The single most important literary convention of the twentieth century was the double-spaced paragraph break. That gap could stand for anything: sex, sleep, a tedious taxi journey between apartment and opera house. It was the reason why, on the one hand, twentieth-century literary fiction was so much shorter than what preceded it—a double-spaced break could elide the passage of hours or years without troubling the reader, who filled in the gap with personal experience—but, on the other hand, it was also why most so-called departures from realism tended to reinforce the very suppositions that made realism possible in the first place.I confess to much fondness for that gap, and my first thoughts were toward weakly obvious counterexamples: Tolstoy’s ruthless fast-forwards through time, Chesterton’s reduction of a character’s life to a single sentence. But no, those are different things. Modern fiction really does shy away from fleshing itself out, confident that evocative hints do better than descriptive calcifications. For Peck, the consequences: “Until it seemed that there was more conceptual air than text in virtually every major work written in the eighties.” Oy.
It’s hard to think of a contemporary British novelist who [“connects”]. Rushdie? Not really, though Zadie Smith is doing her Oxbridge best to fix that. Ian McEwan? The man’s books smell worse than newspaper wrapped around an old fish. Martin Amis? Well, Martin Amis isn’t really British any more, is he? Perhaps the salient question isn’t why Julian Barnes is such a bad writer, but how the current crop of British novelists managed to ruin the British novel. The idea that Julian Barnes is the successor to Laurence Sterne is nearly as unbearable as the idea that Margaret Dabble is George Eliot’s heir. And how has Fielding been watered down into A.S. Byatt, and Defoe bastardized into Jeanette Winterson? At least there’s Alan Hollinghurst, who is as pleasantly proficient as Forster ever was.This tells me nothing. This is cocktail party chatter aimed to stun, not to provoke. I suppose every serious literary commenter has their instant ‘shocking’ opinions—Joyce’s quip that D’Annunzio was the greatest Italian writer. It’s the stuff cocky undergraduates are made of—as a book reviewer in college I used to make offhand remarks about Don Delillo’s mediocrity, and once casually mentioned the ‘evident’ (!!) superiority of Heinrich Mann to brother Thomas. The ruse is embarrassing, in hindsight. Why should anyone have trusted me? But hey, why should we trust Dale Peck? The line from Fielding to A.S. Byatt (who I certainly think wonderful) is not at all clear. It could be that I am too dense to see the link; Peck makes me feel that way all too often. But otherwise, this is just juvenile skeet-shooting, serving no purpose but indulgence.
The concept of “homophobia,” like that of “sexism” and “racism,” is often a crude one. All three are essentially cookie-cutter formulas that try to understand human impulses merely through the one-dimensional identity of the victims, rather than through the thoughts and feelings of the haters and hated.This, I should add, is Oakeshottian conservatism at its best—paying attention to the breathing, teeming rustle of what actual people do and go through, rather than organizing life under a vapid ‘ism.’ Sullivan continues:
This is deliberate. The theorists behind these isms want to ascribe all blame to one group in society—the “oppressors”—and render specific others—the “victims”—completely blameless. And they want to do this in order in part to side unequivocally with the underdog. But it doesn’t take a genius to see how this approach too can generate its own form of bias.Here Sullivan does what an Oakeshottian does best—and remember, Sullivan’s bio tells us that his thesis on Oakeshott won all sorts of awards—he presents us the infinite variability of hate. Gay men are assaulted because of jealousy, or insecurity, or sheer repulsion. Motives multiply endlessly. Victims become haters. Blacks brutalize whites. And so on.
The truth is, the distinction between a crime filled with personal hate and a crime filled with group hate is an essentially arbitrary one. It tells us nothing interesting about the psychological contours of the specific actor or his specific victim. It is a function primarily of politics, of special-interest groups carving out particular protections for themselves, rather than a serious response to a serious criminal concern.Which leaves me, the reader, here, trying to rack my brain, thinking of why I ever supported hate crime laws in the first place. Some groupthink, no doubt. I’m a liberal, and my first reflex is always to err on the side of minority groups, women, gay people. The reflex works well most of the time, and in the case of hate crimes, I saw no reason to think otherwise. But in this case, Sullivan is right: the liberal party line really does condense a whole world of viciousness into a mere excuse for petty politics, and what’s more, it obscures our understanding—our hope of understanding—what actually drives hate. Liberals refuse to understand hatred, or prejudice, as something nuanced, and complicated.
Following a strange figure of discourse, one first must ask whether the word or signifier "communication" communicates a determined content, an identifiable meaning, a describable value. But in order to articulate and to propose this question, I already had to anticipate the meaning of the word communication: I have had to predetermine communication as the vehicle, transport, or site of passage of a meaning, and of a meaning that is one.Worse, summaries of his work sound even more dreadful. When I say, “Derrida believes that the meaning of all utterances is undecidable,” what else can you do but roll your eyes? This has nothing to do with paucity of paraphrase: the quote above is accurate enough. The plain fact is that Derrida’s ‘main point’ is dull, dull, dull.
[The TV message] is a complex sign, in which a preferred reading has been inscribed, but which retains the potential, if decoded in a manner different from the way in which it has been encoded, of communicating a different meaning.Er… he means that sometimes we can hack through media bullshit and whatnot. It’s obvious, yes, and yet I wonder if media criticism would have become at once so sophisticated and so obvious had it not been for gallantly verbose critics like Morley. And in turn, Morley might not have been Morley had there not been Derrida, telling us to poke through the 'coding' of signs, giving us muddy and recondite means to achieve what is now obvious.
Many are the joys
Of youth; but oh! what happiness to live
When every hour brings palpable access
To knowledge, when all knowledge is delight,
And sorrow is not there.
Estimating the scale of unofficial activity is difficult, but (since even underground firms require power) one technique to measure the whole economy’s output is to use electricity consumption. […] Although official GDP fell 29 percent during this period, electricity consumption fell only about 19 percent, suggesting that Russia’s decline in output was not as sharp as indicated by the official statistics. Since firms are likely to use electricity more sparingly under market conditions, the decline in electricity consumption probably still overstates the real drop in output.There’s an obvious monkey wrench to this argument, namely the fact that household electricity consumption went up considerably during the same period (as the essay notes on the very next page). But ignore that. I just think ‘proof by electricity’ is a pretty clever argument. That’s all.
I shall find the dark grow luminous, the void fruitful when I understand I have nothing, that the ringers in the tower have appointed for the hymen of the soul a passing bell.
—Yeats, Per Amica Silentia Lunae
Rose could have been living on the other side of the world… Or perhaps she was dead, having had, on that score, no less predisposition than the rest of us.The phrase 'on that score,' signaling the punch line, should tip us off to the real scandal: the French need their comic cues, their laugh tracks, to keep things moving. At this point we flip our way to the back cover, and see Mr. Echenoz himself peering out at us, expectantly, all-too expectantly, with—how’s that?—a wry smirk on his face. Doing his best wry smirk impression. What more can we give him? Pat him on the head: There, there. He tried. Perhaps the French are so over-gorged on cynicism that they cannot bear to be cynical in their humor, at least not without due warning. Other pet theories would do just as well.
Skimpily clad beneath their umbrellas, [the prostitutes] were more or less constantly observed by four categories of men: first the Bulgarian or Turkish procurers scattered about the vicinity, snug and warm in their high-octane sedans, having made the standard recommendations (At least thirty tricks a day; less than twenty-five and we break your leg); secondly the customers for whose benefit, day and night, they declaimed in every tone the same perfect alexandrine, classically balanced with a caesura at the hemistich (It’s fifteen for a blow and thirty for the works); thirdly the forces of law and order that, for their part, emerged especially at night, though not too aggressively (Hello hello, it’s the police, do you have ID papers? Nothing? You sure? Not even a photocopy?); not to mention, fourthly, the television crews making sure that, when the nth report on the subject was broadcast after prime time, in accordance with the law on the protection of privacy, the faces of these working girls appeared duly pixilated on the screen.The alexandrine bit is a nice touch, but the rest feels second-hand, or worse, sincere. I don’t know whether a mass of minute details (‘why, their faces are pixilated…’) adds up to humor. Something seems lost.
The stiletto first pierces Max’s skin, before its momentum carries it through his tracheal artery and esophagus, damaging large vessels of the carotid and jugular type, after which, gliding between two vertebrae—seventh cervical and first dorsal—it severs Max’s spinal cord, and there is no one left on the scene.Perhaps I’ve been lulled by that final, gentle clause, but this passage is wonderfully, beautifully serious. Sturges would be proud.
Given their work conditions, Félicienne and Max hardly saw each other anymore, except on Sundays when they took the kid out for some air—which kid, initially standoffish with Max, ended up letting himself be won over to the point of becoming very familiar, then more and more familiar, and soon much too familiar for Max’s taste.It takes a lot of polish and callous self-editing to staccato forth a whole scene like that, which calls to mind a similar crescendoing act by Gibbon in Decline and Fall:
The Imperial captive was suddenly relieved by the fame, the approach, and at length the presence of the hero whom he had so long expected.
In the lounge at Iquitos airport, locals departing for Lima crossed paths with clusters of vacationers come to tread the limbo of the Amazonian forest, study the natives, consult their shamans, and have their minds exploded by the ingestion of ayahuasca.So how does passage upon beefy passage of this shrink into a measly 179 pages of novel? The ironic ‘twist’ at book’s end seems a little too abrupt, although gracious, I won’t spoil the surprise. Perhaps it all makes sense, and Echenoz had motives other than writing a novel: namely, embracing, then abandoning the new comic novel, and harkening back to something more tender in the Parisian spirit:
They went out. The street. The cars passing by. The various kinds of music escaping through the lowered windows of the cars. Sometimes it was just rhythmic blips, sometimes heavy bass lines that sent a shiver up the spine. At first they walked without saying anything; then Béliard resumed speaking.
Across Africa, the Global Fund spent more money to buy the obsolete medicines rather than ACT, in quantities large enough to treat at least 10 times as many patients. Those obsolete medicines were supplied to countries where drug resistance is known to be rampant, and where child mortality of malaria is shown to be up to 1,100-percent higher because of this. As a result, tens of thousands of children died of malaria-and continue to die-who needn't have.Why isn't this a bigger scandal? If these were bogus AIDS drugs being shipped, we would be reading about feelgood rallies and candlelight vigils across the world. I've never quite understood why 'minor' diseases in Africa such as malaria and tuberculosis garner so little attention, as opposed to, say, AIDS. Yes, the latter is truly horrific and becoming an increasingly severe problem, but malaria still dominates and devastates Africa, costing the continent some $12 billion a year. And the harsh truth is, malaria is easily treatable. It comes down to relatively cheap medicine and mosquito nets, really. Third World nations and global health organizations might honestly be better off focusing more of their resources on these easily treatable diseases, and worrying--dare we say it?--less about costly treatments for AIDS victims. (HIV prevention, needless to say, should still be fully pursued.) It seems perverse, but it might also be prudent.
[T]he dominant idea was that, as the conference's thematic statement put it, fear was being "encouraged by our government and exacerbated by our media." It was compared with the irrational fear of Communism and the perversions of McCarthyism. It was described as part of a counter-constitutional coup by a radical right.As Rothstein notes, a little perspective is in order. The terrorist threat levels, silly as they might be, are nothing compared to Nazi rhetoric against its enemies. The editors of Social Text may be surprised to learn that most Americans are intelligent enough to take 'Code Orange' for what it is: a semi-useless reminder that terrorism still exists, and the government is trying to keep tabs on things. Unless I missed mass outbreaks of hysteria somewhere in Skokie, IL, it seems like the country isn't really 'gripped' by fear.
Since reality shows are cheap to make -- no pesky actors or writers to pay -- they're also cheap for networks to buy. [...] Reality shows -- and animated films and shows -- are a kind of union-busting tactic, demonstrating that in the event of a strike the networks and studios could still find content but the actors and writers wouldn't be able to find work.Little wonder, then, that unions want in on the fun. Of course there's little chance that the actors will ever form unions-- the whole point of these shows is that you really can accost any shiftless shmuck off the street and he'll be readily willing to join up.
THE NYT HAS TWO INTERESTING ARTICLES -- one on the political crisis in Iran, and one on growing pressures for reform in Syria. I'm sure neither has anything whatsoever to do the war in Iraq ... (To the NYT's credit, it mentions the "more than 100,000 American soldiers next door in Iraq" as one source of pressure on the Syrian regime.)The implication here seems to be that the Times is unforgiveably slack in failing to note the Iraq-Syria connection with sufficient fervor. Why those liberal buggers! But wait... the headline of the actual article reads: "Syria Frees 130 Prisoners; Some See a Reaction to New Pressures." And the second paragraph goes something along the lines of this:
But some human rights officials say it is a sign, if a small and ambiguous one, of the larger pressures Syria is under these days, with more than 100,000 American soldiers next door in Iraq and increasing impatience for change at home.If that's not strong insinuation of a connection, then what is? Recall that there is no real evidence that the war in Iraq is the main catalyst for change in Syria. That question should be left to historians and political analysts-- you know, the blokes who tackle these (often difficult) questions for a living. Until the experts get a crack at it, all causal analysis is speculative at best. But setting all that aside, the Times goes ahead and suggests the possibility of a link anyways, since it is after all a reasonable conclusion to make. And this still merits a 'liberal media' smirk from Chafetz?
He is typically the sort of person who, in school, did well academically and not so well socially. That is, he was rewarded for his exemplary compliance with the directives of a central authority (the teacher) who implemented a comprehensive plan (the curriculum) within a regimented social setting (the classroom); he was not rewarded for any contributions he tried to make to the decentralized, unplanned sphere of voluntary interactions that constitutes the life of a young person outside the classroom (the playground, parties, dating situations, and so forth). He thus naturally tends to think the first sort of setting more reasonable and just than the latter, and in generalizing (perhaps unconsciously) to the level of society as a whole, will accordingly tend to favor policies that involve centralized planning by governmental authorities rather than the unplanned results of free interaction by citizens in the marketplace.Why, our favorite old scapegoat, the classroom automaton, has come back to play! When in doubt, blame all academic ills on the kid who 'knows how to do well in school.' Never mind that these kids, in all likelihood, don't actually exist in such throngs-- Feser's on a roll! But honestly, put this issue to rest. Students who do well in graduate school are faced with a great deal of unplanned difficulties and decentralized madness. Yes, it is a vastly different experience from swilling martinis at parties and rocking the playground fisticuffs, but academic life does not produce the sort of robotic, fascist minds described here. On the other hand, students who can't hack it as academics usually flounder because they don't have the rigor of mind and self-discipline, not because they are overflowing with a surfeit of spontaneous imagination. Plenty of students like to spout off about how they could never succeed in graduate school because they're too rebellious, because they can't just 'regurgitate what the teacher wants,' because their ideas are 'too bold,' and so on. Bullshit! Independence of mind is too often a pisspoor coverup for stupidity, or dullness. Feser should know that.
Schmitt's list ends here, but of course the full list, The List, the complete ledger of tricks, trumps, and sneaks used to fudge the budget goes on and on. For instance, "emergency" appropriations are declared all the time when there is not (surprise!) an emergency of any sort. This testimony by the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mitchell Daniels, Jr., sums up a lot of the problems pretty well, in suitably boring testimonial form. Which is part of the concern: these boring problems are still, well, boring problems. Not many voters are going to get riled up over a crusade against fiscal chicanery, apart from a few Cato and Heritage wonks. And 'Damn the Man' outsiders like McCain and Dean can't seem to carry the day. So really, all of these devious accounting tricks deserve an affected 'huh' in response, and no more.
Cuts to programs whose congressional defenders are out of power and whose beneficiaries are not swing voters. Proposals for cuts that will simply never happen and everyone knows it. (Especially if one proposes to cut, say, defense appropriations that can then later be 'saved' by a heroic congressman). Cuts that the administration will itself later reverse with great fanfare. Proposals for some sort of inoffensive policy change that might lead to a chain of events that would reduce spending on some federal program. And then get the Congressional Budget Office to "score" the change as producing a budget savings.
‘How in the hell can I bully a billionaire who outweighs me by several 100 lbs.? How can you decry Oprah? Easy, she’s the living embodiment of the dumbing down of American discourse. Granted, I do not subscribe to terminal Golden Agism - where the past is always filled with virgins, flowers, and great Twilight Zone episodes- but I can simply argue that the pre-Oprah, talk shows were far more intelligent, and dealt with substantive issues that now are ghettoed to Sunday morning, PBS, & cable tv talk shows.Wince at that rapier lede if you must, but be warned, the hits only get bigger and more vicious throughout. Whoosah!
The major function of the Solicitor General's Office is to supervise and conduct government litigation in the United States Supreme Court. Virtually all such litigation is channeled through the Office of the Solicitor General and is actively conducted by the Office. The United States is involved in about two-thirds of all the cases the U.S. Supreme Court decides on the merits each year.So much for the office. Who's the dude? Well, besides being a possible anti-Clinton conspirator, Theodore Olson seems like a decent guy. (If you can decipher this jabbering complaint against Olson, a hat tip and a nod.)
The Solicitor General determines the cases in which Supreme Court review will be sought by the government and the positions the government will take before the Court. The Office's staff attorneys participate in preparing the petitions, briefs, and other papers filed by the government in its Supreme Court litigation. The Solicitor General personally assigns the oral argument of government cases in the Supreme Court. Those cases not argued by the Solicitor General personally are assigned either to an attorney in the Office or to another government attorney. The vast majority of government cases are argued by the Solicitor General or by one of the Office's other attorneys.
Another function of the Office is to review all cases decided adversely to the government in the lower courts to determine whether they should be appealed and, if so, what position should be taken. The Solicitor General also determines whether the government will participate as an amicus curiae, or intervene, in cases in any appellate court.
This view, one to which I generally subscribe, emphasizes that the SG is a political appointee of the President, subject to his authority and direction. In that role, the SG's immediate responsibility is, in large measure, to shape and advocate the legal theories and philosophies of the President he or she serves. [...]The President's views may be as rhetorical and political as he chooses (though he, too, has a duty to uphold the Constitution and took an oath to do so). The SG's Office is supposed to provide legal grounding for those views.Fair enough. So two questions. How far do SGs tend to stretch their legal reasoning to accomodate the White House? And more importantly, how has what sort of splash has the SG made in the three years since Olson's been in charge? Or, for that matter, during the Clinton years, or beyond? Guess this will take more than a tiny bit of googling.
The new sound-sphere is global. It ripples at great speed across languages, ideologies, frontiers and races. The economics of this musical Esperanto is staggering. Rock and pop breed concentric worlds of fashion, setting and life-style. Popular music has brought with it sociologies of private and public manner, of group solidarity. The politics of Eden come loud.The politics of whunnit? Buh-duh. Well at least Epstein seems undaunted, and keeps his balance for a few well-placed axe-kicks: "What George Steiner has been doing, over the past forty or so years, is an incomparable impression of the world's most learned man." Nicely done. And likely right. That is, it's probably true that overgorged polymaths like Steiner will no longer have a place on the intellectual 'stage'. The Joseph Epsteins of the world, the Dale Pecks, even, will carry the day, because they can hit the mark with wit and fury. And meanwhile, the sheer brainiacs will do no better than cheap impressions: It's embarrassing to hear the author of "Tolstoy or Dostoevsky?" hold forth on the global music scene, just like it's painful to hear Harold Bloom badger on about Wesley Clark. Sad to say, but bring on the professional commentators, bring on Mark Steyn, or Martin Amis. The hugebrowed wisdom seekers might be tending towards irrelevant.