Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Note to the illustration: this illustration came with the article in the New York Times. By Campbell Robertson
Note to the caption:Jon Stewart (ComedyCentral.com)
the source of the image
February 28, 2006
The Underfinanced Production Company
JON STEWART'S huge, downtown loft, 3 a.m. Stewart, in sweats, is sitting at his laptop. We sense that he is anxious, for he lifts his laptop and slams it repeatedly into his face, muttering something that sounds like "Stupid, Stupid, Stupid." Than he takes a long swig from a bottle of Stoli.
Oh, man, I am so dead! Five days to Oscar, the world is waiting to see how fearless and hip I can be, and I got nothing!!! What I wouldn't give to get out of this gig. I'd pay somebody to write it for me. No, wait – I got 11 writers — 13, if you count Bruce Vilanch, and I still got nothing. And everybody expects this to be the edgiest Academy Award ever.
Jon falls to the floor on his knees.
God, I know maybe I haven't been Jewey enough. The God Machine's really tasteless. First thing in the morning, I'm gonna get rid of it. But God, Allah, Buddha, whatever you are: hear me in my hour of need!
SUDDENLY, THE LIGHTS FLASH AND A THUNDEROUS VOICE IS HEARD.
Arise, most favored son of show biz! For I am come to help you out of this pickle. When the Academy Awards are upon us, thou shalt kill!
(Raising his head slightly)
God? Is it really you?
CUT TO LIFE-SIZE OSCAR, golden, confident and smooth, sitting on the living room couch, with a fat Cohiba in his hand.
In show biz, terms, absolutely. For as it is written, Verily, There is No Other, Baby. Mind if I smoke?
Well, I've been watching my voice and y'know, the smoke...
Oscar shoots him a contemptuous look.
Sure, sure go ahead.
Okay, so whadaya got so far? What's your opening?
I don't know. I'm stuck. Everything begins with me sitting at my desk – and I don't think that'll play.
Okay, how about this: A darkened stage that first looks deserted, then you realize there's a couple downstage necking, then the lights come up and the audience realizes it's you— and you're necking with Jake Gyllenhaal. You can't get edgier than that, right?
Yeah – that's not bad.
Then Jake kinda melts away and you step up to the audience and say, "And I'm not even gay. But tonight everybody's gay in Hollywood." I forgot to mention, you're wearing a holster and six shooter. And you shoot at the ceiling and these posters come down. LIBERACE! ROCK HUDSON! MONTOGOMERY CLIFT! MICKEY MOUSE! Big gasp from the audience. You say, "What's the matter, you didn't believe me?" Mickey comes out, dressed like the cowboy from the Village People. He says, high pitched little mouse voice, "I leave you alone one minute, you're messing around with that slut Jake???"
Aren't they kind of litigious? Didn't Disney threaten to sue one year when Rob Lowe danced around with Sleeping Beauty?
They'll love it. Then you go into a medley about the top movies, where everybody prances around and you sing, "Oscar, Oscar, Oscar, Oscar!"
That was Billy Crystal's.
Nobody will remember.
They'll think I'm stealing.
(pinching Jon's cheek)
Such a worrier! You know, you look taller on TV. I were you, I'd get some lifts before I'd walk out on that stage. Next, you gotta acknowledge the big shots in the audience. Like so: "There's George Clooney — managed to get himself nominated in three categories. And isn't he going to feel pathetic if he can't take home even one? So what do you all say, we stand up and give him a round of mercy applause right now? And Heath Ledger: Does anyone find it a little too convenient that he has a newborn like a day after he shoots a gay cowboy movie?" Then you do that little "Hmmmmm" thing you do. "Hmmmm. A little defensive, Heath?"
That's pretty nasty. I'm a father myself, and...
What can I tell ya, Jon? Ya either got for it or you don't. Now what am I forgetting? Some one-liners for Best Picture: "Munich. You know what annoys me about this movie? It's supposed to be about the Olympics, but never once do we hear how any of the Israeli teams did. It was their last event. Did they medal or didn't they? Give us a ranking, would ya?"
I don't know, Oscar. Eleven athletes were murdered.
It's called edgy, baby. Edg-y. One final thing, very important. I'd do a running gag on some of the stranger names. "Joaquin, Heath, Charlize — what kinds of names are these? Were your parents on crack when you were conceived? Though nothing is as bad as Uma. She here tonight? Let's everybody give her a shout: OOOOO-MAAAH. OOOOOO-MAAAH."
When Letterman did that, he lost everybody. The audience turned on him. He never got them back.
It's all in the delivery, babe.
I don't think —
THE LIGHTS FLASH AGAIN.
Jon Stewart, are you questioning the word of THE ALMIGHTY OSCAR?
Well, I —
Do you want to crash and burn in front of 100 million people? And end up begging Steven Colbert for bits on his show? (Mimicking) "I'll take anything, Steve, anything! You remember your Jon Boy. I gave you your start. Maybe a voice over at the end of the show, announcing the next day's guests? I wouldn't have to be on camera."
Okay. Let's do this together. OOOOH-MAAAA! Ohhhh-PRAHHH! OOOOOH - MAAA! Ohhhhh-Prahhh!
OOOH-MAH! Ohhhh-PRAHHHH! OOOO-MAAA!
I'll just let myself out.
CUT TO JON's HALLWAY, where Oscar pulls off his mask to reveal BILLY CRYSTAL.
(Laughing as he rings for the elevator)
link to the original posting
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Thought for thinkers
By Gareth Cook, Globe Staff | February 17, 2006
Scientists have some remarkable new advice for anyone who is struggling to make a difficult decision: Stop thinking about it.
In a series of studies with shoppers and students, researchers found that people who face a decision with many considerations, such as what house to buy, often do not choose wisely if they spend a lot of time consciously weighing the pros and cons. Instead, the scientists conclude, the best strategy is to gather all of the relevant information -- such as the price, the number of bathrooms, the age of the roof -- and then put the decision out of mind for a while.
Then, when the time comes to decide, go with what feels right. ''It is much better to follow your gut," said Ap Dijksterhuis, a professor of psychology at the University of Amsterdam, who led the research.
For relatively simple decisions, he said, it is better to use the rational approach. But the conscious mind can consider only a few facts at a time. And so with complex decisions, he said, the unconscious appears to do a better job of weighing the factors and arriving at a sound conclusion.
The finding, published today in the journal Science, would have practical implications if borne out by further research.
This is because the new research challenges the conventional approach to making everyday choices that shape so much of life.
But the work is also important, scientists said, because it provides more evidence for a profound reconsideration of the nature of the human psyche.
After Freudian psychology, with its focus on repressed desires, fell out of favor, psychological research largely dismissed the idea that the unconscious played an important role in mental processes. More recently, though, in research popularized in Malcolm Gladwell's bestseller ''Blink," scientists have been finding evidence that the unconscious is not just relevant, but that it is smart.
''There is a bit of a revolution going on in psychology the way that we look at the unconscious," said Timothy Wilson, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. ''It is a very different unconscious than Freud imagined."
''Blink" largely focused on snap judgments, such as deciding whether a couple was likely to divorce by watching them for a few moments.
But the Science article looked at what the researchers described as the ''deliberation-without-attention effect."
This was described as the power of the unconscious mind to process information and to mull through possibilities without the person being aware of it.
In one experiment, students were asked to pick one of four cars based on a list of positive and negative attributes. A description of each car's attributes was flashed on a computer screen for eight seconds, according to the paper.
First, the experimenters provided a simple choice, where each car had a list of just four attributes, some positive (''has good mileage") and some negative (''has poor leg room").
Half of the students were asked to think about their choice for four minutes. The other half were asked to do challenging, distracting puzzles for four minutes, preventing them from consciously considering the car options.
In this experiment, the conscious thinkers did a better job than the distracted students of selecting the best car, which was the only one with three positive characteristics; other cars in the experiment had fewer.
Next, the researchers did a similar experiment, but with a much more complicated choice: Each car was described with a list of 12 attributes rather than the four in the prior test.
This time the students who were not allowed to think consciously about the decision did a better job of selecting the car with the most positive attributes.
The results, Dijksterhuis said, underscored flaws in conscious decision-making. A person can pay attention to only a limited amount of information at once, which can lead people to focus on just a few factors and lose the bigger picture. The unconscious is better, he said, at integrating large amounts of information.
Another flaw, he said, is what he called a ''weighing problem." The conscious mind can weigh some factors too heavily, and discount others that are important.
For example, when people buy a house, they tend to put too much emphasis on its size, and not enough on their commute every day, he said. When working through a decision consciously, the mind has a tendency to focus on factors that are easy to articulate -- like the number of square feet -- at the expense of other factors that are hard to put into words.
To see whether what they had found in a lab applied in a more realistic setting, the researchers questioned shoppers. Via surveys, the team determined that people consider more factors when purchasing furniture than when purchasing kitchen accessories.
So they interviewed shoppers leaving a furniture store and a store that sells kitchen accessories. The shoppers were asked how much time they had thought about the product between seeing it and buying it. Later, the researchers contacted all the shoppers to ask how happy they were.
For shoppers who had bought kitchen accessories -- typically a simple choice -- those who had thought about their selection longer were found to be happier. But for the furniture -- a complicated choice -- those who had spent less time consciously considering their selection were said to be happier.
The implication is that for complex choices, once you have done a certain amount of thinking to gather relevant information, further thinking is counterproductive. Instead, busy yourself with other tasks, and let your unconscious work on the problem. (The study did not include data on people who shopped on impulse, spending little or no time gathering information on an item.)
Still, more work will need to be done to rule out other potential explanations for the data, scientists said. For example, it may be that shoppers who spend more time thinking about expensive purchases like furniture could be more critical people, and more apt to perceive problems with their purchases.
Luc Wathieu, an associate professor at the Harvard Business School, said that he is critical of the boom in research that questions the value of rational deliberation, and that he thinks there will turn out to be other explanations for the finding.
Wilson agreed that the research would be controversial, and predicted that it would spark a lot more work in the area. ''Like any great paper," he said, ''it raises more questions than it answers."
Gareth Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note to the capture: Alec Baldwin, left, Chris Carmack and Jan Maxwell in "Entertaining Mr. Sloane." Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
February 26, 2006
THREE little words to make strong American theatergoers shudder: British sex farce.
Count me among those who can't hear a title like "Run for Your Wife" without wanting to run for the hills. It is all the stranger, then, to admit that I am looking forward — with something close to lust — to a show opening next month that technically falls within this loathed category. But let me put forward two other words that automatically nullify expectations of cozy titters and rib-nudging elbows: Joe Orton.
"Entertaining Mr. Sloane" — which opens on March 16 in a revival from the Roundabout Theater Company, directed by Scott Ellis and starring the auspiciously cast Alec Baldwin and Jan Maxwell — was the first full-length play and the first success in the brief, flaming career of Orton (1933-67). You could also say that it single-handedly dragged the British sex farce from the realm of seaside-postcard naughtiness into a land-mined field of subversion. In portraying two middle-aged, middle-class siblings drooling over the same cute young thing (a male hustler, in this case), Orton revealed not only the sagging flesh beneath his characters' rigorously conventional clothes but also the wayward, wanton itches beneath the skin. And how many other sex farces blithely factor in sadistic murder?
Sweet are the uses of perversity in the theater. Throw a kink, a curve, a warping twist into a time-honored dramatic formula and tried-and-true suddenly looks eye-poppingly new and unsettling. The spring season in New York is, happily and atypically, plump with demonstrations of such genre bending, with entrancingly wicked shows that extract the profane from the sacred and the rot from the pillars of society. If a majority of them turn out to be of British origin, that's because British artists have long used the perverse perspective as an essential corrective to their national class-conscious stolidity.
As it happens, the great Teutonic ancestor of the comedy of the perverse is on hand for inspection this season as well. That's "The Threepenny Opera," Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's mordant 1928 reworking of John Gay's 18th-century "Beggar's Opera." Brecht's signature alienation effect was never writ as briskly or bouncily as it is in this capitalism-bashing study of thugs, whores and mercenary parents in Victorian London.
Bourgeois morality, and what have come to be called family values, are reflected and splintered in the cracked mirror of an underclass that eats its own for breakfast. Last revived on Broadway in 1989 (in a much-reviled production starring the rock star Sting), "The Threepenny Opera" is being reincarnated again, in a new translation by Wallace Shawn opening on April 20 at Studio 54, with a creative team that specializes in fashionable shock effects.
The director is Scott Elliott, a specialist in comedies of bad manners ("Hurlyburly," "Abigail's Party") and a man who believes that nothing suits the stage like an unexpected flash of full-frontal nudity (which he managed to inject even into Broadway revivals of "The Women" and "Present Laughter"). Alan Cumming, who won a Tony for playing that ultimate ringmaster of decadence, the M.C. in "Cabaret," shows up here as the polygamous archbrigand Macheath (a k a Mack the Knife).
He is sandwiched between two charmingly contrarian pop stars — Cyndi Lauper (the anti-Madonna of the mid-80's) as Jenny, the piratical prostitute, and Nellie McKay (the anti-Norah Jones of the mid-00's) as the demi-virginal Polly Peachum. The role of Polly's romantic rival, Lucy Brown — famously portrayed by Bea Arthur in the fabled Off Broadway revival half a century ago — is in this version played by a man, Brian Charles Rooney. Anything goes in the name of alienation.
Actually, the gangland violence of "Threepenny" is sure to seem demure next to the merry carnage of Martin McDonagh's "Lieutenant of Inishmore," directed by Wilson Milam and opening tomorrow at the Atlantic Theater Company. Mr. McDonagh, who explored the comic potential of bloodletting in rural Ireland in his dazzling "Leenane" and "Connemara" plays, here bravely applies his scalpel to the subject of Irish Republican terrorism. The play's none-too-bright hero is a torture-loving assassin whose mission is to make his country safe for cats. Warning: The show includes scenes of wholesale slaughter and dismemberment. Double warning: These scenes are criminally funny, or at least they were when I saw the show in London three years ago.
By contrast, Alan Bennett's "History Boys" is as sweet as figgy pudding, at least on the surface. A huge hit for the National Theater in London — which brings Nicholas Hytner's impeccably cast original production to the Broadhurst Theater for an April 23 opening — "The History Boys" follows the battle between two very different grammar school teachers for the hearts and minds of their students, who are preparing for Oxbridge entrance examinations. Think of it, perhaps, as an erudite cross between "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" and "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie."
But as he has proved repeatedly in his earlier work ("Talking Heads," "Single Spies"), Mr. Bennett is expert in charting the deviant paths that curl within ostensibly ordinary lives. Both the dueling dons — juicily embodied by Stephen Campbell Moore and Richard Griffiths — have libidos that lead them into dangerous territory. The erotic dimension, though, is subjugated to the greater, and disturbingly pertinent, theme about how spin shapes what we think of as rock-hard history.
"History nowadays is not a matter of conviction," says one teacher. "It's a performance. It's entertainment. And if it isn't, make it so." And how does one do this, sir? "Flee the crowd. Follow Orwell. Be perverse."
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Saturday, February 25, 2006
Note to the capture: George Clooney arrives for the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) awards at the Odeon Leicester Square in central London February 19, 2006. REUTERS/Toby Melville
link to the image source
If only George Clooney would run for president. John Patterson sizes up the star's political prospects
Saturday February 25, 2006
Ever since Arnold Schwarzenegger became Der Kali-Führer in 2003, I've been wondering if the Democrats could ever find an equivalent figure to run for office. And suddenly it seemed so obvious: If Mr Freeze can run on his celebrity-recognition quotient alone, with a campaign platform containing no discernible political ideas whatsoever, then surely Batman himself can run for the White House.
That's right: George Clooney for president. Far-fetched? Well, let's run some comparisons. It's been a while since we had our last actor president, and, whatever liberals may think of Reagan, celebrity earns you extra points with the public and knowing how to deliver one's lines is an asset in politics, so Clooney already has one up on the verbal dyslexic currently calling the shots in Washington.
Clooney has one divorce in his background, but no scandal beyond clipping David O Russell round the ear on the set of Three Kings, which is the kind of thing that plays well in the Red states - much like shooting lawyers in the face. His youthful indiscretions pale against the current incumbent's binge-drinking, DUI convictions, perpetual bailings-out, not to mention draft-dodging. Clooney might merely be expected to apologise for Revenge Of The Killer Tomatoes and for his never-released debut movie, co-starring the louchely Kennedyesque Charlie Sheen.
He'd be the first single president, well, since Michael Douglas in The American President, which would make him a bit like the skirt-hound Kennedy, though Clooney appears not to be the almost neurotic priapist JFK was. One of Kennedy's more famous conquests was Angie Dickinson ("the most unforgettable 60 seconds of my life," was her post-coital verdict), better known as the original Mrs Danny Ocean, so there's a whiff of that retro-Camelot glamour for you right there. Like Reagan, Kennedy and Clinton, he'd probably be a grating presence to a good half of the American electorate, but it didn't kill them and it wouldn't kill him.
Politically, a Clooney presidency would probably strive to return sanity to the national debate. The American right has long smeared Clooney as just another loopy Hollywood liberal, but there's no evidence that he's anything but an old-fashioned American centrist. His political movies, particularly this Friday's Syriana and Good Night, And Good Luck, are hardly radical agitprop. They (and Three Kings and Clooney's TV remake of Fail Safe) may have the slightly worthy air of civics lessons, but they certainly suggest the guy is engaged with his times. A good-looking, independently minded, lapsed-Catholic, clean-and-sober actor versus a bought-and-paid-for, dry-drunk fundamentalist and four-decade failure of a human glove-puppet?
Voters, the choice is clear!
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Note to the painting: An 1820 oil, "Self-Portrait With Dr. Arrieta," a physician and friend who helped Goya through an illness. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts
an interactive link with the New York Times
February 24, 2006
Art Review | 'Goya's Last Works'
By MICHAEL KIMMELMAN
IN 1824, Ferdinand VII, lately freed from prison with French help and returned to the Spanish throne, was a vengeful despot. The Inquisition was restored, liberals were rounded up.
When a temporary amnesty was announced, Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, court painter, friend to too many free thinkers, applied to take the waters at Plombières, in France.
He headed for Bordeaux, not even bothering to stop at Plombières, then went on to Paris, where he spent the summer. He was stone deaf and didn't speak a word of French. If he saw Delacroix and Constable in the great Salon of 1824, he never mentioned it. Delacroix belonged to another generation. In September, Goya returned to Bordeaux and settled into the expatriate community.
And there he died, at 82, in 1828, attended by his companion, Locadia, a distant relative, with whom he reportedly fought all the time, and by her two children. The younger one, Rosario, is sometimes thought to have been Goya's daughter because he said nice things about her art. Goya didn't say many nice things about other artists.
There have been many Goya shows lately. He's a man for our day, the great, unflinching satirist of everything irrational and violent and absurd in life and politics. "Goya's Last Works," at the Frick, differs from the large, rather loveless survey that veteran aficionados may remember that the Metropolitan Museum did some years ago. That exhibition tried to pigeonhole the artist as a symbol of Enlightenment values, draining the guts out of Goya. Look at the late work and you'll see, as Robert Hughes once nicely put it, that there's no less of the Marquis de Sade in him than there is of Rousseau.
The compact Frick show is sublime. An early French biographer, Laurent Matheron, writing about Goya during his twilight in exile, blew off the late work as "feeble and slack." Matheron must have been blind, or saw pictures now lost. They're certainly not here. I can't recall too many exhibitions on this scale more revelatory.
The inspiration for it was one of the Frick's own Goyas, a deceptively fine portrait of a young woman, from 1824, the sort of painting you might miss if you weren't looking closely. The curators, Jonathan Brown and Susan Grace Galassi, decided to spotlight it, and the show naturally grew, but not too much, to include other late works.
It has sometimes been said that the sitter for the Frick portrait is Rosario, which isn't too likely since she was 36, and the young woman, flushed, expectant, childishly calm, doesn't look a day over 26. Prim in white gloves and a black dress trimmed in lace, she is swiftly painted in dashing, creamy strokes that pay homage to Goya's hero, Velázquez, at the same time that they bring to mind Manet. He's the automatic association today, Manet having passed on to posterity the look of "modern" painting inherited straight from Goya.
For comparison's sake, the curators borrowed other late portraits. Goya could be a perfunctory artist, and two clunky portraits of Spaniards in Paris, Joaquín María de Ferrer and his wife, seem lifeless: diffident commissions. But then Goya also painted Don Tiburcio Pérez y Cuervo, an architect, shirt sleeves rolled up, arms folded, smiling slightly, resembling Goya as a young man. The best portraits have an intimate bond with the sitters.
The strongest bond comes across in the one of his old pal Leandro Fernández de Moratín. A poet and playwright, Moratín sat for Goya in the 1790's, when he was lean and suave. Now he's puffy and middle aged, his face built up with thick, puttylike slabs of pigment. He has the tense expression of someone who knows his portraitist will be brutally honest but who is himself a believer in truth and in the artist, and whose forbearance therefore makes him look heroic and humane. Only the savviest, most mature painter could manage to convey all that.
But then, more than 30 years earlier, Goya had already sketched a portrait of himself after a bout with death that cost him his hearing; in it he's Beethoven with Medusa's hair, all wary introspection and defiance. That drawing is in the show, as a kind of prelude for the self-portrait from 1820, painted after another illness during which Goya was attended by a friend, a doctor named Eugenio García Arrieta. In gratitude Goya portrayed them both, as an ex-voto, inscribed with elaborate thanks. Arrieta supports his ailing patient and holds up a glass of medicine. Eyes glazed, head lolling, Goya clutches his bedsheets (the gesture speaks volumes) while behind him, as if straight from his fevered brain, a noisome coven of figures, like the Fates, lurks in the shadows.
By that point, decades of violence and political calamity along with his own physical suffering had reinforced in Goya a hermetic, almost hallucinatory despair — an outlook on the world that, the portraits of his friends aside, pervaded the late work. Mankind was not inherently good, rational and free, manacled and corrupted only by tyranny and circumstance. Society was a surging mob of lost souls, hysterics and murderers. The most shocking picture in the show may be a little keepsake that Goya dashed off before quitting Madrid. It's of his son, Javier, a wastrel, whom Goya loved anyway. He is drawn as fat and dissolute, a lost soul staring vacantly. With Goya, truth trumped love. But life was still worth living to the very last minute, if only for the reason that Goya scrawled across a sketch of a hunchbacked Methuselah: "I Am Still Learning."
He was. Nearly 80, he took up lithography in Bordeaux, making prints of bullfights in the workshop of Cyprien Gaulon — Goya's portrait of whom, all velvety touch and measured nobility, turns him, like Moratín, into a romantic hero.
Bullfight scenes didn't appeal to the French, but lithography inspired Goya to draw with black crayon, another new medium for him. His Bordeaux drawings bring to mind diary entries. He spotted a roller skater, head tossed, on the verge of toppling backward, alongside a bicyclist. He saw a woman crammed into a shoulder carriage, like a giant backpack with a little window, being lugged by a stooped porter. And he noticed an amputated beggar, wide-eyed and slack-jawed, in a huge contraption of a wheelchair that, like a chariot, enclosed him between its two great front wheels, making a triangle of the composition.
He also visited a madhouse in Bordeaux and drew a lunatic, a monstrous figure, wearing a loose sack, twisting like a Michelangelo slave, his arms behind him, his legs buckling, his head a gnarled mass of thatched hair and knotty bone. A single, haunted eye swivels into the man's skull. As Mr. Hughes put it in his Goya biography, the eye was a stroke of genius by "an old man who had suffered immensely and known every last terror of black melancholy."
And then there is the imploring penitent on his knees, maybe another of the madhouse inmates, although his pose, arms raised, is like the famous patriot's before the firing squad in "The Third of May."
It's hard not to see him and all the other old men in these late works as implicit self-portraits. They're fools, donning bat wings, moving herky-jerky before women invariably more graceful and powerful than they are. A dwarfish constable clutching a set of keys beseeches a young beauty wearing a giant padlock. He's a thwarted Romeo. A groaning, half-naked old man, pinioned by a woman, has the devil on his back. Even a flying beast, part Icarus, part Cerberus, with webbed feet, crashing to earth — one of Goya's classic nightmare inventions — seems to symbolize man's hubris and impotence.
I don't mean artistic impotence, of course, not with Goya, who tried his hand at yet one more new medium in Bordeaux. He painted on palm-size slivers of ivory — "original miniatures, which I have never seen the like of before," he boasted, rightly. On a dark, wet ground, he let fall a drop or two of water, whose blots and granulates suggested shapes, like the ones that Leonardo imagined in stains on old walls.
Goya conjured up a screaming monk and a goggle-eyed woman. A man picking fleas. Judith hacking off the head of Holofernes. A nude reclining, paint wiped from the ivory to connote flesh. And Susannah ogled by the elders, the standard fable of chaste youth and pathetic, dirty old men.
Broad fields of light and dark make these ivories like flashbulb snapshots. Immediate and exquisite, they're nearly monumental. Like the late works of Titian or Rembrandt, Goya's late works achieve a whole new level of freedom and depth, haunted by death but exalted. The Frick has picked for the show's poster the perfect image: one of the creepier Bordeaux drawings of a thick and stumpy old man on a swing, leering as he vaults skyward.
You can almost hear Goya cackle.
"Goya's Last Works" continues through May 14 at the Frick Collection, 1 East 70th Street, Manhattan; (212) 288-0700, or www.frick.org.
link to the original posting
Thursday, February 23, 2006
New President Must Fill Large Shoes at Miramax (By Lorenza Muñoz and Claudia Eller, the Los Angeles Times)
Note to the Caption: Daniel Battsek faces obstacles in navigating the competitive specialty film business.
(Damon Winter / LAT)
Daniel Battsek inherits a slimmed-down firm from the legendary Weinstein brothers.
By Lorenza Muñoz and Claudia Eller
Times Staff Writers
February 23, 2006
In Hollywood, the names Bob and Harvey Weinstein resonate as legends.
So far, the name Daniel Battsek mostly goes unrecognized.
Largely unknown outside of independent film circles, the British-born executive has big shoes to fill in following the Weinsteins. This weekend, he is releasing his first film, "Tsotsi," as the new head of Walt Disney Co.'s Miramax Film Corp., which the Weinstein brothers founded and ran for 26 years.
Plucked last fall from Disney's international film ranks in London, Battsek suddenly finds himself a major player in the competitive world of specialty films. The 47-year-old executive is under the gun to quickly reestablish Miramax as the kind of dominant force it was when the Weinsteins released such acclaimed hits as "Shakespeare in Love" and "The English Patient" in the late 1990s.
It won't be easy. Rivals such as Fox Searchlight, the company behind "Sideways," and "Brokeback Mountain" distributor Focus Features have successfully eaten away at a business Miramax once owned.
Other specialty film distributors such as Paramount Classics, Warner Independent Pictures and Sony Pictures Classics also are aggressively in the business, recognizing how lucrative specialty films can be. Still lurking are the Weinsteins, who have launched Weinstein Co.
Battsek, now based in New York, lacks the clout of his more established rivals, as well as the bigger-than-life charisma of Harvey Weinstein, who departed Disney last year with his brother, Bob, in a bitter breakup. The brothers left behind Miramax, which they named after their parents, Miriam and Max.
The Miramax that Battsek inherits is a much slimmed-down operation. Disney is giving him an annual budget of about $300 million — less than half of what the Weinsteins had — to produce, acquire and market six to eight films a year.
Nonetheless, he is confident that his offerings will define a new era for Miramax. "I'm allowing the movies that I release to speak for themselves … and create our identity," Battsek said.
The man who selected Battsek for the job, Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook, isn't too worried about the executive's low profile in an industry in which agents, filmmakers and stars scramble to do business with distributors.
"If you are a buyer, sellers tend to find you fairly rapidly — so we are not really concerned," Cook said.
As a young man, Battsek was so eager to get into the movie business that he moved from his native Britain in the 1980s to Australia's more vibrant film community.
He worked as a waiter at an eatery frequented by filmmakers such as Peter Weir and Gillian Armstrong. While serving Armstrong, he talked his way into a job with her production company. He eventually moved on to Australia's premiere distribution company Hoyts Film Corp.
Disney veteran Cook got to know Battsek after the executive joined the company in 1992. As head of Disney's international operation, Battsek oversaw Miramax releases in Britain and Europe. His relationship with the Weinsteins goes back to his early days at Britain's Palace Pictures, where he handled such early Miramax hits as "Cinema Paradiso" and "The Crying Game."
"I've always considered Daniel to be a friend, and we continue to have a wonderful working relationship," Harvey Weinstein said.
Cook said he chose Battsek for the job because he is respected within Disney for his taste in movies and his strong filmmaker relationships.
"He has always championed independent films within the company, so he seemed like the logical person to see Miramax into the future," Cook said.
Most important to his boss, Battsek plays well with others. The Weinsteins, whose feistiness was sometimes accompanied by hot tempers, never saw themselves as Disney "cast members" and largely shunned working with other Disney divisions.
Battsek, by contrast, has already partnered with Disney's sports cable channel ESPN to acquire and release the forthcoming soccer documentary "Once in a Lifetime," about the celebrated New York Cosmos team in the 1970s.
"It sure felt like he wanted Miramax to be viewed as a good partner for other corners of the Walt Disney Co.," said Geoff Reiss, senior vice president of programming at ESPN's entertainment unit.
Battsek also is leveraging his long-standing relationships with such high-profile directors as "Shakespeare in Love's" John Madden and "The English Patient's" Anthony Minghella to keep them with Miramax.
"He gets personally involved in things," Madden said. "It's not just a business relationship with him."
Battsek also cemented his ties to Scott Rudin, one of Hollywood's top producers, for whom he handled the international release of "The Village." Rudin, who is moving from Paramount Pictures to Disney and is making four films with Miramax, said Battsek brought strong gut instincts and a measured thoughtfulness to the job.
"He is not interested in the crazy rhythms of the town," Rudin said. "He is prepared to live with his own decisions."
Battsek's first test, "Tsotsi," which opens in limited release in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, could be a tough sell for mainstream audiences.
The story follows six days in the life of a young South African street thug who faces his own demons after discovering a baby in the backseat of the BMW he carjacked from the infant's mother. The film, which has opened in South Africa, is an Oscar nominee for best foreign film.
Given the difficult subject matter, Battsek decided to screen the movie extensively to critics, tastemakers and others to build word of mouth. Rather than positioning "Tsotsi" as a movie about slum life, Miramax's campaign touches on universal themes of redemption and hope. Battsek believes that the film can break out beyond the "cinephile" audience.
"Tsotsi" director Gavin Hood said Battsek was cleverly promoting the movie using its messy, human themes and was wise not to sanitize its untidy finale.
"He felt that America was ready for a film that would encourage debate as opposed to 'Hey, the good guys won,' " Hood said. "He said, 'We don't want to tamper with your ending.' "
Beyond "Tsotsi," Battsek is assembling a diverse slate of films, including the British drama "Venus" starring Vanessa Redgrave and director Lasse Hallstrom's "The Hoax," starring Richard Gere.
Battsek hopes to play on his strengths in the marketing and distribution of quirky films to broaden the appeal of his new movies beyond the art house crowd.
All the outsider has to do now is learn how to play the Hollywood game.
"He will have to prove himself," Minghella said. "But it's not like he's a first-timer plucked from nowhere."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
An indie feast
Here are upcoming Miramax movies and their release dates.
"Tsotsi" — A drama set in South Africa about the life of a slum dwelling gangster who finds redemption. Feb. 24
"Kinky Boots" — A comedy about two workers in a shoe factory. April 14
"Keeping Up With the Steins" — A comedy starring Jeremy Piven about a family coming together with a boy's bar mitzvah. May 12
"Once in a Lifetime" — Documentary about the rise of the legendary soccer team, the New York Cosmos. No date
"Heart of the Game" — A documentary about a girls' basketball coach and a young girl who fights a legal battle to keep playing in college. June 14
"The Night Listener" — A Robin Williams thriller about a radio personality and the young boy with whom he develops a relationship. No date
"The Hoax" — Directed by Lasse Hallstrom about the discredited autobiographer Clifford Irving and his published tale about billionaire Howard Hughes. No date
"The Queen" — A humorous portrait of the British royal family immediately following Princess Diana's death. Produced by Scott Rudin. No date
"Venus" — Starring Peter O'Toole and Leslie Phillips, it is a drama about a youngster who comes to live with her relatives. Produced by Scott Rudin. No date
Co-productions with Paramount Classics
"There Will Be Blood" — Paul Thomas Anderson's period drama loosely based on Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel "Oil!" Executive producer is Scott Rudin. No date
"No Country for Old Men" — A Joel and Ethan Coen drama about a hunter who finds corpses, a stash of heroin and $2 million in cash. Produced by Scott Rudin. No date
2007 Miramax releases
"Gone Baby Gone" — A Ben Affleck-directed drama based on Dennis Lehane's novel. Production begins in May.
"The Lookout" — Directed by Scott Frank; starring Jeff Daniels. Going into production next month.
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Note to the caption: Larry Summers
culturebox Arts, entertainment, and more.
School of Hard Knocks
What President Summers never learned about Harvard.
By James Traub
Posted Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2006, at 4:45 PM ET
I have a soft spot for Larry Summers, who resigned yesterday as president of Harvard rather than face the humiliation of being fired. I admit that I develop a soft spot for almost everyone I spend 25 or 30 hours interviewing, as I did in Summers' case three years ago when I wrote a profile of him for the New York Times Magazine. I can't say that I found Summers' manner beguiling, or even prepossessing; he seemed, if anything, only barely socialized. But that's what I liked about him. Most university presidents are high-minded, silver-throated, and stupefyingly banal. Not Summers: The first time I heard him speak, when he was still Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, he said something like, "There are two views on this subject, A and B, and I know I should say the truth lies between them. But it doesn't: A is right and B is wrong."
Now that Summers has been forced to resign after five years, his supporters, especially on the right, will be saying that he has paid the price for his candor. Summers was foolhardy enough to take on the African American Studies department, and the anti-Israel crowd, and the intellectual relativists, and the paladins of the Law School and so on. The Weekly Standard named him their "favorite university president." And the outraged, leftier-than-thou faculty struck back, insisting on a vote of confidence for next week that Summers seemed almost certain to lose—at which point the Harvard Corporation, the governing body of the university, pulled the plug. Or so the narrative will go.
It's true that a significant number of the many people I met who loathed Summers considered him a cultural conservative hellbent on pulling down the multicultural, deconstructionist temple of academic orthodoxy. And it's true as well that Summers disliked what he considered the ideological slant of much contemporary scholarship and prevented a number of scholars whose views he found faddish from gaining tenure. But he wasn't forced out of Harvard because he stood up to political correctness. If anything, Summers was forced out of Harvard because he behaved so boorishly that he provided a bottomless supply of ammunition to his enemies, both the ideologues and the doctrine-free. Sometimes it's just not a good idea to say "A is right and B is wrong"—for example, when you're talking to B's chief proponent.
To be fair, it's no easy matter to take over an immensely self-regarding institution that needs serious renovation. Summers' predecessor, the amiable and ruminative Neil Rudenstine, had extricated himself from this dilemma by profusely thanking everyone in sight and taking tough issues under advisement for the duration. Summers was hired to kick some Harvard butt, whether in regard to the archaic system known as "every tub on its own bottom," which granted almost total independence to the various graduate schools, or to the plummeting standard of new hires at the Law School. "We didn't think we were hiring Dag Hammarskjold," as one corporation member told me.
And at first, Summers looked like an inspired choice. Besides being brilliant even by the Harvard standard of brilliance, he was willing to make tough decisions, and he was fundamentally forward-looking. He pointed out, for example, that while it was socially unacceptable at a great university to admit that one hadn't read a play by Shakespeare, you could safely joke about not knowing the difference between a gene and a chromosome. Summers instigated a review of Harvard's "core curriculum" with a view to raising the status of science and of quantitative thinking generally, as well as to answer perennial complaints from freshmen that they had little or no contact with senior faculty. Even before Summers' departure, faculty opposition appears to have worn him down on the subject. On the other hand, Summers' decision to reshape the physical campus by moving the sciences to a vast plot of land Harvard owns in the town of Allston, Mass., will presumably constitute his permanent legacy.
But Summers never came to grips with, or perhaps recognized, the special problem of the supremely self-regarding culture. As it happens, I have written about just such situations before and have even, when Tina Brown was editor of The New Yorker, worked at one. One thing I've learned is that the wise steward of such majestic institutions says, or at least is understood to say, "I love this place so much that I will not accept anything less than the best." Tina Brown gave The New Yorker a much-needed blood transfusion, but by making all too manifest her disdain for the eccentric heirloom she'd inherited, she provoked a generation of gifted contributors to leave, disposed of much of the magazine's fiber along with its mold, and was gone after five years.
That Summers' tenure now looks something like Tina Brown's is bizarre. Despite the fact that he had established his intellectual reputation at Harvard, loved the place, and was as devoted as anyone there to the life of the mind, Summers nevertheless managed to persuade much of his constituency that he was an alien in their midst. And this had less to do with his views, or his position in the kulturkampf, than his manner, which was almost comically maladroit. One of Summers' favorite phrases was, "Here's what you're thinking." This would typically be followed by a bravura summation of what his interlocutor was, in fact, thinking. (Harvard professors harbor the vanity that they know very well what they're thinking.) Summers had a gift for arming, rather than disarming, his audience. One of his own aides described for me a famously contentious meeting with Law School faculty at which, he said, "Larry told them he wasn't going to pay any attention to their views, when in fact he was going to be listening to their views." Summers so offended his own preferred candidate to head the Graduate School of Education, whom he subjected to a withering cross-examination, that she changed her mind about taking the position until members of the school interceded.
You do, of course, have to wonder about professional intellectuals who get so wobbly under cross-examination. Harvard professors appear to be accustomed to a level of deference that few of us on the other side of those Ivy walls could ever expect. Clearly this had much to do with the fabled Cornel West affair, when the president grievously offended this overhyped superstar by tendering what Summers apparently regarded as delicate hints on matters such as grade inflation and the production of serious academic work. Summers was right, as he generally was. But he never intended to insult West. In fact, he had no idea that he had insulted West. Summers himself wouldn't have been offended, and it never crossed his mind that Cornel West might be made of different material than Larry Summers, or that West might need to hear some malarkey along the lines of, "I love your work so much that I don't want to accept anything less than the best." Larry Summers didn't do malarkey; he did "the merits." The professors under his charge, alas, were not made of such stern stuff as he, and it ought not have been beyond Summers' ken to figure this out.
Over the years, Summers was whacked in the head by so many two-by-fours that he did finally learn some caution. He all but groveled in apology after he observed, in the spirit of free inquiry, or so he imagined, that innate abilities might have something to do with the difference between men and women in the distribution of test-score performance in the sciences. Summers kept away almost entirely from the culture wars in which he had embroiled himself in earlier years. But it was too late, for he had reduced his margin of error almost to zero. And when, last month, he forced out of office a dean who was not considered particularly effective and unconvincingly pleaded ignorance about a financial scandal engulfing a friend and fellow Harvard economist, he had apparently exceeded that margin by quite a bit. Summers finally lost his base of support in the Harvard Corporation, at which point he was left to choose only the date and manner of his departure.
I, for one, will miss Summers, since university presidents who have something to say that is worth hearing are as rare as hen's teeth. And I worry that an emboldened faculty will push the Harvard Corporation to choose as his successor the reincarnation of Neil Rudenstine. Summers had a worthy cause; I hope he hasn't wound up discrediting it.James Traub is at work on a book about Kofi Annan and the United Nations.
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Here's how to solve Google's Beijing problem.
By Jacob Weisberg
Posted Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2006, at 3:35 PM ET
In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Bill Gates dropped an interesting idea about how the U.S. government might help businesses avoid becoming accessories to political repression in China: "I think something like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act has been a resounding success in terms of very clearly outlining what companies can't do," the Microsoft chairman said, referring to the law that bars American corporations from paying bribes overseas.
When Congress held hearings on the China issue last week, Yahoo!'s top lawyer more or less begged for some sort of legislative intervention. Of course, technology executives are trying to duck responsibility for their own decisions to cooperate with Chinese censorship. Yahoo!, which provided evidence that helped imprison Shi Tao, a leading Chinese journalist, presents the most egregious example. But corporate leaders asking for government regulation—especially in the libertarian-minded technology sector—is a rare enough spectacle to command attention.
Tech companies turn to Washington in genuine frustration. They plausibly argue that their continued presence in China is beneficial not just to their shareholders, but to the development of democracy there. Internet censorship is porous, freedom contagious. New economic sanctions against China would only retard the liberalization we seek to accelerate. Even if a company such as Google sincerely wants to spurn evil, it would be hard-pressed to adhere to "voluntary" restraints when struggling to enter and dominate the hypercompetitive Chinese market. If Google.cn declines to filter "freedom," its site will be blocked, and Chinese competitor Baidu will capture the market. Businesses don't want to be grappling constantly with questions of social responsibility. They rightly prefer to pursue the profit motive within clear rules.
China has provided one set of rules. The U.S. government can provide another. As Gates notes, there is an excellent precedent in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which was born in 1977 out of a similar sort of moral scandal. American companies were paying bribes to win contracts in the developing world, which was bad for our image abroad, antithetical to integrity, and a problem of what we would now call transparency. The FCPA, which imposes fines of up to $2 million and prison terms for offending executives, is both a statement about American business values and, more important, a tool for honest businesspeople who use it as an excuse to say no.
The human rights equivalent of this—call it the Foreign Oppressive Practices Act—could work in a similar manner to advance American values of liberty and democracy. Such a law would enjoin U.S. corporations from assisting in the violation of human rights in China and elsewhere. The idea would not be to prevent American companies from selling equipment and services in unfree countries, but rather to stop them from tailoring their products to work as tools of tyranny.
A well-drawn set of restrictions could ease the predicament of American companies by, as Gates says, making clear what they cannot do. An anti-repression law would give Yahoo! a ready answer the next time Chinese officials demand evidence against cyber-dissidents. We must obey your laws, the American representatives would be able to respond. But we must obey our laws as well.
Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican congressman from New Jersey, last week introduced the discussion draft of a bill to "prohibit any United States businesses from cooperating with officials of Internet-restricting countries in effecting the political censorship of online content." This is the right idea, sort of. The focus on Internet freedom as opposed to human rights generally reflects an unfortunate tendency to think of the Web as an end rather than a means. Another, more practical, flaw is giving foreign nationals standing to sue in U.S. courts as an enforcement mechanism. A more sensible approach would be for the Department of State, which already issues annual human rights reports by country, to provide advisory opinions about whether specific transactions constitute cooperation in repression, and for the Justice Department to prosecute violators.
If some version of the Smith bill progresses in the House, corporations can be expected to raise two other objections. One is that violations of human rights, unlike bribes, are hard to define. In fact, both issues quickly move into a gray zone. Under the FCPA, so-called grease payments are deemed an acceptable way to motivate sclerotic clerks in their duties, as opposed to paying bribes to obtain business in the first place. Though slippery, this distinction recognizes that American businesses operate in many countries that are not Switzerland. Likewise, any statute applying to Internet companies should cut a wide berth for varying standards of hate speech and pornography, as well as allow the sale of basic technology. Cisco routers can serve both good and evil and in China will almost certainly serve both.
A second objection is that such restrictions single out American companies. They do so intentionally because our technology companies, which are the envy of the world, have unique leverage. If U.S. law requires them to take a joint stand on the issue of Internet freedom, China would face a choice between throwing out the lot of them or easing up on anti-democratic enforcement. China does not want to forgo the economic advantages of their presence, even at the risk of undermining its political order. This is the dilemma of economic liberalization as a whole, and we are in a position to make it more urgent. And where America leads on this issue, others will follow. The FCPA influenced the adoption of a 1997 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development anti-bribery convention. As a result, advanced democracies no longer compete on the basis of their receptivity to foreign corruption. Perhaps one day they won't compete to make Chinese censors happy, either.Jacob Weisberg is editor of Slate and co-author, with Robert E. Rubin, of In an Uncertain World
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What Does a Chinese Keyboard Look Like?
How they type in the PRC.
By Daniel Engber
Posted Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2006, at 7:05 PM ET
Google has launched a self-promoting Chinese-language blog, not long after unveiling its controversial Chinese search engine last month. According to the Washington Post, China already has as many as 16 million bloggers. How do you type Chinese characters on a keyboard?
You use a piece of software called an "input method editor," which allows conventional-looking keyboards to produce the thousands of characters used in written Chinese. There's no standard system, though, so two Chinese keyboards may not look exactly the same and they may not function in the same way.
In the Peoples' Republic of China, most computer users type out their Chinese in transliteration, using the standard Roman alphabet keys on a QWERTY keyboard. To generate a character, you type out its sound according to the same spelling system—called Pinyin—that represents the name of China's capital with the word "Beijing." The computer automatically converts the Pinyin spelling to the correct Chinese characters on the screen.
Or at least it's supposed to. There are lots of Chinese words that sound similar but look different on paper. If you're using the Pinyin input method, you'll have to put in some extra effort to make sure the right characters show up onscreen. First, you can follow a syllable with a digit, to indicate which of several intonations you want. If the computer still doesn't have enough information to pick a character, you'll have to choose from a pop-up list of possibilities.
The best Pinyin input methods can guess what you mean to say according to the context and by suggesting the most commonly used characters first. In this way they function a bit like the text-editing software on most cell phones. Some input methods let you set arbitrary shortcuts: If you found yourself typing out the Chinese word for blog—"bu-luo-ge"—over and over again, you could assign it to a simpler letter combination, like "b-l-g." Even with the fancy software, though, typing in Pinyin can be a drag.
Speed-typists in mainland China use another input method called Wubi. To type a character in Wubi, you don't spell out how it sounds—you punch in a sequence of keys that corresponds to what it looks like and how it's drawn. A Wubi-configured keyboard looks just like the Western version but has additional labels on each key. The QWERTY keys are divided into five regions for different types of pen strokes: left-falling, right-falling, horizontal, vertical, and hook. You "spell" a character by typing out up to four strokes, in the order in which you'd draw them on paper. (For intricate characters made of many strokes, you'd type the first three and then the last one.) If he knows what he's doing, a Wubi typist can produce up to 160 characters per minute.
Older people who aren't comfortable with typing might be more inclined to use an electronic writing tablet instead. The precise strokes of Chinese characters make them relatively easy for a computer to distinguish. Many other methods exist as well. The stroke-count system, for example, lets you type in the number of strokes required for a given character and choose the right candidate from a long list. The four-corner system lets you draw out a character by entering numbers for the graphical element in each corner: A "1" makes a horizontal stroke, a "2" is vertical or diagonal, and so on.
Bonus Explainer: Bloggers in mainland China would likely use a different keyboard and input method than bloggers in Taiwan (or even bloggers in Hong Kong). A standard Taiwanese keyboard lets you use the Zhuyin input method, which is based on an alphabet for sounding out Chinese words that was designed in the early 20th century. The Taiwanese also use an input method called Cangjie, which works sort of like Wubi but lets you type out the full set of traditional Chinese characters (rather than the simplified set used in the PRC).
Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.
Explainer thanks Joe Wicentowski of Harvard University, and Mark Zumwalt for asking the question.Daniel Engber is a regular contributor to Slate.
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Monday, February 20, 2006
Note for the image: the execution of the Gunpowder Plotters, 1606.
A legal scholar says that "eye for an eye" justice is a lot more humane than you think.
Feb. 20, 2006 | When William Ian Miller, professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School, came to the phone to talk about his new book, "Eye for an Eye," he was, he confessed, "wired." "I've been talking to my students about the Icelandic sagas!" he said. Miller -- known in literary circles for such provocative, unclassifiable books as "The Anatomy of Disgust" and Salon favorite "The Mystery of Courage" -- cut his scholarly teeth on the sagas, and he thinks we modern types don't give the harsh but heroic societies that produced them enough respect. "Eye for an Eye" describes how justice worked in Medieval Iceland and England, and in the biblical world that formulated the most familiar version of the law of the "talion." It's defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as "a punishment identical to the offense."
"Eye for an Eye" offers a closer look at "talionic" societies -- also known as honor- or revenge-based cultures. It features such strange artifacts as a price list from 7th century England dictating in great detail the number of shillings owed to a person suffering various injuries, from a broken arm to a lost toenail. (Did you know that the little finger was worth more than the index finger? As Miller, who mangled his own pinkie while playing with his son, found out, it's more crucial to maintaining a firm grip.) Or, rather, the compensation laws of King Aethelberht might seem bizarre until you realize that contemporary insurance companies probably have the same sort of lists. And contrary to what we tell ourselves, honor-based societies, Miller argues, often placed a higher value on human lives and human bodies than we do.
Miller insists that underneath our sophisticated modern rationalizations, we still harbor talionic beliefs that make us uneasy when wrongdoers don't pay for their crimes in exact proportion to the harm they cause. That's why, he says, we like stories about characters who even up the score with their enemies -- not just vigilante action films, but comedies in which, say, the bullied nerd triumphs in the end. That's why we're fascinated by revenge.
Your book argues that we often use the term "eye for an eye" to describe a harsh kind of justice from the past. But talionic societies could be said to put a higher value on human life and the human body than we do. They were much more committed to finding the exact worth of body parts and lives. So, let's say you poke out my eye...
Then, instantly, my eye becomes yours. To get the value exactly right, we say an eye is worth an eye. You have a right to my eye. Now you can say to me, "I'm going to take your eye." Then I'm going to say, "Hey, what would you be willing to accept instead?" It becomes an initial bargaining position.
If you want victims to be more highly valued and you want real, adequate compensation, this is how to do it. Now if I offer you what some lousy insurance company says your eye is worth -- say, $100,000 -- you'll say, "No way! I would never have let you take my eye for that." Instead, you can be sure I'll put the same value on not losing my eye that you would have put on yours, and I will pay you that amount to keep my own eye. How about $5 million? Let's start there. And we'll bargain it out.
Of course there was no insurance in those societies. We like to think that life was cheap in those cultures, but the problem was that it was so expensive they couldn't get anything done. Life is cheap with us, despite all our talk about how we can't have capital punishment because human life is too valuable. Do you know there are these signs up on the Michigan highways that say, "Kill a worker, pay $7,500"?
Is that supposed to warn you to be careful not to hit a highway worker with your car?
Yes, because not only are you going to go to prison, but you'll pay a little fine. But everyone who drives by and reads it sees it as an insult. Seventy-five hundred for a highway worker! "Hey, I've got $7,500, let's knock one off!"
When people compare modern ideas of justice with the old idea of "eye for an eye," they often talk about the difference between justice and revenge.
There is no difference. The literature on punishment and retribution, the philosophical and legal literature, doesn't understand revenge. They talk about revenge as going postal, the lawless, crazed overvaluation of your own harm. But if you look at real honor cultures and real revenge cultures, they were measurers and proportionalists to the extreme. What they would call revenge is simply paying back exactly what was owed. No more, no less.
The law of the talion was not a law issued by a government to regulate criminal matters. It was tort law, a compensation principle dictating how much private party A owes private party B for the harm A did to B.
The rule of "eye for an eye" originated before there were ready money substances. There were things that worked as money, like grain and cows, but I argue that the dominate money substance in most settings was humans themselves, or parts of humans. You see human beings used as one type of money, as a way of providing a measure of value. You paid in humans, or you paid yourself over to secure a debt.
You mean your labor?
Your labor, but also your whole body. You enter into the household of the person you owe and work it off.
You list several instances where bodies or even parts of bodies were used as payment, literally or metaphorically.
Well, what is the Eucharist, for heaven's sake? It's a payoff on a hundred levels. It's paying off God, because God is vengeful. The incarnation and crucifixion and sacrifice of Christ is the law of the talion. You owe a god to a god for a breach of god's rights.
Not only that, but God has to divide himself into more than one person in order to pay himself off. But it's paid on behalf of mankind, who could never pay back what's really owed.
It can't be God just paying God. Christ is also the perfect man, a man who is God and then pays God. So the balance is exactly right, an eye for an eye. Otherwise, God is undercompensated.
But the original "eye" in this case is the disobedience of eating the apple in the garden, and the life of a god seems like a high price to pay for that.
Well, God was never what we would call a proportionalist. God goes postal a lot, which is what human societies won't let their people do.
So, in a way, the Old Testament God is exactly the kind of vengeful berserker that modern justice systems promise to protect us from.
You raise a good point. In an honor society, when you have a young man, a hot-tempered person who's been wronged, he wants to go machine-gun everybody on the other side. But he's not alone. He's got a kin group and elders who restrain him. They say, "No, no, no, don't do that because we're going to get hit back if you go over the line. You make a measured response. You can't do nothing, but you have to hit in proportion to the harm done to you, otherwise we're going to be whacked back really badly." This guy has equals or superiors to keep him in line. But who does God consult with? He loses his temper and he's got nobody around to restrain him.
Also, he never has to pay the consequences.
He doesn't. He's immune. But the Bible has some wonderful stuff in this regard. Certain people like Moses or Abraham try to counsel God to calm down. Abraham says, "God, will you really take out Sodom and Gomorrah if I can find 40 righteous people?" And then God says, "OK, I'll spare it for 40." And then Abraham says, "What about 30?" That's a little shtetl bargaining there. God says to Moses, "I've had it with you guys. What did I take you out of Egypt for? I'm going to whack you." And Moses says, "You can't do that because the Egyptians will make fun of you for not being able to bring your people to where you said you were going to bring them." So actually, in the Bible you do sometimes see God getting the kind of counsel that any crazed young man would get from his own brothers or the elders in his community. And when he doesn't get that counsel, he goes bonkers.
That's how it works. In some revenge cultures, you don't necessarily have to hit the person who did the wrong. You could hit the brother of that person, or his son. Sometimes the person who whacked your brother is not an equivalent person to your brother. If you kill him, you're devaluing your brother. Suppose the killer has a wonderful, very talented, beloved brother -- well, then you kill him.
Which is hard luck for the brother!
But before we start laughing at that, consider what that means. If you know that those are the rules in your society -- that you, the cool guy, can die for the harm that your loser brother or cousin causes, you will control your loser brother or cousin. It makes for peacekeeping.
The group controls its own loser members. And here's how they do it: They whisper to the other side, "Take him out. He's free." You see this in Mafia movies sometimes. Or sometimes they'll ax their own guys. The Eskimos will kill their own guy, if he's causing too much trouble. Other societies tend to sell 'em out.
One objection to capital punishment is that it is a kind of revenge. The state has taken over the punishment of the culprit on behalf of the entire population, and it should refrain from becoming merely the instrument of an individual victim's rage or blood lust.
But why assume that what motivates the victim (or the victim's survivors) is anger, rage and fury? Couldn't they also be motivated by a sense of grief or duty or love? Perhaps they're desperate to set things right for their loved one. Perhaps they're not motivated by rage but by a grim sense of purpose, or a keen sense of obligation. We demean the wide emotional range of what an avenger might feel. Often in a talionic society what an avenger would feel is fear because he's got to go do this duty against someone who's already proven himself a killer.
When God says, "Vengeance is mine saith the Lord," he's taking a right that the people had and saying, "I'll do it on your behalf." Today, the state says to a victim, "We are taking away what, in prior times, was your right to settle this account and we will settle it on your behalf." Supposedly, we do this for the benefit of the entire society. But if that price is less than what the victim would have gotten in the earlier system, isn't the victim being asked to pay for a wider societal benefit? Doesn't something more need to be done for the person who's been wronged?
People like to dismiss these victim's rights groups as a bunch of crazed, vengeful, red state lunatics. I think they could be on to some deep moral sense that the wronged party has been undervalued in our fastidious concern not to undervalue the dignity of the wrongdoer. I think we may be in a zero-sum game here. Any anxious dignity you might confer on the wrongdoer is subtracted from the victim. Unless you find a way of making that up, victims and their kin will feel forgotten or undervalued. They're not getting the price right.
Honor cultures were really good at that. The earliest laws, most people don't realize, were not in the form of "Thou shalt not" but in the form of "For X pay Y." They're about setting prices and determining equivalences. That is what "eye for an eye" is all about.
So when we think of "eye for an eye" as a bloodthirsty, out-of-control response, we're misinterpreting it?
Totally misinterpreting it. It's about setting the price that constitutes exactly fair compensation for the loss. You can't take more than an eye, but you can't take less either, or you're a coward. The Hebrew word "shalom" is the perfect illustration of this, along with the shared root of the words "pay" and "peace" in the Indo-European languages. "Shalom" means to pay, to make whole, a term that could be equally substituted for "revenge." It means to make whole again, to be paid back in kind, and it's still the modern Hebrew word for "pay." It's also the word for "peace." Why? Because once you've been adequately compensated, once the balance is even, there can be peace.
This reminds me of the controversy around divvying up the compensation money for family members of those who died on Sept. 11. People who were the survivors of a working-class person resented the idea that they might get less than the family of the stockbroker.
Some weenie of a stockbroker would be valued higher than the fireman who went in to save him! Of course, this created a furor, and rightly so. In our utilitarian, highly sophisticated society, we don't think as clearly as the people in my old cultures. They were much better at evaluating things that we think can't be captured in dollars. They knew what a man was worth. Why? Because they measured his honor. They would have no doubt that a fireman who went into a burning building was a man. He had to be compensated for his moral character and not just his earning stream. That would figure into it, but honor was a complex concept. It allowed all the things that we think really matter to be put on the scale. How courageous you were, how cool you were, how smart you were, how decent a person you were -- all that would have a price put on it.
I have to interject here that they didn't value everything that we think really matters because plenty of the people who died on Sept. 11 -- especially women, but perhaps also busboys and janitors -- didn't count for much in those societies.
That's true, and I don't try to deny that honor cultures weren't very good at treating people well who they considered dishonorable or lacking the capacity for honor. They're very good at getting adequate prices for people who are in the honor game.
All the same, we talk a good talk, but I think they actually managed to maintain a rough equality better than we do. One reason is that they were so poor. Even the rich guys in these societies didn't live that much better than the poorest guy.
Hey, I'm not saying I want to go back there. I'm just saying that they thought very hard and coolly because the stakes were so high. We think very lazily and sloppily about the same issues, like dignity and the valuation of a human life. We sentimentalize this stuff. They couldn't afford to do that.
But all this is so rational, when there is often such an overpowering emotional drive for revenge.
That's the part I call "satisfaction." There are different views about revenge through history. Homer and Aristotle say revenge is sweet. Some of these societies think you should hit back right away. Others think you should draw it out. One of the advantages of having it be your turn to move in some kind of hostile relationship is to terrorize your enemy by them not knowing when you're going to hit them. It turns out that Hamlet's most effective move with his uncle Claudius was that he could not get himself to take revenge. And it was precisely his inability to get his act together that drove Claudius to distraction.
Then there's the attitude that you see in the Mandy Patinkin character in "The Princess Bride," who says, "I've been seeking vengeance so long, now that I've taken it, what am I going to do?" There's this sense that, like sex, there's a post-coital tristesse. It's the chase and not the fulfillment that's exciting.
Still other cultures regard revenge as a grim duty. It's an ugly business all around but you've just got to do it.
You've got to demonstrate that no one can get away with harming you.
Right, because we're talking about weak states or stateless societies. If you're so weak that no one will fear you hitting back, then you and your children will simply be enslaved. But you don't want to overdo it. The saga literature is so smart about this. It says that if you avenge every little wrong done you, you have a very short life. Vengeance taking is dangerous business. What you have to do is take it just enough that the other side would have to worry about you taking it the next time. But you couldn't never take it, or you'd be a person of no consequence and people would just ride roughshod over you.
So the judgment of when to take it and how much to take...
Is a key political and moral value. The smart players are the ones who knew how to minimize their risk in vengeance taking.
And maximize their return in intimidating their enemies. There are still some parts of our society that work that way -- criminal groups or prisoners.
And in the workplace! Hell, you and your buddies, you might not kill each other, but you sure do gossip, sure do get even with people who slight you. These honor systems are still with us, which is why we understand them so well. It's not kill or be killed, but it's "You dis me? Well, you better believe I'll make you pay for that."
I recently asked a classroom of my students, "Who in this room has someone in their life that they would call their enemy?" Out of a class of 90 people, three people raised their hands. So then I said, "How many of you have friends?" and everybody raised their hands. I asked them, "Do you think friendship can mean as much in a culture where there are no enemies?" A kid from India said, "I do not understand you Americans. There can be no friendship if you have no enemies." That's a zero-cost friendship, right?
I guess so, but only if you define a friend as someone who'll help you fight your enemy.
Do you actually have anyone in your social network who you'd call an enemy?
Only if you include people who would, say, bad-mouth me but wouldn't necessarily go out of their way to harm me materially.
But would you experience no small amount of schaudenfreude if something bad happened to them?
Oh, without a doubt!
But you might not go so far as to be the cause or be involved in causing those things?
If the worst someone is doing is bad-mouthing you, sometimes the smartest move is to ignore them.
You're like St. Paul. He says, "If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink." But here's the thing, he says that doing this is like pouring hot coals on your enemy's head! He's not saying you should forget it. He's saying that forgiveness is just a hostile move in this enmity game. It's frustrating your enemy to death! It's saying, "You can't touch me. You're so contemptible that you can't even harm me."
That's about right.
These moves that people want to argue are anti-revenge moves, like forgiveness, are just moves! Forgiveness itself is a hostile move that says, "You don't matter enough for me to go whack you."
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Saturday, February 18, 2006
Note to the image: the book cover of Skipping Towards Gomorrah (Paperback)by Dan Savage
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02.14.06, 12:00 PM ET
Why do beautiful women keep marrying Donald Trump?
Most people--at least most people who aren't billionaires or supermodels--will answer that question with an insult directed at the latest Mrs. Trump. It's an insult that probably can't be printed on this Web site, but it rhymes with "Because she's a bore."
We know why rich men marry beautiful women: for the sex, naturally enough, maybe even the love, as well as the companionship and perhaps the social status that marriage confers on a companion. (Grown men, particularly wealthy ones, can have mistresses, but there's something childish about a billionaire with a girlfriend.)
No one cuts women who marry rich men the same slack. We refuse to believe they honestly find these men attractive--after all, the men they're marrying are usually decades older and long past their looks-good-in-the-light-naked expiration date. Models and actresses who marry obscenely wealthy men, everyone agrees, must be interested in the money alone, and the power and the status it brings. They get through the sex by gritting their teeth or thinking of other, more pleasant things. (Like, say, their new credit limits.)
Maybe I'm filled with the milk of human kindness, or perhaps I have a soft spot for supermodels--I'm a gay man, so I have at least one soft spot for supermodels--but I actually believe that it's possible for a beautiful, young woman to fall in love with an obscenely wealthy older man.
Women are sex objects, the old saying goes, and men are success objects. Women, fairly or unfairly, are judged on their looks, and men, fairly or unfairly, are judged on their money, their power and their status. If Mr. Donald Trump were a dishwasher, it's a safe bet that supermodels would not clamor for the opportunity to be the next Mrs. Trump. But The Donald is rich (although how rich is in dispute), and he's famous and he's powerful. That makes him much more appealing than a dishwasher of similar age, build and comb-over.
Is this latest Mrs. Trump in it for the money? Will the next Mrs. Trump be in it for the money? Yes and yes--and you know what? That's OK. And you know what else? That fact doesn't preclude the possibility that Mrs. Trump is also in love with Mr. Trump.
But can a woman fall in love--really, truly, deeply in love--if she was initially attracted to a man for his money? To show how ridiculous that question is, let me alter it just a bit: Can someone fall in love--really, truly, deeply in love--if he was initially attracted to a woman for her legs? No one doubts the answer to the second question is "yes." Physical attraction can bring two people together and, if the pair is emotionally compatible, that initial attraction can lead to a lasting love.
Well, the same goes for money. Like nice legs, a fat portfolio can bring two people together, and then, if they're lucky, that initial attraction can lead to a lasting love.
Insisting that it's simply not possible for a woman to really love a man whose wealth caught her eye is very deeply sexist. Our culture celebrates romantic love and equates physical desirability with sexual prowess and romantic self-worth. This is a male-centric view, an elevation of surface beauty over other qualities. But it's male-ish to say that only the size of a man's pecs or the shape of woman's rear end can inspire a genuine attraction, whereas obscene wealth always and everywhere inspires only money-grubbing gold-digging.
Yes, yes: Wealth can attract money-grubbing gold diggers, but that's not always the case. Determining whether someone who was initially attracted to you for whatever reason--because you've spent the last three years in the gym doing crunches, or because you're Ronald Perelman--is sincerely in love with you for who you are requires emotional insight, the advice of trusted friends and a good pre-nup lawyer.
So let's say a beautiful young woman of modest means falls in love with a rich and powerful older man. Will the love last? Maybe, maybe not. There have been many Mrs. Trumps, and Ronald Perelman is soon to be single again. People fall out of love for all sorts of reasons; whether it was wealth or looks that brought two people together, there's no guarantee that it will last. Wealth, however, does have one thing over looks: beauty fades, interest accrues. This works in billionaires' favor, but not, alas, in the supermodels.
Still, it is possible that this Mrs. Trump is no bore. It's possible that she may very sincerely love Mr. Trump--for richer, if not for poorer. And heck, it's also entirely possible that she will be the last Mrs. Trump.
Dan Savage is the author of "Savage Love," an internationally syndicated sex-advice column. Savage is also the editor of The Stranger, Seattle's weekly newspaper, and his writings have appeared on the op-ed pages of The New York Times, in Travel & Leisure, Salon.com and other publications. He is the author of The Kid, Skipping Toward Gomorrah and The Commitment, which was published in October 2005.
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Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Worried about the steadily declining number of male students, some colleges and universities appear to be practicing affirmative action for men.
By Sarah Karnasiewicz
Feb. 15, 2006 | Child psychologist Michael Thompson has devoted his professional life to advocating for America's boys. As the bestselling author of "Raising Cain," he's logged thousands of hours as an educational speaker and makes frequent appearences on national television as an authority on troubled young men. But Thompson is also the father of a 20-year-old daughter. And when asked if, given their much-maligned status in schools these days, boys ought to be given a leg up in college admissions, his answer is blunt: "I'd be horrified if some lunkhead boy got accepted to a school instead of my very talented and prepared daughter," he says, "just because he happened to be a guy."
But that may be just what is happening. Amid national panic over a growing academic gender gap, educators have begun to ask, might it be time to adopt affirmative action for boys?
The statistics are revealing: Fewer men apply to colleges every year and those who do disproportionately occupy the lowest quarter of the applicant pool. Thirty-five years ago, in the early days of widespread coeducation, the gender ratio on campuses averaged 43-57, female to male. Now, uniformly, the old ratios have been inverted. Across races and classes -- and to some extent, around the Western world -- women are more likely to apply to college and, once enrolled, more likely to stick around through graduation.
Even in a vacuum, discussions of gender-based affirmative action would be deeply political. But the possibility of a full-fledged battle appears especially likely these days, as we find ourselves in the middle of what's popularly known as the "war on boys." If you watch the news or read the papers, you know the soldiers: Last year, Laura Bush launched a federal initiative focused on boys who have been neglected by their schools and communities; Christina Hoff Sommers, George Gilder and Michael Gurian have swarmed the talk show circuit and editorial pages, bemoaning the lack of male role models in American schools and accusing educators of alienating boys by prizing passive, "feminized" behavior such as sitting quietly, reading independently, and focusing on sedentary rather than dynamic projects. (Though Thompson, for the record, says "education has actually become more dynamic and teaching gotten better for boys" -- and, I quote, "We used to have to hit them to keep them still.") New York Times Op-Ed writer John Tierney made waves in January with an essay warning that educational success will come back to haunt women as a dearth of educated, eligible husbands turns them into miserable spinsters -- and in a rebuttal, Nation columnist Katha Pollitt asked why, years ago when she was in school and men made up the majority, no one was worrying about whether they'd find wives. Finally, a few weeks ago, Newsweek joined the fray with an eight-page cover story by Peg Tyre, breathlessly captioned "The Boy Crisis," and laden with oversize color photos of doleful white boys, seemingly adrift in a sea of competent, well-adjusted girls.
With all this coverage, you'd be excused for thinking the debate is a recent development. But the truth is that affirmative action for men, like the gender gap itself, is simply not news. Back in 1999, a young woman filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the University of Georgia in Athens, after it was revealed that the school had attempted to balance gender on campus by awarding preference to male applicants, much the way it might build racial diversity by assigning extra admissions "points" to minority students. At the time, the school, in its defense, told the Christian Science Monitor that it was trying to reverse male flight from campus (at the time the ratio was 45-55) before it "became something bad." Unfortunately for the university, the district court judge assigned to the case wasn't convinced, ruling instead that "the desire to 'help out' men who are not earning baccalaureate degrees in the same numbers as women ... [was] far from persuasive."
Talk to admissions insiders today, though, and they'll tell you that the University of Georgia case did not so much end affirmative action for men as drive it underground. "My belief is that there are already many informal affirmative action policies," says Thompson. "It is entirely possible that a better qualified girl has not gotten into a school because admissions officers were trying to create a more even ratio." Tom Mortenson, senior policy analyst at the Pell Institute for Opportunity in Higher Education and creator of the Postsecondary Education Opportunity Newsletter, who in the mid-'90s was one of the first scholars to draw attention to the gender gap, agrees. "I know [affirmative action for boys] is being practiced, especially on liberal arts campuses where the gap is biggest," he explains, "because I've had administrators tell me so."
Last fall, their interest piqued by the flurry of news stories describing the growing chasm between boys and girls in higher education, Sandy Baum and Eban Goodstein, economics professors at Skidmore College and Lewis and Clark College, respectively, embarked on a close study of admissions data from 13 liberal arts schools, hunting for an unacknowledged preference for men in the admissions process. "I'd just read so many stories about the declining number of men applying to colleges," says Baum, "that it seemed inevitable that the disparity would or already had launched a campaign of affirmative action."
Baum and Goodstein's findings, while not conclusive, did carry weighty implications for the future of college admissions. At the time of their research, explains Baum, the incoming class at every school they studied was still composed of more than 50 percent girls, which made sweeping pronouncements about the prevalence of affirmative action difficult to support. And their profiles of male and female applicants were based primarily on statistical data -- a standardized test score or GPA -- thereby preventing them from taking into account many of the murky intangibles, like extracurricular activities, recommendations and personal essays, on which many admissions officers rely.
Still, in the case of schools where the gender imbalance was most acute -- at colleges that were once single-sex, for instance -- and where women consistently accounted for more than 60 percent of applicants, Baum and Goodstein did find compelling evidence that male students had a statistically greater probability of being accepted than female students of comparable qualifications. Their conclusion? "There seems to be a kind of affirmative action tipping point that occurs when an application pool becomes too heavily weighted toward women. But the interesting thing is that that point is by no means the 50-50 mark -- it's likely closer to 40-60," explains Baum. "So while we did not find widespread gender preferencing, given the trends on campuses, with more and more schools approaching that tipping point, we could certainly see a big change."
And it's not just former women's colleges facing a 40-60 divide anymore. A quick survey of colleges and universities around the nation found that Kalamazoo College in Michigan comes in at 45-55, the University of New Mexico at 43-57, New York University at 40-60, and Howard University at 34-66 (low-income, minority men and women are most affected by the educational gender gap). Michael Barron, director of admissions at the University of Iowa, has watched his school's 44-56 ratio hold steady throughout his nearly two-decade tenure at the university. "We just have consistently had more women than men, and I know there's a lot of schools -- like the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, for example -- that have been even closer to 40-60 for quite some time," he says. As a state-supported institution that, according to Barron, "has a stewardship responsibility to accept students regardless of issues of gender or race," Iowa maintains that it has no intention of "either consciously or subconsciously" differentiating between men and women in the admissions process." But, Barron admits, "I wouldn't want it said that we are unconcerned. We are watchful and mindful and will be looking to see what happens ... and whether there is a role for colleges and universities to play as part of the solution."
Karen Parker, director of admissions at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., reports that for the past three years her entering classes have had an average ratio of 41-59, and that men only account for 38 percent of applicants. "I don't believe that the school needs to be exactly 50-50, but from a cultural standpoint, I do think it's important that we have men engaged," she says. "Hampshire doesn't practice affirmative action right now -- but I certainly can't say we won't in the future. It's a really perplexing problem and just not a good sign of things to come."
But schools that have not gone so far as to accept male students over more qualified women are still finding ways to shift their admissions agenda toward young men. "There are things schools can and do do," says Christina Hoff Sommers, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and author of "Who Stole Feminism?" and "The War Against Boys." "Strengthening their engineering departments, getting a hockey team. Some schools are changing admission documents to appeal to male minds -- and I know we're supposed to pretend there's no difference [between male and female minds], but anyone in advertising will tell you there is.
And for sure, many colleges are banking on these differences. "At our national conference each year we invariably have a speaker devoted specifically to recruiting boys," explains David Hawkins, the director of public policy at the National Association of College Admission Counseling. "Now most four-year colleges work with their own internal marketing department or contract out to an independent agency that tailors their marketing to young men -- and they are very, very aggressive."
Since teenage boys are often crazy about technology, a number of universities, including Case Western Reserve, Seton Hill, Bryn Mawr and MIT (which, admittedly, at 57-43, doesn't seem to have a problem attracting men), have launched admission-oriented blogs designed to offer an intimate, uncensored look at college life. Other schools take a more subliminal approach, by packing their catalogs with pictures of smiling, confident young men and playing up dark, "masculine" color schemes in mailings.
"There is no doubt that schools are trying to market themselves to boys now, just the way they did to women 30 years ago," says Joseph Tweed, president-elect of the New York State Association of College Counselors and director of college counseling at the Trinity-Pawling School, a private all-boys school in upstate New York. "Everyone is asking, 'How do we do this? Do we change the structure of classes? Do we send out glossier materials?' But I think what worries educators the most is that boys don't seem as focused on the process as girls. [Boys] seem to feel they'll be OK, whereas with girls there's still a sense that if they don't do well, don't go to college, there'll be a consequence that will be negative."
Tweed's point raises a controversial question that most crusaders in the "war on boys" would rather dismiss. Despite their flagging performance in elementary and high school, men have hardly abdicated their power to women. While women may have held the majority in higher education for more than a decade, men still earn more than women, still hold the vast number of tenure-track university positions. Women possess executive positions at less than 2 percent of Fortune 500 companies. Could it be that men aren't going to college because they don't have to?
According to Laura Perna, assistant professor of educational policy and leadership at the University of Maryland, the gender gap is all about economics. Last fall, Perna published a paper in the Review of Higher Education in which she determined that young women might be more motivated to pursue higher education because, consciously or unconsciously, they sense that there are real economic advantages at stake. Her examination of a Department of Education sample of more than 9,000 high school students, interviewed over a period of eight years, revealed that women with bachelor's degrees earn 24 percent more than women without, while young men with bachelor's degrees experience no significant economic gains. For practical proof of her hypothesis, one need only consider that most well-paid, skilled, blue-collar professions continue to be dominated by men -- while minimum-wage jobs in hospitality and service remain the province of women.
Tom Mortenson, of Opportunity, remains skeptical. "I've heard that story, but think of it this way -- men have had a 3,000-year head start, while everything women have accomplished has largely been in the last 30 years," he says. "So yes, if you're a big, strong guy, there are jobs out there. But the fields that are growing fastest are in healthcare, education, leisure and travel, and the services -- all areas that women are better at than we are. So if guys want access to that world, they'd better get an education that qualifies them. Because they won't be big and strong forever." In the future Mortenson imagines, America's changing economy leaves generations of unprepared, aimless, undereducated and emasculated men wasting away, taking the health and happiness of their wives and families with them. But as with Tierney and some of the other boy crusaders, some of Mortenson's greatest fears aren't focused on the perils facing men who lose course in school, but on the freedoms of women who don't. "On the one hand, you want to embrace the success of women," he tells me. "Yet, as more and more women substitute careers for having babies, I've come to see that we're looking at a population crisis. The most educated women have the fewest children -- this is not rocket science, it's just the way things work. We need women to have 2.1 children [in order to maintain the U.S. population], but the recent Census Bureau reports show that American women with bachelor's degrees average only 1.7. You can do the math -- if we continue this way the white population is headed for extinction."
Having worked for decades to increase educational opportunities across class, race and gender lines, Mortenson knows his talk about women's responsibility to preserve the species will get him in trouble -- indeed, it already has. He says his daughter, age 29, unmarried, childless (but equipped with a master's degree), won't speak to him on the subject. But even his fatherly concern ("I want my daughter to have it all, but I worry that in old age she'll be lonely") can't disguise some of the insidious implications underneath those concerns: that educated white women might single-handedly be responsible for the decline of Western civilization.
In the fall 2005 issue of Ms. magazine, Phyllis Rosser wrote that rather than being "celebrated for [our] landmark achievements, [women] have engendered fear," and offers up this fact, conspicuously absent from most media coverage of the gender gap: "There has been no decline in bachelor's degrees awarded to men," she writes. "The numbers awarded to women have simply increased." Put simply, in the words of Jacqueline King, director of the Center of Policy Analysis at the American Council of Education, who is quoted in Rosser's piece, "The [real news] story is not one of male failure, or even lack of opportunity -- but rather one of increased academic success among females and minorities."
The boy crusaders believe that the seeds of academic failure are planted in primary school, which raises the question: Why are we waiting until college to redress the problem? "I've read many reports that male middle-school students are lagging behind their female counterparts," says Michael Barron. "So it seems to me that that's where we need to look. Because the fact is, all we have available to us, once people begin applying to college, is a product of what they've done before. Our reaction has to come sooner."
Until that happens, however, and should current enrollment trends continue, it's reasonable to assume that creative forms of admissions preferencing will continue to stir debate. As our phone conversation ends, Michael Thompson's voice turns grave. "I want to make very clear that I do not subscribe to this notion of a 'war' on boys," he says. "I think we have been living in a very exciting time when we have taken the shackles off of girls in education. I loved what feminism did for girls -- we got inside them and understood them. My personal mission just happens to be to get people to think about boys with the same depth."
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