Was Marie Antoinette a lesbian?

I saw “Farewell My Queen,” a movie about the Court of Versailles during the first days of the Revolution. The movie strongly suggests that Marie Antoinette had an affair with the beautiful Duchess of Polignac. Before the Revolution there was an underground network in France that distributed anti-royalist literature. Much of this literature was border line pornography. A large public delighted in reading about court scandals. Whether Marie Antoinette actually slept with the Duchess of Polignac we will never know.

Robert Darnton has written much about these 18th Century. Some of the most notorious of this literature was written by disenchanted aristocrats. Many better educated Frenchmen believed that the ideas of the enlightenment were incompatible with an absolute monarchy. Of course these pre-revolutionary Frenchmen were influenced by the famous intellectuals of the day: Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu. Still, the influence of the anonymous pamphleteers must also have affected the revolutionaries. Picturing Marie Antoinette in bed with her girlfriend, while her impotent husband tries to rule the country, must have inspired some of the rage and contempt which fueled the revolution.

Thomas Callender was a Scottish émigré who wrote  about the scandalous life of late 18th century rich and famous Americans.   Did you know that Alexander Hamilton had an affair with Maria Reynolds, a lovely, young married women? Well, Thomas Callender published a pamphlet about this romance.  Callender also happened to be a Federalist and an opponent to Jefferson.

For his loyal service to Jefferson’s faction, Thomas Callender believed he was entitled to a post office job. Jefferson said no. If he valued his historical reputation, Jefferson would never have refused Callender’s request. Callender was a gifted polemicist. In 1803 he published a pamphlet in that he alleged that Thomas Jefferson had a slave mistress and children with Sally Hemmings.

For two centuries almost all reputable historians refused to admit there was any validity to these allegations. In 1974, Fawn Brodie wrote  a biography of  Thomas Jefferson. She was the first academic historian to find the Sally Hemings story  credible. She believed that Thomas Jefferson was a revolutionary, an heir to the same enlightenment that ruined the life of Marie Antoinette. At the same time, he could never acknowledge that his wealth and power was based on slave labor. In the late 1990s, DNA analysis of Sally Hemmings’ descendents  proved conclusively that Thomas Jefferson did have children by Sally Hemmings.

There is a thin line between gossip and politics. Probably Marie Antoinette was not quite as decadent as her enemies believed. It didn’t matter.  The old regime was so parasitic, the French revolutionaries believed, that only the most extreme remedy, the guillotine,  could cure the ills of their society.  Maybe they were right.

Thomas Jefferson was a contemporary of Marie Antoinette. After his death, Thomas Jefferson became like all the founding fathers, an American demigod. In the 1960s, I used to shop at the  Jefferson bookstore on Union Square. The bookshop was owned by the American Communist Party. Naming a communist bookstore after Jefferson seems an odd choice. But don’t forget both Lenin and Jefferson were both members of the landed aristocracy and the radical intelligentsia. While he was organizing the Russian Revolution, Lenin collected a quarterly check from his family estates.

In 2014, the Belgium National film company is planning the release of a new film, “Thomas and Marie.” It’s an R rated historical romance. Can’t wait to see it.

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I Would Prefer Not To

Why are some people defiant and passive at the same time? Why do they refuse to cooperate with their family and their co-workers?  Do they suffer from mental illness? Are they victims of their of own false pride? Maybe they’re just lazy. There is always a mysterious quality to this kind of rebellion.  This quiet, stubborn revolt can be tragic and almost heroic, sad and comic at the same time. Think of Bartleby, the hero of Melville’s  1853 tale, “Bartleby, the Scrivener.” To any request made by his employer, he answers “I would prefer not to.”

Before I retired, I worked as a supervisor at a government office. One of our staff was an elderly, alcoholic woman. Like Bartleby’s employer I was not much of a disciplinarian. Like him, “I am a man whom from earliest youth believed that the easiest way is the best.” Whenever possible, I avoid confrontation. One morning, Florence showed up, as usual, late for work, drunk, and belligerent. If she just filed 15 folders before 11 o’clock, I told her, I wouldn’t write her up.  I went to her office at 11 and as I expected she had filed no folders. I decided to schedule a disciplinary hearing that might result in her dismissal.

Florence tried to put me on a guilt trip. She cried that she was the sole support of her family. Her family was herself and her husband, Bob. Bob had once worked for the organization. He was a notorious drunk. His father was a high administrator.  New York is a tribal place; his father was a tribal chief. Bob was under his protection. When his father died, Bob’s world fell apart. He received three demotions and  was then fired for gross incompetence.

Florence never pulled her weight at work. Still the thought of her dismissal made me anxious.  For a few nights, I even had trouble sleeping. After I told her I was charging her with insubordination, Florence didn’t come to work for eleven days. She didn’t call. I couldn’t reach her; her phone was disconnected. Office morale improved. The District director complemented me on my firmness.  Even the Union Rep felt I had done the right thing.  Still the whole business made me nervous. I didn’t look forward to the Hearing. Florence might make me look bad. She might counter my charges with an expose of some of my procedural errors.

Florence’s daughter called me on the twelfth day of her absence. Her mother, she told me, had died in her sleep. She added quickly that there wasn’t going to be a funeral.

Bartleby’s decline was slower. The lawyer didn’t have the resolve to evict his former employee from his office. Bartleby slept and ate there. Rather than evict Bartleby, the lawyer moved to new quarters. But Bartleby refused to leave the building. He would not submit to any form of pressure. He said, “I would prefer not to.” Finally he was declared a vagrant and was sent to the old New York prison, The Tombs.  In that era, if a prisoner wanted to eat, he had to pay the grubman to deliver him food. The lawyer hired a grubman to provide Bartleby with food. Bartleby said, “I would prefer not to dine”. He laid down in the prison yard and died.

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The Dictator On Vacation

I was in San Diego last week. I was off the grid and didn’t bother to update my blog.

While I was in San Diego I visited the Zoo. The Zoo, like all Zoos, Natural History Museums, and Aquariums, want us to be more ecologically conscious. Because these institutions cater to families, there is a great emphasis in educating the younger generation to live a life more in balance with nature and to be better stewards of the planets.  Why than, all the junk food?

If I were the dictator, I would make all supposed eco-friendly institutions ban junk food. That’s right no more soda, $5 dollar pretzels, or mystery meat hot dogs. Zoo Keepers, put-up or shut-up. No more eco preaching allowed until you stop selling us crap food.

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Irony Never Ends

Did your know Mitt Romney’s son Craig is a music lover? He has two sons Miles and Parker.  I assume he  named  the boys after Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.   For my younger readers Miles and Charlie Parker invented “cool”. Miles recorded a classic record at Birdland in 1948 titled “Birth of the Cool”.  Miles and Bird Parker were the greatest of the mid-century jazzmen. They were the polar opposite of white bread Mormonism.

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Say Yes to Megalomania

Bruce Wayne has way too much angst. If I were the dictator, I would insist that all Batman movies include Robin in the cast.  Bruce Wayne is obviously gay. This has been known since 1953, when Frederic Werthem, the famous psychologist, published “Seduction of the Innocents”. He wrote, “the character of Batman is that of a suppressed homosexual.” The modern Batman revisionist and graphic novel pioneer, Frank Miller, discussing his own work , “The Dark Knight Returns”, said Batman, ” would be much healthier, if he admitted he was gay”.

No politician would be able to use this cop-out, “If only I were the dictator, everything would be easy.” Politicians don’t your realize that when they fail, they can always blame the judges, the legislators, the press, even the public. A dictator has to take sole responsibility for everything that happens under his watch. He has no excuses: he can disband the legislature, censor the press, and shoot people who obstruct his will. Even Donald Trump would go crazy with that much responsibility.

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Things Ain’t What They Used to Be

Albert Camus and Humphrey Bogart both smoked and looked good in a trench coat. Albert Camus, according to his daughter, enjoyed the frequent comparisons made between himself and Humphrey Bogart. I think American hard-boiled movies and fiction were as much a precursor to mid-century existentialism as say the philosophy of Kierkegaard.

The Green Party of Marseilles would like to ban the use of the classic 1947 Cartier-Bresson portrait of Camus. Why? Because he’s smoking a cigarette. The English-speaking world is now under the domination of the new Prohibitionist. These 21st Century Puritans want to ban relaxation. Pleasure will sometimes be tolerated in small appropriate doses. But the rest of the time you must remain on the treadmill, both literally and figuratively. The new Puritans might be as effective as the Old Victorians. Anglo-Saxon morality once again will triumph in the entire world.

Once or twice a month I conduct tours at the Spring Mountain Ranch. Spring Mountain is a Nevada State Park, about 14 miles from the border of Las Vegas. For many years the ranch was part working farm and part hobby farm. During the 1930s Willard George raised chinchillas on the ranch. In the 1950s Vera Krupp owned the ranch. Vera Krupp bought it after she divorced Baron von Krupp. Some of her wardrobe was given to the ranch by her secretary. Nobody wears chinchilla coats anymore, and no one would wear fancy clothes at a country house. My mother said I was lazy slob. Probably true about me and many other baby boomers. Little did our mothers realize that the slobs would triumph.

In Las Vegas, even the crooks lament the lost world of elegance. Remember the last lines of “Casino”, the 1995 Martin Scorsese movie? Ace Rothstein narrates over a panorama of tourists entering a new hotel, “Vegas will never be the same. It looks like Disneyland.” In the casinos polyester replaced chinchilla.

Last year I went back to New York. It was a  retro journey. I wanted to eat a j and I wanted to visit a jazz night club. If it was 1960, the year I imagined it to be, I would have worn a suit to the nightclub and the restaurant. Back in the 60s, I did once in a while go to jazz clubs. In those days, the drinking age was 18 and even that rule was not strictly enforced. I remember smokey night clubs, the air so thick you could hardly breathe. Now, of course, clubs are smoke free but the decibel level is so high it’s almost unbearable. I wonder if in 2047 the decibel levels in public places will be tightly regulated and old guys writing blogs will reminisce about their memories of the old 100 decibel scene.

By the way souffle was pretty good and the jazz at Small’s was good too.

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What’s the Matter With Neo-Liberalisn

Jonathan Haidt is political psychologist. He describes himself as a former liberal who has become a centrist.  Probably, in a couple of years, he’ll call himself a conservative. He is a student of something called political psychology.

Haidt believes liberals are morally tone-deaf and that Republicans understand moral psychology. Liberals are WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, and Democratic). They don’t understand patriotism, the fear of disorder, and disgust at sexually debasing behavior. As evidence of this disconnect, he asked the following question to people in two Brazilian cities and one American city. A man buys a chicken in the supermarket and before putting it the oven copulates in secret with the bird. Everybody thinks this is wrong, according to Haidt, except the “weird”. I’m not going to ask this question of friends or relatives, some of whom belong to the alleged ‘weird’ class.  I know most of them would feel that bestiality  is repulsive.

As you can tell, I don’t completely trust Prof. Haidt methodology. I also think Prof. Haidt ignores a much larger problem-the conflict between corporate liberalism and traditional progressive left-wing values. Yes, the phrase traditional progressives sounds like an oxymoron. Historically,  progressives respect  unions and distrust corporate power.  Corporate liberals are anti-union and strongly pro-managment.

I’ll give you an example of corporate liberal thinking. Earlier this month Tomas Lopez was fired from his lifeguard job at Hallandale Florida. Mr. Lopez was fire because he went to rescue a swimmer drowning near his station. Unfortunately for Mr. Lopez this section of the beach was outside of the area Jeff Ellis Associates, a lifeguard outsourcing firm had contracted to serve. Even though he defied corporate policy, most people thought Tomas Lopez was hero.

To people  who believe in the market, modern management theory, and the genius of the executive class, the ‘leaders’ of Jeff Ellis Associates were the heroes. On July 17th, Steven Pearlstein was interviewed on the Hear and Now, an NPR afternoon talk show. Mr. Pearlstein is a columnist  for the Washington Post. He believes Jeff Ellis Associates should be applauded for their brilliant business practices. Outsourcing has made the economy so efficient we would be fools to question this movement. Mr. Pearlstein sums up his views as follows,”No one is asking you ever to exercise discretion. The system has the intelligence. They don’t need people with intelligence.”

Mr. Pearlstein is a self-described Obama democrats. Mr. Pearlstein is also a corporate shill. Ron Paul said, “Obama is not a socialist, he’s a corporatist.” This seems to be a fairly accurate description of the current administration.  A kind of managerial ethos seems to dominate everything in Washington, finance, health care, education. Objections to corporate dominance seem less radical than old-fashioned and pointless. People like Mr. Pearlstein thinks paleo-liberals simply don’t understand the modern world. Prof. Haidt believes there is a vast army of peasants waiting to fight the radicals of Central Park West.

One last petty point. Actually, no radicals have moved  to the Upper West Side since about 1982. The rents are too damn high.  There are a few old timers left from the ‘Panic in Needle Park’  era.  The old Boho neighborhoods of New York have turned into a playground for the MBA class. They keep a few old artists around to add local color.

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If I were a dictator Part II

Power corrupts said Lord Actor. I have created the  lazyroad corollary to this political axiom . Imagined power turns friendly bloggers into meglomaniacs.

I am proposing three new edicts:

1. Restaurant background music over 80 decibel is strictly prohibited. Owners who violate this rule will be subject to the following torture. They will have to listen for a period of not less than 48 hours to the music they despise the most. If you remember my fellow dictator Noriega of Panama surrendered to the Americans after being forced to listen to high decibel rock and roll. Noriega is a fan of classical music.

2. Recently, I bought cheap vanilla ice cream at Albertson’s. This might surprise you. The ice cream contained not a microgram of vanilla. It does contain natural flavors (wood chips, nutmeg) which are combined to taste like vanilla. Truth in advertising will be enforced in my regime. Albertson’s and other chain cannot call ‘vanilla ice cream’  vanilla ice cream if there is no vanilla in the product. They can however label this product ‘Phoney Baloney Vanilla’.

3. Robert Trivers the famed biologist wrote that temper tantrums are known in many species including pelicans. He wrote, ” pelican chicks will work themselves into a frenzy before falling prostrate at their parent’s feet., in effect demanding immediate investment, which they often receive”. Pelican chick temper tantrum set a bad example for human children. We cannot totally eliminate temper tantrums in all species. But I think we can definitely bring the pelican community aboard in our effort to crush  international ‘temper tantrumism’.

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tragedy and Aurora

President Obama said this about the Aurora shooting,  “If there’s anything to take from this tragedy it’s the reminder that life is very fragile.” This is true. But it’s also true that the murders in Aurora could have been prevented by effective gun control laws.

Always be careful when politicians take the tragic view of life. Eloquence often borders on the meaningless.

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athiests and agnostics-the post modern view

On July 11, 2012  Alternet Website published an article, “When Atheists Confront Mortality”. The article was a summary of some recent social science research on the difference between atheists and agnostics.

Agnosticism almost by definition is ambivalent. The agnostic says, for example, “there’s not a strong case for the supernatural. But who knows? Religious people could be right. There’s a lot we don’t know. Maybe there is a God or a spiritual force which is sort of like God.”    The atheist would reply, “Agnostic cut the B.S. Stop dreaming. We live in a world without God or Gods. And have you forgotten the Inquisition, the modern jihads, the horrors of the Indian Caste system, the close connection between Zen and Japanese militarism?  Religion doesn’t make bad people good it just makes good people behave badly.” Perhaps the differences between atheists and agnostics are more difference in temperament than belief. Agnostics are less confrontational than Atheists, born appeasers, or simply less stubborn than the more militant ranks of non-believers.

Science might help us think more deeply  about the difference between the atheism and the agnosticism. We’re all afraid of death. The real distinction between atheists and agnostics is how they handle this fear.  According to Prof. Vail of the University of Missouri, atheists accept their own mortality better than agnostics. He wrote  in  The Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin “the psychological comforts of religion do not appear to be of universal necessity.” Not so fast,  counters Prof . Jong of Oxford University, writing in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. By using a word association test, he found that non-believers “wavered from their disbelief” after thinking about death.

Of course these kind of question: involving faith, lack of faith, intensity of conviction, are not easily answered by social science.  Even if they don’t admit to any personal bias. I suspect that both Prof. Jong and Prof. Vail’s research programs were deeply affected by the values they hold dear. The quantitive methods of science can never really provide answers to these deeply personal questions about the meaning of life.  I will attempt to describe the impossible.

Agnostic don’t think there is a real possibility of life after death or the existence of  a supernatural being. Atheists know there is no Sky God or mystical forest beings.  Late at night, or in the midst of an existential crisis, or if they have bad stomach ache, the  agnostic will hope that their whole rational world view is wrong and yes there is magic left in the world. Maybe that kid in the coma will recover and yes maybe you can live forever. Atheists are made of sterner stuff.

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