Thursday, March 10, 2005
The Art Rock show I caught during the recent snowstorm. The installations were set up in doorless boxcars on the Plaza, except for Rob Fischer's Mirrored House (a, er, little house made of mirrored panels, one of which had been damaged, unintentionally for all I could tell). The Plaza and the boxcars were sparsely populated; the wooden ramps leading into the boxcars were dusted with snow and streaked with slush. Maybe crowding would have lent a festive air to the proceedings, as with The Gates. As it was, the art had to do all the uplifting, and failed dismally. Freezer cases housing concentric, colored neon tubing; an urban Yeti in a dark case with wreckage; a dumpster folded into a paper airplane shape, which, like the glass-plated dumpster I saw at the last Whitney Biennial, revealed nothing except how hard it is to make art out of a dumpster.
I left dispirited. But I looked forward to the New Museum show. I lived in that Village in that time, and, though I was not a painter or sculptor or graffitist, spent many Thursday nights living off the cheap wine and cheese freely available at their openings. I laughed to imagine people I knew staring out from the portraits, full of their lost, youthful glower.
I liked more of the individual artworks on display than I had expected. In the old days there was, Lord knows, a lot of crap, but this is a museum, so someone did some picking and choosing, and on the limited terms of the exhibition it paid off. The George Condo paintings had great flair; so did James Romberger's sketches -- I was sorry to see they used Wojnarowicz's feeble assemblages instead of the masterpieces James made of his writings, but those came a while after the period. I liked the Basquiats and Harings better than I did back in the day, and was grateful for the second look. The Jeserun and Nomi videos reminded me that even in the days when performance art was a terrible nuisance, sometimes a performer made you look up and smile. Even the Richard Kern film looked good to me.
But a lot of the work withered outside its original context. The graffitists' canvasses just sucked. A few small photos -- and a video of Wild Style -- gave some idea of how great their stuff looked in situ, boldy riding subway trains across the grey city skies. Screw conventional wisdom -- those things were beautiful and I miss them. But the paintings are self-conscious and emphasize the crudeness of the artists' ideas. You might as well invite your favorite loquacious bum to do a one-man show on Broadway, or hang your favorite sidewalk chalk artist's work at MOMA. Where they live they are powerful; in the gleam of gallery bulbs, their power crumbles.
Other works suffered a similar fate. The poesies by the outhouse are a piquant thing, a testament to the persistence of beauty. Pluck them and put them in a vase, and what have you got? Flowers that smell like shit. After a quick shock of recognition, the Kenny Scharf canvas was to me just a birth certificate for Drawn Together. The Tseng Kwong Chi photo said nothing except "I am Tseng Kwong Chi." The odd, aesthetically plausible pictures became mere worthies stuck among unworthies; after a while there was no show, to me, anymore -- just survivors and things that had not survived.
It was sad to be reminded that this time and this place were not so magical as the pixie-dust that accretes to my memory of them. Of course I had thought I knew this, but until someone turned on these spotlights the fact was escapable. Though, as I said, there was a better ratio of good to bad at the New Museum than I expected, if the work had been much worse and yet had delivered unto me the spirit of those times, when I ran those dangerous and garbage-strewn streets with a guitar case slung over my shoulder and a spray-painted leather jacket on my back, I would have laughed at the crap as heartily as I did then, spraying wine and cheese and flinching at the expected ejecting pinch of my shoulder, but I would have been happier. As it was I felt even worse about the Rockefeller Center show, and about every shitty show that now couples in my imagination like snowy boxcars from Back In The to the present Day.
He explains that pro-Bill Congressmen were quick off the mark, while Atrios, Drum, and Marshall (and the New York Times!) were "caught napping." Presumably their complaints would have dispirited the mandate-rich Republicans had they been delivered earlier.
Democrats share blame for this Bill because some of them joined a rock-solid Republican majority in favor. Paul Krugman shares blame,too, because he made "phoney" arguments against the Bill -- intentionally, perhaps; JOM doesn't say.
Also, JOM finally allows, "money talks."
But there is hope:
The CW is that this bill can not be stopped in the House, but they only say that because it's never been done. Besides, an e-mail doesn't even cost 37 cents.Let us recap: to fight back the Bankruptcy Bill pushed through Congress by Democrats, the New York Times, and Paul Krugman, JOM proposes seeking the aid of Rush Limbaugh and National Review Online.
Folks who plan to fight on (don't rush me) ought to check something - where is Rush Limbaugh positioned on this bill? Could he be re-positioned?
And picking up the NRO could help...
Maybe if we all gathered in the street with cute girls on our shoulders...
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
Republicans pushed aside the final obstacle to passage Tuesday when they defeated an abortion-related amendment to the bankruptcy bill that had impeded it from becoming law in the past... The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., was voted down, 53-46.Finally procedural delays against the Bill were ended by a 69-31 vote. 14 Democrats (including Republican favorite Joe Lieberman) joined the majority. Zero Republicans voted no.
In 2000, Schumer's amendment passed the Senate 80 to 17, with 35 Republicans voting in its favor. This time, only four Republicans backed the change. The dramatic turnaround on the abortion amendment reflected the Republican Senate gain of four seats in last year's elections, giving them 55 seats and a more conservative outlook...
The Perfesser's response is a reader's quote and an indeed:
It has occured to me that the bankruptcy bill (which I detest for the same reasons that you have mentioned) would be an interesting test of blogospheric power. Here's a situation where the Democrats are planning to make a major issue out of Bolton's appointment to the UN -- where is crime is merely speaking out loud what most Americans already feel about that place -- while rolling over to the corporate lobby on something most Americans would want some opposition to. If the blogosphere could mount an effective campaign for people to write to their senators, it would mark its emergence as a genuinely independent force in US politics.The Perfesser's schtick is to talk, if not a good game, then at least a vaguely-populist, plausibly-deniable one -- and then, when the shit starts to fly, blame the only people who did anything to keep it from flying. He did it with gay marriage, even suggesting that Bush's fierce opposition would be good for it in the long run, albeit in a kind of "whee, I'm being counter-intuitive" sort of way.
He's doing it again now. And when the dunning notices and crushed hopes start tumbling out, he'll swing the camera around to some reporter who just got fired and hail the mighty power of the blogosphere. In-fucking-deed.
But I stood up and took notice when Kohout quoted a citizen who recounts the declining standards of American middle-class life in the late 20th Century:
I am the son of a Pittsburgh steelworks worker. I was born at the end of the Second World War. I have three sisters. Our mother never went to work... yet they could afford to own a house, and our father used to buy a new car once every three or four years. My parents paid for my university education and bought me my first car when I was twenty. We were by all standards part of the middle class, and I was proud of my parents' achievement. (...) Today both my parents have to go to work in order to maintain a middle-class living standard, due to the increase in taxation that has occurred in the past half-century...And I said, "Hell yeah! Of course the little guy used to get a bigger piece of the pie; unions (of the sort a "Pittsburgh steelworks worker" would know) were strong; America had enough money to accommodate them, and enough left over to keep making the best stuff in the world, and to make it available to a broad range of its citizens. And to help keep it all humming, the rich were heavily taxed.
"Now America is grotesquely in debt; we make crap and import everything; we work, man and wife, like dogs just to keep up; and the rich contribute hardly at all, on the theory that the freeing of their capital leads to 'economic growth' -- and there has indeed been growth in their pesonal and corporate budgets, real estate holdings, and general ability to escape economic responsibilities and leave them to everyone else. So the rest of us get less and less of the pie, and more and more of the bite."
Well, that's what it stirred in me. Here's what it stirred in Kohout:
The tax burden in the United Stated has indeed grown significantly over the past 50 years. The birth rate has been falling proportionately, although not to the critical level that is now current in Europe. The birth rate in the US is nearing the replacement level...I am fast approaching the point where the expression "What planet are they from?" is no longer figurative.
Monday, March 07, 2005
In my own fanciful account, I pointed out that there is something lost as well as something gained by the social alterations of the past few decades. Since everyone usually concentrates on how great things are -- look, Madame Tussaud's has replaced porno! The genius of the marketplace (enriched with eminent domain seizures) rules! -- being a contrary sort I focused on the downside.
I like low crime rates and low, low prices, too. But let me point something out: Just because I like old-fashioned New York neighborhoods, and am a snob, does not mean that I only like old-fashioned New York neighborhoods because I am a snob.
If I point out, for example, that the real-estate land-rush has made it hard for dancers, directors etc. to establish theatre spaces anymore in New York, it is not necesarily because I am a whining hippie whose opposition to "creative destruction" is fueled by Marxism and marijuana. It may be because when the City's contribution to American culture is reduced to that which is funded by its most powerful forces -- when the sort of cheap rent in which the Aileys and Ramones of yesteryear flourished goes away -- you get fewer opportunities, more safe decisions, and crummier art. (Compare the arts scene of our times to just about any other since the Second World War. Don't we suck?)
Since I was just talking about art, maybe a lot of you still imagine us in whiny hippieland. Okay, how about this: runaway rents make it tough for people of all sorts to put down roots in neighborhoods. What do you think is better for yourself and your family: a neighborhood of transients, or a neighborhood where people get to know and look out for one another?
None of this means I want to keep indigenous New Yorkers from reaping the rewards of the strip-mall. If anything, I should think the present circumstances would be less attractive to regular citizens than to the shallowly hip: it provides them with a never-closed playground where there are no community standards because there is no community, that will keep entertaining them so long as they or their parents have enough money to keep the ride going.
Sunday, March 06, 2005
Hey, how come no one's clapping?
Quick! Send some cute chicks and cameramen to La Paz!
UPDATE. The International Freedom-Loving Blog Community has answered my prayers! Word reaches alicublog that Miss Bolivia 2004, the impressively polynomial Maria Nuvia Montenegro Apuri, has joined the protestors in an official capacity!
Senorita Apuri is no stranger to controversy. At the Miss World competition, Apuri* said the most common misconception about her people was that they were all "very short people and Indian people" -- what David Wells might have called "little squatty-body motherfuckers" -- whereas on her side of the country, "we are tall and we are white people." They ought to love her at Powerline!
Apuri has also shown a commitment to public service, telling interviewers, "It was when I was 14, when I decided to help people, who were losing their houses because of fire. The fire almost destroyed half of the town. I feel proud to have been useful in that critical moment." In the heady days to come, Miss Bolivia surely will not let dowm her companeros! Even if there is fire!
Is there nothing the blogosphere cannot achieve with its high technology and low credibility standards?
* UPDATE. Reader Ts informs me that I have my Misses Bolivia mixed up. Gabriela Oviedo actually made those comments, and at the Miss Universe competition. Apologies to La Apuri! I'm really more of a Miss Earth fan myself.
ANOTHER UPDATE: The Blue Dog Democrats have endorsed the bill, and Zywicki observes: "In an era of Washington partisanship, one would be hard-pressed to find many major pieces of legislation with such broad-based bipartisan support." Why am I not surprised . . .?"Broad-based support"? 35 relatively conservative Democrats of the sort sometimes proposed as a sane alternative to the "shrill Deaniacs and Moore-Ons" of the Party comprise the Blue Dog Coalition, who sent the letter linked by the Perfesser. How is the rest of the Party reacting to the Bill? With "killer amendments," of the sort skillfully used by Chuck Schumer to quash previous versions of the Bill. Here's what the Senate Dems tried last week:
Mostly along party lines, the Senate voted 59-40 Wednesday to reject a Democratic amendment that would have allowed older people to get special homestead exemptions to keep their homes when they file for bankruptcy. Currently, such exemptions are determined by the states.Considering there are 44 Democrats (and one Jeffords) in the Senate, it looks like the Party in that House is much more strongly against the Bill than the Perfesser indicates. Maybe there's a secret deal afoot by which they'll cave if their Republican colleagues put a giant, jobs-generating National Bankuptcy Act Compliance Center in Robert Byrd's district.
Also rebuffed, 58-39, were two proposals focused on people whose significant medical expenses for illness force them to file for bankruptcy...
By another 59-40 tally, the Senate defeated a Democratic proposal to require that credit card statements show how long it would take the consumer to pay off his or her debt by making only the minimum monthly payment, and what the total interest charges would be.
God knows the Dems aren't always so good on the issues, but why portray them as close to the Republicans in this spectacularly inapposite case? Probably because the futility of the Democratic Party is the Perfesser's most well-ridden hobby-horse. When the Dems stand up even for causes that he endorses, something in the Perfesser forces him to dismiss their efforts. If they're useful for anything good, I guess, they can't be so easily remade into something a little more Perublican.
If the Bill gets through, expect a wave of blame issuing from Indeed, TN and falling on Ted Kennedy.
Friday, March 04, 2005
He said as North Korea worked to change its state-run economy, it would look to China as an example and seek to change gradually. He didn't use the word "reform" — anathema to some trained under the socialist system."A few overly enthusiastic people"! Yeah, there are guys like that at every party.
"In the past, we were revolutionaries. But now we prefer evolution to revolution," he said. "We will try to learn from China's successes and failures"...
The North Korean criticized some Japanese politicians' efforts to link the nuclear talks to the question of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.
"This was something done by a few overly enthusiastic people long ago," he said. "We tried to make amends."
I don't think much of the story, but I certainly never had the idea that it was meant to convince me that the North Koreans are a bunch of nice guys. The subjects are from North Korea, and presumably plan to return there, so I didn't expect them to say, "Hello, we are totally evil." Being an adult of normal intelligence, I weigh their words against what I already knew about their country from magazines like The New Yorker ("one of the most brutal governments on earth").
Who doesn't know this? Well, Hugh Hewitt apparently thinks the nature of North Korea's government is a big secret and that the Times is trying to pull a fast one on its readers. He throws a two-day fit about it, raving that the Times is "lost in a hall of ideological mirrors and deep, deep left-wing ideology," "a west coast tip sheet for the Democratic Party" that "can't distinguish between news and propaganda." He calls the paper "The Pyongyang Times of Los Angeles." He calls the reporter "Barbara Demick-Duranty." I mean, the guy basically craps his pants and rolls around in it.
That Hewitt, over-excitable on his best days, would behave like this is not surprising. For a nanosecond, though, I was surprised that the Ole Perfesser actually called attention to this spectacle. Isn't he embarrassed to associate his smoother, heh-indeedy repertoire of right-wing moves with this craziness? But then I remembered: you can't build a movement just on intellectuals and rentiers; you have to suck in some proles, too. If your own style is too cool for the cheap-seaters, find a frother with a megaphone and see if he doesn't get them pounding the tables.
Thursday, March 03, 2005
You may have read of the hardship on the families of those who have been called to fight in Iraq, including, of course, severe financial stress leading to many bankruptcies. Democrats in the Senate tried to put an amendment on this bill exempting military personnel, and the Republicans voted it down.Now, you might imagine the Soldiers' and Sailors' Relief Bill of 1940 still limits the servicemen's interest rates on prior debt to 6 percent during active duty. Congress even revised that bill about a year ago to strengthen its protections: per the American Forces Press Service, "The new relief act also makes it clear the 6-percent limitation on interest rates for pre-service debts requires a reduction in monthly payments, and any interest in excess of 6 percent is forgiven, not deferred..."
But I see lots of military sites like this one and this one warning GIs about high rates. What gives?
My guess is that military families whose breadwinners have had their service extended by the infamous stop-loss orders are finding it necessary to take on new debt. Which debts are not covered by the law. Of which the Senators' banking-industry masters must be aware.
As I give the forces of evil heaps of credit (at no interest!) for Machiavellian chutzpah, I expect they'll hash this one out in a very public way so that the folks in the armed forces catch a small break, leaving us civilians suckers in a (literally) compromised position. That would be a twofer in a way. We did the right thing by our fighting men. Now, you drains-on-society, pony up!
Or maybe they'll just soak the soldiers and sailors too. They have a mandate. They can do whatever they want.
Give AG Kline and his Operation Rescue allies credit -- as Zoll points out in his abovelinked Pandagon post, they've learned that this sort of thing works more efficiently when coupled with public relations. Doing her part today is National Review Online's K. Lo:
There is a very interesting piece in the Wichita Eagle today: “Investigators -- trying to hide from Dennis Rader that they were zeroing in on him as a BTK suspect -- obtained DNA before his arrest through a tissue sample linked to his daughter's medical records, sources say.” Interesting, most especially, in light of the outrage over the Kansas attorney general trying to obtain medical records from abortion clinics in seeking to prosecute crimes.In one case, the authorities are investigating actual crimes using DNA from a suspect's family member. In another, they are digging through the medical files of hundreds of non-suspects in hopes that a crime will turn up. K.-Lo affects to think these amount to the same thing. I have read enough of Lopez' work to form a suitably low opinion of her intelligence, but no one is that dumb. Well, if Jesus can ask you to die for him, he can certainly ask you to commit intellectual fraud.
UPDATE. I have been well informed that Zoll, like God and the Devil, is a woman.
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
The Ole Perfesser, today:
UPDATE: A while back, some people were upset that I identified Ward Churchill with the current state of the Left. But the Left certainly seems to be identifying with Ward Churchill.The Perfesser's link is so stupidly inapposite to his charge that I don't even recommend you look at it. Normally I'm more or less daring you to, but in this case it's such a waste of time -- not to mention an outrage to reason -- that I can't even pretend. In fact I'm thinking of disabling the link. That's how dumb it is.
OH MY GOD. You fell for it. Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha.
Hey kid. I have incontrovertible proof that Bush wants what's worst for everyone. Here it is. Indeed!
Actually, from this and the follow-ups, the Perfesser affects to believe that Lebanon is turning because Lebanese resistance chicks are so hot and Syrian symps are so not. Perhaps our leaders are testing their psyops externally before putting them to work on Social Security reform ("I never thought that gay-wedding thing was going to work. Showing how much hotter our protestors are than some old, money-grubbing granny -- that's comedy gold!")
(DISCLAIMER FOR THE HARD OF THINKING: I think freedom is good and the Lebanese people should have the government they want.)
Till then, discharge whatever frustration this may cause by sending me death threats.
(Comments are ordered for this post so that when they do return this will be an Escheresque joke folding in on itself.)
Roper and Atkins tell capital defense litigators to delay their cases for as many years as possible. Drag out the appeals for a long, long time. During that period, have activists try to encourage legislators in a few select states to enact new legislative restrictions on the death penalty. It doesn't matter if those restrictions have any actual effect on how cases are charged; bans in states that do not actually bring any death penalty cases are fine, as the real audience is the Supreme Court.As if what was decided were a judicial chess match, rather than the fate of adolescents on death row. And as if "cruel and unusual punishment" were a phrase without meaning.
Of course, the author is "not sure about the juvenile death penalty as a matter of policy." But, but, but.
Maybe I'm projecting, or penumbrating. I've always tried, with varying levels of success, to be a nice guy, and I imagine my politics grow out of that rather than vice-versa; that is to say, I want to see the greatest good for the greatest number because that's how I was raised, not because I've read Jeremy Bentham and find the felicific calculus a sound instrument.
As my upbringing has also instilled in me a large capacity for self-doubt, I am willing to entertain arguments that, in trying to do right I have miscalculated and advocated a path that will lead to more rather than less harm. This seems to me an indispensible prerequisite of adult decision-making.
Still, if my gut tells me that the electrocution of 12-year-olds*, however depraved the child, is not a good thing, then I start from that admittedly emotional reaction and put the honus of proving otherwise on those who contend that the indefinite incarceration of lads, as opposed to their elimination, is justice denied. This is an unavoidable prejudice, but one I believe my faith in the system (our Founders', not any other) and in reason may help me to overcome.
So I am not unsusceptible to counterintuitive Constitutional arguments -- which is why I give more slack to gun-rights enthusiasts than my gut tells me to give them. But over the years I've heard lots of people whose fair-mindedness is by no means a settled matter argue that Roe v. Wade was judicial overreach, that Lawrence v. Texas was judicial overreach, that prohibitions of school prayer are judicial overreach, etc., and thought: Why, in these arguments, are you guys always on the side of less personal freedom? Where did you get the idea that the Constitution is more about restrictions to liberty than it is about the maintenance of liberty's necessary conditions? And why do I get this feeling (again, in my gut) that you are not so incensed at a violation of our founding documents as you are incensed that the freedoms guaranteed therein have led to a social condition that offends your gut feelings?
When these guys finally wrench the Court far enough in their desired direction, then we will have their kind of state, with all the child excecutions, forced childbirth, madatory prayer, and other such horrors of which they dream. Till then let us enjoy the blessings of liberty, howsoever they are bestowed.
(UPDATED with a few modest stylistic changes to make it more rabid.)
*UPDATE II. As the Times and Bull point out, the execution of offenders who were under 16 at the time of their crimes was already precluded by Thompson v. Oklahoma in 1988. Was that as much an "overreach" as the current case? Tony Scalia seemed to think so: in his Thompson dissent, he cited many precedents for executing 15-year-old killers, and argued that the Court had failed to prove the punishment was cruel and unusual (accent on the "unusual"), or even reflected "evolving standards of decency," and thus the plurality was "hoist[ing] on to the deck of our Eighth Amendment jurisprudence the loose cannon of a brand new principle" with its decision. Further:
The concurrence's approach is a solomonic solution to the problem of how to prevent execution in the present case, while at the same time not holding that the execution of those under 16 when they commit murder is categorically unconstitutional. Solomon, however, was not subject to the constitutional constraints of the judicial department of a national government in a federal, democratic system.Scalia's position might remind one of that of Starry Vere in Billy Budd. Vere also had a point -- nearly the same one. But Vere, of course, feared mutiny were he less than strict on the law. What was to be feared of the "loose cannon" in this case? Perhaps that someday someone would be emboldened by it to do... what was done yesterday. Which was not mutiny, I think, but mercy.
Take heart, those who decry this "assault on judicial restraint," as if it were to judicial restraint that you addressed your prayers at night and your thanks in moments of joy: after a few new appointments, you'll get a chance to show your devotion to judicial restraint by overturning a buttload of decisions and stripping us of a whole lot of freedoms.
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
[Author Geoffrey R.] Stone buys wholly into Justice Hugo Black’s absolute conviction that Communists could safely be permitted to preach the need for violent overthrow of the government because (in Black’s words) “free speech will preserve, not destroy, the nation” (emphasis in the original).Clearly the First Amendment is not holding up its end in the War on Whatever. There are plenty of juicy soundbytes to go with -- "Without security, there is no liberty at all," "(Learned) Hand did not figure on militant Islam," etc. -- if you take pleasure in that sort of thing.
Taking a proper historical view, however, one might state the proposition differently: doctrinaire civil libertarians can always be relied on, no matter what the crisis, to minimize the danger faced by the nation. In the real world, moreover, free speech can only produce its vaunted corrective effects if it has both the inclination and the time to work. The problem is that it often does not.
Today’s marketplace of ideas, for example, has been notably reluctant to engage even the subject of Islamofascism and the threat it poses to our institutions and our liberties. Nor does that marketplace strike one as a very effective weapon for bringing suicide murderers to heel, let alone for militating against electronically beamed fatwas capable of unleashing weapons of untold destructive power before other ideas have a meaningful opportunity to compete and persuade.
One may wonder why so many pages were needed to explicate what at first blush looks like a reiteration of the "provocation to unlawful action" of which Hand spoke as exempt from First Amendment protection. Maybe McCarthy was counting on an incantatory effect; his lengthy diatribe does not convince so much as lull. Conservatives of a certain stripe may introduce it to ennervate free-speech discussions, much as The Riddler used sleeping gas against Batman.
And the ideas will challenge even some conservatives. McCarthy offers several examples from American history of government limitations on free speech, and none of them trouble him much; he seems capable of accepting any number of extra restraints in the interest of national security. No First Amendment worship for him -- If the damn old thing gets in the way, kick it out.
I wonder how many conservatives will go along. We keep hearing about the alleged libertarian component of modern conservatism -- well, there sure ain't a place for that in McCarthy's vision. Cleverly, he lays some bait for the less hardcore but still red-blooded conservatives, including invocations of the Communist menace (and William O. Douglas and others' alleged underestimation of same, followed of course by the challenge, "One also wonders what Douglas would have made of militant Islam"), "moral clarity," and Michael Moore. Thus wavering types might be lured near enough to snatch: I hate Michael Moore! My heroes say "moral clarity" a lot! Maybe I've got this free-speech thing all wrong!
I cannot find anything McCarthy has written about the Second Amendment, but considering how easy it is for him to regulate mere words on security grounds, I would be very interested to know if he is more or less tolerant of instruments that can actually blow one's head off.
Monday, February 28, 2005
But this day, I realized that Christo and his wife had hoodwinked us all and forced us into their monotone vision, one that is anti-American...Anti-American! Will Christo and Jean-Claude be spirited to Gitmo? If he is as skilled at voices as he is at dialogue, perhaps Bromley can pass the Feds an incrimating tape.
I note also that Bromley objects to the color of the curtains: "...saffron, the color of the Hare Krishnas? New York is a city of Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Muslims, of people who are black, white, brown and yellow, and variations of all of the above, and we relish it, benefit from it, and, at our best, learn from it."
So not only are the artists anti-Americans, they're also anti-Catholic, -Jewish, etc. Or pro-Krishna. Same diff, I guess.
I stick with my original, scholarly judgement: "Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick."
I was feeling prescient there for a while, thinking the Aviator craft awards were the first clanking hints of a steamroller, rather than gracious pats on the back for an also-ran. When Finding Neverland got the Best Score award, I was convinced I had cracked the code.
But I was surprised by Charlie Kaufman, whose film was one of the few I'd actually seen -- I liked it but figured it was too arty-farty for this lot -- and the Eastwood love-fest. In retrospect, it figures that they would heap garlands on him rather than Scorsese. Let's face it, Hollywood's love for New York -- which reached its fullest effulgence when they honored Woody Allen for making fun of L.A. in Annie Hall -- died when they started using Toronto as a stand-in for us. He'll never win now, and he can't go back -- the mean streets where he made his bones are all cleaned up. Maybe he'll devote the remainder of his life to looking for the director's cut of The Magnificent Ambersons. Well, he could do worse.
I have to say that Sidney Lumet's speech was my favorite bit. To devote his only moment in the Oscar sun to an encomium of movies as they were made in the days of giants was an act of admirable and rare humility. Chris Rock was a little too jazzed -- you could tell by the timbre of his throat-screeches that he had pumped himself out of his zone -- but didn't embarrass himself. And I liked that so many of the men in the audience wore long ties. I still haven't figured out the ankhs, but I expect I'll hear about them when the culture-warriors commence firing on Monday morning.
Sunday, February 27, 2005
It is a silly thing, but mine own and, I judge, a harmless late-winter indulgence. Many find the ceremonies an incredibly lurid waste of time, money, and attention, but so is my job; the Oscars are more fun, and certainly less aggravating than politics. I once received a very nice note from John Podhoretz, whose beliefs emanate from a different solar system than mine but to whose authority on the Awards I bow, correcting me on the number of Oscars won by Katharine Hepburn.
One of the appurtances of my insignificent obsession is a tendency to make predictions on the Awards even when I have seen but very few of the nominated films. These are based on gut feelings and usually incredibly wrong, but no one has been able to stop me from making them, and I am unable to stop myself from publishing them:
Best Picture: The AviatorI am on record. Tomorrow I shall take my lumps like a man.
Best Actor: Jamie Foxx, Ray
Best Actress: Annette Bening, Being Julia
Best Supporting Actor: Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby
Best Supporting Actress: Kate Blanchett, The Aviator
Best Director: Martin Scorsese, The Aviator
Best Original Screenplay: Keir Pearson and Terry George, Hotel Rwanda
Best Adapted Screenplay: Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Sideways
Best Cinematography: Robert Richardson, The Aviator
Best Score: Jan Kaczmarek, Finding Neverland
Best Song: "Accidentally in Love," Shrek 2
Best Film Editing: Thelma Schoonmaker, The Aviator
Best Costume Design: Sandy Powell, The Aviator
Best Art Direction: Rick Heinrichs (Art Direction) and Cheryl A. Carasik (Set Decoration), Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
Best Makeup: Keith Vanderlaan and Christien Tinsley, The Passion of the Christ
Best Sound Editing: Paul N. J. Ottosson, Spider-Man 2
Best Sound Mixing: Randy Thom, Tom Johnson, Dennis Sands, and William B. Kaplan, The Polar Express
Best Visual Effects: John Nelson, Andrew R. Jones, Erik Nash, and Joe Letteri, I, Robot
Best Documentary Feature:Born Into Brothels
Best Animated Feature:The Incredibles
Friday, February 25, 2005
It seems that in the past few years New Yorkers have gotten slower. At a stage in life in which I could reasonably expect my neighbors to begin brushing impatiently past my decrepit ass, I find more often than not that I am actually ahead of the general pace.
I have no data on this, but I do know that our City recently rose several places in Men's Fitness magazine's study of the Fattest Cities in the U.S., from 21st to eighth.
One unfortunate side effect of the City's ballyhooed "revitalization" is that it has attracted people to New York who might otherwise have stayed away. For decades, only the mad, the inspired, and the professionally obligated came here. We were a jacked-up lot; we had to constantly watch out for muggers and dogshit, and to keep up with unreliable public transportation schedules. We grew accustomed to nervily grabbing whatever pedestrian advantages we could, and on our watch New York street life remained a rather bracing track and field event. In fact, we developed a sort of sixth sense about transportation. I remember one day in the 80s when the automatic turnstile at the Berry Street end of the Bedford Street L station broke, allowing people to enter and ride for free; within a half-hour, no one was using the (primary) Bedford entrance, while traffic on the Berry side was unusually heavy -- people, it appeared, were riding just because it was free.
It was tension-inducing, but it was sort of fun and it helped keep the weight off.
Outsiders gazed upon this behavior with that mixture of respect and disgust usually reserved for the inscrutable customs of the East, like the Hejira or eating live monkey brains. They maybe dug it, but not enough to join it.
But during the reign of Giuliani, New York was made less intimidating to the timorous. Now that the dark-'n'-scary has been policed, gentrified, and strip-malled out of much of our territory, the placid and the bovine flock to us. They waddle our streets in a happy daze, untroubled by anxiety of any sort.
They do not have to adapt to New York's singular ways, because we have lost many of them. Even in poor neighborhoods, you don't really have to have eyes in the back of your head anymore. We have more chain stores and outlets now, too -- Home Depots and Targets and K-Marts -- so you don't have to claw feverishly through racks for bargains. There's a Red Lobster midtown -- a Bennigan's too, so even your palate can remain unchallenged. Public spaces are increasingly organized to resemble, not the plazas of old Europe, but the malls of America. And soon, if Mayor Richie Rich and his dog Dollar have their way, there will be a big, hideously ugly stadium on the West Side, the sort of thing that is the pride and joy of municipalities like Foxboro, MA, as well as the cash cow of their vested interests.
Once upon a time it was less easy to put a giant boondoggle like this stadium over on our citizens than on those of the sticks. But New Yorkers are changing; in addition to getting slower on the street, they seem to be getting slower in the head. One follows the other, perhaps. Perhaps Australian New Yorker Rupert Murdoch believes this, too, and so bids his Postie flacks plump for more malls as well as for the stadium, because the more our citizens come to resemble suburban sheep -- stuffed full of cheap grain and herded, with the occasional aid of electronic stimulation, through pens -- the more easily we can be shorn for profit.
So our new citizens trudge the streets, capitivated by orange curtains and $10.99 chicken wings on Times Square, while the Mayor bullies and bosses his way to a big payday for somebody.
I had hoped that it would not come to this, but I expect it will take a fresh crime wave to weed the unfit from our ranks. And as we have not quite arrived at the End of History, I expect it will come sooner than later, hopefully before I am really too old to outrun both the crooks and the children of the corn who are fucking up the City.
Thursday, February 24, 2005
Is rolling in the aisles, Comrade! Perhaps Comrade Rock to be joined by Dennis Miller for Oscar laff-fest.
(removing black hat, mustache, and ridiculous dialect) Maybe they can send Simon around to the late-night shows to explain to Leno et alia that all the jokes have to be about Michael Moore, Ted Kennedy, and maybe Ward Chruchill if they can get the explanatory pamphlets distributed in time.
...JAMES LILEKS: Corporations can indoctrinate my little girl all they like, but I'll be damned if I'll let her be bussed to one of those schools that are "bilingual," if you know what I mean.
...CRAZY JESUS LADY: Al Gore didn't invent the internet -- Jesus did. (He also inspires me to show "compassion" by heaping abuse on the recently deceased.)
...RIDICULOUS ECCLESIASTICAL PSEUDONYM*: My people are worshipping a graven image of Mitt Romney. And they lied to me about what they'd do with the money, too. When all this starts to get me down, I just remind myself: that Michael Moore, he shore is fat! Haw haw haw!
* Thanks to Tom for his help.
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Of course one need not suffer from visions to see such agenda in the Post's editorial page. It is always a little festival of bad faith and special pleading. Today we had an attack on the sugar industry's attack on Splenda by the head of something called the American Council on Science and Health. This, from the Council's own website, should tell you what you need to know about them (though if you want more start here): "Sometimes, if reporters complain about our corporate funding, I remind them that they are funded by corporations and advertisers as well." Uh huh.
Such people are not total hacks -- that is to say, while they may be Satan's emissaries on earth, they do take professional pride in their own work, and add filigrees and flourishes partly to increase effectiveness but also, I believe, out of pure love of craft. For example, there is some obvious merit to the author's accusations against the sugar barons -- among others, that they had hooked up with pure-food types not out of altruism but as a way to fight Splenda's increasing share of the sweetener market. This is the spoonful of sucralose, so to speak, that helps work down the public's gullet a larger message: that people who oppose synthetic foods on whatever grounds are anti-technology "chemicalphobes."
Organizations such as this are not about arguing a case, but adding strands to a narrative. Facts may be used as part of the grapeshot, but they are by no means the only or even most important part of the armamature. Painting an investigation of questionable scientific assertions as an inquisition on the order of Galileo's, for example, lifts the issue out of the debating chamber and into the realm of dreams. You certainly don't want to side with inquisitors or chemicalphobes. Now eat this chlorinated sugar.
But perhaps I'm overthinking it. Michelle Malkin may very well think that young women who cut themselves are engaging in a "fad" (and doing it to a "new genre of music -- 'emo'") for which Christina Ricci is more to blame than their home and family lives. She isn't necessarily consciously trying to shift blame for our damaged youth onto Hollywood so that it will continue to serve as a distraction from the crimes of our government and corporate rulers. Say this for my paranoia: it offers a more charitable (if more sinister) interpretation of their efforts than simple idiocy.
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
Here is something the Good Doctor wrote rather recently, while Mr. Lileks was shaking all Minneapolis with the thunder of his mediocrity:
There is an ever-growing appetite for Violence as Entertainment in this country -- especially among those in the 18-35 demographic that TV is targeting -- that something Dark & Disastrous is going to come of it. There is a good commercial reason why Fox just paid for TV rights to NASCAR, and it is exactly the same reason why every recently built racetrack from California to Maine is designed about 20 feet Wider than tracks were built in the old days, when it was physically impossible for more than three (3) cars to run side by side at 180 mph in the straightaway -- the new & Wider tracks have created the blood-curdling spectacle of four cars running fender-to-fender at top speed.This was the allegedly enfeebled Thompson writing for ESPN in his declining years. The Fear and Loathing books, and the great essays for Rolling Stone, were also part of Thompson's journalistic work. Till he decided that it was all too much to bear he kept on producing, which is what journalists do. Purportedly as a man, and observably as a writer, he was one true, tough son of a bitch, and I will remember with gratitude his work long after I have forgotten my current anger at the mewling pipsqueaks who seek through their flimsy prattle to minimize him.
"It makes the racing vastly more Exciting," say the auto-sport czars. "It dramatically raises the Potential-Disaster factor & whips the fans into a frenzy."
Right. Blood & guts, bread & Circuses, human brains all over the asphalt. The people of Rome demanded more & more Death & Cruelty on their Sunday afternoons at the Coliseum -- until Nobody was left to Sacrifice. They ran out of Victims.
And so will the NFL, the NBA and NASCAR. That is what makes people nervous about the meaning of Dale Earnhardt's death. It is the American Dream run amok. Watch it & weep.
UPDATE. It's a sad reversal when the New York Post's farewell to HST turns out classier than that of Richard Brookhiser, whose normal function is to wrangle NRO's shit-ass punks when they stray too far from objective reality. "The druggie Jerry Lewis" doesn't even make sense. Tommy Chong -- now there's your druggie Jerry Lewis! Maybe Brookhiser has got into the blotter again.
Monday, February 21, 2005
Meanwhile John Derbyshire yells at a bunch of foreign students for not behaving properly in an Amtrak "quiet car" that does not in fact exist. When his error is explained to him, he thunders that "Young Europeans have no manners and no clue how to behave in public." Derbyshire once told an interviewer, "I am not very careful about what I say, having grown up in the era before Political Correctness, and never having internalized the necessary restraints." He seems to mistake being a horse's ass for rhetorical bravery.
From my perspective this seems like an attempt to give the play a fair reading against the difficulties it presents for modern audiences, not the least of which is Shakespeare’s dim view of democracy, at least the Roman variant, which was the only one he knew. (Blog knows I don’t generally approve political interpretations of art, but this is a famously political text.) The Bard uses the phrase "the People" frequently and with obvious contempt: the proles, politically empowered for the sake of temporary peace and stirred maliciously against Coriolanus by their slippery Tribunes, are here even more foolish and dangerous than the "blocks… stones… worse than senseless things" in Julius Caesar, and their unsuitability to power is more crucial to the plot. The parable of the human body with which Menenius defends the Roman system – "The Senators of Rome are this good belly, and you the mutinous members" -- will be familiar to readers of William Camden and Thomas Hobbes. For all its philosophical interest, this isn’t the sort of thing with which most moderns, whatever their politics, can be easily made comfortable.
Very sensibly, the director takes it at face value: she gives one of the key proles a comical hillbilly accent (which he reprises when playing a Volscian of similar station), and the dialects of the Tribunes suggest working-class roots which, however smoothed by political experience, yet feed their resentment of entrenched power ("Doubt not the commoners, for whom we stand, but they upon their ancient malice will forget with the least cause these new honors").
This tidily accomplished, we can concentrate on the noble Romans, and they too are taken at face value: Volumnia talks about her son’s blood-drenched attainments as if they were spelling bee championships, and Menenius the "humorous patrician" is a political fixer whose pusillanimous manner gently cloaks a great heart.
Coriolanus himself is a fascinating case, dramatically. That he lacks the fan base of Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear, or even Anthony, despite his sometimes excellent poetry, may owe to the impenetrability that defines him. One friend who saw this production decided she liked him because "he doesn’t kiss ass," but Coriolanus’ obsessive self-determination does not strike me as particularly attractive. His suicidal/homicidal course admits no counter-argument until the rather base hectoring of his mother finally turns him against his own will, and he seems only fleetingly aware that he might be wrong; there are no deliberative soliloquies on the order of "How all occasions do inform against me" or "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" to draw us into his turmoil – in fact, of turmoil he has but little: his best speech ("O world, thy slippery turns!") is purely self-justifying.
Christian Camargo’s performance appears to admit this. When not raging or fighting, he takes in each situation as if it were a dish brought before him that he could relish or sweep off the table as his mood struck him. If he is noble, it is in his inability to be moved by things smaller than himself, and when his fall comes (from his mother’s stronger will), he is not ennobled by it, but unmanned; his performance of the well-known stage direction, "Holds [Volumnia] by the hand silent," is a wrenching grasp of her wrist, and even the other characters react as if he might break her arm.
This is a clear and highly theatrical reading of the play. Whether it is correct is another matter. The only other production I have seen was at the Public, years ago, and I have forgotten who did it. It was fairly traditional, and not as interesting as this one, but it was warmer and wooed us into sympathy with Coriolanus. At the moment, I don’t know really whether the new production has disabused me of a misapprehension of the play or not. I do know that it seems smaller to me now than when I went into the theatre.
Thursday, February 17, 2005
Is everyone in this blogosphere on drugs?
A highly-regarded web operative says former U.S. President Jimmy Carter "isn't just misguided or ill-informed. He's on the other side," and suddenly we're debating the meaning of simple words and phrases, as with this Matt Yglesias commenter:
i must've missed the part where the powerline guy said carter's a jihadist or whatever. i thought the other side was the anti-everything democrats. shows you what I know.In the context of world politics in a time of war, when you say someone's "on the other side," how the hell is it something other than an accusation of treason?
Meanwhile the aforementioned operative returns to accuse Carter of "aligning himself with America's enemies" and "conspiring with our chief enemy to try to influence an American Presidential election" -- then adding, astonishingly, "We could have called that treason, but we didn't."
This is how the racket appears to work: tar your opponents with terms that unambiguously mean "traitor" -- like "objectively on [Saddam's] side" or "not anti-war, just on the other side" -- and then play dumb ("Barlow proceeds to suggest that I'm calling American liberals terrorists... I'm used to having my posts mischaracterized...").
Heretofore I had blamed poor reading skills, but I'm beginning to wonder if those anti-depressant pills so many people are taking these days are in fact powerful hallucinogens, leading to a massive reality shift I am pharmacologically incapable of understanding.
UPDATE. So many people are on this thing it's getting crowded, so you should probably shove me off and snuggle with The Poor Man's coverage.
As a political philosopher, Capp was a moron. (Read the 60s-vintage Capp quote here -- it's such damned-hippies boilerplate as would make Michael Totten blush.) I assume Capp didn't get dumber as he went along. But he had a strong feeling about the relationship of the powerful to the powerless, and when he perceived the power flowing from the rock-ribbed Republicans of earlier days to the Great Society crowd, he flipped to the other side.
That doesn't make him right -- merely understandable, if you know how artists sometimes work. When he stopped making fun of General Bullmoose ("What's good for General Bullmoose is good for the USA!") and started making fun of Joan Baez (aka "Joanie Phonie," who upon regarding Dogpatch cries, "Those poor wretches! I'm giving them $1,000,000... in protest songs!"), Capp was no better or worse an analyst of social conditions than he had been. He was simply addicted to irreverence, and took the most obnoxious position he could find. And he was a sport about it; he did a photo shoot with Joan Baez for Time magazine. (The published photo shows Baez singing and Capp wincing theatrically, with his fingers in his ears.)
In the 1960s Capp used to give talks on college campuses -- this while he was mercilessly parodying the whole student movement with SWINE (Students Wildly Indignant About Everything). The kids hated him -- the man who invented the Sadie Hawkins Day their older brothers and sisters had made flesh! -- but Capp kept a-comin', perhaps as much for the collegiate pussy (he pleaded no contest to allegations of sexual misconduct, including an attempted rape) as for the chance to piss off hippies and get paid for it.
In any event Capp didn't indulge in the whiney woe-is-me-I'm-being-persecuted crap Horowitz and his acolytes specialize in. He seemed to like being an outsider; not for him the dogged insistence upon respect that distinguish his far-less-talented progeny. And he kept making funnies, not all of them informed by 60s politics. He kept up the "Fearless Fosdick" strip-within-a-strip, in which the impossibly upright and sexless Fosdick finds his only release in absurd cartoon violence. I personally recall a strip in which Abner's son, brainwashed by TV advertising, begs for a "Junior G.I." war-game kit. "Alright, son," declares Abner. "I'll give yuh the week's food money!" Abe walks into a toy store with a dollar bill but is laughed off -- "You can't even buy a toy dollar with that!" -- and so wanders into an army surplus store, where his dollar buys him a real flame-thrower, with which he causes havoc.
This has more to do with Happy Hooligan and The Katzenjammer Kids than with (God help us) Mallard Fillmore. Capp's 60s comics weren't his best -- go to his 40s and 50s stuff, much of it beautifully collected, for primo Li'l Abner -- but they were comics of the old school. And mourn the days when Li'l Abner and Pogo lived together on the funny pages, and cartoonists understood that if you want to grind an axe in public you'd better make some pretty awesome sparks doing it.
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Bonus points for listing Rachel Corrie, who is famously dead ("revered as a martyr by the anti-Israel left"). Maybe in the future we'll get listings for Joe Hill and Victoria Woodhull.
UPDATE. Oh yeah, I did write about this. Back then it was called "FOLLOW the Network." They musta focus-grouped it.
It's time for all of us in the pro-life movement to learn to appreciate the power of political satire. Comedian Chris Rock, slated to host the Oscars this month, is being accused of promoting abortion.Going through the text as closely as its overpowering smell would allow, I am forced to conclude that the "senior legislative counsel with Americans United for Life" does in fact mean to say that f*!@*%g women is akin to abusing them ("legalized abortion allows men to sexually prey on women"). To paraphrase Gilbert Gottfried, if this is a crime then I should be on Death Row.
"Abortion, it's beautiful, it's beautiful abortion is legal. I love going to an abortion rally to pick up women, cause you know they are f*!@*%g," Rock said during his club routine.
Whether Rock is pro-life or pro-choice, whether he intended to use satire or really believes what he said, is beside the point. What's "beautiful" is that Chris Rock has exposed a profound side effect of legalized abortion -- the sexual mistreatment of women.
Assuming that this article is not something the merry editors of National Review Online obtained with a secret tape recorder and some Rophynol, we may take her at her word and infer many interesting corollaries:
- When Bordlee's "Roe has ruined romance" replaces You are murdering babies, you baby-murderers as the brand statement of the anti-abortion movement, we will see a stark change in their advertising. Expect fewer helpless fetuses on highway billboards, and more commercials showing a woman weeping bitterly in the night because Roe v. Wade made Jim-Bob forget their anniversary.
- As Bordlee's "abortion on demand makes women into sex objects with the full consent of the highest court in the land" meme disseminates, expect a whole new school of NC BDSM stories in which leering Supreme Court Justices preside over gang-rapes. Also, oral, anal, and other copulative variants will disappear from such fiction, as jaded porn consumers turn against depictions of sexual acts that do not lead to abortion.
- Bordlee will become a media critic for BET, and in her first segment will explain that Jay-Z is telling us the uncomfortable truth that men demand abortion so that bitches will not be among the 99 problems from which they suffer.
UPDATE. For more insight into Bordlee's method, check her quotes from this excellent story about the real change in antiabortion strats. Culture war ain't the half of it.
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
When conservatives resorts to Queer Studies charlatanism to attack a dead playwright, you know Culture War High Command has thrown up more flags.
Having the most obvious (not to say egregious) political content of all Miller's plays, The Crucible has been the flashpoint for many wingers' funerary wrath. The New York Post even caps its Miller editorial by declaring that "To ignore [Miller's] contributions would be as wrong as to suggest that communism never posed a danger." Some people can't even recognize the word "class" unless it's printed on their airline tickets.
I give a little more slack to Terry Teachout, as he writes very astutely on cultural issues outside the padded walls of OpinionJournal. While I will say that it is odd to find him denouncing the newly-dead in such harsh terms, I will assume based on his record that his distaste for Miller's petentiousness is the clinical judgement of a critic, rather than the groping after available brickbats seen among the goon squad.
I do think he's missing something about the kind words spoken for Miller after his death -- quite apart for, um, a simple regard for decorum, I see in the remarks denounced by Teachout something other than "more stringently politicized critics and playwrights... willing to overlook Miller's limitations because he thought as they do."
Even Teachout acknowledges the "coarsely compulsive power" of Death of a Salesman, at least. Teachout says that power "manages to mask its aesthetic deficiencies" -- as if it were an air freshener or something. But how often nowadays do we get anything "coarsely complusive" in our theatre -- or film, or music, or etc.? I like coarsely compulsive powerful stuff like the Ramones, Celine, etc. And I can easily imagine theatre artists -- who tend to be romantic souls --wishing their work could have the sort of crude impact that "The Crucible," "Waiting for Lefty," and other plays of that sort had in their time, not because they're Commies but because it seems as if it would be exciting.
We can argue over whether, in Miller's case, the gestures were anything more than outsized; contrary to some of my critics, I approve agitprop only as I approve fruit-based sauces for meat: when they are extremely well done. But I think it's a little wide of the mark to assume that the younger playwrights are only speaking well of their fallen comrade because they're liberals. That seems to me more than a misjudgement, indeed a misreading of basic human nature. And once we start doing that, we're onto something that's much worse that bad theatre.
Monday, February 14, 2005
As often happens when a Cornerite is in peril or discomfort, anonymous and cryptonymous emails of support have materialized. Here is my most favorite passage from my most favorite anonymous email:
I can tell you that reading NRO on my laptop in Iraq even as the mortars impacted on our camp or after taking care of wounded soldiers was enough to buck up my morale. Your support and those of other Americans was just as valuable to me as the body armor I wore and the kevlar plating on my ambulance.For some it was letter from home -- for others, a picture of the girl they left behind. For "Mike," it was Jonah Goldberg and his merry band of timewasters. It was their sorry asses Mike was fighting to cover -- and cover them he did!
To each his own. As the great Thurber said, "Chacun a son gout/is very, very true/but why should we despise/The apples of others' eyes?" Mike, Jonah, and everyone: Happy Valentine's Day!