Passages: “Quigley Canyon” on thus

If I said, “Today the sky was blue,” I’d have to find a different word for blue, one that didn’t simply represent the color: that was how blue the sky was today. So blue, all other skies I’ve seen seem to have merely stood for the color like a word, whereas today the sky was the color itself, the signified free of representation. If only that could be said, somehow, without being a fallacy by nature.

From thus.


Something you don’t see in a Christmas pageant: the slaughter of the innocents. But there it is, in the middle of Matthew’s account.


When Bethlehem’s young children were slain, Jesus was in Egypt. Joseph had been warned in a dream.

But Moses was already in Egypt. As an infant, he escaped by water, the means by which his pursuers were to perish.

Matthew’s baby Jesus is peripatetic, dodging bullets & fulfilling scripture. “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

Luke: baby Jesus with the lambs. Matthew: baby Jesus on the lam.

Caravaggio's "Rest in the Flight into Egypt"

Across from the school, a cemetery. Twenty-six stockings hang there tonight.

Lully, lulla, thow littell tine child; By, by, lully, lullay, thow littell tyne child. [from the N-Town Plays]

How many children were slaughtered? Byzantine liturgy: 14,000. Syrians: 64,000. Copts: 144,000. But modern scholars say around 20.

Peter Paul Rubens's "Massacre of the Innocents"

We’re always elsewhere. My father flunked a physical and missed the Battle of the Bulge. He and his seed. I am St. Elsewhere

All but two of his company died there. Each Christmas, we all give him books on World War II. He spends Christmas afternoons reading them.

Never met a soul who wasn’t, up to that point, elsewhere. Still elsewhere: my neighbor whose business took him to the WTC on September 10.

Giotto's "Massacre of the Innocents"

“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” But he wasn’t quoting Matthew.

One Christmas pageant tracks Matthew. A 16th cent. mystery play. Only one of its carols survives: a mother’s lament for her murdered child.

That woe is me, poor Child for Thee! And ever mourn and sigh, For thy parting neither say nor sing, Bye, bye, lully, lullay. – Coventry Carol

Wikipedia says some of the Coventry Carol’s words “are difficult to make sense of.” Well, we were elsewhere.

Carracci's "The Flight into Egypt"

The author is unknown. But she is survived by a carol, sort of as a wren is survived by its song.

Can one survive well? Can surviving make me “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” despite surviving?

Navez's "Massacre of the Innocents"

Here’s a good rendition of what’s become my favorite Christmas carol:

Happy Childermas (a.k.a. Holy Innocents’ Day and Children’s Mass), celebrated this Thursday (Syrian churches), Friday (Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran), and Saturday (Eastern Orthodox).

The above images of paintings are all in the public domain. From top to bottom: Reni, “Slaughter of the Innocents”; Caravaggio, “Rest on the Flight into Egypt”; Rubens, “Massacre of the Innocents”; Giotto, “The Holy Innocents”; Carracci, “The Flight into Egypt”; and Navez, “Das Massaker der Unschuldigen.” Click the painting’s image for more information.

“Trill” are my Twitters. Tweet suites from @slowreads.

The growing gun divide

More on the red-blue divide, this time focusing on gun ownership. The eleven states with the highest number of gun owners per capita are red; the nine states with the lowest number are blue. Of course, people own guns for many reasons; eight that come to mind are target shooting, hunting, shooting varmints, assisting in crimes, protection from burglars, collecting, reassurance in the face of impotence (defined broadly), and rising up in arms, if it comes to that, against the federal government1. The growing prevalence of concealed weapons makes me think my list is not nearly complete.

But there’s a widening gun gap between the red and the blue. Interestingly, the percentage of households with guns is declining, but the number of guns per capita is increasing. That means some people are buying more than one or two guns. Most of them, as it turns out, are Republicans. As Harold Meyerson reported this week:

There’s a name for those gun buyers: Republicans. As the FiveThirtyEight blog noted Tuesday, the 2010 General Social Survey showed that 50 percent of adult Republicans owned guns, while only 22 percent of adult Democrats did. This gap in gun-ownership rates has swelled over the past 40 years: In the 1973 survey, 55 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of Democrats had a gun at home. Polls suggest this gap will continue to widen: In the 2008 national exit polls, the percentage of Democrats with guns declined as the age cohorts grew younger, while the GOP rate of gun ownership was the same across all age groups. Increasingly, then, it’s our shrinking Republican minority that is buying guns.

Our next Congress won’t pass meaningful gun control despite the renewed popularity of such measures and despite what Fareed Zakariah calls the “blindingly obvious” link between gun control and reduced gun violence. The GOP-led House is becoming almost impervious to national opinion polls. Why? Even though this year more people voted for Democratic House candidates than for Republican ones, new redistricting favored the Republicans, who controlled more state governments during the latest census. Redistricting means the GOP keeps its House majority, and it also ensures that most congressmen won’t allow the kind of gun control that would help prevent massacres.

The political gap may keep us from making headway against guns, but it didn’t cause the gun gap. The gun gap and the political gap, I think, are both symptoms of a worldview gap. And as for the owners of these private magazines, I’m crossing off target shooting, hunting, shooting varmints, assisting in crimes, and protection from burglars.

(Previous red-blue divide posts focused on the new migration of people to states reflecting their political views and on the (not unrelated) new prevalence of state executives and legislatures controlled by a single party.)


Gun Show” by Michael Glasgow. Used by permission.

  1. As former U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle puts it, the recent increase in gun sales “tells me that the nation is arming. What are they arming for if it isn’t that they are so distrustful of government? They’re afraid they’ll have to fight for their liberty in more Second Amendment kinds of ways. . . . If we don’t win at the ballot box, what will be the next step?”

What & how I read this year

1. I read it – the whole thing – either in print or through an audio performance:

Ron Chernow, Washington: A Life

Charles Dickens, Bleak House

Confucius, The Analects (abridged, translated by Wing-tsit Chan)

The Doctrine of the Mean (translated by Wing-tsit Chan)

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment (second read)

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (second read)

William Faulkner, The Hamlet (second read)

The Gospel of John (for the umpteenth time)

The Great Learning (translated by Wing-tsit Chan)

Homer, The Iliad (Robert Fagels)

Leonard Koren, Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers

The Book of Mencius (abridged, translated by Wing-tsit Chan)

Patrick O’Brian, Blue at the Mizzen (third read)

Patrick O’Brian, The Hundred Days (third read)

Patrick O’Brian, 21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey (third read)

Patrick O’Brian, The Yellow Admiral (third read)

Michael Ondaatje, The Cat’s Table

Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

Terry Pratchett, Dodger

The Book of Ruth (umpteenth time)

James Salter, Light Years

James Salter, A Sport and a Pastime

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (umpteenth time)

Sol Stein, Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies

Tao-te ching, translated by Wing-tsit Chan

Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men (twice)

Joseph Wheelan, Mr. Adams’s Last Crusade: John Quincy Adams’s Extraordinary Post-Presidential Life in Congress

Virginia Woolf, Orlando (second read)

2. Reading currently, with an aim to finishing:

Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm

William Faulkner, The Town (second read)

Everett Fox, Give Us a King! (translation of I and II Samuel)

A. C. Graham, Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China

Harry V. Jaffa, Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates (third read)

Davie Johnson, John Randolph of Roanoke

Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man

Simon Winchester, The Professor and the Madman (second read)

3. Read a lot of it before giving it a rest, though I liked what I read:

Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text

Jorges Luis Borges, Collected Fictions

Jorges Luis Borges, Collected Nonfictions

Lucy Calkins, et al., Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement

Wing-Tsit Chan, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy

C. K. Chesterton, Essential Writings

Paul Revere Frothingham, Edward Everett: Orator and Statesman

Philip F. Gura, American Transcendentalism

Leviticus (third read)

Vladimir Nabokov, The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov

Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism

W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn

E. M. Standing, Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work

4. Skimmed, bought, and hope to read next year:

Allan Bloom, Shakespeare’s Politics

Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red

Peter Elbow, Vernacular Eloquence: What Speech Can Bring to Writing

William Faulkner, The Mansion

Harvey C. Mansfield, America’s Constitutional Soul

Martin Palmer, Elizabeth Breuilly (Eds.), The Book of Chuang Tzu (Penguin Classics)

Alan Watts, Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion

I’m not counting three other categories. They include (5) books I returned to for inspiration, reference, pleasure, or for a page or two’s read before conking out and (6) books I started but gave up on. I couldn’t keep track of books from either of these two categories anyway. (The former category is my favorite reading; the latter is my least favorite.) Of course, there are (7) non-books – mostly the Internet, print periodicals, and student essays – which probably made up a plurality of my reading.

Reading newspaper

“Reading newspaper” by Kheng Cheng Toh. Used by permission.


The pull, the squalor

A gull squall lulls me to sea.

Are inland gulls missionaries? mercenaries? visionaries? vanguards? aliens? spies? runaways? draft dodgers? emigrants? interlopers? gulls?

Are inland gulls migrant workers? trespassers? settlers? conquerors? carpetbaggers? displaced people groups? gulls?

Are inland gulls explorers? indentured servants? penal colonists? seekers of religious freedom? emancipated slaves? native inlanders? gulls?

Are inland gulls overextended? Do they play outside themselves? Are they diluting their brand? Have they been drawn away from their core values?

The farthest inland I’ve ever lived was Charlottesville. Gulls there, too, or their cries.

Gulls’ squalls. Seagulls’ snow squalls.

Squalls: the heavy, sudden rain brought on by gulls, rain you can see through as through experience.

I hear gulls in squeaks & shrieks & in a distant, screaming child. Gulls mewing down alleys, too. The pull, the squalor of gulls’ squalls.

Why does the gull squall so? “That gull had a tongue in it, and could sing once.” – Hamlet

“There’s another: why may not that be the gull of a lawyer? Where be his quiddities now, his quillets, his squalls?” – Hamlet

The thunderhead passed; Azure reburied the squall skull.

Skulduggery: I buried the gull skull in sand.

To hang in place over your beach lunch, a gull makes up to 14,537 adjustments a minute. That’s why you leave something.

Our gulls roar overhead all July, jets intersecting tide, intercepting time, picking off eyes and the glints of wriggling scale.

On our way to Mull, the sullen gull, never full, culled through our brill, then skulked about the hull.

All words’ etymology: the cry. The mother of all words.

All words’ Eve: the wail, the holler, the pull. The squalor of gulls’ squalls.


“Trill” are my Twitters. Tweet suites from @slowreads.


Still noon

Noon drops and twists, as from the gallows.

Sunrise’s liturgy of sunset; midnight’s allusion to noon.

° °

Still creation. Still the still sun still atomized long after dawn.

° °

I love noon. The light’s bad for photographs.

Noon. Harsh and shadowless, we deliquesce into Ezekiel’s wheels with noses.

Negatives: the iconography of noon.

Noon’s dispassion play. “Value drawings (rendered in shade and shadow) tend to convey emotions better than line drawings.” – Matt Frederick

Noon’s plainchant: no feeling, by the grace of God.

Copts painted icons at noon. No chiaroscuro.

The dispassionate glare of noon: neither umbrage nor penumbrage.

God divided the light from the darkness. The afternoon and the morning: the first noon.

Noon: the beatific vision. Good might: noon.

° °

The day he died, the prick Mercutio pointed out the bawdy hand of noon.

° °

Bright and portentous, noon twists like midnight’s lighthouse.

Reset the Doomsday Clock to high noon.

Noon: a Mass for June.

Noon. Sun wolfs a new moon.

° °

June is noon overhead, its light a bright advent, though it grows a six-o’clock shadow by midnight.

° °

Noon. Bright streams of black backstreets. Black water windows.

Across the white courtyard against the black windows, I looked at noon. They, there: said, nothing.

An eclipse each noon. The sun’s shadow’s darker than the earth’s at midnight.

Office windows: noon’s black blinders. We team alone.

Earthquake after noon. The sun stands still.

° °

The orthography of noon: the A in apex.

Noon: sin cos sun.

° °

Once each year in the tropics, noon picks you out of a lineup of billions. I’m on the lam, north of Cancer.

Smirk at noon’s slight slant? The sun’ll cure the Tropic of Cancer and smoke you out.

Don’t be cocksure on account of noonshine’s slight slant. Nothing crows at noon’s bright still.


High noon comes like a thief in the night.

How will the end come? And what are the signs of its coming? High noon over the North Pole. An unhinged walrus.

The end times’ sign: spring tide of a blue moon’s high noon.

° °

Noon: the sun’s shadow.

The stare of noon’s glare.

° °

High noon’s hiatus: still hawks.

° °

Noon elsewhere: sunrise over the gunwale. An angler sights the sun in his oarlock and fires, finding respite.

The clock faces north, hour hand tracking the sun and tracing an owl’s eye, first here, then on the dark side. Our eye, too, tracking.

Noon over the barber’s pole: my black & white hair twists, turns, returns to the checkered floor. Swept with its fathers.

Snip, whisk; snip, whisk. Morning & afternoon divaricate, fall in wisps. “Where do you part your hair?” Noon.

° °

Aperture priority, aimed straight up. Sunrise, midnight, and 5:40 P.M. arc & blur around noon like stars around Polaris.

In the age of sail, the noon observation reset time & place. It was never noon, & you weren’t where you were, until the captain said so.

“Noon and 46 degrees 36 feet south if you please, sir,” said the master.

“Make it twelve,” said the captain. “Make it twelve,” said the officer of the watch. “Strike eight bells,” said the mate of the watch.

“Turn the glass & strike the bell,” said the quartermaster. “Pipe to dinner,” said the officer. The boatswain piped. Hoots & running.


The monks carried on man-of-war fashion: the close quarters, the watch and watch, the noon observations, the wooden vessels.

° °

Hard noon. A nail of a noon.

The hammer struck noon.

“Trill” are my Twitters. Tweet suites from @slowreads.

The Easter tweets (amended, annotated)

  1. I usually plan a tweet or two a day. But I’ll tweet every hour on the hour during Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.
  2. An Holy Week sermon on self-government and human nature in 80 tweets. I’ll reveal my closest political and religious sentiments and
  3. . . . in so doing, offend many and bore more. It’s an Easter argument to Christians, so forgive some alienating language and citations.
  4. The American experiment is an inquiry into human nature: can a person govern herself? And can people, collectively, govern themselves?
  5. Hamilton and Lincoln frame the Federalist and the Gettysburg Address, respectively – and the U.S. itself – around that second question.
  6. Lincoln’s open question is our open question: “… whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”
  7. (Lincoln’s “that nation, or any nation”: any “American exceptionalism” is in our universality, he says – our unexceptionalism.)
  8. It was an open question in 1863, and it’s an open question today. We’re an open question, in fact: we were dedicated to a “proposition.”
  9. It’s tough, existing as a proposition. It’s easier to be a nation of accreting culture, heritage, and language, for instance. And we are.
  10. But it’s not reserved for us only to accrete, to drift. We are what we say about mankind. Hamilton is resigned to it, as to one’s fate:
  11. “It seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question . . .”
  12. “. . . whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or . . .”
  13. “. . . whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.” – Hamilton, Fed. No. 1.
  14. So. Can men and women govern themselves? Is democracy possible, or even desirable, from what we know of human nature?
  15. Calvin and Hobbes, strange bedfellows even before the comic strip, say no. Humanity is too benighted to govern itself.
  16. And a demagogue’s polemics always imply we can’t govern ourselves. “Kenyan, anticolonial behavior” was spoken to his base’s baser angels.
  17. And yet a Pollyannaish view of human nature is no basis for self-government, either.
  18. Our idealism must be grounded in human nature. I’ll go further: idealism must work for ideal moderation: an ideal grasp of human nature.
  19. What do you believe about human nature? After all, Hamilton and Lincoln say that our nation is grounded on a certain view of it.
  20. Can a society of men govern itself? Too easy to say yes; too easy to say no. I answer: Fielding. Dostoevsky. Faulkner. High drama.
  21. (Moses, too. Reading Hobbes, I figured he’d try to get around “Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests.” & in Leviathan, there it was!)
  22. We live the drama because we live the question. Some generations – Hamilton’s, Lincoln’s, ours – more than others.
  23. “’Man is a vile creature! … And vile is he who calls him vile for that,’ [Raskolnikov] added a moment later.” – Crime & Punishment.
  24. My own “moment” took twenty years. (Maybe Raskolnikov was faster because, like David after Bathsheba, his sin was always before him.)
  25. I’m not saying man’s not vile, but I’ve stopped saying he is. (After an identity crisis, I see mankind differently than I did before.)
  26. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” – James Madison.
  27. “Since men aren’t angels, self-government is impossible.” – Calvin (in so many words). And Hobbes. And the Family Bookstore.
  28. (Man walks into a Family Bookstore. “Got anything by Dostoevsky?” Blank look. But are there better Christian novels?)
  29. Nothing comes cheap in Dostoevsky. Especially redemption. What height without depths?
  30. Many of Zondervan’s books imply that the possibility of self-government fell with the Fall. And that a prayer makes us angels.
  31. Idealism isn’t optimism. Optimism won’t touch pessimism any more than light will touch darkness.
  32. God “made darkness his secret place” (Psalm 18:11). We must, too, until we’re convinced of it. Dostoevsky did.
  33. “We had the sentence of death in ourselves” (2 Co.). What does that mean? Dostoevsky, who faced a firing squad before writing, knew.
  34. (Robert Bly: “To write differently, you have to change your life.” Dostoevsky’s sentence improved his sentences.)
  35. I can turn from left to right and back again. But my politics, like my religion, won’t deeply change until I reach bottom.
  36. (Not that, having reached bottom, we’d agree with one another. But I think we’d listen, maybe sometimes reverently, to our opponents.)
  37. Our political discourse will remain this coarse until we’ve reached bottom, tearing up much good and bad on the way down.
  38. (And politics and religion are inextricably tangled. Why else would I believe in Jefferson’s separation of church and state?
  39. Because we can’t speak of either, religion and politics are already enmeshed by implication.
  40. But at least we can speak of “the sentence of death in ourselves.” Barely, though, because death, too, is dying.
  41. Death is dying. I tweet about death, in fact, to keep it alive in me.
  42. (The imposed silence of euphemisms: “The departed.” “Passed on.” The hushed tone peculiar to visitations.)
  43. Calvin was a forerunner of the modern religious state: I’ll tell you what God says, and you do it.
  44. What about a family model? A Christian minivan of a government with the father at the wheel? Locke’s first treatise wrecked it:
  45. Patriarchalism, King James’s pet notion, is as modern as the divine right of kings. Locke saw its threat to the medieval notion of equality.
  46. In a sense, the American Revolution was not a revolution but a war asserting rights under the English Constitution and medieval natural law.
  47. The crowd rushed Jesus to make him king. Later, the crowd rushed to throw him off a cliff. Each time he escaped.
  48. America will lead into the Millennium. Or it will fall until the Rapture. Like Jesus, America must escape the coronation and the cliff.
  49. Hobbes was partly & unwittingly a forebear of totalitarianism: There is no God, we are gods, you are people, and they are animals.
  50. But Jefferson and Lincoln paired a society’s ability to govern itself with the proposition that all men are created equal.
  51. Equal? Man requires a hierarchy (I’ll give Hobbes that), but Locke & Jefferson deliver: Man stands above Nature and below Nature’s God.
  52. Jesus declares an equality-in-hierarchy: “I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (John 20:17).
  53. Christianity even honors all three levels – God, People, and Nature – with separate resurrections in order of hierarchy.
  54. Man requires a hierarchy. So, from a political standpoint, there must be a God because there must be a man. That’s liberalism.
  55. Natural law is based on human nature set (and tugged) between angels and beasts.
  56. Villefort claims that this tug creates “apoplexy” in every person: “You [the Count] who, like Ariel, verge on the angelic . . .”
  57. “. . . are but an inert mass, which, like Caliban, verges on the brutal.” The Count of Monte Cristo, Ch. 48.
  58. How unequal can equal be? To scale, our mountainous world is smoother than the smoothest cue ball. God gives scale.
  59. Or as Donne says, “No man is so little, in respect of the greatest man, as the greatest in respect of God.” – Emergent Occasions, Ch. 2.
  60. God gives scale, so when we’re more equal, God is closer. (Equality’s goal is ideal moderation: an ideal grasp of human nature. Cf. 18.)
  61. Are there any liberals left? I.e., Lockean liberals? Locke believes man is naturally free and equal, which makes Raskolnikov possible.
  62. Locke believes people can reason about virtue & happiness, which makes freedom and a moral society – even a moral democracy – possible.
  63. Come now, & let us reason together: Calvin’s wrong. If people can’t reason about first things, revelation faces an apocalyptic future.
  64. But Bork is also wrong: if equality means majorities decide what’s moral, the American Revolution is just a decelerated French one.
  65. Majority morality: “Might makes right.” And in a democracy, the majority makes might makes right. In a short-lived democracy, anyway.
  66. Jefferson: People are “independent of all but moral law.” And so the Supreme Court should revisit John Marshall’s natural (& moral) law.
  67. Rousseau, Hobbes, and Calhoun have different takes on the state of nature, but Locke’s matches Christian metaphysics.
  68. In Locke’s state of nature, the individual preexists society and government. Inalienable rights require this existential metaphysics.
  69. Free & equal. But in a Christian nation, non-Christians are not human. Not politically. “Christian nation” is moronic. Oxymoronic, too.
  70. Voting speaks of our common humanity and even of our maturity: only a mature person understands his equality with others. Take Peter.
  71. Equality? Peter “accepts Jesus as his personal savior” (or whatever) and becomes the best Christian on earth by putting others down.
  72. “I love you more than they do!” No equality. No humanity, no conversion. (At the Last Supper, Jesus says Peter isn’t “converted” Lk 22.)
  73. After Peter denies him, Jesus almost mocks him: “Do you love me more than these do?” Peter (annoyed): “I like you.” Now we’re equal.
  74. Granted, the vote only points to maturity; it doesn’t create it. So what would Jesus do? “Let the most mature among you cast the first vote.”
  75. And granted, a lot of immature people vote. (Read the idealists Locke & Madison: human nature scared the shit out of them.)
  76. I worry about what a majority will do. But Jesus didn’t stop Peter from playing God. Jesus allowed freedom to teach Peter.
  77. Lincoln’s listeners dedicated children only to God. It must have shocked them to hear that the U.S. was dedicated to a proposition instead.
  78. “Dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Lincoln turned down the opportunity to declare us a Christian nation.
  79. But Lincoln discovered one of Christianity’s most-cherished principles in the Declaration of Independence:
  80. “You are all brothers” (Matt. 23). Equality: the possibility of redemption, of maturity, of self-government.


“Trill” are my Twitters. Tweet suites from @slowreads.

Detail of Jacopo Bassano’s The Last Supper. Public Domain.