Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Evolution Of A Conservative, Part One: First Delineations

I've been piqued by S. T. Karnick's recent statements, in the comments to a couple of his own essays, that he's "not a conservative." Now, he didn't make it sound as if it were somehow an unworthy thing to be; he just stated that he wasn't one. Yet in the absence of those statements, what I've learned of Mr. Karnick's values and general political posture would have caused me to conclude that he is a conservative. You see, I share those values and that posture, and "conservative" (of the libertarian variety) is what I call myself.

Political labels are always at least a tad fuzzy. These days, they appear to be more indistinct than they've been since before FDR. But most people do label themselves one thing or another. One of the reasons has always been to provide others with a condensed guide to their positions. Another has been the psychic comfort that comes with group identification. It seems that despite the gray zones around all of today's conventionally labeled political poles, labels still serve those purposes to an extent sufficient to make them attractive to most Americans. Which compels us to ask:


  • If Pat Buchanan, Charles Krauthammer, George Bush, and my old friend Smith who thinks that no one except soldiers should be permitted to cross the border in either direction are all conservatives;
  • If William Safire, Mark Steyn, William F. Buckley and my old friend Jones whose favorite pastime is hauling his Uzi and his bipod to Central Park and killing drug dealers in the wee hours are all conservatives;
  • If Steve Forbes, Bob Dole, Ernest van den Haag and my old friend Davis who's called for a 50% tax on all profits and the outright confiscation of all estates are all conservatives;


...what does "conservative" really mean? Could it be that the word has been drained of all objective significance?

(Incidentally, the names Smith, Jones, and Davis are used above as pseudonyms for real persons. My friends form a rather diverse lot.)

A century ago, a European observer of our society, a certain Herbert George Wells, wrote in his book The Future Of America that "All Americans are, from the English point of view, Liberals of one sort or another," by which he meant what we would call classical liberals. Wells, a socialist, was hostile to classical liberalism, the dominant political posture of the time. He saw it as the principal obstacle socialists such as he, the Webbs, and the Bloomsbury group would need to surmount to achieve their vision of a just society. This makes his observation all the more striking for the time it was made: the heyday of the Progressives, the muckrakers, and the Benthamites, not one of whom would have endorsed the principles of classical liberalism without first registering heavy qualifications to all of them. More, within fifteen years, the United States would go to war in Europe against powers that had not attacked it, Prohibition would be fastened onto the necks of Americans nationwide, and major elements of the program laid out in The Communist Manifesto would be incorporated into federal law.

Gentle Reader, all of that happened in a nation whose favorite nonfiction author was classical liberal titan Herbert Spencer. Let that sink in for a moment. Clearly, "liberal" had at least as much fuzz around it then as "conservative" does today. So "conservative" isn't the first widely used political label to suffer from a certain indeterminacy in specifics.

I've long been of the opinion that "liberal" and "conservative" more suitably designate particular attitudes of welcome or unease toward large social and political changes than coherent political philosophies. Neither term's adopters command a significant consensus about core principles. The political postures of conservatives, in particular, vary greatly and often contradict themselves on specific issues. Yet "conservative" is at this time the most commonplace political self-assessment in America. It must mean something to the persons who use it.

More anon.

Art That Bites

Artists in the twentieth-century increasingly operated on the insight that it is vain, stupid, and boring to paint a beautiful and emotionally moving portrait of a landscape or person or pieces of fruit or a scene from the Bible or a war fight or a group of local burghers gathered for their nightly guarding of the town, and that those who did so were captives of bourgeois values whose work spread false consciousness and destroyed souls (and by the way, there is no such thing as a soul).

An example of repugnantm, soul-destroying, false consciousness, painted by Dutch artist Vermeer

This phenomenon has been well documented over the past couple of decades in books such as Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word and in the excellent culture magazine The New Criterion.

Of course, for most people the best response to such things is to ignore them and, when they cannot be avoided, ridicule them.

A Los Angeles art show this weekend shows that the anti-art, anti-bourgeois, anti-social art movement is still strong.

The show, called Barely Legal, is put on by Banksy, a British prankster and graffiti artist, whose work pushes what passes for serious art today into open absurdity. It is the reductio ad absurdum of modern art, which is not much of a reduction at all.

http://www.textanalyse.dk/Billeder/Vermeer%20Kontrast%201.jpg

Unfortunately, the show is not meant to satirize the contemporary art world but is in fact simply a cheesy and self-consciously ludicrous manifestation of it.

Banko's installations have a clear "anti-capitalist" (in the words of the Reuters article quoted below), anti-bourgeois message. Too bad, for he really does seem to have an ability to create mildly amusing if decidely unimaginative faux contemporary art scenarios.

Reuters reports:

A live Asian elephant, painted in pink and gold, stands in a makeshift living room.

Giant cockroaches swarm over copies of Paris Hilton's pop CD. A dummy angel wearing a gas mask and a white parachute flaps in the blue skies.

Even in free-wheeling Los Angeles, they'd never seen anything quite like this.

British graffiti artist and prankster Banksy opened his first Los Angeles show on Friday in an obscure warehouse in industrial Downtown, bringing his subversive humor and anti-capitalist message to a city better known for wealth and self-obsession.

"Barely Legal," a free three-day event billed as a "vandalized warehouse extravaganza," opened with the excitement and puzzlement that has come to be the hallmark of the elusive "guerrilla artist."

Banksy keeps his identity secret but has built up a cult following in Europe over the last four years, placing his work in top museums, zoos or on the streets.

"It is really amazing. I think he is hilarious," said Los Angeles graphic designer Manny Skiles, 30, who has spent two years following Banksy's work mostly through the Internet.

Banksy's works show about the usual level of imagination evident in these contemporary art scenarios, which is to say, very little:

On one wall, a stencil art picture shows bush hunters in loincloths raising their spears at empty supermarket shopping carts. On another, a masked street anarchist with a thrown back arm prepares to hurl -- a bunch of flowers.

But the placid pink elephant takes pride of place. Tai, 38, looms large in a room decked out with a sofa, a television, rugs on the floor and a man and woman sitting reading obliviously on the couch. It is titled "Home Sweet Home."

"We are sitting on the couch not seeing her. From what I understand, the elephant is a symbol of all the world's problems being ignored," said Kari Johnson, Tai's caretaker. Johnson said Tai lives on a private southern California elephant ranch and has appeared in several commercials.

This is all highly reminiscent of much 1960s hippie "art." And the "artist's" politics are just as nuanced and deeply informed as those of his '60s prankster predecessors:

Banksy, as is his custom, was not around to discuss his show, which followed a prank at Disneyland this month in which he placed a blow-up figure dressed in orange Guantanamo Bay prison overalls beside a roller-coaster ride.

Last month, Banksy placed remixed copies of Paris Hilton's debut CD in stores across England. He gave them titles such as "Why Am I Famous?" and "What Am I For?"

In the "Barely Legal" show, the fake Hilton CDs are displayed in a plexiglass case alongside photo-shopped pictures of the hotel heiress and live cockroaches.

What this world needs is an installation that makes appropriate fun of all this nonsense. Banko could be just the one to do it, if he could only get past his own idological complacency. That, however, is one thing that he, like his contemporaries, appears unlikely to challenge.

For extensive coverage of this topic and others, go to Karnick on Culture.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Bush "Snuff" Film Premieres in Toronto

Death of a President depicts imagined assassination of President George W. BushJames Pinkerton of Tech Central Station went all the way up to Toronto for the city's annual film festival this year, and he has brought back an excellent article on one of the most vivid manifestations of Bush hatred seen so far, the film The Death of a President. In an article appropriately and only slightly hyperbolically titled "Snuff Cinema," Pinkerton writes:

Five years after 9-11, it's apparent that we all aren't getting along. And the political left is throwing plenty of mean punches. A case in point is that new Bush snuff movie, "Death of a President." Some might say that "snuff movie" is too strong a term -- but how else to describe a movie that clearly revels in the prospect of George W. Bush's being assassinated? . . .

"Death" is a pseudo-documentary that purports to show what happens to America in the year after President George W. Bush is assassinated on October 19, 2007 (stock market nerds might note that 10/19/07 is the 20th anniversary of the 500-point stock market crash, for whatever symbolism that's worth).

A few points about the movie: First, it has a "big" look. As film-society types would say, "Death" is fluent in cinematic language; it brings one into the action, it's well paced, the music enhances the mood. Interestingly, the film was made for a mere $2 million; if so, such a large movie on such a small budget could only be possible for an offshoot of a big network, such as More4. The parent company, Channel 4, used its own deep resources to acquire archival footage and to help out on the slick special optical effects. So "Death" looks like a theatrical release, not a made-for-TVer.

Pinkerton sees extremely sinister motives at work here:

In the 12th century, King Henry II grew distinctly weary of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas à Becket. "Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?" Henry asked, and the next thing he knew, four loyal knights did just the ridding Henry was hoping for. Now fast-forward nine centuries: Is it really all that hard to believe that the "Death" filmmakers hope that somebody gets a "bright idea" to rid the world of a troublesome president?

For my full, extensive article on this and its very interesting implications, go to Karnick on Culture.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Get Your Red Meat Before the Store Closes. . . .

The rumors are flying, that the left-wing radio network Air America is about to shut down. The New York Post reports:
All-liberal, all-the-time Air America is denying intense rumors that the ratings-challenged radio network will declare bankruptcy this week and attempt to reorganize to stay on the air for the November elections.

A high-level source told The Post that Rob Glaser, the Real Networks founder who rescued the 2-year-old network from its first financial crisis, "walked away last week" and took his moneybags with him.

Earlier this week, as first reported in The Post, Air America laid off six people and shuffled its on-air lineup - including deleting Jerry Springer and returning him to independent syndication.

Radio Equalizer, a blog that closely monitors Air America, claims the lefty net hasn't been able to pay its Associated Press bill and that staffers "have been bracing for the worst possible news."

Late yesterday, Air America spokeswoman Jaime Horn denied rumors of doom.

"If Air America had filed for bankruptcy every time someone rumored it to be doing so, we would have ceased to exist long ago," Horn told The Post. "No decision has been taken to make any filing of any kind."
From Karnick on Culture.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Are We Winning the War on Terror?

I dunno.

Iraq seems to sink deeper into fratricide. Afghanistan seems to be getting hairier.

But are we losing the war on terror? No way. These people are incapable of holding a single square mile of turf anywhere on this earth unless we let them. Radical Islamis mocked the US about the Iraqi city of Fallujah, saying the US would get its comeuppance there especially after we withdrew for aesthetic reasons the first time.

Well, we turned half of it into ash, and as for the rest, people can live there if they want.

As persistent as cockroaches are, they can never take over. They can never win. Unless we do nothing, of course. There might be a best way to kill cockroaches, and maybe we haven't found it yet. But you just keep stomping, and life goes on.

A National Scandal: Brad Pitt, Beloved Sweetheart Angelina Tragically Prevented from Marrying!

The great Mr. Matt Huisman has given his opinion on this subject below, but for those who cannot get enough of it, here's my take.

Actor Brad Pitt and actress Angelina Jolie, tragically kept apart by government editsI am regrettably rather late in mentioning the actor Brad Pitt's enlightening recent comment regarding why he has not yet married the acclaimed actress Angelina Jolie, a subject which he believes should have an important effect on the nation's political process.

USA Today reports the tragic, earth-shattering news:
Brad Pitt, ever the social activist, says he won't be marrying Angelina Jolie until the restrictions on who can marry whom are dropped. "Angie and I will consider tying the knot when everyone else in the country who wants to be married is legally able," the 42-year-old actor reveals in Esquire magazine's October issue, on newsstands Sept. 19.
I think he's referring to domestic animals here, but I'm not entirely sure, as he has refrained from providing specifics. In any case, let's get together and change the laws to Brad's liking so that he and Angelina can move in together and have kids and whatnot, OK?

It's little enough to ask a country to do, after all, for such an important person.

From Karnick on Culture.

Media Consolidation Reversing?

Numerous writers and analysts have pointed out that large media conglomerates' purchases of movie studios, magazines, and book publishing companies have had a deleterious effect on the quality of production in these media by forcing them to bring in higher profits than were historically attainable.

I suspect that the decline of American education has had a much more important effect on the quality of popular culture in the past half-century, but there were always two additional interesting questions regarding media conglomeration that needed to be asked and seldom were.

Question one was whether these two industries would remain as appealing to corporations as they had become during the 1970s and the two decades thereafter.

Question two was whether the decline in quality and increasing sameness of product from corporatized major publishers and film studios would cause a rise in competition from independent producers and publishers. And if the latter happened, might not the answer to question one be that the big corporations might wish to unload some of these firms?

That does appear to be the case, with the well-documented rise of independent media productions, proliferation of new magazines (which has slowed only in the past few years), and increasing success of university presses, small book-publishing houses, and other such ventures.

We are seeing some signs of a reversal of the media consolidation of the past couple of decades.

In today's news, for example, The Wall Street Journal reports that Time-Warner is jettisoning numerous magazines "as it looks to prune its portfolio of smaller, less-profitable titles."

This move is significant because it includes very popular titles such as Popular Science, Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Skiing, Parenting, and Babytalk. Of course these will all be sold to other big investors, because they are still worth a lot of money, but this looks to me like part of what may be a continuing devolution to a more reasonable scale of organization for these publications.

Equally significant in today's news is the announcement by the New York Times Co. that it is selling off its television stations:

"The decision to explore the sale of our broadcast stations is a result of our ongoing analysis of our business portfolio," said Janet L. Robinson, president and CEO. "These are well-managed and profitable stations that generate substantial cash flows and are located in attractive markets. We believe a divestiture would allow us to sharpen our focus on developing our newspaper and rapidly growing digital businesses, and the synergies between them, thereby increasing the value of our Company for our shareholders."

The stations that comprise the Broadcast Media Group are:

  • WHO-TV in Des Moines, Iowa (NBC);
  • KFSM-TV in Ft. Smith, Ark. (CBS);
  • WHNT-TV in Huntsville, Ala. (CBS);
  • WREG-TV in Memphis, Tenn. (CBS);
  • WQAD-TV in Moline, Ill. (ABC);
  • WTKR-TV in Norfolk, Va. (CBS);
  • KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City, Okla. (NBC);
  • KAUT-TV in Oklahoma City, Okla. (MyNetworkTV); and
  • WNEP-TV in Scranton, Penn. (ABC).

Leftist critics complained about the corporatization and consolidation of the media as an unwelcome phenomenon in the '70s and thereafter, and they were correct to point out that there would be deleterious effects.

Market-oriented analysts simply replied by saying that the consolidation would be good because people wouldn't do it if it didn't make sense.

That was not the correct response, however. People do stupid things, and corporations do stupid things too.

The sensible response should have been that the media consolidation that began in the 1960s was most likely part of a societal and technological transition that would ultimately work toward everybody's benefit, as free markets typically do over the long term.

And that appears to be what has happened and is happening today.

Contrary to the leftists' claims, competition among media providers actually increased during the period of consolidation, as a simple glance at the current media landscape should make abundantly clear. In response to that competition, big media companies are beginning to divest themselves of some of their media holdings in order to make themselves leaner and more effective at responding to competition, as the New York Times statement makes clear.

That process will increase media competition further, and will create increased capacity for variety, efficiency, and customer satisfaction in our communications media.

That is what markets do, and it is always to the good in the long term.

From Karnick on Culture.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Whither Justice In Transaction?

As our technologies have ramified, certain aspects of knowledge have become more, not less, problematical. Much of this stems from the recognition that a new device or practice can have long-range effects that might not be visible in the near term. Much of the rest arises from the entirely excusable ignorance of the average citizen about, well, just about everything.

The extremely simple legal environment of the nineteenth century was founded on a set of extremely simple principles, which are no longer honored. One of these, the doctrine of assumption of risk, undergirded all commercial transactions. It made it possible for employers and employees to contract for any sort of labor, under any sort of conditions, and for vendors to sell potentially harmful products to customers, without fear that a lawsuit might reverse their a priori agreements to indemnify / hold harmless. But assumption of risk came under heavy fire in the early twentieth century, and began to be displaced by the doctrine of informed consent: the principle that a man could not be bound by a contractual agreement of any sort unless he had been fully informed of all the pertinent risks and had explicitly consented to them.

Informed consent has been taking a beating these past few decades, mostly because of Calabresian "legal positivism" and "deep pockets" liability theory. In essence, the prevailing view in American civil courts today is that, given the complexity of technology and society, no one is sufficiently well informed of the risks pertaining to anything to enter into a binding agreement to indemnify or hold harmless any other involved party under any conceivable set of circumstances. In consequence, such agreements, wherever we may find them -- and they're more numerous than one might imagine -- are considered "flypaper," and are dismissed or rewritten by judges at whim. The same is true for every sort of contract, for, once accepted, the assumption that only judges have the insight required to write a binding agreement knows no bounds.

The rot in our tort law proceeds directly from this absence of contractability. Without the ability to enter into a binding contract, persons desirous of transacting with one another must commit to a sequel of infinite uncertainty. Each is at the mercy of the intentions and character of the other. Under these circumstances, the most valuable thing a man can have, the sole protection he can offer a would-be partner in commerce, is an unstained reputation...the very thing one can most easily lose in a milieu where law is infinitely luxurious and infinitely elastic, slander is commonplace and usually escapes punishment, and no standard of proof can free a man from the invidiousness of the lumpenproletariat or the Fourth Estate. It puts one in mind of a passage from Atlas Shrugged:

Rearden, that evening, his coat collar raised, his hat slanted low over his eyes, the snow drifts rising to his knees, was tramping through an abandoned open-pit coal mine, in a forsaken corner of Pennsylvania, supervising the loading of pirated coal upon the trucks which he had provided. Nobody owned the mine, nobody could afford the cost of working it. But a young man with a brusque voice and dark, angry eyes, who came from a starving settlement, had organized a gang of the unemployed and made a deal with Rearden to deliver the coal. They mined it at night, they stored it in hidden culverts, they were paid in cash, with no questions asked or answered. Guilty of a fierce desire to remain alive, they and Rearden traded like savages, without rights, titles, contracts, or protection, with nothing but mutual understanding and a ruthlessly absolute observance of one's given word. Rearden did not even know the name of the young leader. Watching him at the job of loading the trucks, Rearden thought that this boy, if born a generation earlier, would have become a great industrialist; now, he would probably end his brief life as a plain criminal in a few more years.


However, few legal scholars -- Thomas and Epstein are exceptions -- are willing to consider returning even to an informed-consent standard, much less the sterner assumption-of-risk rules that governed the Nineteenth Century.

From where is the next fundamental principle of justice-in-transaction to come? Will it be some product centuries in the making, slowly turned by jurists from Blackstone through Holmes on the lathe of our legal system, or will it arrive all at once, a jewel unearthed by a single brilliant mind in a flash of unprecedented insight, as the theory of property rights occurred to John Locke?

More important, with the costs of human interaction mounting steadily in consequence of the mounting uncertainty of all dealings, what, apart from our sterling characters, shall we use in the meantime?

The Need for Moral Courage (ABC's Path to 9/11, Part 2)

Part 2 of the ABC miniseries The Path to 9/11, which aired last night, was, if anything, more critical of the Bush administration's obliviousness to the threat of al Quaeda than it was of the Clinton admin. Yet I hear no complaints about it, nor any threats of censorship.

The film's critique of the Bush administration is basically that it didn't get up to speed quickly enough (which is rather to be expected when the enormous White House bureaucracy switches parties) and was too devoted to political correctness prior to 9/11.

Regarding the former, then-National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice comes off as manipulative and unprepared to run a big office. That may be true or it may not be, but it certainly does not suggest that she is responsible for 9/11. Hence: no harm, no foul.

Regarding the Bush administration's continuation of the previous team's concern for political correctness, throughout the narrative leading up to Sept. 11, 2001, a concern over "racial profiling" prevents the nation's defense and policing agencies from picking up and holding obvious terrorists. This was a huge error, of course, and was something many people had warned was posing a serious danger. Now we know.

In a very revealing scene in episode 2, a terrorist who has been taken in for questioning insists that the agency release him, stating, "I have rights!" The agents accept this and ultimately release him. This was a disastrous policy.

Fortunately, the notion that aliens have the same constitutional rights as citizens has been set aside, as it should, in the years since 9/11. I recommended this less than a week after that day, in fact.

The lesson to learn from this aspect of the 9/11 story is clear:

People without moral courage hate to make distinctions.

The making of distinctions is central to human reason and is a good thing that should never be suppressed. In real life, relativism is not an option. And, based as it is on relativism, hard multiculturalism is not an option.

An alien is a person of different status from a citizen, and that is a distinction that society must accept. Certainly vistors to our country should not be mistreated, but holding an obvious terrorist in custody for more than 24 hours is not an atrocity; it is simple common sense.

The other impression one gets from last night's episode is that the sub-agencies of the Bush administration had more than enough information to suspect that the 9/11 attacks were coming and could have prevented it by grounding all air traffic on that day. That appears to be more than a bit of a stretch, but it makes for compelling TV drama and fulfills the central purpose of a docudrama. That is, as I mentioned yesterday, "to tell a whacking good story through the use of historical events" and thereby afford us insights into human nature and the world around us, in addition to helping us understand the issues surrounding the matter at hand.

The big lesson to learn from The Path to 9/11 and the real life events that inspired it is the need for moral courage. A people without it is a people doomed to destruction.

From Karnick on Culture.

Brad Pitt: 'I'll marry when everyone can'

Oh dear. Is it already time for another installment of Hollywood’s social conscience?

Brad Pitt, ever the social activist, says he won't be marrying Angelina Jolie until the restrictions on who can marry whom are dropped. "Angie and I will consider tying the knot when everyone else in the country who wants to be married is legally able," the 42-year-old actor reveals in Esquire magazine's October issue, on newsstands Sept. 19.

One wonders what Mr. Pitt expects us to make of such a statement. Had he employed such a line to keep some mistress du jour at bay, we would simply smirk and move on. But since Ms. Jolie does not strike me as someone unable to get her way, I think we can safely assume that she’s in on the whole thing too. Far be it from moi to question their motives, but what exactly are a couple of millionaire divorcees who have been living together for over a year sacrificing by not getting married? Are they going to go Old School, and forswear sex until same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land?

Or is it more likely that, in an effort to keep the Billy Bush’s and Nancy O’Dell’s of the world from asking the same friggin ‘When are you two kids gonna get married?’ question for the umpteenth-thousand time, Mr. Pitt figured that throwing traditional marriage under the bus might be a classic Hollywood Win-Win?

Well played, Mr. Pitt. But I hope realize that you're not the only one with deeply held beliefs, and there are a large number of us that still hold traditional marriage to be sacred. Are you really willing to pay the price for your convictions? You don't need to work in Hollywood to be an activist, and we watch an awful lot of movies.

So I hope you'll hear me loud and clear when I pledge to never watch or buy some of your movies ever again.

Take that.

* I absolutely adored 'A River Runs Through It' - so there's no way I'm giving that one up. And people really seem to enjoy the 'Ocean's' series - so I still plan on seeing those sometime too. But the promos for 'Interview with a Vampire' always creeped me out, and given your disdain for marriage, you can definitely count me out on that one. Unless some friends want to come over and watch it.

Monday, September 11, 2006

My Own Private 9/11

At 7:46 AM Central Daylight Time on September 11, 2001, I was rushing my kids out the front door to the bus stop. It was a typical early fall day in the Upper Midwest: gray, chilly, and unpromising. I argued briefly with Rachel about wearing a jacket. I lost.

My husband was a 3L at the University of Minnesota School of Law; I was a research fellow in the School of Public Health. He had only been back in Minneapolis for a few days, after a Washington DC summer associateship at a large, well heeled downtown firm. We were anxious about receiving a permanent offer for 2002, but otherwise life was going about as smoothly as it ever seemed to go for us. We owned a little Arts and Crafts Tudor revival on the western edge of Minneapolis proper, next to a city park. Our neighbors were mostly liberal neo-urbanists with "Free Leonard Peltier" bumper stickers and bake sale flyers for Sara Jane Olsen's defense fund, but Minneapolis civic etiquette is largely live and let live and they overlooked our American flag/Fox News/Catholic school household's peculiarities as long as we kept our sidewalk shoveled in the winter.

John wasn't re-adjusting to a school schedule very smoothly, and I heard low-level radio snooze alarm warfare proceeding upstairs. I put a load of clothes in the dryer and headed towards the back door to leave for work when John barreled down the stairs, practically knocking me down and in obvious alarm. "Turn the TV on. The radio just said a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center."

We switched on Fox. I still don't know if we saw the second plane impact live at 8:03, or if they were already replaying it. John started surfing for news on the computer. I sat on the couch and stared for awhile. I was very shaken, but this was something remote, that was taking place hundreds of miles away. It certainly didn't seem a good excuse to miss work or school. No one on screen seemed to know anything concrete either, and it was still not absolutely clear that it wasn't some hideous accident. So after half an hour or so John started for the shower, and I fumbled for my purse. And Fox News reported that a plane had hit the Pentagon, and I yelled at John, and sat down again.

What seems strange now is that it took so long for it to sink in that this was not analogous to a hurricane or a tornado or even the Oklahoma City bombing. This affected the whole country. I was still thinking I needed to get to work. Our federal contract for Medicare data support had just been renewed, and Tuesday afternoons were my shift on the help desk. I still had no notion that the entire country would be paralyzed. So I left for work, now more than an hour late. In the few moments between the back door and the garage, the first tower collapsed. On the way to campus, local news announced that the university was closing and all students were being sent home. Evacuation of the 57-story IDS Tower, Minneapolis's tallest building, was under discussion. I thought it all sounded silly. This was happening in strategically important cities, not Minneapolis.

The parking lot was almost completely empty by the time I arrived on campus. I parked anyway, and walked to my office. The shuttle buses didn't seem to be running. The office was deserted. My boss was in Atlanta for a conference, so it wouldn't be surprising even under normal circumstances that the secretaries would bug out early for lunch. But none of the other faculty or fellows were around either. I sat down for my shift anyway, the radio tuned to KSTP and searching the computer for live news feeds.

No one called all afternoon. I was alone in the building. I kept picking up the phone to make sure the lines weren't dead. John called when the kids got off the schoolbus. They were a little spooked, but the school hadn't made a big fuss. They had held a prayer service. They knew something very bad had happened, but not exactly what, and were fuzzy on the where as well.

There were seven cars in the parking lot when I left work. The parking attendant was gone. Someone had tied an improvised American flag to the open gate. I stopped at the liquor store on my way up University Avenue. I was still trying to make the day normal; I stopped there every Tuesday and Friday. There was a radio tuned to the news. The employees looked worn and old, pale green under the fluorescent lights. I bought cider and wine, spent more than usual. I tried to chat up the cashier. She tried to respond.

I guess I made dinner that night. I made dinner every night. I guess I bathed the kids and read them a story and tucked them in. I did that every night. But I don't remember that. I remember seeing John Fund interviewed on Fox. John Fund, who is usually so brash and caustic, so snarky, so full of himself. John Fund looked out his window and saw people jump from the tops of the towers, and watched them fall, and his voice broke, and he couldn't speak any more. I opened a bottle of wine, watched the self-confident and unflappable public personae at a loss for words, and I got very, very drunk.

The next morning, I didn't just shoo the kids out the door to the bus stop. I walked to the corner with them. And I turned around to walk back to our house, and looked down the length of York Avenue. Every house was flying an American flag.

I sat on this post a long time, because the potential for saccharine self-indulgence is almost limitless. In the end, the pros seemed to outweigh the cons. The comments are open to anyone who wants to post a private reflection. No partisan bickering, please.

ABC's Path to 9/11: Analysis

Part 1 of ABC's The Path to 9/11 two-part docudrama aired last night, and reactions from political types were largely as expected.
This photo, supplied by ABC, shows Harvey Keitel who plays FBI counterterrorism expert John O'Neill, in a scene from ABC's miniseries'The Path to 9/11.' The two-part film is a dramatization of the events detailed in The 9/11 Commission Report and other sources which airs on Sunday. Sept. 10, and Monday, Sept. 11, 2006. Former Clinton administration officials criticized the miniseries, saying it distorts history so drastically that it should be corrected or shelved.(AP Photo/ABC, Peter Stranks)

Supporters of former president Bill Clinton complained about some scenes in advance copies of the program (which were altered before airing, to reflect their concerns), some on the political right were disgusted by leftists' calls for censorship and retaliation against ABC, and others on the right took what they apparently considered to be the high road, claiming that the film's condensation of certain events into dramatic scenes was outrageous. The latter included Bill Bennett, Bill O'Reilly, John Podhoretz, and John Fund.

Fund, in his Opinion Journal article on the film, even goes so far as to say that it is fundamentally dishonorable to make docudramas: "Their rules simply aren't good enough when dealing with events that are still fresh in the minds of so many. At worst, they can be used by ideological gunslingers like director Oliver Stone, who smeared the reputations of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon in paranoid fantasy films."

That seems to me to be a serious overreaction to this film, as indeed were the reactions of the Democrat opponents of the film. The rules for dramas are different from the rules for histories, and they should be.

It's a movie, people.

Everyone involved seems to have no idea whatever of the purpose of a docudrama.

For the rest of this analysis, click here.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

New Film to "Speak Language of Sex" to Mainstream Audiences

Another item for our ongoing Everything Happens in the Omniculture department:

Shortbus, a film that is highly sexually explicit but allegedly not salacious according to its director, has received a distribution agreement to appear in mainstream theaters in the United States and elsewhere. It is not clear at this point how widely it will be distributed in the United States. Reuters reports:
Three months after John Cameron Mitchell showed his sexually explicit film "Shortbus" out of competition at the Cannes film festival, he said it had attracted distributors in dozens of countries, including the United States, Canada, Japan, France and Singapore.

"People are ready for change. There is a thirst for something different," Mitchell told reporters on Friday at the Toronto International Film Festival, where "Shortbus" was set for its North American premiere before an October opening in the United States.

Mitchell aims to use sex as a metaphor to tell a story about people looking for solace and searching for something more in their lives in a post-September 11 world.

"What pissed me off was that it was ... generically identified of as porn," Mitchell said of his film. "We are not trying to do anything salacious here. That is just the language which we speak."

The film is graphic: Scenes include a man being whipped by a dominatrix as he masturbates and a straight couple having sex in a variety of positions.

But pornographic? Mitchell argues not.

"Porn is really to arouse. This film explores the other areas of sex," he said.

The story revolves around two couples, one straight and one gay, accompanied by a few other lonely souls.

From Karnick on Culture.

Does a Man Own Himself?

Who is the only Jewish winner of a Heisman Trophy?

---Fred Goldman.

That was the joke a few years back when O.J. Simpson was found liable in a civil trial for the wrongful death of Ron Goldman on the awful night of June 12, 1994. Father Fred won a judgment of what is now with accrued interest $38 million, which Simpson has never paid off.

Yes, he really did get the trophy, which was auctioned off for $382,000, the proceeds split with Nicole Brown Simpson's survivors, the only money they've seen. And so, he and the Brown family want to own O.J. Simpson, at least his public self, even his autograph.

Now, John Locke was very big on self-ownership, and it certainly was ludicrous when the copyright holder of the Creedence Clearwater Revival catalog, Saul Zaentz, sued John Fogerty for plagiarizing himself.

But a public image has been recognized as a legal and commercial commodity entirely separate from one's private personhood. Such a weird world we live in.

A Los Angeles attorney, Bela Lugosi, Jr. (yes, that one), has become a specialist in defending the commercial rights of name and likeness for the estates, survivors and copyright holders of the famous. Lugosi, Jr. helped win a trial for the legal owners of the Three Stooges' images, so I guess he's pretty good.

I wish he'd been around a few years ago.


"If only I'd sent that blue dress to Dan's Dry Cleaners. I would've
got Osama bin Laden, and 9/11 would never have happened."


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