Tuesday, April 26, 2011

R & R

Almost every line of this, except for ones that are needed to give the impression of being part of the narrative, are direct quotations from Sartre. It helps, in viewing this, if you do not understand French. Otherwise you may experience clashing forces in your head. Enjoy! I hope the anguish is not too much for you! (Hat tip to Nat Hunt for the link.)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wikileaks and Human Rights: Scott Horton to Speak Here Tomorrow

Human rights litigator Scott Horton will be speaking here tomorrow evening. I will introduce him and moderate the Q and A.

Here is the info:

What: "Wikileaks: The Public's Right to Know and the Government's War on Whistleblowers"
Where: The Inn Wisconsin room, Memorial Union, U. of Wisconsin - Madison
When: Friday April 22, 2011, 7:00 pm

Mr. Horton is a lecturer at Columbia Law School, Senior Editor of Harper's Magazine, and prominent legal blogger. His clients have included Andrei Sakharov and other Soviet dissidents.

Here is a sample of his writings on the Wikileaks controversy:

WikiLeaks’ disclosure of the 91,000 U.S. government documents that it labels the “Afghan War Diary” raises a number of vital issues. Most of the discussion so far has focused on the significance of the documents themselves. They make the intelligence community look not so intelligent, and they make a number of political leaders look like dissemblers, spewing claims about the situation in Afghanistan that can’t really be squared with information in their briefing portfolios. But quite apart from their contents, the WikiLeaks documents are a test for America’s voracious national-security state. Its response to them gives us a sense of how it intends to fight perceived threats to secrecy.

... Field officers of the intelligence community urgently need to play a game of misdirection–relabeling the threat that is presented to them. They will argue that the WikiLeaks disclosures imperil the safety of American forces on the ground, America’s allies, and thus every American citizen sitting at home. They will find few facts to back this contention, but that won’t stop them.
Find the rest of his article here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Environmental Disasters that Didn't Happen

This is something I literally do not understand. Why do environmentalists seem unfazed by their mistaken, even grossly and absurdly mistaken, predictions of disaster? Why do individual authors seem unembarrassed by their own mistakes? Why does it not seem to bother them that none of these disasters ever happen? One possible explanation: Maybe these are actually not predictions as we know them in the philosophy of science (attempts to accurately describe future events) but propositions of another sort. But what sort, then?

Blah Blah Blah Royal Wedding Blah Blah Blah Prince William Blah Blah Blah

Don't you just hate it when people read your brain cells? Me too!

So, anyway, Jerry Seinfeld somehow hacked into my head and read what I think of the upcoming royal wedding that everyone is moistening their knickers about. I have to admit though that he says it much better than I ever could. So I'm posting it here without further comment. None is needed.

Enjoy your day!

Just scroll to 2:00.

Monday, April 18, 2011

April 18, 1906

This is a repost of one that I posted two years ago. Today is the 105th anniversary

At 5:12 in the morning, 103 years ago, San Francisco photographer Arnold Genthe was awakened by a terrifying sound. His entire collection of Chinese porcelain was pouring out of the shelves onto the floor. One of the worst natural disasters in history had begun. As he remembered later, he went out to find a man in a swallowtail coat standing dazed in the street. A policeman approached the man: "Say, Mister," he said, "I guess you better put on some pants."

Finding his cameras had all been destroyed, Genthe borrowed a Kodak and, stuffing his pockets with films set out to immortalize the horrors with photos like this one, showing Sacramento Street, looking toward the bay. As he said of it in his memoirs, it
shows, in a pictorially effective composition, the results of the earthquake, the beginning of the fire and the attitude of the people. On the right is a house, the front of which had collapsed into the street. The occupants are sitting on chairs calmly watching the approach of the fire. Groups of people are standing in the street, motionless, gazing at the clouds of smoke. When the fire crept up close, they would just move up a block.
All that was left of the Towne Residence was its entrance. Someone named Genthe's picture of it "The Portals of the Past." When the entrance was moved to Golden Gate Park, that is what it was named. It is mentioned, memorably, in the classic film Vertigo.

Within hours, a committee of wealthy citzens met and asked to mayor to draw checks of any amount to relieve the suffering of the devastated population. They would guarantee the checks.

Soon, another remarkable event began. The rebuilding of the city. While the ruins were still smoking, a sign went up on a collapsed wall: "On this site will be erected a six-story office building to be ready for occupancy in the Fall." A year to the day after the earthquake, the new Fairmont Hotel opened. Within a decade San Franciscans celebrated the rebirth of their city with the Panama Pacific Exposition.

San Francisco is the only American city that has a consistent architectural style. That is no doubt because it had to be built all at once. Luckily, this happened at a moment in history when the styles were particularly elegant and beautiful -- and somehow they seem especially appropriate to a city with its arms open to the sky, the mist, and the sea. The result that beloved white city of bay windows, turrets, and elaborate sawed wood ornamentation.

Happy re-birthday, San Francisco!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Atlas Shrugged Movie

I remember the trailers for the movie based on Nabokov's scandalous Lolita. The tag line was "How did they make a movie of Lolita!?" The answer was that they changed the title character from a barely-pubescent girl to a teenager, thus gutting the story of everything that was really shocking and offensive about it.

Thank God the people who made Atlas Shrugged, Part I did not do that. In this I think their small budget worked in their favor. Big budget movies are made by cowards who cringe in fear of losing money by being controversial. A big Hollywood budget with high production values would have killed this thing as dead as John Edwards' presidential ambitions.

The greatest thing about this film is that it was made at all. Sitting in a theater we have been in countless times, Deborah and I were both thinking "Oh my God! I can't believe what I am hearing! Did that character really say what I think she said? Omigod omigod!" (In the comments section of his blog, animation legend Eddie Fitzgerald told me, "I kept expecting the police to come in and shut the film down.") The story of how they managed to slip past the media Borg will probably make an interesting book some day.

Some comments on specific aspects:

Script: I've seen some comments on the web that say that every line of dialogue is from the book. This is completely wrong. The dialogue has been to a significant extent re-written, as it probably should have been. Book dialogue is not movie dialogue. However, some of my favorite lines from Part I are preserved intact ("He said you bore him, Mr. Taggart"). The longest philosophical speech in it lasts, I think, less than thirty seconds. It, though, seems to be word for word from the book, and that, too seems right to me.

Casting: Nobody looks like I imagined them when I read the book. I found out in recent years that Rand said that with the philosopher Hugh Akston she had in mind someone like Ortega y Gasset. This is actually how I had always imagined him: older, balding, dignified. The actor who plays him in the film is nothing like that. I guess I don't mind it, but they clearly weren't even trying for that kind of faithfulness to the text. Making Eddie Willers black was an interesting touch.

Acting: Very good. The biggest single acting challenge I think was projecting sexual chemistry between Dagny and Rearden in business meetings where they were clearly focused on other things. Taylor Schilling and Grant Bowler carry it off with taste and style.

Production values: The things that had to look great (the John Galt line ride and the Wyatt oilfied fire) do look great. Other things (eg., the Taggart Transcontinental Building and Wyatt's house) are skimped on. It has the production values, I would say, of an extremely good made-for-TV-movie.

Cinematography: Very good. There is a fair amount of tight camera work to hide skimpy production values, but that's as it had to be.

Pacing: Very fast. Almost too fast, in a movie that is supposed to make you think.

Overall: As AR says in another context, it's had its face lifted, but not its spine or its spirit.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Lord High Everything Else

I've been reading the text of Gilbert and Sullivan's great comic operetta, The Mikado, and I'm amazed at how good it is. Aside from being laugh-out-loud funny, it's a social and political satire, which gives it real depth.

One bit that really made me think is the dialog that comes in at the very end of the above clip. Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner asks advice from Pooh-Bah, The Lord High Everything Else, whether he should raid the treasury for his impending wedding festivities. Because Pooh-Bah holds every office in the city except for that of executioner, he is unable to give a coherent answer. He continually qualifies, contradicts, or overrules himself in a comical process that obviously could go through cycle after cycle forever.

One of the most distinctive principles of liberal democracy is the notion that these jobs should all be held by different people, so that they can check and balance one another.

Hey, wait a minute! Doesn't that mean that a free society will be like Pooh-Bah: confused, unstable, unable to arrive at a final answer?

Yes! It does! But what's so great about stability? After all, what "stability" means is that we have an argument and then one party wins, finally and irrevocably, and gets to lord it over the rest of us. The Hell with that!

If freedom is good, stability is bad. Let Topsyturvydom reign!

The dialogue between Ko-Ko and Pooh-Bah is considerably abridged in this clip. You can find the whole exchange here, at the end of "No. 5" (the fifth scene). Here is another clip, of Groucho singing another song from The Mikado, this time with his daughter:

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

What Happened to Declarations of War?

The last country against which we ever declared war was Rumania, in 1942. I have been wondering lately, what happened the requirement, which in the Constitution seems so clear, that Congress is the branch of government that decides whether we are at war or not. Is it somehow obsolete? Is it another of those quaint eighteenth-century ideas that just don't apply to this oh-so-complicated world of ours?

In this essay George Friedman answers these questions and more. He tells the tale of the slithering cowardice and stone-headed arrogance that led to the death of declarations as a Constitutional imperative. He also shows how the new way of doing things has proven to be a moral, political, and -- most surprisingly -- a military disaster.

The genius of the framers' provision was to force the attention of the voters on the horrific nature of what they are about to do and compel a decision -- a real decision with no evasion no ambiguity, and no vagueness -- whether to do it or not. Part of the reason the imperative died, he argues, was that presidents wanted to wage wars for which they knew Congress could not give them a declaration, because voters would not be able to stomach it. So the president went to war without them. One obvious result of this practice, which Friedman does not mention, is that the US inflicts a great deal more slaughter and mayhem on the rest of the world than it otherwise would.

Friday, April 01, 2011

1812! Cannons! Bells! Free Cookies!

The Madison Community Orchestra (I play in the second violin section) is giving a concert Sunday.

We will be joined by local pianist, Anthony Cao, playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and a selection of jazz standards. We will also perform Sullivan’s Overture from The Mikado and will finish with a bang, playing Tchaikovsky’s “1812” Overture and very realistic recorded canon and bells.

The concert is this Sunday afternoon, April 3, 2011 at 3:00p.m. in Mitby Theater at MATC (3550 Anderson St., Madison). Admission and parking are FREE – everyone is invited – and there will be a reception after the concert in the Mitby Theater lobby.

At the reception refreshments will be served. I'm planning on making my double chocolate cherry cookies (aka the greatest cookies in the known universe).

I think this will be an exciting concert. If you live in the Madison area, I recommend it!