Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Baseball's Got It All

Bases loaded. Two outs in the ninth. Two strikes on the batter. You're up 6-4, so you've got a cushion but you want this guy out for the win. Throw...swing and a miss! You win!

Except the pitch is wild, your catcher drops it and that means it's a live ball and it's squirted away from him. If he doesn't throw the runner out at first, runs will score. He doesn't, and in fact throws it past the first baseman into right field. Two runs score easily and the third beats the throw in from the outfield, and you lose.

Sometimes it really isn't over until it's over.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Unclear on the Concept

What makes a university? I've attended two and worked at another, but I don't know if I could say.

That's OK. Neither can the University of Akron.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Thor Very Angry!



Stuff like the above picture makes me very glad I live in the modern world. Because I can find out it's a known, if somewhat unstudied, occurrence called "asperitas clouds," and understand it's simply a meteorological phenomenon that doesn't mean the end of the world is nigh.

Had I lived some hundreds of years ago, however, I would have been convinced that Ragnarok had come and it was time to kiss my lowly human behind goodbye.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Don't Care So There

Writing at The Public Discourse, Paul Rowan Brian and Ben Sixsmith sketch an outline of the more problematic of the foes Christianity and other religions face in the U.S. today. It's not atheism, but something they call "apatheism."

As they note, high-profile atheists ran rampant (not really, but they were well-publicized) through media and culture through the late Oughts and early Teens of this century. They kind of took the handoff from some of the militant demythologizers of the 1990s, such as the Jesus Seminar and other media-friendly redressings of Rudolf Bultmann's work. Religious people didn't just get Jesus wrong, they said, religious people started from the wrong place because there was nothing "out there" to begin with.

The larger lights of that scene have faded. Of the names Brian and Sixsmith mention, Christopher Hitchens has passed away (and was a lot fairer-minded than even he liked to think), Richard Dawkins has decided to say some things that make people a lot less disposed to listening to his other ideas and Sam Harris finds himself sometimes defended by religious liberty and free speech supporters because he's not always willing to agree with everything folks purportedly on his side say.

But far more of a problem in any event is this "apatheism," which you might see this way. If a religious person says, "I believe," then a polite atheist might ask why. A less-polite one might roll his or her eyes and say, "Idiot." An apatheist shrugs and says, "So what?"

The problem this poses for Christians -- and since that's what I am, that's how I'll argue; I can't speak for people of other faiths -- is that much of our apologetic work over the last century and a half has been lined up to "prove" the reality of God. Faithful folks saw this as a goal as they encountered other cultures where people had not heard the gospel message, as well as the way to rebut those who used things like modern cosmology and evolutionary theory to "prove" God was not real. Some success certainly came from this model, but it proved inadequate to counter, "So what?"

A world in which the idea of any absolute truth is rejected a priori is a world in which supposedly rational proofs for a matter of faith are far less likely to move someone who disagrees. For these folks, the fact that I have proved God's existence to my own satisfaction may be swell for me but has no bearing on their lives -- because all of our viewpoints are valid since there is no one absolute truth. You might ask how we can say there is no absolute truth when it seems like that statement is itself proclaiming an absolute, but then you would be a big spoilsport and a ninny who just won't get with the program.

Anyway, as Brian and Sexsmith note, "meh" is a lot harder position to fight than "bah!" Much of our modern Western Christianity takes away some of our weaponry in that fight. So much of our gospel message has been tweaked and modified for palability's sake that it doesn't proclaim anything that merits a "bah!" in any event. How can we proclaim we share a life-changing message we ourselves heard when we don't show much change in our lives?

This may not have been a good article to read the night before Sunday morning worship, where a goodly percentage of the people I'm supposed to talk to will have treated Sunday just like any other day with soccer tournaments, dance recitals, music shows and what have you. But I've got several hours to get over it, at least.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Local Color

Sean Duffy is a Catholic police officer in a heavily Protestant section of Belfast -- which means no one he knows likes him all that much. In Northern Ireland in the 1980s, some of the violence of "The Troubles" has been muted. But only some, and only muted -- it's waiting to break forth with any excuse.

But Duffy doesn't much care, because he wants to do one thing: solve crimes and help those who've been wronged by lawbreakers. He'll drink too much, smoke more weed than he should and even indulge in that great 1980s pastime, cocaine, but he has before him finding out who killed a wealthy husband and wife and why. At first their son's death, complete with suicide note, seems to close the case. But then the son's girlfriend also appears to take her own life and that doesn't add up for Duffy, despite pressure from his superiors to mark the matter closed. The threads he follows will lead him to and through layers of conspiracy that will brush up against some well-known real-life incidents and people.

Adrian McKinty had originally intended on just a trilogy of Duffy novels, but found himself persuaded to continue them as a series. Writing about his own hometown and situations which he witnessed himself more than once, he can set the scene with precision and flair. Duffy is bleakly droll, as you might imagine for a man who never starts his car without checking for a mercury switch bomb attached underneath.

He makes Belfast -- specifically the mid-80s Belfast where The Troubles were metastasizing in connection with Middle Eastern terrorism to make a devil's brew of violence and death -- a character in the story. Duffy's mordant view of his own life and woes mirrors the way that many folks in Belfast found themselves living, where they did not know if the next trip to the pub or the store or church might bring them in contact with a bomb or murder squad. The hopelessness that permeates this life extends into the hopelessness he and many of his fellow officers feel about whether or not they can solve these murders -- or any crimes, when the only group that's hated more than the criminals are those out to catch them. Even though it all seems to be shades of dismal gray, McKinty uses the local color of the places he knows to strengthen his story and multiply its impact.
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Ed James, who seems well on his way to becoming the Ed McBain of English and Scottish police procedurals, relies on color differently as he opens a new  character series, following Police Constable Craig Hunter as he investigates crimes in Edinburgh. Hunter connects with one of James' other character series, featuring a higher-ranking officer named Scott Cullen, but Hunter's work is much more on the street level than Cullen's detective casework.

In 2016's Missing, we meet Hunter just before he begins the case hinted at by the title, as he engages in one of the many tasks people seem to expect of uniformed police officers -- rescuing an animal. But before he and his partner Finlay Sinclair can finish their shift, they are called to a domestic disturbance that will soon spiral out of control due to the secrets being kept by the family and some incompetence on the part of his fellow officers. Douglas Ferguson has been shut out of his house by his wife following an accusation of sexual abuse by her daughter Stephanie. Stephanie seems uncooperative and her mother is even less help, so when the girl goes missing Hunter and a superior officer, Detective Sergeant Chantal Jain, face enormous pressure to find her and avoid the hailstorm of condemnation the department has coming for losing Stephanie in the first place.

James paints most of his color in his dialogue, peppering it heavily with expressions and lingo common to Edinburgh and other idioms used by their law enforcement. The dogged police work is the same as might be found in any precinct anywhere, but the different words and the ubiquitous closed-circuit television surveillance available to the officers sets these flatfeet apart from their stateside counterparts.

The final resolution of the mystery is a little convoluted and some mighty big coincidences link our characters to the case and to each other, but Missing still manages to open up a case so that the readers who look in can follow along despite some of the strange Scottish sayings he or she may encounter, and the characters draw enough interest to prompt some return visits.
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Ace Atkins also relies on local color in telling The Sinners, the eighth story of former U.S. Army Ranger Quinn Colson. Colson is supposed to be getting ready for his wedding, but a gruesome discovery in a nearby waterway threatens to derail his plans, if not flat-out get him killed. Evidence points him at the Pritchards, two back-country race car drivers whose main business is selling pot and whose uncle just came home after a long and not very rehabilitative stretch in prison. His friend and best man Boom Kimbrough has uncovered some shenanigans with the trucking company for which he drives. And lurking in the background are brothel owner Fannie Hathcock and her shady connections to a "Dixie Mafia" of organized crime.

Atkins' roots in the South have helped some earlier books establish themselves with their authentic dialogue and atmosphere. But over the past two or three Colson books, he's let his local color setting run amok, dumping load after load of redneck lingo, vulgarity and unsophistication onto every page. The "local color" smothers, suffocates and drowns the tissue-thin Dukes of Hazzard rip-off plot until it falls apart like a cheap paper plate holding too much cobbler. Almost every character is a fount of backwoods -- and backwards -- simile, metaphor and vulgarisms that exhaust the reader and his or her patience long before we get anywhere close to a resolution of this padded and stretched-out narrative.

The Colson series didn't start like this, and Atkins seems to be able to avoid the pitfall in his continuation of Robert B. Parker's Spenser series. So I suppose the real mystery is why these last few books have gone so far overboard. Maybe Atkins feels like he needs to prove his grits-n-gravy bona fides after writing books set in Boston. Maybe he read some fan mail that approved of the style and took it too much to heart -- or maybe some that hated it and he decided to be ornery.

It's hard to say, and I don't really know. I'm starting to suspect that despite his rural Southern roots, Atkins has grown to dislike the region and its people, and is using this overlarded affectation of regional style to highlight that. Or perhaps he feels that they've gotten a little too much of a sympathetic hearing in recent years and figures folks should know what they're really like. A few characters seem to escape the flood and remain sympathetically realistic and free from Atkins' heavy hand of cornpone cussery. But they appear far too little and the relief is far too infrequent to save The Sinners.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Cool

I don't always agree with economist Tyler Cowan, principal blogger at Marginal Revolution. And I'm also not always a big fan of reading books about economics, as important as it is to understand the subject since few elected officials seem to have any hankerin' to.

But I may buy his new book Stubborn Attachments anyway, as Cowan decided he would donate his entire share of the book's earnings to a man he met in Ethiopia who wants to start his own business. The main idea of Stubborn Attachments, according to a couple of blurbs that I've read, is that our reason and common sense can help us get rid of concepts and ideas that hold our entire society back, and that we can improve things through cooperation and relationships. The choice to donate his profits to the man who helped guide him around a village in Ethiopia, he said, is a way to live out what the book argues we should be doing.

Now, as to whether or not I read it is another matter entirely, of course. Thomas Sowell helped me understand economics as a discipline. But even he couldn't get me to enjoy it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Oops

It seems that every now and again elected officials will actually go out on a limb and perform duties their founding documents suggest they do.

West Virginia's House of Delegates, analogous to the U.S. House of Representatives, passed 11 articles of impeachment against the remaining justices on its state Supreme Court. The articles charge the justices with abusing their authority and using taxpayer money for personal gain. Most of the allegations center on extravagant spending by the justices, on their own offices and perks as well as on semi-retired colleagues for their limited work.

The matter is now in the hands of the West Virginia Senate, which will hear testimony and then vote to convict or not. Some political shenanigans worked their way into the mess, mostly involving the timing of the votes relative to deadlines for elections.

Some might suggest that West Virginians have shown their federal counterparts what they should do with President Trump. Many might certainly wish for that to come to pass. But unfortunately, while the president is guilty of boorishness, childish pettiness, incompetence and a complete lack of good character, none of those are impeachable offenses.