Here is a hodgepodge of March Monday Miscellanies.
I) As Lent slowly moseys along, I continue to experiment with various meal concoctions to break the monotony of hummus and oatmeal (not together!). I have discovered a sandwich that I have come to like after insisting to myself that I should like it. Toast two pieces of swirled rye and pumpernickel bread, and add a generous layer of classic hummus and a pile of fresh baby spinach on top of one piece. Then, spread Marmite on the other piece. Put them together, and you have a Marmite sandwich that just might be safe enough to eat. I should disclose that I have worked on my liking of Marmite for over a decade. It is not an easy thing to swallow. So, developing a meal that makes me look forward to using Marmite is quite an accomplishment. It may have something to do with Lent. Everything tastes better during a fasting season—it’s true.
II) Yesterday, I decided to read John Derbyshire’s tree house pages on his web site. As I have written here before, I really like Derbyshire. I imagine that he is a swell guy to know, but I have never met him. He lives on Long Island and does not seem to make it down to D.C. for public seminars and discussions where I have been able to see writers in the flesh. I know that Derbyshire has his detractors on the Right, but I find him quite genial. He comes across as so normal. Of course, the average American guy does not read, write, and review books on mathematics for fun, and your regular Joe is unlikely to have Derbyshire’s peculiar, colorful, British-Chinese-American personal history. Still, he exudes an intelligent common sense. He exemplifies, in my opinion, the best in bourgeois culture. He is a middle class fellow rich in life experience who has done a fine job of cultivating his mind. I appreciate his wit, his insights, and, most of all, his honesty. In summary, he is an intellectual for anti-intellectuals—a sort of non-dismissive Dave Barry who is capable of a serious discussion.
Well, Derbyshire typifies the Anglo-American middle class Renaissance man—the somewhat ideal normal citizen in a liberal commercial republic. He does and knows a little bit of everything. I remember reading in one of his National Review columns that men no longer have the range of skills that were once normal for a free man to have. We have become increasingly specialized and narrow, as if all of society has tended toward Henry Ford’s vision of production. Yet, Derbyshire defies this tendency himself, though, as you can see in his writings . . . and in his tree house project. Derbyshire decided to build his children a tree house five years ago, and he documents the process on his page. I find it rather impressive; I do not think that I could do anything remotely comparable. The tree house gives me yet another reason to like the man.
III) If you know Spanish, you may wish to visit the page of El Instituto de la Memoria Histórica Cubana contra el Totalitarismo. The organization exists as a “counter revolutionary” memory for the evils of Castro’s long dictatorship. Whenever you find an obnoxious Leftist or adolescent (they are sometimes difficult to distinguish) wearing their Commie chic Che shirts or mouthing about Fidel’s workers’ paradise, you may wish to put him in contact with someone in Miami.
IV) If only all of our immigrants had the political sensibilities of the Cubans! I remember that only in Miami was there a protest against Mandela when he visited the United States; everywhere else, the man was worshiped almost as much as Obama is worshiped now. Evidently, being a political prisoner excuses one of his terrible ideas—just like being a ruthless Leftist dictator or one of his henchman.
V) Speaking of immigration, Peter Brimelow has an interesting review of the C.P.A.C. conference and the state of the Right in America today—“Regardless Of Their Doom / The Little Victims Play: CPAC, Frum, Limbaugh . . . And America?”
VI) Speaking of “ugly racists” on the S.P.L.C.‘s “hate watch” hit list, Steve Sailer has a fascinating article at VDARE, “The Obama Bear Market and Why He Triggered It.” Like all of Sailer’s recent articles on Obama, it features Sailer’s observations in his book on Obama’s autobiography, as well as ample quotations from Obama’s Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. Even two months into the new administration, it still shocks me how little Americans know about their current president. I still wonder how in Gehenna did he manage to fool so many folks . . .
VII) Speaking of racism, Shelby Steele has an insightful socio-political piece at the Wall Street Journal, “Why the GOP Can’t Win with Minorities.” Steele’s argument explains the historical aspect of the problem, but I wonder if more is at work than simply the reverberations of the past. If you have read my posts that deal with race, you know that the topic greatly interests me.
VIII) As a Cincinnatian, an Ohioan, and a right winger, I hold a special fondness in my heart for Robert Alphonso Taft—“Mr. Republican.” In a trade not known for principles or prudence, Taft was exceptional. Sadly, the United States Senate does not have men of his caliber anymore. Memory eternal!
I wished to add an inspirational Taft quotation, but I found a funny one instead: “You really have to get to know Dewey to dislike him.”
By the way, you can become a member of the vast right wing conspiracy by joining the Robert A. Taft Club.
IX) Lastly, I recently learnt of an icon that depicts the holy family’s flight into Egypt with Saint James tagging along. According to Eastern tradition, Saint James “the brother of our Lord” and the first bishop of Jerusalem was Joseph’s son and Jesus’ step-brother. I believe that Western traditions hold that he was Jesus’ cousin. It is quite possible that he was both, though I do not know much about Jewish marital laws at the time and the necessary degrees of separation required for marriage. You can see the icon here. Since I was a kid, the interconnection of folks in the bible has fascinated me. So, being a natural genealogist, I leapt with joy—figuratively, of course, and not in my mother’s womb—when I discovered a more extended holy family icon.
Clothing is important, I suppose. Consider the sage Mark Twain:
Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.
The internet, like my old encyclopedia books, allows me to indulge my endless curiosity. Whether I wish to spend countless hours exploring the evolution of Aryan languages, the dynastic histories of the Far East, or the maddening jargon of Anglophone analytic philosophy, the web facilitates my non-wasting of time. Yesterday, I got on a men’s fashion history kick. I never knew the intricacies of formal dress—the rules are quite elaborate. Moreover, I learnt the cultural, regional, and class significance of Tudor bonnets, flat caps, top hats, and bowlers. I discovered that fedoras were exclusively worn by women for decades before men started wearing them. I even read about various theories that describe why we wear what we wear and how. For example, King Edward VII’s rotundity may explain the rule that men ought not to fasten the bottom button of suit coats.
The Black Tie Guide and Ask Andy about Clothes have a lot of interesting information. You may also wish to visit the amusing WASP101 that treats the W.A.S.P. aesthetic or The Trad that aspires to capture some lost degenerate bourgeois playboy ground. Permanent Style appears to have a more balanced perspective of men’s fashion.
I admit that these sites embarrass my slovenly soul; they remind me just how much of an unrefined peasant I really am. As my paternal ancestors were tailors, I should have more sartorial sense. Were I rich, I would be a dapper dresser. Isn’t that the most reliable excuse in history for one’s shortcomings?
This time of year, I revisit food choices that I often ignore. Some folks find spiritual growth in the Lenten fast, but I am not among the pious. I do think that Lent makes you appreciate more the food categories that you forgo, but it also allows you to recognize the little joys of foods not regularly eaten. I consume far more salad and enjoy grainy cereal, especially oatmeal with nuts, more frequently than during ordinary time.
Many people give up sweets for Lent, but I probably consume more sugar during the fasting seasons because I use jams and fruit spreads as a substitute bread topping for my beloved cheeses. Like Wallace from Wallace & Gromit, I am quite a cheese fanatic, and I am not much of a sweet tooth. I would take fatty protein over sugary items any day.
I am sharing my riveting diet to set up an observation that I had this morning. I decided to put blackstrap molasses on an English muffin, and, upon eating it, I thought that it tasted like a red brick late nineteenth century factory. I cannot really defend the imagery that my taste buds suggested to my mind, but the strong flavor is something akin to a smokestack. I like molasses, and I like old industrial buildings; so, maybe it makes sense.
I then wondered how much tastes have changed in the English and American populations over the past century. Several foods that I consider old-fashioned just taste a bit out of step with my normal diet. Orange marmalade, English pickle relish, Marmite, black licorice, and a host of vinegar-treated foods come to mind as other strange fare—seemingly indicative of a less delicate palate. Did our great great great grandparents find such food normal? If there is any truth in this change, I wonder if it has to do with the abundance of sugar and corn syrup put into processed food over the last several decades. Have we been habituated to expect sweeter food? Would poor little Oliver Twist prefer blackstrap molasses to Mrs. Butterworth?
I often have questions about my native tongue, but I do not know whom to ask for answers. I suppose that I could hunt down English professors, but most of the ones whom I have met care little for grammar—they spend their time analyzing the vulvic allusions of feminist post-modern screeds on revolution against the phallocracy. I also cannot easily find answers to such questions on the internet. If I already knew the technical jargon, I would not have to look for the answer. Not knowing the proper terminology, I am left with common English words, and typing normal words into Google is not an efficient manner of finding linguistic information. Similarly, on the National Review the other day, someone expressed surprise to Jonah Goldberg that he had another dog in his life besides Cosmo—named Buckley. Mr. Goldberg responded that he had mentioned Buckley in the past, but searching for concrete results in the archives of the National Review would be a ridiculous task, for obvious reasons . . .
My current question concerns a phenomenon in English in which we treat a certain group of common nouns as proper nouns in that we do not use articles or possessive pronouns with them. The most obvious example is “home.” We often say that we are going home, or that someone is at home. We do not need to say that we are going to our home or the home—we simply say that we are going home. I came up with some other words that we treat this way: school, mass, liturgy, church, temple, and work. My father added that the English sometimes employ “hospital” in the same way, though I have never noticed that, myself.
The practice makes sense in that these things are usually quite individual for a person. Johnny goes to school, and we know that there is one particular school to which Johnny goes—at least at a given stage in his life. Note also that the behavior only occurs with certain words. No one says, “Job was terrible today” (save in notation-speak or in the few instances where folks are stuck with a jackass named Job), but people do say, “Work was terrible today.” We do not go to house, but we do go home, just as we go to Kroger’s, Kings Island, or France. I also wonder why, if we treat such words as proper nouns, we do not capitalize them. Perhaps, this used to be done, though English capitalization from centuries ago seems bizarre to me, as if the Germanic tendency of the language to capitalize all nouns lingered on in some quarters.
So, given the idiomatic character of this linguistic behavior, it simply must have a name. If you are aware of it, please share.