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Monthly Archives: October 2011

Eat the Rich: A Treatise on Economics

If you want to understand economics better without actually taking any economics courses, read Eat the Rich: A Treatise on Economics.P.J. O’Rourke does the heavy studying for you. Or actually he gets someone else to. He does read some dense economics texts and pushes them aside deciding there are better ways to gain understanding.

So off he goes in search of answers. The results are chapters like “Good Capitalism: Wall St.,” “Bad Capitalism: Albania,” “Good Socialism: Sweden,” “Bad Socialism: Cuba,” “How to Make Nothing from Everything: Tanzania,” and “How to Make Everything from Nothing: Hong Kong.” In each country O’Rourke seeks to find the reason behind its success or poverty. He talks with experts, examines the markets, chats with the man in the street and makes sense of statistics. After reading, I feel smarter and it was a painless experience, quite unexpected when I think about economics.

This is from the ethernet archives. I doubt we can still call Wall St. “Good Capitalism.”

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2011 in humor

 

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On Mansfield Park

Our online book discussion is in progress and several people just don’t care for Fanny all that much. She really is a weakling and obsequious, but this article that I found while looking for something else sheds some light on Fanny.

In some ways, it is not surprising that Mansfield Park was not among the novels initially adapted for film or that the filmmaker altered the novel so radically.

Although Mansfield Park has never been without defenders, it has long been regarded as Austen’s least-popular novel, largely because of the supposed unattractiveness of the novel’s heroine, Fanny Price.( n18) Literary critics have tended to regard Fanny as at best “essentially passive and uninteresting,”( n19) and at worst “morally detestable,” “a monster of complacency and pride…under a cloak of cringing self-abasement.”( n20) In one of the most famous critiques of Mansfield Park, Lionel Trilling remarks, “Nobody, I believe, has ever found it possible to like the heroine of Mansfield Park.”( n21)

Those who, like Trilling, regard Austen as reactionary, a defender of society against the newer claims of romanticism or the self, tend to see Mansfield Park as Austen’s clearest and most explicit statement of her position. Although such critics argue that all of Austen’s works support conventional morality, they maintain that in her earlier novels, especially Pride and Prejudice, which she rewrote for publication just before beginning Mansfield Park, Austen’s defense of society was done in a way that was pleasing, that depicted characters with humor and wit as worthy of emulation, due chiefly to Austen’s much admired use of irony. However, in writing Mansfield Park, such critics maintain, Austen turned her back on this style of writing, and taking on a more sober and excessively moralistic style, wrote her least-pleasing, most overtly rationalistic tome, in which irony has no place.

Even among those who claim that Austen is a romantic, that she defends individual happiness over and against the claims of society, some express disapprobation toward Mansfield Park and argue that it is an anomaly among Austen’s works.( n22) However, in recent years, a number of critics within this camp have begun to argue that Austen’s intentions in writing Mansfield Park have long been fundamentally misunderstood. They claim that Austen does not intend her readers to regard Fanny Price as the heroine of the novel, as is the case with the central female characters in her other novels, but rather as a kind of antiheroine, to be pitied perhaps, but not to be admired and emulated.( n23) Austen wrote Mansfield Park, such critics claim, as a parody of the popular instructive novels of the day, frequently of an evangelical, pietistic nature, which were intended primarily to provide moral guidance to young women. The plots of such novels center on innocent, exemplary young women whose purity of heart both enables them to avoid many moral pitfalls and motivates those fortunate enough to know them to take up the path of moral righteousness as well. Arguing along these lines, the well-known critic Claudia L. Johnson maintains that in writing Mansfield Park Austen turns the instructive novel on its head. Rather than defending the social institutions of the day, especially the family, Austen condemns them “by registering [their] impact on a heroine who, though a model of female virtue and filial gratitude, is betrayed by the same ethos she dutifully embraces. …This painful and richly problematic identification makes Mansfield Park Austen’s most, rather than her least, ironic novel and a bitter parody of conservative fiction.”( n24)

Mansfield Park has been subject to such harsh and divisive interpretation, I believe, not because it is anomalous among Austen’s works but because of Austen’s treatment of its three pre-eminent and interrelated themes, (a) proper female behavior, (b) the role of religious belief in human life, and (c) the connection between virtue and happiness. Although, as I shall argue, Austen does not treat these themes in a way that conforms simply to the conservatism of her day, she treats them in a way that also contrasts sharply with the claims of modernity.

First, in regard to Austen’s treatment of female behavior in the novel, it is true, as critics frequently claim, that Fanny Price is different in many ways from Austen’s other central female characters, particularly the witty Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice and the charming Emma Woodhouse of Emma. Unlike any of Austen’s other central female characters, Fanny is described as displaying “great timidity” (MP, 14).( n25) Furthermore, Fanny is not as physically robust as Austen’s other central female characters. As a result of the unhealthy conditions of her early childhood, her lack of freedom to exercise, or some combination of the two, she tires easily. However, it is not the case, as many critics claim, that Fanny is inherently sickly or “debilitated,” and certainly not the case that Austen presents such a condition as a virtue.( n26)

Neither the character of Fanny Price nor the novel as a whole is as anomalous as some claim. Like Anne Elliott of Persuasion and the Dashwood sisters of Sense and Sensibility, Fanny Price is a young woman of unusually deep feelings, what Austen calls “sensibility.” Austen suggests that the heightened sensibility of each of these characters is due, at least in part, to the loss of her childhood home. Fanny’s more extreme sensibility, Austen suggests, stems from her having lost both her home and her family at a young age and her awareness that the family and house within which she lives are not truly her own.

Furthermore, while the claim that Mansfield Park is in some sense a satirical response to the instructional novels of the day is quite persuasive, it is not true that Austen meant to present Fanny Price as unlikable, and certainly not as an antiheroine. To the contrary, Austen writes in such a way that, as the book progresses, the reader comes to sympathize more and more with Fanny, to admire her strength of will, purity of heart, and good judgment. As Anne Crippen Ruderman remarks, “Fanny is not charming, and yet the remarkable thing is that it is extremely difficult to read Mansfield Park without rooting for her in some way.”( n27) The reason is that, although Fanny is different from Austen’s other heroines in many respects, she nevertheless shares with them in an overarching characteristic, the love of virtue.( n28)

Like Aristotle, Austen points to the centrality of prudence in the achievement of virtue. While Austen sometimes uses the word “prudence,” she more frequently refers to this virtue by using words such as “good judgment” and “understanding.” Austen indicates, like Aristotle, that the development of prudence requires training from one’s youth. One must have someone external to oneself who possesses what Aristotle’s calls “right reason” as a teacher or guide, but eventually this guidance or direction must come from within oneself. That is, a human being becomes truly prudent when she no longer relies on another for guidance, but rather understands for herself why she should perform or refrain from certain actions. Aristotle defines prudence as a virtue of intellect, but one that, to be perfected, must be combined with emotive disposition or character. That is, prudence entails both intellectual virtue with respect to directive action–in particular, it is associated with the ability to deliberate well in achieving one’s ends–and moral virtue in regard to feeling as one should. Mansfield Park, as all of Austen’s novels, supports this view.

At the age of ten, Fanny is taken from her large, relatively poor family in Portsmouth and placed in the home of her uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram, at the large estate known as Mansfield Park. Fanny grows up alongside her four cousins: Tom, the heir, then eighteen; Edmund, a prospective clergyman, then sixteen; Maria, then fourteen, and Julia, then twelve. Almost immediately upon arriving at Mansfield, Fanny is befriended by her cousin Edmund, who seeks to make her feel more comfortable in the household. Edmund enables Fanny to write to her brother William, two years her elder, whom she loves dearly and with whom she thereafter regularly corresponds as she grows up at Mansfield. Edmund eventually oversees her education by directing her reading of books and discussing them with her. Unlike the other Bertram children, Edmund grows into a morally serious young man and, admiring Fanny’s intelligence and moral goodness, comes to hold her in deep, sisterly affection. Although Edmund is wholly unaware of it, Fanny eventually falls in love with him. Fanny keeps her feelings for Edmund hidden, believing that her lowly position makes it almost impossible for him or any of the Bertrams to consider her his equal.

One of the first things Edmund discerns about Fanny when he becomes acquainted with her is her love of virtue, observing that she has “an affectionate heart, and a strong desire of doing right” (MP, 14). Rather than valuing “reason” over “emotion,” or vice versa, Fanny combines great emotional depth–“sensibility”–with the desire to be good, that is, to discern and abide by rationally discerned principles of morality. It is because of this, Austen indicates in Mansfield Park, as in all of her novels, that Fanny is capable of achieving true happiness. Although Fanny is timid and thinks little of her importance within the Mansfield household, she takes seriously the development of virtue in her life. Grateful for the attention she begins to receive from her cousin Edmund, Fanny takes advantage of the circumstances in which she finds herself to improve her mind and her character.

Over and over again Austen makes reference to Fanny’s struggles to act in ways that conform to her “duty,” which Fanny understands to involve both thinking or judging correctly as well as feeling correctly.( n29) For example, when Fanny is sixteen years old, her uncle, Sir Thomas, in the face of financial difficulties brought on largely by the profligate behavior of his elder son and heir, Tom, departs for what turns out to be a two-year-long trip to Antigua, where he owns a sugar plantation. Sir Thomas’s daughters, Maria and Julia, take great joy in his departure, knowing they will now be “relieved…from all restraint” and “have every indulgence within their reach” (MP, 25). Although Fanny is as relieved as her cousins, she cannot take pleasure in Sir Thomas’s departure. Rather, “a more tender nature suggested that her feelings were ungrateful, and she really grieved because she could not grieve” (MP, 25). Furthermore, as she comes to realize that Edmund is falling in love with their new neighbor, Mary Crawford, Fanny is aware that her judgment of Mary may be adversely influenced by feelings of jealousy. Aware that her jealousy of Mary might cloud her judgment, she continually challenges herself to judge Mary’s character fairly, that is, “independently of self” (MP, 249). However, Fanny cannot help judging Mary to be morally flawed, believing her to have “a mind led astray and bewildered, and without any suspicion of being so; darkened, yet fancying itself light” (MP, 249). Nevertheless, in reflecting on the fact that Edmund will likely propose marriage to Mary, even Fanny’s feelings of jealousy do not lead her to abandon virtue. Unlike her cousin Julia, whose jealousy upon realizing that Henry Crawford prefers Maria to her leads her to want revenge against them both, Fanny’s jealousy leads her to experience sorrow rather than spite, and she responds to Edmund’s preference for Mary by offering “fervent prayers for his happiness” rather than wishing that he or Mary be made to suffer (MP, 181).

Walsh, G. (2002). Is Jane Austen Politically Correct? Interpreting Mansfield Park. Perspectives on Political Science, 31(1), 15. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.

I found this on my library’s database so most anyone can I think with the above citation.

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2011 in British Lit, classic

 

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Poem from The Writer’s Almanac

Bookmobile

by Joyce Sutphen

I spend part of my childhood waiting
for the Sterns County Bookmobile.
When it comes to town, it makes a
U-turn in front of the grade school and
glides into its place under the elms.

It is a natural wonder of late
afternoon. I try to imagine Dante,
William Faulkner, and Emily Dickinson
traveling down a double lane highway
together, country-western on the radio.

Even when it arrives, I have to wait.
The librarian is busy, getting out
the inky pad and the lined cards.
I pace back and forth in the line,
hungry for the fresh bread of the page,

because I need something that will tell me
what I am; I want to catch a book,
clear as a one-way ticket, to Paris,
to London, to anywhere.

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2011 in American Lit, poetry

 

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Proust, My Dictionary and Me

More words from In Search of Lost Time

vade-mecum, p. 250: ‘come with me’; n. guide-book; manual

florilegium, p. 292: n. (pl. -gia) collection of flowers; description of flora

beadle, p. 294: n. officer of parish, church, court, etc., for keeping order; mace-bearer. beadledom, n. petty officialdom

sursum corda, p. 295: n. ‘lift up your hearts’; versicle in church service

to take French leave, p. 313: To take without asking leave or giving any equivalent. The allusion is to the French soldiers, who in their invasions take what they require, and never wait to ask permission of the owners or pay any price for what they take.

The French retort this courtesy by calling a creditor an Englishman (un Anglais), a term in vogue in the sixteenth century, and used by Clement Marot. Even to the present hour, when a man excuses himself from entering a café or theatre, because he is in debt, he says: “Non, non! je suis Anglé ‘ (“I am cleared out”).

“Et aujourd’huy je faictz soliciter
Tous me angloys.”
Guillaume Creton (1520).

French leave. Leaving a party, house, or neighbourhood without bidding goodbye to anyone; to slip away unnoticed.

ephebe, p. 334: A youth between 18 and 20 years of age in ancient Greece

Aspasia, p. 335: Greek courtesan and lover of Pericles who was noted for her wisdom, wit, and beauty

ukase, p. ?: Russian edict

proleptic, p. 387: The anachronistic representation of something as existing before its proper or historical time

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2011 in French Lit, words

 

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The Burden of Bad Ideas: How Modern Intellectuals Misshape Our Society

Kevin, a conservative friend, recommended Heather MacDonald’s Burden of Bad Ideas. Since he at least doesn’t like our current president (how refreshing to find a conservative who’ll step out of the flock on that one), so I thought why not.

MacDonald looks at and criticizes the influence of liberal beliefs on such areas as edu-cation, philanthropy, sex ed in schools, and foster care. In many areas I probably do agree with her. I can’t say that all liberal solutions are effective or sensible. Yet so often MacDonald uses hyperbole and ridicule to preach to her choir, that I found myself rolling my eyes. “Right, our schools are now ‘showering students with condoms.’” Such language might be considered clever by some, but a more accurate phrasing and the occasional concession that some “liberal” programs do work, would make me respect the author more and lead me to consider some of her criticisms.

There are several interesting chapters in this book. In “Behind the Neediest Cases” MacDonald describes how The New York Times’Neediest Cases, which first started in 1912 began by describing the lives of diligent working families who faced terrible hardship. They were good people whom fate dealt a bad hand. Examples include a young girl whose parents died and she had to keep the family together. She worked in a factory all day and took care of her siblings, who also carried their weight by say a paper route or some such job. Even those with TB seemed to have a job. Then after the introduction of welfare the paper grappled with justifying their campaign. They shifted their emphasis from people who suffered from bad luck to those beset with psychological troubles that made it hard for their families to make ends meet. This trend grew and by the 60’s the cases the Times presented accented victimhood. Drug use and irresponsible behavior were featured in almost all the cases. The people in the stories MacDonald cites never admit full or partial responsibility.

Another chapter that really hit home was on Education School. Yes, I lived through getting a degree in Education and MacDonald does hit the target and describe what I experience. For the most part nowadays education courses are fatuous and overemphasize sharing and “reflection.” They’re low on content and challenge. They water ideas down and if you question or disagree with a popularly held belief, expect to be excoriated. Many classes are taught by professors who don’t tolerate dissent. These schools do discourage the bright from entering the field. Yet maybe they should as once you’re in a school there’s a good chance you’ll be surrounded by vacuous minds. One will probably be the department head.

MacDonald goes to town on compassion gone amok in her chapter on welfare. She focuses on New York, which made the section more local. Surely, not every state has the same poorly conceived system, while there are problems everywhere. While I’m sure there are abuses, MacDonald cites no successes, only failures. Moreover, she offers no solutions.

Still I think there’s value in reading people who hold opposing views, even when some passages irk one. I think it’s essential. It is a shame that as a society we are so entrenched in the Red State/Blue State dichotomy that we can’t civilly and intelligently read or discuss public policy without resorting to sarcasm, insults and exaggeration. If we could, I think we’d see incredible cooperation and achievement as a society. That’s the path to progress. If the liberals could, like Garrison Keillor, admit that whole language doesn’t effectively teach children to read and write and if the conservatives could like [please submit an appropriate example as I can’t think of one] then perhaps more children could read, fewer Americans would need welfare and charity, fewer teens would get pregnant, more people would work full time, our taxes would be at a sensible rate and we could transform America to Scandinavia without the national debt.

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2011 in contemporary, non-fiction

 

Louis Theroux’s The Call of the Weird

Cover of "The Call of the Weird: Travels ...

Cover via Amazon

In The Call of the Weird, Louis Theroux revisits people in various American subcultures that he covered in a BBC documentary series over 10 years ago. He reconnects and reexamines porn stars, a white supremist stage mother who’s Aryan twin daughters are recording pro-white hits, rappers, Ike Turner, who’s living in a parallel universe to keep his ego in tact, or so it seems, a Get-Rich-Quick motivator and more. Theroux relates the difficulties he has getting in touch with these folks and is genuinely surprised by those who agree to see him. He writes well and examines not only the weird people, but his equally weird relation to them all.

It’s an interesting read. I’d never have known about these folks otherwise. I liked learning about them from a safe distance.

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2011 in contemporary, non-fiction

 

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