Friday, June 06, 2008

NO GUARDRAILS EDITORS. The Wall Street Journal has engaged an Australian to do a demography-is-destiny essay from a Downunder perspective. Australia is lacking males, he says, citing a 98/100 m-to-f ratio versus China's manly 107/100. (Oddly, he neither cites nor proposes the Chinese solution of gender-specific abortions.)

In case readers are wondering why this small shortfall in boomerang-toting, Fosters-swilling Aussie blokes should be of concern to them, the author quotes "one of Australia's leading demographers," who says the "man drought" will have "serious repercussions." Later he bestirs himself to explain further:
Note that the man shortage becomes more pronounced just at the age when people tend to start thinking seriously about marriage and childrearing. But if you are a woman looking for a husband in this age group, chances are the only thing you are being squeezed by are the numbers. The shortage of men in this critical age group is thought to be contributing to Australia's low fertility rates.
So that's how he sold this! Marriage is a big deal for Journal scolds, usually as something to be defended against homosexuals, and sometimes as something to be enforced among black people. But here the issue seems to be a paucity of babies -- and Aussie babies at that, which are expected to be whiter than the kind Journal writers do not endorse.

But even here the author fails. As we have previously pointed out, Australian fertility has been accelerating and is now at a ten-year high. This is widely attributed to the "baby bonus" offered by the Australian Government. If the numbers are not quite what the author and the Journal would like, the solution is obvious: more breeder welfare!

I know these are hard times for conservatives, but you'd think the Journal could have at least queried this one a little more thoroughly. Of course the temptation to let it ride must have been great, especially with such surefire material as this:
Yes, we are the country that produced the likes of Hugh Jackman and Errol Flynn, but male migrants who might once have been intimidated by our raw masculinity can take comfort in our budding new-age sensitivities. In a survey released last month it was found that only 5% of Australian men regularly play a game of football, 50% do not lift the bonnet of their car and shed ownership has dropped by a staggering 27%. Moisturizer sales have gone through the roof.

The high-jump bar is high, but to the men of Japan, China, India, Korea, Thailand and beyond, the land of opportunity (and females) is here. Come for the beaches, but stay for the women.
Numbers may not favor the fertility angle, but the suggestion that Australian men are so emasculated -- especially under a Labor Administration -- that studs must be flown in from Thailand must have been too exciting for the Journal to pass up.

I am seriously thinking of employing a pseudonym and selling the Journal a piece about the low replacement rate among Williamsburg hipsters, inviting bow-legged farmboys from the hinterlands to have at the womenfolk. I could use the money, and if it catches on, real estate values in that neighborhood may be so drastically affected that I will be able to move back into my old apartment.

UPDATE. Fixed spelling error. Thanks to all my correctors.
BREAKING! MUST CREDIT ALICUBLOG! Norbizness seems to have resumed posting. Don't let this get around.

UPDATE. The virus appears to have spread. Check back in a month.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

CULTURE OF COMPLAINT. I see at the City Journal Andrew Klavan is calling for conservatives to reverse the noxious tide of our "culture" by getting into the arts racket:
Conservatives respond to this mostly with finger-wagging. But creativity has to be answered with creativity. We need stories, histories, movies of our own. That requires a structure of support—publishing houses, movie studios, review space, awards, almost all of which we’ve ceded to the Left.
I never tire of hearing this kind of thing, and am pleased to see Klavan, an accomplished writer, has gone beyond demanding Hollywood make his conservative art for him, and started to ask his fellow travelers to put their backs into it. The Liberty Film Festival site Libertas, which has long been on the right side of this issue (if of little else), responds affirmatively:
While conservatives won elections the last thirty-years, the left infested schools, universities, the entertainment industry, news media, and publishing. They understand politics follows the culture, not the other way around. Conservatives have done well grabbing back a piece of publishing and the news media, but have a long way to go with entertainment and educational institutions.
Of course there is a problem, and keen readers will have picked it up already: though these conservatives recognize the power is in their own hands, they still obsess on the blame they find in liberals for their (or the culture's) problems. In this way, to paraphrase Raging Bull, they defeat their own purpose.

It's odd, really. They went mad for the popular Knocked Up -- which I enjoyed myself -- but fail to notice that, first, that culture is a two-way street -- you can gain entree to the cineplexes faster with dick jokes than with propaganda -- and, second, that while the urge to remake the world is often a spur to artistry (especially among the young), it's not all that's needed.

That's also odd because we live in the age of indie. You can make music and movies on your laptop; you can publish your own books and magazines; you can even earn entree to mainsteam media with your blogging. The barrier to entry has never been lower. If you're an artistically inclined rightwinger, even if you sincerely believe that Oliver Stone and Susan Sarandon and other manifestations of The Man are trying to keep you down, you ought to feel pretty good about your chances. They let Zach Braff make movies: why not you?

But still the dull complaints are reiterated: the liberals run this, the liberals run that. To backtrack a bit on Klavan's essay, he says, after a gloomy rundown of cultural decay, "I hardly need mention the movies and TV shows that endlessly undermine notions of manly self-discipline, feminine modesty, patriotism, and all the rest." Why say this to budding conservative artists? It's a great incentive to political operatives, but to a guy with a camera or a palette or an urge to write novels, it's an invitation to put the cart before the horse.

Maybe there are some Bizarro Zolas out there who can take this bile and make of it engaging political works of art. But those are always rare, and, our consumer culture shows, more rarely appreciated by audiences. If the scene is as devoid of conservative practitioners as Klavan and Libertas presume, why not instead encourage them to the simple joys and salutary discipline of creation? Klavan gets published, and the Libertas writers are supposed to be in the movie business. Why are their writings on the subject devoted to how badly the deck is stacked against them?

I fear this represents a managerial approach to art-making -- guys at the top of the chain of command dictate the creative brief, and others further down are supposed to address it with appropriate copy and art direction. That works okay with advertising and commercial design, but except for rare occasions, that isn't going to move the art needle. Experience shows that it is more likely to piss off the really smart CWs and ADs.

Even in the old punk rock days, there was a scene before there were hundreds of 'zines and commentators telling everybody how much better the scene was than the crap the majors had to offer. Maybe they think Seth Rogen is Big Star or Lester Bangs or something. But, if they can't get a Zola, they ought to get at least get some Televisions, Ramones, and Talking Heads. I know they're out there, and could use a little support. Even when you're a critics' darling, art's a hard dollar.
THE OPIATE OF THE MASSES. The Anchoress seems to think that if Obama becomes President, the United States will follow the lead of Canada, which "prosecutes thought crimes and suppresses free speech." She also believes that "the press" fails to cover stories of which she nonetheless appears amply informed, and this means the press is "no longer free."

This spurs me to the usual dismissive thoughts, but I am in some sympathy with her. Most of us who are paying attention will at one time or another feel that our society is insufficiently concerned with freedom of speech and that the press is missing the big picture on purpose. Sometimes we'll be right. I think conservatives frequently abuse the privilege, but the Mark Steyn thing sucks, as I have noted before.

A disinterested observer might wonder why this is such a point of contention. If anything should unite people who express opinions via the written word, it should be freedom of speech. With the exception of Jonah Goldberg and some others, few of us stick up for censorship. Yet we fight about it as if there were flammable stakes with our names on them dotting the horizon.

Setting aside for a moment my default assumption that I'm right and they're wrong, I think it may have something to do with what each side thinks would be an actionable offense in the dream world of the other. Being a Jesus person and global warming denialist, The Anchoress thinks religious dialogue (or at least rage at Islam) and global warming denialism will be the targets; being a foulmouthed berserker, I assume that, freed of all restraints, the conservative Imperium would hustle me off to reeducation camp to learn to say darn and heck.

Though the right seems to have a trademark on the phrase, the thing we all prize and guard jealously against incursions from the Other is political incorrectness. Endlessly this is proudly trotted out by authors as an offense to the timid sensibilities of opponents that may excite those opponents to a wave of repression. National Review's John Derbyshire is a master of this gambit; he seems to get visceral pleasure out of declaring that some obnoxious sentiment of his will soon be "illegal to utter." Yet, last I heard, Derbyshire is still living at home, writing for the Review, and unencumbered by an electronic bracelet.

Look around the salons of the libertarians -- revealing stupid prosecutions of speech is one of their useful functions -- and you'll find that most such outrages are the work of overzealous idiots who probably couldn't comprehend a Constitutional issue if it were rendered in an easy reading edition, and are mainly trying to cover their own lame asses. An inspired political yahoo could perhaps exploit this tendency to get a bunch of us thrown in prison, but here in the States at least it doesn't seem imminent.

And it isn't imminent because the authorities don't care what we say and they don't care what we think. Their main concern is money, and as long as we don't kink up the pipeline that connects the public treasury to their pockets, we can say whatever we want. We can curse and call Muhammed a punk as much as we like; maybe Time or Newsweek will print a meditation on civility or something, but no one will really get in our faces unless our words, clean or obscene, show signs of inciting a real power shift.

And really: what are the odds of that happening?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS, MAKE VENOMADE. Let's see how they're reacting to Obama's speech at National Review's The Corner. First up: Greg Pollowitz.
U2's "Beautiful Day"... is playing at the Barack Obama rally. No Americans write music Obama likes?
Ooooh, the pickings are gonna be mighty slim. K-Lo:
John McCain seriously needs some of these screaming girls behind him.
Maybe A. Jerrold Perenchio can hustle some up. Class clown Jonah Goldberg says Obama wanted to say "I will appoint Hillary Clinton my Secretary of Health Human Services, no matter what opposition that invites." One is tempted to respond that Obama sounds pretty good for a guy who doesn't dare say what he feels, but let's leave Goldberg the floor.

He adds that Obama's claim that "the United States isn't afraid to let any petty dictator know where America stands and what we stand for" is "the legacy of Roosevelt, and Truman, and Kennedy" is "just plain stupid and dishonest." Hopes that Goldberg will explain how FDR, Truman, and JFK were afraid to let any petty dictator know where America stands are cruelly disappointed.

Also: "Why not force oil companies to invest in perpetual motion machines, dogs that don't poop and free holodecks for every American." This is Goldberg's point of comparison to Obama's call for oil companies to "invest their record profits in a clean energy future" and "an energy policy that will create millions of new jobs." Considering that ExxonMobil, for one, constantly promises clean energy and more jobs, this seems unfair to the oil companies, especially coming from a spokesman for a movement that lavishly tongue-bathes them at every opportunity.

Goldberg stays on duty, but his heart isn't in it: Obama "crushed" McCain's earlier speech, he concedes, "substance aside." Lack of substance is of course Goldberg's wheelhouse, but he doesn't do much with it, muttering that "this country doesn't need 'remaking'" and wandering off to the snackbar.

Late-coming deadender Lisa Schiffren tries to hold the line, sniffing that this was "Not his finest speech" (without suggesting which speech was), merely a "painful agglomeration of liberal cliches and ringing, if tired quotes" (how does one ring a tired quote?) when Obama's "A-team speechwriters should have honed original phrases and put them in thematic order." America is of course thirsty for original phrases in thematic order, and one would expect Schiffren to haul out the Smith-Corona and get straight to work on them, but she instead sticks with her spin: "When Obama says that his party won't use religion as a wedge or patriotism as a club, that is a way of saying that those topics are out of bounds," she says. "It's always a mistake when Democrats do that." I guess she means that the wedge and the club have worked before and will work forever, which is the Republican version of keeping hope alive. Later she attacks Obama with the words of demotivational speakers Brit Hume and Billy Kristol, under the heading "Wasp Understatement." At least, and at last, someone at The Corner is hauling out the old ooga-booga.

Reinforcements are called; Amy Holmes, no doubt rubbing sleep from her eyes, grabs an early version of the talking points and lets fly: "Dems love them some Bono, even though U2's best anthems are long behind them. I went to a U2 concert years ago at the MCI Center (is it called that anymore?)..." Finally she recalls that on that event, "all of the black people at the stadium are outside scalping tickets." I'm not sure what this is meant to demonstrate, but I bet it has something to do with black people.

Poor K-Lo can't let bad enough alone:
While watching Michelle Obama's body language — fist-pounding and seemingly giving Barack last-minute prep work, then vigorously leading him offstage. Imagine the commentary if she were one Jeri Thompson.
Yeah, let's imagine ole Fred shocked awake by the pounding of his wife's fist, shaking off his confusion as she shouts instructions into his good ear, and submitting to her "vigorously leading him offstage." It's good practice for the McCain campaign.

As the chairs are upturned upon the tables and the sound system blares white noise, Mark Hemingway dazedly invokes McCain's Maverick! credentials ("In what way are Obama's policies going against the Democratic grain?"), but his colleagues have retreated to the toilets to vomit or score coke from Larry Kudlow. Meanwhile I'm watching Brian Williams on MSNBC wondering aloud how the folks at Montana's Gallatin Speedway (translation: white people) will react to Obama. Williams also talks tremulously about McCain's war record. With liberal media support like that, I don't see how Obama can lose.
DO STOP THINKING ABOUT TOMORROW. I find myself short of time, so let me take the lazy man's route to blog fulfillment and point you to editor Martin's site, where my favorite health reporter considers the Singularitized vision of our future:
Today the Times has a piece on [futurist Ray] Kurtzweil's latest predictions.
"Do you have trouble sticking to a diet? Have patience. Within 10 years, Dr. Kurzweil explained, there will be a drug that lets you eat whatever you want without gaining weight."
Oh, gross. Imagine all the skinny people gorging themselves constantly and shitting grease.

When we all get diabetes from overeating, there will be a nanobot-filled pill to fix that, too.
"Are you depressed by the prospect of dying? Well, if you can hang on another 15 years, your life expectancy will keep rising every year faster than you’re aging."
Unless, of course, you're black, or you live in the South.
An endorsement of Kurzweil and John Tierney from the Perfesser here. We all hope for the best, and the many brilliant successes of the modern age give us reason for hope. But we ought to be careful about shrugging off the past and present on the grounds that the future will fix them.

It stands to reason that conservatives would prefer the forward-looking approach, as the rear-view and the side-view too are very grim. At National Review, Yuval Levin is predicting that the coming election will "turn into more or less an up or down vote on Obama" -- as if the past eight years of the Bush Administration and Republican rule, poorly regarded as they are by the voters, may be forgotten. It is understandable that people who know they've fucked up would engage in this sort of wishful thinking, and hope that their fellow citizens will yet trust them to deliver on one more shining vision of tomorrow. But optimism only goes so far, at least among people who are more interested in the small gains that may be achieved by a change in government than in the big dreams of professional fantasists.

Monday, June 02, 2008

FOREVER CLENIS. Bill Clinton makes a ton of money and some of it goes to charity. But he lives in high style and has some sleazy friends. And a lot of people think he's been screwing around, maybe even with Gina Gershon and Eleanor Mondale, though none of these people have any evidence to offer Todd Purdum of Vanity Fair, nor will they go on the record.

Well, that's close enough for blog and roll. Right Pundits says, "I have to say that these women are much more attractive than the women that have acknowledged having had …. relations …. with him. There may be a reason for that, but I won’t go there." At NRO Jim Geraghty says, "I guess if you have dirt on the Clintons, you might as well use it now. No point in otherwise giving juicy details on the marriage of the junior senator from New York." Dirt and juice ensues. "He's always been this way," says Rightwing Sparkle, speaking of Clinton's "sociopathic behavior." "Vanity Fair used to worship BJ the same way it now worships Nobama. Socialism is the opiate of the mass media - which makes it a religious experience for them - and BJ is the worst of all heretics," says Bill Quick. (No, I have no idea, either.)

If you like it highbrow, Ross Douthat of the Atlantic points to his own previous circulation of Clenis rumors, tells us "if you'd asked me nine months ago to list the major roadblocks to Hillary's near-inevitable nomination, I would have put her husband's possible tomcatting right up there with her Iraq War vote," and does not scruple to "suggest a conspiracy of silence on the part of the media."

With the Hillary Clinton campaign winding down, you may think these guys are just welcoming a ripe opportunity for one last shot at their ancient enemy. But they will never, ever get over the Clenis. He'll always be the One That Got Away, and their blogs will always reserve a little corner for RPG do-overs of the impeachment.

I hope Bill gets all the pussy, props, and provender he is owed by a grateful nation. I only find in him one fault: that he retains his old habit of using too many words in self-defense. Maybe, when some new version of this story runs many years hence (FIRST SENIOR: WHO IS CLINTON'S NEW "NURSE"?), he'll have learned to leave it at "Kiss my rich, two-term ass."
SITE MAINTENANCE. I put Josh Trevino's Malaysia Matters on the Sui Generis bar at left. We've had some fun with Mr. Trevino in the past, but the subject is genuinely interesting and very different from the tomfoolery we get up to here, and may be worth some of your time.

Also added Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, which documents the scraping away of the old, weird New York in favor of high-rises and yuppie boites. He seems to concentrate on neighborhoods where I've lived myself, but I suspect this is coincidence, and not a message from the universe telling me to go forth and sabotage construction sites. Plus there's celebration along with the elegies -- I was pleased to learn from Jeremiah that Montero's is still serving down by the Brooklyn waterfront -- and more patient attention to ground-level reality (and realty) than I manage in my own ravings on the subject.
NEW VOICE POST UP, about some of our traditional subjects' responses to the Sex and the City film. Debbie Schlussel is already pissed, now it's your turn!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

LAST GASPS. Obama leaves Trinity and the reaction is telling:
Obama can't stand the heat of a campaign without tossing aside his grandma, then his pastor, and now HIS WHOLE FREAKIN' CHURCH. One he'd been defending until NOW. One many leftists defended.

What a low life.

Unfit for the office.

Kerry had more class. At least he pretended to be honorable.
Later: "THE LEFT IS ALREADY SEEING OBAMA FOR WHAT HE IS. IT'S OVER. A NATIONAL NIGHTMARE AVERTED." In case you were wondering, this is not a disappointed former supporter, but one of the folks who were really counting on Reverend Wright to knock Obama out of the race and have just seen their last slim hope of it melt away.

Reliapundit is choleric under the best of circumstances, but the news is inciting strong language from even more temperate writers. "Thirty Pieces of Silver From the Pulpit," says RedState. "Why is he leaving all of a sudden? Is it because there is another untold story out there?" The author suspects shady in-church fundraising, based largely on his own experience as a perpetrator. (The post also contains yet another citation of Obama throwing someone, or being thrown, "under the bus," fattening that conservative meme for the winter, when its promulgators may need to live off it. )

Other make the best of the situation. "Now [Obama] is riding the whirlwind," writes Roger L. Simon. (Some whirlwind.) "Shocker... unbelievable!... UPDATE: Will Not Denounce Church!" says Gateway Pundit. Even the normally highbrow Victor Davis Hanson has to resort to all-caps: "So the question always arises-WHY?" he writes. "Is it because he didn't know the nature of his associates, OR is it because he finds their well-known messages suddenly as politically disadvantageous as he once found them essential in jump-starting his Chicago career?"

Most observers will guess the latter, and not be too exercised about it, as they are probably sick of hearing about Trinity Church and will welcome any development that puts an end to its coverage. It certainly will come up again, of course, but as a historical citation rather than as breaking news. By any rational analysis, the downside of this for Obama is very slight compared to the upside. But at the outrage factories where this sort of thing is stock in trade, it's as if one of their best-sellers were being recalled, so we can hardly blame them for making some noise about it.

UPDATE. Very interesting discussion in comments about how well or badly Obama plays these things in general. I'd say that he and his staff seem to do a lot of improvising, which is never a good sign from a political campaign. On the other hand, they improvise pretty adeptly; the "discussion on race" speech was good theatre and gave Obama a buffer against the Wright fallout. It wasn't a stopper, obviously, but it worked well enough to get him this far.

Tex, talking about the McClurkin episode, says "Well, it did cost him my respect. But he will still have my vote." Just so, and he's one of the few who remember McClurkin in the first place. We're well out of the time when naive enthusiasm was carrying the day for Obama, and into the difference-splitting part of the contest. This gives an advantage to McCain, who was never going to win an inspirational campaign; though his own improvisations haven't been so hot, the press hasn't belabored them nearly as much as Obama's.

It may be Obama will win or lose on his ability to play a game that has nothing to do with his advertised appeal as a healer. Right now, part of the opposition game plan is to reductively characterize Obama as a "Chicago politician" with old-fashioned backroom tricks up his sleeve. Well, he'd better be.

Friday, May 30, 2008

A COUPLE OF LIVE ONES. While we're on artistic subjects, I think we should acknowledge a couple of fallen heroes. Sydney Pollack was a director of, let us say, likeably modest talents; I have always prefered to think that what I saw on his face as he accepted the Oscar for Out of Africa from Billy Wilder, John Huston and Akira Kurosawa (!) included some embarrassment. But he had his moments, and real charm and skill as an actor. I can't compete with David Edelstein's magnificent summation at New York magazine, but I will add that the very thought of Pollack laying it all out for Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut ("Okay. I think I should also tell you that I was there at the house." Tom Cruise: "Well, what an amazing coincidence." Pollack: "The words practically right out of my mouth") gives me the giggles, and I think he precisely caught the mordant Kubrick tone that baffled so many of the film's critics. It stunned me to learn that he'd been acting since the "Playhouse 90" days. Every time I saw him in a movie or on TV I thought, oh, here's Pollack slumming again. Maybe that's what they mean when they talk about making it look easy.

Also, word just came that Harvey Korman has passed. Korman was always willing to go too far, and on the Carol Burnett show you can often see how eager he was to crack up his fellow players. I still recall the impeccable timing of his reaction to Burnett's gushing Shirley Temple routine: he brought his fingertips to the bridge of his nose and, turning a beat into a drum solo, muttered, "Please, madam, I have diabetes." Blazing Saddles was his apotheosis. The movie pitched its tone on the border of hip and vaudeville, and while Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder worked the hipster angle, Korman came on with a fusillade of stutters, mad walks, lazzi and double-takes straight out of the Orpheum circuit. It played as well with stoned teenagers as it did with elderly variety-show fans. Hail and farewell to the last of the great schtickmen.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

THE REICHSTAG ADVENTURE. While everyone else was enjoying Recount, I was attending a film about another great historical disaster, Downfall. It's certainly wonderful to see the great Bruno Ganz impersonate Hitler. We are introduced to him in 1942, where he is not flailing and screaming but visibly strange in a classically narcissistic way; he shows kindness, but at a palpable personal remove -- speaking to his prospective secretaries as if they were dumb creatures requiring soft speech to function properly -- that suggests his later ravings about the insufficiency of the German people didn't come from a last-minute psychological adjustment to disaster, but out of the core of his being.

Later, of course, when things are going less well for the Reich, we do see him flailing and screaming -- some of it has been memorably re-subtitled for YouTube parodies. And we get morose lethargy, truculence, delusory attachment to petty details, and so on. The most interesting section, Hitler-wise, comes in his final meeting with Albert Speer (the excellent Heino Ferch), who reveals that he has consciously failed to carry out the Fuhrer's "orders of destruction" and waits for a reaction. Hitler breaks a pencil -- quietly, with the palms of his hands -- adjusts his hair, stares away; pouts. Speer -- having survived his insufficient act of resistance -- gets up from his chair. "So you're leaving," says Hitler. "Good. Auf wiedersehen." He refuses to shake Speer's hand before he goes. He could have had him shot. That he doesn't is not an act of mercy, but of peevishness.

That's the kind of detail that sometimes makes Downfall more interesting than your run-of-the-mill historical drama. But it's from the Hitler part, and the solitude and mystery of the dictator seem to have spurred the imagination of the filmmakers more than the documentary events that make up most of the film. For these, Downfall is simply an efficient reenactment. It is something to see all these Nazis, infamous and obscure, facing their elaborately choreographed Gotterdammerung. And, to their credit, the filmmakers give enough clues to allow us to backwards-engineer the disaster in our minds: if these guys couldn't disobey orders as the Russians were encircling Berlin, you can imagine what they were like when things were going well.

But there doesn't seem to be much more to it than that: the Third Reich was an awful mistake, as you can see by the result. (It even invites fleeting sarcastic thoughts: Sure, hindsight's always 20-20.) The characters' varied reactions to the approach of disaster (from wild parties to fretful brooding) are believable and sometimes poignant but seldom illuminating. The few heroics and the abundant follies are alike swept up and engulfed in the horrible tide of events.

It seems terrible to say so, given the seriousness of the subject, but it can't be helped: Downfall is basically a disaster flick: multiple characters trapped in a Reich turned upside-down, each doing a star turn expressing some signal weakness or strength before his or her gruesome death or grateful rescue. In fact, for all its craft it's not up to the standards of Irwin Allen. Paul Newman's architect in The Towering Inferno was only first among glamorous equals; the architect of the Holocaust steals Downfall outright. I can't read Wim Wenders' complaint, available only in German, but I hear he was pissed about that. Maybe I flatter myself by assuming from translated snippets that he shares my view that this is primarily a dramatic problem. I certainly believe the makers meant well, but as Max Bialystock learned to his regret, you can't let Hitler have all the good lines.
EASY MONEY. At National Review, Jim Manzi is outraged that Obama would ask college graduates to heed a call to service. He also doesn't think much of Obama's decision to blow off a traditional career track and instead become a lowly community organizer, because he was just going to wind up a U.S. Senator and best-selling author anyway:
What's funny about his sacrifice is that when Obama took this job, $14,000 was about the average salary for somebody getting out of college. Of course, Obama wasn't just a run-of-the-mill college graduate; he was an Ivy-Leaguer, who graduated from Columbia with a BA in political science. A corporate career would almost certainly have been more lucrative — for a while. Last year, his family income was about $4,200,000. I don't have the data, but I bet that compares reasonably favorably with the average household income of 1983 Columbia political science and 1991 Harvard Law School graduates. Nonetheless, Obama did sacrifice some of his expected credential-based wage premium for a number of years.
Similarly, any well-educated person who decides to pursue a career as an actor can expect to become a Hollywood star, so it's really not that much different from joining Goldman Sachs.

I hope this gets around. A widespread delusion that community organization is a sure path to riches will do wonders for urban blight. Even our worst neighborhoods will be as full of eager volunteers as soup kitchens at Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

YOUR EXCEPTION IS NOTED. A lot of Bush people and their supporters are royally pissed at former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan and his new tell-all book. At NewsBusters, Rich Noyes complains that when Ari Fleischer issued a book that was far more complimentary to Bush than McClellan's, nobody wanted to cover it.

Noyes implies this is due to liberal media bias. Well, baby, you gotta gave a gimmick. Dee Dee Myers wisely chose to write a women's-empowerment book instead of a straight Clinton-era retrospective. Of course, if that former Press Secretary's tome had instead been all about how her boss was full of shit, I suppose that would have worked too. Dog bites man can be a story if the man is its master. Ask Louis Freeh.

But that just has to do with the stink McClellan's book has made and the copies it may sell. In political terms I don't expect much of a long-term impact from it. If Richard Clarke couldn't move the needle, what chance has Scott McClellan?

This got me thinking about David Stockman, first of the great celebrity White House apostates of the contemporary age -- that is, the age of Reagan, which we're still in. William Greider's Atlantic Monthly story in which Stockman spilled his guts about the Reagan Administration's economic malfeasance, and Stockman's own tell-all book, made him the most famous OMB Director in history (excepting, perhaps, Bert Lance).

Some people considered Stockman a hero, and praised his later experiments in enlightened capitalism. That's as may be, his recent criminal indictment on fraud and conspiracy charges notwithstanding (an auto-parts company he was running, and its employee pension fund, went bankrupt). But it's worth noting that Stockman's public disillusionment with the Reaganites gave him more stature than a quiet slinking-away would have accomplished. And other than a blip of bad publicity, it didn't do much harm to Reagan, either, nor to the policies he favored. Everybody won except the governed.

This isn't to suggest bad intent on Stockman's part, or McClellan's, but the way Washington works. No one is obliged to retain loyalty to a cause one has decided is corrupt. But no one can expect to make much of a difference by renouncing it, either. Not having read McClellan's book, I can't judge it as confessional literature or as dish. As a political artifact, it would seem, from the rumblings its digestion by the commentariat have caused (noisy but not clinically significant), to be pretty typical of its kind.
JUST A LITTLE JOKE BETWEEN YOU & ME. My latest jape. Jimbo was actually very nice about it, which of course ruins it for me.

UPDATE. His self-defense. Wilde and Whistler this ain't, but then a lot of things have gone downhill since the 19th Century.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

THE CHICKENS COME HOME TO ROOST. Ron Rosenbaum's "In Praise of Liberal Guilt" at Slate has drawn some responses from conservatives who object, in varying degrees, to the notion that they should feel guilt about American racism.

The conversation is somewhat misguided. Whatever these worthies think about the effect of white guilt (or shame, or whatever they want to call it) on their own souls matters very little. Racism as a public issue is a different story.

Conservatives have built up a strong resistance to guilt trips of any kind over the years. They've learned to dismiss any gripe from anyone aggrieved (except their own constituent groups, of course) as politically correct nonsense. It's been useful for them in some ways, allowing them to project an air of certainty that is easily mistaken for strength, but in this instance it's getting to be a drawback. I never thought I'd say this, but Rod Dreher is actually onto something here:
That is, it's difficult to say, "Yes, conservatives were badly wrong on civil rights, but that doesn't mean that they're wrong today," because the left, in debate, tends to assume that the original sin of having been wrong in 1964 is ineradicable, and won't give any quarter. You can never win with liberals on racial questions, conservatives may figure, so it's better to adopt a defiant insouciance -- even if that attitude is not morally justified by the record.
I would add, though, that "you can never win with liberals" is unduly limited: when you take this sort of attitude, you can't win with a whole lot of people.

If you get around a little bit, you may have noticed that racism hasn't gotten any cooler over the years. Of course it persists -- strongly, in some pockets, and furtively in others under a variety of masks. But if you say outright crazy shit about black people, it doesn't play as widely as it might have in 1952.

We can argue about how much real progress this represents, but if you're the sort of conservative Dreher describes, it's pretty disastrous. If you regard the race card as a vampire regards garlic, it must be depressing to realize that Americans haven't lightened up about it. "Politically incorrect" phenomena such as "South Park" may sometimes buoy your spirits by convincing you that the heat's off, but then people get all bent out of shape about a radio joke, and your mood swing changes course.

You're left with bizarre fantasies in which Obama purposefully loses a state primary in order to slander its citizens as racists.

From this beaten-down perspective, with no hope of being recognized as the lovely race-neutral people they know themselves to be, conservatives looking at a Presidential contest with a black guy on the opposing ticket may worry that they'll have no choice but to energize whatever racist base is available to them. This the more tender-hearted among them must dread, because it may contribute to an unfortunate misperception of themselves. And it may explain why they think the tiresome topic of white guilt is worth discussing in the first place.
THE CHILDREN'S HOUR. Megan McArdle is away from her desk for reasons unknown -- from this photo it seems she may have at last found honest work as a telemarketer -- leaving a bunch of young guest-bloggers to romp and play in her stead. Peter Suderman -- at 17, the elder statesman of the group -- does big-boy blogging; they rest try to get away with the same shit that flew in their college newspapers.

Tim Lee lays out the case for Technology is Awesome. Here he explains that companies sometimes give away digital content because "giving away information goods (which have zero marginal cost) can expand the market for other goods that can then be sold at a profit," but cautions, "Figuring out what to give away and how to monetize the resulting attention is a difficult problem that everyone, from Facebook to the Atlantic is struggling to solve." Yuh don't say! Next he'll be telling us about the challenges facing our next President.

Lee follows up with that evergreen of the neverlaid, How Blogs Will Totally Replace Newspapers. Folks who reflexively assert that the New York Times does a better job of covering world events than a guy with a Wordpress account and several college buddies studying abroad are mired in oldthink:
There are fewer organizations that aspire to cover "all the news that's fit to print." But while that might worry people who are used to the predictability of 20th-century organizational methods, the new system is likely to be better. Specialization allows publications to develop deeper bench of talent in the topics they cover. A swarm of smaller organizations gives the system more flexibility. And the lower barriers to entry allow a proliferation of new voices that provide unique perspectives on the news.
And the great thing is, our Citizen Journalists get paid in buzzwords! I bet Lee prefers Taster's Choice to real coffee because it uses advanced freeze-drying technology.

My favorite is Conor Friedersdorf. First, there's the name: can't you picture him, peachfuzz painstakingly sculpted into a French Beard, smoking jacket carrying a crest of his own invention, snifter filled with Pibb Xtra? And Young Friedersdorf has a poetic streak:
Consider Las Vegas after 12 hours: already there is an urge to escape. The once quaint sounds of the casino floor clank against the nerves. You discern wrinkles beneath the caked-on makeup of haggard cocktail waitresses and paunch on black-jack dealers whose slouches gradually deepen.
Well, timor mortis conturbat me silly! Can't wait for the next installment, in which cackling crones of 28 are compared to witches and someone puts a cigarette out in a plate of eggs.

Friedersdorf also has posts about how New York is exciting, and conservatives aren't racist, look at Clarence Thomas, but really anything he writes is worth savoring. I hope McArdle is thinking legacy, and not only because that would mean she was leaving.
NEW VOICE COLUMN UP here. It's about the many ways in which wingers use unverified rumors to spread mischief. See, rather than merely assert that the stories are true, they -- hey, hey, you drifted off there. Yeah, I know. Starting next week I'm going with this sort of thing. As my dear old mother used to say: "That's what people want to see, not your stupid bullshit."

UPDATE. Second link Not Safe For Work, you squares. No, I said the second -- oh, wait I meant the first! Yeah, the first!
Well, I don't think that food prices aren't up. I do the grocery shopping for my household, and believe me, I've noticed; my average grocery run costs about 20 bucks more than last year. Rather, my point was the lameness of media efforts to report on that -- interviewing people at fancy gourmet markets? -- and the cheesiness of their "holiday" angle. As is often the case, even as they try hard to manufacture one bit of bad news, they're actually missing the real bad news, because reporting on that usefully would require actual work. As I've noted on this topic before, their bias is exceeded only by their laziness and ignorance. The data in the AP story don't prove its ostensible point -- that holiday barbecues (by which they mean cookouts, not actual barbecue) are vastly more expensive -- but to do an actual story on what food prices are up across the board, and why, would be actual work and wouldn't produce the "holiday angle" that editors want.
This has been a sneak preview of John McCain's response to economic questions in the forthcoming Presidential debates, minus reminders that the subject was a prisoner of war. Republican operatives will be dazzled by the anger at wire services, parsing of the words "cookout" and "barbecue," and reference to "fancy gourmet markets"; ordinary Americans, not so much.
SHORTER JIM LILEKS MEMORIAL DAY POST: Fucking Australian hippies, I'll show you! I've boycotted Mescan vodka and I'll boycott Green vodka! We shall fight on the benches, we shall fight on Jasperwood's various garden areas, we shall fight in the Lunds and Byerlys and Kowalskis, we shall fight about the bags; we shall never surrender.

UPDATE. According to the Greenhouse Calculator that so incensed Lileks, I should have died a long, long time ago. This fills me with joy, for I consider my entire life a gleeful evasion of what society expects of me, and the Calculator just confirms it. Poor Jimbo has internalized political correctness to such an extent that he must rage at the New Order that dares inform him he has transgressed. Young Republicans, past and present, take note: as the Captain told Babu in Benito Cereno, this is your future.