Saturday, May 26, 2018

Garfield and Friends: Guess the Classical Theme


Looney Tunes probably comes first to mind when people think of classical music used in cartoons, and with good reason, but the U.S. Acres segments of Garfield and Friends probably have the widest assortment of themes I've noticed in any cartoon. The show ran Saturday mornings from 1988-1994.

Can you name the theme at 14:05?


Hint: It's from a symphony. Click through for the answer.

Catharsis at Home Depot


So I'm suffering from a bad case of treppenwitz today, after yesterday an obnoxious driver cut me off on the road after riding impertinently close behind me. While the situation is all-too-common yesterday's instance of vehicular barbarism stands out because I had the opportunity of having my say with one of those discourteous drivers. At long last after years of abhorrent drivers zooming unpunished into the distance, I had my chance for revenge at Home Depot.

Yet just when the moment of triumph was upon me, when I felt the blood summoned up and the shades of Cicero and Demosthenes hovering over my shoulders, the sight of the man moved me to pity.

He stood there, a shabbily dressed shlub clutching his crumpled receipt in the return line. The sight of him reduced from marauding Visigoth—so I had imagined him—to simply, "next customer," robbed me of all desire for vengeance. In his fancy sports car he seemed a raging terror. Without it he was nearly invisible. If you noticed him, you might say he was a little over-fed, a little unwitting. Yet the incongruity of his meek comportment and reckless driving fascinated me.

What had the machine done to its lowly owner, or what passions had it unleashed and enabled? Was he a basically good man whose demons were let loose at the wheel, or was he a real wretch whose unkindness we strangers were spared only on account of his cowardice? It seems unlikely he was a powerful man who acted meekly but drove like one possessed. Could he have been brazen, or was his apparent indifference the soft confidence of the untested?

Worse than such miserable possibilities was the fact that though he stood there an average man whom any onlookers would have said seemed decent and harmless enough, there I and only I knew that on the road he endangered people and treated them badly. Part of me felt guilty, that my gaze made his guilt manifest to all, though of course he did not recognize me as the driver he had so cursorily passed minutes ago. Yet another part of me felt empowered, that I held knew some inner secret of his character.

I had still wanted to reproach and reprimand him, but at the same time the sight of him there, not impudent as he was on the road, but powerless, the husk of his car—that mechanical prop of his insensate intemperance—cast aside and his runaway excess laid bare, exited feelings of pity and fear within me. Pity that such ignorance is the lot of mankind, and fear that I seem far less virtuous than I imagine, for who does not imagine that his vices are mild and hidden, and that his virtues are great and self-evident?

In the end I prolonged his tragedy and deprived him of the opportunity to show shame and remorse, in part because of my amateur psychological speculations but in greater part because when our paths met again he paused to allow me to pass. In the moment I was flabbergasted.

Perhaps his fatal flaw will resolve heroically in self-sacrifice, or perhaps it will find its final resting place when he cuts off a driver like himself. In either case, his ignorance is still my catharsis, for as I envision the day of his reckoning, I imagine my own flaws, ashamed, but encouraged to improve.

Alas, though, I finally did think of a real zinger of an insult.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Advice to Myself: An Examination of Conscience


When considering the causes of your actions, first consider their type so that you may consider more finely their nature.

Did you act by nature, doing what anyone would have done in the situation? Did you do what you usually do? Or perhaps did you do what a certain type of person would do?

Did you act according to habit, doing something simply because it was done before? Does the habit do more good than harm?

Did you act by compulsion, that is, were your desire and reason overcome by emotion?

Did you act to feed an appetite? Are you keeping it temperately controlled, or by either starving or gorging it are you provoking extreme responses?

Did you act by reason, trying to bring about a fixed, particular purpose?

Did you act merely by chance? Perhaps you made a hasty decision without consideration, inclination, or purpose. Do not use this explanation too often or easily.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Thoughts on Homeschooling, Part II



From the introduction to Paideia, by Werner Jaeger:

Education in any human community (be it a family, a social class, a profession, or some wider complex such as a race or a state) is the direct expression of its active awareness of an ideal. . . .
And, since the basis  of education is a general consciousness of the values which govern human life, its history is affected by changes in the values current within the community. When these values are stable, education is firmly based; when they are displaced or destroyed, the educational process is weakened until it becomes inoperative. This occurs whenever tradition is violently overthrown or suffers internal collapse. Nevertheless, stability is not a sure symptom of health in education. Educational ideals are often extremely stable in the epoch of senile conservatism which marks the end of a civilization—
I cannot say whether the chaos in education is the cause or effect of our society's lack of ideals, although I do finger both the left-wing rebellion from and assault on Western values and conservative pusillanimity and senility as red-handed culprits, but the issue is more complex than that. One could come up with as many explanations of our society's ills as we could reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire.

More important to our discussion is the fact that in a stable society (not static, but stable, and thus including healthfully growing societies) one would not have to think, or think so deeply, about culture and the fundamental guiding principles of life. One would inherit them, live by them, and since the society is healthy and since change is slow or modest, those ideals would guide you throughout your life as they guided your parents.

In contrast consider the conundrum of modern society, in which people's hopes of a good and stable life are foiled in one of two ways. Liberal and open people are fed, or more likely over-fed, a diet of fads, balderdash that changes every decade, or nowadays every year. They bounce from trend-to-trend until the wreckage of their hopes is visible in the rear-view mirror. Conservative types are handed down ideals that are or will become alien to society and which will alienate their adherents from society.

On the conservative side, consider the change within the life of J. R. R. Tolkien, in whose birth year of 1892 Queen Victoria rules the British Empire at its height, Brahms and Dvorak are composing symphonies, John Singer Sargent paints Mrs. Hugh Hammersley, and Kipling publishes Gunga Din.  In the year of Tolkien's death, 1973, the UK enters the proto-European Union, Pink Floyd releases The Dark Side of the Moon, Warhol paints Chairman Mao, and Americans are sending up stations into orbit. It is small wonder that Tolkien crafted the world of the Shire, where change comes slowly, if at all.

What does it mean to speak of ideals amid such swift change? In such rapidly evolving societies, and also in unhealthy ones and ones highly pluralistic that offer a multitude of visions of life, one must consider ideals most carefully, whether conservative or liberal. For the former, the values of yesteryear will set you apart, for better and worse. For liberals, the values of the day won't necessarily be around long enough to get you through life, nor have they been tested and found to be capable of such even if they did stick around. So consideration, to say the least, is a prerequisite of modernity.

In considering whether today's prevailing vision of life is good, some families find that it is not and so choose a new vision, often one rooted in things valued by earlier generations. That's why homeschooling families look odd to modern families, who often describe homeschoolers as Amish, or some such, by which they mean we look disconnected from the culture. Quite right, and quite good, if wisely disconnected—I would perhaps say the ideal is prudently independent. The family should have a somewhat unique and certainly a good vision of life that animates its members, although it should not, of course, become so odd and insular that it becomes a cult. On the other hand, the more debased the culture, the more radical anyone pursuing the good will seem.

If you have no particular vision of life, though, then the appalling popular culture of the present is your vision, whether or not you realize it. Popular culture (by which I mean vulgar culture and the ignorance of high culture and tradition) and what I will gloss over as "modern" trends in education are entangled in schools to such a degree as to form an impenetrable thicket so dense that someone reared within its thorny grasp will find it a long struggle to find his way out to the light, and when he finds his way out, he will not be the same.

I have a chip on my shoulder from the journey, which in some ways is that of a convert and marked by the same self-righteous devotion—often insecure possessiveness—for the old orthodoxy. In a time of greater stability (specifically, cultural stability, or perhaps we should say philosophical stability, or perhaps social consensus of purpose) I would have even with my conservative disposition enjoyed the liberty of dabbling in new trends, but in uncertain times new things, as they were for the old Roman, are the stuff of revolution.

My challenge, though, will be to give my children a traditional upbringing without poisoning their learning with my animus toward the present culture (and my insecurity about my position in it.) They will need to travel confidently and joyfully in larger and more varied circles than I, even though they carry more of the past with them than their peers. I will also need to take extra measure to educate them in the unique goods and opportunities of the present and in the grave ills of the past so that my preferences and partialities do not become their dogmas. Such restraint of my ego and purifying of my purpose—essential aspects of conservatism and education—is impossible save by the example of my wife's temperance and the counsel of her good judgment.

The challenge for those stuck in the briar patch, though, is not simply to get out. (I certainly don't recommend being so at-odds with the world as I am.) If spending a  decade finding the way back to the good things is your path, so be it, but don't jump on the traditionalist or homeschooling bandwagon as a fashion statement, on a whim, or for some purpose other than that it seems a necessary thing. And certainly don't drag anyone unwilling along with you. What to do, then?



If people took honest stock of their own education, particularly its limits, they would stumble, however crookedly, toward some ideal that they would want to reach for and with their children. You probably won't find all of society (or nearly all of it) appalling the way I do, but even from the briefest glances inward and outward I imagine any parents would take charge of some portion of their child's education that they feel they can better provide or that they ought to provide.

Starting from the premise not just that you and your life can be better, but better in ways you cannot yet imagine, expose yourself to some traditional ideas. Some will receive such ideas more readily by their aesthetic sense, others in philosophy of varying degrees of depth and complexity, still more by an innate religiosity, a sense of being bound to something. Some need a personal touch, that is, the guidance of a mentor.

Then from those ideas, develop a vision of life and measure it against what you see in yourself and around you. This doesn't mean to jump from one ideological bandwagon to the next, but in understanding of the many options open to you to develop an authentic self and way of living. One might simply say: since our society has not educated you, you need to educate yourself.

That is a burden of life in evolving, pluralistic and unhealthy societies. (Another is to learn to live in harmony with the many other very different people around you.) Even a cursory evaluation of oneself will reveal some incongruity between an ideal and what you witness in yourself, your life, and your family. The process of that self-reflection begins, it seems to me, in humility and courage.

For my part, I am aware that my knowledge and experience are most terribly limited and that many unforeseen obstacles wait in the path of educating my children, but such a realization does not make any school or program of which I know the slightest bit more attractive. I trust my ability to change more than I trust the situation of education and society to improve. Moreover, my fear of erring does not dissuade me from trying. I'm not so afraid of teaching my kids that I'm going to sentence them to twenty years of misinformation, oppressive workloads, and asking to go to the bathroom. Also, I'm not going to give up my time with them any more than I must, i.e. either to support them or to give them the space they need to grow and flourish.

I often feel that I don't have anything better to do than educate my children. If I had no children then I might, just might, take up some crusade to make the world a better place. (Although I think a lot of people who are on such crusades are really just hedonists, but that's a topic for another article.) Maybe if I didn't value education, or if I thought I would do more harm than good by educating them, I would send them off to school and go about my own affairs. But I think I can do good for them by teaching them and that we will grow best together, so why not try?

It is not intelligence, but humility that gives confidence. Not intelligence but the humble admission of weakness and the courage to improve are the stuff of learning. In one of his letters (7.26), the Younger Pliny, reminded by the illness of a friend, reflects that we are best when we are weak (infirmus.) When sick, he says, we ignore passions, temptations, and gossip, and mindful of our mortality we remember God. He concludes that we ought to live when we are well as we promise we will live when sick. Similarly St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, (2nd Letter, Ch. 12, v. 10) "I please (placeo) myself in my infirmities, reproaches, necessities, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ; for when I am weak then I am powerful." The Catholic Church's Catechism, too, affirms the need of recognizing one's own weakness when guiding our children:

Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery—the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the "material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones." Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them. (CCC 2223) (original italics, boldface added)
The responsibility and rewards of familial moral, intellectual, and spiritual enrichment are, to me, inspiring. Family education sounds like a grand, vigorous adventure that will never end. Do you know what sounds awful, though? Twenty years of Sparto-Prussian "education" by threats of failure, Pavlovian bells, lines for lunch, lines for the bathroom, endless evaluations, aka putting your kids through perdition, all while two parents furiously and flustered flap around trying to tape up their house of cards. You don't need to have a spiritual awakening to say foohey! to that.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Quote: Gene Healy on the Imperiling Presidency


from The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power by Gene Healy. p. 265

Over the course of the 20th century, Americans have transformed the presidency from a modest chief magistrate into a national father protector invested with the responsibility for fixing every major problem in American life. We've matched that responsibility for fixing every major problem with powers that are unlikely to meet those demands, but are virtually certain to threaten the American constitutional order.
How do we choose the person who will wield these powers? By accident more than design, we've come to select the president via a competition that favors boundless ambition and power lust. The winner of that competition lives in a social environment that would corrupt a saint. And he walks the halls accompanied by the military aide who carries the nuclear launch codes. 
Published by and available for free as a PDF from The Cato Institute.


Thursday, April 12, 2018

My UnTwitter


How I use Twitter:
  1. "This looks interesting. It reminds me of something..."
  2. Spend time looking for the quote, image, etc.
  3. If necessary, translate.
  4. Stop to be with my family.
  5. Write a short reflection.
  6. Stop to be with my family. 
  7. Hem-and-haw about how much detail to include
  8. Edit and post to blog.
  9. Post to Twitter with no reference to original Tweet.
  10. Declare success
Therefore. . . something reminded me of this line from Velleius Paterculus about the Roman Tribune Marcus Livius Drusus, born c. 131 BC. Speaking to an architect who promised him a very private abode on the Palatine, Drusus replied:

"si quid in te artis est, ita compone domum meam, ut, quidquid agam, ab omnibus perspici possit". [The Latin Library]
"If there is anything of skill/craft/art in you, construct my house so that whatever I do is able to be observed/examined by all."
According to Velleius, it was outside that house that he was assassinated, after which promptly started the Social War between Rome and several allied Italian cities over the issue of Roman citizenship that Livius had tried to address, without success.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Mow Vergil, Mow Problems


Forged by Vulcan himself, the Aeneas 500
cuts through grass, weeds, Greeks,
Rutulians, and more!
My wife and I often spend the duration of our daughter's naps at some quiet work or gently scurrying about the house trying to rescue it from the pitiless clutches of entropy. This past Sunday afternoon, though, we decided to take it easy. We reclined and took up some light reading: Bob Murphy's Politically Incorrect Guide to the Great Depression and New Deal for my wife and for me Ritchie's Fabulae Faciles, of which I had yet to read the sections on the Argonauts and Odysseus.

We were listening to Mozart's string quartets, starting with my favorite, the B-flat of the Haydn set (KV.458.) The temperature was the ideal, just cool enough to justify a thin blanket, and the mood most relaxed.

So while the weary Odysseus was dozing his crew opened the bag of winds that blew them, nearly home, away again, I too dozing was suddenly and violently awakened by the plosive, clangorous din of someone's lawnmower. Ritchie quotes not Homer but Vergil's account in Aeneid I of Aeolus unleashing the winds upon Aeneas and his fleet fleeing Troy:

     . . . velut agmine facto
qua data porta ruunt, et terras turbine perflant.

So too might you describe the violent, teeming onrush of sound from these modern mechanical banes to peace and quiet. A thousand curses upon these machines and endless tempests on their drivers! May ever twigs be beneath their feet and weeds at their heels!

Even if I were not offended by their emissions—noxious to both nose and ears—I would disapprove of what seems a grossly disproportionate use of force. Who needs a large gas-powered machine to cut grass? It's grass, for crying out loud. If you have issues with the flora, go pick on some your own size.

For my part, I'm quite content merely to trim the grass without the casualty of the neighborhood's serenity and so I'm also pleased with my manual push-mower. It's quiet, so I can hear my wife and daughter, who are able to play in the yard while I mow, there also being neither fumes nor risk of high-velocity projectiles. More of a tool than machine, it requires only lubrication and is easily sharpened when run in reverse. It simply requires prudent use and a little muscle, though less than you might expect.

Like tools of yesteryear, I find it encourages discipline. The mower is not effective—indeed it is useless—if the grass is very tall, so I have a great incentive to be consistent and not cut corners. I cannot let the yard go for weeks and then sweep in and chop it all down in a great fury of fumes and blades. Too as the often firm and stiff clothes of yesteryear encouraged an upright posture, so I find the mower cuts best, and I am most comfortable, when standing upright and pushing with the strength of my arms, which are also exercised to greater strength.

In contrast consider the effects of mowers that propel themselves. Their operators lay slumped over them, seeming almost to be dragged along. Worse are the unfortunate drivers of large riding mowers, who perched atop their colorful rides seem endlessly to orbit their trees and flower beds like the motorized ornaments of Christmas displays.

I wish I found the situation so humorous last weekend, but in the moment the noise seemed a violation. Something beautiful was lost—or at least prematurely ended—not out of necessity but because quiet, and therefore that which comes only in quiet, are no longer valued.

Perhaps I need my own alta moenia.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Things I Don't Get: Beethoven in Smurfs for the ColecoVision


Vienna, 1802. Ludwig van Beethoven takes a stroll through in country outside the city. The birds are singing as a soft, wispy cloud momentarily blots out the sun. Beethoven stops to run his hands over the heather and as filaments of light shine through the slender cloud and warm his fingers, the heart of the composer awakens full of joy in this realm of nature. His journal entry for the day reads, "Today a tune came to me straight from nature. I have begun to work it into a theme for a pastoral symphony, but in truth I just hope it makes it into Smurfs for Colecovision."

Not enough? Then mix in the Shaker theme from Copland's Appalachian Spring and loop both themes ad infinitum without development in front of trees that look like I could have drawn then in Microsoft Paint and voila! nature itself. Now throw in a little blue mushroom-dwelling socialist wearing a white Phrygian cap and dodging birds and bats and well smurfy smurf smurf you have something totally absurd.


Monday, March 26, 2018

Dvorak, Go Where I Send Thee?


The incorporation of folk forms of expression into works of higher art is an old tradition in Western music, and we find some of that tradition's most famous examples in the music of Antonin Dvorak written after his 1893 visit to America. As usual, the symphonic work is more famous than the chamber, and so String Quartet #12 is overshadowed by its big big brother, Dvorak's 9th Symphony.

Pinning down the exact influences of the folk melodies has been challenging and it seems to me not much definitive has been written on this topic, which has much revolved around the famous theme from the Largo. One influence, however, seems clear to me from the first movement. What do you think?

Dvorak's 9th Symphony: I. Adagio



Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Thoughts on Homeschooling, Part I


Parents usually surprise me by approving of my wife's and my intent to educate our children ourselves. Older folks and people without kids are especially full of praise, as are fogies of all ages. All three groups have a sense that something is amiss these days, and that' it's best to handle some things yourself.

Parents, however, who are following or who recently have followed modern social and educational dogmas, however, extend a particular, rather predictable compliment, namely that my wife and I are intelligent. The thinking goes, I suppose, that since we are smart, the kids will become smart. I really do appreciate the confidence, but to reduce the choice of rejecting schools to a matter of smarts, needed by parents and desired for children, misses the point. Such a reduction is a wide misstep, sometimes deliberate, in understanding not only what motivates people to homeschool, but also in understanding oneself and one's own family.

More particularly, most everyone has by the time of parenthood come to his conclusion about his intelligence. Particularly, most everyone thinks that he is smart. I have known only two people ever in my life who claimed to be stupid. (One was right.) What people imply by praising homeschooling parents as intelligent, I suppose, is this: since intelligence is the only or at least the chief prerequisite for homeschooling and since they too are smart, they too could home-school, if they so chose. If they are among the few who don't believe themselves so smart, this simplification of the requirements exonerates them from trying and, conveniently, permits them to think that their dim wits are the only things stopping them.

In either case, by predicating homeschooling on one single virtue about which they have a foregone conclusion, people don't consider the actual requirements. My thesis is that if they considered homeschooling seriously, i.e. considered the actual requirements, they would benefit from the introspection even if they decided not to homeschool. I offer two examples of matters which homeschooling families must address which are often not considered by other families and which, left unconsidered, can hurt the family.

First, regardless of their opinions of themselves, most people are not quite so smart, at least insofar as smart implies being both broadly informed and keen-minded. We simply become trained at one or a few tasks that we repeat thousands, perhaps tens-of-thousands, of times. Eventually we confuse this habit and local expertise for universal intelligence, that is, until a few variables in our work are changed and we are thrown for a loop. Too I observe with regret that many people sharply lean, in both interest and expertise, toward either the sciences or the humanities. What is so wrong with this is not the direction of their focus but the conceit that accompanies it.

People in the sciences do not want to admit that they can scarcely string together a few competent sentences and would be hard pressed to explain basic grammar. (I pass over the implications of this on the clarity of their thought.) They think they are brilliant logicians, but they are often just prosaic literal-minded dullards, unmoved by subtlety, beauty, and anything which may not be computed but must be considered with taste or wisdom.

The humanities experts—I was going to write humanists but that's hardly appropriate these days—don't want to admit that they cannot perform long division or calculate percentages and that they have not the faintest understanding of or interest in the laws of nature, unless perhaps you post a short YouTube video explaining how to "hack your tofu with science," or "science the shit out of" your vinyl records.

The sad truth is that parents, perhaps just some but probably many, are hypocrites for forcing their children to slave over work that they themselves don't value and that they don't consider valuable in general. Kids eventually discern this, of course, whether by seeing their parents' ignorance of the knowledge itself or even their parents' abject denigration of the subject, ("You'll never really use this." "Just memorize it for the test.") Who wouldn't, then, resent the work and lose faith in academic institutions? Worse, though, is that when the kids catch on to the ruse the only recourse parents have (apart from learning, of course) is to tell the children to do as they are told. At that point learning devolves from an exploration of the principles to which we all, teacher and pupil and parent and child alike, are subject, into an authoritarian, utilitarian, regimen. "Get your work done. Get good grades." It is unsurprising then how often the few hours families spend together are spent in quarrels over homework no one really cares about.

Second, then, many parents really can't imagine being home with their kids all day anyway. Instead of learning together, parents grow frustrated and impatient with the tortuous course of learning they have long forgotten. The result is that they can't wait to be away from their kids and go back to their own business. You can see in their eyes that they just don't know what to do with their kids when they are together without some task to perform. They need jobs like homework and after-school activities because there is no purpose to modern life besides the work and consumptive entertainment that crowd out the leisure that, by building bonds, allows natural affection to flourish. Families need uninterrupted, purposeless, inefficient, time together. In contrast, imagine this common scenario:

A mother spends, let's be generous in our estimations, six months with her children from when they are born. They are then cared for by daycare workers or extended family for perhaps 10 hours a day, at least 250 days (i.e. weekdays) out of the year, for another 4.5 years. Then during the next 13 years, the kids spend at least 7 hours-per-day in school for 180 days of the year, out of which year their parents spend 50 weeks working 9am-5pm.

Now throw into into such a mix the fact that both parents are tired from working, the family's finances are overextended, the schedule is overbooked, and they have no one to turn to for wise advice, it's no wonder that the few hours families spend together are fraught with stress. This, I think, is the reason that digital devices have become such popular babysitters: parents welcome them.

I formerly thought that the saddest sight likely in a restaurant was that of a restaurant diner fiddling on her cell phone while her mortified date looked desperately around the room for a comforting nod of sympathy. How lonely such pained souls look, not only invited and ignored, but put on public display in their ongoing rejection. How much worse is the plight of the child, though, brought along and then given the device by which he is meant to occupy himself as he sits nibbling on his French fries and dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets. Such neglect—public and unabashed—of kids, with their little faces aglow in the blue light of a cell phone while their parents chat away, saddens me.

Parents of such unfortunate kids are suffering too, though not how they think. Part of me sympathizes with them, since their modern bourgeois lifestyle is so complex and contradictory in its requirements as to seem designed to immiserate. Still, flypaper attracts flies, fools gold attracts fools, and such people chasing middle class pipe dreams are typically so deluded that they think their terrible situation is not only acceptable, but good. (Or that it could be improved by means of money.) What is worse to me, though, is how this quagmire seems easily capable of swallowing generations of the family, depriving who knows how many of a true liberal education characterized by a peaceful love of learning, rich, broad, and deep, and full of curiosities and of interest unique to the family.

That seems to me a beautiful thing, though I'm not saying at all that homeschooling is best for everyone. I am saying feigning or assuming that sending their children to school is a conscious, informed choice, that they understand and value the work to which they sentence their children, and that they have close bonds in their family, masks their lack of a guiding vision of life.


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Quote: On The Teaching of Benjamin Jowett


from, The Life and Letters of Benjamin Jowett: Master of Balliol College, Oxford. by Evelyn Abbott and Lewis Campbell. 1897. Vol I. p. 199-201.

He managed always to direct the study of language so as to promote literary culture. The pieces set by him for composition were choice specimens of classical English, which prompted higher efforts, and led to a closer intimacy with great writers. . .
His criticism in those days stimulated without discouraging. In setting before the mind a lofty idea he implied a belief in powers hereafter to be developed and the belief seemed to create the thing believed in. But the intellectual stimulus was not all. He seemed to divine one's spiritual needs, and by mere contact and the brightness of his presence, to supply them. If he was ready to repress conceit, he was no less ready to bestow encouragement on the diffident, and sympathy upon the depressed; not without timely warning, when he saw the danger or temptation was at hand. His intimate knowledge of his former pupils' lives was applied to heal the errors of their successors, and his own experience of early struggles also had its effect. He ignored trifles, but never let pass any critical point.
. . . If there was less of exact scholarship imparted by him. . . the whole subject was surrounded with an air of literary grace and charm which had a more educative effect.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Quote: Sallust on Self-Indulgence


Sallust. Bellum Catilinae. 13. (Trans. J. C. Rolfe. 1921)

. . .the passion which arose for lewdness, gluttony, and the other attendants of luxury was equally strong; men played the woman (muliebria pati), women offered their chastity for sale; to gratify their palates they scoured land and sea; they slept before they needed sleep; they did not await the coming of hunger or thirst, of cold or of weariness, but all these things their self-indulgence anticipated. Such were the vices that incited the young men to crime, as soon as they had run through their property. Their minds, habituated to evil practices, could not easily refrain from self-indulgence, and so they abandoned themselves the more recklessly to every means of gain as well as of extravagance.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Quote: Heidegger on The Poet and the Fugitive Gods


Martin Heidegger. Poetry, Language, Thought. "What Are Poets For?" Translated by Albert Hofstadter

Poets are the mortals who, singing earnestly of the wine-god, sense the trace of the fugitive gods, stay on the gods' tracks, and so trace for their kindred mortals the way toward the turning. the ether, however, in which alone the gods are gods, is their godhead. The element of this ether, that within which even the godhead itself is still present, is the holy. The element of the ether for the coming of the fugitive gods, the holy, is the track of the fugitive gods. But who has the power to sense, to trace such a track?  Traces are often inconspicuous, and are always the legacy of a directive that is barely divined. To be a poet in a destitute time means: to attend, singing, to the trace of the fugitive gods. That is why the poet in the time of the world's night utters the holy.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Lessons for Teachers #9: Oops


Once upon a time when I was a was a wee lad of a teacher, a student needed to make up a test. Lo! The naughty boy did not do so when he should have, so the grade was not posted for his mother, Mrs. Periwinkle, to see when she was looking for it. So when dear Mrs. Periwinkle wrote me to inquire, I said it had then been entered.

Alas, the plot then thickened. Little did neophyte I know that when I entered a grade it wasn't automatically updated on the school database. So the boy's dear mama writes again, inquiring. I update it manually and reply. It's still not showing up so she can see it, so she writes me a third time. Little did I know again that the administrators don't check updates to the database, rather they reference a printout which is, obviously, not current. So I update it on paper in the office. She writes one last time requesting a signed confirmation from an administrator.

Now what I wanted to do was deliver a full-throated Ciceronian lambasting to the staff who made me look like a jackass by not explaining how the lousy software they were using worked and moreover how illogically it was employed.

Instead I replied graciously and took my lumps, opting not to throw anyone under the bus and not even complaining up the chain because I was new at  the job. A few lessons:

First, when you get an email that flusters or frustrates you, don't respond right away. Take time to cool off.

Second, don't be quick to get defensive and blame parents, especially when they're just trying to get information and especially when mistakes have, in fact, been made. Lack of communication is extremely frustrating, and many parents are already defensive because they know they are not as informed as they should be. Add to that low grades for their kid and fears about college, and you have a recipe for stress over what seems slight to you. They'll really appreciate it if, above all things, you are prompt, clear, and take responsibility.

Third, don't lightly throw people under the bus, but it is alright in most cases to let them know they put you in a tight spot.

Finally, take your lumps. I had no reason to expect the software and manner in which the school used it would be so convoluted, but ultimately knowing was my responsibility.

Some Choice Gilbert & Sullivan


The end of The Mikado has, for my money, the jauntiest rhythm and wittiest rhyming in Gilbert and Sullivan.

My favorite bit is the duet between Katisha and Ko-ko in which Sullivan's music has, in essence, re-punctuated the text. The unexpected pairings make you work just a bit harder to piece together the meaning and the result is that the text is splendidly vivid and lively.

If that is so,
Sing derry down derry!
It’s evident, very,
Our tastes are one!
Away we’ll go.
And merrily marry,
Nor tardily tarry
Till day is done!




The finale is such a bright, sprightly conclusion I think it would have made Mozart smile.



YUM. and NANK. The threatened cloud has passed away,
 And brightly shines the dawning day;
 What though the night may come too soon,
 We’ve years and years of afternoon!
ALL. Then let the throng
 Our joy advance,
 With laughing song
 And merry dance,
 With joyous shout and ringing cheer,
 Inaugurate our new career!
 Then let the throng, etc. 

Advice to Myself: On Anger at Those Absent


When you grow angry with someone absent, do not indulge your temper, your wit's ability to craft clever insults, or your imagination's tendency to imagine slights and injustice. Instead, call to mind the face of this person, this object of your anger, and call it to mind as vividly as you can. Then call to mind this person's other deeds, both good and bad, and set this newfound source of anger in its proper context.

If you are too irate or otherwise unable to do this, then find some task at once to distract you from the passion of the moment and revisit the matter later with a clear head.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Belated Thoughts on International Women's Day


I don't have much fondness for holidays, thinking as I do that what is worth commemorating by such a grand gesture is worth remembering more often than once per year. Too I think that celebrating something once a year has less the effect of drawing its value into focus so that we vividly see its meaning than it does of giving license to forget about that meaning through the rest of the year.

That said, I have more faith in some holidays than others. I prefer those steeped at least in tradition, if not religion. Easter reigns supreme, mostly unscathed by modern culture because its preparatory period of abstinence and the ineluctable element of suffering at its heart are unpalatable today. I'm most skeptical of modern, secular, international holidays, as they mostly seem cooked up for contemporary appetites, concocted out of whatever elements happen to be at hand.

It's probably so, though, that many holidays and festivals which today are solemn have an inglorious origin, sometimes pragmatic and others simply expedient. I am reminded of two accounts from Livy, one of my favorite Latin authors and one not remembered well enough as a masterful storyteller, that remind us of what gets lost in the years of retelling.

The first regards how the Lupercalia, a Roman festival of purifying and fertility that included a nude trot along the Palatine, was begun even before the founding of Rome when two youths ran around naked for "sport and wantonness" (per lusum atque lasciviam), in honor of Pan. The second tale concerns the passing of Romulus, who was either carried away on a cloud during a sudden storm on the Campus Martius or, some say, torn to pieces by the senators.

Much like being torn to pieces, International Women's day is hard to like, and not just because I don't have faith in it, a modern, secular, international holiday if there ever was one. Rather it is the spirit of antagonism that never seems to have dissipated from its socialist origins. The first march was organized by socialist-suffragist-activist Theresa Malkiel in 1909 and caught on among the communists until in 1977 that uncorrupted body of wisdom, The United Nations, enshrined the celebration in History for every March 8th thence until the breaking of the world.

Despite my reservations, though, I forestalled this mild condemnation because I saw some good women posting good things, which was enough to give me pause. In my further considerations of the day I was reminded of the reaction I had roughly a decade ago upon opening a philosophy book written by a professor of mine in college.

It is the book's inscription to which I refer. First, it was dedicated to her sister, sadly deceased before the age of thirty. Second, that dedication is to "all women who, being great of mind and heart, are denied the life of one in the pain of the other."

My first thought upon re-reading this today, as a stay-at-home dad, was, I confess, one of crudest obscenity. I may not be great of mind but I have a few marbles rolling around up in my head and I spend some days rolling around actual marbles with my daughter. Equally, I will miss these months at home with her terribly when the day comes that I daily leave for the working world. Why should anyone "of great mind and heart" in such a situation, not be regarded?

My first reaction to that line a decade ago, however, was a profound sense of exclusion. Even then, with so little experience, I could not understand why one would narrow one's embrace like that, especially in preface to a book on philosophy. What more could bind all minds and hearts together than the pursuit of wisdom? Did Goethe overreach, and Beethoven when he set to music, Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt! ?

But then, though, something pricked my conscience, or I maybe I pricked my own conscience. . . at any rate it occurred to me that women were indeed excluded from many things, in many places, for a long time. Surely many felt excluded, but many surely never even conceived of a life other than what was evident around them.

Still, many and various people were excluded from the many and various things, and continue to be, so I'm not sure just how moved to be by the plight of any one group in particular, more than the plight of unfortunates everywhere and at every time.

In the end, I don't begrudge my old professor her dedication, for all honest emotion starts not in universals but in relations, often suffering, with our loved ones. I do, though, doubt the wisdom of factionalizing sympathy, and wonder whether it might do more harm than good. Perhaps when such sympathy is shared, it is best expressed through that which speaks to all. I am more moved to be a good husband, father, and son, by Shakespeare, for example, than by leftwing ideology and pink-stained influencers, less by hashtagged bromides than by the Bard's plainest, most haunting words, "I might have saved her; now she's gone for ever!"

Still I don't begrudge women their day, but when I weigh the socialism and antagonism I see associated with and brought out on the day, it seems to me that like most recently concocted holidays it has done and continues to do more harm than good. To its organization's credit, though, the website for International Women's day urges us to "Make IWD your day! - everyday!" #Progress

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Quote: Bowra on The Greeks and Old Age


from The Greek Experience (1957), by C.M. Bowra, p. 112f

from Ch. 5, The Good Man and the Good Life:

The best solution was not to complain of the passing of youth and its opportunities, but to ask what advantages come with the advance of years, and the answer was that, though a man may lose the good things of life, he can still be a good man with increased power and confidence and experience. He may not be able to enjoy himself so much as before, but he can make more of himself and become a more controlled and more complete being. To each of the four traditional virtues experience brings its special enlargement. Courage becomes a form of patient endurance, as the old Oedipus, worn by blindness and suffering but still noble and majestic, says of himself:
     contentment have I learned from suffering, 
     and from long years and from nobility.*
. . . To each of the four cardinal virtues age brings a new distinction and a richer usefulness. The man who has left behind him youth and its good things, or can enjoy them only fitfully, attains a new dignity through his renewed opportunities of being a good man.

*Sophocles. Oedipus at Colonus lines 7f

Friday, February 23, 2018

Quote: Dom Jacques Hourlier on the Fervor of Chant


from Reflections on the Spirituality of Gregorian Chant.
Translated by Dom Gregory Casprini and Robert Edmonson. p. 35f

Unction is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "a fervent or sympathetic quality in words or tone, caused by or causing deep religious feeling." . . . Its principal author is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Divine Love. In the liturgy it evokes holiness, order, and peace, the opposite of dryness and sterility. . . Unction makes it easier to enter into an attitude of prayer and love. . . 
Unction, or fervor, describes the atmosphere which all authentic religious music seeks to create.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

On Reading, Writing, and Theodore Dalrymple


In the few months since I've started writing here again I have also read a great deal more of. . . well, there seems no decorous way of referring to writing published exclusively on the internet. Surely not the vulgar digital content, or banal web writing. Perhaps it is a sign. At any rate I've read a great deal more of it than the nearly nil I read in the first year after moving into our new house and staying home with our daughter full time. The writing has brought me more pleasure than I thought, the reading less so.

The writing, though laborious, is a near pure pleasure, excepting those frustrating moments of editing when I must part with a beloved phrase (which I will of course forget about by the next hour) and when I simply cannot decide just what exactly I am saying. Writing is as pure an exercise of unrestrained liberty as one can imagine, with the myriad possibilities only delimited by the prudence of my conscience and aesthetic sense, which occasionally speak through the wisdom of my wife.

One limitation that has always frustrated me though, is my reluctance to let what I write cause grievous offense to someone I know, thus risking our peaceful relation. Since I write much, though not chiefly, about my experiences, I have many essays that will go unpublished for a while, presuming I have at age thirty-two some plenty of years left. On the other hand—the use of this correlative that I surely use too much because of my Classical background brings to my mind this time an anecdote: one of the first errors in my writing which my wife corrected was an instance of saying on the one hand several times in a row. My defense remains that the article was ghost-written by one of the Hekatonkheires of Greek myth (Centimanes in Latin), a few of whose heads and hands moonlight while he guards Tartaros.

Anyway, on the other hand, that act of self-censorship has no doubt reformed the character of a querulous and often petty man. If I had written as a teen or college student, it probably would have resembled this ghastly piece—ghastly in content and style—on Jordan Peterson. Reading such pieces saddens me because I cannot help assume either that the person has been bought out or is deeply troubled. Worse, it seems to me that writing would invariably reform one's character. How can you write and not make use of the seemingly infinite opportunities for reflection and self-examination? The process has pricked my conscience more times than I could ever remember. I have written some unkind and uninformed things that never saw the light of day because the sight of them displeased and embarrassed me. Not fully, of course, am I reformed, and writing has precipitated a few new occasions for poor behavior.

It is a cheap pleasure of mine to refer to a piece I've written and, even more so, to have the excuse to re-state my case. I too especially enjoy the tactful praise of liberal friends, "I love your movie reviews."  How amused I am also when someone refers approvingly to something I have written, but has clearly only read the opening paragraph, which was meant in irony. They really do mean well but can't bring themselves to run the full course. Their error is similar in spirit to one that recurred among my Latin students when I would for one reason or another truncate a portion of a passage for an exam: how often I found it translated on a test anyway! Clearly it appeared by the inspiration of the Muses, or perhaps some as-of-yet unnamed goddess of the internet.

Truly, though, writing has been a healthful pleasure both on account of the good change it has precipitated, even in failure, and the kindness and generosity of friends, family, and readers who have supported my meager talents and overlooked my errors.

I wish I could say that reading has brought me such pleasure of late. More often than not I feel preached to, lectured, or chicaned. Everybody, so it seems, is hocking his ideology or his personality. They lust after my clicks, likes, follows, and subscribes, to use the terms of their cheap currency. They pander to what they hope are my weaknesses. There is precious little that is all honest, good, and necessary. Even people of apparent good character and sound mind nonetheless seem desperate to cash in on their virtues. This is perhaps inevitable and even good, for I certainly should not like the opposite situation, in which ideas are compelled, suppressed, or absent, or virtues bring people unnecessary suffering. Perhaps it is a Golden Age of Discourse. To me it feels gilded and cheap. It seems that there is no self-censorship. Everything must be said so that it can be repeated, therefore it is short, overstated, lacking in explication, and, usually, crude.

The only prominent author who seems exempt from this cheapening, and I think fully so,  is Theodore Dalrymple. Perhaps his writing remains pristine because he does not write to sustain himself or perhaps he has by his uncommon learning, significant in both the sciences and humanities, and his uncommon experiences—of the bad and worse, both at home and abroad—tempered himself and his writing just so, but it seems to me he writes in as ideal a way as possible: reflecting humbly on life, with reason but also humanity, without the purpose of proving an ideology. For my part, I have surely not merited such commendations.

He is no publication's "go-to man" for any one idea, a fact which confuses casual readers. Watch with horror as he gets scorned on Taki-Mag for showing the slightest empathy, fondness, or respect for the non-Westerners he has met in his travels. Some years ago he was swarmed with rabid libertarians for his review in The New Criterion where he had the temerity to criticize Ayn Rand. When he wrote for Pajamas Media, it seems patently so that the prose was above the heads of the readers. City Journal, Salisbury Review, and the Law and Liberty Site each pick up parts of his work to the delight of their readers, but it is perhaps unsurprising that thoughts varied, subtle, and restrained do not find a perfect home in an age characterized by, to borrow from his many inimitable artful joinings, incontinent public confession. Rather than esteem (I have in mind here Latin's diligo: select, pick, single out, love, value, esteem, approve, aspire to, appreciate) someone who in true conservative fashion considers a matter alongside life's many others, the right prefers the company of loudmouth single-minded ideologues, usually evangelists of soft-headed religion and gaudy business.

It seems beyond wishful thinking to hope that the hearts and minds of the left will ever find room for Dr. Dalrymple since, despite his work for the poor and wretched—experience oddly but consistently in short supply among the poor's most tender-hearted and self-appointed advocates—he will not sign their prescriptions for remedies that he, with regrets, finds do more harm than good. Rather than be seen to trot with an independent thinker or risk having its conscience pricked, the left, it seems, would rather exchange platitudes with the peddlers of righteous cliche-ridden activism in a morass that Dalrymple's words describe best: an orgy of sentimentality.

I have probably made Dr. Dalrymple, who has for many years written prolifically and been respected with many well-reviewed books long in print and been often sought after as a speaker or expert, seem less famous and dear to his readers than he is. Surely too his critics betoken his notoriety. I have probably brought down his status to put it within my reach. I am frank in admitting he has been and remains a great influence.

How fortunate are all his readers, though, that he continues to share his wisdom in such a vigorous yet civilized manner. In its moderation and proportion, both in style and content, his is the prose of this age in which I feel most at home, and for that I am grateful, as I am for all things good and beautiful.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Advice for Myself: Outside


Of the outside world first, when you are young, pay as much attention as you need to understand yourself. Have adventures, though know they are with risks. Then, when you are established, pay attention to the world such that you can find a spouse. Next, pay only so much as you need to sustain and protect your family. Finally, pay it attention proportionate to your ability to help it.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Minding the Children


There is some resurgence of faith in the notion that children raised with the full-time attention of one parent are better off. I too think it is so, quite broadly but perhaps not completely, for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons are empirical and some based on my experience, but those from my experience tell me it is not only because school and daycare are such bad places.

Instead I would emphasize that parents who spend a lot of time with their children are by the sheer volume of time spent with them given more opportunities to be changed by them, by which I mean to orient themselves emotionally toward them, by which I mean to fall in love with them.

In contrast it seems plain to me that parents who try to add children to their existing lifestyle, spending with them only a few hours a day (if that), not only have fewer opportunities to experience that reorientation, but struggle more to make use of the few they have.

When the day's time is first squeezed down first by work and school, then by homework and domestic duties, there is not much time left. Still, it is possible to flourish in that remaining time, if it is left truly free and used wisely to cultivate the family, but more often than not it is filled with distractions and out-of-the-house social engagements.

Now limited time is surely a barrier toward having loving time with children, but it is not I think the only one. Equally influential but more pernicious is the resentment that can bubble up from so squeezing your kids into your old life. When you spend most of your day the way you used to before you had kids (i.e. working) and then need to start tending to them during the few hours you are home in the evening—when you formerly relaxed and when the kids now want and need much attention—which hours do you think you will resent: the old ways or the new? It's hard to open up to someone when, deep down and beneath your comprehension, you resent them.

Of course, some adults simply refuse to let the children change them even though they spend a lot of time with them. Too, some people even don't let their spouses change them. Such people don't want marriage so much as they want a merger of assets and they don't want children so much as obedient little reproductions of themselves to reflect well upon them, shower them with affection, and trot off when told.

I am not saying the change is easily forthcoming simply because you spend a lot of time with them. Sometimes we spend a lot of time with them but at every available moment turn our minds away.

Cell phones and television will distract you. Being fussy about housekeeping and domestic responsibilities will distract you. Not having your affairs in order, such as business arrangements and finance, will cause you worry and distract you. Poor relations with your spouse will distract you. Even high-minded thoughts and philosophizing will intrude and thereby distract you. The more you are attuned to other things, even necessary and good things, the farther you really are from your children, even when physically present.

Time, then, is merely the condition for change, not a cause of it. In my experience perception and reception are the essentials, or at least are of a great importance. Watch your children, with as devoted attention as you can muster, and their love for you will be self-evident, and by nature you will reach out to them with love in return. When you have prepared the way, a transcendent touch will happen and the branches of your lives will begin to entangle. In that moment, reaching out is the easiest and most natural thing in the world, but getting yourself and your life to the point where it can happen is difficult.

In fact it is not just difficult, but painful. As with learning, as Jordan Peterson has often pointed out, part of you has to die and you have to be the one who willingly kills it. You have to repudiate some part of your former self and embrace a better you—or at least a you which is better for your new circumstances—which takes courage. Life is not an additive process by which you acquire a spouse, house, children, and so on, improving in linear progression without loss. It is a process of transformation throughout which you gain and leave behind different things at different times.

This does not mean we should dote on and obsess over our children while neglecting all else, but that we should be mindful of our connection to them and sense when we are more stretched apart and when we are especially close. The former is a part of the relationship too, but why would anyone neglect latter?

This does not mean that you can't love them if you're not home with them all the time—and as I said, being home is no guarantee—but I think you are setting up roadblocks if you simply try to squeeze your children into your old ways. Parents, I think, know they are setting up these roadblocks and tend to justify them with explanations to which they hope you will assent. They point to how much time and money they spend on their children and see there demonstrations of their love, effort, and sacrifice.

This is how conscientious and dutiful people often look at the matter and they are not wholly wrong. Their commitment is commendable but the paradigm is wrong because what they are sacrificing is a portion of their old life, a life which they continue to let rule the family. They are giving up something, to be sure, but not what is needed, and because it is still a hard sacrifice, they think that it is enough. When such dutiful people say, as they seem invariably to do, that they would do anything for their children, I would like to add—but do not, for what parent has ever taken correction?—is except that which you have not considered.

I used to hold much anger for such parents, but now the thought of their predicament makes me quite sad. They have taken in the dogmas of the day: cliches about happiness, success, and fulfillment. They are lost and unhappy. Too they are hard to help, partly because of hubris and partly because it is a challenge, impossible for some people, to admit they have failed or are failing their children. Maybe they can be jolted out of their ways by a profound emotional experience, but their circles seem ferociously to reinforce the prevailing trends. So they plod on, ignoring the sadness in their hearts as they pretend to take pleasure in putting their children in that esteemed position of first priority.

But it is not enough to place them first among many priorities: you really do need some sense of their mystical connection to you. Only with that experience will the upheaval of selling your house, quitting your job, negotiating with your spouse, moving, drastically cutting your expenses, or doing whatever you need to do to be with your kids, seem surmountable.

You can't force a realization of such a thing, but you can at least start by being with them with a clear mind and open heart.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Mozart's C Minor Mass Choreographed by Scholz


I came across the late Uwe Scholz's ballet to Mozart's C minor mass on the Classic Arts Showcase a couple of years ago. (I miss the eclectic channel, but it is available online now.) The particular clip I saw was of the Cum Sancto Spiritu, which left me awestruck. I hadn't experienced the piece so strongly since I first discovered it. 

I can't find a selection of that particular part (discs of the performance seem to be getting hard to find, but it is available for digital purchase/rental), but take a look at the Kyrie here, which too demonstrates a remarkable sensitivity to the subtitles of the music.


Thursday, February 8, 2018

Advice to Myself: Wind in the Sails


Neither keep yourself weak nor abuse power.

The sailboat that has not caught the wind is neither safe itself nor harmless to others. Uncontrolled, it will go about at random and risk harm to itself, to those in its path, and those who try to help it. The boat is said to be "in irons" for a reason: because it is powerless.

Yet when you have caught the wind, never abuse your power. The wind you have now will not be the wind on which you coast in at the end of your journey. You will not be able to sail right at your target, but will need to adjust again and again. The wind is ever changing in strength and direction, and if you don't adjust your sails, you may find yourself suddenly without power or violently twisted about as the circumstances adjust you.

Quote: Lewis on the Intellectus and Ratio


From The Discarded Image, by C. S. Lewis:

We are enjoying intellectus when we 'just see' a self-evident truth; we are exercising ratio when we proceed step by step to prove a truth which is not self-evident. A cognitive life in which all truth can be simply 'seen' would be the life of an intelligentsia, an angel. A life of unmitigated ratio where nothing was simply 'seen' and all had to be proved, would presumably be impossible; for nothing can be proved if nothing is self-evident. Man's mental life is spent in laboriously connecting those frequent, but momentary, flashes of intelligentsia which constitute intellectus. [Ch. 7: Sec. D]

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Classics: Dead and Loving It


There are days, maybe one a week, on which I try to catch up on news in the Classics field in some detail. On those days without fail I come to the conclusion not that Classics should remain without revival but in fact that it is not dead enough. Maybe this says more about me than about the discipline. I don't talk a lot about my own academic experience because I have a Paul Bunyan-sized ax to grind with every school I attended and I don't think I can bring much unbiased reflection to the table. So take what I say about the field with this in mind: I am an angry outlier to the world of Classical studies.

What set me off today was something that epitomizes the source of my frustration with Classics: its utterly tone-deaf self-promotion.


I'm rarely speechless but I sat here for five minutes tongue-tied in frustration. I'm usually only this gobsmacked when I walk around a mall or watch people eat. But you have 280 characters and this is what you write?! Memo, via, versus, and bona fide! Then you sell it with a lead-in fit for a multivitamin and slap that ridiculous picture underneath?

That's it. We're done. Everyone pack up and go home. Classicists should be paid to stay home in silence and count gerunds.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Advice to Myself: On Meals


Neither be so abstemious that you are always hungry nor eat to excess. In both cases your appetite will control you and impede your work, either by distracting pangs of hunger or the torpor of digestion.

Of timing, do not follow too closely either the clock on the wall or the clock of your stomach, but don't ignore them either. Have meals prudently spaced through the day and take them at the same time each day as much as possible. In this way your body will never remind you by hunger and you will never impose what is not yet necessary.

Of quality, be neither a fuss nor a brute. Take simple food regularly, but do not be insensitive to finery and delicate touches.

Of variety, take some, but not to the point where you are ever on the hunt for something new.


Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Lessons for Teachers #8: The Performance


Some teachers adore the cliche that a teacher's presentation in the classroom is artistic or theatrical. These people are often very needy and teaching is probably one of the worst professions they could enter. Such people make dangerous teachers because they are flattered not only by the idea that all eyes are upon them but also by the pretense of artistic creativity, for both elevate what may be an inglorious and mundane profession. Such teachers should beware: do not seek favor or attention from your students and dot not make yourself the center of attention. This is a path to personal and professional catastrophe. Teaching is not a performance because you are the star or the genius, but it is a performance for two reasons.

First, like an actor you have to control yourself. Completely. If you cuss a lot, you need to cut it out. If you are short-tempered, grow patient. If you easily lose your train of thought or need frequent breaks, learn to follow through. If you are disorganized, get organized. If you are easily distracted, learn to focus. And so on and so on. Obviously you can take this too far and make yourself a bundle of nerves, but realize some behaviors just won't cut it for a classroom teacher. I can't list them all, but watch how your students respond to you and search your heart. Does your temperament suit the kind of class you are trying to create? Can you change it?

You can't change everything at once, but you most certainly cannot do the opposite either, and the opposite is another cliche, be yourself. In fact, that's probably the worst thing you can do.

Second, teaching is performative because ideally the teacher should disappear and the impression left upon the minds of the students should be that of the material. This doesn't mean that your zeal, style, and unique take on the material are irrelevant, but that they should serve the understanding of the content and not take center stage.

Here too are the extremes instructive. Some teachers are too much of a presence in the class. Too much talking, interference, jokes, asides, theatricality, and so on. Although they are usually enthusiastic about the material, they overwhelm it. Other teachers are nonentities in the room. Usually by lack of discipline or just by being boring, they don't bring the material out of the realm of concepts into the real world. The lesson is dead on arrival. Now you don't need to be a cheerleader, but kids need to see some heart.

In a nutshell, students need to see someone animated by the knowledge that they are articulating. They need to see only those parts of you, and those parts controlled, that let the ideas shine out. Like an actor on the ancient Greek stage, some of you will disappear behind the mask and some of you will be the medium for the ideas. Unlike the actor, though, you have no physical mask and you need to possess the understanding of yourself to decide which parts of you may and should come forth for the sake of learning.

It is a tall order and its prerequisites are not vanity and narcissism but discipline and self-knowledge, but through such teaching "performance" students will see ideas neither dull and etherized for dissection on the table, nor just barely peeking out from under your personality, but alive, present, and deserving attention and concern. In this way the teacher transforms the knowledge, the student, and himself.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Quote: Pepys on the Lord's Day 13 Nov. 1664


From the diary of Samuel Pepys:
The morning to church, where mighty sport to hear our Clerk sing out of tune, though his master sits by him that begins and keeps the tune aloud for the parish. Dined at home very well. And spent all the afternoon with my wife within doors—and getting a speech out of Hamlett, "to bee or not to bee," without book. In the evening, to sing psalms; and in came Mr. Hill to see me, and then he and I and the boy finely to sing; and so anon broke up after much pleasure. He gone, I to supper and so to prayers and to bed.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Sour Grapes


As I get older I find that three things are more and more the case.

First, I am secure enough to admit that my life is good but not perfect, that there are things I want to be so that are not. More precisely, I can admit that there are things I cannot attain because I have chosen others. More importantly, I can admit that those things I cannot attain are still good.

Second, I find simple and traditional wisdom immediately helpful more often than complex philosophizing. The deep thinking is necessary for arriving at the right action as well as articulating it, but for help you can't turn to it in a pinch.

Third, I often find traditional wisdom congruous with deep thinking. Take the case of Aesop's fable of the fox and the grapes.

Who cannot sympathize with the fox, pining after the lofty grapes, and who does not see himself within that furry exterior, assuming that which he cannot attain must surely be rotten? It is a feeling of disdain born not from reasoned consideration of evidence, but of weakness. It is an attempt to devalue something so that you are raised. It is envy.

It might seem at first erroneous to call the fox's feeling envy since no one else is getting the grapes, but another person is surely implied, for it is not the lack of desiderata that makes one envious, but rather it is their presence in the hands of others. No one would assume, for example, that there is nothing atop a mountain or that climbing it is foolish, simply because he wants to climb it and cannot. He simply regards the situation as impossible, and no one is bothered by what cannot be changed and cannot have been any other way. Rather it is the fact that someone else can or may climb the mountain that can makes one envious (if one wanted to climb it) because one realizes that it is possible for the but not for me.

Such demonstrates the genius of Aristotle's definition of envy: pain at the sight of the good not with the idea of getting it for ourselves, but because other people have it. (1387b) Aristotle offers a catalog of who feels envy, but one sentence from his Rhetoric seems to capture the whole of the emotion:

We envy those whose possession of or success in a thing is a reproach to us: these are our neighbors and equals; for it is clear that it is our own fault we have missed the good thing in question; this annoys us, and excites envy in us. (1388a)
There are two brilliant chords in this definition.

First, that we feel envy toward equals, be it of age, birth, wealth, or disposition. We  do not care about the success of inferiors or superiors because we understand our situations to be so different from theirs that the outcomes are incomparable. Yet when we see someone who is so much the same, except more successful in one or more things, we wonder why our peer has surpassed us. With frightening speed our minds turn afoul: he has cheated, someone has helped him, he is only pretending success, his achievement is somehow incomplete or corrupted.

Second, that envy is pain. Pain of perhaps the deepest and most afflicting kind because it is comes from an existential insult. Since there are many reasons not to do most things and plenty of reasons not to like most things, what one chooses to have and do very much make up the man. As a result, every action and act of possession is an affirmation of one thing and a rejection of others.

Now we understand that very different people are just that, so their live invite little comparison to ours and therefore trouble us little. However, when we see an equal who lives differently than we do, we feel repudiated. When the difference is small we question our judgment, when it is great we feel that our character, will, and self—in essence our whole life and existence—have been repudiated. Such is why we find peace and calm in the presence of people who are like us: that they affirm that being who we are is good.

Such a high degree of envy is liable to take on a different character, that of disgust, and such a combination is called contempt. When we are disgusted neither evidence nor even the characters of others matter in our appraisal. So deep is the insult to us that we reject the offending thing or deed as a contagion. The offense and its perpetrator or owner are incompatible with us and must be avoided as a disease. It is fitting that Aesop's fox calls the grapes sour, that is, bitter, the essence of what repels us.

This condition seldom confines itself. "Contempt," Dr. Johnson in his Life of Blackmore writes, "is a kind of gangrene which, if it seizes one part of a character, corrupts all the rest by degrees." It spreads and spreads until you are unrecognizable to the world, with nothing of you in it nor it in you. Anything that is not already of you, or about you, sanctioned by you, or for you, is not just undesirable, but taboo. This madness is disgust at all otherness, which severs the last ties with reality. An ending ripe for tragedy.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Marxist University Press?


Perhaps, "Carolus illuminatio mea" ?
A few days ago I received via email and advertisement from Oxford University Press about their 50% Holiday Sale. That email came to me out of the blue, by the way, the first to have arrived at my inbox from OUP since I ordered my Oxford Latin Dictionary and Liddell Scott Greek Lexicon in college over a decade ago. Anyway I perused the titles and quickly noticed a particular bent.

Take a few examples along with the descriptions from OUP, which are often hilariously cliche-ridden. I'm not sure whether we can handle any more "explorations" or the earth any more "ground-breaking."

The Long Reach of the Sixties by Laura Kalman

The Warren Court of the 1950s and 1960s was the most liberal in American history. Yet within a few short years, new appointments redirected the Court in a more conservative direction, a trend that continued for decades.

The Reinvention of Atlantic Slavery by Daniel B. Rood

Offers a new version of capitalism, technology and slavery that differs from the Cotton South version that dominates nineteenth-century history. [Ed. That is, 19th century capitalism was "racial capitalism," i.e. "the process of deriving social and economic value from racial identity."]

Unequal by Sandra F. Sperino and Suja A. Thomas

A ground-breaking analysis of why most employment discrimination cases are dismissed, despite evident discrimination.

Healthier: Fifty Thoughts on the Foundations of Population Health by Sandro Galea

A trenchant argument for the urgency of population-level interventions in health -- and a strong rebuttal to those who question it.

Deep Equality in an Era of Religious Diversity by Lori G. Beaman

Rigid identity imaginings, especially religious identities, block our vision to the complexities of social life and press us into corners that trap us in identities that we often ourselves do not recognize, want, or know how to escape.

Beethoven & Freedom by Daniel K. L. Chua

By exploring the musical philosophy of Theodor W. Adorno through a wide range of the composer's music, Beethoven and Freedom arrives at a markedly different vision of freedom. Author Daniel KL Chua suggests that a more human and fragile concept of freedom can be found in the music that has less to do with the autonomy of the will and its stoical corollary than with questions of human relation, donation, and a yielding to radical alterity.

The Return of Ordinary Capitalism: Neoliberalism, Precarity, Occupy by Sanford F. Schram

As Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward argued in the early seventies, in a capitalist economy, social welfare policies alternatingly serve political and economic ends as circumstances dictate. In moments of political stability, governments emphasize a capitalistic work ethic (even if it means working a job that will leave one impoverished); when times are less politically stable, states liberalize welfare policies to recreate the conditions for political acquiescence. Sanford Schram argues in this new book that each shift produces its own path dependency even as it represents yet another iteration of what he (somewhat ironically) calls "ordinary capitalism," where the changes in market logic inevitably produce changes in the structure of the state. In today's ordinary capitalism, neoliberalism is the prevailing political-economic logic that has contributed significantly to unprecedented levels of inequality in an already unequal society.

Black Rights/White Wrongs: The Critique of Racial Liberalism by Charles W. Mills

Mills argues that rather than bracket as an anomaly the role of racism in the development of liberal theory, we should see it as shaping that theory in fundamental ways. As feminists have urged us to see the dominant form of liberalism as a patriarchal liberalism, so too Mills suggests we should see it as a racialized liberalism. It is unsurprising, then, if contemporary liberalism has yet to deliver on the recognition of black rights and the correction of white wrongs.

Limits to Globalization The Disruptive Geographies of Capitalist Development by Eric Sheppard

...globalizing capitalism tends to reproduce social and spatial inequality; poverty's persistence is due to the ways in which wealth creation in some places results in impoverishment elsewhere.

Black Natural Law by Vincent W. Lloyd

A Black intellectual class emerged that was disconnected from social movement organizing and beholden to white interests. Appeals to higher law became politically impotent: overly rational or overly sentimental. Recovering the Black natural law tradition provides a powerful resource for confronting police violence, mass incarceration, and today's gross racial inequities.

Capitalism: Competition, Conflict, Crises by Anwar Shaikh

Competition and conflict are intrinsic features of modern societies, inequality is persistent, and booms and busts are recurrent outcomes throughout capitalist history. State intervention modifies modified these patterns but does not abolish them. My book is an attempt to show that one can explain these and many other observed patterns as results of intrinsic forces that shape and channel outcomes. Social and institutional factors play an important role, but at the same time, the factors are themselves limited by the dominant forces arising from "gain-seeking" behavior, of which the profit motive is the most important. (Description via http://www.anwarshaikhecon.org/)



Two books seem non-Marxist:

Pieces of Tradition: An Analysis of Contemporary Tonal Music by Daniel Harrison

Jenkins of Mexico: How a Southern Farm Boy Became a Mexican Magnate by Andrew Paxman

Plenty of the books seem apolitical, but I can't account for the lack of non-leftist politics. I don't know, either, just what the apparent disparity might indicate. Perhaps left-leaning books are disproportionately printed at OUP, perhaps non-Marxist authors are being turned away or are not sought, perhaps non-Marxists authors seek publication elsewhere, or maybe the liberal stuff is just what's new, popular, put forward, or on sale.

I'm not sure that any of that is good news.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

Quote: The Ordinary Course of Latin


From the preface to Edwin N. Brown's 1894 Treasury of Latin Gems:

In the arrangement of the ordinary course in Latin, the first four years is commonly apportioned somewhat as follows: Beginning Book and Grammar, Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War, Cicero's Orations in the Senate, and Vergil's Aeneid; and so closely and exclusively is the course pursued that not a few pupils have been known to leave school at the end of the course with the idea that there were only three Latin writers, and that they had read them all. It requires but a moment's reflection to observe that such a course as the one just described is about the equivalent in breadth, interest, and richness of thought to a course like the following for a foreign student desiring to enter upon a four years' study of English: Beginning Book and Grammar, Grant's Memoirs of the Rebellion, Clay's Congressional Speeches, and Milton's Paradise Lost. If to this should be added a year of Shakespeare and a year of Tennyson, we should perhaps have a college course in English of about the same quality and breadth as that commonly pursued in Latin.
We have no disposition to criticise the ordinary course in Latin...which, with certain modifications, is doubtless as good, all things considered, as any that might be suggested. We do however maintain emphatically that the course should be supplemented by constant reference to other writers...
There are many who, for various reasons, do not continue the study of Latin more than two or three years; and such receive comparatively little that is really rich in thought... If the student has only a few years to spend in the study of Latin, it is so much more important that he be introduced to as much rich Latin thought as possible.