this week i

created first, maybe final work in shakespeare for breakfast series: toucan samlet, prince of denmark.  chose serious title over toucan or not toucan

wonder whether to switch to work on weather instead. powell, yellen, bernanke.. greenspan next? / nah, skip to volcker testifying with a juicy blunt

measure roughly same in lbs, cm. emoji fairy tales: 💋🐸..🤮🐸...💋🐸..🤮🐸...💋🐸..🤑🤴 / 🧗🏰 👱‍♀️ / 👱‍♀️ 🍜 🥣 🍨 🛏️ 🛌 🛏️🚪🐻 🐻 🧸

argh why am i on this e-mail chain?
here do you want a puff of this?  [makes joint smoking motion]
i haven't had any of that since i left the u.s. except..
except three days ago?
um..  yeah, three days ago exactly!
lines up with you drawing a sloth

read thinking in the twentieth century by tony judt with timothy snyder.  the kafka quote the best line, p360 flips order of orwell's paris et london

the universal character of french history
i cannot recall a time when i did not know about what was not yet called the holocaust

my father would never have driven a renault, probably because louis renault was a notorious wartime collaborator whose firm had been nationalized at the liberation as punishment for his vichyite sympathies

it took until the mid-1970s for even the core economies of prosperous western europe to get back to where they had been in 1914

his father, lord randolph churchill, had been a significant player in late-victorian politics; but he destroyed himself (through political miscalculation and syphilis)..his mother was american

there was no reason for communism to do well in scandinavia because social democracy had already bitten deep into the dominant peasant-worker constituency..there was never going to be - except briefly in norway among an angry fringe of neglected fishermen - a constituency for all-or-nothing, throw-it-all-over, once-and-for-all politics

it is one thing to say that i am willing to suffer now for an unknowable but possibly better future.  it is quite another to authorize the suffering of others in the name of the same verifiable hypothesis. this, in my view, is the intellectual sin of the century: passing judgment on the fate of others in the name of their future as you see it, a future in which you may have no investment, but concerning which you claim exclusive and perfect information

you cannot fully appreciate the shape of the twentieth century if you did not once share its illusions, and the communist illusion in particular

no biblical equivalent for "tony"

i do feel as a jew that one has a responsibility to criticize israel vigorously and rigorously, in ways that non-jews cannot - for fear of spurious but effective accusations of anti-semitism

ever since the 1920s there have been marxists (leninists really) who saw trotsky as the path not taken, the history that somehow went off course, the king across the water

for fascists in the early interwar years, the gnawing awareness of national weakness was often driven by economic collapsed.  the old empires, whatever their shortcomings, were large zones of free trade; the new nation-states were anything but

orwell could not publish his memoir of the spanish civil war, homage to catalonia, with a mainstream left-leaning publisher: the bienpensant left did not wish to be associated with attacks on communism

those who got the twentieth century right, whether in anticipation - like kafka - or as contemporary observers, had to be able to imagine a world for which there was no precedent.  they had to suppose that this unprecedented and ostensibly absurd situation was actually the case

reforming socialism was like frying snowballs

more perhaps than i saw at the time, i was concerned with the connection between "living in truth" and actual politics.  the piece began with a citation of kafka's the trial, where k. says that if we must accept that the law is grounded only in necessity, then lying becomes a universal principle

obituarist of the french revolution

marx's point in the eighteenth brumaire: "men make their own history, but they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past"

china is another way that lenin's success is his failure.  because what lenin and trotsky were counting on was that if they had one premature revolution in a backward country, the mature revolutions would follow in the western industrialized or industrializing countries.  and that's not what happens; what happens instead is that the leninist revolt becomes the thing in itself.  it becomes the model of revolution which can spread to other agrarian countries, still less suited to revolution from a traditional marxist perspective

stalin's destruction of the soviet intelligentsia was piecemeal.  and essentially retail.  mao murdered wholesale; pol pot was universal

havel's apparent lack of intellectual roots worked in his favor..that of the greengrocer who places the sign "workers of the world unite!" in his window

my dear lady, there's no sense in that, all you're going to get out of the west is tears and money

historically illiterate economists

the reagan-thatcher view: that the right to make any amount of money unhindered by the state is part of an unbroken continuum with the right to free speech

as for public ethics, kant notwithstanding, we still lack a consensual basis which is not religious in origin

what's wrong with the eighteenth century?  best poetry, best philosophers, best buildings..

it's terribly important for an open society to be familiar with its past.  it was a common feature of the closed societies of the twentieth century, whether of left or right, that they manipulated history.  rigging the past is the oldest form of knowledge control: if you have power over the interpretation of what went before (or can simply lie about it), the present and the future are at your disposal.  so it is simple democratic prudence to ensure that the citizenry are historically informed.

here, i worry about "progressive" history teaching.  in our childhood, certainly in mine and i imagine in yours, history was a bunch of information.  you learned it in an organized, serial way - usually along a chronological timeline.  the purpose of this exercise was to provide children with a mental map - stretching back across time - of the world they inhabited.  those who insisted that this approach was uncritical were not wrong.  but it has proven a grave error to replace data-laden history with the intuition that the past was a set of lies and prejudices in need of correction: prejudices in favor of white people and men, lies about capitalism or colonialism or whatever it might be

the job of the historian is to make clear that a certain event happened..this rather obvious job description is actually quite critical.  the cultural and political current flows in the other direction: to efface past events - or exploit them for unrelated purposes.  it's our job to get it right: again and again and again.  the task is sisyphean: the distortions keep changing and so the emphasis in the corrective is constantly in flux.  but many historians do not see it this way, and feel no responsibility of this kind.  in my view, they are not real historians.  a scholar of the past who is not interested in the first instance in getting the story right may be many virtuous things but a historian is not among them

each time some fool declares that a saddam hussein is hitler reincarnate, it is our job to enter the fray and complicate such simple rubbish

my first wife was an elementary school teacher.  many decades ago, she invited me once to teach the french revolution to her class of nine-year-olds.  after giving the matter a little thought - i had no comparable experience of grade school teaching - i brought a little guillotine into the classroom and we began the session by chopping off the head of marie antoinette

it was robert silvers, the editor of the new york review of books, who taught me in spite of myself that i really could do this sort of writing; that i could think and comment upon subjects far removed from my formal scholarly concerns.  silvers offered me the occasion to write about things that i would have thought beyond me.  i shall be eternally grateful to him

intellectual activity is a little bit like seduction.  if you go straight for your goal, you almost certainly won't succeed.  if you want to be someone who contributes to world historical debates, you almost certainly won't succeed if you start off by contributing to world historical debates.  the most important thing to do is to be talking about the things that have, as we might put it, world historical resonance but at the level at which you can be influential

if you look at the history of nations that maximized the virtues that we associate with democracy, you notice that what came first was constitutionality, rule of law and the separation of powers.  democracy almost always came last.  if by democracy we mean the right of all adults to take part in the choice of government that's going to rule over them, that came very late - in my lifetime in some countries that we now think of as great democracies, like switzerland, and certainly in my father's lifetime for other european countries like france.  so we should not tell ourselves that democracy is the starting point

at the battle of stalingrad, the red army lost more soldiers than america has lost - soldiers and civilians combined - in all the american wars of the twentieth century

planning is a nineteenth-century proposition, largely realized in the twentieth century.  so much of the twentieth century, after all, is the acting out, living out, of nineteenth-century ways of responding to the industrial revolution and the crisis of mass society.  cities in much of western and northern europe had grown exponentially between say 1830 and 1880.  thus by the late nineteenth century there were cities all across europe of a size that someone aged fifty could not have imagined in his childhood.  the scale of urban increase has far overtaken the scale of state action.  and so the idea that the state had better intervene in production and employment grew very fast in the last third of the nineteenth century

unemployment was the preoccupation of the british and the americans, and in continental europe of the belgians.  but employment wasn't actually the theoretical starting point for french or german writing - which was more concerned with inflation

 the dominance of economic language in an intellectual culture which was always vulnerable to the authority of "experts" has acted as a brake upon a more morally informed social debate

the contemporary critique of the mcgovern-era democratic party: not because it purportedly sought to advance the interests of every hyphenated category you could think of (many of which were in urgent need of advancing), but because in doing so it undermined its own rhetorical inheritance and forgot how to speak about the collective society

"kill all the economists" (to paraphrase shakespeare)

amyotrophic lateral sclerosis has no effect on the mind and it is largely painless

what we have altogether forgotten is that the most credible alternative to communism in the years between the wars was not the liberal capitalist west but fascism - particularly in its italian form