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  1. Paul Johnson on Marx
  2. Big Picture, Derbyshire Style
  3. Symmetry, Classicism and Eros Reredux
  4. Wrong Field Redux
  5. I Went Into the Wrong Field
  6. Colby Cosh
  7. Sigmund vs. Science
  8. Free Reads -- Dorment on Puvis
  9. Symmetry, Classicism and Eros Redux
  10. Tales of Sociobiology

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Friday, August 30, 2002

Paul Johnson on Marx
Michael I thought I'd share a little gem from Paul Johnson's incredibly useful and fun book, "Intellectuals" which takes a close look at what he terms "the moral and judgmental credentials of certain leading intellectuals to give advice to humanity on how to conduct its affairs." He tackles many of the illustrious of the past few centuries: Jean-Jacques Rousseau ("An Interesting Madman"), Shelley ("Or the Heartlessness of Ideas"), Tolstoy ("God's Elder Brother"), Bertolt Brecht ("Heart of Ice"), Jean-Paul Satre ("A Little Ball of Fur and Ink"), etc. Perhaps my favorite chapter concerns Marx. The following is a brief extract: [Marx] was totally and incorrigibly deskbound. Nothing on earth would get him out of the library and the study. His interest in poverty and exploitation went back to the autumn of 1842, when he was twenty-four and wrote a series of articles on the laws governing the right of local peasants to gather wood....But there is no evidence that Marx actually talked to the peasants and the landowners and looked at the conditions on the spot. Again, in 1844 he wrote for the financial weekly Vorwarts (Forward) an article on the plight of Silesian weavers. But he never went to Silesia, or, so far as we know, ever talked to a weaver of any description...Marx wrote about finance and industry all his life but he only knew two people connected with financial and industrial processes. One was his uncle in Holland, Lion Philips, a successful businessman who created what eventually became the vast Philips Electric Company [now Philips Electronics, with sales of EUR 32.3 billion in 2001.] Uncle Philip's views on the whole capitalist process would have been well-informed and interesting, had Marx troubled to explore them. But he only once consulted him, on a technical matter of high finance, and though he visited Philips four times, these concerned purely personal matters of family money. The other knowledgeable man was Engels himself. But Marx declined Engels's invitation to accompany him on a visit to a cotton mill, and so far as we know Marx never set foot in a mill, factory, mine or other industrial workplace in the whole of his life. The question this and other matters discussed in Johnson's book (which has, predictably, been criticised repeatedly by lefties as "mean-spirited" but not, as far as I know, on factual grounds) raises is one you have asked repeatedly: why wasn't any of this ever brought up by the professors at our Lousy Ivy University? It's not like this stuff was a secret, exactly--except from us students. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 30, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Big Picture, Derbyshire Style
Friedrich -- A wonderful passage in John Derbyshire's column in today's NRO, which can be read in full here. He's writing about being religious. It has always seemed obvious to me that this is not the real world. This is a world of shadows; the real world is somewhere else. I can remember knowing this even as a very small child, and responding intensely, as soon as I could read, to any expressions of it in print. (For example, in Lewis Carroll's Alice books, which are steeped in it.) I can even remember, around age seven or eight, I think, my surprise when I realized that there are people who don't know it. It is the fundamental religious insight, and so far as I can see it is temperamental and congenital: Some people know it, and some, including a lot of very honest and decent people, just don't. It might, of course, be an illusion; but then, as the Empiricist philosophers pointed out, so might anything. Do you read this thinking, "Yes, indeed"? I differ with Derbyshire on some details -- my sense is more one of inhabiting parallel worlds, and on multiple planes, for instance. But I do know what he's talking about, and I'm grateful that he's spelled it out so directly and unapologetically. Like him, I remember how apparent this seemed to me as a child -- these other dimensions were simply there, as freely available to me as my right hand. And, like him, I recall my amazement on discovering that some people had no sense of these other dimensions at all, or at least chose to ignore them. You learn to be guarded, of course. You learn to take care, though over time you also learn to recognize people who might understand what it is you'd like to talk about -- and who might have their own secrets they'd like to tell you about, too. (There's a sense of a code shared; these are people who are able to look under the daily surfaces and recognize each other.) Puberty seemed to muddy the waters somehow. Was it the hormones? The anxieties? Being overwhelmed by that teenage feeling that dismal life was crashing down on you? But I always knew I wanted my clean, direct access back. I've never been religious in the sense Derbyshire says he is, and the Presbyterianism of my youth never did much for me, even though there was a month or two when I gave being religious my (self-deluded) best shot. As a teen, I thought that studying science might give me back easy access to other dimensions. Then I hoped that languages and travel might. Then it was drugs, then sex, and finally art. As a younger adult, full of hormones and energy, I thought that connecting with "it" would be a matter of goosing myself up -- hauling myself up onto a superior, and super-energized, plane. (Along the way I've fallen for a lot of fads and fields --... posted by Michael at August 30, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Symmetry, Classicism and Eros Reredux
Michael There is no excellent beauty that has not some strangeness in the proportion. -- Francis Bacon Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 30, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Wrong Field Redux
Michael I recall having the same general feeling the first time I walked across the UCLA campus in springtime, with all the coeds running (and walking and lying) about... That is, "What an IDIOT I was to go to my Lousy Ivy College!" Not so cheerful about it, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 30, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

I Went Into the Wrong Field
Friedrich -- Some men had the sense to become professional photographers of "art nudes," one example here. What was I thinking when I took a job in the mainstream media instead? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 30, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Colby Cosh
Michael I must earnestly recommend to anyone who has a brain and a sense of humor that they stop everything else they’re doing and check out the writings of Colby Cosh which you can check out here. Mr. Cosh’s day job is as Senior Editor of The Report, Canada's independent conservative newsmagazine, but that can’t be nearly as much fun as his website. In a topic close to my heart as an entrepreneur, following is an excerpt from a fairly serious discussion of the excesses of Canadian taxation: By world standards, Canada is in fact good at facilitating the creation and survival of enormous private fortunes. It is not so good at encouraging people to make that step from a $40,000 income to a $60,000 one, or from $60,000 to $80,000. The experience of the typical Canadian working person is a slide backward that never seems to end. Work for a raise, or put in overtime, and you'll see about half of every extra dollar you've earned disappear. Assuming you can hold a job and go up the salary ladder in the first place, that is. As the Fraser Institute has pointed out, the average Canadian's tax bill increased $761 in the past year. Income taxes went down, but the gain was promptly swallowed by Canada Pension Plan contribution hikes. If you fly, there's a new "security" tax. If you drink or smoke, you're paying more tax than you did before: I'm paying $3 a pack more for cigarettes than I did at the start of 2002, but then, smoking makes me evil so I deserve to be broke. Medicare premiums are going up in the provinces that have them; but those that don't will have them soon, don't worry. These are the good times, mind. The pattern is that taxes more or less stagnate when there's no crisis, and go up when there is. They don't ever go down. I speak solely from the standpoint of one who works for a living. This, of course, is unforgivable selfishness in a Canadian. On a less ideological note, I can’t help but quote his observation on airline safety in Canada: My morning Post tells me the U.S. Transport Security Administration has abandoned the routine check-in questions in air terminals. "Did you pack your own luggage?" Naw, I let my friend do it--my friend Abdul, fresh out of university in Pakistan! He is, like, the goddamn packing master! I think it was his major! Canada is retaining the routine questions, which a ministry spokesman explained by saying "We're all pretty much bonobos with chromosome damage around here." I'm paraphrasing, of course. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 30, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Sigmund vs. Science
Friedrich -- A levelheaded science column by Sharon Begley in today's Wall Street Journal (not online) about the unconscious. Of course there's a lot of mental activity that's unconscious -- but none of it bears much resemblance to "the unconscious" as Freud imagined it. Some excerpts: This isn't Freud's unconscious, that maelstrom of primitive emotions and repressed memories. Instead, the unconscious being excavated by scientists processes data, sets goals, judges people, detects danger, formulates stereotypes and infers causes, all outside our conscious awareness... This sophisticated system operates under the radar of consciousness not because it has something to hide, as Freud argued, but for the sake of efficiency. We need to process so much information to survive that some of it has to occur unconsciously, much as a computer runs on machine language that no one wants to see on the monitor. It's a practical matter! I remember my amazement when I learned years ago that no scientific evidence whatsoever confirms Freud's version of the unconscious. What kind of baloney had been sold to us? Why had anyone accepted it? Why did anyone continue to stand for it? Much science in fact directly contradicts the Freudian model. Example: "repressed memories." Studies strongly suggest that the more awful an event, the less (not more) likely you are ever to forget it. (Why should this "discovery" strike anyone as a surprise?) Why are you resisting my theories? How did the Freudian version of mental and emotional life get as far as it did? I suppose it's like asking why Marxism got as far as it did, and maybe the answer is the same: they were all-enveloping replacements for traditional religion at a time when many were losing their religious faith. Freud and Marx both had a charismatic, prophetic fervor that came across in their visions and their writing -- they had a hypnotic effect, like cult leaders. You read them and you feel pumped. And they both offered redemptive goals that one could at least imagine achieving: Freud, to integrate one's personality; Marx, to overcome class divisions. Thank heavens: something to look forward to! A goal to pursue! My contribution to this discussion is to suggest that Freudianism and Marxism were attractive because they made life seem dramatic. They gave it a storyline (however ludicrous). They added color, fire and spectacle, and many people seem to want those in their lives. What a relief that both of these cults are losing their grip. (And how satisfying when science confirms one's own hunches!) Will academia ever catch on? Have you read Frederick Crews's attacks on Freud? Fantastically satisfying (and impressive) displays of intellectual carving-up. The expressions of outrage and wounded dignity (usually in the form of thunderous personal attacks) from Freudians that followed publication of Crews' essays and books only added to the deliciousness of it all. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 30, 2002 | perma-link | (2) comments

Thursday, August 29, 2002

Free Reads -- Dorment on Puvis
Friedrich -- Puvis de Chavannes made two paintings of John the Baptist being beheaded. Richard Dorment in the Telegraph compares them, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 29, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Symmetry, Classicism and Eros Redux
Michael Is it possible that you go for the more mature female? In 1971, when Susan George was in "Straw Dogs," she was 24 and you were approximately 17. I mean, she was a Woman, capital 'W' variety. No matter how hard I try to overcome it, I'd feel like a child molester having anything to do with a Christina Aguilera or her contemporaries. (I was just explaining that to Britney the other day--nothing personal, babe.) For me hot young things are 30-ish women pushing baby carriages. Yep, you want to find me, just check out the local Mommy & Me classes--I'm the one ogling the women in the back dressed in a raincoat. In the interests of full disclosure, I will point out that my extremely good looking wife can also be found at Mommy & Me classes. Which is not to argue with your observation that younger women can have a sort of shock effect, at least temporarily. I stumbled across some high explosive I'd never heard of called Charisma Carpenter the other day. I guess I don't get out enough, or something, to keep up with popular culture today. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 29, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tales of Sociobiology
Michael Two short tales of the left’s reactions to sociobiology. The first is set during my least-favorite decade, both personally and ideologically. On 15 February 1978, a young woman carefully poured a pitcher of ice water onto the head of Edward O. Wilson while he sat waiting to address an audience at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. A band of accomplices joined their pitcher-pouring confederate on stage to wave placards and chant, “Wilson, you’re all wet.”…. By his own account, he was utterly surprised to have achieved the kind of notoriety that evidently inspired his band of youthful appointments. But Wilson is also known as the “inventor” of sociobiology, having published a book of coffee table dimensions in 1975 entitled “Sociobiology: The New Synthesis.” In the interval between the book’s appearance and the AAAS meeting, a group of Wilson’s colleagues at Harvard University did some publishing of their own. Richard Lewontin, a leading geneticist, and Stephen Jay Gould, just beginning his own rise to fame and fortune as a writer on matters evolutionary, were among the authors of a manifesto printed in the New York Review of Books.… In their broadsheet, Lewontin, Gould and fellow co-signers declared that Wilson had produced a theory that could be used to justify the political status quo and existing social inequalities. Worse, according to them, sociobiology was founded on the same kind of pseudoscience that was used as a foundation “for the eugenics polices which led to the establishment of gas chambers in Nazi Germany.”… Although Wilson soon responded in print to these unnerving charges, the vehemence of the opposition to sociobiology and the personal nature of the initial attack and follow-ups colored the general view of Wilson and his apparent creation… As a result, to this day many persons, academics and nonacademics alike, have the sense that sociobiology may be slightly or substantially tainted, all the more so because Gould has continued over the years to cast aspersions on the discipline and its practitioners… In this he has found allies in various academic camps with some feminists and social scientists especially eager to dismiss sociobiology as misguided at best and socially pernicious at worst… Wilson’s postmortem of the affair is straightforward and plausible…The mid-1970s were years of intense political activity on campuses, much of it initiated by left-wing professors and their students who opposed the war in Vietnam. At Harvard University, the war and various other injustices came under fire from a number of scholars of the Marxist or semi-Marxist persuasion, including Wilson’s colleagues Lewontin and Gould. Lewontin and another colleague wrote at about this time, “As working scientists in the field of evolutionary genetics and ecology, we have been attempting with some success to guide own own research by a conscious application of Marxist philosophy…” Marxist philosophy is founded on the premise of the perfectability of human institutions through ideological prescription. Therefore, persons with Marxist views were particularly unreceptive to the notion that an evolved... posted by Friedrich at August 29, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Oakeshott for a Day
Friedrich -- Another sample of Michael Oakeshott. If I were a bigger fan, I'd have to walk around wearing an Oakeshott t-shirt. How deeply the rationalist disposition of mind has invaded our political thought and practice is illustrated by the extent to which traditions of behaviour have given place to ideologies, the extent to which the politics of destruction and creation have been substituted for the politics of repair, the consciously planned and deliberately executed being considered (for that reason) better than what has grown up and established itself unselfconsciously over a period of time. --"Rationalism in Politics" At our Lousy Ivy College Bookstore it was a snap finding books by Marx, Freud and their inheritors. But an Oakeshott title? The clerks would have been scratching their heads. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 29, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Symmetry, Classicism and Eros
Friedrich -- I've read, as who hasn't, news reports over the last few years about how evolutionary theorists have been thinking about beauty, about how beauty seems related to symmetry, and how both function (at the very least, I should think) as signs of reproductive health. Throw all that and a little del Sarto and Han into my muddled brain, and you've got me thinking, Hmm, classical art at its sexiest seems to be a matter of symmetry crossed with something just a little bit off. Why? Maybe symmetry represents design and conscious intention: Culture? Skill? Fantasy, desire, and the ideal? And maybe "something a little bit off" signifies "interest," "vitality," and "life." Put them together and you've got something that seems to fuse, in however unstable a mix, a hint of Ideal beauty together with its flawed incarnation in temporal life. And I'm musing a bit about today's gal performers. Have performers ever looked so gorgeous or been in such great shape? They seem physically perfect, walking fantasies -- yet they do almost nothing for my religio-erotic centers, at least once past the first attention-dazzling minute. Kapow! Then my interest is all burned up, and I'm on to the next blast. Cristina, Poppin' Out At You Recently I was looking at web sites devoted to actresses from the '60s and '70s (Anna Karina, Stephanie Beacham, Susan George, etc). Gorgeous gals, though not tweaked, implanted, buffed and Photoshopped to anything like the high polish of today's performers. Susan George, Inviting You In And I was enchanted, partly because that was the era that imprinted itself on my then-still-malleable brain. But the enchantment also had to do with the actresses's imperfections -- the overbite, the too-small butt, the little scar on the temple. They didn't exist as pure fantasy and thereby usurp my erotic imagination; and images of them don't jump out at you either. I find that these actresses (and images of them) stir the imagination while inviting me into the stuff of life: sorrow, beauty, transience, physicality. The result: I feel aroused, moved, touched, and exalted all at once. The sensation isn't of having my buttons pounded (and my soul hence flattened), but of being lured out of myself, there to contemplate the Larger Questions. Cute as the Britneys, Cristinas, Shakiras and Taras are -- and I'm a fan of kiddieporn pop -- they never move me. Too much symmetry? Do they move you? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 29, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Andrea del Sarto Reredux
Friedrich -- I've been leafing through my del Sarto book thanks to your urging. Classy! And classic. Fascinating how his pallette tends to be either muted or outright electric-stormy. He doesn't bother much with the range in between. I love del Sarto's shallow, sometimes indefinite shelf of space -- it makes the figures function like objects in a trompe l'oeil painting, defining their own space and world, as isolated in consciousness as on the canvas. Placement and organization, baby, not movement and dynamism! Also the care he takes with his compositions: chaste yet voluptuous. And stranger and eerier than you first think it's going to be, as classical art often is. Speaking of classic, have you ever seen the contempo painter Raymond Han's work? Very impressive, enjoyable, and sexual. His paintings have some similarities to del Sarto's -- the shallow shelf, the sense of organization, the khaki/mother-of-pearl color schemes, and the under-the-surface, somewhat freaky eroticism. Here are a couple of Han's still-lifes. I couldn't turn up examples of his paintings-with-people; in them, he arranges people and furniture as though they were still-lifes. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 29, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Paul Johnson Reredux
Michael You're quite right about the institutional similarities between the medieval monastic movement and Ivy League colleges. Irish Monks Modestly Saving Civilization I would say, however, that on the human level the professoriat comes off rather poorly in comparison with the monks. The monastic way of life emphasized humility, a quality not particularly in evidence among my professors. It also seemed to have relatively little room for ambitious careerism, in contrast to, say, the antics surrounding the move of Cornel West from Harvard to Princeton. I don't think there was a great deal of high-profile monastery-hopping by monks. The viciousness of faculty politics and the scramble for tenure may well have had analogs in the monasteries, but surely it could not have been as pervasive or as intense (no "up or out" for the monks, as far as I know). Cornel West Modestly Demanding Respect The monks, to the extent of their powers, also delivered the goods in terms of transmission of knowledge. The undergraduate instruction at most Ivy League institutions, in contrast, is fairly execrable. My professors seemed to regard teaching as little better than a necessary evil, and preparation for teaching as something best minimized. The assumption clearly was "You're bright boys and girls, just read the book and figure it out for yourself." Finally, the goal of the monastic exercise--the saving of souls--meant that the community was deeply interested in the welfare of each member. If a monastery wasn't a true community, I can't imagine what other institution could qualify. Ivy universities, to judge by our alma mater, are basically "prestige-maximizing" institutions with no interest at all the lives of their students or even in whether the "education" they claim to be delivering is really being absorbed. I felt far more of a sense of community in my first job, where my adulterous, hard-drinking, expense-account abusing boss had a genuine human interest in my welfare as well as my work product. More human interest, certainly, than I ever noticed at college, in which contact between the paid staff and the paying student body was highly ritualized and, as far as possible, minimized. As for what I was doing there, I was looking to join the wonderful world of ideas. What I found was a place in which ideas had been reduced to instrumentalities of a rather grim careerism. Pity. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 29, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Underclass? What Underclass?
Friedrich -- New, and apparently unpartisan, research shows that very few Brits remain in poverty for their whole lives. In other words, "the underclass" barely exists: here. Thomas Sowell once made the same point to me about poverty in America -- that very, very few people remain in poverty for all that long. Most people have a bad year or two or five, then pull their lives together and get on with it. The fact is that the percentage of Americans who are the real problem poor isn't the typically-cited 12ish percent, let alone 20ish percent. Instead, it's about 1-2%. Everybody else looks after themselves more than adequately. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 29, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Deadbeat Moms
Friedrich -- Research shows that women who lose custody of their kids in a divorce are even less likely than dads who lose custody to pony up child support, here. A sample: Census figures show only 57 percent of moms required to pay child support -- 385,000 women out of a total of 674,000 -- give up some or all of the money they owe. That leaves some 289,000 "deadbeat" mothers out there, a fact that has barely been reported in the media. That compares with 68 percent of dads who pay up, according to the figures. Thanks to View From the Right for spotting this. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 29, 2002 | perma-link | (4) comments

Paul Johnson Redux
Friedrich -- Paul Johnson's discussion of the roles monasteries and monks played in the medieval world has got me thinking about our Lousy Ivy College. One of the main functions of the monks and the monasteries was to transmit what was felt to be True Culture in a barbarian age -- faith, as well as the classical world's legacy, were felt to be imperilled things. So the monks lowered their heads and beavered away at copying, preserving, and then copying some more. They felt they were laboring in the shadows of the greats -- the earlier Christian age of miracles as well as the Classical world. What could they possibly have to add? So, instead of creating, they copied, collected, and collated, doing their humble best to keep the light alive. Friedrich and Michael circa 1974 Which makes me wonder: have we been wasting energy and bile being indignant at our Lousy Ivy College and our Lousy Ivy Professors? I think both of us are bitter that our education was of no help in getting us on our feet creatively. Maybe that's not what a Lousy Ivy Education is for. Maybe Lousy Ivy Colleges are the monasteries of today and the professors are the monks. The vision is similar: Culture is imperilled, and we labor in the shadows of the Greats. We serve; we pass the faith along. And the view of commercial society (America generally) as value-free (ie., barbarian) seems analogous. The goal of the process -- to get trainees to genuflect before the True Faith -- rings bells too. One of the main practical purposes of monasteries was to train a class of skillful and trustworthy administrators; one of the goals of a Lousy Ivy Education is to train a class of skillful and trustworthy managers. I find the parallels striking, and I find myself thinking: Maybe it's as pointless to get mad at the Ivies for not promoting active creativity as it would have been to get mad at a monastery for not helping us learn a trade. Which, alas, raises the question: what the hell were we doing there? Your thoughts? Michael... posted by Friedrich at August 29, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Michael I was leafing through the book review section of the L.A. Times last Sunday when I stumbled across “Thinking Hard, Listening Deeply,” a review of Theodor W. Adorno’s "Essays On Music." (Link here.) Being a musical ignoramus (I’m pretty much of the “I don’t know from music, but I know what I like” school), I am a sucker for books that will explain music to me, so I settled down to read the review. I was pretty quickly put in my place by the very first paragraph: Given that whole careers are devoted to elucidating the thought of Theodor W. Adorno, an interested neophyte reader might well approach his work with trepidation. The ideal reader of his essays on music would have a thorough knowledge of the classical repertoire since Bach and philosophy since Kant as well as Adorno's other work, which runs to 20 volumes in the German collected edition. This clued me in—I am, after all, an Ivy League graduate, and, I like to think, pretty quick on the uptake—that I’d better accept as Gospel everything that follows, because evidently no one other than (possibly) Adorno himself could be sufficiently intellectually prepared to criticize Adorno. Feeling out of my depth, I was just about to bail when the reviewer, Adam Kirsch (identified somewhat obscurely as the author of the book of poems "The Thousand Wells") threw me a lifeline: For even at his most abstract and theoretical, Adorno's writing is always oriented toward real life. Like Marx, he seeks to understand the world in order to change it. I was intrigued that someone in 2002 was still complimenting a writer by comparing him to Marx, given the last century’s experience with “Practical Marxism.” Perhaps foolishly, I decided to stick it out. I learned that Adorno, born in 1903, was “from one of those Jewish households that revered German culture” (are there any other kinds of Jewish families in the serious books the L.A. Times reviews?) He went on to study musical composition in Vienna, was a huge fan of the music of Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg. However, after eventually deciding to focus on philosophy, he joined up with the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, a group that undertook the “sophisticated application of Marxist thought to cultural and social practices.” (I hope you picked up on that “sophisticated” and didn’t think they were just sitting around making “Workers of the World Unite” posters with magic markers.) Unfortunately, timing is everything in life, and Adorno had the poor judgment to do all this right around the time Hitler came to power. Adorno and the Institute quickly skedaddled from Germany, Adorno heading for London and the Institute for Columbia University in New York. Adorno eventually also went to New York in 1938, and moved on to Los Angeles in 1941. Adorno’s arrival in Los Angeles, while probably not making the front page of the L.A. Times in those benighted days before it became a world class newspaper, certainly... posted by Friedrich at August 28, 2002 | perma-link | (4) comments

Stereotypes Redux
Friedrich -- In the last couple of weeks, here's some of what I've witnessed: *At my high-school reunion in Western New York, guys clustered with guys, and gals clustered with gals. The guys talked about sports; the gals talked about children. *In Greenwich Village, lots of black teens roamed about, showing off rapper gear and rapper swagger. *At the computer-repair store, there were two kids behind the counter. One was a geeky Jewish brainiac, the other a geeky Asian brainiac. *On Fifth Ave., a group of Asian teen boys walked by. They were holding calculus textbooks, and were talking to each other about test scores. I was working myself up to write a few wry paragraphs about stereotypes, largely on the theme of: "Don't they know?" And: "You mean, we aren't supposed to notice?" Tempered by a "Hey, I'm a stereotype too! We all are!" disclaimer, of course. And building to a "Stereotypes are inevitable and perfectly OK, even if potentially annoying. So let's roll with that, folks" conclusion. Then I ran across this sharp and amusing article by John Derbyshire, which is largely an appreciation of stereotypes and stereotyping, here. And now there's no need for me to say any more. Sample Derbyshire passage: Far from being a loathsome aberration that ought to be purged from our behavior, it turns out that stereotypes are essential life tools, are accurate much more often than not, and that we do not use them as much as, from cold practical considerations, we should. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 28, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Cynic's Sanctuary
Friedrich -- This site, Rick Bayan's "The Cynic's Sanctuary," is a well-done charmer, here. A Cynic's Hall of Fame, a Cynic's Dictionary, and much else. Here's his witty definition of a Cynic: An idealist whose rose-colored glasses have been removed, snapped in two and stomped into the ground, immediately improving his vision. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 28, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Paul Johnson
Friedrich -- What are you reading these days? I'm going through Paul Johnson's "History of Christianity." We're up to the 900s, more or less -- the Benedictines, the great medieval church estates and their impact on European wealth. I knew nothing about all this until the last couple of days. It's a robust (boy, can that man keep a narrative going), enlightening read, exactly what I was hoping for when I first cracked it open. I confess -- and this is the minor-est, silliest possible quibble -- that I'm not finding it as entertaining as his "History of the Jews." Did you? And I can't figure out why. I take these to be my options: 1) Being a Christian writing about Jews forced Johnson to leap up a level, and that additional perspective helped make the "Jews" book more striking. 2) Jews are more entertaining than Christians. Maybe being perpetual outsiders makes for more outsized personalities, a generally better, root-for-the-underdog yarn, and a clearer storyline. 3) Maybe it's me. Disputes over the meaning of the Trinity and Eucharist have always put me to sleep. 4) Maybe it's a matter of utility. For me "History of the Jews" was like a guidebook to living among them -- about 50% of NYC's white people are Jewish. I kept exclaiming, So that's why they're like that! Christians -- yawn, know 'em already. I guess there's also possibility 5) which is that "Christians" simply isn't as good as "Jews." But I don't think that's true. It's a staggering work, and a great read -- history as the interested amateur, at least this one, wants it. Have you read many of the other Johnson books? I'm semi-planning (if also expecting, knowing what happens to most of my plans, not to live up to this semi-plan) to finish up "History of Christianity," then take on "History of England," and then his "History of the U.S." What an educated boy I'll be! I don't know of another historian quite as accessible, useful, and entertaining as Johnson is. But I only recently seem to have developed much of an interest in history at all. Which writers of history do you recommend? I enjoyed an abridged Gibbon recently, but that's not the kind of swift modern historical reading I'm mostly in the mood for these days. Robert Darnton's terrif, but he writes about arty subjects, of which I often feel I've had more than my fill. I go through many of these books on audiotape -- easier on the eyes, and a good way to make use of walking and exercise time. Blackstone Audio, here, offers a wonderful selection of unabridged (and often classic) audiobooks. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 28, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Policy Break -- 9/11 Power Grabs
Dear Michael, As I'm sure you've noticed, the disaster of 9-11 has been repeatedly cited by left-wing editorial page writers as an object lesson in the value of "big government"--oddly, in my view, since despite the bravery of New York's firefighters and policemen, the entire event seems largely to have amounted to a colossal failure of all levels of government to provide security to U.S. citizens (including, but not limited to, the intelligence, law enforcement, immigration, military and airline regulation functions of state and federal government.) The following (from the Wall Street Journal) doesn't exactly make me change my mind: Federal aviation officials, increasingly worried that U.S. airlines won't install bulletproof cockpit doors on all their aircraft by April's deadline [19 months after 9-11!!!], are stepping up pressure on the industry...The budding controversy--with some large carriers complaining about FAA foot-dragging while commuter operators fret they are getting short shrift in the regulatory process--shows how tough it has turned out to be to carry out what was viewed as one of the most clear-cut security enhancements. The finger pointing also comes at a time when the Transportation Department faces escalating criticism on Capitol Hill and elsewhere for problems in hiring screeners and installing bomb-detection equipment at every airport. Bulletproof and impact-resistant materials for the doors were developed many years ago, and Boeing drew up preliminary designs years before September's hijackings. Shortly after Sept. 11, Congress and the Bush administration agreed to set aside almost $100 million to subsidize the work...The FAA's move comes after weeks of manuvering by carriers. In a letter to departing FAA Administrator Jane Garvey, the industry's top lobbyist, Carol Hallett, warned that without immediate FAA Design approvals, the "threat of service interruption grows ever more serious. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 28, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Times Arts Frownlines 4
Friedrich -- The Times shows its usual lighthearted, companionable touch with arts coverage today. The two headlines on the front page of the Arts section: *"The Information Age Processes a Tragedy" *"Music Rivalry and Revelry Both Serving Irish Culture" Inside, fans get to read "Singing About Frustration, Some Strain, No Self-Pity," and "A Midnight Rendezvous With bin Laden." The arts as a grim burden -- that'll draw in the crowds. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 28, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Scruton for a Day
Friedrich -- From an interview with my favorite prissy-and-stuffy, contemporary-Right philosopher, Roger Scruton: Our appreciation and understanding of works of art is in the first instance isolated from life -- that's the whole point of aesthetic experience, that it enables us to contemplate life from a position of solemn detachment. Works of art are not there to influence or guide our actions. They are there to be contemplated; but from the act of contemplation we gain a sense of what is meaningful. And this feeds our moral sense. The fact that there are bad people moved by works of art doesn't taint those works of art; you have to think of all the good people moved by them too. And maybe the only good thing about these bad people is that they were moved by those great works of art. The interview, which ran in The Philosopher's Magazine, isn't online. (The TPM site is a lot of fun to explore, here.) Voice of Reaction -- and I Mean That Admiringly I often don't agree with Scruton, but I always find it enjoyable to wrestle with his arguments and to watch his prose march by. He's a wonderful writer -- dismal, but sonorously dismal, like Elgar. There's plenty of other Scruton on the web. He gets off some good ones in an article for City Journal about art and kitsch, here. Salon ran a long q&a with him, here. Scruton's own website is here. Are there thinkers you're fond of similarly? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 27, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Still Life
Michael While I am crazy about Chardin and other French still life painters, I have also come to adore wild-and-crazy Flemish still lives with dramatic backgrounds and live animal (peacocks, dogs, etc.) studies. Some of them have amazing passages of drawing and very intriguing cool/warm color schemes. Not that it is of any significance, but I sometimes think the painters of the first half of the 17th century (Rubens, Van Dyke, Jordaens, Velasquez, Rembrandt, Halls, Caravaggio, et al) were so accomplished that it explains the relatively less vigorous state of painting in the 18th century--until Romanticism reinvented painting, it was suffering from a "been there, done that" mentality. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 27, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

If I Were an Editor 1
Friedrich -- If I were editing a mainstream news publication, I'd be running lots of coverage of immigration topics right now. The subject couldn't be more timely, what with anxiety about airplanes, Muslims, borders, Mexicans, etc. It's bizarre that the topic doesn't get covered regularly and widely all the time. Who, how many, on what basis? What kind of effect are they having on the country? Shouldn't such questions be openly and easily discussed? (If controlling the borders isn't one of the half-dozen main things a government should be responsible for, I don't know what is.) Making it next-to-impossible to discuss immigration rationally has been another victory for the Left's thought-police. Say, you don't think that political bias on the part of news people (along the lines of "thinking about, let alone raising the topic of, immigration"="being anti-immigrant"=racist) has had anything to do with the fact that immigration gets so little coverage, do you? But, heck, maybe it's just an innocent oversight; maybe journalists just aren't as smart, perceptive, and tuned-in as I am. If you're in a mood for some freewheeling, feisty thinking about immigration, I know of a couple of sites worth exploring. Are you man enough to wrestle with Steve Sailer, here? Let alone the Vdare crowd, here? Sorry to report that I waited too long to see "The Scarlet Diva." Its run lasted less than a week here in NYC. What's happened to the cult movie audience? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 27, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Rivette Redux
Michael Your Rivette posting got me remembering a hilarious article written by Phillip Pearlstein in "Art in America." Pearlstein had seen "La Belle Noiseuse" and found it rather sadly wanting as a description of the relationship between artists and models. He pointed out that, in his own large experience with models, artists who grabbed, pushed, or shoved around their models (as apparently happens in the film) would, at a minimum, get their faces slapped and/or have the model quit on the spot. Anything to Add? I think he also opined that Ms. Beart was too good looking to be a useful model; she, in taking up a pose, was completely aestheticised and thus left nothing particularly valuable for a painter to say (I believe Pearlstein felt the artist's final painting which is shown in the flick was less compelling than the footage of the model.) I don't know how to lay hands on this very witty article, but it was published in "Art in America" January 1992, and was titled "Modeling the Soul." ( This information had long since passed out of my leaky memory, and comes courtesy of an Emanuelle Beart fan page, here.) Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 27, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Dutton, Kalb
Friedrich -- An ear-and-mind-opening discussion of the pianist Glenn Gould by the editor of Arts and Letters Daily, Denis Dutton, here. Jim Kalb casts a skeptical eye on utopian enthusiasm for self-organization, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 27, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Monday, August 26, 2002

DVD Journal: "Va Savoir"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- Have you seen many of Jacques Rivette's movies? I haven't -- he's one of the bigger gaps in my movie knowledge-base. "Va Savoir," which I watched last night on DVD (the wife fell asleep about ten minutes into it and snoozed all the way through its 2.5 hours), was only my third. (And one was "La Belle Noiseuse" -- more a film for admirers of Emanuelle Beart fans than for Rivette buffs.) I haven't yet brought myself to face "Celine and Julie Go Boating," which some critics adore. I wonder if I ever will. Do you know Rivette's schtick? Slow, long-form illusion/reality, theater/cinema/reality games, done with what I suspect he wouldn't be displeased to hear called philosophical playfulness. And duller and more prosaic on the surface than you'd expect -- I assume we're supposed to be dazzled by the whirling thematic undercurrents. Lots of real-time scenes done in one shot; no music score; much concentration on the sound of doors creaking closed, footsteps crossing wooden floors, etc. You like what he does or you don't, I suppose -- and maybe, given that Rivette made "Va Savoir" when he was 73, that's OK by him. A feast for film buffs, who can amuse themselves interpreting the mindgames and tracing all the carefully-planted connections. But I haven't found his movies to have a lot of sparkle, and this one has a (to me) not-very-charmante main actress of the winsome-and-angular type the French occasionally produce -- think Audrey Hepburn meets Fanny Ardant. Autumnal, Serene and Giddy? All that said, the visuals were eye-gasm fabulous: blue-gray Paris light, alabaster stone, richly textured aquas and peaches on the interior walls, much backstage lusciousness, oily maroons and browns (the action moves back and forth between a theater and various libraries, with occasional stops in hotels, cafes and apartments). Many gorgeous fabrics -- Rivette's playing here with Italian theater (Pirandello, Goldoni), and has lots of expensive-looking harlequin-striped fabrics onscreen. European films can be wonderful to watch even while they're boring you to tears. I remember an Agnes Varda movie from maybe ten years ago -- dimwitted and uninvolving, but I loved the way it looked, moved, and felt. So simple yet so rich: lots of natural light, I assume, and (especially by comparison to American films, where the effort generally goes into making the image pop, and the actors pop out of their environments) no fear of darks, moods, recessiveness and shadows. In the photographic work (and, come to think of it, the sound work too) of some of these New Wave-era filmmakers, there's an underlying old-world calm crossed with a modern informality that's very pleasing. Daddy's Girl? Hoping to drag the wife (an amazingly good sport) this afternoon to see "The Scarlet Diva" -- Asia (daughter of Dario) Argento's NC-17 semi-autobiographical DV extravaganza. My heart's beating faster just typing those words. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 26, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

War on PBS
Friedrich -- Do you watch PBS? I haven't much in years. "Mystery" series, evenings at the Pops, fundraisers, "Three Tenors"-style concerts, solemn battle-oppression P.C. documentaries about atrocities, feel-good P.C. documentaries about ethnic groups -- who watches this stuff? And why should tax dollars go to paying for it? I choose an evening's PBS programming at random from this week's schedule: *Nightly Business *NewsHours with Jim Lehrer *Evening at Pops *A documentary, "Growing Up Global" *A documenary about four nuns raped in killed in El Salvador The boring worthiness of it all. Plus the always-nagging question: is any of this something that can't be gotten from commercial channels? Although, in fairness, I did enjoy PBS's recent Richard Brookhiser documentary about George Washington. (David Gergan interviews Brookhiser here.) And, in fairness too, I could be as easily rid of HBO -- an ongoing stream of all the dumb movies I'm happy to avoid -- as PBS. But HBO's part of my cable-modem package. Let's see: if we de-fund PBS now, no one would notice. What's your favored plan for upgrading the legal system? Sometime soon: I declare war -- in the name of the arts -- on the NEA. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 26, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Policy Break -- Legal System
Michael I think it's time for all well-intentioned people to declare war on the U.S. legal system. It is a corrupt system, by which I mean one in which personally good people routinely do bad things. It is also a system that is very good at enriching lawyers and very poor at serving any other constituency in society. Which is not to pin all the blame on lawyers. Heck, there's plenty more obloquy to heap on lazy, sloppy legislators, law school educators, power-mad judges and the excessively deferential American press and public. (Hasn't anyone but me noticed the increasingly undemocratic--indeed royal--role judges now play in American politics?) A challenge to those who believe in the system: let's try one case with conflicting ambiguities in front of multiple juries. To raise the stakes, let's act out the same script with different judges, lawyers, plaintiffs and defendants (actors chosen to be either sympathetic or cold, attractive or plain) If the system works, we should get the same outcome, right? Who's willing to stake money on it? Gee, why do you think I've never heard of such an experiment being performed? Talk about the power of an entrenched special interest! Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 26, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments