Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.—W. Churchill

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Torture(d) Logic

Harry Reid has got to be the most disingenuous member of the Senate. Check him out in this AP story:

Democrats are working to get a large opposition vote to make their points against President Bush.

"I think it sends a message to the American people that this guy is not King George, he's President George," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Bush should have picked a woman, said Reid, who urged the president last year to pick White House counsel Harriet Miers. "They couldn't go for her because she was an independent woman," Reid said of Miers, whose nomination was withdrawn under conservative criticism.

You've got to be kidding me, Dusty Harry. Had Bush stuck with Harriet Miers, who was underqualified and tied to Bush like his ranch kerchief, then we might have been able to sustain the King George charge.

Actually, if he looks like a King, it is the King George who suffered the revolution of his American subjects, because it was a revolt that brought Alito in. Quietude was the road to Harriet.

The Mozart Model

Dr. Francis Schaeffer wisely looked to the culture and intellectual traditions of Western civilization for answers to the important question he repeatedly asked in his excelllent writings: How should we then live? I suspect that quite a few of us look to the arts, and particularly the popular arts, with exactly that in mind, whether consciously or otherwise. An excellent look at the works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the current Weekly Standard, by Fred Baumann, examines the great composer with that in mind:

. . . [L]istening to Mozart calls to mind (and in some ways turns you into) a certain kind of person, a more complicated sort than we mostly go in for today. Not a redemptive Wagnerian hero or cynical slacker, not a high-minded virtuoso of compassion and/or righteous indignation, not a "realist" or an "idealist," but someone who both acknowledges, lives in, accepts the viewpoint of, and participates in, all human feelings--even the ugly ones, as we see in the marvelous revenge arias given to the Count, Dr. Bartolo, and Figaro--but who also, in the end, maintains as sovereign the viewpoint of rationality and order. . . .

In invoking, and to some degree creating, such a person, Mozart implicitly makes a kind of moral case, a case for how we should live. It is not "aesthetic" in the sense of replacing the moral with formal beauty; it is much closer to what we find in Shakespeare's Tempest or Measure for Measure; i.e., models of a kind of control of the passions that gives them their due. Yet it is presented aesthetically, not through argument or exhortation. . . .

In the end, the romantic hero and the homo economicus turn out to be not basically different, but two sides of the same forged coin. The Mozartean hero, whom we approach, admire, and even learn to resemble, if only slightly, puts them to shame.

It is a figure that we don't meet much otherwise. On sale for generations now have been simpler models of heroism, at their best the superficially cynical but deeply moral idealist (say, Humphrey Bogart) but, more typically, various chest-pounding moralists and romantics.

For that reason--that we tend to operate, as though instinctively, on romantic and post-romantic antitheses about passion and reason--it is, in fact, harder to hear Mozart well today than it used to be. Insofar as his music transcends our categories, we either consign him to the realm of the pretty-pretty or turn him, as some 20th-century criticism did, into a grotesque quasi-existential Angst-ling. And of course, Nietzsche was right that the language of aristocratic, pre-Romantic taste is no longer available to us.

The article makes one want to listen to some Mozart and contemplate how we should then live. It will transform your understanding of the music and of the preternaturally wise and kindhearted man who made it.

Promoted Back to the Top: The Point of Politics

This post has been attracting a lot of comments, so I thought I'd bring it back up top for convenience's sake. --Hunter B.

Ross Douthat, newly returned from filling in for Andrew Sullivan, points to an essay on the ol' question of why those red-staters are voting red. (follow the links)

Now, I think the question is a bit hackneyed, not least because the fact that some state tends conservative or liberal is a long way from being able to say anything about the effects of social conditions on voting behavior. Having 55% of a state's voters (not citizens, mind you) who vote conservative or liberal and then making snarky comments (a la the NYT's Frank Rich) about how funny it is that those states have higher divorce rates, watch Desperate Housewives, etc. doesn't get you very far.

In any case, it seems to me that the whole question is based on a misunderstanding, namely, that politics is primarily about economics and only then about "cultural" issues. That's just nonsense, mostly dreamed up by people who *want* politics to be all about economics. Politics is, rather, primarily about culture, it is a vehicle for people to decide "who" they are. Economic decisions, the allocation of resources or opportunities, is a part of that "who-ness", but it does not contain it. Economics does, of course, shape culture, but I think it's a mistake to think it's primary.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Supreme Court Spectator

Here's a preview (by a few hours) of my article at The American Spectator, available to the broader public at midnight Eastern Time.

It discusses the Supreme Court's agenda after Alito and suggests taking aim at the Kelo vs. City of New London ruling which is taking takings to a level that most folks can't take.

Here, sample a smidgen:

...the piquant tale of Mr. Logan Darrow Clements. This man with the three cognomina may become more than a nominal cog in the historical battle to set the Supreme Court aright. In his low-key way he has taken aim at Kelo vs. City of New London. That disastrous decision of recent vintage allows municipalities to initiate takings of private property for the public advantage of enhancing the local tax base. This means that if The Donald convinces the city elders that he could build a revenue-generating casino right where your patio used to be, that putative benefit trumps your ownership. Your good deed will not go unpunished.

Mr. Clements has chosen a novel means of protest, one he compares to the Boston Tea Party. He has proposed to the sleepy New Hampshire burg of Weare that its most illustrious citizen, Justice David Souter, be evicted from his home to allow for construction of a hotel, the Lost Liberty Inn. On what grounds would it be built? On Souter's grounds. That is, the grounds of his vote with the majority in Kelo. Clements has already assembled the 25 signatures required to place his petition on the ballot in March: nine out of ten locals approached signed on the dotted line! Perhaps his idea is less dotty than it seemed.

Now I've Gone and Done It

I have resisted the mass compulsion for four years. Friends and colleagues could rave about it, the media could cover it ad nauseam, but no. I would not succumb. It was only out of curiosity that I sampled it last weekend, and now I am hooked, pathetically waiting for the next fix.

I am addicted to 24.

This is bad in a number of ways, mostly connected to the fact that I'm one of the half dozen people left in North America who doesn't have a TiVo box. I missed four minutes of episode three when my husband called me from the office. (And brother, he won't be doing that again. I nearly ripped his head off.) It took my daughter two commercial breaks to explain what had happened. Oh, and everything the drug czar says about addiction destroying entire families is spot on. My daughters have the Jack Bauer Jones just as bad as I do.

So I'm left with one question: if there's a 12-step program for 24, does it only get you halfway clean and sober?

Law Suitable

Top Ten reasons why Judge Alito should not be confirmed:

10) His mob ties clash with the robe.
9) His CAP dues are overdue.
8) He believes that a wife must notify her husband of a sex-change operation.
7) He prefers eating roe caviar to watching Dwayne Wade play basketball: a real Republican.
6) He is named after the prophet Smauel, a clear breach of the separation between church and state. (Now if we could apply that to Ruth Bader-Ginsberg and David Souter...)
5) He's from Philadelphia. W.C. Fields would turn over in his grave (or his ghost would return wielding an assegai...).
4) Judge Al Ito? After the way he botched the Simpson trial?
3) He's a lawyer. Yecch.
2) His wife is a crybaby.
1) He takes Ted Kennedy seriously.

Oh, oh, there's a big guy named Vinnie knocking on the door. Be back in a sec, I think...

MBA's as a Force for the Suck?

Occasional commenter ChETHB raised another interesting point in the discussion about the trouble with GM:

I have been thinking more about the decline of the American automobile industry and have come up with one more tidbit to throw out - the rise of MBA's in American industry. This started in the mid-60's and it has been my personal observation that decision-making in technically oriented businesses has suffered as managers/executives with technical degrees have been replaced by executives holding MBA degrees. Could something this simple have started the downfall of GM?

I found this statement provocative. My own corporate experience suggested that the really valuable people are those who know how to do things. Meanwhile, there were a lot of MBA's (and in my case, an MPA) running around not adding a lot of value. If I had been in charge, I would have fired me, a bunch of MBA types, and all of the Andersen "change" consultants.

What thinkest thou, fair readers and fellow contributors? Is the rise of the MBA a good thing?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Green = $Green

Anybody remember John Brunner's precience in creating the Puritan Foods corporation in his early-70s sci-fi masterpiece The Sheep Look Up? Pure food for a polluted world.

Now, here in California, we have the Whole Foods supermarket chain. Morally admirable organic chow. Transgendered rutabagas, economic-equity grown coffee, tofu for the masses. Socially conscious consumerism. It helps if you have a few extra pennies to rub together to assuage your guilt at the need to eat and drink in order to survive. (Banana-carrot-cauliflower smoothies, $4.95. Yum.)

Avowed lefty ("I'm not a lefty!") Bill Moyers left the PBS show he created, Now, but it's still in production, and they paid homage to this neo-capitalist capitalist enterprise the other day. They interviewed one of the top brass, and it turns out that Whole Foods has a salary cap ($400K or so)---execs can make only 14 times what a cashier makes. The exec agreed with the Now reporter that such near-egalitarianism sure helps company (cashier) morale. A cashier captured on video was seen smiling. Brightly.

Man, isn't that cool? Pure foods for the body, sterling business ethics for the soul. If it weren't already so overpriced and tasteless, I'd be willing to pay double for their grub.

Oh yeah, in one of those quick disclosure tags at the end, like in every Erectile Dysfunction drug ad, Now did mention that the executive they interviewed snarfed up $1.8 million in stock options last year. Since Whole Foods is a non-union shop, they made a mint during the great supermarket labor strike here in California.

Cashiers get stock options at Whole Foods, too. Perhaps that's why that cashier was smiling, and damned brightly. ¡Viva la Reagan Revolution! Con tofu.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Comment Promotion: GM Cars

It's the weekend, so I thought we'd continue the Car Talk (apologies NPR). Here are the last two comments on the GM quality thread. ChETHB had several interesting things to say about his GM driving experience and Kathy follows up with some thoroughly delightful prose on her own history with the brand. Beware "the Golden Bitch." And no, that doesn't refer to Kathy. You'll see.

ChETHB said...

Just had to weigh in on this one since I became an auto enthusiast in the mid-50's -- IMHO, the quality of GM vehicles was without equal during that time period.

I worked in a gas station summer of 1959 and had the opportunity to look very closely at many different cars - GM vehicles were the best.

I believe this trend continued until, perhaps, the late 60's, based on my experience. For example, my new 1968 Chevelle SS396 rattled like a bucket of bolts as I took delivery and drove it away from the dealer. Sadly, I traded in a 1963 Impala SS that had zero rattles at 95,000 miles and got in excess of 18 mpg on the highway. With a high performance engine, I still never got below 13 mpg in that 1963 Impala and that was with some impressive hotrodding. The 1968 Chevelle (hindered no doubt by EPA regulations) never exceeded 11 mpg and generally got 6-8 mpg in the city.

I was still firmly in GM's corner (although shaken) until the mid-70's when they began to introduce small cars that were shoddy junk. It was pretty much the same with the other members of the Big 3. After the oil crisis in 1973, Americans were clamoring for nice, smaller, fuel efficient vehicles. Detroit provided cheaply-made, small, junky vehicles - shoddy interiors, very few options, no luxury appointments, and so forth.

The Japanese, on the other hand, after having been soundly beaten down with their initial introductions to the US, went home, did their homework, and came back with small, fuel-efficient cars that had the luxury appointments that Americans wanted and expected. The rest is history. Detroit, and especially GM, continued producing the kinds of cars that Americans didn't want and in addition, allowed their quality to sag lower and lower.

In summary, I think GM could have maintained their superior position had they simply responded to the market. Instead, they continued their view that they knew best what the customer wanted and consequently, their market share has continued to slide as the customer finds what he wants in the Japanese and European vehicles. The unfortunate part is that hundreds of thousands of Americans are directly or indirectly affected by the poor state of GM's business acumen.

I think all the different car names and models are an attempt to stuff one bad apple under the rug and replace it with something new, all the while hoping that the customer doesn't realize that it's the same thing with a different name. I generally agreee that the newer American cars have been significantly improved over their predecessors. I drive rental cars occasionally and have noticed that the current American offerings have seen considerable improvement. These are basically new cars so I have no impression about the reliability and maintenance requirements.

I can offer a final commment, however. When I get home from a business trip, it is always refreshing to crawl behind the wheel of my Acura and drive away. Unfortunately, I don't believe that GM currently builds a comparable vehicle.

Kathy Hutchins said...

"I believe this trend continued until, perhaps, the late 60's, based on my experience. For example, my new 1968 Chevelle SS396 rattled like a bucket of bolts as I took delivery and drove it away from the dealer."

This comports with my experience as well. My very first car was a 1967 Chevy Camaro, straight 6 230, purchased in 1974 (for $795.00 cash. Would that such things were possible today, eh?). It had none of the features American consumers would demand today -- no a/c, power steering, power brakes. It did have a radio. I drove it hard, and often stupidly, for six years, put something like 120K miles on it, turned around and sold it to a kid in Texas for $1200.

It was a great car, but unfortunately in 1967 you could no longer count on a GM product's quality from specimen to specimen. My younger sister's first car was also a 1967 Camaro, purchased in 1976, one of the souped up Super Sport models with a 350 V8, power everything. It was a piece of junk from start to finish -- electrics, hydraulics, finish work, seals -- the car was such a constant headache we called it "The Golden Bitch." I spent so much time giving that pile of manure jump starts I should have applied for a tow truck license.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Who Said It?

"Our opponents are our fellow citizens, not our enemies. Honorable people can have honest political differences. And we should strive for civility and intellectual integrity in our debates."

Hillary Clinton

Adolf Hitler

James Elliott

Karl Rove

The Great Narcissist Brando

Fellow Reform Clubber Tom Van Dyke kindly pointed me toward an excellent analysis of the career of Marlon Brando, by Nicholas Stix, at Mens News Daily. Stix correctly points out that (1) Brando was an immensely talented actor who accomplished several great performances and a lot of utterly atrocious ones, (2) the style of acting Brando pioneered was going to happen anyway, and (3) Brando's real stock in trade was not sensitivity but narcissism, and this played out in his personal life as well as in his performances.

Considering the basic impluse behind Brando's characterizations, Stix writes,

All the talk about Brando’s “sensitivity” is so much rot. The sycophantic “experts” who say that he played “sensitive” brutes are confusing emotional neediness with sensitivity. In other words, they can’t tell a narcissist from a saint.

Stix's observation that Brando's stock in trade was narcissism is a key point. Regarding Brando's influence on acting styles, Stix writes,

Since Brando’s death, we have been told that he somehow gave actors “permission” to be emotionally authentic. We have also heard, from Brando-apologist Richard Schickel, that it was the movies that let Brando down, beginning in the 1960s, rather than the other way around. Baloney!

A more intense acting style was coming into fashion after World War II, before Brando’s arrival on the Hollywood scene. Witness Kirk Douglas’ driven performances as boxer “Midge Kelly” in
Champion (1949), as “Det. Jim McLeod” in Detective Story (1951), and as Vincent Van Gogh in Lust for Life (1956). And already in 1946, in It’s a Wonderful Life, note the embittered, emotionally raw quality of so much of Jimmy Stewart’s performance as “George Bailey,” a quality that characterized much of Stewart’s best 1950s’ work with directors Anthony Mann and Alfred Hitchcock. Something was in the air.

I have written elsewhere that what was "in the air" was the rise of anti-authoritarianism and personal narcissism throughout American society, and I think that Brando's ascendance, as Stix observes, was a powerful manifestation of that (and in fact I gave Brando as one of many examples of the post-World War II cultural change that led to what I call the Omniculture).

Stix also correctly accords credit to writer-director Elia Kazan for the rise of this acting style. I think that Brando's innovation in film acting was a mixed blessing at best, but would have been inevitable with the onset of TV anyway and, more importantly, the general rise in narcissism in the society. In Stix's discussion of the films of the 1960s and '70s, for example, change the word "antihero" to "narcissist" and you'll see it fits perfectly and in fact makes more sense (in that, for example, one's personal behavior can seldom be described as anti-heroic, as that is a dramatic/literary term):

Johnny Strabler was one of the early versions of what became the ultimate 1960s Hollywood cliché: The “anti-hero.” During the mid-1950s, in his brief career, James Dean would specialize in this type, in East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause (the ultimate anti-hero movie title), and Giant, before dying in an automobile accident in 1955. Another then-famous anti-hero role was Paul Newman’s performance as Billy the Kid, in Arthur Penn’s The Left Handed Gun, in 1958. (Though I admire much of Arthur Penn’s work, when I saw the movie on The Late Show about thirty years ago, I found it so dreadful, that I shut it off after a few minutes.)

In the 1960s, the anti-hero became the dominant shtick in Hollywood, as Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Lee Marvin, Newman and Redford, (and a few years later) Charles Bronson, and countless other actors would earn millions of dollars portraying anti-hero crooks and cops alike. (On TV, for a producer to sell a cop series, it had to be about an “unorthodox” cop.)

However, the anti-hero shtick did not help Marlon Brando. Brando’s problem was that, rather than seeing the playing of anti-heroes as a calculated career move, he adopted the anti-hero as his personal shtick. But if you really act like an anti-hero (i.e., a juvenile delinquent) in your personal and professional life, you become a source of grief to all who depend on you.


I would suggest that Brando didn't change at heart after his twenties, which Stix argues. On the contrary, Brando just did what he could get away with at all times, and after his great run of early '50s performances he could get away with much more. His career is indeed a tale of great talent often wasted, and it is a cautionary tale about the consequences of narcissism both for others and oneself.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Homnick Does Elder

Reform Club contributor, American Spectator regular, and Jewish World Review columnist Jay Homnick was the featured guest today on the nationally syndicated Larry Elder Show. (Elder happens to be my favorite talker and his flagship station is here in Los Angeles, so it was a great kick to hear Brother Jay as I was driving home.)

The topic was Jay's recent AmSpec piece, where he reveals his eyewitness testimony about how Senator Chuck Schumer got his start in the politics biz with his plan to drive blacks out of a section of Brooklyn. After a 30-year silence, Jay says he decided to speak out only after Sen. Schumer's recent attempt to connect Supreme Court nominee Sam Alito with racist sentiments.

If Alito's casual membership in a group in 1972, whose magazine said some untoward things calls into question his fitness for the court, what does that say about Chuck Schumer, the mastermind of a political plot against blacks in 1974, and his fitness for the U.S. Senate?

We may never know. Elder found it remarkable (but par for the course) that so far, there has been zero interest in Jay's testimony (aside from a feeler from a cable opinion show and Elder's people themselves) from the American press. That is perhaps the most interesting angle: when Bob Livingston went after Clinton on adultery, it wasn't his own dirty laundry, but really his hypocrisy that cost him not only the Speakership of the House, but his entire congressional career.

Now, that was fair, I think. Whither Chuck Schumer? Surely in this day and age, active racism is more egregious than merely diddling the help or doing blow. Where is Katie Couric?


Jay was great, of course, and got in a line that broke the host up (and a subsequent caller)---that now that she's so tough on Iran, the other senator from New York, one Hillary Clinton, shall henceforth be known as The Battleaxis of Evil.

Elder States Man

This is a heads-up for Clubbers. I'll be on the Larry Elder Show on KABC in Los Angeles at 8:05 Eastern time.

It streams over the Internet at www.kabc.com

Kids' Stuff

It seems that the most logical and commonsensical movies these days are those directed at children. Increasingly, moreover, kids' films are also among the most insightful into social realities. The Incredibles, for example, comically places litigiousness and a concern for individual responsibility at the center of its story. Sky High observes how the American education system suppresses children's natural creativity and ambition. The two Shrek films are full of satirical jabs at modern society.

It should be little surprise, then, that the new film Hoodwinked, based on the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood, actually deals with issues such as intellectual property and piracy. In this cheeky version of the story, Granny has a snack-food empire that is threatened by an unknown intellectual-property thief who has been stealing recipes from businesses all around the forest. Beginning with an incident at Granny's house—where Red is menaced by the Wolf, disguised as Granny, when the lumberjack bursts in and all are carted off to the police station so that the authorities can set things straight—the film moves on to a Rashomon-style investingation in which each of the various characters involved in the central events gives their version of the story.

Comical allusions abound in the subsequent flashbacks that look at the central events and place them in context, as is appropriate for a film dealing with intellectual property theft. We see references to Star Wars movies, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Mission Impossible, The Matrix (all too inevitably, alas), and much more.

The use of a Rashomon-style narrative form, however, does not induce any doubts about the human search for truth, as it does in Kurosawa's film. The makers of Hoodwinked treat the central story as a puzzle-style mystery, with the investigation being led by a suave detective, a long-legged frog named Nick Flippers, based on Nick Charles of the Thin Man novel and movies. As a result, the effect of the film is exactly opposite that of Rashomon, for in Hoodwinked everything has a cause and it is indeed possible for humans to know the truth.

Naturally, everything turns out well at the end. The thief is identified and taken into custody, Granny has been revealed as a swinging elderly babe, Red is given a chance to throw off the chains of her all-work-and-no-play lifestyle, and the forest's economy is able to get back to normal. On the whole, an interesting and surprisingly mature treatment of the issues.

Would that we could say the same about movies aimed at adults these days. For those who are sick of watching sensitive men moon over distant, emotionally disturbed women, or hikers tortured and killed by strangers in the wilderness, or young adults out on benders and venery hunts, or modern-day cowboys whose love dare not speak its name, or tendentious dramas about the evils of corporate America, or repressed individuals who throw off the shackles of conventionality and learn to follow their impulses—or much of the rest of the wonderfully mature and sophisticated movie fare of our time—today's movies aimed toward children may be just the thing.

Judging by their output, it appears that today's Hollywood believes that true maturity, intelligence, and decency are kids' stuff. Apparently they have studied their Jean Jacques Rousseau well but not wisely.

Superb Analysis of GM's Troubles

Over at my much beloved American Spectator, automotive columnist Eric Peters has an excellent analysis of what is troubling GM. He suggests that the company makes too many models in too great a variety, particularly given the company's market share.

I think he's right, at least in part. There are other reasons. I've become a Honda man all the way. So is everybody in my family. We are the type of people who would typically buy American, but the quality issue drove us over to Honda.

I still remember my first car, a 1980 Ford Mustang Ghia (everybody asks what Ghia means -- I don't know, like GT, I guess). That car looked good, had decent power, but just felt kind of loose and lazy in an undefinable way. The best way to describe it is to say that when I got my next car, a 1986 Honda Accord, I could immediately feel miles of difference in the quality, responsiveness, tightness, solidity, etc. of the car. It was just better. I moved on to my grandfather's Caprice Classic (can't recall the year, but still boxy). It drove like a sofa on wheels. Comfy, but didn't feel as good as the Honda.

The conviction settled in my mind, deservedly or not, that the Japanese imports really were better cars.

It is my suspicion that millions of Americans had the same experience in the 80's and early 90's and made the same long term call.

When in the market for a car a few years ago, I test drove a Ford Ranger. I was shocked by how solid and tight it felt. It felt like quality. It felt like a Japanese import. I didn't buy it because I still didn't trust the car to last like a Honda. Reading Eric Peters' article, I think it is possible that the American cars are much better made today.

The bottom line is that I suspect that general queasy feeling about American cars is just as much to blame for GM's troubles as Eric Peters' thesis about an excessive diversity of models.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Thread for Comments on Munich Review

I haven't been able to post a comment to S.T. Karnick's Munich review below, so I figure others might be having the same problem. Consider this a thread for posting comments on the film and/or Karnick's review.

For my part, I find myself encouraged by the review. I have been avoiding the film because of exactly the conservative critiques Karnick mentions. I'm glad to hear there is no such obvious agenda at work. When I queried my parents about the film, they likewise disavowed the presence of any moral equivocating between the Israelis and the terrorists in the story.

As usual, the quality of the review is excellent. They don't call him the world's greatest living . . . or perhaps I should say, I don't call him the world's greatest living film critic in the English language™ for nothing.

Bare Bones Reporting

What is the process, one is led to wonder, that editors employ to determine which stories run with pictures and which run without photographic accompaniment?

A mystery, one suspects, better left for the ages. (The underage, perhaps.)

Spielberg's Munich Mistakes

Conservatives have written very critically about Steven Speilberg's Munich, saying that the film essentially posits moral equivalency between the terrorists who arranged the kidnapping and eventual killing of innocent Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic games and the agents whom the Israeli government set on the trail to kill the organizers of the atrocity. Spielberg's public statements support the notion that he sees a connection between the events of the film and U.S. involvement in Iraq, and does not approve of the latter.

Upon viewing the film, however, I think that these critics are wrong and that the film is not an allegory for the Iraq War, Spielberg's public statements notwithstanding. Furthermore, I do not believe that Spielberg intended any moral equivalency between the two sides, but instead that he was simply exploring the questions and letting the viewers come to their own conclusions. As a spectator, there was no doubt in my mind that the Israelis were right in what they were doing. Others will undoubtedly draw other conclusions, but I think everyone would judge the situation based on the beliefs about justice, retribution, etc., that they held upon entering the theater. I think it entirely absurd to believe that Spielberg's film would change a person's fundamental thoughts on such matters.

However, I do think that Spielberg was wrong to do the film this way—for dramatic and aesthetic reasons. Throughout the film, we repeatedly see the Israeli agents agonizing over the morality of their task, and discussing it in anguished terms. This is silly. Those who took the job must have had some qualms about it, to be sure, but they must also have known that what they were doing was essential. Nothing is accomplished, in dramatic terms, in their discussing it further, especially on the childlike level that the screenwriters handle it in the present case. Once the agents set out on their path, the only real moral drama is in their attempt to get the job done without endangering innocents. Spielberg includes some of that, but it is overwhelmed by the overall moral-rightness question.

This is particularly damaging to the film's effect because Speilberg and his writers, in what can be seen as deference to the overwhelming importance of these issues, fail to create interesting characters. (Papa, played by Michel Lonsdale, is the only character in the film who is capable of surprising us, which is the most important indicator of whether a character is real or just a cardboard cutout.) A filmmaker captivated by issues cannot exercise the artistic freedom necessary to create real characters and real drama. In addition, the central story—the hunt for the terrorists and schemes to kill them—is the sort of heist-film material that absolutely requires quirky characters because the story elements are so predictable.

One can imagine, then, how compelling this film would have been if it had been directed by a more intelligent, sophisticated filmmaker such as Robert Aldrich (The Dirty Dozen) or Howard Hawks (To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo, etc.). Both of these directors were masters of the art of making stock characters into full-bodied, complex, interesting people, as the films mentioned here exemplify. One could easily see, for example, the Israeli bombmaker in Munich as being much more interesting if his relationship with the group leader, Avner, were more like that of John Chance (John Wayne) and Stumpy (Walter Brennan) in Rio Bravo, with the bombmaker complaining, "First you say I didn't use enough explosives, now you say I use too much! Nobody can ever please you. That's it—I'm going back to Israel!" Likewise with the intellectual guy, the easygoing blonde chap, and the other stereotypical characters at the center of the film. And that is especially true of Avner, whose home life, pregnant wife, and descent into paranoia do nothing to distinguish him in our minds as a unique individual.

A contemporary example of the approach I am suggesting is in the television program NCIS, in which characters dealing with disastrous situations—such as the potential hijacking of a train full of spent nuclear fuel rods that could be turned into a giant "dirty" bomb—have quirky personalities that affect how they act, and which make us like them and feel even more intensely the desire for them to succeed.

If Speilberg did not want his audience to pull for his characters to succeed, then he should have chosen another subject, because this kind of film—a "characters on a task" story—absolutely requires audience sympathy for the central characters. We need not approve of everything the central characters do, or even approve of the task they have set out to accomplish (as in heist movies, in which the characters are setting out to steal other people's property), but we must at least have some reason to identify with them and sympathize with them. Spielberg gives us very little of that in Munich.

More interesting characterizations would not have made Spielberg's film less serious; it would make it more compelling for us, as we could more easily see the characters as real people, identify with them, and care about what happens to them. The failure to fulfill his aesthetic obligations, not political ones, is Spielberg's real mistake in Munich.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Lost but Well-founded

Somewhat overlooked in the sad tale of the dozen miners was the truly heroic - some would say saintly - character of their dying moments, as reflected in the notes they penned. Their thoughts were only to assuage the fears and pain of their families. The scene was redolent of Balaam's pronouncement: "May my spirit die the death of the righteous..." (Numbers 23:10)

Over at The American Spectator, I composed a brief paean to their lives and deaths.

Herewith the merest foretaste:

"Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the poor."


This was a very solid group of men; we need to mourn them and learn to appreciate more those that remain. They work hard and are not wont to complain. Nor do they come home and spew a gospel of resentment. Instead, they live a friendly small-town existence with strong religious affiliation: no atheists in that foxhole. Look at the beautiful letters that they left their families when they sensed that death was near. No bitterness, no complaint, just love and reassurance to parents, spouses and children. What does it tell you about the character of a person when his primary concern in his dying moments is to mollify his loved ones with the image of him passing painlessly?

Rest in peace.

Big Time Student Athletes

For years the NCAA (National College Athletic Association) has been making excuses for the appalling graduation rate of Division I athletes. According to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), only 62 percent of athletes earn a degree. The NCAA recently disputed this figure, slightly. Whose figure is correct? Who cares? Both are awful.

The truth of the matter is that Division I athletes are generally engaged in gut courses and fail to meet even modest academic standards. Weight lifting, basket weaving and “communications” majors are hardly the basis of a liberal education. As B. David Ridpath, assistant professor of sports administration at Mississippi State University, bluntly says, “It’s too easy for colleges to water down their curriculums and let athletes take easy majors.”

Basketball programs had the worst graduation rate of any sport, with just 58 percent of players earning degrees within six years. At some colleges, only a tiny fraction of enrolled basketball players graduate, no matter how puny the academic requirements. Many of these athletes should not be in college at all. Far too many are there only to play basketball. In fact, student-athlete is an oxymoron. College means little more to many than the minor league from which they hope to land a pro offer. Yet only a very few “student-athletes” end up with one.

Graduation rates for Division I football players do not fare much better. Of the 56 Division I-A teams competing in bowl games this year, eleven had graduation rates below 50 percent. The University of Texas, whose football team went to the Rose Bowl and won the national collegiate championship, had a graduation rate of 31 percent according to DOE--40 percent according to the NCAA.

R. Gerald Turner, president of Southern Methodist University and vice chairman of the Knight Commission admits that, “Far too many schools are reaping financial rewards for post season play, while they’re failing to graduate the athletes who have enabled their success on the field.” What he’s really saying is that administrators tolerates the educational travesty because of the money successful basketball and football programs bring.

There is some hopeful news: Eight out of the 17 men’s sports had graduation scores of over 80 percent. Lacrosse led the way with 89 percent of its players graduating. But no one would confuse lacrosse with big time football or March Madness.

The two sports that generate the greatest revenue and alumni zeal, football and basketball, are in a class by themselves. Coaches earning seven figure salaries are naturally far more interested in the ability of a kid to hit a three point shot or run the “50” in 4.3 seconds than whether they can do calculus. In Tempe, Arizona during the recent Fiesta Bowl, I was amazed at how many Notre Dame and Ohio State alumni traveled long distances to see their teams play. At least 100,000 fans jammed into Sun Devil stadium. There were parties all over town; the restaurants and bars were filled to capacity. The money and alcohol flowed.

The kids on the field were filled with emotion. But when the curtain comes down on college athletics, how many of them will end up in the pros? How many will be prepared for the next chapter in their lives? How many will have the skills of even the most rudimentary college education?

Alumni fans might think a little about this, the next time they pump their fists for the home team.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Bush Hit List

Well, say it three times fast.

We at The Reform Club occasionally promote worthy riffs from our commenters to the main board, and in this case, I'd like to promote our own Jay D. Homnick's complaints about our current White House Occupant to give 'em their own air:


1) Blew the relationship with Senator Jeffords and cost the Republicans a Senate majority for two years.

2) Left the same stupid wet-foot Cuba policy where refugees are repatriated if they don't make it to shore.

3) Has completely ignored the immigration problem; in fact, he has actually made the border patrols weaker. This is bad government and bad politics, not to mention dangerous.

4) Has continued a completely hypocritical policy of saying that the U.S. must never negotiate with terrorists while insisting that Israel must kowtow to terrorists and accede to their demands.

5) Has shown an almost comical level of disengagement from, if not downright ignorance of, the political situation in South and Central America, which is becoming more dangerous to the United States with each passing day.

6) Has not really made a move (not that Clinton did either) to limit our dependency on oil or to improve the terms under which we acquire it.

7) Has not had the courage to fight environmentalists over their stranglehold on the building of new oil refineries.

8) Has not figured out approaches to getting the middle-of-the-road person in America to see him as a "uniter, not a divider".


I'll add not vetoing anything, like the heinous McCain-Feingold, and after drilling in ANWR was scotched, not figuring out how to make fuel out of caribou. Additions encouraged. (For maximum effect, keep 'em Homnick-short.)

A Very Gory Opportunism





Ex-everything (senator, vice president, sane person) Al Gore seized the occasion of Dr. Martin Luther King Day to excoriate the Bush administration by comparing its wiretapping of terrorist phone calls to the government's spying on MLK's personal life in the '60s.

Mr. Gore forgot to mention it was not a power-mad fascist Republican, but modern lefty saint Bobby Kennedy who authorized it.

Must have been an oversight.


Source Material Addendum:
"At the outset, let me emphasize two very important points. First, the Department of Justice believes, and the case law supports, that the President has inherent authority to conduct warrantless physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes and that the President may, as has been done, delegate this authority to the Attorney General."---Deputy Attorney General Jamie S. Gorelick, July 14, 1994

BEFORE THE PERMANENT SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
CONCERNING WARRANTLESS PHYSICAL SEARCHES CONDUCTED IN THE U. S. FOR FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE


(Mr. Gore must have been out sick that day.)

Pre-History

This Niall Ferguson essay - essentially arguing that a failure to pre-empt Iran's nuclear ambitions will set the stage for a nuclear war in the near future - is both well-done and frighteningly plausible.

But it's worth remembering that there has never been real war between nuclear powers. The closest we've come to is the occasional shelling and raiding between Pakistan and India. (Hmmm....maybe China and the USSR, but I'm not sure China had nukes then or at least not more than a few). In any case, here's what seems to me a much more likely scenario:

The US draws down its forces in Iraq, beginning in 2006 and substantially completed by 2008. (Either we will be successful and will be able to draw down or the continuing instability will be exploited by the Kos wing of the Democratic Party to gain electoral success and force the withdrawal). If Iran's nukes are not pre-empted (and is there anyone who doesn't think the Iranians are trying to develop nuclear weapons?), then the Iranians will have achieved a strategic standoff with Israel. But I think they're still unlikely to initiate a nuclear exchange with Israel, simply because the Israelis have enough nukes to obliterate Iran (and, most importantly, its leadership). Rather, Iran will use the nukes as a way of making itself invulnerable to American and Israeli pressure and will then seek to establish itself as the *the* power in the Middle East. This means, first of all, exporting its Islamism to Iraq and Afghanistan, undermining their relatively pro-American regimes. Second, it means undermining the secular regimes in Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia and attempting to establish a pan-Islamic confederation that both controls a significant portion of the world's oil supplies and, with Iranian and Pakistani nukes, remains relatively invulnerable to international pressure. (The Europeans can't impose sanctions because they are too dependent on the oil and the US will be unable to move against the Iranians because the Europeans - and perhaps the Israelis - will not want to risk the obliteration of one of their cities).

What the nuclear arming of Iran threatens is not a hot war ala WWII, but another Cold War where a radical ideology backed up by the gun takes over a strategically crucial part of the world. Israel might end up as a new West Berlin, hemmed in by its enemies. Not a happy scenario.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

NFL Playoff Observations

I'll do like Rush and mix in a little NFL commentary with the politics.

(However, I'll avoid making a controversy out of the actual non-controversy that is the black quarterback. For the record, I think Donovan McNabb is outrageously good. On the other hand, I'm quite annoyed with Daunte Culpepper, my first round fantasy pick who sunk me completely this year.)

Here we go:

1. Denver running backs are less and less likely to get big free agent dollars to go elsewhere. Shanahan knows how to make RB's look good. He is better at coaching the run than anyone else in the league. That team simply does not need high draft pick RB talent to succeed.

2. Rex Grossman of the Chicago Bears has the palest skin I've ever seen on any player in the National Football League. He is even more pale than "Whitey" Sven Ivory, the former albino third string safety for those great Vikings teams of the 70's. The man borders on being gray. He may actually have the proverbial ice water in his veins which would explain the pallor.

3. Indianapolis deserved to lose their game. This was not the same squad we've watched dominate virtually without effort.

I think this is a case of a team that needed more adversity on the field and less off the field. There is no way Tony Dungy (clearly an NFL supercoach) could have continued in the same vein of stupendous success after his son's death. When Peyton Manning waived off Dungy's punt squad late in the third quarter, you could see a legend just ready to be born as the QB took over for his beleaguered skipper. Unfortunately for the Colts, the transformation was too late in coming. Had Manning taken the reins a bit earlier his team might have had a chance.

By the way, for the record, Troy Polamalu DID intercept that Manning pass late in the fourth quarter. It will be a permanent mystery as to how an experienced NFL referee could botch a call so badly. Luckily for the NFL and everyone involved, the Steelers won anyway which left the mistake moot.

4. The Carolina Panthers are absolutely legit. Anybody that can score that many points and drive the ball so effectively against an unreal Bears defense is destined for the Superbowl. I'm going out on a limb to predict the Panthers beat the Seahawks in a close one to go to Detroit.

5. The Steelers are going to beat the Broncos. Both teams play a similar style, but the Steelers are cresting at just the right time. The pieces are all in place. Roethlisberger gets to be Tom Brady this time. The Steelers defense will pick Jake Plummer off and score points in the victory.

6. I've learned to dislike Tom Brady. He always struck me as a winner, but this year the ugly side of the overcompetitive player came out in the QB. He complained too much about being written off at mid-season and spent too much time whining about not getting calls during the Denver game on Saturday. Hopefully, a spell of not being the champion will be good for him and restore Brady to class-act status.

7. Michael Vick is overrated. He is overrated. He is overrated. The man is the most elusive open field runner in the history of the game this side of Barry Sanders, but he is not a good enough passer. As a Falcons fan, I don't want to see him shoved into a pocket passer mold, but it would at least be nice to see Atlanta become a little more hospitable to free agent wide receivers. Right now the Peach City is the place where WR's go to watch their dreams die.

8. My crystal ball is cracked on Brett Favre. I could see him coming back for a couple of great years to quiet the critics, but I fell in love with his gutsy play years ago and am incapable of being objective.

Things that Don't Mix: Horror Flicks and Kiddies

I've been kind of keeping this to myself, but DP of Rock, Paper, Dynamite and Thomas Hibbs of NRO have rekindled the flicker of a particular thought in my brain.

As he discusses the horror film Hostel, currently a low budget hit eclipsing older releases Narnia and King Kong, Hibbs noted a distressing phenomenon:

Yet, the most depressing and horrifying thing about these sorts of films is, alas, not the explicit gore. It is the fact that at nearly every screening of a gruesome horror film I attend (from Massachusetts to Texas), I see parents in the audience with young children. That strikes me as a serious form of child abuse and a more convincing sign of the impending apocalypse than anything depicted on the screen.

I had the same thought a few years back when I went to see Blade 2 with Wesley Snipes. I was shocked to see several small children in the theatre who had been brought by their "parents" who were engaging in their own mysterious version of "parenting." It wasn't quite Kill Bill, but the film had graphic portrayals of bodily mutilation that took tatooing several steps up the cruelty scale and mass murder with blood hosing everywhere.

I don't need to see a study to know that the children exposed to this kind of film will become insensitive to violence, killing, etc. To use a more biblical expression, I'd say it hardens hearts. My own experience bears this out. As a teenager, my friends and I took advantage of the combination of video rental privileges and driver's licenses to rent every horrible thing we could get our hands on. The more a film pushed the border of tastelessness, violence, and sexual priggishness, the more likely we were to give it a viewing. I particularly recall a film that portrayed graphic serial rape of a woman caught in the wilderness Deliverance-style by a group of bad men. The first time I saw it I was shocked and shaken. The fourth time I was laughing.

After years of exercising more personal vigilance in my viewing choices, I've managed to recover my sense of shock at the depiction of outrageous behavior onscreen. I can only imagine how warped an individual's sensibilities can become after dulling the edge of the conscience on reels and reels of bloody, sex and violence-drenched celluloid (or digital media), particularly when the process begins with non-parenting parents initiating their toddlers into onscreen bloodsport.

This damage to the mind's facility for perceiving moral distinctions is the basic problem with total liberation of entertainment from social constraints. All the barrier-busting and fun-poking at stuffy taboo protectors leads to an arena with no-holds barred. What demons will wrestle in the virtual stadiums of the future? I'm not at all sure we want to know.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Fashion Consultant to the Gods

So, I'm thinking---Sam Alito definitely has the makings of an ubersexual---brilliant, kind, and obviously confident in his sexuality, but he looks like a total wienie, let's face it.



So, I thought, to achieve a consummate ubersexuality, he might spruce up a little bit. A very cool facial hair statement, sometimes called a Van Dyke, might help.


Not. Bad.

Not bad at all.


Give the man a festive shirt and a decent tan, some pixelating to lend an air of mystery, and of course, some appropriate shades:




Yeah, baby. Ladies and gentlemen, the next Supreme Court Justice of these here United States. Destiny awaits, and rightfully trembles.

Friday, January 13, 2006

A Little Monk Grousing

I wasn't satisfied with the conclusion of Monk tonight. The writers successfully established that the lab tech was guilty of fiddling with results, but did not reach the same level of certainty with regard to the fashion designer being the murderer.

It was possible that only labels had been changed, but the lab tech could have engaged in more elaborate fraud and disposed of any evidence tying the fashion designer to the original crime. The loop remains open and I don't like it.

Otherwise a pretty good episode. I'll annoy the Karnickian by stating for the record that I still miss Bitty Schramm.

About a Million Words About "A Million Little Pieces"

Here's the link to the story by The Smoking Gun on the latest author to stir up controversy from Oprah Bookland!

There's a lesson to be learned here which is that there is absolutely no room for a crap artist on the scene today. YOU WILL BE DISCOVERED AND MADE TO LOOK LIKE THE LYING CRETIN YOU ARE!

Fortunately, if you managed your money well you can have a reasonably comfortable humiliation.

Monk Returns, and All's Right with the World

O.K., people, get out your toothbrushes and scrub the floors, and don't forget to dust the chandeliers. Grab a wet-wipe and a cool bottle of Sierra Springs and settle down for the first episode of season 4 of Monk, the best show currently running on American television, tonight at 10 EST on the USA Network. In tonight's episode, Malcolm McDowell guest stars as "Mr. Monk Goes to a Fashion Show."

There will be a quiz!!!

For those benighted souls who haven't seen the show, the last episodes of a daylong Monk marathon are now running on USA Network, and a free iTunes download is available here.

Dance of the Gay Puritans

Our sharp-tongued pal Bern Chapin has written an excellent rejoinder to Mark Gavreau Judge's article on the American Spectator site in which the latter claimed that people on the Right should abjure popular pleasures such as NASCAR, country music, and even rock and roll and football, as well as down-home clothing styles such as tee shirts, sneakers, and jeans, and that we should all shop at Brooks Brothers instead of Wal-Mart.

On our site, Hunter Baker took exception to Judge's suggestion that Christianity requires an individual to wear certain types of clothes and enjoy certain types of entertainment, a claim which Jesus would certainly have found ludicrous. Hunter is absolutely right about this.

Judge seems to be going for a sort of Gay Puritanism here.

Hunter is correct to take him to task for it.

Now, as I said earlier on this blog, I do agree that "Most prominent conservatives today have little appreciation of the fine arts, and they show little respect for style, just as Mark says. Among the causes for this, I would suggest the fact that conservatism used to be a more elite position than it has been since Reagan, who made real the populism that Goldwater's candidacy had begun." (I then left Judge and went into a discussion of the Omniculture.) But Hunter and Bern are right to bring out these other implications of Judge's elitism. The notion that the right should be a movement of people who shop at Brooks Brothers and not Wal-Mart is a guarantee of marginalization. There just aren't that many people who can afford to do the former and not the latter. (Otherwise, the president would be a member of the Green Party.)

In addition and even more importantly (if you can imagine anything as being more important than partisan politics), it's silly to place stylistic litmus tests on morality. Either people love God above all things and love their neighbors more than themselves, or they don't. Wingtips and sneakers provide not the slightest clue of an individual's position on that—or, if anything, one would expect a person who really keeps those two commandments to be wearing the more humble footwear.

Of course, if one has a certain amount of the ready and has come by it honestly, sure, looking nice is better than being a slob, and attending to elevating and edifying art is far better than wallowing in trash. But the particular standards Judge is suggesting are overly specific and snobbish, and they also praise a phenomenon, "metrosexuality," that should be laughed right off the earth as soon as possible. As Bern says,

A metrosexual is one who possesses a woman’s taste, and anyone who has ever cringed at the color pink or had glitter rub off on them knows that female taste cannot always be equated with the word “good.”

Another mistake is apparent as metrosexual has never, to my knowledge, been applied to opinions about art and music. The term has always been used in reference to fashion, grooming, habit, and social interest. I have never heard it applied to intellectual interests, but that is an assumption on which the rest of the piece rests.

This is an important point. In praising "metrosexuality," Judge is, perhaps unintentionally but definitely, siding with the notion that the differences between men and women are not largely natural but are in fact culturally determined. This is a crucial point, and one which Judge really should revisit and reconsider.

So, thanks to Bern for bringing this to the fore.

In addition, I want to add an angry complaint about Judge's disgusting, outrageous dismissal of football as a low-class endeavor. That is a simply contemptible assertion: football is in fact the greatest sport of our time. It gives young men a way to excel in an area that the modern world seldom allows, and it is a thing of great beauty, complexity, and subtlety. It teaches individual achievement within a structure of essential cooperation. A boy who plays football, and to a lesser degree anyone who watches the sport, learns that group success comes from each individual doing the very best at whatever he or she has been told to do. It is a beautiful matter of individuals cooperating to bring their personal abilities together in a group effort. The team that wins consistently is the team in which the most players do exactly what they are supposed to do on the greatest percentage of possessions.

I have coached football at the junior level, and it is a great way to help silly, uncontrolled boys become serious young men. It doesn't always work, as so many cases attest, but of the millions of boys who play organized football, I would suggest that it benefits all of them in some way. If Judge has never played or coached football, and is not even a fan of the sport, well, that says a lot about him, and something any real male would rather keep quiet about. Any woman who finds a contempt for football attractive would be far better off simply finding another woman to live with.

Now, I do think that style is important and that nice things are much better than crap. Much, much better. But Bern and Hunter are absolutely right to point out that Judge is into some very dubious stuff and shouldn't force his weird tastes on other people. Keep that in the closet, girl!

I think that the styles people choose do say important things about them, and I like to be as jaunty and prosperous-looking as possible, but to associate Christianity with metrosexuality strikes me as utterly grotesque. Brrrr.

I suggest that Mr. Judge punt and try to get his defense in order.

NPR, James Frey, and the Memoir

Listening to NPR this morning, I heard their segment
on James Frey, whose "memoir" (something about a million little pieces - I'll admit I must have missed that publishing phenomenon) has been shown by the Smoking Gun to be either an entire fabrication or extreme exaggeration. (Example: Frey apparently claims he rear-ended a police vehicle when in fact he just ran one wheel of his car up onto a curb. Almost the same thing). This made the news because the book made it to Oprah, who loved it and made it in turn a national bestseller. (Again, I'll admit I never heard of the book until I read about the controversy). His defense? Well, "memoir" isn't really the same thing as, say, "history" since we all know our memories are faulty. The NPR reporter, Lynn Neary, guts the excuse with some well-put quotes from another publisher who more or less accuses Frey and his publisher of being willing to flat-out lie in the pursuit of an emotional hit and the big bucks. Good for NPR.

It's worth noting as an aside that the sort of subjectivism and emotivism on display in this incident is a perfect picture of the postmodernist mindset. What matters is not whether something happened or not, but rather our interpretations of things and how that makes us "feel." And it's also worth noting - and this certainly is not an original insight - that this kind of subjectivism is a perfect match for the sort of consumerist, no-limits market capitalism that the Left is always decrying. Talk about being hoisted on your own petard...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Life at the Bottom and How to Get There

This remains one of my favorite pieces of writing, and of social criticism---it's an excerpt from John Derbyshire's review of Theodore Dalrymple's Life at the Bottom: The Worldview that Makes the Underclass:


"The knife went in," three different stabbers told Dalrymple, when he pressed them, in the prison, to describe the deed that landed them there. Why should a low-IQ barely-literate youth believe in the doctrine of free will, when, for all he can see, his intellectual superiors have given up on it?

Dalrymple is particularly good on the squeaky-wheel syndrome that is so characteristic of modern social services. Defy your circumstances; manage to get some scraps of education; win some decent, if low-level employment; stay out of trouble; stay off the dole; maintain some minimal standards of honesty and chastity; and see what happens to you! If you are lucky, the authorities will ignore you; if not, they will actually harass you. Should your less disciplined neighbors make your life a misery, you will get no help from police or social workers. If, on the other hand, you follow your peers into the world of dysfunction and dependency, all the attentions of England’s extravagant welfare state will be lavished on you. You will be given a free apartment furnished with all modern appliances, a regular supply of money, free medical attention, and the doting ministrations of “health visitors,” “case workers,” “counsellors” and so on.

Americans may find it surprising that most of the people wallowing in this slough of ignorance, illiteracy, promiscuity, bastardy, intoxication, vice, folly, lawlessness and hopelessness are white English people. Much of what is described here is the sort of thing Americans instinctively associate with this country’s own black underclass. There is some satisfaction, I suppose, though of a very melancholy kind, to be drawn from the revelation that sufficiently wrong-headed social policies, persisted in with sufficiently dogged refusal to face simple truths, will visit moral catastrophe on people of any race.

LOST

Most of popular culture is a sewer and I'm happy to rarely switch on the tv (we don't even have ESPN or the 24-hour cable news shows). But I do try to catch the ABC drama LOST and last night, as Amy Welborn notes, included some nicely done dramatizations of issues regarding sin, forgiveness, and redemption. Maybe it's because the show (like, I think, the X-Files) trades in mystery, it just can't avoid religious claims. But I'm hard pressed to remember another time where two people sympathetically recite the 23rd Psalm as, seemingly, an act of religious devotion. Good stuff.

When the Going Gets Tough, the Left Shouts "Racist!"

As Judge Samuel Alito endured his protracted questioning in the Senate Judiciary Committee with the Left still unable to make a plausible case for turning him down, the desperation became evident with some prominent Democrat Senators' allegation that the nominee is a racist. The charges appear to be utterly unfounded, but it appears that there may well be some unsavory racial activity in the past of one Democrat Senator on the panel:

Charles Schumer trying to tar Samuel Alito as a racist because of membership in some club? Don't make me laugh. The fact is that Charles Schumer came to power as a New York State Assemblyman in 1974 by virtue of an overtly racist scheme that he created and sold to a naive neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. He convinced them that he would use his power to rid their area of black people. And who is my source for this serious accusation? Me.

Yes, me. I was there.

The article by Reform Clubber Jay Homnick in today's issue of The American Spectator Online documents the claim. It is a very interesting story indeed, and very revealing of some unsavory truths of modern politics.

Why My Husband Will Never Sit on the Supreme Court

My husband is a brilliant man, possessed of legal skills of rare quality and a true judicial temperament. His thought is organized and systematic, his grasp of, and ability to remember, detail is little short of stupefying to mere mortals like me, and he has, in addition, the sort of dry intellectual wit that would make reading his opinions the joy of any 2L. There are, of course, hundreds of lawyers like this in DC, and none of them will ever sit on the Supreme Court either. But my husband has a higher hurdle than any of them, and it is this: if he had been sitting in Sam Alito's seat yesterday, and I had been sitting in Martha Alito's seat yesterday, I would not have been weeping, I would have been using Ted Kennedy's severed head to beat Chuck Schumer senseless. Listen up, minority members of Judiciary: when you survey your peers and notice that Joe Biden is winning the good behavior prize, it's time to rethink.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Letterman's Swinishness, or: More Media Bias

This ties up our recent discussions into a nice little bow, I think.

If one googles "Letterman" and "pencil," he'll find numerous (with video) blog reports of David Letterman stirring his pencil into Bill O'Reilly's courtesy beverage before O'Reilly comes onstage. (Yes, O'Reilly drank from it, too. )

If one googles "Letterman" and "pencil" in the Google news section, which monitors hundreds if not thousands of mainstream news sources, one will get back zero hits.

That's zero hits, folks. Nobody in the media noticed? Nobody? A week later, and still...nothing?


Media bias includes what is not covered. It is impossible to conceive that this is not of news interest. Nor is it possible for me to conceive that if a right-winger had committed this bastardly deed, his career would not be over, and rightfully so.

Now, maybe the blogs are wrong: I didn't see the show, and haven't watched Letterman since he got terminally lazy with his fat contract and I got cable sometime in the last century and had moose mating or whatever to switch over to on Discovery. But even debunking this is newsworthy enough for a media that has nothing better to talk about than Lindsey Lohan's hip size.

That's zero hits, folks. Crickets chirping. Letterman's in the club.



(Mad props to The Political Teen for this photographic evidence (?), and to the exquisite Larry Elder for the riff. If his radio show isn't available in your area, give him an ear via the internet. The Sage rules.)

TV Show of Daniel

I finally finished watching The Book of Daniel, the new NBC-TV program that has raised the ire of conservatives and religious folk. It was rather difficult to achieve—the watching, that is—because of the show's glaring weakness: it is terribly arch and tendentious, and its author's obvious (too-obvious) intentions contradict one another. That is to say, my objections to the show are aesthetic.

Unlike most of the program's detractors, I didn't find it to be antireligious or anti-Christian. It certainly painted an unflattering picture of organized religion, but I didn't see that as being the point of the show, nor did I see it as being what most viewers would take away from the program if viewing it fairly. What the show's creator was apparently trying to do was make a Desperate Housewives knockoff set in Westchester County, and actually to emphasize the moral content by including a religious setting.

The latter decision was a huge mistake, however, because the moral content of Desperate Housewives is perfectly obvious to anyone this side of a psychopath, and hence does not need enhancement; and, perhaps more importantly, because the creator also clearly had another thing in mind which conflicts with the moral analysis. He wishes to transform our notion of morality: to place tolerance, kindness, and other such yummy things atop the moral pyramid and make them dispositive in all cases.

That may in fact be a fair picture of the atmosphere within a liberal Episcopalian church in Westchester County, but it waters down the significance of the characters' choices into nothing. If tolerance is the most important thing, what exactly is the significance of what any of these characters do? When one person causes another to suffer, that's just the price we have to pay in order to have a world in which others won't judge our actions. We cannot judge, lest we be judged. Of course, that leads to a situation in which a sort of Gresham's Law of Morality applies: bad behavior pushes out the good.

The Book of Daniel reflects exactly that process: these characters, who have grown up in a world of tolerance and a nurturing of whatever appears to be genuine in a person, do what they bloody well please as long as they think they can get away with it. This, however, kills any possible drama. Given that nearly all of the people depicted in the program are hypocritical, snide, selfish, morally obtuse, and utterly charmless, there is nothing with which to contrast the bad behavior. After all, every Lovelace needs his Clarissa: moral perfidy committed against other morally corrupt individuals is not so very interesting, especially in the rarefied atmosphere of this fictional Westchester County, where the great majority of the suffering appears to be self-imposed. The characters are dull, flat, and lifeless because their choices do not matter.

And that, of course, makes for bad drama—really, no drama at all.

As a result, The Book of Daniel commits the cardinal sin of failed entertainment: it is a bore.

Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman

I caution our annoying anonymous commenter(s) that your actions are now illegal.

Word up.

How Media Bias Works

Hunter Baker refers below to a recent study alleging liberal media bias in the news. The methodology used was to count citations of outside "experts" to see if there was a partisan balance.

The study found a strong tilt to the left in the reports of most media organizations.

Now is this proof in itself of bias? Let's look at a recent Washington Post article on the NSA domestic "spying" affair.

Aside from the contentious wording that the administration has "assertions" while the contrary congressional report has "conclusions," we see that the WaPo quotes two "experts," both of whom are dismissive of the administration's position.

I discussed this very article with a lefty pal of mine and he sees no bias. Me, I see not only Congress lined up against the executive branch (little surprise---this tug-of-war over national security authority has been going on since the founding of the republic), but 100% of the outside experts. I would expect the casual reader to conclude that the weight of arguments is against the administration, since they occupy the lion's share of the volume.

I find this article to be representive of the norm, and certainly my liberal buddy saw nothing unusual about it. Which is precisely the point.

Since I'm feeling magnanimous today, I'll offer that no Bush-friendly "experts" were consulted because the WaPo simply doesn't know any. But whatever the reason, the aforementioned study (and it is not the first such) clearly indicates it is the rule rather than the exception in our national news media that among third party commentators, the left get more air than the right.

Put simply, an article or news segment is imbalanced unless it presents both sides in roughly equal proportion, as spoken by third parties, not just the accused and the aggrieved themselves. We all tend to give credence to the views of third parties when making up our minds about things, as we should. For that reason, I find the theory behind the study's methodology entirely proper, and can think of none better.

The WaPo rounded up two "impartial" witnesses against the Bush administration and none in its defense. Any reasonable person would, based on the evidence presented, be obliged to conclude its guilt.

The WaPo article was biased, whether intentionally or not. I do not know which of those possibilities is more disconcerting.

A No-Brainer, Really...

This may qualify for some as "dog-bites-man", but here's a nice little precis on the link between family structure and educational outcomes. Unsuprisingly, kids in two-parent households do better across the board.

Where I live, there are two public elementary schools nearby. One is fairly diverse but mostly serves reasonably well-off folks with mostly intact families (and children of foreign graduate students). The other has a much larger population of public housing kids, almost entirely black and almost entirely from single-parent families. It's been striking how many of our friends, though thoroughly liberal and deeply committed to public schooling, have already decided that they won't send their kids to the second school if they can't get into the first. Not surprising, but a bit striking.

More on Media Bias: I Mean, It's Serious.

Came across a fascinating article in Investor's Business Daily on dead tree (see, you accomplished something with that free trial).

The IBD staff compiled evidence of media bias via the various studies on the subject. Here are some of the results:

1. 2005 Study -- Every major media outlet except The Washington Times and Fox News Special Report leaned to the left. The furthest left (by a long shot) was the Wall St. Journal news division (as distinguished from their conservative op-ed group). Other groups leaning left were all the network morning news shows (with one exception), NPR Morning Edition, and the major newsmags. The closest to the center were Aaron Brown's Newsnight (now canceled, hmmm), PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer, and ABC's Good Morning America. The authors of the study hailed from UCLA and Univ. of Missouri.

2. A 2004 study showed that nine of 10 major newspapers are more likely to portray economic data as negative if a Republican is president.

3. A 1996 study showed only 7% of Washington correspondents voted for George H.W. Bush in 1992, nearly half as many as voted for Bush in ultra-liberal Berkeley, CA.

4. A 2004 NYT story found only 8% of Washington correspondents thought Bush would be a better president than John Kerry.

UPDATE: I should have mentioned that I found item 2 particularly interesting. For years, I have had the sense that Republican economic data has been spun in a negative light relative to when Democrats are in office. Looks like the old intuition was right.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Introductions

Many thanks to Hunter and everyone else over here at The Reform Club for allowing me to add my two cents' worth occasionally (and, as you'll discover, you get what you pay for). I'm a recent PhD in political science with interests all over the map, including the intersection of religion and politics (Pat Robertson's a pagan - more on that later), the fiery roasting of select meats, and good conversation. My wife and I have two small children. For the record Michael Simpson is a pseudonym - I would like an academic job and I see no reason to make it any harder for myself than I need to. Be seein' y'all around...

Blogging on Small Business

I have found an excellent blogger on small business matters. If you are thinking about getting into that racket. You'd be well-served to spend a little time with Jeff Cornwall.

Pat Robertson's Perspective

A friend, who wishes to remain anonymous (for good reasons which will be evident upon reading the appended message), sent me the following note which provides a very good analysis of what drives Pat Robertson and his followers to say the strange things they regularly say:

As the son of parents who have sent God only knows how many thousands of dollars to Pat Robertson, Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, Jimmy Swaggart and others of their ilk over the years, I have watched these TV preachers -- and their supporters -- with keen interest. You are absolutely correct about Robertson's reckless rhetoric, but it is precisely his willingness to make such statements that brings in the cash.

There is a paradox in people like my parents and other followers of the Robertsons of the world. They are true believers who doubt their beliefs. This is why they glom onto signs and become breathless at the prospect of a prophecy fulfilled. If they truly believed, they would not need constant reassurances and proofs. They are fearful believers -- afraid of God, afraid of Satan, afraid of Death, afraid of Themselves.

Robertson pointed to Sharon's stroke and then to the Bible and said, "See, the Bible said this would happen, and it happened!" It was his way of exciting his base of doubtful believers.

He not only bucked them up by giving them a proof. He also gave them a sense of superiority. They came away from his show believing they have knowledge others do not have, some because they are ignorant and others because they will not see the truth. His listeners believe themselves to be an enlightened elite.

There is a line in Daniel about the King of the North attacking Israel. My mother currently believes the King of the North is Turkey, and she is expecting an attack by Turkey on Israel any time. Over the years the King of the North has also been Iran, Iraq, the Soviet Union, the European Union, and the United Nations.

Pointing out to my mother that predicting attacks on Israel is like predicting cold in winter has no impact on her. Pointing out that she has believed in numerous Kings of the North over the years does nothing to temper her belief now. Each time a new King of the North is identified by Robertson or some other Evangelical preacher, she gets all fired up, and out comes the checkbook.

My parents are also believers in the Rapture (the righteous will go straight to heaven without the inconvenience of dying, and the rest will be left behind to endure seven years of tribulation ending in the battle of Armageddon and the establishment of 1,000 years of Heaven on Earth.) Israel plays a central role in this. Before the Rapture can happen, Israel must be fully established. Anything that holds back Israel holds back the Rapture.

There are plenty of Christians who opposed Sharon because they saw his position regarding the West Bank as holding back the Rapture. An expanding Israel gets them to heaven quicker.

So there really are three reasons for Robertson's remarks regarding Sharon. First, they keep the money flowing. Second, they give believers a feeling of superior knowledge. And third, they are a way of gloating over the destruction of a man whose policies were delaying Jesus' return to Earth.

This is how I see it, anyway.

Monday, January 09, 2006

On the Wing(le)s of Love

My young daughter invented a cute sub-adjective, the word "wingle". It exists only as a tagalong for "single", as in "you say that to me every single wingle time."

It occurred to me to convert it into a noun and write her this little poem about the pitfalls of excess.

I bought a single wingle
And it made me tingle
So I bought a double
And it made me trouble.

Ledeen on Osama and the Middle East

I'm amazed by Doc Zycher's mention of the possibility Osama might be dead. If this is true, then the two kingpins of 9-11 in the public mind (be sure to note that phrase Moore-ons, I'm asserting nothing) will have been taken care of via either imprisonment or the rigors of being pursued.

Here's the link to the Ledeen story.

If Ledeen is right, and I hope he is, then Bush should be due for another bounce. I'm waiting for the big Drudge headline or a CBS news rumble. Something, anything to confirm the event.

Here's an excerpt that leaves you singing:

This historical moment is not easy to understand, since we are in transition from a relatively stable world, dominated by a handful of major powers, to something we cannot yet define, since it is up to us to shape it. It seems clear, however, that there is a greater rapidity of change, accompanied — inevitably — by the passing of the leaders of the old order. This is particularly clear in the Middle East, where seven key figures have been struck down in the past six years: King Hussein of Jordan in February, 1999. King Hassan of Morocco in July of the same year. Syrian dictator Hafez al Assad in June of 2000. Yasser Arafat of the PLO in April, 2004. King Fahd of Saudi Arabia in May of last year. Ariel Sharon of Israel was incapacitated by a stroke in early January. And, according to Iranians I trust, Osama bin Laden finally departed this world in mid-December. The al Qaeda leader died of kidney failure and was buried in Iran, where he had spent most of his time since the destruction of al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The Iranians who reported this note that this year's message in conjunction with the Muslim Haj came from his number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, for the first time.

This remarkable tempo of change is not likely to diminish, as old and/or sick men are in key positions in several countries: Israel's Shimon Peres is 82. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is 82 (and his designated successor, Prince Sultan, is 81, and was recently operated for stomach cancer). Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, although probably in his sixties, is said to have serious liver cancer, and is not expected to survive the next year.

And, of course, the patient activities of the Grim Reaper are not the only source of revolutionary change in the region. Saddam was a relatively young man (mid-sixties) when he was toppled by Coalition forces; the deposed Taliban leaders were relatively young as well (Mullah Omar is barely 50); and the likes of Bashar Assad, the Iranian mullahs (Khamenei is probably in his early sixties), and even the legions of the Saudi royal family have to contend with mounting animus from the West, and mounting cries for freedom from their own people.

Much of the demographic component of rapid change comes from the enormous disparity between leaders and people. The wizened ayatollahs of Iran, like the gerontarchs of Saudi Arabia, seek to contain the passions of a population one or two generations younger, which is probably one reason why the mullahs turned to a youngster, the fanatical Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to crush all potential opposition to the Islamic republic. Most Iranians, two thirds of whom are younger than 35, do not take kindly to the white beard and beturbaned tyrants who have banned Western music and just last week began speaking of segregating the sidewalks of the country by sex; males on one side, females on the other, even as they announced the execution of a woman who dared defend herself against a rapist.

In short, both demography and geopolitics make this an age of revolution, as President Bush seems to have understood. Rarely have there been so many opportunities for the advance of freedom, and rarely have the hard facts of life and death been so favorable to the spread of democratic revolution.

The architect of 9/11 and the creator of Palestinian terrorism are gone. The guiding lights of our terrorist enemies are sitting on cracking thrones, challenged by young men and women who look to us for support. Not just words, and, above all, not promises that the war against the terror masters will soon end with a premature abandonment of what was always a miserably limited battlefield. This should be our moment.

Ozzie Laid to Rest

According to Michael Ledeen on NRO today, that ineffable friend of freedom, Osama Bin Laden, departed this world in mid-December as a result of kidney failure. Ledeen's sources seem unusually good in such matters---even his dear departed James Jesus Angleton, available only via Ledeen's ouija board, is not to be discounted---and so I am quite reluctant to dismiss this as disinformation or such.

In any event, my question is somewhat irreverent, but here goes: I wonder if Osama, or Ozzie, as his friends knew him, at the end wished that he could have availed himself of infidel medical technology and care? After all, the seventy-two virgins could have waited a bit longer, non? Maybe Ozzie will come back as a K Street lobbyist for a defense conglomerate.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Democrats: Tax Parasites

Remember those wack maps Democrats came up with after the Bush-Kerry election?




A similarly self-serving wackiness arose around the same time, that, presumably due to their larger populations (as unaethstetically if not bizarrely illustrated above), the 19 Blue States pay Washington more money than they get back, so they'd be better off seceding from Bush Country.

True, as far as it goes.


But let's take a closer look.

Kerry made the election close only by carrying by nearly 20 percentage points the 23% of the electorate that makes less than $30,000 a year. They pay little or no income tax, and many of them receive federal subsidies like WIC or the Earned Income Credit.

Now, Bush and Kerry split the votes of the $30-50,000 income voters, but Bush carried every other income group above $50,000 (who represent 55% of all voters) by 10 percentage points or more.

And as we all know by now, or should, the top 50% of wage-earners pay over 96% of all federal income taxes.

So let's bury once and for all this canard that the highly evolved Blue States subsidize bucolic and backward Jesusland. More accurately, it's the productive, taxpaying Red Staters both inside and outside the Blue States who largely foot the bill for all.