Tuesday, January 11, 2005

SHORTER PETER WOOD. Liberals are like the monster in Robot Monster. How? Because they're stupid and Robot Monster is stupid. You want to know more, a lot more, about Robot Monster? Too bad, because that's how I intend to get through the rest of this dog, and win a bet that National Review will print anything that talks smack about liberals.
HAVE YOU FOLKS CAUGHT ON YET THAT THE REAL THEME OF alicublog IS THE DAMAGE DONE BY PROPAGANDISTS NOT ONLY TO OUR POLITICS, BUT ALSO TO OUR LANGUAGE, INDEED OUR VERY CAPACITY FOR LOGICAL THOUGHT? "...after controlling Congress for most of the past decade and the White House for 16 of the past 24 years, Republicans are bound to start seeming like insiders. " -- Brendan Miniter, OpinionJournal.

Monday, January 10, 2005

SHORTER JIM LILEKS: I'm not a gentleman. (To Emily) Your husband's only trying to be funny calling me one. I don't even know what a gentleman is. You see, my idea of a gentleman (laughs)... Well, Mrs. Kane, if I owned a newspaper and I didn't like the way somebody was doing things, some politician say, I'd fight him with everything I had. Only I wouldn't show him in a convict's suit with stripes so his children could see the picture in the paper, or his mother! No, I would make flash catoons in the manner of JibJab! And what's more, be nice to me, I am suffering from the first of my seventeen annual colds!

Sunday, January 09, 2005

FILM COMMENT. Saw Hitler's Hit Parade at the Film Forum tonight. I was expecting a straight showcase of Nazi inspirational pop, like the swing band Charlie and His Orchestra, who regaled Third Reich audiences with songs like the anti-Churchill "The Man with the Big Cigar" ("Who is that man with the big cigar?/He is the friend of the USSR... and he'll get more than he bargained for/That fat friend of the Jew!"). But though there is a lot of swinging music -- much of it excellent -- I was surprised to get instead a poetic montage in the manner of Bruce Conner.

The source material is from sanctioned German entertainment of the period, and some clips are overtly expressive of the party line. One features a sinister fellow informing the audience, through a disdainful grin, that though some musicians have gotten "in the swing" of things, others have gotten "out of step," and had been consigned to "Concert Camps" where they would soon learn to adopt the meter of the Reich. There is also cartoon footage of a prototypical Jew stealing golden leaves from the Tree of Life.

Each of these by itself would be horribly instructive, but the filmmakers, Oliver Axer and Susanne Benze -- a designer and a historian, respectively -- chose to focus on the flotsam of German pop film and music, intercut with instructional film footage (including an obstetrician who tells a grateful husband post-partum, "Don't thank me -- thank your wife's ancestors!") and clips of ordinary German people, going about their business as the Nazis went about theirs.

If the film has a theme, it is social regimentation. Cheerful young Germans exercise in unison, like high school rhythmic gymnasts. (Hitler was the originator of the phrase, "Work hard and play hard.") A cartoon couple of geese approve of its high (goose)-stepping children -- until one comes by sashaying effeminately, and is spanked till its gait is corrected. One splendid passage is centered around a bolero dance number; the dancers, in flamenco costumes, perform with what we might be forgiven for calling German efficiency, slightly crisping and squaring the traditional movements. Axer and Benze intercut with this sequences of animated pen nibs, coffee cups, and cigarettes falling into patterns -- a dream of order that incorporates a (then politically friendly) foreign culture.

Late in the film discordant images -- decrepit, despairing Jews festooned with yellow stars; the public humiliation of a Polish-German couple; slaughtered German soldiers -- begin to appear; the romantic music keeps playing. Only at the very end -- in a section titled, in heroic Nazi style, "Awake, Germany!" -- do we see Allied footage of ordinary Germans forced to confront the reality of the concentration camps.

Going into the movie I was defensively joking about Woody Allen's references to The Sorrow and the Pity and the long string of Oscar-winning Holocaust docs. I'm always on guard against what Manny Farber called the "gimp" -- the easy tug at popular prejudice to create a cheap emotional effect. What might the Nazis have done, had they won the war and inherited the power of the camera, to comment upon our deceased, decadent ways? Nothing like this, probably. Hitler's Hit Parade is so artfully far from propaganda that I can honestly say, if you didn't know who the Nazis were going in, the film would give you an honestly bad impression of them. At a time in which the distinction between truth and lies appears to be growing alarmingly fungible, that's a very high recommendation.

To close less grimly, also saw Broadway Melody of 1936. Moss Hart, of Kaufman & Hart, wrote the story, which figures; his screenwriter, Jack McGowan, seems to have specialized in musical froth, which also figures, and co-scenarist Sid Silvers has a scene-stealing turn as the sidekick of the Winchell manque played by (gasp) Jack Benny -- which doesn't figure at all, but works very nicely. This is assembly-line Hollywood-on-Broadway fluff of the better sort. It would make a nice double bill (assuming, unfairly, that Howard Otway didn't already do it) with 42nd Street -- and sort of does, in Singin' In The Rain, which cribbed the Freed tunes and sprightly air from the Broadway Melody franchise and the big numbers and dark undertones from the Berkeley masterpiece. Like 42nd Street, it has a hometown gamin and a hardened Broadway producer -- but the gamin is plenty resourceful and the producer is her high-school sorta-sweetheart and not as hard as all that; the friction, such as it is, comes from Benny's wiseguy, and to a lesser extent from the producer's hard-hearted backer/lover. (It may reflect a significant cultural change that, in Singin' In The Rain, the source of friction is the pitiless, powerful dame; a reporter as foil would have been absurd in 50s Hollywood as it would have been in... well, Hollywood today.)

Also revisited Kubrick's Lolita. Like Wilder in Kiss Me, Stupid, Kubrick was doggedly exploring the terrain of 60s sex comedy; unlike Wilder, he has no skill at sex comedy of any sort -- the best male sex-comedians dance at the edge of misogyny, whereas Kubrick had long since progressed from misogyny to misanthropy. I can see why he was attracted to Humbert's obsession, but having to deal with the female half of the equation appears to have baffled him: The moments of sympathy for Charlotte Haze seem tacked on like guilty afterthoughts and Sue Lyon is practically exterminated as Lolita -- only her body and brash tone survive. The film is more at home with the absurdity of Humbert, which, like nearly every Kubrick lead role, reduces the actor playing it. James Mason, Kirk Douglas, Ryan O'Neal, Tom Cruise, even the great Keir Dullea: all mere puppets in the hands of the master. The only leads to benefit from the Kubrick treatment were Jack Nicholson and Peter Sellers, who were intelligent and voracious enough to meet Kubrick at his level, and Malcolm McDowell, who was not so bright as they, but simply born to play Alex (and, the rest of his career shows, no one else -- at least none well, but Wells). Still, it's a crafty piece of work, and much better than Adrian Lyne's, which has always seemed to me Lolita as told by the psychiatrist in Nabokov's prologue.

UPDATE. Correx and suggestions from my editorial board implemented.

Friday, January 07, 2005

ARTLESS DODGER. From the Know-Nothings through the Birchers through our current, degenerate crop of neos and nutjobs, one of the many signs whereby ye shall know American Conservatives is their reflexive hatred of the arts and the people who make them. As we have seen, whereas in olden times wingnuts were content to merely blacklist artists, in our day they prefer to manage them, at least in their imaginary universe, presenting themselves as shadow moguls and imperiously demanding that more conservatively-correct entertainments be produced for their pleasure tout suite.

These are for the most part the harmless, Ozymandian fantasies of folks who have much but want everything -- who already run America, and yearn also to rule its dreams. Every once in a while, though, a winger's attempt at aesthetics turns out to be more instructive than usual.

At OpinionJournal, Daniel Henninger spends a whole column in astonishment that some prominent New York City artists recall the 1970s as a Golden Age. For conservatives, of course, the celebration of anything from the pre-Reagan age is blasphemy, but the New York of that time is the stuff of Fred Siegel nightmares. Tourists were killed! Rents were cheap! There were no Home Depots or K-Marts! How could anyone like it?

Of course, the speakers are artists talking about art, and it is easy for any sentient person to understand why they liked the 70s. Speaking as one was vas dere, Charlie, well, where to begin: CBGB, Harrah's, Rollerina, Scorsese, hiphop, Twyla Tharp, concerts in the Park, the Kitchen, Squat Theatre, the Performing Garage, the Times Square Show...

None of these exemplars of the excitement of that period of New York life is mentioned in Henninger's article -- nor does he attempt to make any comparison of them to equivalents from the current era, probably because that would be highly unflattering to his Giulianified Valhalla. Even Henninger must realize that the Ramones, Paul Auster, and Eric Bogosian make the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Candace Bushnell, and Fischerspooner look like utter shit.

Seeing no winning artistic argument for the no-grafitti team, Henninger turns the whole thing into class war, Republican-style -- that is, instead of rich vs. poor, it's elites versus "average Joes." After a discussion of how bad the subways were in the 70s -- comical reading for someone whose current morning L transit is reminsicent of 50s phone-booth-stuffing, though the cars are gleamingly free of spraypaint -- Henninger asks, "But could it be that New York's great weakness... is that its leadership elites are fatally enthralled by a reputation for creative fecundity that has been conjured and kept afloat by the city's artists and writers?" While we puzzle over this vision of a City Government dazzled by the lively arts, Henninger goes further:
Many of the city's most creative people in the 1970s (as now) were high IQ boys and girls from Smalltown who fled to the Apple and had the smarts to survive and thrive in a city beset with drugs, welfare dependency and housing stock distorted by World War II rent controls. Hell has always seized over-developed imaginations. But what attractions hath hell for average Joes who can't cop a "life" in SoHo or Williamsburg? Then as now, they just took hell's hits in the neck, or left. In economic terms, much of creative Manhattan simply "free-rides" on the backs of the workers whose tax payments constrain the bankruptcy sheriff.
One might mischievously ask: is he really saying that "average Joes" are less resourceful than us arty-farties? But I guess we have the unfair advantage of "free-rides." Tell me -- what are those? Where do artists get them? I and a whole list of friends would love to know.

Henninger's "then as now" formulation is also ridiculous. In the 70s space was cheap (yes, despite rent stabilization! How'd that happen?); rehearsal spaces and performance venues were affordable enough to support a lively scene. Today it takes a ton of money to keep a band, dance troupe, or theatre company rehearsed, let alone to open even a small "alternative" space; admission prices reflect this, and limit the audiences for new works.

That Henninger can't get why Fran Lebowitz and Caleb Carr would appreciate the New York of Annie Hall and Dictators Go Girl Crazy! is unsurprising, but I do give him additional gall points for hinting darkly that their appreciation is a bad sign for the future of the City: "Perhaps we should regard the famous Times' commentators yearning for the 1970s as canaries in the gold-plated mine shaft," he writes, and mutters about "endpoints" to great cities and the only hope for New York being for "the city's best and brightest" to "use some of their 'creative' brainpower to blow the whistle on the city's irredeemably corrupt and destructive Democratic politics." (Why the quotes around "creative"? Oh, I forgot -- only markets are creative!)

That art so utterly confuses such as Henninger is just one more reason to love it -- but let us remember that this is just one of its secondary benefits, lest we fall into the same aesthetic muddle as he.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

COUNTERINTUITION. I know, I know, I shouldn't, but I couldn't help it: I trawled Free Republic. I was wondering what they thought about the Ukraine.

Apparently what they think is SOROS IS SATAN! The erstwhile Democratic Party sugar daddy's involvement in Yushenko's cause seems to have split the blocheads.

From "Yushenko WINS Ukraine Election":

"At this point, the Soros-funed opposition takes to the streets, threatening crippling general strikes and demonstrations until they seize power DESPITE LOSING THE ELECTION, often engaging in as much fraud as the folks they deposed. The modus operandi is very similar in all three cases. A lower-grade effort was even mounted in Ohio..." -- hchutch

"Even though Soros supported Kuchma does not show his loyalty. He is an atheist with no moral values. He is an instrument of Satan." -- jer33 3

"God help Ukraine, as Yushenko is the very guy that robbed her of all her wealth, this land that used to be the Eden garden of milk and honey. His mentor, your friend George Soros, the self-hating anti-semitic Jew will make sure Ukrainians have only their eyes left for crying." -- frontdeboeuf

From "Soros Preparing Revolution in Ukraine" (from Pravda!):

"Soros, the forerunner of the antichrist." -- MarMema

"Let's see. An international busybody comes to your country to tell you how to run your elections. I think I'd get angry too." -- hedgetrimmer

"Remember, if a Republican businessman did this kind of thing, the liberals would all be squawking loudly about 'imperialistic multinational corporations.'" -- Ichneumon

Etc. When the Washington Times, a publication which the Freepers revere, celebrates the role of international forces including Soros in Yuschenko's victory ("In Ukraine, the U.S. government spent $58 million on promoting democracy in the last two years. European states and various nongovernmental organizations, such as George Soros' International Renaissance Foundation, contributed millions more), comments are relatively quiet. When WashTimes gives the anti-Yushenkovites the floor, comments are livelier ("Does Washington Times is financed from Moscow or what?" asks Lukasz), if less cohesive ("I come from a long line of Kraut killers" -- Destro.

Fascinating, considering the unbridled celebration of Yushenko's victory in mainstream rightwing pubs. What's stronger in the wingnut worldview -- hatred of Russia, or hatred of Democratic contributors? Depends perhaps on whether they're in a conservative (beat the kids) or conservatarian (fuck the wife in the ass, complain about sodomites) sort of mood.
NO BITTERNESS. I have been done the honor of a nomination in the 3rd Annual Koufax Awards. It is in the category of "Most Humorous Blog," which dooms me right off, as I consider the content of alicublog, like that of my life, to be tragicomic at best. None of the other honorees, so far as I am aware, are given to grim, thousand-word exegeses on the decline of our Republic. I am as likely to win this thing as David Neiwert is to be crowned "Last Comic Standing."

When last I checked, over a hundred ballots had been cast in this category and I had received no votes. This is as it should be. All the other nominees are hilarious. The ones I knew when I perused the list have always busted me up, and the ones to which the list introduced me are funnier than Al Gonzales solemnly promising to uphold the Geneva Conventions.

Besides, I am more comfortable with defeat than victory, not only by virtue of experience but of temperment. Even as a child I would refuse invitations to participate in Spelling Bees, always offering the same glum excuse: "So what if I can spell 'affidavit' and Henry Dreher can't -- he has a father!" As a teenager, I would preface all my romantic encounters by reenacting the final moments of Tea and Sympathy. Even now I sometimes impulsively decline change at the grocery store checkout counter, reasoning that I would only waste it on more food. Hence my Democratic registration, my frequent trips to Shea Stadium, and my tendency at the end of the final reel to re-adjust my bowler, twirl my cane, forlornly kick up my heels and waddle down the road as the camera irises out.

Nor am I unaware of the disappointment I have caused weary readers who, looking for a bit of levity in a terrible age and tipped to alicublog by some misguided or easily bribed web eminence, clicked over to find me raving about Social Security or the decline of melodrama, and doing reps on my vocabulary. My reputation for "snark" is based on all-too-brief flashes of mania brought on by alcohol or senile dementia. The late legalistic ramblings of Lenny Bruce were, compared to my work, Rodney Dangerfield on speed at his favorite nephew's Bar Mitzvah. I should be awarded a summons, not a Koufax, unless one has been created for "Most Abrupt Mood Swing," or "Post Most Closely Resembling an Arthur Bremer Diary Entry."

Besides, success would make me insufferable. As anyone who has seen The Oscar knows, once I caught even the merest whiff of the heady liquor in the cup of victory, my inner Stephen Boyd would be unleashed; I would alienate my few friends, start saying things like "Lie down with pigs -- get up smelling like gahbage!" and wind up brokenly, catatonically clapping as stock footage of Frank Sinatra accepted the prize in my stead.

Do me, yourself, and posterity a favor and do not vote for alicublog at the Koufaxes. Do visit Wampum, and check out the nominees you haven't previously read. The Justice Department already has, and you can't afford to know less than they do.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

ALL CLASS, THIS GUY. "Given that [Susan] Sontag made the private parts of her life that were professionally or 'artistically' useful and her lifelong contempt for traditional America and its values my first instinct was that her private life should be fair game, particularly in an obituary." -- Jonah Goldberg on Sontag's gayness (emphasis, amazingly, his).

As reasons-to-continue-living go, the chance to one day piss on Goldberg's grave is very modest, but I suppose it will serve.
TORTURED REASONING. The Ole Perfesser sez he's agin torture. But he thinks a public discussion via the Gonzales hearings would only be an "effort to turn this into an anti-Bush political issue" whereby "Democrats can be characterized as soft on terror... and the most likely outcome will be, in essence, the ratification of torture," which would "ensure that there's no useful discussion of exactly how, in terms of incarceration, etc., we should treat potentially very dangerous people who do not fall readily within the laws of war."

The Perfesser's contribution to that "useful discussion" seems to be this ("Yeah, the torture of Al Qaeda guys concerns me less than the torture of, I don't know, innocent people -- but it's still wrong..."). He amplifies with something by Volokh, which more or less echoes his POV, but at much greater length and strongly excepting the "but it's still wrong" part. In fairness, I should mention that he also links to an Eve Tushnet post which eloquently explains the moral problem of torture.

Taken all together, the Perfesser's post seems to mean that torture is a fit subject for bloggers, but not for elected Democrats in Congress. One might call it "objectively pro-torture," but let us leave that sort of argument for more slovenly thinkers, and say rather that arguing against an unambiguous evil -- that is, something that would be equally evil whether you were doing it or whether it was being done to you -- is not something that is politicized by the fact that your opponents are (by default, it would appear) making the argument.

UPDATE. Adding to the Useful Discussion is Mark Levin: "As for those generals who oppose Gonzales for supporting interrogations and detentions of the enemy, I'm sure if George McClellan were alive, he'd sign on with the liberals too." This should go great guns in the winger community, as it follows the admirable models of "If George Orwell was alive him and me would be like this (crosses fingers), I bet," and "If skunks had a college, they'd call it P.U." (traditonal).

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

THE RIDICULOUS PSEUDONYMS SHOULD HAVE BEEN A TIP-OFF. I heard that Powerline is supposed to be the shit, so I took a peek today.

Here's "Deacon" telling the studiously moderate William Raspberry that if he doesn't like the mess we made in Iraq he should consider that the Civil War -- which freed his black ass -- was messy too. Deacon reenforces the point by stating that "leftists who, by ignoring or downplaying the illegitimacy and criminality of Saddam's regime, are able pronounce the pro-Saddam insurgents 'freedom fighters' defying a brutal foreign occupying force are in essentially the same moral position as those who supported the Ku Klux Klan." What has calling Saddam loyalists 'freedom fighters' to do with William Raspberry? [Michael Dunn at the end of Ship of Fools voice] Nothing, my friend; nothing. [/Michael Dunn]. To be fair, Deacon did use the time-honored device of planting Michael Moore (or, rather, "the Michael Moore left") early in the script, thus excusing, well, anything.

Deacon also reposts a heartwarming Iraqi soldier's report which turns out to be largely bullshit.

"Hindrocket" tells us that a USN sailor who deserted because he didn't want to kill people doesn't get to rescue people either, and thus is a hypocrite. I think I saw this idea previously in an old issue of Green Lantern, with great art by Neal Adams.

The rest is all links, ass-pats, and society news. What a disappointment. (P.S. I'm doing you a favor with all the paraphrasing -- the writing has that leaden-fingered quality common to the genre, which may be what has convinced some people that it is Serious.)

Monday, January 03, 2005

THE POLITICS OF DISASTER. There was a rather remarkable column by Daniel Henninger in the Journal the other day. Its theme -- well, I'm not sure what its theme is. At first it seems like standard-issue conservative religious hooey attached, by reflex, to the recent disasters on the other side of the world. "Religious belief, for those whose belief includes an afterlife, is a kind of comfort that even unbelievers would be loath to deny the survivors of this tsunami," says Henninger. "Not long ago people would offer solace by saying of the dead that he or she 'is in a better place.' I haven't read or heard much religious sentiment expressed in public about what has happened to the peoples around the Indian Ocean or the Arabian Sea." But this idea is not followed upon, and so is probably just a spasm of the sort bred into such authors by prolonged obeisance to Republican Party talking points.

For a while the article looks to be about that old chestnut, information overload. "Two weeks ago, Scott Peterson; last week, the Mosul mess-hall bombing; this week, South Asia wiped out," writes Henninger. "Time was, we'd watch the scenes coming out of Asia 'in horror.' Now, I think, we mostly just watch." I am of the self-examining sort, and do not think I have conflated the Scott Peterson trial with the deaths of hundreds of thousands in an epic disaster; and, widening my purview perhaps unfairly, I can't imagine many others have done so, either.

But this is only a bridge. Eventually Henninger gets to brass tacks. The info overload is revealed to include (or be caused by -- again, the author is unclear) horrors in Iraq. "The world's leading expert on how emotional, data-passed news can obliterate important context is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi," says Henninger. "His homicidal bombings can't kill Iraq's 25 million people, but he knows that images and tales of sudden death will suppress calmer, constructive portrayals of Baghdad's five million people restoring their lives to normalcy."

So, if it means anything at all, Henninger's column is about the image war waged by our enemies -- those pictures of atrocities that we have been told again and again to factor out of our considerations of American policy. But what is the connection with the tsunami and its aftermath? Insofar as I understand him, Henninger wants us to spread democracy as a means toward reducing misery of all sorts in the world. ("Political work is the means the civilized world has for replacing men and ideas that are dumb or dangerous with something better.") A noble goal, say I, though we may differ as to means. But what has this to do with shifting tectonic plates, the resulting angry seas, and the lives thus obliterated? "In the aftermath of 2004's too-numerous unnatural deaths," concludes Henninger, "the only resolution possible is to re-enter the arena of politics and fight the good, slow fight. It's all we've got, and it is enough."

I keep reading that some parties are trying to politicize the disaster. Is this what they're talking about?

UPDATE. Related thoughts at Gadflyer.
SO THAT'S WHAT'S WRONG WITH HIM. "I should add that I owe Michael Lind a lot. The Next American Nation sold me on the value of reading." -- Salam Reihan.

Thursday, December 30, 2004


Elsewhere at the NY Post, conservatarian Collin Levey uses the disaster, not as an occasion for tears, but as an opportunity to exult -- nay, luxuriate -- in America's awesome wealth-generating power. And because of that mighty dynamism, it doesn't matter to Levey if "America doesn't give as much as a percentage of national income as say... Norway," because we're rich and fuck you and here's some money, bitch.

Levey speaks of our contributions to this disaster relief effort as "foreign aid." Of course, anyone who's been around the block without blinkers made of Ayn Rand books knows that foreign aid is what we use to bribe the rest of the world into compliance with our mighty whims; the tsunami relief is just a public relations expense. But Levey has an similarly optimistic way of looking at other kinds of wealth transfers, too. Take the nannies, gardeners, and guys standing by the highway with bags of peeled oranges. You may think they're being exploited, employed at sub-standard wages by the Bernard Keriks of the world, and driving down the price of American labor. On the contrary -- they are further proof that the system works:

Then, too, our openness lets the world's poor earn money here and then send it home. In many poor countries (e.g., Mexico, India and the Philippines), foreign aid is dwarfed by remittances sent from family members working in America.

That's money -- some roughly $18 billion a year from the United States -- that goes directly to households that need it, from somebody who directly understands their needs. It doesn't flow through government hands, subject to rake-offs and politically inspired diversions to worthless projects.
I hope you were paying careful attention, because this is how Social Security is going to work in a couple of years.

IT'S NOT A MOVIE, PEGGY. In the warm stream of drool that is Peggy Noonan's year-end column, the Crazy Jesus Lady suggests:
...let me say that if Steven Spielberg went to the Mideast tomorrow, announced he was making a movie, and sent out a casting call for males age 12 to 30 he would immediately establish a new Mideast peace, at least for the length of the shoot. Because the only thing the young men there would rather do than kill each other is be a movie star. Hmmmm, a suicide bombing that raises my family's status in the neighborhood or a possible date with Cameron Diaz, let's see... Mr. Spielberg would also get a Nobel Peace Prize. I am actually not kidding.
So how come we didn't do that in 2003 instead of bombing the shit out of them?

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

HITSVILLE G.O.P. As we have seen, the trend in culture war is toward the managerial rather than the militaristic: while some benighted souls still crudely bash the impure, contenting themselves with condemnation of entartete Kunst, the new breed posit a conservative aesthetic, cite as positive examples current works that seem to fit its guidelines, and bid artists supply more of the same, please.

Even the old culture-warrior Maggie Gallagher is getting with the program -- though she can only follow it up to a point.

In September Gallagher was encouraged by the rightwing doc In the Face of Evil: Reagan's War in Word and Deed, calling it "The must-see movie of the season for zeitgeist watchers." Even this pull-quote did not launch Face of Evil into box-office heaven, but Gallagher remains confident that films like this represent "an unserved market" for people like herself.

In her latest take, Gallagher suggests that Hollywood's current obsession with schmutz is tapped out. "Gay sex, or sympathetic portrayals of pedophilia may still win critical accolades, but the buzz is no longer big box office," she writes. One stops at this: when were guy-on-guy and guy-on-kid films big box office? But Gallagher is on a roll:
Every human heart hungers to be part of a story, to take the disconnected dots of human existence and weave them into a meaningful drama. Yet millions of Americans never, ever see anything of the great aspirational stories of their lives reflected in America's premier storytelling genre, the movies.

Americans are an overwhelmingly religious people, for example, yet the drama of sin and salvation, of divine grace and purpose, is conspicuously absent. Millions of American men and women strive to connect sex, love, marriage and babies into a coherent story for their own life. And yet the particular intense kind of eros that can be experienced only by those so committed to such a connection is almost never glimpsed on television or film. Perhaps Hollywood does not even know it exists.
Now, by changing very few words -- maybe by making "religious" into "spiritual," or denuding the second graf of words reflecting Gallagher's highly particular POV on marriage -- this could be made to resemble the longings of many indie filmmakers and critics. How often have you been implored, in some small corner of Entertainment Weekly or a local free paper, to attend some earnest film about ordinary people, because this is the kind of movie Hollywood doesn't make but should? From Forbidden Games to Sounder to In the Bedroom to The Secret Lives of Dentists runs a thin but unceasing river of smallish films whose makers' point of pride is their relevance to real life.

Hollywood of course prefers noisy pop sludge, and has since it began fighting to lure audiences away from the quotidian dramas of early television, pretty much. If there have been more tits and taboos in the cinema since the MPAA went to letter-coding in 1968, that's because tits and taboos were things you couldn't get from the idiot box in those days.

A variety of factors, cable among them, have had their impact, but movies are still something you have to get out to the house and pay for, and Hollywood moviemakers still tend toward steroidal entertainments as a means of luring us to them. If you want to see ordinary Joes and Janes hashing out Life As It Is Lived, you're asking for niche entertainment. You can get it, of course, at the local art house or on IFC.

So Maggie has a point, but she also has an agenda. The strategy of playing the noble outsider has served conservatives well in recent years -- which is why, even as they control nearly every part of our Government, so many of them still make a decent living bemoaning their oppression by the ACLU. In the Gallagher version, Hollywood is not just something that evolved out of her liking, but a corrupt institution ripe for reform. And she is not content to watch the stuff on PAX or wait for Mel Gibson's latest Romanist epic -- she demands that Hollywood become "the next domino to fall" in the march of freedom.

So in the last ditch, the old Culture Warrior reverts to fixed bayonets. Still, she has played the Culture Manager role better than I expected. The only question is, why does she bother? The multiplexes are liberally stocked with feature-length cartoons that will not offend her, nor any breeder's or brat's, tender sensibilities -- and some of them are even approved by the Central Committee. There is also, as she approvingly notes, a strong Christian counterculture ready to keep her in Veggie Tales and Billy Ray Cyrus till kingdom come.

I think it's because she's not just looking for something good she can watch. She wants us all to watch it. And like it, and tell her we like it. For Managers as well as Warriors, perhaps, the prefix is nowhere near as important as the root. Culture is just another domino, insignificant but for the pleasure to be had in making it fall.
SHORTER JAMES LILEKS. Seeing those poor people devastated by that earthquake makes me think about how much I hate James Wolcott and Democratic Underground.

(PS: Brief excerpt in the comments for those who get pissed when I make them click through to Lileks' site.)
SULLY'S CHILDREN. The pure products of Andrew Sullivan go crazy. Now we have Reihan Salam talking about Holland's problems with unassimilated Muslims, and desperately seeking therein new and exciting meanings to prove himself the rightwing shizznit.

Yet at what a cost to common sense! Salam seems to suggest, by his wringing of a quote by Ian Buruma ("Buruma wrote on Iraq, arguing against 'perfect democracy,' i.e., rigorously secular democracy... he might consider applying it to Holland") that Holland should fight sectarian violence by writing more religion into its Government. Salam doesn't take time to tell how this religification might be achieved -- and that is one of the advantages of his breezy style: it leaves little time to speculate on possible real-life applications of his ideas ("The Chair recognizes the Honorable Member from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints").

Salam ends premonitorally:
That negotiation and compromise were preempted by elite consensus in Holland now seems clear. Democracy failed. To say that it’s only now under threat, now that the exclusion and alienation of an immigrant class has reached a crisis point, is to ignore the deeper tensions.

Which is one reason why the liberal disdain of populist conservatism is misplaced. That secular liberals will seek to defeat populist conservatives in argument is a given. But marginalizing concerns over “moral values,” the approach fatefully taken in Holland and elsewhere in Europe, has had ugly consequences all its own. Be careful what you wish for.
Maybe I'm reading this wrong (it wouldn't be hard) but here Salam seems to compare Holland's religious problems with America's. Taking him at his word that religious violence is widespread in Holland, what would be the American equivalent? Unitarifascists? The Radical Quakers?

Okay, so obviously there's no equivalent among American religious organizations. But there is a group that, while not religious itself, has been so strenuously and negatively associated with religion of late -- as seen in thousands of the-ACLU-stole-my-Christmas stories -- that it would quickly spring to any mind appropriately softened as the kind of clear and present danger Salam is talking about.

Under the circumstances, we may be forgiven for suspecting that the part of the Angry Muslims will be played in the U.S. production of Salam's "Get Religion!" by the Godless Secularists, America's current religious menace of choice. Marginalize "moral values" and you get armed gangs of secularists rampaging through church sales and Bingo nights, and perhaps even assassinating Trey Parker.

Or maybe he means something very different. Who can tell? The way the Sullivanians mangle their words, it's no wonder Roger L. Simon's goon squad thinks Ross Douthat is a liberal.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

SHORTER JAMES LILEKS: Jurassic Park is feminist propaganda.

Monday, December 27, 2004

YOUR MORNING MEMO. If you report news from Iraq, you might be a traitor. Pass it on.

AP photogs got a call to cover a demonstation. At that location, two election workers were killed. "So the AP admitted that its photographer was 'tipped off' by the terrorists," says Power Line. "The only quibble asserted by the AP was that the photographer expected only a 'demonstration,' not a murder." Hang 'em high!

Power Line understandably has no comments, but you can hear the voice of the rabble at Roger L. Simon's site: "Many members of our media are anti-American traitors." "Civil liability is something the families of those murdered should be asking about... I don’t think it is too much to expect reporters to have a sense of history..." "Not biased, just on the other side." "Without a Democratic party that would enact policies favorable to the terrorists, the terrorist/AP collaboration would have no effect." "If you are subscribing to a newspaper that carries the AP why not just send a check to Hamas?" Et alia ad nauseum.

Look for Fox to pick up on this, and start showing nothing from Iraq but pictures of soldiers giving dolls to appropriately adorable Iraqi children. Remember: if you didn't see it, it didn't happen.

UPDATE. Lots of gibberish being posted about this. My favorite, from the Belmont Club, seems to suggest that, if AP is allowed to show pictures of war atrocities to students, the Belmont Club should be able to send truth squads of bloggers to debunk them with unsupported allegations. I think they might also be suggesting that AP should support their truth squads financially, or at least provide car service -- but these guys write so badly that it is hard to be sure.
MINISTRY OF CULTURE. Ah me, the culture wars again. It is generally hard to figure out what Reihan Salam is trying to say, due perhaps to the dilatory influence on his prose of whatevs.org. (Please, please don't let him near a copy of Vice magazine.) But he is sufficiently clear in his trifurcated essay on culture wars, in which he suggests that, to reclaim the culture, conservatives (by which he seems to mean the Republican Party) must
...break the stranglehold of Big Media by reversing copyright laws that stifle free expression. Strengthen the hand of the innovative entrepreneurs behind peer-to-peer networks, spread-spectrum radio, and other technologies that have the potential to restore creative power to individuals and communities. Over time, you’ll see a more diverse media culture that will be far more in tune with -- here it comes -- our shared values. Larry Lessig’s notion of a "free culture" has a lot to offer conservatives vexed by the cultural hegemony of a narrow corporate elite.
This is meant to mark a distinction, I guess, between the Pat Buchanan types who want to "take back our culture," as Buchanan famously put it in 1992, by armed military intervention, and those like Salam, who want to use cool technology.

We might call this perspective "managerial." The part of actual culture -- you know, books, movies, songs, that stuff -- is left hanging as Salam concerns himself with the dissemination thereof by a "Benevolent Despot." We do get a feeble hint of what he and others in his less-miliaristic faction of culture warriors have in mind as to the content end. Among the very few of Salam's supporting documents that are fully available online (which is odd, considering his faith in the creative commons) is a Ross Douthat essay declaring that bitching about bad culture is a loser's game, and that conservatives have to go beyond preaching-to-the-choir, Michael Moore Hates America -type gestures, such as he saw at the American Film Renaissance Festival, and "roll up their sleeves and start writing some entertaining television shows and movies and books of their own."

So all that remains is for somebody to write good conservative entertainments. You Douthat, and Salam Reihan and his P2P hipsters will do the rest!

When you read stuff like this, you have to wonder if any of these guys have ever played in a rock and roll band or tried to write a story or a poem or done anything that was purely creative. They perhaps believe that we all show up at weekly meetings where the latest meme is announced, and go forth and sing about Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and other Satanic things that will achieve our dark end of corrupting the culture.

Maybe they think that way because that's the only way they are able to think about anything. Maybe, being would-be managers rather than creators of art, they don't know what makes people want to be artists. They only know that such people are useful to them, and believe that, just as you can get actors to perform in commercials and musicians to make crappy pop records and draughtsmen to provide illustrations for corporate brochures, you can enlist artists to make conservative art. When a Christian commenator on Douthat suggests that conservatives "build a cultural infrastructure that will rival the political one that has contributed to so much success at the ballot box," you are hearing the voice of the manager, ordering HR to round up some talent.

The joke is that there are certainly plenty of very fine artists who could do something "conservative" enough without being bribed. Whit Stillman, for example, has made some films (Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco) that would seem right up their street. Stillman hasn't made a movie since 1998. Where's Rupert Murdoch? Where's Sun Myung Moon? These guys could bankroll a full-blown Hollywood production for him.

Maybe they actually do have some idea of what artists are like, and know they mightn't necessarily get from them a result they could approve. Even Sam Goldwyn and Harry Cohn had trouble with the talent, and they weren't even commanding that they make movies showing the folly of the estate tax. Conservatives who strongly approve, for instance, The Incredibles, which they seem to see as some sort of Ayn Rand allegory, usually fail to note that the film was made by Brad Bird, whose Cold War fable The Iron Giant was so annoying to conservative sentiments that the New York Post actually ran an editorial denouncing it ("Hollywood is taking up the cudgels to maintain the left-wing fiction that those who hunted Communists were hopelessly paranoid").

Creative types are famously pesky that way. And so, if Salam is any kind of harbringer, we may expect to see more culture-war managers devising ever more intricate distribution schemes, economic models, and business plans for right-wing cultural product, and waiting for that killer screenplay about The Joe McCarthy Nobody Knew to turn up, summoned by the invisible hand of the marketplace.

Friday, December 24, 2004


As a present to myself and to you, I will try to avoid posting for a couple of days. Let me now express my gratitude to my dozens of readers, and especially to alicublog's many brilliant commenters. Compared to the dreck that flows through the talkback channels of most other weblogs -- well, that's not even an appropriate comparison. Enabling your enlightened chatter is this site's noblest achievement.

Thanks also to the sites on my blogroll, and many others I've been too lazy to include -- there's another New Year's resolution to consider -- for reminding me that the world has not gone entirely mad.

I must also thank the National Review Online, OpinionJournal, Free Republic, Andrew Sullivan, the Crazy Jesus Lady, the Ole Perfesser, and many, many others like them. They inspire me. They are the wind beneath my wings. Were their offenses to reason less reliably egregious, there might not be an alicublog at all. I owe them a great debt, one I may never be able to fully repay. But, be assured, I will try.

I leave the final words to Alex Chilton. May we never completely lose our hope, however forlorn that hope may seem much of the time, that the wrong shall fail and the right prevail.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

CHRISTMAS CHESTY NUTS. Not all the insanity of our restive season is centered on the use of the magic word "Christmas" as a talisman against liberals. James Glassman offers gloomy prospects for the future, as who wouldn't. But he blames them on -- wait for it -- "social and cultural" problems, "the result of a decline in striving, a lack of striving, a softness that has afflicted every other great nation in history. Call it American decadence — our own version of what happened to the Roman Empire."

Thankfully, he does not mention Desperate Houswives, but instead appears to be concerned with a decline in science skills and "animal spirits," which is causing capitalism to lose its mojo. The science drop happens because "our government skimps on basic research in the hard sciences" and native-born kids show little interest in pursuing the related disciplines, he says, while the spirits drop is caused by business regulation (!) and "a general attitude of entitlement and irresponsibility spread by politicians who promise constituents wealth without risk or pain." Hence our impending Roman ruin.

The article is so soft it is hard to find a place to take hold, but I would suggest that, on the science issue, the general contempt for education in this society impacts both nefariously and overtly our ability to breed young Einsteins and to put them to work on something less remunerative than a new boner pill. As to business, all our Administrations since Reagan (at least) have been so strenuously pro-business that it is hard to see how regulation is taming those particular "animal spirits." It might be better to consider how the increasing concentration of wealth into the hands of entities which do not circulate so much as transfer it affects our prospects of a better tomorrow.

As to the "entitlement and irresponsibility," I will only note that Glassman considers our current deficit "far from excessive." (If he wants to know where the science money went, he might start looking there.)

Of course, it all starts to go wrong at the very beginning of the essay, in which Glassman asserts that those of us in middle age are by and large living four times better than our parents -- "That means a house four times as large, a bank account four times as big (in real dollars, not eroded by inflation), and clothes, food, cars and vacations four times as lush." He must be drinking in that hypothetical bar patronized by Bill Gates.
MY AGENT ADVISES THAT I SELF-PUBLISH. Peggy Noonan tells us how a childhood Christmas gift (a homemade desk) made her believe in the birth of Christ ("There were some trees and bushes and a sort of wooden shanty with hay on the floor... And I thought: It's all true. It's not just a story, it's true, it really happened. This struck me like a thunderbolt"). Then she asks "readers of this space to tell of their favorite childhood Christmas gift, and what effect it had on them."

I liked getting Mouse Trap. I never played the silly board-game part, but instead built the Rube Goldberg contraption and activated it over and over again. This led me to believe that everyday objects should be put to unorthodox uses, and to invent the cat-food-lid bath drain stopper.

I liked getting Abbey Road. I played it till the grooves turned white. This led me to believe that one and one and one is three, and that, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

I liked getting The Gospel According to Peanuts. This led me to believe that Jesus was Snoopy, Linus was St. Paul, and Lucy was the Whore of Babylon.

But I lost my faith when Snoopy became a shill for Met Life, so I'm not going to bother sending this one to OpinionJournal.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

CARRIERS. James Lileks was tweaked for his part in the great Save Christmas From Liberals scam by James Wolcott, and now responds at great length. This is described by the feeder-streams as a "Fisking," the etymology of which is meant to imply that the rebuke went straight up Wolcott's ass, though in this case I am put more in mind of fists ragefully pummelling the heated air of a home office.

Llieks' defense of Lileks consists mainly of accusations of elitism ("coastal types who think the rest of America truly gives a shite whether Lindsay Lohan lost her Blackbird at a party last week" -- well, I guess that lets me out), and of misapprehension by elitists of the mystery of the Bleat, whose author is not, he asserts, a crazy man "who wants to tamp the thick bristling wad of God down everyone’s throat with a miter," but a sensible fellow patiently working the microfiche machines to prove that sometime after the Second World War newspapers started running "Season's Greetings" ads, Entertainment Weekly started running sacreligious imagery, and James Wolcott started making fun of Jesus. "I don’t think people in the Evil Coastal Godless Baal-Loving Media hate Christianity," he writes. "I’m sure some hold it in disinterested contempt, the way they view NASCAR and Simplicity dress patterns" etc.

So it is really just more ornate guff about our lack of resemblance to Lilek's little slice of suburban heaven, with a fresh overlay of self-pity. People like Wolcott have James Lileks all wrong, as the author's numerous comical renderings of the way his critics see him are meant to show. He's no Jesus freak; just a guy who wants to show you an old radio program and ask if you don't find it interesting that back then they talked about God in an approving manner, while today floorwalkers reel and James Wolcott watches birds.

All good fun for Wolcott and Lileks and me. Of course, the context is that, throughout the land of Citizen Journalists, it is reported that Christmas is to liberals as garlic is to vampires. The Citizen Journalists are industrious in their propagation of this myth; you can even see it peddled on movie discussion boards. The idea is a great deal newer than "Happy Holidays," but its dissemination, enabled by technology and a horde of unpaid assistants, has been miraculously swift and thorough, and I wouldn't be surprised if it quickly attained Classic status, like the Burl Ives snowman or the Ballad of Foster Barton.

Lileks may not be aware of the trend of which his writings are a prominent part, but given that he can pick up from a great distance New Yorkers' interest in Lindsay Lohan's Blackberry, this seems far-fetched. I do take him at his word that he doesn't want to bring Jesus into my Winter Holiday. The job he and his comrades are doing isn't quite that inclusive.

Monday, December 20, 2004

MORE PROOF THAT NO ONE REALLY READS THE CORNER: "Personal accounts are a sweetner/smokescreen necessary to do what really needs to be done, which is reduce benefits via price indexation (or increasing the retirement age). In an ideal world, policymakers could just reduce benefits without resorting to such tactics, but democracy is messy and we let too many people vote and so such tactics have to be adopted from time to time to get the right policy..."
--an alledged correspondent of Ramesh Ponnuru's on Social Security privatization; emphasis mine

Good thing for them (and the money managers who will grow rich at taxpayers' expense under this scheme) that no one's paying attention.
CHRISTMAS WITH THE DEVIL. As my readers know, we liberals hate even the mention of Christmas, which causes us to -- what was Lileks' evocative phrase? -- "appear stunned and flummoxed for a moment, as if I've just blabbed the plans for the underground's sabotage of the train tracks in front of the secret police."

Well, Satan and I know the remedy for that: a playlist of evil, Santa- and Jesus-mocking Xmas anti-carols! That ought to be good for at least three columns at National Review Online.

Since I am deep in holiday cups, I will crib the following citations from my own concatenation of holiday hissings from back in the Old Time, and invite my readers to supply any missing blasphemies.

"Father Christmas," The Kinks. A British social realist Xmas, in which a department store Santa gets mugged: "Father Christmas, give us some money/Don't mess around with those silly toys/We'll beat you up if you don't hand it over/We want your bread so don't make us annoyed."

"Santa Claus is Coming to Town," Rats of Unusual Size. Flint-based rockers do this song the only sensible way: as a horror-movie Black Sabbath shriek-fest: "SAAAAANTA Claus is comin'! SAAAAAANTA Claus is comin'!"

"Merry Muthafuckin Xmas," Eazy-E. "On the third day of Chrismas my homeboys gave to me/three pounds of indo/two birds of cocaine/and a A muthafuckin' K bitch." Word.

"Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," Portsmouth Sinfonia. This famous experiment, in which musicians played instruments with which they were only vaguely familiar, yielded a hilarious version of the Tchaikovsky warhorse. The percussion is especially "good."

"Christmas in Prison," John Prine and "Christmas in February," Lou Reed. If we must have bleakly sentimental Christmas songs, let's go all the way, with hard-timers and homeless Vietnam vets.

"Santa Claus von Bulow," The Reverb Motherfuckers. Alright, so I wrote it. A bum dying of hypothermia on the Houston Street traffic divider while dreaming of Lotto says "Christmas" to me.

"I Hate Christmas," Oscar the Grouch. "I can't think of anything that's dumber/To a grouch, Christmas is a bummer!" This one's for the kids.

"Santa's Coming (and You're on His List)", Crucial Youth. This was submitted by Grady Olivier. I'm not familiar with it, nor with CY's "Xmastime for the Skins," but they sound like the right stuff.

"Christmas with the Devil," Spinal Tap. "The sugar plums are rancid/And the stockings are in flames..." Remember, Santa spelled inside-out is Satan.

Worthy additions, all, but still a bit too cheery to countervail the noxiously twee Christmas-American Spirit. So I offer a final suggestion: "Silent Night/7 o'clock News," Simon & Garfunkel. This amusingly earnest sound collage has the boys warbling the old Christmas chestnut while a Walter Cronkite impersonator (or is it Walt himself?) intones grim newsbriefs ("The nurses were found stabbed and strangled in their Chicago apartment. In Washington today the atmosphere was tense..."). This serves as a pertinent reminder that, thirty-seven years later, no one (least of all any big-time recording artist) is sufficiently idealistic and naive to try anything remotely like it. To blasphemously paraphrase John Lennon, "Merry War (Xmas is Over)."

UPDATE. Reader Smelmoth reminds me of The Pogues, "Fairytale of New York" ('Twas Christmas Eve babe/In the drunk tank...). How could I forget? Even Steve "White City" Sailer likes this one!

UPDATE 2. Lots of great suggestions in comments.I never knew AC/DC and ELP had Xmas songs. Thanks, Citizen Journalists!

Saturday, December 18, 2004

CITIZEN JOURNALISTS. Back in September, a soldier on leave from Iraq got beaten up outside a Toby Keith concert. The soldier, Foster Barton, said that he was attacked because he was wearing an Operation Iraqi Freedom t-shirt. It was reported that the assailant had slurred Barton's military service.

Though the parking lots of superpatriotic extravaganzas are not normally hunting grounds for roving gangs of John Kerry supporters, blame was laid at their doorstep. "Not anti-war," indeeded the Ole Perfesser, "just on the other side." One account was illustrated with a burning American flag, a silhouetted figure flashing the peace sign in the foreground.

Thomas Segel asked at GOP-USA, "Does This Hate Honor America?... Vietnam veterans commenting on the attack of this wounded soldier recalled the assaults, the spitting and the hate filled language they encountered upon their return from combat. Those attacks occurred at the same time John Kerry was diminishing their service before the United States Congress. It is their feeling Kerry is doing the same thing again during his presidential campaign....and with the same impact on American service personnel."

"It's more than just a local story," the serviceman's family told the press. "He is one of our soldiers fighting for America." Calls and letters of support flooded in.

Eventually the assailant was apprehended. His name is Brent Cornwell, and he is a veteran of the United States Army. Some correspondents picked this fact up; other didn't, including Mark Major, who reported for Suburban News Publications that, in response to the attack, State Representative Jon Peterson "has drafted legislation designed to punish more severely those who assault military personnel than those who attack civilians." County Prosecutor Dave Yost "went further than Peterson, suggesting the legislation contain language expressly allowing prosecutors to apply the law whether or not the suspect knew the victim was a member of the armed forces."

fuckfrance republished some of the local coverage, omitting the part about Cornwell's military service. "I would say that the offender be forced to join the Soldier's unit... for a week... on tour," one comment read. "I can only shake my head and ask again what someone so opposed to the war in Iraq was doing at a Toby Keith concert," said BitsBlog. "'Peace Activist' Arrested for Beating," announced Conservative Dialysis.

Some authors acknowledged Cornwell's service, but still tied him to their political opponents. "Just because Cornwell served for 4 years in the Army," noted a commenter to Lt. Smash's blog, "does not mean that he isn't now a 'peace activist.'"

Yesterday Cornwell pleaded guilty to a felonious assault on Barton. In his statement to the judge, Cornwell did not denounce the Bush Administration or the Iraqi invasion, or cry "Viva La Huelga." He told the judge that the fight outside the Toby Keith concert "started after the two exchanged insults about the other's military unit," according to the local news.

History, sir, will tell lies, as usual.

Friday, December 17, 2004

NOSTALGIE DE LA BOUE. Bush floats Social Security reform, and Jonah Goldberg gets to work on discrediting the New Deal. Kofi Annan has a scandal, and Cal Thomas resuscitates the John Birch Society slogan: Get the U.N. Out of the U.S. and the U.S. Out of the U.N.!

The Right's gone retro! Any day now we're going to start hearing about the fluoride in the water.

As with everything else, though, our conservative breathren don't know when enough is too much. What else explains the recent lively interest in the evolution issues visited in the Scopes Trial? Perhaps straw boaters will become the new fedoras!

Eventually I suppose we'll be hearing that the Bill of Rights (excepting perhaps the Second Amendment) was overreaching, the Constitution a step down from the Articles of Confederation (libertarians, be still), and the Enlightenment from which these documents sprang a terrible deviation from the will of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Actually, if you listen very closely, you can hear all this stuff now in the subtext.
GAMESMANSHIP. I rarely treat the sad case of Mickey Kaus -- just as I find college football more interesting than the NFL, I prefer my bullshit pseudoliberalism delivered by passionate amateurs rather than by pros like Kaus -- but his recent "Trouble with Beinart Part III" is a very instructive piece of work, though of course not in the way he intends.

I was surprised to learn that Kaus had so much as a Trouble I, let alone a Trouble II, with Beinart, whose recent we-Democrats-suck POV seems right up Kaus' alley: advocating a mildly socially progressive party that also wants to invade and occupy Middle Eastern countries.

But Kaus demurs on gay marriage, and on grounds so bizarre that he attempts to distance himself from them even as he asserts them: gay marriage will turn off the very Arabs we're trying to win to our side. He applauds an unnamed correspondent who states, "Gay marriage is probably about as threatening -- not to say insulting -- to the core values of Muslims as any of Communism's tenets was to the core values of Americans during the Cold War," then claims he's not prepared to "abandon gay marriage to cater to Islamic fundamentalist sensibilities," blowing it off with a lame joke. So what does he believe? This is as close as we get to an explanation:
I don't see why we can't have a Democratic party that openly a) refrains from force-feeding gay marriage to the public b) has room in it for patriotic Iraq War skeptics and c) as a consequence of a) and b) is better positioned to wage an effective military and ideological battle against Islamic terrorism.
Why would one need a Democratic Party at all, then? Perhaps just for the intramural sport.

I really don't understand why these guys don't just say "fuck it" and announce themselves Republican. This is not an attempt on my part to impose orthodoxy -- like I have that power! Look at me! I'm wearing a cardboard belt! -- but an expression of weariness at all the muddy thinking by which these guys attempt to preserve for themselves an illusion (or marketing strategy) of independence. If you wear your pro-war, pro-Social-Security-reform, pro-big-deficit, anti-gay-marriage rue with a difference, it's still rue. The fact that you dislike clear-cutting doesn't mean anything at all, frankly, if you're working to increase the power of guys who would drill, strip-mine, and clear-cut every National Park on the map if they thought they could get away with it.

One of the best encapsulations I have ever seen of this mindset appears in a comment (12/16 7:35 am) made by one "EssEm" on Totten's site. EssEm is responding to Totten's denunciation of that guy in Alabama who wants to bury bad books ("There are several reasons I’m not a Republican, but the biggest one..."). Totten's source for the story is the Guardian, which strikes some of his fans as a worthier target of rage, since they say bad things about Americans.

In mid-fray, EssEm laments:
Just read the [Guardian] piece, and aside from oh-no-not-this-crap-again revulsion at the paleo-thuggish viewpoint of Mr. Allen, what strikes me is that it was and is the authoritarian impulse that lurks at the heart of progressives, of the Secular Left, that made an ex-liberal of me.
Lunatics talk about the destruction of books in the name of the people, and the enlightened yet tell war stories about how some Spartacist turned them off to liberalism. Sigh. If you huddled these guys into an internment camp, I expect they would be okay with it, so long as they were spared the company of Michael Moore.

UPDATE. Michael Totten responds that he's not a liberal (glad we cleared that up), and advises that I acquire some "nuance."

12 hours later, he quotes Orwell on the unpatriotic Left, and sends us for further enlightenment to another guy who has devised "a test to distinguish the honest left from the pod-people, Chomskyites, and Moore-istas." This test does not involve, as one might reasonably expect, tossing a liberal into a pond to see if he floats, but "Politely ask[ing] him or her to talk for three minutes non-stop about what's great about America." In case you aren't fully aware of what this test is meant to reveal, it is compared to the WWII Marine gambit of getting suspected Japanese agents to try and pronounce the letter "r."

And if you think you can pass, be aware that the author is onto tricks we might employ ("I notice a tendency of left to claim patriotism by identifying it with a love of the people of the United States"). No doubt there are other telltale signs of unpatriotism which he is too clever to let slip in mixed company.

Some nuance.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

SIMON SAYS. I call her the Crazy Jesus Lady, and at first sight this article certainly suggests madness, conjuring images of CJL abandoning her bench and shopping bags to grab an unsuspecting Terry McAuliffe in the street and scream at him, "Confound them, Terry! Come forward with a stand. It is the stand that is the salvation, not mysterious words or codes or magic messages."

But I have come to think that Peggy Noonan is only mad north-northwest, and that there is a canny method to her suggestion that the Democratic Party take a strong, public stand on Christmas (in favor, in case you wondered). One of the advantages of feigned insanity is that you can say and do things the mentally intact could never dare; a sham loon need not concern herself with appearances, and so is free to rail and gibber toward the end making normal people like the Democratic Chairman very uncomfortable.

Thus McAuliffe is told to "announce that from here on in the Democratic Party is on the side of those who want religion in the public square, and the Ten Commandments on the courthouse wall for that matter. Then he should put up a big sign that says 'Merry Christmas' on the sidewalk in front of the Democratic National Committee Headquarters on South Capitol Street. The Democratic Party should put itself on the side of Christmas, and Hanukkah, and the fact of transcendent faith." And what can the poor man do? To decree publicly that, as Noonan declares, "the Constitution does not say it is wrong or impolite to say 'Merry Christmas'" would be tantamount to insisting that kittens are cute or that ice cream is tasty. I assume (indeed hope) that McAuliffe is willing, in his quest for votes, to play the fool -- but to imitate a clear and present fool would be disastrous.

To announce that the Democratic Party supports Christmas is not a first step toward consensus-building, but a step (and it wouldn't be the Dems' first, alas) in a ridiculous game of Simon Says that would be followed in short order by patriotic declarations of faith in baseball, clean living, microwavable popcorn, and better-tasting calcium supplements for women -- while outside the field of play, wars rage and the economy collapses. The Democrats would always be a step behind in this game, as their opponents are calling the shots, and would become ever more worried and insecure at the prospect of doing something that Simon didn't Say. Hell, a lot of them already are.

It's a neat trick she's pulled, and suggests that our Crazy Jesus Lady is only putting on her antic disposition. In a way that's reassuring, as it alleviates somewhat the nagging feeling that our national debate is led by the clinically insane. But then you have to worry about the people who listen to her.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

I AM TRYING TO BE MORE POSITIVE. "Google is adding the books and papers owned by some of the world's leading libraries to its database in the latest step of its mission to make every piece of information available online. Oxford University is one of five world-class libraries that are part of the deal, the other four being US institutions including the New York Public Library."

Soon's I get a second I'm gonna scout me some Elizabethan porn! The Internet is way overrated, but between this, Google Scholar, and Google Uncle Sam, I think the kids from Mountain View deserve some applause.

Speaking of infotech and applause, I don't think much of awards (excepting the People's Golden Global Choice Awards, they rock) but have to speak kindly of the Koufaxes, if only because the nomination process gives many worthy wordsmiths who usually toil in obscurity (like this guy) a day or two in the sun.

Now, I won't ask for votes -- that would be lame, especially cloaked in the pretense of irony, and besides, I suck -- but I would suggest that those few of you who can spare it consider throwing some bucks to the Koufax proprietors. In a world full of Snidely Whiplashes such as myself, these guys are doing something that gives pleasure to others, despite their own shortfalls of time and money.

I would contribute myself, but every extra alicublog dime goes to my therapy.

MICHAEL MOORE IS SO LAST SLUR. Now the cool kids are telling us that Juan Cole lost us the election. I barely know who Cole is, and I'm part of the arrogant Reality-Based Community! I miss the days when they blamed everything on sitcom characters.

Monday, December 13, 2004

ATTENTION COMRADES! We are all of one mind that Spanglish is good pro-family film, da? Good. Hear now new reality for Finding Nemo: Comrade Goldberg has found evidence is pro-life! "I'm now starting to pay close attention to the more subtle ways abortion politics play out in the popular culure," says Comrade Goldberg. Is way to grow, Comrade! Is hoping Comrade Mathewes-Green watches and learns!

THEY WERE, LIKE, LOOKING AT US! Yesterday when I was young, it would please my friends and me to recount, often immediately after the fact, some great danger we believed we had experienced just by being in a certain place at a certain time. After we had been in a cheap chicken joint on The Block in Baltimore, for example, or at an East German security checkpoint, or in a redneck bar, we would afterward laugh excitedly about how close we had been to "getting our asses kicked," though in fact nothing bad had happened to us, or had even been likely to happen.

I wonder what age Jay Nordlinger is. In his most recent mass of twaddle, he quotes a correspondent describing some guy who wore a lot of different Bush T-shirt during the 2004 election campaign: "His shirts drove people crazy, absolutely crazy. He gave me a 'Dalton Aunts [for Bush-Cheney]' shirt to wear, and although I was never physically attacked, I'm fairly certain that I left more than one person on the Upper West Side with severe indigestion..."

We musta pissed them off so bad! You could tell by the way they were like walking around!

He wore a very loud shirt that said -- incredibly -- "BUSH WINS! Electoral Vote Final: Bush: 286; CBS News: 252." You have no idea -- none -- how incongruous that is in Central Park, unless you live here. It's sometimes said that you can get away with anything in New York, that the city is so big and diverse and wild, no one notices. Baloney. If you had worn a Bush-Cheney button in Carnegie Hall -- people would have noticed. (You should have been wearing a Kevlar vest too.)
You shoulda seen, man -- people, like, noticed us! Good thing there were tens of thousands of people around, and it was broad daylight, or we woulda got out ass kicked!

In fairness we must note that, in a sane world, Nordlinger's ass would have been kicked many times over. He rags on New York City continually, yet continues to live and take employment here; one wonders why he and the rest of his City-hating colleagues have not relocated to Fritters, AL, there to rub elbows with the hoi polloi.

Nordlinger also claims to have trouble buying a Christmas card because of evil diversity apparatchiks. Try Hallmark, asshole.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

AND THE HOMELAND OF THE SECURE. Bernie Kerik is out, and the usual suspects brush this off as a "Nannygate" kerfuffle. Of course, the swift turnaround from hero to zero indicates that the nanny issue was merely the softest blow Kerik's nomination might have absorbed, and so Kerik and the Bush Administration took it, leaving other complications (including a cigarettes-for-prisoners scam at the Department of Corrections while he presided there) and hard questions that might have been asked about his disastrous three-month tenure as sheriff of Baghdad unaddressed.

While there are all kinds of reasons to dislike Kerik, one has to applaud Giuliani's loyalty in pulling him back on board the former mayor's current money train. Loyalty is one of Giuliani's few admirable traits -- he devoted a chapter of his best-seller to it; he demands it of subordinates and, one must say, he has returned it in Kerik's case. Tony Soprano would be proud. Now the former mayor can lick his exceedingly superficial wounds and go back to planning dancing bans and rent hikes for the whole of America.

Word on the street is that Joe Lieberman may step up to the plate next. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.