“To Leon Trotsky, with love . . . .”

Maureen Mullarkey on Frida Kahlo:

Kahlo was a minor talent inflated into a major one by identity politics (including Mexican nationalism) and artworld access provided by marriage to Diego Rivera, the great Mexican muralist. She is the darling of women who once cried over Sylvia Plath and grew up to carry @MeToo tote bags. Her painting was a relentless obsession with herself as sign and symbol of eternal female suffering—Frida, Woman of Sorrows. Her prominence owes as much to the maudlin chauvinism of her work as on the names she slept with.

Historical-botanical footnote

Joseph Moore’s most recent post mentions the Iron Chancellor. That reminded me of a bit of horticultural history.

One rose I grew many years ago was a fine white hybrid perpetual called “Frau Karl Druschki.” That’s a bad enough name, but it could have been much worse. From an online discussion:

According to a reference, for some years from 1900 there was an annual competition for the best new seedling of German origin, to be named ‘Otto von Bismarck’. The rose described here is pink, from 1908. However there is an illustration dated 1900. Was that a different rose? (Or as a passing thought, a typo?)
1900 was the year that the rose eventually named ‘Frau Karl Druschki’ was entered in the competition….

… ‘Frau Karl Druschki’, at the time still unnamed, had participated in the original competition in 1900, but the judges found no rose to be good enough to be called ‘Otto von Bismarck’. So, Lambert named his rose FKD and commercialzed it and was out of the game. The original prize money of 1000 Marks was increased first to 2000, then to 3000, to no vail – nothing was good enough! Finally in 1906 Kiese’s rose made it. The irony is that FKD went on to become one of the hottest introductions of the early 20th century, while Kiese’s ‘Otto von Bismarck’ almost disappeared.

You can call the rose “Snow Queen” or “Schneekönigin” if you find “Frau Karl Druschki” too clunky.

*****

Bonus foolishness: A note from the Modern Language Association’s annual meeting:

But amid the usual carnival of perversity there was one bijou we thought might interest our readers. No, it has nothing to do with, you know, literature. The denizens of the mla and indeed of the humanities departments of most of our universities wouldn’t countenance anything so retrograde. But how’s this, a session on “Vegetal Afterlives”?

“Advancing recent work in critical plant studies”—“critical plant studies”? alas, yes—“asking how plants offer vibrant models of resistance to environmental destruction through their persistent attempts to create a Plantocene, . . . panelists focus on the theme of vegetal resistance, considering how plants can offer models of resistance for human crises like systemic racism, unnatural disasters, and climate change.”

Hero vs. protagonist: the soundtrack

Ted Gioia:

I’ve seen intricate taxonomies of music genres, which divide and subdivide songs into every possible category from glitch hop to folktronica. I’m told that the Spotify streaming platform has identified 1,300 different genres of music. Yet these lists never include the genre hero music—the oldest and most enduring song of them all and the root of all narratives. Like other genres, it morphs and evolves, but it never disappears.

(If you’re not reading Gioia regularly, you should be.)

An undistinguished year

Let’s take a look back at 2023….

Nah, let’s not.

… Just a few highights, then.

Excitement

Most of the thrilling action around here this past year happened in the garden. I summarize it here.

Music

This year’s musical discovery was guitarist Takeshi Terauchi, who formed his first group 60 years ago. If Dick Dale had been Japanese, he might have sounded like Terauchi.

Dick Hyman’s 1975 recordings of Scott Joplin’s music were finally re-released in their entirety this year. Jed Distler says that they’re the best, and he may be right. Previously my preferred Joplin recordings were William Albright’s — which are good (and Albright’s own ragtime music is worth investigating) — but Hyman’s are more alive and colorful, and swing better. Hyman is a jazz pianist, and it shows, particularly in his improvisations on Joplin’s rags.

Entertainment

This fall there were two first-rate anime series broadcast simultaneously. Most years there are none. If Frieren and The Apothecary Diaries maintain quality in their continuations, they are both potential classics.

Books

Most of what I read was disappointing, and what wasn’t I haven’t finished yet. The most curious was Roger Scruton’s Fools, Frauds & Firebrands, in which Scruton summarizes, as far as it can be done, the philosophical underpinnings of radical leftism. I have a hard time with philosophy; it’s often difficult to believe that most of it isn’t ultimately just complicated word games. Scruton’s book doesn’t help. Although he writes clearly and engagingly, the people whose ideas he analyzes come across as a bunch of pompous loonies proclaiming nonsense. It’s possible that Scruton is unfair to his subjects, but other things I have read by him indicate that he is generally a reasonable, temperate man. Scruton on Slavoj Žižek:

We should not be surprised, therefore, when Žižek writes that ‘the thin difference between the Stalinist gulag and the Nazi annihilation camp was also, at that moment, the difference between civilization and barbarism.’ His only interest is in the state of mind of the perpetrators: were they moved, in however oblique a manner, by utopian enthusiasms, or were they moved, on the contrary, by some discredited attachment? If you step back from Žižek’s words, and ask yourself just where the line between civilization and barbarism lay, at the time when the rival sets of death camps were competing over their body-counts, you would surely put communist Russia and Nazi Germany on one side of the line, and a few other places, Britain and America for instance, on the other. To Žižek that would be an outrage, a betrayal, a pathetic refusal to see what is really at stake. For what matters is what people say, not what they do, and what they say is redeemed by their theories, however stupidly or carelessly pursued, and with whatever disregard for real people. We rescue the virtual from the actual through our words, and the deeds have nothing to do with it.

Of dishwashers and cigarette lighters

The “letter to the editor” today at Dr. Boli’s magazine reminded me (and at least one other person) of Henry Kuttner’s tale from eighty years ago, “The Twonky.” I’ve occasionally wanted to post or link to the story, one of the more prophetic writings of the twentieth century, but until recently I hadn’t been able to find it online. You can read it here.1

The polls return

It’s been years since I last ran a poll. The WordPress establishment has improved its “CrowdSignal” plugin to the point of utter uselessness, so let’s see how well the free version of “Poll Maker” works.

4
Some new poll

Which is correct?

(For context, see here. You may need to scroll down to the “nerd fight.”)

Today’s question

Richard Hanania:

On what basis did we as a society decide that the ideal way to spend a childhood was to attend government institutions 5 days a week, 7 hours a day, 9 months a year, for 12 years? That most of that time should be spent sitting at a desk, with say one hour for lunch and one for recess?

(Via Isegoria.)

Joseph Moore has a notion why that happened. (Moore has quite a bit to say about modern education on his website, all of it worth reading.)

Today’s quotes

David Breitenbeck:

I’ve heard the Medieval world described as one in which people lived among the ruins of works greater than any they could themselves create. This is actually only true in part and for a time, as when the Medieval world got going, architecturally speaking it absolutely blew Greece and Rome out of the water (granted, I’m fuzzing a lot given the time frames involved).

However, one could describe our world as one that lives in the shelter of works greater than any we create. Except, it is more bitter than that; we live in the knowledge that we could create as our ancestors did, but we do not. It’s an odd failure of will rather than ability, or perhaps of intent.

Ted Gioia:

We are living in an age that is starved of romance. But here’s the strangest part of the story: it’s easier than ever to find a physical connection with a partner. As they say: there’s an app for that.

As a result, it’s easier to hookup than go on a romantic date. Has that ever been true before in the history of society?

Professor Mondo:

Sometimes having a good role model is a drag

Aha

Dr. Boli on Sydney:

An alternative hypothesis is that Bing AI is simply the aggregate beliefs and attitudes of the Microsoft Corporation, in the same way that Giambattista Vico said that Homer was “the common sense of the Greek people.” It has the personality that inevitably arises from putting together the minds of all the people who gave us Windows. You wondered what Windows would say if it could talk. Now you know: “You have not been a good user.”

Another poem

I recently posted a poem for the second day of February. Here’s one for the second week:

The Lordly Hudson

“Driver, what stream is it?” I asked, well knowing
it was our lordly Hudson hardly flowing.
“It is our lordly Hudson hardly flowing,”
he said, under the green-grown cliffs.”

Be still, heart! No one needs
your passionate suffrage to select this glory,
this is our lordly Hudson hardly flowing
under the green-grown cliffs.

“Driver, has this a peer in Europe or the East?”
“No, no!” he said. Home! Home!
Be quiet, heart! This is our lordly Hudson
and has no peer in Europe or the east.

This is our lordly Hudson hardly flowing
under the green-grown cliffs
and has no peer in Europe or the East.
Be quiet, heart! Home! Home!

– Paul Goodman

I was prompted to post this by a recent article by Ted Gioia. Goodman may have been a “nut of the first water,” but he had a moment of “chilling” prescience.