Sweet Dreams, Lafayette!

April 11, 2015

I recently purchased this original lithograph by Daumier:  I fell in love with it when I saw it in an exhibit at the Met.  I am not a big fan of Daumier, but this one, I had to have.  I spotted it on ebay, and got it at a pretty good price.

The elderly Marquis, the one who helped George Washington during the Revolutionary War, is no longer a trim, young, liberal aristocrat.  Time has moved on, and we are in the regime of Louis Phillipe d’Orleans, the July Monarchy, initiated in 1830.  But it’s 1832, and the apparently liberal king has turned out to be a grossly corrupt and undemocratic blowhard.  Lafayette had supported him at the start as the best hope for France – he’s shown embracing the king in a print on the wall – but he came to regret his actions.

Right off the bat, we have multiple levels of representation:

  • In the print, we see the Marquis asleep
  • We also see a print on the wall showing the Marquis in earlier days
  • We see, as if physically present (?) the nightmare of the Marquis – he is oppressed by a giant pear
  • We see Louis Phillipe, crushing the chest of the Marquis, like a succubus.

Anyone would have known the pear was the king, because Daumier became famous, and was thrown in jail, for showing him as one

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And succubi, besides being part of folklore, were represented by the very popular Fuseli around the turn of the 19th century.  Yep, the tradition lives on, too!

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Amadeus Invert

April 2, 2015

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Watching Amadeus (1984) for the first time since I saw it on its release, I was struck by the cleverness of the central idea, that of basing the story on Salieri, and his blasphemous contempt for God and his profligate ways with artistic talent.  He cannot get over or forgive God for bestowing on a a frivolous and vulgar boy the transcendent musical talent that he can recognize, but not approach.  And so, he plots to kill Mozart and steal his last work.

Such a conceit would not be possible were it not for the development of 19th century romanticism:  notions of the artist as seer, visionary, gifted with special insight to the ways of beauty and God are not those of Mozart’s time.  He was a servant, a music maker.  Brilliant and talented at that, but just that.  The fact that he could write symphonies in his head..?  Well, such people appear now and then.  But in the 19th century, the view of Mozart underwent a change, once his music was reassessed:  He became The Artist, touched by God.  J.S. Bach may have written his beautiful music to glorify God, but neither he nor anyone in his day, claimed that he was a god.

The Salieri of Amadeus, the consummate courtier-musician, is also a complete anachronism.  He is a full-blown Romantic, seeing Mozart and his music through the eyes of a later period, one that is still with us as we worship artists as celebrities.  As a romantic critic, one who appreciates but cannot produce, Salieri sees Mozart as a divine idiot, akin to the madman geniuses of romantic folklore, from whom we have weak descendants in the alcoholic and drug-addled fraternity of bohemians and wannabees.  And then there’s all that Freudian father-complex material that he uncovers.

Pretty clever stuff by the playwright, Peter Shaeffer, but I found the movie, on this second viewing way too long, and a bit monotonous.  But then, perhaps I’ve shed my earlier romanticism.


Manufacture of Consent

March 30, 2015

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We live in a democracy, we are told, but more and more of late, I find myself thinking of those old B&W photos in my grade school civics texts that show Soviet citizens going to the polls…to vote for candidates selected for them by The Party.

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Here in America, we get to vote, but we simply ratify the selections of the One Party of Money (as Gore Vidal called it).  If you need proof, look at this article in the New York Times, of all places.  In what way are these people representative of the concerns and will of the people if the Democrat among them doesn’t even mention higher redistributive taxes?


Pym and Me

March 5, 2015

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See Not to be Reproduced or Pym.


Soon, it will all be over..?

February 23, 2015

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Another day, another climate-science fracas!  This recent article in the NYTimes got me so irritated, I wrote a long letter to one of the authors.  The other author, Justin Gillis is so heavily invested in his role as “Scourge of the Deniers,” that I didn’t bother to include him in my correspondence.  Here’s my bit:

Dear Mr. Schwartz:

I read your recent article about Dr. “Willie” Soon, and I find it problematic on many levels.  It appears to me to be yet another example of the NYTimes’ editorial campaign to support, at any cost, their rather simplistic view of the scientific method and climate dynamics.  I want to focus, however, on one aspect of your article that is a recurrent theme in your paper’s reporting, the appeal to “The Consensus.” Reading this piece, and every other piece the Times publishes on climate change, I have to ask myself, “Do these people know what the consensus states?”
In your piece, you say that the Smithsonian has gone on record with a statement “accepting the scientific consensus on climate change,” and you are kind enough to provide a hyperlink to it.  The relevant bit of text from that document appears to be this:
Rapid and long-lasting climate change is a topic of growing concern as the world looks to the future. Scientists, engineers and planners are seeking to understand the impact of new climate patterns, working to prepare our cities against the perils of rising storms and anticipating threats to our food, water supplies and national security. Scientific evidence has demonstrated that the global climate is warming as a result of increasing levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases generated by human activities. A pressing need exists for information that will improve our understanding of climate trends, determine the causes of the changes that are occurring and decrease the risks posed to humans and nature.

This paragraph is quite vague, and falls far short of the central statement of the IPCC in it’s statement for policy makers.  What can we glean from it?

  • Human society is concerned about climate change.  (They are also concerned about the weather… :-) )
  • Scientists (at least some) are worried, and are trying to think ahead.  They want to be ready for “rising storms” and “threats to our food supply”  (It speaks of threats and risks, not certainties.)
  • The earth is warming (or at least, it has warmed) as a result of industrial discharge of CO2.
  • More research is needed on the causes and the risks.
Not a very alarming statement, and one, I must add, with which I concur.  No mention about the actual controversy raging on the topic of climate science, the points of contention to which your colleague, Mr. Gillis may have been referring, in a previous piece on what to call deniers, as “the fine points,” to wit, just to cite a few:
  • Just how much has it warmed in the last sixty years due to CO2.  (The IPCC only says “most of the observed warming is due to human activity.”  Elsewhere, it speaks of multiple activities that are to blame.  Vague, vague…)
  • How much warming is due to deforestation and urbanization?
  • Why has the warming halted/paused/stopped  (whatever you want to call it) for seventeen years?
  • What conclusions must we draw if the warming does not resume, as predicted by the IPCC?
  • How reliable are the computer projections?
  • How is the IPCC “Best Guess” derived from the wide array of model ensemble output?  And why should we not place our confidence in those GCMs that have matched the global surface temperature anomaly for the last seventeen years?  The low-end of the projection range?
It is the nature of a consensus to be non-controversial, so yes, scientists all agree (never mind some right-wing congressmen) that the Earth has warmed, CO2 has caused some of it, humans have increased CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, and if the IPCC predictions are correct, there will be some serious consequences.  This is not what the debate is about, but your article, your editorial board, and many deeply righteous organizations use the notion of The Consensus to quash any criticism of the ideas spun out beyond this agreed body of fact.
Let me say that I think decarbonizing society is a good idea for a lot of reasons, but doing the right thing for bad reasons, i.e. a belief that disaster is around the corner, leads to very bad policy decisions.  I see this all the time, including in my engineering work on, of all things, infrastructure resilience and climate change.
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It may be that Senator Inhofe is an anti-science, anti-intellectual, but even a broken clock tells the right time twice a day!lol   I’m sure he loves his mother and thinks murder is a bad idea, so there is no shame in agreeing with him now and then.  I shouldn’t have to say this, but such is the rabid politicization of this topic that I must say it:  I voted for Obama, Al Gore, and Clinton.  I don’t watch Fox news (or TV).  I know the Earth is round, and that Hitler murdered six million Jews, and I accept Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection as the best explanation for the development of life on earth that we have.  There, am I a rational person?

Mr. Soon may be guilty of breaking the rules on disclosure, and if so, he should be treated as any other offender would be. It is certainly no secret, however, that he has been funded by “fossil fuel” corporations.  Although I feel you must sup with such sponsor-devils using a long spoon, can you imagine a researcher with his views getting funding at any university these days?  And like politicians, sadly, professors are all in the fund raising game.

Your article does not deal with the ideas Mr. Soon champions except by innuendo that is rather disturbing.  No critics speak for the record, other than Gavin Schmidt, a warrior for the cause, who does not even say his ideas are wrong, only “almost pointless.”  He then provides a typically vague statement intended to close the argument, saying that  “the sun had probably accounted for no more than 10 percent of recent global warming and that greenhouse gases produced by human activity explained most of it.”  So, of the 90% not caused by the sun, Mr. Schmidt says “most” (there’s that IPCC diction) is caused by greenhouse gases.  (He doesn’t even exclude water vapor!)  To any unbiased observer, this would indicate three things:
  • We don’t have a very certain idea of what has driven the recent warming
  • The attacks on Mr. Soon’s ideas are dogmatic.
  • If Mr. Schmidt is speaking for The Consensus, they have a pretty weak case for alarm regarding CO2 discharge.
Your article includes the usual appeals to authority:  Mr. Soon has no training in “climatology”.  As if the sun is not important for climate!  And must I recall to you that James Hansen was trained as an astrophysicist.  Ms. Susan Oreskes gets in her usual licks to associate anyone who is not hysterical about global warming (or climate change) as a corporate stooge, if not a Holocaust Denier.  
 
I’ve been reading your paper’s articles on climate science for years now, and it’s a sad spectacle of dogmatic orthodoxy they present.  Recall what happened after the Times swallowed the Iraqi WMD lie without a peep.  What excuse will be offered if ten years from now the “pause” is still paused, and GCM modelers are pulling out their hair?  It could happen!  Are you certain it will not?

Serial Murder, and Me

February 23, 2015

Another Odd Couple

I don’t watch TV, an admission that usually meets with startled surprise from people I meet.  “You mean, you don’t have a TV?!”  I do have a TV, or what passes for one these days, i.e., a large flat-screen on which I watch Netflix mostly, generally on DVDs, but sometimes streaming.  I also admit to watching old Hawaii Five-0 shows while I exercise.  But television shows, TV series, no.

I have tried to watch a few series that have a lot of buzz around them:  I made it through three episodes of “Breaking Bad,” tried, Treme, and a few others. I just don’t like the form – it makes me think of The Sims.  Create a world, people it with characters, disturb it, watch what happens…  I prefer to have the sense of watching a story.  Something with a beginning, a middle, and an end, a dramatic arc.  So, I tried True Detective, and I like it!  It’s only eight episodes long (half the length of The Prisoner!)  Maybe the fact that it’s written by a novelist helps.  The whole point to a regular series is just to keep you watching, to keep the show going…for years, if you can.

I rather like Rust Cohle, and his worldview.  I’m down with his philosophy of mind, his dismissal of the fantasy of personhood.  Maybe he’s a David Hume fan too?  For some reason, his cogitations get him down, instead of bringing him joy.  Perhaps he needs to read Fontenelle:

“All this immense space which holds our sun and our planets will be merely a small piece of the universe? As many spaces as there are fixed stars? This confounds me — troubles me — terrifies me.”

“And as for me,” I answered, “this puts me at my ease.”

There are two sex-scenes in the first three episodes (as far as I’ve gotten to-date) that set me thinking.  The first shows Marty getting it on with his hottie from the DA’s office.  She’s naked, he’s not.  The second shows him doing the same with his wife; she’s naked, he’s not.  How come women get naked but not men, I asked my wife?  “Sexism,” she replied.  Not acceptable to show naked men on TV.  (I avoid the word “nude,” which I associate with art history.)  “Not that I want to see those guys with their clothes off, anyway,” she said.  Point taken.  But it emphasizes that it’s a man’s world we are seeing on the screen.

And what is the point of these scenes?  The first was to deepen Marty’s character: it was supposed to be a bit of a shock after hearing him go on about family values so much to anyone within hearing, and there was only a brief hint earlier of his philandering.  The second..?  My wife again:  “It was supposed to show that he was a tortured soul.”  To me, he just seems like a guy with a lot of deeply held and self-serving ideas.  But then, I’m partial to the philosopher of the pair who questions all…  And I guess the fact that his deeply held ideas aren’t helping him so much is part of the drama after all.

Overall, a higher order of television than I’m used to!


Six Degrees of Kiss Me Deadly..?

February 16, 2015

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One of my favorite films, advertised here with a scene that never happened in the story.  That’s Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer questioning Lily Carver, played by Gaby Rodgers.

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Wonder what her Uncle Ed would have to say about the mis en scene.

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Here we have Mike and his secretary, Velda, played by Maxine Cooper.  She’s pretty smart, and does a lot of his leg work.

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He pimps her out to adulterers to get dirt to blackmail his divorce-case clients.  Does pretty well for himself.

Maxine Cooper gave up on acting to raise her children and to agitate in liberal causes.  Somewhere along the way, she became friends with that Hollywood leftie, Howard Fast.

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Howie got into Zen:  Maxine did the photos for his book.

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