Wait, not Waterloo…what was that battle called again? by mattsteinglass
March 22, 2010, 3:50 pm
Filed under: Health care reform, Russia, Uncategorized

Lots of amusement going around over the Waterloo metaphor and whose it turned out to be (Yglesias, Frum, Benen). In the latest twist, the Sunny Idiot is proclaiming that actually health-care reform isn’t Obama’s Waterloo, it’s his Borodino; he won, but with significant casualties, and presumably he will find his victory over health-care to be empty and pointless, like Napoleon’s occupation of the burnt-out Moscow, and soon see his shrunken armies retreating across the landscape, harried by Russian partisans and diphtheria. (Who’s fond of czars now? Eh?)

I’ve had enough of this. It seems to me that in the context of a year-long campaign punctuated by striking victories where the invading forces were in sight of their ultimate goal and confident of gaining a crushing symbolic victory, only to fall just short, be unexpectedly held off, and finally driven back in a disastrous rout, a different battle metaphor may be more apt. I think Godwin’s Law considerations prevent me from getting any deeper into this issue though.

[youtubevid id=”zIcYsUpgbHM”]


Dingell: This machine kills Republicans by mattsteinglass
March 22, 2010, 6:24 am
Filed under: Health care reform, Uncategorized

John Dingell: If I had a hammer...

John Dingell apparently used the same gavel to ring in health-care reform that he used during the vote to create Medicare in 1965. Check it out.

If you can translate that, what can't you translate? by mattsteinglass
March 21, 2010, 9:38 pm
Filed under: Literature, Uncategorized

Jenny Davidson reminds me of Georges Perec’s novel “La Disparition”, translated by Gilbert Adair as “A Void”. The book doesn’t contain the letter “e”. This becomes thematic, with the protagonist trying to figure out what it is that seems to be missing in his life. Beautiful conceit: the reader knows what’s missing in the character’s universe, it’s blindingly obvious to us, but the character  can have no conception of it, and this comes to stand for our own relationship to what’s missing from our spiritual lives, which could be blindingly obvious to some hypothetical outside observer. In that way the audience-protagonist relationship works rather like “Memento”.

But the point here is that Gilbert Adair translated this from French to English. And it’s quite readable. Think of the challenge in every sentence. This gets back to my beef with people who too often claim that words, concepts or works of art are “untranslatable”. Certainly some are, but a lot of the time it’s just laziness and a desire to appear mysterious. I think Paul Bowles has a really good line about that sort of empty exoticism somewhere, but I can’t remember it.

The other 6 of the 10 books that influenced me most by mattsteinglass
March 20, 2010, 1:19 am
Filed under: Literature, Uncategorized

Got some more time, so I figured I’d finish it off.

5. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings. The first truly complete-feeling aeschatological fantasy. I think Tolkien has been enormously influential in shaping people’s subconscious assumptions about history and international relations, and not necessarily in a good way; a heroic epic approach to IR can be pretty dangerous. The main problem being that while Mordor was full of orcs, Iraq is full of people.

6. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit. Compare to #5 for interesting ideas about American triumphalism in the ’90s and ’00s. But Hegel is obviously more interesting than a narrow reading through the Fukuyama lens tends to indicate, and you do have to figure out some way to synthesize your idea of history with your idea of personal moral development if you want to think about politics as a moral enterprise at all.

7. Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination. I’m really glad I got to reread much of Bakhtin in my late 20s, because I don’t think I got it at all the first time around in college. It was much more powerful to think about how people’s statements emerge in a social process of response and constraint, rather than springing full-blown from the invisible monad of the individual imagination, after I’d been through the experience of having editors and an audience. Also, I reread Bakhtin in order to write an article for Lingua Franca, which was what drew me gradually into journalism. Again, pretty influential.

8. Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49. I don’t think it’s his best book, but it has the most clearly formulated vision of America as either meaningless aporia or fiendish conspiracy. That Americans’ hunger for meaning plays itself out in that fashion is an insight I think remains central to my self-understanding of America.

9. Jane Austen, Emma. Guess what? People often don’t understand themselves very well, and their actions are driven by desires they themselves aren’t aware of. Freud explained this in the 20th century, but it’s ten times more powerful when Jane Austen shows you how it works, in an utterly convincing and sympathetic fashion, a hundred years earlier.

10. Chaos, James Gleick. I think this was my first introduction to the idea that even fairly simple systems can have complex and unpredictable behaviors, and that basically things in the world are likely to be vastly more complicated and perverse than you expect, so great big heroic interventions are usually unwise unless urgently necessary.

This has turned into a pretty weird list; I think that’s because much of what I’ve learned that was most influential didn’t come from books, but from magazine articles, movies, and, yes, blogs.

And 'Margot at the Wedding' was great, too by mattsteinglass
March 19, 2010, 5:49 am
Filed under: Movies

Until I see “Greenberg”, I’m going to assume that the lukewarmness of Dana Stevens’s review and the moderate negativity of some other reviews stems from people’s inability to handle the bitter genius of Noah Baumbach. You can’t handle the truth!

4 of the 10 books that influenced me most by mattsteinglass
March 19, 2010, 5:44 am
Filed under: Literature

Lists of the 10 books that most influenced you. People on the right are posting ’em, people on the left are posting ’em, I’m a hopelessly faddish so I decided I’d post one too. But I ran out of time. So here are four of them, anyway.

1. Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals. Everybody’s citing it, but you know, that’s the kind of book it is. I remember sitting in a waiting lounge at Dulles International Airport reading this and feeling like I was being personally eviscerated. I was in love for the first time and she was still somewhat involved with her previous boyfriend, who was a lot taller and more athletic than me; that may have had something to do with it. But the idea of examining the value of values, looking at them skeptically as things that had evolved historically for often brute-fact instrumental reasons (i.e. because a certain value was useful to the claims on power of a certain interest group), was incredibly compelling and ruthless. Once you’ve recognized this, you can’t — or shouldn’t — ever be able to uncritically embrace any kind of “first principles”, ever again, without thinking about who those “first principles” serve and whom they enslave.

2. Foucault, Discipline and Punish. This book fell out of favor by the late ’90s and is now back in favor, I think. Whatever. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I found it extremely influential. Basically it did for my thinking about institutions and governance what Genealogy of Morals did for my thinking about values. As a side note, I’ve never understood why people who read Ayn Rand (whose work I’ve always found completely idiotic) are presumed to be more skeptical towards government than people who read Foucault. Foucault is far more brutal and uncompromising in his skepticism towards institutional and governmental motives and incentives. It’s just that, not being childishly naive, he also sees that we’re all formed by and imbricated in the institutions, and the brutal skepticism has to extend to individuals too.

3. Ayn Rand, Anthem. This is acquiring a narrative thread. Anyway, I read this on a bike trip through Cape Cod when I was 15, and found it so stupid and inferior (I’d read Animal Farm the week before) that it put me off Ayn Rand and any form of libertarianism forever. So I’d consider that pretty influential.

4. Neil Sheehan, A Bright and Shining Lie. But this is where I ran out of time, so you figure it out.

Alex Chilton is dead by mattsteinglass
March 18, 2010, 4:31 am
Filed under: Music, Uncategorized

Of a heart attack, in New Orleans, two days before Big Star was scheduled to play SXSW.

This song was important to me even though, or perhaps because, the lyrics don’t quite seem to clearly mean anything.

[youtubevid id=”BNKSs1J38EA”]