Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Three on a Book

Reading a book review today, Neocon or Not? opened my eyes to why I like to read the NYT book reviews: there are often three ideas at play.

In this review, Robert Alter is reviewing Steven B Simth's biography of Leo Strauss. Those of us who saw the Tim Robbins play Embedded learned somthing about Leo Strauss. I'm sure I was not alone among the many who knew little of Strauss prior to this play. Smith's book, Reading Leo Strauss, may help me to better understand Strauss. But, in general, why is a book review so valuable?

Embedded placed Strauss in a 'Big-Brother-esque' position of the all-seeing eye over the machinations of the current neo-con oligarchy who run the country in the absence of real leadership. A not very flattering view, considering the behavior of the charicatures of the real people. Smith, if not Alter as well, seek to right that perception. Quoting Alter's review,

"Why some of his most prominent students missed this essential feature of his thought, and why they turned to the right, remains one of the mysteries of his intellectual legacy"

I guess I'd like to know why as well.

The book review, as this example shows, gives two more levels of analysis on the underlying subject. In this case, Alter, the reviewer agrees with Smith the author. Alter helps the generally informed reader by a choice of selective quotes, and by comparison to other work. I'm a recent secondary educator, amateur historian, and literary person, I'm made to feel more enlightened when any of these connections resonate. A well-written review challenges me to seek more answers, rather than feel demeaned becuase of any lack of knowledge on my part:

"... and Smith is right to assocaite Strauss with cold war liberals like Raymond Aron, ... and Lionel Trilling."

At this point ask myself, "Self, Lionel, ... Calvin ... any connection?" and adjourn to search

Saturday, June 24, 2006

You Can't Cut It Out of the TV

Those were words my father told me the better part of 50 years ago, instructing my brother and I how to sell newspapers, not that my dad was a salesman, as our mom was often to point out.

I'm reminded of Dad's infrequent words of instruction by a couple of events this past week. The first is a series of email exchanges with a lady, Kay D, who better remembers having baby-sat us as youngsters, now just more than 50 years ago. She had worked, as what we'd now call an intern, for that Appleton Press published by Martinis I and II. Back then, Dad was instructing her on the art of the obit. She relates that Dad's instructions were, "people die, they don't ''pass away''". I guess this recollection came back to her since it's still within a year of her mother's death..

But the proximate cause of my recalling those words, "you can't cut it out of the tv", was when I unfolded tomorrow's NYT Arts and Leisure section to the Television page. The lead article is about the show Numb3rs, and how David Krumholtz mastered the character, he being a little short in mathematics ability. Since I don't normally read the Arts and Leiser section, chalk this one up to serendipity, which I guess, is what Dad was talking about in compairing the newspaper and TV.

Television, a visual medium, offers the illusion of being two-dimensional. It's really only one. And not one of the familiar three dimensions, rather the fourth dimension: time. TV doesn't offer either the length or width of the screen, and certainly not the depth. Take for example Krumholtz' observation on his role: "I think it's more important that I learn who a mathematician is and how he sees the world than it is to actually learn the math.", a sentiment with which I completely agree. The point here is without the newspaper, I wouldn't have that insight into his personal muse. In it's current format, how does TV offer the equivalent of the DVD-accompanying "Director's Cuts" or special bits which give us the insight to what we are seeing? TV is likely to remain one-dimensional.

So, thank you, Dad, for offering that wisdom. And thank you, Kay, for recalling that prior time of great insight in this age of three or more dimensions, and importantly, that depth is measured in short phrases.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

D-Day Yesterday

Lost in the triple-6 hype of yesterday was the invaluable memory of D-Day. It was Debarcation Day, at H-Hour. We all overlooked the significance and memory of The Longest Day , when the allies invaded the German-occupied beaches of Normandy.

This martini-drinker and the missus chose this day 6-6-70 to be wed in Pittsburgh (Millvale), PA. In phone calls yesterday, the THREE kids wanted to know if their parents had considered the now-obvious inevitable consequences of a 6/6 anniversary. "Yes and No", is the only answer. Our St Helen, and my mother-in-law belonged to a pottery club, the most glorious product of which was a fabulous ceramic Nativity set. It was accompanied by the much more mundane quiche, for example: the ceramics catcher's mitt, with the ubiquitous: 6-6-70. There must have been a dozen of these mementos in the collection. So, back to last night's question: we were painfully aware of the 6-6 connection, _but_ in 1970, there wasn't the transfixed notion with the triple-six sign of hell's angel. (movies like The Omen and The Exorcist).

The other fact which you need to know is the forefront thought of our D-Day marriage was celebrating my parent's wedding on the anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg. So we were less concerned about the confluence of three sixs, as was yesterday, than we were about commemerating a famous battle.

Let's not let our fixation with three sixes overshadow our recollection of real events.