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26 May 2003 Reviews

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Some notes on what seems to be out there, and what some of us have sampled....


"Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus"
and a teaser on higher mathematics...

An anti-war friend of mine in Albany, New York a few weeks ago commented that a lot of the political argument about our foreign policy seemed to be... sexist?  I replied with this:
"Oh, I think there's still a lot of the "feminization of the opponent" stuff going on.   As I think I mentioned, Robert Kagan, the key theorist of the neo-conservative folks, expanded his article "Power and Weakness" which appeared in Policy Review in June 2002 into an actual book -- Of Paradise and Power: American and Europe in the New World Order, Knopf -- and his catch phrase "Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus" is discussed all around the globe by folks who like to pretend to figure out how the world wags.  He characterizes Europeans as feminine -- weak and powerless, thus prone to value discussion and compromise and mutual agreement -- and Americans as masculine -- strong and willing to take action to get things done without all this talk and soul-searching.  It's kind of classic. 

But on conservative talk radio here in Los Angeles a few weeks ago I heard a new one.  The discussion was about how all these liberals constantly whine about the burned and maimed and dead civilian casualties as if this were some big deal, and the fellow called such civilian casualties "Freedom Fries" -- and that was his answer to the liberal bleeding hearts and to the effeminate French.  Interesting.

The best review of Kagan's book I've come across is from Steve Holmes, a guy I knew in college who now teaches at the University Of Chicago.  Holmes actually rips Kagan to shreds, politely.

See Why We Need Europe

Stephen Holmes The American Prospect  April 2003

Read the review at http://www.prospect.org/print/V14/4/holmes-s.html

And the book is --

Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order
By Robert Kagan, Knopf, 112 pages, $18.00

Heres Steve's bio from the University of Chicago site:

At the University of Chicago, Professor Stephen Holmes served as Director of the Center for the Study of Constitutionalism in Eastern Europe and as editor-in-chief of the East European Constitutional Review. He has also been the Director of the Soros Foundation program for promoting legal reform in Russia and Eastern Europe.

After receiving his Ph.D. from Yale in 1976, Holmes taught briefly at Yale and Wesleyan Universities before becoming a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton in 1978. From Princeton, he moved to Harvard University's Department of Government, where he stayed until 1985, the year he joined the faculty at the University of Chicago.

Holmes' research centers on the history of European liberalism and the disappointments of democracy and economic liberalization after communism. In 1984, he published Benjamin Constant and the Making of Modern Liberalism. Since then, he has published a number of articles on democratic and constitutional theory as well as on the theoretical origins of the welfare state. In 1988, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to complete a study of the theoretical foundations of liberal democracy. He was a member of the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin during the 1991 academic year. His Anatomy of Antiliberalism appeared in 1993. And in 1995, he published Passions and Constraint: The Theory of Liberal Democracy; in this work, Holmes presents a spirited vindication of classical liberalism and its notions of constitutional government. He co-authored, with Cass Sunstein, a book on The Cost of Rights (Norton, 1998).

Also recommended

Imagining Numbers: Particularly the Square Root of Minus Fifteen, Barry Mazur, Farrar, Straus & Giroux: 228 pp., $22

The Art of the Infinite: The Pleasures of Mathematics, Robert Kaplan and Ellen

Both reviewed by Margaret Wertheim in the Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review, May 11, 2003

As for mathematical theory I read Wertheim review quite carefully and thought carefully about what was being said.  It was kind of like eating ice cream too fast - fun and delicious, but you then get that brain-freeze headache.

If you go to Dissertation Abstracts and browse the last several decades of PhD work in American philosophy, you will see philosophy and mathematics have got all mixed up together these days.
Ah, more to read.... 


Old movies...
"High Noon"

A friend and I recently traded some email concerning this movie.  His revisionist take on it was that Gary Cooper played a person who was a dupe of the rich.  Writing from Paris he seemed to be claiming this is the core of its American myth -- the hero does the dirty work of the rich capitalists, or some such thing.

Curiously "High Noon" was on television here in the last few weeks and, yes, Gary Cooper is the underpaid fellow who makes things safe for the rich business folks and doesn't get much in return.  He's lucky he got Grace Kelly to ride off into the sunset with him - she's pretty ticked with him the whole time.  Many folks have, of course, seen that film as an indictment of the weasels who wouldn't stand up for their friends in the McCarthy hearings.  But my friend's take on it makes sense too.

But there is a curious French aspect to it too.

"High Noon" really is French in structure.  French?  Yep.   All the action takes place in once setting, in one day, in real time - the elapsed time of all the action is the elapsed time of the film - with lots of quick cuts to the clock on the wall to let you know that.  It pretty much follows the strict rules of drama -- "The Three Unities"  -- which Corneille first insisted on in the 1660's and made for a lot of ink in the world of literary criticism.  All the French critics of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries ragged on the damned English and that Shakespeare fellow for not playing by the rules, the French rules.  You could look it up, if you were weird.  "High Noon" is one of the few films I know that strictly follows Corneille's rules.  So it's a French Western?


Hollywood and Pittsburgh

I have a friend, an attorney in New York, who has a theory about the song Life in the Fast Lane for the Eagles Hotel California albumHe maintains, and has for some time, that if you listen to it carefully, Life in Fast Lane is really a reworked polka.  I've been humming it as a polka for a few minutes now.  Indeed, this seems to be so.  Kind of gives one a new perspective on the California Dream that was the focus of so much rock music in the seventies.  I moved here in 1980 after one decade of Beach Boys tunes rattling around in my mind, followed by another decade of the Eagles and Steely Dan.  So here I am, living for more than a decade now one block above the Sunset Strip, a few blocks from the Whiskey and the Roxy, and it all was, really, all along, just disguised polka stuff?  Heck, I could have stayed in Pittsburgh.