Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Moi, Your Honor?

Eeuw, don’t tell. I just took the Pew Research “Beyond Red vs. Blue” survey and it turns out I’m a L*b*r*l.

Just what my enemies have always said, although a lot of my friends think I am a raging reactionary. And actually, I was a bit surprised myself. But let’s go to the tape:

• US relies too much on military force? Check.
• Worry that government is getting too involved in issues of morality? Checkeroo.
• Strict environmental laws are worth the cost. Well, um, not crazy about the question.
• Poor people have hard lives? Checkeroo.
…because government benefits don’t go far enough to help them? Um, complicated.

Well, okay, I guess they told me I might not always like the choices. Anyway, on to basic demographics. White, check. Highly educated, check. Religious? Well, Mrs. B says I am a communicant of a sect in which only I am a member, but I guess that is not what they had in mind. Wealthy? Hmph, not an investment banker, but again, I guess I know what they mean here, so check.

Young? Ah…

So I guess they got me. Still, I want to squirm, for a couple of reasons. One, I’d really like to do this Chinese-menu style. I suspect I’m a lot more pro-market than the “liberals”—more like the “enterprisers” here, and they vote overwhelmingly Republican. Correspondingly, I find have something in common with the “disaffected,” who think that government is wasteful, and that government officials don’t care much about what I think. But unlike the “disaffected,” I’m not—well, I’m not “disaffected.” And I pay a huge amount of attention—more than is good for me, I suspect—to current events.

But there are interesting curiosities all across the board. Example: another Pew category is the “upbeats:” they believe that elected officials care, that government does a good job, that immigrants help to make our country stronger (I don’t think I’d want to be stuck in an elevator with these folks). In 2004, the “upbeats” broke about 4.5-1 for Bush over Kerry (“liberals,” big surprise, were an absurd 40-1 for Kerry over Bush). The interesting part is that “disaffecteds—well, nearly a quarter of them didn’t vote, but when they did vote, they joined their “upbeat” neighbors, and broke for Bush (about 2-1).

One thing I miss here is a category for “libertarians”—pro-market, pro-gay-rights, skeptical about any government program, including war. Seems to be a major presence in the blogosphere, but evidently for Pew, not big enough to notice.

Go ahead, take the quiz. Can't hurt, kinda fun (link).

Is This the Guy who Grades the SAT?

[Your site] has been been visited 0 times by our users.
a Score of 0.08.


Crank Is Right

My friend the New York Crank is right. The post on bookstores needed a rimshot (or is it a sting?):

Samuel Butler said that a chicken is an egg’s way of getting to another egg. Badum-CSHHH! A guy who should know told me that ants think of California as one big anthill (they kill interlopers). Badum-CSHHH! Charlie the tailor went to visit the Vatican. So how was the Pope, his friends asked. Oh, about a 42-long. Badum-CSHHH. Thank ya' you've been a wunnaful audience, I'll be here all week...

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Note to Self: Do Not Follow Up on This Post

Samuel Butler said that a chicken is an egg’s way of getting to another egg. A guy who should know told me that ants think of California as one big anthill (they kill interlopers). Charlie the tailor went to visit the Vatican. So how was the Pope, his friends asked. Oh, about a 42-long.

It all depends on your point of view.

Somebody, I lose track of whom, says you can regard the world as a network of bookstores and libraries, with dirt in between.

I hear there are people who idle away their lives visiting Starbucks, like birders collecting a life list.

Borders, with a coffee shop, is a lot like McDonald’s with a kiddie playground. Mrs. B knows how to park me there (Borders) for storage while she does whatever it is that she does.

Compared to Starbucks, visiting every Borders shouldn’t be all that hard.

Could It Be He?

Admit it, now, you haven't any idea whom you want to vote for in 2008. You enjoy Obama, but you know he's an empty suit. You figure you ought to like John Edwards, but you're really not crazy about his shallow populism. You take a deep breath and figure it has to be Hillary, but then she does something tacky and mean-spirited that gives you the hiccups.

The Republicans, oh don't get me started. What a sorry lot of embarrassments they are--even to themselves. I'd still wager a few bucks on the proposition that the frontrunners beat each other to a pulp and they wind up with this guy (and I see I'm in good company).

Admit it also, you weren't all that nuts about Al Gore back in 2000. Remember? You gnashed your teeth a hundred times over the way he ran his campaign (good company again: Bill Clinton felt the same way). And don't get me started on the tangle on Tallahassee.

Okay, that was then. It doesn't say anything to venture that Gore would have done better--who wouldn't have? Six years later and we know that a burnt stump could have done better. But what if it turns out that Gore is not just a default improvement, but actually the kind of guy you might want as President? Jump cut to The New Yorker, and let David Remnick explain.

The Future Lies Ahead...

Daniel Gross chortles over the March 12 Forbes which says (link):

"Has the Bull Market Just Started?

Gross treats the question as rhetorical, but here is the answer: maybe. Not by my lights, I am the ultimate pessimist, having lived through nine of the last four recessions. But that's the point. You never know. You just never know.

Prediction is hard, said Mark Twain, especially if it is about the future.


This is a test of email posting.

Boo Hoo, Nobody Hates Me

Rats. I'm not blocked in China.

And nobody sends me hate mail like this.

That's Why They Call Him "A Philosopher"

It is not seen by someone because it is being seen but on the contrary it is being seen because someone sees it, nor is it because it is being led that someone leads it but because someone leads it that it is being led; nor does someone carry an object because it is being carried, but it is being carried because someone carries it. Is what I want to say clear, Euthyphro? I want to say this, namely, that if anything comes to be, or is affected, it does not come to be because it is coming to be, but it is coming to be because it comes to be; nor is it affected because it is being affected but because something affects it.

Or do you not agree?

--Socrates, in Plato, Euthyphro 10b6-c4 (G.M.A. Grube Trans.)

Monday, February 26, 2007

We We Still Need Bill Maher

Why we need Bill Maher: he’s the one who points out that the detainees are still locked up at Gitmo, but the passengers from JetBlue get a Bill of Rights.

He also said that Janet Jackson’s nipple is on the Dutch flag, but I think that may be a joke.

Oh Lordy Lordy

Michael Smith and Sarah Baxter in the Times of London report (thanks Joel) that American generals are threatening to quit if the President orders an attack on Iran:

SOME of America’s most senior military commanders are prepared to resign if the White House orders a military strike against Iran, according to highly placed defence and intelligence sources.

Tension in the Gulf region has raised fears that an attack on Iran is becoming increasingly likely before President George Bush leaves office. The Sunday Times has learnt that up to five generals and admirals are willing to resign rather than approve what they consider would be a reckless attack.

“There are four or five generals and admirals we know of who would resign if Bush ordered an attack on Iran,” a source with close ties to British intelligence said. “There is simply no stomach for it in the Pentagon, and a lot of people question whether such an attack would be effective or even possible.”

A British defence source confirmed that there were deep misgivings inside the Pentagon about a military strike. “All the generals are perfectly clear that they don’t have the military capacity to take Iran on in any meaningful fashion. Nobody wants to do it and it would be a matter of conscience for them.

Two thoughts, not at all consistent:
  • It's about %^&*@#! time! There are few spectacles less edifying than what we now know about the behavior of generals before the Iraq war. It's clear from reading Fiasco and Cobra II (and more) that these guys knew all along that this plan was fatally flawed. They shut up, perhaps in part out of instinctive loyalty, but also because they figured it would do more for the careeers to have the wrong war than to have no war at all.
  • I've said it before, I'll say it again: we get to the point where the Generals start mouthing off about policy, we are in one Hell of a mess. For the moment, I'm content to blame the clowns that put us in this spot. But from this beginning, nothing good can follow.

Department of Now Cut That Out

Okay, I admit I’m not for Mitt Romney: he reminds me too much of Robert Morse in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” But I kinda liked his father when, for a moment, back before most bloggers were born, it looked like he might become the non-Goldwater—that is to say, back before he destroyed himself in a radio interview with an ill-chosen word.

But I have to say I don’t share the current outrage over discussions of the Romney family history—outrage not just from the usual suspects but from people who ought to know better. It’s not exactly breaking news that Romney is a Mormon. And I share the general amusement at Kate O’Beirne’s quip that he may be the only GOP candidate with only one wife. But that’s the point: we are all products of our history, and history is irony. It’s a fascinating story, Mormonism, and knowing how Mormons became what they are is just as much a part of the story as the story of what they are today. And it’s not as if the family has been hiding anything; there is a Pratt Family Society, with a website, where you can find a list of Parley Pratt’s twelve wives (one of them is named Hanahette Snively, which is just too cool for words).

It’s a great story, and should not be off limits. But I’m still leaning to Chuck Hagel: I’ve got to feel good about the only candidate who doesn’t smile.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Well, That's All Right, Then

I haven’t got a pension. People say, oh gosh, you have to make provision for your old age, but I’ve decided to resolve that by being a burden to people.

--Andy Hamilton, BBC News Quiz

From Buce's Worm Farm

Went out to turn the compost after lunch this afternoon. Man, I have never seen so many worms in my life. All complaining about overcrowding and illegal immigrants. I told them it just made the polity stronger.

A Sailor With a Big Dinghy

I explained to my friend Milt: I would love to live in Manhattan, but only if I had a bargeload of money.

Milt said: right, you could park the barge at the Chelsea Pier, next to Steve Forbes’ yacht.

Exactly. Or I could blow it all on a $10 million bat mitzvah.

Afterthought: I see I have inadvertently acknowledged that I think $10 million= a bargeload. I assume in some circles—Steve Forbes?—it is just rounding-off money.

An Offense Against the Natural Order

This Sunday noon in downtown Palookaville, I saw a guy sitting yoga-style on the sidewalk, a pile of worldly goods beside him. And he had a cat on a leash.

He didn’t seem to be begging—some folks on the way out of church waved “hi!” as if they were used to seeing him there. And went on their way.

Is this not an offense against the natural order? The cat is the ultimate loner and wanderer. The guy needs to be plugged in. Guys get weird and wacky if they are not plugged in. Even Odysseus, the ultimate wanderer, was the son of a father and the father of a son. All he wanted to do, as the poem says, is to save his life and to bring his shipmates home.

I think the cat should have had the guy on the leash.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Gnomes of Where?

A couple of blogs (link, link) are beating up on Tom Friedman for this:

If Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney had spent as much time plotting the toppling of Saddam Hussein as they did the toppling of Colin Powell, Iraq today would be Switzerland.

I don’t want to get into this fight directly (for one thing, I haven’t actually read the column—wouldn’t want to compromise judgment, now would I?). I’d rather suggest this: right point, wrong country.

Look at it this way: not too long, Switzerland was an island of poverty and isolation whose only known export was warriors famous for being nasty, brutish and tall.

Somewhere along the line, they morphed into the pointy-headed gnomes that we know and love today (I think it had something to do with Protestant bankers from Lucca, driven out of Italy by the Counter-reformation, but I can’t put my finger on a good link): stable, secretive, prudent, cautiously avaricious (and rich).

Who is equipped to follow that trajectory in the next century? Where can we find a country remote, mountainous, misunderstood and feared, with a population strong and savage yet ripe for better things? Why, here, of course: only a matter of time before we are all fussing about the gnomes of Kabul. Maybe they’ll put up a set of twin towers.


Well, hey, I've been looking for this (link). Now my students will know when I am telling a joke.

Thanks to Underbelly's Silk Stocking district bureau, who runs a subspecialty in annoying novelties.

And note that it is not really a rimshot, it is a sting.

Now, Don't Worry About a Thing, Dear...

Underbelly's magnolia bureau is a nervous Nellie. She's reading about Federal Reserve Board Governor Susan Bies who is telling people that we shouldn't worry about a mortgage collapse becasuse it's only a matter of (Ms. Bies' words) “7 to 8 percent of all outstanding mortgages”--i.e., the subprime ARMs. "A sliver," says Ms. Bies. (link).

"Who is she kidding? " snarls the magnolia bureau.

Well, let's do the computation here. Take my class of 25 debtor-creditor students, getting ready for a pop quiz. Tell them: by the way, a block of blue ice is going to drop the the skylight here and set two of you down flatter than an amateur Brunhylde. Would this little tidbit catch their attention? Hm, let me think...

Fn: Evidently she's going home.

Mentioned in Dispatches

Underbelly’s Wichita bureau, doubling on the military beat, weighs in with a couple of points I hadn’t focused on yet:

If the Shiites manage to get full control of Basra, I think that controls the sea exit. Then it’s time for Xenophon. CNN has a big piece on equipment shipped back to the States for repair and refurbishment. Lots of wounded Bradleys, tanks and zillions of Humvees. Even with out new arrivals, they estimated that it would take three years to get all the equipment salvaged and repaired. Bet there are going to be a lot of surplus HMVs in a couple of years.

But the major point is that the army is running out of equipment.

And again (I guess he is repeating himself, but perhaps worth it):

I’m still waiting for the press to figure out that if Basra is totally in Shiite control, we have no easy exit route. Even if the Navy had enough sea lift to pull out the men and equipment. If it turns into a bug out, Bush will go to the top of the ‘worst presidents’ list.

Several bloggers and one author in the Naval Institute Proceedings protest the growing shortage of equipment. Mostly they are talking about tanks, trucks etc but even something as simple as a machine gun has to have a replacement barrel after a few thousand rounds. Most of the heavy machine guns are configured so that one guy can replace the barrel quickly. But even the M-16 will not fire forever. They’ve got to be wearing out everything over there.

Afterthoughts: well, if all those Humvees are charred wreckage in the desert, they won’t do much to distort the secondary market. By “Xenophon,” I assume he is referring to the Anabasis, where the Greek mercenary army found itself cut off and stranded in central Mesopotamia, and had to claw its way out. Yes, but they made it home, even if they did have to leave their Humvees behind. The more chilling reference is still Herodotus: he who crosses the river Halys will destroy a great nation. Turned out to be true. Or that bit from British history, where the government sent five regiments out from Kabul, and only one survivor made it to Jellalabad.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Be Careful What You Wish For...

On the idiot judge in the Anna case, from a colleague of mine who will remain nameless if he knows what is good for him:

Well I guess a lot of guys have wanted control over Anna Nicole Smith’s body; this probably wasn’t quite what he had in mind, but I guess he decided to make the most of it.

Parable of the Sower and the Seed

Thô tag uuas giuuortan, gihalôta zi imo sîne iungiron, inti ûzgangenti fon themo hûse, saz nâh themo sêuue, inti gisamanôte uuârun zi imo manago menigi, sô thaz her in skef instîgenti saz, inti al thiu menigi stuont in themo stedu, inti sprah in managu in râtiddun sus quedenti: Sênu gieng thô ûz thie thar sâuuit zi sâuuenne. Mit thiu her tho sâta, sumu fielun nâh themo uuege inti vvurdun furtretanu, inti quâmun fugula inti frâzun thiu. Andara fielun in steinhahti lant, thâr ni habêta mihhala erda, inti sliumo giengun ûf, uuanta sie ni habêtun erda tiufi; ûfganganteru suunum furbrantu vvurdun: bithiu sie ni habêtun vvurzalun, furthorrêtun. Sumiu fielun in thorna; thô uuohsun thie thorna into furthamfrun iz. Andaru fielun in guota erda inti gâbun uuahsmon, andaru zehenzugfalto, andaru sehszugfalto, andaru thrizugfalto. Thisu quedenti riof her: Thie thar habe ôrun zi hôrenne, hôre!

--Matthew 13: 2-9

When day was become, he gathered to him his disciples, and going out from the house, sat next to the sea, and gathered were to him many multitudes, so that he in ship getting in sat, and all the multitudes stood on the shore, and he spoke to them many (things) in parables thus speaking: “Lo, went then out he who sows to sow. When he then sowed, some fell next to the way and were stepped on, and came birds and ate those. Others fell on stony land, where not it had much earth, and quickly went up, for they not had earth’s depth; with upgoing sun burned became: because they not had roots, they dried up. Some fell in thorns; then grew the thorns and choked it. Others fell on good earth and gave fruit, some (a) hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.” These (things) speaking called he: “He who may have ears to hear, let him hear!”

--Orrin W. Robinson, Old English and its Closest Relatives (1992)
Text at 227; translation at 275-6

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

In Case You Didn't Know

Perhaps you knew already, but here's the word: Obama is history. No, I'm not saying he's "not black enough." And the scratching match over David Geffen is a big yawn.

But it's becoming clear that he's thin-skinned. In a way, that is the murky underside of being a conciliator: he dreads a real honest-to-goodness conflict. One of these days--sooner, not later--somebody will bamboozle him into an intemperate explosion, and the gas will hiss out of the bag.

You heard it here first. Or maybe not, but it's true.

A Squire of Skies

It’s difficult to sum up the career of Peter Chad Tigar Levi, FSA, FRSL, late Professor of Poetry at Oxford University (link). The son of a Shepardic Jew from Istanbul, Levi became a Jesuit priest, then left the priesthood to become variously an archaeologist, prison chaplain and, oh yes, professor of poetry. His CV is more than a foot long, including some 22 items under poetry alone, plus, inter alia, biographies oh Shakespeare and Virgil, translations from Greek, Hebrew, Russian and Serbo-Croat and four novels—he also a completed a novel begun by his wife’s deceased first husband.

Perhaps the most durable of his works is a memoir, The Flutes of Autumn,. He “has the knack,” I wrote a few years back, for conveying, through language, a tactile sense of place and a small-c catholic sensibility for forgotten peoples, living and dead.” Here Levi remembers his life as a theology student at Heythrop in North Oxfordshire:

I went often to Oxford or London, to museums and libraries, and explored the Cotswolds far more thoroughly than before. Religion for me was like a flock of birds moving across the winter fields and among the stony villages. Twenty years ago (sc. from 1983) a way of life survived in villages that must have vanished by now altogether. In the big snow of one of those winters a squire of skies was taken for an apparition from the other world. In the summer, the country boys used to walk ten miles to a dance and ten miles home after it. You could still travel along way across country and meet no one. You could swim naked in lonely rivers. You could bicycle safely at night from Chipping Norton to the Welsh coast.

Reflecting on his experience as a prison chaplain, Levi sums up the learning of a lifetime in a tone that harkens to Biblical wisdom literature:

Neither life nor death is safe, and almost everything that consoles us is false. It is the right and in a way the dignity of every human being to defy cure or comfort, though it is a sad dignity, and most people can be helped in one way or another. They can even be educated, even cured of a deep wound. But one should give only what people need or want, and in the way they need or want it. In the same way one must accept the blackest truth about human history, without pretending things were less bad. It is a bad fault and not an unusual one to ionsist on curing or reforming or comforting, and then to lose patience, to blame the wicked client, when this process, the illusion one had of one's efficacy, is rejected.

--Peter Levi, The Flutes of Autumn (1983)

Gale of Creative Destruction Wings Tony Snow

I had lunch a while back with a guy who manages hotels and motels in trouble—receiverships, or bankruptcies, or whatever. I was picking his brains on a hobbyhorse of mine: the indisputable fact that the actual cost of “turning the room” is peanuts, and that if the motel is otherwise empty, you ought to be able to get the room for peanuts-plus-one. Isn’t it true, I pressed, that everybody discounts?

Sure, he said, everybody discounts. Well, he added, the fancy places used to say that they would never discount because they had to protect the brand.

But, he added … everybody discounts. And then, after a pause, almost in a whisper:

“It’s the internet!”

Sure it’s the internet. We get our prices on line, we bid and bargain. Not just in hotels but in so many places, the internet has dramatically shifted the informational advantage towards buyers/consumers, which means we get stuff better and cheaper.

The purveyors fight back, of course: I fully expect the clerk at the supermarket to tell me to put the sixpack back, because my profile tells her I won’t like that brand of beer. And don’t get me started on that annoying little gnome. But on the whole, I bet the informational advantage is still on our side.

I thought of this just now when I read this matched set of stories (link, link) about the late love-in at the National Press Club between the President’s Press Secretary and the Pooh-bahs of the press.

Part I is the mostly an unvarnished series of direct quotes from the festival of mutual congratulation and self-pity (plus a video link and, as of this writing, 274 comments). Takeaway point: these guys all agree that bloggers are pestilent little sacs of pus. Part II is Glenn Greenwald’s inimitable smackdown. Greenwald, for his part, doesn’t use harsh words (okay, he uses a few harsh words); rather, the bulk of it is just chapter-and-verse, a series of direct quotes to match Then with Now. It’s a lot like watching Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall.

This is great in itself, but I want to put it in a larger context: these mugs are like a bunch of hotel-keepers, complaining they can no longer get top dollar for their rooms. Gales of creative destruction, baby, you gotta love it.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

One More for the A List

There’s always too much to look at on the web, but a new guy on my must-read agenda is The Horse's Mouth, by Greg Sargent, who blogs on the press at TPM Café. Greg does one of those things the web is good at—careful follow-up fact-checking, here on some of the major media blowhards, here under challenge for the first time in their professional lives. New to me, I guess, but only because I am not a regular at American Prospect or New York Magazine, but for stuff like this, he goes straight to the A list.

Nb.: I'm somwhat bewildered by TPM's apparently opaque organizational structure. Apparently Greg also writes "general" political stuff, which is interesting enough but nothing distinctive compared with the torrent similar stuff in a torrent of other channels. Best save the "Horse's Mouth" link now while you are thinking about it.

Washington Times Bunts One to Hillary

The Washington Times, in an uncharacteristic spasm of leftist sentimentalism, has figured out a way to use the word "Hillary" w/52 of the word "bankrupt." The link is Hillary (Clinton's) ne'er-do-well brother Anthony D. Rodham, alleged to have received $107,000 from the bankruptcy estate of a "carnival outfit" with which he was once associated. The trustee says the payments are unpaid loans; Rodham says they were compensation for services rendered.

Naifs may see this as a crude effort to efame Hillary by association. But sophisticated journalists, such as the editors of the Washington Times, understand that having a ne'er-do-well sibling only adds luster to a politicians reputation: s/he is human, s/he is one of us. The ne'er-do-well sibling lobby is vast and pervasive. Senior strategists at Times have obviously figured out that if ever a candidate deserves humanizing it is the White Sheep of the Rodham family. There's a pattern here. Jimmy Carter had Billy, Bill Clinton had Roger, and Jeb Bush had W. Oh, wait...

Monday, February 19, 2007

Tax Day

Putting together my tax records, everything else on hold, back tomorrow I hope. Grr.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Well, That's Okay Then

Only one more birthday post, I promise. But I did find this list:


...and I'm not on it.

But Which Channel?

This guy never made it to 71 (link).

[Hat tip: Underbelly's Wichita bureau.]

I Bet This Works:

I bet this works: learn a foreign language by reading Harry Potter in translation (link).

Fact is, I'm almost certain it works. Or more precisely: I have a supremo edition of Herodotus’ Histories in classical Greek, with Italian on the facing pages. Pardon, that is Erodoto, Le Storieit is the one with the splendid introduction by David Asheri, best general intro to Herodotus that I ever saw. I figure that even if I can’t read the Greek (often), at least I can make out the Italian (sometimes).

My only hesitancy is that I haven’t read Harry Potter (yet) in English.

Fn.: Years ago I met a guy who had taken a class in Gothic. Apparently the only significant Gothic text is the (incomplete) New Testament, so the students had worked with a facing-pages text: Greek on one side, Gothic on the other. When they got stumped on the Gothic, the professor would say “Read the Greek! Read the Greek!”

Hat Tip: Kottke.

In Which I Get One Up on Socrates

I remember noticing when I had outlived Keats (26) Shelley (29), Charlie Parker (34), Mozart (35), Byron (36), Pascal (39), Shakespeare (52)—even Thomas Chatterton (17).

Now I have outlived Socrates (70): I turn 71 today The computer programmers would remind me that I am now in my seventy-second year, having started at t=0. The mathematicians would say that t→n. I’m closing on Goethe (83), Sophocles (90) and Irving Berlin (101).

Socrates, readying himself to to drink the hemlock at 70, said it didn’t matter all that much because he was going to die soon anyway. I don’t share his cheerful insouciance, but I must say that so far I have had almost unspeakable good luck. I have dodged almost every important bullet on the health front (so far). I’ve got a nice wife who treats me with indulgence. I’m proud of my kids and delighted by my grandchildren. I’ve got interesting work to do, when I do it—indeed, I had better shut up now, lest I tempt fate.

I’m not at all disposed to give a final accounting just yet, but if pressed, I suppose I could draw up a trial balance. In the church of my childhood, we used to say: we have done the things we ought not to have done, and we have left undone the things we ought to have done. Guilty on all counts, your honor, at least in a general way. We Presbyterians didn’t fancy being too specific about our sins, and I’d just as well not make an allocution. I don’t think I have committed any major crimes in life, unless you count being one of those rich Americans (or unless you count being male).

I surely have committed any number of acts of unkindness or inconsideration, and when the blood sugar is down at three o’clock in the morning, I can actually make myself pretty blue over some Dumb Thing I did to somebody 30 years ago. I usually remind myself that it’s past caring now: the victim has probably long since closed the books on the matter, writing me off as a clown or a jerk. If I met them again and tried to apologize today, they’d probably try to run away (“Waiter! Check, please!”—or perhaps worse, “Security!”).

I suspect my main concern is that St. Peter, scrutinizing his clipboard, will say “I just don’t see anything very interesting in your resumé” Well, St. Peter can take his time—maybe it will look better later. Meanwhile I will abide by the insight of the guy in the Larry Block novel—the one who said that “any day above ground is a good day.” And, from the Oxford Book of Ages, a few comparisons for item #71:

A man who has settled his opinions does not love to have the tranquillity of his convictions disturbed; and at seventy-one it is time to be in earnest.

--Samuel Johnson,
A Journey to the Western Islands (1773)

When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it happened or not, but I am getting old and soon I shall remember only the latter.

--Mark Twain (of course), letter to A.B. Paine

[I wonder what the neighbors thought of this next one:]

You think it horrible that Lust and Rage
Should dance attendance upon my old age.
They were not such a plague when I was young.
What else have I to spur me into song?

--W.B. Yeats to Dorothy Wellesley,December 1936

[And surely the best possible epigraph for 71:]

In July, when I bury my nose in a hazel bush, I feel fifteen years old again. It’s good! It smells of love!

--Corot, still feeling the compulsion
to go into the country and paint, 1867

--All the above from the Oxford Book of Ages
Chosen by Anthony and Sally Sampson (1985)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Or Just Another Texan?

I must remember to tell my pal Taxmom: coming out of the supermarket parking lot the other night, I pulled in bethind a GMC Yukon, the color of Welch's Grape Juice, with a vanity plate:


Um, is that "lady," or "laddie?" And does she rent tuxes?

Friday, February 16, 2007

From the Annals of Insolent Falsehood
(Gao Yaojie Division)

I don’t know whether the Chinese can best us in the making of cars or DVDs or gym shoes, but we certainly have met our match when it comes to insolent public falsehood.

Kudos to the New York Times for fronting the story of Gao Yaojie, who has given so much of her 80-year life in efforts to combat AIDS. And this is her recompense: Here is Jim Yardley in the Times:

BEIJING, Feb. 15 — The photograph and article in Tuesday’s Henan Daily could have been headlined “Happy Holidays.” Three highranking Henan Province officials, beaming and clapping as if presenting a lottery check, were making an early Lunar New Year visit to the apartment of a renowned AIDS doctor, Gao Yaojie.

They gave her flowers. Dr. Gao, 80, squinted toward the camera, surely understanding that pictures can lie. She was under house arrest to prevent her from getting a visa to accept an honor in Washington. Her detention attracted international attention, and the photo op was a sham, apparently intended to say, “Look, she’s fine and free as a bird.”

On Thursday, Dr. Gao said in a telephone interview, a handful of police officers remained stationed outside her apartment building in the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou.

“I just can’t simply swallow it all,” she said. “I want to know two things. First, who has made the decision? I am an 80-year-old lady, and what crimes have I committed to deserve this? Second, they must find out who has been slandering my name on the Internet.”

Happy Aftermath: When I went to the Times website this afternoon to pick up the Gao Yaojie story, I found this:

China Allows AIDS Activist to Visit U.S.


Published: February 16, 2007

Filed at 4:59 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Chinese officials signaled Friday they will allow a prominent AIDS activist who had been confined to her home to visit the United States next month, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said.

Gao Yaojie, 80, was confined to her home, worrying fellow activists who said the measure was aimed at keeping her from making the trip to the United States to accept an award from a non-profit group.

Clinton had pressed Chinese officials to let Gao travel to accept the reward from Vital Voices Global Partnership, a nonprofit group supported by Clinton, a New York Democrat and presidential candidate.

Clinton aides said the Chinese ambassador called the senator Friday to tell her Gao would be allowed to travel.

Well, hey. Was somebody in Beijing reading the Times?

More on Philology

I got curious to see if I could support what I said in the previous post about "philology." A Google Search for "department of philology" turns up 10,700 hits, mostly from Russia or Greece. Factor out "Russia" and "Russian" and you get down to 550.

I seem to recall that Minnesota kept an old-fashioned philology program long after anyone else. A Google search suggests that they had a department of German philology until just a few years ago, but aparrently they merged it out. Since the grand tradition of philology was probably for the most part German anyway, it may be that I was right.

Philology RIP

There’s a remarkable pairing on the obituary page of this mornings' New York Times. On the right, spread over four columns, we have Bruce M. Metzger, a translator of the Bible, and an authority on the New Testament in its original Greek. On the left over two columns, perhaps more of a niche player but no less worthy, Mordkhe Schaechter, as the Times calls him, “a leading Yiddish linguist.”

In another time, there used to be an academic discipline called “philology”—okay, there still is, but not what it used to be. Anyway, “philology,” in the classic sense of the “love of language”—its grammar, its syntax, its evolution, but inseparable from its literature. Language matters, “it makes us different from the beasts,” it is culture, it is what we are.

Both Metzger and Schaechter qualify as philologists in the grand sense, but with provocative differences. Schaechter’s life was an essay in preservation, or retrieval: he consecrated himself to the task of sustaining Yiddish as itself a sustaining force. Metzger’s career presents a different aspect. No doubt about his achievement in language, nor his ability: “besides Greek, Latin and Hebrew,” the Times recounts, he “knew Coptic, Syriac, Russian, German, Spanish, French and Dutch, among others.” A formidable portion of his formidable achievement was dedicated to Getting it Right—to assessing and evaluating the famously refractory corpus of Biblical manuscripts.

Yet perhaps is more visible achievement is the line in the first paragraph of the obituary: he “oversaw the publication of a widely used modern edition” of the Bible—an edition which “eliminated all the these and thous and many of the hes.” Stated plainly, for all his achievement in language, Metzger in the end committed himself to the view that language in the end is not All That Important.

It’s a irony not of his own making. Christianity has always taken a relaxed view of originalism in its textual tradition. Set aside the fact that most Americans think the Bible was written by King James: the vocation of Biblical scholars has been to get the Good News into as many languages as possible (I assume it is available in Sign Language and Klingon).

Muslims, at least, would find this incomprehensible. From one end of Indonesia to the other end of Africa, the core of the Muslim tradition is that Allah speaks with one voice, and that voice is Classical Arabic. Never mind the fact that so many reciters of the Koran have no idea what they are saying: at least they are speaking the authentic Word.

Schaechter in this sense was a lot closer to the tradition of Islam than to Christianity—exemplifying, perhaps, that Islam draws on its Hebrew roots even more directly than Christianity. His job was specifically not to make Yiddish culture available in English, but to make Yiddish culture available in Yiddish—to keep it alive as a language and a way of life.

This distinction seems to me important, but at the end of the day, the unity remains. Language is what makes us what we are. Remember Auden on Yeats.

Time that is intolerant

Of the brave and innocent,

And indifferent in a week

To a beautiful physique,

Worships language and forgives

Everyone by whom it lives;

Pardons cowardice, conceit,

Lays its honours at their feet.

--W. H. Auden, In Memory of W. B. Yeats d. Jan. 1939

Fn.: The Times obit of Metzger includes a couple of amusing examples of translational lacunae in the New Testmant. I admit I like these Biblical word games. Abraham needed a computer and Isaac asked him where he would get the hardware. “God,” said Abraham, “will provide the RAM.” Does the Bible mention fleas? Yes, God told Joseph to take his wife and Son and flea into Egypt. Language. It matters.

And Speaking of Investor Discipline

Managers and investors are natural enemies. Investors want high returns. Managers want backdated options and gold keys to the washroom.

I've long thought my favorite bit of investor discipline is Episode 15, Season 2 of The Simpsons, "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" That's the one where Homer finds his long-lost half-brother, Herb Powell (who sounds suspiciously like Danny DeVito). Herb is deep in megabucks as the president of Powell Motors. Stunned and smitten by his newly-discovered family, Herb turns to Homer for advice on designing his new model called, appropraitely enough "The Homer."

Of Course it is a disaster. Herb loses everything and is last seen boarding the bus with, if memory serves me rightly, a cardboard suitcase. "His life was an unbridled success," laments Lisa, "until he found out he was a Simpson."

Now, that was my idea of investor discipline. Until this. Hat tip: Tyler Cowen.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hello Again...

My friend Joel reports that Catholics may soon be a majority in England for the first time since the Reformation, what with all that immigration (I assume he means the Central Europeans, not the Middle Easterners).

Anyway, it delights me to think of all those Jesuit priests crawling out of their hidy holes in the mansions of great aristos, blinking and bewildered before the TV cameras, and the first daylight in 350 years.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Go New Places, Meet New People...

I was beat up fairly often when I was a kid. No, no, I'm not asking for sympathy here. It was a long time ago and in any event, Mrs. Buce says that with my smart mouth, she's surprised I didn't get beat up more. Anyway, one happy consequence of this early experience was that I thought Army basic training was, at least by comparison, a reasonably pleasant experience. A fair amount of stylized bullying, of course, but it didn't really hurt, and it happened to everybody--and since it had all happened to me before, it wasn't even particularly humiliating.

And I must say it wasn't anything like this.

Truth May Be Stranger Than Fiction
But It's No More Durable

The indefatigable Glenn Greenwald has a characteristically comprehensive post up at slate, demolishing the fakery behind a supposed quotation from Abraham Lincoln (see also Carpetbagger and others). Here’s what Lincoln did not say:

Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged.

Sound familiar? No surprise, it has been galumphing around the conservative noise machine for some time now. Frank Gaffney used it as an epigraph for his latest column in the Washington Times. It was still up at the website as of 518 pm Pacific time today (Feb. 14 2007). This last is a scandal in itself, because as Greenwald has documented, the Times has been notified—and apparently Gaffney has acknowledged—that the quotation is a total fabrication, start to finish. Greenwald explains:

This "quote" was first attributed to Lincoln by J. Michael Waller in Insight Magazine, in a 2003 article revealingly entitled: Democrats Usher in an Age of Treason. But as Waller himself now admits, the quote attributed to Lincoln is completely fraudulent. Waller wrote in an e-mail to (h/t William Wolfrum):

The supposed quote in question is not a quote at all, and I never intended it to be construed as one. It was my lead sentence in the article that a copy editor mistakenly turned into a quote by incorrectly inserting quotation marks.

It was Waller, in The Washington Times' Insight Magazine, urging that anti-war Congressmen be hanged -- not Abraham Lincoln.

There’s an admirable review of the whole business at Factcheck, including also a discussion of the question whether Lincoln ever said anything like this (hint: no).

Factcheck does leave one curious fact in evidence but uncommented-on. Specifically, they quote an email from Waller:

Oddly, you are the first to question me about this . I'm surprised it has been repeated as often as you say. My editors at the time didn't think it was necessary to run a correction in the following issue of the magazine.

But per Factcheck, the article first appeared on December 23, 2003. The Insight piece broke on August 25, 2006. Factcheck recounts that the quote was used in a National Press Club Speech on May 24, 2006, as a slam against Democratic Congressman John Murtha, then a candidate for reelection. I wonder if Waller ever troubled himself to consider blowing the whistle on himself? Or why his editors “didn’t think it was necessary to run a correction”—until, that is, Factcheck showed up at their door with the goods.

The fabricated Lincoln quote is only one of a near-infinite number of bogus attributions that drift around the political arena, and to be fair, not all generate from the right. Coincidentally just lately, I was tracking down the origins of the famous (alleged) “Chief Seattle” speech:

How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?

Every part of the Earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clear and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memories of the red man.

Heady stuff, but indisputably bogus. It was written by one Ted Perry, apparently then at the University of Texas, now at Middlebury College in Vermont. The Website of the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle (linked from Snopes, supra) explains:

In the winter of 1971/72, Ted Perry, a screenwriter working for the Southern Baptist Convention's Radio and Television Commission, used Chief Seattle's speech as a model for the script of a film on ecology called _Home_. The film's producer wanted to show a distinguished American Indian chief delivering a statement of concern for the environment, so Perry wove such wonderful lines as "The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth" among pieces of Chief Seattle's 1854 oration. Perry expected to be given credit for writing this film script, but he made the mistake of including the Chief's name in his text. According to Perry, the producer didn't credit his screen writer because he thought the film might seem more authentic without a "written by" credit.

Note some common themes here: in each case the writer acknowledges the writing, but says the misattribution wasn’t really his fault. But in each case, the bogosity seems to take on a life of his own.

Crap Detector Footnote: In each case, there are clues that ought to give the reader grounds for skepticism. “Chief Seattle” (Perry) says:

I have seen a thousand rotting buffaloes on the prairie, left by the white man who shot them from a passing train.

In fact, there are no buffalo anywhere near Seattle, and were not in Chief Seattle’s time. Meanwhile, Lincoln warns us against “saboteurs.” But as “fuyura” at Carpetbagger points out, there is no documented use of the word “saboteurs” in English before 1918.

I Bet...

...Reed Hundt is onto something here, re the Scooter Libbey trial. Sounds to me like the fix is in, but as the editorial writers like to say, time will tell, and the future lies ahead.

And when you come to a fork in the road, take it.

The Dream of the English Major

I just stumbled on this guy today, but it looks to me like he has the life every English major dreams of, not so? Except Cleveland. Yes, except Cleveland.

Isn't it 'General Tsao'?

I'm just now catching up with the strange history of General Tso's Chicken, the chop suey of Chinese Food.

Undocumented foodie bonus: Anthony Bourdain smacks down the, um, competition.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Must Read: Hedge Funds

Or maybe not a must read; maybe you already. Anyway, Daniel Gross sums up the evidence that we're heading for a hedge fund meltdown.

I have a perverse view of these things because I hang out with bankruptcy lawyers. My take is that these guys think a meltdown is indeed coming. Their problem is that they can't seem to get a handle on how to get a piece of it: they seem to fear that Skadden Arps will occupy every profitable position in every case.

Or most of them. A lawyer from deep in the boondocks says: "There'll be enough for everybody, don't worry. Enough for everybody."

"A Slice Tomato You Have, Maybe?"

I posted a few weeks back about Bernard Malamud. I didn't excerpt him because the stories seemed so self-contained, it was a shame to break any on up. But here is a passage that has been haunting me. Salzman the marraige broker (and perhaps magician) makes one last push to catch the attention of Leo, the rabbinical student:

Almost at once there came a knock on the door. Before Leo could say enter, Salzman, commercial Cupid, was standing in the room. His face was gray and meager, his expression hungry, and he looked as if he would expire on his feet. Yet the marriage broker managed by some trick of the muscles, to display a broad smile.

“So good evening, I am invited?”

Leo nodded, disturbed to see him again, yet unwilling to ask the man to leave.

Beaming still, Salzman laid his portfolio on the table. “Rabbi, I got for you tonight good news.”

“I’ve asked you not to call me rabbi. I’m still a student.”

“Your worries are finished. I have for you a first-class bride.”

“Leave me in peace concerning this subject.” Leo pretended lack of interest.

“The world will dance at your wedding.”

“Please, Mr. Salzman, no more.

“But first must come back my strength,” Salzman said weakly. He fumbled with the portfolio straps and took out of the leather case an oil paper bag, from which he extracted a hard, seeded roll and a small smoked whitefish. With a qwuick motion of his hand he stripped the fish out of its skin and began ravenously to chew. “All day in a rush,” he stuttered.

Leo watched him eat.

“A sliced tomato you have maybe?” Salzman hesitantly inquired.


The marriage broker shut his eyes and ate. When he had finished he carefully cleaned up the crumbs and rolled up the remains of the fish in the paper bag. His spectacled eyes roamed the room until he discfovered, amid some piles of books, a one-burner gas stove. Lifting his hat he humbly asked, “A glass of tea you got, rabbi?”

Conscience-stricken, Leo rose and brewed the tea…

--Bernard Malamud, The Magic Barrel,
in Bernard Malamud: The Complete Stories 134-149, 139 (1997)

Cute, I guess...

Underbelly's Wichita bureau reports that they ought to call Anna Nicole Smith's baby "success," because defeat is an orphan , but success has a thousand fathers.

Monday, February 12, 2007

"I Can't Believe its Not 'Bitter'!"

I’ve wished I could learn Indo-European—had I the opportunity, and the time, and the talent. Reading the book helps, but it doesn’t quite do it for me: my ear isn’t really sharp enough to pick it up from text; I need someone sounding it in my ear.

Short of the full platter, here’s a great hors d’oeuvre: Old English and its Relatives, by Orrin W. Robinson—apparently the text book for his introductory course at Stanford. It’s not IE per se, but it’s a nice accessible introduction to a lot of issues about language structure and language change. Imagine my surprise to find that it’s going on even now as we stand here:

sound change involves a modification in the articulation of the distinctive sounds of the language. There is an interesting example from contemporary American English, whose speakers frequently confuse such words as “bitter” and “latter” with words like “bidder” and “ladder,” all of them (and in addition words like “hitter,” “fatter.” “fitting,” “latger”) containing a d-like medial consonant. Now there is evidence that all the words written with a t were at one time pronounced with a genuine t sound. First, of course, we still write them with thre letter t. Second, many of the words involved have a pronounced t sound when one leaves off the endings: thus “hi[t],” “fa[t],” “fi[t],” “la[t]e” (where square brackets indicate a phonetic transcription. Third, we can find many English dialects where the changes haven’t taken place, especially in Britain. Finally, many of us actually still pronounce the [t] in careful speech (“I said bitter, not bidder!”).

Orrin W. Robinson, Old English and its Closest Relatives 4 (1992).

A Counter-Nietzschean View

Here's a guy who takes a somewhat less than Nietzschean view of his achievements:
Have I not been employed in mischief all my days? Did not the American Revolution produce the French Revolution? And did not the French Revolution produce all the calamaities and desolations to the human race and the whole globe ever since?
But the feeling passes:
I meant well, however. My conscience was clear as a crystal glass, without a scruple or doubt. I was borne along by an irresistible sense of duty. God prospered our labors; and, awful, dreadful and deplorable as the consequences have been, I cannot but hope that the ultimate good of the world, of the human race, and of our beloved country, is intended and will be accomplished by it.
--John Adams, to Benjamin Rush, Aug. 28, 1811
Excerpted in The American Enlightenment 211 (A. Koch ed. 1965)

Live Dangerously

A few days ago I posted a quote from Nietzsche on the virtues of heroic risk. Apparently he wasn't kidding:
...the secret of realizing the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment of existence is: to live dangerously! Build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius! Send your ships out into uncharted seas! Live in conflict with your equals and with yourselves! Be robbers and ravagers as long as you cannot be rulers and owners, you men of knowledge The time will soon be past when you can be content to live concealed in the woods like timid deer!
Friedrich Nietzsche, Gay Science 283
(I see the exclamation point ratio is even higher than before)

Is this the stuff that Edwin Muir was reading while he was working in the bonyard? Hmph, if it's my neighbors, I suspect they'll be nagging the governor to declare them a disaster area so they can get federal aid.

Bleah. Cocoa ready yet?

Grumpy, We Hardly Knew Ye

One of the great ones hangs up his, um, whatever. More or less (link).

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Oh Stop That

Lesbian couple seeks sperm donor with flexible involvement.

--BBC News Quiz

Remembering President Tsongas

A British columnist (fresh from predicting a Republican victory last November, as he admits) is not impressed by Obama:

The surreal idea of President Obama (2008) follows in the dubious footsteps of President Howard Dean (2004), President Bill Bradley (2000), President Steve Forbes (1996) and President Paul Tsongas (1992). In fairness to Mr Bradley, who may have made a decent occupant of the Oval Office, he was not a risible figure to aspire to inherit George Washington’s mantle. All of the rest were.

Afterthought: Bradley? Bradley? Oh get real. He may be the weakest of the lot. A fully-inflated media helium balloon who expected the presidency to be conferred upon him as an entitlement. Thanks, Joel, whose good offices as a source need not be taken as an endorsement. Of anything.

Well, Hey

Up this morning in time to listen to the media as they continue to massage us towards a war with Iran. Therefore it is a pleasant surprise to discover this shred of optimism from a guy who tends to get this sort of thing right. It’s about that Defense Department IG Report—the one subtitled “Doug Feith Still an A*hole.” Patrick argues that it’s a shot across the bow, and it wouldn’t have happened unless Robert Gates pulled the trigger. Nice to know that there is someone with experience in bureaucratic warfare who thinks that this larger war just might be a dumb idea.

Postscript: For a supersized serving of Feith hash, go here.

Post-postscript: Carpetbagger catches Gates with his waffle iron on stun.

Who Was Jicinsky?

Who said “I’m Spartacus”? Trick question, answer below. First, a family note.

Mrs. Buce’s mother was a Jicinsky whose family came to America from Bohemia via Vienna. Family folklore always assigned him to the town of Jičín up on the Polish border, and we made plans to take a side trip up there a couple of years back on our first trip to Prague.

Silly us. If you live in Jičín, you don’t call yourself “Jicinsky,” any more than people in Palookaville would call themselves “Palooka.” You call yourself Jicinsky when you show up someplace else, a stranger. We finally tracked grandpa down to a little town out west of Prague, over towards German border – a places whose Czech name apparently translates, appropriately enough, as “Little Town.” It’s a lovely, tree-shaded village: evidently upscale Praguers are scooping up the old houses as weekend cottages. We found elaborate family records (the Austrian Empire wrote down everything, so it seems). It is fun to think of grandpa trekking down to the Imperial Capital. In time he became a metal basher; maybe he learned his trade at the Skoda works in Plzeň on the way.

You think we might have figured this out before hand. I might have got a clue if I had read this bit from Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, in his marvelous Jewish Literacy:

The Jewish community is commonly divided into Ashenazic and Sephardic Jews. … In practice … most Jews whose families come from Europe are regarded as Ashkenazim, and those whose families come from either Spain or the Arab world are called Shepardim. However, if one meets a Jew whose last name is Ashkenazi, he is almost certainly a Sephardi. Many generations ago, a European ancestor of his undoubtedly went to live among Sephardic Jews …

--Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy 215 (1991)
(Emphasis added, but is Spain not in Europe?)

Who said “I’m Spartacus?” Answer: Everyone but Spartacus. But you knew that.

Afterthought: Seeing as how it ends with an "Sky," and seeing is how the town is on the northern border, it strikes me that maybe the ancestors are really Polish. Mrs. Buce is not impressed.

Pocket part: My friend Taxmom at Domestic Economy is a birdwatcher. She says that if you see a bird that belongs on your life list, then that bird is out of its element, and in trouble, and will die. Unless, of course, you belong on the observer’s life list, in which case good luck.

Hoisted from a Swamp of Marxism

Brad deLong is trying to make sense out of Marx's Critique of the Gotha Program. That inquiry may or may not be worth your time and effort, but you will want to consider these questions that a 12th Century X would ask about a 21st Century Y:
The questions a twelfth-century peasant would have asked about twenty-first century economics institutions would have been things like:
  • Who will be my master?
  • On whose demesne will I work, and for how long each week?
  • How will land be redivided in the village if I have three sons who survive to adulthood?
  • Will my master have the High Justice, or just the Middle and the Low?

The questions a twelfth-century knight would have asked about twenty-first century military institutions would have been things like:

  • What share if a typical lord's mesnie will be made up of household knights, and what share of sub-tenants?
  • How will bailiffs be selected for manors and other honours that the lord has retained and not granted in sub-fief?
  • Will auxilliary troops--bowmen, spearmen, et cetera--be primarily mercenaries or primarily members of knights' households?
  • Will the Truce of God cover just Sundays alone, or extend from Sunday to Wednesday?
  • The crossbow: overrated toy or dangerous menace?
  • Will there be a place for light cavalry on the twenty-first century battlefield?
Only one afterthought: I don't know about "spearmen," but the craft of archery required great skill so the class of "bowmen" in whatever guise tended to be cosseted and used with discretion.

Okay, two afterthoughts: the crossbow is both an overrated toy and a dangerous menace. Floor wax and a dessert topping.

Life on the Lam

Anybody who thrilled at Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen in Papillon will be riveted by Jim Dwyer’s account in this morning’s New York Times about Orlando Bouquete, who lived as a fugitive for more than a decade after escaping from a Florida prison where he was held on a conviction for a crime he did not commit. Dwyer notes a curious irony:

In “The Fugitive,” a movie starring Harrison Ford, an innocent man on his way to death row seizes a chance to run for his life. In the unyielding reality of prison, innocent people often do the precise opposite of running. They dig in their heels. Many go before parole boards and refuse to apologize for “their” crimes, unwilling to offer themselves as exemplars of how the penitentiary really is a place of penance. In Pyrrhic glory, these innocent people prolong their incarceration by refusing to fake remorse for things they did not do, while the guilty quickly learn that the carrot of parole awaits those who muster the necessary show of contrition.

No word on whether Bouquete ever saw The Fugitive or Papillon, but he did treasure a Spanish-language translation of the original Papillon, which he studied to good effect. Dwyer’s account of Bouquete’s escape and his life on the lam is a thriller, but he does concede:

Though Boquete’s escape was brave and harrowing, his flight does not particularly distinguish him. In the 1980s, the Florida prisons virtually leaked prisoners: 972 prisoners broke out the year Boquete ran, 1,234 the next year and 1,640 the year after. Most walked away from work crews. Prisoners also left in file cabinets, garbage trucks, dressed as women. From Glades, six murderers dug a tunnel from a chapel, a spectacular breakout that roused alarm and moved state officials to clamp down.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Amazon Reviews

A few years ago before I discovered blogging, I wrote some Amazon reviews. I seem to have put that enterprise on the shelf, at least for now, but they are all still there. I am "Reader7777"--not my nom de blog, and not my CIA name--just a tag that Amazon assigned me and that I found faintly amusing and in any event, easy to remember. I have resisted Amazon's entreaties to post my real name--somewhat unaccountably, because my cover isn't very deep: anybody who cares can find me in a heartbeat, but who cares?

It is inevitably baffling what gets a good response and what does not. I'm glad I got my highest number of votes for Thucydides, still can't figure out why I got so many favorable votes for Brian Magee on Schopenhauer (and what was it I said that chuffed that guy about Herodotus--posted the same day as the Thouk?). Anyway, enjoy. They may not be there for more than another millennium.

Just Askin'...

Somebody must have asked this before, but I don't know the answer: do convicts in New Hampshire jails get to make license plates that say "Live Free or Die"--?

Not Anna

Editor and Publisher, and then Carpetbagger, took note of the passing of a young woman whose claim to fame is that she is not Anna Nicole Smith. I'll take the baton. Here is the AP story (via E&P):

A 2004 graduate of Fallston High School who followed her older brother to the Marines was killed during fighting in Iraq, the Department of Defense said Thursday.

Cpl. Jennifer Parcell, 20, of Bel Air, Md. died Wednesday "while supporting combat operations in Al Anbar province," a Department of Defense news release said.

"If you knew her, you loved her. She was a go-getter. She knew what she wanted in life and she was doing what she had to do to achieve that," Parcell's aunt Martha Benton of Aberdeen said.

Parcell joined the Marine Corps in January 2005. Benton said she'd wanted to enlist since attending her brother Joseph's graduation at Parris Island. The 24-year-old enlisted in February 2003 and he is returning from his tour to be with family.

The brother and sister were stationed together in Iraq for about a month before their tours of duty separated them, Benton said.

Math was her forte at Fallston High School in 2004, Benton said. She said Parcell always enjoyed the water, including boating and scuba diving. She also liked yoga and music and spending time with family and friends.

Parcell was assigned to Combat Logistics Regiment 3, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force, based in Okinawa, Japan. She had earned six medals and Benton said Marine Corps officials told the family Parcell may be eligible for a Purple Heart.

"We're just going to miss her very, very much," Benton said. "She was always someone you could count on."

The family was notified of her death Wednesday afternoon.

Also Thursday, the family of a 21-year-old Navy paramedic from the Eastern Shore said he was killed when a Marine helicopter crashed in Iraq Wednesday.

Manuel Ruiz, of Federalsburg, was two weeks into his second tour of duty when the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter he was riding in crashed, killing six other persons onboard.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Duality of Stendhal

What makes Stendhal so memorable is that he is at once the great romantic and the great critic of romanticism. He understands the big dream and the grand gesture, but he sees through them and understands their vanity as well.

Arnold Hauser has always had more than a whiff of vulgar Marxism around him. That’s probably enough to make almost anyone dismiss him today as passé. It’s a fair cop, but the dismissal is unfortunate, because the charge obscures the extent to which his vulgar Marxism gives him a feel for the social and political context of art, particularly the novel (the same can be said about the Hungarian sometimes-Stalinist, Gyorgy Lukacs). Anyway, here is Hauser on Stendhal:

The social problem consists…in the face of those ambitious young people rising from the lower classes and uprooted by their education, who find themselves without money and without connections at the end of the revolutionary period, and who, deluded, on the one hand, by the opportunities of the Revolution, on the other, by Napoleon’s good fortune, want to play a role in society in accordance with their talents and ambitions. But now they discover that all power, all influence, all important posts are held by the old nobility and the new financial aristocracy and that superior gifts and greater intelligence are being displaced everywhere by mediocrity. … [Julien Sorel, hero of Le Rouge et Le Noir] was born too late or too early, and stands between the times, just as he stands between the classes. Where does he belong, whose side is he really on? It is the old familiar question, the problem of romanticism …”

--Arnold Hauser, The Social History of Art
Vol. IV at 29 (RKP Paperback 1962)

Stendhal rode back from Moscow with Napoleon at the age of 29. On December 7, 1812, from Vilna, he wrote to his sister Pauline:

I am in good health, my dearest. I often thought of you on the long march from Moscow, which took fifty days. I have lost everything and have only the clothes I am wearing. What is much better is that I am thin. I have had much physical hardship, and no spiritual pleasure: but all that us done with, and I am ready to start again in the service of His Majesty.

Stendhal, To the Happy Few: Selected Letters
(Norman Cameron trans., Soho Press, 1986)

In fact, nothing so grand ever happened to him again. He collapsed of apoplexy in a Paris street and died, in 1842.

The Missing Link Between Kleist and Kafka

Susan Sontag said that, of Robert Walser. She also called him "A Paul Klee in prose—as delicate, as sly, as haunted. A cross between Stevie Smith and Beckett ...." Thanks to the New York Review of Books link, Walser is enjoying a modest resurgence. Here he is on "A Little Ramble" in Switzerland in 1914.

I walked through the mountains today. The weather was damp, and the entire region was gray. But the road was soft and in places very clean. At first I had my coat on; soon, however, I pulled it off, folded it together, and laid it upon my arm. The walk on the wonderful road gave me more and ever more pleasure; first it went up and then descended again. The mountains were huge, they seemed to go around. The whole mountainous world appeared to me like an enormous theater. The road snuggled up splendidly to the mountainsides. Then I came down into a deep ravine, a river roared at my feet, a train rushed past me with magnificent white smoke. The road went through the ravine like a smooth white stream, and as I walked on, to me it was as if the narrow valley were bending and winding around itself. Gray clouds lay on the mountains as though that were their resting place. I met a young traveler with a rucksack on his back, who asked if I had seen two other young fellows. No, I said. Had I come here from very far? Yes, I said, and went farther on my way. Not a long time, and I saw and heard the two young wanderers pass by with music. A village was especially beautiful with humble dwellings set thickly under the white cliffs. I encountered a few carts, otherwise nothing, and I had seen some children on the highway. We don’t need to see anything out of the ordinary. We already see so much.

—Robert Walser, “A Little Ramble”
Switzerland, 1914 (tr. TomWhelan)

Walser spent the last 23 years of his life in a sanatorium.