A grammar of myopia

Taking the shortest possible historical view, David Brooks writes:

The Bob Corkers of the [Republican] party are leaving while the Roy Moores are ascending. Trump himself is unhindered while everyone else is frozen and scared. As a result, the Republican Party is becoming a party permanently associated with bigotry.

(“A Philosophical Assault on Trumpism,” New York Times print edition 3 October 2017, p. A27)

Mr. Brooks’s verb phrase “is becoming” is in the present progressive tense. But wouldn’t an accurate grammar of the past require the historical record to include, at the least, Richard Nixon, Strom Thurmond, Rush Limbaugh, and Lee Atwater and his Gadarene pigpen of Republican operatives? Shouldn’t Mr. Brook’s sentence therefore be in the present perfect: “The Republican Party has become a party permanently associated with bigotry”?

Or even with an intensifier — “The Republican Party has long since become a party permanently associated with bigotry”?

Nature morte: the view from the faculty lounge

David Brooks’s New York Times column for May 23, 2017 (print edition page A25) begins with a medley of David’s Greatest Hits, harmonized so beautifully that it brought back a beautiful memory. Reader, stroll with me down Fifth Avenue that summer day in 1996 as my wife and I find ourselves passing the Mother Store of Tiffany’s.

* * *

“I HAVE! to go in here!” cried my wife, and in we went. My wife looked at the jewels in the front of the store and I walked on back and looked at the watches. One in particular caught my eye: a gold watch with a brown leather strap, a little larger than most watches but plain and simple and not at all ostentatious. What it was, though, was beautifully proportioned: a really handsome accessory. The brand was one that, in those days, meant nothing to me: Patek Philippe. So I asked the clerk how much it was.

“Seventy-eight thousand five hundred,” replied the clerk.

And my wife and I left Tiffany’s and continued on down the avenue.

But every once in a while, even now, somebody or something reminds me of M. Philippe and the relationship I never established with his métier. Today, for instance, the somebody was Mr. Brooks and the something was his magnanimously inclusive word we, as in

We have a college educated elite that has found ingenious ways to make everybody else feel invisible, that has managed to transfer wealth upward to itself, that crashes the hammer of political correctness down on anybody who does not have faculty lounge views.

Thank you for that, Mr. Brooks. You’ve made me feel Tiffany-worthy at last. As a token of my gratitude, what you see below is small and not nearly adequate to express what I feel, but here anyway is an authentic view from within the faculty lounge. Think of it as an allegorical still life illustrating the sound old saying “Time is money.” The watch is the one I actually wear when I leave the lounge and go forth to propagate its unsound new views.

Can you make out the brand? Here’s a hint: it’s a brand that a lot of us professors wear. Here’s another hint: it contains the word time and a suffix meaning quondam.




Collective covenants, certified self-purifying

In his New York Times column for March 7, 2013, David Brooks reports that an upscale grocery store in Brooklyn is so very kosher that its dish sponges drain themselves to obviate the labor of wringing on the Sabbath. After touring this emporium of holiness under the guidance of a celebrity rabbi, Mr. Brooks walks back out the door and explains to his eagerly waiting readers:

Pomegranate [the store] looks like any island of upscale consumerism, but deep down it is based on a countercultural understanding of how life should work.

Those of us in secular America live in a culture that takes the supremacy of individual autonomy as a given. Life is a journey. You choose your own path. You can live in the city or the suburbs, be a Wiccan or a biker.

For the people who shop at Pomegranate, the collective covenant with God is the primary reality and obedience to the laws is the primary obligation. They go shopping like the rest of us, but their shopping is minutely governed by an external moral order.

The laws, in this view, make for a decent society. They give structure to everyday life. They infuse everyday acts with spiritual significance. They build community. They regulate desires. They moderate religious zeal, making religion an everyday practical reality.


One week later, the Forward reports that a dean at Yeshiva University has expressed his concern with the burgeoning sex-abuse scandal in the Orthodox community in this language.

[Rabbi Herschel Schachter, the dean,] went on to say that federal prisons are acceptable for Jewish convicts because they offer needed services, such as glatt kosher food.

But, he added, Jews must be more careful where state prisons — to which the majority of sex offenders are sent — are concerned.

Schachter told his audience that in state prisons “the warden in the prison can kill you. They can put you in a cell together with a shvartze, with a . . . black Muslim who wants to kill all the Jews.”

A spokesman for YU said: “As with all universities, our faculty members are afforded freedom of speech and expression. Not all statements made by faculty members are consistent with the views of the University.

“Any offensive or derogatory comments about any people or groups are inconsistent with the values or mission of Yeshiva University.”


The Yiddish word shvartze is to be translated as “nigger.”

Tell me again, Mr. Justice Scalia, that the Voting Rights Act is an anachronism. Tell me again, Mr. Brooks, about the decent moderation of spiritual commitments made in Kandahar or the Yearning for Zion Ranch or the vicinity of Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.

When sorrows come, they come not single spies

On October 10 I posted a note about The New York Times. On October 12, David Brooks, by far the deepest thinker of them all on the Times’s editorial page, opined for the ages:

[Republican vice presidential candidate Paul] Ryan was nurtured by the conservative policy apparatus, and he had a tendency Thursday night to talk about policy even when he was asked about character. I would not say he defined a personality as firmly as he might of . . .

Here’s a suggestion about your venture into the demotic, Mr. Brooks. One reason the conservative intellectual Rush Limbaugh enjoys a reputation even loftier than yours is that in addition to holding forth about politics, he holds forth about sports. So how about biting the Onion and applying for a position with GOOMF?