Your Morning Cup of Links

How to score a live Shakespeare production

An artist’s salt crystal gown, created deep under the Dead Sea

Great rant by a professor aimed at student groups who protest the teaching of Western Civilization at universities. Here’s an excerpt, but go read the whole thing:

The material I teach in the first year of DWC [at Providence College] spans four millennia, from ancient Babylon to the end of the Renaissance. This year’s entries were originally written in Babylonian, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, old French, Italian, German, Spanish, and English. We are in Jerusalem with David, on the coast of half-Christian England with the poet of Beowulf, in Rome with Cicero, in Madrid with Calderón, in exile with the Florentine Dante, and in London with Shakespeare. We have studied the Parthenon and Saint Peter’s, Giotto and the stained glass windows of Chartres, Arthurian romance and the poetic philosophizing of Lucretius. It is utterly preposterous to say that we are anything but multicultural. We study cultures, and there are a lot of them, and they diverge far from ours and from one another. A Viking chieftain is not a Roman senator or a Christian friar. Xerxes is not Francis Xavier.

But I know that none of that really counts. One of the student protesters, abashed, has written in our newspaper that even though a Viking is admittedly ‘diverse’ from anybody we may meet on the street now, studying the Vikings does not serve ‘the larger purpose’ of diversity. And thus has he unwittingly given up the ballgame.

He and the students are not really interested in studying cultures other than ours. What counts for them as ‘diversity’ is governed entirely by a monotonous and predictable list of current political concerns. If you read a short story written in English by a Latina author living up the road in Worcester, that counts as ‘diverse,’ but if you read a romance written in Spanish by a Spanish author living in Spain four hundred years ago, that does not count as ‘diverse.’ It probably does not even count as Hispanic. If you pore over the verb system of Old Icelandic so that you can stumble around in the sagas of Snorri Sturluson, that does not count, despite the fact that the sagas are utterly different from any form of literature now written. But if you collect a few editorials written by Toni Morrison, that does count, despite the fact that they are written in English and that you have read hundreds of such.

That already is unreality aplenty. But there is more, and this is hard to talk about. I have said that it is absurd to pretend that you can have anything of substance to say about a curriculum in the history of science when you don’t know anything about the history of science. But what if you know hardly anything about anything at all? That is an exaggeration, but it does capture much of what I must confront as a professor of English right now, even at our school, which accepts only a small fraction of students who apply for admission. Nor, I’m afraid, does it apply only to freshmen. It applies also to professors.

I now regularly meet students who have never heard the names of most English authors who lived before 1900. That includes Milton, Chaucer, Pope, Wordsworth, Byron, Keats, Tennyson, and Yeats. Poetry has been largely abandoned. Their knowledge of English grammar is spotty at best and often nonexistent. That is because grammar, as its own subject worthy of systematic study, has been abandoned. Those of my students who know some grammar took Latin in high school or were taught at home. The writing of most students is irreparable in the way that aphasia is. You cannot point to a sentence and say, simply, ‘Your verb here does not agree with your subject.’ That is not only because they do not understand the terms of the comment. It is also because many of their sentences will have no clear subject or verb to begin with. The students make grammatical errors for which there are no names. Their experience of the written language has been formed by junk fiction in school, text messages, blog posts, blather on the airwaves, and the bureaucratic sludge that they are taught for ‘formal’ writing, and that George Orwell identified and skewered seventy years ago. The best of them are bad writers of English; the others write no language known to man.”

A 36-foot-long mosaic depicting a chariot race has been discovered in Cyprus. It dates to the fourth century and is one of the most complete of its kind.

Where no miner has gone before

Donald Trump, the clickbait candidate

The best defense of populist right wing media was that it was merely lowbrow. It was a bullhorn that pitched conservative ideas in a crude way, to a mass audience that is only receptive to crude messages. But it isn’t a surprise that in a democratic polity, the purveyors of crude media would confuse their numerical reach with significance. And also that they would begin to think that the ideas were starting to distract from the important thing, which was the volume of the bullhorn.

Thus Sean Hannity taunts an editor at The Wall Street Journal: “Instead of 23,000 Twitter fans hearing from you. I shared your ignorance with my 1.5 m and 15 m radio listeners!” While Hannity surely is more handsomely compensated than the victims of his taunts, the truth is that in the long run, subscribers to the Wall Street Journal are more important to the advancement of political goals than Hannity’s paranoid geriatrics. People with ideas pitch publishers and write books and hope to get them reviewed in papers like the Wall Street Journal. People who want to sell erection pills, and hawk scam products like gold coins and survival seeds ask about the ad rates against right-wing populist media.

“The African Americans who by most measurable metrics have it the worst are those who live under effective single-party rule conducted by spotlessly progressive Democrats in large American cities.”


Classical architecture and California

Statue of ‘real Robinson Crusoe’ in Bristol churchyard raises objections

The meaning of trees


An investigation by The New York Times into the financial maze of Mr. Trump’s real estate holdings in the United States reveals that companies he owns have at least $650 million in debt — twice the amount than can be gleaned from public filings he has made as part of his bid for the White House. The Times’s inquiry also found that Mr. Trump’s fortunes depend deeply on a wide array of financial backers, including one he has cited in attacks during his campaign.

For example, an office building on Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan, of which Mr. Trump is part owner, carries a $950 million loan. Among the lenders: the Bank of China, one of the largest banks in a country that Mr. Trump has railed against as an economic foe of the United States, and Goldman Sachs, a financial institution he has said controls Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, after it paid her $675,000 in speaking fees.

NASA just found a spacecraft that’s been lost for two years

The strange case of the butterfly and the male-murdering microbe

Tempest in a theater



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