Thursday, January 31, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For all the extravagant brilliance of his production (every craft aspect of which is stunning), Paul Thomas Anderson has been brutal about withholding the emotional release that such a big movie leads us to expect. It's a chilling sort of grandeur and I can understand why a lot of people find it repulsive. I can't imagine it will find a lot of love at the Oscars, even for Day-Lewis, whose performance peels the fucking paint off the walls. A Gordon Gekko may invite us to sneaking empathy with his lascivious cruelty, but Plainview gives no quarter and can expect none.
FOOD FIGHT. alicublog Editor Emeritus Martin Downs, not heard in these precincts for quite some time, is wasting his health reporting credentials (CBS HealthWatch, WebMD, Master of Public Health, Dartmouth) on a goddamn blog. A goddamn good blog, too, it is shaping up to be. In this post he tells us what's wrong with the latest "counterintuitive" OpEd at the New York Times:
Today, in a Times op-ed piece, "What’s Cholesterol Got to Do With It?" [Gary Taubes] explains one more way in which everything you think you know is wrong, and doctors are lying to you. Bad cholesterol (low density lipoprotein, or LDL) isn't bad, and neither is saturated fat. Bad lipoproteins are bad, and so is a certain kind of LDL cholesterol that's the "smallest and densest"...

...he writes, "Because medical authorities have always approached the cholesterol hypothesis as a public health issue, rather than as a scientific one, we’re repeatedly reminded that it shouldn’t be questioned."

But cholesterol, diet, and exercise are public health issues. Taubes' relentless mythbusting does nothing to help readers make informed choices about their health. It only serves, at best, to make people throw up their hands in frustration. Worse, the take-home message of the three articles I've mentioned amounts to, eat all the fat you want, don't waste your time exercising, and watching cholesterol is for simps.
I am more hesitant than Martin to criticize the placement. Like most of us semi-literate scriveners, I don't like to say someone shouldn't publish in the popular press just because he might be misunderstood. My free-speech fetish to one side, this sort of thing gives ammunition to the folks who think their intel is being suppressed.

But experience shows that Martin is right that most readers won't plug this new information into what has already been discovered about nutrition. It will become a ill-digested piece of folk wisdom that helps us defend to ourselves our decision to consume crap. Those doctors are all mixed up -- look, now they say bad cholesterol is good for you! Might's well have the Three-Quarter Pounder.

Recall the recent Scripps-Howard 9/11 polls showing that ordinary Americans are, in our info-rich era, yet prone to conspiracy theories. Evidence that contradicts or challenges conventional wisdom is to be welcomed, but let's not deceive ourselves that it will lead quickly to better-informed choices. In the short run, and maybe the medium run, we may expect increased cynicism and little else.

The best choice is better education, not just in health but in basic logic. I know, it's a faint hope. But I would like to attach this hobby-horse to that "change we can believe in" bandwagon that's going around.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

CRUNCHY CONSERVATISM UPDATE. Rod Dreher contemplates the housing bubble, which of course makes him think about how much better off subjects of Islamic fundamentalism are than us post-Enlightenment heathens:
The Islamic nations -- yes, they've lived lives of relative poverty, misery and unfreedom. I wouldn't trade places with anyone living there, and neither would you. But. But, but, but. They will endure. Robert D. Kaplan saw this for himself, traveling from chaotic western Africa to Cairo. Both places are filled with very poor people, but Cairo, it had a lot more order than anarchic west Africa. The people there managed to live more humanly because of Islam. They had order, they had unity, they had purpose. Islam gave that to them. It also extracted a tremendous cost from them in terms of personal liberty. But they survive tough times. Islam tells them right from wrong, and as Charles Curtis has eloquently written on this blog in recent days, provides them with a sense of communality that is immensely powerful, and which we in the West can scarcely imagine.
Part of the fun of reading Dreher's blog is wondering when he will crack and prostrate himself before Allah. He's already changed religions a couple of times, so maybe he's had enough practice to abandon the Jesus cults entirely and back a winner.

I like living under this messy old pluralism we've got here, myself, but of course that's because I'm a fascist.

UPDATE. As usual, when I am away the comments outstrip the original post for raw intelligence and even elegant expression. I will only add that Gus' news is good on its face, but let us never underestimate the power of Shea to suddenly debilitate great players from elsewhere when they are wearing our uniform.
WHAT DO THE DRUMS SAY, JONATHAN? The recent contentiousness of the Democratic race has emboldened conservatives to hope that, should Clinton take the nomination, she will be abandoned in the fall by Obama supporters angry at her gutter tactics. Some of their operatives, though, are working the Obama beat, and to them falls the more difficult task of making that candidate look like a loser without making Clinton look like a winner. Jonathan V. Last of the Weekly Standard gamely suggests that Obama's South Carolina results were a little dark. "Obama received more identity-group solidarity than Clinton did, even among voters who think he may not be electable," he writes. "The Obama camp is desperate not to let this view of the campaign take hold." But Last sees the evidence:
The huge crowd his victory rally cheered wildly when one of the networks broadcast on the loudspeaker that Obama got 25 percent of the white vote. They began chanting "Race doesn't matter! Race doesn't matter!" A few second later, the campaign killed the TV feed and began pumping in gospel music. It's the first time I've heard them do that--normally they play a steady diet of hipster pop, heavy on the U-2 and KT Tunstall.
Ungawa! Later, in an update:
But what is troubling about tonight is that Obama was unwilling to tell people an obvious truth: that while white voters have supported him in great numbers (elsewhere, if not in South Carolina), black voters have so far been unwilling to support his white opponents. Again, that's not his fault; and it may not even mean anything significant.

But it surely means something that Obama was so bent on denying this fact that he turned his victory speech into an attempt to convince voters of something obviously untrue. One of Obama's frequent promises in his stump speech is that he is willing to tell voters hard truths, even if they don't want to hear it. That wasn't the case tonight.
Yeah, that's a great idea. Obama should have told them that. We may put this down under the general heading of More Advice from Your Mortal Enemies. And if Obama gets the nomination, we'll see some form of it resurrected, maybe under the heading Black Ops.
ARTS & LEGERDEMAIN. The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto remembers this time he got into a heckling match at the Bowery Poetry Club:
Heather and I sat down near the back of the small hall, and things soon took what I feared was a disastrous turn. The mistress of ceremonies, poet Daniela Gioseffi, opened the proceedings with a vulgar rant about Beltway politics -- specifically, her glee over the "fall" of Tom DeLay and Bill Frist, then the Republican congressional leaders. (Rep. DeLay had just been indicted, and Sen. Frist was under investigation for insider trading.)
This would place the action in the fall of 2005. I guess Taranto was saving this for his memoirs but got caught on a deadline.
It was then that I said I came to hear poetry, not politics -- although according to a contemporaneous account I emailed to a friend, I said it in a mutter rather than a shout. Evidently I muttered loudly enough to get Ms. Gioseffi's attention...
I've been to the Bowery Poetry Club, and I know that a mutter can't be heard from the "back of the small room." I also know that the Club has a bar, which may explain the misunderstanding.

Anyway Taranto, to hear Taranto tell it, sure told her. And he deduces that people don't read or listen to poetry anymore because "the world of poetry is so politicized as to exclude from its audience anyone with a distaste for tendentious left-wing ideology." To prove his point, he names other poets who... oh, wait, I can't find them; must be something wrong with my browser.

Slow culture-war day, I guess. But I can understand his point. I got food poisoning in a restaurant a few years ago, and have since then subsisted solely on military-issue MREs. Those damned germ warriors won't catch me twice!

Next week: Taranto recalls a long-ago visit to CBGB and predicts that "gobbing" will doom the commercial chances of punk rock.
JUNO THE ALONE. The Best Picture Oscar nominees have developed a twee-indie slot, filled in 2004 by Sideways (which I considered here); last year by Little Miss Sunshine, which I admired with qualifications; and now by Juno. The hallmarks are high quirk, small scale, and some intellectual flourishes which mark them as upscale entertainments.

Juno goes a little further than its predecessors. For one thing, the twee is laid on with a trowel. The Kimya Dawson soundtrack assures more toothache than heartbreak (though I really hope she goes to the Oscars dressed like a bumblebee or something), and the Wes Andersonian sidebars and psuedo-naive animations indicate that Academy voters are finally warming to New Cool.

Certainly having a pregnant teen who isn't a beaten-down victim and in fact appears in control of her situation is a new one; Sharon Curley had great spunk in The Snapper, but she was grounded in an old-fashioned working-class reality and reacted to it, whereas our current heroine is exceptional in nearly every way and brushes off the social implications of her act as nuisances. She's as much a goddess as her namesake, and such social comedy as Juno provides is based on her and her family's steadfast indifference to other people's expectations. Her frank talk at the Lorings' -- "Maker's Mark, please" (flashes thumb) "Up" -- is funny enough that the other characters barely need to react. Despite some commentary we've heard about the movie, this very successfully removes society as a factor in her journey: her mission to deliver the baby to the appropriate couple is not a social policy decision but pure self-assertion by a precocious 16-year-old who trusts her own instincts completely.

It's to Juno's credit that she finally encounters disappointment in an unexpected way, handles it in a manner consonant with her character, and changes her mind about something important. (Spoiler alert.) When the couple she's picked don't live up to her expectations, she takes (private) time to absorb the loss, and gives the baby to the now-single woman she knows will care for it. If one were to try and put a message on it, it would look more like a plea for single motherhood in a world of inadequate males, and very much beside the point.

The mind-changing is dramatically interesting. (You still reading? I'm still spoiling.) Juno's most important relationship, on the story's terms, is with Bleeker, her best friend and father of her child. If her pregnancy isn't a significant problem for her in any other way -- her friends and parents are accepting, other people don't count, and the destiny her great intelligence and confidence indicate for her seems totally unaffected -- it's the sticking point between her and him. She shields Bleeker from the consequences as an act of love, but this has the effect of pushing him away, and -- classic turnaround! -- dim as he is in many way, Bleeker understands it better than she does. In fact, she doesn't have a clue, even when he tells her, and only the breakup of the Lorings brings her to the conclusion that Bleeker is important to her, not as the father but as the boy she was meant to be with.

If this sounds sentimental, that's because it is. Juno's pregnancy is a McGuffin that complicates her unconscious search for romantic love. Once this sinks in, the movie suddenly feels very slight. Though the tart, teenspeak dialogue and unusual premise make Juno feel hip and wised-up, Juno's gynecological coming-of-age basically leads to a life-lesson straight out of an after-school special. Through most of Juno -- and especially during the development of the troublesome relationship of Juno and Mark Loring -- we expect that the flip tone and emotional distancing of the characters are covering for something deeper. But as it turns out, not so much: everyone's a child, and not much capable of growth. Juno's final discussion with her father (which, significantly, she ends by deceiving him) and her profession of love to Bleeker return us right back to the breezy place where we started, only now Juno and Bleeker are for-reals gf and bf, playing emo bullshit on acoustic guitars. It's kind of a relief, but not a revelation.

Revelation's a lot to ask, though, so let us be content with the excellencies Juno offers. The dialogue really is snappy, and the actors sell it beautifully. It probably says something that the fine supporting cast is mostly from prestige TV shows: they have a great feel for lines that might have choked actors who aren't used to thinking fast. (I'm especially fond of Michael Cera and hope he gets the film career fate has perversely denied that other talented skinny-boy Topher Grace.) Ellen Page so dominates as Juno that I really suspect the movie wouldn't work at all without her. I haven't seen the other nominees but I wouldn't be shocked if she won the Oscar because her performance is so clearly indispensable. She's got the genius-child bull-headedness, and the charm to make us like it.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

THE VIRTUES OF HYPOCRISY. Beliefnet's Rod Dreher starts out saying "there's something ...not quite there when conservatives who don't have families give advice and commentary on family-related issues." He tells us how a "conservative acquaintance... explained that the experience of raising kids, especially the one who suffers so much, has made him far less willing to pass judgment on other parents."

You know the drill. After several paragraphs Dreher executes a McArdle Maneuver and ends up talking about murderous teens who won't do their homework and "self-centered, couldn't-give-a-s**t parents." (He also says that having children "made me less quick to judge others harshly.")

Dreher's apparently in a mood to advise his fellow conservative commentators on lifestyle choices. Some days earlier, he told them to leave "Leave the NYC-DC Bubble":
I wonder if The American Spectator would be better off moving back to Bloomington, Indiana. I wonder how different National Review would be if it kept its DC bureau, but relocated its offices to Dallas or Atlanta. Similarly with the Weekly Standard. And so forth. For one thing, there would be much greater attention paid to culture, and less to policy and pure politics.
More attention to culture? Didn't he see Jonah Goldberg's review of Cloverfield? (Spoiler alert: it's about 9/11, "a message worth pondering.")

We've been over this before. Pleasing as is the prospect of Goldberg spending his lunch breaks at the Cracker Barrel in Fritters, Alabama, there's no reason for rightwing columnists to walk the walk. They're big idea men; they have read Hayek and Bloom and Coulter. It is for the lumpen to follow their social prescriptions, while the Smart Ones ponder welfare policy over phyllo-wrapped salmon at Persephone.

It would be easy to twit them for hypocrisy, but let us say this for them: they want others to think as they think, but draw the line at demanding that they live as they live. Dreher wants them not only to think as he thinks -- insofar as they can follow that snaking stream of half-baked ideas -- but also to live as he lives: religiously, away from major cities, with kids, organic food and compost heaps. He's the sort who will worry over "what American conservatism has become," and in the very next post worry over those who are "policing conservatism from within." And he thinks he's being non-judgmental. Some kinds of hypocrisy really are worse than others.

Friday, January 25, 2008

WITH GOD'S HELP, MY LAST CLINTON DERANGEMENT SYNDROME POST*. Back on January 4, when some people thought Hillary Clinton was cooked, National Review's Lisa Shiffren mourned:
Deep in my psyche, in the place that kind of misses the toothache I've been prodding at with my tongue, I am having a tiny little pang of missing Hillary. Not her, but hating her. Hating Hillary has been such a central political impulse for so long now — 15 years... I don't really know what I will do with that newly freed strand of energy.
She needn't have worried. Here she is today:
It is bad enough that the first serious female candidate for the world's most powerful office got where she is (as of now that is the U.S. Senate), by dint of her marriage, and not a career of ever more responsible political officeholding. It is bad enough that we all must work overtime not to dwell on the deal with the devil that constitutes her marriage to the former president: specifically, that she overlook a lifetime of unbridled public infidelity — in return for power.
Hate will find a way. Oh, and there's this:
And really, for all those feminists out there — and I know this is the wrong website for that audience, but I wouldn't be allowed to write at one that reached those women...
For similar reasons, I wouldn't be allowed to write for the National Review, but I will here advise Schiffren and her fellow sufferers: I don't support Hillary Clinton, but when you call her marriage a "deal with the devil" simple chivalry warms me toward her. In fact, crap like this constituted no small part of my rather sentimental decision to vote for her when she ran for the Senate. I suspect I'm not the only one -- and that's part of what she's counting on now. If you're really serious about shutting her down, you might try breaking the cycle of violence from your own end.

* 'til February or thereabouts.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

OCCUPATION. Though I'm an old film nerd, there are a lot of esteemed directors whose works I've completely missed. I'm a little ashamed of it, but I must admit now that I was unfamiliar with Jean-Pierre Melville before tonight, because I've just seen Army of Shadows and can't contain myself.

As you might expect from a film about a French Resistance crew, it is one harrowing, nerve-tearing incident after another. There is no attempt to frame them with an overarching narrative; the men (and one woman) do their jobs, get caught or fail to get caught or escape. Between the exploits there is a patient attention to everyday activity that sustains the tension; when you are fucking with the Nazis, just eating a meal or walking down the street is a prelude to more terror. And the actors observable carry the weight of their occupation, in both senses, at every moment, and their seriousness doesn't get tiresome because it is palpably appropriate. What they're doing is heroic, but there is no lingering over that for effect, and when someone gets emotional it has to be tamped down for the good of the cause. (We get a clue that this will be the method at the beginning, when our hero coolly endures some chatter from a jolly Vichy gendarme. Later, the clasping of a hand is allowed to linger, under extraordinary circumstances, but that too must be put aside.)

Though the heroes are out of uniform, this is one of the best war movies I've ever seen. The two top Resisters' visit to London, where they meet DeGaulle and endure a blitz (and the central character, Gerbier, hitches a ride back to France with the RAF and makes his first parachute jump) gives a sense of the wider conflict within which they operate. This is war seen from deep inside, where the planning is endless and everything can go wrong and one can no longer be interested in what came before or hope too much for what may come afterward. "Struggle" and "conflict" are not conveyed by gritted teeth and flexed muscles but by silent attentiveness to opportunity and the occasional run for freedom or quick, bloody strike (and, in one hair-raising case, the dilemma of killing a man without disturbing the neighbors). The clarity is bracing. It makes Saving Private Ryan look like a soap opera.

I want to see more Melville soon, though my accursed taste for contemporaneity may postpone that so I can see a few more of this year's probably-shitty Oscar nominees.
GENERAL DERANGEMENT SYDROME. In Britain, "a story based on the Three Little Pigs fairy tale has been turned by a government agency's awards panel as the subject matter could offend Muslims." You can guess how I feel about it, and I can probably guess how you feel about it.

You may also guess how James Lileks feels about it too, but with him you can never guess far enough. He interrupts his rant to make this observation:
All the brave people waiting for things to get really bad so they can put on their V for Vendetta masks and upload YouTube videos of themselves writing graffiti on stop signs will roll their eyes and shrug their shoulders at this, because A) it’s just more wingnut hyperventilation, B) the people who get exercised have a deeper agenda, which probably involves deportation and gas chambers, and C) it’s just pigs, man...
Dig hard into your memory banks, lefty friends, and see how many people you can recall meeting who remotely match this description. They may safely be said to barely exist. I'm sure Lileks knows this, but he isn't really talking about these near-imaginary people. He's talking about you and me. Because we didn't wake up the morning and say, "I must protect America from this dhimmitude." You and I are not being criticized for our imagined support of the idiots on the children's book award committee, but for not caring so much about foreign idiocy as about the local variety. Which makes us graffitists who use beatnik slang.

We might call this the McArdle Maneuver, or attach it to a law of wingnut nature: any argument against any outrage will inevitably expand to encompass their ancient grudges, regardless of relevance.

Someone should clue Lileks et alia that the repetitive use of non sequiturs doesn't make them Cato, it makes them incoherent.
TRIBUTE. Heath Ledger was a very good actor and I'm sorry he's gone. Looking back, I see that in my review of Brokeback Mountain I didn't speak on his performance. His vocal characterization reminded me, strangely, of Brian Keith in another movie with a gay theme, Reflections in a Golden Eye, when his Langdon was drunkenly muttering about the departed Anacleto. Langdon was openly contemptuous of the houseboy's feminine manner, but in his cups -- and in the presence of his good buddy and screamingly obvious closet case Penderton -- he rumbled and mumbled and moped over Anacleto's "dancin' on his toes."

Keith's Langdon was wrestling with man-attraction, though at a remove; Ledger's Ennis had no remove. He was simple, and love took him like a plague. The way Ledger played him, I got the feeling that if Ennis had loved a woman instead life would still have been hard for him, but loving Jack made it impossible. Still, he had love and kept it, and though his eyes receded they never became angry, watchful slits that dared the world away; they were warm and full of hurt and confusion, and even attracted affection, disastrously. A large part of the sorrow of watching the movie is expecting Ennis to adapt and realizing that he can't.

The words and directing carry a lot but it's the acting that makes the sale. Actors don't just portray, they also imagine, and under any great performance is always a humane conception that makes the display of skill worth attending. Whatever pain was particular to Heath Ledger, on screen the pain was all Ennis'. We should be grateful to have this fine example of the player's art by which to remember him.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

It really is time to acknowledge that Clinton is running for a third term - in flagrant violation of the 22d Amendment.
Gasp! Can we pre-impeach him? Meanwhile a humorous Onion article spurs one of the Protein Wisdom crew to deep thought:
However, in the past, comedians targeted Bill’s inability to keep his pants on in the workplace. This time the subjects are the implied co-presidency the Clintons offer and Bill’s honesty with respect to the political, rather than the personal. Those doing the mocking are not conservative talk show hosts, but left-leaning humorists. As previously noted, a psychological line may get crossed that permanently erodes — to some degree — the style of politics the Clintons made dominant in the 1990s.
You rarely see this sort of bipartisan spirit, let alone respect for "left-leaning humorists," at Protein Wisdom. In fact you rarely see it anywhere. Well, there was that period in '98 when every newsman was tracking Monica Lewinsky and every late-night comic was making cigar jokes. Great days, those. But it was Clinton who had the last laugh.

I hope someone other than Clinton gets the nomination, but in these early innings it is nostalgically pleasing to observe the continued potency of the Derangement Syndrome she and her husband engendered so many years ago.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

HOW CAN THEY TELL? Fred Thompson has tottered off the national stage. His supporters are taking it hard. Kim du Toit, who once called Thompson "the man who’s going to get my vote in the primaries," now delivers this envoi: "Thanks for nothing. Good-bye, go back to Hollywood, and fuck you."

But most of the Fredheads alternate between mourning and belligerence. At RedState, where Ole Fred kinda sorta blogged, they are vacillating between the denial and bargaining stages. The Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler says, "Now we get to decide which of the remaining horses we’re going to have to ride, if any." At Cold Fury Joe will still vote for Fred; Mike laments "Twilight in America," endorses a new American Conservative Party. Stephen Bainbridge wonders "whether there’s any one of the 4 [remaining GOP candidates] for whom it will be worth holding one’s nose and taking the plunge."

I expect they'll all come around when it's time to vote against Hitlery or that black guy. For now, let us remember the good times. Back when he was only a potential contender for the Presidency, Thompson sent conservative hearts aflutter by making videos like this one, in which he chewed a cigar and threatened Michael Moore with incarceration in a mental institution. How they loved the dazzling fantasy of that tough-talking D.A. from Law & Order stepping out of the idiot box to dispense rough justice to liberals. How Reaganesque it was!

Then he actually entered the race, and soon we were hearing about his "different kind of campaign" -- one in which he did little actual campaigning, or even filing to get on ballots. He was so somnolent on the stump that whenever he showed a flash of vitality, supporters lauded the event as if he were coming around from a long, debilitating illness.

Maybe he never really expected to get very far. Maybe the Thompson demi-campaign was only meant to raise his profile sufficiently to get him better TV gigs. Or maybe he thought all he had to do was show up, and the prize would be handed to him. For a certain kind of conservative, I guess that made him the ideal candidate.
THE PETER PRINCIPLE DIDN'T GO FAR ENOUGH. Early last year, in her much-covered "20/20 Bias" post, Megan McArdle began by announcing that she had been wrong about the war in Iraq, and then proceeded to explain why people who had been saying the war was a mistake all along were right for the wrong reasons, and were also in some way persecuting her:
This has not convinced me of the brilliance of the doves, because precisely none of the ones that I argued with predicted that things would go wrong in the way they did. If you get the right result, with the wrong mechanism, do you get credit for being right, or being lucky?...

What the doves would like to see the hawk's do--"I was wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong about everything, I am a stupid idiot, you are a brilliant figure with god-like omniscience"--is no better a guide to future decisionmaking than ignoring the fact that you were seriously wrong about the Iraq invasion.
This sort of work got McArdle a job with The Atlantic, where she has been writing a great deal lately about her diet, in which, her readers have learned, she will "only eat humanely raised meat" and has "virtually stopped eating bread." In this post she starts out talking about "a very real phenomenon: meat-eaters who are angry at you for not eating meat." She describes these unpleasant encounters, and says "Those who, like me, have made ethical choices about our diets that we haven't asked anyone else to emulate, find the aggressiveness of these encounters puzzling..."

By the end, you may have guessed, McArdle is lecturing vegetarians who are "hectoring" and "humorless jerks" and blaming them for making the meat-eaters mad at her. "You're not only annoying them," he says, "you're annoying me by proxy. Please stop."

If you think old-fashioned magazines are dying now, wait till the bloggers they've hired get through with them.
SHORTER JAMES LILEKS. I can't enjoy Hollywood films anymore because of their steady drumbeat of anti-Bush politics. I am speaking of course of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.
NOT BEANBAG. I won't even bother to link many of bazillion posts going now about how Bill Clinton shouldn't campaign so ruthlessly for Hillary Clinton. Two are indicative enough. On the left, Ezra Klein:
The impulses behind his actions are easy to understand. And, on some level. it's his reputation, his capital, his right to expend it as he sees fit.

But even as he's got that right, he's also got a responsibility to the millions of Democrats -- and Americans -- who worked on his campaigns and fought in his battles, who sacrificed and toiled so he could have this place in our polity, and who expected he would use it to push for progressivism, not just for his family.
I hate to break it to Ezra, but Clinton was barely a progressive president. The distinguishing features of his reign were welfare cuts, pro-growth business policies, and NAFTA. The "progressive" social programs he managed to get through (like the Family and Medical Leave Act) were sufficiently modest that the moneyed interests were able to accommodate them without breaking a sweat. FDR he wasn't. He wasn't even Hubert Humphrey.

Despite this, he had to fight off the most highly developed political attack machine in history. He knows that even moderates have mortal enemies and have to fight like radicals to win. Why should he give a fuck about his reputation among the goo-goos or anyone else? He governed from the middle and got treated like an American Lenin. Presumably he thinks his and his wife's brand of competent, centrist government will be judged kindly by history, but it has to get voted in first.

And from the right, sort of, Andrew Sullivan. I don't even need to quote him; you know what to expect from him and have known it for years. If Sullivan has nothing else in common with his old rightwing colleagues anymore, he is reunited with and even outstrips them in his reflexive hatred of all things Clinton. I'm not so keen on them myself, but I don't need a fucking drool-cup whenever they come into view. And I must say that Sullivan's current concern for gentlemanly conduct in Presidential contests is a little rich when compared to his far more measured assessment of Karl Rove* as recently as 2004:
And the Mary Cheney thing is a brilliant maneuver by the Republicans. Rove knows that most people do find mentioning someone's daughter's lesbianism to be distasteful and gratuitous. So he can work it to great effect, exploiting homophobia while claiming to be defending gays. Again: masterful jujitsu. I tip my hat to the guy. Poisonous, but effective.
Compared to that loathsome episode, what the Clintons have been doing is strictly Marquis of Queensbury stuff, but they'll never get the kind of good-show Sullivan gave Rove because Sullivan is afflicted by what, in other contexts, is commonly called a Derangement Syndrome.

Again, Hillary Clinton is my least favorite Democratic candidate, but here reason forces me to defend her. The notion that saying mean things about Obama to beat him in a Presidential race is some kind of offense to decency is ridiculous even when you don't consider the source.

* Please forgive the tertiary sourcing; Sullivan's posts from his days of Bush enthusiasm are effectively memory-holed.

Monday, January 21, 2008

THE NEWS BUSINESS. Michael Yon gets a very friendly profile in the New York Times. Conservative bloggers for the most part treat it as a further opportunity to hammer the Times. (Tigerhawk is among the few noble exceptions.)

"I guess it’s that time of the year again, for the broken down clock at the NYTimes," sneers Flopping Aces. "The NY Slimes," says Ray Robison. Jammie Wearing Fool complains "they carefully avoid saying too much about his coverage other then giving his web site and the obligatory nod to the now famous picture he took of a soldier cradling a wounded little girl" as if that weren't something most journalists, citizen or otherwise, would kill for. "Pigs were recently seen flying over Central Park," hyuks the Ace of Spades correspondent. Neptunus Lex sees it as a "through the looking glass" event, and his commenters pile on the "chronically lying and serially leaking of defense secrets scumbags at the NY Times!"

RedState, trying hard to huff up some outrage of its own, gets oh-so-close to reality:
The article wasn't negative at all; however, to me it just seems like you could substitute any topic, and any individual, that you wanted to, and the story would read the same way, no tweaking necessary -- like it was a prefab piece.
Of course. The New York Times is a very large newspaper with plenty of room, resources, and motivation to maintain a consensus reality that will accommodate enough readers to keep it viable. When it feels it has to shore up its right flank, it hires a William Kristol or employs freelancers like Glenn Harlan Reynolds and Ann Althouse to write for them, or covers someone like Michael Yon, albeit in a "pre-fab" manner.

The paper is "liberal" only to the extent that it does not, in its institutional voice, full-throatedly endorse the views of its most rightwing constituents. If it did, it would gain nothing, least of all the respect of folks like the ones quoted above. But why should the Times strive for their respect, so long as it clearly retains their attention? Scan the conservative blogs and note all the references and links to the Times. In these days of newspaper attrition, such bloggers are among its most reliable readers.

As for Yon, as I have noted before, he has been far from unnoticed or even underemployed by the "mainstream media," and his insistence that he is being ignored has built his following and enhanced his profile, as the current article amply demonstrates. I applaud this old punk-rock trick of loudly announcing you're too hot for The Man until The Man comes calling with coverage lauding your independence; David Peel couldn't done it better.

As for the rest, I wonder if it ever crosses their minds that all this journalism stuff has something to do with money.
(HATE) IN THE NAME OF PRIDE. MLK Day (observed) has drawn no observations at this writing from National Review Online -- which, given their past observances, is about the most respectful thing they could do.

Wingnuts in general are quiet, perhaps saving up their vitriol for Abraham Lincoln's birthday. Extreme Mortman manages only a short MLK tribute:
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a 1968 appearance at Harvard: “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You are talking anti-Semitism.”
I don't blame him; all I remember about Nixon is his rousing piano rendition of the Missouri Waltz.

At Reason Jesse Walker reproduces a very apt passage by the late Dr. King. I assume concern over the recent Ron Paul newsletter fiasco prevented Reason from printing their planned denunciation of the statist Civil Rights Act. Well, isn't Martin Luther King Day all about being grateful for the little we get?

UPDATE. They're still pretty quiet about it. One of the guys at Libertas does stand up for King against his mortal enemies -- that is, the "wretched NAACP today or liberals in general trying to effect change through divisively revelling and dwelling on our real or perceived mistakes and refusing ever to acknowledge our many virtues." Because King was nothing if not a booster. That's why he kept interrupting the "I Have a Dream" speech to lead the crowd in a chant of "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!"

Pierce has this sort of gibberish well-handled at Sadly, No!:
No, what MLK was all about was color-blindness! Yes, he was only interested in a unified world where everyone behaved exactly like white people. He was not interested in nonsense like affirmative action or restitution for slavery, despite his many public statements to the contrary; even the fact that he wrote an entire book about it shouldn’t sway us into thinking that Dr. King supported anything as crazy as racial quotas or economic compensation in addition to legal equality.
We live in a hell of a world, where liberals are fascists and MLK is Edward Brooke.

On a lighter note, there are some laughs in this Ron Paul video which compares the two doctors' philosophies and (disastrously for Paul) rhetorical styles. There's even a glimpse of young Paul talking cheerfully with black people -- I though Lew Rockwell burned all those!

And since he's all the rage (literally) these days, let me close with a little somethin'-somethin' on Jonah Goldberg's history with the schvartzes.
STILL MORE LIBERAL FASCISM. Jonah Goldberg leads his latest column about the liberal fascists with the grim news that "California is proposing revisions to its housing code that would require all new or remodeled homes to have a 'programmable communicating thermostat'... you would basically cede control of your home's heating and air conditioning to the state (when and if state officials wanted to exercise it)."

You cannot tell from Goldberg's column that the California Energy Commission withdrew this proposal on January 16, nor that the Commissioners, with one exception out of five, were appointed or re-appointed by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Then Goldberg talks about all the bans proposed or put in place by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg without mentioning that Bloomberg was elected as a Republican.

I can't wait for the Ole Perfesser to put this one in his "name that party" file.

Goldberg pads out the remainder of his column with references to other countries, "public service announcements that use fear, terror and gruesome imagery to encourage workplace safety," and the Third Reich.

At The Corner, Goldberg links to an item on the invention of the cup-holder without mentioning that it was first proposed by Hitler to weaken the self-reliance of German motorists.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

THE HOLLYWOOD VERSION. Via Memeorandum, I see Oliver Stone wants to do a George W. Bush biopic. Roger L. Simon and Libertas have already started snarling.

I am intrigued. Stone's Nixon is a muddle, but a pleasurable one, and certainly not a hit job -- in fact, it's Stone's quixotic attempt to humanize Nixon that makes it both confused and interesting. Stone could never concede that Nixon was just a monster of ordinary ambition; he scours his biography for insecurities that might explain him ("I kept thinking of my old man tonight -- he was a failure, too"), even inventing troubled relationships with his wife and mother to show the depth of his existential loneliness. These Freudian interludes clash badly with the massive historical events to which Stone absurdly gave equal weight: Nixon goes to China, Nixon goes to Russia, Nixon goes to Hell.

At times the ill-fitting gears mesh to lovely effect, as when young Nixon attends his mother's admonition to seek "strength in this life, happiness in the next," and the camera sweeps skyward and then down upon a thoughtful Nixon waiting to take the Republican Convention stage in 1968. But the real Nixon, or even a poetic equivalent, remains as elusive as Nixon's dialect in the mouth of Anthony Hopkins. The real hero of Nixon isn't Nixon but Stone, the adrenaline-addled Vietnam volunteer seeking to justify his psychedelic patriotism even amidst ample, excellent cases for abandoning it. His sentimental inability to see Tricky Dick plain provides its own fascinating spectacle of wishful thinking, which reverberates through the eulogies Bob Dole and the ex-Presidents yammer during the end credits.

How could I not be eager to see what Stone will make, ten years later, of Dubya and his exceedingly strange family (and please God let James Cromwell play Poppy)? We'll see then if even Stone's forgiveness has its limits.

Friday, January 18, 2008

IS NOTHING UNTAINTED BY LIBERAL FASCISM? Now the color blue is fascist, or something. Jonah Goldberg posts a reader's note:
I'm powering through the book and will try to send more interesting thoughts and criticism as I can, but I had to write in about that little trivia about the naming of the Philadelphia Eagles. That aside solved a huge mystery for me. This year, the Eagles celebrated their 75th year with throwback jerseys from their inaugural that were mysteriously hideous. They were blue and tannish/yellowish. What the heck did those colors have to do with eagles? Now I know. The blue, which was the main of the jersey, comes from the Blue Eagle of the NRA.
The Eagles were indeed named after the NRA's signature bird -- a neat bit of bandwagoning in a Depression-wracked city -- but the uniform colors are those of the Philadelphia city flag and had been worn by the jurisdiction's previous pro team, the Frankford Yellow Jackets.

But the city of Philadelphia is predominately Democratic, which means that it's fascist, so this only strengthens his point.

Presumably naming the franchise of ultraliberal New England the "Patriots" was just an attempt to fool people. Like Alger Hiss!

This isn't the first time a National Review writer has identified a football team's political affiliation by its colors: "I love it that [the Steelers'] opponents this year will be wearing the colors of — hard to comprehend this — Hamas! Couldn't be a better opponent, who will probably be favored..."

With pro football so riddled with treasonous influences -- and, per Rich Lowry, "a race-obsessed zone" -- it's no wonder another National Review author has argued for a change of allegiance -- expressed, naturally, in terms of occupation: "If American conservatives dedicate themselves to backing American soccer, the resultant energy and optimistic buzz might just push the U.S. men's national team to the final rounds of this summer's World Cup, or at least lower the percentage of the fans sitting next to me who voted for Mondale, Dukakis, and Gore."

Thank God pitchers and catchers is just a month away.
A CHANGE ELECTION. My first reaction to this ad was that it, and its sponsor, Americans for the Preservation of American Culture, couldn't be real; they had to be mischievous inventions of the Romney or maybe even the McCain campaign.

I'm still not sure, but I'm tending toward the view that I've been overthinking it. This is after all an American election, and a little Stars 'n' Bars controversy before a Southern primary is as much a tradition as lawn signs and walking-around money.

The innovations of our glorious new age have given 2008 a patina of novelty, but let's not get carried away. If Obama gets the nomination, we'll get Willie Horton II (and possibly III, IV, and infinity); if Clinton gets it, the position papers of the opposition will resemble the taunting letters-to-the-editor of serial killers of prostitutes, and if Edwards wins they will all be written by the Club for Growth and Mr. Burns from "The Simpsons." So maybe American Culture is being preserved after all. And maybe, despite all the talk of change, that's really what the American people want.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

SOMEDAY NEVER COMES. As usual, Ed Driscoll is telling us that "legacy media" is over. But he also offers us the face of the future: Hotline TV! Turns out to be a lot like legacy media, except the jokes are even lamer, its viewership is in the low hundreds, and it has a scoop: the Michigan Primary was good news for Rudy Giuliani. (Male host: "We've been talking about how he's dead in the water, but he might end up being sort of crazy like a fox!" Female host: "Hmmm!")

I keep hearing Hollywood is over, too, but people are paying millions of dollars to go see The Bucket List instead of Bloggingheads, although the plots seem rather similar.

I have my own idea about what the future will look like. It involves omnipresent clouds of blue smoke, sporadic gunfire, and the revival of ring shouts. Naturally I don't talk about it much.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Ross Perot is right on top of things:
When I asked about Barack Obama, Perot said he admired his eloquence but thought it "a little odd that we would be less concerned about his background than being a Mormon." Perot was pleasantly surprised when I told him that Obama was a Christian, not a Muslim, and relieved when I informed him that the e-mail Perot (and untold others) received about Obama not respecting the Pledge of Allegiance was a fraud.
I hope we can resurrect some more former giants of American politics for their views on the Presidential race. Jesse Ventura, for example. This is from a review of his new book:
Jesse "reveals" that he met with CIA agents after he took office (it sounds about as sinister as a fan-club meeting between FBI agents and a NASCAR driver), says he told President Bill Clinton to bomb the Israel-Palestinian problem (Clinton considered the source) and imagines a weird scenario in which Jesse and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. make a run for the White House that ends with an assassination attempt that leaves Jesse in a coma.

How can they tell?

The final words of the book, while uncredited, are lyrics from "Hotel California," by one of Jesse's favorite rock bands, the Eagles:

"You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!"
I want more! Please, somebody give Ventura and Perot a talk show, or a sitcom. It would beat the hell out of Mark Shields and David Brooks.
ASSHOLE BUDDY. Let me just say that I admire and approve the statement by Ezra Levant made to the Alberta Human Rights Commission. (You may also read his opening remarks to the Commission here.) If you don't have the right to print stupid, offensive things in your own publication, you have no meaningful freedom of speech at all.

I also reaffirm my defense of Mark Steyn's freedom of speech. Though I'm sure none of this changes the fact that I'm a fascist.
RAIN-DANCERS OF THE RIGHT. Peter Wehner, a former Fellow at the Bill Bennett School of Public Scolding and Bush White House strategist who has run for shelter from the upcoming conservative apocalypse to National Review's The Corner, nonetheless feels optimism: "Something good seems to be happening in our land." And that glad tiding is that Matthew McConaughey has referred to the thing growing in his girlfriend's womb as a baby.

"A baby, not a fetus," marvels Wehner. "I wonder how this locution will go down in the militantly pro-abortion world of Hollywood, where the 'right' to an abortion is sacrosanct." Trust me, if McConaughey's career ends in 2008, it won't be due to his use of the b-word -- it'll be due to Fool's Gold.

Things are rough for the right-wing when they jump on proud-parent usage as a sign of the Third Great Awakening. Not even The Corner's normally undemanding readers can stand for it, and they send Wehner complaints -- not, alas, that he has wasted their time with his gibberish, but that McConaughey has not married the mother of his proto-child and is therefore an unsuitable harbringer of moral revival.

Wehner, using some of the skills he no doubt honed at the White House, eats a certain amount of Christer shit before asserting, "I’ll take progress where we can find it. If we are seeing a movement toward respect for the unborn child in Hollywood, let’s accept that — and then, hopefully, we can move toward a greater commitment to marriage."

I suppose the next Hollywood wedding, however doomed, will have them convinced that Christ's Second Coming is right on schedule. (Maybe Jesus did help them with the timing -- they could have got stuck with Eddie Murphy.) Then they can move on to the next step -- getting McConaughey to denounce homosexuality.

Failing that, though, they could raise a small cheer if he tells some reporter that he's not into anal. Or if he gets a nice haircut or holds a door open for a lady or something. These people are like roadside rain-dancers; they can dance through weeks of drought, and still take credit for the shower that breaks it.

UPDATE. gypsy howell makes an excellent point in comments: "Huh. Judging by the number of celebrity out-of-wedlock babies, I was thinking that 'Hollywood' has never heard of having an abortion." What Would Tyler Durden Do concurs. They could add a "Cutest Baby" category to the Oscars and conservatives still wouldn't be satisfied. In fact, when Hollywood finally becomes a giant kindergarten they'll just complain that these "neo-Boomers" will all grow up to smoke pot and have riots.
GOLDBERG VARIATIONS. Jonah Goldberg is upset that Jon Stewart took him to the gas chamber:
Yeah, I knew I was in trouble when the interview just wouldn't end — and I got the sense it wasn't ending because Stewart didn't feel like he "won" so he had to keep going. I haven't watched it (though I pretty much never watch myself on TV), but I knew that editing wasn't going to help me. Still, I also went in knowing I wasn't going to get a supportive reaction from the guy.
I don't have cable, but let me guess -- did it go something like this:

Or was it like one of those old Smothers Brothers routines where Dick gets all up in Tommy's face and Tommy goes, "You... you.. you're a fascist"? Or was it like the old Bob & Ray routine in which an author of a book on American History (who is not an academic but a longshoreman, and so has written the book "mostly from memory") is called out for listing Lincoln's birthplace as "Bailey's Mistake, Maine," and responds, "Well, it's a big book, a few mistakes are bound to slip through"? (The author also, when confronted with a obvious 17th Century plate of American Indians parlaying with settlers that he had captioned "FDR signing the Social Security Act," counters, "Well, look, if you want to nit-pick a book...")

Well, such is the life of a legacy pledge when confronted with a world that, to his horror, is not bound by law or custom to be true to his school. I'm just surprised Ramesh Ponnuru didn't warn him off.

UPDATE. It must have been worse than I thought, as Goldberg has hauled out the "letters of support" routine. (I bet the interns hate this: "Get cracking, kids, Jonah needs some love!") As is common in the genre, one of the correspondents says he's a liberal -- though he adds "probably 'classical' by your definition" because even Goldberg fans might find the idea of a liberal saying "Thanks for calling me a fascist" hard to swallow.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

CAN'T WE ALL USE A LITTLE GOOD NEWS? The local ABC Affiliate reports that should rich prick Michael Bloomberg run for President, he couldn't beat anyone or even carry his "hometown," New York City. For extra schadenfreude, WABC failed to add the usual "that's because New Yorkers want him to keep being their bestest mayor ever" that traditionally appears with these things.

Mmm. Even the air smells fresher.

I actually hope Bloomberg doesn't dwell on it too much -- and not just out of fellow-feeling for whatever servant he will abuse in his rage; I fear he may seek to punish us all with another ban. But what's left? Maybe sugar-free chewing gum. Which would suck, as that's part of my weight-loss program.
ROMNEYMENTUM! Another impressive showing by Old Fred Thompson. This guy's catching fire. Despite what the liberal media says, Thompson's manager says he got "about 15%*" in Michigan. No doubt the discrepancy is due to the fact that his supporters are still in their voting booths, trying to figure out how to work the levers.

(* Ooops -- misread, the manager was talking about Huckabee's 15%. My only excuse is all the excitement in the air -- call it Referred Huckafever -- and the peculiarity of a campaign release leading with the third-place finisher's number. So dazed was I that I also failed to mention the Thompson campaign's gracious congratulations to the winner. Oh, wait a minute...)

And say what you will about Uncommitted, he's still very much in this race!

Romney invokes "George Herbert Walker Bush," just to make sure no one thinks he's talking about that stupid drunk in the White House.
JONAH GOLDBERG'S I KNOW YOU ARE BUT WHAT AM I? I'll say this for him: Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism is full of fun historical facts, including these hilarious biographical details for Rabbi Michael Lerner: "When [Lerner and his bride] were married, they exchanged rings extracted from the fuselage of an American aircraft downed over Vietnam. The wedding cake was inscribed with the Weathermen motto 'Smash Monogamy.'"

But the book doesn't offer much in the way of analysis. As in his writing for National Review and elsewhere, Goldberg treats facts as dirt-clods to hurl at his opponents; the task of condensing them into a case that fascism comes out of liberalism (and that modern-day liberalism is still just a putsch short of fascist dictatorship) is well beyond him.

We get a hint at the problem early on, when Goldberg defines fascism. "Scholars have had so much difficulty explaining what fascism is because various fascisms have been so different from each other," he says. But he is unwilling to take as a guide such apparently definitive statements as Mussolini's ("the resolute negation of the doctrine underlying so-called scientific and Marxian socialism") -- even while calling Il Duce "The Father of Fascism" -- prefering instead to emphasize Mussolini's youthful enthusiasms for Marx and socialism, which Goldberg accepts as proof that Marxism, socialism, and fascism are all the same thing -- that is, liberalism.

As a perhaps semi-conscious defense of this selective reading, Goldberg notes that "as a pragmatist, [Mussolini] was constantly willing to throw off dogma, theory, and alliances whenever convenient" -- yet he doesn't seem to grasp that this statement cuts both ways; if Mussolini was just conning people when he denounced the Left, why couldn't he have been conning them when he embraced it?

So Goldberg offers his own definition:
Fascism is a religion of the state. It assumes the organic unity of the body politic and longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people. It is totalitarian in that it views everything as political and holds that any action by the state is justified to achieve the common good. It takes responsibility for all aspects of life, including our health and well-being, and seeks to impose uniformity of thought and action, whether by force or through regulation and social pressure. Everything, including the economy and religion, must be aligned with its objectives. Any rival identity is part of the "problem" and therefore defined as the enemy. I will argue that contemporary American liberalism embodies all of these aspects of fascism.
If the charge at the end surprises you, you have missed a trick: by "all of these aspects," he doesn't mean all at the same time. Any little piece of the bill of particulars, regardless of context, will serve. Thus, the fact that Mussolini supported old-age pensions and a minimum wage becomes as important to understanding his fascism as hyper-nationalism and the one-party state, because "takes responsibility for all aspects of life, including our health and well-being..." appears in Goldberg's definition.

You can imagine how this figures in Goldberg's classification of the Great Society and national health care as fascist phenomena. Indeed, there isn't an American welfare program or idea in the book that Goldberg doesn't find fascist or proto-fascist (this includes George Bush's compassionate conservatism). One wonders why he failed to mention the fascist provenance of Home Relief or the Sermon on the Mount.

Once you start using history and logic so irresponsibly, anything goes. For example, when we come to Hillary Clinton, Goldberg's "First Lady of Liberal Fascism," we are offered her 1973 Yale graduate paper arguing for granting legal autonomy to children in court cases as evidence of her fascism. Many of us might question the scope of Clinton's youthful claim, but it takes a Goldberg to compare Clinton's arguments to those of Robespierre and Hitler on the grounds that they, too, advocated "'capturing' children for social engineering purposes." Goldberg follows with some characteristic broken-field running, saying that Clinton's project "is in no way a Nazi project" -- and then compares her to Stalin and Mao ("they share a sweeping vision of social justice and community and the need for the state to realize that vision").

Clinton took a side in legitimate competing interests, and the most evident legacy of her efforts may be seen in the relatively mild legal and policy efforts of the Children's Defense Fund. But Goldberg finds her fascist because "while there are light-years of difference between the programs of liberals and those of Nazis or Italian Fascists or even the nationalist progressives of yore, the underlying impulse, the totalitarian temptation is present in both." And didn't Goldberg explicitly use the word totalitarian -- in italics -- in his bill of particulars? Close counts in horseshoes and Liberal Fascism.

If you think this is rich, see what he gives Norman Lear. Yes, that's Norman Lear the TV guy. The sitcom maker's formation of People for the American Way, and his despair at "the spiritual emptiness of our culture" and "our obsession with numbers, the quantifiable, the immediate," draws this analysis from Goldberg:
Lear's cri de coeur is an almost pitch-perfect restatement of the neo-Romantic objections to modern society that inspired fascist movements across Europe and the search for 'a cause larger than ourselves' of the American Progressives. He might receive an appreciative hearing from the early Paul de Man, Ezra Pound, and countless other fascist theorists and ideologues who denounced the Western -- particularly Jewish -- obsession with numbers and technical abstraction.
From wan, warm-hearted boilerplate to fascism in two easy sentences! And it can be used on anyone who pleads for deep feeling -- even Mr. Spock! ("It is almost a biological rebellion, a profound revulsion against the planned communities, the programming, the sterilized, artfully balanced atmospheres...") Try it at home yourself!

There are many similar howlers in the book. The barbarities of Leftist radicals in the 60s -- despite Goldberg's admission that these people sought to "differentiate themselves from liberals, whom the hard left saw as too concerned with politeness, procedure, and conventional politics" -- are connected to official Democratic politics because Howard Dean once spoke nostalgically of the Civil Rights Act and Hollywood made Easy Rider. Goldberg glides over the blacklists of the 50s -- he has previously spoken sympathetically of them -- but takes care to remind us that "[Joe] McCarthy's political roots lay firmly in the Progressive Era." The Da Vinci Code is linked to "the Nazi attack on Christianity." And there are all those brain-farts ("The white male is the Jew of liberal fascism") that have been the joy and solace of Sadly, No! lo these many weeks.

Goldberg is on firmer ground documenting the often deplorable overreach of the Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt Administrations. Of course, you may have already learned about many of their atrocities from Howard Zinn, Gore Vidal, and other liberal writers. That liberals, socialists, and progressives mainly took it in the neck from Wilson doesn't bother Goldberg -- after all, the Nazis fought the Commies, and they were all fascists. And I doubt Goldberg would even acknowledge that the more coercive aspects of the Roosevelt Administration are now rejected by most liberals, and indeed mainly defended by conservatives.

And that's really what this book is about. Throughout Liberal Fascism Goldberg inserts complaints that liberals unfairly call conservatives fascists -- a slur that, in our age of blogospheric intemperance and extraordinary renditions, is even harder to escape than when hippies were yelling it. Well, he'll show them. Having heard the "Why do you think they called it National Socialism?" routine for decades, I have some idea of the depth of Goldberg's well of resentment. Though he has plowed up a lot of source material to stuff his magnum opus, that sense of ancient grievance permeates and dooms his book. Goldberg betrays a palpable need to get all his (and previous generations of American conservatives') grudges in, from Rousseau to John Kerry. And he's got to prove they're all fascists. Even a skilled polemicist would have collapsed under the weight of the task, but a skilled polemicist would have known enough to rein it in a little. Goldberg doesn't. Whenever he does manage to string a few points together, The Quest calls him unto a new absurdity.

That won't matter to the built-in market of Coulter fans and dittoheads who have already adopted Liberal Fascism, but unaffiliated readers will probably be flummoxed. As for those of us on the other side -- the real fascists, if you will -- it is, as tradition dictates, just the latest, if also the largest, of Goldberg's gifts of laughter.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Whatever happened to

UPDATE. Look, proud brothers: the club is open!
A SOLITARY MAN. Rod Dreher is on one his natalist tears. "Will Boomers die alone and unloved?" he asks, and refers to Philip Longman's harrowing premonitions of Boomer-geezer disappointment in Social Security, of which my favorite part is this:
The younger generation to whom Boomers will turn for support in old age will also contain a higher proportion of African Americans and Hispanics than does the Baby Boom generation itself. So on top of the generational divide, and on top of the culture divide, will be a widening racial and ethnic divide.
As if anticipating that the prospect of senescence in hands of dark-skinned strangers may not be enough to sway us, Dreher doubles down with a childless couple's lament: "It's the other side of the Boomer childlessness story."

It's amazing how much of the Jesus people POV is based on the Ant and the Grasshopper. Just you wait, they say, one day you'll be old and alone and godless -- and, if we have our way, broke. Then who'll be laughing?

Speaking as a childless man of no great fortune, I fully expect to die one of these days, and I have respect enough for narrative, and the odds, to also expect that my end may not be heartwarming. But I fail to see how that should drive me to procreate. As Lear and a million other geezers knew, children are an unreliable source of comfort and security. However long a span I am granted, the end is just a little piece of it. If that isn't sweet, I know that my memories, if I am blessed to retain them, will be, and thereafter is oblivion. I have front-loaded my happiness, and have no regrets.

I understand that Dreher wants for religious reasons to encourage increased childbearing, and would threaten abrogation of the Social Security contract to achieve it. That he and others would use such a crude weapon to scare people into having babies is frankly disgusting. If my natural inclinations would in any case encourage my resistance, under such circumstances my self-respect demands it. Better, morally speaking, to fall back on my default retirement plan: a pistol and a rooming-house.

If you are not so inclined, you might still consider carefully before taking life lessons from a guy whose idea of Walter Cronkite is Ross Douthat.