Arts and Entertainment
Nordlinger, What Does It Mean For Art To Be “Relevant”?
From Symphonies to Sonatas, Favorite Haydn Recordings
Burning Cole: On “Thomas Cole’s Journey: Atlantic Crossings” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“Supreme arbiter and lawgiver of music, a master comparable in greatness of stature with Aristotle in philosophy and Leonardo da Vinci in art.” No overstatement whatsoever attaches to this, the opening of the entry for Johann Sebastian Bach in Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. So vast and stunning is his achievement that Beethoven believed him misnamed: Playing on the German word Bach (brook), he said that the composer should, instead, be called Meer (ocean). —source
Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound
“Despite being immensely popular―and immensely lucrative―education is grossly overrated. In this explosive book, Bryan Caplan argues that the primary function of education is not to enhance students’ skill but to certify their intelligence, work ethic, and conformity―in other words, to signal the qualities of a good employee. Learn why students hunt for easy As and casually forget most of what they learn after the final exam, why decades of growing access to education have not resulted in better jobs for the average worker but instead in runaway credential inflation, how employers reward workers for costly schooling they rarely if ever use, and why cutting education spending is the best remedy. Caplan draws on the latest social science to show how the labor market values grades over knowledge, and why the more education your rivals have, the more you need to impress employers. He explains why graduation is our society’s top conformity signal, and why even the most useless degrees can certify employability. He advocates two major policy responses. The first is educational austerity. Government needs to sharply cut education funding to curb this wasteful rat race. The second is more vocational education, because practical skills are more socially valuable than teaching students how to outshine their peers. Romantic notions about education being ‘good for the soul’ must yield to careful research and common sense―The Case against Education points the way.” —source
This won’t be news to anyone who teaches for a living, but recent research at the Reading Center of University of Stavanger in Norway shows that people who read words on paper remember them better than those who read words on a screen
Mark Bauerlein interviews Camille Paglia on teaching
The second-worst poet in English, by Anthony Daniels
7 Brilliantly Useless Websites You Won’t Believe Exist
AN EARLY SEMESTER LESSON PLAN FOR A COLLEGE COMPOSITION CLASS
Language and Literature
Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell on why we need libraries – an essay in pictures
Browsing the Stacks: A Photo Appreciation of Libraries
Joseph Epstein, “The Bookish Life”
Long ago I wrote off Christopher Tolkien as a mere slug riding on his father’s legendary coat tails, but this amazing article showed me how very wrong I was.
Poem: “The Tanager,” by Billy Collins
If only I had not listened to the piece
on the morning radio about the former asylum
whose inmates were kept busy
at wooden benches in a workshop
making leather collars and wristbands
that would later be used to restrain them.
And if only that had not reminded me,
as I stood facing the bathroom mirror,
of the new state prison whose bricks had been set
by prisoners trucked in from the old prison,
how sweet and free of static my walk
would have been along the upland trail.
Nothing to spoil the purity of the ascent—
the early sun, wafer-white,
breaking over the jagged crest of that ridge,
a bird with a bright-orange chest
flitting from branch to branch with its mate,
and a solitary coyote that stopped in its tracks
to regard me, then moved on.
Plus the cottonwood fluff snowing sideways
and after I stood still for a while,
the coyote appearing again in the distance
before vanishing in the scrub for good.
That’s the kind of walk it might have been.
Mark Athitakis (newsletter #2) on Ove Knausgaard:
If you do want to give Knausgaard a try, a few tips.
1. Give My Struggle a hundred pages. Every book teaches you how to read it, and each author works at a different pace to establish style, theme, and so on. You can grok what James Patterson is up to within five pages, Henry James in 25, Toni Morrison in 50. I suggest giving My Struggle 100 pages not because he’s more complicated than James or Morrison but because his goal is to stretch out experience, to better evoke the feeling of living in it. That means it can take a while for him to flesh out a scene, and that’s the ding on him—his language is unlovely, quotidian, etc. If you love carefully crafted, gemlike sentences, he’s not your guy. He’s sawing planks, not hand-crafting armoires. But I’ve rarely found My Struggle slow or wasteful; give him the space to work and he can be one of the more powerfully immersive writers you read.
2. Those 100 pages shouldn’t be the first 100 pages of Book One. The defining element of My Struggle is its avoidance of prettified, figurative language, but the series opens with Knausgaard trying to figure out how to get into his narrative, which means he leans on those old familiars, making the opening pages feel labored. Luckily, you can start pretty much anywhere with Knausgaard, because the plot is effectively the same in each book—man lives in constant fear of becoming his father. I started with Book Three, a magnificent portrait of the tweenage boydom. (Book Six might be less seductive, being in large part a kind of metacommentary on the previous five, but what might generally be called “the Hitler stuff” is worthwhile, so you do you.)
3. Try Spring instead. Knausgaard’s “four seasons” books are generally easygoing observational essay collections on everything from plants to household gadgets to, yes, dogs. Spring is something of an outlier, billed as fiction and with the same kind of characterizations and style of My Struggle, addressing his concerns about being a husband and father at a smaller scale. If “My Struggle” feels like a double black diamond run, Spring is a bunny slope, but it’s no less emotionally potent.
Mark Athitakis (newsletter #1):
Everybody has daily reading goals, right? A few years back I began to feel exhausted with the stack of new books I was obligated to read for review and prize-judging duties. So I came up with a fix: Read more. Read something not-new every day, just 20-25 pages or so. It didn’t make my TBR stack any shorter, but it’s the smartest thing I’ve ever done as a reader: It’s how I got through Middlemarch, Anna Karenina, The Last Samurai, and more. My current not-new reading is Barbara W. Tuchman’s 1984 book, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. Doorstop histories aren’t usually my thing, but it was strongly recommended by two readers I respect, and she writes with admirable precision and an eye toward connections between our brutish past and brutish present.
She was inspired to write about the medieval era, she explains, due to its echoes of the WWI era—-plague, war, Christian ideals taking it in the teeth. But what mostly comes off the page is the sense that humanity’s station has always been degraded, in every era—-it is at once dispiriting and fascinating to read about pervasive anti-Semitism and institutional greed. So I’ve been taking a kind of comfort in the passages where I can tell myself, hey, at least we’re not that bad. To wit:
In village games, players with hands tied behind them competed to kill a cat nailed to a post by battering it to death with their heads, at the risk of cheeks ripped open or eyes scratched out by the frantic animal’s claws. Trumpets enhanced the excitement. Or a pig enclosed in a wide pen was chased by men with clubs to the laughter of spectators as he ran squealing from the blows until beaten lifeless. Accustomed in their own lives to physical hardship and injury, medieval men and women were not necessarily repelled by the spectacle of pain, but rather enjoyed it. The citizens of Mons bought a condemned criminal from a neighboring town so that they should have the pleasure of seeing him quartered. It may be that untender medieval infancy produced adults who valued others no more than they had been valued in their own formative years.
Arthur Henry King’s “Reading List For a Lifetime”
Poem: Robert Hedin, “Owls”
Owls glide off the thin
Wrists of the night,
And using snow for their feathers
Drift down on either side
Of the wind.
I spot them
As I camp along the ridge,
Glistening over the streambeds,
Their eyes small rooms
Lit by stone lamps.
London Review of Books on Hugo’s Les Miserables
For Centuries, Readers Annotated Books With Tiny Drawings of Hands
“The shaky writing of the 13th-century annotator known as the Tremulous Hand, who is believed to have made as many as 50,000 notes on Old English manuscripts in an attempt to make them comprehensible to later readers, is revealed in all its wobbly glory by a new project from the British Library.”
“My class meets for an hour at ten thirty every morning, and as I labor to decipher our daily Wheelockian pronouncements, I remember why I loved Latin to begin with. Each sentence is a little puzzle, a Rubik’s Cube of words to be rearranged into their proper order based on arcane rules and hidden clues. There’s a creative thrill, too, in the task of transforming Latin into English…More than anything, though, I love Latin because it has nothing to do with me. It has nothing to do with anything in my life. Classics evangelists who argue for the practical utility of Latin, its historical significance and English vocabulary-building potential, are profoundly missing the point: Latin is fun because all its native speakers are dead and will never have to meet you.” —source
My Sammelband has Frisket-Bite: A Short Glossary of Delightful Library Terms
People Share Their Best Bite-Sized Horror Stories, And They’re Terrifying
MICHAEL ONDAATJE ON THE BOOKS HE LOVES TO REREAD
Poem: Donald Hall, “An Old Life”
Snow fell in the night.
At five-fifteen I woke to a bluish
mounded softness where
the Honda was. Cat fed and coffee made,
I broomed snow off the car
and drove to the Kearsarge Mini-Mart
before Amy opened
to yank my Globe out of the bundle.
Back, I set my cup of coffee
beside Jane, still half-asleep,
thanks in the aquamarine morning.
Then I sat in my blue chair
with blueberry bagels and strong
black coffee reading news,
the obits, the comics, and the sports.
Carrying my cup twenty feet,
I sat myself at the desk
for this day’s lifelong
engagement with the one task and desire.
Fascinating profile with ideas from polymath David Gelernter
On an old man taking walks: “Many write about walking as pilgrimage, as a stepping out into the unknown, a voyaging away from home and hearth. Like J.R.R. Tolkien’s protagonist Bilbo Baggins, we see the road as an invitation into strangeness and foreign territory, a means to adventure and change. Kierkegaard roamed the streets of Copenhagen, Dickens trekked through London, Whitman patrolled the streets of New York, and Rousseau rambled through Paris. These thinkers and literary men saw something exotic and freeing in the city streets. Walking, for them, was an individualistic and artistic endeavor. But Grandpa’s walking was neither of these things. He followed the same paths, past the same homes and shops, for decades. His walking was not a reveling in new turf or strange faces, but rather a ritual of commitment to the same earth, brick, and human components of place.” —source
Another major difficulty that arises when thinking about which TV shows will last and be of interest to future generations is their length. Take, for instance, The Wire. A relatively compact series at 60 episodes over five seasons, the show would take about two-and-a-half days to watch from start to finish, assuming one forgoes sleep. Of course, no one who is employed (and no one who has a family) really binges like that; at two episodes a day, you can get through the whole thing in a month. That’s still a heavy commitment; two months, frankly, seems likelier. But what else could you have done with those 60 hours? According to HowLongToReadThis.com, which measured my reading pace to be a glacial 259 words per minute, I could finish War and Peace (21 hours and 15 minutes), Don Quixote (16 hours and 16 minutes), Moby-Dick (12 hours and 36 minutes), and still have plenty of time to squeeze in Crime and Punishment (7 hours and 3 minutes). Alternatively, I could read much of Kingsley Amis’s and Graham Greene’s fiction—the stuff worth reading, anyway—in roughly the same span of time.
What about movies? With 60 hours, you could watch the entirety of Stanley Kubrick’s oeuvre—and then watch it again to pick up on all the nuances you missed the first time around. You could watch the first 27 entries on the American Film Institute’s 100 greatest American films of all time (more, if you skipped some of the lengthier, plodding works like Gone with the Wind). You could watch the last quarter-century or so of films to win Best Picture at the Oscars. You could take a tour through world cinema, watching the best of Akira Kurosawa and François Truffaut and Lindsay Anderson and Michelangelo Antonioni.
You could undertake any of those horizon-expanding artistic adventures—or you could watch one program that ran for a few years on HBO. –source
O, Brave Old World! Conquering age through curiosity (Dalrymple)
The Tail End: visualizing how much time we have left
I tend to be skeptical of “life hacks.” It’s rare that we can use simple tricks make a major life change. But there’s nothing wrong with small life improvements. And using the Ratchet Principle I outlined in Masc #6, if you are continuously making small, incremental improvements over time, it will ultimately turn into real change.
So today I want to share some small things I do in my home in case you find them useful for yourself. In return I’m asking you to email me any similar kinds of household habits you have. I might want to use them myself. Also, if people send them to me, I will edit, anonymize, and compile them and send them out to everybody in a future issue so we can all benefit from each other’s discoveries.
To start off, here are some of my household habits.
1. Family Verse. I took this idea from my friend Dwight. Every week his family recites their family verse at Sunday dinner. Not only did I take his idea, I took his verse. It’s Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” My in-laws also have a framed picture of this verse at their bedside. I haven’t done something like that yet, but might well in the future.
2. Fishbowl Prayers. I have tried to make a point of adding some type of intercessory prayer at meals to make sure we make a habit of focusing outwardly as a family towards other people’s needs. I don’t do it 100% of the time because a) I’m generally ravenously hungry and b) I can’t often think of things to pray for on the spot. I read a story about a pastor – I think it was Russell Moore – who figured out an easy way to handle this by keeping a fishbowl of business cards of other pastors in the kitchen. At meals they pull one out at random and pray for that guy. I don’t personally have a fishbowl yet, but I can see the value in it to help further institutionalize our intercessory prayer habit.
3. Friday Fasting. My family fasts from meat on Fridays. No, I’m not Catholic. But it’s a practice I think makes a lot of sense for Protestants too, which is why I’m including it here. Why? First, it established a corporate family fast. It’s something we can all do together, even our 1yo, any of us who are sick, etc. Second, many Christians around the world do still fast from meat on Friday, so there’s also a greater sense of corporate fasting as the body of Christ. Third, the practice of fasting on Fridays is ancient. Why reinvent the wheel when there’s something we can do that Christians have always done? We’ve been very good at keeping this fast, though it isn’t fully meeting my expectations yet in terms of focusing our minds on the things of God. So I plan to make some tweaks – remember the ratchet. Note: we don’t refuse offers of hospitality in order to keep this fast. So if a family invites us over to their home on a Friday for a cookout or something, we are happy to accept.
4. Honor Thy Father. I’m especially interested in ways that families can show honor to fathers. There are obvious ones like having Dad sit at the head of the table, or say grace at meals. But my wife’s family had a rule when she was growing up that nobody could read the newspaper until Dad had read the paper. I’m still a newspaper addict, so I thought this was a great rule and have instituted it for our home.
5. Thanks Log. I started keeping a “thanks log” in 2014. Whenever something good happens in my life, I try to just append a dated bullet point about it in an MS-Word document. I don’t have to do everything as I don’t want to make this a huge chore or burden, but I end up including a substantial amount of stuff – maybe 3-5 things per week. It’s amazing the sheer number of things that go right in our lives on a daily basis that we don’t really remember or take stock of. Re-reading some of these periodically always helps keep me in a thankful and humble frame of mind.
None of these is earth shattering or totally unique I know. That’s the point. They are just simple, small habits. But there’s no reason not to do small things as well as large ones. –Aaron Renn, The Masculinist #27
“Dark matter is as tangible as stars and planets to most astronomers. We routinely map it out. We conceive of galaxies as lumps of dark matter with dabs of luminous material. We understand the formation of cosmic structure, as well as the evolution of the universe as a whole, in terms of dark matter. Yet a decade of sophisticated searches has failed to detect the material directly. We see the shadow it casts, but are completely unaware of what the dark side of the universe may contain.” –source
Politics and Society
Today’s teens are radically different from the teens of previous generations. They don’t care as much about freedom, take fewer risks, and live almost entirely online, which is making them “seriously unhappy”:
“One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. ‘We go to the mall,’ she said. ‘Do your parents drop you off?,’ I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. ‘No—I go with my family,’ she replied. ‘We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.’
“Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. ‘It’s good blackmail,’ Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. ‘We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.’ –source
On the despair epidemic: Drug overdoses and suicide fuel drop is U.S. life expectancy
“Kirk wasn’t interested in defending a party agenda. He wanted to promote a cast of mind. In a 1963 letter to Jerry Pournelle, who would later make his mark as an author of science fiction, Kirk wrote, ‘There remains in this country a large body of support for an imaginative conservatism. Though the odds are against us, we may succeed in saving a good deal from the wreck of the modern world; and, as Henry Adams like to say in his mordant way, “The fun is in the process.”’ He sought to cultivate a moral imagination that allows us to see the world not only from the perspective of others but also from the standpoint of the past and the future. He had no grand plans of social regeneration, no aspirations for universal dominion. ‘“Politics is the art of the possible,” the conservative says: he thinks of political policies as intended to preserve order, justice, and freedom.’
“Above all, Russell Kirk reminded the world of what Edmund Burke described as the ‘partnership’ that exists ‘not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.’ He brought attention to what his friend and hero T.S. Eliot called the ‘timeless moments’ connecting us to both past and present.” —source
Ryan T. Anderson on the conservative vision of social justice
MIT Climate Scientist Dr. Richard Lindzen: Believing CO2 controls the climate ‘is pretty close to believing in magic’
New Yorker profile: “Rod Dreher’s Monastic Vision”
Why are our children so bored at school, cannot wait, get easily frustrated and have no real friends?
The Tech Industry’s War on Kids: How psychology is being used as a weapon against children
Thread: “Social justice attitudes…infecting areas of life/society affecting everyday people”
Who Are the Rich, White Men Institutionalizing Transgender Ideology?
“Identity politics cannot be understood apart from the preceding and concomitant social fact of family implosion. The year before the Combahee document’s publication—1976—was a watershed of a sort. The out-of-wedlock birth rate for black Americans tipped over the 50-percent mark (the 1965 Moynihan Report worried over a rate half as high). This rate has kept climbing and exceeded 70 percent in 2016. At the same time, other measures indicating the splintering of the nuclear and extended family expanded too. By 2012, Millennial women—who were then under the age of 30—exhibited for the first time the out-of-wedlock birth rate of black women in 1976: i.e., more than 50 percent. Millennials, of course, are the demographic backbone of identity politics.
“And the out-of-wedlock birth rate is just one measure of the unprecedented disruption of the family over the last half-century-plus. Consider, just in passing, the impact of abortion. In 2008, the Guttmacher Institute reported that 61 percent of women terminating pregnancies were already mothers of at least one child. Many children—and many grown children—have been deprived of potential siblings via pregnancy termination.
“Abortion, like single motherhood, is only one engine of a phenomenon that has come to characterize more and more American lives during the past half-century: what might be called the ‘family, interrupted.’ Many post-sexual revolutionary people now pass through life vaguely aware of family members who could have been but aren’t—whether via parental disruption in childhood or the long string of exes now typical in Western mating or abortion or childlessness by choice or other romantic and sexual habits that did not exist en masse until after the 1960s.
“Many of us now live in patterns of serial monogamy, for instance, in which one partner is followed by another. When children occur, this means a consistently shifting set of family members to whom one is sometimes biologically related and sometimes not: stepfathers, half-siblings, ‘uncles,’ and ‘cousins.’ As couples form and un-form, finding new partners and shedding old ones, these relations morph with them. The result for many people is the addition and subtraction of ‘family’ members on a scale that was unimaginable until reliable contraception for women—the FDA approved the first oral contraceptive in 1960—and the legalizing of abortion. Together they made the de-institutionalization of traditional marriage and family possible.”
* * *
“The result of all these shifting and swirling selves is that many people no longer know what almost all of humanity once knew, including in the great swath of history that was otherwise nastier, more brutish, and shorter than ours: a reliable circle of faces, many biologically related to oneself, present during early and adolescent life. That continuity helped to make possible the plank-by-plank construction of identity as son or daughter, cousin or grandfather, mother or aunt, and the rest of what’s called, tellingly, the family tree.” –Mary Eberstadt, “The Primal Scream of Identity Politics“
Excellent essay about our need for better resources for greater Biblical literacy in the LDS Church
Elder Holland Explains the Inexplicable Joy We Can Find in Belonging to the Church
An Experiment Upon the Word: A BYU advertising team finds that the best tool for changing perceptions about the Book of Mormon is the Book of Mormon.
Poem: “Creed,” by Maryann Corbett
Grace is not a Mormon heresy, LDS leaders and scholars say after doctrinal ‘climate change’
How to Read the Bible: Slowly, and Sport with the Words
The Book of Mormon Gets the Literary Treatment
“I, for one, would feel to walk on hot lava and chew broken glass,” he said, “if I could find a document, any document anywhere, containing any new words of Christ — 50 words, 20 words, one new word from the Son of God — let alone hundreds of pages that record the appearance, teachings, covenants and counsel he gave to a heretofore unknown audience.” –Jeffrey R. Holland