Thursday, March 5, 2009

on the virtue of being real

S.L. just drew my attention to this story (Warning: Some unedifying stuff):

The gist: Virtual reality is being extended to take in all five senses.

The technology is, how shall we say, cool (and hot and sweet and sour and ...).

The potential uses range from vapid to depraved to creepy.

But my favorite detail is the name of the article as it appears within the URL: Real Virtuality

It's nice to know that the art of the clever (what used to be known as wit) has not vanished from the earth.

rush to judgment

In the latest Imprimis (containing an address he gave in December), and apparently again at last week's Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) meeting, Rush Limbaugh pronounced a sentence of excommunication on "big government conservatives" and other such false brethren. Doubtless he had in mind such "neoconservatives" as David Frum, a frequent target of his anger these days.

There is a history of conservatives extending the left foot of fellowship to other conservatives. Frum himself infuriated many "paleoconservatives" back in 2003 when he suggested that they were being unpatriotic and didn't deserve to be called conservatives. He was, in a sense, returning a favor paid to the neocons by Stephen Tonsor (a paleocon) way back in 1986, when he read neoconservatism out of the movement in bitter and hysterical terms.

My sympathies in this ongoing dispute lie very decidedly with Frum and the neocons, and indeed I would resist any suggestion that there is some sort of moral equivalence between Frum's 2003 piece and any of the paleoconservative rantings against neocons, or Limbaugh's latest stunt.

However, I don't think that the habit of excommunicating other people who choose to call themselves conservatives is a healthy one, whoever might engage in it. Conservatism is a diverse movement, encompassing people on opposite sides of many issues. So it has always been, and so it will always be. I happen to think that's a strength of the conservative movement--which in many ways isn't a movement at all, but a collection of disparate movements that share a few things in common. There are many conservatives whom I can't stand, but that doesn't make them non-conservatives.

Besides, what was Limbaugh trying to accomplish? Did he seriously think he would get Frum et al. to stop calling themselves conservatives? Or that he would get everyone else to stop calling them conservatives? I think he's too smart to have been pursuing either of those hopeless objectives. I'm more inclined to think he was doing what he usually does, and does so well--venting, grabbing publicity, and preaching his choir into a happy frenzy.

But the next time he pronounces a sentence of excommunication, he should be sure to dress and carry himself more pontifically. I might find him a bit more convincing that way, though no less silly.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

liberals, "liberals," and Liberals

Some words are so horribly ambiguous that they become meaningless, or nearly so. When such a word is also extremely useful, however, it may be worth going to the trouble of saying what you mean by it so that you can use it with a reduced chance of being misunderstood. The word "liberal" (along with forms like "liberalism") is one such word. I am very fond of it, and I consider myself a liberal. But I am aware that I might confuse some people by saying that.

So here is how I intend to "disambiguate" it (to sound like Wikipedia). "Liberal" and its variants will appear in my posts in the following ways:
liberal, liberality (1)
classical liberal, classical liberalism (2)
"liberal," "liberalism" (3)
Liberal (4)
The forms in group (1) will be used with meanings related to generous and the like. Those in (2) have to do with the modern political tradition, dominant in the American founding, that places the highest political priority on individual freedom and equality under law. Those in (3) will bear on the frequently very illiberal, thoroughly adulterated form of classical liberalism that has arisen in America and elsewhere since the early 20th century, sometimes referred to as progressivism (or, as I like to write it, "progressivism")--and that now dominates the so-called Democratic Party. (4) has to do with Canada's Liberal Party and other similarly named parties.

I try to be liberal. I am a classical liberal. I am not a Liberal. And I despise "liberalism" (and a few "liberals").

If I were writing to political philosophers, I would be able to refer to classical liberalism as liberalism. But I'm not. So I can't. The "liberals" have stolen a noble and valuable word. C'est la vie--"liberals" stealing things, I mean.

tangential remark on "feeling bad?"

By the way, it is not always appropriate to correct others' grammar. Hypothetically, if my wife had misused the word "good" as we woke up at 5:22 Monday morning, it would have been a poor time to say, "You mean 'well', right?". Purely hypothetical, you understand ... well, at least I wish.

feeling bad?

It is surprising how often the word "good" is misused.

At least once a week some student says, "Mr. Lee, I don't feel good," when she is feeling ill. My general response is, "I'm glad; you shouldn't feel good because you aren't, and neither am I." I hope this technique is successfully thought-provoking, not annoyingly petty.

Since I teach in a Christian school, the young folk eventually catch on to my meaning--at least the members of the class who aren't feeling ill. But I wonder--how often are we really aware of sin and its consequences in ourselves, in those around us, and in mankind as a whole?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

the drug starts to wear off

Here's Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit:

DAVID BROOKS: This is not the Barack Obama I thought I knew.

Actually, it’s the same Obama it always was. Brooks, and others, were just so excited at the idea of a black President — or, more specifically, at the idea of themselves, voting for a black President — that they suspended all critical faculties. Now it’s buyer’s remorse. We’ll be seeing more of that.

Very well said, Glenn.

what's wrong with voters under 30

Insightful comment from user Amor de Cosmos on the Contentions blog over at Commentary:

We tend to forget that there is a generation of voters who never knew 1970’s America. They have lived in the relative prosperity brought about by Reaganism. They have not known punitive taxation, stifling regulation, and the cold hand of bureaucracy. They are about to learn the price of Utopia.

(Peter Wehner's post that prompted the comment is also worthwhile, on our new president's determination to undo every aspect of the Reagan-Thatcher revolution.)

You can learn from other people's mistakes (which requires historical memory), or from your own (i.e., from experience). As the old Yiddish proverb has it, Experience is a good school, but the fees are high.

how to subscribe to this blog or any other


Instead of hopping around in your browser from one blog to another that you like to read, you can subscribe to the blogs--along with lots of other kinds of information feeds.

If this is totally new to you, you might want to read this tutorial from the BBC site. It's a good introduction.

Here's a really easy way to get started with blog subscriptions: On this blog, way down at the bottom of the sidebars on the right side of the window, you'll see a subscription section, which contains a little orange thing (called a "chicklet") and a link that says "Subscribe in a reader." Right-click on the link, and choose "Open in a new tab" or "Open in a new window." Then click on the new tab/window to see what is displayed (and come back to the tab/window where you're reading this for the rest of your instructions, when you're ready).

You should see (in the new tab/window) something that says "we have a thinking feeling" at the top, and "syndicated content powered by FeedBurner" right below that. Below all of that, and over on the right, there should be a box that says "Subscribe Now!" Below that is a bunch of little rectangle widgets, including one that says "Google" next to a little plus sign. Click on that.

Now you should find yourself looking at a Google page that has two big blue buttons that say, "Add to Google homepage" and "Add to Google Reader." If you have a Google homepage or want to have one, click on that button, and Google will step you through the process of adding our blog feed to your homepage or, if necessary, creating a homepage from scratch. If you'd rather just use the Google reader to look at all your news and blog feeds, then go with that. Again, Google will step you through the whole process, and will give you access to tutorials explaining how Google Reader works.

There are lots of other options, but if you really wanted one of them you wouldn't be reading this post!

fairness differs from mercy

Having condemned Toni Morrison's new novel, her views of language-as-oppression, and the critics' sycophancy, I want to add a qualification in the interest of full disclosure and of fairness:

I have not read the book, but only a review of it, along with lots of "critical" puffery. I have also watched an interview with TM on the book and on assorted other topics, such as the election of Barack Obama.

Why have I not read it? Because the "critics" who praise it praise it in ways that are either patently untrue, or that reflect values that I do not share, and at least one critic who has panned it has done so in a fair, balanced, and well-argued manner that presupposes literary values similar to my own. I am too busy to read books of such a character. Also, I have read enough of Ms. Morrison's other productions to know that she is fond of some very muddled ideas, is overrated as a stylist, and has a severely misguided agenda.

But I do not doubt that the book has some good passages and some good aspects. Toni Morrison is a human being who is capable of sympathetic and beautiful writing (though not in a style that particularly appeals to me). Some of her purposes in writing as she does are noble. I do not mean in any way to question her intentions. She is right to concern herself with racism, and with the plight of those who are helpless, and with the injustices (I would call them sins) that we inflict on each other daily, especially in our most closely knit circles. Our differences are mostly on the question of how to make the world better, not whether it needs to be made better, or even what about it needs to be fixed.

question: when is a critic not a critic?

Answer: When he's a cheerleader.

Here are some excerpts from what the "critics" have had to say about A Mercy--taken from the publisher's puff page, which has scores of these--with my comments in curly braces:

"Ms. Morrison has rediscovered an urgent, poetic voice that enables her to move back and forth with immediacy and ease between the worlds of history {oh?} and myth {that part is evident}, between ordinary daily life and the realm of fable." (Michiko Kakutani, New York Times)

"Rich knowledgeability {is that anything like knowledge?} about 17th-century America is put to telling effect." (Peter Kemp, The Sunday Times)

"Morrison doesn’t write traditional novels so much as create a hypnotic state of poetic intoxication. You don’t read A Mercy, you fall into a miasma of language and symbolism. [It] offers an original vision of America in its primeval state, where freedom was a rare commodity." (Deirdre Donahue, USA Today) {Where do I begin?}

"What’s the opposite of ‘lazy’ in a fiction writer’s style and research? Industrious? Indefatigable? Morrison wears her knowledge lightly {that's for sure}, yet every page exhibits her control {?} of [the 17th century’s] objects and artifacts, its worries and dangers. She surrounds A Mercy’s more fanciful arabesques with a broad border of realism. . . . A book as masterfully wrought as A Mercy behooves its author {can a book behoove an author?} to swagger." (Carlin Romano, The Philadelphia Inquirer)

And then there is this gem: "The stories in A Mercy are as layered and contested as the barely mapped topology traversed by its characters." (Neda Ulaby, NPR) {Do you think she might have meant topography? Or does Prof. Morrison also have a role in Princeton's mathematics department?}

My favorite comment on the book comes from the author herself (quoted by Cheryl Miller): "I'm just trying to look at something without blinking, to see what it was like, or it could have been like..." How do you look, with or without blinking, at what something could have been like (if you're not God)?

I grant that she's not exactly a critic, but then she might as well be.