Monday, May 31, 2004

MEMORIAL. I know you all think of me as a hardened New York wise guy, and I love you for it, but I have my sentimental side, and so attended a Memorial Day parade, not in the big city, but in a small Connecticut town. A large segment of the populace turned out for the event. They lined the streets seated on lawn-chairs, curbs, and the grassy knoll of the town square, at the crest of which an old monument to the victory at Gettysburg -- brass statue, stone pillar -- was adorned with wreathes on thin wire stands, left by local VFW posts and dotted with paper poppies.

Some held small, stiff muslin flags mounted on thin sticks. Others held styrofoam coffee cups (the parade started about 10 am). Nearly everyone seemed to meet someone he or she knew coming down the sidewalk. The town is small enough that this is a genuine social event. Here and there teenagers clotted together, but they would be approached by adults that they kmew -- parents, friends of parents, teachers -- and would receive them warmly. That done, the boys in Slipknot and Method Man t-shirts and gigantic blue jeans would go on making time with the cheerleaders who were taking a break from their march duties. The cheerleaders, like most of the young girls, wore plenty of makeup and seemed energized by the prospect of their public display. I observed a couple of these chatting with a lad who cheerfully threw fun-snaps at them, which assault they protested unconvincingly.

Every local civic group seemed to have a place in the parade. Primacy went to the veterans, especially the WWII vets, walking majestically if sometimes with halting step in their ill-fitting uniforms and smart, peaked garrison caps. There were police and fire battalions, the latter sometimes represented by antique fire trucks (including a Ford F-800 "Big Job," and a Seagrave with a wooden grille). There were marching bands of varying ages and levels of expertise, one of which played "Stars and Stripes Forever" so poorly it came out as a forlorn dirge, but we clapped because it was the best they could do. The cheerleaders and drum majorettes ran their paces with great concentration. Then came soccer teams, youth groups, local beauty queens, and various random gaggles of citizens, waving and scanning the crowd for friends. At last a few police cars with lights slowly and silently strobing signalled the finish, and the audience dispersed to their homes and barbecues.

It was delightful. No one had to underline the themes of sacrifice and service. The parade passed, as it had for years, as it will certainly pass next year, observed in the same manner, with trucks and tunes and flags and coffee. This is memorial enough. What the blood of the fallen has purchased is well known, and it is left to us to celebrate, without portent or pomposity, their wonderful gift.

Friday, May 28, 2004

I've been very impressed with the fluency a lot of these [liberal] folks do have with their intellectual traditions... That said, all of this kind of reminds of when Nixon declared that it was obvious to him the world is overpopulated because wherever he went he saw huge crowds.
Moments earlier, Jonah Goldberg:
... for reasons I can only assume are coincidental I saw more people with broken arms around London over a few days than I have in the preceding couple years. Is there a reason so many Brits are busting their wings?
Why do I pay attention to what Goldberg writes when he can't seem to do it himself?
YOU'S A EDUCATED FOOL. Culture scold James Bowman writes yet another long sneer at pop-culture studies, treating dismissively a host of comically-named tomes treating the deeper meanings of The Sopranos, Sex & The City, etc. Though Bowman does express some admiration for one such work that suggests The Simpsons is pro-family, on the rest he employs eye-rolling phrases ("purports to give a philosophical analysis," "unadulterated jargon of real-life scholars," "the more feminist the analysis, the less lighthearted -- and readable") to communicate his customary message: that professors, like artists, are fools to look for deeper meaning in absurdities.

Meanwhile over at NRO, we get not one but two articles about how the Kate Hudson vehicle Raising Hell represents an overdue reinterpretation of eccleasiastics in modern society. They don't use that kind of language, of course (consider their audience) -- theirs goes more like this: "...audiences will fall for Pastor Dan specifically because he is just like a typical pastor -- likeable. Likeable, and strong, and funny, and, yes, sexy."

Pastor Dan is played by the guy who did the radio show on Northern Exposure, and here's Megan Basham, the author quoted above, describing his courtship of the Kate Hudson character:
In one scene, shortly after they meet, Dan asks Helen if she'd like to go out sometime. When she shakes her head no, he starts to leave. But then, realizing how blind she is, he turns back and glowers, "It's because I'm not one of those model, club-hoppin' guys right? So you don't think I'm sexy?" Embarrassed and not knowing how to respond, Helen stands frozen until Dan marches back toward her, leans in, and growls, "Let me tell you something little lady, I am sexy. I'm a sexy man of God, and I know it."
If you think that's sexy, you'll cream your jeans over Tony Perkins in Crimes of Passion.

This sort of thing happens anytime something pops up in a book or movie or trend that could be interpreted, by minds obsessed with such things, as an endorsement of conservative politics or mores. (See Mark Gauvreau Judge on Swing Dancing for a particularly lurid example.) I don't see how this is any sillier than monographs about TV shows. Maybe James Bowman can explain it sometime.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

STRANGE INTERLUDES.This is how the Crazy Jesus Lady portrays to the world the inner monologue of New Yorkers:
I should get a new dress for the graduation at the Saks sale. They could blow up the Lincoln Tunnel. Meg would love one of those little Chanel knockoffs from the street vender. If New York is bombed while we're in Boston, where will we stay? If Boston is bombed while we're at the graduation, how will we get home? Bring cousin Holly's number in northern Connecticut. Pick up mascara.
Allow me to offer an alternate version:
Ugh, I should have stopped with the third bourbon last night. Looks like it's gonna be cloudy. Should I splurge for a bacon and egg sandwich? Oh, go ahead, live large. What's in the paper? That dead Julliard girl, the Mets blew a big lead, and the usual terrorism bullshit. Maybe grab some OJ too. Alright, let's see what's on the web. OpinionJournal's always good for a laugh. Wow, another column by that brain-damaged hag? Lot of nervous energy this week. Must have stopped taking her pills. That reminds me -- where'd I put the Advil?

OH, THOSE KRAZY KULTURE KOPS! "Without passing judgment on the movie as such, it's clearly based on the usual false assumptions..." Well, you know you're in Culture-War No-Man's-Land when you hear crap like that. This one comes from The Corner, where Mark Krikorian explains that though he hasn't seen A Day Without a Mexican ("it's not being shown anywhere I can get to" -- the tunnels radiating from his bunker don't extend to the local cineplex, I guess), he still has lots to say about it, including this: "The very premise of the movie is thus blood-and-soil nationalism of das Volk (or rather, La Raza), which is only socially permissable when advocated by approved ethnic groups." Wow! Maybe he saw the trailer.

But equally blind are they who will not see. An alicublog reader tipped me to World Magazine, a journal that pre-digests current events for squeamish Christians. Their arts coverage comes in slabs stamped "Cultural," and one imagines editors screaming across the newsroom, "Support for gay marriage is going up -- we need three more slabs of Cultural, stat!" Their reviewers have seen the movies they discuss, but with a sharp eye for non-evangelical content and a blind one for everything else. Of Troy, Marvin Olasky writes that "Bradd Pitts" is "too likable" as Achilles, and that the film should have focused on Hector -- presumably because Olasky finds Hector more clean-cut. (Olasky also cautions that in Troy's bed scenes "illicit sex is made to look good.")

Music also comes under review by my new favorite pop critic, Arsenio Orteza. He chides Prince for his "low" content, which features "many sexual allusions, both explicit (e.g., 'Gett Off') and implicit (e.g., 'Little Red Corvette')." ("Little Red Corvette" is implicit? Not the way Amatullo sang it in "The Kids from Fame in Israel"!) Orteza concludes that "For people who speak no English, Prince remains a legitimate thriller" -- judging from his prose style, Orteza is indeed qualified to make this judgement -- "For many English speakers, however, Prince's obsession with sex will connect him to Messrs. [Michael] Jackson and [Kobe] Bryant in ways that no amount of sales or pleasure can eclipse." I think I disagree -- what specific amount of sales or pleasure are we talking about here?

The Beatles are alright, per Orteza, but only if that line about Christ in "The Ballad of John and Yoko" is a spoof on Lennon's "Bigger than Jesus" crack, not if he's "taking Christ's name in vain." In which case the Beatles are objectionable, just like everything else, it would seem, except bluegrass, which Orteza likes because it's "colorblind, sex-blind, [and] age-blind" (the unfortunate result of all that moonshine, one imagines). And you have to love how Orteza describes Bob Marley & The Wailers' "world view":
Explicitly: that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are worth getting up, standing up, and fighting for; Implicitly: that smoking marijuana is a sacrament and that slain Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie is the Messiah.
Suddenly it all makes sense!

At World even baseball must be reduced to Cultural: "Baseball fosters the right mentality for sustaining a war on terrorism," explains Gene Edward Veith. It also embodies "the trials and disciplines of free enterprise." And another thing: "We lose wars when we on the home front lose our will or our heart or our courage—even while our troops win on the battlefield. That is how we lost the Vietnam War..." What's that got to do with baseball? Don't ask Veith, who seems to have entered some sort of trance: "The news cycle is an up-and-down, good news/bad news roller coaster... When the Bears are doing badly, Soldier Field is deserted. But Cubs fans still pack Wrigley Field, even in the bad years, and they persevere." It takes a lot for me to say this, but I'd rather read George Will's baseball shit.

UPDATE. Tbogg amplifies admirably on Krikorian's willful cluelessness.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

MONEY, HONEY. Rightwing "It" Girl Michelle Malkin is enraged by Wonkette and her recent find, a low-paid Washington functionary named Jessica Cutler who let Republicans fuck her up the ass for money. Among Malkin's plaintive cries against both: "Skanks," "promiscuous," "raunchy," "female Beavis and Butthead," "sex-drenched infamy," and "members of the media elite."

And then there's this:
Cutler, who aspired to be a journalist, spouted: "I'm sure I am not the only one who makes money on the side this way: How can anybody live on $25K/year??" When I was 24 and making less than that, I did it by eating Spaghetti-O's, Ramen noodles and Swanson pot pies for dinner; driving a Toyota Tercel with no air conditioning; and sleeping on a $30 futon. I did it the way most parents teach their daughters to succeed: through hard work, thrift, faith and perseverance.
Malkin's parents are a doctor and a schoolteacher. When Malkin was 24 she was married to a Rhodes Scholar who apparently works for the Rand Corporation. According to her bio, in '94 Malkin was working as an editorial writer and weekly columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News.

Them Spaghetti-O's musta tasted alright with a nice Chablis.

At that very same time I was living in New York City (surely as expensive a jurisdiction as LA) and working as a freelance writer, and made maybe six grand more than what Malkin claims to have made. (The following year, Malkin was named Warren Brookes Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., so her prospects were obviously infinitely better than mine). I wasn't hooking, either (not for lack of opportunities!), nor did I consume a more exalted diet than Ms. Malkin did. And though I sure did work hard, and had to be thrifty, I had no faith or perseverance to speak of.

But I'll say this: I sure as shit couldn't afford a car with or without A/C -- I'd have had to take major dick up the ass for that! Almost certainly Republican dick.

But I didn't, and till now I never had cause to feel morally superior about it. In fact, given the severe mark-up in rents and other cost of living indicators since then, I marvel that Malkin does. That whole "poor but pure" argument makes much more sense if one is actually poor.

POST UPDATED because I can't handle numbers too good. Malkin was 24 in '94, not '84, as I previously wrote. By that time I had left the dispatching business and had entered the humiliating world of freelance writing. Not surprisingly (though depressingly from my perspective) I wasn't making much more in '94 than I was in '84, but I suppose the extra six large could have been what kept me from working the entrance to the Holland Tunnel.

When I was 24, I was working as a busboy and would have considered $24K a princely sum.
DOCTRINAL MATTERS AS EXPLAINED BY THE PENGUINS. Re the Oklahoma City Bombers, Kerry expresses the traditional, Cuomoesque argument against the death penalty: "Dying is scary for a while, but in the end, the punishment is gone," so life in prison might be a more convincing threat.

So NRO's Rich Lowry, offscreen, asks, "Do you believe in hell? He seemed to say on MTP that the only punishment in dying is the act of dying itself. But if you are a faithful Catholic like Kerry don't you believe someone like Tim McVeigh, an unrepentant mass murderer, is in for an eternity of punishment?"

They're really working this Catholic thing, aren't they? When I was in the Church, though, back in the metal-ruler era, we were specifically cautioned by the nuns against assuming that anyone was in Hell -- or in Heaven, for that matter, excepting the Saints, who were in for sure because the Pope said so.

This message was illustrated by anecdotes of sudden, unforeseeable death suffered by children just like ourselves, meant to convince us that we could be saved or damned in an instant, and that we had better make sure that instant came before we were run over by a bus or suffocated in a sand-pit, and not after. Repent, in other words, before it's too late.

So the idea that the worst human being might be saved at the last moment strikes me as very Catholic. See also the Good Thief.

I would ask if Lowry is Catholic, but it doesn't matter -- that guy could be talking about what it's like to be Rich Lowry and he'd still be talking out his ass.
AGAINST INTERPRETATION. Every so often OpinionJournal has to publish someone's tedious poli-sci journal article and call it an "Extra." This week Zachary Selden gets the nod. He argues that the foreign policy adventuresomeness that we call "neoconservative" is not weird and phenomenonal, as some imagine, but old-fashioned and American, and based on "a set of policies that flow from two ideas that resonate deeply in American public opinion."

There's a lot to cavil here. The first of the abovementioned resonant ideas, for example, Selden says "is often credited to Woodrow Wilson, but in some ways its roots stretch back into the 18th century. It is founded on the moral assertions that have been part of American political thought since the early days of the republic. Chief among them is the idea that individual liberty is a moral absolute and that a system of governance that enshrines individual liberty is morally and practically superior to all others." Europeans can't understand all this, Selden sniffs: their "constitutions tend to place a greater emphasis on social harmony than on individual liberty."

Looked at a certain way, this is unobjectionable. But the culmination of Wilson's dream was not the establishment of a perpetual, roving gang of democratizers, but of the League of Nations -- in which cause he was at least grudgingly supported by a good many of those social-hamonist Europeans, but scuttled by his own people. In fact, Wilson failed precisely to the degree that he tried to promote American ideals to Americans. By the time we get to Iraq -- hell, by the time we get to Panama and the Philippines -- the connection between our love of liberty and our feckless foreign adventures seems not only severed, but hacked to pieces.

And this is why windy policy dissertations like Selden's frustrate me (along with the big words, of course, and compound sentences). They're all about the big ideas which allegedly animate our political actors. Frankly, in most cases I see something a whole lot less philosophical going on -- unless you consider "I got mine, don't worry about yours" a philosophy.

It may just be my ignorance, but I don't see much of any coherent idea, let alone a grand Wilsonian schema, behind the actions of this Administration. I see Bush buffeted by peddlers of crank ideas whose patrons managed in early days to squeeze through the portals of power and grab a place near the President ear. I see, in the wake of the 9-11 attacks, a tendency to go with what Cheney and the wise men suggested, and Cheney and the wise men slapping their best and brightest on the back and whispering, "OK, kid, you're on." And, of course, the usual graft, fraud, ass-covering -- and, above all, deep faith that Americans will fall for any old horseshit you care to peddle if you wrap it in a flag and drawl over it like John Wayne. (Selden's view is that Americans have been moved off their usual anti-interventionist dime by 9-11, but it was no preordained thing that they would be moved to fight Iraq -- that was pure salesmanship.)

I respect erudition in any field, but Selden's article strikes me as justification after the fact. The Founding Fathers had great, free-wheeling intellects, and wrote a lot more than their puny descendents, so it is not hard to find something in them to use as justification for any old scam you want to pull. How many times have right-wing nuts used Andrew Jackson's "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it" as a historical imprimatur for their fight against whichever branch of the government happens to piss them off?

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

FORCED TO ACKNOWLEDGE AN UNPLEASANT REALITY. Xax has been offline for many weeks, and I don't know when it will come back, so I have replaced it on my blogroll with Something Awful. You probably know about them already, but I figure it's good to have an "eject" button handy that will take you from the moaning and groaning that goes on here to a very funny place.
CRAZY ON THE COUCH.I have to say I was taken aback by the ill-concealed rage in Crazy Jesus Lady's latest, an account of E.L. Doctorow's speech at Hofstra and his comeuppance. Normally she speaks of her many enemies in a dismissively gentle tone, as though it were more Satan's fault than theirs that they have been led unto sin and therefore damned. But she calls Doctorow "Fast Eddy," talks ahout his "boorishness,' and claims that Doctorow "manages to produce many books nobody reads in the computer age while still using a quill." (I think she means Doctorow uses the quill, not the non-readers. That's how mad CJL is -- she can't even properly place her modifiers!)

Why such spasmodic rage? One idea is suggested by a gag the New Yorker pulled at Crazy's expense in April. In one of their "Hundred Days" multiple-choice questions about current events, they asked readers to match bits of commentary on Bush with their authors. Four of the five selections were devastatingly negative ("worst President ever") and authored by people like Richard Reeves and Michael Kinsley. One, though, went like this: "A steady hand on the helm in high seas, a knowledge of where we must go and why, a resolve to achieve safe harbor. More and more this presidency is feeling like a gift." And this was the Crazy Jesus Lady's.

CJL has been well-compensated for her speechwriting and is praised in wingnut circles for her columns and books. Insofar as her world extends, this would seem a sufficient Valhalla for a loyal operative. But you can tell by her occasional cracks about "intellectuals, academics, [and] local clever people who talk loudly in restaurants," that Crazy is no less affected than others of her sort by that primitive jealousy stirred by the success of credentialed types who sneer at all that is holy and Republican yet somehow, inexplicably, are allowed by the Lord to enjoy good reviews and tenure. For all her faith that the Lord will one day bring her home, she would yet like to make a stop along the way at Montparnasse, and there be made much of. Alas, the nobs think her a outre Pollyanna, and she must settle for the approbation of think-tank nerds and other Crazy Jesus Ladies and Gentlemen.

How it must sting to be excluded and then mocked for her own exclusion. So the Doctorow booing must have come as a waterfall of balm to her scourged ego. In her ecstasy of vindication, she may have forgotten to behave toward Doctorow as a Christian; but that's why the Lord made confessional booths.

Monday, May 24, 2004

If you have heard the hits "My Baby Loves Lovin"', "Beach Baby", "United We Stand", "Gimme Dat Ding", "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)" and the unforgettable Coke commercial "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke," you have definitely heard Tony Burrows... Tony Burrows is listed in the Guiness Book of records as having had the most records in the charts at the same time under different names.
BTW, did you know that Albert Hammond wrote "Gimme Dat Ding," and "It Never Rains in Southern California" AND "The Air That I Breathe" AND "Free Electric Band," among others?

It is something to contemplate that so many of the cherished songs of my youth were manufactured by a small gang of studio hacks.
...Burns, upon discovering (as he did in at least one previous ep, but never mind that) that he's unpopular, decides to buy out all of the town's media. Lisa is publishing her own paper, though, and continues through a certain amount of harassment. At the end she gives up, but everyone else in town starts their own newspapers.

The mainstream media aren't all run by the same person, but until a few years ago, they were all run by the same New York City/Washington DC mindset. As I've said before, the liberal media haven't been getting any less liberal, but more conservative alternatives have grown around them -- most notably Fox News, but also a multitude of independent bloggers...
So Burns is the New York Times, and Lisa is Fox News. Or maybe Little Green Footballs.

Well, if they'll buy Steve Martin as Inspector Clouseau, they might buy this, too.
IF YOU DRINK, DON'T GOOGLE. IF YOU DRINK AND GOOGLE, DON'T POST. Matt Welch does some contrarian schtick that goes badly awry:
I know it must be pretty to think that liberals = free speech, and conservatives = duct tape on lips, but that's a cliché that has long outlived its axiomaticism... A Google search on "free speech" and "National Review" yields 32,400 results; one on "free speech" and "Los Angeles Magazine" produces 207 (there are 481 "free speech" results on NRO's site alone).
Testing Welch's methodology, I googled "Hitler" and "Jews" -- 507,000 hits. Then I googled "George W. Bush" and "Jews" -- only 172,000.

So let's not hear any of this axiomaticism about Hitler being against the Jews! Why, he talked about them all the time! He certainly approved of them way more than that Bush guy.

I'm sure National Review Online editor Jonah Goldberg -- an admitted and tireless crusader for censorship, by the way -- is happy about Welch's confusion. He may be allergic to free speech, but free publicity is something else again.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

POLITICAL WEBLOGGING CAN BE DEPRESSING. Here's Andrew Stuttaford explaining that, when people use the term "Taliban wing" to describe social policy meddlers, that's just silly, but when he uses the term "health mullahs" to describe our social health policy meddlers (a group I'm not in love with either), that's an appropriate use of rhetoric.

More and more often when I sit down to fill one of these little blogger screens I feel like one of the monkeys in the prologue to "2001," joining in the shrieking and jumping up and down and general primitive social aggression.

One alternative might be to approach analysis seriously and politely, which in the current environment would be like delivering a long lecture on the Good and the True while undergraduates stick matches into my shoes and light them, hold up fingers behind my head, and make fart noises.

Another would be to just pack it in, disappointing literally dozens of fans.

I wonder if you guys ever feel this way.

Thus he was forced to endure the importunities of the young-old man, whose drunken state obscurely urged him to pay the stranger the honor of a formal farewell. "We wish you a very pleasant sojourn," he babbled, bowing and scraping. "Pray keep us in mind. Au revoir, excusez et bon jour, votre Excellence." He drooled, he blinked, he licked the corner of his mouth, the little imperial bristled on his elderly chin. He put the tips of two fingers to his mouth and said thickly, "Give her our love, will you, the p-pretty dear..." Here his upper plate came away and fell down on the lower one... Aschenbach escaped. "Little sweety-sweety-sweetheart," he heard behind him, gurgled and stuttered, as he climbed down the rope stair into the boat.
--Thomas Mann, "Death in Venice"

I wer programmit then from how I ben when I come in to Cambry. Coming in to Cambry my head ben ful of words and rimes and all kynds of jumbl of yellerboy stoan thots. Back then I ben thinking on the Power of the 2 and the 1 and the Hy Power what ben whoosing roun the Power Ring time back way back. The 1 Big 1 and the Spirit of God. My mind ben all binsy with myndy thinking. Thinking who wer going to do what and how I myt put some thing to gether before some 1 else done it. Seed of the red and seed of the yeller and that. Hart of the wud. Now I dint want nothing of that. I dint know what the connnexion were with that face in my mynd only I knowit that face wer making me think diffrent. I wernt looking for no Hy Power no mor I dint want no Power at all. I dint want to do nothing with that yellerboy stoan n mor. Greanvine wer the name I put to that face in my mynd.

I cud feal some thing growing in me wer like a grean sea surging in me it wer saying, LOSE IT. Saying, LET GO. Saying, THE ONLYES POWER IS NO POWER.

Ther come in to my muynd then music or the idear of music I dont know what it wer if I try to hear it now I cant only I know I heard it then. It wer as much colours as it wer souns only if I try to see the colours now I cant. The souns and the colours they be come a moving and I thot I could move with it.

--Russell Hoban, "Riddley Walker"

Now, my Friend, can Prophecies, or miracles convince You, or Me, that infinite Benevolence, Wisdom and Power, created and preserves, for a time, innumerable millions to make them miserable forever; for his own Glory? Wretch! What is his Glory? Is he ambitious? does he want promotion? Is he vain? tickled with Adulation? Exulting and tryumphing in his Power and the Sweetness of his Vengence? Pardon me, my Maker, for these aweful Questions. My Answer to them is always ready: I believe no such Things. My Adoration of the Author of the Universe is too profound and too sincere. The Love of God and his Creation; delight, Joy, Tryumph, Exultation in my own existence, 'tho but an Atom, a Molecule Organique, in the Universe; are my religion. Howl, Snarl, bite, Ye Calvinistick! Ye Athanasian Divines, if You will. Ye will say, I am no Christian: I say Ye are no Christians: and there the account is ballanced. Yet I believe all the honest men among you, are Christians in My Sense of the Word.

--John Adams, Letter to Thomas Jefferson, September 14, 1813

The Ampitheatre was the best place in the world for a convention. Relatively small, it had the packed intimacy of a neighborhood fight club. The entrances to the gallery were as narrow as hallway tunnels, and the balcony seemed to hang over each speaker. The colors were black and grey and red and white and blue, bright powerful colors in support of a ruddy beef-eating sea of Democratic faces. The standards in these cramped quarters were numerous enough to look like lances. The aisles were jammed. The carpets were red. The crowd had a blood in their vote which had travelled in an unbroken line from the throng who had cheered the blood of brave Christians and ferocious lions. It could have been a great convention, stench and all -- politics in an abbatoir was as appropriate as license in a boudoir. There was bottom to this convention; some of the finest and some of the most corrupt faces in America were on the floor. Cancer jostled elbows with arcomegaly, obesity with edema, arthritis with alcholism, bad livers sent curses to bronchiacs, and quivering jowls beamed bad cess to puffed-out paunches. Cigars curved mouths which talked out of the other corner to cauliflower ears. The leprotic took care of the blind. And the deaf attached their hearing-aid to the voice-box of the dumb. The tennis-players communicated with the estate holders. The Mob talked bowling with the Union, the principals winked to the principals, the honest and the passionate went hoarse shouting through dead mikes.

--Norman Mailer, "Miami and the Siege of Chicago"

When you find a man living on the ragged edge of his consciousness, pent in to his sin and want and incompleteness, and consequently inconsolable, and then simply tell him that all is well with him, that he must stop his worry, break with his discontent, and give up his anxiety, you seem to him to come with pure absurdities. The only positive consciousness he has tells him that all is NOT well, and the better way you offer sounds simply as if you proposed to him to assert cold-blooded falsehoods. "The will to believe" cannot be stretched as far as that. We can make ourselves more faithful to a belief of which we have the rudiments, but we cannot create a belief out of whole cloth when our perception actively assures us of its opposite. The better mind proposed to us comes in that case in the form of a pure negation of the only mind we have, and we cannot actively will a pure negation.

--William James, "The Varieties of Religious Experience"

I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me: I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offenses at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves, believe none of us. To a nunnery, go.

--William Shakespeare, "Hamlet"

Saturday, May 22, 2004

MEET-UP 2. I came back to the event and found a dozen nice young people sitting around cross-legged, drinking white wine, and talking about classes at the New School. It was obvious that no one was going to get laid.

Fortunately there were some beers left in the fridge, and these I freely availed. My suggestion that we exercise our Second Amendment rights on behalf of the Kerry campaign -- or at least affix "KILL BUSH" stickers to public spaces throughout the midtown area during the Republican Convention -- fell, this website's government monitors will be disappointed to hear, on deaf ears. Finally I left before I was made to leave. All in all a successful evening by my pathetic standards.
MEET-UP. A friend for whom, according to the Oxford English Dictionary,the word "well-meaning" was invented in 1347 by Thomas Usk, invited me to a Kerry "Meet-Up" this evening on Avenue C. It was very odd to find myself in a well-scrubbed triplex with a terrace overlooking a terrain wherein, some years earlier, friends of mine copped heroin, and where I was on one occasion chased by riot cops. The hostesses were perfectly nice women who radiated positive energy as if it were an organic fragrance from the Body Shop; I felt rank with the odor of despair by comparison. Their early guests were well-turned-out young people, some with children who clomped stairs and bawled as John Kerry addressed us (and thousands of other positive partiers across America) by speakerphone. We listened respectfully as the candidate stammered and confused verb tenses. Among the adjectives he used for the Bush Administration was "childish," and I notice Kerry, for all his thickness of tongue, is occasionally given to these perfectly apt usages, and that these are the ones his enemies hammer most mercilessly.

Everyone was cheerful and politically astute, which as you may imagine made me feel alienated. So I left. But I may go back. I donated $20, after all, and am only half drunk.

Friday, May 21, 2004

WORD. "I'm tired of having my patriotism questioned by people who think Thomas Jefferson was a sitcom character... why the fuck should I be forced to treat their opinions as if they were equally as valid as my own? You wouldn't ask a six year old how to tune a Lamborghini's engine, so why should you care about the political opinions of people who can't point out their own goddamn country on a map?... I don't give a shit what some semi-literate Midwestern retard who's never been more than two hundred miles from home and whose idea of intellectual exercise is watching "Jeopardy" thinks about the intricacies of Islamic theology as it relates to the metaphysical notion of jihad. Fuck him."

Onto the blogroll with Zen Archery.
THE BLIND MEN AND THE ELEPHANT. The CDC survey that purports to show our kids screw, smoke, and drink less than previously (but may be getting a little chunky) draws a straight-up libertarian response from the Reason Hit & Run crowd: "So now that the kids aren't fucking, smoking, and drinking as much, what's left to complain about? Well, they may be eating too much."

Meanwhile Ezra at Pandagon puckishly observers that the kids might not be getting laid because they're too fat.

Being an embittered old man, I take it to mean that kids today are abject pussies, and sit in front of video monitors all day, cramming Twinkies down their chutes, because they don't have the moxie we had when I was boy.

Soon, no doubt, Peggy Noonan will tell us that the manly example of George Bush has reformed the formerly degenerate youngsters. Claremont Institute hacks with a strong position in corrupt youth will demur, perhaps suggesting that the well-bred farm youth of the Red States skewed the survey (though I can't help but notice that the Texas kids were getting laid more than the New York kids; the longhorns also have the edge in suicide attempts; maybe I should move there). Maggie Gallagher will want to know why more children aren't getting married.

I only hope these kids aren't too dumb to lie to survey takers.
DO YOU SMELL WHAT THE REICH IS COOKING? Are the writers getting worse at National Review Online, or am I just developing a more sensitive nose for their bullshit? I hadn't noticed Colleen Carroll Campbell before today. She seems the tritest sort of Anti-Sex League harpy, here celebrating a book for its stop-the-presses message that real life isn't like Sex and the City. Among her tendentia:
Among many Chicagoans, the researchers found marriage on the decline, polygamy and domestic violence on the rise, and "transactional" sexual relationships -- meaning those forged purely for pleasure -- replacing "relational" ones.
People having sex for pleasure? It's worse than we thought!
Perhaps most striking to feminists may be the revelation that, rather than empowering women, the rejection of traditional sexual mores seems to have limited their choices of committed partners and even endangered their welfare... So it seems that the feminist ideal of postponing marriage as long as possible leaves women with fewer choices for desirable mates, or any mate at all.
It suddenly hit me that all those imbecilic sound-bites uttered in the earliest days of women's lib by pandering comedians and flailing politicians ("Those bra-burning kooks -- half of them couldn't land a man anyway") are still good as gold to today's wingnuts, particularly of the female anti-feminist variety. The only major change is the addition of a sense of victimization -- the claim that millions of innocent women were compelled to lives of misery by Bella Abzug and Betty Friedan. It is quite a spectacle when high priestesses of the Church of Personal Responsibility throw themselves in front of the altar and cry I couldn't help myself! The feminists forced me to taste my own menstrual blood, and after that I just couldn't get enough transactional sex!

Also, is "EuroPress Review" by Denis Boyles a regular feature? If so, is it always as crazy as today's? Boyles speaks of "the pornography [the Washington Post] takes such pride in publishing." I thought at first he was talking about a new Calvin Klein photo spread, then realized he meant the Abu Ghraib pictures:
Publishing yet more photos of S&M excess does nothing but titillate and excite the passions. Out there someplace are a group of sad souls aching for more such leaks, because hitherto forbidden pleasures they bring. We call those people "the editorial board of the Washington Post."
Of course, a lot of people have been trying to wish Abu Ghraib into the cornfield, but this combination of righteous indignation and clinical insanity is a lulu even by their standards.

Obviously the plum gigs at NRO are at The Corner: low word-counts, proofreading optional, and readers do your research for you. From the straining evident in Campbell's and Boyes' columns, it would seem low-grade writers audition for those sinecures by seeing if they can make a stink that can be smelt all the way from NRO's ill-read back pages.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

SHORTER ROGER L. SIMON. Isn't it crazy how uncivil our discourse has become? By the way, my opponents are all idiots with a willful disregard for the obvious truth.

(The Shorter format was invented by... shit, I forget his name. Great American, anyway, and Busy Busy Busy currently handles the franchise.)
VIEW FROM THE RADICAL MUDDLE. The Crazy Jesus Lady reports (or completely makes up) an encounter with a possible swing voter. Like many in the throes of delirium, CJL's poetic sesibility is highly engaged: the swinger "lives in a $250,000 three-bedroom house in a neighborhood that never quite jelled aesthetically... and never quite jelled in human terms either, at least for her. She told me the neighbors seem nice but she doesn't really know them. Which is odd, as she's lived there 22 years... Years ago she still stopped by with a Pyrex dish of baked ziti when new people moved in, but not so much anymore."

Seeing no other point to this exposition, I can only assume CJL is presenting us here with a Dürer allegorical woodcut: where once pyrexed pasta and good fellowship reigned, now neighbors know not one another, as Satan prefers! The swinger lies on a fault-line between evil, rootless cosmopolitanism and sunny, hearty Americanism. CJL has described these two camps before, but with less metaphorical recourse, because her beloved Bush had just "won a war" and America was going the right way; but now even people she knows are tiring of the Leader, and it's time to stand out on streetcorners singing "Throw Out The Lifeline" and holding up lurid pictures of innocence bedazzled by the Dark Lord.

CJL warns us that she had taken no notes, that this is not, properly speaking, an interview, but no warning could prepare us adequately for the Molly Bloom of the Suburbs speechifying that follows:
But Clinton -- he was very smart and he had a great economy but he was a bum. Not just the sex but the money and the pardons and Hillary probably walked out of there with a couch on her head! Bush is a better person. He gets in and 9/11 comes and he handles it. He brought respect back. But he's always too eager to get involved in things. He pushes too much. He's pretty impetuous! It was good in Afghanistan, we got rid of those nuts. But Iraq -- I don't know. Iraq is very --w ho knows? Maybe it was too much. Maybe it was the right thing -- but now we've got this antiwar mess and it's 10 troops today and the Israelis and the Gaza strip and fighting and suicide and kids with backpacks and -- what a big mess.
Based on these ramblings, CJL offers the President advice, which is useless and need not concern us here, for, if there is any truth to the impression CJL has of her allegedly dear friend, then the candidates' logical response should be to visit the homes of such people and wave brightly-colored baubles, flash bright lights, march Barney out for a song, and otherwise employ tricks designed to win the childlike trust of the simple-minded.

But if (I say "if") voters are less moronic than this, Bush is fucked.
MEDIA CONSPIRACIES EXPOSED! In the manner of wolves instinctively amplifying one another's baleful howls, more wingnuts have joined Professor Reynolds in alerting America to the dangers of a free press. In the New York Post, General Ralph "Blood 'n' Guts" Peters lays full blame for our military's late, unprepossessing outcome in Fallujah on the goldurned media:
The media weren't reporting. They were taking sides. With our enemies. And our enemies won. Because, under media assault, we lost our will to fight on.
Old Blood 'n' Guts' explanation of this very serious charge is weak from the outset. He refers glancingly to "Al-Jazeera and the BBC," then describes some typical incendiary Al-Jazeera coverage, but says nothing of the BBC version. Seasoned analysts of propaganda will recognize that Peters invoked the Beeb simply to get it associated in the minds of feeble-minded readers (clearly a majority, this being the Post) with the ravings of the rogue Middle Eastern network. (The General also alludes to Al-Jazeera as "the Arab CNN," probably hoping that his readers will remember only that CNN was, in some manner, involved in this treason).

The General goes on:
The media is often referred to off-handedly as a strategic factor. But we still don't fully appreciate its fatal power. Conditioned by the relative objectivity and ultimate respect for facts of the U.S. media, we fail to understand that, even in Europe, the media has become little more than a tool of propaganda.

That propaganda is increasingly, viciously, mindlessly anti-American. When our forces engage in tactical combat, dishonest media reporting immediately creates a drag on the chain of command all the way up to the president.
A nice head-pat for the U.S. media, BTW, but I'm sure the General knows, as does his omnivorous publisher, that these days all media is global, and the charges he hurls at Paris today will soon find their way home.

The main issue, though, is: the media "creates a drag on the chain of command all the way up to the president" how? The General does not describe the means, which I'm sure we'd all find most interesting. By what magical effect did Dan Rather freeze George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld in their tracks? Did the sight of a wrecked convoy in the Hearld-Tribine actually cause the leaders and troops whom Peters has been journalistically tongue-bathing since the war began to suddenly shudder and throw down their arms?

Perhaps the General actually means that the perfidious networks physically used radio waves, in the manner of mad scientists in old horror movies, to disorient our troops. Imagine our fighting men clutching their helmets as curved lines of force radiate across the screen: "Foreign policy feeling... weak..." gasps the GI. "Feel... sudden compulsion to... negotiate a settlement..." While off behind a nearby sandhill, Bin Laden and Ted Turner cackle fiendishly and rub their hands.

I marvel that Peters, an ardent militarist who describes our soldiers in almost godlike terms, and our leaders, reflexively, as neo-Churchills, believes they can be hobbled, much less defeated, by the pictures on the TV.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

AROUND THE WEB.The Poor Man's recent design innovations are nice, but his FAQs for them are even better. Revel in them.

Also interested to see that Rick Brookhiser is still providing adult supervision at The Corner -- in this case, wearily reminding his intellectually pre-teen charges that there is a difference between F. Scott Fitzgerald and a John Held drawing. That he didn't also wade into the Derbyshire/Orwell thing shows that, despite his enthusiasm for the Iraq war, Brookhiser can identify some lost causes, at least.

SIMPLE, SIMON. Roger L. Simon asks:
Why didn't George Bush enlist Stephen Spielberg to help with Iraq? Because he's a Democrat?
No, because he's a fucking movie director. And the mess in Iraq isn't something you can fix with CGI.
INTERNET PORN. Michael Totten, everyone's favorite "liberal" Bush supporter, provides a link to a video of Nick Berg's head being chopped off. Well, I've seen bukkake and erotic vomit (whatever that's called) -- and yuk, but so what? Oh, but Totten's making a point -- our atrocities are not as bad as their atrocities! Keep that bar raised high, Mike!

This kind of shit reminds me of my dear old Mom responding to The Passion of the Christ: "See how much he took," she kept muttering. Mom, bless her, was reacting perfectly to what Mel Gibson was selling: look whatta mess they made of my boy! Which is exactly what Totten and his fellow travellers are up to: turning this alleged struggle for democracy into a blood feud. Those bastards done worse and (no matter what his pussy dad said) we gotta do worse to them!

I'm increasingly amazed by the faith of right-wing nuts in bloodkkake as a means of convincing the electorate.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

HM. How best to respond to Professor Reynolds' latest rhetorical question?
Freedom of the press, as it exists today (and didn't exist, really, until the 1960s) is unlikely to survive if a majority -- or even a large and angry minority -- of Americans comes to conclude that the press is untrustworthy and unpatriotic. How far are we from that point?

1.) You tell me.

2.) Shouldn't you edit this question for clarity, e.g.: "How long will a large and active minority allow freedom of the press to exist?" But, then, you're not an English professor, are you?

3.) Where did you get the idea that freedom of the press, as an inalienable right, is something to be "allowed"?

4.) Your notion that freedom of the press "didn't exist, really, until the 1960s" is novel. When may we expect your monograph on this theme?

5.) Fuck you, you stupid fucking hayseed fuck.
IDIOTS ABROAD. David Frum has visited Stockholm, which is a beautiful city. He thinks so too but, having a busy propagandist's brain, twists its elegance and grandeur into proof of Sweden's statist perfidy. The argument, such as it is, is hard to follow, but among the breadcrumby ideas Frum leaves for us are these:
The parkland in the central city likewise testifies to the power of monarchs: what is now a treed enclave of museums was once the headquarters of the royal Swedish navy; a few blocks away is the park that was once the garrison of the king’s household troops...

The shock of the Great Depression put an end to Sweden’s flirtation with what the Swedes call liberalism -- and they quickly reverted to older instincts: an all-powerful and highly centralized state.

And so today as in 1800, a grand aristocracy of career politicians, civil servants, and favored businesses benefit from the system: the prime minister lives in an 18th century palace compared to which 10 Downing Street looks like a cramped little rowhouse...
Perhaps Frum spent so much of his Washington tenure inside the White House that he didn't have time to run out front and similarly expostulate on the architectural subtext of the 132-room mansion surrounded by concrete battlements that serves as our own seat of executive power.

Or maybe he just has the same problem as Tacitus: it's tough to bloviate with a straight face about bad old Europe while you are enjoying its largesse, hospitality, and beauty. But (in the immortal words of Lorenzo St. DuBois) they try, oh, how they try!

Monday, May 17, 2004

...TRY, TRY AGAIN. OpinionJournal bard Mark Helprin doesn't like the way the war is going, so he suggests what he imagines to be a new approach:
We already have ceded part of Sunni Iraq: What remains is to pick a strongman, see him along, arrange a federation, hope for the best, remount the army, and retire, with or without Saudi permission, to the Saudi bases roughly equidistant to Damascus, Baghdad, and Riyadh.
Yeah, it worked so well the last time.
MEAN GIRLS. Professor Reynolds and his acolytes are in full splutter over somebody who writes about blogs in the Toronto Star. One should think they'd be grateful that anyone bothers to write about our little hobby -- which probably ranks in share-of-cultural-consciousness somewhere between spray-on hair and Ultimate Frisbee -- yet they snarl at columnist Antonia Zurbisias like dissed teenagers, both at Fort Insta ("Fat, drunk, and Canadian," "fool," etc) and in Zurbisias' in-box ("blousy," "fat and stupid," etc). Small wonder that many of these geniuses' retorts are weight-related -- considering that they find Anne Coulter toothsome, normally constituted women must look positively zaftig to them.

Among the annoyed is the madman Lileks, last noted here for tracking the source of our civilization's "rot" to Guy de Maupassant and dictionary editors. Today he re-adjusts his rot-detector and finds a new fountain of evil: Hunter S Thompson!
And it would be irrelevant if this same spirit didn't infect on whom Hunter S. had an immense influence. He's the guy who made nihilism hip. He's the guy who taught a generation that the only thing you should believe is this: don't trust anyone who believes anything. He's the patron saint of journalism, whether journalists know it or not.
Yes, many's the time I've read the metamphetamine-fueled ravings of R.W. Apple or George Will and detected the sinister hand of Thompson, Patron Saint of Journalists.

Speaking of ravings, Tacitus goes to Europe, seems to miss all the cathedrals and museums, and instead sees only statist ugliness caused by Social Democrats. And he's sure that waitress didn't like him because he's American. The cough syrup wears off and and he allows as how, "despite the griping, I like Europe, and come back at every opportunity" -- to remind the natives, as he does here, how we bailed their asses out in WWII, one supposes. This is in the perplexing tradition of conservatives like Bob Bartley and Ned Flanders who address their European "friends" with obvious and corrosive contempt, then wonder why Europeans don't like them.

For the most part this stuff is really beyond the realm of politics, and into that of abnormal pyschology. But I'm beginning to get the feeling that most of what passes for political discourse is that way these days.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

SATURDAY NIGHT MISCELLANY. Saw a couple movies recently. Charlie Kaufman's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is pretty good. The premise is terrific: given the chance to wipe a defunct love from your memory, would you abate your romantic torment by wiping it, or would you allow the experience to teach you something? Kaufman seems to assume that most of us, given the tech, would wipe. That's a canny observation, but he loads the deck too much by making the wipers such morons that they cannot articulate any sound philosophical reasons for doing it. Kaufman has guts, but lacks the dramatic training to acknowledge and exploit his own dialectic. Bad ideas exist for a reason, and the desire to deny experience, rather than work through it, has a lot of resonance these day. Why not give it a fair hearing? Making the wipers mere weed-addled cowards is just too easy.

(Also, wouldn't Jim Carrey wake up if Kirsten Dunst were jumping on his bed in her underwear? I know I would!)

There's still a lot to like. I admire that jealousy is a big idea in Kaufman's films. (The Farrelly Brothers are obesessed with it too; I think it's their saving grace.) I salute that he wants to explore big feelings. Even his hippie-trippy way of doing it (collapsing landscapes, ridiculous techonological McGuffins) is okay with me. But he really is too sloppy about it. If the movie followed its best instincts, Joel and Clementine would have stayed broken up. That's what romantic disappointment is really about -- not saving relationships, but improving survivors. That's why the quasi-reconciliation ending is such a drag, and probably why the studio put it on a shelf for so long.

Also saw Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes -- a total piece of shit, so weak and rambling and wasteful that it made me hate the Jarmusch movies I used to love, and I've been following him since Chang in a Void Moon. How dare he foist these feeble improvisations on paying customers? Even Iggy, Tom Waits, and Bill Murray look like patsies in this. Thank God for Taylor Mead and Bill Rice, who bring some much-needed dignity to the proceedings.

Fortunately I got some brain-balm from an old S.J. Perelman collection, Keep It Crisp. I've tried to enjoy SJP on the page before and failed; though his lines for Groucho are sublime ("Ah, I could dance with you till the cows come home -- better yet, I'll dance with the cows till you come home"), large blocks of his wordplay always seemed to me rather too much of a good thing before. But once you get into a rhythm with him he's wonderful, and not all the pleasures are from surface effects. Among the better items is an invented interview by a sweet young thing of a Broadway wise guy ("A Power Dive into the New Journalism"):

As soon as we were alone, Dexteride's air of reserve vanished. He mixed two ginger-ale highballs, adjusted the Venetian blind so that the sun wouldn't shine in my eyes while I was writing, and seated himself on the davenport by me. I told him our readers wanted to know what he was thinking about Tommy Manville these days. He frowned.

"Hats off to that question," he said seriously. "It's a good one. I'd say that Tommy is a man that is in the prime of his life at present." His eyes twinkled. "Funny thing about age. Now, I place you about eighteen years of age."

"I'll be twenty-three in March."

"Then I'm in the clear, he said, with a deep, full-throated chuckle that was thoroughly infectious. You knew instinctively that this warm, friendly man enjoyed simple things and people, and still there was a wholesome faith, almost akin to idealism, about him. Somehow I saw him standing at the right hand of King John on the Field of the Cloth of Gold as the Magna Carta was being signed. I asked him to outline his personal philosophy.

"I believe the day is coming when it will be possible to tell a person's age from his hands," he said. "I've made a study of the subject over the last few years. Take yours, for instance." To illustrate his theory, he gently manipulated my fingers, showing how excessive writing causes fatigue and how the soft cup of the palm acts as a cushion.

"As a matter of fact," he went on, "a girl with your type hands shouldn't be engaged in your particular type work. You ought to have a little spot of your own, which you could stick around all afternoon in merely a kimona and play with a little poodle or so"...

The inspiration is a certain style of magazine-writing from the War Years, but the gag is out of Restoration Comedy, or maybe Chaucer. Hats off to SJP!

Of course, if you want to survey the work of a vastly inferior modern author, you may read some of my latest here.

Friday, May 14, 2004

THE ANTI-ZENGERS. Boy, OpinionJournal is going absolutely batshit crazy these days. Their lead editorial today comes out against the fucking Red Cross. What's next -- a stinging rebuke to Santa Claus?
Pentagon critics are treating a leaked Red Cross assessment -- first reported in The Wall Street Journal last Friday -- as proof that detainee abuse was widespread in Iraq and that the military was unresponsive to complaints. After reading the report, we think the real story is the increasing politicization of this venerable humanitarian group.
Apparently OJ's mad because the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)'s report on our inhumane treatment of prisoners of war got leaked, and the Red Cross hasn't lied about it to preserve our torturers' anonymity. (It is strange, then, that OJ doesn't take a monent here to also chastise the Journal's reporters for disseminating this anti-disinformation to the public. Maybe even OJ writers get tired of being laughed at.)

The screed closes:
This ICRC behavior poses a serious risk to its relationship with governments around the world, as well as to its special status when there are future revisions of the Geneva Conventions. We hope that some adults inside the organization understand this, because the ICRC's self-inflicted demise would be a real loss for prisoners of regimes that are truly odious.
Nice little international organization ya got here. Be a shame if someone was ta undercut its credibility, if ya know what I mean!

Meanwhile another story in their Arts & Leisure section (you know, one of those dark alleys where conservatives dig through works of art for political talking points) talks about the "incendiary power" of photojournalism as if it were black magic or something. The author, Eric Gibson, approves government suppression of war photos ("Think only of the way that pictures and film footage," he shudders, "actually did turn public opinion against the Vietnam War"), and apprently takes from Abu Ghraib only one lesson ("besides the obvious moral one," he tosses off): that we better do something about that damned new technology -- "another photographic medium that would do the damage this time around: the digital image, snapped on a camera carried in the pocket of an enlisted man or woman and e-mailed across the ether."

OJ apparently finds chaste prom dresses Tony, and freedom of the press Tacky. You'd have to dig very deep to find "journalists" so deeply committed as these to the antithesis of every journalistic principle -- in fact, all the way to the other side of the world.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

LEARN TO READ. In defending the indefensible (i.e., himself), John Derbyshire aligns his brutal judgement on Abu Ghraib (i.e., torture all you want, just don’t include sex, consensual or otherwise) with Orwell:
One of the many things Orwell taught us (see, e.g., his essay on Kipling) is that the dirty work of civilization -- the work of policemen, prison guards, soldiers, interrogators of terrorist suspects -- is *dirty*. It's rough work, and won't always meet the standards of my and your personal lives. Someone is doing it on our behalf, though, right now -- not just in Baghdad, but in jails and police stations across America, and honesty compels us to acknowledge their work, and the much greater horrors it helps keep at bay.
I have no doubt Derbyshire is steeped in Kipling ("It’s ‘Tommy’ this, and ‘Tommy’ that, and ‘Tommy, wait outside’/But it’s ‘Special train for Atkins’ when the trooper’s on the tide," and all that), but his understanding of Orwell on Kipling seems poor, if this is the essay he’s talking about:
It is no use claiming, for instance, that when Kipling describes a British soldier beating a ‘nigger’ with a cleaning rod in order to get money out of him, he is acting merely as a reporter and does not necessarily approve what he describes. There is not the slightest sign anywhere in Kipling’s work that he disapproves of that kind of conduct -- on the contrary, there is a definite strain of sadism in him, over and above the brutality which a writer of that type has to have. Kipling is a jingo imperialist, he is morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting. It is better to start by admitting that, and then to try to find out why it is that he survives while the refined people who have sniggered at him seem to wear so badly.
And so on. Orwell’s appreciation of Kipling was real, but in defending him against the "refined people," he was certainly not defending Kipling’s enthusiasm for "Imperialism as a sort of forcible evangelizing" -- Orwell’s words, which Derbyshire would seem to take as an unequivocal endorsement.

Orwell was sensible of the difference between "the nineteenth-century imperialist outlook" – Kipling’s – "and the modern gangster outlook" -- represented by the Fascism at which England was then at war. Orwell seems to have preferred the former, at least in terms of moral clarity, but he was also well aware that "Kipling does not seem to realize, any more than the average soldier or colonial administrator, that an empire is primarily a money-making concern."

I think a lot of conservatives latch onto Orwell because he talks smack about liberals, and there is certainly an abundance of this in his Kipling essay. (Of course, they tend to elide the inconvenient fact of Orwell’s Socialism, and now that Christopher Hitchens has loosened his own grip of that banner, they generally prefer to get their Orwellism from him.) One would think, though, that moral absolutists such as they would not mistake the sharing of an annoyance with a commonality of interest – unless their only genuine interest is to talk smack about liberals, which seems to be the case.

THE CROSSROADS OF ART, COMMERCE, AND THE BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS. Snarkmarket has discovered what Maya Lin, creator of the exquisite Vietnam Memorial in Washington, has been up to lately: designing lawn furniture.

Well, time for me to get back to work...
WISH IT INTO THE CORNFIELD, PART #3,451. Andrew Sullivan reads the Times' coverage of the Berg execution, and doesn't like that Berg's family was interviewed -- or, rather, that they said some things that don't line up with the sort of "dulce est decorum est" horseshit in which Sullivan specializes, and the Times printed it:
The family of Nicholas E. Berg challenged American military officials on Wednesday, insisting that the man beheaded by Islamic terrorists in Iraq had earlier been in the custody of federal officials who should have done more to protect him...

The Iraqi police took Nicholas Berg, 26, into custody on March 24 and held him in a jail that he described in the message as managed by Iraqis with oversight from United States Military Police forces. He wrote that federal agents had questioned his reasons for being in Iraq, whether he had ever built a pipe bomb or had been in Iran.

"They can detain him and deny him his basic civil rights of a lawyer, a phone call or even a charge for 13 days, but they can't get him" on a plane, David Berg said.
"Yes, the family's understandable anger should be reported," concedes Sully. "But their anger should not dictate the entire gist of your story." See, it's not newsworthy that the family of the deceased is pissed at the U.S. Government -- or not propaganda-worthy, anyway. Axis of Evil, why we fight, stay the course -- that's journalism, by God!

Sullivan gets multiple unmitigated-gall points for following this up with a letter from his readership: "I just saw the Nick Berg video in its entirety... I really feel extremely bad for Nick's family. I wish I could give each one of them a big hug and say 'I love you' to them." Make sure you clamp a hand over their mouths when you hug them, buddy, or Sullivan might hear something he doesn't like.
SHORTER CRAZY JESUS LADY. New Jersey is becoming a place where politicians don't buckle under pressure from their bishops, and scientists use cloning to cure cancer. Give me the more soulful Jersey of insane, violent mobsters.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

SIMONIZING. Having told the world that any one of us would have tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib given the chance ("Who is that nitwit, most of us have been asking? Well, that nitwit is us"), Roger L. "I'm for gay rights" Simon opens the floor, and the usual grunting, roaring, and chest-beating ensues. Simon only deigns to interrupt when a poster named Tano points out, undeniably, that a lot of prominent conservatives have been quite okay with this inhuman behavior. This incenses his host, who chides:
...I don't respond to you for a simple reason. I have no interest in the terms liberal and conservative. They are junk terms to me, factually meaningless... Now some people call me a neocon, yet I vehemently favor gay marriage and stem cell research. It's all boring BS to me. I'm just interested in the facts of a situation. So the minutes a post begins with conservatives this or liberals that, I just skip it...
The perfidious labeller having been dismissed, a less chideworthy Simonite leaps into the fray:
I'm pretty tired of those Iraqis who only know how to whine, criticize, and complain, but never lift a finger to help. It's their future as well as ours that our troops are dying for. But whenever "their" people were maltreated or killed, they condemned the Americans, and rejoiced when the Americans were burnt and quartered. We grieve for our dead and wounded too, but we don't jump up and down when an Iraqi was killed... Don't Iraqis have responsibilities too?
An odd reaction, it would seem: chastising the Iraqis for getting all hot and bothered about an occupying army torturing their fellow citizens. But, brothers and sister, let us not paint this a "conservative" response, for in Simon's world, who's to say what's liberal and conservative? Or whether torture is anathema or just something we all might easily engage in, were we not busy with Hollywood screenplays? Let us cast aside meaningless labels, when all good men are agreed that Kerry was a pussy to serve in Vietnam and so must be kept from the Presidency.

I thought liberals were the ones that were all into moral relativism and shit. Ooops, but there I go again, using those tired old labels.

Monday, May 10, 2004

ALL IS WELL! INDEED! The torture thing really has Professor Reynolds working his Kevin-Bacon-in-Animal-House routine. Among his recent assertions indicating a paucity of locations toward which to run, and at which to hide:

  • People who draw our attention to this scandal are just trying to defeat America. You should ignore them.

  • We do stuff like this in our own prisons all the time -- though without the electrodes, dog attacks, simulated rape, etc. Or maybe we do have those things, too. But do I look like I care?

  • One of my buddies says I'm really prolific and another says I need a vacation, so I'm going to watch a stupid movie with my wife, and I'll go on about the flags in it and my wife will go on about how Jessica Alba isn't asking anyone for a government handout, no sir, and suddenly this Abu Whatchamacallit thing that has been disturbing my sleepy afternoons in the faculty lounge seems very far away.

JESUS IS JUST ALRIGHT. Owing to a bizarre set of circumstances, I viewed yesterday The Passion of the Christ. I've seen this thing alternately praised and damned as a phenomenon, but I have hardly seen it reviewed as a movie. That makes sense: the plot is a central narrative of a major religion, and the approach is personal rather than institutional -- more like Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew than King of Kings -- so it was bound to be controversial in terms that have little to do with aesthetics.

I'm not immune to this either. I could see that the craft aspects, including the acting, are all very fine, but outside of that I was aware throughout of the received experience that was coloring my reaction. If you were ever obliged to memorize the Stations of the Cross, as I was as a good Catholic boy, you're going to be pulled in by the story no matter what.

Gibson isn't just telling the story out of the book, though. He uses a couple of devices to interpret it for us. Some of these glosses I found lovely. After denying Jesus three times (and recalling, in flashback, Jesus' prediction of this), Peter has an episode of stunned shame that is very real and moving. And when Jesus has one of his falls on the way up the hill, Mary flashes back on Christ as a toddler, tumbling in the dust outside their home. It's as corny as Griffith and as effective.

There are also a lot of flashbacks that reflect Jesus' message of love and forgiveness, but these are overwhelmed by the behavior of the mob, the priests, and the Romans. Most of the action is about thoroughly unsympathetic people beating the living shit out of Jesus Christ. Popping in a little "love your enemies" here and there doesn't cut much ice when you're watching leering Centurions ripping the skin off the Son of God's back, or sneering priests mocking him as he agonizes on the Cross, all at length and in graphic detail.

In fact, the cumulative effect is that of a revenge fantasy: when Jesus dies and the earth cracks under the temple and the Romans all run away from the storm, there's only one moviegoer reaction that makes sense, and it isn't "Love Thy Neighbor" -- it's "Payback Time." (National Review's Michael Graham, attempting to refute charges of anti-Semitism against the film, wrote, "after the movie, I wanted to kick the crap out of a Roman." I wonder whether it occured to him how that might be taken in Rome.)

I suppose my opinion could be dismissed as that of a bleeding-heart crypto-Christian who is not down with the Church Militant mission of the filmmaker. You could dismiss all criticism in the same way, if the only point of works of art were to reenforce or refute prejudices, rather than to illuminate the human experience.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

(ALMOST) NO COMMENT. From the brilliant Margaret at Matters of Little Significance:
Read about John Negroponte, the man who is supposed to be US Ambassador to Iraq.

He is accused of sponsoring terrorism for supporting the Contra insurgency against the left wing Sandinistas, the first ever democratically elected government of Nicaragua. He is also accused of inciting Contra attacks on civilians.

He was confirmed by the senate on May 6: 95-3 with 2 not voting.

Kerry was one of the 2 who did not vote.

My senators, Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, both voted in favor.

It is incredible to me that with all that's going on, they still voted to make someone who is notorious for encouraging human rights abuses be ambassador to Iraq.
I hate to say so, but this episode has left me feeling a little Naderish.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

OK, SO I’M A PHILISTINE. I finally got to the Whitney Biennial last night. This was my third or fourth WB, and by far the one with the most polymers. I was too stupified to take notes, but I did get a few laughs. One guy pasted matted fur to animal skulls, one of which was attached to a skeletal structure made of plaster and detritus; little wire birds pulled from its guts lengths of Italian Christmas lights, perhaps signifying entrails. In another installation, pixelated clouds moved slowly across a blue screen while futuristic music of the kind Chris Sarandon played for Margaux Hemingway in Lipstick blared from a stereo. This was called Super Mario Clouds.

But in the main it was awful: a collection of goofy items, like a stylized Roman Centurion’s helmet with a fried egg stuck on it; a full-sized, glass-panelled dumpster packed with industrial waste (a towering rebuke to the notion that a good idea will make a good work of art); little rooms filled with lights or plaster dust. The time and money that one imagines was spent on these hideosities were nearly as wearying as their spectrally thin aesthetic effects.

The painting and drawing (with the exception of some ringer Hockneys) was even worse. Most, like Julie Mehretu’s palimpsests, are at first glance interesting, until you realize that whatever deeper mysteries they might reveal upon contemplation are bland and mechanical. One might as well be solving rebus puzzles.

assume astro vivid focus did a big, nice-looking room pasted over with old advertising and hi-life images. In an exhibition filled with renderings that at their best rise to the exalted heights of commercial illustration and interior design, this is at least crafty, and gives some extra seconds of pleasure. But it struck me that a.a.v.f. was taking the imagery at face value – that the whole thing was just a force multiplier for the original effects wrought by admen and graphic designers.

Film and photography were better. Slater Bradley had a nice short with Stephen Hawking’s voice-box thing on the soundtrack, expostulating on the universe, while a home-movie camera scanned the faces in a children’s choir. This made a better effect than the other children’s choir thing, with a skeleton conducting. (This was one of the multi-screen pieces, the idea of which seems to be that it is bad to indoctrinate kids; another filled a room with cow’s udders.) Chloe Piene showed a girl in a tank-top and panties splattered in mud, roaring; when I realized another girl wasn’t going to come in and wrestle with her, I lost interest.

The saddest commentary came from a tour guide explicating some crappy painting to her charges. In a sidebar she mentioned the recent Giorgio Armani show at the Guggenheim, and said, "We’ll see more of this kind of collaboration of art and commerce in the years to come."

Friday, May 07, 2004

WHY DOES VICTOR DAVIS HANSON HATE AMERICA SO MUCH? In the course of minimizing the Iraqi POW thing, Victor Davis Hanson characterizes the Western peoples thusly:

We are "plagued with attention-deficit problems." We are "affluent, leisured and consensual," which means that we are pussies about what other people think of us ("not so much worried about being convicted of being illiberal as having the charge even raised in the first place").

When confronted with graphic war images, the "Western suburbanite" will "change channels and head to the patio, mumbling either, 'How can we fight such barbarians' or ? better yet ? 'Why would we wish to?'"

And when faced with the grotesque spectacle of American servicemen torturing prisoners, instead of shrugging it off, the West "engages not merely in much needed self-critique and scrutiny, but reaches a feeding frenzy that evolves to outright cultural cannibalism."

He also compares our "institutionalized cowardice" unfavorably to the way things are done in, say, Russia. "They really don't care much if you hate them," he swoons. "They are likely to do some pretty scary things if you press them." Nonetheless he does acknowledge that "you wouldn't really wish to emigrate there for a teaching fellowship," which I guess means that we can't expect Hanson to pull a Coriolanus and lead the admirably bloodthirsty Russkies against the weak-kneed West, though the thought seems to tempt him.

When all the Abu Ghraib stuff first came out, I figured on the "Of course this is terrible, but [insert rank neocon absurdity here]" responses, and even the "Of course this is terrible, but it's all the liberals' fault" angle. But this "It's not terrible at all, you Westerners are like-a de woman" thing is more what I'd expect from a secondary villain in an Indiana Jones movies than from a pundit. Is this how far we've sunk? Oh, much lower than this, for sure, but let's not tempt the blues on such a sunny day...
HEARTS AND MINDS, PART 56,957. Oh sweet Jesus. Daniel Henninger says we aren't doing enough propaganda in the Arab world -- and that's why the recent unpleasantness at Abu Ghraib is making us look bad. As ever, he traces the problem back to the perfidious Clintons.

Anybody remember Charlotte Beers? Early in the War on Whatchamacallit, the former Chairman of the Ogilvy & Mather worldwide advertising agency was made an Undersecretary of State by the Bush Administration, and tasked and budgeted with the dissemination of pro-our side messages in Arabia. Beers left the government last year "for health reasons." A few months back she talked to advertising columnist Bob Garfield about her experiences, and here's some of the little that she said:
Nothing would be more dangerous than silence. It's like asking Tylenol to be very quiet when people found out there was poison inadvertently put into their Tylenol packages. They went immediately to the air and every phase of communication to talk about what they were going to do, how it would be handled, and they won a huge round with the consumer groups. We do have some policies that are not popular, and that doesn't mean necessarily that we can make those popular, but we can certainly engage on many other fronts...

The skill it takes to have a brand cross borders is to create a universal understanding, you know, maybe the love of a Coke and the party that goes with it, and so on. And the second thing was to always honor and respect the local customs. And so the lessons that we all had to learn as marketers, to earn the right to sell our brands in those countries is one the United States has to practice. I mean the first thing I did in the first year was bring in people from the private sector to conduct courses in that kind of communication which is about context, and also about the basics of branding, really.
All respect to Ms. Beers, a former client of mine, but does this sound like the kind of thinking that would make a dime's worth of difference in a region that regards us as an occupying force? Branding? A Tylenol scenario? Coca-Cola?

That kind of thing did work once, in the former Soviet Union. The aura of our plenty, our brands, our Levi's and Fords and Coca-Colas, had a powerful effect on people who felt themselves oppressed by their own government, not ours. But we're the Big Daddys now -- scrambling to convince a violently hostile region that our berserkers do not reflect our true intentions. Yet we have precious little Coke or unpoisoned Tylenol to offer as tokens of good faith.

No wonder Beers bailed. It's impossible to sell the sizzle without the steak.