"America is a glory of a country, and a glorious idea for a country, and we would be saved now by the love of it if the idea of the love of it hadn’t been strip-mined and left ugly.” (George W.S. Trow)

“... Already, Trow was toying with the themes that animate his masterpiece, “Within the Context of No Context”: the decline of the intellectual elite, the rise of a fame-based hierarchy, the end of adulthood.
“.... Trow told us that we had “a third parent—television.” And that the function of television is “to establish false contexts and to chronicle the unraveling of existing contexts.” Television is neutral, it is the referee, not distinguishing between the war against wrinkles and the war in Iraq. Over time, Trow suggested, this would scramble people’s brains and lead us to our current situation: “Of all Americans, only they”—celebrities—“are complete.”
(Ariel Levy, “The Last Gentleman”)

“What is loved is a hit. What is a hit is loved.” (George Trow)

"No one, now, minds a con man. But no one likes a con man who doesn't know what we think we want." (George W.S. Trow)

“[George] Trow's talent lay not in sustained, logical argument but in startling insights and metaphors. But the overall thrust was that television and mass media, and the "ironic," endlessly self-referential culture they fostered — in his 1999 book, "My Pilgrim's Progress," he compared it to the proliferation of useless weaponry at the Pentagon — robbed America of psychic self-sufficiency, unembarrassed adulthood, and a willingness to make judgments.”
(Brendan Bernhard in
The New York Sun )

“Journalists ought to make of themselves a prideful guild. (The Newspaper Guild used to stand for a little something.) Stand a little apart from this troubled world of ours. Identify the stories which will affect the lives of our children. And cover them.” (George W. S. Trow)

“He [George Trow] was talking about the world, a civilization, coming from a society you're not ashamed of, not conspiring with bad things just for your own gain and self-importance.”
(Jamaica Kincaid, in the interview above)


"You have to have a huge sense of humor and a small ego. There are some people who are born to do it and some who learn to do it, and there are some people who really shouldn’t do it."
JASON LEVY, a principal in the Bronx, on the challenge of teaching middle school. (NY Times)


“Mr. D'Souza may be conveniently vague about exactly what it is we are supposed to do to our lifestyle to win over our putative Muslim friends in waiting (Ban the bottle? Bring the burqa to Berkeley?), but he does find plenty of room for the grumbling and raving of one Sayyib Qutb. Poor, peculiar Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian philosopher whose writings have been a major inspiration for many of today's Islamic radicals, was disgusted by the "animalistic behavior" he claimed to have witnessed on a visit to America. That disgust clearly played a part in shaping his increasingly fundamentalist worldview, and Mr. D'Souza naturally sees this as important evidence in support of his case. In fact, it's the opposite. Qutb's visit to America took place in the Truman era, a time not usually remembered for its wild abandon. The event that appears to have shocked him the most was, wait for it, a church social. You see, Dinesh, there really is no pleasing some people.”
(ANDREW STUTTAFORD on "The Enemy At Home" by Dinesh D'Souza)

“Walking back through the mall to the exit nearest our part of the parking lot, we passed one shop which sold computers, printers, software, and games. It was packed with teenagers, the kind who wear wire rims and know what the new world is about. The clerks were indulgent, letting them program the computers. Two hundred yards away, near the six movie houses, a different kind of teenager shoved quarters into the space-war games, tensing over the triggers, releasing the eerie sounds of extraterrestrial combat. Any kid back in the computer store could have told the combatants that because there is no atmosphere in space, there is absolutely no sound at all. Perfect distribution: the future managers and the future managed ones. Twenty in the computer store, two hundred in the arcade.”
(John D. MacDonald, Cinnamon Skin)

“I know I speak for a generation of people who have been looking for dark-matter particles [axions and neutralinos] since they were grad students,” [Juan Collar] said one wintry afternoon in his University of Chicago office.... A negative result from an experiment might mean only that theorists haven’t thought hard enough or that observers haven’t looked deep enough. “It could very well be that Mother Nature has decided that the neutralino is way down there,” Collar said, pointing not to a graph that he taped up in his office but to a point below the sheet of paper itself, at the blank wall. “If that is the case,” he went on to say, “we should retreat and worship Mother Nature. These particles maybe exist, but we will not see them, our sons will not see them and their sons won’t see them.”
(New York Times)

“Rock 'n' roll is suffering from that old progressive school fallacy that says if what you write is about your own feelings, no one can criticize it. Truth telling is beginning to settle into a slough where it is nothing more than a pedestrian autobiography set to placid music framed by a sad smile on the album cover. This is about as liberating as thinking typecast movie stars are "really like" the roles they play. In many cases, though, this has come to be true in rock 'n' roll: singers have dispensed with imagination and songs are just pages out of a diary, with nothing in them that could give them a life of their own. A good part of the audience has lost its taste for songs that are about something out there in the world that the singer is trying to make real--usually by convincingly assuming the burden of that reality; replacing such songs are tunes that desperately deny the world by affirming the joys of solipsism.”
(Greil Marcus, MYSTERY TRAIN)

"Everything that these [comics] companies do is in complete isolation from true market forces. They are not now, nor have they been for 30 years, part of the mass media," says [Peter Birkemoe] the co-owner of Toronto's most discerning comic shop, The Beguiling. "Companies run by fans with comics drawn by fans rarely think of catering to anyone but themselves, which unfortunately means comics aimed primarily at adult men who still want to read comics featuring characters suited to children's entertainment."
“If they're truly unable to recruit younger readers, superhero comics are destined to whither and possibly die within a generation or two. It is entirely possible that our grandchildren will know of Spider-Man or Batman only through other iterations, like Hollywood, cartoons, or video games.
“Leopold Campbell, a 34-year-old vice-principal and die-hard superhero fan, has an easy solution: write better stories. Campbell, who has been reading comics since he was "a working-class black kid" in Toronto, says comic fans of all colors get hooked on them for one reason, the addictive nature of serialized storylines – many of which involve complex plots and take years to resolve.”
(Brad McKay in The Toronto Star)

“Maximilien Robespierre led the phase of the French Revolution called the Terror. It lasted a little over a year. He gave the orders that resulted in beheading, drowning, shooting, or burying alive about 20,000 men, women, and children. Mao Zedong ruled China between 1949 and his death in 1976. During his tenure, his followers murdered, on a low estimate, 20 million people. ...

“Both Robespierre and Mao seized control of and radicalized revolutions that they did not start. In each case, the revolution destroyed the previous corrupt regime and replaced it with hell on earth. Instead of their predecessors’ venality, Robespierre and Mao sought ideological purity, and they had a cold impersonal hatred of those whom they suspected of not sharing their crazed theories. This hatred brought them to murder people indiscriminately, not for what they did but for what they were. Innocence was no part of Robespierre’s or Mao’s vocabulary; the notion that punishment should be for real crimes, both men thought, was subversive of the grandiose project of achieving happiness for all. Their ideologies dictated the only way to reach that lofty goal; those who disagreed with their ideologies became enemies of mankind, deserving only extermination.
“.... Robespierre’s ideology derived from Rousseau, Mao’s from Marx. They borrowed what they could from these thinkers, treated their derivative beliefs as incontestable truths, never questioned themselves, and ignored readily available criticisms. Robespierre and Mao were monsters, but they exacerbated their monstrosity by sophistical self-righteousness.”
(John Kekes, “Words to Die By”)

I'm Shocked, Shocked That We Don't Have a Word for People Who Should Have Known Better

The great Claude Rains-- and the screenwriters Julius and Philip Epstein and Howard Koch-- contributed this delightful and extremely useful catchphrase to American politics:

Clear the room at once!

[An angry murmur starts among the crowd. People get up and begin to leave. Rick comes quickly up to Renault.]

How can you close me up? On what grounds?

I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here!

[This display of nerve leaves Rick at a loss. The croupier comes out of the gambling room and up to Renault. He hands him a roll of bills.]

Your winnings, sir.

Oh. Thank you very much.

Renault's demonstration of "chutzpah" matches the classic example of the man who murdered both his parents, and then threw himself on the mercy of the court on the grounds he was an orphan. We also have Richard Pryor's "Who you going to believe? Me, or you lying eyes?"

Renault's protest has its uses, as when politicians discover that veterans are not served well by VA hospitals, that millions of dollars have gone AWOL in Iraq, or that one of their relatives was given a sweetheart deal or that the genetic celebrity they hired as a "researcher" is less than qualified for her post.

What I'm calling for is a new word or phrase that describes the irritation I feel when ordinary citizens express surprise and dismay when the men they elect fail to live up to their campaign promises. Lies that would not fool a child have somehow clouded the judgement of grown men and women who are trusted with a vote and heavy machinery.
But what shall we call it? What internet meme would both mock the voter who should have known better and lead them towards a better way? These are people who would buy a ticket for "Saw" and be surprised by the violence.

My first choice-- though it's not known widely enough, and too subtle to catch on-- is an exchange from "Bebop", one of Langston Hughes' "Simple" stories. Simple has just finished explaining that the rhythms of bop music are are a response to the sounds of billyclubs on folks' heads. "Your explanation depresses me," says the narrator, and Simple answers, with quiet disgust and exasperation at such naivete: "Your nonsense depresses me."

Killer Apes and Mental Illness: the Sons of Abel Versus the Sons of Cain

There are millions of people kept in prison because their behavior is seen as threatening to social order and safety-- and yet the primates that threaten the most lives, even show blatant disregard for innnocent bystanders, are not only free to roam the streets, but lionized by their peers. Because Osama bin Laden, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Ayman al-Zawahiri are seen as enacting the wishes of a group, they surround themselves with armed guards and issue orders that will murder or maim thousands of people who never voted for them, never met them, and wouldn't like them if they did.

Like it or not, we have to share a planet with these gangsters and have to find a way to remove them from power without turning into one of them. If human's outer appearance matched their internal demons, the problem would take care of itself in a few generations: no sane person would want to have sex with them, and the species would die out. But the killer chimps among us are breeding as rapidly as the peaceful bonobos, and the chimps don't mind cooking the books by killing a few thousand bonobos to make the world safer for their bloodthirsty kind. It may be time to talk about the genetic elephant in the room: why are some of us Abel, happy in our own garden, and too many of us worshippers of Cain?

If we can agree that the brain and the nervous system are electro-chemical, that our perception of reality-- and our response to it-- depends on a certain balance of dopamine, serotonin and all their building blocks... And within a given population, there are bound to be variations of that chemical balance in individuals, making (to borrow the ancient personality types) this one choleric, that one sanguine, this one melancholic and occasionally choleric. And just as variations in the pancreas or the thyroid gland can cause life-threatening illness, imbalance outside the normal range in brain chemistry can bring on mania, depression, delusions and hallucinations of the five senses. We've known since at least World War One that not just physical trauma, but repeated emotional trauma can carve channels in the mind that induce post traumatic stress disorder, multiple personalities, and many other illnesses. It may be that the tragedies of schizophrenia and autism might be traced back to a virus.

If all this is so, might there be an unpleasant secret hidden in plain sight: that within a given population, there will be highly organized indiduals who seek power over others and then use that power to wage war on neighboring tribes? That just as humanity wars tribe against tribe, there is an undeclared war in every community between the sons of Cain and the children of Abel?

There are horrible ironies in this relationship. A peace-loving but curious primate named Einstein followed a line of inquiry that made it possible for a desperate, threatened group of his peers to deliver a terrible weapon into the hands of the killer apes. Archimedes of Syracus was killed by a Roman soldier while lost in thought over a problem he had drawn in the sand. Marcellus, the Roman general in charge of the expedition, had given direct orders that Archimedes was not to be harmed-- but as many a commander has learned since then, you can't turn a thousand soldiers loose in a foreign country without a few bad apples and some collateral damage.

The peaceful ape can be provoked to violence, just as any animal can. Many a Cincinnatus has been called from his plow to fight savagely for hearth and home, but then-- the reason the name Cinncinatus is immortal-- when the threat is over, the peace-lover returns to his plow and turns his back on any temptation to power. But the goodwill of a thousand citizen soldiers can be undone in a second by a few rapists, torturers and murderers and the commanders who enable them.

How does a peace-loving soul contain-- or, terribly, eradicate-- his violent brother and his friends? If we were still a small band living in the trees, it would be evident that the violent mobs are scratching each other to death, and endangering our peace-loving children. The political question of the 20th century will look to Mandela and Havel and other martyrs who survived to wield power themselves. We must rescue hostages to fortune, take the dangerous toys away from the violent boys, and discourage our daughters from joining in and breeding with them.