Blog

Conversion in modernity

Continuing on the theme, here’s Pierre Manent on why conversion can seem so objectionable to us moderns:

The only truly unforgivable human action is what one used to call “conversion.” There is no longer any legitimate ground for change because there is no longer any legitimate ground for preference.

Varieties of Conversion 🔗

Two interesting pieces on conversion:

A review of Neil Price’s history of the Vikings, Children of Ash & Elm, that wonders how a people as fierce as the Vikings came to convert to Christianity.

Ross Douthat on the conditions of our meritocracy’s disbelief, and what conversion requires today (NYT).

Conversion is a fascinating concept, whatever form it takes (religious or otherwise; conversion or de-conversion): what would it take for you to embrace a dramatically different vision of reality? Can you imagine yourself a convert?

Who is Wanchope Ábila and what does his nickname mean? ⚽️

Minnesota United’s new striker, Ramón “Wanchope” Ábila is an old friend of our superstar midfielder Emmanuel Reynosa. The two played together at Boca Juniors, the Buenos Aires club I supported when I studied abroad there.

Ábila’s nickname is apparently a reference to the Costa Rican striker Paulo Wanchope, who played for West Ham & Manchester City (& even scored twice in 12 appearances for the Chicago Fire).

The original, Costa Rican Wanchope played for Rosario Central of the Argentine first division for a season, in 2006 (the year after I lived in BsAs). At the time, Ábila was coming up through the youth program at Instituto, a team from Córdoba that typically plays in the Argentine second division. I haven’t yet figured out how Ábila wound up being nicknamed after Wanchope.

Notably, Ábila scored a goal against Boca’s arch-rival, River Plate, in the 2018 final of the Copa Libertadores (the South American Champions League).

This match is infamous for the attack on the Boca bus by River fans after that first match. For safety reasons, the second leg of the tie had to be moved from BsAs to a neutral venue… in Spain. So yeah, that was probably Ábila’s most memorable goal.

Dropped yesterday: Uneasy by Vijay Iyer with Linda May Han Oh & Tyshawn Sorey. Three jazz musicians at the absolute pinnacle of their instruments. It’s a beautiful album. 🎶

What happened to the ACLU? 🔗

A fantastic story in Tablet about how the organization abandoned long-held principles in pursuit of relevance:

The embrace of political partisanship, the dropping of standards, the buckling to donor demands at the expense of long-held principles—[former director Ira] Glasser says all of these developments have rendered the ACLU unrecognizable from the group he once led.

The organization known as the ACLU is now led by people beholden to an ideology purporting that the essential function of the Constitution has been to serve as a blueprint for white supremacy, and that its broad free-speech protections are not a tool of emancipation for society’s underdogs but rather the handmaiden of their oppression.

Freddie deBoer’s Substack has been excellent lately. From a recent post of thoughts for new writers:

For a long time now media has been overtaken by a cult of expression which forbids any style or mode other than contemptuous blank irony.

The NYT obit for Adam Zagajewski is quite touching.

I remember talking with a peer at a conference. She taught with A.Z. at the University of Houston. She spoke glowingly of him: “Adam is such a sweet, wonderful man.” He was clearly a colleague of hers, not the superstar. 📚

The Charthusian monks: brewing Chartreuse in the Alps during a pandemic

A fascinating essay in the NYT on the Charthusian monks, brewers of Chartreuse: “An Elixir from the French Alps, Frozen in Time”. It’s filled with amazing quotes & quips like:

The days pass very quickly when you’re immersed in the shadow of eternity.

Or, from the president of the Charthusians’ business:

I am very scared always. Only three of the brothers know how to make Chartreuse — nobody else knows the recipe. And each morning they drive together to the distillery. And they drive a very old car. And they drive it very badly.

They’d be capable of writing a business-strategy book that even I’d love to read:

When you have roots this deep, it allows you to forget the short term and project your vision far in the future.

And if I was ever forced to get a tattoo, I’d probably choose their motto:

Stat crux dum volvitur orbis

In English: The cross is fixed while the world is turning.

Leibovitz on the Supreme Court & religious liberty 🔗

Supreme Court decisions rarely make for page turners, but the one handed down last night, siding with Jewish and Catholic groups opposing the draconian restrictions placed on religious services by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is an exception. In just 33 pages, the highest court in the land gave us a thrilling study in how the two tribes that compete for dominance in our ravaged America approach the world.

~Liel Leibovitz in Tablet, dissecting the opinions on both sides of the Supreme Court’s recent religious-liberty decision.

Shouldn’t it be “philosophy schimosophy”? 🔗

Is there an anecdote that better describes our current moment than this one?

Probably. But this one is exquisite. From *NY Mag*’s essay on the mess that is the NYT:

The conversation turned into what more than one Times employee described to me as a “food fight.” During the mêlée, “Opinion” columnist Elizabeth Bruenig uploaded a PDF of John Rawls’s treatise on public reason, in an attempt to elevate the discussion. “What we’re having is really a philosophical conversation, and it concerns the unfinished business of liberalism,” Bruenig wrote. “I think that all human beings are born philosophers, that is, that we all have an innate desire to understand what our world means and what we owe to one another and how to live good lives.”

“Philosophy schmosiphy,” wrote a researcher at the Times whose Slack avatar was the logo for the hamburger chain Jack in the Box. “We’re at a barricades moment in our history. You decide: which side are you on?”

The Politics We Don't Have 🔗

Most Americans want secure work, safe streets, healthcare, dignity, freedom, and a governing class that prioritizes them above itself. People want plenty else besides, of course, that politics cannot provide, like love and meaning—but even a movement organized around the minimum would threaten entrenched interests in both parties. It would undermine the Democrat’s dependency on Silicon Valley’s surveillance economy, elite-driven offshoring, and embrace of corporate consumerism in liberation drag. And it would finish off the well-funded Republican party of fiscal responsibility and austerity politics underwritten by foreign policy and financial globalism.

~Jacob Siegel, in an entertaining Tablet essay on what Joe Rogan represents

You think it is helpful having a fluorescent praying mantis coming into their office, telling them about German philosophy? Do you think that’s helpful? I can tell you, it’s not helpful.

~Alex Karp, Palantir CEO, profiled in the NYT Magazine 🔗

The Big Move 🏡

Our family is getting ready to move from the Minneapolis – St. Paul metro area up to central Minnesota. We’ll be closer to my wife’s parents and my own, and right in the heart of beautiful MN lake country. It’s something we’ve wanted to do as a family for a number of years. Since we’re homeschooling the kids this year anyway, now seemed like a good year to make a move like this.

Of course, we’re all anxious about the move, particularly about leaving our siblings and their families behind, about leaving our dear friends at church behind, about leaving our beloved current home behind.

Yesterday, one of my five-year-old sons was having a rough day: arguing about everything, picking fights with his siblings, his mother, & me—all very unusual behavior for him. We found him in his bedroom, pouting. (He wasn’t hard to find, since he slam the door as hard as he could on his way in.) We said to him, “Even though we knew you’re excited to live in our new house, are you feeling kinda angry that we’re moving?”

He looked shocked for a second, wide-eyed, then started sobbing. “Yes! Why do we have to move to a stupid new house? I just want to keep our house!”

The one time we moved when I was an older kid, my parents moved the week I was at summer camp. I now understand why: the stress of moving is everywhere in our family; the kids don’t have a sufficiently established sense of time to know when it will all be over. (Answer: a week and a half.) To them, this move just feels like a gigantic, vague monster that will never leave them alone.

It might be good to re-watch Inside Out sometime this week. And, of course, to just keep on letting the kids talk about what they’re feeling. Turns out it’s not far from what we’re feeling: excitement mixed with a vague sense of unease, fear of all the uncertainty, and a desire to just have it all be done.

Liz Bruenig on Catholicism & American power

Elizabeth Bruenig has written a couple of amazing columns this week for the NYT, columns that focus on the Catholic Church but help any reader better understand the contradictions in modern America.

Her first column sorted through the capitulations of Catholic politicians right and left to the demands of contemporary liberal-capitalist society. She suggests that it was inevitable that they’d abandon core Catholic principles even as they ascended to heights of power many never imagined possible for American Catholics.

Today she uses Amy Coney Barrett to discuss the long history, exemplified by John Locke, of anti-Catholic prejudice alongside the real tension between religious/metaphysical commitments and America’s political foundation, liberalism. 🔗

I watched The Booksellers this evening. It’s a delightful documentary about the passionate folks in the rare-book industry. Some mournful notes, but also some hopeful ones. Overall, a delight. Streaming now on, err, Amazon Prime. 📚 🎞

R.I.P. Fr. Edward Sthokal

Show me what you give your time and attention to, and I’ll show you what you love.

~Fr. Edward Sthokal

Here’s a beautiful send-off for a mentor who wouldn’t have wanted a fuss from D.J. Tice in the Star Tribune.

Sthokal was a powerful presence at the first 3 silent retreats I attended at Demontreville. Even as he was approaching 90 years old, and was already “retired,” he was present at the retreats and gave us an opening spiel with his trademark humor. In the Catholic Spirit, Stephen Boatwright recalls:

We usually have a wide variety of ages among the retreatants — from 20 to 90. Father Sthokol would often quip that ‘Some of you may be studying for your final exam.’

I’m not a Catholic, but I’m grateful for Fr. Sthokal’s presence. I’ll be back at Demontreville in a couple weeks, and it will be a changed place for several reasons. Not least of these will be the knowledge that Sthokal has now taken his final exam. Rest in peace.

Catching up on some soccer highlights: Alphonso Davies had a ridiculous assist for Bayern in their 8-2 destruction of Barcelona in the Champions League quarterfinals. If I were Nèlson Semedo I wouldn’t show my face in public for a few weeks… ⚽️🔥

At the very center of his identity, Kushner is a Good Son. He’s run the country in a spirit of filial devotion to an implacable father. It’s a role that he thrives at playing, because he’s spent his whole life rehearsing for it.

~Jared Kushner, profiled in The Atlantic 🔗

Just behind the kingdom that failed ran a nice little river. It was a clear, lovely stream, and many fish lived in it. Weeds grew there, too, and the fish ate the weeds.

~Haruki Murakami, “The Kingdom That Failed” 🔗 📖

Tonight’s MNUFC win shows a deep team that’s well-coached. Some of our best players—Opara, Molino, Metanire—were out, but we dominated a surging San Jose team. And as usual, Hassani Dotson dominates wherever he plays. Can’t wait for the Adrian Heath revenge match against Orlando! ⚽️

Visit to Como Zoo / RIP Buzz

Abe, Sam, & I visited Como Zoo today. It opened a few weeks ago, and I was impressed with how seamless and enjoyable the experience was. It was one way, with some sections completely cordoned off, but clearly marked and easy to navigate.

We saw all the most exciting animals, and heard both the lion and the sea lion roaring.

We wondered why we could see only one of the two polar bears. When I got home this evening, I was sad to read that Buzz (named after Aldrin) was euthanized just earlier today. Neil, his twin brother (named after Armstrong), looked sad, lying on the concrete and occasionally opening his eyes, without moving. RIP, Buzz. And thanks, Como Zoo, for a great experience.

In the years to come, New York and the United States would eventually recognize and embrace Derek Walcott. The disappointment of this early encounter with New York would be replaced by a fuller and more satisfactory relationship with the city.

~Walcott in NYC (h/t 3QD) 🔗 🇱🇨

“Same as it ever was”: On heaven & the Talking Heads 🔗

The traditional imagery of heaven is ribbon-wreathed and rococo, but “Heaven” is almost severe in its simplicity.

The promise of politics is that, within and through our differences, some form of common life can be discovered. But if the process of discovery is to be faithful, hopeful, and loving, we must render ourselves vulnerable to others we don’t understand.

~Luke Bretherton 📚

On the nihilism of Harari’s *Sapiens* 🔗📚

Sapiens is a distinctly nihilist tract, rejecting every sort of theism, every claim that life has meaning, and every assertion of human rights. According to Harari, there’s nothing the least bit sacred about human life, the Declaration of Independence is in error about liberty and equality, and the word “nature” itself—as in human nature—is meaningless. Insofar as Sapiens is a work of philosophy, it’s Nietzchean in its rejection of the most central human values, as well as in its suggestion that a superman—created by genetic or “inorganic” engineering—may be on the way.

~Mark Lieb, in Commentary

Malick’s technique 🔗 🎞 🎥

The effect is to situate the actors within the world; even with closeups, the individual is never alone in front of the camera. So Fani’s anguished face is set against the backdrop of the people enforcing her isolation.

From a review of Terrence Malick’s film A Hidden Life that beautifully connects the formal, cinematic techniques employed in the film to its underlying theme, martyrdom.

Appiah on race, language, & capitalization 🔗

A compelling essay by philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah that argues for why it’s so problematic to capitalize “Black” but not “white”:

One reason that the MIT philosopher Sally Haslanger prefers to capitalize the names of races is, she explains, “to highlight the artificiality of race,” by contrast to the seeming naturalness of color. A larger argument lurks here: Racial identities were not discovered but created, she’s reminding us, and we must all take responsibility for them. Don’t let them disguise themselves as common nouns and adjectives. Call them out by their names.

Toward the end of his essay, Appiah notes that language doesn’t change by fiat, but organically, based on what arguments about linguistic conventions win in the sphere of daily life and practice: how people actually speak and write.

I spend significant time teaching language, so I appreciate this aspect of his argument. Too often, people wave their hands or act as if issues of language are merely random and pointless; others believe that a usage-board’s decision can or should effect change is common usage. Neither of these responses reflects the true complexity of linguistic change, or the importance of argument in contributing to this change.

Joshua Hochschild on communal life & the life of the mind 🔗 📚

Today an authentic intellectual life seems more natural in the flaneur than the professional scholar…. Whether our focus is on the tools of training, a heart for service, or learning from our asynchronous neighbors, the intellectual life is, ironically, a particular kind of political practice, an art of membership…. We can educate in a way that makes us all, despite and even through upheavals of culture, economy, and politics, more intelligible to each other and to ourselves. Today, as in the Greek polis or the Roman villa, the company of readers remains both the most democratic, and the most privileged, of memberships.

~Joshua Hochschild, in his review of three new books offering expansive visions of the life of the mind

Billy Hart Quartet, Live Streaming at the Village Vanguard 🎶

I just caught the Billy Hart quartet live at the Village Vanguard, thanks to the club’s streaming series. (Vijay Iyer’s trio is up next weekend.)

Hart and his conspirators were excellent. All original pieces, I believe. I particularly love Turner’s piece, “Nigeria,” with which they closed their set.

Personnel:

  • Billy Hart, drums
  • Ethan Iverson, piano
  • Ben Street, bass
  • Mark Turner, tenor

Partial set list:

  • ? (I missed the intro & half of the first tune)
  • Aviation (Iverson)
  • Teule’s Redemption (Hart)
  • Showdown (Iverson)
  • Ira (Hart?)
  • Amethyst (Hart)
  • Nigeria (Turner)

Weekend project: building new beds for the boys. All that remains is to add a bed skirt to cover up those screws. 🔨

My colleague Pilar’s 86-year-old father has been hospitalized with covid-19 in Spain.

His last wish is to find a friend of his from Folkstone, Kent, England. I’m posting an article about his search here just in case anyone can help.

A stunning New York Times photo-essay on how coronavirus has devastated Bergamo, Italy.

In high school, my family hosted an Italian exchange student. His hometown? Bergamo. I never imagined it would return to my mind, or enter the global consciousness, in such a tragic way. 🔗

There is no afterwards. 🔗

A profound, honest reflection on COVID-19 and our mortality. Written for Leonard J. DeLorenzo’s students at Notre Dame, but applicable to all:

The call in this season is to throw off the illusion of invulnerability and live together in truth.

Singers, among many others, have had their livelihoods cancelled or postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19.

But it turns out you can still make beautiful music together virtually. Here’s my sister-in-law singing Mauricio Duruflé’s Ubi Cartas, as part of a virtual octet. 🎶

My selections from our trip the Shoreview Public Library today. Looking forward to some reading time over the next few days off… but I may have overestimated just how much time I’ll have. 📚

“Chelsea are back in fashion – but Roman Abramovich is out in the cold” 🔗 ⚽️

Speaking of Chelsea FC, here’s a fascinating essay by David Conn on owner Roman Abramovich’s rise to oligarch status, purchase of the club, & influence on the EPL:

It is a stretch now to remember how alien it was to England’s traditional football culture when Chelsea began to splurge on mostly overseas stars, funded by an owner with no previous connection to the club, to capture the game’s highest prizes. In his second season, after hiring José Mourinho and signing for him Didier Drogba, Arjen Robben, Petr Cech – and Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira and Tiago Mendes, three Portuguese players represented by Jorge Mendes – plus several more stars and the wages to attract them, Chelsea were on their way to acquiring titles and recorded a financial loss of £141m.

I’ve never like Chelsea FC—I’ve actively disliked them, in fact. But now, with Pulisic playing—playing well—and with the funny, sharp Frank Lampard managing, I’m happier to see them succeeding. And I’m certainly glad to cheer for them when they’re playing Manchester City. ⚽️

“Miguel Ibarra’s My Friend” ⚽️ 🔗

He played his heart out on the pitch and quite fittingly wore his heart on his sleeve. He would often tweet inspirational quotes when it was obvious that he was struggling with not getting playing time or not playing as well as he wanted. He was a player that every fan wanted to succeed, because he made you feel like your support mattered.

A truly moving tribute to Batman, written by my friend Wes Burdine.

Nothing too surprising in MNUFC’s contract-deadline-day decisions… other than the club unceremoniously cutting loose Miguel Ibarra, one of our best & longest-tenured players. At the very least, letting him go for nothing seems like bad business. ⚽️

Money & Government: Against Economics 🔗

From a long, but very readable review by David Graeber of Robert Skidelsky’s new book, Money & Goverment: The Past & Future of Economics:

Economic theory as it exists increasingly resembles a shed full of broken tools. This is not to say there are no useful insights here, but fundamentally the existing discipline is designed to solve another century’s problems. The problem of how to determine the optimal distribution of work and resources to create high levels of economic growth is simply not the same problem we are now facing: i.e., how to deal with increasing technological productivity, decreasing real demand for labor, and the effective management of care work, without also destroying the Earth. This demands a different science. The “microfoundations” of current economics are precisely what is standing in the way of this. Any new, viable science will either have to draw on the accumulated knowledge of feminism, behavioral economics, psychology, and even anthropology to come up with theories based on how people actually behave, or once again embrace the notion of emergent levels of complexity—or, most likely, both.

Andrew Delblanco on Rethinking the Puritans 🔗

From a review essay in The Nation entitled (brilliantly) “Vexed and Trouble Englishmen”:

Rodgers’s book is not only a close reading of the reception and history of Winthrop’s speech but also a rescue operation for Puritanism itself. Rather than instigating the pernicious idea of the United States as God’s most favored nation, the Puritans, he argues, were unsure of their worthiness and subjected themselves to “the moral scrutiny of the world.”

Two Views On Art and Politics 🔗

Will Arbery:

It basically boils down to a dissatisfaction with the ending, on both sides. People want a clear thesis, or they want to know what my diagnosis is. On both sides, you hear, like, Clearly, he’s still confused and doesn’t know where he falls.

That for me is sad, because I don’t think that what they’re talking about is art. I think they’re talking about something else that I’m not interested in making.

But I understand the temptation, on both sides. The play is dealing with things that are very timely, and there’s a lot of debate, and so you want to be able to know who wins the debate.

I’m much more interested in what debate does to a person’s body, how it changes the air. How it turns fugues into these aggressive ways of thinking, and makes Teresa unrecognizable to her mentor. I’m so much more interested in all of those elements, rather than just giving people some answers.

Lin-Manuel Miranda:

At the end of the day, our job as artists is to tell the truth as we see it. If telling the truth is an inherently political act, so be it. Times may change and politics may change, but if we do our best to tell the truth as specifically as possible, time will reveal those truths and reverberate beyond the era in which we created them. We keep revisiting Shakespeare’s Macbeth because ruthless political ambition does not belong to any particular era. We keep listening to Public Enemy because systemic racism continues to rain tragedy on communities of color. We read Orwell’s 1984 and shiver at its diagnosis of doublethink, which we see coming out of the White House at this moment. And we listen to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, as Lieutenant Cable sings about racism, “You’ve got to be carefully taught.” It’s all art. It’s all political.

Hjemkomst

Spent the morning at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead. It’s a history museum centered (literally) around a large ship, the Hjemkomst, built by a Moorhead man and sailed to Norway. It’s a remarkable place; we all loved the story and were fascinated by the massive boat. 🇳🇴

I was in Fargo for a couple days for my mom’s birthday. While there, I enjoyed an all-too-rare gift: an hour of free time to play jazz with my dad.

Our set list:

  • Midnight Mood
  • Little Waltz
  • Stolen Moments
  • Lucky Southern
  • Autumn in New York

🎶

Daylight savings time: my semi-annual reminder that the government delights in tormenting parents.

I voted today after work. The poll workers seemed genuinely surprised when I walked in—I bet fewer than a dozen ballots were cast at my precinct today.

In defense of my neighbors, the only item on the ballot was the school board; 3 candidates were running for 3 open seats.

MInnesota United ⚽️ declined contract options on five players today:

  • Carter Manley
  • Collin Martin
  • Wilfried Moimbé-Tahrat
  • Ally Hamis Ng’anzi
  • Rasmus Schuller

I’m not too surprised, though I am excited to see who they bring in. It’s going to be a long offseason…

MN United FC: Season Recap and Roster Notes ⚽️

Last night’s heart-breaking loss to LA Galaxy brought an end to a pretty exciting, encouraging season. The front office made some great moves (Gregus, Metanire, Alonso, Opara), and one or two not-so-great moves; they built for the future with an exciting young DP signing in Uruguayan Thomas Chacon and a killer draft—regulars Hassani Dotson and Chase Gasper along with goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair. Overall, they showed some evidence of direction, progress, a plan. They just didn’t show much evidence of being able to redirect when our offense fizzled to pretty much nothing for our last half-dozen matches.

Here are my thoughts on the roster: who’s in for next season, who should be leaving, and who they’re going to keep but try to improve upon.

The Core: Veterans

These are the players that should be starting matches—and winning them for us.

  • Alonso and Opara: goes without saying. They were rock-solid. It brings me joy seeing those two out on the pitch. They’re leaders, hard workers, inspiring. I know Opara has some years left in him; I just hope Alonso has another season because I don’t think Dotson’s ready to fill those shoes quite yet.
  • Gregus: I think he’ll continue to improve, especially offensively. Gregus seems easy to under-rate, because he’s not flashy, and he’s not as intense as his counterpart Alonso. But he was one of our best, most consistent players all season.
  • Metanire: he experienced some regression to the mean this season; his final matches didn’t quite live up to the expectations he set early on. But he was still frequently excellent, constantly exciting, and clearly a quality defender with some good years left. I’d love to have him back next season.
  • Boxall: it’s amazing what playing next to Ike Opara rather than Fransisco Calvo did for Boxy. He’s really solid, and is one of our few threats on set pieces offensively, particularly corners.
  • Strikers? Wingers? Yeah, see the Shopping List below.

The Core: Youngsters

  • Hassani Dotson: I’ve been high on this guy from the beginning—ask my brother. The eccentric writer Nassim Nicholas Taleb has a theory that, if you’re choosing a surgeon, go with the guy who has his MD from Long Island State, not Harvard, and looks like he’s the janitor, not a Deloitte consultant. Why? Because he’s had to deal with a lot more adversity to get to the same spot in his career. Applied this principle to Dotson: you don’t draft a guy from Oregon State unless he’s got something special. And it quickly became clear that Dotson does. I think he’ll be great for us for a long time to come, and hopefully can be Alonso’s replacement once Ozzie retires.
  • Chase Gasper: the front office was eager to pick him up, though I doubt they expected him to play as much as he did this year. He was excellent, and gained in confidence as the season went on. He was one of our best players in last night’s loss to the Galaxy, repeated breezing past Geancarlo González, stopping Argentine international Christian Pavón in his tracks, and with his backline colleagues stymying Zlatan all night long. I was pretty excited to see him early in the season, and his upside seems much higher now. He deserves a spot on the US U-23s alongside Toye and Dotson.
  • Mason Toye: Toye could be a great striker. I’m hoping he breaks through next season, because we sure need a great striker. This season it was clear he’s full of talent and confidence. Consistency and experience will come, and I’m excited to see it happen.
  • Thomas Chacon: can’t wait till he can start providing some spark moving forward. I was at the Pachuca match that he started, and he was exciting! I’m excited to see more of him.
  • Wyatt Omsberg: hopefully, he’ll be our Opara of the future.

Who’s Out

  • Darwin Quintero: he didn’t come through often enough in the regular season to justify his role as our attacking cornerstone. Frankly, I understand why Heath didn’t start him. On the whole, this season was a let-down from Quintero.
  • Miguel Ibarra: sadly, I think he’s likely to leave. Few players are nearer and dearer to long-time fans than Ibarra. But frankly, I think he deserves to be playing somewhere, not sitting on the bench—and I hope he finds that place.
  • Abu Danladi: each time he comes on the field, I want desperately for Abu to succeed—while also wishing we had a better option. He’s had his chance, and now we need to upgrade.
  • Lawrence Olum: we needed him this season, and he was solid when called upon. But I hope Dotson or Martin can start taking the minutes we needed Olum for throughout the season.
  • Carter Manley: just doesn’t seem like he’s going to get there.
  • Moimbe, Ng’anzi, and Romario Ibarra: I don’t think anyone will miss or remember these three if they all leave.
  • Bobby Shuttleworth: another guy who deserves to be playing regularly somewhere, just not here.
  • Brent Kallmann? After his screw-up, I’m sure he’s not sure what his future is. It’s sad—along with Miguel, he’s the Loon I’ve been watching the longest, and he’s gotten better each season. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the team cut him loose after this.
  • Rasmus Schuller: he’s given us a few solid seasons, but I’m not sure he’s needed on this roster when we have Gregus & Alonso. Perhaps he’ll still around as a backup; I’d be fine with that.

Shopping List

  • DP striker: someone who can score goals consistently.
  • DP #10: someone who can receive the ball from Gregus & Alonso and make something happen.
  • Some improvement on the wings: another solid winger or two, or a rejuvenated Miguel.
  • Backups for Gasper and Metanire.

Who’s back (but needs to improve or be improved upon)

  • Collin Martin: every time I see him play, I think he’s nearly there—but I’ve been thinking that for a couple seasons. I wouldn’t be surprised if the team didn’t pick him up for next season, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if he has a great offseason and becomes a regular contributor next year. Hoping for the latter.
  • Robin Lod: his work rate is excellent, but the production isn’t there. I think he’s a slight improvement over Miguel, but I haven’t been too impressed, especially considering his salary.
  • Angelo Rodriguez: he seems like a great dude. I want him to succeed. But he just can’t get it done. We need a DP striker who can finish.
  • Ethan Finley: he misses too many passes and makes too many mistakes to be a starter. But he’s a super-sub, and I think he’s best when coming in off the bench in the 60th minute, running weary defenders into the ground.
  • Kevin Molino: Heath’s high on Molino, but I honestly can’t make up my mind about him. He seems excellent at times, and disappointing at others. For most of the season, our most exciting offense came through him—but he’s prone to disappearing.

Current reading: Waugh & Engelmann 📚

Waugh’s satire of Hollywood doesn’t hold up particularly well; still, there are some funny scenes and critiques of American culture that still ring true. Waugh doesn’t always quite get American culture. Like Graham Greene, he knew enough to oppose & ironize, but not quite enough to pull off a successful, stinging satire.

I’m enjoying Teach Your Child to Read, mostly because my twin four-and-a-half year olds are also enjoying the lessons and proud of their progress. In another life I’d be a preschool or kindergarten teacher—I love this age, when language is exploding, memories are forming, and they’re starting to learn that their creativity can being humor or beauty or joy to the world.

Autumn Leaf

One of Ruskin’s early lessons in The Elements of Drawing is to draw a leaf, as carefully and accurately as possible. Here’s my lunch-hour effort. 📚 🎨

English is Not Normal 🔗

When saying ‘eeny, meeny, miny, moe’, have you ever felt like you were kind of counting? Well, you are – in Celtic numbers, chewed up over time but recognisably descended from the ones rural Britishers used when counting animals and playing games. ‘Hickory, dickory, dock’ – what in the world do those words mean? Well, here’s a clue: hovera, dovera, dick were eight, nine and ten in that same Celtic counting list.

One of many fascinating details about English in John McWhorter’s essay “English is Not Normal”.

I hadn’t heard of Inktober till it was mentioned in the Micro.blog community. But I recently decided to work on my drawing skills, and this seems a great time to do it. #GrowthMindset

So incredibly proud of my brother Andrew Kaul for launching a new design studio, Buddy-Buddy.

He and his friend and colleague Ross Bruggink are incredibly hard-working, talented, and—above all—wonderful people. Best wishes, you two, for many successful years!

Recently attempted, & abandoned 📚:

  • David Graeber, Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (should’ve stayed an article)
  • Sarah Bakewell, At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, & Apricot Cocktails (I love Bakewell’s book on Montaigne—but I just don’t care about the existentialists)

Current reading 📚:

  • David Bentley Hart, That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation
  • P. G. Wodehouse, Right Ho, Jeeves
  • Kim Stanley Robinson, Aurora

A day when one’s surroundings reflect one’s heart: dreary & a bit deflated.

If you use Apple Music and you like top jazz, give my ¡¡¡ Top Jazz !!! playlist a listen. (Shuffle mode recommended.)

With 690 tracks of great jazz music, there are few better ways to spend the next 72 hours. 🎶

Shirley Hazzard's *Greene on Capri: A Memoir* 📚

Shirley Hazzard’s Greene on Capri recounts the relationship that Hazzard and her husband, the Flaubert scholar and translator Francis Steegmuller, had with Graham Greene over two decades, from the late 60s to the late 80s. Their friendship started when, in a Capri cafe, Hazzard overhead Greene struggling to remember a line from a minor Robert Browning poem. Hazzard, who seems to have most of the English literary canon memorized, walked up to him, reminded him of the line, and walked away. Greene, intrigued, struck up a conversation at their next encounter, and the friendship was born.

Hazzard’s book is wonderful for several reasons. Chief among them is the fact that it’s as much a portrait of Capri as of an aging, cantankerous Graham Greene: for such a small island, its history is remarkable. (Henry James called it “beautiful, horrible, and haunted.”)

Another of the book’s delights is the wide range of minor characters that flicker in and out of its pages, among them Hazzard’s learned husband Francis Steegmuller, the vibrant Harold Acton, Norman Douglas, Edwin Cerio, Giorgio Weber, and the Russian ballet dancer and choreographer Léonide Massine.

Hazzard’s own wit and rich knowledge of literature are evident throughout. Her sentences are typically simple, and can quickly shift to stunning:

Thinking of those times of transition [throughout Capri’s history]—and of their violations, contested in vain and now institutionalized and extended—a lover of Capri must gratefully wonder that beauty continues to prevail there—not as touristic prettiness, but in the grand and ultimate indifference of Nature to the antics of humankind. In a future age, perhaps, even today’s silliness may slide away, as have the courts of emperors, and the incursions of centuried invaders.

Erudite, literary memoirs are one of my favorite genres, and this book is perhaps my favorite of them all.

San Diego atheist noir: On Patrick Coleman’s *The Churchgoer* 📚

The Churchgoer

I stayed up late to finish The Churchgoer, a new novel written by Patrick Coleman. It’s San Diego noir about mega-churches, faith and doubt, and about learning to accept love from others, despite unshakeable belief that you don’t want or deserve it.

It’s so good. The voice is brilliant from start to finish. The narrator and central character is a former youth pastor turned atheist. His theological training gives him exegetical and etymological habits that won’t die, though his faith has; they’re a source of brilliant and fresh metaphor.

The narrator, Mark Haines, skewers American mega-church evangelicalism for being parasitical on the latest trends in pop culture, no matter how little those trends have to do with Christianity. He scorns the superficial sense of “mystery,” invoked in ways that are “about as humbling as the Grand Canyon printed on a poster about hard work.” For those who have spent any time within American evangelicalism, critiques like these may ring true. Others simply reveal the limits of Haines’s own religious experience and education. He’s far from perfect, but he’s decent enough—and endearingly full of wild ideas about God, Scripture, and the church.

By the end of the novel, Haines’s self-righteous anger at his former church and life has grown wearying—but he’s grown weary of it himself, and shows signs of recognizing that the deep and real flaws of that world don’t give him an excuse for a life of resentful bitterness. Haines’s past is filled with deep pain and sorrow. But by the novel’s end, he’s surprised to find some reasons for hope.

I loved this book, and it makes me want to revisit Christopher Beha’s What Happened to Sophie Wilder, which shares some themes and which I also loved. Perhaps I’ll write more about the two books once I do so. In the meantime, I highly recommend The Churchgoer to you.

I made an Apple Music playlist of Hans Castorp’s favorite music in the “Fullness of Harmony” chapter of The Magic Mountain. (Full disclosure: there’s lots of opera.)

Amazing that it’s so easy to enjoy the same music that a fictional character listened to 110 years ago! 📚 🎶

An Anglo-Catholic literary tradition

This piece by Tara Isabella Button, In Brooklyn, ‘tradpunk’ Christianity meets millennial counterculture, speaks to some of what resonates with me in Anglicanism.

Her literary lineage of Anglo-Catholics is a bit heavy on the twentieth century, though. I’d keep them all, but add Robert Browning, the Rosettis and William Morris, Hopkins, the Brontes, Bram Stoker, and Ruskin. Not all Anglicans, or Catholics, or even necessarily Christians, but all part of that same religious critique of modernity. And I’d probably add Proust in there for good measure.

Today’s listening: on a recommendation from my father, Pat Methany’s Still Life (Talking), a Latin-jazz-fusion album. Like a lot of Methany’s music, it’s strange, beautiful, a bit surreal, heavily produced. 🎶

Oxford’s Schwarzman centre for the humanities

I’m excited about the new Schwarzman centre for the humanities at Oxford, which will provide a hub for the humanties departments and also a research center for the ethics of AI. It’s great to see major gifts earmarked especially for the humanities.

Oxford has yet to identify architects to design the 23,000 square metre centre, which it intends to complete by 2024, but the university has earmarked land near the Blavatnik school of government and the Radcliffe observatory in the city centre.

Yeah, they’ve definitely earmarked some land… it looks like it’s been waiting for this announcement for quite some time.

I really like Ezra Klein’s podcast about half the time. He’s fair-minded, listens carefully, asks good questions—but only when interviewing people he disagrees with. That said, his interview with Stacey Abrams is still very good, because she’s so articulate & thoughtful.

I’m excited to be co-leading a reading group on Thomas Mann’s wonderful novel The Magic Mountain this summer. The novel is truly delightful: long, funny, and strange; a novel that explores pre-WWI Europe. If you’re looking for a big book to read this summer, take a look! 📚

It was a beautiful morning for a bike ride to school—perfect, in fact.

Brad Mehldau’s new album, Finding Gabriel, is apparently the fruit of an intense reading of the Bible. Its compositions are inspired by passages from the wisdom literature and the minor prophets. Unsurprisingly, then, it’s wild, wide-ranging, and beautiful. 🎹 🎶

I’d listen to Clifford Jordan’s Glass Bead Games just to have a chance to look at the gorgeous cover art again. But the music is even more exceptional than the typography! 🎶 🎷

#MNUFC

It was a beautiful first match for me at Allianz Field, celebrating my birthday with my father, brother, and a couple old, old friends.

I was also thrilled to be there for our first home win in the new stadium, participating in the first Wonderwall singalong at Allianz. It wasn’t a pretty win, but it was a win! #COYL

Riding with the gauchos of Argentina

Riding with the gauchos of Argentina: A photo-essay (h/t Gray Areas

I studied in Buenos Aires in the spring semester of 2005, and my brother & I had the good fortune to travel through Argentina’s northeastern provinces for a couple of weeks after the term ended.

My kids are currently obsessed with a coffee-table book in my library, Estancias: The Great Houses and Ranches of Argentina. This photo-essay linked above is a remarkable complement, a testament to the dying gaucho way of life. 🇦🇷

I’m re-reading a favorite novel, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, preparing for a reading group this summer.

Looking for a good summer read? I’d highly recommend *MM*—you can’t go wrong with a long, philosophical novel about time, sickness, & death. (It’s funny, too!) 📚

The St. John Passion at the Lab Theater

I’m proud of my sister-in-law, Krista Costin for her role in the Oratory Bach Ensemble’s production of the St. John Passion at the Lab Theater this weekend. To quote from the Star Tribune’s review,

Six female dancers provided a sensitively balletic counterpoint to mezzo-soprano Krista Costin’s probing account of “Von den Stricken meiner Sünden,” an aria in which the significance of Christ’s suffering is contemplated.

The Acropolis vs Mount Athos

Monasticism is not a theology; it is a way of life. Abbot Eliseus told me that there are two foundational monuments in Greece: the Acropolis and Athos. “But one is dead and the other is living,” he continued. “One is an idea, the other is a living experience.”

From a remarkable travelogue by the secular philosopher Simon Critchley in the NYT.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Third Stream recently. So far, though, nothing I’ve found has come close to the depth & beauty of Sketches of Spain. 🎶 🇪🇸

Here’s a delightful symposium on personal libraries. The best entries, in my opinion, are those from Sarah Ruden & Peter Travers.

The symposium inspires me to write the story of my own personal library. I’d love to read others from the microblog community, as well. 📚

“Zuckerberg says Facebook will shift focus to private sharing”

via the New York Times

I’m sure they’ll be completely transparent and absolutely vigilant, whatever they come up with. There’s no way they’d ever use their platform for personal gain when it suits them. Zuckerberg is definitely the guy to trust when it comes to communications, especially private ones!

What I love most, though, is that Zuckerberg contrasts the push for private communication channels with “today’s open platforms”—e.g. Facebook. In what world is Facebook an open platform? Only in his.

Recommended: this excellent review of a book I plan to read as soon as possible: Martin Hägglund’s This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom. 📚

I finally cancelled my Twitter account. It was time—I had my fill of toxic nastiness & virtue-signaling (later than many). Very glad to have an independent, thoughtfully designed platform in Micro.blog.

Grateful for some time this morning to read by the fire. More grateful still for a new book by a favorite poet.

The incomparable Brian Phillips is featured on the latest episode of Bookworm, alongside man-eating tigers, a man-eating-tiger-hunting man, death on the Iditarod, and Impossible Owls.

Recommendation: Spectacle App

In my day job as a technical writer, I use Windows; it’s really not been a great experience, but that’s a subject for another day.

There is one feature I LOVE, though: using the Windows + arrow keys to arrange windows around the desktop. Till now, I haven’t found a good alternative on the Mac.

But today I found @spectacleapp, and it’s wonderful so far! Free, open-source, customizable, maintained. Check it out here.

I read a wonderful novel tonight, Patrick DeWitt’s very dark & very comedic “tragedy of manners,” French Exit. (h/t the display stand at the local public library.) 📚

The implausible idea of a "chief ethics officer"

I read Kara Swisher’s recent column on the need for chief ethics officers in Silicon Valley with great interest & great skepticism.

Swisher documents, with droll understatement, just a few of the ethical “quandaries” [their words] our giant mega-corporate start-ups have faced (or created):

  • Corporations accepting loads of money from Saudi Arabia (cozying up to Saudi Arabia is a problem they share with the NYT itself, incidentally)
  • Facebook lying (again!), this time about an in-home video device named Portal that will, of course, exchange your data for ad revenue
  • Elon Musk duping everyone, including himself, on Twitter
  • Google getting hacked & not telling anyone

Swisher goes on to say that Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is in the process of hiring a chief ethics officer to “help anticipate and address any thorny conundrums it might encounter as a business.”

Less concretely, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki has “toyed with the idea of hiring a chief ethics officer.” But Wojcicki rejected the idea, saying “I think it has to be our management and leaders who have to add this to our skill set, rather than just hire one person to determine this.”

Of course, ethics isn’t a “skill” that can be added to anyone’s set. And the idea of a chief ethics officer is ridiculous for many more reasons. Among them:

  • The CEthO role would be most valuable when in opposition to the rest of the C-suite. In other words, it would be most valuable when it was putting a stop to ideas, products, strategic directions deemed most valuable to the rest of the board, not to mention shareholders
  • The CEthO’s role at most Silicon Valley corporations would, if effective, involve a fundamental shift in (not to say abandonment of) those corporations’ products & business plans
  • Hiring a CEthO is an impulse borne out of the desire to seem ethical without necessarily doing anything differently—or, at worst, to set up a scapegoat for failures of ethics within these organizations. It’s impossible to imagine someone in this role having a seat at the table when major decisions are made, unless by government mandate.
  • The corporations most in need of a CEthO are those least likely to ever have one, much less an effective one. Others don’t need one, because ethical reflection was a significant and formative part of their strategic planning and product development from the beginning. These are, of course, precisely the ones most likely both to hire one and to enable that person to be successful.

These are just the obvious, institutional problems. The real problems go beyond these ones and get into questions of meta-ethics: whose ethics are normative? How can any one ethical traditions be meaningful and normative within pluralistic corporation? How does a corporation with genuine obligations to customers, employees, and shareholders balance seeking profit and behaving ethically, when the two are in tension?

My proposal? Some sort of requirement for an independent ombudsman or public advocate. The problem with startups isn’t that they face ethical “quandaries” now and nobody did before. Rather, it’s that the scale and reach of these startups makes the consequences of their ethical failures much more significant, more widespread, more consequential. Someone in a public advocacy role could at least make sure that the public knows the truth—and true scale—of the ethical failures, sometime relatively close to when they happen.

Of course, scale is precisely these startups’ most significant competitive advantage. So don’t expect to suddenly start seeing either CEthOs or ombudsmen popping up throughout the Valley.

Joan Barry & two forms of political belief

This article is fascinating. It follows Joan Barry, a Missouri Democrat whose politics don’t neatly fit entirely within party lines, as she tries to make some room for pro-life Democrats within the party. I think it reveals some damaging assumptions undergirding contemporary political life. Consider why one person quoted rejects Barry’s position:

Right now it’s really important to stand for something.

Later on, someone else uses very similar language to dismiss Barry:

I don’t understand Democrats who quote Truman and F.D.R. and then act like they are terrified to run as an actual Democrat. You have to believe in something in order for somebody to believe in you. You can’t be such a watered-down thing.

In both cases, the speakers assume that Barry doesn’t “believe in” or “stand for” anything—and she’s taking action precisely because she does believe in and stand for something. Is she “terrified” or “watered down”? No, of course not. She’s just disagrees with one tenant of the party platform. She’s trying to find ways to welcome a slightly wider range of opinion into the party so that it can try to attract voters in an increasingly Republican state.

There are two very different forms of political belief here. One believes in the party first and foremost, and the political positions come because of or unquestioningly along with the party. It’s an absolutist, all-or-nothing rhetoric that treats party platforms as eternal, unchanging, and inviolable.

The other form (Barry’s position) suggests belief first of all in principles that may or may not neatly align with either party. This form of political belief might lead to new mixes of political positions that might be far more internally consistent than the parties as currently aligned, and that might make more room within either party for people who dissent from some of that party’s positions but strongly support others.

It seems like the Democrats increasingly insist on and express the former. If they want to actually win elections, I think they’ll need to be more willing to adopt—or simply, merely accommodate—the latter.

Truth vs useful knowledge: Teaching business students *How to Think*

I’m teaching Alan Jacobs’s book How to Think to my business communication students this semester. Communicating and thinking are inseparable, and I’ve always tried and struggled to integrate critical thinking into my course. Previously, I’ve tried using John Lanchester’s How to Speak Money, in addition to assorted essays and excerpts, without much success.

But Jacobs’s book has gone much better so far, because it does something that the other books haven’t: it meets the students where they’re at, in a social-media environment that is shaping their habits of thinking and communicating in ways none of us fully recognizes or understands. We’ve had some encouraging discussions so far trying to sort out these influences and develop the oblique strategies necessary to fight them.

I also recently finished Jacobs’s other recent book, The Year of Our Lord 1943. I’m glad I read it when I did, in the midst of teaching How to Think, because YooL is like the teacher’s guide for HtT. This is especially true teaching it in the setting of a business school at a major public university. Few institutions have been more deeply formed by and reflect more clearly the triumph of technocracy. YooL helps me better understand my institution and my students.

It has also encouraged me in my ever-so-slightly subversive role as a humanist in a business school. I don’t offer extra credit, but if I did, I know now what the assignment would be: having students memorize Under Which Lyre.

I work with a lot of different foreign languages, & Korean is my favorite, hands down. The font we use makes it look like hieroglyphics from the future.

Everything you need to know about Facebook’s understanding of journalism—in one useful ad!

Happy 85th birthday to the great Wayne Shorter! We mere mortals can celebrate by reading Ethan Iverson on Shorter’s transcendental year, 1964.

While you read, listen to his albums from that year: Night Dreamer, Juju, & Speak No Evil. 🎂📚🎶

In a remarkable essay for NYT Magazine, Ilya Kaminsky revisits Odessa, city of his birth.

Time & silence, Tolstoy’s ears, fathers & mothers & sons, WWII, the essay is about everything, & nothing. (“When I say the word nothing, I name something that is there.”)

Cavell on citizenship as conversation

Today’s a good day to reflect on the demands of citizenship in our troubled nation. And there’s no better place to start than with this reflection on the centrality of citizenship in the philosophy of Stanley Cavell (R.I.P.):

Cavell … thought that the success of democracy depended on making the enterprise of thinking attractive to people. He showed by example what it meant to think for oneself, and he encouraged his readers to discover and develop their own sensibilities — a prerequisite, as he saw it, to the growth of the kind of individuality necessary for flourishing democratic life.

He also understood American democracy as a demanding ideal that at its best has taken the form of a conversation in which participants model for one another the possibilities of citizenship.

Do read the whole essay.

Trump’s description of his parallel reality unwittingly calls to mind his most reckless and destructive actions, and it shows how oblivious he is to their consequences.

~ Daniel Larison has patiently chronicled the foreign-policy implications of Trump’s reckless presidency.

*Of Farming & Classics: A Memoir* 📚

I recently finished re-reading David Grene’s memoir, Of Farming & Classics. Grene balanced action and contemplation in his life in a truly remarkable way: he spent half the year teaching classics in the University of Chicago’s fascinating Committee on Social Thought, then the other half farming, first on a small farm in Illinois, then back on small farms in his native Ireland.

His memoir is a charming little book. Just 160 pages, it’s focused and delightful, pushing against our assumptions regarding the nature of both farming and education. Since Grene’s life was so focused on these two things, there’s no real struggle between chronology and theme in the book: the two themes run neatly in parallel through his life, from farming in summers and learning Greek as a boy through his remarkable career at the University of Chicago, especially under its idiosyncratic wunderkind president, R.M. Hutchins (who became president of the university when he was 29!).

The final chapter, a defense of fox hunting, feels strangely out of place and disappointingly polemical compared to the rest of the book; this chapter aside, the book deserves its place on my shelf of contemplative, contrarian agrarians, next to his kindred spirit Wendell Berry.

P.S. ~ One of the final pages of the book mentions a recording of Grene reciting passages from Othello; the website pointed to and the bookstore mentioned as sources of the recording are both shuttered. If anyone knows where this recording can be found, I’d be grateful!

So excited for the World Cup, starting today. ⚽️

  • My prediction for the final: 🇦🇷 3:2 🇧🇷
  • Dark horses: 🇹🇳, 🇨🇷
  • And I can’t help but hope that 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 will have a great Cup, at least making it to the quarter finals.

Michael Dirda, typically excellent, recommends two recent books on Stoicism and ancient philosophy more broadly.

H/T to him for referring to Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric and Classical English Metaphor, both of which I’d somehow never heard of before tonight. 📚

#CINvMIN ⚽️

My beloved #MNUFC ground out (truly—it wasn’t fun to watch) a US Open Cup win in penalties against FC Cincinnati tonight, thanks to typically great goalkeeping from B🚫bby Shuttleworth, and a pretty lackluster performance from pretty everyone else. I thought Mears was good, and in extra time Ibarra and Danladi both attacked with some energy. But Cincinnati was impressive, and I’m looking forward to having them in MLS soon.

My favorite part of the match was how the fans were chanting “Shuttle-worthless”… then he saved 3 penalties.

I’m a sucker for gossip & insider info on editors & publishing. This NYT piece on TLS editor Stig Abell was esp. delightful in uncovering Abell’s MN connections—I trust he’s also now an #MNUFC supporter.

Teju Cole, in conversation with Krista Tippett

I had the great privilege to listen in on Krista Tippett’s conversation with Teju Cole this evening. The subjects ranged widely: baptism, art and politics, Google and memory, Thomas Tranströmer, Elizabeth Bishop, improvisation and presence, and more.

Many thanks to my sister-in-law Krista for snagging the tickets; I’ll post the recording from the evening when it’s published on On Being. Till then, read the interview on the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music blog.

Finished my first Muriel Spark novel this morning, Aiding and Abetting, and greatly enjoyed its very dark comedy. I will certainly read more of her. Look for some, er, Spark notes here soon.

This morning’s listening: the Cedar Walton Trio’s Ironclad: Live at Yoshi’s (Apple Muisc link), featuring what is surely some of the greatest album cover art of all time.

All holy books are works of fiction.

Saw this bumper sticker today (on the way to church, of course). I disagree with some of this dude’s core assumptions—especially regarding the nature, truth, and value of fiction!

An exceptional essay by Garnette Cadogan, “Due North”—an oddly edited, but also delightful and profound, essay on walking NYC from the Upper East Side to the South Bronx.

*Laurus* and Dostoevsky

The further I go in Laurus, the more I see Dostoevsky all over the place. That’s not surprising—you can’t write a work of fiction about Orthodoxy set in Russia and without reflecting deeply on Dostoevsky. In some ways, it’s as if Laurus is a sequel to The Brothers Karamazov, with Arseny an Alyosha figure shaped by a holy elder who dies early on (Christopher / Fr. Zosima).

Moreover, death hangs over both books, intensely. I’ve struggled to read sections of Laurus, it’s so heavy (in fact, literal heaviness is a recurring image in Laurus). Imagine if Alyosha had in fact married Liza: the progression of the novel might look something like Laurus. The death of Dostoesky’s own son pervades Brothers, just as the death of Ustina and his son shapes the course of Arseny’s life in profound ways.

Dostoevsky had planned for The Brothers Karamazov to be the first of a multi-volume work; the whole work was to be called The Life of a Great Sinner. From his notes describing the work, it wouldn’t have looked anything like Laurus. But Laurus isn’t really even a novel (more on this idea later). Thematically, though, it’s reflecting on many of the same themes:

  • holiness in a secular age
  • universal responsibility for one another’s sins
  • the infusion of God’s grace into creation

Which makes both books sound overbearingly pious. But I find both to be refreshingly honest. Arseny, in Laurus, is like Alyosha in another way: everyone assumes he’s holy, insusceptible to sin and temptation—but he knows that the opposite is true, and he’s as or more vulnerable than anyone, precisely because he’s so renowned for his “holiness.”

I’m finally starting Eugene Vodolazkin’s Laurus, in anticipation of the Anselm House book night in a week and a half. So far (50 pp in), it’s wonderfully strange, its medieval-modern form heavily dependent on pastiche and parataxis for its effects. I’ll hopefully write more soon.

Christian Democracy in Europe—and America?

This short essay in the Guardian makes a case for a Christian-democratic movement in the US to counter the rise of secular authoritarianism. The authors state that it was a distinctly Christian Democratic movement that successfully defeated fascism in Europe; they claim a similar movement is needed here.

Given evangelicals’ remarkably comprehensive (and revolting) capitulation to Trumpism, and liberal Protestants’ own unthinking embrace of the Democratic platform, it’s hard to see how such a movement could gain any traction. (The American Solidarity Party is giving it a go, but their quest seems quixotic rather than realistic).

Christian democracy’s three core principles, according to the authors:

  1. a belief in the “inherent dignity of the human person” that leads to a pro-life stance that includes opposition to both abortion and the death penalty
  2. a “moral critique of capitalism”
  3. a “resolute internationalism, which translates into a commitment to both supranational cooperation amongst established powers and a duty of solidarity with respect to less fortunate peoples and countries.”

There have been times when the Democrats have had a lot more integrity than they currently do with respect to #2 and #3. And there have even been times when they’ve been hospitable to pro-life members. But it’s quite a feat of memory to muster more than a handful of recent exceptions (Minnesota’s own Collin Peterson is one.)

As for the Republicans, they’ve always paid lip service to pro-life policies while doing their best not to enact them—and thus lose a block of voters that might otherwise support Democrats. Their internationalism is certainly resolute—but it’s of a war-mongering variety utterly lacking in compassion for or comprehension of any foreign state other than Israel. And a moral critique of capitalism? Well, don’t hold your breath.

Patrick Deneen has argued that the dominant movement in each party is toward libertarianism: the Republicans increasingly jettison socially conservative policy initiatives, while Democrats do their smarmy best to cozy up to the Davos set while wondering why their base doesn’t show up to vote. So I think Deneen’s clearly right. In this context, that means that any Christian democratic movement is going to be as repulsive to Democratic politicians as it is to Republican ones. And given the structure of our politics, any such movement will have to arise from within one of two parties that are actively opposed to its core tenants.

Christian democracy is, frankly, incomprehensible in modern American politics, however necessary it may be. In any case, though, the essay is worth reading, as is the excellent Samuel Moyn essay they quote from. For a deeper historical perspective on the rise of Christian democracy in Europea, read Tony Judt’s Postwar.

Cecil Taylor, RIP

Start with Ben Ratliff’s obituary for the NYT.

NPR’s coverage of Taylor’s life and work is also excellent:

Look, find one note on the instrument that pleases you. And then find another note that also pleases you in relationship to the first note. And then you build what is going to be your working material from the premise that it is pleasant for you to hear so that eventually what happens when you get ready, if you want to create, you don’t make these dichotomies that lead you astray. Everything you do, I feel, should be girded to making a creation. So that all of these exercises or the manipulation of material to create the house is always in your mind. So that it’s not extraneous. It’s not technique. It’s the sound that will lead to the creation. The only thing I could modestly suggest: Look, always remember that given the society we live in, if you’re going to do this, it’s something that you must love to do. You might as well create something that pleases you.

Replace “note” with “word,” “color,” “line,” and you have about the simplest pedagogy for teachers of any art. I’m grateful for his reminder that, despite the complexity of the world, the complexity of craft, the complexity of Taylor’s own music, ultimately art can and should be simple.

If you’d like to explore Taylor’s music, I’d suggest starting with For Olim, one of Craig Taborn’s favorite solo piano recordings according to the rich NYT profile of Taborn published last year.

Building Anglo-Saxon England

A fascinating new release from Princeton University Press: John Blair’s Building Anglo-Saxon England. Here’s the book description:

This beautifully illustrated book draws on the latest archaeological discoveries to present a radical reappraisal of the Anglo-Saxon built environment and its inhabitants. John Blair, one of the world’s leading experts on this transformative era in England’s early history, explains the origins of towns, manor houses, and castles in a completely new way, and sheds new light on the important functions of buildings and settlements in shaping people’s lives during the age of the Venerable Bede and King Alfred. Building Anglo-Saxon England demonstrates how hundreds of recent excavations enable us to grasp for the first time how regionally diverse the built environment of the Anglo-Saxons truly was. Blair identifies a zone of eastern England with access to the North Sea whose economy, prosperity, and timber buildings had more in common with the Low Countries and Scandinavia than the rest of England. The origins of villages and their field systems emerge with a new clarity, as does the royal administrative organization of the kingdom of Mercia, which dominated central England for two centuries.

H/T: the always-delightful daily newsletter Prufrock News

Timothy Murphy's *Devotions*: Art and Death

Reading Anthony Domestico’s review of Timothy Murphy’s latest book of poems, I was saddened to learn of Murphy’s stage IV cancer. He’s one of our great poets; the fact that he’s from my hometown, Fargo, has given me a particular fondness for his work:

Now separation has become my fear.
What was does not console,
what is, is past control—
the disembodiment that looms so near.

Read several of his poems at the Poetry Foundation.

I recommend this conversation in Democracy on whether political parties are dying or strengthening, though its conclusion—that parties are essentially content-less platforms—shouldn’t surprise anyone who lived through the last presidential election.

Robin Sloan’s Sourdough: like Mr Penumbra, simply delightful. I’m half done, and can’t put it down. Highly recommended!

Alan Jacobs makes a powerful and persuasive argument for the open web in The Hedgehog Review:

We need to revivify the open Web and teach others—especially those who have never known the open Web—to learn to live extramurally: outside the walls.

Rebecca Solnit on writing and agency

The process of making art is the process of becoming a person with agency, with independent thought, a producer of meaning rather than a consumer of meanings that may be at odds with your soul, your destiny, your humanity, so there’s another kind of success in becoming conscious that matters and that is up to you and nobody else and within your reach.

~ From Rebecca Solnit’s excellent writing advice

Les Murray, “Animal Nativity”

The Iliad of peace began when this girl agreed. Now goats in trees, fish in the valley suddenly feel vivid.

Swallows flit in the stable as if a hatching of their kind, turned human, cried in the manger showing the hunger-diamond.

Cattle are content that this calf must come in human form. Spiders discern a water-walker. Even humans will sense the lamb,

He who frees from the old poem turtle-dove and snake, who gets death forgiven who puts the apple back.

Dogs, less enslaved but as starving as the poorest human there, crouch, agog at a crux of presence remembered as a star.

Restoring the Democrats’ foreign-policy vision

Samuel Moyn calls for Democrats to restore the liberal internationism that formed the core of its foreign policy, prior to Clinton and the rise of neoliberalism:

A foreign policy based on expansive militarism and endless war is neither liberal nor internationalist. If the true meaning of those now abused terms is to be recovered, a good deal of retrenchment and restraint is critical…. The United States cannot even begin to think about bringing freedom and equality to the rest of the world until it cleans its own house.

Rereading Mary McCarthy

B.D. McClay’s review essay on Mary McCarthy is excellent, homing in on precisely those qualities of her writing that make McCarthy so simultaneously worthwhile and difficult:

If neither God nor political ideology could be counted on as firm guidelines for behavior, what, exactly, was one supposed to use? While others leaned on concepts like decency, McCarthy herself moved in a different direction. Whatever was painful, whatever was hard to say, whatever you didn’t want to look at, whatever you were afraid to do—that was where you needed to direct your attention. Find, in yourself, in the world, the points of self-delusion, and expose them. Do this over and over. You could call this honesty, or a kind of emotional masochism, or the last remnants of a Catholic upbringing.

I read The Group as an undergraduate, and found it both brilliantly readable and incredibly mean-spirited. McClay’s essay helps me better understand this reaction. And learning of Mailer’s disgust and O’Conner’s support makes me much more inclined to read her other novels.

This delightful essay from Sven Birkerts describes his time with a trio of poet-pals who lived & taught in Boston in the 80s: Seamus Heaney, Joseph Brodsky, & (especially) Derek Walcott.

More from that essay on Paul Thomas Anderson:

Such restorative attachments are one response to the epidemic of spiritual hunger and spiritual crisis in Anderson’s American West, where the promise of Manifest Destiny had trailed off into the sea.

Snack time, listening to and imitating Auntie @kristacostin live on #classicalmpr. Sounds wonderful! #auntikrista #bach

I loved fishing and silence. Walking in the hills…. I didn’t talk much. Had opinions about everything. Life and death. Good and evil. I was a film buff. Loved music. I’d stopped reading contemporary novels. More than anything, I loathed half-hearted, spineless people.

The Brad Mehldau Trio @ the Dakota

The Brad Mehldau show tonight at the Dakota Jazz Club was so, so good. Among the highlights from a set filled with new material:

  • A new Mehldau tune, “Bel and the Dragon”
  • A new, wildly polyrhythmic composition co-written by Ballard and Mehldau
  • A beautiful rendition of “Wolfgang’s Waltz,” from an album, Rising Grace, that I’ve been listening to constantly over the past couple weeks

What a gift to see musicians like these in one’s city. Mehldau mentioned a couple times how much they loved playing the Dakota. A treat for everyone.

Really looking forward to this book. Ecklund is an excellent scholar and writer, and this is a critically understudied topic.

Current listening: Hudson, with Jack DeJohnette, John Scofield, & Brad Mehldau Larry Grenadier (whom I’m seeing live on Sunday at the Dakota!).

Ted Gioia’s albums-of-the-year lists are always long and excellent. This year’s list is no exception. There are hours of beautiful, exciting music here.

Camus, quoted by Izzo:

The love we share with a city is often a secret love.

Current listening: Mavis Staples, One True Vine:

I can tell when something’s going on, And something’s going on. But some Holy Ghost keeps me hanging on…

A pleasant surprise after a looooong weekend of grading. Reading and writing: I’m easy to please.

The three little Octonauts. Enjoying this Halloween—undoubtedly the last one they’ll choose complementary costumes.

This girl takes her sleep very seriously. #hermothersdaughter

Turns out things are pretty much the same, except wetter, and Siri works better.

Captain Abemerica. Saving the world, and stopping to smell all the flowers.

So glad to be present at a very full @AnselmHouseUMN for a talk by Dan Siedell on modern art.

On my commutes, I’ve been listening to Tony Judt’s Postwar. It’s a remarkable book, & I will write more later—but for now, I just wanted to say I have only 19 hours left in this 43 hour long behemoth!

Two of the great moral philosophers of recent history are Bernard Williams and Alaisdair MacIntyre. This essay does an admirable job articulating the differences between the two thinkers—the former a pessimistic and skeptical classical liberal, the latter a pessimistic Catholic traditionalist.

Joshua Cohen is the guest on this week’s episode of Bookworm, discussing his new novel, Moving Kings. It’s an incredible conversation about what sounds like a superb book—do check both out.

Spending a big chunk of the afternoon trying to set up my personal site and microblog with Jekyll & GitHub Pages. As always, it’s far more complicated than expected—but also very enjoyable, deep work.

Polos. Bed head. Ready for their first day of business school.

This post, on the rift between the White House & the State Department on Qatar, confirms that foreign policy is turning out to be the most terrifying part of a terrifying presidency.

Current listening: Max Richter, from Sleep. Beautiful music, composed about, and for, sleep.

These two rascals let themselves out of their beds, and their bedroom, this morning at 6:25. We’re doomed.

Tyler Cowen’s interview with Jill Lepore is, like all his conversations, fascinating and wide-ranging.

This one is particularly recommended for its focus on writing, on the ways we understand and interpret history, and on time-travel.

Lucky enough to catch the second set of the Chris Potter Quartet at the Dakota last night. Incredible show—I’d highly recommend his most recent albums.

If you are in the habit of kissing your kids’ owies to help them feel better, you better also prepare yourself for the day when they bite their tongues while chewing soggy Cheerios. #YouReapWhatYouSow

Wandering and river-watching on a dreary Good Friday.

More birthday festivities: morning at the zoo. Sam was rapt—he could have watched the giraffes for hours.

Two years old today… Their day included ¾ grandparents, a singing Elmo birthday card (thanks @monnytam!) tons of cake (thanks @deborahkaul!), a giant cardboard box, puddle splashing, and Chuck E. Cheese. So, an amazing day for two amazing boys.

Observing New Year’s Day at the Conservatory. (And zoo.)

The boys, loving Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (a gift to their big sister on the day of their birth, from uncle @andrewkaul and aunt @baileekaul)

Abe is just shocked that the gorilla is letting the elephant loose on the world.

First visit to @functionbrewing! Delighted to finally be here, several years after it opened! cc @andrewkaul @rossbruggink

The boys are serious about their graham crackers. #latergram

Belated birthday celebration. Lil was pretty excited about singing—and the boys were just concerned about getting some cake.

Easter egg hunt! Lil just ran around, a little too terrified of the other kids to pick up any eggs.

Spring! At last! The boys, it turns out, are pretty interested in this thing we call the outdoors.

Spent a lot of time today photographing trees. #treesofinstagram

Well, two out of three enjoyed the walk this afternoon. Abe, however, was a bit cranky.

Window shopping. (One of the dishes at this place is awesomely named “The Prime Rib of Miss Jean Brodie.”)

Many of Osip Mandelstam’s own poems only exist today because they were memorized by his wife & friends before they were burned.

Birthday!!! Thanks for the great par-tay @monnytam @fargofd @deborahkaul @andrewkaul @ryanleedawes @baileekaul @kristacostin @smmoothies @kdkaul

Thanks for the Amazon gift card, @monnytam & @fargofd – it was put to good use. 📕📗📘📙

I’ve seen a lot in these last nine months. But nothing quite so gag-inducing as what the boys did to this poor bowl of Life cereal.

Fun day with Auntie @kristacostin, Grandpa @fargofd, @monnytam, @ryanleedawes, and @karincostin!

Someone’s kids haven’t quite adjusted to daylight savings yet. On the plus side, they’re a great help in my new plan to wake up earlier.

Lil, worried she would scare people because she looked so much like a real lion, decided to reassure them by telling them she was a tiger.

Someone started crawling today! Evidence captured by auntie @karincostin

Another early morning–the boys didn’t want to miss the loons. Instead, they woke the loons up.

New chalk is all meticulously lined up. Thanks @kristinvarella!

At least one of them’s in a good mood today!

The boys are 3 months. That means soon I won’t be able to put them on the kitchen table unrestrained anymore.

Jason Moran + Robert Glasper, at the Walker. Absolutely amazing.

Thanks for the visit, @kristinvarella! (Also, Lilli’s pretty pumped about her sweet new shades.)

Weekend with the nephew. He’s the smiliest kid ever.

Lil loving her new bicycle. Thanks @karincostin for the sweeeeet helmet!

After taking care of the boys all night, the grandparents still seem to love them.

Abraham Andrew and Samuel Ryan, soaking up some sun at 4 days old. Enjoy it while it lasts, boys.

Christmas reading with uncle @andrewkaul and auntie @baileekaul h/t on Once Upon an Alphabet: @brainpicker

I love you most of all, my darling, When autumn leaves start to fall.

Costin family photo day @karincostin @kristacostin @ryanleedawes @fargofd

Somebody smudged the mirror @askovfinlayson… @andrewkaul

Beautiful walk with the little one around the lake tonight.

The scratcher! With @ryanleedawes, @fargofd, @andrewkaul, @baileekaul

On a one-day drive across both Montana and North Dakota, everyone needs to pitch in! #latergram

The fried butter put Lilli straight to sleep. #INstatefair

I love the new toy, it’s delicious! Thanks aunt @karincostin!

Sourdough. Heirloom tomato. Bacon. Cheddar. Avacado. #masterchef

First bites of food! Everybody’s favorite: oat cereal.

Serious Liffrig discussion, post-wedding. #kaulwedding

Lilli’s first trip to the east coast… And mine! #providence NYC is next, @jnetsamyn!

Inaugurated into the classic Gpa Kent evening snooze tradition. With @fargofd

With @ryanleedawes, @kristacostin, @andrewkaul, Gma Tammy & Gpa @fargofd. And taken by @kristinvarella.

Three weeks old. And loved by auntie @karincostin! (And her other aunties too!)

Chillin’ to Bill Evans with dad, for whom side-lying is an incredible revelation.

With aunt @kristacostin for some amazing lunch from @kristinvarella

USA-Canada last night. Lilli’s first soccer match put us both to sleep. Her more quickly than me.

Home sweet home (2:45 am version, w/tornado warning & no sleep)