Crime and Dostoyevsky

Fyodor DostoyevskyOn this day in 1863, the French neo-Impressionist painter Paul Signac was born. He was most clearly influenced by Georges Seurat. But it is taken to extremes. What’s more, there are more modern aspects of his work—designs that remind me of Paul Klee but also that 1960s San Francisco sunburst kind of art. And his use of light in landscapes is like Monet, but again, taken to extreme. I think he is one of the most interesting artists of that period.

The great American general George S Patton was born in 1885. He was a fascinating guy—very much in the mold of Sherman. On the one hand, he was a terrible human being who thought that war was the ultimate expression of human creativity. On the other, if you’re going to have wars, you need men like him around. He is much better than the men who get us into war but claim that it is the last thing they want. I’m talking to you every president of the United States ever! As much as I like George C Scott’s portrayal of him, I think that it gives the wrong idea about him. It makes him coarser than he was and also more of a loose cannon. But I think as a society, we want to see great generals like that. It has certainly been done to Sherman and Grant, although in Grant’s case, it’s probably right.

The Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire was born in 1915. He was a great Senator, but his legacy is a pernicious one: the Golden Fleece Award. The idea was to point out government waste. Before getting to it, however, let’s just be clear: there really isn’t much waste in government. People always think there is because they don’t realize just how much the government does—including a lot of things for them. Do projects go over budget? Could the system be even more efficient? Of course! But we’re talking marginal stuff here. What’s more, most of the waste in government contracts is in the military. That’s the one area where conservatives never want to even think about cuts. Regardless, the Golden Fleece is used most every year to make fun not of wasteful spending but mostly just research contract titles with little or no understand of what the work actually is. I recommend checking out, Fighting William Proxmire with Golden Gooses.

Other birthdays: film director Rene Clair (1898); the great writer Kurt Vonnegut (1922); comedian Jonathan Winters (1925); my good Senator Barbara Boxer (73); President of Nicaragua Daniel Ortega (68); and then a bunch of actors: Stanley Tucci (53); Demi Moore (51); Calista Flockhart (49); Adam Beach (41); and finally the really annoying Leonardo DiCaprio (39).

The day, however, belongs to the great Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky who was born on this day in 1821. It’s always hard to discuss authors who wrote in a language you don’t read. But I’ve never gotten the impression that the sound of his writing was terribly important. In fact, I’ve always wished that translations would anglicize the character names. It can be hard to keep track of people. The main thing in his works, however, is the depth of the characters he creates. I’ve never read any of his early work. But the later stuff clearly shows the influence of his hardly rosy life. My preference is for those who find humor in tragedy, but there is nothing more compelling than men who stare into the abyss and explain in detail exactly what they see.

Happy birthday Fyodor Dostoyevsky!

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