Bonus tracks 2/5/14

    1. Who am I?
    2. Toxic mix
    3. Sex obsession
    4. The greater the genius, the greater the threat


A paper published in the leading journal Nature a few days ago claims that Neanderthals interbred with Homo sapiens who left Africa about 10,000 generations ago and bequeathed to us genes for coping with a cold climate and less sunlight.

I was astonished by the coverage that this sketchy and highly speculative news received. Every media outlet in the world, it seems, knows that its readers revel in their genetic heritage. Part of understanding ourselves is knowing where we came from. The commercial genetics company 23andme even offers to calculate the percentage of Neanderthal genes in its customers’ profiles. The question “who am I?” is an inescapable part of life even if great-great grandpa lived 1500 generations ago.

With the writer so far? Okay, then:

That’s one reason why I, at least, get the jitters over same-sex marriage. Children raised by a same-sex couple will be cut off from half of their heritage. I don’t think that supporters of this trend have any idea of how much unhappiness they are brewing. Not long ago, I read a headline over an article supporting same-sex marriage, “The state’s definition of marriage reverts to Neanderthal era”. Maybe that’s a good thing. At least Gurg and Brog knew who their mom and dad were.

(Michael Cook at Mercatornet)

I once heard a man who came of age in the 1930s object to interracial marriage on the grounds that the offspring wouldn’t know their heritage. I didn’t get it on two levels: (1) how is that any more true of marriage between races than it is of marriage between people whose roots are in different western European countries?; and (2) who cares about genetic heritage anyway?

On the first ground, I think I was right. On the second, I betray my tendency toward deracinated intellectualoidism. I’ve seen too many adopted people desperately seeking information about their birth parents to think I’m “normal” in that regard.

Which is why I think Michael Cook is right about his observation, and it’s also a major reason (though Cook had to put it in words for me) why I’ve been uneasy about any assisted reproductive technology that brings an unknown third party’s gamete into the picture. I feel that for married couples (though I don’t pry into infertility treatment details) and for all same-sex couple (whose conception “together” needs no inquiry).

I think it may be what motivates some even to liken AID (Artificial Insemination by Donor, rather than by Husband) as a form of adultery. I don’t get that quite, either, but I have nothing like any insight into what motivates that view beyond what I’ve already said.


According to this warped version, American exceptionalism is little more than a mixture of self-congratulation, triumphalism, and hubris chiefly expressed through support for military hegemony and constant interference in the affairs of other peoples ….

(Daniel Larison)


I’m not much of a sports fan any more, but I tend to watch Olympics. Will TV ruin it this year with non-stop feature stories on gay athletes’ gayness and how retrograde Russia is?

I only ask because that has been the press’s consistent pre-Olympic theme – so much so that I’m starting to wonder about smoke-filled rooms or press conspiracies. Is there really nothing more interesting to report than that the Olympics are in Russia, and that Russia (bring the smelling salts!) isn’t fully on board with The Modern Project? (Yeah, I’m a little prickly about idjits who haven’t gotten over the cold war and want to transpose it to a different key.)

There’s nobody so insular as a semi-literate American liberal. These days, there’s nobody more obsessed with sex, either – no matter how much they yell and point at Rome. If they ever halfway rediscover “the traditional concern of the left [with]  social class and those at the bottom,” it will have a sexual theme like … Oh wait! “Poor women denied contraceptives by their religious employers.”

Been there, done that, I guess.


Everybody knows that Woody Allen had a incestuous relationship with one stepdaughter.  Accusations  from another stepdaughter now have been resurrected with the dramatic difference: that stepdaughter, Dylan Farrow, apparently  allegedly was raped annoyed by the bastard her stepfather at age 7.

 I would not call it a debate, but there has been quite a bit of Internet discussion among varieties of conservatives (no scare quotes here) on how we should view his cinematic works in light of his deeply perverted alleged sexual practices proclivities. Andrew Sullivan and Rod Dreher favor prescinding his pedophilia and incest from his oeuvre. Gracy Olmstead is having none of it:

I do not want to douse my mind in the artistic thought of a man with such inexcusable inclinations and actions. I don’t speak merely as a woman; as a human being, believing in the right of every other human being to justice, this claim should be investigated and carefully considered—not merely by the parties in question, but by the public who absorbs Allen’s art. Art changes us: it affects our perceptions and our world views. Can we really trust ourselves—our minds, eyes, and ears—to Allen’s hands?

The more Allen’s art flourishes in the eyes of the media, the less likely he’ll feel responsible for his actions. As James Banks wrote at Humane Pursuits, “What Ross Douthat wrote of Joe Paterno and other figures considered heroes in their respective vocations applies to the inordinately talented as well; they also believe that ‘they have higher responsibilities than the ordinary run of humankind.’ And every honor or award reinforces this belief.” Note these words Allen uttered in a1976 interview with People Magazine:

‘I’m open-minded about sex. I’m not above reproach; if anything, I’m below reproach. I mean, if I was caught in a love nest with 15 12-year-old girls tomorrow, people would think, yeah, I always knew that about him.’ Allen pauses. ‘Nothing I could come up with would surprise anyone,’ he ventures helplessly. ‘I admit to it all.’

(Emphasis added)

I’m with Olmstead. That’s easy for me to say. I’m no cinemaisto. But I credit Damon Linker’s comments on Crimes and Misdemeanors, too:

Aunt May’s foil in the film is Ben (Sam Waterston), a pious rabbi who says that he couldn’t go on living “if I didn’t feel with all my heart a moral structure with real meaning and forgiveness and some kind of higher power. Otherwise there’s no basis to live…. Without the law, it’s all darkness.” Allen reveals his attitude toward the rabbi by subjecting him to a progressive loss of vision that ends in total blindness by the conclusion of the film — a blunt metaphor for the darkness induced by his own moral and religious faith.

We know that this was Allen’s intent because he’s said so. Ben, according to Allen, “doesn’t really understand the reality of life… and that’s why I wanted to make him blind. I feel that his faith is blind. It will work, but it requires closing your eyes to reality.” And what is reality? That “at best the universe is indifferent” to our lives and our various ways of construing right and wrong. This indifference is so awful that many of us feel driven to “create a fake world for ourselves, and we exist within that fake world.”

On a lesser level you see it in sports. They create a world of football, for example. You get lost in that world and you care about meaningless things…. People by the thousands watch it, thinking it’s very important who wins. But, in fact, if you step back for a second, it’s utterly unimportant who wins. It means nothing. In the same way we create for ourselves a world that, in fact, means nothing at all, when you step back. It’s meaningless.

As Allen explained in a more recent interview in Commonweal magazine, it was the desire to explore this sense of existential meaninglessness that inspired him to make Crimes and Misdemeanors: “Some people distort [the meaninglessness of the world] with religious things. Some people distort it with sports, with money, with love, with art… but nothing makes it meaningful…. [E]veryone goes to his grave in a meaningless way…. [O]ne can commit a crime, do unspeakable things, and get away with it, and some of them are plagued with all sorts of guilt for the rest of their lives and others aren’t. There is no justice…”

No, I think I’ll spare my imagination Allen’s subliminal nihilism, all the more because of his surpassing artistry.

UPDATE: I have changed my mind about Allen’s likely guilt of child rape. I think he’s likelier innocent. His nihilism is still troubling.

* * * * *

“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.