The Feast of Bede the Venerable

The first great English historian, patron of writers and historians, writer of what is still the standard history of Anglo-Saxon England in his Historia Ecclesiastica, the only English-born Doctor of the Church, and the first to translate the Bible into English. He was born about 672 and died on 26 May 735, which, as it is this year, was the feast of the Ascension.

From A Clerk of Oxford:

[…]This is a lovely coincidence (or occasional mercy, rather) because the feast of the Ascension and the words of its liturgy were in Bede’s mind, and on his lips, as he lay dying. We know this because a moving account of Bede’s death was recorded by a monk named Cuthbert, a former pupil of Bede’s and later abbot of Wearmouth-Jarrow. Cuthbert was present at Bede’s deathbed, and this is how he describes his death.

For nearly a fortnight before the Feast of our Lord’s Resurrection he was troubled by weakness and breathed with great difficulty, although he suffered little pain. Thenceforward until Ascension Day he remained cheerful and happy, giving thanks to God each hour day and night. He gave daily lessons to us his students, and spent the rest of the day in singing the psalms so far as his strength allowed. He passed the whole night in joyful prayer and thanksgiving to God, except when slumber overcame him; but directly he awoke, he continued to meditate on spiritual themes, and never failed to thank God with hands outstretched. I can truthfully affirm that I have never seen or heard of anyone who gave thanks so unceasingly to the living God as he.

O truly blessed man! He used to repeat the saying of the holy Apostle Paul, ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’, and many other sayings from holy scripture, and in this manner he used to arouse our souls by the consideration of our last hour. Being well-versed in our native songs, he described to us the dread departure of the soul from the body by a verse in our own tongue, which translated means: ‘Before setting forth on that inevitable journey, none is wiser than the man who considers – before his soul departs hence – what good or evil he has done, and what judgement his soul will receive after its passing’.

The English translation of John’s Gospel which Bede was working on at his death has not survived, and nor have any of Bede’s other English writings (it’s not clear whether his ‘Death Song’ was of his own composition, or if he is quoting a poem he knew). But a century or so after Bede’s death, an Anglo-Saxon poet composed a poem on the Ascension which must be one of the greatest poems ever written on that subject. I quoted it at length here, but this is my favourite part:

Swa se fæla fugel flyges cunnode;
hwilum engla eard up gesohte,
modig meahtum strang, þone maran ham,
hwilum he to eorþan eft gestylde,
þurh gæstes giefe grundsceat sohte,
wende to worulde. Bi þon se witga song:
‘He wæs upp hafen engla fæðmum
in his þa miclan meahta spede,
heah ond halig, ofer heofona þrym.’
…Wæs se siexta hlyp,
haliges hyhtplega, þa he to heofonum astag
on his ealdcyððe. þa wæs engla þreat
on þa halgan tid hleahtre bliþe
wynnum geworden. Gesawan wuldres þrym,
æþelinga ord, eðles neosan,
beorhtra bolda. þa wearð burgwarum
eadgum ece gefea æþelinges plega.

So the beautiful bird ventured into flight.
Now he sought the home of the angels,
that glorious country, bold and strong in might;
now he swung back to earth again,
sought the ground by grace of the Spirit,
returned to the world. Of this the prophet sang:
‘He was lifted up in the arms of angels
in the great abundance of his powers,
high and holy, above the glory of the heavens.’
…The sixth leap,
the Holy One’s hope-play, was when he ascended to heaven
into his former home. Then the throng of angels
in that holy tide was made merry with laughter,
rapt with joy. They saw the glory of majesty,
first of princes, seek out his homeland,
the bright mansions. After that the blessed city-dwellers
endlessly delighted in the Prince’s play.

Here is where English, British, and American written history begins, where it ends depends, in large part in our diligence in studying what has come before.

Also: Bede’s death — NEWMAN LECTURES.

A Conversion Story

Sadly, not Bookworm, as far as I know.

Bookworm takes a look in the mirror:

Cultural appropriation be damned.  I am finally coming out of the closet as a trans-cultural Redneck and proud of it.  Allow me to explain.

I was raised in the belly of the beast, San Francisco, by European immigrant parents who fully embraced upper class, European culture in all of its arrogant glory.  We didn’t have the money, but I was taught to have all the right attitudes.  They were drilled into me from the cradle: imported cheese, classical music, foreign movies, and a sneering disdain for the ordinary Americans who liked working with their hands, watching fights and drinking beer.

Still, despite this pressure to be an American elite, I kept slipping up. While the family was cooing over a nice runny Brie, I was in my room, squirting quick hits of canned Velveeta in my mouth, hoping no one would catch the tell-tale orange stain around my lips. Instead of being grateful for my Mom’s carefully packed school lunches, complete with brown bread and vegetables, I was desperate to get my hands on my schoolmates’ Wonderbread™ sandwiches and Hostess Twinkie™ snack cakes.

Music was an issue too. I kept my face politely bright when I was dragged to the symphony or the opera, feigning interest in Mozart’s Requiem or Verdi’s Madama Butterfly, but my heart wasn’t in it. Even as the musicians played and the singers sang, I had a separate track in my head playing Slim Whitman, Hoyt Axton, Marty Robbins, and Johnny Cash. I wasn’t a purist, by any means, of course. There was plenty of room throughout my school years for Top 40s music, but opera made me wish I could break out in hives as an excuse to leave the room.

Things got worse when I hit my hard-Left, highly-ranked college. With every passing year, it became harder to feign respect for the professors who droned on at the front of the room, reading off of stale old notes. As they preached Marxism in the classroom, either directly or indirectly, I couldn’t get past the fact that they lived in expensive homes, complete with Hispanic maids and Japanese gardeners, dined out at fine restaurants (organic before it was in), and regularly traveled to (of course) Europe. My classmates revered them; I thought they were pompous, hypocritical windbags, and the fact that I got good grades from parroting their cant back to them only increased my disdain.

It was at college that, for the first time, I grappled with the fact that, despite my upbringing and credentials, I was living a lie. I hated to be something I wasn’t, but I didn’t yet know enough to express what I was. As far as I and everyone else knew, I was just your usual slightly weird Euro-immigrant, Jewish-Liberal Bay Area Democrat.

My years at law school in Texas were the first time in my life that I felt I fit in. Sure, I had still had whole grain brown bread cravings, but saying “y’all” just felt right. It rolled off my tongue, if you know what I mean. And being friendly to people — saying “howdy” to everyone — that felt right too. It was a world away from college’s snide cliques and studied rudeness. I loved hanging out in dives and dancing all night long to the live blues and country bands.

Still, the pull of my upbringing was strong. Instead of giving in to what felt was right for me, I forced myself to return to the rarefied world in which I grew up. It was still too painful to admit to what I really was and I knew that I wasn’t strong enough to face the backlash from family and old friends.

And so for the next two decades, I hid my true self. I listened to NPR, voted Democrat, called myself a feminist, ate at restaurants that served food with names I couldn’t pronounce, periodically went to the symphony, had my collection of gay friends (who always made nasty remarks about women), and pretended I had black friends (in fact, as a young professional in San Francisco, I only knew one black person and, while I liked her, she wasn’t really a friend….). At the same time, I became a cynical, embittered, contrarian person, always pushing back at chimeras. I knew my life was wrong, but I didn’t know what was right.

What changed all this was 9/11. In the subsequent years, I realized I wasn’t a Democrat at all. I was a conservative! Oh. My. God! That was incredibly liberating. Even more liberating was writing a blog that (a) allowed me to express my thoughts without being socially ostracized and (b) put me in contact with people who didn’t sneer at Velveeta in cans, disliked opera, wanted to shoot guns, listened to country and pop music, watched MMA fighting, and thought traveling within America on vacation was cool, not pathetic.

Keep reading, it’s good all the way through A fair amount of it parallels things in mine, although I was never politically liberal, even as a kid it didn’t make sense to me. Yep, one of the few thing dad and I argued about occasionally, he was conservative, but a New Dealer, well I understand why, but don’t condone such contradictions. Maybe that’s why I have a soft spot for Tories, and in fact, anyone who reads too much Burke, and not enough Locke.

I certainly do approve of Daisy Dukes, though! 🙂

Fixing Education

We return today to one of the subjects that have continued here since we began: education. What’s wrong with it, and sometimes: how to fix it. Peter W. Wood had a very good (and quite long) article yesterday in The Federalist on this subject. I found it very good, both in identifying problems and proposing cures. See what you think.

How much would it cost to fix American higher education? Think big. In 2015, colleges and universities spent about $532 billion to teach 20.5 million students enrolled in two-year and four-year colleges.

That $532 billion figure is the lowest estimate in circulation. The National Center for Education Statistics gives the figure as $605 billion for 2013-14. But let’s stick with the humble $532 billion.

So how much would it cost to fix our $532 billion worth of colleges and universities? The answer depends, of course, on what you think is wrong with them and which of the possible repairs you favor. But let’s not get overly complicated.

Here’s What’s Wrong with Higher Education

American higher education is subject to five broad categories of complaint.

The progressive left criticizes it for reinforcing oppression based on race, class, and sex. American higher education favors the rich and abets unjust capitalism.

Pro-market and libertarian observers criticize its dependence on public funding; guild-like stifling of innovation; and hostility to capitalism. American higher education privileges itself.

Liberals, moderates, and conservatives criticize it for putting identity politics at the center of curriculum and student life. It fosters inter-group hostility, a grievance culture, psychological fragility, incivility, and contempt for free expression. American higher education is illiberal.

Those who support the classical liberal arts criticize it for trivializing higher education, turning the curriculum into a shopping cart, neglecting the formation of mind and character in favor of political advocacy, and estranging students from their civilization by elevating the false ideal of multiculturalism. American higher education is culturally corrosive.

A wide variety of people criticize its high price, frivolous expenditures, and increasingly uncertain rewards for graduates. The gigantic growth in the number of campus administrative positions relative to the faculty comes under this heading too. American higher education is too expensive.

It would be easy to add more items or expand any of these into a whole book. Many have done just that. But my goal here is to cut a path through the forest, not to linger over the variety of trees.

When I speak of fixing higher education, I discard the first category, the criticisms of the university as a font of capitalist oppression. It simply has no basis in reality. Each of the other four categories is cogent, and any real repair would have to address all of them. Moreover, they are deeply connected.

I won’t linger over their interconnections either, but it is important to keep in mind that the guild-like or oligarchic aspects of higher education undergird its illiberalism, incoherence, and excessive expense; and its culturally corrosive quality licenses its voracious appetite for public funding, suppression of intellectual freedom, and frivolity.

Four Proposed Repairs to Higher Education

Corresponding to the four legitimate categories of complaint are four broad categories of possible repair:

Fix the financial model. Reduce and restructure federal and state support for colleges and universities. Eliminate the regulations that favor the guild and prop up oligarchy. Unleash the marketplace, including for-profit, online, and other entrepreneurial alternatives to the dominant model of two and four-year colleges. Steer Americans away from the idea that a college degree is necessary for a prosperous career. Find new and better ways to credential people as competent in specific endeavors. The general-purpose undergraduate degree should face competition from alternative credentialing.

Dismantle the infrastructure of campus illiberalism. Eliminate grievance deans and programs; rescind all government programs that subsidize identity politics; insist that colleges and universities punish those who disrupt events or otherwise undermine free expression. Some call for eliminating tenure because it has become a bulwark for the faculty members most intent on redirecting higher education into political activism.

Restore a meaningful core curriculum. This repair has three varieties: create an optional core curriculum at existing colleges, leaving everything else alone; create a mandatory core curriculum for all the students at a college; create new colleges that start out with their own core curricula. Reversing the cultural corrosion of American higher education will take more than reviving core curricula, but by common consent, that is the first step.

Restructure federal student loans. This is, of course, part of fixing the financial model, but it is crucial if the goal is to reduce the ballooning costs of higher education. Colleges and universities are expensive for several reasons, including their very high labor costs and tendency to compete with one another by increasing their amenities (e.g., rock-climbing walls), but the underlying cost-driver is their ability to rely on federal student loans to subsidize their ever-expanding budgets. […]

Continue reading How To Start Fixing America’s Higher Education Crisis

I found it all very good, and some of it outstanding. Part of what I like is that he recognizes that not everybody needs a to go to a four-year college. In truth, most don’t. College (except perhaps engineering) is not supposed to be a trade school. And when you make it one you end up with BA degree holders flipping burgers, a very silly outcome, particularly since in our setup they owe impossible amounts of money.

Part of the problem that I see is that our secondary (and primary) schools are no longer fit for purpose, graduates are far too often both illiterate and innumerate, and so the private sector, pragmatic as always, simply requires a degree, thinking they will at least get a candidate that can read at some level and maybe do arithmetic. It’s not a solution really, but in reality, their problem is to do whatever they do with whatever widget they do it with and make a profit, not to fix the education system.

At some point, it may become bad enough for them to find it cheaper to fix the problem than to use avoidance strategies like degrees, but we aren’t there yet. If we get to that point – well we’ll pretty much have failed as a country so it won’t really matter all that much.

Don’t do this at home (or at work)!

Time to lighten up a bit, thanks to Oyia Brown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This safety meeting is adjourned.

Bonfire of the Humanities

We sporadically talk a good bit about education here. It’s important, we care, and all, but it’s also a supremely frustrating area, although I’m convinced that going back to the basics would be a start. But that also begs a question, which set of basics? The trivium from the middle ages? the MacGuffey Reader from our history?, the “See Spot run” books that I grew up with? something else? Does it matter? I don’t completely know. I think a lot is probably inherited or absorbed very young. Reading to your kids undoubtedly helps for literature, but I had an

I think a lot is probably inherited or absorbed very young. Reading to your kids undoubtedly helps for literature, but I had an inbuilt drive to do things with my hands, and Tonka trucks are very educational, but I also had a built in sense of scale, a 1/64 Ertl tractor just wouldn’t work with the big 1/16 ones. Others, I noted, even then, didn’t have this. Why? I have no idea, but to this day, it’s something that bugs me.

Basic physics seems inbuilt as well. I can look at things and roughly compute the forces required to do thus and so. But maybe this is just all growing up when and where I did, with my parents. Hard to say, isn’t it? But how do we (or should we) pass along this sort of knowledge.

In any case, I’m pretty sure this method won’t work. Ryan Hammill wrote for The Federalist yesterday about a Harvard Professor and his asinine letter to The Wall Street Journal.

Anybody wondering how the study of the humanities arrived at its current, depressing state need only read the words of its practitioners. In a recent letter to The Wall Street Journal, James Simpson, the chair of Harvard’s Department of English, unveils the supreme and lamentable logic that now governs the field.

Simpson writes in response to a March 31 op-ed from Heather Mac Donald, wherein Mac Donald discussed the new “marginalization requirement” in Harvard’s English department. All English majors must now take a course covering authors “marginalized for historical reasons.” Mac Donald posed the question (the title of her piece), “Does Harvard consider Oscar Wilde ‘marginalized’?”

After all, she says, “‘Heteronormativity’ may have made his [Wilde’s] final years miserable, but it had no effect on the boundless success of his plays.” Mac Donald, God bless her, rehearses many of the familiar arguments against classroom identity politics: it gives students yet another excuse to ignore classics of which they are already ignorant; given their historically disproportionate access to education, it’s only common sense that “Dead, White Males” predominate; and race or sex of the author ought not to count for or against a truly sublime piece of literature.

If You Really Believe This, Act On It

These are good and familiar arguments, and they should continue to be made. But Simpson’s letter in reply on April 8 makes the exchange particularly edifying for readers concerned for the classics. Simpson tries to play the middle-of-the-road civility card. He calls Mac Donald’s op-ed “intelligent” but “mean-minded.” At first, he seems to concede: “Nothing could be more depressing than to see a literature curriculum determined by identity politics with dutiful representation from the required range of underrepresented groups.”

While the thought displeases me, I could find a few more depressing things. In fact, so can Simpson! “Nothing, that is, except a literature curriculum that betrayed the fundamental function of literature and other art forms, which is to hear the voices repressed by official forms of a given culture.” I find this claim nearly as depressing as Simpson claims the hypothetical literature curriculum depresses him.

With this sentence, Simpson supplies the asinine creed for the modern study of the humanities. The purpose of art, he says, is to “hear the voices repressed by official forms of a given culture.” That’s not a side benefit. It’s not an occasional consequence of studying art. It’s the whole point.

Do read it all, it’s excellent.

But the main thrust is, and it’s accurate, is that this fool of a professor, and many like him, has politicized everything. To some point that’s always true, reading about the Spartans at Thermopylae is unlikely to make one revere physical cowards. But a lot of literature is read, not because of political purpose, but for many other reasons, amongst them the sheer beauty of the language.

It’s rather sad to see people killing the goose that lays their own golden eggs, isn’t it? (And yes, that too is a literary allusion!) But it wouldn’t matter all that much if he wasn’t also damaging our society, perhaps beyond repair.

In Denial about Islam

This is written by William Kirkpatrick, in Crisis Magazine. He’s right, of course, about Europe, but it’s no different here, really. Perhaps Trump understands, but not many others seem to. They seemingly will continue to play the old games in the old way, until we’re all either dead or Muslim. Here are some excerpts.

Rival gangs battle in the streets and set fire to cars. Uncovered women are considered fair game. Molotov cocktails are hurled at police stations.

Syria? No, Sweden. For a long time, Sweden has been importing Middle Eastern immigrants into its small nation, and now it is experiencing many of the problems of the Middle East. The same thing is happening in France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, and England.

It’s often said that we in America just have to look at history to understand the fate that may be in store for us. But it’s no longer necessary to consult history books. All you have to do is look at what’s happening right now on the other side of the Atlantic.

In Germany during the first six months of 2016, migrants committed 142,000 crimes. But since the data only includes crimes that have been solved, the actual number of migrant crimes is likely far higher. In many parts of the country, police say they are unable to maintain law and order. More than 20,000 purses are snatched each year in Hamburg, and gangs of migrant youth have taken control of parts of the Jungfernsteig, a prestigious boulevard. The situation is much the same in Bremen, Berlin, Duisburg, Dusseldorf, and Stuttgart. All over Germany, migrant gangs and roving bands of migrant youth operate with near impunity. […]

Unless the French, the Germans, and the Swedes resist at some point soon, they, along with other European states, will someday be Islamic states. Europe is in the midst of a massive historical change, the significance of which rivals the fall of the Roman Empire. What we are witnessing is the gradual but inexorable substitution of one civilization for another.[…]

Of all the factors contributing to Islam’s hostile takeover of Europe, perhaps the most important is denial. If you deny the reality of Islamization, you can’t effectively resist it. The reality is that Europe is in a life and death struggle, but the denialists insist that it’s just business as usual. They assure us that terror has nothing to do with Islam (so don’t worry), that immigration is just cultural enrichment (it’s good for you), and that there are no no-go-zones (but it’s best to avoid them).

In Europe it’s not only the leaders who are in denial. The average citizen is expected to go along with the delusion. If he doesn’t, he can face arrest, prosecution, fines, and even jail time. In the Netherlands, individuals who post Facebook comments critical of Islam or immigration can expect a visit from the police. In Germany, citizens who express “xenophobic” views on social media risk having their children taken away. Meanwhile, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has ordered the British Press not to report when terrorists are Muslims. […]

Once again, the main problem is denial. The reason that the denialists cling to their denial is that they live in the past. European denialists live mentally in the post-war years. They must prove to themselves that Europe has abandoned its anti-Semitic ways. And for some insane reason, they have decided that the way to make up for Europe’s past sins is to welcome the “new Jews” (Muslims) into their midst. In short, they have made a colossal error and since it’s not easy to admit that you rank with history’s greatest blunderers, they must continue to maintain that the disaster unfolding around them is nothing more than a rough patch on the road to the multicultural Promised Land.

via In Denial about Islam – Crisis Magazine Emphasis mine, and read the whole thing.

Yeah, all that.

Lincoln said this, “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present… As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.” True then, true now. But so many, especially on the left, have forgotten nothing and learned nothing, not since well before the fall of the Soviet Union. And since we barely teach history anymore (eminent exceptions gratefully noted) they have in addition learned nothing about how our civilization has overcome these problems, in fact, this exact problem, before. When did you learn about the Battle of Viena? How about the Battle of Lepanto? Maybe the Battle of Tours?

Exactly the same thing, the west, against Islam, in Europe. We won those, so now they try a different way. and so far they are winning.

Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan had it right, “The time, they are a’changing.”

But will the change favor the west or Islam? That’s for us to decide.

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