Ben A. Ben H. Doug Later
     
 
We can take comfort in the fact that getting to the top of the charts no longer implies the same financial rewards it once did, what with all the MP3-swapping going on. Having observed many different economies, I appreciate more than most the vital importance of strong property rights to economic development. I hope, then, that my tolerance -- even support -- for the wanton violation of "intellectual property" consisting of pop music does not arise merely from visceral abhorrence of the R. Kelly's of the world. Economic reasoning can, I think, show my views to be consistent. The economic purpose of protecting property is to create incentives to invest and produce. WIth respect to intellectual property, it is alleged that the copyright and patent allow authors and inventors to profit from their work and thereby encourages the production of more intellectual property. Let's think about popular music for a moment. It seems to me that one priapic thug rapper is largely indistinguishable from another. With filesharing having eviscerated the copyright, are we to believe that no one would record pop music? That there would not be *enough* pop music to go around? That potentially monumental talents of rock would instead pursue careers in law, accounting, window-washing, or something? How many times have we heard some limousine-coddled rock star tell a fawning interviewer that, "it's not about the money, it's about the music, man" ? Filesharing will put that sentiment to the test. The opposition (outside the record companies and artists themselves) has more to do with a lazy assumption that rock stars have some inherent right to accumulate insane wealth to blow on drugs, mansions, animal menageries, and the seduction of twelve year-olds than with any reasoned concern about property rights. But where is written that rock stars must be fabulously wealthy? [7/12/03 10:57]
 
 
I won’t even begin to describe, Ben, the ‘do not play’ list compiled for my own wedding. Some other time, perhaps, I’ll subject you both to my reactionary rant about the disappearance of romantic love from the Top 40. Speaking of which: noted R. Kelley is back atop the charts. Is there really nothing one can do to destroy one’s career anymore?

[7/11/03 17:42]
   
 
A fifty-story scrotum? To you that may be hackneyed, but I find myself intrigued.

You know, to combine your last two posts, I think a fifty-story scrotum could really spice up a wedding. For myself, I find most weddings tiresome. My July 4th weekend got swallowed whole by a cousin's nuptuals. There are maybe half a dozen people in the world whose weddings I'd feel some genuine desire to attend, because I feel sufficient kinship (by blood or long friendship) that what is meaningful to them will also be important to me. But for the most part, going to a wedding, dressing up, listening to some clergyman, enduring a loud cover band is a chore. As I think I've told you guys before, in place of sending out invitations to my wedding, I am going to send out dispensations. "Ben Heller is proud to excuse you from attending his wedding."

As I sat at this July 4th wedding, watching a bunch of older folks flail around to music in a pitiful White Man Shuffle, counting the minutes to when I could leave without giving offense, hoping that moment would come early enough for me to make the drive home that night rather than the next morning, it occurred to me how wildly inappropriate certain wedding band standards are for a wedding. I don't mean that they compel the guests to gyrate in foolish and embarassing ways -- they *all* do that -- but rather that lyrics make mock of the marriage vows. "She's A Freak" is a wedding band staple. Is this supposed to refer to the bride, swathed in virginal white? It strikes me as a pretty serious insult. As the groom, I'd feel honor bound to throw down the gauntlet before the insolent crooner who said such of my bride. "I Will Survive": best I can tell, the song is the defiant cry of an abused wife, more apposite to a divorce proceeding than a hymeneal feast. At this particular wedding, the band did a number, the precise name of which I do not know, which had as its refrain, "who's making love to your old lady while your out making love." The band helpfully instructed the celebrants in illustrative gestures. The idea here is to, what, remind the guests that a marriage is built on jealousy and mutual deception? Really, Iago couldn't have done any better.
[7/10/03 17:21]
 
   
The Giant Anime Scrotum

Ang Lee's Tiger/Dragon movie is one of my all-time favorites, so I was disappointed that the Hulk was mediocre. He steals from himself in several scenes, but the borrowing I object to most is the fate of Hulk's father, ripped out of every anime movie ever made (or at least every one seen by me). Anime movies are great, sure, but there always comes a point where the film-maker runs out of ideas for building up further tension between his incarnations of Good and Evil, and what happens is that the Evil one simply starts to build up literally: inflate into a giant writhing scrotum. It's weird, it's always the same fifty-story scrotum, ten minutes before the end of the movie. Maybe it started with Akira. But you see it in that "Spirited Away" movie too, I think. And now the Hulk. Come on, guys, it's an easy way out and it doesn't absolve you from your burden of showing us some real dramatic tension.
[7/10/03 03:07]
 
   
Just to steal one photo of Enja's wedding (from Jane Mount's gallery):



Probably I'd be less attuned to the bride's appearance if my own wedding weren't impending, but still. (Don't worry, Dao, I have great confidence that you can match this level of bridal babeliness.)
[7/9/03 12:43]
 
   
Calm before the storm

So before the philosophy starts flying, a
link to Enja's New York wedding pictures. No, not the new-age vocal noodler, but a good friend we met back at Concrete Media. Although she's always been pretty, I was unprepared for the full bridal effect. I hardly need to add the qualification that I'm no fashion nut ... in fact I think fashion is nuts, whenever you make it one of your life's overriding concerns. But I have great respect for people who can sense what looks good. Enja's sense is unerring (which is why we asked her to design our own wedding invitations). The pillbox hat is perfect.

We'd have been there, but there's only so much back-and-forth you can do now that the Concorde's shut down. [7/9/03 12:32]
 
     
 
I'm depraved on account of I'm deprived

The essays of which I spoke -- on Suicide and on the Immortality of the Soul --are
here. And I confess, re-reading them inclined me to temper the vehemence of my denunciation. The arguments are honest, though not, I think, compelling. And a remark I remembered evincing contempt for the mass of humanity "every clown that ever existed in Italy or Scythia" occurs in a context that makes my inference questionable. (From On the Immortality of the Soul)

NOTHING in this world is perpetual, every thing however seemingly firm is in continual flux and change, the world itself gives symptoms of frailty and dissolution. How contrary to analogy, therefore, to imagine that one single from, seemingly the frailest of any, and subject to the greatest disorders, is immortal and indissoluble? What daring theory is that! how lightly, not to say how rashly entertained! How to dispose of the infinite number of posthumous existences ought also to embarrass the religious theory. Every planet in every solar system we are at liberty to imagine peopled with intelligent mortal beings, at least we can fix on no other supposition. For these then a new universe must every generation be created beyond the bounds of the present universe, or one must have been created at first so prodigiously wise as to admit of this continual influx of beings. Ought such bold suppositions to be received by any philosophy, and that merely on there pretext of a bare possibility? When it is asked whether Agamemnon Thersites Hannibal, Varro, and every stupid clown that ever existed in Italy, Scythia, Bactria or Guinea, are now alive; can any man think, that a scrutiny of nature will furnish arguments strong enough to answer so strange a question in the affirmative? The want of argument without revelation sufficiently establishes the negative.

While I absolve this paragraph of my previous charge of contempt for humanity, it nicely encapsulates Hume's virtues and vices. First, it's elegant, conversational, and on point: how fair to chastise dogmatists for asserting the soul's immoratality on scant evidence. But in turn how blind Hume himself appears to the possibility of true rationalism, or anti-empricism. Candidates for objects not in perpetual flux and change are not hard to find in the history of philosophy -- the laws of logic, the number two, forms. And surely Hume knows that few defenders of the immortality of the souls have described it it as located in space and subject to degredation over time, or analogized it to a tree, the planet earth, or a stack of cord wood. This is charactersitic of Hume. He does not dwell on the strong points of rationalism, and for this reason his critique does not satisfy. [7/7/03 15:20]
   
 
Sure, count me in. I had to read pieces of the Treatise for an undergrad class, but my recollection is limited to the hazy impression that Ben A. denounces. Alas, I've been here all along (well, spent July 4th weekend at a wedding -- yes, a July 4th wedding -- which, while the concept strikes one as uncivilized, actually took place in the bosom of the 1st world, western Mass).

Slavoj Zizek, by the way, ran for president of Slovenia and lost. Considering how brazenly Slovene brokers have tried to rip us off (one guy swore up and down that charging us $15k for a $10mio money transfer was "standard international practice" -- we've never paid more that 15 dollars for a transfer of that size), it's a pity he didn't get to try out his philosophy on these particular bankers.
[7/7/03 13:40]
 
   
Fine then; I'll just read Hume on my own. I'm happy to read Fear and Trembling again. It came up in that Holbo guy's screed against Slavoj Zizek. I've downgraded my appraisal of his (and his wife's) blog to merely good. That screed, for example, is much much much longer than it needed to be.

I wholeheartedly endorse Kierkegaard as Someone Eminently Worth Reading. The only annoying thing about reading him is the Hegelian vocabulary that crops up. I've never been able to make head or tail of Hegel, and am inclined to agree with Russell that that Hegel's books are simply gibberish. What's especially evil about Hegel is that his influence became too great in Northern Europe for even his bitter opponents (like Kierkegaard) to escape: even if you disagreed with him, you had to use his vocabulary. (Maybe we should be lucky that Derrida, Foucault, and their like have not this influence. Their influence is total within a small neighborhood of academic departments, and close to zero outside of them.) Imagine the stature Kierkegaard would have -- imagine the power his books would have -- if he could somehow have just ignored the whole Hegel thing. As it is, the talk of "dialectics" and "infinite movements" dates him.

So I will start reading. Ben H., are you in? Are you, for that matter, in the first world, or out picking through steaming third-world trash-heaps for hidden arbitrages?

The reason I suggested Hume was that I flipped through a few pages of his Treatise last week, and was very caught up in his conversational, almost confessional, style. It always impresses me when philosophers drop the pose of omniscient knowers (think Spinoza), and instead convey the sense that they are racking their brains, in "real time", as you read them, to solve problems that are driving them nuts. Or rather it impresses me when they do this while displaying great intelligence and wit; anyone can moan about his thoughts failing to become clear. Hume is peerless at this kind of writing.

The reason I picked up the Treatise in the first place was to find the famous quote about backgammon. The book I am myself writing recounts my wrestling with a philosophical quandary, and I find myself every fifty pages or so feeling I should anticipate a reader's thought: "Why doesn't this guy just forget his all-consuming problem and go have a beer?" Hume, for his part, does go have a beer:

"I am confounded with all these [philosophically perplexing] questions, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, environed with the deepest darkness, and utterly deprived of the use of every member and faculty. Most fortunately it happens that, since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when, after three or four hours amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther."

[The website I copied this from reads "depraved" for "deprived" in the above paragraph. It radically alters the sense.]

What does this say about Hume's assessment of his own philosophy? Also, Ben A., what exactly are the damning late writings of Hume you were referring to?
[7/7/03 13:19]
 
     
 
Bandarlog Book Club

Yes. The value of a book club, I find, is to force close/disciplined reading. Thus, I'd argue for something along the lines Doug recommends. Unfortunately British empiricists, even witty ones like Hume, give me hives.* And I'm pretty Hobbes saturated. So let me counterpropose:

Pascal: Pensees.
Kierkegaard: Fear and Trembling
Plato: One of the less read meaty later dialogs (Laws, Sophist, Theateatus, Statesman)
Or instead, we could read the Body in Pain, Elaine Scarry's master work. The upside: it'd be fun! The downside: 400 pages. As it's been universally acclaimed, we can use it as a test of the unity of the (intellectual) virtues.

Sorry to rile you up Doug, but you have to read
this essay (and the response by Stephen Walt) to really appreciate her range. I should add that the pamphlet version of this essay is currently the #3 bestseller at Harvard Bookstore. File under "some stereotypes are true".


* As Doug knows, I have a fairly controversial view of Hume. Not of Hume's philosophy -- on which I basically agree with the anglo-american consensus and John Rawls -- but of his character. We all heard the same stories in Phil 101: St. David, the empiricist Santa Claus, the proof to conservative contempraries that an atheist/materialist can be kind, moral, and face death calmly. I believe that Hume's posthumously published essays reveal just the views we should expect from a 'sentimentalist': elitism, contempt for mankind, and a disregard for human uniqueness. If one does not base one's morals on reason, they will cease to be morals.
[7/3/03 10:48]
   
     
   
Bandarlog Book Club

What do you think? I was thinking Hume or Hobbes. Or Plato. Something canonical, anyway.
[7/3/03 05:33]
 
   
Movie recommendation: "Les Triplettes de Belleville", a charmingly warped alternate-past animation. Pokes surreal fun at France, America, bicycle racing, and the bizarre slowless with which Glenn Gould plays the C-minor prelude from Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier. [7/3/03 04:25]
 
   
I went back and looked at the mostly-philosophy blog that Ben A. linked to a while back. Hey, this guy is pretty good! If philosophy departments were even remotely like this, the academy wouldn't look half so appalling to me. [7/2/03 14:32]
 
   
Right, so, I'm back now, or actually have been back for a while but unable to get into the Bandarlog swing. I'll make an effort now, though.

To recap on the personal front, Ben A. and I and our conjointes were in the Pyrenees for a while, hiking and whatnot. I think I speak for all when I say I had a great time. It's a beautiful place to hike. I might give a slight edge to the Swiss Alps, but only if you can make yourself forget that all the landscaping was paid for by the blood money of African dictators, South American drug lords, and Arab murderers. (And U.S. tax evaders.)

The most memorable event of the trip may have been the game of "Ex Libris", which is a variant of the dictionary game (where players invent definitions of obscure words and try to guess the real one). Thanks for bringing it along, Ben. The goal here is to invent the first or last line of a non-famous book (usually by a famous author). What was remarkable was how closely the authors' real words cleaved to their stereotypes. The last line of the Hemingway book was something like "You never really understand anyone that loves you". The Walter Scott was self-consciously orotund. Etc. Maybe I shouldn't admit it (lest I be taken for a sherry-sipping Gilbert-and-Sullivan-listening git) but I found it all fairly hilarious.

And here's my take on the diversity-in-schools issue. You guys are right: a fig-leaf, a fraud. As someone pointed out: are Japanese kids miserably educated because they are taught in ethnically homogeneous classrooms? No. The argument that one's education is significantly improved by (the pixie-dust exuded by) racially dissimilar people is wrong.

Why oh why is it so hard for people to say the real reasons for policies? We have affirmative action so that blacks will be integrated into every walk of society. Not so much during the college years as afterwards: the mandarin-track lives Ben A. mentions start from the selective colleges, and unless you seed those colleges with black people, there will be too few of them farther down the line in judges' chambers, in doctors' offices, in front of university blackboards.

Some nefarious law of negotiation dynamics must be to blame when nobody will make the reasonable claim, the claim I myself think is true: affirmative action unfairly hurts more-qualified people in order to help less-qualified people, but the resulting integrated society is worth the cost. I seem to be the only supporters of affirmative action who will admit this. The others always seem to pretend that racial preferences have no cost at all, as if admitting this would weaken their debating position. Would it though? Might it not actually help their position, by making them seem less covert, sneaky, fraudulent?

I know I've made this argument to both of you, but I thought I'd state it here for the record. A classic case of it was the Jayson Blair scandal. Racial preference supporters like Bob Herbert at the Times said, "Oh no, this had nothing to do with affirmative action, Blair is just a bad apple and the fact that he is black is totally irrelevant." Bullshit! It's such obvious bullshit that it makes affirmative action opponents more opposed to it, more convinced that the quota kings and queens are frauds through and through. How much more effective it would be if people like Herbert said: "You know what? Blair got away with it partly because he's black and his mentors were hell-bent on promoting a talented black man. This is another one of the serious, painful costs of affirmative action. And still I think that its benefits outweigh its costs!"
[7/2/03 04:31]
 
     
 
Kicking the Can

Ben, you've captured the essential consequence of Gratz/Grutter: more suits, more foundation-supported studies, more op-eds, more fun!

I fear you are too kind, however, in describing the ‘Diversity’ argument as a fig leaf. Rather it embodies the persistent mendacity that makes affirmative action so problematic: the coverup, not the crime, produces most of the damage.

Affirmative action ought to be a minor feature of education. Most Americans do not apply to selective schools, for those who do, the effects are not transformative. Asian students screwed out of Harvard by affirmative action end up at Tufts (at worst), not the University of Rochester. Similarly, black applicants denied Berkeley by Prop 201 don't end up working in quarries, they end up at lesser UCs. How big a deal can this possibly be? Are the benefits of the UCLA imprimatur (or -- ha! ha! -- the UCLA education) so immensely greater than those of UC-Santa Cruz?

Those deeply invested in the prestige of academic institutions – credentialist and elitist university presidents, for example – believe that admission to a top tier school has this transformative power. And indeed, for various mandarin-track lives (like the law) they may well be right. But again, even if so, the effects shouldn’t be huge. A proportion of whites and asians get dumped one-two tiers of selectivity, while blacks and hispanics jump two or three. No careers are ruined, no fortunes made, and life proceeds as before.

But as we know, life does not go on as before. Affirmative action tends to result in a campus where preferentially admitted groups perform, on average, below the campus mean. This should not surprise anyone – we should be (and are) equally unsurprised when other groups given non-academic admission benefits (like athletes) perform below the campus mean. But affirmative action proponents have historically been loathe to admit this effect. Instead, a host of cover stories have emerged to account for the performance gap – institutional racism, the racism and irrelevance of the humanities as traditionally studied, the need for disciplines and departments focused on the study of American ethnic groups.

I believe these cover stories have in no small measure contributed to the degradation of the academic study of the humanities, and the poisoning of academic life in general. To take one example: virtually every selective college has a department of African-American studies. Much good work is done, to be sure, these departments, but really, Afro-Am this should not exist as a discipline. The history, literature, and sociology of American blacks are all fascinating, research worthy topics, and should be fine topics of study in the departments of history, literature, and sociology. The segregation of human experience and intellectual examination by ethnic interest group seems to me a terrible violation of the basic premise of liberal education. While this is but one example, I would argue that an indiret result of affirmative action has been the increasing racialization of every aspect of academic life, and I view this development as highly pernicious.

Alas, the courts’ decision will only continue the lies. Many honest proponents of affirmative action wish primarily to offset, or perhaps atone, for the injuries done to American blacks through slavery and Jim Crow. Instead, to comply with the law, they must to mouth the preposterous and offensive diversity rationale, wherein underrepresented minorities exude educationally essential pixie dust. Feh!
[6/27/03 09:49]
   
 
The only sure consequence of the Supreme Court's affirmative action decision yesterday is years and years of more lawsuits. The Justices kicked the can down the road. The Bakke precedent obviously offered insufficient guidance as to what is and is not permissible, else courts would not have been asked over and over again since to parse various race-conscious admissions standards. And what did O'Connor's opinion do? It basically ratified Bakke, couching standards in language at least as filled with resonant but empirically vague phrases as was Bakke.

The "diversity" argument is -- let's be honest -- an obvious fig leaf, and always has been. It's usefulness has been twofold: first, it means answers the question why affirmative action has become a permament feature of the educational landscape; and second, it is an assertion based on supposed pedadogical expert opinion, to which a court might reasonably defer (a court would not view educators' opinion about compensation for past society-wide discrimination as carrying any special weight). It is a measure of how muddled O'Connor's reasoning is that after spending pages enshrining the importance of "diversity," she drops a throwaway line that she hopes race-conscious admissions programs will disappear within, "twenty-five years."

The Court has done little to elucidate how much weight on "diversity" is too much weight. You can be sure that all sides will eagerly run to the courthouse steps at the first dispute over this question.
[6/24/03 06:32]
 
 
Hiatus

I suspect, Ben H, that you'll be sustaining the site alone for a few weeks as Doug and I depart for Illuminati headquarters. Yog Shoggoth!
[6/9/03 11:01]
   
 
Arabian Nights themed prom?

You know, it won't be that different from a regular prom; here, too, about half the attendees will have the beginnings of a mustache. [6/9/03 07:30]
 
 
Howell Raines resigns (according to Bloomberg ticker). "The [blank] set me up!" According to Raines, GWB is an idiot; but GWB, if you are to believe Raines, sucessfully perpetrated the manufacture of a fantastic story (WMD), while Raines got duped by one (Blair). [6/5/03 10:52]
 
 
Somerville defeats Cambridge!

Even though derided as a Harvard Barney throughout my youth in Davis Square, I rejoice whenever Somerville trounces the People’s Republic of Cambridge. And what could be sweeter than that the latest victory came on the MCAS high school graduation test? (Or as the NPR style guidelines have it: “the controversial, high-stakes MCAS test, which hurts minorities the most.”)

The Cambridge Chronicle reports that over 100 Ringe & Latin students will fail to graduate this year, despite seventeen thousand dollars in per-student-spending. Meanwhile, only six of Somerville High’s 368 seniors failed, and the bilingual and vocational student had a 100% pass rate.

And of course, there’s a moral. My sources inform me that Cambridge -- why does this not surprise me? -- assumed they’d be able to evade the requirement. Unfortunately, the legal and political challenges failed, and Cambridge was caught out. Somerville, meanwhile, operated under assumption that the law must be obeyed, not circumvented. They instituted a disciplined test prep program, and students did the rest.

Addendum: In the interests of honesty, I must admit the story isn’t simply “Cantabridgean arrogance betrays children”. Cambridge has churned through four principals in five years, and while demographics of the cities are superficially similar, Somerville has proportionally more immigrants, and less hard-core poverty. Still, far as I’m concerned, the headline is:
Somerville Beats Cambridge! Municipal Freedom Gives National Strength! Honorably Purchased From the Pawtuckets in 1639!
[6/4/03 17:17]
   
 
Kim for Hillenbrand is by any rational standard, larceny. Your misgivings, though, proceed from sentimental rather than rational grounds. One can't follow a baseball team without forming attachments (or dislikes) for players on the team. You may remember, Ben, my objection to the Wells-for-Clemens trade a few years back. Sentiment winning out over reason, sure. (But, hey, the great thing about being a Yankee fan is that in the end we don't have to choose -- we have them both now!)

At Thanksgiving this year, my family has as a guest a rather tiresome controversialist. One of his irritating sallies was against one of my family's expressed fandom of the Bombers, which, out of charity I ascribed to his tiresome-controversialist status rather than his Massachussetts address, suggestive of a possibly ulterior, Red-Sox-related motive. How can you root for a uniform, he asked -- not a particularly original provocation, one which recalls a Seinfeld bit about, "rooting for laundy." THe idea being that since a team is composed of its members, if the members switch around too much, one is left with an empty allegiance to some colors.

But what the heck is this little argument supposed to prove? The members of the U.S. Army change all the time, but I still root for it when it goes up against Iraq. Baseball teams are, on the field, made up of players, but a team's identity can comprehend a lot more. The meta-game of wheeling and dealing to put together the best team, the debates about wise and unwise trades, the what-ifs, are at least as much fun to follow as the on-field action. I believe this notwithstanding that as a Yankee fan it puts me in the uncomfortable position of cheering George Steinbrenner.

A franchise also takes in the sum of its own history. There is a Yankee traditiono of greatness; a Red Sox tradition of futility. Being a Yankee fan affirms, in a way, that one values the status quo, the rightness of natural aristocracy, equality of opportunity in preference to equality of outcomes, that the current international hegemon should stay on top. Being a Red Sox fan is all about appreciating the nobility of a lost cause, the beauty of the doctrine of original sin, the eternal triumph of hope over experience, sympathy for rebels over the regime, the overthrow of established order.

And even if one accepts the proposition that fandom is essentially arbitrary under today's conditions of high player mobility, it is still a useful and logical attachment. One cannot follow closely 20 or even 10 teams. To really enjoy the baseball season, to truly understand the meta-game and on-field game, one has to pick a team to observe in detail. It is only logical to pick the one which plays its games closest to home, so you can attend a few games at your convenience, which is covered best in your local paper and on local TV and radio.

Of course, I know that to grant a tiresome controversialist a rejoinder is like feeding a stray cat to stop his howling. In the long run, it doesn't work. So thank you, Ben A., for giving me a chance to vent it finally!
[6/1/03 18:42]
 
 
On Being a Modern Baseball Fan

How am I supposed to feel about recent trade of Shea Hillenbrand for Byung-Hyun Kim? Oh it helps the team, I can see that. Kim has been marvelous over the last two years, providing 80 innings in relief and more than a strike-out an inning. He immediately becomes the weapon of choice in the bullpen, and it would not surprise me in the least if he evolved into a ace number two starter.

Still Shea was our guy, elevated straight from AA in 2001 and riding a hot streak all the way to a starting job. I liked him, but he was never an elite player. He didn’t walk enough, and didn’t generate enough power to carry his low on-base percentage. But he was fun to watch, a solid fielder and a hacker at the plate, able to slap preposterous pitches for hard singles. He also seemed lucky. Ever since his improbable leap from AA to the bigs, all the stars aligned for him. In his first year, he maintained a starting spot with an awesome collection of infield singles and texas-leaguers before tailing off in the second half. He then played another hot start into an All-Star appearance last year. This, despite never hitting 20 home runs, slugging .480 or hitting .300.

So I suppose I’m glad the Sox made this deal; it may even be viewed as a steal two years hence (and certainly, given the salary disparities you know the Sox believe they got the abler player). But one’s doesn’t follow a team for the colors on the uniform. I know the new model is to lock down a core of stars (in Boston’s case, Garciaparra, Ramirez, and Martinez) and then fill in the gaps where you can. Supporting players, even above average ones, aren’t around for the long haul. So it’s foolish, I know, to become attached to players like Hillenbrand, who aren’t stars, and won’t be protected. When the season ends Rey Sanchez, Brian Daubach, Troy O’Leary, Ugeth Urbina and Lou Merloni will be joined by another list of Red Sox short timers. And I’ll need to acquire a few new loyalties.
[5/30/03 09:06]
   
 
Lakers ousted, Administration vindicated

Foes of the Lakers have often alleged that they receive nefarious advantages. Down 3-2 in a series, and lo!, the concept of offensive foul loses its meaning as Shaq scores 40 on 24 attempts. And then Jimmie “Mouth of the South” Hart distracts Dick Bavetta while Kobe Bryant clocks Peja Stoyakavich with the championship belt. Or at least, so the story goes.

The conspiracy theory took a hit this year, as MVP and class act Tim Duncan shelved LA in six. Perhaps this particular paranoia is down for the count. And a good thing too, I say. Cheap “the fix is in” cynicism supports the sour, enervating quietism afflicting our political culture. (Important echo: Ralph Nader, that premier peddler of Republicrat bullshit, requested the NBA review game six of the 2001 Kings/Lakers series. How I dislike that man!)

Where is this going? Well, I believe and hope we are seeing the death of another conspiracy theory right now, in Iraq. In the run-up to war, many reasonable acquaintances confided to me their conviction that if WMD proved absent in Iraq, coalition forces would plant them. Obviously, this has not happened. The noble lie is, above all, a big lie, a lie from day one. If the neocon cabal truly were running the vulgar Straussian playbook, Saddam’s palaces would have yielded plentiful anthrax vials to go with the gold-plated AK-47s.

This did not happen. Instead, the lack of WMD has embarrassed the administration, and supporters of the war on Iraq (like me). No elder of Zion would be so careless!

So, in the ceaseless quest for silver linings that characterizes this blog, let me offer the following. There is no conspiracy, an ultra-competent and amoral cabal does not govern the country. (Open possibilities: moral and incompetent, moral and competent, or amoral and incompetent.)
[5/29/03 14:13]
   
 
Best Spam Mail Title I've Seen

American Women are difficult. Russian brides are better.

[5/28/03 15:10]
   
 
Sorry Doug, I meant this here.

Just saw X-men again. Better than any movie I've seen recently not directed by Wes Anderson.

[5/26/03 12:39]
   
     
   
In New York, and planning to see all my friends here except I can't find Dave G's email (my addresses stored at my old ergodic.org account went poof) -- Dave G, if you happen to read this, please e-mail doug at this domain.

Hey Ben A -- thanks for the spelling suggestions. I'm mulling them over. Also, what particular writing by the guy at the "curio" link did you want us to see? The link went to the homepage.
[5/25/03 17:18]
 
     
 
Sunken Treasures of the Bloggosphere

Linked: a nifty
curio, which provides as elegant a statment on Kant (and in passing, Chris Korsgaard) as one could hope to find.



[5/23/03 13:44]
   
 
The Perilous Gourmet

A friend of mine living in China blamed SARS on "those guys from Guangdong province...they'll eat anything." He appears to have been
on to something.

* * *

Doug, shouldn't "Thin Mint" be mispelled in some way? Thin Minnt? Thin Myntt? Thyn Myntz? [5/23/03 10:00]
   
     
   
Best syllable ever

... "Beh-", as sung in a jazz arrangement of "Bésame Mucho" by a woman whose name I have not tracked down yet.

Okay, "Bésame Mucho" is a hackneyed song. It even seems to be positioning itself to challenge the dominance of "Those Were the Days" in the Paris metro accordionists' three-song repertoire. But the jazz arrangement of it that I heard in a cafe the other day was very cool. Now I'm no connoisseur of jazz music. In fact that probably gives me away right there -- I think you're supposed to appreciate "jazz", not "jazz music", the latter being akin to "cheese food" and being used to drown out the drill noise in dentists' offices. Yet I think I still have the general musical ability to distinguish between cool and lame, between inspiration and hackwork, between having and not having that swing. I'm thus pretty confident when I say that this arrangement was sophisticated -- interesting chromatic harmonies, even some rejiggerings of the basic melody -- and that the singer was damn good. Even I, who am usually indifferent to particular singers except when I dislike them (Sinead O'Connor, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau), could recognize real lusciousness in her voice.

But nothing prepared me for that "Beh-". It came out of nowhere, a note from a scale five or six keys removed from the surrounding music, utterly wrong -- and at the same time utterly right. How could this woman dare to sing the opening word of such a well-known refrain on such an inappropriate note? The word means "kiss me", of course -- and you can hear in her voice both knowledge that this kiss would be terribly wrong, and unwavering determination to have it. I know the last thing people reading this want to know is the details of my romantic life, but I can't help thinking back to an inappropriate kiss at the very start of my courtship of Dao. Being unsuave, I'm sure I looked away too soon, conveyed too little conviction, generally gave a mediocre performance. The best I can say is that Dao seems to have liked me anyway in the end.

But this woman's "Beh", my friends -- this is how you take an inappropriate kiss. Correctly singing a note that leaps out of the melody or comes out of harmonic context is called "nailing" that note. Does she "nail" this note? Nail, hell -- she skewers it, with steel left over to make a kabob of a hundred men's hearts. She hits it exactly at full volume, without the tiniest hint of vibrato, apoggiatura, tremolo. And she holds this totally wrong note for beat after beat against a foreign harmony. She will not waver one millihertz in her demand for this kiss, this ultima vez. The entire world will just have to collapse and rebuild itself around her note.

Maybe I'll try to find out who the singer is.

Second best name for a professional doomsaying scold

Cassandra Welch, director of field advocacy for the American Lung Association, recently in the news lauding a global anti-smoking treaty. (The best name for a professional doomsaying scold, pointed out by Ben A., remains Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, Amnesty International spokesperson.)

Best name I've come up with for my own hip-hop persona

Thin Mint.
[5/22/03 08:48]
 
 
My brother until fairly recently lived around the corner from Veselka and he always described it as a Ukrainian greasy spoon. [5/20/03 06:09]
 
 
This fear is real. [5/19/03 18:40]
   
 
Many intriguing echos await the Straussian Neocon who viists Lithuania. In addition to uncovering the Kugelis/Kugel identity, I learned that the tune of "eight days of hanukah" is taken from a Lithuanian folk song. The food was something else. I would be delighted to post a picture of the potato "Zepplin" if Doug can instruct me.

Small world watch: Veselka was a hang-out of Deb and mine as well, but we never saw it before it was hipped out with pseudo-socialist/realist art.
[5/19/03 15:44]
   
 
Maureen Dowd has achieved second-order hackery. Not only are her own pieces thoroughly banal, but the nature and extent of their banality is so regular and well-established that even satire of her work will itself turn out banal. Since she writes about the execrable Matrix movie, I'll briefly note my own "brain-in-the-vat" speculation. Maureen Down is nothing more than a brain-in-a-vat hooked up to Direct TV. Can you find anything in her work to prove me wrong?

Ben A., as a fellow MOT, did you share my surprise at "kugelis?" Sure sounds a lot like what my grandmother would call "kugel," a digusting, rubbery potato-based construction material that people in some remote era of severe famine must have in desperation adopted as food. I suppose the commality should not come as a complete surprise, since Vilnius was long a center of Eastern European Jewish culture. Religion may be a powerful force, but not as strong as nasty potato-slop.
[5/18/03 16:20]
 
   
Tonight we made borscht, or at least some kind of Slavic soup of meat and beets and cabbage with dill and sour cream on top. The rainy coldish weather today made it even more wonderful. For me this is a comfort food that surpasses all others. I know that the most effective comfort foods always somehow link back to what your mom used to make for you. My childhood link with borscht is pretty tenuous -- if there's any Proustian trigger it's the dill, which my maternal grandmother used to grow in her backyard and serve with almost everything. Used to let grow, more accurately: by all accounts she is the genetic source of my own laziness. We didn't eat at my grandparents' table too often, and I wasn't particularly close to them -- this is the Lithuanian side of my family, and their weird accents and old-world ways were sort of forbidding for a white-bread midwest kid like me. As usual in such cases, the kid didn't realize how much he had in common with the old relatives (even more than laziness, it turns out) until it was too late. Anyway dill evokes a lot of memories of my grandparents' house for me.

I do not, however, retain fond memories of any Baltic soul food. And I kick myself for not warning you about this before your trip to Vilnius, Ben A. Wonderful as Lithuanians are, however much admiration I have for them, they do have a second flaw beyond their never-quite-eradicated anti-semitism, and that is their food. Hopefully you stuck to McDonalds when you were there. I remember a Pynchon passage about a kid who lives in terror, in horror, of his mother's "kreplach" (for some reason somebody taped xeroxes of this passage on our dorm entryway) and my sister Clare and I felt pretty much the same way about our grandmother's "kugelis". We called it "edible potato rubber". In retrospect I'm confused about our choice of the word "edible". This stuff was straight-up nasty. Dao has a theory that every food-aversion one might have is due to one's not having had that food prepared "right", usually because of one's upbringing in the midwest, the Sahara of the table arts. (I still don't know if Clare has recovered from Dao's attempt to apply this theory to her and sushi.) Anyway Dao's theory cannot be right about kugelis. Although I never saw my grandmother make it, the recipe was easy to reverse-engineer: put six potatoes in a blender with a pair of sneaker soles, bake the resulting puree in a pan with pig-fat, serve warm. How do you make such a dish "right", Dao?


Yet if Lithuanian food is nasty, Russian/Slavic food somehow tastes absolutely right to me, and this can't be due to any childhood memories. We went to this Polish restaurant the other night with our Polish friend and her fiancé. Pierogies, cabbage soup, simple meatballs, potatoes, kasha -- it had an elemental perfection that would make every other cuisine seem artificial and overwrought. (Of course if you ate it every day you'd be as chubby as ... the woman who waited on us.) I regret now not checking out the Polish restaurants in Jersey City when I lived there. (My friends Walt and Susan, who lived right in the Polish neighborhood there, report that it's getting homogenized now.) When I moved to Manhattan we'd sometimes eat at Vaselka (sp?), the Ukrainian restaurant around 1st Ave and 9th St. (guessing), but the last time I was in the neighborhood the interior seemed to have become hipsterized. This is not only shameful but dangerous: if a pierogi is served with a cosmopolitan, the opposing matter might disintegrate in a burst of gamma rays.
[5/18/03 16:04]
 
   
A useful exercise I hope to undertake soon: correcting the misperceptions in this attack on Buddhism published by Slate. (I've become a fan of Slate -- where else would you find a concise well-written vilification of a particular religion? Salon maybe, but you'd have to pay.) [5/18/03 04:01]
 
     
 
Honetly Doug, I thought you were cheap-shoting (a verb?) Bush and co for an unchristian activism. I should have known better. Accept my apologies.

I do think, however, that the fear of death, in all its stomach-clenching sympathetic-nerved glory, is an overrated source of rashness. Were I trusted with the lives of others -- and thank heaven, I am not -- I can easily imagine that burden overwhleming my coolness of nerve. Our most noble aims can betray our judgment as much as fear can.


* * *

Jeepers, Doug! I almost shreaked with horror whan I saw the word "matrix" on the site. I haven't seen it, I must keep my mind absolutely pure!
[5/17/03 20:39]
   
     
   
We have to stop Maureen Dowd from writing for the New York Times. Right now. [5/17/03 20:12]
 
   
More Semi-Serious Theology

I am partly responsible for the confused start to our theological debate. Let me try to make amends. I made two main claims, one serious, the other a throwaway attack on the GOP. I'll talk mainly about the serious one here.

My serious claim is: the appropriate way to deal with fear is to become a Buddhist. Ben H., you point out correctly that "fear" means a variety of things. So let me distinguish, as I should have distinguished before, between "fear" and "concern". A concern is a datum that you plug into your everyday decision calculi. A fear is something that overrides your everyday decision calculi. As I'm using the terms, then, fears are pretty much irrational by definition. So I'm forced to emend your statement "The fear of Arab terrorism is a rational fear" into "Concern about Arab terrorism is a rational concern". And I do agree with that statement. We are right to be concerned about, and act against, Arab terrorism.

What I object to is Americans' tendency to react to Arab murderers with fear -- by which I mean panic, terror, the fight-or-flight instinct. Panic leads to unwise decisions. Forget specific cases for now, since we disagree about the wisdom of so many recent "current events". Let's just agree, if we can, that people and nations are more likely to act wisely when they are not panicked. The U.S. will be better off if it assesses Arab terrorists coolly, and the French will be better off if they assess the prospect of a 10% less generous pension coolly. This is, as Ben A. said, more a practical than a theological issue.

Now is fear as I've defined it ever appropriate? If it's ever appropriate, it's appropriate in the face of an immediate mortal threat. But a sharp line would be hard to draw here. You could argue that there are immediate mortal threats around us all the time. E.g. I was standing at a museum balcony the other day, looking at a mural, when it occurred to me that any of the dozen French art-lovers behind me could easily push me over into the museum's atrium. (Another example that comes to mind is from the Italian movie "The Son's Room", where, after the son dies in an accident, there's a clever and poignant montage of the other family members in banal daily brushes with death that you'd never notice out of context.) So sanctioning a "fear of imminent death" might end up sanctioning a chronic, crippling, morbid terror. Plenty of people actually have this terror. It can't be completely irrational, since you will die eventually!

It's with this fear of death that we get into the theological. Buddhism and Christianity both help you overcome this fear by claiming that your death really isn't your death. They flesh out this claim in vastly different ways. Basically, Buddhism denies the "your" part of "your death" -- it denies that the world ever divided into individual beings like "you" to begin with -- whereas Christianity denies the "death" part, claiming that you just move on to eternal life. (Maybe someday I'll go into why I find the Buddhist line more compelling, but not now.)

This is why I say that no good Christian or Buddhist can whip up fear of death in good conscience. To whip up fear of death would be to deny core tenets of both religions. If the Bush team whips up fear of death, they're not good Christians. (See below, however, for a link to (what seems like) a very balanced view of religion's role in the White House.)

Concern about suffering and death is another matter. You (Ben A.) were correct in your suspicion that you were describing a "pidgin" Buddhism, when you said that it counseled passivity, and that it treated worldly suffering as illusory. Buddhism is, if anything, even more multiform than Christianity, and it does have its quietists, and its illusory-world-ists. But an attitude much closer to the heart of Buddhism is that this world is the only real one (though our common ways of thinking about it misrepresent it), that suffering in this world is all too real (cf. the first noble truth), that overcoming suffering in this world is a noble goal (maybe the highest goal), that you cannot overcome your own suffering without tending to others', since interdependence is the nature of the world. You won't too many Theravadans or Mahayanans who disagree with this attitude. And obviously it not only permits, but compels, concern about suffering and death.

What I personally am drawn toward in Buddhism is not its "passive attitude to the world's evils". For a start it has no such attitude (in its major forms) so I cannot be drawn to it. Moreover I do not advocate passivity toward the evils you may have had in mind -- I'm guessing Arab bad guys, since they figure so frequently in our discussions here. I think we should be extremely active in helping to improve those parts of Arab society that are not utterly rotten, and I think we should likewise be extremely active in excising those parts that are utterly rotten. And not just Al Qaeda, Saddam too -- I agreed that Saddam had to be removed, just not in the jaw-droppingly dumb way that the U.S. went about it diplomatically. Lastly, it's worth noting that the practical and theological aspects of Buddhism are hard to separate, and you often hear people say that Buddhism is more a philosophy than a religion. The fact that we disagree on Mideast policy, say, may be largely attributable to my "Buddhist attitude" towards it, but this attitude is as much practical as theological. It's not because the Buddha issued a particular commandment about world government, or because of some ontological peculiarities of boddhisattvas, that I object to our giving the U.N. the finger. No, I object because it will lead to more suffering, not less. Like you said, a practical judgment. If it's also a Buddhist judgment, it's only because Buddhism encourages you to calm down, to look at the world clearly, to take a catholic rather than parochial view -- when you do that, you will see the interconnected nature of the world.

Here's an interesting look at "God and George W. Bush", from the New York Times.

Ben A., I'd love to discuss Manichaeism too (I know it's one of your favorite topics) but it's too late for me to start now.

[5/17/03 19:41]
 
   
Matrix rundown.


  • Induces headaches.

  • Fights spectacular, but not like the first movie's, where the slo-mo was much more than a gimmick (Neo was showing his growing mastery of the matrix by slowing it down).

  • First movie in which the humans try to stave off alien attack by holding funky all-night disco orgy (although this could be an established sub-genre of the gay cinema for all I know).

  • Look for an apparent cameo by Cornel West at the Zion council table.

  • Suffers Darth Maul Syndrome -- each bad guy has a "look" but no real personality. (Honorable exception: the French guy.)

  • Like X-Men 2, benefits from Second-Installment-Mitigation-of-Preposterousness (SIMP) Syndrome -- however stupid its premise may be, it's hard to scoff at a franchise that's already made half a billion bucks.

  • Effectively drives home "free-will-is-an-illusion" theme halfway through, when you realize you've somehow been made to pay ten dollars to see Keanu Reeves in a dress.


[5/17/03 16:21]
 
   
Le Monde Tit Watch: Some relief in sight. For a fifth straight day, Emmanuelle Béart's nude Elle cover has been reproduced on the front page of Le Monde, above the fold, and today it's not as shrunken as yesterday. Could signal progress in labor dispute.

[5/16/03 10:56]
 
   
Warning! Plantu has drawn Emmanuelle Béart's nipple on Le Monde's front page for a fourth straight day but it's much shrunken ... this can only mean that the labor dispute, the main theme of the cartoons, has become very serious ... [5/16/03 05:26]
 
   
Long culture interlude before resuming religious wars

We subscribe to the New Yorker. I like to call it our only luxury, although I have some ascetic friends who could probably name others. Anyway one of the great things about the New Yorker is its critics. Anthony Lane kills me with his movie reviews, and he's usually right on the overall thumbs-up/thumbs-down gist. And the theater reviews always make me want to see the plays, even if, when I stop to think about it, the plays that I've enjoyed seeing have been pretty rare. I've also noticed since 9/11 that the New Yorker's reviews have been especially upbeat -- in some issues, almost uniformly upbeat. I would need to compare some "before" issues before formally accusing them, but it seems like they've softened up in a (perhaps laudable) attempt to bolster Broadway. One thing I want to catch when I'm in New York two weeks from now is a one-man "Notes From Underground" show. That book is one of the three or four I consider absolutely essential, and I've occasionally considered staging a reading from it myself. Very curious to see how it's been adapted.

Anyway, what I wanted to talk about is not the New Yorker's theater reviews but its music reviews. I never buy CDs, but an article last January of 2002's best disks had me on the verge of sending away for six or seven. Luxuries have a way of propagating, you see. A lot of the disks were by Russians and/or modernists. Given my analytic temperament, I react to modern classical music a lot like Bart reacts to Lisa's electrified cupcake -- I hate its screechy atonality whenever I actually listen to it, but when I read about it's different. ... mmmm, retrograde tone-row inversions! Ow! ... mmm, retrograde tone-row inversions! Ow! In the end I never got around to buying any of the praised disks though. Probably a good thing given my reaction to the New-Yorker-recommended disk I did buy recently. Dao and I were at this American style entertainment complex behind the Bibliotheque Nationale, watching X-Men 2 I think, when a wave of American style consumerism swept over me, and I went into the CD boutique. I found this disk of Benjamin Britten cello suites that, quoting the NYer, "lose amazingly little in comparison with Bach's"; and this particular recording supposedly "edges out all rivals". This was good enough for me since I've sung a few Britten pieces and adored them (check out the Five Flower Songs op. 47 -- trust me on this one).

But I take it home and, guess what ... it's run-of-the-mill 20th-century filboid studge. A couple of pretty chordal passages, but otherwise it seems very unmusical. The first especially, which Britten wrote in 1964. Unmusical: that's the word. Music needs phrasing, needs phrases, needs to evoke speaking or, failing that, walking or dancing; it needs some kind of rhythmic drive. None of that here. These pieces sound like noodling, like they're stuck in neutral, going nowhere, neither going toward a tonal center nor reveling in a bracing atonality. Just blah. Maybe I should be glad that they're not screechy and atonal, that they're at least inoffensive. But then I think of another piece that has a lot of surface similarities with Britten's first cello suite, Shostakovich's 10th string quartet. It turns out they were written in the same year, and Shostakovich was a big influence on Britten, so the similarities are not surprising. But Britten's piece sucks whereas Shostakovich's is marvelous. I've listened to both disks again to try to find what accounts for the difference. The main answer is "rhythmic phrasing": Shostakovich is always going somewhere, and you can hear the rhythmic drive. His 10th string quartet starts with a quiet, sweet violin melody, and when the other instruments come in you get these beautiful, widely spaced chords. He doesn't get caught up in the beauty of static chords though; there's a steady 4/4 momentum, and a steady figure of L O N G - short-short - L O N G - short-short - LONG under most of the first two movements. When the weird 20th-century harmonies come in, they sound like the natural expression of Shostakovich's mood, of a quiet melancholy that isn't quite major or minor. But the weird harmonies never muddle the direction of the piece, they never sound like noodling. When things get really weird and screechy in the second movement, they again seem to translate an emotional state. The second movement starts with harsh sawing of a violin or viola (I can't tell them apart) that sounds like the KGB knocking on your apartment door. Things just get more frenzied from there, as if the person inside the apartment were rushing around rearranging papers, hiding evidence ... it's as screechy as anything in 20th century music, but it somehow sounds authentic, as though Shostakovich knew periods this anguished and were just transcribing it into music. And above all the rhythmic drive is still there, pounding. And it still has the same L O N G - short-short - L O N G motive, as if the pleasant dream of the first movement morphed into something sinister.

I won't go on and try to provide full liner notes. My point is that screechiness and weird harmonies can be beautiful, but Britten doesn't pull it off in these cello suites. I think Britten is best as a choral composer, and as a chordal composer -- here, with just one cello, he can't get the beautiful harmonies he excels at. The opening of the first suite is made up of beautiful chords, and maybe that's what made me think of the opening of Shostakovich's 10th quartet. But once the chords are past, and he gets into these weird meandering melodies, well, he just loses me.

Bottom line: get 2nd opinion before buying CDs pushed by the NYer.
[5/15/03 13:58]
 
     
 
Warning: Semi-Serious Theology to Follow

Should we all become buddhists? What seems to attract you, Doug, is the least defensible aspect of the faith: a passive attitude to the world's evils. You anaolgize buddism to true christianity, and ask "What is earthly suffering and death to a real Christian." Well, to a Christian with responsibiltiy for protecting his fellows, I would hope death and suffering would loom large.

These sufferings are not illusions, but real afflictions that beset our fellow creatures. We must oppose these evils, and those that inflict them, with all our power. This conflict may require destruction, pain, and harm to the innocent. One may think that Bush and co. have chosen consistently wrong approaches in this struggle, but if so their error is practical, not theological.

Addendum: Of course, I've described a pidgin Buddhism here, and doubtless bowdlerize more a complex faith. No offense is meant, Doug, to you or anyone else. My favorite character in all of literatre, the teshoo lama in Kipling's incomparable Kim advocates a subtly altered doctrine of passivity. In a world of desire and illusion, one must "never act except to acquire merit." The emphasis added, I think, is crucial.
[5/15/03 10:35]
   
     
   
(1) By all means destroy the really far-gone committed Muslim criminals. But they're the minority; the majority we have to treat with respect and try to educate. I know the infinite regress that our carping on this issue always ends up in, but still, I have to say it.

(1.5) I'm serious that everyone should become Buddhist, but it occurs to me that real Christian faith would work just as well -- though differently -- to dispel our fear of Arabs. What is earthly suffering and death to a real Christian? What ever happened to the valley-of-shadow-of-death-walking and the no-evil-fearing? I guess the bible-thumping Bushies aren't very deep Christians after all. There's a shocker.

(2) Strike continues here. You know I love everyone, but the sight of all these little people marching does give me a twinge of Ayn-Randian/Nietzschean contempt. You're not quite right, Ben, when you say that their pensions are as good as reduced; the French state still has valuable things it can pawn so that all these grumbling mediocrities can leave work a couple years earlier to sit on their asses drinking pastis and tossing the occasional petanque ball. There's not much of a defense budget to pilfer from, it's true, but there is the research budget. Here, the pilfering has already started. We know a couple here who both work in labs (biology & computers respectively) and they've reported on the crappy facilities and on other research teams being disbanded. The Raffarin government has cut the science budget deeply, and Le Monde (among other papers) has sounded the alarm: France will fall farther and farther behind. The chemicals and processes and high-tech toys that will make our lives better, that will seem indispensible a decade or two from now, will be developed in the U.S. or Japan, not in France. The scientists could strike I guess, but that would hardly shut down the country, and they'd be ignored, or fired. In itself it's a depressing thing to watch a country in slow decline ... but when that country is hell-bent on villifying your own people (however much they deserve it) you can't help but feel a little spark of joy.
[5/15/03 10:06]
 
 

Ben A., what were you doing in Vilnius?

Doug, I agree that one must reckon with fear as a political force. However, the word covers several different concepts. The American and French versions of fear represent an example of this homonymy. The fear of Arab terrorism is a rational fear. Arabs Muslims are a beastly clan of Medieval bloodletters who harbor an avowed hatred for American. They mean us harm. We should fear the harm they intend to do. Confronting our fears and attempting to remove the threat is, moreover, a rational response to that fear.

The French fear (of "losing their cushy jobs") isn't exactly irrational. But it is the sort of fear which is really more accurately the feverish denial of reality. They don't really fear the loss of their cushy jobs and pensions, so much as know that they are already lost. Reality precludes their overgenerous pensions from getting paid in the end. They don't know how to cope with this reality, so they engage in frenzied protests against reality.
[5/15/03 07:37]
 
 
Lithuania EU Update

I witnessed the pro-EU celebration in Vilnius, and I can confirm the lack of deep exultation. Still, it was a decent showing, maybe 300 people milling around, with a few waving Lithuanian flags.

Festivities included fireworks elegantly arcing over the narrow, medieval alleys of the old town and a truncated rendition of the EU anthem. A college band then took the stage to cover some American pop hits (about one level up from Hootie and the Blowfish), and pick cute girls out of the crowd to dance. Most of the songs were sung in English , with the exception of a Lithuanian language rap that resembled Onyx’s ‘Slam.’ The hand gestures for “yo yo yo” appear to transcend language and culture.

[5/14/03 17:28]
   
     
   
Couple addenda about French labor strike. (1) I don't think May 15th is a holiday. (2) I shouldn't be so harsh on French laziness, as though I were some kind of industrious Protestant super-ego myself ... which is hardly the case. (3) Sure, there's some laziness involved. But beyond laziness and resentment, there is a good measure of fear behind these strikes. Fear is a destructive political force that is too often ignored. It manifests itself differently in the U.S., but it's present there too. In the U.S. people are afraid of Arabs; in France people are afraid, deathly afraid, of losing their jobs and cushy benefits. The French are cowardly for wanting the providential state to remove all risk from their lives. The American response to fear is hardly better: we want to confront our fears head on, to "get in their face" extreme-sports style, to escape the terrible anxiety of possible violence by triggering immediate violence, where at least we have some measure of control, and some hope of victory, of catharsis.

What's the appropriate way to deal with fear? Why, we should all become practicing Buddhists, of course.
[5/14/03 16:59]
 
   
So you know Ben A. was in Lithuania last weekend, right? Hey Ben A ... what's the scoop?

I don't really keep in touch with any of my (distantish) relatives there. Partly because I never mastered Lithuanian ... remember when we tried learning it on a lark junior year? I think that lark's lifespan was about two weeks. The language is so hard I have difficulty imagining how even the natives manage to communicate to each other. (This is one theory for the positive vote last weekend. "Explain this EU ballot to me, Vytautas ... I don't quite understand these adjective declensions. Oh, screw it, I'll just punch 'yes'.")

The French strikes have been annoying, actually; Dao couldn't go to her office yesterday so she had to work from home, which means I couldn't work online. Today they continued the strike without warning, contrary to law and common courtesy. This would have wasted a lot of my time except I was able to meditate in the metro station, so I consider it a net gain for myself. Bottom line, though, is that the French are lazy fucks, and you can tell them I said that. Tuesday was strike day, I think Thursday might be a national holiday (Accession or Abstention or something Catholic like that -- the French sneer rationalistically at religion, but are surprisingly tolerant of holidays!), everyone will take the Friday after the holiday off just because, so why not take Wednesday off too and make it a six-day weekend?

It's worth looking at more than the bottom line of their laziness, though. What lets them express their laziness so brazenly now is "solidarité". As long as you're being "solidaire" in your opposition to the "patronnat" (what we call "the man"), you can get away with anything. What we Americans want to do above all is win: we want to be on stage receiving the gold medal, and then to drive home in our Ferrari and bathe in our pool filled with gold ball-bearings with J. Lo or her male equivalent. But the French don't want to win: they want to foil and humiliate the winners. Nowhere are spite and resentment more in effect than here. It wasn't by accident that Nietzsche, writing in German, chose to use the French word ressentiment! So these strikes against pension reform spring partly from the same source as the French Iraq position. The French had no positive plan for dealing with Saddam, they just wanted to get a thrill of self-righteousness from wagging fingers at the winners, the Americans. Similarly, the people marching in the streets have no plan for fixing the pension system, which will bankrupt France if left as is; no, they just want the self-righteous thrill of sticking it to the man. (The man they elected.)

About the only time the French have declined to take the streets against a winner was in 1940. Maybe there's a lesson for the Raffarin government -- dress up in jackboots and the strikers will slink back home.

One more note from France -- Plantu, Le Monde's main cartoonist whose work appears on the front page daily, has been on a roll. For three days straight he's managed to work in something that's apparently amused him as much as it's amused me: Emmanuelle Béart's current Elle cover. Ads for this issue are all over Paris with the text, "Emmanuelle Béart reveals her beauty secrets". Her main secret appears to be affixing strawberries to the end of your breasts. I mean, her nude cover shot is just, I mean, I can't explain it, you've never seen nipples like this -- in profile and, I mean, there has to be some photoshop work behind this. I can't find the original on the web, but here's today's Plantu:


[5/14/03 10:55]
 
 
Lithuania held its EU accession referendum over the weekend. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of joining, although that was never in doubt; rather, the suspense centered around whether enough people would show up at the polls to make the referendum valid. Our in-house Lithuania expert (he voted yes, by mail) tells us that several retail establishments in the country were offering free candy bars, soda or other lagniappes to those who could show the passport stamp proving they had voted. So the proud Lithuanian people, who struggled against Soviet Russian tyranny for 50 years, have sold themselves into thralldom to Belgo-French Eurosocialism for the price of a fizzy drink. Tragic, really.

***

And speaking of Eurosclerosis: how's the French public sector strike affecting you, Doug?
[5/13/03 08:07]
 
   
Bennett's Law

Narc + Classicist = Narcissist

[5/11/03 03:25]
 
   
Ha! Some things never change. Some Harvard propaganda floated through here the other day (they know where Dao lives) and I read the Rhodes winners' bios. The only thing I retained was the fact that one history-type concentrator "founded" or "co-founded" a history journal, called "Historia". What, there weren't any history journals on campus before you came around? Nobody on that frigging campus has an ego small enough to fit into someone else's organization. Tell that person not to hire any "founders", and especially not "co-founders".

Anyway, my browser is rendering stuff goofily, because Dao was trying to display encoded characters of French or Vietnamese or something. Smart quotes now show up as random punctuation marks, that sort of thing.

However, in some instances this makes the pages rendered more faithful. How? Well, the datelines from the New York Times website now come out like this:

TEL AVIV, May 10 ? After a year of working toward publishing a peace plan [ ... ]
[5/10/03 14:31]
 
 

LEt me share with you a random whiff of our undergraduate past. A salesman who covers me for a large bank has taken charge of the desk's recruiting effort. He spent part of the week wading through piles of Harvard resumes. He called up to ask me about whether certain clubs or activities are meaningful. "Here's one that really puzzles me -- it can't be real," he said. "This guy claims to be a member of 'America's premier Hindi a capella group'." Sadly, I said, the existence of such an ensemble is entirely plausible. Remember when a group of lesbians at the law school tried to start an a capella group: "The Kockadildoes." And our sobriquet for the Noteables: "Harvard's only all-tone-deaf a capella group," and their customary opening act, "the Gallaudet Def Jammers." By the way, the Hindi a capella singer noted on his resume that he is, "fluent in English," lest a reader come to believe a premier Hindi a capella singer could not possibly have time to learn another tongue (even the language of classes at his university).
[5/9/03 16:40]
 
 
Promissory Note

Extended discussions of Strauss
here have made me want to dilate on Strauss as substantive thinker (or atleast as substnative interpreter). When I return from Doug's ancestral homeland, expect something here. [5/8/03 15:53]
   
     
   
Well, since you guys are ganging up and using the comfy chair on me, I'll partially confess; the Atlas piece did say at least once that Bushies publicly justify their actions with reference to Strauss ("what would Leo Strauss think of the policies being carried out in his name?"), whereas they do not, as you both say, actually ever do this. Yet Strauss does have (or did have ten years ago) enormous cachet in some conservative conclaves (whether or not the AET is among them), and in private the illuminati of the right do use Strauss's name the way the illuminati of the left use, say, Herbert Marcuse's. As for the "bleu petrole" syntagm, maybe it wasn't good, but Atlas's translation makes it sound worse. "Oil-slick blue" would have been far better. But laissons tomber enfin -- we all agree the piece is fluffy, and I agree with Ben H's diagnosis that it's probably just Le-Monde-echoing.

Speaking of Le Monde, I bought Le Monde Diplomatique today, just because I thought it would be amusing to see these leftist third-worldist America-haters squirm. "Ooooh! I can't believe those burger-heads won. It just steams me! No respect for the U.N.! None at all! Well, they'll get what's coming to them .... I'm gonna write an article, and it's gonna be extra sarcastic!" And, indeed, it was extra-sarcastic. But I did learn one new thing: Le Monde is a 51% owner of Le Monde Diplo, and seems to have been so since 1996. I thought they were totally distinct and have always stressed this to others (by way of protecting Dao's honor). Go figure.

I wonder if there's a market for a non-communist francophone world-affairs magazine? I don't think I've seen such a paper on the newsstands.

By chance, a good friend of a good friend happens to be the daughter of a senior writer for Le Monde Diplo. He served me some decent champagne once, so I can't be too harsh on these guys. (In retrospect it's odd that he would retain disposable income to throw away on frivolous first-world luxuries instead of sending all his money to the third world ... oh well, I'm sure there's some good explanation.)
[5/8/03 13:11]
 
 
I saw the Atlas article on Protocols of the Elder of Chicago, too. To my mind it was really nothing more than a media echo-chamber piece: Atlas read the Le Monde essay about the link between Strauss and various members of the Bush team and cooked up his own farrago of stale musings in response. That several members of the Bush team either studied with Strauss or other-identified "Straussians" is beyond dispute. Atlas makes no case that this fact of their education resumes has any relevance for US policy -- not as a source of policy, not as an ex-post justification of policy. In fact, you might just as well say that the three of us follow a Groeningite policy, because we all have long followed and enjoyed "The Simpsons."

As for "bleu-petrole" or "petrol blue", Doug, please come off it. This is nothing more that a poorly constructed anti-Bush barb. Neither raw petroleum nor any petroleum derivative -- gasoline, diesel, mazut, bunker, fuel oil -- has a color anything like a blue suit.

* * *

As for Bennett, let me first say that I have always found the guy distasteful and vaguely creepy, and for these reasons the likelihood of his exit from the public stage cheers me. Do you remember his infamous comments about tuition costs from back when he was Secretary of Education? A reporter was questioning him about some cuts in student loan or grant programs, and Bennett snapped that students might, "just have to divest themselves of some of their assets," among which he enumerated, "the hi-fi stereos." I agree that one can argue that education has positive personal economic returns and that therefore students should borrow against future earnings to pay for it; and that such loans can be extended on market terms. But Bennett's response was so flippant and dismissive of the students (as if they had indulgently acquired many thousands of dollars in audio equipment at taxpayer expense), that he seemed almost proud to display contempt for them. Apparently, he found some sort of audience for his browbeating, for he made a great fortune playing the tiresome scold.

But, but, but... leaving aside the pleasure I feel at Bennett's pain, I don't see how his gambling represents a scandal. I know why it has become a hot topic in the media, of course, but what I mean to say is that his behavior doesn't strike me as, well, scandalous. Go down the list of standard political crimes and it is hard to find one on which you can indict him.

1. Breaking the law.
Bennett gambled legally. He reported all gambling winnings in compliance with the tax code.

2. "It's not the act, it's the coverup."
When confronted, Bennett made no attempt to deny his gambling. IN fact, some conservative fellow travellers have latterly come out to criticize him for how little effort he put in to hiding his gambling over the years!

3. Hypocrisy
Bennett has made a career out of hectoring Americans for their lack of virtue. Yet, he has never taken on gamblers in particular. He has once or twice argued against expansions of legal gambling, but it does not appear that he took part in gambling of the sort he argued against. Does gambling itself, whether legal or otherwise, reflect a lack of virtue? What virtue might a gambler lack? Well if he is a cheating gambler, honesty. But Bennett didn't cheat. If he tempts other people into games they can ill-afford, charity. But Bennett played mostly solitary video poker. Thrift? OK, I'll accept that, but I am not sure thrift is a virtue in the sense Bennett likes to talk about. It is a socially and personally useful trait, but not inherently of moral concern. And Bennett, despite his gambling, seems to have accumulated substantial assets -- maybe he's a gambler, but he's not a profligate. The press quotes a huge $8mm figure, but that's Bennett's total wagers. The house vig in video poker is something like 5%. Over a decade, Bennett probably lost around $500K: $50K a year, or about the cost of a Hamptons summer rental. How many of his elite media critics do you think have strayed from the path of thrift in this way?

[5/7/03 07:22]
 
 
My Hero

John Malkovitch says:

It's no surprise that the head of Reuters popularized the phrase "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter," because only a journalist could come up with something so utterly facile and idiotic, and actually obscene, in fact.

The entire
interview is worth your time. [5/6/03 19:26]
   
     
   
From a Washington Post piece today:

Nothing is ever straightforward in the Middle East, and the "road map" finally presented last week is no exception. The plan has no hope of being implemented, and yet it is crucial that its implementation be pursued.

Let's see. First they wanted peace, but that didn't work. Then they tried a "peace process", but that didn't work. Now we have the "road map", which is sort of an oblique run-up to a peace process -- a peace process process. Now this Post piece says even this won't work ... but we should still "pursue" it. I guess what they're counseling is a peace process process process.
[5/6/03 03:52]
 
   
How the Bandarlog's forged (in suit with petrol-containing-layers) people of loose morals (2,4,3,6)

Hint -- "petrol-containing-layers" are "sands", and the definition is "How the Bandarlog's forged".

BTW i don't know if you and Debbie know what you're getting into with this southwest france thing. We went out to dinner w/ friends who we allowed to choose the restaurant. The only thing I really didn't want was southwest French food, since you can never leave those places without consuming a week's worth of food for a linebacker in training camp, and if you try to skimp, some burly guy will come out of the kitchen and wrestle you to the ground and start stuffing chicken gizzards down your throat. But the chances that these acquaintances would pick such a place were so small that I decided not to mention my concern. Obviously they picked a place like that. I can barely type now since I feel like Homer Simpson in that one episode where his fingers are too fat to use the phone and he needs the "dialing wand". I'd warn you guys if I thought you were unaware of the food lifestyle down there, but I suppose your parents are gastronauts enough, perhaps even gasconauts enough, to have clued you in. But beware.
[5/5/03 17:39]
 
     
 
Shrugging About Atlas

Sorry, terrible pun, couldn't resist. Look, Atlas advances no evidence that conservatives have used Strauss to justify foreign policy. He says that policies are being carried out "in his [Strauss'] name." Except that they aren't. Yes, Wolfowitz was a student of Bloom's, and Kristol of Mansfield's. That's about the evidence Atlas profers, other than the embarassingly wrong-on-the-facts identification of the American Enterprise Institute as a primarily Straussian hang-out. The "Strauss used to justify Bush doctrine" thesis remians entirely unsupported and dead on arrival.

Aside #1: I would argue also that it's not clear that Atlas dismisses *at all* the "Straussians running the government" trope. Rather, he asks how Strauss acquired his disproportionate policy influence, and then speculates that those influenced by Staruss may have got him wrong.

Aside #2: I haven't read deeply in Strauss, although I did take bang-up courses from Mansfield and Joe Cropsey. His essay on Hobbes, however, is fantastic.

* * *
I hope we can all agree, however, in sending a big "haw-haw" (Nelson Muntz voice) out to Bill Bennett and the rapidly decreasing NPV of his virtue empire.

I am actually quite sympathetic to certain kinds of hypocrisy -- and I see no reason why one can't publically advocate for virtues one feels one lacks oneself. Indeed, surely a addict would be a better advocate for 'Just Say No' than some bloodless RNC lady of the Nancy Reagan/Lizzie Dole variety. That said, Bennett isn't a penetant: he's totally unapologetic about losing *staggering* sums of money in games of chance. It looks like he'll be moving down to lower stakes tables in the future.
[5/5/03 14:27]
   
     
   
Pharisee-smiting

While I'm reminiscing about college, remember when the mag we wrote for invited Bill Bennett (aka "morality man") to speak at its anniversary bash? He went through with it, but when he saw how small the crowd was he seemed to think to himself "I came all the way to Boston for this?". Anyway,
Michael Kinsley demolishes him in Slate for his recently revealed gambling addiction. I really like reading Kinsley -- if he always came across a bit like a weenie on "Crossfire", in print he's damn tough. As for Bennett, he's in good company -- wasn't Dostoevsky a chronic gambler? But of course he's not in Dostoevsky's company at all. [5/5/03 12:01]
 
   
Not that I want to spend hours and hours defending the article that this Times guy probably dashed off in thirty minutes, but it does NOT argue that Leo Strauss is the secret source of Bush policy. In fact it explicitly discounts that argument as belonging to "intellectual-conspiracy theorists" (paragraph 3). And his aim is the OPPOSITE of turning Leo Strauss into a liberals' boogey-man -- it's to show how conservatives warp Strauss into an anti-boogey-man, a yegoob man, in whose saintly scriptures they find "justifications" for their own actions.

One value of articles like this is that they show what a successful intellectual hodgepodge the Republican party is. Do you remember, Ben A. (or Ben H. for that matter), when we sort of floated in the outer orbits of Harvard's conservative/Republican community, about ten years ago, when this one guy whose name escapes me, maybe class of '93 or '94, started this initiative he called the "Philosophy Project" (or something)? He was this gung-ho super-driven mega-Republican who was going to map out the philosophical terrain of republicanism, down to the smallest detail, using Harvard undergraduates as his own little think tank. (I seem to remember Frank Luntz being behind this project ... you know, the Frank Luntz who copyrighted the term "republican pollster" the way Manuel Noriega copyrighted "Panamanian strongman".) Anyway, having nothing better to do at that point than rack up "Hellcats of the Pacific" high-scores and dream up synonyms for Hilarius Bogbinder, I let myself get drafted into writing a book report on Nozick's "Anarchy, State, and Utopia". Gives you some idea of how broadly this guy were thinking. Nozick's book is so astonishing that I didn't really mind analyzing it. But I did first try to pin down this guy on what the point of his whole "philosophy project" was. Was it to determine, through comparing-and-contrasting, the Right Philosophy? Or was it to draw up a spreadsheet to be used in the Party's Sammlungspolitik, its coaliton-cobbling? Being naive, or at least meek and fobbable, I probably let myself be fobbed off with some vague answer. And not yet being very good at conceiving how others' motivations could differ from mine, I was probably disposed to discount the possibility that this guy might be a doglike party loyalist rather than an open-minded truth-seeker.

Probably this particular project didn't go very far -- I certainly didn't stick around to find out. But at least it provided a tributary trickle to this mighty river of Republican coalition-building. And history has now shown again that when you apply Nixonian zeal to the problem of cobbling together an electoral majority out of utterly disparate parts, well, you win elections. I wonder where that dude ended up ... he's probably wearing petrol-blue suits (not to be confused with petrel-blue suits) in some office on one side or the other of Washington's revolving door.

I was mildly "for" some type of conservatism at that point in my life, on the theory that freedom and meritocracy are good and conservative government maximizes them. I now believe, partly because the world has changed and partly because I am less naive, that Republican government is mainly concentrating wealth and power into rich families. I would dearly like for some Democratic version of my philosophy-project taskmaster to emerge on some campus, for some Democratic Frank Luntz to start assembling troops. Of course, the Democrats are at a loss for ideas now, and even if they found enough to mount a winning campaign, they would probably drift eventually toward special-interest welfare-state stasis if they stayed in power too long. But you have to give the pendulum a nudge to keep it swinging, whenever its cord starts to get knotted around one of its supports. Power is clearly getting entangled in a bad way around the military-industrial complex (a Republican's warning phrase, if I remember aright). So where is the emerging Democratic majority??

P.S. to give some idea of how successful a yegoob man Leo Strauss was, I was moved to buy a remaindered paperback copy of "On Tyranny" at Harvard Book Store around graduation. I think I got through about ten pages of it; I think it's now in a box in my parent's house in Michigan.
[5/5/03 11:35]
 
     
 
But that's just the problem with Atlas' piece: he suggests an intellectual dependency where none exists. It's true Leo Strauss was indeed a professor of political philosophy, and many prominent neocons (not least, Irving Kristol) were influenced by Strauss. So two points for Atlas there.

But Strauss, and Straussians like Jaffa, Mansfield, Bloom, and Pangle have nothing, zero, to do with the 'Bush doctrine.' Atlas's attempts to connect Strauss' actual method or doctrine with, say, the foreign policy of the Weekly Standard fails utterly.

For Atlas, Strauss serves a boogey-man function -- he's the secret source of all those crazy ideas Republicans promote that otherwise have no explication. This is stupid. One doesn't need to follow the dramatic links between the Sophist and the Crito to understand why Cheney and Rumsfeld want to make an example of Saddam Hussein.

* * *
On a topic on which we all agree: can there be a better Magneto than Ian McKellen? And were you, Doug, enough of a nerd to be able (as I am) to predict with perfect certainty the plot of X-Men 3?
[5/5/03 09:51]
   
     
   
According to my reconstruction, Ben, that last snide comment in Atlas's article about the museum-looting made you fly off the handle and attack the whole piece. I didn't think it was so bad except for that awkward last comment -- I think it's useful to tell the public that there is an intellectual side to Republican foreign policy, however twisted, compromised, denatured. The Le Monde piece Atlas quoted was interesting too. Sometimes the people on Le Monde's America beat (notably Sylvie Kaufmann) are very perceptive. Only the translation gap, in both directions, sometimes makes them seem less perceptive. Kaufmann once reported that when Chirac lived in the U.S. (indeed he did!) he had a girlfriend from the South who called him "Honey chile" ... which got translated into French as "Piment de miel" (honey pepper). And on the other hand, "bleu petrole" is a good image in French, since "petrole" is a common word meaning both petroleum and oil derived therefrom.

Actually when you said that newspaper articles covering philosophy give you a grizzly-bear-playing-checkers feeling, I thought you meant that you found them similar to articles about grizzly bears playing checkers. I often find them thus myself. After all, they both tend to be lightweight human-interest stories about hairy funny-looking characters doing absurd things with their brains that the Good Lord clearly did not intend for them to do ...
As for the X-Men, yes! Top-notch escapism. Plus a very relevant critique of an alliance between media and the political class stirring up fear and hatred of a foriegn class of people, each for its own ends.
[5/5/03 03:39]
 
     
 
Culture, High and Low

When journalists cover philosophy, there's always something of a grizzly-bear plays-checkers feel about the enterprise: both intention and means are ill-matched. The
mauling Leo Strauss receives at the paws of James Atlas in the New York Times is no exception. The Bush administration you see, is rife with Straussians! And these Straussians are neo-conservatives and hawks (which makes them, by my calculation, double-dog Jewish!) How bad is it? Well, Atlas actually quotes Le Monde as a source on American intellectual culture!

Alain Frachon and Daniel Vernet, writing in Le Monde two weeks ago, provided a vivid snapshot of these fugitives from the academy. "They have an `intellectual,' often New York, often Jewish, profile, and often began on the left. Some of them still call themselves Democrats. They carry around literary or political magazines, not the Bible; they wear tweed jackets, not the petrol blue suits of Southern televangelists. Most of the time, they profess liberal ideas on social and moral questions. They are trying neither to ban abortion nor to impose school prayer. Their ambition lies elsewhere." By "elsewhere" is meant the world of Washington politics and power.

So other than the big mystery -- 'petrol blue,' is that like periwinkle? -- one might wonder what Leo Strauss has to do with mainstream neoconservatism. Atlas concludes that the Bush adminstration has deviated from true Straussian teaching, although lacking as he does any apparant understanding of the methods or doctrine that distinguish Strauss, one wonders how he came to this conclusion. Perhaps the core of the effort is the invocation of Strauss to justify the would-be zinger "Next time we might remember to put a tank at the museum door." High-fives all around on the edit desk on that one! Indeed, let me propose that henceforth every single New York Times editorial end with some drollery on looting of the Baghdad museum. Perhaps Husserl can next be pressed into this service.

[Atlas aside, is there any meat here? In a word, no. Strauss places empahsis on direct study of the classical philosophical tradition and openness to opaque and indirect modes of communication. Neither appear to me defining characteristics of, say, Donald Rumsfeld.]

* * *

And, for the promisd low culture note, all should immediately go out and buy tickets to X-Men 2. Fantastic, especially if you followed the mythos. [5/5/03 01:12]
   
     
     
 

 

 

Ben A. Ben H. Doug Earlier