MOBY DICK: Thoughts on chapters LXI, LXIV and LXVIII

Melville is always in control of his language in Moby Dick.  Some examples follow.

Melville crafts his language to suit the story’s mood.  When the mood is “dreamy,” he writes in long, poetic sentences, as in this narrative from chapter LXI by the character of Ishmael:

“It was my turn to stand at the foremast-head; and with my shoulders leaning against the slackened royal shrouds, to and fro I idly swayed in what seemed an enchanted air.  No resolution could withstand it; in that dreamy mood losing all consciousness, at last my soul went out of my body; though my body still continued to sway as a pendulum will, long after the power which first moved it is withdrawn.”

When the mood becomes tense and choppy, Melville crafts his words to suit the action, as in this scene of frantic dialogue by the character of Stubb from the same chapter:

“Start her, start her my men!  Don’t hurry yourselves; take plenty of time—but start her; start her like thunder-claps, that’s all,” cried Stubb, spluttering out the smoke as he spoke.  “Start her, now; give ’em the long and strong stroke.  Tashtego.  Start her, Tash, my boy—start her, all; but keep cool, keep cool—cucumbers is the word—easy, easy—only start her like grim death and grinning devils, and raise the buried dead perpendicular out of their graves, boys—that’s all. Start her!”

Melville utilizes colloquial language to bring characters to life, as he does in this example of capturing the “tongue” of the cook, old Fleece, from chapter LXIV:

“Once more the sermon proceeded.

‘Your woraciousness, fellow critters, I don’t blame ye so much for; dat is natur, and can’t be helped; but to gobern dat wicked natur, dat is de pint.  You is sharks, sartin; but if you gobern de shark in you, why den you be angel; for all angel is not’ing more dan de shark well goberned.  Now, look here, bred’ren, just try wonst to be cibil.  A helping yourselbs from dat whale.  Don’t be tearin’ de blubber out your neighbor’s mout, I say.  Is not one shark dood right as toder to dat whale?  And, by Gor, none on you has de right to dat whale; dat whale belong to some one else.  I know some o’ you has berry brig mout, brigger dan oders; but den de brig mouts sometimes has de small bellies; so dat de brigness ob de mout is not to swallow wid, but to bite off de blubber for de small fry ob sharks, dat can’t get into de scrouge to help demselves.’

‘Well done, old Fleece!” cried Stubb, “that’s Christianity . . .’”

Sometimes, Melville sermonizes with more direct language to his readers, as in chapter LXVIII, through the mouth of Ishmael:

“Oh man!  Admire and model thyself after the whale!  Do thou, too, remain warm among ice.  Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it.  Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole.  Like the great dome of St. Peter’s, and like the great whale, retain, O man!  In all seasons a temperature of thine own.

But how easy and how hopeless to reach these fine things! Of erections, how few are domed like St. Peter’s! of creatures, how few vast as the whale!”

photo from:


Understanding Trump through classic literature

Wall Street Journal

Trump:   The Reader’s Guide

To understand Kellyanne Conway’s ‘alternative facts,’ pick up Hannah Arendt.

Flowers: a poem


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Good things rise—

Like flowers

When a loved one dies.


Relatives connect—

After years of

Relationship neglect.


Thank God for Facebook—

That 21st century

Graphical phone book!


Regrets are shared—

Stories are told and

Tears are shed.


It’s all a good thing—

Like flowers

Rising in his spring.


in memory of Uncle Tom Rhein

photo by S.A. Bort, April 2005

Hollywood’s fear and loathing of Trump

Breitbart News

Actor Kumail Nanjiani:  ‘Certain Types’ of Films Not Funded Because Hollywood Is ‘Afraid’ of Trump

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Sundance Film Festival

by Jerome Hudson  24 Jan 2017

Stand-up comedian and actor Kumail Nanjiani says he has heard that the election of Donald Trump is making it hard for film studios to get “certain types” of films funded.

“I’ve already heard stories of certain types of movies not getting funded because people are afraid of the President tweeting at them,” Nanjiani told an audience at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.  “I would much rather be in a happy, peaceful time making terrible art.”

Nanjiani, who’s best known for his role on HBO’s Emmy Award-nominated series Silicon Valley, was also asked “Do you think the next four years are going to be better or worse for the arts?”

“Yeah.  I think we’re all going to end up in jail — only half joking,” Nanjiani said.

While the actor didn’t offer any specifics or details about which movies have failed to secure funding because of Trump, the President has certainly influenced show business.

NBC’s Saturday Night Live has found itself in the crosshairs of Trump’s Twitter account.  After actor Alec Baldwin’s repeated mocking impersonations of Trump, the President described the sketch comedy show as “totally biased” and unwatchable.”

Last month, a boycott of Star Wars:  Rouge One was launched on the rumor that the film included anti-Trump scenes.

And while actors from film to the Broadway stage have been outspoken against Trump, most Hollywood executives have remained mum and others have even joined Trump’s administration.

Walt Disney Co. Bob Iger, who endorsed Hillary Clinton and co-chaired a major fundraiser for her campaign, sits on Trump’s bipartisan “strategic and policy forum.”

Meanwhile, Hollywood film financier Steven Mnuchin has been tapped to head the Treasury Department.


Follow Jerome Hudson on Twitter:  @JeromeEHudson

President Trump’s Inaugural Address

Read Donald Trump’s Full Inauguration Speech

Donald Trump

Read Donald Trump’s Full Inauguration Speech

Inauguration Day 2017: a poem


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Continental divide
Where water flows in dual directions
Down and down from each side
Water flows

Bikers to form a circle
‘Round a perimeter of police,
Creating a “wall of meat”—
Their words—
Ready to take no leftist bull!

Anarchists, #disruptJ20,
To round the perimeter of bikers.
Butyric acid bombs—stink bombs
Gripped and ready to pitch
At unfortunate deplorables.

Continental divide

22 January 2017, photo: William Farrington/Polaris

End of 20th century era with Trump presidency: Germany,s Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Breitbart News

German Foreign Minister: With Trump, ‘Old World of the 20th Century is Finally Over’

by Breitbart London  22 Jan 2017

BERLIN (AP) — German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says U.S. President Donald Trump’s election marks the end of an era, and Berlin will move quickly to secure “close and trusting trans-Atlantic cooperation based on common values” with the new administration.

Steinmeier wrote in Bild newspaper on Sunday that “with the election of Donald Trump, the old world of the 20th century is finally over” and “how the world of tomorrow will look is not settled.”

He says with any power change there are “uncertainties, doubts and question marks,” but a lot more is at stake “in these times of a new global disorder.”

Steinmeier says he will promote free trade and joint efforts against extremism with Washington.

He added he’s certain Germany will “find interlocutors in Washington who know big countries also need partners.”

Faith upholds humanity and liberty: Hawking and Pinker’s flawed logic

Wall Street Journal

Faith That Upholds Humanity—and Liberty

If a person is simply a chemistry set crossed with a computer, then morals are empty

Photo: iStock/Getty Images

Dec. 29, 2016 6:23 p.m. ET

The Obama administration’s failure to beat back the rise of radical Islam reflects a greater failure of thinking elites.  Steeped in an intellectual culture of secularism, Western leaders have consistently denied both the Koranic motives of America’s enemies, and the Christian underpinnings of the U.S. system of values.  They look for economic and social reasons for this clash of cultures and dismiss the far more terrible possibility that humanity is actually at war over the nature of God.

This estrangement from the sacred continues a trend begun during the Enlightenment of the 18th century.  But its roots are in the 17th century’s rise of science.  The scientific method transformed a world of miracles into a world of material.  Its successes, in time, made atheism seem the default setting of true reason.  But is it?

The physicist Stephen Hawking, who publicly confirmed his atheism in 2014, doesn’t believe that God is needed to explain creation.  “The laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear spontaneously from nothing,” he explained.  The philosopher Roger Scruton, writing in this newspaper, thoroughly undid this argument simply by asking, “But what created the laws of physics?”  Such an obvious flaw in Mr. Hawking’s reasoning should have been clear to anyone who wasn’t being carried off on the skeptical tide of the times.

As a former secular Jew who converted to Christianity, I understand the temptation of such skepticism.  My baptism in 2004 was an act of transgression.  I sensed it at the time and know it all the more certainly today.  I was nearly 50 then.  I had lived my adulthood as a postmodern man, a worldling of the coasts and cities.  For me to accept the truth of God and his incarnation in Jesus Christ was to defy the culture of the age.

Perhaps instead of dismissing the religious beliefs of those who oppose liberty, more elites should reconsider the faith that upholds it.  Thinkers from John Adams to Marcello Pera have cited specifically Christian principles as the foundation of the West’s freedoms.  A materialist worldview leaves formerly Christian cultures philosophically weak when those freedoms come under attack.  Materialism strips humans of the logic of their humanity—the whole point of Western liberty.

“I don’t believe there’s such a thing as free will in the sense of a ghost in the machine, a spirit or soul,” says the psychologist Steven Pinker.  “I think our behavior is the product of physical processes in the brain.”

Such increasingly common dismissals of spiritual existence trickle into popular thought and even into everyday language.  People say they experienced an “adrenaline rush,” not that they were excited.  Affirmation does not invigorate, it creates a “dopamine high.”  People say they are “hard-wired” for certain behaviors and “programmed” for others.  The underlying message?  A human being is a cross between a chemistry set and a computer, his actions governed solely by a series of discharges and sparks.

This implies that there is no authority to man’s moral sense, no objective reality underneath subjective experiences like faith and love.  Emotional states are not to be examined for truth content, merely adjusted to taste with various medications.

To break this materialist spell and set oneself free for faith requires rebelling not against scientific facts but against flawed scientistic logic.  Materialism is a fine idea, but what’s it made of?  An idea is neither the words that express it nor the brainwork that conceives it:  These are only the vehicles that transport the immaterial thought into the material world.

So it is with the human spirit.  It is not a ghost in a machine.  It is an idea expressed in the medium of matter.  A person doesn’t make a choice because of processes in the brain.  Those processes simply express the choice in the material world.   That’s true across the spectrum of human experience:  Even if every impulse and every emotion is eventually mapped in the brain, there will still be not one iota of evidence that they originated there.  It seems far more in keeping with what we know to assume that experience is spiritual and that the body expresses it the same way words express, but do not constitute, ideas.

Whether it is true that each of us is an idea of God’s expressed in flesh, and whether God once expressed himself in flesh as well, these are questions of faith.  But we should not allow them to be decided by cultural fiat.  In more ways than one, our lives depend on getting the answers right.

Mr. Klavan is the author of “The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ” (HarperCollins, 2016).

Norway boots church from state after nearly 500 years of unity

International Business Times


Christians In Europe:  Norway Divorces Protestant Church As Muslims Blamed For ‘Parallel Societies’

Interview with Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schonborn: The rise of Islam and fall of Christianity in Europe

Wall Street Journal

A Christian Answer to the Age of Terror

Pope Benedict’s ‘spiritual son’ on the future of a Europe unmoored from its religious roots.

Updated Dec. 25, 2016 9:24 a.m. ET


Tourists throng the plaza in front of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, at the heart of the Austrian capital.  They chat in reverent tones while struggling to fit the cruciform behemoth into the backgrounds of their selfies.  Mandarin, Persian and Turkish catch my ear as I make my way through the crowd.  The scene makes me wonder:  What does a 12th-century Gothic cathedral dedicated to the first Christian martyr mean to a visitor from, say, Shanghai?

For Vienna’s archbishop the answer is clear.  The tourists, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn thinks, appreciate what St. Stephen’s represents better than many Europeans do, namely “that this Continent has Christian roots.”  When his staff meets at the archdiocesan complex next door to the cathedral, they use a room that overlooks the teeming plaza.  The sight is a good reminder of the universal call of the Catholic Church—and of the real people who are its intended recipients.

Anxiety roils that human welter these days.  In Europe the Islamist threat, the problem of Muslim integration and the return of blood-and-soil nationalism top the litany of Western gloom.  Cardinal Schönborn had been embroiled in these worldly controversies when we sat down for an interview recently.

Illustration:  Zina Saunders

“Will there be a third Islamic attempt to conquer Europe?” he had asked in a Sept. 11 homily at St. Stephen’s that made headlines across the Continent.  “Many Muslims think this and wish this and say that Europe is at its end.”

The left was quick to charge him with thought crimes, while those of a more populist bent claimed the cardinal as an anti-immigration warrior after their own hearts.  It didn’t escape notice that he had delivered the homily at a Mass for the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, marking the 333rd anniversary of the Habsburg triumph over the Ottomans at the Battle of Vienna.

His message was lost amid the rancor.  It wasn’t mainly aimed at Muslims.  “I can fully understand Muslim believers—authentic believers, whom I profoundly respect in their belief—who see evident signs of decadence in Europe,” he tells me.  “They think that Islam will be a good thing for Europe, to bring Europe on a better path of morality, of faith in God.  So for me, the threat is not the believing Muslims.”

The physical insecurity and social incohesion created by ill-assimilated Muslim communities are there, to be sure.  But these things are byproducts of the West’s own existential confusion.  “The real challenge is:  What does it mean for the Christian roots of Europe?” asks the cardinal.  Christianity, he says, is a “missionary religion by its founder.  Jesus said, Go and make all nations my disciples, teach them what I taught you, baptize them.  And a similar thing is true for Islam.”

Only many in the West have relinquished their own inheritance, let alone any desire to share it.  Meanwhile, Muslims remain devout and are growing more so.  The clash between a secularized, doubt-ridden West and a missionary Islam is Europe’s cultural crisis in a nutshell.  “For Muslims in Europe,” Cardinal Schönborn says, the question is whether they can learn to “respect the other’s conscience,” as Christendom did across painful centuries.

As for Christians:  “Do we believe that the Gospel teaching of Jesus is really what helps people lead a good life, for a good society, for paths to eternal life, which is finally the final question and the purpose of life?”  Early Christianity, he points out, didn’t expand through arms or proselytism “but through attraction—it was attractive to become a Christian.”  A West imbued with similar metaphysical confidence today needn’t “fear other people and other religions.”

When the West honors its Judeo-Christian origins it will also recover the truth about itself.  “The whole set of human rights,” says the cardinal, “has profound Christian roots.”  Man’s inherent dignity doesn’t derive from this or that European Union document but from a vision of the human form as created in the image of the Almighty.  The task for Christianity, and the Roman Catholic Church especially, is to bring these “runaway children” home.

A spiritually unmoored West is vulnerable to its own demons, chief among them exclusionary nationalism and various ideologies that treat human beings as means to an end.  Threats to the dignity of life on the Continent, such as the relentless expansion of euthanasia, and the resurgence of the “idolatry of the nation”—nationalism pushed to extremes—suggest that “the demons of Europe are still around,” the cardinal says.

He points to a copy of the 2010 book “Bloodlands” sitting on his coffee table.  Yale historian Timothy Snyder meticulously recounts the horrors visited upon Eastern Europe under Hitler and Stalin.  “That’s only 75 years ago,” says Cardinal Schönborn, “not so long ago.”

Christoph Schönborn was born in that age of blood, in 1945, to a Bohemian princely house in what is now the Czech Republic.  At war’s end the Czechoslovak government began persecuting German speakers in its territory, forcing him and his mother to escape across the border to Austria when the future cardinal was still an infant.

His parents, a count and a baroness, weren’t particularly religious.  But he came to Catholicism thanks to “a real faith experience”—a mystical boyhood encounter with Jesus—“and the help of good priests.”  He joined the Dominicans at age 18.  “I went through all the revolutionary questions of the 1968 generation,” he recalls.  “Then I discovered my theological homelands.”

He read the early Christian masters voraciously and studied under a German theologian named Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI.  He went on to serve as principal drafter of the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, the first comprehensive summary of the faith in four centuries, before being named archbishop of Vienna in 1995 and a prince of the church three years later.

Vatican observers have described Cardinal Schönborn as Pope Benedict XVI’s spiritual son.  Yet since Benedict resigned the papacy in 2013, Cardinal Schönborn has emerged as one of Pope Francis’ defenders against traditionalists who argue that the Argentine Jesuit lacks the moral and theological clarity of his recent predecessors.

“Some people inside the church or outside the church are longing for very clear answers,” says Cardinal Schönborn.  “But Pope Francis is the right man for the right time.”

Pope Francis’ papacy reflects a world of mind-boggling complexity and diversity.  “Pope John Paul II had this tremendous capacity—the clearness of his ‘No!’ to certain things,” says the cardinal.  “He had learned under the Nazi terror in his own country, and Communist dictatorship, exactly when a clear ‘No!’ had to be said.”

Pope Francis, by contrast, “is the first Pope from outside of Europe.  He represents in his history the Latin American continent, where more than one-third of the world’s Catholics live, and the challenges there are very different.”  And yet the cardinal finds more continuity in Pope Francis’ teaching than the pontiff’s critics might concede.

Differences in tone and accent notwithstanding, Cardinal Schönborn sees the current pope’s communitarian economic instincts as a continuation of longstanding church social teaching.  Pope John Paul II, he says, had his own misgivings about unfettered markets.

The Pole opposed Communism because he saw it “as a perversion of the elementary laws of economics and of human conviviality.”  Even so, John Paul II worried about the excesses of “radical liberalism and radical capitalism” without “social boundaries.”  It’s up to the secular world to decide where to draw the boundaries—and who should draw them.

Pope Francis also emphasizes “a church for the poor”—in the material and Gospel sense.  Hence why he makes a point of visiting ex-prostitutes, prisoners and migrants.  The pope’s gestures “are very spontaneous but very conscious,” says the cardinal.  He has yet to appoint a cardinal from Venice, but he has elevated them from Bangladesh, Burma, Papua New Guinea and Haiti.  “This is a language that is not politically correct, by church standards, but politically clear.”  Francis is reminding the Vatican that only a quarter of the world’s Catholics now live in Europe.

Is there a risk that the pope’s shifts could upturn doctrinal pillars, such as church teaching on divorce?  Some pastors have interpreted Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia (“The Joy of Love”), published this spring, to authorize case-by-case exceptions to the rule against divorced-and-remarried Catholics’ taking Communion.  The document is vague, and the pope has so far declined to offer a black-letter ruling.

“This a very Catholic balance,” says Cardinal Schönborn.  “It’s often said that Catholics don’t say ‘either/or’ but ‘one thing as well as the other.’  ” As the cardinal interprets it, Amoris laetitia says, “Let’s take families as they are.  God is at work not with ideas but with real people.”

Even as they are called to uphold absolute moral standards, Christians must recognize that “from the very beginning the drama of humanity is that we are lapsed, that we are broken, that we are wounded by ourselves and by others.”  Still, it’s hard to blame Catholics who fear the erosion of the church’s capacity to say “No” to the ways of the world, notwithstanding such clarifications.  A few words of orthodox reassurance from the pontiff would help.

Cardinal Schönborn says of the pope, “Believe me, he’s Catholic, genuinely Catholic.”  Pope Francis hasn’t conceded an inch on the church’s pro-life stance, and in October he assailed postmodernist gender theories that pretend that human sexuality is a social construct and therefore infinitely malleable to personal and political whimsy.  Such theories, Pope Francis said, are part of a “global war” aimed at destroying marriage and the traditional family.

“I can only say to those Catholics worried that the pope will stray from sound doctrine:  Don’t be afraid,” says the cardinal.  “He will never teach something that is not sound doctrine.  But he wants us to see whether we have the mind of Christ”—that is, to have the courage to encounter brokenness, our own and others’, to meet people as they are.

“My own experience is that whenever you overcome your own laziness and engage other people, you are encountering Jesus,” the cardinal says.  “It’s a doorway to Jesus.”  Behind the door is an invitation to friendship.  Cardinal Schönborn’s motto is Jesus’ saying, recounted in St. John’s Gospel, V os autem dixi amicos—I have called you friends.

“And that’s a reality,” he says.  “I’m certainly not His best friend, because I’m lousy and negligent and not always faithful to this marvelous friendship.  But I know that He is faithful.”

Mr. Ahmari is a Journal editorial writer based in London.