Wednesday, March 31, 2004

I've been listening to the archives of Ideas and Issues, a show that Hugh LaFollette of East Tennessee State University hosted until it lost funding in mid-2003. In the 2002-03 season of the show he followed up every interview with an author with two critiques from other experts. His conversations with George Fletcher, Bruce Ackerman and Eric Segall about Fletcher's book Our Secret Constitution: How Lincoln Redefined American Democracy are particularly interesting. The thesis of the book is that the reconstruction amendements were so radical that they practically created a new constitution. I enjoyed Segall since he touches on the issue of judicial activism. As a liberal in favor of liberties over freedoms, he believes that the SC should be more deferential to Congress, and thus more prone to support liberties. He mentions that the conservative criticisms of the Warren court's activism were an anomaly because most critics of judicial activism come from the left. Not being an expert on the topic, I can't comment on how accurate he is.

It would be helpful to sort sort controversial judicial decisions into three types: overturning state laws, overturning federal laws, and "legislating from the bench." I think the first two types can be fairly labeled activism, whereas the third type is only labeled activism by opponents of the verdict post hoc.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Blogroll Updates
Just added several blogs, most of which you, gentle reader, already know of. But I'd like to point Atlanta bloggers to Atlanta Desk, which does the thankless job of covering local and state politics in a state where the major newspaper is, ahem, rather weak in that department.

Speech Codes, etc.
As evidence for point (d) in this post, Erin O'Connor points to an article in the Counterweight that describes how Bucknell's annual production of the Vagina Monologues violates Bucknell's own speech code. The point here is that the speech code is in the wrong, and I agree.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

These Are a Few of My Favorite Films
Annie Hall
The Apartment
Arsenic and Old Lace
The Best Years of Our Lives
The Bicycle Thief
Deconstructing Harry
Double Indemnity
La grande illusion
High Noon
Italian for Beginners
The Killing Fields
Last Year at Marienbad
Lawrence of Arabia
Life of Brian
Midnight Cowboy
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
My Son the Fanatic
La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc
Pelle the Conqueror
Pulp Fiction
Raging Bull
Rosemary's Baby
Singin in the Rain
Sweet Smell of Success
Training Day
The Winslow Boy
Wonder Boys

UPDATE: I think of Vertigo as Hitch's magnum opus, so I initially didn't include any of his other films on the list. I would add Notorious, North by Northwest and Rebecca this list with the understanding that they are not exactly up to the level set by Vertigo. Of course, I do not love all of the films on this list equally and if I were forced at gunpoint to make a shorter list, it would be:

The Apartment
Double Indemnity
La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc
Last Year at Marienbad
Life of Brian

Ask me a year from now and I will, of course, have a different shortlist.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

More on Sexism
An editorial on describes the legal ways in which women can exploit men.

Followup on the Vagina Monologues
To follow up on Brett's comment below, I agree that it's courageous to put it on in Islamabad. But on the other hand, cities like Islamabad and Mumbai have a large theatergoing audience of upper-crust socialites who would never actually do volunteer work but congratulate themselves on activism-lite activities such as this.
I have other objections that deserve a longer, but I'll list them here:

a. The rape of a minor is portrayed sympathetically because the rapist is a lesbian who hopes it will lead to a lesbian/sexual awakening in the victim. This alone makes it unwatchable from a moral standpoint. (Yes I realize I'm putting an interpretation in there and one could interpret this scene differently or ironically, but I think the textual evidence supports my interpretation. Yes, Ensler has made the 14-year-old victim a 16-year-old victim, but why did she use a 14-year-old in the first place?)
b. All the men in the play are portrayed unsympathetically
c. It is politically good and thus, like much current political art, cheaply bypasses the challenge of being aesthetically good.
d. It consists of the kind of humor that would cause sexual harassment lawsuits were women at the butt of the jokes.
e. Vagina is not a synonym for vulva. It's really hilarious yet sad that I as a man know this, while Ensler doesn't.
f. Ensler has endorsed the campus V-day activities around it, which hijack Valentine's day and have the ulterior motive of tainting heterosexual relationships because such relationships are "patriarchal" and entail that a "woman needs a man."
g. The V-day activities are intended to "end violence against women" which is an unattainable goal, so it is guaranteed an audience in perpetuity. A more politically mature (albeit unromantic) approach would specify a realistic goal and a realistic budget for specific prevention goals. (see R. Hofstadter's The Paranoid Style in American Politics.)
h. It buries the fact that men on average endure as much domestic violence as women -- not to mention far more non-domestic violence.

Now back to my day job :)

Monday, March 22, 2004

Thanks for Simon Blackburn for the Following

In like manner, if I let myself believe anything on insufficient evidence, there may be no great harm done by the mere belief; it may be true after all, or I may never have occasion to exhibit it in outward acts. But I cannot help doing this great wrong towards Man, that I make myself credulous. The danger to society is not merely that it should believe wrong things, though that is great enough; but that it should become credulous, and lose the habit of testing things and inquiring into them; for then it must sink back into savagery. -- William K. Clifford, The Ethics of Belief
I will grudgingly admit that this argument uses the slippery slope fallacy. Perhaps Clifford should have concluded with "The danger to society is that it should believe wrong things."

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Bipartisan Humor
NPR may get bashed by both liberals and conservatives, but they can both appreciate its funding of spam poetry read by Andrei Condrescu.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Salman Rushdie and Stanley Kubrick—Evil Twins?

Kubrick photo from MPTV. Rushdie photo from Site de Literatura.

Friday, March 12, 2004

More Humiliation
Having brought up the game Humiliation in this comments thread, I'd like to propose More Humiliation™. To play you need to name a work of literature or a film that you started but couldn't finish because you disliked it. (If you didn't finish it for practical reasons, i.e. it was overdue, you lost it, you were only planning to read an excerpt anyway, it doesn't qualify.)

My book: Ada or Ardor by Nabokov.
My film: 8½ by Fellini.

You may put your answers in the comments.

A Poetry Reading and Discussion by Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill
will take place on Monday, March 15th at the Margaret Mitchell House. She is one of a few living poets anthologized in the redoubtable New Penguin Book of English Verse, which covers seven centuries of English verse. Four bilingual editions of her work also have been published, with English translations by poets such as Seamus Heaney and Paul Muldoon.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Doesn't India Have Enough Suffering?
Eve Ensler takes The Vagina Monologues to India. In a case of good censorship, Madras has decided to ban it. On the other hand, Madras authorities once stopped a production of Twelfth Night until they got the author’s signature. They deserve each other.

French Civics Resources and the Other
Thanks for Brett for pointing me to films (pdf) that the French education minister suggests as civics materials for educators. As Brett points out, Hate is missing from the list, possibly because it is set in contemporary France. The Sorrow and the Pity, which is on the list, is probably more damning but it targets an older generation, who can be comfortably set apart as "the other." It's also very long, so educators might not rush out to get it.

"The other" is one of the film categories here, the others being "the absurdity of racism," "WWII, anti-semiticism and the crime (sic) against humanity," "the fight for the dignity of the individual," and "social violences, crises and wars." I'm actually very sceptical about treating "the other" as a sensible concept because it covers so many degrees and kinds of otherness that it turns out to be awfully vague. Moreover, the meme (god I hate that word) launched by Amartya Sen last year about "the plurality of competing as well as non-competing identities" could soon supercede the idea of "the other." To quote Sen,
"A person can be a Nigerian, an Ibo, a British citizen, a US resident, a woman, a philosopher, a vegetarian, a Christian, a painter, and a great believer in aliens who ride on UFOs - each of these groups giving the person a particular identity which may be invoked in particular contexts."


The Sorrow and the Pity is available on DVD but not at Netflix.

Amartya Sen's essays How to Judge Globalism (from the American Prospect Globalization special) and Democracy and Its Global Roots (from TNR) may interest you.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Spalding Gray is Confirmed Dead
He was 62. Many Davidson students will remember his performance of "It's a Slippery Slope" in Love Auditorium in the fall of 1999.

Monday, March 01, 2004

The Racholution Will Not Be Televized
On Friday night, I heard the Atlanta Symphony in a tight interpretation of Rachmaninov's second symphony. On Saturday afternoon, I heard Todd Qualls perform an etude-tableau by Rachy. On Sunday afternoon I heard Simon Trpecki at Spivey Hall play a blindingly virtuousic all-Rachman second half comprising the preludes in B-flat major and D major, the transcription of the Scherzo from Mendelssohn's A Midsummer
Night's Dream and his second piano sonata (second version). today I tune in to CD Review and guess whose Vespers are on Building a Library? Anyone? Anyone?

After all that razz, I'm still not convinced that Rachmaninov was a great composer, especially in longer forms. The preludes and etudes-tableaux held my attention best, although I will give the second piano sonata another chance on CD.