Biting Political Analysis

From the current issue of Rolling Stone, some insight from Wilco's Jeff Tweedy:

When people ask why this election is so close, I can't explain it. It's like trying to figure out how Billy Ray Cyrus sold 10 million records.

I'm not sure why anyone would ask Jeff Tweedy of all people to explain the closeness of the election, but that is a great answer.

The Loyal Opposition

In my consitutional history class, we've recently been discussing the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. Aside from the legal question of whether the acts were constitutional (clearly not under contemporary free speech jurisprudence, less clear then), we pondered what would drive an American administration to go so far as to jail people for what, in many cases, amounted to rather mild criticism.

The best explanation offered was that in the context of a growing crisis with France, including an undeclared naval war and widespread fears of a French invasion of America, many Federalists simply did not view Jefferson and his supporters as a loyal opposition. The loyal opposition, in simplistic terms, would consist of those who while critical of the administration, remain loyal to the country and its fundamental principles. And so this theory would suggest that so long as the majority views their critics as still loyal to the union and its basic principles, they will not abuse their power in attempts to suppress their opponents. When they view their critics as disloyal, or covertly treasonous, the gloves come off.

As a very general theory, this seems pretty well supported. It is usually only when a dissident group is thought to pose a danger (real or hysterically imagined) that we see the government push the limits of its power to suppress dissension (the Red Scare, Japanese internment, etc.). This in no way excuses these abuses of power, but merely offers an explanation of why some episodes of dissent trigger oppressive measures, and others do not.

It might also explain, in part, the tendency of more extreme partisans to try and paint their opponents as "disloyal." Thus the rhetoric that Bush must be defeated in order to "restore democracy" or that a Kerry election is a "victory for terrorists." It might explain why liberal dissent over the war on terror is labelled (as earlier as 2002) as "the disloyal opposition."

Of course the great difficulty in assigning such labels, even removing the partisan instinct for exaggeration and distortion, is that there is almost certainly going to be disagreement not only about the substance of particular issues, but even whether those issues are the sort of fundamental principles that a loyal opposition must adhere to. On the easy side would be the most mundane issues of zoning law or the size of a municipal bond issue, etc. It is very unlikely that a debate over such things will provoke charges of disloyalty to the union.

On the opposite side would be something like overt treason, such as passing classified secrets to a wartime enemy. Almost everyone would agree that such acts, almost by definition, constitute disloyalty to the union.

Of course, this leaves a huge gap in the middle. Some gray area issues lean heavily toward the "loyal opposition" side. Take an issue like affirmative action. It seems we can all agree that one's position on affirmative action programs, even if grounded on constitutional rather than policy grounds, does not trigger questions about a person's loyalty to America. One can usually disagree and criticize the government on that issue without raising attacks about undermining our society. Note, howver, that the most passionate rhetoric even on this issue will invoke acknowledged fundamental principles like liberty and equality, and highlight the tension between them. Those who feel most strongly about affirmative action are the ones most likely to charge their opponents with undermining one of these fundamental principles.

And many issues in the gray area are just ripe for such charges. Bush supporters see the war on Iraq as a key element in the War on Terror, which is a widely acknowledged fundamental battle for American values. Thus criticism of the war on Iraq is a criticism of the War on Terror, and thus constitues disloyalty to preserving America, democracy, etc. In contrast, many Bush critics attack the premise that the war on Iraq is a key element in the War on Terror, while pledging their fidelity to the later. They might even go a step further, and argue that the war on Iraq is a distraction that is hindering the War on Terror, and thus it is Bush and his supporters that are the ones undermining American values.

Where do I come down on this? Well it is more of a descriptive analysis than a normative one, but I will say this: American administrations do not have a very good track record for restraining the temptation to use a broad brush in painting opposition as disloyal. The Alien and Sedition Acts, the Japanese interment and McCarthyism all stand out as particularly regrettable episodes in American history. This might suggest that so long as the issue is in the gray area, short of any signs of legitimately treasonable conduct, it might be best to err on the side of restraining the rhetoric and the temptation to suppress, even when the passions and pressures of the wartime context urge otherwise.

Anyhow, while I was thinking about this topic, I ran across an interesting passage from Ambrose's D-Day. This is an account of the political activities going on in Washington on D-Day. As you read it, think about analogies to the 9/11 Commission, whether Democrats are going too far in their calls for accountability and trying to turn it into an electoral issue, and whether Republicans are just stalling to avoid embarrassment:

At the Capitol building, the politicians were going about their business. On D-Day, the House voted 305-35 to proceed with the courts-martial of Maj. Gen. Walter Short and Rear Adm. Husband Kimmel in order to fix responsibility for the Pearl Harbor disaster. "It's all politics," one congressman confessed. The Democrats (who opposed but felt they could not vote against the resolution, which they had been delaying for two years) charged that the Republicans were seeking to make a campaign issue in an effort to embarrass President Roosevelt. The Republicans (who sponsored the resolution and were unanimous for it) charged that the Democrats were trying to delay any possible disclosures until after the presidential election. Both charges were true.

An interesting question, left unanswered by this quick account by Ambrose, is whether there were charges levelled against Republicans of disloyalty, of undermining the war effort, and the like. I wouldn't be surprised.

General and Lieutenant Eisenhower

Another humorous anecdote from Ambrose's D-Day:

A week [after graduating from West Point], 2nd Lt. John Eisenhower joined Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower in London (Marshall arranged it). He stayed three weeks before going to Infantry School at Fort Benning. John's West Point obsessions came to play immediately on his arrival in London; walking with his father at SHAEF HQ, he asked in great earnestness, "If we should meet an officer who ranks above me but below you, how do we handle this? Should I salute first and when they return my salute, do you return theirs?" The supreme commander snorted, then said: "John, there isn't an officer in this theater who doesn't rank above you and below me."

Funny, and true.

Churchill and King George VI

Amidst preparation for one of the greatest military operations the world has ever seen comes this amusing anecdote, relayed by Stephen Ambrose in D-Day:

Eisenhower was visited by Churchill, who was coming to the supreme commander to beg a favor. He wanted to go along on the invasion, on HMS Belfast... As Eisenhower related the story, "I told him he couldn't do it. I was in command of this operation and I wasn't going to risk losing him. He was worth too much to the Allied cause.

"He thought a moment and said, 'You have the operational command of all forces, but you are not responsible administratively for the makeup of the crews.'

"And I said, 'Yes, that's right.'

"He said, 'Well, then I can sign on as a member of the crew of one of His Majesty's ships, and there's nothing you can do about it.'

"I said, 'That's correct. But, Prime Minister, you will make my burden a lot heavier if you do it.'"

Churchill said he was going to do it anyway. Eisenhower had his chief of staff, General Smith, call King George VI to explain the problem. The king told Smith, "You boys leave Winston to me." He called Churchill to say, "Well, as long as you feel that it is desirable to go along, I think it is my duty to go along with you." Churchill gave up.

King George VI = 1, Churchill = 0.

Cert Granted

Extremely exciting news. The petition for certiorari I worked on this summer was just granted by the Supreme Court of the United States:

In other action Tuesday, the high court agreed to hear an appeal involving an amateur radio operator who says the city of Rancho Palos Verdes, California, unjustly denied him a permit to use a radio antenna for commercial purposes.

At issue is whether the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 provides for money damages from city officials in cases of violations, or simply a court order requiring the city's compliance. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the radio operator was entitled to compensation.

The case is City of Rancho Palos Verdes et al v. Abrams, 03-1601.

This was the very first cert petition for Jeff Lamken since he left the Solicitor General's office for Baker Botts, and he worked relentlessly on it. He's a great boss and an even better person, so I feel much joy at his success. A perfect start to what I'm sure will become an elite appellate practice.

Con Artists

I tend to think that the dangers posed by widespread fraud are underappreciated by most Americans. It is a crime that undermines the basic atmosphere of trust and mutual respect that allows a free market to operate. It is only more pernicious, and more disgusting, when purposefully targeted at those least able to detect and protect themselves against fraud or its consequences: the elderly.

MSNBC has two very interesting articles posted concerning frauds perpetrated by con artists: one focused more on phone fraud, the other on the general fake sweepstakes phenomenon. This has been an ongoing problem for years, but it is something I thing everyone should educate themselves about, and make sure their friends and family (especially older relatives) are aware of. Some key points:

Many cleverly-designed sweepstakes entries are really just a fishing expedition by con artists. Fill one out, send in the money and criminals know you are gullible. Your name and contact information land on what's known in the business as a "sucker's list," and it's sold over and over again to con artists.

What follows is a deluge of fraudulent telemarketing calls, almost always from Canadian-based con artists. If you'll pay $10 for a dream, the thinking goes, you'll probably pay $100, $1,000, or $10,000. Sometimes even more -- much more. Federal investigators say fraudulent sweepstakes entries have reached near epidemic proportions, particularly among the elderly.

Further tips:

If someone you know seems to be getting an unusual amount of sweepstakes, lottery and investment offers in the mail it's your best clue they either are or are soon to be targeted and already under the spell of phone gangsters. Some people end up getting hundreds of pieces of mail just in a week's time.

Phone gangsters always give their victims reasons why they should not talk about their prize winnings, tax payments or any investigations with anyone So if you suspect a loved one is under the spell of these criminals, just asking them may not be enough. And looking at their checking account may not provide clues either. Conmen often ask the victims to get cash and wire it or send cashiers checks.

If anyone calls asking you to send money for prize winnings or secret investments, hang up immediately. The more time you spend talking with these men, the more chance you have of being duped. They are often highly skilled conmen who will pursue you relentlessly if you give the slightest indication you can be engaged.

Don't let yourself or anyone you care about be scammed by these crooks.

Shorter Combat Tours

This is an interesting development, highlighting the tension between meeting current needs and ensuring future retention levels:

The U.S. Army is considering slashing the length of combat tours for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan because it fears declines in recruiting and troop retention, The New York Times reported Monday.

Officials say the Army's ability to recruit and retain soldiers will erode unless tours are shortened from 12 months to between six and nine months -- the rough equivalent of the tours found in the U.S. Marine Corps, said the Times, citing top Army personnel officers and Army Reserve and National Guard officials.

It's a question I don't know the answer to, nor have anything intelligent to add. I honestly wonder whether the average soldier would prefer going to Iraq once for one year, or twice for six months with six months in between (the latter would seem to be the likeliest way to maintain current troop levels). I think I'd prefer just the once, but what do I know?

Hamdi Goes Free

A lot of people are skeptical about the Supreme Court's ability to stand up to public opinion, to slap down executive power during wartime, and to create real effects through their decisions. But I would think we can all agree that if not for the Court's decision in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, Yaser Esam Hamdi would not be going free in the next few days:

The Justice Department has reached agreement with a U.S. citizen held as an enemy combatant for more than two years, clearing the way for him to return to Saudi Arabia, officials said Wednesday.

He will lose his citizenship, but otherwise faces no charges either in America or Saudi Arabia.

The Taxing Power

Whether it was a benefit or a curse, taking Federal Income Taxation last semester at least meant I saw this complication coming the moment Oprah announced the big surprise:

When Oprah Winfrey gave away 276 cars last week to the audience of her show, images of people laughing, jumping, crying -- some hysterically -- filled the airwaves and the give-away became stuff of legend. Late night talk show hosts and newspaper columnists are still talking about it.

But now some of those eager prize-winners have a choice: Fork over $7,000 or give up the car.

According to a spokeswomen for Harpo Productions Inc., Oprah's company, the recipients must pay a tax on the winnings, just like any prize.

This is a common occurrence for anyone who goes on a game show. I don't know if there is anyway to get around it, though I suppose Oprah or Pontiac (or someone else) might be able to give tax-free gifts of $7000 to each recipient to cover the income tax liability. Not sure about that though (I didn't say I understood the class).

Mozart Symphonies Bargain

There are quite a few CD shops out there which seem to specialize in selling European and Canadian imports to customers in the U.S., often at a great discount. I've always been skeptical of these companies, though they have good feedback ratings on Amazon and eBay. But when this deal came along, I took the plunge and am entirely satisfied.

Trevor Pinnock is a conductor famous for founding The English Concert and specializing in period-instrument performances, a practice I think quite worthwhile and enjoyable. Under Deutsche Grammophon's Archiv label, Pinnock and the English Concert have produced a complete set of Mozart's symphonies, praised by the Penguin Guide as "an obvious primary recommendation for those wanting period-instrument performances." The playing "has polish and sophistication, fine intonation, spontaneity and great vitality" and there is "clear, well-balanced sound throughout."

This 11-CD set fetches $88 at Amazon. Make a visit to MyMusic.com, however, and you can get the Canadian edition for $29.99. I got mine in the mail a few days ago, and it is identical to the American edition in all ways except the cover. Well-packaged, shipped quickly, highly recommended.

The Shakespeare Project, Pt. I

Of all the big gaps in my reading knowledge, and there are many, none seems bigger than my ignorance of Shakespeare. Sure, I read Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear in high school, but I do not think I had the capacity nor the inclination to appreciate them at the time. As Fadiman and Major's The New Lifetime Reading Plan recommends Shakespeare's complete works, I have my work cut out for me. Fortunately, I have a copy of The Complete Pelican Shakespeare (which I highly recommend), and have begun working my way down the list. They have the plays arranged in the traditional distinction between comedies, histories, and tragedies, and then chronologically (their estimates) within each:

The Two Gentleman of Verona
The Taming of the Shrew
The Comedy of Errors
Love's Labor's Lost
A Midsummer Night's Dream
The Merchant of Venice
The Merry Wives of Windsor
Much Ado About Nothing
As You Like It
Twelfth Night
Troilus and Cressida
Measure for Measure
All's Well That Ends Well
Pericles
Cymbeline
The Winter's Tale
The Tempest

Henry VI, Part I
Henry VI, Part II
Henry VI, Part III
Richard III
Richard II
King John
Henry IV, Part I
Henry IV, Part II
Henry V
Henry VIII

Titus Andronicus
Romeo and Juliet
Julius Caesar
Hamlet
Othello
Timon of Athens
King Lear
Macbeth
Antony and Cleopatra
Coriolanus

The plan is to read four plays a week for the next nine weeks. At the end of each week I'll give an update on my progress, including anything noteworthy about the plays I read that week or my overall sense of Shakespeare and his works.

This week I read The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Taming of the Shrew, two of Shakespeare's earliest comedies. Thematically, the plays both seem to reflect a skepticism about the power of romantic love. In the former, the gentleman who advocates for romantic love turns out to be an unfaithful dog, able to switch the object of his desires instantly, and then switch back. And his friend, who seemingly does find true love, is willing to give his sweetheart away to save the friendship.

True love gets scarcely better treatment in The Taming, as in the final scene it is not Lucentio whose relationship seems secure and well-founded, but Petruccio, who has tortured and humiliated his shrew into submission, much to the consternation of modern sensibilities about gender equality. Not to mention the fact it is mere luck that Lucentio is sufficiently wealthy that Bianca's father will consent to the marriage (and approve of it after the fact). If Bianca had attempted to marry a servant, for example, even an elopement would scarcely have secured their happiness. Even in the Bianca subplot, finance has as much role as love.

I have quite mixed feelings about what happens to Kate in the play. In one sense, it might be best to understand both of these plays as being firmly rooted in their contemporary mores, with male friendship exalted above romantic love in The Two Gentleman, and the realities of women's role in 16th-century marriage sustained in The Taming.

Yet the urge is strong to either give Shakespeare more credit than that, or less. Perhaps we are meant to be disturbed by the almost total submission that Kate undergoes, thus leading us to question the societal norms and structures which have necessitated this change. Or perhaps Kate has tricked us all, realizing that she could attain wealth and power simply by feigning submission. Or perhaps this is simply what Shakespeare thinks true love looks like between two masters of wit, that they are engaged in a grand performance in which everyone else in the play is a mere spectator.

Still, there is the disconcerting feeling that Shakespeare, particularly at this early stage in his career, might just have been expressing the views of a sixteenth-century man: women should be submissive, subservient, and docile. Any break from this pattern must be suppressed, and bad traits purged. The Kate of the early pages represents all that is wrong in women, while the Kate of the final scene represents the ideal. If we give Shakespeare so little credit, there is not much to like in this chain of events.

In the end, I think my view is that Shakespeare was somewhere in the middle. Whether he approved of the narrow limits placed on wives or not, he recognized that a woman who refuses to play by those rules is likely to be quite unhappy, and remain alone for life. This is the Kate we see from the start. Crafty, witty, vivacious, but quite sad, angry and lonely. Shakespeare was no dreamy idealist, he was not about to write a play in which Kate can ride roughshod over society and still be loved and accepted. But at least he does not let Kate be tamed by one of the ordinary ignoramuses that woo her sister. Instead she finally meets her match, and takes her proper place in that society. Not the most satisfying of outcomes, but perhaps the best amongst the poor choices offered to a woman like Kate at the end of the sixteenth-century.

Much Too Profound For Its Own Good

A landmark has been reached. I have finished my first Virginia Woolf novel. And though I enjoyed Mrs. Dalloway, I have also never been more certain of a novel being better than I can appreciate. I am still too young, too interested in finishing novels rather than savoring them, and Mrs. Dalloway is, more than any novel I've heretofore encountered, one that needs to be unpacked. And that takes time, care, and sometimes just plain old repetition. So I will return to it, again and again I'm sure, and I have no doubt it will be better each time. For now, I'll relax with what passed for quality in the 1990's, Michael Cunningham's The Hours.

I wrote briefly a few days ago about the phenomenon of a book being "too profound for its own good." This is the sense that the book has had so much influence over the years, that at this late date it is hard to see how revolutionary it was when published. In that vein, I am now embarking on what could be the next great landmark I achieve: a reading of Shakespeare's collected plays.

Now, if there is anything that qualifies as "too profound for its own good," this is it. Shakespeare has been copied, imitated, twisted, turned, interpreted, re-interpreted, condemned, revived, and thus rather influential. Every plot of every novel or film I've ever seen is likely a take on something Shakespeare already wrote (not to mention the plethora of Shakespeare quotes appropriated by pop culture), so I'll have to go easy on the old guy if it sounds like I've heard some of his stuff before.

More Classical Music

A generous reader wrote in with some recommendations for future classical music purchases, and he was so thorough that I thought it worthwhile to share his picks:

Brahms Violin Concerto with Henryk Szeryng/ Pierre Monteaux cond. London Sym./RCA
Any Chopin with Artur Rubinstein, pianist /RCA
Mozart Piano Concerti with Robert Casadesus/George Szell cond. Cleveland or Columbia Symphonies
Haydn Symphonies with Antal Dorati and the Philharmonia Hungarica
Janacek with Karl Ancerl and the Czech Phil
Rachmaninof Piano Concerto No. 3 with Van Cliburn/Kiril Kondrashin cond. Symphony of The Air/RCA
Prokofief Piano Concerti with Vladimir Ashkenazy/ Andre Previn Cond. London Sym./London
Mahler Symphony No. 1 with Jascha Horenstein/Unicorn
Mahler Symphonies No. 2,3,7 with Leonard Bernstein/Columbia-Sony
Mahler Symphony No. 4 with George Szell and Cleveland Orchestra/Judith Raskin sop/Columbia-Sony
Mahler Symphonies No.5 and 6 with Pierre Boulez and Vienna Phil/DGG
Mahler Symphony No. 8 with Jascha Horenstein and BBC Phil/BBC Masters Series
Mahler Symphony No. 9 with Bruno Walter and Columbia Sym.(LA PHil) or John Barbarolli and Berlin Phil.
Anything by soprano Janet Baker on EMI
Anything by pianist Rudolf Serkin
Tchaikovsky Symphonies Mariss Jahnsons cond. Oslo Sym/Chandos
Sibelius Symphonies and Tone Poems by Colin Davis and Boston Symphony/Phillips
Any orchestral Richard Strauss by Fritz Reiner and Chicago Symphony/RCA
Hector Berlioz by Pierre Monteaux or Colin Davis
Mozart Symphonies by George Szell and cleveland Orchestra
Brahms Symphonies by Kurt Sanderling and Dresden Staatskapelle (good price, too)
Leos Janacek by Charles Mackerras
Anything by the Phillip Jones Brass Ensemble
Anything by the Netherlands Wind Ensemble
Anything by the Emerson String Quartet
Shostakovich Symphony No. 5 with Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic/Columbia (accept no substitutes, as this is one of the greatest recordings ever made).

I can also recommend just about any recording of the standard repertoire by George Szell, Bruno Walter, Bernard Haitink, John Eliot Gardner, George Solti, Carlos Kleiber, Artur Rubinstein, Itzahk Perlman, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Yo Yo Ma, Andras Schiff, Murray Perahia.

You are embarking on a very rewarding quest. I'm jealous of all the
wonderful experiences you will have.

I can't wait. What a treasure trove to explore!

Too Profound For Its Own Good

Hidden inside DVDTalk's review of the upcoming DVD release of the Star Wars Trilogy is this nugget of wisdom, which goes a long way toward expressing a sense I've long held regarding the "most important" works of literature:

What's perhaps most interesting about this blend of fantasy and science fiction is that it still remains essentially unique; while many films and television shows were immediately inspired by the science-fictional elements and the sweeping story arc, the fundamental concept of blending the two genres still remains largely the province of Star Wars. That continuing uniqueness is one reason why the three original Star Wars films retain their storytelling power. Think of The Lord of the Rings, in contrast: the original novel was utterly ground-breaking when it was published in the 1950s, but its influence was too profound for its own good. After reading and watching so many stories that were influenced by Tolkien's work, it's almost impossible to experience The Lord of the Rings as having the same power as when it first came out. Not so with Star Wars, which still has its original freshness.

Now I'm not sold on this particular comparison. I happen to see Star Wars more as the culmination of a long-running blend of science fiction and fantasy, from Asimov's Foundation novels to Dune and so forth. But the overall point is a very important one. Often times it is extremely difficult to understand and appreciate the revolutionary or evolutionary influence of an important book (or film or piece of music) because we are already living in a post-revolutionary world.

For example, I am currently reading Mrs. Dalloway, which is almost universally lauded as a groundbreaking landmark in modernist fiction. Yet as a 21st century reader, I have to maintain an intentional self-consciousness to remember that Woolf was practically reinventing the novel, rather than simply recycling modernist literary methods that are now used ad nauseam by thousands of pretenders. It is an challenge, especially while simultaneously trying to make sense of the work itself, but I think it is worthwhile.

Stolen Luggage

So the TSA is going to start paying for claims by airlines passengers that their luggage was damaged or stolen:

Two dozen screeners in New York, New Orleans, Detroit, Spokane, Wash., and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., have been charged with stealing from checked bags.

Lost, stolen or damaged items include watches, jewelry, suits, prescription drugs, computers, cash and underwear.

As the saying goes, one of those things is not like the others.

Classical Music

I have noticed in the past few years a growing indifference to popular music. Whether a sign of age or merely a change in tastes, I no longer find much pleasure in all but my most preferred popular CDs. Luckily, at the same time my interest in classical music has risen dramatically. I always had an above-average appreciation for classical, and violin-centered music in particular. But not until the past few weeks have I really started being serious. I picked up a copy of the Penguin Guide and added about a dozen titles to my nascent collection. Here's what I now own:

Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra - Reiner
Bartok: Piano Concertos Nos. 1-3 - Anda
Beethoven: Late Quartets - Quartetto Italiano
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 - Klemperer
Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 7 - Kleiber
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 - Furtwangler
Beethoven: Violin Concerto - Perlman/Giulini
Brahms: Violin Concerto - Perlman
Brahms: Violin Sonatas - Perlman/Ashkenazy
Debussy: La Mer, Nocturnes - Boulez
Dvorak: Cello Concerto - Yo-Yo Ma
Dvorak: Cello Concerto - Rostropovich/Giulini
Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 - Kondrashin
Elgar: Cello Concerto - Du Pre
Elgar: Sea Pictures - Baker
Herbert, Cello Concerto No. 2 - Yo-Yo Ma
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3 - Maag
Mozart: Requiem - Marriner
Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante - Perlman
Mozart: Symphonies Nos. 35-41 - Bohm
Mozart: Violin Concertos - Perlman/Levine
Orff: Carmina Burana - Jochum
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2 - Cliburn
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2 - Ashkenazy
Rachmaninov: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini - Ashkenazy
Saint-Saens: Cello Concerto No. 1 - Rostropovich/Giulini
Schubert: Late Quartets & Quintet - Emerson String Quartet
Tchaihovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 - Cliburn

As you can see, I've already crossed what I consider a most important threshold demarcating the boundary between amateurs and amateurs with serious pretensions: I purchased second copies of pieces I already owned, because I wanted to hear how different performers would play them. Too much fun.

Matters of Care, Pt. II

The English language continues to astound. How is it that "capitulate" and "recapitulate" have come to mean such different things? And how is that it is actually the latter which is more related to the original Latin root, capitulum? What a wondrous and enigmatic language.

Protective Duties and Bounties

An early passage from Mill's The Subjection of Women suggests a potential tension between Mill and (some) modern feminists:

What women by nature cannot do, it is quite superfluous to forbid them from doing. What they can do, but not so well as the men who are their competitors, competition suffices to exclude them from; since nobody asks for protective duties and bounties in favor of women; it is only asked that the present bounties and protective duties in favor of men should be recalled.

If only it were that simple! In some areas, such as voting rights, it appears to have been sufficient to just make the laws equal, and women could exercise their rights with full force. Yet in so many other areas, it seems that more affirmative action (to use that phrase in a broad context) has been necessary. This would seem to be in tension with Mill's analysis.

It is hard to tell if Mill's mistake, if he is in fact making one, comes from underestimating the lingering effects of such a long tradition of gender subordination, or from overestimating the self-corrective power of market forces. Or perhaps Mill would eliminate the tension with line-drawing. As a quick example shows, it is not always clear whether a particular policy argument involves enacting "protective duties and bounties in favor of women" or simply eliminating "present bounties and protective duties in favor of men."

To the extent that a police department's height and weight restrictions are simply traditional proxies for fitness, doing away with them might very well fit into the "present bounties and protective duties in favor of men" that should be done away with. Mill could thus argue that changing those restrictions, or including a different set for women (like the Army's different physical fitness standards) is simply eliminating status quo preferences for men rather than any concession to assist otherwise uncompetitive women. To the extent, however, that any such restrictions reflect necessary functions of the job, I would think Mill would not favor making exceptions or concessions for women.

In that sense, Mill has perhaps implicitly foreseen, but swept under the carpet, a very complicated set of questions. What are the types of criteria and requirements which really serve as proper assessments of capacity to perform the particular function? And which criteria reflect built-in prejudices for the way a man would do the job, or worse, are mere proxies for discrimination? At the margins, it seems pretty hard to know the difference.

Matters of Care

I have come to think it very strange that the words "caregiver" and "caretaker" mean essentially the same thing.

UPDATE: Also, my fiancee, while flipping through the channels, declared that there was "nothing good on." Paradoxically, since she was looking for something really trashy to unwind to, she actually meant there was "nothing bad on." Can the English language survive these assaults?

The Subjection of Women

One cannot even make it out of the first paragraph of Mill's essay without marvelling at the revolutionary character of his thinking:

[T]he principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes -- the legal subordination of one sex to the other -- is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; and... it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other.

Amen, Brother Mill. And since Professor Anne Coughlin, my mentor and one of legal academia's most independent feminists, thinks Mill's 1869 [!] essay remains the best explication of the feminist ideal, I can hardly wait to finish this post and get back to it.

Calvino IS a Wizard

As promised, Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler was marvelous. Finally, a post-modern writer with talent! And an amazingly risky and complicated novel that succeeds. As my classmate Micah Schwartzman said, there is every reason to expect the structure to fail completely, and yet it does not. This alone is impressive. Yet Calvino goes further, taking his originality and aiming it in a fascinating direction: the purposes and assumptions that govern the art of reading and the relationship between an author and a reader. I will most certainly have to read the book again to fully appreciate Calvino's message, but even with what little I have succeeded in understanding I can appreciate his accomplishment.

The Sorrow of Martin Luther King, Jr., Pt. II

I cannot say I am entirely satisfied by Garrow's Bearing the Cross, which I have just finished. He seemed to sacrifice depth for the sake of breadth, coherence and analysis for the sake of detail. I am quite sure I now have an accurate record of every meeting Dr. King ever attended, but I am still left with big gaps in my understanding of King's life. In particular, Garrow offers almost no discussion of how King was viewed by the black masses that he sought to inspire. Garrow's approach focuses heavily on the institutional actors and their leaders that one can easily forget that, as Ella Baker says in Garrow's epilogue, the movement made King and not the other way around. I suspect Halberstam's The Children or the first couple books in Taylor Branch's civil rights trilogy might offer more in this direction.

This is not to say Garrow's book does not succeed in many areas. The tenor of the epilogue suggests that Garrow was largely concerned with lifting the veil of mystery and getting away from the whitewashed hagiography that had surrounded King from almost the moment of his premature death. To an extent then, Garrow is a victim of his own success. As I noted in my post, I had already come to see King as a much more complicated, less saintly person than the one depicted in grade school texts and holiday celebrations. I suspect Garrow's book was much more groundbreaking when written, and I give him credit for breaking that ground.