Mensch tracht, un Gott lacht

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 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: 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.

America's REAL Top Sleuths

TV "Best of" lists are usually at best arguable and often fatuous, but the Sleuth Network's program on America's Top Sleuths is an especially annoying addition.

The comments of the "experts" on the 90-minute program aired recently are nearly uniformly unoriginal, wrong, or both, and the program is thoroughly dull and silly. Its contribution to the public's knowledge and understanding of the film and television mystery genre is absolutely nil, and in fact probably negative. After watching the program, an individual who knew nothing about the subject would know even less that is actually true than they did before.

The choices of greatest detectives, voted on by visitors to the Sleuth Network website, were limited to American film and TV characters. Even so, the final list mysteriously omits many of the most important mystery characters in those media. The bias toward detectives who blunder along without actually doing much thinking is clear.

Peter Falk as Lt. ColumboAlong with a few who actually belong—such as Sgt. Joe Friday, Lt. Phillip Columbo, Jim Rockford, Jessica Fletcher, Thomas Magnum, etc.—the list includes a large proportion of dubious choices. These include Maddie and Dave of the TV series Moonlighting, who may be amusing but are hardly sleuths at all; Detective Andy Sipowicz of NYPD Blue, an utterly uninteresting character; Lt. Tony Baretta of Baretta, a thoroughly routine tough-guy bore; and Det. Lenny Brisco of Law and Order, who is a likeable fellow as played by the late Jerry Orbach, but certainly not an interesting or unusual detective character.

From the movies, Clarice Starling of Silence of the Lambs is wrongly included (does she do any thinking at all? and couldn't they have provided her with a personality?), as are Riggs and Murtaugh of the Lethal Weapon movies (come on!).

Sam Spade (specifically, Humphrey Bogart's version from The Maltese Falcon), Harry Callahan (of the Dirty Harry movies), Irwin Fletcher (of Fletch), Harry Drebin (of the Naked Gun movies and TV show), and Marge Gunderson (of Fargo) are at least somewhat justifiable choices by virtue of being actual characters, but hardly a one of them ever does any real thinking.

The list of great sleuths not included is in fact much more impressive than the list itself.

Now, Sir Wilfred Robards, played by Charles Laughton in Billy Wilder's superb film adaptation of the Agatha Christie play is English, so I suppose we can excuse that otherwise egregious omission. But consider the following by no means comprehensive lineup of American detectives from film and TV who didn't make the list. (And I'm sure I'm forgetting some good ones; suggestions welcome). Most of these are characters who actually think at least once in a while, and nearly all of them have interesting personalities and are quite likeable.

This turns out to be a much more interesting and appealing group than the great majority of those on the Sleuth TV list:

Thin Man poster art

Tony Shaloub as Adrian MonkAnd now to the utterly unbelievable omissions, detectives who are truly interesting and unique, and whose stories involve real mysteries:

What an absurd travesty the Sleuth Network list is!

From Karnick on Culture.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Evolution of A Conservative: Should It? Can It? Will It?

Classical liberal attitudes about government have much in common with those of the American (i.e., constitutionalist) conservative, yet the self-nominated conservative tends to ask himself somewhat different questions about a proposed action of government:

  1. Is the proposed action properly authorized by the relevant constitution or charter?
  2. Given the context, does the government possess adequate power to make the proposal plausible?
  3. Can we expect the unintended consequences of the action to be bearable -- that is, given a "reasonable" extrapolation from present conditions, are they likely or unlikely to negate the gains expected from the action?

Many a good idea founders on one of those shoals.

Question 1 is central to the operation of a constitutional order. Granted that there have been liberal polities that have "done without" a formal constitution, such arrangements strike me as excessively dependent on the character and judgment of the governors. The American system, which sprouted from the soil of a revolution against such an order, emphasizes its constitutional foundation, even when the constraints imposed by the Constitution appear to stand in the way of a good idea, for it prevents the implementation, by well-meaning enthusiasts, of a far greater number of bad ideas.

Question 2 is often seen as a matter of practicality -- "how many guns do we have?" -- but is often more germane to constitutional constraints than to the weight of enforcement power. If the enforcement of a proposed law would transgress some constitutional guarantee of private rights, the state lacks the effective power to enforce the law without undermining its overall legitimacy, no matter how many guns it has. The War on Drugs is an excellent example of this sort of legitimacy trap.

Question 3 is one that applies to all human action, but which deserves particular attention from governments. The prevalent liberal attitude -- classical or social-welfarist -- is that a good idea deserves to be acted on: that if the Constitution and enforcement power permit, not to act to uplift society or ameliorate suffering is a form of political nonfeasance. The prevalent conservative attitude is that society is a complex web of relations and tensions, interference with which will have side effects and incentive effects that might not be easily damped, and that these should be pondered at least as deeply as the predicted gains from the proposal. That attitude militates toward a degree of caution about political and social change unappreciated by persons who don't share it.

No one is as smart or knowledgeable as he needs to be to redesign society. "In all societies, some description must be uppermost," wrote Edmund Burke. Therefore, the conservative, sufficiently aware of his limitations and of the history of human error to be humble, proceeds tentatively and with circumspection with even his best notions. For there are many things that, once done, one cannot undo; to set forth rashly on a scheme for re-engineering one's nation is to court disaster on a scale that could blot one's name for centuries to come, no matter how good one's intentions.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Madonna's Crucifixion Reported Cancelled

The American Family Association has announced that NBC TV has decided to delete the mock crucifixion scene that was to appear in a concert special starring rock singer Madonna. As reported on this site on September 20,

NBC TV is pondering what to do about rock singer Madonna's upcoming TV special on the network. A video of the middle-aged pop star's latest concert will be broadcast on the network in November. The problem: Madonna sings one song, "Live to Tell," while suspended on a cross, bound by silver cuffs and wearing a crown of thorns.

Madonna crucifiedCatholic and Orthodox church groups have protested the spectacle. Madonna defends it by saying that it is not "anti-Christian, sacrilegious or blasphemous." She says that in fact Jesus himself would be just like her if he were here today: "It is no different than a person wearing a cross or 'taking up the cross' as it says in the Bible. Rather, it is my plea to the audience to encourage mankind to help one another and to see the world as a unified whole. I believe in my heart that if Jesus were alive today he would be doing the same thing."

At that time, I cited an E! Online article reporting that NBC would probably air the scene, quoting NBC President Kevin Reilly as telling "several weeks ago that the scene will probably stay put because Madonna 'felt strongly about it' and considers it a highlight of her show."

NBC has apparently changed course under pressure from groups concerned about the scene. As the AFA's "Action Alert" put it:

AFA supporters have won a great victory! The efforts of AFA Online supporters has forced NBC to cancel a scene in the upcoming Madonna special in which she mocks the crucifixion of Christ!

More than 750,000 AFA supporters emailed NBC asking for the scene to be deleted from the special which is scheduled to air in November. NBC saw a potential loss of $25,000,000 and decided to edit out the scene.

We were effective because we stuck together and combined our voices. Our supporters not only emailed NBC, but they also called their local NBC stations. Those stations contacted NBC and the network listened. The scene is gone!

From Karnick on Culture.

CSI Gets Religion Big-Time

CSI star William PetersonReligion is all over the place on network TV series now. Many programs just can't seem to resist bringing it up, and the treatments are typically fairly sympathetic though by no means without nuance or sophistication.

For example: following up on last week's interesting comment at the end of the program, in which CSI team leader Gil Grissom suggests a sense of moral decline in America (see my article of last week on that episode), this past Thursday night's episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation moved thoroughly into spiritual and religious territory.

The story concerns the investigation into the death of a woman found crucified in the sanctuary of a Catholic church, having been beaten previously and strangled by a rosary. Much suspicion is directed toward a Catholic priest and an automobile dealer, both of whom have known the woman since high school. The priest, it turns out, was having an affair with the woman.

The church holds some very unhappy secrets, you see. But the episode is no slam at the church—it is instead a fairly sophisticated look at how flawed human beings try to live out their relationship with God, and how those who don't have such a relationship get on without it.

The events of the story bring out the religious beliefs, or lack thereof, of some of the central characters in the series. CSI Sarah Sidle makes it clear that she is pretty much of an atheist, though not adamant about it. Detective Brass shows himself to be very unsympathetic toward belief in God.

Marg Helgenberger (as Det. Catherine Willows) and William Peterson (as Det. Gil Grissom) of CSI: Crime Scene InvestigationThe two central characters of the show, however, are both shown to be Christian and in fact Catholic. Early on in the story, detective Catherine Willows—a former stripper and the daughter of a mobster—who is one of the team leaders, lights a candle in the sanctuary, makes the sign of the cross, and says a prayer for her father. Shortly thereafter, in a conversation with Sarah Sidle, Grissom states explicitly that he is a Catholic, though of a non-churchgoing sort who attaches intense spiriitual significance to everday life—suggesting something of an early-Church point of view, a very interesting and laudable approach to Christian faith and worship.

Earlier, in a rather startling moment at the crime scene, Grissom said to Brass, "Christ died for our sins. I wonder whose sins [the murdered woman] died for?"

This bald statement of the central tenet of Christianity is rather a departure for Grissom, who has never shown adherence to this faith before in the program, to my knowledge.

While expressing a strong faith in Christ, Grissom shows a healthy skepticism toward the church and its human failings throughout the episode. In addition, Grissom interprets the events and spiritual implications of the story events with impressive astuteness.

Gil Grissom has always been the emotional and moral center of the team, and this explicit embrace of Christianity suggests an interesting new direction for the show. It could be a one-off, of course, but that seems unlikely given the explicitness and directness of the religious treatment in this most recents episode, and in any case the knowledge of Grissom's and Willows's spiritual backgrounds will continue to color our perceptions of the show.

From Karnick on Culture.

Murder City, and an Unorthodox TV Detective

Promo shot for BBC TV program Murder CityI've been watching the British ITV mystery series Murder City since it began a few weeks ago on BBC America, up to its season 2 finale which ran last Thursday night. (BBC America has shown all 10 episodes of the program's first two seasons in weekly installments.)

The show is a rather typical police procedural program in most ways. As the BBC promo site notes, the series "stars Amanda Donahoe (L.A. Law, The Madness of King George) as tough, methodical detective, Susan Alembic, and Kris Marshall (Love Actually, Doctor Zhivago, My Family) as Luke Stone, her highly creative, unorthodox junior partner."

That sounds very ordinary, if course, and in most ways the program is indeed fairly conventional. The crimes are interesting, and there is usually something rather odd about them, but that is actually typical of cop shows today.

However, there is one thing that is a bit unusual about Murder City: Amanda Donohoe's "tough, methodical detective Susan Alembic" is actually much more interesting than that description suggests. An alembic is an apparatus that refines or distills something else. Susan Alembic's way of solving crimes is to take the tide of information that comes to her and distill it to understand what it really means. That's what all good fictional (or real) detectives do, of course, and the name is a good choice.

But where Alembic really shines is in her attitude. The grim crimes with which she's confronted do affect her emotionally, although they elicit considerably stronger reactions from her gawky, rather unstable partner and subaltern, Luke. Alembic is married, apparently happily so (and is very disturbed when a criminal suspect's flirtation with her becomes increasingly serious in "Wives and Lovers," season 2 ep. 1, and in particular her own vulnerability to it), and is a highly mature, sensible, confident, and optimistic individual.

These characteristics are unusual for a current-day TV police detective, to say the least, and especially so for a supervisor. Contrast Susan Alembic with Gil Grissom of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Mandy Patinkin's character in Criminal Minds, for example. Where the latter are grim and let the crimes disturb them deeply, Alembic is able to detach herself in a very healthy and exemplary way.

Promo shot for BBC TV series Murder City

Donohoe expresses these attitudes superbly in her vocal inflections and bodily posture: she sounds confident even when she may not be pleased with the way things are going, because she knows she's doing the right thing and therefore all will ultimately work out as well as possible, for she's not preventing it from doing so; and she stands with a posture that is somewhat jaunty and suggests a healthy dose of skepticism. Often she pulls her head back a bit as if to say, "Did you really mean that?"

Even more impressively, Donohoe's facial expressions are perfect: her raised eyebrows and typical half-smile suggest a person who knows and understands what's really going on behind the chaos around her, and who will not be beaten down by either the criminals or the departmant bureaucrats. The camera often reeals an actual twinkle in her eye as she watches another person speak. (The ability to convey thought while listening to another character is to me the mark of a good actor.)

A detective who smiles readily is a precious commodity on television today, and I certainly hope that in any further installments of Murder City this character will retain her charms. Alembic is something of a throwback to great detectives of the past such as Reggie Fortune, Lord Peter Wimsey, Lt. Phillip Columbo, and Banacek, and it would be a very good thing indeed to see more detectives of this sort both in television and in other media such as movies and books.

The final episode of season 2 ran this past Thursday on BBC America. No reruns of the series are scheduled as yet, according to the BBC America website, but the station typically repeats series fairly quickly, so you'll do well to check your listings for this one.

From Karnick on Culture.

Oliver Stone to Revisit 9/11 Aftermath

Oliver Stone, writer-director of numerous melodramatic films, several of which have had controversial political themes, has announced his plans to film Jawbreaker, based in part on the book of the same name by former CIA officer Gary Bernstein. The film will tell the story of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and hunt for terror chieftan Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

Director Oliver Stone during a photocall at San Sebastian International Film Festival, September 28, 2006. In a follow-up to his recent 'World Trade Centre,' the filmmaker plans to direct a movie about the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and hunt for Osama bin Laden, Paramount Pictures said on Monday. (Pablo Sanchez/Reuters)

The announcement has brought forth some controversy, because Bernstein's book claims that U.S. troops could have killed or captured bin Laden in 2001 in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, but failed to do so because the Bush administration did not send 800 additional troops Bernstein requested.

That might suggest that Stone plans to do a hit job on the Bush administration in a film released just before the election to decide his successor. Stone, however, says his objective with Jawbreaker will be to "create compelling drama, not a polemic," according to Reuters News Service.

Lending credence to Stone's claim that he is not planning a left-wing polemic is his choice as screenwriter for the second draft of the screenplay for Jawbreaker: Cyrus Nowrasteh, writer-producer of the ABC-TV miniseries The Path to 9/11. Nowrasteh was criticized severely by the left and by prominent Democrats in particular, as they alleged that his assessment of the Clinton's administration's culpability for 9/11 was significantly greater than they thought justified. In the conclusion of the two-part miniseries ,Nowrasteh held the Bush administration to an equally high standard, but complaints from the right were pretty much nonexistent.

Nowrasteh's miniseries, that is, was quite fair, and he correctly refused to exonerate either the Clinton or Bush administrations. In watching the series it was easy to see what led to the tragic mistakes that ended up allowing the 9/11 attacks to occur. Nowrasteh and Stone seem to share a fairly realistic view of how flawed most politicians are and how quickly events can spin out of control. If the two filmmakers are as fair-minded as they were in The Path to 9/11 and World Trade Center, respectively, it might make some politicians uncomfortable but should be an interesting and reasonable treatment of the subject matter.

At least we can have some reason to hope so. With Stone, anything can happen.

For more on the Stone story, see the Reuters article on the announcement, here.

From Karnick on Culture.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Secular Academics?

Not as much as you might think. A few interesting nuggets from this study. "Born-again" Christians make up almost 20% of the professoriate, but only 1% at elite institutions. Only 69% of professors at "religiously affiliated universities" claim a belief in God. Pretty interesting stuff.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The NC False Prosecution Scandal—and What It Means

Your intrepid correspondent went on record early criticizing Durham, North Carolina, prosecutor Thomas Nifong for his outrageous rush to prosecute three Duke lacrosse players accused of rape by a stripper. On May 3 I wrote my first words on the subject for the Reform Club site, as follows:
The recent case in North Carolina—in which a prosecutor rushed forward with indictments against two Duke University lacrosse players [a third would be indicted shortly after I wrote this] despite a complete lack of plausible evidence against them and openly disregarded undeniable exculpatory evidence regarding one of them, in order to court votes from people of the same skin color as the accuser during primary elections that were then just a couple 0f weeks away—was just one of the more blatant examples of prosecutorial misconduct in recent months.
Subsequently, I wrote in great detail about what I characterized as Nifong's outrageous railroading of the Duke players, in light of two excellent articles on the subject in National Review Online a month later, available here and here. I returned to the story several times, continually pointing out that Nifong had no case and was pursuing it solely as a vote-getting measure, knowing that it would fall apart eventually but hoping he could hold the line until the November elections had passed.

That is becoming an increasingly dicey proposition, as is evident in light of last night's 60 Minutes broadcast and several blistering recent criticisms of the press's unquestioning acceptance of Nifong's absurd claims, such as Kurt Anderson's influential New York magazine piece on the New York Times's obscenely credulous coverage of the case.

Instead of referring to it as the Duke lacrosse case or something of that sort, I continually referred to it as the "North Carolina false prosecution scandal." It is clear that events have continued to show this description to be the accurate one. On June 6 I called for Nifong's impeachment, the resignation of Duke University president Richard Brodhead (who collaborated in the public pillorying of the innocent men), and the prosecution of the accuser.

None of these things have come to pass, of course, but it is increasingly obvious that these measures are called for (even though Nifong's term is almost over), so I call for them once again.

The best coverage I've seen of the case is at Durham-in-Wonderland, where K. C Johnson, a history prof at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center has done yeoman work reporting regularly on the case since a couple weeks after its inception. I highly recommend it for those interested in all the sordid details of this prime specimen of prosecutorial misconduct.

For those who don't wish to wade through a full retelling of the horror that was the Duke prosecution, I'll summarize it briefly:
  1. A desperate prosecutor latched onto a non-case pregnant with racial, class, and sexual implications in order to boost his fading chances of winning his party's primary nomination to keep his job, with the vote just a few weeks away.

  2. Slavering over the salacious and politics-packed nature of the obviously false accusation, the largely leftist U.S. press corps leapt to convict the innocent young men through a trial by media, to feed the left's ongoing myth that powerful caucasian males continuously exploit women, "people of color," and those inclined toward unusual sexual practices in these here United States.

  3. Both the prosecutor and his bootlickers in the press were disgustingly wrong and should be horsewhipped and cast out of polite society.
From Karnick on Culture.

American TV Popular in "America-Hating" Europe

The reports of an increasingly tense relationship between the United States and Europe may be a bit exaggerated. That's a likely conclusion to draw from the great surge in U.S. TV program becoming available in Europe.

Advertisement for UK TV channel devoted solely to U.S. programming

What politicians say and do is one thing, but everywhere in the world, TV viewers vote with their remotes. In Europe, the increasing anti-Americanism of many politicians is belied by the mass audiences' great interest in, and presumably enjoyment of, American TV programs. In an article accurately titled, "As U.S. Is Reviled Abroad, American TV Charms," the New York Times reports:
In the parliaments and pubs of Europe, the United States may wallow in least-favored-nation status. But on European television, American shows have been enjoying a popularity not seen since the 1980’s heyday of “Dallas,” “Dynasty” and “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

“What a difference,” said Gerhard Zeiler, chief executive of the RTL Group, the Luxembourg-based broadcaster that owns Five US and other channels across Europe. “Five or six years ago, you could barely find any U.S. series on the prime-time schedules of the market leaders. Now they are back, pretty much on all the major European commercial channels.”

RTL, which is owned by the German media conglomerate Bertelsmann, recently created an all-American Tuesday night lineup at its flagship channel in Germany, the biggest commercial broadcaster in that country. It starts with “CSI: Miami,” a spin-off of the “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” franchise, and continues with “House,” “Monk” and “Law & Order.”

RTL’s biggest commercial rival, ProSieben, owned by ProSiebenSat.1, counters with “Charmed,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Buoyed by strong ratings, RTL said last week that it planned to add a second night of American shows on Thursdays, starting Nov. 9. As recently as 1999, Mr. Zeiler noted, the only American programs shown during prime time on RTL in Germany were reruns of “Quincy,” as audiences tired of the formulaic American sitcoms and dramas that had once filled the airwaves. . . .

United States producers are taking more risks, creating edgier shows, analysts say, and they are spending more on them in an effort to appeal to European audiences. With revenue from sales of American rights flat, they are also increasingly dependent on international sales to recover costs.
The Times's angle on the story is that in response to improvements in U.S. TV programming, European viewers are showing an increased ability to enjoy offerings from a nation whose politics they still nonetheless hate:
Nick Thorogood, controller of Five US, said British viewers set aside any anti-American sentiments when they settle down on the sofa.

“We are seeing bright, intelligent and beautifully made drama coming out of America,” he said. “In the U.K., many people abhor the politics of the U.S. but eagerly embrace the culture.”
But I suspect that the real duality is not largely within the individuals themselves but in the population as a whole. The Times story opens with the observation that a recent British ad campaign for a new UK channel that offers only American programming "reflected a not-uncommon European complaint about the United States at a time of international disenchantment with its foreign policy. 'Nothing good ever came out of America,' the posters read, in plain, white-on-black block lettering." These were teaser ads that were soon replace with ones saying, "Who says nothing good ever came out of America?" the Times observes.

Well, who does say that? European and American leftist elites, that's who. Yes, European voters elect leftist governments because, as Ben Franklin observed, they seek safety over liberty for themselves (and shall have neither), but that doesn't mean they hate America.

As they vote with their remotes to support U.S. TV programming, the populations of these nations are demonstrating that the real divide may not be between Europe and the United States but between leftist elites on both continents and the much more reasonable general population they want to rule. And it's highly possible that European poll numbers and voting patterns might start to reflect this difference. After all, advertisers both here and in Europe spend pots of money on the premise that TV can spur people to action, and a greater presence of U.S. TV programming ought to help Europeans understand our more individualistic mindset and sympathize with it more readily.

This greater interest in U.S. TV programs could be a warning shot for European politicians who make a living by despising America and taking every opportunity to thwart our government's policies. Such politiicians may be pleasing a much smaller group of people than they think, and their own political futures may ultimately reflect that choice.

From Karnick on Culture.

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.