Peggy Noonan, who once wrote speeches for Ronald Reagan, just won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. It is well-deserved.
For a list of her pieces that won, go to “The 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Commentary,” The Pulitzer Prizes (Apr. 10, 2017) [link]. My favorite is “Imagine a Sane Donald Trump,” Wall Street Journal (Oct. 22, 2016).
The other winners are also listed at http://www.pulitzer.org.
David Bentley Hart writes a nice piece on “book lust” (that’s what my wife and I have always called it) in First Things: “From a Vanished Library” (April 2017) [link].* In this piece Hart reminds us that
I learned from the experience [of losing my library], in the end, that all vanity is vanity, all lust is lust, and all excess is excess, no matter what the objects of one’s desire. The aesthetics of bound volumes is unique and exquisite; but there are more important things.
In the end the article was somewhat deflating as I have not read a single one of the books in his “catalogue of suggestions.” But it is good to remember that books, marvelous as they are, can be distractions from the common purpose of every human.
*Coming across this piece was particularly poignant (and ironic) as my church gave me two first editions as a (sabbatical? retirement?) gift after teaching Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Daniel, Ezra- Nehemiah, and Matthew (with some help, and a few detours) 2003-2017.
“. . . the skill of spoken conversation was one that people of her age and her technological savvy were evolving out of, like writing in cursive, or making popcorn without a microwave oven.”
Dexter Palmer, Version Control (2016).
A short piece on selling your attention span from the CTO of Basecamp, suggesting that there should be a warning for many things you are ostensibly getting for “free”:
[WARNING:] Everything you say and do on Facebook will be used against you by advertisers for targeting that’s most likely to catch you at your most vulnerable, needy moment. Your consumption of the echo chamber timeline will lead to a narrower field of vision of the world. We may try to tinker with your mental well-being at any time, if we determine that a depressed state increases engagement on the A/B by any margin.
He goes on to say:
It wouldn’t surprise me if twenty years from now we view the likes of Facebook with the same incredulity we do now to smoking: How could they not know it did this to their health?
David Hansson, “The Price of Monetizing Schemes,” Signal v. Noise [link].
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
J.R.R. Tolkien (January 3, 1892 – September 2, 1973) was born 125 years ago today. He has been singing at the throne of God for 40 years.
This is not entirely true, of course, but a provocative thought, nonetheless:
“We do not have the ideal world, such as we would like, where morality is easy because cognition is easy. Where one can do right with no effort because he can detect the obvious.”
Philip K.Dick, The Man in the High Castle 260.
Indeed the truth is that too often, knowing perfectly well what is moral, we find that we do not choose to do it. See Romans 7:18b-19 ESV (“For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.“)*
PKD’s quotation does remind us, however, that our choices are obscured by our inability to perfectly perceive reality — we have very imperfect knowledge about many of the choices we have to make — and yet we still must make them.
Paul goes on to explain the only escape from this dilemma:
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Romans 7:21b-25a ESV. Only Jesus delivers.
And so we should pray for guidance from the one whose perfect knowledge and perfect love are necessary for correct decisions in life and in less momentous choices like elections.
“You can’t conceive, my child, nor can I or anyone else the . . . appalling . . . strangeness of the mercy of God.”
Graham Greene, Brighton Rock 297 (Everyman’s 1993, orig. 1938).
“Betwixt the stirrup and the ground,
Mercy I ask’d; mercy I found.”
attributed to William Camden (1551-1623).
Two interesting short reads, each a welcome break from the relentlessly depressing political news:
Richard Gilbert, “Why I Hate My Dog,” Longreads (July 2016) [link] is a well-written analysis of the (animal and human) psychology of one man and his rescue dog.
At 22 pounds, she’s too heavy for a lapdog. She’s ambivalent about cuddling anyway. We’re seldom inclined to offer much physical affection, given her peculiar odor, an intermittent acidic stink, especially pungent when she’s hot from running.
Jon Stokes, “Why I ‘Need’ an AR-15,” Medium (June 14) [link] explains something of the point of the style of gun used in more than a few domestic shootings. As Stokes concedes, it may not change any minds, but if you want to understand the thought process behind the ownership of such weapons by normal people, this is a good start:
[T]his article is for the genuinely curious — those who assume that 5 million of their fellow Americans are not inhuman or insane, and who want to understand what set of rationales, no matter how flawed and confused they may ultimately turn out to be, could make an otherwise normal person walk out of a gun store with an “assault weapon.”
If I were still teaching the “Beyond Fiction” Tutorial, I would add this article to the reading list: Moises Velasquez-Manoff, “Can a Dress Shirt be Racist?” BackChannel [link via Medium].
Mr. Velasquez-Manoff writes:
And here’s what kept nagging at me as I reported: even as science tells us there’s no biological basis for many of the ideas we’ve inherited on race, one can sense a yearning in this soon-to-be majority minority country for acknowledgement that we do actually differ according to our ancestry, and that we shouldn’t all be held to one, in this case mostly northern European, physical standard.
The article is particularly interesting to me since I am reading Gautam Shroff’s The Intelligent Web, which is (in part) about how Big Data permits conclusions to be drawn which at least appear intelligent.