Literature, Poetry, and Books
The Shakespeare Threatre in Washington, DC is staging (for the next two weeks) a scintillating version of As You Like It. Director Maria Aitken radically expands on two lines from the play: Jaques's "All the world's a stage" and Celia's "Now, we go contentedly to freedom," into the forest of Arden. After a conventional beginning virtually every scene is set in a different era, in Arden as America, where freedom blooms in myriad ways. The versatile actors portray revolutionaries at Valley Forge, explorers, antebellum Southerners, cowboys, and Hollywood glitterati, and of course Rosalind portrays different men. The focus on freedom is further underscored by some daring stage acrobatics. (I was reminded of a version of Faust, where Mephistopheles descends on Faust in a swing from the rafters.) Wheat&Weeds has a keen eye for the merits and shortcomings of the production. Among its many virtues, W&W provides an insightful guide to the stage in Washington.
Unable to locate my copy of As You Like It, I resorted to my local library, where the only copy left was a "No Fear Shakespeare," which has the original text on one page, faced by a "translation anyone can understand." Of course, no one who knew the play only in translation would wonder why the play endures. The modern paraphrasing does little to clarify and obfuscates the beauty of the original. Fortunately, the title wasn't translated "Whatever."
Arthur Herman has an interesting long essay in the latest Commentary about the history of critiques of the CIA. Along the way, he reminds us that the CIA has, as a rule, been run by the liberal establishment. I found this bit of note:
[William Casey] injected himself directly into the analysis process and did not hesitate to throw aside National Intelligence Estimates he felt did not fit with the facts (or, liberal critics claimed, with his own prejudices). This included the CIA's assessment of the condition of the Soviet economy. . . .
On October 27, 1980, Soviet émigré economist Igor Birman published a piece in the Washington Post stating that the CIA's current picture of the Soviet economy was far too optimistic. The Soviet economy was in a state of "crisis," Birman declared, while Russian living standards were "a fourth or even a fifth the American level." The CIA's standard view was that Soviet per capita GNP was roughly half that of the U.S.
Outside critics had often attacked the CIA's operational side but never its analysis, and certainly not from the political Right. However, Birman was joined by other experts--including Henry Rowen, the chair of the National Intelligence Council--and soon became Casey's favorite economist. In 1986, Casey sent President Reagan a memo stating that the Soviet economy was in far worse shape than his own agency was saying. That dovetailed with a growing consensus inside the Reagan administration that the Soviet economy was headed for collapse and that the CIA had gotten it wrong for years. . . .
The CIA's analysts insisted that the Soviet economy was about to expand and the following year stated that "the Soviet economy has made solid gains since 1960."
This reminds me of a pearl of wisdom from Paul Samuelson's economics textbook in 1989: "The Soviet economy is proof that . . . a socialist command economy can function and even thrive." And the Keynsians said that Casey was an ideologue!
Dr. Schramm's earlier post, suggesting the importance of beauty in the elevated stature and performance of the Stradivarius, reminds me of a recent address by Pope Benedict XVI on the purpose and effect of beauty in religious architecture - specifically, the medieval cathedrals.
Cathedrals function, fundamentally, as educational tools - "Bibles of Stone" - which, through their earthly examples of beauty and majesty, naturally lift and direct the soul toward God, the perfection of beauty. "The force of the Romanesque style and the splendor of the Gothic cathedrals remind us that the via pulchritudinis, the way of beauty, is a privileged and fascinating way to approach the Mystery of God." Cathedrals "showed a synthesis of faith and art expressed harmoniously through the universal and fascinating language of beauty."
Such contemplations should be read alongside Plato's synonymous treatment of the form of beauty in The Symposium. But perhaps St. Augustine, as is often the case, said it best:
Ask the beauty of the earth, ask the beauty of the sea, ask the beauty of the ample and diffused air. Ask the beauty of heaven, ask the order of the stars, ask the sun, which with its splendor brightens the day; ask the moon, which with its clarity moderates the darkness of night. Ask the beasts that move in the water, that walk on the earth, that fly in the air: souls that hide, bodies that show themselves; the visible that lets itself be guided, the invisible that guides. Ask them! All will answer you: Look at us, we are beautiful! Their beauty makes them known. This mutable beauty, who has created it if not Immutable Beauty?
I have long expected that 20 or so years from now we will look back on the turn-of-the-millennium climate hysteria in the same way we look back now on the population bomb hysteria of the late 1960s and early 1970s--as a phenomenon whose magnitude and effects were vastly overestimated, and whose proposed solutions were wrongheaded and often genuinely evil (such as the forced sterilizations of thousands of Indian men in the 1970s, much of it funded by the Ford Foundation). Today the climate campaigners want to forcibly sterilize the world's energy supply, and until recently they looked to be within an ace of doing so. But even before Climategate, the campaign was beginning to resemble a Broadway musical that had run too long, with sagging box office and declining enthusiasm from a dwindling audience. Someone needs to break the bad news to the players that it's closing time for the climate horror show.
The most anticipated news of the month, excepting perhaps the President's decision on Afghanistan, has just been released: Unemployment has remained steady at 10%.
Just for perspective, this still places U.S. unemployment 1% higher than that in France. The rate in October was 10.2%, reflecting a monthly loss of 190,000 jobs, as compared to November's 11,000 losses. The slowing monthly pace of losses continued for the 5th week, leading the AP and Forbes to speculate that a "turning point is near," though even stemming the hemorrhage offers little hope for subsequent job growth.
Such measured optimism was reflected yesterday by the Dow's last-minute, 87 point drop, as investors anticipated today's announcement. (NOTE: The Dow recovered this morning.) To brace the country for today's news, Obama hosted a "jobs summit" with academians and corporate titans last night. Expectations going in were low, and reactions have tended to be cynical (Business Insiders prays the summit was only a "PR charade"). Weakly denying the failure of the Democrat's $787 billion stimulus package, Obama advanced modest, joint efforts with private business as an alternative to a second (or third) stimulus package.
Today, Obama launches a multi-city "Main Street Tour" in Allentown, PA, to take the nation's economic "temperature." His reception promises to be "frosty." Scott Ott's satire of the President's likely approach to today's meeting is all too brilliant. From the Afghanistan speech to the Jobs Summit to today's likely non-starter, Obama's spark has demonstrably faded. Even entranced by soaring rhetoric - potentially the only gift preventing Obama from being perceived as an empty shirt - the public was bound to eventually notice it's own financial pains. But if Obama has caught a case of laryngitis...
In anticipation of Steven Hayward's Weekly Standard article on the impact of hacked e-mails from East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit, I suggest Ronald Bailey's article this week in Reason. Bailey is sympathetic to man-made climate change, and offers a concise overview of the consequences and potential recovery paths from this "tragedy."
It seems, perhaps for the first time, that self-respecting global warming alarmists and skeptics are publically pursuing a common goal: transparency. This could mark a watershed moment on several fronts. A wide-spread, fully-transparent re-evaluation of climate-change evidence which results in findings adverse to previous conclusions would instigate a terrible public outcry. Public opinion would continue to swing (Europeans cling to global warming with dogmatic piety, but American belief dropped 8% in the last year - and that occurred before climategate).
Further, as global leaders have always been hesitant to actually implement policies to confront warming - a tribute to their lingering self-preservation instincts - scientific doubt could provide cover for an indefinite pause. Paul Rahe suggests precisely this path for the Copenhagen climate summit, advising that Pres. Obama assert his devotion to principled science while divesting himself of unpopular cap-and-trade legislation.
I expect that the scandal surrounding doctored reports, suppressed dissents and hidden data in the environmental community has only begun. This revelation, perhaps coupled with a subsequent revolt at Copenhagen, could prove to be global warming's Waterloo.
Literature, Poetry, and Books
As my first substantive post on NLT, I feel compelled to address a topic upon which I am decidedly unqualified to speak. Undaunted, however, I proceed - for the occasion to opine on classical literature arises far too infrequently. Several posts as of late (1, 2, 3) have commended the works of great authors. During my recent travels in the Middle East (a spiritual exercise in the cultivation of patience and fortitude), I took advantage of fully-expected itinerary delays to broaden my literary exposure. I followed Hemmingway with Austin, and Austin with the elder Brontë sister (often in audiobook format, of which I am a converted disciple). It was as though I were ascending ever higher in the hierarchy of angels in heaven.
Harold Bloom counts Charlotte Brontë among the authors of his Western Canon (though she is excluded from more conservative Great Books lists). Nonetheless, Jane Eyre vanquished my ridiculous opinion that fiction was of limited utility in the cultivation of a classical liberal education. Mrs. Brontë reminded me that great thinker - from Homer and Plato to the authors of both the Old and New Testaments - have always used fables, parables and fiction to render profound lessons of virtue and humanity in intelligible doses to the masses.
And, for those as affected as I by Mrs. Brontë's writings, Christie's in New York will hold an auction this Friday of "a manuscript of her verses estimated at $50,000-$70,000, and her eloquent letter to Henry Nussey, declining his proposal of marriage, estimated at $50,000-$70,000." From the letter: "I have no personal repugnance to the idea of a union with you -- but I feel convinced that mine is not the sort of disposition calculated to form the happiness of a man like you." Exquisite.
P.S. The Christie's auction will also feature a letter from George Washington to his nephew Bushrod Washington, in which he privately reveals his reasons for supporting the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, estimated to fetch up to $2,500,000.
And so, these are the first of many words I hope to write for NLT. It seems only proper to pause for a brief moment and publicly extend my humble gratitude for the privilege of contributing my voice alongside the esteemed fellows of the Ashbrook Center. To Dr. Schramm, then - the first among equals - I offer my thanks.
To my new blogging cohorts and all those who frequent these fine pages, I hope to make a happy home of sorts amongst you in our little corner of the world. I'll try not to burn popcorn, play obnoxiously loud music or otherwise steer astray our common ship of state.
To a hopeful voyage, then, and a distant horizon. Ahoy!
AP report on Iraq casualties: "The AP count for November is the second-lowest since it began to track casualty figures in April 2005. " The Iraqi casualty count includes both military and civilian deaths. But will Obama's tergiversating surge meet the standard of Bush's bold surge?
The oddity of this whole debate is that the initial Democratic criticism of the Rumsfeld-Bush policy was that it lacked sufficient troops. So over Iraq the country has been faced with one party that reversed its initial policy of more troops and the other party who fought (and explained) the war ineptly. In the electoral battle between hypocrisy and incompetence the hypocrites won. And tonight our Ariel-in-Chief addresses the nation on Afghanistan from West Point, having deserted his Greek temple for an Army fortress.
Literature, Poetry, and Books
I have been reading into Poisoned Pens: Literary Invective from Amis to Zola, when I came upon this by Max Eastman about Ernest Hemingway:
"It is of course a commonplace that Hemingway lacks the serene confidence that he is a full-sized man. Most of us too delicately organized babies who grow up to be artists suffer at times from that small inward doubt. But some circumstance seems to have laid upon Hemingway a continual sense of the obligation to put forth evidences of red-blooded masculinity. It must be made obvious not only in the swing of the big shoulders and the clothes he puts on, but in the stride of his prose style and the emotions he permits to come to the surface there. This trait of his character has been strong enough to form the nucleus of a new flavor in English literature, and it has moreover begotten a veritable school of fiction-writers - a literary style, you might say, of wearing false hair on his chest [...]"
The editor notes the following in a footnote:
"These remarks rankled with Hemingway, and he had still not forgotten them four years later when he encountered Max Eastman, writer and critic, in the offices of Scribner's. Hemingway took off his shirt to reveal his chest hair, demanding that Eastman tell him whether it was false or not. Eastman was unable to reply; Hemingway then began unbuttoning Eastman's own shirt to see how much hair was there-Eastman's chest was hairless. Eastman tried to laugh the matter off but Hemingway continued to goad him, asking what Eastman had meant by calling him impotent. The exchange led to a fight in which, by some accounts, Hemingway wrestled Eastman to the ground. Hemingway told a reporter that Eastman had 'jumped at me like a woman--clawing, you know, with his open hands'."
For quite some time, most of our teachers have been to the Left of the country as a whole. I see this in the unthinking liberalism of many of my students, particularly on environmental issues. Some schools seem to take it to far:
ACORN is affiliated with three city schools -- including two in Brooklyn bearing the group's name: ACORN Community HS and the ACORN HS for Social Justice.
Karen Watts, the principal of the ACORN HS for Social Justice in Bushwick, seems sensitive to the group's bad publicity: She says ACORN no longer has any involvement with the school. But that's news to Debra Burgess, the school's parent coordinator -- who told me the school's "philosophy" is based around ACORN: "We do have to follow their philosophy, and their philosophy is 'reform and change.' "
The rot begins at the schools of education, which sometimes push curricula like this:
1. The College of Education and Human Development's proposed "teacher education redesign" plan would require students to adopt "race, culture, class and gender" identity politics in order to be recommended for a teaching license. . . .
3. The plan includes 14 "outcomes" all prospective teachers would have to meet, as well as "assessment" methods to assure they had achieved the outcomes. The first outcome is typical: "Future teachers will be able to discuss their own histories and current thinking drawing on notions of white privilege, hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity, and internalized oppression."
The Speaker of the House takes the living constitution idea to its logical limit: "Since virtually every aspect of the heath care system has an effect on interstate commerce, the power of Congress to regulate health care is essentially unlimited."
If we follow a long line of cases dating back to the New Deal era, I fear that she is not entirely wrong. In effect, the Constitution now gives the U.S. government the right to regulate all commerce, and not merely interestate commerce, as the government has defined non-interstate commerce out of existence.
On the other hand, just because our national government no longer is restrained by any limits with regard to what problems it may tackle, that does not mean there are no limits to the means it might use. I am fairly certain the Speaker would object to racial discrimination in the provision of health care. In that sense the right of the U.S. government to regulate health care is limited. That leaves the constitutionality of an individual mandate to buy health insurance an open question, at least in principle. Is such a mandate a constitutional means to what is now, for all practical constitutional purposes, a legal end?
(H/T: Mary Katherine Ham)
Is an old problem, says Angelo Codevilla in a recent article on American foreign policy:
The East European system that Obama scrapped was not terribly valuable militarily because its components, high-tech ground-based radars, computers, and optically guided interceptors, had been crippled congenitally to provide strictly marginal protection against just a few medium-range Iranian missiles. Had the radar not had its field of view restricted, and had the system used the long-range interceptors now deployed in Alaska, in meaningful numbers instead of a token 10 newly developed shorter-range ones, it would have been able to defend America as well as Europe against missiles from anywhere in Eurasia, including Iran. But because using the technology to its proper effect would have defended against Russia as well, the Bush administration crippled it at conception and Obama aborted it.
For the same reason, the system that Obama proposed substituting, based on the Navy's excellent AEGIS computers and interceptors, is similarly crippled. It has always been clear that were the AEGIS interceptors programmed and launched on the basis of information from satellites, they could easily defend against warheads in late midcourse coming from anywhere. But, to make sure AEGIS cannot possibly defend America against Russia, administration after administration has restricted AEGIS interceptors to information (except for terminal homing) provided by the ship's radar. . . .
These are but the least examples of how the U.S. government, whose ideology is set by the left and whose practices are shaped by bureaucratic self-interest, has trumped technology by distorting its applications. Defending against ballistic missiles existing at any given time is not now and has not been a technical mystery since 1958, when the U.S. Army accompanied its first IRBM test with a mock intercept by the rudimentary Nike system . . . But while technology can overcome missiles and warheads, it cannot dent the "scientific technological elite's" (recall Eisenhower's warning) self-interest in current programs. Nor can it affect the left's proclivities. And so billions of dollars plus wonders in computers, miniaturization, infrared sensors, optics, and lasers have produced only devices such as our Alaska-based radars and interceptors that apply new technology to 1950s notions of missile defense and are deployed in token quantities, or in devices conceived for exemplary impotence.
For an example of technical crippling, look at something originally called THEL (Tactical High Energy Laser) and later Skyguard, intended to defend northern Galilee against terrorist Katyusha rockets. Cobbled together starting in 1996 from parts of the U.S. space laser program, by 1998 the prototype was blowing up Katyushas, in flight at White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico. Building the ground-based version involved far more technical complications than developing the space version in the first place: while the space version needed to move only a few degrees to track distant ICBMs, the ground version's pointer-tracker had to move fast and far to deal with nearby Katyushas, and while the space version used the negative pressures of space to turn chemical combustion into light, the ground version had to produce vacuum exhausts for each shot. It took a lot of work to turn a weapon capable of defending against ballistic missiles from anywhere to anywhere into one that serves very limited purposes.
Literature, Poetry, and Books