Archive for the ‘Serenade’ Category

Friday, 29 July 2011

Friday, July 29th, 2011

¶ We are sorry to learn that Judge Jed Rakoff has ruled that Irving Picard, the trustee who is trying to recoup the losses of Bernard Madoff’s victims, lacks standing to sue banks and other service providers for negligent enablement. Technically — and standing is always technical when it isn’t blindingly obvious — the trustee stands in Mr Madoff’s shoes, not those of his victims. This Gilded Age reasoning makes no human sense, and bankruptcy law ought to be revised forthwith to refute it.

The Impressionist’s Garden
Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

¶ The Impressionist’s garden necessarily blooms in a state of paradox. Monet himself treated it as a studio — and you know what artist’s studio are like. Of her visit with James Priest, the new head gardener at Giverney — he has worked for Rothschilds and at Kew — Suzanne Daley notes that “Monet could tend to one patch or another as he painted it, while letting flowers bloom and fade elsewhere” — clearly a no-no for a public attraction that seeks to sell tickets. Complicating things somewhat, Mr Priest used to like the art of the Impressionists, but now he prefers Old Masters. He’s reduced to asking artists if the garden gives them an Impressionist feeling.  

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

¶ It is pretty clear by now that Marshall McLuhan was a premature genius. He had a great insight, but it hit him about 25 years too soon. A professor of Renaissance rhetoric who was preoccupied, long before television blighted the airwaves, with “the influence of all kinds of communications media on individual consciousness,” McLuhan was a geeky space cadet ante lettera. The quote there comes from Douglas Coupland’s recent book on McLuhan, the subtitle of which is the battle cry of premature geniuses: You Don’t Understand My Work! And how can they? The premature genius doesn’t understand it, either. No matter how bright the name of McLuhan shines in intellectual history, his life was not an intellectually happy one.

McLuhan looked at television and somehow sensed the Internet. Crazy! (Bear in mind, though, that the technological material of the  early Internet — telephone lines, cathode-ray tubes — was already lying around, and already being forged into something by DARPA.) But by the time he died, in 1980, he had been crippled by nearly ten years of small strokes, and his utterings went beyond cryptic, and the notion of “interactive television” was right up there with pet rocks: What were we thinking? It didn’t help that his various futuristic business ventures went nowhere. It seems that he could sense the future so well because he was so firmly rooted in the past — professor, Catholic convert, would-be patriarch. True to the story of Moses, he was denied entry into the new world that he foresaw. Well, he’d have hated it. Facebook or Google+? It’s fun to imagine the fulminations. Ian Austen brings us up to date on centennial celebrations in Canada. Maybe the rule that a good idea ahead of time is no better than a bad idea with no future has an exception or two.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Monday, July 25th, 2011

¶ The Vatican has recalled Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, its nuncio (ambassador) in Ireland — a dramatic and unusual gesture that seems intended to reprimand the Irish government in the wake of Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s denunciation of “the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican.” How many wrong moves does Benedict XVI get to make before someone with common sense — not to mention common decency — cries mercy and takes over?  

Where’s the Task Force?
Friday, 22 July 2011

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

¶ Just as Paul Krugman marvels at the disappearance of the troublesome matter of unemployment from “elite policy discourse” (no surprise, really, if you’re tuned into the objectives of what Krugman rightly calls the Rentier Party), so we’re astonished (not) at the failure of Sean Collins Walsh’s Postal Office story to consider the USPS’s looming insolvency crisis from an operational, non-financial angle. Enough with the pension-funding tricks. Let’s talk about bulk mail. Is there any wonder that FedEx and UPS have not horned in on this money-losing market? Let’s talk about twentysomethings who have never bought a stamp: can it be said that the USPS is still manufacturing buggy whips? Fifteen years into the Age of the Internet, the USPS’s core business, as currently operated, no longer makes sense. 

None of Our Business
Thursday, 21 July 2011

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

¶ We confess that we find polygamy objectionable, largely because it enshrines what we take to be an exceedingly regressive view of the difference between the sexes. But! We’re aware that similarly-scented objections are routinely raised against homosexuality, which doesn’t trouble us in the least. Jonathan Turley, the constitutional lawyer representing Kody Brown & Family in their challenge of Utah’s anti-polygamy statute, convinces us that our objections are without legal merit, and that we had better stop confusing abusive exceptions with the peaceable rule. If there’s something wrong with the Brown family’s arrangements, it isn’t multiple marriage.

Studio Sonic Symbiosis
Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

¶ Steve Smith writes brilliantly about the series of Brucker-Adams concerts that the Cleveland Orchestra has been giving at the Lincoln Center Festival, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst.

Yet in a spiritual sense, the works felt complementary: presumably the point Mr. Welser-Möst wanted to make. Mr. Adams, contemplating the terror of nuclear Armageddon, calls on poetry: “Batter My Heart,” the magnificent “Doctor Atomic” aria that appears in instrumental guise near the end of the symphony, is an incantatory setting of John Donne, an invitation to divine ravishment. Bruckner, his death at hand, reaffirms an unshakable faith in God with heavenward gestures and allusions to Wagner’s holy-quest drama, “Parsifal.” The work’s anguished dissonances seem to attest to awe rather than to mortal terror.

Studio System
Monday, 18 July 2011

Monday, July 18th, 2011

¶ In the Business Section, Michael Cieply writes about the latest incarnation of the studio system in Hollywood, which is built on guanxi — personal, rather than contractual, obligation. Amy Pascal is hailed as a success even though her studio, Sony, came in fifth out of six last year. That‘s the studio system. “A nice business” would be another way of putting it. (Although we really have to see How Do You Know? now — romantic comedies are rarely financial disasters on that magnitude — $120/$50WW)

Genug schon
Thursday, 14 June 2011

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

¶ Janet Maslin gives Ben Mezrich’s new book, Sex on the Moon, a review that seems both doting and frosty. Yes, Mezrich writes cinema-friendly page-turners. But perhaps it’s time for him to confine his literary effort to scenarios that don’t take an age to read. If the passage that Ms Maslin quotes is any indication, Mezrich ought to leave his paintjobs to the cinematographer.

Nowadays Mr. Mezrich displays the confidence of someone on a roll. He no longer pretends to be telling true stories. He fakes and pads so excitably that his own tricks are better than his characters’. What is “an angry whirl of gargantuan white flakes”? Mezrich snow. What is “thick and dark and ominous, like the intertwining ropes of an immense fishing net cast across the sky, swallowing up every inch of visible air, obscuring everything, even the muted glow of the nearly full moon”? A Mezrich cloudy night. What is “Hollywood’s next big thing?” Mr. Mezrich himself, according to this own Web site.

We don’t think that we’d have liked David Fincher’s The Social Network more if we had read the book of the same title.

Wednesday, 13 June 2011

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

¶ Joseph Berger fills in the background on the other night’s fire story. The fire itself, it seems, will be ruled accidental, which is good to hear. And the building is insured. We knew that Kehilath Jeshurun and its affiliated Ramaz school had lost a lot of money to Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, but we didn’t know about the rabbinical dynasty that has overseen the synagogue since 1906 (Hankel Lookstein, the incumbent, is the great-grandson of Moses Zevulun Margolies, the rabbi whose initials gave the school its name). We wish the congregation a speedy recovery. 

Dead Hand
Monday, 11 July 2011

Monday, July 11th, 2011

¶ Never having visited the Barnes Museum, formerly in Merion, Pennsylvania and slated to reopen in Philadelphia, we were appalled by what we saw on the Times‘s virtual tour of several rooms, hosted by Randy Kennedy. It is shocking to think that the bad taste of a private collector has been respected for more than fifty years. Dr Barnes expressed his bad taste not in his collections of fine French paintings and African carvings but in the manner of displaying them, which, in our view, submerges them in unintelligible clutter while draining away the possibility of aesthetic pleasure. It is nothing less than barbaric to permit dead hands to interfere with the imaginative lives of the living.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

¶ We wish that whoever edited Rachel Minder’s story about Spain’s stolen babies had seen to let us know why we’re reading about it today. What, precisely, is the news? It’s a journalistic quibble, perhaps, but we pose it because the story is so awful. How long has it been going on, and what is being done about it? The Times report answers the first question: for decades. But it leaves the more worrisome question open. What is being done, it seems, is precisely nothing, nothing beyond a morass of lawsuits, in which parents and children charge nuns and hospitals with the atrocious crime of informing new parents that their newborns have died, while spiriting off the babies, actually quite healthy, to purchasers — all in compliance with the evil “righteousness” of Franco’s fascism. What the old state did, the new state must rectify. Saddling individuals with the burden of resolving their terrible losses is almost as heinous as the underlying crimes. The news ought to have been that the Attorney General is consolidating all suspected cases, which, sadly, it isn’t.

Cy Twombly, 1928-2011
Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

¶ On our next visit to the Museum, we’re going to spend a few minutes with the Cy Twombly paintings — assuming that they’re still hanging in the Lila Acheson Wallace galleries. Twombly, who died at Rome, claimed a kinship with Poussin that we have a lot of trouble making out, but no matter; we like his big, dreamy canvases best of all the midcentury splashers’.

The Last Hapsburg
Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

¶ Well, maybe not: Otto von Hapsburg, who has died two years shy of his centenary, and briefly the Austro-Hungarian crown prince, is survived by a younger brother, Felix — as well as a clutch of offpsring that includes two great-grandchildren (lucky man!). But when Dr von Hapsburg finally abdicated his claim to the vanished throne, in 1961, it was not assumed by anyone else. The erstwhile prince devoted his life to pursuing a high-minded and less personally invested version of his imperial family’s ambitious but generally benign project of unifying all of Europe. As Holy Roman Emperors, and then as the rulers of the reduced but still vast Dual Monarchy, the Hapsburgs were a steadfast counterweight to the deadly sectarian and nationalistic trends that, finally prevailing in the mid-Twentieth Century, taught Europeans the importance of a common union.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Friday, July 1st, 2011

¶ There is really no other word for Robert Finch, chairman of the Monarchist League of Canada.

“Many Canadians may think we’re dreadfully boring,” he said. He added that while the royals enjoy a life of great wealth and privilege, it is not without costs to their personal lives.

“The fact that the queen can’t change her hairstyle because she has to look like the person on her money, that’s an example of a big sacrifice,” Mr. Finch said.

We can think of a few qualities that Canadians might think of before getting to “boring.”

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

¶ In keeping with our governing idea that smaller is better, we applaud the determination of Alex Salmond, first minister of Scotland as well head of the once marginal Scottish National Party, to set his country’s course away from Westminster. His conundrum, as observer John Curtice put it, is that his “success as first minister [makes] the case for independence less pressing.”

Margaret Tyzack, 1931-2011
Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

¶ We honor the passing of Margaret Tyzack, one of our very favorite actresses, at the age of 79. We never saw her Martha (in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), but we loved her Lotte Schoen, battling with Maggie Smith’s Lettice Douffet in Peter Shaffer’s Lettice & Lovage. Plus everything from 2001 to Match Point. What a voice! Tyzack will be much missed!

U Turn II
Monday, 27 June 2011

Monday, June 27th, 2011

¶ There is only one word for our response to Elisabeth Rosenthal’s front-page story in this morning’s paper, “Europe Stifles Drivers in Favor of Alternatives“: GLEE. Our dislike of private cars on Manhattan streets is becoming, we confess, pathological. In particular, we bitterly resent the expropriation of sidewalks by parking spaces. It’s nice to see that European civic leaders are on the right track on this issue (as is, to some extent at least, our own mayor, who sought unsuccessfully to impose tolls on the East and Harlem River bridges). We were tickled pink to read that the approaches to Zürich are dotted with gratuitous traffic signals that are set to linger on red. Toll the bridges!

A Tale of Two Capitals Friday, 24 June 2011

Friday, June 24th, 2011

¶ It’s an ongoing story, with no clear outcome. Sleepy Bonn, capital of the Bundesrepublik Deutschland (known here as “West Germany”), has been growing of late, while Berlin suffers high unemployment and is still inching its way back to its post-unification population peak. What may tip the scales in Berlin’s favor is the end of military conscription in Germany, an operation that was run from the university town on the Rhine that was also the summer retreat of the Electors of Cologne. The sad truth is that Germany’s powerhouse city, Frankfurt, has an aura that makes Chicago look like Paris. Alan Cowell reports.

A Roma Thursday, 23 June 2011

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

¶ We’ve just whiled away a few quarter hours staring at the Google Maps images of Rome. Up a certain magnification, the the images are satellite photos as usual, but when you zoom in, the view becomes decidedly more that from an airplane. Or a hot air balloon. You won’t believe it!

Zoom in until you find the Villa Medici, home of the Institut Français until fairly recent times. We were poking around this neighborhood because we thought we’d try to find the grotto that Velásquez painted in 1630. Michael Kimmelman prefers to spend time with this picture when he’s at the Prado, ignoring the vastly more famous Las Meninas around the corner. We think that the smaller picture is pretty neat, too; it would be nice to see it someday. We can’t quite make out the “workman looking down from a rooftop,” even though we’ve checked out several other images of the picture (which is how we learned that the arcade wall belongs to the Pavilion of Ariadne — a fact to which Kimmelman slyly alludes by describing the dangling rope’s glinting “like the silver thread of a spider’s web.” We couldn’t make out the rope, either, until we checked out the Times online. Maybe we were too busy envying Michael Kimmelman his youthful discovery of Italy, a world of “shady churches and neglected museums, cool, silent retreats from the hot days, and it was as if a whole universe opened up just to me.” Since he puts it so well, we’re glad of his good fortune.