exalter l’individu si rabaissé par la démocrasserie


Flaubert par Nadar, 1865, Bibliothèque Municipale de Rouen
Page 191, « Plus tard les peintres feront mieux, mais ils seront moins originaux ! » En êtes-vous sûr ? — « Ils iront plus loin. » Eh bien, alors, qu’importe le reste ! Le principal, il me semble, c’est d’aller loin. Je vous sais gré d’exalter l’individu si rabaissé de nos jours par la démocrasserie. Mais il y a quelque chose au-dessus de lui. C’est l’idée qu’il se fait de l’ensemble des choses et la manière de l’exprimer, laquelle est une Création égale, sinon supérieure, à celle de la nature. Encore une fois (et c’est là mon sujet de dissentiment entre nous) vous ne tenez pas assez compte de l’Art en soi, qui est, cependant.
Page 191, “Later on painters will do better, but they will be less original!” Are you sure of that? — “They will go further.” Well then, what matters the rest! The key, it seems to me, is to go further. I am grateful to you for exalting the individual so degraded today by democrassery. But there is something above him. That’s the conception that he forms of things in their entirety and the way of expressing it, which is a Creation equal, if not superior, to that of nature. Once again (and here is the crux of disagreement between us) you do not pay enough attention to Art in itself, which exists, nonetheless.

— Gustave Flaubert, lettre à Hippolyte Taine, 5? November 1866,
Correspondance, Vol. III, Gallimard, 1991, p. 548

bobos in numberland

In the course of promoting his pop psychology treatise, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (Random House, 2011), David Brooks has been disseminating the claim that 94 or 95 percent of professors in America say that they are above average in teaching skills. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, etc.) The browsing functionality of Amazon.com permits all interested parties to find and read the relevant pages 218 and 397 in his book, which credit page 73 of another specimen of the same genre, penned by Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman, Why We Believe What We Believe: Uncovering our Biological Need for Meaning, Spirituality, and Truth, The Free Press, 2006. In its turn, endnote 8 on p. 286 in that book credits the statistics of professorial overconfidence to an article by Janet Metcalfe, “Cognitive optimism: self-deception or memory-based processing heuristics?”, published in Personality and Social Psychological Review, 2 (1988), pp. 100-110. The referenced article is available in its entirety from several online sources. (1, 2, 3.) Needless to say, it says nothing that remotely resembles the foregoing claim.

Update: Tracing the notion of Lake Wobegon, where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average” yields a reference to P. Cross, “Not can but will college teachers be improved?”, New Directions for Higher Education, 17, 1977, pp. 1–15, said to describe a study at the three branches of the University of Nebraska, where in responding to questionnaires that asked professors to rate their teaching abilities, 94% of the faculty considered themselves above average in teaching ability and 68% placed their teaching abilities in the top 25%. This likely source of Brooks’ statistic is not nearly as expansive as the countrywide claim that he erroneously credited to Metcalfe. It would be preposterous to claim that a certain percentage of professors in three branches of a single university in Nebraska, a state whose economy depends on delusional overconfidence, can stand proxy for the same proportion of their profession throughout America.

raising the stakes

In “Why I’m a Pacifist: The Dangerous Myth of the Good War”, published in Harper’s May 2011 issue, Nicholson Baker argues that Hitler’s Jewish policy was that of a hostage-taker. Baker concludes that the Allies should have heeded the pacifists such as Abraham Kaufman, Dorothy Day, Jessie Wallace Hughan, Rabbi Abraham Cronbach, Vera Brittain, Arthur Ponsonby, Clarence Pickett, Bertha Bracey, Runham Brown, Grace Beaton, and Victor Gollancz, by negotiating peace with Hitler in order to rescue Jews, instead of demanding unconditional surrender of Germany. According to Baker, this insistence inculpates Winston Churchill and FDR in Nazi genocide of the Jews.

So the Allies should have let The Axis absorb most of Europe in Germany and let Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere pay tribute to Japan, in exchange for Hitler letting the Jews go? I see no clues as to what Nicholson Baker might recognize as bargaining chips for the Allies to control and trade with the Axis. The Untermenschen residing in the occupied territories might want to have their say. Furthermore, the notion of Hitler holding Jews hostage against escalation of a European conflict into a world war is belied by the body count achieved by the Einsatzgruppen prior to America’s declaration of war against Germany. In the event, the lesson Hitler failed to teach to his adversaries, that terrorism on large enough scale can earn immunity from prosecution and be traded for political gains, is recapitulated today in the position taken by that Hamas-Fatah alliance:

ROBERT SIEGEL: You said recently that by signing this accord with Fatah, Hamas, and I quote you now, “became part of the Palestinian legitimacy,” that the movement gained legitimacy. The Israelis and others, some others, point to the 1988 Hamas charter very often and say that you should renounce that.

And I looked at the document, and, you know, at one point it claims that the Jews started the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, both World Wars, that they operate in league with the Freemasons and set up the Rotary Clubs and Lions Clubs to do their bidding. Do you think that Western democracies are going to grant legitimacy to people with a document that reads like the paranoid conspiracies of the Ku Klux Klan or the American Nazi Party?

Mr. HAMAD: Look, and first of all, I think people should not judge Hamas according to their charter because many changes happened inside Hamas. But many people in United States and the West or in Israel, they say no, no. Hamas is still as it is before 20 years, no. I think Hamas show a lot of flexibility, and it became more pragmatic, more realistic. Hamas could be a good player in making peace in this region, but please don’t use stick against them and punishment against Hamas.

SIEGEL: But people who point to the charter say, well, even if Hamas says it has changed and there’s evidence that it has changed, the charter hasn’t changed. These are still the declared principles of your movement, aren’t they?

Mr. HAMAD: No one talk about removal of Israel. We’re only talking about removal of the occupation, and I think this is according to United Nations resolution, this is legitimate.

For example, my parents were born in Tel Aviv. We have seven millions Palestinian refugee – as refugees living in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, every – and Europe and Brazil and everywhere. They have no chance to return to their homeland. Is it their destiny to live as refugees forever? And Israel have a right to bring the Jews from South Africa, from the United States, from Russia, from everywhere to live inside the Palestinian territory, in settlements in the West Bank. I think it’s not logic. It’s not fair.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Hamad, thank you very much for…

Mr. HAMAD: Thank you.

SIEGEL: …spending time with us.

That’s Ghazi Hamad, who is deputy foreign minister of Hamas. He spoke to us from Gaza City. And we’ve also requested interviews, I should add, with a leader of Fatah and also with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This is the endgame. Hamas will renounce its “great hope of bringing to an end the Zionist project in Palestine”, avowed three days ago by Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of the its government in Gaza, in exchange for Israel recognizing a Hamas-led Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank with its capital in Jerusalem.




Hard-liners in Israel and the U.S. will resist this capitulation to two generations of terrorists taking Jews and gentiles hostage, when not blowing them up. But there is a difference between Israel considering a compromise with Hamas and Fatah and the Allies considering a compromise with the Axis. Unlike the Nanking massacre and Babi Yar, Arab terrorism did not proceed under the color of authority endowed with international legitimacy. It must be well understood by both sides in asymmetrical warfare, that terrorist acts lose their advantage of asymmetry upon being perpetrated in the name of a state that itself is liable to be held hostage to a crushing military defeat, the likes of which befell Germany and Japan sixty-six years ago. So let the terrorists raise the stakes by getting their state this time. We’ll always have our recourse to carpet bombing and show trials.

anthropology explains the zhus


Min Zhu before his fall from grace

Certain high Azande nobles, are permitted to wed their own daughters, and brother-sister marriages were preferred in the old Hawaiian aristocracy and in the Inca royal family. In none of these instances, however, could the general population contract incestuous unions, for these were a symbol and prerogative of exalted status. Among the Dobuans, intercourse with the mother is not seriously regarded if the father is dead; it is considered a private sin rather than a public offense. The Balinese of Indonesia permit twin brothers and sisters to marry on the ground that they have already been unduly intimate in their mother’s womb. Among the Thonga of Africa an important hunter, preparatory to a great hunt, may have sex relations with his daughter—a heinous act under other circumstances. By their special circumstances or exceptional character these cases serve rather to emphasize than to disprove the universality of intra-family incest taboos.

George Peter Murdock, Social Structure, Macmillan, 1949, pp. 12-13

welcome to my interesting times

The other day I found myself tasked with explaining to a young Chinese woman the concept of an ancient Chinese curse, such as “May you live in interesting times.” The best I could come up with by way of coining another example, admittedly drawn from my life experience of the past decade, was “May all your dealings be with lawyers.” Recalling the same experience later on suggested an effective way to intensify the malediction: “May all your dealings be with lawyers and surgeons.” Whereupon I drew upon my own store of maledictory Yiddishkeit, aptly summarized in a classic compendium: Continue reading welcome to my interesting times

p210 legend

The following is a draft version of my review of Sauer’s new P210 Legend pistol. It will be updated in this space with photos and text as my study continues.

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“You William Blake?” yells U.S. Marshal Marvin Throneberry at the rapidly approaching outlaw, while cycling and shouldering his Winchester Model 1873. “Yes, I am. Do you know my poetry?” responds the killer as he raises his 4¾" Colt .45 Single Action Army revolver and shoots Marvin in the heart.


Guns and poetry. None better illuminated their interplay than Jim Jarmusch in his 1995 movie Dead Man. To talk guns is to talk poetry. What follows is a riff on the latest incarnation of my favorite poem. Continue reading p210 legend