Thursday, December 17, 2009

Maugham on Beauty

From Somerset Maugham's novel Cakes and Ale:
I do not know if others are like myself, but I am conscious that I cannot contemplate beauty long. For me no poet made a falser start than Keats when he wrote the first line of Endymion. When the thing of beauty has given me the magic of its sensation my mind quickly wanders; I listen with incredulity to the persons who tell me that they can look with rapture for hours at a view or a picture. Beauty is an ecstasy; it is as simple as hunger. There is really nothing to be said about it. It is like the perfume of a rose: you can smell it and that is all: that is why the criticism of art, except in so far as it is unconcerned with beauty and therefore with art, is tiresome. All the critic can tell you with regard to Titian's Entombment of Christ, perhaps of all the pictures in the world that which has most pure beauty, is to go and look at it. What else he has to say is history, or biography, or what not. But people add other qualities to beauty—sublimity, human interest, tenderness, love—because beauty does not long content them. Beauty is perfect, and perfection (such is human nature) holds our attention but for a little while. The mathematician who after seeing Phèdre asked: "Qu'est-ce que ça prouve?" was not such a fool as he has been generally made out. No one has ever been able to explain why the Doric temple of Pæstum is more beautiful than a glass of cold beer except by bringing in considerations that have nothing to do with beauty. Beauty is a blind alley. It is a mountain peak which once reached leads nowhere. That is why in the end we find more to entrance us in El Greco than in Titian, in the incomplete achievement of Shakespeare than in the consummate success of Racine. Too much has been written about beauty. That is why I have written a little more. Beauty is that which satisfies the æsthetic instinct. But who wants to be satisfied? It is only to the dullard that enough is as good as a feast. Let us face it: beauty is a bit of a bore. (pp. 139-141)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Some Solzhenitsyn

Also from The First Circle:
Rubin could not and never did listen for long. His idea of conversation (and this was how it usually went) was to strew before his friends the intellectual booty captured by his mind. As usual, he was eager to interrupt, but Nerzhin gripped the front of his overalls with five fingers and shook him to prevent him from speaking.
(p. 39)

Monday, November 30, 2009


Bill Simmons writes on
Q: Today is Saturday, aka College Football Day. I am pretty sure I have heard the word "arguably" said at least 15 times on the studio show I am watching. By them saying "Florida is ARGUABLY the best team in college football," are they actually making an argument?
-- Josh, Wilmington, Del.

SG: This is the cousin of the "having said that" argument Seinfeld and Larry David had on the "Curb Your Enthusiasm" season finale. Either you think Florida is the best team in college football or you don't. By declaring the Gators are "arguably" the best, all you're really saying is that someone could argue they are the best -- which makes no sense, because anyone could argue anything and that doesn't have to mean it's true. If I said Dirk Nowitzki was "arguably" washed up, you would argue, "Wait a second -- he's been great this year; that's the dumbest thing you've ever said." And we would be arguing. In other words, you just proved my point. So "arguably" is a word that means nothing other than, "I don't really believe this, but I'm throwing it out anyway."

Saturday, September 12, 2009

These Shoes Are Awesome

I love Harris Tweed. People complain about our offices being too cold in the winter. I'm kind of hoping they're as cold as people say so I can break out the tweed jacket.

But here's an alternative for folks with hotter offices: Harris Tweed sneakers from Converse.

hat (shoe?) tip

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

This Is Not a Good Idea

Reuters reports that the Colonel of the Papal Swiss Guard floated the idea of letting women be guardsmen:
After more than five centuries protecting popes, the Swiss Guard may consider opening the ranks of the world's smallest army to women, its commander said Tuesday.

"I can imagine them for one role or another. Certainly we can think about this," Daniel Anrig, who took over the post late last year, told Italian television program "Studio Aperto."
Not to go all Bishop Williamson on him, but if the Vatican military starts signing up women we will know the idea of the complementarity of the sexes is close to being completely dead.

The Swiss Guard is an actual bodyguard, though you wouldn't know that from the article:
Clad in flamboyant striped uniforms, the guard's role is largely ceremonial and many of its members still carry around a medieval weapon -- the halberd, which is a combination of spear and battle axe.
They wear natty uniforms, but they're fully trained Swiss soldiers who then receive additional training when they arrive at the Vatican. Sure they look smart standing post at the Vatican, but that doesn't mean they're not actually guarding the place. The Pope isn't safe, remember Mehmet Ali Ağca? They're not qualifying on the SIG SG 550 just for the fun of it. The Guard's protective detail role also often gets missed, because they do it in mufti, not in the brightly colored uniforms.

Amazingly, the Swiss Guard has an online store. You can get Swiss Guard Swiss Army Knives and Swiss Guard Swiss Watches (sadly no Chocolate or Cuckoo Clocks.)

Morion tip to Fallen Sparrow

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Defiance, with actor Daniel Craig playing the leader of a band of Jewish partisans during the Second World War, was a pretty darn good movie. I went to see it in Times Square the weekend it came out. The film really got the crowd in the theater riled up. Lots of New York City Jews and descendants of Jews were there.

There was an incredible (in the unbelievable sense) comment on the movie in the New York Times. Jacob Heilbrunn writes that recent books have "exploited" the Holocaust and films have "infantalize[d]" it. Clearly it's true that falsified memoirs do exploit the Holocaust. But I think Heilbrunn is mistaken in what he writes about Defiance:
By choosing Daniel Craig to play the Jewish partisan commander Tuvia Bielski, complete with white horse, Mr. Zwick turns resistance to the Nazis into an action film, an emotionally glorious moment. As rousing as this vision of Jewish combat may be, it does raise a problem identified by the historian Raul Hilberg in his memoir “The Politics of Memory.”

According to Mr. Hilberg, “when relatively isolated or episodic acts of resistance are represented as typical, a basic characteristic of the German measures is obscured ... the drastic actuality of a relentless killing of men, women and children is mentally transformed into a more familiar picture of a struggle — however unequal — between combatants.”
There's plenty of clarity in the film about the brutality of the Nazi regime and the uneveness of the forces. That knowledge is what makes the movie exciting. But there's a more mistaken notion here. A piece of media doesn't need to tell us everything that is the case. It's just responsible for communicating one story. Indeed, no movie could tell the whole story of the Holocaust with justice. To fault one for not doing so is mistaken.

Now let me add a sketchy theoretical postscript. There's some sort of modern notion at play here: the idea of telling the whole story in one gulp, the idea of the objective unbiased observer (or newspaper, etc.). Indeed, the hope of a complete human understanding of the world without mystery or occlusion. A forgetting that for now "we see through a glass, darkly".

I'm close to just in time to make this less than a month between posts, however, the topic is an older one, but I wanted to get the newspaper clipping off my desk.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Politically Incorrect Politically Correct Speech

Mark Steyn catches Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano using an incredible euphemism for terrorism. She says:
In my speech, although I did not use the word "terrorism," I referred to "man-caused" disasters. That is perhaps only a nuance, but it demonstrates that we want to move away from the politics of fear toward a policy of being prepared for all risks that can occur.
But shouldn't that be "person-caused disasters"?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Where's Whit?

On the New Criterion's blog Michael Weiss has a piece on why we need Whit Stillman now. It turns out, Stillman does have a feature in pre-production. Hopefully it won't be vaporware! He was interviewed about it and other things by IFC when Metropolitan was available on Hulu recently (it's not anymore). I'm not overly optimistic; his name has been attached to other projects that haven't gotten made.

Here's a scene from towards the end of The Last Days of Disco:

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thanks for the Link

Union News picked up my post on Jimmy Hoffa and the Secret Ballot. Thanks guys!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Latin vs. Greek

I've been reading G.K. Chesterton's A Short History of England. (The full text is available from the Gutenberg project.) The book includes an interesting section comparing Latin and Greek learning. I'm not sure it's entirely fair to St. Thomas More, but the comparison itself seemd worth sharing.
[St. Thomas More] was an innovator in things more alluring to modern minds than theology; he was partly what we should call a Neo-Pagan. His friend Colet summed up that escape from mediævalism which might be called the passage from bad Latin to good Greek. In our loose modern debates they are lumped together; but Greek learning was the growth of this time; there had always been a popular Latin, if a dog-Latin. It would be nearer the truth to call the mediævals bi-lingual than to call their Latin a dead language. Greek never, of course, became so general a possession; but for the man who got it, it is not too much to say that he felt as if he were in the open air for the first time. Much of this Greek spirit was reflected in More; its universality, its urbanity, its balance of buoyant reason and cool curiosity. It is even probable that he shared some of the excesses and errors of taste which inevitably infected the splendid intellectualism of the reaction against the Middle Ages; we can imagine him thinking gargoyles Gothic, in the sense of barbaric, or even failing to be stirred, as Sydney was, by the trumpet of "Chevy Chase." The wealth of the ancient heathen world, in wit, loveliness, and civic heroism, had so recently been revealed to that generation in its dazzling profusion and perfection, that it might seem a trifle if they did here and there an injustice to the relics of the Dark Ages. When, therefore, we look at the world with the eyes of More we are looking from the widest windows of that time; looking over an English landscape seen for the first time very equally, in the level light of the sun at morning. For what he saw was England of the Renascence; England passing from the mediæval to the modern. Thus he looked forth, and saw many things and said many things; they were all worthy and many witty; but he noted one thing which is at once a horrible fancy and a homely and practical fact. He who looked over that landscape said: "Sheep are eating men."

Who are the new religious intellectuals?

Andrew Sullivan claims:
The days when America’s leading intellectuals contained a strong cadre of serious Christians are over. There is no Thomas Merton in our day; no Reinhold Niebuhr, Walker Percy or Flannery O’Connor.
It would help if Sullivan could explain who America's leading public intellectuals are. It's possible that the lack of Christian standout intellectuals is partly because there are few standout intellectuals generally. Intellectual culture is more fragmented than it used to be.

Beyond that, there are leading Christian intellectuals. Here are some of whom Sullivan might have heard who are formidable and accomplished minds and don't live in any particular religious ghetto: Marilynne Robinson (called by Sullivan's paper "world's best writer of prose"), comedian Stephen Colbert, Gary Wills, Kathleen Norris, and Tim Keller.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Card Check Quip

Jimmy Hoffa suggests the ballot box isn't a cornerstone of democratic freedom:
"Since when is the secret ballot a basic tenet of democracy?" Hoffa said. "Town meetings in New England are as democratic as they come, and they don't use the secret ballot. Elections in the Soviet Union were by secret ballot, but those weren't democratic."
Mark Steyn has a great comeback:
The day Jimmy Hoffa shows up at my Town Meeting is the day we move to paper ballots.
Of course, town meeting governments sometimes do use secret ballots either for votes over a certain dollar amount or when a certain percentage of the voters request it.

The debate calls to mind Jill Lepore's outstanding New Yorker article on why the U.S. adopted the Australian Ballot (that is the secret ballot) for most voting in the first place. It happened surprisingly late.

Watch What You Say

Lest anyone be confused, let's give the last word on this one to Leo XIII:
The generally held argument that this sort of struggle washes away, as it were, the stains that calumny or insult has brought upon the honor of citizens surely can deceive no one but a madman. ... It is, to be sure, the desire of revenge that impels passionate and arrogant men to seek satisfaction. God commands all men to love each other in brotherly love and forbids them to ever violate anyone; he condemns revenge as a deadly sin and reserves to himself the right of expiation. If people could restrain their passion and submit to God, they would easily abandon the monstrous custom of dueling.

--Pastoralis Officii, September 12, 1891

Thursday, March 05, 2009

A Bad Argument

The NY Post gives four reasons to oppose the Obama mortgage plan. This one is pretty silly:
It sends the wrong message to children about dealing with the consequences of decisions.
Won't somebody please think of the children?!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Indian Food

I'm hoping to get out for some Indian food again soon. This listing from the New York Times of resturaunts offering "More than Tandoori" caught my eye.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Poet PM

The recently installed Prime Minister of the Belgians, Herman Van Rompuy is a blogger. Amongst the entries on his site are his original haiku (translations below from the WSJ):
When a friend is dead
You above all miss his voice
But you still hear him

As the last leaf falls
Naked branches show themselves
Winter shows itself

Hair blows in the wind
After years there is still wind
Sadly no more hair.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


I've made some updates to the sidebar. It lists some of my friends' blogs and other things I read. I'm hoping to get some substantive posting up over the long weekend. I'm also looking to buy enough bookshelves to let me get rid of the last of my boxes from moving in September. We'll see if either of those actually get done! In the meantime, watch the shared items and status feeds for shorter updates.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

I Love This Lede

Tina Brown, like the poor, we have always with us, apparently. Having made the transit from Tatler to Vanity Fair to The New Yorker to the ill-fated Talk, she has at last fetched up, like every other bit of journalistic flotsam, including yours truly, on the Internet.
James Bowman on ArmaVirumque.