Wednesday, December 02, 2020
She sent her own money to help those who lost their homes to wildfire in her native Smoky Mountains. Parton has never been publicly political, but her Covid donation, like her previous efforts, is suggestive of a philosophy about poverty and opportunity that makes clear how she found her way to success—and to philanthropy.
That philosophy also rings out in her music. Think not of her feminist anthem, “9 to 5,” or “I Will Always Love You,” which Whitney Houston turned into an annuity for Parton that likely helps fund her generous giving. Rather, Parton’s true masterpiece is one of her first as a solo artist, after she bravely walked away from her role as the “girl singer” for country legend Porter Wagoner’s show. Her poignant, biblical, and literate “growing up” song, “Coat of Many Colors,” is also a musical map out of deep poverty.
… it turned out that I couldn’t manage “simply to read”: my hand was always reaching out to note down my judgment, my appraisal, either of a particular aspect or in general—of the author’s techniques, structure, characters, the views expressed. I noted specific quotes, too. But when you’ve made such a quantity of notes, you don’t want to leave them around gathering dust, either: you have to work up your notes and put them into some kind of harmonious form, into a coherent text. And in this way, based on a disparate selection of books, a collection formed—they weren’t literary reviews exactly, no, just my impressions. And now, as more are added, I’ve started calling this my “Literary Collection.” Perhaps more will accumulate in the coming years.
Dave also sends along this: Truth In Exile.
Solzhenitsyn drew the appropriate conclusion: the western media was now aping propaganda techniques of the KGB—i.e., condemning books that had not been read or even discussed and “sticking crude political labels onto complex works of literature.” When the English language version finally appeared, the critical appraisals of the book were largely positive and appreciative of the wisdom and humility in the book. But it was already too late. Call it Cold War cancel culture. The episode was also a foreshadowing of the control political correctness would exercise over public discourse in America in the post-Cold War period.
Moderation, the Golden Mean, the Aristonmetron, is the secret of wisdom and of happiness. But it does not mean embracing an unadventurous mediocrity; rather it is an elaborate balancing act, a feat of intellectual skill demanding constant vigilance. Its aim is a reconciliation of opposites.
— Robertson Davies, who died on this date in 1995
Tuesday, December 01, 2020
The young Betjeman, for all his go-ahead airs, is clearly nostalgic for the medieval Age of Faith when everything made sense. He dislikes the ‘pedantry’ of the Elizabethan and Jacobean period, finds things improving markedly under the Georgians, delights in Regency architecture, and dismisses much of what comes after, especially the more snobbish and ‘refeened’ elements of Victorian style.
Monday, November 30, 2020
… rereading Berry, I realized that most of his essays aren’t really essays. They’re disquisitions, extended arguments. I don’t often get around to agreeing or disagreeing with their author, because I’m too busy arguing with his prose. Berry derives his strength as a writer from contact with the earth, the more immediate, the better. All his life, he’s been a vigilant man of conscience. He’s capable of moving and inspiring readers, capable too, at times, of getting to the heart of a cultural or social problem. But he can also make you feel like you’re warming yourself at a bonfire of straw men and women. All too often I’m disturbed, to the point of physical unease, by the involuted, strangely patristic way his writing and thinking move, the grandeur of his modesty. He seems, to borrow a phrase from George Bernard Shaw, “too full of the validity of his remoter generalizations.”
Isaac Rosenberg, born on November 25, 1890, was killed in action on April 1, 1918.
Yes, the CDC's excess death data can be unreliable, and yes, we need more recent months of data to make a better assessment. But rather than engaging in censorship, why are we not debating the merits of both sides? Why does any shred of good news about the virus have to be stifled rather than rebutted or debated?
Kindly Inquisitors author Jonathan Rauch on the never-ending battle to defend free speech.
Canceling comes from the universe of propaganda and not critical discourse. It's about organizing or manipulating a social environment or a media environment with a goal or predictable effect of isolating, deplatforming, or intimidating an ideological opponent. It's about shaping the battlefield. It's about making an idea or a person socially radioactive. It is not about criticism. It is not about ideas.
Sunday, November 29, 2020
… to hear Tyson cite a quip inaccurately attributed to Cicero, “a room without books is like a body without a soul,” is to wonder if he’s putting us on. Late in the interview, he jokes that if you quote books, you fool people into thinking you’re smart—but Tyson, for all his malapropisms and mispronunciations and odd mannerisms, is intelligent. He’s going round after round with big questions that many of the ostensibly educated attendees at his book-talk don’t bother to ask.
— C. S. Lewis, born on this date in 1898
… just 70 years ago this week, the First Marine Division fought its way into the pages of history with their gallant stand at the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. In temperatures as low as minus-30 degrees, the Marines held off some 100,000 Chinese attackers and fought their way in hellish conditions back to the allied lines.
Today, however, we live in a decidedly unheroic age, one in which the traditional masculine attributes of courage, physical strength, and moral fortitude have been disparaged by feminists and soy boys nearly into oblivion.
Saturday, November 28, 2020
The veneration of Fisk, in his obituaries and throughout his career, serve as an indictment of a British foreign press that continued to indulge a man who they knew was violating not just ethical boundaries, but also moral ones. In a way, the glowing obituaries, free from the constraints of the normal journalistic practice of fact-checking and evidence, were a fitting tribute to Fisk. Like him, they preferred to tell a story that was not true, because stories are often far more comforting than the reality.
John Senior may have thought reality was endangered and receding, but I suspect he was only partly right. His poetic legacy, at least, suggests otherwise. “This collection is not private,” Senior tells us of his slender volume, “but perhaps it has no public.”
Kooser, like Williams, is integral to it. He is not a genius but a craftsman — think of Williams’ provocative statement that a poem is “a machine made out of words.” A Kooser poem is a dispatch from small-town America. Flyover country. For him, as it should be for us, a man standing at a bulletin board outside of the grocery store is worth documenting.
— Stefan Zweig, born on this date in 1881
If it weren’t for the censorship, I wouldn’t have got the dozens and dozens of requests to look at it. Now everybody is sure Johns Hopkins is hiding something. Hilarious.
The reason it was censored it particularly stupid, too: “… it was brought to our attention that our coverage of Genevieve Briand’s presentation ‘COVID-19 Deaths: A Look at U.S. Data’ has been used to support dangerous inaccuracies that minimize the impact of the pandemic.”
Yeah, sure. Ninety percent of the population is racing in every direction like extras in a Toho Godzilla movie, only in masks. Johns Hopkins thinks this level of abject irrational terror is just about right. Besides, everybody knows science means only have one unchangeable opinion on every matter.
Funniest thing: they forgot, at least of this writing, to censor the YouTube video where Briand gives a talk.
Anyway, to Briand’s work itself. I appreciate the spirit, but don’t think there’s as much to it as some are hoping.
Friday, November 27, 2020
Was it because it was wrong? Was there a scientific error that slipped past the reviewers? Nope. Johns Hopkins tweeted that it was because “the article was being used to support false and dangerous inaccuracies about the impact of the pandemic.”
How sad that Johns Hopkins has decided to give a pass on the evidence. Like it or not, it will get out. It already is getting out.
Re-discovering Helena’s humour was the perfect bridge to renewed engagement with the text, and I found myself listening for it, struck by its effectiveness. When her pilgrimage to Jerusalem begins, Helena has concerns about the commodification of any material remains that she might discover. But, in keeping with a level-headed assessment of her faithful task, she does not mock or judge Constantine when he superstitiously forges relics from her horde into a bridle for his horse. She giggles, rather, and quietly so, bringing her audience directly alongside in her understanding of what she has found and what it means.
… 'Smart People" Review: Prisoners of Their Politics. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
What makes “Smart People” more than just a brilliant hatchet job is that Ms. Diamond clearly feels for her characters, who are imprisoned by the stereotypes they embody. They are—so to speak—human beings beneath the skin, and none of them are happy with their privileged lives, least of all Ginny, whose ambition to get ahead is so powerful that it has cut her off from the ordinary pleasures of human existence: “I don’t do girlfriend well. I’ve never actually done girlfriend.”
Thursday, November 26, 2020
Physical newspapers are in decline; soon the grand old mastheads will be seen only on screens. But this may not be their salvation. Their problem is … that a lot of people have got there first. In particular, there are now many online-only journals producing high-quality opinion and analysis, once almost the sole preserve of the broadsheet newspapers. But are they good enough to compete with the highly paid opinionators and analysers of the newspapers? The answer, I fear, is that in some cases they are and, in a few cases, they are better.
This eighth novel from Marly Youmans breaks a lot of twenty-first-century rules and is hard to categorize—two more possible reasons that it never made the New York Review of Books. It’s a beautifully crafted adventure set in the America of 330 years ago. The novel is both Christian and about Christians but doesn’t comfortably fit into the “Christian fiction” category. The protagonist is a teenage girl, but readers of all ages will love this book (it will especially appeal to women and older teen girls). Who doesn’t love a rip-roaring story about a dangerous foreign land and a smart, thoughtful, God-fearing heroine?
— Katherine Drexel, born on this date in 1858
Wednesday, November 25, 2020
The cosmos is 93 billion light-years across, with perhaps 2 trillion galaxies each containing hundreds of billions of stars and, as we can now be pretty sure, hundreds of billions of planets. And yet still we see and hear nothing. There seems to be only what the French mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal called “the eternal silence of these infinite spaces.” Extraterrestrial life, if it exists, is either very well hidden or just too far away in time and space.
Suppose God just wanted to give us an idea of infinity and the rareness and preciousness of life. Perhaps Earth and its inhabitants together serve as a perspective figure.
I'm so old I remember when college students supported people like this.
Tuesday, November 24, 2020
Fish Ewan offers up a wonderful chart detailing the links between perspective in drawing and literary Point of View. She has excellent points and pointers as to how exploring our characters in ink can help us learn more about the folks we write about in our memoirs. The prompts throughout the book are brilliant!
Increasingly, Lee drives Chesler up a wall. Yet Chesler can’t help feeling sympathy for “this volatile, trigger-tempered, foul-mouthed child-woman” who, dealt a childhood of abuse and neglect, appears never to have had a chance at a normal life. One of Chesler’s accomplishments in this stunning memoir is that even a reader who doesn’t share an ounce of her sympathy for Wuornos will be forced by the book’s end to acknowledge that, at the very least, Wuornos’s trial was a betrayal of the cause of equal justice.
Twelve-hour days were devoted to a curriculum based on the classical trivium and featuring heavy doses of Latin translation. Corporal punishment was a given. The enterprise was educationally incorrect from every modern point of view. Indeed, it amounts to a horror show for the up-to-date pedagogue trained in our universities’ progressive schools of education. And yet, Newstok points out, “Thinkers trained in this unyielding system went on to generate world-shifting insights, found forms of knowledge—indeed, the scientific method itself—that continue to shape our lives.”
Monday, November 23, 2020
Sunday, November 22, 2020
When one considers that we now understand that the new virus that we are all being constrained because of only presents extreme danger to some people and that doctors have now worked out quite a few ways to make many of them better, it is hard not to feel faintly suspicious, given how genuinely damaging the measures we are being forced to accept are in so many ways.
Many seem to feel quite comfortable being ordered about.
Saturday, November 21, 2020
Friday, November 20, 2020
Richard was a friend and one of the greatest short story writers ever. Here is my review of what may well have been his last book. I feel chilly and grown old.
While Porter never hinted other than obliquely in his work at any gnawing dissatisfaction with the glamorous life he led, his best ballads are self-evidently the work of a man consumed by the need for physical passion (“Night and day under the hide of me / There’s an, oh, such a hungry yearning burning inside of me”) and haunted by the dream of romantic longing (“You’d be so nice, you’d be paradise / To come home to and love”). Stephen Sondheim was surely on to something when he observed that “Porter’s characters were all aspects of Cole Porter, or at least his public image: the worldly cosmopolitan with an aching heart.” Broadway has never had a wittier songwriter or one capable of deeper feeling, and the songs he left behind stand as a permanent monument to his inspired craftsmanship.