Gilead

[Amazon Link]

I came to this work via National Review's list of Ten Great Conservative Novels. Not that the book is without other plaudits: it won a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Critics Circle award for fiction, and probably some others out there too. And (it turns out) even Barack Obama is a huge fan of the author, Marilynne Robinson.

As it turns out, all the praise is justified. Uncomfortable as I am with agreeing with the ex-President.

The setup is not especially promising since my fiction tastes (you may have noticed) tend to run to crime thrillers and hard science fiction. The book is narrated by John Ames, a Congregational pastor in the small southwest Iowa town of Gilead; the setting is the mid-1950s. John has heart trouble that everyone knows will kill him soon, and he's decided to write a mini-memoir to his (then) seven-year-old son, in hopes that it will be read some decades in the future.

What develops is a series of revelations about John's Christian faith, and how that faith was manifested in his (pacifist) father and his (fierce abolitionist) grandfather. Recollections of his first wife and child, long dead, and the loneliness that resulted. The surprising blessing of his current wife and son. And his Presbyterian-minister best friend, Boughton, and his family.

That last relationship turns the memoir into something else, when Boughton's son, Jack, turns up in town after a long absence. Jack is a severe test to John's ideas of how a Christian should behave toward sinners.

I think I can safely say that after reading this book, you'll get to know more about John Ames than you might know about even your closest acquaintances. You might wind up knowing John better than you know yourself.

One personal note: one scene in the book mentions wading in the West Nishnabotna River. Whoa: that was the river that ran through the town where I lived as a young 'un, Oakland Iowa. This sent me to research, and it turns out Ms Robinson based fictional Gilead on Tabor Iowa, just down the road from Oakland, 40 miles or so. Funny!

URLs du Jour

2017-02-08

Proverbs 29:6 is especially applicable to current events:

Evildoers are snared by their own sin, but the righteous shout for joy and are glad.

So keep your sunny side up, up.

  • Is Wired dreadful or awesome? Another tickmark on the "dreadful" side: "Gun Violence Researchers Race to Protect Data From Trump". Aieee! Trump is coming for your data!

    AROUND 11 AM Pacific on January 20th, while newly-inaugurated President Trump finished a celebratory lunch in the Capitol Rotunda, Magdalena Cerdá noticed something different about the White House’s website: All of its references to climate change had disappeared. Cerdá is an epidemiologist at UC Davis’ Violence Prevention Research Program, which focuses on another politicized region of science—gun violence. So she knew what that meant.

    Cue the ominous music: dum dum dum. Server room screens with progress bars showing data wipeouts. Cut to: Shadowy figures in dark rainy alleys passing encrypted flash drives while looking over their shoulders.

    OK. Most of my professional life was as an IT guy. I believe in backing up your data. On 80-column punch cards if necessary. But the article muddles the obvious difference between (1) taking down pages advocating policies the Trump Administration doesn't support and (2) erasing (or making inaccessible) collected data. (1) is obviously going to happen; (2) -- well, I'll believe it when I see it.

    And bemoaning research as "politicized"? Who is doing the politicizing? Especially when you self-label your research field as "gun violence"; this leads me to assume your "research" is mainly torturing your data into supporting your predetermined hypotheses and policy recommendations.

  • But Wired can be awesome too, and I recommend this fascinating article on billionaire John Arnold and his funding of research into bias and flawed research in science. RTWT, but Arnold's skepticism is displayed in a tweet:

    Real scientists shouldn't fear skepticism.

  • J. D. Tuccille, writing at Reason: "Thugs Indulge Their Weimar Dreams and Become the Totalitarians They Claim to Hate". The recent violent incidents involving Milo Yiannopoulos and Gavin McInnes on college campuses are cases in support of that thesis. Their mob violence is bad enough, but Tuccille notes that they're also (no surprise) intellectually lazy and misguided, locked into an 80-year-old narrative.

    In short, the political cause of the age isn't an anti-fascist holy war against Nazis; it's a more complicated wariness toward an unpredictable and preening chief executive who inherited excessive power amassed by his already disturbing, but more polished, predecessors.

    But that more difficult task is likely to get overshadowed by loons indulging their fantasies about the righteousness of launching punches, bricks, and pepper spray at foes who look less like Weimar-era brownshirts and more like anybody who disagrees with them.

  • At Cato, Randal O'Toole debunks the romantic (but common) notion that the European rail system is obviously superior to America's: "Why Trains in Europe Function So Badly".

    According to a Pew study, freight shipped by truck uses about ten times as much energy, and emits far more greenhouse gases, per ton-mile than freight shipped by rail (see page 2). Because rail cars weigh more, per passenger, than automobiles, rail’s comparative advantages for passengers are much smaller, and unlike trucks it will be very easy for cars to close the gap: a Prius with a average of 1.67 occupants, for example, is more energy efficient than almost any Amtrak train. Thus, to save energy, it is better to dedicate rail lines to freight rather than to passengers.

    The American system, flawed as it is, does a far more efficient job in allocating of passengers and freight between different modes of transportation.

  • Can you stand one more link about the dreadful Audi Super Bowl ad? ("Audi of America is committed to equal pay for equal work.") Sure you can! Ashe Schow: "Audi Borrows From Obama After Twitter Outs Hypocrisy of ‘Gender Wage Gap’ Ad". Somebody pointed out that Audi's female salaries average less than males. And then…

    Audi’s official Twitter account responded: “When we account for all the various factors that go into pay, women at Audi are on par with their male counterparts.”

    So when they have a wage gap, it’s due to “factors,” but everyone else’s wage gap is due to discrimination. This is the same tactic the Obama White House used when it was discovered women, on average, were earning less than men. The gap was due to more women in junior positions, with more men in senior positions. But when earnings are compared, women as a whole are compared to men as a whole.

    Ms. Schow is an up-and-comer.

  • Back when he was doing the WSJ "Best of the Web Today" column, James Taranto had a "Fox Butterfield, Is That You?" category. Which came to mind when I saw this tweet:

    (For more on the "Butterfield Effect", see his Wikipedia page.)