Controversial Propositions

Here are some things I believe to be true. At least, I think I do:
* The most under-rated man in modern history was U.S. Grant.
* It is odd that people keep talking about the Great American Novel, since American novelists are, and always have been, sub-par by international standards.
* The greatest athlete of modern times, in any team sport, was Bobby Orr. Sorry, no room for discussion. It’s just a fact.
* The most over-rated man of the 20th century was Gandhi. Nelson Mandela is runner-up.
* Much as Bob Dylan was the most authentic spokesman for his generation, Taylor Swift is the most authentic spokesman for hers.
* The three most desirable actresses in movie history are Paulette Goddard, Anna Karina and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
* There is over-rated, and then there are the Rolling Stones.
* How is Vermeer like Flaubert? They might have been the best ever, if they had produced more. Stendahl could go in that category, too.
* London is the world’s greatest city, and Israel is the world’s most exciting place.
* America’s youth have never been the same since Saturday morning television went from real programming (Fury, Sky King, the Cisco Kid, etc.) to cartoons.
* The only good lawyer show in the history of television was Perry Mason.
* The title of world’s greatest man has bounced back and forth between England and the U.S. for a while now: last half of the 18th century, George Washington; first half of the 19th century, the Duke of Wellington; second half of the 19th century, Abraham Lincoln; first half of the 20th century, Winston Churchill; second half of the 20th century, Ronald Reagan. But I very much doubt that the pattern will continue.
* The greatest benefactors of humanity, by a mile, are the pharmaceutical companies.
* But for World War II, Franklin Roosevelt would have gone down in history as the worst President since James Buchanan.
* Anyone who uses the word “sustainability” has no idea how the world works.
* The worst person in the history of the world was Lenin. Not only was he a mass murderer, the three biggest mass murderers in world history–Mao, Stalin and Hitler–were all his legitimate heirs, and may not have been possible without him.
* The smartest person whom most Americans see on a regular basis is Simon Cowell.
* Minneapolis’s Institute of Arts is the most under-rated museum in the country. Among other things, it has the best painting Rembrandt ever did.
OK, maybe one or two of those are tongue-in-cheek, but I really do think they are true. There’s more where they came from, too. I’d be happy to argue any of these propositions with any of our readers in a bar of your choice, as long as you’re buying.
PAUL takes the bait: I prefer Paris to London. John, didn’t you tell me you were thinking of a trip to Paris? Keep an open mind.
JOHN responds: Paris is one of the many cities I’ve not visited. Nor will I in the near future, given the massive tax increases slated for next year. But I confess to an Anglophile, London bias. When I think of Paris I think of guillotines, the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, the “whiff of grapeshot,” hunchbacks and other unpleasantness. I’ll be eager to be set aright, however, if I can ever afford to make the trip.
PAUL responds: I’m an Anglophile too, and no big fan of the French. But in terms of cities, I give Paris the edge.
This may sound strange, but I think it has something to do with the following controversial proposition: the French are bad at philosophy, bad at economics, bad at political theory, bad at national security, but excellent at living.
JOE adds: Our time will go down as the Age of New York City, the only cosmopolis now standing; purposeless London is an also-ran; and Paris’s time has come and gone. Both of those cities are now gawked-at, not used. Anyone questioning this would do well to read E.B. White’s Here is New York, an extended essay composed in a hotel room on one very hot Manhattan night: “[Manhattan] is to the [world] what the white church spire is to the village–the visible symbol of aspiration and faith, the white plume saying that the way is up.”

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