Elsewheres

Fenster writes:

As I have mentioned previously I post elsewhere when I feel my mostly political rants, even if they are roughly in line with the reprobate views posted at UR, might overwhelm the inputs at this mostly cultural site.  But for those inclined to go elsewhere for a spine here are some links.

A note to a friend on the debate last night.

Reflections on debt, and the student loan problem.

A note to a friend on the American creed.

A  note to a friend, on wokeness.

The return of lost wallets.

Wither White Wokeism?

Another note to a David Brooks fan about Brooksie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Whiteshift — and Randolph Bourne

Fenster writes:

Eric Kaufmann’s book Whiteshift has gotten a lot of attention, and generally positive reviews.

This is the century of whiteshift. As Western societies are becoming increasingly mixed-race, demographic change is transforming politics. Over half of American babies are non-white, and by the end of the century, minorities and those of mixed race are projected to form the majority in the UK and other countries. The early stages of this transformation have led to a populist disruption, tearing a path through the usual politics of left and right. Ethnic transformation will continue, but conservative whites are unlikely to exit quietly; their feelings of alienation are already redrawing political lines and convulsing societies across the West. One of the most crucial challenges of our time is to enable conservatives as well as cosmopolitans to view whiteshift as a positive development.

In this groundbreaking book, political scientist Eric Kaufmann examines the evidence to explore ethnic change in North American and Western Europe.

The positive reviews are in some ways surprising since Kaufmann is willing to address some taboo subjects in ways that are ordinarily frowned on.  For instance, he argues that the idea of white identity can be defended. Or . . . that it is not to be scorned.  Or . . . that it should be taken seriously.  Or . . . at least that it might not be prudent to dismiss it out of hand.  Something like that.  It is not a criticism of the book to say that it eschews the polemical, and is not easily reducible to simple good/bad arguments.

Steve Sailer often points out that while diminishing marginal returns is an important insight from economics it is a poor fit with a human cognitive style that seeks out black and white answers.  And so if Kaufmann’s book lacks something in terms of being easy to summarize it has a lot going for it relative to nuance and insight.  If you want to understand complex things it is wise to be open to complexity and ambiguity, and Kaufmann is.

In a generally positive review at Marginal Revolution Tyler Cowen writes:

On top of all of its other virtues, Whiteshift provides the best intellectual history of the immigration debates I have seen.

I agree.  At around 500 pages getting through the thing is a bit of a slog, especially since nuance does not go down as easily as polemics.  But the section at the early part of the book dealing with the roots of identity politics, diversity and multiculturalism is really splendid.

Kaufmann traces the complex interwoven by-play between ideas and interests for most of the country’s history.  Sometimes the promotion of immigration is crass from the get-go and reprobate to boot, as with Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest’s support of Chinese immigration as a way of keeping the black man down.  But memes play tag with actions as ideas play hide-and-seek with interests, and you can follow how high minded concepts also get stuck to the immigration idea.  It is not a one-dimensional story.

It is good to grasp the elusive idea-games since they serve as a reminder that today’s seemingly hard doctrines have odd and contradictory roots.

To me, the most interesting aspect of our recent history on the issue relates to Randolph Bourne, and to the brief period between 1910-1920 when his ideas gained currency.

Bourne’s essay Trans-National America, which appeared in the Atlantic in 1916, is eerily in line with modern day identity politics thinking.  We may think our recent harder edged identity politics flowed from softer concepts of multiculturalism in the 1990’s and from the openness that accompanied the semi-Great Awakening of the Sixties.  But here it is, in undiluted form, in 1916.

No reverberatory effect of the great war has caused American public opinion more solicitude than the failure of the “melting-pot.” The discovery of diverse nationalistic feelings among our great alien population his come to most people as an intense shock. It has brought out the unpleasant inconsistencies of our traditional beliefs. . . .

Assimilation, in other words, instead of washing out the memories of Europe, made them more and more intensely real. Just as these clusters became more and more objectively American, did they become more and more German or Scandinavian or Bohemian or Polish. . .

We are all foreign-born or the descendants of foreign-born, and if distinctions are to be made between us they should rightly be on some other ground than indigenousness. The early colonists came over with motives no less colonial than the later. They did not come to be assimilated in an American melting-pot. They did not come to adopt the culture of the American Indian. They had not the smallest intention of “giving themselves without reservation” to the new country. They came to get freedom to live as they wanted.

But that does not mean we are all equal in the fashioning of a vast new tapestry.  No, there remains a special White Man’s Burden.

It is just this English-American conservatism that has been our chief obstacle to social advance. We have needed the new peoples–the order of the German and Scandinavian, the turbulence of the Slav and Hun–to save us from our own stagnation.. .

If freedom means the right to do pretty much as one pleases, so long as one does not interfere with others, the immigrant has found freedom, and the ruling element has been singularly liberal in its treatment of the invading hordes. But if freedom means a democratic cooperation in determining the ideals and purposes and industrial and social institutions of a country, then the immigrant has not been free, and the Anglo-Saxon element is guilty of just what every dominant race is guilty of in every European country: the imposition of its own culture upon the minority peoples.

States with high immigrant populations are vibrant while the remnants of Anglo-Saxon culture are backwaters.  Diversity is good.

What we emphatically do not want is that these distinctive qualities should be washed out into a tasteless, colorless fluid of uniformity. Already we have far too much of this insipidity, masses of people who are cultural half-breeds, neither assimilated Anglo-Saxons nor nationals of another culture. Each national colony in this country seems to retain in its foreign press, its vernacular literature, its schools, its intellectual and patriotic leaders, a central cultural nucleus. From this nucleus the colony extends out by imperceptible gradations to a fringe where national characteristics are all but lost. Our cities are filled with these half-breeds who retain their foreign names but have lost the foreign savor. This does not mean that they have actually been changed into New Englanders or Middle Westerners. It does not mean that they have been really Americanized. It means that, letting slip from them whatever native culture they had, they have substituted for it only the most rudimentary American –the American culture of the cheap newspaper, the “movies,” the popular song, the ubiquitous automobile. The unthinking who survey this class call them assimilated, Americanized.

Something new is being born.

Whatever American nationalism turns out to be, it is certain to become something utterly different from the nationalisms of twentieth-century Europe. . .

America is already the world-federation in miniature, the continent where for the first time in history has been achieved that miracle of hope, the peaceful living side by side, with character substantially preserved, of the most heterogeneous peoples under the sun.

The role of the Anglo-Saxon here is a special one.  They are both dominant and enervated, and thus must lead by deferring.  Kaufmann speaks of Bourne’s reliance in turn on a kind of double consciousness, something that leads to the double standard prevalent today: other cultures may embrace their particularity but whites, singularly, may not.  It is worth noting that that notion, obvious to some but odd to others, came from a particular historical moment, one that might need to be checked against current realities for contemporary fit.

It is worth noting, too, the odd timing of Bourne’s expressive view.  The article was published in 1916, just before America’s decision to turn off the immigration spigot.  That might be seen as ironic but all irony disappears under the microscope.  In fact, it makes perfect sense that Bourne’s aesthetic vision would have flowered as immigration was at its high point, at a point of maximum ripeness.  Here, we see a pattern that is not uncommon in the by-play between memes and actions in history: we express something most forcefully and articulately just as its moment is passing.

Keep that thought in mind in terms of contemporary relevance.  Everyone is all hot and bothered about immigration, and the topic is at a theological fever pitch.  But while ideas can do 180s events seldom turn on a dime, a dollar, or a million dollars.  What seems to have happened, after all of Bourne’s sturm-und-drang, is that the nation . . . took a time out.

By the mid-1960s we did the opposite: endorsed a major change to immigration policy by backing into it, telling ourselves it would be a modest thing.  Funny how that works.

And so another half century later we find ourselves . . .  where?

It could well be that we are back in 1916, or at least as close to that place as the rhyming of history will allow.  If so once again we may find the ripest of rhetoric presaging neither a multicultural dream state nor a fascist crackdown on the Other.  It may just be time to turn the spigot down.

 

 

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Why Does College Cost So Much?

Fenster writes:

Thomas Sowell tweets:

And so I wonder what free college will mean on the cost side?

And I mean the cost side, not the price side.

If it is free the price to “consumers” will be zero.  But the cost?  Who will make decisions about costs once the good is socialized?

This is not to suggest free public higher education is not possible.  But is it desirable, and have the advocates thought it through?

For one the inevitable nexus between subsidy and cost means that the adoption of the free model in private, non-profit higher education would be extraordinary difficult in terms of management, governance and mission.  Thankfully no one seems yet to want to let students at Harvard, Pomona or Bay Path off the hook for tuition.

But adopting free tuition at public colleges won’t be a cakewalk either.

At present public institutions of higher education are tethered only loosely to the state governments of which they are nominally a part.  Once government becomes the full guarantor ought it not play a much for forceful and direct role in setting costs–and therefore, in turn, setting limits on programs, growth, resources and the like?

Are people ready for serious public higher education, as in “run and managed by the state?”  Or will public higher education remain largely independent in terms of decisions, with the result that government just shells out whatever it asks for?

And what happens when it is not the state governments that guarantee free tuition for their public colleges but rather the federal government?  Other than one-offs like service academies the feds don’t run their own public colleges.  Will that have to change?

Kudos to Sowell.

But you didn’t think you’d get through this without a caveat did you?

While Sowell is to be lauded for using an economic lens to critique the system his pro-capitalist economic thinking seems to have led to some misunderstandings.  Higher education does have a business model, but it is not sufficient to say that a free market lens does a good job explaining how things work.   It is an odd enough business model that you have to go elsewhere, probably to behavioral concepts, to get it right.

In his tweet Sowell notes, correctly, that government aid can be a contributing factor to cost increases.  But in the article he passes along, from 2008, he goes further.  For instance:

There was a time, back in the early 1960s, when my academic career began, when many — if not most — colleges had their faculty teaching 12 semester hours and a few had teaching loads of 15 semester hours. . .

But that was then and this is now. Today, a teaching load of more than 6 semester hours is considered sweatshop labor on many campuses. . .

Why was it considered necessary to cut the teaching load in half? Mainly because professors were expected to do more research.

True, that.  But he goes on:

Why was more research considered necessary? Because research brings in more money from the government, from foundations and from other sources.

On many campuses, a beginning faculty member cannot expect to be promoted to a tenure position unless he or she brings research money into the campus coffers.

That’s a worthy, but insufficient, explanation. It seems to betray his default reliance on a capitalist economic model.  Yet is that a good enough guide for how the place really works?

Yes research dollars are important.  But sponsored research supported by the big federal funding agencies actually create costs in excess of the grant amounts provided–this even after taking the very high negotiated overhead allowances into account.  Sponsored research in the sciences tends to create net deficits.  Why would colleges be so intent on pushing sponsored research in the sciences as a money-maker when it is a money loser on its face?  This comes on top of the reduction in teaching load to make the research possible.  The highly-paid star research scholar in life sciences may well contribute little to nothing to the teaching mission.

And then consider that while higher education has everywhere dropped teaching requirements in favor of research only a small amount of research, typically in the hard sciences, is able to secure significant research funding.  Most research in areas like the humanities and the social sciences is not supported externally.  In effect such research is supported internally–i.e., as a result of the institution easing up on teaching to allow for the research to be conducted by a professor who is normally compensated via salary.

The level of external research funding outside the elite privates and large publics is quite small, yet virtually all of the professoriate at non-elites are on the research treadmill from the get-go.

So if a humanities professor at Clark is paid $100,000 and is expected on in a rough way to devote half his effort to teaching and half to research it is the institution that is paying the $50,000 going to research (hint: for the most part that means parents).  That’s a better way to understand cost increases than the argument that colleges push research in order to profit.

Sowell’s market-obsessed economic thinking needs a dose of political economy.  Research has pushed aside teaching for reasons other than institutional greed.  There are a host of factors in play that go beyond filthy lucre for the college bottom line. Featherbedding.  Status.  “Climbing the Carnegie ladder”.  The perpetuation of the research focus in the process of producing, hiring and incentivizing new scholars.

The bottom line: less teaching, some great scientific research, higher costs–and lotsa papers no one reads that mostly function as internal promotion and status signals.

miltonpaper

 

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Notes on “Joan the Maid”

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

joan

I can’t think of a movie that feels more authentically Medieval than Jacques Rivette’s 1994 “Joan the Maid,” an interpretation of the Joan of Arc story in two very long parts. In it, Rivette, always attentive to the mind-altering qualities of movies, coaxes the viewer into the mind-state of the Middle Ages. The editing and imagery slow you down and ease you into the past. The movie is supremely straightforward, like one of Rossellini’s historical pictures, but Rivette is a more assured stylist than Rossellini, and he achieves memorable effects through panning, editing, and elision; on several occasions I gasped in response to a cut or an image. If the movie can be said to have a theme, it concerns the interplay of the natural and the mystical. Rivette, something of a mystic himself, sees the latter as being inherent in the former. Sandrine Bonnaire’s very naturalistic Joan acquires an aura, and an army, almost imperceptibly. We accept it as it’s happening, but at the movie’s end, when she’s shackled alone in a cell, it seems like a miracle. By that time this young woman has assumed an iconographic quality; she’s vulnerable yet imperishable. How was this transmutation effected? Joan herself seems unsure. Bonnaire gives a performance of impressive physical assuredness; on more than one occasion it made me think of Asta Nielsen’s Hamlet. Sprinkled among the scenes of battle, encampment, and court doings are what might be described as filmed paintings. Cinematographer William Lubtchansky provides genre scenes devoted to activities like horseshoeing and hair grooming, and his pekid springtime landscapes often recall Fouquet and the Limbourg brothers. There is even a kind of history painting: the anointing of Charles VII at Reims. It plays out in real time, its Catholicism seeming all the more meaningful for its bejeweled esotericism. The movie’s second portion, subtitled “The Prisons,” is close to Rivette’s 1966 “The Nun,” which is to say it’s a Mizoguchian treatment of the theatrics of female martyrdom. The picture’s most novel device is a series of testimonies by the story’s principal players (all except Joan), in which each is presented in the manner of a modern interview subject. It allows Rivette to vault over large chunks of story without resorting to a narrator. The interrogatory quality of this material may be a reference to Dreyer’s and Bresson’s versions of the Joan story, but it also seems like Rivette’s attempt to reconcile these miraculous events with their human participants. The interviewees seem on guard, perhaps a little defensive, as though they don’t quite believe their own stories.

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I Require the Blood of Fifty Children

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

vathek

The Caliph, however, whose ideas were confused, and whose head was embarrassed, went on administering justice at haphazard; till at length the prime vizir, perceiving his situation, hit upon a sudden expedient to interrupt the audience and rescue the honour of his master, to whom he said in a whisper:—”My lord, the Princess Carathis, who hath passed the night in consulting the planets, informs you, that they portend you evil, and the danger is urgent. Beware, lest this stranger, whom you have so lavishly recompensed for his magical gewgaws, should make some attempt on your life: his liquor, which at first had the appearance of effecting your cure, may be no more than a poison, the operation of which will be sudden.—Slight not this surmise: ask him, at least, of what it was compounded, whence he procured it; and mention the sabres, which you seem to have forgotten.”

Vathek, to whom the insolent airs of the stranger became every moment less supportable, intimated to his vizir, by a wink of acquiescence, that he would adopt his advice; and, at once turning towards the Indian, said—”Get up, and declare in full Divan of what drugs was compounded the liquor you enjoined me to take, for it is suspected to be poison: give also, that explanation I have so earnestly desired, concerning the sabres you sold me, and thus shew your gratitude for the favours heaped on you.”

Having pronounced these words, in as moderate a tone as he well could, he waited in silent expectation for an answer. But the Indian, still keeping his seat, began to renew his loud shouts of laughter, and exhibit the same horrid grimaces he had shewn them before, without vouchsafing a word in reply. Vathek, no longer able to brook such insolence, immediately kicked him from the steps; instantly descending, repeated his blow; and persisted, with such assiduity, as incited all who were present to follow his example. Every foot was up and aimed at the Indian, and no sooner had any one given him a kick, than he felt himself constrained to reiterate the stroke.

The stranger afforded them no small entertainment: for, being both short and plump, he collected himself into a ball, and rolled round on all sides, at the blows of his assailants, who pressed after him, wherever he turned, with an eagerness beyond conception, whilst their numbers were every moment increasing. The ball indeed, in passing from one apartment to another, drew every person after it that came in its way; insomuch, that the whole palace was thrown into confusion and resounded with a tremendous clamour. The women of the harem, amazed at the uproar, flew to their blinds to discover the cause; but, no sooner did they catch a glimpse of the ball, than, feeling themselves unable to refrain, they broke from the clutches of their eunuchs, who, to stop their flight, pinched them till they bled; but, in vain: whilst themselves, though trembling with terror at the escape of their charge, were as incapable of resisting the attraction.

After having traversed the halls, galleries, chambers, kitchens, gardens, and stables of the palace, the Indian at last took his course through the courts; whilst the Caliph, pursuing him closer than the rest, bestowed as many kicks as he possibly could; yet, not without receiving now and then a few which his competitors, in their eagerness, designed for the ball.

Carathis, Morakanabad, and two or three old vizirs, whose wisdom had hitherto withstood the attraction, wishing to prevent Vathek from exposing himself in the presence of his subjects, fell down in his way to impede the pursuit: but he, regardless of their obstruction, leaped over their heads, and went on as before. They then ordered the Muezins to call the people to prayers; both for the sake of getting them out of the way, and of endeavouring, by their petitions, to avert the calamity; but neither of these expedients was a whit more successful. The sight of this fatal ball was alone sufficient to draw after it every beholder. The Muezins themselves, though they saw it but at a distance, hastened down from their minarets, and mixed with the crowd; which continued to increase in so surprising a manner, that scarce an inhabitant was left in Samarah, except the aged; the sick, confined to their beds; and infants at the breast, whose nurses could run more nimbly without them. Even Carathis, Morakanabad, and the rest, were all become of the party. The shrill screams of the females, who had broken from their apartments, and were unable to extricate themselves from the pressure of the crowd, together with those of the eunuchs jostling after them, and terrified lest their charge should escape from their sight; the execrations of husbands, urging forward and menacing each other; kicks given and received; stumblings and overthrows at every step; in a word, the confusion that universally prevailed, rendered Samarah like a city taken by storm, and devoted to absolute plunder. At last, the cursed Indian, who still preserved his rotundity of figure, after passing through all the streets and public places, and leaving them empty, rolled onwards to the plain of Catoul, and entered the valley at the foot of the mountain of the four fountains.

As a continual fall of water had excavated an immense gulph in the valley whose opposite side was closed in by a steep acclivity, the Caliph and his attendants were apprehensive, lest the ball should bound into the chasm, and, to prevent it, redoubled their efforts, but in vain. The Indian persevered in his onward direction; and, as had been apprehended, glancing from the precipice with the rapidity of lightning, was lost in the gulph below.

Vathek would have followed the perfidious Giaour, had not an invisible agency arrested his progress. The multitude that pressed after him were at once checked in the same manner, and a calm instantaneously ensued. They all gazed at each other with an air of astonishment, and notwithstanding that the loss of veils and turbans, together with torn habits, and dust blended with sweat, presented a most laughable spectacle, yet there was not one smile to be seen. On the contrary, all with looks of confusion and sadness returned in silence to Samarah, and retired to their inmost apartments, without ever reflecting, that they had been impelled by an invisible power into the extravagance, for which they reproached themselves: for it is but just that men, who so often arrogate to their own merit the good of which they are but instruments, should also attribute to themselves absurdities which they could not prevent.

The Caliph was the only person who refused to leave the valley. He commanded his tents to be pitched there, and stationed himself on the very edge of the precipice, in spite of the representations of Carathis and Morakanabad, who pointed out the hazard of its brink giving way, and the vicinity to the magician, that had so cruelly tormented him. Vathek derided all their remonstrances; and, having ordered a thousand flambeaux to be lighted, and directed his attendants to proceed in lighting more, lay down on the slippery margin, and attempted, by the help of this artificial splendour, to look through that gloom, which all the fires of the empyrean had been insufficient to pervade. One while he fancied to himself voices arising from the depth of the gulph; at another, he seemed to distinguish the accents of the Indian; but all was no more than the hollow murmur of waters, and the din of the cataracts that rushed from steep to steep down the sides of the mountain.

Having passed the night in this cruel perturbation, the Caliph, at day-break, retired to his tent; where, without taking the least sustenance, he continued to doze till the dusk of evening began again to come on. He then resumed his vigils as before, and persevered in observing them for many nights together. At length, fatigued with so fruitless an employment, he sought relief from change. To this end, he sometimes paced with hasty strides across the plain; and, as he wildly gazed at the stars, reproached them with having deceived him; but, lo! on a sudden, the clear blue sky appeared streaked over with streams of blood, which reached from the valley even to the city of Samarah. As this awful phenomenon seemed to touch his tower, Vathek at first thought of repairing thither to view it more distinctly; but, feeling himself unable to advance, and being overcome with apprehension, he muffled up his face in the folds of his robe.

Terrifying as these prodigies were, this impression upon him was no more than momentary, and served only to stimulate his love of the marvellous. Instead, therefore, of returning to his palace, he persisted in the resolution of abiding where the Indian had vanished from his view. One night, however, while he was walking as usual on the plain, the moon and stars were eclipsed at once, and a total darkness ensued. The earth trembled beneath him, and a voice came forth, the voice of the Giaour, who, in accents more sonorous than thunder, thus addressed him: “Wouldest thou devote thyself to me? adore the terrestrial influences, and abjure Mahomet? On these conditions I will bring thee to the Palace of Subterranean Fire. There shalt thou behold, in immense depositories, the treasures which the stars have promised thee; and which will be conferred by those intelligences, whom thou shalt thus render propitious. It was from thence I brought my sabres, and it is there that Soliman Ben Daoud reposes, surrounded by the talismans that control the world.”

The astonished Caliph trembled as he answered, yet he answered in a style that shewed him to be no novice in preternatural adventures: “Where art thou? be present to my eyes; dissipate the gloom that perplexes me, and of which I deem thee the cause. After the many flambeaux I have burnt to discover thee, thou mayest, at least, grant a glimpse of thy horrible visage.”—”Abjure then Mahomet!” replied the Indian, “and promise me full proofs of thy sincerity: otherwise, thou shalt never behold me again.”

The unhappy Caliph, instigated by insatiable curiosity, lavished his promises in the utmost profusion. The sky immediately brightened; and, by the light of the planets, which seemed almost to blaze, Vathek beheld the earth open; and, at the extremity of a vast black chasm, a portal of ebony, before which stood the Indian, holding in his hand a golden key, which he sounded against the lock.

“How,” cried Vathek, “can I descend to thee;—Come, take me, and instantly open the portal.”—”Not so fast,” replied the Indian, “impatient Caliph!—Know that I am parched with thirst, and cannot open this door, till my thirst be thoroughly appeased; I require the blood of fifty children. Take them from among the most beautiful sons of thy vizirs and great men; or, neither can my thirst nor thy curiosity be satisfied. Return to Samarah; procure for me this necessary libation; come back hither; throw it thyself into this chasm, and then shalt thou see!”

Having thus spoken, the Indian turned his back on the Caliph, who, incited by the suggestions of demons, resolved on the direful sacrifice.—He now pretended to have regained his tranquillity, and set out for Samarah amidst the acclamations of a people who still loved him, and forbore not to rejoice, when they believed him to have recovered his reason. So successfully did he conceal the emotion of his heart, that even Carathis and Morakanabad were equally deceived with the rest. Nothing was heard of but festivals and rejoicings. The fatal ball, which no tongue had hitherto ventured to mention, was brought on the tapis. A general laugh went round, though many, still smarting under the hands of the surgeon, from the hurts received in that memorable adventure, had no great reason for mirth.

The prevalence of this gay humour was not a little grateful to Vathek, who perceived how much it conduced to his project. He put on the appearance of affability to every one; but especially to his vizirs, and the grandees of his court, whom he failed not to regale with a sumptuous banquet; during which, he insensibly directed the conversation to the children of his guests. Having asked, with a good-natured air, which of them were blessed with the handsomest boys, every father at once asserted the pretensions of his own; and the contest imperceptibly grew so warm, that nothing could have withholden them from coming to blows, but their profound reverence for the person of the Caliph. Under the pretence, therefore, of reconciling the disputants, Vathek took upon him to decide; and, with this view, commanded the boys to be brought.

It was not long before a troop of these poor children made their appearance, all equipped by their fond mothers with such ornaments, as might give the greatest relief to their beauty, or most advantageously display the graces of their age. But, whilst this brilliant assemblage attracted the eyes and hearts of every one besides, the Caliph scrutinized each, in his turn, with a malignant avidity that passed for attention, and selected from their number the fifty whom he judged the Giaour would prefer.

With an equal shew of kindness as before, he proposed to celebrate a festival on the plain, for the entertainment of his young favourites, who, he said, ought to rejoice still more than all, at the restoration of his health, on account of the favours he intended for them.

The Caliph’s proposal was received with the greatest delight, and soon published through Samarah. Litters, camels, and horses were prepared. Women and children, old men and young, every one placed himself as he chose. The cavalcade set forward, attended by all the confectioners in the city and its precincts; the populace, following on foot, composed an amazing crowd, and occasioned no little noise. All was joy; nor did any one call to mind, what most of them had suffered, when they lately travelled the road they were now passing so gaily.

The evening was serene, the air refreshing, the sky clear, and the flowers exhaled their fragrance. The beams of the declining sun, whose mild splendour reposed on the summit of the mountain, shed a glow of ruddy light over its green declivity, and the white flocks sporting upon it. No sounds were heard, save the murmurs of the four fountains; and the reeds and voices of shepherds calling to each other from different eminences.

The lovely innocents destined for the sacrifice, added not a little to the hilarity of the scene. They approached the plain full of sportiveness, some coursing butterflies, others culling flowers, or picking up the shining little pebbles that attracted their notice. At intervals they nimbly started from each other for the sake of being caught again, and mutually imparting a thousand caresses.

The dreadful chasm, at whose bottom the portal of ebony was placed, began to appear at a distance. It looked like a black streak that divided the plain. Morakanabad and his companions, took it for some work which the Caliph had ordered. Unhappy men! little did they surmise for what it was destined. Vathek unwilling that they should examine it too nearly, stopped the procession, and ordered a spacious circle to be formed on this side, at some distance from the accursed chasm. The body-guard of eunuchs was detached, to measure out the lists intended for the games; and prepare the rings for the arrows of the young archers. The fifty competitors were soon stripped, and presented to the admiration of the spectators the suppleness and grace of their delicate limbs. Their eyes sparkled with a joy, which those of their fond parents reflected. Every one offered wishes for the little candidate nearest his heart, and doubted not of his being victorious. A breathless suspence awaited the contest of these amiable and innocent victims.

The Caliph, availing himself of the first moment to retire from the crowd, advanced towards the chasm; and there heard, yet not without shuddering, the voice of the Indian; who, gnashing his teeth, eagerly demanded: “Where are they?—Where are they?—perceivest thou not how my mouth waters?”—”Relentless Giaour!” answered Vathek, with emotion; “can nothing content thee but the massacre of these lovely victims? Ah! wert thou to behold their beauty, it must certainly move thy compassion.”—”Perdition on thy compassion, babbler!” cried the Indian: “give them me; instantly give them, or, my portal shall be closed against thee for ever!”—”Not so loudly,” replied the Caliph, blushing.—”I understand thee,” returned the Giaour with the grin of an Ogre; “thou wantest no presence of mind: I will, for a moment, forbear.”

During this exquisite dialogue, the games went forward with all alacrity, and at length concluded, just as the twilight began to overcast the mountains. Vathek, who was still standing on the edge of the chasm, called out, with all his might:—”Let my fifty little favourites approach me, separately; and let them come in the order of their success. To the first, I will give my diamond bracelet; to the second, my collar of emeralds; to the third, my aigret of rubies; to the fourth, my girdle of topazes; and to the rest, each a part of my dress, even down to my slippers.”

This declaration was received with reiterated acclamations; and all extolled the liberality of a prince, who would thus strip himself, for the amusement of his subjects, and the encouragement of the rising generation. The Caliph, in the meanwhile, undressed himself by degrees; and, raising his arm as high as he was able, made each of the prizes glitter in the air; but, whilst he delivered it, with one hand, to the child, who sprung forward to receive it; he, with the other, pushed the poor innocent into the gulph; where the Giaour, with a sullen muttering, incessantly repeated; “more! more!”

This dreadful device was executed with so much dexterity, that the boy who was approaching him, remained unconscious of the fate of his forerunner; and, as to the spectators, the shades of evening, together with their distance, precluded them from perceiving any object distinctly. Vathek, having in this manner thrown in the last of the fifty; and, expecting that the Giaour, on receiving him, would have presented the key; already fancied himself, as great as Soliman, and, consequently, above being amenable for what he had done:—when, to his utter amazement, the chasm closed, and the ground became as entire as the rest of the plain.

No language could express his rage and despair. He execrated the perfidy of the Indian; loaded him with the most infamous invectives; and stamped with his foot, as resolving to be heard. He persisted in this till his strength failed him; and, then, fell on the earth like one void of sense. His vizirs and grandees, who were nearer than the rest, supposed him, at first, to be sitting on the grass, at play with their amiable children; but, at length, prompted by doubt, they advanced towards the spot, and found the Caliph alone, who wildly demanded what they wanted? “Our children! our children!” cried they. “It is, assuredly, pleasant,” said he, “to make me accountable for accidents. Your children, while at play, fell from the precipice, and I should have experienced their fate, had I not suddenly started back.”

— William Beckford

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Notes on “Aquaman”

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

There’s something gleeful, almost lightfooted, in the tacky gigantism of “Aquaman.” Director James Wan rejects the would-be seriousness and most of the cynicism that characterize Marvel’s superhero films in favor of kitsch and can-do cheeriness. Like the “Fast & Furious” movies and the recent products of Luc Besson, it feels like it was made for an outer-caste audience. It’s garish, high-spirited, silly; while watching it I repeatedly thought of Bollywood or the ‘80s output of Golan and Globus. Aesthetics aside, Wan and his team (at times the movie seems about 85% animated) display proficient action chops; several battle scenes, including one set atop the rooftops of a backlot Italy, are more coherent and certainly more ingenious than anything I’ve seen in a recent blockbuster. And there are some wowzer images: I especially enjoyed a shot of our heroes descending into the sea, the surrounding waters illuminated in blue and red, as thousands of gargoyle creatures swirl above them in a vortex, as they might in a vision of hell painted by Tiepolo. The screenplay, credited to David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, provides Wan with a formidable obstacle course of locations, epochs, and fantasy cultures. Wan and editor Kiki Morri’s means of overcoming those obstacles becomes the raison d’être of the movie. The deftness with which all of this material is handled, and the buzz of overstimulation that it inspires, are what hold your interest. While star Jason Momoa manages to intermittently project some bravado, his costars struggle with the demands of miming the faces of CGI fish people. But even this has its pleasures: Who can resist the sight of Willem Dafoe riding a shark? Wan seems to know that in a movie like this junk performances can be part of the fun. Whenever the performances droop, he gives the actors a dramatic entrance; it rejuvenates them a bit, and puts their ridiculousness on a pedestal where it can be gawped at in a manner appropriate to the proceedings. Nicole Kidman, playing Aquaman’s mother, and a black secondary villain are the movie’s only heavy-spirited elements. The latter is entirely unnecessary; he feels grafted onto the story for future payoffs.

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Weekend Linkage

Paleo Retiree writes:

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