Tuesday, February 19, 2008

WE CAN EVADE REALITY, BUT WE CANNOT EVADE THE CONSEQUENCES OF EVADING REALITY. Megan McArdle complains that the littlebrains don't understand libertarians:
Every libertarian gets it: "even Megan McArdle doesn't support the bankruptcy reform bill. . . " or some variant thereof. This is supposed to prove that the idea being attacked is so malignant that even libertarians, who are normally opposed to all that is right and good, can't stomach it. Annoyingly, I almost never get this for voicing an opinion that is actually outside the libertarian mainstream... And since I don't agree with them on national health care, naturally I must disagree about every single other thing they hold dear...
Elsewhere she explains to us that the difference between her and other supporters of Barack Obama is that she doesn't agree with anything he says. Maybe when she says people don't understand libertarians, she means they don't understand her.

Me, I support Obama because his candidacy offers the tantalizing prospect of riots.
SHORTER DAVID BROOKS. Hope is a sickness. Fortunately we have a pill for that.
ADIOS AMIGOS. Castro's quitting. Bush says in response, "The international community should work with the Cuban people to begin to build institutions that are necessary for democracy and eventually this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections... The United States will help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty."

I guess that means we invade, right? The high price of pre-sweetened breakfast cereal pretty much demands it, and Vegas is overbuilt.
EXCELSIOR. Margaret points me to Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, a melancholy chronicle of hypergentrification in the old town. One of Jeremiah's finds is a New York Observer portrait of an East Village developer named Ben Shaoul who says things like "I think what we try to do is try to maintain the streetscape and do what we can to maintain the grittiness of it. Although we put in marble, we try to maintain exposed brick floors and wide-plank floors."

The commenters to the article include some locals who have witnessed Shaoul's strongarm tactics (including "bang[ing] on resident’s doors in the middle of the night demanding that they get out of 'his' building"), and Shaoul defenders ("Clearly 'Anonymous' is unemployed... who else would have the time to author such a rant? If you spent as much time contributing to society [i.e. paying taxes] perhaps we would live in a better place").

The discussion is barely worth having. The luxury market is resistant to the national housing downturn, and in desirable New York neighborhoods that's where the action is. Most of Manhattan is becoming a theme park for the rich. They're even building condos in my own cruddy Brooklyn neighborhood. None of this will change until the general economic collapse, which I will pray for before I go to bed tonight. If you don't live here, or if you do but make a lot of money, you probably won't understand.

I took this photo on Bedford Avenue in the heart of upscale Williamsburg, where I lived once upon a time. It shows the promotional facade of a new real estate interest, announcing its humanity to the natives. The little stickers, which have been up for weeks, bear inscriptions that my cell-phone camera couldn't pick up. They say things like "We pretend to care about you," "We own fashionable little dogs," and "We are a nightmare."
BLOGGER'S REMORSE. I voted for Obama but now I've read Ann Althouse...
I've already said that Obama made a good impression on me when I first encountered him (when he spoke at the 2004 Democratic convention), but that I condemned all the Democrats who voted against John Roberts (and that included Obama)...

In the beginning of August, I was annoyed by Andrew Sullivan's effusive support of Obama as the candidate who would rid the young of the older "traumatized" generation...

So I was leaning strongly toward Hillary last summer. But I wasn't agonizing over the Democratic race. I favored Rudy Giuliani...

Obama just seemed bland to me around this time, and I was needling him to attack.

Then came Oprah Winfrey...

I was reading Carl Bernstein's "A Woman in Charge," and I identified with something Camille Paglia wrote...

Shortly thereafter, that video provided emotional massage...

Now, I've read through the posts and caught up to the present. Have I traced a journey?
...and I'm thinking, can't we get Dennis Kucinich back in the race? I'm clearly in the wrong constituency.

Monday, February 18, 2008

HOW WE DO. The Ole Perfesser has been working the angle that the Northern Illinois massacre occurred in a "gun-free" zone. The idea seems to be that if NIU, and other gun-free zones where similar massacres took place, had been instead flush with firearms, the victims would be alive today.

He has done this before, but never mentions the counterexample of New York City. We have been short on mass murders -- and, given our population, short on murders of all kinds -- for quite some time now. And legally we are as close to a gun-free zone as it gets. "Finding somewhere to buy a gun legally in Manhattan is not much less challenging than looking for a liquor store in Saudi Arabia," reported Andrew Stuttaford of National Review in 2000. And it hasn't gotten any easier in the age of Bloomberg.

Give some credit -- or damnation, if you are of a glibertarian frame of mind -- to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, whose crimefighting approach included many implements beloved of the Right, but who near the end of his tenure bragged at length on his confiscation of guns:
"The Police Department's dramatic success in reducing crime is due in large part to its corresponding success in removing guns from City streets," the Mayor said. "More than 90,000 guns have been seized since 1994, and shootings have plummeted more than 74 percent. The NYPD's gun seizure success is also reflected in the murder rate, which has plummeted 65 percent since 1994, and is down another 11 percent this year over last year. The NYPD has also ensured that thousands of guns can never be used to commit a crime by destroying them and putting the metal to good use. Now, another 3,000 guns have been taken out of circulation -- permanently."
It is one of the more delicious ironies of the 2008 campaign season that Giuliani lost credibility with the Republican base because he couldn't escape the anti-gun history that gave him a law-and-order record on which to run in the first place.

Unlike the Perfesser, we are less inclined to find delicious ironies in the death of innocents, so we offer instead -- anticipating the objection that New York is a very different place from, say, Virginia Tech -- practical suggestions to constituencies that wish to achieve our low levels of violence:
  • Crowd lots of people together. It sharpens the social skills.
  • Import large numbers of immigrants. Our mix is roughly one in three, but your mileage may vary. We find that it doesn't matter much whether they are legal or illegal.
  • Have also plenty of out gay, lesbian, trans and questioning folks on hand. This seems to have a calming effect on the polity.
  • Encourage safe sex, with the accent on the sex.
  • Union! (It seems to work for Las Vegas, too.)
  • Have plenty of street demonstrations, screaming matches, loud music, obscene and intemperate language, and rude gestures, with the tacit understanding that in most cases this will not result in gunplay.
  • Treat any suggestion that the answer to your problem is greater dissemination of deadly weapons with the derision it deserves.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

MAGIC AND LOSS. Claims that Obama is a false Messiah are coalescing into a full-fledged genre of rightwing journalism. At the Weekly Standard, Dean Barnett, not having Reverend Keller's rhetorical gifts, tries to impersonate the Voice of Reason, which sort of casting we in show business call a stretch.

He waters down an old Rush Limbaugh slur ("The Magical Democrat") and makes mock of the scenes Obama inspires: "The Fox News cameras that night made a point of focusing on one woman who was so overwhelmed by the candidate that her eyes repeatedly welled up." Even Fox News! The liberal media is more nefarious than we ever dreamed.

Barnett's money shot:
The challenge for Republicans, specifically John McCain, will be to conduct the general election in the real world of limited government and dangerous foreign malefactors rather than in the Obama fantasy world. The good news for McCain is that he has far more experience dealing with the ugliness of the real world than Obama has, and can speak to our looming challenges with far more authenticity.
Barnett previously mocked the "childish" stridency" of McCain's "constant urge to prove his straight talking bona fides," but the Republican season is full of touching conversion stories, though their climactic scenes are usually hidden from view.

As for Barnett's invocation of the "real world of limited government and dangerous foreign malefactors," even the most casual student of current affairs will recall the budget-busting government programs/wealth transfers of the Bush Administration, and the fairy tales told to get us into Iraq. If Obama is a fantasist, his success may owe to the superior selling power of his fantasy versus the shopworn kind Barnett has been peddling for years. Barnett would be better advised to join his comrades in reliving old victories from the days when the crowd was with him.

Friday, February 15, 2008

WILD SURMISE. The Anchoress complains at great length that Keith Olbermann called Bush a fascist. "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means," quoth she. Hey, there's a new one.

Last month, The Anchoress offered Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, in which Hillary Clinton is called "First Lady of Liberal Fascism," for sale at her site. Though she hadn't read the book, she said, "The cover is brilliant," and "For thoughtful folks on both sides of the aisle, this book may be a useful opening to begin once again listening to each other instead of simply shouting down."

I don't have a punchline. When anything, even ignorance, achieves such perfection, one can only marvel.
MORE ADVICE FROM YOUR MORTAL ENEMIES. Oh, isn't that nice: Miss Peggy Noonan is offering to write a speech for Hillary Clinton at The Wall Street Journal. It starts:
Look, let's be frank. A lot of politics is spin, for reasons we can all write books about. I'm as guilty as anyone else. But right now I'm in the fight of my life, and right now I'm not winning. I'm up against an opponent who's classy and accomplished and who has captured the public imagination. I've had some trouble doing that...
The column is full of imagined statements and interior monlogues by the former First Lady. I wonder if Noonan keeps a Hillary doll at the table where she takes her morning "tea."

Whenever I feel out of sympathy with Clinton, a Peggy Noonan column can always get me back on her side. If Clinton gets the nomination, I hope the Journal takes Noonan's column daily. It may be the best chance the Democrats will have.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

SPEAKING IN TONGUES. I don't know why I trifle with weak sisters like James Taranto when the real hardcore anti-Obama action is at Jesus Christology. Sayeth the preacher, Bill Keller:
NO WE CAN’T! The cult of B. Hussein Obama. Remember I told you there would be a revival in this nation this year. Well, before we see a true spiritual revival that will bring millions to faith in Christ and help lead this nation back to God and Biblical values, there is going to be a “faux revival” led by the latest preacher of false hope, B. Hussein Obama...

Very troubling to me has been watching the “revival-like” atmosphere surrounding B. Hussein Obama’s campaign for the Presidency. Like all false prophets, it is a false gospel with lots of smoke and mirrors...

Want another interesting fact about B. Hussein Obama. As someone who has done live TV every night for 5 yrs, if you watch Obama, he only gives those stirring hope and change speeches when he has a teleprompter so he can READ HIS LINES! This man is a complete fraud!...

He is no more the next savior of this nation than I am the next great heart surgeon, and I hate blood! I am not even going to talk about his inexperience and the great peril all Americans will be in with this “child” at the helm in today’s complex and dangerous world of terror and global economics...

Once you tear away the hype, the smoke and mirrors, all you are left with is empty rhetoric that inspires people and makes them feel good, but leads them nowhere.
Come to think of it, this pretty much is the Taranto column, and many others like it, with a little added punch for the snake-handler market. You have to admire the Republican message machine: from the Beltway Boobs to the Jesus Freaks, they've got all their markets covered.
HISTORY'S GREATEST MONSTER! James Taranto attacks Barack Obama because a woman in one of his audiences fainted. Even worse, Obama tried to help her when she fainted.
What exactly are we to make of this? A cynic might wonder if the whole thing isn't staged, given how often it happens and how well-honed and self-serving Obama's standard response seems to be.

But if it's spontaneous, that's in a way even more unsettling. At the New Hampshire rally, Larry David of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" fame quipped, "Sinatra had the same effect on people." Sinatra made girls swoon by singing romantic songs. But America isn't electing a crooner in chief.

Obama has a talent for eliciting intense emotion--an ability that can be dangerous in a politician. What more does he have to offer? That's a hard question to answer, and it makes the prospect of an Obama presidency quite worrisome.
Just think -- women collapsing in the audience without being tased! That's the sort of thing Sinatra did -- and Sinatra was friends with the liberal fascist Kennedy.

I hope Obama gets the nomination so we may hear more of this kind of thing. I see Citizen Journalists examining auditorium seats after an Obama rally, looking for telltale dampness, their dispatches referring ominously the number of white women in attendance.
DREAM, COMFORT, MEMORY TO SPARE. With its snowy social-democratic setting, and Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie giving off strong Erland Josephson-Liv Ullman vibes, Away From Her put me in mind of late Bergman. The story -- wife of retired professor gets Alzheimer's, professor copes with separation -- puts humanism into a bleak landscape, and rookie filmmaker Sarah Polley hits the symbolic angles: as disease estranges the longtime lovers, the white wastes of Canada take on added significance, and when the abandoned old man stops shoveling his walk the metaphor's hard to miss.

But Away From Her is much stronger in its psychological than its cosmic dimension. The simple human qualities with which the couple approach their coming separation -- she summons courage, he succumbs to guilt and grief -- are heartbreakingly detailed from the first misfiled frying-pan to the inevitable trip to the nursing home. When the wife forms an attachment with a fellow resident there, the professor's jealousy, bewilderment, and sorrow are familiar to anyone who has ever helplessly watched love slip away.

The professor's steps toward adjustment and acceptance follow a classic pattern, but with enough brilliantly surprising turns to keep them lifelike. [Mild spoilers ahead.] For example, one day the professor catches a caretaker, who has heretofore been cheerfully supportive, at a bad moment. It's a fine scene, but what makes it is that we see him anticipating and even inviting her quiet outburst before she has it. And when the professor becomes involved with a woman, and seems to think he has successfully compartmentalized his feelings for his wife, it is only slightly more of a surprise to him than for us when the girlfriend tells him, "it would help me if you could pretend."

By this manner the story won my devotion even as it devolved into the sort of lessons in life and love that I normally find annoying. The acting couldn't be better. Christie, intelligent and self-aware, is determined to go into the unknown with dignity for her own sake as well as her husband's. Her later confusion is specific and unsentimental; dementia ravages her perception but leaves her personality intact, which gives the performance its great poignancy. Michael Murphy wordlessly suggests a strong spirit encased in illness; Olympia Dukakis wears a thick skin that, happily, turns out to be quite permeable. Pinsent lumbers with ursine doggedness through his gauntlet, nursing his pain until he develops the new kind of strength that can override it. If it has some resemblance to a Lifetime movie, it is one that is about real lifetimes, and that makes all the difference.

UPDATE. Fixed a convoluted passage; thanks, Milo. I also want to add that Away From Her shows something you don't see a lot in the movies: an awareness that even learning to cope with loss doesn't make things all better. We see a young deaf woman talking in sign language with her infirm mother. We learn that the mother was the only one member of the family who bothered to learn to sign. Inevitably, the old woman forgets how to sign and even that the deaf woman is her daughter, and runs away from her. Backlit by pale winter light from the windows -- "plenty of natural light," the place's director keeps telling the professor -- the young woman suddenly appears engulfed in radiant solitude.

Such primal, painful events can be "moved on" from, after a fashion, but not forgotten; nor can we escape being changed by them. Survival is only a conditional victory. This mature perspective frustrates mushbrains who squirm when Cinderella endings are not on offer, but grown-ups may appreciate the truth in it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

BEING AND NOTHINGNESS. Daniel Larison criticizes Obama on diplomacy:
Nonetheless, his sane willingness to ease travel restrictions to Cuba and his willingness to meet with leaders of Syria and Iran have been evidence that some small good might come from an Obama foreign policy, deeply flawed as it otherwise is. However, this symbolic blunder at his Houston campaign office feeds into a narrative that Obama is not just taking different, defensible views on how the United States should conduct its foreign policy, but that he is, or at least members of his campaign are, somehow sympathetic to some of these regimes.
The "blunder" is some Texas Obama staffer having a Che flag in her office. Srsly. Larison frequently assails Obama for his lack of substance, but here he holds out hope that a minor screw-up will "feed into a narrative," all policy considerations notwithstanding, and help take the big blowhard down.

Well, like the man says, there has never been anything false about hope. But you have to wonder why Larison doesn't think someone can beat Obama with better policies.

And Larison's one of the brighter bulbs. I notice that most of the Obama's-all-talk accusations going around are themselves pathetically slight. Here's a typical one from Megan McArdle at The Atlantic: "I don't believe that Obama is going to change Washington, eliminate lobbying, etc. I wish he wouldn't tell me things that I can't possibly believe--and moreover that I can't really understand anyone believing."

(Humorously, this moves McArdle's colleague Matthew Yglesias to applaud her deep thinking: "She's not snorting with derision. She's listening. She thinks it's inspiring. Meanwhile, like anyone who writes about political and economic issues for a living, her opinions on these things are much more fixed and coherent than are the average American's." Cut-and-paste is a wonderful thing: I couldn't have typed out that last bit without thinking I had somehow hallucinated it.)

The Obama site has a section on issues. Voters may easily compare it to John McCain's or anyone else's. It's just not true that in Obama's case there's nothing to discuss.

The question is: how much attention will voters give to these issues, and how much will they give to what Larison calls narrative?

There's a tendency among poli-sci wiseguys to assume that if a candidate is rhetorically effective, he must be putting one over on the rubes. Of course Americans are susceptible to stirring words, which under the right circumstances may lead them to attend the big picture more keenly than the fine print. I recall that the soaring speeches of Reagan helped convince people that government power should be ceded to private interests. Three Republican Presidents (and one quasi-Republican President) and innumerable scandals and botches later, the zeitgeist may be flowing the other way.

The folks who find Obama's rhetoric insubstantial haven't yet come up with a convincing explanation for its power. If it's nothing, shouldn't you be able to beat it with something? Like a thousand more years in Iraq, or permanent tax cuts?

You might have a hard time seeing it amidst all the jabber, but maybe there's something going on here besides talk.

UPDATE. Commenter Righteous Bubba points out that Larison doesn't mind when citizens hoist the flag of a more overt enemy of the Republic.
OOGA BOOGA. Now that Obama's surging, the folks at National Review Online, heretofore acting a little gunshy of the racial politicking for which their magazine was once known, are starting to inch closer to the tar baby.

Jonah Goldberg, using the wishful-thinking reading of Robert Putnam's research common among conservatives, announces that liberals only like Obama because they don't know how awful black people really are:
It’s easy for upscale liberals to talk about the glories of diversity because they live at Olympian heights, above the reality of multicultural America. For Obama’s wealthy, white, liberal supporters, diversity is knowing a rich black lawyer, a wealthy Latino accountant, and lots of well-to-do gay folks.
Whereas for Goldberg, diversity is running into Deroy Murdock at Starbucks. If the Pantload ever turned up on foot in my ethnically diverse (and very Democratic) Brooklyn neighborhood, it would be to cop black market trans-fats, I'm sure.

Meanwhile John Derbyshire, normally more inclined to plead for his right to homophobia, wraps his silk dressing gown tightly about his withered frame and totters onto the balcony to address the Negro Question. He allows he might have voted for Colin Powell, for even though Powell "could 'talk black' when he thought it was required of him... You could tell the guy's heart wasn't in it." He didn't like Powell's politics, mind, but at least Powell was a Republican, and if we're to have blackamoors in high office they should at least be of the right party.

Derbyshire's gotten kind of obsessive on the subject. He insists that others object on PC grounds to his flippant treatment of Obama -- though there is no evidence that anyone at National Review objects, nor that anyone outside those premises (besides me) even notices.

National Review seems to have degenerated since the days when it fought against Brown v. Board of Education; where once race-baiting was its own reward, now its practitioners have to be assured that they are speaking truth to power each time they call the Senator from Illinois "O'Bama." Now doubt they would cite their own reticence as proof of the all-oppressing power of political correctness if they weren't such equivocating pussies. But if Obama gets the nomination, maybe the volcanic pressure of long-suppressed emotions will push them into franker language. Well, that's just one more reason to hope.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

IT PAYS TO INCREASE YOUR WORD POWER. The Ole Perfesser:
IN THE MAIL: To Set The Record Straight: How Swift Boat Veterans, POWs and the New Media Defeated John Kerry. With "swift-boating" now being used by the ignorant as a synonym for false charges, it's worth remembering that it was John Kerry who had to retract his statement about his secret Christmas mission to Cambodia, despite it having allegedly been "seared, seared" into his memory.
Similarly, for many ignorant people "Watergate" is a legacy of the Nixon Administration, but it's worth remembering that Dan Rather had to leave CBS News.

Those of you who are not smug suburban douchebags may profit from this backgrounder. If the term swiftboating has lasting resonance, that's not because of ignorance: it's because the term captures the historical provenance of an ugly phenomenon which lingers in the public memory and, alas, shows no sign of going away.
JONAH GOLDBERG UPDATE. After doing battle with The Economist and Newsweek, he suggests that he's been plagiarized by... Cal Thomas.

This isn't something you expect from best-selling authors, though neither is the giant "NUMBER 1 AUTHOR" badge he's been sporting. The fellow is a constant source of wonder.

UPDATE. Now the Great One sez Obama is a fascist, or fascism, or something:
As I discuss at length in the book, totalitarianism was for Mussolini a way of uniting businesses, classes, regions, religions, institutions and people from "all walks of life" -- in Obama’s words -- in a common cause for the common good.
Liberal Fascism shouldn't have been a book -- it should have been a special edition of Mad Libs.
FIRST COMES THE BLOOD, THEN COME THE BOYS. Rod Dreher sets his evangelical sights on Amy Winehouse:
She's good. I mean, scary good. Man, I hope she beats her demons, because this woman has raw talent to burn. Gotta get that album. [Video]
Yet another fallen angel comes under Reverend Dreher's ministering gaze! I begin to see what puts the crunch in Crunchy Conservatism. One thing we have to say about pop culture: it keeps such types off the streets.
FOR THE TURNSTILES. David Freddoso at National Review Online:
I keep hearing about how Democratic contests are experiencing "record turnout." That's all well and good. There's no question that Democrats are more excited than Republicans, and that they are eager to select a president after being out of power for so long.

But the real reason for "record turnout" is that Democrats in Maine, Nebraska, Washington and other states voting now have never had a chance before to make a difference in nominating a candidate. Their previous primaries and caucuses were meaningless on the presidential level. So of course they're going to have "record turnout" this year — how could they not?
Ahem -- from way back on Super Tuesday:
For grand totals, vastly more Democrats than Republicans voted yesterday;

Democratic votes for Clinton and Obama: 14,622,822 (63.6%)
Republican votes for McCain, Romney and Huckabee: 8,370,022 (36.4%)

Put another way, the Clinton/Obama race drew 76% more voters than the McCain/Romney/Huckabee race.
I suppose Democrats could still lose ground in November, especially when faced with the galvanic, party-unifying phenomenon that is John McCain.

Monday, February 11, 2008

WHEN LAST WE LEFT OUR HERO... Life is full of disappointments for the white Jewish male of Liberal Fascism. Jonah Goldberg gets dissed by The Economist and Newsweek, declares they're not big college towns.

"I just think it's odd, to use their word," sniffs Goldberg, "that the book editors at a magazine like the Economist couldn't bring any more insight or brainpower to the 'biggest selling political book' in America beyond this dyspeptic belch." (Signs of Poorly-Masked Pain: playing off diss with the mild word "odd," repetition of phrase from review that may -- taken out of context -- sound positive and blurbworthy, and "dyspeptic belch," which sounds like something of which a bright 11-year-old trying to write his own Harry Potter book would be proud.)

Newsweek spurs him to greater heights of passive aggression:
Newsweek editor Jon Meacham is apparently exasperated by the fact that people don't take his magazine as seriously as he'd like. I'm sure he's got good reasons to think this is unfair. But I think the above is a good (though very, very small) example of why so many people don't look to Newsweek for anything surprising.
You can almost see the lump in Goldberg's throat; having been sternly told by his Mom that responses on the order of NEWSWEEK IS A BUNCH OF LIBERAL FASCIST POOPY will not do, especially against throwaway one-line burns such as Newsweek delivered, he must swallow hard and present a manful face to his detractors. So he calls Newsweek "unsurprising," which is a little like calling Chicken McNuggets "inexpensive." "Newsweek is so completely conventional that anyone can predict how it will interpret the news," he persists. "I would bet a bundle that not one of the co-authors of this story actually read the book..." Mama Goldberg must have been out of radio contact at this point. "...or even cracked it open because they already know what they think about it..." The lower lip quivers, the fists redly clench. "...because they already know what they think about it, just as they already know what they think about most everything else." And finally, the agonized wail: "even The New York Times and Slate's Tim Noah conceded it's not what they consider an 'Ann Coulter book.'"

Thankfully for Goldberg's ego, there are still plenty of "reader e-mails" coming in. I wonder what K-Lo tells the interns when they ask how they should list these on their resumes.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

DOG WHISTLE GEOPOLITICS. "Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew, long known as the Kissinger of the orient", behind a veil of cigarette smoke and with eerie lighting, lays some Realpolitik on the Moonie News Bureau's Arnaud de Borchgrave:
The United States, said this key player in every major Asian event for almost half a century, "should realize Afghanistan cannot succeed as a democracy. You attempted too much. Let the warlords sort it out in such a way you don't try to build a new state. The British tried and failed. Just make clear if they commit aggression again and offer safe haven to Taliban, they will be punished"...

Iraq was a mistake, Lee said. Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with al-Qaida or Sept. 11. It was a costly diversion from the war on al-Qaida. "I cannot see them winning, and by that I mean able to impose their extremist system ... even if we can't win, we mustn't lose or tire. We cannot allow them to believe they have a winning strategy and that more suicide bombers and WMD will advance their cause and give them a chance to take over"...

When asked this week about the advisability of the United States or Israel bombing Iran's nuclear facilities, Lee fell silent. He was about to express an opinion, then changed his mind. "I can express no views on that," he said lowering his voice.
If you think the Mask of Lee Kuan Yew will strike remorse for our national screw-ups in the conservative heart, you aren't focusing on the big issue: a foreign authoritarian tacitly approves bombing Iran! Hear John O'Sullivan at National Review Online:
Alas, Lee is not eligible for the U.S. presidency. But whoever is elected should listen to him.
At The American Scene, James Poulos catches the fever:
I’ve been watching the BBC production of “A Dance to the Music of Time,” and just yesterday — prior to having this morning three consecutive dreams about zombies, perhaps on which more later — I thought, yes, general war is probably going to happen in my generation’s lifetime. One way or the other.
So Afghanistan and Iraq didn't turn out so hot -- that was due to our foolish American obsession with democracy on the one hand, and winning so-called elections on the other. Third time's the charm! Just ask a guy from a place where you can get arrested for spitting on the sidewalk and couldn't legally buy gum for 12 years. (On the plus side, they're cool with trans-fats.)

Lee Kuan Yew probably could have gone on a full-throated rant against habeas corpus, trial by jury, and the fools who called him mad, mad, when he built his secret underwater lair, and these guys would still only hear the bit about Iran. I don't know why it's taking them so long to warm to John McCain. Maybe he should start telling the brethren where he got his campaign finance reform ideas.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

SEAMLESS GARMENT WATCH. At National Review Online, Mark Steyn points his light-saber of outrage at a story about some Muslim women who won a French "family medal" for, I guess, having a lot of babies.

"So when Mark Steyn writes about changing demographics in Europe, apparently he wasn’t kidding," notes the linked correspondent, Andrea Mrozek. Oddly, her blog is called ProWomanProLife. Since I hear racism is a crime up there in Canada, I assume it's the religious affiliation and not the color of these French former fetuses that removes them from her approval.

I see that one of Mrozek's colleagues approves of Angelina Jolie's gigantic blended family; has she not considered that Jolie is unchurched and tattooed, and that her superbrood might pose as great a threat to Western Civilization as those of the Muslim ladies? Clearly they need to do some more thinking about unintended consequences.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

LA RECONQUISTA. Though conservatives are trying to reconcile, or maybe just concile, with John McCain, some are not yet completely on board. Mark Steyn at National Review Online:
I'd say McCain definitely papered the house. I arrived at CPAC just before Mitt began to speak and was struck by the number of young student-ish types milling about in McCain T-shirts. While my minder went off to check her coat, I was loafing around the lobby, heard a conversation in Spanish, and noticed it was three of the McCain T-shirted students. Which struck me as odd: you don't hear a lot of Spanish at CPAC.
Wait -- Michelle Malkin was there, and she couldn't sense the Mexican presence? Either she's slipping or they're disguising their scent with an all-Arby's diet.

[Cue sound effect]

OUR TIME IS NO. Meanwhile some liberals take the opposite tack from Steyn's: trying to talk themselves out of supporting a candidate they support. Publius at Obsidian Wings:
Although I remain an Obama supporter, I do fear that I’m allowing myself to be enchanted in an intellectually juvenile way. Of course, like you I suspect, I think of myself as more sophisticated than the crowds that vacillated mindlessly from Brutus to Marc Antony. But the truth is that I’m not all that different. I too am all too human, and thus susceptible to the same types of appeals, even if they come dressed in different clothes.
Michael Dukakis isn't doing anything. Why don't we draft him and spare ourselves all this charisma?

[Cue sound effect]

MOPPING UP AT SHOW WORLD. But hold on folks -- there's another viable candidate in this race. I speak of course of Mike Huckabee. He picked up the all-important James Dobson endorsement ("Dobson emphasizes that when he endorses candidates, he is doing so as a private citizen and not as a representative of Focus on the Family, a tax-exempt organization"). This cements Huckabee's position as the heat-sink for such evangelicals as remain committed to the Party, and assures a grand spectacle at the Republican National Convention. Mark your calendars: September 3, Snake-Handler Night! First three rows may get bit.

Oh yeah, Clinton. In the Wall Street Journal her candidacy receives the healing touch of that great conciliator, Peggy Noonan. She calls the former First Lady "lethal" and compares her to Rasputin. Then Noonan bats her eyes, adds, "That is how reporters see Hillary," and takes the high road:
And that is a grim and over-the-top analogy, which I must withdraw. What I really mean is they see her as the Glenn Close character in "Fatal Attraction": "I won't be ignored, Dan!"
Normally the withdrawals come after the slurs are done. But after many years of Bushmills and Old Ronnie, I am surprised that Noonan can face withdrawal at all.

[Cue sound effect]
GOING HOLLYWOOD. Randy Quaid has been banned for life (!) from Actor's Equity due to shenanigans he and his wife pulled on an ill-starred musical stage production. As reported by Film Drunk, the changes include physical and verbal assaults on fellow thespians, but this is probably the hanging offense:
The couple [Quaid and his wife, presumably - Ed.] tried to rewrite the script, to eliminate characters. Randy "felt free" to change blocking, lyrics and lines during performances, and repeatedly failed to show up for note sessions and rehearsals.
You have to be John Barrymore (or maybe Nicol Williamson playing John Barrymore) to get away with that shit onstage. Film Drunk is unsympathetic to Equity: "Why do we still have the theater? Don't they know you can go film shit on location and do special effects and stuff and then play it back without the actors having to be there? Theater nowadays is pretty much like when rich people go camping. 'Ooh, let's drive out to the woods and pretend we're poor!' Good idea, dad, you fucking yuppie."

I know he's kidding, but in a recent Newsweek roundtable of film actors, I was astonished to read this:
Did you rehearse at all for "Atonement"? [James] McAvoy: Yeah, for three weeks, which is kind of unusual. I usually dread rehearsal for film because I've found that film people will never know what to do except sit in a room together and make you say your lines 5,000 times...

Daniel, do you ever rehearse? [Daniel] Day-Lewis: I prefer not to. [George] Clooney: They'll do stuff like put tape on the floor and go, "OK, now you're walking in and three vampires are going to come out over here." And you're pretending that there's vampires across from you and everybody is laughing at you. I don't find it helpful in any way.
Millions of dollars at stake and they don't like to rehearse! No wonder Quaid thought this airy-fairy business of blocking and getting the lines right had gone the way of spats and the four-in-hand.

I wonder if this has anything to do with the large tonal difference between old movies and newer ones. About a year back I saw a clip from The Good German on Charlie Rose. The film's star, George Clooney, was Rose's guest. He told Rose that the filmmakers had gone to great lengths to recreate the feeling of old movies -- black and white, old-fashioned lighting and dialogue, etc. But in the clip Clooney and co-star Cate Blanchett, though properly costumed and made up, acted like they had just walked in from the commissary and started bullshitting. They couldn't even stand in a manner appropriate to the style. The whole retro effect was totally blown from the first entrance.

I think Clooney and Blanchett (and Daniel Day-Lewis, for that matter) are as good at what they do as Tyrone Power and Barbara Stanwyck were at what they did. But it occurs to me now that there's a larger difference between the old and new versions of the craft than, in my aesthetic ecumenicalism, I usually consider. Even Marlon Brando and James Dean put in stage time -- on Broadway yet! -- before they became film stars, and when they did people considered them revolutionary, or mumbling nonconformists. Today their performances from the 50s look almost mannered compared to what we get today.

I wonder how much the shift in acting style drove the shift in film style from that period forward. Elia Kazan, a man of the theatre (and a founder of the Group Theatre), related as easily to Method acting as did Nicholas Ray, who had barely touched the theatre before making movies. Thesp-wise, theatre was where the action was then. Now fewer directors and actors jump from theatre to film; film acting has gone sui generis. Most pre-Method movies look clipped and impatient compared to most later ones; might the longueurs and discursiveness of post-theatrical speech and behavior have informed the way directors filmed it?

Both theatre and film have seen some changes in the past half-century, but in the former they've been convulsive, and in the latter continuous. A big, hammy, gestural turn is not out of fashion onstage (I saw Brian Cox do one last month), but in movies it's a speciality pulled out for special stylistic occasions, like a Robin Williams vehicle. Some aspects of John Cassavettes' improvisational films still look almost as far out as they did when they came out, but the acting in those films will be familiar to anyone who has seen a dozen films made in the past ten years.

I wonder where it will all go next. Despite the way we perceive it, mainstream film acting still isn't totally naturalistic; as long as there's a story, the playing has to be somewhat pointed. But if the top actors have begun to find rehearsal beside the point, it may be that more layers of artifice will begin to fall away. It may be that prestige acting in 2020 will make the current stuff look stiff and ancient. Or maybe it'll go the opposite way, and we'll see the aged Clooney tackle the New Expressionism. I kind of look forward to finding out. If it's all too modern for me, I can always go see the latest equivalent of RV or Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
SHORTER JAMES LILEKS. You derisive sub-Menckens with your free iTunes and your Thai food! The Islamo-fetal-liberalfascist is at the gate! You -- you -- ah-choo!
ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF MEGAN McARDLE. 06 Feb 2008 12:22 am: Going vegan makes buttered popcorn smell weird.
06 Feb 2008 12:26 am: Silly pollsters!
06 Feb 2008 01:39 am: Matt and I are on the internet.
06 Feb 2008 08:30 am: Obama's behind, but InTrade thinks he's a winner. What's that about?
06 Feb 2008 10:39 am: Health Nazis fanny about going "Blah blah blah!" Well, if you reform all those fat smokers, they're going to wind up costing us money. Did you ever think of that? Huh?
06 Feb 2008 10:54 am: Bastiat sure pwned those trade protectionists. No but seriously, Bastiat framed the "Broken Windows Fallacy," right? And when I was at the Bastiat Awards, my window was broken! Weird, right?
06 Feb 2008 11:12 am: Tort lawyers all want to wealth-transfer doctors' money to their greedy sick clients, and doctors react by testing sick people to see if they're sick. Oh, bother, I don't know. You should go read someone who knows what they're talking about.
06 Feb 2008 11:30 am: Ha ha! Noah Millman's Mom-in-law fucked up her ballot! And some people think Bush stole the election! Honestly.
06 Feb 2008 11:34 am: Some people think Obama lost. But the Obama people think they won. You know what I think? Media bias affects elections.
06 Feb 2008 12:27 pm: Paul Krugman got BDS and went from a really good economics columnist to teh suck. Don't you find? Mark Kleiman does. Can't we just get rid of people like Krugman? Oh, I should talk.
06 Feb 2008 02:07 pm: Clinton paid Mark Penn $4.3 to lose or win or whatever she did! Consultants get paid lots but they avoid some of the unpleasant duties of Presidential candidates.
06 Feb 2008 03:16 pm: Heath Ledger had everything going for him, and he still took drugs.

We could fulfill much of the nation's energy needs by breaking into the graves of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., and James Russell Lowell, and using their spinning corpses as turbines.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

...AND FINALLY, ACCEPTANCE. McCain-hatin' conservatives have given us some precious moments of laughter but, as expected, they are slowly beginning to get in line and, also as expected, it doesn't take much. Mona Charen at National Review Online:
John, I too just got the McCain robocall and it seemed particularly aimed at conservatives. McCain promises to be a small government conservative who will appoint conservative justices, respect life, do border enforcement before any other immigration reform, and win the war on terror. Nary a word about global warming or Guantanamo. He "humbly" asks for our votes. If this is a hint of what is coming at CPAC, it suggests that McCain's famous vanity is not getting the better of him this time. He seems to be willing to meet conservatives more than halfway.
Talk, even "Straight Talk," is cheap, and Charen's price ain't so high neither. At CPAC, expect McCain to go "Reagan Reagan Reagan 9/11," and hearts to flutter.

Braver brethren are even suggesting that Super Tuesday was a crippling blow to the Democrats. Dave Price at Dean Esmay's site:
Two, Obama didn't win a clear victory. Now the Dems are in the worst-case scenario that the candidate with all the momentum is slightly behind, meaning the next few months will see a bitter struggle for the nomination that will consume vast amounts of money, drive up the eventual nominee's negatives, split the party, and force their candidates to pander to their base while McCain is campaigning to the middle as a general election candidate.
I'm always willing to expect the worst, and this doesn't even convince me. This pre-Tuesday poll graph, and Tuesday's high turnout, suggest continuing, healthy enthusiasm for both Democratic candidates. This is the opposite of a Party tearing itself apart. Obama has raised over two million dollars in less than 24 hours and there's plenty more where that came from. If Clinton is indeed running out of money, she will probably recede, and contrary to Republican mythology, she is not likely to sabotage Obama's chances, harpy-like, on her way down. Without money, how would she be able to?

Finally, at The Razor, a real post-End-Times right-wing fantasy:
If she loses and Obama wins, don’t expect her to fade away. She’ll be sidelined for awhile, a long while if Obama is successful, but will no doubt play havoc with an Obama Agenda. I would expect her to be as cooperative with an Obama legislative agenda as Chuck Hagel has been to the Bush one.
Dream big, Citizen Journalist. It beats your waking reality cold.
MY OSCAR SLOG CONTINUES. The biopic is of necessity a limited genre. To succeed, it must stay tightly focused on the pains and triumphs of a subject sufficiently famous to command our attention. In most cases, this keeps the filmmaker from connecting the story to a broader vision, which is why so few of them are works of art. The rare exceptions usually involve a historical figure who has obtained the status of myth, which leaves the filmmaker free to project his own story onto the audience's received impressions of the hero. (See Rossellini's The Rise of Louis XIV or Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln or Stone's JFK. Among the rare exceptions to the formula I would include Preston Sturges' The Great Moment.)

Still, lower-order biopics, from The Story of Louis Pasteur on forward, can be entertaining, and La Vie En Rose is a fine example. Edith Piaf's art and suffering are legendary, and the film mainly amplifies them, from her pathetic beginnings as a whore's child shunted through brothels, to her apotheosis as a great singer whose songs fulsomely reflect her pain, to her wretched, broken end.

The second-best feature of La Vie En Rose is a time-jumping narrative that links all the stages of Piaf's suffering, so that her spirit and attainments are never viewed far from their context. History is always closely linked to destiny, which is not a brilliant philosophical idea but which provides a lifeline that is easy to follow.

Its best feature is Marion Cotillard as Piaf. She picks up seamlessly from the equally fine child actors who play her younger self, brilliantly imagining what their terrors and enforced self-possesion would become in adulthood: a sad monster you'd want to protect if you could get close enough to do it. Her mood swings visibly recall her earlier dramas, which are glowingly evident in her spindly, uncomfortable body and her open, ever-sorrowing face. Her childishness is by turns ugly or appealing, and never leaves her, even in decay and at the threshold of death. If Piaf had not already been a legend, Cotillard's performance would have created one for her, which is to say she achieves the rare gift of great mimicry that is also great acting.

UPDATE. Much astute criticism in comments, and some proposed higher-grade biopics. I don't think The Madness of King George is about G3 so much as it's about what a great thing hereditary monarchy was, at least compared to what replaced it. The hallucinatory Ken Russell biographies are closer to the mark. I should mention Fellini's Casanova, which is about a lot of other things too, including hilarious summations of the French, Spanish, Italian, and German national characters. The central character, seen at one point expounding on one of his own books in front of a page from it stuck with excrement to a prison wall, certainly embodies something larger than himself. Western Civilization, maybe.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

BIG NIGHT: AS OF 12 A.M... With Missouri and California still up for grabs, it looks like a decent night for Obama, who didn't get the big prizes but is splitting delegates almost even with Clinton. McCain is cleaning up but forgotten man Huckabee, with record-setting evangelical support, is putting up some numbers. Romney is hanging on by the phrenic nerves.

Super Tuesday turns out to be a magnifying glass for the race at large. Obama is stripping off ever-larger pieces of the Clinton victory march, but she's still marching and he's still stripping. McCain has broad support, but the fringes (with the establishmentarians roughly represented by Romney and the snake-handlers by Huckabee) are holding out.

ABC only gave me pieces of the candidates' speeches. McCain sounded like he was speaking at his own retirement dinner. Clinton sang the old songs in the traditional, plangent manner. Huckabee was an easy-listening version of Huey Long. Obama had by far the best words, as usual, and slung them loose and low-key -- under the circumstances, the most appropriate form of optimism. Romney's traditional impenetrability stood him well on a bad night.

Cali has 441 delegates -- according to this report, proportionally distributed except for 81 at-large delegates who go to the winner, not to speak of the super-delegates, PLEOs, and unpledged. ABC has called it for Clinton but I'm not going to touch it, partly because it's way too early and partly because, as of my pulling of the lever at P.S. 100 on Monitor Street at 8 a.m. Tuesday, I am an Obama supporter, as if you couldn't tell.

UPDATE. Romney factotum Hugh Hewitt reports on the night: "A Divided GOP... McCain has strength across the country and a lead in delegates, but nowhere near 50% of the GOP's votes." Keep hope alive, Snowman!

UPDATE II. Or keep hate alive, as Classical Values blogger Eric does: "Hillary is speaking and according to someone in the know, 'she looks like she's had some major makeovers'... But she still has that same shrill, grating voice... She brays..." If Hitlery takes the nomination, at least I'll have copious bile-streams from true believers to report to you folks.

UPDATE III. As usual, the best reason for even a modish, mawkish, wigger Obamist such as myself to yet tender some affection to Clinton is Whitewater dead-ender Andrew Sullivan, who in the wee small hours quotes Ari Fleischer on the ease with which Der Alte will defeat Hillary. Much as I dislike her, I do believe Clinton could appear in the General Election debates wearing a Nazi uniform and with two pencils sticking out of her nose and still give McCain a run for his money. However much trouble she's having at present with her opponent, she is very, very fortunate in her enemies.
MO' FAMILY, MO' PROBLEMS. I can recommend, for good old-fashioned theatrical pleasure, Steppenwolf's production of Tracy Letts' August: Osage County, now on Broadway. The acting is top-notch (two understudies were in when I saw it, but the cast showed little strain), Anna Shapiro's direction keeps it rattling along wonderfully, and the sharp dialogue and plot twists would hold even a restless child's attention (though I don't recommend that you take children to it).

It's a big-cast family comedy-drama, sort of a cross-breeding of Clifford Odets and Kaufman and Hart with modern swears and peccadilloes thrown in for roughage. The basic idea is three sisters from an Oklahoma academic/literary family -- which long ago graduated from corn liquor to scotch, but still shows its coarse roots -- are brought together, along with various friends and relations, by the disappearance and presumed suicide of the Old Man. Grudges and secrets are aired, and disappointments luxuriated in.

The signal achievement of the script, besides keeping us interested over three hours plus, is a great feeling for the bonds and burdens of family. The girls all want to have their own lives, including the one who has seemingly been shanghaied into the caretaker role, but none has been very successful at it, and Letts is great at showing how strong the gravitational pull of even (maybe especially) a dysfunctional family can be. The crossing orbits and collisions are fun to watch, and with 13 (!) characters you get a wide range of dynamic shifts for your money.

The only problem is the usual one with most sprawling entertainments like this: long on mood, short on payoff. The third act wobbles as the characters line up to get their hash settled. Then the richness and size becomes a thicket the author has to hack his way out of. Letts may be doing more complex writing than, say, William Inge, but when Inge worked on this scale his dramaturgy creaked less. (Lett's modish touches don't oil the joints any better, either -- Inge had a pedophilia subplot in Bus Stop, too, and though it was less clinically detailed I think it has a large edge in sadness and desperation.) Eldest girl Barbara turns out to be our protagonist, and interesting as her story is -- her alpha passive-aggression gets transplanted from the family she's tried to make to the one she was born into -- it is not so much illuminated by the other human wrecks onstage as it is in competition with them.

It seems churlish to complain when Steppenwolf has given us a intelligent script and a scale of production we don't usually get from pinchpenny straight-play Broadway budgets. I only note it for the record, and hope Letts keeps going big and gets further. As it is there's an awful lot of good theatre going on at the Imperial, and they aren't charging any extra for it.

Monday, February 04, 2008

MORE ON THE NEW FASCISM. Yesterday I posted on The American Spectator's John Tabin, who compared a popular Obama music video to "Triumph of the Will." Today Tabin responds:
Maybe I wasn't clear. No, I don't mean that I smell liberal fascism in "everything inspiring" or "any show of enthusiasm by fifty or more liberals for anything or anyone whatsoever." I mean that a bunch of people beatifying a politician by reciting, in unison, a speech of his that climaxes with the words
We are one people, we are one nation, and together we will begin the next great chapther in the American story with three words that will ring from coast to coast, from sea to shining sea: Yes we can, yes we can, yes we can, yes we can, yes we can, yes we can, yes we can, yes we can
is a message devoid of any content beyond a call to unity of the collective as an end unto itself, complete with a very deliberate aesthetic embodiment of that message. If that doesn't strike you as even a little bit fascistic, I guess I can't help you.
From Ronald Reagan's address to the 1984 Republic Convention:
The President. Is there any doubt that they will raise our taxes?

Audience. No!

The President. That they will send inflation into orbit again?

Audience. No!

The President. That they will make government bigger then ever?

Audience. No!

The President. And deficits even worse?

Audience. No!

The President. Raise unemployment?

Audience. No!

The President. Cut back our defense preparedness?

Audience. No!

The President. Raise interest rates?

Audience. No!

The President. Make unilateral and unwise concessions to the Soviet Union?

Audience. No!

The President. And they'll do all that in the name of compassion.

Audience. Boo-o-o!

The President. It's what they've done to America in the past. But if we do our job right, they won't be able to do it again.

Audience. Reagan! Reagan! Reagan!

The President. It's getting late.

Audience. Reagan! Reagan! Reagan!
To be fair, I could have picked another example of political convention call-and-response from either side of the aisle. "A message devoid of any content beyond a call to unity of the collective as an end unto itself, complete with a very deliberate aesthetic embodiment of that message" would properly describe any one of them. So would "classic American political oratory." The fact that Obama's supporters also have cool music and the ability to sing something other than "No!" "Boo-o-o!" and "Reagan!" doesn't make them fascists. It just makes them better at it than the people Tabin supports.

And I suspect that -- rather than any genuine fear that Obama is the new Hitler, Jesse Dylan the new Goebbels, and Yes We Can the new Horst Wessel Lied -- is really what's bothering him. In the Jonah Goldberg era, allusions to the Third Reich are the new "no fair."
SUPER BOWL HIGHLIGHTS. Doritos told me they were giving a young performer a "break" and then showed me a singer with an Interscope Records contract.

Someone at LifeWater thought, "After this game all America will be talking about the Dancing Lizards!" but what they'll probably be saying is, "That was a pretty good Gatorade ad."

That was the least annoying "anti-drug" ad I've ever seen, which just makes me want to kill the ONDC without pain and spare their families.

Sisyphus! I went to college, I get it! Optimism! I'm American, I get it! The Yukon Hybrid! I -- What?

Dell = Mac for the change-averse.

I may actually see a super-hero movie in a theatre instead of an airplane.

Tide Stick wins, using the ancient advertising arts of shame and fear.

The game was pretty good and the Heartbreakers sounded fine. Tom Petty looked like a villain in a Quentin Tarantino movie.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

BATTLE OF THE BANDS. Ericka Andersen of RedState grudgingly admits that the awesome will.i.am Obama music video is indeed awesome. She asks:
WOW. ANYONE GOING TO MAKE ONE OF THESE FOR MITT?
Here's an entrant:



And let's not count out Mike Huckabee:



Too bad the CIA wiped those interrogation videos: they could have run those with Ted Nugent shredding in the background and gotten their message across quite clearly.

UPDATE. American Spectator's John Tabin calls the Obama vid "A Real Triumph of the Will" and adds "Jonah Goldberg's book becomes more relevant by the minute." So not only is every social welfare program liberal-fascist; everything inspiring is, too. I've got to tip my hat -- that outstrips even my cynicism.

UPDATE II. "It's All Over: Liberals Take Over '24.'" "It is over. Conservatives will no longer have even a single show on network television anymore." I hate to give them good advice, but if they put more effort into electing their candidates and less into symbolic analysis, they might be better off.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

A PUKE AND HIS SHIT, OR VICE VERSA. Rod Dreher, refreshed after leading an orgy of recrimination over a porn clip (covered here), is up and at 'em again, leaving the foreplay to venerable scold Jim Sleeper before getting to the money shot:
Sleeper goes on to say that not only should conservatives stand up to corporate interests that pornify the public square, but that liberals ought to quit defending the degradation of the public square by asserting free speech rights...
I hope this fuckfest keeps rolling and winds up on Capitol Hill. Imagine the hearings: Dreher, in a choked voice, explaining that he can't submit his evidence because it is too disgusting for even adults to contemplate, let alone the children who might have innocently tuned to C-SPAN. Maybe we can even get Tipper Gore back into the act. She's still got it. Put her up there with Mary Landrieu and I'll testify.
FIGHT THE REAL ENEMY. Terrorists kill over 70 people in Baghdad using mentally challenged "suicide bombers."

Stop for a moment. Note your first instinct. Upon whom does your disapproval tend? The people who sent the bombers to kill?

Boy, are you way off.

The Ole Perfesser:
And Austin Bay emails that this may be the start of the "Terrorist Tet" he's been predicting. As Bob Owens notes, some people here at home are all-too-eager to help. Just like last time.
Dan Collins:
So it interests me that today, in the wake of two bombings in the pet markets in Baghdad in which mentally disabled people–Down’s Syndrome sufferers, apparently–were used as mules to carry the explosives and remotely detonated, killing dozens, brings, not condemnation and outrage from the media and from lefty bloggers, but satisfied derision toward those who say we are winning in Iraq.
Confederate Yankee:
The ever-objective, ever-unbiased New York Times saw fit to exclude the horrific detail of their alleged mental disabilities from their reporting of the day's massacre. It might upset their readers, and cause some confusion over who the real enemy in Iraq is (George Bush).
I'm beginning to think we don't even have troops in Iraq. Maybe it's all some kind of Capricorn One bullshit. Because why would we bother fighting over there when the people our greatest patriots really hate are right here in the United States?

Friday, February 01, 2008

PWNED. I like to think I get around, at least on the internet, but Beliefnet's Rod Dreher did me the favor of calling attention to the "2 Girls 1 Cup" video. Rawwr! Two hot chicks eating shit and puke. I mean, does it get any sexier? (I'm not linking to it now -- I'll save it for a fundraiser or something.)

Almost as good is the way Dreher sells it:
...don't worry, I'm not about to link to it from here... suffice it to say that it's really too disgusting even to describe here. There is no way I'm going to watch it, because I don't want those images lodged in my brain. If you watch the reaction videos Slate has compiled, as part of a discussion of how in the Internet age we process taboos, you'll get an idea of how unutterably grotesque this video must be.

...something so horrible it beggars the imagination... I know that the way I'm writing about it will make lots of readers want to see the clip. I'm sorry about that, but there's really no other way to write about it. If you are bound and determined to let your curiosity win here... images you are going to have burned into your brain forever...

What kind of society do we have when that kind of information is easily available to people, especially to children? What kind of society...
If the newspaper gig doesn't work out, Dreher can always get work as a copywriter or a carnival barker.

This reminds me of something an old friend told me once. He was doing a computer gig at a corporation and one of his colleagues, assuming from my friend's free-and-easy attitude toward sexuality that he was in a position to hook him up, asked for URLs that would bring him to "exotic" porn. My friend demurred but the guy kept bugging him. Finally my friend pointed him to some hot pukkake action. "He never bothered me again," he told me.

Some people aren't so easy to dissuade, apparently. Maybe the End Times commentary (and the calls for censorship and Jesus in the comments) makes the experience more exciting for some people. Well, different strokes and all that.

Oh, Dreher adds that "defanging [the video's] horror with ironic distance... I find that the scariest reaction of all." I have mixed feelings about adding to Dreher's excitement with this post -- I barely know the guy. The internet is indeed a scary place.

UPDATE. Oh, alright, here's the video:

FRIDAY VIDEO FEST.


The Poet Laureate.


The Queen.


The King.


Jack.


The Gods.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

IT'S ALL A CONSPIRACY. Jeff Jarvis sees damnable prejudice at the New York Times -- against Hillary Clinton.
I was amazed that on today’s New York Times front page, I couldn’t find a mention of Hillary Clinton’s victory in Florida — not even a reefer (jargon for a promo box)...

I went to the Times Square newstand to look at the Washington Post. Clinton’s victory is right at the top of the page aside McCain’s. I would call that proper news judgment.

Yes, it’s true that Clinton officially won no delegates because the Democratic Party is punishing Florida. But that, itself, is a story...

If I were a communications student, I’d be doing an analysis of the Times’ coverage of Clinton. There is a pattern here.
Yeah, pretty thin, right? I'm sure they'll all be happier when Democrats stop running against each other and they can get back to telling us how much the liberal media loves Hillary Clinton.

UPDATE. Shoulda known Confederate Yankee would get into the act:
Are we to believe that the Times editors were unaware of the pending article on Bill Clinton's apparent influence peddling when they gave Hillary their endorsement less than one full week ago?

In a large news organization it is indeed possible that the editorial staff who wrote Clinton's endorsement was unaware of the pending Bill Clinton/Giustra article... but I doubt it...

Publishing the Clinton/Giustra article on this day, so close to Super Tuesday, seems indicative of ill intent on behalf of the Times.

Perhaps Hillary isn't their real choice for President after all.
Cue sinister music! Liberal perfidy, wheels within wheels! Who knows what they're up to, but you can bet they're up to something.

Both these guys blog a lot. Maybe media criticism is easier when you're totally insane.
A PARTY OF SHOPKEEPERS. As in 2004, conservative Republicans are angry that a former member of the U.S. Armed Forces may become President. They point out his lack of respect for the real heroes: Chief Executive Officers. At National Review, Mark Steyn:
I'm getting a bit tired of Senator McCain's anti-business shtick. The line about serving "for patriotism, not for profit" is pathetic. America spends more on its military than the next 35-40 biggest military spenders on the planet combined: Where does he think the money for that comes from?
At the Wall Street Journal, James Taranto sticks up for his constituents, hitting hard McCain's suggestion that when Romney was at the top of the corporate food chain, he may have been profit- rather than people-oriented ("he managed companies, and he bought, and he sold, and sometimes people lost their jobs"):
But the idea that Romney would be less qualified because his decisions meant that "sometimes people lost their jobs" is perverse. Political and military leaders often have to make tough decisions in which people lose their jobs. One thinks of Truman firing Gen. Douglas MacArthur...
Real Republicans know how to deal with impudent soldiers as well as redundant workers, CEO stylee! Their resistance to the Man on Horseback would be admirable if it were not transparently conditional. And some of their comrades are even less skilled at concealing it. An amusing cognomen at RedState writes:
If having shed blood for this country was the ultimate qualifier for the Presidency, I hope, but don’t believe, that John McCain would acknowledge there’s a line, miles long, of men as or more qualified then he. Men who don’t use their status as ‘war heroes’ in the way leftists used the term ‘racist’ on the 1960's and 70's – to shut down argument and thought.
I'm surprised he didn't embed a clip from Born of the Fourth of July to show how war heroes can also be dirty hippies. At Right on the Right, Justin Higgins offers an audio argument that he thinks Romney should have used against Mr. Patriotism Not For Profit:
That is a line the Democrats use to characterize those who support this war but are not serving in the military. It's a chickenhawk argument that should not be used against our fellow Republicans. We are in the House of Reagan and the 11th Commandment stands still... the only reason that I think you do not get the privileges of the 11th Commandment of Reagan is because you are not a Republican...
Give him credit for candor, even if he only comes to it because he's too dim to dissemble.

Of course if McCain gets the nomination we'll be hearing more about duty, honor, and country, but for now their sudden enthusiasm for civilian control of the military provides an entertaining sideshow. I just hope they can get this thing settled before they start wheeling out the Manchurian Candidate references. I hate to see a veteran treated so shabbily.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"BUT I'M AMERICA'S MAYOR!" "AND WE SALUTE YOU FOR IT. DON'T COME BACK, NOW." It wasn't supposed to go down like this. People had been talking about a Giuliani Presidency since shortly after the September 11 attacks. After the 2004 elections he was the Republican front-runner, and remained in that position until December of this year, when it all went to shit.

What happened? Captain Ed Morrissey blames the media. Others talk about his insufficient obeisance to the GOP's social conservatives -- though the former Mayor had tacked far enough right to gain the endorsement of Pat Robertson. Poor campaign planning, the dwindling of 9/11 as an emotional touchstone, and other excuses are being rolled out at this writing.

Few mention the most obvious factor. Since the first Presidential debate in May, voters have been getting to know the candidates. They've been on TV non-stop, often speaking directly to cameras. And citizens who till then had a vague, patriotic memory of America's Mayor somberly handling the grim duties of that extraordinary time now saw a different person entirely.

They saw a former prosecutor who had never been lauded for his people skills, who had been elected twice as New York Mayor only because his toughness was perceived to be the harsh medicine the beleaguered City needed. But no one was looking for harsh medicine now, and without squeegee men or collapsing towers to justify him to the moment, Giuliani had to sell himself on the going terms. Republicans had swooned for the Great Communicator and the Compassionate Conservative, but here was a short bald man dressed like a successful banker and grinning. They had seen little of that grin in September 2001, and maybe a flash or two on a talk show since. Now they were accosted by it on an almost daily basis and, having the ordinary perceptual skills of human beings, they may have recognized it as the smile of someone who doesn't actually like people.

And he didn't have to be smiling to convey that impression. Giuliani talked about immigration and the economy and health care as if they were things he could bat into shape the way he batted Gotham into shape. He constantly reminded us that he wasn't pandering, as if that weren't obvious.

It is often counted it a deficiency in our politics that voters rely on personal impressions when they choose a President. Maybe we do cut too much slack for the candidate we would, as the saying goes, like to have a beer with. On the other hand, if we perceive that a candidate would happily confiscate our beer and jail us for violating the Open Container Law, it would just be common sense to deny him our support.

UPDATE. Some alicublog commenters saw it coming on more mundane terms. "I long ago predicted," says cleter, "that I wasn't sure who was going to win Iowa or South Carolina, but I was pretty sure it wouldn't be the pro-choice, pro-gay, thrice-married New Yorker. And the New Yorker wasn't going to beat the guy from Massachussetts in New Hampshire. I should be on one of the gas-bag pundit shows! My pundit powers are awesome!"

I submit that nearly any alicublog commenter removed to such a milieu would immediately cause traditional talking heads to unionize and declare reality an unsafe work environment.
SAVOR THE MOMENT. McCain takes Florida, and the National Review folks try to make lemonMcCade. "'Nominee presumptive John McCa.....' Sorry, I can't say it. Not yet," weeps Michael Graham. "So it is over. Finished. In November, we'll be sending out our most liberal, least trustworthy candidate vs. to take on Hillary Clinton—perhaps not more liberal than Barack Obama, but certainly far less trustworthy... I'm off to climb into a bottle of Bushmill's." At last, something we can agree on!

"I'll shut up after this post," says Kathryn Jean Romney, "but Romney has been ON since Michigan. It may prove — it may have been proven tonight — to be too late. But this guy speaking right now, is hitting important issues, making you feel good about America, as you should..." There's some sad things known to man, but there ain't too much sadder than -- oh, what am I saying, she's hilarious. Love ya, K-Lo.

"McCain's Reading from a TelePrompTer. And he probably shouldn't. It's a stilted read and makes him look old. He's much better off the cuff." This from Jonah Goldberg, showing his usual grasp of historical events.

"At least the Florida GOP race was won and lost discussing the issues," Mark Hemingway consoles himself. "By contrast the Democratic race — where everyone seems to be marching in lockstep when it comes to policy and the arguments are superficial — seems to have an even nastier edge, especially now that Bill Clinton has injected Obama's race into the debate." This from a man who once said, "If I were John McCain right now, I would strut straight across the Senate floor and kick [Tom] Harkin in his grandfatherly crotch."

Ramesh Ponnuru is spinning hopeful analogical scatagories: "Kemp replaces Gramm/Romney, du Pont is Forbes/Giuliani albeit from Delaware instead of New York, Robertson is Buchanan/Huckabee, and Bush is Dole/McCain." Did you know that Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln, and Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy?

Mark Steyn, currently under Canadian fatwa, is naturally inclined toward more dire fantasizing: "Tonight was a big win for illegal-immigration amnesty, remorseless socialization of health care, and big-government solutions to global warming... If McCain wins in November, he'll be eager to show he can 'work' with a Democratic Congress. If Hill wins, she'll want to make a mark, fast. And, if it's Barack, ditto with bells on. A bipartisan consensus committed to change you can believe in." Well, if the frostbacks put him in prison, he'll have his imagination to keep him warm.

The one thing that would have made it perfect is a Giuliani withdrawal. Alas, he's procrastinating:
Although Giuliani did not say he was quitting Tuesday night, he drifted into the past tense during his concession speech to more than 100 supporters in a half-filled hotel ballroom in Orlando.

"Leaders dream of a better future and then they help to bring it into a reality," he said. "That capability of leadership doesn't end with a single campaign. If you believe in a cause, it goes on and you continue to fight for it."
That's still pretty sweet. I'll return to the subject after Rudy! has done the Long Goodbye in front of Ground Zero, surrounded by bagpipers playing "Amazing Grace" and editorial assistants promoting his next book, Losership.

We must take our pleasures where we can, friends: in a few weeks they'll all have remembered that McCain is a War Hero and a better human being than that Bitch/Black Guy.

UPDATE. Megan McArdle: "Giuliani concedes. The bit of the speech I saw was classy. Like most New Yorkers, I kind of think he's a maniac, but I was touched." Yeah, tonight just gets better and better.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

BLOOD SIMPLE. There Will Be Blood may be the strangest Best Picture Oscar nominee since -- well, ever. Like the Oscar-nominated oddballs The Elephant Man and The Piano, it's soaked in enough rich period detail to satisfy Ismael Merchant, but it takes a relentlessly eccentric approach to storytelling -- it fact, the plot (independent oilman Daniel Plainview scraps out a big claim in turn-of-the-century California) is more like a private agony writ huge. John DeFore astutely calls it "both an epic and a miniature" -- though it has a great scope of events and scale of ambition, only a few of the characters matter, and actually maybe only one of them really does. And we barely get to know him, because there is not that much to know.

Plainview is all ambition -- "I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people." Of course we may expect such a creature to attract unsought obstacles. The biggest of these is Eli Sunday, a deranged charismatic preacher whose father's oil-rich land Plainview has swindled for himself. Plainview could buy Sunday off with a small show of respect, but this he refuses to give.

Why? We suspect that Plainview sees something like God in Sunday, and though it is little spoken of, we have reason to believe that for Plainview God is the force that seeks to thwart him: that kills his men, blows up his wells, broke his leg. (Here be spoilers.)

Sunday seems to believe the same thing. But though they are locked in struggle, the two men don't have the same ends. Plainview wants dominion over the earth, Sunday dominion over men. (Later, we'll see that each wants a little of the other, too.) When circumstances give Sunday an opportunity to kill Plainview's plans, he doesn't do it -- he prefers to use it to torture Plainview at his weak point, his anguish at "abandoning" his adopted son, and thus exact a more personal revenge that exalts his own power to save souls.

Plainview submits to save his claim. The oil flows, the fortune is made.... but There Will Be Blood.

This leads to an ending many critics find problematic. I disagree. It's formally audacious, but the whole film has been that -- this is just a new, shocking type of audacity. Suddenly it's years later, we're in a little room, and under bright lights Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano (Plainview and Sunday) act their asses off in a chamber drama/cage match. And there's Blood!

I suspect the arguments over the ending have less to do with the tone shift than with an unease with the whole film that the mini-gotterdammerung ending throws into relief. For me, the ending satisfactorily fulfills the story. But what about that story?

In reducing it to its crucial elements, I fear I may have skewed the impact of the film as a whole. The struggle with Sunday is important, and that character is beautifully realized by Dano: full of mad energy in preaching and in rage (and reminiscent of a young Gene Wilder when his voice frantically scrapes the top of its register), but dazedly calm when the fit is not on him. His Biblical mood swings are an intriguing foil for Day-Lewis, who gives us a more clinical psychological reality, in which the madness appears in streaks suppressed by his drive to get the job done -- until there is nothing suppressing it at all.

I can't quite put my finger on when it becomes clear that Plainview is depraved. The madness of his drive is clear from the time he drags his shattered leg to the assayer's office rather than to a doctor. And even his first speech, to a community whose land he wishes to drill, shows us how strange he is. I have seen Day-Lewis' voice compared with John Huston's; my buddy Bob heard Jack Palance. I heard a man who is sure of himself but hiding something so deep that it has calcified his speech, albeit into pleasing patterns.

It's a good choice, as they say, and it affords Day-Lewis enough vocal headroom to play bravura when he needs to. But while his confrontations with Sunday are key, they are few, and the rest of the ample time leaves us with this man and the weaker characters, whom he can do nothing but negate.

When he is briefly drawn out by a visit by a putative "brother from another mother" (the excellent Kevin J. O'Connor), Plainview only relaxes enough to explicate his already obvious contempt for humanity -- and, in the end, his anger at being made to trust. The closest thing to a love-object in his life is his quasi-son, adopted in infancy from a dead comrade. Little "H.W." grows into an affectless, close-mouthed boy who shadows his father and seems to accept his guidance as love, until an accident leaves him deaf; then he begins to act out viciously, and Plainview sends him away. This leaves Plainview with an obvious psychic wound which Sunday exploits, and which drives him to extravagant anger at people he imagines would "tell me how to raise my family." But it is clear -- even when the boy returns and Plainview smothers him with affection -- that he realizes that he has given the child no real love at all, because he has none to give.

What Plainview has been hiding (until the end, when he has nothing left to hide) is an inability to empathize with any other human being. When we begin to understand this, the film achieves a kind of emotional stasis: we can have terror, terror in abundance, but no pity. Which is to say, we cannot have tragedy. So when the final release comes, it is pure grand guignol: a blood-letting battle of monsters.

For all the extravagant brilliance of his production (every craft aspect of which is stunning), Paul Thomas Anderson has been brutal about withholding the emotional release that such a big movie leads us to expect. It's a chilling sort of grandeur and I can understand why a lot of people find it repulsive. I can't imagine it will find a lot of love at the Oscars, even for Day-Lewis, whose performance peels the fucking paint off the walls. A Gordon Gekko may invite us to sneaking empathy with his lascivious cruelty, but Plainview gives no quarter and can expect none.