“Caravaggio was to painting what Galileo was to physics”

From Alvaro Enrigue’s novel Sudden Death, which recounts an imaginary tennis match between Francisco de Quevedo and Caravaggio:

Anyone who believes that earthly objects are all composed of the same group of substances, and that transformations are accomplished only through mechanical means, will naturally perceive the voice of God in the filthy fingernails—nails that are of this world, a part of history—of Caravaggio’s saints and virgins. The voice of a god more brilliant than capricious; a god unlike God, remote and uninterested in revealing himself in miracles beyond combustion or the balance of forces; a trust god for everyone: the poor, the wicked, the politicians, the rent boys, and the millionaires.

Caravaggio was to painting what Galileo was to physics: someone who took a second look and said what he was seeing; someone who discovered that forms in space aren’t allegories of anything but themselves, and that’s enough; someone who understood that the true mystery of the forces that control how we inhabit the earth is not how lofty they are, but how elemental. (p. 89)

Quick and Dirty GDPR Privacy Policy

For those of you weary of officialese:

While you’re using this web site, we may collect some Personally Identifiable Information about you, including your name, your *******, your ******* and optionally your ********, the ******** and ******** of all your close relations, and the height of your ******, which in some cases we might try to verify with a photograph. If you’re a citizen of the U.S., by the time you read this notice, we’ve already sold this information to Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, and some guy who keeps calling from Florida and who’s really persistent. If you’re a citizen of the EU, we make all reasonable efforts to keep this information private. We usually store it in a *******, which we lock with a *******, and when we leave for the weekend, we wedge the whole ******** under a *******. You have to look really hard to even see that it’s there. New EU privacy regulations require us to tell you what we’re doing with your data, to which we say, “Not very ****** much, which is killing us, because that guy from Florida has promised to pay double for anything coming from the EU.” So we’re holding onto your data and will only turn it over to a third party if we’re presented with some pretty official language that says something like subpoena or ediscovery request or one of those really long, complicated UPS forms. By law, we’re required to respond to all requests from EU authorities, but we’re saying upfront that it’s possible for us to be duped by a fake but official-looking form from some—not naming any names here—second-tier EU Member States. As we all know, there are a lot of Member States and some of them have some pretty weird-sounding agencies. ******** has a Department of Cybersecurity, *******, and Fisheries. Just what the **** is that about? And how can we tell if its request is genuine as long as it shows up in our P.O. box on heavy, cream-colored A4 stationery and with a stamp of some bushy-sideburned prince who probably met a bad end from machine-gun fire in 1915? You also have the right to ask for your data back. We try to teach our kids, ‘No backsies,’ but thanks to the GDPR, here we are. So if you’ve read this entire notice and you really, really, really cross-your-heart want your data back, do this. Call our main office during business hours and ask for Anton. The receptionist will know where to find him. But we’re just telling you up front: His English isn’t so good.

The America of 1842 Loved Dollars

It’s uncanny how the America of 1842, at least as described by Dickens in Martin Chuzzlewit, resembles the America of today:

[Their conversation] was rather barren of interest, to say the truth; and the greater part of it may be summed up in one word. Dollars. All their cares, hopes, joys, affections, virtues, and associations, seemed to be melted down into dollars. Whatever the chance contributions that fell into the slow cauldron of their talk, they made the gruel thick and slab with dollars. Men were weighed by their dollars, measures gauged by their dollars; life was auctioneered, appraised, put up, and knocked down for its dollars. The next respectable thing to dollars was any venture having their attainment for its end. The more of that worthless ballast, honour and fair-dealing, which any man cast overboard from the ship of his Good Name and Good Intent, the more ample stowage-room he had for dollars. Make commerce one huge lie and mighty theft. Deface the banner of the nation for an idle rag; pollute it star by star; and cut out stripe by stripe as from the arm of a degraded soldier. Do anything for dollars! What is a flag to them! (Chapter 16)

Whither the Republican Party

It’s a bit jarring to encounter these two pieces within 10 minutes of each other.

From an opinion column in The New York Times by Gerald Alexander, a professor of political science at the University of Virginia:

In fact, liberals may be more effective at causing resentment than in getting people to come their way. . . .

Consider some ways liberals have used their cultural prominence in recent years. They have rightly become more sensitive to racism and sexism in American society. News reports, academic commentary and movies now regularly relate accounts of racism in American history and condemn racial bigotry. These exercises in consciousness-raising and criticism have surely nudged some Americans to rethink their views, and to reflect more deeply on the status and experience of women and members of minority groups in this country.

But accusers can paint with very wide brushes. Racist is pretty much the most damning label that can be slapped on anyone in America today, which means it should be applied firmly and carefully. Yet some people have cavalierly leveled the charge against huge numbers of Americans — specifically, the more than 60 million people who voted for Mr. Trump.

And then this account of a conversation between Robert Reich and a friend of his who is a former Republican member of the House of Representatives:

Me (Robert Reich): Trump won’t make it to 2020. If Mueller doesn’t skewer him, the Stormy Daniels stuff will.

He: You still don’t get it. Mueller and Stormy won’t lay a glove on him, and I’ll tell you why. He’s a jerk but he’s shaking things up, and voters like that. Every time he takes a dump on somebody important, they cheer. Whenever he skewers another sacred cow, they applaud. The more offensive he is, the more people say “this guy is real.” Doesn’t matter what Mueller finds or what a porn star says. Trump is Teflon.

Me: Whatever happened to your prediction that the GOP would dessert him once they got their tax bill enacted?

He: I wasn’t paying attention to the Trump coalition.

Me: What coalition?

He: Trump has pulled together the white working class and the moneyed interests of America. No one thought it possible. It’s the new Republican Party. Racist, anti-foreigner, deregulation, tax cuts. Reagan on steroids. Unbeatable. If he wants a second term, he gets it.

Digressions

Some Notes on Writing Fiction

I’ve recently joined a local writers group, and a few weeks ago the group’s leader asked for any advice or rules of thumb we might have to offer other writers. Here are a few.

When writing fiction, think in terms of scenes. Each scene must include at least one of the following: a decision action that propels the plot, a character making a decision to take such an action, or a discovery that changes a character’s relationship with other characters and affects future actions. A scene is about at least one of these things happening. A scene typically builds to one of these things, and if a scene seems rambling or listless, focusing its actions and language toward one of these things will often bring it back on track.

A story begins as a shopping list and finishes as sheet music. In the beginning, there’s something you want: either something you want to get down or some scene or action you want to start with. Eventually, though, when a draft of the story is covering all the action the story should contain, you need to turn to the sound of the words (which ideally you have been attending to all along). Sound and rhythm should support and enhance other effects in the story. Don’t neglect them.

New Year

Icy window on January 1

We begin the new year in the corner of the last year. Our path to any door is blocked by yesterday’s mess—the dismaying newspapers, the chairs toppled in arguments or slumber, the bills scattered about the mail slot.

Another trip around the sun: Every revolution has its barricades, and these are ours.

Let’s overthrow what’s failed, and build a new order.