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Archive for March, 2013

Little Notes on the Commentary

with 6 comments

I read Michael Fisher’s comment on the Magazine post, and I do want to point out some things.

First, in the article I was talking about, the women profiled were all young, just out of high school, and without children.

They each received substantial financial aid packages that included books, fees, AND room and board.  Transportation is almost never an issue on residential campuses, although transportation to and from home for holidays might be.

They were, in other words, in the perfect position to benefit from their opportunities. 

In fact, they were in a better position to benefit from those opportunities than many of their classmates with wealthier families, since a far smaller percentage of their packages required them to take on debt. 

In spite of all that, two of the three of them were bombing out of school, in one case for reasons the university involved had diagnosed as a form of self sabotage.

Self sabotage or otherwise, however, it was the case for both the girls who were about to drop out that the principle issue was the fear that getting an advanced education would inevitably mean becoming alienated from their families and the world in which they grew up.

That fear was not misplaced–moving up the social ladder DOES mean becoming alienated from your family and friends. 

This almost certainly has something to do with the fact that most people who report such a climb also report having felt alienated from their families and friends from the beginning.

If you don’t fit to begin with, you have less at stake when you walk out the door.

It is hard to see, however, what can be done about this sort of something truly draconian, like removing children from their poor parents at birth and raising them in a different environment. 

Simply giving them great schools and stressing upper middle class value systems during the school day won’t work.  Their families will  have a lot more time to work on them, and their family relationships will be a lot more important to virtually all of them.

My objections to the article I was commenting on is precisely in its attempts to obscure what is meant by “class.” 

Articles of that kind tend to veer back and forth between different definitions, intending to–and succeeding at–leaving the impression that ‘class” is another world for “socioeconomic status.”

But class is not principally about money.  It’s much more about ideas, attitudes, tastes, and habits.  There are plenty of educated-upper-middle-class people out there making working class salaries or less.  Their kids are in AP classes and getting scholarships at Harvard not because their parents have the bucks, but because their parents know things like the fact that it doesn’t matter what the sticker price of a college is, and AP will help  you get admitted and get financial aid, and financial aid awards can be negotiated.

Second, as to the risk thing–yes, I understand that risk is scary, and more often than not, when you take a risk  you fail. 

But risk is the name of the game.

The REALLY objectionable part of the bank bail out was that it uncoupled reward from risk.  It turned bankers into a protected class that did not have to suffer from their  mistakes, and let them keep the cash anyway.

Risk is scary, and it very often fails, but you should NEVER get serious rewards without it.

Ray Kroc went through bankruptcy at least twice–it might have been three times–and bad bankruptcy, too, with the house gone and the kids on the street and the family’s lives torn up and shredded and no idea where the next bottle of milk was coming from.

When he threw the dice again,  he had no guarantee whatsoever that he’d end up with McD’s instead of back in bankruptcy court.

If you don’t have the stomach for that kind of thing, I sympathize.  I don’t either. 

But the price of safety is–and should be–a much smaller reward.

And yes, yes, I k now–some people are Paris Hilton and have families with money that let them have all they want without working.

But part of the incentive for taking big risks is–and should be–the hope that you will be able to keep your children and grandchildren safe from the sort of risks you had to take yourself, and from the day to day grind that is the only other alternative.

I read the article from which Michael posted those comments, and a couple of other articles from the same site. 

The information is true, and it’s affecting–but it’s also completely irrelevant.

It’s certainly irrelevant to any discussion of “income inequlity.”

 

Written by janeh

March 23rd, 2013 at 4:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Magazines

with 5 comments

One of the things I have not been keeping a record of since the first of the year is the magazines I read, and I read a lot of them.

On one level, I hesitate to say I’ve “read” them, because,  unlike books, I don’t read everything inside the covers. 

Instead, I look around in them and see what I find interesting and read that.  Sometimes that’s a lot and sometimes that’s a little.  Sometimes issues get backed up over the course of months because I’ve got too much else to do.

Most of the magazines I read are more or less political, and they come from all sides of the political spectrum.  The standard list includes, among others:  Reason, National Review, Mother Jones, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, The Weekly Standard, First Things,  The Progressive and The Objectivist Standard. 

If I can get ahold of them–and I can’t always–I like to get in Free Inquiry, The Skeptical Inquirer and The Humanist.

The point, I hope, is to get a look at all points of view.

This month, I find myself in one of those situations that is both annoying and frustrating. 

I have started a book that I ought to find very interesting.  It’s called Gold and Spices, and it’s been hanging around on my TBR pile since 1998.  It’s a history of the rise of commerce in the Middle Ages.  It has the advantage of being about my favorite historical period and about an aspect of that period on which I am not well informed.

And yet, for some reason, I just can’t get myself into it.  I’ve read almost 100 pages, and I will finish it, but I keep finding myself getting distracted.

When I get distracted, I’ve been flipping my way through the magazines at a much faster pace than usual, and yesterday evening I flipped through the one called The Progressive.

The Progressive is, in keeping with its name, a magazine of liberal opinion.  In fact, of largely left-liberal opinion.

It’s probably the magazine furthest on the left of the lift up there, in much the same way The Weekly Standard is furthest to the right.

I’ve got my preferences in issues.  Give me a stack of articles on the sequester, or Latin American, from the left or the right, and my eyes glaze over.

This issue was more interesting than that.  There were articles on unions and unionizing, for instance, and that subject has been fascinating me since the first of Scott Walker’s laws passed in Wisconsin.

I was about halfway through this issue when I came upon an article that was billboarded as being about the kind of place I teach in. 

I stopped and read it because–well, let’s face it.  It was directly related to my life.

And as I read it, it became  more and more eerily related to my life.  The terms the writer used, the descriptions of students and events, all sounded as if I could have written them myself.

Then I got  to the end of the article and read the bio.

I could have written it myself.

The writer teaches at the same place I do, although she is not somebody I know.

But although I could have written this article myself, the chances are almost certain that it is not the article I would have written if I ever decide to write about the place I teach.

It was, to put it bluntly, a Good News Bible.

The writer concentrated on the successes of the system, of which there are, most certainly some.

The successes are why there is not more turnover among teachers like me. 

You go along, convinced you cannot do this one more day without causing harm to yourself or others, because you’re just going to explode some day in front of class, or worse–and then the exception comes along, the one in a thousand who is able to work through the mountain of everything wrong to get out the other side, and you begin to think you’re doing some good.

The article was something of a hat trick.

The writer was able to say what she wanted to say and leave the impression she wanted to leave because the whole thing was an exercise in subjective experience.

She told story after story about students who had not only succeeded, but inspired her.  She provided absolutely nothing in the way of statistics, or description and analysis of the system, or–well, anything.

Everything this woman said sounded very good indeed, unless you knew that the stories represent much  less than a tenth of the reality of what goes on in our kind of place.

I’m not trying to disparage the success stories.  They’re real, and they can get you high for a month when they happen.

The problem is that we don’t know why they happen, aside from saying that some people are just like that.  We don’t know why are small groups of successes succeed.

As things stand now, we cannot use what we know about them to help anybody else.

A few months ago, there was a spate of articles about  how “class” is now more important than anything else in determining who applies to, gets into, and goes to a “decent college,” and who succeeds there once they go.

For  once, the articles really were about class–not socioeconomic status, but the set of habits and atitudes we bring to our day to day living.

Some of those articles made me absolutely crazy.  They were almost always written by people with the tastes and attitudes of the educated upper  middle class, and they kept stumbling over things that anybody with a wider range of acquaintances would have known  without having to think about it–

For instance, that outside the educated upper middle class, family always comes before work, career or ambtion–and if you find yourself in a conflict between work and family, the work goes out the window.

The educated upper middle class sees dropping out of college because  it’s estranging you from you family as a tragedy.  The people who do it see it as the only desirable choice.

All of that notwithstanding, the  habits and attidues that matter to the kids (and adults) who attend institutions like mine are much more basic:  keeping regular schedules, being on time to classes and appointments, turning in work on time and neat and complete, always doing the most and not the least possible.

None of these things depend on money. 

It doesn’t matter how much the one percent makes relative to the rest of us.

Poor people as well as rich people have these habits and attitudes and have had them all through time.

And, in terms of life outcomes, these things matter far more than how much money you grew up with.

The children of the educated upper middle class who  lack these habits and attitudes will fail. 

The children of the lower middle class and the poor who lack these habits and attitudes will crater, and they’ll crater early.

We can pour a couple of billion dollars into the K-12 system, provide all our students with private tutors and affirmative action, screw the entire system by reconfiguring all the standards until we can say more of our students “graduated” from this and “completed” that–

But as long as the kid is twenty minutes late to every class, hands in a handwritten half page on crinkled notepaper instead of a typed three page essay, shows up at  his job interview in a stained t-shirt with the F word on it and a backwards baseball cap–

As long as all that is the case, the kid is going to fail at just about anything we hope to help him to do, and none of the other things are going to make any damned difference.

I think I’d be less of a pessimist  if I thought anybody cared.

 

Written by janeh

March 13th, 2013 at 8:37 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Annie, Not Oakley

with 9 comments

So, yesterday somebody observed to me that it’s been a week since I wrote a blog post, and I suppose it’s true.

It’s the time of year when I’m finishing another Gregor, which means I’m distracted a lot.

It’s more than a lot distracting to put a corpse face down in the middle of a busy city street and then not know how or why you got him there.

I know there are terribly organized people who write murder mysteries by planning everything out ahead beforehand with timelines and maps, but I’m not one of them.

Whatever.

It’s also spring break at my place, so I have a week without too much craziness in it, so I’ve got time.

Sort of.

Anyway, the last nor’easter of the year came and went without too much inconvenience where I live.  There is supposed to have been two feet of snow up in the northwest corner of the state, but we got nothing much more than a thick dusting and then temperatures high enough to melt it all before the end of the day.

I am not complaining.

What I did during the snow, after I’d done actual work, was to read Ann Coulter’s Mugged, and I’ll start there.

First, I’ve got to say that I have a volatile relationship with Ann Coulter’s books, and it’s not entirely my fault.

Yes, the woman is tendentious practically as a vocation, but she’s not the only one, and she’s at least honest about it.

Most of the time when people claim Coulter is “lying,” what she’s actually doing is one of three things:  a) expressing an opinion that infuriates them or b) saying something true that nobody wants to think about or c) engaging in humor.

That last thing endlessly fascinates me.  I can’t figure out if the people who go ballistic about Coulter’s sarcasm really can’t recognize sarcasm when they see it, or if they’re engaged in a deliberate attempt to use any excuse at all to engage in an orgy of moral self righteousness.

Okay, given the people involved, that might be a trick question.

But Annie is Annie, and I know what I’m going to get going in, so these things aren’t what bother me.

What does bother me is that the quality of research is incredibly uneven from book to book. 

The book on Joseph McCarthy was incredibly well researched.  I spent four or five days on the Internet trying to check out various claims, and Coulter always came up accurate.

Even in places where I uncovered critics claiming that one statement or another was inaccurate, further digging always proved Coulter’s version right. 

Godless, on the other hand, was just a mess. 

What’s worse, it was a mess on subjects about which I had first hand knowledge.

What that book did was to take the activities of a very small group of people and blow them up as if they were majority activities and opinions.

And yes, I know that’s what progressives do with the Tea Party, but I don’t like it there, either, and I don’t see why I should have to put up with it at all.

All that said–Mugged is definitely one of Coulter’s best researched books, and it is also one of her more interesting  ones.

It is first a book about racial politics, and it’s a good one.

We talk a lot about how we should have an “honest discussion about race,” but what we mostly mean when we say that is that we should have a discussion about race couched in academic platitudes and social science jargon.

This book is an honest discussion about race, and especially about American racial politics.

Of course, it’s not the honest discussion about race that the people calling for the honest discussion about race want to have, but those people are still putting out academic platitudes and social science jargon, and we can’t blame Annie for that.

For what it’s worth, I did spend a couple of days checking out various claims (who did what during the Civil Rights era, who supported segregation andwho supported integration, the pattern of wins and losses in the Southern states after the Goldwater election (important verifying or debunking the existence of a “southern strategy)) and all the ones I did check out were solid.

What’s more important to me is that the book says things, out loud, that most people will not say, even though it’s obvious from their behavior that they think them.

Of course, this is Coulter, so the book spends way too much time calling people insane and doing other things whose entire purpose seems to be to get people frothing at the mouth and indignantly declaring how offensive she is. 

By now you’d think the frothers would have figured out that Coulter doesn’t care and that all they do with the frothing is give her a chance to laugh all the way to the bank.

But frothers–and there are frothers on both sides–never do seem to be able to figure that out.

That said, if you can get past the rhetoric, there are some truly valuable things in this book, including references to the studies that track what affirmative action actually does in contrast to what it says it does–and they’re social science studies, so I treat them with a grain of salt.

On the other hand, the fact that I had to go to a book by Ann Coulter to find them is very interesting.

All that being said, I would not recommend this book to everyone.

I think its ideas and its research would be valuable for everyone to know, but I also understand that Coulter’s style–aggressive, antagonistic and abrasive on purpose–upsets a lot of people just as a style. 

And people  upset with the style hear nothing but the style.

If you can handle the style, there’s a lot here to learn.

If you can’t, we’ll just have to wait  until someone comes along with a book with the same thesis and similar research meant for a wider audience.

That sounds like I want Coulter to stop writing the way she writes, but I don’t.

Our commitment to free speech is measured by how we respond to the speech we hate, not the speech we love.

Coulter long ago became the standard by which I measure the authenticity or hypocrisy of various people’s claims to be in favor of free expression.

If you think the proper response to Annie is to find some way, any way, to shut her up–

Well, you might consider the possibility that you’re not on the side you say you are.

I need to go off and do something sensible.

Written by janeh

March 11th, 2013 at 10:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized

And, Again…

with 3 comments

I haven’t read Criiminal yet, but I’ll get around to it.  Karin Slaughter is the only writer I read any more, mostly because she’s the only one who doesn’t seem to me to be operating almost entirely on cliches.

If the book does locate things like having to have a husband or father in order to open a bank account, and that kind of thing, in 1975,  I would say that was a little late for me.

I was 22 in the fall of 1973, when I first went out to graduate school, and I opened a bank account and (about a  year later) rented a house without having to get anybody’s permission at all.  In 1975, I moved to Michigan and did the same with bank accounts and rental property and even bought a very expensive bed frame and mattress on credit without having to get a husband, father, or anybody else to sign for me.

On the discrimination and harrassment front, the timing fits my experience a little better–not because I ever experienced much of it, but because I’ve got credible evidence from people I trust that there was a lot of it specifically in professions that had been traditionally male.

And especially in trades that had been traditionally working class male, which is what the police department–outside of particular divisions–would have been.

In all that time, though, I was actually grabbed only once, and not by an employer.  The man was roaringly drunk at the time, in the middle of the day, which was not surprising.  He was roaringly drunk most of the time.

The incident was infuriating but not frightening, and witnessed by half a dozen people.  One of them was coming to the rescue when I pushed the guy off and he fell to the floor.  He had to be helped up and gave no indication that he had any idea of what had just happened, or even of why he’d fallen down.

It might have been subterfuge, but neither I nor anybody else who saw what happened thought so, and if you’d known this man and his behavior,  you wouldn’t have either.

What really strikes me about this incident, looking back on it, what really seems different between the then and the now, is not that the man wasn’t hauled up on harrassment charges or threatened with having his tenure revoked, but that  nobody said anything or did anything about the alcoholism.

He’d been brought in the year before as a “name” in the profession, with automatic full professor status and tenure, and the fact that he was falling down drunk most of the time was never mentioned by anybody.

These days, we’d send him to rehab at the very least. 

I do remember a lot of sexual innuendo and dirty jokes.  If they came from people whom I did not believe posed any actual threat to me–and they always did come from such people–I just rolled my eyes and expressed my opinions about jerks.   

The problem of that, of course, is that exactly the same behavior might have felt much more threatening to other people. 

And it might even have felt legitimately much more threatening.

I’ve heard all the really stupid stories–the woman who wanted a print of a Goya nude taken off her classroom wall because she thought it was sexual harrassment, etc–and nobody wants to encourage that sort of mindless self-important pseudorighteousness.

At the same time, that sort of thing is very bad manners at the least, and I’m not sorry to see that it’s largely  no longer tolerated.

There was a very interesting series of posts on Facebook a while back, written by author and actress Fidelis Morgan (good books, available for e-readers, look them up).

Morgan worked on and off on BBC programs during the tenure of a now-dead TV star host named Jimmy Savile, who seems to have made a positive vocation out of groping the staff, among other things. 

The cover up of that behavior recently became a full-scale BBC scandal, with lots of people moaning and shaking about how-could-this-have  happened.

Morgan points out that it was not Savile alone who was guilty of such behavior, but most of the males in the business, and the women did what they called “putting up with it.”

All that said, I still don’t think it’s possible to be nostalgic for an era that was dead and gone before you were born.

So I don’t know what to call my thing about the thirties.

I listened to Gershwin again this morning anyway,  and tomorrow, for blog, I just may put on Artie Shaw.

 I’ve just started finishing a Gregor, and I seem to be in a very strange mood.

 

Written by janeh

March 3rd, 2013 at 11:36 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Time Machine

with 6 comments

So, it’s Saturday morning, and I’m sitting here with the music going off behind my head.

But it isn’t the usual music. 

For some reason, the only thing that would do this morning was George Gershwin, from the only CD I own, called The Essential George Gershwin and made up almost entirely of classic recordings of things like “I Got Rhythm” and “Summertime.” 

I think the “Swanee River” track might actually have Al Jolson singing. 

But it’s like I said.  It’s going on behind my head, and I’m not in the mood to go into the other room to check the liner notes.

I k now it must seem, sometimes, to people who read this blog, that I only listen to classical music, or early music (as in medieval), or even just harpsochord music, but that isn’t true.

I actually like quite a few other things, including Gershwin–jazz of almost every variety, Sixties and early Seventies Rock and Roll, Fifties Rock and Roll, some more modern Rock and Roll, and lots and lots and lots of modern Country.

There are probably categories that I’m leaving out, but you get the picture.  I am about music the way I am about reading–I like practically everything at least some of the time.

The reason that I never talk about anything but classical on the blog is that I tend to write the blog right after I write the for real, which I do invariably in the mornings.

Music, for me, is tied really strongly to particular times of the day.  Jazz and Blues belong to the dark–not just to the nighttime, which can be very light very late in the summer, but to the dark. 

Gershwin isn’t Koko Taylor and he’s not John Coltrane, either, but I still tend to associate what he does with darkness.

Most of the time, it doesn’t even occur to me to put something like Gershwin on in the morning, and then there’s the problem with lyrics.

I really write better when I’m listening to instrumentals, and not to lyrics.

This morning, though, I’m not only in a Gershwin mood, I’m in a not-later-than-the-Thirties mood. 

Since it’s Saturday and I have a fairly clear day after I get the computer stuff done,  I’ll crank up the DVD player later and Watch Things while I correct papers.

It always helps to Watch Things when you correct papers, because when the papers get exceptionally egregious you can always turn your attention to–whatever.

The whatever this afternoon will be, I think, also up-to-the-Thirties.

I’ve got a couple of largish Charlie Chan collections (one from each actor), plus a good stack of Busby Berkeley musicals.  Any of those will do.

I do a lot of this kind of thing lately.  I pick an era and just let myself live in it for a while.

For a while, I worried that this was a weird form of nostlagia.  One of the eras is quite definitely the Fifties, and I have all the seven seasons of the Perry Mason television show that have been released. 

I’ve got some movies from the same period, too, and I want one that isn’t on DVD yet called The Girl He Left Behind.

Most of the eras I get “nostalgic” for, though, I can’t be nostalgic for, because I wasn’t alive when they happened.

There just seems to be something about the imaginative representations of these eras that seems to me to be more congenial to who I am, than the era I’m living in now.

Intellectually, I know this is not really true. 

I would not have enjoyed living in the actual Thirties, or the actual Forties.

What’s more, I did, in fact, live in the actual Fifties, and I was  miserable.

Still, there is something going on here, and I wish I knew what.

The best way I can explain it is to say that there is something about the underlying sense of living in these eras that feels better to me than that same underlying sense of living feels to me now.

Maybe it’s just that these eras seem to me to be so much less angry than ours is now, and so much less divided.

Of course, that insight–if that’s what it is–snags on another one, which is that angry and divided isn’t always bad. 

If the world is wrong or bad or corrupted, we ought to be angry.

And if only some of us see that corruption or want it fixed, then we ought to be divided.

For some reason, though, even the wrongness and badness and corruption–and even the wrongness and badness and corruption that would have personally affected me–seems less bad than a lot of what I’ve got at the moment.

I’m not sure just in what sense that is true, but it does seem to be true.

And for today, I’m not going to worry about it.

I’m just going to run a lot of Thirties movies, and listen to Gershwin in between.

Written by janeh

March 2nd, 2013 at 10:51 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The February Reading List

with one comment

My younger son told me this morning that I only had to look around.  There were birds of all kinds near the windows, and geese honking away in the sky, and no need to keep the heat more than halfway up–obviously, it’s spring.

I am, I will admit, a little skeptical.

Historically–if you can call my tenure in this house a history–we’ve had our worst nor’easter of  the season in the first  week of March.

I know this because my sons’ school always had the parents’ performance of its musical the first week of March, and since Greg always had a part in it, and it was always held at night, I often found myself struggling home in the dark in really, really awful weather.

So we’ll see.  Maybe spring is here.  Maybe there will be a two foot fall on Tuesday.

I will admit that spring has to come sometime.  It’s more or less required.

At any rate, the February reading report.

Anyone who has read the January report will note that this one is a lot shorter.

That’s partly because February is a short month, but mostly because life has swung back into gear.  I had manuscript revisions, and teaching started again, and I’ve started the new Gregor.

There have also been issues that I admit I never considered before starting this.

Those of you who read this blog semi-regularly know what kind of a fight I had to put up to read the Francis Bacon book, a problem that resulted in my doing something I almost never do–I read another book in the middle of attempts to read the Bacon book.

I have no idea at all how to indicate something like that on a list, or even if I should indicate it.

But, for better or worse, here’s the list for books finished in February:

10) Robert A. Heinlein.  Starship Troopers.

11) Louise Penny.  A Trick of the Light.

12) Francis Bacon.  The Major Works including New Atlantis and the Essays.  Edited by Brian Vickers from Oxford University Press.

13) Alice Hoffman.  Seventh Heaven.

              d) Raymond Chandler.  “The Simple Art of Murder.”

14.  Randy Alcorn.  Prolife Answers to Prochoice Arguments.

I won’t go on about the Francis Bacon, since I’ve already gone about it, except to say this:

The bad design is, sincerely, a shame.  There is a lot that’s interesting about this book, including information on one of the most famous murder cases in the history of England–the poisoning of Sir Thomas Overby, for which case Bacon was himself the Crown prosecutor. 

For those who asked–the “usual places” to look for a short biography of the editor (Brian Vickers) are at the front of the book, the back of the book, and on the back cover of a paperback.

The very last selection in that book is Bacon’s New Atlantis,  his attempt at a perfect-world-scheme in the tradition of More’s Utopia. 

It is depressingly exactly what you would expect, except with a lot more scientific gadgets.  On that score it can be properly labeled science fiction in the old sense of the term–that is, fiction that tries to anticipate the science of the future.

The notes tell me that Bacon did a not half job of projection.

Alice Hoffman’s Seventh Heaven is a contemporary “literary” novel.  I read very few of those, but I like Hoffman’s work in general.  I’ve talked here about her Blue Diary, which is the story of a man who committed a crime and escaped to make a life for himself for twenty years, only to be caught out when his case aired on one of those catch-the-criminal shows.

Seventh Heaven is less easy to categorize.  It is the picture of what happens to the people living on a single street in a housing development that is pretty much Levittown, over the course of a single school year, starting in the fall of 1959 and going through the spring of 1960.

I know  that doesn’t sound like much, but when I first bought this book, over ten years ago, I read it obsessively–a dozen times at least in the space of four or five months.

I was a little surprised to find that, coming back to it after several years, I’m still as entranced by it. 

Part of it is that I have known all those characters, and even that particular street.  Those things are, in this novel, just what I perceived them to be when I was living them. 

Undoubtedly both my perceptions and Hoffman’s are skewed by being the kind of people we are–but then, everybody’s perceptions are skewed that way.  There’s nothing to be done about it.

This is not the novel I would give to those of you who are impatient with “literary” fiction–but this is the writer of Practical Magic.  Literary or not, her work has been generally popular.

And all of it–including Seventh Heaven–includes at least some magic or indications of the supernatural.

Prolife Answers to Prochoice Questions was given to me by a friend a couple of years ago.  The friend is prochoice.

The book is written by a pastor and published by a religious press.  The pastor–Randy Alcorn–is both a prolife activist and a popular novelist of Christian books.

And he tries–he really, really tries–to present arguments based only on logic and scientific evidence that will speak to secular readers.

It doesn’t quite work, and the result is a schizophrenic hybrid, where secular discussion will suddenly erupt in suggestions for activism for your church.

Even so, the book  has several things to recommend it.

If you want a concise exposition of what prolife arguments actually are–instead of the press reports of what they’re supposed to be–this is a good place to start.  It’s clear and well organized.

My biggest problem with the book is that Alcorn persistantly melds legal and moral arguments, and at several points states outright that laws should have a moral foundation.

That means that when  he deals with the only argument I think can be made for legally allowing abortion–and I’m grateful to the man for actually knowing the argument exists–

Anyway, when he gets around to providing an “answer” for that prochoice argument, he doesn’t.

Instead,  he provides a moral argument.

But I’ll grant him the moral argument.  It’s the legal argument that I find unassailable, and he doesn’t deal with that at all.

For what  it’s worth, I still think the best prolife book ever written in James T. Burchaell’s Rachel Weeping.

And, finally–Raymond Chandler.

The essay above, “The Simple Art of Murder,” was recommended to me several times by more than one person, and I put off reading it several times.

The fact is that I don’t like Chandler as a writer.  I find him overwrought and pretentious and the worst kind of snob, and I never did understand what so many people found to love about his “noir” detective novels.

Contrary to the claims by  just about everybody, including Chandler himself, the hardboiled detective novel is no  more “realistic” than anything Agatha Christie got herself famous for, and is often less.

“The Simple Art of Murder” is Chandler’s broadside against just such writers of just such fiction as the stuff put out by Christie and Sayers, both of whom he castigates by unmistakeable reference.

But the writing is wonderful, sharp, sardonic, sarcastic and hysterical.

If Chandler had written like this in his fiction, I’d have already read all of it.

And that’s the month.

At the moment the issue is  more about how much I’ve got to do today.

So I’d probably better go do it.

Written by janeh

March 1st, 2013 at 10:24 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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