Tuesday, June 07, 2005

STADIUM SHOW. New York Mayor Richie Rich got a kick in the ass this week from Mssrs. Silver and Bruno. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

The West Side Stadium project is in serious trouble now that the Albany bosses have turned against it. The Bloomberg booster section is feeling very wounded. Sighs the Times' Jennifer Steinhauer, the non-vote "call[s] into question whether anyone can build big in New York anymore." She also bemoans the effect of regulations on the Roarkian urge to build, and even drags in the sainted names of Moses and Moynihan -- the former an ur-architect of urban sprawl (whose deserved reputation for fucking up the City has been successfully sloughed onto squeegee men by the City Journal crowd), the latter a lovely, old-fashioned New Yawk pol who was very good at bringing home bacon, and whose ghost may yet pull the planned Penn Station project into reality (which rennaissance was necessitated, of course, by the wrecker legacy of Moses), but whose posthumous opinion of this latest landgrab must eternally remain a mystery.

We do have some enlightened commentary from the New York Press, which has been excellent on the subject:
Whatever the real number of jobs the stadium would create—the Jets claim a dubious 7000—nobody denies that the vast majority will be seasonal, low-paying and without benefits.

Seasonal is the key word here. Even if you grant the project some wildly optimistic projections (35 conventions of three days each, 10 football games, assorted concerts and big ticket events) the stadium will still sit unused and empty almost eight months of the year. When full, the majority of the stadium's economic output is payroll, the majority going to athletes who are unlikely to live in New York full-time. Likewise, most revenue from concessions and merchandise goes to the companies that make them, which tend to be located in the South and Midwest. Money for t-shirts and hot dogs is economic development for Virginia and Pennsylvania, not New York.

As for non-Stadium jobs, the influx of fans and convention-goers just isn't frequent enough to sustain new businesses. The 1994 baseball strike offered stark evidence of this: Sociologist John Zipp studied the impacts of canceled games on retail stores and found that the strike had no significant effect. In fact, in 17 of the 24 cities studied, retail sales increased.
As for the alleged extra income from "events" to be booked under the retractable roof, we are planning to expand the shit out of the Javits Center, an actual, successful venue designed for that sort of thing. (Hey, you think Chuck Schumer talked to Silver about this?)

Remember that when we talk about the West Side Stadium we are talking about a massive tax abatement for the owners-presumptive New Wherever Jets, after a steamrolling process that snatched the Hudson Yards from the real high bidder, Cablevision. This isn't a story of Master Builders brought low by little men, but of power brokers thwarted by power brokers.

This sort of thing goes on all the time in the world of City-soaking corporate juggernauts. Think of Detroit's Comerica Park, built largely with that city's taxpayers' dollars (though not to their profit) at massive expense -- which massive expense just keeps on coming in the form of extra soakage, as reported by Field of Schemes. (FoS is, by the way, an invaluable source of sweet reason on the topic of stadia shenanigans, countervailing the local papers' boosterish bullshit.) To this day Detroit suffers from all sorts of -- what do the freemarket guys call it? Oh yeah -- Unintended Consequences from the Comerica swindle. You think, once ground were broken in this proposed money pit, it'd be different here?

Interestingly, all this crud coincides with some massive early spending by Mayor Rich on his reelection campaign. Our airwaves are flooded with ads showing Real People -- from all walks of life! Of all colors and creeds! Talent vouchers secured! -- extolling the benefits of Bloomberg (the candidate, not the media empire). Some of you readers live here in town, right? How much enthusiasm do you see from actual ordinary people for this guy? What eloquent testimonials have you heard in the streets where these spots were filmed on his behalf?

In a just world, Bloomberg would be worried about assassination, not reelection. But New York is in a bad place right now. There are no fires being lit by any local populists -- how could there be, in a City increasingly populated by transients: rootless careerists, and immigrants who do not plan to stick around -- and so the political center -- not positioned between "left" and "right," but between "this gang" and "that gang" -- however rotten and mushy, yet holds. So you won't see massive uprisings and street demos of citizens hollering for, or against, the stadium in its hour of crisis -- because few believe it makes any difference. On this subject the street is dead. Let the big boys fight it out, we figure; we're busy trying to make ends meet.

We are but spectators at the great board meetings that decide our City's future. Still, given those terms, the recent reversal, and the pique apparent on the Mayor's normally smug face afterwards, was a pretty edifying spectacle.

Monday, June 06, 2005

MY WATERGATE. I’m glad the Mark Felt thing has died down. I will admit that it was a minor pleasure to see Pat Buchanan and Gordon Liddy and, Lord love us, Charlie "Grab ‘em by the balls and their heart and minds will follow" Colson, and their various blogospheric enablers, trying to blow-dry their own soggy reputations by denigrating Felt. (What lover of American political comedy could resist hatchet-man Colson telling Aaron Brown that "the ends don’t justify the means"?)

And it was a considerably less minor pleasure to hear Alberto Gonzalez announce that he would not prosecute Felt for violation of FBI protocols – "The Department has a lot of other priorities," the AG said, and I thought, yeah, it would be pretty hard to secretly intern Deep Throat in one of our neo-gulags right about now.

But the revelation of Felt’s role has mainly been an excuse for a creaky-jointed victory lap of journalistic greybeards who, whatever their achievements or accidental proximity to history in the Golden Age, have been for the most part criminally derelict in the years since Watergate. We have lived to see the New York Times progress from establishment scourge to apologist for its own pro-Administration credulity in the run-up to the Iraq War. (Where be thy Pentagon Papers now? Get you to your publisher’s chamber, and tell him, let him paint the paper an inch thick with Style Sections, to this end journalism has, if not must, come; make him laugh at that.)

What then is the real, enduring legacy of Watergate?

In any case, the whole hero-or-villain discussion is ridiculously irrelevant. All news investigations have mixed motives. They’re about bagmen running around with parcels of information, and hungry journalists trying to make something of them. That’s why we remember the Dreyfus affair for Zola’s "J’Accuse," and not for its coverage in the Revue des Deux Mondes and Le Siecle. That’s why Zola stepped up to perform this public service in the first place, in those days when artists were not exempted on grounds of elitism, as they are now, from national debates. (Actually the attacks on Zola were the model for the you-artists-are-stupid strategy well-used in our own time, but at least back then it was new and obvious in its crudeness.)

That Felt may have been motivated by an institutional grudge is no shock to fans of Larry Cohen’s The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover, which suggested the Director’s "reaching beyond the grave" to strike at Nixon. In fact, if I recall aright, having absorbed Watergate as a teenager working in a Subway sandwich shop, blasting the Ervin hearings from a radio as I worked (imagine any fast-food chain employee getting away with that now!), the crisis was as much an entertaining unraveling of a mystery as it was a political paroxysm – in fact, the historical achievement of de-Nixonizing America, pleasurable as that was, is much more remarked upon now than it was at the time. We didn’t like Nixon, but we weren’t rooting for a coup. We did like seeing a famous kingpin, previously thought untouchable, taken down. Who thought of John Dean as a hero?

The real aftermath of Watergate was not, contrary to the poli-sci crowd’s pleadings, so much anti-Republican, or even anti-corruption. It was anti-certainty.

After Watergate came movies like Chinatown and The Parallax View and Shampoo and Executive Action -- and political movements like Howard Jarvis’ Proposition 13 in California-- all based on the idea that the certainties of a previous age were now suspect.

Suspicion was the order of the day, as were movements primed to exploit that suspicion.

Allegedly-liberal Hollywood and the allegedly-conservative Republican Party both profited handsomely from a prosecution that caused Richard Nixon to resign. Think of that! Their successes have much less to do with justice -- and even less to do with politics, at least as it is commonly understood -- than they have to do with exploitations of opportunity.

Though Hollywood has always been America’s dream factory, it has also been properly fitted to produce, as the times require, nightmares. Today America is largely unwilling to toss and turn over the state of the nation, but it is still prone to bad dreams, provided they are about serial killers, boogeymen, terrorists, and environmental disasters -- anything but what faces them in the here and now. These nightmares Hollywood happily continues to supply. If a Michael Moore comes along with a deliverable audience willing to obsess on political malfeasance -- if any artist (including the auteurs whose work is cited above) comes up with a creepy-crawly of whatever sort that might make a buck -- well, so much the better for the nightmare machine! He will have his moment in the sun, and then we will go back to the next version of Kiss The Girls.

And while the GOP was briefly pledged to Nixon – indeed treated him back in the day as a reclaimed son, the outcast who had by God made good – the Party was yet and ever more ardently pledged to victory, and showed it. When it found -- after the Nixon defenestration and the brief, busybody liberal ascendancy that followed it -- a bullshit Libertarian meme left squalling like a newborn babe in its lap, they of course ran with it; and when its operatives found a way – brilliantly, it must be admitted – to somehow link this babe, forever mewling "me, me, me," with millenarian Christianity for the greater good of the Republican voter base, who could blame them for making the most of this fortuitous cross-exploitation?

Despite the recent grumblings of some of the sitcom villains of Watergate, it must be said: if you would seek Mark Felt’s monument, look around you. The inability to nail Reagan for his frankly treasonous Iran-Contra crimes is only one further proof that the myth of WoodStein and a regnant Fourth Estate is just that – a myth. Some powerful constituencies -- not the press, much less the public -- rose to the occasion and took power from it. You want to honor Mark Felt? Or dishonor him? Knock yourself out.

Friday, June 03, 2005

FUCK, I'M A LITTLE SHORT THIS WEEK...

SHORTER JAMES LILEKS: Fuck all you musicians who laughed at me in high school. You have failed to acquire bling, whereas I have a dog and a house, you rockstar wannabes with your frigging and fruging! Next, fuck all you arrogant poets who laughed at me in high school.

SHORTER OLE PERFESSER: Amnesty Whatever, fuck with me and some fat guy with a beard and George Bush and I will "fisk" you. There! That proves your irrelevance, Nobel Prize fucks.

SHORTER P.J. O'ROURKE: That Kerry fellow is quite the windbag! Remember me? You don't? Fuck you, I got paid.

SHORTER DANIEL HENNINGER: Michael Jackson, Kobe Bryant, Jimi Hendrix... Jesus Fucking Christ, people, do I have to spell it out for you?

SHORTER JOHN J. MILLER: I'm totally fucking nuts.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

SHORTER CRAZY JESUS LADY: In heaven, everything is fine/In heaven, everything is fine/In heaven, everything is fine/You've got your good things and I've got mine.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

THE APOTHEOSIS OF THE ECHO CHAMBER. Reader responses at OpinionJournal are always a treat, but when the article to which readers respond has nothing to do with the usual conservative boilerplate, they often become transcendent. The Met's Philippe de Montebello offers a nice, if slightly overcooked, explanation of the relevance of museums -- "unlike historical facts and events, works of art exist not only in the present, but also in the past, the past that transmitted them to us... the ultimate assurance of renewal and survival," etc. Lots of uplift, no apparent politics.

Only four replies are posted, but they are choice. One allows that museums are alright "as long as no taxpayer money goes to the support of these institutions, which are valued by a very tiny slice of the electorate, this writer excluded. I now get all the culture I could possibly need from the Internet..." The next decries "revisionism": "Last year I visited a museum in my area where I found a lengthy written account of how the Europeans who came to the New World destroyed the continent with their guns and disease. There was not one mention of anything positive that they brought--not one." She suggests that the offending museologists relocate to "a Third World country that would be more to their liking."

The third recasts the discussion in terms of the Almighty: "Respectfully, regardless of their splendor and craft, artifacts are not sufficient for us to maintain our faith in mankind. Such faith has always been debatable. Christians say it's misplaced; rightly so, I believe. And, respectfully, these artifacts also do not reflect the ultimate assurance of renewal and survival." Guess What does?

Finally, my very favorite:
If everything is art, as seems to be the current contention, then nothing is art. It follows then that everywhere is a museum, so nothing is a museum.
OpinionJournal is in its way a work of art, or at least a piece of work: a fully-realized universe with its own logic, and where the characters are, to use E.M. Forster's terms, round: that is, their behavior is consistent without being predictable; indeed, they are capable of delightful surprises. I am always glad to meet them on the page, and wish that they could be induced to remain there.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

"YOU DO HAVE FRIENDS, DON'T YOU?" "WELL... THE SUPER-FRIENDS." At Libertarian glossy Reason, Charles Freund examines the economics of modern movie-going, and implies that movies will soon be a thing of the collectivist past. I guess the Now People will spend their leisure hours blogging in 3-D while seated in chairs that look like giant hands or something.

Freund will remind greybeards of the days when television was going to destroy movies, but the commenters on Freund's post mostly wonder why anyone would want to be around anyone else while consuming their entertainment product:
50" Projection LCD, comfy chairs, full bar, TiVo, Netflix. Why would I want to go to a crowded theater and spend $20 when I can just wait a couple months and NetFlix it? Or Blockbuster, if I'm impatient?...

For the price of movie ticket, a coke and a popcorn in the theater I can go to Circuit City and BUY a DVD to watch at home where there are no lines… I get two arm rests all to myself. I can drink all the beer I want, and I can press pause if I need to pee. I can smoke a damn cigarette. And after the movie is over, there are no flyers for weight loss or pizza on my car. Honestly, I can't imagine why anyone goes to a movie theater unless it's neutral ground for a date or you're just so impatient to see the film that you can't wait for it to come out on disc. ["neutral ground"? – ed.]

It's not that I mind sitting in a comfy chair and watching a movie in a comfy chair, that's all cool -- and I even pay extra to see the movie on a bigger screen than normal with a better sound system. The fact is though, I don't like people walking between me and the screen -- and I enjoy people making any array of noises during the movie even less…The MPAA should focus on a pleasant consumer experience and find effective ways of dealing with patrons that are distracting…

Maybe the world is ready for a restaurant next to a DVD rental place with semi private soundproofed booths, flat-panel LCD's, and waitstaff to bring you food and beverages….
Often I think Libertarianism is something suburban dorks do when they don't have enough get-up-and-go to kidnap, murder, and mummify hitchhikers.
SHORTER OLE PERFESSER: Thomas "My People Suck" Sowell compares black people to rednecks. I agree with some guy that this is a slur on rednecks.

Monday, May 30, 2005

ALL ABOARD FOR FUNTIME. Sorry for the paucity of posts over the past several days. It has been a holiday, of course, whereby we celebrate our fallen men with a short parade and a long weekend. But my standards should stay above those of the common herd. I owe you, the dozens who regularly graze this little patch of internet, nothing less.

Despite my indolence I found something you might like, though: ADCANDY, where enterprising young mind-controllers invite the hoi polloi to enter advertising "slogan contests" for small prizes, and offer the submissions they have collected as consumer data to actual advertisers -- or, as they put it, "ADCANDY provides companies with the opportunity to view original ideas and consumer opinions at a fraction of the cost charged by traditional advertising agencies, market research companies, and focus groups."

This inspired me to submit several slogans to ADCANDY, including the following:

(for a coffee-company competition:)
CINNABON: The only good thing at the airport.
STARBUCKS: Go ahead, smash our windows. A hundred others will take our place!
DUNKIN' DONUTS: Breakfast and a bribe for the cops in every box.
KRISPY KREME: Why wait till noon to go off your diet?
PEET'S COFFEE: Starbucks has enough of your money.

I was particularly excited by their "non-profit" competition:

PBS: You owe us five cents for every Monty Python quote you ever used.
THE LIBERTARIAN PARTY: Brilliant, bad-smelling males of the world, unite!
THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: In lieu of balls, some money would be nice.
ACLU: Join -- when the World Court convicts Jenna Bush, your children might get a few bucks.
THE PEACE CORPS: Justify a lifetime of money-grubbing with a few months feeding little black kids.

But I expect you can do better. So go ahead! They ask for your personal information, but the data-miners with whom they work probably have that already. The least you can get out of it is a frisson of creative non-compliance. And isn't that why we're here in the first place?

Friday, May 27, 2005

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "Could it be that for every child with an imaginary friend, there has to be an adult with an imaginary enemy?"

Nice in and of itself, but it comes out of the Bill Maher thing and some incredibly stupid shit that a diarist at Red State wrote. Did you know that Bill Maher has the power to curtail Armed Forces recruitment? Shazam! I'm gonna ask Jon Stewart to get me a sports car.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

FUN IT WAS. QUALIFIED APPROVAL I GIVE. Saw that big scifi movie everyone’s talking about. I found the dialogue unspeakable and, judging by their performances, so did the actors. Though I eventually rolled with the explanation that Anakin was primed to accept the Dark Side in any case, I was for a long time surprised that even a sullen mope like him could be snowed by such an obvious B-movie villain as Palpatine.

The sets were very attractive, though I was at times uneasy at the patchwork of style influences. Though the Jetson/Piranesi exteriors make some kind of sense, it is hard to see how a techno-Classicist society would produce such sybaritic, Southern California Pre-Raphaelite interiors. Maybe citizens of the artist class were smoking some kind of space weed. I suppose the mid-air water-ballet attended by Anakin and Palpatine is the design touchstone; if you can’t figure out what kind of civilization considers that a hot ticket, you may as well stop trying.

Still, there is one thing that excuses everything else, and that’s a good story. Revenge of the Sith is such a corker of a story that, having absolutely no affection for the genre, the style, the much-beloved and -merchandised characters, or the actors, I became engrossed, cared what happened next, palpably felt the coming of the resolution, and was satisfied at the end. That, as they say, is entertainment; and though Lucas is the opposite of my ideal filmmaker, I have to admit that he has this vital aspect of making pictures down cold. When Kenobe and Anakin chase each other along a toppling oil-rig that is running down a lake of fire toward an abyss, I can easily imagine D.W. Griffith nodding in approval.

Also, though it’s no Donovan’s Reef, it has some wicked cool fight scenes. And I liked the clones and the Wookies and that big lizard Kenobe rode and… oh hell, there goes my cred.

As my regular readers know, I am the sort of dark, ratlike creature who revels in marginalia and sneers at the common herd with their bourgeois reality shows and blow-‘em-up adventure pics (and their Christmas! And their presents with their gaudy wrapping paper!), but I am really glad to have enjoyed a popular film on its first run, especially after running into the stoned kid outside the theatre (a young Ratso Rizzo played by Gino from Bay Ridge) who asked if we had just seen the movie and then bellowed, "It’s really good, right? Youse t’ought it was good? Like as good as the old Star Wars movies? I seen it four times! And I can’t wait to see it again! I got the bootleg, right? An’ it’s so clear – like sometimes you see people getting up an’ they’re shakin’ the camera, but this was just, like, the movie!" (Bootlegs have been like this for some time; obviously this was the first movie he cared to buy in that format.) "But wait’ll you see it in the IMAX! Oh, man." (Gestures indicative of blowing-away) Had he seen it? "No, that’s not coming out till like November."

How can you not feel good about a movie after that?

What it has to do with politics of any kind I can’t imagine.
WHATEVER WORKS FOR YOU, BUDDY. "You could spin this out further and point out that it also makes adaptive sense for women to have a certain amount of difficulty having orgasms, because then they're more likely to seek out a long-term monogamous partner who knows their body well, which in turn dovetails nicely with the general female interest in having only one partner, the better to keep that partner around when the children come along." -- Ross Douthat, The American Scene.
SHORTER JAMES LILEKS: The specter of terrorism, of which I am poet laureate, has been replaced by the specter of Minnesota winters, and springs, and autumns. So cold, so very cold, and not even my imaginary friends from the 1940s can warm me. Soon I will make a run for the border. You'll find the wife and child in my "media center." Mother, give me the sun!
SHORTER CRAZY JESUS LADY: I wish 50s TV police drama stars would smite my enemies, for they are grandstanders. They should not congratulate themselves that way. They should put little cues for others to congratulate them into speeches written by me at $25,000-$50,000 a pop.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

ALRIGHT, I'LL PLAY YOUR LITTLE GAME. I got suckerpunched by Kevin at Catch.com with another of them web things. Don't they realize that I weary of human contact? Ah, well, come lads, I'll have a frisk with you:

What is the total volume of musical files on your computer?

At home I have a dial-up connection (tracking links for my posts sometimes makes me feel like the guy who takes 4,000 years to say one word in I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream) and no iPod, except for the one IN MY MIND! So I have only the 20 or so files that came with this generously gifted computer (Butthole Surfers, T Rex, etc.) and 40 or so that I created myself, with which I will not afflict you good people.

What song are you listening to right now?

The iPod IN MY MIND! is playing Lou Reed's Caroline Says.

Last CD I bought?

A Jackie Mason live comedy CD. I had to learn an Israeli accent in five days for a reading and all I could find was Jackie Mason doing Peres and Sharon impersonations. I think I got away with it though.

Five songs you listen to a lot and which mean something to you:

Shopping Bag, The Penetrators. This Syracuse punk band from the 70s was about as raggedy-ass as they come (some of their members are still at it and I hope to write at length about them someday). Their Kings of Basement Rock reissue is pretty great. Shopping Bag starts off as a complaint about a bag-boy job ("When I was a bag boy, I got pushed around/Tryin' to earn some money to bring you all this sound") and then just becomes a rant about The Gong Show ("I seen all them judges and that Unknown Comic/If I ever see him live I'll grab his bag and vomit -- init"). The bellowed chorus -- "Shopping bag! Shopping bag! Spend your life in a shopping bag!" -- is pure moron glee. They sound like they're singing from the bottom of a lake into a Walkman. They are obviously drunk, marginally talented scuzzballs and they are having the time of their life. Which means that I can, too.

Mass Production, Iggy Pop. There is no grandiloquence like Iggy's especially when Iggy is in the grip of David Bowie, Berlin, bad love, bad metaphors, and a speed rush grinding painfully down into dawn.

The Broad Majestic Shannon, The Pogues. It's one thing to be a beautiful loser and another thing to be a beautiful loser who doesn't believe he has quite lost it all, and who offers his proof in glorious, gargle-voiced song.

Perfect Love, The Residents. Ree dee dee ree dee dee, ree dee dee dee dee. Ree dee dee ree dee dee, ree dee dee dee dee. "There's something I must tell you/there's something I must say/The only really perfect love/is one that gets away." Ree dee dee ree dee dee, ree dee dee dee dee. Ree dee dee ree dee dee, ree dee dee dee dee.

I'm Free From The Chain Gang Now, Jimmie Rodgers. The essence of American song is a story, preferably a sad one, preferably simple as water. It makes you feel, despite all contrary evidence, that people are worth listening to.

UPDATE. Oh, I'm supposed to invite people into this, aren't I? OK, the unfortunates are the Mighty Mighty Reason Man (har de har har), Majikthise, and Sisyphus nee Jules.
ASSHOLES AND ORANGES. OpinionJournal on steroid abuse:
Steroids have cooked baseball's results much the same way sleazy accounting practices have cooked stock prices in recent years. In both arenas, fortunes are made on immoral conduct. But beyond the obvious matter of money, what difference does it make when athletes cheat?
This difference: when Mark McGuire juiced himself into the Michelin Man, thousands of employees didn't lose their life savings.

The rest of the piece is a paen to the free market, natch.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

NERDENDUM. I guess political analysis of Revenge of the Sith could not be finished till Orson Scott Card -- sci-fi legend, Mormon visionary, anti-homosexualist and fake Democrat -- had weighed in. Lance Mannion handles him well -- with insulated tongs, one hopes. I will say that, having no strong feelings about Jedi or Wookies or Ferengi or whatever they've got going on, this is all just comedy to me. But I must note one of Card's digs at George Lucas:
It’s a terrible thing, I suppose, for a writer to invent a religion and then discover that he and all his friends are on the wrong side of it.
Well, I guess now Card knows how Jesus feels.
JUST EXPERIMENTING. This latest in a long line of self-proclaimed liberal apostates inspired me. I decided to take the plunge and, at approximately 12:10 pm today, became a conservative.

I didn't tell anyone I was a conservative, of course. I preferred "centrist," or "true liberal," etc. Not that I identified myself this way either. Liberals are famously intolerant, and I had enough trouble keeping friends and jobs as it is. Look how such brave dissenters as Michael Totten and Roger Simon had been silenced, deprived of a public forum by the Red Hand! And then of course you had to explain yourself endlessly -- who had time for that?

So I kept it under wraps. When drawn into a political discussion, I used the Jonah Goldberg Variation: "Anyway it's late and I have to go to the grocery store and I don't have time right now, it'll be in the book I'm writing." I did start dropping "heh" and "indeed" into ordinary conversation, but I think I got away with it.

I was treated civilly, yet I seethed, knowing that all my friends would turn into extras from Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Donald Sutherland version) if I let slip that freedom was on the march!

Part of me wanted to reach out to them -- after all, what real difference is there between Rush Limbaugh and, say, Bobby Kennedy? But there was obviously no hope of reconciliation. What a bunch of jerks, with their impertinent graphics! My walls were covered, or would be once I took my new conservatism home, with simple, tastefully portraits of Whittaker Chambers and Zell Miller! What was the point in even arguing with them if they were never going to admit that I'm right? Didn't they realize that Jesse Jackson is no better than al-Sadr? And I meant that in a totally centrist, classically-liberal way. No, I didn't leave them, they left me.

So I brooded in my cubicle. On the bright side, I was offered three book contracts and a nationally-syndicated radio show. But I soon tired of that life, and so at approximately 3:35 pm I became a Royalist.

Isn't it true that all our national goals would be better realized with a strong leader at the helm? If we decry the political intrigues, deal-brokering, and pork-barrelling of our time, wouldn't it be better to eliminate all incentive to corruption by placing all power in the hands of a single, infallible Royal Family? If disunity is a plague on America, wouldn't a venerated Head of State, of noble blood, unite us all? And if new mothers named their sons after this monarch -- particularly if he had a suitably exalted, old-fashioned name, like, for example, Roy -- would that not strongly affirm the traditional values which made Western Civilization great?

But I can hear your arguments -- or would, if I were actually arguing with you. The same tired catalogue of complaints. Your time is over -- your tedious town halls, your shopworn electioneering, your whining about "civil liberties" and "trial by jury." Quit hanging onto the past, you stupid hippies!

UPDATE. I have just decided to become a Lipstick Libertarian. You know, porn, pot, endless foreign wars I'm too old to fight. I'm convinced this one will take.

UPDATE. It was just like being a conservative, and the publishers tell me that Brian Anderson has it covered for this season. Nevermind. I'm going back to believing whatever it was I believed.

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 co├Ârdinate 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.