Friday, November 9, 2007

Au Contrarian


Number 251

November 8, 2007



I intended to write a solid follow-up to last week’s observations from Dave DaBee about the surprising enmity some of us experience from old friends who differ from us politically or religiously. I’ve just had another new object lesson in this, from a nephew of Fred who’s a minister, who told Fred he’s going to hell because he has a different religion. But I mostly have a lot of scattered observations. One is that some religious people believe that most everyone else is certainly going to hell, not that they have any personal desire for that to happen, whereas their political counterparts think you are personally rotten right now. When you combine the religious with the political, as in jihadism, watch out.

Next, it is not useful to tell someone to “read this” ~ so now what do you think, huh? ~ though we all do it. Dueling reading lists don’t seem to change anyone’s mind. What interests me is why we choose our reading lists. We tend to read things that we think will bolster what we already think. And why do we change our reading lists? Now I read news and opinion more than ever, but it’s just in the last five or six years that I’ve changed the sources. So it hardly pays to tell me “read this” because I’ve already spent years and years reading that, and clearly not all of it stuck. It no longer seemed to fit reality. When I started reading different sources, what struck me first was that the mainstream media that I always took more or less at face value was perceived simultaneously by the left (my Marxist or “progressive” friends) as pandering to the government and by the right as being a mouthpiece of the secular left. This does not mean there is no objective truth to be found, but people will even disagree on facts and their interpretation, let alone theory.

For instance, someone sent me a link to an article about research that concluded "a fear of our own mortality guides many of our political choices without our ever realizing it." This is hardly news, and I can guarantee you that I’m totally aware of my mortality, if not always fearful about it. This article is all about Bush et al and the war, but I replied to my correspondent disingenuously, “I guess you’re thinking about Al Gore.” I didn’t get an answer.

More to come later (including a reading list).


David Gelertner is a senior fellow in Jewish thought at the Shalem Center, Jerusalem, a professor of computer science at Yale, and an opinion writer for the Wall Street Journal. A couple of years ago he reviewed the much-criticized revision of a new edition of Elements of Style. An excerpt shows the deterioration from the original edition:

[Original] "The beginner should approach style warily, realizing that it is himself he is approaching, no other." Here is the post-White revised version: "The beginner should approach style warily, realizing that it is an expression of self."

Gelertner called “expression of self” a pompous, high-flown abstraction. But you can hear that the revision is weak in more ways than one, if you study it. “Expression of self” is more jargony, less direct, more banal. Gelertner also wrote:

College students today are (spiritually speaking) the driest timber I have ever come across. Mostly they know little or nothing about religion; little or nothing about Americanism. Mostly no one ever speaks to them about truth and beauty, or nobility or honor or greatness. They are empty ~ spiritually bone dry ~ because no one has ever bothered to give them anything spiritual that is worth having. Platitudes about diversity and tolerance and multiculturalism are thin gruel for intellectually growing young people.

This is why the vacuity of much of popular culture (multi or not) leaves a lot of people susceptible to the worst who “are full of passionate intensity”, to quote Yeats ~ “somewhere in the sands of the desert.”

*Actually, gelernter is German for a learned man, not gelertner.


Tim Bazzett’s fourth book, a biography, is out: Love, War & Polio: The Life and Times of Young Bill Porteous. If you live in the Reed City, Michigan area, you can meet Tim at the annual Evergreen Fest Arts & Crafts Bazaar at Reed City High School on the day after Thanksgiving.

Jim Simmons is a writer/editor/publisher of commissioned biographies, Jim’s specialty is literary history. I like the fact that he scrupulously gets his books printed on acid-free paper to ensure longevity. As you may know, many libraries are losing books that were printed on cheap pulp paper, which eventually crumbles, while good paper lasts for centuries.


Dave DaBee tipped me to his (in the sense that he’s spent some time there this year) hospital’s blog with an item about “gum bands” (Boston localese for rubber bands, and wouldn’t “gum band” be a good name for a rock band?). Maybe you’ve heard of gum boots too, an old-fashioned named for rubber boots. And of course that’s where we get the term “gumshoe” for detectives (who sneak around in soft-sole shoes). And don’t forget chewing gum. Dave has an entry there too, and a plug for PO, which I especially appreciate since he mentioned that he doesn’t always agree with me. Thanx and a tip of the PO hat.


Last week Fred and I were at the Barnes & Noble coffee shop when a series of horrific growls or snarls pierced the air for 20 or 30 minutes, maybe once every half minute. At first I thought it must be a kid reacting to a computer game, but the noises came from a little girl about seven years old, who was with a man presumably her father or babysitter. The girl clearly suffered from some kind of brain anomaly that caused her to do this; these were not the ordinary howls of a cranky or tired or sick child. I heard no speech from her nor any sound other than the hideous growling. Because people (maybe particularly mothers) are programmed to respond to any cries from children (this was like someone yelling “Mama” in a burning theater), I left the store with a headache. It must be exhausting for the girl too. My question is, were these noises an attempt at communication? The message must be that she wants something for the pain.

It occurred to me that we can adjust to the most horrendous abnormalities after the initial shock, such as seeing burn victims and so on, but it’s difficult to be exposed for long to persistent loud, unpleasant noise ~ like the jackhammers outside the Berlitz office last week. If the man with the little girl intended to bring her into a normal social experience, it didn’t seem to be having a therapeutic effect on her.


Nicholas Negroponte of MIT has developed a project ( to provide inexpensive web-connected laptops to children in poor countries. You can buy a laptop for the program for only $200. For a short time starting November 12, for $399 you can give one tax-deductible computer, and get one for yourself or a child of your own.


Sue Shaver was a college friend who reconnected with me a few years ago via the web. She sent several interesting contributions to PO from her New Mexico outpost. Sue passed on, much too young, in July from leukemia. In her memory I give you this epitaph composed by Benjamin Franklin when he was a young man (though it was not the epitaph finally used).

The body of

B. Franklin, Printer

(Like the Cover of an Old Book

Its Contents torn Out

And Stript of its Lettering and Gilding)

Lies Here, Food for Worms.

But the Work shall not be Lost;

For it will (as he Believ'd) Appear once More

In a New and More Elegant Edition

Revised and Corrected

By the Author.

I don’t know what Sue’s beliefs were, but she lived a good life, was a hard-working nurse and a good friend, and contemplated her future with serenity.


Link here to look for books on!

Or click on underlined book links.

NEW SHOP: Scot Tartans. NEW STUFF AT Parvum Opus CafePress shop:

"Flash in the Pants";

"If you're so smart why aren't you me?";

"If you build it they won't come";

Rage Boy/Bat Boy: Can you spot the difference?;

Akron U. Alma Mater: The Lost Verse;

PWE (Protestant Work Ethic) tote bag;

"I am here" T-shirt;

"Someone went to Heaven and all I got was this lousy T-shirt";

"I eat dead things" doggy shirt and BBQ apron;

new kids’ things, mouse pad, teddy bear, stein, and more!


Parvum Opus now appears It is also carried by the Hur Herald, a web newspaper from Calhoun County, West Virginia. See Editor Bob Weaver's interview with me (February 10, 2007 entry), and the PO every week in Columns.

WHEN SONNY GETS BLUE! Check out the video clips of Sonny Robertson and the Howard Street Blues Band at and, with his new original song, "A Different Shade of Blue".

SEARCH IT OUT ON AMAZON : "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter." Proverbs 25:2; "Get wisdom! Even if it costs you everything, get understanding!" Proverbs 4:7:

The poet Muriel Rukeyser said the universe is not composed of atoms, but stories. The physicist Werner Heisenberg said the universe is not made of matter, but music.


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