Wednesday, August 24, 2016

I'm Back Home!

I'm bruised and sunburned, but the trip was definitely worth it! One last picture upload and some other reflections will be posted once I've recovered.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Steph's Two Week Odyssey, Part III: Branson

Greetings once again from your traveling blogger! This post is pre-published; by the time you read it, I will already be at World Con.

As I write this up, I am sitting in a hotel room resting after spending the first half of the day enjoying the sites and attractions of the historic district in Branson. The weather is pretty poor at the moment, so I was unable to head over to Silver Dollar City to check out the artisans. All the same, I enjoyed what little I could fit in before the Rains came.

I started the morning with a ride on the Branson Scenic Railway, which took me on a beautiful trip through the Ozarks into northern Arkansas, then turned around and came back. I think what fascinated me the most were the stories the conductor told about the two now-dead towns whose remnants lay on the route. First was Melva, MO, which was completely leveled by a tornado in the 1920's and never rebuilt. According to the story, two women survived the tornado by sheltering in the local hotel's fireplace. Second on the route was Cricket, AR, which used to be a rail stop until the Great Depression destroyed its economic reason for existence. We've all heard of ghost towns, of course, but the tragedy of both of these communities still touched me all the same.

After I got off the train, I went looking for food...

... and then checked out some of the local shops. My two favorite were the Victorian House and the Dick's 5 & 10. The former sold all sorts of pretties; it took a great deal of willpower not to spend too much money!

The latter was just pure fun. The pics below only sample the silly items they had for sale.

And I think I'll stop there until the next post, in which I will share a few more photos from the non-World Con part of the trip and - maybe - some World Con snapshots as well. It all depends on how much free time I have between now and then.

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Steph's Two Week Odyssey, Part II: St. Louis

Hey all! It's time for another update on my trip to World Con!

Before I share the best of the photos I took in St. Louis, though, I just want to encourage all my readers to sign up to vote for the Dragon Awards. As you may have heard elsewhere, the short list has just been released to currently registered voters, and several eminently worthy writers made the cut, including Chuck Gannon, Jim Butcher, Larry Correia, and other best-sellers. And by the way, voting won't cost you a thing; this process is 100% open to all fans regardless of your ability to pay a fee.

Now, with that public service announcement out of the way, here are the aforementioned pics:

The Gateway Arch.

A view of St. Louis from the top of the Arch.

A view of the Mississippi from the top of the Arch.

The Old Courthouse.

The Old Cathedral.

A giant grasshopper, which was shot at the Missouri Butterfly House.

Another pic in the Butterfly House.

This is probably my favorite of all the pics!

On Wednesday, I will post highlights from Branson. Until then, God bless!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Steph's Two Week Odyssey, Part I: Food Porn, Churches, Mammoth Cave & More!

Our supposed cognoscenti will find this terribly gauche, but I love my country. Not only do I love the ideas that animated its founding, but I also love the land itself; indeed, when the Discovery Channel aired its North America miniseries, I had several religious experiences. Thus, when I decided to go to World Con this year, I also decided to drive -- and to take the long way around. Currently, I'm sitting in a hotel room in St. Louis; over the past few days, I've traveled through West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois. Click below to see some highlights!

Monday, August 8, 2016

A Nation on Autopilot

1776 is one of my favorite Broadway musicals. Sure: The music is sparse and, with a few notable exceptions ("Mamma, Look Sharp" and "Molasses to Rum"), nothing to write home about. But the book? The book is an absolute masterpiece. Not only does it brilliantly inject legitimate dramatic tension into historical events whose outcome has already been decided, but its dialogue is an absolute pleasure to absorb. Of all the musicals I've ever seen, only Hamilton has managed to match 1776 when it comes to richness and depth of language. (And they both tackle roughly the same time period. Odd, that.)

To Kill a Mockingbird, meanwhile, is, for me, the most valuable and precious book I was ever forced to read in high school. As I wrote a few years ago:
My ninth grade honors English class was scheduled to read and analyze this novel a few chapters at a time over the course of several weeks — but I plowed through it in a matter of days. At the time, I strongly identified with Scout; even now, I think she is one of American literature’s finest portrayals of an Odd making her way through childhood. I also appreciated – and continue to appreciate – the classically liberal, Christian values that animate the story. Most people remember Atticus’ honorable choice to defend a black man in a criminal case even though, in the 1930’s segregated South, he was sure to lose because that’s what the Hollywood adaptation focuses on — but beyond that, the novel is about the dignity of the individual and the importance of recognizing the intrinsic humanity of all of our neighbors even if they are different, behave in unpleasant ways, or hold to false views. Tom Robinson’s plight is only one part of the story.
What these two works have in common - besides the fact that they were both written/produced half a century ago - is a certain ethos. It's an ethos that shines through when, for example, Atticus encourages Scout not to judge others until she's been in their shoes. It's an ethos that shines through when, for example, John Adams leads the Congress in giving John Dickinson his due respect before the latter departs the stage in the wake of the vote in favor of independence. It's also an ethos that our current cultural zeitgeist seems determined to destroy completely.

On Saturday, in a reflection touched off by Lloyd Biggle Jr.'s All the Colors of Darkness, Sarah Hoyt lamented the impact our (deliberately inflicted) cultural malaise has had on our understanding of language and history. I would like to amplify that theme by discussing the resultant degradation of our political and social discourse. Once upon a time - as 1776 and To Kill a Mockingbird both reveal - it was possible for many (though not all) writers to behold people who fall on the wrong side of a moral divide and still summon up empathy for them as human beings. But now that Cultural Marxism's control over our education system, our arts, and our entertainment is nearly total, contemplating the flawed nature we share with, say, slave-holders and common racists is verboten. Leftists wish us to react like Pavlovian dogs: A programmed stimulus requires a programmed response -- and damn the context or a target's intentions.

Just the other day, I got to chatting with a couple of my students - whose parents are Cambodian immigrants - about the differences between the Washington DC metropolitan area and the more rural areas of Virginia and West Virginia. The students shared with me that they felt scared driving through the back country because of the number of Confederate flags on display. Boom. As I said, a programmed stimulus requires a programmed response. Now I'm a Yankee transplant, but I have friends who are native Southerners - including one who's a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy - so I know the Confederate flag does not signify support for slavery and racism for every Southerner who flies it. For many, it's a matter of family and regional loyalty. They fly it because their 19th century ancestors fought for the Confederacy to defend their homes -- like Sarah Hoyt's ancestors, who fought for the side backing absolute monarchy in Portugal's civil war for pretty much the same reason. People fall into groups or armies backing objectively bad causes for messy and complex reasons that may have nothing to do with the cause itself. But are our leftist educators teaching this to our kids? Of course not! That messes up the Narrative.

Unfortunately, the left's aggressive training - which shames folks for everything from innocent curiosity (asking where someone is from is now a "microaggression") to humor (comedians have started avoiding college campuses because of those who throw tantrums over racial and gendered jokes -- even if they're obviously meant to highlight how stupid bigotry is) to dressing up as nursery rhyme characters (like the girls who dressed up as the Three Blind Mice and were told they were mocking the disabled) to mere accidents of birth (white cis-males are all evil, you guys!) - has spawned a set of defensive counter-memes that, in my observation, often locks conservatives into equally rigid patterns of argument. And just in case you're wondering, I'm not leaving myself out of this analysis. I know I'm as guilty as everyone else. When certain terms - like "social justice" or "privilege" - are used in conversation, I can feel my hackles go up almost automatically, and I don't always resist falling back on comfortable algorithms instead of using the brain God gave me.

The upshot of all of this? Our intellectual vitality has been attenuated. In other words, we are no longer thinking as a people. Not really. And the reason we're not bothering with that sort of grueling work is that we're no longer united by a common patrimony and therefore have no common frame of reference in which to communicate effectively. Looking back on books and plays written before this hidden apocalypse only underlines the tragedy of our loss.

And now a quick administrative note: For the next two weeks, I will be on the road. I still plan to post photo albums documenting my travels, but if I miss a post or two, I apologize in advance.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Brief Responses to Irritating Memes I: What the Hell's Wrong with GoFundMe?

During previous election seasons, I used to respond to social media nonsense on a fairly regular basis. Given that we are in the midst of yet another disaster election season, I think it's time I re-institute the practice. Oh, and what do we have here? Well, gee, I think it's a perfect place to start:

We can debate the pros and cons of government-run health care until the cows come home. What I actually want to address is this meme-maker's evident aversion to private charity. What exactly is wrong with using crowd-sourcing to raise funds for a person in medical trouble? For me, GoFundMe is a potential alternative to statism and a beautiful example of the genius de Tocqueville observed in his writings on American volunteerism. Friends and family coming together and pooling their funds to help a person in need is wonderful -- and not necessarily inferior to the faceless bureaucracy of the welfare state. As I wrote years ago:
I have been in a welfare office before. In 2006, after a long illness that required repeated hospitalizations, I was without health insurance and facing a $30,000-plus medical debt that I would not have been able to pay even if I had cut out every single luxury from my budget. What I remember most about the experience was the austerity of the waiting room – the rows of uncomfortable plastic chairs – and the human isolation. We didn’t talk to each other; there was no sense of human solidarity in suffering. I understand that a welfare office must exist to handle certain contingencies, but I will never understand why some people consider such a place to be preferable to a private and/or religious charity. The latter presumes that you are a human being with dignity and treats you as such; charity workers ask you about your family, may share a meal with you, and are, on the whole, more willing to go the extra mile for you because they are there voluntarily. A government social worker, on the other hand, may be a caring and compassionate person in his or her everyday life, but he or she is also frequently overworked and laboring under a bureaucratic machinery that, by its very nature, doesn’t presume your dignity simply because the sheer size of the caseload prohibits such interaction. To put it another way, to the government, you are a series of numbers (income, debts, bills, etc.).
The left is always looking for ways to depersonalize the social safety net -- and frankly, I don't understand the urge.