Friday, February 29, 2008

MURDER ON THE DISORIENTED EXPRESS. When the Perfesser said "GERARD VAN DER LEUN is worried about Obama" getting shot, I knew something was off. And I was right. Guess whose fault Van Der Leun says it will be if someone shoots the Democratic candidate?
And yet it is more probable that an attempt on Obama will be made than at any time in the last few decades. The country has been infected with Bush hate for so long, and the popular culture has been so infested with dreams and threats and "works of art" imagining the death of Bush, that extending that level of political hate to Obama is trivial.

In December of 2003, I wrote this item:
Where Bush Hate is Heading which began:
A minor moron moment making its way on the talk shows today are the new lyrics by Eminem:
"F--k money. I don't rap for dead presidents.
I'd rather see the president dead. "

Even though written to be brain fade of the month, Eminem's lyrics encapsulate where Bush Hate is heading.

Bush Hate, at the rate of festering intensity currently observable, is headed towards only one singular event: An attempt on the life of George W. Bush by an American citizen.
Since 2003 the incidents that have reinforced and promulgated this cultural poison have only proliferated...

That those who hate Bush have, over the past eight years, made an attempt on the life of Barack Obama more probable is not at all ironic. It is horrifying and to their shame.
It's not remarkable that these people think liberalism is fascism; that's a simple inversion familiar to readers of Orwell. Believing that the imaginary death of Obama is caused by imaginary assassins of Bush -- that sees and raises the Vonnegut of Mother Night. But Van Der Leun's proud offering of his spectacularly wrong 2003 prediction that Bush would be shot as proof of his prescience -- I don't know if Dostoyevsky jamming with Italo Calvino and Philip K. Dick could have come up with that. It is something to consider that our greatest feats of imagination these days are mostly in the field of psychopathology.

UPDATE. Nearly all of Van Der Leun's commenters are choice, but this is my favorite:
I just thought of something that sickens me.

It's obvious that if he were assassinated, as a martyr he'd advance their cause far more than as a mediocre president. They're deliberately PLANTING the idea, hoping some nut will take them up on him, allowing them to come down hard on the entire right.

I really hope I'm developing clinical paranoia.
Like the man said, there has never been anything false about hope.

UPDATE II. In our own comments, R. Porrofatto provides some historical perspective: "Were it not for a toxic mix of GDS (Garfield Derangement Syndrome) and fanatic adoration for the messianic Chester Arthur, we wouldn't have disgruntled postal workers to this day."
FILM DORK. The culture-warriors' work of reviewing films they haven't seen is never-ending, but Dirty Harry of Libertas shows that their efforts can lead to ever greater heights of self-parody:
Frequently I’m accused of jumping the gun and judging a film before seeing it. What’s interesting about this criticism is that it only ever applies to those of us on the right who criticize based on ideology. Even though there’s an entire industry made up of people who pre-judge films and fuss over every detail from the trailer to casting to production rumors… It’s only conservatives who are ever dismissed with, “Well, did you see the movie?” What’s odd about this criticism is that given Hollywood’s decades-long war on all things American and conservative you’d think people would understand we’re on much firmer ground than all the other pre-judgers, but I’m just sounding all defensive now, so let’s get to it…
Then, having previously condemned the alleged politics of the film Iron Man based on comments by one of the actors, he praises its alleged politics based on a "script review" of a second draft.

Mr. Harry is right that I would never give so hard a time to such trailer-trawlers as Film Drunk. Film Drunk is intentionally funny and occasionally posts nude photos of Megan Gale. All of the humor of Libertas comes from imagining what kind of dork spends so much time parsing posters, interviews, trailers, and other flotsam of filmdom for evidence of treason. And Libertas has no nude photos of Megan Gale (though it will on occasion flash you some pecs). It's like comparing the films of Russ Meyer with the Army-McCarthy Hearings.

“Well, did you see the movie?” is a question a sensible person might ask any blowhard who criticizes a film based on its lobby cards or ancillary merchandise, regardless of his politics. The maudlin note of persecution just makes the KICK ME sign easier to read.

UPDATE. In comments kia of Gall and Gumption provides the best explanation I've heard yet for this phenomenon: "Seeing the actual film, knowing the history of Hollywood, knowing any facts at all, are for people who don't know what they are. Once you know what you are you know everything. In fact it's his readiness to dispense completely with his own experience that makes him such a good 'conservative' critic..." A lot of people use the phrase "identity politics" mainly to complain about black people, but I think kia's description suggests a better definition of the term.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

HOW YOU GONNA KEEP 'EM DOWN ON THE FARM AFTER THEY'VE SEEN THE FARM? The Ole Perfesser is upset that some alleged New Yorker (not me!) sent him an anti-Southerner email -- upset enough to enlist in support of his native land Michael Silence, who suggests that a lot of New Yorkers move down South to... the Washington, D.C. metro area. Yee-haw!

But seriously, the article Silence links also shows a lot of growth deeper within Confederate territory: "Sixty of the fastest-growing counties were in the South..."

As a casual observer may notice from this more recent U.S. Census press release, though, many of the fastest-growing counties (such as Harris, Maricopa, and Tarrant) contain large cities (Houston, Phoenix, and Fort Worth, in the aforementioned cases), and it is not unfair to deduce -- despite the Perfesser's boundless faith in telecommuting -- that job opportunities contingent upon urban life may have motivated much of the resettlement. It's one thing to light out for the territory and another to follow a job or career path.

That many of these opportunities exist in the Southern states is indeed a remarkable phenomenon. But when people have the money to live where they please, where do they choose to go? The alarming masses of trust-funders currently occupying the choicer parts of my borough suggest that the freedom offered by wealth (according to libertarian philosophy, the highest state of man) leads to Blue State metropolitan areas.

I believe this case was most eloquently made by Paul Henning, who mapped the migratory pattern of rural sharecroppers suddenly blessed with windfall profits:

SHADOW PLAY. Michael Bloomberg announces in the Times he won't run for President; the response in published commentary is, as usual, generous. The response of a grateful nation will probably not be detectable by any but the most sensitive instruments. Bloomberg's money is important, but Bloomberg himself is not. His endorsement, when it comes, probably won't even affect votes in New York City, let alone in those wide stretches of the country in which he is perceived as Some Rich Guy.

I expect his long-range plan is to wait for America's price to come down and then buy it. In the meantime, after he tires of running New York, he may opt to run a state, or purchase a Senate seat or a small foreign country, just to keep his chops up.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

SEASONS CHANGE AND SO DO I/YOU NEED NOT WONDER WHY, BABE. "People think seriously about writing their dissertations on Radiohead," says James Poulos, who has written one such for AFF Doublethink and invited me to read it. I'm flattered and abashed, not only because it gives me yet another opportunity to play the old fart.

Poulos tells the Radiohead story in epochal flashes. When the Foo Fighters' "The Colour and the Shape dropped... proto-indie emoheads of the high school thrift-store set worked up wrenching solo arrangements of big single 'Everlong.'" But wachet auf! Then came Radiohead's "Let Down," which "blew off the doors on the nostalgia for the present that had already been the soundtrack of every unrequited emo-boy’s life for what felt like one long year." Well, they all seem long at that age.

But Poulos, "a doctoral candidate at Georgetown," spares moments between orgasmic droppings to notice context. He's aware of "sensitive boys just coming of age and desperately in need of equally sensitive girlfriends... college hookups, group-sex ‘friendcest,’ university counseling, a wavelet of party drugs." In his reading these are not, as we are accustomed to think of them, new players and set-dressings for the latest version of an ever-renewing goatsong: they represent something even bigger -- "sexual and emotional corruption" that needed a cleansing fire: "But in 2001, the summer still seemed endless, and any reckoning with the full import of that line was postponed. And then the war came."

There are many reasons for which I thank God that I had no 9/11 in my younger days, and now I have to add the possibility that I might have been tempted to shake it into the kaleidoscope of cliches through which I viewed my own experience. "9/11 set in motion a long span during which neither adulthood nor The Future ever quite seemed to arrive," Poulos informs us. We got instead "a psychosexual milieu in which satisfaction seems obsolete, mutual manipulation is common currency, and fully contingent commitment defines our interrelationships." Sounds like Spring Break stretching backward and forward into infinity. Is there hope of rescue, grandson? Well of course:
Perhaps, among rock bands, only Radiohead has the credibility to do that in a way that can move people to steer away from the rocks of the age on something resembling their own terms....

For its fans, the band has provided a decade-long emotional field guide, and a ready shield against the turmoil of extended adolescence... slowly and surely it has also risen up as a sturdy cultural touchstone, an icon of an age that even those who failed to worship at its feet will remember.

But it remains an open question whether we can ever really convert the shared escape of spectators and audience members into any sort of permanent redemption. Radiohead has imparted a measure of hope even while chronicling its loss.
Boy, that takes me back. Lately I've been revisiting Pere Ubu -- like Radiohead, a technically danceable but willfully freakish band that had less resonance for the hoi polloi than for the "particularly smart and creative but somewhat adrift" back when that Poulos phrase described me.

Pere Ubu came up in a time before their kind of avant-garde twists could be widely appreciated, and we the smart, creative & drifting had no hope of seeing them into the Top Forty. We instead contented ourselves with the warm insularity of fringe fandom.

From our fringe we shouted extravagant and wounded aesthetic claims for our weirdo heroes to the unlistening world. There was no intrinsic merit in these claims -- what God cares what music you dance to? -- but the older-to-younger-brother transfer nonetheless took place. Like many another sticky social phenomenon, Pere Ubu eventually forged a path for future iterations, by adding enough clicks and grunts to the lingua franca of popular music that clubs, fans, and producers would be less confused and more accepting when they came up thereafter.

Flash forward: there are more colors in the pop paintbox than in decades past, and the eccentricities of a Radiohead more easily pass into the mainstream. Their sardonic lyrics and sonic innovations may puzzle, but they don't put off. So critically engaged supporters are relieved of the need to parlay on behalf of their heroes with the mob. What's left for them is to explain to fans, who have already been enjoying their morose sounds, what it all means.

I hate to tell Poulos, but there isn't that much to tell. Though each Radiohead joint is a lovely, grimy snowflake, in terms of content I can't see any significant difference between their glowerings and those of any avant-gardists from the late 19th Century onwards. What distinguishes them other than personality? Here's Poulos' In Rainbows rundown:
“Nude,” though edited down, still speaks for itself; “Weird Fishes” pick at the bones of an emotional captive; “All I Need” lavishes the subject of “Skip Divided” with tuneful, but no less bestial, monomania. Yorke idles in post-coital reverie (“Faust ARP”), disavows pleasure (“Reckoner”), and gives in again to begged-for adultery (“House of Cards”). “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” places Yorke and That Woman in a centrifugal club: drunk, dazzled, losing control. Eyes lock eyes; words function with all the delicacy of a “sawed-off shotgun;” a collapse into sex will finish the night, but the only path open to the future requires that you “wish away the nightmare.”
Sounds like Franz Wedekind to me. Did Bin Laden teach us nothing? In artistic terms, pretty much yes.

Which is great: if we had to define ourselves by our mortal enemies, we'd be very weak indeed. But a loyal opposition -- that's something worth rubbing up against. While I admire Poulos' spunk, I recommend he switch to the short view. Back in '77 Robert Christgau was leery of Elvis Costello, "suspecting that he is 'New Wave' for people with good taste," in the context of the taste-challenging punk rock onslaught of the time. But Christgau had the good sense, and the good taste, to also approve the critical consensus for Fleetwood Mac and Ornette Coleman. He had his political issues, but he also loved music enough to prefer cross-pollination to stasis or revolution.

Any band may find itself, by dint of talent and circumstance, in the Voice of a Generation role, but that doesn't mean it has much more to say to us than "Hey Hey We're the Monkees" (or "Nay, Nay We're the Refuseniks"), nor that it has a stronger or more long-lasting or valid claim on our attention than the next revival or New Wave. Critics, attend: Awareness of this fact may, counterintuitive as it seems, give your reviews a longer shelf-life.

UPDATE. I am pleased to see that Poulos appreciates Eyes Wide Shut more than most. But here too I would advise: it's not so much about now as ever.

UPDATE II. This post has engendered a lively comments section, much of it devoted to which bands/albums/genres suck, and which rool. The shamanistic power of Jerry Garcia is invoked, and Lester Bangs derided (to which I take exception). Fighting over the scraps of pop culture is fun for graybeards and Now People alike. Since pop can't bring us together, let us cherish that it can bring us to one another's throats in entertaining and non-lethal ways.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

SUPER METATUESDAY! Cableless, I could not watch tonight's debate, so I will follow the example of conservatives who review movies they haven't seen and review the debate as it took place in the minds of National Review Online contributors.

Kathryn J. Lopez starts the evening's festivities:
I Never Thought I'd Say This, But... I may be angry on behalf of Hillary Clinton. This debate is starting out with Clinton on the defense. Obama bettter get treated like she is.
It would seem a little late for K-Lo to go feminist-deconstructionist, but apparently neither clocks nor spell-check exist in Rightwing World.

Mark Krikorian: "Maybe I'm not as smart as these two, but I have no idea what they're talking about." Why "but"? Both propositions are clearly correct.

"Could Hillary's problem be that no adviser can say 'save the b**ch for the second half hour'?" Wow, K-Lo, that didn't last long!

Stephen Spruiell tries to go substantive, but the whole thing's about what a b**ch Clinton is. Under the usual Bizarro-World formula, we might reasonably conclude from this that Clinton is winning decisively, but there is a Twilight of the Gods atmosphere about their savagery that renders the usual predictive mechanisms inoperative.

Mark Hemingway just admitted that Alan Keyes is a political tomato-can. Such is loyalty in the late conservative era.

"If Fox did this to Hil, the Left would go ballistic. But this is their hometown channel" -- Andy McCarthy. I don't see how I've remained a doctrinaire liberal so long without access to Wolf Blitzer's morning agenda.

"Without condescension, with a gentle nudge, he puts her back in the kitchen" -- Kathleen Parker. Tomorrow's talking point: Obama wants to put Hil in "kitchen"! Long discussion of Obama's sexism, probably absorbed from his hateful mother.

"I don't think Russert's doing it on purpose, but..." Were I blessed with faith in a Liberal Media, I'd believe this were the trick: to avalanche on Clinton in full view of the NatRev types so that their brains fry trying to comprehend how we, pledged in blood though we are to the evil Clinton empire, could treat her so badly. I mean, it's not as if she were Alan Keyes!
Don't Use the L-Word! [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

I wish there were a candidate delighted to be honestly and authentically called a liberal or a conservative. I like partisanship. To paraphrase Gordon Gekko, "partisanship is good."
To paraphrase Winston Churchill, "You're a stupid fucking load, K-Lo."

So rattled are the NatRev crew by this exercise that those members determined to comment on world affairs afterward lose their usual acuity. "The Washington Times has issued instructions that henceforth it will use illegal immigrants rather than illegal aliens," mourns Andy McCarthy. He completely missed the part about gay "marriage"! I don't really know what really happened in Cleveland tonight, but if it put these guys off their customary homophobic feed, it can't have been too bad.

UPDATE. Ann Althouse: "Obama is confronted with his 'most liberal' ranking. I find his talking tiresome and will need to check the transcript to see if he said anything interesting." I don't know what we'd do without the blogosphere -- probably go down to the tunnels of Grand Central and ask Mole People to extemporize. Meanwhile the Ole Perfesser recommends Stephen Green's "drunkblogging." Sample: "Hillary getting all sarcastic in not a pretty sight. Neither are her hips in that bright yellow jacket." Green gives drunkenness a bad name, and the Perfesser gives a bad name to everything else. Andrew Sullivan is freaked out that Obama only "denounced" Farrakhan, as opposed to -- what? Producing a Farrakhan doll and biting its throat open? Later, chided by correspondents, Sullivan says "I find Obama's calm distancing insufficient" and " I also think this will be used against him and worry that it will become a distracting issue" -- by which he means, "Here's what I'll bring up when I inevitably support McCain." Did you know The Atlantic used to publish Mark Twain? Sh, sh, don't cry -- soon the old crazy man will be President and then we will all join Daddy in heaven.

Monday, February 25, 2008

GLASS HOUSE WATCH. Larry Kudlow at National Review Online:
Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed Hillary's erratic, roller-coaster, mood swings these past few weeks?

She's all over the map. Irritable and angry. Manic. Pessimistic and sad. One minute she's shedding tears, the next minute she's shouting and attacking, then she's sarcastically ripping on Obama, and on and on it goes.

So, is Hillary depressed?

Now I'm no psychiatrist, far from it, but I think a simple answer is that Senator Clinton could be depressed. She seems deflated. Down in the dumps.

Look, depression is a serious problem. It's also a multibillion-dollar business. Three of the more popular drugs in the market today to treat it are Pfizer's Zoloft, Eli Lilly's Prozac, and GlaxoSmithKline's Paxil. Maybe Hillary's taking meds, but they're just not working for her? Could that be why she's always attacking Big Pharma?
Maybe she just needs a little toot to get her over the hump. Perhaps Kudlow can pull out his old rolodex and hook her up.
Leave aside the extreme dubiousness of the proposition that Castro has, in fact, made his countrymen better off. This is like listening to those conservatives one occasionally encounters in the darker corners of the movement who drop gems such as "Well, I don't excuse Pinochet, but Chile wouldn't have a privatized social security system without him."
These "darker corners" apparently include the warrens of Mark Steyn...
But, on the passing of one of the great hate-figures of left-wing drawing-rooms, even those not quite as gung-ho for the old strongman as Peter Simple ought to acknowledge that [Pinochet] left his country much better than he found it.
...and Jonah Goldberg...
I THINK ALL intelligent, patriotic and informed people can agree: It would be great if the U.S. could find an Iraqi Augusto Pinochet... Pinochet's abuses helped create a civil society. Once the initial bloodshed subsided, Chile was no prison. Pinochet built up democratic institutions and infrastructure. And by implementing free-market reforms, he lifted the Chilean people out of poverty.
...and the Wall Street Journal...
[Pinochet] is responsible for the death and torture that occurred on his watch, but had Salvador Allende succeeded in turning Chile into another Cuba, many more might have died.

Late in life it emerged that he had probably stashed millions in personal bank accounts. But he also supported the free-market reforms that have made Chile prosperous and the envy of its neighbors.
...and... but why go on? While you have to go to history, entertainment figures, and blog commenters to find fulsome praise for Castro, you can find such praise for Pinochet right smack dab in the conservative political mainstream even after the old bastard croaked.

Is it a meaningful difference? The old commies certainly hold some romantic appeal for many liberals, and it's bleak fun to use Cuba to twit fans of American healthcare. But you'd have to dig pretty hard to find a liberal who'd really like to see more rather than fewer Communist dictatorships. As we have seen, on the right there are highly-placed commenters who don't even class the Pinochet regime as a failed experiment. They think it went just fine, and look forward to trying it again. Some kids may like to wear Che on their t-shirts, but when conservatives are opened, you shall find "authoritarian government" lying in their hearts.

UPDATE. A commenter points out that McArdle cross-posted to her own blog, where you will find a multitude of "darker corners" in comments.
BEHIND THE LAUGHTER. The Oscars were as cumbersome as usual but, bouyed by the unstoppable force of my office-pool picks (Stewart's crack about film editing was much appreciated), I didn't actually start screaming until the third song from Enchanted. It was the black guy suddenly representing Caribbean flava that did it. (I guess Mencken and Schwartz musta gone to Sandals last year.) Now, if they had also brought out a hip Latina and a kickline of differently-abled princes and princesses, I could have rolled with that, but as it was I had to scream and scream again, scream like Blacula, scream for my life like the Tingler was in the house. And it felt damn good.

Thank God we can set aside the usual bullshit for a night of Hollywood bullshit! Well, not all of us can -- like a troll sticking a headshot of Jessica Alba to the face of his love-doll, rightwing bloggers have to superimpose liberal smackdown scenarios ("And Day-Lewis wins! Clooney’s feeling the snub." Wait, what?) onto any event before they can relax and enjoy. But at least, in their emotional crippled way, they're having fun. And whatever pleasure it gives them to write stuff like "Decent people wouldn’t have even nominated these depraved films," I reap at least double that. So hooray for Hollywood! And next year, let's give the honorary award to Kitten Natividad.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

OK, just fire McArdle and let her mother write the blog. It couldn't possibly be any worse.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

EVERYONE'S A WINNER! I am usually very bad at picking Oscar winners, and though I've seem more entrants this year than usual, I expect to fare as poorly as ever. But talking big on subjects I don't understand is my stock in trade. So I invite you to lift your self-esteem by comparing your picks to mine.

Best Picture: No Country for Old Men. Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis. Best Actress: Ellen Page. Best Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem. Best Supporting Actress: Tilda Swinton. Best Director: The Coens. Best Original Screenplay: Juno. Best Adapted Screenplay: No Country for Old Men.

(I'm all about Julie Christie, but every Oscar show needs a shocker, Juno is well-liked, and youth must be served. I still can't figure out whether Swinton was good or awful, but she sure was acting. Diablo Cody is the new Callie Khouri.)

Best Animated Feature: Ratatouille. Best Art Direction: Sweeney Todd. Best Cinematography: Atonement. Best Costume Design: Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Best Film Editing: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Best Foreign Language Film: The Counterfeiters. Best Music (Score): Ratatouille. Best Music (Song): "Raise It Up." Best Makeup: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Best Sound Mixing: The Bourne Ultimatum. Best Sound Editing: Transformers. Best Visual Effects: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Best Documentary Feature: Taxi to the Dark Side. Best Documentary Short: Freeheld. Best Animated Short: Madame Tutli-Putli. Best Live-Action Short: Tanghi Argentini.

(I'm totally groping here. I figure the big lush romance and the big summer movies require craft awards, Elizabethan clothes are wicked cool, and Michael Moore is fat. The shorts I judged, as I expect most voters do, by their synopses. Everything else is juju.)

Friday, February 22, 2008

THEN WHO ARE YOU? Despite honorable ancestors like Kiss Me Deadly, we strongly identify the paranoid thriller genre with the 1970s, when Hollywood disillusionists postulated in widescreen that everything was a fraud and anyone who got too near the truth would be killed.

When bummers went out of fashion, we still got paranoid thrillers, but they were generally more uplifting and mainstream, like the John Grisham (and Grishamesque) dramas that show up every season with horrible conspiracies, happy endings, and big stars. The hero is usually shown to be on some sort of quest for personal redemption as well as for survival, as befits the modern idea of blockbuster entertainment that makes you feel good about humanity because Tom Cruise rediscovered his sense of purpose.

Michael Clayton is of this sort, but more serious about the redemption angle. [Muted spoilers herewith.] Things still go bump in the night and the deck is still stacked until the hero pulls his ace, but we also get more than the usual amount of information about the hero's personal problems, and a stronger invitation to relate to them.

Clayton, once an assistant DA in Queens, has been for years a "fixer," "janitor," "bagman" (his words, and others') for a big law firm without making partner or even getting the kinds of cases he says he prefers. Clayton hasn't found success because he doesn't really want it: something in him is always rebelling against the amoral system in which he's enmeshed, and he screws himself with debts and bitter self-mockery.

Why not just quit? The debts provide an excuse. But as the details of his work and life mount, we get that Clayton doesn't quit for the same reason many of us don't quit. It's what he knows. He's good at it even if he isn't proud of it. Clayton has a fuckup brother whom he disdains, but with whom he nonetheless disastrously co-invested his "walk-away" money. In a simpler script the blown savings would clearly be a convenient accident that motivates the hero, but here they suggest the complicated psychology of a man for whom duty and responsibility have become means for perpetuating self-disgust.

When one of the firm's "bulls," Arthur, goes off his psych meds in the middle of a big case, Clayton is assigned to fix the situation. Arthur's madness is related to his guilt over a really loathsome case he's been working for years. The madness is his way out, and he senses that Clayton needs one, too. In their desperate conversations, Clayton keeps insisting that Arthur won't listen to him, but Arthur has something to say to Clayton, and it's only when reality begins to resemble Arthur's delusions that Clayton begins to listen.

The dread in Michael Clayton starts before any crime is done. The law offices are properly creepy, the lawyers and their big-time clients are scum. Most conversations drip with cynicism, mendacity, or both. Arthur's breakdown spurs the violence, and the violence wakes Clayton up. In old-school paranoid thrillers, the revelation of conspiracies alerts the hero, and us, to the fraudulent grounds under which we've been living. But it's a new kind of world; he, and we, already knew about the fraud before the story began. What he and we want to know is the answer to the question Arthur poses when Clayton, desperate to normalize the situation, tells him, "I'm not the enemy." "Then," responds Arthur, "who are you?"

The paranoid part of the formula is rich, but the thriller part is less so. The fulcrum of the conspiracy is Karen Crowder, newly-risen head of the odious client company whose case has deranged Arthur. In a tic-ridden performance that is either perfectly awful or awfully perfect, Tilda Swinton shows Karen to be an absolutely demolished personality who glues herself together with corporate bullshit. When the case and her career are jeopardized, she's sufficiently freaked out to go with criminal solutions (there's a lovely scene in which she haltingly matches euphemisms with a contract killer).

Karen is Clayton's opposite: if he's got too much soul to succeed in a soulless world, she's got so little that she becomes a perfect medium for the worst consequences of soullessness. But Karen's not the problem, and by having Clayton take her on, the film ties up the thriller without resolving his dilemma -- as the long, anomic coda seems to admit. Despite its "happy" ending, the film leaves us rattled. Is it because the filmmakers cleverly shifted the burden of resolution onto us, or because they couldn't craft one that suited the movie? We may be forgiven for thinking that having George Clooney take down a yuppie bitch might be a cop-out.

This is Tony Gilroy's first directing credit, and he has maximum support in every area of craft. James Newton Howard's score gently gooses the mood-shifts; as he showed with There Will Be Blood, Robert Elswit has a great eye for pockets of murk, even in sterile environments; Gilroy's brother John cuts the film to suit the patience of its style. Clooney is perfect for the movie. The script's wealth of character detail suits his easy-does-it approach. He doesn't hit the emotional cues too hard, letting the story tell him rather than vice-versa. It's odd: Michael Clayton is ambitious, maybe too ambitious for its own good, but its best features come from artistic restraint.

There, my Oscar duty's done (sorry, but even duty can't drive me to see Atonement). Predictions later.

Happy Friday!

UPDATE. Holy shit:

Crooks and Liars was just telling me how rare these Neil Young banjo numbers are. But shit, Neil on banjo and Ben Keith? And then Pancho Sampredro on mandolin for "Roll Another Number"? This is truly an age of wonders.
A SOLITARY MAN. James Lileks is outraged by an Atlantic article suggesting, with use of data, that people may now be more attracted to cities than to the burbs. Regular readers will know that I am angered by this trend myself, for rental-market reasons, and pray for urban violence to reverse the flow. But Lileks don't need no stinkin' data, nor does he share my appetite for destruction. Mr. Old Matchbook may be a "city dweller" (an odd claim, given his descriptions of Jasperwood as a wooded realm with a "water feature"), but he rebels against the citified ways of the New Urbanists:
There’s something else about the anti-burb jeremiads that’s never expressed but frequently implied: an offhand dismissal of the need for personal space. If you’re young you don’t need much. If you’re an empty-nester, a condo downtown might be just the ticket. But in the great middle expanse of your life, you not only want to spread out, you want to be left alone, and this is taking on the characteristic of an anti-social sentiment. You should be walking around the dense neighborhood window-shopping and eating at small fusion restaurants. You should be engaged. If you want to watch a quality foreign film, good, but you should not watch it home; you should walk down to the corner theater and see it in a room full of other people, and nevermind that the start time is inconvenient and you can’t pause it to go pee and the fellow in the row behind you is aerating the atmosphere with tubercular sputum. This is how they do things in New York.
This rant contains something I've noticed before about these rightwing guys: their disgust at the prospect of being around other humans. Lileks states that middle-agers "want to be left alone," and even imagines that he is somehow being coerced into watching movies "in a room full of other people" with their "tubercular sputum." No wonder he was so upset when his paper threatened to make him pound a beat! Think of the germs!

I like to consider myself eccentric, even misanthropic. But I don't mind being around people sometimes. I don't think of movie theaters as dens of contagion and forced socialization. Neither am I addicted to hand sanitizers, nor accustomed to think of the poor as disease carriers.

I used to think fear of foreign enemies was what, in this blogospheric age, defined conservatives. Now I'm thinking it's their fear of everyone.
SHORTER PEGGY NOONAN: The Obamas better show some respect or we'll cut off the Affirmative Action program that's allowing them to run for President.

(Extra credit for Noonan's foray into Ebonics:
I wonder if she knows that some people look at her and think "Man, she got it all."
Oh please, please Peggy, keep it up: "Man, that Obama bitch be straight-up wack! I be votin' for Mickey C! He got dissed by the Times, wassup with that?")
NOT ANTI-JIHAD; JUST ON THE OTHER SIDE. Haven't uncovered this particular rock in a while: Gates of Vienna explains "The Case for Temperate Speech" by citing an FBI investigation in St. Louis, prompted by blog commenters who wrote things like "Would be a shame if [a local mosque] were to be vandalized or destroyed. Just a shame I tell you….wink wink STL youth."

Maybe to you and me this seems like the sort of veiled but obvious threat of violence that might reasonably be investigated, and the affected blogs have obviously not been shut down or restricted in any way. But "Baron Bodissey" says:
So why not practice for the days of samizdat that are surely coming our way? What’s wrong with a little judicious indirection?

If the time should come when we are required to dissolve the political bands which have connected us with the existing system, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind will require us to state our case clearly.
In the glory days of the Iraq War I was called a traitor. Yet I never promised insurrection as the Baron clearly has. And Gates of Vienna is still online! Clearly Islamofascism are not as powerful as advertised.
EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL. I finally got up the nerve to read that New York Times story on McCain. And it is a story, in the old-fashioned sense. As I suspected, the Iseman angle makes it a little sexy, but its shape is practically Jamesian. McCain is portrayed as a tempermental outsider who finds himself enmeshed, against his better instincts, in the graft-heavy world of politics, and struggles against the tidal pull with limited success. The big integrity props he gets from Russ Feingold only sharpen the conflict as McCain finds himself trapped in a world he never made:
At one point, his campaign invited scores of lobbyists to a fund-raiser at the Willard Hotel in Washington. While Bush supporters stood mocking outside, the McCain team tried to defend his integrity by handing the lobbyists buttons reading “McCain voted against my bill.” Mr. McCain himself skipped the event, an act he later called “cowardly.”
The reporters, being reporters, have a bit of fun with the contradictions:
“Unless he gives you special treatment or takes legislative action against his own views, I don’t think his personal and social relationships matter,” said Charles Black, a friend and campaign adviser who has previously lobbied the senator for aviation, broadcasting and tobacco concerns.
But there is also a woman, and that makes the tsimmis and the rush of rightwing pressers to McCain's defense. Even Tucker Carlson has stepped up to say, "I instinctively jump to the defense of anyone whose private life is violated" -- an absurdity, given his Monica Lewinsky pronouncements. It doesn't matter; the blowjob defense is now universal.

People who know how to read demur. Chuckling observes:
In a stunning innovation in Newsspeak, I mean lingusitic cleansing, the New York Times redefined blatant corruption as "confidence in one's integrity" to describe their allegation that John McCain has been fucking his lobbyist and doing her political favors for sex and money.

Note that "political favors" is so ingrained as Newsspeak that it has become almost totally disassociated with its meaning. Poor "corruption's" harshly interrogated letter structure as been linguistically cleansed and now resides in a relocation camp somewhere in the Mideast.
I am in some sympathy with Chuck's take, but spare a kind thought for the Times. The currently common idea that this was a politically-motivated smear is ridiculous; McCain is in a zone where nothing can hurt him, maybe the only such zone he will enjoy this year; who would intentionally smear him now? Even some wingnuts acknowledge this, but portray it as a gaffe by the Times, not a sign of journalistic integrity. Indeed, how could they? For them, reporters not employed by Reverend Sun Myung Moon or Rupert Murdoch are demons motivated only by unthinking hate.

The Times reporters appear to have done the best they could with the facts at hand to write a publishable feature about a Presidential candidate. The stuff about the chick is highly qualified and speaks in context more to McCain's judgement than to his sexual drives. What it is, of course, is very different than what, in the current climate, it has been made for partisan purposes to seem. It's a stretch to say their editors were naive; no one naive gets to that status at the Paper of Record. Still I suspect that the newsmen, buffeted as they eternally are by highly politicized "media criticism," headed toward the only port their profession offered them, and endeavored to produce a story that conformed to what they understood to be journalism. It's just their tough luck that in these parlous times there is no such thing as journalism -- there is only propaganda, either intended or ascribed.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

YOU SAY YOU'D CHANGE THE CONSTITUTION, WELL, YOU KNOW, WE'D ALL LOVE TO CHANGE YOUR HEAD. I don't have cable so I couldn't watch tonight's debate. Examining the spoor trail is interesting, though. Here's a National Review Online Corner newbie (but not unknown to aficionados of nuttage):
Both HRC and Obama say they're ready on Day One to be commander-in-chief. That's such an interesting thought. I try to picture HRC saluting the troops. I try to picture Obama doing same. And then I try to picture the troops saluting back. Will they have their fingers crossed behind their backs? I don't have this problem with McCain. Just sayin'.
Civilian control of the military is not a conservative value, I guess. I wonder what other fundamentals of republican government they don't believe in?
In the mythology that later came to be created, first by the Liberal opponents of the French and then by Castilian writers, the anti-French risings [in Spain] of May 1808 signaled the emergence of a Spanish national identity. Certainly the Liberals tried to rally support along those lines. The French forces withdrew to areas of Spain they could more easily control, while the Spanish "patriots" summoned to Cadiz in 1810 a Cortes aimed at unifying the national effort. Among its memorable acts were the agreement of a new national charter, the Constitution of 1812, and a decree of 1813 abolishing the Inquisition. When the deputy Augustín Argüelles presented the text of the Constitution, he exclaimed: "Spaniards, you now have a patria!" In reality, there was no patria nor any feeling of national solidarity...

When, after years of virtual civil war, the French eventually withdrew from Spain and Ferdinand VIII was restored to his throne in the spring of 1814, the new king annulled the Constitution, proscribed the Cortes deputies who had voted for it, and restored the Inquisition. He became identified with an older vision of Spain, a traditional way of exercising political power (known as 'absolutism'), and a preference for time-honoured customs, culture and belief. It was a tendency that coincided with dislike for the French, and earned Ferdinand massive popular support.
This is from Henry Kamen's The Disinherited: Exile and the Making of Spanish Culture 1492-1975, which I'm presently working through. Like most history, it reminds me that progress is hard. Spain, in Kamen's reading, was long and obstinately resistant to the Enlightenment trends that went more easily through the rest of Western Europe; its idea of liberalization was to throw out the Jesuits and retain the Inquisition. Spain got farther, eventually, but it was a hell of a slog.

Here in a younger, happier country, we have instruments that give freedom an advantage, but even in this season of hope let us not forget that the struggle in which we are engaged is best measured not in electoral cycles but in generations. There's a lot to like about 2008, but things may yet go badly, and even if they go well there will certainly be trouble down the road.

Naturally we laugh at throwbacks who pray for our failure -- what sensible person wouldn't? -- but let's not forget that they're motivated to work for our failure, too, even when a neutral observer would consider them licked. Their preferred way of governance is justly unpopular, but they have worked their way back from unpopularity before, and still have the machinery in place that got them, and us, to this sorry pass in the first place. Even their stated goal of standing "athwart history, yelling 'Stop!'" is deceptively modest; their real purpose is to drive the whole shebang as far back as possible -- yea, even unto the Middle Ages.

The thing that's called change is at best a pickaxe working at a mountain of ignorance. It's a strange thing for me to be saying, but whatever goes down, try not to be too discouraged.
BIG-TIME NEGOTIATORS, FALSE HEALERS AND WOMAN-HATERS. A bride wants her wedding dress to reveal the tattoo on her back, and does not feel the need to appear virginal on her wedding day. So Rod Dreher calls her a slut.

It takes hours, and a visit from Ayaan Hirsi Ali, to make Dreher retract the slur, though he still accuses the bride of "cheap morals" and "bad manners," and calls her behavior "slutty." Big difference.

Dreher frequently reminds us that Christians don't riot, as some Muslims do, when they perceive their values to be mocked. But he never recalls that for many, many centuries, Christians backed by the power of states harassed, exiled, and burned men and women who didn't conform to their prejudices in comportment or anything else.

When we mock Dreher here, we are not always thinking solely of the little fellow in Dallas who shakes his impotent fist at our times and manners. Often we also have in mind the loathsome traditions he wants to bring back to the civilized world, even praising the "order," "unity," and "purpose" of barbarous Islamic societies as a means of attracting us to a Western version with Jesus on top. Imagine a country where men like Dreher have the power to order a stoning.

It took us nearly two millenia and oceans of blood to reduce these savages to a noisome rump. We can spare a little attention to remember why we did it.
SHORTER MEGAN McARDLE. If you're an entrepreneur, you should have a government program to save you from your failures. But if you're just some pauper, bootstraps will do just fine.
I'LL BET. "The prism through which I'd like to view Obama's appeal is Bill Cosby." -- Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

THE AUDACITY OF HOPELESSNESS. The playa-hatin' on Obama continues at a pace that will leave many of the brethren exhausted by summer. A sort of apotheosis, or maybe nadir, is reached by Cal Thomas at the Washington Times:
"Hope is a dangerous thing," says "Red" to "Andy" in the 1994 film "The Shawshank Redemption." Red, played by Morgan Freeman, means that Andy, played by Tim Robbins, risks despair if he hopes to get out of prison.
Wait a minute -- didn't Andy escape in the end? And didn't a couple of cons successfully use his breakout method just last December?
This is where mature and experienced adults can steady the enthusiasm of the young and inexperienced. The Washington Post Magazine recently carried a cover story by Jeffrey Birnbaum titled "How lobbyists always win: Dispatches from Washington's relentless growth industry." It is a reminder of how, no matter who is president and which party controls government, lobbyists are part of the permanent class and very little can change without their participation and approval. Numerous "reformers" have come to Washington in the past, promising change. As often happens, they don't change Washington; Washington changes them.
Funny, I don't remember Thomas, or any of his fellow doomsayers, warning us in 1994 that Newt Gingrich's Contract With America was a bunch of bullshit.
The "hope" being sold by Mr. Obama and his true believers is misplaced. Mr. Obama cannot deliver; he cannot save; he cannot improve individual circumstances by redistributing wealth and talking to America's dictatorial enemies. He is selling snake oil.
The problem with this argument is not that the American people don't share his cynicism -- it's that they do. This makes the relatively untried Obama interesting to them, as he seems not to have been a part of the clusterfuck that brought us to our present dolorous state. And Obama has stormed to an unexpected lead in the Democratic Presidential race, which makes claims that he "cannot deliver" seem less like homespun wisdom and more like sour grapes.

For years conservatives have been blasting the negative attitude of the press; now that they're the ones playing the killjoy, telling everybody that it's all a sham of a mockery of a sham, they may be astonished to find that citizens have internalized their previous message, and won't give them any more credit than they gave Dan Rather.

Being a little cynical myself, though, I expect that if Obama gets the nomination, Republican supporters will have recovered sufficiently to go with a more traditional message, and devote their energies to reminding America that Obama is black.

UPDATE. Gerard Vanderleun tells us that Obama is a sorcerer because chicks dig him. I can see why Vanderleun would feel that way.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

WE CAN EVADE REALITY, BUT WE CANNOT EVADE THE CONSEQUENCES OF EVADING REALITY. Megan McArdle complains that the littlebrains don't understand libertarians:
Every libertarian gets it: "even Megan McArdle doesn't support the bankruptcy reform bill. . . " or some variant thereof. This is supposed to prove that the idea being attacked is so malignant that even libertarians, who are normally opposed to all that is right and good, can't stomach it. Annoyingly, I almost never get this for voicing an opinion that is actually outside the libertarian mainstream... And since I don't agree with them on national health care, naturally I must disagree about every single other thing they hold dear...
Elsewhere she explains to us that the difference between her and other supporters of Barack Obama is that she doesn't agree with anything he says. Maybe when she says people don't understand libertarians, she means they don't understand her.

Me, I support Obama because his candidacy offers the tantalizing prospect of riots.
SHORTER DAVID BROOKS. Hope is a sickness. Fortunately we have a pill for that.
ADIOS AMIGOS. Castro's quitting. Bush says in response, "The international community should work with the Cuban people to begin to build institutions that are necessary for democracy and eventually this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections... The United States will help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty."

I guess that means we invade, right? The high price of pre-sweetened breakfast cereal pretty much demands it, and Vegas is overbuilt.
EXCELSIOR. Margaret points me to Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, a melancholy chronicle of hypergentrification in the old town. One of Jeremiah's finds is a New York Observer portrait of an East Village developer named Ben Shaoul who says things like "I think what we try to do is try to maintain the streetscape and do what we can to maintain the grittiness of it. Although we put in marble, we try to maintain exposed brick floors and wide-plank floors."

The commenters to the article include some locals who have witnessed Shaoul's strongarm tactics (including "bang[ing] on resident’s doors in the middle of the night demanding that they get out of 'his' building"), and Shaoul defenders ("Clearly 'Anonymous' is unemployed... who else would have the time to author such a rant? If you spent as much time contributing to society [i.e. paying taxes] perhaps we would live in a better place").

The discussion is barely worth having. The luxury market is resistant to the national housing downturn, and in desirable New York neighborhoods that's where the action is. Most of Manhattan is becoming a theme park for the rich. They're even building condos in my own cruddy Brooklyn neighborhood. None of this will change until the general economic collapse, which I will pray for before I go to bed tonight. If you don't live here, or if you do but make a lot of money, you probably won't understand.

I took this photo on Bedford Avenue in the heart of upscale Williamsburg, where I lived once upon a time. It shows the promotional facade of a new real estate interest, announcing its humanity to the natives. The little stickers, which have been up for weeks, bear inscriptions that my cell-phone camera couldn't pick up. They say things like "We pretend to care about you," "We own fashionable little dogs," and "We are a nightmare."
BLOGGER'S REMORSE. I voted for Obama but now I've read Ann Althouse...
I've already said that Obama made a good impression on me when I first encountered him (when he spoke at the 2004 Democratic convention), but that I condemned all the Democrats who voted against John Roberts (and that included Obama)...

In the beginning of August, I was annoyed by Andrew Sullivan's effusive support of Obama as the candidate who would rid the young of the older "traumatized" generation...

So I was leaning strongly toward Hillary last summer. But I wasn't agonizing over the Democratic race. I favored Rudy Giuliani...

Obama just seemed bland to me around this time, and I was needling him to attack.

Then came Oprah Winfrey...

I was reading Carl Bernstein's "A Woman in Charge," and I identified with something Camille Paglia wrote...

Shortly thereafter, that video provided emotional massage...

Now, I've read through the posts and caught up to the present. Have I traced a journey?
...and I'm thinking, can't we get Dennis Kucinich back in the race? I'm clearly in the wrong constituency.

Monday, February 18, 2008

HOW WE DO. The Ole Perfesser has been working the angle that the Northern Illinois massacre occurred in a "gun-free" zone. The idea seems to be that if NIU, and other gun-free zones where similar massacres took place, had been instead flush with firearms, the victims would be alive today.

He has done this before, but never mentions the counterexample of New York City. We have been short on mass murders -- and, given our population, short on murders of all kinds -- for quite some time now. And legally we are as close to a gun-free zone as it gets. "Finding somewhere to buy a gun legally in Manhattan is not much less challenging than looking for a liquor store in Saudi Arabia," reported Andrew Stuttaford of National Review in 2000. And it hasn't gotten any easier in the age of Bloomberg.

Give some credit -- or damnation, if you are of a glibertarian frame of mind -- to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, whose crimefighting approach included many implements beloved of the Right, but who near the end of his tenure bragged at length on his confiscation of guns:
"The Police Department's dramatic success in reducing crime is due in large part to its corresponding success in removing guns from City streets," the Mayor said. "More than 90,000 guns have been seized since 1994, and shootings have plummeted more than 74 percent. The NYPD's gun seizure success is also reflected in the murder rate, which has plummeted 65 percent since 1994, and is down another 11 percent this year over last year. The NYPD has also ensured that thousands of guns can never be used to commit a crime by destroying them and putting the metal to good use. Now, another 3,000 guns have been taken out of circulation -- permanently."
It is one of the more delicious ironies of the 2008 campaign season that Giuliani lost credibility with the Republican base because he couldn't escape the anti-gun history that gave him a law-and-order record on which to run in the first place.

Unlike the Perfesser, we are less inclined to find delicious ironies in the death of innocents, so we offer instead -- anticipating the objection that New York is a very different place from, say, Virginia Tech -- practical suggestions to constituencies that wish to achieve our low levels of violence:
  • Crowd lots of people together. It sharpens the social skills.
  • Import large numbers of immigrants. Our mix is roughly one in three, but your mileage may vary. We find that it doesn't matter much whether they are legal or illegal.
  • Have also plenty of out gay, lesbian, trans and questioning folks on hand. This seems to have a calming effect on the polity.
  • Encourage safe sex, with the accent on the sex.
  • Union! (It seems to work for Las Vegas, too.)
  • Have plenty of street demonstrations, screaming matches, loud music, obscene and intemperate language, and rude gestures, with the tacit understanding that in most cases this will not result in gunplay.
  • Treat any suggestion that the answer to your problem is greater dissemination of deadly weapons with the derision it deserves.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

MAGIC AND LOSS. Claims that Obama is a false Messiah are coalescing into a full-fledged genre of rightwing journalism. At the Weekly Standard, Dean Barnett, not having Reverend Keller's rhetorical gifts, tries to impersonate the Voice of Reason, which sort of casting we in show business call a stretch.

He waters down an old Rush Limbaugh slur ("The Magical Democrat") and makes mock of the scenes Obama inspires: "The Fox News cameras that night made a point of focusing on one woman who was so overwhelmed by the candidate that her eyes repeatedly welled up." Even Fox News! The liberal media is more nefarious than we ever dreamed.

Barnett's money shot:
The challenge for Republicans, specifically John McCain, will be to conduct the general election in the real world of limited government and dangerous foreign malefactors rather than in the Obama fantasy world. The good news for McCain is that he has far more experience dealing with the ugliness of the real world than Obama has, and can speak to our looming challenges with far more authenticity.
Barnett previously mocked the "childish" stridency" of McCain's "constant urge to prove his straight talking bona fides," but the Republican season is full of touching conversion stories, though their climactic scenes are usually hidden from view.

As for Barnett's invocation of the "real world of limited government and dangerous foreign malefactors," even the most casual student of current affairs will recall the budget-busting government programs/wealth transfers of the Bush Administration, and the fairy tales told to get us into Iraq. If Obama is a fantasist, his success may owe to the superior selling power of his fantasy versus the shopworn kind Barnett has been peddling for years. Barnett would be better advised to join his comrades in reliving old victories from the days when the crowd was with him.

Friday, February 15, 2008

WILD SURMISE. The Anchoress complains at great length that Keith Olbermann called Bush a fascist. "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means," quoth she. Hey, there's a new one.

Last month, The Anchoress offered Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, in which Hillary Clinton is called "First Lady of Liberal Fascism," for sale at her site. Though she hadn't read the book, she said, "The cover is brilliant," and "For thoughtful folks on both sides of the aisle, this book may be a useful opening to begin once again listening to each other instead of simply shouting down."

I don't have a punchline. When anything, even ignorance, achieves such perfection, one can only marvel.
MORE ADVICE FROM YOUR MORTAL ENEMIES. Oh, isn't that nice: Miss Peggy Noonan is offering to write a speech for Hillary Clinton at The Wall Street Journal. It starts:
Look, let's be frank. A lot of politics is spin, for reasons we can all write books about. I'm as guilty as anyone else. But right now I'm in the fight of my life, and right now I'm not winning. I'm up against an opponent who's classy and accomplished and who has captured the public imagination. I've had some trouble doing that...
The column is full of imagined statements and interior monlogues by the former First Lady. I wonder if Noonan keeps a Hillary doll at the table where she takes her morning "tea."

Whenever I feel out of sympathy with Clinton, a Peggy Noonan column can always get me back on her side. If Clinton gets the nomination, I hope the Journal takes Noonan's column daily. It may be the best chance the Democrats will have.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

SPEAKING IN TONGUES. I don't know why I trifle with weak sisters like James Taranto when the real hardcore anti-Obama action is at Jesus Christology. Sayeth the preacher, Bill Keller:
NO WE CAN’T! The cult of B. Hussein Obama. Remember I told you there would be a revival in this nation this year. Well, before we see a true spiritual revival that will bring millions to faith in Christ and help lead this nation back to God and Biblical values, there is going to be a “faux revival” led by the latest preacher of false hope, B. Hussein Obama...

Very troubling to me has been watching the “revival-like” atmosphere surrounding B. Hussein Obama’s campaign for the Presidency. Like all false prophets, it is a false gospel with lots of smoke and mirrors...

Want another interesting fact about B. Hussein Obama. As someone who has done live TV every night for 5 yrs, if you watch Obama, he only gives those stirring hope and change speeches when he has a teleprompter so he can READ HIS LINES! This man is a complete fraud!...

He is no more the next savior of this nation than I am the next great heart surgeon, and I hate blood! I am not even going to talk about his inexperience and the great peril all Americans will be in with this “child” at the helm in today’s complex and dangerous world of terror and global economics...

Once you tear away the hype, the smoke and mirrors, all you are left with is empty rhetoric that inspires people and makes them feel good, but leads them nowhere.
Come to think of it, this pretty much is the Taranto column, and many others like it, with a little added punch for the snake-handler market. You have to admire the Republican message machine: from the Beltway Boobs to the Jesus Freaks, they've got all their markets covered.
HISTORY'S GREATEST MONSTER! James Taranto attacks Barack Obama because a woman in one of his audiences fainted. Even worse, Obama tried to help her when she fainted.
What exactly are we to make of this? A cynic might wonder if the whole thing isn't staged, given how often it happens and how well-honed and self-serving Obama's standard response seems to be.

But if it's spontaneous, that's in a way even more unsettling. At the New Hampshire rally, Larry David of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" fame quipped, "Sinatra had the same effect on people." Sinatra made girls swoon by singing romantic songs. But America isn't electing a crooner in chief.

Obama has a talent for eliciting intense emotion--an ability that can be dangerous in a politician. What more does he have to offer? That's a hard question to answer, and it makes the prospect of an Obama presidency quite worrisome.
Just think -- women collapsing in the audience without being tased! That's the sort of thing Sinatra did -- and Sinatra was friends with the liberal fascist Kennedy.

I hope Obama gets the nomination so we may hear more of this kind of thing. I see Citizen Journalists examining auditorium seats after an Obama rally, looking for telltale dampness, their dispatches referring ominously the number of white women in attendance.
DREAM, COMFORT, MEMORY TO SPARE. With its snowy social-democratic setting, and Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie giving off strong Erland Josephson-Liv Ullman vibes, Away From Her put me in mind of late Bergman. The story -- wife of retired professor gets Alzheimer's, professor copes with separation -- puts humanism into a bleak landscape, and rookie filmmaker Sarah Polley hits the symbolic angles: as disease estranges the longtime lovers, the white wastes of Canada take on added significance, and when the abandoned old man stops shoveling his walk the metaphor's hard to miss.

But Away From Her is much stronger in its psychological than its cosmic dimension. The simple human qualities with which the couple approach their coming separation -- she summons courage, he succumbs to guilt and grief -- are heartbreakingly detailed from the first misfiled frying-pan to the inevitable trip to the nursing home. When the wife forms an attachment with a fellow resident there, the professor's jealousy, bewilderment, and sorrow are familiar to anyone who has ever helplessly watched love slip away.

The professor's steps toward adjustment and acceptance follow a classic pattern, but with enough brilliantly surprising turns to keep them lifelike. [Mild spoilers ahead.] For example, one day the professor catches a caretaker, who has heretofore been cheerfully supportive, at a bad moment. It's a fine scene, but what makes it is that we see him anticipating and even inviting her quiet outburst before she has it. And when the professor becomes involved with a woman, and seems to think he has successfully compartmentalized his feelings for his wife, it is only slightly more of a surprise to him than for us when the girlfriend tells him, "it would help me if you could pretend."

By this manner the story won my devotion even as it devolved into the sort of lessons in life and love that I normally find annoying. The acting couldn't be better. Christie, intelligent and self-aware, is determined to go into the unknown with dignity for her own sake as well as her husband's. Her later confusion is specific and unsentimental; dementia ravages her perception but leaves her personality intact, which gives the performance its great poignancy. Michael Murphy wordlessly suggests a strong spirit encased in illness; Olympia Dukakis wears a thick skin that, happily, turns out to be quite permeable. Pinsent lumbers with ursine doggedness through his gauntlet, nursing his pain until he develops the new kind of strength that can override it. If it has some resemblance to a Lifetime movie, it is one that is about real lifetimes, and that makes all the difference.

UPDATE. Fixed a convoluted passage; thanks, Milo. I also want to add that Away From Her shows something you don't see a lot in the movies: an awareness that even learning to cope with loss doesn't make things all better. We see a young deaf woman talking in sign language with her infirm mother. We learn that the mother was the only one member of the family who bothered to learn to sign. Inevitably, the old woman forgets how to sign and even that the deaf woman is her daughter, and runs away from her. Backlit by pale winter light from the windows -- "plenty of natural light," the place's director keeps telling the professor -- the young woman suddenly appears engulfed in radiant solitude.

Such primal, painful events can be "moved on" from, after a fashion, but not forgotten; nor can we escape being changed by them. Survival is only a conditional victory. This mature perspective frustrates mushbrains who squirm when Cinderella endings are not on offer, but grown-ups may appreciate the truth in it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

BEING AND NOTHINGNESS. Daniel Larison criticizes Obama on diplomacy:
Nonetheless, his sane willingness to ease travel restrictions to Cuba and his willingness to meet with leaders of Syria and Iran have been evidence that some small good might come from an Obama foreign policy, deeply flawed as it otherwise is. However, this symbolic blunder at his Houston campaign office feeds into a narrative that Obama is not just taking different, defensible views on how the United States should conduct its foreign policy, but that he is, or at least members of his campaign are, somehow sympathetic to some of these regimes.
The "blunder" is some Texas Obama staffer having a Che flag in her office. Srsly. Larison frequently assails Obama for his lack of substance, but here he holds out hope that a minor screw-up will "feed into a narrative," all policy considerations notwithstanding, and help take the big blowhard down.

Well, like the man says, there has never been anything false about hope. But you have to wonder why Larison doesn't think someone can beat Obama with better policies.

And Larison's one of the brighter bulbs. I notice that most of the Obama's-all-talk accusations going around are themselves pathetically slight. Here's a typical one from Megan McArdle at The Atlantic: "I don't believe that Obama is going to change Washington, eliminate lobbying, etc. I wish he wouldn't tell me things that I can't possibly believe--and moreover that I can't really understand anyone believing."

(Humorously, this moves McArdle's colleague Matthew Yglesias to applaud her deep thinking: "She's not snorting with derision. She's listening. She thinks it's inspiring. Meanwhile, like anyone who writes about political and economic issues for a living, her opinions on these things are much more fixed and coherent than are the average American's." Cut-and-paste is a wonderful thing: I couldn't have typed out that last bit without thinking I had somehow hallucinated it.)

The Obama site has a section on issues. Voters may easily compare it to John McCain's or anyone else's. It's just not true that in Obama's case there's nothing to discuss.

The question is: how much attention will voters give to these issues, and how much will they give to what Larison calls narrative?

There's a tendency among poli-sci wiseguys to assume that if a candidate is rhetorically effective, he must be putting one over on the rubes. Of course Americans are susceptible to stirring words, which under the right circumstances may lead them to attend the big picture more keenly than the fine print. I recall that the soaring speeches of Reagan helped convince people that government power should be ceded to private interests. Three Republican Presidents (and one quasi-Republican President) and innumerable scandals and botches later, the zeitgeist may be flowing the other way.

The folks who find Obama's rhetoric insubstantial haven't yet come up with a convincing explanation for its power. If it's nothing, shouldn't you be able to beat it with something? Like a thousand more years in Iraq, or permanent tax cuts?

You might have a hard time seeing it amidst all the jabber, but maybe there's something going on here besides talk.

UPDATE. Commenter Righteous Bubba points out that Larison doesn't mind when citizens hoist the flag of a more overt enemy of the Republic.
OOGA BOOGA. Now that Obama's surging, the folks at National Review Online, heretofore acting a little gunshy of the racial politicking for which their magazine was once known, are starting to inch closer to the tar baby.

Jonah Goldberg, using the wishful-thinking reading of Robert Putnam's research common among conservatives, announces that liberals only like Obama because they don't know how awful black people really are:
It’s easy for upscale liberals to talk about the glories of diversity because they live at Olympian heights, above the reality of multicultural America. For Obama’s wealthy, white, liberal supporters, diversity is knowing a rich black lawyer, a wealthy Latino accountant, and lots of well-to-do gay folks.
Whereas for Goldberg, diversity is running into Deroy Murdock at Starbucks. If the Pantload ever turned up on foot in my ethnically diverse (and very Democratic) Brooklyn neighborhood, it would be to cop black market trans-fats, I'm sure.

Meanwhile John Derbyshire, normally more inclined to plead for his right to homophobia, wraps his silk dressing gown tightly about his withered frame and totters onto the balcony to address the Negro Question. He allows he might have voted for Colin Powell, for even though Powell "could 'talk black' when he thought it was required of him... You could tell the guy's heart wasn't in it." He didn't like Powell's politics, mind, but at least Powell was a Republican, and if we're to have blackamoors in high office they should at least be of the right party.

Derbyshire's gotten kind of obsessive on the subject. He insists that others object on PC grounds to his flippant treatment of Obama -- though there is no evidence that anyone at National Review objects, nor that anyone outside those premises (besides me) even notices.

National Review seems to have degenerated since the days when it fought against Brown v. Board of Education; where once race-baiting was its own reward, now its practitioners have to be assured that they are speaking truth to power each time they call the Senator from Illinois "O'Bama." Now doubt they would cite their own reticence as proof of the all-oppressing power of political correctness if they weren't such equivocating pussies. But if Obama gets the nomination, maybe the volcanic pressure of long-suppressed emotions will push them into franker language. Well, that's just one more reason to hope.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

IN THE MAIL: To Set The Record Straight: How Swift Boat Veterans, POWs and the New Media Defeated John Kerry. With "swift-boating" now being used by the ignorant as a synonym for false charges, it's worth remembering that it was John Kerry who had to retract his statement about his secret Christmas mission to Cambodia, despite it having allegedly been "seared, seared" into his memory.
Similarly, for many ignorant people "Watergate" is a legacy of the Nixon Administration, but it's worth remembering that Dan Rather had to leave CBS News.

Those of you who are not smug suburban douchebags may profit from this backgrounder. If the term swiftboating has lasting resonance, that's not because of ignorance: it's because the term captures the historical provenance of an ugly phenomenon which lingers in the public memory and, alas, shows no sign of going away.
JONAH GOLDBERG UPDATE. After doing battle with The Economist and Newsweek, he suggests that he's been plagiarized by... Cal Thomas.

This isn't something you expect from best-selling authors, though neither is the giant "NUMBER 1 AUTHOR" badge he's been sporting. The fellow is a constant source of wonder.

UPDATE. Now the Great One sez Obama is a fascist, or fascism, or something:
As I discuss at length in the book, totalitarianism was for Mussolini a way of uniting businesses, classes, regions, religions, institutions and people from "all walks of life" -- in Obama’s words -- in a common cause for the common good.
Liberal Fascism shouldn't have been a book -- it should have been a special edition of Mad Libs.
FIRST COMES THE BLOOD, THEN COME THE BOYS. Rod Dreher sets his evangelical sights on Amy Winehouse:
She's good. I mean, scary good. Man, I hope she beats her demons, because this woman has raw talent to burn. Gotta get that album. [Video]
Yet another fallen angel comes under Reverend Dreher's ministering gaze! I begin to see what puts the crunch in Crunchy Conservatism. One thing we have to say about pop culture: it keeps such types off the streets.
FOR THE TURNSTILES. David Freddoso at National Review Online:
I keep hearing about how Democratic contests are experiencing "record turnout." That's all well and good. There's no question that Democrats are more excited than Republicans, and that they are eager to select a president after being out of power for so long.

But the real reason for "record turnout" is that Democrats in Maine, Nebraska, Washington and other states voting now have never had a chance before to make a difference in nominating a candidate. Their previous primaries and caucuses were meaningless on the presidential level. So of course they're going to have "record turnout" this year — how could they not?
Ahem -- from way back on Super Tuesday:
For grand totals, vastly more Democrats than Republicans voted yesterday;

Democratic votes for Clinton and Obama: 14,622,822 (63.6%)
Republican votes for McCain, Romney and Huckabee: 8,370,022 (36.4%)

Put another way, the Clinton/Obama race drew 76% more voters than the McCain/Romney/Huckabee race.
I suppose Democrats could still lose ground in November, especially when faced with the galvanic, party-unifying phenomenon that is John McCain.

Monday, February 11, 2008

WHEN LAST WE LEFT OUR HERO... Life is full of disappointments for the white Jewish male of Liberal Fascism. Jonah Goldberg gets dissed by The Economist and Newsweek, declares they're not big college towns.

"I just think it's odd, to use their word," sniffs Goldberg, "that the book editors at a magazine like the Economist couldn't bring any more insight or brainpower to the 'biggest selling political book' in America beyond this dyspeptic belch." (Signs of Poorly-Masked Pain: playing off diss with the mild word "odd," repetition of phrase from review that may -- taken out of context -- sound positive and blurbworthy, and "dyspeptic belch," which sounds like something of which a bright 11-year-old trying to write his own Harry Potter book would be proud.)

Newsweek spurs him to greater heights of passive aggression:
Newsweek editor Jon Meacham is apparently exasperated by the fact that people don't take his magazine as seriously as he'd like. I'm sure he's got good reasons to think this is unfair. But I think the above is a good (though very, very small) example of why so many people don't look to Newsweek for anything surprising.
You can almost see the lump in Goldberg's throat; having been sternly told by his Mom that responses on the order of NEWSWEEK IS A BUNCH OF LIBERAL FASCIST POOPY will not do, especially against throwaway one-line burns such as Newsweek delivered, he must swallow hard and present a manful face to his detractors. So he calls Newsweek "unsurprising," which is a little like calling Chicken McNuggets "inexpensive." "Newsweek is so completely conventional that anyone can predict how it will interpret the news," he persists. "I would bet a bundle that not one of the co-authors of this story actually read the book..." Mama Goldberg must have been out of radio contact at this point. "...or even cracked it open because they already know what they think about it..." The lower lip quivers, the fists redly clench. "...because they already know what they think about it, just as they already know what they think about most everything else." And finally, the agonized wail: "even The New York Times and Slate's Tim Noah conceded it's not what they consider an 'Ann Coulter book.'"

Thankfully for Goldberg's ego, there are still plenty of "reader e-mails" coming in. I wonder what K-Lo tells the interns when they ask how they should list these on their resumes.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

DOG WHISTLE GEOPOLITICS. "Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew, long known as the Kissinger of the orient", behind a veil of cigarette smoke and with eerie lighting, lays some Realpolitik on the Moonie News Bureau's Arnaud de Borchgrave:
The United States, said this key player in every major Asian event for almost half a century, "should realize Afghanistan cannot succeed as a democracy. You attempted too much. Let the warlords sort it out in such a way you don't try to build a new state. The British tried and failed. Just make clear if they commit aggression again and offer safe haven to Taliban, they will be punished"...

Iraq was a mistake, Lee said. Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with al-Qaida or Sept. 11. It was a costly diversion from the war on al-Qaida. "I cannot see them winning, and by that I mean able to impose their extremist system ... even if we can't win, we mustn't lose or tire. We cannot allow them to believe they have a winning strategy and that more suicide bombers and WMD will advance their cause and give them a chance to take over"...

When asked this week about the advisability of the United States or Israel bombing Iran's nuclear facilities, Lee fell silent. He was about to express an opinion, then changed his mind. "I can express no views on that," he said lowering his voice.
If you think the Mask of Lee Kuan Yew will strike remorse for our national screw-ups in the conservative heart, you aren't focusing on the big issue: a foreign authoritarian tacitly approves bombing Iran! Hear John O'Sullivan at National Review Online:
Alas, Lee is not eligible for the U.S. presidency. But whoever is elected should listen to him.
At The American Scene, James Poulos catches the fever:
I’ve been watching the BBC production of “A Dance to the Music of Time,” and just yesterday — prior to having this morning three consecutive dreams about zombies, perhaps on which more later — I thought, yes, general war is probably going to happen in my generation’s lifetime. One way or the other.
So Afghanistan and Iraq didn't turn out so hot -- that was due to our foolish American obsession with democracy on the one hand, and winning so-called elections on the other. Third time's the charm! Just ask a guy from a place where you can get arrested for spitting on the sidewalk and couldn't legally buy gum for 12 years. (On the plus side, they're cool with trans-fats.)

Lee Kuan Yew probably could have gone on a full-throated rant against habeas corpus, trial by jury, and the fools who called him mad, mad, when he built his secret underwater lair, and these guys would still only hear the bit about Iran. I don't know why it's taking them so long to warm to John McCain. Maybe he should start telling the brethren where he got his campaign finance reform ideas.