Sorrow Forgot

Today’s title comes from the words of one of my favorite hymns, “Be Still My Soul.” It presupposes that a time for remembering comes first for the sorrow that Memorial Day signifies. The entire line is “When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,/Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.” In this version by Gentri, we learn about the arranger’s experience at the passing of his mother. He felt peace, finally, but not until he allowed it to come through a surrender to it. Oddly, or perhaps not, this version was sung yesterday at church, also by three tenors. I want it sung at my funeral, along with “Now Let Us Rejoice,” a pairing some find, well, funny. Which is fine. I will be glad of my going, though none of you must go first, please.

A word about the writer of the text: Catharina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel (22 October 1697-after 1768). That’s how she appears in Wikipedia. All that is known about her is that date of birth, that she lived in a Damenshift in Cothen, and that she wrote a letter to August Hermann Francke in 1726. That’s not much to know: That “after” means she was still alive in 1768. Sad, if you think about it. Two years ago, I invited readers to “Write yourself down” on Memorial Day. Schlegel’s paucity might encourage you.

On Google, the theme today includes an invitation to observe the National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. local time. Major League Baseball games cease, Amtrak trains whistle, hundreds of other participating organizations find a way to commemorate a holiday that too few understand. The Act, passed in 2000, can be read here; it contains not only the basic call for a time to reflect on the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice but also an invitation to pray for “permanent peace” and to reclaim the day as “the sacred and noble event” that Memorial Day is intended to be. Since I will need a strong reminder to remember, I’ve set my alarm for 3 p.m. Thank you, Google; I’d never heard of this Act before. Note, too, the date, well over a year before what we now refer to only as 9/11.

This month’s edition of Imprimis is so good, better than anything I can write, that I started just to post it for today’s offering. That’s probably cheating, so I’m not. But I invite you to read it. The title is “Sacred Duty: A Soldier’s Tour at Arlington National Cemetery.”  Tom Cotton, a current Arkansas senator, was in the Army and served as part The Old Guard, the group that places flags on every grave at the cemetery—200,000 of them—and conducts all the funerals. Rain or shine, never cancelling. His description is moving and beautiful, and he includes the history of the cemetery, some of which is complicated but worth the read. Most remarkable, though, is his conclusion:

“No one summed up better what The Old Guard of Arlington means for our nation than Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey. He shared a story with me about taking a foreign military leader through Arlington to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Sergeant Major Dailey said, “I was explaining what The Old Guard does and he was looking out the window at all those headstones. After a long pause, still looking at the headstones, he said, ‘Now I know why your soldiers fight so hard. You take better care of your dead than we do our living.’”

Yes. We know about sorrow. Until the time when we are granted the peace to forget it, we honor it, and those whom we loved for it.

Media Bias: Skews and Angles

For the past ten weeks, I’ve worked for a resource that assesses media bias. A long title for this post would be “392 Articles and 24 Hours of Cable News Later: Lessons Learned.” In truth, I think it’s too soon to announce that I’m changed, or how. Instead, I’ll attempt an overview and an inner view.

It’s a good system: assessing left to right and up to down. Art almost, as well as science. At the top, original fact reporting. At the bottom, fabricated information. On the left, well, visually also the Left: past skews left, past hyper-partisan left, all the way to most extreme left. A mirror image for the Right, on the right. Created by Vanessa Otero of Ad Fontes Media and copyrighted in 2018, this system provides the tools for analyzing both written materials and news programs. It takes several hours of training to get the system, and a good amount of time to feel comfortable using it. Placing markers within the framework yields the result—from simply News to Fair or (Unfair) interpretations of the news to Nonsense, damaging to public discourse. TV shows ended up on the same metric but additional parameters were needed to identify the stance of the host—from cheerleading to fact gathering—and the identities of the guests—politician or journalist, paid contributor or author, for example. That looks exhausting, but it’s not: it’s a good system.

Take a minute and look at what the chart looks like here.

Part of what Ad Fontes Media does is “to make the media better.” That’s a tall order. For example, in an excellent blog post this week, Otero uses Senator Elizabeth Warren’s phrase “hate-for-profit racket” as a basis of not just Fox News reporting but other sources as well. There’s enough hate to go around, media-wise, and the reasons for it are sometimes related to ad money.

Well and good, but what did I learn? Did I change my mind about media sources? Why does it matter? The answers are not as clear as I’d hoped: some data and a skill, yes it does, and clarity.

I learned that there is a substantial variation in the quality of news reporting. If you’ve looked at the chart from above, you’ve seen a particular symmetry. A few sources are purely factual, like the Associated Press and Reuters. No bias is obvious. I agree with that assessment. The bottom feeders are not lying so much as leaving out information or introducing ideas that have no basis in fact. In my mind, those techniques are worse than lying because detection is harder. Regardless, both left- and right-wing sources exist, and I am not going to seek either.

Where I might differ from the chart, however, is the placement of Fox News and Daily Wire as low on the chart as they currently reside. For one thing, there is variance in the shows, rather dramatically, for Fox. Some are better than others (opinion); some are more popular than others (fact). As long as we’re on Fox, the bane of many a liberal’s existence, it has since its inception topped all other cable news networks in most demographics. Of the top ten programs, seven are on Fox. An aside: of those seven, three are headed by women with a fourth co-anchored by a woman. The only other woman at the top is Rachel Maddow. As to what all that means, I’ll have to save that for later.

Back to the “hate-for-profit racket.” My assessment of the television shows tended to fault MSNBC more for that than Fox. Hating Trump is the milieu, and hence, the bread and butter of the network. They use the word “terrified” often. It gets tiresome. Finally, I would disagree with Sen. Warren about Fox doing the same level of hate. Maybe I just can’t see it—a potential flaw in my assessing ability. What I see more is not hate but a tendency to think the opposition as stupid or crazy. Not as harmful as hate but not very helpful in aiding discourse on the other.

On the CNN side, I liked Smerconish. Looking at his history, I wonder how I missed him. Politically, he is independent, though formerly a Republican. His questions are insightful and intelligent. He can laugh at Kellyanne Conway without spitting on her when he needs for her to stop talking. My favorite thing: He donates profits from his books to various charities. Sorry, but that doesn’t seem to be a liberal talking point.

I’m already over my usual word count, patient readers. I’ll just say quickly that this matters because I expanded my horizons. You could do the same. No, you don’t have to cause yourself actual pain by watching MSNBC or Fox. You could, however, find a resource skewing the opposite direction from whichever source you are usually accessing. On the same level, but the different skew.

As far clarity, yes, I remain skewed to the right. I saw and read a good bit of posturing on both sides. I can’t watch Hannity any more than I can watch Maddow. That reality helps to clarify my own thinking. This isn’t about truth: truth doesn’t have a slant. (Oddly, when I googled that, the results had to do with handwriting analysis.) This is about an ability to see another point of view and say, “Oh, look, this writer believes the world is ___.” If the direction is hell in a handbasket, at least I’m aware of my side of the path. The word “racket” suggests the influence of money. I hope my thinking is free of that and has to do with principle instead.




Worry, Redeemed

As words go, it’s actually fairly new, from about 1860. I don’t know what they used before then. The original meaning is graphic, though now obsolete:  “to slay, kill or injure by biting and shaking the throat” (as a dog or wolf does). I take some offense at the Google dictionary definition: “give way to anxiety or unease; allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles.” That would have it be all on me. This is not inaccurate, of course, just bothersome and true.

I speak, of course, of worry. I’ve written about fear and hate. Worry completes the triad. It knits the brow and slows the heart. And while this site will teach you how to stop worrying, I wonder if we sometimes would actually prefer to continue the practice.

Perhaps worry is not a habit like procrastinating or overeating. Perhaps that definition that I dislike is a preference, a way of confronting the world in what we take to be caring. My way of saying “I love you” is not to use those words but to say “Be careful.” Have fun, too, but that’s up to the loved one to foment. As I reflect, maybe just saying the words would be better than saying, if effect, “I love you and don’t want to worry about you so be careful and don’t get run over and don’t fall into the Grand Canyon, for example.”

My mother-in-law was the queen of worry. When we moved into a two-story house, she worried that someone would fall down the stairs. No one ever did. The boys did ride down the steps on pillows and cookie sheets, but no one broke any bones. Not on the stairs anyway. She also had a strong feeling that she was never to interfere, arising from her own mother-in-law’s penchant for offering her opinions too much. These two came into stark conflict one day when we were leaving her house. She had a rather dear way of waving both hands to see us off, and we left in the middle of an afternoon one Sunday. When we arrived at home, we called to let her know we were safely ensconced. Her words startled: “Oh, I’m so glad. You’re right front tire looked very low, and I was worried that you might have a flat on the way home.”

As I write this, the Dow Jones is down 564 points. No, it’s 568…well, up to 560 down, 549. I’ll stop now. The worry is that China has threatened tariffs beginning June 1. On Friday last week, a drop was expected because of American plan to raise tariffs. It’s the perfect example. Nothing has changed; it’s all just worry.

My new motto is “Don’t tell me not to worry. Nothing I worry about ever happens.” I don’t know its source, but I do recognize it as magical thinking. It counteracts the sense that worry is my fault. So what? I’ll just put it to work.


Endgame (play), Endgame (movie), End(times): A Primer

I’m on to something. Not the family fortune, exactly, but a nice Scholarly Paper anyway. When I saw Endgame, having heard it was to be the last film in the story arc, I wondered if that were really true. One astute observer remarked that Hollywood isn’t known for leaving money on the table. And with only single offerings for Captain Marvel and Black Panther, why would they stop? The answer is obvious: All evil was destroyed when Iron Man snapped his fingers. There is nothing left to battle. Or so I thought.

Here’s the transition to my SP, from Ruby Cohn, a respected Samuel Beckett scholar: “Since Endgame is unmistakably a play about an end of a world, there are many recollections of the Book of Revelations.” A double whammy. I wouldn’t say that this play is obscure, but I’ll wager you haven’t seen it. Most people are aware of Waiting for Godot, but fewer will know more. Said Alan Schneider, Endgame is “rather difficult and elliptic, mostly depending on the power of the text to claw.” Not to worry—while Beckett is considered one of the transformational playwrights of the 20th century, that clawing you hear may be some of my students forced to watch Godot or Krapp’s Last Tape. You can watch an Endgame scene here, from Steppenwolf in Chicago or the entire production, featuring Michael Gambon, here. It’s 1:20:00 long, and it begins with the idea of ending: “Finished, it’s finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished.”

Which brings me to the Book of Revelation. These days, people throw around the word “apocalypse.” A lot. Here’s the dictionary first meaning: “and the expectation of an imminent cosmic cataclysm in which God destroys the ruling powers of evil and raises the righteous to life in a messianic kingdom.” Its roots, however, just suggest an uncovering, as in reveal, hence, revelation. The Book of Revelation, then, uses images to suggest what the ending will look like. Joseph Smith described it as
“one of the plainest books God ever caused to be written.” He also said not to worry if we didn’t understand it immediately, which is good. Again, the story arc is simply good conquering evil. Armageddon is a place for battle, not a state of despair.

Finally, spoiler alert, the movie Endgame is doing no more and no less than trying to foment an ending. I think it doesn’t quite succeed. It’s not clear, for example, how far that finger snap goes. Is all evil destroyed, or just the army? Or half of evil, like half of life? What is the process by which the infinity stones act? Does the finger snapper decide actively or does the action reflect what is in his heart? Do the stones decide? Did I miss that information somehow?

Since I myself tend to be elliptical, I will state plainly and for the record that I don’t think Iron Man is a messiah figure. He does, after all, die. He has been transformed within the arc, and he has found happiness. He does not conquer death, however; he defeats evil, quite another proposition. When I complete said Scholarly Paper, and that will take some doing, and when it’s ready to be delivered at the Pop Culture Association Conference in Philadelphia next year, I’ll let you know. And they say I have trouble setting goals.