Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Music of "Amadeus" Part II

This is Part II of a three-part study of the use of music in Milos Foreman's 1984 film, Amadeus. You can find Part I here.

St. Stephen's Cathedral in Amadeus
actually St. Giles Church in Prague, Czech Republic.

Shortly after the premiere of Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Mozart marries Constanze Weber. Dated from this time (Summer 1782) is Mozart's C minor mass, the Kyrie of which sets the tone for Mozart's marriage. The use of this movement is simple but nonetheless effective. The insistent, limping four-note phrase in the strings in C minor creates a sense of the inexorable, a sense relevant in three respects. First, young Wolfgang is getting married without his father's consent. Second, Mozart's wife will gradually replace his father in terms of significance and influence over Mozart. Third, and most importantly, this new rift between father and son will prove the weakness Salieri exploits to sabotage his rival. This occasion that should be most happy is thus a source of inexplicable unease to the viewer unaware of Mozart's fate.

The image in the background is a reproduction of an actual painting
of Mozart in Verona at age 14, painted by Saverio dalla Rose, January 1770.
The original is in a private Parisian collection.

What follows is another simple yet effective combination of sight and sound. Mozart's new wife brings some of her husband's work to Salieri in the hopes that he, as court composer, could persuade Emperor Joseph to offer Mozart a lucrative position as royal tutor. Salieri, already amazed and intrigued that the music Constanze has brought are first editions, opens the folio and is simply overwhelmed by the music. Salieri narrates his shock at the seeming impossibility of the fact that he was looking at perfect drafts as the soundtrack plays the pieces. The choice of pieces and editing is brilliant. The soft, gentle duet between harp and flute of the concerto KV.299 starts to carry us away. . . and Salieri, desperate to see another piece, crashes the pages together to see another and turns to Symphony No. 29, (KV.201.) (The piano opening to the piece is actually skipped and we come in forte at measure thirteen.) He noisily turns the pages again to a stormy passage from the E-flat concerto for two pianos, then again to a charming violin theme from the Sinfonia concertante (KV.364), and finally back to the C minor Kyrie, amidst a soprano solo. Like Salieri, we have gone from delighted to overwhelmed to transfixed and Salieri, carried away in ecstasy by the Kyrie, loses himself and drops the pages in a sort of musical. . . fulfillment. Confused, Constanze asks if the music is not good and Salieri responds without hesitation and with exhausted honesty, "It is miraculous." Moments later when she asks for his help again Salieri is back to his calculating, envious self.

Another scene, while not necessary for the plot, adds much color and character to the film and is one of my favorites. Mozart tells off a boorish aristocrat who insults him, takes the bottle of champagne he servant brought, and walks off into the streets of the city in the afternoon. To the music of the rondo from Piano Concerto No. 15 Mozart strolls the streets with bottle in hand.

It is a typical day in Vienna, a garrison is coming through the square, merchants are selling their wares, people run errands, and street entertainers catch the fancies of passers by. (The dog on the ball, the fire-eater, and the bear were especially playful touches.) The piece has a certain casual urbanity to it and perfectly complements the pleasant busyness of the city. "Its refrain, given out by the piano and repeated by the tutti, which adds a long ritornello, is one of [Mozart's] most pleasing rondo themes, both fiery and graceful, and perfectly illustrative of the union of these two qualities which characterize Mozart's genius." [Girdlestone, 204]

The opening theme from the 3rd mvt. of Piano Concerto No. 15, KV.450. [2]

The ebullience of this scene and music are shattered when Mozart enters his apartment building and we are presented with Leopold to the tune of the "Don Giovanni chord." Why here? We don't yet know when we hear it this time. Surely Leopold was angry his son married without his consent, but why this sinister music? Leopold, cloaked in black and blotting out the light behind him, certainly seems a foreboding presence and indeed we are a little uneasy as Mozart runs with childlike trust into this character's grasp. Mozart is enveloped in his father's cloak as well as his embrace and this is an appropriate gesture as Leopold, for all his love, was a domineering father.

To Mozart though, this is just a pleasant visit from Papa and so it is time to celebrate, which they do with a party. First, though, they pick their costumes out to the Janissary march from Die Entführung. This music is actually an arrangement, sans words, of Mozart's march, and perfectly complements the joyful haste with which Mozart and his wife, though not the reluctant Leopold, pick out their costumes. It also plays right into a similar piece, an arrangement of Mozart's song Ich möchte wohl Der Kaiser sein, a swaggering little "war song" which serves as the music to their game of musical chairs.

A scene not unlike Mozart's afternoon walk through town follows. Likewise, this rondo from Piano Concerto No. 22 (KV.482) is something of a cousin to the spirited rondo heard earlier. Girdlestone's description of the opening heard here so succinct it bears repeating:
The refrain of the rondo is a stiffer version of that of the B-flat concerto, K.450, but it is more of a dance than a gallop. The piano gives out the first part and the tutti repeat it. The second half belongs exclusively to the piano and a longish transition, braced by woodwind and horn calls, brings back the first part. This is the usual ABA design of rondo refrains. A very long ritornello follows it, the chief elements of which are an alternating motif, given out by clarinet and bassoon, and an active figure, quivering with the bassoon, chirping with the flute, which plays a part later on.

The piano's entry in the second couplet is more arresting than usual.  It is preceded by nearly three bars where the silence is broken only by chords in the strings, lightly repeated, and when it occurs the piano does not start with a well-market theme but with a faltering figure. . . all the clearer for being followed, as the piano grows bolder, [by a demisemiquaver figure played in the bass then treble], on the vaultings of which the solo instrument sets sail for its first cruise. [Girdlestone, 361]
This tuneful, playful-yet-regal piece starts out as background music to Mozart and his wife setting out in carriage for one of his outdoor concerts, then switches to diegetic as he plays and conducts it, and then shifts back to background music for Salieri's snooping in Mozart's apartment. Like its cousin-scene earlier, this one offers a little glimpse into Mozart's work routine and daily life in 18th century Vienna.

I will refrain from commenting much on the productions of Figaro and Axur in the film as Salieri's narration over the former is self-explanatory. Likewise, the contrast between the two pieces is easily perceptible. The former is a work of groundbreaking brilliance that fails at the box-office and the latter is a competent but uninspired work praised beyond all reason. We know Salieri's seething envy toward Mozart is not assuaged by the emperor's praise and his shiny medal. In fact the medal becomes a constant symbol of his mediocrity. Similarly, his inability to produce something completely new is subtly emphasized by the fact that as his opera pales before Mozart's, likewise has Mozart already had the leading lady and moved on.

The finale of Axur, re d'Ormus ("Axur, King of Ormus.")

[1] Girdlestone, Cuthbert. Mozart and his Piano Concertos. 1964. Dover Publications, Inc. New York, NY.

[2] Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus. Piano Concerto No. 15, KV.450. (Score.) IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library.,_K.450_%28Mozart,_Wolfgang_Amadeus%29

Monday, October 19, 2009

Movie Review: Hero

Directed by Yimou Zhang. 2002.

There seem to be two types of reactions to Yimou Zhang’s Hero, those who ignore the content altogether and simply see it as a beautiful and elegant visual feast and those who see it as either pro or anti communist.  I do not think either of those critical approaches is particularly useful, partially because the word “communism,” like many others, is the victim of verbicide. The word can refer generally to communal living, to socialism, to Marxism, or to the current Chinese communist party.  Now I do not wish to get lost in that forest of meaningless words and thus will attempt to consider the actual implications of the film and then decide on what to call it. Such implications may or may not be explicitly political.

Most of the matters to discuss occur in the last twenty minutes of the film.  The first is some advice offered Nameless:  “The people have suffered years of warfare.  Only the King of Qin can stop the chaos by uniting all under Heaven."  Nameless continues to say that, “He asked me to abandon the assassination for the greater good of all.  He said, one person's suffering is nothing compared to the suffering of many.  The rivalry of Zhao and Qin is trivial  compared to the greater cause.”  The king is brought to tears by the fact that his archenemy understood his “beneficent” motives so well when his own advisors did not.  This is the essential message of the film, that it is a noble thing to sacrifice oneself for the greater good.  Of all the messages of the film that are open to interpretation, this one is not.  The film’s American-release title (“Hero”) encourages this theme, as does the epilogue, which states that, “the nameless warrior was executed as an assassin but buried as a hero.”

The film does not address any details or potential problems associated with the notion of, “sacrifice for the greater good.”  Mainly, what is the good?  Who decides what it is?  By what authority do they?  What about people who do not want that “good?”  Do they vote on the good? Individual rights? What about the sacrifice of more than one?  Is there a limit, or threshold when the number of sacrificed becomes too many?  These questions are not entertained, but the answer is that it is ultimately the emperor who decides all of those things.

Yet two additional characteristics of the character, “Nameless” are worthy of note, his name (or rather lack thereof) and his excellence.  His lack of a unique name makes him symbolic of all of the Chinese people of all time who have died for the national unity or improvement of China.  The film is a glorification of selfless and altruistic sacrifice.   The hero’s excellence is also of great importance, since he is not simply a citizen but also the best swordsman in the land.  Yet his death is necessary for the unification to continue.  Did he in fact have to die?  Did Broken Sword and Flying Snow have to die?  Not really, but for the sake of the story’s significance they did.  While nameless could have simply gone into exile, he had to sacrifice himself to become the hero.  While Broken Sword could have gone on with his life, he had to sacrifice himself to prove his love for Flying Snow, as she had to do to prove it to him.  Yet Nameless was the greatest warrior in the land and he had to die for the warring Chinese states to become one land.  The situation, though, is slightly more complicated than that since Nameless first not only dissented but also attempted to assassinate the king, then agreed to the king’s plan.  The king’s advisors warn him, “If your majesty is to unite the land this man has to be made and example of.”  Based strictly on the internal evidence of the movie, we have to assume that Nameless was killed not because he was the best or because he dissented, but only because he attempted to kill the king. 

The next passage we must discuss is the king’s analysis of Broken Sword’s philosophy of swordsmanship:
King of Qin:  It's just dawned on me!  This scroll of Broken Sword's isn't about sword technique but about swordsmanship's ultimate ideal.  Swordsmanship's first achievement is the unity of man and sword.  Once this unity is attained even a blade of grass can be a weapon.  The second achievement is when the sword exists in one's heart then absent from one's hand.  One can strike an enemy at paces even with bare hands.  Swordsmanship's ultimate achievement is the absence of the sword in both hand and heart.  The swordsman is at peace with the rest of the world.  He vows not to kill and to bring peace to mankind.
There are two possible interpretations of this passage.  The first is that this is a longer and more attractive way of saying that the ultimate goal of war is peace.  The second is that in the act of practicing swordsmanship one learns the nature of the world and that its nature is peace.  This second interpretation suggests that the study of swordsmanship is the study of self in relation to others and that such study will yield the understanding that peace is the natural way.  This seems not to have been the interpretation of Nameless and the king, since Nameless says, “Because of my decision today many will die, and your majesty will go one living.  A dead man begs you never to forget the ultimate ideal for a warrior.”  This statement suggests he interprets Sword’s words to mean while peace is the ultimate ideal, it can be brought about by killing.  Actually, the implication is broader, since the king intends not simply to kill those who quarrel and war but any who refuse to be a part of the nation he is trying to build and any who jeopardize it.  Additionally, it suggests a fundamental hypocrisy in the king’s (and country’s) founding premises.  It is as if to say, “We acknowledge this to be our fundamental premise, but we are not going to act on it when it is inconvenient.” 

Now we must ask two interconnected questions.  Does nameless fulfill the hero’s ideal, and which interpretation of Sword’s philosophy does the film promote?  To answer the first question, Nameless does fulfill the ideal you consider the king “uniting the peoples” to be peace.  The fact that the epilogue includes the details about how King Qin Shi Huang went on to unify the warring states into China and build the great wall, “to protect his subjects,” but not his tyrannical rule, his burning of books and scholars, and his attempt to eradicate Confucianism, makes the film an espousal of Qin’s interpretation of Sword’s philosophy.  So is answered, I think, the second question and thus I write espousal because even if the epilogue had addressed the negative aspects of Qin’s rule, the film could still have concluded, “Yes he went on to do evil, but he made us a nation.  We at least appreciate him for that even if we deplore his tyranny.”  That might have sapped the strength of the end of the movie, but it would have been more honest.  If the movie is to be understood as directed toward people who have an understanding of Chinese history and Qin’s subsequent tyranny, then the final scene would leave the viewer with the effect of, “My God, what he went on to do. . .”  Yet I do not believe this is so, since the effect could have been achieved with a long fade and then an epilogue mentioning the events of the rest of his reign which are deliberately left out.

What do we call these ideas, then?  Overall, the film for all of its beauty is about sacrifice for the greater good, the primacy of the group over the individual, and the right of some to define and impose that good on others.  Such ideas are altruist, collectivist and autocratic/oligarchic.  I care not whether you call Hero specifically communist, though it would be appropriate since the film entertains the same logical and moral contradictions.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Around the Web

For the week of Saturday, October 10 through Friday, October 15.

First, a bevy of book reviews:

1) Adam Fleisher at City Journal reviews, False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World by Alan Beattie.
Beattie wryly notes, it’s not government that picks winners, but “losers that somehow manage to pick government.”
This observation is inconsistent with Beattie’s declaration that “countries have choices, and those choices have substantially determined whether they succeeded or failed.” People make choices. Economies evolve; they do not require an intelligent designer. The true surprise of False Economy is that the examples Beattie provides of countries—really, governments—making conscious choices about the direction or nature of the economy constitute a sad collection of stifled growth, misallocated resources, and missed opportunities. With the United States government currently embarked on a new and unprecedented project of consciously “transforming” the economic future of our country, False Economy is a timely cautionary tale.
2) Author Allan Massie reviews the second volume of Robert Harris' "Cicero Trilogy," Lustrum (due out November 24th.) Massie concludes with high praise:
This is a magnificent novel, better than Robert Graves's Claudius novels, better (I reluctantly admit) than the six books of my own Imperial sequence.
3) Paul Johnson at Standpoint reviews the great John Keegan's latest work, The American Civil War: A Military History.

4) At the WSJ, Martin Rubin reviews Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, which brings us back to someone we discussed earlier in the week, Thomas Cromwell.

5) Also at the WSJ, Mark Lamster offers a selection from his book, Master of Shadows: The Secret Diplomatic Career of the Painter Peter Paul Rubens.


6) Ben Shapiro at Big Hollywood makes some good observations about the White House's new art.

7) Harry Stein at City Journal discusses "The Boys Who Cry Racism." From the essay:
Genuine racism is a terrible thing, and for far too long it was a virulent strain running through our national life. This is so patently obvious that it scarcely bears repeating. . .
But those liberals who’ve lately been issuing the racism charge so promiscuously (speaking of aberrant hearts and minds) are aiming it not at skinheads living in their parents’ basements or at would-be Klansmen, but at decent Americans with the temerity to object to presidential policies that they believe would damage both the quality of their lives and the nation itself: in short, at Americans acting in the best tradition of democratic citizenship.
8) At Capitalism Magazine, Walter Williams calls undergraduate grade finagling what it is–academic dishonesty.

9) Finland made "1mb broadband access a legal right." I don't even know where to start with that one.

10) Soprano Danielle De Niese discusses her career, performing, and devouring Le nozze di Figaro. (De Niese is currently performing the role of Susanna in the Metropolitan Opera's production of Figaro.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Music of "Amadeus" Part I

As readers may be aware, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is held in especially high esteem in this corner of the internet. In my short piece on The Magic Flute I mentioned in passing Milos Forman's 1984 film Amadeus and in the future I'll be posting (in parts) a somewhat lengthy review of it.

Today, though, I would like to highlight one aspect of the film: its music. More specifically I plan to discuss why and how the use of music in this film is so spectacularly successful.  Sir Neville Marriner, who conducted the music for Amadeus, accurately expressed the reason in saying, "My main concern in Amadeus is that the music be presented faultlessly, not just technically, but as the perfect complement to what is on the screen. You can't cut the music to the film. One of the good things about Amadeus is that the film was shot around the music–not the other way around as is usually the case."

To elaborate on that, the music in this film does not simply pop in with a series of cameos. We do not have a scene of drama followed by a musical interlude, nor do we have music as simply background atmosphere.  In contrast, we have an almost constant and always appropriate musical presence in the film. Sometimes it is diegetic (i.e. actually produced in the world of the film) as when Mozart is playing at the piano or conducting an opera.  Other times it is laid over the film either as complement or contrast to the drama. As writer Peter Shaffer said, the music became a character in the story. Indeed. Mozart's music, his genius, is a constant hovering presence in Amadeus. In some sequences the use of the music is complicated and in others relatively simple. Let us look at some examples in the order they appear in the film.

The opening is one of the most complicated scenes and one in which the music is tied most closely to the material on screen. The terrifying first chords of Don Giovanni open Amadeus against a black screen giving way to shots of a snowy Viennese night. This musical phrase becomes a motive in the film. Its first appearance associates itself with Mozart's death, since we hear it as an elderly Salieri cries out and admits to killing Mozart. We are then treated to a relatively lighthearted moment where Salieri's bumbling servants try to entice him out of his room where he has locked himself. Perhaps he did not kill Mozart.  Is Salieri simply a kook? The servant breaks down the door and the opening of the "little" G minor Symphony (No. 25, KV. 183) bursts in forte and hammers out an insistent five-note phrase as we struggle to see why Salieri sits on the floor hunched over. Salieri falls back, hands and neck bloodied and with a razor in his hand. Like his servants we look on aghast and confused as a fierce and frantic arpeggiated phrase takes over. As the phrase is repeated in the music the camera cuts back and forth between Salieri and his horrified servants. As he is taken out in a stretcher the violins yield the foreground to the winds who try to hold the suspense with half notes piano.  They hold it and hold it as the men carry their ungainly cargo through the snowy streets until the winds conclude pianissimo and we finally get the title card.

Music and film take off once again with tremolos in the second violin and viola and the descending element of our arpeggiated phrase returns ,alternating between the first violin and the basses. As the delirious Salieri is carried he glances about and into the windows of the buildings, glimpsing a dance party. The scenes are then intercut between Salieri's delirium and the party-goers. This music is all diegetic and thus inaudible to the characters, but at this moment the line is blurred and the difference becomes important. The music continues to play just the same but the visual context changes: what is buoyant and strong in one moment (for the dancers) is sinister for Salieri. Poisoned by envy and distraught that he killed Mozart, the music is instead a source of pain. (This is likely only noticeable on a second viewing of the film.)

We see several shots of the dancers, but surely Salieri only glimpsed it for a moment. Perhaps he is imagining them, recalling a happier time when music was still beautiful to him. The music continues with tremulous strings doubled every other measure by the winds until we get a lighter theme piano followed by a return to the opening theme that fades out as Fr. Vogler arrives as Salieri's guest at the asylum.

In the asylum Fr. Vogler disappoints Salieri with his inability to recall a single tune of the once famous composer. Salieri begins to conduct and relive the time when he was considered "the brightest start in our musical firmament." We cut back to the late 1780s and see Madame Cavalieri, Salieri's favorite leading lady, performing in his most famous work, Axur, re d'Ormus ("Axur, King of Ormus") and then we cut back to Salieri in the asylum.

Soon after, Salieri recounts his first meeting with his idol, when Mozart came to Vienna to play at the Viennese palace of his patron, the Archbishop of Salzbourg. Played in the scene is a folk gypsy tune, Bubak and Hungaricus, that creates an exotic atmosphere. Playing a game with himself, Salieri walks amongst the visitors at the palace trying to find out which of of the young men is Mozart. Does such talent show on the face? Thus Salieri is on a bit of an expedition here, one which culminates when he is lured by his sweet tooth into the reception room. He is followed by a young couple flirtatiously playing and he ducks behind a table to get out of sight (and continue observing them.) Hearing some music being played several rooms away, the young man soon departs for they are playing his music without him. To Salieri's astonishment, the young man is Mozart! The exotic music leading to that scene and the silly behavior give way to one of Mozart's most subtle and sublime pieces, the adagio of his Serenade No. 10 in B-flat, "Gran Partita." Salieri goes on to describe to his confessor the beauty of the music.

Later, when Mozart is invited to the emperor's palace, Salieri composes a modest march of welcome for the visiting musician. The emperor, enthusiastic about music but spastic at the keyboard, insists on playing Salieri's little march, an act for which Salieri feigns deep honor. An ungainly little march by itself, the piece suffers more at the hands of the emperor. As Mozart approaches the two guards escorting Mozart are told to walk slowly to give the emperor time to practice, thus they lead Mozart too slowly for the sprightly march making the whole scene even more awkward. In wonderful little touches to demonstrate how banal the tune really is, Mozart stops to scratch his leg while walking and when he enters, greets the librarian as the emperor. At the end of the scene the emperor gives Mozart the sheet music of the little march and Mozart casually refuses it since he has the piece memorized already. Curious and playful, the emperor asks him to play it. As the emperor looks at the sheet music, Mozart not only plays the piece but unthinkingly blurts out "it doesn't really work does it?" and begins improvising, turning it into Figaro's vigorous march from the end of Act I of "Le nozze di Figaro" as listeners pile in, the emperor looks on approvingly, the opera director looks aghast, and Salieri looks on with thinly repressed envy.

The last scene I wish to look at in this Part I discussion is the production of Die Entführung aus dem Serail, (The ("Abduction from the Seraglio.") Mostly self-explanatory, the scene begins with a brilliant edit from Salieri's music room in which he is flirting with and teaching his favorite leading lady, Katerina Cavalieri. At the keyboard Salieri gazes at her with both frustrated longing and joy at the purity of this songbird practicing her scales. The scene cuts right into the production of Die Entführung and Constanze's scales in her Act II aria "Martern aller Arten" and Salieri looks on, furious and betrayed, as his favorite leading lady, now a "greedy songbird," sings Mozart's "ghastly scales." Foreman and Schaffer elected for Mozart's two singspiel's, Die Entführung and Die Zauberflöte, to translate the German into English. It is not at all distracting, but I am not sure how necessary or effective it was either, since it is still rather difficult for someone unfamiliar with the text to understand. The scene concludes with a full and beautiful production of the opera's finale, a great vaudeville. This is the perfect piece to characterize a very happy time in Mozart's life.

Just to draw a little attention to the breadth and depth of Amadeus I would like to note that the scene I just described contains 1) a full orchestra playing the music, 2) a fully staged version of the finale, 3) an opera house full of period-specific costume extras, and 4) descending candle-lit chandeliers.  All of that for just a ten minute scene in a three-plus hour movie.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out.

With apologies for the lateness of this post on this 13th of October, I would like to take a moment to note the anniversary of the death of the Roman Emperor Claudius, not generally but with a specific point in mind. To that end, here is a scene from Episode X of the 1977 BCC series I, Claudius.  The newly elected emperor addresses some senators:

A few quotes:

Senator: Your appoint is unconstitutional.
Claudius: I agree, but there are 4,000 praetorian guards who do not. And who created the praetorian guard? You did, during the reign of Augustus.

Another Senator: Nonetheless, it is against the constitution for anyone but the senate to appoint an emperor.
Claudius: And it is also against the constitution to murder one! And if you hadn't done so Marcus we shouldn't be in this absurd position!

Claudius: It is true I have little experience of government, but then have you more? I at least have lived with the imperial family who have ruled this empire ever since you so spinelessly handed it over to us.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Movie Review: A Man For All Seasons

Directed by Fred Zinnemann. 1966.

Has cinema ever offered a more noble character than Thomas More? Often first considered as a saint, theologian, scholar, philosopher, or simply as a historical figure, in A Man For All Seasons he is the hero. Yet rarely has an hero been of such great intellect, wit, austerity, faith, and outright cleverness. A Man For All Seasons, though, is not about Henry VIII’s court intrigues, 16th century politics, or issues of Catholic theology, rather it is about one man’s unwillingness to compromise his most sacred beliefs.

The greatest irony, though, is that while More dies in the end, he unquestionably dominates each and every scene. Not only is More a man of profound scholarship, but his scholarship is ever on the tip of his tongue, and what a sharp tongue it is! Early in the film when an aging Cardinal Wolsey attempts to compliment More’s logic and attention detail by telling him he should have been a cleric, More replies, “Like yourself, Your Grace?” In the simplest, and most defensible, of replies More has cut to the heart of the issue, which is that Wolsey is more politician than priest, that his first allegiance is in fact to King Henry and not to God.  More did not have to say this overtly nor did he have explicitly to condemn Wolsey for planning to pressure the church with land confiscation and taxation, but in explaining his machinations Wolsey left himself open to the criticism.  Yet Wolsey was used to dealing with the Machiavellian Cromwell and his like who would discuss such deceits freely, and not More, who for his intractable stance Wolsey urges to, “come down to Earth.”

Yet it is More’s profound intelligence and erudition which puts the bite in his wit. He has great knowledge not only of the law, his trade, but also of philosophy and theology. Education is of extreme importance to More, who calls it a “precious commodity” when his devoted but simple wife asks why he does not beat his daughter and he replies that it would, “beat the education out of her.” Also, instead of offering Master Richard Rich one of the political appointments he so desires, he repeatedly encourages him to take up a teaching position. Yet Rich is himself not uneducated and early on he quotes Aristotle, saying that if a man raises his status in life it is because he was born into one too low for him. This brings the room in More’s home to silence, since it is clear that Rich does not use his education for any noble humanistic or spiritual purpose, but rather as a tool to advance his political status. He selectively uses his education to justify his desire for power. Likewise, King Henry has a great knowledge of theological matters, but he chooses to use it simply for his convenience.  Like Rich, Henry is not using his intellect to discover the natural and transcendental laws in order to live justly, but rather to “discover” only those which allow him to live as he wishes. Henry is able to quote ancient scripture in Leviticus to try to explain why his marriage to Catherine was in fact not a marriage (because she was the widow of Henry’s brother), but he conveniently disregards the fact that pope has authority in the matter, authority that cannot be put aside when inconvenient. Even More’s hotheaded son-in-law is guilty of this crime of convenience, albeit to a lesser degree. The young William Roper, disgusted with the selling of indulgences by the Catholic Church, apostatized and became a passionate Lutheran. While he realized that certain portions of the church and certain practices needed reform, he neglected to realize that, for people of the Catholic faith, there are portions that cannot ever be forsaken.  When Roper again changes his mind and returns to the church, More replies, “We must just pray that when your head's finished turning your face is to the front again.”  Yet while we are sure he means this wholeheartedly, we also know More understands that Roper’s changes of heart are due more to the enthusiasm of youth than to any malice like that of Cromwell.

Indeed it is ultimately Cromwell who is charged by Henry with the task of bringing down More, and the task is ultimately a contest of legal understanding. In this contest More is unquestionably better armed. He has taken every precaution, never voicing an explicitly dissenting opinion so no one can testify against him, forbidding others from saying treasonous things to him so he cannot be found guilty by association, even retaining second (and witnessed) copies of letters to make sure he cannot be misquoted. While More has refused to sign a document declaring legal the marriage of King Henry and Anne Boleyn because the document also declared that the pope had not the authority in the matter, he also refused to say why he would not sign it. There was nothing anyone could do to More, in the name of the law, anyway. All anyone could allege is that he would not sign it, which is of course not a crime. More had cloaked himself in the laws of the land and the only ways Henry and Cromwell could get to him were by tearing down those laws. In one of the film’s greatest lines More says to the naïve Roper, when the young man says he would tear down any law to imprison the devil,
And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted with laws from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's, and if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the wind that would blow then? Yes, I give the Devil benefit of law for my own safety's sake.
When More is walking home from being questioned by Cromwell and having ended his friendship with Norfolk a great wind blows. The laws are about to be cut.

Yet even with all of their political power Henry and Cromwell cannot bring down Thomas by themselves. Henry is still allegedly constrained by his conscience, which makes perjuring himself or torturing Thomas out of the question. Cromwell himself is too high up the poll directly to do anything as it would be too obvious a crime. They need someone flexible, someone unknown, someone who can be bought and they find that in Richard Rich. Make no mistake either, Rich knows precisely the character of the man he is dealing with in getting involved with Cromwell, which is why he so desperately courted the favor of Thomas, “If only you knew how much, much rather, I had your help than his.” Yet Thomas, perceiving Rich’s weakness, tries to encourage him toward a life where he will not be tempted by riches and fame. Yet we know the venal Rich will take the bait when he replies to mores offer, “If I was [ a teacher], who would know it?” More, whose life centers around his faith, family, and friends,replies, “You! Your pupils. Your friends.” After Rich has taken Cromwell’s bribe and comments how he has just lost his innocence, Cromwell, who also knows Rich’s weakness and that in his heart Rich was always willing to sell himself, says, “Some time ago. Have you only just noticed?"

In the final courtroom scene More’s wit and intellect is in full form, although he is physically too weak to stand, having deteriorated in jail for months. Of course he is in full form, though. You see, More has already understood the entire matter from the very beginning. He spent his whole life studying the law and theology, he knew the natures of the people he was dealing with and he had all of the facts. As such, he was able to consider every possible permutation of the events and he knew, ultimately, that they would have to break the law to get at him. He just did not know how. He continues to outwit Cromwell when the minister attempts to persuade the jury that More’s silence must be construed as opposition and More reminds the court that the legal precept is qui tacet consentire, meaning in fact that if Thomas’ silence is to be construed at all, it must be construed as consent, not dissent. More also reminds the court that while they may think they know his opinion, that his opinion is not a matter of fact or record and thus is not proven.  He says, “The world must construe according to its wits.  This court must construe according to the law.”

What More was not able to fathom, though, was just how low Rich was willing to stoop for power and glory. To Thomas it is truly an unconscionable betrayal Rich has perpetrated. Here he is about to be executed for following his convictions and there stands Rich, well dressed and well fed, rewarded for betraying his. The betrayal is indeed a betrayal of self more than of friend and country. With great disappointment and sadness More tells Rich, “It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world, but for Whales?” It is More’s self and soul that he goes to death to protect. Far from selling it as Rich did, he could not even tarnish it for the friendship of Norfolk, the affection of his daughter, or the love of his wife. It causes great pain to Thomas when he has to end his friendship with Norfolk “for friendship’s sake.” Of course they are not real enemies, but they had to have a show of a fight to give the appearance that they are so. Norfolk in fact laughs quite happily as More makes an ass of Cromwell in court.

Yet the worst wounds are inflicted by the losses of his wife and daughter and the fact that he was about to die without them really understanding why he had to.  At their last meeting he looks at Margaret with both joy and sadness, joy that she inherited his love of knowledge, keen intellect, and his “moral squint,” but sadness because she is still too young to understand as she tries to guilt her father into capitulating by wounding him in saying how the family does not read any longer in the evening since they have no candles. This is a triple wound for Thomas, since it represents not only the deterioration of his family, but also the deterioration of its intellectual life and that it is his fault too. His wife, Alice, thoroughly does not understand and while she is devout in her faith she is unschooled and, in fact, illiterate. Yet her final gesture to her husband is one of great love as she says, “And if any one wants to know my opinion of the King and his Council he only has to ask for it!” As her husband is to be murdered for his beliefs, she would gladly share hers if it would get her killed along with him. Yet it is as King Henry admitted, that it is because Thomas More is not only honest, but known to be honest that his opinion matters. Hers, as a woman and an uneducated one at that, does not. (Although Thomas tells Alice, Margaret, and Roper to flee the country anyway, fearing they may be executed just to ensure the affair is finished once and for all.) Yet to his death Thomas goes, untainted and untarnished, to protect his innermost self, that “single sinew that serves no appetite,” that most unique part created by God and that loves only God.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Around the Web

For the week of Saturday, October 3 through Friday, October 9.

1) A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Craft, Imagination and Renaissance Wisdom by Alvin Holm at
The Newington-Cropsey Cultural Studies Center.  From the essay:
My contention is that the Renaissance Wisdom, imported from the classical past and delivered to the future we inhabit today, is largely conveyed through a craft tradition, parallel but not completely independent from the monastic and university channels which are most frequently credited.

2) The New Criterion reviews A New Literary History of America, noting that it "is only incidentally concerned with literature" and overall, it is about. . .
the left-wing politically correct worldview in which literature, in which cultural endeavor generally, exists only as a prop in a “progressive” political agenda. Harvard University Press should be ashamed.

3) Discussing a horrible event as reported in The Guardian, Theodore Dalrymple points out a disturbing trend:
The Guardian’s article appears to accept that such behavior, so long as it targets a member of an unprotected group, is merely undesirable—“anti-social” rather than obviously criminal. The rule of law is fast evaporating in Britain; we are coming to live in a land of men, not of laws.

4) In an essay in the New English Review, Dalrymple also discusses how. . .
The desire to blur limits and boundaries, in order to overturn society, has long marked out a certain kind of leftist. Because in social phenomena there are always borderline cases, they wish to undermine the very idea of categories. They are like people who would deny that anyone is tall because there is a fine gradation between tallest and shortest. Thus, because some things were considered crimes that are so considered no longer, and some things that were once legal that are now deemed criminal, they deny that the crime is anything other that an arbitrary social construction. A criminal is someone who merely has difficulty in his relations with society as some men have difficulties in their relations with their wives (and vice versa). What more natural, therefore, than that they should all attend the same day care centre, where they will be cured of their difficulties by psychological means?

5) From Maxwell's House of Books via Diversity Lane, the wisest words on the latest sordid tale from Hollywood:
Regrettably, this small, sordid suburb of Los Angeles is one of the world’s most powerful molders of “public sentiment”, and the recently focused attention on acclaimed director Roman Polanski should serve to remind us of of this fact. Over the years, movies have increasingly relied on the extreme, the perverse and the profane to sell themselves. But this is far from being the mere commercial exploitation of controversially “racy” material by cynical, yet otherwise bourgeois studio execs who “know better.” It is, rather, a clear reflection of the morally denuded minds of its makers–the producers and directors–those unwitting, third-hand consumers and distributors of the philosophical corrosives contrived by Rousseau, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger, Sorel, Sartre, Foucault, Derrida, et al. For over one hundred years, their destructive ideas have filtered down from academe and into popular culture. What “lesson” did they teach? Primarily, that truth and morality have no objective, universal content, and are nothing more than the arbitrary expressions of cultural bias, or the individual’s will to dominate. Thus, for their disciples, it followed that to free oneself from the fetters of traditional morality was to undertake a bold adventure in self-discovery, liberation and “progressive” thinking.

6) James Pierson at The New Criterion discusses President Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize:
In attempting to intervene so obviously in U.S. politics, the Nobel panel is taking the risk that its prizes will be discredited as nakedly political or that its awardees will come to be viewed in America as toadies of the European left, as some of them (Jimmy Carter and Al Gore) already are. Recent awards have raised eyebrows in the United States regarding the motives behind them, but this one may prove to be a real eye-opener.  In the terms of international politics, the Nobel committee is trying to use; its "soft power" (it has no hard power) to reward its allies and rebuke its adversaries in the United States. That tactic will work only so long as it does not become too obvious—and with this award it appears that the Nobel committee has overworked its message.

7) Alfred Brendel discusses music, his retirement, and his poetry.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Revolutionary Education

I love books and I even enjoy studying, but I hated school. I had been trying to get out of the sordid ordeal since I was three and was wholly unsuccessful. My eighteen-year-long education was a good one by any current standard and I came out of it quite alright, but my own experiences and observations have led me to the conclusion that our educational system is quite broken. This is an observation even the politicians and talking heads on the television share and as another president has come to office more educational "reform" is upon us. Unfortunately this plan is the same as the last: throwing money at the problem. This may be a satisfactory solution for someone who measures his success with opinion polls and newspaper column inches, but anyone concerned with the financial, economic, intellectual, and cultural well-being of the nation is bound to be disappointed.

Yet President Obama’s educational reforms share another trait with those of his predecessor, and this one is a philosophical trait: egalitarianism.  President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind Act,” told us that if we just test our children over and over again. . . well actually I cannot make any more sense of the law than that. President Obama’s program would make sure everyone could go to college and that. . . again, I am at a bit of a loss. Clearly, simply having standards and spending money cannot help a child learn, and simply paying for kids to go to college will not get them through. Yet we are told every child can, and must.

Let us tackle that first notion: that everyone can learn a given piece of knowledge. The theory that every child has some ability, some intelligence which can be tapped is the notion of Harvard Professor Howard Gardiner and which is known in academia as “The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.” This is, as you may guess, in contrast to the notion of a single intelligence element, often referred to as “g” (little “g.”) In an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Christopher Ferguson cuts to the point: there is little evidence to support “multiple intelligences” and much to support a unified one. The theory persists, though, because it is politically correct. Every parent likes to think that his or her child can succeed and the multiple intelligences theory, essentially an egalitarian philosophy and not an empirically proven observation, allows them to indulge that pleasant potential. When the student does poorly, it is not the child’s fault for being dim, it the system’s fault for failing him or the teacher’s fault for being unable to tap into his hidden genius. Often also off the table are external factors like the environment of the home and the priorities of the family.  The child is to be dropped off at school and picked up smarter, sort of an educational Martinizing.

I do not know from whence it came or when this notion took root in our educational system but its effects are apparent.  I can say, though, that two of our most educated and illustrious Founding Fathers, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, opposed the notion while still being passionate advocates for education. Indeed both men saw it as a bulwark of democratic society and culture. Adams summed its necessity best, writing in his diary at age 25, “I must judge for myself, but how can I judge, how can any man judge, unless his mind has been opened and enlarged by reading?” (McCullough, 223)  This belief ran so deep that both men saw education as an institution that must be coded into the law. Author of the Massachusetts Constitution, Adams wrote the following into Section II of Chapter 6 of the document:
Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people being necessary or the preservation of their rights and liberties; and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people. . . (McCullough, 222)
It is also important to recognize that in the draft of the Massachusetts Constitution he penned, he described men as, “born equally free and independent” and it was the state legislature that changed it to “born free and equal.” (McCullough, 224) Men were equal under the law and equal in God’s eyes, but not equal in ability. Whatever the legislature the thought, they preferred Jefferson’s turn of phrase. But what did Jefferson mean?  I concur with Malone, that “The natural equality he talked about was not that of intellectual endowment, but as Lincoln so clearly perceived, he proclaimed for all time the dignity of human nature.” (Malone, 228)

Jefferson still of course believed in the value and necessity of an educated public, so much that he made proposals for a system for his own state of Virgina. It was to consist of a low-level education provided free for all [white] children, to which parents could continue to send their children beyond the norm, but for a fee, and a higher-level school funded mostly by the parents. “Only the youths of great native ability raked from the rubbish annually," and subjected thereafter to a specified process of elimination, were to be supported by the State. A final survivor of the competition was to be sent annually to the College of William and Mary, at the charge of the Commonwealth.” (Malone, 282) In “Notes on Virginia” Jefferson summarized his ideas:
. . . The ultimate result of the whole scheme of education would be the teaching all the children of the State reading, writing, and common arithmetic; turning out ten annually of superior genius, well taught in Greek, Latin, geography, and the higher branches of arithmetic; turning out ten others annually, of still superior parts, who, to those branches of learning, shall have added such of the sciences as their genius shall have led them to; the furnishing to the wealthier part of the people convenient schools at which their children may be educated at their own expense. (Malone, 283)
Jefferson believed, as did Adams, that ability to some extent varies.  It is not absent from or endemic to any particular economic or social group, it simply varies from individual to individual. Those individuals with intelligence, the intellectual aristocracy, had to be charged with the tasks of society only they could fill. So great was Jefferson’s belief that some men be found who were able to guard “the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens” that he sought to “make higher schooling available without charge to selected youths of marked native ability who would emerge from the unprivileged groups,” that society may not “leave the public welfare dependent on the accidental circumstances of wealth or birth.” (Malone, 282) Today, Jefferson would be skewered by every progressive activist and special interest group for using the word “rubbish” and suggesting there exists some innate aristocracy. Yet Jefferson has not a cold heart toward the intellectually unsophisticated, they are to be educated in the rudiments.

The simplicity of the Jeffersonian model hides its author's perceptiveness. To the chagrin and consternation of small-government advocates and laissez-fair capitalists (myself included), he does advocate publicly-funded education. Yet it is not because it is a natural right, but because an educated people is a prerequisite for any democracy (direct or indirect.) “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization,” he wrote, “it expects what never was and never will be.” Perhaps most importantly these ideas on education do not extend government beyond its intended role: securing individual rights. We cannot expect a people ignorant of their own history and system of government, and of its virtues and requirements, long to remain free. For example, it is important for people to understand the concepts of natural rights and republicanism, that they not themselves attempt, or be mislead by others, to increase or misuse government power. An uneducated individual is a threat to everyone's rights. However opponents of public education might disagree, Adams Jefferson’s thoughts offer instructive advice about any educational program and from their words I quote or infer several guidelines:
  1. If possible, parents must pay for their children’s education. 
  2. Some material is appropriate for curricula, others not.  
  3. The most resources should be devoted to the best students.
  4. Education is not a right: thus it can be denied if your child is disruptive, et cetera.
  5. We must acknowledge that some children will be below others in competence.
Jefferson sought both to broaden the general knowledge of the people and to raise up the gifted that they may do the most good. Today, these simple rules would sink the career of any political candidate who dared voice them.  Today, I see none of these principles in practice, rather I see their opposites.
  1. Some parents do not pay directly for the public schools they send their children to while parents who scrimp and save to send their children to private or parochial schools pay taxes toward a public educational system they do not use.
  2. Federal funds are doled out indiscriminately to universities, either completely blindly or by the pressures of special interest groups, funding who-knows-what programs.
  3. Teachers spend their time trying to find something low students can do while the more capable students languish, and millions of dollars are spent on personal aids for the still-lower students.
  4. Education is frequently identified as a right, effectively destroying classroom order since students cannot be reprimanded or expelled for behavior or rejected for advancement due to inability to advanced beyond a particular level, since they are “entitled” to the education.
  5. We expect the same results for all students, mistaking equal opportunity for equal outcome.
These ideas from Adams and Jefferson are practical steps toward stabilizing an educational system that is spiraling out of control in every way. These ideas are compatible with our system of government and the precepts of our society. They know no prejudice or discrimination. They give every child the most education he is receptive to. The security of our liberties and the vibrancy of our culture are at stake and we need a change in a rational direction. Perhaps the biggest step forward would be achieved by first glancing backward.

[1] Ferguson, Christopher J. Not Every Child Is Secretly a Genius. Article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. accessed 06/14/2009 (subscription required)
[2] Jefferson, Thomas. Jeffersonian Cyclopedia, The. Accessed 8/29/09
[3] Malone, Dumas. Jefferson the Virginian. Little, Brown and Company. Boston. 1948.
[4] McCullough, David. John Adams. Simon and Schuster Paperbacks. New York. 2001.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Movie Review: The Exorcist

Directed by William Friedkin. 1973.

The Devil exists. There may or may not be a god, and if he exists he may or may not be willing or able to help you. From these premises director William Friedken proceeds to assault and assail the filmgoers, twisting their emotions and amplifying their doubts. Rarely are horror movies so carefully crafted and even less often are audiences so thoroughly manipulated. Yet let us move beyond the violence and the chills and let us tease out some of the film’s implications.

One of the film’s principle themes is the impotence of technology in the face of transcendental forces. This is undoubtedly a leap many people will be unwilling or unable to entertain and such is not surprising given the profound scientific achievements of the last and current century. The response of people unwilling to make this leap, I have found, is usually, “Well it is always something causing it, even if we don’t know what it is.” Such implies that in the world in which we live, matter, forces, and all, is ordered, perceptible, and explicable by the human mind. I am not saying such a supposition is foolish or naïve. The fact that I now write at an internet-connected computer suggests the assumption I lean toward. For a moment, though, suppose such a connection, even if it does exist, is not universal, i.e. there is something outside our perception and control. Suppose our multi-million dollar microscopes and MRI machines and other technological marvels whirred in vain. Suppose the psychologists and endocrinologists and neuropathologists told you what they told Regan’s mother, “We just don’t know.” What if we were suddenly stripped of our reason, our science, our ability to know, of our only means of securing and improving our life? Would that not be truly terrifying?

The Exorcist delves deeper though, to a still darker place. Not only does there exist something we do not know, perhaps cannot know, this something understands us quite well. Perhaps better than we understand ourselves. Worse still, it does not like us very much either. Maybe that is not quite right. It certainly does not like us insofar as it does not wish peacefully to coexist with us, yet on the other hand it seems to derive more than a little pleasure out of tormenting us and robbing us of our faith. Not just religious faith, either, but faith in our scientific reason, faith in our ability to act to protect ourselves, faith in our very ability to know. Please stop and reflect on that for a moment: what if you were suddenly robbed those abilities? That eventuality should, in fact, terrify atheists even more than people with faith in a god, since if there exists anything outside your perception and it is not part of any divine plan and there is no god to offer you assistance, you would be quite out of luck, even in a world without demons.

Nonetheless there is a devil in The Exorcist and it is not content simply to lord its invulnerability over us, it is indeed there to rob us of our confidence. Not only can we not harm it, but it will defile even the purest and most innocent of us and kill the most experienced and faithful of us. The uncertainty of the ending, though, is truly the most unsettling aspect of the movie. When the demon departs we do not really know why. Fr. Merrin’s ministrations and exorcism not only failed but he perished in attempting them. We likewise cannot be expected to believe the demon was bound to Fr. Karras’ body and perished with him.  It simply departs, having claimed lives and perhaps faiths in the process. Can we interpret any good from this? On the one hand Karras’ sacrifice tempted the demon out of Regan’s body and indeed saved her life, on the other hand he lost his. Did the sacrificial nature of his actions play a part in demonic or divine intervention? Was it incidental? Depending on one’s values and also one’s faith, his success may be of great or little consolation, but wherever you decide to put your faith, this is one unsettling movie.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Around the Web

For the week of Saturday, September 26 through Friday, October 2.

1) Getting Ahead in America by Ron Haskins at National Affairs
. . . although there is room for government to help advance the cause of economic mobility in America, it can do so mostly by encouraging personal responsibility. Poverty in America is a function of culture and behavior at least as much as of entrenched injustice, and economic mobility calls not for wealth-transfer programs but for efforts that support and uphold the cultural institutions that have always enabled prosperity: education, work, marriage, and responsible child-rearing.
Thus, the inequality debate is not nearly as relevant to the more important question of mobility as it sometimes seems to many advocates and politicians. Inequality is a cloudy lens through which to understand the problems of poverty and mobility, and it does not point toward solutions. Great wealth is not a social problem; great poverty is. And great wealth neither causes poverty nor can readily alleviate it. Only by properly targeting poverty, and by understanding its social, cultural, and moral dimensions, can well-intentioned policymakers hope to make a dent in American poverty — and thereby advance mobility and sustain the American Dream.
2) The New Middle Class Contract by James C. Capretta at National Affairs
The impulse to insulate the middle class from the cost consequences of their choices — an impulse that has defined our longstanding ­middle-class contract — has done great harm and stands to do far more. The remedy must be to redesign our entitlements so that the choices the middle class makes in terms of work, family, and health care will promote more productivity, efficiency, and wealth, rather than the shrinking of the labor force and the growth of government.
3) Capitalism After the Crisis by Luigi Zingales at National Affairs
We thus stand at a crossroads for American capitalism. One path would channel popular rage into political support for some genuinely pro-market reforms, even if they do not serve the interests of large financial firms. By appealing to the best of the populist tradition, we can introduce limits to the power of the financial industry — or any business, for that matter — and restore those fundamental principles that give an ethical dimension to capitalism: freedom, meritocracy, a direct link between reward and effort, and a sense of responsibility that ensures that those who reap the gains also bear the losses. This would mean abandoning the notion that any firm is too big to fail, and putting rules in place that keep large financial firms from manipulating government connections to the detriment of markets. It would mean adopting a pro-market, rather than pro-business, approach to the economy.
The alternative path is to soothe the popular rage with measures like limits on executive bonuses while shoring up the position of the largest financial players, making them dependent on government and making the larger economy dependent on them. Such measures play to the crowd in the moment, but threaten the financial system and the public standing of American capitalism in the long run. They also reinforce the very practices that caused the crisis. This is the path to big-business capitalism: a path that blurs the distinction between pro-market and pro-business policies, and so imperils the unique faith the American people have long displayed in the legitimacy of democratic capitalism.
Unfortunately, it looks for now like the Obama administration has chosen this latter path. It is a choice that threatens to launch us on that vicious spiral of more public resentment and more corporatist crony capitalism so common abroad — trampling in the process the economic exceptionalism that has been so crucial for American prosperity. When the dust has cleared and the panic has abated, this may well turn out to be the most serious and damaging consequence of the financial crisis for American capitalism.

4) In the WSJ, Theodore Dalrymple is displeased, witty, and delightful as usual.

5) In the Times Online (UK), Gore Vidal is displeased, bitter, and unbearable as usual. (And perhaps off his rocker.)

6) As a conservative in the Obama age, P. J. O' Rourke just can't keep up with being racist, sexist, and prejudiced enough for liberals anymore. . . so he's outsourcing the hate.

7) Michael Ramirez on The Empire State Building celebrating China's Communist Anniversary:

8) At Philosophy Now, Luke Pollard Reviews, "A Sceptic's Guide to Atheism" by Peter S. Williams.

9) On his wonderful site, Classical Notes, Peter Gutmann discusses Alexander Borodin's Symphony No. 2 in B minor.

10) Touching on a theme Mr. Northcutt discussed on this blog not too long ago, President Obama thinks kids should spend more time in school

11)  Roger Kimball and Rabbi Jon Hausman, "attended a small lunch for Kurt Westergaard, the Danish cartoonist whose image of Mohammed with a bomb for a turban" was one of several cartoons in the "Dutch Cartoons" uproar a few years ago.  They ponder Yale in the light of its decision to censor a book on the topic.  Hausman concludes and Kimball agrees that,
Honestly, I would not send my child to any school where there is such uniformity and conformity of thought and attitude. . .

Further, it is clear that the university suffers from the malaise of relativist truth and the multicultural ethic. There are no universal truths any longer. When I was in college, it seemed that the point of education at the university level was to use the subject matter under study to encourage independent, critical thinking. Today, all truths are equal. I abjure this notion.
In the final analysis, I believe that the university is lost.