The Fleming Foundation Cultural Commentary


McGrath and Fleming, Part II

Tom, I, too, am stunned by the decline of literacy among the literate classes, which is far more disappointing to me than the general decline.  Kids growing up today don’t have the people in the profession–whether the media, academe, or writers–we had to learn from.  After a discussion about writing essays and grammar in one of my classes back in the 90s a couple of older students came up to me.  They were both women who had come back to school to earn teaching credentials and master’s degrees after rearing families.  They had grown up when English was properly taught...


Wednesday’s Child: Capram et circenses

For Christmas dinner we had ordered a roast baby goat, and consequently the teenage daughter of one of our invited guests regretted on the grounds that she is “a Vegan.”  When the animal, just shy of sixteen pounds in weight, arrived from the local fornaio, resplendent in a cloud of rosemary and a jubilation of potatoes, I must confess I felt a trifle abashed at the spectacle and glad that the girl would not be coming.  The serving platter took up the entire dinner table, with cutlery, plates and wine glasses huddling around its edges like poor relations, and the...


A Dialogue on the Decay of English, by Roger McGrath and Thomas Fleming

I received this message from Prof. McGrath in response to my columns on learning foreign languages. Tom: For what it’s worth, I took French in high school and Latin in college.  I think Latin teaches one a surprising amount about the English language or perhaps reminds one of all those things that we were supposed to learn in the 7th and 8th grade–when English teachers emphasized parts of speech, diagramming sentences, tense, mood, et al. During my years playing professor I noticed a slow but steady decline in the writing skills of the average student.  By my final days of teaching...


Should Students Read T.S. Eliot?

Dear Autodidact: Question for you. T. S Eliot is one of my favorite poets. ( I have read and re-read many of his poems) Most friends of mine aren’t as enthusiastic about him. I’ve often heard people say that he “killed poetry” with his “Modernist” style. This is also the view of a number of conservative professors I know (none is  a literary scholar, though) Do you think there’s any truth to this claim? I tend to read poetry for its meaning, not its style (so Eliot’s style doesn’t bother me much) A Catholic College Student Dear Catholic College Student,...


Direct Election: A Grave Threat to Republics

John Seiler has posted a sensible column on why the electoral college is not going to disappear in a puff of smoke.  He points out that one of the great compromises that made the Constitution possible is an electoral system that protects the interests of smaller states without eliminating all the advantage enjoyed by larger states.  There is, however, another aspect of the electoral college that is worth looking at:  the principle of indirect election.


Dems vs. the Electoral College

The best thing the new Democratic House can do is waste its time on things that aren’t going to happen. Such as pushing a Constitutional Amendment to abolish the Electoral College. Yes, they’re still miffed Hillary won the popular vote, but lost in the Electoral College. Even though, if the popular vote were decisive, Trump would have run a far different campaign concentrating on the large population centers and forgetting low-population states. Which is one reason why the EC never will be abolished. It takes a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress, then a three-fourths vote of the state...


Wednesday’s Child: Ritual Sounds

Well, gentle reader, the ball has dropped, “Auld Lang Syne” has been sung, corks have hit the ceiling and wishes have been made. “The year is no longer new,” as Pasternak said in a poem of nearly a century ago. “Another, newer, has been promised.” Nursing my morning head will take awhile, possibly all the way through Orthodox Christmas next week and until the Old Russian New Year on January 13.  As Robert Burns’ venerable text suggests, this is the time to reminisce rather than act, and memories, obedient to the call of the bagpipe, are now marching before my...


Sicilian Trog, Part II

This is the long-awaited Part II of my Agrigento Trog There is hardly a better place in Europe—not even Athens—were the differences between the ancient and the modern world can be felt so acutely.  20th century Agrigento is, at its best, a tribute to the greed and and contempt for humanity that have characterized modern governments that are the distilled essence of democratic man.  The local government is hopelessly inept at carrying out the most basic tasks—picking up trash, policing traffic, cracking down on organized crime.  And yet, good democratic socialists that they are, they have imposed new rules on...


The Yellow Vests Run Out of Gas

When asked to share my thoughts on the recent yellow vests protests, I initially demurred, stating that is was simply another case of the French being the French (about benefits) (about airbnb and/or uber) (about strikes in general).  The French also lack the resolve and ability to fix problems, as seen by the “we are not afraid” and “Je suis Charlie” sentiments now long since forgotten (thankfully).  But as I thought more on the matter, I realized that the Yellow Vests are simply a remake of an American film we’ve already seen (and forgotten): Occupy Wall Street. What Happened to Occupy? In September 2011, a...


How To Learn—and Not to Learn—a Foreign Language, Part III:  Grammar

“I’ve grammar and spelling for two And blood and behavior for twenty. In studying any new language, the two most basic elements are the proper pronunciation, meaning—and of course spelling—of words, in other words ‘vocabulary,’ and grammar.  In simple English, while the study of vocabulary focuses attention on individual words, grammar consists of the rules that determine the form (morphology) and function or structure (syntax) of words. The arbiters of Postmodern English have tried their best to eliminate prescriptive grammar—that is, the normative rules of language usage—from our speech, but few other European languages have been so thoroughly revolutionized.  The...