Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


The Democratic attack on Alito will get no traction, and he will end up getting confirmed readily, after lots of delays and huff-puffing. The Bork-Thomas phenomena is receding, and we are slowly returning to a more normal and sane confirmation process. If the Dems filibuster, they’ll look even worse than they do taking the Murtha line on the Iraq war. I doubt they can sustain a filibuster.

My Lai’s Thompson dies

Hugh Thompson Jr., the helicopter pilot who intervened during the My Lai massacre, died of cancer yesterday. He was 62.

Lamborghini Miura

Lamborghini Miura Concept car is introduced. It is a throwback to one of the first Lamborghinis. Lovely. I drove one in the late 60’s! Worked as a waiter, and a long-time customer was telling him he just got his delivered. There were very few in the U.S. then. Unbeliveably, he tossed me the keys and told me to take it around the block. I did. I believe it had a tranverse 4 liter V-12 aluminum
engine and a couple of extra gears forward. It was scary, because it felt alive. My heart was racing so I skipped sleep for a couple of nights. I can still hear its deep purr. I think the one I drove was the Miura, the second red one in the photos.

The Goldwater presidency

Ted Kennedy is attacking Alito. You know, the standard moderate rhetoric: the judge is a monarchist, a supporter of tyranny, against blacks and women, and so on. No surprise there. But, surprise, he also makes an unfavorable reference to the Goldwater presidency. Dana Milbank caught it. (via Instapundit).
Perhaps Kennedy said this because he wanted some quick attention (or he’s back on the juice). Drudge claims that the Demos will try to destroy Alito any way they can, including claiming he is a racist and a sexist because he belonged to something called the Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP).

Sharon’s Legacy

Peter Berkowitz has a very good article on Ariel Sharon’s legacy in the latest Weekly Standard 

More on Memorization

We must be thinking in synchronicity today. Father Fessio also talked about the importance of memorization for the education of young people--or it may have been David Allen White the day before--on Hugh Hewitt’s show. (I guess my own memory is failing me!) In any case, the point made was that the mental exercise of memorization is dying in the schools because people have (to some extent rightly) begun to think of memorizing as unnecessary in an age where information is so readily accessible in a collective electronic memory, i.e., the Internet.

I remember my experiences in grammar school of committing lists to memory (not exactly Shakespeare or Milton, but it was something) and employing the methods Peter discussed below. A few of my girlfriends and I were involved in cheerleading and dance so we used to make up silly routines and songs out of the lists we had to remember for our tests. I still remember the list of prepositions from that routine we created . . . aboard, about, above, according to . . . Unfortunately, I was never able to put an equal amount of effort into remembering things like the times tables or the periodic table of elements, etc. Oh, well . . . I guess a thing still has to capture your imagination on some other level for you to want to know it. With my own kids and my niece, I am amazed by how well at even 3 and 4 years of age, they can remember the lyrics to songs that seem far beyond them if they associate those lyrics with motion--which seems to be the technique employed by the music departments in the pre-schools these days.

I think memorization accquired a bad name because so many teachers in grammar and high school (and sadly, even at the university) began to confuse the ability to memorize with the acquisition of knowledge and understanding. Many students remember history classes, especially, as a kind of "Jeopardy-like" occupation. What were the causes of the Civil War? Here, memorize this list. Anyone can teach that kind of thing and, of course, it’s easier than trying to engage a classroom full of 14-17 year-olds in a conversation about equality. But, of course, it’s irrelevant and it’s boring. There’s really no difference, once you get to that point, between memorizing that kind of a list and memorizing a grocery list. The educational value is only in the exercise because if it does not capture your imagination you’re not likely to remember it anyway. That’s the real problem with the textbooks and the teaching of today, it seems to me. So few people seem like they’re really excited by their subjects. They fail to give their students a reason to remember it.

Playing the Organ

This is a pretty good essay on memorization. The author notes the connection between music and poetry and language, and how the heard rhythm helps with syntax, etc. So he is in favor of reading aloud (not just memorization). I like Edgard Allan Poe’s comment that poetry is "the rhythmical creation of beauty." And all this reminds me to bring to your attention Philip Pullman’s introduction of Milton’s Paradise Lost. It is very thoughtful on such matters. Note: "I read Paradise Lost not only with my eyes, but with my mouth." You don’t have to yell the lines, a whisper will do, but "Your body has to be involved." I agree.

"The experience of reading poetry aloud when you don’t fully understand it is a curious and complicated one. It’s like suddenly discovering that you can play the organ. Rolling swells and peals of sound, powerful rhythms and rich harmonies are at your commend; and as you utter them you begin to realize that the sound you’re releasing from the words as you speak is part of the reason they’re there. The sound is part of the meaning, and that part only comes alive when you speak it."

The sound will help you love the poem. "Once you do love something, the attempt to understand it becomes a pleasure rather than a chore, and what you find when you begin to explore Paradise Lost in that way is how rich it is in thought and argument."
And the poem has the power to stir a physical response, that’s why A.E. Housman did not dare to think a line of poetry while he was shaving, in case he cut himself.

Try a few lines from Paradise Lost. Satan looks around:

The dismal Situation waste and wilde,

A Dungeon horrible, on all sides round

As one great Furnace flam’d, yet from those flames

No light, but rather darkness visible

Serv’d only to discover sights of woe,

Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace

And rest can never dwell, hope never comes

That comes to all; but torture without end

Still urges, and a fiery Deluge, fed

With ever-burning Sulphur unconsum’d

Father Fessio, Islam, Mark Steyn, etc.

Hugh Hewitt interviewed Father Joseph Fessio, Provost of Ave Maria University and founder of Ignatius Press yesterday. A transcript of the key points of the interview can be read here. Father Fessio was as student of Benedict XVI and discussed the new Pope’s views on the problem of Islam in Europe and why hopes for a reformation of sorts for Islam may be misguided. This should be read in tandem with the Mark Steyn article I mentioned below.

Florida Supreme Court strikes down voucher program

The Florida Supreme Court (remember them?) has struck down the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program, which offers students in failing public schools the means to attend private schools. In doing so, the Court sidestepped the church and state issues on which the appeals court had focused, relying instead on a constitutional provision requiring "adequate provision...for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education...." I’ve discussed this argument before and don’t have anything to add until I sit down and read the decision (66 page pdf).

Katie Newmark and Thomas Berg have more, as does Howard Friedman.

You can read about the relevance of this decision to Ohio here.

Pint-sized heifers

If you’re a suburban cowboy hankering to raise a herd and short on ranch land,

mini cattle may be for you. They can be as little as a third of the size of the larger breeds. Mini cattle eat about a third as much as a full-sized steer, are less destructive of pasture land and fencing, and are easier to handle. For now, most who own them call them pets.

Bush and Sharon

I am not surprised that Noam Scheiber is surprised by President Bush’s " level of candor and self-awareness." This has to do with his relations with Sharon. It is short and worth a quick read. No news on Sharon, but rumor has it that even if he survives he cannot be active.

Steyn Article

Of course, this Mark Steyn article is all over the blogs and talk radio but if, for some reason, you’ve missed it, do read it now. The West is dying, he argues, because of suicide. A combination of lack of civilizational confidence and low reproduction rates is making us increasingly vulnerable to the plans of fanatics who reproduce in great numbers.

After you read it, you may want to think about what you can do to remedy the situation--and not just with words.

This all reminds me (and you will forgive the personal reflection) of a conversation I have always remembered with relish. During my first year of graduate school (when I was new to the group and the only female in the bunch) we were assembled for one of our weekly excursions to the local watering hole after a Charles Kesler class. During class we had been talking about one of the many ways in which the country had lost sight of its original purposes and had to be set back on track again. At the bar this fellow graduate student approached me and very publicly insisted that I deliver to the assembled masses the "female perspective" on solving the problem. Without missing a beat I said, "Well, John [not his real name], it’s really all very simple. The thing we women know is that in order to win long term we’ve simply got to outproduce them. So you should all get married soon and have lots of children." I was right, of course. But this didn’t do much to improve my social life at the time!

My take on Dover

Thanks to John West’s blog, my op-ed on the Dover decision is getting some attention. A couple of people have emailed me the link to this attempt at fisking my piece by Timothy Sandefur, who should be known to a couple of NLT contributors.

I have to say that I’m not persuaded by Mr. Sandefur’s attempt at deconstruction. Here’s the core of his argument:

Knippenberg argues that the argument for design “is an argument from reason,” but of course it is not. Positing a supernatural cause is not an argument from reason, but an argument from faith, since it depends necessarily on an Entity which is beyond nature and beyond comprehension. Still, this is not relevant. The Constitution, after all, does not make a distinction between the state endorsing a religious viewpoint for “religious” reasons as opposed to endorsing a religious viewpoint for purportedly “rational” reasons.

I don’t know where to begin. If you argue rationally that there must have been an uncaused cause, you’re not making a religious argument. And while it’s true that an uncaused cause can’t be explained in "naturalistic" terms (that is, by means of a cause-and-effect sequence), there are philosophical arguments and explanations that don’t simply rely on material and efficient causes. If everything that isn’t science must be religion, then Mr. Sandefur has a very crabbed understanding of how we can rationally attempt to understand the world.

Now, if ID falls into this tradition, which can be traced back to Plato and Aristotle, then it’s not simply a religious argument. And if it’s not simply a religious argument--if it’s a rational philosophical argument--then teaching it in the schools, or just mentioning it as an alternative to Darwinism, doesn’t amount to an establishment of religion. If this part of his argument fails, then the rest of his argument fails. The fact that he’s a lawyer and I’m not--of which he makes much--is irrelevant. The fact that he and Judge Jones both don’t give much evidence of understanding philosophy--crucial in this case--points, as I say in my op-ed, to the need for lawyers to be liberally educated (though I don’t mean to say that Hillsdale College didn’t try to provide him with a liberal education).

What think you, gentle readers?

Reid calls for Cherthoff’s resignation

Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic Minority Leader in the U.S. Senate, called for Michael Cherthoff to resign as Secretary of Homeland Security because he took Las Vegas off the list of cities considered potential high-risk targets eligible for special anti-terrorism grants. Now, I don’t know anything about this; maybe Vegas should stay on the list, I don’t know. Yet, it is tiresome to hear the Democrats calling for the resignation of cabinet officials when they happen not to agree with some of their decisions. This is meaningless arrogance on their part. If the Dems want cabinet members to resign, they should win the next election.

Russia’s gas war

David Warren is rightly irritated that Russia cut off natural gas to the Ukraine. In fact, he thinks--along with Le Monde--that it is a "declaration of war." Why not cut off gas to Belorus? Because it is under Russian control, but Ukraine is an ally of the West and the U.S. Bad sign, all this. Jim Hoagland agrees that the act was worthy of the USSR and remembers that Reagan warned Europe of the potential for blackmail when the pipeline was extended to the Western part of Europe.

Addition: The U.N. is pressing hard to crack down on caviar smuggling.


Yes, of course, Ben Franklin’s birthday is January 17th, and not today, as I maintained a few hours ago! For a few hours this morning, I thought it was the 17th. I have no idea why. Stop with the comments!

Prime Minister Sharon

It seems that Ariel Sharon’s condition is grave. He has had emergency brain surgery after having a massive stroke. Israeli politics is in an upheaval, so it seems.
The new Kadima Party that he was going to lead seemed to be of his own creation and, while wildly popular, it does not really exist without Sharon. Sharon tried something that has never been tried in Israeli politics, and it looked like he was going to be successful until his health gave out. Arguably, he shouldn’t have tried to create a political party in his own image at age 77. That was imprudent of him. The movement toward a solid peace with the Palestinians is likely to be set back. There doesn’t seem to be a natural successor to Sharon. But, there is one person who has the ability--if he gives on a few things--to possibly cobble together a working majority: Benjamin Netanyahu. This is very much worth watching.

The First American, Masked

Today is Benjamin Franklin’s birthday. Much has been said about Franklin, and much thoughtful stuff has been written about him. Mark Twain, for example, said that his views on self-discipline makes life tough on young boys (although I don’t remember it having any effect on Tom or Huck!), and Jerry Weinberger thinks he was a deeply serious thinker. I agree. He was also a likeable old man and the older I get the more I like him, and not only for his virtues.

Me and Al

Over at The Corner, I give a short account of spending the morning with Al Gore. No joke.

Our students

If you want to be depressed, read Mark Bauerlein’s essay on youth culture, declining levels of civic and historical knowledge, and the way in which our new communication technologies reinforce student insularity. His conclusion:

College professors complain about the result, noting the disaffection of students from their course work and the puny reserves of knowledge they bring into the classroom. But they hesitate to take a stand against mass culture and youth culture, fearful of the "dinosaur" or "conservative" tag. The disengagement of students from the liberal-arts curriculum is reaching a critical point, however. And the popular strategy of trying to bridge youth culture and serious study — of, say, using hip-hop to help students understand literary classics, as described in a June 19 article in the Los Angeles Times — hasn’t worked. All too often, the outcome is that important works are dumbed down to trivia, and the leap into serious study never happens. The middle ground between adolescent life and intellectual life is disappearing, leaving professors with ever more stark options.

One can accept the decline, and respond as a distinguished professor of literature did at a regional Modern Language Association panel last year after I presented the findings of "Reading at Risk." "Look, I don’t care if everybody stops reading literature," she blurted. "Yeah, it’s my bread and butter, but cultures change. People do different things."

Or one can accept the political philosopher Leo Strauss’s formula that "liberal education is the counter-poison to mass culture," and stand forthrightly against the tide. TV shows, blogs, hand-helds, wireless ... they emit a blooming, buzzing confusion of adolescent stimuli. All too eagerly, colleges augment the trend, handing out iPods and dignifying video games like Grand Theft Auto as worthy of study.

That is not a benign appeal for relevance. It is cooperation in the prolonged immaturity of our students, and if it continues, the alienation of student from teacher will only get worse.

Hat tip: Stanley Kurtz.

Jeffrey Hart for the last time

His WSJ essay, which I discussed here, here, here, and here, is the subject of my TAE Online column this week. Joseph Bottum has much smarter things to say at the First Things blogsite.

DC Follies

In the "You-Can’t-Make-This-Stuff-Up" department, the Washington Post reports this morning that former uber-corrupt mayor Marion Barry was robbed at gunpoint in his apartment yesterday by two local toughs who he’d asked to help carry his groceries into his house. Barry said he was "hurt" by the robbery, because: "There is sort of an unwritten code in Washington, among the underworld and the hustlers and these other guys, that I am their friend."

Apparently Barry never heard the old saying about there being no honor among thieves.

In other DC area news, a Montgomery County judge has ruled that "mooning," while distasteful, is not illegal in Maryland. The legislature better get right on that one, lest a new crome wave of mooning breaks out.

The Miners and the media

The last thing I heard last night before going to sleep was that the miners were found alive. Jubilant relatives were being interviewed. Hours later it was revealed that only one of the miners was (barely) alive. Apparently, the MSM were reporting only rumors.

John Murtha

Wouldn’t enlist now and doesn’t think others should either.

We’re not alone

Lest you think that only in America do people litigate in crazy ways over religion, there’s this from Italy, of all places.

Update: More here, with a few additional links.

Markos Moulitsas on courage and cowardice

NRO’s Byron York calls our attention to this juvenile rant from Kos. The nicest thing one can say about it is that he hasn’t read his Aristotle, so that he forgets that courage is a mean between cowardice and foolhardiness. His pose is that of a foolhardy man. For more, go here. Power Line’s Paul Mirengoff thinks that Kos will provide a perfect foil for HRC. But only if she makes it through the primaries.

Risen’s NSA story

I can’t help noting that the public is not exactly up in arms over the NSA domestic spying (I don’t yet know what to call it) story, despite the attempt of the MSM to stoke the fire. I bumped into a sensible citizen, indeed, a liberterian leaning guy (judging by previous conversations) yesterday and he asked me what the fuss was about. He felt he was maybe missing something big, but he doesn’t see it yet. Aren’t we supposed to be going after bad guys, and isn’t one agency supposed to be sharing information with the others? Maybe this poll of editors and news directors is revealing: Katrina was overwhelmingly picked by U.S. editors and news directors as the top story of 2005 in The Associated Press’ annual vote. The hurricanes received 242 first-place votes out of 288 ballots cast. No other story received more than 18 first-place votes.

Washington Times reflects on what the Democrats are thinking about doing with the James Risen story on the NSA. They are drafting a strategy that claims that the GOP doesn’t value citizens’ privacy. Some Democrats (probably enough, in my opinion) are worried that this strategy might backfire. Note Michael O’Hanlon’s comments. By the by, Risen’s book is out, and he is out promoting it. He was on Katie Curic this morning; I didn’t see it.
But Powerline did. Risen assures everyone that his sources are patriots. I guess that means that he approves of their intentions; that’s why they are being called whistlelowers in the MSM.

Time magazine has a note on the book. And Newsweek’s cover story is on the NSA issue, or, as they say: "After 9/11, Bush and Cheney pressed for more power and got it. Now, predictably, the questions begin." This new AP story notes that "Congressional intelligence committees had at least a hint in October 2001 that the National Security Agency was expanding its surveillance activities after the 9/11 attacks, according to a letter released Tuesday by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.Congressional intelligence committees had at least a hint in October 2001 that the National Security Agency was expanding its surveillance activities after the 9/11 attacks, according to a letter released Tuesday by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi." I wonder what this means?

Back on line

We had a weird storm...the night has been unruly...the earth was feverous, and did shake. Thunder, lightning, nature bellowed and groaned, in January! Lightning must have taken out our electricity and (and phones) and our servers, so we were silent the whole day. Hence no word from any of our wits. Sorry. As soon as I finish my Lincoln syllabus, I’ll be back.

Alito’s record again

For those of you who plowed through this exceedingly long post (Paul Seaton, if no one else), Matthew Franck also made it through and adds some thoughts of his own, remedying my ignorance about judicial behavior studies and taking a poke or two at law professors along with political scientists.

If you don’t know Matt, here’s his webpage, here are his posts on Bench Memos, and here’s his latest book.

Las Vegas Notes

I passed the holiday week in Las Vegas (if you’re wondering why, see this article), where overheard conversations are very different from my adopted home town of McLean, VA. When I cruise the asiles in Safeway in McLean, I typiccally hear wives talking about getting the kids to soccer games, or the latest scoop on the newest day spa.

In a Las Vegas grocery store, you’re more like to hear something like this: Kid--"Mom, can I have some candy?" Mom--"I just need to get a bottle of vodka and gthen we’re goiing home."

Mananged to get in several shows of one of our favorite local Vegas bands, the Pete Contino Band. Go see them next time you’re in Vegas; they usually play Wednesday nights at the Orleans casino.

And then don’t miss our favorite all-girl band, Killians Angels. Yes, they’re named for the beer.

Pecking order at the pentagon

Is Rumsfeld more interested in intelligence than war fighting? The new pecking order at the Pentagon--in case of catastrophe--pushes the three service secretaries down and raises Gordon England and Steve Cambone to numbers two and three.

Alito’s record

It’s hard to know what to make of the evidence presented in this article, which examines Judge Alito’s position in 3rd Circuit decisions where the panel was divided. It strikes me as a mistake to attempt to characterize his position by looking only at these cases, unless of course one is trying to emphasize the aspect of his profile that is most potentially controversial, and least readily assimilable to a judicial "mainstream." The reporters argue that these cases are most closely akin to the sorts the Supreme Court would hear, and hence presumably are the best predictors of how he’d vote. I’d reply, first, that there’s no better predictor of how he’d vote than his entire record.

That this article is tendentious also emerges from a consideration of its presentation of his First Amendment religion clause jurisprudence. The reporters focus on two cases--ACLU v. Schundler, a holiday display case, and C.H. el rel Z.H. v. Oliva, a case involving religious expression in a public school.

Here’s what they have to say about the two cases:

Alito has agreed consistently with people who are trying to expand the role of religion in public life, the analysis shows.

Three cases in the analysis deal with the boundaries between church and state, and Alito’s decisions parallel about a dozen other -- unanimous -- cases he has heard that were not examined by The Post, said Ira C. Lupu, a constitutional scholar at George Washington University Law School.

Alito’s views differ from those of most appellate judges and all the current members of the Supreme Court, Lupu said, because "he is on the side of whoever is trying to include or advance a religious message." Alito has taken a narrow view of the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which forbids the government to sponsor any religion, and an expansive view of its free-exercise clause, which protects people’s rights to worship as they want.

In an establishment-clause case in the analysis, American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey ex rel. Lander v. Schundler , Alito wrote a 1999 majority opinion upholding the constitutionality of a holiday display in front of City Hall in Jersey City. A lower court had banned the display a few years earlier, when it featured a Hanukkah menorah and a Christmas tree. Two weeks later, the city put it back up with changes, adding a large plastic Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, a red sled and Kwanzaa symbols.

Alito said the secular additions "demystified" the religious symbols and made the display legal. In a dissent, Judge Richard Lowell Nygaard, a Reagan appointee, wrote that the "addition of a few small token secular objects is not enough to constitutionally legitimate the modified display."

In a free-exercise case, Alito sided with a boy named Zachary Hood in Medford, N.J., who, as a kindergartner, made a poster on which he had drawn a picture of Jesus as an example of something he was thankful for. In first grade, when allowed to bring a book to read to class, he brought "The Beginner’s Bible: Timeless Children’s Stories."

The court’s majority ruled in favor of the school system and teachers, who removed the boy’s poster from a wall and forbade him to read the Bible stories to his class. Alito dissented, writing that "discriminatory treatment of the poster because of its ’religious theme’ would violate the First Amendment." He reasoned that "public school students have the right to express religious views in class discussion or in assigned work, provided that their expression falls within the scope of the discussion or the assignment."

With respect to the Schundler case, the reporters omit two important facts. First, the ACLU declined to pursue an appeal to the Supreme Court, in large part because they didn’t think they could get a better result. Judge Alito was simply and straightforwardly applying the precedent developed in Lynch v. Donnelly. Second, the other judge voting with Alito was Marjorie Rendell, the wife of now-Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. In this case, Alito occupies the broad (if flawed) middle.

In the second case, which involves a child’s response to an assignment, Alito’s dissent echoes the guidelines about religious expression in the schools developed by the Clinton Administration. To wit:

Students may express their beliefs about religion in the form of homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free of discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. Such home and classroom work should be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance, and against other legitimate pedagogical concerns identified by the school.

Once again, he’s in the broad middle.

What’s left is Ira Lupu’s opinion, which ought to carry some weight, given his prominence in First Amendment religion clause matters. But here’s what Lupu said about Alito in the immediate aftermath of his nomination. First,
to the Baptist Standard (11/04/05):

Chip Lupu, a church-state expert and law professor at George Washington University, said of Alito, "I don’t think this guy is any radical on church-state issues." However, he added, "I don’t think he’s going to be an O’Connor clone."

Lupu and his George Washington colleague, Bob Tuttle, said Alito’s rulings seem to indicate he is open to some public displays of religious items, but his rulings have not departed greatly from Supreme Court precedent in that area.

Then to a reporter for
the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy (11/01/05):

"In general, he seems especially receptive to claims of free exercise of religion, and to claims of equal access of religious speech to the public forum," Lupu said. "But none of his opinions look or sound appreciably different from those written or joined by Sandra Day O’Connor, and she remains a moderate separationist on funding cases.

Lupu is a liberal and I wouldn’t expect him to agree with Alito, but he seems to have moved from regarding him as part of the "conservative mainstream" to presenting him as an outlier, unlike any current Supreme Court Justice and most appeals court judges. Has he been misquoted by the Post? Has he changed his mind? Or are the stakes simply too high for him not to support the liberal party line?

Regrettable New Year’s resolution

Ken Masugi says he’s going to blog less, "a lot less." He says that it’s for a good cause--writing more essays. I say: write the essays, continue to blog, and just sleep less! Sleep is overrated.

But seriously.... Ken, your voice will be missed. I’m glad Steve is around to pick up the slack.

Notes on Churchill

Notebooks kept by Sir Norman Brook, the former wartime deputy cabinet secretary, "reveal Churchill to be a ruthless commander who was prepared to override moral and legal considerations to defeat Germany," according to the Daily Telegraph’s arts (!) correspondent.

The notebooks, kept in a form of shorthand, were made public by the National Archives. Among other things, Brook’s notes claim that Churchill planned to execute Adolf Hitler in the electric chair if the Nazi leader fell into Allied hands. There is more on Ghandi, de Gaulle, retribution, etc.

Resolution, Listen

My resolution is to read more poetry, more Shakespeare, more Lincoln. I should revise this somewhat to say that I resolve to listen to more Shakespeare, to words. I don’t read aloud often enough, will do more, but will also have more things read to my ears. And now that I walk miles each day (and have an iPod!), I am already listening more. Today it is Richard III. The last few days it was Huckleberry Finn, well read! Twain, our literary Lincoln, understands something about sound, language, and writing. That’s why his books don’t seem "literary" to those who don’t understand that sound comes first and last in language. Walter J. Ong explains, correctly, in my view: "Written texts all have to be related somehow, directly or indirectly, to the world of sound, the natural habitat of language." Writing cannot exist without orality, but oral expression can exist without writing. The poets, Shakespeare, and Lincoln, understand this. Hence their crisp, sweet, and winning words. Their words do not seem manufactured. To the literate, the alpha and omega of language is written, it is that great invention, the alphabet. And the sound is then changed to something seen. Big change.

This essay (it pretends to be a book review) on Emerson and Hawthorne is a good read. It explains in part why I have always leaned away from the former and toward Hawthorne (and Longfellow and Melville). Hawthorne thought Emerson "imbued with false originality." Yet, as a friend recently pointed out, there is one Emerson essay that is worth the read, Shakspeare; or, the Poet. Perhaps the most famous lines from the essay are these (addressed to those who regret that we don’t know enough about Shakespeare’s life):

"So far from Shakspeare’s being the least known, he is the one person, in all modern history, known to us. What point of morals, of manners, of economy, of philosophy, of religion, of taste, of the conduct of life, has he not settled? What mystery has he not signified his knowledge of? What office, or function, or district of man’s work, has he not remembered? What king has he not taught state, as Talma taught Napoleon? What maiden has not found him finer than her delicacy? What lover has he not outloved? What sage has he not outseen? What gentleman has he not instructed in the rudeness of his behavior?"

Back to Walter J. Ong. He notes that the famous McGuffey’s Readers, published in the U.S. in some 120 million copies between 1836 and 1920, "were designed as remedial readers to improve not the reading for comprehension which we idealize today, but oral, declamatory reading. The McGuffey’s specialized in passages from ’sound conscious’ literature concerned with great heroes(’heavy’ oral characters). They provided endless oral pronunciation and breathing drills." I note in passing that rhetoric (as education at one time could be justly described) has declined, in favor of the more private inclination of writing (also see Plato’s Phaedrus). An interlocutor is essential when you are thinking, using language as sound (rather than language as writing). Talking to yourself for hours an end is difficult, and you may not remember what you thought; you need another person to think out loud, and to help you remember if any thoughts were memorable enough to remember. Here is where mnemonic patterns, shaped ready for oral recurrance come to play. Ong: "Protracted orally based thought, even when not in formal verse, tends to be highly rhythmic, for rhythm aids recall, even physiologically."

Try this aloud by Yeats, Against Unworthy Praise. Don’t try to read it as you think it should be read aloud, just read it aloud to your own ears. Now do the same with this. Happy New Year!

New Years Notes

I hereby resolve to blog more often this year. That’s my only resolution.

According to a squib I read in the Wall Street Journal, 2005 was apparently the first year since 1962 in which there were no bank failures in the U.S. Not sure what it means, but it was handy for cocktail party chatter.

On yesterday’s radio broadcast, Paul Harvey reported the tidbit that the 831 members of the British Parliament (831?? Can that be right?? That must be Lord and Commons members together. . .) consume 800 pints of liquor a day. He thought that amount considerable. I think it means at least 31 members of Parliament aren’t doing their part; they should average at least one pint a day per member.