Wednesday, June 30, 2010

When in Rome

1. The Satires of Horace, translated by A.M. Juster
Horace, the First Century BC poet (not the First Century BCE poet, mind), is not as well known as his contemporary, Virgil, and for good reason.  Virgil is much better, which is undoubtedly why Virgil gets to be Dante’s guide (though they do meet Horace hanging out with Homer in the afterlife).  The Satires are a mixed bag.  The satire here is the imitation of a lofty poetic style in poems about the most mundane facts of life—it is akin to reading a play in the style of Shakespeare all about a trip to Wal-Mart. (But, soft, what light in yonder isle breaks?/  It is reflection of fluorescent lights/ On shining purple plastic bottles/ Encasing products used by Lily/ To brighten up her hair.)  (Yeah, the meter and rhythm are all wrong, and there is no Shakespearean echo after the first line, but you get the point—well actually you may have missed the primary point that this is the sort of thing Horace does in noting the secondary point that I have no ability to write a decent line of verse—but let’s pretend that you got the primary point and move along asserting “there is nothing to see here, folks.”)  Now translating something like Horace is a bit of a trick, since the whole point of the satire hinges on the epic form coupled with humdrum matter.  Juster does it by going with heroic couplets (rhymed iambic pentameter).  It works pretty well, though some of the satires are much better than others.  There is a regular return to a self-deprecating manner that works well—this from Satire 4 in Book 1:

Come listen to a bit of my reply:
to start with, I do not identify
myself as a real poet.  You’d opine
that it is not enough to write a line
in meter, and a person such as me
who writes a chatty sort of poetry
could never be regarded in your eyes
as a real poet. You would recognize
a person who is brilliant, with a mind
that is far more inspired and the kind
of voice that resonates.  Based on that thought,
some doubted whether comic verses ought
to count as verse because they can’t convey
great force and energy in what they say
or how they say it.  Though arranged in feet
(unlike prose) that incessantly repeat,
it’s still just prose.      
                        “And yet the father raves
because his spendthrift son who madly craves
his slutty girlfriend doesn’t take a deal
to marry for a dowry that’s unreal,
and shames himself by marching drunk through town
with torches though the sun is not yet down.”

If you find that sort of thing witty, then you’ll like Horace.  I like the abrupt example of a silly plot to illustrate the point just being made.  Is something like that good poetry?  Indeed, is it poetry at all?  That is an interesting question, and obviously one that has been debated for literally a few thousand years.  It’s related to the problem of witty verse in general—it is much out of fashion in today’s age of the Poetry of Angst—well actually the Age is worse than that—let’s call it the Age of Prose of Angst Written in Broken Lines Having thus the Appearance But Not the Substance of the Poetry of Angst.  I come down on the side of it being poetry, and good poetry at that, but then I like Comic Verse.

2. William Shakespeare, Coriolanus
T.S. Eliot said this is better than Hamlet  Coriolanus is one of the Roman plays—taking place long before Julius Caesar.  Coriolanus was a great general, who was about to become head of all Rome, but he hated the commoners—well, hated them may understate his feelings a bit.  And in a  bit of “what were you thinking?” he doesn’t bother to hide his feelings, the commoners run him out of town, he joins up with Rome’s biggest foe, marches on Rome, and then things go really bad for him.  True story—right out of Plutarch.  Shakespeare rips it off and wrote a pretty good play.  But, then that’s what Shakespeare does better than anyone.  What I can’t figure out is why this play is not more widely read—I can’t see anything in it that makes it significantly worse than Julius Caesar, and I like it much better than Antony and Cleopatra (which has the lowest ratio of all Shakespeare’s work in (How much I like it) divided by (How much well-read people in general like it)—I really don’t like Antony and Cleopatra—I find it quite dull (yes, this is certainly a critical failing on my part, but even still...).)  Anyway, if you have never read Coriolanus, indulge yourself some evening.      

Monday, June 28, 2010

Mental Telegraphy Again

1. Clara's softball season is over.  They just lost the one game (mentioned in an earlier post).  The scary thing is that this is a 5th/6th grade league and the whole team will be back next year--I suspect we are in for another undefeated season (yes, I know they lost one game this year and thus weren't undefeated--they were undefeated last year).

2. Friday night was Lily's birthday bash.  While on duty sitting on the deck making sure nobody drowned (I was successful in this endeavor, by the way--just in case you were worried), I discovered a nice use for my iPod Touch.  Using the Kindle application, I read some Mark Twain essays, including the one from which this post rips off the title.  It's nice to be able to read outside in the dark.  The little screen wasn't too bad--it was still readable.  Not the best way to read, of course, but having a lighted reading source in the dark is pretty convenient.  [Review of Twain--the essay giving this post the title was repetitive--one of Twain's hack job articles (he wrote a lot of those), but I did reread "How to Tell a Story" which is one of is best bits.]  I also played my app replicating the hand-held football game I had as a kid.  It's different on the iPod--for one thing the buttons are in the wrong place.  Didn't they notice that?

3. And a quick book review of a short book:  Euripides, The Phoenician Women.  I read this because Julius Caesar had a favorite line in the play, so I figured it might be interesting to see if he just liked the line or the whole play.  I suspect it was just the line.  The line:
"If one must do a wrong, it's best to do it
pursuing power--otherwise, let's have virtue"
(Before one goes leaping to conclusions about Caesar after reading this line, it is worth noting that our source for knowing Caesar liked this line is Cicero and Cicero opposed Caesar, investing some energy into proving he was a tyrant in the making--saying Caesar liked this bit of Euripides is a bit too cute to be perfectly believable.)
The play itself is one of those grand epic types which throws together far too many plot lines in one play--sort of like many a Hollywood epic in that respect.  The play takes place after we discover Oedipus' crime, and covers all the events which followed.  The title is a bit misleading--the women are the chorus, and not the central characters of the play.  On the whole, it's OK.  Not Euripides' best.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Gathering Moss

Sometimes, timing is really odd:  Consider the recent Rolling Stone story about Obama and the military in Afghanistan.

The oddity is this:  My subscription to Rolling Stone just ran out with the issue before this forthcoming one.  Last Christmas, after ordering something or other on Amazon, I had the opportunity to get a 6-month subscription to Rolling Stone for $1.  I hadn't read an issue of that magazine for years, so I figured I couldn't go wrong for a dollar.  I wish I had my money back.  Six months of utter drivel--I stopped even flipping through the pages a few months back.  Then, right after my subscription (mercifully) ran out, Rolling Stone actually runs an article worth reading.  Of course it isn't their cover story for that issue--that would be a puff piece about Lady Gaga it would seem--an "artist" who certainly needs a bit more exposure from Rolling Stone.

When did Rolling Stone become so silly and insipid?  I was never a big fan of the magazine, but in the old days at least I understood why someone might want to read it.  Now it is hard for me to understand why anyone would look at it--it's like People magazine, I think--though I haven't seen a People magazine in many years, so maybe it has dropped down a notch or seven too.

To think that Rolling Stone used to run things by Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson.  Now it runs puff-pieces by fan boys.

The end of my subscription, though, made me think about the magazines I still do get:

1. The New Criterion  I love this one--a fantastic cultural journal.  Almost every article in every issue is worth reading.  Simply and completely fantastic--they maintain a very high literary standard throughout and run articles on all sort of fascinating topics.  Just this morning, I read a great article by Anthony Daniels about a short story by Flaubert.  Riveting.

2. Wired.  My other favorite at the moment.  Also a subscription started from an Amazon Christmas offer (two years ago)--I am seriously hooked.  A magazine for geeks.  Wonderfully done.

3. First Things  I still don't know about this one.  I really want to like it a lot, but sometimes I have this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that it isn't as good as I want it to be.

4. National Review.  Ugh.  I subscribe to it out of a misplaced sense of devotion for a long-time friend.  You know those friends who gradually become alcoholics and losers and stop talking about anything interesting and yet you still feel the need to talk to them, because, well, you are friends after all?  Well, I never had a friend like that until National Review.  I used to love this magazine.  Now it drives me nuts.  It used to be good; now it is mostly the written equivalent of the evening TV news--low-brow political handicapping.  It still has some great writers whose stuff I enjoy (Goldberg, Long, Steyn, King, Derbyshire, Nordlinger), but in any given issue, anything not written by them has about a 10% chance of being worth reading.  When I get a new issue--like today, for example--I glance at the table of contents with a sense of dread--how many horrible articles am I going to have to read this week?  Yet, I can't bring myself to stop reading it.  It would feel like betraying something important to stop.  Someday it will become good again, right? 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

To wake the soul by tender strokes of art

A few months back (you can check the archives if so are so inclined (and bored beyond belief (lest why would you be checking blog archives? (and, come to think of it, perhaps if you are so bored, you should think about finding a hobby (I'd suggest reading good books (if you need a recommendation, you can check the archives (which (it would seem) has created a problem of infinite regress (which I suppose can be avoided by simply adding an infinite string of parenthetical asides to keep a forward momentum to the thought process, thereby avoiding the start of the aforementioned infinite regress (yes, I know that starting a different infinite process does not solve the problem (what problem?, you ask. Haven't you been paying attention? (But, I digress (no kidding, you say))))))))))), I noted that I was mentioning Addison's play, Cato, in an attempt to see if so mentioning it would finally induce me to get around to reading it. It worked. The Power of the Blog and all that.  (It is worth noting that the Power of the Blog seems to be inextricably tied to the Problem of the Blog, said problem being the temptation to pile parenthetical asides on top of one another for no apparent reason than that one's mind starts to wander and the blog seems to replicate said wandering of mind.  I have just spent two hours writing about Julius Caesar with nary a parenthetical aside in sight, and suddenly, with only lunch intervening between then and now, I find a plethora of parentheses.  The Problem of the Blog, indeed.)

The review: It was good. Not Great, but good. It is easy to see why the American Founding Fathers loved it so much. They cast themselves in the role of Cato fighting against the tyrannical ruler Caesar. The play is filled with stirring lines such as:
"It is not now a time to talk of aught
But chains or conquest, liberty or death."
[See Patrick Henry (Give me Liberty or Give me Death).]
Or, consider:
"what pity is it
That we can die but once to serve our country!"
[See Nathan Hale (I regret that I have but one life to give for my country).]

I enjoyed reading the play, but I also enjoyed thinking afterwards about why this play, which was once so immensely popular in American society that people could refer to it without attribution, assuming everyone knew the play (the footnotes in the edition I have (from the invaluable Liberty Fund) also note other such instances by luminaries such as John Adams and George Washington), should now be completely forgotten. I suspect it has to do with the death of honor (marvelously discussed in Bowman's Honor: A History).  I am not sure how well this play would resonate today.  The people who still care much about honor, who are still willing to die for liberty, are now, sadly, not the same people who go to the theater to watch 18th century plays.  How many college graduates do I know who would sincerely regret that they could only die once for their country?  How many college graduates do I know that would honestly prefer death to a lack of liberty?  If fighting wars depended on elite society, we would be in very big trouble.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Improving Your Life, One App at a Time

I have survived this year’s Celebration-fest—which isn’t shocking, since this is the 15th such festival and my life was never actually threatened in any of the previous 14 incarnations of said event.  With Lily’s birthday on June 18, Emma’s on June 19th, and Father’s Day on the third Sunday of June, every year we have a trio of celebrations in a row—though some years, one of the Offspring’s Birthday falls on Father’s Day, providing a one-third reduction in the quantity of Celebration Days, with, interestingly, no discernable effect on the quality of said celebrations.

My family, which is a most excellent family, gave me an iPod Touch for Father’s Day.   New technology intrigues me and this is no exception.  The iPod portion is replacing my old 2nd generation iPod nano, and thus the storage space alone is a huge improvement.  The external speaker is also fantastic—it’s nice to be able to use the thing without needing headphones or an external speaker system.  The other part of this new gadget is the ability to get all the apps which were popularized by the iPhone.  I got the Yahoo! Fantasy baseball app right away, found the Weather Channel app, and threw on the Amazon Kindle app, mostly to see if reading books on a tiny device is interesting or unbelievably annoying.  After that, I am faced with about a zillion (give or take a billion) potential features to load onto my gadget.  But, which ones do I need?  Or want?  Or will ever use?  It’s like a new world opening up and I have don’t have any idea what I want to do in this new world.

I think I am going to get the app which replicates the old hand-held football game I had when I was a kid—you know the one with the moving lines and you move your line past all those other  lines.  I spent hours (undoubtedly well over a thousand hours—I kid you not) playing that game as a kid.  I guess spending 99 cents to relive my misspent youth might not be a bad thing to do.

On Saturday, Janet and I drove up to South Woodstock, VT to see Emma ride in a Dressage Competition.  Dressage is called a “sport,” but it is really just a beauty contest for horses and riders.  Emma had fun, which is the only thing about which I cared.  I told Emma that the Dressage Competitions should include a jousting portion—that would make it into something resembling an actual sport—but Emma did not seem to think my suggestion was worth relaying to the Powers That Be.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Rainbow in the Dark

On my recent trip to California, I read Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. Why?, you may well ask, particularly if you know something about said book. I learned some years ago that long plane trips for business trips are the perfect place to read long books which you feel like you should probably read but suspect will not actually be interesting enough to compel your attention when read in the quiet confines of one’s normal domicile with its competing claims of books you actually look forward to reading. Take said long book on a plane trip, and with no other distractions or possibility of switching to a more compelling book, said book gets read. Then, trip done, book completed, you get that nice feeling of, “Well, at least I'll never have to read that book again.”

My most notable achievement in this regard was Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, read two years ago on a trip to a conference in Newfoundland. My summary of that book: On page 531, the book became interesting. It is worth reading, but only if one is the compulsive type who is willing to slog through 530 pages to figure out why one is reading this book.

So, after discovering I would be heading to California this June, I naturally enough started glancing at my bookshelf in search of another long tome I wanted to have read but didn’t want to read. Gravity’s Rainbow won. I knew I didn’t want to read it because I had actually started it once before, but quit somewhere around page 400. I knew I wanted to have read it because I keep seeing it mentioned as one of the Great Books of the late 20th century.

My summary: It is a Great Book if you like the idea of a book with no plot. Well, that’s not fair, it does have a plot. So, let me rephrase: It is a Great Book if you like the idea of a book in which the plot deliberately, self-consciously, and knowingly makes absolutely no sense at all. This is different than a plot which just makes no sense—lots of books manage that feat. This book manages to make no sense on purpose.

Why? I assume it is some post-modern attempt to throw off the norms of conventional story-telling in some clever display of brilliance. And the book does show glimmers of cleverness throughout. Pynchon can write well, there is no doubt about that. And he can be funny. And he certainly knows a lot of stuff. Not many novels have math jokes in them or lengthy discussions of the physics of rockets. But, you have to take the bad with the good; coupled with erudition is an adolescent obsession with bodily functions both natural and unnatural.

So, if you want to read some Pynchon, read The Crying of Lot 49. It has everything of merit found in Gravity’s Rainbow, but unlike the latter book, the former is short.

As for the title of the post, Ronnie James Dio, RIP. I have long believed that Dio had the best voice in Heavy Metal—and I don’t mean that as a back-handed compliment.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Doctor

I recently finished watching David Tennant’s run on Doctor Who.  It is now official.  Tennant was the best Doctor.  It really pains me to say that—I thought nobody would ever top Tom Baker, but Tennant did it.  I remember back in my undergrad days having a debate over who was the best Doctor—the candidates were Baker and Peter Davison; Davison was the pretty boy Doctor—I liked him a lot too—but Baker had that manic air that made him something special.  In some ways Tennant was Davison and Baker combined—though there was this nice bit in one of the Children in Need specials when the Davison Doctor meets the Tennant Doctor and Tennant says, “You were my doctor.” (You can see it here--though I have no idea if it will make any sense at all if you are not an afficionado of the show.)

I have loved Doctor Who since I was in high school.  Janet and I use to watch him every Saturday night on PBS when we were in grad school.  She liked Davison the best.  (Now she won’t admit to ever having liked Doctor Who, but I was there—she used to like the Doctor.  She forgets things like this—I think deliberately so—and it has been a long time since she sat down to watch an episode of Doctor Who with me.)

None of my kids like Doctor Who at all.  I cannot understand it.  Emma usually has good taste in movies—there aren’t many movies I like that she can’t stand.  And Clara is of the perfect temperament for Doctor Who.  (Lily is a lost cause in this respect—it is no surprise she doesn’t watch it.)  Emma and Clara both negatively react to the, as Emma calls it, “bad 80’s special effects.”  She saw a clip of the new Doctor Who and was amazed that they had kept the feel of those “bad 80s special effects.”    Sigh.

When the series restarted a few years back, I was afraid to watch it.  I thought for sure they would have destroyed the charm of the old series.  I mentioned this to a guy at a conference I was at two years ago, and he told me not to worry, that the new series was actually quite good and that they had modernized it but kept a knowing look back to the old series to make it feel right.  So, I watched it, and was hooked on the first episode.  I liked the first season of the new run so much, in fact, that I was sorry to see Christopher Eccleston leave—but then he was replaced by the best Doctor ever.  I haven’t started watching the new Doctor yet—I’ll wait until the season is out on DVD, but the brief clip of him at the end of the last Tennant show was quite promising.

And, by the way, on the bulletin board in the hall near my office, someone put up a “Vote Saxon” flyer.  It creeps me out every time I see it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The State of First Things, June/July 2010

The most noteworthy thing about this issue is the complete redesign.  And, since the whole point of this series of posts was to figure out if this magazine was still worth reading, the redesign means that the series is back to Square One.  (By the way, the origin of this phrase ("Back to Square One") is probably a reference to the old game Snakes and Ladders, a game which has long intrigued me because by the time I became a youth, the game had metamorphosed into Chutes and Ladders; now since Snakes and Ladders would be a much cooler (or, I suppose, a much more tubular) game than Chutes and Ladders, the reason for the change must have had absolutely nothing to do with young children (the only sort of people who would ever actually enjoy playing a game in which the outcome is dictated solely by the series of numbers generated by something akin to a random number generator), but rather due to the misplaced sensibilities of the same sort of people who gave all the Grimm Fairy Tales happy endings.  What's wrong with snakes, anyway?)  But, back to the matter of the new design; I assumed I would hate it because, well, I actually always dislike change, but oddly, I don't mind the new look and feel of the magazine.

As for the content:

A. Must Read Articles
1. Weiler, "The Trial of Jesus"
This is one of those articles which makes you think something new about something you have spent endless hours thing about before.  Weiler notes that the Jewish leaders who plotted to kill Jesus may have been acting on strong Biblical grounds.  Deuteronomy 13:1-5 seems to order the execution of a person who is promised to arise in Israel and who will act exactly like Jesus.  If this article is right, and it is certainly persuasive, then the execution of Jesus is not only the Right thing to have happened from the standpoint of Christian theology, but also from the standpoint of Jewish theology.  The orchestrated nature of the life and death of the Son of God is simply awe-inspiring.

2. Mariani, "Regard the Scuttlebutt As True"
Another amazing article.  My favorite contemporary poet, A.M. Juster leads a double life.  In his other life he is Michael Astrue, the current Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.  By day, he runs a huge government bureaucracy, by night he writes poetry and is rapidly becoming a leading translator of Latin poetry.  The mind reels to discover things such as this.  The best part of the article was the reprint of one of Juster's poems, "Candid Headstone"

Here lies what's left of Michael Juster,
A failure filled with bile and bluster.
Regard the scuttlebutt as true.
Feel free to dance; most others do.

Look at that third line carefully.
Also, of note: A.M Juster is an anagram of M.J. Astrue.
Also, of note: this is not simply a case of a bureaucrat anonymously publishing under a pen name.  Juster used to regularly be seen in public at poetry workshops and the like.  Asture appears in public all the time.  Apparently, the people who go to poetry workshops don't watch Social Security press conferences or vice versa.

B. Flawed, but worth reading
1. Cohen and Levin, "Nothing to See Here"
A nice look a the collapse of the Presidential Council on Bioethics under the Obama Administration.  It is no longer doing much of anything interesting.
[In other Obama news, unrelated to First Things, last night Obama gave his big talk on the Oil Spill.  I saw a clip of Olberman and Matthews absolutely skewering Obama and his talk.  When Keith Olberman and Chris ("thrill down my leg") Matthews are mercilessly going after Obama, I think we can safely say the Obama Fun Run is over--he is Jimmy Carter.  Well, at least we can hope he stays at Jimmy Carter levels and doesn't become the guy who made Jimmy Carter look good.]

2. Arkes, "Vast Dangers in a Small Place"
A report from the front lines of the battle to turn sexual orientation into something demanding the same status as race in legal decisions and elite conversation.  Arkes does not sound optimistic that free speech and freedom of assembly will prevail in this new legal climate.

3. Dalrymple, "The Brothers Grim"
A review of the autobiographies of Peter and Christopher Huthcins.  The article is worth reading because Dalryrmple's prose is always lively, but as a review--well, he spends almost the entire time talking about Christopher's early affinity for Trotsky.

Dalyrymple, by the way, is a curious guy--it is the pen name of Anthony Daniels.  And, he writes regularly under both names--indeed, there was a recent issue of the New Criterion which had an article by Daniels and another article by Dalrymple.  I have tried in vain to figure out the difference between articles written by Daniels and those by Dalrymple--I used to think that Dalrymple was used whenever there was a reference to Daniels' work as a psychiatrist (he is still a practicing psychiatrist--primarily, it seems, working with the prison population), but every now and then I read an article which breaks that rule.

Also, in this issue, I liked the new crossword puzzle.  There also seems to be more poetry in this issue, but that may not be related to the new format.  The last page looks like the start of a series of Art photos--which could be interesting.  There was also a one-page essay on architecture, which could also mark a new feature.  There was also a very long, sappy story about military fathers whose sons died in military service, which I am really, really hoping is not a sign of things to come--if First Things turns into an Oprah-like magazine ("Adventures in True Life"), it will be a sad day indeed.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Far Side of the Country

Having returned from my sojourn in the Land of Eternal Sunshine to find, naturally enough, a day in which thunderstorms are perpetually threatening in the Land of Intermittent Sunshine, it seems a good opportunity to note the events of the last 7 days which might be, but in reality probably are not, worthy of note.

The conference was really good.  Great conversations throughout and I learned quite a bit.  In the end, Hayek is a much more interesting thinker than I had thought him to be.  There are not many late 20th century economists who would merit sustained attention from non-economists.

Emma got her driver's license on Saturday.  Now the question of whether to buy a 3rd car heats up.  Janet and I have been talking about getting a pickup truck for what seems like forever.  I still have no idea if we will actually get around to acquiring such a vehicle or not.

In other Emma news: she was awarded the Mount Holyoke Alumnae Association Book Prize at her high school.  (The fact that her father works at MHC is a coincidence. (No, really.))  The award is for the best female junior at the school.  These awards are really interesting--I had not heard of them before.  It looks like the Alumnae Association solicits $25 from an alum every year to provide such a prize at a high school of her choice.  It's rather brilliant--an alum gets to award a prize to some deserving junior in high school and Mount Holyoke gets some good advertising aimed directly at the sort of student we would most like to think about coming to MHC.  If I were an alum, I would certainly sign up for a $25 a year cost to do something like that at my old high school.

In other Offspring News, Lily was just elected Vice-President at her school.  Lily is, as everyone (everyone!) knows, a rather social animal--if you haven't friended her on Facebook yet, you must be the last person on the planet not to have done so--and now she is reaching for her true calling of being a political animal.  I have all summer to persuade her she should advocate for lower taxes and reduced expenditure on wasteful items at School.  At present, her aims are slightly different--recycling bins and vegetarian meals---clearly I have a lot of work to do.

Clara 's team won all three of their games while I was away.  They were undefeated last year.  This year they lost once--in a game which was painful to behold--as Clara put it, the coach "flipped out" at them for playing so extraordinarily poorly--and, having witnessed the game, he should have flipped out even more in that game.  It was pretty pathetic.  Fortunately, since then, they seem to have returned to their winning ways.

And, I might as well throw in a book review since I still have not finished writing up reviews of the books I finished before my trip to CA.  One of my students who was graduating gave me a copy of Gary Larson's The Far Side Gallery 5, and so I was able to enjoy revisiting those strips  The Far Side was easily one of the best comic strips ever--indeed, there are not many comic strips even in the same category of greatness (Calvin and Hobbes, for sure; Peanuts in its best years; and I also like Dilbert, Bloom County and Doonesbury (at least the old Doonesbury--I haven't read it recently)--but I am not sure the latter three are generally brilliant (they may be simply idiosyncratic tastes).  The fact that Larson stopped when he was still going strong is really interesting to me--I have always wondered how many great ideas he has had for comics since he retired--I doubt you can just shut off creativity of that order.  Bill Watterson also stopped Calvin and Hobbes in its prime.  I have also always wondered if they both saw the gradual demise of Peanuts as a warning against carrying on too long.

Grammar Note:  Should the names of Comic Strips be italicized or in quotation marks?  Obviously, I am at present thinking it is the former.  But, I just spent some time looking it up, but it isn't at all clear. (The Chicago Manual of Style, for example, does not mention them.)

Thursday, June 10, 2010


1. Yesterday, at the end of the day's discussions of Hayek, a few of us went over to Dodger Stadium to watch the game.  It was the first time I had been to Dodger Stadium since I was a kid.  Great game--the Dodgers won 4-3; in the top of the 9th the Cardinals had runners on 2nd and 3rd before the Dodgers got the final out.  Manny hit a home run. Kershaw had 10 Ks.  Motte hit 100 mph on his fast ball.  And Broxton came in to close to the tune of Iron Man--great song for a closer.  Perfect weather (shocking, I know).  Dodgerdogs were not quite as exciting as I remembered them, though. 

2  The seminar itself is going well; I am learning a lot.  Of course whether what I am learning will have any relevance for humanity is the sort of question that plagues all academics.  We like to pretend this sort of thing matters because the alternative is pretty depressing.

3. Lunch today was Mexican food--the world's best cuisine.  It is funny that hotel-catered Mexican food in California is better than the best Mexican food available at any restaurant in western MA.  Why is that?

4. In the book review department:  I recently finished rereading Richard John Neuhaus'  Death on a Friday Afternoon.  It is the text of a Good Friday sermon series he preached on the traditional text for such events, the Seven Last Words of Christ.  Rather Neuhausian, not surprisingly.  I reread it because I couldn't really remember what he said in the book.  In rereading it, I now know why I couldn't remember what he said--the book wanders all over the place, which is exactly the way everything Neuhaus wrote ends up.  Lots of interesting little tidbits, but I am not at all sure to what all the tidbits add up.  I'll probably end up reading it again in a decade or so because I won't remember what it said and I will get to wondering again. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Surfin' USA

1. After the Hayek discussions ended today, I walked down the beach to Manhattan Beach (immortalized here (at around 0:38)).  I watched the surfers for awhile--not a good day for waves--no tubes (sigh) (by the way, "tubular" was a term one used to express the awesomeness of something when I was a lad (as in, "That is so Tubular!"  (I think it is used in the same way the New Englanders use "wicked" which tells you a lot about New Englanders))).

2. Yesterday, there was an earthquake.  What was interesting about the earthquake is that it happened before I wrote anything on the blog yesterday, but it didn't occur to me that the earthquake was in any way interesting until I met the others form the conference and they all thought the earthquake was noteworthy.  It was just a little earthquake (someone said 3.something); I guess living through earthquakes is like riding a bike--it just becomes one of those things about which you don't really think.

3. Speaking of my fellow conferees, I told some people that the biggest fear of conferences like this one whether you spend the whole time talking to the other people is that the other people won't be very interesting.  Fortunately, that isn't the case--the organizers did a good job putting together an nice cross-section of academics (of course, "cross-section of academics" is not a very large slice of humanity).

4. Last night we went to a pretty good restaurant in town.  I was sitting across from one of the conference organizers, who at one point was describing the trouble she had remembering the name of the restaurant..  She described it to the hotel staff as having this interesting cuisine, primarily Caribbean, but mixed with other things.  The staff had no idea what restaurant she meant.  When she remembered the name, they still didn't associate it with the type of cuisine she mentioned.  I told her that the food we were eating was actually just called California Cuisine--exactly the sort of food served all over the state at interesting restaurants.  I don't think she believed me.  Anyway, it was good.

5. Given all the reading I had to do for this conference in the last couple of weeks, I was neglectful of my book reports before I left.  So, I'll start remedying that.  I recently finished
P.G. Wodehouse, Meet Mr. Mulliner.  Mr. Mulliner tells tales of his relatives to the other in his local pub, the Angler's Rest--and given the setting, you know right up front that Mr. Mulliner is telling you a fish tale, but they are, naturally enough, rather amusing Fish Tales.  Well worth reading, but you knew that as soon as you saw the name of the author.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Hayek in Hermosa

I am currently in LA; Hermosa Beach to be exact (which is, of course always a virtue (being exact, that is, not being in Hermosa Beach)). 

And to answer the questions I am often asked:  yes, I do miss California.  My hotel room wasn't ready for three hours after I arrived, so I had to wander down the beach for some time.  It was quiet (school is still in session I guess).  It felt like being home. 

But, I am not here to stroll down beaches--this is actually a business trip.  Or a "faculty junket" as Dan calls such things.  The Liberty Fund has brought me out here for a week-long conference on Hayek; I had to read an endless amount of Hayek, and I will spend the next week talking about him with 15 or so other people.

And, as a public service, here is a review of Hayek for everyone, so that when you decide to read him yourself, you will know where to start.  I do not recommend reading a lot of Hayek in a month-long burst--he gets a little repetitive when you read too much all at once.  So, think of this as a lifetime reading plan.  (Yes, I know that nobody is actually planning to read Hayek as a lifetime reading plan (well, except maybe Lily, this seems like the kind of thing she might do (of course, she doesn't know she will do this, and the very idea of doing it would cause her to exclaim that there is no way she would do it, but when she gets a little older, she will discover Hayek and become a Huge Fan (first, Sarah Palin (about whom she is already enamored), then Hayek--it is a natural progression (one hopes)))).)

And so the reading notes:

1. The Road to Serfdom
Start here; this book was actually a best-seller when it was first published; Reader's Digest published a condensed version.  It came out right after WWII and warned of creeping socialism.  It is also quite persuasive on the fact that the Nazis and the Communists are really just two variants of the same thing.  With this book, you can see Hayek's main point--markets are better at organizing society because there is simply too much local information for one mind to know it all.  Thus, any attempt at planning will fail.  As can be witnessed by recent political events, Hayek was not terribly persuasive.  I think this is the 3rd time I have read this book--it is still good.

2. The Constitution of Liberty
A good second book, well worth reading.  Indeed, it should be more widely read as one of the most important works of political philosophy in the 20th century. A useful and interesting argument after one has read Locke.

3. Law, Legislation and Liberty
This is where the reading starts becoming for specialists only--the general reader will profit from the first two books.  This entry is actually three separate volumes--I am not sure why the publisher has not lumped the three separate books into one longer book yet.  It is Hayek's culminating summary of his life's work--not quite his magnum opus, because The Constitution of Liberty is much more important and better.

4. Individualism and Economic Order
This book is a collection of essays. "Economics and Knowledge" is a good single article summarizing Hayek's thought.  The reflections in the three part series "Socialist Calculation" are an interesting look at the socialists of the 1930s.  Obama would fit right in--and before anyone screams that Obama isn't a socialist, it would be good to actually read something like these articles from the 1930s describing what the socialists actually believe.

5. The Counter-Revolution of Science
Pure methodology; Hayek argues that the natural sciences have had a pernicious influence on economic thought.  This is where Hayek goes a bit off the rails; his general point is OK, but he is far too hard on modern economics.

We also read a slew of essays not collected in any given volume, but the above are better starting places than any of the extraneous essays.