Tuesday, June 17, 2008

KNEE JERK. At National Review, Maggie Gallagher pleads against gay marriage because she believes it will lead to government prosecutions of religious groups. Also because gay married people have orgies. She quotes "David Benkof, a gay columnist who gave up sex with men when he adopted a Torah-observant lifestyle":
I have never been at a soiree with multiple straight “committed” couples in which someone suggests we take off our clothes and see what happens, but I’m sad to say it’s happened with gay friends in long-term relationships. Of course, I know, many men cheat on their wives. But they almost never define their marriage as something that accommodates adultery.
I have to admit the whole Catholic Charities schtick is pretty brilliant, allowing conservatives who can't admit to themselves or others that they hate homosexuals to displace their anxieties upon a poor, defenseless major religion. But it might work a little better if they could write more than a few paragraphs without reflexively babbling about cartoon meathook buttseks.

Or, you know, maybe not. Maybe they just ought to go straight to the id, and march (or allow themselves to be pushed in giant vaudeville baby carriages) in their local Fourth of July parades wearing soiled pajamas, flapping their hands disgustedly and screaming PEE PEE! PEE PEE! It's not as if their argument would lose anything in dignity, and it would get us to the punchline faster.
THE WAY FORWARD. Well, that's it for Willie Randolph. I thank him for three seasons of joy and bitter disappointment, and a better mix thereof than we got with Art Howe. I wish Jerry Manuel luck, but the long-term course for the Mets is clear: Wally Backman. And, of course, drugs.
IN THE IMMORTAL WORDS OF MAX BIALYSTOCK: "DON'T HELP ME!" Earlier we mentioned conservatives who disingenuously complained they hadn't been given proper credit for debunking the Michelle Obama tape rumor. I didn't think they could top themselves, so hats off to National Review's Jim Geraghty:
The behavior of the mainstream media is sending a clear message to those of us on the right: do not ever help out the Obama campaign, even if you think the world would be well-served by debunking a ridiculous accusation, because no one will ever remember your efforts to get to the truth. Instead, you'll get blamed for spreading the malicious rumors.
One imagines Geraghty in a Boy Scout uniform, trying to muscle an old lady across a four-lane highway. A token of his sincerity may be seen a few posts later, where Geraghty brings up the unfortunate comments of Democrat Fred Hobbs (later referred to as "the Tennessee Democrats"), and admits "Obama has no ties to terrorists... of the al-Qaeda variety." Then, Bill Ayers, the Woods Fund, Rashid Khalidi, etc.

They often try to be courteous like that, only to find their helping hands rudely batted away. Maybe it's time they did some work on their people skills.
TERMINATOR 3. We are often cautioned not to "misunderestimate" the President, and his recent suggestion that brother Jeb may try for the job ("We've got another one out there") may be some kind of ploy to energize McCain's base. Certainly Republicans now have a compelling reason to establish a new party leader (that is, McCain's Vice Presidential candidate).

Of course, like most such Rovian plots, it will probably just further demoralize the country.

Monday, June 16, 2008

MORE VOICE STUFF. This one's a grab-bag of rightwing plaints: Father's Day, gun to a knife-fight, and the loneliness of the long-suffering commuter.

If you missed the one on Michelle Obama, now might be a good time to have a look, as conservatives are complaining that the "Whitey" Tape story is being pinned on them unfairly. Of course Larry Johnson got that ball rolling, and the smarter conservatives refused to fall for it. So instead of telling us that the story was true, they told us it was believable, given the towering evil of Mrs. Obama. It's an old blogosphere trick, but not so well known that it doesn't bear pointing out.

UPDATE. It's the fake/debunked/we-never-believed-it story that won't die! Today at neo-neocon:
If there had been such a tape on which Michelle Obama (or her husband, for that matter) had raged at "whitey"... Such a tape would have indicated a victim mentality and an anger that has persisted despite all her advantages and successes in life -- and, far more importantly, an attitude that would have belied her (or her husband's, had he been the source of the quote) [!] claim to be beyond race... The reason the fake story had such legs is that Michelle Obama is on record as having said a number of things that indicate she may in fact harbor just those feelings...
When you can work it like that, who needs slander?
TOUCH NOT THE CORNER-OFFICE-DWELLER. Tigerhawk concurs with a colleague: when attacking Obama, let us carefully avoid collateral damage to Republican interest groups:
At a moment of ascendant leftism and rising contempt for productivity, Republicans really ought to avoid bashing people who produce wealth, even when they play for the other team. Yes, it is tempting -- Obama's deeply offensive anti-business rhetoric and his sanctimonious promises for change make it very tempting to attack him when he involves people from the world of business in his campaign, but it is a temptation conservatives really ought to resist. Instead, they should applaud him for noticing that effective executives make a disproportionate contribution to the national well-being regardless of their political views.
Please review the talking points, comrades: Che Guevara, Hussein, Muslim, elitist, bitch wife, hates Whitey, etc. Stick to the material and there'll be no need to offend our heroic paper-pushers.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

SHE HAS A DREAM. Last issue, the Weekly Standard gave us Andrew Ferguson's attack on Obama's insufficiently red-blooded American neighborhood. This week Noemie Emery joins the Culture-War Club with "It's Not Race, It's Arugula," basically an easy-reading edition of Michael Barone's essay describing Obama's and Hillary Clinton's supporters as "Academicians" and "Jacksonians," respectively, to which Emery mainly adds some laughs, e.g.:
The academicians' theme songs are "Kumbaya" and "Imagine," while Jacksonians prefer Toby Keith...
She also says Obama is "running to be the first Academician elected as president," which would seem to make Bill Clinton a Jacksonian, though Emery also says that "The interesting counterexample of course would be to see a black Jacksonian run against a white Academician, and if Colin Powell had chosen to challenge Bill Clinton in 1996, we might have seen this take place." When you're writing alternative history, loose ends can be a real bitch.

Emery's main point is that Obama's race isn't the problem that has him running so poorly against John McCain, it's his unJacksonian persona -- "nuance," "fairness," arugula, and so forth. In defense of this proposition, she posits a different version of Obama that her Jacksonians would go for -- still black, but more butch, and not in a Fred Williamson way either:
Now let us imagine a different candidate, one who looks like Barack Obama, with the same mixed-race, international background, even the same middle name. But this time, he is Colonel Obama, a veteran of the war in Iraq, a kick-ass Marine with a "take no prisoners" attitude, who vows to follow Osama bin Laden to the outskirts of Hell. He comes from the culture of the military (the most color blind and merit-based in the country), and not the rarefied air of Hyde Park. He goes to a church with a mixed-race congregation and a rational preacher. He has never met Bill Ayers, and if he did he would flatten him. He thinks arugula is a town near Bogota and has Toby Keith on his favorites list.
I don't know why she didn't give him a green lantern while she was at it. Or draw up an alternate (Bizarro?) McCain who can reinvigorate the Republican Party with his stirring rhetoric. As long as we're fantasizing, why not?

Friday, June 13, 2008

SHOT BY BOTH SIDES. I am a citizen of two Americas. No, not John Edwards' -- Peggy Noonan's. And to hear Noonan tell it in the Wall Street Journal, these Americas are not separated by anything so tiresome as income or class, but by the lingua franca of the commentariat, attitude and political affiliation ("Mr. McCain is the Old America, of course; Mr. Obama the New").

Noonan implies we must cleave to one America or the other, but I am torn:
In the Old America, love of country was natural. You breathed it in. You either loved it or knew you should.

In the New America, love of country is a decision. It's one you make after weighing the pros and cons. What you breathe in is skepticism and a heightened appreciation of the global view.
Like all citizens who have sung the National Anthem, attended a 4th of July picnic, taken an American History class in America, or just noticed what an amazing place this is -- that is to say, nearly everyone who lives here -- I grew up an America-lover. But eventually I also learned skepticism, which is apparently the opposite of patriotism, and awareness that there are other countries on the planet with their own interests, which forbidden knowledge, Noonan seems to think, makes it impossible for me to place my own country's interests first.
Old America: Tradition is a guide in human affairs. New America: Tradition is a challenge, a barrier, or a lovely antique.
The guidance of tradition, even as interpreted by such presumably patriotic persons as Supreme Court Justices, may take us in directions unexpected by Wall Street Journal writers. But by Noonan's lights, New Americans consider such generous readings of civil rights to be a refutation of the Old America. Where might they have gotten that idea?
The Old America had big families. You married and had children. Life happened to you. You didn't decide, it decided. Now it's all on you. Old America, when life didn't work out: "Luck of the draw!" New America when life doesn't work: "I made bad choices!" Old America: "I had faith, and trust." New America: "You had limited autonomy!"
After decades of sunny Reaganism -- promulgated in large part by Noonan herself -- that told us bad choices led to poverty and that each atomized citizen was the master of his entrepreneurial fate, this is rich to the point of vomitousness.

She goes on, and on, and on ("The Old: Smoke 'em if you got 'em. The New: I'll sue"), even dropping in the ridiculous but not unprecedented notion that Obama followed community organizing as a path to riches. What it all comes down to is something I've noticed before: that the old leftist slogan "the personal is the political" has been appropriated wholesale by conservatives. And in the last ditch, where they have reason to believe they currently reside, they will lean on the personal as never before. Because, really, it's all they have left.

UPDATE. There is some discussion in comments as to whether patriotism, even the wiseguy-leaks-furtive-tear kind cynically practiced here, is invariably toxic. Well, any kind of loyalty can be dangerous, but it's pretty hard to imagine life without it. Even personal loyalties can lead to ruin, and we can see that loyalty to something as large as a nation leaves that much more room for untoward consequences. But it also grants (in the ideal case, to which America-love is closer than most) room for dissent. That I can sometimes assert, as I have, that I hate this fucking country and wish to see it defeated by militant Islam (which totally rocks) without being torn to pieces by an angry mob shows that membership in America isn't quite the same thing as allegiance to a death cult.

Of course, membership has its privileges, and we can argue that it is what the United States does to other people, in all our names, that is the real moral problem. I hope we can address that in the election, but I don't deceive myself that the Democrats will wipe all traces of blood from our honor.

So what's my alternative? Japan stubbornly refuses to appoint me as a Living Treasure, though they may just be having trouble reading my application. I guess I'm stuck with the land in which I was born and the culture in which I am steeped, and will have to make the most of it.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

PLUS, THEY SMELL. Katherine Mangu-Ward, the Reason author most likely to obsessively check her email for an offer from National Review, bravely takes on those socialist bastards at PETA for running a stunt that caused their interns some discomfort.

Rothbardian colloquy ensues:
I want to practice vagitarianism on the chick standing and holding the sign.

She may look hot from a distance, Guy, but I doubt she has a Brazilian down there.
More likely you're going to get a patchouli hair sandwich.

Plus, she'll probably claim you're trying to oppress her... somehow.

No, she'd be all for oral, just as long as she was on her period.
I've said before that libertarianism is conservatism for guys who are trying to get laid, but what is its appeal for guys who have obviously stopped trying?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

MORAL FAILING. Ross Douthat:
Here's another way of looking at the issue of how social conservatives ought to view McCain's 1970s marital misconduct in the year 2008. Last July, I argued that Louisiana's David Vitter ought to resign his office after he more or less admitted to having frequented prostitutes. I stand by that position. However, if David Vitter - having conspicuously failed to resign - were to face off in a Presidential race against Barack Obama, I would be inclined to hold my nose and vote for Vitter...
Douthat is a Christian, so we can't be surprised by the moral relativism. And he's an Atlantic Monthly writer, so we can't be surprised that he wandered so clumsily into this rhetorical thicket (to follow Douthat's progress from "an America in which politicians had a more difficult time recovering from flagrant private misbehavior would be a better place to live and vote and marry in" to "The point is to deter misbehavior, not to protect the country from the perils of being governed by a rake" to "Regretting the passing of a particular moral standard does not require one to always vote as if that standard were still in place," see his two priors).

What we may wonder is: why does he bother? I guess half-baked theology is Douthat's hook. And it's a good one. In the rarefied high-end opinion market, wingers will approve any reliably rightish lad with a major media gig, and the God stuff is always welcome, even if it is not explicitly connected to the persecution of homosexuals. And gullible liberals will regard Douthat's tedious paradoxes and think, oh, this reminds me of that religious studies class I didn't like, I'm unqualified to judge, he must go around in a thick, uncomfortable brown robe muttering profundities; touch not the cloud-dweller.

The joke's on them, but not many of them will ever get it. Though they may spare a snort for the rubes attending Big Daddy in the megachurch -- while chastising themselves for their elitism in thinking so -- the Chestertonian ruse still confuses them. Some of us, of course, long ago learned to look quick whenever we hear morality mentioned, even in plummy tones, for the marketing angle. But that takes years of training, and requires the loss of that nagging yet oddly hopeful suspicion that one of the godly men who keep raiding one's pantry is really just so Christian that he's taking the fall for the others.
TOUCH OF WHITE. It's been a while since I gave Roger L. Simon much attention. My interest was rekindled by Tbogg, who noted that the Bo Derek of the War on Terror had been reminiscing passive-aggressively about the 60s, telling a whippersnapper that nothing comes close to the pot of '69 and "I can attest that 1968 and 2008 aren't remotely similar. And the enemy we are facing isn't remotely the same."

That's an odd thing for him to say, as in his fist-shaking mode Simon often makes nostalgic comparisons. For example, Spike Lee reminds him of Jesse Jackson, because Lee, who "for more than a decade... has barely made a film any of us can remember" (unlike ahem), now "plays the old identity/race card" with Clint Eastwood in order to summon back the limelight. And this makes him like Jackson, because Jackson also angles for a race-card comeback, for example... well, Simon gives no example, but we all know... why, just the other day he... well, neither one of these guys is white, okay? And that goes for O.J. Simpson and noisy Mexicans and other darker types with whom Simon traditionally associates historical calamity.

Speaking of which, Simon manages to drag Obama into it, too:
We don’t know which way we are going - toward a post-racial future or back to a racist past.

I have been rooting very hard for the former so it was with some wistfulness I read that Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date was to see Lee’s Do the Right Thing. I very much liked the film at the time (1989), but somehow I wish the Obamas had gotten together over, say, a college production of Aeschylus or perhaps a reading of Pushkin. I don’t want to think of their marriage emanating from the stew pot of American racial despair.
Of course if the Obamas' first date had in any way involved Pushkin or the Ancient Greeks, Simon would be using that as evidence for his previous claim that Obama's an elitist. That avenue blocked, Simon goes where his heart leads him: imputations of racism against black people.

Fans of rightwing Zdhanovism will enjoy the "liked the film at the time, but..." which suggests a new opinion adopted to suit new realities. Maybe that's the real difference between 1968 and 2008 to which Simon referred: back when Simon was wearing love-beads, only Birchers and hardhats talked like this.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

SERVICE ADVISORY. Blogging will be infrequent through the weekend as I recover from a vitrectomy. Here's what a vitrectomy is. I'm not looking forward to it, or to the three or four post-operative days of keeping my head down. It will probably be like The Diving Bell and the Butterfly but with more screaming and beer.

UPDATE. Thanks to all concerned neighbors and friends. The operation appears to have gone well, and though I was at first disturbed to learn that I would experience it under "conscious sedation," I can't say as I remember much more than some weird tugging and prodding about the left orbital. The face-down thing is no picnic, particularly when I am trying to write, but writing is always some kind of agony, so I'm already sort of broken-in there.

Monday, June 09, 2008

THE SIN OF MAUDLIN CLODHOPPER. In case you're wondering how shitty a film critic Crunchy Rod Dreher was at the New York Post, get a load of his aesthetics:
I remember riding back to midtown in a cab from the Manhattan screening of some movie, can't remember which, and listening to the two well-known film critics sharing the cab with me talk about what we had seen. It was a very violent film of some sort, as I recall, and the thought occurred to me as we rounded Columbus Circle -- I do remember that part vividly -- these people don't have children. They could analyze the film more coolly than I -- who was not a father yet, but who would be in a few months -- in part because they didn't imagine, or didn't seem to imagine, what it would be like to raise kids in a society where lots of people had their moral imaginations informed by eviscerations and the like.
I think Dreher is only pretending not to remember the name of that film. And that's because he suffers from a guilty conscience. If he told it, we'd know when the incident took place, and we'd know how much longer Dreher took Uncle Rupert's money for a job he was clearly incompetent to perform.

Maybe, on or about this date, he went to his editor and admitted that he couldn't review movies as art, but only as moral medicine for the masses, or as things that did or did not hurt babies. But either the editor entered into a corrupt pact with Dreher to mask this revelation from the public, or he told Dreher to stop being such a fucking dink and do the job he was paid to do.

(Of course, it was the Post, so maybe the editor was too drunk to comprehend him.)

Either way, assuming the cab ride did not take place on his last day on the job, by commission or omission Dreher practiced prevarication. Being a stickler for moral perfection and shame for others, he should make a great public show of contrition for this, perhaps a barefoot march to the tomb of Manny Farber.

But he doesn't even seem to think he did something wrong. That's the problem with Christians. They can commit any kind of sin without blanching, so long as they can think up a moral-sounding excuse for it.
NEW VOICE POST UP. In this one, I complain of media bias: Obama is getting far more coverage than John McCain -- on rightwing blogs.

One obvious reason is that McCain's a hard sell and, unlike Fox News commentators, most bloggers aren't getting paid for this shit. But there's more to it than that, and if you'll help sustain my illusion of popularity by clicking through to the Voice, I'll tell you about it.
BOOK YOUR OWN FUCKING LIFE. At National Review, Mary Eberstadt does a riff on the Screwtape Letters, in which the atheist-demonic correspondent A.F. Christian (get it?) admits that godly "Dulls" made all the great art, no matter what Christopher Hitchens says:
Again with all due respect, it doesn’t help with this aesthetic problem to have Mr. Hitchens diss it by saying that “we [atheists] have music and art and literature, and find that the serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Eliot than in the mythical morality tales of the holy books.” Never mind the first problem here, i.e. how many of those names on his greatest-hits list were Dulls themselves. And never mind, or try to anyway, the question of what explicitly atheist music and art and literature actually look like — I mean, it’s not as if Futurism and Constructivism and Abstract Expressionism and Performance Art never existed!! BTW, we’d be much better off if they hadn’t.
It's very cute, unless you consider that Eberstadt is the author of Home-Alone America: Why Today's Kids Are Overmedicated, Overweight, and More Troubled Than Ever Before and editor of Why I Turned Right: Leading Baby Boom Conservatives Chronicle Their Political Journeys. I haven't read them, but on the evidence of this piece, I'm guessing they're no Middlemarch or Henry V.

I love the old books and cathedrals too, but I'd give more credence to Eberstadt and scolds like her if they were producing something like those. Or could even point to anyone else who was. Good Charlotte doesn't count.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

MORE LIFESTYLE CONSERVATISM. To better prepare us for the nightmare of Obamaism, Andrew Ferguson of The Weekly Standard warns that Hyde Park, Obama's Chicago neighborhood, is "different from anywhere in America."

First, William Ayers lives there.
"He's a guy who lives in my neighborhood," Obama said with a shrug... Obama's casual dismissal led people all across America, people who live in all kinds of communities without bombers, to look at each other and say: "Wow, what kind of neighborhood does Barack live in?"
Clearly the world has been waiting for this article. (Next week: an expose on Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Mark Rudd lives.) After beating up Brookline, Massachusetts as a warm-up, Ferguson tells us more:
[Hyde Park] is the most racially integrated neighborhood in the nation's most racially segregated city.
Now we're getting to the real dirt.
On three sides it is closed in by some of the most hellish slums in the country, miles of littered streets, acres of abandoned lots, block after block of shuttered storefronts and empty apartment buildings left over from the 19th century. These terminate abruptly at the edge of Hyde Park and give way to shade trees and lawns and stately brick mansions and huge, tidied-up apartment houses.
Ferguson tells us that long ago the University of Chicago effected the isolation of the neighborhood, building a "moat" to separate it from the downcast South Side. As a result, "Hyde Park lacks the freewheeling energy of a college town, and it lacks the surprises and variety of a healthy city neighborhood." It has no theatres, and not many good restaurants.

It sounds, in short, like a typical American suburb. I'm at least as suspicious of gentrification as Ferguson seems to be, but one would think this would endear Obama to millions of Americans who live in similar circumstances, even if their separation from the feared Other was the result of white flight, not a university real estate scam.

But, as with much else in this election season, the hook is really that Obama is black. Ferguson informs us that the black people who live in Hyde Park are rich, and that Hyde Parker Obama is viewed by some locals as "the white man in blackface in our community." After services at Trinity, which is in a much less palmy neighborhood than his own, Obama "would get the family in the car and go home" rather than hang out on a stoop for some ribs and a Mickey's Big Mouth.

As for Obama's neighbors, they too suffer from an authenticity shortfall. There is an "alarmingly high number of men wandering about looking like NPR announcers--the wispy beards and wire rims, the pressed jeans and unscuffed sneakers, the backpacks and the bikes." I guess if they weren't living in this hothouse environment, they'd be wearing Confederate flag t-shirts and driving pick-ups.

The idea that Obama, unlike Chris Rock in Head of State, has done alright for himself and lives accordingly is old news to most of us. But for the highly specific readership of The Weekly Standard, his nice house in a nice neighborhood summons ancient enmities: If black people and white people live together harmoniously, it is only because "paternalism" has shifted the natural order, and the strange clothing and high education level of such people are just further proof of their unnaturalness.
WHAT, ME WEIMAR? Rod Dreher picks up the W-word in response to what sounds like a fairly ordinary "transgressive" novel:
For some reason, this reminds me of an exhibition of Weimar-era paintings and drawings that I visited a few years ago at a New York museum with a friend. When we'd gone through the last gallery, she turned to me and said, "You can hear the trains to Auschwitz coming, can't you?" Yes, you could. I don't know what we can hear coming in "Wetlands" and its popularity, but from what I can tell by the press account, it's nothing good.
This sort of displacement is common among a certain kind of culture scold. Let's go back to 1995 and attend the words of Michael D. Weiss of the hyperlibertarian The Freeman, as he patroled the streets of neo-Weimar New York:
Women sport black hair and nose rings, wear men's "Doc Marten's" shoes or cowboy boots, ripped jeans, and t-shirts sporting bizarre, horrifying, or obscene logos. According to Lola, a pink-haired, nose-ringed student at New York's Parsons School of Art, "Postmodernism is the rage in art schools. Everybody dresses in black. It's fashion"...

The war on civilization has certainly begun on the streets of New York. On Broadway, near Broome Street, vendors sell disembodied mannequin parts for $5 apiece (3 for $12)...

St. Mark's Books at 9th and 3rd advances the war on civilization. The store is full of urban primitives (the vanguard of the terror culture movement), all in black, perusing magazine racks of obscure, photocopied magazines on anarchism, obscenity, terror, and, of course, every conceivable brand of rock and roll...

Another front of terror culture's "war on everything" involves body mutilations—disfiguring, scarring, and piercing...

Much of the experience of modern-day New York echoes another metropolis, another time...
Cue "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" and flash forward to the inevitable fruits of decadence: the Resistible Rise of Michael Bloomberg. Wachet Auf!

In the present day, Dreher expresses concern that some unnamed party will step forward to sweep away the Entartete Kunst that bothers him so. I used to think this sort of talk reflected wishful thinking. Now I just think they should refrain from watching Cabaret when they're really stoned.
PULL QUOTE OF THE SUMMER! "But if you want to laugh, can handle some cringing, and don’t want to completely leave behind the reality of war in the holiest of lands, Zohan is fresh, fearless, and fun." -- Kathryn J. Lopez, National Review.

She's no David Manning, but K-Lo might fill some seats in Georgetown. In the Gene Siskel chair, Debbie Schlussel finds Don't Mess With the Zohan "yet another peacenik, moral equivalency movie... with anti-Israel, anti-Semitic stereotypes, and bad, vulgar, disgusting jokes." If you find it strange that the author of "The Hannukah Song" would make such a thing, you should understand that Schlussel doesn't seem to grasp the Adam Sandler working method:
Instead of being funny and exploring the contradictions of Islamic terrorists who won't make peace and would rather send their own children to their deaths, we're given a steady supply of very graphic penis jokes...
Actually that would make a more effective pull quote than Lopez'. And some others we could pull...
You know the depraved, slutty life that Bin Laden likes to say America is living? That's this movie...

... no less nudity and frank talk than the deservedly R-rated "Sex and the City"...

Our real enemy is not each other, goes the Sandler didactic. It's Whitey and corporate America...

...this movie does to Israel and the Jews what Bin Laden, Hezbollah, and HAMAS could not...

This movie is high quality Bin Laden Cinema.
...might help with the crucial global market. In fact, they have already increased my desire to see Zohan by a factor of .01. And I thought that was impossible.

Next week: The self-loathing Judaism of Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Friday, June 06, 2008

NO GUARDRAILS EDITORS. The Wall Street Journal has engaged an Australian to do a demography-is-destiny essay from a Downunder perspective. Australia is lacking males, he says, citing a 98/100 m-to-f ratio versus China's manly 107/100. (Oddly, he neither cites nor proposes the Chinese solution of gender-specific abortions.)

In case readers are wondering why this small shortfall in boomerang-toting, Fosters-swilling Aussie blokes should be of concern to them, the author quotes "one of Australia's leading demographers," who says the "man drought" will have "serious repercussions." Later he bestirs himself to explain further:
Note that the man shortage becomes more pronounced just at the age when people tend to start thinking seriously about marriage and childrearing. But if you are a woman looking for a husband in this age group, chances are the only thing you are being squeezed by are the numbers. The shortage of men in this critical age group is thought to be contributing to Australia's low fertility rates.
So that's how he sold this! Marriage is a big deal for Journal scolds, usually as something to be defended against homosexuals, and sometimes as something to be enforced among black people. But here the issue seems to be a paucity of babies -- and Aussie babies at that, which are expected to be whiter than the kind Journal writers do not endorse.

But even here the author fails. As we have previously pointed out, Australian fertility has been accelerating and is now at a ten-year high. This is widely attributed to the "baby bonus" offered by the Australian Government. If the numbers are not quite what the author and the Journal would like, the solution is obvious: more breeder welfare!

I know these are hard times for conservatives, but you'd think the Journal could have at least queried this one a little more thoroughly. Of course the temptation to let it ride must have been great, especially with such surefire material as this:
Yes, we are the country that produced the likes of Hugh Jackman and Errol Flynn, but male migrants who might once have been intimidated by our raw masculinity can take comfort in our budding new-age sensitivities. In a survey released last month it was found that only 5% of Australian men regularly play a game of football, 50% do not lift the bonnet of their car and shed ownership has dropped by a staggering 27%. Moisturizer sales have gone through the roof.

The high-jump bar is high, but to the men of Japan, China, India, Korea, Thailand and beyond, the land of opportunity (and females) is here. Come for the beaches, but stay for the women.
Numbers may not favor the fertility angle, but the suggestion that Australian men are so emasculated -- especially under a Labor Administration -- that studs must be flown in from Thailand must have been too exciting for the Journal to pass up.

I am seriously thinking of employing a pseudonym and selling the Journal a piece about the low replacement rate among Williamsburg hipsters, inviting bow-legged farmboys from the hinterlands to have at the womenfolk. I could use the money, and if it catches on, real estate values in that neighborhood may be so drastically affected that I will be able to move back into my old apartment.

UPDATE. Fixed spelling error. Thanks to all my correctors.
BREAKING! MUST CREDIT ALICUBLOG! Norbizness seems to have resumed posting. Don't let this get around.

UPDATE. The virus appears to have spread. Check back in a month.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

CULTURE OF COMPLAINT. I see at the City Journal Andrew Klavan is calling for conservatives to reverse the noxious tide of our "culture" by getting into the arts racket:
Conservatives respond to this mostly with finger-wagging. But creativity has to be answered with creativity. We need stories, histories, movies of our own. That requires a structure of support—publishing houses, movie studios, review space, awards, almost all of which we’ve ceded to the Left.
I never tire of hearing this kind of thing, and am pleased to see Klavan, an accomplished writer, has gone beyond demanding Hollywood make his conservative art for him, and started to ask his fellow travelers to put their backs into it. The Liberty Film Festival site Libertas, which has long been on the right side of this issue (if of little else), responds affirmatively:
While conservatives won elections the last thirty-years, the left infested schools, universities, the entertainment industry, news media, and publishing. They understand politics follows the culture, not the other way around. Conservatives have done well grabbing back a piece of publishing and the news media, but have a long way to go with entertainment and educational institutions.
Of course there is a problem, and keen readers will have picked it up already: though these conservatives recognize the power is in their own hands, they still obsess on the blame they find in liberals for their (or the culture's) problems. In this way, to paraphrase Raging Bull, they defeat their own purpose.

It's odd, really. They went mad for the popular Knocked Up -- which I enjoyed myself -- but fail to notice that, first, that culture is a two-way street -- you can gain entree to the cineplexes faster with dick jokes than with propaganda -- and, second, that while the urge to remake the world is often a spur to artistry (especially among the young), it's not all that's needed.

That's also odd because we live in the age of indie. You can make music and movies on your laptop; you can publish your own books and magazines; you can even earn entree to mainsteam media with your blogging. The barrier to entry has never been lower. If you're an artistically inclined rightwinger, even if you sincerely believe that Oliver Stone and Susan Sarandon and other manifestations of The Man are trying to keep you down, you ought to feel pretty good about your chances. They let Zach Braff make movies: why not you?

But still the dull complaints are reiterated: the liberals run this, the liberals run that. To backtrack a bit on Klavan's essay, he says, after a gloomy rundown of cultural decay, "I hardly need mention the movies and TV shows that endlessly undermine notions of manly self-discipline, feminine modesty, patriotism, and all the rest." Why say this to budding conservative artists? It's a great incentive to political operatives, but to a guy with a camera or a palette or an urge to write novels, it's an invitation to put the cart before the horse.

Maybe there are some Bizarro Zolas out there who can take this bile and make of it engaging political works of art. But those are always rare, and, our consumer culture shows, more rarely appreciated by audiences. If the scene is as devoid of conservative practitioners as Klavan and Libertas presume, why not instead encourage them to the simple joys and salutary discipline of creation? Klavan gets published, and the Libertas writers are supposed to be in the movie business. Why are their writings on the subject devoted to how badly the deck is stacked against them?

I fear this represents a managerial approach to art-making -- guys at the top of the chain of command dictate the creative brief, and others further down are supposed to address it with appropriate copy and art direction. That works okay with advertising and commercial design, but except for rare occasions, that isn't going to move the art needle. Experience shows that it is more likely to piss off the really smart CWs and ADs.

Even in the old punk rock days, there was a scene before there were hundreds of 'zines and commentators telling everybody how much better the scene was than the crap the majors had to offer. Maybe they think Seth Rogen is Big Star or Lester Bangs or something. But, if they can't get a Zola, they ought to get at least get some Televisions, Ramones, and Talking Heads. I know they're out there, and could use a little support. Even when you're a critics' darling, art's a hard dollar.
THE OPIATE OF THE MASSES. The Anchoress seems to think that if Obama becomes President, the United States will follow the lead of Canada, which "prosecutes thought crimes and suppresses free speech." She also believes that "the press" fails to cover stories of which she nonetheless appears amply informed, and this means the press is "no longer free."

This spurs me to the usual dismissive thoughts, but I am in some sympathy with her. Most of us who are paying attention will at one time or another feel that our society is insufficiently concerned with freedom of speech and that the press is missing the big picture on purpose. Sometimes we'll be right. I think conservatives frequently abuse the privilege, but the Mark Steyn thing sucks, as I have noted before.

A disinterested observer might wonder why this is such a point of contention. If anything should unite people who express opinions via the written word, it should be freedom of speech. With the exception of Jonah Goldberg and some others, few of us stick up for censorship. Yet we fight about it as if there were flammable stakes with our names on them dotting the horizon.

Setting aside for a moment my default assumption that I'm right and they're wrong, I think it may have something to do with what each side thinks would be an actionable offense in the dream world of the other. Being a Jesus person and global warming denialist, The Anchoress thinks religious dialogue (or at least rage at Islam) and global warming denialism will be the targets; being a foulmouthed berserker, I assume that, freed of all restraints, the conservative Imperium would hustle me off to reeducation camp to learn to say darn and heck.

Though the right seems to have a trademark on the phrase, the thing we all prize and guard jealously against incursions from the Other is political incorrectness. Endlessly this is proudly trotted out by authors as an offense to the timid sensibilities of opponents that may excite those opponents to a wave of repression. National Review's John Derbyshire is a master of this gambit; he seems to get visceral pleasure out of declaring that some obnoxious sentiment of his will soon be "illegal to utter." Yet, last I heard, Derbyshire is still living at home, writing for the Review, and unencumbered by an electronic bracelet.

Look around the salons of the libertarians -- revealing stupid prosecutions of speech is one of their useful functions -- and you'll find that most such outrages are the work of overzealous idiots who probably couldn't comprehend a Constitutional issue if it were rendered in an easy reading edition, and are mainly trying to cover their own lame asses. An inspired political yahoo could perhaps exploit this tendency to get a bunch of us thrown in prison, but here in the States at least it doesn't seem imminent.

And it isn't imminent because the authorities don't care what we say and they don't care what we think. Their main concern is money, and as long as we don't kink up the pipeline that connects the public treasury to their pockets, we can say whatever we want. We can curse and call Muhammed a punk as much as we like; maybe Time or Newsweek will print a meditation on civility or something, but no one will really get in our faces unless our words, clean or obscene, show signs of inciting a real power shift.

And really: what are the odds of that happening?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS, MAKE VENOMADE. Let's see how they're reacting to Obama's speech at National Review's The Corner. First up: Greg Pollowitz.
U2's "Beautiful Day"... is playing at the Barack Obama rally. No Americans write music Obama likes?
Ooooh, the pickings are gonna be mighty slim. K-Lo:
John McCain seriously needs some of these screaming girls behind him.
Maybe A. Jerrold Perenchio can hustle some up. Class clown Jonah Goldberg says Obama wanted to say "I will appoint Hillary Clinton my Secretary of Health Human Services, no matter what opposition that invites." One is tempted to respond that Obama sounds pretty good for a guy who doesn't dare say what he feels, but let's leave Goldberg the floor.

He adds that Obama's claim that "the United States isn't afraid to let any petty dictator know where America stands and what we stand for" is "the legacy of Roosevelt, and Truman, and Kennedy" is "just plain stupid and dishonest." Hopes that Goldberg will explain how FDR, Truman, and JFK were afraid to let any petty dictator know where America stands are cruelly disappointed.

Also: "Why not force oil companies to invest in perpetual motion machines, dogs that don't poop and free holodecks for every American." This is Goldberg's point of comparison to Obama's call for oil companies to "invest their record profits in a clean energy future" and "an energy policy that will create millions of new jobs." Considering that ExxonMobil, for one, constantly promises clean energy and more jobs, this seems unfair to the oil companies, especially coming from a spokesman for a movement that lavishly tongue-bathes them at every opportunity.

Goldberg stays on duty, but his heart isn't in it: Obama "crushed" McCain's earlier speech, he concedes, "substance aside." Lack of substance is of course Goldberg's wheelhouse, but he doesn't do much with it, muttering that "this country doesn't need 'remaking'" and wandering off to the snackbar.

Late-coming deadender Lisa Schiffren tries to hold the line, sniffing that this was "Not his finest speech" (without suggesting which speech was), merely a "painful agglomeration of liberal cliches and ringing, if tired quotes" (how does one ring a tired quote?) when Obama's "A-team speechwriters should have honed original phrases and put them in thematic order." America is of course thirsty for original phrases in thematic order, and one would expect Schiffren to haul out the Smith-Corona and get straight to work on them, but she instead sticks with her spin: "When Obama says that his party won't use religion as a wedge or patriotism as a club, that is a way of saying that those topics are out of bounds," she says. "It's always a mistake when Democrats do that." I guess she means that the wedge and the club have worked before and will work forever, which is the Republican version of keeping hope alive. Later she attacks Obama with the words of demotivational speakers Brit Hume and Billy Kristol, under the heading "Wasp Understatement." At least, and at last, someone at The Corner is hauling out the old ooga-booga.

Reinforcements are called; Amy Holmes, no doubt rubbing sleep from her eyes, grabs an early version of the talking points and lets fly: "Dems love them some Bono, even though U2's best anthems are long behind them. I went to a U2 concert years ago at the MCI Center (is it called that anymore?)..." Finally she recalls that on that event, "all of the black people at the stadium are outside scalping tickets." I'm not sure what this is meant to demonstrate, but I bet it has something to do with black people.

Poor K-Lo can't let bad enough alone:
While watching Michelle Obama's body language — fist-pounding and seemingly giving Barack last-minute prep work, then vigorously leading him offstage. Imagine the commentary if she were one Jeri Thompson.
Yeah, let's imagine ole Fred shocked awake by the pounding of his wife's fist, shaking off his confusion as she shouts instructions into his good ear, and submitting to her "vigorously leading him offstage." It's good practice for the McCain campaign.

As the chairs are upturned upon the tables and the sound system blares white noise, Mark Hemingway dazedly invokes McCain's Maverick! credentials ("In what way are Obama's policies going against the Democratic grain?"), but his colleagues have retreated to the toilets to vomit or score coke from Larry Kudlow. Meanwhile I'm watching Brian Williams on MSNBC wondering aloud how the folks at Montana's Gallatin Speedway (translation: white people) will react to Obama. Williams also talks tremulously about McCain's war record. With liberal media support like that, I don't see how Obama can lose.
DO STOP THINKING ABOUT TOMORROW. I find myself short of time, so let me take the lazy man's route to blog fulfillment and point you to editor Martin's site, where my favorite health reporter considers the Singularitized vision of our future:
Today the Times has a piece on [futurist Ray] Kurtzweil's latest predictions.
"Do you have trouble sticking to a diet? Have patience. Within 10 years, Dr. Kurzweil explained, there will be a drug that lets you eat whatever you want without gaining weight."
Oh, gross. Imagine all the skinny people gorging themselves constantly and shitting grease.

When we all get diabetes from overeating, there will be a nanobot-filled pill to fix that, too.
"Are you depressed by the prospect of dying? Well, if you can hang on another 15 years, your life expectancy will keep rising every year faster than you’re aging."
Unless, of course, you're black, or you live in the South.
An endorsement of Kurzweil and John Tierney from the Perfesser here. We all hope for the best, and the many brilliant successes of the modern age give us reason for hope. But we ought to be careful about shrugging off the past and present on the grounds that the future will fix them.

It stands to reason that conservatives would prefer the forward-looking approach, as the rear-view and the side-view too are very grim. At National Review, Yuval Levin is predicting that the coming election will "turn into more or less an up or down vote on Obama" -- as if the past eight years of the Bush Administration and Republican rule, poorly regarded as they are by the voters, may be forgotten. It is understandable that people who know they've fucked up would engage in this sort of wishful thinking, and hope that their fellow citizens will yet trust them to deliver on one more shining vision of tomorrow. But optimism only goes so far, at least among people who are more interested in the small gains that may be achieved by a change in government than in the big dreams of professional fantasists.

Monday, June 02, 2008

FOREVER CLENIS. Bill Clinton makes a ton of money and some of it goes to charity. But he lives in high style and has some sleazy friends. And a lot of people think he's been screwing around, maybe even with Gina Gershon and Eleanor Mondale, though none of these people have any evidence to offer Todd Purdum of Vanity Fair, nor will they go on the record.

Well, that's close enough for blog and roll. Right Pundits says, "I have to say that these women are much more attractive than the women that have acknowledged having had …. relations …. with him. There may be a reason for that, but I won’t go there." At NRO Jim Geraghty says, "I guess if you have dirt on the Clintons, you might as well use it now. No point in otherwise giving juicy details on the marriage of the junior senator from New York." Dirt and juice ensues. "He's always been this way," says Rightwing Sparkle, speaking of Clinton's "sociopathic behavior." "Vanity Fair used to worship BJ the same way it now worships Nobama. Socialism is the opiate of the mass media - which makes it a religious experience for them - and BJ is the worst of all heretics," says Bill Quick. (No, I have no idea, either.)

If you like it highbrow, Ross Douthat of the Atlantic points to his own previous circulation of Clenis rumors, tells us "if you'd asked me nine months ago to list the major roadblocks to Hillary's near-inevitable nomination, I would have put her husband's possible tomcatting right up there with her Iraq War vote," and does not scruple to "suggest a conspiracy of silence on the part of the media."

With the Hillary Clinton campaign winding down, you may think these guys are just welcoming a ripe opportunity for one last shot at their ancient enemy. But they will never, ever get over the Clenis. He'll always be the One That Got Away, and their blogs will always reserve a little corner for RPG do-overs of the impeachment.

I hope Bill gets all the pussy, props, and provender he is owed by a grateful nation. I only find in him one fault: that he retains his old habit of using too many words in self-defense. Maybe, when some new version of this story runs many years hence (FIRST SENIOR: WHO IS CLINTON'S NEW "NURSE"?), he'll have learned to leave it at "Kiss my rich, two-term ass."
SITE MAINTENANCE. I put Josh Trevino's Malaysia Matters on the Sui Generis bar at left. We've had some fun with Mr. Trevino in the past, but the subject is genuinely interesting and very different from the tomfoolery we get up to here, and may be worth some of your time.

Also added Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, which documents the scraping away of the old, weird New York in favor of high-rises and yuppie boites. He seems to concentrate on neighborhoods where I've lived myself, but I suspect this is coincidence, and not a message from the universe telling me to go forth and sabotage construction sites. Plus there's celebration along with the elegies -- I was pleased to learn from Jeremiah that Montero's is still serving down by the Brooklyn waterfront -- and more patient attention to ground-level reality (and realty) than I manage in my own ravings on the subject.
NEW VOICE POST UP, about some of our traditional subjects' responses to the Sex and the City film. Debbie Schlussel is already pissed, now it's your turn!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

LAST GASPS. Obama leaves Trinity and the reaction is telling:
Obama can't stand the heat of a campaign without tossing aside his grandma, then his pastor, and now HIS WHOLE FREAKIN' CHURCH. One he'd been defending until NOW. One many leftists defended.

What a low life.

Unfit for the office.

Kerry had more class. At least he pretended to be honorable.
Later: "THE LEFT IS ALREADY SEEING OBAMA FOR WHAT HE IS. IT'S OVER. A NATIONAL NIGHTMARE AVERTED." In case you were wondering, this is not a disappointed former supporter, but one of the folks who were really counting on Reverend Wright to knock Obama out of the race and have just seen their last slim hope of it melt away.

Reliapundit is choleric under the best of circumstances, but the news is inciting strong language from even more temperate writers. "Thirty Pieces of Silver From the Pulpit," says RedState. "Why is he leaving all of a sudden? Is it because there is another untold story out there?" The author suspects shady in-church fundraising, based largely on his own experience as a perpetrator. (The post also contains yet another citation of Obama throwing someone, or being thrown, "under the bus," fattening that conservative meme for the winter, when its promulgators may need to live off it. )

Other make the best of the situation. "Now [Obama] is riding the whirlwind," writes Roger L. Simon. (Some whirlwind.) "Shocker... unbelievable!... UPDATE: Will Not Denounce Church!" says Gateway Pundit. Even the normally highbrow Victor Davis Hanson has to resort to all-caps: "So the question always arises-WHY?" he writes. "Is it because he didn't know the nature of his associates, OR is it because he finds their well-known messages suddenly as politically disadvantageous as he once found them essential in jump-starting his Chicago career?"

Most observers will guess the latter, and not be too exercised about it, as they are probably sick of hearing about Trinity Church and will welcome any development that puts an end to its coverage. It certainly will come up again, of course, but as a historical citation rather than as breaking news. By any rational analysis, the downside of this for Obama is very slight compared to the upside. But at the outrage factories where this sort of thing is stock in trade, it's as if one of their best-sellers were being recalled, so we can hardly blame them for making some noise about it.

UPDATE. Very interesting discussion in comments about how well or badly Obama plays these things in general. I'd say that he and his staff seem to do a lot of improvising, which is never a good sign from a political campaign. On the other hand, they improvise pretty adeptly; the "discussion on race" speech was good theatre and gave Obama a buffer against the Wright fallout. It wasn't a stopper, obviously, but it worked well enough to get him this far.

Tex, talking about the McClurkin episode, says "Well, it did cost him my respect. But he will still have my vote." Just so, and he's one of the few who remember McClurkin in the first place. We're well out of the time when naive enthusiasm was carrying the day for Obama, and into the difference-splitting part of the contest. This gives an advantage to McCain, who was never going to win an inspirational campaign; though his own improvisations haven't been so hot, the press hasn't belabored them nearly as much as Obama's.

It may be Obama will win or lose on his ability to play a game that has nothing to do with his advertised appeal as a healer. Right now, part of the opposition game plan is to reductively characterize Obama as a "Chicago politician" with old-fashioned backroom tricks up his sleeve. Well, he'd better be.

Friday, May 30, 2008

A COUPLE OF LIVE ONES. While we're on artistic subjects, I think we should acknowledge a couple of fallen heroes. Sydney Pollack was a director of, let us say, likeably modest talents; I have always prefered to think that what I saw on his face as he accepted the Oscar for Out of Africa from Billy Wilder, John Huston and Akira Kurosawa (!) included some embarrassment. But he had his moments, and real charm and skill as an actor. I can't compete with David Edelstein's magnificent summation at New York magazine, but I will add that the very thought of Pollack laying it all out for Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut ("Okay. I think I should also tell you that I was there at the house." Tom Cruise: "Well, what an amazing coincidence." Pollack: "The words practically right out of my mouth") gives me the giggles, and I think he precisely caught the mordant Kubrick tone that baffled so many of the film's critics. It stunned me to learn that he'd been acting since the "Playhouse 90" days. Every time I saw him in a movie or on TV I thought, oh, here's Pollack slumming again. Maybe that's what they mean when they talk about making it look easy.

Also, word just came that Harvey Korman has passed. Korman was always willing to go too far, and on the Carol Burnett show you can often see how eager he was to crack up his fellow players. I still recall the impeccable timing of his reaction to Burnett's gushing Shirley Temple routine: he brought his fingertips to the bridge of his nose and, turning a beat into a drum solo, muttered, "Please, madam, I have diabetes." Blazing Saddles was his apotheosis. The movie pitched its tone on the border of hip and vaudeville, and while Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder worked the hipster angle, Korman came on with a fusillade of stutters, mad walks, lazzi and double-takes straight out of the Orpheum circuit. It played as well with stoned teenagers as it did with elderly variety-show fans. Hail and farewell to the last of the great schtickmen.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

THE REICHSTAG ADVENTURE. While everyone else was enjoying Recount, I was attending a film about another great historical disaster, Downfall. It's certainly wonderful to see the great Bruno Ganz impersonate Hitler. We are introduced to him in 1942, where he is not flailing and screaming but visibly strange in a classically narcissistic way; he shows kindness, but at a palpable personal remove -- speaking to his prospective secretaries as if they were dumb creatures requiring soft speech to function properly -- that suggests his later ravings about the insufficiency of the German people didn't come from a last-minute psychological adjustment to disaster, but out of the core of his being.

Later, of course, when things are going less well for the Reich, we do see him flailing and screaming -- some of it has been memorably re-subtitled for YouTube parodies. And we get morose lethargy, truculence, delusory attachment to petty details, and so on. The most interesting section, Hitler-wise, comes in his final meeting with Albert Speer (the excellent Heino Ferch), who reveals that he has consciously failed to carry out the Fuhrer's "orders of destruction" and waits for a reaction. Hitler breaks a pencil -- quietly, with the palms of his hands -- adjusts his hair, stares away; pouts. Speer -- having survived his insufficient act of resistance -- gets up from his chair. "So you're leaving," says Hitler. "Good. Auf wiedersehen." He refuses to shake Speer's hand before he goes. He could have had him shot. That he doesn't is not an act of mercy, but of peevishness.

That's the kind of detail that sometimes makes Downfall more interesting than your run-of-the-mill historical drama. But it's from the Hitler part, and the solitude and mystery of the dictator seem to have spurred the imagination of the filmmakers more than the documentary events that make up most of the film. For these, Downfall is simply an efficient reenactment. It is something to see all these Nazis, infamous and obscure, facing their elaborately choreographed Gotterdammerung. And, to their credit, the filmmakers give enough clues to allow us to backwards-engineer the disaster in our minds: if these guys couldn't disobey orders as the Russians were encircling Berlin, you can imagine what they were like when things were going well.

But there doesn't seem to be much more to it than that: the Third Reich was an awful mistake, as you can see by the result. (It even invites fleeting sarcastic thoughts: Sure, hindsight's always 20-20.) The characters' varied reactions to the approach of disaster (from wild parties to fretful brooding) are believable and sometimes poignant but seldom illuminating. The few heroics and the abundant follies are alike swept up and engulfed in the horrible tide of events.

It seems terrible to say so, given the seriousness of the subject, but it can't be helped: Downfall is basically a disaster flick: multiple characters trapped in a Reich turned upside-down, each doing a star turn expressing some signal weakness or strength before his or her gruesome death or grateful rescue. In fact, for all its craft it's not up to the standards of Irwin Allen. Paul Newman's architect in The Towering Inferno was only first among glamorous equals; the architect of the Holocaust steals Downfall outright. I can't read Wim Wenders' complaint, available only in German, but I hear he was pissed about that. Maybe I flatter myself by assuming from translated snippets that he shares my view that this is primarily a dramatic problem. I certainly believe the makers meant well, but as Max Bialystock learned to his regret, you can't let Hitler have all the good lines.
EASY MONEY. At National Review, Jim Manzi is outraged that Obama would ask college graduates to heed a call to service. He also doesn't think much of Obama's decision to blow off a traditional career track and instead become a lowly community organizer, because he was just going to wind up a U.S. Senator and best-selling author anyway:
What's funny about his sacrifice is that when Obama took this job, $14,000 was about the average salary for somebody getting out of college. Of course, Obama wasn't just a run-of-the-mill college graduate; he was an Ivy-Leaguer, who graduated from Columbia with a BA in political science. A corporate career would almost certainly have been more lucrative — for a while. Last year, his family income was about $4,200,000. I don't have the data, but I bet that compares reasonably favorably with the average household income of 1983 Columbia political science and 1991 Harvard Law School graduates. Nonetheless, Obama did sacrifice some of his expected credential-based wage premium for a number of years.
Similarly, any well-educated person who decides to pursue a career as an actor can expect to become a Hollywood star, so it's really not that much different from joining Goldman Sachs.

I hope this gets around. A widespread delusion that community organization is a sure path to riches will do wonders for urban blight. Even our worst neighborhoods will be as full of eager volunteers as soup kitchens at Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

YOUR EXCEPTION IS NOTED. A lot of Bush people and their supporters are royally pissed at former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan and his new tell-all book. At NewsBusters, Rich Noyes complains that when Ari Fleischer issued a book that was far more complimentary to Bush than McClellan's, nobody wanted to cover it.

Noyes implies this is due to liberal media bias. Well, baby, you gotta gave a gimmick. Dee Dee Myers wisely chose to write a women's-empowerment book instead of a straight Clinton-era retrospective. Of course, if that former Press Secretary's tome had instead been all about how her boss was full of shit, I suppose that would have worked too. Dog bites man can be a story if the man is its master. Ask Louis Freeh.

But that just has to do with the stink McClellan's book has made and the copies it may sell. In political terms I don't expect much of a long-term impact from it. If Richard Clarke couldn't move the needle, what chance has Scott McClellan?

This got me thinking about David Stockman, first of the great celebrity White House apostates of the contemporary age -- that is, the age of Reagan, which we're still in. William Greider's Atlantic Monthly story in which Stockman spilled his guts about the Reagan Administration's economic malfeasance, and Stockman's own tell-all book, made him the most famous OMB Director in history (excepting, perhaps, Bert Lance).

Some people considered Stockman a hero, and praised his later experiments in enlightened capitalism. That's as may be, his recent criminal indictment on fraud and conspiracy charges notwithstanding (an auto-parts company he was running, and its employee pension fund, went bankrupt). But it's worth noting that Stockman's public disillusionment with the Reaganites gave him more stature than a quiet slinking-away would have accomplished. And other than a blip of bad publicity, it didn't do much harm to Reagan, either, nor to the policies he favored. Everybody won except the governed.

This isn't to suggest bad intent on Stockman's part, or McClellan's, but the way Washington works. No one is obliged to retain loyalty to a cause one has decided is corrupt. But no one can expect to make much of a difference by renouncing it, either. Not having read McClellan's book, I can't judge it as confessional literature or as dish. As a political artifact, it would seem, from the rumblings its digestion by the commentariat have caused (noisy but not clinically significant), to be pretty typical of its kind.
JUST A LITTLE JOKE BETWEEN YOU & ME. My latest jape. Jimbo was actually very nice about it, which of course ruins it for me.

UPDATE. His self-defense. Wilde and Whistler this ain't, but then a lot of things have gone downhill since the 19th Century.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

THE CHICKENS COME HOME TO ROOST. Ron Rosenbaum's "In Praise of Liberal Guilt" at Slate has drawn some responses from conservatives who object, in varying degrees, to the notion that they should feel guilt about American racism.

The conversation is somewhat misguided. Whatever these worthies think about the effect of white guilt (or shame, or whatever they want to call it) on their own souls matters very little. Racism as a public issue is a different story.

Conservatives have built up a strong resistance to guilt trips of any kind over the years. They've learned to dismiss any gripe from anyone aggrieved (except their own constituent groups, of course) as politically correct nonsense. It's been useful for them in some ways, allowing them to project an air of certainty that is easily mistaken for strength, but in this instance it's getting to be a drawback. I never thought I'd say this, but Rod Dreher is actually onto something here:
That is, it's difficult to say, "Yes, conservatives were badly wrong on civil rights, but that doesn't mean that they're wrong today," because the left, in debate, tends to assume that the original sin of having been wrong in 1964 is ineradicable, and won't give any quarter. You can never win with liberals on racial questions, conservatives may figure, so it's better to adopt a defiant insouciance -- even if that attitude is not morally justified by the record.
I would add, though, that "you can never win with liberals" is unduly limited: when you take this sort of attitude, you can't win with a whole lot of people.

If you get around a little bit, you may have noticed that racism hasn't gotten any cooler over the years. Of course it persists -- strongly, in some pockets, and furtively in others under a variety of masks. But if you say outright crazy shit about black people, it doesn't play as widely as it might have in 1952.

We can argue about how much real progress this represents, but if you're the sort of conservative Dreher describes, it's pretty disastrous. If you regard the race card as a vampire regards garlic, it must be depressing to realize that Americans haven't lightened up about it. "Politically incorrect" phenomena such as "South Park" may sometimes buoy your spirits by convincing you that the heat's off, but then people get all bent out of shape about a radio joke, and your mood swing changes course.

You're left with bizarre fantasies in which Obama purposefully loses a state primary in order to slander its citizens as racists.

From this beaten-down perspective, with no hope of being recognized as the lovely race-neutral people they know themselves to be, conservatives looking at a Presidential contest with a black guy on the opposing ticket may worry that they'll have no choice but to energize whatever racist base is available to them. This the more tender-hearted among them must dread, because it may contribute to an unfortunate misperception of themselves. And it may explain why they think the tiresome topic of white guilt is worth discussing in the first place.
THE CHILDREN'S HOUR. Megan McArdle is away from her desk for reasons unknown -- from this photo it seems she may have at last found honest work as a telemarketer -- leaving a bunch of young guest-bloggers to romp and play in her stead. Peter Suderman -- at 17, the elder statesman of the group -- does big-boy blogging; they rest try to get away with the same shit that flew in their college newspapers.

Tim Lee lays out the case for Technology is Awesome. Here he explains that companies sometimes give away digital content because "giving away information goods (which have zero marginal cost) can expand the market for other goods that can then be sold at a profit," but cautions, "Figuring out what to give away and how to monetize the resulting attention is a difficult problem that everyone, from Facebook to the Atlantic is struggling to solve." Yuh don't say! Next he'll be telling us about the challenges facing our next President.

Lee follows up with that evergreen of the neverlaid, How Blogs Will Totally Replace Newspapers. Folks who reflexively assert that the New York Times does a better job of covering world events than a guy with a Wordpress account and several college buddies studying abroad are mired in oldthink:
There are fewer organizations that aspire to cover "all the news that's fit to print." But while that might worry people who are used to the predictability of 20th-century organizational methods, the new system is likely to be better. Specialization allows publications to develop deeper bench of talent in the topics they cover. A swarm of smaller organizations gives the system more flexibility. And the lower barriers to entry allow a proliferation of new voices that provide unique perspectives on the news.
And the great thing is, our Citizen Journalists get paid in buzzwords! I bet Lee prefers Taster's Choice to real coffee because it uses advanced freeze-drying technology.

My favorite is Conor Friedersdorf. First, there's the name: can't you picture him, peachfuzz painstakingly sculpted into a French Beard, smoking jacket carrying a crest of his own invention, snifter filled with Pibb Xtra? And Young Friedersdorf has a poetic streak:
Consider Las Vegas after 12 hours: already there is an urge to escape. The once quaint sounds of the casino floor clank against the nerves. You discern wrinkles beneath the caked-on makeup of haggard cocktail waitresses and paunch on black-jack dealers whose slouches gradually deepen.
Well, timor mortis conturbat me silly! Can't wait for the next installment, in which cackling crones of 28 are compared to witches and someone puts a cigarette out in a plate of eggs.

Friedersdorf also has posts about how New York is exciting, and conservatives aren't racist, look at Clarence Thomas, but really anything he writes is worth savoring. I hope McArdle is thinking legacy, and not only because that would mean she was leaving.
NEW VOICE COLUMN UP here. It's about the many ways in which wingers use unverified rumors to spread mischief. See, rather than merely assert that the stories are true, they -- hey, hey, you drifted off there. Yeah, I know. Starting next week I'm going with this sort of thing. As my dear old mother used to say: "That's what people want to see, not your stupid bullshit."

UPDATE. Second link Not Safe For Work, you squares. No, I said the second -- oh, wait I meant the first! Yeah, the first!
Well, I don't think that food prices aren't up. I do the grocery shopping for my household, and believe me, I've noticed; my average grocery run costs about 20 bucks more than last year. Rather, my point was the lameness of media efforts to report on that -- interviewing people at fancy gourmet markets? -- and the cheesiness of their "holiday" angle. As is often the case, even as they try hard to manufacture one bit of bad news, they're actually missing the real bad news, because reporting on that usefully would require actual work. As I've noted on this topic before, their bias is exceeded only by their laziness and ignorance. The data in the AP story don't prove its ostensible point -- that holiday barbecues (by which they mean cookouts, not actual barbecue) are vastly more expensive -- but to do an actual story on what food prices are up across the board, and why, would be actual work and wouldn't produce the "holiday angle" that editors want.
This has been a sneak preview of John McCain's response to economic questions in the forthcoming Presidential debates, minus reminders that the subject was a prisoner of war. Republican operatives will be dazzled by the anger at wire services, parsing of the words "cookout" and "barbecue," and reference to "fancy gourmet markets"; ordinary Americans, not so much.
SHORTER JIM LILEKS MEMORIAL DAY POST: Fucking Australian hippies, I'll show you! I've boycotted Mescan vodka and I'll boycott Green vodka! We shall fight on the benches, we shall fight on Jasperwood's various garden areas, we shall fight in the Lunds and Byerlys and Kowalskis, we shall fight about the bags; we shall never surrender.

UPDATE. According to the Greenhouse Calculator that so incensed Lileks, I should have died a long, long time ago. This fills me with joy, for I consider my entire life a gleeful evasion of what society expects of me, and the Calculator just confirms it. Poor Jimbo has internalized political correctness to such an extent that he must rage at the New Order that dares inform him he has transgressed. Young Republicans, past and present, take note: as the Captain told Babu in Benito Cereno, this is your future.

Monday, May 26, 2008

MEMORIAL DAY: ANNUAL LIGHTING OF THE LOGO. The folks at National Review Online haven't posted their usual complaints (yet) about Google's lack of a Memorial Day logo. The Ole Perfesser picks up the fallen standard (and pimps a link to a search engine that seems designed for lonely masturbators, though I didn't enjoy it at all).

CORRECTION: NRO's K-Lo did get to it, and early. I must have my filters on "high."

I thought we had this problem solved. But, hell, some prefer barbecue on Memorial Day, and some like to shop; everyone has his own tradition. Billy Kristol wants us to say thanks to soldiers on the street. Most Americans would like to show them more tangible appreciation.

Nothing wrong with that, but though the sentiments of Memorial Day accrue naturally to standing servicemembers, it was invented to honor the fallen. Whatever I think about this nation's military adventures, past and present, I know that millions died in them. That's worth a thought at least, and let contemplation take us where it may.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A SAD AND LONELY WORLD. Michelle Malkin, who has been boycotting Starbucks and supporting Dunkin' Donuts, not for sound gustatory reasons but for political reasons no ordinary person could understand, considers extending her jihad to Dunkin' Donuts because their spokesman Rachel Ray briefly appeared in something that looked like a scarf a Palestinian might wear.

When Sadly, No! first tauntingly proferred the keffiyah thing to Malkin, I thought: not even she is insane enough to actually take this bait. Now that she has, I'm beginning to get an unaccustomed feeling of Christian sympathy for her. What a small, strange world she lives in -- one in which even simple breakfast choices are fraught with peril. What are her lunch and dinner choices like? When she goes to a restaurant, does she peer into the waiters' station and wonder which servers are gays who wish to be married, peer into the kitchen and wonder which dishwashers are illegal aliens? When she makes her own meals, does she claw through the fridge and pantry like Harry Caul at the end of The Conversation, frantically searching the labels for signs of politically incorrect associations?

I rescued a kitten in Chinatown once. Her time on the streets had traumatized her, and while she was with me, she hissed at anything that moved, however slightly: toys, fingers, curtains caught in the wind, CD changer drawers, etc. I called her Spit. She finally found a nice home and, I'm told, calmed down and began to enjoy life. The idea of any living creature retaining such a horrible, all-embracing phobia into maturity chills me to the bone.

Of course, maybe she's just faking it for bucks, in which case I feel better and she should be thrown off a cliff.