Monthly Archives: October 2012

“The party erred only in its excessive compassion”

There’s a been a few of these written in the last few days. Chait:

And so the reality remains that a vote for Romney is a vote for his party — a party that, by almost universal acclimation, utterly failed when last entrusted with governing. Romney may be brainier, more competent, and more mentally nimble than George W. Bush. But his party has, unbelievably, grown far more extreme in the years since Bush departed. Unbelievable though it may sound to those outside the conservative movement, conservative introspection into the Bush years has yielded the conclusion that the party erred only in its excessive compassion — it permitted too much social spending and, perhaps, cut taxes too much on the poor. Barely any points of contact remain between party doctrine and the consensus views of economists and other experts. The party has almost no capacity to respond to the conditions and problems that actually exist in the world.

Economists have coalesced around aggressive monetary easing in order to pump liquidity into a shocked market; Republicans have instead embraced the gold standard and warned incessantly of imminent inflation, undaunted by their total wrongness. In the face of a consensus for short-term fiscal stimulus, they have turned back to ancient Austrian doctrines and urged immediate spending cuts. In the face of rising global temperatures and a hardening scientific consensus on the role of carbon emissions, their energy plan is to dig up and burn every last molecule of coal and oil as rapidly as possible. Confronted by skyrocketing income inequality, they insist on cutting the top tax rate and slashing — to levels of around half — programs like Medicaid, food stamps, and children’s health insurance. They refuse to allow any tax increase to soften the depth of such cuts and the catastrophic social impact they would unleash.

An indictment then of the party, which is sensible: Romney leads a skeleton’s life, a symbol of the GOP’s chicanery. He has a sycophant’s attraction to power and the plutocrat’s inability to understand his privilege. He isn’t a man — he’s an early warning system, signaling to party satraps when he has to change a position because Barack Hussein Obama embraced it. There isn’t even a Republican Party anymore: it’s a list of pathologies.

Straight guys – less free sexually than anybody else

There’s truth to what Dan Savage says here. In Miami, despite its tolerance, you don’t want the reaction of a young woman of Hispanic descent to an admission that her boyfriend, to quote Suede’s Brett Anderson, tried it that way:

“Straight guys run the world, but that includes the Taco Bell franchise. They’re less free sexually than anybody else. The girl who eats pussy once or twice in college can tell her husband, and he’s not going to believe she’s a lesbian, and she is not going to be terrorized by that experience. But these poor straight guys, who meet the one guy who blips onto their sex radar, and they’re devastated! They think no matter how much sex they’ve had with women, this is proof . . . because straight male sexuality is two negatives bundled together: it’s to not be a woman and to not be a fag. So anything a straight guy might be interested in that is perceived as feminine or faggy is really destabilizing to their selves.

“After reading their letters for a couple years, I realized gay men and women were complicit in this too. If you’ve had sex once with a man, they say you’re gay. Gay men want you to be gay—if you look like Tom Cruise. There is not a lot of speculation whether Seth Rogen is gay. I fucked women. Nobody ever says to me, ‘Oh, you couldn’t have done that if you weren’t actually straight.”

“The hard labor of a difficult pregnancy”

Ta-Nehisi Coates reposted an amazing short essay he wrote two years ago called “On Labor.” A highlight:

This is the era of Internet intellectuals, mostly dudes, who excel at analogizing easily accessible facts to buttress their points. It’s a good skill to have, and one I employ myself. But it isn’t wisdom. Like most people, I have deep problems with the termination of life — and that is what I believe abortion to be. Still a decade ago, I learned that those problems were abstract, and could not stand against something as tangible and imposing as death.

My embrace of a pro-choice stance is not built on analogizing Rick Santorum with Hitler. It is not built on what the pro-life movement is “like.” It’s built on set of disturbing and ineluctable truths: My son is the joy of my life. But the work of ushering him into this world nearly killed his mother. The literalism of that last point can not be escaped.

Every day women choose to do the hard labor of a difficult pregnancy. It’s courageous work, which inspires in me a degree of admiration exceeded only by my horror at the notion of the state turning that courage, that hard labor, into a mandate. Women die performing that labor in smaller numbers as we advance, but they die all the same. Men do not. That is a privilege.

Jacques Barzun – RIP

A few years on an older blog I wrote the following about my happy experience reading From Dawn to Decadence. Since then I’ve acquired A Jacques Barzun Reader, containing several of his (in)famous essays on education as well as ruminations on music, the James brothers, Wilde, Diderot, and Lincoln (“…a man of strong passions and mystical longings, which he repressed because his mind showed him their futility, and this made him cold-blooded anda fatalist”).

I get the sense that Jacques Barzun is one of those scholars on whom the label “men of letters” fits awkwardly, if at all. Like Henry Adams, his collected works merely allude to his literally unaccountable interests. Background: only child to French parents, who send him to America for his college education; teaching the Great Books course at Columbia University with Lionel Trilling; becoming the university’s provost; literary adviser to Scribner’s; winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Internet has been good to generalists, but the medium’s tendency towards atomization transforms any generalist into a specialist. What makes Barzun preferable to Adams is the refreshing way in which his diverse portfolio supports Orwellian clarity and directness. He doesn’t write like an embittered insider banished to the periphery; rather, he proceeds like a scientist making deductions after studying data, no matter how unpleasant. Curiosity is his muse. Barzun embodies the spirit of nonplussed, enlightened humanism.

The average reader knows Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence, a mammoth study of Western civilization that was a surprise best-seller in 2000. Uneven pace notwithstanding, it’s a marvel, a model of elegance and sweep. Like his heroes Macaulay and Gibbon, Barzun treats history as fiction; characters are sketched at leisure; themes are developed in a lapidary manner, unfurled with the promise that they will be explained but not pinned down. In almost every sub-chapter Barzun dismisses orthodoxies; he’s particularly incisive when assuring us that women did not do so badly as contemporary thought would have us believe:

There always have been hundreds of women in all ranks who were in fact rulers — sometimes tyrants — of their entourage, as well as hundreds of others who wrote, sang to their own accompaniment, or practiced one or another of the ornamental crafts. The notion that talent and personality in women were suppressed at all times during our half millennium except the last fifty years is an illusion. Nor were all women previously denied an education or opportunity for self-development. Wealth and position were prerequisite, to be sure, and they still tend to be. The truth is that matters of freedom can never be settled in all-or-none fashion and any judgment must be comparative.

As attractive as Virginia Woolf’s portrait of Judith Shakespeare is in A Room of One’s Own — a triumph of the novelist’s art, let’s remember — Woolf places less emphasis on the triumph of the will. It’s not that the strong survive; think of it as the holy compulsion to create, more powerful than our sentimentalities about repressed talent (think of Jane Austen scribbling quietly behind her needlework, ignoring patronizing remarks from her family). From Catherine de‘ Medici to Louise Labe (Barzun’s story of this poet, musician, linguist, and soldier — at sixteen! — is one of his gems) to Christine de Pisan to Florence Nightingale, history records achievements by women as world-historic as any man’s. From its discursive method to the assertiveness of Barzun’s prose, FDTD is a quiet repudiation of the university’s version of a Hegelian view of history: progress, Barzun implies, is a specious notion. If we’re looking for historic examples of How Far We’ve Come, Barzun suggests we draw correspondences from oft-ignored socio-literary moments — such as the frequency with which Edward FitzGerald’s gelid, rather racy translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam appeared on Edwardian coffee tables.

Other subjects and personages re-evaluated: how slovenly Shakespeare could write (Barzun quietly notes the dull passages, terrible puns, “ludicrous images,” and “insoluble syntax,” all of which should make Harold Bloom weep); Diderot (always in Voltaire’s shadow); the remarkable wit of Sydney Smith, a precursor to Oscar Wilde; the novels of George Meredith (I’ve put down The Egotist more than once in ten years); the once-immortal, now-neglected George Bernard Shaw, who emerges as one of Barzun’s heroes. The final movement’s descent into a rote condemnation of late twentieth century vulgarity isn’t less excusable for being predictable, especially for one who scorns progress but never embraced Adams-esque theories about entropy. Actually, I give Barzun credit for sweetening his jeremiads with the kind of batshit inductive leaps I’ve always admired in great thinkers: he says that, no joke, young kids who join gangs fall prey to the temptations of…Satanism.

If From Dawn to Decadence seems too daunting, Perennial Classics recently published a splendid distillation of this centenarian’s work. Despite his idiosyncrasies, he should be read — cited — more often.

Singles 10/26

Miguel wins this easily, although it’s my least favorite of the leaked tracks and singles he’s released since last spring. Same goes for “Compton,” a mediocrity on one of the year’s best albums. The record most deserving of replay: “Merry Go ‘Round.”

Click on links for full reviews.

Miguel – Do You…? (8)
Kacey Musgraves – Merry Go ‘Round (6)
Bridgit Mendler – Ready or Not (6)
Justin Bieber ft. Nicki Minaj – Beauty and a Beat (6)
Divine Fits – Would That Not Be Nice (6)
Kendrick Lamar ft. Dr. Dre – Compton (5)
Tink – Fingers Up (5)
Girls Aloud – Something New (5)
Juicy J ft. Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz – Bandz A Make Her Dance (4)
Lena – Stardust (4)
Kara – Electric Boy (4)
The Rolling Stones – Doom and Gloom (4)
Loreen – Crying Out Your Name (4)
Alex Ferrari – Bara Bará Bere Berê (1)

“All populist movements lead to socialism”

A Romney rally in Hialeah:

“He’s 100 percent better than I expected,” Pedro Peraza, 57, tells me. Peraza’s son, Michael, 27, adds that he would have taken back his Gingrich vote in the primaries had he known Romney would campaign this hard.

The elder Peraza has also seen some tough times. He built a profitable business “starting with 50 bucks” selling fire protection equipment, only to see sales plummet when construction ground to a halt. “It’s been horrible,” he said. “People are afraid to put money into buildings now.”

He said he originally leaned Democrat back when he lived in New Jersey, where he volunteered for a number of Sen. Bob Mendez’s (D-NJ) local campaigns. But he swung to the right decisively when the Obama phenomenon took off in 2008.

“We know from childhood what communism looks like,” he said. “All populist movements lead to socialism.”

Therefore, the Tea Party is a socialist movement. Cuban-Americans once again showing how proudly they vote against their interests.