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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Now reading de Tocqueville

It rankles me to see people, starting with Bill Clinton, quoting de Tocqueville, to wit:  "America is great, because America is good."  This saccharine statement would never come from a Frenchman, especially one as discerning and intelligent as Count Charles Alexis Henri Maurice Clerel de Tocqueville.  It sounds more like something a pitchman selling a baldness cure would say on paid television programming.

So I have taken it upon myself to read his masterwork, "Democracy in America," in full.  I have in my hand the Complete and Unabridged Volumes I and II.  Unfortunately I neglected to read it in college, not even the Cliff Notes which were undoubtedly consulted by Bill Clinton, because I was so busy thinking about boys and fixing my hair in the latest styles. By the way, this work is far harder and less fun than "Michelangelo and the Pope's ceiling." Just so you know.

I dug in to the first few chapters and found myself reviewing the material I learned in the compulsory civics class  I took in eighth grade in Columbus, Ohio.   Talk about deja vu!  To be fair, French children don't have to take the course, so de Tocqueville clued them in.  Now any French person interested in American municipal government can learn all about it in the original French.

I don't think Americans are any better than anyone else, or greater. We have a better system of government, and that is what deTocqueville is trying to explain, but it takes two volumes to do it.
By the way, someone got snarky with me because I mis-spelled exhilerating. Or, er, ex--oh, the hell with it! It never looks right no matter how you spell it, so I am going to leave it alone in the future.

Friday, January 17, 2014

More about Michelangelo and the Pope

Julie Z asked me how Ross King knew that Michelangelo used a scaffold.  I scoured the book and came up with an answer:  M wrote a poem about it, illustrated with a sketch of him painting the ceiling, reaching his arms above his head and bending backwards like Ginger Rogers dancing with Fred Astaire--okay, not leaning that much, but definitely leaning, and complaining about it.  As he seemed to complain about everything, especially his rotten family, a bunch of do-nothing brothers who just lounged around his father's house, enlarging their carbon footprints.

Now I am reading about Robert E Lee, a biography by Charles Bracelen Flood.  It's almost a hagiography.  Apparently Lee had some quality that led other men to like him, look up to him, and follow him, even unto death.  He was offered the command of Union forces, but turned it down, unwilling to fight against his native state, Virginia.

Apparently he had something that did not outlast his life.  Call it charisma.  I remember how people worshipped Roosevelt when I was a tot.  Nowadays he is receding into history, but Churchill said that meeting him was exhilarating, like your first taste of champagne. 

Update:  Apparently leaning back to paint had little or no ill effect on Michelangelo, who died at 89.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

George Washington Bridge scandal--or is it?

The brouhaha about theGeorge Washington Bridge scandal raises some questions about the intelligence and efficacy of the plotters.  The lane closings were meant to wreak vengeance on the mayor and citizens of Fort Lee, but did that happen?  Most of the frustrated drivers who were inconvenienced at the bridge were simply traveling through Fort Lee.  Fort Lee was not their destination; they simply had to go through it  to get from Point A to Point B.
Most people who use the GWB come from elsewhere, not necessarily even elsewhere in New Jersey.  People commute from as far away as Upstate New York and Pennsylvania.  They take the bridge (or one of the tunnels) because Manhattan is  an island; they work on the island, but live elsewhere.  So in what way did these lane closings single out the residents of Fort Lee?  This was just a bunch of dumb politicians playing games with the public welfare because they could.  I can't imagine Christie having anything to do with it.   He seems to me an intelligent man and an effective politician.
It's terribly frustrating to commute via the bridge at all.  I once lived in Westchester County but worked in New Jersey.  It took me an hour and a half to get  20 miles to work.   By the time I arrived at my destination I was a gibbering idiot.  It took me an hour to calm down.  On evenings when there was a baseball game at Yankee Stadium, it took two and a half hours.  In fact, I sometimes headed up to the Tappan Zee Bridge just to avoid the inevitable traffic jams on the GWB.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

What to do when it snows

My default position on occasions like this: Open a book; read the whole thing; put it down; open another. Rinse and repeat. If I followed my natural inclination I would sit and read all day. But that is a good way to get nuts. After a while I start to think I am a fictional character, and look behind me to see if I have cast a shadow.
So I exercise, take a walk, watch a movie, cook something, eat something, clean something, call someone, do laundry. Or blog, perhaps about something I am reading. I am now reading about Michelangelo and how he came to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It is called "Michelangelo and the Pope's ceiling," by Ross King. I bought the book at the Good Will store, a place where you never know what books you will find.
He was first hired to design a tomb for the Pope, Julius II. Julius was not one of those namby pamby popes such as we have today, always going on about charity, greed, yada, yada, and other things he knows little or nothing about. Julius was a patron of the arts with a bad temper. A really bad temper, so bad that he used to beat up the people around him, like a schoolboy. He beat up his servants when they displeased him, and sometimes beat up anyone he felt like beating up. He also hired soldiers to beat up other nations. The Venetian Ambassador to the Vatican, on his deathbed, said that one of the reasons he didn't mind dying was that when dead he would not have to cope with Julius, patron of the arts as he might be.
Anyway, I hate to disappoint anyone who has visions of Michelangelo lying on his back while painting the aforementioned ceiling. He had a scaffold built and he and his subordinates stood on a platform to paint. It was tough enough as it was. The ceiling had to be painted while it was wet.