Thursday, January 31, 2008

BLOGWATCH: Women's hysteria! Look to The Gays! Lesbos on Twenty-Five Euros a Day!

"To Edmund Burke we raise our glasses up! Damn the French, call the wench, bring another cup!"

Thursday, cigarette #3

I should have known better than to think I could get away with calling Edmund Burke an aesthete, especially after I was shot down for saying so in class on Monday (I assumed I had a sympathetic audience...), so let me try to clarify.

The question is "When does Burke think revolution is justified?" We have as data points that he was sympathetic (sort of) to the American revolutionaries, not at all to the Jacobins, and very much to the Indians under British rule, "whether the white people like it or not." If his rule of thumb isn't "all revolution is bad," which it obviously isn't, what's the difference between a revolution Burke would like and one he wouldn't? I said that the criterion was whether or not the revolutionaries had style equal to their task (I mean, if you're gonna kill the king, let's at least have a little theatre to it); commenters on- and off-line are skeptical.

He almost gives us a moral rule for when revolution is okay in the second day of the Hastings impeachment:
He have arbitrary power! My Lords, the East India Company have not arbitrary power to give him; the king has no arbitrary power to give him; your Lordships have not; nor the Commons, nor the whole legislature. We have no arbitrary power to give, because arbitrary power is a thing which neither any man can hold nor any man can give.

No man can lawfully govern himself according to his own will; much less can one person be governed by the will of another. We are all born in subjection, all born equally, high and low, governors and governed, in subjection to one great, immutable, preexistent law, prior to all our devices and prior to all our contrivances, paramount to all our ideas and all our sensations, antecedent to our very existence, by which we are knit and connected in the eternal frame of the universe, out of which we cannot stir . . .

If [despotism] has no written law, it neither does nor can cancel the primeval, indefeasible, unalterable law of Nature and of nations; and if no magistracies control its exertions, those exertions must derive their limitation and direction either from the equity and moderation of the ruler, or from downright revolt on the part of the subject by rebellion, divested of all its criminal qualities.

There is a difference between bad government (which has unfortunate or unjust laws) and despotism (which has no law and is governed "arbitrarily"), and revolution is only justified against the latter. Sounds like a rule of thumb to me!

But this fails to explain why Burke would be so sympathetic to the Americans. To the "Speech on Conciliation with America!" This passage comes during a discussion of American whaling:
No sea but what is vexed by their fisheries; no climate that is not witness to their toils. Neither the perseverance of Holland, nor the activity of France, nor the dexterous and firm sagacity of English enterprise ever carried this most perilous mode of hardy industry to the extent to which it has been pushed by this recent people; a people who are still, as it were, but in the gristle, and not yet hardened into the bone of manhood. When I contemplate these things; when I know that the Colonies in general owe little or nothing to any care of ours, and that they are not squeezed into this happy form by the constraints of watchful and suspicious government, but that, through a wise and salutary neglect, a generous nature has been suffered to take her own way to perfection; when I reflect upon these effects, when I see how profitable they have been to us, I feel all the pride of power sink, and all presumption in the wisdom of human contrivances melt and die away within me. My rigor relents. I pardon something to the spirit of liberty.
Burke certainly has enough bad things to say about America's stubborn attachment to liberty (it has "at least as much pride as virtue in it," and don't get him started about the lawyers), but something about the nobility of its effects softens his criticism. I quoted the Cromwell passage ("these disturbers were not so much like men usurping power as asserting their natural place in society") last time, so l'll end with the last line of his rhapsody over chivalry:
It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil by losing all its grossness!
What could "vice losing half its evil by losing all its grossness" refer to except some aesthetic criterion?

If a low-rent revolution causes short-term violence on the one hand and long-term ignobility and meanness on the other, Burke may have been right in saying that the latter is the more dangerous effect.

First papayas, now cabbage heads, is no vegetable at Yale safe?

Thursday, cigarette #2

Any time the Yale Political Union debates free speech (like Resolved: Yale should not regulate student speech last night), this quote comes to mind:
With regard to the arousal of ‘undesirable’ emotions by art, the twentieth century would be inclined either to invoke censorship or to appeal to the vocation of art as something above such consideration of local effects. The eighteenth century could afford to be more permissive with regard to the source of aesthetic pleasure: art was not their religion, religion was.
And if you think free speech isn't a live issue at Yale, please travel one year back in time with me. ("The new restrictions do not ban all types of stage weapons, Trachtenberg said. She said she did not prevent an instructor in theater studies who talked to her on Friday from using a dulled knife to cut a cabbage head in a production, for example...")

(Papaya explanation here.)

Abbot is to Costello as Oscar Wilde is to Jesus Christ.

Thursday, cigarette #1
"What's the matter, sister? You ain't saying much."
"Seems to me you're doing excellently without any assistance."
"Well, shut my big mouth! You know, there's nothing I like better than to meet a high-class mama that can snap 'em back at ya. 'Cause the colder they are, the hotter they get. That's what I always say..."

"Nothing spoils a romance so much as a sense of humor in the woman."


"It's Oscar Wilde."

"That's fine, but it's experientially untrue..."

Lines were drawn, positions attacked, screwball comedies cited, and James Agee invoked, all over the question "Does every relationship need a straight man, or is a comedian-comedienne dynamic actually sustainable?" Verdict: it depends.

If you take 30's and 40's screwball comedies as your model for romantic interaction (and why wouldn't you?), it seems at first like witty repartee is the very language of love. But think of His Girl Friday or It Happened One Night: is Rosalind Russell funnier when she wants to banter with Cary Grant, or when she doesn't? Did they cast Claudette Colbert for her smile, or her pout? The audience's favorite character in A Woman of No Importance is Mrs. Allonby, but the male characters are all more interested in Puritan Hester Worsley.

It's possible for a couple to be made up of two comedians when the rest of the world is their straight man (can't think of a good example off the top of my head), but the ways in which this is unsustainable should be obvious.

The context of the Wilde quote brings it all back to theology (as per usual):
LORD ILLINGWORTH: Women have become too brilliant. Nothing spoils a romance so much as a sense of humour in the woman.

MRS. ALLONBY: Or the want of it in a man.

LORD ILLINGWORTH: You are quite right. In a Temple everyone should be serious, except the thing that is worshipped.

MRS. ALLONBY: And that should be man?

LORD ILLINGWORTH: Women kneel so gracefully; men don't.
Everyone in the Temple should be serious exept whoever's being worshipped! God can be funny in ways that we can't! In the same way that Wilde discovered that transforming brute suffering into noble tragedy was Christ's job and not his,* he found that Christ is the universal comedian, not him; we are all His straight men. (Whether Wilde thinks we worship Christ because he's the universal comedian or he's the universal comedian because we worship him doesn't really matter.) Every man has his own Reading Gaol, and you try cracking a joke from cell C.3.3.

* "To the artist, expression is the only mode under which he can conceive life at all. To him what is dumb is dead. But to Christ it was not so. With a width and wonder of imagination that fills one almost with awe, he took the entire world of the inarticulate, the voiceless world of pain, as his kingdom, and made of himself its eternal mouthpiece." De Profundis

"Sugar-sugar, oh, honey-honey, you are my Goldwater girl and you got me wanting you..."

Wednesday, cigarette #1
Pre-YPU cigarette

An interesting theory from Housemate Dara:
HELEN: I never would have remembered that "Candy Girl (Sugar Sugar)" was released in 1969.

DARA: I mean, it has to be, right? Before 1968, you don't really have bubblegum pop.

HELEN: What would you call it?

DARA: Basically doo-wop.

HELEN: Right! Doo-wop and girl groups.

DARA: You don't get real bubblegum pop until after 1967. It is a reactionary genre.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Yes, but what's his china policy?

Tuesday, cigarette #2
I find it harder and harder every day to live up to my blue china. Oscar Wilde

Ross Douthat has put up a temperate post calling aesthetic politics "ultimately pernicious."

I know that quoting Homer and Burke in one day is so undergraduate, but sometimes I just can't help myself:
Other revolutions have been conducted by persons who, whilst they attempted or affected changes in the commonwealth, sanctified their ambition by advancing the dignity of the people whose peace they troubled. They had long views. They aimed at the rule, not at the destruction, of their country. They were men of great civil and great military talents, and if the terror, the ornament of their age... These disturbers were not so much like men usurping power as asserting their natural place in society. Their rising was to illuminate and beautify the world. Their conquest over their competitors was by outshining them. The hand that, like a destroying angel, smote the country communicated to it the force and energy under which it suffered. I do not say (God forbid), I do not say that the virtues of such men were to be taken as a balance to their crimes; but they were some corrective to their effects...
In other words, "Cromwell: Evil goals, but what a stylish bad-ass!" Heroism (authentic and not-so-authentic) offers something to look up to — an aesthetic phenomenon with moral consequences. Politics-as-aesthetics isn't just for fops anymore...

Sing, heavenly muse, of the wrath of McCain, Goldwater's son, which brought on the Americans countless agonies...

Tuesday, cigarette #1
Morning Paper cigarette

Peter Johnston turns out not only to be a "debonair vigilante," but an equally debonair turner of phrases:
Dwelling on policy differences will not win the day for Romney. Rather, he must project the character of his candidacy, which differs substantially from that of McCain. McCain is indeed a national hero, a character steeped in an ethic of honor. His experience in the military indelibly structured his self-perception, making clear to himself his position at the top of a hierarchy of public servants. And he considers the progress of national affairs a solemn trust to be directed in accordance with the responsibility imposed by his station. His is a Medieval or even Homeric candidacy, a throwback to a different age.

Romney’s fundamental faith is the American creed — the inalienable rights of the Declaration of Independence — and his life reflects its influence. Like the great revolutionaries and pioneers of American history, he was born into a traditional social order, but subsequently empowered by inalienable rights to throw off convention and pursue his fortune. His defining traits are hard work, know-how and optimism. He is thus deeply in-tune with the American founding myth, the kind of man envisioned by Jefferson to lead the country’s generational revolution without compromising the spirit of progress that animates America again and again.

McCain is a man of integrity because he embodies the virtues appropriate to his character. Though the virtues appropriate to Romney’s character are different, his integrity is just as pronounced. McCain may be more poetic, but Romney is more American. Voters must therefore choose between a leader transcending their own mold and a leader representing the best of it.
This twin portrait inadvertantly answers the charge that "Politics should never be the forum in which we seek to transcend politics — a lesson John McCain would do well to remember." Is it politics that McCain is trying to transcend, or the Enlightenment values (cue theremin!) that we take for granted as the foundation of American politics?

Also: This blog now accepting suggestions for McCain's Homeric epithet.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Chivalry is alive and well and living in New Haven

Sunday, cigarette #1

The fraternity stunt receiving so much attention over at IvyGate — Zeta Psi pledges held up a sign reading "WE LOVE YALE SLUTS" in front of the Women's Center (you know, the place where women go after they've been raped) and snapped a picture — has provoked plenty of reaction: the Women's Center has threatened legal action, YDN columnists have offered sober reflection, and one culprit has gone on TV to defend himself.

In the meantime, the gentlemen of Yale have taken to the streets. Politely.

The book in the second picture seems to be Reflections on the Revolution in France. The building in the background, of course, is the Zeta Psi house.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A liberal who understands Edmund Burke?

Thursday, cigarette #5

From Shelley, Godwin, and Their Circle by H. N. Brailsford (out of print):
Of Burke one must ask not so much "What did he believe?" but "Whom did he pity?"

Further Dispatches from the Malmsey Butt: "Oh, excellent device! We'll make a sop of him!"

Thursday, cigarette #4
Pre-debate cigarette

I should clarify what I meant by this post, in particular my endorsement of the statement "Becoming Catholic didn't make me noticeably more moral; it just made me start drinking more." I don't mean that Catholicism removed any concern I had for the moral consequences of drunkenness, nor do I mean that Catholicism drove me to alcoholism, although "Jesus Drove Me to Drink" would make a decent country song. I should have said that Catholicism opened the door to alcohol by smashing the illusion that the loss of control involved (eep!) was a thing that made any sense to talk about. A novelist writes unrealistically dramatic characters because he knows that at the end of the day his world isn't real. I live an unrealistically dramatic life because at the end of the day this world isn't real either. So pour the liquor, pour le droit.

Debate Round-Up: Resolved: Let the old people die and Resolved: Liberalism is the true source of America's greatness

Thursday, cigarette #3

The Party of the Left (our beloved nemesis) debated Resolved: Let the old people die on Tuesday. It passed.

Most people grasped very quickly that giving up on expensive health care for the inevitably death-bound is not a utilitarian question of how best to distribute scarce resources ("I am the TA for Math 4367: Twisted Utilitarian Calculus. The hardest part is learning to take twisted utilitarian integrals..."). After some semantic hiccups — Aaron didn't think that "letting die" is an action, Adam didn't think that all old people are, in fact, people — they got down to the business of asking "What does it say about us if we pick a certain subgroup and decide that we don't care whether or not they die? What does it say if we engage in a panicked scramble to prolong life by as many moments as possible?"

Answers included:
(a) "Keeping yourself alive into your nineties is a selfish way to avoid confronting the fact that you didn't live the life you wanted. Seriously, go make up with your estranged son already! It takes, like, twenty-five minutes. Then, being satisfied, you can die."

(b) "If we say that we should let old people die because they're in a lot of pain, it invalidates the lives of everyone who is in pain. If we say that we should let old people die because they have diminished mental capacity, it invalidates the lives of everyone with diminished mental capacity. If we say that we should let old people die because they're not 'contributing to society,' whatever that means..." etc.

(c) "When my mother was a little girl, any time she left the house her grandmother would sit by the window praying the rosary until she got home. Old people are awesome, and anything that suggested a lack of concern for them would be bad."
The Union herself tacked Resolved: Liberalism is the true source of America's greatness, which also passed. However, I was gratified that Mr. Ramey of the Tory Party soundly refuted the notion that "the only tradition in America is the liberal tradition" with two words: JOHN WAYNE.

Of course, all of these are merely a prelude to the Party of the Right's debate tonight, Resolved: Humility is a weakness. (My thesis adviser's take on the subject: "I'm not sure I agree with the resolution, but it would certainly be good if people stopped assuming that they were interesting.") Stay tuned...

"She should be more like Bianca? She can't be more like Bianca! Bianca isn't like anything!"

Thursday, cigarette #2
My mind hath been as big as one of yours,
My heart as great, my reason haply more,
To bandy word for word and frown for frown;
But now I see our lances are but straws,
Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare,
That seeming to be most which we indeed least are.
Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,
And place your hands below your husband's foot...

The Shakespeare Project (previous installments here and here) read Taming of the Shrew on Monday, and it was a debacle. The women squared off against the men (plus one female traitor to the sisterhood) over whether Kate's speech at the very end was meant in earnest. Our resident Englishwoman (codename "Heavily Annotated"), who had the part of Katherine, played it like a battered woman; the Chairman insisted that Kate, when she gives that speech, should seem "happy."

Had Housemate Dara (Hermione to my Paulina, Doll to my Quickly) been there, we would have had a fair fight. As it was, the feminists were outnumbered. Still, there is such a thing as moral victory...

"You shall have wine enough, my lord, anon..."

Thursday, cigarette #1
I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce industry and frugality, and this cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will love of the world, in all its branches. JOHN WESLEY
Today I heard someone ask Nadia, who became Catholic around the same time I did, whether or not being Catholic had made her any more moral than she used to be. "No," she said, "but I did start drinking."

Obviously John Wesley's rule only applies to Protestantism.

After my conversion I had my first drink and my first cigarette, I read The Secret History and decided that the purpose of education was ekstasis ("Today, it is rarely recognized that Eros is the basis of education..."), and generally made my peace with self-destruction. It is nice to read Wesley's quote, which I came across in this book, and discover that a philosophy of the-crucible-of-violence-shall-turn-out-my-life-a-poem has the attending benefit of saving my religiosity from the vicious cycle of (ugh!) prosperity.

Monday, January 21, 2008

I, in this weak piping time of peace, have no delight to pass away the time...

Sunday, cigarette #1
Post-Shakespeare cigarette
"Not to relent is beastly, savage, devilish; which of you, if you were a prince's son, being pent from liberty as I cam now, if two such murderers as yourself came to you, would not entreat for life? My friend, I spy some pity in thy looks; O, if thine eye be not a flatterer, come thou on my side, and entreat for me, as you would beg, were you in my distress: a begging prince what beggar pities not?"

"Look behind you, my lord! Take that, and that!"
The Shakespeare Project (tagline: "Where the cold readings can get hot...") tackled Richard III last night.

The Cast
Lady Anne, the Duchess of York, and Murderer #2: Me
Queen Elizabeth, Murderer #1, and a pursuivant: Housemate Dara
Everybody else: Some other people

Immediate reactions
1. Who in the world decided that Lady Margaret could keep hanging around?
2. If Lady Anne and Richard flirt between acts ("Of all my dead wives, you're my favorite"), does this add to or take away from the plot?
3. Strewing sugar on a bottled spider sounds, actually, kind of fun.

Considered reactions
1. There are obviously several instances in the play of apparent strengths turning out to be weaknesses. (Being evil means you're never held back by scruples, but it also means that everybody hates you. If you kill every other member of your family you get to be king, but then if you die the throne passes to whole the other side.) There are fewer examples of apparent weakness turning out to be a kind of strength. Maybe Princess Elizabeth?
2. Film versions: For all its abridgements, Ian McKellen's is better than Olivier's for one reason: Richard must be killed by someone more attractive than he is. There's a parallel between "Evil will get you far, but to succeed completely you must be virtuous" and "Evil men are sometimes hot, but never beautiful," and Stanley Baker doesn't get us there. (Also, the only way McKellen could have made me want to kill Queen Elizabeth even more was to cast Annette Bening.)
3. Internet video: This modernized version is interesting for no other reason than that Richard gets his most evil moment taking a cigarette out of a personalized cigarette case — one instance where I'm happy to have smoking used to telegraph "HEY THIS GUY'S EVIL."

Friday, January 18, 2008

Presidential parking pardons? Please.

Friday, cigarette #2
Hangover clears; Strauss-induced headache persists

Contrary to Wikipedia, the tradition of each newly-elected French president forgiving parking tickets on his first day in office (a tradition that Sarkozy broke) did not begin with Napoleon but with medieval kings who would release prisoners from jail as part of their ceremonial entrance to a city. (Thanks, Prof. Walton!)

Contrast with the American tradition of signing pardons on your last day in office.

Five reasons not to hate Yale too much

Friday, cigarette #1
Average hangover cigarette

1.) "I'm happy to report that you have been admitted into my 'What Is Conservatism?' seminar. Since there is an extensive wait-list, please let me know as soon as possible if you will not be taking the course."

2.) The above email was sent by the professor after one AM.

3.) Eight of the seventeen students admitted are members of the Party of the Right.

4.) The Party of the Right debate resolution last night was Resolved: Eat the apple.

5.) It passed.

Highlights of the "Eat the apple" debate included the chief whip reciting a Narnia rhyme ("Make your choice, adventurous stranger/Strike the bell and bide the danger/Or wonder till it drives you mad/What would have followed if you had") and the SSCAY arguing that a man must eat the apple in order to protect his wife because he has to understand the dangers and temptations she faces. "Follow your morally weaker spouse as Christ followed mankind into the fallen world!"

UPDATE: The ratio of Party of the Right members-to-nonmembers in the class is now ten to four.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

YPU: Resolved: Spread democratic liberalism through free trade with Tom Palmer

Tuesday, cigarette #6
Post-floor fight cigarette
Outside the Union meeting

When the Union debates free trade, there's usually money to be won on betting that the debate will be awful. Luckily, Tom Palmer's guardian angel was on watch.

Much to the Right's surprise, the Left didn't harp on blood diamonds, plutocrats, and child labor, but rather made the point that "free trade" means more than just the elimination of trade barriers.

According to the first student rebuttal, bringing free trade to places that don't have it requires that certain changes on the ground happen first, including but not limited to: a capitalistic understanding of land ownership, ditto for understanding of labor, and trading in the mindset of subsistence farming (risk-averse) for the mindset of classical liberalism (not). In some cases, it's just a matter of offering industrialization to the people and watching them jump at the opportunity (i.e. rural workers moving to cities for better jobs), but in other cases the local population resists these changes and the government has to use force to make them (the government's incentives should be obvious). He mentioned Laos as such an example, but hell if I know.

Then there was a speech about Ivan the Terrible's destruction of Veliky Novgorod.

Next week: Paul Starr of The American Prospect!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

In the Yale Political Union, "Film is a problematic medium for conservatives" is a conversation starter.

Tuesday, cigarette #2
...the squeaking of Mme. Arpel's shoes is amusing at first, and almost maddening by the end. It's not just that Tati uses gags and keeps striking the same chord. His aesthetic position and insane logic lead to a totally deformed and obsessive world view. The closer he seeks to get to life, the farther away he moves, because life is not logical (in real life, we get so used to noises we don't hear them). In the end he creates a mad, nightmarish, overly concentrated universe which paralyzes laughter rather than engendering it. Francois Truffaut
I heard it suggested yesterday that film is an unconservative medium because it is necessarily fake, i.e. if I were to show you a film that had been made documentary-style by one guy with a handicam and another film made in a professional studio, the latter would seem more realistic than the former.

Hitchcock says something like this in Hitchcock/Truffaut:
They [Cary Grant & Ingrid Bergman] felt terribly uncomfortable at the way in which they had to cling to each other. I said, "I don't care how you feel; the only thing that matters is the way it's going to look on the screen... Some directors will place their actors in the decor and then they'll set the camera at a distance, which depends simply on whether the actor happens to be seating, standing, or lying down. That, to me, semes to be pretty woolly thinking. It's never precise and it certainly doesn't express anything.
Housemate Dara suggests that this inverse relation between reality and realism is one reason why voyeurism is appealing: very artificial and tightly manipulated films look realistic, and raw footage looks unrealistic, which means that if you want your life to seem unrealistic and stylized, all you have to do is put it on film.

Film trades in superficiality more than other media? Maybe. But does this really make it unconservative? It was John Ford who said "Print the legend," after all.

Donald Barthelme: "You may not be interested in absurdity, Mr. Peterson, but absurdity is interested in you."

Tuesday, cigarette #1

From "Margins":
I know what you're thinking. If I'll steal books I'll steal other things. But stealing books is metaphysically different from stealing like money.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Because Resolved: Put a Starbucks on every streetcorner was "too cute."

Sunday, cigarette #2
Outside the YPU office after E-Board

The Yale Political Union will meet this Tuesday evening with guest Tom Palmer. The resolution is yet to be finalized, but candidates include Resolved: Westernize the world through free trade or Resolved: Life, liberty, and property are the only human rights. (An alternate wording that was floated for the second was Resolved: Freedom from coercion is the only human right.) The last time Tom Palmer keynoted a Union debate (Resolved: The state should not provide welfare) it was a barn-burner, so I hope this can be another one.

BLEG: the Union is still putting together its guest list for the semester, so email me if you know anybody famous who likes public speaking and college students. Past guests include Daniel Pipes (Resolved: The Arab-Israeli conflict will only end when one side is defeated), Stephanie Coontz (Resolved: Women's liberation is necessary for the well-being of families), and David Friedman (Resolved: Abolish criminal law). Just don't try to reach me through the YPU officers page; the webmaster can't spell my name.

Boss fires staff for not smoking

Sunday, cigarette #1

From Reuters:
"I can't be bothered with trouble-makers," Thomas was quoted saying. "We're on the phone all the time and it's just easier to work while smoking. Everyone picks on smokers these days. It's time for revenge. I'm only going to hire smokers from now on."

Friday, January 11, 2008

"I fell in love with the first cute girl that I met who could appreciate Georges Bataille..."

Friday, cigarette #6
[The saint's] actions are driven in no small part by cruelty: "There is also an abundant, over-abundant enjoyment at one's own suffering, at making oneself suffer" — the pleasure one would call cruelty... [But] whatever value one might place on medieval ascetic practice, it is, as noted in the introduction to the discussion of thse practices, resolutely medieval: that is, it occus within a religious context not directly available to us. Counterpleasures, Karmen MacKendrick
The prospect of going head-to-head with Phi Beta Cons on sado-masochism doesn't especially appeal to me, but given that the most interesting and provocative reading experience I had in 2007 was Karmen MacKendrick's Counterpleasures (I still don't know what to do with the sentence "Pleasure is not subversive if we make of it something useful, even if that use is to subvert," although I might venture to call it conservative), I should point out how completely they missed the mark on why universities might offer bondage seminars. Michael Filozof writes:
The great question of postmodernity is this: what to we do with ourselves when the bridges have been built, the rivers dammed, the diseases cured, and man on the moon? What do we do with all the time on our hands that we're not spending doing research, doing engineering without computers, and so on? Well, the answer has proven to be that we smoke dope, have sex, and entertain ourselves with music, movies, and video games...

The most lunacy in colleges today exists in the social sciences, languages, administrations, and law, whereas the most sanity still resides in physics, math, and engineering. In the social sciences and administrative staffs, postmodernity allows complete subjectivity because there's no obvious need for truth – these parties are not building a bridge that will fall into the river if they're wrong. (Ultimately, in a large, macro-social sense, there are in fact dire consequences to being wrong in these fields, but the consequences are not immediately obvious.)

In sum, we're victims of our own success — we've seen the future, and it's totally irrational, because we can afford irrationality...
In other words, "We've gotten to a point where everyone who can pass basket weaving is guaranteed safety and survival, which has allowed universities to spend money on frivolities, much to my conservative dismay." He's right that college education is looking more and more like the luxury it is, but throwing every frivolous college program from queer theory to women's wrestling into the same pile is overly simplistic.

Either PBC's problem is that universities are offering BDSM classes, or they're upset that students show up when they're offered. If it's the latter, then they should ask themselves why students who have arrived at the post-modern crisis point of "Okay, now what?" start looking for frivolities that offer danger. (One of the classes cited is "Dominance and Near-Death Experiences with Jeff.") Especially given that Filozof thinks it's the demise of real danger that's responsible in the first place.

Lastly, please take a moment to notice the poetry of "with Jeff" in that course title.

Southern Gothic vs. Ivy League Gothic, part 2: Low comedy

Friday, cigarette #3

Add another one to the Southerners-who-went-north-to-Ivy-League-schools-and-didn't-love-it tally: William Alexander Percy. From Lanterns on the Levee, "At the Harvard Law School":
...My next lesson in differences was more amusing. Harley Stowell and I had been invited to dine with a middle-aged professor and his wife at their home. Except for the usual bolt-upright atmosphere it was a tasteful house and everything except me ran smoothly and decorously.

An immense bird-cage full of canaries filled the end of the dining room to my right behind our host. On each plate sat a snowy napkin innocently folded and refolded into a sort of battleship. I must have been feeling unpardonably vivacious, for in undoing my napkin I gave it an airy little brown roll shaped like a torpedo which described a slow parabola and lit with a wiry band on top of the bird-cage. No one could pretend it hadn't happened. A bandersnatch or a whooping crane flying across the room could not have had higher visibility. The impact with the bird-cage sounded like a Stravinsky chord on an untuned harp, and all the canaries burst into a paean of dismay or applause. I couldn't decide whether I wanted to die or giggle.

But my hosts never batted an eye. They were wonderful; their nerves must have been shattered, but, without allusion to projectiles, we proceeded with the soup course.

To ignore completely such a calamity takes praiseworthy poise, but I'd have felt more reorganized if they all had gone Japanese and bombarded the bird-cage with their rolls or, better still, if everyone had burst out laughing and cheered: "Good shot" or "It's a birdie" or "The last time Senator Omygosh did that he hit two canaries and killed the auk." Someone would surely have been that silly and that merciful a thousand miles south of the Charles.

Bookwatch: Highsmith: A Romance of the 1950's

Friday, cigarette #2
Mail call!

A Guide to the Hangover by M. J. Meaker
If you are an average hangover victim, you will most likely find the hangover in your bed.
If you are above average, you will find it in a strange bed...
This morning's mail call delivered the fruits of an Amazon Christmas gift card, Highsmith: A Romance of the 1950's by Marijane Meaker, cohabitant and lover of Patricia Highsmith for a few years in New York and a pulp novelist in her own right, which I read in one sitting (the book, not her).

Apart from a few choice Fire Island anecdotes ("He blurted out, 'Oh, migod, I'm sor-ry! I am sor-ry. I did not dream that you were a female!' He had a Jamaican accent, this huge black man, and he kept apologizing. 'It's okay,' I said..."), the best thing about the book is the detail that Highsmith kept a mental catalogue of "cooking drinks," "argument drinks," "dressing drinks," "sleepless night drink," "gardening drinks," etc.

These categories are more fun with cigarettes, which are all essentially identical, because the difference between an "argument cigarette" and a "dressing cigarette" is entirely a matter of the smoker's command of style and form. Imagine: you're sitting on the front porch at two in the morning and your roommate comes out. Could you convey in the space of a drag whether you were interested in talking to her? (Oh, Huckabee, please don't ban my non-verbal language...)

Dandywatch: Sebastian Melmoth to be gayest Wilde movie yet!

Friday, cigarette #1

Rupert Everett is making a movie about Wilde's last years:
Everett’s project about the post-libel trial life of Wilde, during which the playwright, novelist and poet lived in exile and had to adopt pseudonyms like Sebastian Melmoth, covers much of the same territory as the play The Judas Kiss, written by David Hare. Directed by Notes on a Scandal helmer Richard Eyre, it is perhaps one of the reasons why the actor was motivated to try and set the record straight.

“Those people should never ever have thought about attacking the Wilde story, because they have no sympathy, or sensitivity or sensibility,” Everett declares to the newspaper of the 1998 production at London’s The Playhouse. “They're rigorously straight, the two of them. They cast Liam Neeson as Wilde — why? Because he's big and Irish!"
Set the record "straight?" Cute.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Right-Wing Dandyism: Talk about feeling a stain like a wound...

Thursday, cigarette #2
"The more conservative members of our clique deny that a woman can be a dandy. What do you have to say to them?"

"A dandy recognizes no authority except her tailor."
An anonymous reader suggested in an email that all my recent posts about the future of conservatism sound like nothing so much as a proposal that the movement be handed over to gay men. Anyone who saw me jumping around to the Pet Shop Boys with Houseguest James (who is Bruce Benderson to my Camille Paglia) last Friday would be forgiven for coming to that conclusion, but it would be closer to the truth to say that I want the reins handed to the dandies.

Disraeli is the best example of the historical (if not entirely intuitive) connection between dandyism and conservatism, but Edmund Burke had a little fop to him (see his description of Marie Antoinette). Radclyffe Hall was a right-winger in spite of, well, everything. Half the biographies of the Victorian dandies end with conversions to Catholicism. (Full disclosure: my senior essay began as a survey of Catholic conversion among Decadent writers, until my advisor pointed out that it would be sprawling enough for him to read with just Oscar Wilde.) Ditto for the second wave (Waugh, Howard, Acton).

If the big items on the conservative psychological agenda are shoring up gender roles, increasing people's comfort with various kinds of aristocracy (social, economic, moral), and making them less afraid to be critical (Tushnet to Yale feminists: "IT IS OKAY TO DISAGREE, OMG"), then who better to lead the charge than a monocled brigade of Romantic traditionalists? Fashion is more uncompromising than morality — you can reserve judgment on someone's moral errors, but no amount of philosophical gymnastics will make an outfit look more fashionable than it is. (Fitness is also un-fudge-able in this way, which is why Huckabee's Jack Lalanne health care plan strikes my ear as "indicating real moral character" rather than "kind of weird.") When the Pope wears "sumptuous" vestments, it isn't just a chance for him to dress up; it's a jab at the dictatorship of relativism.

Also, I cherish the secret hope that, come the dandy revolution, I will be able to use a cigarette holder without looking like an ass.

"It'll help me quit? So, what, I can smoke the book? Is that what you're saying?"

Thursday, cigarette #1

David, the Largehearted Boy, has posted his favorite graphic novels of 2007. Included on the list is Emily Flake's These Things Ain't Gonna Smoke Themselves. The subtitle, "A Love/Hate/Love/Hate Letter to a Very Bad Habit," doubles as a description of this blog.

When asked to come up with a playlist to suit her new book, Flake went to town:
"Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray" - Patsy Cline
Wry little tune about some woman interpolating on Patsy's nice smoke break with her man and stealing him away, leaving Patsy with just one sad, lonely cigarette in said ashtray. Shoulda put that one out in that bitch's EYE, Miss Cline!

"Cigarettes and Alcohol" - Oasis
Remember that time you were looking for some action, but all you found was cigarettes and alcohol? And cigarettes and alcohol were totally enough?

Anything, really, by Tom Waits
Yeah, I know, smoking is evil and that cool factor is bullshit and evil evil blah blah blah, but you try and imagine a world where Tom Waits was a non-smoker and see if you want to live in it.

"What She Said" - The Smiths
Which was: "I Smoke, 'cause I'm hoping for an early death, and I need to cling to something—" Touche, Mozzer.
The fact that her book made this playlist possible almost makes up for the fact that it also provided neo-Puritan book reviewers an opportunity to feel superior. ("These Things is drop-dead hilarious — as hilarious as a book that's about the good chance that a smoker might drop dead from her allegiance to a nasty vice can be..." Oh? And exactly how hilarious is that, C-Ville?)

A shorter version of These Things Ain't Gonna Smoke Themselves was published in C-Ville as "Smoke Break":

As true today...

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

With enemies like this, who needs friends?

Wednesday, cigarette #1
The view implicit in my education was that the basic narrative of Christianity had long been exposed as a myth, and that opinion was now divided as to whether its ethical teaching was of present value, a division in which the main weight went against it. —Brideshead Revisited

Since the Iowa caucus, Huckabee has come under an avalanche of derision, and not just from the Left. Shawn Macomber thinks it's funny that Janet Huckabee says "fixin' to." Pun-happy bloggers are running out of ways to call him a rube (worst so far:"Huckleberry Hound"). Even David Boaz, who should have enough other things to fight with Huckabee about, reserves the first jabs of his Monday column for Huckabee's social conservatism. After three short paragraphs of exposition:
Reporters have been quick to jump on Huckabee's comments in a 1992 Associated Press questionnaire that seemed to confirm their suspicions about a Baptist minister for Arkansas. Huckabee told the AP that "homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural and sinful lifestyle," and called for isolating people with AIDS. That was a position, by the way, that the venerable Reagan had firmly rejected five years earlier. In 1997, then-Arkansas Gov. Huckabee pushed for a reaffirmation of the state's sodomy law, and in 1998 he compared homosexuality to necrophilia.

Huckabee says his rise in the polls can only be attributed to God's will. He endorsed the Southern Baptist Convention's declaration that "A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband." He says he entered politics to "take this nation back for Christ."
It is no surprise that Boaz disagrees with Huckabee's positions. His problem lies in putting a sentence like "He endorsed the Southern Baptist Convention's declaration that 'A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband'" in the middle of a paragraph, with no commentary, on the assumption that his readers will find it as ridiculous as he does. The implication of Boaz's column and Macomber's aside seems to be that revealing Huckabee to be a Southern evangelical is the same as showing him to be a hick and a fool.

It doesn't matter that the evangelical vote can't carry the Republican primary. Huckabee doesn't need every voter to be an evangelical, just to regard it as plausible that an evangelical politician might be something other than a demagogue or "the second coming of Pat Robertson." If he continues to do well, every pundit who predicted that Huckabee would have "little appeal beyond the evangelical movement" will have to learn the hard way that not every atheist finds it impossible to take a Christian politician seriously.

Another hint that your pundit Might Be an Atheist: statements like "There is no way that conservative Catholics are going to vote for a guy who thinks they are damned." For any Catholic voter who can file his top political priorities under the heading "culture of death," there's very little in a Baptist candidacy to get upset about. Besides, Huckabee has already shown an interest in reaching out to other denominations:
Some people ask me, "Are you one of those narrow-minded Baptists who think only Baptists are going to Heaven?" And I say, "Dear friend, I'm more narrow minded than that. I don't think all the Baptists are going to make it."
What was that about politics as comedy?

UPDATE: Oops! George Neumayr (another Catholic) got there first.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Huckabee: The only candidate willing to defend completely useless subjects of instruction

Tuesday, cigarette #2

Just to show that not all Catholics regard Huckabee with suspicion, I'd like to register how much I approve of the "Education and the Arts" page of his issue profile:
Music and the arts are not extraneous, extra-curricular, or expendable — I believe they are essential.

[...] Art and music are as important as math and science because the dreamers and visionaries among us take the rough straw of an idea and spin it into the gold of new businesses and jobs. It is as important to identify and encourage children with artistic talent as it is those with athletic ability. Our future economy depends on a creative generation...
Contrast Huckabee's page with Romney's, Giuliani's, or Thompson's, none of which mentions the arts at all, two of which echo the prevailing view that it's math and science that are "crucial to our security, competitiveness, and prosperity" (Thompson) and which constitute "the intellectual capital and skills [Americans] need to compete in the new global marketplace" (Romney).

I don't expect these pages to reflect much in the way of actual policy one could expect to see during a Republican presidency, and wouldn't want them to — after all, all of the Republican candidates agree that education policy is mostly a matter for the states. (Because being ideologically opinionated doesn't necessarily mean you can't also like federalism.) Still, the symbolism is striking.

Huckabee stands for religion and art class? How long before he gets the coveted Paglia endorsement?

They want to talk about Texas, we want to talk about love...

Tuesday, cigarette #1
Over really terrible instant coffee on the front porch

Speaking of Housemate Will, this is from an email from him:
Q: Why did Douglas Hofstadter cross the road?

A: To make this joke possible.

Just finished reading all 800 pages of Metamagical Themas by Hofstadter, and I have to say that the more I read by that man (4 books now), the more I'm convinced that GEB is the least mature and least insightful of the books he's written; which is a pity since it's the most widely read. [...]

If I could boil down Hofstadter's thesis to a single sentence, it would be something along the lines of: "Modern scientists don't grok metaphors, and metaphors are the most powerful force in the universe..."
Apparently, the thing that's wrong with physicists is the same thing that's wrong with politicians. There are plenty of reasons to suspect that most important political issues of the next few decades are bound to be (for lack of a better term) matters of the spirit, either because capitalism won and we can stop rhapsodizing about the market already ("Throw the Randians down the well...") or because the future will be characterized by such material plenty that the biggest fights left will be the ones that have to do with the kinds of freedoms that materially independent people care about. That being the case, it becomes very important to have a president who is sensitive to the ways in which aesthetic and symbolic problems indicate (or constitute) real ones.

If performance studies is what you get when you apply the language of theatre & film criticism to real life, what do you get when you apply it to politics? "Aesthetic traditionalism" and "performative conservatism" both sound lame. It needs something like "rock 'n' roll conservatism," only even cooler.

More on aesthetic politics here and here. MP3 of the unnamed movement's theme song, "You Wanna Talk About Texas (I Wanna Talk About Love)" by Thurl Ravenscroft, available here.

UPDATE: A reader suggests "noir politics," which I think is equally awful from a rhetorical standpoint but which makes sense in the context of this quote from Richard Maltby:
The hero of these films, who was not always the central protagonist, was the investigator, the man assigned the task of making sense of the web of coincidence, flashback, and unexplained circumstance that comprised the plot. Uncertainly adrift in a world of treachery and shifting loyalties, the investigator of the noir movie was himself less than perfect, frequently neurotic, sometimes paranoid...
And this one from Paul Schraeder:
Because film noir was first of all a style, because it worked out its conflicts visually rather than thematically, because it was aware of its own identity, it was able to create artistic solutions to sociological problems.
Draft Andrews '08?

New Haven: "They're not homeless, they're anchoritic."

Monday, cigarette #1
On Chapel St., 9:15am

Yale takes the indoctrination of freshmen very seriously, and the proper way to handle the New Haven homeless gets its own paragraph in the orientation handbook. Still, in spite of every freshman counselor's insistence that one should never give money to a street beggar ("If you want to help, there are plenty of places to volunteer"), most of the students I know have worked out their own systems:
"I won't give them money, but I'll offer to buy food for them."

"I usually give cash if it looks like they really need it, but I stay away from the ones I know are going to spend it on drugs."

"I won't give money, but I always offer a cigarette instead. And then another cigarette for the road if they say yes." [me]

The man who approached me on the street this morning didn't try to disguise what he needed the money for. "I'm really hung over, honey. Do you have any money so I can buy a drink?" Most people who I've asked say the right thing to do in this case is to offer to buy a sandwich for the guy instead, but Housemate Will and I had the same instinct: give him money for a drink. If you have time, go have a drink with him.

I'm not sure why Will thinks so (my guess is that it has something to do with "the will to badass"), but the only way I can explain why I only give money to beggars when I think they will spend it on booze is this story from Sayings of the Desert Fathers (and I don't just mean that it articulates my reasons why, I mean that I read the story and changed my policy):
Three old men, of whom one had a bad reputation, came one day to Abba Achilles. The first asked him, ‘Father, make me a fishing-net.’ ‘I will not make you one,’ he replied. Then the second said, ‘Of your charity make one, so that we may have a souvenir of you in the monastery.’ But he said, ‘I do not have time.’

Then the third one, who had a bad reputation, said, ‘Make me a fishing-net, so that I may have something from your hands, Father.’ Abba Achilles answered him at once, ‘For you, I will make one.’

Then the two other old men asked him privately, ‘Why did you not want to do what we asked you, but you promised to do what he asked?’ The old man gave them this answer, ‘I told you I would not make one, and you were not disappointed, since you thought that I had no time. But if I had not made one for him, he would have said, “The old man has heard about my sin, and that is why he does not want to make me anything,” and so our relationship would have broken down. But now I have cheered his soul, so that he will not be overcome with grief.’
In other New Haven news, Reihan neglects the real problem with Yale's ambitious renovations: when the A&A building is under construction, the Party of the Right can't hold debates on the roof.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Hallam Foe: "Voyeurism, taxidermy, and a hero for our times."

Saturday, cigarette #3

Hallam Foe (trailer here), which has been tearing up the European awards circuit, is going to be released in America under the title Mister Foe. I don't understand the name change, but I'm happy to finally get the chance to watch [Whatever] Foe.

Most movies about voyeurism — I'm thinking of Rear Window and Peeping Tom — do postmodern things like "implicate the viewer" and "meta-comment on cinema an sich." There's nothing like that in Hallam Foe-the-book, which always makes it clear that Hallam's habit of spying on his friends isn't a way of escaping the action in order to appreciate it but, at least in his mind, is its own way of participating. His voyeurism doesn't really map on to the kind of voyeurism that happens when someone watches a film. Thank God for that. May director David MacKenzie continue to be delivered from self-reference.

In the novel, Hallam picks a church near his family's house to be his voyeurism headquarters, and at one point the wicked step-mother comes into the church, kneels at a pew, and delivers this speech:
"I don't know if you're listening or not. I know you don't like to reveal yourself. Thank you for the flowers. I bullied the shop girl into telling me. You shouldn't have paid by credit card, unless you wanted me to know it was you playing these games. Did you want me to, and are they games?

"I hope you don't think I'm going to break down and repent for the things I've done. I don't regret a thing. But I have some good news for you. A tumour. No one else knows, certainly not Julius. You and I both know he runs from illness, and I would have preferred to enjoy these last few months before the outward signs started to show. But you've put an end to that. So, what next? I know what you want to do, even if you don't. And I want you to know that I want it too. Fast." She paused then, her voice shaking but courageous. "Are you a coward?"

Verity and Hallam both waited. Birds chirruped outside, just audible over the sound of a lawnmower down the road.

"The trouble is, you're not going to tell me, are you? Or maybe you're not there and I'm just going mad. Yes, that's probably it."
There isn't any actual confusion for the reader about whether Verity Foe is talking to God or her step-son (unless God bought her flowers, which would be weird), but her address to Hallam does take the form of a prayer, which raises an interesting question: do we pray to God because we think He's going to do something, or because He's watching?

More Foe videos here and here.

Wait a minute, this cookie is not filled with arsenic!

Saturday, cigarette #2

Tabloid journalism should live forever, not just because objectivity is impossible — everybody knows that, even liberals — but because even trying for objectivity is fatal to a storyteller, which is all a reporter really is. Also, I feel very strongly that every time someone finds a headless body in a topless bar I deserve to hear about it.

After sitting all the way through last night's Netflix-sponsored Curtis Hanson double feature (Wonder Boys and L.A. Confidential), more than anything else I was disappointed with Danny DeVito as Sid Hudgens, and reminded of how few movies I've seen with a tabloid reporter character I considered well-cast. DeVito came across as a critic of the "cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat" variety. He was pathetic where he should have been intimidating and flabby where he should have been muscular. (The fault here probably lies with Ellroy and not Hanson, but it definitely lies with somebody.)

In fact, the only actor I've ever seen completely nail a tough tabloid hound is Burt Lancaster in Sweet Smell of Success, who comes across as muscular in the way that a Walter Winchell column is muscular. Every time he's onscreen I'm afraid he's going to punch somebody. Which is also something you had to worry about with Walter Winchell.

File under "Oh, really?"

Saturday, cigarette #1

From Francis Lee Utley's "Pride and Humility: The Cultural Roots of Ike McCaslin":
If women had been [the South's slave] masters, there would have been no taint, and thus women cannot understand man's obsession with guilt and repentance.

Friday, January 4, 2008

If he thinks Breaking the Waves plays up love-as-slavery, he should just watch Manderlay.

Friday, cigarette #5

From Gerard Loughlin's Alien Sex: The Body and Desire in Cinema and Theology:
[Bess in Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves] is possessed of a love that knows no limits, that gives itself away without thought of the cost — giving "anything to anyone," as Dodo says of Bess near the beginning of the film...

In Christian marriage, as Paul imagines it, husband and wife are completely the slaves of Christ, in body and spirit, to be trained in the practice of dispossession, which is the very price by which they have been purchased. They own one another only to the extent that they are owned by a third, whose ownership constitutes the relationship of dispossession between them. They become the slave of a slave, and must act as he does...

A similar conlcusion is reached by Adrian Thatcher, who, having noted the integration of marriage and slavery in the Pauline texts, argues that once the institution of slavery has ben repudiated, so must the theology of marriage built upon it. "It is inadmissible to appeal to biblical teaching on marriage while at the same time rejecting slavery since marriage and slavery are as indissolubly linked as a man and a woman are linked in marriage."

"Hubris is grist for other mills..."

Friday, cigarette #4

I can't mention my least favorite paragraph from an education-related court ruling without also mentioning my favorite: in 1962, Mississippi's Governor Ross Barnett was charged with criminal contempt for using his office to support the segregationists at Ole Miss who were refusing to admit James Meredith. The case didn't reach the Fifth Circuit until three years later, at which point they decided that it would be better simply to dismiss it.

Judge John Minor Wisdom, who opposed the dismissal, ended his dissent with this:
There is an unedifying moral to be drawn from this case of The Man in High Office Who Defied the Nation: The mills of the law grind slowly — but not inexorably. If they grind slowly enough, they may even come, unaccountably, to a gradual stop, short of the trial and judgment an ordinary citizen expects when accused of criminal contempt. There is just one compensating thought: Hubris is grist for other mills, which grind exceedingly small and sure.

More My Lai tastelessness, this time from Jonathan Kozol

Friday, cigarette #3
In front of Sterling Memorial Library

Speaking of people being tasteless about My Lai, Jonathan Leaf took education expert (not to be confused with an expert educator) Jonathan Kozol to town and back in the latest The Weekly Standard: the ideal school, [Kozol] explains, students should not "line up elegantly beside the door, wait for [the teacher's] signal and then file to the stairs." This is behaving like "William Calley's soldiers marching to My Lai."
But Kozol has more to answer for than his bad taste. Leaf attributes "the national phenomenon of judges' compelling states to change their tax codes to increase funding for schools in poor districts" to Kozol's bestseller Savage Inequalities. I was in high school when North Carolina hopped on this particular trend, and I remember shaking my head over Howard Manning's ruling in Hoke County Board of Education v. the State of North Carolina:
The right to the equal opportunity to a sound basic education, is only to the sound basic education, not the frills and whistles. The State Constitution does not require that children be provided the courses and experiences to enable them to go to Yale or Harvard. While there is no restriction on high-level electives, modern dance, advanced computer courses and multiple foreign language courese being taught or paid for by tax dollars in the public schools, the Constitutional guarantee of a sound basic education for each child must first be met.
In other words, the state can't spend a dime on "frills and whistles" like AP classes or dance until Hoke County graduation rates reach an acceptable level.

The court later walked Manning's language back, releasing a statement implying that any resemblence his ruling may have to actual policy was purely coincidental, but they left intact the basic principle: the "fairness" of a state's education budget is defined not by how much money each county spends (per pupil spending at the time of the case was $4663.08/yr in Hoke County, $4220.46/yr in Wake County, where I went to school, which offered an abundance of "frills and whistles"), but by how academically successful their students are. This links funding to measures (i.e. graduation rates) with which increased funding has no correlation.

Leaf points out this fallacy in relation to Kozol:
Savage Inequalities opens with a 37-page account of the horrors of a school in the almost all-black city of East St. Louis, Illinois. [...] As a contrast with this school, Kozol reports on a lovely white school in a nearby suburb. But, on the last page of the opening chapter, he slips in an immensely interesting fact: School spending in East St. Louis is above the average in the state! The school's rock-bottom achievements are not the result of rock-bottom spending. How then can increased funding be the solution if it isn't the cause of the supposed problem?
I only wish Leaf's article had spent less time pointing out Kozol's influence on teachers and academics (which is merely ridiculous) and more time focusing on his impact on policy (which is actually dangerous). This is not to say that he should have taken Kozol more seriously; he makes clear that this is something one must not do. But Kozol getting the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award is a joke, not a horror story, and there are plenty of education policy horror stories that matter more than what gets on teacher prep class syllabi.

Michael O'Donoghue (January 5, 1940 - November 8, 1994)

Friday, cigarette #2

The internet has failed to do right by Mr. Mike, which is a sad fate for the man who was a mentor to P.J. O'Rourke. The only articles available online are old bitter Michael O'Donoghue pieces, which aren't a patch on young angry Michael O'Donoghue pieces from his National Lampoon days, when his philosophy of humor was, "It's not enough to tickle the ribs. Now you must drive an ice pick into the brain pan. Did I say 'an ice pick?' I meant 'nine hundred ice picks,' of course."
Telling a Child His Parent is Dead

Kid: I'm so hungry that my stomach hurts. We've been walking all day and haven't eaten a thing.
Adult: I know, but I had a reason for not buying you food. Right now you've got ten seconds to choose between al the ice ream you can eat or seeing your parents alive again.
Most shock humorists make fun of things like sex and death because they're afraid of what would happen if they took them seriously. An O'Donoghue piece like "The Vietnamese Baby Book" ("Willy Calley, pudding and pie, shoot the boys and make them die...") is fearless about death in a way that, say, American Pie fails to be fearless about sex.
The things people are shocked by are no longer sexual. It's cancer that threatens people now, not blow jobs. So you can be shocking and dangerous, and there is a perimeter that people get very nervous as you move close to. I used to smoke Marlboros and the guy selling them would say, "Soft pack or hard?" I'd say, "Listen, I don't really care as long as it gives me cancer." They'd just go, "Hunnh?"
If you've never been "beyond the perimeter," it looks something like this (from the cover of National Lampoon's "Bummer" issue):

Luc Sante Preaching the Gospel

Friday, cigarette #1
Outside Koffee on Audubon

From Kill All Your Darlings:
...just as an alcoholic remains an alcoholic even after decades of abstinence, so a smoker is a sinner forever after. You have breathed fire. You have experiened one of the deepest satisfactions of life: the first cigarette of the day in tandem with the first cup of coffee.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

"My name is Joe Roberts. I work for the state."

Thursday, cigarette #1
Outside Bass Library
MUSIC: "Highway Patrolman," Bruce Springsteen
Well, I chased him through the county roads
Till a sign said
Canadian Border Five Miles from Here.
I pulled over to the side of the road
And watched his taillights disappear.

I catch him when he's straying, like any brother would.
If a man turns his back on his family, the man just ain't no good.
Things I Did Not Expect to See in Reason This Month: a sidebar in praise of Copperhead Road-era Steve Earle.

Things I Expected to See in Reason Two Months Ago: Brian Doherty's cover story, "Scenes from the Ron Paul Revolution".


Probably. Still, Doherty's article makes a big deal of the fact that "I don't want to run your life" has equal appeal for Red State rustics like Steve Earle and urban libertarians like himself — more of a big deal than the alliance deserves. Reason needs to slow down before rushing into an alliance with rural gun-and-guitar types, because my enemy's enemy is not always my friend when that enemy is the State.

James Agee, who felt at home in both worlds, managed to sneak a very tidy summary of the intersection between populism and libertarianism into a review of The Postman Always Rings Twice:
. . . it is also interesting as the third current movie — the others are From This Day Forward and Deadline at Dawnwhich represents the Law as an invincible and terrifying force before which mere victims, whether innocent or guilty, can only stand helpless and aghast. Of course this could at a moment's notice shift over to the one about the state being far greater than the individual, because stronger, smarter, and more inscrutable; and I suppose that before we know it, if not sooner, we shall have it that way. But so far the attitude is almost 100 per cent contemptuous of organized justice and is accepted as such, with evident pleasure, by the audience. I could almost believe that this indicates a Trend. I hope so.
To the extent that the two groups share an aesthetic aversion to the state, this image of "government as inscrutable and unaccountable edifice" is the nightmare driving both camps into the warm embrace of the Paul campaign. But not in the same way. Rural conservatives are afraid of the government dealing out any kind of judgment-with-a-capital-J because it's so unlike divine Judgment: I stand in terror of God's justice because he knows exactly who I am; I stand in terror before the faceless edifice of the Law because it doesn't, and doesn't care to. Libertarians reject both kinds of judgment equally, and, while it's unfair (though fun) to accuse every libertarian of being a gin-swilling polyamorist, their reasons for not being on board with any moral judgment outside the self probably wouldn't fly at a tent revival, or, for that matter, a blue-collar bar.*

Jesse Walker and Brian Doherty shouldn't be so quick to assume that they have any real common ground with Bruce Springsteen, people who look like they just stepped out of a Bruce Springsteen song, or (in the case of Steve Earle) people who think they're Bruce Springsteen. There may be more than divides than unites them.

*Cover Law Down has posted a haunting version of "Highway Patrolman" performed by Dar Williams (who isn't just for coffeehouse folkies anymore), and the song lays out better than I can the difference between why libertarians scoff at the law and why the rural working class does. Grab the MP3 while it lasts.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

"Qui fume prie."

Wednesday, cigarette #2
Outside Sterling Memorial Library

Two news stories about smoking bans have crossed my desk in the last twenty-four hours: a Reason Brickbat about a bar in England being forced to close its windows because cigarette smoke from the porch drifting inside would constitute a violation of the law against smoking indoors, and this article from the Rocky Mountain News:
A new state law that banned smoking in Colorado's casinos went into effect Tuesday.

Reaction was divided into two camps: "I love it" or "I'm not happy."

Persichatte, 53, of Laramie, Wyo., is one of the happy campers. "I love it," she said. "If a smoker used to come and sit by me, I would move."

But James Fay, 72, of Lakewood, fumed as he puffed on a Salem Light at an outdoor smoking area that featured heaters and benches.

"I spent 22 years in the Navy standing up for people's rights, but then I find out all that I accomplished was the right for everyone to tell me I can't do something," Fay said.
Will all due respect for the Navy: no, no, no. "People's rights" are great, but that kind of rhetoric can do very little against bans on public smoking. Second-hand smoke inflicts non-negligible material harm on the people around me, which means that even if Ron Paul became president tomorrow smoking advocates would still have to come up with enough benefits to outweigh the costs in order to justify being allowed to smoke in public.

Possible compensating benefits of public smoking include: (a) Smoking cultivates the virtue of magnanimity — anyone, from the bum on the corner to the Prince of Wales, is entitled to ask for a smoke from anyone else, and expect it. (b) "The sublimity of smoking lies in its capacity to promote the illusion that we are viewing our own death, determining it from outside ourselves, living posthumously." —Richard Klein (c) By being obviously and highly symbolic, cigarettes promote a sacramental and therefore religious understanding of the universe. ("La cigarette est la prière de notre temps." —Annie Leclerc) Smoking is a family value.

The bottom line is that "Don't tread on me" won't cut it, which is why the conservatives at the front of the push for smokers' rights should be the religious/aesthetic traditionalists, not the libertarians. (This also explains why I can always bum a light up at the divinity school but never have any luck outside the economics department.)

Five Ways in which Of Montreal's "The Past is a Grotesque Animal" was the most Conservative Single of 2007

Wednesday, cigarette #1
Outside Sterling Memorial Library

1. "Things could be different/But they're not" is Burkean.

2. Any allusion to Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is conservative, not so much because the play takes cheap shots at "progress" ("You're the one with all the chromosones or whatever they are who's going to make everyone the same?"), but because it puts the lie to every liberal ideology that relies on "narrativization."

3. Of Montreal developed out of the Athens quirk-rock tradition by change so slow and organic that it would have done Oakeshott proud; they didn't spring fully formed from Pitchfork's "New Band to Watch" laboratories.*

4. "None of our secrets are physical now" is clearly an endorsement of Ann Coulter's "new McCarthyism" which would blacklist people not only for passing state secrets to Communists, but for empathizing with Communists, ever agreeing with Communists, or looking like Communists. The lyric is an endorsement of HUAC-style witch-hunts.

5. "It's like we weren't made for this world,/Though I wouldn't really want to meet someone who was."

*A brief word about Pitchfork: After their straight-faced coverage of Camelstonegate ("We, the undersigned independent record labels wish to share our indignation regarding Rolling Stone's November 15th pull out editorial, which featured the names of our artists in conjunction with an ad for Camel cigarettes..."), I have taken my hits elsewhere. I don't need to be reminded that I live in a universe where a label called "Lovepump United" is embarrassed to be associated with tobacco, not the other way around.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Southern Gothic vs. Ivy League Gothic

You go North — you become expatriated, exiled. You reach out for the first symbol that completes your apostasy — you become a Communist or a social worker or you marry a Jew. In all good faith, too, yearning to repudiate the wrong you've grown up with, only to find that embracing these things you become doubly exiled. Two losts don't make a found. Marry a Jew or a Chinaman or a Swede, it's all fine if you're prompted by any motive, including money, save that of guilt. My father told me when I went barreling off to the University, "Son," he said, "you don't have to be a camp-follower of reaction but always remember where you came from, the ground is bloody and full of guilt where you were born and you must tread a long and narrow path toward your destiny. If the crazy sideroads start to beguile you, son, take at least a backward glance at Monticello." —William Styron, Lie Down in Darkness
Shikha Dalmia has a belly-ache over legacy admissions ("Legacies of Injustice") in February's Reason:
America's fundamental promise is that individuals ought to control their destiny through hard work and talent, not arbitrary accidents of birth. Legacy preferences are no less damaging to this promise than racial preferences. Those who oppose race as a factor in admissions but ignore legacies open themselves to accusations of inconsistency and hypocrisy. But, worse, to the extent that they succeed in dismantling race while leaving legacies intact, they risk putting in place a less — not more — fair admissions system.
Speculating about what constitutes "fairness" in admissions is like trying to write a dictionary of coffee-tasting adjectives — it's difficult to translate personal experience into any kind of an abstract rule. To the extent that Dalmia's complaint is about money, I am unsympathetic, not because I think she's wrong but because I have a hard time getting worked up about starting salary differences between Yale graduates and NC State graduates.

She's on more compelling ground when she claims that purely meritocratic admissions will make universities better at what they do, but there's a long-running thread in Southern literature that suggests "Can Meritocracy Prevail?" is not a question that Dalmia can ask and expect to get a sensible answer. William Styron, William Faulkner, and Thomas Wolfe all wrote about disillusioned young Southerners who headed northward in hopes of finding a place with more appreciation for book-learning (Lie Down in Darkness, The Sound and the Fury, and Of Time and the River), and all three came to the same conclusion: Harvard and Yale are primarily capitals of New England culture, not capitals of academic learning, and New England doesn't actually care about academic learning any more than the South does. The elite New England way of speaking sounds intellectual, but at the end of the day the resemblance is superficial. The fact that Ivy League graduates all talk like professors doesn't indicate real erudition any more than the fact that Southern politicians all talk like Baptist preachers speaks to their individual piety.

Thomas Wolfe is the most relevant of the three because after Harvard disappointed him in his search for a bookworm's paradise he went on to be disappointed by intellectual circles in Paris, Germany, England, and New York. His example suggests that when opponents of legacy admissions ask Yale to be a palace of lively intellectualism, they're not just asking Yale to be something it has never been. They're asking Yale to be something that has never existed.

Dalmia isn't the first person to want Ivy League schools to be clubhouses for the world's brightest minds. When she realizes that this can never been the case — and unless she wants it more than Thomas Wolfe did (which I doubt) she inevitably will — I hope that she writes a great novel and not another plaintive article.

RMS speaks at YPU; results "titanic"

Tuesday, cigarette #1
Some wi-fi hotspot in back of the library

While on the topic of all things open source, here are highlights from the Yale Political Union's debate with Richard Stallman. The resolution in question was about digital restrictions management (the thing that makes it possible for Apple to restrict what you can do with songs you buy from iTunes) and not open source software, but most of the student speakers managed not to embarrass themselves by confusing their DRM's and DMCA's. Stand warned that the following is in parliamentary minute-speak:
The Chairman of the Party of the Right, Mr. Jack O’Connor, points out that DRM gets its clout from copyright, and asks whether Mr. Stallman should not be angry at copyright rather than DRM.

Mr. Stallman does not call for the total abolition of copyright; he thinks there is a value to some sorts of intellectual property law. However, he thinks that non-commercial redistribution of unmodified copies of personal speech, etc., should be permitted. [...]

The Floorleader of the Right, Mr. George Singer, proposes a hypothetical situation: what if he sold Mr. Stallman a house and insisted that Mr. Stallman not change the color of a particular room?

Mr. Stallman says that this situation would not do much harm; it is merely a quirk. However, if Mr. Singer insisted that he not allow black people to live in the house, it would be unacceptable.
This has very little to do with DRM but a lot to do with why I joined the YPU:
Mr. O’Connor asks how something which is, essentially, restricting the character set in which a book can be written can possibly into a coherent narrative of government.

[Ms. Samadzadeh-Hadidi:] “Could you just say that in, like, a sentence?”

“What does the lady believe about government?”

Ms. Samadzadeh-Hadidi will play her favorite song about it after the debate.