Tuesday, February 08, 2005

THE WORLD AS WILL AND IDEA. A good deal of this Ann Marlowe piece is devoted to the sort of weird attribution of personal traits to political movements that mark one as a comer in the New New Right: e.g., wearing a Bush button is "punk rock," Democrats are "smugly self-righteous, prissy and joyless," etc.

The article purports to be a review of The Neocon Reader, but fails to seriously discuss the book's contents -- with one notable exception, James Q. Wilson's "Broken Windows" essay:
Wilson's title refers to a theory that if a window in a building is broken and left unrepaired, all the windows in the building will soon be smashed, and his article is frequently credited with sparking the new approaches to urban order that led to the revival of New York under Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

What is not so often recalled from Wilson's article is that the novel idea of placing officers on foot patrol did not actually reduce the crime rate; it only reduced citizens' perception of the crime rate. But that was enough. That turned out to be what urban vitality was
There's much more, but no references to any actual declines in the City's crime rate -- though these did come -- nor to the role of increased arrest rates (misdemeanor arrests in the City went up by 70 percent in the 1990s; felony arrests rose nearly as much). To hear Marlowe tell it, the perception of a crime drop by itself, the "feeling of public safety that allowed neighborhoods of poor and working-class people to flourish," as Marlowe puts it, caused the City's "revival."

Marlowe calls Wilson's essay "exemplary of neocon thought." If neoconservatism means a serious expectation of concrete results from public relations gestures, she may be right. A mindset that attributes our crime drop to good feelings, rather than to police work or demographic factors, could easily envision a democratic revolution in Iran brought about mainly by our good wishes. And it is not too much (or too little, depending on your point of view) to expect that when these wishes are finally effected by brute force, this mindset's sufferers will continue to believe that the will of the conquered nation's people was always with them, and that the little shove our armed forces gave to history was no more important than the tedious police work that accompanied the revival of New York.

Marlowe is much more specific in matters closer to home: in denigrating the hipness of present-day Berlin, she compares it unfavorably to "the East Village in the 1980s." Why of that decade, one wonders, and not the present time? I would guess because Marlowe remembers the East Village of those days, as I do, and knows that the upscale shopping and dining district the area has become does not generate the, to use her words, "cultural ferment and creativity" it generated in the days before our City was, to use her word again, revived. It's an instructive dodge. When you're pushing the power of ideas, it is helpful to ignore the collateral damage.

IT'S JUST A MOVIE, KATE MARIE. This Friend of the Perfesser, Kate Marie, complains that the cartoon Mulan II... well, you might think I'm trying to make it sound worse than it is, so let her tell it:
I just watched Mulan II (I have two young girls), and -- I kid you not -- "my duty is to my heart" appears to be the explicit message of the film (as it was in the Princess Diaries II). In the immortal words of Ryan O'Neal at the end of What's Up, Doc? -- that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. If you want a succinct and hilarious refutation of the idiotic notion that one's duty is to one's heart, watch the "Be Like the Boy" episode of The Simpsons.

Duty is a category which is by definition separate from "heart." It represents all those things -- family, tradition, state, law -- which have a claim on us that transcends personal affection and selfish desire. For goodness' sake, what does our generation make of Antigone? ("Antigone? Huh?" -- never mind.)

At the end of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence (and in the finale of Martin Scorcese's film adaptation), the story's protagonist, Newland Archer, watches from a bench as his grown son enters the home of the woman blah blah blah...("blah blah blah" added)
Yes, this woman is actually subjecting her afternoon child-quieting videos to strict moral-aesthetic analysis. And not just the "How many swears in Ray" type of analysis you find in newspapers -- real, arcane wingnut analysis, of the sort we like to cover here.

It can be useful to examine the moral underpinnings of a work of art, but this is fucking Mulan II. Comparing it to Antigone and Edith Wharton is a little like demanding that your local school board candidates each state and defend their positions on global nuclear regulation or the Law of the Sea.

There has been a contingent of scolds doing this sort of thing for over a decade. One of its early practitioners, Melanie Kirkpatrick, plagued the Wall Street Journal in the 90s with similar kernel-picking exercises. Here's one of her classics, in which she faults Paul Rudnick's AIDS comedy Jeffrey for not being more about duty and honor. She thought the play's model should have been Camille.

This would seem an unusual recommendation to an author of light comedies, but you have to remember that, for a certain type of person, even pop art is not at all about pleasure -- it is about morality, or rather, that modern, debased version of morality called Values.

What horrible lives such people must lead, seeing dark messages everywhere -- in children's entertainments, in TV shows, in popular songs. Sounds like paranoid schizophrenia without the relief of upswings.

Kate Marie has two young daughters. I pray she isn't trying to scare the Mulan out of them a la Piper Laurie in Carrie: "First comes Mulan, then comes moral ruin!"
SHORTER JUAN COLE: Here are several proofs that Jonah Goldberg doesn't know what he's talking about, starting with his own astonishing admission that he doesn't know what he's talking about.

SHORTER JONAH GOLDBERG: I don't know what you're talking about.

Monday, February 07, 2005

SHORTER MICHAEL TOTTEN. Me and Chris Hitchens are like that (crosses fingers). I helped him talk down an inexplicably angry Iraqi.
WHY WE FIGHT. Above and beyond duty is Comrade Shawn Macomber, National Review Online Film-Criticism Warrior Unit, in review of Assault on Precinct 13 remake treason! Comrade Macomber not content to scorn bad morals and swearing, loose women of new film! No, Comrade also explain mission of Film-Criticism Warrior Unit:
Removing the sap from our action movies should be a matter of national pride. After all, it's been well documented that Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong Il, and other various tyrants have had a predilection for American action movies. (Although a certain Iraqi dictator won't be seeing Assault on Precinct 13 unless the Red Cross brings it to him on DVD.) Who knows who is watching now? We wouldn't want anyone to start thinking we've gone soft.
Is maybe joke? Comrade, is in National Review -- only reference to Animal House signals joke! Sometimes not even then!
TENURED RADICAL. Professor Ward Churchill says (more or less) that the victims of the WTC attacks were yes-men for a murderous regime, and that this vitiates his sympathy for them. This prompts calls for the professor's dismissal, most notably by Governor Bill Owens.

The Ole Perfesser has apparently judged that Churchill is more useful to his cause as a negative example than as a celebrity scalp a la Dan Rather. In two high-profile essays, while maintaining plausible deniability on the free-speech thing, he drags Churchill across the whole of academia (excepting, presumably, the sleepy southern sector of it that supplies his own paychecks) -- in hopes, it would appear, that the stink will rub off, and that common folk thus alerted will rise up and do something about them pointy-heads.

At MSNBC, the Perfesser writes
Academics are supposed to be skeptical and questioning, even about their own societies. But there's a big difference between being skeptical -- which requires actual thought -- and being adversarial, which requires only contradiction. What's more, the doctrine of academic freedom -- which goes well beyond the general freedoms of speech encompassed by the First Amendment -- is supposed to be about freedom for individual academics to think, well, freely -- not about the freedom of academic institutions to escape scrutiny from the outside world.
While I'm told law professors like to split hairs, I don't think mere love of craft is driving the Perfesser to be so specific here on the distinctions between adversarial and skeptical, and between "the doctrine of academic freedom" and First Amendment rights. I suspect he is looking for (or, rather, offering to his better-placed comrades in the commentariat) loopholes. By such means, one can call for a professor to be expelled for what he teaches (provided it is "adversarial" enough), and have a high-sounding answer ready for any Constitution-based challenges that might come up.

The Perfesser probably needn't have bothered. After all, the coming generation clearly think the First Amendment goes too far; if such like believe the doctrine of academic freedom goes even further than the notoriously libertine 1A, the targeted reader may feel comfortable dispensing with the whole concept of academic freedom, and not worry if some Constitutional liberties happen to get thrown out along with it.

At Fox News, the Perfesser embellishes and amplifies. In this telling, academia's great offense to normalcy is changed from adversarialism to "cleverness" and "being contrary," perhaps to prevent Fox's readers from having to look up the word "adversarial." The Perfesser also says that "America's campuses are not free-speech zones, but among the most pervasively censored environments in our society." Just like a tenured radical -- I bet he's never worked in a modern corporation: Try taking one of those patented heh-indeeds over underage sex Reynolds gets away with in his little ivory tower, and repeating it around the water-cooler! You'll be up on harrassment charges in no time.

But in his innocence (feigned or genuine), the Perfesser still portrays his own world as so dangerously "politically correct" that it must be reformed -- but not on anything so retrograde as free speech grounds. The Perfesser likes some forms of administration-mandated behavior surveillance -- "Harvard President Lawrence Summers has joined in, calling for his university to embrace patriotic values and get more in line with mainstream Americans," he notes encouragingly. Just some kinds of wrong thinking have to eliminated.

Which would those be? Why, the elitist ones, of course: what place has elitism in an instutution of higher learning? One can see the torch glimmering in his hand as the Perfesser points out to the pointy-heads that he has a whole army of citizens behind him who will happily supply them with a list of permissible attitudes and subjects for discussion:
Not surprisingly, people who would rather be clever than right, who confuse oppositionalism with originality, who hold ordinary Americans and their beliefs in faux-aristocratic contempt, and who do all of this with an unshakable degree of self-righteousness, are not likely to be especially popular.
And if you have long hair and dark sunglasses, that's double-plus-ungood. If you're wondering what sort of end result one might expect from this sort of thinking, read A Canticle for Leibowitz. Or history.

Friday, February 04, 2005

“LAS Vegas” hottie Nikki Cox has broken off her engagement to Bobcat Goldthwait and is now dating another comic, Jay Mohr. Cox and Goldthwait dated for five years after meeting on “Unhappily Ever After.”
The mysteries of the human heart just got a little more impenetrable.
SHORING UP THE BASE. (N.B.: I now have a phone line, of sorts, so as John Henry said, I reckon it's time I did some work.)

Andrew McCarthy takes a full page in National Review Online to make sure he hasn't offended the all-important Confederacy Fan bloc. In responding to a Southern Appeal author who does not share his lenient attitude toward that bastard Lincoln, McCarthy does come close to a Sister Souljah moment ("I do think Lincoln is the hero of the Civil War, just as I think President Bush will be remembered as a hero of the current war"), but mainly tries to convince the Southron that "we have a lot of common ground," and heaps praise on Confederate soldiers. That ought to keep them Rebels in the tent a while! Up next: Jonah Goldberg denounces Chevy Chase for making jokes about Franco.

(Actually Goldberg already seems to be on culture watch this week: The Arts & Letters Daily has rejected one of Goldberg's manuscripts, which means ALD is "sliding to the left," which means ALD is "predictable." Maybe next he'll send William Bennett and Michael Medved over to ALD's offices to lean menacingly against the doorjambs and flip coins.)

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

WE APOLOGIZE FOR THE UNAVOIDABLE DELAY. WE WILL BE MOVING SHORTLY. "Aren't you feeling euphoric?" asks Andrew Sullivan. Well, no -- I still haven't got phone service in my new apartment. All politics is local.

The human waste products called Verizon Customer Service assure me they will take care of business tomorrow between 8 a.m. and the vernal equinox. Then, and only then, Andy, will we know whether freedom has won! Meantime I'm like a fish out of water, or a Lileks without a 7,000-pound home entertainment center and a barrel of Olestra snacks to fuel the "commentary."

Still, in those small moments of electronic access I have been able to snatch, I have seen some corkers. I note with pleasure that the cultural commissars of National Review and professional Ned Flanders impersonator Michael Medved have turned on Million Dollar Baby. The chronic inability of such types to distinguish between the actions of dramatic characters and the contents of position papers is, like Wimpy's chronic inability to pass up a hamburger, a reliable laugh-getter, but in this case connoiseurs of their follies may also contemplate the piquant dilemma of their followers. Can they accept their beloved Clint Eastwood as an agent of the commie pinko Left? Will they, with tears in their eyes, burn their Dirty Harry DVDs? Will their blogospheric enablers up the ante by reporting that Clint spent years in Yurrup working with a feller who might just as well have been a Marxist? (Lookit the fella! Looks jes like Castro! Or Ward Chuchill hehindeed!)

(Speaking of the Ole Perfesser, the aforelinked post is now officially the stupidest thing ever written, and I know that for a fact because moving gave me an opportunity to review the previous title-holders: my book reports from sixth grade, and my journals from the late 70s. Reynolds is by now so deep in the tank, whip-tailing his faux logic in whichever direction he thinks will make the maximum number of Democrats look bad, that his brief mention of the "idiotarian" coinage came as a shocking reminder of his old poses: when was the last time the Perfesser gave an even halfway decent impersonation of an independent thinker?)

I see also that folks are still ringing bells over the Iraqi election. Closer to home, of course, voting is not seen as a panacea, or even a cea. Here in the Apple, Gifford Miller and Freddie Ferrer, two men who want to unseat New York City Mayor Richie Rich and his delightful dog Dollar, have suggested that the gigantic boondoggle-slash-stadium Hizzoner wants us all to pay for should, like other large public expenditures, be subject to a referendum. Eric Fettmann of the New York Post is outraged: "But the biggest problem with the Ferrer-Miller approach is the notion that this is something 'the people' should decide," writes Fettmann. "That may do well for two men duking it out for the Mr. Populist label, but it's irresponsible governance... If the stadium should be decided by referendum, why not place every issue before the voters?"

Why have referenda for anything if not for this? The City itself admits the project will at minimum require a $300 million investment, leading to $21 million in annual debt service paid by us suckers. But in this case I suppose Democracy is not very Whiskey or Sexy if the moneyed interests stand a chance of losing.

Monday, January 31, 2005

SERVICE TROUBLE CONTINUES. I have moved, but my phone service will not be installed for five years -- er, six months -- er, till Thursday. Meantime I must forage for internet access, so posting will continue light till week's end.

Just as well, as I have little to say about the topic of the moment, the Iraqi election. This is, like the "Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!" post-invasion moment, a time of edifying events and spectacles -- a Saddam statue toppling in the former case, ink-stained fingers in the latter -- offered as proof that everything is going according to plan, and taken as an opportunity to call anyone who disagrees with this assessment losers.

Of course, that first round of upbeat liberation imagery was followed by bombing, looting, graft, torture, etc, and who knows what's coming now. Whatever happens, we can count on our Administration to learn and change nothing. Perhaps the sanest course now is the one recommended by our wisest elders: hope for the best and expect the worst.

Friday, January 28, 2005

PLEASING THE AFFILIATES. I welcome our new advertisers, Dirty Flower, a fun daily read w/pictures, and whoever is selling Steve Hicks' book -- which I freely admit (in that orgiastic spirit of disclosure currently sweeping the opinion racket) I have not read and probably never will read.

For a simple soul such as myself, raised in a tract house and accustomed to dwelling in slums, all this yak about how the Left has been taken over by postmodernism -- "switched to themes of anti-reason, double standards, and cynicism," as the advertiser puts it -- has no relevance. In my frequent discussions with other liberals, I have never heard one defend or attack a POV by announcing that language is a mere construct. Neither have I heard one say, "Who are we to say what's right and wrong?" -- at least not since the last Alan Bromley article.

I take words very seriously, not only as a professional but also as a moralist. That's why propaganda is the main subject of this site. Stray offenses to reason annoy me, but coordinated, wholesale perversions of reason piss me right the fuck off.

And if it's monolithic anti-rationalism you're looking for, the Right is just where the action is these days. You can read my back numbers for evidence, or we can just pick us a fresh one off the poisoned information tree that we call the blogosphere. Ah, here's some ripe Daniel Henninger:
Mr. Bush's inaugural speech should put to rest the notion of a monolithic American "right." It set off a nice fight on the right among realists, internationalists, libertarians and neocons. (Liberals and the left are simply "against Bush" so it is hard to credit their arguments beyond brute obstruction.)
Still, I encourage you to click the Hicks link. It will gain me some little money, and it may gain you some pleasure, if you're of a certain turn of mind (the destination is an Amazon review page, and here is a sample of the commentary: "I only wish Michel Focualt would have saved us all the trouble by blinding himself with his pens rather then writing such garbage and serving as the flase profit of 'post-modernism' which I see as nothing more then the raw lust for power"). You may even become interested in the book, and read it and tell me about it, which may get me to read it. I have prejudices, but I can be persuaded. That's how we reality-based folks operate.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

SERVICE ADVISORY. Posting will be light to nonexistent over the weekend, as I will be moving from one Brooklyn nook to another. This sort of thing used to take me less time. I grieve that I am no longer a hanky-on-a-stick type. But the way things are going, there's always the chance that I will be again.

At this writing comments are also down, though I'm sure they'll be back before I am.

Meantime please feel free to avail all the other wonderful outlets available in the blogosphere! Like this:
I'm not a close student of the history of intelligence gathering, but it seems to me that the use of sex to extract information -- in all sorts of way wasn't invented in Gitmo and that nothing of the sort happened under, say, Eisenhower's command. Prudishness and squeamishness is not automatic cause for concluding that the people involved are dishonorable. Again, I can't say I love that we're doing this. But it doesn't seem like something to bang my fist about either.
I have to hand it to Goldberg. If I worked on it for a thousand years, even if I kept my drinking hand free the entire time, I couldn't come up with anything like that.
SHORTER JIM LILEKS. Time was, when The Simpsons made sport of Christians, I found it funny. Now when they do it I am reduced to sputtering rage. Obviously, they have changed, just like the traitorous Democrats who will not fight Hitler.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

DOWNERS FOR DOLLARS. Comments in the past day or two show that we have no dearth of animal vitality 'round these parts. So I have a project for you.

I was in a Hallmark store today and noticed the CD rack. Among the Swingin' Sinatra and Night Jazz discs was a compilation called Walkin' On Sunshine! Tunes to Brighten Your Day. The tracks included the eponymous Katrina & The Waves kicker and a bunch of bouncy-fun tunes meant to imbue the listener with pep.

Now I can understand that. Music hath charms, and I can imagine some of Hallmark's patrons picking up Walkin' On Sunshine! to cheer up their gloomy-gus friends, or themselves. Hey John -- It's your birthday! Shake You some Booty! xxx Marla etc.

But it struck me that people also listen to music to make themselves more miserable. It was till recently a country music tradition to mourn a dead relationship by pumping quarters into a jukebox stocked with George Jones and Patsy Cline songs, and drink Pabst Blue Ribbon and shots till your friends carried you out of the bar. Sinatra made whole, desperately unhappy albums with titles like Frank Sinatra Sings for the Lonely and When No One Cares ("and the phone never rings/the nights are endless things").

These are drinking albums, but I would also say that you were expected to take hard drugs that could induce a deathlike state before listening to The Idiot or Tonight's the Night. The common thread is this: someone is depressed and, along with getting shitass drunk or swallowing several Nembutol to depress himself further, ingests musical downers to accelerate the progress of the dark bus till it crashes at the end of Lonely Street. At which point he dusts himself off, takes some Tylenol, and resumes his life, his agony purged. (Or gets a ride to the morgue.)

This would seem a widespread and long-lived human phenomenon. Why then don't the companies that make compilations to Brighten Your Day, Relax Your Friends At Dinner Parties, Give You The Confidence to Wear That Ridiculous Fedora etc, make one or two CDs that are engineered to make the listener more unhappy? Such companies are nearly nameless, so it can't be out of concern for brand image. Is there a law against it? Do they fear they may be prosecuted if someone takes a header and Songs for Swingin' Suicidalists is found on his iPod?

Me, I think if you're going to buy someone a snotty alterna-card of this sort, or this, you might as well go the whole hog and provide some maudlin audio accompaniment. A guy I was in a band with once went through a devastating breakup, and his roommate gave him a bottle of bourbon and a bunch of Conway Twitty. It seemed the thing to do.

Here's an opportunity for some enterprising and morally corrupt souls to grab a niche! What shall we put on our compilation? And what shall we call it?

UPDATE. Excellent grey-sky session in the comments! You guys are like way eclectic.

It's true, as Jeremy says, that some "sad" songs have a little wink in them that takes out the sting. Tunes like "You're Not Drinking Enough" or "Auf Wiedersehn" are actually sly ways of getting around depression -- tricking it, cheating it, playing up the petulance or bombast so you can pretend it's a pose you're controlling, not a heartache that's controlling you. (Loudon Wainwright III's "Mr. Guilty" actually doubles up on that strategy: an I'm-sorry song that's so transparently fake, it's chillingly funny. LWIII is a neglected national resource.)

And, Harry, that may be why I didn't think of the blues: those guys hurt but they seldom wallow like most weepers wallow. Maybe I haven't been listening to the right stuff but blues songs seem to me less about sadness than survival -- a coping mechanism that became beautiful, like The Consolation of Philosophy. (Though now that I think of it, "How Many More Years" is pretty fucking bleak.)

But one man's mock is another man's maudlin, and all I would add are these:
  • "Tourniquet," Marilyn Manson
  • "I'm Free From the Chain Gang Now," Jimmie Rodgers
  • "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore," The Smiths
  • "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry," Frank Sinatra
  • "That's the Way Love Turned Out for Me," Ry Cooder
  • "Dink's Song," Dave Van Ronk
  • "I Told a Lie to My Heart," Hank Williams
  • "Time," Tom Waits
  • "After The Ball," Joan Morris
  • "A Case of You," Joni Mitchell
  • "Pardon Me, I've Got Someone to Kill," Johnny Paycheck
Boy, it's hard to stop once you get started...

NERDS. Jim Geraghty wants to know why "lefty bloggers" are not attacking the Motion Picture Academy for failing to give Fahrenheit 911 an Oscar nomination. "I just find it interesting that web personalities who one would think would be big Michael Moore fans are collectively shrugging their shoulders over this," he says. The Ole Perfesser indeeds, and Roger Simon takes the idiocy to breathtaking levels by suggesting that Million Dollar Baby, Sideways et alia got the top slots instead because "Most people in Hollywood now see, although maybe they won't admit it, that democracy in Iraq is extremely important."

Others have offered reason-based responses, but let me just add that only nerds with wads of toilet tissue in their underwear think the universe ebbs and flows according to their political tastes.

Jesus Christ. Imagine needing the comfort of popular approbation so badly that you would voluntarily comb through movie award nominations in search of comforting zeitgeist pellets! Yet these guys do it all the time. They sit around figuring out which movies are conservative. Hell, they'll even tell you what sorts of paintings and unread-gift-books are conservatively correct.

As their mania accelerates, I expect they will start identifying conservative desklamps, picture-frames, hubcaps, and brands of dental floss. Maybe they should start a tab at National Review Online called "What's Right, What's Blight!" I will offer the first squib:
TALL COFFEE CUP LIDS VS. FLAT COFFEE CUP LIDS: Time was, sober, utilitarian flatties dominated the conservative crowd's coffee cups. But since Rod Dreher boldly busted out the cup-crown for his morning soy lattes, righteous righties 'get' that these hubristic waves of plastic cresting their java perfectly match our Administration's national-greatness rhetoric. So skim those tired toppers right onto the ashheap of history, and re-educate your coffee cart guy to start stocking America's Coffee Cup Lid!
UPDATE. James Wolcott has mo' and, as usual, better.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

With respect to the Nazis, Hannah Arendt noted that they were as frank as they were mendacious -- that no-one should have been surprised by the Holocaust because the Nazis had been talking about such things for years. Western liberals dismissed it all as rhetorical. The same was said about the things the radical Islamists have been writing about for decades. (emphasis added)
"Western liberals dismissed it all as rehetorical"? Who's he talking about? Harry Hopkins? Lillian Hellman?

Sunday, January 23, 2005

HOW SPIN WORKS, #544,091. Spongebob Squarepants appears in a pro-tolerance video sponsored by the We Are Family Foundation. A press release from producer Nile Rodgers' website explains that in the video "Arthur, Barney, Bear, Big Bird, Clifford, JoJo and SpongeBob, as well as over 100 other beloved children's characters, have united to re-record the smash hit 'We Are Family' in an unprecedented music video to promote tolerance and diversity to America's children.... Each package will include a DVD of the music video and a booklet containing educational lesson plans developed in collaboration with the Anti-Defamation League's Miller Early Childhood Initiative of A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE Institute."

James Dobson of Focus on the Family gets angry at this because the tolerance and diversity in question extends to homosexuals. Quite naturally, people laugh at Dobson. Rodgers responds, "Wow."

Once upon a time, you might expect the Dobsonians to take their lumps and slink away. But things have changed; anything can be spun. The Conservative Voice steps up to assure us that Spongebob is the real victim here -- of radical homos. "Dr. Dobson is concerned that these popular animated personalities are being exploited by an organization that's determined to promote the acceptance of homosexuality among our nation's youth," explains CV. Fortunately, "It has fallen instead to the world of bloggers, commentators and pundits to report what the media has chosen to bury, distort and ignore."

From their lips to Perfesser Glenn Reynolds ears! "HAVE I BEEN UNFAIR TO JAMES DOBSON over the SpongeBob affair?" cries the Perfesser. "...yes, I have, by falling for the New York Times' spin." Dobson, like a pariah suddenly sensing a loophole, gets with the new reality: "From the outset, let's be clear that this issue is not about objections to any specific cartoon characters. Instead, Dr. Dobson is concerned that these popular animated personalities are being exploited by an organization that's determined to promote the acceptance of homosexuality among our nation's youth."

It may be that the owners of the Spongebob franchise will announce that they never authorized their character for any pro-gay activities, and claim Rodgers ganked clips of Spongebob off his VCR. I rather doubt it. But by the time this does or doesn't happen, all a certain segment of the population will remember is that the Times was mean to poor Dr. Dobson. Damn them! All he was trying to do was protect The Children. And Spongebob!

If only Tinky-Wink had enjoyed the benefit of their vigilance.

Friday, January 21, 2005

This is a profound and beautiful vision, and I cannot imagine the Bush-haters who turned their backs on the motorcade can have any better vision for the world. But, of course, I know, they think he's lying and they think, even if he believes in those ideals, he will fail in the attempt to fulfill them. So Bush's opponents have, at best, a pragmatism, a realism, a cynicism. (emphasis added)
Which I guess leaves the Bush crew with idealism, wishful thinking, and credulity. Man. That "Reality-Based Community" thing has more resonance than I thought.

Perhaps I'm being unfair to Althouse. Maybe she's more sensible elsewhere.
Have I ever mentioned that I adore the Drudge Report? I love the distinctive, iconic, minimal layout of the page. The real news is there, set plainly in three columns of underlined teasers, and weird, sensationalistic things are lined right up with them. Some of those things are so dumb, but they fascinate us even as we think they are too stupid to mention, like today's "Fish Discovered With Human Face Pattern..."
In the words of Curly of the Three Stooges: Nggnnnyaah.
American literature is the woman in the courtroom who, finding herself undefended on a charge, asked, "Isn't anybody on my side?" It's also the phrase I used that was once used in court by a kid who, on being sentenced to death, said, "I knew I'd never get to twenty-one anyhow"... American literature is a seventeen-year-old kid picked up on a double murder charge, two killings in a boat, in a ship off Miami, who said he was very glad it happened, he had absolutely no regrets, his only fear was that he might not get the electric chair. he had no vidnictiveness toward those two people he killed. He said they were pretty good about it. They didn't know, they had no idea, that he was going to come up with a knife. He had, in fact, a little bit of admiration for their coolness. One of them, finding himself stabbed, said, "Why?" He said, "I couldn't tell them why." But I know he's been trying to get out of it since he was six years old. This is an honors student, you understand, this is a bright boy from a respectable home. He never remembers a time when he wasn't fully convinced that death was better than life. And now he was very contented, his only worry being that he might not get the electric chair. He's afraid of that. That's the only fear he has, that he might have to continue to live. I think that's American literature.
-- Nelson Algren, from "Conversations with Nelson Algren," 1963

He stood at the center of the bridge and it was freezing cold. He raised his eyes to heaven. He thought, you bastard, you motherfucking bastard. Ain't I your baby too? He began to cry. Something in Rufus which could not break shook him like a rag doll and splashed salt water all over his face and filled his throat and his nostrils with anguish. He knew the pain would never stop. He could never go down to the city again. He dropped his head as though someone had struck him and looked down at the water. It was cold and the water would be cold.
-- James Baldwin, "Another Country," 1960

But Dona Clara stood in the door as the Abbess talked to them, the lamp placed on the floor beside her. Madre Maria stood with her back against a post; the sick lay in rows gazing at the ceiling and trying to hold their breaths. She talked that night of all those out here in the dark (she was thinking of Esteban alone, she was thinking of Pepita alone) who had no one to turn to, for whom the world perhaps was more than difficult, without meaning. And those who lay in their beds there felt that they were within a wall that the Abbess had built for them; within all was light and warmth, and without was darkness they would not exchange even for a relief from pain and from dying.
-- Thornton Wilder, "The Bridge of San Luis Rey," 1927

There were some presents -- some silly, some not. Israel Edel gave me a rubber ice-cream cone with a squeaker in it -- a plaything for my little dog, who is a female Lhasa Apso, a golden dustmop without a handle... I have never bred her but now, according to my veterinarian, Dr. Howard Padwee, she is experiencing a false pregnancy and believes the rubber ice-cream cone to be a puppy. She hides it in closets. She carries it up and down the stairs of my duplex. She is even secreting milk for it. She is getting shots to make her stop doing that.

I observe how profoundly serious Nature has made her about a rubber ice-cream cone -- brown rubber cone, pink rubber ice-cream. I have to wonder what equally ridiculous commitments to bits of trash I myself have made. Not that it matters at all. We are all here for no purpose, unless we can invent one. Of that I am sure. The human condition in an exploding universe would not have been altered one iota if, rather than live as I have, I had done nothing but carry a rubber ice-cream cone from closet to closet for sixty years.
-- Kurt Vonnegut, "Jailbird," 1979

"I'm not jealous of young people," [Miyazaki] said. "They're not really free." I asked him what he meant. "They're raised on virtual reality. And it's not like it's any better in the countryside. You go to the country and kids spend more time staring at DVDs than kids do in the city... the best thing would be for virtual reality just to disappear. I realize with our animation we are creating virtual things, too. I keep telling my crew, 'Don't watch animation! You're surrounded by enough virtual things already.'"
-- "The Auteur of Anime," Margaret Talbot, about Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki; The New Yorker, Jan 17, 2005
This is not to correlate the President's words to those of the writers quoted here; far from it.

This is to remind us, by way of comparison, that Thursday's grandiloquent speech reflects a notion of the world and of human experience that is, for all its pretended expansiveness, pinched and petty.

Lincoln's Second Inaugural rose to poetry because its vision was poetic. It was not made so by meter and rhetorical flourishes; those followed naturally upon the ideas. To engineer grand phrases in the service of public relations, as was done for yesterday's address, is not poetry. It is not even prose. It is propaganda writ large and in a florid hand, with an eye toward talking points and polling data, to move the speechwriters and columnists whose job is to make much of it.

Freedom, dignity, honor, integrity, tolerance, and faith are not just words to be planted in a speech, cushioned by classy modifiers and buttressed by vague historical allusions. They are parts of our lives. If our President's use of them does not reflect the experience we have of these things -- if the acts and examples of his Administration are merely festooned with, not embodied by them -- then they amount to nothing more than (to use the words of another poet) sounding brass and tinkling cymbals.

Sounding brass and tinkling cymbals are the soundtrack of our age. The President's advance men tell us they expect to occupy our culture with manpower and money. They seem to have no idea that culture is made not by force but by its opposite. They seem to think that the whispers of muses are secret messages between their enemies and, on the evidence of today's speech, they hope to replace them with carefully crafted concrete blocks of elevated language. Hundreds of years of human experience might have told them that this is a waste of manpower and money, but manpower and money are all they know, so they will probably keep churning out this high-style humbug and hoping that the swoons of the commentariat will convince us that it bears some meaningful relation to our lives.

Let them. There have always been plenty of crappy songs and slogans out there, and they can please us in our idle hours. But in the last ditch -- which we appear to be approaching rapidly -- if your senses aren't fatally deadened (and that happens more rarely than you might expect) you'll be able to distinguish, as surely as you can distinguish the difference between shit and shinola, the difference between the real and the fake.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

LATE MLK TRIBUTE. There were a couple like this. The McGuffin in this case is that King shouldn't have a holiday to his unworthy self -- it should be called "Civil Rights Day" and encompass the contributions of "leaders of past civil rights struggles." This would of course make it easier in future generations to presume that the contributions of, say, Everett Dirksen and King were about equal.

For the time being such like remain transparently looney, but give it a few years.

The author does add this fillip:
...Labor Day, the brainchild of United Brotherhood of Carpenters founder Peter J. McGuire. Talk about not being fair to everyone else who makes it happen -- when do we celebrate Entrepreneur Day and Management Day?
Years ago, when kids asked their parents, "If there's a Mother's Day and a Father's Day, why isn't there a Children's Day?" there was a well-known stock response. If you don't what it was, I'd be wasting your time by telling you.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

DRAMA REVIEW. Remember Alan Bromley, whose theatrical dialogues (usually starring very bad liberals made to look ridiculous by the razor-sharp barbs of Alan Bromley) have been reviewed here before? Fans rejoice -- Bromley is back at it!

In his latest creation, Bromley's morning bagel man, "an Arab fellow named Muhammed" (!) asserts that the recent tsunami was actually a nuclear bomb detonated by "The Zionists! The Americans!"

As Muhammed announces that "The Jews stayed away from the towers on 9/11," customers back away. This is quite an extraordinary scene, and one I, a New Yorker for over a quarter of a century, have never experienced -- a deli owner of whatever ethnicity driving customers out of his store with anti-Semitic ravings. Perhaps Bromley carries a little map of places where this sort of thing is likely to happen, or had an agreement with Muhammed aforehand, or manipulated the hapless deli-man into a rage, either by wearing a big ALLAH SUCKS button into the store, or via mind control techniques.

Bromley's rejoinder to Muhammed is a masterpiece of craft:
"The Jews stayed away because it was right before our holiest holidays, when the most observant Jews go to synagogue every morning a week or so in advance of Yom Kippur...

"And when will you accept your own failings for aiding and not confronting terrorism, instead of pushing for some sort of freedom within your homelands? When will you accept that fact that your people, with a somewhat glorious history of achievement, haven't moved forward for hundreds of years, after your losing efforts to conquer Europe? Yet you're here on 26th Street, making a decent living in the United States for your family, making a profit on my bagel, which you're entitled to."
Rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it? It doesn't? Well, versimilitude is hard work, and Bromley doesn't need to work that hard. This is published in OpinionJournal, where the common response is not going to be Who the fuck talks like that? but That's telling him!

The denouement is even more amazing and I will not spoil it for you. I will say that, were Broadway not a leftist province, Bromley would be its toast.

TRAUMA SURVIVORS GROUP. A bunch of Democrats were mean once to Michael Totten and his friend. "We were both shaken, and neither of us have had any affection for the Democrats since."

Well, at least he wasn't gang-raped by the road company of Cats.

Me, I'm kind of sore about the way Republicans have ruined my country, but I'll still have a beer with one. Do I get the tolerance merit badge now?
PROPAGANDA NOT WORKING? TRY ART! Larry Kudlow is always good for a laugh, and today he delivers a hot one: Commenting on Condi Rice and her time-for-diplomacy-is-now slogan, Kudlow calls for the putative Sec'yState to put more emphasis on the global brand marketing of democracy:
One of the failings of the Powell administration of the State Department was his inability to market President Bush’s key message of the transformational effect of spreading freedom and democracy in the Middle East and around the world.

This is a powerful message that has huge potential to garner greater support if not among certain foreign governments, then surely among the majority of people who live under the rule of governments that are hostile to the US war against totalitarian radical Islamism.
Well, one might say that Powell -- whom America last noticed pointing at little gray squares in a grainy poster and telling us they were chock full of chemical weapons -- failed to "market" "President Bush's key message" effectively, though a more direct way of putting it would be that Powell's not a good enough liar. (He's not bad at it, mind you, but the Bush Administration is a very competitive league.)

Kudlow thinks enough of this mush that he ran to The Corner and called people over to his site to read it -- which, appropriately enough, seems to reflect his general idea of what how the hearts-and-minds thing works: read this, son, and be won over! Here's an example:
Later in the interview, Mr. Bush posed this thought: "If you want a glimpse of how I think about foreign policy, read Natan Sharansky’s book 'The Case for Democracy.' Anybody read it? Read it. It’s a great book. And I think it will help – it will help explain a lot of the decisions that you’ll see being made...'"

This is the sort of public diplomacy in which I truly hope Ms. Rice engages... Hopefully, she will not be bashful in quoting Sharansky, as well as the President, in a noble effort to communicate a powerful idea as a solution to some of the darkest and most dangerous parts of the world.
This conjures up images like this, but with U.S. Public Diplomacy agents scurrying onto the blast-gutted scene, tossing copies of Sharansky's book to terrified onlookers.

When they run out of that one, they can try Writers On America, the volume of aesthetes' musings commissioned in the early days of World War Whatever by the State Department to "illuminate in an interesting way certain America values -- freedom, diversity, democracy -- that may not be well understood in all parts of the world."

That the State Department was willing to hire actual poets 'n' such (at $2,499 per essay! Not a bad gig!) to help with the hearts-and-minds thing is a piquant, if left-handed (one might better say left-footed) tribute to the transformative power of art, But while I too like to believe in that power during my dreamier moments, I do think that before a way is paved for art with, oh, say, running water, electricity, and basic civil protections, prose poems on democracy -- especially those that are not a natural outgrowth of local conditions, but essentially commissioned propaganda from the big bombmakers across the sea -- will be of extremely limited usefulness. "First fill the belly," as an author with absolutely no chance of serving the State Department, even posthumously*, wrote, "then talk religion."

(* I should be careful about such statements -- after all, they did hijack Orwell, and if the wager is tempting enough I'm sure one of them will take on BB as a side project.)

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

I ALWAYS HOPED I WOULDN'T BE AROUND FOR THIS STAGE IN OUR REPUBLIC'S COLLAPSE. At The Corner, Mark Krikorian shows some love to anti-immigrant vigilantes. Here's the whole thing, in case someone comes to his senses and takes it down:
The Minuteman Project appears to be gaining steam. It seeks to focus attention on our verkakte (!) immigration policies by bringing volunteers during the month of April to serve as spotters for the Border Patrol in Arizona. No revolvers, no rifles, just an attempt to garner media attention and shame Washington into doing its job. They have a couple hundred people from across the country already signed up and even plan to have their own air force.

It would be better if this kind of thing were unnecessary, because even with a responsible group there is still a potential for confrontation and violence. But if our employees in Washington aren't willing to protect our country, then ordinary people will simply do it themselves. And eventually, enough people will get angry enough that they will brings rifles and revolvers. (I'm not encouraging, just predicting.)
He's not saying he approves, mind. But if you boys don't do some legislatin' pronto, somethin' unfortunate might happen to little Pedro.

Someone go lower the bar for me, will you?
SHOOTING ANOTHER MESSENGER. Flush from their CBS victory, the banshees are after Sy Hersh, who has reported US intel Iran incursions. The New York Post implies that Hersh's reporting is untrustworthy, based on -- get this -- Ted Kennedy's denunciation of Hersh's Kennedy book. protein wisdom does the usual hatchet job, to which pw's hatchettes add piss and vinegar, or piss anyway ("Herschshit!" "P.S. Symousr Hersh is a putz").

In a spectacular display of trick-shot spinning, Roger L. Simon points out that Bush "has now essentially corrobrated Hersh" -- but this does not exonerate the reporter (Hersh's story is called an "infusion of goo," despite the Presidential corroboration); it proves that the Feds planted the story on him. By this reading, Hersh can be right, but simultaneously a tool and an infuser of goo. See how it works? (And don't protest it doesn't work on you -- even the dimmest alicublog reader is several grade levels ahead of Simon's target audience.)

Among other achievements, Hersh broke the Abu Ghraib scandal, which is why he is hated by the current batch of wingnuts, and the My Lai massacre, which is why he is hated by the Birchers from whose loins the current batch of wingnuts sprang.

REVISED -- Originally misrendered the name of Protein Wisdom in my white-hot, partisan rage.

Monday, January 17, 2005


The Post: Do you plan to expend any political capital to aggressively lobby senators for a gay marriage amendment?

THE PRESIDENT: I got, um -- my car, you have, you know -- guy walking around -- piece a lint -- DOMA taking care of -- me, yeah, okay. So, DOMA. Nod is as good as a wink. Do you see what I'm saying? The logic.

Andrew Sullivan: He loves me again!

The Ole Perfesser: Hehndeed.

SOUTH PARK REPUBLICANS 2.0. Back in '03 Brian C. Anderson told the City Journal that the kids were alright, that is to say, increasingly right-wing. In support of this contention he offered several paragraphs of quotes from South Park, with gleefully unexpurgated use of the words "fuck" and "ass," and posited (on the alleged authority of Andrew Sullivan) a coming breed of "South Park Republicans" who were sticking it to the Man GOP-stylee.
Arizona State undergrad Eric Spratling says the definition fits him and his Republican pals perfectly. “The [SPR] label is really about rejecting the image of conservatives as uptight squares -- crusty old men or nerdy kids in blue blazers. We might have long hair, smoke cigarettes, get drunk on weekends, have sex before marriage, watch R-rated movies, cuss like sailors -- and also happen to be conservative, or at least libertarian.” Recent Stanford grad Craig Albrecht says most of his young Bush-supporter friends “absolutely cherish” South Park–style comedy “for its illumination of hypocrisy and stupidity in all spheres of life.”
Whee, sounds like fun, if you've led a particularly sheltered life. Now Anderson's got a book about SPRs coming out on Regnery, and has supplied a taste via OpinionJournal. But in this venue the conservative kinder come off a great deal more strait-laced:
"Today's university is without morals or guiding principles, except one," [Harvard junior Jordan] Hylden contends: "to follow in all things the ideal of 'to thine own self be true.' Individual desires, whatever they are, are affirmed, and the denial of these desires, by yourself or by another person or group, is the greatest possible evil"...

Helping students resist such pressures are a growing number of vigorous student religious groups, preaching moderation. College campuses nationwide have seen a "religious upsurge" over the last decade, the Christian Science Monitor reports...

The upperclassman leaders of these groups can set examples for younger students, as Princeton senior Renee Gardner, leader of Crossroads Christian Fellowship, tries to do with student drinking. "There's certainly pressure on most students involved in the typical social scene to drink to excess," says Miss Gardner, whose conservative values proved no bar to her joining one of the top Princeton bicker clubs. "I've chosen -- as have many Christian friends -- to abstain from drinking in those contexts, not only to make it simpler for us to avoid blurring the line between acceptable and unacceptable levels of drinking, but also to make others feel more comfortable who might not want to drink."
Anderson does cite a biologically-young "conservative libertarian" ("Say what you will about us, we like to party!") but immediately assures us that "for some conservative students, especially those from religious backgrounds, the bedlam can be unsettling."

What happened? At the outset of this manufactured phenomenon, South Park Pubbies were full of fun and games, all very "Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!" ('Member that one?) Now they sound like YMCA types out of Sinclair Lewis.

Here is my theory. If one is painting a picture of These Young People Today for the edification of adults, one must shade the likeness according to the perceived needs of the times. In the early 60s, popular magazine writers ballyhooed the Kennedyesque idealism of the younger generation; in subsequent years, as young people became both more obsessively covered and more fractious, and thus more frightening to their elders, these accounts went out of their way to show that adults had nothing to fear from Flaming Youth; well do I recall all the 70s spreads portraying twentysomethings coming to Jesus (with pictures of hot chicks in immersion-baptism-soaked shirts), and the yuppies of the 80s and the technerds of the 90s.

Now the right-wing alternamedia have invented their own avatars of youth, but where once the inventors posited a new breed that was as hip as any previous lazy stereotype, a need may have been felt to amend the image to suit the new reality -- that is, the second Bush Administration, with whose deficits and endless war and "ownership society" aspects a partying, cursing junior auxiliary would not be so natural a fit.

So now the South Park Republicans are turning away from drink and dirty words, and toward Jesus. Fine with me. Bring on the full-immersion baptisms!

Friday, January 14, 2005

IT'S FRIDAY AND I AM GIVING MYSELF LEAVE TO BE CHILDISH AND PETTY. I don't know, and probably could never imagine, why Andrew Sullivan doesn't approve, but all I know is that only aging nerds who show their fucking scuba pictures to the whole wide world and reek of Paco Rabanne call their dicks "wing-wangs." (PS Kudos to The Poor Man and his readers, who must have made the Perfesser cry or something, causing one of Reynolds' sugar daddies to give him money for a new iPod. I'n't that nice? Well, for the rest of us, there's always Moscow Gold!)

Thursday, January 13, 2005

NOTHING MATTERS AND SO WHAT IF IT DID. "I have no doubt that opposition to the 'death squads' was also based on revulsion at some of their excesses." -- Jonah Goldberg. Yeah, see, those excesses are why they're called "death squads." Though we could as easily call them "nun-raping squads," among other things.

Goldberg, however, points out that the mayhem was all done in the name of anti-Communism, so bringing up this disgusting chapter in American history, and its possible revival, is in his view a big arrow-down for liberals.

The Ole Perfesser of course sides with Goldberg, wondering "if making comparisons to Central America will help the Left, or simply bring up a lot of things that a lot of people would rather gloss over today." I don't know if anything could help the Left these days, but speaking for myself, I don't find an anti-death-squad position particularly embarrassing. But these are the same guys who just got through telling us that we should be careful about denouncing torture, so I don't expect their threshold of embarrassment to be anything like my own.

I stress that this a separate issue from that of the reliability of reports that death squads are currently under consideration for Iraq. (Though I will say that a denial from Rumsfeld is, for obvious reasons, less than meaningless.) It is more interesting to me that their Truth Squad's first line of defense is, essentially, that we shouldn't judge too harshly the concept of using vicious, secret paramilitary terrorist groups as instruments of American foreign policy.

It seems these guys have tumbled to an exciting new idea: rather than propagandizing for specific policies, it may be more effective to work on inverting certain of our traditional values -- that torture is un-American, that support for foreign paramilitary criminals is un-American, etc. -- so that, over time, we begin to question what we had once considered moral certainties about violence and fair play. That way, in future, pangs of conscience will not trouble us when something repulsive is proposed. Hell, next time they want to invade someplace, they may not even have to pretend to have a reason; a simple "yee-haw" will do. If torture and death squads aren't wrong, then what is?

I used to wonder if these guys are straight-up agents for the Administration; now I wonder if they're straight-up agents for Satan.

UPDATE. Edited to remove my dumb misreading of Matt Yglesias on the subject. Well, you can have it fast or you can have it right.
CJL RELAPSE. I have doubted her madness awhile, entertaining the idea that she only puts on an antic disposition for effect, but this latest episode has me reconsidering. The CBS investigation has set the vapors in the Crazy Jesus Lady's head all aswirl.

Her co-religionists, of course, are obsessed with this inside-journalism story, as it reflects their own increased newsworthiness, and can be used to calcify the conventional wisdom that professional reporters are Soviet zombie agents sent by Mr. Big to destroy America, while bloggers (even the funded and fed variety) are harmless little fuzzballs who, through the intervention of Jesus in our time of need, have been empowered to make lightning like Pokemon. But while such folk are obvious hucksters seeking, and in this instance gleefully finding, the main chance, Noonan talks about the story as if it were a visitation from Our Lady.

Noonan lays out the whole scene: an insular, corrupt national press, all clustered in dark warrens in (cue sinister music) New York. "...a relatively small group of a few hundred liberals who worked and mostly lived on an island off the continent," she whispers with a flashlight under her chin, "they told that continent not only what it should be thinking about but how it should be thinking of it." And the sheeple obeyed, voting for lefty-media-approved candidates like Ronald Reagan and George Bush I, till Rush and O'Reilly saved them.

Now the Arthurian sword has been passed to the Blogspot boys, who are at times lively and impetuous, as heroes must be, but basically committed to the Truth. "The most successful bloggers aren't bringing bluster to the debate, they're bringing facts," she says. Indeed?

She also declares that the Albert Brooks character in Broadcast News would today be a blogger. (A neurotic, ineffectual, sweaty blogger, no doubt; his name could be something like Roy Edroso.)

However, since we liberals like to believe that no one is irredeemable, I am still holding onto hope that Noonan is just playing a deep game. Even this article provides some signs. For example: "A world where National Review is defined as conservative and Newsweek defined as liberal," she says at one point, "would be a better world, for it would be a more truthful one." Yes, she means this Newsweek. And if the tepid Newsweek is liberal, then ideas like living wages and universal health care are flamingly radical...

Ingenious! Could a madwoman execute this classic Okay, I'll be Sean Hannity and you be Alan Colmes maneuver so elegantly? We remain open to all evidence that Noonan is not nuts, merely evil (which would be preferable, since within her circle it is so unremarkable).

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

ELITISTS. Reynolds and Lileks do go on and on about that iPod Shuffle. And they manage to do it without mentioning that, at $99, the Shuffle suddenly makes iPod technology affordable for a lot more people. I guess the Professor and the Madman don't think that's important. Doesn't everyone have all the money they need for high-end technocrap? Well, everyone important I mean.

These are the kind of guys that probably saw all those ads last month with fucking NEW CARS under Christmas trees and said to themselves, "Why didn't someone think of that earlier, indeed?" instead of "Wow, that makes my Life Savers Sweet Storybook look even sadder."

(Post revised for clarity.)
COCKEYED OPTIMISTS. Roger L. Simon takes comfort that the withering attacks made on him by James Wolcott are signs of "pessimism," which is apparently a bad thing:
It is not therefore surprising that James drips his practiced vitriol on those of us who choose to take an optimistic view of the situation in Iraq. I say choose because I readily acknowledge I am deeply uncertain and worried about the results of this enterprise. Of course, Wolcott, I am sure, in his honest moments is unsure as well from his side. No one knows where this will end. Of course, in the greater sense it will never end anyway, but suppose five years from now--hardly a long time as these things go--Iraq is a semi-functioning democracy and the Middle East turning toward peace. What will Wolcott say then? What will I? Again who knows, but I imagine Wolcott will be grinding his teeth if Bush winds up on Mt. Rushmore. I will just be chuckling to myself at the amazing accidents of history, wondering what their contemporaries thought of the previous denizens of the mountain during their lifetimes.
So, though he says that neither he nor Wolcott can know what turn history may take, Simon can easily imagine and portray Wolcott's refutation by history, not to mention the resultant grinding of Wolcott's teeth and Simon's own Olympian laughter. The reverse situation is not portrayed, nor, I guess, imaginable to him. I suppose you could call this optimism, especially if you are unusually polite.

Immediately after the curtain, Simon's claque praises the great man's classiness and sneers at Wolcott's sneering. "Perhaps the biggest change the blogosphere will make is that 'professional pessimism' will be seen, accurately, as wrong. Factually wrong," says "Liberty Dad." "Good. That makes me smile." (I especially like the poster who accuses Wolcott of "provincialism at its most naked," then declares that "the U.S., and the U.S. alone mind you," can end World War IV.) There's lots of talk about carping, impotence, and the like. No policy discussion here; it's essentially a T-group for boosters over sneerers. Why are you people always tearing down?

I hear frequently from this lot how resolutely they stand against the idea that "the personal is the political." Yet so much of what passes for argument in these forums -- and Simon's is a shining example -- conforms exactly to that hoary notion. The whole obsession with the Main Stream Media appears based on the idea that professional journalists are some sort of rival fraternity whom the scrappy bloggers must take down to avenge the honor of Theta Alpha Indeed for some ancient offense, like Watergate. It's not about whether they're wrong -- though they will take that gift, when offered -- it's about scoring a victory over a hated opponent. Wolcott gets that treatment, too, in the comments. One guy, applauded by the Ole Perfesser, alternately refers to Wolcott as "an established figure in the white hot center of the mainstream media" and "an adorable rottweiler puppy attack[ing] the legs of various leading lights of the blogosphere" -- a formulation that portrays the object of ridicule simultaneously as all-powerful (justifying indignation) and ineffectual (justifying contempt), and typical of the genre.

If the whole thing really came down to whether one were pessimistic or optimistic, I would happily choose the path of Mencken over that of Pangloss. But it doesn't come down to that. Optimism has its uses, but as we have seen, it has its abuses too. Don't just carp about my carping. Tell me why I'm wrong.

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.