Lancet Letter – City Magazine’s take.
Steve Fromholz died in a hunting accident this week-end. One of the Austin songwriters of the seventies, Fromholz perfected a kind of tough lyricism. The laconic irony was caught in a tag from that time – “a rumor in his own time.” But he was a rumor with legs. His influence on the next generation is obvious in works like Lovett’s.
Fromholz was named poet laureate of Texas in 2007, four years after he’d suffered a stroke and then retrained himself in his art. Perhaps best known for the narrative precision of the Texas Trilogy, which captures the tough (and often rewarding) life of ranching in dry places. Here is a version of the lyrics. It’s hard to get some of those lines out of your head; they reverberate because they work, somehow, intensely; they give us a warm strength (“and cattle is their game and Archer is the name they give to the acres they own . . .”) thinking of those resilient characters.
Another obit. And another.
Lovett saw him as mentor and they share that ranching/literary background.
I don’t know much about Bowdoin. This seems, unfortunately, to be expected. I like the donor’s response – the president’s petty grandstanding is an overreach that motivates. Smugness enrages.
Today we skim over Longfellow, but once readers looked forward to his next narrative poem as an event. Longfellow also took academia and his languages seriously – developing a modern language program at Bowdoin; Harvard then drew him away to develop a similar program for them and he did. As we read a poem or two, I mention his Morituri Salutamus. Longfellow’s theme is similar but he hasn’t the power of Tennyson’s Ulysses. However this occasional poem is personal; his classmates, the classes of 1824 and 1825, at Bowdoin were some of his closest friends all his life. While he was the most popular American poet, a classmate and friend was Hawthorne. The novelist also remained intensely grateful and loyal to Franklin Pierce; a friendship begun at Bowdoin lasted until Hawthorne’s death. A fourth gained his fame more indirectly: Calvin Stowe’s interest in theology was shared with the famous Beecher family; his wife became a novelist with the broad audience Longfellow found. Clearly all were shaped by those years at Bowdoin.
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Heather McDonald discusses the choices in job-rich (& self-reliant fly over) Idaho. My syllabus argues if students find themselves not doing the readings, they should probably rethink taking my class. Our lives are enriched by scholarship at certain ponts – at others, it can be a distraction from living. Perhaps lectures are difficult to follow, I observe, because of dehydration after a night in Northgate’s bars. But I’m serious, offering a couple of anecdotes – like a student whose 48 hours of F’s in their teens were followed by life; he came back in his forties, ending with a Ph.D. Unusual, but not all that rare. Neither those bars nor classes slept through are useful ways to spend years of intensity, energy, growth. And, even at our bargain prices, this wastes money.
A student this semester said that paragraph may have led to drops. Well, okay, the purpose is to wake them up – so they don’t drift through another class, getting an untransferable grade. I counseled too many students on their fourth semester of such work.
The musings on the random and tragic nature of life remind us of how little we know – and control. But it reminded me of the marketing of a step toward more control: how good are the DNA products? My daughter’s friend, visiting for Thanksgiving, sent her spit to 23andme. The results included a genetic tendency toward weight-related diseases, which led her to a diet and gym membership. Not surprisingly, it linked her with her mother, but also with a cousin neither she nor her mother knew existed. They met, looked each other over, compared notes: they were cousins.
Anyway, she sat in our living room flipping through her smart phone (it gives monthly updates); she was vulnerable to diabetes but less so to Parkinson’s. Genetic weaknesses are becoming obvious as we near retirement; unfortunately, we learn our vulnerabilities at every office visit.
Still, has anyone done this or similar ones? How accurate, how useful, and how much does this (or do others) add to the cloud-knowledge of genes & disease? (Other friends used a different site, but learned what human history would say – that they were both from England and before that Africa.)
Of course, whether it is worth the money or not, whether it is accurate or not, ignores the big question: does such knowledge lead us to believe we have an autonomy still not – never will be – ours? Will knowing more of “who we are” mislead or arm us?
Dave Brubeck, whose music’s wit so delighted my parent’s generation – died at 91. He reminds us of another era, when smoking meant subtle lights in a dimmed room and when pauses spoke as couples in quiet clubs paid thoughtful respect to a music that moved and innovated and then returned to its roots before launching out, reaching out, again.
The obituaries seem fewer – he played long into a different culture. But Brubeck and Theolonious Monk and Jerry Mulligan were the sound tracks of the Baby Boomers’ parents and remind us of a vision that took notes, creating again and again a new order, a new beauty. Improvisations are grounded on Youtube: the interaction between musicians and an engaged audience lost, they remain to explain that time and those people. As the sixties became the seventies, we thought the fifties plastic, conformist, simple. All those vinyls my father loved remind us it was more complicated than we knew – perhaps because they were, themselves, like the music -laconic, cerebral even. Elvis and the Beatles, rock and country – for decades they all lived side by side with Brubeck.
This was a comment that got out of hand. It is not a great point, but I do think that some of the academic response to – well, everything – is at once more complicated and simpler than sometimes posited here.
Sure, academia is turf building – and this really didn’t happen until faculty moved from teaching 3-5 classes at all levels to only teaching upper level and teaching 1-2 a semester. (And we probably don’t want to get into “Studies” and “Centers”.) You don’t have time to build turf with the old loads. We certainly don’t at our jr college, where everyone but administrators teach 5, all teach mostly freshmen, and even departmental administrators (to departments of 100 in schools of 13,000 students) teach a class or two and have no secretaries. (I will say that we are an unusually hard-working or, perhaps, an unusually hard-worked campus, but we appreciate one another. We have to – nor do we give “walks”: if we are in the hospital, someone covers.)
Research university faculty sometimes loses its ability to communicate with generalists, let alone freshmen. Intense publish or perish standards sometimes led to superficiality and new theories for the sake of “newness.”
I would argue, though, that Schumpeter’s theory, as I understand it, does have remarkable relevance. So does modern criticism’s alienation from the Scottish common sense guys and alignment with Rousseau: they are Luddites who fear change. The word progressive to describe such thinkers is preposterous.
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“They” say Romney is grasping at straws; another “they” says Obama spends far too much time in some states to indicate those electoral votes are safely tucked away. I have no idea; I know what I want to believe. And it isn’t my impression people are flocking to become Democrats.
I remember 1972, though, and despite the impending landslide few candidates acted with greater insecurity. (1960 might – understandably – have prompted paranoia.) Just saying.
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“Third party payer systems are always inflationary.” Steyn points to one of those truisms Obama seems to have never understood. Subsidiarity is another. Someone from Romney’s background knows that – knows efficiency, responsibility, community – with every fiber of his being because this is his life – as Shannon so solidly summarizes below. It isn’t just that Obama doesn’t take care of his blood relations and Romney has long stretched that responsibility out to increasingly large communities. He knows what fulfills him and what works. He probably also thinks it is good. What are we doing with a president that can’t even imagine such responsibilities?
I want to hear my president talk and to have a sense that he doesn’t see
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Our culture has developed restraints and rewards for maturity. Robinson’s letter to those on the Mayflower noted that as important as not “giving offense” was not taking it. We know the litigious mind – often the goal is less money than moral power. We hear the tattle tale sister, the battles over space and goods of pre-schoolers. We’ve sublimated the healthy desire for justice into our judicial system and have grown out of the petty battles of childhood. Maturity comes when we move responsibility into ourselves as often and much as possible. What others think or have or do isn’t important – the choices we make to build our lives is.
The great gift of our tradition is individualized responsibility. (Look at how Winthrop or Bradford accepted material hierarchies but consistently saw souls as equal; a community bound by the ligaments of love was likely to have unevenly proportioned parts, but the toe was no less a part of the whole than the heart.) Individualized responsibility also comes from our belief in the universal spirit – influencing much else in our country’s history. A century or two passed and these beliefs were give a form more political than theological and defined as inalienable rights.
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Reynolds’ tone is usually light, a bit ironic; this entry has trouble reaching that objectivity – but I assume someone whose day job is explicating the Constitution (or who knows history) may have trouble achieving distance. Hell, I teach a couple of the Federalist Papers and do. Of course, spending the summer acccidentally watching a lot of WWII propaganda movies hasn’t helped. (Last night was The White Cliffs of Dover.) Or maybe it has. History repeats and repeats – and it only takes a generation or two to educate Airheads who don’t know the history of their grandparents, let alone any farther back.
Anyway, if we re-elect this guy, we have proven that we don’t know our history, we don’t know history, and we don’t know ourselves. That is clearly true of the execrable journalists. The Boomers are getting old; we remain divided. But do any of us think that this is the way a great country acts? Do any of us think the obsession not with what Romney said nor with what Obama did and did not say but rather with the gotcha questions appropriately represented this country’s values?
(I don’t know what the “Just Unbelievable” category is really supposed to be – if it doesn’t fit, Jonathan, change it and take out this line. On the other hand, what better sums it up? Don’t talk to me about Japanese internment. I don’t want to defend it, but I can – that was human nature. This is the nature of a police state.)
Borlaug saves, Greenpeace kills.
I’m not sure if the left’s “not getting” Eastwood was just their lack of humor (and its harder to laugh when your own ox is being gored). Some may be generational. My husband and I looked at each other uneasily as he began. Soon, we laughed out loud. Simplifying the choice – did Obama’s approach work or didn’t it – is an old man’s pragmatism. And we are getting old. Also, we remember Newhart’s telephone routines fondly. That helped.
Television may be a blip in the history of popular culture. Instapundit links to Chris Hayes’ speculation that lower viewership comes from the popularity of other options: C-span, YouTube and even network streams. Certainly fewer watch the networks. But it’s been 60 years of a communal culture and clips will long rattle around. Pop culture reflects, but it also molds. Shakespeare brilliantly defined character but also the Tudors. Lincoln may not have found the King of Siam’s elephants helpful, but, in a less fascinating display of universal human nature, Uncle Tom’s Cabin usefully countered the desire in British mill towns to send ships and supplies to the Confederacy. Any political group that abdicates that ground has left themselves vulnerable.
A brief personal take on the Republican Convention.
I’m uncomfortable with sentimentality and had papers to grade, so I let it run in the background – but, the melody began to command notice; slowly the harmony became familiar. The melody was old and lovely. It interweaves family, friends, faith – the tribal, the communal, the sacred. Proportions vary as all join the vocational, the work we love because it is purposeful. That wasn’t just Romney nor Ryan – it was Martinez and Rubio, Rice and Christie, speaker after speaker.
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This is difficult territory. But someone I deeply respect, whose background is evangelical, said he saw abortion in about any circumstances as deeply wrong; he’s also voting for Obama. The schism between sides may mean he hasn’t been exposed to audios like those linked above. Or he doesn’t want to know. So, this is difficult because that Illinois hearing and its transcripts define an in-your-face position.
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Ginny, a colleague of mine, invited me to read the posts related to Pussy Riot and contribute to the discussion from my perspective as a non-Russian, ROCOR priest’s wife. I’ve learned a lot from what I’ve read, and do not in any way consider myself an expert on Russia or on Orthodoxy (after 15 years, I’m still working at praying with my heart and mind at the same time), but thought I might be able to provide some useful clarification and/or complication to the ongoing discussion.
RE: the position of the young women during their protest, and whether or not this constitutes “prayer.”
There’s been quite a bit posted about this already; the women are standing immediately in front of the royal gates of the central iconostasis of the church—a place generally reserved for clergy. Lay people only approach this part of the church when they are about to receive communion or be ordained, married, or buried. Thus, their very location in the church is provocative. Adding to this is the fact that they are facing the “wrong” direction (their making prostrations facing the people rather than the altar has been called “idolatry” by some.) Lay people (all of the time) and clergy (the majority of the time) face East—looking at the iconostasis which separates the “high place” (where the altar—which typically contains relics of saints—and the reserved sacrament are located). Even when the Epistle is being read, the reader faces East—away from the people. The exceptions to this are the reading of the Gospel by the priest (or deacon) which is done facing the people, and the dismissal blessings given by the priest. (Obviously, the priest also faces the people when communing them.) Thus, by their very position and the direction they were facing, these women violated the use of that space in significant ways. If they were not intending to “offend” Orthodox Christians, they chose an odd way to show it.
Audible, public prayer in an Orthodox service is formal and “set.” After all, the liturgy most often used is St. John Chrysostom’s—from the 4th century. This is not to say that there is no place for extemporaneous prayer in church—but private prayers are inaudible—prayed silently. Worship is communal work; it is not about expressing oneself. Whether or not one wants to consider the actual text of the song a prayer, within the context of an Orthodox church—whether or not a formal service was being offered at that time—it would be asking a great deal to expect an Orthodox Christian to consider their action a prayer.
RE: Orthodox prayers for political leaders
I am neither qualified nor desirous of judging the appropriateness of Patriarch Kirill’s relationship with Putin. I do think that when a church appears to publicly endorse a political regime, it risks becoming a legitimate site of political protest (and I wouldn’t have had a problem if PR had protested in front of the cathedral rather than in front of the iconostas). The only point I’d like to clarify here is that prayer for a political leader does not equal endorsement of his or her policies. It is standard in the litanies of Orthodox services to pray for both the leaders and military of the country to which the church belongs. This (I think) is more rightly understood as a prayer requesting God to act as He will regarding the political and military regimes of a country—or that they act in a way which God CAN bless—rather than a prayer demanding some kind of divine stamp of approval.
Without entering the debate about the degree to which Russia is an Orthodox nation, I should simply like to remind readers that hundreds of thousands of clergy and monastics, and tens of millions of Orthodox Christians were killed in Russia in the 20th century, including one elderly woman who was shot after having been seen crossing herself as a funeral procession went by. Given this fact and its relative historical nearness, God only knows what kind of trauma was experienced by those Orthodox Christians who were present when PR stormed into their place of worship. Their freedom to worship in peace was violated. (I wonder whether those who champion PR’s “rights” to protest Putin’s policies in this context would also champion the Wellsboro Baptists “rights” to protest American policies at veteran’s funerals.)
RE: ROC & ROCOR
Finally, as the wife of an unpaid priest of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, I would entreat readers not to confuse ROCOR with the Russian Orthodox Church. Communion has been restored between ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate, but their material circumstances are vastly different. You are unlikely to find any ROCOR bishops wearing expensive gold watches, and the vast majority of Russian Orthodox Churches in America are ROCOR. And since most ROCOR clergy are unpaid, and so must support themselves with secular jobs in addition to fulfilling their duties as priests, please do not be too surprised if they simply haven’t had the time to follow coverage of the PR controversy or participate in the conversation about it.
VDH – When Land Is History.
My mother and aunt got degrees in home ec. It included science – necessary for balanced meals and understanding fabric. The science wasn’t theoretical, but practical and solid – a good deal more than later generations (like me and my children) took. My father ‘s degree was in civil engineering. Those were popular majors for farm kids at land grant colleges in the thirties. And a good thing it was, too.
Given the dialogue about Ferguson on Kennedy’s post, some might be interested in his discussion of Singer. He spends a lot of time on fabric and clothes – a demand awakened in the nineteenth century and served by a vast new industry. He compares Singer to Marx; neither was an exemplary family man (Singer had 24 children by 5 women and was charged with bigamy); both were Jewish. Actually it seems a fairly strained comparison that can be made of many. I think he just wanted to conclude his paragraph with this: “And, like Marx, he [Singer] changed the world – though, unlike Marx, for the better.” The hundred million dead – ah, that is the one way. 4-H is the other.
I love the juxtaposition – my sister and I have Singer portables that survived WWII, and later times when my mother sewed almost everything we wore. His contrast reverberates: land grant colleges turning out vets and county agents versus Left Bank coffee houses turning out jaded revolutionaries; it is work versus talk about workers, responsibility versus Monday morning quarterbacking, it is the center of a family as it grows around that machine, turning out shirts and dresses and baby clothes. It’s life rather than talking about life.
Well, nothing new here; still, it’s nice to hear truisms characteristic of Charles Murray or Arthur Brooks, ones that honor Friedman and Hayek, rather than theories characteristic of postmodernism or critical race theory.
Tea Partiers want to be left alone – government kept from faith and speech, guns and books. Government restrained from taking property – house or wallet. Anyone who thinks those beliefs don’t have legs isn’t getting my phone calls – the tea party candidate’s supporters in the primary fill the answering machine and from my husband’s relatives fill our in-box. It has legs because this is who we are, or at least want to be: responsible adults, autonomous. Equivalence with the Occupiers misses core differences; Occupiers want what they fantasize the 1% have. We are human – we covet. But Americans haven’t taken to OWS because we aren’t proud of our envy; we prefer grandeur to pettiness.
The Tea Party has roots – aware that restraint of power is difficult, but has a proud American history. Washington’s greatness lay not only in his victories but also his restraint – he refused (as few have) to abuse his power – restraint gained him respect, gave him another kind of power. Respect for flag and country characterizes the tea party; it is respect for a greatness defined by its restraint – recognizing the limits of government when it bumps against man’s intrinsic rights.
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In “Those Sexy Puritans,” Edmund Morgan argues “Puritan theology placed a high value on the affections, specifically on the love that Christ excited in believers.” Noting that “the most intense love that most people knew or felt was sexual,” in Puritan sermons, like Taylor’s poetry, the conversion experience was naturally analogized to marriage. Christ was bridegroom, the bride a believer of either sex (24). Morgan further observes that “In giving meaning to religious experience, sexual union in return acquired a religious blessing. It was, of course, conferred only on sex in marriage. Christ was a bridegroom, not a libertine. But marriage without sex was as hollow as religion without the fulfillment of Christ’s union with the soul” (25). Biology, religion and the practical linkage of family – all reinforced each other, as a mother’s desire to free her heavy breasts keeps her close to and nurturing her child. The physical isn’t opposed to the spiritual; this is no denigration in Puritan thought. To them, God created natural desires that conform to a greater plan – of course, when those desires are willful and alienated, they thwart the plan. Few subscribe to these beliefs now, but entering their world still helps us understand ours.
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As on the Titanic, as on 9/11, and as in Aurora – this is what men do.
My friend plays bridge; she tells me the Soviets banned it. Ah, I thought, bridge is mysterious; why, I asked. But it wasn’t bridge – it was the four or eight or twelve – it was community, sharing an interest, and then companionship. It wasn’t as big as the God the party banned or as intimate as the family nor as public as deadened ideas in factory and academy. But it was one of those pillars Charles Murray describes in Coming Apart whose fall disorganizes and diminishes our lives – and our society. Our desire for them is strong; alienation requires strong dominance, perhaps murder – random and targeted, mass and individual. At first we don’t miss them; now and here, we can choose. We often don’t weight our choices as if they are consequential. But they are.
Government has intruded more in the last four years – will in the next four if Iowatrades has it right. But a half century ago we boomers loftily decided connections were oppressive. Above our water beds, posters quoted Emerson – Whim, yes, that was it. Well that’s part of growing up. Eschewing those conventions, consideration of “others” was hazy. We thought, in Haidt’s terms, with our chimp minds. And that’s pretty much adolescence – chimpdom. Spurning connections – religious love, familial love, communal love, and selfless passion for vocation/avocation – we devalued the hive. And the smallest, the first, hive is family.
Why the large “marriage gap” between Obama and Romney? They share one quality neither is always credited with – consistency of vision. If we see a part we can understand the whole. What they don’t share, of course, are definitions of success or family, government or power, integrity or responsibility. Those multi-generation pictures of the Romneys contrast with Obama’s disinterest even in his half-siblings. He may have a broader definition of community, but it isn’t because he has built on a smaller one. Remember how he described his grandmother – family less a marker than race.
History gives us breadth: people in action on a grand stage, consequential ideas with great if unforeseen consequences; the demographer’s statistics and tables distil huge movements into tables we can wrap our minds around. But literature, whether consciously or unconsciously, whether reporting or reflecting, chooses a smaller stage. But it also catches that universal in a distilled moment – in the feelings of a narrator, a character. It may be anecdotal but it’s anecdotal accessible to our sympathy. How much have we changed between 1650 and 2012? In some ways, a lot. Fogel’s charts demonstrate that. In some ways, not so much. We remain human.
Puritan poets are not everyone’s cup of tea – the plain style helps them age more slowly, but they are still the product of a culture remarkably different from ours – a frontier, theocentric if not theocratic. But a death in the family is always shattering & love for a mate is timeless. I’ll put up the Bradstreet love poems next week, but for today, let’s look at the consolations poets found in their art & their beliefs with the death of children and a spouse. (And the brevity of these children’s lives may help us better understand how large and intimate the changes Fogel describes have been.) Even if their experiences would be uncommon today, parents may still bury children and we find we understand the poet’s feelings (in hearts we recognize at once) and to a lesser degree how they thought (in minds we enter with more difficulty).
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Well the apocalypse may be near. But our generation has been lucky. Maybe we’ve taken from the next – but time and space aren’t zero sum either – we can explore both, fill both.
I haven’t digested Robert William Fogel’s Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100 (his tables alone are beyond me – besides much else). Still, reading him, I pause in delight and gratitude. The very concepts of “premature death,” “wasting,” and “stunting” open windows – time becomes different much as Amerians in the mid-nineeenth century saw their horizons recede & enlarge. It stretched their limbs & imaginations: leaving from St. Louis, they knew some of that land would be theirs – earned by sweat as it never could be in the still feudal worlds some came from. Space liberated them. Fogel describes an enlargement of time – time for us, time with and for our children. He also describes productivity, consciousness – the energy to live fully in that time we’re given (the image of French peasants hibernating in the winters to save food doesn’t leave my mind).
Time is a recurrent literary theme, its fleeting nature the tension of carpe diem. Man’s time countered by redeemed time permeates Eliot’s Quartet, is a mystery in Wallace Stevens and an ache in Frost. Foolishly, we think we can endlessly revise, all is revocable – this permeates Prufrock’s rather inadequate approach. Franklin tells us time is the stuff life is made of – use it. Well, yes, but did he mean what we do? Is it that disconnect that leads us to fragmented training? Dalrymple notes a shallow approach to time (and history) creates a different art.