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Currently at Havelock: 4.8. High today: 9.3, at midnight.

Something that struck me in my annoyance after reading Mark Lilla's NYT piece about how HRC lost the election because of "identity liberalism" is that coming up with reasons why she lost is something like coming up with reasons why a baseball team under-performed its run differential. It's really easy to tell plausible stories (the manager is an idiot! the bullpen can't hold leads in close games! the hitters aren't clutch!), but analyses informed by actual evidence and not ideologically blinkered narrative suggest that it's probably just a fluke. (Of course, there are always actual reasons you can try to discover why a team didn't score more runs or give up fewer runs than it did on the whole, and of course if HRC had won the popular vote by five million votes instead of two and half million then she probably would've won the electoral college. (Although the point is, if she had won the popular vote by two and a half million, then she very very likely would have won the electoral college.) Maybe some people didn't vote for HRC because they're mad about washrooms, why not. Definitely some people didn't vote for her because they're mad at women. Apparently some people didn't vote for her because she's a Satanist who sacrifices babies at a pizza shop or something. By the sounds of it some people didn't vote for her because they thought Donald Trump was gonna save their jobs and she wasn't. I don't know a lot about it, but it sure sounds like some people didn't vote for her (or at all) because Republicans made it harder for people who tend to vote for Democrats to vote. But, unless you're a whole lot more rational than the average pundit, you only go looking for that kind of stuff to explain why the loser lost. If it was a fluke the loser lost, then it's a fluke you went looking for that stuff. (In other words: it is as true today as it was when Trump's campaign appeared to be running off a cliff, or as it was when the RNC decided after 2012 that Republicans were in trouble if they didn't start reaching out to women and minorities, that trying to win a presidential election by appealing to angry white guys is a pretty low percentage play.)) Hey, Nate Silver said going in that there was a bit less than a one in three chance she'd lose (although ... I wonder what Nate Silver would peg the odds of her losing at given that she wins the popular vote by 1.8 percentage points (and counting)!). Run the election twice more and maybe she wins them both ... although if there was a 70% chance she wins on any given run, there's a slightly worse than even chance she wins any two in a row, so. (Just try to get the guy next to you at a game to believe that a .700 team has a worse than even chance of winning any two games in a row.) Anyway, if HRC was a baseball team, based on her run differential and lousy record in close games this season, in the basically-two-team league she's playing in, the smart money would be on her to win the championship next season.
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Currently at Havelock: -0.2. High today: 0.2.

So, back at the end of June, when I was drawing up a crude categorization of rights and lefts in the world today, one of my four categories was "a conservative left (which may be a largely empty category in public political discourse, but probably not so much in pub political discourse) that supports limits on national sovereignty over mobility of neither people nor money". Whether or not this actually describes Donald Trump (*blows out brains*), it maybe is a pretty good description of Steve Bannon:

Steve is not a deeply principled guy on politics; it’s not like he’s coming in with this ramrod agenda. He’s coming in and he’s talking about big government spending. He’s talking about trillion-dollar infrastructure packages. If you had to peg Steve down on ideology or philosophy, you’d say he’s sort of like a European far-right leader. He’s more like Marine Le Pen or Nigel Farage than he is like a constitutional conservative. He doesn’t like constitutional conservatism; he thinks that it’s an obstacle in the way of building this new Third Way movement, this independent political movement that is focused on heavy spending--even some redistribution inside the country--but closed borders and tariffs for everybody outside.

(Well, I did start saying way back, it's like someone gave that guy from the pub billions of dollars and now he's running for president.)

Elsewhere in the cuckoo clock we're living in, "How conservative Angela Merkel became a champion of the left". A lot of Americans, anyway, could learn something from her about what an actual Christian conservative looks like.
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Currently in Havelock: -0.5. Spent yesterday in snowy Kingston. Don't that just take ya back.

Here's one of those things that I think of from time to time and mean to look up, and then when I look it up, it doesn't quite say what I imagined it to say--from "September 11: The View from the West", by Jonathan Raban, New York Review of Books 52:14, Sept. 22, 2005:

That week, my compatriot Christopher Hitchens, stranded in Seattle after giving a lecture on September 10 in Walla Walla, Washington, said over dinner that "at times like this, America turns into a one-party state," and reminded me of the prophecy made by Robert Lowell back in 1966, when he answered a questionnaire sent to him by the editors of Partisan Review: "I have a gloomy premonition ... that we will soon look back on this troubled moment as a golden time of freedom and license to act and speculate. One feels the sinews of the tiger, an ascetic, 'moral' and authoritarian reign of piety and iron." The mood of our fellow diners in the restaurant was one of forced joviality--a few jokes and laughs too many were coming from the tables around us. "I think we've just entered the reign of piety and iron," Hitchens said.

The vague memory I had of it was that Hitchens's first reaction to 9/11 (ironically, you might think, but Hitchens was a complicated guy capable of reconciling what simpler people see as contradictions (and I note that both "complicated" and "simple" have pejorative connotations)) was something along the lines that he feared for America's soul ... which is certainly in the neighbourhood of what he actually said. Anyway, I keep thinking since the presidential election that this feels like the aftermath of 9/11 all over again, and obviously it is the other shoe dropping from that (though let's never forget that this particular shoe did not drop of anything like historical necessity, that Trump decisively lost the popular vote and would not have stood a realistic chance of winning if the US had a less, uh, quaint--say, for instance, a more French--manner of electing its president (though let's also not forget that the US is a federal union of states and that there are good historical reasons, if not compelling reasons on the whole, for arguing that the states, and not the people at large, should elect the president of the federation)). What Hitchens turns out to have specifically said actually speaks to something else I've been thinking: at least this time the Democrats are not on board. (Obviously there are also a number of powerful Republicans who are also not on board, although one of the depressing things about the exit polls is they show that self-identified Republicans voted for their party's candidate slightly more consistently than self-identified Democrats voted for theirs. (Somehow the single most depressing thing to me about the exit polls is that they show that people who made up their minds late were much more likely to vote for Trump.))

Another thing I keep thinking: this election has got to prove to any reasonable observer, who was not already convinced, that evangelical Christians in the US, on the whole, are, I don't know, utterly full of shit. The irony is that Michael Flynn's calling Islam a political ideology and not a religion has gotten so much play when nothing has ever demonstrated so well as the overwhelming support of evangelical Christians for what you might as well call the least Christ-like presidential candidate in living memory if not in history that American evangelical Christianity is a political ideology and not a religion.

I'm not sure whether the most depressing thing of all is that the alternative was the election of a neoliberal hawk to the presidency, but that is certainly up there (and again France comes to mind, with the runoff between Chirac and Le Pen ... but the current Socialist president of France is also a neoliberal hawk, so whatcha gonna do).

Definitely the most personally annoying thing about all this is that we're going to have to keep thinking about it for at least the next several years. Back in the summer I was distressed that Howard Adelman was spending so much energy writing about Donald Trump, who after all was likely going to lose and sooner or later go away after wasting everyone's time. But as I said to someone after Bush II's reelection, you can't expect history to go in a straight line.

... and insofar as the arc of history does bend toward justice (not to say the good!), it is, a la Hegel, because it bends toward increasing rationalization ... and maybe the trouble with Fukuyama's take on the end of history, as a Hegelian take, was that liberal democracy won a struggle within the forms of political reason, and not against the political forces of un-reason ... among the latter of which the "alt-right" is the JV team of "radical Islam" ...
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Seven TRUMPeter swans a-swimming on the lake today. By this omen I prophesize that Donald Trump will be elected, seven years hence, reeve of Wollaston Township, and inaugurate a golden age the likes of which has not been seen in these parts since the imperium of Reeve Vader.
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that you might appreciate if you are a farmer (in the city (or otherwise)) or have a very large vegetable garden: if there is a drought, and it pretty much doesn't rain for a long time, and then it rains a bit and then later a bit more and then later a bit more, and so now lately it has been raining somewhat regularly but still not very much, it does not mean that the drought is over, or even that the drought is improving, but only that the drought is getting worse less quickly.

(If you insist on being whiggish about things you might say that the rate at which the drought is worsening is improving.)
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Currently near Marmora: 21.7.

Imagine, if you will, that there is a prominent Republican who is critical of NAFTA, the TPP, and other trade deals, calls for dramatically scaling back American military intervention around the world, appears not to have a religious bone in his body, is at least not hostile and may be actually friendly toward non-straight people, and has a history of support for universal health care and higher taxes. Imagine even that his daughter said he's going to fight for equal pay for work of equal value and affordable childcare. I think you'd have to expect this person to be a pet Republican of things like, were such a thing to exist, the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, wouldn't you? (Setting aside whether you're rightfully annoyed by things like the Daily Show with Jon Stewart having pet Republicans.)
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I was going to say I see Harriet Jones is about to become prime minister, but don't you think that sounds tired?
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Unless everyone accepts that things have to be a lot worse, things will continue to be pretty good.
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Currently at Havelock: 18.2, which is the low for the day. High today: 24.3.

So here's a funny thing concerning political unions and free trade areas: in the news yesterday and today, Canada's provincial and federal governments are reportedly close to an interprovincial free trade agreement. This is maybe surprising in light of the fact that the Canadian constitution guarantees interprovincial free trade: "All Articles of the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall, from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other Provinces." But like any good constitutional section, this one affords wide variance in interpretation. (Which reminds me of something I had meant to say something about months ago: the fact there is such a striking lack of ideological cleavage on the Canadian Supreme Court (which I vaguely recall I was prompted to think about by hearing a former Supreme Court judge comment on on the radio; he said he actually had no idea what his colleagues' favourite parties were, and I thought, that's 'cause they're all Liberals!), at least compared with the American Supreme Court, because you don't find Conservatives on the Supreme Court because the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a Liberal document to which Conservatives are dispositionally opposed, which may indicate that the Canadian constitution is, unlike the American one, overly substantial and too inclined to actually imply more or less clearly of any given law whether it is or is not constitutional. All of which, were I to say it, I would be saying somewhat tongue-in-cheek. And I would want to say something in connection to it about Walter Benjamin's claim that the whole point of the ten commandments is that following them strictly is impossible and so how to act in accordance with them is endlessly open to question. Which is why being a Jew is so interesting. Anyway, if I were to say something about all that it probably wouldn't add up to much more than what I've said right there.) Currently it's an open matter before the Canadian courts whether that section of the constitution means that you can drive to Quebec from New Brunswick and bring back fourteen cases of beer and a few bottles of booze, and so trade in alcohol has been specifically excluded from the current agreement. Anyway, what the current agreement seems to be mostly about, from what little there is about it in the media reports, is exactly one of the kinds of things that gets anti-free-traders' backs up highest about international trade agreements: it would force provincial governments to open bidding for contracts to bidders outside their own provinces, in the same way that an international free trade agreement might forbid the Canadian government from exclusively buying Canadian. So, again, it strikes me as an interesting question: to what extent are the grounds on which you might oppose the 1988 FTA and NAFTA also grounds on which you ought to oppose an interprovincial free trade agreement such as this one? It did strike me around the Brexit referendum that Canada itself is a multi-national, multi-regional, multi-jurisdictional (!) free trade area interestingly like, if also obviously not like, the EU. And it did give me pause to wonder to what extent one ought to oppose say Ontario's membership in Canada on the same grounds that one might oppose the UK's membership in the EU--or ought one to say England's (but why not really in the UK, never mind the EU), or really, what, the country of England, to which the metropolis of London--like other metropoles of the universal homogeneous state--is alien, and there really is one rub of many. (New Model Army's "My Country" kept coming to mind around the referendum--a great song for the occasion because the song and the band more generally capture the ambiguities of the situation so well, New Model Army being an English band and neither a British nor a London band ... and as the culture wars on alt.gothic demonstrated, whichever side you're on, they've got some lines for your banners.)

All of which is kind of dancing around the meat of the matter for me--as is noting that I've started seeing Ontario flags around, which I'm guessing has something to do with the Newfoundland flags I've been seeing more and more of around the last few years, which if so kind of miss the point in the same kind of way as English Canadian nationalist responses to Quebec nationalism have often missed the point by not even recognizing what it is for a there to be there in the way that Quebec nationalists have in mind when they say there's no there there in the rest of Canada. Though these things are always matters of degree, there is no there there in Ontario as there is in Newfoundland. (Which is why being a Newf is so interesting.) Somewhat closer to the bone for me is that there is a there there here in these places I'm living these days, although the nature of the here is ambiguous to say the least (but unavoidably oriented to the past, so much so that you might be tempted to give it up for dead, like George Grant's Canada) and probably not a matter of a great deal of interest to the vast majority of people who simply live around here. Whatever more there is to say about this may take years to say.

While I'm here I will note for my own records that there was a day this week when I felt like there wasn't something terribly wrong with me. Which is, uh, progress. (!!!)
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... today I learned that an easy way to commit income tax fraud in Canada is to claim expenses from a hobby as business losses and deduct them from your actual income. Also, the point at which the government determines that being an underpants gnome is not actually a business seems rather fuzzy. Also, you don't have to register to collect GST/HST if your business has revenues less than $30K over any four consecutive quarters, which seems like good incentive to go on extended annual fishing trips. Related to this, another thing Angus is on about in I&J is alternatives to the money economy (which is an idea I have been very hard on in various places, though I don't remember whether I have been here or not), along the way of which he talks about various non-monetizable valuable activities, like making dinner and grocery shopping (which I like to point out are monetizable in that people can and do set dollar values on what those activities are worth to them, e.g. by paying other people to do them or offering to do them for others at a price) and also yardwork, which is kinda funny, because I kept thinking to myself in April and May that my current lifestyle gives a whole new meaning to "working hard or hardly working?" Because I was in an obvious sense working harder than I ever have (except the month or so twenty years ago when I was being paid to smash walls with a crowbar), digging rocks out of the ground and stuff (which in other senses is vastly easier work for me than teaching, because there is no chorus of real and imagined people hanging over every bit of it telling me I'm doing a lousy job, am a lousy person, and should go away), but not being paid and with no well-thought-out plan as to how what I was doing was going to become financially profitable. Work or leisure, business or hobby, ... ?
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Currently at Havelock: 27.2. Some kinda weather we've been having. Gotten below freezing on two days this month at Bancroft, but also above 30C on four days so far, which it did on five days in all of 2015. Total of 14.7 mm of rain at Peterborough airport in May; my spinach and radishes got totally baked. Lettuce, kale, and chard has picked itself up with some rain in the last week and is doing all right. The difference in the mosquitoes between this year and each of the last three years--each of which seemed worse than I ever remembered before--is really astounding.

I happened to finish reading Ian Angus's Identity and Justice on the day of the Brexit referendum. Like The Undiscovered Country it has much to do with the situation of Canada in the context of neoliberal globalization, but I&J is a more abstract and prescriptive book than UC, and Angus's anarchist inclinations are much more evident. So, it casts an interesting light on the background of the referendum. Read together I think you can see a very crude distinction to be made between a socialist left that supports limits on national sovereignty over mobility of people but not mobility of money, a nationalist right that supports limits on national sovereignty over mobility of money but not mobility of people, a neoliberal right that supports limits on national sovereignty over mobility of both people and money, and a conservative left (which may be a largely empty category in public political discourse, but probably not so much in pub political discourse) that supports limits on national sovereignty over mobility of neither people nor money. And then off to the side there are various anarchist and other anti-statist views (including anti-Lenininst Marxisms, radical conservatisms, right-libertarianisms, ... ) holding that the limits on national sovereignty that are on the table are coming from the wrong direction, i.e. from "above", from super-national organizations, rather than from "below"--from communities, families, individuals ... to use Angus's language, inhabitants (which Angus spins from the left but is more commonly spun from the right by e.g. the Ontario Landowners Association (THIS IS OUR LAND: GOVERNMENT BACK OFF!) in these parts and "freemen on the land" out west). If you're sympathetic with any of these kinds of views (well, except the radical right ones, I guess) then in the abstract it's hard to know what to wish for as far as things like the EU are concerned ... even if in the concrete it's pretty clear which bed has the nicer fellows in it, and why. Anyway, it's interesting to think about why it is that if you identify with the left generally in Canada you're against NAFTA but likely would've voted "remain" if you were British. Not that these positions are inconsistent (because there are some obvious major differences, starting with the fact that NAFTA is dominated by one imperial power), but it's complicated.
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Somehow I've kept thinking the trouble is facebook makes it so much easier to post stuff ... this is just me demonstrating to myself that that ain't particularly so. (Then again, fb doesn't have subject lines. I do agonize about subject lines sometimes. But then I've never met a thing I couldn't agonize about. Did you know that not a damn thing have I ever done in my life but agonize? Or at least that's the way you hear it told sometimes. Others, you might hear something else.)
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Currently at Havelock: 22.1. High today: 23.1.

You know what day yesterday was? The day that people say "spring has finally arrived!", and mean that it's the first summer-like day of spring. I wonder why you get that in the spring, but not the opposite in the fall. I.e., no one says "fall has finally arrived!" when it's the first winter-like day of fall. (Which reminds me that a thought that crossed my mind while I was out planting turnips and stuff today was that if you wanted to teach a "critical thinking" course worth a damn it'd be mostly about cognitive biases. Which somehow seems more like it would get people to criticize their own thinking (rather than giving them debate-club weapons like "affirming the consequent" and all that). But then I'm just a self-hating philosophizer (and another thing I was thinking about out there was how easy it is to confuse "x ought not to be illegal" with "x is just fine and dandy".) Today was the day that the wildflowers started blooming around here--trout lilies and bloodroot and hepatica, just one of each that I saw. Going to go have a look around the cottage tomorrow and see if the spring beauties are out. Today is also one of those days that I think I ought to move to the city to get some peace and quiet.
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Currently at Havelock: 0.9, which'll be the high for the day. Probably ... hopefully ... the last significant snowfall of the season today. This is a recording.

I went to two Easter dinners again this year, too (one of which interfered with, but mostly did not prevent, my watching the Jays opener). Well, anyway. I keep thinking lately of a guy saying after a conference paper he'd presented that the last thing he does when he's preparing a paper to present is he takes out all the examples. Which, at the time, I found pretty horrifying. I'm a little more sympathetic to that way of doing things now. Obviously I'm not doing things that way much, but I'm mindful of why it might be good to do it. Actually it was reading Margaret Laurence's collection of short stories set in Ghana that reminded me of it. There's just one story in the collection that has the same kind of feel as the Manawaka stuff, where you feel like this is Margaret Laurence writing about herself. The rest of it is more like stories told by a storyteller. As it happens you know that she was there and the stuff she's writing about is stuff she might have experienced, but it doesn't feel like autobiography à clef. I guess it was parts of The Diviners that also felt more like stories told by a storyteller that made me think that maybe she's gotten it together here, she's mastered the craft. But then Margaret Laurence would come busting back through. I do keep having to ask myself why I'm going on and on with Margaret Laurence when I'm so inclined to be hard on her ... and when reading her often makes me feel bad. (This is a, um, striking phenomenon in my life I am trying to turn my attention toward to at least see how much it is there: it seems like I have this tendency to do things that make me feel bad in order to avoid doing things that make me feel good. It may be that this is obviously a common tendency, but I wonder whether it might not be in some ways more pervasive than it appears, at least for some of us. The funny thing about wasting time playing stupid little games on the internet is that I don't just regret the time I wasted after it's gone; I'm pretty sure I actually feel worse while I'm playing them than I would feel if I were doing the thing I'm playing them to avoid doing--e.g., this week, going over the Angus book. (This general issue gets complicated fast for me by the fact that I'm so unsure whether so much of what I do is a waste of time, relative to other things I might be doing, or not. I am not at all sure whether writing this here now is a relative waste of time or not (and this is something that probably contributes pretty significantly to the fact that so many of my posts say "mood: uncomfortable" on them ... not that I wasn't uncomfortable before or wouldn't have been anyway). I have a very strong feeling that a better use of my time would have been to have gone to bed quite a while ago. I have another very strong feeling that if I'm not in bed now I should be spending this time on the Angus book. And so on and so on and so on. The thing about playing games is that they at least tend to dampen that noise down because they require so much concentration. But for me the noise is so often just dampened down into my guts.) And I have to float more than one bad reason to myself, but there's also this good one: it is interesting to watch her try to come to grips with herself. She says to Al that deceptiveness is second nature to her but I don't think much of it at all is self-deception. A lot of her fiction strikes me like Nietzsche writing so perceptively about the ressentiment of slavish natures because he knows it so well in himself.

I've been wanting to take up the question of why Margaret and Al write to each other in the way they do, or, I guess, at all. It isn't long into the letters before they start talking about the possibility of their being published. They say things about how it would be interesting to see how writers write to each other about writing, but there's disappointingly little in the letters about the mechanics of their writing. Mostly they moan and try to cheer each other up about how badly they think their writing is going. (There is one interesting point of difference in their "writing philosophies" that comes out: Al sees his writing as coming from the particular place where he is; Margaret shuts herself in to write. But then this is Margaret when she's writing the Manawaka books, which come out of the particular place where she was decades before, and then in The Diviners a bit where she is presently. Anyway, they never discuss it, just state it as a point of difference.) There's obviously something they need from each other, that each needs from the other, but it's hard to say just what it is. I feel like it's probably something like what motivates me to post this, all of this, here rather than keep it to myself ... which I'm not convinced is not what I should be doing. I've developed the practice lately, when I'm tempted to comment on something somewhere, of asking myself, what good would it do for me to say that? And then usually I don't say it.

Today I read "Horses of the Night", a story in A Bird in the House, which is about the pseudo-Margaret-as-a-girl narrator's relationship with her older cousin named Chris. Chris is a poor kid from a hardscrabble farm who has big dreams about seeing the world and all that. He gives the narrator a miniature leather saddle he's made, etched "with the criss-cross lines that were the brand name of his [imaginary] ranch, he said, explaining that it was a reference to his own name." This is one unfortunate thing about Margaret Laurence--there's often a few too many words; she too often can't resist explaining the joke. She also seems to have a hard time resisting a Symbol. As soon as you see a character named Chris, you have some idea what you're in for. But the way the story goes here is that the crucified really is forsaken. The narrator says that the feeling she got from the country around where Chris is from "was like the view of God which I had held since my father's death. Distant, indestructible, totally indifferent." Camping out there one night, Chris goes on a spiel about how it would be an "insult" to God to believe that he exists, because a God of a universe like this would have to be "brutal". Of the second world war that's approaching he says, "what kind of God would pull a trick like that?" And he says: "Most people don't like talking about this kind of thing--it embarrasses them, you know? Or else they're not interested. I don't mind. I can always think about things myself. You don't actually need anyone to talk to." Things go poorly for Chris and he is sent to war. He writes to the narrator and tells her that "they could force his body to march and even to kill, but what they didn't know was that he'd fooled them. He didn't live inside it any more." And then he ends up, apparently permanently, in a mental hospital, withdrawn into his fantasy world that had failed to materialize. So, another way of dealing with the failure of the real to reconcile with the ideal: stoicism, autism [1], Walter Mitty syndrome.

Anyway. I am convinced that all of this is in large measure a mistake, but a mistake that is very, very hard to get out of. In some way getting out of it means crawling out of your own skin. I'm hoping to say something about this in relation to Margaret Laurence's and Ian Angus's Scottish takes on history, and the prospects of escape from it.

[1] "The New Latin word autismus (English translation autism) was coined by the Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler in 1910 as he was defining symptoms of schizophrenia. He derived it from the Greek word autós (αὐτός, meaning 'self'), and used it to mean morbid self-admiration, referring to 'autistic withdrawal of the patient to his fantasies, against which any influence from outside becomes an intolerable disturbance'." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autism#History
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Currently at Havelock: 6.8. High today: 17.3.

 photo Easter card.jpg

I had a hard time coming up with a bible bit I liked for Easter. Christmas is easy; the first book of John is one of my favourite things in the bible, and anyway the incarnation is more my kind of thing. That's a funny thing in itself. Lots of smarty-pants Christians will tell you that Easter is a more important holiday than Christmas, but that's a tendentious theological position, not a fact. Depending on what kind of Christian you are, you might think the most important thing is the incarnation (and all the living of temporal life after that), the crucifixion, or the resurrection. As a Kierkegaardian fellow-traveller, I'm interested in the marriage of the eternal and temporal in the figure of Christ, to which at least the resurrection may be--as I've said something about before--not only irrelevant but a distraction from. The idea that Christ has to be resurrected for there to be eternal life gives credence to the conception of eternity as endlessness rather than as a-temporality. If eternity is a-temporality then Christ having descended into hell is eternally in hell, Christ having been resurrected is eternally resurrected, and Christ having lived on Earth lives eternally on Earth. So anyway as my "Easter text" I've taken this very vague expression of Christ's eternity, which happens to be the last thing he says in the gospel of Matthew.

In a way it's hard to believe it's been a year since my last Easter post, which is still very fresh in my mind. That was the first of my "taking stock" posts, the suicide post being the second. This is another. All along near the foreground is the question of what is worth saying, how, to whom. I'm making some uncertain and questionably successful effort to pare back to essentials, but it is not clear what essentials are, at least not in the realm of expression. I'm trying to avoid frivolousness but it is hard to do that without falling into the spirit of seriousness. And then sometimes frivolousness is the very spirit of seriousness itself. (I just read a story of Margaret Laurence's where the son of a hard man tells his loose sister that she protects herself as much as he does, and she asks how's that, and he says, "wisecracks". Anyway, by "frivolousness" I don't mean humour, but I do mean humour as a substitute for intelligence.)

Lately I've been re-reading Ian Angus's The Undiscovered Country: Essays in Canadian Intellectual Culture, hoping to take a shot at writing up a review. One thing this book did for me the first time I read it last year (or two years ago ... who can tell!) is it explained the crucifixion in a way that at least makes some sort of sense of it. You grow up in whatever sort of Christian environment knowing you're supposed to believe that Christ died for your sins, as if God had to punish someone for them, and only Jesus could be a big enough scapegoat to take all that punishment. (But he'll only take the punishment for your sins if you.... Otherwise, you get absolute infinite punishment! Which, uh, holy fuck, what?) And this is something you accept until you think about it, and ask, well, why does anyone have to take the heat? Why doesn't God just forgive you if you ... , and skip the whole crucifixion bit?

One thing about that is that as a kid you probably don't really get that you're supposed to think that "God" and "Jesus" are the same thing, which on the face of it probably makes about as much sense to you as the idea that the sacramental wine is actually Jesus's blood. So when, e.g., as an Anglican, you recite the Nicene Creed and say that Christ is "of one being with the father", you might understand it in the same sort of way as Anglicans (but, of course, not Catholics) are supposed to understand it when the administrator of the sacraments offers you the cup and says "the blood of Christ, shed for you", i.e., metaphorically. But then there are many ways to dance on the head of the pin that tacks the trinity together. You, as it happens, are, literally, of one being with your father, in some ways, and in other ways not. You are in some ways of one being with your own self and in other ways not. The problem of identity, let alone personal identity, is ... a problem. Socrates says in the Republic that the first thing the incipient philosopher has to learn is how to count. How do you count the father, son, and holy ghost? Actually the philosopher never stops learning how to count. You'd like to be able to say that Jesus and God the father are at least separate people, even if they're two people "of one being", and that you know this because Jesus prays: "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." "Father, father, why have you forsaken me?" But any step beyond the words themselves is an interpretation. Anyway, suppose that God "alienates" himself from himself in the form of a quasi-separate, temporal, person, in order to experience temporal existence from the inside. Part of what it is to be a finite temporal-eternal being who is conscious of its finite eternal-temporality is to suffer. It is finished are Christ's last words on the cross in the gospel of John. Maybe this is something that John knows that the other gospel writers don't (because only John has this line): this is really the end of the story. There's some more stuff that happens, but look, really it's finished right here. (Why the resurrection, then? God recollects his alienated self back to himself, and the experience of Christ is part of God now.) There is only so much of this life, and so much good must be left undone; what is bad in it does not just vanish--there may be some way or other of redeeming it or redeeming oneself from it but there is no changing it--and much of what bad there is does damage that there is not time to undo. Some of what bad there is, such as being nailed to a cross, precludes there being any time in which its damage can be undone. Given infinite time I can hope that anything lost can be restored; if I am finite then I can't. Seen this way, the crucifixion is simply the fulfillment of the incarnation. The crucifixion shows up in very large letters what it means to be human: as we all share in the essence of the incarnation, we all share in the essence of the crucifixion.

I hadn't meant to write all this and I'm uneasy about having written it. All of this is worth thinking through but I don't know whether it's good to say it like this or not. Anyway, what Ian Angus has to say about the crucifixion--in the form of a commentary on George Grant, so I don't know how much of this is Grant and how much Angus--is by way of a comparison with the death of Socrates. Socrates dies cheerfully with his wits about him. Christ dies in agony, bitterly: why have you forsaken me? According to Angus the point is that there are circumstances of human life that can obscure your vision of the good--Christ on the cross is forsaken--and render reason powerless (supposing that Socrates could not be cheerful on the cross--unless he was out of his mind!); Christian religion gets this and Socratic philosophy doesn't and can't. And what that means for Grant, according to Angus, is that religion must be the dominant partner in the marriage between philosophy and religion. (Remember, though, that in the Phaedo, Socrates signals that he has forsaken philosophy for mythologizing, and that the point of this may be to suggest either that in the face of suffering and death philosophy must give up its pretensions to being all-encompassing, or that philosophy is only possible on the ground of mythology, or that philosophy and mythology are necessarily in dialectic with one another, or that mythology is an aspect of philosophy.) The resurrection, you might suppose, then offers an extra-rational solution to the problem of suffering that reason can't solve. Like Kant says, eternal life after the life of suffering, which renders past suffering moot, is a necessary postulate of practical reason, not itself rational but necessarily taken on faith. A more "tragic" sense of life accepts that the story can finish on the cross and still not be a story of suffering and death and defeat, because a story is not defined by its end. This is not satisfying, but I have to leave it there for now.
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Currently at Havelock: 4.8. High today: 8.6. Thunderstorms around today. Saw my first vulture of the year and heard my first robin singing. (A couple of days ago I saw a flock of snow buntings in a field near the cottage. Amazing sight that I've never seen before, harkening back to last November when I was getting up before dawn to keep the water running and seeing things that made me keep thinking I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. A line of trumpeter swans over the far shore ... mostly by now moments lost in time but they are there where they are lost and come whatever else may they cry out against what I am going to say below, which is a sketch of something to be transcended (in the "Hegelian" sense in which the truth of what is transcended is contained in that which transcends it) though I don't know if I can carry out the transcending.) Supposed to get back below -10 tomorrow night.

A Lenten sketch, let's say:

For those motivated by desire for the good, there is always either no real choice or unsolvable dilemma. Either the way to serve the good is apparent and this way must be followed--Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders--or the way to serve the good is not apparent and there is no way to follow--put positively, more than one possible way to serve the good is apparent and lovers of the good as such have no way to decide between them. But in many circumstances the way of making a decision as opposed to the way of not making a decision is apparently the way of serving the good. Lovers of the good then have no choice but to make decisions that are, for lovers of the good as such, arbitrary. On what basis are they to decide, if they are unable to decide as lovers of the good? From a modern perspective they may decide according to self-interest. From an ancient perspective there are no genuine interests apart from pursuit of the good. The lover of the good as such can't take the modern perspective, because the lover of the good as such recognizes only the good as an object of desire. Surely, however, no actual human being is exclusively a lover of the good. But the person who is a lover of the good necessarily aspires to be exclusively a lover of the good, even while recognizing and accepting that no human being can completely fulfill such an aspiration. To be confronted with a decision that must be made on some basis other than desire for the good is a blow to the fundamental aspirations and self-image of the lover of the good. If they are rare and seem to be exceptional, then these blows are not seriously damaging. But if they are too frequent or otherwise too insistent and not apparently exceptional to the usual run of practical life, then they may make it appear to lovers of the good that their aspirations to be exclusively lovers of the good are futile and that some other fundamental ground of practical life needs to be sought, which would mean giving up the ancient perspective and their self-identification as lovers of the good. Alternatively lovers of the good may remain loyal to the good, but now tragically, which again means giving up the ancient perspective, because there is now felt to be an irreconcilable opposition between the good life and the happy life, or else (which for the lover of the good amounts to the same thing) the happy life appears to be simply impossible. In this case lovers of the good must either condemn life altogether ("Schopenhauer"), learn to enjoy the tragic spectacle of the unhappy good life so that the unhappiness of the good life defeats itself ("Nietzsche"), or have faith that the opposition is reconciled in a way that passes understanding ("Christianity", "Kant") ... or some mixture of, or alternation between, these three.
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Currently at Havelock: -8.3. High today: 1.8. At one point that I noticed yesterday it was eighteen degrees warmer at Pearson than at Havelock, and the difference between the warmest and coldest EC stations in Ontario was 43 degrees (which is the kind of thing where you want to break out the Fahrenheit, which gives you a difference of 77 degrees (which reminds me that I recently replaced the non-programmable thermostat the furnace guy put in (and which only spoke Fahrenheit) with a programmable one (which speaks Celsius), and that I have been meaning to say how surprisingly easy that was to do. [1] If you think that you would like replace your thermostat with a programmable one but don't think you can do it yourself, trust me, you can. (The main thing you need to know about this is that if you have the kind of heating system most houses have, then your thermostat operates on far lower than ordinary household voltage and as far as I can tell you can't possibly electrocute yourself, even if you're not sure whether you've cut the power to the thermostat. (However, for legal liability reasons I should probably note that I am not an electrician (but then again I am also not a lawyer) and don't really know what I'm talking about, although I may have nothing but true beliefs, of which more anon.) However, having read up a bit on programmable thermostats after installing mine, I'm inclined to go a little easier on the world for not standardly installing them for you, since it turns out that in real world use they don't really save energy and in some circumstances appear to actually increase energy use (and so the EPA quit promoting them through Energy Star in 2009 or something), because people don't use them properly. (But you will, just like I will! (Ho ho ho. (Well, but if you're reading this, then you can also read this, which might at least help beat down some faulty intuitions. (Funny thing about that article: the leaky beach ball analogy (i.e., you gotta pump a hell of a lot more to keep it inflated all the time than you do to inflate it only when you need it inflated (even though if you only inflate it when you need it inflated you'll spend a lot more time inflating at one go than if you keep it inflated all the time, which is the thing that really pumps those faulty intuitions: when the furnace first comes on in the morning, it seems like it's on forever), and the more it's inflated the more you gotta pump to inflate it more) is great, but of course it doesn't prove anything because as a proof it begs the question, which is whether heating a house is analogous in the appropriate way to inflating a beach ball. [2] (Which, luckily, it is. (More or less.))))))

So, since I was talking about courage, and Plato, I thought I should re-read the dialogue of Plato's that's specifically about courage, namely the Laches (rather than just going back to the Republic like I generally want to do). This is a sketchier sketch than I would like because after this re-reading I've probably only read the Laches twice in my life. But anyway, here we go for a start.

Nicias says that courage consists in knowing what is to be dreaded and what is to be dared. (Not that it consists in doing what is to be dared and not doing what is to be dreaded: typically of what are supposed to be the early dialogues, knowing that something is to be done is supposed to be sufficient to motivate you to do it. If you don't do something, then you don't really know that it's what's to be done. (This is not explicit in the Laches. It's taken up explicitly in the Meno (supposedly an early-middle dialogue), which discusses a definition of virtue holding it to be knowing what the good is and having the power and desire to do it. Ironically, the Meno is the prime source for the "early-Platonic" doctrine that to know the good is to do it (insofar as the Meno is the first and probably only dialogue in which you'll have it pointed out to you as an undergrad (and then you'll learn that Plato jettisons it in favour of the "tri-partite theory of the soul" in the Republic (in which reason can know what's good but be powerless to act on it unless thumos is on its side (or whatever)))), but it is the one that successfully defines virtue and then shows (by apparently arguing for it) what the "early-Platonic" assumption is that prevents virtue from being defined successfully. Thinking goes wrong when it loses touch with what thinking thinks about and thinks that thinking has all the answers to thinking's questions.) Socrates says that what is to be dreaded are future evils and what is to be dared are future goods. But to have knowledge of future goods and evils is the same thing as to have knowledge of goods and evils generally, because there is not a distinct class of future goods and evils. Hence to have knowledge of future goods and evils is to be virtuous generally and not courageous particularly (on the stated assumption that courage is a part and not the whole of virtue).

What is wrong with Socrates's criticism of Nicias's definition is obvious. (Or at least it's simple. It's always easy to get carried away with the argument and miss what should be obvious.) It rests on a category error: Nicias refers to knowledge of what particular things are to be dreaded or dared; Socrates refers to knowledge of what kinds of things are to be dreaded or dared. Ironically, before Socrates launches his criticism, Laches says that on Nicias's definition it is the seers who are courageous, since they are the ones who know about the future; this is supposed to make Nicias's definition out to be absurd because the idea that the particular people who are supposed to be seers are courageous is absurd. But Laches, despite himself, is half right. Seers are people who know particular things about the future. Virtuous people are people who know what is good. Virtuous seers would know what particular things in the future are good and to be dared, and what particular things in the future are bad and to be dreaded--to be courageous is to be a virtuous seer, or, in other words, to be a virtuous person who is good at predicting. This is, actually, a good definition of courage, if you adopt the Meno's definition of virtue as knowing the good and having the power and desire to do it. The Socrates of some other ("later") dialogue (like the Republic, or the Meno) would object that seers' "knowledge" of the future is not genuine knowledge because it is knowledge of particulars, whereas genuine knowledge is knowledge of universals. Then again, as Socrates says in the Meno, true belief about how to get where you want to go gets you there just as well as genuine knowledge does. However, true belief is unreliable; we can never be sure when we've got it--at best we might be able to confirm that we had it, when we've gotten where we wanted to go, but then it's time to go somewhere else (since particulars are unique (and as Aristotle makes explicit, there is no knowledge of anything that is unique!); the road that took us to Larissa this time may or may not be the road that takes us to Larissa next time)--and since we believe it without good reason there is no good reason for us not to believe something else, which we might as well do. On the whole, then, it looks like we may have a good definition of courage, and also the beginning of an account of why opinions may differ, without possibility of deciding between them by argument, about who is genuinely courageous.

[1] I have also been meaning to maybe say that I should be keeping some sort of Fifty Soups list. This week's soup is beet and rutabaga, and is delicious. My last soup was, I don't really know what it was, but I learned from it that you should definitely not put the barley in with everything else and leave it to cook it in the slow cooker for eight hours, at least not if you're using a substantial amount of barley and would like some recognizable barley in your soup and also would like your soup not to be slimy, and it was slimy.

[2] "I recognize that argument by analogy is the weakest form of argument if it can even be counted as a legitimate form of rational argument at all. But it is one of the most common forms of commentary used in biblical interpretation. That is not because of the strength of its reasoning, but because of the often brilliant insights provided by great leaps of the imagination which happen to resonate with reality." (Howard Adelman)
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Currently at Havelock: -2.2. High today: -1.8. Getting a bigger snowfall around here today than we (who, where, what?) ever got last winter, but that's not saying much. EC hasn't tallied the totals yet, but it turns out that both Saturday and Sunday got above -20 in Bancroft, but Saturday only on the technicality of starting at -19.9 at midnight. That was still colder than the coldest high last year by 0.8 degrees. Sunday's hourly low of -38.3 was about three degrees colder than the coldest low last year. Looks like Saturday was about three degrees colder on average than the coldest day last year, which was Feb. 15. (How many people in Ontario you suppose will be saying next year that it's always the coldest time of year around Valentine's Day?) Got below -40 in Algonquin Sunday morning, which, if Algonquin counts as "southern Ontario", answers in the affirmative a question Morag asks, which I would've answered in the negative, namely, is it ever forty below in southern Ontario. (Morag, when she's wondering this, is living on a fictionalized presumable Otonabee River, which would also be excluded by most values of "southern Ontario" that would exclude Algonquin. (This kind of thing always reminds me of being told by the rep from Lakehead University at the meet-the-universities night at my highschool (at which I think I've always thought I was the only person who met Lakehead University, which is at least approximately true) that they think of Toronto there as being out east rather than down south.)

Here's a story (simplified for the sake of simplicity). I told P that Q had said that R had done x. Next I told P that Q had said that R was brave to do x. P said that P had been about to say that R was cowardly to do x. Q supposes that x was the right thing to do and that doing x was difficult for R. P supposes that x was the wrong thing to do and that not doing x would have been difficult for R.

So here's one thing about courage, courage being a virtue, and virtues being, as you see with Plato, means to the good: what you take to be courageous will have something to do with what you take to be good. If I were going to offer a definition of courage for Socrates to pick apart, I'd suggest: a disposition to act for the good at the risk of a cost to oneself. Plato will have Socrates demonstrate that acting for the good never risks a net cost to oneself, and so on this definition there is no such thing as courage. So, try again: at the perceived risk of a cost to oneself (which is better anyway, because we wouldn't likely say that you're courageous for taking a risk that we think you don't think you're taking). Now, Socrates points out, we've put courage at odds with wisdom. Ho ho ho.

We, of course (by which I do not mean me, of course (ho ho ho)), are Kantians (or Thrasymachians) and not Platonists. We believe by second nature that acting for the good per se is generally neutral at best with regard to one's own interests, and often, usually, or maybe even always (or, if we're particularly deranged Kantians, maybe even necessarily) at odds with them. (This means something like that Kantians in this sense suppose that acting for the good is always courageous--Kantianism empties "courage" of interesting content in the opposite direction from Platonism.) We believe this so implicitly that if we see someone acting for what we take to be the good, we will infer that they do so at a personal cost, and if we see someone acting contrary to what we take to be the good, we will infer that they do so to avoid a personal cost. (How insistent we are on this in the face of contrary evidence and argument will depend on how deranged we are in our Kantianism.) Given all the different real or imagined personal costs and benefits that might follow from doing any given thing, it's easy to tell a story about either why doing x is the harder thing to do if you think x is the right thing to do, or why not doing x is the harder thing to do if you think x is the wrong thing to do.
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Currently at Havelock: -5.7. High today: 1.4. EC has a high of -21 in Bancroft for Saturday, which would be colder than any high temperature last winter. To this point there have been nine days this winter in which the temperature has gotten below -20 in Bancroft, and one in which it has gotten below -30; last year there had been twenty-five and seven. So far there have been twelve days this January and February in which the temperature has gotten above freezing in Bancroft; last winter there was one day it got above freezing between December 29 and March 9.

Here is an Interesting Fact: in the thirty-team NHL, the Canadian teams currently rank 19th (Montreal, which was recently 22nd), 23rd, 24th, 25th, 26th, 28th, and 30th. The four Canadian teams in the Western Conference occupy the last four places. Funnily enough, the 27th-place team is Buffalo, which last I heard was one of two American NHL cities (along with Pittsburgh) where hockey TV ratings are similar to those in Canadian NHL cities. (Also funnily enough, both the Sabres and Penguins have filed for bankruptcy in the last couple of decades.)

Since last report I've read Al Purdy's one novel, A Splinter in the Heart, which was published in 1990, which was three years after Margaret Laurence died, which I suspect was not a coincidence, because a lot was made (though more by her than by him) in their letters of him being a poet and her a novelist and these being separate species of writers. A surprising amount of the novel is borrowed from Laurence, in terms of various aspects of its writing, most generally in its drawing a lot of its personal detail from the author's own life. Obviously this is more noticeable than it would be if I hadn't read the letters and Purdy's autobiography--obviously it wouldn't be noticeable at all if I hadn't--and obviously there is some point to be made that all novelists work their own experiences into their fiction, but I have to believe that Laurence and Purdy do this far more than most. (I have to wonder whether Al learned from Margaret that you can do it that much ... which reminds me of how hard it often was to get my students to see how easy what I wanted them to do in my typical assignments was: I wanted them to write about something that actually happened to them. They had a hard time believing I didn't want them to do something harder. (This false equation people make between the harder and the better is something I gave up writing something about weeks ago and may come back to, though you get the point and I'm not sure there's much else to be said about it.)) Laurence even kind of jokes about it in The Diviners: Morag's Scottish lover tells her he got a couple of her books out of the library (Morag being a novelist--Margaret tells Al in a letter that she had given up trying to make Morag a painter) and it was funny to see how the main characters both were and were not Morag ... and Morag is tickled that he noticed, which, geez, if Morag's novels are anything much like Margaret's, and you knew the author personally if not intimately, how could you not notice! In another bit, Morag writes a letter to that Scottish lover that sounds an awful lot like her letters to Al; if some of it isn't quoted verbatim, it's pretty closely paraphrased.

Speaking of the letters ... one of the things Al and Margaret like to complain to each other about is the physical construction and appearance of their books. One thing in particular Margaret complains about is the cover of the North American first edition of the short story collection A Bird in the House (which is the one part of the "Manakawa cycle" I haven't read yet): she says the bird they've put on it "looks like a crippled seagull" ... and "Okay, so we had land gulls in the prairies, but when did one ever get caught in a house?" So here's the thing: near the end of The Stone Angel (which is the first book in the Manawaka cycle), a gull is flying around in the building Hagar is hiding out in, and it reminds Hagar of the saying that "a bird in the house means a death in the house", and Hagar somewhat-accidentally cripples it. So that reminded me of Margaret's complaint about the cover of A Bird in the House, so I looked it up, and, yeah, it's a white bird, but to me it hardly looks like either a gull or crippled--looks to me like they were aiming for dove. Now here, for me, is the kicker. Al and Margaret pretty much stop writing letters in the mid-'70s, after the publication of The Diviners. The editor of the letters book (who I used to be acquainted with at York, and I wish I was into this stuff when I knew him!) I think suggests that the gap was due to Margaret's moving back to Canada from England, which, sure, maybe. But there's also this: they start writing to each other regularly again in 1977 after Al sends Margaret a letter in which he tells her that he's read The Diviners. Margaret writes back two days later (presumably the day she got his letter) and says (among a lot of other things), "Why didn't you tell me before that you had not previously read The Diviners? If I'd known you hadn't read it before, I would not have taken on so, in bygone times. It's okay not to read a book, but to read it and not say anything ... well, let's not go into that again. That is over." Which ... contributes to the disquieting feeling that that thing back there about the gull was a test.

I said before that I was inclined to go easier on myself for hating The Stone Angel in highschool ... the thing is, at the time I read it I was around the beginning of my Ayn Rand thing and The Stone Angel happened along as just the kind of dismal novel that you have to hate if you're into the Ayn Rand thing. Margaret complains to Al about people saying she's gloomy and death-obsessed, but good Lord. She may not be, but the author of her novels sure seems to be ... or at least her novels dwell endlessly on the petty horribleness of life until its always-impending end, and what are you supposed to infer from that?

Well: what are you supposed to infer from all that is really the question for me about Margaret Laurence. I think The Stone Angel is a really good novel, the best of Laurence's Canadian four (and the one that's least about Margaret Laurence--the only one where it doesn't seem like the main character is Margaret Laurence in some possible world (and as far as that goes, Hagar is 90, and Margaret tells Al she doesn't want to see 80, and she didn't (and, as I found out in The Diviners, killing yourself to keep from dying of cancer was an idea she'd had on her mind for a long time)), and Hagar is an endlessly pettily horrible woman, and I wonder what Laurence thinks of her. I'm afraid of what a lot of readers might think of her, given Laurence's reputation as a feminist writer. Near the end, Hagar overhears her son calling her a "holy terror", which is something you're supposed to like being called if you're an old woman, because it means you're not ... a feeble old woman. I'm afraid that for a lot of women Hagar might be a role model. Look, I guess it's better for you if you're a holy terror and not a feeble old woman. But Hagar hurts people. (And a seagull, which, typically, results in her briefly feeling bad about it and then resenting the maimed seagull for upsetting her ... she does from time to time have these moments of self-awareness and conscience, and you think, especially as you get near the end, that now Laurence is giving her her redemption, but nope, she slides right back into horribleness again. (The best bit on Hagar's lack of self-awareness: she says of someone that it's a pity she's such a weak person as to care so much what others think about her. Hagar is generally obsessed with what others think about her. You can imagine her as the nastier doppelganger of Mrs. Bucket (as in Keeping Up Appearances, not Charlie).)) You might try to justify her horribleness, or more plausibly you can excuse it, based on whatever you suppose has been done to her, but this is not a good way for anyone to be. (I feel uneasily again like I'm being too hard on all this ... but it all feels really rotten to me. But, uh, yeah, it is a really good novel, and I recommend reading it. Heh.)

There's more I want to say about Laurence and Purdy and Al and Margaret, but I gotta pack it in for the night and, uh oh, Lent starts the day after tomorrow!
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