How Chaucer Wrote a Love Scene

From Troilus and Criseyde (@ 1380)

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Translation: THEY HAD SEX

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Best of the Internet: January-March 2017

Highlights of my online reading and viewing so far this year:

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

All-Female Orchestra From Afghanistan Is A Force For Change

I love the clip of them practicing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in that story above; more of it can be heard in this video below:

 

 

 

In the above concert, watch the blistering 2-minute solo from 1:07:05 to 1:09:05

EDUCATION

On the epidemic of unprepared college students:

“Our schools create a fog when it comes to academic preparation for college success. Concerned more with inclusiveness, validation, and graduation than with college preparedness, administrators encourage teachers to, for instance, consider pupil effort in their grading, and push students to take advanced courses for which they have the ambition but not the readiness. Those in charge have their reasons, which mostly turn out to safeguard the interests of adults and their institutions, even as they wreak havoc with the next generation. None of this is acknowledged, however, save by a handful of would-be illuminators, for the education system has generally persuaded itself that this fog is better for kids than clarity would be.

“And the colleges themselves are complicit in this fraud, often for similar reasons. They admit students who they know are not adequately prepared to take on credit-bearing courses, and then require them to complete remedial classes to catch up. Most students who are required to take these ‘developmental’ courses never make it to classes that earn credit, and in time they leave school with nothing but debt and disillusion.

The always amazing Anthony Esolen on how politics is ruining literature, education, and culture itself in schools:

If a young person comes to believe that education is to be valued as preparation for political action—if his English teachers choose novels not for their beauty and their insight into the human condition, but for their usefulness in advancing a political cause; if his history teachers encourage not that forbearance that tends to forgive the faults of those who have come before us or who lived under conditions whereof we have no experience, but rather an easy and self-confident judgment of their moral darkness because they were not like us in all things; if his art teachers foster contempt for the patient and heart-breaking quest for precision, and substitute for it indulgence in what is supposedly “edgy” but is merely tiresome and politically tendentious—then I fear that he will be, strictly speaking, ineducable, a monolith of manufactured stolidity….

You are discussing with another student Augustine’s tribute to his mother, Monica. It may be the first literary tribute to an ordinary woman—not a queen, not an object of erotic desire—in the history of the world. The student is upset. She has been taught that the lot of women from time immemorial was simply and unrelievedly oppressive, and she is disappointed to find something that does not fit the political template….

A student tells you that he is weary of learning about American culture in school. You say that you do not actually believe that his teachers have imparted much of that culture to him, or of what used to be a culture. You are thinking of the seaside observations of Winslow Homer and the plaintive love songs of Stephen Foster and the startling progressions of John Coltrane. You are thinking of Pickett and his men making their desperate charge at Gettysburg. You hear the plain and honest blank verse rhythms of Robert Frost: “I can’t think Si ever hurt anyone,” says the farmer of the hired man who has come back like a stray dog and who has, unbeknownst to him, just breathed his last. You are thinking of Protestants singing “Nearer, My God, to Thee” in four-part harmony; of John Greenleaf Whittier whistling along a country walk, and George Washington Carver patiently grinding peanut skins in a pestle. Henry Adams, John Ford, Herman Melville, Billy Sunday, Billie Holliday—how much of what is quintessentially American has he really encountered? But before you can ask a question probing more deeply into culture, he rolls his eyes and shuts the conversation down. Such is the certainty that the correct political position confers.

[I’ve had similar Kafka-esque experiences. It’s all too sad. Read the whole thing!]

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Literacy Victories!

One of the best things I get to be part of as a teacher is introducing young people to great books they love. Granted, 99% of what I do in this department falls on deaf ears, but those glorious moments of success–few and far between though they are–really do make it all worth it.

Here are a few recent ones:

Last semester for a book project, one girl chose to read The Handmaid’s Tale from a list of options I gave. She loved it and, when they all had to do presentations on their books, she was overjoyed to learn that it’s being made into a series on Hulu.

Cormac McCarthy is always a safe bet. I often recommend his books to students, and they tend to love him. So many kids read his various books last semester that some classes had spontaneous compare/contrast discussions where they picked up on stylistic and thematic trends across his works. They did this on their own.

Earlier this month I had classes take notes on a documentary about Moby Dick. At the end of class when they turned their notes in, one girl was so excited about it that she had already put the ebook on her phone and said that she’d start reading it that weekend. This wasn’t assigned–she just wanted to read Moby Dick on her own. For fun.

Nationalist Entitlement

A headline at Breitbart this week says, “Danes Should Not Become The Minority In Denmark.” A resolution just passed in their parliament to that effect. The article contains some predictably anti-immigrant sentiment.

So I looked up the birth rate in Denmark. It’s 1.7. Remember, 2.1 is considered steady, to keep the next generation the same size as the current population. Denmark has been below 2.1 since 1968. That’s nearly half a century.

I don’t begrudge anyone wanting to preserve “their” people–though to make it an issue of “us vs. them” is needlessly odious–since the loss of any ethnicity is tragic, but it bugs me when people say they want to preserve their culture…without ever doing what’s necessary to save that culture.

Nobody has a right to automatic cultural conservation. There’s hard work involved, and history teaches us exactly what that hard work is. It starts with creating a next generation. You can’t transmit your culture to children you didn’t have.

So don’t be surprised when others come in and that culture changes. Nature abhors a vacuum. Neither Denmark nor any society in a similar situation has a right to complain.

Notes and Quotes: December 2016

My online reading since last May in a nutshell. Note: Apologies and thanks to the fantastic Prufrock daily newsletter, which I’ve enjoyed for years now, and from which much of this content is taken. I can’t recommend subscribing to it highly enough!

*Arts & Entertainment*

“We made this guy listen to all 104 Haydn symphonies and put them in order of greatness”

The problem with contemporary art is that unlike modernism it “‘isn’t even contemptuous of old standards—it is wholly indifferent to them . . . . Sincerity, formal rigor and cohesion, the quest for truth, the sacred and the transcendental—none of these is on the radar among the artists and critics who rule the contemporary scene.’ Instead, Identitarians are obsessed with ‘a set of all-purpose formulas about race, gender, class, and sexuality on the one hand and power and privilege on the other.’”

J. M. W. Turner was ambitious and talented. He was also difficult: “A barber’s son, he rose through the class-bound ranks of late 18th- and early 19th-century Britain to become the nation’s most celebrated and controversial painter. And yet he ended life in scandal, living with a secret mistress under the assumed identity of a sea captain.”

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Shared Universes

Sometimes I wonder if very different stories might inhabit the same shared universe. It’s stylish now to pontificate about the wonders of a “Whedon-verse,” where all the films of Joss Whedon happen in the same fictional universe, or ditto for the movies of some other director, or the books of some writer…but what about different kinds of stories, ones that have nothing at all in common? Just imagine them happening at various times and places in the same world–no crossover, just independent living.

Bambi and A Walk to Remember and Blade Runner could all exist in the same world, in that chronological order–the talking animal fantasy could occur, and then decades later the romantic tragedy, and then decades later that same world could be a science-fiction dystopia. Why not? Or The Evil Dead and Fatal Attraction and Honey I Shrunk The Kids at more or less the same time. The world’s a great big crazy place.

Of course, not all universes are compatible. You can’t have a global apocalypse coexisting with a fluffy rom-com. No War of the Worlds happening with The 40-Year-Old Virgin in the same 2005. It’s not reasonable to suppose that the latter happened without any reference to the former, if they were occurring together.

Star Wars would be just fine paired with almost anything. Whether “a long time ago” refers to the time of Braveheart or to the time of Spartacus or to the time of The Flintstones, Earth could have gone about its merry little way as the Rebellion stood up to the Empire in a galaxy far, far away.

Try to challenge your imagination and figure out the most extreme set of seemingly disparate stories that could actually inhabit the same fictional universe. They’re incongruous, but not mutually exclusive. What do you come up with?

 

Notes and Quotes, July 2016

As always, these are things that have caught my eye and stuck with me over the last few months.

*ARTS*

What are the most rock and roll sounding classical pieces?

Shakespeare in Art

The 40 Most Intriguing Musicians of 2016

 

 

*EDUCATION*

Advice For the Untenured Conservative Humanist: Some good advice and examples here

6 Famous Documentaries That Were Shockingly Full of Crap

 

*HUMOR*

The Onion: College Encourages Lively Exchange Of Idea: Students, Faculty Invited To Freely Express Single Viewpoint

Are You Planning A Cake Hoax? These 5 Tips Will Make Sure It’s A Success

 

*LANGUAGE & LITERATURE*

Aeneid book VI translated by Seamus Heaney

The history of English can be explained in five words

The Burning Ladder: a poem by Dana Gioia

The Secret History of One Hundred Years of Solitude

 

*LIVING WELL*

Photographs of 1870s London

10 Incredible Hikes Under 5 Miles Everyone In Nevada Should Take

30 Most Colorful Cities Around the World

North Las Vegas jogging routes

46 photos of life at a Japanese internment camp, taken by Ansel Adams

The 25 Golden Rules of Running

Interview with The Iron Cowboy

Abe Blair Photography

I really want to stay at the Wild Rose Inn in Genoa, Nevada

A Patriotic Wish,” by Edgar A. Guest

32 Legitimate Ways to Make Money at Home

Donna Torres photography of Yellowstone

Alessio Andreani photography

The Top 10 Best “Top 10 Best Lists of 2015” of 2015

 

*POLITICS & SOCIETY*

I reflected at the lack of big families now and the derision that many people have for tight-knit families in general. Our society is now a culture of drifters who move place to place who seek solace in their hipster lifestyle and sense of social justice. Their sense of outrage is often a substitute for family or religion or both. There is less sense of community and human compassion for individuals now.

–Dr. Helen, “Love” — read the whole thing!

Jeannie Suk on transgender bathrooms

The Road to Serfdom in cartoons

Move over LGBTQ, the new acronym is LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM (No, this is not a joke)

The Culture War In One Graph: good discussion of values

And then there’s leftist religions.

Like a zealot or religious fanatic, leftist fanatics worship and use their made-up religions to fill the hole of nothingness that is otherwise known as their life.  This is why you NEVER see the captain of the football team with a 3.8GPA join the “anarchist/marxist/minarchist” trench-coat wearing, movie-theater-shooting, nerd crowd.  Or the studious Asian engineering major block the interstate near campus.  They have lives.  They have meaning.  They have purpose.  They have agency.  They have value to the rest of society.

But again, those things require work, effort, rigor, math, and intellectual honesty.

Ergo, why do all that hard stuff when you can just claim a religion?

You’re a feminist!
You’re going green!
You eat only organic/non-GMO/gluten-free/whateverthefrickthey’llcomeupwithnextweek!
You’re fighting racism!
You’re helping the poor!
You’re a pacifist!
You have a ADDHDHHDH Autism or Aspergers are bi-polar or whatever you want to tell yourself. 

You can claim allegiance to any one of an increasing number of bogus leftist religions and simply wear that trait on your sleeve like a badge of honor.  And the best thing about it, so AWESOME in fact that leftists masturbate to it, is…

you didn’t have to expend one calorie of energy on work to get it.  You simply “declared” you had this trait or believed this religion.  And now, not only does your worthless life have faux-worth.  You are a more intelligent, superior person to those troglodytes who don’t understand “intersectionality.”

–Captain Capitalism, “Traits Are No Substitute For Accomplishments” — read the whole thing! (And read Ed Driscoll’s expansion of the same)

WHY SCIENTISTS DISAGREE ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING

Let’s play the ‘blame Israel game’ with The New York Times

It’s dangerous and wrong to tell all children they’re ‘gender fluid

I was a transgender woman

When I recently asked a class of undergraduates at Oglethorpe University if any of them thought there were “no meaningful differences between men and women,” two female students raised their hands. When I pointed to the obvious reproductive differences between males and females, which give young women the unique ability to conceive and bear children, they looked at me as if I had committed an act of hurtful bigotry.

–“The Problem with Gender Studies

 

*RELIGION*

L. Tom Perry, “A Meaningful Celebration

Christianity is a religion of losers. To the weak and humble, it offers a stripped and humiliated Lord. To those without reason for optimism, it holds up the cross as a sign of hope. To anyone who does not win at life, it promises that whoever loses his life for Christ’s sake shall find it. At its center stands a truth that we are prone to forget. There are people who cannot be made into winners, no matter how positive their thinking. They need something more paradoxical and cruciform.

First Things

Reprioritizing Our Life toward Choosing the One Thing Necessary and the Better Part

To The Mom Who Is Exhausted, Depressed, and Completely Overwhelmed…5 Lessons from the Prophet Elijah

We Need to Gather to Zion Culturally

Defending the Faith: ‘From Darkness unto Light’ takes a fresh look at recovery, publication of the Book of Mormon

The Fake Flanders Bible

By1mwXIIMAAvSBeIt’s been more than 20 years since the episode of The Simpsons aired where Bart and Lisa have to play Bible Bombardment with the Flanders family, leading an exasperated Ned to demand of the Simpson children, “Don’t you know anything? The Serpent of Rehoboam? The Well of Zohassadar? The Bridal Feast of Beth Chadruharazzeb?”

I don’t recognize any of those references, so I finally decided to look them up, and…nothing. I can’t find them in the Bible anywhere. Clearly, Ned Flanders is such a serious scholar that he knows about secret parts of the text that the rest of us can’t find.

*sigh* This is even more disappointing than when I saw Pulp Fiction and went home to look up Ezekiel 25:17. Alas, it’s not even close to the real thing.

R.I.P. Trump

The word, of course, not the celebrity. It’s become appallingly clear that we can no longer use the verb “trump” literally, as in “My evidence trumps yours,” because of the taint associated with the name now. A sad loss. It was a great word.

I don’t expect it to be resurrected any time soon. Several years later, I still can’t refer to that darkening period at the end of the day–“twilight”–without students giggling. And don’t even try to address an issue by suggesting that it has “shades of gray.”

Wendi Adelson

A few days ago I was perusing headlines at Instapundit when I saw this one: “NEWS FROM FLORIDA: Wendi Adelson Discusses Her Ex-Husband Dan Markel’s Murder.” It took me a moment to remember where I knew that name from: 14 years ago, she and I were contestants on a TV game show called The Weakest Link.

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Notes and Quotes: April 2016

My biggest collection of links and excerpts ever!

*ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT*

“In my view there is nothing in opera – not even Don Giovanni or Cosi and certainly not the vulgar, strangulated hernia operas of the 19th century – that even comes near the greatness of Figaro which is a torrent of wit, melody and human sympathy….All great music is religious.”

Choral music not heard since era of Henry VIII has been played for first time in 500 years

 

 

*EDUCATION*

One Day In The Life Of An Urban Teacher

The concept of different “learning styles” is one of the greatest neuroscience myths

The elephant in the room: illiteracy.

Unmentionable, perhaps, but evident. Everyone knows that students read less and less, but few wish to speak of it. Professors in book-lined offices are prudish about uttering the I-word: To admit that our students are not fully literate undermines our sense of status and importance as professors. Administrators and departmental chairs seldom read course ­evaluation forms that state, “I found the course reading difficult because I am functionally illiterate.” Educational leaders are not commonly ­informed that reading a book from cover to cover is beyond the powers of many students.

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Coincidence or Commentary?

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I picked up Saladin Ahmed’s fantasy novel Throne of the Crescent Moon from the library this week, having heard that it’s really original and well written. Most fantasy novels still take place in a fantasy version of medieval England, but this one is set in a fantasy version of the medieval Islamic world.

As soon as I opened it, though, I found this bookmark that some other reader had left in it. As you can see, the bookmark is an ad for a local Holocaust Resource Center.

I guess it could be a coincidence, but it’s not hard to see that there could be something behind it. A Jewish message placed inside an Islamic book? Seems like it might be supposed to say something political, but I’m not sure exactly what the message is. Who left it and why? There are no clues beyond what we see here.