Sunday, February 01, 2015

ON TO OSCAR, 3.

American Sniper. As I suspected, the political obsessives were watching, through their Zhdanovite lenses, a very different movie than the one I saw, which is both more interesting and weirder than what they describe.

Chris Kyle is a good Christian Texan whose father taught him to shoot and that the world is made up of sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs (basically a more Christian version of the dicks-pussies-and-assholes analogy from Team America: World Police). Kyle internalizes the lesson, including the contempt for both sheep and wolves contained in it; when U.S. embassies are blown up in 1998, he quits his fun but purposeless cowboy life to sign up with the Navy Seals (yeah, it does seem weird; Eastwood rushes through it); Nineeleven finally sends Kyle into combat in Iraq, where in the ruins of the cities he more or less gives up on sheep entirely and just tries to kill Iraqis who are trying to kill his fellow sheepdogs. Oh, in between '98 and '01, he meets a lady who likes him, marries her, and gets her pregnant (don't worry, I'm not eliding many grace notes there).

This all happens very quickly, bookended by a flashback from Kyle's first kills: First a child, then a woman try, surreptitiously at first, to blow up his comrades. Kyle takes them out from a rooftop. Another SEAL tells him as he prepares to fire that if he's wrong he'll get his ass thrown in Leavenworth; but he's not wrong, he saves his men and his illustrious career as a sniper and (this word gets thrown around enough to become loaded) "legend" is launched.

This first part of the movie teaches us everything we're going to learn about Kyle -- that he's capable of intense focus, charming when he wants to be, believes in what he's doing and isn't afraid to say so. In other words, he's like a Clint Eastwood hero, except for one thing: No sense of humor. He does have some mildly funny lines, but nothing on the order of "make my day" or "there are two kinds of people -- those with loaded guns and those who dig." There's no irony to him, nor the reflectiveness than gives a man irony. He does what he does, and never questions himself for a minute.

And that's why, throughout the remainder of the film, Kyle doesn't see a lot of things that Eastwood makes very obvious and that even other servicemen, even his own brother, are able to see: That they're only defending each other, and Kyle is only killing so many people in defense of them, because they insist on coming back, over and over again, to a place where no one seems to want them. He also can't tell that he's suffering from massive PTSD attacks (and by the way, I don't think anyone's shown transient mental illness better than Eastwood does here). I'm not even sure that, when he begins his mercy missions among wounded warriors near the end, Kyle knows what happened to him. And he gives no indication that he's expecting what's going to happen to him at the end.

Once that first section is over with, the movie gets really weird. A seminarian turned SEAL reveals to Kyle that he's lost faith in his God and this war; later, when he's killed in an ambush, his mother reads his anguished letter about the war aloud at his funeral -- it's barely coherent, as his mother is breaking down with emotion; later, Kyle, apparently in the midst of another stress attack (and therefore pretty much devoid of emotion) says it was actually the letter that killed his comrade.  Then there's the scene where Kyle calls his wife on the phone from the middle of a firefight -- a firefight he caused because, against orders, he had to take a magic mile-long shot to kill his nemesis, which alerts all the local jihadis to the squad's presence -- and tells her tearfully that he's ready to come home. When he does get home he sits in a bar watching a basketball game; his wife calls and he tells her, "I just need a minute."

And there's the scene where Kyle's goading a severely disabled vet, in the easy, friendly way he goaded his own comrades back in the field, to get his shots to hit a target. The goading works; "I feel like I got my balls back," says the vet. He keeps making shots, and gives Kyle a look that doesn't seem entirely friendly. "Who's the legend now?" the vet tells him.

But the legend is Kyle, of course; as the credits begin we see archival footage of the real Kyle's coffin borne along the Texas highway, lined with people saluting and waving flags. They see things the way Kyle did. Sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs; do what you have to do and don't cry about it. Eastwood knows his Ford, and what Ford said about what to do when the legend becomes fact. I'm not shocked the movie's such a hit.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

TODAY IN BULLSHIT.

At National Review, Heather Mac Donald tells the story of de Blasio and the cops. It's full of grafs like the following, about de Blasio's famous comment that his black-skinned son had to watch himself around the police:
At the time, those remarks — based in thorough ignorance of the facts about policing and crime — were a body blow to the rank and file. But after the Ramos and Liu assassinations, carried out in the name of Eric Garner and Ferguson teen Michael Brown, they became a source of visceral rage, as they fed the atmosphere of escalating cop hatred that led to the killings.
So de Blasio's remarks were like a time bomb, or rather a time-traveling bomb -- after officers Ramos and Liu were killed, the remarks "fed the atmosphere of escalating cop hatred that led to the killings." That's propaganda, baby -- by which I mean, the author is so committed to bamboozling you that she's willing to embarrass herself with incoherent prose to do it.

Mac Donald portrays de Blasio as an out-of-touch elitist social justice warrior -- "[New York's] long term public safety remains at risk from an activist mayor who sees his base as the anti-police Left" -- but does not mention even once the polls that show most New Yorkers siding with de Blasio  against the NYPD. Mac Donald does seem aware of them, though, because instead of larding in anonymous quotes from humble citizens begging for Giuliani to come back, her anonymous quotes are all from alleged cops who agree with her ("'Liu and Ramos would have turned their backs as well,' asserts an official at One Police Plaza").

Mac Donald also defends the force's work slowdown as justified because they felt like it:
Ideally, and usually, cops perform their duty regardless of their attitudes toward the civilian authority under which they operate. That this tradition of neutrality cracked in this instance shows how deeply de Blasio violated their trust.
The next time a public service union feels itself disrespected and goes on strike, I wonder if we'll see Mac Donald at the barricades.

Boy, that libertarian moment seems like a long time ago, huh?

UPDATE. There has been some misunderstanding about my first complaint, which is not that de Blasio's comments came after the cops were shot -- they came before -- but that Mac Donald wrote about it as if time itself were fluid, and the Mayor's remarks had been weaponized by the shooting, then sent back through time to do their lethal work. Regarding the notion that de Blasio's expression of concern for his black son had anything to do with the nut who shot Liu and Ramos, commenter Ellis_Weiner laments that "MacDonald has never recovered from the trauma of discovering that the Beatles killed Sharon Tate."

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

JUST A FEW NOTES...

...on the Jonathan Chait bullshit, because for the most part Pareene has dealt with it ably and I only have this to add:

1. I assume all the very public complaints against "political correctness" raised in Chait's wake were smuggled out of liberal gulags on toilet paper as samizdat, right? No? Then what's the fucking problem?

2. Every single conservative response to Chait I have seen has been too incredibly stupid to take seriously -- and since many of them call Chait a p.c. hypocrite because he said bad things about conservatives (which is the same thing as a fatwa, apparently), I guess that makes me p.c. too. Hmmph! My many services to freedom of speech count for nothing, I see.

3. OK, one example: Here's a key section from Ace of Spades' offering on the subject:
Now, the PC Mob types will reject this distinction because -- and listen closely here-- most of them are Stupid and Inarticulate; most of them are in fact incapable, on a mental or emotional level, of making an academic or at least essay-like case. 
They are in fact low-thinkers. It is no accident that they favor the brutish, the primate-like, the animal-level sorts of "persuasions" of group hooting and feces-throwing. They favor this because this is what they are capable of, and no other. 
Thus, in a very real sense, to insist on the standards of rational discourse with such people does in fact predjudice them; it is the same as insisting a horse walk on two legs to enter a race. It is the same as disqualifying them outright.
Behold the enlightened discourse of which we would be deprived by some leftists on Twitter! I wonder if the editors of Der Stürmer ever thought of complaining that protests against their caricatures (carried out in the early-20th-Century version of social media, which I guess would be graffiti in cabaret bathrooms) were in fact assaults on their free speech. If not, we should congratulate the brethren for advancing the form.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

SELF-AWARENESS DROUGHT CONTINUES.

Obama was in India and chewed gum during a parade. The Times of India had some fun with it:
NEW DELHI: In an ungainly sight, cameras caught US President Brack Obama chewing gum during the Republic Day parade on Monday. 
In the picture captured by cameras and posted on Twitter by some users, Obama was spotted removing his chewing gum while PM Modi was seen trying to explain something to the US president... 
Comments on Twitter included remarks by author Shobhaa De, who said, "Barack bhai working his jaws overtime and chewing gum! At least it isn't gutka. But seriously - gum during a formal parade?".

"Glad to see @BarackObama is so human. Like most Americans, he chews gum. Anyone know what brand?," was how noted film-maker Shekhar Kapur reacted.
I suppose you can say Allahpundit of Hot Air also had "fun" with the incident, though it's more the kind of fun that lonely and unliked children have with razor blades:
Video: Semi-retired president gonna enjoy his gum during major photo op with important ally
Not sure what the dialect-humor provenance is of "gonna enjoy his gum." Maybe it's a blah thing, I wouldn't understand?
To cleanse the palate, I believe formal diplomatic protocol in this situation requires him to offer Narendra Modi a piece of his Bubblicious. Two points. One: Is it Nicorette he’s chewing? That would explain, at least, why he couldn’t refrain from smacking away despite knowing he’d be on camera for hours with India’s PM during a formal state parade. How bad is this guy’s smoking habit, though, if he couldn’t make it through an afternoon without a hit of nicotine?
Wait, was it Bubblicious, or Nicorette? I don't know why Allahpundit missed the equally plausible options of ghat or black tar heroin.
Remember, this isn’t the first time recently that he’s been criticized overseas for chewing gum at an international summit. Indian media obviously noticed his “ungainly” display, as you’ll see below. Either he was jonesing awfully hard for a smoke or today’s the day he moved officially from the YOLO phase of his presidency to the WGAF phase.
This, I remind you, is about the guy chewing gum. Allahpundit goes on quite a while like this ("Does O chew gum during formal events here at home too? He’s done it a few times, if memory serves...") Here is the best line:
Two: This is the sort of trivial faux pas that the media would have hyperventilated over had it come from Bush...
Leaving aside the propriety of complaining about hypothetical offenses that you're in the very midst of committing in real life, I'd say if Bush had been seen chewing gum at a foreign event, it would have been portrayed as a bold example of American exceptionalism, like not dipping our flag at the Olympics.

Hey, anyone remember when the knock on Obama was that he showed too much respect for our foreign allies?

UPDATE. In comments, Jay B: "[Obama's] such an egghead, he was probably also walking at the same time."

Monday, January 26, 2015

BUT OLD MAN GOLDBERG, HE JUST KEEPS FARTING ALONG.

Jonah Goldberg tells us he had to house-husband for a bit and, after some humorous padding about how what a slob he is, does one of those pirouette-off-a-cliff segues for which he is justly famous:
But I also think about how hard it must be to be an actual single parent. It seems to me that this is the ground-floor argument conservatives should build up from when talking about marriage.
Maybe they should start with jokes about male housekeeping too. "Ah wipe mah ass ohna floor lahk a wormy dog," chortles Rick Perry.
Raising kids is just easier with two committed parents around. Put aside the moralizing for a second (moralizing I often agree with, by the way) and just talk logistics. It’s very hard to do all the things you want to do for your kids without a wingman (or wing-gal).
For example, his wife keeps a stick with a hook on it in the Subaru, for when Goldberg drops a bag of Funyuns under the brake pedal.
I’m not even talking about the financial part, which is huge. It’s simply harder to help with homework, show up at games, serve home-cooked meals, and generally participate in your kids’ life if you’re the sole breadwinner and sole parent. (Charles Murray has been making this point for a very long time.)...
I imagine Goldberg's comrades sitting around the McManse, marveling at how inner city single moms get their kids to soccer and ballet practice. (With our tax dollars via the socialist subways!) Inevitably Goldberg gets to his Murphy Brown section -- liberals are all rich white people who want blacks to breed unwed because something something plantation, whereas conservatives are racially indistinct reincarnations of the Founders, in whose world black families stayed together until sold off separately -- and then offers the traditional solution:
When Hillary Clinton & Co. talk about how “it takes a village to raise a child” they’re invoking wisdom from what P. J. O’Rourke called the “ancient African kingdom of Hallmarkcardia” to make the case for vast new federal bureaucracies, taxes, programs, regulations, etc. But the phrase itself contains a lot of truth. Unlike bureaucrats in Washington, neighbors, teachers, pastors, coaches, coworkers, and friends can help raise your kids, in ways large and small. Real communities involve extended networks of trust and goodwill. Fake communities have regulations, fees, subsidies, and checklists...
While Obama would rob the mega-rich of their precious savings -- savings they need to complete their yacht flotillas -- to subsidize community college, which will only cause the poors to get above themselves reading Derrida, Republican policies will nourish real communities by destroying all safety nets, forcing the poors to huddle for warmth with grampa and all the brats in their slums, thus reinforcing family feeling.

But much as Goldberg enjoys helping the underprivileged with morality lectures and tax breaks for the wealthy, he's really interested in Murphy Brown -- or a similarly well-aged avatar of liberals' refusal to join in the hectoring:
But elites won’t come out in favor of marriage as a social ideal (except for gays, of course), because as Charles Murray likes to say, they refuse to preach what they practice. 
Speaking of preaching, this reminds me of something I’ve been griping about for years: Madonna. Here’s how I put it in The Tyranny of Clichés....
Madonna! I wonder if, before settling for this, Goldberg spent five minutes bugging his intern: "You're young and with it. Who can we call a whore these days?" (He also tries to tart this nonsense up with "hypocrophobia," a perfect Goldberg neologism, in that it disguises incoherence with pretend erudition.)

Then comes a truly breathtaking argument:
This raises a fundamental problem for democracy. When certain lifestyles multiply, they become political constituencies rather than cautionary tales. If we didn’t have so many people in prison, there’d be no movement to give felons the vote. If so many people didn’t smoke pot, the legalization movement wouldn’t be doing so well. George W. Bush lavished praise on single mothers for the simple reason that there are lots of single mothers out there. If enough people go on the dole, then we stop calling it the dole and we stop shaming able-bodied people who turn it into a lifestyle. 
It doesn’t really matter what you think about the specific issues to understand the point. Everyone likes to think they’re principled, but principles can get overwhelmed when enough people violate them...
You're a bunch of whores and moochers and that's why liberals get away with it.
This was the real point I was trying to get at in my column earlier this week. We make all sorts of allowances for Islamic extremism because we are cowed by its numbers (and its willpower), not its arguments. If there were 1.6 million, not 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, there wouldn’t be nearly so much fumfering and fooferall about Muslim sensibilities.
In Goldberg's world, you're only nice to people -- blacks, single mothers, Muslims -- because you're ascared of them. After some more padding which contains, it should be noted for the record, the clause "JFK and Teddy were scummy dudes," comes this:
Principled people can deploy cost-benefit analysis too. For instance, I’ve long argued that if we could do it cheap and without losing any American or allied lives, we would be right to topple the North Korean regime. I believe that. I also believe that we should have wiped out the Soviets once we were done with Hitler provided doing so wouldn’t have meant a long and bloody third world war. But those options aren’t and weren’t on the table.
My fantasies are more righteous than your fantasies!
The trick is to uphold the principle while allowing for the fact that reality often doesn’t let us fully implement our principles without cost (a useful thing for Republicans to remember in their internal squabbles as well)...
Over years of following Goldberg's work, I'm noticed some patterns in it, and this is one: Usually when he leaves a hanging curveball, he won't take the effort to rewrite it into something better, but will instead try to confuse his reader with a barely-relevant parenthetical -- as here, where he clearly hopes you will associate a "reality" that "often doesn’t let us fully implement our principles without cost" with GOP squabbling instead of, for example, the multi-trillion-dollar Iraq War.

The rest is just dribbling, but I have to note this:
There’s a corruption of the soul at work when you can bleat and whine about the “Taliban wing of the Republican party” while effectively making apologies for the actual Taliban.
No link on "effectively making apologies for the actual Taliban," you may have guessed.

UPDATE. Goldberg's column is a rich vein for enthusiasts, and in comments mark f says he can't believe I left this bit unmentioned:
...liberal writers give [the Kennedys] a pass because . . . Camelot! Or something. 
It’s not just writers, though. It’s all of us. And that’s not always wrong (though it often is).
I agree  it's wonderfully Goldbergian -- especially the parenthetical pee-dance -- but, you know, I'm doing this in my spare time and can't do all the glosses Goldberg deserves, so thanks, mark f -- and thanks Yastreblyansky, who takes the trouble to source some of Goldberg's misapprehensions, e.g. one about Obama's community college plan, to which Goldberg objects in part because it requires "raising taxes on college-savings plans":
The college-savings plans in question are the 529 and Coverdell plans used by a little under 3% of the nation's families to pay for their children's tertiary education (the families have a median income of around $142,400 per year as opposed to $45,100 for the rest of us, and median financial assets of about $413,500, or 25 times the median financial asset value, $15,400, of families without the plans). 
I'm not clear about how keeping them tax-free helps the impoverished single parent in a more efficient way than free community college, since the impoverished single parent doesn't actually have any of the money involved. Perhaps the owners of the accounts plan to donate the interest money to the poor...

Saturday, January 24, 2015

ON TO OSCAR, 2.

Birdman. At first I wondered why Iñárritu was sticking all that magic realism into a perfectly good New York backstage drama. It made me suspicious; maybe, I thought, he just didn’t want it to be All About Eve all over again, and that’s why he gave the central character, Riggan, washed-up former star of an old superhero franchise, the superhero himself as an alter-ego who spurs him to narcissistic fantasies and then (spoiler) destruction — you know, the way Jimmy Cagney told Raoul Walsh, when they were trying to figure a way to make Cody the gangster in White Heat more interesting, “Why not make him nuts?

Still, White Heat’s a pretty great movie.

There is something old-fashioned and melodramatic about the Birdman Broadway plot: Riggan has put himself in hock to finance his stage adaptation of Raymond Carver stories (hello Room Service!) and it’s a mess (hello The Bandwagon!); he loses an actor during tech week, but rejoices when a young phenom steps in (hello 42nd Street!), only to find that the phenom is a total snake-in-the-grass asshole (hello Eve Harrington!).

Of course Iñárritu’s mise en scène is a little more, um, ambitious than Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s, and the main thing about Emmanuel Lubezki’s holy-wow camerawork isn’t the single-take illusion (though that helps with the paranoid-schizo vibe) but how grubby he makes everything look, from the backstage tunnels to the canyons of Manhattan — I don’t think there’s a clean surface in the movie until we get to the hospital. And the story itself has some very contemporary modifications beyond the Birdman bit, like Riggan’s tough relationship with his daughter who’s just out of rehab. Still, there’s enough razzle-dazzle in the dialogue that even the scene that (spoiler I guess) ends in a Sapphic embrace plays like something from Out of The Frying Pan (“Why don’t I have any self-respect?” “You’re an actress, honey”).

So why the weird stuff? Well, I think it’s like this: Riggan isn’t happy. But it’s not because he’s about to lose his shirt. No, it’s because he’s doing what actors do — but unsuccessfully, aimlessly, because he doesn’t really believe in it. (The play looks awful, and his why-Carver explanation is just ridiculous.) When the phenom starts throwing around actorly shit about “truth,” it drives Riggan crazy — particularly when it works on his daughter — because he knows he’s not coming up to scratch on that score and he thinks he should be. But the truth the phenom's talking about is limited, it’s grubby and narrow and circles in on itself. And the costumed superhero is coming around because Riggan is realizing he prefers something else — and, despite what we might have assumed if the movie didn’t show us different, it isn’t his old tattered stardom. It’s magic. Even when no one else sees it, even when it’s insane, he has it. And with that he can fly. We see him fly.

We don’t see him fall. Does he fall? But with that question the movie, and all its tunnels and circles, is over.

Bonus spoiler: I don’t know if it means anything but I have this in my notes: He shoots off his nose to spite his fate.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

SNATCHING DEBACLE OUT OF THE JAWS OF DEFEAT.

I'm sure there's some wheels-within-wheels strategy behind the House Republicans dropping Fetal Pain like it's hot, but it doesn't look good, especially with female members forcing them to drop it:
In recent days, as many as two dozen Republicans had raised concerns with the "Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" that would ban abortions after the 20th week of a pregnancy. Sponsors said that exceptions would be allowed for a woman who is raped, but she could only get the abortion after reporting the rape to law enforcement. 
A vote had been scheduled for Thursday to coincide with the annual March for Life, a gathering that brings hundreds of thousands of anti-abortion activists to Washington to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. 
But Republican leaders dropped those plans after failing to win over a bloc of lawmakers, led by Reps. Rene Ellmers (R-N.C.) and Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.), who had raised concerns.
This makes hard duty for conservative propagandists, and even such practiced hands as Mollie Hemingway are showing strain. She blasts the female Life-traitors for changing their minds (I thought that was a woman's prerogative, der hur hur), and rages that the bill, which from its title on down reads like something out of The Handmaid's Tale, is actually "easy legislation that is broadly popular (outside of American newsrooms, at least)," as if the will of the people for federal anti-abortion laws had been thwarted by the awesome power of America's increasingly-unread newspapers. (Sometimes I think the only thing keeping our Fourth Estate alive as a totem of soft power is the right wing's endless need for strawmen.)

But my favorite part of Hemingway's column is this:
Even if you’re not one of the majority of Americans who want to protect these children in the womb, this debacle should concern you.
Such exquisite concern-trolling hardly needs explaining but basically Hemingway thinks we can all agree it's bad when the GOP trips over its dick because "if Republicans can’t pass wildly popular legislation protecting innocent unborn children, what’s going to happen when they face difficult legislative battles?" Why, the Anti-Witchcraft Amendment may never make it out of committee!