Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Literature--Real Literature--is Still a Man's Game.

The expression 'man' here refers more to certain qualities of hardness, pitilessness and such that I, who lack them, tend to think of as extreme masculine characteristics. There are certainly plenty of women who have them in one degree or another. The great delusion of so many is that the fields of genuine literature and the other arts are some kind of refuge for soft, sensitive people, a cheap and painless route to the acceptance and esteem they have always craved but never merited. Such beauty as exists in life and art largely depend on the extent to which it rewards hardness and rigor and punishes softness and laziness...

I Am Not Going to Presume to Give Financial Advice But...

I am not the first person to notice this, but it has always struck me as an especial peculiarity of American life that in certain areas the more spectacular the problems of one's own making that one has at least temporarily escaped, the more credibility one has in guiding others away from or out of the same pitballs. Thus it is considered reasonable to hire or anoint people who have had the most extreme problems with drugs themselves to counsel others on the best ways to avoid or overcome similar habits, as opposed to someone who never had such problems in the first place. Likewise there is an American mutation of Christianity in which the extent of sin in which the preacher wallowed in the days before he developed a greater intimacy with Jesus is a far greater selling point with potential congregates than the rigor of his theological training. Of late we have seen the rise of the Dave Ramsey/Suze Orman style financial guru who once had six figure credit card debt but now earn fortunes browbeating the hapless middle and lower middle classes with such brilliant insights as "don't buy the plasma TV if you can't do it in cash". One thing most of these pop money managers seem to be in agreement about is that spending any more money on education than the minimal amount necessary to get certified in some kind of practical skill leading to an immediate upgrade in pay is a cardinal sin. This assumes an attitude towards education of course that I know a lot of people have, but which is a symptom of a wider trend among a lot of middle class non-Jewish whites that I can't see not having increasingly unhappy consequences for them as a group moving on through the next fifty years or so.

It seems to me that families and groups who expend a large percentage of their resources and energy on education for their younger members--a population in which certain foreign and, in our country, foreign-born groups are disproportionately represented--are thriving comparatively well, and in institutions and fields that increasingly seem to be failing to engage or develop the talents of the native born. I do not downplay the expense involved even in obtaining decent schooling (or the ridicule that some fortunate and superbrilliant members of the creative and intellectual elite have the luxury of pouring out on formal schooling), but if it is one's primary commitment, I think it is not yet so far beyond the reach of even the moderately ambitious or talented (and certainly not of the indisputably so). The amount of student loan debt people have now, especially when combined with the dissatisfaction so many express with the results of their educations, is a concern. Still, though I can't find the figures readily, the last report on the subject I read indicated that the schools with the highest rate of loan defaults by far were places like cosmetology schools and community colleges which one assumes tended to attract more people with a pretty desultory approach to education and finances than would be regarded as normal by the well-meaning and not so well-meaning factions of the establishment. The $50,000 a year private colleges much ridiculed by the pop financial advisors had comparatively low rates of student loan default. I suspect this may be because they take more concern not to bury their students with cruel levels of debt than what frankly seem to me to be the somewhat shady operations at the fringes of the education complex. As to whether the expensive private colleges are too much of a burden on the students' parents, assuming they have the resources to pay for them, is of course something they have to decide. I confess that because I am only partially well-educated myself, I tend to believe there is some great secret or nirvana that having more through knowledge, accomplishments, talents, exclusively super-intelligent friends, co-workers and family members, etc, will bring you that must make life something spectacular on a day to day basis, and without which it is rather dull, so my instinct is to overspend on things like schools, which are the best access to the secrets that seem to be available, to see what it is there. Other people obviously do not feel this emptiness within them and don't need the psychic healing that such tokens of experience may or may not bring.

I got a little off course there. I still think it is a concern that so many mainstream white Americans are becoming turned off or disillusioned by the education system, to the point in many instances of abandoning it intellectually if not literally. Jews, Indians, Chinese, Koreans, do not seem to suffer this kind of disillusionment in anywhere near comparable numbers. Why? Some will say it is because they are inherently smarter, but even if this is so, among gentile whites the really smart people have often been among the most likely to be disillusioned/dissatisfied and to rebel in some way, which does not seem to be on the whole the case among these other groups (obviously there are exceptions to every generality).

Given that it has been a long time since I have posted and I don't have a lot of open hours for posting in my immediate future I am going to put this up and use the rest of the material I had for this post later on.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

10 Best Literary Adaptations

This subject sort of suggested itself in the last question of the nerd survey I took a couple of posts ago. It is a natural blog post. I have also not looked at anyone else's list on the same topic, so this will be pretty much straight from my active memory. I have made a rule that I have to have actually read the book for the movie to be included, which is why some obvious choices may not appear. #10-Ulysses (1967) I've always thought this film was underrated. It appears to have been made on a budget of about $100. The characters walk around Dublin in their Joycean costumes while 1960s street markings and shopfronts and heavy auto traffic in the distance are in plain view. I like the effect this makes though. It is kind of surreal. I'm surprised something like it isn't tried more often. This surrealness in an odd way gives the impression of being in the spirit of the novel, which was, and still is, widely considered to be unfilmable, though I think this movie proves that between all the real landmarks and places, and espisodes in those places, referred to and the thread of a genuine underlying story (Molly Bloom's adultery) to follow, it is actually filmable to a decent degree.

#9--Goodbye, Mr Chips (1939) Some might contend that the book on which this story was based is not properly literature, but the story is iconic, it primarily came to the consciousness of the world via the printed page, and it has enough of a literary sensibility about it that I am inclined to count it. The sentimental and whimsical works of James Hilton (he also wrote Shangri-La) and old Hollywood were destined to attract each other. The film has an excellent, intelligent cast, who, along with the director and other contributors to the film, grasped the spirit of the material but were able to treat it (the spirit) seriously, which is the secret of most successful literary adaptations.

#8--Hamlet (1948) I haven't seen the (4 hour+) Kenneth Branagh Hamlet, which a lot of people like, and I haven't seen the Olivier Henry V or Richard III which are also much loved, which leaves this for the moment as my favorite Shakespeare film adaptation. I'm kind of a Hamlet person by nature anyway, but the combination of the sort of atmosperically dreary postwar setting with the black and white cinematography is an especially good combination for this particular set of actors and this particular play.

#7-Tom Jones (1963) A lot of people like to rag on this movie, but I think it's pretty good. Tom Jones is a 1,000 page novel with one of the most complicated, albeit brilliant, plots of all time, and there is no way to make a two hour movie of it except as a kind of lively collage of character sketches, impressions, elaborate renderings of particular scenes (such as the fox hunt), and so on.

This movie gets extra credit for having Susannah York, who is such a babe to me at this time (early-mid 60s) as Sophie Western, Tom Jones's ultimate girlfriend. Like a number of the beautiful British women of this era--Shirley Anne Field, Charlotte Rampling, Edna O'Brien (who I know was Irish but the effect was similar) myriad Beatle and other rock star girlfriends--she did not age in a way that I would call graceful. The tumult of the late 60s and early 70s seems to have contributed to these women developing what I consider rather hard and unappealing looks by the time they were in their mid-30s, which is an age at which plenty of women are still plenty attractive without having totally compromised their principles or otherwise lobotomized themselves. The spirit of the time however was equally opposed to conceding anything to convention, including what some might call wisdom, the effect of which I think shows in the faces of the people who indulged in the ethos of that period the fullest.

#6-A Christmas Carol (1951 & 1984) I include both the Alastair Sim version and the later George C Scott version since I like them both. Also the later version is similar enough to the earlier that it seems to have been based on it (there is also the Muppets' Christmas Carol with Michael Caine as Scrooge and Kermit the Frog as Bob Crachit, which isn't bad either). The '51 is usually considered the classic, but having been made in the height of the austerity period it is a little spare in some of the warmer and more exuberant party scenes, which I like in the '84. Most Dickens adaptations I find disappointing. I haven't seen the Lean Great Expectations and Oliver Twist from the 40s, which are supposed to be the best ones (I have seen Oliver! the musical, but it didn't really do it for me). The Dickens mindset or attitude is one that many people feel and think they understand, but it seems to be hard to convey it if one is not actually Dickens, on film or in performance or critical analysis or otherwise. With The Christmas Carol I suspect the story is enough that filmmakers and actors are more easily able to give themselves up to it and let themselves be guided by it than they are comfortable doing with the other books.
#5-A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) I wrote about this fairly recently. One feels that it captures where American writing and its relation to other artistic forms and movements was at in 1951 as well as any film ever made, and that that vision has held up pretty well going on 60 years later.

#4-The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) This represents an important strain of American literature (and life) that is more or less dead now, the novel of midwestern small-town aristocracies, their business interests, social ambitions, etc, between the Civil War and World War II, which events correlate exactly with the rise and decline of this kind of town and economic order. As I noted once on this blog, I live in the ruins of this sort of town, in a mansion (now divided into 3 units) that was built and lived in by one of the former local magnates who are usually major figures in this genre of novels. This movie gets what was appealing and stifling about that world pretty well (Orson Welles I believe came from such a midwestern town himself), as well as grasping its role, again for better and worse, in the rise of the modern American behemoth that had really begun to come into view in something like its accurate shape in the decades following World War I.

Booth Tarkington was a good novelist. I suspect his esteem plummeted due to the double blow of the ascendance of modernism, which essentially set itself up in opposition to writers like Booth Tarkington, and the fact that whenever a black character enters the narrative, usually as some kind of hapless servant, he does not, shall we say, rise to the occasion that a proper humanity would require he should. F Scott Fitzgerald to be frank has a similar problem, but the number of pages marred by it are somewhat lower in his books than in Tarkington's, and then Fitzgerald is still a good and interesting enough writer to important contemporary readers that he is cut a lot more slack. I will assert that Tarkington is a better novelist than Arnold Bennett, who is sort of his English counterpart, both having a similar provincial bent and relation to modernism. My impression is that Bennett's status has been a bit on the mend in recent years.

#3--Dr Zhivago (1966) Both the movie and book have been declining in esteem in recent years, why I am not sure. Perhaps they were both overcelebrated at the times that they came out. Still, I don't see a whole lot of stuff coming out in the years since that is so appreciably better as to make these laughable now, as some seem to consider. The novel, at least in the old translation, reads very much like a classic (19th-century) Russian novel, set in only slightly recognizably more recent times. I thought there was a lot of interest in it, particularly the descriptions of the general shutting down of the ordinary functioning of society during the revolution--the cropfields overrun with millions of rats and other vermin, the trains sitting buried immobile under mounds of unplowed snow--especially as many people predict we are headed for an analogous type of societal collapse in this country within the next few years. Considering that the manuscript had to be smuggled out of the Soviet Union, and the author subsequently awarded the Nobel Prize (which he was not allowed to accept) as much for infuriating the Soviet authorities as for the quality of the book, it did not strike me as particularly subversive or condemnatory. Doubtless there are lot of hard judgements cast and truths revealed in the book too subtle for outsiders, especially those from cultures with low levels of intellectual refinement, to perceive, but at the same time it is a marvel to an American that the political leadership in other countries feels compelled to acknowledge artists and intellectuals who criticize them, in effect dealing with them as equals, or at least as humans, rather than just ignore or laugh at them.

The movie is actually very similar in tone to the book, again as it reads in English, and reproduces the plot quite faithfully as well. There is surprisingly little, narrative-wise, that gets left out. And yes, it is a very fanciful, Americanized (or maybe Britishized) vision of Russia, but I give it credit at least for making it a good one. If you're going to fancify, go all the way with it.

#2--A Room With a View (1988) In case you were wondering, my ranking is not necessarily in order of what is the best movie overall, but what is the best adaptation, in my opinion, of the book. In this instance the movie and the book are so nearly identical that I am inclined to say that the movie is actually better. I always thought Forster was quite a bit overrated as a novelist, but I may be influenced in this by the apparent ease with which he translates to film (Howard's End may also be more effective as a film than as a novel) and fairly easily digestible film at that. The Merchant and Ivory team take a lot of hits from sophisticates for their upper class Anglophilic porn movies, but in Forster at least they found a subject perfectly suited to their peculiar talents (I also thought the film of Remains of the Day seemed well-done; I haven't read that book however). You can see them get into trouble when they try to take on Henry James, though in this they are not alone. Indeed the evidence would suggest that the great unfilmable classic author is not Joyce or Sterne or Fielding, but Henry James, the odd fascination with adapting whom has sabotaged, or at least tied up for several years to no good end more than one career (maybe Spike Jonze's next assignment should be The Ambassadors). Why are people fascinated by these projects? One mistake is taking the approach that a Henry James movie should be at all a costume drama. Being a character in a Henry James novel is like being in one of those poker games with a $50,000 minimum bet rule: it can be taken for granted that you are in the top 1/10th of 1% in wealth and wear fabulous clothes. The distinctions between characters are almost entirely in their degree of mental refinement and development, their perception of these vis-a-vis the others, and their peculiar and often trivial petty resentments and grievances. In other words, things which are very difficult to convey on film. There is no mincing Cecil or strapping George or hormonally aroused Lucy in a Henry James novel to save the cinematic day. That said, one Henry James novel which seems to me like it might make a decent movie is the early The American. It has a Parisian setting, some over-the-top snooty French aristocrats (the sort who insist that the actual head of the French State is Louis XVIII's doddering great-great nephew who lives in the country and spends all his time hunting grouse), filthy rich naive Americans who have yet to become fully internalized psychologically. It could work I think since danger of the temptation to extreme earnestness combined with faulty understanding of the material would be less than usual.
I was once watching this movie with a group of (surprisingly manly) male friends when an aggressive man who happened to make one of the party turned violently to me and demanded "Do you like her?" referring to the lovely star Helena Bonham Carter, who plays Lucy Honeychurch. Stunned out of my customary hemming and hawing and qualifying by the urgency of the question I simply blurted out "Yes!" with a burst of some feeling.

#1--Pride and Prejudice (1992) There are a lot of Jane Austen adaptations, most of which are OK, some of which are unbearable, but this 5 hour miniseries is the champion of them all (though I do think Colin Firth is too much of a pussy to be a convincing Mr D'Arcy, the consensus is otherwise). A good Jane Austen movie has above all else to properly appreciate the humor and spirited exchanges of intellect in the dialogue, and most of the people in this version seem to get that. The costumes, furnishings, and so on also feel to me to be accurate based on my readings in her books. As such they are unobtusive in the movie, so that they seem wholly natural to the characters moving about in them. Also I have one of those special loves such as one can only feel towards a very few distant and uattainable women for the girl who plays Elizabeth Bennett in this. Her name is Jennifer Ehle, and she is actually an American to boot. She also was born the exact same week I was (she is older by a couple of days) So I think between astrological and various other shared generational cohort experiences, we must have a great deal in common.
Honorable mention: My favorite costume drama of all time is probably Barry Lyndon, but I have never read the book on which that is based. Similarly I have never read, I must admit, the book of Lolita, which isn't supposed to resemble the Kubrick movie anyway, though that is also one of my favorites. When I made the list I forgot about the excellent film productions of Shaw and O'Neill plays, i.e. Pygmalion, Major Barbara and A Long Day's Journey Into Night, which are akin to A Streetcar Named Desire in being fairly contemporaneous with the original productions, featuring actors who had done the roles on stage, etc. I'm not sure where I would have slipped them in.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tennyson--"Ulysses" (1842)

This is, or was until recently anyway, one of the central poems in the English tradition, read and known by every schoolchild. This is apparently one of Harold Bloom's favorite poems to claim as his own and break out in a recitation of in his public haranguings, but don't let that put you off. Harold will either be dead or too superannuated to maintain his current visibility and influence on the literary scene very soon, and the poem's greatness will long outlive his particular championing of it. I originally read and made comments on this poem on December 9, 1995. Looking over those comments I am astounded at the energy I previously had for reading. I still think it is a tremendous poem. My weary middle-aged take on it, perhaps speaking more of myself than the actual contemporary human condition, was: 'Man has become overwhelmed by his knowledge. He has overreached himself. These conceptions of human wholeness, oneness with life (i.e. in the poem) are striking. Saddening? We are moving ever away from this vision of ourselves.' I won't reproduce my entire 1995 report, though I did things like identify a symbolic meaning for nearly every image and adjective, and even note the aspects of the verbs, which sort of thing I can't be bothered with now, even assuming anybody would let me be bothered with it.

I will record a few of the observations I made on the poem in that former reading, which looks to me to have been at least as solid as anything I am likely to get out of it now.

Images of death ("By this still hearth, among these barren crags") linked to domesticity, homebodiness.

Feminine love is ultimate end (meaning death of vitality) for man.

His subjects live like animals, seem to have limited souls ("a savage race/That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.")

"Rest" ("I cannot rest from travel") is starvation, death.

Extremes of sensation felt often and simultaneously; trying to define what it means to say Ulysses is everyman, as is often said. But what does it mean? (2009--Ulysses was clearly never "everyman" except in the sense of being a culmination [i.e., not an average] of men collectively. He is almost as unlike the run of men as is it is possible to conceive of).

"Roaming" is a good metaphor for life.

"And drunk delight of battle with my peers". 3rd nourishment reference (l.16). Battle is delirious, 'ringing'; somehow proper for men.

Why is Troy 'windy'? Winds of time, timelessness perhaps?

"I am a part of all that I have met." I.e., in a greater way than most men.

ll. 19-21: "Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
Forever and forever when I move."

Arches bridge gaps and support weight. Does it fade only for him or for all men through him? This is a poetic crescendo. He did change human existence through his life and agency.

ll 22-3: "How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!"

The end should not be made. Lofty ideal that man should gleam and shine. But only he can let himself tarnish. Use of course is a key word.

ll 24-5 "As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little..."

This may be the underlying sentiment behind all of advanced human civilization. Life in itself is as nothing, like a series of infinitessimals.

"Some three suns" (l.29) I miss the sense of.

ll 30-32: "And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought."

The spirit is gray because of the bounds in which human thought is restricted. Knowledge grows dimmer and dimmer, sinking away from land, life as it becomes more real.

On the stanza entrusting the island and scepter to Telemachus (ll. 33-43): How through (Telemachus's) worldly workmanship will he subdue them to the useful and the good? This labor is the greater part of man's work, but it is nonetheless not the work of the fully realized man. Therefore the overwhelming majority of men must remain essentially unrealized. Why 'blameless'? (l. 39--of Telemachus again) One who is 'centered' (l.39) cannot exactly move or escape the center. But man is not man because a because a few of his exceptional sorts are the center creating, not the circumscribed. (2009--I'm not exactly sure what I was trying to get at here.)

The sea is ever the unknown; even now when overlook (i.e., are largely unconscious of its enormous presence) it, it is the symbol of the (myriad) unknown we overlook (i.e., our ignorance).

Mariners are by nature not so domestic, societally-directed. Possess some glimpse onto otherworldliness. They were free because they welcomed what lay seemingly far outside themselves.

ll. 50-53: "Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods."

Twin connection of glory and man's work. Only death can properly close a work. Whole passage very classical in view.

The last 15 lines have pretty obvious symbolism. Voices of the dead. The earth no longer as an utter limit in itself. Sunsets and baths being sailed beyond, the most distant voyages being made by the concentrated powers of the mind. The idea that heaven as well as earth can be moved (altered) by superior human acts is an interesting and old-fashioned one. Perhaps this is still possible in the common human perception. Since time and fate weaken him, a man need be robust of body and vigorous of mind to move heaven or earth in the slightest.

O.K., this is the other Ulysses, but I couldn't pass on the picture.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Nerd Tests Are Stupid

Though I was never cool, I was never able to bring myself to self-identify as a nerd, and in my youth went to great lengths to distance myself from any taint of the crowd that embraced the most egregious geek hobbies and behaviors. Fortunately this was not too difficult for me to pull off, since I generally had no desire to participate in any of these pastimes, and my presence was at least tolerated in some of the social circles and activities that held more appeal for me, though I did not thrive nor make any kind of figure in them. On at least one occasion I did spend a Friday night, when apparently either nothing was going on or I had had some kind of falling out with whatever slightly more socially adept crowd I was hanging out with at the time, at a basement nerd gathering. I found it brutally depressing, though the nerds themselves were actually much less agitated about their situation than my usual friends were in their own (and would have been in the nerds' too). They really did order pizza and sit around drinking soda and playing board games and watching boring television shows the whole night. Girls have often seemed remote to me, it is true, but they never felt so hopelessly far away as they did in that basement. There was no possibility anyone was ever going to find you there.

So for the most part I have managed to avoid much physically intimate connection with the extreme nerd lifestyle and culture. The inexorable advance of technology however, especially the internet, has been seized upon by these people as a triumph and validation of their kind. It has empowered them greatly, at least as far as intellectual confidence goes (they still aren't pulling in a steady stream of babes for the most part). They have an apparently unshakable belief in the value of their minds and their heavily mathematical and scientific-based knowledge, and are extremely dubious about the value of any mind or knowledge without a deep, primary foundation in the hard sciences. Their values are ascendant. There are still plenty of confident and brilliant literary-oriented people of course, even some who seem impervious to doubts about the value of their field or its probable future of ever-diminishing esteem and standing in the culture. These would by and large are natural winners who would be successful in whatever cultural milieu happened to prevail during their lifetime. The (male) nerdy faction of the literary world, in contrast to its technological counterparts, is shrinking, its confidence is waning, and its outlook on the future tends towards extinction and despair. Indeed, in perhaps the ultimate insult, the literary nerd is no longer even regarded as a proper nerd anymore. He isn't smart enough. He has descended to the ranks of the merely pathetic and hopeless.

One of the staples of nerd psychology by the way is that, incredible as it sounds, most hardcore nerds are oblivious to the reality that they are nerds, or at least to what that reality really and truly implies--the literal extent to which they are repulsive to women, etc. I think I have a fair grasp on this sort of thing as it relates to myself, which I suppose tends to make me slavish towards the dominant segment of society rather than directly defiant towards it as nerds are at some level. Somehow this still doesn't make being a nerd more appealing.

1. Has anyone ever called you a nerd? Probably, although never from a source or in a way that made me really feel it, unless it were from some of my own extended family members, whom I knew to have a tendency to regard me in this unflattering light.

2. Did you skip a grade in elementary school? No. They never did this where I lived. I did have reading in the grade ahead of mine throughout elementary school. As you can imagine I never received a very warm reception from any of the people in that higher class.

3. Was your SAT math score 600 or more? This is not really a very high barrier, especially since the scoring was made easier in the 90s. I would be surprised if most people I know did not get 600 on the math SAT.

4. Can you figure out anagrams without a piece of paper? It depends how hard they are. I probably could figure them out up to 30 or 40 letters if I wanted to concentrate that much, but I doubt I would bother beyond 15, maybe twenty.

5. Did you try to figure out if the last question was an anagram? No.

6. Did you letter in high school for academics or band? They didn't give letters for this stuff at my high school. If they had, I would not have gotten them. I did get 6 letters for actual sports, mostly running sports, though I got one in basketball too.

7. Did you have your first drink on your twenty-first birthday? No.

8. Do you know at least one of these languages? perl, COBOL, C, C+, C++, FORTRAN? No. I never got interested in computers either as a tool to facilitate great enterprises or as a wondrous invention in itself until it became practically a necessity. My great problem as a person in this society is that I have no great need to change or reinvent life. I spent several decades trying to master life as I comprehended it to be in 1984, imagining this to be the secret of all happiness before I realized that everyone else had long, long moved on through many stages.

9. Was your last "intimate relationship" in a chat room? That would be living on the edge for me, my friend.

10. Do you own a fanny pack or pocket protector? No. Has anybody worn a pocket protector since 1975?

11. Do you consider chess a sport? I used to take a great interest in developments in chess. The circumstance that computers can now wipe out the top players in the world in 20 minutes has kind of ruined it for me, because I don't find the ability or brilliance of a computer compelling in the same way I would a human.

12. Have you ever told a joke about chemistry or physics? No. I went to a college where people told jokes about Immanuel Kant and made comic t-shirts featuring Dante and Antoine Lavoisier (the father of chemistry) but none of this humor originated from me.

13. Do you have endless debates on who was a better captain, Kirk or Picard? I could never get into Star Trek. I don't think I have ever seen a whole episode. Maybe it is just over my head. I was a TV junkie as a kid, especially for 60s reruns like Green Acres and the so awful I can't believe a) it was real and b) it was one of my favorite shows Petticoat Junction, but I would either leave the room or pull out a book and read when Star Trek came on.

14. Do you own more black clothing than Marilyn Manson? No. I dress like a 1984/East Gemany variation communist. Lots of brown, gray and drab.

15. Do you carry a backpack full of collectible card games? I do carry a backpack containing books, notebooks, pens, magazines, newspapers, etc, whatever I am working on, because otherwise my wife will go into a cleaning frenzy and put things where no one can find them.

16. Is your favorite day of the month new-comic day? I never got into comics either. I guess you can substitute some sports thing. I used to have subscriptions to the Sporting News and Baseball Digest back around 1982, when they were mostly just page after page of statistics.

17. Does your diet consist of soda, snack chips, and pizza? I do eat a lot of this, mainly because in the 2000s they really get upset if you swig whiskey at your desk at work, and I don't have my own office (yet). My wife is an excellent cook and she cooks something delicious and reasonably healthy for me about half the time. The rest of the time I am on my own and I don't fare so well.

18. Do your family and friends use you as tech support? No. In fact my ineptitude with computers is considered a fit object for raillery among many of these people.

19. Is deodorant as foreign a concept to you as toothpaste or mouthwash? I think of myself as having pretty good hygiene and not stinking, but what makes the nerd a nerd is his obliviousness to the reality and extent of his repulsiveness.

20. Have you ever played a video game for more than twelve hours straight? God no. I never got into video games either. A consensus seems to have formed among some people that most of the imaginative and creative geniuses of my generation--the people who would have been great novelists, musicians, etc, in a different era--used the video game as the medium for their art. If this is the case, then of course it makes sense that I would not have gotten them.

21. Is your mom the only woman to ever see the inside of your bedroom? Cold-blooded, man! I'm glad I'm not having to fill out this quiz on my 20th birthday anyway.

22. When your parents are worried, do they call the local comic or computer store? My parents wouldn't have called anybody until I was missing for a week probably, but no, they would not have looked to those places first. My wife would start calling the bars most likely.

23. Do you buy two of the same action figure, one for display and one for "the collection"? If you substitute books for action figure, the answer is still no, though as I like to collect old sets of classics and so on, I end up having 4 copies of Pride and Prejudice and that type of thing.

24. Do you own a PC, a PDA, a PS2, a DVD, and an MP3 player but not a C-A-R? Between age 18 and about 27 I did not, apart from brief periods, have a car (I wouldn't have had any of this other stuff either had it existed at the time).

25. Have you dressed as a movie or comic character, and it wasn't Halloween? No. I never wear costumes.

26. Do you have a shrine to Stan Lee, Gene Roddenberry, or Isaac Asimov somewhere in your home? No. These guys are sci-fi writers, I believe. I tried to read an Asimov book in 8th or 9th grade because a teacher, no doubt mistaking me for a pure nerd, thought I would like it, but it did nothing for me (doubtless the ideas in it were beyond my feeble powers of comprehension. I believe Asimov was supposed to have had an IQ of 180 or something like that). There is a growing, rumbling undercurrent of sentiment on the internet, coming from the empowered nerd community, that this class of authors has not received its proper due from the feminized, homosexual-dominated, mathematically ignorant (and increasingly irrelevant) official literary establishment. I may try to give them another look one of these days just to be sure there isn't something to this, but I suspect the literary establishment doesn't think much of them because the stories aren't interesting to most people whose lives actually in large part revolve around reading and studying literature.

27. Do you have the comic-book store on speed-dial? I do like to hang out in used book stores, when I can find them. As a side note, I have found that Salvation Armies frequently have more than serviceable used book sections, as long as you aren't looking for anything obscure. They're also good if you have any aversion to the poseur crowd, because they generally won't be there.

28. Have you written an angry letter to George Lucas pointing out all the flaws in the new trilogy? I've noted elsewhere on this site that I have never seen any of the Star Wars movies all the way through. My oldest sons want to watch them because their little schoolmates talk about them, but my wife has not given the OK for this yet because there is apparently violence resulting in death in them, and we don't keep it that real for six and seven year olds. As far as space movies go I do like 2001 of course, and I will confess to being taken in in the moment by Close Encounters (the Spielberg movie).

29. Do you know more URLs than girls' phone numbers? Oh, come on man. You know when I was growing up my parents always insisted on having an unlisted phone number, which caused me a lot of anguish because I was always thinking, if some random girl at school is wanting to call me anytime to have casual sex or something, she won't be able to do it, and she'll end up calling a guy whose parents have a listed number instead. And I swore that if I ever had sons, I would always keep the number listed for the sake of this very situation. Of course that doesn't matter at all among teenagers nowadays.

30. Have you waited months to see the latest comic-book movie adaptation just so you can tell everyone how "it sucks compares to the comic"? I'll change the wording here to "literary adaptations". The answer is, I actually don't have much interest in them, with the exception of books from England, and to a lesser extent the rest of Europe, set in the 1914-1965 or so era. I like the drinking, the style of talking, the decor, the clothes, the sex, the intellectual preoccupations, etc of this era enough to be interested in seeing what people do with them. When the miniseries of A Dance to the Music of Time Came Out, I did actually make of point of seeing it (it was good not great). There was apparently an adaption of Point Counter Point made in the 70s that is currently unavailable, but which I would be curious to see. I am sort of interested in seeing the 13 hour Brideshead Revisited, though 13 hours is about 3 months worth of movie watching for me at present. I don't know what else would excite me. An adaptation of Down and Out in Paris and London perhaps.

You get an extra on your nerd score for completing the test by the way. Looking over this post there are a lot of errors in it which I am too tired to go back and correct right now. I apologize for the sloppiness.

Friday, November 13, 2009

That East Coast Melancholy

It would be good to go down even for a day or two and wander about a little. I'm running out of autumns, at least when I won't be rather old and past any kind of commisserate-meaningfully-with-the-magic-of-New-York date. I know it grinds people to dust and all of that if they fail to achieve their desires, but just because you can't possess whatever it is that makes the whole area so special, you still sense that it is there. I knew it was there when I was there as a teenager for 4 days with $17 to my name, sleeping half the night in Central Park and Madison Square, spending the other half wandering all over the deserted streets. Obviously I was mostly unhappy at the time, and exhausted, and cold--it was in October--and I was cutting a pitiful figure, but in spite of all that I still found it exhilarating to be there numerous times in the course of a day, especially when I was able to pass as a semi-normal person--sitting in the main library, or taking the Staten Island ferry, which I think was a quarter at that time, or observing people my age taking a real part in life, with things to do, and romantic interests and so on, which was inspiring to me. Wretched as I was, I didn't want to leave, and I had consumed enough media to believe if I hung around long enough something might happen to me--indeed, to be honest, if I had had an appetite for gay sex, it is quite possible a number of things might have happened to me, but I didn't want New York quite bad enough to embrace it on those terms.

One item which serves to show you much things like parenting have changed in the last 20 years, when I finally gave up and called home to explain that I was in New York and didn't have any money (I had hitchhiked there, or actually to Newark and then taken a commuter train into town), hoping somebody might wire me some cash, or, I suppose, offer to drive up and get me, they didn't do either of those things, so I tried to hitchhike by one of the tunnels, I forget exactly which one, but the police told me I couldn't do that, that in fact I couldn't hitchhike anywhere in Manhattan, so I had to get off the island somehow, and I ended up walking all night the length of the island up to the George Washington Bridge--it was only about ten miles, but by that point I hadn't had a proper sleep in days and my feet were also all calloused and were very painful, so I was pretty much spent. This entailed going through Harlem of course, which at that time was supposed to be much more dangerous crimewise than it is now, but I didn't have any incidents on this occasion. Certainly I did not present an image of any person who was carrying a lot of money. So I walked across the George Washington Bridge around 7 or 8 in the morning and set out with my thumb on I-95--again, you allowed to do this kind of stuff anymore, not that I would want to, but at the time I was just desperate to go places and I had a terrible work ethic and sense of future orientation and I couldn't think of what else to do. Eventually I got back home that afternoon and I slept for about two days and it was the best sleep I've ever had in my life I'll tell you, but when I woke up everybody was really mad at me or thought I was on drugs, which was the popular explanation at the time for any kind of inexplicable behavior. Apparently not one person understood that I just wanted to go to freaking New York for a couple of days; (and apparently no one does still).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Louis MacNeice--"The British Museum Reading Room" (1939)

The reader has had a stroke of luck today. I was going to put up more of my old vacation pictures here in commemoration of my recent item about Shelley, but my wife seems to have appropriated the scanner for her work.

Louis MacNeice was right in the thick of that generation of elite educated English writers born between about 1903 and 1907 that I frequently extol here, which puts him right in my wheelhouse, not of what I understand, of course, but of what I like. Do I like them too much? No, I don't think so. Do I envy their lives, their attitudes? Certain aspects of the life of the era appeal to me when I contrast it with my own, but on the whole, not really . If I do envy them anything it is their easy and elegant mastery of the language. This group is more comfortable, more precise, sparer and simpler, and wields a lighter touch, almost in the manner of the more exquisite French authors, than any other set of modern writers in English, in my opinion. Indeed, I liked what I read of MacNeice in the Norton Anthology so much that I went out and picked up an old copy of his early collected poems (which volume itself presents an arresting front in the socialist-realist style of the time). That is not to say that these are for the most part great poems, but I will say that they are the kind of thing along the lines of which, in tone, in style, in subject matter, in their frequent slightness and unaffected conversational air, I would like to do if I were to ever try my hand at writing poems, or even do more of in short stories. These poems tend to form themselves about fleeting moments or thoughts, and often feel like fragments of larger poems that are either inccessible or lost. Some sample titles: "Poussin"; "A Classical Education"; "Birmingham"; "Museums"; "To a Communist"; "The Brandy Glass"; "Chess"; even "Evening in Connecticut" ("Life on a china cup", the poet says of this). The best of them are not so much impressionistic as small and fine slices of thought. They have a freedom and air of freshness about them--this is wherein their charm resides--that something straining to be an all-encompassing expression of the author's soul or the nature of existence itself would probably be lacking.

This is the old original reading room, of course, before the British library was moved to its new, modern quarters ten or so years ago. The poem is very short so I am going to write it out, and comment on the things I like about it. I will attempt to avoid any callow analysis, since interpretation I would offer would be fairly obvious to any ordinarily intelligent and decently read person.

Under the hive-like dome the stooping haunted readers
Go up and down the alleys, tap the cells of knowledge--

I should note that this poem is very precisely dated as July, 1939, which circumstance I think must inform any reading of it pretty blatantly. While the hive imagery is not an original conceit, I still like it here.

Honey and wax, the accumulation of years--

This line is good, it carries the metaphor a little further, which was needed, and suggests both the earnestness and energy applied to building up civilization (both British and European/Western) over the course of centuries, and the very possible imminent demonstration of the futility of all that effort.

Some on commission, some for the love of learning,
Some because they have nothing better to do
Or because they hope these walls of books will deaden
The drumming of the demon in their ears.

This poem has a classic three stanza construction--I'm just starting to notice these patterns, sorry--in which the first introduces the subject or theme, the second lays bare that which urgently needs to be revealed about the subject, and the third either lays bare the unfortunate or inevitable resolution to this revelation, or, as in this instance, contrasts it with some scene distinctly opposed to it in vitality, or understanding, often with a strong ironic sense. The last two lines of this first stanza I think have a lot to be said for them. They can be extrapolated to mean more than just what the immediate situation implies. The image of the hope of the walls of books 'deadening' difficult distractions and thoughts one would prefer not to have to cope with was very effective for me in its natural seeming straightforwardness. They also have a nice alliteration.

Pretty good-looking guy. He seems to have been the serial marriage/affair type where women were concerned right up until the end of his life. Doubtless a lot of one night stand type business too, a successful, suave upper class British poet of the 40s and 50s, that's what those guys could do, and did do. He drank heavily, late in his life to the point where he barely bothered to eat, which indicates to me that he was quite serious, and not one of these dilettante alcoholics like you get nowadays. He was just short of 56 years old when he died. Nothing in the poems about keeping tabs on his 403b plan or eating health food or anything like that. Just as I prefer it.

Cranks, hacks, poverty-stricken scholars,
In pince-nez, period hats or romantic beards
And cherishing their hobby or their doom
Some are too much alive and some are asleep
Hanging like bats in a world of inverted values,
Folded up in themselves in a world which is safe and silent:
I don't have anything to add to this, except to note that I think 'cherishing' is at first a surprising word to use here, but then he nicely illuminates what he means by it in the next line, and that the bat imagery is also a good choice, because most people I think think of bats as more than ordinarily despicable and insignificant creatures, although I am not sure why this is so--perhaps because they operate at obscure hours and in obscure ways.

This is the British Museum Reading Room.

Hey, this re-statement of the poem's title in emphasis to close the second stanza is just like in "Sailing to Byzantium". I'm sure it is a common device, almost unreflexively so, in hundreds of other poems too. It is part of that universal grammar of poetic construction I suppose that I have not up to this point really been able to tap into a strong sense of so as to bring with me into all of my readings.

Out on the steps in the sun the pigeons are courting,
Puffing their ruffs and sweeping their tails or taking
A sun-bath at their ease
And under the totem poles--the ancient terror--

Now anyone who saw this or had it pointed out to him under similar circumstances very likely would be inclined to note the contrast and ponder the meaning that I believe is intended here, so what is special about the particular arrangement of the words here? I think the images and actions presented do a very vivid job of making, and suggesting, a picture of a freedom and vitality that will strike even the fairly dull reader. The sun is referred to twice, and the sensation is of emerging from the dimness of the museum into the world of action again out on the steps, which is usually a short-lived jolt of vigor, but nonetheless an impressionable one. (When I came out of the British Museum on my one visit there--I saw the Elgin Marbles, which took a couple of hours, and figured I would be back another time for the Egyptian collection, etc--I went across to the no doubt tourist-oriented and inauthentic pub right across the street from the museum, though it wasn't actually crowded and the beer and the fish fry were quite good. There had apparently been a tavern of some kind in that location for a long time, for the establishment advertised that Karl Marx used to frequent it after one of his long sessions of work in the museum.)

Between the enormous fluted Ionic columns
There seeps like heavily jowled or hawk-like foreign faces
The guttural sorrow of the refugees.

It's well done. It gives you a context, a civilized one, in the 1st and 3rd verses a very calm one, in which to consider what it wants you to consider. This is the sort of thing I find appealing, and which is more common in continental European than in English and certainly American poetry. I remember George Seferis's poems and writings as having a similar effect, local culture and tradition, and relation to the land dating back the whole of the extent of cultural memory hover over and dictate the form and meaning of every poem, however topical to contemporary times.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Counsellor at Law

I saw this swell movie the other day and thought I would put in a word for it on the internet. It's a fairly early (1933) work of the director William Wyler, who is evidently one of my favorite directors as I have several of his films on my favorites list, though I was not aware of this until I was looking into the matter just the other day. This guy directed an unbelievable number of blockbusters and movies that are beloved of middlingly sophisticated cinephiles such as myself--the Laurence Olivier Wuthering Heights, Jezebel, Mrs Miniver, The Best Years of Our Lives, Roman Holiday, Ben-Hur, just for an initial sampling--while the critical elite tends to be considerably less enthusiastic. Even among these however this film, I suspect because it is comparatively uncelebrated, has lesser known stars, is modest in scale and pretension and so on, tends to be favorably regarded, and deservedly so.

The screenplay was written by Elmer Rice, a major playwright of the time whose work I am not otherwise familiar with, and adapted from his own play. It has that quality I often praise in old movies of using energetic dialogue almost without breaks to propel the story forward. This movie with its office setting also uses it quite impressively as a means of establishing an atmosphere of bustle and heady activity. The woman who plays the switchboard operator for example is not central to the main action of the plot, but her manner of chirping and rapid-fire patter in the center of the office while the other characters come and go on their ways around her is an excellent effect. The liveliness of the law office depicted in this movie, with its dramatic situations, colorful characters continually passing through the office, grovelling underlings and clients and attractive and worshipful secretaries actually had me thinking it wasn't too late to go to law school after all for a hour or two afterwards, though after I had sobered up I considered that this was probably not what being a lawyer on a day-in day-out basis was really like, and that even if it was, I wouldn't have the energy of the lead character/star attorney in the film to make it happen myself.

This movie had a great cast, though I had never seen any of the principals before: John Barrymore, who is kind of famous, and Bebe Daniels were the two main stars, but there were a lot of minor roles that I thought were outstandingly played, the receptionist being one, the brilliantly credentialed but socially inept young lawyer Weintraub (I think that was the name) who keeps unsuccessfully asking out the Bebe Daniels character, the other young guy who is some kind of intern and has to fill in for the women when they eat lunch and so forth. The accounts of the filming of this movie ironically depict Barrymore as frequent drunk and unable to remember his lines and Wyler as unpleasant and borderline abusive to the minor cast members, which is not anything like the feeling one gets from the finished product. But such is the case, it seems, with a lot of quality art.

There was a very good dialogue that I wish were available on Youtube between the great lawyer and an unrepentant young communist agitator whom the lawyer has agreed to help for the sake of the man's mother. The communist goes on a rampage against the rich and privileged, to which the lawyer responds forcefully that he came to this country in steerage himself and scraped and clawed his way to the top and that anyone else had the opportunity to do the same, at which the communist was not cowed but went on to denounce him as a class traitor, all through which, and this is what I found most interesting, the lawyer made no attempt to cut him off or throw him out of the office or personally denigrate his accuser, but let him have his say, without, however, backing down from his own point of view. There was no attempt to resolve the question one way or another. Similarly the lawyer himself was presented as being rather morally ambiguous in his myriad business, but sympathetic and attractive nonetheless because of his great appetite for work, his personal attitudes towards people in accordance with each's authentic merits, and so on. Seeing this movie, in concordance with watching the World Series and reading the New York Times coverage of it and other events, reiterated one of the fundamental tenets of American life which was not properly conveyed to me as a young man, which is that if you haven't made something of yourself in New York (or maybe California), you really don't matter, at least as far as any kind of publicity or literary assessment of you is concerned. Do not get me wrong. I love New York. I am resentful every day toward my immigrant ancestors who were evidently intimidated by all the cool and ambitious people getting on the New York boats and shambled off to the safer and less threatening Philadelphia boat instead, dooming their descendant to grown up in a realm where apparently nothing rising to the level of culture significance ever transpires, or ever can transpire. It was idiotic of me, as it would be of any young person of my particular interests, not to have done anything to try to live there and make a go of something when I was young. That said, the self-congratulation of the current crop of New Yorkers and New York writers and other public figures mainly for being New Yorkers and New York writers irrespective of the ultimate quality of their work or being in any other way especially interesting is getting to be a little tough to take. I know this happens because NY people are, in their daily relations with other NY people who outrank them, envious, insecure and perhaps often unhappy, so they make themselves feel better by imagining that, say, Philadelphia is populated more or less exclusively by knuckle-dragging cretins, and that if said commentator were to move there himself he would stand out almost grotesquely as by far the smartest, most sophisticated and socially dominant person in the whole city (a prospect of personal greatness which is surprisingly quite terrifying to most people), and I have to remind myself of this.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Shelley--"Ode to the West Wind" (1820)

Old Bysshe. Old Bysshe sounds like he was probably an extrememly annoying guy to hang out with, but I like his poems. I like all the Romantic poets. As I have written before, they are very much the soul of English poetry as far we moderns are concerned. The Elizabethans and the 17th century poets are rather remote from most of us spiritually and emotionally, I think, in a way that Shelley and his literary brethren still are not. In contrast with what is supposed to be the usual pattern, I find myself liking Shelley the poet more as I get older. I held the position of not liking him at all as an adolescent, not that I was a great consumer of poetry at that time, but because I took him to be an effete snot. In my twenties and early thirties I thought his poems fun and enjoyable, and his biography to give English literary history some welcome color and interesting character, but that he did not have the depth and intellectual brilliance of a world class superpoet, that he didn't break much ground, and that the poems wanted something in the way of strength or urgency. These concerns interest me much less at the present time than they did formerly, in part because I either lost the sense of missing or gave up looking for the secret meanings of poems and other works of genius that were only accessible to the most advanced people. This has had the effect of making Shelley more enjoyable to me. "Ode to the West Wind" has 70 lines, so I am not going to break it down line by line. I am greatly impressed by the composition of this poem in that the language comes off so naturally, without ever feeling strained or artificial, such as to cause one to wonder why English is not more commonly thus expressed. The call of antique, or more accurately eternal, nature, sensitively noted and interpreted, never fails to appeal--indeed, in such translations of Japanese and other Eastern poetry as I have looked into it would seem to be the primary appeal--and there is a good deal of that quality in this, larded with the characteristic Shelleyan qualities of emotionality, hostility to anything smacking of conventional life or thought, and the need to infuse the tangible objects and beings populating his poems, not least of all himself, with a kind of strident immortality. The temporal, fleeting nature of all things, human things especially and passion perhaps the foremost of these, is a pretty continuous theme throughout Shelley's oeuvre, including this poem. Here as elsewhere this existential law is dealt with more with resignation than acceptance, though not with a great amount of either.

This is the poem that has the famous closing line "If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?" (Needless to say, old Bysshe did not live in New England). A lot of the lines at this level of fame don't have much of an effect on me, but this one does stir some feeling. Why? It is very simple, and probably not even all that sincerely felt by the poet, but it does capture a sense, I would not say of hopefulness exactly, but that existence has some kind of purpose, enough that we look forward to the next spring, and not merely as the absence of pain and unpleasantness. I guess that is hopefulness, though I don't really experience it as such.

Another image I liked was in lines 32-6:

"Beside a pumice isle in Baiae's bay*
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave's intenser day,
All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them!..."

*Near Naples; popular with Roman emperors as a spot for villas.

I especially like that "the sense faints..." as if to say one cannot rely on sense to give any comprehension of the meaning of existence. I could write more about these and other lines and about Shelley but I don't feel up to it this week. There will be other poems and other authors and maybe Shelley will come up again someday.
As I get older I find that one of my first physical aspects to be noticeably weakening is the mechanism of speech. By which I do not even mean the content but the actual ability to enunciate words crisply. I slur a great deal, as if my vocal musculature has not the strength to sustain certain combinations of sounds. It is very strange, and disturbing. If I have to speak at work or in other public settings I find I have to be very conscious of separating and taking the time to take sure I fully pronounce each word properly. I wonder if this is not just 40 years of underdevelopment of my personal linguistic infrastructure finally having its effect, though I don't remember having this particular problem before.

Monday, November 02, 2009

A Wasted Week

As I was under some sort of hallucination that my writing and thinking had been clearer than usual during in recent days, I feel the urge to try to restate, only more concisely, my thoughts on various matters people in the great world like to argue about nowadays. However once I had finished these were all as convoluted, qualified, and wishy-washy as before. So I am going to try some super-brief micro stances to get to the bottom of where I stand.

Gay Marriage. I am not vehemently against it, but I hate it as an issue because it causes too many people to get very puffed up and righteous about whatever side of the argument they take, and the spectacle of this on both sides I find unappealing. I'm not morally advanced enough to get the argument that not having it equates to a gross injustice or the deprivation of a fundamental human right, which I don't remember ever seeing presented before about five years ago. I enjoy the idea of moving in bohemian circles where non-traditional menages are nothing to get excited about (though of course I don't do it) but I also don't see where the state has any moral obligation or even pragmatic interest in sanctioning such affairs as marriages if the citizenry is opposed to it.

Government Health Care. I lust for it, even though in our country there is every reason to believe it will be a disaster (see Schools, Public). While I am generally physically healthy, ideologically I am an extremely sick man. Every suggestion that socialism is about to be imposed on the American populace, that the wealth of the innovative and successful is about to be confiscated and given to the worthless and unproductive, causes my heart to flutter with delight. Why is this so? Do I imagine that I, who have repeatedly proven unable to compete at a meaningful level for honors and prizes in this society as it is currently constituted, will feel myself to be a winner of some kind if this comes to pass? I will be diligent in resisting the onset of any such feelings. I have been pretty well schooled by the capitalist/Republican dogma which has held sway in my lifetime to an extent that earlier generations of the comparatively downtrodden would have found ludicrous; I feel chumpish taxing the super rich--it is an admission that one cannot keep up with one's fellows in the defining arenas of male life, and needs to handicap one's competition to avoid the total pulverization and reduction to penury or slavery one probably deserves--but it is the most effective weapon at the common man's disposal, there is most definitely an economic class war going on, and one ought to make some token stand at fighting back before any pretense one has to public dignity and human status before the almighty beings of the overclass have eroded entirely. By the way, I am still about 99.6% certain that full government health care will become inevitable within a few years. Women and the elderly in particular I find seem to consider themselves entitled to it regardless of costs or who will have to pay for it, and their numbers are not declining anytime soon, despite the crises in the health system. Rugged individualists who assume responsibility for their own incurred costs or forego treatment on principle I am pretty sure are going to be overwhelmed by entitled freeloaders within a few years, if they are not already.

Vegetarianism. I am needlessly obsessed with this--why? Why can't I just tell animal rights activists and intellectuals to get a life like almost any accomplished high-testosterone man would do easily and without a whiff of internal conflict? (I am thinking especially of my man Fred Smerlas, a former nose tackle for the Buffalo Bills and now a Neanderthal sports commentator on Boston radio, who affects to be confused by the whole concept of abstaining from eating animals). Because I am at bottom a pussy, first and foremost, and secondly because I am not able in my diminshed mental state to construct a proof to the effect that it is not immoral nor a detriment for men to eat the flesh of animals. My other problem is that I am tired of feeling that I am being demanded to give things up and receiving no reward in return. I will not be turned to vegetarianism without at the very least a tempting prospect of respect, intellectual comraderie, the frequent society of smart and attractive women, all of which will be socially accessible to me more or less permanently. I would be giving up a lot, and I would require a lot in return, more probably than anyone would be willing to give me.

On most of the great humanistic issues of the last 50 years: feminism, civil rights, homosexual rights, immigration/multiculturalsim, globalization--my instinct is not/would not have been, I don't think, that of the total reactionary barbarian, barricading doorways and that type of thing, but neither would I have been an agitator, nor probably would I have gone out of my way to support/demand anything in these movements. I would have sensed, probably, that people were being treated unfairly, and would have supported a certain degree of concessions and so on to the complaining parties, but not so much that they became a threat to my own precarious comfort and/or status. Animal slaughter seems now like a far-fetched succssor to these other issues but it seems to be something a lot of bohemian/intelligentsia type people--the exact class of people I feel most deeply thwarted by, excluded by, and estranged from in my desire to get on in the world--feel strongly about, as appears to be the case, it could impose its own demands on the consciences of the quasi-educated/journal-reading classes who live at a distance from all this mental energy and activity and wonder why it has been their fate to do so ("Is it really all just because I like steak? Is it because I couldn't smile when the pretty girls always wanted to talk to gays rather than me at parties time after time after time?")

Compensation. I should probably develop a whole other post around this subject of star performers in traditionally humble professions such as the clergy or academia needing to get paid these days, and do some research on it. But I was reading about some of the negotiations for big name professors and administrators at the top universities, whose salaries now go into the six figures, and for certain superstars like Cornel West or Stephen Pinker there is also the opportunity to make a lot of coin on the speaking circuit, as in $10,000-$15,000 an appearance, and I couldn't help but think of what Princeton had to shell out to hire Albert Einstein back in the 40s. As we all know, this isn't even just a run of the mill Nobel Prize winner we are talking about, but Einstein, the incarnation of twentieth century human genius and scientific advancement itself. What would he be worth as a free agent in today's market? I have no doubt he could command millions of dollars. Back in the day I knew he had lived in a pretty modest home, so I was guessing his salary was not exorbitant, and the great narrative of Einstein at Princeton never centered around money, but around his freedom to be allowed to do pretty much whatever he wanted--that was big of them, wasn't it?. According to the internet when asked for his salary Einstein asked for $3,000 a year. The university had to plead with him to take $10,000, Einstein apparently having some embarassment at receiving such largess. This kind of attitude among leaders and prominent people is so foreign to our modern conception of the world that it doesn't even seem credible. All education and scholarship, even science, nay, especially science, is only valuable insofar as it relates to the economy and one's personal income potential. If people aren't willing to pay you well for what you know, then why should anyone believe what you isn't worthless. Now I know Einstein got money for winning prizes and probably had enough to live a decent middle class life on in his day, so obviously his knowledge was not worthless, but I guess the point is under today's system he could have claimed his worth to be much greater financially than it seemed to ever occur to him to do in his own time.