Moscow back on the Hudson: On the front pages of major newspapers, this is a startling day.
Among the various remarkable items, the most remarkable might be this statement from the Trump transition team, as cited by the Washington Post:
“These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’ ”
(Our italics; their statement.)
Absolutely nothing stops the apparent ridiculous lying. We say "apparent" because it isn't clear that people who are mentally ill can commit a lie. Their moral agency may be gone, and with it the logic of lying.
However we want to assess moral agency, absolutely nothing stops the barrage of crazy misstatements from the Trump campaign. On the other hand, we had the pleasure of encountering five midshipmen, as they are called, at a local coffee joint this morning.
The first two midshipmen were impressive young women, with whom we briefly chatted. Yes, they were in town for today's Army-Navy game.
"It's going to be cold," one of these young women said.
Not long after these upbeat young women arrived, three young men appeared on the scene, also in full Annapolis dress. For the record: Under the taxonomies which result from our nation's tragic and deranged history, four of these young people would be listed as "black." One would be listed as "white."
As we chatted with those young women, we marveled at the way the world just keeps producing such cheerful, impressive young people.
We might have compared them, in our minds, to our apparently crazy incoming president—or even to James B. Comey, who's cast in an ironic role in that Washington Post report.
(Even as he kept intruding on the White House campaign, Comey was apparently warning legislators about Moscow's unwanted intrusions. This pattern has obtained in the past.)
We could have made those comparisons. Instead, we couldn't help it! We found ourselves comparing those impressive young women to some of the work which emerged this week from the New York Times.
How does it happen? How does a world which produces such impressive young people end up with its greatest newspaper publishing cult-like accounts of international public school testing programs—even publishing this?
If you click that revealing link, you'll see the famous newspaper's selections for the ten best books of the year. The selections were made by the editors of the Times' weekly Book Review section.
Good lord! Live and direct from the puzzling Times, here's one of their (ten best) picks:
At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot CocktailsGood lord! Even from the foppish Times, that's an amazing selection. Even more amazing is the claim that this book is "impressively lucid."
By Sarah Bakewell
The author of the Montaigne biography “How to Live” has written another impressively lucid book, one that offers a joint portrait of the giants of existentialism and phenomenology: Sartre, Beauvoir, Camus, Jaspers, Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger and a half-dozen other European writers and philosophers. Around the early 1930s, the story divides between the characters who eventually come out more or less right, like Beauvoir, and the ones who come out wrong, like Heidegger. Some of Bakewell’s most exciting pages present engaged accounts of complex philosophies, even ones that finally repel her. And the biographical nuggets are irresistible; we learn, for example, that for months after trying mescaline, Sartre thought he was being followed by “lobster-like beings.”
Impressively lucid? We're not sure we've ever read a book so comically incoherent. We spent perhaps six weeks this summer savoring this book's incoherence on a daily basis, right in that same coffee joint. A person could easily build a college course around its comically failed attempts to elucidate the "complex philosophies" with which it heroically struggles.
Briefly, let's be fair. As we noted in August, major newspapers around the world agreed to praise this book for its great lucidity.
We regard that as a remarkable fact. Presumably, only the Times would take the next step—would judge the lucidity to be so great that it had produced one of the five (5) best non-fiction books of the year.
Those young women today were impressive; the New York Times is not. That said, let's offer some words of praise for an earlier effort by the Times—for Dwight Garner's recent review of a different book.
We loved Garner's review; he had us at paragraph 6. He was reviewing a memoir by Marina Abramovic, who turns out to be one of our greatest performance artists. In paragraphs 6 and 7, this is what Garner said:
GARNER (11/2/16): I knew I was going to dislike Ms. Abramovic's memoir on Page 10. That's where she declares that, as a child growing up in postwar Yugoslavia, she didn't play with dolls or toys. Instead, she writes, in a passage that sets this book's tone of sleek, international, Bono-level pretentiousness, ''I preferred to play with the shadows of passing cars on the wall.''Garner pens almost a thousand words about the pomposity he says he found in this book. Not having read the book, we can't exactly assess his assessment, despite his potent examples.
A tolerance for a certain amount of pomposity is a prerequisite for keeping up with serious art; otherwise, you're always sitting at the short table and using the plastic cutlery. In ''Walk Through Walls,'' Ms. Abramovic pushes this tolerance to its limits.
We'll suggest that Garner's review is worth reading if only for its entertainment value. Along the way—actually, in paragraph 5—we were struck by these revelations:
GARNER: Her career built to an intensely popular 2010 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. More than 750,000 people stood in line for a chance to perch across from Ms. Abramovic (James Franco came, as did Björk) and silently communicate with her as she sat unmoving for, all told, more than 700 hours. In her memoir, we learn there was a trapdoor into which she could surreptitiously urinate. She says she never used it.Just this morning, we decided to check the way the New York Times covered that intensely popular 2010 retrospective.
Let's just say that the Times showered the retrospective with coverage, up to and including a full-length Home & Garden/On Location tour of the artist's star-shaped New Jersey home. As the retrospective neared its end, art critic Holland Carter looked back in gladness:
COTTER (5/31/10): At 5 p.m. Monday one of the longest pieces of performance art on record, and certainly the one with the largest audience, comes to an end. Since her retrospective opened at the Museum of Modern Art on March 14, the artist Marina Abramovic has been sitting, six days a week, seven hours a day in a plain chair, under bright klieg lights, in MoMA's towering atrium. When she leaves that chair Monday for the last time, she will have clocked 700 hours of sitting.Those young performance artists today! Eventually, Cotter mentioned the nudity which had formed a large part of the months-long hubbub. (This included the nudity in Abramovic's restaging of "Imponderabilia," her nudity-driven 1976 hit.)
During that time her routine seldom varied. Every day she took her place just before the museum doors opened and left it after they closed. Her wardrobe was consistent: a sort of concert gown with a long train, in one of three colors (red, blue and white).
Always her hair, in a braided plait, was pulled forward over her left shoulder. Always her skin was an odd pasty white, as if the blood had drained away. Her pose rarely changed: her body slightly bent forward, she stared silently and intently straight ahead.
There was one variable, a big one: her audience.
Visitors to the museum were invited, first come first served, to sit in a chair facing her and silently return her gaze. The chair has rarely, if ever, been empty. Close to 1,400 people have occupied it, some for only a minute or two, a few for an entire day.
Sitting with Ms. Abramovic has been the hot event of the spring art season. Celebrities—Bjork, Marisa Tomei, Isabella Rossellini, Lou Reed, Rufus Wainwright—did a stint. Young performance artists seized a moment in the limelight. One appeared in his own version of an Abramovic gown to propose marriage. Certain repeat sitters became mini-celebrities, though long-time waiters on line stared daggers at those who sat too long.
This time around, the nudity proved exciting. In this piece from April 2010, the Times had reported all the inappropriate touching which marked, or perhaps even marred, this otherwise fine retrospective. This taxonomy included "the gropers" and "the stalkerish types," but also the many felt erections, along with "a leader of a tour group unaffiliated with the museum [who] pointed to a female performer's abdomen and loudly (and incorrectly) identified a scar as 'from a Cesarean.' "
Apparently, high art can be like that. Who let that tour bus in?
When we read Garner's review, we saw it as a window into the foppish world of the New York Times, as a window on the intellectual horizons which helped enable Donald J. Trump. We also saw it as a window into the world of our own easily tea-bagged, ineffectually anti-Trump tribe.
Garner said good-bye to all that high art in his unpleasant review. On the other hand, the Times is now publishing Amanda Ripley's cultish, data-disappearing work—she and the Times now seem to be official Timss deniers—and it's picking Bakewell's "impressively lucid," comical book as one of the year's ten best.
It's a hard thing for us the people to see, but the Times is a very dumb newspaper. Its frameworks are generated within a deeply dumb, foppish subculture.
As recently as July 4, as part of a lengthy front-page report, this ridiculous newspaper couldn't bring itself to ask if Donald J. Trump had simply lied about sending investigators to Hawaii to probe Barack Obama's birth. The wages of this conduct are plain. Even last night, in the face of chastening news, the transition team couldn't be bothered to drop its absurd misstatements.
This morning, we spoke with two upbeat, bright, impressive young women. How do you get from them to the Times, we incomparably asked.
College football update: Inevitably, Jeff Sagarin's computer rankings say that Pacific-12 power and might have prevailed again this year.
Ignore what Tony and Michael say; you can check the numbers yourself. Warning! You'll have to average two pairs of numbers.
To do so, just click here.