Wednesday, February 4, 2015


--This is 2015 AD, not 1015 AD. Yet much of our national conversation is taken up with such matters as torture, beheading, crucifixion, and burning at the stake, or in a cage as the case may be. I admit that I am puzzled, and dismayed. Does progress count for nothing? Does civilization count for nothing? Does evolution count for nothing? How have we, at this late date in human history, returned to the Dark Ages? In one corner of the Earth we have marvelous tools of science and technology, and in another, human beings crucified and burned in public. On the same stage we have Beauty and the Beast. How can the race generate and tolerate such contradictions? It is enough to make one believe in the religious concept of the End Times. The poet said, Surely some revelation is at hand. Yet I begin to feel that, Surely some annihilation is at hand. No species can long endure such dislocations in its behavior. Beauty or bestiality; progress or regress, hope or despair. As Lincoln said, We will become entirely one thing or the other.

--I could not bring myself to watch the video of the public immolation of the Jordanian pilot by ISIS. There are just some images you should not allow into your consciousness. But I listened to discussions of it at some length, saw the images of the young man and of his family, and lay awake last night wondering what it all meant for us as humans. I will tell you one sad spectacle I did watch: that of our President's milquetoast and mumbling comment on it, in which he said that "whatever ideology" was behind it is bankrupt. No ringing condemnation, no decisive course of action, not even a willingness to identify who the villains are and what they stand for. 

Who they are is Islamo-fascists, fanatical corrupters of one of the world's leading religions. And what they stand for is the annihilation of civilization in the name of a new Caliphate. Why the President cannot or will not admit this remains a puzzle, not just to me, but to nearly everyone who has commented on the fact. It would be as if we tried to deny that the Crusaders were Christians. Of course they were; a manifestation of a militant and vile view of Christianity which had nothing to do with the essential spirit of the religion. But nothing would be gained by denying that they were motivated by, and acted in the name of, Christianity. History would be distorted, its interpretation would be impossible. The President is a jihad-denier. And that is as dangerous as any form of historical denial. 

--I know something about the Crusades, or the first one, at least. I researched and wrote a book about it, read the contemporaneous accounts, as well as dozens of subsequent studies of it. The Crusaders, most of them, were religious zealots, though their leaders were as motivated by wealth, greed, and power as by religion. They armed themselves and spread across the known world, bringing bloodshed, rape, torture, massacre, beheading, burning, and even cannibalism into every land they conquered. And they did it all in the name of religion. Does that not sound horribly familiar? Yet that was 1000 years ago. I had thought the human race had progressed far beyond that point. Evidently, it has not. Somebody ought to tell the President.

--I have written before that I regard J. S. Bach as the greatest artist of our civilization, and I have commented that I think some of his keyboard work, such as the Italian Concerto and the French and English Suites are as close to perfection as one will ever get in this world. I could not help but think of them in these past few terrible weeks, and listen to them, and cling to them as to a lifeline. And that gave me some comfort, and some hope that perhaps we as a race may yet endure, in spite of everything.

--I have recently begun re-reading Somerset Maugham. I was hoping that my twelve-year-old, who has been reading through and enjoying Kurt Vonnegut, would take a liking to Maugham. He has not, and I can see why. I read Maugham in college, and loved his work; I have often said that every young man should read The Razor's Edge while he is still young. I think it a beautiful and thought-provoking novel. But in reading Maugham again, I realize that his prose is far too elegant, far too meticulous, and far too embedded in an extinct culture of manners and insouciance to catch the attention of even a very bright pre-teen. But I am enjoying him again. Gore Vidal said that no one writing in the Twentieth Century could avoid Maugham "because he is so there." It is charming to discover that, in my consciousness at least, he is still here.

--These have been ambling thoughts; the reason for which I began this blog several years ago. I wanted a forum in which I could record my thinking about... well, about just anything that crossed my mind. I have tried to do so as clearly and frankly as I could. My thinking has changed over those years, as one's thinking always must in time, and part of that change has been due to writing these posts, and going back and reading through them. This blog has been a sort of intellectual diary, and I have tried to do my best to keep it going, and keep it honest.

At the outset, I was faced with the question of whether or not I would allow comments to be published on my posts. I decided that I would, both out of curiosity, and in the expectation that my readers' comments would help me to clarify my thinking. I follow Lincoln's dictum: I will adopt new views as quickly as they shall be proved to be true views. Of my readers I asked only that their comments be to the point, that is, that they refer to the content of my posts, and that they be brief, and civil in tone.

Initially they were, and I enjoyed reading and responding to them. But when I wrote a film script about Tupac Shakur, that changed. I received so many ugly, obscene, and insulting comments from purported fans of Tupac that I was obliged to pre-screen all comments before publishing them. This I have done for the past three or four years. I have read all comments, and published and responded only to those which I felt were relevant to the posts, civil in tone, and to which I had not already responded in detail. 

In recent months, however, the tone of the comments has again turned ugly. Anonymous readers have been leaving comments filled with venom and vituperation so regularly that I was forced to decide that I would not publish any anonymous comment, and, more recently, that I would not even read them. To those anonymous individuals I say: If you so dislike what I write, then read someone else. If you are incapable of voicing your opinions in a civil and rational manner, then why should I or anyone else take you seriously? And if you are too cowardly to identify yourself with your views, why should I acknowledge you?

Also, I have found that some readers use the comments section of my blog to air their views in elaborate detail. I would remind those people that I started this blog in order to air my views, not those of others. If you wish to record your thoughts and opinions at length, do what I did: Start your own blog. But please do not malign me for refusing to allow my forum to be usurped by you.

Writing a blog has taught me many things. I have been reassured that there are people out there who appreciate frank and controversial views, and enjoy engaging in reasoned and apposite discussion. But I have also learned how many nasty, bloody-minded, and petty people there are in cyber space. It used to be that such people were restricted to ranting in the privacy of their homes, or venting to the few friends they had left, or just wandering the streets shouting at cars. Now, thanks to technology and the Internet, the whole world is their stage.

Well, I am sorry to have to tell you that my little corner of that stage will no longer be available to them. I have reluctantly decided to disable comments on this blog. There is simply too much ugliness in the world without my allowing my forum to add to it. I will continue to write, and I hope that you will continue to read. And I shall miss the input of those who have encouraged me and stimulated my thinking these many years.