Tuesday, March 28, 2017
WORTHWHILE READING & VIEWING
Some people find it very upsetting that President Trump likes to put ketchup on steak. (Not something I’d do, but then I never put ketchup on french fries, either…) Matthew Continetti says: It is hard to read stories like these without coming to the conclusion that so much of our elite’s abhorrence of Trump is a matter of aesthetics.
There’s considerable truth in that point, I think. Lead and Gold quotes GK Chesterton: The modern world will not distinguish between matters of opinion and matters of principle and it ends up treating them all as matters of taste. Follow the link to read what L&G has to say about the worship of ‘taste’, using the Bloomsbury group as an example.
Contrary to the socialist promises of making a new man out of the rubble of the old order, as one new stone after another was put into place and the socialist economy was constructed, into the cracks between the blocks sprouted once again the universals of human nature: the motives and psychology of self-interested behavior, the search for profitable avenues and opportunities to improve one’s own life and that of one’s family and friends, through the attempt to gain control over and forms of personal use of the “socialized” scarce resources and commodities within the networks and interconnections of the Soviet bureaucracy.
Traditionally, the “critical” part of the term “critical thinking” has referred not to the act of criticizing, or finding fault, but rather to the ability to be objective. “Critical,” in this context, means “open-minded,” seeking out, evaluating and weighing all the available evidence. It means being “analytical,” breaking an issue down into its component parts and examining each in relation to the whole. Above all, it means “dispassionate,” recognizing when and how emotions influence judgment and having the mental discipline to distinguish between subjective feelings and objective reason—then prioritizing the latter over the former…I assumed that virtually all the readers (of a post on a higher-education website) would agree with this definition of critical thinking—the definition I was taught as a student in the 1980s and which I continue to use with my own students.
To my surprise, that turned out not to be the case. Several readers took me to task for being “cold” and “emotionless,” suggesting that my understanding of critical thinking, which I had always taken to be almost universal, was mistaken.
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
ECONOMIC GROWTH AND THE SPIRIT OF DEBATE
Writing in the WSJ, Naftali Bennett takes on the question of what is the “secret educational ingredient” that accounts for Israel’s dramatic economic success. While agreeing with others that good schools are a part of it, he also assigns credit to “a parallel education system that operates alongside the formal one. This is where our children learn to become entrepreneurs.”
And what are the components of this parallel education system? He identifies three of them. First, there is “our heritage of debate”…the study of the Talmud. “The meaning of complex texts is debated by students in hevruta–pairs–with a teacher offering occasional guidance..Since the Talmud is one of the most complex legal codes ever gathered, the idea of a verdict is almost irrelevant to those studying. Students engage in debate for the sake of debate. They analyze issues from all directions, finding different solutions. Multiple answers to a single question are common.”
Bennett identifies the second component of the parallel education system as the collection of youth organizations: “Teenagers work closely with younger children; they lead groups on excursions and hikes, develop informal curricula, and are responsible for those in their care. As an 11th-grade student , I took fifth-graders on an overnight hike in the mountains. Being given responsibilities at a young age helped shape me into who I am today.”
The third component is the army: “Consider a hypothetical 19-year-old soldier in the intelligence corps, analyzing aerial photographs or intercepted communications. She must decide if the material in front of her indicates an impending attack or not. This isn’t a rare occurrence. Thousands of Israeli soldiers experience it daily.”
Just a couple of hours after reading the Bennett piece, I encountered this story about Wellesley College:
In an email to fellow faculty yesterday afternoon, a committee of Wellesley College professors made several startling recommendations about how they think future campus speakers should be chosen. If implemented, the proposals by the faculty Commission for Ethnicity, Race, and Equity would have a profound impact on the quality and quantity of voices Wellesley students would be permitted to hear.
FIRE has obtained the email, sent by one of the signatories to a faculty listserv, and republished it in full below.
While paying lip service to free speech, the email is remarkable in its contempt for free and open dialogue on campus. Asserting that controversial speakers “impose on the liberty of students, staff, and faculty at Wellesley,” the committee members lament the fact that such speakers negatively impact students by forcing them to “invest time and energy in rebutting the speakers’ arguments.”
And here we thought learning to effectively challenge views with which one disagreed was an important part of the educational process!
Meanwhile, at the University of Arizona, students who feel offended are being told to say “ouch”…and the student who made the supposedly-hurtful comment is supposed to respond with “oops.” And these two universities are farfrom the only ones adopting such policies.
So if a key part of Israel’s economic success is the training of kids in the skills and attitudes of debate…it would appear that many if not most American universities are doing the exact opposite.
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
AROUND THE WORLD BY ZEPPELIN, IN 1929
In August 1929, the airship Graf Zeppelin set off for a round-the-world flight. Among the 20 passengers on board was Lady Grace Drummond-Hay, whose trip was paid for by the Hearst newspapers and whose assignment was to write about the venture from a woman’s perspective. Lady Hay was somewhat disconcerted to find out that among the other passengers on the trip would be a journalist named Karl Henry von Wiegand, with whom she was deeply in love–Karl having broken off their relationship six months earlier.
Here’s a wonderful pseudo-documentary about the flight, with the story told from Lady Hay’s perspective. I call it a pseudo-documentary because while the film is genuine, the narration is only partly taken from Hay’s articles and letters–part of it was created by the screenwriters—and there is at least one event that was fictionalized. Includes great film footage of New York, Friederichshafen, and Toyko. Very much worth watching.
Friday, March 17, 2017
BOOK REVIEW: THE YEAR OF THE FRENCH (rerun)
(This being St Patrick’s day, I’m again taking advantage of the hook to re-post this review, in the hope of inspiring a few more people to read this incredibly fine historical novel)
Ralph Peters calls this book “the finest historical novel written in English, at least in the twentieth century,” going on to say “except for ‘The Leopard,’ I know of no historical novel that so richly and convincingly captures the ambience of a bygone world.”
In August of 1798, the French revolutionary government landed 1000 troops in County Mayo to support indigenous Irish rebels, with the objective of overthrowing British rule in Ireland. The Year of the French tells the (fictionalized but fact-based) story of these events from the viewpoint of several characters, representing different groups in the complex and strife-ridden Irish social structure of the time.
Owen MacCarthy is a schoolmaster and poet who writes in the Gaelic tradition. He is pressed by illiterate locals to write a threatening letter to a landlord who has evicted tenants while switching land from farming to cattle-raising. With his dark vision of how an attempt at rebellion must end–“In Caslebar. They will load you in carts with your wrists tied behind you and take you down to Castlebar and try you there and hang you there”–MacCarthy is reluctant to get involved, but he writes the letter.
Sam Cooper, the recipient of the letter, is a small-scale landlord, and captain of the local militia. Indigenously Irish, his family converted to Protestantism several generations ago to avoid the crippling social and economic disabilities imposed on Catholics. Cooper’s wife, Kate, herself still Catholic, is a beautiful and utterly ruthless woman…she advises Cooper to respond to the letter by rounding up “a few of the likeliest rogues,” jailing and flogging them, without any concern for actual guilt or innocence. “My God, what a creature you are for a woman,” Cooper responds. “It is a man you should have been born.” “A strange creature that would make me in your bed,” Kate fires back, “It is a woman I am, and fine cause you have to know it…What matters now is who has the land and who will keep it.”
Ferdy O’Donnell is a young hillside farmer on Cooper’s land. Far back in the past, the land was owned by the O’Donnell family…Ferdy had once shown Cooper “a valueless curiosity, a parchment that recorded the fact in faded ink the colour of old, dried blood.”
Arthur Vincent Broome is a Protestant clergyman who is not thrilled by the “wild and dismal region” to which he has been assigned, but who performs his duties as best he can. Broome is resolved to eschew religious bigotry, but…”I affirm most sincerely that distinctions which rest upon creed mean little to me, and yet I confess that my compassion for their misery is mingled with an abhorrence of their alien ways…they live and thrive in mud and squalour…their music, for all that antiquarians and fanatics can find to say in its flavor, is wild and savage…they combine a grave and gentle courtesy with a murderous violence that erupts without warning…”‘
Malcolm Elliott is a Protestant landlord and solicitor, and a member of the Society of United Irishmen. This was a revolutionary group with Enlightenment ideals, dedicated to bringing Catholics and Protestants together in the cause of overthrowing British rule and establishing an Irish Republic. His wife, Judith, is an Englishwoman with romantic ideas about Ireland.
John Moore, also a United Irishman, is a member of one of the few Catholic families that have managed to hold on to their land. He is in love with Ellen Treacy, daughter of another prominent Catholic family: she returns his love, but believes that he is caught in a web of words that can only lead to disaster. “One of these days you will say a loose word to some fellow and he will get on his horse and ride off to Westport to lay an information with Dennis Browne, and that will be the last seen of you”
Dennis Browne is High Sheriff of Mayo…smooth, manipulative, and devoted to the interests of the very largest landowners in the county, such as his brother Lord Altamont and the mysterious Lord Glenthorne, the “Big Lord” who owns vast landholdings and an immense house which he has never visited.
Randall MacDonnell is a Catholic landowner with a decrepit farm and house, devoted primarily to his horses. His motivations for joining the rebellion are quite different from those of the idealistic United Irishman…”For a hundred years of more, those Protestant bastards have been the cocks of the walk, strutting around on acres that belong by rights to the Irish…there are men still living who remember when a son could grab his father’s land by turning Protestant.”
Jean Joseph Humbert is the commander of the French forces. A former dealer in animal skins, he owes his position in life to the revolution. He is a talented commander, but the battle he is most concerned about is the battle for status and supremacy between himself and Napoleon Bonaparte.
Charles Cornwallis, the general who surrendered to the Americans at Yorktown, is now in charge of defeating the French and the rebels and pacifying the rebellious areas of Ireland. Seen through the eyes of a young aide who admires him greatly, Cornwallis is portrayed as a basically kindly man who can be hard when he thinks it necessary, but takes no pleasure in it. “The color of war had long since bleached from his thoughts, and it remained for him only a duty to be scrupulously performed.”
This book is largely about the way in which the past lives on in the present, both in the world of physical objects and the world of social relationships. Two characters who make a brief appearance are Richard Manning, proprietor of a decrepit and debt-laden castle, and his companion Ellen Kirwan:
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
MUSIC REVIEW: THE ROSE OF ROSCRAE
This work by Tom Russell is a highly ambitious album: a song-cycle, practically an opera, whose storyline extends from Ireland to the American West to the island of Molokai, where the priest Father Damien cared for outcast lepers.
In the title song, Johnny Dutton tells of being beaten up by the father of the beautiful 15-year-old Rose (after being caught in the hayloft with her) and making his way from Ireland to the United States, where he planned to live out the dreams he had absorbed from cheap novels of the West.
Johnny works for the legendary rancher Charlie Goodnight, but eventually turns to a life of crime. He is caught and found guilty, but escapes. He is pursued by his nemesis Augie Blood, US Marshal and evangelist, who travels in a prairie schooner (drawn by mules named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) with a cross on the sail and a saloon piano in the back on which he plays gospel tunes.
Will Johnny escape Augie Blood? Will he ever be reunited with the Rose of Roscrae? Will his longing for Ireland ever take him back to the Old Country?
A few of the songs:
He Wasn’t a Bad Kid When He Was Sober. (Russell got a letter from “a rather well-known Western artist” who apparently wanted him to write a song based on “new information that Billy the Kid was a real hero of sorts. A true Irishman and a friend of the Mexican poor.” This song is Russell’s answer)
There are a LOT of performers on this album, in addition to Tom R himself, they include Johnny Cash, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Maura O’Connell, Ian Tyson, and Gretchen Peters. There is even a Swiss Yodel Choir!
When I first heard this album, I liked it but didn’t think it quite measured up to TR’s earlier song-cycle, The Man from God Knows Where(link goes to my review) But The Rose of Roscrae grows on you. An exceptional piece of work, well-worth buying and listening to many times.
The album can be purchased at Amazon. Also available is a bundle which includes the program guide / libretto as well as the album itself.
Sunday, March 12, 2017
A CLASSICAL EDUCATION IN THE AZORES
Here’s a very interesting article by a Portuguese teacher who developed and ran an intensive classical-studies program for high school students in the Azores Islands. Highly recommended.
Tuesday, March 07, 2017
MARK ZUCKERBERG AS POLITICAL AND SOCIAL PHILOSOPHER
History is the story of how we’ve learned to come together in ever greater numbers — from tribes to cities to nations.
As we all know, independence and diversity have always been the enemy of progress.
For example, that’s why Thomas Jefferson wrote The Declaration of Dependence submitting the American colonies to the British Empire.
Similarly, the father of history, Herodotus, wrote to celebrate the mighty Persian Empire’s reduction of the various Greek city-states to a satrapy ruled from Babylon.
Likewise, every year Jews gather to admit that their stiff-neckedness provoked the Roman Empire into, rightfully, smashing the Temple in Jerusalem on the holy day of We-Had-It-Coming.
And, of course, who can forget Shakespeare’s plays, such as Philip II and Admiral-Duke of Medina Sidonia, lauding the Spanish Armada for conquering the impudent English and restoring to Canterbury the One True Faith?
Similarly, Oswald Mosley’s prime ministership (1940-1980) of das englische Reich is justly admired for subordinating England’s traditional piratical turbulence to the greater good of Europe.
Likewise, who can not look at the 49 nations currently united by their adherence to the universalist faith of Islam and not see that submission is the road to peace, prosperity, and progress? If only unity had prevailed at Tours in 732 instead of divisiveness. May that great historical wrong be swiftly rectified in the decades to come!
Zuckerberg’s assertion about history being about “coming together in ever larger numbers”…with the implication that this is inherently in a good thing…is quite reminiscent of the views of Edward Porter Alexander, a Confederate general and later a railroad president…as excerpted in my post What are the limits of the Alexander analysis?
Following his initial snarkiness, Steve Sailer goes on to point out that “consolidation is some times a good thing, and other times independence or decentralization is a better thing. Getting the scale of control right all depends upon the circumstances. It’s usually a very interesting and complicated question that is the central issue of high statesmanship.”
Saturday, March 04, 2017
Don Sensing links his 2014 post: America is adopting the Middle East model, and he’s not talking about Islam but rather about the fact that “At an increasing pace, politics in the West, especially in America, is the surest way to wealth, a 180-out from the West’s history”…but consistent with the way things have worked for millennia in the Middle East.
Anthony Esolen: We are a people now illiterate in a way that is unprecedented for the human race. We can decipher linguistic signs on a page, but we have no songs and immemorial stories in our hearts.