Archive for September, 2009
30 Sep 2009

Culture War Skirmishes All Over the Polanski Plain

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Brendan O’Neill, like yours truly, finds the Roman Polanski left-right skirmish a competitive exercise in narrative-framing with a lot of posing.

(T)he worst aspect of the Polanski affair is the competition of victimhoods. It is testimony to the domination of the victim culture in contemporary society that both Polanski haters and Polanski defenders, both sides in this bizarre re-enactment of the Culture War of the 1960s and its aftermath, have used the language of victimology to make their case. For many American and British commentators this is all about Samantha Gailey, whom they have transformed into the archetypal and eternally symbolic victim of the alleged great evil of our time, Child Abuse. ‘Remember: Polanski raped a child’, says a headline in Salon, in an article that provides sordid, misery-memoir-style details of what Polanski did with his penis… (Remember, Roman Polanski raped a child, Salon, 28 September 2009 ). For European observers, by contrast, Polanski’s actions can be explained by his own victimised past, especially during the Holocaust. We have to understand his ‘life tragedies’ and how they moulded him, says one filmmaker (Roman a Clef: Wanted and Desired, Documentary.org, 2003). Anne Applebaum, the American commentator who spends much of her time in Europe, says Polanski fled America in 1978 because of his ‘understandable fear of irrational punishment. Polanski’s mother died in Auschwitz. His father survived in Mauthausen. He himself survived the Krakow ghetto.’ (The outrageous arrest of Roman Polanski, Washington Post, 27 September 2009 ) (Applebaum fails to disclose that she is married to the Polish foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, who is actively campaigning against Polanski’s extradition.)

This spat in victimology confirms that the politics of victimhood, the pursuit of law, politics and morality in the name of respecting and helping victims, dominates debate on both sides of the Atlantic, but in the Anglo-American sphere it is the victim of child abuse that is most sacrosanct, while in Europe it is the victims of the Holocaust who enjoy the greatest, most unquestioned moral authority – to the extent that Polanski’s pretty cowardly fleeing of America in 1978 can be excused as a latent reaction by a tortured man to the emotional horrors of Auschwitz.

L’Affaire Polanski has become a Culture War that dare not speak its name, a pale and dishonest imitation of the debates about values and morality that have emerged at various times over the past 50 years. As a result we are none the wiser about the legal usefulness of 30-year-old arrest warrants or contemporary extradition laws, as desperate political observers have instead turned Polanski into either a ventriloquist’s dummy or a voodoo doll for the purposes of letting off some cheap moral steam.

David Zincavage, failed to disclose when he editorialized against the Polanski extradition, that he is married to Karen L. Myers, who has seen several Roman Polanski films. She also alerted me to Brendan O’Neill’s article.

30 Sep 2009

Gore Vidal Predicts Military Coup

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Gore Vidal is now so old and crotchety that he’s becoming amusing again.

In this interview with the London Times, he has unkind things to say about nearly everyone from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama, whom he predicts will be deposed by military coup(!). (I almost hope so, Gore, I thought, reading that one.)

Americans in general come in for the roughest treatment. Alas! we are all just a bunch of ignorant, uneducated yahoos, and unlike certain authors, we are generally not rich, famous, and descended from a prominent political family able to take credit apparently both for founding the airline industry and bringing Oklahoma into the Union.

Interestingly, Gore Vidal is lucid enough to recognize that homosexuality is a matter of acts, not of identity. He might have said more of interest on that subject so near to his own heart, but after remarking “Don’t make the error that schoolteacher idiots make by thinking that gay men’s relationships are like heterosexual ones. They’re not.” He refused to elucidate on how he thinks they are different.

29 Sep 2009

Conservative Cleavage

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Vera Lengsfeld (on the right) with well-known image of Angela Merkel in evening gown

Vera Lengsfeld, a 57-year-old Christian Democrat candidate facing a difficult race in a Berlin district against a Green incumbent, aroused controversy by producing and distributing the above poster, which informs voters: “We have more to offer.”

From the Telegraph.

29 Sep 2009

“Deliver Us, Obama”

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You thought teaching small childen to sing Obama’s praises was ridiculous? Well…

Community organizers attending a Gamaliel Foundation International Leadership Assembly held December 4, 2008 in Washington, D.C. conducted a mock funeral of existing American health care, and a large portion of the crowd during a litany actually prayed to Barack Obama (who once worked for Gamaliel in Chicago).

2:00 video

29 Sep 2009

Decline of the English Department

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Willam M. Chace, in the American Scholar, identifies the decline in study of the Humanities in general with the internal collapse of the English Department following the overthrow of the idea of the canon.

Perhaps the most telling sign of the near bankruptcy of the discipline is the silence from within its ranks. In the face of one skeptical and disenchanted critique after another, no one has come forward in years to assert that the study of English (or comparative literature or similar undertakings in other languages) is coherent, does have self-limiting boundaries, and can be described as this but not that.

Such silence strongly suggests a complicity of understanding, with the practitioners in agreement that to teach English today is to do, intellectually, what one pleases. No sense of duty remains toward works of English or American literature; amateur sociology or anthropology or philosophy or comic books or studies of trauma among soldiers or survivors of the Holocaust will do. You need not even believe that works of literature have intelligible meaning; you can announce that they bear no relationship at all to the world beyond the text. Nor do you need to believe that literary history is helpful in understanding the books you teach; history itself can be shucked aside as misleading, irrelevant, or even unknowable. In short, there are few, if any, fixed rules or operating principles to which those teaching English and American literature are obliged to conform. With everything on the table, and with foundational principles abandoned, everyone is free, in the classroom or in prose, to exercise intellectual laissez-faire in the largest possible way—I won’t interfere with what you do and am happy to see that you will return the favor. Yet all around them a rich literature exists, extraordinary books to be taught to younger minds.

Consider the English department at Harvard University. It has now agreed to remove its survey of English literature for undergraduates, replacing it and much else with four new “affinity groups”—“Arrivals,” “Poets,” “Diffusions,” and “Shakespeares.” The first would examine outside influences on English literature; the second would look at whatever poets the given instructor would select; the third would study various writings (again, picked by the given instructor) resulting from the spread of English around the globe; and the final grouping would direct attention to Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

Daniel Donoghue, the department’s director of undergraduate studies, told The Harvard Crimson last December that “our approach was to start with a completely clean slate.” And Harvard’s well-known Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt also told the Crimson that the substance of the old survey will “trickle down to students through the professors themselves who, after all, specialize in each of these areas of English literature.” But under the proposal, there would be no one book, or family of books, that every English major at Harvard would have read by the time he or she graduates. The direction to which Harvard would lead its students in this “clean slate” or “trickle down” experiment is to suspend literary history, thrusting into the hands of undergraduates the job of cobbling together intellectual coherence for themselves. Greenblatt puts it this way: students should craft their own literary “journeys.” The professors might have little idea of where those journeys might lead, or how their paths might become errant. There will be no common destination.

As Harvard goes, so often go the nation’s other colleges and universities. Those who once strove to give order to the curriculum will have learned, from Harvard, that terms like core knowledge and foundational experience only trigger acrimony, turf protection, and faculty mutinies. No one has the stomach anymore to refight the Western culture wars. Let the students find their own way to knowledge.

28 Sep 2009

Conservatives Wrong on Polanski Extradition

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Roman Polanski

The director Roman Polanski is a significant artist of international stature. He is also 76 years old. More than 30 years ago, Polanski had sex with an underage girl in California. The judicial proceedings which took place at the time were improperly influenced by the superfluity of media attention focused on a famous Hollywood director entangled in a sex scandal.

Marina Zenovich’s 2008 documentary film Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired made it generally known that Polanski accepted a plea bargain which put him behind bars in very unpleasant circumstances “for psychiatric evaluation” for 42 days in Chino State Prison. After which time, according to the deal made with prosecutors, Polanski was supposed to be let off without further incarceration.

Newspaper reports, however, inflamed public opinion about the case, and Judge Laurence Rittenband arbitrarily decided to void Polanski’s plea bargain and impose an exemplary sentence, essentially sacrificing the unlucky director for the gratification of the tabloid mob. Polanski was temporarily at large when he learned of the judge’s intentions, and prudently fled into exile in Europe.

Polanski was certainly guilty of a form of sexual misbehavior which, depending on the overall circumstances, can be prosecuted as a serious crime. But consensual sex with underage girls is only “rape” in a technical sense. Michelle Malkin is making a regrettable spectacle of herself striking ridiculous moralistic poses, calling Polanski a “perv,” and describing sensible persons disinclined to support wasting government time and resources on seeking pointless vengeance on an old man a generation after the fact “crime-coddling apologists.”

This kind of naive legal absolutism rests on a childish fantasy that human acts, their legal status, and the outcome of judicial proceedings are matters of black and white, that good people, like Michelle Malkin and the rest of us on the Right, are always in favor of enforcing the letter of the law. I’m not. Laws (like our immigration and drug laws) can be ill-considered. Courts are sometimes corrupt. They are sometimes mistaken. Laws can be wrongly or simply arbitrarily enforced. After 30 years, some laws are no longer worth enforcing, some cases are no longer worth punishing.

The young woman who had sex with Polanski, now middle-aged, has said publicly that she thought she was being exploited by the court at the time, that she forgives Polanski, and that she finds the idea of re-opening the case against him embarrassing to herself and her family. So whom do we need to be avenging?

Patterico
, who actually works at the same Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office has gone even more loco with the same law-and-order zealotry.

He is raving about a conflict of interest in Anne Applebaum editorializing in favor of clemency in a stale and aged case involving an internationally renowned artist who is elderly, who has made significant cultural contributions, and who has himself been more than once a victim of terrible injustices. Anne Applebaum, you see, is married to Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski. Polanski is a Pole, and Poland is protesting his arrest, so Patterico thinks her editorials need to be accompanied by a warning of undue influence from the Polish Government. Lord!

I personally think conservative righteousness, outrage, and pettyfogging argument is more appropriately reserved for graver issues than a case of Hollywood hanky-panky from thirty years in the past. And, until Utopia is achieved and we have a perfect legal system administered by angels, applying a flawless legal code in every case with precision accuracy and scrupulous evenhandedness, I think we can skip all the rah-rah law-and-order nonsense.

Sometimes the law is an ass. And the day the US undertook to extradite Roman Polanski over a roll in the hay that occurred during the opening days of the Consulship of Jimmy Carter is one of those times.

27 Sep 2009

Biotech Violin Wins Over Stradivarius

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Four modern violins by Michael Rhonheimer and one Stradivarius made in 1711

Material scientist Francis W.M.R. Schwarze believed that biotechnology could modify contemporary woods to possess the acoustic properties found in the centuries-old violins produced by masters of violin-making’s Golden Age.

Schwarze used varying amounts of fungal decay to modify the density of the woods used in two violins built by Michael Ronheimer. An acoustic tone test was then arranged at the annual Osnabrücker Baumpflegetagen (forestry conference).

English violinist Matthew Trusler would play the same piece on five violins, in a blind test including a Stradivarius worth two million dollars built in 1711, two Rhonheimer violins built of untreated wood, and two Rhonheimer violins built from wood subjected to varying amounts of decay.

Science Daily
reports the astonishing result: Schwarze’s biotech defeated the workmanship of Stradivarius.

Of the more than 180 attendees, an overwhelming number – 90 persons – felt the tone of the fungally treated violin “Opus 58” to be the best. Trusler’s stradivarius reached second place with 39 votes, but amazingly enough 113 members of the audience thought that “Opus 58” was actually the strad! “Opus 58” is made from wood which had been treated with fungus for the longest time, nine months.

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Francis W.M.R. Schwarze, et. al. Superior wood for violins – wood decay fungi as a substitute for cold climate

ABSTRACT:

Violins produced by Antonio Stradivari during the late 17th and early 18th centuries are reputed to have superior tonal qualities. Dendrochronological studies show that Stradivari used Norway spruce that had grown mostly during the Maunder Minimum, a period of reduced solar activity when relatively low temperatures caused trees to lay down wood with narrow annual rings, resulting in a high modulus of elasticity and low density.

The main objective was to determine whether wood can be processed using selected decay fungi so that it becomes acoustically similar to the wood of trees that have grown in a cold climate (i.e. reduced density and unchanged modulus of elasticity).

This was investigated by incubating resonance wood specimens of Norway spruce (Picea abies) and sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) with fungal species that can reduce wood density, but lack the ability to degrade the compound middle lamellae, at least in the earlier stages of decay.

Microscopic assessment of the incubated specimens and measurement of five physical properties (density, modulus of elasticity, speed of sound, radiation ratio, and the damping factor) using resonance frequency revealed that in the wood of both species there was a reduction in density, accompanied by relatively little change in the speed of sound. Thus, radiation ratio was increased from ‘poor’ to ‘good’, on a par with ‘superior’ resonance wood grown in a cold climate.

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It is possible to listen to this kind of comparison oneself. Ruggiero Ricci played the same opening of Bruch‘s Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26 (1866) on 15 important violins, including examples by Amati, Guarneri, and Stradivarius, on a record titled The Glory of Cremona, currently regrettably out-of-print and expensive.

But all 15 Ricci performances and 3 additions are available via YouTube vidoes, linked here.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

27 Sep 2009

Why Skepticism About Obamacare?

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The Barrister explains to our liberal friends why so many Americans are reluctant to believe a Government-run health system would be better.

I do not think it’s so much because people want freedom and choice (altho they do) as it is because people have no confidence in government entitlement programs (which the Dem plans are all about, ultimately). Why?

Social Security – bankrupt
Postal Service – bankrupt
Welfare – had devastating unintended consequences for which the nation still pays and from which the nation continues to suffer (eg huge rates – up to 70% – of single motherhood among beneficiaries)
Medicare – bankrupt
Medicaid – bankrupting the states
Government-run (ie union-controlled) schools: are people thrilled with them?
Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac – bankrupt
The “stimulus” – a failure, but it did create 25,000 new government jobs!

The future tax consequences of the above are daunting to people, and the idea of adding another trillion or so frightens the heck out of people who are thinking about their own well-being, their kids’ futures – and also about the nation’s. …

Abundant, high quality, and fairly expensive medical care is one of the great blessings and privileges of a prosperous society, and thus an important economic engine. Why kill it? People want these things.

Do Americans want to be grown-ups, or children? It’s our call.

My liberal classmates, I find, are simply members of a religious cult whose object of worship is the state. Everything enlarging state income, power, and authority is good. Anything you want done, just turn it over to the federal government.

The government is to them rather the the genie in the lamp. Want poverty eliminated? Want free health care for everyone? Want a perfect world? Just rub the lamp, let those democrats pass an appropriations bill, and voilà! your friendly government genie grants your wish.

They actually believe that the same government that buys $435 hammers, $640 toilet seats, and $7600 coffee makers, the same government whose lawmakers can neither read the healthcare bill they’re voting on or arrange to have it put on-line, is going to streamline delivery and make health care cheaper and more efficient. Pure insanity.

27 Sep 2009

Barack Obama’s Smile

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I knew it all along. Barack Obama is not a US citizen. He is a space alien, probably a robot. Eric Spiegelman has the proof. He compared 130 photos of Barack Obama posing with UN dignitaries at reception recently in this 0:21 video. Can that smile possibly be human?

26 Sep 2009

The California Trainwreck

How did a state with as many things going for it as California manage to go broke? Unions, Environmentalism, and a politics consisting of trying to have it both ways, Troy Senik explains.

California politics has given expression to the public’s contradictory political impulses. Liberals have won their campaign for bigger government and runaway spending, and conservatives have usually succeeded in keeping tax hikes at bay. The Golden State’s signature optimism may be to blame: How else to explain the delusion that Californians could be taxed like libertarians, but subsidized like socialists? The result, of course, has been a fiscal crisis addressed with slashed spending on public services and increased taxes in the midst of a deep recession — a recipe for yet more discord and trouble. In a grim irony, Californians are now being taxed like socialists and subsidized like libertarians.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

26 Sep 2009

America’s Few

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New USMC recruiting commercial.

Hat tip to Rich Duff.

26 Sep 2009

Email Humor of the Day

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25 Sep 2009

Smith & Wesson 686P Reviewed

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Smith & Wesson 686P

Hand gun enthusiast Nutnfancy has a new 43:22 video out.

Nutnfancy is a modernist, a semiauto guy really, the sort of person who wants a magazine with enough rounds to deal with an assaulting Zulu impi, who prefers double action shooting, and who wants a Picatinny rail to hang lights from on his guns, but this time he is reviewing the Smith & Wesson 686P, the S&W Performance Center L-frame .357 Magnum revolver with the 7-round cylinder.

He is an intelligent critic though and rather insightfully, I thought, recognizes the S&W 686P as Smith’s version of the much-admired, but unfortunately discontinued, Colt Python, and proceeds with a head to head comparison.

I am not especially interested in this model. I already own two other S&W .357s, but Nutnfancy does quality reviewing, and I found this one entertaining enough to watch anyway.

25 Sep 2009

“Dead Hand:” Soviet Doomsday Device Still in Operation

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Wired tells us Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964) film accurately predicted a system put on-line in 1985 by the Soviets that would assure an automatic Soviet response to a Western first strike.

The Cold War ended years ago, but apparently the Russians never turned off their Doomsday device.

Valery Yarynich glances nervously over his shoulder. Clad in a brown leather jacket, the 72-year-old former Soviet colonel is hunkered in the back of the dimly lit Iron Gate restaurant in Washington, DC. It’s March 2009—the Berlin Wall came down two decades ago—but the lean and fit Yarynich is as jumpy as an informant dodging the KGB. He begins to whisper, quietly but firmly.

“The Perimeter system is very, very nice,” he says. “We remove unique responsibility from high politicians and the military.” He looks around again.

Yarynich is talking about Russia’s doomsday machine. That’s right, an actual doomsday device—a real, functioning version of the ultimate weapon, always presumed to exist only as a fantasy of apocalypse-obsessed science fiction writers and paranoid über-hawks. The thing that historian Lewis Mumford called “the central symbol of this scientifically organized nightmare of mass extermination.” Turns out Yarynich, a 30-year veteran of the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces and Soviet General Staff, helped build one.

The point of the system, he explains, was to guarantee an automatic Soviet response to an American nuclear strike. Even if the US crippled the USSR with a surprise attack, the Soviets could still hit back. It wouldn’t matter if the US blew up the Kremlin, took out the defense ministry, severed the communications network, and killed everyone with stars on their shoulders. Ground-based sensors would detect that a devastating blow had been struck and a counterattack would be launched.

The technical name was Perimeter, but some called it Mertvaya Ruka, or Dead Hand. It was built 25 years ago and remained a closely guarded secret. With the demise of the USSR, word of the system did leak out, but few people seemed to notice. In fact, though Yarynich and a former Minuteman launch officer named Bruce Blair have been writing about Perimeter since 1993 in numerous books and newspaper articles, its existence has not penetrated the public mind or the corridors of power. The Russians still won’t discuss it, and Americans at the highest levels—including former top officials at the State Department and White House—say they’ve never heard of it. When I recently told former CIA director James Woolsey that the USSR had built a doomsday device, his eyes grew cold. “I hope to God the Soviets were more sensible than that.” They weren’t.

The system remains so shrouded that Yarynich worries his continued openness puts him in danger. He might have a point: One Soviet official who spoke with Americans about the system died in a mysterious fall down a staircase. But Yarynich takes the risk. He believes the world needs to know about Dead Hand. Because, after all, it is still in place.

Read the whole thing.

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