Thursday, February 29, 2024

"Human defectives"

His name is all over Madison. The University has chosen not to remove it from one of its more prominent buildings but, instead, install a plaque. From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this morning:
[Charles] Van Hise received four degrees from UW-Madison, including the first Ph.D. degree granted by the university. He is the university's longest serving leader, serving as president from 1903 until his death in 1918. During his tenure, UW-Madison established a graduate division, founded a medical school and increased its faculty from 200 to 750 professors. ....

[Van Hise's] interest in [eugenics] came from reading Charles Darwin's book, On the Origin of Species. Letters between Van Hise and his wife show he was curious about how to apply the ideas of animal evolution and natural selection to the human race, according to Luccini Butcher.

Van Hise lectured on eugenics, gave public speeches and talked to legislators. In one of his speeches, he said “[h]uman defectives should no longer be allowed to propagate the race" and sterilization "might be the proper method."

In another speech, Van Hise said “[w]e know enough about the breeding of animals so that if that knowledge were applied to man, the feeble minded would disappear in a generation, and the insane and criminal class be reduced to a small fraction of their present numbers.”

Van Hise wasn't the only academic espousing eugenics during this time. Edward Ross, a UW-Madison sociologist, also advanced the idea.

UW-Madison in 1910 established the country's first department of experimental breeding, which was initially led by Leon Cole, another eugenicist. The department is today called the genetics department.

Academics gave the eugenics movement legitimacy and helped drive the Wisconsin sterilization law passed in 1913. The law forced sterilization for "undesirables" at the discretion of medical professionals. The state conducted nearly 2,000 sterilizations, the 11th highest in the country.

Wisconsin repealed its sterilization law in 1978. ....

Eugenics was not widely supported when the law was in place, Luccini Butcher said. Many people saw it as an overstepping by the state. The Catholic Church, in particular, opposed forced sterilization. .... (more)

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

"Worry less. Ruminate less..."

Introducing an excerpt from Abigail Shrier's new book, Bari Weiss writes:
American kids are the freest, most privileged kids in all of history. They are also the saddest, most anxious, depressed, and medicated generation on record. Nearly a third of teen girls say they have seriously considered suicide. For boys, that number is an also alarming 14 percent.

What’s even stranger is that all of these worsening mental health outcomes for kids have coincided with a generation of parents hyper-fixated on the mental health and well-being of their children.

What’s going on?...
Most American kids today are not in therapy. But the vast majority are in school, where therapists and non-therapists diagnose kids liberally, and offer in-school counseling and mental health and wellness instruction. By 2022, 96 percent of public schools offered mental health services to students. Many of these interventions constitute what I call “bad therapy”: they target the healthy, inadvertently exacerbating kids’ worry, sadness, and feelings of incapacity. ....

When I first heard the term social-emotional learning, I assumed a hokey but necessary call for kids to get a grip. Or maybe it was the new name for what they used to call character education: treat people kindly, disagree respectfully, don’t be a jackass. Proponents insist it arrives at those things, albeit through the somewhat circuitous route of mental health. .... Through a series of prompts and exercises, SEL pushes kids toward a series of personal reflections, aimed at teaching them “self-awareness,” “social awareness,” “relationship skills,” “self-management,” and “responsible decision-making.”

Forget the Pledge of Allegiance. Today’s teachers are more likely to inaugurate the school day with an “emotions check-in.” ....

I asked Leif Kennair, a world-renowned expert in the treatment of anxiety, and Michael Linden, a professor of psychiatry at the Charité University Hospital in Berlin, what they thought of the practice. Both said this unceasing attention to feelings was likely to make kids more dysregulated.

If we want to help kids with emotional regulation, what should we communicate instead?

“I’d say: worry less. Ruminate less,” Kennair told me. “Try to verbalize everything you feel less. Try to self-monitor and be mindful of everything you do—less.”

There’s another problem posed by emotions check-ins: they tend to induce a state orientation at school, potentially sabotaging kids’ abilities to complete the tasks in front of them.

Many psychological studies back this up. An individual is more likely to meet a challenge if she focuses on the task ahead, rather than her own emotional state. If she’s thinking about herself, she’s less likely to meet any challenge.

“If you want to, let’s say, climb a mountain, if you start asking yourself after two steps, ‘How do I feel?’ you’ll stay at the bottom,” Dr. Linden said. .... (more)

Monday, February 26, 2024

Breaking the rules

This is about three of Agatha Christie's best, in each of which she broke the rules. There are spoilers.
The most famous mystery novel of all time, Murder on the Orient Express, was published on New Year’s Day, 1934. In America, it was published as Murder on the Calais Coach, to avoid confusion with Graham Greene’s Stamboul Train, which had been published in the U.S. as Orient Express. ....

Christie had already upended the mystery genre eight years earlier with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, in which the killer is revealed to be the one character who is typically not allowed to be the murderer. Now she was doing it again. The typical mystery is focused on one singular question: Which of these suspects is the murderer? Christie’s innovation in Orient Express was to contrive a solution — major spoiler alert! — in which everyone is the murderer.

To revolutionize a genre once is astonishing, but to do it twice? Now you’re just showing off. And Christie wasn’t done. In her best novel, 1939’s And Then There Were None, she came tantalizingly close to devising a mystery in which no one is the murderer. (I’m one of those cantankerous fans who pretend this book’s explanatory epilogue simply doesn’t exist.) ....

Sunday, February 25, 2024


According to Western tradition:
"...the seven Christian virtues or heavenly virtues refers to the union of two sets of virtues. The four cardinal virtues, from ancient Greek philosophy, are prudence, justice, temperance (or restraint), and courage (or fortitude). The three theological virtues, from the letters of St. Paul of Tarsus, are faith, hope, and charity (or love).
Peter Kreeft:
The four cardinal virtues – justice, wisdom (prudence), courage (fortitude), and moderation (self-control, temperance) – come not just from Plato or Greek philosophy. You will find them in Scripture. They are knowable by human nature, which God designed, not Plato. Plato first formulated them, but he did for virtue only what Newton did for motion: he discovered and tabulated its own inherent foundational laws.

These four are called "cardinal" virtues from the Latin word for "hinge." All other virtues hinge on these four. That includes lesser Virtues, which are corollaries of these, and also greater virtues (the three "theological virtues"), which are the flower of these.
Courage may not be the greatest of virtues but it is the necessary one:
Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality.
— C.S. Lewis

Courage is the greatest of all the virtues. Because if you haven't courage, you may not have an opportunity to use any of the others.
— Samuel Johnson

Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.
— Winston Churchill

Saturday, February 24, 2024


I enjoy browsing through books of quotations, collections from many sources like H.L. Mencken's  A New Dictionary of Quotations (it was new once), but I also have books of quotations from individual authors who have proven to be eminently quotable, for instance, Samuel Johnson, Chesterton, and C.S. Lewis. One of my favorite quotable authors is Dorothy L. Sayers, who never minces words, especially regarding Christian doctrine. Today I was looking through a book of Sayers' quotations, A Matter of Eternity, published by Eerdmans in 1973, and came across this:
...there seems to be a kind of conspiracy, especially among middle-aged writers of vaguely liberal tendency, to forget, or to conceal, where the doctrine of Hell comes from. One finds frequent references to "the cruel and abominable mediaeval doctrine of hell", or "the childish and grotesque mediaeval imagery of physical fire and worms"....

But the case is quite otherwise; let us face the facts. The doctrine of Hell is not "mediaeval": it is Christ's. It is not a device of "mediaeval priestcraft" for frightening people into giving money to the Church: It is Christ's deliberate judgment on sin. The imagery of the undying worm and the unquenchable fire derives, not from "mediaeval superstition", but originally from the Prophet Isaiah, and it was Christ who emphatically used it. If we are Christians, very well; we dare not not take the doctrine of Hell seriously, for we have it from Him whom we acknowledge as God and Truth incarnate. If we say that Christ was a great and good man, and that, ignoring His divine claims, we should yet stick to His teaching very well; that is what Christ taught. It confronts us in the oldest and least "edited" of the Gospels: it is explicit in many of the most familiar parables and implicit in many more: it bulks far larger in the teaching than one realises, until one reads the Evangelists through instead of merely picking out the most comfortable texts: one cannot get rid of it without tearing the New Testament to tatters. We cannot repudiate Hell without altogether repudiating Christ.
Originally from Introductory Papers on Dante, 1953.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Tolkien has endured

From a review of Tolkien's Faith:
The year 2023 marked 50 years since the death of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, and 2024 will mark 70 years since the publication of the first volume of The Lord of the Rings, which holds the title of the best-selling novel ever written. Fantasy and science-fiction authors mostly come and go, but Tolkien has endured. Why is this so? What is different about him?

For answers, we would do well to look at the recent work of Holly Ordway, whose 2023 biography Tolkien’s Faith constitutes a significant breakthrough in Tolkien scholarship. ....

Fantasy novels will typically feature a muscle-bound alpha with a bikini-clad babe on the cover. At the very least they will exalt the smart, or the fast, or the lucky. Tolkien’s hobbits aren’t like that at all: He celebrates small, decent folk. Frodo, the Ringbearer himself, doesn’t even really get to be extraordinary: At the end, he succumbs to temptation and fails in his quest, which is saved only by the mercy he has shown to Gollum, a creature even more miserable and lowly than himself. In other words, his premise is based on the Christian values of humility and mercy. As Tolkien himself wrote, “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.” ....

Tolkien was not ignoring the modern world by writing of a world of handicraft, virtue, nature, friendship, and, ultimately, religion. He was saying that these represented the answers to our problems, the enduring and true answers. The Lord of the Rings is just as much about modern war, totalitarianism, global surveillance, and the dangers of technology — our “smartphones” grow daily more similar to the Ring in their power over us — as it is about the medieval world.

Modern thinkers such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali have recently made the case that without Christianity there will be no resistance to the forces of disintegration operating in our culture today. ....

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Doing the right thing

Russian president Vladimir Putin murdered another Christian this week. It was just another day in Putin’s supposed project of protecting “the Christian West” from godlessness. After all, they tell me, one can’t create a Christian nationalist empire without killing some people.

Before the world forgets the corpse of Alexei Navalny in the subzero environs of an Arctic penal colony, we ought to look at him—especially those of us who follow Jesus Christ—to see what moral courage actually is.

Navalny was perhaps the most-recognized anti-Putin dissident in the world, and he is now one of many Putin enemies to end up “suddenly dead.” He survived poisoning in 2020, recuperated in Europe, and ultimately went back to his homeland despite knowing what he would face. Speaking of his dissent and his willingness to bear its consequences, Navalny repeatedly referenced his profession of Christian faith. ....

“The fact is that I am a Christian, which usually sets me up as an example for constant ridicule in the Anti-Corruption Foundation, because mostly our people are atheists, and I was once quite a militant atheist myself,” Navalny said (as rendered by Google Translate). “But now I am a believer, and that helps me a lot in my activities because everything becomes much, much easier.”

“There are fewer dilemmas in my life, because there is a book in which, in general, it is more or less clearly written what action to take in every situation,” he explained. “It’s not always easy to follow this book, of course, but I am actually trying.”

Specifically, Navalny said, he was motivated by the words of Jesus: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6, NASB).

“I’ve always thought that this particular commandment is more or less an instruction to activity,” Navalny said. “And so, while certainly not really enjoying the place where I am, I have no regrets about coming back or about what I’m doing. It’s fine, because I did the right thing.” .... (more)

Monday, February 19, 2024

"How rich God is in mercy..."

In 1944 Sheed & Ward, a Catholic house, published The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, translated by Ronald Knox. Knox was a very interesting person. He was Catholic chaplain at the University of Oxford in the 1920s and '30s. He was a classical scholar, broadcaster, apologist, and author of several mysteries, a founding member of the Detection Club. C.S. Lewis called him "the wittiest man in Europe." I recently got a copy of his New Testament translation. This is from his version of the second chapter of Ephesians:
HE found you dead men; such were your transgressions, such were the sinful ways you lived in. That was when you followed the fashion of this world, when you owned a prince whose domain is in the lower air, that spirit whose influence is still at work among the unbelievers. We too, all of us, were once of their company; our life was bounded by natural appetites, and we did what corrupt nature or our own calculation would have us do, with God's displeasure for our birthright, like other men. How rich God is in mercy, with what an excess of love he loved us! Our sins had made dead men of us, and he, in giving life to Christ, gave life to us too; it is his grace that has saved you; raised us up too, enthroned us too above the heavens, in Christ Jesus. He would have all future ages see, in that clemency which he shewed us in Christ Jesus, the surpassing richness of his grace. Yes, it was grace that saved you, with faith for its instrument; it did not come from yourselves, it was God's gift, not from any action of yours, or there would be room for pride. No, we are his design; God has created us in Christ Jesus, pledged to such good actions as he has prepared beforehand, to be the employment of our lives.
Ronald Knox, The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Sheed & Ward, 1944.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

"An outer light, fair as the sun..."

Of all horrible religions the most horrible is the worship of the god within. Anyone who knows anybody knows how it would work; anyone who knows anyone from the Higher Thought Centre knows how it does work. That Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones. .... Christianity came into the world firstly in order to assert with violence that a man had not only to look inwards, but to look outwards, to behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a divine company and a divine captain. The only fun of being a Christian was that a man was not left alone with the Inner Light, but definitely recognised an outer light, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners.

"The only guide to a man is his conscience"

On Sundays, The Free Press publishes Douglas Murray's "Things Worth Remembering," essays about things he has memorized. For the past twelve months, he chose poems. For the next twelve, it will be speeches. His first entry is from a speech delivered by Winston Churchill, a eulogy for Neville Chamberlain delivered in the House of Commons. Chamberlain had advocated the appeasement of Hitler. Churchill had vigorously disagreed. Events had proven Churchill right. But Churchill's eulogy was nevertheless, Murray writes, a "Gracious Farewell." The portion Murray quotes:
It is not given to human beings, happily for them, for otherwise, life would be intolerable, to foresee or to predict to any large extent the unfolding course of events. In one phase men seem to have been right, in another they seem to have been wrong. Then again, a few years later, when the perspective of time has lengthened, all stands in a different setting. There is a new proportion. There is another scale of values. History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days. What is the worth of all this? The only guide to a man is his conscience; the only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions. It is very imprudent to walk through life without this shield, because we are so often mocked by the failure of our hopes and the upsetting of our calculations; but with this shield, however the fates may play, we march always in the ranks of honor.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Seven Christian authors

The Wade Center is on the campus of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. Its purpose: "We emphasize the ongoing relevance of seven British Christian authors who provide a distinctive blend of intellect, imagination, and faith: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy L. Sayers, George MacDonald, G.K. Chesterton, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams."

I visited there sometime in the 1970s with a friend and haven't been back since. One memory is having seen the wardrobe that had been owned by Lewis and may have been the inspiration for the wardrobe that provided access to Narnia. There are also Tolkien's writing desk and a chair and desk that belonged to Lewis. But the main attractions of the Center are its collections. The materials are non-circulating but there is no charge and the Reading Room is open to the public.

One of the first books I read about (as opposed to by) C.S. Lewis was The Christian World of C.S. Lewis (Eerdmans, 1964) by Clyde Kilby, the first curator of the Wade Center. Kilby had met Lewis and corresponded with him until Lewis died in 1963. He was responsible for beginning the collections. The Kilby book is available, second hand, or on-demand, at Amazon. I still have the copy I bought in 1968.

The Wade Center publishes VII, a journal about its seven authors. Readers of this blog will know that four of them have been of particular interest to me: Chesterton, Lewis, Tolkien, and Sayers.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Learning to enjoy books

Yesterday I came across a site called Tea and Ink Society and I've been exploring it. It introduces itself as "a bookish haven in the internet sea. Bookworms from around the world have been enjoying Tea and Ink Society since 2017." One of my discoveries there is the "50 Classic Chapter Books to Read Aloud with Your Kids" page. From the introduction to the book list:
One of the best gifts you can give your children is a love of reading. And reading aloud classic, time-honored chapter books will build that foundation. ....

There are many fantastic children’s chapter books published each year, but I’m not an expert in those. I’ll recommend what I do know, and that’s classic children’s literature.

I was blessed with a large family of six kids growing up, and we read aloud daily: a chapter book with Mom in the mornings, a different chapter book with Dad after supper. We read a variety, not just fiction or classics, but many of our favourites–our repeat read alouds–were classics. That’s the book list I’m giving you today. This is a sampling of some of the excellent classic chapter books we read as a family, with a few mixed in that I discovered or read on my own. ....
  • Most of the authors on this list wrote multiple chapter books for children, so if you like a book you read by them see what else is in their bibliography. I just chose one book or series per author, because this list was getting rather extensive!
  • Since some of these classic chapter books are quite old (some almost 200 years old), you’ll find a lot of differences in the way we think today. I believe it’s healthy for children to put themselves not just in someone else’s place, but in someone else’s time, and differences in worldview make for excellent conversation.
  • Don’t be afraid of “big” or dated vocabulary. Children can comprehend a lot through context.
The list. (it's pretty good)

Thursday, February 15, 2024

"We would have hated each other in middle school"

From Russell Moore on "Us and Them and CCM" (Contemporary Christian Music) responding to a new book:
A friend and I were talking once about the first concerts we ever attended. His was Van Halen; mine was Amy Grant.

"Okay, second concert?" he asked.

Him: Mötley Crüe. Me: Petra.

After a minute or two of silence, he said, "You realize we would have hated each other in middle school, don’t you?"

One of us was part of a sheltered subculture quickly passing away. The other listened to music that was a gateway drug to what some say led to riots and rebellion. Turns out, my musical taste, not his, was the dangerous one. ....

Should conservative Protestant teenagers and college students be rightly equipped for the fact that they will be out of step with their peers in modern American culture? Yes.

The problem, though, is that Augustine’s City of God would not sell very well in a 20th- or 21st-century American Christian market. The nuanced truth that "You will be made to feel strange at times for following Christ, but you’re not under persecution (and, by the way, you’re not nearly strange enough in the ways Jesus actually called you to be)" isn’t nearly as exciting as, "This is the terminal generation. The elites are out to destroy you, and you are the only thing standing between Christian America and the New World Order."

"God wants what you want (for you to be happy and healthy and flush with cash)" sells. So does "You’re the real America and everybody else wants to kill you." Messages of actual cross-bearing and a cruciform life, however, do not sell well at all. ....

To some degree, that’s to be expected. The music business is, after all, a business. But, as Payne points out, some reformers (including my now CT colleague Charlie Peacock) warned of ways the business model could be at cross purposes with the teaching power of music—and many artists (such as the late Rich Mullins and Michael Card) charted a different, more theologically grounded and biblically holistic course.

When the consensus determines what’s acceptable as a Christian and what’s not, one cannot help but end up with what The Guardian identified as a "market-driven approach to truth," in which a group ends up "finding most hateful to God the sins that least tempt its members, while those sins that are most popular become redefined and even sanctified." ....

Contemporary Christian music, flawed as any human endeavor is, was a positive force in my life. The music of Amy Grant and Rich Mullins went with me through an adolescent spiritual crisis and are probably part of the reason I came out of it more Christian than I went in. I’m amazed by how much of my incipient theology—convictions I teach to this day—was taught to me by Petra lyrics. I have never, not once in 30 years of ministry, preached Romans 6 without hearing their "Dead Reckoning" song in my mind.

I learned how to read biblical narrative Christologically, how to understand parable and poetry and paradox, from the lyrics of Michael Card. I might be embarrassed to tell you how often, in the middle of dark times, what strengthens me are words like "Where there is faith / There is a voice calling, keep walking / You’re not alone in this world" or "I’ll be a witness in the silences when words are not enough" or "God is in control / We will choose to remember and never be shaken." None of that may be rock-and-roll, but I will die believing that God gave that to me. .... (more)

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

At the beginning of Lent

A good hymn for Ash Wednesday:  "Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy" (Joseph Hart, 1759):

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.
View Him prostrate in the garden;
On the ground your Maker lies.
On the bloody tree behold Him;
Sinner, will this not suffice?
I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.
Lo! th’incarnate God ascended,
Pleads the merit of His blood:
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.
Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.
Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.
Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.
A variation on the hymn by the Missouri All State Choir:

Monday, February 12, 2024

An adolescent brat

Patrick Kurp likes Hamlet least of Shakespeare’s major plays:
Of Shakespeare’s major plays, Hamlet is easily my least favorite, largely because of the title character. He is insufferable. Hamlet is touchy, pretentious, utterly self-centered – an adolescent brat, a template for the modern intellectual. It’s difficult to take his drama-queen emotional state seriously. My sympathies go out to Polonius and, of course, Ophelia. They and others are merely toyed with by Hamlet, never respected as individuals.

Historically, Hamlet has been the subject of enormously varying understandings. It’s a Rorschach test. W.H. Auden delivered his lecture on the play at the New School for Social Research on this date, February 12, in 1947. “Hamlet is intensely self-absorbed,” Auden writes, “and that self-interest continues to the very last minute.” He seems incapable of empathy, of imaginatively projecting himself into others, even his mother. As Auden phrases it, “Aversion keeps one related but detached.” ....

Friday, February 9, 2024

The New York C.S. Lewis Society

I have been a non-attending member of the New York C.S. Lewis Society since I was in graduate school in 1969/70. And I have subscribed to The Bulletin from, I think, the first issue. It always, as you would expect, includes articles about Lewis,—sometimes other Inklings—along with book reviews and accounts of the Society's monthly meetings. The Society's website has recently been redesigned. That site includes, among other things, links to other online resources about CSL and the Inklings, and, for a fee, downloadable back issues of The Bulletin. I am particularly grateful for the latter since I just went looking for back issues that I thought I had saved and haven't found any earlier than the last ten or so years. Did I give them away?

The main article in the current issue of the bulletin is "C.S. Lewis: Supervisor" by Alastair Fowler who, while doing doctoral research at Oxford, was supervised by Lewis, and they became friends. The article was originally published in Yale Review in 2003 and is interesting to people like me because of Fowler's direct experience with Lewis. For instance:
He had almost no small talk; he was courteous but dialectical and sometimes combative. Like his model Dr. Johnson, Lewis was "a very polite man," Claude Rawson remarks, only in self-ignorance. But I think he knew his shortcoming well enough. He generally followed the adversarial system, and not always quietly. Exulting in victory, he argued closely on until his adversary was crushed or ridiculous. For some reason, this method of conversation did not win universal popularity.
...[S]o far was he from standing on ceremony or authority or superior learning that he started his lecture as he came through the door and finished it as he walked out. He was a popular and (not at all the same thing) good lecturer — lecturing sometimes to an audience of three hundred or more. He towered above his colleagues as easily audible (something that could not be said of Tolkien).
By 1962 Fowler had taught both in Britain and America; and renewed his friendship with Lewis.
Lewis, too was a different person from the supervisor I remembered: he had married but lost his wife and was himself seriously ill. Visiting him in the Acland hospital and at the Kilns, I got to know him as a friend. Now our talk, more recollective and ruminative, was about anything and everything: his dreams, plum jam, The Lord of the Rings. On his side at least, it seemed without reserve. .... In the United States, I heard of a Lewis quite distinct from the Lewis I knew. My Lewis smoked incessantly, drank more than was altogether good for him, and appreciated bawdy... If he was a saint, it was not one of an austere or narrowly pious sort. Nor given to angst. He was assured, and talked of his wife, Joy, without difficulty. Retrospection now brought no unbearable sadness.
If you consider subscribing, it can be done at the website. An annual contribution can be as low as $10.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

One of our worst Presidents

When I studied American history in high school and college Woodrow Wilson was presented as one of our best Presidents and Harding as one of the worst. That was how I taught them, too. I was wrong. In fact, Harding was pretty good and Wilson was terrible (I was wrong about Grant, too). From "There’s No Defending Woodrow Wilson" responding to an effort to rehabilitate his reputation:
.... Wilson openly scorned our constitutional system in his academic writings; he explicitly ran for governor of New Jersey openly pledging to be “an unconstitutional governor” who would burst restraints on his powers. He was elected president in 1912 with 42 percent of the vote almost entirely as a result of a third-party challenge that split his opposition — and both of his elections depended upon the mass disenfranchisement of black voters in the Solid South. ....

Wilson was not merely a man of his time who shared its common prejudices. He was notably racist even by the standards of the 1910s. Nor was he simply a man who looked the other way at racial injustice: He actively made things worse. In assessing the racism of Wilson’s time, he was not the led but the leader.

Wilson did not just refuse to rock the boat in the noontide of Jim Crow — although he did that, too, bluntly refusing to racially integrate Princeton on his watch — he bent federal law in a pro-segregation direction. He imposed rigid segregation on the federal government where it had not been before. His administration required photos on job applications to spot the black people. Even with hundreds of thousands of black Americans serving their nation in the First World War, Wilson’s policies compelled United States Army units to fight under French command because they were manned by black soldiers. This was a disgrace to the American flag.

Wilson employed, promoted, and allied himself with even worse people, such as the ardently pro-lynching Senator “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman. He did other racist things...including supporting legislation making interracial marriage a felony in the District of Columbia and putting government backing behind eugenic compulsion, decades before the Nazis did so. Wilson made Dr. Edwin Katzen-Ellenbogen the chief eugenicist of New Jersey, in pursuit of a campaign of forced sterilizations. Katzen-Ellenbogen ended up working at Buchenwald and was convicted of crimes against humanity in 1947. ....

The central conservative charge against Wilson is that he was, from the beginning to the end of his career, a critic, opponent, and subverter of our constitutional separation of powers. He preferred the unified executive and legislative power of Westminster-model parliamentary systems, such as exist in Britain and in Frum’s native Canada. It was Wilson who bequeathed to us the concept of a “living Constitution,” and who lauded and promoted the unrepresentative power of the administrative state — in the latter case, retracing the footsteps of the Confederacy. His malign influence on American constitutionalism is with us still. ....

Wilson’s record on civil liberties was abysmal, and while Frum leaves a lot of it unmentioned, he makes no effort to justify it. He was the closest thing we ever had to a dictator... Wilson saddled us with J. Edgar Hoover (first hired and promoted under Wilson), the Palmer raids, and the imprisonment of Eugene V. Debs, one of Wilson’s 1912 opponents. It took Harding to pardon Debs and dismantle Wilson’s oppressive apparatus. .... (more)

Sunday, February 4, 2024

"The fog, the mists, the raging tides..."

From a Wall Street Journal review of a film that was set and mostly filmed in Scotland.
A prolonged squall and a military man upend the plans of a gold-digger (Wendy Hiller). Previously so sure-footed, she is suddenly uncertain about her path. What will it be: marry for money or marry for love? A castle, a curse, and a cèilidh figure in the decision-making. ....

Joan Webster (Ms. Hiller), a Manchester office worker in her mid-20s, was born with her mind good and made up. A model of expository efficiency and visual inventiveness, the movie embeds its title credits in a droll voice-over prologue: “When Joan was only 1-year old, she already knew where she was going. Right? Left? No. Straight on. When she was 5, she was writing ‘Dear Father Christmas: I don’t want a doll and I don’t want a big red ball. What I want is a pair of silk stockings. And I mean silk, not artificial.’

Now engaged to a fabulously wealthy industrialist many years her senior, Joan is off to Kiloran, a fictitious island in the Hebrides where the nuptials will soon take place. On the train northward, she has a dream that’s wryly revealing of the future she envisions. There are images of tartan-covered hills, of bank notes tossed in the air, and a minister leading her through her vows: “Do you, Joan Webster, take Consolidated Chemical Industries to be your lawful wedded husband?” “I do,” comes Joan’s crisp response.

That certainty founders on the last leg of the journey, a short boat trip to Kiloran that is delayed first by fog, then a gale warning. While Joan is cooling her heels on the Isle of Mull she meets Torquil MacNeil (Roger Livesey), a naval officer on shore leave in the waning days of World War II. He, too, is waiting out the weather. And, like Joan, he’s bound for Kiloran. He’s its laird, he explains. As such, he’s the target of a curse placed on his family by an understandably vengeful ancestor. ....

I Know Where I’m Going! wears its “money isn’t everything” message lightly, enrobing it in the story of a young woman’s sentimental education.

What better venue for this education than an island being lashed by a storm or two? There’s no way out for Joan, no dodging the salt-of-the-earth citizenry whose values are foreign to her. Which is to say, they’re poor and fine about it.
“Not poor,” Torquil corrects her gently. “They just haven’t got money.”
“It’s the same thing,” Joan responds.
“Oh, no,” Torquil corrects her again. “Something quite different.” ....
That there are several exchanges in Gaelic adds both to Joan’s sense of dislocation and the movie’s deep sense of place. The fog, the mists, the raging tides are as much characters in the movie as the actors. It seems only fair. After all, their role is critical: They make certain Joan doesn’t get where she’s going.
I Know Where I'm Going can be purchased as a DVD at Amazon, or rented on Prime.

Saturday, February 3, 2024

The American rival to Father Brown

Re-posted and slightly updated:

I am a native of West Virginia and although I didn't live there for more than a few months after I was born I did return every summer while I was growing up and every now and then since. My mother's family were early settlers in that part of Virginia that became West Virginia. My identification with the place is primarily familial and nostalgic and I have many friends with a less tenuous claim to familiarity. Nevertheless, when I come across some piece of history or literature related to the state I usually pay attention. Some years ago I discovered that one of the great American mystery writers was Melville Davisson Post, a West Virginian from that part of the state where my Bond ancestors dwelt. I just downloaded several of his books from the Many Books site: Free ebooks by Melville Davisson Post. I noted that one of the stories in Dwellers in the Hills (1901) refers to Lost Creek, a West Virginia location familiar to me and to many of my Seventh Day Baptist friends, including a cousin who now pastors the Seventh Day Baptist church there. Many of Post's stories are set in the state. Post's most famous collection of mystery stories is Uncle Abner (1918) — about which I've posted before.

Joseph Bottum wrote
There is a case to be made that the Uncle Abner stories—the twenty-two tales of the Virginia hills written by Melville Davisson Post between 1911 and 1928—are among the finest mysteries ever written. .... [H]igh as Post's tales rank in general mystery fiction, they stand at the very top of the sub-genre of religious mysteries. In the deliberate tone of the stories and the matching of the writing's pitch to its subject, in the uniting of the religious element with the detective's action and the sense of good's battle against evil in the solution of a crime, only G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown belongs beside Melville Davisson Post's Uncle Abner. ....
Uncle Abner is available, free, as an e-book for Kindle and other electronic formats: Uncle Abner, Master of Mysteries by Melville Davisson Post. The picture is of my copy, a 1919 reprint.

My father read to me

This was originally posted a couple of years ago.

My father read to me. The landlady upstairs, Miss Kidder, read to me. My 5th grade teacher, Miss Burdick, read to us. I once told my father that I could hear better when he read. From Mark Bauerlein at First Things several years ago:
Everybody knows how important it is to read to toddlers. Apart from the emotional element, reading out loud every day during the pre-K years sends a child to kindergarten with a significantly larger vocabulary than a child without that experience possesses. ...
But many parents make the mistake of discontinuing reading when their children learn to read on their own, around ages 6–8. This is a mistake, for two reasons.

One, the emotional reason. As the latest reading poll from Scholastic points out, reported last week, kids want their parents to extend the practice. Fully 83 percent of 6–11-year-olds say they “loved” or “liked a lot” those reading sessions, but only 24 percent of 6–8-year-olds and 17 percent of 9–11-year-olds stated that their parents still conduct them.

And two, the intellectual reason. A child can understand words read aloud more easily than words in a book. A parent’s voice adds tone, cadence, volume, and other non-verbal markers of meaning, elements a child has to create on his own when he reads. This means that a child can understand a more advanced book with more sophisticated words and ideas if he hears it. Reading it by himself would be too stiff a challenge. .... (more)