Call for Co-Hosts

Hello Everyone–

I am looking for a female co-host to make a TV show paralleling my book on the High Renaissance in Italy.  I have already scripted it; there is some prep work involved but nothing overbearing.  The show is for Women’s Broadcast Television Network and I would like to have it ready to go by early January.

If you are interested, please contact me through this blog, through my LinkedIn or Twitter (@greatbooksdude) accounts.

–Jason R. Goetz, the Great Books Dude

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Review of Murder on the Orient Express

Modern entertainment is so unbelievably fucking bad it is not even funny. I could have forgiven the new Murder on the Orient Express its unnecessary introduction of a racial component–multiple times over–its unnecessary physical fights–twice–and its ridiculous attempt at Hercules Poirot’s mustache.

But I cannot come to grips with why every movie seems to end with a ridiculous extended dialogue which always involves an ultimatum and/or an unnecessary sobbing. In this case it makes a mockery of the previous two hours, in which we have found out that twelve tough-minded people did not accept the failure of the justice system to root out and punish a mobster-murderer who caused the deaths of three of their friends. This scene has literally no value. It is not entertaining and it is not instructive and it does nothing to engage me. I walked out halfway through it.

Murder on the Orient Express is a great story and doesn’t need that. What a joke.

Some Thoughts on Charlottesville

In light of this weekend’s saga, I would like to say a few words regarding the meaning and import of what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend.  What at first may appear to be an attack by violent extremists on nonviolent, peaceful, moderate lovers of equality is in fact not that; and it deserves to be noted what, exactly, it was.

  • Removal of the Robert E. Lee Statue

The city of Charlottesville decided, in some closed board room, to rename a park that had been known since God knows when as Lee Park as Emancipation Park, and to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, whom they appear only to consider as a Confederate general.  This they have done in accordance with the post-Obama norm of deleting all references to the Confederacy and castigating the Confederate belief system, especially by the notorious tactic of equating it with the much more horrid and outrageous Nazi system which overran Europe starting in the early 1930s.

What is at play here is more than just a battle over archaic ideals.  The fastest way to strip someone of his manhood is to negate his identity, which starts with his history.  This, of course, is highlighted so well by George Orwell, especially in 1984; but it is something which the modern left does with alarming frequency.

Lee, in truth, was a great man—the epitome of grace, class, and courage.  In every portrait of this man that has come down to us in history, he is depicted as a courtly gentleman, and is renowned more for his decency than for his martial qualities, great as they were.  Far from siding with the Confederacy because of its protection on slavery—which, by the way, is something different from racism, although the two are linked—he did so because he believed that his state was his country.  This was the major battle of the war—not the battle over slavery.  Is the federal government or the state government supposed to be more powerful?  The Founders generally believed that the state governments were better able to take care of their own concerns, because they were closer to whatever issues were going on in their territories; thus they placed rather strict limits on the operations of the federal government, but left a few loose phrases so that the federal government had room to maneuver in case there was a need for it to do so.

In any case, Lee had, up until resigning his commission in order to serve his home state of Virginia, honorably served the Union, and had been the general in charge of the hanging of the abolitionist John Brown, who was executed for his organization of the raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, home to the arsenal of the United States army.  He was not, so far as I can tell, implicated in the shipping of weapons from army depots in the north to those in the south during the Buchanan administration.  Nothing in his record speaks of a pre-concerted design to betray and break the Union.  His greatest sin was exercising freedom of choice, and responding to the call of his state against that of what at the time was a radical invading army.

Thus at issue here is, from the start, the idea of deleting this man from history and acting embarrassed by him, when his value system is in fact one for admiration and imitation.  Yet we hear not a murmur of protest from professional historians; where the fuck is the AHA? where are all the university professors? where are the authors?  They are nowhere to be found.  Some might say that it is not their province to interfere in local political concerns; others might say that they feel that Lee’s exploits deserve recognition in a museum, but not in a public park; some might say that they have other things on their agenda and never even heard about the removal of Lee’s statue; but the gist of their inaction is that they tacitly agree with the value system espoused in the removal of the statue.  In any case, it can be assumed that since the protesters had heard about the removal of the statue, it was enough of a story that some historian should have heard about it and mounted a formal protest.  Since one needs a Ph.D. to be considered as a respectable historian today, and the university faculties who issue the Ph.D.s are notably liberal, it can be assumed that all of these silent historians also share the liberal ideals that are causing this massive issue.  Professional, indeed; isn’t one of their obligations to ensure that history isn’t lost or distorted beyond recognition?

The simplest way of putting this whole mess is as follows: dragging Lee’s name, or all people’s, into the tawdry modern running commentary on ‘racism’ and ‘bigotry’ is a disgrace not to him, but to ourselves.  Lee has no business in this discussion.  He was a good man and a true one.

 

  • Protests

The result of this decision to remove the statue and rename the park, coupled with the silence of the historians, meant that someone else would have to argue in favor of Lee, and the only groups that chose to do so were immoderate members of the so-called ‘alt-right’—members of groups that are called hate groups but in some (not all) cases espouse few actual doctrines of hatred.  Some of these groups are clearly of the most abysmal sort; for instance those shouting ‘blood and soil’ are evoking the Nazi slogan by which that party had appealed to rural farmers.  There’s no doubt in my mind that these are not all good people, and in most cases were probably bad people.  Yet at the same time they are the only ones standing up for Lee and for history—true history—against the continual assaults of the left.  The truth is that anyone who stands up for someone like Lee against the vicious claims of the media and academics is labelled a bigot; and that groups who oppose the high-handed and untruthful tactics of the left are very often miscategorized.  Members of the alt-right travelled from some distances to get to Charlottesville, where they gathered in Lee Park.  They obtained a permit for a rally.  Then the trouble started.

People on the left then decided that they needed to openly emphasize their position on equality.  They did so by showing up to counterprotest, because this to them seems the most productive thing to do.  If the stories I have read be correct, the counterprotesters then showed the high regard for truth and equality by using pepper spray on the original ralliers, the members of the alt-right.  In so doing they launched an armed assault on freedom of speech.  At this point the original protesters began to fight back, and here we are, several deaths later, the rally has been broken up, the original protesters have been officially denounced and publicly shamed, and the counterprotesters have been made into the gallant heroes of modern times.

The episode highlights one of the sad, but egregious truths about the political left: they demand equality but only on their own terms.  They have the intellectual development of five-year-olds.  ‘You can say what you like so long as we agree with it, but if we don’t then you no longer have the right to say it.’  Meanwhile, they have been assiduously labelling any and all who disagree with them with vicious names, ranging from bigot to racist to Fascist to whatever else they can think of in their endless supply of monikers.

The truth is that whatever their identification, the members of the alt-right who began to fight back after pepper spray was used were the true defenders of American interests, because they were using whatever means available to protect that simplest and most essential right of free people: freedom of speech.  Yet we know that if given their way they would subvert American interests, because many of them openly declare themselves neo-Nazis, Fascists, or members of other hate groups with long traditions in this country.  So the whole situation is fucked up from the start, but how can we truly blame the protesters for getting into it with counterprotesters when the counterprotesters, in true liberal fashion, openly declare that anyone who disagrees with them should have no voice?  There would have been something entirely right in what they did if only they had done more damage than they actually did.  In the end both groups just look pathetic.

 

  • The President’s Commentary

So, then, the President got up and said that he condemns the many sides of bigotry—and immediately gets slammed for not condemning hatred.  Yet that’s what he did.  Only the left refuses to acknowledge its own role in this hatred, and that it is the purest representative of hatred.  The left, and really the left only, is attempting by any means possible to subvert freedom of speech.

All of which highlights the most important truth of all that I have here stated: however much we may hate the extreme movements on the right, they are the clear and unambiguous product of extreme movements on the left.  Without the left’s increasing ‘progressivism’—by which one should really mean ‘regressivism’—the right will have no fuel for its own radicalization.  The left’s constant battering ram-assaults on American values—on Constitutional rights, on time-honored customs, mores, beliefs, traditions, and laws, on truth and justice—are now bearing their ugliest fruit.  And the left, represented by stuck-up assholes, has no clue that it is itself the cause of this behavior, because it has no understanding of history and no idea that this has happened before.

Winston Churchill called Fascism the ‘ugly child’ of Communism because it was a direct response to the earlier movement.  That brilliant man should, of course, be our guide in the modern world; but like Lee, he has been charged by the liberals with racism and whatever other forms of bad behavior they wish to levy at their targets, and has been in some sense forgotten.  When Churchill warned of the threat of Islam, he was a hundred years ahead of his time; and he was sixty years ahead of his time in this, his second-most important observation.

The point is that extremism breeds extremism, and that the left, not the right, is the original source of this problem.

 

On Orson Welles’s Macbeth

In light of my recent engagement with great films, I will here begin with a brief commentary on Macbeth (1948), a black-and-white adaptation of Shakespeare’s famous play.

Welles, who directed and produced the film and played its title character, was beset by issues in the making of the film.  Due to a prior conflict with a very powerful news magnate—owing to the production of Citizen Kane (1941)—Welles was unable to collect reviews, to obtain publicity, and, hence, to draw the interest of those who might otherwise have backed his films financially.  He was left with a low budget, to say the least, and sought to show that ‘necessity is the mother of invention.’

The result was, actually, a masterpiece.  With no money he was forced to rely on a Republic set which had formerly been used for Westerns; it was basically a cave set in the wilderness.  This he made into Dunsinane Castle, which appears as a swamped up, craggy military fortress, rather than the luxurious residence of kings that we might otherwise expect.  Yet here’s the catch: Macbeth was an 11th Century Scottish King, and Scotland was hardly more civilized than many African nations are today; so that Welles’s Dunsinane appears, I think, much closer to what Macbeth’s castle would have looked like than a set made to look like Windsor Castle would.

A second brilliant touch by Welles was his use of drink, following the murder of Duncan, to make Macbeth appear to be losing his senses.  Being drunk on wine is symbolic of being drunk on something else—power—and the viewer can’t help but make the connection as the inebriated Macbeth orders a pair of hired ruffians to murder his friend Banquo, and then, later, the wife and children of the impressive Macduff.  It is much easier to believe that a drunk Macbeth would see the ghost of the dead Banquo at his feast than that a sober Macbeth would see him there; and in general much easier to believe a drunk Macbeth than a sober one at any point later in the movie.  Alcohol provides an adequate explanation for what seem to be the incoherent actions taken by this tyrant, so it both connects the dots and forms a link in the viewer’s mind that is extremely important.

Another of Welles’s nice touches was his use of a voodoo doll resembling Macbeth in the hands of the three witches; it comes out of their infamous cauldron and is henceforth their tool.  Unlike the sweet choir in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, when Welles’s witches say ‘Double, double, toil and trouble’ they have something vicious in their minds and on their tongues; their speech is hideous, shocking, frightening, as they inform Macbeth that he will become not only Thane of Cawdor but King as well; then again as they coyly soothe him by telling him that no man of woman born will be able to kill him, and that he cannot be dethroned until Birnam Wood do come to Dunsinane.  Of course they are toying with him; but with the voodoo doll we see that they are doing it more than just verbally. The voodoo doll also invites the viewer to remember that Welles was the producer of the ‘voodoo Macbeth,’ a 1930s New Deal-funded adaptation of the famous play that shifted its location to Haiti and used an all-black cast.

These, coupled with a very well-done score and a very fine casting and costuming job, make this a very fine movie indeed.  Alas, Welles was doomed to the life of Tantalus.  Here he had a masterpiece, but it got buried under his feud with Hearst, and the reviews he did receive, far from praising him for his work with a low budget and very short time frame for filming (23 days), were highly critical.  As is so common, the reviewers, caught up in the size of their longest (or shortest?) members, were unable to spot a masterpiece.

Reading List Updates!

Hello All–

The reading list expands as follows:

1) Alexis de Tocqueville–The Ancien Regime and the Revolution

2) Nicholas Eberstadt–Men Without Work

3) Gary Scheiner–Think Like a Pancreas

4) Frederick the Great (with Voltaire)–Anti-Machiavel

5) Cesare Beccaria–On Crimes and Punishments

6) Paul Brickhill–The Great Escape

7) Isaiah Berlin–Against the Current

8) The Arabian Nights (Volume I)

9) Voltaire–The Age of Louis XV (Volume I)

10) Montesquieu–Causes of the Grandeur and the Decadence of the Romans

Plus selections from Will Durant, The Age of Faith, and Will and Ariel Durant, The Age of Voltaire

Am I writing a book about the French Enlightenment? Guilty as charged.

Review of Life on the Run

Author: Bill Bradley

This may seem odd–I am reviewing a book that is now more than forty years old. Yes, I am, because I feel that it is an important and noteworthy book that should be on modern reading lists.

Bradley, we know, was a small forward for the late-1960s/early-1970s New York Knicks, after having excelled at Princeton and later at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. Later he became a United States Senator, serving three terms.

Life on the Run covers a twenty-day stretch in the 1973-74 season, when Bradley was 30 years old. It is, as its title suggests, about much more than basketball, about life itself–life as a member of a team, life as a single man traveling, life spent on a physical pursuit, life spent in the eye of the public, and, perhaps most importantly, life in the troubled early 1970s, with the disastrous second Nixon administration and the murderous economic stagflation that characterized the era.

What emerges almost immediately is that the NBA was a different league. There was no three-point shot; dunks were infrequent. I do not know its demographic makeup at present; when Bradley wrote it was only 65% African-American, but this was before the days of mammoth contracts and endorsement deals, before the age of Magic and Bird and Jordan, and before the unceasing corporatization of the league. The players were not exclusively basketball players, though they all had allotted significant chunks of their lives to the game. Players got letters from fans, and were accessible in hotels and around town.

Bradley’s New York Knicks were perhaps the most cerebral team and the most interesting collection of men as men that the NBA has ever seen. Phil Jackson has since become the greatest head coach in league history. Jerry Lucas memorized the New York City phone book, and Bradley tells of a test given him by Bobby Fischer, the legendary chess player–an association you would not see from today’s athletes. Dave Debusschere, who was Bradley’s roommate on the road, was the rare two-sport professional athlete, though by the time the book was written he had ceased to pitch for the Chicago White Sox and was a full-time basketball player. Bradley is careful to include biographical sketches of his teammates and their coaches. Even the Knicks’ trainer comes out as interesting: Danny Whelan was a trainer for baseball and basketball teams for several decades, and tells stories of the Pacific Coast League, while entertaining himself in his off hours by sitting in on big criminal trials in the cities to which the Knicks travel.

Along with Wheeler Bradley describes his masseuse in LA. Bradley mentions that he is aging, and how he takes longer to get loose before games. We get a close look at the then-injured Willis Reed, an icon for Knicks fans who was literally on his last legs. Standing over all and overseeing his Knicks team was the coach, Red Holzman, a man who never publicly blamed his players but who oversaw their development into true professionals and high-IQ members of a winning team.

Of special interest to any basketball junkie are Bradley’s comments on the game itself, and on some of its legends. He credits Bill Russell with creating pressure team defense and highlights Wilt Chamberlain’s brilliance and travails. He describes his respect for Jerry West, and we get a close look at Walt Frazier and Earl “the Pearl” Monroe–who gets mugged by racists outside Madison Square Garden while trying to hail a cab a half an hour after the Knicks win there–their own home court. Bradley describes his own encounter with crime outside the old Chicago arena, on the dangerous South Side, where he had been robbed at gunpoint a few years earlier. At least since Paul Pierce was stabbed in Inglewood, I cannot recall any professional basketball player encountering such danger in recent years.

Bradley details his ideal of basketball–as a team sport, with players who were not too close as individuals. Woe be to LeBron supporters. Bradley documents the careful construction of plays and the hours of repetition that go into executing them well on the court during games. He describes one-on-one battles between young players and assistant coaches, as well as how they come out during the games between stars; but he also describes DeBusschere’s frustration with guards like Frazier when they do not pass to the forwards or centers. We come away from the book with a good understanding of how those Knicks played. Lucas was a shooter. Jackson was a gangly slasher and rebounder. Frazier was flashy. Monroe was a magnificent passer. Bradley did whatever the team needed to win

The last thing which interested me was Bradley’s commentary on the players’ sex lives, as well as the business of basketball. He describes the infrequency of forming connections on the road, but also the team laughs about groupies who were passed around from player to player and compared. He notes the infamous reserve clause, describes some of the trends in collective bargaining, notes many of his teammates’ business ventures–Frazier’s record company, Lucas’ get-rich-quick schemes, Reed’s small business adventures–and laments that the agenting process, then in its infancy, was going to ruin many young players financially.

I HIGHLY recommend this book to all basketball fans; it is a serious read, but highly accessible, and at 240 pages it is not a long read, but also not a quick one.

Some Additions to the List

I have updated the reading list (and again I think I may have forgotten some of the things I read); it now includes the following:

  1. David Hume–Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
  2. Thomas Woolston–Six Discourses Concerning the Miracles of Our Saviour
  3. Edward Gibbon–Memoirs of my Life and Writings
  4. Winston Churchill–Marlborough: His Life and Times
  5. Alexandre Dumas–The Black Tulip
  6. Jonathan Swift–Conduct of the Allies
  7. Mathew Tindal–Christianity as old as the Creation
  8. George Orwell–Homage to Catalonia
  9. Edmund Burke–A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful
  10. Samuel Johnson–Taxation No Tyranny
  11. Samuel Johnson–Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland
  12. Petronius–Satyricon
  13. Sir Walter Scott–Ivanhoe
  14. Bob Woodward–Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi
  15. Joe Cox–Almost Perfect: The Heartbreaking Pursuit of Pitching’s Holy Grail