Yesterday I reflected on the conflict I’m facing in light of the revelation that one of the most important influences in my life, a junior high teacher and coach, had been convicted of sexually abusing several minor students. In closing, I wondered how close I came to being one of those victims.
I was a naïve, deeply religious boy. Prosecutors said Mr. C’s dirty jokes and “locker room talk” were “grooming” behavior designed to figure out who might be amenable to his advances. Continue reading →
It’s about tribalism. You cannot work with Trumpists. Period. You must defeat them and then fix the problems that handed them control.
It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into. – Jonathan Swift
Since the moment of Campaign 2016 when it became clear that Donald Trump actually had a chance, a lot of people have done a lot of thinking and pontificating and punditofying and writing and hand-wringing about the reasons for his viability. On one end of the spectrum: Donald gave the drooling, racist, misogynist, xenophobic, ignorant, anti-intellectual, hillbillies a cynical, smirking, dog-whistling charlatan they could line up behind. On the other, we’ve had all manner of thoughtful, complex analyses about how economic anxiety (and utter despair) fueled the rise of a non-partisan populist backlash against a political establishment that has spent decades betraying those it represents.
Both versions are compelling because each was built on a measure of observable truth. Continue reading →
The problems of education, religion, critical thinking, a commitment to the truth, and holding ourselves to a higher standard: creating the mature society won’t be simple.
There is, then, a different question, driven by another thought which is that there is a certain sense of responsibility for the critic – if one is not to be nihilistic or utterly despondent – to suggest if not a way out then at least a sense of what something “better” might actually look like. In particular, here, to ask the question of just what a mature society might look like: what would be the texture of its culture, its mood, its ambition, its practices, its relationships, its preferences, its allegiances? What would it look like as a moral and ethical entity? What would there be about it that the dispassionate mind could admire?
How stupid are Americans, anyway? And how much worse are our leaders?
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) explains climate change
Numerous events and curious beliefs – large and small – caught the eye, even before the election of 2008 and certainly beyond. Consider:
a CNN discussion on October 10, 2005, featuring the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, addressed the subject of whether recent climate events – the Christmas 2004 tsunami in Asia, hurricane Katrina in the late summer of 2005, an earthquake in Asia – actually presaged the end times, the Rapture and the second coming of Christ; Continue reading →
The vascular surgeon who removed my gangrenous gall bladder last month received his early medical training in Lahore, Pakistan. He’s been a member of the medical community in my rural valley for more than three decades.
My primary-care physician for the past 20 years received his medical training in Taiwan. My urologist for a decade was an Iranian-American. The surgeon who removed a subcutaneous growth from my right elbow is a Pakistani-American. So is the internist who treated a pulmonary issue. He’s been here more than two decades.
Those who live in rural areas likely know, or have, doctors with surnames they might think uncommon. Yet all my foreign-born physicians are American citizens with deep ties to the community in which I live. They’ve taken good care of me.
But why have these wonderful doctors settled here, in rural America?
I learned of it from the Facebook page Conservative Daily. To hell with that page, no link. Thanks to my embrace of people at least as good-hearted as me however differently, people of widely differing viewpoints, I have the good fortune of seeing this kind of crap splatter across my screen on a regular basis, like I’ve just flown under a magpie’s flight path at exactly the wrong time.
For the moment, for the point I’m coming to, I actually don’t care if the claims in this particular case are true or not. The truth of the claims is beside the point. Continue reading →
The only thing worse than the willfully ignorant is the legion of apologists enabling them.
Since the election – before, really – we’ve heard a lot of talk about how all those urban liberal elites need to stop being so arrogant and start listening to very real concerns of real Americans in rural flyover values America.
We have more recently begun to see some informed pushback against this silliness self-serving rhetorical engineering masquerading as good-faith socio-political analysis. Now we’ve hit the daily double, though.
While I have listened to (and sung) a lot of holiday music through the years, my little project introduced me to a classic that somehow I had never encountered before, the English traditional “Coventry Carol.” This version, by Darkwave artists Nox Arcana, is by far my favorite for the way in which it captures the interwoven beauty and horror of the Massacre of the Innocents story.
There is beauty in the darkness. This is all I have ever known.
Beauty doesn’t work the same for me as it does for most people. I first started realizing this in Mr. Booth’s (excuse me, Dr. Booth’s) English V class at Ledford High School in 1978 and 1979. I remember two moments distinctly. First, we read “The Eve of St. Agnes,” by Keats. I recall being overwhelmed by a) its darkness, and b) its beauty. This was not a traditional sunny pastoral. It’s a poem of the night, one of mystery and compelling seductive splendor.
Later we read Tennyson’s equally marvelous “The Lady of Shalott.” Again, I was struck by the way in which beauty was interwoven with dark, even sinister themes.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of my reactions to these masterworks, but something was afoot, and when I started writing poetry on my own (as long as we’re on the subject of darkness and doom) it began with a piece called “Octoberfaust,” which I tried to infuse with as much mystery and passionate nocturne as I could muster.
Of course, looking back, my melancholy aesthetic didn’t begin in high school. Continue reading →
Saturday dawned gray, cold, and wet. A light mist eased through the forest at my university. But a day walking in the woods with a camera is a good day, no matter the weather, right?
The university was on holiday break. Students had fled home to give thanks with family and friends. I did, too, but returned early.
The deeply overcast sky dictated a flat, low-contrast aspect to the trees and trails in the forest. I looked down. At least I can shoot leaves, now wet and trodden. I like to shoot leaves. A little Photoshop would add hue and color contrast to them, I thought.
But the gray and the cold and the mist cut into my coat and mind. I shivered. Bummer. A dark day growing darker. Melancholy arrived and tapped on my shoulder. I turned and shuffled back onto the main trail, intent on returning to my truck. My Canon hung unused from its strap around my neck. I hate the interregnum between seasons: no leaves on the trees, no snow on the ground.
Franciscans have walked through these woods for more than a century and a half. Franciscans like nature and apparently thrive in it. They have, over the life of the university, constructed stations of the cross on a circular trail in this forest — Bob’s Woods, named after Fr. Bob Stewart, who died of cancer shortly after my arrival at the university.
I am not a Franciscan. I am not as hopeful as they appear to be. Dank, dark weather like this day’s further eroded my ability to detect hope.
Life is a jest; and all things show it/ I though so once; but now I know it. – John Gay
It’s just words, folks, just words…. – Donald Trump
John Gay (image courtesy Wikimedia)
Friends ask me with some regularity why it is that I spend so much of my free time reading and contemplating and writing about literature. I forswore writing about politics several years ago. (I think it was about 2010 that I gave up trying to say anything useful on the topic. I may have let slip the odd veiled or not-so-veiled reference in the essays I write about literature, but my active days as a critic of this, that, or the other political activity or politician are over.)
Great days – or if the Chinese curse is more apt, interesting days – are upon us, however, and while I can and do find comfort at times in Lord Byron’s flippancy:
I would to heaven that I were so much clay, As I am blood, bone, marrow, passion, feeling— Because at least the past were passed away— And for the future—(but I write this reeling, Having got drunk exceedingly today, So that I seem to stand upon the ceiling) I say—the future is a serious matter— And so—for God’s sake—hock and soda water!
I find that as I contemplate the changes likely to be wrought in my country with the election of the author of one of the epigraphs that begin this essay, that I must find more – and healthier – consolations than the one the 6th Baron of Newstead Abbey proposes.
With the way things have progressed recently, I have been feeling ever so worse than usual, and it was already pretty rough being me. People don’t know the things that eat at me. If they did, they would wonder how I could sleep at night. All they know is the image that I give them when I hold my head up high every day. All they know is what they believe of me. God bless them, so many of them seem to think the world of me. If only they knew. And then there’s the mockery. That really tears at me because it’s so much closer to who I truly am. I feel like a fraud, a fake, a phony. I feel like I have great talents, and so much to offer to the world, but then so many things I’ve done have gone wrong. I’ve had great responsibility and failed it time and again. I feel like I’ve been advanced way beyond my competence and my expertise. When that has happened before, people died. How many more must die? Continue reading →
“It can never be said…. Because there’s no guide for the search and no definition for the thing found. There’s only the necessity…for man to go beyond himself, to go beyond reason, even beyond truth….” – Dana Burnet
Nicolai Gogol (image courtesy Wikimedia)
This, volume 6 of The World’s 100 Best Short Stories, has as its theme courage. I think that it’s the most frustrating volume of this collection that I have yet read. (With the exception of a classic tale by Gogol, none of the stories are memorable.) When I was searching for a quote, for example, to use as sub-heading, I probably spent the better part of two hours fumbling through the volume trying to find any quote that would work as a stand-alone. I had hoped to use a quote from the Gogol classic, “The Cloak” (you likely know it by its more common English translation, “The Overcoat”) mentioned above. No luck – whether it was the translation or the late hour when I was searching, no usable quote appeared from the only canonical author in this volume.
So I find myself using a quote from a popular author of the time, one Dana Burnet.
And here we go. You may, at this point, like those guys in Holden Caulfield’s Oral Expression class, begin yelling “Digression!”- but, as Holden says, “I like it when somebody digresses. It’s more interesting and all.”
I couldn’t find a picture of Dana Burnet. Burnet was a highly successful writer who wrote for Broadway and for Hollywood (including at least two screenplays for Jimmy Stewart movies). And so you see a picture of Nicolai Gogol.
Because you can’t find Dana Burnet’s picture. On the freaking Internet. Continue reading →
“…silent was the entire dark, deserted house.” – Leonid Andreyev
Leonid Andreyev (portrait by Ilya Repin – courtesy Wikimedia)
This third installment in this series of essays (volume 1 here, volume 2 here) of this Grant Overton edited collection called The World’s 100 Best Short Stories focuses on the theme, mystery. Something that I have been particularly pleased with in these collections (there are ten volumes, each with ten stories) has been that the editor has avoided conventional definitions of each of the genres of writing covered in the series.
Such is the case with the theme of mystery. There are classic examples of the genre, to be sure: Edgar Allan Poe’s “tale of ratiocination,” “The Gold Bug,” is included, as is a classic Wilkie Collins mystery, “A Terribly Strange Bed.” There are “contemporary” examples (remember the publication date, 1927) such as “The Doomdorf Mystery” by Melville Davisson Post and “The Bamboozling of Mr. Gascoigne” by E. Phillips Oppenheim. All of these are entertaining (if slightly creaky in spots) as classics of mystery detection, thriller, or caper account (the Oppenheim story recounts a classic con game, for example). Continue reading →