Friday, August 04, 2006

MTV Turns 25, World Continues Turning

Cover art for Video Killed the Radio StarMTV turned 25 this week, and your intrepid correspondent has contributed a few thoughts to a National Review Online symposium on the deeper meaning of it all. Most of the comments in the symposium are fairly light, but there are some interesting facts to be gleaned and ideas to be pondered.

It's certainly interesting to see this group of right-wingers' rather amused and unworried reaction to MTV, widely considered to be a powerful force of cultural change. Perhaps American conservatism is not so conservative after all.

For those interested in additional commentary on the state of popular music, I suggest my post, from earlier this week, on the rise of gloom, doom, and general depressingness in popular music.

In addition, the category entries at the right side of the main page of Karnick on Culture offer full lineups of articles in various subject areas, including quite a few on music.

From Karnick on Culture.


Thursday, August 03, 2006

How Soon We Forget, or: Never Heard About It in the First Place

It's all here.

The lies. The unsubstantiated justification for war. The bombing the bejesus out of civilians and infrastructure. Shooting old people. Creating more terrorist bastions.

Not Iraq or Lebanon---Kosovo. Clinton. A "good war." Amazing what you can get away with when (D) comes after your name. Another one down the memory hole.

I have a genuine affection for the far (far) left, in this case one John Pilger. Often clueless, always principled.

Mr. Moto Returns

Although 20th Century Fox is not exactly shouting it from the housetops, The Mr. Moto Collection, Vol. 1 is now available on DVD. In the series of Mr. Moto films from the late 1930s, Peter Lorre played the title character, a Japanese secret agent who solves crime mysteries. Lorre was absolutely brilliant in the role of the small, slight, unobtrusive, exceedingly polite master of jiujitsu and deductive logic. The films were made on B-level budgets, but the directors definitely got the most out of the investment. The stories were more action-oriented and hard-edged than most detection series of the time, such as the Charlie Chan films, and they hold up surprisingly well.

Still from Mr. Moto movie

Peter Lorre deserves admiration for his performance as Mr. Moto. Although he was very ill and fighting off the overuse of morphine to combat gall bladder pain, Lorre brought great charm to the character, which was lacking in the Moto novels of J. P. Marquand, on which the series was based. In the books, Moto is something of a mystery himself, as Marquand tells us little about him other than his doings as an agent, and he is always seen from other characters' point of view. Lorre's provision of greater charm and personality to the character worked well with the tone of the series, which was lighter than that of the books and was even sometimes rather tongue-in-cheek.

Mr. Moto DVD collection cover art

As is surely understandable, the series ended in 1939, and Lorre went on to give impressive, memorable performances in films such as The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, and Arsenic and Old Lace.

The Mr. Moto films are well worth watching and an essential addition to the collection of any fan of classic action mysteries.

From Karnick on Culture.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Trivial Thought

Most of the discussion that I have seen on the Lamont/Lieberman primary election next week has focused on whether Lieberman in the end will hang on to win. That strikes me as the wrong question.

Suppose that Lieberman indeed does win the Democratic nomination, while Lamont receives, say, 45 percent of the primary vote. To my simpleminded way of thinking, that outcome---probably the worst showing for Lamont now plausible---would or will be a disaster for the Dems. Think about it: Almost half the Democratic electorate will have signed on with Moveon.org and its ilk. How would such an outcome be much better for Hillary and her attempt to straddle the middle than the alternative in which Lamont wins the nomination with, say, 52 percent of the vote? Bill and Hill are not fools: They know that a movement to the left forced by the imperatives of the primary competition for the '08 nomination will be an albatross in the general election.

Does it really matter whether Hillary and the other aspiring POTUSes are forced to pander to "only" 45 percent of the Democratic electorate rather than, say, 52 percent? I rather doubt it.

It seems to me that the rise of the Kos/Moveon/Sheehan/Moore wing of the Democratic Party is a looming monster for '08 Democratic hopes for the White House. And it is a serious political/policy problem as well for the Republicans, who will have more room as a result to avoid standing for principle.

The Fine Art of Thievery

The season-ending episode of Hustle, one of the very best programs currently on television, will be broadcast tonight at 10 p.m. EDT on American Movie Classics. AMC will begin cycling through all 18 episodes of the BBC-AMC co-production again on September 20, so feel free to drop in tongiht and see why I think this program is so good.

Hustle promo art

Hustle has a terrific mid-'60s feel to it, from the animated opening credits to the charming, rougish central characters (including Robert Vaughn of The Man from UNCLE fame) and on to the very concept of the program: a group of English confidence tricksters target deserving bullies and con them, to take away a bit of their money and as much as possible of their arrogance. The plots are tricky, sophisticated, and morally challenging, and they usually include a nice twist or two at the end. The con artists are likeable despite the questionable morality of their enterprise. Consider them to be avenging angels if if makes you feel better.

I'll write more about Hustle later, in particular drawing attention to the tradition of rogue heroes of which it is the latest noble installment. For now, watch and enjoy.

From Karnick on Culture.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Conventional Wisdom

Violence, we are often told, is not the answer. It never works, and only leads to endless cycles of destruction. OK, that’s the argument from the hyper-pacifists, and [grit teeth] not really representative the mainstream Left. Lest I be accused of setting up straw men, here’s Kevin Drum making the case that conventional war is futile:

I believe that our fight against Islamic jihadism is analogous on a global scale to a counterinsurgency. To use the hoary phrase, we'll succeed by "winning hearts and minds," and conventional warfare just can't do that. In fact, it's mostly counterproductive: it won't succeed in killing the guerrillas and it will lose us the support of the local citizenry, which in turn will make the insurgency even more formidable. Lebanon is serving as a pretty good case study of this right now.

So conventional war is a bit of a drag, assuming you accept the part about it not killing guerrillas. What’s the alternative?

I believe it's fundamentally nonmilitary and revolves around engagement: trade agreements, security pacts, genuine support for grassroots democracy, a willingness to practice the same international rules we preach, etc. The idea is to slowly but steadily promote democratic rule, liberal institutions, education of women, and international commerce...

Well now, that sounds promising. Let’s see if we can put it into practice with a few test cases. Here’s Hussein Massawi, a former Hizbollah leader:

We are not fighting so that you will offer us something. We are fighting to eliminate you.

Not exactly the most inviting opening remarks, but I have every confidence that a Howard Dean would have worked day after day to find some common ground there. Perhaps they could trade notes on battle cry technique. Yeeeeeeeaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!

Let’s move on to Iran. Here’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on nuclear proliferation:

Our answer to those who are angry about Iran achieving the full nuclear fuel cycle is just one phrase. We say: Be angry at us and die of this anger," because "We won't hold talks with anyone about the right of the Iranian nation to enrich uranium.

No doubt John Kerry would have built a coalition (Iraq) to determine that multi-lateral talks (North Korea) don’t work, and then gone on to convey that the he was now for being against the vote in which he might have been against being for Iran’s right to a nuclear program. You know, nuance.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that something gets lost in translation and Hizbollah continues to attack Israel. What then?

When military responses are necessary, they should be short, highly targeted, and designed to piss off the surrounding citizenry as little as possible. This will, needless to say, take a very long time and a lot of self restraint, but it won't succeed at all if every few years we set things back a decade with a conventional war.

Highly targeted sounds good, make ‘em pay a price for their transgressions, right? But what exactly do you target? You’re dealing with people who live for nothing other than the furtherance of their ideology. They literally have nothing to lose. Meanwhile, whose citizenry are you not “pissing off” with this approach anyway? Are Israeli civilians supposed to accept a never-ending stream of rocket attacks, bombs and kidnappings?

As much as we might like to tell ourselves otherwise, there is nothing to entice or compel Hizbollah to halt their attacks other than a shut off from their sponsors or the utter annihilation of their forces. They have calculated that the West is not willing (or maybe even able) to impose either option. Say what you will about these religious fanatics, but they understand the conventional wisdom.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Castro On the Ropes

During its dictator days, everybody around the Caribbean Rim called a rum & coke a Cuba Libre, a "free Cuba." A toast, a bit of a hope and a prayer.

After the Castro revolution toppled the dictator du jour, in Miami Cuban refugees from Castro sardonically ordered a mentira. "Lie." It has been 47 years since the first mentira was ordered.

Free men everywhere, and those who wish the blessings of liberty and thereby prosperity for others, wish Fidel Castro a speedy reunion with his Creator. We would not want to see him suffer, or not nearly as much as he has made others suffer. Free men are a bit hardheaded when it comes to freedom, but not spiteful.

Fidel, at age 80, has been rushed into surgery and has given the reins and whips of state to his designated successor, brother Raul. Temporarily, but we hope not.

The obscenity and nightmare that is communism is almost over. It was conceived by Marx and Engels way back in 1848, believe it or not, and then took over 50 years to enter reality as the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. About seventy years later, the Soviet Union at last requested the needle, to put itself out of its self-inflicted misery.

I went to school and lived for awhile in Miami, to where the best and brightest (and admittedly privileged) of Cuba fled after his revolution. They started again with nothing or next to it, and turned a backwater vacation spot into one of America's major cities.

But the most extraordinary people I met there were those who escaped by hook, crook or by raft in the decades after the din of rebellion faded. Osvaldo learned to cook pizza, saved enough to open his own shop, and fed me most every day right after I got out of college. It was damn good pizza.

If you met him on the street, or at a cocktail party, where he'd probably be serving the fare instead of sharing it with you, you'd think him quite an ordinary man. Osvaldo was anything but, and achieved far more than I, and likely you, ever will.

I think perhaps he and many others will leave Miami for their homeland when the time is right, and help build the New Cuba.

And I think it'll turn out to be a good place. A very good place.

Perhaps soon we'll be ordering Cubas Libres again. In fact, I think I'll mix me one up now, in anticipation of the occasion. Godspeed, Fidel. Emphasis on the speed part.

Religion in a Sitcom

Sunny in Philly promo shotThose who complain that Hollywood seldom depicts religion as a normal and good part of films' and TV's central characters' lives are correct that the incidence is much lower in the media than in society as a whole. This is another reminder that it's important to be careful what you pray for. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which runs Thursday nights on the FX Channel at 10 EDT and is available on ITunes, follows the lives of four post-college slackers who run an Irish bar in the title city, and religion, specifically Christianity and more specifically Catholicism, keeps popping up in the characters' lives. The overall tone of the show is fairly spicy, and the humor is both funny and often deliberately edgy, but the treatment of religion is pretty realistic given the characters' situation. It is also both irreverent and basically positive.

The religion the principal characters were taught as a child in working-class Philly often comes up in conversation as they discuss, for example, some of their more shameless schemes. In addition, situations and characters with religious significance arrive on a regular basis. Last Thursday such a character arrived in the form of a priest who had served as the butt of the gang's practical jokes during childhood and adolescence. He provides a conscience figure in response to another of the gang's awful schemes, and then provides a further lesson as one of the group, a young lady on whom he once had a crush, brings disaster on him.

The episode concerns a scheme by the group to make money from donations by Christians after a water stain shaped like the Virgin Mary is discovered in a back room of their bar. Both the scheme and the situation go rapidly downhill from there, and it is all very funny. Yet the wrongness of their quest is never in doubt, and one character's religious qualms about the scheme keeps the story firmly grounded.

In this zany, backhanded way, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia depicts Christianity in a basically positive way even as it plays mercilessly with its conventions and surfaces.

And as I said, it's definitely funny, as when would-be conman Charlie, pretending to be an evangelist, addresses a small group of pilgrims sitting in the bar:

"Here's a confession: I'm in love with a man. What? I'm in love with a man. A man called God. Does that make me gay? Am I gay for God? You betcha!"

Funny stuff.

From Karnick on Culture.