Tuesday, October 04, 2005
...but I'm your better, YOUR BET-TER!
It is rare to find blatant cases where writers are wholly honest. Michael Lind doesn't pull any punches is putting on the short-skirts and pom-poms for the value of a cultural and poltiical elite. Lind sees in modern Western democracies the decline of the Mandarins. Lind defined the Mandarins as the educated governmental elites and culural role models that hold society together.
I an article that celebrates the closed, narrow world of a long-gone elite Lind extoles the virtues of a "shadow government" of people who know better over the vasty "mobocracy" that would exist without their steady guiding hands. Lind explains, "Is the democratic mandarinate of the modern west going the way of the premodern Chinese version? If so, this should be a cause for alarm, for one of the main reasons that the experiment with large-scale democracy has worked is because it was accompanied by the creation of a modern mandarinate."
"In constitutional politics, the meritocratic mandarinate would moderate tendencies toward demagogy, plutocracy and special-interest corruption by supplying the leaders of the career services within government and the informal establishment outside of it." Lind here adopts a fascinating view of the Mandarin as a meritocratic elite with a breadth of knowledge that eschews politics.
Now, Lind is less concerned with the virutes of the rank and file bureaucrats than for the great ministers who have sage wisdom that transcends petty politics. "The mentality of the in-and-outer appointee is that of an opportunistic courtier, not a principled and civic-minded mandarin. It is in the interest of job-seeking courtiers to magnify differences between the parties on policy, as much as it is the duty of the mandarin to seek the common ground of the public interest."
The problems begin when the Mandarins fall away. Lind explains how, "America's unofficial mandarinate, the northeastern establishment, crumbled in the last quarter of the 20th century. The result is a social experiment in today's US as audacious, in its own way, as that of Soviet collectivism: an attempt to have a government without a governing elite. The US ship of state veers now in one direction, now the other. From a distance, one might conclude that the captain is a maniac. But a spyglass reveals that there is no captain or crew at all, only rival gangs of technocrats, ideologues, populists and zealots devoted to Jesus Christ or Adam Smith, each boarding the derelict vessel and capturing the wheel briefly before being tossed overboard."
The future is bleak for those of us in western democracies where our betters know what to do but we won't let them guide us. I'm not sure where this elite has done such a banner job. The wise heads of state that produced as epic a blunder as the War of 1812 didn't handle the guidance of the masses very well. It was as Mandarin a group in Britian that botched the July Crisis on the British side by dwadling about and leaving Germany with room to doubt Britain's position. The cultured American elite built the strategy for the Vietnam disaster. While Lind points out the work of Bush's folks in botching the WMD intel, it was old school Foggy Bottomers that missed Saddam's invasion of Iraq and misread information prior to 9/11. In fact, the history of the 19th and 20th century are the history of Lind's Mandarins and while there is great progress there are also momumental tragedies. Lind can argue that the problems are when the mob overcomes the elite but if the elite can't keep their hands on the tiller than really what good are they?
The odd notion here is that Mandarins have no self-interest and only care about the state they serve. I don't think that the social elites have a "class" interest is the classic Marxist sense but each person brings their own views to the table. Bush and Kerry are both products of a Mandarin system and education and yet both arrived in American politics with different yet clear ideas of their own. The notion of some apolitical Mandarin is farcial.
The veneration of the Mandarin is just another face of the anti-democratic leanings of the modern left. When Thomas Frank writes What's the Matter with Kansas? the book looks at issues from the perspective of the title. Why don't they (the masses) like us (their betters) is the question, because they have been tricked. Goodness knows, we can't be wrong. The EU Constitution that is at the heart of so many in the Euro-left annoints the Mandarins of the EU bureaucracy with the power to craft legislation, not a democratically elected body. Sure the wise bureaucrats know what is best for the rest. The people can't be trusted because the people will not always make the decisions we'd make for them if what Frank and the Euro-left belives, and they are not alone. The left really hates democracy while it venerates the common man it does so not in faith of his judgement but as a symbol of the flaws in the system that such a dirty, poor and stupid person can exist.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Can't We All Just Get Along?
It isn't like Ruth Bader Ginsburg is mainstream back when Bill Clinton had the opportunity to be bi-partisan. She's out there saying really dumb things like, "The U. S. judicial system will be the poorer, I believe, if we do not both share our experience with, and learn from, legal systems with values and a commitment to democracy similar to our own." In other words, screw this whole what does the Constitution say stuff, what do courts overseas think about things? I'm thrilled to know she's thinking about France, Spain or god knows where else when considering issues in the USA. She's spoken against single-sex prisons, in favor of polygamy, and some other postiion one doesn't find in "mainstream" America. Anyways, Harry wasn't fretting his fossiled head about her "extremism".
The real irony of all this is that the biggest reason that the Surpreme Court matters so much is because Reid and his allies have made it so important. As regular whipping boys at the electoral altar, the American left has had to try and go at legislature by judicial fiat rather than the ballot box. Problem is that if you don't win enough in elections eventually you lose the judiciary as well in our system. What Reid and company are looking at is potentially 20 years of getting their ideas snuffed out for being unconstitutional and so they are hiding their rather naked partisianship behind the mantle of bi-partisanship. Shut up, you lost deal with it and try and win again so you can put the screws to the other guys.
Monday, August 29, 2005
War...uh...what is it good for?
The war, proper, agaisnt Saddam's regime has been over for 2 years. I'm sure they were opposed to that but they're a bit late off the blocks. Cindy, of course, also oppsoed the Afghan war but, once again, that is about 2 years to late. What is this group now opposed to?
The current "war", to use the term generously, involves trying to allow the government of Iraq to write a constitution that would be the most liberal in the Middle East. It is a highly imperfect draft but then again millions of Americans slaves might have thought our first draft was a bit hasty as well. The foes in the war, foreign nutjobs who are opposed to the modern world and the remnants of Saddam's security forces, are about as low as you get. So we are fighting jihadists who are at war with everything the anti-war movement is about- secularism, feminism, mutli-culturalism and tolerance. These jackasses are aided and abetted by the remains of Saddams secret police and praetorian guard. This is the equivilent of having Hilter's Gestapo and SS battling us after WWII.
I'm trying to figure out what the "plan" is for the anti-war movement. Do we just drop out of Iraq and leave them be? I mean there's really not much else they can be asking for, can there?
In a country where millions risked their lives to vote for the first time in their lives the happy go lucky left wing wants to throw in the towel and leave an unfinished state to deal with these forces? Why shouldn't we be fighting these forces? I'd think jihadists and latter day fascists (and as Paul Berman points out it might be worth thinking of the jihadists as another fascist variant) are prime ground for battling. Say what you will about the current Iraqi government but those elections make it the most represenative government from Turkey to India and from the Ukraine to Kenya. I'm not sure how much more legitmate a government gets but apparently the USA overthrowing Saddam was wrong but a gaggle of international thugs trying to overthrow a democracy doesn't spill much patchouli water with these folks and that is sad.
Once again the commitment to democracy is paper thin. They're willing to be committed to meaningless symbol like UN Resolutions but when it comes time to supporting the core of democracy (people chosing their rulers) the left has no stomach.
Is that Freedom Rock Man?
Lewis doesn't know what winning is because it can't be beating terrorsts. "The truth -- that Iraq was not a terrorist haven before we invaded, but we're making it into one today -- has been thickly painted over with unending coats of misinformation." Oh really? Abdul Rahman Yasin who built the bombs in the 1993 WTC attacks hid out in Baghdad. Abu Musab al Zarqawi moved to Iraq before we invaded that country. Iraq ran a terrorism school that tought highjackers. The leader of Hezbollah was hosted for years in Iraq. Right, no terrosts were ever in Iraq. If anything, Iraq isn't a "haven" today since "haven" implies safety and we're kiiling the fine "Allah or bust" crowd at a nifty little pace.
Lewis continues his mis-analysis with this gem: "What we failed to understand in Vietnam -- that people who want foreign occupiers out of their country are willing and prepared to withstand any kind of privation and risk for however long it takes -- we are failing, once again, to grasp in Iraq." Right, now the problem with that logic is that the bulk of the population isn't part of a resistance movement nor do they appear to be terribly synpathetic to them. 60% of the adult voters came out to participate in elections to back the US installed provisional government. The two largest ethnic groups in Iraq are absoluely not opposed to us. We are not fighting, mostly, a native revolt in Iraq but a revolt made up of very dedicated but foreign elements with limited internal sympathy.
Then he slips into a dreamy world of happy left-wingers. "The tax dollars we'll be spending on that military presence might be better spent on helping educate new generations of Iraqis, and millions of other young Muslims around the world, on the basics of running a country." Wow, that would be a nice to hold a global civics class....except I don't think Saddam was gonna bother to allow those lessons. I'm not sure if Lewis if crazy or stupid with this statement but clearly there is no hope of democracy in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle Eat unless the current governments are dumped in some form of fashion.
"The ultimate lesson of Vietnam -- one that is applicable to Iraq -- has been that once Americans declared victory and returned home, the Vietnamese went through the inevitable, sometimes brutal, shakeout that we had merely delayed. Eventually, the realities of the marketplace and the appeal of capitalism resulted in a nominally communist but vibrant nation." Good to know that left alone a "shakeout" will occur and people will beocme a vibrant nation ruled by totalitarians. The Vietnam generation always hates those WWII metaphors but was Hitler gonna "shake out" if left alone? Iran has done a banner job of being sa virbrant but oppresed nation in the nearly 30 years since its Khomeinei came to power. Cuba is also a vibrant nation of 1950's American cars while the vibrant North Koreans might be able to eat soon. Lewis is pretty cavalier about tossing the oppressed of the world to their own devices and coutning on things to shake out.
Iraq is not Vietnam, different wars, different situations and the persistent effort of the fossilized hippie remnants to try and cram the middle eatern state into the box of southeast Asia is just plain silly.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
Let's Not Go to the Loby....
I don't go to the theater much and I don't even have a home theater system. In fact, I've been to 4 movies in the last 5 months. I have a toddler and it is tough to get out to the theater but even with that restriction the 4 films I've seen this summer are the only ones I really wanted to see this summer. I love movies and love to see them but my overall interest in movies in the theater has begun to decline. In general now a film has to sort of "warrant" big screen-dom. Big movies with an epic quality are what I want to see projected up onto a massive screen. Comedies, dramas and so forth don't really benefit from the movie going experience. Films like The Lord of the Ring and Star Wars are "big" movies. Wedding Crashers (which is one of the four I did see) is not so even though I'm interested in that film, short of a long vacation with tons of time, I woudln't have seen that in theater normally.
What is unappealing?
1. Cost. Obviously. $8+ for tickets, $4.75 for matinees is a big chunk of change. Toss in a shared bag o' popcorn and bladder-busting coke and the evening is around $25 for me and the wife. The problem with that cost is that films are a terrible dollar per hour entertained value. For 2 people, at 2 hours that is still $6/hr of entertainment. At $25, it cost me more to see a movie once than it does usually to buy a film ($16-$22) on DVD and see it over and over plus get interesting bonus material. A $50 video game that gets me 10 hours of gameplay (and that is a crummy short game most are more) is $5 and more reasonable 20 hours of play gets your to $2.50 per hour whihc makes them great entertainment value.
2. Experience. Everyone has common gripes about loud people, cell phones and all that. I agree with all that but add that the theater itself has become a liability. Screens are not well maintained- I saw one of my summer films on a screen with the rather large rip. The sound is not always good- I lost all the Oopma Loompa songs to a crummy sound system. I don't like that I have to show up 30 minutes prior to a film to get a good seat instead of sitting on the sides or right up on the screen. That is basically lost time since the seats are not oriented for socialbility and with the theater "Radio" station overlaying your conversation it is, for me, uncomfortable to talk.
I think another overlooked fact is the wide dissemination of information. It used to be you had your local movie critic, who might or might not be a psycho so you ignored him- I know I did. It was hard to know if a film was gonna be a stinkbomb until a lot of folks saw it. Now, you have so many information aggregators like www.rottentomatoes.com and www.imdb.com that you can get a wide range of opinions and information on films. I don't have to wonder if a film is good if it is running at 9% on Rotten Tomaties it is a stinker. Consumers have much more information about the movies that come out and, becuase of the higher costs, are much more likely to use that information to make better decisions. Mediocre films, in the past, might have been able to make a decent buck before bad word of mouth overwhelmed them but now, feedback is instant and dogs get hammered from day 1.
As the article points out the movie business isn't the problem but the theater business might be in for a world of hurt over the long-term.
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
City of Heroes
What I really hate is the message of the show. The "heroes" of Higglytown are the everyday people you meet on the streets. In one episode, the hero of the episode was the streetsweeper. Did he do anything special? No, he was doing his friggin' job. Look, I get up every day, drop my son at daycare, go to work, do my job, pick my son up, fix dinner (often time get dinner instead because I'm lazy), bathe my son, put him to bed and do a host of other things that really damn near all of us do. Am I a hero? If so, about 80% of the adults in America are heroes. I'm not a hero, nor is anyone else who does his or her job. We're ordinary people. Heck, in the modern first world, we're not even all that heroic to do those things. My grandfather grew up in an house without air conditioning in western Texas, did agricultural work outside in the blazing heat and had to chase the flies out of the clapboard house before dinner becuase there were so many gaps in the walls. If I'm a hero, he's a demi-god. In reality, his life wasn't notably different than millions of other Americans or billions of non-Americans in the rest of the world today. None of that is all that heroic.
It is hard to ponder my heroism or that of other everyday people and then go to the site for the winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor winners and read their descriptions and feel heroic about what I do. In World War I, John Henry Balch's 's citation reads: Citation: For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, with the 6th Regiment, U.S. Marines, in action at Vierzy, on 19 July 1918. Balch unhesitatingly and fearlessly exposed himself to terrific machinegun and high-explosive fire to succor the wounded as they fell in the attack, leaving his dressing station voluntarily and keeping up the work all day and late into the night unceasingly for 16 hours. Also in the action at Somme-Py on 5 October 1918, he exhibited exceptional bravery in establishing an advanced dressing station under heavy shellfire. In Somalia, Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart's citation reads: While providing critical suppressive fires at the second crash site, Sergeant First Class Shughart and Master Sergeant Gary Gordon learned that ground forces were not immediately available to secure the site. Sergeant First Class Shughart and Master Sergeant Gary Gordon unhesitatingly volunteered to be inserted to protect the four critically wounded personnel, despite being well aware of the growing number of enemy personnel closing in on the site. After their third request to be inserted, Sergeant First Class Shughart and Gary Gordon received permission to perform this volunteer mission. When debris and enemy ground fires at the site caused them to abort the first attempt, Sergeant First Class Shughart and Gary Gordon were inserted one hundred meters south of the crash site. Equipped with only his sniper rifle and a pistol, Sergeant First Class Shughart and Master Sergeant Gary Gordon, while under intense small arms fire from the enemy, fought their way through a dense maze of shanties and shacks to reach the critically injured crew members. Sergeant First Class Shughart and Master Sergeant Gary Gordon pulled the pilot and the other crew members from the aircraft, establishing a perimeter which placed him and his fellow sniper in the most vulnerable position. Sergeant First Class Shughart and Master Sergeant Gary Gordon used long range rifles and side arms to kill an undetermined number of attackers while traveling the perimeter, protecting the downed crew. Sergeant First Class Shughart and Master Sergeant Gary Gordon continued protective fire until they depleted his ammunition and were fatally wounded. Their actions saved the pilot's life. Sergeant First Class Shughartand and Master Sergeant Gary Gordon's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest standards of military service and reflect great credit upon them, their unit and the United States Army.
Heroism is properly defined my these medal winners as something above and beyond the call of duty. We all have duties in our lives we fullfill but staying late at the office to finish a powerpoint presentation hardly ranks as above and beyond our duty. These men acted no just above and beyond the call of duty as soliders but as human beings and that is something neither I nor the Higglytown Heroes do. It isn't just the military either. Police and firefighters on 9/11 were heroic. The nurses in Philadelphia during the Spanish Influzena (1918) who answered the call for volunteeers and exposed themselves directly to patients with a lethal and transmissible pandemic were heroes as well.
Frederick the Great once said, "He who defends everything, defends nothing." Similarly, Disney's hackneyed attempt to boost self-esteem by calling everyone a hero makes nothing really heroic. They insult the reality of actual heroes with their silly terminology and mask the difference between those who truly rise above and those of us who do what we can. We all have the capability to be heroes, most of us at least. I'd like to think I have heroic capability but have not been called upon to show that capability - and honestly I hope never to have to do so since great advsersity seems to be required for heroism. Still, that isn't enough and while I want to be my son's role model I'm not a hero and the god damned mailman sure as hell ain't either.
Monday, August 22, 2005
Movies I've Seen Recently III
Wedding Crashers. Just funny, darn funny for most of the time. The film sinks into a bit too much character building about 3/4 of the way in trying to make us care about characters that are setups for jokes but hey, if the movies isn't called Airplane you get that moment. Vince Vaughn is a one -trick pony but he's good at that one trick and plays it well. He works well with Owen Wilson. His hyperkinetic chauvinism played against Owen's neo-hippie blandness.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. First, let me condemn Cinemark for their crappy sound system that left most of the oopa-loompa songs a mystery to me. The film, as one would suspect, looked great. The highlight were the squirels who had to be the most convincing bit of CG work I've ever seen or else the biggest band of well-trained rodents in the world. Depp's Wonka was deifnately distinct from Wilder's and they went so far as to not re-use most of Wilder's most-quotable lines- or else those lines weren'tin the book to begin with. Depp's Wonka wasn't as manic as Wilder's but in almost every aspect was not as menacing either. I still like the Wilder character more but Depp's character is certainly interesting. One other note, after watching Sleepy Hollow by Burton there is one similarity in both films- one I'd have edited out. In Sleepy Hollow Depp has vidia dn visually arresting flashbacks to his tyrannical father and vicmiized mother. They looked great but served no point in the film. Similarly, in Charlies, Burton flashes back to Wonka's tyrannical dentist father (Chrisopher Lee). This material, again, might have been in the book but didn't add to the film and only made it longer than it needed to be.
Batman Begins. It captures the right "mood" for Batman but then again dark and angry should not be that hard to nail. Christian Bale is a good choice for Batman. He has the right look and demeanor for the Batman. Now, lets get to the problems. First, the action blows. I'm sorry but Christopher Nolan has the Enter Sandman disease. The camera, shakes, jumps and cuts all over the place in action scenes. It is nearly impossible to follow the happenings and that is a problem in an action film. . Second, Katie Holmes is hands down of one of the worst actresses I've seen in ages. No wonder her dim bulb got sucked in by Xenu and his friends. This gal has zero credibility as an ADA. He doesn't look old enough and, like Tara Reid in Alone in the Dark, she never pulls off the brains to make me think she's advanced degree material. Every scene she's in is a painful excerise is "WTF is she doing in this scene".
I want to do...nothing.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
The Stuff that Dreams are Made Of
I shall soon see
To sum up the movie in its shortest form, Brigid O'Shaugnessy (Mary Astor) hires Sam and his partner Miles Archer to track a man named Thursby. Archer and Thursby wind up dead and Spade spends the film trying to navigate the lies of three treasure hunters O'Shaugnessy, Gutman and Joe Cairo (Peter Lorrie) and Gutman's gunsel Wilmer to find out who killed him and why. All three are after the titular Falcon which is worth a fortune- they think. The tale twists and turns and in the end it plays out that O'Shaugnessy killed Archer to pin it on Thursby who, unfortunately, was killed by Wilmer on orders of Gutman. Spade unravels the plot and gets all 4 conspirators arrested at the end. The is a sub-plot where Sam's past relationship with Mile's wife Iva keeps cropping up and causing issues and, of course, the "romantic" attachment of Sam and O'Shaugnessy.
Let us look at Sam’s relationships in the film to see how he lacks a moral core:
First, Sam has a co-worker Miles Archer. What sort of affinity does Sam have for Miles? None. When Miles is killed, Sam calls to his secretary and says, "Miles has been shot...Yeah, dead. Now don't get excited". Don't get excited. Sam sure doesn't. He arrives on the crime scene but doesn't have any interest in seeing the body and has only this to say of his partner:
Cop: Miles had his faults just like any of the rest of us, but I guess he must have had some good points too, huh?
Sam: I guess so.
As soon as he reaches the office the next day he tosses Miles’ belongs from the office and strips his name from the door. Miles' best point, for Sam, might have been his wife, Iva, who Sam had an affair with in yet another show of how little he regarded his co-worker. Sam’s dogged hunt for Miles' killer might indicate he cared but, as we'll find out, that isn't the case.
What was Sam's relationship with Iva? It was, at some point, a very physical relationship but how intimate was that relationship? Iva shows up to "thank" Sam for bumping off Miles. She thinks Sam might have killed Miles to marry her. Sam's reaction mocks her, dismisses her beliefs and then brushes her off to resume the hunt for Miles' killer. There is no show of compassion or tenderness- even as an echo of past love. Sam wants nothing more than to be rid of Iva because he has no emotions for her, if he ever did. As we'll see next, Sam is more than capable of having an intense relationship and even feigning love without there being any real feelings.
Sam's most intricate relationship and the one most well "documented" in the movie is his relationship with Brigid O'Shaugnessy. Sam never seriously trusts Brigid but he does know she is the key to the mystery. Sam at one point tells Wilmer, "The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter, huh?" No one has gaudier patter in the film than Brigid and Sam knows it. When Brigid calls him a "god send" Sam retorts, "Oh, now don't overdo it." and at another point tell her, "You are a liar." Sam knows he can't trust Brigid but as she tries to use sex as a weapon to ensnare Sam he is using her own weapon against her. She is the ultimate "cheap crook".
Sam places a passionate kiss on Brigid after he first meets with
Sam understands this is a relationship built on lies, "You don't have to trust me so long as you persuade me to trust you." he tells Brigid. This is exactly her plan but it fails. Sam never trusts her. Again, assuming Sam is speaking the truth, and we've seen no reason to doubt him, when he discusses pinning the Archer and Thursby murders on someone he targets lickspittle Wilmer and then suggests
Sam turns in Gutman,
In the end Sam's "love" for her wasn't even real. Sam discusses that "maybe I love you" but he had a lot of other reasons to send her away. He never admits loving her here, or at any other time, and explains, "a lot more money would have been one more item on your side of the scale." She sees this and counters, "If you'd loved me, you wouldn't have needed any more on that side." True and the point is that Sam never did and by admitting that more money could have changed the balance Sam admits there is no real feeling on his side. The closest Sam comes to an admission of love is when he talks about her punishment when he sends her over, "The chances are you'll get off with life. That means if you're a good girl, you'll be out in 20 years. I'll be waiting for you. If they hang you, I'll always remember you." "I'll be waiting for you" is the key line. Is Sam speaking of an undying love that will last 20 years or does Sam recognize his own core nature. Sam knows he'll be here in 20 years because he can't change his life. He knows there won't be "another woman" because he can't form serious attachments or relationships. Sam will still be here not out of love but as a pathetic and lonely character drifting along in an amoral void- incapable of forming the relationships to change the course of his life.
Sam explains this ethos to Gutman:
Gutman: The question is, then, which you represent. It'll be one or the other (
Spade: I didn't say so.
Gutman: Who else is there?
Spade: There's me.
The Maltese Falcon, for as brilliant as it is, is no more morally centered than Resevoir Dogs. Sam Spade isn't a hard bitten detective with a heart of gold. He's a hard bitten detective who is a sociopath. He has no feeling and no emotions and he does what he does to save himself and save his business. His relationships are all lies and it is only if you think Sam is a pasty that you can buy his love for Brigid. That makes him deeply interesting but we shouldn't pretend it is morally center or that that the "good old" days had meaning and morals and that the evil films of today don't.