Monday, December 20, 2010

An Evening Prayer

An Evening Prayer

Now, now that the sun hath veil'd his light
And bid the world goodnight;
To the soft bed my body I dispose,
But where shall my soul repose?
Dear, dear God, even in Thy arms,
And can there be any so sweet security!
Then to thy rest, O my soul!
And singing, praise the mercy
That prolongs thy days.

Dr. William Fuller, Lord-Bishop of Lincoln (1608-1675)
Set to music by Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
Performance by Chanticleer here:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Business Blogging 101: One topic per post

Recently a small-business owner new to blogging asked me what he ABSOLUTELY MUST DO in order to write blog posts that people will want to read, will read to the end, and will generate traffic and sales.

Talk about a tall order.

But not as tall as you might think. There are a number of must do's when it comes to effective blogging, but what I'm writing about today's in the top three:


If you're like me, you're busy. When you finally site down to blog, you want to dump everything in and move on to the next task.

But for a host of reasons, that's a bad, bad idea. It defeats the purpose of business blogging in the first place, which is to give people bite-size info snippets that inform them and incite them to action. So short and single-minded is the key.

Don't believe me? Which of the following do you think will get eyeballs and dollars: (a) Five short readable posts spread over two weeks or (b) one long, scattered, and meandering post every two weeks? I rest my case.

If you're a Twitter user, think of blog posts as longish tweets: One topic. Period.


Easy! Five points.

  1. Write it. Write whatever comes into your mind—anything and everything—as many topics as you want!!!
  2. Chunk it. Now go back and break up what you've written according to topic. This is what's called chunking.
  3. Name 'em. Then give each chunk a catchy title that uses the KEY WORD you’re emphasizing (this is SEO best practice, BTW)
  4. Copy 'em. Take each of those separated chunks and copy them one by one into your blog each as separate posts and put the appropriate title to it.
  5. Auto-post 'em. If your blogging client allows you, schedule each of the posts to go out at a particular time—say one every two days. If your client doesn't have that functionality, then just post the first one and save the others as drafts. Then every two days or so, log in and publish one.

Voila! Easy, frequent, usable, and SEO-friendly blog content!

Got it? Now go do it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Philosophers doubt or doubters philosophize?

Which came first, the philosophy or the doubt?

A number of Christian folks in my circle (in my case, many are evangelicals, but the following way of thinking may not be limited to that stripe of Christian) are given to think that if you study the humanities or social sciences, you will sooner or later end up asking questions that will ultimately shake your faith. There's undoubtedly some truth there.

However I'm wondering whether it's also (as in simultaneously) the other way around: people who study philosophy, literature, art, anthropology, etc. are the kind of people who are given to wonder and ask big questions the first place. If that's the case, then doubt is not necessarily a result of the area of your study but rather the area of your study may be the result of your inquiring mind.

I know of lots of folks who apparently never asked big questions (thought I'm somewhat suspicious of that claim) until they took a philosophy class in college and only then started doubting. But I also know lots of people who were asking big questions and doubting their own beliefs long before they were exposed to the "corrosive" effects of philosophy or anthropology (myself included). It was those very questions that led some of us to study what we did--philosophy, theology, literature, etc. in my own case, and other disciplines in the cases of others.

But ultimately, I'm given to think this is a false choice. It's not EITHER (1) you started doubting first OR (2) your studies led you to doubt. Rather I think it's a BOTH/AND situation. I'd guess that in 99% of the cases, one comes first (doubt or study) and then feeds into the other (study or doubt), the one feeding into the other and the other feeding into the one.

So let's not be so heavyhanded in our condemnation of certain disciplines. In the end, you're really condemning yourself.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Thoughts on God's existence

Fascinating article by Alex Byrne. I'm still working through it at the moment. Boston Review — Alex Byrne: God

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Onward into the Baroque

Aboslutley beautiful stuff from Rolf Lislevand (formerly of Jordi Savall's Hesperion XX). Read the associated article and then click on the "passacaglia cantata" link for some stunning musical interpretation of, I think, Frescobaldi. As a believer in historically informed performance, this would seem to go against my grain, but instead, it sends a shiver down my spine.

Also, check out Lislevand's Alfabeto.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Word of the Day: Pellucid

pellucid \puh-LOO-sid\, adjective:
1. Transparent; clear; not opaque.
2. Easily understandable.

Where I ran across it: "As a master of such brevity, Jesus no doubt had his predecessors and successors. No surprise there, since the effectiveness of his teaching has to come from an even more pellucid kind of honesty than theirs—but one that, like theirs, knows how to revolutionize the world through sharp, one-line confrontations, spoken one sentence at a time. Is that not, in one sense, the very essence of the Gospel?" (source: First Things Blog)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Luther's Theology of the Cross (theologia cruces)

From this source:

Walther von Loewenich described the centrality of the theology of the cross in Luther’s thinking:

For Luther the cross is not only the subject of theology; it is the distinctive mark of all theology. It has its place not only in the doctrine of the vicarious atonement, but it constitutes an integrating element for all Christian knowledge. The theology of the cross is not a chapter in theology but a specific kind of theology. The cross of Christ is significant here not only for the question concerning redemption and the certainty of salvation, but it is the center that provides perspective for all theological statements. Hence, it belongs to the doctrine of God in the same way as it belongs to the doctrine of the work of Christ. [Luther’s Theology of the Cross, pp 17-18]

Loewenich outlined five aspects of Luther’s theology of the cross:

  1. The theology of the cross as a theology of revelation stands in sharp antithesis to speculation.
  2. God’s revelation is an indirect, concealed revelation.
  3. Hence, God’s revelation is recognized not in works but in suffering, and the double meaning of these terms is to be noted.
  4. This knowledge of God who is hidden in his revelation is a matter of faith.
  5. The manner in which God is known is reflected in the practical thought of suffering. [p. 22]

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

To Annapolis!

Of course, I should have noted that I have been accepted to St. John's College. We are planning on moving to the Annapolis area in December so that I can begin the program on January 8, 2007.

Life is very busy. I'm currently writing review of this exciting and controversial book on Luther and theosis--work that is in addition to continued freelance work, and onling editing responsibilites.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Anna Magdalena Bach: Composer?

If some scholars are right, then she penned the suites for cello as well as some other stuff. I don't knwo if I go in for this kind of thing, but here's the link (probably soon to be dead), and here's the story:
A researcher from Darwin, Australia, says he believes that many works attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach were actually written by the composer's second wife.

Martin Jarvis, a professor at Charles Darwin University School of Music, has been studying Bach's work for more than 30 years.

Bach's second wife, Anna Magdalena Bach, is traditionally believed to have been a copyist for Bach and her handwriting is known from many of his original scores.

But Jarvis believes she may actually have written some of the best-loved pieces herself, including Six Cello Suites, some of the Goldberg Variations, and the first prelude of the Well-tempered Clavier Book I.

Jarvis says it's known that Anna Magdalena was a talented musician and a student of Bach's. Born in 1701, she married him in 1721, 17 months after the death of his first wife. She bore him 13 children, seven of whom died in infancy.

"I found Anna Magdalena's handwriting in places where it shouldn't have been," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "In other words, assuming that the idea that it's her handwriting is correct, then it's in places where we really shouldn't be finding it."

Jarvis used forensic techniques to analyze the handwriting, saying the notations in her hand indicate she was working on a draft composition. Many works have no "original" score in Bach's hand.

He also studied the structure of the music before coming up with his theory. The British-born professor said he has felt there was something different about the Cello Suites since he studied them at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

"It doesn't sound musically mature. It sounds like an exercise, and you have to work incredibly hard to make it sound like a piece of music," he said.

He put forward the theory that the young woman wrote them when she was a music student. A woman's work as a composer would never have been acknowledged in Bach's time, he said.

Jarvis presented his ideas at an international symposium in London last week and will publish them in a doctorate paper later this year.

Bach scholars did not immediately dismiss Jarvis's claims. Yo Tomita, a Bach scholar based at Queen's University in Belfast, said the findings were "highly important." Others were more skeptical and said the theory could never be proven.

Bach, who lived from 1685 to 1750, was a prolific composer of more than 1,100 works, and is regarded as a great master of Baroque music.

Copyright ©2006 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation - All Rights Reserved

What is Grace?

From Theodore Pulcini's Orthodoxy and Catholicism: What Are the Differences (p. 20): " not a created commodity but the very Presence of the Uncreated One conveyed to his creature." (link)

Monday, April 10, 2006

Rube Goldberg Would be Proud

This is absolutely stunning stuff. I used to want to build contraptions like these when I was a lad. So I grew up to be an editor. Still, I can't get enough of kinetic enginuity like this.

Monday, February 27, 2006

From the Exegesis of Simpletons to the Exegesis of the Spiritual

Peter Leithart expresses something I've often thought but never written. It's what Paul is driving at, I think, with 1 Cor. 1:18ff. Leithart:

Elisha's anger toward Jehoash seems unfair (2 Kings 13). He tells him to shoot arrows, and then pound them on the ground. How was Jehoash to know that pounding on the ground symbolized victory over Aram? Well, for one thing, Elisha told him that the arrow is the arrow of victory over Aram. And for another, Elisha expects the king to be able to unravel the sign that he gives him.

This incident reminds us of the anger of Jesus at His disciples and others when they failed to recognize the significance of what was happening around them. Jesus rebuked the two disciples on the road to Emmaeus as "foolish men and slow of heart to believe" what the Scriptures had taught. We read that and think Jesus was being unfair. How were they supposed to know? How could they have interpreted the Bible the way that Jesus says?

But Jesus expected them to know. He rebuked them for a hermeneutical failure, which he said was a result of folly and unbelief. Their hermeneutical failure was not an intellectual failure, but a failure of faith, a slowness of heart.

In both of these incidents, faithful and wise hermeneutics, believing and wise interpretation of God's words and God's signs, means being able to unravel and understand the knotty symbols that God gives us, being able to untie the riddling knots that we encounter in His word and in His world. This is what wisdom is all about, as Solomon tells us: "The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel . . . to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles" (Proverbs 1:1, 6).

Many are simpletons in their reading of Scripture, and in their reading of the various signs that the Lord places in life. For Solomon, a simpleton is someone who fails to see the point of the signs, and interpreters who fail to see that the signs are signs are perhaps the most simple of all. Wise interpretation acknowledges the plain sense, but wise interpreters see that the plain sense is a riddle to be loosed.

To put it provocatively: Grammatical-historical exegesis is the exegesis of simpletons.

By wisdom, it seems that what Leithart is driving at (consciously or not) is the Spirit. And so, whether scholars like it or not, the Spirit is the key to Biblical hermeneutics. With Him, we know the reality; without Him, we're condemned to the bleakest sort of exegetical Flatland. Paul again:
And I, when I came to you, brothers, came not according to excellence of speech or of wisdom, announcing to you the mystery of God. For I did not determine to know anything among you except Jesus Christ, and this One crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling; and my speech and my proclamation were not in persuasive words of wisdom but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, in order that your faith would not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. But we do speak wisdom among those who are full-grown, yet a wisdom not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are being brought to nought; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the wisdom which has been hidden, which God predestined before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age have known; for if they had known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard and which have not come up in man’s heart; things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” But to us God has revealed them through the Spirit, for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.

Here Paul is clearly speaking of the revelatory function of the Spirit. And in so doing, he indicts the lexical-historical endeavor so popular today. But Paul does not stop with the Holy Spirit:
For who among men knows the things of man, except the spirit of man which is in him? In the same way, the things of God also no one has known except the Spirit of God. But we have received not the spirit of the world but the Spirit which is from God, that we may know the things which have been graciously given to us by God; Which things also we speak, not in words taught by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things with spiritual words. But a soulish man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him and he is not able to know them because they are discerned spiritually. But the spiritual man discerns all things, but he himself is discerned by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord and will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.
What is it that enables us to know the Spirit's speaking in the Scriptures? It is our own spirit. It is by being one spirit with the Lord (1 Cor. 6:17; 2 Tim. 4:22) that allows us, as Paul so boldly said, to have the very mind of Christ. By the Spirit with our spirit, we know things that angels--and most Biblical scholars--long to look into.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Education in England, A Farce in Too Many Acts

An absolutely brilliant article by Max Hastings in the Guardian on the difficulties facing those who want to teach (and learn) about the English in England. TheTitle: This is the country of Drake and Pepys, not Shaka Zulu. The lede: The past 500 years have been dominated by westerners, so there's little point teaching children about other societies. The article:
Most of the coverage given to last week's report from the government's Qualifications and Curriculum Authority focused upon the decline of school language studies. Because I am a historian by background and inclination, my own attention fell upon its remarks about history.

It expresses concern about the overwhelming Nazi focus. It argues that schools "undervalue the overall contribution of black and other minority ethnic peoples to Britain's past, and ... ignore their cultural, scientific and many other achievements". History, says the QCA, plays "an increasingly marginal role" in both primary and secondary schools, because of "a perception that it has only limited relevance to many pupils' future working lives".

On the first of these points - the Hitler obsession - few thinking people will disagree. Even to me, who has written half-a-dozen books about the second world war, it seems quite wrong to allow teenagers to make that period their only encounter with the past. It should not be difficult to broaden the agenda for pupils who want to specialise in modern tyranny. They might, for instance, undertake comparative studies of Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot, the 20th century's great mass murderers.

Stalin and Mao command less interest than Hitler because no pictures exist of their crimes comparable with movie images of the Holocaust. In an age dominated by visual images, many find it hard to acknowledge any reality unless they see it on screen. There may be a second reason for this relative lack of interest. More than a few academics harbour a visceral reluctance to acknowledge that what was done in the name of communism should be judged by the same standard as the deeds of fascism.

The QCA further urges a need to give more positive attention to the part of minorities in Britain's history. The authority's thinking is easy to understand: to a teenager of West Indian or Muslim background, medieval exchequer practice or 19th century poor law seem remote. Surely we can offer such children knowledge that strikes a chord with their own heritage.

Yet how is it possible to do much of this in a British school without distorting the western experience, which anyone living here is signed up to? Pupils in modern African or Indian schools obviously focus their historical studies on the experience of subject races under foreign rule. But, as a profound sceptic about multiculturalism, I can't see the case for such an agenda, unless the vast majority of British people are to pretend to be something they are not.

It may justly be asserted that - for instance - the Muslim peoples of the Middle East sustained much higher cultural values in the 12th and 13th centuries than the European crusaders they fought; that many Indian peoples possessed more impressive heritages than our own. But the world's development in the past 500 years has been dominated, for good or ill, by what westerners have thought and done. Other societies, again no matter whether for good or ill, have been losers whose power to determine their own destinies, never mind anyone else's, has been small.

History is the story of the dominance, however unjust, of societies that display superior energy, ability, technology and might. If one's own people were victims of western imperialism, it is entirely understandable that one should wish to study history from their viewpoint. But, whatever the crimes of our forefathers, this is the country of Drake, Clive and Kitchener, not of Tipu Sultan, Shaka Zulu or the Mahdi.

Finally, there is the QCA's alarm call about the perceived "lack of relevance" of history to pupils' future working lives. This echoes the notorious remarks of Charles Clarke, when education secretary, dismissing medieval and classical studies. At the weekend, I glanced at some of my old school essays. The questions seem interesting: "Should one think of Henry II as a lawless and arbitrary monarch, or as the founder of an orderly legal and administrative system?"; "Why did Edward I succeed in Wales and fail in Scotland?"; "Can anything be said in favour of James I's foreign policy?"

Even in 1961, one could scarcely argue that familiarity with such themes contributed much to employability. They were no more "relevant" to middle-class white teenagers then than to schoolchildren of West Indian or Muslim origins now. We addressed them, first, because education is properly about learning to think, and objectively to assess evidence; second, so that we knew something about a broad sweep of the history of the society to which, whether by birth or migration, we belonged.

We were developing a sense of British cultural identity, which no amount of social engineering can honestly relocate far from Crecy and Waterloo, Pepys and Newton. The British educational establishment is today defeatist about reconciling new Britons to this. Yet a Washington historian told me recently that he often sees tears in the eyes of young Korean and Mexican Americans when he reads Lincoln's Gettysburg address to them.

Why not likewise here? British education is increasingly perceived as a utilitarian process: all disciplines seeking to rouse the enthusiasm of pupils as if they were fugitive birds, to be tempted out of trees with nuts. The logical outcome of this policy is that children will eventually learn only how to handle computers, change the wheels of cars and submit applications for credit cards.

Even some upmarket schools offer curriculum options that allow pupils to sidestep anything difficult. This is crazy. Real learning cannot be easy, except to a few prodigies. Of course, inner-city schools have little use for Simon de Montfort. But the relentless pruning of aspirations for history teaching even in good secondary schools should dismay us all. Most of the QCA's thinking represents appeasement rather than remedy.
Max Hastings
Tuesday December 27, 2005
The Guardian

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

On Punctuation

I saved this to my hard-drive several years ago and for the life of me can't figure out where I found it:
The Philosophy of Punctuation
by Paul Robinson

Punctuation absorbs more of my thought than seems healthy for a man who pretends to be well adjusted. The subject is naturally attractive to all with character structures of the sort Freud dubbed anal, and I readily confess to belong to that sect. We anal folk keep neat houses, are always on time, and know all the do's and don't's, including those of punctuation. Good punctuation, we feel, makes for clean thought. A mania for punctuation is also an occupational hazard for almost any teacher, as hundreds of our hours are given over to correcting the vagrant punctuation of our students.

One approach to punctuation is by way of rules. In my very favorite book, The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E. B. White, we may read, for example, Rule Number 2: "In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last." I couldn't agree more heartily, and I love the quaint formulation. Better than that, I have inserted the missing comma in countless sentences written by students and colleagues of mine. I have also suffered no little distress seeing that comma removed from my own prose after it has been sent to the New York Times Book Review or (yes, I'm sorry to say) the New Republic, both of which clearly have adopted policies of eliminating this serial comma so beloved by purists.

Rules are important, no question about it. But by themselves they are insufficient. Unless one has an emotional investment, rules are too easily forgotten. What we must instill, I'm convinced, is an attitude toward punctuation, a set of feelings about both the process in general and the individual marks of punctuation. That set of feelings might be called a philosophy of punctuation.

I say "a" philosophy, because I'm not yet so opinionated as to insist that everyone adopt my own. I recognize legitimate alternatives, and I'm quite aware that punctuation has a history. A single page of Thomas Carlyle, or any nineteenth-century writer, reminds us, for instance, that a comma between subject and verb--for me the most offensive of all punctuation errors--was once perfectly acceptable. A colleague of mine, whom I consider a fine writer, punctuates, as it were, by ear. That is, he seeks to reduplicate patterns of speech, to indicate through his punctuation how a sentence is supposed to sound. Consequently his punctuation lacks strict consistency. But I can respect it as guided at all times by what I consider philosophical principles.

Given my character, my own philosophy is more legalistic. My colleague, you might say, is a Platonist in punctuation, while I am an Aristotelian. My punctuation is informed by two ideals: clarity and simplicity. Punctuation has the primary responsibility of contributing to the plainness of one's meaning. It has the secondary responsibility of being as invisible as possible, of not calling attention to itself. With those principles in mind, and on the basis of reading what now passes for acceptable writing, I have developed a set of emotional responses to individual marks of punctuation. Precisely such emotional responses, I believe, are what most writers lack, and their indifference accounts for their errors.

Let me now introduce my dramatis personae. First come the period and the comma. These are the only lovely marks of punctuation, and of the two the period is the lovelier, because more compact and innocent of ambiguity. I have fantasies of writing an essay punctuated solely with periods and commas. I seldom see a piece of prose that shouldn't, I feel, have more periods and fewer of those obtrusive marks that seem to have usurped its natural place. The comma, as noted, was once overused, but it now suffers from relative neglect. The missing comma before the "and" introducing the last item in a series is merely the most obvious example.

Periods and commas are lovely because they are simple. They force the writer to express his ideas directly, to eliminate unnecessary hedges, to forgo smart-aleck asides. They also contribute to the logical solidity of a piece of writing, since they make us put all our thoughts into words. By way of contrast, a colon can be used to smooth over a rough logical connection. It has a verbal content ranging anywhere from "namely" to "thus," and it can function to let the writer off the hook. Periods and commas, because of their very neutrality, make one an honest logician.

Semicolons are pretentious and overactive. These days one seems to come across them in every other sentence. "These days" is alarmist, since half a century ago the German poet Christian Morgenstern wrote a brilliant parody, "Im Reich der Interpunktionen," in which imperialistic semicolons are put to rout by an "Antisemikolonbund" of periods and commas. Nonetheless, if the undergraduate essays I see are representative, we are in the midst of an epidemic of semicolons. I suspect that the semicolon is so popular because it is the first fancy punctuation mark students learn of, and they assume that its frequent appearance will lend their writing a properly scholarly cast. Alas, they are only too right. But I doubt that they use semicolons in their letters. At least I hope they don't.

More than half of the semicolons one sees, I would estimate, should be periods, and probably another quarter should be commas. Far too often, semicolons, like colons, are used to gloss over an imprecise thought. They place two clauses in some kind of relation to one another but relieve the writer of saying exactly what that relation is. Even the simple conjunction "and," for which they are often a substitute, has more content, because it suggests compatibility or logical continuity. ("And," incidentally, is among the most abused words in the language. It is forever being exploited as a kind of neutral vocalization connecting two things that have no connection whatever.)

In exasperation I have tried to confine my own use of the semicolon to demarking sequences that contain internal commas and therefore might otherwise be confusing. I recognize that my reaction is extreme. But the semicolon has become so hateful to me that I feel almost morally compromised when I use it.

Before leaving the realm of epidemics, I want to mention two other practices that are out of hand: the use of italics for emphasis and of quotation marks for distancing. These are ugly habits because of the intellectual tone they set. Italics rarely fail to insult the reader's intelligence. More often than not they tell us to emphasize a word or phrase that we would emphasize automatically in any natural reading of the sentence. Quotation marks create the spurious impression of an aristocracy of sensibility. Three paragraphs back I originally put quotation marks around "fancy," to suggest quite falsely that I would never use such a word myself, being of too refined a temperament.

At the opposite pole are two marks of punctuation that have grown increasingly obsolescent, the question mark and the exclamation point. Appropriately, the disappearance of the question mark largely reflects the disappearance of questions, which sound unpleasantly rhetorical to us. But even real questions, if they are long enough, are now apt to end in periods. The exclamation point is obviously too emphatic, too childish, for our sophisticated ways. Psychologically speaking, the decline of these two marks is the inverse of the semicolon epidemic. Questions and exclamations betray a sense of inquisitiveness and wonder that is distinctly unmodern, whereas semicolons imply a capacity for complex, dialectical formulations appropriate to our complex times. As part of my campaign against the semicolon--no doubt irrationally--I am endeavoring to develop friendlier relations with these neglected gestures. But I'll admit that it's not easy.

Then there are parentheses and dashes. They are, of course, indispensable. I've used them five times already in this essay alone. But I think one must maintain a very strict attitude toward them. I start from the proposition that all parentheses and dashes are syntactical defeats. They signify an inability to express one's ideas sequentially, which, unless you're James Joyce, is the way the language was meant to be used. Reality may be simultaneous, but expository prose is linear. Parentheses and dashes represent efforts to elude the responsibilities of linearity. They generally betoken stylistic laziness, an unwillingness to spend the time figuring out how to put things in the most logical order. Needless to say, they also betoken a failure of discipline. Every random thought, every tenuous analogy gets dragged in. Good writing is as much a matter of subtraction as creation, and parentheses are the great enemy of subtraction. In all that I write I try to find ways to eliminate them.

A monstrous variation on the parenthesis is the content footnote. What, after all, is a content footnote but material that one is either too lazy to integrate into the text or too reverent to discard? Reading a piece of prose that constantly dissolves into extended footnotes is profoundly disheartening. Hence my rule of thumb for footnotes is exactly the same as that for parentheses. One should regard them as symbols of failure. I hardly need add that in this vale of tears failure is sometimes unavoidable.

Only one issue of punctuation generates no emotion in me, namely, the rules governing the placement of punctuation marks with respect to quotation marks. Those rules are simple enough, but perhaps because they differ between England and the United States they possess for me only the arbitrary authority of commandments and none of the well-nigh metaphysical significance that I associate with the period, the comma, the parenthesis, and the semicolon.

Copyright notice: ©2002 by Paul Robinson. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of Paul Robinson. This essay was first published in the New Republic on April 26, 1980.

Transition Words

Found this listing of transition words useful and am putting it here for my own reference.
Thus, for example, for instance, namely, to illustrate, in other words, in particular, specifically, such as.

On the contrary, contrarily, notwithstanding, but, however, nevertheless, in spite of, in contrast, yet, on one hand, on the other hand, rather, or, nor, conversely, at the same time, while this may be true.

And, in addition to, furthermore, moreover, besides, than, too, also, both-and, another, equally important, first, second, etc., again, further, last, finally, not only-but also, as well as, in the second place, next, likewise, similarly, in fact, as a result, consequently, in the same way, for example, for instance, however, thus, therefore, otherwise.

After, afterward, before, then, once, next, last, at last, at length, first, second, etc., at first, formerly, rarely, usually, another, finally, soon, meanwhile, at the same time, for a minute, hour, day, etc., during the morning, day, week, etc., most important, later, ordinarily, to begin with, afterwards, generally, in order to, subsequently, previously, in the meantime, immediately, eventually, concurrently, simultaneously.

At the left, at the right, in the center, on the side, along the edge, on top, below, beneath, under, around, above, over, straight ahead, at the top, at the bottom, surrounding, opposite, at the rear, at the front, in front of, beside, behind, next to, nearby, in the distance, beyond, in the forefront, in the foreground, within sight, out of sight, across, under, nearer, adjacent, in the background.

Although, at any rate, at least, still, thought, even though, granted that, while it may be true, in spite of, of course.

Similarity Of Comparison
Similarly, likewise, in like fashion, in like manner, analogous to.

Above all, indeed, truly, of course, certainly, surely, in fact, really, in truth, again, besides, also, furthermore, in addition.

Specifically, especially, in particular, to explain, to list, to enumerate, in detail, namely, including.

For example, for instance, to illustrate, thus, in other words, as an illustration, in particular.

Consequence Or Result
So that, with the result that, thus, consequently, hence, accordingly, for this reason, therefore, so, because, since, due to, as a result, in other words, then.

Therefore, finally, consequently, thus, in short, in conclusion, in brief, as a result, accordingly.

For this purpose, to this end, with this in mind, with this purpose in mind, therefore.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Classical Music Reviews Galore

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Stalin's Soldiers

Or at least the soldiers he wanted:

THE Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered the creation of Planet of the Apes-style warriors by crossing humans with apes, according to recently uncovered secret documents.

Moscow archives show that in the mid-1920s Russia's top animal breeding scientist, Ilya Ivanov, was ordered to turn his skills from horse and animal work to the quest for a super-warrior.

According to Moscow newspapers, Stalin told the scientist: "I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat."

In 1926 the Politburo in Moscow passed the request to the Academy of Science with the order to build a "living war machine". The order came at a time when the Soviet Union was embarked on a crusade to turn the world upside down, with social engineering seen as a partner to industrialisation: new cities, architecture, and a new egalitarian society were being created.

The Soviet authorities were struggling to rebuild the Red Army after bruising wars.

And there was intense pressure to find a new labour force, particularly one that would not complain, with Russia about to embark on its first Five-Year Plan for fast-track industrialisation.

Mr Ivanov was highly regarded. He had established his reputation under the Tsar when in 1901 he established the world's first centre for the artificial insemination of racehorses.

Mr Ivanov's ideas were music to the ears of Soviet planners and in 1926 he was dispatched to West Africa with $200,000 to conduct his first experiment in impregnating chimpanzees.

Meanwhile, a centre for the experiments was set up in Georgia - Stalin's birthplace - for the apes to be raised.

Mr Ivanov's experiments, unsurprisingly from what we now know, were a total failure. He returned to the Soviet Union, only to see experiments in Georgia to use monkey sperm in human volunteers similarly fail.

A final attempt to persuade a Cuban heiress to lend some of her monkeys for further experiments reached American ears, with the New York Times reporting on the story, and she dropped the idea amid the uproar.

Mr Ivanov was now in disgrace. His were not the only experiments going wrong: the plan to collectivise farms ended in the 1932 famine in which at least four million died.

For his expensive failure, he was sentenced to five years' jail, which was later commuted to five years' exile in the Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan in 1931. A year later he died, reportedly after falling sick while standing on a freezing railway platform.

From The Scotsman.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The State of Art

is not good. Witness:
A GERMAN art expert was fooled into believing a painting done by a chimpanzee was the work of a master.

The director of the State Art Museum of Moritzburg in Saxony-Anhalt, Katja Schneider, suggested the painting was by the Guggenheim Prize-winning artist Ernst Wilhelm Nay.

"It looks like an Ernst Wilhelm Nay. He was famous for using such blotches of colour," Dr Schneider confidently asserted.

The canvas was actually the work of Banghi, a 31-year-old female chimp at the local zoo.

While Banghi likes to paint, she is not able to build up much of a body of work as her mate Satscho generally destroys her paintings before they can get to the gallery.

But this one survived long enough to give Dr Schneider a red face.

"I did think it looked a bit rushed," she told Bild newspaper.
(source:; via The Corner, where poster Stanley Kurtz calls it the biggest hoax since Alan Sokal got fake scholarship printed in a post-modernism rag)

Harpsichords, clavichords, fortepianos. Oh my!

Here's a place that I need to take a trip to. And leave my checkbook at home.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Homeschooling Professors

The Chronicle Review has a stupendous article on that head. It's so good, I'll just quote the whole thing. I can barely wait to have kids so we can start this kind of amazing adventure:

For Professors' Children, the Case for Home Schooling

If you want to bring a conversation to a dead stop on the academic cash-bar circuit, just mention casually that you are home schooling your children. You might as well bite the head off a live chicken. Most professors are likely to be appalled, and those who are not will keep their mouths shut.

Still, all indications are that the number of families who home school is growing rapidly — somewhere between 5 percent and 15 percent per year, according to the U.S. Department of Educationand the number of home-schooled children now hovers somewhere between one and two million. A recent Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll indicates that 41 percent of families had a positive view of home schooling in 2001, as opposed to only 16 percent who did in 1985. By almost every measurable outcome, home schoolers in general outperform their public-educated peers, and many colleges are beginning to rework their admissions procedures to accommodate the growing numbers of home-schooled applicants.

Nevertheless, I have spoken with more than a few professors who say that home schooling is dangerous: It is a threat to public education, it is anti-feminist, it isolates children, it is a form of religious fanaticism, it is a means of avoiding diversity, and — most withering of all — it is an instrument of ideological conservatism. They sometimes joke about home education by mentioning horror films such as Carrie and Children of the Corn.

I'm an English professor, and my spouse used to work in academic administration. We have three daughters, ages 6, 4, and 2. And we have been home schooling them for two years now. If all goes well, we plan to continue teaching them at home at least until they are old enough for high school.

We always planned that one of us would stay home while our children were young, but the idea of home schooling only developed recently in the context of our present circumstances.

Teaching our daughters to read and write, beginning around the age of 4, seemed like a natural thing for us to do. Along with potty training, it was just part of the ordinary business of being a parent. Being avid readers ourselves, we have about 4,000 books in our house, which now includes a children's library. I suppose it was inevitable that we would spend a lot of time reading to our children, and they would have an early desire to learn to read for themselves and for each other.

We live surrounded by woods and farmland, so our daughters are constantly asking us to look up plants and insects in the Audubon field guides. We have a reasonably well-supplied children's science lab and art studio. And, in the course of routine travel and shopping, it's easy to cultivate our daughters' curiosity about the world by visiting museums, zoos, libraries, schools, factories, and farms. These are things that most parents do, though they may not regard their activities as part of some kind of curriculum.

In a typical day, our 6-year-old daughter will study phonics, spelling, writing, history, geography, and math. She may perform some elementary science experiments, or she may work on an art project in emulation of Seurat or Pollock. On some days other children — not necessarily other home schoolers — will come to our house to play. Sometimes they'll open our costume chest and dramatize something they've been reading, such as The Hobbit. Other times they'll go outside and play hide-and- seek or go on an "expedition" to find specimens for the family museum. Even though our younger daughters have not yet started their formal schooling, they are eager to imitate their oldest sister, and the pace of learning seems to accelerate with each new child. On good days, home schooling seems like the most natural method of elementary education one could imagine.

We are not ideologically committed to home schooling any more than we are opposed to public education. And we are aware of the limitations of home schooling under some circumstances, just as we are aware of the difficulties faced by many public schools, even in relatively well-financed school districts. Ultimately, we want the best education for our children, and, on the whole, home schooling seems like the best option. It is also one that our daughters seem to desire, and, if any of them wanted to go to the nearby public school, we would certainly consider it.

Nevertheless, my spouse and I do feel the sting of criticisms that we hear in academe from people who don't know that we are home schoolers — or, worse, from those who do. Of course, we agree that these criticisms apply in some cases. But we also think it is unfair to judge a diverse range of home-schooling practices by associating the movement — if it can be called that — with its most extreme and marginal practitioners.

In search of some reassurance, I have had many discussions with other professors who home school, primarily at my home institution but also with a number of faculty members in other parts of the country. From those conversations I have noticed a number of common motives, circumstances, and beliefs among faculty members who educate their children at home:

They are rarely religious or political extremists. Many professors observe that it is difficult to achieve consistent moral training in public education. They sometimes state that private education in religious schools is too doctrinal or resistant to modernity, particularly in the sciences. Some lament that public and religious education seem to have become battlefields for activists for whom the "vital center" has been abandoned, along with a spirit of civic responsibility.

They want the best education for their children, but they are not wealthy. Professors are usually well informed about what constitutes a good education in terms of methods and resources. The experience of small classes and one-on-one tutoring inevitably convinces teachers of the effectiveness of methods that can easily be replicated in the home, though they are prohibitive for all but exclusive private schools that are usually beyond the reach of academics with more than one child. Home schooling, therefore, becomes a logical choice when the costs of private education and day care become greater than one parent's income.

They enjoy learning. For nearly all professors, the chance to review and expand their own youthful education in a variety of fields is a treat that almost transcends the educational needs of their children. Mathematicians, for example, relish the chance to reread the literature they half-missed when they were mastering geometry, and English professors, like me, enjoy the chance to relearn the astronomy they once loved before calculus crushed their hopes for a scientific career. They often see themselves as learning with their children rather than simply teaching them.

They are confident in their ability to teach. Professors often see teaching their own children as part of a continuum of pleasurable obligations to the next generation; they seek to integrate the values of their profession with the values they live at home. Since professors often teach the teachers, they tend to believe — perhaps with some hubris — in their ability to teach effectively at all grade levels. But more often, they recognize their limitations and seek collaboration with other parents — often professors themselves — with different areas of expertise.

They benefit from flexible schedules. Academics tend to work about 50 hours per week during the academic year, but they also have control over their schedules and long periods of relative autonomy. Most professors have a co-parenting ideal, but in practice one partner — usually the mother — becomes the primary home educator, while the father assumes a secondary role with some seasonal variation. Some express discomfort with this circumstance because they recognize the sacrifices that each partner requires of the other.

They value unstructured learning. Professors know how much time is lost by learning in an institutional setting. A large portion of the time spent in school is devoted to moving students around, dealing with disruptions, health problems, different amounts of preparation, and unequal rates of learning. Without all the crowd control and level seeking, the formal requirements of education can be completed in only a few hours a day, leaving lots of time for self-directed learning and play. As a result, home-schooled children generally learn faster and with less boredom and less justified resentment.

They see the results of public education. Every professor seems to complain that most high-school graduates are not really prepared for college, either academically or emotionally. More and more, our energies are devoted to remedial teaching and therapeutic counseling. Most believe that something is wrong in public education, or the larger culture, that can only be dealt with, in part, by selective withdrawal. Home-schooled students are not always perfect, but they seem more respectful, attentive, mature, and academically prepared than their peers. And they do not automatically perceive teachers as "the enemy" out of peer solidarity.

They privilege the family over peer groups. Professors often celebrate diversity as a value in education, and, among those who home school, many mention the value for their children of cross-generational experiences instead of identifying only with a peer group. In large families, children also benefit from teaching their younger siblings, who are generally eager to keep up. Home-schooled students are less likely to become alienated from their families as a result of antisocial, anti-intellectual peer conformity. They develop a set of values that enable them to resist the negative socialization that outweighs, by far, the benefits of segregation by age.

They have negative memories of their own education. Although it takes some probing, nearly every professor with home-schooled children mentions traumatic childhood experiences in school. Professors, as a group, tend to have been sensitive, intelligent children who were picked on and ostracized. They foresee the same treatment for their own children, and they want to do everything they can to prevent the children from experiencing the traumas they experienced. Professors recognize how many of our most brilliant students have been emotionally or physically terrorized for a dozen years before they arrive at college. School sometimes teaches otherwise happy and intelligent children to become sullen and secretive and contemptuous of learning.

It is hard to overemphasize this last point as a motive for home schoolers. In my own memory, the difficulty of school was never the work; it was surviving the day without being victimized by students whose violence was beyond the capacity or desire of adults to control. My spouse remembers the cruelty of girls in cliques, who can be even more cunning at the infliction of pain and permanent emotional scarring than any of the boys who sometimes sent me home with torn clothes and a bloody nose.

No doubt, my spouse and I have had to forgo some career options for our present way of life. Home schooling our children means we have to live on an assistant professor's salary. It also means living in a small town in the Midwest instead of an expensive city on one of the coasts. It means living in an old farmhouse that I am, more or less, renovating by myself. It means not eating out or going on vacations very often. It means driving older American cars instead of shiny new Volvos. But the big reward is the time we get to spend with our children.

I suppose, on some level, my spouse and I are rebelling against an academic culture that tells us we should both be working at demanding professional jobs while our children are raised by someone else. But we value this time with our children more than career advancement for its own sake. We don't regard ourselves as conservatives. We feel like we're swimming against the mainstream of a culture that has sacrificed the family for economic productivity and personal ambition. We don't think home schooling is right for everyone, but it works for us, for now. Of course we will make some mistakes, but on the whole, we think home schooling our children may be the most important thing we will ever do.

W. A. Pannapacker is an assistant professor of English at Hope College.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

History Stonewalls NY Subways

An 18th (perhaps 17th) century wall found 10 feet under in Manhattan.
Three weeks after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority started digging a subway tunnel under Battery Park, the project hit a wall. A really old wall. Possibly the oldest wall still standing in Manhattan.

The top of an old wall was discovered by workers digging a new subway tunnel under Battery Park.

It was a 45-foot-long section of a stone wall that archaeologists believe is a remnant of the original battery that protected the Colonial settlement at the southern tip of the island. Depending on which archaeologist you ask, it was built in the 1760's or as long ago as the late 17th century.

Either way, it would be the oldest piece of a fortification known to exist in Manhattan and the only one to survive the Revolutionary War period, said Joan H. Geismar, president of the Professional Archaeologists of New York City.
Now there's a fight between the preservationists and the Metropolitan Transit Authority. The NYT has more.

Friday, December 02, 2005

David's Palace Unearthed?

A fascinating story abou the probably discovery of David's palace, here. Says Mazar, the archaeologist overseeing the dig who relied heavily on the Bible to take her to where she dug, "This is giving the Bible's version a chance. The Washington Post story continues:
She essentially drew a map to the palace using the Bible and two nearby excavations carried out by the British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon and the Israeli archeologist Yigal Shilo, who was once her mentor. Digging in the 1960s, Kenyon found massive stone walls near a rough-hewn, stepped structure running up the side of the valley. On the valley floor, Kenyon uncovered Phoenician capitals -- the tops of columns -- that suggested a monumental building may have stood above.

David's palace, according to the Bible, was built by workers sent to him by the Phoenician king, Hiram of Tyre. Mazar also used passages from the Books of Samuel to trace David's steps to a site adjacent to Kenyon's excavation.

A good bit of the article is devoted to the debate surrounding the Bible's accuracy as an aid to archaeological and historical discovery:
Mazar's find is emerging at the nexus of history, religion and politics, volatile forces that have guided building, biblical scholarship and war in this city for millennia. Even before the findings have been assembled in a scientific paper, the discovery is prompting new thinking about when Jerusalem rose to prominence, the nature of the early Jewish kingdom, and whether the Bible can be used as a reliable map to archaeological discovery....
For two centuries, historians in Germany, the United States and Israel have debated the value of the Bible as an authentic record of events. Biblical archaeology emerged as a way to explore the Old Testament through discoveries on the ground. It attracted renowned scholars and adventurers to the Holy Land, but also a number of evangelical Christians and religious Jews who appeared intent on proving the Bible true.

Those who draw on the Bible, such as Mazar, argue that it should play a central role in archaeological discovery because it is the only document from that time. But in recent decades the most accepted view has been that the Bible is more myth than history, particularly its books recounting events that happened centuries earlier, like those relating to David.

Anyway, read the whole thing here.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

No Words To Describe

This site will keep your jaw on the floor for hours. The mind reels (click on image to zoom; I could look at this for ever).

The NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day site

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Equal Parts Ignorance and Pride

Fascinating and troubling reading at Fortunately, I've never had this problem.
Over dinner a few weeks ago, the novelist Lawrence Naumoff told a troubling story. He asked students in his introduction to creative writing course at UNC-Chapel Hill if they had read Jack Kerouac. Nobody raised a hand. Then he asked if anyone had ever heard of Jack Kerouac. More blank expressions.

Naumoff began describing the legend of the literary wild man. One student offered that he had a teacher who was just as crazy. Naumoff asked the professor's name. The student said he didn't know. Naumoff then asked this oblivious scholar, "Do you know my name?"

After a long pause, the young man replied, "No."

"I guess I've always known that many students are just taking my course to get a requirement out of the way," Naumoff said. "But it was disheartening to see that some couldn't even go to the trouble of finding out the name of the person teaching the course."

The floodgates were opened and the other UNC professors at the dinner began sharing their own dispiriting stories about the troubling state of curiosity on campus. Their experiences echoed the complaints voiced by many of my book reviewers who teach at some of the nation's best schools.

All of them have noted that such ignorance isn't new -- students have always possessed far less knowledge than they should, or think they have. But in the past, ignorance tended to be a source of shame and motivation. Students were far more likely to be troubled by not-knowing, far more eager to fill such gaps by learning. As one of my reviewers, Stanley Trachtenberg, once said, "It's not that they don't know, it's that they don't care about what they don't know."

This lack of curiosity is especially disturbing because it infects our broader culture. Unfortunately, it seems both inevitable and incurable.

In our increasingly complex world, the amount of information required to master any particular discipline -- e.g. computers, life insurance, medicine -- has expanded geometrically. We are forced to become specialists, people who know more and more about less and less.

Add to this two other factors: the mind-set that puts work at the center of American life and the deep fear spawned by the rise of globalization and other free market approaches that have turned job security into an anachronism. In this frightening new world, students do not turn to universities for mind expansion but vocational training. In the parlance of journalism, they want news they can use.

Upon graduation, they must devote ever more energy to mastering the floods of information that might help them keep their wobbly jobs. Crunched, they have little time to learn about far-flung subjects.

The narrowcasting of our lives is writ large in our culture. Faced with a near infinite range of knowledge, the Internet slices and dices it all into highly specialized niches that provide mountainous details about the slightest molehills. It is no wonder that the last mainstream outlet of general knowledge, the daily newspaper, is suffering declining readership. When people only care about what they care about, their desire to know something more, something new, evaporates like the morning dew.

Here's where it gets really interesting. In comforting response to these exigencies, our culture gives us a pass, downplaying the importance of knowledge, culture, history and tradition. Not too long ago, students might have been embarrassed to admit they'd never heard of Jack Kerouac. Now they're permitted to say "whatever."

When was the last time you met anyone who was ashamed because they didn't know something?

It hasn't always been so. When my father, the son of Italian immigrants, was growing up in the 1930s and 40s, he aspired to be a man of learning. Forced to go to work instead of college, he read "the best books," listened to "the best music," learned which fork to use for his salad. He watched Fred Astaire puttin' on his top hat and tyin' up his white tie, and dreamed of entering that world of distinction.

That mind-set seems as dead as my beloved Dad. The notion of an aspirational culture, in which one endeavors to learn what is right, proper and important in order to make something more of himself, is past.

In fairness, the assault on high culture and tradition that has transpired since the 1960s has paid great dividends, bringing long overdue attention to marginalized voices.

Unfortunately, this new freedom has sucker punched the notion of the educated person who is esteemed not because of the size of his bank account or the extent of his fame but the depth of his knowledge. Instead of a mainstream reverence for those who produce or appreciate works that represent the summit of human achievement, we have a corporatized and commodified culture that hypes the latest trend, the next new thing.

A fundamental truth about people is that they are shaped by the world around them. In the here and now, get-the-job-done environment of modern America, the knowledge for knowledge's sake ethos that is the foundation of a liberal arts education -- and of a rich and satisfying life -- has been shoved to the margins. Curiously, in a world where everything is worth knowing, nothing is.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Miss Brann Receives National Humanities Medal

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Go Tribe!

An e-mail sent to W&M alumni today. Good news:
Dear Friends:

Some months ago, the National Collegiate Athletic Association asked William
and Mary--along with 30 other colleges and universities--to determine
whether the Native American nickname and logo associated with our athletic
program are "hostile and abusive."

This fall, I appointed Provost Geoff Feiss to chair a steering committee
preparing the College's self evaluation. I want to share with you the
committee's work, which has been completed and forwarded to the NCAA. The
entire report and my cover letter can be found at

After careful consideration, the self-evaluation committee, the Board of
Visitors and I find no basis for concluding that the use of the term "Tribe"
violates NCAA standards. On the contrary, the "Tribe" moniker communicates
ennobling sentiments of commitment, shared idealism, community, and common

I'm pleased to tell you that my recent conversations with nearby Virginia
Indian tribes have affirmed their acceptance of the nickname, which
highlights, of course, the historical connection between the College and its
role in educating Native Americans.

Geoff and his colleagues conducted a thorough and thoughtful review. I'm
grateful for their work­--for the input I've received from not a few alumni,
students, and friends of the College­--and, most of all, that our community's
powerful sense of common endeavor indeed deserves the name "Tribe."

Go Tribe. Hark upon the gale.

Gene Nichol
I wonder whether this "self-evaluation" is enough for the NCAA. Something tells me that the NCAA will ultimately allow the evaluation to go only one way. Will W&M fight?

Civil War Link

"But we had with us, to keep and to care for,
more than five hundred bruised bodies of men, -
men made in the image of God,
marred by the hand of man,
and must we say in the name of God?

And where is the reckoning for such things?
And who is answerable?

...Was it God's command we heard,
or His forgiveness we must forever implore?"

-Major General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, 1865

I just happened upon A fascinating and moving page concerning the War Between the States. Some stunning photography there, too.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Who is Man? Left and Right Respond

From the most recent issue of Literary Review. I've thought this for a long time and am tickled to find others writing about it:
The Left, ever since Rousseau, has seen man as essentially good, in chains only on account of the institutions of a cruel and corrupt society. Loosen his chains, strike off his fetters, and the natural benevolence of his nature will be free to flourish.

For the Left the Golden Age is still to come.

The Right, however, sees our nature as essentially flawed. ‘I cannot but conclude’, Gulliver is told by his master in Brobdingnag, ‘the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.’ This miserable creature must therefore be subjected to order. The Right values tradition because, to quote Burke again: ‘We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason; because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations, and of ages.’ So the Golden Age is always in the past.

Left-wing artists, however angry, are optimists; right-wing ones, however serene or witty, are pessimists. Yet the same man may be of the Left in his politics, opinions, and daily life, but of the Right in his Art. Graham Greene is a good example: politically on the Left, nevertheless on the Right in the view of man’s nature which informs his novels.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

We few, we happy few...

On this, St. Crispin's Day, I present to you the speech of the same name in Shakespeare's Henry V. Hear the speech here. This has got to be my favorite movie moment of all time. Although, to this Virginian, the opening credits to Gods and Generals was profoundly moving as well.

Whether its the words, images, or the soundtracks in these bits of film, I don't know. But somehow, each taps something deep within humanity and plays with incredible passion upon the heart strings.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Of Cultural (un)Awareness

Dear Jay,

As long as you're collecting tales of cultural gaffes — "Da Vinci" instead of "Leonardo" — try this one.

I'm 20 years old, ignorant as a post about classical music, but have been given two tickets to a concert by our local orchestra and figure, here's my chance to really impress a rather more sophisticated girl I've had my eye on for some time. I pop the question to her over the phone. Would she like to come to the concert with me?

"Perhaps," she answers. "Do you have any idea what music they're going to be playing?"

Uh . . . Furiously scanning both sides of the tickets for any hints, I try to sound offhand as I say, "Oh sure, I think they're going to be playing something by Mezzanine."

She laughed, but God bless her, she went on the date with me.

From Jay Nordlinger's mailbag.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Jefferson: Constitutional Originalist

From the Corner:
From a reader, remarks on the Constitution by Thomas Jefferson:
"The Constitution on which our Union rests, shall be administered by me [as President] according to the safe and honest meaning contemplated by the plain understanding of the people of the United States at the time of its adoption--a meaning to be found in the explanations of those who advocated, not those who opposed it, and who opposed it merely lest the construction should be applied which they denounced as possible."

"Laws are made for men of ordinary understanding and should, therefore, be construed by the ordinary rules of common sense. Their meaning is not to be sought for in metaphysical subtleties which may make anything mean everything or nothing at pleasure."
Hamilton, Justice Story, and now Jefferson. To take seriously the original intent of the Founders, I begin to see, is to take seriously the importance they placed on common sense and the plain language of the Constitution.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The National Review's Best Non-fiction of the 20th Century

A fascinating list compiled in May, 1999. The list is a bit too political in nature, however. But I guess it comes with the territory--the list was compiled by NR. Anyway, more than a few of the books on this list just fount their way onto my amazon wishlist.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Considered Opinions vs. Tested Opinions

Was just reading re: Hariet Miers over at Prof. Bainbridge's blog, when I read this--a bit of a missive sent by a Harvard law prof:
If Harrier Miers has to study and reflect, now, in order to develop a personal theory of the Commerce Clause, how can we possibly have any confidence that she'll remain committed to that theory five, ten, or twenty years from now? First impressions are often wrong, even when we've put lots of thought into them. Unless and until Miers has publicly defended her theory against aggressive testing by very smart people who take a different view, we can't know have any confidence that she can do so -- and, thus, that she won't abandon it somewhere down the road. And therein lies the problem -- or at least one of the problems.
The truth contained in this short paragraph is profound, and it's really true of opinion in general, regardless of the field. Theology is what I'm thinking about in this case. Considered opinions must be submitted to, and survive, energetic critique before their holder can really say that it is what he really and truly believes. Adversity is the true test of how deeply held an opinion is. How many people out there believe something simply because they have never been challenged about it? In other words, how many opinions are actually intellectual defaults as opposed to formed opinions.?

Computers vs. Learning

A fascinating article at Orion Online (via Arts & Letters Daily). Here's a snippet:
...The teacher explained that her students were so enthusiastic about the project that they chose to go to the computer lab rather than outside for recess. While she seemed impressed by this dedication, it underscores the first troubling influence of computers. The medium is so compelling that it lures children away from the kind of activities through which they have always most effectively discovered themselves and their place in the world.
When we have kids, I'm not sure I want a computer accessible to the kids at all times. In fact, maybe we'll restrict it to like 1 hr a day or TV (which we don't have).

Friday, October 07, 2005

Bird Flu (5): Romania

I've casually learned that China, Mongolia, Khazakstan, Vietnam, and Russia have reported cases. Romania now joins the list. The NYTimes reports that 11 countries in total have reported cases.

Bird Flu (4): The Bush Plan and Related Scenarios

From the NYTimes:

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7 - A plan developed by the Bush administration to deal with any possible outbreak of pandemic flu shows that the United States is woefully unprepared for what could become the worst disaster in the nation's history.

A draft of the final plan, which has been years in the making and is expected to be released later this month, says a large outbreak that began in Asia would be likely, because of modern travel patterns, to reach the United States within "a few months or even weeks."

If such an outbreak occurred, hospitals would become overwhelmed, riots would engulf vaccination clinics, and even power and food would be in short supply, according to the plan, which was obtained by The New York Times.

The 381-page plan calls for quarantine and travel restrictions but concedes that such measures "are unlikely to delay introduction of pandemic disease into the U.S. by more than a month or two."

The plan's 10 supplements suggest specific ways that local and state governments should prepare now for an eventual pandemic by, for instance, drafting legal documents that would justify quarantines. Written by health officials, the plan does yet address responses by the military or other governmental departments.

The plan outlines a worst-case scenario in which more than 1.9 million Americans would die and 8.5 million would be hospitalized with costs exceeding $450 billion.

It also calls for a domestic vaccine production capacity of 600 million doses within six months, more than 10 times the present capacity.

On Friday, President Bush invited the leaders of the nation's top six vaccine producers to the White House to cajole them into increasing their domestic vaccine capacity, and the flu plan demonstrates just how monumental a task these companies have before them.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Bush administration's efforts to plan for a possible pandemic flu have become controversial, with many Democrats in Congress charging that the administration has not done enough. Many have pointed to the lengthy writing process of the flu plan as evidence of this.

But while the administration's flu plan, officially called the Pandemic Influenza Strategic Plan, closely outlines how the Health and Human Services Department may react during a pandemic, it skirts many essential decisions, like how the military may be deployed.

"The real shortcoming of the plan is that it doesn't say who's in charge," said a top health official who provided the plan to The Times. "We don't want to have a FEMA-like response, where it's not clear who's running what."

Still, the official, who asked for anonymity because the plan was not supposed to be distributed, called the plan a "major milestone" that was "very comprehensive" and sorely needed.

The draft provided to The Times is dated Sept. 30, and is stamped "for internal H.H.S. use only." The plan asks government officials to clear it by Oct. 6.

Christina Pearson, a spokeswoman for Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt, responded, "We recognize that the H.H.S. plan will be a foundation for a governmentwide plan, and that process has already begun."

Ms. Pearson said that Mr. Leavitt has already had one-on-one meetings with other cabinet secretaries to begin the coordination process across the federal government. But she emphasized that the plan given to The Times was a draft and had not been finalized.

Mr. Leavitt is leaving Saturday for a 10-day trip to at least four Asian nations, where he will meet with health and agriculture officials to discuss planning for a pandemic flu. He said at a briefing on Friday that the administration's flu plan would be officially released soon. He was not aware at the briefing that The Times had a copy of the plan. And he emphasized that the chances that the virus now killing birds in Asia would become a human pandemic were unknown but probably low. A pandemic is global epidemic of disease.

"It may be a while longer, but pandemic will likely occur in the future," he said.

And he said that flu planning would soon become a national exercise.

"It will require school districts to have a plan on how they will deal with school opening and closing," he said. "It will require the mayor to have a plan on whether or not they're going to ask the theaters not to have a movie."

"Over the next couple of months you will see a great deal of activity asking metropolitan areas, 'Are you ready?' If not, here is what must be done," he said.

A key point of contention if an epidemic strikes is who will get vaccines first. The administration's plan suggests a triage distribution for these essential medicines. Groups like the military, National Guard and other national security groups were left out.

Beyond the military, however, the first in line for essential medicines are workers in plants making the vaccines and drugs as well as medical personnel working directly with those sickened by the disease. Next are the elderly and severely ill. Then come pregnant women, transplant and AIDS patients, and parents of infants. Finally, the police, firefighters and government leaders are next.

The plan also calls for a national stockpile of 133 million courses of antiviral treatment. The administration has bought 4.3 million.

The plan details the responsibilities of top health officials in each phase of a spreading pandemic, starting with planning and surveillance efforts and ending with coordination with the Department of Defense.

Much of the plan is a dry recitation of the science and basic bureaucratic steps that must be followed as a virus races around the globe. But the plan has the feel of a television movie-of-the-week when it describes a possible pandemic situation that begins, "In April of the current year, an outbreak of severe respiratory illness is identified in a small village."

"Twenty patients have required hospitalization at the local provincial hospital, five of whom have died from pneumonia and respiratory failure," the plan states.

The flu spreads and begins to make headlines around the world. Top health officials swing into action and isolate the new viral strain in laboratories. The scientists discover that "the vaccine developed previously for the avian strain will only provide partial protection," the plan states.

In June, federal health officials find airline passengers infected with the virus "arriving in four major U.S. cities," the plan states. By July, small outbreaks are being reported around the nation. It spreads.

As the outbreak peaks, about a quarter of workers stay home because they are sick or afraid of becoming sick. Hospitals are overwhelmed.

"Social unrest occurs," the plan states. "Public anxiety heightens mistrust of government, diminishing compliance with public health advisories." Mortuaries and funeral homes are overwhelmed.

Presently, an avian virus has decimated chicken and other bird flocks in 11 countries. It has infected more than 100 people, about 60 of whom have died, but nearly all of these victims got the disease directly from birds. An epidemic is only possible when a virus begins to pass easily among humans.


Peter Robinson on The National Review at 50:
Gstaad, Switzerland, the winter of 1988. In need of someone to help research and edit a book, William F. Buckley Jr. had arranged for me to take a two-month leave of absence from my job as a White House speechwriter. He and I worked in the enormous cellar of the Chateau de Rougemont, a medieval monastery that a century earlier had been converted into a vast residence, WFB at a desk at one end of the room, I at a table at the other. (Although the cellar was a bare, simple room, the rooms above proved magnificent — high-ceilinged and wood-paneled, hung with superb paintings, and graced with magnificent views of the Alps. Not that the Chateau, which the Buckleys rented each year, met the exacting standards of Mrs. Buckley even so. When Pat arrived from New York, she strode into the study, and, unaware of my presence, threw her fur onto the sofa, performed a slow turn, and said, "This heap.")

WFB's routine proved invariable. At his desk by 7.30 each morning, he would work until noon, pausing only to change LPs on the record player — classical music only — and take telephone calls. (Contesting the New Hampshire primary, both Jack Kemp and Bob Dole called for advice.) At noon WFB would break for lunch, inviting me to join him either in the dining room upstairs, where guests regularly included Taki, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Roger Moore, or in a nearby restaurant, where we would often meet James Clavell. After lunch, skiing — but never for more than 90 minutes. Once, halfway down Videmanette, WFB stopped, then waved me to his side. "Peter," he said, "in more than four decades of skiing in these mountains, I have never seen more utterly perfect conditions." For once, I supposed, he would wave the time limit. Instead, he peeled back his glove, glanced at his watch, an announced that it was time to quit skiing and get back to work.

After skiing, WFB would spend another three hours at his desk, intently writing and editing until 6:00. At that hour, a servant would appear to serve us each a kir and a cigar. (In self-defense, I soon arranged for my drink to consist of flat soda water and just enough crème de cassis to look like a kir.) Half an hour later, dinner. If dinner was served in the Chateau, then WFB, Pat, and I would greet guests for a drink in the study, process into the dining room for dinner proper, and then adjourn to the sitting room for nightcaps. When WFB decided the evening had run its course, he would seat himself at the piano to play "Good Night, Ladies," a gesture that had become so famous in Gstaad that his guests — including, one evening, Princess Benedikte of Denmark and her husband, Prince Richard of Wittgenstein — always gracefully took the hint to depart.

Often, however, we would go out, visiting the chalet of Roger Moore, perhaps, or stopping at the Palace Hotel. (At the Palace one evening, WFB seated me across from the designer Valentino, then wandered off, leaving me to attempt conversation about haute couture.) Preparing to go out, WFB and I heard Pat shout down the Chateau's circular staircase. "Bill, hurry. The Goulandrises have invited the King of Greece, and according to protocol we all have to be there before the King arrives." WFB smiled. Then, in a voice too low for Pat to overhear, he said, "You'd think poor Constantine had never been deposed."

After dinner, even dinner with the King of Greece, WFB would repair to the cellar, seat himself at his desk, and return, once again, to work. His only concession to the hour: He would no longer play classical LPs, but jazz. WFB would remain at work until at least 11.00.

WFB and work. I witnessed his wit, his glamour, and his immense talent for friendship. But what impressed me most was the ceaselessness with which he worked. In the two months I spent in Gstaad, WFB composed some 24 newspaper columns; wrote a play based on Stained Glass, one of his Blackford Oakes novels; returned to New York to tape half a dozen episodes of Firing Line; completed the book on which we were collaborating (On the Firing Line would be published the following year); and edited four issues of National Review.

"Bill," I finally said one day, "you were born wealthy and you've been famous for thirty years. Why do you keep working so hard?"

WFB looked at me, surprised. "My father taught me that I owe it to my country," he replied. "It's how I pay my debt."

That is what I think of when I think of National Review. A payment on our debt to America.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Bird Flu (4): Reconstructed 1918 Virus Hits the Market

From the Guardian:
Scientists have recreated the 1918 Spanish flu virus, one of the deadliest ever to emerge, to the alarm of many researchers who fear it presents a serious security risk.

Undisclosed quantities of the virus are being held in a high-security government laboratory in Atlanta, Georgia, after a nine-year effort to rebuild the agent that swept the globe in record time and claimed the lives of an estimated 50 million people.

The genetic sequence is also being made available to scientists online, a move which some fear adds a further risk of the virus being created in other labs.

...Publication of the work and the filing of the virus's genetic make-up to an online database followed an emergency meeting last week by the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, which concluded that the benefits of publishing the work outweighed the risks. Many scientists remained sceptical. "Once the genetic sequence is publicly available, there's a theoretical risk that any molecular biologist with sufficient knowledge could recreate this virus," said Dr John Wood, a virologist at the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control in Potters Bar.
Well, it's good to know that scientists are on the case. But let's hope that Dr. Wood's "theoretical risk" doesn't realize itself and become a truly horrible nexus of terrorism and disease.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Bird Flu (3): Source of 1918 Pandemic Reconstructed

...And guess what? It was a strain of bird flu. The Financial Times has the scoop:
The virus responsible for the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed an estimated 50m people worldwide, has been reconstructed by genetic engineering in a high-security US laboratory.

Preliminary studies show that it is an avian flu virus that mutated to spread quickly between people just as many experts fear will happen soon with the current H5N1 strain of bird flu in Asia. Details of the project are published today in the journals Science and Nature. The US National Institutes of Health approved the research, despite its apparent risk, because it will help scientists find new treatments for the most dangerous types of flu.

The Centres for Disease Control laboratory in Atlanta made a live virus with the full genetic sequence of Spanish flu, using an engineering technique called “reverse genetics” developed at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

“We felt we had to recreate the virus and run these experiments to understand the biological properties that made the 1918 virus so exceptionally deadly,” said Terrence Tumpey, head of the CDC team. “We wanted to identify the specific genes responsible for its virulence, with the hope of designing antivirals or other interventions that would work against virulent influenza viruses.”

The key genetic data for the experiment came from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington DC. Over the past eight years scientists there have pieced together the entire Spanish flu genome, from viral fragments isolated from preserved lung samples of patients who died in 1918 and from a female victim whose body was fortuitously frozen in Alaskan permafrost.

Many of the flu viruses circulating today were descendants of the H1N1 strain that swept the world in 1918 so the population still had some protective immunity against it, said Jeffery Taubenberger, leader of the AFIP team. “It is unlikely that a1918-like virus wouldbe able to cause a pandemic today.”

The research suggests that Spanish flu arose in a different way to the viruses that caused the other two 20th century pandemics. In 1957 and 1968 an existing human virus underwent genetic mixing with a bird virus to produce a new “reassorted” strain in one step.

In 1918, however, an entirely avian virus gradually adapted to function in humans through a sequence of mutations. Although the analysis is incomplete, about four to six mutations seemed to have taken place in each of the eight viral genes, Dr Taubenberger said.

Ominously, the H5N1 strain currently circulating in Asia is undergoing similar humanising mutations though it has not accumulated as many changes as Spanish flu.

■ Health officials in Jakarta and Hong Kong on Wednesday said tests had shown H5N1 virus in apparently healthy chickens in Indonesia. Until now it had been thought that chickens quickly sickened and died when infected with H5N1. The presence of infected but symptomless chickens could complicate the fight against bird flu.

Bird Flu (2): Bush Responds

Whadya know. Yesterday at his press confrence, Bush was asked about the spread of avian flu and answered very enthusiastically. It seems he's put a lot of personal thought into this (perhaps more thought than he did into selecting Harriett Miers for the Supreme Court). As he talked, he answered a number of the questions I asked in my last post. Here's the reporters question and his answers (transcript source: the Whitehouse):
Q Mr. President, you've been thinking a lot about pandemic flu and the risks in the United States if that should occur. I was wondering, Secretary Leavitt has said that first responders in the states and local governments are not prepared for something like that. To what extent are you concerned about that after Katrina and Rita? And is that one of the reasons you're interested in the idea of using defense assets to respond to something as broad and long-lasting as a flu might be?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Thank you for the question. I am concerned about avian flu. I am concerned about what an avian flu outbreak could mean for the United States and the world. I am -- I have thought through the scenarios of what an avian flu outbreak could mean. I tried to get a better handle on what the decision-making process would be by reading Mr. Barry's book [link] on the influenza outbreak in 1918. I would recommend it.

The policy decisions for a President in dealing with an avian flu outbreak are difficult. One example: If we had an outbreak somewhere in the United States, do we not then quarantine that part of the country, and how do you then enforce a quarantine? When -- it's one thing to shut down airplanes; it's another thing to prevent people from coming in to get exposed to the avian flu. And who best to be able to effect a quarantine? One option is the use of a military that's able to plan and move.

And so that's why I put it on the table. I think it's an important debate for Congress to have. I noticed the other day, evidently, some governors didn't like it. I understand that. I was the commander-in-chief of the National Guard, and proudly so, and, frankly, I didn't want the President telling me how to be the commander-in-chief of the Texas Guard. But Congress needs to take a look at circumstances that may need to vest the capacity of the President to move beyond that debate. And one such catastrophe, or one such challenge could be an avian flu outbreak.

Secondly -- wait a minute, this is an important subject. Secondly, during my meetings at the United Nations, not only did I speak about it publicly, I spoke about it privately to as many leaders as I could find, about the need for there to be awareness, one, of the issue; and, two, reporting, rapid reporting to WHO, so that we can deal with a potential pandemic. The reporting needs to be not only on the birds that have fallen ill, but also on tracing the capacity of the virus to go from bird to person, to person. That's when it gets dangerous, when it goes bird-person-person. And we need to know on a real-time basis as quickly as possible, the facts, so that the scientific community, the world scientific community can analyze the facts and begin to deal with it.

Obviously, the best way to deal with a pandemic is to isolate it and keep it isolated in the region in which it begins. As you know, there's been a lot of reporting of different flocks that have fallen ill with the H5N1 virus. And we've also got some cases of the virus being transmitted to person, and we're watching very carefully.

Thirdly, the development of a vaccine -- I've spent time with Tony Fauci on the subject. Obviously, it would be helpful if we had a breakthrough in the capacity to develop a vaccine that would enable us to feel comfortable here at home that not only would first responders be able to be vaccinated, but as many Americans as possible, and people around the world. But, unfortunately, there is a -- we're just not that far down the manufacturing process. And there's a spray, as you know, that can maybe help arrest the spread of the disease, which is in relatively limited supply.

So one of the issues is how do we encourage the manufacturing capacity of the country, and maybe the world, to be prepared to deal with the outbreak of a pandemic. In other words, can we surge enough production to be able to help deal with the issue?

I take this issue very seriously, and I appreciate you bringing it to our attention. The people of the country ought to rest assured that we're doing everything we can: We're watching it, we're careful, we're in communications with the world. I'm not predicting an outbreak; I'm just suggesting to you that we better be thinking about it. And we are. And we're more than thinking about it; we're trying to put plans in place, and one of the plans -- back to where your original question came -- was, if we need to take some significant action, how best to do so. And I think the President ought to have all options on the table to understand what the consequences are, but -- all assets on the table -- not options -- assets on the table to be able to deal with something this significant.
He directly or indirectly answered most of my questions. I only wish he'd talked a bit more about securing the borders. But with his policy on immigration being what it is, he probably didn't want to ruffle any feathers. Ironic how he would talk about quarantining whole regions of this country (unpleasant, but perhaps necessary) but not talk about securing the borders against it in the first place (unpleasant, and surely necessary). The worst thing about politics is the politics. Anyway, props to Mr. Bush for staying on top of this.

Then today, I found this article on Drudge--it talks a bit about how the military's hands are tied (with re: police work) within the borders, etc.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush asked Congress on Tuesday to consider giving him powers to use the military to enforce quarantines in case of an avian influenza epidemic.

He said the military, and perhaps the National Guard, might be needed to take such a role if the feared H5N1 bird flu virus changes enough to cause widespread human infection.

...Experts fear that the H5N1 bird flu virus, which appears to be highly fatal when it infects people, will develop the ability to pass easily from person to person and would cause a pandemic that would kill millions.

"And I think the president ought to have all ... assets on the table to be able to deal with something this significant," Bush said.

He noted that some governors may object to the federal government commandeering the National Guard, which is under state command in most circumstances.


"But Congress needs to take a look at circumstances that may need to vest the capacity of the president to move beyond that debate. And one such catastrophe or one such challenge could be an avian flu outbreak," Bush said.

The active duty military is currently forbidden from undertaking law enforcement duties by the federal Posse Comitatus Act.

That law, passed in 1878 after the U.S. Civil War, does not prohibit National Guard troops under state control from doing police work. But, unless the law is changed, it would keep them from doing so if they were activated by Washington under federal control.

While the law allows the president to order the military to take control and do police work in an extreme emergency, the White House has been traditionally reluctant to usurp state powers.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters he was not aware of any current planning by the military to help respond to a flu pandemic.

But he noted that after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf region, Bush had asked Congress to consider giving the military control over initial response in dealing with major natural or other domestic disasters.

"Obviously the (Defense) Department has a tremendous amount of capability in a lot of areas. And we are a large force," Whitman said, noting also that the military had deployed field hospitals to Louisiana after the hurricanes.

Health experts are working to develop vaccines that would protect against the H5N1 strain of flu, because current influenza vaccines will not.

And countries are also developing stockpiles of drugs that can reduce the risk of serious disease or even sometimes prevent infection -- but supplies and manufacturing capacity are both limited.

Bush said he was involved in planning for an influenza pandemic, which experts say will definitely come, although they cannot predict when, or whether it will be H5N1 or some other virus.
Anyway, that's that. I'll keep following the story as I have opportunity.