Sunday, May 22, 2005

PERMANENT REVOLUTION. Finally finished Carlyle's History of the French Revolution. At the start I thought myself in for a 750-page Burkean peroration on the folly of Godless democracy. From the beginning Carlyle is Jeremiacally disdainful of the Revolutionary dream:
... Of a truth, the long-demonstrated will now be done: 'the Age of Revolutions approaches' (as Jean Jacques wrote), but then of happy blessed ones. Man awakens from his long somnambulism; chases the Phantasms that beleagured and bewitched him. Behold the new morning glittering down the eastern steeps; fly, false Phantasms, from its shafts of light… For what imaginable purpose was man made, if not to be 'happy'? By victorious Analysis, and Progress of the Species, happiness enough now awaits him… Nay, who knows but, by sufficiently victorious Analysis, 'human life may be indefinitely lengthened,' and men get rid of Death, as they have already done of the Devil? We shall then be happy in spite of Death and the Devil.--So preaches magniloquent Philosophism her Redeunt Saturnia regna.
Sounds like John Derbyshire with poetry, eh? Carlyle doesn’t think much of "Evangel Jean-Jacques" Rosseau ("Theories of Government! Such have been, and will be; in ages of decadence"), nor of Figaro ("thin wiredrawn intrigues, thin wiredrawn sentiments and sarcasms; a thing lean, barren…"), and at times, many times, a reader may think that he considers this Revolution nothing more than a "mad Gaelic effervescence" of "eleutheromania." He mentions America hardly at all, and Pitt only as a Sansculottic bogey-man (L'ennemi du genre humain) or as one who deals with "his own Friends of the People" by "getting them bespied, beheaded, their habeas-corpuses suspended, and his own Social Order and strong-boxes kept tight" -- in the face of the French madness, an apparently wiser course. Lafayette is a sap, and Voltaire a carbuncle-eyed false prophet.

But as Carlyle proceeds more deeply into the (to use one of his favorite words) Cimmerian opera buffa of the Revolution -- the risings, the factions, "sea-green" Robespierre, "People’s-Friend" and "Dogleech" Marat, the Terror, the legislative spasms, the Feast of Reason, the rise of Gilded Youth, all finally "blown into space" by Napoleon -- it seemed as I read that the author had grown more forgiving; certainly not toward the rough treatment of innocents, or even of the guilty, or toward farewells "too sad for tears"; the worst outrages he delineates in the simplest language, for maximum heart-rending effect. Yet even in the worst atrocities Carlyle finds understanding, if only because 750 pages (written twice over*) is an awfully tall mountain from which not to discern a context. The pathetic end of the Dauphin he describes, in an odd premonition of Dickens, "as none but poor Factory Children and the like are wont to perish, unlamented." Even the Terror has its reasons -- the plotting of exiled aristocrats, invasion, starvation, the need for unity -- and, from Carlyle, an unexpectedly gentle epitaph:
It is a horrible sum of human lives, M. l'Abbe: -- some ten times as many shot rightly on a field of battle, and one might have had his Glorious-Victory with Te-Deum. It is not far from the two-hundredth part of what perished in the entire Seven Years War…

But what if History, somewhere on this Planet, were to hear of a Nation, the third soul of whom had not for thirty weeks each year as many third-rate potatoes as would sustain him?… History ventures to assert that the French Sansculotte of Ninety-three, who, roused from long death-sleep, could rush at once to the frontiers, and die fighting for an immortal Hope and Faith of Deliverance for him and his, was but the second-miserablest of men! The Irish Sans-potato, had he not senses then, nay a soul? In his frozen darkness, it was bitter for him to die famishing; bitter to see his children famish. It was bitter for him to be a beggar, a liar and a knave. Nay, if that dreary Greenland-wind of benighted Want, perennial from sire to son, had frozen him into a kind of torpor and numb callosity, so that he saw not, felt not, was this, for a creature with a soul in it, some assuagement; or the cruellest wretchedness of all?

Such things were, such things are; and they go on in silence peaceably…
Oh, have I mentioned that this is among the most gorgeous English prose ever written? And that it defies comparison to anything, literary or political, in our own poor, benighted age -- though, People’s-Friend that I am, I will draw your attention to some Carlyle musings on Revolutionary Journalism:
One Sansculottic bough that cannot fail to flourish is Journalism. The voice of the People being the voice of God, shall not such divine voice make itself heard? To the ends of France; and in as many dialects as when the first great Babel was to be built! Some loud as the lion; some small as the sucking dove...

Folded and hawked Newspapers exist in all countries; but, in such a Journalistic element as this of France, other and stranger sorts are to be anticipated. What says the English reader to a Journal-Affiche, Placard Journal; legible to him that has no halfpenny; in bright prismatic colours, calling the eye from afar? Such, in the coming months, as Patriot Associations, public and private, advance, and can subscribe funds, shall plenteously hang themselves out: leaves, limed leaves, to catch what they can! The very Government shall have its Pasted Journal… Is not every Able Editor a Ruler of the World, being a persuader of it; though self-elected, yet sanctioned, by the sale of his Numbers?…

Placard Journals, Placard Lampoons, Municipal Ordinances, Royal Proclamations; the whole other or vulgar Placard-department super-added -- or omitted from contempt! What unutterable things the stone-walls spoke, during these five years! But it is all gone; To-day swallowing Yesterday, and then being in its turn swallowed of To-morrow, even as Speech ever is.
Sounds familiar, blog-readers, n’cest pas?

(* The burning of Carlyle’s original manuscript is one of the great literary stories. Carlyle said that writing the History over again was like "swimming without water." (The sole web account of that quote describes its circumstances differently than I recall it, but I think most writers will support my version.) Speaking of things only writers would appreciate, this is my favorite part of the story linked up above: "Carlyle was terribly upset about the loss of his work. He was, in fact, on the verge of giving the project up entirely. That night, however, he had a dream, in which his father and brother rose from the grave and begged him to give up writing. He awoke with a new determination.")
SHORTER OLE PERFESSER: NASCAR=White People. Hip-Hop=Black People. Black People get all the breaks.

ADDENDUM. Reynolds' piece refers to a quote from "The New York Times," but the piece he quotes is from the Times Sunday edition's Book Review, which, as any literate person knows (excuse my elitism, Hoss!), is a free-opinion zone. Moreover, the Times Book Review is edited by Sam Tanenhaus, whose biography of paleo-con hero Whittaker Chambers was very favorably reviewed by the right-wing Brothers Judd, and who has written in favor of the Bush Administration in the Wall Street Journal. ("I'm not a conservative," Tanenhaus once told an interviewer, "I'm a man of the Right.")

Of course, if you seek examples of wingnut publications -- from the Wall Street Journal to the National Review to the Washington Times to, yes, the Ole Perfesser hisself -- having fun with "blue state" people, to paraphrase Christopher Wren, look about you.

Is there anyone on the face of the earth who doesn't know that the "not a conservative" Perfesser is nothing more than a right-wing bagman? Christ, what a lot I have to tell him or her.

UPDATED SHORTER OLE PERFESSER: Just 'cause I cook doesn't make me gay, even in Tennessee, so don't call me gay, because I'm not gay, no matter how I hold my fork.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

REVENGE OF THE SHIT. Long, long ago, in a blogospheric precinct far, far away, Republican nerdlets re-tucked their shirts to harsh on Commie Lucas on the eve of Revenge of the Sith. He doesn't respect Bush! they cried, light sabres confusedly flashing. He has betrayed the Force, and though it may have been created by him, it truly belongs to us as did the Ring in that other cinematic nerdfest, and we cast it thus into the fires of our wingnut weenie-roast!

Yet their brethren across the nerdiverse still lined up in Darth masks and Leia curls for the apostate's movie.

Springs onto the stage NRO Corner initiate John Podhoretz to pre-empt the fondness of his fellow fantasy worshippers. "Unbelievably bad," he sayeth, "I'm telling you this because movie critics won't," the Commie bastards! Following up he adds: "Evidently 25 years into the Star Wars empire, George Lucas decided he just doesn't like war... Inadvertently, both Lucas and the Wachowski brothers (who wrote and directed the Matrix movies) reveal with their brainless anti-Bushism the essential cowardly vapidity of pacifism." When challenged chapter-and-verse by Star Wars obsessives from the outlands, Podhoretz shrugs and, in the time honored Jonah Goldberg "anyway it's late and I haved to walk the dog" manner, says, "It's almost impossible to wade through all the nonsense on the Web to get to the bottom of this, and to be perfectly honest, I have no interest in doing so."

At first the Council, in the person of Comrade Bell, appears to agree with Podhoretz. But there are rumblings. Film Warrior Mathewes-Green actually praises the Revenge of the Sith! Some Council members seem to ironically corroborate Podhoretz. Then Comrade Bell turns to the Dark Side! "It's a full-blown tragedy," he swoons, "and you will leave the theater with a bit of ache in your heart."

The writing is upon the wall! Mayhap Comrade Podhoretz will be found in his apartments, with Saint-Just and Henriot, a suicidal bullet lodged in his underjaw!

Or maybe these fucking dorks will just gibber about something else until the new Batman movie comes out.

UPDATE.The Golden Pocket Protector goes to this guy:
As a homosexual priest carries out his actions in private, he permanently harms his victims, mostly young boys. In the film, Anakin kills Jedi younglings without remorse. This heinous act is one that no Jedi could even think about. He no longer carries any guilt or shame over his actions. Ultimately, Anakin sucombes to the dark side, becomes Darth Vadar, and the republic is destroyed. As homosexual acts by church priests propagate, the strength and trust in the church is broken....
He might be kidding. With these guys it can be hard to tell.

More nerds here, including some guy who thinks "liberals are now trying to adopt [Star Wars] as their own." Must be some sort of Jedi mind trick.
MISTAH KURTZ, HE NUTS. I thought he'd struck a nadir when he explained to us that Social Security reform would save America by bankrupting it into millenarian Christianity, but Stanley Kurtz just keeps digging down into new sub-basements of absurdity:
Big media’s melting down. Movies are in a slump. Why? The media’s losing money because contemporary secular liberalism is really a kind of religion. Liberals don’t want to make money. They’re out to win souls.
Try to imagine Ted Koppel throwing down his napkin at a four-star restaurant and crying, "This is no substitute for a socialist paradise! I hereby donate all my worldly goods to MoveOn."

Then Kurtz tells us that Ridley Scott (yes, auteur of Black Hawk Down) has made a film which is "the apotheosis of Hollywood’s secular liberalism. Hatred of religion." In the same sense that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is the apotheosis of Wicca, one imagines.

Does this guy actually appear on television shows? Does he wear a bib to catch the foam?
BEST DENNIS MILLER SHOW ELEGY. "There was a limit to how much he could do on sheer wits alone."
COMPOUNDING THE ATROCITY. Donald Trump has begun a campaign to take over the WTC site and build a one-floor-higher version of the old Towers:
Mr. Trump's model was designed by his structural engineer, Kenneth Gardner, who quoted poetry at the news conference, apologized to his mother and thanked many people who "made this day possible."

Mr. Trump's comments about the Freedom Tower were not so appreciative. "In a nutshell, the Freedom Tower should not be allowed to be built," he said. "It's not appropriate for Lower Manhattan, it's not appropriate for Manhattan, it's not appropriate for the United States, it's not appropriate for freedom."

But Mr. Trump's proposal is not exactly appropriate for him. He said he would not be willing actually to lease space in the buildings. ("I only go in buildings I own.") Nor would he explain how his towers would be paid for. "Larry Silverstein hopefully can do this," Mr. Trump said, referring to the lead developer of the site. Mr. Silverstein plans to use insurance money from the terrorist attack to develop both the Freedom Tower and 7 World Trade...

Joanna Rose, the spokeswoman for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, said in an e-mail message: "Donald Trump is entitled to his opinion, just like the millions of people who actually involved themselves in the public planning process, which resulted in the master plan."
You might have thought the spectacularly unsuccessful builder would have his hands full, finishing up another season of his "reality" TV show, trying to dig his latest bankrupt property out of the hole, overseeing the Trump video game, and keeping the hundreds of miles of gleaming gilt surfaces in his hideous Trump Tower polished, but you can't keep a short-fingered vulgarian down!

Deroy Murdock is juiced. "If the public applies enough pressure to New York’s powers that be," he writes, "Trump may get the chance to apply the lessons of Wollman Rink to the World Trade Center," and even supplies an address at which we may entreat the Governor to entrust the sacred site to the savior of Wollman Rink.

I can't much care. The original WTC was an eyesore and a monument to waste and fraud. Of course the enormous slaughter that took place there would, in a better world, demand the very best that our builders could come up with, but there was never any chance that we would get it, given the enormous number of crooks, scoundrels, and egos -- now increased by one -- involved with its reconstruction.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

TWISTING IN THE WIND. The Ole Perfesser calls Andrew Sullivan an "excitable" "emoter-in-chief" who should write "a bit less about gay marriage." To his credit, the Perfesser did not just up and call him a faggot, but when you have such command of schoolyard code, you don't have to get crude.

What caused this falling-out of Fighter Keyboarders? Sullivan, via the ever-popular reader e-mail device, makes a disturbing comparison of Reynolds' Abu Ghraib coverage to Reynold's Newsweek-Koran coverage. The Perfesser misrepresents this, saying "Andrew Sullivan seems to think that I should be blogging more about Abu Ghraib, and less about the Newsweek scandal." Of course Sullivan's real point is that the Perfesser portrayed the prisoner-torture scandals as just another example of the damned lying librul media, whereas he treated the Newsweek story as... another example of the damned lying librul media.

In other words Sullivan seems to have tumbled to the fact that some of his fellow "Eagles" are not necessarily the plain-spoken all-American advocates for truth -- kinda rough around the edges, but you know how Yanks are! -- that he, in his Americaphilia, once took them for, and might in fact be operatives on the (horreur!) European model, with an agenda, or idee fixee, in service to which they will not scruple to misrepresent or even ignore the truth.

I wonder when Sullivan began to figure this out? During the last election Reynolds suggested that advocates of gay marriage -- one of the issues, remember, that was supposed to unite "anti-idiotarians" -- should pipe down and support Bush, because supporting his opposition -- "the Bush-bashing Gephardt position" -- might "alienate Republicans, even those who are supportive, or at least not opposed to, gay marriage." Sullivan's response then was critical but collegial, as it normally is when people he respects are tin-eared about his marriage crusade. Weren't they fine feathered friends after all, up there in the aery?

So I wouldn't say that the persistent obtuseness of the other Eagles on gay marriage has by itself worn Sullivan's patience -- rather, it may have come from observing firsthand and over a period of months the lengths to which they will go to spin every datum and factoid into a celebration of their glorious cause. On the same page as his misrepresentation of Sullivan, the Perfesser adds his commentary to George Galloway's recent appearance before Coleman and Levin: a long quote from perhaps the only portrayal in the English-speaking world of that encounter as a victory for the Senators. Even the New York Post couldn't spin it that way; even John Derbyshire, the notorious homophobe and Sullivan's bete noire, would not so lower himself. But the Perfesser, that sea-green Incorruptable, answers to an authority higher than common sense.

The Perfesser suggests that he has done with Sullivan now. Doubtless many other Eagles will also take wing. Thus the scourge of traitors, who could spot an enemy of the Republic by his place of residence, finds himself in exile! I wonder whether, when he looks around his depopulated salon these days, Sullivan thinks of Orwell or of Whittaker Chambers.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

APPARENTLY I DIDN'T MISS ANYTHING. If the Newsweek fiasco is really "the biggest buzz in the blogosphere... since the presidential election," then this whole blog thing is feebler than I imagined.

It is instructive to be away from the computer a few days and hear about stories like this solely from newspapers and TV. You may get the impression from Glenn "Nice First Amendment you got here, shame if something happened to it" Reynolds and John "This Lie Proves That Truth Is Irrelevant" Podhoretz that a web-based Committee of Public Safety is desperately needed. But once you get away from the monkey house and its constant screaming and masturbating, it all looks like less of a big deal. Call me when the the MSM starts paying attention to stories like this; then I'll get excited.

Monday, May 16, 2005

N.O., THANKS. Apologies for the protracted absence. I was in New Orleans for a long weekend. This was my first visit, and I was tied to a group (long story) so I was mostly tied to the French Quarter and couldn't perform the further-ranging enquiries that I trust I'll get to on another visit, but I will share some short impressions:

- New York has always liked to tear down and renovate, but lately this tendency has become a mania; where once we more or less inadvertently toppled monuments to vanished ways of life, now our civic bulldozers are ever revved and eager to erase anything predating the Giuliani era. So it was nice to be someplace where aged, crumbling edifices are routinely replastered and reopened for business -- including the Cemetaries, where tombs are regularly cracked into, stuffed with new roommates for the dead, and imperfectly sealed up. The crud, the fallen bits of plaster, the sagging balconies, the irregularly hanging French doors, are beautiful in the same way that the smell of rotting flowers is beautiful: more vivid for their decomposition.

- Given that, it is easy to see why voodoo remains a vital part of the City's image and folklore. If communication with the dead is important, you won't take lightly any decision to erase vestiges of their earthly existence. (One practitioner's shop I visited displayed two official mayoral commendations.) I took the time to listen to one initiate -- fat, bland, and cane-bearing -- lecture on his craft. He downplayed the "fear factor" and Hollywood misrepresentations of voodoo, but his stories were purposefully spooky, full of zombies and reversed fortunes. He was very calm and businesslike, and gave his spiel at a rapid clip so as to keep the queue of auditors moving, but his eyes remained brightly alert throughout the performace, as if to remind guests that he was powerful and not above availing his powers then and there if he had to. He reminded me of a middle-class black woman I'd interviewed years earlier, who had erected a row of African ceremonial masks on the facade of her building on the south side of West 49th Street, facing Worldwide Plaza. These were meant, she had told me, to inhibit developers. That the condo part of the Plaza has never been very successful, and the theatre there briefly closed, I would never attribute to her totems, but as they say in the old Jewish jokes, it couldn't have hurt.

- I should have hated Bourbon Street for being so fucking cheesy, but I loved it anyway. First of all, they sell Everclear; y'can't get that back home. Also, any institution that gives work to hundreds of musicians, who play nearly round the clock, is okay by me (and has me checking the real estate classified in the Times-Picayune). But finally, Bourbon Street's spirit of license is indiscriminate and all-embracing. You don't have to be an initiate or a hipster or a pretty person of any sort to get in on it; fat suburbanites waddling unsteadily, plastic cup in hand, toward Hustler Hollywood are as welcome to it as future Trent Reznors. Even a cynical visitor from New York is forced to accept that all that stuff about the good times rolling -- as opposed to being ceremonially placed into the hands of those fashionable few whom local free papers deem worthy -- is sincerely meant. Bourbon Street takes all comers, and only very bad behavior gets you thrown out. Despite the puke-scented evidence, I think this is a good definition of heaven.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

AND BESIDES, ORSON WELLES WAS FAT. This item about Michael Medved's recent on-air embarrassment reminded me that I hadn't heard much from the Flanders of Filmdom of late, so I visited his website. While Hollywood-Hatin' remains his hook, Medved seems to have branched out into mixed-use wingnuttery, and his site's collection of MM reviews is paltry and out of date.

Nonetheless it does contain the one review which I believe will represent Medved's peculiar approach to film criticism unto history: "Kangaroo Jack Hijacked to Partisan Agenda?"

Medved says he has no artistic problem with this film -- or, rather, the film ordinary mortals would see on actual screens -- but says it presents a "moral dilemma for conscientious filmgoers" because its story was written by Stephen Bing, "notorious even by the undemanding standards of Hollyweird" for not only behaving beastly to Elizabeth Hurley, but also contributing money to the Democratic Party. Is proof that Kangaroo Jack is no-goodski, despite superficial evidence of viewing experience!

Medved does recognize that "some sharp-eyed reader might assault your reviewer for inconsistency" because he had previously praised The Pianist, a film by a sex-crime fugitive. His explanation is marvelously instructive:
First, Polanski's well-publicized personal problems occurred decades ago, while Stephen Bing's made news merely months ago. Second, Polanski presently pursues no prominent political agenda, while Bing continues to devote much of his life's energy to bashing Bush and all other Republicans. And third, and most importantly, "The Pianist" counts as a serious, substantive, artful -- if flawed -- directorial tour-de-force about World War II suffering, while "Kangaroo Jack" amounts to mildly pleasing piffle about nothing in particular.
Bing demanded DNA testing to see if his girlfriend's baby was actually his; Polanski is accused of the statutory rape of a 13-year-old. But Polanski's is the lesser offense because it happened a big long time ago and because he doesn't wear any buttons with which Medved disagrees. (Doubtless, if Polanski denounces Bush at some future date, Medved will find that The Pianist has suddenly become double-plus-ungood.)

Not to be overlooked is Medved's third point, which suggests a lawyerly approach to the condemnation of films on political-parentage grounds: The Pianist is a good boy, your honor, with a record of service to its community. But Kangaroo Jack is a ne'er-do-well, a jackanapes! So please let the kid-fucker's movie go with a warning, but punish the Democrat's movie severely, and show our constituents that we're tough on thought-crime.

Medved gets bonus points for providing this classic bit of culture-warrior idiocy:
In Spielberg's case, the messages of "Saving Private Ryan" count as so patriotic, even heroic, that you can easily overlook the director's long-standing friendships with Clinton and Gore.
Now, by God, that's entertainment!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

CUTTING TO THE CHASE. Here is a new piece by Jonah Goldberg called "What Is a Conservative?" It's crap. Here is the highlight:
I’m not calling the opponents on the right or left Stalinists or Nazis when I say they are totalitarians...
It's all like that. Save yourself the headache.
COP CROCK. Sometimes I wonder if I'm not being too harsh, and sometimes maybe I am, but I can safely say that I will never regret saying that Michelle Malkin is utterly delusional:
When was the last time you thanked a cop? And wouldn't it be nice if, for just a brief moment, the mainstream media would hold a ceasefire in its incessant cop-bashing crusades?

There are good cops, and there are bad cops. But national press outlets, predisposed to harp on law enforcement as an inherently racist and reckless institution, hype the hellions at the expense of the heroes.
Bullshit. The nets show us a bad-cop story only once in a very great while: only the most incontrovertible egregiously bad bluecoat behavior (nightstick-sodomizing, outright murder of citizens, etc) qualifies. (Even Malkin doesn't dispute that the stories she protests are true.) And that's it. Simple brutality charges, an everyday thing in this City and perhaps yours, don't make the cut. The presumption of truth is always with the police; generally, only when film footage inescapably overturns this prejudice do the news outlets give the civilians complainants a little airtime.

And these very brief glimpses into the shadows of law enforcement are completely overriden by the fictional portrayal of cops in the "mainstream media," which borders on deification. Cop shows from the Law & Order franchise to the CSI franchise, and everywhere in between, uniformly portray the boys in blue as paragons of honesty who cut far fewer corners to make a murder case than the average salesman would cut to close a deal. Indeed, cops are portrayed as morally superior to just about all non-uniformed citizens: watch a station-centered cop show like NYPD Blue and compare the skels, victims, and lawyers who drift in and out with the police -- you see a world gone terminally venal, in which only cops can be trusted (which is presumably why they seem only to fuck their colleagues).

The success of the ridiculous CSI shows I attribute to their reassuring underlying theme: that cops are not only immaculate honest and zealous in pursuit of the truth, they are also scientifically predestined to find it. (Someday Minority Report will be done as a cop series, and young people will be shocked to learn that it was originally a dystopian vision.)

I don't begrudge the police this heroic treatment -- though I would prefer, as I suspect they would, that they got the love in their pay-envelopes rather than from mass media. But to say that the MSM is out to make cops look bad is just nuts.
SHORTER JAMES LILEKS: We kicked their asses in the last election, all my pals make fun of them, and yet they persist with their accursed bumperstickers! Ooh, I will parse them, parse them good, the goddamn godless... don't get the wrong idea about me, I'm a tolerant guy... come on out, you atheist whore, so I can spit blessings in your face... here's my videogame! Bye!
HEAD IN THE CLOUDS. I'm getting a little tired of Malcolm Gladwell. The Tipping Point was a neat little book, taken in the narrow context of marketing analysis, but his book-reading for the New Yorker mostly demonstrates how limited his POV is when applied to just about anything else.

For example, last year he suggested -- using a psych paper about successful survivors of child abuse, The Man In The Grey Flannel Suit, and other such data -- that trauma isn't really that big a deal, that in most cases "our psychological immune system[s] will kick in and take away the sting of adversity." On its face this seems an unremarkably homey finding, but Gladwell made so much of our ability to soldier on in the face of horrors that a careful reader would eventually wonder why he thought it worth writing about. The answer, of course, is that in our pyschological age we talk so much about trauma and its effects that a fellow who comes around and says, look, it's not as bad as all that -- especially if he uses scholarly and literary sources -- seems to be bucking some sort of tide. When faced with the overwhelming task of processing and sorting out all the various categories of human suffering that our very advanced information-gathering has revealed to us, it may be soothing to hear an intellectual version of Quitcher Bitchin'.

Now Gladwell works his happy-chappy contrarian angle on the subject of our under-edumacated children. Taking off from Steven Johnson's Everything Bad Is Good for You, he says that the kids' preference for video games and TV over book-learning is OK, because pop culture exercises a certain set of intellectual muscles which, though they are different from the muscles exercised by the study of American History and other such old-timey disciplines, are valid and worth strengthening. "Being 'smart' involves facility in both kinds of thinking -- the kind of fluid problem solving that matters in things like video games and I.Q. tests, but also the kind of crystallized knowledge that comes from explicit learning," Gladwell says, and while he admits that the latter sort of learning might at present be somewhat neglected, he is much more concerned with our inability to see the riches that the former kind might yield.

What Gladwell fails to mention is what specifically is gained by video-game learning, and what is lost in the neglect of what he calls "explicit" learning -- which category of knowledge he somewhat unfairly attaches to the Gradgrindian more-school-less-recess mandates of some modern educational policies. He seems to think that gaming and TV-watching provide some sort of information-absorption and problem-solving skills:
To watch an episode of “Dallas” today is to be stunned by its glacial pace -- by the arduous attempts to establish social relationships, by the excruciating simplicity of the plotline, by how obvious it was. A single episode of “The Sopranos,” by contrast, might follow five narrative threads, involving a dozen characters who weave in and out of the plot...

...[In gaming] players are required to manage a dizzying array of information and options. The game presents the player with a series of puzzles, and you can’t succeed at the game simply by solving the puzzles one at a time. You have to craft a longer-term strategy, in order to juggle and coördinate competing interests...
For what sort of future does this training fit young minds? Perhaps the jobs of CEO and General; but, and I hate to break it to parents, very few of our children are going to get those jobs. In general, the training gleaned from gaming and watching TV shows prepares most of us for more gaming and more watching of TV shows. In this regard we may say our children are well-, perhaps over-educated.

Though I cannot speak to the aesthetics of Doom and Grand Theft Auto, I will say that, much as I love The Sopranos, complicated plotting is the least of its excellencies; and that, while the ability to follow multiple story lines may be admirable and perhaps useful, it would better suit a young person to learn how to tie various story threads into an analysis, a skill that far predates the digital video disc.

It has been my experience as a remedial English tutor that even the brightest students are undertrained in, and often unaware of, the simplest analytic tools -- including grammar, sentence structure, and outlining. These are not nearly so easy to absorb as the skills Gladwell values, but the fact that he can make himself clear in essay form shows that he has himself mastered them, which makes it rather disturbing to me that he seems not to care much that we make so little effort to wrench our kids away from their entertainment modules long enough to learn how to diagram a sentence or tie three supporting details to a main idea.

We are all futurists nowadays, and it is to be expected that the author of The Tipping Point would hope to find some bright, positive New Paradigm in the video obsessions of our young people. But it is a stubborn fact that some sorts of machinery, greasy and earth-bound as they may seem, are yet necessary to our progress, and that this goes for intellectual as well as physical realities. If we don't teach our young citizens to think rather than merely process information, all the video-savvy in the world isn't going to save their sorry asses. As seductive as the Information Age fantasy is, we will never be a nation of managers, magically summoning prosperity with our Blackberrys, without something to manage. Something has to be created first. And to create we need tools. Noun-verb agreement is to my mind a good start. You can do your part by collaring some young ruffian and making him or her learn it.

Monday, May 09, 2005

A BRIEF BUT, AS ALWAYS, AMUSING STROLL AROUND THE BLOGOSPHERE: "If you're like me you see the beatified Che Guevara as a mirage in the desert that is the fashionable Left's conception of human nature." -- Jeremy of Who Knew?

That's really very funny on several levels, but it should be mentioned that there is no "fashionable Left." The new thing is to care passionately, and be right-wing, and to call every Lebanese woman in your camera "babe." (Did you know that the word "snapshot" was originally a hunting term?)

If this gruel is too thin for you, you might go a few degrees further right to Redstate.org, where we learn that man-on-boy action isn't so very bad when performed by a Republican like Spokane mayor Jim West:
Moreover, if, as his legislative record indicates, West is worried about teens having consensual sex with each other, and gays having access to youth at work, it could be seen as skating too close to the edge of hypocrisy that he was seeking out a supposed teen (admittedly, one who clained he was turning adult, or 18, in March) in a gay online forum, and offering inducements including an internship.
"Could be seen as skating too close to the edge of hypocrisy"! A very tolerant attitude, I must say. Of course, this toleration vanishes in comments, as the topic turns to homosexuals who are not Republican officeholders ("Replace 'homosexual' with 'incestuous' or 'pederast.' Now, should we 'tolerate' incest and pederasty?" "Look, I don't 'hate' homosexuals - I think a much better job should be done of educating people to the dangers of homosexuality" etc).

The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.

UPDATE. Jeremy asks in comments, what's so funny? Respectfully submitted, respectfully answered:

1.) Any sentence that begins "If you're like me," and is neither ironically meant nor testimonial advertising copy, is prima facie hilarious.

2.) Che Guevara = a mirage in the desert? I guess that means we liberals are crackbrained sufferers from heat stroke, running blindly and desperately toward Che Guevara, who looks to us like Paul Wellstone holding a bottle of cold, cruelty-free soy milk, only to trip over our Birkenstocks in the sand, while Jeremy and his whatever-they-ares are driving alongside us in air-conditioned Hummers, drinking out of Evian bottles and pointing and laughing.

3.) The fashionable Left! "Omigod! Is that the new Nicole Miller hacky-sack?" Besides, I heard we were all Out of Touch with America, which is not fashionable at all.

4.) Better yet, the fashionable Left's conception of human nature! Here Jeremy has us to the life. We stand in a large, white space, striking fashionably thoughtful poses, and after a suitably Pinteresque pause (Pinter hates America, like us; that's why we use his pauses instead of, say, Neil Simon's) one fellow-traveler (a person of color! Can't forget the diversity) announces, "Human nature -- isn't there some way we can tax it?" And the rest of us go "Word to your Mom" and nod in that really annoying way.

I could go on but I may be overthinking this just a bit.

Friday, May 06, 2005

MORAL RELATIVISTS. You want to know how they do it? Here's a good example. A Wall Street Journal writer looks at some confusion over CDC figures concerning obesity and mortality. His conclusion: no one really knows if being fat is bad for you. In fact, no one really knows much of anything -- not when it comes to the dark arts of medicine and climatology:
This is confusing--and that's the point. Science, of its nature, is always confusing. Medicine is uncertain. But public-policy formation in the U.S., especially as concerns health policy or the environment, whether obesity or the melting of the polar ice caps, admits to very little confusion. We claim to know. But in fact we usually don't know.
Contrast the approach of this WSJ guy, Daniel Henninger, with a different sort of assessment of the same basic data: Thomas Maguire takes the few extra steps needed to reveal that the statistical blips do not prove that packing on the pounds is a risk-free activity. The rest of us may come to similar conclusions using what our ancestors called common sense, paired with our powers of observation.

But for conservative functionaries such as Henninger, doing his bit to further the antiEnlightenment, the grey areas of scientific enquiry are proof that science is, after all, just guesswork, no more valid than your guesses or mine if it comes to that, so that the science community's consensus on, say, global warming can be easily ignored if your spritual or political leaders require it of you.

This attitude has long been in effect further down the food chain, of course -- as in this Washington Times laugher, in which evolution is referred to by its old name of Darwinism -- not an institution, after all, but just the ditherings of one guy who was not Jesus! If some folk prefer to "use a little imagination" on behalf of Intelligent Design, who are the labcoats to squawk? But now that the prestigious Journal has taken it up, we may note a change in the weather, so to speak. You're either with them or against them, as always, whether they're right or wrong -- but now, even if you know what you're talking about and they don't have the slightest fucking clue, "against them" is still the wrong place to be -- maybe even more wrong than ever.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

SELECTED SHORTS. Saw a few movies:

The Red Violin. This Girard is an odd duck. If I hadn't seen Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould I would have expected something like Diva. Well, while The Red Violin is episodic, it's also got a big old McGuffin to pull you through: artistic inspiration as a barrier-breaking, life-changing motive-force. Plenty of other movies have worked this side of the street -- Lust for Life, Quills, Dr. Zhivago, etc. But using the violin and its sad backstory instead of a single artist-hero makes the trick a little dicier. It's easier to identify with the madness of Kirk Douglas than to imagine oneself risking the wrath of Maoist thugs for the music of John Corigliano. But I was impressed by the clever and highly specific takes on historical eras, especially the opium-addled British Romantics. And I wonder why Sam Jackson doesn't do more roles like this where he can, you know, act. Because he's very good at it.

Wag The Dog. Speaking as a jaded roue myself, I admired the unshakable cynicism, which has given the film life past its heyday as a Clinton joke. I didn't like DeNiro's performance. I'm sick of seeing him tuck the corners of his mouth, especially since watching him do it in that wretched Scorsese ad for American Express; it's become his personal Del Sarte schtick for "I don't know how to handle this emotion, folks." Wasn't Ron Silver available? Dustin Hoffman is more the thing. There's a man comfortable with his solipsism! Props also to Woody Harrelson, who made me think of Thurber's "The Greatest Man in the World."

Hotel Rwanda. The best thing about it is: no arc. Shit just keeps coming, and Don Cheadle just keeps putting on his nice clothes and taking care of increasingly precarious business. The scenes of horror are suitably appalling, but cleverly titrated so that you don't grow too numb to take them in. The madness seems as if it will never stop, and every un-mad moment is only carved out of it by the righteous will and cunning you have seen expended. By the end, even the money-shot restoration of (some of) Rusesabagina's extended family can't deceive you into thinking that the story is really over -- it merely pauses, in medium-long shot, to acknowledge a moment of grace before the film runs out. It's no shock that Terry George also wrote the relentlessly grim The Boxer, but it is a surprise -- a pleasant one -- that he was again given such a big canvas for so muddy-bleak a vision.
HALFWIT. A New Republic article cites a Dominionist nut as an example of what American People of Faith are thinking. Hugh Hewitt blows his stack: "It would be as if I made a claim that the Democratic Party believed 'x' because Michael Moore and the Greenpeace Board of Directors said 'x,'" huffs Hewitt.

Actually, Hewitt has claimed, repeatedly, that Michael Moore represents the Democratic Party, even without the "Greenpeace Board of Directors." Here's Hewitt at the 2004 Democratic Convention:
The podium speakers are acting the part of Penelope in the Odyssey — unraveling all that has been woven by the delegates during the day, or in this case, by Michael Moore during the day. It is a hard-Left group of delegates, and Moore's their crown prince even if Kerry's king for a day...
Throughout that Convention, of course, Hewitt made a mantra of referring to the Dems as "the Kerry-Moore Democrats."

I guess when you're working for Jesus, you don't even have to fact-check your own ass.
SHORTER CRAZY JESUS LADY. It's so much nicer to talk about cancer than about gay people.
NO COMMENT. "That particular girlfriend loved Prince, which was my first clue this wouldn’t last and would end hard." -- James Lileks.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

PROGRAM NOTES. I forced myself into the template and, instead of setting the whole works on fire and hopping up and down, naked and screaming, as a sane man would, I added some links. I don't know what kept me from putting Tbogg and Fafblog up there before; sloth, perhaps, or jealousy. Dum Luk's, author Martin Langeland's new showroom of high-definition language, is added as a rebuke to us all.

Atrios I'm leaving off. Not out of pique. It just seems ridiculous, like saying, "You know who you should listen to? The Beatles," at a party.
WHEN NERDS ATTACK! The previously-noted Kulturkampfer rage at George Lucas for not admitting Yoda is really Alan Greenspan has been relayed to major wingnut disseminators. Clearly their Right-sabres are all bent out of shape.

All I can say is, anyone who couldn't see what Lucas was up to from the very first appearance of Imperial Storm Troopers should be embarrassed to admit it, not loudly bewailing his fanboy betrayal.

UPDATE. If that's not enough KultKampf action for you, at OpinionJournal Harry Stein explains at great length that Jon Stewart isn't really funny.

I don't understand their need to deny the artistic abilities of people they don't agree with. I mean, I thought it was kinda funny when Bush jerked off that horse, and I'm not afraid to say so.

UPDATE II. Speaking of jerk-offs, at The Corner they explain that they're no prudes -- quite wild actually! They make jokes about Star Trek! -- but Laura Bush went too far -- though she may deserve a pass based on the agricultural nature of her blue material ("Farm humor isn’t about sex, it’s about life") -- the Bush Twins went too far, The Flintstones was a total ripoff of The Honeymooners, etc.

If they did go totally mad, how would we tell?

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

LICENSE TO SHILL. Just in case you were wondering how the Culture War's higher-ed front was going, Roger Kimball provides an update:
The old Marxist strategy of “increasing the contradictions”—a strategy according to which the worse things get, the better they really are—is a license for thuggery. It excuses all manner of bad behavior for the sake of a revolution that will (so it is said) finally transform society when all the old allegiances have finally collapsed. If one or two tottering institutions require a little push to finish them off, so be it. Shove hard: You cannot, as comrade Stalin remarked, make an omelette without breaking eggs.

As with anything to which the word “Marxist” applies, there are at least eighty-seven things wrong with this strategy. Morally, it is completely irresponsible. Intellectually, it depends upon a fabricated “contradiction” to confer the illusion of inevitability. In real life, the only thing inevitable is the certainty of surprise.

Nevertheless, as one looks around at academic life these days, it is easy to conclude that corruption yields not only decay but also opportunities. Think of the public convulsion that surrounded the episode of Ward Churchill blah blah blah blah...
Then he goes on for hundreds of incendiary words about how bad liberal professors are, and ends by threatening their tenure ("An arrangement that was intended to protect academic freedom and intellectual diversity has mutated into a means of enforcing conformity and excluding the heterodox").

In other words, after a long explanation of the bad Marxist way of getting things done, Kimball pretty much tries the same thing himself. Evidently he means what he says about a "license for thuggery," but also believes that he possesses such a license. I wonder where he imagines he got it from?

Monday, May 02, 2005

SHORTER JANE GALT: Not only are Hollywood actors liberal and wrong -- they don't even know how to act! Jane Galt must school them in empathy!

(Refresh my memory, folks: back when libertarians actually existed, what were their distinguishing characteristics?)
BED-WETTERS AT CAMP KULTERKAMPF. How goes the Culture War? Bit of a snag at Libertas ("a forum for conservative thought in film"). The author has found an interview where Geoge Lucas mentions Fahrenheit 911 without spitting.

"Wired put Lucas on its cover, his face half-encased in the helmet Darth Vader," says the disappointed fanboy. "That may be more appropriate than they imagined."

His fellow Jedi rush in waving their light-sabres. "I still believe that despite Lucas’ own personal philosophy, his films belie a deep rooted conservatism," says one. "Perhaps Lucas doesn’t realize it," insists another, "but he is subversively conservative and even pro-life when he depicts this cold Cloning facility with a million babies in jars."

Yeah. And if Princess Leia ever got to know you, she'd really, really like you.

UPDATE. The Libertas post has received more comments; so far this one is my favorite. In case they've taken it down, here's the complete text:
As though there needed to be a subset of the “Star Wars Loser Group” now we have, whiney conserva-geek-star-wars-losers. What’s more, they’re looking [for] depth in a Star Wars movie. Depth! Meaning. Important political statements!

Time to turn off the computer, get out of the basement, move out of mom’s house and get a life.
Whoa -- looks like someone's gonna get a purple nurple.
Q.E.D. "I know Andrew [Sullivan] has a tendency to believe his own personal political preferences should and must be in perfect accord with external reality, but I’ve never subscribed to such a view." -- Jonah Goldberg.

The qualifier "external" suggests there is an internal reality by which one might make sense of Goldberg's politics. It probably resembles Porky in Wackyland.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

DEATH OF A DREAM. I took a stroll by the former Plaza Hotel this fine Spring afternoon. In its day, the Plaza was a monument to all that was splendid in the Big Apple – the gold standard of hospitality, the home of Eloise, the monogrammed bathrobe at the end of the rainbow for countless mid-level managers.

But that Plaza is gone. In its place stands a cruel mockery: Its windows, as high as rocks can reach, have been brutally shattered, and rough workmen’s planks obscure their once-majestic views. The fabled doors, once guarded by proud men in splendid uniforms, now swing loose on their hinges, freely admitting squatters and prostitutes -- not the new Plaza’s guests, but its masters. Its white façade has been pitted by gunfire and scarred by graffiti; the scrawled legend BROKEN PROMISES looms over a family of three huddled against the north wall, sharing a makeshift supper.

The Oak Bar, in former days redolent of expensive cologne and fine wines, today reeks of crack cocaine. A visitor to the capacious bathrooms receives, instead of a gentle whisking of the shoulders and a posture suggesting that a tip would be appreciated, blows to the head and a rough frisking.

"This our house now," says "Crick," a self-styled "Customer Service representative" who patrols the lobby, a baseball bat in his right hand and a Blunt perched insouciantly between his teeth. "You got any problems, you fill out a card an’ give it to the desk clerk."

The effects of the Plaza’s decline reach far beyond its own walls. High life has drained from Fifth Avenue. Brooks Brothers is now a Dress Barn. Elizabeth Arden is a nail salon. Only the NBA store thrives. This famed thoroughfare, where splendid Easter bonnets were so recently displayed, is deserted after nightfall. "Since the Plaza moved to mixed-used, Fifth Avenue is a no-go zone," admits a weary-looking Sgt. William Daniels of the NYPD. "We only come in at dawn to carry out the dead."

"This is a wake-up call to our fellow citizens," declares Business Improvement District President Charles F. Gordon from behind the sandbag barricades of what was once F.A.O. Schwartz. "It’s too late for the Plaza, but for Christ's sake, keep the Helmsley open. Because if they get the Helmsley, it’s just a short hop to the Oyster Bar, and then God help New York!"

Friday, April 29, 2005

WISHFUL NON-THINKING. Lot of death-knells for newspapers lately, and what they have in common -- from the Ole Perfesser's smug solipsism("...it does seem as if we're undergoing a major change. I know that I pay less and less attention to newspapers and television...") to Richard Brookhiser's L'Envoi -- is that they're ridiculously premature. U.S. newspaper circulation, as even hostile reports admit, is down maybe about a point -- which means our papers are outperforming the national economy. Hey, maybe America's finished, too!

Certainly this is not a good time to grow rich in journalism, but -- this may shock the libertarians; cover their ears -- often getting rich is not the point. Sometimes the incentive is power. For decades certain gazillionaires (cough Murdoch cough) have been operating their tabs at a deficit just to keep their journalistic hobby-horses alive. 'Twas ever thus. You think James Callender got published on the strength of any fan-base besides Thomas Jefferson?

So why the declarations of irrelevance? Simple. These guys are pushing something called blogging. In this blog thing, some very few make money on ads, but mostly the practice is meant to burnish reputations sufficiently to get the reputees gigs with Media Matters, right-wing radio, or some other venue in a for-profit branch of the Fourth Estate. Some idiots, like myself, do it with only mild recompense from confused Blogad shoppers who perhaps picked a handful of sites from top of an alphabetical list, and some bloggers get nothing from it but the satisfaction of knowing that unseen dozens of bored office workers now know what the blogger had for dinner last night, what sort of stool the dinner engendered, and the blogger's thoughts on Faulkner and the Law of the Sea.

Sounds like quite a revenue stream, eh? Well, maybe, just maybe, if they can get everyone to believe that the Paper is dead, there'll be a reverse Tinker Bell effect. Then those few Americans who still know how to read will come running to Powerlineblog, jettisoning sports, weather, local news, and any other service Powerlineblog cannot deliver, just to be on trend!

It obviously works in politics, their reasoning seems to be; and since everything is politics, why should it not work for me?
GRAB BAG. The new Jonah Goldberg column is chock-full of idiocies, and I am very short of time. So I'll grab one of the idiocies, and you guys do what you will with the rest.
In the world we live in today, to be an American conservative requires two complementary forms of argumentation: skepticism about the new and faith in the old. You must have both to be a conservative of any stripe. Which new things you’re skeptical about and which old things you revere distinguish the kind of conservative you are. I think, unlike many readers, that by this criteria alone Sullivan is a conservative.
I revere our democracy and am skeptical of the government con men to whom it has been entrusted. I revere Social Security and am skeptical of the government con men etc. I revere our national resources etc.

Obviously I am a conservative. Goldberg's wrong about Sullivan, though, who is conservative -- as everyone possessing the bullshit-penetrating x-ray glasses known to my people as "common sense" knows -- only because the gravy train marked "Gay Conservative" still had empty seats when he turned up at the station.

Over to you.
SHOWING THE LOVE. Next to a drawing of him in which his narcotized-psycho features are scrunched into something resembling a smile, John Bolton is rhapsodized by the Crazy Jesus Lady:
It has long been said that in Washington a friend is someone who will stab you in the front. Mr. Bolton, again if the charges are true, has been a friend to many. He tells people off to their faces. That's refreshing. As a human tic, if that's what it is, it is probably more individually controllable than the temptation to damage people behind their backs, which is what people in intense environments more commonly and destructively do.
Really, Peggy? You really mean that?

Then here's some Bolton-style friendship, you brain-damaged old harpy. There was a time when your flights of flackery were so diabolical that we often had to step back out of sheer awe at your evil. But this here's some feeble shit. Where'd you get this he-shows-his-love-by-screaming-and-throwing-things strategy -- your marriage counsellor?

I don't care how many unwashed Gipper-touched-me-there spots you've collected, you've clearly been out there in the ether so long you don't even know what solid ground feels like. No wonder you had to go freelancing your propaganda skils during the last Bush campaign -- the White House guard-shacks are probably wallpapered with your mug shot. You're only fit to feed wingnut theo-fantasies in the Journal and play Prop Female at think-tank events.

Now way be my government appointment? Clearly I have the required temperment!

Thursday, April 28, 2005

BIBLE BEATINGS. Norbizness offers not only a wicked cool Ween reference (now do one called IT REALLY HURTS MOMMY/STINKY VASELINE) but also an introduction to the National Council on Bible Cirriculum in Public Schools (tagline: "It's Coming Back..." which I think was also the tagline of one of the Alien movies).

To be fair, the Bible folk have both good and bad reasons to throw the Good Book at pre-teens. Among the bad:
Proponents say the course would utilize the Bible as a textbook to study history, literature and geography. Opponents argue the class, to be taught by a local minister’s wife, would indoctrinate students to Christianity.
Anyone who has lived among human beings (paper cut-outs of human beings don't count) for any length of time knows how this one works out. The minister's wife starts out in her demure, white Secular Humanist labcoat, merely using the Bible to help kids find Magog on a map, but before you can say "Funny, I don't feel tardy" she's stripped down to her Jesus-string and the kids are storming through the halls and pulling down the lanterne for godless biology teachers.

But I can get behind the Bible as Literature dodge -- mainly because, while this obviously is a dodge to these folks, it is also true that the Bible is literature, and vitally important literature at that. And we may see from this course the results that human experience leads us to expect: the weak-minded indoctrinated, the lazy confused, and the inquiring (especially if they are blessed with teachers who are not down with the zombies-for-Christ program) inspired to learn that the Good Book is not just something with which Granny consoles herself and upon which politicians place their hands when they lie, but a book with dizzyingly rich literary, religious, and political contexts -- which knowledge may make the world more interesting to them, and -- Hallelujah! -- lead some out of the stultifying swamp of ignorance (and religious bigotry) entirely.

Always bet on knowledge over ignorance, kids. It may not pay off very many times, but when it does hit the winnings are exceedingly large.

Of course, the law of unintended consequences cuts both ways. Since "important part of our culture" is a big hunk of the Bible justification, after a few frivolous lawsuits Cultural Relevance will become the standard by which Mr. Hand will be forced to accept papers about The Relationship Between Pulp Fiction and The Clinton Impeachment. Plus the poetry might inspire rhymes like this:
I'm black but comely, my bed is green
I use the myrrh and not the Afro-Sheen
Which would just be terrible.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

PAGE SIXTH CIRCLE OF HELL. Boy, this gossip columnist really lets Katie Couric have it:
Andrew Lack, former president of NBC, described Katie, during the good times, as a "fist in the velvet glove," while for years her staff has called her "Katie Dearest." Bryant Gumbel... once complained, "I've had one assistant for 18 years. Somebody who shall remain nameless went through five in five years..."

...the stress of crashing ratings has obviously made her inner Cruella de Vil — always there under the surface — emerge full-time...

Each morning she is now expertly and heavily made up — not exactly the look most harried working moms can emulate. And while doing interviews, her bare legs in stiletto mules are perpetually center stage, getting more attention from the camera than the guest she is supposed to be interviewing...
Mee-yow! But wait'll you hear this, girls:
But what I think has contributed to Katie's major loss of appeal is that millions of women have finally caught onto the liberal bias in much of her reporting.
Wha? Huh wha? Wha huh wha?

(chuckling amiably) Aw, alright, she isn't a gossip columnist, she's -- well, I'm not sure what she is but she writes for NRO so she must be something. You caught on right away, didn't you? What a disagreeable old man I have become.

Part of what makes me that way is this vision of an alternate universe where not just headline news, and the arts, and sports, but even tabloid celebrity burble must be about politics.

PS: I really just went to American Scene to grab the link, but can anyone explain this gibberish? "Levantine beauties," "men without chests," the notion that "increased levels of disposable income" make women in their mid-20s more attractive than women in their early 20s -- maybe "Reihan" doesn't exist at all except as a code name for Douthat's id.

UPDATE. Baseball Crank cries foul in comments, and he's right. (Following the Mets gets you a fair hearing at alicublog!) BC does not conflate baseball and politics. You have to go back to vintage Noonan for that kind of thing. Or Robert Ziegler. Or -- but I'm digging here. I can see that the politicization of sports is running behind the politicization of everything else -- but give it time.
WHO PAYS? Nicole Gelinas of the New York Post has been carefully planting explosives under the Mayoral candidacy of Freddy Ferrer. She's not the only one, of course; some local bullshit liberals have been saying the guy is too non-bullshit liberal to win against the beloved current Mayor, Richie Rich, and his dog Dollar. Take New York magazine, please:
Ferrer’s remarks are well tailored to his audience. This is a union-proud, racially diverse, stone-liberal crowd of academics and students, about half of whom wear anti-Bush buttons on their lapels. In other words, a strong sampling of the city’s leftish Democratic base...

Assembling only a textbook New York coalition of unions and racial special interests actually does Bloomberg a favor, however: It allows the mayor to spin his wealth as a positive, declaring himself unbought and unbossed, a plutocrat channeling Shirley Chisholm...
The author, Chris Smith, is probably the only person alive who looks at Michael Bloomberg and sees Shirley Chisholm. Scratch that; I don't he sees that, either. He's just casting about for metaphors, however feeble, to help explain the appeal of the Boston fixer beyond the distressingly simple fact that Giuliani pushed for him last election -- after of course pushing for himself -- and squeaked him by the useless Mark Green.

But that's how the cognoscenti do when they lose their guts. Local conservatives have their own methods. The Posties have been fanning the flames lit by some cop-friendly comments Ferrer made about the Diallo shooting years ago -- never mind that the Post itself has routinely excused every shooting of civilians by cops since the dawn of Rupert Murdoch.

In the intellectual wing of that movement, though, they have to come up with stronger stuff. Gelinas works the angle that Ferrer, even more than his less-electable competition for the Democratic nomination, is anti-business: "None of the four Dem candidates for mayor has much experience in the for-profit economy," she writes, "...But only one candidate is willing to repeatedly reveal his irredeemable lack of understanding of how private-sector Gotham works: former Bronx Borough President Freddy Ferrer."

Ferrer is suggesting that we address our large shortfalls of City revenue with taxes on big business -- in this instance, on stock transfers. Gelinas will have none of it. That will chase big business out -- "Wall Street isn't a captive of New York City, as it once was," she says.

In Gelinas' view, big business is in no way to be touched up for City revenue, or even addressed disrespectfully. She finds our cigarette taxes and the State's big-tobacco lawsuits equally noxious -- not on grounds of injustice to smokers, but because the transfer of funds from tobacco companies to the government is "hypocrisy"; and when City pension fund managers lean on companies like Winn Dixie on discrimination grounds, she sounds the tocsin at the City Journal: "No longer content merely to change corporate America from the outside, public-pension funds are now taking advantage of a chastened and weakened post-Enron corporate America to shift the focus of their political and economic power to the inside of the corporate boardroom. Their resolve to change the world one shareholder resolution, press release, and board election at a time spells trouble for taxpayers, U.S. corporations, and the national economy."

New York is of course not entirely a business-unfriendly environment; we give corporations tax breaks all the time, but despite the jobs this has safeguarded, we're still in the hole. Even Gelinas has noted that "From 1988 to 2000, [a Center for an Urban Future] report notes, Gotham handed out $2 billion in tax breaks and incentives to 80 top-notch firms, simply to keep the jobs in the city. But half of those companies still moved jobs out of town." Such payoffs "have simply warped the city's growth pattern, at best." Her solution: cut other business taxes, such as "unforgivably regressive 8.625 percent tax on consumer goods [which] openly encourages merchants to leave," and thereby make a still more favorable climate for business.

One may ask, then, where Gelinas expects the money New York pressingly needs to come from. A hint comes in a recent Gerlinas essay on the parlous state of our subways. Along the way she calls for the usual conservative remedies: privitization, sticking it to the unions, etc. The firms that pick up the MTA's baton ought to do very well under this plan. But there is a constituency to whom Gelinas offers no surcease:
Cutting artificially high costs is one goal — but politicians must also allow the MTA to hike the artificially low price of a ride. Right now, city and state pols treat the subway as a social service — when the fare is raised, they complain of a regressive tax.

The MTA should ensure that fares cover the actual cost of a ride. Fares should cover operating costs (after federal and state capital grants), just as they did 100 years ago, and should be indexed yearly to inflation.

Will some low-wage workers be unable to pay? Sure — but the city and state governments can offer them vouchers based on need. Gov. Pataki could never stiff the city of that subsidy — or the poverty police would come knocking. (We'll take care of them later, one imagines Gelinas saying under her breath -- ed.)

Treating the subway as a market service paid for by customers, not as a social service subsidized by politicians, would improve the prospects of long-stalled projects.
These big, gleaming buildings, these roads, these trains, and whatever stadia Bloomberg and his allies muscle through -- they were not, and are not being, built for you, fellow citizens. In the new order, it will be made clear in the form of user fees, fare hikes, and whatever else you can or can't spare. Just don't ask the folks making huge profits off you to kick in a little. That wouldn't work; more to the point, it would be very unfair.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

IT'S A GREAT LIFE IF YOU DON'T WEAKEN, OR EVEN IF YOU DO. Sometimes I get tired of my own anger, and wonder if it isn't a bad thing to keep up this blog. Every time I see an outrage (well, not every time, teeny-boppers -- I'd be on here 24-7, or whenever the public library was open, parked at a public terminal, surrounded by my shopping bags, wearing four coats and twelve days' growth of beard, and radiating a strong fungal musk) I open Blogger and vomit out a response; but like Harry Hope's liquor after Hickey has reformed, it don't have no kick no more, and I come away still seething.

Sometimes I think I need an alternative action plan -- anger management classes, Paxil, or some more lasting form of self-expression. Anything's gotta beat serving as the Bizarro-world equivalent of those poor fellows who regularly rise to denounce Che t-shirts or Mao in the library as if the kids' eyes hadn't been glazed like Krispy Kreme since word one and the janitor weren't already putting up the chairs.

So I did like the social worker suggested and made a list, and the upshot is I will keep it up a little longer anyway, as the reasons in favor are still compelling:
  • Another year and I qualify for the blogger vesting program.
  • When I finally get Peggy Noonan alone in a corner of some think-tank dinner and make her listen to my crappy proto-electronica, I can truthfully say, in a wheezing voice, "I wrote you letters, many letters, why haven't you answered my letters?"
  • I'm right and they're wrong.


UPDATE. One of the tasks I set for myself as a young man was to stop fishing for compliments. It may be that, under the guise of thinking out loud, I dropped the flag with this post -- the only mystery greater than other people, after all, is oneself. I'm very grateful nonetheless for all the kind and (as usual) eloquent words in comments, even if you are all FBI agents, as the three-foot-tall green man in the corner insists. I expect to keep this popsicle stand open for a while yet.

Monday, April 25, 2005

NEXT ISSUE: HOW ABC'S "BLIND JUSTICE" IS REALLY A PLEA FOR PROMPT CONFIRMATION OF FEDERAL JUDGES. Thanks to Sun Myung Moon's top-down management style, even a simple review in the WashTimes of the Virginia Opera's Faust reflects the new realities:
...The nasty scene where Faust bullies the frantic Marguerite borders on the blasphemous, but proves a dramatic necessity, propelling the work toward its beatific vision of redemption. The work's emotional portrayal of moral conflict is sometimes derided by modernists as decidedly out of touch with contemporary sensibilities. Yet it somehow resonated strongly in this production, perhaps unintentionally illuminating Pope Benedict XVI's recent condemnation of the "dictatorship of relativism," and casting this opera in an entirely different context.
Perhaps unintentionally? Did they bring in wind machines and sand dunes to portray Faust's wanderings through "'deserts' of sprituality"? When Marguerite was swept into heaven, did Roy's Rock rise in her place? Was Mephistopholes given a fat suit, a movie camera, and a Flint, Michigan cap?

More to the point, why might Moon, who has already declared himself Messiah, pump up his competition? Perhaps he hopes to lull Benedict into a false sense of security -- then, when the Pope least expects it, out come the thunderbolts and all the glory associated with end times.

Maybe Benedict's in on it too, and they plan to put their apocalyptic death-match on pay per view.
BUT HOW DOES IT COMPARE WITH MUST-SEE THURSDAY? I could not get "Justice Sunday" on my little wire-hanger-reception TV, so you must look elsewhere for informed commentary. But without bragging too much on my predictive capacities -- I have long maintained that the nation would go to hell in a handbasket, and see, here we are! -- I can safely say that this show isn't going to do much for Senator Frist's cause. The serious Christers are already pledged up, and while mushy appeals to public decency and morality may sway some uncommitted souls in need of a stronger sense of redemption, the invocation of Christ as Bringer of Senate Procedural Reform seems a non-starter even in the church counties.

The highlight reel is pretty rich, though:
[Family Research Council] President Tony Perkins (!! -- ed.) said Democrats were using filibusters to exclude religious believers from the bench. Holding up a Bible, he told the audience, "What we are saying tonight is that as American citizens, we should not have to choose between believing what is in this book and serving the public."
A man waving a Bible on TV and asking for money is one thing, but a man waving a Bible on TV and asking for proxy support in a contest not involving colorfully-named wrestlers is just wasting everyone's time.
LATE BLOOMER. Finally saw Sideways. The objections to it touted by some people back when it was in theatres seem strange to me. Of course male critics, like any other filmgoers, will be flattered to see themselves in a main lead. But credentialed critics are successes, in that they are bylined and paid for doing what I am doing here for free; Miles is a chronic failure in a field closely related to theirs. Wouldn't they more likely view him as a loser -- somebody that they're demonstrably better than?

In fact, what I minded about Miles was that he is so ceaselessly stuck in gloom without being genuinely witty or otherwise appealing about it. His observations on everything except wine are purposely ridiculous whinging. Modern drama, and literature, and film are packed with attractive, indeed galvanic, underperformers -- Gray's Butley, Lowry's Consul, and Jack Nicholson's Bobby Dupea come to mind. If you must be damned, be stylishly damned!

Also, I never thought I'd say this, but Paul Giamatti doesn't help. He's a wonderful actor and his extreme sensitivity as a performer leads to a few heartbreaking moments, but his raging schlub bit gets hard to take sometimes -- well, many times. I mean, it's a road movie -- it's not a good thing if you keep wishing you could get out of the car.

Stephanie and Maya are a problem, too. The former isn't much more than a device, and the latter -- well, this may be where the Times guy got it from; she's so level and true that you have to wonder how she got placed in the same universe as Jack and Miles. And Payne really miscalculated with all the scene-setting; it doesn't add much to see California wine country in such lavish detail. Maybe Turning Leaf had a piece of the action.

Well, gee, Roy, that doesn't sound like much of a recommendation. So what's good? Mostly stuff that (forgive me) ripens over the course of the film. The dramaturgy is wicked smart. For example, throughout most of Sideways I wondered, what do these two guys see in each other? They spend most of the movie savagely attacking each other's actions and motivations. Good friends may do that, of course, but underneath it all you expect to see traces at least of the ties that bind.

Payne was subtle about this -- maybe over-subtle. The big clues came late: the attack at the golf course, and especially Miles' reclamation of Jack's wallet. After these the rest of their relationship, and the whole movie, made more sense. Jack may seem like a heedless horndog and Miles a volatile lush, but each has a strain of madness that the other can enjoy, if only because it's different and thereby more exciting to him than his own. Again, maybe too little too late, but how much better that is than something like the little speech Kevin Spacey gives in American Beauty to explain to us what a hot tamale his wife used to be before she got so anal.

And I liked Jack. He's a user, a dumbass, and a devious shit -- the way he melds his lie about himself with a lie about Miles, as a hedge against detection, would seem Machiavellian if he weren't so fucking dumb -- but the fact that he comes up with this shit solely by instinct, just to keep the party going, is part of his appeal. He's not charming, really, in the traditional movie sense; his shallowness is too obvious -- I think even Stephanie sees that from the get-go. But he's got an appetite for life that not only draws people to him but makes them feel happy and good about themselves. For a while, anyway.

Also -- and maybe mainly -- that's one hell of a coda. I'm not sure how much it needs the rest of the movie -- it needs Miles' journey, and it needs a casual remark by Maya at Stephanie's place, but not much more. I figured Miles would have to come around at the end, but I didn't expect his way of doing it to be so simple and so moving. Moral: A big finish, as they say in the show biz, takes care of a slow middle. And among the countless hours of crap I have watched in my time, I am grateful for every small epiphany.