Saturday, March 17, 2018

On internet memes and Proverbs 18:2

Proverbs 18:2 (NET)
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding
but only in disclosing what is on his mind.

(New Jerusalem Bible)

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in airing an opinion.

It's been a while since we've linked to Orthocuban, and I'm not as prolific a blogger as I once was, but Father Ernesto had a post recently about the hidden pitfall of using a meme.  I have a slightly different experience with memes in that my belief is that the pitfall of a meme is what is most noticeable about any meme.

People who want to reduce complex cultural and historical issues to some text overlaid upon a picture of Gene Wilder from that Willa Wonka film that purports to distill the foolishness or hypocrisy of other people are not interested in the issues or policies or cultural legacies of the issue they're riffing on.  The problem with memes and their deployment on the internet is ... if we have to use a meme about it, or employ a proverb, that memes are the tools of fools who want to disclose their own sense of wit rather than gain understanding or wisdom.

Meme culture is the kind of thing that can lead me to feel that the loss of Western civilization as we know it will not be that bad a loss.  If the meme is how people in the contemporary American culture conduct themselves on the internet then the loss of that culture is not something to fear even if it is also perhaps not something to celebrate.

We live in a culture in which people with substantial disabilities have better and more opportunities than ever to live full and productive lives.  I don't think I should have to mention the recently deceased Stephen Hawking to make that point but since he did die recently, it's a point worth making.  Hawking would have died decades earlier had he not been born at the right time and in the right place to be kept alive by professional medical care. 

The "logic" of the meme can play out in a Mohler commenting on the worldview of Stephen Hawking or it can be Lauren Duca inviting Billy Graham to have fun burning in hell in the wake of Billy Graham's passing.  Nobody is likely to mistake someone who writes for Teen Vogue as being a public intellectual on any topic, or for being either a famous evangelist or a theoretical physicist, but the Lauren Ducas of the internet world are not necessarily hugely different from the Al Mohler's of the internet world, or to get more obvious about it, these may just be the kind of ideologues who can't be bothered to remember the humanity of their ideological foils at any point and that this may be the simplest distillation of the problem with meme-thinking at the level in which it operates both in methodology and in terms of its ... contribution ... to public discourse. The worst part about meme level discourse and appeals is that people on Twitter probably can't even recognize that they have more in common with their ideological adversaries in terms of snap judgments, invocations of cheap stereotypes, and swift resort to remorseless vitriol than they have with possibly any non-Twitter using member of their own ideological tribe.  That Lauren Duca could tweet as she did suggests to me that she's not any different than she seems to think Trump or other figures on Twitter have been.  It might be best if there were no Twitter at all but since there is Twitter, remember that it's for the record, that it's a social media/mass media tool and that odds are pretty good you're not going to make the world a better place by reducing the nature of your arguments to what can be conveyed in a tweet storm. 

at Mere Orthodoxy Jake Meador writes about the tedium of worldview analyses

In an episode of “The Briefing,” yesterday Dr. Al Mohler of Southern Seminary reflected on the death of the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking. You can read a full transcript of the eight minute segment on Hawking using the link above.
Here is how the episode was summarized on Mohler’s Facebook page, which I think is broadly representative of what Dr. Mohler said on the show:
We believe that Stephen Hawking and all of his brilliance was simply evidence of the fact that he was a human being made in God’s image but a human being who died without God. That’s the great tragedy but that’s not what you’re likely to read in the obituaries.
Instead what you’re going to see is a secular world trying to find a secular reason to celebrate a secular thinker and to say something significant about the meaning of his life. At the end of the day, the secular worldview can provide no argument for why the life of Stephen Hawking was ever significant nor your life nor my life. Only the biblical worldview can answer that question and it does profoundly answer that question.
The thing that struck me when a friend showed the post to me is this: If you swapped “Oppenheimer” for “Hawking” and, on the Facebook post, changed the name and photo from Mohler to Francis Schaeffer you could show the entire post to someone, say that Schaeffer wrote it on the occasion of Oppenheimer’s death in 1967 and… it’d be believable.
I love Schaeffer so I don’t mean that purely as criticism of Dr. Mohler. If we must talk like an evangelical from the 1960s, Schaeffer is a very good one to choose. And yet when you read that take on Hawking’s death, the tedium of it still comes across.
In short, my concern with this sort of worldviewism is that I think it leaves us with a much less interesting world and a savior who does not seem to love it nearly as much as the God of the Bible is said to love the world. And that picture is a real barrier to evangelism. But more than that it is a barrier to worship because it creates divisions within our minds that should not exist and deprives us of the chance to see the face of God in unexpected places.
Earlier this week I got coffee with a friend I hadn’t seen in years. Like me, he grew up in an abusive fundamentalist church which left him with plenty of baggage to work through over a number of years. As we talked, the conversation turned to the work of Jordan Peterson and to a debate that my friend had seen in which Peterson and William Lane Craig, the renowned Christian apologist, argued over the possibility of meaning in human life. I said to my friend that several Christian friends of mine watched the debate and were far more impressed by Peterson than they were Craig. My friend nodded. “Peterson doesn’t care about winning,” he said. “Craig wanted to a win a debate. Peterson wanted to pursue truth.”
Having read Mere Orthodoxy over the last ten years my first thought was to wonder whether or not Mere Orthodoxy itself hasn't been a purveyor of a kind of relentless worldviewist approach to public discourse that it could benefit from shaking off.  I admired Schaeffer in my teens and early twenties but here in the middle of middle age find myself trying to articulate a case that the net cumulative impact of Francis Schaeffer's post-van Til worldviewest approach to apologetics and cultural discourse has been to stunt evangelical and Reformed cultural thought for possibly half a century.  As I've written a few times before, if Schaeffer's work were used as a starting point for actual scholarly and artistic activity that would be one thing but worldview jargon tends to be invoked readily and glibly to say that this or that person, cultural item or meme reflects a "postmodern" worldview without any attempt to even explain if that means anything but with all the force of meme level moral posturing on the part of the author(s) who put forth the meme-worthy  or meme-aspiring content. 

During its roughly two decade run Mars Hill had a lot of people who left what they considered legalistic fundamentalist backgrounds and in the culture of Mars Hill many felt, for a time, there was something really liberating about being able to be a Christian while also drinking alcohol, having sex (in marriage) and watching R-rated movies.  Someone over at the Boar's Head Tavern proposed that more college students rejected the Christian faith because they wanted to drink, smoke and get laid than ever really had a struggle with the theory of evolution.  There are, obviously, those who can, would and will say evolution was why they abandoned Christianity, just as many more will be able to cite the existence of evil. 

And when the heart commits to a path presuppositionalist apologetics won't accomplish anything, just as evidentialist aplogetics won't accomplish anything.  The heart is deceitful above all things, who can understand it?  This iis a subtextual problem in a lot of worldview cultural punditry, a tacit or even explicit claim to understand the heart in an abstracted, idealized way.  It's not the domain of worldview Christians, though.  The new atheists can be thought of as a kind of secularist counterpart to the worldviewest Christian polemicist, both are the sorts of people where a kind of orthodoxy is paramount but an orthodoxy in which the impact on how you treat people is not necessarily the litmus test compared to public testimony.  In the era of #MeToo there aren't any "good" teams as more headlines and investigations come to light.  Secularist and atheist societies and scientific communities can be at least as egregiously sexist and predatory toward women and men as fundamentalist religious communes. People who attain almost any level of celebrity in some media context can feel at liberty to be as abusive in practice as they may have been tempted to be in their hearts.  What the worldview riff will do is insist that those people are merely reflecting their worldview rather than suggest that there are a lot of irresponsible people who do not know or care how to responsibly use mass and social media for the record in public discourse. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

today is the 50th anniversary of the death of the Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco

For those of us who play classical guitar and compose for the instrument Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco is one of the giants of 20th century music.  The works he wrote for Segovia are a lot of fun.  His style could be described as "Hollywood" but Hollywood in the old, golden classic sense.  Given that Castelnuovo-Tedesco influenced the likes of Henry Mancini and John Williams (of Star Wars fame, not the John Williams who is a classical guitarist, though he's not excluded), this is a composer whose work has more influence than people might realize, even if a lot of his influence is more indirect than readily known.

There's a website up now, finally, dedicated to his life and work (3 April 1895 – 16 March 1968).

Being a guitarist I have focused more on his solo and chamber music for guitar but he's also known for his songs and setting of Jewish texts.  As anti-Semitic sentiment and policy began to escalate in Italy he emigrated to the United States and settled in California where he composed film music and continued to compose for more traditional concert music idioms.  His cycle of 24 preludes and fugues for two guitars is a gorgeous mountain of a musical work for the classical guitar literature, one of the touchstones I drew inspiration from when I was composing my cycle of preludes and fugues for guitar from 2007 to 2012.   

Here's a video of Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Quintet for guitar and string quartet.

The guitar gets overwhelmed in a few places because of the audio and the room's sound but the overall performance of the first movement is so lively that it's about as good an introduction to the work as I could find on short notice on Youtube.

And here's an Andres Segovia recording of the second movement from Castlenuovo-Tedesco's Guitar Sonata op. 77

and here's a performance of a trio he wrote for flute, English horn and guitar I'm particularly fond of.

His Sonatina Op. 205 for flute and guitar is one of my favorite works in the whole flute and guitar literature.

The music is effervescent and sparking in a lot of ways that ... I guess if I'd have to pick a way to describe Castelnuovo-Tedesco's work it's kind of an anti-Mahler.  For the record, as a composer I can respect Mahler as someone who's work is unavoidable for a serious consideration of the last century and a half of symphonic literature but I've never really enjoyed Mahler. Whereas Castelnuovo-Tedesco's music seems full of life and charm. 

I've been hoping to write some about Castelnuovo-Tedesco's work since the start of this year as it is and I hope to write stuff about his Quintet and about his Sonata.  I blogged about his magnificent Fantasia for guitar and piano several years ago as part of a tagged set of posts called "chamber music week".  If I were to suggest a 20th century composer to people who love classical music and aren't sure anything from the 20th century is even worth bothering with, Castelnuovo-Tedesco is one of the ones I would pick, and I say that as a long-time admirer of Haydn.

That was ... wow ... six years ago when probably the majority of people who were reading the blog were only reading it about Mars Hill stuff.  I used to get angry comments once in a while claiming "all you ever do at this blog is rip on Mars Hill" or "every post here just speaks of your hatred for Pastor Mark."  No, that's never been true.  Even back in early 2012 when I felt obliged to write about what I thought was going wrong at Mars Hill I was also posting about my affection for the music of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.  So today isn't the centennial of his death, but I frankly doubt I'll live long enough to see that day fifty years from now.  I couldn't not post something about this composer today.  I hope you enjoy his music (because if you don't all the comments here have been in moderation and I'll admit I won't publish comments where people rip on Tedesco's music since I feel that strongly about his work).  Just giving you a fair warning.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

former Mars Hill Portland church Redeemer Church in Portland has filed articles of dissolution according to Oregon Secretary of State

Last time we looked at the situation at former Mars Hill Portland, it seemed it was reincorporating.  Since Wenatchee The Hatchet is a native Northwesterner who grew up in Oregon it hasn't been a whole lot of work to occasionally inquire into the status of Redeemer.  But sometimes commenters provide helpful information.

For instance:

Anonymous said...
Articles of Dissolution were filed 3.14.2018 for RedeemerPDX, see attached link -

Kevin Kelly has been terminated & Tim Smith has Resigned as Senior Pastor

And according to the Oregon Secretary of State articles of dissolution for Redeemer PDF were filed yesterday.


There's a "reinstatement amended" for the 3210 Taylor Street, too.

UPDATE 03-16-2018 0608

As noted in the earlier post, it's not clear that Redeemer PDX is actually shutting down.  Reincoporation is going on, perhaps, and reorganization.

One of the legacies of the network of churches that were once Mars Hill is there's almost always something by way of audio and social media.  So someone has run this by WtH.

and knowing that among the Mar Hill network of churches pastors have a history of listing their CVs on a network ...

Tim Hemphill

Interim vice president at Redeemer church pdx
Vancouver, Washington
Nonprofit Organization Management

Interim vice president

Redeemer church pdx

– Present (1 month)Portland, Oregon Area
Helping the church during a transition season. Doing some interim preaching.
It looks like there's a transition season.  Since my familiarity with the culture and history of what was once Mars Hill dates more back to the earliest years of Mark, Mike and Lief through the 2008 period Hemphill is a name that rings no bells at all, but he's mentioned being interim VP at Redeemer during a transitional time.  So the church itself may not be dying as such but this, as they say, a recently breaking development in terms of online documentation

UPDATE II 03-16-2018 17:27

NEW DEVELOPMENT - Even though Kevin S Kelly has been terminated it appears he is still involved with RedeemerPDX in helping new leadership team transition to an as yet unknown existence - See attached link to a new Application filed later the same day with State of Oregon for Redeemer Church to continue as an organization. Note who is the Authorized Representative not the Authorized Agent & that the mailing address for the organization is not the church but Kevin Kelly's home address - Seems sort of odd.

So maybe my earlier guess that the church isn't permanently dissolving so much as reincorporating and re:launching might be a decent guess.  But it is, after all, still a guess. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Mark Driscoll makes deal with Charisma House to publish his next book out October 2018

Driscoll had an announcement of something new coming along.

As of March 6, 2018 Mark Driscoll inked a deal with Charisma House to publish his next book, which will be his first book published through a publisher since his previous book in 2013 (which, if memory serves, was A Call to Resurgence that he was promoting when he had an interview with Janet Mefferd)

Orlando, FL – Mark Driscoll, pastor of The Trinity Church of Scottsdale, Arizona; founder of Mark Driscoll Ministries; and author of over fifteen books, has entered into a new publishing partnership with Charisma House. His book Spirit-Filled Jesus will signify Driscoll’s return to the publishing world after his previous book, in 2013.
The October 2018 trade book immerses readers in the Spirit-filled life of Jesus and invites them to live by the same power of the Holy Spirit. Driscoll proposes that not only should we admire the life of Jesus, but we should also aim to experience the same source of life‐giving power that He did through the power of the Holy Spirit.
I'm not exactly a charismatic or a Pentecostal anymore but if I were I might still ask, "What Mark Driscoll's going to bring to the table in a book of his that Gordon Fee hasn't tackled in the last forty years?"  If I were still Pentecostal I'd suggest you read Gordon Fee over Mark Driscoll, not that you asked, obviously.   
But this has been making some rounds in charismatic publishing.

Driscoll and everyone else may be excited to know that Jessica Johnson's book Biblical Porn should be out by May 2018, giving people about five months or slightly less in which to digest what Johnson has to say about Mark Driscoll and his activities at Mars Hill Church.

We'll get to discussing the Johnson book when it comes out, as previously mentioned. Things are still incubating for discussing Justin Dean's book PR Matters.

more assorted links on the Sherman Alexie situation

Sherman Alexie is a beloved native writer, filmmaker and poet. He also stands accused of sexual harassment by three women on the record and many more anonymously. KUOW reporter Liz Jones is following the story and sat down with Bill Radke after her first piece on the story published. 

The biggest thing that stood out, Jones said, was that people were not surprised. Even when they didn't know the extent of the behavior, these people said that Alexie had a reputation for being cruel. [emphasis added]

But being elevated as the voice of a community meant that he benefited from an uneven power dynamic. The publishing industry is rife with gatekeepers, which can create and uphold a dynamic where abuse of power thrives.

If we truly want this behavior to change, Jones said, those of us in the publishing industry — and media organizations, such as our own — must be intentional about broadening the range of voices we look to in order to tell their communities' stories.

Sherman Alexie having a cruel streak?  Nobody even has to meet the man in person to form that impression.  Take a poem of Alexie's quoted in a film that might stop being in the film at some point down the road.

In the opening scenes of the documentary film United by Water, writer Sherman Alexie reads his poem ‘Powwow At The End Of The World.’

     I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall
     after an Indian woman puts her shoulder to the Grand Coulee Dam
     and topples it. I am told by many of you that I must forgive
     and so I shall …

The documentary follows the tribal effort to revive an annual gathering at a waterfall along the Columbia River. It’s a tradition that stopped after the Grand Coulee Dam was built in the 1940s.

Derrick LaMere shot and produced the film. He’s a descendent of the Colville Tribe in Northeast Washington and a member of the Rocky Boy Band of the Chippewa Cree in Montana. The film premiered in Spokane last fall. 

In an era in which partisans for our two parties in the United States care less about what the man they may have voted for (whether Bill or Donald) did to or does to women, or says about or to women than they do about the things that the candidate they didn't vote for said or did it's hard to see that the partisan politics as usual is concerned in the end with how women have been treated than by the conviction that so long as "our" person gets the policy results we want those other things can be forgiven.  

Whatever has transpired with Sherman Alexie's handling of women in his profession it's also not really the time to pretend that these things can't happen in what can be known as Indian country.  Some authors have pointed out and proposed that it can be even worse.  

Now it looks like Alexie's next pending book is halted, at Alexie's request. 

At Sherman Alexie’s request, Hachette Book Group halted the paperback release of the Native American writer’s memoir because of numerous sexual harassment allegations, The Associated Press reported Sunday.

Alexie’s newest book, “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” came out in hardcover in 2017 and was scheduled to go out in paperback until Alexie requested that the publishing company put an indefinite hold on the release. He is the author of the best-selling young-adult novel "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," and the writer of the screenplay for "Smoke Signals."

As for the cruel streak alluded to earlier, some of what's reported below suggests that Alexie has had a capacity to be catty and competitive in a way that might not be altogether different in concept from stories told about someone like Robert Frost.   


Not all the allegations concerning Alexie brought forward by Native women writers involve sexual harassment or assault. In interviews given to YES! Media, (most on background because Native American women writers still fear Alexie’s power in the industry) many described the ways he sidelined careers.

This included mention of an interview he gave in the Winter 1997 issue of Studies in American Indian Literatures, where he was asked about other Native American writers. “I think Tiffany Midge has a good future,” he told the interviewer John Purdy, “once she stops copying me.” When Purdy noted that Midge had done a good job when he saw them read together a few years earlier, Alexie elaborated on his critique of her work as a second-rate copy of his own.

“She got up and read, and I thought ‘Oh my god, that’s me, that’s my shtick.’”

Midge, Lakota, told YES! Media how hurt she was by these remarks, and members of the Native American literary world repeatedly brought this incident up as one of many examples of how Alexie used his platform for decades to belittle Native American writers and potentially stifle their access to the White publishing world, effectively acting as a gatekeeper
That wasn’t the only run-in Midge had with Alexie. In 1994, after she won a book award for her first poetry collection Outlaws, Renegades and Saints, he told her both that she shouldn’t expect her book to sell and that he’d expected another writer to win the prize, someone whom he’d mentored. For the remainder of the conference, she said, he was aggressive, for example, calling her stuck up in front of other authors.

Was this just a bit of ordinary rough-and-tumble professional rivalry? It is important to remember the power of “yes” to writers.

“When you’re a writer from a minority background,” queer Greek Australian novelist Peter Polites and associate director of the Sweatshop collective—a group of writers from migrant and marginalized backgrounds—told NeoKosmos, “sometimes you need permission to write.”

And Sherman Alexie, at a very crucial point in his life, received that permission, that all important “yes.” There was a point in his life, his career could have taken a very different turn.

In a 2012 interview with Time Magazine’s editor at large, Belinda Luscombe, Alexie credited getting published in a poetry magazine for helping him stop drinking. “Yeah,” Alexie agreed, “you probably should offer every alcoholic desiring to get sober large book contracts! I woke up after a tremendous bender, and the acceptance for my first book of poems was in the mailbox. And, I thought, I think that’s telling me something.”

Luscombe probed further, asking Alexie whether his father, a brilliant young man who was periodically homeless and died of alcoholism, had had early success like his son might his life taken a different turn? Alexie agreed. Yes, that would have made all the difference to him.
If Sherman Alexie had not gotten that letter in the mail that day, we might never have any of his novels or his films or poems today. Consider the cost, then, of his refusal to give encouragement to other Native American writers, to have actively discouraged them. What books have we been denied over the past 25 years? What would the Native American literary landscape look like today if he had given that “yes” permission to more writers?

And despite his fall from grace, many in the Native American community are still fearful of his influence, which has now been passed on to a pair of his proteges: Terese Marie Mailhot is a gifted, young First Nations memoirist from Canada, whose recently released book Heart Berries (Counterpoint) includes a gushing introduction by her mentor, Alexie. His introduction has been—up to this point—widely quoted in reviews of her book. And Tommy Orange, Cheyenne and Arapaho, whose highly anticipated novel There There is forthcoming from Penguin Books.

A clue to the power of Sherman Alexie’s “yes”—and the inverse power of his scorn—can be seen in the rapturous reception the mainstream has given both books — highly unusual for Indian Country authors. Mailhot’s is a New York Times Editor’s Choice, and she appeared on The Daily Show a few days after the NPR revelations were published. Alexie is the only Native American writer to have been featured on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

Neither Alexie’s publisher Little Brown nor his agent Nancy Stauffer Cahoon have responded to requests for comment.

The New York Times’ review of Mailhot’s book declared: “‘Heart Berries’ Shatters a Pattern of Silence.” But really, has there been silence by Native women writers, or has the industry simply not been listening?

“Publishers and agents and book critics,” Elissa Washuta told KUOW, a public radio station in Seattle, “can all look at this and see that for so long one writer has had a disproportionate amount of their attention to the exclusion of other native writers.”

Midge described in a written statement to YES! Media how recent events have made her wrestle with her own feelings about her treatment by Alexie:

“It is not a comfort by any means, to know I’m not alone in my experiences. Several people are alluding to similar treatment—worse treatment and abuses in fact—in regards with Alexie. Yet, to know that I have not been alone, is in fact, a kind of validation, and a necessary balm to my own self-incriminating interior script. Maybe I was defeated and undermined all those years ago. Maybe his bullying did in fact negatively impact my trajectory and potential success. I know I’ve spent years playing those encounters and others through my head, endlessly. I always blamed myself for the abuse and transgressions. I wasn’t smart enough. Or talented, or cool enough. I must have deserved to be mocked and maligned. I’ve made a million excuses.”

Will Mailhot keep Alexie’s introduction in her book? For now, she refuses to comment on her mentor.

What makes these reports seem damning, if they're true, is that for an author like Alexie to invoke rage or anger against an injustice on behalf of a race whose women he treats in a cavalier and even abusive manner blunts the basis for the moral outrage.  

There may be a lot of silence not just because voices are silenced but because, as a writer once told me about the institutional press, the institutional press only takes itself seriously.  To put this all another way, we could ask a question about a literary or artistic event, if it wasn't monetized did it "really" happen as far as members or institutions of the press concerned?  Maybe, if it's newsworthy enough.  I do wonder if what we see is silencing of voices or something that's more discouraging, that it's not so much that people are silenced categorically as that they have never said things that those who have gatekeeping powers find compelling enough to listen to to begin with.  Active suppression may not even be the majority of what we see, which the article will get to in a bit, the matter of branding being a variable that can overpower others.

But think of the billions of people on the earth, each with stories to tell and then we can have some understanding of how and why editors and publishers will tend to feel that if they're going to sink the time, money and attention into publishing something they might have to at least break even or believe very, very strongly in what they are intending to publish.  This may be the point at which the power of what can be colloquially and technically thought of as a "brand" kicks in.  Publishers who might not be willing to run with a possibly contentious or challenging book for a complete unknown would be willing to do so far a star.  In Native American literature that star has been, for better and worse, Sherman Alexie, who I have regarded as a gifted short-story teller but unfortunately not more than a competent poet.  Back to the YES magazine article.


“Why then are there not more Sherman Alexies?” Time magazine’s Luscombe eagerly asked Alexie in the 2012 interview.

“I don’t know,” he responded, “When I first started writing, there were around 30 Native writers publishing with major houses, university presses, prestigious small presses publishing actively. And now, very little. And people say, well it’s racism in the publishing industry. I think you’re kidding. Publishers would die if a manuscript came flying into their offices that reminded them of me or Louise Erdrich. They would be dancing, but it just hasn’t happened, and I don't know why.”

The truth is, though, that publishers weren’t dancing when they first received Erdrich’s first novel Love Medicine in 1984. It drew no interest from agents or publishers. Her late ex-husband, Michael Dorris, a successful writer and professor, had to pretend to be her agent to get publishers to read it at all.

And the publishing industry is, if anything, more difficult to break into today with the rise of Amazon and competition from free online content.

“People who are not within our network are operating at a terrible disadvantage,” Vicky Smith, a Kirkus Reviews editor told the blog Open Book. “An agent friend of mine told me that she gives a piece of slush [an unsolicited manuscript] 60 seconds, no more. That’s an awfully high barrier for an unknown to leap. My guess is that people who know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody might get 90 or even 120 seconds, which might make all the difference.” [emphasis added]

Besides lacking connections, there is also the issue of the disparity of wealth, and the cushion wealth provides to help young people pursue extremely speculative careers like writing. Native Americans have some of the highest rates of poverty and unemployment.

What does all this mean for Indian Country, that for so long Alexie has had the token status and singular voice on behalf of an entire people.

In the March 2016 issue of College & Undergraduate Libraries, editor Eric Jennings wrote in his column, “I saw Sherman Alexie speak, and one of the things that stuck with me is that there’s always some truth to a stereotype. He was talking specifically about how the stereotype for many Native Americans is that they are alcoholics. And, in fact, most of his family members are alcoholics. He even went on record as saying that the whole race is filled with alcoholics and that pretending that alcoholism is a stereotype among Native Americans is a form of denial.”

In her blog American Indians in Children’s Literature Debbie Reese, a former American Indian Studies professor at the University of Illinois enrolled at Nambe Pueblo,  refuted this  with recent research showing alcoholism rates for Native Americans are the same as that of the white population. The study also found Native Americans have higher rates of abstinence.

Once again, reliance on a singular perspective and narrative has its limits.

Reliance on a singular perspective and narrative not only has limits, those limits can mean the difference between a legitimately big story and a publication like Rolling Stone having to pay millions in damages because the singular narrative they ran with came under scrutiny.  

As I've been noting over the last few years here at the blog high art tends to require high finance of some kind and while vocational art in a more craft or artisanal form is certainly possible these modes of artistic activity aren't as, well, high in their social standing or prestige.

Which isn't to say Alexie has been a particularly "big" star.  Even if we cast about non-randomly for another non-white but male writer it's not like Sherman Alexie is a Coates who wrapped up a Black Panther storyline for Marvel Comics and is giving us a Captain America storyline later this year.

But when people feel or believe their views within a society are marginal enough that they look for a star or a champion to articulate their cause they're doing what people have done in every age.  We make stars of those who may even often be cruel but we may convince ourselves that that cruelty is on behalf of a good cause, our cause.   But what stars can do is they can tend to impute their own temptations or vices to others in fairly sweeping ways, in ways that may in the end tell us that those vices are not entirely overcome in the star who imputes his or her vices to others.  

Yeah, that's shifting gears to another guy who had rock star status of a niche kind here in the Pacific Northwest.  Here's hoping that Alexie is able to have more serious self-examination of himself than that other person may have managed. 

Michael Gerson asks one "what if" about William Jennings Bryan and the Scopes trial, what if Bryan had opposed eugenics and social Darwinism and not evolution? But it's not that difficult to establish he WAS opposed to that stuff.

One of the articles linked to in this week's Linkathon at Phoenix Preacher is the following piece at The Atlantic called "The Last Temptation" which is about evangelicals and support for Trump.

Michael Gerson's article leads with a subheader that says that evangelicalism was once culturally confident but has become an anxious minority.  It might depend on how minority gets defined since in colloquial popular terms of discourse people tend to think of minorities as anything but evangelical and that white evangelicals may be marginal in terms of professed beliefs but represent a kind of vestigial cultural old guard that won't relinquish its faltering grip on mainstream power.

Or at least in most other contexts in which journalists describe what's colloquially understood to be the religious right that's how they've written about the demographic.  But then I can recall easily pieces at Mere Orthodoxy or by Alan Jacobs on the question of where today's Christian (i.e. evangelical) intellectuals are or have been as though these never existed (and maybe, arguably, they don't because as Alastair Roberts put it the Christian intellectuals of yore were largely in the mainline and not in what evangelicals themselves would consider an evangelical milieu).  So there's this passage from Gerson that stood out.

What if Bryan and others of his generation had chosen to object to eugenics rather than evolution, to social Darwinism rather than Darwinism? The textbook at issue in the Scopes case, after all, was titled A Civic Biology, and it urged sterilization for the mentally impaired. “Epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness,” the text read, “are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity.” What if this had been the focus of Bryan’s objection? Mencken doubtless would still have mocked. But the moral and theological priorities of evangelical Christianity would have turned out differently. And evangelical fears would have been eventually justified by America’s shameful history of eugenics, and by the more rigorous application of the practice abroad. Instead, Bryan chose evolution—and in the end, the cause of human dignity was not served by the obscuring of human origins.

Irony alert. Bryan didn't necessarily use the technical term eugenics but he was objecting to it. He didn't end up delivering the closing statement he'd prepared because of how the trial played out.  But the "what if" in the Gerson piece about why Bryan didn't mention eugenics as evil was something Malcolm Harris mentioned back in 2016.
Malcolm Harris' article mentioned that Bryan did find eugenics morally objectionable.

The 1926 case Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes is a favorite liberal American story. On one side, a substitute accused of teaching evolution, the famed progressive attorney Clarence Darrow, and science itself. On the other, the state of Tennessee, creationism, and the populist demagogue William Jennings Bryan, who by the end of the trial was only days from death. Scopes lost the battle, but reason and progress won the war and the film adaptation. The Scopes Monkey Trial, as it was called, is a progressive touchstone, and in the minds of many it continues to describe the difference between the two mainstream American political ideologies.

When one revisits the primary material, however, the mainstream liberal narrative is far too simple. Jennings Bryan railed against evolution, true, but not just evolution as we understand the theory today. His never-delivered closing statement indicted the “dogma of darkness and death” as a danger to the country’s moral fabric. It sounds far out, but at the time evolution came with a social agenda that its proponents taught as fact. Jennings Bryan didn’t use its name; today, we call it eugenics.

When one revisits the primary material, however, the mainstream liberal narrative is far too simple. Jennings Bryan railed against evolution, true, but not just evolution as we understand the theory today. His never-delivered closing statement indicted the “dogma of darkness and death” as a danger to the country’s moral fabric. It sounds far out, but at the time evolution came with a social agenda that its proponents taught as fact. Jennings Bryan didn’t use its name; today, we call it eugenics.

Scopes was charged for teaching from a textbook called A Civic Biology: Presented in Problems, published in 1914. The book taught Darwin’s doctrine as fact, but it didn’t leave his conclusions there. The author, George William Hunter, not only asserted the biological difference of races, he insisted on the vital importance of what he called “the science of being well born”—eugenics. Like most progressives of the time, Hunter believed in “the improvement of man” via scientific methods. That meant promoting personal hygiene, proper diet, and reproductive control. A Civic Biology also has suggestions for what to do with “bad-gened” people, in a section called “The Remedy.” “If such people were lower animals,” the books says, “we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity would not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe.”

The textbook was wrong, both about degenerate genes and humanity’s near-term tolerance for genocide. Read between the twin specters of human engineering, The Holocaust and the American slave-breeding industry—the abolition of which was younger than Jennings Bryan—the warning in his closing argument seems not only warranted, but prophetic:
Science is a magnificent material force, but it is not a teacher of morals. It can perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of the machine. It can also build gigantic intellectual ships, but it constructs no moral rudders for the control of storm-tossed human vessels. It not only fails to supply the spiritual element needed, but some of its unproven hypotheses rob the slip of its compass and thus endanger its cargo.
“Some of its unproven hypotheses rob the slip of its compass and thus endanger its cargo” is a near-perfect criticism of evolutionary theory and the era’s progressive thought as a whole. And if today’s liberals were to revisit their ideological foundations with some attention, they might not like what they see.

That Bryan didn't give the closing statement doesn't suggest to me that we can write today as if Bryan somehow failed to get his point across or ask a "what if" supposing that he hadn't formulated an objection to social Darwinism or eugenics.  Looking back a century it might be worth asking why Americans and British think of Germany as the "bad guys" in World War I because in their quest for colonial expansion to catch up with Britain and France they had the bad manners of invading a nation populated primarily by white people instead of invading a nation populated primarily like non-whites like all the other white colonialist empires tended to do.  Seen in that light the Germans were not necessarily more barbaric than the English or the French or the Belgians even if they didn't prove any less barbaric. 
One of the more interesting and satisfying twists in last year's Wonder Woman was that Diana sets out to defeat Ludendorff certain that he is the embodiment of Aries, the god of war, only to discover by movie's end that the god of war wasn't in German where all the overt aggression seemed to be coming from, but from within the British aristocracy.  Part of the twist's effectiveness (I liked the movie, at any rate) is that Diana travels under the impression that the master of war and barbarity is in Germany when he turns out to have concealed himself within the English gentry.  Steve Trevor says near the end of the film that humanity might not even need the god of war to be inspired to kill each other over things.
If we're going to play hypothetical "what if" games at this point, what if Bryan had managed to take a public stance against the war in which his resignation in the wake of the Lusitania incident kept the United States from entering World War I?  That's kind of a useless "what if" but that gets at what happens with this "what if" scenarios in which we in the present try to imagine what should have happened differently.