New Year

I know many will be happy to say goodbye to 2020. For me, the restrictions weren’t that bad. I am introverted – extremely so – and fairly misanthropic, so enjoyed having an easy out when it came to not dealing with humans. There were certainly people I missed, and activities – travel would be number one on that list – but in general, I did not find it rough going, as did others. I am lucky: I am not alone; I get along with Significant Other; I have shelter and food.

The low point was the death of my brother from Covid. We were not close, but he was my brother and the loss was painful for my sister-in-law. This doesn’t mean I am not worried about the effects of the pandemic and the decisions various governments have made about lockdowns and such. I take the pandemic seriously, but I am enough of a libertarian that I think we need/needed a better debate about how much personal freedom can be denied to people, as well as about risk-avoidance.

I tried to use the time I had productively: I finished one big writing project and made some headway with another – though I had hoped to finish that one, as well. One lives in hope.

On a superficial note, I gained weight this year — I am officially a “pandemic fattie” — something about which I am not happy. So Bridget Jones’ first resolution here is the only one we have in common. Obviously, will lose 20 pounds. Twenty years ago, when the film first came out, Bridget and I had all of the same resolutions. I gather I have made some progress in this life.

Winter Solstice

W.S. Merwin’s The Solstice:

They say the sun will come back
at midnight
after all
my one love

but we know how the minutes
fly out into
the dark trees
and vanish

like the great ʻōhiʻas and honey creepers
and we know how the weeks
walk into the
shadows at midday

at the thought of the months I reach for your hand
it is not something
one is supposed
to say

we watch the bright birds in the morning
we hope for the quiet
daytime together
the year turns into air

but we are together in the whole night
with the sun still going away
and the year
coming back

Herr Doktor

A couple of years ago, I wrote an oped for the Wall Street Journal about doctors, “doctors” and such, and I got a fair bit of reaction to it. This past Saturday, the brilliant Joseph Epstein wrote a column along the same lines but putting focus on Jill Biden, soon-to-be First Lady of the United States. It’s worth your time, but here are a couple of paragraphs:

Madame First Lady—Mrs. Biden—Jill—kiddo: a bit of advice on what may seem like a small but I think is a not unimportant matter. Any chance you might drop the “Dr.” before your name? “Dr. Jill Biden” sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic. Your degree is, I believe, an Ed.D., a doctor of education, earned at the University of Delaware through a dissertation with the unpromising title “Student Retention at the Community College Level: Meeting Students’ Needs.” A wise man once said that no one should call himself “Dr.” unless he has delivered a child. Think about it, Dr. Jill, and forthwith drop the doc.

The Ph.D. may once have held prestige, but that has been diminished by the erosion of seriousness and the relaxation of standards in university education generally, at any rate outside the sciences. Getting a doctorate was then an arduous proceeding: One had to pass examinations in two foreign languages, one of them Greek or Latin, defend one’s thesis, and take an oral examination on general knowledge in one’s field. At Columbia University of an earlier day, a secretary sat outside the room where these examinations were administered, a pitcher of water and a glass on her desk. The water and glass were there for the candidates who fainted. A far cry, this, from the few doctoral examinations I sat in on during my teaching days, where candidates and teachers addressed one another by first names and the general atmosphere more resembled a kaffeeklatsch. Dr. Jill, I note you acquired your Ed.D. as recently as 15 years ago at age 55, or long after the terror had departed.

I think it’s terrific, but even those who disagree should recognize that the reaction to this column is sheer silliness. Northwestern has apparently removed any mention of Epstein from their site – sheesh. Revisionism, anyone? How about some defence of free speech, oh respected university? I guess that is asking too much. Of course, the Twitter mobs went bonky and Biden herself stupidly reacted to it, opening herself up to dissection of her actual dissertation. Unfounded accusations of sexism met the oped – as though criticism of a woman is necessarily based on gender – as well as pearl-clutching about Epstein’s use of the word “kiddo.” I guess those who were upset about that word don’t know any older people. This is a common term of familiarity – and even affection – used by pre-boomers. Heck, Joe Biden uses it A LOT.

In my own family, there are several PhDs, and I have noticed that those who are the most huffy about insisting people use it, and insisting people respect their “accomplishment,” are a) the most insecure and b) the most left-leaning. There’s an elitism and a love of credentialism and an obsession with class and status among the left that you won’t see matched on the right (though yes, it exists there).

The most surprising thing – at least for me – about the reaction to the column was that so few people seem to know who Joseph Epstein is. I had to explain to several people I know that he is a brilliant literary critic, essayist and fiction writer. He is also a gentleman: I sent him a note saying how much I liked his column and I also included a link to mine. He responded almost immediately with a very positive, kind message.

(The title of this post is indeed a reference to Sylvia Plath because a) I am a woman and there is always room for a Plath reference and, b) I just finished this book, so she is on my mind.)

Paying for the Dish

I admit to taking advantage, as often as I can, of all the wonderful creativity and analysis on the internets these days, without paying (when I can get away with that). But I have chosen to subscribe to Andrew Sullivan’s blog – what he offers is far more thoughtful than anything I could find in most newspapers or magazines. I followed him in the early aughts and loved his New York Magazine weekly essays, now sorely missed. When a small-c conservative as reasonable and open as Sullivan cannot find a place in the mainstream it is pretty frightening, and he deserves support, therefore. A quote from a recent posting of his about the nonsensical idea of defunding the police:

And when the likelihood of an African-American being killed by a civilian is almost thirty times the likelihood of being killed by a cop, it seems to me perverse that almost all the attention is on the police. 

It’s even more perverse to respond to this by calling to abolish the police altogether. In order to tackle three percent of black lives lost, you favor removing the primary force trying to prevent 97 percent of them! However problematic the police, what kind of practical sense does that make? And the immediate results in a city like Minneapolis show just how reckless — how deeply dangerous to black lives — this kind of strategy is. Demoralized cops are quitting in droves; gangs are re-taking the streets; neighborhoods are becoming war-zones.

Sullivan also invites speakers like the brilliant, young Coleman Hughes to his podcasts. As I have, I believe, written before on this site, when I was Hughes’ age, I was still learning the alphabet.

No, I’m not doing PR for Sullivan as part of some kickback scheme – I do think he is worth your time, like Sam Harris or the Commentary podcast. There is so little sanity out there.