Last fall, I thought the premeditated terrorist attack on our consular facility in Benghazi — an attack, let us remember, that left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead — would cost Barack Obama the election. I was wrong about that, as indeed I was wrong about the basic dynamics of the election more [...]
What is it about the word “art”? Pronounce it, and the IQ of susceptible folk is instantly halved. (I’ve seen cases where it is diminished by 87 percent.) Normally sensible people who do not, as a rule, appreciate being being made fools of stand idly by as someone tells them that a video of some [...]
by James Bowman
President Obama, in the midst of scandal to the right of him (the IRS) and scandal to the left of him (the AP wiretaps), scandal behind him (Benghazi) and scandal ahead of him (Obamacare implementation) is outraged about — sexual assaults in the military, which has apparently reached "crisis" proportions. And who can doubt it when Sally Quinn is, in her own words, "sputtering with outrage" about it — always an infallible indication of crisis. Yet she also professes to think that "sexual assault is part of the military culture." Well which is it? If it’s a crisis, it can hardly be part of the military culture, which has been around for a very long time, and if it’s part of the military culture, it can hardly be a crisis.
Perhaps the problem lies with Ms Quinn’s very odd idea of what constitutes the "sexual violence" she, along with her heroine, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), believes can and should be utterly eradicated from the military culture. However, she writes,
that is not going to be a cakewalk. Take the Cadets for Christ, a religious group at the Air Force Academy. According to Mikey Weinstein, head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, they espouse the idea of "the shepherding movement for female cadets. [The women] must be shepherded by males, even lower-ranking males. They are told that their value is that they have eggs. They are asked, ‘What are you doing here? This is not want Jesus wants.’" . . . If this is a tolerated group at the Air Force Academy (and the other military academies are not much better), how on earth can anybody, even the president, demand zero tolerance overnight? The fact is he can try. But nobody is going to pay attention. Not until people actually start going to jail.
So apparently Sally sees no difference between those who commit "sexual violence" against women and those who attempt to persuade women that God or nature has not intended them for a violent profession. Perpetrators of both sorts ought to be in jail. With such wildly disparate ideas of what sexual assault consists of, it’s no wonder our armed forces are having so much trouble with it. Perhaps it is a crisis after all.
On the assumption that it is, at any rate, the President summoned military leaders to the White House yesterday, even as he acknowledged that there was "no silver bullet to solving this problem." Of course, this is just another example of his usual technique of rhetorical argument: setting up a straw man which he then proceeds to knock down, except that I think he means a magic bullet, like the ones in Der Freischütz, rather than a silver one, which is the Lone Ranger’s gimmick, supposedly because it is less likely to kill than a regular bullet. At least that’s how I remember the Lone Ranger story, soon once again to grace the (ironically) silver screen with Johnny Depp as a painted Tonto reprising Captain Jack Sparrow on dry land. We also must understand, I guess, an implied personification (or monsterfication) of the problem of sexual harassment or bullets of any kind wouldn’t be much use against it.
The President didn’t bother putting in the part about how "there are those who say" (in effect) that there is a silver (or a magic) bullet, relying on his compliant listeners to stipulate such people’s existence, even though there is no evidence of it. But, as it happens, in this case there actually is a magic bullet. Simply follow the lead of the Cadets for Christ and return the armed forces to what they were before the feminist invasion and occupation of the 1970s. Surely, if ever an experiment in social engineering to a progressive blueprint can ever be said to have failed, the integration of women into the military on equal terms with men is it — and this latest "crisis" is the evidence. Get those chicks out of uniform or segregate them in strictly rear-echelon, bureaucratic roles, and watch that magic bullet do its stuff. But then you will understand that I jest. No progressive social engineering project can ever be said to have failed. For that to happen, it really would take a magic bullet.
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Today at The Atlantic, TNC’s Emily Esfahani Smith has a new article up titled “Is Sex Still Sexy?” commenting on the Bowdoin College sex education play Speak About It. The play, according to its official website, is “a performance-based presentation about consent, boundaries and healthy relationships” that “captures what healthy sex can and should look like.” But in a perfect example of the law of unintended consequences, Emily explains how Speak About It, though perhaps well meaning, ultimately undermines the healthy sexual culture it is trying to encourage. “Rather than promoting healthy sexuality,” Emily writes, “sexual exhibitionism is killing the eroticism that has traditionally been the essence of sex.”
Readers of The New Criterion will be familiar with mischievous goings-on at Bowdoin from Roger Kimball’s May installment of Notes & Comments, which highlighted the distressing findings of National Association of Scholars’ report What Does Bowdoin Teach? How a Contemporary Liberal Arts College Shapes Students, but Emily looks specifically at Speak About It and considers what it says about contemporary culture. Drawing on the philosophical works of Allan Bloom and Camille Paglia, the poetry of Rumi, and HBO’s popular series Girls, Emily makes a wide-ranging case that the distinction between sex and eros has been lost:
If we want sex to be sexy again, perhaps we should speak less about it.
Be sure to check out the full piece here.
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The New Criterion’s theater critic, Kevin D. Williamson (whose coverage is available here), had an interesting experience last night during Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. He recommends the show, but not the audience, which “was horrible — talking, using their phones, and making a general nuisance of themselves.”
To borrow from Publilius, never promise more than you can perform. The situation was not remedied. Yet.
So, what’s a theater critic to do? “I minded my own business by utilizing my famously feline agility to deftly snatch the phone out of her hand and toss it across the room, where it would do no more damage.”
That seemed to have gotten the management’s attention, as they soon appeared. Roger Kimball picks up the story at PJMedia: “Kevin wondered, as I would have done, whether management had come over to give him a pat on the back and congratulate him on dealing effectively with a public nuisance. I hope you will be as shock[ed] as I was to learn that instead, he got the boot.”
According to Mr. Williamson, “[t]here is talk of criminal charges” and promises to keep everyone updated over at NRO.
In the meantime, the story has blown up: Kevin appeared on Morning Joe to about his “vigilante justice” and his new book; Gothamist registered their support and suggested a Kickstarter Campaign to raise legal fees; The American Conservative weighed in, saying "Kevin Williamson, You Rock"; and both Business insider and Gawker picked up the story.
And unsurprisingly, there's been an outpouring of support on Twitter:
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I am just writing a piece about Maureen Dowd that begins with a quotation from William Hazlitt: “Those who lack delicacy hold us in their power.” La Dowd exemplifies the melancholy truth of Hazlitt’s observations in her girly, gossipy prose that brings the cattiest of sorority nastiness to the august pages of a once-serious newspaper. [...]
So, Andy McCarthy reports on the Pew Research Center’s survey on “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics, and Society.” The world’s Muslims, mind you. That’s a capacious group. The bottom line: things are not so bad, really. Yes, two thirds of those interviewed support the death penalty — the death penalty, Kemo Sabe — for [...]
by Eric Simpson
The Tokyo String Quartet; Photo: Henry J. Fair
This year marks the end of the Tokyo String Quartet's remarkable forty-four year run, following the announcement that its two longest-tenured members, Kikuei Ikeda and Kazuhide Isomura, will retire at the end of the season. Though they have a handful of concerts to go—concluding with a recital at the Norfolk Festival in Connecticut—on Saturday night they made their final New York appearance, with a sentimental program of final—or nearly final—compositions at the 92nd Street Y.
Cellist Lynn Harrell joined them for Schubert's Quintet in C major, which happens to be one of my personal favorites. Completed just weeks before the composer's death, it is among the greatest and most enduringly popular works in the chamber repertoire. I have written before about “Schubertland,” the territory between nostalgia and regret, and it is no coincidence that we should find an exemplar in a piece written during his final illness. In particular, the melting second theme of the first movement moves seamlessly from one to the other and back again in the span of just six measures. When the celli took up this theme for the first time, it was heart-rending. Thereafter, much of this performance was disappointing; the passionate minor sections of the first movement lacked punch, and though there was stillness and wisdom in their rendering of the second movement, its faster sections were muddy, and the violins sounded steely. Harsh tone was the primary culprit throughout the quintet: The scherzo was exuberant and joyful, even silly, but the celli scraped their way through much of it. The final Allegretto could have been cheekier at the opening, and though it eventually gave way to an impassioned ending, there were some intonation problems along the way.
The second half of the program began with Haydn's unfinished Quartet, op. 103. It was his last attempt at the form, begun and abandoned in 1803, and we are left with two very fine movements. The first is a sweet Andante grazioso, the second a Menuet and trio, alternately stern and cheerful. Their playing was light and refined, though they added some Romantic stylings—they don't claim to be a “historical performance” group, after all.
Following a touchstone Romantic work and a late Classical piece, it was a bold move to end the program with Bartók. As might be suspected there were a few concertgoers who chose to leave after the Haydn rather than have their ears taxed. They missed out—Tokyo's account of the sixth quartet was astonishing. They found every height and depth of the music, confidently navigating the murky waters of the more doleful sections, and in the jumpy, dance-like passages, summoning up an electric energy that constantly threatened to dissolve into chaos. The vivace section of the first movement was bitterly sarcastic, even menacing at times, and in the third movement they spat venom in a mercilessly stinging burletta. In stark contrast to Bartók's harsh satire stood the earnest pleading of the opening ritornello that frames the piece. The final movement is the only one that stays in unremitting gloom, and the sorrow with which they played it, first insistent, then resigned, left me speechless. It is a rare privilege to hear so compelling a performance of such challenging music.
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by Peter Wood
Paul Du Chaillu was the young man who ventured inland from the coast of Gabon in 1856 on a quest to be the first European to encounter the njena, the supposedly ferocious beast we now call the gorilla. That same year, William Henry Edwards, grandson of Jonathan Edwards, decided as “to go down the butterfly path,” which would lead in time to his becoming (according to a later scholar) “the greatest butterfly student which this country has ever produced or probably ever will.”
Du Chaillu has come out of historical retirement to take a bow in Monte Reel’s enthralling new book, Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer, The Evolution Debate, and the African Adventure That Took the Victorian World by Storm. Edwards plays a leading role in William Leach’s shimmering Butterfly People: An American Encounter with the Beauty of the World. Du Chaillu and Edwards make a nice contrast. The gorilla-hunter was a “diminutive” man of obscure origins, self-educated, and forced to live by his wits. Edwards was (to judge by his photograph) robust, from an illustrious family, educated at Williams College, and a successful capitalist who invented the coal barge and lived off his extensive West Virginia mines. Du Chaillu was an adventurer who coveted recognition as an explorer and scientist. Edwards was an enthusiastic industrialist (“what an utter blank the world would be, if iron did not exist”) enthralled with butterflies and determined to spare “no expense” for the color plates in his three volume Butterflies of North America.
But there are commonalities between the two men as well. They were amateurs in an age where major contributions to human knowledge could still be made by individuals outside the scientific establishment. They were both meticulous in their observations. And they were both brave. Du Chaillu shot down charging 400-pound male gorillas at close range. Edwards’ light-winged quarry posed no threat, but a nine-month voyage up the Orinoco in 1846 wasn’t for the faint of heart. Both started out hunting birds in a search for previously unidentified species.
Gorillas and butterflies have one more thing in common. They are so rich in metaphoric possibilities that hardly anyone can resist the temptation to draft them into rhetorical service. Reel’s book revels in the record of gorilla-inspired vituperation, including Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s 1861 jibe at Lincoln as “the Original Gorilla.” Leach relates how the coal-mining industrialist Edwards named one of his diaphanous discoveries the Nokomis fritillary, “daughter of the moon,” after Hiawatha’s grandmother in Longfellow’s poem.
The amateur zeal of Du Chaillu and Edwards is nicely echoed by Reel and Leach, who have added to the growing genre of historical inquiry that mingles the resurrection of mostly forgotten figures with social, economic, and intellectual history. What is truly on the page in these books is the thirst for knowledge and discovery as a personal undertaking. Rivalries and even bitter animosities emerge; reputations are flayed; personal failings pinned. But behind all this is a genuine longing to see, to know, and to understand. Reel and Leach give us, in these different characters, compelling reminders that the postmodernism of the contemporary university is a starvation diet.
Of course, I can’t resist the metaphoric possibilities either. For the last six weeks I have been busy with the follow-up to the release of What Does Bowdoin Teach? the 360-page examination of a single college that I wrote along with my colleague Michael Toscano. Some of the responses remind me of what Du Chaillu discovered the first time he came face to face with a gorilla. The beast gave a tremendous roar and came running straight at him. Du Chaillu didn’t wait to find out what would happen next. He fired and dropped the gorilla a few feet away. Later he discovered that a gorilla’s charge is mere intimidation. The animal breaks away at the last second. This has been Bowdoin’s official response to What Does Bowdoin Teach?: a roar, a charge, and—never mind. The unofficial response, coming mostly from Bowdoin students, by contrast, has been more like a flight of butterflies. The swirling display is impressive, but it is hard to discern a point other than “look at me.” One alumnus in particular stands out as a sort of Nokomis fritillary who flits into every blog and newspaper story as a reminder that the lightness of being is sometimes literal.
Having paid that bill and added in the gratuity, let me give the last word to the entrancing tales of the real-life gorilla and butterfly hunters. Genuine scholarship comes not necessarily from credentialed scholars but also—and sometimes more impressively—from people independent of the establishment. Du Chaillu and Edwards exemplify that kind of achievement.
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by James Panero
Last year, the London-based Frieze Art Fair came to New York, pitched a tent on Randalls Island, and it was cool. The sophomore effort, on view through Monday, keeps much of the formula from a year ago. The 250,000 square-foot custom tent by SO-IL is back with sweeping views of the East River. (All photographs by James Panero).
The special water taxi with regular departures from Manhattan's 35th Street Ferry Dock is still the way to go.
But this free service from a year ago now costs $12.50 round trip and requires advanced ticketing.
Added to the $42 daily ticket fee (which must also be booked in advance), Frieze is anything but free. This year, a red inflatable sculpture by Paul McCarthy is there to keep your mind off your wallet.
The work also signals that, in the future, all art will only be balloon dogs.
Inside I liked this gritty sculpture by Marianne Vitale, a Frieze Projects artist, but Sant Ambroeus kind of ruins the effect, no?
This sculpture by Valeska Soares at Galeria Fortes Vilaca includes real liquor.
Much like last year, sculpture continued to look good in the ambient light of Frieze. This bronze souffle is by Erwin Wurm of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac.
Regrettably, Frieze has also regressed to the art-fair mean. Crotch-shot photographs by Thomas Ruff are in abundance, and there are plenty of shiny things on display. This "Rim Sculpture" by Cyprien Gaillard at Spruth Magers sums it up.
Labor issues have also caught up to Frieze.
The artist Andrea Bowers at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects has included this letter of protest with her work--the appearance and dissappearance of which has been a point of discussion.
Frieze continues to offer interesting aesthetic challenges, such as, Roberta's or Mission Chinese for lunch?
I was enjoying the mellow vibe of "Food 1971/2013," a special project space in homage to Gordon Matta-Clark and (Friday's chef) Carol Goodden, until I got bumped from my seat by Renee Rockefeller.
With curated food trucks and hip eateries, Frieze New York is either an art fair with food on the side or a food fair with art in the middle.
However you slice it, I enjoyed this ice cream sandwich.
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( AHR-mah wih-ROOM-kweh)
In the Aeneid, the Roman poet Virgil sang of "arms and a man" (Arma virumque cano). Month in and month out, The New Criterion expounds with great clarity and wit on the art, culture, and political controversies of our times. With postings of reviews, essays, links, recs, and news, Armavirumque seeks to continue this mission in accordance with the timetable of the digital age.
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