Wolfe Argues Against Evolutionary Speech

“There is a cardinal distinction between man and animal, a sheerly dividing line as abrupt and immovable as a cliff: namely, speech.”

The great Tom Wolfe takes on language, Darwin, and Noam Chomsky in his new book, The Kingdom of Speech. He says all of the theories on how language began are terrible, exposing a major weakness in the bowels of evolution.

In his article yesterday, Hillel Italie notes:

Speech is the book’s primary subject, but status has been the running theme of Wolfe’s work from the astronauts in “The Right Stuff” to campus life in “I Am Charlotte Simmons,” and it’s a subplot for “Kingdom of Speech.” He doesn’t only take on Chomsky, but portrays Darwin as a competitive, would-be aristocrat striving for “honor as a Gentleman and a scholar.”

Naturally, I’m sympathetic to any argument against evolution, but this particular argument also draws me in and recalls what I read about language origin in a course on the history of English. All of them are grasping at straws.

Charles Mann goes into detail on what Wolfe explores and explains:

When Darwin finally took on language in “The Descent of Man” (1871), the coffee got pretty weak. By that point, the argument that language evolved from animal sounds had already been made by well-known figures like Wallace, August Schleicher (the best-respected linguist of the day) and Edward B. Tylor (one of cultural anthropology’s founders). Darwin mainly reiterated their reasoning, which amounted to: Bird song and dog barks are actually pretty expressive, so I bet they could have extended somehow into human language. The term for this kind of thing in academia is “hand-waving.”

My friends call me “Professor”

I have reached another level in my carefully plotted strategy for world domination. I have agreed to teach three class periods in the seminary this fall. One hour on how to write research papers, and two on the historical background of the Free Lutheran conception of the pastoral ministry.

In what is tediously known as the Real World, of course, it’s not that big a deal. I don’t have faculty status. But I’ve always had great respect for academics (or I did until the field in general got turned into an exercise in political flacking). That’s probably one of the reasons I always resisted graduate study – until it became a necessity – I felt unworthy. Though I’ll admit it was mostly a matter of laziness, and finding school both boring and annoying.

It wasn’t a surprise. We’d discussed the idea before, and I’d done some preliminary preparation. But today it was confirmed, and the writing class is on the calendar.

For me, it’s kind of a big deal. I don’t think I’m cut out to be a teacher, but I do love lecturing. Pay attention to me!

Who Was Bob Ross?

NPR started asking around about the popular television painter Bob Ross, whose show has been streaming on Netflix for a couple months now. They found Annette Kowalski, who discovered him in a sense and helped produce his style of teaching into a hit show. She says Bob was a tough, but wonderful, man.

“Do you really think this company would be as successful as it is, if he didn’t insist that everything be done a certain way?”

She says she was attracted to his gentle, comforting style immediately when she saw him in person.

“I was so mesmerized by Bob,” Kowalski tells NPR. “Somehow, he lifted me up out of that depression. I just think that Bob knew how to woo people. I said, ‘Let’s put it in a bottle and sell it.’ “

‘Somewhither,’ by John C. Wright


Now there are people who like it when bathing beauties kick the butts of beefy mobsters in TV shows and stuff, but that is just TV, and if you think that is real, you need to get out more, and get in more fights.

I read a lot of novels, as you’ve probably noticed. A few I don’t bother to finish. Some I like, but they leave no impression. Others I like a lot. A very few I admire exceedingly.

But it’s not often I find a book that’s just a whole lot of fun. John C. Wright’s Somewhither is just that. I’m not sure it’s a great work of art, but it could become a classic of the Wizard of Oz variety. Because the entertainment rewards are so great.

Here’s a book whose hero is a Neanderthal boy, in a bathrobe, with a samurai sword. The heroine is a mermaid named Penny Dreadful.

There’s a Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy vibe here, but underneath the many gags (sometimes too many, perhaps) there’s serious purpose and Christian edification. Continue reading ‘Somewhither,’ by John C. Wright

Status report

I owe you an update. You know I’m done with my graduate work. That’s kind of an annoyance, in a way, because I’d gotten used to using school as an all-purpose excuse. “Gee, I’d like to help you move on Saturday, but golly, I’ve just got so much homework to do!”

Hard on the heels of that consummation, I was asked to do another edit on the Viking book I translated. I did that, and then when I had sent it in I re-considered and asked to have it back for one more pass. Because I like to do these things right. I have an idea that this translation will be a large part of the footprint I leave behind in this life.

Yesterday they sent me a draft cover for the book (to be called Viking Legacy, by Torgrim Titlestad). I’d share it with you, but I don’t have permission to. And it’ll probably change anyway. But I felt a quiet swelling of pride in my chest when I saw it. It’ll be good. Watch for it. This fall. Sometime.

Looks like I’ll be having some more translation work to do in the future too. I’m going to have to work out how to balance that with my novel writing.

I have been working on the next novel too, though. The problem is that this one’s a toughy. Of all the books in the Erling series, this will be the hardest to plot. It involves the lowest point in Erling’s life, and by extension in Father Ailill’s. I’ve got to figure out how to keep this one from combining the optimistic sparkle of Dostoevsky with the cheery fun of Game of Thrones.

Last night one of the characters did something I didn’t see coming. I’m still working out (while time is paused in his world) how Ailill will react.

So I shall not want for work to do.

I Trust Tantaros, Carlson

Our blog doesn’t have a narrow topic list. We do want you to find our posts interesting, but I think Lars and I usually allow our own interests to guide the subjects of our posts and only occasionally rule something out as off-topic. This post is probably in off-topic territory. It may even be gossip, but I hope you’ll find it worthwhile.

Several weeks ago, long-time Fox News host Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against network chairman Roger Ailes, who has since resigned. She called him a serial harasser, claimed he said many outrageous things over the years, and hindered her career because she refused him.

Granted, I don’t know Carlson personally, but I have heard her many times on the radio, occasionally on TV, and have complete faith in her. She seems to be an intelligent person who does not toe a party line but perseveres in independent thinking. She never impressed me as someone trivial or petty. When I heard of her lawsuit, I believed it on its face, because she has credibility with me. Though I’ve seen some defense of Ailes and discrediting of Carlson by other Fox News hosts, several women have also told their stories to Carlson’s lawyer.

Now we learn Andrea Tantaros is also suing Fox News executives for condoning, if not contributing to, sexual harassment, and I believe her, not because of any suspicion I have of Ailes or the people she names, but because I trust her. She impresses me as a strong, intelligent, capable woman. In the suit, she describes  at least some of the process she walked through to get grievances like this addressed within the system. Her accusations were dismissed, so as not to rock the boat.  Continue reading I Trust Tantaros, Carlson

Optimistic Dignity

In an earlier book, Who Really Cares, [Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute] compiled an impressive array of data to show that contrary to the conventional wisdom conservatives tend to give more to charity than do those on the left. In his new book, The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous Americahe goes further, arguing that not only is the conservative heart a caring heart but that the conservative head has produced public policies that are truly compassionate because they are capable of generating jobs and opportunity that–in turning the economy around–would infuse the lives of substantial numbers of poor and struggling people with dignity by providing them the opportunity to earn success.

‘A Crime of Passion,’ by Scott Pratt

A Crime of Passion

“I got the impression they’re friends, but not the kind of friends you and I have. This is Nashville, Caroline. The state capitol. The seat of power and money in the state. Friendship here means something entirely different than it means back home. I’m out of my league.”

And now at last I come to A Crime of Passion, the last book in my current reading of Scott Pratt’s Joe Dillard legal mysteries. It’s not the last book in the series to date, though. The next book is Judgment Cometh (and That Right Soon), which started me off on reading this series. But I’ve reviewed that one already.

This time around, Joe, defense lawyer from northeast Tennessee, is summoned – to his great surprise – to Nashville by a beautiful former Country music star. Her husband, a record company owner, has been accused of murdering a young female singer who was a rising star in his talent stable. Joe has been recommended to her, she says, by a friend who says he’s smart, honest, and relentless. Joe is uneasy about moving into an alien environment where he doesn’t know the power structure, but she makes him a money offer he can’t refuse.

He finds himself in a snake pit. His client is a womanizing crook. His client’s wife is a devious seductress. Everybody has their own agenda, and everybody is lying to him. The district attorney casually suggests a way he can fix the trial, for a price. A certain party is considering murdering Joe. Nobody expects him to be able to play in this league. But country boy Joe has a trick or two of his own in his repertoire.

Scott Pratt gets better and better as a novelist. I liked A Crime of Passion very much. Cautions for the usual adult stuff. Recommended.

‘Blood Money,’ by Scott Pratt

And I continue through Scott Pratt’s Joe Dillard series of legal thrillers. This one was a particular pleasure. An attractive new character has been added to the cast, and the story is almost old-fashioned in its moral purpose.

Charleston Story, the central character in Blood Money (it was originally written as a stand-alone, but author Pratt revised it to fit into the Joe Dillard series) is a young lawyer who’s had a rough life. She lost her parents young, and grew up in some poverty, living with an eccentric uncle. But she has persevered, and is now starting out as a lawyer. Joe Dillard, defense attorney, likes her (his son Joe likes her even better) and takes her on as an associate. She takes the case of an elderly man whose son is trying to get him declared incompetent. Suddenly and dramatically, “Charlie” finds herself the old man’s heir, after his unexpected death. But he hasn’t just left her his modest property. He left her an old family secret, the key to unimaginable riches. But the riches come with a curse. The old man’s greedy and ruthless son is the least of her worries.

Charlie is an appealing, spunky character, and there are a lot of thrills in her story. I thought the book’s final resolution a little predictable, but it was none the less satisfying. I had fun reading it. Mild cautions for language and adult themes.

For your Spectation

My latest essay for The American Spectator Online is here.

In fact, the real question — the actual historical anomaly — is why, after everybody else had got the question wrong from the beginning of time, the Christians suddenly figured the answer out, and abolished slavery. Nobody else did that. Not the Egyptians. Not the Chinese. Not the Aztecs or the ancient Greeks. I understand the Greek Epicureans rejected slavery, but one of the distinctions of the Epicureans is that they never tried to build a civilization.

And building a civilization is the precise nub of the historical problem.

Tolkien Styled His Dwarfs After Jews

In 1971, Tolkien said it was obvious that his dwarfs represented the Jewish people. In a letter, he said, “I do think of the ‘Dwarves’ like Jews: at once native and alien in their habitations, speaking the languages of the country, but with an accent due to their own private tongue.”


Among the members of Gandalf’s group (known as the “Fellowship of the Ring”) are a dwarf named Gimli and an elf named Legolas. Dwarfs and elves, Tolkien informs us, had never gotten along. When Gimli and Legolas first meet, each blames this historical ill will on the other’s people. Gandalf, in turn, calls for a truce. “I beg you two, Legolas and Gimli, at least to be friends, and to help me,” he says. “I need you both.” Coaxed by Gandalf, the two ultimately become the best of friends, fighting side by side and risking their lives to defeat the Dark Lord and his evil legions. This dwarf-elf alliance may well be a paradigm of a Jewish-Christian friendship. Interestingly, as Saks and others have noted, Tolkien’s correspondence during World War II reveals that he himself fell into an unplanned interfaith friendship.

Rabbi Meir Soloveichik offers his reaction to this revelation. (via Prufrock News)

Elegy for a tree

[If you’ve been trying to access Brandywine Books, or waiting for updates, we apologize. We suffered a malicious denial of service attack. The problem has been addressed, at least for now.

This piece was meant to be posted Thursday evening. lw]

The most impressive thing about my property is now gone. Fortunately I’m not talking about my house.

I had a great big tree, a pine or some kind of fir, at the back of my lot, in a space between my garage, my neighbor’s fence, and my retaining wall. It was very tall and wide. It was even older than I am. My neighbor on the downhill side told me the previous owner had planted it just after World War II, when he got back from the service.

Unfortunately, it had utility lines running through it, and that same neighbor asked me, as a personal favor, to get it taken out. So I found a guy who’d do it for a reasonable price, and his crew finally made it here late this morning, and set to work with chain saws, climbing gear, and a chipper.

It took them several hours, but they finally left some time after 5:00 p.m. I didn’t actually realize they were gone. I thought they’d knock on the door and give me a bill when they’d finished, but they just made like a tree and leaved (the owner called later to make arrangements for me to pay him. Trusting fellow). I stepped out onto the back porch, and nobody was there. Except there was a pile of mulch about the size of a Volkswagen piled in my uphill neighbors’ driveway.

I had a moment of panic there, but the neighbors, when I went over to inquire, told me they’d asked the tree guys to leave it for them. Free mulch for their gardening endeavors. Blocking their garage, at the moment.

So my great tree’s story is told. It is gone like the summers of my youth, leaving a lonesome place against the sky (points for anyone who can identify that reference).

Jonathan Edwards Wanted Nice, Expensive Editions

Jonathan Yeager tells Thomas Kidd about the great puritan preacher’s desires for the appearance of his work in print. No doubt, he would have loved today’s world of easy publishing.

Edwards was a meticulous author, and wanted his books to look a certain way. He was not the best judge on how his books should be printed, if the purpose was for them to sell well. Edwards wanted his books to have wide margins, generous line spacing, and to be printed on fine paper, with good type, and priced affordably. The model for Edwards was his book Misrepresentations Corrected, published in 1752. Ironically, Misrepresentations Corrected was his worst-selling book! A key reason, I believe, was that it was not economically printed. If a printer allows the use of wide margins and generous line spacing, it follows that it would require more pages, and therefore would be more costly.

Edwards vocalized his disgust with the way that his book Religious Affections was published in 1746, probably because it was concisely printed, with tightly cropped margins and line spacing. Despite his complaints, the printer for this book feared that he had not printed enough copies to meet public demand. In an advertisement at the end of the book, the Boston printer Samuel Kneeland remarked that some 1,300 subscriptions had been taken for Religious Affections, at a time when a colonial author would have rejoiced if 500 copies of a book sold.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture