Saturday, September 30, 2017

Saturday Good Reads

I’ve not read a story quite like this one, or at least written and recorded quite like this one. In 1991, a newborn baby was found barely breathing in a plastic bag in a cemetery in Oslo, Norway. Through the quick actions of several people, the baby is taken to the hospital, where he survives. Twenty-five years later, a reporter investigates what happened. Through photography, video, and text, the story is told in nine chapters, unfolding almost like a novel.

Higher education in America has a lot of problems, and not only of the students-terrorizing-administrations, destruction-of-free-speech, and political-correctness-run-amok kind. Rod Dreher has two posts on grade inflation – at Harvard. Harvard!

We all complain about it – civility in political discourse has disappeared, and everything has become political. T. Adams Upchurch asks a question we should all be asking – what has Facebook done to political discourse? It’s the precursor to a more fundamental question – what have all of us done to political discourse? – but it’s time to take a hard look at the big tech giants. And Bishop Robert Barron provides a partial answer to this question of civility on social media; it’s an age-old answer that is still true.

Alicia Stewart at CNN takes a look at myths surrounding the Emancipation Proclamation. The Gentle Author goes on a dead pubs crawl in east London. Good poetry. Good photography. And four ancient prayers. 

Life and Culture

Harvard: Extra Credit for Oligarch Kids and More on Harvard Grade Inflation – Rod Dreher at American Conservative. 

Reflections of a White Supremacist – Joseph Pearce at The Imaginative Conservative.

The Baby in the Plastic Bag – Bernt Jakob Oksnes at Dagbladet. 

What Has Facebook Done to Political Discourse? – T. Adams Upchurch at The Imaginative Conservative. 

The Coming Software Apocalypse – James Somers at The Atlantic.



Cellar Door – Marjorie Stelmach at Image Journal.

Publishing Poetry Today: A Renewal of the Spirit in Language – Dwight Longenecker at The Imaginative Conservative.

Mirror – Richie Hofmann at How a Poem Happens by Brian Brodeur.

Fall’s Leaves (Reverse Cinquain) – Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Art and Photography

Thomas Rowlandson’s Lower Orders – Spitalfields Life.

Splendor in the Grass – Tim Good.

American Stuff

At the Center of the Storm: John Sullivan of New Hampshire – M.E. Bradford at The Imaginative Conservative.

British Stuff

The Gentle Author’s Dead Pubs Crawl – Spitalfields Life. 


Bishop Barron on Pride, Humility, and Social Media (Hat Tip: J of India)

Painting: Portrait of Gustave Geffroy, oil on canvas by Paul Cezanne.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The outsider

After Isaiah 56:6-8

I sit outside the circle,
the wall, no way
to make my way
inside, a cold place,
empty and stark,

And yet my service,
my heart, are sought, a call
insistent and growing louder,
until even I understand
and I walk to the holy hill,
the temple doors open, and
my offerings, my self, are
accepted. The voices rise
in this house of exile,
this house of nations.

Photograph by Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

“The Triumphs of Eugene Valmont” by Robert Barr

Before the Golden Age of the mystery novel (1920s-1930s), there was the first golden age, roughly from the late 1880s to the early 1910s. This was the era of Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, R. Austin Freeman and Dr. Thorndyke, Arthur Morrison and Martin Hewitt, and many other authors and their detectives.

And there was Robert Barr and Eugene Valmont. Barr launched his detective in the early 1890s, and in 1906 a collection of the stories was published under the title of The Triumphs of Eugene Valmont.

Valmont is a private detective in London, something of his city for exile after his dismissal as the top police detective in Paris. He wasn’t dismissed for incompetence or failure – Valmont often muses on the incompetence of the police – but for ridicule, detailed in the first story in the collection, “The Mystery of the 500 Diamonds,” which involves the theft of a necklace originally designed for Marie Antoinette. The French can stand anything, apparently, except ridicule.

Barr’s tales of Valmont’s cases are as much about his failures as his successes. In fact, many of his success are off stage and only occasionally referred to in these stories. The reader is often led to wonder how much fun Barr was actually having at his fictional detective’s expense.

The stories are as varied as they are intriguing. Valmont poses as an anarchist to uncover a bombing plot. The theft of 100 pounds at a gentleman’s dinner is solved by a connection to missing silver spoons. A new earl is unable to find what his predecessor did with his fortune; all he knows is that the fortune is to be found “between two pages.” Valmont is asked, by two different people, to find a ghost with a club-foot. The detective finds himself involved in a game of blackmail that he solves by becoming a possible accessory to manslaughter. And then he’s asked to find a missing emerald necklace, which the police have been unable to do.

Robert Barr
Barr was born in Glasgow and spent his early years in Canada. He was a teacher in Canada, and began to write short stories for the Detroit Free Press. In 1876, he joined the Free Press fulltime. In 1881, he moved to London to establish the English edition of the newspaper. He retired from the Free Press in 1895, and continued to write stories and novels, many in the crime genre like those in The Triumphs of Eugene Valmont. In his day, Barr was as well-known as such poplar writers as Stephen Crane and Bret Harte.

Barr also wrote two parodies of Sherlock Holmes story, “The Adventures of Sherlaw Kombs” and “The Adventure of the Second Swag,” and both are included in this edition, even though they are not Eugene Valmont stories.

Currently available on Amazon for 99 cents is a collection of Barr novels – 21 Mystery and Romance Novels.

The Triumphs of Eugene Valmont is a fascinating collection of stories from the Gaslight Crime Era – contemporaries of Sherlock Holmes who deserve to be better known.

Top illustration: A scene from one of the stories in The Triumphs of Eugene Valmont, “The Ghost with the Club-Foot.”

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

“Learn to Learn” by Zak Schmoll

I fell into speechwriting like most people fall into speechwriting – by accident. In the mid-1970s, I was working on a big issue project for my company, an executive needed a speech on the topic, and so I wrote one. I’d written speeches for myself before, but not for someone else. But it seemed to go OK, the executive liked it, and soon I was writing more speeches.

It was a learn-by-doing effort. And one of the things I did was to read speeches – famous speeches, business speeches, political speeches, not-so-famous speeches. A good friend suggested I start reading poetry on a regular basis, because it would help in speechwriting. He was right. I started with T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and Dylan Thomas, and went from there.

Almost 20 years later, something very similar happened with electronic communication. In the early and mid-1990s, it was beginning to explode in public consciousness. I started my team on an email newsletter. Then producing a CD-ROM. And then the company’s first web site. And all through this process I was reading everything I could get my hands on (which wasn’t much) – I was trying to understand why this form of communication was so appealing to me.

I was learning to learn. I did it frontwards, backwards, and sideways. But there is a better way, and writer Zak Schmoll describes it in Learn to Learn: 8 Steps to Developing New Skills Efficiently and Effectively.

In this compact book, Schmoll describes the learning process in eight steps, starting with what is probably the least obvious – assume that you don’t know everything. It sounds obvious, but I worked for corporations for 40 years where it could be a career disaster to admit you didn’t know everything. For effective learning, though, beginning with a good dose of humility is vital.

Zak Schmoll
From there, you become familiar with the new material you want to study. You fill in the details. You identify problem areas and bolster them. You test and quiz yourself. You identify gaps and work to fill those. You then practice by explaining the new information to someone else and let them ask questions. And then you look for and move into associated fields.

Schmoll is very methodical in his approach. I did variations of all of these, but not necessarily in order. I might have learned better if I had followed an orderly process.

Schmoll received a degree in Business Administration from the University of Vermont in 2013, and he’s working in Ph.D. in Humanities degree at Faulkner University. He’s a member of the Vermont Chargers Power Soccer Club for power wheelchair users. He blogs at Entering the Public Square. He is also the author of Contending for the Christian World View: 30 Days of Reflections on Faith, Culture, and Apologetics (2016).

I wish I’d had Learn to Learn available a few decades ago.

Top photograph by Aaron Burden via Unsplash. Used with permission.