The Great Problem of Power

“It is far more powerful than I ever dared to think at first, so powerful that in the end it would utterly overcome anyone of mortal race who possessed it. It would possess him.”

J. R. R. Tolkein, The Fellowship of the Ring (1954)

So Gandalf says of the Great Ring of Power when he explains its dire potency to Frodo.  Anyone who believes that he possesses the Ring will be in time possessed by the Ring.  Anyone who employs the Ring to do his bidding will in time do the bidding of the Ring.  And good and well-meaning mortals will not escape enslavement by the Ring of Power, because “neither strength nor good purpose will last—sooner or later the dark power will devour him.” Continue reading

Stop Yer Griping

“The river, they claim, is turbid and dark,
The river is grimed and gray.”

F. O. Sylvester, “The Father’s Smile” (1911)

You may not see it in what I write here, but I have a constitutional aversion to gripers.  This aversion may, I suppose, arise from an instinct of self-preservation and the knowledge that I am not immune to the fatal griping disease, but I tend to leave the room when people start bellyaching. Continue reading

The Seed of the Serpent and the Children of God

“But holiest thoughts may yet be sideways drawn,
And that which seemed so fair at early dawn,
May be, ere nightfall, blurred by Satan’s spawn.”

A. J. Christie, The End of Man (1886)

Many ostensibly Christian churches have taken to preaching that all homo sapiens are equally children of God.  This novel dogma is offered as a cheering correction to the longstanding and, some say, fallacious doctrine that mankind has sprung from two fathers, and that the children of God are mingled in this world with the sons and daughters of Satan.  Albany James Christie was a member of the Oxford Movement who crossed the Tiber with John Henry Newman, and in my epigram he refers to the offspring of the evil one as Satan’s spawn. Continue reading



There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
Turn wheresoe’er I may,
By night or day.
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come Continue reading

The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good

The perfect is the enemy of the good means that aiming at perfection can mean not doing the good that can be done. It is a mixture of the spoiled brat who wants to get things all his way, utopian idealism, and megalomania. It is human, but unreasonable, to think that if the number of people it is possible to help is limited then the entire exercise is pointless. For instance, someone could decide not to volunteer to be a foster parent to emotionally damaged and neglected children because there is a never-ending stream of such children in need of help. A professor might have a reading that he is convinced has Dorea definitively positive impact on his students, the students might universally agree, but since he teaches just a few dozen students each semester he influences a negligible percentage of all students. A policeman might arrest dastardly criminals, but must face the fact that criminality will continue more or less unabated, the justice system is imperfect, and the public often ungrateful. However, it is strange and perverse to want to abandon the good that you could do because perfect goodness and a final solution to all such problems is not achievable. People must resign themselves to taking splinters out of fingers and feet as they arise rather than eliminating splinters once and for all. Continue reading

Leg Bail and Land Security

“In all the trade of war, no feat
Is nobler than a brave retreat.”

Samuel Butler Hudibras (1684)

When a man preserved his freedom by running away, he was once said to have “given leg bail.”  The word “bail” originally denoted a person who legally took an indicted man from the custody of the sheriff, and this “bail” was allowed to take custody because he bonded himself, by word or security, to ensure that the indicted man would appear in court to face trial.  Thus a late seventeenth-century handbook for English sheriffs tells us: Continue reading

The Uses of Impartiality

Impartiality takes three forms. The first is an accidental impartiality that occurs when it just so happens that I am uninvolved in the contest, dispute or conflict. I call this form accidental because it does not require any special gift of disinterested judgment on my part. If circumstances had been otherwise and I had been involved, I would likely be cheering, aiding and abetting one side. It must be added that accidental impartiality necessarily entails profound ignorance of the contest, dispute or conflict, and thus pronouncements from the position of accidental impartiality are usually beside the point and irrelevant. Continue reading

Pangs and Fury of Despair

“I will indulge my sorrows, and give way
To all the pangs and fury of despair.”

Joseph Addison, Cato (1712)

You may have seen that the conservative gadfly Mike Adams took his own life after being forced into early retirement, at the age of 55, by the University of North Carolina—Wilmington.  I had forgotten about Adams, but his lampoons of the politically correct university were one of the first things I read on the internet.  Adams was what I would call a right liberal, and I stopped reading his blog when his gags grew stale, but I was saddened by the news that he at last put a gun to his head. Continue reading

Once We Had Faces

“Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces.”

C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces (1956)

William Wildblood has an interesting post about the sanitary masks, which are now mandatory for English shoppers. They are also mandatory here, with compliance close to universal. Wildblood is rankled by the English mandate and has interesting things to say about the spiritual cost of truckling to authority, effacing personal identity, and melting into the anonymous herd of false faces.  But I have learned to love my mask and believe we will never give them up or put them away. Continue reading