Tuesday, January 17, 2006

LATRINE DUTY. It's not all major essays and heavy thinking here at alicublog. Sometimes basic maintenance has to be performed. I am here to tell you, first --
First [Hillary Clinton's] husband decides somehow that he is an African-American by claiming to be the "first black President" because he comes from a broken family.
-- that Captain Ed is full of shit: Clinton never seriously portrayed himself thus; it came from Toni Morrison.

Second, they haven't begun to dismount that Brokeback Mountain hobby-horse yet -- but they have moved from the anger stage to bargaining, experimenting with a manly, non-gay way to appreciate the film --
To come down from the mountain, and settle down into gay domesticity is not an option for them, because it would rob them of their dignity as men... and it would transform them into gay men -- a queer kind of quasi-male our society is willing to tolerate, and even to chuckle over and smile at, the way people chuckle over and smile at the funny sissies on Will and Grace. But neither of the cowboys could allow such an insult to their pride and dignity, and thus their only escape was to return to the isolation of the mountain, where, by themselves, they could achieve what even the most gay tolerant society could not give them -- a sense of manliness...
Butch it up as much as you like, girlfriend -- it's still hot man-on-man action to me!

UPDATE. Clinton joked, people choked! See comments.
THESE "LIBERAL FRIENDS" OF MINE! I keep asking but no one can tell me...
Most of my friends are liberals. This series is the conversation I wish that I could have with them. I wish they would let me finish my train of thought before interrupting. I wish that they would consider my arguments, rather than try to bury them in rhetorical put-downs.
...how do guys like Arnold Kling acquire, let alone keep, these "liberal friends" when they express such obvious contempt for them?

I mean, what would the conversations be like?
KLING: See the Colts game?
LIB FRIEND: Damn, I knew they'd fuck it up. They've been riding for a fall.
KLING: Oh, well, you would say that.
LIB FRIEND: Whattaya mean?
KLING: (pulling out charts) As this graph indicates, you have a tendency to claim prescience after the fact.
LIB FRIEND: After the fact? I wrote you an e-mail two days before the game that said the same thing.
KLING: I wish you'd stop interrupting me.
LIB FRIEND: I'm sorry. What were you going to say?
KLING: That your childish behavior is attributable to a deep-rooted psychological malady.
LIB FRIEND: Yuh don't say. (knocks him down)
KLING: You also have a propensity for violence.
(Cue theme for the "The Odd Couple," blackout)
I don't see how anyone with any self-respect would put up with that kind of treatment. Many there's an escort service in D.C. that handles it. Didn't I read about it at Wonkette?

Or maybe it's just bullshit. Yeah, let's go with that.
I'LL NEVER FORGET WHATSHISNAME. If you though "Bring Back Birdie" was a bomb, wait 'til you get a load of "Bring Back Reagan," now playing at OpinionJournal:
When Rep. John Shadegg jumped into the race for House majority leader last week, he called himself a "Reaganite" who would bring back the Gipper's vision of limited government...

It's telling that now, five years into the second Bush presidency, conservatives are still looking for the next Ronald Reagan to champion their ideas in Washington. Even as Reagan and the current President Bush have similar presidential records--fighting wars of ideas around the globe and running federal deficits at home--Reaganism is the party's philosophy, with its belief in small government, low taxes, forceful conservatism, a strong military and the view that this country is a shining example for all the world.
Several of this article's ideas are humorous -- for example, the notion that "wars of ideas" has been redefined since St. Ronnie's time to include carpet bombing, prolonged and unwanted occupation, and the secret detention of American citizens -- but only one is interesting: that conservative apparatchiks still count on invocations of Reagan to sanctify their latest predations.

Does that shit work anymore? Reagan is widely admired, true -- but so is Bill Clinton. This poll has the Glimmer Twins at one and two -- ahead of Lincoln! -- with younger voters prefering Bubba.

Clearly these findings have little to do with historical reality, and much to do with aspiration and self-identification. People who grew up in the 1980s tend to overvalue Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark; likewise, those who grew up with Reagan, when approached by the opinion collector, think not of the evil GE shill sticking a hose into the Treasury and throwing the other end to his corporate buddies, but of their carefree youth. Same with Bubba Blowjob.

So as they prepare the Republican makeover, professional bullshit artists will naturally avail heavy quantities of Spirit of Reagan. They may be right. Not to get too deep into it, but our country is sunk into a peculiar, new state that we might call psuedo-romanticism, best symbolized by the gestural, yellow-sticker support our citizens reflexively give to a war in which few of them believe. We are awash in bunting, but bankrupt of ideals. Ask your neighbor which American value he prizes above all others, and he'll probably hesitate (or name the dollar menu at McDonald's). What do we stand for? Greater earning power than you get in Kenya? All-you-can-eat shrimp? Supposedly preserving freedom for others at the expense of our own?

St. Ronnie may be a great icon for such a time. Or it may be that he's outworn his welcome. Seeing for the millionth time his wizened, hard-smiling visage in OpinionJournal, I was reminded of the Joker in Batman. As our values become more formless and free-floating, the shock of the new must be constantly applied to keep this rumbling corpse of a Republic tottering forward.

If Reagan turns out to be as welcome at the Republican relaunch as any other senile grandfather, things will get weird. What other corpses and near-corpses are available? Nixon? Ford? Bush I?

In that case, prediction: the lighting rise to power of Kurt Busch!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

PLUS ÇA CHANGE.
Should the United Nations be reformed? Or dissolved altogether?

That became the question of the evening at the first night of the Liberty Film Festival as the audience was treated to the LA premiere of "Broken Promises: The United Nations at 60"...

However, while the documentary dismantles the UN's credibility, it calls not for abolishment, but reform. And as you can probably guess, that's not what most of the audience at a conservative film festival have in mind -- and they didn't even wait until the end of the film to make that clear.

When one of the film's interviewees declared that "we can't fight these problems [terrorism, etc.] on our own," one audience member piped in with "The Marines can!" which was met with applause.

After the film, in a rather unusual move, radio talk show host Tammy Bruce was given the podium before the filmmakers. While praising the film as a good first step, Bruce challenged the idea of reform, declaring the UN to be part of the problem.

Not one to shy away from verbal excess (what radio host ever is?), she compared reforming the U.N. to trying to reform the Nazis, declared that un-reformable "Jew-hatred" is at the heart of the U.N., and said the U.N. "keeps righteous nations like Israel and the U.S. from being able to do what they need to do."
-- "Dateline Hollywood: Compromising Art or the Art of Compromise?" Ryan Zempel, Townhall
In the early 1960s, when Judelevicius wrote Gyvasis Sekspyras, Soviet critical views of Shakespeare were still officially regulated by the strain of ideology proclaimed at the First Soviet Writers' Congress of 1934 and synthesized in 1936 by A. Smirnov, whose Shakespeare: A Marxist Interpretation had neatly bound up the dramatist's entire oeuvre within the confines of socialist realism in a way that both limited the range of permissible readings and outlined an austere program for Soviet literary criticism in general. In a 1965 article entitled "Literature and the Arts in Captive Lithuania, " Jonas Grinius outlined this "totalitarian encirclement" as it affected Lithuanian writers. Foremost among the requirements of works of both academic and imaginative works produced in the Soviet era, Grinius explained, was that of historical optimism. Other prerequisites included the demand that all literary material be interpreted according to the dialectical and historical materialism preached by the Communist Party, always concerning itself with some aspect of the class struggle and depicting evil characters with the supposed traits of the bourgeoisie. Rimvydas Silbajoris has specified an even more basic limitation on the Soviet Lithuanian literary critic: he must not interpret using aesthetic criteria, but exclusively through the lens of sociology; and he must assert "the supremacy of a single ideology over the multifaceted and ideologically self-determined inner world of the artist."
--Patrick Chura, "Hamlet" and the Failure of Soviet Authority in Lithuania

Friday, January 13, 2006

SHORTER PERFESSER REYNOLDS: After we completely fuck up this planet, me and my buddies will just get in our rocket ships and leave it all behind.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

THE LOW POINT:
"When Mrs. Alito walked out of the room, I thought of Mary Jo Kopechne."
When they open the Hack Hall of Fame, Roger L. Simon gets in on the first ballot.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

GOLDBERG: THE EARLY YEARS. Jonah Goldberg talks today about his school days and all the feminists he -- well, let him tell it:
Moreover, many of the dedicated feminists I knew and befriended (and, yes, dated) sincerely believed in the cause...
The mind reels! Here's a little number we at The alicublog Comedy Hour like to call "Young Goldberg and His Feminist Date":
IMA LIBERAL: Jonah, my eyes are up here.

JONAH: (cracking that adorable, crooked grin) I was looking at your hands. You have nice hands -- really nice hands! (laughs, sprays cracker crumbs)

IMA LIBERAL: Ghod. So, what movie did you want to go see?

JONAH: Are you sure you want to go to a movie? Because I'm gonna pay for your ticket, and you'll be forced to sit right next to me in a dark room. Isn't that a signifier for the patriarchy or something?

IMA LIBERAL: Ha ha. No, Jonah, that would be fine.

JONAH: I bet you think you're speaking for all women when you say that. That's pretty arrogant, don't you think?

IMA LIBERAL: Okay, Jonah, you made your point.

JONAH: Oooh, the thought police are trying to silence me because I'm not being politically correct!

IMA LIBERAL: What is that weird voice you're doing?

JONAH: Bluto! Hey, what did the feminist say to the lesbian! Nice hands! Ha ha ha ha -- oh shoot, I'm out of chips! (suddenly "black," waves chips bag) Yo, go git me some mo' chips, bitch!

IMA LIBERAL: What the fuck is wrong with you?

JONAH: Relax, I'm joking. Jeez! Can't a guy tell a joke? You feminists are really touchy! You must be having your period. (pointing at her) Woody Allen used that in "Annie Hall" so if you get mad it's hypocritical!

IMA LIBERAL: Listen, Jonah, this is too weird. I'll see you. (leaves)

JONAH: (to the audience) The part of "Ima Liberal" was very thinly drawn, which shows that liberals like Edroso don't respect women as much as I, who only wanted to take her to a movie and, maybe, if things worked out, hold her "hand." (Snorts, farts, and throws confetti like Rip Taylor.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

GET R-READY! THE WOR-RLD IS COMIN' TO AN END! This New Criterion review of the journal N+1 starts okay, and the author, Stefan Beck, even manages to be funny ("If 'boredom is a moment of danger,' I just fell out a fifth-story window into an abandoned mineshaft full of quicksand"). What the hell, N+1 deserves a few knocks.

But at the end Beck reveals a tendency, shared by all the more hardcore kulturkampfers that nest at the New Criterion, to grab a sandwich board and play the Get-Ready Man:
...it seems inevitable that n+1 will recede from view... It will fail less because of its obnoxious hype machine than because, as the world’s troubles become more dire and more immediate, nobody’s going to turn to the Kunkels for the answers. A civilization declining within and attacked from without can’t afford to ponder its fate in the same glib, nugatory way that it ponders “trends in network comedy.” So nobody will turn to n+1. They’ll just wonder, one hopes, why they ever made such idols of Progress and Thought—without a moment’s attention to where they were going or what, if anything, they were thinking.
Years ago, when David Letterman was funny, he had as a guest on his show G. Gordon Liddy. Liddy obviously cared little for his host, and throughout the interview fixed him with icy stares and gnomic responses suggesting that he was far too wise and advanced to be trifling with fools like this. Letterman reacted with nervous laughter and defensive mutterings of "ooooh-kaaay" until the very end. After he asked Liddy what he thought his own legacy would be, and Liddy replied, "My legacy will be what everyone's will be -- a diet for the worms," Letterman turned to the camera and said, with a big grin and in his best announcer's voice, "There you have it, ladies and gentlemen: G. Gordon Liddy says, tomorrow we'll all be dust."

I credit folks like Beck for taking art more seriously than the usual Zhdanovite clowns, but Jesus Christ, guy, if you feel that way about things, why bother writing about such ephemera, unsuited as both the object and the analysis are to the New Sparta our times demand? Why not go make munitions, or hang yourself?
FAMOUS RIGHTWING BLOGGER SENDS THIS ONE OUT TO THE LADIES:
...Ladies like to play games. One of those games apparently is playing hard to get on the phone. Now, to be sure, men like playing games as well and since men are not oftentimes as verbal as ladies like them to be, games don't even have to be played to (inadvertently) mess with a lady's mind. But the traditional male compulsion to remain relatively Stoical and silent along with the fear that the ladies are wrapping us around their lovely fingers with "will she call me/will she not?" phone games compel us to be relatively shy in the conversation department...

Want to have a few of us break out of our shells? Then stop playing games!...

This is my plea: Help us help you...
Send that boy a blow-up doll.

Oh, and get this:
If this post doesn't excite the hate mailers, nothing will.

UPDATE: Okay, so not much hatemail. But I probably should clarify a few things . . .
Admiringly squibbed by credentialed wingnuts, yet still in the "hotpants and harangues" stage of his socio-sexual development. I hope the fame compensates for the anguish of these, his teenage years.

Monday, January 09, 2006

JEFF GOLDSTEIN DEFAMES HIS COUNTRYMEN. Despite conservative tubthumping for our super-wonderful, jacked-up economy (Here comes another millionaire! Feel your per-capita income going up!), consumer confidence is lagging. Jeff Goldstein offers this analysis:
Yet still -- with unemployment below 5% and the DOW threatening 11000 -- many economists at odds with Bush’s economic philosophy insist that Americans are somehow worse off, that their jobs are a inauthentic, that their situations really are far more dire than they themselves are able to understand.

Which is why for years now, I suspect, the health of the economy has not polled well among the American public, many of whom continue to recognize that though they are doing just fine, others must necessarily be suffering greatly—because this is the dour economic news they receive day in and day out from people like Krugman...

...The result is, Americans -- a compassionate people -- are often concerned about this phantom suffering of others in the abstract, and will react less confidently to the current state of the economy based on how they believe others are suffering under it, even while they themselves note (often with some degree of secret shame) that they seem to be doing just fine.
I have a pretty low opinion of my fellow citizens' intelligence, but I never would have imagined them easy marks for the hypnotic powers of Paul Krugman. Especially with everyone else drowning out Krugman's incantations with cries of "strong economy."

Also, I have lived amongst Americans for a long time, and I have never known one to minimize his financial status -- in fact, I have heard more than one claim to be "doing great!" when he was in fact two paychecks from a barrel overcoat. Americans are proud of their treasures, however many credit cards and mortgages are paying for them. When your average American buys a new car, for instance, he rides it slowly, almost insolently past his neighbors; he blathers on to strangers about it; the only person he hides it from is the collection agent.

Is Mr. Average American really so whipped by firewalled Times columnists that he feels "secret shame" at his big house, car, and alarm system? Why, Goldstein makes him sound more like some kinda goddamn grape-boycottin', guilt-trippin' liberal than a real American! I advise him to apologize forthwith if he wants to keep his place. Remember what happened to Andrew Sullivan!
JUST LOOKING IN. I'm awful busy this morning, but if it's laughs you want, you can go here and watch Ross Douthat condemn abortion by comparing zygotes to bums. No, really:
If I shoot a mother of four, it's a much greater tragedy than if I shoot a friendless bum, and you'd probably want to give me a much stiffer prison sentence. But it doesn't mean the mom should have the right to life and the bum - or the fetus, the embryo, or the zygote - shouldn't.
The rest of it's pretty funny too.

Stray thought: Given all we've been told about how Jesus made Chronicles of Narnia a hit, does its replacement at #1 by Hostel mean that America has decided it prefers serial killers to Christ?

Friday, January 06, 2006

LONGER MALLARD FILLMORE:


... so why would I go watch fags?

(Remember when conservatives were at least pretending to like gay people? Why were they doing that, I wonder? Just to see how much bullshit they could get away with? Anyway, ol' Mallard demonstrates that things are getting back to normal; next week, Chantel will jack his car, and Mr. Noseworthy will ask Mallard if he's ever been to Harlem, and Mallard will be all like, "Are you kidding? I can't stand my own black skin!")

UPDATE. Some interesting subtextual analysis in comments. I would add that, in this series, Mallard exhibits the loathing of public events and contact with fellow human beings typical of suburban conservatarian dweebs.

There really is No Such Thing as Society when you smell bad and can't fit in a theatre seat.
SHORTER TIM GRAHAM: Pat Robertson is a liberal plot.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

SO MANY RETARDS, SO LITTLE TIME. God, the web's infested with brain-lice today.

I expected the usual idiots to exploit the recent dead-miner unpleasantness as a victory of blog-borne news over old, worn-out, no-longer-cool MSM (though I notice Pajamas Media, the Perfesser's hobbyhorse, reported the story on January 4 this way: "In an extraordinary twist of fate, 12 miners caught in an explosion in a coal mine were found alive late Tuesday, more than 41 hours after the blast").

But I must credit the New York Post's Ian Bishop with going beyond the call of idiocy, under a headline that sounds like a collaborative effort by Evelyn Waugh and Nathanael West: "SIMPLE FOLK VENT THEIR OUTRAGE AT THE BIGSHOTS" --
Residents were rightfully serving up blame by the bucketful. Mine executive Ben Hatfield was an easy target — and so was Gov. Jim Manchin.

The local talk-radio stations — both of them — were lit up with calls whacking the gov.

Where was their Rudy Giuliani? irate listeners wondered...

The locals feel that they're saddled with the brother of Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, whose hand-wringing in the wake of Hurricane Katrina last year made her a national joke.
At least Bishop refrained from using quote marks. Even credulous Post readers might find it hard to imagine heartbroken backcountry folk in their moment of anguish crying out for Rudolf Giuliani or cursing the name of Kathleen Blanco.

Meanwhile, I suppose you all heard about that poor woman whose ventilator was turned off because she couldn't pay for it, and who subsequently died. This is the sort of thing that outrages normal people, but gets the glibertarians enthusastically re-tucking their shirts and clicking their pens. Andrew Sullivan's third string :
While here the critics are mostly on the left, the argument parallels closely what you'll hear from opponents of assisted suicide on the right: revulsion at the prospect that terminal patients might make decisions about when to end their lives on the basis of "economic considerations." I'm with Landsburg: It seems mad not to allow economic considerations to play a role—that's not heartlessness so much as the ethical equivalent of refusing to let your genitals do the thinking for you.
There's an argument: if you support the right to die, you support the right to be killed! As for the "genitals" bit, there are some depths to which my analysis will not sink.

God, that was depressing. I could use some real laughs... but Lileks is too generically hippie-hatin' today, only recovering the higher notes of his madness with the climactic "Wal-Mart, for example, probably won’t stock the Swedish jeans. I think that says it all"; Crazy Jesus Lady is just gently scolding the dolls around her tea-table, and what's the fun in that?

Thank heaven for Altmouse!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THAT? This New Orleans native tells National Review's readers that if they don't want to save her city, they are being just like those baby-killing liberals:
But the utilitarian mindset -- that someone is valued only to the extent that they are useful to someone else -- is not limited to Katrina politics. It pervades the mindset of those who see human lives themselves as valuable only if they are useful -- those who seek to use human embryos as spare parts for embryonic-stem-cell research, those who seek to use fetal parts from aborted babies, those who seek to euthanize the disabled because they are of no use to anyone.

And if we can apply the utilitarian mindset to human lives so easily, it's no wonder that we do the same to a beloved American city like New Orleans...

We're back home now experiencing the surreal in-between of an expectant mother of a high-risk pregnancy. New Orleans experienced a watery tomb, but now she awaits rebirth in an expectant womb. Let's choose life for the new New Orleans. Just because we love her.
I applaud the author. True, her analogy is insane -- but it may be effective in her purpose. She knows that while her conservative readers are incapable of any sympathy at all for resourceless, unconnected, full-grown humans, they jes' loves them a fetus; and by portraying the city as immersed, not in the waters of Lake Ponchartrain, but in amniotic fluid, she may get them to provide more support and less of the usual bullshit.

It may be she doesn't even believe this nonsense, and spews it only because she loves her home so much that she is willing to make herself look like a moron in order to gain it a little help. If so, New Orleans should build her a statue.

Myself, I plan a cyber-tour of the conservative precincts, featuring pictures of me with my close friend & personal savior Jesus Christ, and His message: "Roy shall be with me in Heaven, but meantime he needs your cash contributions. Don't make me send a plague; give generously now. Say, doesn't he look kind of like a fetus, all curled up like that around his empty bottle of JD?"
TENURED RADICAL. It turns out Professor Althouse, pioneer of the no-but-I-saw-the-trailer school of film criticism, has more ambitious aesthetics than I ever realized.

For one thing, she doesn't believe in the representation of historical figures in fiction films:
What a big drag! I especially loathe the biopic. This year, we're supposed to care about Truman Capote and Johnny Cash -- I mean a pretentious actor impersonating Truman Capote or Johnny Cash... Why can't we just see actual footage of Ray Charles? It's disconcerting to imitate his mannerisms. Since there's plenty of film of the man, why not make a documentary?
She definitely doesn't believe in it if said historical figures did bad things:
[Mark David Chapman] should never be mentioned, never given any attention, and no film should ever be made about him. I don't care how much the filmmakers think they are expressing disapproval, when a movie is made about a person, he becomes, in some sense, a hero. No one should ever see that man realize any part of his dream of linking his name to Lennon's. The news was reported when it happened. You can look it up if you want to know who did it. Now, the media should black out his name, forever.

And they shouldn't have made a movie about the woman who shot Andy Warhol, either...

If there were any chance that this "Chapter 27" thing is a great screenplay along the lines of "Taxi Driver," I might make an exception. But you know damned well it's not. The moviemakers are just trading on Lennon's fame and trying to grab what they think is a built-in market of people who are interested in him. We should shun them.
(I wonder if she knows that Taxi Driver was partly inspired by the diary of George Wallace's assassin, Arthur Bremer. Maybe Paul Schrader gets a pass because the Professor didn't grow up twisting to "Segregation Today, Segregation Tomorrow, Segregation Forever.")

This is all pretty far out, but today Professer Althouse makes her boldest statement yet:
Spare me your made-up characters and stories and tell me whatever you have to say about the world you observe.
V.S. Naipal did say that fiction is dead -- but now that a blogger with a large fan base has lined up against it, I guess we might as well stop writing stories and novels, and give our cultural heritage over to travel sketches.

At which the Professor is quite good, by the way, and to which she should stick.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

GOOD-BAD BUT HE’S NOT EVIL. In A History of Violence, a gentle man living in smalltown America turns out to have a violent past, which he has to settle with violence. This is classic American movie stuff -- Out of the Past, Shane, and Unforgiven come speedily to mind. What might David Cronenberg have to add?

He subtracts more than he adds. The biggest change is in the central character. His forebears in the genre suffered qualms, waxed philosophical. Tom doesn’t do that. He isn’t quite a cypher, but moral anguish isn’t part of his makeup. He isn’t obviously tortured by the past --when he tries to talk to his wife about it, he doesn’t have much to say. At first I thought he might just be inarticulate – a doer, not a talker. It turns out there isn’t anything to talk about. His second life is the one he wants: his first life he thought he’d "killed," When he can’t easily turn the past away, he goes back to do the job right.

In fact, the old Joey and the new Tom are very similar – taciturn, observant, economical with his emotions and gestures. The good one’s voice, we find out, is slightly airier than the other one’s. I’ve been thinking about that a while. Is this a sign of enforced gentility – like a hard man being gentle around children? Or is it just as much acting as he’s capable of? (The character, not Viggo Mortensen, who is really, really good.)

Tom’s only problem, besides the obvious, is his family. They aren’t cooperating. In fact, they’re starting to challenge him. You can guess how he might react to that, though it’s shocking when he does.

There’s a lot going on at the edges that I still haven’t got straight. All the other bad men are unmistakable – when they come onscreen, even in the elliptical beginning, you get a bad feeling about them. Much is made of the moment when the serial killers stare down the local bully, a poser out of John Hughes. Real evil is heavy. So how did Joey get away with his act for so long? Is there some way in which he has really changed? If he hasn’t, does it matter, so long as he has the will and opportunity to be good?

I honestly don’t know whether Cronenberg missed an opportunity to make things clearer, or if, in his estimation, it just doesn’t get any clearer than that. What do you guys think?
ALL IS WELL. Captain Ed covers the Fiesta Bowl pretty much the way he covers Iraq:
6:53 - Last quarter, and the Irish can still come back, but they'd better play better than the first three if they're going to do it...

7:13 Samardziaj finally pulls one in and puts the Irish back into the long game...

7:22 - Gotta run. Granddaughters trump the Irish. It looks like the Irish may be ready to score, and I'll be listening on the radio. Thanks for hanging in there with me!
To be fair, he didn't tell us that if we failed to stop the Buckeyes in Tempe, we would wind up fighting them in St. Paul.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

MUNICH AS A MOVIE. I’m not much on late Spielberg. Schindler’s List, for example, struck me as three good movies – one about Oskar Schindler, one about Amon Goeth, one about the Nazi persecution of the Jews – smashed together to make the super-duper holocaust spectacular I suppose Spielberg wanted to make.

These movies aren’t bad. Spielberg is very good with his tools and, as well-developed craft seldom comes without passion, he can orchestrate the hell out of scenes and sometimes (as in the Goeth thread) grasp beyond what I imagined to be his reach. But by and large I just don’t think he’s a very deep thinker. Sam Fuller wasn’t a deep thinker, either, but The Big Red One is a whole lot more grown-up than Saving Private Ryan. Fuller had been in the shit, of course, but Robert Aldrich never served, and he made the magnificent Attack!.

So I think this is more a question of artistic temperment, and maybe personal temperment, than biography. Spielberg has a gift for seeing the world through a child's eyes, but when it comes time to process the information, I’m not sure how much more developed than a child he is.

Munich isn’t bad, either. It’s very watchable, especially considering the pains taken to de-glamorize the violence. The acting is first-rate -- I expect people will stop ribbing Eric Bana for The Hulk now. But again I don’t think Spielberg was up to the material.

For Munich, Spielberg seems to have picked up some vibrations from the dark sensibilities of Seventies films. This may seem odd for a director who got famous making "movie-movies" full of references to much earlier pictures, but Spielberg’s a movie buff first and last, and can’t help but absorb the spirit of whatever milieu he’s working in. As I watched it I kept thinking of The Kremlin Letter, The Quiller Memorandum, and Sorcerer. The visuals are bleak, the downturns in fortune inevitable, the mission increasingly absurd. Avner, our counter-terrorist hero, starts as a cipher and becomes luminescent as he accumulates despair.

So far as it goes, this is a creditable approach that might have served, say, Alan Clarke or Costa-Gavras well. Try, though, to imagine Spielberg sticking to a format like this. He just can’t do it, and has to reach out of the moral morass for his nearest equivalent to redemption, the Big Movie Moment that is his stock in trade: the Moment of recognition between Avner and his Arab counterpart (across a bloody street battle), the Moment of personal crisis (cribbed rather tastelessly from The Conversation), several Moments of Mom involving the women in Avner’s life -- his mother, his wife, and Golda Meir -- and the biggest Moment (and biggest mistake), of Thanatopsis, when Avner recalls the climax of the Munich massacre during a physical act of love. (Not the mention the Moment with the radio, which would have made a nice Coca-Cola commercial.)

It says something that the most genuinely eloquent, unforced, and moving moment in the movie is Avner’s reaction to his infant daughter back in Brooklyn saying "Dada" on the phone. Home is where the heart of Munich is. The screenwriters have loaded the story with references to home, and made it the McGuffin for the widening gyre of violence. Maybe this is what attracted Spielberg to the project: E.T. wanted to go home, and so does everyone else, including people who haven’t got one. I suppose Spielberg thought pointing this out would suggest a common ground on which these feuds could be settled, and sharpen the sense of waste and futility of the struggle.

But "home" really is one thing coming from a muppet in a kiddie picture, and another coming from adult commandoes on a blood-hunt. This is not a political but a dramatic observation. In the context of what actually happens in Munich, the endless talk among the counter-terrorists and their contacts of home -- and of morality, ethics, and nearly everything else more exalted than munitions and procedure -- is revealed to be absurd, and the sentimental gestures that inflate the movie are all a con. The team’s Mossad handler is very clear-eyed (not to say correct) about the whole business -- when Avner confronts him about the reciprocal nature of violence, he shrugs, "Why should I cut my nails? They’re only going to grow back again." Did none of the other team members ever consider this point of view, either to adopt or reject, before joining the mission?

Clearly Spielberg doesn’t see it that way; even as characters become disillusioned, worn-out, and dead, the high-minded talk goes on, and there is no sign even by the end that we are meant to find the ceaseless killing as anything other than the result of a tragic misunderstanding among moral, reasonable people who happen to be blowing each other up.

Spielberg took over A.I. as a project from Stanley Kubrick, a man whom Spielberg eulogized, ridiculously, at the Oscars for his "message of hope." Only a cockeyed optimist could see the director of Paths of Glory, The Shining, and Barry Lyndon that way. For a while, Spielberg’s A.I. is creepy and riveting: Pinocchio turned into a nightmare. But he has to reward the Little Silicon Boy’s quest for home, resulting in a science fiction climax of dizzying insanity: time and technology create a DNA-enhanced Mom who will love him. For all the deep feeling that may have produced this, this strikes me as an appalling evasion of life as it is actually lived by human beings, which art was created to encounter as a means to understanding. I wonder if a director’s cut of Munich exists in which aliens solve the middle-East crisis.

MUNICH AS A STRAWMAN. In Munich there is, as I have said, much discussion of morality, Jewish and existential. Everyone has his reasons, and explains them at length. One might wonder, then, why so many yahoos have been attacking the film as pro-terrorist even without actually having seen it.

This pre-emptive attack on the double-plus-ungood is not limited to Free Republic types, though they are its most humorous practitioners. Michelle Goldberg has covered the "neoconservative War on Munich" well at Salon. When word got around that the film was not going to be Starship Troopers with Arabs in place of bugs, these people apparently saw a public-relations threat, and used their pulpits to denounce the film as a matter of politics. This must be a popular duty. If they can depress attendance of a Steven Spielberg film -- well, someone's getting a promotion!

Most of the operatives doing this dirty work have no natural interest in the lively arts, but have a lively interest in propaganda. Correspondents to NRO’s Corner have posted criticism of other people’s endorsements of the film, which said correspondents, of course, had not themselves seen. Warren Bell, who may have seen it (it’s hard to tell), complains:
Ultimately, Spielberg admits he made a movie that asks more questions than it provides answers. My argument is that the questions aren't that hard, and Steven Spielberg is in a unique position as America's most popular modern filmmaker to take a real stand on the side of right and the side of justice. That he didn't is an act of moral and artistic cowardice.
Bell seems to think that artists have a moral (and artistic!) duty to promote conservative talking points; if a director makes a film that "asks more questions than it provides answers," he is a coward. This idea is more Soviet than American.

A new low, though, has been reached at OpinionJournal:
Maybe it has something to do with Mr. Spielberg's curious use of "Jewish" tropes. Again and again in "Munich," the Israelis are seen counting the cost of each kill, down to the last dollar: $352,000 for an assassination in Rome; $200,000 for a bombing in Paris. "Killing Palestinians isn't exactly cheap," remarks one of the members of the Israeli team. A Frenchman in the business of retailing the whereabouts of wanted men praises Israeli squad leader Avner Kauffman (Eric Bana) because he pays "better than anyone." A Mossad officer warns Kauffman not to overspend his budget. "I want receipts," he says.
Yes, you read that right: Brett Stephens suggests that Spielberg and his Jewish co-scenarists are promoting anti-Semitic caricatures.

In the actual film, the quibble over receipts is a humorous, bureaucratic in-joke, a humanizing device. (Some of the squad are shown enjoying wine with meals; I wonder why Stephens didn’t accuse Munich of portraying Jews as drunkards.) Money is not a "’Jewish’ trope, but a terrorist trope: Avner overpays the Frenchman to buy his future acquiescence. And the "isn’t exactly cheap" line is a mordant rejoinder to a Golda Meir quote, "I want to show them that killing Jews is expensive."

Stephens’ elision is baldly slanderous. But why should he care? He had his mission, and he fulfilled it. Being a dark, downer movie, Munich will not be seen by many, while the operators of the Mighty Wurlitzer will spread the word that Spielberg hates Jews and Americans and the proof, trust them, is in a movie you haven’t seen. There’s more than one kind of assassin.

UPDATE. At The Corner, Tim Graham mocks a gathering of prominent critics. "They started with 'Munich,'" he says, "bashing conservative critics who haven't seen it."

2005's hottest trend was reviewing films you haven't seen. This year, I predict, the know-nothings will press even further, vigorously defending the argumentum ad ignorantiam against those arty-farties who actually see the movies they talk about. ("They even discussed obscure movies they liked," marvels Graham. By "obscure" I guess he means films on which he can have no opinion, as the Central Committee has failed to classify them.)

Zhdanov, your children are here.

Friday, December 30, 2005

RACE TO THE BOTTOM. Drew Thornley thinks we shouldn't make a big deal out of American torturers when people who are not American are doing even worse things:
The mainstream American media spent months covering in detail the "atrocities" at Abu Ghraib and continues to give negative press to allegations of inhumane treatment at the hands of American soldiers... Yet the events at Abu Ghraib pale in comparison to the real atrocities that receive little or no attention by the same media, such as the crisis in Darfur, Castro's jailing and/or murder of political dissidents, the May 2005 massacre of public demonstrators in Andijan, Uzbekistan, and the hundreds of "honor murders" committed each year.
Roger L. Simon double-underlines the point:
...there is a deep psychological disturbance in our mainstream media, a kind of willed need to ignore the world around them. It probably was, more or less, forever thus, but modern communications, specifically the internet, have brought this willed ignorance to the surface as never before. And yet the MSM continues in the same direction, even in the face of seeming economic failure.
Maybe it's just me, but I believe the scale and scope of international coverage by the commie-pinko New York Times compares very favorably to that of, say, the New York Post, the Washington Times, Fox News, or even Roger L. Simon.

I'll go out on a limb and suggest that Simon isn't genuinely concerned with the lack of global news in U.S. papers, or he'd be asking why Rupert Murdoch stuffs his rags with puzzles and runaway brides instead of dispatches from Uzbekistan. No, it's year-end greatest-hits time, and Simon's doing his usual Abu Ghraib schtick as a treat to his fans.

The persistence of the Abu Ghraib story isn't just a big-media plot. Even when they are in a positive (or at least forgiving) frame of mind about the Iraq War, Americans don't approve of torturing enemy prisoners. We prefer to think ourselves exceptional --- genuinely better, not just comparatively better, than the world's tyrants and their cowed subjects.

Maybe we're wrong about ourselves. Maybe we're not a shining city on a hill, but merely a better deal for the money, torture- and injustice-wise, than the other vendors on the block. Maybe no deep principle sustains us except staying a little ahead of the competition.

If so, then there's no reason not to get worse -- we have a lot of wiggle room compared with other countries. So what if we spy on our citizens? So what if we detain them without charges? Who's gonna give you a better deal than this? Go see what Fidel's peddling!

I have to applaud Simon's ingenuity in dressing this up as idealism, but I wonder how many people he's convincing besides himself.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

AND WHY DO THEY DRESS SO SHABBILY? MUST BE A MORAL FAILING OF SOME KIND. Perfesser Reynolds don't rightly know why poor folks accept bad terms on loans:
But many of the deals offered by a lot of these loan outfits are so bad that it's hard to believe anyone agrees to them understanding what's going on. The interest rates are so absurdly high that merely spelling out the deal would seem to be evidence that the borrower probably didn't realize what was involved.
Quite right. The Perfesser lets lenders compete for his business, and takes the best terms. Why don't the poor do that? They must be very shiftless, indeed.

Next week: the Perfesser suggests that the poor fire their brokers.
SHORTER JOHN O'SULLIVAN: While Democrats labored to keep the black man down, Trent Lott emerged as a quiet hero of the civil rights movement.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

PINHEAD'S PROGRESS. When Rod Dreher lived among New Yorkers, he found us morally distasteful, expressing to the OpinionJournal clods his fear that were his son to grow up in here in Sodom, "he will be immersed in a permissive culture that corrodes the moral structure his mother and I will try to build," whereas "For all the drawbacks of the rural South, a man can raise a family there knowing the seeds of faith and virtue he plants in his children's hearts will have a less hostile environment in which to grow."

Just before he finally got transferred to a Dallas outpost of the conservative empire, Dreher applauded a writer who pointed out that suburban sprawl started when liberals tried to make white children go to school with black children -- and implied that he could relate: "I hate the way sprawl looks," said Dreher, "and believe that more intelligent design could mitigate the worst aspects of sprawl. But all it takes is riding the NYC subway daily, and having to live with fear and loathing of the violent, profane and altogether anti-social teenagers who make public spaces here their playpens, to understand why middle-class people get fed up and move the hell out of town to raise their kids."

Dreher's been in Dallas about two years now, and he has a complaint -- seems the folks in God's Country... well, now don't git him wrong, they got plenty of them seeds o' faith and virtue, and he shore likes 'em better than those "subway" people, but they jes' don't share ole Rod's sophistercated view of housing preservation:
Lord, Jonah, come to Dallas. In my part of town, developers are tearing down older houses left and right, and putting up McMansions on small lots. Whenever the people who actually live there object to what this practice, at least in the way developers are currently doing it, is doing to the aesthetic character of the neighborhood, the developers invoke the Free Market, as if it were the Magisterium of the Church. I remember watching on the late local news one night not long ago a developer saying that if people didn't want to buy these kinds of houses, they wouldn't be building them. As if consumer desire was its own justification.
He says the rampant building of houses he finds ugly is not conservative -- "Libertarian, yes, but as you know, that's not the same thing as conservative."

You made your bed, hoss; now die in it.
SHORTER CONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT 1994:

"I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you."

HAW HAW HAW! AW HAW HAW HAW HAW! Thassa good one! Yee-haaa!

SHORTER CONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT 2005:

"I'm from the government, and I'm here to spy on you and perhaps indefinitely detain you without charges."

That sounds reasonable.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

WAIT FOR IT. Now that we have done with the Holiday Formerly Known as Christmas, I fully expect the same humorless cranks who bitched about liberal nonobservance of their Jesusfest (here's a late entry, chastising Google for insufficiently Jesusy gifs) to transfer their rage to Valentine's Day.
...Valentinus was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius the Goth [Claudius II]. Since he was caught marrying Christian couples and aiding any Christians who were being persecuted under Emperor Claudius in Rome [when helping them was considered a crime], Valentinus was arrested and imprisoned. Claudius took a liking to this prisoner -- until Valentinus made a strategic error: he tried to convert the Emperor -- whereupon this priest was condemned to death. He was beaten with clubs and stoned; when that didn't do it, he was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate [circa 269].
This is tailor-made for the Defend Marriage crowd. They can lambaste us for hurting the economy with our moonbat boycott of candy hearts; pretend we do not distribute valentine cards because of our fear of giving politically-incorrect offense to the romantically-challenged; and bray "HAPPY ST. VALENTINE'S DAY!" while beating themselves with clubs and congratulating each other on a brave defense of tradition.

At least this will be more novel and thus more amusing than their usual Martin Luther King Day bullshit.
ARE YOU NOW OR HAVE YOU EVER BEEN A PLAYWRIGHT? "Charles, didn't you say Ralph was always rather... artistic?" "He was willful, stubborn, and this time he went too far. But he was my brother... I will not have you calling him artistic!"

Stanley Kurtz connects the dots swimming before his eyes, and deduces that Hollywood homos are trying to slippery-slope us from gang-marriage to gay marriage, using their most fiendish device -- cable TV:
There’s one late-breaking element of this debate that I think deserves more attention: HBO’s new polygamy drama, Big Love. Newsweek is touting the show, which is scheduled to premiere in March in the slot that follows The Sopranos. Any chance that Big Love is meant to make a statement on the gay marriage debate?
You got it, bro! Just as Dallas was designed to lure Reagan-era Americans into conspicuous consumption, adultery, and shoulder pads, and Seinfeld fiendishly weakened our collective resolve by implanting facile "observations" into the national psyche, leading to 9/11.
It certainly seems possible. One of Big Love’s lead writers, Will Scheffer, is a playwright.
[Sinister music; isn't that Pinter fellow a playwright?]
Scheffer explored themes of gay male identity in “Falling Man, and Other Monologues.” This article makes it clear that a recent staging of that play was designed to make a statement in the battle over same-sex marriage. So it’s suggestive that Scheffer is one of the two creators and executive producers of “Big Love.”
"A recent staging of that play was designed"! Please, nobody tell Kurtz about Orson Welles' "Voodoo Macbeth" -- he'll think Shakespeare was trying to turn us all into zombies.

Kurtz's upshot is that "polygamy is being used to legitimate same-sex marriage! In other words, gay marriage and group marriage are mutually reinforcing, and both depend upon the larger view that families ought to be whatever people want them to be."

We know that it is now common practice for conservatives to judge works of art without having actually seen them. Kurtz' latest helps to explain why:

They have no idea what art is. The closest thing to it in their universe is propaganda, so they assume art is just a species of that. (Sometimes they're accidentally right, of course, but having no aesthetics, they cannot make informed judgements.) Therefore any work of art that contains something they find viscerally objectionable -- in Kurtz' case, acts of love that do not involve one man, one woman, and (it would seem) one or fewer orgasms -- is analyzed and denounced as if it were a piece of legislation or a policy paper.

So of course many of them no longer bother to watch the things they denounce: why should they bother?

Another reason to be grateful, folks, in this holiday season: that you don't see the world through so pinched a gaze.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

OKAY, ENOUGH PEACE ON EARTH, GOOD WILL TOWARD MEN. The Perfesser celebrates Christmas Eve with this:
How ironic,a guy who supports a party that promotes Fannie Mae,Freddie Mac,land-use restrictions,zoning,open space laws,and unions is unable to buy a house in the very Blue area of Northern California.All this from a guy who's got a law degree.What is it about Blue America that hates people that aren't rich??? Attention Markos Moulitsas Zúniga :did it ever occur to many in Blue state America that Houston(that doesn't have zoning) is a lot more affordable than let's say Berkeley,California.Also,Houston residents don't have a state income tax that they are paying.It appears Kos can't afford the very values he promotes,which is regulation of markets which leads to artifically high real estate prices.
We leave the response to Mr. Bobby Dupea:
I'm sittin' here listenin' to some cracker asshole lives in a trailer park compare his life to mine. Keep on tellin' me about the good life, Elton, because it makes me puke.
For further related information, see Supply & Demand, Law of.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

AND WE'RE GONNA GET BORN NOW. I am a Christmas crank from way back. As recently as last year I was collecting negative Xmas carols. Old-time edroso.com fans may even remember my 2000 Charlie Brown Christmas parody, now lost to the internet, in which Linus and Good Ol' Roy Edroso predicted with malign glee an oncoming war and the opportunity for satire it would present (Join the old Jim Baker chorus/"Fuck the Jews! They don't vote for us!"/Pundits shake their tiny fists/What a time for satirists!/Hark the hare-brained George Bush reign/Government without a brain!).

The Christmas scam plays to my strong suit, namely intolerance of nonsense. Let's face it, no one knows when Jesus was born, and anyway it would seem, from the way modern Christians observe the holiday, that it has far less to do with Jesus than with Santa and (as with all big events in this country) with money.

So, when the War of Christmas was declared unilaterally by crackpots, I with grim pleasure volunteered myself to the Santa sniper squads. Christmas has become an obvious racket meant to goose Western economies, shove unhappy families together, and force into the general consciousness the image of Jesus, who in our depraved era is no longer the revolutionary bringer of the New Law of Love, but an avatar of reactionary politics. And, by that reading, what a perfect guise in which to bring him to view -- in his infancy, before he could manage any inflammatory talk of exalting the humble!

But while in public I have always blown the raspberry, in truth I have always been a closet Christmas fan. Privately, every season, I have watched It's a Wonderful Life crying like a child, and the Alastair Sim A Christmas Carol blubbering like an infant. ("Forgive me, Fan! Forgive me!") I even take a moment each December 24th to contemplate the meaning of that invented nativity scene: the despised and outcast family that nonetheless brought forth a child who became a Prince of Peace and the Light of the World. Though the wonder Christmas brought me as a child has long since been burnt to cinders, I have yet guarded a tiny flame preserved from its holocaust. But I would not expose it to public view, lest the fart-winds of our discourse blow it out.

This year, I can't say why, when the Christmas season came upon us (was that Thanksgiving? Or Halloween?), I found myself less grouchy about it. The inflatable snowmen and snowflake arches that graced Greenpoint were less noxious to me than they had been. To even the aggressive, obnoxious commercials ("Happy Honda Days!") I had no objection. It may be that, in the course of maintaining this site, I have witnessed so much stupidity, venality, and crassness that the Christmas variant seems too innocuous to guard against. Or it may be a kind of fatigue. Or it may have been something else. Human hearts, even one's own, are a mystery. In any event, I hunched my shoulders less against the pine-scented incursion.

I started shopping early for presents, which allowed me to space out some of my spending on them, and also allowed me to put more thought into my purchases. This is really new; I usually follow my traditional barroom romantic behavior, and get busy at last call to sort through leavings. But now I threw myself into the fray, and got more enjoyment than anxiety from it. I experienced some wonderful commercial-Christmas moments, too, like the skinny back guy in a Santa suit outside Island Cellular in downtown Brooklyn, singing into a karaoke machine to a Caribbean steel-drum soundtrack, "We wish you a Merry Christmas/We wish you a Merry Christmas/We wish you a Merry Christmas/Come get your free phone!" Or the Macy's saleslady who, upon hearing that I didn't know it was a coupon day (I don't really know how to shop), took a coupon she had lying by the register, swiped me a discount, and flashed me a beautiful smile.

Though I hated, as always, the force-feeding of carols via public address speakers, I let myself remember the pleasure those songs gave me as a boy. I even allowed a tiny, metal tree to grace my bedside bureau, hung with little red globes. And do you know? This Christmas is not such a bad thing.

Everything that is inane about it remains so, of course. But unto you I say, that the ridiculous public hijacking of this old holiday by the lowest scum need not keep one from keeping Christmas, or whichever of the cleverly-disguised solstice festivals you prefer. As has been known since long before there was a Christ, the deepest part of winter is a natural time at which to consider the coming invigoration of spring. Even so, as our own government sinks to new depths of rapaciousness, cruelty, and stupidity, it is worthwhile to remember that seasons change, days lengthen, the exalted may yet be humbled, and the humble exalted.

I'll be playing my favorite Christmas carol -- on vinyl, if you please -- when I get up tomorrow morning. Alex Chilton for y'all. Peace out.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT... I'm a grimly purposeful type, but now that I'm on a mini-vacation I am going to do some meaningless things and, as one of my pre-New Year's resolutions is to be less charitable toward other people (a profoundly moral decision, you'll agree), I am going to inflict at least one of them on you good people. That would be this blog thing which caught my fancy and to which no one invited me.

Four jobs you've had in your life: Messenger dispatcher, busboy, Subway sandwich "attendant," freelance writer.

Four movies you could watch over and over: Bad Lieutenant, Strangers on a Train, Taxi Driver, Strange Brew.

Four places you've lived: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Bridgeport, CT.

Four TV shows you love to watch: "Two and a Half Men," "Seinfeld," "The Simpsons," "Like It Is." (If only someone would show reruns of "Don Kirschner's Midnight Special.")

Four places you've been on vacation: Chapel Hill, New Orleans, Berkeley, London.

Four websites you visit daily: Instapundit, The Corner, Lileks, OpinionJournal. (The fury of the hour/Anger can be power/You know that you can use it.)

Four of your favorite foods: Pizza, beer, steak, wine.

Four places you'd rather be: Heaven, Valhalla, Nirvana, wherever they gots the 47 virgins.

I hate myself! Next, I'll be writing about movies I haven't seen.

UPDATE. There's some discussion in comments about "Two and a Half Men." I do like Charlie Sheen and the jokes are okay, but I now that I think about it, there's something else about the show that's appealing.

The Sheen and Cryer characters are stuck between two amoral poles -- their awful mother and Alan's surprisingly awful son. (Credit to the creators for making a pre-pub kid so unappealing on a prime-time show.) They're also stuck with each other.

Alan is very aware that he's stuck, and complains about it all the time. Now, if he were the only lead, this show might be as bad at "The War at Home" -- all kvetching. But Charlie's main goal in life is to rise above -- or, to use Mel Brooks' phrase, rise below -- his problems. He's very comfortable ignoring and even exploiting those problems -- like using a gig as Alan's receptionist as an opportunity to turn his brother's chiropractic business (boring!) into a massage parlor. And he usually gets away with it.

What's most appealing about Charlie is that he obviously cares about his family but, also obviously, he determined long ago not to let them bring him down. Thus, the episodes rarely culminate in maudlin lesson-learning resolutions; while Alan works his way into a frenzy, Charlie works his way back to his own lazy horn-dog stasis.

Such moral purity is rare on network television. I can't think of another sitcom character that works quite the same way. It's as if Maynard G. Krebs became fully self-actualized and took over "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis."
WELL, THAT SUCKED. I walked today from Greenpoint over the Williamsburg Bridge, up to 40th Street on the West Side, and back. That's a shade less than what my route to work would be if I weren't off today -- 14 miles all told. And I was just shopping and observing; I didn't have to do any work in between the two treks. My legs ain't exactly feeling youthful.

The sales clerk I dealt with at CompUSA walked in from near Prospect Park. He told me that the Manhattan Bridge wasn't crowded coming in -- "and there are tons of cabs," he added, "Chinatown's wide open." The Williamsburg wasn't bad, either. I note with interest that the citizens steadfastly ignored the bike/walk lane assignments.

I came in late -- a day off is a day off, and I refused to get up early -- but returned around midtown rush hour, which from the looks of things started earlier than usual today, about 4:15 pm. Car traffic was heavy but moving; the sidewalks were clogged, and the usual bear-right patterns transmuted into a more blended arrangement of vortex flows. New Yorkers are awfully good at threading.

Bike traffic appeared slightly up, much of the overage coming from middle-aged gentlemen trying to make those gym sessions pay off. And yes, there were skateboards and scooters. Cab travel was about negotiated settlements, as the drivers were taking multiple fares, so there was a lot of urgent conversation over slightly-opened passenger side windows.

The atmosphere, as it always is here during all but the most dire public exigencies, was one of grim festivity. The ancient struggle between pedestrians and oncoming cars was kicked up a notch. I heard a few people discussing the details of the strike, but most of the related chatter was about how the fuck to get from here to there, and what about dinner.

Of course this crisis has more easily identifiable culprits than does, say, a blackout, and on TV you see a lot of anger toward the union. Tonight's CBS national report featured a commuter who wished Reagan was back to fire everybody, and the Manhattan Institute's Nicole Gelinas, a noted proponent of the "work or starve" theory of labor relations. (I thought they were all supposed to be commies at CBS.) My favorite of these moments came yesterday, when a little guy came up behind a local reporter and brandished a very visible FUCK THE TWU sign.

The shift in the national consciousness from "Good for you, buddy, get what you can" to "If I can't have it, neither should you" occurred long ago, and I doubt there is much public sympathy for motormen who have struck to retire at age 50. But more important than what we peons think, of course, is what the City and the MTA and the TWU management think. I don't know whether a jail term will make Roger Toussaint more agreeable toward binding arbitration, or whether the proposed individual fines of $25,000 a day will convince workers to throw up the struggle. I expect, times being what they are, that the government will try to wear down and possibly break the union; that would take time, but management stands to gain from it, and Bloomberg, a management type, appears down for an siege.

UPDATE. Commenter Chuckling calls New York "the biggest fucking drama queen on the planet." That's very funny because it's very true, and where I think the grim festivity I mentioned comes from. New Yorkers like to brag on their inconveniences. If you can make it here, etc.

Some idiots think we should respond to our crises by moving to the sticks and becoming right-wing. Nothing against other jurisdictions (despite my reflexive use of perjorative terms -- I'm learning!), but folks are still flocking to New York despite our relative inhospitability. Some people apparently think there are higher values than comfort.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

STRIKE DAY ONE. I'm off work this week, so I am not feeling the strike much, though I expect to try hoofing into Manhattan tomorrow.

The 1980 strike was easy on me: I walked from East 11th to East 59th Street every working day. That's right, back then low-life bums like me could easily afford Manhattan apartments.

But those days are gone. The City reports that "To find affordable, high-quality housing, workers are moving further from their jobs. As a result, commute times in the New York region are the longest in the nation. The average commute time into Manhattan is 48 minutes." Another commutation study finds "that people appear to be commuting longer distances [in 27 counties near New York City]. Between 1980 and 2000, the proportion of jobs filled by residents of the same county declined in every county except Manhattan (Figure 2)."

So more of us are coming into Manhattan from farther away. The last strike was in April -- a very warm April as I recall.

Well, my share of the suckage is reduced by fortune, but we'll see what we see tomorrow.

Monday, December 19, 2005

DUMBSHOW. The strange thing about the Leader's speech last night was that it contained nothing to elate, inspire, or terrify ordinary people. Bush is at his best when he is looking the proles straight in the eye and telling them, for example, that "it would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known" -- or, on the brighter side, yay everybody, we get tax cuts and lots of domestic spending all at the same time!

But last night's speech sounded as if it were pitched to "opinion leaders." You've heard that term before -- it's what small-circulation political magazines boast of instead of subscription figures, on the grounds that their small audience counts for more with advertisers than a larger, less exclusive one might.

What did he give ordinary Americans last night? Yet another version of his case for war; yet another declaration that he is, if nothing else, more right than his critics. It was slightly more Jesuitical than prior versions, true. But this isn't Debate Club -- this is Sunday night TV, with viewers thinking about going back to work and Christmas. Who turned to his or her spouse afterwards and said, "Well, he certainly re-framed his arguments effectively"?

He even slid through his 9/11 reference. If I were in his place, I'd be running footage on the wall behind me of people falling out of the World Trade Center, with the words HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN? strobing over them. But Bush didn't even slow down or choke up.

I don't think he was talking to the People (as in American People) at all, but to the people with pads and pens who are either predisposed to worship his every fart, or who, striving mightily not to look biased, respond to the change in PR strategy as if it were a substantive policy shift -- e.g., the Washington Post headline, "Bush Brings More Realistic View of War to Forefront."

The more reliable GOP propaganda disseminators, of course, hail the speech as a breakthrough, indeed a case-closer ("Checkmate, Mr. Murtha," declares John Podhoretz). They would of course do that if Bush threw up on his shirt ("visceral approach favored by voters 18-35"). But the logic, or lack thereof, of their arguments doesn't count for nearly as much as their volume, frequency, and reach.

Increasingly our traditional forms of public politics -- speeches, debates, rallies, etc. -- seem like set-ups for the real stars of the show, Spin and Hype. Maybe one day a President will just come on our PDAs or brain-implanted chips and go "Blah blah blah, Hugh Hewitt has the story," and sign off. And maybe we'll be grateful to have had less of our time wasted. 'Cause I have a feeling we'll all be working really hard.