Sunday, May 28, 2017

Bin Ich Ein Noch Groesserer Genius, Als Ich Schon Ahnte?

Ist solches moeglich?

Bin ich denn wirklich der Erste, der je den beruehmteste und vielleicht bloedeste Spruch des ollen Langweiligers Cicero --


Ins Deutsche als

"Ach die Zeiten, ach die Sitten!"

uebersetzt hat?

Meine Version, finde ich, rettet die ganze Bloedheit, Steifheit, Ahnungslosigkeit, Unhoeflichkeit und Laecherlichkeit des Originals in die deutsche Sprache.


Naja. Gelassen bleiben. Wo ist Musils Nobel? Joyces? Prousts? Twains? Tolstojs?

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Vicente Fox Has Advice For Donald Trump

This video is awesome. It reminds me, an Amurrkin, what it's like when the leader of a country is intelligent and witty, instead of idiotic and also extremely unpleasant. Fox here talks to Trump as if Trump were a 5-year-old boy, so there's some chance that Trump might actually understand what Fox is saying to him.

If Trump sees this, or any of the other numerous televised messages Fox has sent him, and if he understands what the former Mexican President is saying -- will he actually take any of it to heart, and change for the better? It's extremely difficult for me to imagine that he will. I'm always saying that "never" is the most-overused word in the English language, but when it comes to Trump experiencing personal growth and becoming a better person, I really can't see any reason for hope.

I hope I'm wrong.

Meanwhile -- Republicans, you really should be ashamed of yourselves for having allowed him to remain President this long! What's it going to take for you to man and woman up, do your jobs and throw this bum out?! What will it take? Would a video of Trump handing flash drives full of top-secret intel to Russian spies and taking suitcases full of cash in return be enough? How about if he actually did stand on the sidewalk and shoot at random passers-by on 5th Av in NYC with a .45, like he's bragged he could and get away with it? Is he right, would you let him get away with that?

Friday, May 26, 2017

Swiss Watches

Geneva is in the easternmost corner of Switzerland, surround by France to the north, east and south. From Geneva the Swiss-French border runs about 100 miles, as the crow flies, to Basel, where the Swiss, French and German borders all meet. The area along this Swiss-French border between Geneva and Basel is quite mountainous, and was somewhat isolated before the invention of the railroad. In the early 18th century, most of the Swiss people living along this border were farmers. But snow prevented them from growing anything for about 6 months of the year. So they began to make parts for watches, to earn a little extra money. Many of them soon found out that they could make more money making these watch parts than buy farming, and began to make watches all year round, and their descendants have been watchmakers ever since. That's why so many big Swiss watchmakers are headquartered in tiny little Swiss mountain villages.

At first, Swiss watchmakers mostly concentrated on making inexpensive products. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the US was known as the place where the best watches were made. But by the mid-20th century, Swiss watches considered the best, and many of them had become quite expensive. Swiss watchmakers prided themselves in making their watches more and more accurate and precise.

Then quartz watches appeared. In the early 1970's, quartz watches made all over the world were more accurate than the finest spring-driven Swiss watches at a fraction of the price. In Switzerland, this time is called the Quartz Crisis.

Some Swiss watchmakers responded by making their own quartz watches. Many went out of business. Some of the oldest makers of fine watches were bought up by the Swatch Group, named after Swatches, the cheap, colorful, mostly quartz-driven watches which were a popular fad in the 1970's. As of 2002, Breguet, Blancpain, Leon Hatot, Jacques Droz, Glashiette, Omega, Longines, Rado, Tissot, Calvin Klein Watches, Union, Certina, Mido, Hamilton and Flik Flak belonged to the Swatch Group, along with Swatch itself, which is still around and still makes watches, mostly quartz but also some mechanical ones. How good are Swatch watches? I have no idea.

ETA is a Swiss company which mostly makes watch movements. A movement is the motor of a watch. ETA makes both quartz and mechanical movements. Many watchmakers both in Switzerland and in other parts of the world use ETA movements in some or all of their watches.

Some Swiss watchmakers have remained proudly independent, not being bought by the Swatch Group or any other corporate conglomerate, and making most or all of the movements for their own watches. (Watch afficienados and watch snobs have long and heated arguments about just how important it is for a watchmakers to use movements they have made themselves -- also referred to as "in-house movements.") Three such companies, held in such high esteem that many people referred to them as the "Holy Trinity," are Patek Philippe (established in 1851), Vacheron Constantine (est 1755) and Audemars Piguet (1875). Although, these days, some would say that Jaeger-Lecoultre (est 1833) has become better than any of them. One thing's for sure: all 4 of those companies make very high-quality prices, at prices ranging from 4 to 7 figures per watch.

And new watch companies are springing up all the time, in Switzerland and elsewhere, some making cheap crap and others making very good watches, and some in between.

But not very many new pocket watches, which makes me sad. And most of the new pocket watches seem made for nostalgia, imitating old ones instead of trying to embrace being new, and that makes me sadder. As an extreme example: the new Omega pocket watches actually ARE old to a great degree: their movements were made in the 1930's. Recently someone found these 80-year-old watch movements in a warehouse, and Omega decided to refurbish them to make expensive nostalgic pocket watches. Make new watches which are proud of being new, I say, and don't insist that we wear all of them on our wrists! I can't be the only guy in the world who feels this way, although maybe I am.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Some American Essays Judged "Best"

In The Best American Essays 2004, In his essay "Against Cool," Rick Moody spends 32 pages making it absolutely clear that he doesn't even know what cool is. Not counting 2 pages of footnotes.

Moody begins his long essay by assuring the reader that he himself is not and has never been cool. But I don't think a person can judge his or her own level of coolness. One doesn't say, "I'm cool!" or "I'm not cool." One recognizes it outside of oneself, and says, "She's so cool!" or "Hey, man, that wasn't cool." In his song "Life's Been Good," Joe Walsh remarks, "Everybody's says I'm cool." But he gives the impression that he definitely considers the possibility that "everybody" says that to him just because he's a rock star. The whole thrust of the song is Walsh saying that he knows that he is lucky, that he doesn't claim that he has earned every penny he has by good old American hard work and grit, or by being a genius. He may be tremendously hardworking, and, at least in my opinion, he is a musical genius. But if the impression given by "Life's Been Good" is correct, he doesn't go around patting himself on the back for his success. He just gets on with it. Which is pretty cool.

What is cool? It's kindness, openness, quiet gentle awareness of whomever or whatever is beautiful or touching or edifying or otherwise cool in the moment.

In his Introduction to this 2004 volume of essays, guest editor Louis Menand says that an essay is good when the pain of not continuing to read it would outweigh the pain of continuing to read. It was around that point that I stopped reading Menand's Introduction. I found Moody's "Against Cool" quite painfully bad from its title to the very last word of its very last footnote. Moody says we should abandon the use of the term "cool" -- with the exception, I assume, of continuing to use it to describe ranges of temperature.

I think that's just not cool.

In The Best American Essays 1994, guest-edited by Tracy Kidder, Cynthia Ozick has an essay entitled "Rushdie in the Louvre," in which she, ostensibly, describes meeting Rushdie in the Louvre, after Rushdie has been elected a member of the Academie Universelle des Cultures. But only a handful of fragments of sentences spoken by Rushdie during that meeting held in the Louvre in his honor make their way into Ozick's essay, which has much more to do with the Louvre and terrorism and Henry James and Zola and Rushdie's security detail, which was extremely extensive at the time, than with Rushdie. I don't mean that all of those other subjects added together are given more space than Rushdie, but that each of them is given more space. I feel cheated by the title of Ozick's essay, which is pretty dull except when those few fragments of Rushdie's sentences light it up the way lightning lights up a dark cloudy sky.

Perhaps Ozick would have come up with a better essay if she'd concentrated on terrorism, given the essay a title such as "Terrorism," begun it with a short paragraph about how she met Rushdie at the Louvre, and then gotten on with the actual subject on her mind. At least then the reader wouldn't have been disappointed by an essay with a thoroughly misleading title.

By stark contrast, in the same 1994 volume of officially best American essays, Paul Theroux's "Chatwin Revisited" is actually above all about Bruce Chatwin, Theroux's deceased friend and fellow travel-writer, and it's actually quite good.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Suddenly Becoming Successful

No, I haven't suddenly become successful, but other writers have, and I'd like to, too. I'd like to experience a bit of fame and fortune before I die -- no, I'm not dying. My health is okay for my age. But my age is 55, so that if I do become famous, my obituaries will say that success arrived late in my life. Unless that guy at Cambridge, the one with the huge beard who says we can all live to be 1000 years old, is actually right, and the necessary breakthroughs are actually accomplished before I die, and I actually live to be 1000 years old.

I'd be okay with living to be 1000 years old.

Here's a nice sentence from an essay by Tennesse Williams, "Amor Perdida: Or, How it Feels to Become a Professional Playright," which I read just now:

"That's the nice thing about a language you don't understand -- it is possible to believe the conversation is so much more elevated than it probably is."

As soon as I read that sentence I liked it so much that I had decided to make it the new tagline for this blog -- with attribution, of course. I attribute whenever possible. But by the time I finished the essay, I had more to say about it. To summarize it and do great injustice to it, it's about when Tennessee was in Acapulco, and was about to go broke, something he had done many times and was very familiar with, and asked his friend, the owner of a cantina, for a job waiting tables, and then later that day received a telegram informing him that a play of his was going to be produced in New York. He described it as a moment when his old, poor life had ended, but his new, rich and famous life had not yet begun, and in which his earlier life, filled with many kinds of poverty in many different cities, flashed before his eyes. This happened when Tennessee was in his early 30's, an age which seems young to me now, at 55, but, I know, seems terribly old to someone who has very badly wanted to be a rich and famous writer since before he was full-grown.

I repeat, I've done great injustice to the essay. By all means, read the whole thing. It's just 6 pages long in The Best American Essays 2004, in which it appears because it was first published posthumously in the Michigan Quarterly Review in 2003. And it's magnificent.

Tennessee's friend the cantina owner seemed less certain than Tennessee that Tennessee's life had been changed forever. I suspect this may well have been because he knew much less than Tennessee did about the business of writing.

I wonder whether success in a writing career, if and when it comes, comes with a very unusual suddenness compared to success in other careers. I'm not sure about this, because I don't know very much about other sorts of careers. But I've been studying the nature of the writer's career for well over 40 years. Yes, success can come gradually, rung by tiny rung for decades, but it can also come in an instant, at least as far as what the writer is aware of: wondering where his or her next meal will come from, he or she is informed that his or her play will be produced on Broadway, or that several major publishers have gotten into a bidding war for his or her novel, or that he or she has been awarded a MacArthur genius grant or a Nobel Prize.

I would think that if you, for instance, owned and operated a cantina, although the potential for success might be vast, the ways in which one could go in an instant from rags to riches would be fewer, if not actually non-existent.

As I said, the best thing to do is to read "Amor Perdida," Williams' wonderful short essay, for yourself. But let me interfere just a little bit more and point out, in case you miss it, that "Amor Perdida" is the name of the song which was playing on the jukebox at the beginning of the essay, when Tennessee assumed that he needed a job such as waiting tables, and that he writes, "I believe" it is "the most beautiful of all musical compositions." Not "I believed."

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Ralph Waldo Emerson

So far, every line of Emerson's which I've read has been either banal or ridiculous or both. I have yet to become interested by Emerson; I first became interested in Emerson when I learned, a couple of decades ago, that William Gaddis was a fan. It happens sometimes: A writer I love loves a writer I hate. Hunter S Thompson had a great admiration for Ernest Hemingway. I do not feel obliged to learn why.

In my childhood and early adulthood I was surrounded by volumes of the Modern Library, and less so since then. Not that I have a low opinion of the Modern Library. But I did have to check to see whether it still existed. (It does.) This paperback volume before me, a Modern Library College Edition of The Complete Essays and Other Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, is the fattest Modern Library volume I have ever seen. It has about 960 pages. That's more than the Modern Library hardcover edition of Ulysses. I must've gotten it at a thrift store. It begins with a Foreword by Tremaine McDowell, of whom I've never heard a thing. McDowell's Foreword begins: "Books, Emerson insisted more than a century ago, are for the student's idle hours; let him read only when he cannot think for himself." That would be a loathesome thing for a philistine businessman to say about his employees; for an author to say it about students is not profound, it's just ridiculous.

After McDowell's Foreword, this volume has an Introduction by Brooks Atkinson, whom I know by name and reputation, which begins, "Ralph Waldo Emerson was the first philosopher of the American spirit," and I don't want to read else by Brooks Atkinson, ever.

Avoiding Emerson is much more difficult. The stout Modern Library paperback before me contains as its penultimate piece the speech which Emerson delivered at the memorial service for Abraham Lincoln the 19th of April, 1865, in which he manages to insult Lincoln somewhat less than his good friend Nathanial Hawthorne had done in the piece which appeared in The Atlantic in 1862 and begins, "Of course, there was one other personage, in the class of statesman, whom I should have been truly mortified to leave Washington without seeing; since (temporarily, at least, and by force of circumstances) he was the man of men." Somewhat.

Both Hawthorne's piece and Emerson's tell me much more about Hawthorne and Emerson than about Lincoln. I much prefer Walt Whitman's piece, which, for one thing, strikes me as actually being about Abraham Lincoln, and not about the author:

I shall not easily forget the first time I ever saw Abraham Lincoln. It must have been about the 18th or 19th of February, 1861. It was a rather pleasant afternoon in New York City, as he arrived there from the West, to remain a few hours and then pass on to Washington to prepare for his inauguration. I saw him in Broadway, near the site of the present post office. He came down, I think from Canal Street, to stop at the Astor House.

The broad spaces, sidewalks, and street in that neighborhood and for some distance were crowded with solid masses of people — many thousands. The omnibuses and other vehicles had all been turned off, leaving an unusual hush in that busy part of the city. Presently two or three shabby hack barouches made their way with difficulty through the crowd and drew up at the Astor House entrance.

A tall figure stepped out of the center of these barouches, paused leisurely on the sidewalk, looked up at the granite walls and looming architecture of the grand old hotel — then, after a relieving stretch of arms and legs, turned around for over a minute to slowly and good-humoredly scan the appearance of the vast and silent crowds.

There were no speeches, no compliments, no welcome — as far as I could hear, not a word said. Still, much anxiety was concealed in that quiet. Cautious persons had feared some marked insult or indignity to the president-elect — for he possessed no personal popularity at all in New York City and very little political. But it was evidently tacitly agreed that if the few political supporters of Mr. Lincoln present would entirely abstain from any demonstration on their side, the immense majority — who were anything but supporters — would abstain on their side also. The result was a sulky, unbroken silence, such as certainly never before characterized a New York crowd.

From the top of an omnibus (driven up on side, close by, and blocked by the curbstone and the crowds) I had, I say, a capital view of it all and especially of Mr. Lincoln: his looks and gait; his perfect composure and coolness; his unusual and uncouth height; his dress of complete black, stovepipe hat pushed back on his head; dark-brown complexion; seamed and wrinkled yet canny-looking face; black, bush head of hair; disproportionately long neck; and his hands held behind, as he stood observing the people.

He looked with curiosity upon that immense sea of faces, and the sea of faces returned the look with similar curiosity. In both there was a dash of comedy, almost farce, such as Shakespeare puts in his blackest tragedies. The crowd that hemmed around consisted, I should think, of thirty to forty thousand men, not a single one his personal friend, while, I have no doubt (so frenzied were the ferments of the time) many an assassin’s knife and pistol lurked in hip- or breast-pocket there — ready, soon as break and riot came.

But no break or riot came. The tall figure gave another relieving stretch or two of arms and legs; then, with moderate pace, and accompanied by a few unknown-looking persons, ascended the portico steps of the Astor House, disappeared through its broad entrance — and the dumb-show ended.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Cooper's Eyeroll At Conway Due To Sexism?

This was onscreen yesterday: Anderson Cooper looking as if he had enough of Kellyanne Conway's defense of Trump.

Conway then accused Cooper of rolling his eyes at her because of sexism.

No, Kellyanne, it's because of your nonstop nonsense in defense of your boss. It's in response to your relentless polishing of that turd.

Cooper, a sexist? That just makes all of us roll our eyes at you more -- much like almost everything else you've said in public since you started working for Trump.

Republicans are suddenly concerned about sexism? Wow. You want to strike a blow against sexism? Quit your job, and tell the public some true things about Trump. That would be a huge blow against sexism. It would also be a public admission about what a bullshitter you've been ever since July 1, 2016, the day you started working for Trump. But we all know that about you already. It's been really, really, really, really obvious. I think the vast majority of people would very quick to forgive you, if you just -- stopped.

Now, about you, Anderson. Can it be that your now-iconic eyeroll was a sign that you were about to -- express exactly what you were thinking and feeling, right there on the air? I'm a big supporter of Hunter S Thompson's position on objective journalism: that it doesn't exist. I think that you and most journalists make the horrible mistake of not telling your audiences what you know and how you feel about what you know, because it wouldn't be "objective." Well, don't worry about that, Anderson, because objectivity doesn't exist. Just let it rip, just as if the cameras weren't rolling.

I've been wondering whether things like your eyeroll, and headlines in the mainstream media coming closer and closer to just saying "Trump is a liar," are cracks in this useless "objectivity." I hope so. I hope you guys have finally had enough, so that you'll finally just react honestly to things like the Trump administration. Just as if the cameras weren't rolling. That would increase the amount of useful information you impart to your readers by several hundred percent. What are you waiting for: journalists being arrested for criticizing the country's political leadership, as has been happening unter Erdogan in Turkey -- Erdogan, for whom Trump is full of praise? Are you waiting for coast-to-coast martial law? Concentration camps? What? What are you waiting for?