Saturday, June 30, 2007

Friday, June 29, 2007

Be My Baby

Just trying out the youtube embed function, figured I would use this video, as I have watched it maybe twenty times today. I'm chaperoning a high school dance tomorrow, it's going to be full of awful modern teenage music (kids these days and their rock and roll!), so I'm seeking refuge in the great teenage music of yore!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Profane Post on Politicians

(like the title says, profanity warning here. sorry, but when it comes to talking about politicians, to borrow a line from the Trailer Park Boys, if I can't smoke and swear, I'm, well, you know).

Scrolling through all the C-SPAN video of the immigration debate at HotAir, it strikes me quite clearly that these congressmen are the exact same a-holes who run Harvard's undergraduate government and the various major campus political clubs. A few years older and a few pounds heavier, perhaps, but the exact same love for the sound of their own voice. I'm actually very much in favor of student government, because my take on it is basically that it keeps all the douchebags busy. If they're lobbing points of order at each other in three-hour long meetings every day, that means they're not around to annoy the rest of us. The problem is that, as this immigration debate has shown, the time will come, if only decades down the road, when they emerge from irrelevance and their idiotic bloviating actually has an effect on all of us. I can't figure out a solution. Sure, you can send the worst ones to stay harmlessly full-of-themselves at the UN (every overtaxed penny Americans spend on that disgusting jew-hating organization is worth it to keep the likes of Kofi Annan out of real government*), but there will still be far too many left around with nothing to fulfill their egos except a run for congress and a quickie with the intern. Really the only thing to do is to fight for a smaller government. The nature of politics guarantees that only the pompous jerks end up as politicians, the best that the rest of us can hope for is to limit the reach of their self-important, sonorous stupidity. Except I suggest that this smaller government come with really fancy robes and required Latin, like Harvard Commencement. We have to be clever about this, you see, and I suspect that we will only be able to limit their power if we do so after first flattering their grandiloquence.

*well, okay, maybe not. I really do think we should end all funding ASAP, and kick 'em out of New York while we're at it. And if they then do get involved in local governments and start cooking up some real trouble, bomb 'em or something.

Hillary's Greatest Weapon

I usually stay away from talking about political strategy, because I don't know a thing about it. Still, humor me to forward a theory. I think the absolute greatest thing to happen to Hillary's chances is the candidacy of John Edwards. I used to think I was the only one who despised Edwards - I mean, I harbor for him a digust I've never felt for any other politician. But, as Hot Air proves today, I'm not alone. He's %100 pure sleazebag, and folks just can't stand the s.o.b. Why does this help Hillary? Well, lots of Republicans used to hate her. It used to be Anybody-but-Hillary. But now I think a lot of that energy has been taken up instead by Anybody-but-Edwards. I myself would much rather have Hillary than Edwards. At least I know she would have the balls to bomb something, even if it was only to distract us from the latest scandal. Anyway, that's the extent of my strategical insight into this matter, sorry for rambling!

Hey, It Could Be Worse

Relapsed Catholic links to the news that Ontario will be sending free copies of An Inconvenient Truth to all of its public schools. Before anyone starts harping on how cruel and abusive it is to feed this fearmongering, dishonest propaganda to impressionable young kids, an anecdote: my Grade Five French teacher fell ill one week, and the substitute couldn't speak French, so she figured she would just show us a movie for a couple days. The movie? Poltergeist. (I mean, what was she thinking?) I must have had nightmares for a month. So, compared to that, I think it's fair to say Al Gore is child's play. Um, no, not that (though the resemblance is uncanny), you know what I mean.

Besides, if Ontario's required curriculum is anything like Quebec's, trust me that the kids are a lot better off sleeping through Gore's dull slide-show than actually having to pay attention to their teacher's state-mandated p.c. babble. I went to one of the best private schools in the province, but even there they were required to follow the government plan for certain subjects, and boy could you ever tell the difference between the free-thinking classes (World History) and the state-controlled ones (Canadian History). Canadian History, by the way, was actually Quebec History - or, to be precise, Why English People are Stupid and Evil and Have Inferior Sauces (... and yet still managed to oppress us for 200 years). My classmates and I got the last laugh, though. Our teacher never read our homework assignments, he just checked to see if the lines in our workbooks were filled in. So we all got together and wrote incredibly vulgar stories about him and his wife in our workbooks, turned them in, and got full marks. Good times, good times.

Sicko Update

I wrote about this earlier, so I thought I should post a link to this article, via Relapsed Catholic.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Very Busy

Hope to have something new up over the weekend. Sorry for the delay!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Okay, I'm excited

The Belles of St.Trinian's is one of my all-time favorite movies, great British comedy with Alastair Sim. Anyway, just found out there's a remake coming out later this year. I like Colin Firth and Rupert Everett (fun movie, this), and I'll try to pretend that I didn't see Mischa Barton's name involved. In any case, even if the remake stinks, at least it might get TCM and some others to show the original.

Good Point

About the hair. I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out that neanderthals had significantly better hygiene than actual hippies.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Good Intro

Tried reading Wodehouse's Leave it to Psmith today, but was too busy, only got through the introduction. Still, the intro, by Wilfrid Sheed, is very entertaining. Here are the first two paragraphs:

"Somewhere between the Romantic Revolution and the Great Victorian Exhibition of 1851 in England, suet pudding entered the English soul, after which it became almost impossible for that country to produce a pure artist. Despite generous help from Ireland, America, and even Poland, any Englishman who had been to a public school felt and looked like a perfect chump, a tourist, in the world of Flaubert and Rimbaud.

It was almost as if these schools, founded in the 1830's, had it for their main object that Shelley and Byron would never happen again. When such a one showed up, he was immediately laughed at, plunged into cold water and taught to laugh at himself for twelve grueling years; after which he was either hopelessly maimed, or would retreat with the crowd into humor, crossword puzzles, detective stories and the burdens of facetiousness."

Another section I liked:

"In the last days Wodehouse observed mildly that his childhood seemed to be just like Kipling's, except that he'd rather enjoyed his. But this was some triumph of will and selection. For just as George Orwell made a hell of his schooldays by fanning the right memories, Wodehouse made a heaven of his; and it is a clue to how close these processes are that Orwell and Kipling, the laureates of unhappiness, were among Plum Woodhouse's most ardent admirers. They knew the score."

And a heartening tidbit: "By all accounts, he was a friendly and obliging fellow; but no less an admirer than Evelyn Waugh described him privately as the dullest man he ever met. And socially he was famous for fleeing the kind of jolly scenes he wrote about to walk his dog."

Leaving a party for a quiet walk with the dog - that's my kind of guy. I love all the Jeeves books, can't wait to read Psmith.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Very Busy

Light to no blogging until at least Monday, sorry!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Okay, last post tonight, I promise

Speaking of the death penalty, anyone who votes for Titanic, The Sixth Sense, or LOTR as one of the 100 best movies of all time should be shot without a trial.

Speaking of Phallic Symbolism...

Okay, one last thing before bedtime. In honor of all the sexy food talk today, another dip into the ol' archives:

A Conversation With My Analyst
- Very interesting. Very interesting indeed. What happens next?
- Then I find myself sitting naked in a broom closet with my third grade French teacher.
- Ah, yes, of course. The old Leibnizer broom closet dream. A classic. Though of course with most people it’s a Spanish teacher. Very interesting.
- No but you don’t understand. That’s not all. In my dream, my teacher –
- Your penis, you mean.
- What? No, my teacher, Madame Lebrun, she –
- This Madame Lebrun as you call her symbolizes your penis. It is a common dream, the old Leibnizer penis in the broom closet dream. Though of course with most people it’s circumsized. Very interesting.
- But I am circumsized.
- Not in your subconscious, you’re not.
- But that’s not the whole dream, doc. You see, Madame Lebrun is holding –
- A fish!
- Um, no, it’s a lemon meringue pie.
- No, that’s wrong.
- Listen, I’m pretty sure I know my own dream.
- Ah, but do you really? I’m the analyst here, and I’m telling you that in your dream she is holding a fish.
- No, but –
- Shut up. Listen, this is what happens. You are in the closet with her, you look deep in her eyes, you whisper, “Natalie, my love, I love you, I have always loved you, I – ”
- Her name is Christine.
- I said shut up. Now listen, you seduce Natalie, make love to her gently, and then sit in bed together smoking cigarettes until dawn.
- But I don’t smoke.
- Ah, but I do. And this is, after all, my dream.
[Kinky music starts to play, and suddenly a fish appears in my hand. My analyst and I make love.]

Blogging as Performance Art

I don't know who first described Prof Althouse's oeuvre in those terms, but they were absolutely right on. I was away from the internet for a whole day yesterday (!), and when I heard about the Hillary Clinton Sopranos ad on the news, I swear that my very first thought was, "I cannot wait to read Althouse's post on this." She did not disappoint. I love the glee she so clearly feels in setting up clueless liberals to attack her; my favorite line in the whole affair is her comment here: "My favorite part of all this is that whenever you guys order onion rings, you'll have to think of me. I now own onion rings."

Switching gears, I bet that everyone has a list of inescapable culinary-cultural (cultinary?) associations, things that immediately come to mind every time they see a certain food. Mine: Cannoli? The Godfather. Junior Mints? Seinfeld. Pecan Pie? When Harry Met Sally. Chocolate sauce on the side? When Harry Met Sally. Okay, maybe I just love When Harry Met Sally. Key Lime Pie? Nora Ephron (oops, there I go again). Hard-boiled eggs? Cool Hand Luke. Kippers? Manuel. Carrots? Bugs Bunny/Clark Gable. Quarter-pounder with cheese? Pulp Fiction. And now, the latest addition: Onion Rings? Althouse. I have a great deal more food associations, but those are based in certain moments and people in my private life. Anyway, this is basically the dumbest post ever, I'm just going to stop and go to bed now.

The Dark Knight Returns

First comic book I've read in over a decade. And it's less comic book than an excuse for merciless anti-liberal satire. In other words, I loved it. In brief: Batman goes around attacking vicious criminals, while liberal television commentators and famous therapists argue that the criminals are simply misunderstood, are nothing but innocent victims, can easily be rehabilitated, etc. It's mostly very broad satire, such as a scene when the mayor, rather than execute a monstrous criminal leader, decides to negotiate with him and is murdered within moments. There were some subtler moments, like the panel depicting the "Arkham Home for the Emotionally Troubled" (fans know the original name of the Asylum is the Home for the Criminally Insane). Even subtler is the panel right next to that one, my favorite image in the book: in the hallway of the Asylum, which houses all the most degenerate psychopaths in the world, there is only one forbidding sign, and I'll bet you can guess what it is.

All in all, though, a very depressing read. It was written more than twenty years ago, yet very little has changed. Things have probably gotten worse. I know that almost every time I go back home, there's a story about some child rapist or murderer who gets a five year sentence and is out after two on good behavior (good behavior in jail? well, duh - there aren't any nine-year-old girls to rape in prison). In one case last year, a man brutally raped a 14-year-old girl, bashed her head in with a rock, and left her for dead in the St. Lawrence River. Only by a miracle did she survive and manage to swim to safety. The prosecutors asked for ten years. The judge, displaying extreme coldheartedness, sentenced him to eleven. He only had to serve seven - not bad for rape and 'attempted' murder. There was an uproar in the aftermath of the sentence. It was reviewed, and the reviewer deemed the judge made the right decision, since the rapist had no prior history of sexual assault and was not a demonstrable risk to society (I swear I'm not making this up). Of course, it then turned out that, yes indeed, he did have a history and had sexually assaulted three other young girls. For these new charges, the prosecution asked for, and the judge granted, three years in jail - to be served concurrently with his other sentence. In other words, three more victims, not one extra day. And, as that article notes, if he behaves nicely in prison, he could be free after just two years. Anyway, sorry I'm getting carried away here, but I just wanted to show that The Dark Knight Returns is, these days, probably less satire than documentary.
Among the liberal elite, in his comic as in our lives, rapists and murderers receive sympathy and understanding; shunning is only for those who fight back. Oh, and of course, those who smoke.

p.s. no, i'm not demanding that the castrations begin immediately. baby steps, baby steps. a little deterrence might not be a bad place to start.

p.s. Jonah Goldberg promised some thoughts about this, I hope he comes through.

UPDATE: I forgot to add that Miller also makes a lot of fun of Reagan, which is why I wrote that the comic is anti-liberal, since it's not exactly conservative.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Only in Quebec

So the government announced it is partnering with private contractors to build the new hospital in Montreal, and they actually had to send out a spokesman to make the case for why private builders are more efficient than public workers. I heard him on the radio earlier today, so this isn't quite verbatim, but he was saying that a contract with a private builder can be very effective because if he does not meet the terms he will lose money, and "money can be a strong incentive." Money an incentive? Ya think? Only in Quebec does the government have to actively make the case to convince its subjects that, yes, people will work for money (and the occurence is so rare around these parts, I doubt if many will believe them).

Monday, June 18, 2007

Hey, I Resemble That Remark

Via Relapsed Catholic and Steve Sailer, I come across this line in the NYT:
What if it made people withdraw into themselves, form fewer close friendships,
feel unhappy and powerless and stay home watching television in the evening
instead of attending a neighborhood barbecue or joining a community project?

Now what on earth is wrong and unhappy about staying home and watching television at night? I've been home for a week or so on vacation (head back to work in Cambridge tomorrow, blogging will be light), and my parents switched tv providers so that we now get AMC and TCM, and I don't know if I've ever been happier! Going to some lame barbecue to talk about the weather with half-strangers, or staying in to watch A Fistful of Dollars, as I did last night? I mean, come on, it's not even debatable!

I mean, I am so in love with AMC and TCM right now, it's scary. Where have they been all my life? I even love the AMC commercials, when they have montages of all the movies playing that month (in this month's sequence, I cannot get enough of the Rebel Without a Cause scene where Natalie Wood starts off the car race). I don't know how I am going to live without them for the rest of the summer.

Oh, and the substance of those linked posts is terrific, too, fwiw.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Nancy Drew, Eat Your Heart Out

Here follows, in full, a blurb from this morning's Children's Books section from the Montreal Gazette:

Teenage Amal Decides to Wear Hijab
Shelley Boettcher, Canwest News Service
Being a teenager isn't easy at the best of times, but 16-year-old Amal has
decided to do something that will complicate things further: wear a hijab full
Her parents and teacher try to talk her out of it - she was born and raised
in Australia - but she's made up her mind, and she doesn't want to back
It's not easy. First, there are the nasty girls at her new school. And
there's her crush on a non-Muslim boy. Then there's her best friends: one's
obsessed with her weight and the other has a bossy family.
This debut novel is funny, smart, serious, and fun.
It's for anyone who's ever felt like they didn't belong.
(Calgary Herald)
Does My Head Look Big in This?
By Randa Abdel-Fattah
Scholastic, 368 pages

I believe a sequel is already in the works, in which Amal makes up her mind, despite the worries of her kind teacher, to circumcise herself. Once the swelling subsides, life is good for the funny, smart youngster, and she soon ditches her materialistic friends to hang out with some really welcoming people at the local mosque, people who understand, just like her, how hard it is when you feel like you don't belong and your parents just don't understand. The novel ends on a reflective note, when Amal's new friends find out about her first kiss, with her non-Muslim crush, and slit her throat as a matter of honor. The writing throughout is clever and full of verve, especially in the final pages, when Amal, as the life slowly drains out of her, comes to the beautiful understanding that she had it coming. Due out early next year, already available as a preorder from Scholastic, the book's title is Are You There, God? It's Me, Uncovered Meat.

UPDATE: Thank you to Tim Blair for the link!

Friday, June 15, 2007

College Application Essay

Nothing new today, sorry, so another dip into the ol' archives. This is the essay that got me into Harvard (in retrospect, a decidedly mixed blessing). Most people who read it have enjoyed it, I hope you do, too!

Why I Love to Write, and other great titles

Writing is better than sex. I’ve never actually had sex, but I have been assured by reliable sources that it is not even on par with a good piece of chocolate. Never having been much of a dessert man myself, I do not think it much of an Aristotelian leap to therefore affirm that writing an essay trumps the coital act at least three times out of four. I’ve only just finished the first paragraph of this essay, and I’d take this over first base any day.

Back in seventh grade, while my friends dreamt of smashing guitars at the Isle of Man or wowing audiences at Cannes, I harbored a fantasy of a different ilk: I wanted to be James Joyce. Unlike my third grade pirate phase, this wasn’t an eye-patch thing – I wanted to write. I suppose that this desire emanated from my love of reading. I was an early bloomer in that department, if not in any other. I do not greatly exaggerate if I say that I read Crime and Punishment at an age when most of the recommended reading for my peers was waterproof. It seems awfully puerile now, but at the time the thought running through my head was a simple “Hey, I could do this.” My youthful confidence proved well-founded: my first short story, an action-adventure about the secret life of our golden retriever, garnered rave reviews from my parents. Later on, when I would realize that I was probably not even Oprah Book Club material, my passion had only grown stronger: like crack cocaine, writing had become a habit I could no longer break (as one can see, I’m especially gifted in the simile department).

At first, I was enthralled by the power of creation. I was Author; I controlled the universe within my pages. A few movements of my pen could determine the destinies of millions. Most of my output during that phase consisted of hot and heavy love stories in which I starred opposite a young Audrey Hepburn.

Over the years, my motivation has matured from an exercise in power to a quest for truth. Writing is an intensely personal journey, yet at the innermost depths of an individual lie universal truths. I can read centuries-old novels and identify with the characters; I can read about the strange daily routines of a foreign people and feel absolute kinship. To me, reading and writing are deeply spiritual exercises: I become part of a greater human consciousness, I form a bond with countless souls past and present in our shared human experience. Is it not amazing that the words of Shakespeare can resonate within our hearts as much now as they did hundreds of years ago? Today, only about a third of my stories focus on Audrey Hepburn.

Now that I am older I hate James Joyce. A writer feels no greater elation than when he stumbles upon an original idea, or even an original treatment of an old idea. The high lasts for months; to think that no one else has thought of it yet! The book starts to take form in the mind’s eye, one can almost touch the pages, almost smell the binding glue. Oh, to relish in the happy impatience of waiting for the next vacation, the first opportunity to bang it all out! I hate James Joyce because he makes these feelings so painfully rare. I worship Ulysses, which has formed my way of thinking like no other work I’ve ever read; however, for purely professional reasons, reading it launched me into a month-long depression. In the words of T.S. Eliot, “it is the book to which we are all indebted and from which none of us can escape.” How can I top that? Being a writer after Joyce feels akin to being the rebound date for Mary Todd: it’s one heck of an act to follow.

Okay, so I’ll never be James Joyce. Let’s face it, I’ll never be Tom Wolfe either, no matter how many white ties I own. The thing is, I can’t stop writing. I cannot envision myself doing anything but when I grow up – there is an emptiness in my soul that can only be filled in front of a blank, expectant page. It does not matter to me if I’ll never write the next great novel; if Ulysses was right about the whole metempsychosis thing, and I think it was, then in a way I already am James Joyce.

Or maybe I should just forget about the whole thing and start working on my pick-up lines.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Movie Corner

I watched a lot of movies grad week, here are some quick thoughts (basically, just an excuse to put up lots of cool pics):


The only non-comedy in the list, though it was actually quite funny at times. I think it could have used an extra ten minutes or so at the beginning to better establish the Grant-Bergman romance (okay, okay, so I just prefer romantic comedies to thrillers, so sue me). Though once it gets going, it really gets going. Hitchcock, as we all know, was basically God; the man knew how to make a movie, how to create suspense. I loved the subtext based around Bergman's slutty reputation (no, really, this is the heart of the romance, and Grant's distrust manifests itself in some truly cruel lines about her sleeping around), and the final scene will stay with you forever. Strangely enough, though, the whole living-with-a-psychopath angle reminded me of another Bergman film, Gaslight, which I think is actually much better. So my overwhelming feeling after finishing Notorious is that now I really want to watch Gaslight again. My mind works in very weird ways.

You Can't Take It With You

Was very excited to see this, and ended up quite a bit underwhelmed. I love Jean Arthur, as you know, and she was great, so no complaints on that account. And I won't deny that a couple of the scenes are hilarious. But the film was so gosh-darned preachy it almost made me sick. Honestly, are there really that many people who think that working late to make lots of money is more important than time spent with loved ones and family? Who would prefer a dull office job to fun and games at home? I seriously doubt it. Yet the movie goes on and on and on about how family and fun is more important than work. You think? Yet it's a completely false choice - you work hard not because you enjoy your job but because you need to support your family. I know I'm just paranoid, but the film seemed to me to be quite a piece of communist propaganda. Not just the whole 'let's all quit our jobs and live together in a commune' angle of it, but an actual commie-apologist subplot. This plot involves some harmless, slightly dull people who innocently hit upon the idea of making a fireworks recreation of the Russian Revolution and who advertise it by distributing little red pamphlets across the neighborhood, with the words "The Revolution is Coming." In the film, they are completely naive, harmless, and not communists at all, and the whole thing is played for farce, and the police who suspect a plot and come to investigate are portrayed as idiots. In real life, however, there were communists in America who did truly sinister work, and it seemed to me that the film was trying to create a narrative that excused them - oh, no, it's all an innocent, madcap misunderstanding, just like in our movie!

The More the Merrier

Absolutely loved the beginning, up until the romance started kicking in (I know, the exact opposite of my Notorious comments, but this romance was nothing special), at which point things went downhill quite fast. The beginning, when Coburn forces himself into sharing a small apartment with Arthur, out Odd-Couples the Odd Couple (and, indeed, the popularity of the Odd Couple proves that this movie could have had much greater success if it didn't bog things down by bringing in a third wheel). The very end, when things return to a screwball pace, is also very amusing.

Twentieth Century:

Fairly dull script rescued by amazing, hilarious, perfect performances. Barrymore reminded me, bizarelly enough, of Kevin Kline. He and Lombard both know how to throw a tantrum. Two moments - one, when she is on her back and kicking him as he tries to come closer, and another, when they are trying to outdo each other with screaming fits in the same room - are the stuff of comic legend. There is a silly subplot about a madman thrown in at the last minute when the writers realized things needed to get more madcap. As long as either Barrymore or Lombard is on-screen, though, you can't look away.

It Happened One Night

Perfection. Exceeded even the highest of expectations. Brilliant performances backed up by a hilarious script. Never lags. Nothing more to say.

The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer

I will never understand why this movie isn't more well-known. Okay, it isn't as great as my absolute favorite, Bringing Up Baby, but it's close. Grant and Myrna Loy (my other love) at their absolute comic best, very funny script, very good direction, and the teenaged Shirley Temple isn't bad, either. So many great moments, I can't pick a favorite. This deserves to be right up there as one of the greatest comedies ever.

The Awful Truth

Once again, an occasionally uneven script is rescued by out-of-this-world comic performances. Sheila has a great post about it. However, while her focus is mainly on Grant, I think that Irene Dunne was even funnier. Both of them have a very subtle, understated style, saying so much with a slight shift in tone of voice or a tiny gesture, so you have to pay close attention - but be careful when you do, because there is almost no time to pause for air, you'll be laughing so loud. You really have to watch it over and over, it never gets old.

Recap: When it comes to the golden age of Hollywood stars, you are absolutely guaranteed a wonderful performance. These actors have a presence, a charisma, an aura, the likes of which no longer exists. And they are all very, very funny. The only question is whether the script and the story is up to snuff. When it is, as with It Happened One Night, sit back and enjoy absolute perfection. But even when it isn't, with movies like Twentieth Century or The Awful Truth, there remains so much to love in the performances, and in certain immortal moments, that you really can't help but fall in love anyway.

The Freedom Delusion

Relapsed Catholic links to an excellent David Warren article on freedom. According to Mr.Warren, "There is no price too high for human liberty, and those who dispute this are, and deserve to be, slaves." I agree with that statement wholeheartedly; the trouble is, people like Mr. Warren and myself, as well as others in the west, make the mistake of projecting our fundamental devotion to freedom onto people to whom freedom means very little at all. This is the fundamental flaw of the neocon project. Neoconservatism, or genuine interventionist liberalism, bases itself on the belief that the desire for freedom is innate to all of humanity. I am beginning to suspect, however, that freedom is a supreme value only in our western, judeo-christian tradition. In much of the rest of the world, it seems to me, people prefer hatred to freedom. Many would much rather kill a few Jews than live in a democracy.

I supported, and continue strongly to support, the war in Iraq. But, unlike many neocons, I do not do so through entirely idealistic motives. I do not believe freedom is innate in Muslim culture; I am, as of yet, rather skeptical. But if there is to be freedom, the best chance for it is in Iraq. The way I look at it, I guess, is that Iraq is the Muslim world's last and best chance to embrace and nurture freedom. If it fails there, I think, that's the end of that, and we will all know where we stand. In other words, I support the war because I think it's worth a shot, because we owe them everything in our power to help them get it right, before we wash our hands of the region.

I am not a big fan of the French (though my fellow Hungarian Jew Sarkozy is cause for great optimism), but, say what you will, they know how to revolt. Their history is one of almost constant revolutions, both minor and major; one barely has a chance to digest the filet mignon before the barricades are being manned yet again. Meanwhile, here in America, we started an incredibly bloody revolutionary war over stamps and tea. We later fought the bloodiest war in history, the Civil War, over some fairly abstract ideals. Yet, in the Muslim world, where problems are a little more acute than debates over the finer points of the Federalist papers, next to nothing. Their tyrants put French and British kings to shame, and their people do nothing. Live free or die? Not likely. You can take my life, but you can never take my freedom? As if. Sure, every few months some college kids might protest, but protesting is just what college kids do, nothing ever comes of it. It really seems to me that the overwhelming majority of the people in these countries do not love freedom, and are rather indifferent to it. Sure, they might claim to want it, and they may indeed prefer it in theory, but they are absolutely not willing to fight for it, not willing to die for it in the least. Mr. Warren and I might agree that freedom is invaluable, but we should not make the mistake of believing that applies to other cultures.

I want to be clear that I am not making the multiculturalist argument for respecting oppresion in other cultures. I firmly believe that Muslim treatment of women is monstrous and barbaric. But I am also beginning to believe that it can never be changed, that they can never be shown the light. We should do all we can to give safety and shelter to Muslim women, but we should not waste any more of our time in trying to change Muslim men. You and I might think that freedom is invaluable, but to all too many of them, freedom seems to be dirt cheap.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Beware of Albanians Bearing Gifts?

Warning: I have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about in this post. Never stopped me before!

A fun story about a hero's welcome for President Bush in Albania has been making the rounds the past couple of days. We are being told that Albania is another one of those former Soviet countries that has a special appreciation for the freedom America represents. Even more than that, we learn, Albanians are especially grateful to America for its aid in the Balkan wars. However, the story of the Balkans, and of Albania, is a great deal more complicated than the standard narrative would have you believe.

Did you know, for example, that ethnic Albanians are overwhelmingly Muslim? Do you remember that the recent Fort Dix terrorist plotters were ethnic Albanians? Did you know about Al Qaeda's longstanding presence in Albania? Islamic fundamentalism in Albania was almost entirely ignored during America's military intervention there, since it was years before 9/11. Today, however, I think it may be time to reconsider our involvement.

Here is a must-read article from a Canadian general who commanded UN troops in the Balkans, who argues that we fought for the wrong side. Key excerpt:

The Kosovo-Albanians have played us like a Stradivarius. We have subsidized and
indirectly supported their violent campaign for an ethnically pure and
independent Kosovo.We have never blamed them for being the perpetrators of the
violence in the early '90s and we continue to portray them as the designated
victim today in spite of evidence to the contrary. When they achieve
independence with the help of our tax dollars combined with those of bin Laden
and al-Qaeda, just consider the message of encouragement this sends to other
terrorist-supported independence movements around the world.

Julia Gorin has also written at length about the myths of Kosovo. This article ends with links to all her other articles on the subject. As she puts it, "we mistook for Nazis people who were fighting the Nazis' real heirs."

I frankly do not know what to make of all this, at least not with any certainty. All I am saying is that we should be careful about this outpouring of Albanian friendship, and President Bush should be very careful before declaring, as he has, that he supports Kosovo's independence (I was reminded of de Gaulle's infamous cry, "Vive le Quebec libre!").

There may be more here than meets the eye.

UPDATE: So it begins. HotAir has the video; I told you they couldn't be trusted!

Monday, June 11, 2007

David Chase (spoilers ahead)

Can go *&%$ himself, as far as I'm concerned. That was a cheap, low-down trick. It's one thing to go with a "life goes on" ending, which is anything but original at this point, and is an artistic cop-out in any case. Yeah, real life just goes on, it has no neat ending, it doesn't wrap things up neatly - that's why we watch television, for chrissake's! You're supposed to entertain us and provide us with storylines that actually end, not just string us along for years just to make a puerile and entirely obvious point about how life goes on, you dumb &*%$.

But even if you do decide to go the way of irresolution, then at least have the balls to stick to your guns. End the series with a mundane family scene at a diner, fine. But pretending to cut off the feed and having the screen go blank - like I said, just %$^& off, you big jerk. Imagine if in the last Harry Potter book, J.K. Rowling just leaves the last chapter blank as some sort of faux-deep meta-statement on the nature of participatory art. Millions of kids would commit suicide, but oh, how profound, what a statement, what a controversial, brave artistic decision. Yeah, well Rowling would never do that, because she's not a %$#& like David Chase.

And yes, some of the commenters over at Althouse are already fawning over the perfection of the finale, and Chase's genius. Entirely predictable reaction. Build up your image as an artist, and if you then piss on your audience they'll thank God for the refreshing drizzle. Chase just should have had Tony walk towards the pool and then walk on the water, a la Chauncey Gardner. It would have been so deep, so very full of meaning. The critics would have loved it.

Oh, and the final song? Journey. Yes, that's right, Journey. This fake artistic poseur is nothing but a self-involved hippie. A classic rock radio baby boomer jerk. The show pretends to be intelligent, but it's limited to the cheapest, most-dumbed down allusions possible like freaking classic rock lyrics! This way, its viewership can pretend to be intelligent and superior, when all they're doing is trying to find meaning in lyrics written by vapid seventies rock stars, like a bunch of stoner idiots finding the meaning of life in a Pink Floyd album. (Not to mention Yeats' "Second Coming," which everyone studies in grade school - what, Hamlet's soliloquy would have been too long, and some other show already did Prufrock?) Hey, on the bright side, at least he didn't end the series with "Stairway to Heaven."

UPDATE: More discussion on this over at Ambivablog.

FURTHER UPDATE: Deadline Hollywood nails it. It "robbed the audience of visual closure" and "Chase clearly didn't give a damn about his fans. Instead, he crapped in their faces. This is why America hates Hollywood." That is indeed (one of several reasons) why America hates Hollywood. Peter Suderman savors Chase's delight in infuriating his entire fan base, but what Suderman doesn't mention is that Chase relied on those very fans to make him rich and famous. When Hollywood types start out and are struggling, they'll do whatever it takes to please their audience, to make it big, but as soon as they have that success, far too many of them lose their sense of obligation and responsibility towards their audience and instead selfishly delight in defying expectations and playing the rebel. A true artist rebels from day one, pisses people off from the start, and I can respect that. But I will not respect those phonies, just like Chase, who play nice only until they know they can afford to piss people off. That is absolute cowardice.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Bono Update

I made fun of how Bill Clinton played to his audience of college kids by equating Bono with Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr. This news is a few days old, but I'm very glad to see that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper doesn't buy the hype.

The man attacking Harper in that article is Bob Geldof. You may remember him from the spectacularly successful Live Aid concert, which revitalized the African continent. As Geldof so astutely realized, the only thing holding back Africa's tremendous potential was a few unbalanced checkbooks - a situation he and his followers corrected with a graceful ease. Who could have known that sending a few million dollars to Africa's rulers would lead to such a sudden and miraculous turnaround? Today, of course, the nations Geldof helped are infinitely better off, living in peace and prosperity, outpacing much of Europe in rates of productivity and growth. Proving the cynics and skeptics wrong, a few million phone calls and a great big rock concert really were enough to change the face of a continent - indeed, of the world. Oh, wait.

You know, I probably shouldn't criticize Geldof too harshly. Compared to the hundreds of millions of African deaths caused by other mindless liberal fashion trends, Live Aid's relatively minor death toll may in fact be cause for celebration.

p.s. there is one huge factual error in that article about Geldof I linked to, so glaring that I am amazed that nobody at the Guardian caught it before publication. As every Harvard student knows, the Ukrainian famine was not a direct result of Stalinist policy, but a bad break in a tough year. I mean, duh.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Men without chests, but with diplomas

In the past two days of graduation exercises, I have sat through not one, not two, but three whole speeches about the importance of keeping an open mind, embracing complexity, refusing to see the world in black and white, abjuring certainty, etc, etc, etc. In other words, speech after speech after speech putting forth the defining statement of the modern liberal mindset: "who are we to judge?" So now listen up, and listen up good, because I'm only going to say this once (well, not really, I pretty much say it all the time, but I'm on a roll, don't stop me now): if there is a problem with society today (and is there ever), it certainly is not rooted in an excess of judgment.

It's late, I'm tired, and I don't want to start a rant, so I will point you instead to the perfect antidote to commencement's cultural cowardice: C.S. Lewis' "Men Without Chests." An excerpt:

The operation of The Green Book and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests. It is an outrage that they should be commonly spoken of as Intellectuals. This gives them the chance to say that he who attacks them attacks Intelligence. It is not so. They are not distinguished from other men by any unusual skill in finding truth nor any virginal ardour to pursue her. Indeed it would be strange if they were: a persevering devotion to truth, a nice sense of intellectual honour, cannot be long maintained without the aid of a sentiment which Gaius and Titius could debunk as easily as any other. It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.

And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more 'drive', or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or 'creativity'. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

The difference between Lewis' time and ours? We no longer even pay lip-service to valor and honor. As demonstrated by so many of the graduation speeches this week, we castrate, and sing the virtues of impotence.

Bill Clinton's speech: preliminary take

I'll be honest, I enjoyed his speech, even though it was almost all b.s. and he's so gosh-darned slick that it's impossible to take anything he says seriously anyway. I'll write about its substance at length when I have more time (busy all day with the folks and grad events and packing this week), but I did want to mention my favorite non-substantive parts. Clinton talked about the other serious speakers invited to class day (it's usually comedians, like Ali G or Will Ferrell, or this amazing, must-read Conan O'Brien speech), and singled out the following: Martin Luther King (who was killed that very spring, so his wife gave the speech), Mother Teresa, and (I swear I'm not making this up) .... Bono! I have to admit, I lost it, and kept on cracking up uncontrollably every time he came back to this (he did quite often) and repeated the MLK, Mother Teresa, and Bono line. I'm sorry, but Bono? The people behind me definitely thought I was nuts, but I couldn't help it, I kept on giggling every time he said Bono.

I also cracked up when he spoke of his world travels and used incredibly corny lines, like "In the African village I visited, they have a word, bobada, and it means 'that which connects us all'" or like "the villagers there don't say 'How are you?', they say 'I see you' - but do we really see each other?" These aren't verbatim, and I made up the african word he used (but it sounded something like that [UPDATE: It was ubuntu]), but are basically the lines he used. Then he told what should have been a very moving story about a woman who lost nine of her ten children in the tsunami, and how he saw her remaining child, and "it was the most beautiful baby I've ever seen." I'm sorry, but the way he said it, with all his squinting and over-the-top 'charisma', I was giggling like a schoolgirl. When he then told the story of meeting another African baby, and naming it 'Dawn,' because it represented hope, I was literally pinching myself to keep from guffawing.

Another classic moment: after his speech, the organizers brought out a saxophone and asked him to play it. He got mad. I mean, visibly angry. I was shocked. It was incredibly rude of the organizers to bring out a sax like that, after a serious speech, and expect him to act like a trained monkey and amuse the students, but still, I was expecting him to joke about it and refuse with a smile, but he really got pissed off for a moment there. Also, and I'll get to this when I cover the substance of his speech (short version: what we all have in common is far more important than what distinguishes us - I liked it since it reminded me of Flannery O'Connor's vision of all our virtues being burned away), but even though he got huge applause, his words clearly went in one ear and out the other, because the speakers almost immediately went back to the very attitude that his entire speech was against.

On a closing note, the best line of the day, from a student speaker, giving a very funny speech. He was talking about Love Story (set at Harvard) and how much it reminds him of his own life. "I, too, have cancer [the crowd goes quiet, very confused, concerned] . . . Not 'real' cancer, but cancer . . . for Harvard." Huge uncomfortable silence, everyone on stage behind him looked shocked and disgusted (except one friend of mine, who was cracking up). Anyway, in very poor taste, but I loved it, very Sarah Silverman-y (mature content and language warning there, btw).

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Interlude: Rosalind Russell

Graduation is this week, and my parents are about to arrive; things might get hectic, blogging might be light. So I just wanted to have a good looking dame as the top post for a while. Sheila's great post on Rosalind Russell helped me out with that, and pointed me to this tribute. The line that breaks my heart: "Jean Arthur was the first choice, followed by Katharine Hepburn, Carole Lombard, Claudette Colbert, Irene Dunne and Ginger Rogers." Arthur, Hepburn, Lombard, Colbert, Dunne . . . please excuse me as I go shoot myself in the head.

I watched a lot of movies this past week, incidentally, many of them with those very stars, and I'll have a post up about them all eventually. I just wanted to say that, as great as many of them were, few were on the same level as His Girl Friday, please do see it, it's as good as it gets.

Monday, June 4, 2007

So, turns out I'm not crazy

Well, I still may be, but not in a way I had previously thought I was. A commenter to Asymmetrical Information's post on pornography (I'm not the adrian in the comments, fyi; I do have a ridiculously long essay on women and pornography that I may be posting soon, though, so brace yourselves) leads me to this great post by Kim du Toit, which in turn leads me to this insightful contribution, by Mrs. du Toit. This post, however, isn't about any of that war of the sexes discussion at all. It's about a story Mrs. du Toit tells in the comments to her post (comment 20, no link, sorry). She talks about a rule of etiquette which stipulates that "you’d never take a bite of something because your teeth would show. You always had to break it or cut it so that it fit in your mouth without having your teeth show." Specifically, that you never butter a whole roll, that you butter it piece by mouth-manageable piece.

I cannot tell you how relieved I am to read that. My mother drilled that rule into me from infancy, and I have literally never met anyone outside of my family who has ever heard of it. I have never, ever seen anyone besides her or myself ever adhere to it. I was beginning to suspect that she may be nuts, or perhaps the incredibly gullible victim of some mischievous manners maven many a year ago. Now I know, thanks to Mrs. du Toit, that the rule does exist, and that I've just been living among swine all these years. What a relief! (well, maybe not, come to think of it...)

I swear I'm not really a snob about these things. My favorite etiquette story, an old standard of my father's, is about a dinner held by the Queen (no, I don't know which Queen), in honor of an exotic, faraway ruler. This man was, quite understandably, completely unschooled in the ways of the English upper classes. So, faced with an unfamiliar little bowl of water placed before him, he did not know he was meant to wash his fingers in it; instead, he drank it. The whole table, full of nobility and other dignitaries, gasped and smirked at this primitive display. The whole table, that is, except for the Queen. For he was her guest, and she knew that, while it may be rude to drink from a finger bowl, it is infinitely more rude to belittle one's guests. So, she took her own finger bowl, brought it to her lips, and drank it.

Manners are important, but sometimes a blatant violation of etiquette can be the classiest act in the room.

UPDATE: A quick googling (I should really try doing those before I write my posts!) reveals that the monarch in question was Queen Victoria.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Squirrel on Fire, and other links

Sucked into the Althouse vortex, an old comment points me to this story (starts at 19:50). Hilarious.

Speaking of the vortex, how can you not love this post?

And as long as we're getting emotional, a friend sent me a link to this video about a four-fingered pianist. In his words, "heartrending and amazing." Her skill, to me, is even besides the point; I was most touched by her mother's love and the refusal to consider adoption. Anyway, maybe I'll get to go see her in concert when I move to Seoul.

The Essence of Conservative Thought

From Peter Hitchens' thoughts on his brother:

"Liberal world reformers make the grave mistake of thinking that if you abolish a great force you don’t like, it will be replaced by empty space."

Human nature cannot be changed, no matter how many diplomas are held by the members of the committee decreeing the improvements. One irrationality is simply and inevitably replaced by another. The difference is that the original irrationality, which has been around for thousands of years, is by now mostly harmless and may even have a social importance we cannot immediately understand, whereas the new irrationality will more likely than not turn out to be quite dangerous indeed.

UPDATE: I must link to an old post from Asymmetrical Information. This is probably my favorite blog post ever, and may be one of the greatest essays on conservative thought there is (really!). I used to be more libertarian than I now am, reading this was a major factor in that change. So please do read the whole thing!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Hollywood's Hidden Conservatism

So obviously Hollywood would never consciously produce a film with anything but an ultra-liberal message, but a few current examples suggest that, when packaged with enough sex, obscenity, and violence, a hint of conservatism might sneak through and end up on the silver screen. I already wrote about Tarantino's Death Proof and its pro-gun, anti-victimhood message. Today, Hugh Hewitt's movie guy, talking about the extraordinarily vulgar Knocked Up, said that it would be very difficult to have an abortion after having seen the film and its full-screen sonograms (follow the Hewitt link for audio). Also today, a zombie-loving friend excitedly sent me a link to this movie, which, at least based on the trailer, could be seen as a parable about the dangers of abusing an illegal immigrant underclass to tend the lawns of the WSJ editorial board (although I am, as you may remember, greatly turned off by anti-Fifties themes in cinema).

Whit Stillman managed to film a first-class conservative body of work by writing scripts that went over liberals' heads, getting the critics, whose default setting is to praise that which they do not understand, to applaud works about their own shallow immorality. For those of us without Stillman's skills, however, it now seems that there is another way to sneak some sense past the p.c. focus groupthink. Call it the Apatow Approach: the most square, most old-fashioned values in the world can make it big in Hollywood as long as you couch them in enough swear words, penis jokes, and, in extreme cases, an occasional disembowelment.

UPDATE: A quick Google search on "Apatow's conservatism" reveals that Ross Douthat and the New York Times beat me to the punch.

ANOTHER UPDATE: My tip made it onto HotAir!

OKAY, LAST ONE: Prof Althouse mentions the surprising theme of Knocked Up, too!