Saturday, October 14, 2006

Literature Above Politics

My good friend Randy Boyagoda has an Op-Ed in the NYT on the just-named Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk. Pamuk is a Turkish writer who explores conflicts between East and West, Islam and modernity, and so on. But as Randy notes, Pamuk's real value is as a writer who explores the longings and tensions of the human heart. Go read it and congrats, Randy!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Air America Crashes, Burns

Yup, it flamed out. It's toast.

Now, there are plenty of reasons given out there why it failed: liberals already have two of the three cable news networks, all the newspapers, and NPR to boot. Plus, Air America simply sucked.

But I think it failed because they wouldn't let any non-leftists on, not guests, not callers. It was a Johnny One-Note thing, and even liberals had to get sick of AA's 24/7 cant.

Center-right positions do just fine on the battlefield of ideas, and if Air America had been anything resembling open and professional, I'd have listened to it myself, cheering for the good guys, of course. But nobody goes to a store that only stocks one item.

Mel's Anti-Semitism: The Jews Made Me Do It

Tidbits from Mel Gibson's interview with Diane Sawyer:

“Now even before anyone saw a frame of film [of The Passion of the Christ], for an entire year, I was subjected to a pretty brutal sort of public beating,” he said. “And during the course of that, I think I probably had my rights violated in many different ways as an American, as an artist, as a Christian, just as a human being.”

Whoo, Mel. You're going to make a good liberal. Your right to make a controversial film without any controversy. But leave "us" Christians out of it, OK? And not so fast with the "artist" part, either.

“Let me be real clear here, in sobriety, sitting here in front of you on national television. I don’t believe that Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world. I mean, that’s an outrageous, drunken statement.”

Stop the presses!

Drunk Gibson: Jews responsible for all the wars in the world

Sober Gibson: Jews not responsible for all the wars in the world

“What are they [Jews] responsible for? I think that they’re not blameless in the conflict. There’s been aggression and retaliation and aggression. It’s just part of being in conflict, and being at war. So, they’re not blameless.

“Now when you’re loaded, you know, the balance of how you see things - it comes out the wrong way. I know that it’s not as black and white as that. I know that you just can’t, you know, roar about things like that. [That's] wrong.”

No more wrong than whispering them, Mel, as your new-found sobriety has given you the wisdom to do. That's the tried-and-true way. Good to see everything's back to normal.

Fannysmackin' Our Vegas Mentality

William Peterson as Gil Grissom in CSI: Crime Scene InvestigationThe closing words of last night's episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation express a truly great insight into contemporary American society.

After solving the case, the investigators ponder the question of who is ultimately responsible for the depredations of a group of teenage thrill-killers in Las Vegas, whether it is the parents or simply the kids themselves. Someone mentions the "moral compass" the young people should have been provided. Team leader Gil Grissom enters the room and provides a wiser perspective:
The truth is, a moral compass can only point you in the right direction. It can't make you go there.

Our culture preaches that you shouldn't be ashamed of anything you do anymore.

And unfortunately, this city is built on the principle that there's no such thing as guilt:

"Do whatever you want. We won't tell."

So, without a conscience, there's nothing to stop you from killing someone.

And evidently, you don't even have to feel bad about it.
That's a powerful statement, and entirely true. It's even more powerful on screen than on the page. The episode is called Fannysmackin' and is well worth seeing for this excellent brief speech.

From Karnick on Culture.

How to Bring Back Ellery Queen

The Roman Hat Mystery original cover artEllery Queen is the American mystery.

Who?, you ask.

Ellery Queen.

Still doesn't ring a bell?

The first line of this article is from the great mystery and sci-fi author and critic Anthony Boucher, and it is absolutely true. Yet Ellery Queen, whose heyday was the 1930s and '40 but wrote until the early 1970s, is all but forgotten today.

He was one of the greatest American mystery writers, creating maddengly complex puzzles that were fully explained in the end. His books were read by millions, and his character was adapted for the movies (poorly), TV (brilliantly in the case of the 1970s TV show Ellery Queen, produced by Columbo creators Richard Levinson and William Link), and radio (also brilliantly).

But as I noted in my National Review article on the 70th anniversary of the publication of Queen's first novel, The Roman Hat Mystery, that anniversary passed by with little fanfare and no prominent reprints of Queen's novels, as did the 75th anniversary last year.

Queen is well worth bringing back, however, and an interesting article from Queen's diamond anniversary year on one of the best Ellery Queen websites suggests how this might be done, pointing out the impressive popularity Ellery Queen's works still enjoy in Japan, China, Taiwan, Germany, and elsewhere.

Ten Days' Wonder pb cover artI know this popularity well, as people from both China and Japan asked me for permission to translate my NR article on Queen when it appeared (which of course I granted).

The authors of the article, Kurt Sercu and Dale C. Andrews, suggest some very good ideas: one, that an enterprising publisher reprint the best five or six Queens in high-quality paperback editions with the original maps, introductions, casts of characters, and the like, and two, that a publisher work with the Queen rights holders to license a series of new novels featuring the main characters from the classic series.

These are both excellent ideas, and I encourage you to read the article and contact your favorite publishers with the request that they follow up on these suggestions. And if you have not yet read any Ellery Queen books, please head to your local used book store or online sources and pick up Calamity Town, The Adventures of Ellery Queen, The New Adventures of Ellery Queen, The Egyptian Cross Mystery, The Greek Coffin Mystery, The Chinese Orange Mystery, Halfway House, The Finishing Stroke, Cat of Many Tails, Ten Days' Wonder, The Player on the Other Side, and any others that strike your fancy. These are fine novels that should reach a much larger audience.

For a further introduction to Ellery Queen, see my National Review article here.

From Karnick on Culture.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Mush That Is Condi

Back in town. I notice from the papers discussing the North Korean---oops, make the Democratic People's Republic of Korea---that it took no time at all for the ineffable Condi to offer her usual buffet of platitudes, banalities, and striped-pants talk. (She is, however, a vast improvement over that self-promoting lifetime bureaucrat Colin Powell, a man who strove mightily to undercut the White House as a first priority simply as a matter of sport.) Her endless repetition of the trivial reminds me of the time when she was the Provost at Stanford, and was confronted with yet another of the juvenile pranks of the Stanford band, this time with a bit more bite---make that bigotry---than usual. Notre Dame had come to town for a football game, and the band thought that it would be just jolly---the highpoint of sophisticated humor---if they drove a "Popemobile" around the track adjacent to the playing field.

So: Would the band have driven a step 'n fetchmobile if a team from a black college were visiting. I rather doubt it; the bigotries of the Left are nothing if not specific. So what did Provost Condi do? Was anyone fired? Not that I ever heard; apparently she was too cowardly to stand up to the campus Lefties. Is Kim Jong Il trembling? I rather doubt it; even Madeleine Albright is more frightening, and for reasons very different.

Vote for Banacek!

Here's something a bit lighter for those as weary of politics as I am.

One of the best television programs ever was actually three or four programs in one. The NBC Mystery Movie ran from 1971 to 1977, on Wednesday nights its first season and then on Sunday nights for the rest of its run. Three series rotated week by week. Additional series were added on Tuesdays and Wednesdays between 1972 and 1974.

Presenting a new TV mystery movie each week in a 90-minute slot (which was later expanded to two hours), the program was an immediate success, reaching number 14 in the ratings during its first season and fifth in its second. One of the programs, Columbo, received eight Emmy nominations in its first year alone, and won four of them that year. The, first, most popular, and best remembered programs from this series were Columbo, McCloud, and McMillan and Wife. These programs and some others from the series have been shown in syndication and on cable networks ever since.

Selected seasons of all three of these programs are now available on DVD—you can find them by clicking on their names here—but other shows from the series also did well in the ratings and are still remembered fondly. The popular program Quincy, M.E, starring Jack Klugman as a causy, caustic, whistle-blowing medical examiner, began its run as part of the NBC Mystery Movie series. Also fondly remembered are The Snoop Sisters, which starred Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick, and Hec Ramsey, which starred Richard Boone as a crimefighter at the turn of the last century. The latter programs lasted only one and two years, respectively, and are seldom if ever run on television, which is a pity.

George Peppard as BanacekBut the best of the lot, and one of my personal favorite TV shows ever, was Banacek. The program starred George Peppard as Thomas Banacek, a suave but tough freelance investigator in Boston. The conceit was that Banacek would find things that had been stolen, which the victims' insurance companies were unable to recover, and he would restore them at double the percentage that the insurance company charged. Hence, he made a huge amount of money and lived very well.

Banacek was created by Richard Levinson and William Link, an exellent writing team who also created Columbo; Murder, She Wrote; and the superb but sadly short-lived Ellery Queen.

The thing that made Banacek really interesting, however, was that each week's crime was an "impossible" one. A large, bejeweled coach would disappear from a locked cargo hold of a ship in transit, a horse and rider would vanish from a racetrack during a practice run, an experimental car would be stolen from a train while in transit and watched by multiple witnesses, a football player would disappear after being tackled on the field before tens of thousands of fans in the stadium and millions of TV viewers, and other such puzzlers would occur in each episode.

George Peppard as BanacekThomas Banacek was the epitome of "cool" at the time. He would investigate these impossible crimes while doling out sarcastic comments, old Polish proverbs, and punches and karate chops (ah, those were the days!) to deserving meanies; sipping expensive brandy in his luxurious (but interestingly old-fashioned in its decor) apartment; tooling around in his chauffer-driven limousine and taking calls on his enormous "portable" phone; and romancing a never-ending series of scantily clad cuties played by the likes of Linda Evans. Unfortunately, his style in accomplishing the latter was an early 1970s pseudo-Dean Martin approach which is now highly outdated and a bit silly. But it's easy to overlook it as a mere sign of the times, in light of all that is good about the series.

During the run of the series, we find out that Thomas (never Tom!) Banacek grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and chose to apply his talents to good ends, unlike many of those with whom he grew up. People occasionally mock him for his Polish background or deliberately mispronounce his name. The former get a stinging rebuke or worse, and the latter receive a polite but pointed correction.

Though he does delight in twitting the insurance investigators who consider him a greedy dilettante, Banacek has risen above his original station in life in developing excellent manners overall, and he expresses open disapproval of those who fail to show proper politeness themselves. That's something I, for one, would like to see more of both in television and in real life today.

Murray Matheson as Felix Mulholland, owner of Mulholland's Rare Books & Prints in 1972 TV series BanacekBanacek would take an occasional physical beating himself when hopelessly outnumbered, but he always came out on top in the end. Aided by his loyal but dimwitted driver, Jay Drury, and his friend, mentor, and crack researcher Felix Mulholland, a bookstore owner, Banacek solved the crimes with great insight, perseverance, and panache, besting the plodding, corporate-drone insurance investigators who were perpetually trying to beat him to the solution. Of the latter, a tart-tongued young insurance investigator named Carlie Kirkland, played superbly by Christine Belford as Myrna Loy would have done it, provided an excellent foil and a feisty romantic interest.

Banacek is truly an exemplary character in many ways, excepting only his corny, pseudo-suave romantic life, and it is a pity that this excellent program cannot be seen today.

It would be a fine thing if programs such as Banacek, The Snoop Sisters, and Hec Ramsey could be brought out on DVD.

The good news is that we can help make that happen.

If you go to and search for Banacek on DVD, the page informs you that the program is not yet available but you can vote to have it put on DVD and will inform the copyright owners of the demand for the program. The process is very simple—a single button click will suffice for most people—and given the number of absolutely horrendous TV programs already available on video, it would send a good message to the rights owners, MCA Universal, that there is an audience out there for good programs such as Banacek.

So, don't delay: do yourself and all of us a favor, click here, and vote for Banacek.

From Karnick on Culture.

Our Epistemological Problem

I just don't know how to talk to my lefty friends anymore. They refuse to watch Fox News, read National Review (Online or the death-to-trees version), and forget your Limbaugh. I have no idea if is any good because quoting it is entirely risible, so I don't even look at it.

According to the WaPo, et al., Denny Hastert is slime because he knew all about Mark Foley but didn't do anything about it. No Democrats knew nothing and even if they did, they didn't. Accordingly, the GOP deserves to lose all its seats in congress. What decent person could vote for the party of child molesters and those who cover up for them? I sure couldn't.

None of this is in evidence, of course, but who cares? If I read only what my lefty friends are willing to read, I'd be a Democrat, too. I'd have to be---what choice would a thinking person have?

For the record, and to take this out of mere partisanship, let me report that I get both Los Angeles papers, the Times and the Daily News. The CEO of Europe's largest airline industry just stepped down and they appointed a successor. The Daily News' headline was "Airbus Keeps Moving."

The Times reported, "Airbus Sinks Further into Disarray."

If "Airbus: Yes or No?" were on the ballot this November, they'd be
peeling exploded Democrat brainmeat out of every polling booth until 2007. These folks believe everything they read in their papers, so I just wish they'd get thrown a little cognitive dissonance now and then when it comes to our politics. "Hastert Declined to Ask for NSA Wiretap on Foley's Wi-Fi, Sources Say."


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Wages Of Fear

Historian Paul Johnson, author of Modern Times, The Birth Of The Modern, A History Of Christianity, and other fine tomes written for the intelligent layman, makes a striking observation in his column of today:

In the 15 or so years since 1990 the U.S. current accounts deficit has gone from 0% to 7% of GDP. America is able to do this by offering the rest of the world the biggest choice of wealth storage options -- bonds and other assets -- that they can buy with their savings, knowing these instruments are secure and will give a good return on investment. The truth is, if you make a lot of money by making cheap goods, as the Chinese do, or by selling expensive oil, as the Arabs do, you either have to spend your money, riotously, or save it. And if you choose to save, you have to put those savings somewhere that is secure and rewarding.

Thanks to its political and social stability and its record of a continually growing economy, the U.S. has become -- almost unconsciously rather than through set policy -- the biggest and most successful wealth-storage economy in history. It exports wealth-storage facilities in exchange for net imports of goods. A recent calculation by the American Enterprise Institute shows that foreign storage claims of U.S. assets are $13.5 trillion, or about 25% of U.S. wealth (about 10% of global wealth).

However, as with Jimmy Goldsmith, this borrowing has enabled the U.S. to become richer and richer. The U.S. also invests abroad and now holds about $11 trillion in foreign assets. That leaves net foreign claims on U.S. assets of about $2.5 trillion. But this is only 20% of one year's income for America's enormous GDP. Moreover, while wealth stored in the U.S. is mostly in short-term assets, American wealth stored abroad is chiefly in long-term assets, and those will grow in value -- and grow faster -- than wealth stored in the U.S.

This is both staggeringly important and truly ironic. First, Johnson is entirely correct: the rest of the world is a scary place for money or property. He who has either must live in perpetual fear of being deprived of them by a sudden currency devaluation, a new tax scheme, or an outright expropriation "for the public good." Such things do happen here as well, but much more rarely and to a much milder degree. Thus, comparatively the United States is a haven for capital, the jumpiest of all Man's creatures. More, it will remain so for the indefinite future, as the condition cannot be undone except by the erection of a totalitarian dictatorship here in America, or the radical liberalization of the economies of the other nations of the world.

The irony is this:

There is no need in human life so great as that men should trust one another and should trust their government, should believe in promises, and should keep promises in order that future promises may be believed and in order that confident cooperation may be possible. Good faith -- personal, national, and international -- is the first prerequisite of decent living, of the steady going on of industry, of governmental financial strength, and of international peace....

We knew nothing of "hot money" on a large scale in the decades that preceded World War I, when great governments protected the gold standing of their currency as a matter of course, because it was the honorable and expected thing to do. But since the bad faith of the two greatest governments in the world, Great Britain in 1931 and the United States in 1933, we have had a world full of hot money, jumping about nervously from place to place, seeing no safety anywhere, but going from places that seemed unsafe to places that seemed less unsafe. We have had a world in which men have been afraid to make long-term plans. We have had a world in which conscientious and scrupulous trustees have been turning from "gilt-edged bonds" toward common stocks, not because the common stocks were safe, but because they were less unsafe than government obligations, and we have had them doing this with the approval of scrupulous and upright judges who have taken cognizance of the bad faith of the government....

There was bad faith by the British government, and there was bad faith by the United States government in abandoning the gold standard.

[From Dr. Benjamin M. Anderson's Economics And The Public Welfare, Chapter 45, on Franklin D. Roosevelt's abrogation of the gold standard and seizure of the nation's privately held gold.]

Food for thought.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Katie Couric's Ratings Plunge

Katie Couric exits the CBS television studios after the airing of her first broadcast as anchor of the 'CBS Evening News,' on Sept. 5, 2006, in New York.Left-wing news pixie Katie Couric, the first woman to anchor a major network TV nightly news show on a permanent basis, has been beset by continually falling ratings since the debut of her program over a month ago.

Last week, in the fifth week of her anchoring the CBS Evening News, Couric's program drew an average of 7.04 million viewers. NBC's Nightly News led the pack at 8.56 million, with ABC's World News grabbing 7.97 million, according to the Nielsen TV ratings service.

Couric's debut on Sept. 5 was the highest-rated news program of the night, as was to be expected, and the ratings for CBS Evening News are higher than they were a year ago, but the downward trend must be discouraging for CBS, which pinned its hopes on Couric's popularity as former host of NBC's Today Show.

The move to Couric, however, was merely a cosmetic one. As replacement for the openly left-wing weirdo Dan Rather, Couric was expected to bring a certain smoothness and subtlety to the presentation, but nothing more. She has presided over a program that breaks no new ground either in the ideas on offer or in the way of presenting them. Once the initial interest in seeing Couric sitting behind the CBS news desk wore off, there was nothing of value to attract viewers to her program.

Viewership of TV network evening news programs has been sliding for years, and Couric is part of that trend. Untiil the programs find a way to be more informative, fair, and sensible, the decline will continue.

From Karnick on Culture.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Death of Classical Liberalism

From the latest speech by David Cameron, head of the UK's "Conservative" Party:

"It's been a great week.

This week we've shown we are back in the centre ground of British politics.

A stable economy.

Fighting crime.

Backing the NHS and our state schools.

Childcare and flexible working.

Improving our environment and quality of life.

Those are people's priorities - those are our priorities today.

Conservatives, converting a disused church into a community centre.

That's our idea - social responsibility - in action.

For us, that Britain is based on the idea of social responsibility.

That means a Britain where instead of always turning to the state for the answers…

…we turn to each other and ask: what more can we do together to solve this problem?

Right, let's talk about tax.

Everyone in this hall, me included, knows that a low tax economy is a strong economy.

But some people want me to flash up some pie in the sky tax cuts to show what we stand for.

Let me tell you straight.

That is not substance.

And that is not what we stand for.

Do you know what I think?

I think that when some people talk about substance, what they mean is they want the old policies back.

Well they're not coming back.

We're not going back.

As George Osborne said in that brilliant speech yesterday…

…we believe in sound money and stability always comes first.

We need to strengthen our pensions system.

Deregulate our employers and wealth-creators.

Invest in education, skills, the potential of our people.

Build a modern transport system.

And we need to do more to promote British trade and investment.

In this age of globalisation and fierce international competition from India, China, Brazil…

…we cannot afford to sit back.

We have to fly the flag for British business.

As our economy grows, one of the most important calls on the proceeds of that growth is the NHS.

The NHS is vitally important to every family in this country.

It certainly is to my family.

I believe that the creation of the NHS is one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century.

It is founded on the noble but simple ideal that no person should ever have to worry about their healthcare.

But it's about more than that.

The NHS is an expression of our values as a nation.

It is a symbol of collective will, of social solidarity.

That is why the British people, of all political parties and of none, are so proud of it, and so attached to it.

I have always believed this."

There were a few paragraphs about terrorism and foreign policy later in the speech, which you can read here if you have the stomach for it.

And as highlighted in the italics mine passage above, social responsibility not of the individual, but in communitarianism. From what I gather from this speech (these are the Tories, mind you, not Labour or the Lib Dems) is that the individual, in the birthplace of classical liberalism, the UK, has simply ceased to exist.

There's some mush about lower tax rates (although pointedly NOT Thatcherism!), a call to patriotism in the name of British business (in order for it to create more tax revenue), but most of all a pledge of ideological fealty to universal health care, not even as a right, but as an ethos, today's overarching value in the United Kingdom.

Turning empty churches into community centers? Health care as one of the highest achievements of Western Civilization? Flexible working hours? Mass transit? We fought the Nazis for this?

New TV Program Cancellations Begin—"Dark" Dramas Among First to Go

CBS and NBC have begun chopping low-performing new programs, to go along with Fox's placing of Happy Hour on "hiatus."

CBS has cancelled its ill-advised drama Smith, and NBC has dropped Kidnapped.

Ray Liotta, central character of CBS TV program SmithThe networks' penchant for "dark" dramas seems to have backfired in these instances, and it seems likely that more casualties will happen soon.

It was easy to predict that Smith would be a disaster. The show's central characters are thieves, and not attractive, suave, clever ones like those played by Pierce Brosnan, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and the like in recent films, people who brilliantly sneak into guarded facilities and slip out with the slag without being detected. No, the thieves in Smith are basically armed robbers, and their hesits are violent and result in injuries and deaths of innocents.

That's not a formula likely to appeal to normal people, and the casting of Ray Liotta and Virginia Masden as the central couple sealed the deal: neither of these two talented performers has ever proven to be the type of person one would be inclined to invite into the living room every week. With such a low likeability factor on so many levels, it's a wonder CBS ever went forward with the series. Now it's gone.

PR photo of actress Dana Delany exemplifying the grimness of NBC TV program Kidnapped

Timothy Hutton does appear to be a likeable chap, especially from his time as Archie Goodwin on the excellent, unhappily short-lived A&E series Nero Wolfe, and Dana Delaney has been on popular programs before, but Kidnapped tossed their likeability aside in order to emphasize their anguish as wealthy parents of a kidnapped fifteen-year-old son.

Delroy Lindo is appealing in the program as a police inspector, but the lion's share of the running time of each episode has been given over to an uninteresting private consultant who helps families deal with kidnappings. Jeremy Sisto appears to be playing the character as well as possible, but the producers' decision to make the series unrelievedly "dark" prevents him from giving the character much of a personality.

That's the problem with the show as a whole: The whole thing tries so hard to be serious that it ends up being depressing.

The producers of these programs could learn a lot from Donald Belisarius, creator of the current CBS-TV program NCIS and previous hits JAG and Magnum: P.I.

Belisarius understands the importance of comic relief and likeable characters in TV crime dramas. The little quirks and interesting character relationships in NCIS are often as appealing as the crimes the characters are trying to solve, and that's never a bad thing. The best thing about a mystery is the mystery, but too much gloom and doom indicates a lack of perspective on the producers' part, and it tends to push audiences away fairly quickly.

This season's new "dark" programs may be imitating 24 to some extent, but they fail to recognize the optimism at the center of Fox's hit show: no matter how bad things get, Jack Bauer is going to fix them at the end of the day (literally!). Jack's resourcefulness and indomitable spirit make him not only admirable but also likeable, and that is what these new, dark dramas tend to lack.

A crime story without optimism is like a romance without love: It can be interesting, but there's no lasting pleasure in it.

From Karnick on Culture.