The speed and certainty with which the conventional wisdom in Washington flips can be a comical thing to watch. A mere forty-eight hours ago, Barack Obama was a struggling president, even a likely one-termer. Today, in the wake of the House’s narrow passage of the health-reform bill—which is to say, on the strength of a grand total of four votes, which if cast the other way would have ensured reform’s defeat—he’s suddenly once again a political mastermind and one of the most consequential presidents of the last half-century!
In “The Best Faces of the Enlightenment,” from the April 8 issue of The New York Review, Willibald Sauerländer writes about a new exhibition of the work of Jean-Antoine Houdon, whom he calls “the last and probably greatest French sculptor of the eighteenth century.” In his works—a selection of which can be seen in this slide show—the “panegyric rhetoric of the baroque” and the “flounces and wigs of the rococo” give way to “an unadorned naturalism.” “Jean-Antoine Houdon: Sensuous Sculpture” was organized by the Liebieghaus in Frankfurt, Germany, and is on view at the Musée Fabre in Montpellier, France, until June 27. It includes nineteen works by Houdon (1741–1828); it also includes works by some of his most important contemporaries, including Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, Augustin Pajou, and Jean-Baptiste II Lemoyne.
Blogging brings out the hit-and-run element in communication. Bloggers tend to be punchy. They often hit below the belt; and when they land a blow, they dash off to another target. Pow! The idea is to provoke, to score points, to vent opinions, and frequently to gossip.
For someone like me who lives in New Hampshire, cold and snow are things I take in stride, the way I fancy the inhabitants of the tropics barely take notice of the hot muggy days they have there. It’s the howling wind that discombobulates me, the one a neighbor calls “Labrador Express,” conjuring up for me visions of the bleak landscape of that great peninsula in eastern Canada that once I surveyed in horror from a low-flying plane.
In her review of Harvard entomologist E.O. Wilson’s first novel,Anthill, in the April 8 issue of The New York Review, Margaret Atwood encourages anyone interested in ants to “take a look at the daring eco-adventurer Mark Moffett’s spectacular new ant book,Adventures Among Ants.” Moffett—who studied evolutionary biology under Wilson—has been tracking ants for decades; his research has taken him all over the world, including as a photographer for National Geographic magazine, earning him the nickname “the Indiana Jones of entomology.” These photographs come from his book, which will be published by University of California Press in May.
The second mystery is the scourging of Jesus. This was a prescribed part of Roman execution by crucifixion. The convict was stripped naked and beaten with rods. This was done to break his spirit, so there would be no undignified scuffle when the man was led to the execution site and affixed to the cross. It was to demean him ahead of time, to degrade his manhood, so he would be cowed and submissive when taken to his death.
With the opening of an exhibition of nine important old master paintings from Dulwich Picture Gallery at the Frick Gallery this month, New Yorkers are at most a mere cab ride away from seeing major yet relatively little-known paintings by van Dyck and Poussin, Rembrandt, Murillo, Watteau, and Gainsborough. Even if you think you know these artists well, go anyway: these pictures rarely travel and many are atypical of the artist’s work.
In 1992 I was chairman of the History Department at New York University—where I was also the only unmarried straight male under sixty. A combustible blend: prominently displayed on the board outside my office was the location and phone number of the university’s Sexual Harassment Center. History was a fast-feminizing profession, with a graduate community primed for signs of discrimination—or worse. Physical contact constituted a presumption of malevolent intention; a closed door was proof positive.
Whatever else you might say about John Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer who drafted several memos in 2002 authorizing the CIA to commit torture, you have to admit that he’s not in the least embarrassed by the condemnation of his peers. On February 19, the Justice Department released a set of previously confidential reports by its Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) excoriating Yoo’s legal work—but stopped short of referring him for professional discipline by his state bar association. Since then Yoo has written Op-Eds for The Wall Street Journal and The Philadelphia Inquirer trumpeting his “victory.” In the Wall Street Journal piece, entitled “My Gift to the Obama Presidency,” Yoo argued that President Obama owes him a debt of gratitude for “winning a drawn-out fight to protect his powers as commander in chief to wage war and keep Americans safe.” Four days later, in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Yoo called the decision not to refer him for bar discipline “a victory for the people fighting the war on terror.”
British universities face a crisis of the mind and spirit. For thirty years, Tory and Labour politicians, bureaucrats, and “managers” have hacked at the traditional foundations of academic life. Unless policies and practices change soon, the damage will be impossible to remedy.