Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A CLOCKWORK BREITBART. The L.A. Times has engaged David Ehrenstein (film nerd) and Andrew Breitbart (culture warrior) to discuss Hollywood and the War on Whatchamacallit. (First two parts up now.) We have gone round this particular mulberry bush many times before, but Breitbart's ravings are proving classics of the genre.

Most notable are Beitbart's mood swings between professions of conservative cultural impotence and professions of conservative cultural power. On the one hand he accuses "the politically correct architecture of the creative process in Hollywood," where "pro-victory voices are reflexively ridiculed, cold-shouldered and made pariahs of on the party circuit [! -ed.]," of "reverse McCarthyism" (Watershed! They're against McCarthyism now!). On the other, he declares that "my side has talk radio, best-selling books, top-rated cable news shows, blogs, Op-Ed columns and even the presidency to make our points," and that "millions of other American filmgoers" share his politics and find their needs ill-served by Hollyweird, despite record box-office figures.

At one point, perhaps a rare moment of equilibrium in his brain chemistry, Breitbart turns introspective on behalf of the Movement: "Yet the conservatives who defend and, to a great degree, prosecute this war [? -ed.] have only themselves to blame for not putting enough emphasis on popular entertainment, and refusing to get bloody in the trenches of Melrose and Vine," he says, before (alas) reverting to form and calling on Ehrenstein as a "gay expert on gays in cinema" to help him with a Hollywood "diversity" project.

There are many different ways to relieve a creative urge, and those of us who toil both in blogs and in other formats must be careful not to shoot too much of our wads on internet prattle. That's why I continue to hold out sympathy and hope for guys like Jason Apuzzo, whose rages against the Hollywood machine are punctuated by efforts to make the sort of movies he wants to see.

But as Breitbart's case shows, the pure culture warrior finds making actual culture a "bloody" business and beneath him. His talents are instead devoted to concocting syrups of outrage thick enough to suspend bombast-fragments like "heroin-addled reality star," "self-congratulatory award show pronunciations," and "Gulfstream-flying, eco-warrior billionaires" for the delectation of undiscerning goons. The hard work of pursuing a coherent idea from start to finish -- whether in a story, script, or even a blog post -- is for the gloopy ones, while the oomny ones use, like, inspiration and what Bog sends.

It seems clear that our culture warriors are not engaged in a war for culture so much as a war against it.

Monday, September 24, 2007

HOMAGE TO SHERLOCK HOLMES AND PHILEAS FOGG. Megan McArdle on some silly Times story on women who are uncomfortable dating men who make less money than they do:
Speaking as the Emissary From Your Thirties, you know that amazing guy who just got back from Africa and tells hilarious stories and dates, like, everyone you know? The one your best friend quit her job to go to Tuvalu with? The one who's been working on a really titanic novel for four years that he never quite finishes, and can't seem to hold down a long-term job? His dating prospects start heading rapidly downhill by his thirtieth birthday. By his late thirties, his studio apartment is getting very lonely at night. If he does get married to a woman more successful than he is, it's likely that their relationship will be controlling, resentful, and involve enduring quite a lot of contempt from her friends and family.

But it has nothing to do with money. [? -ed.] Men with some measure of success in their chosen fields have no problem finding spouses. And successful women have no cause to complain, either. After all, they have a bevy of unsuccessful but charming men to choose from, who will be more than happy to date them if they can overcome their biases. The unsuccessful men, on the other hand, are pretty much frozen out.
This is why I keep a cat.

McArdle's post is an odd mix of libertarian harshness and romanticism. On the one hand, it features a market explanation which seems to strike her as just. But the talk about loneliness and diminished prospects comes from some different kind of moral tale, perhaps a pamphlet or a children's story. One would hardly guess that our society is filled with people who, by her standards, are moral and economic failures. McArdle does acknowledge the existence of poor folk in a previous post on the same subject, but there the language reverts to econo-nerdspeak:
There is a growing male/female education and income disparity. But it is occurring several rungs down the SES ladder from the precious princesses in the story, clipping off price tags and hiding shopping bags lest He realize that she shops at Prada. This problem is afflicting mostly poor women, particularly black and latino women, who have seen their earnings prospects improve dramatically relative to those of the men in their communities.
In this demimonde, women suffer from the "problem" of improved earning power, while in the surface world we have companionless loser males with their Soup for One dinners and unfinished novels, clinging forlornly to precious memories of Tuvalu. It seems win-win, or lose-lose, depending on your perspective.

For all its confusion, this analysis clearly posits marriage as the ultimate prize. I wonder if the many citizens who fall in and out of marriages, and in and out of economic stability, see it that way. No doubt many of them do -- which is why they keep trying -- but some may have determined that life's a bit messier than that. If the prospect of penury and an unattended deathbed disturbs them, so too might the prospect of a job they despise and a "controlling, resentful" relationship. One of the glories of a free society is that we may pick and choose our regrets. In econometric circles, where marriage, income per capita, and procreation are exalted data-points, this does not signify. But if you have found some happiness in this world despite your lack of resemblance to the ideal, you may know what I'm talking about.

UPDATE. Jules Verne character name corrected; thanks, Anon.
FIRST AMENDMENT UPDATE. Ahmadinejad speaks at Columbia. Much protest. Much coverage, largely negative (The New York Daily News headline: "The Evil Has Landed"). The Republic endures.

Just the other day National Review was telling us that "Ahmadinejad’s visit to Columbia has nothing to do with freedom of speech." Today at NR, Michael Rubin:
Lee Bollinger's introduction didn't make the news [in Iran]. But then again, why should it? Ahmadinejad's state-controlled press does not support such concepts as free speech and free expression.
I've noticed that, whenever they fail to cut off someone's mike, they murmur something like this about free speech as if it were some small consolation.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

FTW. Mark Steyn complains about Fred Thompson's characterization of America's goals in World War II:
FDR didn't take America to war in 1941 with the "disinterested intention of liberating others". He took America to war not to end the Holocaust or free Belgium or build a democracy in Japan but for reasons of hard-headed national self-interest. All the rest was the happy consequence of victory. Likewise, America didn't topple the Taliban because it was suddenly overcome by a burning desire to see more women legislators in the Afghan parliament: That, too, was a happy consequence of a war waged for selfish reasons.
This is an interesting admission because many, many conservatives automatically discount the idea that opponents of the Iraq war might also be putting America's welfare first and foremost, and accuse us of other loyalties. In fact Steyn himself does this regularly. In 2003 he discounted antiwar protestors as "enthusiastically subscribed" to the proposition that "whatever the problem, American imperialist cowboy aggression is to blame," and earlier in 2007 he characterized the "Slow-Bleed Democrats" as more interested in embarrassing Bush than in winning "America's war."

Hatred of America, or of Bush, has been always been their default explanation for the astonishing fact that some Americans disagree with them, and as the number of dissenters increases Steyn begins to think that the war party just hasn't explained it properly:
An awful lot of Americans see Iraqis waving purple fingers at the polls and shrug, "Nice. But not worth dead Americans." To sell this struggle to the electorate, you have to frame it in terms of the national interest. It has to be a war consistent with American ideals but fought for selfish reasons.
The Administration actually did present a compelling, self-interested causus belli -- remember "one vial, one canister... to bring a day of horror like one we have never known"? But it turned out to be bullshit. The Happy Iraqi stuff was just the sweetener. The current Iraq explanation boils down to we're here because we're here.

Like the new-edition Steyn, I care much, much less about other countries than I do about this one. That's why I retroactively endorse America's go-slow approach to the Cold War, which left hanging an awful lot of Soviet subjects who might have been more quickly liberated -- or incinerated -- by a more aggressive strategy. I think it's terrific that Israel provides a homeland for the most persecuted race in the history of the world, but I mainly support it because its existence suits America's interests. I think it's neat that Nelson Mandela went from prisoner to President of South Africa, but for me the money shot was the establishment of a viable democracy in a continent riddled with kleptocracies. Our interests demand a world that is increasingly less likely to blow up in our faces, and the hornets-nest we have aggravated in Iraq seems to me a giant step in the wrong direction.

Go ahead and call me selfish. Patriots have endured worse.

UPDATE. Much contention in comments as to whether our support for Israel suits American interests. I think a better policy toward Israel would be helpful, but withdrawing support would be catastrophic, and whatever reasons obtain, we have enough catastrophe as it is. The subject will be worth revisiting.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

THE DREAM IS OVER. Hog on Ice starts out yelling about the taser kid Andrew Meyers, and ends up yelling about how conservative bloggers can't get any play:
This is why the right-wing Blogosphere is dead and moldering but Markos Zuniga, who can barely write his name, is a multimillionaire. Compared to Zuniga, Malkin and Reynolds are obscure, marginalized, and pretty much impotent, and Pajamas Media...well, don't get me started.

We owned the Blogosphere a few years back, and we made stupid decisions and pissed it away. We went from omnipotent to irrelevant. And we have a national election coming up, we can't begin to match the left's Internet fundraising and informational horsepower, and we're doing absolutely nothing about it. We're not going to change any time soon, either. The scarier things get, the more every successful conservative obsesses on protecting his little rice ball. No one is forming new alliances or making any serious effort to consolidate conservative media power. And for damn sure, we are not going to have any Andrew Meyers.
Back in 2003, when Megan McArdle was talking about the wingersphere Mr. Ice mourns as a "very advanced, processing brain," it may be that hundreds, even thousands of bloggers took it seriously, and thought they were part of something larger than themselves, which would in turn make them large. It was to be the sort of utopia that conservatives -- whom I'm told are not big on collectivism -- can allow themselves to imagine: one in which individuals can avail a limited barrier to entry and make contributions that will both feed the borg and expose their own talents, thereby lifting them to glory or at least economic self-sufficiency. It was, in other words, punk rock for nerds.

Well, McArdle is now credentialed by The Atlantic. Hers would seem to be a typical careerist path; the odds on her success were never slim, but blogging gave her a nice promotional boost. Mr. Ice himself is an author, a harder row to hoe in any case. His blog no doubt helps him move his product. For a happy capitalist, that should be enough -- well, never enough, but sufficient to the cause.

Yet the great dream lingers -- in Mr. Ice's case, as ashes in the mouth, but for many others, younger or just less easily discouraged, it is tastier and stimulates the appetite. The sheeple who don't even know who Scott Thomas Beauchamp is will be shaken from their false consciousness by an invincible juggernaut of Citizen Journalists holding aloft the banner of Truth, and there'll be kegs enough for everyone at the afterparty.

Fond hope! Alas, reality is more strictly tiered than that. The ubiquity of the internet feeds into the conservative idea of unlimited opportunity, but when it comes to real dollars and influence, there are never more than a few spots open, and these usually go to graduates of "good" schools who have worked a time-honored career path. The addition of a blog credential to the CV helps, no doubt, and there may be a few affirmative-action hires of pure bloggers, but the great upheaval in which some of the brethren believe is not to be. To the extent that they are useful to wielders of real power, the Citizen Journalists will be quoted, stroked, and used as a force-multiplier for disinformation campaigns in need of some extra muscle, but when the hurly-burly's done they'll be put back in their box.

Writing's tough enough, and making a living at it even tougher; trying to topple power structures or build new utopias on top of that seems like a waste of time better spent cleaning up a sentence.

Friday, September 21, 2007

DERANGEMENT SYNDROME. "Why are you writing so much about Hillary Clinton? I don’t want to. I’d rather not, really. But she is everywhere in the news... Funnily enough, she is everywhere IN the news and NOT in the news." -- The Anchoress.

She also says the Hillary/Hsu story is undercovered. In other news, the Ole Perfesser is on his 300th bad Hsu pun.

I'm not a big fan of Clinton, but that's a lot of attention for someone who's supposed to be unelectable.
ARTS ROUNDUP. As long as I'm being arty-farty, I shall continue with the arts and the farts, with random observation from recent intake:

A Midsummer Night's Dream in Central Park. Pepys was right: it's a pretty stupid play. But it's sure-fire outdoors with good actors on a warm night. The lovers are the weak link, and for all their energetic ripping of ladies' garments I would have preferred some equally energetic tearing away of lines. Maybe Martha Plimpton's Helena was my problem. I had only seen Helena played as a mope before, and while Plimpton's tartness brought energy to her interminable lines, it lost the sympathy and sweetness that is the character's secret weapon. The twinned morganatic pairs were much better -- Keith David's Oberon, done up to look like Screamin' Jay Hawkins, was stolid and poetic, which suited because Oberon has great poetry and David has a great voice, and David's heaviness gave Oberon's fourth-act tenderness ("Her dotage now I do begin to pity") great power. And Shakes in the Park never stints on the clowning, so the rustics got to ham it up and keep us groundlings awake. Loved the goth fairy children, too, but next time, can we please have Mendelssohn?

Steal This Movie. I have to say it's fun to see the two leads from "Grounded for Life" as major hippies. But Vincent D'Onofrio's Abbie Hoffman is very like Vincent D'Onofrio's Law 'n' Order guy with long hair, denim, and drugs: I kept expecting him to arrest somebody. This item succeeds mainly as a posthumous curio, inspiring wonder that once upon a time one could sneak into the Stock Exchange and throw around dollar bills. Though I'm sympathetic to well-rendered nostalgia, I would have preferred that this movie follow the discursive method of Steal This Book or Woodstock Nation, which weirdly anticipated the style of blogs. (I would have especially appreciated the cinematic rendering of "God, I'd Like To Fuck Janis Joplin.") Then, for a pleasant change, we could have thousands of posts about how Vincent D'Onofrio is Fat.

Eugene O'Neill: Collected Shorter Plays (Yale University Press). Hadn't read them in a while and had a hankering. The Glencairn plays are like short stories for the stage, little projects with which the student of Professor Baker found his stage-legs. They're slight, stiff, disarmingly easy to get down, and clearly based on personal experience. It's amazing to contemplate that, two years after the last of these pleasantly stagey affairs, O'Neill wrote The Emperor Jones -- and, two years later, The Hairy Ape . It's as if O. Henry had suddenly become -- well, Eugene O'Neill. Where did this poet come from? Whence the grand scale? It's been decades since I read the Gelb biographies, but my forgetful guess is that, once he got a sense of his own stage power with the Provincetown Playhouse productions, O'Neill felt confident enough to start appropriating literary influences. It wasn't theft because it didn't sound like anyone else's stuff; the themes may have been cribbed from German Expressionist playwrights, but the argot of the Glencairn plays grew organically into the great soliloquies of Jones and Yank. This is a nice reminder that the development of any popular artist relies on the slipstream of influences that surround him, but if he is to get very far he must also contrive to bring along something that is wholly his own.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

OLD MAN BLUES. It disturbed me, while downloading Loudon Wainwright III's Strange Weirdos, to confront the sidebar information that other purchasers of this merchandise also favored the soundtrack to "Grey's Anatomy." So it's come to this: Plush Pop for Then People. But I love LWIII and hoped he would drop a few barbs in the syrup nonetheless.

The songs shamble along, displaying LWIII's command of his writerly gifts -- crisply observed detail, wordplay, fluent appropriation of various styles, and juxtaposition -- without inspiring anything but vague appreciation for obvious talent. The production gives his songs musical settings that are technically appropriate to the themes, but this has the effect in most cases of double-underlining the point and writing notes in the margins. The one big exception sounds like a fortunate failure of the producer's energy: apparently no one knew what to do with "Lullaby," so they just made it sort of pretty, which beautifully sets off the opening: "Shut up and go to bed/put some pillow under your head/I'm sick and tired of all of your worries/shut up and say goodnight."

Unfortunately, after a while the songwriter runs out of energy too. I am forced to say that this happens throughout Strange Weirdos. For the first time that I've noticed, LWIII's maudlin streak isn't leading to anything interesting. On the title song, "It starts with a sentence that might last a lifetime" is very promising, but the next line, "Or it might all just go down in flames," betrays the promise.

It's always instructive when the best song on a weak album is the cover. Usually it's because the artists are relieved at last to cluster their talents around a dead certain winner. Peter Blegvad's wonderful "Daughter" gets a professional, respectful treatment from the band, and you can hear that respect in LWIII's voice, too -- along with everything else the song demands: awe and amusement, protectiveness and a premonition of loss.

I love LWIII's voice. I even love the arch tone in it, which may be a matter of necessity because LWIII so often sounds arch. It's most obvious when he tries to be bluesy or to "rock," or do anything besides sing the damn song. (This is the occupational hazard of an ironic romantic trapped in a musical idiom that tends to exacerbate romance -- the form being "singer/songwriter, late 20th century," which he still is in 2007.) From the perspective of Strange Weirdos, I begin to think that LWIII's propensity to strike poses with his voice is an admission of discomfort with the formats in which he's found himself -- or maybe even in the forms he's chosen for himself. Now he is an Adult Contemporary for real, his latest vehicle tooling smoothly like a refurbished roadster along highways outside major cities, the stranger side of his talent rattling contentiously under the hood.

Whenever he has dared to be his own weird self, though, he has been brilliant. "The Man Who Couldn't Cry," as weird as Daniel Johnston but with the coherence of great poetry, is the eternal, shining example. He's managed the trick many times, and once is enough to make you a genius in this game. He's capable of it even in his fussy old-man mode. "The Last Man on Earth," from 2001, is a superior version of Strange Weirdos's middle-age lament, "Doin' The Math." The newer song, done as a creepy L.A. lounge blues slide, is kinda funny but stews too much in its own resentment. "The Last Man of Earth" is cleaner, plainer, a throwback to the young strummer LWIII used to be. It has jokes, too, but most of them have a sharp tang that quickly pushes off any hint of self-regard. You don't have to relate to his condition: you can simply hear it. The recorded version is, alas, fussy and marred with underlinings, but I had the good fortune to hear him do it solo-acoustic on TV, and there the climactic passage had the force of a sharp slap:
Kids used to say their prayers at night
Before they went to bed
St. John told us that God is love
Nietzsche said he was dead
This thing we call existence
Who knows what it all means?
Time and Life and People
Are just glossy magazines
That last couplet, like the solitude of the hero in "One Man Guy" and other high achievements of ironic romantics, is a selfish dirty trick. Which is what keeps me listening to him.
MORAL EQUIVALENCE WATCH. Eric from Classical Values (hehndeeded by the Ole Perfesser) doesn't understand "How the hell did sex get put on the f---ing left?" After failing to mention the decades-long Family Values crusade of the GOP, he writes:
I don't think it is rational for Republicans to declare war on sex and to appear to embrace erotophobia, because of their traditional 'leave people alone' philosophy, but there's not a damned thing I can do about it except write posts like this. As to the Democrats, they see sex not as a form of freedom to be embraced, but as something to be manipulated to gain power.
This last assertion seems to come from thin air; the only thing in the article that relates to it at all is Eric's admission that conservative "erotophobia" presents an opportunity for Democrats.

Like much of the gibberish considered here, this offers a clue to conservative thinking. Consider this Classical Values post from the morning after the 2006 elections:
Thus, my concern is that even if this election was not about the war, there will be a major push to make it appear to be.

But in logic, if the election was about the war (which I do not concede that it was), why is it necessarily Bush's war? Why should the Democrats who voted to support it (and who claimed that there were WMDs) get a pass?
For a certain breed of Republican, the only thing that is ever bipartisan is their own mistakes.
SHORTER ROSS DOUTHAT: Conservatives were great until the liberal media started paying attention to them. Then they went crazy.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

LOYALTY TEST. The folks at Family Security Matters sure like to think outside the box. Last month they posted (then withdrew) an article suggesting Bush declare himself President for Life. Now, with Iraq inflamed because Blackwater privateers mowed down some of its citizens in Najaf, FSM's Nick Guariglia suggests that firms like Blackwater are "amongst the most efficient humanitarian organizations in business."

Guariglia's method is a marvel and we'll get to it shortly. For now, the money quote:
But are these chastised “war profiteers” any more or less amoral than, say, a cardiologist who addresses, and thus profits from, the treatment of heart disease? Or a clean-up conglomerate which rebuilds towns devastated by natural disaster? Is not the continuity of disease, plight, and disaster in the financial interest of these parties? Why would a war theater be an exception to the rule, the one realm in which this code of conduct does not apply?
Unfortunately Guariglia's correlatives to the cardiologist and the conglomerate are mainly "cleaning up" in the larcenous meaning of the term, as can be seen in Matt Taibbi's "The Great Iraq Swindle." Sample outrage:
The system not only had the advantage of eliminating red tape in a war zone, it also encouraged the "entrepreneurship" of patriots like Custer and Battles, who went from bumming cab fare to doing $100 million in government contracts practically overnight. And what business they did! The bid that Custer claimed to have spent "three sleepless nights" putting together was later described by Col. Richard Ballard, then the inspector general of the Army, as looking "like something that you and I would write over a bottle of vodka, complete with all the spelling and syntax errors and annexes to be filled in later." The two simply "presented it the next day and then got awarded about a $15 million contract."

The deal charged Custer Battles with the responsibility to perform airport security for civilian flights. But there were never any civilian flights into Baghdad's airport during the life of their contract, so the CPA gave them a job managing an airport checkpoint, which they failed miserably. They were also given scads of money to buy expensive X-ray equipment and set up an advanced canine bomb-sniffing system, but they never bought the equipment. As for the dog, Ballard reported, "I eventually saw one dog. The dog did not appear to be a certified, trained dog." When the dog was brought to the checkpoint, he added, it would lie down and "refuse to sniff the vehicles" -- as outstanding a metaphor for U.S. contractor performance in Iraq as has yet been produced.
It gets worse: when, over the objections of the Bush Administration, the Custer Battles security firm was brought to trial and found guilty by a jury of this outrageous fraud, the judge set the verdict aside, agreeing with the Administration that "Custer Battles could not be found guilty of defrauding the U.S. government because the CPA (the now-defunct Coalition Provisional Authority) was not part of the U.S. government."

For good reason, very few people outside their immediate families have a high opinion of these firms -- you can read more contractor horror stories at American Conservative magazine, among other places. Aware that he's got nothin', Guariglia falls back to debaters' tricks:
To weave in and out of applying intentionalist ethics – questioning the motives of employed defense workers –– and consequentialist standards -– questioning their performance -– is inconsistent. (As if one would be inclined to favor something they adamantly oppose in principle if only it were conducted more competently.)

I think it is safe to say most of us are above this mode of argument. It wouldn’t impress even a novice ethicist.
This is why people hate intellectuals: millions are egregiously stolen, and Guariglia grades a strawman's college paper. When this approach fails and deadline beckons, there's always gibberish:
When do-gooders speak surprisingly that corporations, providing a needed service through the selling of that service, actually collect revenue – oh no! – thereby continuing to provide that service, it is an odd criticism of something that best be left not criticized. It recalls the old Marxist fib that suggests history is only the tale of calculated material pursuit, not the narrative of human emotion, pride, fear, and irrationalism.
In his defense I would suggest that Guariglia cannot possibly believe this nonsense. He is making the best -- his best, anyway -- of a bad job. As the works of the Bush Administration plainly collapse into chaos, better-credentialed conservatives get a pass to work the "mistakes were made" hustle. But the noobs and small fry still have to make their bones: none of them will move up in the organization as a small-circulation David Brooks. So they take a contrarian angle, defending even the most egregious failures with rhetoric honed in impromptu debates with hippies on the quad. It doesn't have to convince anyone: the hopeless effort itself shows loyalty sufficient to keep the soldier on the payroll. When things blow over, maybe he can get a job blogging for the Atlantic.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

SHORTER DAVID FREDDOSO: I am never, ever going to get laid.

Further evidence may be found in Freddoso's article about New York City:
Ah, New York! My host was just being gracious when he asked me, “What do you miss most about living in The City?”

I replied instantly without even thinking about how rude it was: “I don’t.”

And I really don’t. I’ve been back all of three times since I left in 2001. But The City has a way of seeping into one’s bowels and staying there for years. That’s my excuse, anyway, for telling off that kid yesterday who was panhandling in Union Square, wearing nicer clothes than I own. It’s why I step in front of people at street-corners, keep my eyes straight ahead, and walk as though there’s a tribe of screaming cannibals on the block behind me.
He spreads sunshine wherever he goes. Here he is working on his sneer. My guess is that he really, really likes P.J. O'Rourke and thinks a shitty attitude translates automatically into scintillating, contrarian prose, which is like getting drunk and belligerent five nights a week and thinking that makes you Bukowski.

Monday, September 17, 2007

VERITAS. At The Atlantic Online, Ross Douthat does another post about how no one teaches Dead White Males in skool anymore, and receives a fair amount of What The Fuck Are You Talking About in comments, among which my favorite is this:
Multiculturalism as presently constituted is not a threat to the cultural heritage of the liberal arts. The fact that the university is being reformed as a set of pre-professional schools and the students are all majoring in Communications rather than English Lit is. This cannot realistically be blamed on mean old French post-structuralists or tenured radicals.
These days restraining orders keep me off campus, but even among us townies it is an observable fact that our society values knowledge solely as a way of making money, and with the cost of a college education (and of the service of loans for it) through the roof, it's a wonder anyone in the United States reads Shakespeare anymore except to mine quotes for his Chamber of Commerce speech. I went to college in the 1970s, and was mainly required to take drugs and produce a few legible papers. Perhaps I shouldn't have gone to school at all, and toiled at manual labor instead. Wait a minute -- in the decade after my graduation I worked mainly as a messenger, busboy, waiter, or day laborer. Maybe if I'd read more Milton I'd be writing for The Atlantic Online today. Damn Toni Morrison! Who's Toni Morrison, by the way?

If the cultural thirst of undergrads is but poorly slaked by the brackish water of popular culture, I am surprised to hear Douthat complain of it. He has written extensively on Knocked Up. If any of his pieces on it describe the line of succession from Feste or Toby Lumpkin to Seth Rogen, I have missed them. He seems mainly interested in how the film might get kids to oppose Planned Parenthood, which shows some sort of education, but one only distantly related to the Humanities.

And in his very next post he celebrates the ascendancy of football over baseball! The man is clearly a philistine who can't even understand that Dane Cook is a particular, not a universal. What are they teaching in schools these days?
SHOWTIME. Michael Ledeen takes in a Toby Keith concert;
It's great to get out of the Washington culture of narcissism and spend some time with the rednecks, a.k.a. real Americans. And it's simply great, as the encores end, and a downpour of red, white and blue confetti covers the crowd, to see Toby say "don't ever apologize for your patriotism," and then lift the middle finger of his right hand to the skies and say, "F*** 'Em!"

Which, after a week of disgusting anti-Americanism in Washington, nicely summed up our feelings.

You ought to try it. Does wonders for the spirit.
Oh, if only his colleagues would take him up on it.

JONAH GOLDBERG: (through a mouth full of hot dog) CURRSSY VUV VUH RID WUHN BLUH!

VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: He is a modern Simonides singing of Thermopylae! With the biceps of a Greek god!

JONAH GOLDBERG: And the hair of a young David Hasselhoff!

PETER SUDERMAN: I find his vulgarity so liberating that I don't even mind the large number of children in attendance!

STANLEY KURTZ: Not to worry, Peter! This shows a healthy uptick in white procreation!

CLEM: Which one a' you funny boys got Cheeto dust in mah beer?

Then they can blame the ensuing beatdown on antiwar protestors.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE. The recent protest in Washington and its Gathering of Eagles counterprotest inspires mobius-strip commentary at RedState, where a Citizen Journalist reports that the anti-war movement has "lost" the Associated Press:
This wasn't a favorable article towards the antiwar folks. Some more snippets:
Army veteran Justin Cliburn, 25, of Lawton, Okla., was among a contingent of Iraq veterans in attendance.

"We're occupying a people who do not want us there," Cliburn said of Iraq. "We're here to show that it isn't just a bunch of old hippies from the 60s who are against this war." [Bolding mine.]
...which nicely insinuates that meme into the narrative, doesn't it? Well, not "meme": they are mostly a bunch of old hippies (not to mention Stalinists, Maoists, and whatnot) from the 60s. But it was nice of the AP to remind us of this by having the quote vigorously denying it.
Too bad AP couldn't boldface the quote as the CJ did, or implant chips into the brains of its readers to ensure they would interpret the remarks of a 25-year-old veteran as counterintuitively he did.

The presumption of treachery by the liberal media is so ingrained in this fellow that when he finds nothing to "fisk" in an AP story, he assumes that some sort of dramatic reversal has taken place:
What makes all of this of more than slight interest (and moderate amusement) is the intriguing possibility that we're going to see more of it from the AP and other Old Media sources. If media vendors can be no longer counted upon to uncritically accept the rather grandiose claims of MoveOn.org, International ANSWER, Code Pink, and others of that stripe... well, those groups (and others) are not going to enjoy the experience at all, at all.
His footnote is rather touching:
*I know, I know - but you have to remember that many of these people need the mythology of a Romantic Struggle to help them continue to do very tedious and unrewarding tasks. Take that away, and they're just a bunch of aging, lonely people standing in the rain, with little small talk and no dinner waiting for them at home.
The lonely Soup for One dinners of protestors seem as real to the Citizen Journalist as any of the reported facts, which may explain why he fails to see the irony in his own mention of "the mythology of a Romantic Struggle."

Saturday, September 15, 2007

WE SUCK. Mithras dispenses wisdom to Philly's collegiate newcomers:
Since you're so clearly bright, you'll probably figure out that people are people about the time you get set to graduate. In the meantime, follow some simple rules. Make eye contact. Speak when spoken to. Get the fuck out of people's way. When you're north of Market or south of Baltimore, or anywhere after dark, take off the fucking iPod and put it the fuck away. Remember, they hate you just as much as you hate them, except they're right. Following these simple rules will extend the duration of your worthless life and make you seem like less of an asshole.
It occurs to me that all Northeastern cities are kicking New York's ass these days. Philadelphia, D.C., Boston, hell even Baltimore makes us look weak. They have the hard crimes and the good times: we have Fashion Week and a bunch of jerks talking about restaurants on their cell phones. All weekend long the L train stations in Williamsburg are like hipster sluices, vomiting out punks who have spent thousands of their parents' dollars so they can look like Vincent Gallo, play kickball in McCarren Park, and aspire to become monsters like these. I pray nightly for financial collapse and riots, but God has grown tired of my prayers, the rat fuck.

WE ARE THE ROBOTS, PART 7,602. Weary of merely giving his regular steer to Lileks' tedious jabber at buzz.mn, Ole Perfesser spices it up with a laff at Al Bore:
AL GORE VISITS MINNEAPOLIS:

Brrr. Not complaining; just noting. Flower-slaying frost expected, which really is too soon. All that work, and they perish in a night.

I mean, I don't actually know if Al was in Minneapolis today, I just kind of assumed.
Heh heh! Because of the Gore Effect, see! Heh hehindeed!

Meanwhile in the Arctic Sea:
Large areas of Arctic sea ice are only one meter thick this year, about 50 percent thinner than they were in the year 2001, according to measurements taken by 50 scientists on board the research ship Polarstern. The international team is conducting research on sea ice in the central Arctic Basin.

"The ice cover in the North Polar Sea is dwindling, the ocean and the atmosphere are becoming steadily warmer, the ocean currents are changing," said chief scientist Dr. Ursula Schauer from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, who has been aboard the Polarstern for two and a half months...

The thickness of the Arctic sea ice has been shrinking since 1979, and on this trip oceanographers have found a particularly high concentration of melt-water in the ocean and a large number of melt-ponds.

According to the latest computer models, says Schauer, the Arctic could be ice free in less than 50 years, in case of further warming...
If you believe you will be saved, as Perfesser Reynolds does, by a robot Rapture, I guess you can afford to laugh this stuff off. Traditional humans may feel differently.

Friday, September 14, 2007

DON'T PUT ANOTHER DIME IN THE JUKEBOX. National Review publishes a lecture Stanley Kurtz gave on Allan Bloom at Princeton. One can only imagine what Bloom, who despaired at the desuetude of American higher education, would make of the fact that an Ivy League university countenanced Kurtz' lengthy exegesis on rock and roll and hiphop -- especially since Kurtz' foreordained conclusion is that the 1986 publication of The Closing of the American Mind was a "major culture-shaping phenomenon," which would imply that parlor songs had replaced rock and rap in the soundtrack of American life. Yet the best Kurtz can do is point to a Rolling Stone interview in which Mick Jagger and Keith Richards express weariness with hard music, which is understandable, since their last dozen records seem to have been designed to spread such weariness generally.

This leaves Bloom nothing but blame, and black people provide him with a modish target:
Unfortunately, I think hip-hop is going to be just fine. To see why, let’s consult Bloom’s treatment of race...
To spare you some pain, let me condense it: blacks forced colleges at gunpoint to admit them, which of course just ruined colleges and blacks alike. As a result, gangsta rap has become popular with "many of Europe’s discontented Muslim youth," which "drives some of these young men toward Islamist radicalism." Kurtz' mechanism of action is ingeniously muddled:
For many of these young Muslim boys, the notion that their Western girlfriends are actually “ho’s” flows from a still robust ethic of family honor, in which the sisters of these rappers are often held to radically different standards than their gangsta brothers. The contradiction between this traditional family ethos and the baseness of street life drives some of these young men toward Islamist radicalism. Rap emerged as a kind of antithesis of an already weakened family system. Juxtapose rap with its communal family opposite, and the results are nothing short of explosive.
Miscegnation plus Jay-Z equals jihad! Yet we still haven't put Stephon Marbury in preventive detention. It's a wonder the Republic still stands.

If, 20 years on, rockers and rappers are destroying Western Civilization more effectively than ever, what's so "culture-shaping" about Closing?
So in my view, far from vitiating either the book’s impact or its positive effects, Closing’s fearless philosophical doubt actually generated its success — not merely in terms of sales, but also as a conservative cultural force. Traced down and studied in isolation, Bloom’s skeptical philosophical core may appear to be as oddly forbidding as the invisible black hole at the center of a galaxy. Yet the seemingly destructive power of that core actually sets the surrounding stars into motion.
Pundit poetry is always tough to parse, but I think Kurtz means the book is great because it gave lunatics such as himself steady gigs at rightwing blabfests.
HOLY MATRIMONY! At the New York Sun, Steven Malanga says New York City's economy is doing great, which is why the City should start nagging unwed mothers:
It has taken New York City more than a generation to find the political will to reform welfare, ending its legacy as a program that encourages a lifetime of dependence. Now the city and the nation face new challenges, as the decline of the traditional family threatens those least able to cope with economic hardship.

The next wave of reform must try to get men to support the children they father, as Mayor Bloomberg argued in a Washington, D.C. speech the other week: discourage out-of-wedlock births, and — dare any government official undertake this one? — promote marriage.
Put me in charge of that program. I have a list of proposals all ready:
  • To help erase the stigma associated with matrimony, get the Manhattan Institute to print up a bunch of "I had a wedding" t-shirts.
  • City-distributed condoms will have holes punched in them, and come with DNA collection kits and legal aid vouchers.
  • Ads featuring former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani: "Marriage works! I've had three and I ain't hurtin'!"
  • Use tax credits to encourage local celebrities to appear in films with their husbands. We can start with Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony.
  • Taking a cue from deterrent "naming and shaming" programs for customers of prostitutes, the City will regularly publish Whore and Bastard Lists.
  • The City Clerk will establish booths at street fairs to give out free weddings; couples also receive complementary funnel cake.
  • To show how effectively marriage can improve the economic status of women, the City will distribute a biography of The Bronx's Ellen Barkin to public schools.
I eagerly await my government grant.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

AS I SUSPECTED. At RedState, Leon H. Wolf explains the conservative distaste for environmentalism:
...there are two things about the environmental movement that cause a lot of conservatives to despise the movement itself, and often, as an extension, the causes for which it stands. The first is that a lot of the more extreme environmentalists seem to hate human beings. The second is that even their more moderate cousins seem to hate America. And if there are two things that American conservatives believe strongly, it's that human beings have value, and that America is a great country.
The McGuffin for this fascinating admission is a review of the book The World Without Us, which Wolf seems to mistake for a Sierra Club brochure.

Next week, Wolf will explain that he doesn't go to doctors because they hate humanity, as demonstrated by the case of Josef Mengele.
LOWERED EXPECTATIONS. I admit to disappointment that the President didn't start his speech with the news that 2,200 Marines were coming home at the end of the month and would not be replaced. In fact, I had hoped that he would have a WELCOME HOME banner and maybe a glass of non-alcoholic champagne. For many Americans this is the money shot, and good news no matter how you slice it, as is the possibility that 3,500 soldiers will also come home without relief by Christmas.

The speech was not mainly about the drawdown, but about the surge-related progress Bush is claiming in Iraq. The surge, we now see, was not meant to end the war but to continue it. Though the intrigues of Sunnis, Shiites, and our own Government in Iraq -- and elsewhere -- are complex, the President portrayed the contest as a simple one between the forces of freedom and Al Qaeda, and the pacification of some areas as part of a linear progress from tyranny to democracy. The advantage of this narrative is that it is simple; the disadvantage is that it extends into the distant future. Bush bluntly reminded us that our occupation of Iraq would continue after he is out of office. It is a sobering thought, but there are the troop withdrawals and stories of newly-re-liberated Iraqis to take some of the sting out of it.

The President clearly hopes the American people will accept this modest package because it promises, in the old Nixonian phrase, peace with honor. Bush's closing with a dead-soldier anecdote tips his hand: our blood and treasure cannot have been shed in vain, and with patience it will not be. Bush and his supporters, who once dismissed comparisons of Iraq and Vietnam, have of late adopted them, with the provision that the sad ending of that conflict will be rewritten with this one.

For political purposes, this is not meant to erase some imagined Vietnam stigma -- there is no sign that America seethes with regret over that -- but to erase bitter memories of the Administration's own malfeasances: the fallacious case for war, the early declarations of victory, and the dispiriting violence that came after.

With war support at a low ebb, Bush bought a bit of breathing space with his surge, and in that space sealed the exits. Now he tells us that since we cannot get out, we can only go up.

We've come a long way from the toppled Saddam statue and strewn flowers of early days. Who would have thought then that the restoration of some order to neighborhoods our invasion plunged into chaos would be offered as proof that we were on the right track?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

HUMOR. I thank Kevin Drum for designating alicublog "funny," but I worry that any joy-poppers who accept his steerage will be disappointed to find the laughs here sparsely placed, like raisins in an overvast bowl of political bran. I should really shed this sackcloth and aspire to the more exalted role of internet buffoon. Having no antidepressants handy, I will dig this penknife into my leg and, as the bad thoughts recede, practice my comic technique:
Q. How do you confuse Jonah Goldberg?
A. This country sucks.
No wait, I told it wrong.

UPDATE. Q.E.D.
SHORTER KAY S. HYMOWITZ: Libertarianism is an imperfect form of conservatism.

Most Wall Street Journal essays on libertarianism you don't even have to read, and this one is no exception. Hymowitz agrees with libertarians that all good things come from magic capitalism: for example, the stupid progressives who demanded workplace safety regulation should have just waited 80 years for America to lose its manufacturing base, and everything would have been alright. But she finds the unwillingness of libertarians to regulate morality and sexuality to be... unlibertarian:
Libertarianism did not have to take this unfortunate turn. Ludwig von Mises himself warned that the attempt (of socialists) to undermine the family was a ploy to strengthen the state. Hayek, too, grasped the family's role in upholding the free market. Coming of age in Europe around the time of World War I, he stressed the state's inefficiency but also warned, more generally, of the limits of human reason. "Hayek's economics was rooted in man's ignorance," Mr. [Brian] Doherty writes; so were his political views, which included both an enthusiasm for freedom and a Burkean respect for customs and institutions.

It is difficult to say why this aspect of libertarianism has faded away...
Maybe because outside the social studies classroom, Hymowitz' "Burkean respect for customs" means enforcement of moral codes better suited to a 17th century Pilgrim encampment than to the society we actually inhabit. And the Libertarian Party has no need to appease Religious Right yahoos to gain votes, because they rarely have any hope of being elected. In fact most libertarians vote for parties other than the LP, which probably best explains the existence of Hymowitz' essay. She knows libertarians like free markets, and hopes to weaken their attachment to the free minds part of the equation sufficiently to shore up that old Reagan coalition for one more election.

That she thinks the Ole Perfesser is a libertarian shows just how misguided she is.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

HARDCORE. I have fond memories Canada's Subhumans, whose "Fuck You" and "Slave to My Dick" were party staples back in olden times. I certainly did not know this:
In 1983 [Subhumans founding member] Gerry Hannah was in the news, but not as a musician. Always involved in political issues, including environmentalism - one of his nicknames was “Nature Punk” - he linked up with a group of political activists called Direct Action, whose frustration lead them toward armed struggle. Among other actions, the group blew up an environmentally unfriendly hydroelectric substation on Vancouver Island and bombed the Litton plant near Toronto, which manufactured parts for the American cruise missile, a “first strike” nuclear weapon. Canadian authorities eventually arrested the group, known in the press as the Squamish Five, and Gerry was sentenced to ten years in jail. He was released after serving five years.

In 1995, Gerry and Brian reformed the dormant band for a western Canadian tour...
Blew up a power station and bombed an aircraft plant? Five years in prison? Reformed the band for a western Candian tour? I can't even approve of that. (The violence, I mean.) Sigh. I am officially a poser.

The Subhumans are still at it. Playing music, I mean. Here's a tune from their 2006 album -- or, for old times' sake, you can hear their 1996 remake of "Fuck You."
911PALOOZA! Jim Lileks celebrates Nineeleven by telling us Bogie and Jayne Mansfield would have been on his side and you Commie punks can have James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. Then he predicts that someone will make a shallow joke about him -- but it's the wrong shallow joke! Poor fellow hasn't been right about much of anything:
It seemed right away like it would be a big war, three to four years – Afghanistan first, of course, then Iraq, then Iran.
Instead, it's been a short five-year occupation and no boom-boom in Iran. Sigh. It's amazing what power tortured English Lit grad students exercised over President Bush and a mostly Republican Congress.

Norman Podhoretz also looks back in anger, adding Nixon, who "did not sound an opposing call to fight on to victory," to his list of traitors, along with McGovern, Archibald Cox, and the Internet, which has enabled "virtual demonstrations" as an "all-too-effective substitute" for real ones -- there have been plenty of those, but to admit that would give the Internet a pass and vitiate Podhoretz' shadow thesis that everything went to hell after Making It fell off the best-seller lists.

Melanie Phillips goes for discarded Andrew Sullivan talking points:
The liberal West, which worships at the shrine of reason, does not understand that ideas can kill. As a result Britain, Europe, America, and Israel have all left the battleground of ideas undefended, allowing the advance of falsehood and hatred. Worse still, our intelligentsia and media often act as an Islamists’ fifth column.
If "undefended" means "defended by such as Melanie Phillips," I can sort of see her point.

Around the time of the original attacks, I recall, there was a lot of talk about getting the people who actually sent the planes. The list of targets quickly expanded well beyond that, of course. Six years later, conservatives paint bull's-eyes on everything outside their own shrinking sphere of influence. A grim anniversary, indeed.

Monday, September 10, 2007

SAME SHIT, DIFFERENT DAY. At National Review, Donald Kagan compares anti-war Democrats to Civil War Copperheads and British Hitler appeasers, himself and his fellow neocons to abolitionists, and Bush to Lincoln and Pericles. This is listed among NatRev's responses to the Petraeus interview, and I suspect it sets the tone for forthcoming conservative articles on the subject. A quick look around their precincts bears out this theory: the battle order of the day will not be a defense of the General's charts but a denunciation of Democratic treason.

It is worth noting that today's session was mainly about a plan for withdrawal from an occupation which is disapproved by citizens of the occupying country as well as those of the occupied country. But neither the Democratic leadership nor the Republican Administration perceive a political benefit to themselves from a quick exit. So they talk about timetables and drawdown and leave it to their operatives to spin the analysis to their advantage.

It's as if they were engaged in some sort of game in which the preferred strategy is running out the clock, even though the clock goes to the first Tuesday in November 2008, at least. Of course, some strategists are still thinking about the long bomb.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

SHORTER MARK STEYN. People aren't going for our war narrative the way they should. I blame trial lawyers. Maybe if we keep saying "World War Four" they'll come around.
JEAN JAURÈS WAS A VERY, VERY BAD MAN. Volokh conspirator Ilya Somin asks "Why The Debate Over Socialism Isn't Over." Oddly, he waits till the end of his post to note that "I use the term 'socialism' to refer to government control of all or most of the means of production, not to more moderate departures from the free market, such as welfare statism or government regulation of industries that remain privately owned." For blogospheric purposes this seems to take the juice of out the whole thing, though many of Somin's commenters miss that bit and rave as if straight-up socialism still had a chance in the good old USA.

There have been a few elected Socialists in America. One, Jasper McLevy, was mayor of my old hometown, Bridgeport, from 1933 to 1957. All my dear old mother remembered about him was his policy on snow removal from city streets: "The good Lord put it there, the Good Lord can take it away." That's mainly what Wikipedia remembers about him, too.

You may wonder why a pretty big American city countenanced a Socialist mayor, however denatured, for so many years. Bridgeport was a working-class town that had several large factories which employed many working men and women (Mom was one of those) who wanted for themselves and their families what the labor leader Gompers prescribed: "More." (And in the Depression, when McLevy first took power, that meant "Enough.") The blue collar Bridgeport electorate, and my Mom, didn't give a shit who stood for them so long as he stood firm. That's why they liked McLevy. He embraced the New Deal more forthrightly than his Democratic opposition (which he denounced as "a group whose only interest is to exploit the wage-earner to the last ounce"), put in civil service reform and a Housing Authority, and engaged the capitalist enemy, so to speak, by working with factory owners to rehabilitate the city's finances. He was a roofer before he got into politics and he was less concerned with doctrine (his attachment to socialism was sentimental and Bellamite) than he was with sound management and protecting his constituents from those who would screw them. His 1938 slogan was "Don't let the raiders raid you." Everyone knew what he was talking about.

America has treated socialism the way it treats everything else: as something to be assayed and extracted according to the rigors of common sense. A quick glance at our history will show that some socialist ideas -- trade unionism and social insurance among them -- got traction with working people and were (once moneyed interests had no other recourse) woven into our capitalist system. The rest was chaff.

These are part of our lives now. As for the countries that Somin brings up in his denunciations, they haven't had so good a social laboratory as we. "Hugo Chavez's political success in Venezuela is an example of how some of the most disastrous socialist policies can be successfully sold to the people if combined with nationalism," he writes, "a lesson first taught by Hitler and Mussolini." I assume Somin did not trouble himself to consider the social and economic chaos out of which any of these polities birthed their tyrants, nor how these crises might have been averted.

So he reverts to the method of South Park schoolteachers: the umpteenth replay of "Hitler Was a Very, Very Bad Man," with Hugo Chavez and Kim Jong Il inserted in the lead roles. He wonders why "we have not yet completed the task of driving a stake through [socialism's] heart." He might ask Cartman, or any citizen who has seen in our era capitalism redefined as an ever-worsening deal for the non-rich. The Democrats, for all their faults and foibles, seem more interested, as the redistributive notions some of them are peddling show.

Conservatives often wonder why we don't join them in their nonstop pep rally against Communism, Socialism, etcetera. They say, and seem to believe, that it is because we are actually Communists, Socialists, and etceterists. I'm sort of an etceterist, myself, by which I mean I'm against all forms of political correctness, including Somin's. It warms my heart when Americans show interest in health care policies associated by conservatives with socialism -- not because I am a socialist, but because it shows a shrewdness in our people that ranting lectures about socialism cannot dispel. In a real marketplace of ideas, the idea of national health care would provoke not waves of bluster, but a serious counterproposal. Maybe if we sweat 'em a bit more, we'll get it.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

HOW WOULD BIN LADEN VOTE? This old game got a boost from OBL's recent mentions of Noam Chomsky, American politics, and Chomsky. Of course, in my own home version, the winning objective correlative to the bin Laden project is the sort of apocalyptic nonsense that folks like Rod Dreher spout about our ungodly modern society. In fact, one of the things I usually assume right-wing and left-wing types mutually dislike about jihadists, along with the murder of innocents, is their millenarian call to Come to Allah and revert to a new Dark Age with a Muslim rather than Catholic orthodoxy. But I acknowledge there are fringe players who would approve of such an arrangement.

In the wake of a different culture wargame, having to do with Hillary Clinton's evocations of African folk wisdom, Daniel Larison says that many modern American conservatives aren't really traditional conservatives at all:
...many conservatives, when pressed, will say that their conservatism is really just a mild classical liberalism, their declared religiosity is balanced by a strong enthusiasm for religious pluralism and their idea of valuable cultural production is the film adaptation of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. While busily exporting the "now much-talked-of system of liberty," to borrow a phrase from Patriarch Anthimus' Paternal Instructions, we create no enduring cultural life worth mentioning. There is some kind of culture out there, of course, but most of it will not be of any lasting significance because one of our main values is utility and our impulse is for building things for the present, not for posterity or eternity.
Larison's link is to a Chronicles rant by Clyde N. Wilson about how the 20th Century "strangled" American culture with "war, industrialism, Yankee pragmatism, and polyglot immigration," leading to "young white men, the heirs of two thousand years of Western civilization, [who] adopt baggy pants, earrings, backwards baseball caps, and primitive music because that is the nearest thing to a cultural expression that their American environment has ever exposed them to."

Wilson ends grimly:
Everything that America has produced in literature and music of enduring cultural value since the mid-20th century has come from Southerners who were raised in an environment that was still incompletely conquered by Yankee pragmatism. Whether our Southern bit of cultural residue will survive for much longer, and whether it can possibly do so without political separation from the American Empire, are questions that will probably be decided in the present rising generation..
Political separation from the American Empire... it seems to me the South tried that one before.

I don't think Larison longs for a deity to put our political affairs aright. (Wilson I'm not so sure about.) I do worry about anyone who thinks his disapproval of American culture is a relevant point of discussion in political affairs. Culture is not an object of reform except accidentally, and history shows very few positive outcomes from the desire to make it one. It's one thing to purify a drinking water supply, and quite another to purify arts and letters.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A SICK FEELING. Having been highly uncharitable in a previous post, it pleases me to notice there is a sane discussion of health care costs at Dean Esmay's site, at which I am accustomed to hear only ravings. The post is inspired by one by Marc Cooper about a weird discrepancy Cooper observed in his medical bill between what the insured and the uninsured might be charged for the same procedure.

As some commenters notice, an uninsured individual might by various means get a break on his higher price. But the large numbers attached to medical procedures stir sober feelings among nearly all of them, and many have personal reminiscences that inform their tone.

I lately noticed myself the growing concern with health care as a policy issue, and I think this discussion gives a clue as to why that is. Anyone who has looked at a medical bill with his name on it and compared the cost to what he pays for the other necessities of life might experience a memorable moment of terror, even if he is at the moment protected by the blessing of insurance. Health care coverage is, for a lot of us, contingent on employment, and in this groovy entrepreneural era we have learned to think of job security as a joke. Having carried post-employment COBRA payments myself, I know how the nervous feeling increases as one drifts further from the corporate zone of protection. I've gone without coverage, too, for long stretches, but that was back when America and I were younger; we are both greatly changed.

In general, I think this has a lot to do with the recent decline in Republican vote counts. Scandals, bad war management, and other factors aside, the GOP has been pushing its Ownership Society message for a good long time now. Americans have gloried in self-reliance since well before Emerson blew "a whistle from the Spartan fife." But when the numbers run so high against so many, when bankruptcy laws tighten and the possibility of washing the slate clean and starting over in another town is rendered laughable by computer-assisted tracking data, when a mortgage can so easily become the instrument of a working family's catastrophe, even a Spartan may begin to feel that the fix is in.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

THEY LIVE. This is the first GOP debate I've watched, as opposed to relying on transcripts. Tell me: are all of these things animated Ralph Steadman cartoons? Maybe the glaring police-interrogation lights amplify the animal freakishness of these people, but damn. After hearing National Review compare Huckabee to Kevin Spacey, I wasn't prepared for the squint-headed, bug-eyed monster that actually raves under that name. And nearly all the rest of them are just tubes of meat that, when squeezed, emit a display of polished teeth and psychotic ravings.

The only human beings on the stage are Ron Paul and John McCain. McCain, God bless him, carries on a noble campaign for his own idiosyncratic version of insanity, which I admire because his is a recognizably human affliction, inculcated by years of torture followed by years of having to consort with greedy politicians who were certainly his inferiors. His quiet lunacy is very different from the noisy, slavering power-madness evidenced by the rest of these guys. He's like King Lear standing among (but not of) a pack of Pavlov's dogs.

And Paul, of course, stepped out of the 18th Century to defend the Constitution from these nuts. The Fox News scumbags sigh and giggle, but you can tell they're pissed that they foolishly allowed a debate to take place in New Hampshire, where a free man will always command an audience's respect.

The rest are humanoid pus:

Duncan Hunter: We treat our torture victims too well. Someone should drive a stake through this one's heart and bury him in unconsecrated ground. Thank God his spot-welded body, movie-monster eyebrows, and Queeg-like manipulation of his pen remove him from serious consideration.

Mitt Romney: Heh, heh, heh. Heh, heh, heh, heh. Civil liberties are nothing compared to my desire to be become a real boy! He's like a robot who, between 1994 and 1996, tried to follow his dream of becoming America's first animatronic Baptist preacher; didn't make it but, when called upon to pretend interest in the affairs of us puny mortals, often falls into the old evangelical cadences.

Tom Tancredo: Waterboarding? Torture? Where'd you get that? Oddly, when you close your eyes, he sounds like Spalding Gray with hydrophobia.

Rudolph Giuliani: You forget that, while people were criticizing me for flaunting my mistress, I cut taxes 37 times. I think even Fox has given up on him. His head is swiftly turning into a memento-mori AS YOU ARE, I WAS -- AS I AM, SO YOU WILL BE dessicated skull. Someone obviously told him the jig is up about 9/11 -- now he brags endlessly about what a prick he was running New York. Listen close, death's-head whorefucker: no one in Bumfuck -- and, you know, all America is Bumfuck -- gives a good goddamn.

And... oh, fuck this shit. I'm never getting out of the boat again. Next time I'll read the transcripts and lay out pictures of the Isely Brothers and pretend that's what they look like.

UPDATE. The National Review guys are devoted to denying reality. Andy McCarthy enjoys that the incredibly sleazy accusation by Chris Wallace that Ron Paul defers to Al Qaeda drew applause, but seems to have been out of the room when the crowd rallied to Paul's defense. Kathryn J. Lopez seems to think the New Hampshire crowd's obvious disgust with the malignant Giuliani is a baseball thing. Okay, K-Lo, have it your way: fuck the New York Yankees, fuck Rudolph Giuliani, and fuck you.

UPDATE II. Ron Paul is winning the Fox phone poll; Sean Hannity is looking around for a civilian whose head Fox will allow him to gnaw in frustration. I have reformed my views: the whole world should see how these people operate.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

NEW REALITIES. Jonah Goldberg joins his National Review colleague Jonathan Foreman in denouncing anti-American action movies. He says Shooter is leftwing "porn." (Funny, I though porn was our porn.) By way of illustration, he mocks the movie Network:
Ned Beatty could absolutely be a Montana Senator running his own private army of CIA goons and oil-pipeline engineers all around the world! And when asked about it, he'll deliver a stemwinder of a lecture that could have been written by Trotsky! It could happen! Really!
Jonah Goldberg in 2004:
Network is still an astoundingly relevant and good movie.
It may be that Goldberg's tastes have changed. But when did he ever have taste?
DIGGIN' A CHINESE DITCH. Jules Crittenden puts on his big-thinkin' hat:
The thing about China is, no one ever tells China “no.” Not in language China understands. I don’t mean the losers in Cambridge with “Free Tibet” bumper stickers who also do not care to see U.S. power exerted anywhere in the world. I’m talking about parties China might pay attention to. The United States government, the market forces the United States. China would respond well to “no.” Just look at the hoops China is jumping through over a little bad publicity. Money is important to China...
According to the US-China Business Council, China's total FDI [Foreign Direct Investment] inflows for 2006 were $69.5 billion. China's not the only party to whom money is important.

Crittenden mocks the "losers in Cambridge," but his own response to Chinese intransigence and illiberality is to assert that "I don’t think I need cheap Chinese crap that much," and fantasize about war ("The Thing About China is that we are bound to have a war with them... it could be a small war. It could be a big war..."). What makes his resistance any more valuable than that of any other loser -- whom we may define for all relevant purposes as anyone with control of less than a few million dollars?

I don't like China any more than Crittenden does. Maybe if we both write letters to Rupert Murdoch we can turn this thing around.
A LESSON FROM MR. CRAWFORD. Caught The Mob last week on Turner -- a slightly cheesy but tight little 1951 crime pic in which Broderick Crawford plays a cop who goes undercover as a dockworker to solve a case. It's very butch entertainment, with Ernest Borgnine and John Marley as goons, Richard Kiley and Matt Crowley as wiseguys with secrets, wonderfully cruddy cityscapes, and hopelessly flat female characters. At one point the cops trace a car by attaching a slow drip of some sort of liquid to the chassis: they ride a good distance behind the suspect, shining a black light on the road to follow the otherwise invisible trail. I can imagine a theatre full of 50s boys goggle-eyed at this high tech police work.

I fixated on Crawford. Most physically heavy actors who work well on film -- Zero Mostel, Victor Buono, and Oliver Hardy come to mind -- seem light on their feet, but Crawford never did. His weightiness made him a hard sell as a leading man. As did his mug: cruel mouth, small eyes, fat cheeks, broken nose. (Crawford described it as "the face of a retired pugilist.") But he had a surprising expressive range as an actor -- check him out as the professor of medicine in Not as a Stranger, where his toughness plays as stoic wisdom.

And he gives a neat little acting lesson in The Mob. As the cop, Crawford seems at first like a bit of a stiff, a conscientious lifer who just wants to do right by his job and his girl. His usual gruff voice seems a little cowed and worried. Then circumstances necessitate his transformation into a belligerent drifter. He walks into a dockside flophouse with his hat pulled down, one hand dug into his pocket, the other swinging a crummy valise, and the rolling gait of a guy used to having nowhere to go. He regards every person and object that falls under his gaze with weary insolence. He talks to the desk clerk and the bartender as if he expects nothing and wants everything. Olivier couldn't have done it better. He couldn't have done it as well.

As a teenager I saw Crawford give a rather lax performance at the Westport County Playhouse as the Coach in That Championship Season. The Playhouse had notoriously short rehearsal schedules and, from what I'd heard about him, I doubt Crawford threw himself into his work. Why would he? He'd been doing TV for decades. He knew the game. So he hit his marks and said his lines. At the end, though, standing down left with the trophy clutched in his hands, he listed to one side and fixed his eyes -- those tiny eyes, nestled in creases -- at the third row. He suddenly looked like three hundred pounds of dead meat. "Basketball," he rasped, "is no longer the white man's game." The audience laughed and his aging players took pictures. Up till then Crawford seemed a little off; now he seemed a million miles away. "I got you, Coach," yelled the photographer. The pile of meat stirred; a sigh. "Yeah." I can still hear it: The low string on a cello, frayed and woolly.

Monday, September 03, 2007

YOU FIRST! "Like J.H. Kunstler likes to say, we are wicked people who deserve to be destroyed." -- Rod Dreher.

In the post before that, Dreher nods approvingly to folks who think Al Qaeda and the Aborigines have it all over us godless humanists.

I used to think Dreher turned against the War on Whatchamacallit because of some late spasm of Christianity. Now I'm convinced it was because he despaired of a Christian revival, and hopes for fundamentalists of whatever stripe to come make us godly. This was sometime a paradox but now the time gives it proof, to quote that Shakespeare play that one of Dreher's anti-humanist heroes likes to bring up.
SKILLZ.

LACK OF SKILLZ.
A few liberal readers have taken offense to my suggestion that the "left" doesn't object to anonymous cruising for gay sex in public places...

First, I deliberately used "left" instead of "liberal" in the relevant sentence. But then I did revert back to liberal for most of the rest of the column. I probably could have been more exacting in the distinction...

Maybe I'm a product of my times, having grown up in New York City in the 1980s, but gay cruising in random places, specifically bathrooms, most certainly was part of the gay rights agenda...

I haven't paid that much attention to the issue in recent years, but I still don't seem to recall a lot of liberals expressing their disgust with bathroom hook-ups when Jim McGreevey's tale was revealed...
It seems fitting to say goodbye to summer '07 with Jonah Goldberg feverishly wrestling a rubber doll to keep it from fucking him in the ass.
NANNY STATUS. Ann Althouse worries about John Edwards' mandatory health care plan:
So, the mental health check is mandatory too? Why does he not even realize how bad that sounds? He's so warmed up about the generous benefits he's promising that he doesn't even hear the repressiveness in his own statements. I'm sure he won't be able to deliver on these promises. I'm just wondering about a person with so little sensitivity toward personal freedom.
Mandatory enrollment in a cradle-to-grave government scheme -- why, that's the stuff of totalitarian dystopias.

I do share Althouse's concern, though. Under this plan it's a coin-toss as to which of us would be locked up first: My anti-social attitudes sound a clear warning bell, as do the Professor's passive aggressive episodes.

I think it's a sign of how crucial the health care debate has become that Edwards is even proposing this. There is little danger for a Democrat in upping the ante this way. (Althouse may see this, too, hence the "I'm sure he won't be able to deliver on these promises" hedge.) And, were Edwards to carry this theme through to the general election campaign, I don't see a Republican getting much traction from claims that the Democrats want to put you in a nuthouse -- especially if Giuliani is the candidate. (Ron Paul might be safe, though.)

The political order of the day is a sort of selective nannyism. In security matters, Americans have already swallowed the idea that the innocent have nothing to fear from preventive detention, enhanced surveillance, etc. As health care climbs the charts as an issue, it may be that citizens will also decide that the sane have nothing to fear from mandatory mental health exams. Your average American is as convinced of his own sanity as he is of his own innocence, and with as much justification.

For amusement purposes, I hope this sort of thing keeps up. I would suggest the Republicans warn the people that a poor mental health grade might deprive some of them of their right to bear arms. Then the Democrats can wheel out James Brady to declare that Republicans want guns in schools. Then the Republicans can tell us that the Democrats' prescription for the mentally ill will be what Janet Reno gave the Branch Davidians. Then Al Gore can come out and explain that freedom doesn't mean much when you're drowning under twenty feet of melted polar icecap...

A few laughs on the way to preventive detention is all I ask.

UPDATE. Concurring Opinions suggests that the totalitarian angle on Edwards' plan is bullshit. I would have checked it out myself if I weren't having so much fun.
DA, DA, WE ARE McLOVIN! Attention comrades! Choose wisely your Labor Day blockbuster! At National Review, comrade Lowry assures us that Superbad is affirming of conservative moral values, while comrade Foreman finds The Bourne Ultimatum "one of the most anti-American movies made since the early 1970s." So enjoy approved tits and swears and avoid double-plus-ungood shoot-'em-up! Enjoy also your popcorn ration.

Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass' previous film United 93 was highly praised by NatRev's culture war review board. (Peter Suderman said, "Asking why this film was made is like asking why we go to funerals... We do it because we must," a pull-quote for the ages.) Greengrass' descent from patriot to traitor has been swift, but he should not despair. In 1999, Brad Bird was excoriated in the New York Post for making The Iron Giant, which had a nice Soviet robot in it. When he made The Incredibles, though, Bird was declared rehabilitated.

Of course Greengrass may still have to worry about the cultural journalism skills of Don Surber:
Based on my experience, women raising boys without fathers and urbanization are ending the hunting tradition. Disney and Warner Brothers certainly did not help the cause by depicting hunters over the years as shoot-em-up yahoos.
Even Bambi and Bugs Bunny aren't safe! I suggest Greengrass take a look at the long-awaited screenplay by Roger L. Simon and Michael Ledeen if he values his citizenship.
ON TOUR WITH OLD BLOOD 'N' GUTS. Ralph "Blood 'n' Guts" Peters has been sending dispatches from Iraq to the New York Post, and they are a delight. Here are some of Peters' most recent "I'll-remember-this moments":
Scrawny Iraqi police recruits chattering like excited birds as they marveled at the tattoos on a Marine weightlifter's torso: A flesh-and-blood metaphor for muscular, over-the-top America and our relationship with malnourished, bewildered Iraq.
Here's what our stateside poets miss: the opportunity to make metaphors of scrawny occupied peoples. Kipling might have appreciated the chance, but I expect he would have made more of it.

Peters continues in this expansive vein:
We were standing in Iraq's Atlanta, discussing Sherman. For one of those lightning instants when you grasp something beyond words, we both felt the timelessness of war and soldiering.
The glory that was total war, the grandeur that was Reconstruction. Well, five years after it was taken, Atlanta didn't have reliable electric service either.
Sitting in a plywood-partition office in a combat outpost with an American captain and an Iraqi Provincial Security Forces general as the Iraqi "complied" with the captain's request for three bids from local firms to deliver gravel to a dirt motor pool before the rains began.

Eager to close a deal that wouldn't do his own retirement savings any harm, the general laid down three pieces of paper. They were identical, except that one specified $800 per truckload, a second $750 and a third $700.

It was obvious that the bids were all from the same source and that the drill was simply to do things in the peculiar way Americans expected.
Who says they don't know how democracy works? Wait'll they get internet access. They'll be selling our own weapons back to us.
An old sheik, who had done nicely under Saddam, reminiscing about the days of no-nonsense law and order when he could drive safely on the spur of the moment from Fallujah to Basra. As the polite old man continued telling stories, it became heartbreakingly obvious that much of the post-liberation fighting between Iraqis and Americans had been the result of confounded expectations on both sides.

Living so long under Saddam - and previous stern regimes - men such as the sheik simply couldn't comprehend our rules or assumptions or philosophy, nor did we grasp the accommodations Iraqis had made with the concept of "laws."

We began by shouting past each other, and ended by shooting at each other.
This piqued my interest, till I read on and found Peters was speaking of Americans and Iraqis in general, and not of himself and the polite old man.

Peters closes with a long, funny description of one of Saddam's old palaces, during which he remembers that he hasn't said anything bad about liberals yet. "But maybe we could organize a tour that would take them to a few of Saddam's palaces," he says, "then to see the squalor in which most Iraqis live." I suppose we all have some idea of both pictures, and look forward to the day when both the palaces and the squalor will be eradicated. But I see we are almost done building a new palace in Baghdad, while the Army Corps of Engineers projects that Iraq will get sufficient power services sometime in the next decade. Also, I doubt even Peters could vouch for the security of our tour bus. So I'll pass on the offer, and continue to rely on Peters' dispatches, which are very revealing in their way.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

ART TRIALS. Well, I did my best with Clive James' Cultural Amnesia, but after 500 pages I had to set it aside, not out of fatigue but out of irritation. The writing's not the problem. In and among the dozens of essays, each dedicated to (but not necessarily about) a major figure of the 20th Century (and sometimes others), James reliably produces insights that have both force and delicacy, as with this bit on Pound:
Pound vaunted his ability to form explanatory relationships, but it was the very thing he could never truly do, even though, like any other paranoid psychotic, he tried to all the time. Nevertheless he had the talent to demonstrate that to go mad for detail might yield something, whereas to go mad for generalization leads nowhere... he thought that he could judge an empire by the metallic composition of its small change, just as he thought he could extract the meaning of a Chinese ideogram by the way it looked. In both cases he was too far from the mark for sanity. But if he didn't get the picture, he could at least see it...
When he likes his subjects James is even better: "Montesquieu can delay his judgement on Tiberius: a forebearance that not even Tacitus can show... Tacitus, as much fascinated as repelled, had his sense of irony exhausted by a satanically gifted individual. Montesquieu, less emotionally involved, saw a point about Tiberius that extended to all mankind." If you can't get with this sort of material, he also writes elegantly about Dick Cavett and Tony Curtis.

The book isn't all about art, though. James' 20th Century is a slaughterhouse, so by his lights Hitler, Goebbels, Stalin, Mao, Pinochet and other such like must be considered, as well as artists who either opposed or collabrated with them, or were their victims. On these subjects, too, James can be forceful and even subtle: Goebbels, for example, "was the preeminent Nazi advocate of Total War... but he was also a realist in a surreal world, the madhouse he had helped create." On Nadezhda Mandelstam, whose husband was executed by Stalin, James is even poetic:
Akhmatova encapsulated the anguish of millions of devastated women when she wrote: "Husband dead, son in jail: pray for me." But a romantic she remained, still believing in the imaginative validity of a love affair beyond time. In Hope Abandoned, Nadezhda was able to say firmly that her friend was mistaken. Love affairs beyond time were impossible to take seriously when violent separations are the stuff of reality. With real life so disturbed, the nature of romanticism had been changed. In the new reality, all love affairs were beyond time.
James is so good at finding such aesthetic kernels in the tragedies that came with totalitarianism that I was prepared and even eager to hear a lot more of them. Alas, I did, and the kernels lost their savor soon enough. Part of it perhaps could not be helped; the horrors of the century may have been unprecedented, but they certainly begin to resemble one another over long stretches of description, and after the thirtieth or fortieth outrage I wished an editor had gently told James that we get it already. When Dante went to Hell he took Virgil, and you need a guide at that level to keep the infernal circles from closing into a blind spiral on you.

James' solution is to place the artists -- or, when they won't serve, polemicists -- in the context of relevant totalitarianisms. Did they perform admirably? Ernst Junger, despite being "incomparably the most gifted writer to remain on the scene" -- that is, in the Reich, though never quite a collaborator -- "no amount of horrifying truth could induce him fully to admit that he made a mistake. His way out of such an admission was to blame the style of the times; i.e., to console himself that everyone was at it..." If you think that's harsh, see what European Reds like Saramago get:
When Democracy finally arrived in 1974, Saramago didn't trust it. Saramago had good reason to suspect that justice would never come by reasonable means. But when it showed signs of doing so, he did nothing in his discursive writings to justify his position the only way it could have been justified... but it was wholly untrue to go on claiming that the far left offered an alternative in itself. The price of sticking to such a proposition was to restrict his own frame of reference to the size of his study. There was a world elsewhere in which the common people, all over the planet, had been massacred by the millions...
You soon see there is no Third Way with James. Authors who don't get the message are failures on that basis, despite the merit of their prose. James does not quite descend to the sort of Konservetkult nonsense we regularly lampoon here because he is a true critic with a rigorous standard: as with Pound, the ability to see the object is some recompense, but to get the picture is what art should be doing, particularly when the picture is of an oncoming holocaust. This is an arguable point, and certainly not the same thing as the blind weighing and sorting of the propagandist, but weighing and sorting is done and sometimes to an absurd degree:
In the long view of history, Brecht's fame as a creep will prevail, as it ought to. An unblushing apologist for organized frightfulness against the common people whose welfare he claimed to prize above his own, he was really no better than Oswald Mosley and a lot more dangerous. Brecht's fame as a poet will depend upon a wide appreciation of what he could do with language, and there lies the drawback: because the more you appreciate what he could do with language, the more you realize how clearly he could see, and so the more you are faced with how he left things out. You are faced, that is, with what he did not do with language.
What Brecht did do with language James never addresses, but you can pick up his plays and poems and enjoy them, I would say, even if you are not an apologist for Stalin.

This sort of hectoring eventually wore me down, but I am still getting some pleasure out of riffling it, because now I can desultorily enjoy James' lovely anecdotes, textual analyses, appreciations, and even some history lessons, without having to fidget in anticipation of another session of his grim tribunal.