Thursday, March 31, 2005

MOMENT OF SILENCE. Over the past few weeks I have criticized some commentators on the subject of Terri Schiavo. I only know their commentary; I don't know them.

Traditionally when someone dies we lay aside the cudgels for a moment and let the silence briefly unite us.
HEY RUBES. Ezra Klein:
So far as I can tell, from a fair number of visits and a large number of friends, the Chi-town/NY mystique is entirely an invention of hardship. Unable to compete with the massively enjoyable lifestyle offered by California, they've fallen back on some ephemeral claim to sophistication and worldliness (though, so far as I know, Chicago isn't very sophisticated, and nor is Brooklyn)...
I guess Ezra imagines Brooklyn as it was pictured in old Bugs Bunny cartoons (Sheeeee's the dawter of Rosie O'Grady/A regular old-fashioned goil...). Please tell him most of us no longer loiter the waterfront in bowlers and stained t-shirts, pitching pennies and wondering how Dem Bums would make out against the Jints at Ebbets Field. On the other hand, it is true that we do not have endless summers and a healthful disdain of "hardship," and so do not grow the kind of authors who need a constant supply of sunshine and weed to remain productive. So Brooklyn will probably never spawn a Tom Robbins, alas.

From the opposite end of the political spectrum, Virginia Postrel:
The professional intellectual could do a lot worse than Dallas, however. You could, for instance, be stuck in the provincial ghettos of New York or San Francisco. There you'd have lots of other writers to talk to. The newspaper would report publishing gossip as major business news. You'd go to book parties and free lectures. You'd know who was arguing with whom about what.

But unless you traveled a lot, you'd have no idea what the rest of American culture is like. Reporters in New York have called me up to ask about the business significance of Whole Foods Market and the cultural meaning of the Left Behind series -- both ancient news everywhere but The New York Times. New York is an intellectual cave, and San Francisco is even worse.
Whereas, says Postrel, in her beloved Dallas, "You'll know that this part of Red America throbs with ambition... You overhear sophisticated lunchtime conversations about logistics management and telecom configurations." God, think what I've been missing! It makes we want to hop a bus over to Jersey and hang out at an office park, to soak up the authentic American culture.

As a New York citizen of many years, my first reaction to these assaults, was, of course, fuck you. But as Charles Laughton said in Advise and Consent, I can affo'd to be charitable. Dallas and Cali have their own splendors and treasures, which I have enjoyed on visits. Still, it is marvelous that our little town continues to haunt their imaginations so.

UPDATE. As you might imagine, comments on this have been a joy. "As a citizen of Philadelphia (whose stepfather is from Brooklyn)," writes one correspondent, "I can say, Fuck New York, California, and Texas. :)" That I can get behind! Regional rivalries can be good fun at the jackass level. New York's okay if you like saxophones, said the pride of Los Angeles. Boston Sucks, bawls the T-shirt at a Bosstones concert in New York. This is at heart collegial; no one would bother to dis a band for being from...

... insert your town (which sucks) here.

SHORTER JIM LILEKS. I'm sure Christopher Hitchens would Choose Life like I do, if he would only listen to Hugh Hewitt.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

R.I.P., PAUL HENNING. The man behind The Beverly Hillbillies and (with Jay Sommers) Green Acres has died at age 93. Well, there's another giant of the 20th Century I'll never get to meet.

Hillbillies was a nice little show, for the most part Li'l Abner Lite, with unfailingly honorable, decent hill folk vs. deranged and greedy slickers. But in Milburn Drysdale's insane maneuverings (as when he tried to get Jethro out of the draft by dressing him as a Nazi) one detected a more maniacal gleam, which came fully out in Green Acres.

As I previously observed, Green Acres was genuine American surrealism: Oliver always refusing to accept the rubes' logic, and the rubes' logic always triumphing over -- well, logic. A pig, with the homely name Arnold Ziffel, is treated as if his gruntings were conversation -- and even prophecies. I remember with astonishment Eb dejectedly reporting that Arnold has predicted snow in July (an admission which, as Arnold only ever goes "oink oink," Eb could have easily evaded) -- and Eb's subsequent joy when it does snow in July, proving the pig right after all! This is the intersection of vaudeville and existentialism that interested Beckett, and you don't have to be an intellectual to enjoy it -- fun for the whole family, as they say. I nod in gratitude to the great man's shade.

GUY THING. Like many men with computers, I trawl the web late at night looking for the magic key that will unlock the secrets of poontang. In this evening's quest I found an article in the little-noted Citizen Journal called "Sex, Women, and Conservatism -- I" by one Dallas Claymore. Dallas! I thought, Like the cheerleaders! Yeeee-hawww! and, unloosening my pants, delved in:
For those who grew up in the seventies and eighties, it was a time when boys were expected to follow both the mandates of chivalry and equality. The result often was confusion. It is bewildering for a young man to make sense of how one should behave towards women when every public authority proclaims “Men and Women Are Equal” while these same public authorities rig the laws to favor women over men via affirmative action hiring practices, the creation of a sexual harassment industry, and the unjust treatment of husbands and fathers in divorce and custody courts.
This put me off a little: I somehow got laid in the aforementioned decades. Affirmative action didn't stop me none, no sir. Still, fueled by drink and desire, I pressed on:
The current situation can be depressing and disheartening, but my message to the reader is strictly one of hope. Certainly the culture has become toxic but that does not preclude us from exploiting it to our own advantage.
This piqued my interest; it had a more scholarly air than the usual MAKE WOMEN CUMM spam messages, yet its promise to reveal tools of sexual exploitation were right out of the old playbook! I fished into my trousers and read on:
In light of this, in the chapters that follow, I will identify and analyze many of the tank traps blocking our advancement and suggest the most efficient and least costly ways of getting around them. I certainly am not King Solomon, but I do regard some of my ideas as being valuable and applicable to others.
Yeeee-haw! I thought. Never mind that King Solomon shit -- the only thing I wants to split it that beaver! Yeeeee-haw! Lay on, MacClaymore!
I certainly was never a Don Juan and never will be... the only areas of life in which I outshined others were the result of study and effort.
Uh-Oh, I thought, Nerd alert! But then I thought: This might be the traditional, pathetic come-on -- I was a loser in high-school, girls laughed at me -- before the righteous pornographic reveal! Pants around my ankles, I read on:
Few achievements came naturally, but this is why I am able to convey worthwhile advice. The fact that I am not gorgeous, rich, or connected in any way to famous people is perhaps the reason why I have something legitimate to say about this topic. The mediocrities of my birth necessitated a need for me to pay attention... It’s no accident that Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells were not outstanding football players but turned out to be tremendous coaches because natural phenoms rarely have much of an understanding as to how challenging it is for the average person to perform their craft.
After some squinting and mumbling to myself, I rejoined enthusiastically: I get ya, buddy -- maybe some sorta Jamesian wound took you out of the game, but ya still know something the rest of us can use! I'm with ya, buddy! Preach it!
The freshman co-ed in the Womyn’s Studies ovular has been just as fooled as the manicured Metrosexual with Prada shoes at an Indigo Girls concert. They’re both unwittingly part of an experimental grouping within a sick study created by our social engineers.
YEAH, buddy! Them stupid kids with their fancy shoes don't know nothin'! Preach!
A woman responded to me that my stance was selfish. I countered, “Shouldn’t I be selfish about my own interests?”
Heh heh indeed! Let's do 68 -- you blow me and I'll owe ya one! Heh!
Just last month, I met a guy at the gym who sniffed, after a comment I made about a girl on the Stairmaster, that he “doesn’t look at women in the gym.” I gazed at him with the same bewilderment that I would if I encountered an Ocelot walking down the middle of Madison Street. Why would anyone want to avoid staring at girls in the gym?
Yeeee-haw! I got me the same response when I told this one funny-boy his woman looked like she could suck the chrome offen a tailpipe! Well, I also got my nose broken, but I'm sure Claymore got mystifying powers to prevent such calamities! Come on, Perfesser, let's get to the money-shot!
Lastly, there is the topic of “conservatism” which is part of my title and thank God for that. For one thing, it alerts readers that I may just reference God once in awhile in these pages and will not do so in a mystified or angry manner. For my enemies, this will be a goddessend, as it will allow them to paint me as a religious fanatic which fits in perfectly with their pre-primer understanding of those who are not politically correct.
Aw, shit, I likes to humiliate the ladies as much as the next feller, but damn, buddy, I been readin' all night an' you ain't got it tight! Now come on! Make with the pussy-juicin' secrets!
Finding women attractive is not a political statement. It’s a personal statement and, oftentimes, what is attractive to one of us is not attractive to another. We can live with that To us, the purely personal can remain personal. For this reason, this book could be appreciated by many men who are not conservative in the political sense but are old school types who revel in just being the way they are and despise having to pretend to be something they are not. That is why I ask all of you to join me in this impromptu tour of our milieu and insist that the rest of society tolerate our diversity.
What the motherfuck! WHERE BE THE MONEY SHOT! I spent twenty minutes readin' your come-on, and I ain't learned nothin' 'bout getting my wick dipped! Yuh gimme a stiffee but I lost it in a jiffy, thanks to your political bullshit! Cripes! Lemmee check the Bull Moose site -- they sound kinda manly.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

ONE OF SEVERAL NEXT-TO-LAST REFUGES OF A SCOUNDREL. One blessing of the Schiavo mishegas ("mishegas" being the new "kerfuffle," people! Recognize or I'll start using "yakahoola") is that it's been keeping our minds off the usual bullshit (albeit with new bullshit, but hey, change is our friend!). Wingnut mentions of Michael Moore alone have declined 47 percent in the past two weeks. But Hugh Hewitt had to spoil it with a type of "thought experiment" familiar to students of the genre.

Some of Hewitt's fellow-travelers (Jarvis, Sullivan et alia), afrighted by the circus in Pinellas Park, began to suggest that the Religious Right might be disembraining conservatism unduly. True-believing Hewitt probably knew that the hit was, if nothing else, well-timed, and thereby dangerous; he reached into his ordnance; not much there besides Jesus, and the enemy was just throwing that back at him, with contempt; finally his fingers found the anti-anti-Semitizer -- a sort of stink bomb that leaves a whiff of odium on an opponent's arguments in even the most irrelevant circumstances -- and, after a moment of doubt, Hewitt put it in the launcher:
It is a useful exercise to run through Jeff's piece and substitute "the Jews" for the "religious right" and all pronounces referring to the "religious right." Jeff is of course not anti-Semitic...
"Useful" indeed! I myself find it "useful" to re-state all the bad things said about me as if they were said about the Jews -- "The Jews have no sense of responsibility, they shit on everyone they love, the selfish bastards," "The Jews are a constant disappointment to their family," "The services of the Jews are no longer required," "I think the Jews and I should stop seeing each other," etc. It may not disprove my opponents' arguments, but it makes them look bad, at least in the little theatre of my mind. And, as we have seen, in extreme moments that may be good enough.

Monday, March 28, 2005

(CUE "DUELING BANJOS"). As a professional writer I am of two minds about the galloping ignorance of young people today. On the one hand, it may mean more work for me, as a growing number of Americans, including even corporate executives, struggle to compose simple sentences. On the other hand, it may hasten our national descent into a pre-verbal state, whereby all communication is achieved by grunts, clicks, quotations from The Simpsons and Seinfeld, and blasts of machine-gun fire; in such a society I am unlikely to thrive.

So I am also of two minds about this story from the nation's laboratory for insane bullshit, Florida (found via The Poor Man):
The Academic Freedom Bill of Rights, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, passed 8-to-2 despite strenuous objections from the only two Democrats on the committee...

While promoting the bill Tuesday, Baxley said a university education should be more than "one biased view by the professor, who as a dictator controls the classroom,” as part of "a misuse of their platform to indoctrinate the next generation with their own views"...

According to a legislative staff analysis of the bill, the law would give students who think their beliefs are not being respected legal standing to sue professors and universities.

“Some professors say, 'Evolution is a fact. I don’t want to hear about Intelligent Design (a creationist theory), and if you don’t like it, there’s the door,'” Baxley said, citing one example when he thought a student should sue...
I'm torn. Should I simply enjoy the joke, or start stockpiling guns, torches, and shiny beads that I may exchange for safe passage over the border?

SHORTER TONY BLANKLEY: I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about. (Data points include irrelevant citation of Socrates, inapposite quote from Alexander Pope, and "the ethical question of whether cyborgs should be permitted.")

UPDATE. While we're at it, SHORTER SUSAN KOENIG: Looking at my own Living Will is more research than I can be bothered to perform, but I think I gave the Virgin Mary power of attorney.

UPDATE II. Who will edit the editors? Kathryn J. Lopez's little Schiavo bleats -- meant to be ironic, one imagines -- reach apotheosis with this one: "SPARING ELK A PAINFUL DEATH: 'Five stranded elk shot; they faced slow starvation.'" Is KJL suggesting we shoot Schiavo with a hunting rifle, or fit the elk with feeding tubes? Try another draft, K-Lo.

Friday, March 25, 2005

THE PERFESSER MAKES AN OFFER. Reynolds boldy triangulates off Andrew Sullivan! It's a Sister Soulless moment! "If I were in charge of making the decision, I might well put the tube back and turn Terri Schiavo over to her family..." Can we pursuade him, Jesus fans? Keep hitting that tipjar! I think he's only a coupla iPods away from comin' to Jesus!

THE PRIZE WON AND RETIRED. I sometimes read movie reviews at National Review just to see how painfully they can twist works of popular art to suit their own ends. They've come down a long way since the days when John Simon actually reviewed films for them, instead of expostulating on their social paradigms.

But NRO will have to huff and puff a good deal more before they disgorge anything like this, from Paul Cella at Redstate:
But the whole drift of the film, aside from some occasional flashes, fails to give criticism the foundation and balance of philosophy – precisely because it fails to self-criticize. It sees with poignancy and even power the wounds sin inflicted in a lost age of man; but it cannot see what wounds sin is inflicting even now, in our own age...

The guns of tradition — strangely assembled, an eclectic mix no one could have predicted — have already begun to congregate, as Mary Eberstadt demonstrated in a brilliant piece examining the thematic roots of the more grim members of popular music, which often lie in seething anger at divorce. The fortress of sexual liberation is already doomed, though none can say with any certainty what will follow it...

As the University of Pennsylvania historian A. C. Kors one wrote, if you want to discover the most powerful objections to Christianity, look not to the haughty doyen of the modern age, the Darwinists and Nihilists and Rationalists; look instead to the sed contra objections of the great mediaeval Schoolmen.

What most marks the Modern Age is that thing from which the creed of the Cross recoils most sedulously...
Would you have ever guessed that this is from a meditation on the Julia Roberts weeper Mona Lisa Smile?

I get the feeling this guy would come up with the same thing if you showed him The Rules of the Game or Lola Montes. Or Space Jam. Or a blank screen.

SHORTER MICHAEL TOTTEN. The country is being run by irresponsible lunatics -- eactly as I expected when I voted for them!

ADDENDUM. I have been seeing some prominent Bushites (e.g. Young Curmudgeon and Balloon Juice) who are disgusted and even shaken in their faith by the Schiavo schmegegge. My instinct and custom has been to take such provisional repentances with a large grain of salt -- because in the hour of doubt, these questioning souls are usually visited by a demon who whispers, "But the liberals are weak on defense," bringing the penitent back more bellicosely wrong than before.

But let me presume a little good faith, if only as an exercise. As the clinical psychologists among you may recognize, my cynicism is partly a defense against my own urges, bred by years in Catholic schools, to enable auto-da-fes of my own. I will not join in calling conservative apostates to renounce Satan and all his works and come to Jesus, D.-Heaven. While in my weaker moments I imagine the emotionalism of our current politics being turned to liberal benefit, and how poetically just that would be, the bitter angels of my nature remind me that 'twas ever thus, that my own kind would also abuse the privileges pertaining thereunto, and I might turn into some sort of a Michael Totten, which would be a fitting if unspeakably cruel punishment.

Because when you gain votes by dispensing fear and resentment, you are creating and enabling a horde of addicts; they are almost certain to come for your wares again, but they will want more each time, and will be more desperate; and, when you show weakness, or run out of the sacred shit, they will turn on you without mercy.

Q. E. D.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

FREE TO BE YOU AND ME, AND TO GO SOMEWHERE ELSE FOR YOUR Ph.D. Before the release of an internal report on charges of student intimidation by wrongthinking Professors, Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger spoke the obvious, which, alas, apparently needed to be spoken. Per the NYT:
"We should not say that academic freedom means that there is no review within the university, no accountability, for the 'content' of our classes or our scholarship," he said. "There is a review, it does have consequences, and it does consider content"...

"The question is not whether a professor advocates a view," he said, "but whether the overall design of the class, and course, is to explore the full range of the complexity of the subject"...

While stressing that the university would not tolerate intimidation of students in the classroom, Mr. Bollinger stressed that "we will not punish professors -- or students -- for the speech or ideas they express as part of public debate and public issues"...

He also rejected the "academic bill of rights" proposed by David Horowitz, a conservative activist, that, he said, calls for a plurality of methodologies and perspectives in both hiring and curricula -- a proposal some state legislators are considering.

"We should not accept the idea that the remedy for lapses is to add more professors with different political points of view, as some would have us do," Mr. Bollinger said. "The notion of a balanced curriculum, in which students can, in effect, select and compensate for bias, sacrifices the essential norm of what we are supposed to be about in a university. It's like saying of doctors in a hospital that there should be more Republicans, or more Democrats. It also risks polarization of the university, where liberals take courses from liberal professionals and conservatives take conservatives classes."
The slap at Horowitz -- whose schemes for outside review of classroom content have, as I've said before, very unpleasant historical connotations -- is especially pleasing, but on the whole this should be unobjectionable to anyone who believes in academic freedom, not as a Constitutional matter, but as a vital component of Western Civilization.

Of course, that description may not be a good fit for the Ole Perfesser, who once suggested that the hate mail his readers wanted to send Nicholas De Genova might be more profitably sent to Bollinger, and even helpfully provided Bollinger's email address.

To repeat myself once again, students who do not like their Columbia education can always transfer to Liberty University. That's the free market in action, baby! I thought these guys believed in it.

POET VERY MAUDIT. Here's an amazing story: a Massachusetts murderer, apprehended after 20 years on the lam, had used his years of freedom to establish himself as a poet in Chicago.

What a cover! Norman Porter operated under the nom de plume J. J. Jameson -- which of course was the name of Spider-Man's boss, though I like to believe that it was meant, at least subconsciously, as an echo of Gulley Jimson. As described by friends and witnesses, Jameson seems to have found the transition from killer to poet rather natural: elder statesman of Chicago's poetry scene -- a garrulous curmudgeon, the guy with the exaggerated Maine accent shouting from the audience for others to "Shut up and read the [expletive] poem!"...

He would wear a summer-weight suit and a bow tie in July, a second-hand fedora tilted atop his head. He was the Bug House Square re-enactor, the artist-provocateur, the hand-to-mouth handyman...

...said David Gecic, a longtime friend who published a book of poetry written by Porter using the Jameson alias... "He was a great, caring guy -- occasionally very generous. His faults were drinking and extreme anger when he saw injustice."
Heckler, drunkard, dandy, hothead -- sounds like a lot of writers I know. Actually he sounds a little like me. Dust for prints!

The Chicago Poetry News, which recently made Jameson Poet of ther Month, has updated their page on him: "He has been one of Chicago's most beloved anti-war poets. And now we find out he's really NORMAN PORTER!!! He recently did a huge feature at Coffee Chicago despite having shoulder surgery a few days before; even Marc Smith showed up for that one..." That's one of the things I like about Chicawgo -- they take life in stride.

Funny old world.

DEATH-LOVERS. The Crazy Jesus Lady is crazier and Jesuser than ever in her current Schiavo article. I could fill my morning with close analysis of its absurdities, but for now I will content myself with this:
The pull-the-tube people say, "She must hate being brain-damaged." Well, yes, she must. (This line of argument presumes she is to some degree or in some way thinking or experiencing emotions.)
I haven't heard anyone say "she must hate being brain-damaged," have you? Neither has Google.

Maybe CJL heard something else and -- oh, let's be charitable -- reinterpreted it. I do believe that CJL has heard people lamenting Schiavo's state of demi-life, and shuddering aloud to imagine themselves trapped in such a state. I've certainly heard such sentiments, even from unexpected quarters. Perhaps the angels in her head whispered to CJL that such people just don't know what they're saying, to which CJL replied brightly, Well, let's just tell them what they're saying, then!

Interest in living wills has sharply increased in the wake of this sad affair. Online marketers have seen traffic generated by the phrase "living will" increase tremendously. I doubt very much that these people are looking for ways to keep their life systems going through years of a vegetative state.

I guess they're all "pro-death," in the words of the Crazy Jesus Lady. I look forwards to the conversations she'll now invent for the members of the Supreme Court.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

WE'RE NOT NUTS, YOU'RE NUTS. Howard Dean won't have any luck spreading Democratic gospel in red states, says Holman W. Jenkins Jr. in OpinionJournal's Political Diary (no link, sorry, it's a subscription service -- I found mine lining the bottom of a virtual birdcage), because of "blue Democrats whose angry-loser mentality keeps pulling the party back in the wrong direction." Here's Jenkins' anecdote:
Monday's special congressional hearing in Columbus on the presidential election in Ohio. Reps. Juanita Millender-McDonald of California and Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio repeatedly badgered Ohio's Republican (and black) Secretary of State Ken Blackwell over rulings made during the election campaign, with Ms. Tubbs Jones at one point suggesting he "haul butt" out of her sight when she didn't find his answers

A certain kind of blue Democrat is obsessed with the loss of Ohio by 118,000
votes, a source of psychic compensation for the fact that Democrats lost by three million votes nationally, lost ground with core constituencies like Hispanics and blacks, lost in the fastest-growing states and communities, lost in the suburbs and vast swaths of non-urban America.
This may be to Republicans a soothing analysis at this time, when their own party appears to be going bughouse. But the Ohio hearing, which would naturally be of interest to politicans who represent that jurisdiction, hardly seems representative of a national Democratic obsession; while the folks at truthout still smell a rat, one can comb the MSM -- which, let us remember, we are daily assured is a front for the Democratic Party -- and find remarkably few of its investigative resources devoted to the Ohio vote. In fact, the most high-profile quibble on the Ohio numbers has been that of Christopher Hitchens, and he was probably just trying to beef up his contrarian cred.

Each side has its grudges and resentments, but there is plenty going on right now to distract us from them. (Alas.)

I will add that, as Jenkins apparently considers it important enough to note that Blackwell is black, it seems odd that he failed to mention that Millender-McDonald and Tubbs Jones are, too. Oh, I forgot: we're supposed to be secret racists as well as nuts.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

CRAPWATCH. The stream of gibberish loosed by the Schiavo case has grown so torrential that to identify the single most stupid statement issued on the subject by a prominent columnist would seem prohibitively difficult. Nonetheless, I think we have a winner! Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Brendan Miniter:
It is said that tough cases make bad law, and that's why it was wise for Congress to legislate only on this specific case rather than "making law" for everyone.
Such a perfect storm of bad faith, outrageous assertion, and absurdly inapposite employment of cliche, made from so high a perch as the Wall Street Journal, rarely occurs, and should be noted. Bonus points for the maudlin references in the rest of the copy to the subject as "Terri," as if she were a personal acquaintance, or a Lakers basketball star.

Or have I missed a better example?

UPDATE. Commenter Steve has a good candidate in Andrew McCarthy, who thinks "someone" should be in handcuffs for countenancing the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube (but hasn't the balls to call for any specific individual's arrest -- or, for that matter, to make a citizen's arrest of his own). Bonus points to McCarthy, too, for figuring an Abu Ghraib angle. I think Miniter still wins for the celerity of his stupidity -- congratulating Congress for their restraint in this extraordinary case because they aren't "'making law' for everyone" packs a lot of foolishness in a single sentence.

UPDATE II. Another good candidate proposed: Meghan Cox Gurdon, who uses Lewis' Screwtape Letters as a point of departure -- and departs indeed, and promptly, from Lewis' art to the arid plains of Propagandaland. Here's a bit of Lewis' original; the writing is thoughtful and stylish (if a bit damp); above all Lewis details a specific, recognizable perspective and manner, and even seems to take pleasure in the masquerade, which makes Screwtape vivid and interesting. Gurdon is doing a parody, true; but then we ought to have jokes at least, and what she provides in their place ("The walls are hung with scarlet velvet; the temperature an agreeable Fahrenheit 911") wouldn't tickle a Bible camper. Her Screwtape acts less like a devil than the villain in a bad Bruce Willis movie, and before long we're getting the material Hell House gave a pass ("The Right to Die... devilishly clever"). If there is a hell, the hottest rooms should be reserved for perverters of art.

UPDATE III. In comments Jeremy asks if the statements of Tom DeLay qualify for our competition. As he also intuits, politicians are in a whole other league from pundits, though, as this weblog has shown, the pundits are fast gaining on them, and the Schiavo affair may yet prove to be their Super Bowl III.

Also cited is John Derbyshire's lonely stand at The Corner. I am less interested, though, in the yowling of his challengers than in Derb's steadfastness. I have had a lot of fun with Derbyshire over the years, so risible has been his reactionary posturing and dedication to the proposition that he is refreshingly "politically incorrect" when he is merely an asshole. But the stark madness that has overtaken Derbyshire's colleagues seems to have shaken him into awareness that he is a grown-up, and as such he is most required to keep his head when all about are losing theirs. Ditto Brookhiser, but I always knew he had it in him. (Perhaps I should have seen it in Derbyshire too; no one who loves Hank Williams can be all bad.)

As for Hugh Hewitt, Jesus Fucking Christ. Glenn is right: that patch of Hewitt weaving between anger that Schiavo could die, and anger that the teenage Minnesota shooter will not die (in part because he's already fucking dead), captures a certain type of moral philosophy at its worst.

But we have been at this a while; the matin draws nigh. I sense the barometric pressure dropping, and a soothing mist descending. Might we have seen the worst of this?

Monday, March 21, 2005

BRAIN DEAD. I recently talked to a fellow whose aged, infirm mother passed on last year. At one point the woman was hovering between life and death, and the doctors had a talk with her son: we can probably revive her, they said, but she will certainly be brain dead and unable to breathe on her own. No heroic measures were taken, and the woman died peacefully.

This sort of thing -- for those of our readers unacquainted with life as it is lived by actual human beings -- goes on all the time.

Of course, but for an accident of timing, hordes of imbeciles might have forced Congress into an extraordinary session to get the mother on a respirator, or denounced the son as a murderer, or explained that the moral superiority of persistent vegetative states was proven by their childhood reaction to a "Star Trek" episode.

At the moment the American people seem to recognize what a lot of bullshit this whole Schiavo case is. But what they think hardly matters. The Republicans, flush with power, know that they can get away with a lot right now, and so are quickly handing out candy to their most powerful interest groups. The banks and financial companies got their turn with the Bankruptcy Bill, the oil companies got theirs with ANWR; now the Jesus Freaks are getting some play.

In the meantime, in case I can't scrape the money together for a living will soon enough, allow me to state here that I don't want to be kept alive in a persistent vegetative state, and hope my friends will act to end my misery should it come to that. I only hope the madness of our age doesn't make my wishes too hard to honor, and that no politically-motivated busybody gets the chance to exult over my drooling, mindless body.

Friday, March 18, 2005

CULTURE WARRIORS, WANKER DIVISION.<CountFloydvoice>Hey, boys and girls, you like scaaaaary movies? Ow-wooooo! Well, we got a special treat for you today -- a sneak peek at the sequel to the super scarey movie The Ring! You know, with the little girl she comes out of the well and you play the video and you die and -- hoo, boy that was some scary stuff! Ow-wooooo! Here to scare you now is Thomas Hibbs of the National Review Online.</CountFloydvoice>:
The Ring Two brings these two themes together in Sissy Spacek’s character, who advises the confused Rachel, “Send it back…Be a good mother.” It is perhaps too much to see Spacek as a horror-world stand-in for the detached, Enlightenment rationalism of the pro-euthanasia philosopher, Peter Singer, although the best piece on Singer, Peter Berkowitz’s essay in The New Republic, bears the striking title “The Utilitarian Horrors of Peter Singer.” As poorly made as it is, the film nonetheless gets at the horrifying reality of such proposals in ways utilitarian logic never could.
<CountFloydvoice>What the -- Ow-wooooo! Wasn't that scaaaary, kids? Huh? All that utilitarianism and radical veganism... think of the effect on contemporary mores! Ow-wooooo! Okay, so maybe it wasn't scarey -- in fact it's kinda pedantic and stupid! But these people do this kind of stuff all the time -- take silly movies and turn them into pamphlets for their stupid cause and suck the life out of everything. Think about it -- they're like -- like zombie nerds -- hiding in cubicles waiting to grab a scarey movie and suck the life out of it! Ow-wooooo! Still not scarey, huh? Well, wait until you get a little older and they put you in work-camps, boys and girls! That's scarey! Ow-wooooooo!</CountFloydvoice>

GOOD READING ON GREAT CITIES. I am reading a few books about New Orleans for research purposes. One, Robert Tallent's Mardi Gras... As It Was, dates from the 40s. It is wonderfully crowded with fact and incident, and its slightly stiff, reportorial tone provides a lovely medium for the many outrages it describes:
...In Gallatin Street, for instance, where police would not venture even in the broadest daylight, the murders showed a remarkable increase on Mardi Gras, although there was always bloodshed and excitement in that vicinity. In Gallatin Street the inhabitants' costumes were very simple. Both men and women would wear masks for their dances, but they wore nothing else, except perhaps a gun or a knife strapped to a thigh or an armpit.

But Gallatin Street was a country garden compared with an uptown section on and around Girad Street known as the Swamp. It was a boast of the Swamp that not for twenty years had an officer of the law dared to set foot in the section, and that the half-dozen murders that occurred every week were never investigated, never even reported. Bodies were as a matter of custom left where they fell in the mud streets or on a saloon floor until the odors drove the inhabitants to toss them into the river. A man could obtain a drink, a woman, and a bed for the night for six cents in this neighborhood, although it was certain that if he had any other money on him it would be gone when he awoke in the morning -- if he awoke at all...
The other book is New Orleans Unmasqued, from the mid-80s by S. Frederick Starr, described on the dust jacket as "president of Oberlin College, a distinguished Russian scholar and an advisor on Soviet affairs"; the end-notes add that he is clarinetist for the Louisiana Repertory Jazz Ensemble, and also its founder. This is a more general and desultory homage to the city, and many of its meditations are just pure pleasure, particularly this one on the historical character of New Orleans men:
...In their dealings with one another they avoided face-to-face conflict, prefering behind-the-scenes negotiations wherever possible. Rather than offer a firm "No" to a ridiculous business proposition from an old friend, the standard method was to nod gravely and equivocably, waffle for a few weeks and then do nothing. Everyone understands... This kept the ranks intact, heaven knows, but it institutionalized weakness and dependence. And it made the gents sitting ducks for opportunists from elsewhere...

But those same men possess other attributes that are unknown to the macho crowd of hyperactive doers. They have the time of day for friendships. They are reserved, but hospitable to a fault. Being acutely aware of their own failings, they are quick to forgive the weaknesses of others. Their sense of humor is genuine and honed by constant exercise...

The rarity of this attitude in the mainstream of male American Babbittry shows once more that not all desirable ends in this life are compatible.
I've never been but I'd sure like to go. Till then reading is adventure enough.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

THE LAST OF THE REAGAN DEMOCRATS. I'm not sure what this Michele Catalano column is about. I have been able to identify two themes:

1.) The second Bush Administration disappoints her. "There are others out there like me... we feel used. We feel taken advantage of. We feel manipulated."

2.) But that doesn't mean she's a goddamn liberal. "...a flurry of clenched fists and righteous indignation, with calls for me to go out and start protesting (or something like that) to prove my regret... And this doesn’t mean that I’m going to suddenly sign up for the Democrat party and start carrying around No Blood For Oil placards."

The election was four months ago. At that time, her reaction was a long harangue at liberals ("You ran your own campaign, one filled to the brim with bile and acidic spittle and you wonder why you feel so black today?"). Later she wrote, "Just because a state is blue on a map, Ted [Rall], does not mean that we, the red zombies, are not here. We are. We exist. And for the next four years Horton the elephant is watching over us." Later she wrote, "How the Democrats, the left, the liberals, whatever they want to call themselves, have suddenly decided it's ok to pass around the jugs filled with smug hatred, to lick their lips as they drool the slobbering bigotry all over themselves, to become everything they always claimed they weren't." Later she wrote... well, you see how it goes.

I would like to be more sympathetic. I'm told we need to be reaching out. But I know that if the Democrats nominated Jesus Christ Almighty in 2008, and Jeb Bush's people told this woman that JCA is soft on terror and unfit for command, she'd fall for that, too. And blame us afterwards.
MINORITY REPORT. As the grey eminence of the blogosphere, I hate to be drawn into "fun" online events, but Majikthise, Norbizness, LG&M, and other worthies have listed their top films of the 1990s, and none of them has even mentioned the obvious crowning glory of that decade, and this bestirs me to join the young people, in their fancy discotheque with their bumptious music and flashing lights, and say my say.

I could talk about Happiness for hours, but I will only say here that though it travels disguised as an outrage, it is a morally serious film, indeed almost a moral pageant. Each of the characters is looking for some recognizable variant of happiness -- from cheap thrills to true love to the peace of the grave -- and each expects it from other people, who are of course unable to provide it. (They sometimes seem to provide it, but there's always a problem: one doesn't have the right looks, another is incapable of love, another has a corpse in her freezer, etc.) None of the characters thinks to find happiness within himself, but Timmy at least has a chance -- he learns to make himself cum! So, you see, it is really a life-affirming sex comedy, albeit one in which the hero's father rapes little boys.

I love Goodfellas, The Big Lebowski, The Sweet Hereafter, and many of the other contenders, but I insist this very odd film is at least as successful on its own terms as they are on theirs.
SHORTED CRAZY JESUS LADY. I only wrote 600 words, yet Jesus has blessed me with a 3,500-word story. Praise His Holy Name!
THE DEATH OF THE WEST. When critics say that radical professors have "a unique hostility toward Western traditional and commonsense attitudes," and that their "true raison d'etre is in practice nothing other than to destroy to destroy utterly whatever allegiance a young person might have to traditional conceptions in morality, religion, politics and culture," are they talking about this guy?
…I am especially pleased that the killing — and, yes, I am happy to call it a killing, a perfectly proper term for a perfectly proper act — was a slow throttling, and was preceded by a flogging…

…I like civilization, but some forms of savagery deserve to be met not just with cold, bloodless justice but with the deliberate infliction of pain, with cruel vengeance rather than with supposed humaneness or squeamishness.
These are the words of right-wing legal eagle Eugene Volokh, whose sadism is excited by the Iranian mullahs’ decidedly pre-Enlightenment idea of justice.

Though the guilty party – and I suppose his guilt is a settled matter, the Iranian courts being models of probity – was convicted of unspeakable crimes, you might expect a Professor of Law (Constitutional Law, at that!) to at least acknowledge that flogging, stabbing, and slow-throttling to death is definitely Cruel and Unusual Punishment. Professor Volokh does, but with a surprise twist!
I'm not an expert on the history of the clause, but my point is that the punishment is proper because it's cruel (i.e., because it involves the deliberate infliction of pain as part of the punishment), so it may well be unconstitutional. I would therefore endorse amending the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause to expressly exclude punishment for some sorts of mass murders.
His fellow tenured radical agrees. Well, Volokh was always comfortable with torture – I just didn’t know he considered it a desirable part of the criminal justice system of free nations.

This is about as anti-Western as you can get, but somehow I don’t think Feser, Horowitz, and all the other Canon-keepers will give Volkh a hard time. Because while they’re not above using Western Civ as a cover for their inquisitions, they really couldn’t give a shit about it. What do they care about? Hard to tell. I think it has to do with power, and perhaps pain.

UPDATE. Fixed links.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

OUR POST-LITERATE FUTURE. I've been having some fun with the whole stupid "protest babe" thing, but some people take it more seriously: Michael Totten shows a bunch of pictures of Lebanese protestors, pro- and anti-Syria, and says that the relative prettiness and happiness of the anti-Syrians' pictures "really do speak for themselves."

Of what do they speak for themselves? Totten's commenters explain:
What you see is the difference b between pure hearts and evil ones. The smile on an evil face can never be as refreshing ad one one a good face. Evil betrays itself for all to see.

...coercive people are almost always mean, angry, repressive, and they think it's all for the greater good...

Look at the faces in each group...A picture tells a thousand stories.
One group looks happy and free,
*******while the other,*********
with their faces covered, looks dark and violent, (why?)...

It almost looks like Men and Elves vs. Orcs from the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, doesn't it? Too bad that in many ways it is. Let's hope the outcome is the same, albeit with a lot less bloodshed.

...I'll go out on a limb and say the Syrian thugs look a heckuva lot like the anarchist punks who riot in the streets of San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland, all the way down to the flag-burning and masks.
In case you're thinking I'm tarring Totten with the imbecility of his guests, the last quote is from Totten himself.

The political issue is a non-issue. Can you show me an article by any prominent American writer, liberal or not, calling for Syria to crack down? Lebanon will get as much freedom as America finds it expedient to insist upon. Ask, if you have a Ouija board handy, Reagan, the hero of Beirut.

So why the photo-heavy posts? My guess is that the blog elite have decided that they have done all the recruiting they can from the literate classes, and that it is time to pitch a little lower. And so they run lots of posts showing cute Cedar Revolutionaries versus grim Assadists. We are in favor of happy people! the crude photo juxtapositions say. Join us! It is the "whiny liberals" theme that has served wingers well since the Age of Safire, but dumbed down for an audience increasingly disinclined to read anything, but trained by the electric shocks of mass media to respond affirmatively to pitchers of purty gurls.

In a few years -- maybe months -- I expect the sites of Totten, Reynolds et alia will be replaced by streaming media of the Parallax Corporation's training film.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

THE FUN NEVER STOPS WITH THE FUN FACTORY. Fresh from his bout with a rubber doll, Jonah Goldberg encounters another, but after a brief flail he shows a capacity to learn and gets his buddies to help him wrestle the rubber doll. After they have subdued the doll, Jonah gets some milk, which seems to calm him down.

Sometimes I think they're providing all this entertainment just for me.
STRAINED CREDULITY ON A BED OF PABLUM. Leon Kass, the Chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, seems to be working up a winger consortium devoted to outlawing some forms of genetic research, including cloning and stem cell variants. One might think that the President's Council was already such an organization, consulted as it has been by such as Charles "I'm Not Nuts, You're Nuts" Krauthammer and Robert P. "Unite Organically With Me, Baby" George, but apparently they weren't hardcore enough for Kass.

This has Iain Murray at Tech Central Station in full libertarian regalia, calling for Kass' resignation. As Murray usually defends Administration science policy, this must have been difficult for him, and it shows in the shuffling of his rhetorical feet as he explains himself: he is not for "objectivity," which is after all a word used by Rep. Henry Waxman, but for "procedural justice," which sounds like the same thing, only with an air of mystery wafted over it, as with Arlen Specter's invocation of Scottish Law.

But the kicker is that Murray says Kass' sin has been to defy the will of President Bush:
The merits of Dr. Kass's preferred policies are irrelevant here. The problem is that by hitching his star to a particular set of policies he has breached the trust set in him by the President, whose executive order creating the council asked it to "explore specific ethical and policy questions related to these developments; [and] to provide a forum for a national discussion of bioethical issues."
Does anyone on God's green earth believe that Bush would countenance even a Procedurally Just Council if there were any chance that it might come back with a full-speed-ahead on cloning etc.?

This reminds me of the popular invocations among this sort of Saudi Arabia as a nexus of Middle Eastern tyranny. Of course it is, but the notion of a Bush crackdown on the corrupt House of Saud is hilarious. Still we have guys like Cal Thomas citing "straight-talking Donald Rumsfeld" and Victor Davis Hanson as indicators that the Sauds are in our sights, and comparing the Wahhabi menace to the American Communist Party. One would think the Sauds were being propped up by Ted Kennedy. Yet as long as the Sauds keep the oil pumping, we have every reason to expect that figleaf elections will do to keep Saudi Arabia exempt from our invasions-for-democracy program, and in line for gentle treatment.

A Council that was a set-up from day one is said to have strayed from its original, procedurally-just charter; a tyranny to whom we are friendly is portrayed as a potential target. It makes my head spin just to read it -- I can only imagine what the effect of writing it must be.

Monday, March 14, 2005

DIPLOMACY, SCHIPLOMACY. For our new Undersec'y State for Public Diplomacy, Bush has hired family friend and flack Karen Hughes. The job had previously been held in this Administration by advertising giant Charlotte Beers, which seemed like a bold move at the time, but produced confusion and boondoggles. Beers was replaced by longtime GOP/Big Business insider Margaret Tutwiler, whose 2004 pitch to Congress for funds contains lots of wounded references to budget shortfalls, and uninspiring proposals such as "micro-scholarships" for Middle Eastern kids.

With the elevation of Ms. Hughes, the position has been officially demoted from "sinecure" to "something for a relative or pal who needs a leg up and wants to get home early on Fridays." And "mandate," apparently, means "we don't give a fuck."
"RIGHT" AGAIN. An odd conservative tic I've noticed over the years is their tendency to describe rights as quote-unquote "rights" -- e.g., "There is no end to the so-called rights which can be demanded," and "So-called rights of homosexuals really amount to a campaign to legitimize homosexuality," and "I have no sympathy for the so called 'rights' of terrorists or killers or those that plan it at all," etc.

This schtick is taken a little further than usual today by Arnold Ahlert, whose credentials for his New York Post column are a mystery to me -- maybe someone at the paper thought it would be neat to hire someone who looked like Jerry Della Femina after two years in a survivalist camp. In an article regarding the Atlanta escaped-defendant incident, Ahlert writes, "If reports out of Atlanta are accurate, the so-called 'rights' of an accused person to a 'fair and impartial trial' have passed the point of absurdity."

Yeah, what kind of rights freak thinks you have a so-called right to a 'fair and impartial trial'? That's not even in the Bill of So-Called 'Rights'!

How to explain Western jurisprudence to Arnold Ahlert? Well, Francis Gaffney, speaking at an OSCE Meeting in 2003, said it pretty well (and on behalf of the U.S. Government): "...citizens should be able to expect that their grievances against the state or other individuals or against organizations will be addressed impartially in a professionally competent judicial system. This is a bedrock principle of democracy. In the absence of rule of law and an independent judiciary, democracy cannot take root or flourish. All the guarantees of a constitution are set aside when citizens cannot be assured of the right to a fair and impartial trial."

The relationship of Ahlert's outburst to the alleged topic of his article is tenuous at best. If you want to read something smart about a killing spree, try Julia.

FUN WITH RETARDS. When I saw the first installment of Jonah Goldberg vs. Some Guy, I was perplexed, but by Jonah Goldberg vs. Some Guy II (Extended Remix), I was tickled, because I had hit upon the appropriate visualization of the colloquy: Goldberg in a dark room, wrestling feverishly and at length with a large rubber doll.

No one knows how Goldberg and the doll came into contact with one another -- perhaps Derbyshire had been using it to explain buggery to Kathryn J. Lopez, and left it in Goldberg's office as a gag. But it is clear that upon contact with the doll Goldberg panicked, and now flails so violently that he cannot tell that his assailant is of rubber and cloth, and poses no threat to him. To make matters worse, whenever it starts to dawn on Goldberg that his opponent is not really reciprocating the struggle in any meaningful way, the poor man inadvertently touches a button on the doll's head, causing a tiny speaker there to emit phrases like "that's not conservative" and "we'll be watching." Goldberg, his terror renewed, resumes flailing.

Actually the whole Corner is pretty hilarious this morning. We also have Rick Brookhiser harshing on Lucas and Spielberg, an obvious provocation in this nest of nerds. Brookhiser gets a little too into it, of course, and falls into that sinners-in-the-hands-of-an-angry-God mode to which culturecons are prone ("Junk on stilts... It was excrement you would not put in the compost..."). He argues that Lucas' and Spielberg's creations have been detriments to our culture, and uses the lofty examples of Keats and Shelley to, if not support, then sanctify his thinking ("Keats's and Shelley's imaginations did not match their talents or their intellects," sniff), and -- get ready for the punchline! -- ends by asking, "Thought experiment: post-Lucas, post-Spielberg: Could Lawrence of Arabia be made today?" Lawrence of fucking Arabia! Keats and Shelley aren't quite up to snuff -- now David Lean, he was a giant! In the immortal words of Edmond O'Brien, Jesus wept!

Some of the hilarity comes by proxy. One of the madder Cornerites, Stanley "Save the White Race Through Financial Ruin" Kurtz, sends us off to visit Harvey Mansfield, who is on about manliness and Teddy Roosevelt. Mansfield's man-thing starts with the assignment of political gender roles common among conservative testosteronologists like Mansfield: liberals have been "delivered... to the feminists," while conservatives "sneakily enjoy" TR's "political incorrectness." (What does Mansfield mean by that, I wonder -- perhaps TR's white supremacism? If so they have good reason to enjoy it "sneakily.") Also, "conservatives keep their admiration [for TR] under wraps because they fear the reaction of women should they celebrate his manliness." I guess those creatures we imagined to be female conservatives actually belong to some sort of Ladies' Auxiliary.

Having established his butch bonafides, Mansfield dives into the TR legacy, and what he comes up with does not bear close reading, but do get a load of this excerpt:
Reason is disdained by pragmatism as being prompted by the tender wish that things will somehow fit together on their own. Progress under pragmatism requires an addition of will-power, of manly assertiveness, to reason so that reason, in the form of science, does not construct a boring, peaceable civilization that appeals only to mollycoddles and fails to meet the ambition of humans who want dignity more than peace. The trouble is that the manliness needed to express confidence depends on doubt of reason, yet reason is the source of our confidence in better things to come. When you add manliness to reason so as to make reason more capable, you also subtract from the capability of reason. The danger to progress is that manliness, instead of endorsing reason, will get the better of reason.
I think I saw an early draft of this leaning in a corner of the Second Avenue F-train stop, along with some rags and other personal effects. Then, as now, it seemed a cry for help. Still, the image of a white-coated Professor Mansfield in his lab, painstakingly measuring out the appropriate amounts of Reason and Manliness to give his creature LIFE!, is at least as amusing as the others.

The whole world's a circus, Mike, if you know how to look at it.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

BIPARTISAN STATUS REPORT. In case you were wondering how that quest for support from Rush Limbaugh and National Review Online in the fight against the Bankruptcy Bill was going, here are my most recent findings:

NRO suggests (gingerly, and of course by proxy) that the Bill might be good for drug addicts (" a common practice of drug addicts, obtained credit cards from several department store chains... I'm completely sympathetic with the argument that this kind of irresponsible build up of debt is not the type of situation where the bankruptcy laws should be used for a 'fresh start'). I can find nothing else there about it at this writing, but keep hope alive!

Rush, insofar as I can determine without giving the scumbag subsciption money, is silent, though his home page informs me that ONLY THE RICH PAY TAXES so I'm guessing he has not rallied to our cause as of yet.

Mind you, this does not mean that a bipartisan blogospheric challenge will not soon strike terror into the hearts of the overwhelmingly Republican House of Representatives. After all, blogs have assisted in the defenestration of people like Trent Lott, Ward Churchill, and Dan Rather (unpopular already at the time of their demise, but that just shows we're in tune with the will of the people) and shown support for various Administration policies (see previous parenthetical phrase). What can we not accomplish? Nothing that has not already been endorsed by the powerful! A mighty fortress is our blog!
I LOST YOU AT THE MOVIES. I have been very inattentive, dear readers, for the past few days, and though there is much excitement afoot on subjects previously considered here, I would much rather talk about some 2004 movies I just now caught up with. Skip this post if you wish, and wait for the next purple-faced rage.

The Village. The trouble with coming late to all of M. Night Shamalamdingdong's movies and knowing how they end is that my attention is diverted entirely away from the whoa-nellie money shots, and toward the virtues of the storytelling and the concepts. I call that trouble because, in the case of Unbreakable, the story wasn't much, and in the case of The Sixth Sense, while I admired the skill employed, I kept giggling at all the scenes in which Bruce Willis spoke to the living -- it turned into parody in my little mental theatre: Oh, so ya won't talk, eh? Givin' me the silent treatment? Well, two can play at that game, sister! The existence of superheroes and supervillains, and of the dead among the living, don't do much for me, unless Tim Burton is working the former and Matsutaro Mizoguchi the latter.

It is kind of sad to see Oscar Winner Adrien Brody acting like an extra from Popeye, and the devices employed to make the Big Trick work (especially that labored language -- the repeated invocation of "medicines from the towns" made me think of The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe, in which the great poet grinds out masterpieces to keep his beloved Virginia supplied with "medicine and blankets") are kind of annoying. But the story moved, and blind Ivy Walker's quest and its attendant sufferings seemed to me much bigger and more meaningful than the conventions of the movie. The reveal at the end wasn't so much "ha ha, fooled you" as a pleasing coda to a modest but worthwhile theme.

Napoleon Dynamite. Greater hearts than mine love this thing. I came around at last, but with some misgivings. The style is pleasing, but not too different -- okay, not at all different -- from what we've seen in the hipper commercials of the day. Yeah, I like bright colors, negative space, and piquantly juxtaposed objects and/or people -- who doesn't? For a while it all looked like Wes Anderson lite, and Wes Anderson is pretty lite already. (Of course, as a former financial-aid preppy, I will always revere Rushmore as a sacred item.) I thought Rick Altergott's "Doofus" covered this ground better. Fuck, Napoleon's uncle was a direct ripoff of one of Stinkhair Stu’s buddies!

But I guess I'm getting soft, because when Napoleon found his bumbling way to coloness on his own terms, I melted. If the test is whether you care what happens to the characters -- and it is -- then this is a success (and, on the convincing evidence of the stupid epilogue provided with the DVD, a success despite itself).

The Manchurian Candidate. If you’ve seen and loved the Sinatra-Harvey-Lansbury version, this new take is almost comically wrong. Silence of the Lambs is lovely, and the idea of a new Demme thriller based on a famous 60s movie must have been an easy sell to backers, but festooning high-tech creepy-crawlies onto the witty old George Axelrod script is like sewing NASCAR decals onto a Coco Chanel original.

The Motorcycle Diaries. In 1952 two bright, attractive young men set out from Buenos Aires to explore South America on a motorcycle. Inevitably, one of them turns into Che Guevara. I almost do mean inevitably, because the character’s sensitivities, apparent by the end of the first half-hour, make his transformation believable, and the rest of the movie makes it real. In classic buddy-movie fashion (I’m thinking of Withnail & I more than Midnight Run here), Ernesto Guevara’s adventuresome accomplice Alberto provides the jam and the joie de vivre, but it’s the Che-to-be who gleans the insights from their journey and the ability to move on. All politics aside (despite the insistence of some Hollywood insiders), this is a beautiful, well-built coming-of-age story in which someone actually comes of age.

Well, that’s it for now. Back to the trenches, ¡hermanos!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

AU REVOIR, EAST VILLAGE USA. I saw some art this week: first, the new London and New York stuff at "Art Rock" in Rockefeller Center, and then the "East Village USA" show at the New Museum.

The Art Rock show I caught during the recent snowstorm. The installations were set up in doorless boxcars on the Plaza, except for Rob Fischer's Mirrored House (a, er, little house made of mirrored panels, one of which had been damaged, unintentionally for all I could tell). The Plaza and the boxcars were sparsely populated; the wooden ramps leading into the boxcars were dusted with snow and streaked with slush. Maybe crowding would have lent a festive air to the proceedings, as with The Gates. As it was, the art had to do all the uplifting, and failed dismally. Freezer cases housing concentric, colored neon tubing; an urban Yeti in a dark case with wreckage; a dumpster folded into a paper airplane shape, which, like the glass-plated dumpster I saw at the last Whitney Biennial, revealed nothing except how hard it is to make art out of a dumpster.

I left dispirited. But I looked forward to the New Museum show. I lived in that Village in that time, and, though I was not a painter or sculptor or graffitist, spent many Thursday nights living off the cheap wine and cheese freely available at their openings. I laughed to imagine people I knew staring out from the portraits, full of their lost, youthful glower.

I liked more of the individual artworks on display than I had expected. In the old days there was, Lord knows, a lot of crap, but this is a museum, so someone did some picking and choosing, and on the limited terms of the exhibition it paid off. The George Condo paintings had great flair; so did James Romberger's sketches -- I was sorry to see they used Wojnarowicz's feeble assemblages instead of the masterpieces James made of his writings, but those came a while after the period. I liked the Basquiats and Harings better than I did back in the day, and was grateful for the second look. The Jeserun and Nomi videos reminded me that even in the days when performance art was a terrible nuisance, sometimes a performer made you look up and smile. Even the Richard Kern film looked good to me.

But a lot of the work withered outside its original context. The graffitists' canvasses just sucked. A few small photos -- and a video of Wild Style -- gave some idea of how great their stuff looked in situ, boldy riding subway trains across the grey city skies. Screw conventional wisdom -- those things were beautiful and I miss them. But the paintings are self-conscious and emphasize the crudeness of the artists' ideas. You might as well invite your favorite loquacious bum to do a one-man show on Broadway, or hang your favorite sidewalk chalk artist's work at MOMA. Where they live they are powerful; in the gleam of gallery bulbs, their power crumbles.

Other works suffered a similar fate. The poesies by the outhouse are a piquant thing, a testament to the persistence of beauty. Pluck them and put them in a vase, and what have you got? Flowers that smell like shit. After a quick shock of recognition, the Kenny Scharf canvas was to me just a birth certificate for Drawn Together. The Tseng Kwong Chi photo said nothing except "I am Tseng Kwong Chi." The odd, aesthetically plausible pictures became mere worthies stuck among unworthies; after a while there was no show, to me, anymore -- just survivors and things that had not survived.

It was sad to be reminded that this time and this place were not so magical as the pixie-dust that accretes to my memory of them. Of course I had thought I knew this, but until someone turned on these spotlights the fact was escapable. Though, as I said, there was a better ratio of good to bad at the New Museum than I expected, if the work had been much worse and yet had delivered unto me the spirit of those times, when I ran those dangerous and garbage-strewn streets with a guitar case slung over my shoulder and a spray-painted leather jacket on my back, I would have laughed at the crap as heartily as I did then, spraying wine and cheese and flinching at the expected ejecting pinch of my shoulder, but I would have been happier. As it was I felt even worse about the Rockefeller Center show, and about every shitty show that now couples in my imagination like snowy boxcars from Back In The to the present Day.

CLAP YOUR HANDS FOR CAPTAIN HOOK! Just One Minute marvels that the Bankruptcy Bill is almost a done deal despite the opposition "of Atrios, Josh Marshall, Kevin Drum, the Daily Kos, Glenn Reynolds, Jane Galt, John Cole, and many more... what happened here?"

He explains that pro-Bill Congressmen were quick off the mark, while Atrios, Drum, and Marshall (and the New York Times!) were "caught napping." Presumably their complaints would have dispirited the mandate-rich Republicans had they been delivered earlier.

Democrats share blame for this Bill because some of them joined a rock-solid Republican majority in favor. Paul Krugman shares blame,too, because he made "phoney" arguments against the Bill -- intentionally, perhaps; JOM doesn't say.

Also, JOM finally allows, "money talks."

But there is hope:
The CW is that this bill can not be stopped in the House, but they only say that because it's never been done. Besides, an e-mail doesn't even cost 37 cents.

Folks who plan to fight on (don't rush me) ought to check something - where is Rush Limbaugh positioned on this bill? Could he be re-positioned?

And picking up the NRO could help...
Let us recap: to fight back the Bankruptcy Bill pushed through Congress by Democrats, the New York Times, and Paul Krugman, JOM proposes seeking the aid of Rush Limbaugh and National Review Online.

Maybe if we all gathered in the street with cute girls on our shoulders...

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

SHORTER ANN ALTHOUSE: I wonder how those tree-huggers around here would like it if we shot their cats.
SHORTER JONAH GOLDBERG: What you liberals see as our hypocrisy is rendered null and void by our religious exemption, activated by a professed awareness of original sin. So spare me your accusations -- see, they bounce right off! Focus rather on the Communists who pretend their bullet wounds were caused by someone trying to shoot them.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

BLOGOSPHERIC PRESSURE DROP. Chuck Schumer's been fighting hard, as mentioned here earlier, but the fortifications against the Bankruptcy Bill are crumbling:
Republicans pushed aside the final obstacle to passage Tuesday when they defeated an abortion-related amendment to the bankruptcy bill that had impeded it from becoming law in the past... The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., was voted down, 53-46.

In 2000, Schumer's amendment passed the Senate 80 to 17, with 35 Republicans voting in its favor. This time, only four Republicans backed the change. The dramatic turnaround on the abortion amendment reflected the Republican Senate gain of four seats in last year's elections, giving them 55 seats and a more conservative outlook...
Finally procedural delays against the Bill were ended by a 69-31 vote. 14 Democrats (including Republican favorite Joe Lieberman) joined the majority. Zero Republicans voted no.

The Perfesser's response is a reader's quote and an indeed:
It has occured to me that the bankruptcy bill (which I detest for the same reasons that you have mentioned) would be an interesting test of blogospheric power. Here's a situation where the Democrats are planning to make a major issue out of Bolton's appointment to the UN -- where is crime is merely speaking out loud what most Americans already feel about that place -- while rolling over to the corporate lobby on something most Americans would want some opposition to. If the blogosphere could mount an effective campaign for people to write to their senators, it would mark its emergence as a genuinely independent force in US politics.
The Perfesser's schtick is to talk, if not a good game, then at least a vaguely-populist, plausibly-deniable one -- and then, when the shit starts to fly, blame the only people who did anything to keep it from flying. He did it with gay marriage, even suggesting that Bush's fierce opposition would be good for it in the long run, albeit in a kind of "whee, I'm being counter-intuitive" sort of way.

He's doing it again now. And when the dunning notices and crushed hopes start tumbling out, he'll swing the camera around to some reporter who just got fired and hail the mighty power of the blogosphere. In-fucking-deed.
THE ELEPHANT, THE BLIND MAN SAID, IS VERY LIKE A RACE-KILLING SOCIALISTIC FALLACY. Well, with Stanley Kurtz providing the link, I sorta had a feeling this guy'd be trouble. Like classic Kurtz, Pavel Kohout is on about the withering white race, and how social security schemes are to blame.

But I stood up and took notice when Kohout quoted a citizen who recounts the declining standards of American middle-class life in the late 20th Century:
I am the son of a Pittsburgh steelworks worker. I was born at the end of the Second World War. I have three sisters. Our mother never went to work... yet they could afford to own a house, and our father used to buy a new car once every three or four years. My parents paid for my university education and bought me my first car when I was twenty. We were by all standards part of the middle class, and I was proud of my parents' achievement. (...) Today both my parents have to go to work in order to maintain a middle-class living standard, due to the increase in taxation that has occurred in the past half-century...
And I said, "Hell yeah! Of course the little guy used to get a bigger piece of the pie; unions (of the sort a "Pittsburgh steelworks worker" would know) were strong; America had enough money to accommodate them, and enough left over to keep making the best stuff in the world, and to make it available to a broad range of its citizens. And to help keep it all humming, the rich were heavily taxed.

"Now America is grotesquely in debt; we make crap and import everything; we work, man and wife, like dogs just to keep up; and the rich contribute hardly at all, on the theory that the freeing of their capital leads to 'economic growth' -- and there has indeed been growth in their pesonal and corporate budgets, real estate holdings, and general ability to escape economic responsibilities and leave them to everyone else. So the rest of us get less and less of the pie, and more and more of the bite."

Well, that's what it stirred in me. Here's what it stirred in Kohout:
The tax burden in the United Stated has indeed grown significantly over the past 50 years. The birth rate has been falling proportionately, although not to the critical level that is now current in Europe. The birth rate in the US is nearing the replacement level...
I am fast approaching the point where the expression "What planet are they from?" is no longer figurative.
THINGS ARE GETTING COYOTE UGLY! Pro-Assad forces are fighting back -- and with the blogosphere's own weapons!

Quick, Perfesser -- call the Suicide Girls!