Calling All Astronomers. . . Something Doesn’t Add Up

I took an astronomy course at Vanderbilt more than fifty years ago; an enjoyable and thought-provoking course which informs the following:

Something of indeterminately large size, a singularity, may have exploded, or unimaginably expanded, billions of years ago, ejecting material which would one day form the observable heavenly bodies.

Was there within that Something, or singularity, other constituent material which was ejected, which we cannot yet see or detect, if this explosion, or expansion, occurred?

The Something which may have exploded, expanded, would have to have been located somewhere, relatively speaking. No, I have no idea where the Something may have been, and I am weary of conflating exploded with expanded.

All, most(?), some(?), of that post-explosion ejecta would one day coalesce into stars, planets, moons, comets, and asteroids, et al, which would then, eventually, be captured by gravitation or by some as yet undetected force, to become part of a galaxy or some other many-light-years-wide and distant space entity.

On 7April2022 the farthest astronomical object to date was detected and has been named HD1. Maybe the object is a galaxy. Maybe it is a massive black hole. Maybe it is an object never before encountered. HD1 is determined to be approximately 13.5 billion light years from Earth.

Further, astronomers estimate in the article that HD1 formed and began shining in ‘extremely bright ultraviolet light’ approximately 300 million years after Something went BANG!!

Cool. . . but hold on for a minute because distances time-and-distance-wise aren’t adding up.

The Something which may have gone BANG!! was at relative POINT A when it blew. Is not important the location of that Something’s relative POINT A, or is it?

What is important is that recently detected HD1, be it galaxy or black hole or ‘to be determined’, was ostensibly formed from explosively ejected material and began radiating its light an estimated 300 million years after Something went BANG!!. . . maybe.

But wait; HD1‘s UV light, traveling at 6.2 trillion miles per year, took 13.5 billion years to reach our astronomers’ instruments from HD1’s relative POINT B.

How far away is HD1 estimated to be right now, given that its light took 13.5 billion years to reach our instruments; given that the object has to our knowledge never slowed down?

Beginning to see where this is going? Maybe not yet because this is confusing. . . to me, too.

In a mere 300 million years, it is estimated that HD1 formed and began emitting UV light which then took 13.5 billion years to be detected on Earth.

If the Something which may have gone BANG!! was at relative POINT A when it blew, so that part of its ejected material which would eventually form HD1 coalesced in about 300 million years and began emitting ultraviolet light from its relative POINT B, then how did HD1 get 13.5 billion light years away from detection station Earth in only 300 million years, unless. . . no, it couldn’t be. . . HD1‘s constituent material was traveling faster than the speed of light?

Couldn’t be, because if HD1’s constituent material was traveling faster than the speed of light then we would never have detected its light. . . right?

No one in class long ago thought to bring this up for discussion, and why the question has taken a half century to bake in my head is a mystery, but the question seems germane to a larger discussion about a perceived yet not reconciled inequality between the time HD1 and other space entities formed after the supposed BANG!! and the time required for their respective observable light, of whatever nature, to arrive.

Please, astronomers, any one, set my thinking straight on this matter if you will. Am I missing an otherwise obvious aspect of the manner in which our universe is perceived?

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“Ideas Have Consequences” – Forthcoming Essays

“The past shows unvaryingly that when a people’s freedom disappears, it goes not with a bang, but in silence amid the comfort of being cared for. That is the dire peril in the present trend toward statism. If freedom is not found accompanied by a willingness to resist, and to reject favors, rather than to give up what is intangible but precarious, it will not long be found at all.”
— Richard Weaver, 1962, New York

Richard M. Weaver (1910-1963) came into view after reading Roger Kimball’s essay “The consequences of Richard Weaver” in The New Criterion (September, 2006).

Further reading informed that had Weaver not died at fifty-three, then in five years he might have been my English professor while a Vanderbilt freshman in 1968. I was not then aware of his 1948 book Ideas Have Consequences, and my reflective suspicion is that had I read his book then I might have been as dismissive of it as I was of Orwell’s 1984, which I thought to be ridiculous hyperbole; an authoritarian dystopia could never overwhelm and seize an educated, civil society.

Today, 1984 finds its foot scarily planted in right-around-the-corner possibility, and Ideas Have Consequences reads increasingly like same day reportage.

My intent is to write a series of ten essays focusing on Weaver’s book; expanding on each of the book’s sections, the “Foreward” and “Introduction” as one, then on each of nine chapters. So meaningfully dense is Weaver’s writing that there will be several weeks between essays; the first probably appearing in January 2021.

An example of Weaver’s rich relevance from the “Introduction”: “Most portentous of all, there appear diverging bases of value, so that our single planetary globe is mocked by worlds of different understanding.” (Weaver 2)

Envision group discussion by diverse thinkers tackling that excerpt; some provocateur within the group substituting his or her city, community, university campus, or perhaps even family for the phrase “single planetary globe” (Weaver 2).

These essays will be a first for me, so I will stay away from writing boring, lengthy book reports; my endeavor being to fairly represent Weaver’s relevant essence, then complement that essence through the lens of my life’s readings, experiences, interpretations, and anticipations.

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Letter to a Friend Who Loves the Word

In this time when circumstance and scientism endeavors to prevail over definition and faith; praise for what you do.

For about six years now, beneath my name and contact information for every email sent is the acronym HUMSFOR: humility, understanding, mercy, selflessness, forgiveness, obedience, and repentance.

That acronym is the last thing I look at before tapping the send button. It causes me to ask myself “does this email reflect those struggles of faith which I daily interject between me and God’s grace-filled reconciliation toward me despite my sinful life?”

Interestingly, in six years and thousands of emails only one person has inquired about the acronym.

Was 48 years ago when we first met, and in my first five minutes with you it was clear to me that your heart was in pursuance of those six aspects of faith.

To me you inclined then to no ‘privilege’, as I perceive you do not now. . . inconceivable. . . cannot envision that word ever having even tangential application to you.

My family experience is one of having a mixed-race daughter-in-law for 19 years; black father and white mother; and my youngest sister’s youngest daughter has been married to a black man for 11 years.

I hear people state “I would say or do this or that if a black or mixed-race person dated or wanted to marry one of my children”. 

All blather of that nature goes out the window when that person is standing in your den, being introduced as your child’s fiancé.

Reality typically smacks you as it says hello.

Our family continues on a journey of racial reconciliation; step by step.

Richard M. Weaver had signed a contract to move from the University of Chicago to Vanderbilt in 1963. At VU he received an MA in English under John Crowe Ransom, and later a PhD at LSU under Cleanth Brooks; himself a Methodist minister’s son from Murray KY, and a VU grad.

Weaver died suddenly in 1963 at age 53, months before making his move to Nashville. Had he lived we might well have enjoyed his instructive wisdom.

His 1948 book Ideas Have Consequences speaks to today’s obsession with materialism, nominalism, scientism, and presentism; all departures from what should be our never ending quest for transcendence.

As Weaver put it:

  • Man created in the divine image, the protagonist of a great drama in which his soul was at stake, was replaced by man the wealth-seeking and -consuming animal. (p.6)

The book affords an introspective read, and its 1948 publication could as easily have been in the summer of 2020, so relevant is it; even to matters extant as social justice.

Weaver was a Christian, criticized on the U of Chicago campus by some of his contemporaries, and my belief after reading his book and Holy Scripture for many years is that he, as I, would desire that the word ‘privilege’, with all its current modifiers, would one day be regarded as a shibboleth; because today ‘privilege’ is deployed as a pejorative, as though there should be some guilt-laden quasi-reverential aspect to it.

I am an ineradicable sinner, condemned but for God’s grace.

What I wish regarding my past is meaningless to God as I envision God.

Scripture speaks to the condemned man wishing to warn his brothers of hell’s misery and being prohibited.

Whatever early-life lack of sensitivity you spoke of in your blog, my sense is that you long ago heard ‘Moses and the prophets‘ as Jesus related in Luke 16:29, and have endeavored in your life and ministry to move your heart and others toward God’s grace.

What is relevant is what I do in this moment, where my heart is now; then in each moment for the remainder of my life.

My sin-filled heart must first seek God; a task at which I daily fail; yet I struggle that any person of whatever color or nature or inclination should incline me to feel guilt or bias, explicit or implicit, unless I have directly sinned against that man or woman.

As Viktor Frankl shared, mine is the only heart over which I have any control, so there is something un-God-like judgmental for another person to speculate on how ‘well I use my privilege‘. God states we are all the same in His eyes, so that for a person of faith, such as the pastor whom you mentioned, to otherwise insinuate as to how I use ‘my privilege‘ is in my opinion to distort the Word.

My sad intuition is that a vocal political clique not first interested in Christ’s gospel message nor even racial reconciliation is broadly aggravating the deep wound of racial discrimination; using ‘privilege’, ‘white privilege’, ‘white ascendancy’, et al, as cudgels.

Only by offended and offenders first heart-embracing Christ and becoming one with Him can sin’s erosion form no lasting social justice ditch.

Blessing all that you do in your ministry.

A continuing challenge lies before us all.

Go `Dores. What a treasure to have been, and be, your teammate and friend.

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First and Third and Three Seventy-Five

Summer 1972: It felt right to settle into the catching position, as though that was where the baseball diamond wanted me.

More than a year before, of necessity, I was called upon to catch while playing a college baseball game. Having never before done this, as I pulled on the gear my curiosity was mixed with uncertainty; the overflow from a considerable anxiety of the unknown. How would I react when a swung bat was in the same vicinity as the moving ball, my hand, and my head? Would I close my eyes? Worse, would I flinch?

I crouched behind the plate and the first pitch was delivered. The batter swung and missed. My eyes didn’t close. I was playing pitch and catch with the pitcher, and the fact of a batter swinging a bat near my head and hand was inconsequential to me. Whew.

Now I was on a single-A farm club in San Diego’s organization, playing in the Pacific Northwest League, and another opportunity arose to catch. This was my chance. This felt right. My hitting was fair, and I was determined to learn this new position that seemed to be my best route to advancement, and it was fun.

The first step of a little boy’s dream was being realized; I was getting paid to play baseball.

The day the Topps Chewing Gum representative came by to secure each player’s agreement to perhaps one day have his photo on a baseball card was sufficient to reinforce the thought that my larger childhood dream might be within reach. The Topps compensation for attaining the majors and having a baseball card with your photo on it was $500 or a new set of golf clubs.

It was 5 July, 1972.

Don’t believe me? Take a look, because I never cashed my check.

Have sometimes wondered if I jinxed myself by never cashing that check, because exactly one month later. . .

We were practicing first and third scenarios; a defensive exercise whereby runners on first and third were instructed to simulate baserunning strategies we might encounter during game conditions. There were several defensive reactions to be practiced, including infielders moving to various spots as the runners broke, and the catcher, me, throwing to different infielders, or the pitcher. An historical note about the frequency of this exercise is that baseball teams have been practicing this since day one of the modern baseball era.

I was learning a new craft, and making progress. My hitting was improving, but right now it was very important for me to develop skills, understanding, and field management for the myriad of scenarios which could arise.

People, even long time fans, may not fully appreciate that baseball is a mental game involving practice and more practice for responding to this and that imagined scenario, and when you think you’ve got it mastered you go back and practice it again and again so that you respond instinctively to game condition permutations. They become second nature. Then one day a play develops that you never, ever, dreamed could possibly occur, and on that day the immaculate Derek Jeter makes one of the great defensive plays of all time; by being in a place no shortstop has ever been, fielding an errant throw from a rightfielder that misses the cut-off man, while Jeter is standing at an impossible angle to properly throw the ball. . . then making a perfect backhand flip to nab the Oakland Athletics’ Jason Giambi at the plate to protect a 1-0 Yankees lead. In the history of baseball that play has probably never been practiced; but what Jeter did in that moment was the sum of countless hours of anticipating what might happen and making an instantaneous response.

So ‘first and thirds’ as we called it were nothing new. My arm was warm and the day was bright. Everyone was ready and so we began. I had a strong and accurate arm, to the extent that seventy-five percent of my throws to second base were right on your glove, and I  was working to quicken my ball release. When guys wanted extra batting practice they would ask me to throw to them because I could throw strikes all day.

First up was a scenario whereby the pitcher would throw the ball to me at the plate and the baserunners would break as instructed. I would then fire the ball to the shortstop as he charged hard toward the plate, and we would go from there. Easy.

I caught the first ball and threw, and our shortstop had to reach to catch the ball. His having to reach threw off the defensive timing of the play and both runners were safe. No big deal. Do it again. No problem. Repeat and drive on.

My second throw forced the shortstop to jump to catch the ball, and once again the defensive play blew up. Hmm? What is this? Do it again.

My third throw was retrieved from the base of the 375 foot sign in left-center field. Our assistant manager, who was standing near shortstop, looked at me and yelled “What the f**k is wrong with you?” . . . “Something’s not working right and I don’t know what it is”.

I didn’t know what it was, but of one thing I was certain; what had been before no longer existed. Throwing unconsciously to an intended target had vanished. The ball in my hand attached to my arm being guided by my brain was no longer a seamless operating system. They were now separate mechanical and mental parts who were barely communicating with one another. I had no idea how to fix that which I had no idea how it worked in the first place. It, throwing, had always just happened.

The next night we played Lewiston, Idaho, and their first batter, a lefthander, struck out on a curve ball that hit the dirt. I scooped the ball cleanly and took a step left inside the first base line as I’d done many times before, to afford a clear throwing path to first base. . . drew back my arm and . . . threw the ball into the grass about ten feet in front of my shoes.

I had the yips. It was indescribably embarrassing.

And I knew in that moment that this dream had ended.

It was replaced by a better reality than I could have imagined.

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‘Clipper’ed then ‘Splinter’ed

To Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees faithful I am an unrepentant apostate because I want both teams to flourish.

My first love was the Yankees, for which I had no choice since it was for all intents and purposes genetic. My father saw games in every World Series from 1948 to 1955, so you get one guess as to which team played in most of those series and which team he most often discussed.

DiMaggio was his favorite, and there really wasn’t a second place. For sixty-five years Joe DiMaggio was the gold standard, baseball royalty, in my dad’s eyes. My father’s glowing description of him made me think powerful and elegant grace. This from a man about whom you would be disinclined to use the word glowing. But what he saw perfectly aligned with a quote attributable to DiMaggio:

There is always some kid who may be seeing me play for the first or last time. I owe him my best.” [Source: The Sporting News (4Apr1951)]

Humility and excellence from the premier baseball player of his time, and perhaps all time.

In 1951, my dad was in the Polo Grounds for Bobby Thomson’s ‘Shot Heard Round the World‘, and days later he watched Mickey Mantle catch a cleat and tear up his knee backing off a fly ball that Joe Dimaggio caught.

After watching late 1950s Game of the Week broadcasts, often a Yankees game, I remember spending hours emulating Mickey Mantle’s swing while using our green water meter cover as home plate. My towering imaginary right-handed homers sailed over the Case’s roof in left field, then just as many left-handed shots cleared the Lee’s in right.

One weekend in 1960 I saw Ted Williams swing for the first time. He was six-four and I was chasing five feet. His swing had more moving parts than an erector set, yet every swing looked like it should have had a home run attached to it. There was no slow motion then, and no instant replay, so I had to swiftly burn that magnificently choreographed dance into my brain. . . then run out to the water meter for more tape measure shots.

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Machiavelli Might Agree

If zealots with nefarious intent toward this republic ordained to exercise long term dissemblance to foment authoritarian ends, why would their subversive endeavors be directed toward targets other than a receptively mendacious and tendentious Media, an impolitic Education, and a benighted Church?

Oh, those have been underway for some time.

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Blank and Galled

Why did Vanderbilt Magazine editors repeat equity, diversity, inclusion, and identity more than sixty-five times in the Fall 2017 issue?

Were they merely informing VU alumni, or trying to proselytize us? Those four words excessive use made me think the university’s multicultural and social justice ambitions had become its central directive at the expense of its educational mission. What happened at VU since I was a freshman there fifty years ago?

September 1968. I was a surprised, honored, intimidated, and immature freshman at Vanderbilt, and proud to wear the Black and Gold as a baseball player. My intent was to earn an engineering degree, while wanting to be and having a greater aptitude to become an English teacher. So, why did I choose engineering? That’s easy, engineers could get a job. Nevertheless, that innate longing inclined me to linger whenever I saw a black and white photograph, hung on walls in several locations around campus, of five neatly dressed men, each of whom appeared to be over fifty years old; collegially sitting on or leaning against wooden outdoor furniture as though engaged in apt conversation. The photograph’s caption identified them as Allen Tate, Merrill Moore, Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, and Donald Davidson, at a reunion on the VU campus in 1956. All had been VU English department students, with Ransom graduating before 1910 and the others by 1925. Only Robert Penn Warren, author of All the King’s Men, was familiar to me.

Those graduates would become poets, writers, literary critics, and professors; contributors to a 1922-25 literary magazine The Fugitive, which extolled Southern agrarianism and expounded resistance to the North’s dehumanizing industrialist encroachment. In the book I’ll Take My Stand, published in 1930, a dozen essays from Southerners, including one each by all in the photo except Moore, further espoused a Southern tradition of letters, resistance to industrialization, education before and after the Civil War, religion, politics, culture, and race relations. Individual ideological perspective will determine one’s response while reading this book; falling on some locus across a sweeping arc from sympathetic agreement to incendiary opprobrium.

Ransom, Tate, and Warren would later embrace the New Criticism, whose formalist foundation was laid by I.A. Richards, and its focus on close textual reading and analysis. My generation would, luckily but sadly, be among the last beneficiaries of New Criticism’s clarity, as metastasizing postmodernism would bring the deconstructon and post-structural unintelligibility of Derrida, Foucault, and Lacan.

Again, this was 1968, a year of sadness, tragedy, provocation, achievement, and rage. Resistance to the Vietnam War was already at flood stage when the Tet Offensive began in January. North Korea captured the USS Pueblo and its crew, and holds that ship to this day. Lyndon Johnson effectively abdicated the presidency in March. Martin Luther King was assassinated in April, and Robert F. Kennedy in June. Chicago became a police versus protester clubbing ground during August’s Democratic National Convention. Tommie Smith and John Carlos won gold and bronze at October’s Mexico City Olympics, then protested with raised black-clad fists on the medal stand, had their medals stripped, and were sent home. ‘Law and order’ candidate Richard Nixon won November’s presidential election. The year capped in December when a manned Apollo 8 orbited the Moon for the first time, and the USS Pueblo crew was released by North Korea two days before Christmas.

If ever there was fodder to feed one’s ideological ardor, 1968 satisfied all the nutritional requirements. Therefore you might suppose that my Political Science 101 classroom would have become a forum where the year would be regurgitated according to the professor’s leanings. Well, he waited to show any sense of colors until our first quiz when he said “Sign your Blue Book honor code pledge, but if I catch you cheating I’ll beat the hell out of you”. It was about the most ideological statement he made all semester.

Winter 2003. That 1956 photograph resurfaced in a Vanderbilt Magazine article titled Pride and Prejudice, in which several current and former VU professors disparaged those five famous scholars and much of their oeuvre, particularly I’ll Take My Stand. The men who were largely responsible for putting an ungrateful VU on the intellectual and literary map were criticized as racist, misogynistic, non-progressive, and to quote one professor from the article, “I mean, they’re not politically correct“. I was disappointed that the article’s contributors offered no scholarly critiques of the five, and suspected that what they professed was a de rigueur state of mind to which academe at not only VU, but universities nationwide, had gravitated; that scholarship was being replaced by ideological expediency.

Vanderbilt’s pursuit of vere loqui (speak truth) which I remembered from thirty-five years earlier, was to me being abandoned in order to embrace recte loqui (speak correctly), which aligned with what Richard M. Weaver, MA’34 wrote in Ideas Have Consequences (1948); Here begins the assault upon definition; if words no longer correspond to objective realities, it seems no great wrong to take liberties with words‘.

May 2017. I arrived early Saturday morning for our afternoon VU baseball team reunion so I would have ample time to casually walk across and observe changes to the campus. There were renovations and new buildings, yet the campus was beautiful and retained its refreshing openness. White chairs for the next week’s commencement ceremonies were being set out on lawns. The crisscrossing sidewalk was wonderful as always and invited me to walk, but soon I began seeing ‘Safe Space’ signs, and bulletin boards with locations and times for ‘Health & Wellness’ and ‘Identity’ meetings, and wondered what had taken hold here and what it meant.

Fall 2017. Vanderbilt Magazine arrived. This was among VU’s most widely distributed alumni publications, and those four tendentious, intellectually elusive, and societally hard to pin down words mentioned earlier fairly jumped from the periodical as though to repetitively beat their primacy into my head. From that I deduced that VU students were being subjected to those words at a far higher rate than were we alums . . . the rate of indoctrination.

I then searched for a phrase, or a word, in the magazine reflecting that the pursuit of broad knowledge through reasoned inquiry must be diligent, and can be uncomfortable, taxing, or even confrontational. Challenging, unfettered questions should elicit thoughtful responses, and no better forum for that exchange than the university. But instead there were pages reflecting VU administrators protectively embracing, without apparent discernment, everyone and everything which anyone thought about themselves, to the extent that I sensed anyone who dared ask probing questions or sought elucidation about why a person thought what they were thinking might be vilified. It’s quite simple, I found out, that you do not ask probing questions in ‘Safe Spaces’. In this vein Vanderbilt Magazine became to me a textbook conveyance of what Richard Weaver characterized as ‘hysterical optimism’; namely, everything and everyone is OK. Sherif Feisal, in Seven Pillars of Wisdom (Lawrence, 1926), asked of Lawrence, “Does the ore admire the flame which transforms it?” This issue of Vanderbilt Magazine made me think that any number of VU administrators were encouraging a widespread student frame of mind resistant to select hard questions; that the laborious mental work of extracting and refining intellectual ore which may lead to knowledge, understanding, and perhaps enduring truth, was being shelved in favor of providing a safe space, a place shielded from critical examination of others and self. I also perceived that VU students for whom the word ‘identity’ had magnified resonance, appeared coddled by a protective, hand holding segment of the administration, instead of being challenged and intellectually steeled for an unprotected life once outside VU’s sheltering enclave.

I then saw the Black and Gold fading to less distinct hues, with an administratively energized culture fomenting students’ sensitivities to be constantly offended by ever-shifting examples of oppressed victimhood and perceived social injustices, or galled from microaggressions which in shapeshifter fashion have assumed any form. Indignations of whatever sort were being assuaged by palliatives in the form of scheduled diversity workshops, or mandated ‘unconscious bias‘ and ‘inclusive excellence‘ training. Look textually at those two italicized phrases in the previous sentence and try to translate them into cogent English for English speakers. George Orwell’s 1946 Politics and the English Language came to mind, with its pointed observations about language abuse and its bleak prescience. Orwell’s essay is easy to find on the internet, can be read in ten minutes, and stands as a double red flag warning about the long term effects of baffling, authoritarian bureaucrat-speak. Stay out of that water!

Besides distorted language, bureaucratic bloat is also afflicting and encumbering VU and universities nationwide while jacking up tuitions to pay for the increased number of administrators, whose growth has outpaced faculty growth; and is exemplified at VU by a three-year-old Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) numbering eight, with slots yet to be filled per the organization chart. These EDI administrators detract from the university’s core mission by being front line promoters, instigators, and practitioners of the tenuous argument from circumstance, the least sound and most dependent upon expediency of all the argumentation types as typified by the professor’s derision when he stated the five honored scholars were “not politically correct”; a phrase which means whatever it needs to mean on the day of its utterance, and is therefore self-perpetuating.

One of VU’s retorts to my criticism might be that Princeton Review rated Vanderbilt students number one in happiness in 2017.  Seriously? Happy students is a parameter for which the university has a metric? But of course when the twenty-plus-year-old business-preeminent Platinum Rule is deployed, with its admonishment to ‘Treat others the way they want to be treated‘. It was and is advertised and taught as supplanting the Golden Rule, and I believe it has become firmly rooted and nurtured at VU so as to branch out and entwine students with its insidious tendrils; students who may one day find that what they thought of as the administration’s supportive embrace was in actuality a form of cultural strangulation.

My opinion is that VU’s alumni magazine has become a propagandist instrument as regards the university’s social justice pursuits. History informs that propagandists dissuade education not aligned with the ‘message’, resulting in intellectual attrition. An example of that attrition arose in that 2003 article, which quoted a retired fifty-year Vanderbilt English professor stating that “A lot of these people who are my ex-colleagues repudiate, for example, Aristotle. They believe nothing Aristotle ever said was any good for one reason: Aristotle believed in slavery. Now when you’re dealing with that kind of mindset, that takes a lot off the table“. Aristotle. Repudiated. The retired professor was speaking to a symptom of presentism which had taken hold in some VU classrooms, with application extended to not only five twentieth century intellectual titans, but also to an ancient pillar of Western thought and dialectical methods for pursuit of the nature of truth.

Presentism has since become a pandemic virus by which a university’s hall name was sandblasted from its facade, a college’s name was changed because the person behind the name was deemed incorrect, and offending statues were made to disappear in the darkness of night. This same exercise of presentism led the VU English department to diminish those men who had made that department famous.

It would be unfair of me to omit reportage of vibrant teaching and research going on at VU in engineering and medicine. But the majority of VU students take humanities courses, and for what are the humanities now striving? As an adult I came to admire how the university’s administration once strove to integrate humanities and engineering in such a way as to undergird engineering problem solving with studied rational reasoning.

The signs in 2003 that a VU classical liberal education was in self-imposed decline have magnified so that the slope of that descent has steepened. I now believe VU’s hard-earned tradition as a bastion of a classically liberal education to be under threat of systematic depletion by vilifying the mental tools necessary to acquire and disseminate that education; that there is a bureaucratically inspired diversion in pursuit of something less lofty, more ephemeral, and of dubious long term human value. If VU’s multicultural and social justice snipe hunt continues, then undergraduate students’ minds will be filled with $70,000 per annum blanks, and they won’t realize it until it’s too late.



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Worth the Wait

Bring home Epiphyllum oxypetalum, the magnificent night-blooming cereus, but expect no one to say nice things about your new plant . . . because they won’t.

Then be patient. Be very patient. Two to three to five years patient.

The night-blooming cereus is a climbing, thornless cactus with long and unadorned lanceolate green turned brown stems when mature, from which grows, at random angles, nine inch long, moderately serrated and pendulous leaves with the thick feel of a succulent. An inordinately thick leaf midrib reveals alternating lateral veins. Architecturally, the plant gets a ‘C’ at best. When the plant gets too dry the leaves take on a resemblance to crinkly green leather.

But better dry than too wet, because an overwatered, or worse, overwatered and overfertilized plant declines quickly. If you see red dots on a leaf be ready for them to multiply rapidly, followed by leaf yellowing, splotchiness, and huge areas of the leaf dying. The dead area gets thin, brown, and lacy, and might affect the entire leaf.

But under no circumstances give up on this plant, no matter how sick it appears. I speak from experience. In late summer 2016, after six years of proper E. oxypetalum plant nurture, I committed the unpardonable plant sin of too much water and fertilizer. I knew better, but did it anyway. Almost overnight the plant’s decline began and was rampant, to the extent I whittled off over half the foliage on four plants within a six week period. They looked miserably poxed. At this point the growing season was closing so I put the plants in my basement and began winter maintenance, expecting the worst.

But they forgave my loving them too much, then surprised me in summer 2017 by showing off what they do best. They bloomed, and the dimension, beauty, and olfactory pleasure of these blooms is best described as GRAND. The bloom’s petals are a dinner plate wide, and its depth from stigma to receptacle is 4-6 inches. A divine fragrance captures you twenty feet away, and you find yourself drawn into the inviting, cavernous depth of near-translucent long white petals and delicately curved filaments supporting gold-dusted anthers. The long style displays a cupped stigma with 14-18 elegant hydra-like tentacles which upon close examination appear to be delicately sprayed with white diamond dust.

But an ephemeral enjoyment it is, because the bloom you watched develop over a period of three to four weeks opened some time after 2100 hours last night and will be forever closed by dawn.

The wait was more than worthwhile.

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True Colors

God, I cannot make it through this day without You; yet I know before my feet hit the floor this morning that I will turn my back on You today. How can You love such a fraud?

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He Saw This From Afar

A few words about TE Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom: Read the book.

Linger over chapter three; only six pages. Better still would be to read that chapter again and again until you’re sated in Lawrence’s narrative.

But at last Dahoum drew me: ‘Come and smell the very sweetest scent of all’, and we went into the main lodging, to the gaping window sockets of its eastern face, and there drank with open mouths of the effortless, empty, eddyless wind of the desert, throbbing past . . . My Arabs were turning their backs on perfumes and luxuries to choose the things in which mankind had had no share or part. (p38)

He was the most familiar of their words; and indeed we lost much eloquence when making Him the shortest and ugliest of our monosyllables. (p39)

Lawrence casts a century old light on the strengths and poverties of the Semitic mind and their undoubting, unimpeachable belief in the congruity of their appositions.

At chapter’s end Lawrence prophetically haunts with what he later in the book describes as the ‘unperceived foreknown”. (p221)

They were as unstable as water, and like water would perhaps finally prevail. Since the dawn of life, in successive waves they had been dashing themselves against the coasts of flesh. Each wave was broken, but, like the sea, wore away ever so little of the granite on which it failed, and some day, ages yet, might roll unchecked over the place where the material world had been, and God would move upon the face of those waters . . . The wash of that wave, thrown back by the resistance of vested things, will provide the matter of the following wave, when in fullness of time the sea shall be raised once more. (p41)

The swell of the sea delivering waves of invaders to shores of Western thought; seen from afar.

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Talk About Offensive

Consider the many opportunities for removal and relocation of Roman historical sites deemed “on the wrong side of humanity” which would be available to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu were he mayor of Rome, Italy.

Is it a fair reflection, Mitch, to state that Rome’s Colosseum stands as the “most offensive”, as you say, of all those sites, given that some 400,000 people and perhaps a million animals were butchered on that single arena floor to the raucus applause of 80,000 bloodlust-seeking Roman fans?

Think of it, Mitch, you could move not merely an offensive remnant from an ancient city, but more than two millennia of sordid history could be excised and relocated to your chosen “place of healing” if only you had access to a crew and crane working under the cover of night to execute your plan to remove such a horrible historical blight.

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Twinkle . . .

Sometimes on warm, clear, moonless nights I would gaze up at the stars while lying in our front yard; wondering what was that hazy stripe which looked like a far off cloud across the roof of the sky. At nine I did not yet know that I was peering nearly along our galactic plane. Stars were easily visible all across the night sky, so it was easy to find constellations.

Fifty years later I no longer lie in our front yard, no matter how beautiful and warm the night, but I sometime take our dogs for a late night walk, and will look up to see . . . not much. It is easy to see Ursa Major’s dipper pointing toward Polaris at Ursa Minor’s tail, but no longer are the minor dipper’s fainter stars visible. Tiny Pleiades ever more faintly glides along a winter’s night sky, requiring a determined search when once it was easily seen. Large swatches of the sky’s canopy appear devoid of stars.

Most Americans today are unaware they’ve been star-robbed of the Milky Way’s resplendent nighttime celestial light show by man-made illumination of parking lots, buildings, and city streets . Long ago I would look up and feel small, yet somehow integral with the infinite stretching out before me. No longer does the night’s meditative vastness display itself. It looks lonely and empty up there, and I miss it.

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It’s for the Birds

Thirty years ago I bought a bird seed feeder at our local hardware store. One feeder eventually became many, meaning that in my yard today birds can find feeders holding black oil sunflower seed and hulled chips, nyjer seed, hulled peanuts, suet, sugar water for hummingbirds in summer, and in cool weather homemade cedar snags holding a mixture of peanut butter and plain cornmeal with a few sunflower chips folded in. Several water dishes and a lot of natural cover around our property ensure plentiful birds year-round.

You can pay about $30 and up for a 6-8 inch cedar snag with a few shallow holes drilled in it with a wood boring bit, or you can make one yourself with a minimum of time and expense; and whatever imagination you wish to apply to your creation. If you make one you will make several, and use them. If you give one to a bird-feeding enthusiast it will be gratefully received.

I mentioned black oil sunflower seed. If that is your only seed offering the birds will not object. I’ve bought expensive seed blends, and their seed quality and diversity has improved over the years, but observed no increase in the variety or number of birds at my feeders versus offering straight black oil sunflower seed. That is what works for my southeast location, and only by trying and observing will you find what will work best for your location. Do not underestimate the importance of location. During warm months there are kingbirds in the flat two acre open field next to my yard, and not once in twenty-four years have I seen one on my sloping, wooded property.

Remember water and cover so birds can drink, bathe, nap, nest, spend the night, and get protection from storms. A few days ago we had seven bluebirds drinking and bathing in a long shallow water-filled dish sitting on the patio handrail. Beautiful.

Be extra alert during spring migration. We get an occasional rose-breasted grosbeak passing through, which I believe is the prettiest bird to ever visit my yard. Their stay here is short, but rewarding.

Take care.

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Dear MSM: Your Allegations Don’t Add Up

Impressive. Voters in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York must have remained immune to purported Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election. How else to explain those four states’ voters giving Clinton a 7.8 million vote buffer over Trump?

The remaining 46 states, plus Washington, DC, must have succumbed to Russian covert actions because they afforded Trump a 5 million vote advantage, leaving the current 2.8 million popular vote gap in Clinton’s favor.

But . . . wait a minute. Trump lost 16 of those remaining 46 states, plus Washington, DC.

Final number of states won: Trump 30 and Clinton 20, plus Washington, DC.

So Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco voters, in fact the ten largest U.S. media markets, didn’t bite the Russian bait, while suburban and rural Rust Belt, Midwest, West, and Southern voters, not residents of large cities, did.

The increasingly apoplectic media’s story, despite the ‘intelligence’ they toss my way, sounds invidious, discordant, and approaches sedition.

Addendum: 80 of the 100 largest U.S. cities went for Clinton. Eighty of the most populous concentrations of urban voters living in U.S. nexuses of mass communications and representing more than 53 million people were unswayed by alleged Russian influence, while twenty cities representing only 9 million voted in favor of Trump. Those people hardest to reach were those the mainstream media would have me believe most susceptible to covert influence. It doesn’t add up. Did the ’80s suddenly call after all and want their foreign policy back?

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Heavenly Lace

Sometimes adherence to grammatical rules fails in the attempt to convey a particularly lofty exuberance of the senses. So I will not apologize, nor repent for what follows:

The most delicious-est thing I’ve ever eaten is a cookie my wife makes which combines brown sugar, oats, butter, an egg, and vanilla extract, into a brown, very thin, flat, lacey, slightly crisp, explosion of such unimaginably great taste that moderation is not humanly possible because I want to eat them as soon as they emerge from the oven but I can’t because they’re too flimsy and they’ll fall apart so I sit there and wait for them to cool and harden enough so I can pick one up and stuff the entire cookie into my mouth and as soon as it’s down the hatch stuff another one in and then the pan is empty and I barely thought about sharing because it’s the most delicious-est thing I’ve ever eaten.

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Gruber’s 279

Professor Jonathan Gruber’s roster of American voters whose ‘stupidity’ was integral to passing H.R. 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (henceforth ACA) should encompass millions. Coverage of his statements was variously slanted across the media spectrum. The Right played the professor’s several video clips so often that it made me wonder if their sole motivation was inciting and keeping like-minded citizens among their audience incensed. The Left was barely audible, or mildly critical, or apologetic, or dismissive of Gruber’s comments. Pick one.

Neither side availed itself of an opportunity to identify those voters whose ‘stupidity’, by Gruber’s telling, was relied upon to make this legislation law. Unremarkably, the public record contains names of every one of the voters about whom Dr. Gruber derogatorily spoke. They went to work in 2009-2010 in opposite wings of the same building in Washington, D.C., from among 535 elected voters; the only voters who could possibly be germane to Professor Gruber’s comments.

Those whose ‘stupidity’ was necessary to passing ACA can be quickly distilled down to 279; the block of Aye-voting Americans upon whom Professor Gruber’s repeated insults actually fell, whether or not that was his intent.

Voting Aye (Yea) on H.R. 3590 (ACA):

U.S. Representatives voting Aye: Democrats 219, Republicans 0.

U.S. Senators voting Aye: Democrats 58, Independents 2, Republicans 0.

277 Democrats for ACA, two Independents for ACA, and zero Republicans for ACA.

Wonder if this vote, and the manner in which the vote came to be, would qualify, according to The Federalist Papers authors, as legislative tyranny of the majority?

The then House Speaker’s quote “. . .we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it” should be regarded as the enduring statement symbolizing Professor Gruber’s ‘stupid’ remarks.

Democrat members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee who served in 2009-2010 made this scenario ironic when they took Professor Gruber mildly to task in December 2014 for his insulting glibness without once reflecting upon the reality that they were, save one, among the Aye-voting objects of his “stupidity of the American voter” insult.

In repeated town hall meetings across America before the ACA vote, citizens took their respective elected officials to task, asking about short and long term implications of ACA. American voters were anything but stupid about ACA. At no time have polls reflected that a majority of American voters have favored ACA.

Imagine the back and forth, and ensuing media circus which might have occurred in December 2014 had the Congressional Oversight and Reform Chairman leaned into his microphone, looked to the right, and asked the Ranking Member if he were aware Professor Gruber had actually been talking about him, among others on the committee.

Remedial action began 4Nov2014. Or has it?

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Bear Scrawl

I couldn’t get close to the same spot today. The wait was interminable, and several times I was certain he had slipped past me. Finally, he walked out of the clubhouse, two shoe boxes under his arm, and dropped them into the limousine’s open trunk. His face reflected unhappiness, but when his much taller son said goodbye he pulled out a wad of cash and asked if he needed some money. “No, dad.”

I approached and asked for his signature, but he silently turned away. The cheap little vinyl autograph book I extended toward him was not going to leave empty because my main intent that day had been to get Jack Nicklaus’ autograph on page one.  I wasn’t this nervous in 1967 when I asked my hero Mickey Mantle for his autograph. So I sucked in a big breath, took another step forward and again extended the opened book. “Jack may I please have your autograph?” He took my pen and signed page one, and was gone. A voice called from the porch as the car drove down Magnolia Lane, “Mister you sho’ was lucky, `cause he was not a happy man.”

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An Inch of Rain

Consider one inch of rain falling onto one acre of land. Is that a lot of rain? How many gallons of water fell, and how much does the rainfall weigh? Yes, that is an immense amount of rain because it equals about 27,000 gallons which weighs approximately 113 tons. Yes, one hundred thirteen tons of water. Now expand that one inch of rainfall to a neighborhood, a city, or a county. If you could gather one inch of rain falling on the county in which I live, the water would fill a gigantic box 1,073 feet to a side; that would be a box three and one-half football fields long, wide, and high, holding 9.4 billion gallons. A city of half a million people, consuming 100 gallons per person per day, would require half a year to consume that box of water; filled from one inch of rain.

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Wasp Stealth

I jumped from our low porch and told my grandfather to move away. Previous red wasp encounters had ended badly for me, so I wanted no part of the cranky red-winged family living alongside the two who had flown from directly underneath where I had been sitting a couple of breaths before. Turning around in the middle of my front yard I saw what made no sense. My 80-year-old grandfather never moved away, but was instead lifting the small green bench on which we had been sitting and was turning it upside down. With slow-motion certainty he laid the bench down and approached the nest covered with at least twenty agitated wasps. I again told him to move away from the wasps but he looked at me and said “Those wasps won’t hurt you”, whereupon he patiently mashed the nest with his shoe while wasps swarmed about him. But he was never stung, and I saw not one land on him; as though the wasps did not know he was there. After he destroyed the nest and scraped it loose from its mooring the wasps flew away. I approached and we turned the bench upright, sat down, and resumed talking. Why had those angry wasps not repeatedly stung him? He offered no answers to my questions about how he had done this, and I never again asked.

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