Friday, May 26, 2006

LOOK AWAY, LOOK AWAY. Because of my record as a culture war correspondent, some readers have goaded me to take on John Miller's "Top 50 Conservative Songs" nonsense at National Review. But my heart isn't much in it.

Not that Miller's list isn't a comedy goldmine. I would pay good money to see John Lydon onstage at a YAF Rally, leading a rousing chorus of "Bodies" (#7). And previously my readers and I have enjoyed our own alternate con-song suggestions (e.g., "Pray I Don't Kill You Faggot" by Run Westy Run) and alternate lyrics (here're some new ones: "While ol' Neil Young talks down the southland/As he goes in and out of key/Me and my roadies will get fucked up/And drive our plane into a tree -- aaah, fuck me").

Whence then my reticence? Partly from contempt. Miller's logic is so extraordinarily sheer that it is almost beneath my dignity to poke holes in it (and I'm wearing a cardboard belt!), and it is certainly beneath yours to watch me do it. Take his statement to the New York Times --
"Any claim that rock is fundamentally revolutionary is just kind of silly," he said. "It's so mainstream that it puts them" — liberals — "in the position of saying that at no time has there ever been a rock song that expressed a sentiment that conservatives can appreciate..."
I can't be bothered to touch this "argument," anymore than I can be bothered to explain to an annoying child why he can't live on the moon or shoot rockets from his fingers.

Part of it, though, is from pure fellow-feeling. I was a lonely little boy once, and spent many sad hours on my own. The world seemed cruel, savage, and stacked against me. Being small, I had no way to fight it head-on, so in my imagination I created an alternative universe, where all the Hobbesian brutalities I suffered or witnessed obtained an explanation favorable to myself.

I'm obviously not the only person who ever experienced something like that. Neither am I the only person to have outgrown it. It marked me, sure. My naive faith in the power of reason may be part of its legacy. But I did in time come to accept something very important for all adults to accept: that the explanation that was most comforting to my vanity was not necessarily the right one.

Most of our culture-warriors have a Joe Goebbels idea of art. Some don't even know what it is at all. And some special few of them aren't even aware that they are talking about art, because they see everything for which they have any feeling as an extension of themselves. Thus they spend pages explaining why their favorite dance tunes, or comic strips, or choc-o-mut ice creams are evidence of the superiority of their world view.

They excite our pity more than our contempt, because they have obviously missed a crucial step in their development. They are, as Harry Truman once said about Joe McCarthy, not mentally complete. Were it not for the largesse of Bill Buckley, Richard Scaife, and such like, they would probably be living in institutions.

So let's leave Miller be. alicublog is a straight-up joint; we don't beat up cripples here.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

I KNOW I AM, BUT WHAT ARE YOU? Lloyd Bentsen died recently, and newspaper writers naturally recalled the old Texan's most famous moment: his "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" response to Dan Quayle in the 1988 Vice-Presidential debates. To normal, literate people, this is understandable. Conversely, to Tim Graham, it is an outrage.

Graham, the NRO kulture kop who thinks Hollywood is trying to destroy Christianity, seems also to think that witty putdowns are a liberal plot:
Copeland tried to make this [article] more balanced by noting Ronald Reagan's debate quips against Carter and Mondale, but "there you go again" and joking about not exploiting his opponent's "youth and inexperience" were much mellower in tone than Bentsen's "babyface" slam. Soon, she returned to the "beauty" of Bentsen's quip: "We don't feel bad for victims of verbal violence if we feel in some way they deserve it." Spoken like a true Democrat.
He also thinks that, because there are few Bentsen references in the JFK library, a "liberal media 'truth squad'" should have been dispatched to fact-check Bentsen's joke. (That always works. "Well, you know, rabbis rarely go into bars, and it is even more rare for them to go in accompanied by a priest.")

My very favorite segment of Graham's hissy-fit is this:
Left unexplored: how recent Republican candidates have resisted the urge to slam liberal opponents in presidential debates in front of liberal media. It wouldn't receive the same glorious treatment.
Is that why? Maybe it's because, with or without a transmitting device in his jacket, George W. Bush isn't anyone's idea of George Sanders. "Need some wood?" is more his sort of humor: frat-house in origin, aphasic in delivery.

I can see why Graham makes up the excuse that, if ol' George chose to uncork his zingers, the Em Ess Em would wave their hands in front of the camera and yell "not funny!" It's what he would do -- in fact, it's what he just did.

Still, it's good to know that, like the Muhammed cartoon guys, members of our local chapter of the Villains, Thieves and Scoundrels Union cannot abide mockery.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

IF I'M NOT MISSING SOMETHING HERE, if there is not some hidden meaning or level of irony that I have somehow overlooked, then I may just have to quit because, jaded as I am, I would never have imagined such a thing possible.

The next Orwell will have to be an absurdist.

(Thanks Atrios for the tip.)

UPDATE. Upon further review (thanks Felix) it doesn't seem so much crazy as malign. The DefendDelay folks seem to think the maker of Outfoxed and WalMart: The High Price of Low Cost let slip in the Colbert interview that his documentary has a political purpose (stop the presses). They portray this revelation as a result of Colbert's interrogratory skills ("Colbert Cracks the Story"). So it's a misrepresentation, but one that requires only selective reading and wishful thinking to believe -- not a wholesale denial of reality.

Which is not so reassuring when you think about it.
ANOTHER SAD SACK IN THE CULTURE WAR. Ol' Perfesser Reynolds writes about how society done made child-rearin' too tuff. The article clearly takes the POV that we whi -- uh, I mean Americans should get populatin' post haste. But while Dr. and Dr. Mrs. "Maw" Reynolds bravely do their part by raising a single young'un, despite the demands of tenure and podcasts, they insist that not enough clucks are having bushels o' brats "because parenting isn't prestigious in our society," as demonstrated by... the prevalence of SUVs:
People in the suburbs buy SUVs instead of minivans not because they need the four-wheel-drive capabilities, but because the SUVs lack the minivan's close association with low-prestige activities like parenting, and instead provide the aura of high-prestige activities like whitewater kayaking. Why should kayaking be more prestigious than parenting? Because parenting isn't prestigious in our society. If it were, childless people would drive minivans just to partake of the aura.
Alas, childrearing -- undone by an unfortunate aura! Like just about every scoundrel these days, the Perfesser says we must look to "culture" for solutions, then runs out the door before anyone can ask what the hell that means.

It amazes me that a person can attain adulthood in this century and civilization and continue to think that a "culture" more in keeping with his fantasies can be ordered up like National Guard troops or government cheese. Yet the Perfesser is obviously not alone in this. For further evidence -- well, just read my archives.

(The Perf's commenters are even funnier. For example, one W.B. Allen complains that when he and his wife had a third child, his fellow academics [!] treated him with "barely revealed contempt." W.B. takes heart that "the future Republicans and Libertarians out number the future liberal Democrats by a healthy margin." The populationist doom-cry can't be so urgent, I guess, if one can rejoice that in its death-throes American society will be, at least toward the end, liberal-free.)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

ARTS AND LETTERS REPORT. Ross Douthat stands up for Ramesh Ponnuru's constitutional right to be reviewed by magazines that don't want to review him. This is in regard to Ponnuru's latest Regnery entry, All You Democrats Are Baby-Killing Monsters.

I challenge Douthat to read and review my buddy Howard Djeleikakik's latest, Ross Douthat Smells Like Fucked Ass. Refusal to do so means Douthat is intellectually dishonest. And no fair skimming it in Barnes & Noble.

UPDATE. Other like-livered conservatives whine like little bitches when their constitutional right to be on Google News is abridged. You don't see me complaining when Pajamas Media snubs alicublog. And they're the news aggregators of the future!

UPDATE II. Dan Riehl has been disaggregated by Google News. Worse, they responded to his repeated letters of complaint ("after my nth email with Glenn's post included") with what Riehl considers a "non-answer." (It looks like a form letter to me.) Standing on a storm-buffeted promontory and shaking his gloved fist, Riehl declares that "Google as a company will ultimately stumble, or at least need adult management one day," as the music swells. If self-delusion is the soul of comedy, this guy should have a series on NBC.

Monday, May 22, 2006

HISTORY'S GREATEST MONSTER!

"Let's play on this big piano -- Mr. Hanks sez it's okay!" Moments later the boy was sucked into a world of polygamy and free-thinking, where his only friend was a free-thinking polygamous volleyball named Wilson.
Mistah Kurtz, he nuts:
The battle is radicalizing. Big Love and The Da Vinci Code are far more direct and brazen attacks on tradition than we might have anticipated just a few years ago. Conservatives are the targets, and Hollywood is aiming and shooting repeatedly. Give credit to Tom Hanks, by the way. As producer of Big Love and star of The Da Vinci Code, he is clearly one of the captains of the not-so-secret conspiracy.
The Da Vinci Code is bullshit, but a not-so-secret conspiracy against conservatives led by Tom Hanks is the God's honest truth.

Somebody explain to Kurtz that movie stars are not appointed by the Illuminati (well, except for Steve Guttenberg), that "control of our critical cultural institutions" is won by talent and ambition, not by whining, and that the pills he keeps spitting up are for his own good.

UPDATE. Kurtz may be mollified to learn that, according to Michael Long, there is such a thing as "conservative rock songs," from which scraps and shards of culture a new civilization may be built.

Long's primary example is "Wouldn't It Be Nice" by the Beach Boys, because
...Brian Wilson and Tony Asher do not say: “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have sex? These cultural mores have got to go!”... No, these are kids who accept that there is a place and time for everything, and that some urges are best delayed—even if we don’t see any good reason past faith to do so. They are looking forward—something rarely done anymore—to a time when what they want comports with the rules they trust, rules more important than an impulse or a wish, rules that preserve civility and order and life.
Long probably hasn't heard the latest re-issue of Pet Sounds, featuring the alternative lyrics: "Wouldn't it be nice to be on mushrooms/With lots of rum and fresh fruit juice to drink/And sit inside a sandbox, play piano/And talk about the martians with my shrink?/You know I'm scared a giant bug will eat me/I still have bruises where my old man beat me..."

UPDATE II. This is turning into one of The Corner's crazier days. Goldberg tries to conciliate the agitated Kurtz ("And, more simply, the book is by most accounts a lot of fun to read. Surely that explains some of this too"), but Kurtz won't have it: "I also think the popularity of the book says something about where we are as a culture," he insists -- which is something you could say about just any book, including The Gospel According to Peanuts, Interview with a Vampire, and The South Beach Diet. Saner minds would append to the observation the old Latin phrase, so what? Kurtz, though, ruminates darkly on "the number of folks who see themselves as unconnected to any organized religion... especially in blue cities and counties." Time perhaps for Kurtz' Destroy America to Save It plan.

The crown goes to K-Lo, though, with this (warning: if you are not aware of current trends in conservative arts criticism, this may blow your mind):
I haven't seen [Oliver Stone's] World Trade Center... I had at least one problem with the trailer... Nicolas Cage has a moustache, for instance, in the movie, to establish "working-class bona fides." But John McLoughlin, the Port Authority police sergeant who Nicolas Page plays in the movie actually has a moustache. So it doesn't strike me as too odd...

I can't believe I'm defending an Oliver Stone trailer...
And I can't believe these people are walking around loose.
HOW THEY DO. A Republican gets booed at a graduation ceremony. Gateway Pundit calls him a victim of "typical liberal rudeness," and the event evidence of "the intolerant Left today."

A Democrat gets booed at a graduation ceremony. Gateway Pundit praises the hecklers, denounces the speaker.

The posts come just a few days apart. Maybe Gateway Pundit had a really wild weekend, or a brain injury, and forgot today what he wrote on Saturday. Or maybe he doesn't give a rat's ass about logical consistency. There's a lot of that going around.

UPDATE. Gateway Pundit responds that the Democrat deserved heckling because his party "does not respect religion or the 10 Commandments." He also thinks Reason's Dave Weigel is a "Leftist," and that I am "young."

Sunday, May 21, 2006

WELCOME (BACK) TO THE MACHINE. The Perfesser is displeased by news of New Orleans Mayor Nagin's reelection:
I predict substantially less support for New Orleans reconstruction. Betweeen the Louisiana delegation's absurd overreaching in demanding a huge amount of pork-laden funding, and this, they've managed to squander a lot of the sympathy that was present in in September. Louisiana's political class isn't just greedy -- it's greedy and stupid. Louisiana will pay the price. And probably complain of unfairness when it does.
It is interesting that the Perfesser portrays the voters of New Orleans as part of the "political class." Given the general American non-involvement in political decision-making, maybe they do qualify. From that point of view, voters who pull the wrong lever are as blameworthy as their politicians, and as deserving of retribution. In fact, from the Perfesser's formulation, we may further infer that the minority that did not vote to reelect Nagin -- and the rest of the state's residents, I guess -- deserve what they get, too.

Vote right or lose your Federal aid -- an intriguing new vision of political reform. It puts the Perfesser's Porkbusters enthusiasm in a whole new light.

UPDATE. The Perfesser directs us to the ravings of Vodkapundit:
Here's the deal, Louisiana. We're going to help you. We really are. You are our neighbors and our countrymen and our friends, and we love you today as much as we ever did, in spite of and in no small part thanks to all the weirdness and flaws down your way. It's hard to see it from where you are, but we're helping you now, in our slow and ponderous way. We're not going to let it end like this.

But like every deal, this one has two parts, and I'm going to state yours very bluntly: You people are going to have to get your act together...
Get it? They're like drunks! And Vodkapundit's dishing out the toughlove. Not knowing how much vodka was involved in this punditry, I can't say if VP intends to go down there with a bullhorn and a whip and implement this plan himself, or whether he expects someone else to do it, like the Federal Government, or Superman.

Friday, May 19, 2006

CODE RED. Tour the right-wing websites this morning and you will see that their minions are out in full force to denounce The Da Vinci Code. Some of them have actually seen the movie they discuss, which shows how seriously they are taking it.

Were this a sign that these normally antiaesthetic characters have suddenly taken a lively interest in the arts, it would be charming. Unfortunately it is just the same old Culture War crap that constantly provides a subtheme for alicublog. Some writers overtly accuse the film of "Catholic-bashing," but most just pretend to be real movie reviewers, cheerfully pointing out the inevitable plot holes while throwing gang signs for the One True Church.

Their endlessly-proven bad faith aside, I have no god in this fight. I haven't read the best-seller nor do I expect to see this nor any more Ron Howard movies than it has already been my misfortune to see. (I do respect the Night Shift advocates among my readership, but that's as far as I go.) So I will leave the thing alone.

But I want to run an idea by you: The Kiwanis Code. A strangely-arranged corpse found in a suburban Illinois union hall sends a world-famous corporate philanthropy consultant and the dead man's daughter to Hagerstown, MD, where a marker on Kemp Hall contains the key to the true identity of the Six Permanent Objects. I will say no more, except that our heroes will be rescued by an equally shadowy order, riding to the rescue in little cars.

UPDATE. "Recently, the Nation Film Preservation Association voted to use Howard’s films to wrap around and protect other better films."
THEN SHE PRAISED CALCIUM SUPPLEMENTS FOR WOMEN -- AND NO ONE QUESTIONED IT! Tim Graham at The Corner:
On the occasion of the final episode of NBC's Will & Grace, Katie Couric insisted, "on a serious note," that it's one of her daughter's favorite shows, and it's so important to teach tolerance of "people who are different" at a "very early age." Anyone who expected a fair and balanced anchorwoman at CBS on the hot-button social issues, shred your illusions now.
I am in some sympathy with Graham. I would have gotten up early to see him attack the proposition that it is "important to teach tolerance of 'people who are different' at a 'very early age'" on national television. I would have happily written his talking points for him, e.g., "When a child smacks around feebs and wimps, that builds competitive spirit. Hell, every week I give Jonah Goldberg a wedgie just to keep my edge."

And I'm sure Focus on the Family has a study somewhere showing that kids who call other kids fags and pummel them are happier than kids who get called fags and pummelled. Further proof of the self-destructive homosexual lifestyle!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A REFRESHING NEW P.O.V. One of the many humorous side effects of the current conservative malaise is that it spurs even the dimmer National Review writers to reach for more adventuresome ideas. Mark Krikorian, heretofore known mainly as just another argumentum ad ignorantiam type, offers an interesting take on Bush's immigration policy, of which Krikorian disapproves:
President Bush is a conviction politician and sincerely believes this, which is why he sticks to his anti-enforcement guns despite potentially catastrophic political damage. This is unlike President Clinton, who was actually better on immigration in many ways precisely because he was (is) completely amoral and willing to embrace almost any position.
Read it and weep -- with laughter! For Comrade Krikorian has proposed that Bush is just too nice a guy to do his job well. And this isn't your usual nice=wimp formulation -- it is Bush's inner goodness that makes him a miserable failure; whereas sociopaths such as Bill Clinton do better at policy because their souls are black with unrepented sin.

I hope this gets around. As our Republic tumbles into chaos and ruin, I should like to see Denny Hastert wandering the wreckage, crying "I am too childish-foolish for this world." When the next hurricane/tsunami/ice age hits, I look forward to the President's address: "Americans have a choice. We can respond quickly and efficiently to this crisis, like depraved criminals; or, we can listen to that small, still voice of conscience, and fuck this up like we fucked up everything else." And during the next Presidential campaign, Giuliani can complete his expected conversion on gays, abortion etc. by announcing that he only ran New York City with some competence because he was having marital problems, but "since coming to Jesus I couldn't run an ice cream stand in hell, so filled am I with grace."

I mean, any explanation at all would be nice, but Krikorian's has the added benefit of being hilarious.
SHORTER PEGGY NOONAN: George Bush is an elitist. Also, God's will is expressed through film critics.

UPDATE. The Crazy Jesus Lady's commenters are in fine form. One Lindsay White of Tampa, FL promises vengeance against "18 Senate Republican turn-coats" who "need to enjoy D.C. while they still can" -- I imagine Linsday stumbling around outside the Washington Convention Center, screaming "I bring not peace but a SWORD!" while fishing around in his pants -- and Ken Zwick of Ocala states that "the DaVinci Code producers are misreading America's receptiveness to blasphemy," which receptiveness presumably peaked with Oh, God! You Devil during the corrupt reign of the divorcee Reagan.
SUNRISE SERMONETTE. Lot of talk recently at The Corner about how atheists=leftists=spiritualists. (Here is the inevitable, anchoring "I know I'm full of shit but I know a guy says I'm right but anyway it's late and oh look, a cold burrito" post from Jonah Goldberg.)

The discussion, such as it is, is highly personalized: "atheism=leftism=spiritualism" would not encompass it better. It's mainly about silly people, real or imagined, doing/believing silly things, rather than a debate on the merits of any particular creeds. I don't see why they restrain themselves. Why not assert the objective superiority of eating communion wafers to putting rocks on one's back? Think what heights the dialogue might reach. It could be like the Diet of Worms, only with Buffy references, and of course snickering over "Diet of Worms."

This nonsense provides an opportunity for me to express my own religious-spirtual-spiritous belief:

There is a God, and He is not doing His job properly.

I am compiling a bill of particulars to send Him. The list is very long and not nearly finished, but I will share some of my complaints with you now.

  • Negative side-effects to all the best things in life, e.g. money (inflated self-worth, false friends), sex (diseases, marriage), food (a large and ever-changing array of attributable health conditions). While we’re at it, thorns on roses and blow-cards in magazines.

  • Evolution. Contentious, messy way of going about things. Will take forever to figure out, thanks to that stupid Adam & Eve red herring. I suppose You thought it was funny.

  • Uncertainty. For example, I can’t tell if You’re even going to get this. Or whether it will please or displease You. Or how You will react if it displeases You. Or if you’re a retarded child like on "St. Elsewhere." If You’d let me know I could have dumbed this down, or commissioned an illustrator.
I'll let you know if I hear anything.

(NB: Capitalized masculine pronouns used for clarity of expression.)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

MORE KUDOS. His archiving is shit, so before they escape living memory I must link here and here to Harry Hutton's extremely great posts on Britain's John Prescott scandal. Excerpt:
I would go further: I would say that screwing his secretary is his main achievement since taking office, and one of the things that sets him apart from monomaniacs and cyborgs like Blair, Brown and Straw. Blair would no more fuck his secretary than he would read a novel. Why? Because he’s a lunatic and a freak, with no more sense of proportion than a Saudi cleric. Brute that he is, Prescott is one of the few members of the establishment who is still recognisably earthling.
High style and good sense -- that's all I ask, and more than I deserve.
GOOD CATCH. Though it pains me to admit it, I am not alone, nor even foremost, in mapping the twists and turns of the warblogger spirochette. For example, Belle Waring has found her a doozy of a specimen:
I think all three [conservatives who have broken ranks with Bush over runanway deficit spending or his immigration policy] may be suffering some variant of PTSD, worn down by defending difficult positions at the forefront of the battle against irredentist Democrats in Congress and their fifth-column in the media.
Even making an allowance for poeticism (though further reading at the Democracy Project shows we are not dealing here with poets, to say the least), this is rich. We are accustomed to hearing Fightin' Keyboarders compare themselves to combatants, but to suggest that they suffer actual casualties in the line of duty is a new one on me. Will they be getting Purple Nurples in lieu of Purple Hearts? Should we buy PayPal poppies to ensure their care?

I also see we're back to the fifth column stuff. Just in time for the new wave of blogger civility!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

MEXICAN STANDOFF. The most interesting thing about the President's speech was its conciliatory , come-let-us-reason-together passages:
America needs to conduct this debate on immigration in a reasoned and respectful tone. Feelings run deep on this issue -- and as we work it out, all of us need to keep some things in mind. We cannot build a unified country by inciting people to anger, or playing on anyone's fears, or exploiting the issue of immigration for political gain. We must always remember that real lives will be affected by our debates and decisions, and that every human being has dignity and value no matter what their citizenship papers say...

Our new immigrants are just what they have always been -- people willing to risk everything for the dream of freedom. And America remains what she has always been -- the great hope on the horizon...an open door to the future...a blessed and promised land. We honor the heritage of all who come here, no matter where they are from, because we trust in our country's genius for making us all Americans -- one Nation under God. Thank you, and good night.
Bush rarely speaks like this, because usually he benefits politically from dissension. The country has been sharply divided for practically all his tenure. Yet even when he stood on the stage of Madison Square Garden in 2004, with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators held from his throat by unprecedented security, it seems not to have occured to him to talk about binding up the wounds of his country, because he and his party were then profiting from the exacerbations of that red-blue division.

Now, of course, dissension is working within his own "base" and against him, so the President is trying to strike the mystic chords of memory. Unfortunately, his passable rhetoric comes with a gimcrack plan involving Mission: Impossible security devices (cue music as Jorge rolls under the electric eye), an increase in jail bunks, and what promises to become the National Guardsman's least favorite duty: muscleman for the Border Patrol. And no one believes it will make a damn bit of difference.

I did appreciate what I hope was some speechwriter's deliberate attempt at deadpan humor:
For many years, the government did not have enough space in our detention facilities to hold them while the legal process unfolded. So most were released back into our society and asked to return for a court date. When the date arrived, the vast majority did not show up.
Bush's comic timing was good there, too.

Wingers seem outraged that Bush did not come out brandishing a machete and crying "I'ma deport me a Mescan." Some conservatives have rushed to the President's defense; John Podhoretz finds a particularly interesting argument in favor:
This may not be the equivalent of the fence Israel is building to create a separation with the Palestinians, but it is a significant step in that direction.
Well-fed fashion models is the Israeli fad I would prefer to see us adopting, but to each his own.

Monday, May 15, 2006

GOING TO CULTURE WAR UNARMED. "I think that [John Kenneth] Galbraith, like Oliver Wendell Holmes, has benefitted excessively from having an excellent prose style." -- The Ole Perfesser.

Conservative contempt for aesthetics has officially found a new top to go over.

Maybe the Perfesser is trying to say that Galbraith's style is obfuscatory. This is unlikely, as the Perfesser clearly finds impenetrability a virtue -- he has been a tireless promoter of the windbag Steven Den Beste, whose ramblings make Tristram Shandy look like an instruction manual. Conversely, Galbraith was a genuinely skilled writer, pellucid in style and memorable in content -- two traits which surprisingly often go hand in hand.

More likely the Perfesser, like all his tribe, notices that many of his adversaries are talented and articulate, and this leads him to the conclusion that talent and articulateness are negative qualities. Well, that would explain a lot of the ass-paste that passes for sparkling prose in wingerland -- maybe it's deliberate!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

SAME AS IT EVER WAS. The conservative comeback is outlined by Mark Tapscott. Heading the agenda is "Immigration reform, including building the wall and whatever other measures are required to secure our borders and disavowing any form of amnesty for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants now in America."

Okay for the white people in border states ascared of Mescans -- who have been voting GOP forever. What else you got?
Federal spending must be brought under control, starting with an end of all earmarks...

Entitlements must be controlled. We simply cannot afford to pay the benefits promised to the Baby Boomers (of which I am one) under Social Security and Medicare...

Similarly, the current system in which government bureaucrats make the basic decisions about the nation's health care must be replaced with one that puts the power of consumer choice in the hands of health care consumers and the integrity of treatment choices in the hands of doctors....
Any of this sound familiar to you folks? Why, yes, it's the usual GOP talking points, restated in more strident and less equivocal language than usual. Apparently the old ways are the best ways, if shouted in a hoarser voice.

References to "Repeal McCain-Feingold" and "the Cornyn-Leahy Open Government Act of 2005" may be dismissed as filler. As to the threat, "if the GOP majority fails to act or merely continues to talk about it, conservatives then have an obligation to find or create a new party" -- honky, please.

Why do they bother? The return to power of Republicans in 2006 will rely strongly on gay marriage, swears on the TV, and the aggregate Democratic advertising budget. And maybe gas prices. The Dems are on a fundraising roll, but still must overcome the well-engendered perception that they are potty-mouthed Bunburyists -- no small challenge.

As for the petrol issue, Democrats don't seem able to do much with it, owing perhaps to their general reluctance (with some rare exceptions) to be accused of class warfare.

I think the GOP has a good chance in November just by playing defense. Especially if the opposition persists in running the ball up the middle.
EXIT THE PRESIDENT. (JOSIAH BARTLET’s study. He is sitting at a polished oak desk, surrounded by Presidential mementoes and bric-a-brac. He wears a royal blue bathrobe over a stained white t-shirt, and looks annoyed.)

BARTLET: (Shouting) Abby! For crying out loud, where are you?

(ABBY BARTLET runs breathlessly in.)

ABBY: I’m here, Jed! I’m here! What is it?

BARTLET: (holds up the New York Times) Abby, have you seen this intelligence? Russian troops massing at the Ukrainean border, and Secretary of State Vinick’s cocker spaniel kidnapped! And I can’t get through to the Joint Chiefs!

( JOSH holds up the receiver of a red PlaySkool phone)

ABBY: Oh thank God! I thought you were having an attack!

BARTLET: Attack? They’ve attacked? (hurls away the newspaper) I need fresh intelligence! (shouts into the PlaySkool phone) Hello? Hello? This is your President speaking, dammit! (slams receiver down) They’re trying to cut me out of the loop, Abby. Where’s Charlie?

ABBY: Jed, President Santos is taking care of everything.

BARTLET: Santos! Get him on the line!

ABBY: Why don’t you come down to breakfast, Jed? There’s cranberry pancakes.

BARTLET: Cranberry? No! Massachusetts is a lock; what we need is the Deep South. Get me biscuits and gravy! (Runs to the window, shouts) How all y’all doin’? (flashes thumbs up) Bartlet for America!

ABBY: Jed. Jed. Look at me. (takes out penlight, shines it in his eyes) Try to breathe. Listen to me, Jeb. You are no longer President of the United States.

BARTLET: I rescinded that order. Now that our little girl’s back, I think I can do the people’s business.

ABBY: Alright, Jed, if you won’t come down, you have some visitors and I’m going to bring them up.

BARTLET: What is this? A walk-through? Foreign dignitaries? That’s not on the schedule -- (consults an old copy of Entertainment Weekly) Aha! There it is! Crisis in the Ukraine! Right after "Scrubs."

ABBY: It’s your senior staff, Jed. Very important meeting.

BARTLET: Fine, get ‘em in here. We’ll sort this thing out.

(Several cast members of The West Wing shuffle into the room.)

BARTLET: (standing, majestically flipping off his half-glasses) Alright, what have you got for me?

TOBY: Mr. President… (holds up two fingers; thoughtful pause) How… (thoughtful pause) many fingers… (thoughtful pause) am I holding… (thoughtful pause, quizzical turn of head) up?

BARTLET: I’m not sure I take your meaning, Toby. Speak frankly.

JOSH: (stepping forward) Sir, the thing is… you… are not the Commander in Chief. You never were Commander in Chief. You’re Martin Sheen, an actor…

C.J.: A very fine actor.

JOSH ... and you played the President for seven wonderful years, but they’re over and it’s time to… give it up.

BARTLET: (gives a blank look; then chuckles, puts hands on hips) So that’s how it is, huh? I see. Well, you won’t catch me pulling a Nixon. I’ll go with dignity.

JOSH: It might help if you put on some pants, sir.

BARTLET: (wags finger at JOSH) That’s good. Pants. Send someone in here to pack up my things.

(HE rummages through some papers; the others look around, then silently file out, leaving ABBY with BARTLET. She goes to him.)

ABBY: Maybe you should do some theatre, Marty. When you think about it, TV’s not very fulfilling.

BARTLET: Ah, but it was, Abby.

ABBY: Stockard.

BARTLET: (smiles) Doctor Bartlet. (Puts his arm around her.) It’s a heady thing, running the country, even on TV. Hell, maybe it’s not so different from running the country for real. Who could blame me if I had a hard time letting go? (Kisses her forehead, walks to the corner, drops his robe, pulls on some Levi’s, tucks in his t-shirt; ABBY sits against the edge of the desk) I remember when I was kid, watching Jimmy Dean, thinking, "That’s what I want to do." Forty years later, I’m President of the United States. But what I really wanted was to be James Dean. (runs his fingers through his hair) Is that strange?

ABBY: No. It’s just a different kind of… power.

BARTLET: (sits by her; in a lower, less articulate voice) Yeah. It’s about being misunderstood. Down in the polls. No one on your side. That's when you got to be the decider. (points to the Times on the carpet) Lookee, there’s a piece of paper on the sidewalk. Probably blame that on me, too.

ABBY: (Uncertainly) Yeah.

BARTLET: Listen, now that this is over, I’m gonna sit down and buy you a big, thick steak.

ABBY: I don’t want a steak.

BARTLET: We’ll see about that.

ABBY: (v.o.) Sometimes I think there’s something wrong with his bean.

(Music: "Trois morceaux en forme de poire," Satie)

Saturday, May 13, 2006

BUSHWICK MIX. Played a show in Bushwick tonight. A first for me: back in the day, Bushwick was for Mike Tyson, Bushwick Bill, and other criminal acts. An ensemble of our acquaintance called Demo Moe, made up of sculptors and musicians, had a forge out there then, but the rest of us stayed clear, content with Lower East Side mischief. Real estate values have since done their work in Bushwick, I'm told, and I did see white, well-appointed youngsters on bicycles and in clusters, but otherwise it was as I imagined. The envrions are still stained with graffiti, and empty lots leave the industrial buildings (some with the warm orange glow of gentrification in their windows) and residential tenements standing lonesome and forlorn in the great shadow of the Projects.

Our venue, the Wreck Room, stood near the Life Cafe -- two well-appointed embers smoldering in a dark stretch. The young folk at the Wreck Room were Friday-night giddy. They dressed well, as all young New Yorkers do, but they seemed easier and less self-conscious than the inland versions I was familiar with. The more famous semi-demimondes of New York are brightly lit stages, and those who trod them tend to notice that they have a role to play.

We did get some pressure from the short, cute singer of Hollis, which is also her stage name. She worked the crowd aggressively-friendly to get people to stay for her set. She said she had just taken a share in Queens ("In Hollis?" I asked; "No, Astoria," she said, "though that would be really cool"), having recently graduated with a double major in art history and communications, which I told her was an excellent pedigree for a rock star, her freely admitted ambition.

But I couldn't stay. Bill the drummer and I trudged up Morgan to our train, and were joined on the station bench by two young hiphopsters wearing baseball jerseys over t-shirts and white pants. They asked about the musical apparati we carried. They were more familiar with all-in-one sound producing units like the Triton Workstation, but they had a sincere interest in our old, clumsy gear. They liked music. The more voluble one, wearing a tight doo-rag and sporting a grey, metallic bottom row of front teeth, said he had a Yamaha acoustic that he played a bit. They were relaxed but polite. I asked about the neighborhood these days. "You got the white people coming in," the talkative one said, "and they got the lofts, and you got people like me. But it's cool."

Well, yes it is. They're working with a fellow called Heater. I wish them well, and Hollis well (May 27 at the Continental), and the hard-rockin Saint Bastard and all the rest of tonight's acts well. All musicians, except for those at the tippy-top, are slumdwellers in spirit or in fact. We could all use a break.

Friday, May 12, 2006

"GOD, YOU'VE MADE A POWERFUL ENEMY." Hugh Hewitt issues a warning to Tom Hanks:
Tom: Careful now. The Saturday Night Live skit was great fun, and the ""It's only a movie," works. The pull quotes from this story do not:
Hanks said objectors to The Da Vinci Code are taking the film too seriously, telling the Evening Standard: "We always knew there would be a segment of society that would not want this movie to be shown....
...It is difficult to use the "it is only a movie" argument when mixed up with "dialogue is good" and "creepy censors want to shut us down" arguments.

The almost universally liked Hanks doesn't need to get into the theological debate that Dan browns likes to fan. Stick to the obvious --it is an absurd piece of invention that makes for a fun thriller-- and all will be well...
...and if ya don't, me and my blogger buddies will write a densely-worded essay about how theatre seats chafe our fat asses.

Many nuggets of comedy gold here. First, the overblown concern over a fucking Ron Howard (syn: stupid) movie; then, the notion that Hewitt can shake the very caliphs of Hollyweird with the force of his blog, a delusion known in the business as Sidney Applebaum Syndrome.

There is also a weird poignance about conservatives who are mesermized by Hollywood. As it is the place they hate most in the world -- more even than Paris, or the human heart -- one would think they would just avoid the subject altogether, as it is obviously irredeemable (at least until Der Tag, when Roger L. Simon is named Minister of Truth) and naught but blight on the land.

Some of them can't keep their hands off, though. Witness John Podhoretz's strange column on "American Idol." I kept waiting for the metaphor, or at least the punch line, to emerge. Finally in horror I realized that John son of Podhoretz, Decrier of Kultur Filth fils, was talking about "American Idol" because he rilly liked "American Idol"; also, that the column wasn't as bad as much of the current, politicized rightwing bunk about TV and movies, because "American Idol" is such a piece of shit that it doesn't qualify as culture, and deserves to be discussed in the debased terms of politics.

It suggests a possible solution to all the conservative culture crap currently stinking up our discourse: let the Medveds and Mathewes-Greens and all other such professional misapprehenders exclusively use sub-cultural objects such as "The Apprentice" and "Herbie: Fully Loaded" as teething rings. As they are capable of seeing, or perhaps fated to see, political portents on every moving object, the specific objects to which their attentions are directed should not matter to them or us.

As the old saying goes, politics is show business for ugly people, and my new corollary is: blogging is politics and show business for the mentally retarded.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

MORE CIVILITY DEBATES, PLEASE! I am even more short of time these days than usual, so I have to thank Kathryn J. Lopez for saving me some. I was actually thinking of taking a look at Ramesh Ponnuru's The Party of Death. But this excerpt, quoted by the NRO den mother, made clear to me the folly of that course:
The party of death should not be confused with a conventional political party: It has members (and opponents) within both of America's major political parties, although it is much stronger today among Democrats than Republicans. The party of death has unwitting allies, too, just as it always has. Someone who reluctantly supports euthanasia to spare the dying from further suffering surely does not intend to advance a comprehensive agenda to undermine the protection of human life. Yet that is the effect, however modest, of her support.

We are sometimes told that polite conversation avoids the topics of sex, religion, and poltics. Some would say that a book with this subject matter breaks all three rules. They might go on to worry that calling one side of the debate a "party of death" will raise the temperature still further.

We all have close friends and beloved relatives—I certainly do—who support legal abortion, or euthanasia, or both. Maybe we supported these things ourselves, once. I did. Maybe some readers still do. I hope that this book speaks to them with an honesty that does not seek to wound, but with a love that dares not refuse the truth. If the thought of belonging to a party of death disturbs them, perhaps they can be moved to leave it.
Lopez seems to think that this answers any Sullivanian charges of intolerance against Ponnuru. To her and to Ponnuru I say:
Not all stupid cunts belong to one political party. There are Republican stupid cunts and Democratic stupid cunts, though most stupid cunts, my objective investigation has shown, happen to be Republicans. Indeed, you might be a stupid cunt without thinking yourself one, merely by saying stupid, cuntlike things.

We are sometimes told that polite conversation avoids the term "stupid cunt." Such stupid cunts as think this will naturally charge me with raising the temperature of this debate, the cunts.

We all of us know personally several stupid cunts. Some of us are married to them. Some of us (including myself, I confess) have been a bit stupid and a bit of a cunt on occasion. I got over it, of course, but others persist in being stupid cunts for some reason.

I hope this blog reaches those persistently stupid cunts, and that they understand that I have no desire to wound in calling them stupid cunts, and feel nothing but deep Christian love for every stupid, cuntish one of them. And if they feel badly about me calling them stupid cunts, then they should just stop being such stupid fucking cunts.
UPDATE. This post is dedicated to Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

I KNOW YOU ARE, BUT WHAT AM I? I see that in the blogger playground, a bully got a wedgie and his friends cried no fair.

And that's pretty much it.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

SLOW TIMES AT PRATT INSTITUTE. Terry Zwigoff did very well with Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World, but has a rockier time of it with Clowes' Art School Confidential. The new movie devotes a lot of time to fleshing out a thinly-disguised Pratt Institute. The makers have a strong feel for, and opinions about, the setting, and must have found it great fun to delineate some of the types such places attract. I was encouraged by the arrival scene – there’s the barefoot neo-hippie chick! There’s the beatnik! There’s our hero, Jerome the suburban Picasso manque! – and I would have been satisfied if they just set these stereotypes bouncing off one another with some verve.

Alas, immediately the campus slacker is enlisted to describe more stereotypes, and for the most part the ‘types never get a more vivid reading. That still might have worked. There are worse cinematic failings than glibness. When ASC is fast, it’s fun. Jerome’s failed romantic encounters, and some of the desperate follies of the would-be art stars, give some easy laughs. But there’s not enough energy here to keep the balloon aloft for long.

It may be that Zwigoff and Clowes are too in love with their material. People familiar with this scene – and I have some small knowledge of it -- can sit around in a bar swapping funny horror stories about it for hours, but it’s not enough to hang a movie on unless you can convey some of the insane momentum of dream-maddened people completely devoted to their ego trips and illusions.

Zwigoff moves too slowly for that. He’s not the most high-octane sort of director anyway, but he might also have been weighted down by the grander theme of the film, which has to do with the toxic residue of failed ambition. A few scenes are fully devoted to this, and though they’re even slower than the rest of the movie, they’re much more interesting. Jerome’s visit to Professor Sandiford’s home, with a clenched wife, a scotched deal, and a pathetic monologue ending with a sexual advance, has a nice dank smell of failure about it. Better still are the scenes with Jim Broadbent as the appallingly maudit Baconian lush who becomes Jerome’s confidant, and who sets in motion Jerome’s downfall, or triumph, depending on how you look at it.

They’re good scenes, and another, better movie might have been built out of them. Or the filmmakers could have gone the other way and made American Pie: Art Camp. As it is, we have a failed campus comedy with a few stretches of splendid desolation.

UPDATE. Some morons, of course, think the movie is about politics. But I guess that type never thumps a melon without observing that conservatism made it ripe, or liberalism made it green.

Monday, May 08, 2006

WON'T SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE WHITE PEOPLE? If I only read conservative publications, I would imagine myself a very privileged honky indeed, for I would be convinced that all the rest of my people lived in white ghettos and spent their days running gauntlets of racial abuse by the Dark Ones.

But then, these are the same people who go on and on about how homosexuals may one day break bigots' fists with their noses (just the same trick the miscegnators used on Bob Jones, adds historian Stanley Kurtz).

Can't these people just enjoy the many economic, social, and governmental advantages whiteness unfairly confers? I know I do!
AND IF SHE WAS INTO FAT GUYS, THEN I COULD TOTALLY DO THAT THING WHERE I DRAW A MOUTH ON MY STOMACH; AND IF SHE WAS A SIMPSONS FAN, SHE WOULD TOTALLY GET IT AND LAUGH. AND THEN I WOULD MAKE MY MOVE. As usual, this is the stupidest thing ever written, and will remain so until Goldberg writes something else.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

"KILLIN' PIGS AIN'T KOSHER, SARGE!" "CAN THE WISE LIP, SLIBBERBERG!" Andrew Klavan wants Hollywood (conservative for "somebody else") to make movies that praise our War Against Whatchamacallit:
We need films like those that were made during World War II, films such as 1943's "Sahara" and "Action in the North Atlantic," or "The Fighting Seabees" and "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo," which were released in 1944...

...Though many of these pictures now seem almost hilariously free with racist tirades against "sauerkrauts," and "eyeties" and "Tojo and his bug-eyed monkeys," they were also carefully constructed to display American life at its open-minded and inclusive best.

Every roll call of Hollywood's U.S. troops seems to include a Ragazzi and a Donovan, a Hellenopolis, a Novasky, and a wisecracking Roth. "Sahara" even throws in the black "Mohammedan" Tabul, a Sudanese ally. This may have been corny, but it was also more or less realistic, and it depicted the war as a conflict between our lovably mongrel melting pot and the despicable Axis ideal of racial purity.
I really don't see what the problem is. The Fightin' Keyboarders have a film unit -- put them on the job.

I'll help! I've seen All Through the Night a few times, and have always wanted to work in that genre -- not on some silly modern version, but one in the old-fashioned style.

Okay, you mugs, here's the scenario:

Bugs Johnson, noted intenet wise guy, is taking a stroll around his subdivision with his colorful sidekick, Pixels. Bugs is no better than he should be -- he sells unlicensed assault weapons to local sporting enthusiasts -- but he's a good egg and won't do business with illegal immigrants. "I love this dirty township," he tells Pixels as they head over to the Park and Ride to make a drop.

But out of the 7-11 lurches one of Bugs' customers, "Protein" Goldstein, a curly-bladed dagger sticking out of his back. "Who done this to ya, Protein!" cries Johnson, cradling the man in his arms. Protein holds up five fingers, then expires. "Shalom, Protein," says a visibly moved Bugs. "When ya see Jesus, try not to act too surprised."

Pixels wants to get away fast -- the local security force has Bugs' number and would love to pin the caper on him. But Bugs knows what Protein's gesture was about: "Fifth columnists -- liberals!" He and Pixels dash into the 7-11 to grill the proprietor. "Listen, Gunga Din," cracks Bugs, "either you make with some names or I turn your sacred cow into ground chuck!" In a comical interlude, they spin the man by his turban till he exposes the perpetrator: Makos Mamamakoulis, whose souvlaki stand is actually a front for high internet treason.

Unable to go to the security force, Bugs and Pixels try to convince other local yeggs to help them nail Mamamakoulis.

"Listen, you yeggs," says Bugs, "This feta-munchin' Greek geek and his fellow-travellers are gonna blow this beautiful scam we call America sky-high!"

"Aw, that's baloney, Bugs," says "Crazy Dave" Horowitz, the local school's custodian. "As long as these liberals let me alone -- "

"Ah, but that's just it, Crazy Dave," says Bugs. "They won't let ya alone! They'll tell ya you're crazy, intolerant, and wrong! They'll use statistics, logic, even sarcasm!"

"Sarcasm!" says "Ole Perfesser" Reynolds. "Indeed?"

"Now you're gettin' it, ya hot-blooded Italian!" cries Bugs. "Alright, ya melting pot of mugs! I'm gonna kick me some liberal keyster! Who's with me?"

The crowd swings Bugs' way. "Sure and I'm with ya, me Bucko!" cries Peggy McNoonan, a clog dancer with a heart of gold. "If it's a donnybrook these doorty liberals want, they we'll be givin' it to 'em, yerra!"

"Pour some coffee down McNoonan's throat and let's shake a leg!" cries Bugs, and the gang rushes off to their computer desks...

(Alright, Klavan, ya wiley whatever-you-are -- over to you!)
I MISS RUSSIA. At Tech Central Station, Lee Harris asks "Why Isn't Socialism Dead?" His short answer is that stupid people are stupid and Lee Harris and his buddies are smart. In long form, there is much elaboration on the point that "capitalism is mankind's only rational alternative," and a lengthy analysis of some ancient socialists' theories, though the relevance or popularity of these dead letters among the rabble of Venezuela and Bolivia -- whose support for quasi-socialist states seems to have stimulated Harris' essay -- is not proven here.

Harris concludes that socialism is beyond the reach of capitalist rationalism because socialism is a sort of religion:
...even a hundred proofs of failure are insufficient to wean us from those primordial illusions that we so badly wish to be true. Who doesn't want to see the wicked and the arrogant put in their place? Who among the downtrodden and the dispossessed can fail to be stirred by the promise of a world in which all men are equal, and each has what he needs?
The myth, thus described, does sound familiar and indeed religious, though Marx and Sorel were well behind Jesus Christ in promoting it.

Harris postulates a "myth gap" between socialism and capitalism, and proposes that capitalism produce a "transformative myth of its own." He does not say who would be best suited to this task of myth-production. Maybe he expects the Parallax Corporation to farm the job out to analysts in Bangalore.

He certainly seems unaware that one sort of capitalist myth has been promulgated for over a century by our own entertainment media, via movies, music, glossy magazines, videos, etc., which have offered the world countless enticements to the splendors of a market economy, with resounding success wherever it has been encountered -- or rather, wherever their promise has been even slightly realized by a substantial number of the population; it tends to be less successful in places where the people despair of gaining these blessings by ordinary means, e.g., Venezuela and Bolivia.

Harris' ignorance of this observable reality is perhaps understandable, as modern conservatives are bound by blood-oath to consider the Western media treasonously unhelpful. Besides, it better serves the professional purposes of right-wing pundits to portray themselves as messengers of the capitalist Good News to Modern Man.

They don't seem especially qualified, though. In the same edition of TCS, Harris' colleague Pejman Yousefzadeh talks down the notion that CEOs are criminally overpaid. Shareholders alone should make that decision, he argues, and accuses those who disagree of "scoring... political points by tapping into people's frustration and envy."

Yousefzadeh argues well on capitalist terms, but I doubt his argument will make deep inroads among those whose "frustration and envy" are excited by the ever-escalating profits of global capitalism's top dogs -- especially in a time of rising gas prices. (I don't believe many of the disaffected in this case are students of Marx or Georges Sorel.)

I am in some sympathy with Yousefzadeh. I am no socialist, and I understand his logic, dreary as it is. But in his capitalist calculus he has included no place for the human factor. Yousefzadeh is as convinced as Harris that his way is the only rational one, and expects invocation of the iron law of his philosophy -- to each according to what he can get, from each according to what we can get out of him -- to sate the punters, or at least shoo them away.

For years this has worked fine for them, and may do so for years to come. Here is one reason why I sort of miss the old Soviet Union. They were wrong, of course, but the threat of their existence offered a screen and bank against the predations of capitalism within our own side of the Iron Curtain: so long as the global dominance of capitalism was not a settled matter, even in the Age of Reagan its avatars were compelled to throw the working people of this country a bone every now and then, lest we lose our Cold War resolve. The welfare state was accepted as a necessary evil, and even in hard times we got our government cheese and food stamps and extended unemployment benefits.

Once Russia was reduced to another rapacious capitalist state, though, all bets were off: the Welfare Queen was dethroned, America became a happy hunting ground for consumer loan sharks, and downsizing evolved from a cyclical to a constant threat. Security vanished, productivity rose. The U.S. became what it had been in the Gilded Age: a sandwich of striving pressed between the desperate poor and the arrogant rich.

Between the socialists, whose faith in the people is unshakable, and the capitalists, who faith in themselves is ditto, stand I, equipped only with cynicism. Spiritually it seems by far the best bet.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

SIX BLIND MEN OF HINDUSTAN. Remember that wild speech Ned Beatty gave in Network?
You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multi-national dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, Reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds, and shekels...

You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today....
Of what or whom does that make you think? Here's what it makes The Anchoress think of:
Then you hear him make his speech, and what seems “familiar” becomes recognizable as the sort of simplistic, happy-talk, one-world rhetoric we hear today, by people like Angelina Jolie and Sheryl Crow and other attendees of things like the World Economic Forum in Davos or the Clinton Global Initiative or folks who shill for the UN on any given day.
This did take me by surprise at first -- Arthur Jensen makes her think of Angelina Jolie? -- but eventually I came to understand her point.

How odd to think, though, that there are (at least) two distinct visions of the Great Menace, each arousing the wrath of a particular political constituency: To some of us, it's berserk international capitalism, but to others, it's the U.N. For some of us, it looks like Rupert Murdoch; to others, it looks like George Soros. Some of us see the menace in the commodification of water; other are much more worried about...

Son of a bitch. I almost forgot that they were nuts.

But here's my real point: It's funny that such a wide variety of people hate some version of global conspiracy -- and how that menace's appearance changes, depending on who's denouncing it.
SPOKEN WORD. I love the way they talk. People, I mean. Here a lovely random find of a message board ca. 1999 on colloquial speech, mostly British but with American contributors:
At the start of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" by George Harrison, you'll hear him say "hey up." Northern England style "let's go."
Fuck me! I never knew that.
In the piney woods down here (relatives of the georgia penal colony recruits) they say "he showed his ass" when someone gets mad or acts rude...

A dialect word I learned from a climbing mate from Nottingham was "nesh" = to complain overly about being cold. My mum was stationed in the potteries during the war and remembers people there being "starved with cold." Then of course there's the ubiquitous "it's brass monkies," "Brass monkey weather" etc. And finally "A lazy wind" = one that can't be bothered to blow round you...

My father, the collar [minister], would refer to a smidge, a dolp, and a wham for any small amount of anything. My crooked cousins was a "Slick as spit." My mother's cooking was piling (in that she cooked a lot)...

I was always amused by a Liverpool expression. "I'll gerroff at Edge 'ill" Edge Hill station was the penultimate station on the RR line from London to Liverpool Lime Street. There also being a large number of catholics in the town, to get off at Edge Hill meant you intended to use Coitus Interruptus...

we called necking on the riverbank "watching the submarine races" and "getting mud for my turtle" when I went to Michigan State in the 60s...

Glasgie farewell = the action of applying ones forehead forcefully to anothers nose. Birmingham/Irish screwdriver = hammer...
That contributor also tells us, "Loose your bottle = It is the ultimate insult in the services, but is actually quite hard to define."
Lancaster, Pennsylvania is LANN-KASTER.
No, no, brother, I've been: it's "Lang'c'ster." And some entries are poems all by themselves:
My dad, to this day, calls the Pope, the "Holy Pappy in Rome"

Yonder is a loving word, LeeJ, some old songs make good use of it.
Somewhere Sean O'Casey is smiling.

These things stick in the mind, hopefully like cloves that flavor our own speech. I had a North Carolina girlfriend once, and her mother had no end of lovely expressions. She once referred to spoiled fish as smelling "right boo-booey." Could that be from the French "boue," somehow? In any case I consider myself improved by having heard it. Also by hearing my old Italian landlady say of meeting her husband, "He look at me anna I fell like a pear." And, Texican this, "he got a wild hare," variously "wild hair up his ass" -- or "wild hare" up same -- never have got that straight.

This post is in tribute somewhat to Editor Martin's Rusticor, which has here been too long neglected, and which contains a spiffing analysis of an old engraving captioned with a 19th-Century British slang poem:
Spree at Melton Mowbray: or doing the Thing in a Sporting-like manner (Quick work without a Contract, by Tip-Top Sawyers)

Coming it strong with a Spree and a spread,
Milling the day-lights, or cracking the head;
Go it ye cripples! come tip us your mauleys,
Up with the lanterns, and down with the Charleys:
If lagg'd we should get, we can gammon the Beak,
Tip the slavies a Billy to stifle their squeak.
Come the bounce with the snobs, and a [?] for their betters,
And prove all the Statutes so many dead letters.
Marty and I used to read together from Partridge's A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, and retain from it as a catchphrase, "the female pudend: low."

Really, though, this post is a tribute to the English language as it has been lathed by common speech. I am strong for the dictionary and good English grammar; as a teacher of remedial English and as a writer, I cannot endorse and could not abide a lawless verbal state, and admire the architecture of a proper sentence. But even the soundest structure should be filled and faced so that a person can live in it comfortably; otherwise, it's just a hangar or a prison. Our Information Society does not require human comfort -- it only requires the achievement of talking points -- but the human spirit does, so the genius of language is more likely to come from the bottom up than vice-versa. The miracle is that, even in this age of spin, the air remains full of raw material -- patois, argot, Spanglish, rap, etc. Well before it's printed, it's spoken. All you have to do is listen.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

STAY IN THE PINK WITH CIGGIES AND DRINK. I'm sure there are all sorts of thing wrong with this study, but still it gladdens my heart:
Health-conscious Americans may want to reach for a plate of fish and chips or a pint of ale after digesting the results of a new study.

Older British citizens are far healthier than their U.S. counterparts -- even though twice as much is spent on health care per person in the United States annually. That's according to a study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study mentions that "The Americans tended to be overweight and the Brits too fond of alcohol," says National Geographic, which includes a lovely photo of Prince Charles hoisting a pint.

The subjects are older even than me, and must certainly recall a time when health-hectoring was nothing like what it is today, when bangers and mash and toad in the hole were considered nourishment, when men drank Guinness For Strength. It also must include '60s people, so them what wasn't poisoning themselves with Bleeding Watney's Red Barrel might have spent a long run in some early, environmental production of Withnail & I.

I am not one to disdain medical science, Lord knows, nor do I reflexively reject the obvious data on behaviors and physical condition. But I have spent several weeks in England, usually among the sort of people who subsist on fried foods, strong drink, and Players cigarettes. They were not always the most appealing specimens, by American standards, and their skin often had the color and consistency of trifle, but they were cheerful despite the lousy weather, cold flats, and allegedly oppressive Welfare State. And very few of them belonged to a health club, or ate organic foods.

We are speaking anecdotally, which is to say out our ass. It may be that the better-educated component of English study group, less likely to spend their evenings in the boozer eating crisps, or some other statistical outlier affected the results. But I will say that my own narrow experience suggests that the Brits did well to give the Puritans reason to come over here to work out their program of self-denial.
ARTOTROGUSES AND GLORIOSUSES. Deflection of a popular joke about oneself by owning to it -- as John McLaughlin once did by appearing in Saturday Night Live's parody of his own show -- is an honorable tradition, and carries benefits for both the mockers and the mockee.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work if your sense of humor is so underdeveloped that you have to explain, at length, that you possess one -- especially when this is among the evidence offered.

I think Captain Ed misses the chickenhawk point. It isn't that non-combatants should be disqualified from commenting on military matters. It's that a non-combatant who engages in chest-thumping, star-spangled, locked-and-loaded bellicosity and cute military affectations (like calling blog buddies "deployed" and forming a "Northern Alliance" of warbloggers) is like an Air Raid Warden who thinks he's George Patton -- or a suburban nerd who acts like a rap star -- or anyone whose presumption is out of key with his circumstances: that is, an inviting target for ridicule.

Plautus knew all about it, but try telling that to the Everything Has Changed crowd.

UPDATE. But I would think that, being WaPo's Internet clown of the moment. I will enjoy this while it lasts (nine hours, thirty-five minutes), and pretend that when local mothers pull back their children at my approach, it is because they fear the lash of my tongue, and not because of the posters on the telephone poles.
SPLIT PERSONALITY. The Ol' Perfesser seems to be saying that conquering tyrannies for their petroleum resources is a good idea. Do you think it strange that a guy who is constantly mocking "No Blood for Oil" types approves, indeed recommends, blood for oil?

The Perfesser has never been a stickler for consistency, but this is rich even for him. A clue to the cause may be seen by a scan of the Instapundit page at this writing. That exercise usually reveals a vast plain of right-wing boilerplate interrupted only by the odd gay-rights token and an "Indeed" or two for filigree. But look at the Instaday so far:I perceive drift. God knows a steady job of recycling Republican talking points while insisting he's not-a-conservative would wear on any man with a conscience, but I always assumed Reynolds has none, and suspected that his Janus act meant he'd already been nanotechnologically engineered into a robot lawyer incapable of cracking under the strain of self-division.

But the strain is telling now, and I can guess why. All American conservatism is in a weird, feeble state these days. Its operatives run nearly all American government, yet the American people are not content. The big thinkers of the movement are having a hard time figuring what went wrong; some blame Bush, but it comes not easily to them. They are growing fractious and divided against themselves, too -- sometimes, as with the Perfesser, in the schizophrenic sense, but also schismatically.Look at the imbecilic Crunchy Con and South Park Con sects. Look at Arnold Kling, who thinks the fucking American Enterprise Institute is too far off the reservation ("Maybe the AEI is getting ready to play a role in the Hillary Clinton administration"). These are surely portents of end times.

The canaries in the coalmine, of course, are those conservative spokesmau-maus already halfway to Bellevue. Take Eleven-Star-General Ralph "Blood and Guts" Peters, always excitable to the verge of incoherence but now, alas, over the edge. He begins his latest screed against Mescans with expected froth against "the intellectual porn of left-wing fantasies" that "nationality was an artificial construct" -- but ends with a rant against the global economy! "There's a worrisome divide between the multinational executive who retires with a $400 million farewell smooch (and who naturally supports globalizing trade)," muses the General, "and the worker maxing out a credit card to pay for a tank of gas." Well, yes. But who's the enemy, General? Them there dirty hippies, or Larry Kudlow? Maybe it's both -- a new Buchananite synthesis, pitched to veterans who have run out of Lithium! Time for a new National Review blog!

Maybe I'm just sensitive today, but I really think they're cracking up. Keep your eyes peeled for outbreaks of Dancing Mania.

Monday, May 01, 2006

NO END OF HISTORY. Just finished A Distant Mirror, Barbara Tuchman’s history of Western Europe in the 14th Century. Tuchman wrote beautifully and can make any half-attentive reader feel like a history buff for a couple of days at least. I still found parts of it slow going. To supply human detail to her great, turbulent tapestry, Tuchman takes time to explicate several particular intrigues and power struggles. Many of these are rich, as when Jean de Montfort, Duke of Brittany, kidnaps his houseguest, the Constable of France, over a ridiculously small matter:
…Laval cried, "What are you doing? Do not harm my brother-in-law, the Constable!"

"Mount your horse and go from hence, Monfort answered him. "I know what I have to do"… At that moment another of Clisson’s party, Jean de Beaumanoir, hurried up in anxiety. Monfort, who hated him too, pulled his dagger and, rushing upon him as if possessed, cried, "Beaumanoir, do you wish to be like your master?" Beaumanoir said that he would honor him. "Do you wish, do you wish to be just like him?" the Duke cried in a fury, and when Beaumanoir said yes, Montfort screamed, "Well, then, I will put out your eye!"…
The resolution of the case takes months and scuttles a planned invasion of England. I do get a kick out of it, but these clowns were pulling this sort of shit all the time, and after a while it’s just depressing.

Of course, all Europe seems to have been treading the same muddy, bloody circles throughout: ginned-up wars are prosecuted by companies of knights who freely pillage every town in their way, including those in their own country; popular uprisings, driven to the last extremity by this disastrous mismanagement, go berserk and are suppressed mercilessly; the Church flits the papacy from Rome to Avignon and back, taxing the hell out of the people to funds its follies, causing more knightly expeditions and a general dissipation of the Faith. And of course there was the Plague.

It is a blessed relief to get to the epilogue, and the first stirrings of something more like what we recognize as civilization. (I don’t think I realized before what a boon to society was the formation of standing armies.)

Survey-course history, of the sort some of us got in school, is mostly reassuring, in that we are led along thick lines (albeit smudged in places) from the primordial muck to the relatively enlightened present. Americans have a further advantage in that we’ve compressed a lot of action into the last few pages of history, which gives it vigor and a sense of propulsion; even in the Howard Zinn version, we can imagine that another growth-spurt of enlightenment might be up around the corner. But I get a chill whenever I am forced to consider that humankind can slog weary decades through muck before recovering its instinct for higher ground, and that such instincts, under duress and disuse, may be bred out of both animals and men.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

THE WONDER IS, HE HATH ENDURED SO LONG: HE BUT USURP’D HIS LIFE. I am in some sympathy with James Wolcott, who has tired of "The Sopranos":
…Sunday the Sopranos temporarily abandoned Vito to his antiquing and fobbed off an episode partially involving Christopher and associate flying to LA to pitch a film idea to Ben Kingsley poolside at what looked like the Bev Hills Four Seasons… Having The Sopranos slop over into Entourage and Ricky Gervais's Extras starfuckiness made a show already afflicted with acute self-consciousness go even more meta on us.. When Hollywood stars played themselves on I Love Lucy, they weren't catering to cynicism about celebrity and autographing it with their own smirk; they presented genial versions of themselves. I prefer those antics to the hip jadedness that's become de rigueur today and winks at the audience as it winks back. All that winking has degenerated into a spastic tic.
I understand Wolcott’s unease with the current Soprano malaise, but (perhaps because I am not a Vanity Fair type of scribe, to say the least) I have a different interpretation of events.

From the beginning "The Sopranos" has had two major streams. On the one hand, there is the grotesque crudity – the source of many cheap laughs, which is what I think bothers Wolcott about the Kingsley/Bacall storyline, and which also gains most of the water-cooler talking points and tabloid ooh-aahs. Hacked-off heads, surprise deaths, etc.

In opposition to this baseness, there is something larger and more dramatic -- operatic conflicts, behaviors, and emotions. The crude stuff is also outsized, in a grand guignol sort of way, but the latter is the meat of the dramatic interest, because even in this debased age we are still more interested in characters than in splatters, if only slightly so.

True, these characters will go far beyond what most of us would ever dream of doing in the course of business. We expect that from Mafiosa, and if Tony’s crew just killed for fun and profit, it would be a very different show. But often it’s not about business, but about septic souls crying out for vengeance, recognition, or what passes in their peculiar lives for closure.

The Cifaretto/Pie-o-my story line is a great example of this: because Tony lives in a world where sudden violence is common, it’s no big deal when he kills Cifaretto for, essentially, making Tony face who he really is. The filmmakers go out of their way (even availing a dreamlike insert) to equate the stripper girlfriend Ralph murders with Meadow Soprano; and Pie-O-My is, in the show’s terms, a larger version of the baby ducks that kicked this whole thing off. One might say that Ralph Cifaretto dies for Tony’s sins. The quoditian violence is fun, but vengeance against self-knowledge is "The Sopranos"’ aglio e olio.

This is still the case in Season Finito. But, as Wolcott observed, things have gone a bit more sour. As the gears of the show wind down, and we lose dramatic velocity, we are being led – purposefully, I think – toward the natural result, not of the cartoonish violence –- that can and will go on forever, as it has – but of the pathetic disposition of the human cases to which our attention had been previously directed.

Take, for example, Paulie Walnuts’ recent crisis over the identity of his mother -- which leads, as it always does with these people, to a senseless act of violence. In this case the act is linked (by use of bridging shots of foliage) to Tony’s momentary feeling of well-being after he gets home from the hospital.

That is, I think, a very instructive segment. We’ve been watching Tony in therapy for years now. It has been amusing to watch him reduce his alleged therapeutic insights to things his narrow mind can understand – the Art of War, the "circle jerk of life." But I think the show’s creator, David Chase, has from the beginning been after bigger game than the comic juxtaposition of gangster ethics with movie stars, writers, academics, rappers, doctors, politicians, etc.

That particular fish-out-of-water gag was old when Billy Wilder used it in Ball of Fire -- but back then, Wilder’s time being what it was, the gangsters were the butt of the jokes. A lot has happened since then, and in "The Sopranos," the gangsters have usually had the edge. Nowadays there’s always a reason to think the straights have it coming. But eventually any viewer will come to think, at some point, that the hoods have gone too far. The Hollywood freebie schtick in the Kingsley episode chafes Wolcott, maybe because he is familiar with that scene and feels that Betty Bacall getting socked in the jaw isn’t funny.

It is and it isn’t. Chase has gone out of his way to link the Mob to just about every aspect of modern society, in an obvious social critque. ("Niggers!" the family man cries when his vehicle is jacked, followed by Tony admiring a Polaroid of his latest hot car.) But I don’t think that means Chase is shrugging to us that the Mob run things and whattaya gonna do –- because big-S Society is not really what the show is about.

Chase dropped a fat clue in the episode involving Charles S. Dutton as a traffic cop reduced by Tony’s pique. Tony tried to buy his psychic way out of the consequences of that cruelty; Dutton refused. That was the same episode (I believe) in which Tony wound up belt-whipping Peter Riegert’s corrupt politician, who had been Tony’s cats-paw in the affair.

By his own lights Tony is justified, and because we’ve been living with him so long, we sort of take his point of view (the politician was fucking Tony's old girlfriend, after all). That’s the power of character identification.

But even as we sympathize, we have to know that Tony's point of view is insane. How long can we keep in sympathy with him? When, as he once predicted for himself, Tony’s "dead or in the can," what will we feel?

Do you remember the episode in which Dr. Melfi sends Carmela to a shrink, who turns out to be an Old Testament Jew who swiftly advises her to take the children and get away from Tony, and refuses to treat her further? I thought of that moment during the current season opener, in which Carmela is childishly delighted with a new car Tony has bought her. It is astonishing to see such a strong character so reduced in the home stretch of a story.

Consider also last week’s agon of Artie Bucco – sort of a fool, but a fool out of Lear, whose privileged position as a noncombatant feeder of the troops and childhood friend to Tony allows him surprising latitude for truth. When Artie mourns in front of Tony the folly of his father’s simple idealism, and then cooks his maliciously-killed rabbit – "Some people don’t like rabbit!" – from a recipe out of his father’s old notebook, clearly we are not being led toward just another fun permutation of the life of a funny mobster-hanger-on. Even the joke of Nuovo Vesuvio turning into a coupon joint is not cheering. Against the impression the show’s previous success has given us, we are led toward an emotion that must (if we are still human) have been present under our laughter and even our sympathy all this time.

That emotion is disgust. The Sopranos and all their works are disgusting. You know it, I know it. Chase probably knew it all along, but now he is hustling whatever chickens have not yet come to roost into the death-coop at last. So now is the perfect time for Tony Jr. to implode, for Vito’s absurd gay-mobster story line, for Christopher to wear out what was left of his welcome -- and, I suspect, a lot more unsettlingly tawdry business to come, which will only seem out of key because the key has suddenly been changed.

This is the blight these mooks were born for. It is not a tragic fall, but an appropriately pathetic collapse. I am put in mind of the end of the ill-received Don Giovanni in Amadeus, when the demon clumsily tears down that upstage drape. It is not pretty and the house may not react favorably, but it is exactly right.