Phone it in Friday XV: Blogger Buddies

It’s been another crazy week, but the rhythms of the school year are beginning to fall into their familiar patterns.  That said, I’ve put in more hours working this week than any in a long time.

Regular readers know what that means:  another edition of Phone it in Friday, now reaching its fifteenth installment.

It’s been a week for shout-outs to other commentators and platforms, so I figured I’d continue with that theme and recommend some of my blogger buddies to you.  I have to give a big hat tip for this idea to one of my best blogger buddies, photog, over at Orion’s Cold Fire.  He wrote a post—“A Word of Thanks to Our Boosters“—highlighting some of those blogs that routinely link to his page or reference his writing, and yours portly made the list.  Thanks, photog!

So on this rainy, overcast Friday, here are some excellent blogs for your consideration:

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Passing of Bernard Bailyn

Last week, legendary historian of colonial America Bernard Bailyn passed away at the age of 97, making his own voyage into the next life.  Blogger buddy Gordon Sheaffer at Practically Historical wrote a brief but effective tribute to Bailyn earlier this week.

As Sheaffer wrote Monday:

No other scholar impacted the study of the American Revolution more than Bailyn. His masterwork, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, continues to challenge readers 50 years after it was published. Bailyn was able to express the unique qualities of American civilization without politicizing the history with talk of exceptionalism.

I have not read—to my great shame and discredit—The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, but I have read Bailyn’s The Peopling of British North America: An Introduction, a much shorter work that serves as an introduction to a larger study on the settlement of British North America.  The book is so good, and gives such a flavor for the various peoples that settled in the original thirteen colonies, I once assigned it as summer reading for my very first AP US History class back in 2011.  It’s an accessible book, but it was a bit much for rising high school sophomores.

That said, I’ve been searching for my copy this morning in my classroom, without any luck.  Hopefully it will turn up soon.  My dad and I were talking about Bailyn’s death, as there was a small bit about it in the newspaper, and he expressed interest in reading it.  I also wouldn’t mind rereading it, as I haven’t done so in nearly a decade.

Even so, bits of it stick out to me.  Near the end of the book, Bailyn briefly explores the odd religious sects, mostly German, that came to the colonies.  I distinctly recall him writing about a self-proclaimed prophet or sage living in a cave in Pennsylvania.  There were multiple sects and utopian movements and cults and denominations popping up in British North America during the First Great Awakening, which reached its peak sometime in the 1740s and greatly influenced the American Revolution.

In an age of toppling statues and lurid efforts to erase our national history and faith (to be replaced with… what?), Bailyn’s works take on increased importance.  Let us hope he isn’t summarily cancelled like everything else that is good, decent, and doesn’t inherently hate America.

Lazy Sunday LXX: Phone it in Fridays, Part IV

We’re rounding out the month of Phone it in Fridays this week with the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth editions.  I’ve intentionally avoided doing more PiiFs while going through them, although I’ll likely write more in the future (because they’re easy and quick), and there will likely a “Phone it in Fridays, Part V” at some point (because it’s easy and quick).

Like last week’s installment, The Virus cast a long, sickly shadow over these entries.  For a time, that’s pretty much all bloggers and the commentariat were discussing, to the point that it got boring and tiresome.  We also settled into our oppressive new normal like slowly boiling frogs, and now every trip to the grocery store looks like a Japanese subway station.

Here are Phone it in Fridays X, XI, and XII:

  • Phone it in Friday X: Coronavirus Conundrum, Part III: Working from Home” – One of the silver linings of The Age of The Virus was teaching from home.  At least, I quite enjoyed it—virtually all of my colleagues hated it.  I’m fortunate to teach in a field (History) that is easy to port to an online format, and I’ve been teaching online since 2015, so I have a good sense for the kind of feedback and communication necessary to make distance learning smoother for students (and myself).  This post had me musing about the future of work, and my hopes that we’d see more white-collar work done from home.
  • Phone it in Friday XI: Coronavirus Conundrum, Part IV: Liberty in the Age of The Virus” – One of the more astonishing aspects of the lockdowns, quarantines, shelter-in-place orders, mask ordinances, etc., was the ready compliance of most Americans to shutting down their lives.  I think everyone was copacetic to the “two weeks to flatten the curve” mantra, but that two weeks turned into “indefinite oppression because we said so.”  As cases have shot up in South Carolina, even our more conservative municipalities have put mask ordinances into place, albeit relatively mild, with tons of exemptions.  Had I won my that Town Council election on Tuesday, I would have voted against any such ordinances, on the grounds that a.) law enforcement doesn’t need to waste their time enforcing the unenforceable—and the non-criminal, and b.) mature adults and individual businesses in a free society can make their own best decisions about masks, etc.  Regardless, we all seemed to forget about the Constitution the minute a plague hit—unlike our plague-ridden ancestors.
  • Phone it in Friday XII: Good Reads” – The point of PiiF is to churn out some quick content on Fridays when I’m ready to relax for the weekend.  This PiiF ended up being one of the longest ones yet.  I read a ton of blogs every day, schedule-permitting, so I come across some good stuff from time to time.  This post shared great pieces from Rachel Fulton Brown, Z Man, and photog.

That’s it!  Twelve Fridays in one month of Sundays.  Lots of numbers divisible by 2 and 3 there.  I hope these PiiFs brought some joy to your life.

Happy Sunday!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

SubscribeStar Saturday: The Portly Politico Summer Reading List 2020

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.  NEW TIER: $3 a month gets one edition of Sunday Doodles every month!

It’s that time of year again:  summer!  That means we’re due for The Portly Politico Summer Reading List 2020!

I’m actually a bit overdue for this list.  I typically publish it in early June, to give those of you blessed to enjoy summer vacation a chance to look them up.  But my long illness for the first couple of weeks of the month waylaid a number of plans, and last weekend I was occupied with family festivities, so the list is a few weeks later than I like.

But, like Sunday Doodles—a perk for $5 a month subscribers—my philosophy is “better late than never!”  And with the Independence Day holiday approaching, it’s a great time to do some reading.

For new readers, my criteria is pretty straightforward.  To quote myself from the 2016 list:

The books listed here are among some of my favorites.  I’m not necessarily reading them at the moment, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t!

Pretty vague, I know.  Additionally, I usually feature three books, plus an “Honorable Mention” that’s usually worth a read, too.

For those interested, here are the prior two installments:

But that’s enough yackin’.  Here’s The Portly Politico Summer Reading List 2020:

1.) Richard Weaver, edited by George M. Curtis, III and James J. Thompson, Jr., The Southern Essays of Richard M. Weaver (1999) – Regular readers know I love Richard Weaver, and I featured his masterpiece Ideas Have Consequences on the 2016 list.  The Southern Essays feature a collection of Weaver’s writings on the South.

Weaver was a literary critic and English professor at the University of Chicago, but his roots were in Asheville, North Carolina.  He possessed a deep and abiding love of and respect for Dixie, particularly its writers.  Weaver’s background in literature and poetry is evident in these essays, in which he ruminates on the abundance of prolific Southern literary types.  He also brings some nuance to the question of the American Civil War and the South’s role therein.  I believe it was in this collection that I first learned of John Randolph of Roanoke, the great, ornery Virginian who resisted federal overreach in the early nineteenth century.

Weaver’s writing can be a bit dense, but once you get used to his mid-century style, his ideas are easy enough to absorb.  I highly, highly recommend you pick up this collection.

To read the rest of this post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.

Phone it in Friday XII: Good Reads

It’s been awhile (3 April 2020) since I’ve written a Phone it in Friday, which means I’ve been doing my job and writing actual content on Friday, not just slapping together listicles of random thoughts (that link is not intended to diminish Audre Myers, a far more engaging random thinker than me).  That said, today seems like a good opportunity to phone it in—after a day of baby wrangling yesterday, and a fitful night’s sleep (thanks in part to some heavy, but delicious, meals).

I’m also planning on unveiling my 2020 Summer Reading List in tomorrow’s SubscribeStar Saturday post (subscribe for a buck to read it!).  Ergo, it seemed like an excellent opportunity to highlight some good Internet reads from the past couple of weeks.

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History of Conservative Thought Summer 2020, Week 2

The second week of History of Conservative Thought 2020 is in the books.  We did another Google Meet session, as I’m still supposed to be quarantining, but we should be able to meet in person next week.  My fever is virtually gone, and I’m finally feeling normal again.

The bulk of today’s discussion centered on Russell Kirk’s “Ten Conservative Principles,” which expanded a bit upon the six conservative principles Kirk wrote about in the “Introduction” to The Portable Conservative Reader.  It was a great discussion, and it was interesting to read the students’ papers before class to see how their answer to the question “What is Conservatism?” changed after reading Kirk.

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The Learning Bug

Well, Spring Break has come to a close, with distance learning, it doesn’t quite feel the same, for both good and ill.  At about the time of this writing (shortly after 8:30 AM EST), I’d be about twenty minutes into an AP US History class under normal circumstances.  Instead, I’m sipping coffee and grading student responses to a pre-recorded lecture (on George F. Kennan’s containment policy) as they roll in.

I’ve found that, personally, I’m far more productive and focused since the transition to distance learning.  The incentives are in place for me to be so, in that I can just laser-focus in on building out online versions of my classes.  I’ve also been adjunct teaching online for a local technical college for about five years now, so I’ve gotten good at the management side of it.  Indeed, most of distance learning, after the creation of the actual content, is shepherding students through it.

That’s the other key to my productivity:  I know that the more idiot-proof and user-friendly I make the process, the less confusion for the students.  That also makes for less work for me on the back-end, which requires a good bit of planning and work on the front-end.  I pretty much stay at my computer from about 7:30 AM to 3:30 or 4 PM EST most days, so I can facilitate any student queries as they arrive, but the workflow is more flexible—instead of being locked-in to a series of hour-long performances, I’m able to complete tasks in a more organic fashion.

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Spring Break Short Story Recommendations, Part IV: “The Shed”

Well, all good things must come to an end.  Such is the fate of Spring Breaks everywhere.  While I still have the glorious weekend before me, today marks the formal last day of break.

With that, it’s time to finish out our Spring Break Short Story Recommendations (read Part I, Part II, Part III, and the TBT installment) with 1952’s “The Shed,” a bit of small-town terror by E. Eerett Evans.  This story is a tad obscure, as is its author, and I couldn’t find a free version online, but like “The Judge’s House” and “Thus I Refute Beelzy,” it’s from 11 Great Horror Stories.

“The Shed” takes place in a small town in Michigan in the first decade of the twentieth century, and focused primarily on the rough-and-tumble adventures of the town’s boys, all under fourteen.  The boys are scrappy, plucky, and fun, and spend their days exploring town, splashing in the local waterhole, and generally doing the kinds of things boys did before they were shut up in classes for eight hours everyday.

The boys’ favorite play place is a dilapidated shed that belongs to the local railroad company.  They use the shed as their base of operations, and as a makeshift jungle gym.  However, they strenuously avoid one dark corner of the shed, in which resides The Shadown, an iridescent, subtly shifting, amorphous mass of malevolence.  The boys know, instinctively, to stay away from it, but otherwise tolerate its malignant presence.

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TBT: Rudyard Kipling’s “The Mother Hive”

This week I’ve been highlighting some of my Spring Break reading recommendations (Part I, Part II, and Part III).  I’ve been reading quite a bit in the horror genre, as I love weird tales and ghost stories.

In that spirit, I thought I’d use this week’s TBT as another Spring Break recommendation—the chilling tale of a progressivist wax-moth infiltrating an unsuspecting hive of busy, but declining, bees.  I stumbled upon it while teaching my History of Conservative Thought class last summer, and immediately was taken with this macabre, yet hopeful, tale (which you can read in full here).

Literary short stories offer us many opportunities for exploring the human condition—even with bees.  One reason, perhaps, for our general social and cultural decline is that we usurped the literary canon—which sought to expose students of English literature to the best representative works—with the wax-moths of identity politics and watered-down standards.

Even my brightest students struggle to write grammatically, much less to write well.  And some of the canonical works I read in high school are conspicuously absent from the curriculum (although, of course, some of the greats still remain).  Summer reading has more or less become “read whatever you want” (a not entirely ignoble idea), rather than “read these excellent, challenging works” (why not some combination of the two?).

But I digress.  I’m treading into waters that are not, as history and music teacher, my own.  Nevertheless, I would encourage readers to seek out the best of what has been said or done, if for no other reason than to keep the wax-moths at bay.

With that, here is July 2019’s “Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Mother Hive’“:

To start yesterday’s History of Conservative Thought class, I had students skim through Rudyard Kipling’s 1908 short story “The Mother Hive.”  I stumbled upon the reading in our class text, Russell Kirk’s The Portable Conservative Reader.

It is a grim little fable that warns about the perils of progressivism infiltrating a proud but weakened nation.  In the story, a deadly wax-moth sneaks into a large but bedraggled beehive during a moment of confusion.  She quickly steals away to the cell of the youngest bees, who have yet to take their first flight.  There, she fills their impressionable heads with gentle words and promises of a glorious future, all while covertly laying her eggs.

One young bee, Melissa, who has just returned from her first flight, is suspicious of the beautiful stranger’s soothing words, but the wax-moth plays the victim and insists that she’s only spreading her “principles,” not the eggs of her hungry future children.

The infiltration of the young bees’ minds pays lethal dividends.  When an old guard asks the young bees to construct pillars of wax to protect the entrance to the hive, they complain about the work, saying that pillar-building is a form of provocation, and that if they just trust the wax-moths, the wax-moths will return the favor.  When they reluctantly begin to build the pillars, they refuse to use chew the hard wax, and insist only on the finest, softest wax—and even then they balk at completing their work!

Needless to say, disaster is quick in coming.  The wax-moth’s eggs hatch and begin to devour the precious honey stored in the hive.  As they burrow weird, cylindrical tubes—an innovation that takes eight times the wax as a hexagonal cell—they expose the bee pupae to deformations.  Increasing numbers of bees are born as “Oddities”—missing legs, blind, unable to fly, half-breeds, etc.

As the number of lame bees are born, the dwindling number of “sound bees” must shoulder greater amounts of work to feed themselves, the aging Queen, the Oddities, and the wax-moth and her brood.  Sound bees work themselves to exhaustion as the Oddities sing merry working songs, unable to complete any work of their own.  The Oddities insist there is plenty of honey, saying it comes from the Hive itself.  One Oddity claims that each bee need only work 7.5 minutes per day to feed everyone, but those calculations—not surprisingly—come out to be overly optimistic.

Ultimately, the beekeeper—the “Voice behind the Veil”—finds his old, neglected hive in ruin.  He and his son break apart the hive panel by panel, revealing how weakened the structure has become due to the wax-moths’ infiltration.  The lame Oddities fall to the grass after struggling to ride on the remaining healthy “sound bees.”  Melissa, her old friend, and a secretly-birthed Princess—the dying act of the old Queen—along with the other sound bees escape to a nearby oak tree, where they witness the destruction and burning of their old hive.

One of the wax-moth offspring flies up, explaining that the promised, glorious “New Day” that was promised was miscalculated.  The proud new Princess boldly proclaims that it was the wax-moths, catching the old hive in a moment of weakness, that destroyed them, but that the bees will rebuild.

I was surprised that I had not heard of this little fable before this morning, while idly flipping through Kirk’s reader.  The parallels between the wax-moth and the social justice, Cultural Marxist progressives of today are stunning, considering Kipling wrote this tale about English Liberals and socialists 111 years ago!

Note the wax-moths beeline (no pun intended) for the younglings.  Having never seen even the bending of flowers in the breeze, these impressionable youngsters are already theorizing about the nature of the world and reality.  At that tender moment, the insidious outsider fills their heads with tales of her own morality, all the while laying her hungry eggs.

The sound bees are slow to act.  They’re tired and worn out, as the hive has grown large, and there are many bees to feed.  When the old Queen calls for a “swarm” to leave the hive, no one heeds her royal decree—why should they leave their comfortable lives?

There are two points here:  good people, especially when overworked, are slow to act (and, indeed, can get careless—the wax-moth slipped in when the Guard bee fusses at Melissa due to his frayed nerves from an overly long watch at the hive’s gate).  They are willing to give others the benefit of the doubt, and to ignore their own nagging gut instincts that something is amiss.

The other point is that good times and plenty made the bees soft and comfortable.  They are loathe to leave their comfort, and have come to believe that nothing bad could ever befall them.  Indeed, the wax-moth convinces the young bees that wax-moths never infiltrate beehives, and that such a notion is a fear-mongering myth.

The young bees come to resent and shirk off their work, preferring instead to theorize and hold rallies.  One young bee gives an impassioned, contradictory speech about the greatness of the hive, while also condemning the manufacturers of it.  Even as he contradicts  himself, the other bees—wanting to appear “in the know” and cool—cheer lustily.  He doesn’t even know what he’s said, but he enjoys the applause and the cheap accolades his fiery rhetoric brings.

The Oddities become an increasing burden on the hive, but the good, healthy bees continue to feed them.  I don’t think Kipling is making some point about unhealthy or deformed people here being a drain on society.  I think he’s employing the Oddities as metaphors for people with unhealthy or unnatural habits or worldviews, the people that project their derangement onto the world around them and expect a handout.  While it wasn’t an issue when he wrote this story in 1908, I couldn’t help but think of the various transgender and “alternative” weirdos that attempt to normalize their mental disorders, while expecting society to bend over backwards to accommodate them.

As for Kipling, it seems he’s using the Oddities as a stand-in for shirkers, Communists, and other forms of social leeches.  Their deformities are the result of the unhealthy hive and the twisted influence of the wax-moth infestation.  Similarly, the social justice thugs of the modern West are the result of Cultural Marxist infiltration—they are the bad fruit sprung from poisonous seeds.

Reading this short story was disturbing, but also a reminder that we must be ever vigilant to remain truly free.  That freedom only comes from discipline and order.  Further, good people must be willing to acknowledge that evil exists around them, and must be willing to confront it.

If we don’t, we’ll be the ones on the ash heap of history.