Sunday, August 30, 2009

Who indeed?

I read, with both great interest and mounting horror, this piece in The New York Times Magazine about the killings (though I'd use another, more specific, word) that took place at New Orleans Memorial Medical Center during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. I offer, by way of analysis, this comment by another on a very similar program to the one described in the article,
People, he told his congregation, were not like old horses or cows, to be slaughtered when they were of no more use. If this principle were applied to human beings, 'then fundamentally the way is open to the murder of all unproductive people, of the incurably ill, of people invalided out of work or out of the war, then the way is open to the murder of all of us, when we become old and weak and thus unproductive.' In such circumstances, he asked rhetorically, 'Who can trust his doctor anymore?' -- Blessed Clemens August Graf von Galen, Sermon of 3 August 1941, quoted in Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich At War, p. 98.
I have my doubts, however, that the people (I wouldn't insult other doctors by granting these men and women the same dignity) who made their patients so "comfortable" (if that was indeed their intent) would be capable of taking Cardinal Graf von Galen's point fully.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Summer Reading

Now that my summer is about over (classes resumed yesterday), I think it appropriate to reveal -- not that anyone cares too deeply -- my summer reading list. While this seems a little weak, I think it should be noted that Cultural Amnesia and The Third Reich At War are massive books -- tomes, even -- that consumed a lot of time (the latter book still consumes a lot of time and it's about all I've done for the last week or so).

Hannah Arendt, Eichmann In Jerusalem (1964)
Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich At War (2008)
Clive James, Cultural Amnesia (2007)
Ernst Jünger, Storm Of Steel (1920/1931 ver.)
Cormac McCarthy, Suttree (1979)
Peter Pettinger, Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings (1999)

I've also been dabbling in Frank O'Hara's Collected Poetry (1971/1995) and Rilke in Mitchell's translation (The Selected Poetry of RMR). For whatever reason (and in the case of the O'Hara volume, it's partially a baffling-to-me editorial layout), I don't like reading poetry straight through -- unless it's meant to be read straight through. I'll admit coming to O'Hara largely because the second season of Mad Men was laced with allusions to his Meditations In An Emergency (1957), but I'll also admit that it was a pleasant surprise to find him as engaging as he has proved.

Of course, it wouldn't be an interesting summer book list if I didn't recount all the books that I have yet to get to -- and, thanks to law journal and moot court, probably won't for a while.

Italo Calvino, t zero (1967)
Bret Easton Ellis, Less Than Zero (1985)
Kazuo Ishiguro, An Artist Of The Floating World (1986)
Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich: A New History (2000)
Alexander Pushkin, Eugene Onegin (Stanley Mitchell, trans., 2008)
John Reed, Ten Days That Shook The World (1919)
François Truffaut, Hitchcock/Truffaut (1967/1983)

Of course, I think having such a deep shelf of books that I need to read is a bit of subconscious rebellion against the imperial demands of the law school on my time. While cases are interesting (especially if you want to pass the classes, as I do), I don't think many rise to the level of great literature. Even Justice Antonin Scalia, often praised for his prose, tends toward tendentiousness in a way that wouldn't pass muster in the circles of serious nonfiction.

Monday, August 10, 2009


I'm currently in the middle of Peter Pettinger's Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings (Yale UP, 1998), and a theme that has emerged so far is Evans' fondness for Bach. For example, for Evans' senior recital in college on 24 April 1950, the pianist chose to play -- among other pieces -- the B-flat-minor prelude and fugue (BWV 867). His appreciation, particularly of the Well-Tempered Clavier, apparently continued through the years.

This is, of course, just a little bit of musical trivia; however, it's interesting to me to see to what Evans himself liked to study and to play. It also says a lot about Bach's genius.

Friday, August 07, 2009

R.I.P. John Hughes

John Hughes died yesterday. It's no overstatement to say that the man, in his writing and directing, probably defined the 1980s for a lot of people. At the very least, he made a lot of the movies I think of as "iconic" when I think about the 1980s. Between Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Hughes did a lot to define what growing up during that time in middle America meant. His vision resonated with a lot of people. One particularly moving tribute came from a woman who was his pen pal during the 1980s. Hughes seems like he was a pretty decent fellow, even at the height of his fame. Dana Stevens, at Slate, takes a broader view to much the same effect.

When Michael Jackson died, I wasn't really struck by the event largely because I am too young to remember Jackson at the height of his own fame. All I remember is the increasingly sad sight of a man hounded mercilessly by the same media that slathered him in near-hagiography until the early 1990s. Hughes, on the other hand, retired in 1994 and retreated into relatively anonymous private life. There's something to be said for that. In a way, Hughes' art never had to take a back seat to his personal life, and a lot of the images I associate with Hughes (particularly the end of The Breakfast Club or the restaurant scene in Ferris Bueller) are just that -- images I associate with John Hughes. His authorial voice, so to speak, is stronger for that.

That's what's really very extraordinary about John Hughes -- something I didn't realize until just now. He realized, at some level, that Hollywood can and often does turn on its darlings. His pen pal talked about his comments about what the industry did to John Candy. The same goes for Michael Jackson or anyone who makes a big enough statement. Orson Welles, for example, was cast out and kept out from the Hollywood establishment even as Kane was praised to high heaven. The allure of fame is well documented, as is the struggle a lot of people have with leaving the limelight. It takes someone with a fair amount of perspective to just up and leave. It takes someone who can read the writing on the wall.

While I could talk about Hughes' perspective on modern American life for middle-class teenagers, I won't. Hughes let his movies do all the talking. We should too. We should remember, furthermore, that sometimes the best way to make sure you're heard is to say almost nothing at all.