"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Monday, November 13, 2006

Sharpening Up the National Razor

I'm wary of claims that one's own side is inherently more virtuous than their opponents. Some of my friends on the left are confident that the conduct of the people's business will be more civil under the Democrats. Just because Democrats and liberals are better human beings, y'know.

I allowed that the batch of Republicans who were just turned out did appear to be worse than the Democrats they themselves turned out, primarily (and exclusively, really, because they had a lot of gamesmanship in common) for the manipulation of the legislative process itself. Democrats were cordially uninvited to conference committees and reportedly sometimes the GOP didn't even give them copies of the bills they were supposed to vote on.

That's no good.

There may be another side to the story, however, altho I doubt it will be told in the media now. Democrats did misrepresent pending legislation to the press in attempts to build populist groundswell against it. So afterwhile the GOP said, screw that, we'll shut the bastards out completely.

I sympathize, but that's no way to run a democratic republic. And so, for this and many other sins, the GOP congressional majority was dumped, and few Republicans see that as unjust. I voted GOP this time around (no surprise there) only because I can't ever subscribe to the attitude that "things can't get any worse." I guess I've read too much history to believe that.

There are indications that aside from the Democrat half of The Gang of 14, there was a commitment on the Democrat side to pure obstructionism; certainly that was why Sen. McCain chided Sen. Obama when the latter caved in to pressure from his party and withdrew from a piece of joint legislation.

And if this is accurate:

Their sources claim that Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), a six-term member of Congress, who has cooperated with Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, will be a priority target for Pelosi's iron-fist approach to leadership.

"Nancy Pelosi wants total party discipline," a source in the Democratic Party leadership told Insight.

"If you played ball with the Republicans during this session, then you're not going to be given an important chair in the next session," said the source.

Apparently it was possible to work with the GOP, then, although it seems retroactively punishable by death.

I once ran across a comparison of liberal and conservative group ratings that had Jane Harman as one of the most centrist members of congress. Whether this bunch of Democrats is any "better" than the GOPers they turned out is not certain. Even before they have the chance to spill some GOP blood, they seem bent on a bloodletting of their own first.

We don't know if the electorate, in its disgust over the eventual "meet the new boss, same as the old boss" conduct of the Republican Class of '94, put statesmen or Jacobins in their place. The early returns on our latest revolution indicate that the guillotine, or the "National Razor," as they sardonically called it in France some 200-odd years ago, waits in the wings, at least metaphorically.

Aw, Steny, we hardly knew ya. But you should have known, after 67 years on this good earth and 25 years in congress in service to the Democratic Party, that the Revolution has no friends, only enemies.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Delicious, informative

Red Baron four-cheeze pizza deserves a huzzah or two or three.  The lady of our house and I just had it for Sat. night dinner after a hard day of shopping and reading — she did the former, I the latter (about blogging).  And we are ecstatic or at least well pleased.  Buy some today!

The reading was of a book I can also recommend, Blog Wild!: a Guide for Small Business Blogging, by Andy Wibbels, a Portfolio book from Penguin.  Even for the blogger of several years like me, it has good info, mainly so far, at p. 50 of 275, on technical aspects.  The author, “a blogging evangelist,” offers his GoBlogWild site for further reference.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Neil Young's "Living with War"

A promotional shot of pop musician Neil Young gamely bearing up under President George W. Bush's perfidiesTo get a feel for the new political atmosphere in the wake of the Democrats' takeover of both houses of Congress, I've been listening to Neil Young's most recent album, Living with War, recently, which was released earlier this year. As you may be aware, especially if you've seen the superb Saturday Night Live parody of it, the album is a collection of retro-1960s-style "protest" songs opposing the Bush administration and the American public's sheeplike acceptance of his many atrocities (ooops—overtaken by events, Dude!).

A sympathetic appraisal of one of the most talked-about songs on the album, "Let's Impeach the President," can be found here. It captures what some people find to like about the album—its lyrics.

I'm always much more taken with and interested in the sound of a musical composition rather than its words, and Living with War certainly is a disaster in terms of musicality. Nearly all of the songs are musically primitive, as is apparently Young's intention, presumably to ensure that the listener attends primarily to the lyrics.

The latter, however, are just as mundane and uncreative as the music. Consider these characteristic lines, from the ingeniously titled ditty "Shock and Awe":

Back in the days of "mission accomplished"
Our chief was landing on the deck
The sun was setting on a golden photo op
Back in the days of "mission accomplished"

Thousands of bodies in the ground
Brought home in boxes to a trumpet's sound
No one sees them coming home that way
Thousands buried in the ground

Thousands of children scarred for life . . .

Neil Young thinkng up brilliant lyrics setting President George W. Bush good and straightWell, you get the idea. The accumulation of cliches such as "the sun was setting," "a trumpet's sound," "photo op," "bodies in boxes," "buried in the ground," and "scarred for life" is truly breathtaking. In addition, the deceptiveness of "thousands buried," when the number of thousands is three (and I agree that one death is too many and tragic) is blatant and will persuade only those who already agree with the author. The rest of the lyrics are dominated by similarly deceptive left-wing cant.

Bob Dylan this certainly is not.

And for Young to allude to Dylan's 1960s protest songs, as he does prominently in "Flags of Freedom," is to invite a comparison so disadvantageous to Young as to be utterly shaming.

It would be nice if the lyrics quoted above were not characteristic of the whole album, but alas they are. It's that infantile: BUSH IS BAD!!!

Thanks for the subtle analysis, Neil.

The biggest problem with Living with War, however, is simply that it doesn't sound like a Neil Young album. Neil Young, despite his annoyingly adolescent, adenoidal whine of a "singing" voice, has put together a good many appealing songs in the past. Unfortunately, Living with War is as musically lame as it is lyrically unimaginative, with the sole exception of "Flags of Freedom," which, although rife with lyrical cliches, does have a nice sound to it and could actually have found its way onto a real Neil Young album.

All in all, Living with War is a dreadful bunch of glop, but it does wonderfully typify where the left is today: cant, slogans, open hatred, and disingenuous nonsense.

From Karnick on Culture.

Sausage fight on SW Side

Chi Trib has a front-pager that belongs in a neighborhood section, if there were one, but to the general reader I know best, myself, is meaningless.

Lawsuit over sausage cuts family links at plant, stores :

Bobak brothers sever ties; ruling sets limits on wholesale operation

has intense meaning to the Bobak family and their customers, I’m sure, and the story made the cut to the web site page, getting even bigger play than in hard copy.  For the first three paragraph-sentences — a triple lede, by gar — we are given so little information, it hurts:

When Stan Bobak discovered what his brother was doing, he was shocked. Then he got angry.

But in a way, he also was relieved to have solved a mystery: So that's why John wasn't ordering as much sausage as he used to.

The accusations of a betrayal are as sensational as they sound.

Look.  I do not know Stan Bobak and am not in a position to feel his pain, or shock or anger, whatever.  I am glad he was relieved, of course, on general principles, and I am in general prepared to be shocked or even angry that John had cut down on his sausage order.  But neither do I know John.  And if the accusations of betrayal are as sensational as they sound, I would like to figure that out for myself, rather than be told before I know what the hell they are.

The story continues as best it can, already dealt a body blow by its amazingly leisurely lede that but for the sausage reference might have been about marital infidelity — for not ordering sausage substitute hanging with Stan’s wife — or murder — for not ordering etc. put not showing up for weeks on end.

A reorganization occurred, presumably of the sausage company, which we are told is well known — sorreeee, I didn’t know!  One brother would handle the sausage, the other the kielbasa etc. 

But then Stan says he caught John making his own sausage and trying to pass it off in his stores as those made in Stan's plant on Chicago's Southwest Side.  [Make that “Stan caught John,” etc., ending with “he says.”]

This crucial info comes in the fifth paragraph-sentence — too far down, folks, for your usual Saturday breakfast-table-reader who is dedicated to Father Tribune from his youngest days but does have other things to do and read.

End of next ‘graph, we get the local angle: John has three stores, in Burr Ridge, Orland Park and Naperville.  So.  This one’s for YOU there, in and around those three marvelous towns.  Why did not Chi Trib say so in the first place?  The rest of us, in Oak Park and elsewhere, could have gone on to various AP and LA Times stories strewn throughout today’s paper, wishing happy reading to sausage-buyers and -eaters in those three marvelous towns, strewn over the southwest suburbs.

You can also buy this stuff at Jewel or Dominick’s stores or on Archer Ave. near Midway airport.  Fine.  Is it tasty?  The issue was decided in favor of these locations in federal court.

"In retrospect this could have been solved very easily," said Stan Bobak, the eldest of the three Bobak sons. "John could operate as many as 100 retail stores if he wanted, God bless him. But we would handle the wholesaling. But he didn't do that. He started making sausage."

That’s it!  The buried lede!  It all began when John started making sausage!  Do that and cut the story in half, and you have the makings of what might bring back or keep a few readers.  Forget your media bias, undeniable though it may be.  Forget your absence of local coverage: we have it here, gone clumsily astray.  Here is the answer to hemorrhaging circulation for mainstream newspapers: Look in your every story and FIND THE BURIED LEDE, damn it, before they bury YOU!

And offer a free quarter-pound of kielbasa to all who can prove they read the WHOLE STORY, stem to stern.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The mayor and the tattler

Chicago’s Mayor Daley says convicted and sentenced 11th Ward politician Donald Tomczak “disgraced his family. Basically, he destroyed himself."  He talked that way just the other day about his former aide and current Cook County board commissioner Forrest Claypool, who did not endorse Daley’s choice for county board president.  It’s what comes to mind for Daley.  He thinks familially, or we should say tribally.  Tomczak stole money from the public, whom Daley is sworn to serve.  But citizens as a whole are not what come to mind for him.

Daley had hired Tomczak in 1989 after saying he’d fire him, because his people had muscled Daley’s in the just completed campaign.  But he apparently valued the man’s ability to get things done.  Asked about this, he said he did not “care what allegiance [people] had as long as they were doing the job,” citing what his father, the first Mayor Daley, had taught him, and his “church beliefs,” which enjoin that he “never be vindictive."  This is sickening.  Days after virtually threatening Claypool, he preaches forgiveness.

Chi Trib’s John Kass is buying none of it.  Daley “protected” Tomczak, who

ran trucks on water projects, took at least $400,000 in bribes and commanded armies of political patronage workers hired in violation of federal court decree.

He quoted a prosecutor:

"Clearly, some of Mr. Tomczak's crimes were condoned, they were facilitated and I believe in some respects they were honored by high-ranking portions of the City of Chicago.”

As for disgracing oneself,

When Daley's guys do federal time with their mouths shut [Tomczak's isn’t], the mayor praises them, or sends their sons $40 million in city contracts.

It’s Tomczak’s tattling that got him the mayoral condemnation.


Meanwhile, back at the county, the interim board president has made higher-paying work for an employee close to the Stroger organization, billing it as reform.

Eighth-ward supporter Joann Robinson is set to get an $11,000 raise from her current forest preserve job. She'll be making $91,000 while overseeing a seven-person department that includes a newly-created deputy HR director who will be making $65,000 a year.

Her unenviable task?  To make sure hiring is on the up and up. 

“Business as usual,” said the soon to be destroyed Claypool, describing it as:

"Raise property taxes to pay for more bureaucracy and [lucrative] jobs for political patronage appointees. If this is indicative of the type of reform we can expect going forward, it's going to be a rocky four years."

Get ready.

Life Imitates Simpsons: 2006 Elections

Mayor Quimby of the SimpsonsIf you want to understand the huge tail-whuppin' the Republican Party took this week, there's a great Simpsons episode of a few years back that explained it all in advance.

You may remember the episode, "Sideshow Bob Roberts." In this classic installment, "Diamond" Joe Quimby, the blatantly corrupt, sleazy, porkbarreling, free-spending, incompetent, unprincipled, oversexed, self-indulgent jackass mayor of Springfield, is running for reelection for the umpteenth time, in this instance challenged by Sideshow Bob, the murderous TV clown.

During their televised debate, Quimby, suffering from the flu, flounders badly, and, brushing his hair back off of his sweaty forehead, even looks as if he has devil horns. The TV station broadcasting the debate instantly chooses to surround the beleaguered mayor with a circle of flames, to complete the job of characterizing him as a devil, adding the disclaimer, "Flames added for effect."

It's a hilarious moment, and it's exactly what happened to the Republicans this year. They governed all too much like Mayor Quimby in recent years, squandering their hard-earned reputation for fiscal respnsibility, realism, relatively limited government, and efforts to combat political corruption (the latter represented by the Gingrich House's reforms in the '90s). Instead of these things, they came to be known for spending worse than drunken sailors (a correct characterization), sexually sleazy (unfair in that they were probably no worse than the Democrats overall, had anyone cared to look), corrupt (fairly accurate, given the real scandals in which they were involved, although a similar attention to the Democrats would undoubtedly have revealed at least an equal amount of vile ooze), and incompetent (again, fairly accurate, alas).

So the Republicans, despite numerous warnings from many quarters (including the present author), went their merry way and received the just fruits of their efforts. In short, they looked exactly like Mayor Quimby.

The U.S. press, with great glee, added flames "for effect," and the deed was done.

From Karnick on Culture.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

This county ain't ready for reform

Black politicians in Chicago have to learn how to wink and nod like white ones. They are entirely too obvious in their corruption, as in freely discussing the jobs they expect to get as payoff for supporting Todd Stroger, just elected Cook County board president.

"If percentages are based on jobs, then I'm doing damn good," Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) was overheard telling Ald. William Beavers (7th) [at a victory party], referring to the vote he got out for Stroger and the county jobs he expects in return.

"I expect him to reach out to a good guy like me for recommendations for qualified candidates in top jobs he has control over," Ald. Isaac Carothers (29th) said, complaining about the lack of West Siders among 26,000 county employees.

Even with FBI nosing around, such supporters as Brookins and others are expecting rewards, not to mention Stroger's "godfather," Beavers, who won his own county board seat and will be Stroger's "muscle," says Sun-Times.

Race pride — whites do nepotism, why can’t we? — is well and good, but jobs and the power that comes from controlling them are what keep machines oiled.

Meanwhile, S-T sins against the light with this editorial comment, with which they are stuck in view of their earlier ridiculous campaign endorsement:

By electing Todd Stroger president of the Cook County Board, voters handed him and the Democratic Party the responsibility for cleaning up the mess that is county government. The question looms about whether he is sincere about doing that, or whether he filled his campaign with empty promises of reform merely to defeat Republican Tony Peraica.

Perish the thought.

Making the rounds . . .

. . . is this very funny 2008 DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION AGENDA:

7:00 P.M. Opening flag burning.

7:15 P.M. Pledge of allegiance to U.N.

7:30 P.M. Ted Kennedy proposes a toast

7:30 till 8:00 P.M. Non-religious prayer and worship -- Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton.

8:00 P.M. Ted Kennedy proposes a toast.  . . . . etc.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Dubya's Last Election

The uniter, not divider---better late than never, eh?

This is not a stupid man, no matter what you read in the papers. Tuesday was his last election, and he did no better at avoiding the sixth-year jinx than FDR or Ronald Reagan did, and the judgment of history says they were pretty OK presidents.

Dubya couldn't make the case to an American people that (quite properly) hates war that we're actually in a war, because things are pretty normal here stateside, and the war is an abstraction. Not the war that Bush and his neo-cons chose to fight against Saddam, which has been over for some time now, but the bigger one of 9-11, Madrid, London's 7-7, the first World Trade Center attack, of the Khobar Towers, the USS Cole and many more incidents, the war that is not of our own choosing.

That war continues in Iraq today, not because we toppled Saddam, who needed toppling, but because it's where mideast meets west and it's the most convenient battleground for both sides.

And so, after losing his last election, Dubya is officially anointed a lame duck. To his credit (and I confess to admiring the man), he chose within 12 hours to move forward with the remaining two years of his presidency instead of digging in his heels and playing out the string.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was fired today simply and sufficiently because the Democrats hate him. For Bush to perform his sacred duty to defend our country and the western world against the Islamicist tide, he needs the new Democrat congressional majority to help him win this war in Iraq, which at this point has little to do with the war against Saddam except geography.

Yes, Bush and the Bushies seriously miscalculated what Richard Perle calls the "depravity" that Iraq's Sunnis and Shias have sunk into: either side blowing up each other's women and children with suicide bombers is something that even those who opposed toppling Saddam (or opposed war in general) can't claim to have voiced as an objection.

After all, that Muslims and Arabs aren't capable of democracy or even peaceful co-existence would have been quite an anti-multiculti, if not racist, thing to say.

But now that the Democratic Party is in a position of responsibility and not just jeering and spitballing from the balcony, even non-officeholding Democrat Howard Dean admits that chaos would follow a rapid withdrawal from Iraq.

It's become clear that political disunity and loss of will in the United States has been the greatest hope for insurgents al-Qaeda and otherwise in Iraq. Dubya, albeit not the way he wanted it, has, by virtue of his own screw-ups and his party's as well, united America to "stay the course" not because we like it, but because there is no alternative.

Funny how life and politics work out somehow. As long as this was Bush's War with Republican control of congress, victory over there was impossible, since the partisan political credit could not be shared. But together, both our major parties and all us Americans, we can outfight and outnegotiate these bastards, the enemies of all humanity, for the Iraqi people's sake, our own, and the world's. Bring it on.

Race is the thing?

Chi Sun-Times columnists Mark Brown and Mary Mitchell see mainly race in the Cook County board presidency race.

The political divide between Chicago residents and Cook County suburbanites -- and between blacks and whites -- was on stark display

said the one.

[T]he outcry over the way Todd Stroger [aiming to succeed his stroke-disabled father] ended up on the ballot resulted in a [black] backlash and cranked up loyal Democratic ward bosses,

said the other, even if nobody knows better than blacks "how poorly county government is working."

Mitchell is saying blacks also know better than anyone else how to cut off their noses to spite their faces.

[T]hese are the people who can tell you in great detail what improvements are needed at Cook County Jail because a disproportionate number of African Americans have relatives locked up there.

A lot of African Americans can also point out the failures at John H. Stroger and Provident Hospitals because many black families have depended on these hospitals for medical care over the years.

And, unfortunately, the faces of the youth detained at the Juvenile Detention Center are also overwhelmingly African American.

It didn't matter, says Mitchell, because inheritance works for others, mostly white, and they bowed to "the tit-for-tat factor." That's dumb, but Mitchell doesn't say so, letting it go at presumably informed analysis.

The most she allows herself, and we should appreciate her restraint, is to hope Todd Stroger "comes into his own" as board president.

As for Brown, it's not new that blacks and whites vote differently, "but there had been signs in recent years that [a city/suburban, black/white split] was starting to fade as Democrats increased their numbers in the suburban areas."

Not this time, when corruption was the dividing issue. It bothers him to see the vote "break down along racial lines" for any reason, however. Why? Because "no matter who wins, [this election] has disrupted the alliance that I think has produced the best results for Chicago and Cook County residents, that being the collaboration of progressive white Democrats and African Americans, often in conjunction with independents and Republicans."

The best results? Not for residents and users of county jail, hospitals, and juvenile detention center, per Mitchell. He worries that this racial divide will interfere with defeating Richard Daley for mayor. But rather than enabling Daley, it demonstrates Daley power.

In any case, he entertains nothing like Mitchell's fond hope for young Stroger, expressing his own fervent hope that "nobody actually expects [him] to bring real reform to county government." In this he also parts company with his own paper's deeply mysterious editorial board.

Election 2006---First Take

We're a 50-50, two-party nation. 51-49 in this election here, 49-51 over there.

I think this is a good thing, a vindication of the two-party system, and a rebuttal that there isn't a dime's difference between the parties.

Each party must build an internal consensus and then put it on the table. Pat Buchanan isn't a Republican anymore, and neither is Joe Lieberman a Democrat. (Each is too far to the right. On the other hand, nebulous lefty Ned Lamont has just been deposited on the ashheap of history.)

This narrow loss isn't death for the GOP; indeed, this very interesting article from the Smithsonian magazine recounts the GOP midterm sweep in 1946, an augenblick after the Roosevelt/Truman administration's triumph over the Axis. ("An unpopular president. A war-weary people. In the midterm elections of 60 years ago, voters took aim at incumbents...")

Just a few years later, the 1946 Republican victory was rolled back and became a mere aberration of memory as the Democrats dominated congress for the next two or three decades.

And so, to my fellow Republicans, my sympathies, even though we all knew we had this reverse justly coming. To our Democrat friends, cheers, congratualations, and enjoy it while it lasts---and please do try not to make the rest of us entirely miserable while you do so.

After all, it's only 731 days until the next major election...

Late Add: The House of Representives has gone Democrat quite comfortably. But the House is the toy store of US politics. The Senate appears poised 49-49 between the two parties, with Bernie Sanders (Communist-VT) a reliable vote with the Democrats, for lack of any other ally.

Since as president of the senate Vice-President Cheney breaks all 50-50 ties, Joe Lieberman (Independent-CT), too much to the right for the Democrats but left of the GOP, becomes the swing vote, if you do the math.

That's as close to 50-50 as is politically possible.

And failing Lieberman voting with the GOP on at least the key issues of national defense (which I doubt), we can only hope that President Bush can find out where they keep the veto pen, if it hasn't rusted from disuse.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

U.S. Media's Election Coverage—Biased, Sure, But Why?

It's Election Day, as you've probably heard, incessantly. The race for control of the U.S. House and Senate, between two political parties representing different sets of powerful, elite fatcats, is a close one, and hence the press coverage has been intense and hysterical.

Given that the story is the potential displacement of the Somewhat Left party (the Republicans) by the Rabidly Left party (the Democrats), Republican partisans have identified an excessive glee among the press, who are widely and accurately documented to be composed almost entirely of leftists, in documenting every misstep and failure of Republican politicians and candidates, and giving Derms a free ride even when they make entirely outrageous statements.

There have indeed been plenty of both—Republican idiocies and Democratic demogoguery—to go around, but it appears reasonable to observe that the preponderance of coverage has criticized the Republicans more strongly than it has done to the Democrats.

That, however, does not necessarily indicate a manifestation of widespread liberal bias among the press, argues Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post. Kurtz says what the press really want not is not a leftist government but an interesting one:

After six years of almost uninterrupted GOP control of Washington, divided government would produce what reporters like best: conflict. A spate of investigations and subpoenas of the Bush White House, led by such new committee chairmen as John Dingell, Henry Waxman, Barney Frank and Charlie Rangel, would liven things up for the capital's chroniclers. Even the mundane prospect of the Democrats being able to bring their preferred legislation to the floor -- though most bills might never make it past the president's veto pen -- would give journalists a new script. Divided government may or may not be good for the country, but it's great for the Fourth Estate.

In retrospect, the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994 was a godsend for journalism. The rise of Newt Gingrich, the government shutdowns, the Whitewater investigations, the Monica investigations, the overwhelmingly party-line vote to impeach Bill Clinton, all fueled thousands of stories about scandal and showdowns that boosted ratings and book sales.

One-party rule is, let's face it, rather predictable, especially with a Republican Congress that has basically gotten out of the oversight business during the Bush presidency. . . .

There surely may be some instances of liberal bias. Maybe the press made too much of Sen. George Allen's "macaca" moment, or wallowed too long in the finger-pointing fallout from the Mark Foley page scandal. At the same time, the press can't very well ignore the rising death toll in Iraq, which is also being cast as bad news for President Bush and his party.
I think that Kurtz is correct to observe that the press are indeed gleeful about the possibility of having new stories to write if the Democrats should take one or both Houses of Congress.

Nonetheless, it appears to me that this cannot be the press's ultimate motivation for skewing coverage to favor the Democrats. If the past six years have been anything, they have certainly been interesting. There has been plenty to write about. Yes, with the Democrats out of power there has been no great flood of horrendously asinine congressional investigations into allegations of perfidy in the executive branch, but the press have taken care of that themselves, after all.

Whereas the big congressional scandal hearing was a ridiculous investigation of the Major League Baseball steroid situation, nothing came of the allegations about the Bush administration illegally identifying a CIA agent to the public. That is a good thing, actually, because the allegations were entirely false. The revelation was in fact done by an opponent of the Bush administration. Congressional hearings headed by the President's enemies would not have changed that fact, but they would surely have destroyed the people falsely accused, as they almost did anyway thanks to the press's outrageously biased and out-of-control coverage of that entirely trivial matter.

The press have thoroughly taken on the adversary party role during the past four years, and they have done their level best to try and to convict the Republican Party of incompetence and malfeasance. (The Republicans, for their part, have done all they could to provide plenty of indications of each.)

The press haven't simply been searching for a more interesting story. They have indeed been trying to influence events and move the country further to the left. That is their right and prerogative in a society with a free press, but it is important that we not pretend that things are other than as they are.

The media's treatment of the Bush administration and the Republican Congress has been justified by the mistakes and misjudgments of each, but the press's treatment of the party currently in power and the runup to today's elections has indeed been motivated by a desire that the Democrats would win in order to institute a leftist government of the sort that the press overwhelmingly favor personally.

From Karnick on Culture.

Election Eve Report: Final Add

It's very late out here on the West Coast. Even later for you East Coasters, so late that you're now reading this tomorrow, and me, I haven't got even up yet.

As I write this, CNN is re-re-running their weeklong anti-GOP hit piece series, Broken Government. I predicted CNN would have a surprise for Election Eve, but not even I could predict they'd be so lame to just go with re-re-runs.

This Day in History, 2006: By the time the revolution was televised, everybody had gone to bed.


Monday, November 06, 2006

My wine, Jackie C., S-word, Blago's bishop

* On reading Sun-Times about Mike Ditka Wine:

Soon TBA: Jim Bowman Wine. Piquant and zesty, sure to rouse the laziest taste bud, and good for you too. Chockful of vineyard and crushing-floor vitamins. Grapes beaten down by bare-footed Venetians stomping to tune of "Figaro." Soon, at your nearest drug store or cheap-wine location.

* On reading Chi Fed of Labor endorsement ad (from people who HATE Wal-Mart) filling page 7, not linkable:

Union candidates don't wear glasses: Todd Stroger, heir to his stroke-disabled father’s Democrat fiefdom, namely the Cook County board presidency, is pictured unusually lens-free. Only two Republicans make an appearance, of 37 county candidates. Only Stroger has a pic, being the union candidate held most important by biggies with ad purse strings. The two Republicans are W. suburban Elmwood Park president Peter Silvestri for county board, and Jill C. Marisie running uncontested (so why the endorsement?) for judge. The latter is the late mobster Jackie (the Lackey) Cerone's granddaughter, for what that's worth. Her father, Jack P. Cerone, of NW suburban Des Plaines,

earned a reputation as a labor lawyer, fighting for union workers in numerous contract fights with Chicago city officials -- from the 1980s when he fought for Laborer garbage collectors and seasonal street cleaners to the late 1990s when he salvaged victory for the Decorators Union in a trade show row.

Thus the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, in a 10/22 story about his taking over a Pittsburgh brewery. He's a solid union man, to be sure.

* On reading about ex-Socialist now Green Party Ill. goober-natorial candidate Richard Whitney excoriated and warned against by Republican opponent Judy Barr T.:

He says he wouldn't shoot self in foot by volunteering his Socialist past but wouldn't deny it either. Has plausible defense: As young man with care for "working man," he fell for socialism, later rejected it. Which is a recommendation, if anything. His are "mainstream" ideas, he protests.

But what's not socialism-inspired about them?

1. Mandated wages -- as gross an interference in property ownership as the supposed mainstream will reveal

2. Higher income tax -- the more you earn, the more you pay

3. Universal tax-paid health care -- same-old same-old for all and consequent health care dilution.

Each is government-induced wealth distribution that undercuts overall prosperity.

* On reading about "Bishop" Arthur Brazier (consecrated by what other bishop, reporting to what presiding bishop or pope or even district conference?), distinguished pastor of black mega-congregation Apostolic Church of God on S. Side, telling members to ignore reports of corruption and vote for Gov. Blago anyway:

How would you Episcopals or Catholics or Methodists (or members of Congregation B'nai whatever) like that? Not very much, I ween.

Flicka Flick

Critics tend to look down on movies like Flicka, the new film based on the oldtime bestselling novel My Friend Flicka, which has been filmed a couple of times previously, about an adolescent girl who adopts a wild horse against her parents' wishes.

Flicka fails to undermine bourgeois values, show the family to be an outmoded and socially destructive phonomenon, attack free enterprise as an invitation to greed and exploitation, and demonstrate the superiority of personal autonomy and pleasure-seeking over selfish, socially destructive notions such as duty, honor, and decency.

Alison Lohman and Tim McGraw in Flicka

But that is what makes the movie most interesting and gives it a certain amount of moral complexity.

Flicka vividly depicts how individuals' desires can conflict with others' needs, but it comes down strongly on the side of duty, honor, self-sacrifice, and other such traditional notions. Alison Lohman plays Katy McLaughlin, a sixteen-year-old Wyoming girl whose family operates a horse ranch that is on the verge of bankruptcy. She finds a wild mustang horse which she wishes to tame and train, but her father objects.

Naturally, Katy decides to defy him in secret, surreptitiously working to make the exceedingly wild horse trust her. Meanwhile, her father and mother struggle to keep the ranch from financial ruin.

The family conflicts in the film are highly plausible and presented with great realism and persuasiveness. Even though we never believe that the family will be torn apart (this is, after all, a film geared toward children), we do see and understand how easily that can happen but for the strong values and leadership of both parents, played superbly in the film by Maria Bello and Tim McGraw. Flicka never skims over the frustrations of family life, which makes its treatment of the conflicts, and their ultimate resolution, that much more affecting.

The theme of freedom is strong in the film, and it is explicitly connected to contemporary political concerns in a nonpartisan, general way, which works very well. One can see an influence of the great Hollywood director Howard Hawks behind the film, with its strong female characters, thematic conflicts between the individual and the group, love for the American West, assertion of the value of individualism and political and social freedom within a conservative context, and the evident sheer joy in hard work and personal accomplishments.

As those familiar with the book or the previous film versions will be well aware, several other difficulties and conflicts arise, and all ultimately works out as it should. In that way, too, Flicka resembles a Hawks film. Ultimately, it does have a couple of sappy moments—when, for example, unhappy events tend to happen during rainstorms—but overall it's an interesting, morally engaging film that merits more credit than most critics are likely to give it. Let's hope audiences make up for it.

From Karnick on Culture.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Deep Meaning of "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan"

Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat

Naturally it's tempting for critics to see Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan as a satire against political correctness, as Peter Suderman has gamely attempted to do on National Review Online. When something gives us pleasure, we really want to believe that it is good. But that's simply not the way things work, and it is certainly not the way Borat works. Sacha Baron Cohen, the comedian who wrote and stars in the film based on his HBO TV show, makes no attempt to tie the film's vulgar humor to American "political correctness" codes or any other political meaning.

On the contrary, the film is simply a string of jokes based on the grotesqely ignorant central character's lack of decorum regarding bodily functions, presumably as a result of his being brought up in a primitive, poverty-stricken country in southwest Asia.

What the movie really delivers is lots of jokes about sex, defecation, sex, religion, sex, mental deficiencies, sex, cruelty to all creatures less powerful than oneself, sex, ethnic prejudice, sex, and sex. Borat simply is not political, and there is in fact nothing useful that we can learn from it, despite critics' attempts to shoehorn some meaning into it.

On the contrary, Cohen's jokes about rape, for example, are funny and politically incorrect, but they manifest a lack of decorum, they don't stand back from it and make a point about manners and morals. What point, after all, could those particular jokes make? That some people don't take rape seriously enough? That is not a point worth making, and I don't believe for a moment that Cohen is attempting to do so. He's just being funny.

Still shot from Borat movie

And the film is very funny indeed. It's just a string of dirty jokes, and most of them work pretty well, if the audience with whom I saw the film is any indication.

Yes, we do see, in absentia, the value of manners, decorum, and the flush toilet, etc., but that's not really a lesson for most people, nor does it have anything to do with political correctness codes. It's just funny.

There is an interesting moment late in the film, an extended reference to the film comedy team Laurel and Hardy. I think that the comparison is apt. Although Borat bases its humor on subject matter that would not have been acceptable during the era when the great comedy pair made their movies (and is probably not exactly acceptable even today), it is clear that its makers had the exact same goal as the people behind the Laurel and Hardy movies: to make people laugh, and nothing more.

And there's nothing wrong with that. It's good to have a nice laugh once in a while. We shouldn't have to make excuses for that. And that's good, because there is no excuse for Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. And I doubt that Cohen wants anybody making excuses for him. So I won't.

From Karnick on Culture.

The head's the thing . . .

. . . followed by the lede (opening sentence).  They sell stories.  So editors look to heads and ledes.  Advice to them: send your copy desk to word school.  Put them to reading verse, including blank verse such as this from Poetry for October:

Look! I bear into this room a platter piled high with the rage my mother felt toward my father!  . . . .  She — 

just kept her thoughts to herself.  She just —

followed him around the house, and every time he turned a light on, she turned it off.

Look.  If that’s not to your liking, have them read E.B. White or Joseph Addison.  Whatever you do, promote language, so that your front page does not have this for a head:

Economy's political sway shifts

followed by the (not) clipped and biting:

Seemingly positive numbers don't guarantee boost to party in power

Look, it’s not an ax murder, salable on its face.  It’s the economy, and I won’t, a la James Carville, add “stupid.”  Or is it?  Look to the lede:

With so much change sweeping America's workforce, the Republicans are discovering it is not necessarily easy to gain political traction from a generally favorable economy.

Is this what you call punching up the news?  Are discovering?  Not necessarily easy?  Political traction?  Reader, pay attention.  Your mind wanders.  It’s your daily Trib before you.  Wake up.  The second ‘graf, a logical enough follow-through:

The October jobs report showed unemployment fell from 4.6 percent to 4.4 percent, while employers added 92,000 non-farm jobs to their payrolls. Also, the government revised upward the number of jobs created in August and September.

Unemployment down, new jobs, more than we thought!  We’re getting somewhere now, except for punching down the news, which is not that the report showed something or government revised something, both subjects of their sentences when they should be add-ons: according to the report, the government said, etc.  Does the writer, William Neikirk, think the news is that a report showed or government revised?  If so, he’s been too long in Washington, whence this story comes.

Anyhow, we haven’t yet got to the good part, as apparently understood by the writer and contained in the third ‘graf:

But structural changes that have roiled the job market in recent years have changed the meaning of these numbers for many Americans, particularly less-skilled workers who are finding it more difficult to remain in the middle class.

Is this the lede he wishes he could have used, describing as it does the cloudy lining of the silver cloud?  It’s as if Neikirk couldn’t bring himself to blare forth this excellent pre-election news. 

Maybe that’s what makes his exposition weak and flabby.  He may be conflicted, poor fellow, desiring but not quite willing to announce to his readers that this excellent economic news doesn’t matter, because this year it’s not the economy (stupid), which it used to be when Democrat James Carville said it was.

"Broken Government"---CNN Slimes GOP (file under: Dog Bites Man)

CNN ran an admirably comprehensive hit job on the GOP this week. If CNN is where you get your news, no sane person could refuse to vote Democrat across the board this Tuesday.

The series was called Broken Government. Do follow the link. And then they ran a marathon of the whole deal Friday night, with more reruns to come this weekend. (Management didn't want to be left out either---it's a team effort.)

Didn't watch the whole thing meself because I went out, but it wasn't fit to leave on to keep Middie the Wonder Dog company. (She's an independent.) Even Jeff Greenfield, the closest thing to a centrist on the network, rounded up disaffected conservatives like Andrew Sullivan and, regrettably, Bill Buckley. Hisself.

Broken Government? With "Broken Government," "Where the Right Went Wrong," and "Do Nothing Congress" titles on the bottom right of your screen at all times---gee, tell us how you really feel, CNN. Oh yeah, and one called "Two Left Feet." Tell us how you think we should vote on Tuesday, CNN. Or why not just call the whole shebang Bush and the Republicans are Total Toejam and be done with it?

Now, admittedly, talkradio has been a nonstop Republican ad of late. But they don't pass themselves off as news. By contrast, their own website describes their own partisan propaganda as "CNN 'investigates.'" Investigates, my eye. Trolls, mebbe. Polemicizes, certainly. The only hope for the GOP on Tuesday lies in the fact is that fewer people watch CNN anymore.

The honest consumer of the news of the day must shudder to think what they have planned for Monday. Just stop calling yourselves a News Network, is all I ask---just dispense with the pretentions to actual journalism. At least when O'Reilly and Hannity come on Fox News Channel, I know I'm getting the op-ed page, and so does everybody else.

As for Mr. Buckley, I'm sure his criticism is accurate and that he was happy that in his dotage the establishment media asked his opinion once again after a long absence from the public eye, what with his retirement as National Review pontiff and the cancellation of his TV show Firing Line. (I do hope he didn't volunteer himself as a quisling in the defenestration of his own dear GOP.)

Because the question CNN neglected to ask Mr. Buckley, and neglected to ask at all during this cornucopia of political cant is, Can the Democrats Do Better?

As I'm becoming fond of saying, anyone who thinks things can't get any worse has no imagination.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Arnold Tries To Screw Us. Again.

Well, out here on the left coast, it's Arnold 24/7. And four, as in the next four years, since he is in the process of dismantling the Democratic nominee, Phil Angelides, a man who never has encountered a public dollar that ought not be used for political advantage, or a tax increase that ought to be opposed.

Anyway: Arnold will win Tuesday by 15-20 points. You would think therefore that he might help the down-ballot nominees running for Lt. Governor, Controller, etc. Nope. Nothing. Nada. Zip, zilch, zero. Indeed, Arnold is trying to sabotage the candidacy of Tom McClintock, a truly principled man in a tight race for Lt. Governor. Arnold doesn't want a man of integrity across the hall, in that it would make him look ever-smaller by comparison. And so yesterday Arnold told some reporters that McClintock is "totally wrong" because he opposes Arnold's porkfest of bond proposals on the ballot. This utterly gratuitous slap at McClintock illustrates the one central, overridding truth about Arnold: He cares about Arnold, and nothing else.

Obama Besmirched

Illinois’ own Sen. Barack Obama is on the hustings these last days before Nov. 7, and so he’s in the news for that.  But he’s in it in Chicago newspapers for taking a favor from the state’s currently best known indicted political insider.

Chi Trib’s John Kass explains it pithily here, following on yesterday’s Chi Trib reporting. Sun-Times’s Mark Brown explains it here.  Upshot is, O. dipped a toe into corruption of the sort he condemned in Africa or didn’t know what he was doing, either of which tend to smudge the image that attaches to a presumably idealistic newcomer with “the flawless, unlined visage of a carefree young movie idol.”

There’s another matter, his falling into line with the presumably non-idealistic old-timers when it comes to local politics, specifically his failure to endorse a fellow Dem reform candidate in the primary last April followed by his endorsement of the feckless, reportedly hapless son of an old-timer now incapacitated and unable to run.  Chi Trib’s Eric Zorn gives this the attention it deserves.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

New Hand on Deck

Today marks the debut of our newest crewperson, Jim Bowman, and we're pleased as punch to have him aboard.

Jim's a former reporter and religion editor for the Chicago Daily News and columnist for the Trib. He's also written a number of books on corporate histories as well as two on religion: Priests at Work: Catholic Pastors Tell How They Apply Church Law in Difficult Cases and Bending the Rules: What American Priests Tell American Catholics.

No kool-aid drinker, he. Jim himself is an ex-Jesuit who's now married and is a father of six who's spent a fair amount of time fighting their miseducation in the Oak Park (IL) school system. He's best known on the blogosphere as the gadfly known as Blithe Spirit who regularly catches a wee bit of liberal bias at Chicago Newspapers, The Blog. He'll keep the blog open for business (he'll certainly never run out of material), and we'll link to it on this page under "More From Our Crew."

You don't mess around with Jim. Word up.

Although he writes that he has not yet achieved his goal of becoming a superlative human being, he seems A-OK by me. We're sure you'll enjoy his sharp pen and good cheer, and to Jim we offer a warm and hearty welcome, matey.

The Cardinal is for Burning?

Euros and Democrats blame us for our bad image abroad, but so does at least one prince of the church. That’s Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who told a seminary audience in Chicago a few days ago:

“The world distrusts us not because we are rich and free. Many of us are not rich, and some of us aren't especially free. They distrust us because we are deaf and blind, because too often we don't understand and make no effort to understand," he said.

"We have this cultural proclivity that says, 'We know what is best and if we truly want to do something, whether in church or in society, no one has the right to tell us no.' That cultural proclivity, which defines us in many ways, has to be surrendered, or we will never be part of God's kingdom."

He has talked this way before. In September, 2002, at a downtown club luncheon sponsored by Lumen Christi Institute, a U. of Chicago campus organization, and the Catholic Lawyers Guild, he fingered the U.S. government as the enemy.

Church leaders could one day be prosecuted for refusing to ordain women and bless homosexual unions, he told this audience, adding that he hoped they would be with him when he went to jail. The going-to-jail scenario is something he could not have imagined two years earlier, he said. He did not say what changed his mind, except to identify it with a pattern of expanding domestic "police power."

Overseas, in his 12 years (1974–86) as a Rome-based world traveller for his religious congregation, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate — something he mentioned also in the recent sermon — he felt welcome as a Catholic, except in communist countries, but suspect as an American. In the U.S. he found the opposite was true, he added, not explicitly excluding Chicago, where being Catholic is definitely not a disability. Indeed, he finds it "hard sometime to be both Catholic and American,” he said, enunciating quite an extreme position.

Americans' "cultural blindness" to the resentment others feel will destroy us "as a nation," he said. Other nations resent us because we "oppress them," he said, or they think we do after "50 years of intense communist propaganda. Be that as it may, "we can't impose our way of life" on others, he said, without specifying how we attempt that, and "we live in a fool's paradise if we don't realize" that.

In his recent comment, he said, “There aren't many places where I can say that, there aren't many places where I would want that to be said for me, and I wouldn't want to be quoted outside of this context.” But the alert and energetic religion writer for the Sun-Times, Cathleen Falsani, was in the congregation taping him, and two days later he was front-page stuff in a city where the front page has special meaning. How naive can a prelate be to speak to a church full of people as if it were just us chickens?

He had apparently felt that way at the Union League Club in 2002, where in the middle of the chickens was a fox in the person of an old, old religion reporter who took notes, for gosh sakes.

And he did so also in remarks a few months ago at a gathering of philosophers at U. of Chicago, where he offered "a strange, Manichean interpretation of twentieth-century history" as understood by a writer in left-leaning Commonweal Magazine. The writer objected to George’s “conflating spiritual and political power in a way that will prove unhealthy both for the church and for the world.” George had said secularization of Europe had started with Woodrow Wilson’s attempting to make the world safe for democracy and in the process excluding Pope Benedict XV from the peace talks.

It’s an interesting enough point, but more interesting is why George goes off on tangents, conflating, to seize on a handy word, his role as religious leader with geopolitical commentator.

Finally, there was George’s bizarre order issued in June, 2002 from an Oak Park pulpit that cameras should be removed and pencils should be put down by reporters, whom he likened to communist spies.

Two months later a Chicago priest, lashing out in a sermon against critics and news reports of his leadership of a home for troubled youth, quoted George: “This is the time, this is the season, for picking on Catholics,” telling the priest, “John, they're coming after you.”

Why stop at him? I think the cardinal would like us all to be very careful.

The Future of Christian Cinema

In commenting on our discussion of Christian cinema (see Karnick on Culture), some visitors brought up a couple of interesting points. One is that any kind of Christian movie ought to be acceptable to both critics and audiences, and the other is that the economic realities of making Christian films today require a more encouraging stance than Barbara Nicolosi and I seem to have taken regarding Facing the Giants.

Clearly both these observations are well-intentioned, but I think that adopting these recommendations would greatly harm any nascent Christian cinema, rather than helping it.

Let's examine them individually.

First, the premise that any kind of Christian cinema ought to be good enough for Christians, with the implied corollary that any Christian film is at least better then what Hollywood puts out, ignores an imporatant reality: what is on the surface of a film does not always reflect what it all actually means. Many Hollywood films and TV programs, despite their often shabby surfaces, carry meanings that Christians should find quite appealing. If you have any doubts about this, click on the "Movies" and "Television" categories on this page and take a look at some analyses of Hollywood products showing how easily they are misinterpreted if we concentrate solely on surface imagery.

The other side of this issue is the fact that an openly Christian movie can carry underlying messages and assumptions that are at best dubious, as in the Left Behind series (especially to non-Evangelicals), or are outright false, as appears to be the case with Facing the Giants.

As Michael Simpson notes in his comment on my immediately previous post, the message of Jesus Christ is the very opposite of "hack sentimentality," as Michael so aptly characterizes this kind of Christian cheerleading.

Hence, it is clear that the ideas behind Christian films should be approached with the exact same attitude toward which we look at the ideas behind mainstream cinema. Let's call it enlightened skepticism.

As to the second point, that Christian cinema requires encouragement, I submit that this is precisely what Barbara Nicolosi and I are both trying to accomplish. As I noted in my Weekly Standard review of Ms. Nicolosi's latest book, one of the contributors rto that volume correctly notes that
Christians are "of the lineage of Michelangelo, Raphael, Shakespeare, Lewis, Tolkien, and Caravaggio," and that "there was a time when Christians were the undisputed masters of art and literature." As many Christians have withdrawn into a "safe" religious subculture, "Mainstream culture has moved on without us, and the world of entertainment has coarsened in our absence."
If we are to encourage people to create art that is both fully Christian and of high aesthetic quality, we must be willing to criticize their products fairly and honestly. Otherwise, they will have no incentive to try to excel, and we will end up with dreck—and garbage with a Christian patina is still worthless.

We do artists no favors when we pretend that good intentions are more important than results. Yes, good intentions are laudable, and we may well acknowledge people's intentions. But it cannot stop there. Bad art is bad, and we should tell the truth about it. Nowhere does Scripture tell us to bear false witness about our neighbors, even if we wish to do so to spare their feelings. A lie is a lie.

Pretending that substandard work is in fact good is a sure way to destroy an artist. Think about it this way: if you were coaching a child at basketball, and their shot mechanics were wrong but they were trying hard, would you really say that they're doing it right? Even if they were badly missing all their shots? To do so would be a contemptible thing.

The same is true with artists of whatever stripe, and it is particularly important when trying to nurture new artists and forms. To pretend that they are doing just fine when they're missing all their shots simply ensures that they'll never make the big leagues. Instead of artists on the order of Michelangelo, Raphael, Shakespeare, Lewis, Tolkien, and Caravaggio, we will get complacent, pointless junk. And that would be worse than having no Christian cinema at all.

There is room in society for both high art and pop culture, and both have an important place and can be highly salutary in their effects. Yet both must meet quality standards if they are to have a good effect on people. And it is up to critics and audiences to encourage artists to try to reach the very highest standards in whatever form their work takes.

Our job as critics and consumers is to tell the truth, with our pens and pocketbooks. If we do that, the artists will find their way, and real creativity will flower. If not, the torrent of lies will kill them all.

From Karnick on Culture.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Some folks have been wondering...

Good question. Perhaps this video can help...

Sorry about that. I've been busy trying to confront my existential anguish with a little artistic creation, and that's all I've got so far. (Such are the limits of the Self-Taught Man.) Now if you're willing to slum with a Scientologist, we can kick Sartre up a notch and take on our purposeless reality with a little funk (one reviewer assures me it is of the broken porch variety).

Nausea for the masses - with a beat you can dance to!

(For those who'd like to shout along with Beck at home - and in case S.T. is up for a review - here you go.)

A Bad Sign for Christian Cinema

Screenwriter and script analyst Barbara Nicolosi is extremely disappointed by the Christian-produced film Facing the Giants. I have not yet gotten around to seeing the film, but I suspect that Ms. Nicolosi is quite right. She points out that Facing the Giants is the cinematic equivalent of Contemporary Christian Music, bland nonsense meant to make Christians feel good and thereby bring in a steady stream of money from a highly defined market segment, what is known in the entertainment business as a cash cow.

In addition, Nicolosi argues, Facing the Giants is animated by a devotion to what is known as the Prosperity Gospel, a decidedly perverse notion prevalent among some Evangelicals, which holds that God wants believers to be happy and prosperous in this world (which is surely true to some extent), and that he will give believers such earthly success to the degree that they believe in Him and accept his promises. That is an absurd, unbiblical doctrine that is derived from Puritanism but puts an optimistic, positive spin on it. It is an idea, as Nicolosi notes, that utterly denies numerous direct statements in Scripture, especially the words of Jesus Christ himself.

In sum, the Prosperity Gospel is a very bad thing indeed, and it is clear that the story of Facing the Giants manifests it entirely. Given that even the film's defenders are not making any claims of aesthetic value for it, this surely suggests that the film is unworthy of people's admiration.

Now, not everything has to be great art, of course, but if a "message" film has a bad message and little to no artistry, it cannot be said to have much going for it.

As noted on this site earlier and as cited by Ms. Nicolosi in her article, the Fox studio has embarked on an effort to create low-budget theatrical films for the Christian market. The important question at hand is whether the model will be indie films that challenge current atheistic cultural perspectives or a bland and manipulative Christian Contemporary Cinema that uses religious tropes to snag an ignorant and complacent audience.

Right now we have no idea what the answer will be. As I noted earlier, however, Fox will undoubtedly follow the audiences' lead, giving Christians more of the type of film to which they respond with the most support, financial and critical.

The responsibility, then, is now most certainly with the audiences.

From Karnick on Culture.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Let's Give John F. Kerry a Break

Well, sort of.

For the record and for those who have been on Mars (don't vote!), the 2004 Democrat presidential nominee said this to a college crowd:

"You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

Now, his defenders (the AP?) note that before that he apparently slagged off on our fighting men and women,

The Massachusetts senator...opened his speech at Pasadena City College with several one-liners, joking at one point that Bush had lived in Texas but now "lives in a state of denial."

I just can't locate his remarks in toto, so it's tough to tell if it was just a typical Kerry bad locution or a total non sequitur. (If the tired "state of denial" riff immediately preceded the "stuck in Iraq" part, which would help it make some level of sense, you'd think they'd have found it by now. All we get is ellipses...but that's admittedly a provisional suspicion.)

So if we're to believe that Sen. Kerry wasn't just having a draft-era flashback to when only those without college deferments fought our wars, the explanation must lie elsewhere. (Yeah, this is a Barney Greenwald here):

Sen. Kerry claims the whole thing was a joke gone wrong, and admitted to CNN he needs some remediation in joketelling. And that's the problem. After 35 years in the public eye, he still doesn't know his strengths and weaknesses, or the simple fact of rhetoric and political life that you can't be outright nasty and funny at the same time. (He has specialized in the former, but has been a lifelong failure at the latter.)

What Sen. Kerry claims he meant is that if you stay in school and get good grades and make an "effort to be smart," you won't have a foreign policy that results in our current difiiculties in Iraq.


Now John Kerry fancies himself smarter than George W. Bush, but his own grades weren't any better than Bush's. John Kerry is tragic because he makes an "effort to be smart," but he doesn't get better grades and simply isn't any smarter than the next guy, even when the next guy is elected president of the United States. (Twice.)

So the only way I can accept Sen. Kerry's explanation about his remarks not being an insult to our troops is that he was unwise and a victim of his own overcleverness, trying to miscegenate Bob Woodward's now-cliche with an unrelated speech on education. This I can buy: it's in character. When faced with calling John Kerry unpatriotic or simply a twit, I prefer the latter. I'm a uniter, not a divider. Twits are people, too.

Don't Vote!

The American Association of Retired Persons has a new ad campaign and a website called dontvote.com---the idea being to learn the candidates' positions on things like social security and health care before you cast your ballot.

These are good things, but I'd prefer people know the answers to easy ones like

which party has a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives (Republicans);
the name of the current U.S. Secretary of State (Condoleezza Rice);
the name of the current president of Russia (Vladimir Putin).

The most informed folks read the conservative Weekly Standard and the center-left New Republic.

Next highest are listeners to the Rush Limbaugh show. You could look it up. All things considered, I would rather be governed by the first 2000 names in the Boston phone book, but the aforementioned bunch would be my second choice.

(And BTW, anyone who can't answer those three questions should stay away from the polls on November 7. Go shopping instead.)

Friday, October 27, 2006

TVD Makes His Voice Heard

Just got a call asking me to participate in a survey.

"What's in it for me?"

"I'm sorry, nothing, sir."

"Well, is it about politics?"

"No, sir, it's about aluminum foil."

I said I was in favor of it, we both hung up, and went on with our evening.

The Crisis Of Federalism

"Control the coinage and the courts; let the rabble have the rest." -- Shaddam VI, Padishah Emperor (from Frank Herbert's Dune)

In his declining years, Thomas Jefferson brooded over the prospect of what was then called consolidation: the absorption of the prior powers and sovereignties of the states into an ever-expanding federal Leviathan. He foresaw the advancing usurpation of state and local prerogatives, prefigured by "the system of internal improvements:" the many public works programs of the early nineteenth century, for which no Constitutional authority existed. The contributions of Jefferson's own Administration to this process, masterminded in large measure by his Federalist Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, only became clear to him after his time in office. It was a major spur to his participation in the formation of the Democratic Party, which founders Martin Van Buren and Thomas Hart Benton hoped would restore the original Constitutional design.

What Jefferson foresaw is today's reality, though not by the route he feared would bring it upon us. Rather, the nationalization of political discourse has caused the great majority of Americans to eschew participation in their local and state political processes. The "big issues" -- i.e., the ones treated seriously by the Old Media -- are utterly divorced from local politics, as one would expect of matter of war, fiscalism, national tax rates, border control, and so forth. Thus, the Old Media have led the citizen away from the level of political involvement in which his participation is most likely to have an impact, and toward the level at which his votes and his efforts are so diluted as to be all but meaningless.

There's a "connectedness problem" here. The federal government and its policies really do have a greater impact on the typical citizen's life and well-being than state and local governments do. Nor is it merely a matter of income tax rates. For example, local property tax rates in my locale, which are about two-thirds for support of the government-run schools, have quadrupled in the past twenty-five years. Yet this hasn't produced a tax revolt -- because the federal tax code allows homeowners to deduct their state and local tax payments from their federally taxable income, and because the past quarter-century has seen a dramatic decline in the cost of mortgage money, thanks to the manipulations of the Federal Reserve Board.

All that to the side, it remains the case that citizen-participants, themselves uninterested in attaining office, can have the greatest impact at the county, municipal, and state levels, but today are almost completely disengaged from developments at those levels. Even I, as politically conscious as anyone I know, cannot name the candidates for the Town Council, the local State Assembly district, or any of the candidates for state or county judgeships.

In consequence, we have this:

...it is a settled conclusion among seasoned observers that, Congress apart as a separate case, the lower legislatures -- state, county, and municipal -- are Augean stables of misfeasance, malfeasance, and nonfeasance from year to year and decade to decade, and that they are preponderantly staffed by riffraff or what the police would define as "undesirables," people who if they were not in influential positions would be unceremoniously told to "keep moving." Exceptions among them are minor. Many of them, including congressmen, refuse to go before the television cameras because it is then so plainly obvious to everybody what they are. Their whole demeanor arouses instant distrust in the intelligent. They are, all too painfully, type-cast for the race track, the sideshow carnival, the back alley, the peep-show, the low tavern, the bordello, the dive. Evasiveness, dissimulation, insincerity shine through their false bonhomie like beacon lights....

...Senator Estes Kefauver found representatives of the vulpine Chicago Mafia ensconced in the Illinois legislature, which has been rocked by one scandal of the standard variety after another off and on for seventy-five years. What he didn't bring out was that the Mafians were clearly superior types to many non-Mafians.

Public attention, indeed, usually centers on only a few lower legislatures -- Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, California, and Illinois -- and the impression is thereby fostered in the unduly trusting that the ones they don't hear about are on the level. But such an impression is false. The ones just mentioned come into more frequent view because their jurisdictions are extremely competitive and the pickings are richer. Fierce fights over the spoils generate telltale commotion. Most of the states are quieter under one-party quasi-Soviet Establishment dominance, with local newspapers cut in on the gravy. Public criticism and information are held to a minimum, grousers are thrown a bone and not many in the low-level populace know or really care. Even so, scandalous goings-on explode into view from time to time in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Missouri, and elsewhere -- no state excepted. Any enterprising newspaper at any time could send an aggressive reporter into any one of them and come up with enough ordure to make the Founding Fathers collectively vomit up their very souls in their graves. [Ferdinand Lundberg, The Rich And The Super-Rich, published in 1968]

If Lundberg is correct -- and I believe he is -- then government at the lower levels, however insignificant we might deem it due to the treatment it receives from our dominant media, has become indistinguishable from organized crime. Yet state and local power-brokers, as a group, determine who will ascend to the federal stage. Here in New York, they came close to sending both Nelson Rockefeller and Mario Cuomo to the White House.

Is it still the case that a career in politics at the federal level must gestate at the state or local level? If so, how can we stand still for this? If not, what prospect is there for returning to the Constitutional scheme of federalism, or for restoring any degree of effective citizen control over government at any level, given how dilute our influence has been made -- and kept -- by federal machinations?

Beckwith Tenure: Another Brief Out of Retirement Post

I transitioned out of the Reform Club to blog for American Spectator and Southern Appeal, but I was happy to see Christianity Today pointed to our coverage of the Francis Beckwith tenure controversy in their short mention of Beckwith's victory in the tenure fight.

Keep watching for more in this space. You never know what's going to happen with TRC.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

WaPo Page B-10 Local Weather: Hell Freezes Over

At least, that was the first thought to cross my mind when I read this morning, on page A-16, that the Post is endorsing Republican Bob Ehrlich in the Maryland governor's race.

They couldn't come right out and say that Ehrlich has been a good governor, though. To inoculate themselves against the foreseeable outrage this endorsement will call forth from the battlements of Takoma Park and Chevy Chase, the editorial drips with needless snark. The criticisms probably require a local's knowledge to decode: for instance, the "childish blacklisting" of Baltimore Sun employees David Nitkin and Michael Olesker followed a long history of malicious misreporting by this pair. (The Sun tried to whip up a constitutional tempest in this Annapolis two-cup teapot, but were slapped down in quick order by the district court and the 4th Circuit. By the time the Sun lost its appeal, Olesker had already left the paper under the cloud of a plagarism charge.) And the description of Martin O'Malley's recent mayoral performance as "creditable" borders on obscene. Despite the superficial gentrifying of the Inner Harbor and a dandy new ballpark, Baltimore remains a basket case -- probably the worst managed and most dangerous large city on the East Coast.

For sheer unbridled cheek, however, nothing rivals the Post's assertion that in 2002, Ehrlich ran on little more than a "sense of entitlement." He was the underdog in a race against the incumbent lieutenant governor, an innocuous underachieving cypher by the name of Kathleen [cough]KENNEDY[/cough] Townsend.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Jonathan Creek Arrives

Alan Davies as Jonathan CreekToday, at long last, Jonathan Creek comes to DVD in the United States. This excellent British TV mystery series was shown in the UK from 1997 through 2004 and has been seen on BBC America and some PBS stations in the United States. (BBC America still shows episodes occasionally late at night.) There were about two-dozen episodes produced, most about an hour long and three done as 90-minute TV movies.

The series is a rare TV entry in the "impossible crimes" form, and was a real delight for those who like a whacking good detection puzzle.

The title of the program refers not to a place but to the series' main character, a designer of illusions for a celebrated professional magician. Caroline Quentin as Maddy Magellan and Alan Davies as Jonathan CreekIn each episode an assertive young female (Caroline Quentin in the first three seasons, and then Julia Sawalha in the last two) drags Jonathan, played superbly by the comedian Alan Davies, into a mystery involving murder and some apparently magical occurrence. For example, a person will disappear from a room that is locked and observed at all exits, or an elderly woman appears to be able to predict deaths through her dreams. Jonathan investigates reluctantly and not at all intrepidly, using his knowledge of stage illusions to solve the cases and identify the killers.

If this sounds as if it might be a bit arch and old-fashioned, rest assured that it doesn't play out that way on screen, as producer-writer David Renwick makes certain to place at the forefront a strong view of the fascinating mess that is contemporary Britain. Hence the series combines the appeal of both the traditional and the new.

For more on Jonathan Creek, read my National Review Online article here.

For more information about the DVD release, click here.

From Karnick on Culture.

Monday, October 23, 2006

GOP Ad "The Stakes": John Conyers vs. Barry Goldwater

That's the controversial GOP ad that everyone is, and will be, talking about for some time to come, submitted for your consideration.

Reliable but not insane lefty Mark Kleiman, Professor of Policy Studies at the UCLA School of Public Policy and Social Research (no surprise there), offers a strong set of counterarguments, the failed attempt at tongue-in-cheek notwithstanding. The man has a point: the GOP ad is running against bin Laden, yet it's manifest that Bush didn't capture bin Laden, and hasn't exhibited much interest of late in doing so.

But I don't see much difference between the GOP's ad and Kleiman's blog post. In fact, I think Kleiman's counterarguments would make for a fine, and unobjectionable to me, Democrat ad. Bring it on.

It's true that the GOP ad uses an ominous shorthand for things like Democrat opposition against the NSA eavesdropping thing, but Kleiman uses a similar shorthand---"men who hate our freedoms." It's not like this is a break from from his usual even-handed civility. Mark Kleiman is an unabashed partisan, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Now, opposition to the NSA program is red meat for the left/Democrat, but the party as a whole doesn't want to run on it, because it polls badly, and well they know it. And so, the issue is reserved for party functions and the occasional public innuendo. Democrats, especially in communicating with their irreplaceable left (see Nader, R., c. 2000) must now content themselves with code and innuendo.

So, the GOP uses their own (admittedly hamhanded in this case) innuendo to present the meme that Democrats largely oppose things like the NSA program, a meme I believe is accurate.

In the end, we all know what we're all talking about here, don't we? Don't we?

Technique and demagoguery have their uses, but there are underlying facts to things. For instance, Willie Horton was a convicted murderer with a sentence of life without parole and Michael Dukakis (for whom I voted anyway) did support the program that furloughed him, and Horton did commit rape and robbery on his misbegotten field trip.

Democrats on the whole do oppose the NSA program, and I imagine virtually everything about Gitmo and coercive interrogation, too, all three of which memory sez enjoy majority support in the US. I see no indication that a Democrat congress would not move against what I think are useful if not essential anti-terrorism tools. You want to inspect cargo containers instead? (I saw on the Discovery Channel that if laid end-to-end, the containers on a single supercargo ship would measure 30 miles.) Fine, run on it. Inspect away.

The current GOP ad, "The Stakes," purposely cribs from the LBJ campaign (which was headed by secular saint cum "journalist" Bill Moyers, by the way) and its infamous 1964 anti-Goldwater "Daisy" ad, where the little American girl picks the petals off a flower until her ass gets blown up in a nuclear holocaust presumably of Goldwater's making.

Was that unfair? I dunno. Goldwater had refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons in the Vietnam conflict, and had been quoted as saying, "Let's lob one into the men's room at the Kremlin."

In your heart,
you know he's right.

---Goldwater campaign slogan

In your guts,
you know he's nuts.

---Johnson campaign barb

Goldwater was largely an unknown quantity. He's still a bit unknown to me. He had a lot of sound principles and theories, but it was Einstein who said, "In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice." Goldwater's ideological support for "states' rights" led him to oppose the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Plus, Goldwater seemed kind of weird, and his nomination acceptance speech didn't help much: "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice...Let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

Sounds scary, defending extremism. Could America at that time be sure that Barry Goldwater wouldn't get us into Armageddon, and that even with 20/20 hindsight, can we say he would have been better than LBJ and the latter's escalation of the Vietnam War and his often-maligned Great Society?

Or that Western Civilization, not to mention America, would have been better off with George McGovern than with Richard Nixon's self-inflicted disgrace and replacement by the unelected Gerald Ford?

Anyone who says things can't get any worse has got no imagination.

I simply do not agree that the problem of militant Islam is a simple matter of law enforcement and that we are not in a war. Militant Islam has already declared war on Western Civilization. You could look it up.

And just on this specific, but also on general principles, I think John Conyers, Ted Kennedy, and Howard Dean are nuts, and there is far more evidence they're nuts than that Barry Goldwater was. And these aren't mere opinionators like Mark Kleiman---these people are the heart of the leadership of the Democratic Party. I might even be OK with Mark Kleiman as Speaker of the House, but God, not Nancy Pelosi.

Things are what they are, and these are the stakes. The GOP ad is little more than innuendo, but since the Democrats are running on nothing but criticism and innuendo, fire meets fire. And I wouldn't be surprised if the GOP and the evil but talented Karl Rove decide to pull the ad or let it fade away, point made, and the opinionosphere can talk about it from now until Election Day.

Unfair? Mebbe. Perhaps true, not to mention effective? Somebody should ask Bill Moyers if he regrets running the "Daisy" ad. Not bloody likely.

It asked a very good question for its time, the most important one.

Enchanting Within Limits—Christopher Nolan's "The Prestige"

The latest movie about magic and magicians, The Prestige, opened this past Friday to middling reviews but good box office, winning the weekend by an estimated $1.1 million over the number two attraction, Martin Scorcese's The Departed.

Actors Hugh Jackman (L), Christian Bale (C) and Michael Caine, stars of the new drama film 'The Prestige' about two rival magicians, pose at the film's premiere in Hollywood, California, October 17, 2006. (Fred Prouser/Reuters)

The movie is worth seeing if you don't expect too much. The filmmakers have clearly tried very hard to make it both entertaining and meaningful, but The Prestige just barely manages to achieve either of those goals.

The plot is complex, the characters' motives are often fashionably murky, and the cinematography and visual effects are ambitious and largely diverting. The sets have the cluttered, dirty look that is now common to these period films, in a clear reaction against the tidy, stagy approach once common to Hollywood, the BBC, and PBS's Masterpiece Theater but now largely gone from all three (cf. the most recent theatrical film version of Pride and Prejudice and last year's PBS adaptation of Bleak House).

The main performers—Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, and Michael Caine—use every bit of their formidable charisma to keep the viewer interested, and Rebecca Hall also puts in an excellent performance. (Scarlett Johansen, on the other hand, brings nothing special but her looks.) The central premise—a war between two magicians to create the ultimate illusion—is a very promising idea.

Unfortunately, instead of having fun with this, the director and co-screenwriter, Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins) takes it all way too seriously, working feverishly to explain the Meaning Behind It All while failing to creat a pair of central characters whom we could wish to be around for a couple of hours. Both Jackman's and Bale's characters are willful, absurdly ambitious, self-important, egotistical, and, well, rather silly. Given the characters' unpleasant personalities and the fact that neither of them is attempting to contributes anything of value to society, it really doesn't matter much which one of them wins. And that is the death knell for entertainment value in a film with a conflict between two people as its central premise.

But it's fun to watch nonetheless, as Nolan is very good at getting us from one plot point to the next, and the fractured, chronologically out of sequence narrative keeps us guessing not only what's going to happen next but what's happening now. Skilled movie watchers will be able to anticipate all the big surprises, but it's still fun to see somebody try to enchant us.

Although Nolan's weakness as a creator of characters (also a problem in his other films) ultimately limits the film, The Prestige does at least succeed in enchanting us a bit with a fun guessing game. But it could and should have been so much more.

From Karnick on Culture.