As I mentioned yesterday, I was on a panel today at a major health group, talking about the creative process. I have no creative process, to be honest, anymore than my father had a gas station operating process. He just went to work and opened the doors and sold gas. I open a blank page and start, well, emitting gas.

It was great fun. The audience was young and mostly female, and apparently “Gattica” came true, because everyone looked fantastic. At the end I got a swag bag.

The big flat item was something of a mystery. We did not know if it was a cutting board, or the world’s worst dustpan. The large round thing with the orange domes is some sort of attention-focussing apparatus for fidgety people - you pop all the orange domes down, but some pop back up before you’re done with all of them, so you have to work fast to succeed. It seems like it increases anxiety. Perhaps that’s the point. You there, Johnson, you look relaxed and complacent. Here, use this. I want to see you twitchy and sweating when I come back in five minutes.

The white thing is a divot of tiny balls. The instructions tell you how to make it hot, or make it cold. So it's for muscle pain? I never now whether I should go hot or cold, so I just daub some salve and tough it out.

Ah, the obligatory mug. You don't want it because you have a dozen in the cupboard, but you can’t throw it out because it’s nice. You can’t give it away at work because everyone at work has 4 mugs, and besides, there’s no one at work. You can give it to the thrift store but even the people who frequent those places have enough mugs. The mug-human ration in the United States is probably 8 : 1.

The white thing with the logo is a phone charger: nice! I have many. I’ll take it to work for a coworker who does not have any. There's a small flashlight, which can be clipped to a backpack, so you're not not caught short if there is an unexpected solar eclipse.

  Oh, I forgot - an eye roller.

Or a device for knocking out teeth or stunning small rodents.

Anyway, it was nice of them to put together a bag, and the cheese plate was fantastic, the facility was great, the people who ran the event couldn't be nicer or more helpful, and the audience was wonderful. I could do that every day.











Peculiar op-ed in the paper last week. It’s by a Boston U prof who also writes breezy, shallow opinion page op-eds. Our headline:

Relax: Shakespeare and Socrates are fine
Alleged abandonment of classics is much ado about nothing. 

The author's framing:

That's from his Twitter feed, which knows how to connect with Kids Today:

College is awesome! I thought my prof would be some old boring dude but he says sucks an’ everything. Love that framing: keeping things private "should be allowed". Well, that’s deucedly generous of you, old top. Anyway: Don’t worry, the classics are still taught. Great! Glad to hear it. I thought there might be a move to displace them with other books, led by people who regard the old canon with a slight sneer. From his piece:

I'm a humanities professor. I teach big survey courses that used to be (and still sometimes are) filled exclusively with the dead, white, godly men of Europe. And even as I try to diversify, to make room for other voices, I remain stunned at the extent to which these authors still structure the national conversation.

National conversation requires glancing knowledge with national culture: more at ten as the story develops.

I’m for expanding the requirements, not swapping out the classics with box-ticking newcomers. Especially when it comes to English majors. The old works are necessary because they are the cultural heritage that formed the West and hence this nation, and understanding of this should be the foundation on which you build your understanding of what followed.

Anyway: don’t worry, canon’s fine, dead white “godly” men continue to dominate. Proof?

The best evidence comes from prestigious publications that to this day give an astounding amount of space — or pixels, I suppose — to Western authors we've been writing about for centuries. The most recent issue of Harper's asks that we rethink Casanova. (Another article in the same magazine in the spring urges us to see W.H. Auden "in a new light.") Two weeks ago, the New York Times breathlessly reported breaking news from the field of Chaucer studies. And the October issue of the New Yorker claims that the 400-year-old John Donne is "more contemporary than ever.”

If these articles drove out other voices, or articles that presented different authors from different cultures, that might mean something, but if you think The New Yorker is in the business of trumpeting Donne and his ilk 24-7, you need to pick up a copy.

As for the “breathlessly reported breaking news” about Chaucer: The NYT hed said “New documents found related to a court case involving Geoffrey Chaucer suggest that it was not a rape case, as had been previously believed.” This isn't arguing about the work or its importance, but probably cleaning up after someone who tried to make their bones taking Jeff down a peg.

The Auden piece was a book review, and a good read, almost a primer of the man and the times for someone who knew nothing or had forgotten what college stuffed in their overfilled brain. A booster shot for cultural literacy.


In continuing to privilege the old classics, journalists make it easier to dismiss other voices as less important — all of which plays right into the hands of the book-banning movement.


Well, I don’t know how many journalists are out there agitating for the restoration of the classics. Second, "privileging"  (a lazy, hollow tic-word that should make an academic’s cheek blush for using the flabby terms of the modish liturgy) the standard works of Western civ does not dismiss others as less important. It is possible to consider them less relevant to the core ciriculuum by a few degrees, but also useful, good, and necessary.

Here we get to the Kendian horror of hierarchies, the existence of which is prima facie proof of racism. (Kendi’s position is self-refuting, since a non-hierarchical society would be better than a hierarchical society, which means there is a hierarchy of societies! But that’s typical of the scrawny ouroboros of his intellectual tautologies.) Within the canon, there are books that are less important. Within the works of Shakespeare, there are plays and sonnets that are less important. There's no monolithic "privilege," and there's debate within the canon.

Also, there is no book-banning movement. There aren’t any brownshirts marching down the street to scour the library for unpopular volumes and toss them in midnight pyres. There is a book-banning impulse that waxes and wanes through the culture, and always has. The bluenoses used to be mad at a licentious text: Banned in Boston! The new class of racial essentialists are mad at “To Kill a Mockingbird” for its white saviourism. But what really agitated parents over the last few years was sexually explicit material aimed at middle schoolers. Can you just not put oral sex tutorials in the library? Is it possible not to do that? And they’re not even trying to get the book banned, as in removed from society. Just not in the middle-school library. Okay?

If anyone’s banning books, it’s the cawing flock of online harpies who alight on any new YA novel and flense the body until they can pull out a small bone of sin and proclaim it’s the spine. You can’t write about these people. You can’t write about another culture’s food. You can’t inhabit the body of someone whose gender is different from your own. You can’t write about their history. So the book gets cancelled. Not exactly banning, but closer than a Soccer Mom who wants “Gay Sex for Tweeners” placed in the only-by-request drawer.

So let's stop trying to rescue Socrates. And Shakespeare, Chaucer, Homer and Proust. Believe me: They're doing just fine.

From a recent survey:

. . . for English majors at top schools including Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, a working knowledge of Shakespeare is no longer required, according to a study published Wednesday.

Indeed, only four of 52 universities and liberal-arts colleges ranked highest by U.S. News & World Report required their English majors to take a class delving into Shakespeare’s comedies, tragedies and historical works, according to the study by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

But relax, they're just fine.

BTW, You get a sense of modern thought in colleges when you see him retweet this:

Sigh. Taken on its own, sure, whatever. But underlying it is something else. Of course, “normal” is not necessarily “good,” because a norm can be bad. "Normal" in terms of physical capabilities is "good" for one’s self, and preferable to a disability. It is better to have two hands than one. But you sense the emanations of a particular penumbra, the modern impulse to reverse the old dogmas so that normal is actually bad, because it has - altogether now, privilege - and disabled is virtuous because it is marginalized. Add to this the other modern desire to invent a new range of disabilities that enhance one’s stature on the intersectional pyramid (the “aneurotypical” non-binary person is more marginalized, and hence more virtuous by way of additional suffering and alienation, than the “neurotypical” non-binary person) and you have a viewpoint that believes one-handedness is elevated in the soicial heirarchy, because two-handed privilege is everywhere you look. 

Thank you for coming to my lecture, and please, no clapping. It's literally violence against the Single-Hand Community.

Oh, one more example of hierachaphobia, or hierarchy-deniers, if you wish:

We are, of course, qualitatively different from "other animals." Sloths do not compose fugues and giraffes do not sent robots to other planets. "Higher than" is a value judgment, but even so, animals do not have moral codes, legal systems, public sanitation works, and other things that seek to elevate the nature of the existence of all. To say they are lower than human beings may provide some with a justification for abuse, but that's like saying it's okay to burn down forests because trees can't understand a joke.

Anyway, don't worry about "godly" Aristotle! He's fine. The font of evil and the father of animal cruelty, but no one's talking about kicking him out of the academy. Today.




It’s 1910.

We're in Carlisle PA, and the paper has quite the modern look. Photos and forward-looking typefaces:

Sad to hear Fickes is Glosing Out.

The men were striking Big Trolley:

Crowds tearing up tracks! We’d be talking about the Republic falling apart if we saw this today.

Of course, they were probably talking about that, then, too.

More on it here in digestible Tweet form.

Challenge accepted! I will!


TEN YEARS OLD. What a gang of JDs.

I'm guessing the 19-year-old was the ringleader. The name does not reoccur in the newspaper archives; none of them do. You wonder if any of them were steered straight.


What he did:

Roosevelt traveled north to embark on a tour of Europe. Stopping first in Egypt, he commented favorably on British rule of the region, giving his opinion that Egypt was not yet ready for independence.

He refused a meeting with the Pope due to a dispute over a group of Methodists active in Rome, but met with Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, King George V of Great Britain, and other European leaders.

In Oslo, Norway, Roosevelt delivered a speech calling for limitations on naval armaments, a strengthening of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and the creation of a "League of Peace" among the world powers. He also delivered the Romanes Lecture at Oxford, in which he denounced those who sought parallels between the evolution of animal life and the development of society.

A complicated legacy, no? Everyone likes to claim TR, and then finds something that makes them say "well, no, not that part."

The Butter Trust made sure these guys paid heavy, and everyone knew it.

Yes, there were laws regulating, and in some cases forbidding, the sale of margarine. God forbid you sold the yellow stuff; they’d come down on you like a hammer.

News from those POS people:


Okay, POSA.

"An able effort." So everyone was twisting in his seat and sneaking peeks at his pocket watch.



We’ll never know the backstory, and perhaps there isn’t one of any consequence, but Frank ruined a lot of lives that day.

What gets into people?


Finally, the stuff that doesn’t fit elsewhere.


Plainer words were never spoken.



That'll do! Now go spend some time with our new friends, the Lucky Couple. It's light-up time!





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