Friday, September 29, 2006

IN PRAISE OF INVECTIVE. I've had the phrase incomplete in my head for years, but finally thought to search it online, and found the prize. From a 1983 New York Times article on "Literary Invective" by the late Walter Goodman -- almost certainly where I first saw it -- comes this ancient judgment by Horace Walpole on Samuel Johnson:
...prejudice and bigotry, and pride and presumption, and arrogance and pedantry are the hags that brew his ink.
Regular readers will know how I value le mot brutally juste, and this is about as good as English has to offer, though Goodman gives others:

Carlyle on Emerson: "a gap-toothed and hoary-headed ape ... who now in his dotage spits and chatters from a dirtier perch of his own finding and fouling."

Dr. Johnson on Lord Chesterfield's letters to his son: "They teach the morals of a whore and the manners of a dancing master."

And Mary McCarthy's famously palpable hit on Lillian Hellman, which inspires Goodman's essay: "Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'"

Ahhhh, that's good invective, or, to use the current term, snark. Top-shelf writing can be animated by any sort of passion, including contempt. Contempt can also animate the speed-rack stuff, of course. But what a difference in results between the high and the low! Bad angry writing leaves only a sulfurous match-stink, whereas the right combination of author and animus makes an incandescent glare. It burns off obfuscating details, revealing the underlying folly of its victim.

Take, for example, this immortal precis by H.L. Mencken of the speeches of Warren G. Harding:
He writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up to the topmost pinnacle of tosh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.
You needn't know Harding, specifically, to appreciate this, but if you have any experience at all of boosterish political prose, you will know how true this hits the mark. The confident opening pricks your ears. The metaphors suit both the blandness of the subject and the imbecilic vigor of the execution. The final decompounded words are sharp flamenco steps that tamp the dirt on the grave of the unfortunate subject. This is not mere insult. This is artistry enlisted in the service of spite; and, like all true artistry, it exalts its purpose.

Not everyone approves, of course. The Pajamas Media people recently held a playdate to consider "How Partisan Is Too Partisan?" Readers of PJM websites -- including those of frequent alicublog subjects Jeff Goldstein, Roger L. Simon, and of course the Ole Perfesser -- will be unamazed to hear that the difference between good and bad partisanship is, in the participants' estimation, roughly the difference between the party they support and the party they don't:
...there is a difference between "smart partisanship" and a much less attractive alternative that relies on invective rather than argument and employs the widespread use of insults and obscenities. This is a problem the left continues to struggle with given that the new media revolution (to use a pretentious phrase) has taken place almost entirely in the last five years under the tenure of George W. Bush and given voice to a core of the most active liberal partisans who A) believe he wasn't legitimately elected in the first place...
Etc. The ideological bias I can forgive -- we are all sinners, and that remains true even when we are reminded of it by ideologues. But that they can sit, study, and spew on the subject without recognizing (much less celebrating) the rich historical tradition of political invective confirms something I have long suspected: that they write as poorly as they do because they do not even know what good writing is.

Indeed, the few right-wing writers they sometimes have the nerve to celebrate for their skill are either logorrheic buffoons who compensate for their lack of style and substance with MLA gibberish and feeble absurdist tropes, or addlepated wordsmiths whose streams always proceed from, meander around, and return to the same tiny backyard pool of chlorinated cliches.

I cannot imagine such people would recognize a literary brickbat if it split their thick skulls -- in fact, having thrown many such, I can attest they would not.

Still. We are not here to deride -- at least not in the main -- but to celebrate. Let me know what invective has pleased you. The subject or the politics does not matter. If the slur is sure or the sneer sheer, share please. Let us give praise to the belittlers, and pet the rich coat of savage beastly speech. Let us exalt the humblers of the exalted.

UPDATE. Comments are especially good here, full of great quotes and observations. I was glad to see a ripe, contemporary denunciation of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. We all love the glorious Ninth, but one is forced to admit that the critic has a point, and if we honestly disagree we must, at least in our own minds, answer it. Sometimes harsh criticism provides shocks that are not just tittilating, but salutary as well: they force the mind to encounter a contradictory point of view (as with, say, Christopher Hitchens on Mother Teresa). There is much to recommend the more patient and polite kind of criticism, but when attitudes have hardened, the discussion can always use a swift kick in the ass.

It may be that there is more than one reason for all the shrill language in political blogs, and one may be that many of us have little faith that our opponents are listening to us, and that we are trying to get their attention, or someone's at least. That's not unprecedented. The Chernow biography of Hamilton I mentioned before, along with some commenters, reminds me that the pre- and (especially) post-Revolutionary American Press was often savage, and Hamilton himself did not disdain the employment of slander.

I should say now that I was unfairly hard on Lileks in this post. He is actually very good at word management, as his non-political writing shows, and his skills do not disappear when he lectures us traitors at the Bleat. But he cannot leave snark enough alone, and his creditable insults are usually cool raisins in an overbaked rage, which is why he can be so much fun to make fun of. Goldstein remains worthless on every level.

Musical and literary insults are mentioned in comments, as is Dorothy Parker's theatre criticism, but I feel duty-bound to add Diana Rigg's No Turn Unstoned, a collection of mostly British stage reviews that are hair-raisingly mean, and Michael Green's The Art of Coarse Acting, nominally a celebration of hammy, incompetent playing (one chapter heading: "How to Steal the Scene, Even Though Unconscious").

The Ole Perfesser: It's only foreigners -- I think -- who get tortured, so the real losers here are the Democrats, Andrew Sullivan, and, I guess, the poor schmucks who get tortured. Heh.

Ann Althouse: What? Do I approve of what? Tor-what? Wait, I want to make sure I have this right! Did you just say "Bush is evil and I'm a very stupid Bush-hating partisan"? I can't hear you, I'm doing eight different things while I talk to you! What? (hangs up)

Eugene Volokh: What? Do I approve of what? Torture? Oh, hell yes. I always have, domestic and foreign varieties. And don't let the boner fool you, I've given it a lot of thought.

The Anchoress: In the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, if George Bush likes it, how bad can it be?

The Bull Moose: America has always been unique in that it acknowledges the human rights of its enemies as well as those of its citizens. We gotta cut that out.

Jonah Goldberg. Oh, you don't like torture, but you don't like racial profiling either! Well, which is it? Because you can't have one without the other. Farrrrrrrrt.

Curiously, a lot of the more rabid brethren have had nothing yet to say on this topic, probably because they're too busy ejaculating.

Fairness demands I point out that our nemesis Rod Dreher has come out against the trend -- though I do see that his minders are starting to walk him back.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

GRATITUDE. Jim Lileks tells his readers where to find some guy he doesn't like. Scan the comments they've left for a rare glimpse into the mental state of his constituency. (Sample: "I guess you only favor the first amendment when it's your free speech. In the hood they'd call you a punk, maybe a bitch." Signed, "Anonymous.") If Lileks didn't post links to the bathroom, they'd all piss themselves.

This is my asshole way of thanking alicublog's own commenters, who have been doing great work here, especially in recent days. Whether or not it's a conscious attempt to make up for gaps in my own analysis, it often has that effect. Bravo.

Coffee break over. Everyone back on your heads!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

JESUS HATES YOU, PART 4,581. The last post drew some commenters upset with Democratic responses to Republican outrages, specifically in the current matter of state-sanctioned torture. "I'm somewhat reluctant to pile on the Democrats," says one such, "but I do wonder: if they won't stand up for Habeus Corpus, what the hell good are they?"

Hear, hear. Though I usually remove myself from the desolate business of politics on the ground, and do not take any interest in Democratic primaries unless Al Shapton is on the ballot, I will say that people realizing what a bunch of crap candidates their Parties' machines turn out is an unalloyed good.

The Republican variety never get this, of course. Rod Dreher recently had another of his fits about feckless Republicans and the mess they've made of things, but you know he'll always vote a straight GOP ticket -- he's as much as said so: "Is that what GOP leadership comes down to, in the end? They deserve to lose. They really do. But I don't think the country deserves the Democrats, at least not the Democrats we have now."

Regular readers of Dreher will wonder why he keeps turning from the light. 'Bortion, of course; "Given that the Democratic Party cannot be counted on ever to oppose the extermination of unborn life," says Dreher in another post, it's understandable how his co-religionist colleague simply cannot vote for Democrats, ever.

This is followed by the usual handwringing about the horrible things the Republicans are doing.

This is the sort of thing that, out of all reason, makes some Democrats think they can engage fundamentalist Christians in those areas which, their studies tell them, should make them attractive to fans of the man from Galilee. And no doubt there are some few devout souls out there who may find the party of torture, corporate greed, and Macacaism a bad fit with their sincere beliefs.

But for the real face of the energized Jesus people, I go with Dreher every time: crunchy, comfy, and, anytime the teeter-totter is poised between reason and ignorance, listing leeward with the yahoos. Let's look at some of his recent posts:

As you may have heard, a German opera company made sport of Mohammed, and got shut down. People with brains might in this case find common cause with the rabid Little Green Footballs in decrying this outrage. Dreher finally does, too, but only after a lengthy and instructive demurrer:
This jackass [director] was being deliberately provocative, and to what end? So many contemporary artists think nothing of defecating on the most deeply held religious beliefs of a very great number of people. In fact, it's seen as a mark of legitimacy in their circles. There is a nasty, spiteful part of me that takes pleasure in the squirming of these artists under such circumstances. I went to see Terrence McNally's blasphemous but ersatz and boring gay Jesus play "Corpus Christi" in NYC a few years ago, on assignment for the Weekly Standard, and saw hundreds of Christian protesters peacefully demonstrating outside the theater. McNally and his supporters thought they were being so brave. One wonders what they'd do if they had to worry about Christians being as demonstrative about blasphemy as they do about Muslims. A vicious little part of me likes to see them squirm. I have to confess this.
Then he says he knows it's wrong, terribly wrong, in the manner of Mr. Davidson in Somerset Maugham's Rain. I gasp; I understand.

But an hour later, Dreher is less equivocal about Muslim shopkeepers in Brooklyn who won't sell beer -- and Christian pharmacists who won't sell birth control:
I have to admit that I admire these guys for making a stand that costs them money, for the sake of honoring their religion. Though I would be deeply annoyed if I lived in their neighborhood and wanted to buy a six-pack. Do you see any kind of parallel in principle between these men refusing for reasons of conscience to sell beer, and the Christian pro-life pharmacists?
Then, another brief, watery on-the-other-hand.

Let us be clear. For all his granola idiosyncrasies, Dreher is typical in his belief that worship of Jesus is largely about hatred of free-thinkers, beer-drinkers, non-procreative-sex-havers, etc. He tags his rants with little beg-offs because he knows the time is not yet right, but looks forward to the day when he won't have to, as any good millenarian must. His is not a God of Love but a God of Wrath, and he is very sure against whom that Wrath is directed.

It is all well and good to show fundamentalist Christians the ginormous disconnect between the teachings of their professed Savior and the actions of the Party to which their votes reliably go, but I would suggest Democrats go hunting where the ducks are: that is, among the large number of citizens who may not be enlightened, but who are not stark staring mad either.

UPDATE. Speaking of that opera, is there any subject that is not debased by the input of Ann Althouse?
Now that some Muslims have made it painfully obvious that religion-taunting is not an easy game anymore, abandoning it expresses fear, not respect for religion. And continuing to disrespect the religions that don't lash back only highlights that cowardice. Poor transgressive rebel artists! How are they to shock the middle class anymore?
As someone who has taken the lead in anti-Mohammedian blasphemy, I have to say, fuck you and your stupid Bible, Professor. Go watch some more "Project Runway."
THE PUNCH LINE. Remember The Anchoress, who just this past week called Bill Clinton's mom a whore ("If you know nothing else about Bill Clinton than the fact that he grew up sort of 'between fathers,' with a somewhat colorful and flamboyant mother...")? And who spends a lot of her time telling us that liberals want to assassinate Bush, are fascists ("I never wanted to use the word 'fascism' for the troubling conformity of mind and manner which was driving me from the left... But..."), and constitute a "Cult of Malevolent Mendacity," etc, etc, etc?

Guess what her new post is about?

Come on, you'll never guess. Unless you've been following this blog for a while and recognize that this kind of profound self-unawareness is one of our favorite topics.

UPDATE. Blogger's on the fritz, comments may be eaten.
BUBBLE BOY. Finally saw The Aviator. It's sort of Citizen Kane with the greatness left out.

Our troubled, Promethean hero in this case is Howard Hughes, with a mania for perfection instead of a mania for acquisition, and a manic-compulsive disorder instead of Rosebud. His wound and his bow, so to speak, are a matched pair, and the movie does a pretty good job of showing us that, aided by a very good performance by DiCaprio, who makes clear that Hughes' demented impulses proceed from the same well as his creative ones.

The images in The Aviator are dazzling, and there are some passages in which the story really breathes -- as when Hughes takes that other magnificent monster, Kate Hepburn, up in his flying machine, and for a few minutes seems to really believe that he might have something in common with another human being.

But that inevitably collapses for Howard, and soon we are just watching him grow more monstrous and more magnificent by turns. It seems clinical, less like a story than a case study.

There are some reasons I can identify. For one thing, there is a prologue in which we learn how Hughes got all fucked up: black soap, coloreds, quarantine. It lasts a few minutes. I think Scorsese's instinct was that audiences would need an explanation, but a long, belabored explanation would have been superfluous. He's right in a way: Welles himself dismissed Rosebud as "dollar-book Freud." But Welles chose to make a mystery out of Rosebud anyway and left it for the end to reveal.

Maybe mystery has its own meaning in Kane: the thing you keep looking for that will sort everything out, an obsession that the audience and the hero can share. In the end, Rosebud is revealed to be a cheat. But (in my experience and probably yours) the viewer does not feel cheated, because we know by then that we have at least seen Kane in a way that he could not; Kane himself has suffered the cheat. His sled, along with his acres of other possessions, rises into black smoke like Cain's (!) refused sacrifice.

He was some kind of man. What does it matter what you say about people? We can follow Welles' obsessions throughout his career. For years Scorsese seemed to be on a course like that. His characters were all blindly struggling toward transcendence without knowing how, grabbing whatever was at hand, acting against their own evident interests because something they couldn't name was out there that they had to have. His greatest hero was Jake LaMotta, a man incoherent on every level -- verbal, emotional, spiritual -- who knew nothing but fighting, couldn't learn anything else, and wore himself down against the world.

Hughes follows that template, but to less avail. He's no less helpless than LaMotta, and Scorsese's craft is, if anything, improved. What's missing? Maybe the stakes -- not Hughes' or LaMotta's, but Scorsese's. In GoodFellas you can see it happening: brilliant as it is, you can tell that these monsters are not transcendent, but merely monstrous. That's the point, and that's why for all its gore it's so funny. But by Casino I found myself wondering something I'd never wondered with Scorsese before: Why did he make this? And why am I watching it? The final shot of DeNiro's exhausted countenance seemed like the end of more than a movie. It gave me the same feeling some of the late Sopranos episodes have given me: that the author was as sick of these people as I was.

In the years since then, Scorsese has been very active. He's a player in Hollywood, and can get big pictures made. His technique just gets better, and his energy remains high. Still, I remember when one of my favorite things about New York was that I got to see every new Scorsese movie opening day. That I no longer feel that way may have much more to do with me than with him, but I felt that way about Kubrick till the day he died. It had less to do with technical brilliance than with my faith that he still had mysteries to reveal. Nobody much likes Eyes Wide Shut, but it lingers in my memory: the boundless interiors and the claustrophobic exteriors; the half-comical, half-pathetic Tom Cruise (cannily used, like Ryan O'Neal in Barry Lyndon, for his weaknesses as much as his strengths) assuring everyone, "It's all right, I'm a doctor"; the scene at the pool table in which Sydney Pollack blandly tells -- invents? -- what has really been happening all along. A man who thinks he has lost something important, and finds that he has no idea what it means to really lose; a movie more about class than sex. It means more to me than The Aviator already.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

STOP THE PRESSES. In the Biggest Nut at The Corner competition, newcomer Mario Loyola is coming on strong:
One sentence in the original Times story needs particular explaining:
The report "says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse," said one American intelligence official.
Having served in the national-security establishment, I cannot imagine having said any such thing to a reporter except in deathly fear that I might spend the next ten years in jail, even if the Times came to me with the NIE in hand rather than the other way around...
"Loyola, the Iraq War is a total disaster. Don't let this get around!"

"Sí, mi General!"

Actually, given his other writings, it may be that Loyola has been given such an order. A day late and a dollar short, though.
SHORTER THE ANCHORESS: Bill Clinton hates Saint W because his mother was a whore.

UPDATE. The whole post is an embarrassment of... well, it's just an embarrassment. My favorite bit: The Anchoress' precious "memories" of Clinton, packed full of such image analysis as would shame a semiotician, and including the mysterious phrase, "...I never 'loved' Bill Clinton more than I did when gazing at that picture..." The Anchoress' quote unquote love could melt steel at thirty paces.

Monday, September 25, 2006

ECONOMICS MADE EASY. A conservative idea du jour -- that our declining wages don't matter because we have iPods and Starbucks -- is, unbelievably, made even stupider by the folks at Asymmetrical Information. Jane Galt:
But let's say we could find someone who makes $29,931 today, and remembers the 1970's. Do you think that if you offered to send him back to 1973, with 4% more than the 1973 median income, he'd take you up on the deal?...

Personally, I wouldn't take the deal... and not just because I'd be the one stuck at home trying to make the Harvest Gold drapes match the new Avocado refrigerator. 1973 means no internet. No cell phones. No cheap air travel to exotic foreign climes...
The mind reels. Do these people really think that, if we want our wages to go up -- as Americans used to be able to expect -- it also means that we want to go backward in time and disdain modern conveniences? Apparently -- here's Galt's colleague Winterspeak:
It's hard to take dour, left-wing academics seriously when the moan about how little things have improved for the common man while they pull links, citations, and documents from all over the planet electronically, and then post their thoughts to an audience of thousands, again all over the planet, without leaving their desks, with a technology that's cheap as chips today, and could not be found anywhere a decade ago. The truth is we live in an age of Wonders.
Grumpy liberals want you to live like 70s cavemen! If it were up to them, you wouldn't have Grand Theft Auto. So shut up and work, drone!

Neither Galt nor Winterspeak name the mechanism of action by which we trade purchasing power for mod cons. Maybe there's a Star Chamber of Commerce that decrees things like, "Allow us lay off 10,000 auto workers and make everyone in those communities work at McDonald's, and you can have Clarinex and flat-screen TVs."

More likely, they haven't thought of how it might work, but decided that a positive-sounding message was all the explanation anyone would ever need. This is America, after all, where no one likes a Gloomy Gus or a Negative Noam.

If it takes, I can imagine how their intellectual method will roll out all over the right-wing world:

"Thirty American troops were blown up in Baghdad today! We have to do something!" "Look at that sky! It's a beautiful, sun-shiney day. I suppose you want go back to before the invasion, when there were occasional showers?"


"The new Green Day album sucks. This is what happens when you block Social Security reform."
BESIDES, ANYTHING THAT GETS PEOPLE INTERESTED IN READING AGAIN HAS GOT TO BE GOOD. I just read the transcript of the Chavez U.N. speech. Why is everyone so bent out of shape about it? Chavez has been widely slurred as a madman, but compared to, for example, the average Ralph Peters column, Chavez's speech was a model of sweet reason.

Chavez' job was to represent his country's interests, and he did so capably. (I'm too much of a cynic to expect any traction for his utopian schemes, but you can't fault the guy for trying.) It is quite natural that Chavez would wish to "re-establish" the United Nations on a basis more favorable to Venezuela. And it is the opposite of crazy to be mistrustful toward the superpower responsible for so much mischief in his region. It may have been impolitic of Chavez to publicly express that lack of trust, though I suspect that Chavez' target audience enjoys that sort of thing at least as much as our local fist-shakers and finger-waggers despise it.

Which, come to think of it, may be what's got those fist-shakers and finger-waggers so upset. Chavez' talk of "dawn breaking out all over" is certainly over-optimistic, but there are a lot of countries out there with whom he can make common cause, since the United States has been, through the fecklessness of its current Administration, pissing off the world.

The recent blog-world revival of the term "Anglosphere" is mainly due to the fact that Australia and Great Britain are about the only significant allies that we have left -- or, rather, the only ones our right-wingers feel comfortable around (as exemplified by this Wizbang post, which uses the phrase "The White Man's Burden" without apparent irony).

Other forces looking for diplomatic and economic hookups will naturally see great opportunity in our trail of broken hearts. Fortunately, the "Axis of Evil" has been very bad at taking advantage, but we know (despite this Administration's continual insistence) that the world community is not divided between Good and Evil, but into constituencies of mutual interest. If Europe can Unionize, why can't Latin America communalize?

This state of affairs is certainly much more dangerous to our country than a few insults from Hugo Chavez, and it is also dangerous for our political class to acknowledge, so they firehose abuse at him, in hopes its force will push back any questions and misgivings that may be drifting in their direction.

UPDATE. Previously eaten post restored. Thanks, Matty!
SHORTER ANN ALTHOUSE: Michael Moore Bill Clinton is fat.

Friday, September 22, 2006

HERE'S YOUR HALO, WHAT'S YOUR HURRY? Crunchy Rod Dreher goes on and on again about the Devil in the moving pictures (in this case, the animated feature Open Season). Blah blah. But toward the end my ears perked:
"But we can't withdraw, we have to engage the culture!" an Evangelical friend said to me today. Yeah, sometimes. But I tell you, I'm glad that Noah didn't decide to stick around and engage the culture when the rain got heavy, and instead climbed aboard his ark and pulled up the gangplank.
It is always a pleasure to say goodbye to Dreher. After his career-building tenure here in Sodom on the Hudson, he said so long heathens, I'm off to the promised land -- Dallas!

Of course he got to Dallas and began bitching that it wasn't Crunchy enough. At first I thought he meant they didn't have enough high-grade mashed yeast and bulghur to suit his refined palate, and the houses weren't purty-lahk. But now it's looking as if no place in America will be good enough for him, blighted as it all is with Kultursmog.

To what redoubt will the Drehers repair? I like to imagine them building a space ark and zooming to Mars, confident that, despite the lack of breathable atmosphere, the Good Lord will sustain them. Or going to some Middle Eastern shithole where the general hostility to ungodly conduct, Western pleasures, and women's rights will more than make up the necessity to call Jesus "Allah" in public.

Maybe we'll just find them in their bunker, their bodies sprawled among the sacks of brown rice.

UPDATE. Oh, the comments are a joy, too. "Giving up football would be my equivalent to heading to the hills, and I might have to do so," says marko, because of the "the interspersed advertisements for the network’s amoral reality shows, immoral sit-coms and despicable dramas." marko also "go[es] through the Sunday comics with a Sharpie before turning them over to my 11-year-old." I wonder what the Righteous would make of Daisy Mae Yokum? She's empty out their pens in a hurry, I'll bet.

Best, though, is Rod hisself:
My kid Matthew was reading a Popular Science magazine a couple of weeks ago, and asked me, "Dad, what's erectile dysfunction?" It hadn't occurred to me that Viagra ads would be in Popular Science, but that just shows how stupid I am.
To coin a phrase: indeed.
SHORTER BRENDAN NYHAN: Comrades! When will you realize that only by self-doubt and ambivalence can The People's respect be won!

(I am in some sympathy with Nyhan, whose Spinsanity site I have enjoyed. But Jesus Christ: if I took a job with, say, Cat Fancy magazine, and then started filing columns about what stuck-up, finicky bitches cats are, and how you have to admit dogs are pretty sweet and loyal and you can teach them to fetch etc., I wouldn't expect to keep my job; and if the crew from I Love Cats magazine started harshing on me for my anti-cat columns, and I complained to those dudes that their comments were hurting the circulation of Cat Fancy, and that was bad for the entire community of cats -- those stuck-up, cat-food-breath bitches -- then I would expect them to laugh in my face.)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

ASTONISH ME. I've been watching, on and off, the Ric Burns Andy Warhol doc. It provokes my astonishment. First, I am astonished to realize how few Warhol originals I have actually seen. I've never seen any of his films. (Do I need to? The idea of Empire seems sufficient in itself.) I can only say for certain that I have seen one Marilyn because I remember seeing, on a free Target Friday at MOMA, three Japanese tourists posing for a cell-phone photo in front of it. Yet his influence on me, and on you, is unavoidable through reproduction and cultural diffusion. And reproduction and cultural diffusion are of course what his art is about.

I am also astonished at what a strong case Burns makes for Warhol's artistry. There is, as always with this kind of thing, a lot of gassy effusion from high-toned commentators, which only rarely and accidentally touches the truth. But as shaped by Burns, the narrative of his career -- the progress from utterly deprived youth to student of fine art to highly successful commercial artist to highly unsuccessful fine artist to the relentlessly repackager of commercial culture (take that, snobs!) and of ordinary objects and moments who become what we know as Andy Warhol -- describes the familiar arc of a real artistic journey. Of course, the best evidence of his artistic impact is his ubiquity of his effects. We tend to perceive Warhol through the second-edition reproductions of his myriad followers, which are almost necessarily inferior and the basis of the joke that is much of contemporary art. But Warhol invented the joke, and like the originals of most comic schtick (cf. Aristophanes, Boccaccio, Swift), it was at first something grander than a joke.

I was astonished at how tough-minded this airy-voiced, delicate artist could be. He wanted fame and, instead of wishing after it from ethereal annexes, pursued it with entrepreneural energy. He sometimes fought power, not in the classically Quixotic 60s way, but as a means to increase his own strength. When Nelson Rockefeller demanded that Warhol's "15 Most Wanted" be removed from the 1964 World's Fair, Warhol suggested a giant portrait of Robert Moses, and when that was rejected, he simply covered the original work in silver paint, and that stood -- a triumph over Rockefeller in nothing but its persistence. In one of his interviews -- in which he deflected the sharpest objections with the bland grace of Dylan or Lennon -- Warhol was asked if his Brillo boxes were a joke, and Warhol answered, no, they gave him something to do. "Don't worry about whether it's art," he told people. "Just get it done." This reminds me of Lou Reed's great song about Warhol: "He'd probably say you think too much/That's because there's work you don't want to do."

Even in the Factory days of silver balloons, drag queen movie stars, and the transmogrification of ashes into diamonds, Warhol achieved his aesthetic Valhalla not by inspiring the talented, but by manipulating the weaker people with whom he had surrounded himself -- until he miscalculated with Valerie Solanas.

A lot of Warhol's toughness came from the deprivation of his Pittsburgh childhood -- and that, too, was astonishing to me, because though I'd heard about it, the documentary made it vivid, partly through the memories of Warhol's older brother John, on film a very amiable, nasal-voiced, ordinary American of Eastern European descent. The Warholas originally came from Ravinia, an erased Eastern state. They were very poor in America, perfectly ghettoized, literally, separated as they were from the city by the Monongahela, marginal. John's respectability is his triumph, a sign of his ascension into the common promise that is America. But Andy, sickly, effeminate, painfully shy, obsessively drawing, unsocialized, could not even see an ordinary way up, and so built an emotional ladder out of the Photoplay magazines and Eastern Rite iconography available to him, upon which to climb across the Monongahela to a different America, one that he took a hand in creating.

One of the best comments in the story is that Andy Warhol "didn't have the slightest idea of bourgeois life." It's my experience of lower-class children who become artists that their apotheoses comes not out of the sort of conscious striving that makes most rags-to-riches stories -- at least not at first -- but out of a blind, desperate, and unreasoning need.

A great secondary shock comes to me from the book I happen to be reading: Chernow's life of Alexander Hamilton. Between two people, between two world views, no greater gulf can be imagined. Yet Hamilton, I have learned, was an outcast child of sorts, an impoverished bastard on a colonial island which promised him nothing, and whose precocity attached him to commercial industry and dreams of glory. He crossed the Caribbean, and pursued his dreams in what was presumed to be the losing side of a war; some people, even at the time, thought he was less interested in the Revolutionary cause than in the chance for advancement it offered. (He was also called effeminate and overenthusiastic toward male friends.) He showed great courage, great brilliance, and did rise. And in the fullness of his fame he dared greatly, even foolishly, overextending himself sexually and socially to seek in the personal sphere a continuation of his dominance in the political.

Somebody shot him, too.
AND I SAID, 'HONEY, I DON'T THINK YOU'D REALLY UNDERSTAND.' Ann Althouse most decidedly does not rock:
The theme today was school and the song was "School's Out" -- get it? -- because it was the end of the show. Lyrics: "School's out for summer/School's out forever/School's been blown to pieces." That doesn't resonate well these days, does it?
In the immortal words (and intonation) of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, what the fuck are you talking about? It would be fucking cool if the school blew up.

Not so cool that you should actually do it -- I mean cool to imagine, cool to talk about, and cool to wonder why it's so cool. It has been since Zero de Conduite at least, and probably since way before anyone had the nerve to write down how cool it was. Fantasy is important, even when it conflicts with societal norms -- actually, especially then. When it can be tolerated, that's a sign of social resilience.

Poor kids today. I know we're supposed to be happy and jealous for them that they have iPods, MySpace, and rainbow parties, and of course I am. But they are also subject to endless Columbine-awareness campaigns, and their attendant authoritarian bullshit, including the criminalization of fantasy:
When Andrew LeBlanc took some of his drawings to Galvez Middle School in Ascension Parish, La., little did he know that the pad contained a sketch his older brother, Adam, had drawn two years earlier.

That drawing — a tongue-in-cheek sketch of Adam and his friends shooting each other as a huge missile hovers over a high school — earned Adam, 17, a short stay in the parish jail on charges of terrorism and his 12-year-old brother a three-day suspension from school.
John Boorman has a very sweet film called Hope and Glory about a kid growing up in London during the Blitz. One morning the lad comes to school to find it has been so pounded by German bombs that classes have been indefinitely suspended. Overcome with joy, he turns his eyes heavenward and cries, "Thank you, Adolf!"

It pains me to think that somewhere in this favored land, some pecksniff would be unable to recognize that this is a very human response, and would instead consider the boy, John Boorman, and any of the thousands of viewers who have burst into laughter at that line to be pro-violence and pro-Nazi.

If Justin Timberlake came out with anything as cool as "School's Out," I could forgive him even his shitty beard.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

LET US CLASP HANDS OVER THE GLORY HOLE. I think I have found new ground for right-left consensus. National Review's Kathryn J. Lopez praises "Nip/Tuck" for having what she interprets as an anti-abortion sub-plot. The famously prudish Lopez admits that "Nip/Tuck" is "one of the most risque shows on television" and "the target (for good reason) of conservative scorn for the 'utter depravity of its sensationalism,'" but abortion's such a big deal for her, and any sign of opposition to it so redeeming, that in the end she says of the show "God bless it — even with all its immorality and downright nonsense..."

So here's the deal: let's have hardcore porn on network TV. Let it all hang out -- Beast, BDSM, bukkake, whatever. And we'll sell ad space to conservative action groups.

Every twelve minutes the Church of Latter-Day Saints will come on and show us some chopped-up fetuses. Then, back to the high-def sucking and fucking!

It's the sort of thing TiVo was made for.
BUT HE SAID IT IN A REALLY SARCASTIC VOICE. When the Pope said he was sorry he hurt Muslim feelings, the Little Green Footballs crowd (some of whom occasionally visit here, make improvised kung-fu gestures, and vanish) said Benedict wasn't really apologizing at all, but playing Jedi mind tricks on the Mohammedian hordes.

Now the Pope has elaborated on his previous whatever-it-was, saying
I hope that in several occasions during the visit ... my deep respect for great religions, in particular for Muslims -- who worship the one God and with whom we are engaged in defending and promoting together social justice, moral values, peace and freedom for all men -- has emerged clearly.
LGF et alia have yet to respond. Maybe they'll tell us he had his fingers crossed.

Or maybe they'll denounce him as a traitor. That always seems to make them feel better.
The case of Maher Arar, a Canadian Muslim allegedly tortured in Syria after being taken there by the CIA, warrants scrutiny. So, indeed, does the whole practice of rendition, a favorite of the Clinton administration long before the Sept. 11 attacks...

But with the lives of 300 million Americans at stake, the United States cannot make national security policy based on individual anecdotes about government roguishness...

Yes, rogues need to be rooted out. But the vast majority of our agents are honorable. They will follow the rules if Congress tells them what is and is not permissible...
The new schtick among these people is that the Bush Administration is just waiting for Congress to "tell them" the difference between right and wrong.

But this is just a political dodge to confuse the punters. If Congress told Bush, "No torture, no extraordinary renditions to torture-friendly states, and write a 500-word essay on why torture is wrong," Bush would get Secretary Rice or some other sap to write the essay, and go on torturing and extraditing nonetheless.

They promise only to leave the job of torture to "honorable" agents, who are implicitly trustworthy, perhaps because they've been properly vetted by their committees.

These people don't care about anything -- including, for all their talk, good and evil -- except power. Today it's just a little more obvious.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

THE PERSECUTION AND ASSASSINATION OF COMMON SENSE AS PERFORMED BY THE INMATES OF THE ASYLUM AT LEXINGTON AVENUE UNDER THE DIRECTION OF KATHRYN J. LOPEZ. I'm so glad The Corner is so crazy so early this morning. I am too tired to develop any Overarching Themes or Perspective, and would much rather poke fun at retards.

Someone seems to have dosed Jonah Goldberg's morning bowl of Reeses Pieces. He goes on a long tirade about "potshots at conservative Christians" in that much-debated work of art, "Studio 60: Live on the Sunset Strip." A reader tells Goldberg, "I'm always alert to the ritual denigration of Christians on prime-time TV, but I just wasn't seeing it here." "I didn't quite say there was ritual denigration," clarifies Jonah, "There was ritual Christian-baiting." These are the closely-reasoned doctrinal disputes that have earned The Corner a much-deserved reputation.

(As a bonus, Goldberg argues at length that "The West Wing" was trying to make liberals look good. Did you folks know about this? You learn something new every day.)

Derbyshire explains an earlier crack about Wal-Mart and Brave New World: "...the main idea was, that any society ought to offer useful and productive lives to its epsilons -- i.e. to citizens over on the left-hand side of the Bell Curve." Derb finds Wal-Mart, "with its simplified, stripped-down training programs that concentrate on a few easily-mastered skills and disciplines," a step in the right direction. I hope Wal-Mart finds a way to work this into its recruitment materials: "DRONES WANTED! You get to wear black, like Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones."

Andy McCarthy growls at NBC for planning to telecast a Madonna concert. Why, because it will pre-empt "Deal or No Deal"? No, because Madonna will climb onto a crucifix during the show, and though neither she nor her cross, unfortunately, will be submerged in urine, Madonna playing with religious symbols is as reliable a way to enrage people of McCarthy's religious sensibilities as laughing homosexuals or the works of Charles Darwin.

"No word yet on any riotings, torchings, shootings, bombings, beheadings or other executions," McCarthy says, "But you know, with these rascals, it's just a matter of time." See, that's a joke, because it's Islamic militants who do all the violence, while Christians -- at least, in the current stage of their history -- merely wish they could. Clever, isn't it? I wouldn't be surprised if we saw it elsewhere.

Better still is McCarthy's final, bitter jest:
Also, no word yet on whether NBC has considered airing "Submission," a film about the mistreatment of Islamic women. It hasn't been shown yet. You see, it's Dutch director, Theo van Gogh, was brutally murdered in 2004 by a not-so-moderate you-know-what named Mohammed Bouyeri, who pinned the corpse with a note calling for "jihad." (I hasten to add, of course, that, according to Muslim activists now providing sensitivity training to our federal agents, jihad is the peaceful "internal struggle against sin," not, God forbid, "holy war.")
"No word yet..." Was McCarthy in the pitch meeting? How did that go, I wonder? ("Actually, we're running While You Were Sleeping that night." "Screw you, liberals! I'll take it to Fox! They wont let America down!")

Meanwhile, some Cornerites are a little disturbed to see how uncomfortable George Allen was to be accused of Judaism. K-Lo opens the back door and lets in a bunch of Allen fans to beat drums for Mr. Macaca. Goldberg, admitting (as well he might) that he doesn't know what he's talking about, weighs in:
When in the zone and allowed to riff uninterrupted, Allen can sound very Reaganesque. But when backed into a corner or tripped-up, he becomes decidedly unReaganesque both in his sometimes gormless retorts and his slightly nasty and/or defensive streak. Reagan, even when he was twisting the knife, always reassured audiences that he was a nice guy who (mis)took his opponents for nice guys too. Every now and then, one gets a glimpse of Allen and one sees something other than a chipper Gipper.
So I guess what he's saying is, George Allen reminds him of Ronald Reagan, except when he doesn't. It seems, also, that "Reagan" is a synonym for something we liberals aren't clued into: "good," maybe, or "insane." (I also wonder: if Reagan "(mis)took his opponents for nice guys," why was he trying to stab them?)

Charming. Well, back to work.

Monday, September 18, 2006

THE CHILDREN'S HOUR. This nut gets mad because his daughter likes a we’re-all-people song from freaking Sesame Street that involves Muslims:
The song is innocent enough but it summons conflicts within me. Sometimes it's really angered me although I believe it's intentions are benevolent…

The message of the song assumes that because we're all human beings, we therefore all have the same values. If anything about the past few tumultuous years has taught me anything, it's that we don't all have the same values. And while the song concentrates on bridging racial and ethnic divides, it completely overlooks the possibility that some human ideologies are not necessarily compatible with others…
Did I mention that the song was on freaking Sesame Street?

I can’t wait for the post where this guy tells little Brunhilde she can’t be friends with little Amir anymore. “It’s about values, honey! You’ll understand your blood-debt to our race when you’re older.”

BTW, the comments to the post remind me very much of the old SCTV episode in which intellectuals discuss "Was The Flintstones a Total Rip-Off of The Honeymooners?"

Sunday, September 17, 2006

LA LA, I CAN'T HEAR YOU. A nun is murdered in Somalia, an apparent victim of Islamic radicals. Crunchy Rod Dreher knows where to direct his anger:
So what's a dead nun to the American left? What's a firebombed church, or two, or ten? Nothing. It's only Christians, after all, who probably deserve what they get. This is why I'm completely convinced that if, God forbid, Pope Benedict should come to physical harm at the hands of Muslims, we'll see the left blame him for his own fate.
If you follow writers like Dreher, you will notice that this has become a pattern: Islamic terrorists do violence, and American liberals get the lecture. Dreher links to OpinionJournal's Brett Stephens, who wonders aloud why liberals won't oppose terrorism when they have the most to lose from it: "Civil rights, gay rights, feminism, privacy rights, reproductive choice, sexual freedom, the right to worship as one chooses, the right not to worship at all." (I look forward to Stephens' defense of these principles in future OpinionJournal columns.)

I would point out that prominent liberals have declared, again and again and again, their opposition to terrorism -- recall John Kerry, in the late Presidential contest, saying, "I will hunt down and kill the terrorists, wherever they are," and, of Bin Laden, "we are united as Americans in our determination to hunt him down and capture and kill him. And that's what we're going to do." Still conservatives told the world that we were all quitters, traitors, etc.

As they make their various TV appearances, Democrats, of political necessity, preface nearly every statement against the Administration's inept handling of Iraq with a foursquare statement of opposition to terrorism. Hillary Clinton agitates tirelessly for better port control to defend the country against terrorists. Joe Biden argues that "The administration's most profound strategic mistake was not finishing the job in Afghanistan" and
...five years after 9/11, each member of the so-called 'Axis of Evil' is more dangerous; terrorist attacks around the world have nearly quadrupled; the administration's simplistic equation of democracy with elections has helped empower extremist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas; and Katrina and the 9/11 Commission have made it clear we are not prepared for an attack here at home.
In his recent debate with Republican George Allen, former Secretary of the Navy James Webb declared, "If we had the right people in the Senate there would have been more questions asked and a better policy in place in order to defeat international terrorism." Rightwing response:
A vote for James Webb... is a vote for Joe Biden to be chair of Foreign Relations and for Hillary to be president. I don't see a majority of Virginia voters making that choice.
Liberal blogs could pepper their posts with anti-Islamofascist non sequiturs; Democratic politicians could appear at all their press conferences wearing vintage AYATOLLAH ASSAHOLLAH t-shirts. Conservatives will still insist that we are all quitters, traitors, etc.

One might ask, the struggle being so important, why conservatives don't try making a better case to the half-or-more of their fellow citizens who disagree with them. But they wouldn't listen to that, either.
TITS OOT FOR THE LADS*. I knew they were fond of parsing movie posters and trailers for political content, but who knew they were into liberal breast analysis? And yet they don't offer comparative studies. Show your work, people!

The best overall analysis of this absurd spectacle is here. Obviously I have nothing worthwhile to add.

Except perhaps this: the presence of a full-bosomed woman in the presence of Bill Clinton will always provoke a certain reaction among conservatives. Still, I had hoped that the rise of conservative female bloggers with a breast-positive attitude would, so to speak, wean them of their phobia.

But news that the Clinton-proximate rack currently on display (albeit vestida) belongs to an avowed feminist seems to have caused a massive relapse. That male conservatives had to be roused by female conservatives to respond to the visual stimuli is itself interesting, but I will leave that subtopic to medical and anthropological professionals.

It is clear that Jessica Valenti did not show shame in herself or her surroundings, but stood tall and proud, and that may have been the cue that unleashed the fury. It is an article of conservative faith that liberals and feminists are sullen, angry creatures lacking in joie de vivre. To quote the instigator of the current fracas, "...the political vision of the left... feels like depression." Conservatives are supposed to be the fun kids, the South Park Conservatives, Republican party reptiles, etc.

If you're on the allegedly depressive team and you act like you're having a good time, it blows their minds. Throw tits and feminism into the mix and all hell breaks loose.

* Did you know there was a Sid the Sexist animated feature? Yet for some reason I can't find it on Netflix.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

NEW TRENDS IN CONSERVATISM. The latest old-time conservative to be rehabilitated is Enoch Powell. Roger Scruton, and Winds of Change echoing him, think the author of the "Rivers of Blood" speech decrying anti-discriminatory housing laws (and, secondarily, darkly-hued immigrants) got a bum deal from liberals, and compare his situation to that of the lonely voices of reason who want Muslims kept out of everywhere.

Of course a different class of political activists has always revered Powell, but his renaissance among mainstream conservatives is, I believe, new.

Here's a bit from the "Rivers of Blood" speech (to which, by the way, neither Scruton nor WoC link):
The other dangerous delusion from which those who are wilfully or otherwise blind to realities suffer, is summed up in the word "integration." To be integrated into a population means to become for all practical purposes indistinguishable from its other members. Now, at all times, where there are marked physical differences, especially of colour, integration is difficult though, over a period, not impossible. There are among the Commonwealth immigrants who have come to live here in the last fifteen years or so, many thousands whose wish and purpose is to be integrated and whose every thought and endeavour is bent in that direction. But to imagine that such a thing enters the heads of a great and growing majority of immigrants and their descendants is a ludicrous misconception, and a dangerous one.
I know that Powell's inheritors want Muslims kept out of their respective paradises, but I wonder if they also believe, with Powell, that the immigrants who came to Britain in the 60s, and their children, were a blight on the nation, and should be repatriated?

UPDATE. Let me clear this up: commenter Conservative Guy is not a sock-puppet created by me to make right-wingers look like racist clowns.
MORALE RELATIVIST. Today the Ole Perfesser is saying that "Western journalists" -- Perfesserland code for "traitors" -- have been making it look like Hezbollah and its minions won in Lebanon, but it looks a lot less like that to the Perfesser, so suck on that, Western Journalists.

The Perfesser adds a link suggesting that he knows all, sees all. I agree that he does, including contradictory opinions, which he mixes and matches as suits his propaganda needs of the moment.

Having the loathsome duty of reading him every day, I remember when the Perfesser felt this way about the Lebanon conflict:
I actually understand why he might want to throw up his hands on this subject. It's not that I don't care -- I do -- and it's not that I don't hope that things will work out well. I do. But beyond hoping (and "hope" is probably the operative word) that we'll see a decisive end to Syrian/Iranian mischief-making in the region, I don't have a lot to contribute.
In the same post, he entertains a suggestion that "we put the Romans in charge of that region again."

When the Bush peace plan came, as perhaps my readers will remember, a shitstorm ensued among the conservative faithful, which chanted "Israel lost" and ran looking for scapegoats. Sometimes they even dared blame Bush.

The Perfesser dutifully carried water for them -- usually under cryptic headlines that masked the moody nature of the linked posts. (There's a guy who knows how to keep his tenure!)

Now he has a new POV: all is well. The Perfesser sees no need to indicate to readers that this represents a change from his previous thinking: if they're veteran readers, they will understand that this simply is the new reality, and get with it; if they're new, they won't notice.

Why this particular shift now? One can only guess, and my first is that everyone knows the GOP needs a break -- why, Larry Kudlow has resorted to using numbers from an "online betting parlor" to improve Republican morale -- and the Perfesser's just the one to give it him. Maybe next week we'll get some more Lebanese protest babes.

For the record, I don't know whether someone sends him orders, or whether he exerts his power, like J. J. Hunsecker, on his own whim and to his own greater glory. Most likely, he's just a dick.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

RACIAL HUMOR. Schwarzenegger gets caught saying that "They have the, you know, part of the black blood in them and part of the Latino blood in them that together makes it" -- "it" being teh hotness. Roger L. Simon flips out -- on Arnold's behalf. The "brouhaha" over the remarks, says Simon, "breaks all records for stupidity or political correctness."

Simon's real test comes next week, when Schwarzenegger explains why Jews get especially smart when you breed them with Norwegians.
BY WAY OF EXPLANATION. National Review mourns the loss of conservative insurgent Laffey vs. establishment RINO Chaffee, blubbers that the dream will never die:
Steven Laffey, a capable mayor of Cranston, ran an energetic campaign that mixed conservative and populist themes. His loss was by no means an exercise in futility: Sometimes it’s better to fight and lose than not to fight at all... And now, for the second election cycle in a row, Republican senators have received a sharp reminder that if they behave too much like liberals, they may not be senators for long.
Last month, National Review held a symposium to memorialize another insurgent campaign -- Ned Lamont vs. Joe Lieberman. The tone then, needless to say, was very different. For one thing, the insurgent Lamont was a Democrat, and victorious; for another, the idea of running an ideologically-committed insurgent against an establishment DINO was considered by NROniks to be quite mad:
William Bennett: It’s sad to see the Democratic party go this way...

Charles Keslar: Senator Lieberman’s loss to his antiwar opponent might have been such a defining moment, when the Democratic party’s decadence, its self-righteous moralism, angry desperation, and cold hunger for power, might have been revealed for all to see...

Clifford D. May:The August Purge of Joe Lieberman is not good for the Democratic party. It is now, officially, a small-tent party, not a mainstream party... disunity has been the goal of the Lamont/Sharpton/Jackson/Murtha/Soros/Sheehan/Moore/Kos wing of the Democratic party, the wing that triumphed last night in Connecticut...

John McLaughlin: The political descendents of George McGovern are excommunicating the heirs to Scoop Jackson... The leadership of the national Democratic party has abandoned the center and moved far to the left. The Republican party must seize the center once again..
To even casual observers of our hilariously venal political scene, this will not be surprising or noteworthy. What is sauce for the goose will never, ever be sauce for the gander in that world.

I bring it up mainly as an answer to the people who think I treat such characters as these unfairly -- I'm insufficiently respectful of the "substance" of their so-called arguments.

As I see it, the argument of nearly any given alicublog subject reduces quite accurately to one of a small group of common sentiments : "I got mine, don't worry about yours," "Do as I say, not as I do," "Are you comparing me to a [despised minority group name here]?" etc. I don't need a particularly complicated rhetorical apparatus to extract them -- those of us acquainted with the ancient concept of common sense find them as a pig finds truffles: with our noses.

I endeavor to extend to all people the basic respect due them as human beings, but I don't see why I need to go any further than that without evidence of merit.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

RETURN OF THE ANTI-SEX LEAGUES! Now that the Nineelevenpalooza is over, conservatives are returning to their usual pastimes -- like denouncing sex. Wuzzadem has an illustrated dialogue (which she wisely chooses to explain with a "quiz") in which Mom's a stupid whore and her kid becomes an Islamofascist because of it. No, seriously.

It's one of the craziest things I've seen in a while, and I get around. Whore-mom's friends are even named Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda -- you know, like in that show about those whores of Babylon

Already forgotten "Sex and the City"? So have most of us, but it remains a fixation among this lot. Russ Douthat (inspired by Lee Siegel, of all people) experiences a retrograde orgasm denouncing it, but at the end takes it back into his arms like a fallen woman redeemed:
...if you go back and watch the first season it's jarring how the show's take on romance changed over time, and how, well, conventional this supposedly-transgressive show became by the end. You could see the last season or so as just another lie from a show that trafficked in them - the lie that it's easy to jump from years of frivolous promiscuity to deep and rewarding true love - but then again you could also see it as a sign of the resilience of poor battered old heterosexual monogamy, which even a show premised on subverting every traditional attitude about sex felt the need to return to in the end.
I'll bet it never occurred to Brainiac that this show was always "conventional" -- like "Friends" with extra swears and tits thrown in to rouse jaded palates. What "traditional attitude about sex" did it "subvert"? That it was fun to have?

Do these people ever get laid?

UPDATE. If that's not enough sex-loathing for you, immerse yourself in The Anchoress: "In fact, in the past 40 years, many more have died for the Orgasm than have died for the faith." She's talking about AIDS, by the way (wow, has it been 40 years already?), not, like, when the rope on the "Bangkok hammock" breaks.

And, as if you haven't suffered enough, here's my 2001 "S&TC" parody.

Monday, September 11, 2006

SUPER MONDAY. The weather was pleasant in midtown Manhattan today: light breeze, mostly clear skies. It was obvious from the state of the streets and sidewalks that a fair number of people had taken the day off from work, though traffic was heavy at rush hour. Roving gangs did not fall to their knees in prayer, nor did they beat up Muslims.

As night fell the two beams shone up again from Ground Zero. A lovely tribute: ethereal and silent.

I took moments out of the day to scan blogs for 9/11 tributes. My initial findings showed a tendency to anger -- not toward our attackers, but toward Americans who disagreed with the Bush Administration. Futher investigations, alas, revealed more of the same.

Some few observed a momentary suspension in their otherwise continuous accusations of treason against unbelievers, to strike a suitably valedictorian tone on the sacred day before commencing the next round of abuse. But most could not wait so long. They beat their chests in self-tribute for being wiser than their college classmates. They called the millions who support the Democratic Party "repulsive clowns," and claimed the citizens of New York City have lost their patriotism. (Fuck you, Brookhiser.)

When belligerence wouldn't serve, they went for bathos. They told us we didn't understand the stress their Leader was under, and let's see you do better, you're so smart. When that didn't work, they urged us to watch people falling out of the World Trade Center -- wherein, for all I could tell, subliminal edits of Saddam Hussein rubbing his hands with glee had been interspersed to reenforce the message.

Somewhere in this favored land, real 9/11 victims and survivors mourned, hopefully without the interference of Ann Coulter or Dorothy Rabinowitz. Flags flew at half-mast, and maybe people talked about what had happened five years earlier. Five years is a long time, though; inside a shorter interval, at the end of the Second World War, British voters threw out Winston Churchill, deciding his usefulness was at an end. Western Civilization did not crumble: behold the wisdom of the people!

Maybe this is what worries the bloggers so much that they turn from blaming Bin Laden, whose depraved idea was 9/11, to blaming the Democrats on its late anniversary. These bloggers posit an endless war, requiring an endless reign of the leadership they endorse. But for all their talk about World Wars III and IV, real people persist in perceiving real problems, like where their next paycheck is coming from, and how they will cope with catastrophic illness in a land without healthcare -- and, in fact, whether the belligerence of their current leadership is making them safer than they might be.

Not the honored dead, but the prospect of electoral defeat, animates these blog "remembrances." For them, 9/11 has the same importance that Super Bowl Sunday has for McDonalds and FedEx. We will soon see what kind of return on investment they achieved.
ANOTHER FEDERAL HOLIDAY ON WHICH I STILL HAVE TO WORK. Happy Patriot Day. Let do our memorial duty, and visit the graves of warbloggers' frontal lobes.

To paraphrase Shakespeare's Claudius, we perform this duty with an auspicious and a dropping eye -- for these folks are surprisingly cheerful about the progress of the War on Whatchamacallit, though they still make the mad face as they instruct us to abjure the real enemy -- whatever (as they say at AA meetings) each perceives it to be.

Jim Lileks, who in the months after 9/11 wrote perhaps the craziest war stuff not physically rendered in magic marker on cardboard -- visions of himself frothing with anthrax and hunting Bin Laden ("Be vewy, vewy quiet..."), and declarations that New York would be destroyed by a nuclear bomb -- now says everything's great:
Five years ago the skies were silent, except for the high whine of the circling fighter jets; now the planes roll in, one after the other, low over the green rich land. Five years ago the TV was showing the horrors of the day; now the TV shows a story about the events that led up to the attack, a story ten years old. Five years ago I woke from nightmares of seeing pox on my daughter; now I sleep hoping she’ll eat her pears tomorrow at school.
So, except for all the dead people here and abroad, it's just another day at the ranch.

But lest we forget -- the real enemy: the ministers of the National Cathedral, Time magazine, and Marcel Duchamp.

Fifty-Star General Ralph "Blood 'n' Guts" Peters says it's all going great, too. Iraq's not our new Vietnam, it's Bin Laden's Vietnam! Ha ha! And "Despite tragic mistakes in Iraq, we've already accomplished one crucial mission neglected for a generation: We've resurrected the reputation of the American soldier... The importance of regaining our street cred can't be stressed enough."

So, except for all the dead people (made dead to preserve our cred), a big, bloody thumbs-up from the General.

But lest we forget -- the real enemy: the media ("terror's cheerleaders"), the left ("suggesting that our president's a worse threat to civilization than Islamist terror"), "hysterical media culture," "Clinton-era cowardice," and (I love this one) "haters."

Hugh Hewitt finds all good Americans united against the real enemy: Democrats.

There are other sorts of lunacies posted today, by all species of loons; but I think you'll find, in the Baghdad or Bust section of the memorial gardens, that the most unrepentant Iraqi invasionists believe, or affect to believe, that we have that country well in hand -- it's America that needs pacification.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

ANOTHER STIRRING DEFENSE OF THE SECOND AMENDMENT. John Scalzi's wife *Krissy was in a bar and some drunk kept bothering her. When the guy decided pawing her was a better way to get her attention, she jacked him up against the wall and demanded a little respect.

Dr. Mrs. Ole Perfesser is outraged:
This regressive behavior is typical of the violent youth I see who have so little impulse control that they beat someone up for "dissing them." I would hope a grown woman of Krissy's obvious intelligence would have more sense than that. But no. She decides that a man in an open public place just trying to touch her warranted shoving him against a wall and putting her hand to his throat.
I guess what Krissy should have done is pulled a gun on the guy. The good Doctor could have helped her out with the hardware.

That's the Knoxville way, I guess. In Bradford, Ohio, it would appear, as in New York (though you might not think so if you get all your information about us from TV cop shows), things are handled different.

UPDATE. *Spelling error fixed, thanks to the self-correcting power of the blogosphere.

UPDATE II. "Why is it that lefty bloggers can never understand the difference between self-defense and a bar room brawl?" We're always making that mistake, aren't we? At least, that's what I infer by all the fellows yelling "Death to Bush!" at the bar room brawls in which I regularly participate.

Friday, September 08, 2006

FREEDOM OF SHIT. It's a longstanding rule among cranks like me that when everyone agrees on something, the wise man should run screaming in the other direction. Like many fun, contrarian sentiments, this one's more honored in the breach than in the observance -- if you find yourself shaking your fist at clean air and water, you should go see a shrink, and start the first session by telling the shrink how you were molested by your high school Debate Club coach.

But the ABC 9/11 story is a good case study for my rule. Many liberals are going berserk over the whoppers told therein (particularly one in which, if I understand it aright, Sandy Berger lets Osama slip away because he's busy recruiting little girls to blow Clinton). Some conservatives have begun to say that the liberals may have a point.

I understand why the Clinton people are upset: The Path to 9/11 is a consensus reality event, like a war memorial or an official Best Foreign Film Academy Award entry, and it would be injurious to their political health (not to speak of the truth, though we will in a minute) to allow this particular event to tar them as national security slackers. Digby worries that "if this nonsense is allowed to stick, we will be battling these inaccurate demagogic, phantoms for another 50 years."

One should of course call out lying liars, and tell the countervailing truth as eloquently as one can. But when we attempt to manipulate consensus events, we refute the reality of culture. (I know it's a stretch to call an ABC Mini-series part of culture, but hear me out.)

Now I hate to even use the word "culture," because in our depraved era, it's usually on the other end of a little teeter-totter that goes "culture...war." In fact, that's the problem here, and it exercises me sufficiently that I have to talk about things normally best left unspoken.

Any culture worthy of the name is fluid, animated by innumerable human currents -- works of art and works of crap-art, invention of new styles and adaptation of old and even foreign ones, shifts in language, shared experiences, and so on. To the extent that human experience is rich, that is, more meaningful than the life of a cow or a dog, culture makes it so.

The vectors of these currents are to some extent traceable, but not very tractable. Still, there is a base impulse in some people that makes them want to manipulate it, rather than contribute to it in the normal way; to decree, turn right (or left) here.

This motivates the many Kulturkampf buffoons who comprise alicublog's favorite targets -- the yapping dogs like Bozell and Malkin and Reynolds et alia, whose only contributions to culture are insane demands that they be put in charge of it -- and, of course, totalitarians throughout history.

My problem with those guys is not that they are supporting wrong causes (though they usually do that, as well) but that they are engaged in anti-human activity. It is that they see the most natural and wonderful thing in the world, the evolution of human consciousness, and think how much better it would be if only they could control it with the blunt instruments of politics.

Now, culture is in some ways as supple and self-healing as the human body, so maybe in the long term it's a wash. (On the other hand, if you beat up the human body enough, it stops self-healing so good.)

But I worry that too many Americans are taking the bait, and coming to believe that culture is what the goon squad thinks it is: something to be wrestled over for political points.

If this sort of thing spreads much more, we will become a nation of Jason Apuzzos -- crazed nerds unable to enjoy a drama, historical or otherwise, or a comedy, or a trailer or a poster, without fumbling for our calculators, trying to figure out which side is winning the culture war. (The correct answer would be "not culture.")

I choose not to be part of it. Hack writer though I may be, there are some forms of hackery my ink-stained hands will not deign to touch.

In my own practice, I answer bullshit with non-bullshit (or, on slow days, better phrased bullshit). It may not be the most efficacious way to shore up votes in the Third Ward, but it's clean work.

UPDATE. Lots of disagreement in comments, which is understandable. Let me clarify something: I don't disapprove of calling bullshit when bullshit is smelt. Why, that's my hobby.

What bothers me is that ABC has allowed its program to be edited -- at the last minute, no less -- by politicians like Tom Kean. Yeah, he's a producer as well as a consultant, I just found out, so he has some legitimate authority here. But I believe he's been put front and center in this imbroglio because that insulates ABC from seeming to respond directly to pressure from government officials. Call me cynical.

I would have been pissed if Spike Lee's Katrina doc got this kind of treatment, and I can't approve it in this case, either.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

OH MERCY. In case you were wondering, Rod Dreher is still pecking away at his Crunchy Con blog, and still a big dork. Most days he's just dreary, but sometimes he puts a little extra Praise Jesus into it, and achieves insufferability.

Today he actually caught me off-guard. When I saw Dreher had a post about those kidnapped TV newsmen who had to "convert" to Islam to get out of jihadi jail, I expected something less stupidly bellicose than, say, the ravings of Mark Steyn. I should also have expected that Dreher, by simpering and vacillating over the exact nature of his moral superiority, would be even more annoying than the frostback chest-thumper.

Dreher starts by admitting that even he, filled with grace as he is, might not be such a good Soldier of Christ with a knife to his neck, and maybe "I ought to be merciful toward the Fox guys."

Mercy from a Christian! Should have known it was a bluff -- after quoting some other blowhard who says he doesn't hate the newsies for converting but for not displaying shame over it, the scales fall from Brother Dreher's eyes:
If I had capitulated, the shame of it would haunt me for the rest of my life. And it should. What those two men did was understandable on a human level, but they ought to be ashamed of themselves.
Two things. First, if the jihadis got me and all I had to do to get out with my neck was sing The Three Stooges Alphabet Song, I'd go for it in a second. And though I never like being told what to do, I doubt I would experience great anguish over the performance. The Nicene Creed and whatever the Mohammedians recite mean as little to me as that Alphabet Song, and vice versa.

Second, if this is what Dreher and his fellow chesty-boys think of the TV reporters, what must they think of that Austrian girl whose recent escape from a madman's dungeon after eight-and-a-half years has been in the news? What the rest of us heathens think of as an "ordeal," surely the Jesus folk see as 8.5 years of continuous shameful capitulation for which the traumatized victim must feel everlasting shame.

But of course with this lot you're supposed to feel shame about everything, except crappy prose and a soul-dead insensitivity to the suffering of everyone except Jesus and yourself.
THE SAGA OF ANATAHAN. I don't pay close attention to Michelle Malkin. Her prose is crap, and if she weren't female, cute, and (to use the term probably favored by her fan base, or at least their Pappys) exotic, she'd be just another low-rent Town Hall noodge rather than Harpy of the Moment.

But MM is starting to show signs of the high-grade lunacy that gets you major coverage at alicublog. One of MM's recent bugbears has been Miller Brewing's alleged contribution to pro-illegal-immigration rallies, which she and her fellow nuts have threatened to answer with a boycott of the company's awful beer. So far, so what; but today I was delighted to see this on her site:
Debbie Schlussel points out that Anheuser-Busch supports pro-illegal alien policies, too.

So if you're going to drink beer, make it yourself.
As I have never seen evidence in Malkin of what we earthlings call a sense of humor, I assume this command to the man-drones is in earnest. Two breweries do wrongthink? Away with treasonous Main Stream Beer! Our beer will be free from bias, therefore better!

I hope she keeps this sort of thing up, as it suggests a wonderful image: Michelle Malkin ruling over a survivalist camp, her drones not only brewing beer, but sewing her new turtlenecks and pencil skirts (after a couple of clothing retailers pissed her off), and her hair-dryer and waxer (damned treasonous appliance companies!) powered by tired-looking birds saying, "Rawwwk, it's a living."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

SHORTER MARIO LOYOLA. Pay close attention to my plausible-deniability amulet as I tell you that Michael Moore is sort of a Nazi, if you substitute "House of Saud" for "Worldwide Jewry" and "reduce deleterious effect on our foreign policy" for "genocide."
IT'S ALWAYS WINGNUT HAPPY HOUR SOMEPLACE! The end of summer (and, no matter what the calendar says, Labor Day is the end of summer) always gets me down. Thank God for my imaginary playmates! Here's Leon Wolf at Redstate, enraged to hear from his friends in the Movement that the AP stylebook has made a usage flip from "pro-life" to "anti-abortion," and from "pro-choice"/"pro-abortion" to "pro-abortion rights*":

So what exactly have the folks at Associated Press done? In the first place, they've done a great "framing" favor to the pro-choice side by casting the pro-lifers as the "anti-" side in the debate. As any "framing" person will tell you, labeling any cause as "anti-" anything will make it less appealing than labeling it "pro-" something else, even if they are functionally equivalent (pro-freedom sounds more attractive than anti-slavery...)

I'm sure it sounds more attractive to you, hoss!

(* The brethren claim that the AP-acceptable term is simply "abortion rights," but it translates to "pro-abortion rights" for purposes of clarity, as seen in this AP story that ran September 3 in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.)

Even if this change has actually happened, I don't know what the guy is bitching about. First of all, abandoning the old "choice" and "life" tags with which these teams traditionally identify themselves is actually a step toward neutrality.

Also, RedState, like all winger sites, doesn't seem to own an AP Stylebook -- or a Chicago Manual of Style, or a dictionary for that matter (though I'm sure Tacitus has several thesauri). They use a stylebook of their very own, in which the press is the "MSM," where liberals are "lieberals" or "fifth columnists" or "Neville Chamberlain," where "Bush" is "Churchill," and "freedom" is "slavery."

So why should they care what the lieberals use in their MSM rags? Truth keeps bloggering on!

Monday, September 04, 2006

YOU NEVER HAD IT SO GOOD. The idea that, despite their misgivings, Americans are actually living like kings was addressed here and has been taken up by the Ole Perfesser. Among his linkees, Jane Galt seems to think that, despite our great wealth, we little people (or maybe it's just liberal economists -- it's hard to tell) are jealous of those who actually do live like kings.

Others challenge the numbers that are alleged to support the negative analysis. David R. Henderson mentions that, though corporate profits have risen and "marginal tax rates have increased for most people except the highest-income people," the money is actually coming back to us in spades because "employers have paid a higher and higher percent of compensation in the form of untaxed benefits" to workers. Well, it's not a small-government argument, anyway. Also more Americans have cars and houses than previously, though the debt amassed in their getting is not mentioned, nor their condition.

This discussion was originally spurred by reports that voters are leaning Democratic on the economy, which some attribute to said voters smelling a rat in the positive numbers attributed to that economy. So Henderson's argument -- and those of the others -- is already being considered, on less elevated terms, by citizens.

The issue will be decided, assuming the voting machines work OK, on the tricky grounds of perception. Democrats have a natural and, it must be said, unfair advantage going in, as the alleged party of the little guy. To combat this, Republican supporters offer good numbers and a sunny outlook. This is an optimistic enterprise, and when it does not seem to get traction, Republicans can be counted on to attribute the disconnect to media bias.

But, as previously observed, citizens do not observe the economy from above or afar, but live in it. In a sunny-side analysis in the Washington Post, AEI's Nicholas Eberstadt seems to acknowledge this: "the official poverty rate is utterly incapable of tracking material deprivation in the United States with any accuracy." Here is part of his picture:
Among low-income households in the United States, the gap between reported income and reported spending has widened gradually since the 1960s and now has taken on chasm-like dimensions. In the early 1960s, the poorest quarter of U.S. households spent 12 percent more than their annual incomes. In 1973, spending by America's poorest fifth surpassed their income by almost 40 percent. And in 2004, spending by the poorest fifth of American families exceeded income by a whopping 95 percent; in effect, spending was nearly twice as much as income.

These patterns might be due to easy access to credit, with many consumers maxing out their credit cards or engaging in other unsustainable borrowing. (Curiously, however, recent credit surveys suggest that the net worth of poorer Americans has been rising, not falling.)

Another important factor could be the increasing instability of American incomes. Scholars such as Jacob Hacker at Yale University and Robert Moffitt at Johns Hopkins University have noted that the income of American families is likely to bounce around much more today than it did three decades ago -- whether due to greater global competition, increasing rewards for education or other factors. Intensified swings, in turn, mean that more households may, in any given year, earn low incomes and be temporarily classified as living in poverty. But they continue to spend as they did before, anticipating that their incomes will bounce back. Such oscillations also mean that the incomes reported by families in annual surveys -- the backbone for the official poverty estimate -- are a steadily less accurate indicator of true living standards.
What reality does this suggest to you? A class of Americans outspending their official incomes surely shows a problem with our intelligence-gathering -- and, the citizens who are doing the outspending must feel, a good thing too. They are job-hopping madly, not, as the Eberstadts of the world might, to beef up their resumes, but because jobs come and go rapidly -- they might be doing light carpentry one month, cleaning out a storeroom the next, and getting it under the table when they can. They spend not because they are "bouncing back" but because they have to: some citizens may be buying Porsches, but they are probably buying milk, blankets, light bulbs, etc. When they fall short, somebody is always willing to stake them, at ever-rising rates and with ingenious penalties.

The last thing they need is government tracking. Actually, they might think that the last thing they need is this Government.