Martinet pronouns (and much more)

Best thing I read Monday: Are We Still Thinking?.

There’s a lot more to it than this, one of my favorite quotes of an American Founder:

In the 1780’s, John Adams wrote:

I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.

I have a reminder set to re-read the article. It’s that good.


Bari Weiss turned most of her column over to the lament of a Romanian-born mathematician:

Sergiu wrote me in an email that the situation in his field reminds him of this line from Thomas Sowell: “Ours may become the first civilization destroyed, not by the power of enemies, but by the ignorance of our teachers and the dangerous nonsense they are teaching our children. In an age of artificial intelligence, they are creating artificial stupidity.”

Bari Weiss, introducing There Is No Such Thing as "White" Math – Common Sense with Bari Weiss

The centerpiece of Sergiu’s complaint is an 83-page piece of idiocy that proves, if nothing else, that its funding source, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, does not have perfect pitch.


Legal writing guru Bryan Garner puts a pin in the "what are your pronouns?" bullshit:

What’s new isn’t the generic pronoun but the referential pronoun: the one that refers to a known person (Bill, John, Krys, or Emily). People are deciding for themselves how they want to be referred to behind their backs — in the third person. If you were addressing them directly, of course, you’d simply use you and your. A social movement is behind the idea that people get to decide how references to them should sound when they’re absent.

Bryan Garner, Pronominal Strife – Los Angeles Review of Books (emphasis added)


"Legislating by letterhead" belongs in our lexicon, though I think I recall conservatives doing the same sort of thing as this:

The precursor to the hearing was a revealing letter sent Monday by two California Democrats, Reps. Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerney. The duo demanded the CEOs of a dozen cable, satellite and broadband providers explain what “response” they intended to take to the “right-wing media ecosystem” that is spreading “lies” and “disinformation” that enable “insurrection” and provokes “non-compliance with public health guidelines.” Specifically they asked each CEO: “Are you planning to continue carrying Fox News, Newsmax and OANN . . .? If so, why?”

When Republican members of the committee and outside groups shouted censorship, Ms. Eshoo shrugged. “The First Amendment, my friends, starts with four words: Congress shall make no laws,” and she, Anna Eshoo, had no intention of enacting a law to shut down conservatives. She was merely asking “strong, important questions”—i.e., whether private regulated companies understand that (if they know what’s good for them) they’ll do the dirty work for her, thereby saving her the hassle of complying with the Constitution. She was just asking.

“Right now, the greatest threat to free speech in this country is not any law passed by the government—the First Amendment stands as a bulwark,” says Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr. “The threat comes in the form of legislating by letterhead.

Kim Strassel, ‘Just Asking’ for Censorship – WSJ


After a long absence, Garrison Keillor assaulted my RSS aggregator yesterday with multiple postings. I have no explanation for this delightful onslaught or for the preceding absence.

I’ll be selective, minimizing politics.

I married a pro-vaxxer, which is good to know after all these years — we never discussed vaccines during courtship — and in addition to her respect for science, she has the patience to track down clinics online and spend time on Hold and so now I am vaccinated …

I was not asked for a credit card at any point, or a Medicare card, so evidently the country is slipping into socialism, as Republicans predicted, but I am too old to argue, I obey. Young people wearing badges told me which line to get in and I did. A young woman who said she was a nurse gave the shot and I didn’t ask to see her license. Nor did I ask for assurance that the vaccine did not contain a hallucinogen that would make me accept the Fake News: I already accept that Joe Biden was elected president and that Trump supporters invaded the Capitol on January 6. It’s too laborious to believe otherwise. This is Occam’s Razor, the principle they taught in high school science: the simpler theory tends to be true. You’d have to devote weeks to working up a new theory of massive electoral fraud by Venezuelans and Antifans buying thousands of MAGA hats to storm the Capitol, and at 78 I don’t have the time for that. The vaccine may extend my lifetime but there are no guarantees.

The old scout stands in line at the clinic | Garrison Keillor

The joy at the heart of the lockdown in the pandemic is the daily reassurance that you married the right person. A funny person with her own life who is never at a loss for words and so is good company and who reads the news for me and passes along the good stuff.

She read me a story in the Times last week about the hellish life in the skinny skinny new skyscrapers of Manhattan. Developers have taken tiny lots and thrown up a 90-story needle and sold apartments for vast amounts to people who want to look down on the rest of us but meanwhile high winds cause the needle to sway dramatically, which often snaps water pipes and causes major leaks and brings elevators to a stop and causes eerie whining sounds. It gave us joy, to think that architects and developers have found a way to earn big profits from torturing oligarchs from authoritarian countries who have way too much money.

The pandemic: one man’s appreciation | Garrison Keillor

In the Fifties, they tore down sixteen acres of tenements in Hell’s Kitchen and under the sponsorship of the Rockefeller brothers they built a symphony hall, an opera house, a theater, and a dance theater around a plaza with a fountain. Republicans were behind it and Lincoln’s name is on it and when you attend events here, you brush elbows with a good many moguls and grande dames who probably miss Ronald Reagan keenly and you go in to watch performers, 95 percent of them Democrats, some to the left of Bernie Sanders, but the conflicting views between the stage and the box seats are forgotten in the glory of “Der Rosenkavalier” or Beethoven or “Les Sylphides.” If your heart is open to the gifts of genius, you will walk across the plaza afterward, past the fountain, and feel transformed.

I first saw the U.S. Capitol in 1962, heading for Baltimore to attend a wedding, got lost, saw a lighted dome and realized I was in Washington. I parked and walked up the steps and in the door, past one policeman sitting on a folding chair in the foyer, and walked in under the great dome and looked at the statues and murals, and saw only a couple of cops relaxing in a hallway, not paying much attention to anybody.

When I tell people about that night, it feels like ancient history. Those days will never return. Even at the opera, security men wand you as you come through the turnstile. After the Capitol insurrection of January 6, security will be iron-tight forever to come, metal detectors will beep at every steel zipper, uniformed men with assault weapons will watch your every move. Walking into the Capitol of 1962, the openness of it told you that we are a civilized society with a high level of mutual trust. I don’t care to ever visit Washington again and see our government on wartime alert for attacks by our fellow Americans. Too painful.

A night outside, eating with friends | Garrison Keillor

Will Hollywood rise from the dead when the pandemic ends? It must. Truly. I decided it was my duty to sit down and write a screenplay for a movie to hold a theater of young people transfixed for a hundred and ten minutes, but it’s no use, I’m too old and comfortable, too well-married. I live with a woman who sits across from me at the breakfast table and reads the paper and tells me what I need to know from it, which takes her five minutes, and leaves me free to think my own thoughts. I spend less time worrying about our democracy than I do trying to remember Natalie Wood’s costar in “Splendor In The Grass.” (Warren Beatty.) William Inge wrote that movie and he felt entitled to torture beautiful Natalie and throw her into a loony bin because he was an alcoholic gay male suffering from depression. I don’t have that privilege, having had a happy childhood. I write a scene and it’s two people remembering their childhoods. No drama. Dishes need to be thrown, tables overturned.

The end of the worst, bring on the better | Garrison Keillor


Micah Mattix respects Christopher Lasch, but thinks Robert Penn Warren is needed as a corrective. He starts showing where Lasch over-sold his case:

For Lasch, the unbounded pursuit of capital has led to the commodification of nearly all of life. The decline in American manufacturing has made it difficult for working-class families to live on a single salary. The result, often, is both parents work full-time and outsource child-rearing to “professionals.” Small stores and local hangouts, where people of different classes might interact, have been replaced by big box stores and impersonal chain restaurants in pursuit of greater margins. The result is that informal conversations between groups has ceased. The wealthy go to private cocktail parties and exclusive clubs while the plebs stare at TV screens in Chili’s. The “decline of participatory democracy,” Lasch writes, may be directly related to the disappearance of these “third places.” Education has abandoned moral formation in favor of creating efficient workers while, at the same time, nourishing a sense of entitlement though victimhood narratives that postpone adulthood. Math and science—the golden tools of the market—are funded while history and English are either cut or repurposed to teach “soft skills.” Doing right is replaced with feeling good in homes and churches. The list goes on.

But this has been going on for much longer than 25 years. I am reminded of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, which was first published in 1952 and which can be read as a commentary on post-WW II life in the South. It’s set in the fictional Taulkinham—a town of shops and movie theaters. “No one was paying any attention to the sky,” O’Connor writes. “The stores . . . stayed open on Thursday nights so that people could have an extra opportunity to see what was for sale.” In one scene, a man sets up “an altar” to sell a new kind of potato peeler. All everyone does in Taulkinham is shop and go to the movies. There are no two-parent families in the novel. Young men are either unemployed or work menial jobs. And the only religion that anyone shows any interest in is Hoover Shoat’s prosperity gospel, where, he tells the townsfolk “You don’t have to believe nothing you don’t understand and approve of.”

Warren’s corrective, distilled:

Warren’s argument for role of poetry in a democracy reminds us not only of the importance of taking the long view but also of the centrality of excellence for a good society. This is Lasch’s concern, too, but it cannot be recovered through economic reforms alone.

Micah Mattix, Saving the American Experiment – Law & Liberty


Of the Golden Trump at CPAC 2021:

“It’s definitely not an idol,” Mr. Zegan insisted. (“I was a youth pastor for 18 years,” he noted.) “An idol is something somebody worships and bows down to. This is a sculpture. It’s two different things.”

At CPAC, a Reverence for Trump – The New York Times

"Trust me; I’m a former youth pastor" is a nonsequitur right out of the gate, but "an idol is something somebody worships and bows down to" is a particularly risible affirmation coming from within a Christianish tradition whose dumbed-down "worship" of God almost certainly includes no bowing.


CPAC was full of Trumpists saying they’re conservative, not Republican. I have no taste to vote for saving the Republican Party from their ilk, but I hate to see the term "conservative" debased.


Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

I John 3:2


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

New York adventures and thoughts

I’m visiting New York City for a few days, mostly to see Heroes of the Fourth Turning, but with other things thrown in for good measure.

I’m glad I allowed four full “ground days” (i.e., non-travel days) because I kept stumbling onto subway trains that took me further south when I needed to go north to get to the Met. Then I got off at 96th and Lexington because the Met is at 1000 5th Avenue, so I’d need to walk West to 5th Avenue, north 4 blocks to the Met.

5 blocks north, at 101st, no sign of the Met. Out come the phone and GPS.

Well, do tell! 1000 5th Avenue is roughly at 82nd Street, not 100th.

I think I’ll adopt a preferential option for busses, as I know north from south on the surface, but I don’t know what I need to do to realize that things like street addresses are not always logical here.

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The Met may be facing an encounter with Cancel Culture. It not only has a Sackler (Purdue Pharma opioids) Gallery of Egyptian art but (oh the horror!) a David H. Koch plaza.
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There is literally nonstop background noise in my hotel just west of 9th Avenue on 42nd Street. I’m 12 floors up but can’t escape it.

I used to think I’d like living here if money were no object. But I’m quickly relenting. It would have to be enough money to let me live above the noise, and that would be kind of artificial, no?

God loves us all. God loves the city(ies). There’s even a St. Raphael of Brooklyn, canonized after I became Orthodox.

And God knows that small(er) towns have their distinctive constellations of temptations. But I think that for the duration, something a bit less urban than Manhattan is my sweet spot.

UPDATE: “Above the noise” might mean “above 59th Street and away from the major avenues.” I walked from 10th Avenue over to Central Park (86th Street, I think) on Saturday morning, and it was acceptably quiet. Nice brownstones, too.

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The Lord is King, be the peoples never so impatient; He that sitteth upon the Cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet.

(Psalm 98:1, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Adult fiction

I used to say that an “adult movie” was one where the lights went out after the kiss because adults knew what would happen next. I wish I had thought it up on my own, but its source, forgotten, was not my own creativity.

Wendell Berry is similarly discreet:

Billy perches himself in the branches of a box elder that stands above the car’s mysterious hideout. When the car arrives this time, Billy watches as the man takes the back seat out of the car and sits on it with his lady friend. The only way to describe what happens next is by quoting the narrator: “What followed Billy had seen enacted by cattle, horses, sheep, goats, hogs, dogs, housecats, chickens, and, by great good fortune he was sure, a pair of snakes. And so he was not surprised but only astonished to be confirmed in his suspicion that the same ceremony could be performed by humans.”

Jeffrey Bilbro, of Wendell Berry’s new short story The Great Interruption: The Story of a Famous Story of Old Port William and How It Ceased to be Told.

There’s much more to the story than that, of course, this being Wendell Berry after all. The “more” is hinted at by the part of the title after the colon.

The good folks at Front Porch Republic, of which Bilbro is a part, also have a new Journal, Local Culture,  the premier issue of which I began last night. It’s very good, providing if nothing else a reprieve from the tyranny of the urgent, our current “urgent” exercising all-too-tyrannical a hold over my attention most of the time.

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The Lord is King, be the peoples never so impatient; He that sitteth upon the Cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet.

(Psalm 98:1, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Single standards

I commented just a bit earlier about the good news for religious freedom out of Michigan, courtesy of Masterpiece Cake Shop.

But now, I must quibble about my second encounter of the story:

For those who don’t recall, the Supreme Court ruled for Phillips [proprietor of Masterpiece Cakes] in large part because a commissioner of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission called Phillips’s claim that he enjoyed a religious-freedom right not to be forced to design a custom cake for a gay wedding a “despicable piece of rhetoric.” The commissioner also denigrated religious-liberty arguments as being used to justify slavery and the Holocaust.

While all agreed that it would have been preferable had the court simply ruled that creative professionals could not be required to produce art that conflicted with their sincerely held beliefs, the question was whether Justice Anthony Kennedy’s strong condemnation of anti-religious bigotry would resonate beyond the specific facts of the case.

David A. French (italics added)

David French is a very good lawyer and a steadfast friend of both free speech and the free exercise of religion, but he blew this one (I suspect a bit of cerebral flatulence; I doubt that he would disagree with me if he caught wind of my existence).

I, too, know something about the law in this area and I do not agree that it would have been preferable to carve out special immunity for creative professionals with sincerely held beliefs. I wanted the court to rule “that creative professionals could not be required to produce art.” Period. Full stop.

Carving out a exemption only for sincere religious belief is a retreat from the sound principle of artistic freedom and would, I believe, perversely feed into the designer narrative that “religious freedom is just an excuse for bigotry.”

Yes: because nobody should be able to coerce an artist to produce something he doesn’t want to produce for whatever reason, spoken or unspoken, I want a creative professional to be able to say to me “I’m an ardent atheist, hater of all things and all peoples religious, and I won’t create art for Christians. If you don’t like it, put it where the sun don’t shine.”

He’d be smarter to “just say no, thank you,” but polite bigots don’t deserve special exemption from legal coercion.

I do not mean to imply that bigoted utterances are completely harmless. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can bruise feelings. But as a general rule I think the harm of disrespecting someone, even openly, is lesser than the harm of coercing artistic expression — and we need to make laws for general cases, not rare exceptions. Coerced expression, after all, profoundly disrespects the artist.

A fortiori, I’d support the atheist if, for instance, he was a florist and we wanted him to deliver flowers to our Church early every Sunday morning, designed to complement our liturgical calendar or the sermon themes the pastor phoned in. Or a baker, and we wanted a “Jesus Loves Me” inscribed sheet cake.

I wouldn’t even call him a bigot for that: How is an artist supposed to artistically express something he thinks is at best hocus pocus, likelier an opiate of the people?

No doubt some can do it (I suspect impiety in some composers of great 20th Century English language religious choral works, the art form I know best, for instance), and I’ll leave it to them to deal with qualms of conscience. But I don’t expect, let alone want the law to compel, artists to prostitute their art.

This hypothetical atheist florist is very, very close to a reverse mirror-image of Jack Phillips, Barronelle Stutzman and other artisans who have been punished (in Stutzman’s case, obsessively pursued by an evil elected official) for refusing orders to adorn same-sex weddings — the lightning-rod du jour.

Phillips and Stutzman both served gays gladly, but drew a line at celebrating by tangible proxy a “wedding” they considered something on the lines of wicked, or impious mummery.

For what it’s worth, I doubt that the law would punish the atheist florist for declining weekly expressive bouquets to a church. There has been a double-standard that could well be dubbed “the LGBT distortion factor,” to go along with the “abortion distortion factor” (normal legal rules suspended in the presence of abortion) and the lesser know “creationist distortion factor” (any science teacher who both attends church and exposes evolution to critical examination loses and gets branded with a scarlet “C”).

I don’t like legal double-standards, which is precisely why I don’t like David French’s presumably inadvertent expression of what Jack Phillips’ partisans were hoping for in Masterpiece Cake Shop. I don’t doubt that there are some protections that free exercise of religion affords where free speech falls short, but compelled artistic expression surely isn’t one of them.

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I sought to understand, but it was too hard for me, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.

(Psalm 72:15-17, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Why teach poetry?

Most Westerners today are freer, safer, and more prosperous than at any previous point in history. What we aren’t is more thoughtful.

This is the age of superficiality.

Consider Time Magazine and the online archive of its covers. In 1967, Robert Lowell was the last poet to appear on the cover of Time. He had been preceded by Robinson Jeffers, Gertrude Stein, Amy Lowell, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, T.S. Eliot, and Evgeny Evtushenko. Here are some people who have appeared on the cover since they last featured a poet: Leonardo DiCaprio (twice), Kanye West (twice), BB8, Darth Vader (four times, if you count young Anakin), Yoda, Spiderman, Adele, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Angelina Jolie, Tom Hanks, Keanu Reeves, Russell Crowe, Bono (thrice), Tom Cruise (twice: with and without Nicole Kidman), Julia Roberts, Pikachu, Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carey, David Letterman, Jodie Foster, Bart Simpson, Kevin Costner, Superman, Mickey Mouse, Bette Midler, Molly Ringwald, the Alien from Alien and Aliens, Madonna, Crockett and Tubbs, Shirley MacLaine, Cheryl Tiegs (twice), Sylvester Stallone, Brooke Shields, Burt Reynolds, John Travolta, Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, King Kong, Charlie’s Angels, Cher, Elton John, Jaws, and Raquel Welch …

Everyone knows that the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. What might be more surprising is that the great Israeli-American violinist Itzhak Perlman appeared on the same episode. Rock musicians continue to appear on late-night television, of course, but how many violinists do you see on screen with Jimmy Fallon, Seth Myers, or Carson Daily these days? Our public fare is pure sugar. We are a nation with a mental junk-food problem.

Our morning network news programs give us about fifteen minutes of actual news followed by an hour or more of celebrity gossip and fluff. The most popular cable television shows offer little more than the pornography of violence and the violence of pornography. The once-lordly major networks have been given over almost entirely to the vapid wasteland of The Bachelor and Big Brother, vast stretches of nothingness that the average American can sit in front of for hours with no fear that our own empty lives will be made to seem cheap in light of some greater thoughtfulness or beauty …

[T]he pursuit of the true, the good, and the beautiful is, at best, tolerated. As the Marxist theorist Theodor Adorno puts it in “The Schema of Mass Culture,”

from our earliest youth all of this [everything that is beautiful and good] is only admitted on the condition that it is not after all to be taken seriously. With every gesture the pupil is given to understand that what is most important is understanding the demands of ‘real life’ and fitting oneself properly for the competitive realm, and that the ideals themselves were either to be taken as confirmation of this life or were to be immediately placed in its service.

It’s fine to offer music classes or read a poem, as long as you can demonstrate how these things make students better at the “real” subjects we call STEM. But let’s be sure to wink and sneer about their little choral groups or poetry clubs.

Benjamin Myers

I can’t think of any of my hot buttons that Myers didn’t hit (in an essay much longer than my excerpt), though I’m mildly skeptical about “uniquely” in this key paragraph:

The teaching of poetry matters greatly in the age of superficiality, because poetry uniquely and especially calls us back to tradition and to traditional use of symbol. It calls us out of the shallows into the deeper water of human experience. It draws us toward transcendence.

I suspect that great classical choral music does much of that and adds something that poetry lacks: literal music.

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Singin’ the Self-Empowerment Blues

I believe popular culture has lately taken a sharp turn toward the Satanic.

Having been taught about Satan by Dante, Milton, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky, I know that demons are paradoxical beings, simultaneously crafty and bumbling. Dante’s devils are grotesque and juvenile; they fart like trumpets and molest the weak. Dante satirizes the foolishness of devils, as though to mock anyone as a fool who falls for their childish ploys. Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, on the other hand, wrote clever devils who played the long game, laying traps and patiently waiting for their prey.

There is no better representation of the devil for our age, however, than the one conceived by John Milton. Milton’s devil is an eternal optimist, a plucky and self-confident fellow who cheers his friends by showing them how to make the best of a bad situation. As he is written in Paradise Lost, Milton’s Satan has accomplished absolutely nothing worth boasting about, but he boasts nonetheless. And what exactly does one boast about when he has done nothing which is worthy of boasting about? He boasts about being true to himself and living according to his own principles, that’s what.

The man who approaches Paradise Lost expecting to find the same Satan venerated by Scandinavian black metal bands and Anton LaVey will turn the final page of the poem and suffer sore disappointment. Milton’s Satan never kills anyone, neither does he rape, steal, or utter vulgarities. He does not kidnap children, establish cults, teach magic, participate in Halloween, or teach teenagers to play Led Zeppelin records backwards. He is not even terribly interested in conning others into such foul activities. Rather, one could triangulate the personality of Milton’s Satan using just three figures from popular culture: singer Katy Perry, fictional boss Michael Scott, and motivational speaker Tony Robbins.

Joshua Gibbs The (Satanic) Power Of Positive Thinking.

Do read it all.

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You can read my more impromptu stuff at Micro.blog (mirrored at microblog.intellectualoid.com) and, as of February 20, 2019, at blot.im. Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

That’s why it’s poetry

Sir, you can’t translate poetry into prose. That’s why it’s poetry.

Caitlin Johnstone quoted that in a column that greatly exceeded my expectations Seven Reasons Why I Make Art (And Why You Should,Too. I began pulling excerpts, then concluded that I’d be doing a particular disservice if anyone took my excerpts as adequate representations.

But she embedded a video that was evocative, and I found a transcript. Read it as poetry, free verse:

Catalysts to say what has never been said, to see what has never been seen. To draw, paint, sing, sculpt, dance and act what has never before been done. To push the envelope of creativity and language and what’s really important is, I call it, the felt presence of direct experience which is a fancy term which just simply means we have to stop consuming our culture. We have to create culture.

Don’t watch TV, don’t read magazines, don’t even listen to NPR. Create your own roadshow. The nexus of space and time, where you are now, is the most immediate sector of your universe and if you’re worrying about Michael Jackson or Bill Clinton or somebody else, you are disempowered. You are giving it all away to icons, icons which are maintained by an electronic media, so that you want to dress like X or have lips like Y or something. This is shit-brained, this kind of thinking.

That is all cultural diversion and what is real is you and your friends and your associations, your highs, your orgasms, your hopes, your plans, and your fears… and we are told no, we’re unimportant, we’re peripheral, “get a degree”, “get a job”, get a this, get a that, and then you’re a player. You don’t even want to play in that game. You want to reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that’s being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world. Where is that at?

Terence McKenna, Reclaim Your Mind (emphasis added).

“Beauty will save the world” is variously attributed, but I like the attribution to Dostoyevsky, who know who Beauty was.

Then why are so many Christians “half-baked morons”? I suspect it’s because their “art” is reliably propagandistic, and they’ve allowed Beauty to be twisted into ideology (a synonym or close cognate of Johnstone’s “narrative”). Johnstone’s “narrative matrix of the propagandists” certainly encompasses Evangelical megachurches and television evangelists (I’m thinking of you especially, Falwell fils and Robert Jefress, but Joel Osteen merits separate dishonorable mention).

My contribution to spreading beauty has been singing. I haven’t sung explicitly subversive songs for about 50 years, but because much of the western choral canon is sacred, I’ve been singing tacit subversion to this secularizing culture for most of 55 years now.

I may try my hand at poetry, if I can get over the hangup that the only poetic forms I halfway know are limerick and Haiku.

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You can read my more impromptu stuff at Micro.blog (mirrored at microblog.intellectualoid.com) and, as of February 20, 2019, at blot.im. Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Clippings & Comments 2/17/19

1

One thing we must not allow ourselves to forget: Our “rising tide” did not “lift all boats.”

That’s a major reason we got Donald “Wake Up Call” Trump as President of the United States. He got that, and at least pretended to care.

2

Joshua Gibbs, a classical educator, has taken to a sort of Socratic Dialogue form of late in his blogging:

[Gibbs:] Children have common sense and knowing that Jackson Pollock’s art is no good is simply a matter of common sense. It’s just a lot of painted scribbles. The same kind of common sense informs little children that two women cannot marry each other and that eating an entire birthday cake will lead to a stomach ache. On the other hand, children have terrible taste, which means they think Thomas Kinkade and Bratz dolls are interesting. You have got to train them out of that kind of delusion by showing them things of real beauty, and a thing of real beauty can be appreciated by bishop and child alike. If I want to tell my children that Bratz dolls are ugly, I cannot, in good faith, tell them that Jackson Pollock is good.

McLaren: How can you decide whether an idea should be taken seriously until you’ve heard it out? Until you’ve engaged with it?

Gibbs: Here’s what I want you to do, McLaren. I want you to drop this argument, abandon your position, accept my position, and never mention it again.

McLaren: (laughing) Absolutely not. Why should I? That kind of power move is typical of—

Gibbs: See? You also believe some ideas are so absurd they can be blithely dismissed with a laugh. You rejected my idea without hearing my explanation, then moved into an accusation.

McLaren: That’s because your request was absurd!

Gibbs: No more absurd that treating a lot of splattered paint as legitimate art.

[Gibbs:] An idea is taken seriously when time and space are given for the careful explanation of that idea, and when those hearing the idea ask probative questions to make sure they have rightly understood the idea. An idea is taken seriously when those listening to the idea hear with sympathy, interest, and attempt to discern both the discreet inner-logic of the idea, but also the way in which the idea rhymes with the world and underwrites the harmony of created things. A idea is taken seriously when it warrants a patient and reasonable response … An idea which has lasted deserves to be taken seriously, as do ideas which are held by many kinds of people. Ideas which have prompted great acts of charity, ideas which have proven rallying points for the pursuit of truth, beauty, and goodness deserve to be taken seriously. Ideas which are staked in common sense, reason, and intuition deserve to be taken seriously.

Must We Treat Every Bad Idea With Respect And Patience?


Student: I meant that so far as the spirit goes, everyone is different. No two souls are the same.

Gibbs: Classical educators are not terribly interested in the ways that everyone is different. That is a mantra of public school educators. Classical education is interested in virtue, in the human things, in transcendent things, in divine things. All people need to love God, love what is good, and hate what is evil

Student: Is it not insulting to claim that all people are the same?

Gibbs: I didn’t say that all people are the same. I simply claimed that classical educators are far more interested in what human beings have in common than in what makes each human being distinct. Every one of my students is unique, but the uniqueness of each student has very little influence over how I govern my classroom or deliver my lectures.

Student: Why not?

Gibbs: Because a classical education is about growing in virtue, not self-fulfillment or self-discovery. “Don’t be yourself. Be good.” You’ve heard me say it a hundred times before.

Why Do We Have To Wear Uniforms? (emphasis added because I’m in love with classical education)


If your faith is strong, it doesn’t need a challenge. If your faith is weak, it cannot stand a challenge. I simply don’t see why anyone should seek out a challenge to their faith.

Should I Go To Public School To Challenge My Faith?


I believe Rousseau was often wrong, but he was gloriously wrong. Classical schools borrow one of their great rallying cries from Renaissance schools, and that is, “Ad fontes,” which means, “Back to the sources.” To understand what things are, we must know where they come from. Rousseau is one of the great architects of modern thought; encountering the modern spirit in its nascent form allows us to see the philosophy and theology which underwrites our own world. A classical education assumes students want to know the hidden causes of the world, and to discern those causes, we must dig. So Rousseau was wrong, but he was wrong with style, with clarity, with poetry, and he persuaded millions.

Should We Replace Rousseau And Augustine With John Piper?

I left the Protestant world so long ago that I don’t know who John Piper is, but apparently he’s widely considered a pretty solid guy — no Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker or Benny Hinn.

3

Words are a president’s strongest weapon. Trump is terrible at words.

I saw this yesterday and thought it was a pretty succinct summary. Now I’m wondering of just what it’s a summary.

The author seems to think Trump will turn to will and force, failing persuasion.

I now wonder whether Trump supporters mean something like this when they tell us to watch what he does, not listen to how he describes it (tacitly admitting how inarticulate he is).

4

Freddie has a few pointed thoughts about Amazon pulling out of the New York City deal. He uses some naughty words.

5

Clarissa, an immigrant, publishes occasionally on her Merited Impossibility blog, the title of which is obviously inspired by Rod Dreher’s Law of Merited Impossibility: “It’s a complete absurdity to believe that Christians will suffer a single thing from the expansion of gay rights, and boy, do they deserve what they’re going to get.

Sunday, she muses about parents who move heaven and earth to conceive children and then abandon them to the electronic Nanny.

6

When it comes to hate crime hoaxes, the Reichstag fire is eternal.

Rod Dreher, noting that no apologies have come forth yet from those who swallowed Jussie Smollet’s hate crime (likely) hoax hook, line and sinker.

For such counter-hegemonic thinking, Dreher’s blog was banned from Facebook at least for a while.

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Clippings 1/6/19

1

My admittedly unscientific sample of a dozen Federalists’ personal stories — backed up by political scientists’ more systematic research into the question — suggests that each individual Federalist is akin to an excited synapse in a sprawling hive mind with no one actually in charge.

The society itself lobbies for no policies; it never signs amicus briefs or represents clients in cases. No one at Federalist Society headquarters in Washington dictated Barnett’s moves or told him how to advocate for what positions. It’s just that at a few gatherings made possible by the Federalist Society that Barnett happened to attend, synapses fired, a corner of the hive mind engaged, and Barnett took it from there. Multiply that chemistry tens of thousands of times over the past 36 years and you have the Federalist Society’s true source of power.

David Montgomery, Conquerors of the Courts

2

It’s clear why it’s disturbing that a teenager amputates his penis. It is less clear why it is not disturbing, but in fact a wonderful thing, that a surgeon amputates a healthy teenager’s penis. In the first case, it’s a sign of mental illness; in the second case, it’s “gender confirmation.”

Rod Dreher

3

This is the dumbest publishing platform on the web.

Text.fyi (H/T Alan Jacobs)

4

Trump’s Terrible Record on Property Rights. That a sleazy land developer should think stealing from widows and orphans is a great idea comes as no surprise.

5

“I realize that homosexuality is a serious problem for anyone who is,” he said, “but then, of course, heterosexuality is a serious problem for anyone who is, too. And being a man is a serious problem and being a woman is, too. Lots of things are problems.”

Robert Gottlieb, quoting Artist/Illustrator Edward Gorey in a review of Born to be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey. The story caught my attention because of a 1973 photo of Gorey, and I’m glad it did. A very unusual man, whose opening art on Masterpiece Theater I did remember.

6

Love or hate him (or anything in between), no reasonable person can deny that Trump is a textbook example of narcissistic personality disorder. Reading the list of symptoms on the Mayo Clinic’s website is like scrolling through the president’s Twitter: “Require constant, excessive admiration,” “exaggerate achievements and talents,” “be preoccupied with . . . brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate,” “monopolize conversations and belittle . . . people,” “expect special favors and unquestioning compliance,” “have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others.”

David VonDrehle

7

Auden once wrote, “The same rules apply to self-examination as apply to auricular confession: Be brief, be blunt, be gone. The scrupuland is a nasty specimen.” I would amend that to say that the scrupuland — the overly scrupulous person — is a tired specimen. Nothing is more exhausting than ceaseless self-examination, self-reflection, self-criticism.

Alan Jacobs, Scruples

8

Unitarianism—that urbane form of the Arian heresy that denies the divinity of Christ, the existence of the Holy Spirit, and the need for sacraments and liturgy … A turn-of-the-century, moralistic, therapeutic, Deism, it espoused a rationalistic religion in which Jesus Christ was a good moral teacher and the Christian story provided a robust ethic of good works, good manners, good hygiene, good contacts, and respectability.

Dwight Longenecker, T.S. Eliot’s Magical Journey

My impression of our local Unitarian-Universalist Church, sharpened by weekly rehearsals of éy chamber choir as its guests, is that it has lost much of that cachet, though it is striving to be a welcoming community — universally welcoming, of course.

9

If we are stressed, we can talk ourselves into believing we are relaxed, but our jaw may be tight and our brow heavy. In the same way we sometimes mistake ‘correct doctrine’ for love, and wonder why we feel so angry when our doctrines are attacked. In the image, the little figures are ‘every man’ and ‘every woman’. They are lost in the present moment, and the only government is the beauty of the silent tree around which, with all their hearts, they dance.

Artist/Illustrator Linda Richardson, as part of commentary on an illustration for poet Malcolm Guite’s Waiting for the Word.

10

Conde Nast has tried slipping a morality clause into contract with writers:

granting Condé Nast, the New Yorker’s corporate overlord, “sole authority” to terminate writers’ contracts in the event they become the focus of a social-media mob, “the subject of public disrepute, contempt, complaints or scandals.” The morality clauses are now regular features of writers’ contracts at Condé Nast.

… Two things are almost always misunderstood about these campaigns: One is that the Twitter mobs are mostly camouflage for internal corporate politics — ABC is not making multi-million-dollar programming decisions based on the tweets of Caitlyn the Rage-Monkey on Twitter, but public outcries can provide plausible pretexts to internal plotters. Second, the institutions themselves — corporations, publications, government agencies — are the real target, not the writers or other contributors. The point of the Bret Stephens mob wasn’t to silence Bret Stephens, who has any number of places he can publish that will give him an audience comparable in size and prestige to that of the New York Times; the point of the Bret Stephens mob was for status-anxious and resentful nobodies to get a momentary jolt out of telling the New York Times “Dance, monkey!” and seeing its editors begin to tap their feet and sway.

One wonders what kind of magazine writer is not involved in public disputes, and what use he could be.

Kevin D. Williamson at National Review.

I’m pleased to report that Masha Gessen, who gives Camille Paglia a run for the heterodox money, declined to sign. Look for her soon in pages other than Condé Nasté.

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“Paul, what do you mean???”

In the course of my opinionated life, I have from time to time disappointed people who thought I was their ally by exhibiting—I don’t what else to call it—sanity.

It probably was in the early 90s, for instance, when some of our local Religious Right leaders (who had some reasons to think I was their ally) went on the warpath against our local newspaper with the comic strips (of all things) as the focus.

Specifically, they objected that my beloved “For Better or Worse” (one of the most insightful and humane comic strips in my lifetime) had introduced a gay middle school boy into the strip’s cast of bit players. That was an outrage per se, whatever the lad did or didn’t do or say, and howsoever rarely he appeared at all.

In their war against it, they represented, as I recall, that X-thousand newspapers had decided not to run it, implying that they were dropping it because of the Great Subversion Of All That Is Right And Decent in Amurica (which wasn’t true; the count included all newspapers not running it, including those who never had).

As I say, I loved that strip, as did Mrs. Tipsy, so I responded in a letter to the editor that (a) they were effectively lying about the statistics with their half-truth about newspapers not running it, and (b) it’s just a comic strip, fer cryin’ out loud.

I think it was for that betrayal I got hit with an anonymous call wishing me an eternity in hell along with my 30 pieces of silver—a wish and an anonymity later rescinded, I must admit, though the experience was a wake-up call that left me unwilling to ally with them again.

[UPDATE: It was not for that betrayal. It was for my joining the call for resignation of a not-ready-for-primetime Christianish elected official, who kept stirring up controversy and recently had shot off an objectively anti-semitic email to a Jewish critic.]

That ole Religious Right spirit is alive and well today, but has been taken up by social justice warriors of the Left, who want Baby, It’s Cold Outside banished because she says “no” several times (he not getting her hat and coat at the first “no” is a per se distillation of All That Is Wrong And Rotten in Amerika) and speculates about what is in her drink.

They’re enjoying some success in their little crusade, and as someone who wants to put Mass back in Christmas, I would be churlish to deny them even an iota of grudging gratitude for reducing the rotation frequency of a seduction song during Advent.

And let it not be said that they’re without a sense of humor, albeit a grim one. One of them produced a Funny Or Die video of the song, choreographed as they (the dirty-minded neo-Puritans) see it.

I tip my hat to the New York Times for its story on the controversy, for the video link (with others, too, including one with Ricardo Montalban and another with Red Skelton) and for highlighting this comment to the story:

The “controversy” over this song is just plain silly. I remember Jerry Seinfeld was performing his comedy at a WH function. Paul McCartney was there and Jerry mentioned the song “I Saw Her Standing There.” Jerry quoted the lyrics “Well she was just seventeen….you know what I mean…” and Jerry looked at Paul and said “Paul, what do you mean???” Everyone including Paul laughed. I wonder if the radio stations will eventually ban “I Saw Her Standing There.”

I also thank the grim-jawed and humor-impaired SJWs for reminding us that sometimes a naughty song is, in the end, just a song and not a condensed symbol of ultimate evil.

(Baby, It’s Cold Outside, by the way, was the “party song” of the composers, at a time when, in their social set, you didn’t go to a party without some act ready to perform.)

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