Thursday, August 16, 2018

Do you use too many exclamation marks? Stop it!!!

My newest post at Exordium:
In Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, Katherine Bindley writes of the debate over whether exclamation marks are overused. It is an issue teachers in particular should read, they being among the most cavalier of exclamation mark users. 
How many times have you seen a note from a teacher that reads, “You did a great job!!!” or “It’s so good to have you in the class!!!” “Awesome!!!”
Let’s admit it: There are some teachers who end literally every sentence with an exclamation mark. 
It isn’t as if we are more enthusiastic than we used to be. John Keilman at the Chicago Tribune writes: 
This grammatical sea change has been a rough transition for a lot of us old timers, given that our teachers trained us to regard exclamation points as the Donald Trump of punctuation: loud, overbearing and best endured in small doses. Using them for anything but the most passionate interjection was the sign of a lunatic or an airhead. 
But oh, how times have changed!!!
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

What #Putin is Doing and what the West is Not Doing At All

My newest post at Intellectual Takeout:
This weekend's Wall Street Journal featured an interesting article about Hungary, a former Soviet bloc country that fled to NATO after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and is now moving closer to Putin's Russia. As the article mentions, it is one more example of the break up of the Cold War anti-Soviet alliance, and another diplomatic victory for Putin.
But more importantly, it returns us to the issue of why it is that the West is experiencing this long, slow breakup--and what Putin is doing right.
Here is what Putin is doing right and what the West is--not doing wrong--but not doing at all: First, he is providing his people with a transcendent meaning and purpose through an official religion, that of Christianity, while the West thinks it can keep cultural cohesion through meaningless secular liberal abstractions.
Read the rest here.

Monday, August 13, 2018

#Science 's Useful Fallacy

My article in the most recent Classical Teacher magazine:
The expression “the science is settled” has been invoked as a way to end numerous discussions of scientific importance. On issues involving evolution, dietary science, or exercise physiology, it is not uncommon for one side to claim that the research has settled the issue. But, however much evidence there may be for any particular scientific theory, is the science of it ever really “settled”? 
Although many scientists don’t like to hear it, the nature of scientific reasoning itself prevents any scientific theory from ever being settled. The problem of the level of certainty in scientific judgments goes much deeper than any specific issue. It has to do with the very kind of logic science must employ in order to come to its conclusions. To put it bluntly, scientific reasoning is based on a logical fallacy, and because of this fact, science is never settled. 
...The fact that the chief mode of scientific reasoning is a fallacy is not an excuse for dismissing science. Far from it. But it should be a lesson to us that, though certain theories may be said to be well-established, the findings of science are always to some extent tentative.
Read the rest here.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Three Classical Terms

My article in the most recent issue of the Classical Teacher magazine:
I have given many speeches and written many articles on the subject of what classical education is. One of the things I have realized in doing so is that, among the many impediments to understanding what classical education is, there is the simple problem of the lack of clarity in the words we use to talk about it. There are three terms that those of us involved in classical education like to throw around, terms we sometimes use interchangeably and simultaneously or in some other way that obscures their meanings. 
We are in no danger of being arrested by the language police over this, but our approach to classical education and our execution of it depend on our understanding of what these terms mean and how they are distinct. 
The three terms are: “classical,” “liberal arts,” and “humanities.”
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wynton Marsalis: Hip-hop "is more damaging than a statue of Robert E. Lee"

Where are the demonstrations? Where are the grandstanding politicians?
Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis didn’t hold back during a new interview in which he discussed the impact rap music has had on the Black community. He believes hip-hop is more damaging to African-Americans than statues of the confederate leaders who fought to preserve slavery.

In a recent interview with journalist Jonathan Capehart on his Cape Up podcast, Marsalis shared that he’s never been fond of the vulgarity some rappers spew on the microphone.

“My words are not that powerful. I started saying in 1985 I don’t think we should have a music talking about ni**ers and b*tches and h*es. It had no impact. I’ve said it. I’ve repeated it. I still repeat it. To me, that’s more damaging than a statue of Robert E. Lee.”

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Is the #Bible is one of the 21 most overrated #books ever?


A new article in GQ lists the "21 most overrated books ever." Of the 21 books GQ lists that aren't worth reading, one of them is the Bible. It's enough to make you wonder if GQ is a magazine worth reading.

The Bible gets the boot, along with Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea and Farewell to Arms, Cormack McCarthy's Blood Meridian, David McCullough's John Adams, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, and the book that British readers voted the best book of the twentieth century, Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

As an act of literary vandalism, the article isn't exactly convincing. In some of their complaints, the authors (the apparently culturally illiterate GQ editorial staff) sound like women's studies professors having a bad hair day (some of the books are "sexist")--or like Jesse Jackson on, well, any day (some are "racist"). It adds, "but most are just really, really boring."

Say this for the Visigoths: At least they didn't pretend they were pursuing some high-mined ideological agenda when they helped destroy civilization, nor did they find what they were vandalizing to be particularly "boring."

In each case, GQ recommends another, usually more obscure book to read for each of the classic books it denigrates.

Old Man and the Sea is to be replaced by The Summer Book by Tove Jansson, a "series of vignettes about a grandmother and granddaughter living on a remote Finnish island." I'm sure it is good--as far as books about remote Finnish islands go. 

And displacing Blood Meridian is The Sisters Brothers, the New York Times #1 bestseller (not really) by Patrick deWitt, about two hired killers in the Old West--but an Old West, we can be sure, sanitized of racism and sexism.

Instead of the Bible? The new-wave European Notebook by Agota Kristof. If you've never heard of it, don't worry. You're not alone. But among GQ editors, it's all the rage.

And even though their unwanted list happily includes two J.D. Salanger books, they make the mistake of admitting that they actually enjoyed them in school. Never trust anyone who liked Catcher in the Rye. Even in school.

The article is written in a tongue-in-cheek tone, but still, an article like this makes you wonder whether you can trust GQ on anything. The magazine is, according to the its online self-portrait, devoted to men's fashion, style, grooming, fitness, and lifestyle.  Given the bad taste evinced here, can you even trust these people on men's fashion?

Soon they'll be trying to bring back ... wait. They are! Wallabees? Seriously? 

All in all, the GQ editors find that the body of great Western literature is just too filled with "rigid masculine emotional landscapes," "misogynistic gender roles," and "masculine bluster." I'm guessing that if the editorial staffs for GQ and Ms. magazines were secretly switched one day, no one would ever notice.

Except the Ms. editors would at least have enough fashion sense not to think that donning wallabees was a particularly compelling fashion statement.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

I will be speaking at the CiRCE Institute's liberal arts conference in Louisville May 18-19


 The Fruitful Garden

I will be speaking at the CiRCE Institute's regional conference in Louisville on the liberal arts on May 18-19, along with Chris Perrin, Professor Carol and Hank Reynolds, Adam Andrews, Brian Philips and Matt Bianco. It's at the historic Seelbach Hotel. Check it out.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Classical Education is More than a Method: The Secondary Place of Dorothy Sayer's Trivium



My article in the newest Classical Teacher is now up at the Memoria Press website: "Classical Education is More than a Method: The Secondary Place of Dorothy Sayer's Trivium."

If you were to ask most classical educators what classical education is, you would find them hard-pressed to give a short, coherent answer. That is the way with a lot of movements: It’s easy to get swept up in the enthusiasm, but when asked to formulate what it is that excites you, it’s hard to articulate.

But when you can get an answer to the question, “What is classical education?,” it is almost always in terms of Dorothy Sayers’ trivium, her three “states of development”—the grammar stage, the dialectic stage, and the rhetoric stage. These together, we are told, are what constitute a classical education.

The origin of this conception of classical education can be found in a speech Sayers gave to students at Oxford University during a vacation term in 1947, titled “The Lost Tools of Learning.” Despite the lack of attention paid to it at the time or in the succeeding decades, its republication in Douglas Wilson’s 1991 book, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, made it a rallying cry for thousands of classical home and private schools across the country.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

This Just In From the Cultural Authorities: "Civilization" a Bad Word

A new update of Kenneth Clark's famous "Civilization" mini-series turns Clark upside down.

Kenneth Clark's "Civilization" mini-series, produced by the BBC and aired on American public television in 1969, celebrated the Western art and culture it depicted and explained. The show was one of the most widely watched and re-aired shows of its kind at the time, and is still discussed today, almost fifty years after its television debut.

In fact Clark, the famous British art critic who hosted the original show, was unambiguous about why he was doing the show in the first place. According to Eric Gibson, who reviewed public television's new update of the show, Clark "developed his series as a response—even a rebuke—to those 'advanced thinkers [of his time]…who have begun to question if civilization is worth preserving."

One wonders what he would say of the new show.

Called "Civilizations" (note the additional 's' in the title), the new program isn't nearly as keen as Clark was on the civilization on which it purports to be describing. Rather than focus on Western civilization, which apparently fallen into disrepute by the cultural philistines who run things like public television, the new show takes a "global approach."

Says Gibson, the very word "civilization" is now politically charged, "implying as it does hierarchies of achievement and value judgments, not to mention its opposite: barbarism."

That someone would say that our culture is better than any other or that some other culture is deficient in some way is the kind of thing that causes fainting spells among our intellectual class. They have reached such a high level of cultural sophistication that they can now declare that all cultures are good--except the one they live in.

But this is the thing about those who pretend to be value-neutral: The very moment after congratulating themselves on the fact they they don't make judgments, the contradict themselves.

"But there is one respect in which “Civilizations” is decidedly not value-free," says Gibson, "and that is in its attitude toward the West. If there are any barbarians in this series, they are the denizens of Europe, who are nearly always depicted as racists, conquerors, looters, slave owners, colonialists and originators of the lurid 'male gaze' in art."

No viewpoint is better than any other (except your own). There are no barbarians (except the people you don't like).

And as we might expect from the postmodernist cultural elites, there is a bias against traditional religion: "The history of Christianity is recounted variously as propaganda or 'a blood sacrifice' along the lines—and I’m not making this up—of the Aztecs’ ritual practices."

Are we supposed to take that as a slight on Christianity, which these people hate? Or as a PR upgrade for the Aztecs who, being indigenous Americans, are a privileged race? It is hard to tell.



As Gibson points out, all fifteen episodes of the original "Civilization" series are on Youtube. If you want an account of our civilization by someone who is on the side of civilization, you'd best go there.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Villa of the Papyri

The following is my Letter from the Editor in the spring, 2018 issue of The Classical Teacher:
In 79 A.D., the catastrophic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in eastern Italy covered nearby towns in ash and completely buried many of them. Accounts of the ancient eruption paint a horrific scene: Volcanic pumice rained from the skies and waves of searing hot gas and debris swept over the nearby landscape. Thousands died where they stood, and others fell while in flight.
One of the towns that was buried in the eruption was Herculaneum, which at the time was a popular vacation spot for wealthy Romans. According to some historical accounts, Julius Caesar‘s father-in-law, Calpurnius Piso, owned an elaborate seaside villa in the town. He is reputed to have had one of the great libraries of ancient times.
For almost seventeen centuries the ancient town lay in darkness underground. Excavations of Herculaneum were conducted in the mid-eighteenth century, and Calpurnius Piso’s villa was located. But nearby landowners put a stop to the excavation, and the location was forgotten.
Then in the 1980s excavations were begun again, and special attention was given to Calpurnius’ villa. When excavators began their work they discovered numerous statues and other works of art, many of them in pristine condition.
Then they began to discover something else—scrolls, some of them in the boxes in which they had been placed for transportation during the panic, others littered on the floor. The scrolls were carbonized by the intense heat of the gas from the volcano and solidified into stone. They began to call Calpurnius’ Villa the Villa of the Papyri.
With the development of modern multi-spectral imaging, the burnt scrolls are just beginning to be deciphered. Some scholars are holding their breath over the works of philosophy and literature that might come to light, many of them unknown or lost. We only possess a small fraction of the works of ancient times. St. Augustine cites Cicero‘s Hortensiusas a formative book in his thinking, but all we know of it is what he and a few others quoted in their works. The vast majority of the works of the Greek tragic poets—AeschylusSophocles, and Euripides—were lost long ago.
Could these works lie hidden in ash in the library of Calpurnius Piso? It is exciting to think that they might.
But while we yearn for the discovery of heretofore lost works, what are we doing to learn the ones that have been preserved, and which we have yet to read? Are they not as much lost to us as the works in the Villa of the Papyri? Shouldn’t we wonder as much at the works we have but do not know as at the prospect of the discovery of others?
The treasury of our culture may be missing important things, but it is rich nevertheless. And in many ways, too, this treasury has been covered up by time and neglect. It has been buried in disinterest and distraction and hidden by layer upon layer of modern educational fads and gimmicks.
The work of classical education is to excavate the deep and rich tradition of wisdom and virtue that lies at our very feet, and to decipher the scrolls we have had all along.
We don’t need a spade or multi-spectral imaging. We don’t even need to go to Italy. The works are here at our fingertips. All we need to do is take the trouble to read them.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

As it turns out, the debate over SB 48 had nothing to do with #childbrides at all

WDRB's story about the passage of SB 48 today, a hearing in which I testified in favor of the bill which the Family Foundation had an important part in strengthening:

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- A bill designed to prevent Kentucky’s children from getting married at a young age passed a key hurdle Tuesday in Frankfort. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill 10-0.
Currently, Kentucky has no minimum age limit for marriage, but anyone under 16 must have permission from a judge.
Senate Bill 48 -- known as the Child Bride Bill -- raises the legal age of marriage in Kentucky without parental consent to 18, and officials won't be able to issue marriage licenses to anyone under the age of 16 regardless of parental approval.
Read the rest here.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

The Carnival of Absurdity on #SB48



Yesterday, the Courier-Journal wrote an error-filled article titled "Kentucky's 'child bride' bill stalls as groups fight to let 13-year-olds wed." Its author, Deborah Yetter, a liberal writer for the paper, took what seemed to be all of the wild rhetoric of some supporters of the bill, and enshrined them in a news story. Then the story was taken by national newspapers and broadcast all over the country.

Not only was the title blatantly false to the point of being scurrilous, but the story itself blatantly misrepresented the Family Foundation's position on SB 48. 

"A bill to make 18 the legal age for marriage in Kentucky has stalled in a Senate committee amid concerns about the rights of parents to allow children to wed at a younger age, according to several lawmakers," says Yetter. And good luck trying to correct this falsehood, given that Yetter contacts the Family Foundation office only about an hour and 15 minutes before she posts her story and is then able to write "Family Foundation Executive Director Kent Ostrander did not respond to requests for comment."

Nice.

She never attempted to call me (which she's done frequently in the past), who was the one handling communications on this issue.

First of all, this bill does not ban child marriages if by that anyone means the prohibiting all marriages of minors. It allows 17 year-olds to marry under certain conditions. The only debate was over what those conditions were. The Family Foundation wanted to keep current provisions that allowed parents to consent and opposed taking away the right of all parents, bad and good, and handing it to judges.

The Family Foundation has always supported the provisions in the bill that prevent children under 17 from marrying. The only issue with the bill was that it took away parental consent in the case of 17 year-olds and gave it to the very judges who, we now know (if all the rhetoric about the crisis of child marriages is to be believed) were allowing children under 16 years-old to get married (Under KY law, only a judge can do this).

Second, the Foundation just asked the chairman for a week to fix this problem. He recognized that the concerns were reasonable and was kind enough to do this. And we never asked that it be delayed past the first week. In any case, I believe we are going to see an improved bill come out of the committee next week.

The Foundation never said anything publicly about the bill until inaccurate stories like Yetter's hit the web, after which it became imperative to correct the misapprehensions that were on the loose. It didn't even lobby against the bill, with the exception of conversations that were had with three or four committee members, none of whom were asked to vote against the bill, since negotiations were still happening.

But the carnival of absurdity that the talk surrounding this bill has engendered is a wonder to behold.

Partly thanks to the Courier-Journal's ethically-challenged journalism, people think the opposition to the bill is about whether 13 year-olds can marry. 

Seriously.

Of course, it doesn't help that nobody who thinks they are qualified to comment on this online bothers to know the facts, read the bill, or even understand the legislative process (the bill was never "killed" as some online sites reported). 

Inaccuracy and bias is not something the CJ has ever shied away from. But they've almost outdone themselves this time.