Up from Colonialism

Helen Rittelmeyer:

The Penguin Anthology of Contemporary African Writing, published in 2009, opens with a piece by the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, who died last year at the age of 82. Assuming the Penguin editors meant “contemporary” in the usual sense of the term, this was a remarkable distinction to bestow on an author who published his first novel in 1958 and his last novel (bar one late-in-life flop) in 1966, and who in the last decades of his life published little apart from a handful of essay collections and a meandering war memoir.  But in another sense it was entirely appropriate to call Achebe a contemporary African writer, since African novel-writing has scarcely progressed since he inaugurated it with the celebrated Things Fall Apart.

In the decades since that title was published—the same year as The Once and Future King, Our Man in Havana, and The Dharma Bums—the American novel has evolved through a multitude of vogues and phases while the Anglophone African novel has, for the most part, remained as it was when Achebe launched it: unremarkable in its prose, flat in its characterization, anti-Western in its politics, and preoccupied with the confrontation between tradition and modernity. These characteristics have dominated the African novel so thoroughly that most Western readers assume they are essential to it, just as madness and melodrama are essential to the Russian novel.

In fact, the uniformity of African fiction is quite artificial. Nothing about the continent predestined its fiction to be stylistically humdrum and politically tendentious. It was a deliberate collaboration between Achebe, his publishers, and Western multiculturalists that made it that way, to serve the personal interests of the first two parties and the political interests of the third. – See more at: http://www.claremont.org/article/up-from-colonialism/#.VBuyuStdUi6

The NFL and the Sanctity of the Body


It’s been two years since I parted ways with the NFL and opened up my Sundays to other things. At the time I thought of it as a “personal boycott.” In other words, you don’t stop watching pro football with the intent of igniting a movement, or of affecting one wit of change in the NFL. You do it so you can sleep at night, so that you can preserve your own morality. I left to keep my side of the street clean in the particular way that I like.

I regret losing a common language and a common culture. The NFL allowed for a bridge to other people with whom I had virtually nothing else in common. (Indeed it is interesting that my French studies began in earnest around the same time I stopped watching football.) But everything I’ve seen since has served to confirm the suspicions that led me to stop watching.

An Apple a Day Keeps Putin Away

From Roads and Kingdoms:

My family has a long history with apples. My 96-year-old paternal grandmother now lives in a Stalinist apartment block in Warsaw’s Mokotow district, but she comes from an apple-growing village outside Grojec. At the end of World War II, after the Germans had killed her husband for being in Poland’s underground Home Army, she moved to the ruined Polish capital as a single mother. With the help of a relative, she set up a fruit stall in a corner of a destroyed school to sell apples to local workers rebuilding the city.

My mother’s father, upon his return from Buchenwald, was a broken man who found solace in growing fruit. He sold nearly all of his possession to buy a plot of land south of Warsaw where he nurtured his hundreds of trees with the reluctant help of his children. Apple profits bought my mother her one-way ticket to London on the eve of the communist declaration of Martial Law in Warsaw in 1981.

What makes younger evangelicals less conservative?

Interesting study:

A study looking at what drives some Millennial Evangelicals to hold less conservative views than their elders generated surprising results.

Young white Evangelicals whose social networks mostly included people like them were the most likely to depart from older Evangelicals on cultural issues while young Evangelicals with more diverse social networks were more likely to hold views similar to older Evangelicals. In other words, the more embedded Millennial Evangelicals are in the Evangelical subculture and the less interaction they have with non-Evangelicals, the more likely they are to demonstrate attitudes diverging from their elders.

The Technology that’s Ruining Baseball

From The Atlantic:

It’s not the sort of accomplishment that ESPN is likely to crow about, but Philadelphia Phillies center-fielder Ben Revere is on track to set an astonishing baseball record—a mark that says as much about the game today as Barry Bonds’s 73 home runs said about the swollen biceps that defined the early 21st century. Revere is currently batting just over .313, higher than any other player in the National League. That figure would match the lowest batting title in the NL’s 138-year history and the fourth lowest in baseball since 1900.

Can’t anybody hit, these days?

Baseball has become too boring is one of those popular but unfalsifiable statements about sports, like Curling is stupid and Americans should watch more soccer. But if you like guys crossing the plate and balls falling beyond the outfield walls, baseball’s growing tedium is a straightforward observation. Both home runs-per-game and runs-per-game are down about 20 percent from their early-2000s highs. Strikeouts are up about a fifth. In the last decade, the number of players slugging higher than .500 has collapsed from 45 to 15.

My Daughter’s Homework is Killing Me

A depressing read:

Memorization, not rationalization. That is the advice of my 13-year-old daughter, Esmee, as I struggle to make sense of a paragraph of notes for an upcoming Earth Science test on minerals. “Minerals have crystal systems which are defined by the # of axis and the length of the axis that intersect the crystal faces.” That’s how the notes start, and they only get murkier after that. When I ask Esmee what this actually means, she gives me her homework credo.

Esmee is in the eighth grade at the NYC Lab Middle School for Collaborative Studies, a selective public school in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. My wife and I have noticed since she started there in February of last year that she has a lot of homework. We moved from Pacific Palisades, California, where Esmee also had a great deal of homework at Paul Revere Charter Middle School in Brentwood. I have found, at both schools, that whenever I bring up the homework issue with teachers or administrators, their response is that they are required by the state to cover a certain amount of material. There are standardized tests, and everyone—students, teachers, schools—is being evaluated on those tests. I’m not interested in the debates over teaching to the test or No Child Left Behind. What I am interested in is what my daughter is doing during those nightly hours between 8 o’clock and midnight, when she finally gets to bed. During the school week, she averages three to four hours of homework a night and six and a half hours of sleep.

When you’re done with this and feel adequately depressed by our educational system, go read Susan Macaulay’s fine book.

Salatin Responds Marcotte Re: Home Cooked Meals

This is wonderful:

Here’s the question I would like to ask these families: “Are you spending time or money on anything unnecessary?” Cigarettes, alcohol, coffee, soft drinks, lottery tickets, People Magazine, TV, cell phone, soccer games, potato chips . . . ?  Show me the household devoid of any of these luxuries, then let’s talk. Otherwise, you’re just unwilling to do what’s more important, which is provide for the health of your family and your environment. That’s a personal choice, and one that’s entirely within your control.

I’m amazed at the difficult situations I hear about in which people do indeed rise to the occasion. Whether it’s sprouting mung beans or alfalfa seeds in a quart jar on the windowsill or buying grain by the bushel, resourceful, can-do people committed to changing their situation figure out a way to do it.

For Marcotte to accept irresponsibility this easily underscores a profound courage deficiency. Turn off the TV, get out of the car, get off the phone and get in the kitchen — men, women and children. The most expensive potatoes in the nation are cheaper by the pound than the cheapest potato chips. Ditto healthful ground beef from pastured cattle versus fast-food burgers.

With slow cookers, indoor plumbing, timed-bake and refrigerators, today’s techno-enabled kitchens allow busy people to cook from scratch and eat with integrity far easier than during Great Grandma’s time. She had to fetch water from the spring, split stove wood, start a fire and churn the butter and she still managed to feed a large family very well. If our generation can’t do at least as well with our 40-hour work week and kitchen tech, then we deserve to eat adulterated pseudo food that sends us to an early grave. I don’t know that anyone’s children deserve this, however.

In Defense of Hollywood’s Bad Pastors

Alissa Wilkinson:

I remember that after P.T. Anderson’s There Will Be Blood was released, a number of Christian voices decried it as anti-religious propaganda, because in it a power-hungry preacher preys on the poor. To say such a thing is to completely miss the point of the film, which is that the power-hungry preacher and the power-hungry oilman both came to ghastly ends, broken and alone, because of their hunger for power. (Quite a few of the same people angrily said the power-hungry oilman was meant to criticize capitalism as an institution.)

Friends: that’s just bad watching and sloppy thinking. It’s taking a portrayal of something asendorsement of something, and ignoring the narrative arc of the story, in which they get their comeuppance. It’s looking at the story of King Saul—or, frankly, much of King David’s story, or Eli the High Priest, or Noah’s drunkenness—and thinking the Bible is saying these people are bad. It’s even looking at a segment of the story of the Apostle Paul, who was sort of the ultimate antihero until Acts 9, and thinking it’s about how religion is violent.

The Rise of Fantasy

Lev Grossman:

When I was a kid, in the 1980s, fantasy was not entirely OK. It had, let us say, some unpleasant associations. It was fringey and subcultural and uncool. In my suburban Massachusetts junior high, to be a fantasy fan was not to be a good, contented hobbit, working his sunny garden and smoking his fragrant pipeweed. It was to be Gollum, slimy and gross and hidden away, riddling in the dark.

Not that this stopped me, or a lot of other people. C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, Piers Anthony, T.H. White, Fritz Leiber, Terry Brooks: I read them to pieces, and I chased them with a stiff shot of Dungeons & Dragons. But I did these things privately. In the wider world, of which I was reluctantly a part, a love of fantasy was a sign of weakness.

But that has changed. Something odd happened to popular culture somewhere around the turn of the millennium: Whereas the great franchises of the late twentieth century had tended to be science fiction—Star WarsStar TrekThe Matrix—somewhere around 2000 a shifting of the tectonic plates occurred. The great eye of Sauron swiveled, and we began to pay attention to other things. What we paid attention to was magic.

When you’re done with this piece, go read Alan Jacobs’ excellent essay “Fantasy and the Buffered Self.”

The Perils of Constant War

Leah Libresco:

There is a real danger, in endless war, that we will never experience a peace to grow dissatisfied with.  This is a reason I’ve sometimes been optimistic when groups like Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood win elections, since, once they are asked to govern, they are being asked to serve their community in a different and more fruitful way than just by ousting the current government.  It’s easier to expose the contradictions of an ideology when it exists in peacetime, amid the unglorious work of maintaining drainage pipes and coordinating schoolbuses.  It stands on its own, instead of in contrast to the philosophy of the enemy.

Endless war footings distract us from the peace we were seeking at the beginning of hostility.  And the pressure of being constantly in conflict can leave us excusing the flaws in the peace we’ve been working towards and the ideology that taught us to desire it.  There is no moment of rest to live in the peace we keep talking about and to notice whether or not it is truly stable and restorative.