Monday, August 30, 2010

More Trotsky

Made some more headway in the Trotsky biography. Robert Service is starting to get really annoying with his psycho-analysis. Apparently one of Trotsky's little boys got a dog and gave it a toothbrush and a handkerchief. He also asked his parents why a dog could not speak like a human being. Mr. Service interprets this episode as a little boy who is abandoned by his parents who are too busy with revolutionary activities to pay attention to him, and so he invents a 'person' to play with, i.e. the dog.

Or, maybe the kid just has a good imagination, you moron! You should see the kind of stuff my kids make up. It's called 'make believe' you dummy.

Curt Bois Music Monday - Der Wolf aus Olmütz

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Robert Service's biography of Trotsky

About a third of the way through Robert Service's biography. Some random thoughts:

The start of the book is a bit slow and kinda annoying. Partly because the stuffy formal style and the unfamiliar British idioms. Also annoying is the pseudo-psychoanalysis of each minute detail of his childhood and attempts to link it with what Trotsky was like as an adult. Mostly because the only way we know about what happened in his childhood is from interviewing the people that were around him, and by the time they were interviewed, Trotsky was already famous, so of course they saw all sorts of portents in every detail of his childhood.

The book does get better as it moves on. One thing that is interesting is the picture of the Czar's secret police and the Russian justice system. I'd always had the impression that the revolutionaries were ruthlessly persecuted and mistreated, but Service seems to paint a very different picture.
The impression I get from reading his description of the interactions between the revolutionaries and the law is that they were almost bordering on incompetent Keystone Cops. Sure they were imprisoned and exiled to Siberia, but it seemed very easy to escape from exile to Europe, which is what most of the revolutionaries wound up doing. I'd have figured that the punishments would be much worse for people charged with trying to overthrow the monarchy.

Another interesting thing - Trotsky was basically a vain blowhard. He was very good at writing moving and poignant prose and for this he was sought out by the Marxists, but he was an argumentative and polemic person. It was ironic because in the big split between the Bolshevik and Menshevik Marxists he always envisioned himself as a person trying to unify the two factions, but he basically managed to have both of them pissed at him.

Something else - reading this book, you really do get a sense of how enamored these people were with "ideas" - the "right way of thinking" vs errors of dogma. Yet at the same time, you get the sense that at least some of them, especially Trotsky were just into it because it gave them a chance to show off. It is telling that as a young man, when Trotsky first joined the revolutionary circles, he read Schopenhauer's The Art of Controversy, so he could basically always win the argument by any means necessary, regardless whether he was right or wrong.

More thoughts later...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Great Photo

Jan Banning - Sushma Prasad, State of Bihar, India

Monday, August 23, 2010

Morris Day Music Monday - Jungle Love

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Kafka - Before the Law

For some reason thinking about Kafka's parable in The Trial made me think of the kabbalistic/talmudic idea that each tribe had its own gate to enter the Temple.

A man from the country seeks the law and wishes to gain entry to the law through a doorway. The doorkeeper tells the man that he cannot go through at the present time. The man asks if he can ever go through, and the doorkeeper says that is possible. The man waits by the door for years, bribing the doorkeeper with everything he has. The doorkeeper accepts the bribes, but tells the man that he accepts them "so that you do not think you have failed to do anything." The man waits at the door until he is about to die. Right before his death, he asks the doorkeeper why even though everyone seeks the law, no one else has come in all the years. The doorkeeper answers "Here no one else can gain entry, since this entrance was assigned only to you. I'm going now to close it."

Monday, August 16, 2010

Brainbug Music Monday

Some good ole English trance...

R' Steinsaltz on Democracy

I came across this quote in the comments of XGH's blog.

"Democracy is based, strangely enough, on a religious principle. Democracy would be totally irrational unless we held firm to the belief that we have souls and that these souls are all equal to one another. This is because, as was written in Orwell's 1984, one can't rationally make the statement that all men are equal, and this is simply because it is obviously untrue. People are not equal from any point of view. Therefore, to create a society based on the notion that the vote of a wise and learned person has the same value as the vote of somebody who is unlearned and doesn't know what he is talking about; you must posit that they have equal souls. This is also true with respect to the rights of man as well. Why should a person who is the highest intellectual be regarded as equal to somebody who is ignorant or who is a criminal with respect, for example, to the right to be saved by a given medical procedure? So you see, this principle, this belief that people have souls and that souls are of inestimable, equal value, is the source of every social structure we hold dear."

The points he brings up are not unreasonable. Why should someone who is an idiot have the same right to vote as an intellectual? Yet in some ways I think it is also disingenuous. This is why: for most of history, the notion of democracy from ancient Athens to the birth of the United States did not give equal rights to every person living in the country. It is really a fairly recent occurrence that this idea took hold and frankly, I am not sure if it has been validated as a good idea. I think it is an idea that sounds good, but frankly sounds kinda stupid under scrutiny.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Ich Spreche...

Why does the title "Geschäftsführer" sound so evil? Maybe because it has the word "führer" in it?

Monday, August 09, 2010

Zombie Gorrilla Music Monday

Clint Eastwood by the Gorrilaz...

I especially like the piano accompaniment which sounds like something out of 'Fiddler on the Roof'...

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Kreutzer Sonata

Just finished reading Tolstoy's Kreutzer Sonata (in the original) - what a disappointment. Pity, because I've always enjoyed Tolstoy's fiction.

The language seems forced, the characters are one dimensional, like something out of a medieval allegory. The story was censored for its 'racy-ness' but frankly, I don't see anything revolutionary about it. Perhaps the ideas were truly novel one hundred years ago.

Monday, August 02, 2010

A Serious Man

Finally watched this movie and frankly, not quite sure how I feel about it.

As is often the case, I am never quite sure of whether the things I notice are there on purpose or it is done by mistake. But with this movie, the whole premise is that we can't quite ever be sure of anything for certain, which just complicates the puzzle.

One thing which is striking - who is this movie made for? I mean, I know that because of Seinfeld etc, gentiles are very familiar with Jewish culture, but this is overboard - I mean, I have Reform relatives that would have no clue of half the Jewish stuff which goes on in this movie...

Any readers out there who've seen it and wish to comment?