Light Motifs February 2014: News and Announcements

LIGHT MOTIFS: February 2014

Recent Release New Book by Glenn Reynolds:  The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education From Itself is Glenn Reynolds’ new book, published by Encounter Books in January 2014. Glenn Reynolds, of Instapundit, explains some problems with American education.

Interview: Dana Honeycutt on Running the NYC Marathon 2013

ATHENA’S DEPARTMENT

INTERVIEW:  Dana Honeycutt on Running the NYC Marathon 2013 By Objective Motifs

On November 3rd, 2013, Dana Honeycutt ran the ING NYC Marathon.  We asked Dana about his experiences achieving this super goal, and here he explains what it took to prepare for and run the marathon.

Objective Motifs:  How do you train to run the marathon?

Dana Honeycutt: I have been running half marathons on a regular basis for years, so I have a level of baseline endurance I can count on.  When a marathon is coming up, the main change to my training is to add the weekend long run.  Beginning about 5 months before the race,  I start ramping up the distance of this run.  My first one might be just 8 miles.  But by 4 weeks before the race, it is up to 20+ miles.

Elite marathoners run over 100 miles per week.  Even recreational racers typically run on most days.  But early on in my life as a runner (going back 25 years), I learned that my body could not handle such frequent runs.  In particular, I would get injured if I ran on consecutive days for long periods of time.  I just need more than 24 hours’ recovery between runs.  As a result, I became a 3-day-a-week runner, and tried to make up for the lack of overall mileage with increased intensity or increased distance on the individual runs.  On the off days, I swim a couple of times a week, so I’m not completely idle.

High mileage runners might scoff at the type of training I do, and indeed there is a general correlation between weekly mileage and race performance.  But even with my lower mileage training, I was able to run a 2:58:59 marathon in my 30s and a 1:28:49 half marathon at 50 (which was the time that qualified me to race in NYC).

OM:  What steps did you take to reach this goal?  What other important races did you run in?

DH:  For many years, I had been under the impression that the only way for a non-elite runner to enter the NYC Marathon was to be selected in a lottery.  I never bothered applying because I didn’t like the idea of being subject to the whims of chance rather than being able to make concrete plans to do the race a certain year.  But having done L.A. and Boston, NYC was the one other big race that I really wanted to do, so I thought that perhaps one day in the indefinite future, I would go ahead and apply.

Then in 2007 a friend pointed out that you could qualify for NYC in the same way that you could for Boston.  Even better for me as a half marathon specialist, you could do it with a sufficiently fast half marathon time rather than having to run a full marathon as Boston requires.  Soon after that, I made qualifying for NYC a goal, and I wanted to do it before turning 50.  As a male in the 45-49 age group, I had to beat 1:30:00.  (The times have since been made tougher — more on that later.)  At that point, my typical times were close to 1:40, so I knew I needed to get faster, but the goal didn’t seem too far out of reach.  I thought it would take a year or two.  It ended up taking almost four.

The main change to my training was to increase the amount of interval and tempo work.  Interval runs involve going substantially faster than race pace for a shorter distance — 400 to 800 meters, say — then resting for a few seconds to a couple of minutes and doing it again.  Tempo runs are longer — 3 to 5 miles — and are done slightly faster than race pace.

The San Diego area has some great half marathons, but due to their hilliness, some are less promising than others if you want to break a certain time.  I focused on the Silver Strand and Carlsbad races due to their relatively flat courses.  But all of the half marathons I did over this time were important in assessing my progress from year-to-year.

Here is my progression of times for Carlsbad, the race at which I ultimately qualified:

2008  1:38:44

2009  1:35:52

2010  1:32:38

2011  1:29:40

So in 2011, at age 49, I finally did it.  But that’s not the end of the story.  I felt no urgency to actually run NYC the next year.  The reason is that the qualifying time for 50-54 year olds was 1:40:00 — 10 minutes slower.  Since I’d be 50 the next year, I figured I could easily qualify for years to come and then do the race when convenient.  So I waited and did not register for NYC.  (In retrospect, this was a good thing, since Hurricane Sandy caused the cancellation of the 2012 race.)

Then in the summer of 2011, the NYRR pulled the rug out from under me.  They drastically tightened the qualifying times such that I would now need to beat 1:29:00 as a 50 year old — a minute faster than I had run at 49!  It would still be possible for me to register for the 2012 race based on my 2011 time.  But if I wanted to race any later, I would need to get still faster.  Even though the lottery was still an option, by this point it had become a matter of personal pride that if I ever raced NYC, it would be because I earned my way in.

From the progression of times above, you can see I was knocking off about 3 minutes per year.  So it looks like I could just keep it up.  But once I went sub-1:30, I could tell I was close to the limit of progress.  And, I think due to the increased training intensity, I was getting various annoying injuries that required me to back off and lose progress while I let them heal.  Still, I was going to keep up the training and go for it at Carlsbad in January 2012.

Come race day, I was feeling pretty good.  As I recall, weather conditions were ideal.  As the race progressed, I was a little bit behind my target pace, but not too far.  The Carlsbad course is relatively flat, but it does have a few rolling hills that sap your speed.  The good thing is that the final mile is downhill, and when I came to that mile, I knew I needed to push, because I had a lot of time to make up (20+ seconds).  So I did push, and it hurt like hell.  But I kept telling myself, “You have to do this, or run NYC next year,” “Pain is temporary, victory is forever,” and, “For God’s sake, don’t miss the time by a second or two!”

I made it with 11 seconds to spare, finishing in 1:28:49, a 6:47 pace.  Later I learned I had placed 2nd in my age group, so I got a little plaque to put on the mantel.  But I decided that was it. I’m never going to run this fast again.  NYC Marathon 2013, here I come.

(To add yet another wrinkle, due to all of the runners rolling over from the 2012 cancellation, the marathon organizers decided that even time qualifiers such as myself would have to go through our own lottery in order to do the race.  Fortunately, I made it through.)

OM:  What strategies do you consider to maintain your pace and endurance (things you do before and during the race)?

DH:  For me, a half marathon is a race, while a full marathon is a survival contest.  I can run a half at close to a 7:00 per mile pace but (at least in the past 10 years) find it seemingly impossible to get down to even an 8:00 pace in a full.  Of course, you expect to go *somewhat* slower in a full.  But in my case, the difference is dramatic.

For anyone, the battle in a marathon is to maintain a reasonable pace through the end while not running out of fuel.  The two are correlated in that if you do run out, your pace will collapse at the end.  To clarify: everyone has vast stores of fat in their bodies which would be sufficient to sustain them through multiple marathons — at slow, plodding speeds.  But if you want to run at a decent pace, the relevant fuel is glucose from muscle glycogen, so I and pretty much every other marathoner eat large amounts of carbohydrates in the days before the race to try to top off our glycogen stores.  During the race we take Gatorade at the water stations or eat high-carb gels along the way in order to spare these stores.

For pacing, the main challenge is to not go out too fast.  If you have properly tapered (scaled back your training) before the race, then at the start, you will feel full of energy and ready to go.  You need to force yourself to hold back for at least the first half of the race.  So all the way through Brooklyn, I told myself, “Take it easy,” concentrated on running at a relaxed pace, checked my GPS watch to make sure I wasn’t speeding up, and intentionally stayed in the middle of the road, away from the crowds.

OM:  What are you thinking while you run the race?

DH:  I do a lot of self-monitoring.  The following are paraphrases of thoughts that went through my mind along the course.  Imagine an ongoing mental dialog throughout the race in which I repeated some variant of each, as well as various other thoughts, multiple times along the course.

“Enjoy yourself; look around; don’t worry too much about your time.”

“I’ll skip this station and get water at the next one.”

“My stomach is a little upset.  I need to wait before taking gel.”

“I should have waited longer to do my last pee.”  “Just relax.  The urge will diminish.”

“Take it easy.  Save your strength. Stay away from the crowds for now.  Save the high fives for the end.”

“Pace looks OK.  Keep it in the 8:05 to 8:10 range  until halfway” [I had a GPS watch to monitor my pace.]

“There’s the Empire State Building [across the water].  We’re making progress.”

“When is this bridge going to stop going up and turn down?” [Queensboro Bridge.]

“Keep the cadence up.”

“Uh oh, I’m slowing.  So much for a negative split.”

“This is starting to feel like work.”

“I had no idea this hill was so long and steep.” [along 5th Ave.]

“I really, really want to be done with this.”

“I need to do at least a few high fives before I finish.”

“I’m too tired to wave any more” [at people calling my name, which I had written on my shirt].

“Not another hill!”

“Done. Finally. Ouch, my legs hurt.”

OM:  How do you feel when you start the race? finish the race? are in the middle of the race?

DH:  You can infer some of this from the progression of my internal dialog above.

At the start:  Happy to finally be moving.  Enjoying Sinatra singing, “New York, New York.”

In the middle: Relaxed but focused.  Monitoring effort, speed, hydration, how my stomach feels, whether there are any turns ahead, and so on.

Late in the race: Tired.  Starting to feel the fatigue in my leg muscles.

Last two miles: Pain.  Straining to push myself forward and minimize the time lost.  (After my pre-race goal of sub-3:35 was shot, my late race goal became sub-3:40.)

Finish: Mental relief to be done, along with physical pain in my legs worse than when I was running, and a slight degree of stomach upset.  After walking, sitting, drinking and eating a little, and walking some more, the extreme discomfort dissipated over the next 30 minutes.

OM:  How aware are you of what is around you or happening around you during the race (people, scenery, etc)?

DH:  Very aware of immediate surroundings such as the runners around me — I need to be or I’ll collide with them.  I also look far ahead to be aware of the where the course goes next so I can try to take the most direct line around any corners or obstacles, so I can see where the next water station is, and so on.

For this race in particular, I was committed to enjoying it, so I made a conscious effort to look around more at the scenery and crowds than I would in a typical race.  So generally the crowds and scenery were at the periphery of my awareness, but periodically I’d make a point of focusing on them.

OM:  What was distinctive in the NYC marathon experience?  What was it like starting with the Verrazano Bridge?  Which bridge did you like best?  least?  Which marathon route did you like best?

DH:  Distinctive in NYC was the setting, the sheer size of the race, its logistical complexity, and the geographically diverse participants.  I spoke with people from Germany, Alaska, Sweden, New Jersey, and Poland, and probably other places. (I didn’t always ask.)

Starting at the base of the Verrazano Bridge was great.  First, the view was incredible.  Second, starting on a long uphill grade helps counteract the natural tendency to start at too fast a pace.  So that was the bridge I liked the best.

The bridge I liked the least was Queensboro.  It’s a long bridge with a 3/4 mile climb at the beginning, and it comes at mile 15, by which point I was getting tired.  It was on that bridge that it started to become clear that not only would I not be able to increase my pace in the second half of the race, I wouldn’t even be able to maintain it.

I’m not sure what you mean by “Which marathon route do you like best?”  If you mean “which marathon course,” it would probably by L.A. — though I haven’t raced that course in 20 years, and the current course is very different.  I remember the course as quite flat, especially the last few miles — but it may have been that I was just much younger and did not notice the hills as much as in NYC.

OTOH, if the question is, “Which part of the NYC course did you like best?”, then the answer is undeniably Brooklyn.  It was a long, flat stretch early in the race, so I was fresh and could enjoy myself.

OM:  What was your time and how was that?

DH:  My time was 3:39:37, which was a little slower than my target of 3:30 to 3:35.  It was my second slowest marathon, the slowest being 3:42:37 at the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in 2005.  Just doing this race was a very big deal for me, and I did it for the experience, not with an eye to setting a personal record.  So I’m not that disappointed in the time — and happy that I was at least able to go sub-3:40.

OM:  What’s next?

DH:  I will be doing the Carlsbad Half Marathon in January, which I do every year.  It’s a good, well-run race with a scenic course, and I feel great loyalty to it because I qualified for both Boston (with the full) and NYC (with the half) on that course.

After that, I need to decide on a new long-term goal.  NYC was my focus for 5+ years, and I’d like to come up with an athletic goal that is comparably motivating.  I’m done with marathons, though.  They just beat me up too much, I’m not competitive at that distance, and with NYC behind me, there are no specific marathons left on my bucket list.

I already did triathlons from the late 80s through the mid-90s, and that no longer appeals to me (mainly because I don’t like the training required for the bike stage).  Something involving swimming, or swimming and running together (“aquathlons”), is a possibility.

Copyright © Dana Honeycutt, Objective Motifs, 2013

Light Motifs October/November 2013

LIGHT MOTIFS:  NEWS & ANNOUNCEMENTS

Objective Motifs Becomes a Blog

Objective Motifs is happy to announce that it has become a blog on WordPress.  We will post our material online. The pieces will be posted on a rolling basis, as they become ready.  Readers can also find us on Twitter at Objective Motifs@ObjectiveMotifs

Energy Articles on PJMedia

On September 15, 2013, PJMedia published: “A Dark Future for Energy Exploration” by Anna Franco.  This is a fictional projection of an oil and gas company of the future.

On July 7, 2013, PJMedia published: “Green Appeasement: Oil, Gas Industry Wasting Billions on Alternatives” by Anna Franco.

Ted Cruz and the ObamaCare Battle

On September 24th, Senator Ted Cruz (TX) gave a 21-hour talking “marathon” as part of a major effort to gain support to defund ObamaCare.  Together with support from Mike Lee and a handful of others, like Senator Sessions, Ted Cruz spoke and read to Congress and to the nation about what it means to stand up to ObamaCare.  He discussed everything from morality and politics to the meaning of Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham, but most notably he quoted from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

In this rare display of one man’s refusal to back down and comply with government or even party expectations, Ted Cruz did more than just say “no” to the Affordable Care Act;  he said “yes” to integrity, to America, to liberty, to Atlas Shrugged, to literature, and to many other important values.  His talk was a combination of deliberate political persuasion, answering questions from friendly senators, reading books out loud, reading public tweets (#MakeDCListen), etc…  By bringing in both the American culture and the American public into a Congressional talk, yet without ever yielding the floor, he tapped into the arts and minds of the country while delivering his own thoughts.

Despite this eloquent appeal, however, the vote for cloture was passed, and the bill that would allow the Affordable Care Act to be funded was moved forward and eventually passed.  On October 2, reaching another impasse regarding the debt ceiling, the government began its 16-day shut down, not that this brought much peace and quiet to the nation.  Meanwhile, the government health care exchange sites had opened (sort of) the day before, albeit plagued with glitches.  In the background to all of this, in New York City, the Heritage Foundation had a billboard placed in Times Square early September alerting the public: “Warning, ObamaCare May be Hazardous to Your Health.”

Interview: Dr. Helen Smith, Author of Men on Strike

ATHENA’S DEPARTMENT: ARTS & LETTERS

INTERVIEW:  Dr. Helen Smith, Author of Men on Strike

[Archived from Objective Motifs, August/September 2013]

Dr. Helen Smith is author of Men on Strike, Why Men are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream–and Why it Matters (published by Encounter Books, June 2013.)  This book takes a hard look at the social and political devaluation of men in our society, with the view towards exposing hypocrisy and injustice, especially in our educational and legal institutions, finding solutions so that men can fight back, and finally, explaining why this is such an important topic. This last part is perhaps the most unusual aspect of the book, as it is a declaration of the life affecting consequences of this problem.

Dr. Helen Smith is a PhD in psychology with a practice in forensic psychology.   Her first book, The Scarred Heart, is about juvenile murderers, and her website is named: http://www.violentkids.com.  She also writes a blog for PJMedia on men’s rights and men’s issues [http://pjmedia.com/drhelen/].  [Editor's Note;  Dr Helen also happens to be my cousin, which makes her book all the more exciting for me to write about.  AF.]

Objective Motifs:  How did you come to be interested in this general topic?

Dr. Helen Smith: I have worked for over 20 years as a psychologist, and one of my patients in NYC at that time was a man whose angry wife was beating him.  I could find no resources for him, and all I could do was tell him to get out of the relationship.  I realized early on that men had little or no support in many areas of the legal arena, especially when it comes to domestic violence.

OM: How did you arrive at the idea of writing this specific book?

Dr. HS: I have a men’s rights blog that I started in 2005 at http://www.drhelen.blogspot.com where I did a post once asking if men should get married.  I stupidly thought marriage might be good for men, but many readers set me straight about the pitfalls of marriage if male and why it was a bad deal from a legal and political standpoint.

OM:  From the time you started to think about the book to the time you finished it, were there noticeable changes in the social/political situation as you studied it?

Dr. HS: I think that over the past 40 to 50 years, we have looked at what we can do as a society to help women succeed, but in doing so, we have overlooked what men need to succeed and even have helped them to fail in many ways.

OM: Were there any changes to your own thoughts on the topic or discoveries that you had not expected?

Dr. HS:  I was surprised that how little blowback I got from both sides of the political aisle.   Many people seemed to accept that men do not have as many reproductive rights or rights in marriage as women.

OM:  Who do you think would benefit most from reading your book? Who would you recommend people give this book to? Should certain men be first on the list?

Dr. HS:  I wrote this book for men, and I think they would benefit the most. The reason I say that is that many men feel that something is wrong, they can’t put their finger on it or sometimes see the global picture of what is happening.  Many men give the book to their son who may be in his early twenties or even teens.  I think these young men should be first on the list because it might help them understand at an early age what type of problems to avoid or try to resolve as a result of educating themselves about men’s issues.

Here is an example of what a reader who gave the book to his son had to say: http://www.amazon.com/gp/cdp/member-reviews/A2TFIZENEBWPLD/ref=cm_pdp_rev_title_1?ie=UTF8&sort_by=MostRecentReview#R1LR17FIXFA92X

[Editor's Note:  More reactions from readers can be found in the review section in the Amazon page for the book.]

OM:  What would be the ideal changes that could come about regarding men’s lives (social and political) over the next 5-10 years?

Dr. HS: The ideal changes would be to change many of the laws and the culture in the country that tells us that men are expendable, not worthy of support and have few, if any reproductive rights.  No man should be placed in jail for not being able to pay child support any more than someone should go to debtor’s prison.  Men should not be forced to pay for children who are not their own as many states force men to do.  We should have more male teachers to give young men access to male role models and change laws in colleges that say that young men do not have due process rights.

OM:  How long do you think it would take to reverse the injustice described in your book?

Dr. HS:  It depends.  Right now at the federal level, we do not have anyone who cares about the plight of men and boys.  We have a White House Council for Women and Girls but nothing for men.  If enough people raised the issues, maybe things would change.

OM:  What are some of the common reasons why people may misunderstand or disagree with the book?

Dr. HS:  Many people feel that women had few rights years ago, and that revenge against men and young school boys is “just deserts”.  However, we are harming a generation of boys and men who were never even around 50 years ago, and it wasn’t like men had it so great then either.  Men in the old days were held responsible for their wives’ behavior.  If the wife had debt or did something illegal, the man had to pay or go to jail, so it wasn’t a bed of roses for the average man.

OM:  In the chapter “My Body, My Choice”, you indicate that there is something hypocritical with the way women are treating the questions of childbearing, especially in relation to men’s rights.  What exactly is hypocritical and what do you think the ideal approach men and women should have towards child birth/abortion/family planning issues?

Dr. HS:  Women and the law believe only women control reproduction.  Women can make the decision to have a child, not have a child, give up a child for adoption, often without the father’s permission.  If a girl has sex with a man, he is a rapist.  If a woman has sex with a boy–even a 14-year-old and has a child by him, he is forced at that age to pay child support.  That should never happen.  No young boy who has sex with a woman should be forced to pay child support.  That is hypocritical as a girl would never be forced to have a child by the man who had sex with her nor would she be expected by the law to support that child.  Of course, both men and women should be responsible for birth control, but with abortion rights, a woman holds the decision of whether or not to be a mother.  A man has no ability to decide.  He is forced at gunpoint by the state to pay child support for 18 years or be jailed.  That is unfair and unjust.

OM: Which do you think is a more fundamental problem: the harmful social interactions between men and women that you described in your book (e.g., where men are discouraged from their hobbies, where they are relegated to the attics in their own homes, where they are expected to do the dishes perfectly, etc) and the legislation against men that you also described (social vs. legal).  Does one foster or make the other easier to exist/grow?

Dr. HS:  I think our culture makes it easy to denigrate and treat men poorly and in turn , no one balks when the law decides that men need to be picked up anytime a woman or the state decides it is necessary.  The PC culture tells us that men are perpetrators, women victims.  This may not be true, for example in domestic violence cases, women commit almost half of the incidents but rarely are prosecuted whereas men are.  Since no women are prosecuted, it seems like they are always the victim and give license to more draconian laws.

OM:  In your chapter giving advice on what men can do to protect themselves, one suggestion you give is that they take their time getting to know their significant other before marrying or moving in together.  There is a whole sub field of psychology that tries to help people find out if a given relationship is good for them or not, and it is for both men and women.  Yet time and again, people get “stuck” with a “partner” who seems to sabotage their happiness.  Why is this, why do you think?  Are people jumping in too soon to commitments?  Are they ignoring warning signs?  Are they just not curious enough about their own partners to find out more about them until too late?  Is there a natural limit on how much time someone can realistically take to get to know someone?  Or are they just not able to focus on the important things, get swept away instead by minor issues, until it is too late, and something big actually does happen?

Dr. HS:  Yes, people ignore warning signs and think someone will change.  Other times, people change over time and the relationship no longer meets the needs of the partners  like it once did and they want to get out.  I do think people idealize romantic love due to the media and the constant messages, mainly aimed at women that the perfect guy is out there.  Pair this with the sense entitlement that women are told they are owed, and a man often cannot measure up.  Also as more and more women become educated, they want a man who is more educated and makes more money and has more status (hypergamy); therefore, the pool of men becomes smaller, and women think there are “No good men” because the man they want is in high demand.  They may overlook a perfectly fine guy but think he is not up to her standards.  There are many men out there who have opted out because they feel they cannot measure up, and the women let them know often that they do not.

Copyright © Dr. Helen Smith, Objective Motifs, 2013

The Bureaucracy in Fiction

ATHENA’S DEPARTMENT: ARTS & LETTERS

ESSAY: The Bureaucracy in Fiction By Anna Franco

[Archived from Objective Motifs, August/September 2013]

“Bureaucracy” originated from the French and means power (“cracy”) of the desk or of the office (from “bureau”).  The French 18th Century economist De Gournay actually used the term “bureaumania”.  For those who want to understand the nature of bureaucratic power, following policy analysts is one way, but fiction also has a lot to offer on that matter.  Dystopian fiction usually focuses on the ideological reasons behind the push for a society where the individual is crushed by the government.  Bureaucracies in fiction show the means by which individuals are subordinated in society–usually to some nameless, faceless, mechanistic process that somehow makes crucial decisions about the person’s life.  Below are some of the most vivid fictitious portrayals of bureaucracies that I have found in literature.

Ayn Rand’s We the Living is a novel about the individual versus the state; the protagonist, Kira, must struggle against the Soviet bureaucracy to find work and to get Leo to the South to improve his health.  Much of Ayn Rand’s fiction has scenes of bureaucratic controls.  In Anthem, there are the councils, especially the Council of Vocations and the Council of Scholars. In Atlas Shrugged, there are the Unification Boards.  That bureaucracy can also exist in a corporation, not just a government, is shown in the entire bureaucratic group think scene leading to the tunnel disaster of Taggart Transcontinental–but even here, it was precipitated by the actions of a politician, Kip Chalmers.  As a writer of the  Romantic School, Ayn Rand highlighted the conflict between the thinking individual against the collectivist bureaucracy as a fundamental conflict in society, the valuing individual fighting against the stone wall of followers and destroyers.

Another fiction author who was clearly aware of the mechanistic bureaucracy was John Hersey.  In his novel A Bell for Adano, Major Joppolo wishes to restore the spirit of Adano, a post-war (WWII) Italian city that he is in command of, by replacing the bell that was melted down for ammunition during the war.  Freed from fascist control, the citizens are struggling to return to their normal lives.  As the Major tries to accomplish this mission, other conflicts ensue, one of which involves mule carts stuck on the road where the Major’s superior, General Marvin, is traveling.  The seemingly minor conflict escalates, and the General fires Major Joppolo from his position in Adano.  Hersey portrays the bureaucratic action involved nearly humorously, as the army equivalent of the “pink slip” must travel to the Major’s office.  Before it reaches him, it gets filed at the bottom of a pile of papers and is left inert for sometime.  Will the Major complete his mission and secure a new bell for Adano first?

Some of Hersey’s other books are stark portrayals of the absurdities that could arise in a bureaucratic society. In My Petition for More Space, a man must stand in an official line just to get permission for ordinary requests, such as more living space.  The story shows the gray drabness of life by permission, as it covers the most mundane of situations.  On the other hand, Hersey’s novel The Child Buyer is the shocking story of a man able to buy a child for an educational experiment and government project.  Here the novel is in the form of State Senate hearings of the investigation into the proposed purchase of the ten year old boy.  Still, these stories are portrayed as being within the boundaries of normal life.

It was Franz Kafka who created the ultimate nightmarish bureaucracy: The Trial.  A man is told he must stand trial, but not what his crime is nor who his accusers are.  A soulless legal bureaucracy unfolds in this novel, as a dreadful chain of events force a man to solve a mystery that threatens to destroy him. The Trial does not take place in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, and in fact, it was written before either dictatorship arose.  The Trial was written in 1914-15, and published in 1925, shortly after Kafka’s death in 1924.

We can experience the desperate nature of Kira’s struggle against the Soviet bureaucracy and we can empathize with the individuals who want to live.  This empathy is what Aristotle would call “pity and fear” that a tragedy evokes, although in this story, “pity” would not accurately describe the emotions one might feel for the heroic Kira and Leo.   From Hersey’s imaginative yet journalistic novels, we can learn of the many strange ways in which a bureaucracy can take form, from the seemingly mundane to the absurd.  In Kafka’s novel, we can only see the unlimited horror of it.

In bureaucracies, governments control our values that should otherwise be available through private individuals or organizations (e.g., jobs, money for vacations/sanatoriums, bigger apartments, etc.).  In doing so, the government offices leave a maze of requirements that one must perform to acquire the value, sometimes with little reassurance that the value will actually be achieved, and other times, with too much certainty that everyone will get the value (in some form) but accompanying this is a lack of concrete details, a sense of gray fog that comes with the process.  There is no sense of justice here, only appeals to a nameless, faceless stone.

[Author's note: Discussion of a particular novel in this essay is not necessarily a recommendation to read it.]

Copyright © Anna Franco, 2013.

Movie Review: Hannah Arendt

ATHENA’S DEPARTMENT: ARTS & LETTERS

MOVIE REVIEW: Hannah Arendt  Reviewed by Henry Solomon

[Archived from Objective Motifs, August/September 2013 with minor edits]

A new movie that deserves a wide audience is “Hannah Arendt”.  It’s an intellectual biography focusing on her reporting of the Eichmann trial in 1961.  According to Roger Berkowitz, Director of the Hannah Arendt Center, some of the scenes in the movie were fictionalized, but the portrayal of Arendt’s intellectual development is accurate, and it is the portrayal of this development and her famous conclusion about “the banality of evil” that makes the movie first rate.  A movie about serious ideas is very seldom made these days, and when the ideas are so relevant to the times we live in, it is like finding water in a desert.  The acting is superb, especially that of Barbara Sukowa who plays Hannah Arendt.  All of the actors portray serious people seriously concerned about ideas.  Ms. Sukowa’s portrayal of Arendt’s intransigence reminded me of Ayn Rand and her defense of her ideas in the face of vehement opposition.

What is tragic in Arendt’s analysis is how terribly wrong her ultimate conclusions were.  Fortunately, her conclusions, which I explain below, have not been included in the movie, and so do not undercut it.

In the Q&A I attended, at a second showing of the movie, Roger Berkowitz answered questions about her ideas and life.  As Eichmann had claimed,  he was merely following orders, he was a bureaucrat, who as Arendt identifies, had subverted his identity to the “higher cause” of Nazism, had lost his identity to Hitler, and was an obedient follower.  In Arendt’s words from the film: “He was a nobody.”  That is what she meant by “banality of evil.”  Eichmann was only one person in a population of nobodies in service to Hitler.   The tragic aspect of this is the implication Arendt draws from her conclusion about the Nazi followers.  It was her view that it is dangerous for people to be overly “zealous” about their ideas.  This view is terribly mistaken with regard to ideas that are true and deserve to be defended with the same intransigence that Arendt herself did.  One is left wondering whether Arendt believed that there is such a thing as absolute truth worthy of a “zealous” defense.  On visiting the Hannah Arendt website I was left with the distinct impression that she did not consider reality to be absolute.  Probably the most disheartening argument for this view is the fact of her ongoing lifelong friendship with Martin Heidegger.  It’s as though his ideas and his life had no moral implications, as though there was nothing in reality to identify a morality proper to man’s life.  The best analysis of Arendt’s ultimate conclusions is given by Leonard Peikoff in his book The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America (Penguin, Meridian, NY, July 1993, pp 2256-257).

“Hannah Arendt, the best and most philosophically inclined of the commentators, is also, in regard to her ultimate conclusions, the worst, i.e., the most perversely wrong-headed.  In a final warning, she singles out for special attack the attitude which she regards as a major source of the Nazis’ evil and of their success: an unswerving commitment to logic.  The Nazis, she says, and the masses attracted to them, were ‘too consistent’ in pursuing the implications of a basic premise (which she identifies as racism); they gave up the freedom of thought for ‘the straight jacket of logic’ or ‘tyranny of logicality’; they did not admit that complete consistency “exists nowhere in the realm of reality,’ which is pervaded instead by ‘fortuitousness’.”

“Like the other commentators, but even more so, Miss Arendt moves in the modern intellectual mainstream, accepting without challenge all its basic ideas, including the conventional derogation of logic.  Thus she can fail to see what her own book makes all but inescapable: that the essence of Hitler’s theories was not consistency, but unreason; that ‘fortuitousness’ is a property not of reality, but of Nazism; and that ‘logicality’ is not tyranny, but weapon against it.”

“It is a sin to study the agony of a continent of victims and end up offering as explanation the intellectual equivalent of a drugstore nostrum, or worse: end up preaching, as antidote, an essential tenet of the murderers.”

[Leonard Peikoff, The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America,  Penguin/Meridian, 1993, New York, pp 256-257.

Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (new ed, New York,  Harcourt Brace & World, 1966, pp 457, 470, 473, 471, 351, as cited in The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America by Leonard Peikoff, Penguin/Meridian, New York, 1993, pp 256-257. ]

     In summary, it is a great movie dramatizing important ideas that are relevant to the world we live in, but should be seen with the awareness that these ideas are not Arendt’s final conclusions about what makes it possible for people like Eichmann to exist.

Copyright © Henry Solomon, 2013