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“Whom does it serve?”


Puritan church drummer

Sohrab Ahmari’s The New Philistines, which I reviewed last night, sparked a few thoughts under my follicles.

I noticed some years back that my interest in movies, once keen, was waning. Taking the trouble to make the trip to a theater just didn’t seem a good exchange. Whatever the old rewards had been, they were diminishing. And today, although I have Netflix and Amazon Plus, I don’t use their streaming services a whole lot, either. If I decide I want to view a movie, as often as not I can’t find anything I care to click on.

I used to watch television all evening, every evening. I liked some shows better than others, but I could always find something to amuse me. Then gaps started opening up, where there was nothing I wanted to watch. And now I’ve reached the point where there’s zero network programming that I watch regularly.

Ahmari’s book illustrated why those changes happened. I grew more and more aware – unconsciously at first, but consciously more and more – that everything coming out of Hollywood, big screen or small, was propaganda. In the legend of the Holy Grail, one of the questions asked of the seeker of the Grail was, “Whom does it serve?” With modern entertainment, even the most trivial, that question always applies. Each offering is in service of something. And that something is always some social or political cause.

In the days of the Puritans, it was often complained that people got religion shoved down their throats, that everything turned into a sermon.

Ahmari’s The New Philistines might have been called The New Puritans. Because in the 21st Century, the sermons never end.

Red alert

Red is my favorite color. I’ve often wondered about color preferences. When someone tells me, for instance, that they love green but don’t like red, I am moved to ponder our common humanity. I wonder, for instance, if they see the same colors I see. Maybe what they see as green is the very color that I see as red. Maybe we’re agreed, but can never know it.

I suspect one factor is food. I tend to like red or reddish foods – meat, strawberries, cherries. Because I was born with a surfeit of bitter taste receptors on my tongue, I’m inclined to dislike green vegetables (yes, I do eat them anyway, at least sometimes. Had broccoli just tonight). And I don’t like lime. So when I see green it’s associated with various foods that don’t appeal to me.

Anyway, I just rediscovered the marvelous blog, mirabilis.ca. Because I’ve never quite mastered this business of migrating bookmarks, I generally end up searching for my favorite urls all over again, every time I change browsers or get a new computer. Somehow I’d lost track of mirabilis, though I was tormented by a persistent, poignant memory of some good thing lost. But I’ve found it again now, and with it this link to an article from the Conversation on the history of red dyes.

Most animal reds are hidden within creatures – like blood – and are not on open display. The excavation of Neolithic burial sites has turned up jars filled with dull-coloured dried insects, kermes, which have a brilliant hidden red that was used as textile dye. It was also a Neolithic food colouring and the colour red is still associated with health today.

One surprise for me in Viking reenacting has been that a fairly bright red is one of the colors acceptable under most authenticity standards.

White Lights or Santa Boogie?

Do I need a building permit to turn a house into a Christmas snow globe? Asking for a friend.

You are either a colored-lights family or a white-lights family, and changing your Christmas tree light color is like changing your religion or your political affiliation—it’s something people do, at most, once in their lives. But white lights seemed classier to my teenaged self, so I petitioned the family, and we made the switch.

Jonathan V. Last talks about his changing views on Christmas decor.

After the first Christmas, when I didn’t put up any decorations outside our house, the lady next door—a sweet, Christian Secret Service agent—presented me with a shiny, four-foot-tall aluminum Snoopy, ringed by blinking lights. I tried to demur, but she insisted not only on giving it to me but helping me set it up, too. I was both touched and horrified.

River of Books in the Street

In Toronto, they throw books in the street and call it art to make a statement about congested traffic.

“We want literature to take over the streets and conquer public spaces, freely offering those passersby a traffic-free place which, for some hours, will succumb to the humble power of the written word.”

They laid down this artistic installation on one of the city’s busiest streets.

“Thus, a city area which is typically reserved for speed, pollution and noise, will become, for one night, a place for quietness, calm and coexistance illuminated by the vague, soft light coming out of the lighted pages.”

During the exhibit, people walked on the books, took pictures of themselves on the books, and took most of the books home with them. I don’t know whether Toronto’s traffic congestion has changed since receiving this smite from the humble word.

Advent duties

Advent is a season of many tasks. In the old days, I’ve read, it was a fast time, like Lent. People approached the Christmas holiday, pretty literally, with hungry anticipation. We Protestants pretty much abandoned that tradition, and I haven’t noticed that the Catholics observe it much either these days.

Still, Advent has its duties. For me, Christmas cards are one. I still send them, and I send a Christmas letter too. Yes, I am that guy. I’ve got my CC labels mail-merged off Microsoft Word (is it possible for them to make that process more complicated? Don’t answer – you’ll give them ideas), but I just discovered I printed one set on the wrong side, so I’ll have to re-do those. I traditionally start my cards right after Thanksgiving, but classes delayed that the last two years. This year, finally done with classes, I’m delayed by my bronchitis instead.

I keep telling myself I’ll bring the Christmas tree down from the attic tomorrow, and so far it hasn’t happened. I think I need servants.

I have antibiotics and an inhaler with which to battle my lung crud. I wonder if the antibiotics actually help, or whether doctors just dispense them because people expect them. I read that most bronchitis comes from a virus, and antibiotics don’t really serve any purpose. If that’s the case I’d rather not get them. I don’t like antibiotics as a form of recreation.

I finished a novel by an author I’ve had some contact with in the past. I reviewed his previous books, but I think I’ll leave this one unaddressed. I found this book kind of dully written, and the story I found fairly depressing. But if I can’t praise the book, I won’t pan it. I shall pass by on the other side of the road, pretending I didn’t see it. Don’t ask me to identify the author; I feel disloyal enough already.

And now, I must endeavor to rest. Strenuously.

Journal of the plague season

I apologize for my radio silence last night. I was just too run down to do anything but go to bed early. I’m celebrating my annual Cusp of Winter Tradition – the massive bronchial infection. It makes no sense to me that – every year about the same time – I come down with a cold which must inevitably descend into my lungs and take up residence like 1970s hippies, putting shag carpet up on all the walls. But such is the case. Every blinking year.

And every blinking year I imagine that this time my immune system will do what I pay it to do, and kick the deadbeats out. According to what I’ve read, you never get the same strain of cold twice, so it only makes sense that once in a while it would be a cold I could beat. But I never can. So at the point when I’m coughing all over my work and living spaces, infecting everyone I encounter, I finally break down and see the doctor. As I did today.

Actually it was a Physician’s Assistant today. She listened to my lungs, had a good laugh, and prescribed an antibiotic and an inhaler. Plus suggesting an over the counter nostrum.

So I guess I’m not a hypochondriac.

When you’re Norwegian, you can’t go to the doctor just because you feel sick. You need to feel you have something interesting to offer, something they can tell their colleagues about, and write up in a JAMA article.

And now I need to lie down. Titanic powers are at war within me.

The ‘Backbone’ for Terror Is Broken

Armando Valladares spent twenty-two years in Cuban prisons. Last year, Marvin Olasky interviewed him on his thoughts of Castro in the beginning and how he survived imprisonment.

What do you say to those who say, “The United States has had an embargo regarding Cuba for more than 50 years and it hasn’t worked?”The embargo was never intended to remove the government in Cuba. The embargo has worked because it has prevented the Cuban government from receiving millions of dollars from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other banking institutions.

Now that the U.S. government and the pope embrace Raúl Castro, what do you think will happen?The only person who really inspires terror in Cuba is Fidel Castro, even if he’s agonizing in a bed. That’s how it was with Josef Stalin. Raúl Castro is alive because his backbone, Fidel, is alive. The day Fidel Castro dies will probably end the entire process.

The Struggling Farmer

“This story is important to me because people in America aren’t aware that black farmers are still around,” Mr. Santiago said. “People don’t know what their struggles are and that they are still being discriminated against. For the most part, whether they are black or white, the farmers get pushed down and end up having to sell their properties because they can’t get loans. Small farms are denied because they don’t usually have any collateral to get a loan. Through my research I’ve learned if you’re looking for stolen black land, all you have to do is follow the lynching trail. That’s how it started to happen. Black farmers were killed for their land.”

Uncle Lars Flits Through

Tomorrow I’ll be delivering a sermon in campus chapel at our schools. If you think of it, you might pray that I do more good than harm.

Here’s something rather nice: An old TV production of my favorite short story, P.G. Wodehouse’s “Uncle Fred Flits By.” It’s a little slow for my taste, and they make some odd changes to the text for no apparent reason, but all in all it’s not bad. David Niven is excellent as the inimitable Uncle Fred. (Now that I think of it, that’s a self-contradictory statement. If he’s inimitable, it’s impossible for anyone to portray him excellently.)

Atlas Obscura, Good for What Bores You

Your guide to “the world’s wondrous and curious places” now has everything on one map, “the definitive map of the world’s extraordinary sights.” Atlas Obscura invites you to at least consider planning a trip to the Royal and Ancient Polar Society in Hammerfest, Norway, not too far from the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel, which is made of ice. If you like cute animals, perhaps you’ll like Japan’s Cat Island or Zao Fox Village, both near Sendai. But if obscurity is really what pops your doldrums, check out the Paul A. Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum of Logan, Ohio or the Spam Museum of Austin, Minnesota.

We Can Burn Books, So Why Not Teachers?

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“We train as researchers but spend our days managing the emotions of late adolescents, haggling over budgets, and figuring out how to use Moodle’s gradebook,” writes Jonathan Malesic, who used to teach at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, before he burned out.

“Eventually, I came to dread every class meeting.”

He describes his experience and some lessons learned.

Chronic dislocation produces the three main components of burnout: exhaustion, cynicism, and a sense of professional ineffectiveness. Burned-out professors, then, are people who cannot muster the strength to do the intellectual labor of their job, who see students as problems, and who feel their work has no positive effect.

Introverted teachers and students appear to be at greater risk for burnout in increasingly social learning environments. English teacher Michael Godsey tells this story:

After 11 years of teaching English at a public high school, Ken Lovgren left the profession, mostly because he was drained by the insistent emphasis on collaboration and group work. Engaging in a classroom that was “so demanding in terms of social interaction” made it difficult for him to find quiet space to decompress and reflect. “The endless barrage of ‘professional learning community’ meetings left me little energy for meaningful interaction with my kids,” he told me.