Friday, April 10, 2009

Parvum Opus 320 ~ Quack


I have The Quest for Shakespeare: The Bard of Avon and the Church of Rome by Joseph Pearce from the library. So far it’s pretty interesting, but a previous borrower who’s more excitable than I am left penciled notes throughout, lots of underlining and checkmarks and also lots of marginal comments. A few of them are word definitions, but mostly they’re: OK, Hmm, OKKK (meaning Okaaay), Gulp, Burp, Thank You, Ramble, OOO-H, Loosing it (Losing it), O-Ho, Com-on, !!!, augh, Yulp, nice but-, Aha, Gasp, Yeow. (I don’t get Burp and Yulp.) Some pages have no comments but quite a few have four or more O-ho’s and Gulps etc. Fred said at least he was engaged with the text.


I read the 800-page autobiography of Whittaker Chambers, Witness (1952) (though I did skip over a lot of the transcripts of the hearings, and lists of names.) Chambers was a fine writer and must have been a reliable recorder of his own history; after practically ruining his life by testifying, he’d have little motive to lie in the book. He became a member of the Communist Party in his youth, and then a spy, committing what he called “the treason of ideas”, but later had a change of mind and heart and eventually felt he had to testify against another spy and former friend, Alger Hiss. Recently someone remarked on the fact that no movie has been made of this story. But you can figure out why.

On page 793, he wrote:

“No feature of the Hiss Case is more obvious, or more troubling as history, than the jagged fissure, which it did not so much open as reveal, between the plain men and women of the nation, and those who affected to act, think and speak for them. It was, not invariably, but in general, the ‘best people’ who were for Alger Hiss and who were prepared to go to almost any length to protect and defend him. It was the enlightened and the powerful, the clamorous proponents of the open mind and the common man, who snapped their minds shut in a pro-Hiss psychosis, of a kind which, in an individual patient, means the simple failure of the ability to distinguish between reality and unreality, and, in a nation, is a warning of the end.”

On page 741:

“The simple fact is that when I took up my little sling and aimed at Communism, I also hit something else. What I hit was the forces of that great socialist revolution, which, in the name of liberalism, spasmodically, incompletely, somewhat formlessly, but always in the same direction, has been inching its ice cap over the nation for two decades…. It is a statement of fact that need startle no one who has voted for that revolution in whole or in part.”

On page 473:

“For men who could not see that what they firmly believed was liberalism added up to socialism could scarcely be expected to see what added up to Communism.”

The Chambers hearings were pre-McCarthy. If you have, as I did, an automatic response, a knee-jerk reaction, when you hear HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee), blacklisting, Red-baiting, witch hunt, etc., if these have become memes for which you have little or no solid information, as I did — read this book. And consider this quote (for which I do not have the page number):

“Other ages have had their individual traitors — men who from faint-heartedness or hope of gain sold out their causes. But in the 20th century, for the first time, men banded together by the million in movements like Fascism and Communism, dedicated to the purpose of betraying the institutions they lived under. In the 20th century, treason became a vocation whose modern form was specifically the treason of ideas.”

Kiss Miasma

It’s been three months since the election. At the book store last week a quick count turned up only 20 magazines with Obama covers, down somewhat from pre-election levels. At least his halo has disappeared from the photos.

It turns out the iPod that Obama gave to Queen Elizabeth was loaded with his own speeches, among other things. I think he also gave an iPod to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, but while he greeted the Queen correctly with a head nod, he bowed deeply to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, giving us a photographer’s-eye view of his obeisant miasma.

Obama also apologized to Europe for the United States. He doesn’t have to do that for me, or for my dad and uncles who were in WWII. What have we actually done to Europe, setting aside WWI, WWII, the Marshall Plan, and the Cold War? Compared to what they’ve done to each other and themselves?

Cuban Art

For those who want government-subsidized art, read “Cuba Now” by Kelly Crow in the 3/27/09 Wall Street Journal:

“The fact that Ms. Ceballos [independent art gallery owner] has never been shut down is a source of great intrigue for Cuba-watchers around the world. Some say it signals a new tolerance by Raul Castro, who has enacted a few reforms — allowing cell phones, for example[!] (Exclamation point mine.)

“In a country where the biggest art patron is the Cuban government, alternative art spaces that aren’t on the state payroll are nearly nonexistent. Artists who want to exhibit here typically attend government art schools before vying for a coveted slot in Havana’s handful of sanctioned galleries…. Gallery owners and biennial curators say they are free to show whatever they like, but they tend to sidestep pieces that directly criticize the ruling Castro family or their policies.”

This has been true everywhere that the government pays for and controls art. All governments purchase public art, but subsidies for artists are different. Government-subsidized art does not mean art from or for “the people”. It’s the individuals in the government who make decisions. They are people too. Maybe “of the people, by the people, and for the people” is always descriptive, not proscriptive.

Anyway, remember the state-controlled “social realist” art from Russia and China? I used to have a book of Chinese propaganda posters, where even the infants were exploding with health and forward-looking fervor. For a funny take on China’s state art, see The Thoughts of Chairman Miaow by Frank Hopkinson: “Let's sing a new song about bank nationalization and rabbit flavor chunks!”


“Confucius famously said that the first thing he would do to reform and rectify the state was to make sure that things were called by their right names. For if you don’t call things by their right names, how can you hope to maintain morality and probity?”

Once again this famous dictum of Confucius is summoned in aid of clarity. In his article “In Praise of Precision”, Theodore Dalrymple writes about the misuse of the word “liberation” in a news story. If it does not talk like a duck and quack like a duck, maybe it’s not a duck.

Obama has another spiritual advisor, the Rev. Jim Wallis, former president of SDS, who’s quoted as saying about the Vietnamese boat people who fled after the U.S. pulled out that they left Vietnam "to support their consumer habits in other lands". I’ve never heard that explanation. Whatever can he mean? My aged Marxist friend always comments on the economic advantage or disadvantage of any situation: Your son’s getting married? It must be for the tax advantages.

What to do with old books

I don’t really like the idea of destroying books, but sometimes we do accumulate more than we can re-read or sell at a yard sale or afford to mail to book-deprived people. Here are some amusing ideas for using those piles of books in the basement.

Does size matter?

Many papers went to a narrower format years ago. The Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati’s only remaining major newspaper (the Post folded last year), also got thinner early this year, cutting a large percentage of pages. This week it got narrower again; it’s only 11 inches wide. I don’t know why they don’t just go to tabloid, like their weekly events calendar freebie. Of course the economy is killing ad revenues, but newspapers are really being wiped out by the Internet. Television couldn’t do it, but Web news and blogs will. It’s too bad. But I guess I’m (perhaps prematurely) nostalgic for the physical format, not for news itself, which will always be with us. I kind of wish I’d worked on a newspaper, and now it’s not likely that I ever will, or that I’ll have a syndicated column, an old dream of mine. But I’ve got Kindle.

By the way, I was mistaken when I said that Kindle publications can be downloaded to computer. They can only be downloaded to Kindles and to Kindle for iPhone.


"So long as we have any doubt about the truth of the major premise, the conclusion cannot be trusted." Percy Marks, "Logic" (1945), in Think Before You Write 235, 237 (William G. Leary & James Steel Smith eds., 1951).


Search for Rhonda Keith, or for these titles, on in the Kindle Store:

The Wish Book, a novella, is fantasy-suspense-romance featuring the old Sears Roebuck catalogues.

Carl Kriegbaum Sleeps with the Corn is a short story about a young gambler who finds himself upright in a cornfield in Kansas with his feet encased in a tub of concrete. How would you get out of a spot like that?

Still Ridge is a short story about a young woman who moves from Boston to Appalachia and learns there are two kinds of moonshine, the good kind and the kind that can kill you. Or someone else.

More detailed plot summaries are on


Trivium pursuit ~ rhetoric, grammar, and logic, or reading, writing, and reckoning: Parvum Opus discusses language, education, journalism, culture, and more. Parvum Opus by Rhonda Keith is a publication of KeithOps / Opus Publishing Services. Editorial input provided by Fred Stephens. Rhonda Keith is a long-time writer, editor, and English teacher. Back issues from December 2002 may be found at Feel free to e-mail me with comments or queries. The PO mailing list is private, never given or sold to anyone else. If you don't want to receive Parvum Opus, please e-mail, and I'll take you off the mailing list. Copyright Rhonda Keith 2009. Parvum Opus or part of it may be reproduced only with permission, but you may forward the entire newsletter as long as the copyright remains.

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