The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
I have found myself overpowered by demands upon my time from several quarters; and this page, alas, has been bumped down to the bottom of my “to do” list. In short, I can no longer maintain it. What I offer instead is the following. I will not remove the posts below, though they have grown many months old. Readers who are interested in my personal commentary may proceed to my blog and, perhaps, find something of worth. Though that space does not have the 501(c)3 obligation to remain apolitical that is incumbent upon this site, I nevertheless do no “politicking” there.
You may still submit any prospective post to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. My attention may not be very timely, however, so subjects with a long shelf-life are to be preferred. ~ J.R.H.
The Suicide of the West
Peter Helmes, guiding light of the German website Die Deutsche Konservativen. wrote recently of a police raid upon a residential section of Chemnitz where, on very good evidence, a young man was said to be preparing a suicide vest to explode in an airport. (See the section, “Realsatire: Wie ein (gefühlter) Zschäpe-Bruder halb Chemnitz in Panik versetzteIf”, in Helmes’s Konservative Kommentare Oktober ’16). Mr. Helmes comments mostly on the way the news media handled the story. The suspect was designated merely as “Jabir A.”, having arrived about a year earlier from Syria among the throng of “refugees”; and because of a couple of shady characters (both deceased) were known to have lived in the same district years ago, he was further portrayed as a Neo-Nazi! Rather like calling a horse a cow because someone ties a bell to his neck. Such is the state of journalism in our propaganda-saturated world.
Also this week, a colleague of mine remarked how celebrated a third party had grown among us since she/he had undergone a sex-change operation and legally changed her/his name. A certain powerful person was overheard expressing delight that we now had a Transgender on board, and generous professional honors now loom. Question: why is “she” now a Transgender rather than a “he”? Isn’t the whole point supposed to be that “she” has always been a “he” at heart and has now insisted on becoming a “he” in body? So why does the previous identity now linger to create the third category?
I have long ago concluded that it is impossible to determine if the contemporary Western world is more insane or idiotic. How does one tell one from the other? ~ John Harris (10/29/16)
The Talk of the Locker Room
As a male who came of age in the Sixties and Seventies, I want to say this much about “man to man” discussions of “hot” females. A gentleman doesn’t talk about a lady. Feminism bears a certain amount of responsibility for the crudity that has infused our public and private lives, for the very concept of a “lady” has been anathema to college-educated women for about four decades now. Well done! But a real man, in my humble (and very much minority) opinion, does not index his behavior to the times and the tides. I can recall exactly one instance of a young man sidling up to me and discussing his conquest of a blonde girl on the far side of the athletic field. I was a freshman in college, and we were practicing soccer. I let him talk but made no comment: I found him pitiable. Other men quickly nose out that you are not interested in such discussions and do not make you privy to them. So to men–and women–everywhere, I say, “Yes, one hears ‘locker room’ speech frequently outside the locker room–if one stands still and listens to it with appropriate smiles, chuckles, and encouraging behavior. It goes away when and if one removes the encouragement. If it is ubiquitous in your life, then you are obviously transmitting the ‘proceed’ message… and perhaps you should consider deactivating that message.” ~ John Harris (10/15/16)
Natural Diet vs. Chemical Engineering
Another documentary on Netflix that I lately discovered is the 2008 title, Food Matters. I am not a vegan or a vegetarian, and I don’t have the money to fill my fridge with organic fruits and vegetables. The sort of West Coast elite/leftwing lifestyle implicit in films like this one leaves me very suspicious. I also like to believe, however, that I haven’t switched off my brain just yet. There are some very real issues surrounding the kind of food we eat, and also the kind of medicine we practice. After an initial skepticism, I found that this film convinced me of its central premises: that we’re eating crap responsible for most of our health miseries and that the medical community is too locked into its pharmacological paradigm to consider dietary treatments rather than cutting and medicating. Anyone who has a loved one suffering from cancer should look into this subject. Even someone as leery as I am of food police knows that two out of the three elements in the cancer-treatment trifecta–surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation–are themselves carcinogenic. Ignore this kind of discussion at your own risk. ~ P.T.S. (10/15/16)
The Grim Truth About Saudi Arabia
Well worth watching is a special episode of PBS Frontline, now accessible through Netflix, titled “Saudi Arabia Uncovered.” Anyone of a certain age who remembers how long we have lent support to the royal house of Saud will be deeply troubled that we have tacitly signed off on so many atrocities over the years. And anyone whose brain is still operable must wonder how we can be courting World War III with the Russians over a tinpot dictator like Assad while we continue to bankroll the brutal Saudi state in the commission of devilry both domestic and (all too probably) abroad. Understand as you watch that the Saudis, though lately part of the international mission against ISIS (thanks to continued diplomatic pressure), are the ideological brethren of that Sunni uprising and the geographical home of its rabid Wahhabi rationale. If we can’t figure out which bad guy to back against which bad guy in the Middle East, perhaps we should hit the “eject” button instead of another mislabeled “reset” button. ~ P.T.S. (10/8/16)
Have We Made the Shoal Waters of Race Unnavigable?
On the last day of September, I enjoyed my greatest success and, perhaps, suffered my greatest failure in “race relations” with respect to my students.
The triumph (if such it was) came quite accidentally. One of my most talkative and affable freshmen was holding court before class, as usual. He’s a black kid from St. Louis, and he could draw a laugh from a granite wall. He happened to be remarking in some context or other that though we may make light of him now, we will all someday be boasting of our acquaintance with him and begging for his autograph. He was basking in the good-natured derision that followed when I volunteered something on this order: “Yeah, that’s what people are like. You’re nobody to them… and then they’re all your best friend when you hit it big. How did that Mike Jones song go? ‘Back then they didn’t know me, now I’m hot, they all on me…’”
Except that I didn’t get halfway through the classic lyric. My little sparkplug and the other four black kids in the class burst out laughing as if… what to compare it to? As if Jesus had suddenly returned and he were wearing dreadlocks. In thirty years, I have never been able to draw such an enthusiastic response from a group of students. Did it really mean so much that I could cite a couple of verses from a ten-year-old rap song? (The familiarity, by the way, is entirely owing to my son’s influence.) I stood a little shocked for a while, smiling but amazed. The St. Louis lad declared, “This just became my favorite class!”
And then, in the afternoon of the very same day, I descended into the depths of unpardonable sin. I had divided a literary survey class into small groups, hoping to gin up a dreary Friday-afternoon insouciance to everything I was saying about Chaucer. (Alas, I do not much like The Canterbury Tales myself: I know that people are hypocritical, but I probably seek to run from that knowledge whenever possible because, unlike the poet, I cannot see any humor in it at all.) A young black male had entered late and attached himself to one of the groups. I would have known his name by the seat he occupied if we had remained in our normal arrangement; but we were now scattered everywhere. As luck—bad luck—would have it, his constant companion, another black male of the same tall height and lean build as he, did not show up that day. Had I been able to view the two together, even out of the usual seating order, I think I could have distinguished X from Y. But I did not, on this day. Seeking to return a quiz that X hadn’t received because of his tardy entry, I called him Y. He shyly corrected me… and then I heard a laugh and a sad comment exchanged between him and a black girl in his group as I walked away. I had committed the “they all look alike” trespass!
I wrote the young man an email later that afternoon. I explained to him that there were two slightly overweight white girls sitting on the other side of the classroom—that they also sat side by side routinely, and that they also never peeped a word during our class discussions; and I begged him to believe that if either of these two girls had approached me after class with a question, no longer oriented within the seating arrangement, I could only have guessed at which of two names to call her. Who knows if he believes me? That’s the full truth… but who knows if he will find it credible?
Sometimes, I fear, people who are used to being lumped into their small minority regard every such error as reducing them to a member of that small minority—a non-individual who can be no more than “one of them”. But you are always “one of them” if you bear a resemblance to some three or four in a crowd and if you do nothing to give yourself individuality within that generality. The overweight white girls belonged to a minority of three overweight white girls (one of whom talks loudly and inappropriately on occasion and so is not likely to fuse with the wallpaper). If you’re a boy who shaves his head or sports a dark beard, then you are apt to be confused with another boy who shaves his head or sports a dark beard—until you do something to declare your uniqueness, such as voicing an opinion.
I didn’t write all of this in my email, but I hope the young man in question had the subtlety to see what I was driving at. He IS a black male; and, until he does something to fill in those crude descriptive lines, he will remain a challenging subject to match with a name when he appears in a crowd. I fell back on his race as one of a very few criteria to use in distinguishing him because he had given me nothing more. I don’t like classing girls by their avoirdupois, either; but what else do I have if my only exposure to them is a superficial image?
As I mulled over the very mixed experiences of a complicated day, I wondered, perversely, why my quoting Mike Jones was interpreted as making me more attuned to the black lifespace than my mistaking a young man for his friend? Weren’t they really two sides of the same coin? If a white man knows a little Mike Jones, does that mean automatically that he understands something profound about you as a black kid? Are all black kids expected—condemned—to love rap? If I call you Dillon instead of Jalon, can I make up for my gaffe by dropping Fiddy Cent’s name? Why would that not reflect studied condescension rather than a casual, honest mistake—and why would it display more knowledge on my part of the “real you” than getting your name right? ~ John Harris (9/3/16)
Suetonius on Nero… and More Recent Tyrants?
The following translation from Suetonius’s Lives of the Caesars is posted at http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Latin/Suetonius6.htm#anchor_Toc276122238:
Book Six: XXXVIII The Great Fire of Rome
But Nero showed no greater mercy towards the citizens, or even the walls of Rome herself. When in the course of conversation someone quoted the line:
‘When I am dead, let fire consume the earth,’
he commented ‘No, it should rather be – while I yet live…’ and acted accordingly, since he had the City set on fire, pretending to be displeased by its ugly old buildings and narrow, winding streets, and had it done so openly that several ex-consuls dared not lay hands on his agents, though they caught them in situ equipped with blazing torches and tar. Various granaries which occupied desirable sites near the Golden House were partly demolished by siege engines first, as they were built in stone, and then set ablaze.
The conflagration lasted seven nights and the intervening days, driving people to take refuge in hollow monuments and tombs. Not only a vast number of tenement blocks, but mansions built by generals of former times, and still decorated with their victory trophies, were damaged, as well as temples vowed and dedicated by the kings, or later leaders during the Punic and Gallic wars, in fact every ancient building of note still extant. Nero watched the destruction from the Tower of Maecenas, and elated by what he called ‘the beauty of the flames’ he donned his tragedian’s costume and sang a composition called The Fall of Troy from beginning to end.
He maximised his proceeds from the disaster by preventing any owner approaching their ruined property, while promising to remove the dead and the debris free of charge. The contributions for rebuilding, which he demanded and received, bankrupted individuals and drained the provinces of resources.
Does any of this remind you of “hope and change”? ‘Ο ’εχων ’ουατα, ’ακουετω. ~ John Harris (8/21/16)
Opinion: This Is What Rule by Angry Rabble Looks Like
American foreign policy continues to be resonantly coherent in its incoherence. Nothing we do is consistent with everything else we’ve done. Our State Department, along with its counterparts throughout the European Union, has rushed to declare that we have a principled opposition to military coups, being utterly devoted as we are to democracy. It is irrelevant that President Erdogan of Turkey represents a hardline variety of Islam that is not uncomfortable with Sharia or ISIS. It is inconsequential that his son, indeed, was implicated in peddling oil to the fuel-starved forces of the Islamic State. Forget about Erdogan’s ongoing vendetta against the Kurds, who have perhaps fielded the most successful resistance to ISIS man-for-man—and whose villages he immediately started bombing and shelling upon his decision to join the fight against Islamic State murderers. Who cares that he has at once used this failed coup as a pretext to round up his political adversaries and launch a purge that will surely include mass executions?
All that matters is that he was democratically elected, and that we always support democracy. Of course, the Islamic Brotherhood was the people’s choice in Egypt during the Arab Spring. For that matter, Hitler and Mussolini were elevated to power by democratic elections. And for that matter… oh, by the way, Viktor Yanukovych was the democratically chosen president of Ukraine before he was ousted by EU/American-backed forces that literally set Kiev aflame. When is a coup not a coup? When is a rioting mob a popular uprising?
For many of us, the question that has constantly needed to be posed over the past decade and a half is this multiple-choice teaser: Is our government adopting a position vis-à-vis a given foreign affair a) because a covert political agenda is being advanced, b) because somebody somewhere is enjoying some kind of kickback, or c) because our decision-makers are really arrogant and stupid beyond belief? For the period covering the last two administrations, the answer is d: “all of the above”; in any specific crisis, such as the present one in Turkey, it more likely no more than two. “C” is my choice for our cheerleading support of Erdogan-style “democracy”. This is what Rule by Angry Rabble looks like. ~ John Harris (7/6/16)