa", the start of another century of colonialism?
The strategy is portrayed by the Saudi leadership as benign. Saudi Arabia manages the agricultural production and human resources. It is not, therefore, exploiting cheap local labour. Neither is it profiteering in the global food market from higher agricultural yield, since produce is flown back for Saudi consumption. Yet a closer look at the countries being approached by Saudi investors shows a preference for weak or unstable states with low taxation, minimal bureaucracy and insufficient capital to grow food on the land (and thus a willingness to sell land to those that can, for less than it is probably worth).
Earlier this year a report entitled “Land Grab or development opportunity?", was released by United Nations-affiliated agricultural organizations FAO and IIED, addressing the growing race to acquire Third World farmland and the effect of this trend on rural populations, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Their conclusion: Africa is almost giving away this land for free:
The report studied cases in Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Madagascar and Sudan, uncovered farmland investment in the past five years totalling about 2.5m hectares – equal to about half the arable land of the UK.
Other estimates, including one from Peter Brabeck, chairman of Nestlé, put total farmland investments in Africa, Latin America and Asia above 15m hectares, about half the size of Italy.
Also raised in the report was the risk that poor people will lose access to farmland and water.
“Land allocations on the scale documented in this study do have the potential to result in loss of land for large numbers of people,” the report states.
Other analysts are more optimistic about the changes being sown:
[Joachim von Braun, director of the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute] stressed that the foreign partnerships should benefit everyone by increasing worldwide food production. "We should not look at this trend with alarm. The more capital that finds its way into agriculture, the [bigger] the total pie."
But who gets the pie, and who gets the crumbs?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Wretchard on fire: testament to the truth of faith

Moving on from his original post on Pope Benedict's recent entreaty to conservative Anglicans, Wretchard of Belmont Club has been leading a discussion with some excellent comments. I particularly like this last:
It is the side-effect of this “otherworldliness” that fuels many of the common notions of freedom. Every worldly religion tends toward a closed system. Part of the power of the Declaration, I think, stems from the idea that the world is even in principle never completely definable by a human agency. It leaves the door open to new information from outside the system, represented by the notation “the Creator”.

Winston Smith attempts to rebut O’brien’s assertion of the Party’s omnipotence by pointing out that O’brien himself was aging; that Party members died; that it could not control the natural laws. O’brien responded with the torture machine. He made the five fingers he held up seem as many as he claimed. O’brien argued that the Party did not seek dominion over nature. It sought dominion over man. The quotes supplied by Storm Rider and cited below are true, but not in the way they are commonly supposed. From a purely secular point of view, what they signify is that for a Kingdom of This World to be complete, it is first necessary that God should not exist. The Universe must be closed. The Party’s word must be final. It is imperative that the Last Prophet should have come. The book is ended and the ultimate words are written, not as an earnest of more to come, but as a grant of absolute power to those who rule on the earth.
“It is not true, as is sometimes said, that man cannot organize the world without God. What is true is that, without God, he can only organize it against man.” Henri de Lubac

“If God does not exist, then everything is permitted” Fyodor Dostoyevsky
What Dostoevsky might have said is that for everything to be permitted to the State, then God must not exist. If God does not exist, then the State is free to organize against man. The ideological imperative of global warmingism is this: even nature must be brought into the political system. There is no “out there” there. Not God, not Nature. Not anything you might want to call the Creator. Everything is subject to the political process. Man must control the climate. If the climate goes bad, it is because our politics is bad. Sacerdotal dictatorships have not advanced much beyond the shamans of millenia past. We still sacrifice for rain. Only we sacrifice jobs, abort children, extinguish our dreams. Nothing is beyond their purview. We should never be allowed to think something the state cannot give or approve of. Hence “hate speech”. More than that, we ought never to be able to even dream of what it cannot bestow. Unless the far green country under a swift sunrise is manufactured by the state, it should never be allowed to enter into our visions. “It’s for the children” refers to us.

All real totalitarianisms are ultimately intellectually sterile, not simply spiritually barren. That is why global warming is in many respects anti-science. Real science has never heard of truth by consensus. Science leaves the door of knowledge open. We continuously learn from what is “not of this world” — in the sense that which is not within our purview yet. We learn from what is over the next hill, across the wide ocean, beyond the gulfs of space; we learn from events that occured before we were born and perhaps of events after we die. The first thing that faith must preserve is wonder; and the second is a childlike curiosity. Freedom stems from the sense of the possible. It believes there’s always a door leading out of the building. A far green country under a swift sunrise.
Oct 23, 2009 - 10:18 am
Belmont Club » The lighting of the beacons

I would only add that given that this faith in open-endedness, in a further truth beyond our present and conceivable human systems, is indeed a real necessity for human freedom; and given that many people today just are not going to be capable of faith in some supernatural "God" as explanation for this reality of an inexhaustible truth (the inexhaustibilty of the ways in which the human might come to know itself in future), this is just the reason, as I was suggesting to Dag the other day, that we need to allow ourselves to explore the anthropology of the human concept of "God", not to diminish the basis for real faith by attempting to reduce what cannot be reduced to systematic knowledge, but to create a greater faith in the human ability and necessity ever to expand the degrees of freedom in our shared systems and forms of sacrality.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thursday Sights

Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst while threading one's way along life's stream of bitter truths on an overcast Thursday morning.

"Golden Age" Of Islamic Spain: Using hard truths to shine some light on popular utopian myths:
Few of those who want to emphasize the Golden Age of Spain and how it was a land of "tolerance" want to recall that Maimonides and his family were forced to leave Spain in 1148 because the fanatic Muslim rulers, known as the Almohades, gave Jews and other non-Muslims the choice of conversion, exile or death.
Yet this expulsion was never remembered. Is this the place of "humanistic beauty" that Western scholars want us to recall? Was this the "bastion of culture, commerce and beauty"? Western historians have presented this as "the intellectual community which the northern [European] scholars found in Spain was so far superior to what they had at home that it left a lasting jealousy of Arab culture."
Most have forgotten that this Arab culture in Spain was one that included slavery. People speak of Spain as a "Convivencia" or coexistence society. This coexistence society we imagine as a utopia resembles the American antebellum South, with slavery and large wealthy estates.
Today's Great Britain, Where Violent Assault Is Not Necessarily A Crime: The Chief Inspector of Constabulary reports that thousands of violent assaults and domestic attacks are being recorded by investigating police officers as "no crime".
The police inspectorate found one in three decisions to record a violent incident as no crime were wrong.
If the findings, based on a sample, are repeated across all forces, it would mean at least 5,000 victims of violence being ignored.
As well as disguising the true extent of violent crime, a wrong "no crime" decision affects the help given to the victim.
Among the cases was a woman left battered and bruised after her partner slapped her, grabbed her by the neck and threw her on the floor.
The force, which has not been named, recorded no crime as having taken
The officers wrote that the victim would say she injured herself and that her partner's account was "more accurate".
Preying and Praying: Indianapolis cashier Angela Montez tries to dissuade an armed robber from committing his crime, and -- who knows? -- may have found the words to save him from pursuing a more violent life, if he ends up taking her advice to heart.

The thief's mother identified him from news broadcasts of the security video, and the man has turned himself in to police.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wednesday Wonder

The more I learn, the less I realize I really know. Here are some stories learned on a rainy Wednesday morning...:

Kangaroo Care: A reminder of the value of even the simplest contact between one person and another: the emerging trend to nurture premature babies through the oldest of treatments, skin-to-skin contact.
"Even in educated families, there's a sense of fatalism if a baby is born preterm. There's no expectation they can do anything," Lawn said. "With pretty simple solutions, these deaths could be halved, but it doesn't seem to be a priority."
She points to Malawi, where traditionally new mothers have tied babies to their backs as they go about their day. Today, mothers of preemies are taught to tie them in front, under their clothes, kangaroo care-style, she said.
The skin-to-skin contact keeps the infants' body temperature more stable, a key to survival, and they can nurse at will, promoting weight gain.
The test of faith that comes with the birth of a premature baby is ironically further challenged by the idea of such simple remedies being more effective than our scientifically advanced incubation technology...:

The benefits for all babies on KMC [Kangaroo Mother Care] are that they stabilize faster on skin to skin care than in the incubator (they do not stabilize in the incubator in the first six hours of life)
Then KMC babies have stable oxygen rates and breathing. The heart rate is stable. The temperature is most stable on the mother (in skin to skin care the mothers chest automatically warms to warm a cold baby, and the mothers core temperature can drop if her baby has a temperature.) Another of the essential factors of KMC is breastfeeding: breastmilk production is stimulated by skin to skin care so baby gets all the benefits of breastmilk including the correct milk for humans. (Formula is made with cows milk which is designed for baby calves.
The main protein in cows milk, casein, is actually toxic for the human baby’s gut so they get milk allergies on formula.)
The babies can breastfeed more often in KMC. This is necessary for growth as the baby’s stomach capacity at birth is only 5ml. After one week it is 30ml which only lasts for 90 minutes. Babies need to be feeding every one and a half to two hours.The baby smells the breastmilk directly so the rooting instinct clicks in quickly and there are less subsequent problems with breastfeeding.
On the mothers chest the baby also gets gestation- specific breastmilk, if the baby is a premature, the milk content is different. Breasts can even produce different milk specific to the needs of each twin. The breastmilk contains all of the nucleotides necessary for brain growth. The mother’s colostrum carries the antibodies needed to protect the newborn with immunity. In terms of protection, the baby will get antibodies and about a thousand other protective factors from the mother’s milk. There are less long term health problems for babies that have breastfed and had skin to skin contact. In skin to skin care the baby is in a relaxed mode so all of the hormones prepare the gut to absorb food maximally. The babies on KMC can grow at 30g per day which is three times that of an incubator baby. This will mean less time in hospital.
A major difference in skin to skin care is that babies cry less so they have less stress hormones like somatostatin circulating, so there are less brain bleeds which are very common in premature infants.
These benefits to Kangaroo Mother Care, along with many for the mother's health as well, outlined here.

Atheism 3.0 Believes In Religion, Just Not God: Fascinating article in USA Today on a wave of new books written by atheists with a decidedly different point of view than the recent 2.0 trinity of Dawkins Harris and Hitchens. Displaying more integrity than I did back during the days I had strayed from my faith, atheist writers like Bruce Sheiman have the honesty to admit to seeing the great good as well as the misguided bad that has been accomplished in the name of religious faith:
"More than any other institution, religion deserves our appreciation and respect because it has persistently encouraged people to care deeply — for the self, for neighbors, for humanity, and for the natural world — and to strive for the highest ideals humans are able to envision," Sheiman writes.
The Greatest Show On Earth: A double-meaning as far as I'm concerned, when Richard Dawkins sits for an hour-long interview on Hugh Hewitt's radio show, to discuss Dawkins' new book on evolution, The Greatest Show On Earth. From the transcript:
Richard Dawkins: ... What point are you making?
Hugh Hewitt: That complexity in design, and counterintuitive steps, et cetera, don’t disprove the idea of genius at work. Genius at work often works through complexity and through misdirection.
RD: I think that what you’re kind of saying is that God made the world look as though it had evolved in order to test our faith, when it didn’t evolve.
HH: No, not test our faith. I’m saying that the world has been made as it is to allow for faith, because if it was made too easy for the simple-minded, it would simply be routine, and everyone would believe, and then there would be no faith.
RD: That would be a pretty unpleasant sort of God. I think, I would say you’re welcome to believe in a kind of God who would do that, but it’s not the kind of God that would appeal to me.
HH: Well, it’s not about what appeals to us, it’s about what is. And you also write that a beneficent designer might, you’d idealistically think, minimize suffering. But not if the soul was infinite, and suffering was necessary for its wisdom.
Heroes With Both Two And Four Legs: Courtesy of Small And Simple Things, a video on training special dogs for special tasks, trained for special people. And after you watch the video I think you'll agree that they are definitely being trained by special people as well: what a lesson in the sacrificial nature of true love.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tuesday Medicine

Ups, downs and sideways wanderings along the river of life on a cold Tuesday morning.

When Healers Go Bad: In London, a married respitatory physician tried to poison his pregnant mistress, a 33-yeard old single mother, by slipping abortion-inducing drugs into her tea and orange juice.

In Minnesota, a male nurse is said to have participated in international suicide chat rooms online, and stands accused of encouraging several suicides while chatting there, for his own amusement.

According to nursing board documents, Melchert-Dinkel suggested to others in the chat rooms that he could die at the same time they did, and he twice watched through his webcam as they took their own lives.
In Ohio, an especially sordid case of two pediatricians, twin brothers in fact, charged with sexually abusing their young patients. One of the two doctor brothers, Mark Blankenburg, has been found guilty of 16 charges of molestation, and awaits conviction on a further 25 charges of bribery and drug trafficking, in relation to his attempts to keep his young victims from talking about their abuse. His twin brother awaits trial for a further 22 charges of his own. The jury heard graphic testimony from four young men, three of whose lives have been scarred by the doctor's repeated abuse:

Three of the accusers developed substance-abuse problems. Two became convicted felons, one of whom is serving the rest of his life in prison for nearly killing a police officer.
Fortunately, the few bad are far outweighed by the many good. God bless them for the good work that they do.

And speaking of healing: Do yourself a favor and spare the time to watch the inspiring video of octagenarian couple Frances and Marlow Cowan enlivening the Mayo Clinic with a wonderful example of how much of a difference we can make just by making the ordinary, extra-ordinary:

[Hat Tip to Henry at Why Homeschool]

And courtesy of the Mayo Clinic's blog, an equally inspiring interview with the remarkable couple:

Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday Fallout

Grey skies to greet grey stories fallen from the headlines on a wet Monday morning.

Stolen Innocence: Tragic story of South African Girls as young as 11 being abducted by relatives and condemned to lives little better than sex slaves, in a tribal custom known as "ukuthwalwa" (translated as "to be carried"). One rescued young lady talks about her ordeal, began when an aunt and her own brother arranged for her to be traded to a 42-year old man for some cows:
Nangamso Gezana, 15, says she was abducted in May in Lusikisiki and taken to Rustenburg, where she and her new husband lived in a shack for one month.
"I don't know how many times I thought of killing myself," she says.
"I was like a slave, cooking and cleaning for a man I did not even want. A man who did bad things to me and would not stop even when I cried.
"I think that men are evil."
Ms Sinama says she knew she had to leave when she learned that her husband was suffering from HIV.
"I saw his medical certificate in the house, it was written HIV positive. I knew that if I stayed I would get sick and die," she says.
From Morocco's "Little Maid" custom in North Africa, to this tribal custom in South Africa, the scourge of slavery is alive and well across the African continent. And the rest of the world, even the US. One estimate puts the number of slaves in our "enlightened" modern era at 27 million trapped souls. One of the militant atheists' criticisms of the Bible that I can't resolve is why there is so little to say in there about ending the evil of slavery; it's as if the Lord presumes we are such a wicked species that we will never do what it takes to fully stop the vile practice anyway..? Murder and theft are condemned so specifically, but not a crime that murders faith and robs humans so deeply of their humanity? At best the only explanation I can arrive at is that slavery survives as a reminder of our fallability, a reminder that the practice of serving man as god leads only to slavery, whereas it is man serving God that leads to liberty.

Meanwhile, slavery persists, rising in civilization's shadows century after century in direct proportion to the illusion we amuse ourselves with, that we've finally put an end to it. Shame on us all.

The Art Of Biography: UK Telegraph columnist Simon Heffer reports on biographer Richard Thorpe's suggestion that biography itself, as a literary subject, may be about to exhaust itself:
Mr Thorpe talked in his lecture about biography as we know it being a 20th-century phenomenon. Before that there was the "stained glass window", or reverentially monumental, approach of the Victorians; though when J A Froude tried to be monumental and reverential to Carlyle he found himself savaged by Carlyle's family and friends for having dared to cast aspersions on the relationship between the Sage and his wife, Jane.

That all changed with Lytton Strachey, and Eminent Victorians in 1918, where warts-and-all really came into its own. Now, a biography without a decent measure of salaciousness is hardly wanted on the voyage. No secret is too dark to expose; no biography can be considered serious, indeed, unless it is exposed. We have certainly had a golden age of the genre; but how long it will continue is anyone's guess. Books on themes, phenomena, abstracts are all the rage now.

The trouble for those who do persist with biography is this: that the detailed dismemberment of a person and his or her reputation that is now expected by the reading public can make the very task of biography
unpalatable for the writer.
It is very, very hard to write a life even of someone one admires. To write one about someone one loathes must be appalling. When Philip Ziegler wrote his superb life of Mountbatten he had to put a notice on his writing-desk that read: "Remember, when all is said and done, he was a great man".
Intolerant Pakistan: Shabaz Bhatti, Pakistan's first Christian Minorities Minister, delivered a candid address last week to the annual conference of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a UK-based charity that supports the persecuted church worldwide and has long campaigned for Pakistan’s blasphemy laws to be repealed. He pledges an attempt to curtail Pakistan's notorious anti-Christian violence and persecution against minorities in general:
Shabaz Bhatti told hundreds of Christians in London on Saturday that the Pakistani government was ready to review the notorious blasphemy law that is routinely misused by Islamic extremists to attack and imprison Christians.
He acknowledged that Christians were being attacked, imprisoned and killed under the pretext of committing blasphemy and that the blasphemy charges being brought against Christians were false.
The blasphemy laws, he continued, had created intolerance, disharmony and a “sense of insecurity” among minorities.
“The blasphemy laws have remained a tool in the hands of extremists to victimise minorities and innocent Muslims in Pakistan,” said Mr Bhatti... In the wake of the recent attacks in Gojra and Korian, which left eight Christians dead, he said the government was determined not to allow any more innocent Christians to be victimised.
Mr Bhatti: “In many cases of violence, it is not only the law which is creating disharmony. It is the mindset of the people who take advantage of the law and the situation and they instigate and incite the people to kill the Christians, the minorities and the innocent people so we need to work to change the mindset of the people and through these intiatives and others we can bring a change in their mindset.”

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Radio Memories: Gettin' Out Of Dodge

Riding in for a Sunday night break comes this week's entry in our Radio Memories series, where we listen to echoes of a time when radio drama, the theater of the mind, shaped the culture.

Early television offered many westerns, but the most popular and enduring tv western, Gunsmoke, actually began as a radio show, and was one of the only instances of a successful transition from one medium to the other. Co-created by director Norman Macdonnell and writer John Meston, it was envisioned as "an adult western", according to an interview Macdonnell provided to Time Magazine in 1953, almost a year into the western's eventual nine-year radio run.

The show had a far harder edge to it than most radio westerns of the period, and that was partly its purpose; Colorado-born Meston had a particular dislike for the milk-totin', Melody Ranch singin', Lone Ranger-style western hero, having grown up among Indians, pioneers and other survivors of the real Old West. In a well-quoted letter to the New York Tribune newspaper in 1959, Meston challenged the historically false stereotype of the fantasy cowboy head on: “I spit in his milk, and you’ll have to go elsewhere to find somebody to pour out the lead for his golden bullets.”

One of the strengths of the radio show was the masterful use of the medium of radio drama itself. Gunsmoke, even more than the other great shows of the era, succeeded in painting such vivid pictures in the mind's eye, from dusty Dodge City Kansas streets to drink-adled cowboys arguing in dirty saloons, to the stark prairies surrounding these scenes, making Marshall Matt Dillon's world as believable as the street scenes I can see outside my bedroom window.

The episode included below was one of the first I ever heard, over twenty-five years ago, and served as my introduction to a side of the story of the Old West that at the time was unknown to my young teen self. There are references to the notorious "fighting parson" John Chivington, and the dark stain of the Sand Creek Massacre, "a cowardly and cold-blooded slaughter, sufficient to cover its perpetrators with indelible infamy, and the face of every American with shame and indignation", as an army judge pronounced at the time.

The radio Gunsmoke relied on a small pool of talented radio actors, many of whom performing in rotation as they portrayed each episode's cast of new characters. They were the best that radio had to offer in those days, and one in particular is worth special mention: the busy John Dehner.

Dehner mischievously participated in a secret running gag, dreamed up spontaneously in rehearsal and repeated virtually each week for over a full year (as far as this fan can tell from listening to the first half of the series' 480 episodes). When he would be appearing as another character, John Dehner would double as a meek, star-struck townsman greeting Marshall Matt Dillon with a crusty "Oh, hello Marshall!" And Marshall Dillon would smile and pause long enough to answer with a courteous "Hello, John."

The joke is that this brief exchange would happen every single week, interrupting interrogations the Marshall would be engaged in with suspects, popping up while Matt Dillon was walking down the street, always at unexpected times in each week's story. The audience were never coached to notice the proud townsman, and it seemed to become a game to see if, left to themselves, the audience ever would notice him. His appearances, therefore, began to push the envelope of credibility until, as a bemused John Dehner himself recalled for a later Gunsmoke retrospective, his townsman character bumped into Marshall Dillon way out to hell and gone on the prairie, as if this humble little townsman was out there living among the Arapaho Indians.
"Oh, hello Marshall!" "Hello, John..."

There was said to be a lot of this kind of joshing behind-the-scenes, especially in rehearsals; a very rare few of these have survived, and testify to the creative lengths the actors, sound effects team and sometimes even the musicians went to to get each other to crack up on-mike... probably in an attempt to diffuse some of the tension of each week's script; Gunsmoke was one of the most violent programs on radio.

Few were as dramatic, or as poignant, as this episode, first broadcast on Saturday August 2nd 1954, an episode proving once again, that around Dodge City and the territory on west, there's only one way to handle the killers and the spoilers; and that's with a US Marshall, and the smell of.... Gunsmoke.

Previous Radio Memories posts:

Biography In Sound: George M. Cohan
Fibber McGee And Molly: The Scrap Drive
D-Day Broadcasts (from June 5, 1944)
Red Skelton: Vacations
Frontier Gentleman: Gambling Lady
Information Please: Guests Walter Duranty and John Gunther
The Aldrich Family: Cleaning The Furnace
Tom Mix, Terry and the Pirates VE Day broadcasts from May 8 1945
You Are There: The Capture Of John Wilkes Booth
Fort Laramie: War Correspondent
CBS Radio Workshop: Son Of Man
Great Gildersleeve: Easter Rabbits
Dimension X: Time And Time Again
An American In England: Women Of Britain
Cavalcade Of America: Bob Hope Reports
The March Of Time: Feb 10 1938 broadcast
Hear It Now: Coming Home From The Korean War
Escape: Vanishing Lady
Rogers Of The Gazette: Rewinding The Town Clock


I know now just how cool it was to sit on the living room floor at the neighbours' house with my friend and watch television. Television, which most of us now don't bother with because there are better media to receive our delights, was in the day some miracle we could hardly witness without tears of joy. But even then I had no idea just how cool it was to live in such a miraculous time.

A huge plastic veneer wood cabinet with a tiny little glass screen in it showed us pictures in varying shades of gray, and from the fuzzy fabric on one side came from a tinny speaker, sound, like Patsy Cline. I could, at this moment, weep for joy. We are blessed, even moreso than then as we sat on plastic wall-to-wall carpeting in the living room of a house electrified. Thanks to hygiene and medicine available to my family but unknown to my Grandparent's age, I survived a major epidemic that carried off children by the score in my little town; and I could sit and watch, in the darkness of the land, a woman singing, from who knew where, right in the room warm and comfortable where I was. My gratitude is unbounded when I think a moment about the joys of Modernity.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Patsy Cline...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Saturday Shadows

Threading a trail through the day's headlines, in search of news off the beaten path.

Germany's Green Brothels: East Berlin's "The House Of Desire" offers discounts for, er, "customers" who visit their brothel by bicycle and on the bus, leaving cars (and wives?) at home:
"The environment is a topic on everyone's lips and it's pretty difficult to park around here. So we came up with the idea of an 'eco discount' of five euros [$7.70 CDN] to anyone who leaves the car at home," Ms Goetz told AFP.
Fifteen minutes in the brothel costs 25 euros rather than 30 euros [$46.25 CDN] for environmentally-conscious punters, around 10 per cent of whom have taken up the offer.
To qualify for the discount, "clients who come by bike show their helmet or their padlock keys," she said. "Others hand in their ticket or monthly pass if they have come on the bus."

Cakes Gone Wrong: When semi-literate bakers take you literally, you get surreal picture parades like this one, courtesy of the hilarious site Cake Wrecks, highlighted at the New York Times.

[When asked what they wanted written on their cake, the customer evidently replied "nothing"... so that's what they got.]
Strength Through Verdure: According to a new Dutch study, Being Near Nature Improves Physical & Mental Health:
The closer you live to nature, the healthier you're likely to be.
For instance, people who live within 1 kilometer (.6 miles) of a park or wooded area experience less anxiety and depression[.]
In areas with only 10% of green space, about 2.6% of people experienced anxiety disorders, compared to 1.8% of people in areas with 90% green space. The disparity was evident for depression as well — 3.2% of people living in more urbanized areas had depression versus 2.4% of those in more rural areas.
Children and poor people suffered disproportionately from lack of green acres, the researchers found.
If we're in a busy street with more technology and artificial things, we're going to be multi-tasking more, which prevents us from focusing on one thing," [Dr. David Rakel, director of integrative medicine and assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health] said. "In this day and age, we really need some sort of centering practice. We need to get our mind out of its own stories and focus on something that's pure. Nature is a beautiful example of that — it's the way things were meant to be."

I think the great British poet William Cowper would agree:

God made the country, and man made the town.
What wonder then that health and virtue, gifts
That can alone make sweet the bitter draught
That life holds out to all, should most abound
And least be threaten'd in the fields and groves?

___ lines 749-753, The Task (1785)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday View

At last, the long-awaited return of our daily round-up of some of the good, bad and ugly spotted around the corner from today's news headlines.

Horror and Hope in Bulgaria: In 2007, documentary filmmaker Kate Blewett put the shame of Bulgaria's Mogilino institute onto all our radar screens, highlighting the appalling conditions governing the care of Bulgaria's Abandoned Children. This week, she returns to see how things have changed, and we get a rare taste of good news for our bleak world:

To witness such human deterioration and to know the only way to truly effect change was to carry on filming and bring the documentary film to a wider audience - was an incredibly difficult process.
However the impact my film had has been extraordinary. Viewers wrote to me by the thousands, donating money, and forming petitions demanding change from their MPs and MEPs.
Some gave up their jobs and went to Bulgaria to help, taking supplies, food, clothing and medical aid.
This year I returned to Bulgaria to find out exactly what has happened to some of the key characters from the original film. Once again I was shocked by what I found.
I witnessed the miraculous improvements that can happen in badly-damaged children when decent care is finally given to them.
Read the rest. (Picture courtesy of True Vision Productions)

Mayan doomsday set for December 21, 2012? Not if you actually talk to Mayans...
"I came back from England last year and, man, they had me fed up with this stuff [says Mayan elder Apolinario Chile Pixtun]."
At Cornell University, Ann Martin, who runs the "Curious? Ask an Astronomer" Web site, says people are scared.
"It's too bad that we're getting e-mails from fourth-graders who are saying that they're too young to die," Martin said. "We had a mother of two young children who was afraid she wouldn't live to see them grow up."
... Chile Pixtun, a Guatemalan, says the doomsday theories spring from Western, not Mayan ideas.
"If I went to some Mayan-speaking communities and asked people what is going to happen in 2012, they wouldn't have any idea," said Jose Huchim, a Yucatan Mayan archaeologist.
"That the world is going to end? They wouldn't believe you. We have real concerns these days, like rain."
American angels: After reading this humbling article about 30 Mexican children receiving free heart treatment in Iowa, all I can think to say is: God Bless America.

... John Gay, a pediatric cardiologist at Mercy, was talking with a local dentist who had visited the Yucatan Peninsula to do dental work. The dentist was surprised by how many children there had heart defects - and little prospects at proper care.
The next year, Gay organized a medical mission to Yucatan. Some children were in such bad condition their extremities were purple.
"We were met with a great deal of suspicion," Gay said. "These people were saying, 'Let's get this straight. You're going to take care of our children. You're going to fly them there and back for free and provide free health care?' "
A few took the offer and returned in better health. And the program grew each year.
You could look at Alicia Stessman's visit to the pediatric heart unit at Mercy around 1980 as happenstance. After all, she came only to visit a friend's sick child.

But when she was there, Alicia heard Spanish spoken in the hallway. She was told of Mercy's program for impoverished Mexican children. The Stessmans both spoke Spanish, and both understood life in a foreign land.
"I really fell in love with the program when I met the parents," Alicia Stessman said.
"They were crying, worried, nervous about their children. They didn't know what was going to happen."
Three decades later, the Stessmans still visit the 30 Mexican children who get heart surgeries at Mercy every year. They've also visited Yucatan to help doctors choose a new group of children for surgeries.

The Stessmans pick up the children and parents at the airport. They sit in the waiting room to calm parents as children go through surgery. They celebrate when a surgery goes well. They mourn in the rare instance when it doesn't.
"The Stessmans have been very helpful in allaying those fears of these families," said Thomas Becker, the pediatric cardiologist now in charge of the Yucatan program. "The big payoff is when you go back and you see the kids you operated on before. The parents can't wait to show you how well their kids look, all dressed up and healthy. That's how we get paid, by this big outpouring of love, and the Stesssmans are such a big part of that."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Psychopathic Television For Sadists

Good grief, what kind of a tv show is this?? And who are these giggling heads that find it all so funny?

I like practical jokes as much as the next goof, but this... this goes way too far.

Years ago, I used to love watching a French Canadian program called "Surprise Sur Prise", which was a French version of Candid Camera, except that it aimed its practical jokes to target celebrities instead of regular folks. Two jokes per episode, with the victim interviewed afterwards, reliving their situation and getting the opportunity to slip in a plug for their latest movie, or album, or concert, or whatever they were up to next (a neat quid pro quo for getting the celebrities to participate for free, and to consent for the humiliation to air on national television up here).

One time the show pretended that a celebrity was being invited to be "in on the gag", to set up a friend, whereas in fact it was the other way around; it was the friend that in on the conspiracy, with the celebrity herself being set up. The celebrity (a tv actress, as I recall) was being shown some "new scenes" revealing the new, "edgy", direction the producers wanted to take the show in, so that she would get an idea of what kind of gag they wanted to play on her friend. The videos she was shown were all set-ups, each more shocking than the last, with the hidden camera focused on the celebrity's growing unease at participating in such cruel practical jokes. The humor was in the celebrity's discomfort, and her disbelief that people could be so sadistic. One of the fake pranks they showed her, as they discussed possible tricks to play on her friend, in fact, was a fake assassination plot not so different than this one in the Japanese tv show: the friend is pretending to be asleep in bed, when machine-gun wielding masked men burst into his bedroom and spray the room (with blanks), with special effects squibs burst all over the bed, pillows and walls, while the friend, playing his part to the hilt, shrieks and thrashes about in mock terror.

The fake assault was all intercut with the shocked expression on the celebrity's face as she begins to question the sanity of the producers of this famous (at the time) tv show.

That program had some wit to it, some redeeming cleverness behind the manipulation of its intended victim. This, below, this to me is just... sadism, straight up. Or am I losing my sense of humor as I grow older?

[HT Breitbart TV]

Friday, October 09, 2009

So the last of the loony Euro aristocrats have confirmed Obama's deification, giving him the Nobel peace prize just a little too soon

The confirmation of the deification is also its demise. Too much special pleading, especially when it comes before the great sacrifice, even destroys the authority of would-be gods. The Norwegian lady doth protest too much.

It's times like this when the desperate papering over of reality, like the last days of a Ponzi scheme, becomes obvious to even many diehard believers. The reality of human mimetic desire and conflict reasserts itself in brutal ways and it soon enough becomes clear that men who think one builds peace by destroying alliances and national cultures, abandoning the people to imperial pretensions, blaming everything on a scapegoat (the Burning Bush!), and standing down militarily in the face of some very real rivals - one a rather complete Other with a project to destroy the modern global economy - will have to face the new dawn. History waits for no one, however much we attempt to sacralize a dieing vision, and i think today we are seeing the last gasps of a certain phase in the ongoing Gnostic delusion about the nature of humanity. However, in crisis, opportunity exists for those who must rebuild themselves.

Great comments on how the Norwegians have really put Obama in the bind, at Belmont Club.

I am a little amused that yesterday I somehow "thought" to blog on Churchill's speech responding to the Munich agreement and Chamberlain's "peace in our times". How a propos. Everyone should read that speech from top to bottom for a refresher in the human capacity to believe in a fantasy, or just to give up in the face of hard human realities that entail inescapable conflict and the need to stand up - with others, bonded not just by will but by a shared, loved, reality - or give in. A few weeks ago, I half wrote another post anticipating this day. I didn't finish it so I may as well start cannibalizing it. It ended with a quote from Eric Voegelin that seems appropriate again. Voegelin illuminates the failure of the lonely, elitist, would-be-world-controller with a "Gnostic" will to seriously transform reality through force of personality and asking others just to sign on to "the dream". Writing during the Korean War, in The New Science of Politics (1952), criticizing the various "Gnostic" political religions that think they have achieved some rarefied insight, some systematic and controlling knowledge, some expertise, some insight into reality that mere wingnuts will never know, and that will allow an elect to imagine and shape the future, Voegelin already saw what we all should now know the "internationalist" dream of peace in a UN- and expert-mediated world has become:
The prehistory of the second World War raises the serious question whether the Gnostic dream has not corroded Western society so deeply that rational politics has become impossible, and war is the only instrument left for adjusting disturbances in the balance of existential forces.

The conduct of the war and its aftermath unfortunately are apt to confirm this fear rather than to assuage it. If a war has a purpose at all, it is the restoration of a balance of forces and not the aggravation of the disturbance; it is the reduction of the unbalancing excess of force, not the destruction of force to the point of creating a new unbalancing power vacuum. Instead the [American] Gnostic politicians have put the Soviet army on the Elbe, surrendered China to the Communists, at the same time demilitarized Germany and Japan, and in addition demobilized our own army. The facts are trite, and yet it is perhaps not sufficiently realized that never before in the history of mankind has a world power used a victory deliberately for the purpose of creating a power vacuum to its own disadvantage. And again, as in previous contexts, it is necessary to warn that phenomena of this magnitude cannot be explained by ignorance and stupidity. These policies were pursued as a matter of principle, on the basis of Gnostic dream assumptions about the nature of man, about a mysterious evolution of mankind toward peace and world order, about the possibility of establishing an international order in the abstract without relation to the structure of the field of existential forces, about armies being the cause of war and not the forces and constellations which build them. and set them in motion, etc. The enumerated series of actions, as well as the dream assumptions on which they are based, seem to show that the contact with reality is at least badly damaged and that the pathological substitution of the dream world is fairly effective.

Moreover, it should be noted that the unique phenomenon of a great power creating a power vacuum to its own disadvantage was accompanied by the equally unique phenomenon of military conclusion of a war without conclusion of peace treaties. This rather disturbing further phenomenon again cannot be explained by the baffling complexity of the problems that require settlement. It is again the dream obsession that makes it impossible for the representative of Gnostic societies to formulate policies which take into account the structure of reality. There can be no peace, because the dream cannot be translated into reality and reality has not yet broken the dream. No one, of course, can predict what nightmare of violence it will take to break the dream, and still less so what Western society will look like au bout de la nuit

Gnostic politics, thus, is self-defeating in so far as its disregard for the structure of reality leads to continuous warfare. This system of chain wars can end only in one of two ways. Either it will result in horrible physical destructions and concomitant revolutionary changes of social order beyond reasonable guesses; or, with the natural change of generations, it will lead to the abandoning of Gnostic dreaming before the worst has happened.
I see this is a warning not just to the left-liberals Voegelin was directly criticizing, but also to a kind of "right-wing" reaction to them, one that has itself grown up in the Gnostic culture and is variously indebted to it, and that attends the rise of Obama with a mix of conspiracy paranoia, fear, over-done loathing, and a desire for a conflict that will reveal to those with eyes to see the truth of this reality that at present only a few keen seers can divine. But, as Voeglin argued, turning to conflict, without first attending to the totality of human and historical reality, turning to a desire for battle without seriously pursuing questions of how various kinds of "armies" are created, motivated, and supplied, is a sure-fire recipe not for the victory of an orderly reason, but for more destabilizing conflict.
(HT: Catfur)

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Churchill, 1938; Coren, 2009

At a time when Obama is embracing the idea of limiting freedom of speech at the United Nations, lest Islam be offended by its critics, let us not pretend that there is any guarantee of peace, international order, and civility that the UN can any longer provide.

The Munich Agreement:
We do not want to be led upon the high road to becoming a satellite of the German Nazi system of European domination. In a very few years, perhaps in a very few months, we shall be confronted with demands with which we shall no doubt be invited to comply. Those demands may affect the surrender of territory or the surrender of liberty. I foresee and foretell that the policy of submission will carry with it restrictions upon the freedom of speech and debate in Parliament, on public platforms, and discussions in the Press, for it will be said - indeed, I hear it said sometimes now - that we cannot allow the Nazi system of dictatorship to be criticised by ordinary, common English politicians. Then, with a Press under control, in part direct but more potently indirect, with every organ of public opinion doped and chloroformed into acquiescence, we shall be conducted along further stages of our journey.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Do you have a question for Jennifer Lynch, Head, Canadian "Human RIghts" Commission?

If so, check out BCF's post for ideas on how to send them along to the Parliamentary Committee that may yet have her as a witness:
Blazing Cat Fur: Questions for Jennifer Lynch of the Canadian Human Rights Commission on Section 13 (1)

I think your questions should provide the Committee with documented information and not be too pointed about what they must ask; give them some room to come to their own understanding of the scandal. So far, I am so unimaginative, all I can come up with is: "Ms Lynch, when are you going to put a stop to the racism at the CHRC in respect to Section 13 prosecutions?"

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Get out (of) your pens!

Blazing Cat Fur (Arnie) reminds us:
The CHRC has mounted a Kamikaze effort [in appealing the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision in Warman v. Lemire, which declared Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act unconstitutional] to defend the odious Section 13 (1). It is imperative that we ask those organizations who support 13 (1)'s repeal to seek Intervenor Status in the upcoming judicial review of Warman v. Lemire .

Do your bit, write the organizations listed below, where appropriate ask if they plan to seek official status at the judicial review, offer to assist if at all possible with a donation. Nag Harper, nag Nicholson nag your MP, nag the members of the Justice Committee. Send a letter to the editor of your local daily, or write your favourite columnist.

This is your fight, take a swing and make it count for Free Speech. Let our opponents know that we will not negotiate and we will not beg for what is rightfully ours.
Blazing Cat Fur: Rally the Troops for Free Speech - A campaign for intervenor status in the Judicial Review of Warman v. Lemire

Now Marc Lemire, for all his work in uncovering the outrageous police-state-cum-loony-tunes conduct at the Canadian "Human Rights" Commission may not, on his own dime and lawyer's mind, be able to put forth the best, or most complete, of legal briefs as to the inherently unconstitutional nature of Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. (I say inherently because if taken to heart, no people could actively covenant, in the basic human logic of constitutionalism, with a law over their heads saying they could be legally accountable - fined or banned for life from discussing certain topics - for merely saying something that in future might be construed as making some group look bad...) What's more, Lemire's personal history, his involvement in white nationalism, does not make him the best poster boy for convincing liberals that our "Human Rights" act is not itself a tool in the fight against totalitarianism but is rather an example of what Charles Taylor calls "nomolatry" or "code fetishism", an idolatry that becomes itself a form of scapegoating violence through a lust to identify and punish various social losers/code breakers whose words in some far corner of the internet are built up into horrendous thought crimes to serve the desire for a righteous war against black-hatted evildoers.

So, there is a need for other parties to intervene in the CHRC appeal of Warman v. Lemire. And to that end, we need to be encouraging, with letters and potentially dollars, those organizations to which the court might grant intervenor status. Cat Fur has addresses; he even suggests we write the fans of Section 13 to tell them politely to give it up! Faith in our constitution of citizen self-rule Cat Fur has; let's catch and iterate his sign. Put your name to a letter.

Blazing Cat Fur: Rally the Troops for Free Speech - A campaign for intervenor status in the Judicial Review of Warman v. Lemire

Friday, October 02, 2009

Good line

David Warren:
This is perhaps the most essential, if seldom acknowledged, insight of the post-modern "liberal" mind: that if you take the pillars away, the roof will continue to hover in the air.

Gorbachev seemed to assume, right up to the fall of the Berlin Wall and then beyond it, that his Communist Party would recover from any temporary setbacks, and that the long-term effects of his glasnost and perestroika could only be to make it bigger and stronger.

There is a corollary of this largely unspoken assumption: that no matter what you do to one part of a machine, the rest of the machine will continue to function normally.

A variant of this is the frequently expressed denial of the law of unintended consequences: the belief that, if the effect you intend is good, the actual effect must be similarly happy.

Very small children, the mad, and certain extinct primitive tribes, have shared in this belief system, but only the fully college-educated liberal has the vocabulary to make it sound plausible.

With an incredible rapidity, America's status as the world's pre-eminent superpower is now passing away. This is a function both of the nearly systematic abandonment of U.S. interests and allies overseas, with metastasizing debt and bureaucracy on the home front.

And while I think the U.S. has the structural fortitude to survive the Obama presidency, it will be a much-diminished country that emerges from the "new physics" of hope and change.
Lament for a nation

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Canadian "Human Rights" Commission to appeal Warman v. Lemire

However, what the courts think of Section 13 is less and less important. Canadian public opinion, as reflected in the MSM and on the internet is heavily opposed to Section 13. As such, the law cannot stand in a free society and representative democracy, as long as the political parties continue to hide from the debate and refuse to make a public and election issue out of what is only a political hot potato if you are among those who fear you must pay the moral blackmail of the institutionally-entrenched, but not representative or responsible, victimary left.

It remains to be seen, however, which agents of the state will recognize that they live in a free society and representative democracy. If the government has had any role in encouraging the CHRC to appeal the Warman v. Lemire decision, it needs to be denounced for its inability to make a public stand and/or take responsibility for changing what is widely and rightly perceived to be an atrocious law. If the CHRC is appealing on its own initiative, it's time these power-hungry bureaucrats were shut down.

Canadian Human Rights Commission :: Resources :: What's New