Monday, December 31, 2018

So A Guy Asked Me What I Thought About Louis CK On Parkland Etc

Ok here goes.

I just listened to it.

My response is much like yours.

First off, I too never was a big enthusiast of the guy.

Once for my eldest daughter’s birthday, I took her to a Sarah Silverman hosted comedy revue of different stand ups doing bits, with the piece de la resistance being Louis CK. It may be hard for comedians to get me to laugh at the best of times but the preceding acts I thought were mediocre. He at least, for all his talk about jerking off and how depressing his life is, was polished and professional and comedically substantial. My kid and I both thought that. But even noticing that, he didn’t do much for my funny bone. I’m not sure he even raised a smile.

So I found this 5’ and change not at all funny and I sensed there was either a laugh track or the few goons I heard laughing uproariously were paid stooges, unlikely, were on drugs or dunk, maybe, or were high and caught up in the (dubious) thrill of seeing him live. 

Once when I was in law school a whole gang of us went to see Robert Klein at a Toronto club. We all thought he was neurotically hilarious, edgy, funny, incisive, outraged. We all laughed out loud. I can’t remember ever laughing so hard at any stand up. Even though I can’t remember any of his act, I still remember our unanimous view of how good he was. He was everything CK was not. Here I find CK decidedly unfunny. Zero he said offended me in any political or ideological way such that he should be shut down or institutional action be taken against him. And I’d give him sway over the outrage machine if that false choice were put on me

I thought what he said about Parkland and the kids bearing witness was witless and tasteless and not at all how you describe part of what comedians do—cutting against convention, satirizing social absurdities, pissing on certain proprieties, puncturing pomposity (to borrow a tired trope), taking the piss out of those who deserve it and all like that. Here, CK on Parkland and on the kids bearing witness, fell less than flat. It was ponderously stupid and self parodic, like someone mocking Sully after he made a safe landing on the Hudson or goofing on the 1st responders who went into harm’s way on 9/11, many dying for all that, true heroes. 

The Parkland kids weren’t heroes as such but after what they went through they had a halo around them at least for a while, at least for the reasonable aftermath. After that David Hogg to my mind got too self important for his own good and could have been some comic fodder. And on him as a microcosm, CK in this bit had a comedic point, on kids’ self righteous self importance these days. I didn’t find it funny but it was at least fertile comic ground. Same with some excessive aspects of gender fluidity and the LBGQT police, especially when the policing is done by teenagers. Just here again, I didn’t find him either funny or piquant. 

Parkland is different. It’s obtuse to go after targets who aren’t in any way targets and don’t deserve going after especially when they’re kids. The height of CK’s stupidity is his comment about, paraphrase, “What’s the big deal about kids dying, being shot en masse.” Logically, he must think Sandy Hook is ripe for laughs. 

What makes kids dying, being murdered en masse, is that, duh, they’re kids. I remember watching an episode of Family Guy, and it did a bit mocking kids in a cancer ward. It disgusted me and Seth MacFarlane was forever in my bad books after that. I saw him hosting the Oscars and I’ve seen him elsewhere. I’ve not found him funny. In fact, I prefer CK to him because for all my indifference to CK’s  comedy: he’s a least not pretentious—he brings self deprecation to mystical heights—not smug and not self righteous. 

I heartily oppose the PC sensibility even as I wonder whether US libel laws are too tough compared to other common law jurisdictions. The jury in my head is still out on that one and I can see the arguments both ways. And I’m pretty strong against censorship. So short of defamation or criminal incitement, I’m for letting comedians say whatever they want and, so to say, letting “the market decide.” And it does in its own way for better or worse, the PC sensibility and the influence it wields being part of the market, market here standing for the unregulated play of social forces that ultimately don a thumbs up or thumbs down, my own opinions apart.

Maybe, just a theory, CK calculated this bit would be well received by those reacting against the continuous machinery of outrage. Maybe not. Not a terrible calculation in fact. But in my view that’s an incidental conjecture. The primary criterion in his case should be, I think, is he funny, and bonus in that if he’s smart and truth telling. 

On that measure, I’d give this 5’ .05 out of 5, 1 out of 10, 10 out of 100. 

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Film Grey, Or Consistent With Film Noir, Film Gris

So I wrote this to a guy I know:

....I know, not as much as you mind you, from film noir.

But I just watched for the 8,000th time, Ride The High Country, directed, and screenplay written collaboratively, by Peckinpah.

Then I found out he before had conceived, written and directed the tv series The Westerner starring Brian Keith, and had written episodes of Gun Smoke. I’d watched Gun Smoke as a kid and was struck by how every episode ended depressingly with the sad, struggling loser antagonist dying (often by the gun smoke of James Arness.) I’d never seen The Westerner. So I checked it out, watching a couple of episodes—YouTube. And it’s even more dour and depressing, life failing all around Brian Keith who’s perpetually sour, scowling and unfulfilled, things never working out for him. All this high pitched  melodrama receding into overall hopelessness reminded me of fifties dramas I saw like The Naked City—with its 8,000,000 stories, this has been one of them—and movies like Marty. This genre might be called a variation of kitchen sink realism.

But I propose, neologistically, film grey or, consistent with film noir, film gris.

Ya think?

Saturday, December 22, 2018

On Candace Owens As Not Nearly All That

Candace Owens’s not all that. 


One guy who espoused her says about this article:

....i'm supportive of this author's idea that IDW should be calm thoughtful intellectuals. and that candace isn't that smart/unique and is a very partisan political animal ...

but that said, her "lock every last single one of them up" tweet attack has some grounding in corruption facts and bias in the media, and is not at all analogous to "Imagine if a prominent left-wing commentator said a group of journalists at the Daily Wire or Fox News should be imprisoned for violating a few too many progressive taboos"

and candace's tweet "The plan you hatched to exterminate blacks via Planned Parenthood" i've now learned is based the fact that Sangers work was originally called "The Negro Project" etc (info you will not find on Wikipedia but only on other less mainstream sites). it took a lot of searching to learn about it, and also that Ben Carson, Herman Cain and Ted Cruz have also said this. it seems reasonable to me that a black woman would be totally outraged to learn this. but this article writer is certain there's no obviously no merit to this (without any factual investigation) and says this discussion without Rubin challenging Owens shows how uncritical Rubin is!

this article is not clear analysis in pursuit of truth, just persuasively written opinion...

To which I said:

...I appreciate your having read this article, researching some of the points and commenting on it.

What you support in it is my position for mild: at a minimum she’s not that smart and is utterly partisan politically. For mild, because she’s worst than that. She’s a flame thrower, who obstructs calm, thoughtful discussion, and whose extremism isn’t, imo, rescued by some points she makes that make sense.

For example, “Lock every every single one of them up,” is a terrible notion however rhetorical and rallying it’s meant to be and for all the grounding it has in examples of fake news. It suggests some arbiter on the right shutting down speech anathema to it instead of countering fake news with truthful news. It makes demonstrable Johnson’s thesis that in rhetoric the far right mirrors the sins of the far left. Plus, Owens does with this tweet even more than that: the left wants to silence oppositional speech, oppositional to its angle on things; she wants to criminalize oppositional speech. She’s too rabid with this tweet. It explodes the calm, thoughtful discussion that we applaud. That kind of discussion would in this example consider the 1st AM and weigh and balance its benefits, or more than its benefits, its fundamental importance to liberal democracy, against instances of freedom of speech turned into licence. 

I mean, really?


....In January, Owens called for the imprisonment of Hillary and Bill Clinton, James Comey, Robert Mueller, Loretta Lynch, George Soros, Jeff Bezos and “ALL compliant members of the fake news media.” Then she listed Jake Tapper, Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper and Jim Acosta, as if the secret police had asked her for a good place to start. It’s difficult to think of a more direct assault on free speech than a demand for journalists to be thrown in prison for criticizing the president. But instead of admonishing Owens for expressing near-total contempt for one of his most cherished principles, Rubin has defended her at every available opportunity....

I’m not sure of the history of Margaret Sanger’s project, the original intent of it and I’ll stipulate to your researched word on it. I also don’t recall the context of Owens’s tweet. Was she simply refreshing our understanding of the history and origin or was she making a point about the intent of Planned Parenthood today?


....Just take a look at a tweet she posted earlier this month: “Great news, liberals! The plan you hatched to exterminate blacks via Planned Parenthood is going well. 61% of us never made it out the womb. Bad news: I did make it out and I plan to be the loudest voice against the MURDERS you have committed.” During an interview with Rubin, Owens said Planned Parenthood was “literally built for the purpose—and it served its purpose, you know?—to decrease the black population by a lot.” A follow-up question would’ve been helpful here—e.g. “So you believe Planned Parenthood is a genocidal, racist organization?”—but Rubin just moved on....

I read her tweet as more than a refresher. I read it as saying, paraphrase, “the intent continues today—‘is going well’” Someone with a modicum of nuance would have drawn distinctions between historical and present intent and wouldn’t have conflated opposition to abortion—which I of course understand and  have come a long way over the years to agreeing with—and a racist, quasi genocidal project. It’s utter flame throwing. And it suggests either analytical ineptitude or, morally worse, if not ineptitude, then cynical race card playing of high proportion.

As a side note, I’m reminded in rereading Johnson’s essay of how astounding is Rubin’s “just moved on.” This is but one example I’ve seen of some of his guests saying outlandish things about which any competent, disinterested interviewer would ask further questions instead of simply leaving the most provocative assertions or insinuations to hang out there flapping in the turbulent hot air. I maintain he’s the pet poodle of the IDW and is tolerated by its “members” because he has a big social media presence that is of great use to them.

Finally, what can one say about your standard of “clear analysis in pursuit of truth”? Johnson’s piece isn’t a lab experiment or pure reporting. It’s an essay trying to persuade readers of his thesis, that in rhetoric the extreme right, take Owens for example, is much like the extreme left.  Can it be any more than being, do any better than being, persuasively written opinion? Of course opinion pieces aren’t the word of either God or irrefutable data. They’re born of an opinion and can always be critiqued, found fault with to some extent. But if Johnson here is persuasive, then hasn’t he pretty well accomplished what he set out to do? Respectfully, I think, as just noted, your standard for judgment of Johnson’s piece betrays a category error. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

A Guy Asked Me About Creed 2...

I took myself to see Creed 2 this afternoon and had, for the 1st time ever, the theatre to myself.

So I settled in with a glass of Chianti to enjoy the show. It was bargain day at the VIP cinema. In a not million years, would my wife have wanted to see this movie.

It’s a dreary thing, I found. And a word that came to mind as I watched it was “pastiche,” by which I meant a whole bunch of pasted on things. Another word that kept coming to mind was “formulaic,” as in following a formula, in this case in a tired and untrue, as opposed to a tried and true, way. And another was “cliche.” 

There was for me so much recycling of past narrative lines and sequences and arcs too, that I felt the oxygen of the organic had escaped this film nearly completely. Michael B. Jordan bored me. His wife bored me. Their domestic dramas bored me. His dilemmas bored me, as did his arcs, as did his scenes with Stallone. I found it all flat man, flat.

And here’s one thing that irked me, the fantasy element of the boxing. The film gave the appearance of showing how badly Creed got hurt in the first fight with Drago. And I know we see him wince and keel over in apparent abject pain and we see him in the hospital with his face busted up, eye swollen, wrapped up in bandages. But I never got the sense of the reality of his pain. And his recovery was pro forma, not even a hint at the real physical and mental struggle that his recovery would have involved. I thought his training camp getting ready for the second fight was better even as it was that Rocky thing done one more time. There were enough detail and specifics of the training that they sold it to me more.

I don’t understand the need for the baby not being able to hear. Maybe I missed something important in the story that made that make sense but short of that it made none to me. And we’re left at the end of the film, at least I was, not knowing what if anything later tests had shown. 

On the plus side, I thought Stallone was pretty good as a “demz, doze and deze” kind of guy. I thought he did some authentic and and effective acting that gave me a concrete sense of a real guy. But then his owning a restaurant is thrown in with little about it that makes sense or is attached to the movie as a whole. I see him in one scene pounding and rolling dough. Is he the chef there or what? And the fantasy of him as some kind of brilliant boxing mind who could teach Creed how to overcome the behemoth who is a good boxer besides being a massive hulk was just that for me, a fantasy. As was the thought that Drago, a hulking powerful guy who is, as the movie has it, a good boxer, could fall at the hands of Creed also seems like fantasy to me, as if a good powerful heavy heavyweight couldn’t decimate a good strong but much smaller, lighter and shorter light heavyweight. 

Also fantasy to me too were the boxing scenes themselves. Boxing is in your wheelhouse not mine, but I’ve seen a fair number of prize fights on TV and the notion that anyone could sustain repeated blows to the head as are shown in the movie and come out of it conscious and mentally firing on all cylinders seems preposterous to me. Those blows are concussive leading to deathly or at a minimum permanent brain damage. 

On the other plus side, for all my doubts, hesitations and criticisms, the final fight was effective in absorbing me despite them all. So there is that.

If the movie is intended to be a kind of escapist fantasy, then maybe some of my criticisms get waylaid. But I think it takes itself too seriously to have intended to be that and so I think finally it’s a pretty bad movie. 

And I say that as someone who remembers himself quite liking  Creed 1.

If I had to judge it, I’d give it 38 out of a 100, 3.8 out of 10 and 1.9 out of 5.

I see from the reviews that I’m way out of the mainstream of opinion on this film, which got pretty high marks. But that’s my story and I’m sticking with it. :-)

So I Say Back To The Guy (See Below)

I’m not sure what the nutshell is. If it’s about what Lear is about, then you may be saying what you think about that in a nutshell, but Lear is incidental to the main point I make, one example at the end of what might be a spectrum of instruction as I’m using instruction.

But maybe you mean to address Lear in the service of a larger point. That’s not clear to me.

To meet what I take to be your sidebar, I don’t agree with the nut in your shell. The play is about the desolation of Lear but it goes beyond that. It’s Shakespeare’s play of negation, of ...No, no, no life!...We feel for Lear and our feelings for him mark our sense of the nihilism of his world, which is to say about the world of the play. So I don’t accept your distinction, as a matter of theme, between Lear and his world, the play’s world. It’s about desolation, tragic loss, futility, evil rendering the world abysmal, bleak dark, hopeless. As it turns out, I’d just read this a few days ago and liked it:  Teachout as I read him makes the same point I do about Lear’s thematic nihilism. 

We value a lot of literature because it touches us. And if the touching isn’t a manipulative tug at our heartstrings causing reflexive emotions the way tears running down the face of a child in a garish painting might do—you know those tear jerking paintings—if the touching of us is born of good or great art, Lear at the highest instance of it, how can we not be instructed, how can we not see and “learn” something about the world? And I’d think there the “delight” is our exhilaration in being powerfully affected by what we experience. So delight too, though I’m not focusing on it, needs refinement. 

Lear need not have a moral, something homiletic, but it has a theme. The play among other things means something. And it’s not at an absurd question to ask, say, students, to write an essay on their interpretation of Lear, say, what it’s about as supported by textual evidence. That requires close reading. And for me close reading is of the essence of literary criticism. 

There is a sense in which no one learns anything from literature beyond what the work is about unless it’s purposefully didactic and is meant to teach something through its own fictional vehicle.

But of course we do learn something from Lear. We learn to imagine what irretrievable loss is, how desolate and defeating the world can be. It is instructive in the most potent sense of that term as I’m using it.

So The Guy Says Back To Me (See Below)

In a nutshell.  King Lear is not about the desolate nature of things.  It portrays the desolation of King Lear, which though a fiction, deeply moves audiences beacuse they feel it too, or not.  End of story.  Most people who try to write such a story will turn our pure laughable dreck.  Which is why we value Lear.  It touches us.  How Sh. manages this is that he, to quote the very funny Coleridge on poetry, the poet puts "the right words in the right order."  What that means is the words lead one to imagine the soul of the being who speaks them.  That is how we follow the story, and why we care.  There is no moral, though I don't see why "things are desolate" is not a moral.  Nothing one learns from Lear will help avoid such a fate.  Nor should one perhaps even wish that, since it would mean being anaesthetized.  Maybe great literature overcomes the anaesthization of the soul--for a moment, then back to business. One does not of course need lit for that, but it feels good and so one seeks it out.  

So I Say Back To The Guy (See Below)

Wodehouse is a good exception to what I proposed. The brilliance of what he does, which delights but doesn’t instruct, is what, the exception that proves the rule or maybe decimates the rule? 

I’m not sure what you mean when you say that “literary as an honorific is new.” Literary has this dictionary meaning:

...concerning the writing, study, or content of literature, especially of the kind valued for quality of form.

"the great literary works of the nineteenth century"...

So, in one of its big meanings, it applies to works of quality and so we might say to good or great works as distinct from mediocre works or, to take an extreme example, doggerel in poetry. What I’m trying to get at, if possible, is a way of understanding in fiction what might distinguish between the literary and the non literary, between what is valued as great or good and what isn’t, like, for an another extreme example, a Jacqueline Susann from a Jane Austen. What, if anything, are, as Don might put it, maybe he wouldn’t, the necessary and sufficient conditions of the literary.

I wouldn’t have thought that what literary critics do has any bearing on what might constitute literary as an adjective of quality. That might be confusing literature as standing for what’s written—....Literature, most generically, is any body of written works...and literary as an honorific. I make the same point, by now it’s redundant, in response to your note in your second paragraph as to what “literature” at its most capacious can encompass

Aren’t you as well taking my notion of “instruct” too literally? I tried when I first wrote my note to you to be clear that I didn’t mean anything didactic or pedagogic by “instruct.” I’d wanted to be clear that it stood for the kind of exploration in fiction that goes beyond simply entertaining readers with a good story. (Didn’t Wordsworth mean by it something like sublimity for the soul, something deeper than a lesson? I’m not holding “instruct” to that high standard but illustrating how far from the didactic I am in using it as shorthand for a range of effects beyond being entertained.)   

So Animal Farm is one kind of instruction, and a literary one, on a spectrum that might range from making a point to dramatizing a powerful vision of, say, the desolate nature of things—Lear. And Lear exemplifies, to me, in the deepest sense the deepest sense of your use of “profound.” 

Middlemarch presents us with a panoramic view of life in a community itself ranging from high to low with philosophic depth and penetrating psychological acuity. Certainly it instructs. 

All these works are modes of instruction in the way I mean it. Which one might be more pleasurable than another is both subjective to a point and past that point, arguably, indicative of a dented sensibility. If someone were to compare Animal Farm to The Brothers Karamazov and say, “I get greater pleasure from Orwell’s than I do from Dostoyevsky’s,” we’d either have to drill down on the meaning of pleasure to get at exactly what he meant or conclude he was “out of it.”

This all goes, I think, to the arguable difference between instruct and delight on one hand and only delight on the other, in the way I’m using meaning these terms. But if there’s anything to my point, it seems to be only the most meagre beginning. The varieties of instruction may be taxonomically challenging. And then, say with Wodehouse, there is the sheer brilliance of the delight, the artfulness of it, without, it seems, any instruction, without, that is to say, saying something about the world. But it is surely literary the way, say, Kiss Me Deadly, seems not to be. So is heightened artfulness without apparent instruction literary; which is to ask, as I did, do its instances prove the rule as exceptions or do they collapse the rule into meaninglessness? I can see the latter and I’m not married to the rule. I’m only trying to road test it. 

So The Guy Says To Me (See Below)

Responding to that is not easy.  First, literary as an honorific is new.   A literary critic can review all sorts of works.  Literary scholars write about non-fiction.  

Fictional works are all literature in the most common meaning. Poetry and drama would also be included. 

While some literary works clearly instruct, e.g Animal Farm is a fable about the nature of communism, others, very great ones, do not, e.g., King Lear.  My word for those would be profound.  And great works tend to be subtle, not crude.  Parts of novels may explicitly instruct, eg Middlemarch, but not the novel as a whole.   As for pleasure.  I take much greater pleasure in  Decline and Fall than in Middlemarch, but the latter is profound the former is not.  Chandler is more profound, I'd prefer serious to profound here, than Waugh, but less pleasurable.  So at one end are books that are pleasurable, usually comic and others that are profound, verging on tragedy, and the good ones in both are subtle.  So for me the old dramatic masks are the key to the serious and the pleasurable, and what makes either good is subtlety vs. crude, clunky, or obvious.  

Monday, December 10, 2018

So I Asked A Guy This...

Reading Brides Revisited reminds me of what Ive been wondering lately, whether the following is a truism.

Let’s say literature instructs and delights us—I’m thinking of fiction now, whether short or long.

And I’ve been thinking about what does and doesn’t count for the honorific literary.

And before Waugh I’d been reading some Elmore Leonard. Waugh clearly makes the cut, but does Leonard? And if not, why not? 

My thought is that simply telling a story without more, without wanting to explore something about the world, raise paradoxical themes, present moral dilemmas, reflect and illuminate through fiction something profound about the world, and so on, however this serious intent gets formulated, is the demarcation between what’s literary and what isn’t.

Clearly Brideshead Revisited is on one side of the line.

So what about Leonard, or esteemed crime/detective writers like say Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett? For sure Leonard doesn’t want to do more than delight. No instruction there, if instruction is shorthand for that serious intent. And unless I under-read the last two and others of their kind, they also don’t instruct. The question to my mind is whether instruction is a necessary condition of what counts as literary, wanting to be clear that I don’t equate instruction with didacticism. 

Can what solely delights us by way of story be literary?

I’m not sure but tend to think not and am hard put to think of examples showing me wrongheaded about this though I can well believe I am.

Poetry may present a different issue though I tend not think so even as I understand that imagism was meant to be and not to mean. 

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Whose Presidency Is Normatively Worse, Climton’s Or Trump’s?

I’m reading Gary Byrne’s Crisis of Character.

He’s the former Secret Service officer who worked in the White House during the whole Clinton Lewinsky thing. 

He’s not shy about expressing his political biases but that granted he saw what he saw, heard what he heard and experienced what he experienced, to be tautologically rhetorical about it.

There’s little reason to doubt these rhetorical tautologies. 

On what he describes, in no particular order and not being exhaustive but rather Illuminative, Clinton’s wanton recklessness, personal and political, his lying under oath, suborning perjury, prevailing on others to commit perjury, his so sullying the integrity of his office—getting, for example, blow jobs in the Oval Office while in high conference with world leaders, or, for another, in the Oval Office shoving a cigar as sex device up Lewinsky’s vagina—there seems a consensus that impeachment of a president needn’t be grounded on criminal acts—Clinton’s blaming and heedlessly sacrificing others, whether directly or indirectly—in Byrne’s case, as he details it, getting caught in a legal vice, needing in testimony to dance between the tightening vice grips of conflicting legal doctrine on what he was permitted to say on pain of criminal sanction from any legal angle it was looked at, which near to drove him to a nervous breakdown and near to wrecked his life—among other delicts, I don’t see how anyone can say, on what is thus far publicly known, that, normatively, Trump’s presidency is as bad. 

Friday, November 30, 2018

A Note To A Friend On Justified, The Extended Crime And Law Enforcemet Series

Just finished watching last season,

It may not be artistically the best extended dramatic television series.

I can see arguments for its flaws.

I can see how its violence, indiscriminate and plentiful and often throw away killings and many contrivances can count against it.

But, I’ll distinguish between best and favourite, and say it’s my very favourite extended tv series.  

I love how shot through it is with the characters, plot twists, themes, dialogue, voice, idiosyncrasies  and generally the spirit and artistic sensibility of Elmore Leonard. 

I love the scene in which Raylan Givens lends his fellow Marshall a battered paperback copy of George V. Higgins’s The Friends Of Eddie Coyle and tells him it’s so beat up because, he says, if he’s read the novel ten times that would be low. Elmore Leonard said George V. Higgins was his biggest literary influence, his master. I see Higgins’s books as literature. I’m starting to think some of Leonard’s novels are too. 

Another thing striking about the series is its fantastic sense of place, the mountains, valleys, hills and hollers of Appalachian Harlan County, Eastern Kentucky, its local colour, as evident in the characters, the language, rhythms and idioms of their speech—that’s simply magnificently done—its recreation of place and time and in the cinematography of the land. 

Tabling its ultimate aesthetic worth, I’d put it artistically over Breaking Bad, which I like but don’t love, and on a par with The Sopranos. 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Literary Criticism: Going By Feel: Huck Finn, The Merchant Of Venice

So we’re good then. 

You agree with me?

Glad to have helped.

Seriously, how does a difference like this end? How does one person get the other to change their mind? is it a matter of making specific arguments that then get assessed, accepted or refuted? Or is the whole thing mission impossible? When I reread the longer thing I may have sent you, then I became even more convinced that I have a unique insight that unlocks the whole meaning of the novel in light of its ending. And I got it writing an essay on Huck Finn for my class in American Lit taught by Ross LaBrie. He thought it was an original and stimulating insight.

But I can see the other way of looking at it. It reminds me of my dissatisfaction with The Merchant of Venice. The portrayal of Shylock is so strong, his plea for his dignity is so potent, his righteousness so apparent, his daughter such a bauble, those around him so flat and uninspiring, that the end’s prosecutorial skewering of him, the reduction of him to and the dispatching of him as, a low, wounded cur and the ending of blissful coming together—the hallmark of romantic comedy in Shakespeare—seems dramatically off and emotionally discordant, in sum a huge let down. My theory is that Shylock got away on Shakespeare and became a greater dramatic presence and force than Shakespeare intended. Ultimately the play doesn’t work.

Is that comparable to Huck Finn, them on the river reaching such transcendent heights, Huck condemning himself to Hell in helping Jim, such that the ending is a sad unsatisfying burlesque?

What can I tell you: I don’t think so for among the reasons I’ve said. 

But this is where I came in: no one gets convinced. We go by feel, hopefully informed feel, and agree or disagree. It’s an art not a science, is literary criticism. And done nicely, that’s a richness.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

For Then Against Then Maybe For Again The Death Penalty

Where I am with this issue is as follows.

I began favoring death penalty for horrific crimes. In such cases, my thinking is, the retributive pillar of criminal sentencing—the others, rehabilitation, specific deterrence and general deterrence—overwhelms the others. It rightly channels the community’s rage by the most grave and awesome act, the death penalty, the act that shows the greatest reverence for life in its ultimate response to the extraordinarily shocking taking of innocent life.

I’ve kept to that rationale but have worried over mistakes and condemning to death innocent accused wrongly convicted. That worry has formed the basis of my opposition.

But of late my opposition is getting jiggly and wobbly. The reasons are: my shuddering anew at overwhelmingly brutal homicidal crimes; the improvement of forensic evidence like DNA leading to absolute certainty of guilt in some cases and generally to a lessening of error; and this—calculated death seems built into certain policy choices so that raising or lowering speed limits, for one example, are guaranteed to save or cost lives; so why not the same reasoning with the death penalty? If an innocent life is lost that’s the foreseeable cost of a desired policy. I feel there’s something wrong with this last argument, something ghoulish in fact, but I can’t put my finger on it.

In all of this, though, my view of the moral appropriateness of the death penalty, its deontological rightness, hasn’t wavered. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Short Follow Up On Trump’s Responsibility, If Any, For US Violence


.... While in any case we don’t know what confluence of forces are at work ( eg is it just mental illness), Trump gave license to bigots so he has to be partially responsible . To me, it’s like the thin skull plaintiff, and we all have to be accountable for the choices we make and actions we take...

 Me in response:

.... What licence though?

Is it like Trudeau’s social licence?

Both the fake bomb guy and Bowers seem like nut jobs: the first guy is a juice head with a long rap sheet whose family said he was getting nuttier and nuttier; the second guy, from the little I know about him and what he did, just has to be a wack job. 

So let’s say they both are off their nuts for the sake of argument. 

It’s seems to me soft to say Trump figures in to, bears *some* responsibility for, what they did. I heard the same argument when that guy in Montreal killed all those women. We all, the argument went, bore responsibility for creating a toxic time, a culture, filled with the hatred and exploitation and suppression of women. I didn’t buy that then, and I don’t buy the argument now. It’s now like saying Sanders has some responsibility for the guy who shot Scalise and others: he was a Bernie Bro. The Ds were and are volatile too, lighting fuses: the Rs were attacking women, going to kill them even, by being anti abortion; they were going to kill countable numbers of people by rolling back the ACA; they were going to mire people in more harsh and killing poverty by their roll back of entitlement programs. I didn’t buy that either. So, for me, the softness to me is that it’s easy to say that Trump has some responsibility but it’s impossible to give that accusation any hard substance...

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Question Of Trump’s Responsibility, If Any, For Recent US Violence

Ok, Trump didn’t pull the trigger.

But as president, i.e. by virtue of the office, he or any president is the flashpoint, the apotheosis, the apogee, if you like, of partisan estrangement.

Therefore, it’s incumbent on any president to calm waters, not go out of his way to roil things, not to cheer on violence, to set a calm tone since he does set a tone.

Therefore, of course while Trump isn’t to blame for what Bowers did, he is to blame precisely for stirring things up, for exacerbating division coupled with cheering on violence, and thus creating the environment in which these acts happen.

I don’t like this argument. 

It’s so that it would be better if Trump, when he has, doesn’t cheer on violence as in saying he likes Gianforte’s body slamming the reporter. And there were instances of him saying unfortunate things of that kind during the campaign. But, really, how many instances of that kind of talk have there been since November 8, 2016? What are they?

And as to what he says, it’s in his nature to fight back and to come on strong doing so. So given the unprecedented attack on him manifest in the militarily phrased  “resistance,” in the claim of his illegitimacy, in the felt need among many to bring Trump down by virtually any means, in those excusing Antifa, in the left’s practice and politics of vilification, in the  mainstream’s steady drumbeat opposition to Trump, in its incessant and obsessive harping and criticizing of him whatever he does, in the media’s twisting of facts and stories in trying to get him at every turn, I think it utterly pious not to give him his head in counter attack. 

This especially so when those opposed to him play their over the top part in the outrageous ginning up of partisan bitterness. Take for recent example, the D and others’ near to mass insanity in the attempt to beat back th confirmation of Kavanaugh including so easily going and going along with the story journalistically and politically that he’d spiked drinks and then ran trains on girls who drank thereof and got stupefied therefrom. 

And how does anyone isolate the things Trump has said that contribute to the toxicity within which these spates of violence occur from other things he’s said that don’t and what others in opposition to him are saying that apparently don’t?  

And how does anyone make out the concrete nexus between what he says and the  actions of those who are crazy so that a case can be made for Trump’s culpability?

And how does anyone distinguish among our moment’s toxicity and and the tone, strife and bitterness of previous times in which even worse acts and mass acts of violence took place?

So in sum, as I think about it now, I reject this argument. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Roots Of The Social Justice Demand For Substantive Equality

L.C. said:

Yes, I think the sort of positions these "social justice" types arrive at could and should be seen as a form of reductio ad absurdam that in themselves disprove the moral premise or claim or position that lead to them. The question then is, what was that fallacious premise/claim/position? The answer, obviously, is the premise that substantive equality of all is a valid, even compelling, moral goal. That answer in turn may stem, in part at least, from mistaken extrapolation from a couple of moral goals or ideals that are valid. First is the simple and old notion that sharing, helping, etc. is a positive good, though compulsory sharing is not, and may be a definite bad. Second is the more recent notion that institutionalized or systemic inequality, in the common forms of institutionalized class or caste, is bad, and should be abolished in the name of equality of status, or equality before the law, something quite different from institutionalized, legally compelled equality of substance. It still doesn't seem to me quite sufficient that these sorts of valid goals might have lead to the kinds of absurd conclusions we see so often from even prominent social justice figures like Rawls --  they seem to require something, if not more sinister, at least more significant, more commensurate, to explain them, and I'd suggest hubris, but on a large, even cosmic scale: they imagine that they can make nature herself bow to their conception of justice, and set right the universe. 

Social Justice v Common Law Justice

Me, quoting from linked piece:

.... ....One unfortunate side effect of the focus on equality is that the scope of justice expanded greatly to encompass ever more areas of social life, pushing the boundaries of justice to the frontiers. After all, the realm of things that might be considered unfair because unequal is potentially unlimited. For instance, political philosophers like Philippe Van Parijs have worried about such trivial matters as whether surfers ought to be subsidized for what Ronald Dworkin calls expensive tastes, which they have blamelessly developed, yet unfairly bear the burden of financing. Or there is the issue raised by G. A. Cohen of whether one can support egalitarian policies while remaining wealthy oneself (e.g. as a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford). And, most egregiously, Adam Swift asks: Can we be partial to our own children and remain faithful to the cause of social justice? Whatever its intellectual value, all of this talk renders justice bloated and abstract, too far removed from the moral concerns of ordinary people, and conceptually stretched beyond recognition. Sometime over the last few decades, justice, which Rawls describes as “the first virtue of social institutions,” became the only virtue of institutions....


.... It's not that "all of this talk renders justice bloated and abstract", etc., it's that all of that talk is almost literally insane, as in nuttier than any fruitcake, and as a side effect, positively evil, the exact inverse of any notion of justice. See Harrison Bergeron, again. What it does do, all that talk, is reveal the absurdity of the whole idea of substantive equality as any kind of policy goal. Which is something at least...


.... The argument that the equality premise and desideratum of social justice demands that we don’t prefer our children over other children—what can that even mean in practice?—shows the absurd logical conclusions to which bloodless abstraction detached from ordinary lived experience can lead. That’s a big part of why Rogers stresses the role of emotion in our moral outlook and choices. 

I saw the guy, a philosophy prof natch, who wrote a book taking this line with respect to “equal treatment” of kids, interviewed and trying to make this case. What struck me, among other things, was that as a matter of sheer logic and starting from a certain premise, who could argue against him as a matter of abstracted reasoning? One would have to assert something like, “Well, they’re my kids. My kids! Of course I’m going to prefer them. Virtually by definition I am.” Hence, Rogers’s related focus—related to the role of emotion—on the vital importance of earthly groundedness in moral reasoning.

Parallel to that bloodlessness is what Rogers notes follows from Rawls’s view that achievement, what goes into achievement, is “morally neutral,” by which I take Rawls to mean achievement is essentially the product of life’s lottery. Rawls, therefore, says—I take it, assuming the cardinal value and necessity of equality in relation to living decently—equality must be given its due, which then leads him to want to ensure that the least among us have what we all have in living a decent life, which thus must mean, I again take it, massive redistribution, with personal achievement being morally incidental to that.

So, not for nothing does Rogers say that A Theory Of Justice helped spawn our latest iteration of social justice. 

Finally, at least for me finally for now, Rogers does a good job of giving meaning to social justice, noting its essential focus on wanting different institutions and overarching social and economic arrangements and deemphasizing the individual, and contrasting it with what I’d call common law justice with its premiums on existing fair processes and procedures, improving itself incrementally from within and resolving private disputes between citizens or between citizens and the state. 

(I don’t prefer his term “natural justice” for two reasons: it’s a common law term of art encapsulating the fundamentals of procedural fairness—right to a hearing, right to notice, right to confront your accusers, right of cross examination, right of disinterested adjudication, others; and it might get mashed up with notions of natural law.)...

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Note To Three Friends On Reading After Reading Joseph Epstein On His Reading

I’m the reading slug in this group. And I still see myself as a slouch when measured by what Epstein describes as to his own reading. It would bother me weren’t I at peace with what, how, how much (or better, how little) I read and the time wasting I do, time wasting if reading is the ideal activity that not reading is measured against.

Pleasure is interesting for me. Easier books like crime fiction and certain fiction are entirely pleasurable and a constant temptation. Harder books don’t come easily to me. There’s a certain amount of self coercion involved in getting myself to read them, which, once begun, then usually yield deep pleasure of a sort of hard fought kind. I have to say that some of what I read is partly fueled by the sense of “should be read.” I’ve now eased up some on that felt sense of obligation. I’m not sure it’s such a bad sense. 

Mind you, while there’s certainly pleasure in the physicality of reading actual books, and while that has its own advantages, there are definite advantages to ebooks and audio books. Epstein makes too much of this point, of dismissing all but actual books as the true way to read and in qualifying for bookishness. But if he’s not being prescriptive but only describing his own idiosyncrasy, then that’s just that.

The thing I’ve come to a lot, a lot, over the past couple of years is audio books. I often/regularly drive and listen to them, fiction and non fiction in roughly equal measure, easier and harder books in roughly equal measure. I understand there’s no loss of comprehension in listening to books. I find a skilled reader brings out both the drama and nuances of character in fiction and makes the books come vividly alive. And for parts I want to linger over, I simply replay them. 

As for memory, I find that a real problem. I’ve always had a problem remembering much of anything I’ve casually read. Same with movies. People who with the lapse of time can remember details impress me as doing something I can’t. As an answer to that I began putting in my blog synopses of what I’d read with a view to saying what I thought the theme of the book is, the idea that makes it all make sense, even ambiguous sense. I liked doing it and what I wrote triggers my memory. But of late I tired of it and now find that a Wikipedia plot summary does much of that without the analysis.

Finally, I can’t fathom how Epstein can read so slowly, 25-35 pages a day, together with his lingering and pondering and relishing, and yet read as much as he sets out. 

P.S. My analogue to the pleasure of used books stores is browsing through used record/CD stores. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Half Note On The Estimable Thomas Chatterton Williams

Terrific book by a guy, Thomas Chatterton Williams, who along with Coleman Hughes, gives us a great answer to the absurd Ta Nehisi Coates.

Williams traces his movement from growing up inside BET and Hip Hop culture to the influence of going to Georgetown University majoring in philosophy and then doing an MA at NYU to inhabiting physical and intellectual worlds beyond the ghetto and ghetto culture.

One thing I like that he does is a few times to take a short passage or thought from Hegel or Heidegger and explicate them by the concrete instance of his own life struggles.

He’s a nice prose writer too. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A Note On Originalism And Changing Condtions AKA New Facts

....nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws... 1/6

Brown Headnote: 

........The question presented in these cases must be determined not on the basis of conditions existing when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, but in the light of the full development of public education and its present place in American life throughout the Nation. Pp. 492-493.(c)...2/6

On it, this extract from the head note of Brown may not be wrong. 

And here may lie a fundamental problem with originalism. Its argument would be that contemporaneous communicative content of the language of the 14th Am is different from the “conditions existing” at the time of its adoption. 3/6

But if the “conditions existing” exhaust the applications of that language, then don’t we have the conclusive range of the meaning of it, save for new conditions that are in principle necessarily “on-all-fours” comparable? 4/6

So then if separate but equal is more consistent with existing conditions than integrated equality, doesn’t originalism hit a road block—namely changing facts or in the language of Brown changing conditions? 5/6

The point is: how can then communicative comment of legal language be understood save by its contemporaneous application to fact situations, i.e. then “existing conditions?” 6/6

Monday, October 8, 2018

Thoughts On 2018’s A Star Is Born

2018’s A Star Is Born:


Spoiler alerts, if that’s possible with this well trodden story.

Why only 5.6? Well: 

The first part of the movie drags. Cooper’s drunkenness isn’t convincing. We’re just presented with it. But he’s so good looking, in such great physical shape, tanned not sunburnt, with beautiful white teeth, with such bright clear eyes; he’s so nice and sunny and sweet and sincere; so, with all that, the image of him as a wasting drunk falls flat. He doesn’t bring it off “organically.” The movie imposes his drunkenness on us with scenes of his drinking that don’t add up. This points to a problem in the movie: it’s cliche ridden and for too much of the time doesn’t earn the emotions and responses it’s trying to evoke.

Gaga is a wooden actress—at least in this film she is. She has no natural on screen sizzle, grace or charisma. She looks dull, doughy and awkward. Her acting is forced. My impression of her and Cooper at the beginning of the movie and for about its first 2/3ds is that they’re more than anything actors trying to play their parts, him a terribly damaged, on-the-skids music star, her an undiscovered ingenue. The very opening scene when she’s walking down the alley singing and then takes a turn as if to an audience seems so unnatural as to be artificial. And the first song she sings in the drag queen cabaret suggests as well the same problem: as she belts out in a booming way La Vie En Rose, we see the talent of Lady Gaga pretending it’s something else, the undiscovered, untested local talent of a performing neophyte. She’s playing at her role: she doesn’t become it.

The scene when she and Cooper meet each other and then the scenes that pass after between them are stilted, near to dead, in their lack of genuine chemistry. Given that their story, their love story, is at the heart of this movie, albeit most often in cardiac arrest, the woodenness  between them deadens much of the whole thing, makes it move too slowly and frustrated me as I kept looking at my watch, wondering if the patient could be revived.

The descent into predictable contrived cliche, betokening a failure of directorial nerve and some laziness too, is evident in two scenes among others.

In the shower scene after the catastrophe of the Grammies, where Gaga’s father, Andrew Dice Clay, giving a stolid performance throughout, lets the shower run on a supine, drunk-wrecked Cooper at a time in the movie when it’s actually picking up emotional steam as Gaga’s and Cooper’s acting tends to come alive, we see Gaga getting soaked, strewn over her man, desperate  to help him,  immiserated by his utter falling apart. There is real pathos here. It’s affecting. And so we’re given a few seconds of it. Then rather than prolonging the scene a little longer to let that pathos penetrate us, to allow us fully to experience their then misery and hopelessness, the scene abruptly ends and we’re shifted on to something new.

The second is near the movie’s end, after Cooper is out of weeks of rehab—another cliche btw, the rehab so superficially shown—and seems to be doing better, so inside his art as Gaga tells her manager, when he, Gaga’s unpleasant, authoritarian manager, has a “this is the way it is” one on one with Cooper. The manager lights the fuse that will explode in Cooper’s suicide. He tells Cooper to give up Gaga, that he’s making a fool of her, that he’s going to self destruct again inevitably and that in all that, what’s he’s done and what he inevitably will do, he’s wrecking her ascending career. He’s telling Cooper this because, he says, Gaga loves him too much ever to.  (Btw, Gaga more submissively than I’d expect or believe accepts her manager’s dictum that Cooper touring with her in Europe is out of the question.) So with what her manager tells him, and with Gaga lying to Cooper about why she isn’t going to Europe, the die, so to speak, is cast. 

Problem is, this sequence is so contrived and unrealistic, it bespeaks lazy directing. Not one conversation about this between these people so much in love? A manager will tell this to his client’s husband with no word to her? Is there no chance that, as would likely happen in life, Cooper might bring up that talk with his wife, who then presumably would fire or at least castigate her brazenly meddling manager? 

Listen, authors can tell any story they wish and it’s a principle of a certain kind of exegetical criticism that we simply accept the story as told. But an evaluative criticism wants to assess all the parts for artistic authenticity and truth. And when a story line runs so afoul of realistic probability so as to strain believability, we can rightly cry, “Foul!” 

The lazy contrivance saps the effect of Cooper hanging himself. Due to the unbelievability of this sequence, the movie hasn’t earned the drama of that suicide, somewhat like in Three Billboards, in which that movie doesn’t earn the drama of Woody Harrelson’s out of context killing himself, let alone its heedless means.

This unsatisfying contrivance in A Star Is Born unhappily complements thematic incoherence in the film. Sketched in but unrealized and undeveloped is an intriguing thematic paradox. For all his being fatally damaged goods, we’re shown true art in Cooper. There are hints for the thematic proposition that without something approaching personal darkness, authentic art can’t grow. Gaga goes in another direction. As her fame grows under the dictatorial hand of her manger—she early on tells him she doesn’t want to be separated from her own artistic truth—she loses herself in glitz and pop meaninglessness. There’s a scene when that so disgusts Cooper he walks out of one of her performances and starts drinking again. He warns her in an extended speech not to lose herself in all that pop fakery, that she doesn’t need it, the glitz, the backing dancers, the self sexualization, all of which is the antithesis, he says, of artistic truth. After that, this paradoxical theme simply fades away. There is no resolution of it that I noted. If it’s there, then I missed it. If it’s there, then what is it? To me this thematic failure suggests a director who does not fully know what he’s about in this movie. 

It can be argued her final song, slow, full of deep feeling,  in memory of Cooper is that resolution. But we have no way of knowing about that. Did she fight with her manager to sing it? Was there any kind of confrontation over her singing? Has she turned her back on what has throughout disgusted Cooper but what has birthed her stardom? Is her manager her manager still? We have no idea as to any of this. And so we have the moving song dedicated to Cooper lovely and moving, but thematically fallow in the unresolved relation between authenticity and true art.

I could go on with instances of what doesn’t work and what’s lacking. But enough of that.

What gives this movie a pass and a bit of change, to my mind, is that in its about last third, as I noted, it picks up emotional resonance. Cooper in the process of his final downfall, his acting chops finally coming to the fore, becomes a rounded, fully realized character with depth. He even manages to pull Gaga at times into a better acting orbit. The scene, for example, where she lies about why she’s not going to Europe works as she conveys genuine but unadmitted regret and Cooper knowing that she’s lying but doesn’t let her in on it that he knows, that scene is effective and complex. Sam Elliott’s acting too helps save the movie from failure (though the scene where Cooper clobbers him and then the brothers have it out, all recriminatory anger, is overwrought and drowns in all we’re being told and not shown.) And also on the saving side, the music is pretty good and is nicely integrated into the film. 

So as I say, 5.6 out of 10