I know it sounds foolish, but I miss the good old days. Come on, people. They weren’t that long ago.

I’m talking about the good old days at the beginning of the Trump presidency, when Paul Moser would write various letters and articles for the Register – pieces that would not only excoriate Trump but also introduce various highbrow, super-intellectual topics on the opinion page, with a view toward showing how smart Paul and his fellow resistance heroes were. But that’s not the part I miss.

No. I miss the comebacks from Tom Riley, who systematically showed that, no matter what the highbrow topic was, he could engage it and demonstrate an understanding so easy and thorough that it was astounding.

It didn’t matter what subject was introduced – the Founding Fathers, Roman political history, Greek tragedy. Riley knew plenty about it and could effortlessly match Moser in familiarity with the topic and wit in treating it. The intention, clearly, was to show that conservatives could be just as literate as liberals, if not more so. It got to the point where, when Moser’s first letter appeared, you sat on the edge of your seat, waiting for Riley’s inevitable magisterial correction.

But even that wasn’t the best part. The best part was always Moser’s counter-counter-attack – in which he would complain that Riley was darkening counsel by showing off his brainpower. The irony was delicious. Moser was the one raising all these points of super-intelligent reflection.

He was the one exposing all who disagreed with him to ridicule with his own brand of impressive cerebral allusion. Riley just addressed the topics Moser raised. And Moser was the one who griped about the pedant quotient. Ha.

I don’t know what happened to those good old days. I’m guessing that Riley at last found the procedure monotonous. He always projected the image of a bespectacled whiz kid incinerating ants with a magnifying glass. He probably just got bored.

Today, moved by nostalgia and by Moser’s latest piece in the paper, I’m going to attempt, in my own small way, a re-creation of that glorious pattern.

In his letter abusing the evangelical community ("Evangelicals out of the closet—at last," July 2), Moser mocks evangelical Christians (predictably) for not being as super-smart as he is. He suggests an analogy in which he and his fellow progressive Democrats are mammals with a tremendous brain-to-body ratio, whereas evangelicals are literal birdbrains. That’s right. For disagreeing with Paul Moser, our nation’s foremost polymath, evangelical Christians are equated with the magpie.

Cool metaphor drawn from ornithology and animal behavior, Paul.

In reality, though, the Corvids – including ravens and crows, magpies and jays – are some of the smartest animals in nature. They are much smarter than most mammals with higher brain-to-body ratios. They give each other individual names, construct and remember multiple hidden food caches, and apparently are able to convey messages to each other about items not present to sight.

They operate at a level of abstraction that would make the head of the smartest dog spin like a roulette wheel. It is not at all clear that dolphins are smarter than Corvids. These marvelous products of God’s handiwork – or of Darwinian evolution, if you prefer – pass the intelligence test that separates the monkeys from the anthropoid apes. They actually look in mirrors and recognize themselves – or, in other words, they manifest self-consciousness.

Of course, everyone knows that the Corvids can imitate human speech, and that they were emblems of oracular wisdom in many ancient mythologies.

Rather than continue with his irrational prejudice against the gifted magpie, Moser should read Candace Savage’s wonderful book on the Corvids, titled “Bird Brains.” Related works include “Mind of the Raven,” by Bernd Heinrich, and “Gifts of the Crow,” by John Marzluff. All are available through the Link catalogue offered by the Napa County Library system.

I would never, of course, suggest that Moser read up on evangelical Christianity.

Don’t wallow in prejudice and ignorance, Paul. Inform yourself.

Until next time, I remain,

Hilary Genevieve 


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