Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The New Adultescents: An Exercise in Definition

Adultescent, n.

A twenty-something who . . .

Which is the best definition?

1. Does not live with his parents but still refers to their house as "home"

2. Is not and has not been married

3. Does not work at a long-term job

4. Likes "The Simpsons," "Family Guy," and "World of Warcraft"

5. Is the offspring of yuppies

6. Knows the relative trade-offs between an X-box and Playstation

7. Was either a business or creative-writing major in college

8. Likes the same Things That White People Like

9. Takes his/her boyfriend/girlfriend to an album release party for the first date

10. Favors the bong and pipe over the cigar or cigarette.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," so I am told, cost over $100,000,000 and took over two years to make. The result did not live up to what one might expect.

For those unfamiliar with the story, the title and central conceit--a man who ages (or should I say de-ages) backward--are borrowed from a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. But the movie is hardly an adaptation. Some of this is, perhaps, not to be regretted; it wasn't a great short story anyway (I don't believe one sentence which is set in antebellum Maryland), and some attributes of the story are just plain contradictory and ridiculous; how Benjamin Button--named that instead of Methusaleh--could manage to become less mentally mature while his memory remains perfectly intact is beyond my own comprehension.

That being said, the movie's efforts to separate itself from its source's themes as well as its narrative are more a pitfall than a boon. Whatever the shortfalls of Fitzgerald's earlier and shorter fiction (read: before the Great Gatsby) the novelist was always able to create an almost perfect consanguinity between his story's content and its theme, and, in the "Curious Case of Benjamin Button," this perfectly astute theme is the tragicomic struggle of the individual whose true identity conflicts with truths which are--and always have been--socially understood. Hence, the moment when Benjamin--now fifty-seven but looking no more than fifteen--shows up at a rail station during the First World War to receive a government commission as brigadier general, the ridicule with which he is met elicits the reader's tears: both of laughter and of pity.

The same does not apply for the film version, primarily because Eric Roth's adaptation never really knows what it wants to be about. Based on interviews I have watched and read--and moderately confirmed by the film itself--I get a sense that the cast and crew were trying to make a movie about mortality. Death is certainly a haunting presence in the film, slipping in and out during transitional moments. The life of Benjamin Button--who, in the film, grows up in a rest home--is one punctuated by the passing of those around him.

The problem, though, is that the film never really decides what it wants to say about mortality, other than that "nothing ever lasts," as Benjamin puts it in a not-so-profound truism. Characters drop left and right, but Roth--and David Fincher, the director--never really show how this is more relevant to Benjamin's life than it would be to anyone else who had grown up in the same rest home, but who happened to age in the right direction. Instead, so much time is spent trying to weld the primary theme to the central conceit that no one realizes that they don't obviously pair together.

The pity of all of this is that a film about a man who ages backward might actually make sense as a contemplation on mortality. The brilliance of this concept lies in the fact that it presents the central figure with an unresolvable ambivalence of life: the more alive he becomes, the more he realizes his own mortality.

A film that concentrated on that would have been worth three hours and eight dollars. Unfortunatley, "The Curious Case" chooses not to deal heavily on its protagonist's youthful 60s and 70s. Instead, we learn from a montage that Mr. Button goes on a quest not unlike Larry in "The Raiser's Edge"; beyond that there are a few scenes portraying his return and eventual retirement (which actually does result in a fine irony).

I understand that the reason for this is probably because it is much easier, cinematically, to make a young man look like an old man than it is to make an old man look like a young man; in other words, you can put all kinds of make-up on Brad Pitt to make him look seventy, but, if one wants Mr. Pitt to appear to be eighteen, the most that can be done is to put a hairpiece on him. Still, this ought not to dismiss the objection out of hand, but should rather raise the issue of whether or not they might have chosen a younger actor for the role. On the other hand, not everything can be done on film, so it might be worthwhile to concentrate more on the story's literary aspects instead.

Musing on Temporary Retirement

Unless they change my transcript within the next month, my degree will be pretty much inviolable by the university. I've been musing about it, though. When I was in school, I couldn't wait to get done. Now that I'm done with it, I almost miss it already. I enjoyed my undergraduate years, but I haven't lost my memory and I remember that most of the time I was concentrating on getting through the curriculum for the degree. The point is that, years from now, I really hope that I don't look on my three-and-a-half years of undergraduate studies as a golden age.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Brief Encounter

I am not one for conspiracy theories, but here comes something akin to one: The other day, whilst passing through a study room in the UI Commons (as I am the cat who walks by himself, after all, everything being alike to him), I came upon a certain university official, hiding in the shadows and pounding on his laptop keys. I knew said official and he looked up at me as though he were Raskolnikov and I had just seen him disposing of two corpses. He said "Hi" very coldly and reluctantly. This got me thinking: What was it that he was doing? Was he raising student tuition for next spring? Was he cutting faculty benefits? Was he laying-off maintenance. I hope that none of the above are the case, but, given the current crisis, I would be surprised if the task that he was performing involved all three.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Commencement/Graduation

I went through the commencement at the UI yesterday. I wore the silly hat and everything. The speech was okay, but nothing special. It never is at with the mid-academic year commencements anyway. But receiving the B.A. diploma is like a breath of fresh air. Thank you everyone who helped me along the way.

Friday, December 5, 2008

A New Theory of Victory

I just read a book review by Michiko Kakutani (I think that's how her name is spelled) of a book by John Kenneth Galbraith's son who used to be a diplomat in Iraq. The review was lavish with praise, particularly when it points to what it found to be cogent observations about America's failure in Iraq: Nuclear proliferation, destroying a threat where there was none, etc. Interestingly enough, someone in the mid-twentieth century could have made almost the exact same case about World War II. (That it destroyed a nation which was totalitarian but not a threat to American democracy and that also could have served as a breakwater to Soviet expansionism in Europe; that it led to the Atomic Bomb project which, in turn, enabled totalitarian regimes to get ahold of nuclear weapons; that, far from reducing totalitarianism in the world, it merely traded one nation for another and left all of Eastern Europe behind an Iron Curtain) but such arguments deal in unintended consequences (which is, interestingly, the title of Galbraith's books.) I don't know when our notion of war changed; I think that it was probably around Vietnam era, but, for some idiocyncratic reason, we stopped defining victory by how a war was fought and replaced this judgmental framework with our current understanding: that victory is determined based on the ends we achieve.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

On the Financial Crisis

While thinking of the current economic crisis, you may keep this in mind: man does not live by the market alone. Therefore, since it is something over which you have no control, you should quick worrying about it. That's my bit of guru advice for the day.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thinking About Thanksgiving

I think that this is going to be the fourth or fifth Thanksgiving during which I have not had turkey. I'm actually pretty glad about it. Turkey is a highly overrated bird. People ought to have some variety of duck or drake instead.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"If Only . . ." Thought for the Day

If only Thomas Friedman had called his book "The Brave Flat World" or "The Flat New World" instead of "The World is Flat"

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Evangelicals and the 2008 Election

This election gave rise to another (imagined) social category called Obamagelicals. We were told that, because he labored so hard to woo them, because of the ineptitude of the Bush Administration, and because of the desire to put partisan politics aside, born-again Protestants would abandon the Republican Party in droves and put Obama T-shirts on the torsos and Biden signs on their lawns. We were told that there was a new class of evangelical; a class with advanced college degrees who didn't believe in banned books and who supported affirmative action because of their commitment to social justice.

We were told wrong. Or at least none of these claims were substantiated on election day. John McCain took home 74% of the evangelical vote, while only receiving 46% of the national electorate. The Wall Street Journal ran an article in which this statistic (74%) was compared with the 2004 rate (78%) as though it indicated a significant slip in the religious base of the Republican Party.

Actually, what they ought to ask is why was it not more? The Republican Party had behind it one of the most unpopular administrations in American history and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression (never mind that it was actually the Democrats' fault; as Thomas Sowell pointed out, the public didn't appear to care about the truth.) Wedge issues (like abortion and gay marriage) were not at center-stage, as they were in 2004, and anyone who brought them up was bound to look out-of-touch.

Furthermore, these statistics can also be compared with how Bush did against Gore in 2000. (He received 68% of the evangelical vote in that year.) If this is taken into account, John McCain has done better with evangelicals against Democrats on the national level than has George W. Bush; and McCain isn't even an evangelical. McCain also scored signficantly better with the evangelical block than George H. W. Bush or Bob Dole did in 1992 and 1996, respectively.

The point is that the evangelical vote appears to be abandoning the Republican Party by every measure except one: the facts.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Republicans: Where Are They Going? Where Will They Be?

Most Young Republicans I meet wish that the Republican Party was more libertarian; most young conservatives I meet wish that the Republican Party were more socially conservative. The reason that I bring this up is that I think this last election has the potential to make a huge rift appear in the Republican Party and conservative coalition. It is already emerging on the blogs and in the media, with N. Gregory Mankiw and David Frum taking up the libertarian banner and Ross Douthat and Doug Wilson still pushing for conservatism. (As usual, I don't expect Rush Limbaugh to budge.) Here, however, is how I see the matter: The Rockefeller Republicans--Lincoln Chafee, et al.--have been completely wiped out, not because of the "Rockefeller" adjective, but because of the "Republican" label. They are unlikely to emerge again as a significant force within the Republican Party, although another branch who shares their same basic precepts might emerge. The social conservatives, while they have not been discredited by anything that's happened in the past eight years, have been abandoned and have never been mainstream enough to stand alone. Therefore, they cling to that which they can, whether it be in the person of conservative Democrats or conservative Republicans in the South and Midwest. The libertarians, while they are still generally respected by the mainstream media (I am not talking about the Libertarian Party, mind you), are on the wrong side of history in that the trends are not now oriented toward smaller government. Technically, I think that the elite class wants less government, but at the same time they feel guilty about a large segment of the population not having health-care; they want universal health-care within a libertarian framework, but the realization of this is unlikely. All this is to say that the Republican Party is up for grabs and what happens next will be decided by how Obama governs and whom he offends. If he governs as a neoliberal, supports freetrade deals, and takes a soft line on illegal immigration, then the populists--Tim Pawlenty, Bobby Jindal, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin (God help us)--will become the naturally leaders of the Republican Party. If, on the other hand, the Obama maintains the working class vote, than the libertarians--Ruddy Giuliani, George Pataki, Tom Ridge--will be the party's natural leaders. Of course, if Obama offends neither demographic, or both, than a candidate who synthesizes elements of both ideologies may be more appropriate (think Charlie Crist, Mitt Romney, Mark Sanford). In other words, there is no saying where the Republican Party will go in the next four years; the next move is up to the Democrats.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Thoughts on the Revolution in America

There is something tragic in the country. Something that I sense better than I know. Today, for instance, in a conversation with one of my professors, I let slip that I was a big fan of cynicism. This is all related to the election--I know it. It is as though the nation is infected with a terminal disease but will never know it until its too late, and, even then, while in its last throes, it won't understand why it expires. As I listen to Barack Obama's victory speech, I listen to the cheer of the crowd. I am not touched by his words, but I am touched by the idea behind them. An actual idealism exists there, and, though he himself is a Machiavel, he is also a Machiavellian idealist. After he gives the speech he does not twirl a mustache in wonder at how these people have drunk of his molley, for he has drunk it himself. Nonetheless, I know that the America of Barack Obama is one in which my greatest asset--my conscience--will most likely be under constant threat. This, I believe, is at the root of my cynicism, but I still lament that my cynicism drives a wedge between myself and this country. I do not know how I would react to the fall of America; all nations--as with all people--come to an end, though their ideals, like our souls, live on. Nonetheless, there is an America that I love. The America that I meet when I walk out my door every morning--the heat in the summer and the cold in the winter, the combustion, motion, activity, vivacity--this is the world that, within centuries, will disappear. Did I wake or sleep.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Banality of Evil

Hannah Arendt said that evil was actually a quite banal thing. Being alive tonight, election night, is to see the truth of that statement demonstrated.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why I Support McCain

One may wonder why, with the continuously underwhelming performance of Sarah Palin, I have not given up support for John McCain and endorsed Barack Obama. I don't really know who would wonder this; I'm just another fish in the sea so it isn't like my endorsement matters anyway, but, if someone does wonder this, not the least of which myself, here is the answer:

Over the past week, there were a few people within the so-called conservative movement who jumped ship, mostly because of Sarah Palin. She is not an intellectual, she is not a populist, she has less political philosophy than Mike Huckabee and no more experience than John Edwards and Barack Obama. But, on the other hand, she's running for vice-president, not president, and you have to think of the man who is running for president: John McCain.

John McCain is not a good man, but he is a great one. He is a hero in the Achillean sense of the term; who else could have spent eight years in a rathole, refusing to sign anti-American propaganda while having his bones re-broken? Since Barack Obama wouldn't leave a church to avoid this rhetoric, I doubt that he would have stayed in a prison cell to do so. But what has become of this nation that we value honor so little and reputation so much?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

GRE

I'm done with my Subject GRE and would like to thank everyone for all the prayers.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Obama? Pro-Life? Please.

For all pro-lifers who are planning on going for Obama, you should read this article by Robert George:

http://thepublicdiscourse.com/viewarticle.php?selectedarticle=2008.10.14_George_Robert_Obama%27s%20Abortion%20Extremism_.xml

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Bard's Encouragement

Since we are almost sure to lose in November, here's some words of encouragement for disgruntled conservatives:

Now my co-mates and brothers in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
Here feel we not the penalty of Adam,
The seasons' difference, as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter's wind,
Which when it bites and blows upon my body
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile, and say
'This is no flattery. These are counsellors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.'
Sweet are the uses of adversity
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public hauntm
Finds tongues in trees, books running in brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

VP Debate

Joe Biden, during the VP debate, said that there should be no "civil rights" distinction between same-sex couples and heterosexual couples. This would check out if marriage were, indeed, a civil right defined in the constitution, but it isn't. Marriage is something that the state subsidizes because it is deemed to be good for the society at large. (Generally, heterosexual marriage is deemed to be good for society because it encourages procreation.) Therefore, affording special privileges to those who do not benefit society at large is discrimination against the rest of society. This isn't to say that I oppose gay marriage. I support the move to have it instituted in San Fransico if the vast majority of San Franciscans are willing to support it. The point is that this issue is much more complex than Senator Biden would lead us to believe.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Why Sarah Palin Won't Be President (or Vice)

I have just had a revelation about Sarah Palin. At first, I thought that she was not ready to be president for now. But, on second thoughts, I think the real problem is that she will not ever be ready for the presidency.--Let me try to explain.

Margaret Atwood recently said in an interview that a woman president can never be a woman advocate. This may or may not be accurate, but, nonetheless, a woman president can never be a stay-at-home woman either. Think of the examples of woman leaders in the past: Queen Elizabeth I, Margaret Thatcher. What women like these have in common is that they do not have to try to be men while at the same time maintaining their female identity. The reason is because they have no distinct female identity.

The same cannot be said for Sarah Palin. Her femininity is, in fact, her most appealing feature and the fact that McCain chose a woman was all that was talked about for days after her selection. Now, she may be a baracuda, like she claims, but she isn't made of iron like Margaret Thatcher; she does not have the heart of a man with that man being the king of England, as with Queen Elizabeth. At the end of the day, Sarah Palin will still be Sarah, not the Iron Lady or the Virgin Queen and it is for this reason (and this reason alone) that I do not think that she will ever be president.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

YouTube - Broadcast Yourself.

Incidentally, you should check out this video. It's pretty funny.

YouTube - Broadcast Yourself.

LSAT

At this time yesterday, I was taking the LSAT exam, which means that at this time today, I am not. Regardless of the outcome (and generally I have a good feeling) I would like to thank God that it is done.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Truism

Just came up with a truism:

"Superstition is like a loaded rifle that we can't set down and ought to be treated as such: in other words, keep it pointed at the sky and keep your feet on the ground."

Monday, September 15, 2008

Blatherings on Palin and Damon

Like I said earlier, I was concerned about Sarah Palin, but excited that other conservatives were excited about her. Her interview with Chris Gibson has not alleviated my concern in the least, and, while I think that her selection was a brave and smart move on McCain's part, I am not positive that it will prove a profitable one.

But, for the moment, here are some other thoughts:

I think that Matt Damon plagiarized Maureen Dowd in his embarrassing interview about how he "really needs to know" if Sarah Palin thinks that the dinosaurs were here 6000 years ago. He began by saying something to this effect: "It's like a bad Disney movie . . . she's gonna face down Putin and all that in her folksy way . . ." Maureen Dowd had written approximately the same ideas in the same order a week or two before. (Check out her Sunday column around that time.)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Case of Rangel

I am not going to say that Charles Rangel should go to prison. I do not actually know the motives for why he failed to pay taxes on his Dominican properties for more than two decades. Maybe he did actually not understand the tax forms. But, at the very least, this incident should make him, as chairman of the Ways and Means committee, rethink the bureaucracy that underlies taxes. It's time for something that's either simpler (flat tax) or more ethical (consumption tax). I would prefer the latter myself, but I would also take the former if it were offered. It would be much better, I think, then having to pay those Social Security taxes. Here's hoping that this incident will cause Charles Rangel to rethink the bureaucracy. (I wouldn't count on it.)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

First Lecture

Gave my first lecture in 8th grade history today. Talked about ancient Egypt and touched a bit on Hammurabi. My task for this year is to get all of the way from Egypt to Iraq (that is, post-U.S. invasion Iraq) and the U.S. Presidential elections, 2008. It's going to be an interesting year.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sarah Palin

You (if anyone reads this blog) may have noticed that I've been avoiding politics more than I used to. The reason is that I felt that I posted too much before, but, any way that you look at it, it seems necessary to write something about the recent Veep nomination.

To start out, I'll say that I'm glad the Republicans did not pick a Joseph Biden (read Mitt Romney) and there is nothing in the ideology of Sarah Palin that I find objectionable. She appears to like guns, God and oil, and I am a big fan of all of these things myself. She's a woman--I've felt for some time that it was about time that the Republicans ran one. She's from Alaska, so I don't know her position on immigration yet--the only issue where I truck more with the Democrats; she will probably come out against it, but I suppose that doesn't matter too much. She isn't running for president; John McCain is. I also like that she's a union member and that she's a hocky mom.

That being said. I am a little bit concerned about her debate with Joe Biden. She's more lively than he is, but not as knowledgeable and quite honestly, I think that he's going to clean up the floor with her on international policy. However, if she can get in one cheep shot between the eyes, as Mark Shields would say, she can come away victorious. I am not sure what it would be at this point, but Joe Biden will be held to a higher standard and, therefore, has much more to lose.

The second concern is this brewing scandal about her brother-in-law. The media will be scrutinizing that from every angle within a week. This could lead to serious troubles for the message of reform.

But I want to end this post on a positive note. This is not only a day for Alaskans to celebrate, but also for Idahoans to remember, and especially those of us at the University of Idaho: After all, we've never had an alum running for the White House before.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

World History I

If anyone's wondering about the "World History I" thing, I started that blog for my students. Just thought that I should offer some exposition on the subject.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Pirates and the Western Tradition

An odd thought came to me just recently: Anglo civilization owes a great deal to piracy. Piracy has been part of our tradition, since the celebration thereof in Beowulf to the first Anglo explorers who visited the New World and sent the Spanish empire into decline with the defeat of their Armada. No wonder we Anglos tend to find pirates so intriguing.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Why Alexander Solzhenitsyn Matters

Alexander Solzhenitsyn died yesterday. He was probably the last Great (capital g) writer of our time, meaning that he was the last creative writer of whom I can think who people actually cared about, who actually changed the world, who really thought that art was more than just a means to obtain tenure at Montana's creative-writing workshop and, through this belief, earned a chapter in the history of freedom. This doesn't mean that everything he believed was worthy of emulation; he embraced Vladimir Putin as the restorer of Russia, for instance. This was at best naive and at worst dangerous, but what was important about this outstanding writer was not his present, but rather his past. He was, in many ways, a symbol of it; the last man who would ever proclaim that art could save the world. Ultimately, I don't think that art saved his world, but, in the future, it will always remain something of a consolation.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Aliens-Shmaliens

This is apparently from "The Daily Telegraph," but I think that it would be more appropriate in "The Onion":

Alien contact covered up, says Apollo veteran Edgar Mitchell | The Daily Telegraph

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Republicans: There Goes Another One

Conservatives were beginning to turn Bobby Jindal into their Obama. While I thought that he could be a possible running-mate, I was waiting for the other shoe to fall. This article demonstrates that this is a high possibility.

Louisiana politics | A rise and a fall | Economist.com

It is a pity, though. Rush will have to find a new Republican on whom to bet his money. Most people might revert to Sarah Palin, even though she's been governor of Alaska; hardly within the mainstream of the United States (apologies to my Alaskan friends). Either way, the Republicans are in trouble because they don't seem anyone on whom to stake all bets.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

"The Dark Knight": When the Comic Meets the West

When the first in the new "Batman" franchise came out in June 2005, it was a few months before I started my first semester of college. Now, about a month before beginning my last semester of college, I, like so many other fans I know, felt the urge to get into the theater to watch the much-awaited (for obvious reasons) sequel, "The Dark Knight." I did so on Saturday afternoon, and to say that it does not disappoint would be a gross understatement.

Critics so far have been talking about the movie taking the summer blockbuster to a new, art-house level. They have variously (and with some qualification) praised the willingness of the director, Christopher Nolan, to take risks, hurt key characters, bring Batman down to earth (both physically and allegorically); and, of course, another theme has been Heath Ledger's remarkable performance (more on that in a moment). All of this is worthy of the praise which has been lavished upon it, but the brilliance of the movie lies in its ability to break outside of its genre and capture elements of both the western and the gangster film.

The latter of these genres is introduced in the beginning, in a scene which--as Manohla Darghis has pointed out--owes quite a bit to Michael Mann's famous bank robbery in "Heat". I think that Mr. Nolan as well as Ms. Darghis is aware of the debt. He even has William Fitchner show up as an irate bank manager with a gun to assure the robbers, with action as well as words, that they "don't know who [they're] robbing from." Unfortunately for him, the knife cuts both ways: he doesn't know who's robbing him either.

Of course, this is only the beginning. There are plenty of moments which allow for Mr. Nolan to investigate the corrupt underbelly in Gotham's upper ward. While the first movie dwelt on the down-and-out; the underground men who reveled in the mud puddles but never quite blossomed, this version is concerned more with the men and women who inhabit the upperworld: The attorneys, the bankers, the politicians, the criminal lords, the embezzlers, the perpetrators of social chaos. And, with the help of Batman, of course, the city looks newly washed and waxed, but also fragile. As the Joker says at one point, people panic if anything happens that is not "part of the plan".

This is not to say that the city does not have enough to worry about without the Joker. Vigilantes wearing halloween suits and exercising their 2nd Amendment Rights show up making fools of their discrete bourgeoisie selves on every block and in every parking garage (a nice touch) and Cillian Murphy shows up as his Dr. Crane once again, if only briefly (this was probably a loose end that didn't need to be tied), but with Batman and the new District Attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart in his best role since "Thank You for Smoking"), more things are going according to plan than one could hope for. Neither of them have met their match and, as the Joker readily points out, Batman, unlike Barack Obama, does not appear to be concerned by the forces of globalization ("Batman doesn't know any borders.")

Naturally, all of this is to provide Ledger's Joker with a job opportunity, but Nolan also uses the opportunity to bring in and play up influences from outside of his genre. The allusions to the Western--which bleeds into the showdowns in the streets and the face-offs on the roofs--are profuse; and why shouldn't they be? After all, the themes--the establishment and maintenance of civilization, the moral paradox of vigilantism, the clash of order and chaos--that make this film unique are more endemic to The Searchers than to Superman. And Mr. Bale's Bruce Wayne is a fairly archetypal Western hero: he is the sustainer of a society which he realizes will, ultimately, be unable to sustain him. Because of this epiphany, it takes away some of the possibilities for character development. The Bruce Wayne of The Dark Knight is not the conflicted, semi-threatening character of Batman Begins; he has learned to be self-sacrificial (and also sacrificing of those closest to him to do service to the greater good.)

All of this is to say that the sequel is more democratic; much more screen-time is afforded to Gary Oldman's Lieutenant Gordon and to the new characters introduced; but the world of The Dark Knight is also a meritocracy, and, if Gotham is still up for grabs, the movie, hands down, belongs to Heath Ledger's Joker. His Joker is not interesting by merit of being conflicted, but rather by merit of being driven to all means of destructiveness (including of the self). As he says, he is a man of simple tastes; these tastes include guns, dynamite and gasoline and the only time in the entire picture when I didn't believe him was when he said this was lucky because all of these things are cheap--where does he buy his gasoline anyway? This role will, I think, become the defining role of Mr. Ledger's all-too-short career, which, in truth, is both a solace and a frustration. As it turns out, the hardest irony for the audience to accept will be that Mr. Ledger died early, but his Joker is immortal.

Yet Another Trivia Question

If you were one of the following Shakespeare characters, which one would you be (be careful, because if you are answering this question, there is a correct answer to it):

A) Ariel
B) Claudius
C) Sir Toby Belch
D) The Duke (from Measure for Measure)
E) John Falstaff

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Trivia Question

"After this Angelica blushed, took half a step back: "I'm so, so happy . . . ," then came close again, stood on tiptoe, and murmured into his ear, "Uncle mine!"; a highly successful line, comparable in its perfect timing almost to Eisenstein's baby carriage . . ."

- Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard

If there's anybody alive out there, what is the allusion in the quote above?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Brideshead Won't Need Any Visiting, I Suppose

Interesting to me, though it bears very little weight to any reader I am sure: I have found out today that I am not related to any famous English aristocrats as was once believed. Disproved by DNA tests, apparently. Still related to Southern aristocracy, but, then again, the Southern branch of the family disowned the Western branch long ago.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A Layman's View in Support of Closing Guantanamo

I got back from Canada. It's really nice up in Quebec at this time of year because they're celebrating their 400th anniversary. On Jean-Baptiste Day, the fireworks that were flying over the city were absolutely beautiful. I will confess to feeling slightly awkward as a Anglo in the midst of so many Franks who probably wished that Montcalm, not Wolfe, had won the battle of Quebec. That being said, I am one quarter French myself, so, arguably, I have a closer connection to the mother country than many Quebeceans. Moving on:

I had a number of intellectually stimulating conversations. One of which was between myself and some other students; we were pursuing the topic of whether we should or should not close Guantanamo. I fell on the side which argued that we should close the prison, but I don't think I articulated my argument sufficiently. Anyway, here's second chances:

It would seem that the United States should not close Guantanamo. The prison contains a high number of alleged criminals who are some of our worst enemies in the War on Terror and, since these criminals' nations of origin do not want to take them back, it follows that many of them would need to be set loose in the United States. It seems more rational that we stay the course and keep, among others, Osama bin Laden's driver behind bars until we can gather adequate evidence to try him either before a military tribunal or in a civilian court of law. Though the assessments of Guantanamo Bay Prison vary, there is little evidence that we do not show respect for Islamic values and allow for prayer times, provide Muslim chaplains, etc.

I have not been to Guantanamo myself, but, granting the above, my position on Guantanamo does not change. The reason is, even if the prison shows deference for Islamic values (a point I would not bother disputing) what is more important is that it does not show appropriate deference for Western values. If nothing else, there is one shortcoming of Guantanamo which is enough to justify the prison's closure: Some of the prisoners have been held there for years without a trial. Among the rights which we should cherish is the right to a fair and (in as far as it is possible) immediate trial and, though I am not familiar enough with the law to determine how long a prisoner can legally be held before this procedure takes place, holding someone for more than a year (not a large sentence with a trial, but not a small one without) certainly poses serious constitutional concerns, especially considering that, for every moment that these prisoners are held without a trial, they are denied the right to liberty and pursuit of happiness.

I understand that most of the prisoners are probably guilty and, therefore, they fundamentally have no claim to these rights to begin with. But that is what a trial is for. A trial is the procedure by which the state determines what rights a subject does or does not have and, absent such a procedure, these rights must be assumed. Nearly one hundred years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Increase Mather proclaimed that it was better that ten guilty go free than one innocent be punished.

Obviously, this view is, to some degree, overly idealistic. I am suggesting the closing of Guantanamo, not the release of the prisoners held therein. That, like the closing itself, is a procedure which must be determined by proper authorities, but were I one of those authorities, I would suggest moving the prisoners to high security facilities in the United States instead. The reason is because, if this were the case, the prisoners would, at the very least, become subject to national laws of jurisprudence. Americans should not be ashamed of any prisoners which we find it necessary to hold and, as immediately as possible, try, but, if we hold prisoners on an island nation known for its dictatorial cruelty because we could not legally hold them under similar circumstances in our own country, there is something seriously wrong that should put a bur in the conscience.

Again, I'm not an expert on the matter. I am a layman. I only follow the matter lazily, from time to time, in the newspapers. Feel free to respond.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Apologies for Negligence, Update on What's What

Wonders never cease. Apparently there are occasional readers of this blog, even though I've been negligent in as far as posting is concerned. But it looks like that negligence is going to extend a bit further, for, next week, I am going to Canada, and I am not the proprietor of a laptop. But just because I have not been posting recently does not mean that I have not been online. I have been traveling from blog to blog, occasionally commenting or picking a fight. It also looks like I might get a job as a history teacher, but you never know. It could always fall through. Anyway, for whomever is reading this, thanks for reading, and I'll try to write another post as soon as I get back from Canada. I may even post a few pictures. (Something that I have never tried to do before.)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

New Road Movie

Apparently, the same director who did The Proposition is going to direct the movie adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road; they could not have chosen a better man for the job.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Steven Landsberg's Alternative Tax Plan

Though I doubt that he was the formulator of this tax plan, Steven Landsburg, writing in the Wall Street Journal, mentioned a brilliant formula for making the consumption tax progressive rather than regressive. The Rochester University-based economist suggested that, at the end of the fiscal year, the IRS could add up the amount of money that a citizen earned during the previous twelve months and, from this number, subtract the amount that the citizen saved. The difference to this equation should be, roughly, equal to the amount that this citizen has spent on consumption. In summary, you could write the equation something like this:

Earnings - Savings = Consumption

The consumption would be the number used to determine that citizen's tax amount, but the total amount of earnings could determine whether their consumption amount should be multiplied by a fraction or integer. In other words, as Landsberg says, this is a consumption tax which can be made as progressive as we want.

Of course, this raises the question of why we would want to change our tax code to begin with. Isn't it already progressive enough? Well, yes, but that isn't really the point. Growth and individual ethics, as well as communal fairness, should also be factors in determining how we tax, and, by this standard, a consumption tax significantly more justifiable than a income tax.

As Landsberg points out, it is simply crazy to tax people for saving (which is what we do now) rather than spending (we also do this, but not as much); this is because saving is a common good, whereas spending only benefits the consumer and the producer; the third men (the society in general) actually lose because of the consumption of others, if only slightly. Income tax, on the other hand, is nothing short of a tax on productivity. Essentially, it is a punishment for working. To state the principle more simply: citizens should be charged for what they take from society, not for what they give to society.

This tax would also very likely lead to greater economic prosperity as it would influence more citizens to spend wisely, save and invest by eliminating all the annoying taxes on stocks and bonds.

This doesn't, of course, establish that this consumption tax would be superior than a that could be collected at the point of purchase. That is because there are other reasons for the superiority of this tax over the consumption taxes that currently exist. Just last year, Mike Huckabee had to assure everyone that he would first eliminate the black market before he implemented his plan for an across-the-board consumption tax, but the beauty of Lansberg's system is that there is no need for the government to do so; the invisible hand does so automatically. Because the amount of money that does not show up in savings is used to determine the citizen's taxable assets, rather than using the amount of money that does show up in the grocery store, all consumption is taxed, whether it is on the black market or not.

The same principle applies to services. Many economists who favor consumption taxes believe that services, as well as goods, ought to be taxed, but realize that this would require an enormous bureaucracy so that the services could not, by and large, be performed under the table. Again, because this tax collects from the consumer rather than the producer, it would not matter whether the service provider were a licensed carpenter, part-time worker or illegal alien, because the service will be taxed, no matter who it is.

There are several drawbacks to this plan, as there are with any plan. One of these may be that it would discourage enormous purchases, such as housing. This is only a tentative problem, though. Obviously, borrowed money would not be taxed under this plan and, in the same way that we currently allow real-estate purchasers to write their debts off on their tax forms, a set of laws could be passed to exclude such purchases from taxable consumption. (They could even be categorized as an investment, which they most certainly are.)

Another drawback to the plan is that it taxes people who hide their money under their mattress more than it does people who put it in a bank. To this objection, though, I would have to say that this is a reasonable group to tax more highly. Their use of money does neither themselves, nor their society in favors, and, therefore, they should be more taxable. That being said, people of this demographic who are over the age of sixteen compose of very small minority of the population and, as this tax plan would provide further incentives to abandon this boondoggle, the numbers of such ardent individualists would significantly decline.

Naturally, I don't expect anyone ever to implement these policies in this country, but I hope that they might be implemented elsewhere. Isn't it pretty to think so?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Zimbabwe

This article is discouraging in some ways, but quite informative:

The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia

Friday, May 30, 2008

Reflections on the Elections in Moscow

During the Congressional primaries last Wednesday, it would have been funny if I had written in the name of an illegal immigrant to oppose Bill Sali. Too bad that I didn't think of it at the time.

International | World | Economist.com

International | World | Economist.com

I would recommend reading the "Economist" article above. Iraq is on the verge of civil war, there is genocide in the Sudan, Zimbabwe is falling apart, there are race-related riots in China and South Africa, piracy still occurs in the Mediterranean, terrorism could break out at any moment and, all in all, all does not seem right with the world, and yet the United Nations is devoting itself to a campaign to outlaw paddles. Maybe I am not being fair; I can only assume that they have a team working around the clock on all of the issues mentioned above. But I have very little faith in their ability to produce results in any of these areas. The United Nations may have devoted a great deal of effort to stopping genocide in Darfur, but, ultimately, an organization must be judged by what comes out of its efforts, not what goes into them.

I have no objection to national bodies or alliances. I am not necessarily opposed to the United States' involvement in the United Nations. John Bolton (in my opinion) was a horrible choice for ambassador; if we are going to engage with the United Nations, then we ought to do so meaningfully. Furthermore, international alliances have consistently proved effective enough in the past: think of NAFTA, NATO, the European Union (with qualifications), even (going back to the classical period) the Delphic League had its benefits. But the reason that these organizations work. But the reason that these organizations work, at least to some degree, is that they recognize that, in spite of their difference, they are capable of working toward common purposes. With the United Nations it is the opposite: The nations who compose its membership want to work toward different purposes while, at the same time, doing away with all differences.

The United Nations needs to get its act together and, before attempting to dictate to parents how they should raise their children, concentrate on how to raise itself from the self-parody which it has become.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

If There Isn't a Name for This Principle, There Should Be

As people become more dependent on the governmental bureaucracy, the less dependable the governmental bureaucracy becomes.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

YouTube - Broadcast Yourself.

I decided to add one more post since I'm almost at 100. I don't generally like Linda Ronstadt, but her version of "Tracks of My Tears" is, I think, the definitive version. You should check this out:

YouTube - Broadcast Yourself.

Clarification on the Last Post

I just realized that the last post was misleading. If anyone is wondering, I wasn't planning on changing my lifestyle over this by any means. I still find time to do my reading between the orders and the customers. (And I still hate cars and have no intention of buying one.)

Feeling Like Woody Harrelson on SNL

I always hated computers and cars; apropos, I was never particularly good with either of them. It is interesting, though, that working in a computer store has begun to make me realize that technology is actually pretty cool. I feel kind of like Woody Harrelson in that Sprockets episode of Saturday Night Live which came out in the wake of the Berlin Wall collapsing. In that classic comedy skit Woody Harrelson plays a devoutly East German socialist philosopher who is finally being interviewed by his progressive western worshippers; much to these people's surprise (and chagrin) their hero has come to reject communism and embrace capitalism. What changed his mind? One round on the gameboy.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Summer Needing Reading

I haven't really been too engaged in my usual pasttime--reading--for the past week. The reason is that--since I am supposedly an ISI Fellow--I am waiting to see what sort of study or research I have to do to fulfill the responsibilities that this job entails. Also, I suppose, it is because I am at a new job as one of the Bookstore's computer guys, and, even though my manager told me that if I didn't have anything to do he saw no reason why I should stare at my desk so it would look like I was working, I still am slightly nervous that the store's main manager may catch me wtih a book in my hands and say that I might be unnecessary after all. Nonetheless, I have managed to get "The True Believer" done since finishing finals. It's a short book and, as a friend of mine said, it qualifies as real philosophy if, for no other reason, it is a work which has had a profound influence on academic and intellectual thought, but it was not written by an academic. I am also reading a book that Tom D. gave to me. It's one by John Barth called "Chimera". So far, I can't make heads or tails of the book, but Tom told me that the story begins to come together around page 150. That's around where I am now, so I'll wait and see. If it doesn't come together in my perception, it means one of two things: I am a philistine or the book is a fraud. Anyway, cheeriest of wishes to you all and have a good summer.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Congratulations Graduates!

Not that anyone reads this blog, but if anyone did, here's what I would say: Congratulations to everyone who graduated during the past week, and especially Tom Banks, Josh Gibbs, Nicole Barrie, Morgan Wintz, Tara Oar, and any of the English majors whom I have forgotten to mention. I am lucky to have known and worked with all of you and hope that this isn't the end but only the prologue.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Monday, May 5, 2008

About Ten Years Out from "Lock Stock"

Guy Ritchie has not lived up to the promise of being the next Quentin Tarantino. But, then again, neither has Quentin Tarantino lived up to the promise of being the first Quentin Tarantino.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Some Thanks Are in Order on Turning 21

I turned twenty-one yesterday and did a lap of the bars, although there was no procession for accompaniment. Nonetheless, there are a few people I would like to thank. I would like to thank my boss, Aaron Dorn, for giving me half of my shift off so that I could hit the bars earlier; I would like to thank my father for paying for the drinks; and I would like to thank The Garden for that wonderful deal they have where the first shot is completely free if it is your birthday (I got a shot of Jack Daniels.) Thanks everyone!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Conservative Frustration with McCain and Why It is Illogical

I finally got a facebook account, which is why I haven't blogged recently. I actually prefer facebook to blogging, but I don't intend to shut this blog down. For the moment, a few thoughts on the presidential election:

I know a lot of conservatives who are less than thrilled with John McCain and are instead looking to side with Ron Paul and make sure that McCain never makes it to the White Houes. As a memo to such conservatives, Ron Paul is not going to be running for president come this fall, but I don't think that this frustration actually reflects a distaste for McCain so much as it demonstrates the precarious predicament of the Repulican Party.

These people; these Million Strong Against McCain; these supposed idealists searching for ideological purity in an age when that is not possible prove only one thing: Following five years of utter failure on the part of the Republicans, McCain becomes an easy scapegoat for those who want to jump ship. He might not be the best choice to use as a scapegoat, though. Surely he's had is falling out with the Republicans in the past, but ninety percent of the time, he has been right.

Guantanamo has been a disaster for America's reputation abroad; so has waterboarding. McCain was not afraid to oppose either when his party had the audacity to defend the place and practice like artivles of faith. When Republicans were crusading for a border fence and even had a candidate running for president who made this the first agenda item on his platform, McCain had the courage to stand up to the idocracy. When every politician in Washington calls ethanol a solution to the fuel crisis, it is McCain who says no, it is part of the problem.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not an idealist. I think that McCain has his flaws and I think that, come November, I will still vote for him but will be much more disillusioned with him than I am now. The politician who ended up defeating McCain in the Republican primary has taught me to be disillusioned over the years, and, whatever bad things you might say about McCain, one thing I have no hesistancy to say is that, in 2000, he probably would have been a heck of a lot better than the other guy.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Preachers and Politics

"Many evangelicals are expanding their idea of what it means to be pro-life. John McCain's statement that he might stay in Iraq for 100 years is going to strike many evangelicals as not being pro-life"

-Approximate statement of Jim Wallis

This is so pathetic. When he makes statements like this, it does not sound to as though what he is saying actually reflects any occurring phenomenon; Rev. Wallis is merely saying that it would be nice if it effected many evangelicals' voting status. When he says "many evangelicals," I think that he basically means himself and maybe the Sojourner staff (I exaggerate, of course.) But what is worse is that he grossly distorts Sen. McCain's statement. Sen. McCain meant that he would be willing to maintain a troop presence in Iraq for 100 years if Americans were not exposed to attacks on a regular basis (meaning, in the same way that we have had a presence in South Korea for decades without casualties.) Apparently McCain is pro-life on the question of Iraq, too. But the Rev. Wallis doesn't want to admit this fact. Reverends should do better than to bear false witness against their neighbors.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Taxes (Blech!)

According to my tax form I'm in the 2.68 % tax bracket, but, according to the turbotax site, I'm supposed to pay somewhere in the neighborhood of 50% of my income this year. Can anyone tell me what is wrong with this picture?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Progressive Intolerance

I heard an interesting story recently. Studies suggest that progressives are 17% more likely than conservatives to say that they not only hate the views of people on the other side of the political spectrum, but that they hate the people themselves. This does not necessarily mean that conservatives are more moral than progressives (they aren't), but it doesn't speak well of the progressive value of "diversity" if those who propagate it are unwilling to tolerate people who hold views different from their own.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter

Happy Easter! It's like the Chuck Wesley hymn: "Christ the Lord is Risen Today"

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Talented Mr. Minghella

As you may have heard, Anthony Minghella died yesterday of a brain hemorrhage (so wikipedia reports.) He was clearly a man of talents. The opening shot in "The English Patient," the shadows creeping across the lower sand-dunes like a ghost, captures the spirit of the novel in a way that no other director could have done. It is a pity that the movie is rarely watched, because it was one of the better movies to win best picture in the 1990s. As I have heard others say, it's a pity that Sidney Pollack will probably be directing the English version of "The Lives of Others" now. If anyone could ruin such a great story, it is they guy who directed "Random Hearts." But, this aside, there's no question as to whether or not Anthony Minghella was a man of talents, equally comfortable while filming in pre-World War II Africa, Rome of the 1950s and Civil War-ravaged America. He may have died early, but no so early that his compendium of work is not worth remembering.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

National Education Association: A Fraud

I wouldn't break into a sweat over what's happening to homeschoolers in California. The Terminator is coming to the rescue. But it has caused a number of "professionals" to post and write some highly embarrassing articles. Dave Arnold, on the NEA's website, is one such professional. He says on the sight that he swelled with indignation after reading on a homeschooler's that "professional education is not as difficult as it seems". C'mon, he says, it's even difficult for trained professionals. I would agree with this part: it is difficult for trained professionals. What I want to know is why the trained professionals seem to be the only people who have trouble with it. Arnold's article is more of the same from the "professionals," short on facts, long on conclusions. If any of them have any statistics to bring to the table, please, feel free to let me know.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Reflections on Louisville

I got back from Louisville, Kentucky just last week (I may have mentioned this already.) What can be said for Louisville? It is a welcoming city for one thing. You can walk all over it and not get mugged or shived--neither of these happened to me while I was there. The city is also welcoming from the standpoint that, when I got off the plane, the city had set up a buildboard for everyone to see that said: "Welcome Sigma Tau Delta." That was nice of them. Louisville is certainly a Rustbelt city (right across the river are Ohio and Indiana), but it is not a Rustbelt city in a bad way. Think Chicago, not Detroit. In short, Louisville is a place worth visiting, although the food is sometimes overpriced.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Social Democracy and Education

The American atheist Susan Jakoby has a new book entitled "The Age of American Unreason." Because of the outrageous prices of new books by little-known authors in this day and age, I probably won't read it unless I find it at the library. The best one can do is get to know new books through reviews, I suppose.

Here is what the book is about based on a "New York Times" review: Americans are anti-intellectual and ignorant because of 1) the internet, 2) the GOP and 3) religious fundamentalism. This anti-intellectualism has made it so that they can't name the three branches of government (executive, legislative and judicial) and can't name one of the nine supreme court justices (Thomas, Ginsberg, Scalia, Alito, Roberts, Kennedy, Seuter, Breyer, Stevens; I don't know the first names of all of them.) I am not sure how she manages to tie all of these together, but the connectivity of these claims seems to me to be very, very fragile.

Jakoby's main gripe with fundamentalists, from what I can make out, is that they do not want Darwinism to be taught in public schools and want to control the information that their children learn in school. Again, I haven't read the book, but given her rhetoric ("this means in the most backward parts of the country, education in controlled by the most backward people") that she objects to homeschooling and non-state-approved religious institutions of learning as well. According the to the review--which is more or less favorable--she lambasts fundamentalists for treating the right to local curriculum as though it is a constitutional right.

To this I would say that if it is not a right, then it should be. The founders intended all citizens to have consciences uninhibited by the state, but state education runs in the opposite direction. What has more influence over the conscience than education? A further weakness of Jakoby's argument is the contrastive she draws between the United States and Europe. She writes that in Europe, education is superior because it is dolled out by people who are experts in the field, whereas, in America, education is controlled by local philistines. The latter situation, she claims, is very dangerous to American democracy.

I disagree. Maybe my only reason is because in France candidates like le Pen can be viable and in Great Britain parties like the British National Party have names that more than a dozen people recognize. Maybe it is because American students in private schools, or kids who are taught at home, far outscore their publicly educated peers on math tests. Maybe it is because when you drive down the street in Paris, you can see a dozen American movies in every theater whereas, in America, only the award winning French films are released. But, in any case, despite all this, European children appear to do okay on their SATs. When they are capable of doing well on anything else, please, feel free to let me know.

I realize that this essay is not particularly organized; it wasn't really intended to be. But, in closing, I want to note that it is actually Ms. Jakoby who is the real danger to American democracy. Her idealized educational community, presided over by a benign national board of "intellectuals," may seem reasonable on the surface, but the fact of the matter is that, throughout history, even those claiming intellectual authority have been wrong. This is why it is so important that we work to preserve the rights of everyone to be educated in his/her own way. Anything less, and the gas-chambers are on their way.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Random Thoughts on Faith and Politics

I was in Louisville, Kentucky yesterday morning and I was over at Blog and Mablog this morning. The following post is a response to some of Doug Wilson's thoughts on political philosophy. I don't know the details of the Archbishop of Canterbury, nor did I bother reading the Archbishop of Durham's defense of the Arch of C's comments on Sharia Law. The point is that I am not defending either one. Though technically an Anglican--so says my college transcript information--I have never thought the Anglican Church as is much more than an outdated curiosity. (They do have nice architecture.) What I want to address in this post is Doug Wilson's disdain for pluralism.

Before rebutting his views, it is important that we consider his shoddy definition of the pluralistic society. For Mr. Wilson, the term pluralism is almost equivalent to that of relativism or multiculturalism; in other words, an odd sort of cultural soup in which everyone changes their values to accommodate everyone else, and, in doing so, emasculates himself because, if everyone is right, no one can be. But this is relativism, not pluralism. The central idea behind pluralism is that many views should be tolerated not because everyone is right. On the contrary, it is important to tolerate a wide range of views because many people are wrong.

Mr. Wilson asserts that for the church to share governmental authority with any body outside of itself amounts to idolatry. By this rational, he may as well argue that living in the same municipality as a mosque or Roman Catholic Church makes one a Muslim or a Roman Catholic. Neither of these religious groups teach or preach the gospel, and yet I doubt that Mr. Wilson would outlaw the latter, were he president of the United States.

But a further problem with Mr. Wilson's theory that Christ must be lord of political life as well is that Christ did not seem to think this was possible and, in fact, said "My kingdom is not of this earth." (Incidentally, I don't use this verse, as some do, to assert that Christians should withdraw from secular or political life entirely.) The sort of government which would implicitly be under Jesus's headship has never been clearly defined by Doug Wilson. He has been pressed on the issue of homosexuality before, and, when asked how a Christian society should treat homosexuals, his answer, so far, has been that he does not know.

In any case, Christ and Paul teach that secular authorities are authorities nonetheless, and, implicit is the assumption that one can submit to Christ while seeding the monopoly of violence to others. Nonetheless, Christ did have one "follower" who wanted to take the monopoly of violence back from the Romans. His name was Judas Iscariot.

Friday, February 29, 2008

What the Success of Young Politicians Tells Us about What Lies Ahead

The brightest star in the Democratic camp is Barack Obama. If all goes according to plan, the brightest star in the Republican Party, in three years, will be Bobby Jindal. Barack Obama, if elected, will not be the youngest president this country has had. Bill Clinton was younger than Barack Obama is now; so was John F. Kennedy. And, of course, the youngest president of all was Theodore Roosevelt. Bobby Jindal, if elected in five years, will be the youngest president in the history of the nation (now, he is almost a decade younger than Senator Obama.)

I don't like this trend.

Why should I not? Aren't I happy that a minority is going to be the next president of the United States? Yes, but not that particular man. Aren't I glad that the Republicans will very likely be running a non-white for the White House? Of course. The problem is that both of the men are young.

You can forget experience; Abraham Lincoln didn't have much experience in Washington before he was elected president. (He had served one term in the United States Congress.) What I am concerned about is that people are throwing themselves behind these people without really thinking. (If you don't know what I mean, check out Barack Obama's "Yes, We Can" video.) I don't like to think of myself as a apostle of declinism, but, if the nation's vote is controlled by inspiration rather than reason, we have some hard years ahead.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Some Notes on the Death of Mr. Buckley

I can't pretend to be an expert on William F. Buckley, Jr. I have read articles by him, but I doubt that I have read an entire book that he wrote, cover to cover. I am a fan of the magazine that he founded, "The National Review," and I think that Mr. Buckley's intellectual charisma is far better than the sort of rubbish that most "conservatives" consume nowadays on Talk Radio or in Godless by Ann Coulter. A friend of mine, a Talk Radio "conservative," asked not long ago if there were any conservative writers whom I admired--I had been trashing Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh in his presence. "I'm a big fan of William F. Buckley," I said (Take that, dowg!) "The National Review" has stated that Mr. Buckley is irreplaceable. Given the current state of affairs, I would say that intellectualism in politics is, too. William F. Buckley, rest in peace.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Realistic Fantasy and Fantastical Realism

I read an excellent essay by James Wood yesterday called "Hysterical Realism." Since I had heard of this essay before reading it, you can rest assured that this will not be the first time that it has been discussed. But discussing it isn't really my intention, although discussion is inevitable in any conversation to which we hope to add.

By hysterical realism, Mr. Wood means novels by writings like Salmon Rushdie, Dave Eggers, Tom Wolfe, Zadie Smith and David Foster Wallace. Novels which draw from reality but also are set apart from reality. It is almost like reality on speed. Mr. Wood says it better; he gives the image of a work of art that is in constant motion because it is too embarrassed to stop. That would reveal its own shallowness.

Mr. Wood's central assertion is that such fiction is insufficient because the sum of the improbabilities while conceivable in reality, cancel one another out when they are taken together. He uses one of Zadie Smith's characters from "White Teeth" as an example. This character, the head of a fanatical Muslim religious group called KEVIN, is the son of Presbyterians from the Caribbean who converts to Islam, studies the Koran in Saudi Arabia and moves into the London garage of his Mormon aunt. Mr. Wood argues (persuasively, I think) that any one of these details would have been acceptable if Ms. Smith had taken the time to show a connectivity between them, but that she never does. The reader is bombarded with a barrage of humorous details, but none of them is true.

Mr. Wood also argues that these novels are too closely related to reality to constitute Magical Realism (a movement which started in South America but is sometimes connected with writers like Rushdie) because they are too closely related to reality. I agree with this assertion broadly, but, in this case, Mr. Wood has missed an excellent opportunity to set the record straight. This is what I will try to do, though I am not a critic of any great ability.

One fact of which Mr. Wood is aware, I believe, is that Magical Realism is a sort of fiction which commonly has a mythological setting but is writes against the grain of that setting. (The village of Garcia Marquez's short story, "The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" is not a village inside of time or history, but that does not prevent the old man from having insects and parasite in his wings that the chickens dig out of them.) Hysterical Realism, as Mr. Wood calls it, is a genre which is grounded very much in the contemporary world, but writes against the grain of that world, making the mundane fantastical. In that sense, the writings of Rushdie and Smith are the antitheses of authors like Marquez; they are the anti-Marquezes, not his heirs. But now for the point which I wanted to get around to: I believe that a better title for the Magical Realism movement would be Realistic Fantasy (I substitute "Fantasy" for "Magic" because the word "Magicalism" does not exist) and a better name for Hysterical Realism would be Fantastical Realism. To refer to a novel like "One Hundred Years of Solitude" as Realistic Fantasy acknowledges the fantastical base and content told in a realistic form, whereas to refer to a novel like "White Teeth" as Fantastical Realism delineates the realistic base and content while acknowledging the fantastical form.

Devotees of Realistic Fantasy (as I will now call it) will say that the setting of "One Hundred Years of Solitude" is not fantastical; after all, is there not a real village of Macondo which Garcia Marquez visited on a trip back from school in his early twenties? Yes, but the universe of "One Hundred Years of Solitude" is a universe far removed from those which we occupy. It is a universe in which people live for hundreds of years and blood streams for miles to find the right person. It is a different universe with similarities to our own. The universe of "White Teeth" on the other hand is the same, although it has some differences from the one which we usually experience. The usefulness of the two terms, Realistic Fantasy and Fantastical Realism, lies in the fact that they acknowledge the two genres are not the same thing, but rather antitheses. But, as they say, two sides of a coin are never far apart.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Shortest Film Review I've Yet Written

I saw "In the Valley of Elah" tonight. Paul Haggis is a natural at sentimentality.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Archbishop Is Not an Economist, And It's a Good Thing, Too

I looked up Rowan Williams tonight on wikipedia to see what he actually said about Sharia law. I still have no clue because I am not sure if he has any clue what he is talking about anymore, but I was struck by another comment of his that I came across in the same article. Something to the affect that every score in the developed world can be interpreted as an economic loss in the developing world. What a load of rubbish. Does he have any idea how many people are not starving today in Taiwan or South Korea or Vietnam because their governments opened their borders to foreign business?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The City Council Should Be Ashamed of Itself

Before making this post, I should note that I never bothered to vote on the ban on same-sex marriages in our state constitution, even though I did vote in the state elections in 2006. Having said that, I think that what the city council did, extending employment benefits to same-sex couples, is positively ridiculous. I consider myself, more or less, a supporter of gay rights if, by that, you mean that they ought to have the right to pursue and consummate a relationship with whomever they please, but there is no reason why they should receive privileges for such relationships at the cost of the rest of society. But (my opponents will say), don't you give those rights to heterosexual couples who don't have children. The truth of the matter is that we do, but we shouldn't. I have nothing against couples who decide not to have children, but, from a simple economic point of view, there is no point of subsidizing citizens for activities which will not positively benefit society in the long or short term. The act of the city council was especially ridiculous, given that they had just been voted out. I doubt that Linda Pall would have voted in favor of this measure had she been reelected last fall. Taking revenge on your the populace is no place to start.

Monday, February 18, 2008

On Money

I heard of a guy named Chris Hedges who has a new book called "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America". Naturally, I think that he is an utter loser, but I'll leave that aside (for now).

What progressives (they aren't worthy of the title 'liberals') don't realize is that as long as people are allowed to control their own money, there is no need to fear totalitarianism. Money is quite a liberating commodity. We're lucky to have it.

It's for this reason that Barack Obama is more likely to be a fascist (even though he isn't one . . . yet) than is John McCain.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Barack Obama

Everyone likes Barack Obama. I'm sure that he's a nice enough guy, but one should never trust a politician whom everyone likes.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Mythology

I was having a conversation at Drones today about the nature of mythology, during which we discussed what constitutes a mythological system. We were debating, in particular, whether the Lord of the Rings trilogy or the DC and Marvell Comics qualified as mythology. Here are my thoughts on the matter:

Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" Project" does not constitute a legitimate mythology. When Tolkien, a preeminent Medievalist and critic, set out to compose a mythology for England set in a kingdom known as Middle Earth--a place with which all of us are familiar through generic writings but different names--he undercut any possibility of Middle Earth being a legitimate mythology of England. Mythology is like culture: It is not made, but is. Hence, the only prominent English mythology is the legend of King Arthur. King Arthur may not have sought after the Grail, but he was an actual historical figure known for his attempts to stave off Germanic invaders, and, in doing so, he so captured the imaginations of the Britons that all Anglo-Saxons are now familiar with who Arthur, the mythological figure, is and what he did. Even those of us who have not read Chretien, Geoffrey of Monmouth or Edmund Spenser can take educated guesses at who Arthur is. I doubt that many people who have not read or seen the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy can speak about who Frodo Baggins or Gandalf are.

Batman and Superman, on the other hand, do constitute mythological American figures because they have become ingrained in the American consciousness to such an extent that everyone knows who they are and what they do. Furthermore, both--in one way or another--are avatars of American ideals. Superman is quintessentially American because of his unflinching devotion to justice (and don't forget the American Way) and Batman because of his dedication to self-improvement. More importantly, whereas they are extraordinary figures, they find it necessary to maintain their ordinary identities; Superman as Clark Kent and Batman as Bruce Wayne. The anonymity implied by this vocation makes these comic book characters distinctly American in that, unlike the heroes of the classical or chivalric age, neither of them fight for idealistic honor, but rather for practical justice. They are, in a sense, the very incarnations of American identity. Lastly, the two characters can be identified as mythological because they are constantly being reinterpreted and reinvented. For example, I have never opened a Marvell or DC comic in my life, but am reasonably familiar with the biographies of both characters. The different stories are often conflicting (it is difficult to square Tim Burton's 1989 telling of "Batman" with Christopher Nolan's 2005 version, "Batman Begins") but this is one of the attributes of mythology. There is more than one version of the tale of Iphigenia, for instance. There is an almost unbridgeable chasm between the sane Ajax of the "Iliad" and the unstable Ajax who becomes envious to the point of suicide in the "Metamorphoses." The Marvell and DC comics are no exception and, for this reason, they are their own urban mythology, although they may not last as long as the story of Achilles has.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Against Metafiction

Naturally, there are no hard rules to the art of fictions, but one thing which is best avoided is having a protagonist who is a novelist or--even worse--a poet. I suppose that Mario Vargas Llosa almost always uses a novelist as his main character, but the problem with that sort of fiction is that the fictional characters can only be as good as their creators. Hence, Thomas Mann can write about whoever he wants, because he's the Mann, but I wouldn't recommend that a first-time novelist try to write a novel relating the life of a great poet. Writers aren't very interesting people anyway; that's why we write about other people (even though the memoir, as opposed to the autobiography, has made navel-gazing respectable.)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Who's It Gonna Be?

Fred Barnes hints, in the WSJ, that John McCain will need a running mate who can be a champion for social conservatives. This may or may not be code for Mike Huckabee, but I think that Mike Huckabee is the wrong man for the job. I would like to see Charlie Crist, but I think that he might be too moderate. For the moment, I think that Tim Pawlenty might be a better choice. Bobby Jindal is another option, but it would be unwise to have him run for vice president before he has been tried in Louisiana. (If he can straighten out Louisiana, he can do anything.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Is There Anything More Depressing That You Can Pile On?

Can you think of anything more depressing than the fact that a former social worker from Hawaii who solicited moral cues from Franz Fanon, patron saint of terrorists and children of the 1960s everywhere, is going to defeat in the next presidential election a decorated American war hero who was tortured for seven years because he wouldn't sign an anti-American statement?

Monday, February 11, 2008

"Rambo": Movie Review

There will be blood. And severed heads and shattering skulls and slopping intestines and flying limbs and ripped jugulars, too. That's what pretty much describes John Rambo's return to the screen in the fourth installment, simply entitled "Rambo." In fact, simplicity could, more or less, describe this unapologetically neoconservative fantasy in which the good guys (emphasis on the "guys" part) all speak with American or British accents and shoot first, then skip the asking-questions-later part.

We join John Rambo--tortured Vietnam veteran who looks nothing like John McCain--hunting snakes in South Eastern Asia with a dexterity that could easily be that of a Zen master. Enter a group of American missionaries carrying supplies to war-ravaged Burma ("Myanmar" is nowhere in sight), soliciting help from the mentally-scarred warrior. The rest of the movie involves a capture and a rescue, and from the set up, I assume that you can guess who is captured and who does the rescuing.

What makes this movie more than a standard action film is the level of violence prevalent throughout. One thing about evangelicals (think Stallone and Mel Gibson) is that they sure make violent movies. Mr. Stallone does not flinch at portraying children being executed or even mutilated; rape is one of the movie's motifs.

But, somehow, the violence seems cathartic to the audience, and I don't doubt that it seemed cathartic to Mr. Stallone as well. This is not to say that the movie is brilliant. I enjoyed it no more than I enjoyed "The Hills Have Eyes." The only thing about either movie which I enjoy is seeing the villains be dispatched in the end, and their end in "Rambo is particularly satisfying.
Poetic justice has never been more just, or less poetic.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

On Visiting the Crossing

I visited the Crossing, a church that meets in the UI's administration building, today. Though I can't say that I enjoy the charismatic liturgy prevalent in so many evangelical (or mere Christian) churches in this day and age, it was nice to get another perspective as well as seeing so many college students--many of whom I know--apart from the academic context. Onward Christian Scholars!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Some Probable Guests at RNC

I took a two-and-a-half hour nap today. I haven't felt so refreshed in several years. But, anyway, there's no rest for the weary this time of year. Here's who I'm guessing will be on the speakers' list at the 2008 Republican National Convention:

Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Joe Lieberman, Charlie Crist, Sarah Palin, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mike Huckabee, and, of course, John McCain.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

On Hearing Mitt Romney Dropped Out

Mitt Romney just dropped out of the election. That means that it is a two-way race between Mike Huckabee and John McCain. I also suppose that means that Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh are going to be disappointed. Good. Although I'm not Mitt Romney's biggest fan, I must say that I feel kind of sorry for him at this point. After all, he has been planning to run for president for about ten years. He has also spent millions on a campaign that didn't work out. But I really do appreciate that he was willing to drop out.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

What McCain owes Mike Huckabee

John McCain might not owe Mike Huckabee for his victories yesterday, but I think that he probably owes Huckabee for his lead in more general terms. For example, McCain would probably not have won in New Hampshire if Mitt Romney had won in Iowa, but Mitt Romney didn't win in Iowa, Mike Huckabee, a man who was unelectable in New Hampshire, did. Hence, I think that John McCain should send Huckabee a thank you note, and the Republican Party should, too.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Rambo and the Terminator: We Shall Not Fail!

Apparently, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger have both endorsed John McCain for president. It would be cool if they could both act as his bodyguards. I doubt there's ever been a presidential candidate who both Rambo and the Terminator would take a bullet for. It could be a cool movie.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Anticipation

I read on wikipedia tonight that Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck is working on a script in English. This may or may not be a translation of The Lives of Others (a movie which you should see if you haven't.) But if it is a new screenplay and is anywhere close to as good as his last one, I can't wait until it hits the theaters.

Random Thought Experiment

Which of the following do you think would make the best (or worst) potential interviewee on Oprah?

Humbert Humbert

Fyodor Karamazov

Auchenbach

Sir Gawain

Achilles

Saturday, February 2, 2008

A Recording of a Short Conversation

Tom and I were discussing my politics recently. The conversation went something like this:

Tom: Do you consider yourself a man of the people, James?

I: No, but I do consider myself to be a man for the people.

Tom: That's good. Is it Edmund Burke?

I: No; it's Derek Jacobi in Gladiator.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Iraq and Vietnam

Since everyone appears to think that the war in Iraq is, like Vietnam, lost from the beginning, I think that I, as a layman, ought to point out that while the war may not be winnable, it is not like Vietnam. I won't bother mentioning whether I support the war or not, because, at this point, that question is irrelevant. We shouldn't worry about what we did do; only what we should do now.

It would seem that we are in a situation like that of Vietnam. Our enemies are using the same sort of guerrilla warfare which was our undoing in Asia, we have lost more than three thousand men, and there is no end in sight, as they say. Furthermore, we are fighting a distant war in a country whose people are not out biggest fans.

But there are also significant differences. For one thing, in Iraq, there is no clear clash of ideologies, unlike in Vietnam where it was communism vs. democracy. In Iraq, it is more like a clash of civilizations. It is not a battle spawned in the head, but in the bowels. Iraq is in the middle of a civil war between Sunni and Shi'a; I don't think that anyone but the Republicans in the White House and Congress would deny this. But it is not a civil war in which the United States will appear as the extreme axis of evil for either side (or, at least this outcome is unlikely.)

I actually have great hopes for the future of Iraq. It may not be a nation that will help us with our War on Terror (I'm sorry, that's just a bad name), but I would like to echo Thomas Mann to express my optimism: The Iraqi people may not have decided what they want, but I believe that what they have demonstrated is that they do not want another dictator like Saddam Hussein or a theocrat like the Iranian Ayatollah Koumeini was back in the 80s.

In short, I think that Iraq will prevail. The only question is will the United States.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Most Overrated Movie of 2007

"The Wind That Shakes the Barley" is certainly the most overrated movie of last year. Ken Loch has in-done himself.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the plot (most people probably haven't even heard of it), the story takes place during the Anglo-Irish War that lasted from around 1918 to 1921. It ended with Irish victory, independence and civil war (between those who wanted Northern Ireland and those who thought a headless Ireland was better than no Ireland at all.)

The problem with the movie is that it has no center and no heartbeat. The main character of the story--whose name I don't remember--is played with utter forgettableness by the usually creepy and intense actor, Cirian Murphy. As a young Irish physician who joins Shin Fein (if that's how it's spelled) after his cousin is murdered by Black and Tans, Mr. Murphy plays his character without any nuance or complexity. It is intriguing as watching the WorldWatch staff at work.

The movie is not saved by being an insipid political allegory either--Ken Loach, the director, has stated, in so many words, that he wants the movie to be a commentary on British involvement in Iraq--because the political debates in the movie never rise above the level of a History 101 class. More about bad things happening to poor people, the rich landowners, names beginning with O or not, are the devil, and the Roman Catholic Church is on their side. At times, watching the characters is like having to grade an eighth grade debate team.

The action sequences aren't even realistic or entertaining. I got the feeling that Ken Loach was making the scenes that he had fantasized about for years, but they look more like they were filmed as part of a high school project.

Here's your projects back, children; you all get F's.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Fraudulent Folksiness

The people in this primary season who have pretended to be the most folksy are John Edwards, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson. The ironic thing is that John Edwards and Mitt Romney are the richest men in the race.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

On the Night of John McCain Winning in Florida

John McCain has won in Florida! As you know, I intend to tell no one how to vote, but I think that this is good for the Republican Party to say the least because, in spite of what Mitt Romney thinks, it is the Arizona senator who will make a greater agent for change. Mr. Romney says that they need an outsider to fix Washington. ("Washington is broken!") That, right now, is the last thing that they need. Mitt Romney fails to note that Washington was broken by an outsider from Texas who had apparently been a popular and/or effective governor who also came from a political family. Both men's fathers even ran for president. Forget Washington, because there's more than one Washington. For the moment, I just want something that is different.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

"There Will Be Blood": My Favorite Movie of 2007

"There Will Be Blood" works. To say that is high praise, I think, given that I can't think of any Thomas Paul Anderson movie up until this one that I liked. "Punch Drunk Love" tried to survive on quirkiness, but the concept grew tired after twenty minutes. I haven't been able to finish "Magnolia." But "There Will Be Blood" is an epic Californian tragedy which will outlive these movies, and, hopefully, the movies of his mentor, Robert Altman.

"Blood" is a Californian picture, but it is a different California from the California of, say, "Sunset Boulevard". This is not the California that Wallace Stegner meant when he said that the golden state was like the rest of America, only more so. This is a California which in which deprivation is the only thing ravaging the landscape and the only thing that needs to. The only evidence that anything had been there before the Midwestern looking settlers who inhabit its desolate edifices is the oil that comes seeping from the ground, lifeless and black.

It is hard to imagine anybody looking on this landscape and seeing opportunity. But, then again, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis in his best role to date) is not anybody and no sooner has an inhabitant of a barren township called Little Boston told him that oil comes up from the ground, than he has packed his belongings, company and adopted son and established himself as a community leader.

This would hardly seem irregular or unnatural, but I do not recall having a feeling through the movie that could be described as either natural or regular. There is something in the seeping of the oil, the nodding of the grasshopper pump, the inanimate pools of black gold waiting to be shipped to their final resting place, that endues the movie with a sense of horror. The audience always knows something is going to happen--an earthquake, a falling object--but they never know what.

Daniel Day-Lewis matches the movie's sense of creepiness almost perfectly. His dialogue rolls off the tongue with a fullness and eloquence that is not seen too often anymore and, while we are not seduced by him, we get a sense of why his those who deal with him may be. He is reckless, insensitive and alcoholic, but communicates the sense that, beneath there exterior is a tortured and confused human being. An idea that is both touching and frightening.

The film covers several decades, but, unlike Mr. Anderson's best known earlier work, "Magnolia," this movie has the advantage of focusing on one central character. This does not mean that the other characters are not interesting. Plainview's main antagonist, Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) does a good turn as a charlatan Pentecostal minister; the type who would assert that vengeance belongs to God and that he is God's vengeance. In a movie year which has produced many memorable villains, Dano's Sunday will have to take his place alongside some of the worst produced by Flannery O'Connor. The final confrontation between him and Plainview is one of the best character interactions in recent memory.

But it is Mr. Day-Lewis whose performance is the most memorable. I can hardly think of a single materialist who seemed so spirited and it is he, as well as Mr. Anderson, who makes "Blood" the best movie of 2007.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Conservative and Progressive Hypocrisy

I have something to say to both conservatives and liberals.

First, last night I came across a column by Ann Coulter criticizing John McCain for, among other things, being concerned about income inequality, believing that terrorists should be tried in civilian courts and be granted full civil rights, suggesting that the government should instigate policies which will counter global warming and supporting immigration reform which would make it possible for illegals currently working in the country to get on the path toward citizenship.

Second, "the New York Times" (to which I subscribe) declared that Mike Huckabee should be disqualified as a presidential contender because he brought religion into his campaign.

I'll deal with Ann Coulter first.

John McCain may be, as some people have said, a "maverick" Republican, but he falls well within the mainstream of the Republican fold. Yes, he opposed the Bush tax-cuts because of income inequality. What's wrong with that? Maybe, at the time, the tax cuts helped to bolster the economy, but, at the same time, deficits doubled and quadrupled. This is debt which will take years to pay off, and will require much higher taxes than the ones that Bush cut. Furthermore, income inequality is a legitimate concern of even the most pro-business candidate, if nothing else, because income inequality will very likely lead to the implementation of much worse tax policies should it come to be a dominating issue in financial discourse.

Second, there is the issue of the terrorists. Yes, they are terrorists and, as they do not subscribe to any particular country, may or may not be eligible for the rights granted by the Geneva Convention. But we are not legalists. We ought, instead, to look to the reason that such laws were created; in the words of John McCain, "what are Americans" (I think that's it.) More importantly, what will our allies or the rest of the world think of us if we, who have every reason to have the greater moral capital against our enemies in the war on terror, squander it to put behind bars a guy who might have driven Osama bin Laden to a linen goods festival.

As for global warming, I am an agnostic. But, if Friedrich Hayek, prince of libertarians, were here, I don't think that he would have felt an obligation to doubt that it was a real phenomenon merely because the Democrats believed in it. After all, it is better to have regulation and not need it than to need regulation and not have it. In short, I think that we ought to assume its existence until we can prove otherwise, which does not mean that we have to be reactionary like Al Gore. We need to introduce new measures to assuage our dependence on oil without gobbling up all of our arable farmland. It will take a prudent leader to accomplish this and, as he has devoted more time to the question than anyone else, I believe that Sen. McCain is the man for the job.

Which brings me around to the question of illegal aliens. First, I cannot think of a single economist that believes that illegal immigration is bad for the country. It is true that we need to defend ourselves against terrorists, but the least that we could do is make people pay outrageous fees to get across the southern border. People will cross the border, and, therefore, we need to implement policies which will make it easier for them to do it legally. Until then, why not talk about shamnesty? Who's hurt by it?

Now for the "New York Times"

Somewhat oddly, they've endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. She has been, more or less, a supporter of the war in Iraq from the beginning even though she lied about her opinion of General Petraeus to satisfy MoveOn.org. A more natural endorsement for the Times to make would be Barack Obama. But . . . they know he won't win and they'd rather compromise their principles than back a loser.

As for their comments about Governor Huckabee, I wouldn't endorse the governor myself. But bringing religion into the race is an age-old tradition. I see no reason why we should abandon it now. John Adams, for example, exploited the fact that Jefferson had no particular religion in the election of 1800. For his times, Adams was somewhat of a big-government candidate (more so than Jefferson, anyway). If the NYTimes had existed then--and existed then with the same editors that work for it now--they would undoubtedly have endorsed his candidacy. More than this, the prince of the progressive populists, William Jennings Bryan also told his constituents that they should not vote for his opponent William Taft. Why? Because he was a Unitarian. If, at that time, the NYTimes opposed Bryan's candidacy based on this statement, I would be interested in seeing that editorial. Not that it matters, because it was a different paper then. But the paper that exists now would probably be backing Bryan 110%.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Heath Ledger Tribute: A Good Actor with a Small Resume

More people in America probably know that Heath Ledger is dead than know that John McCain won the South Carolina primary. While this (if it is true) speaks to how poorly informed all of us are about the current state of affairs, I feel obligated, since I have been saying so much about politics in recent weeks, to take a break and write something about Heath Ledger.

First of all, he was a great actor. This is hardly news. Anyone who had seen movies such as "Ned Kelly" or "Brokeback Mountain" could have told you the same thing. But, more importantly, he was an animating presence in films which, otherwise, were not great. "Brokeback Mountain," alongside "Crash," is one of the most overrated movies of the decade. I hope this has nothing to do with its politics, though it might. But, in my defense, I enjoyed the novella "Death in Venice" which, I feel, is even more explicitly about homo-erotic love. The problem with "Brokeback Mountain," I feel, was not that it dealt with homosexuality, but that it was unwilling to deal with homosexuality honestly. Instead, the movie presented the affair like a conventional Hollywood love story when they should have concentrated more on the theme of masculinity. But I digress. For all of the movie's flaws, Heath Ledger gave a flawless performance as the narrative's protagonist, Ennis del Mar (an unfortunate name, if ever there was one.) The performance was one that was great not because of the passion that it poured forth, but rather because of the passion which it held in. Ledger seamlessly communicated the repression; he actually seemed to feel it, and we thought that we could, too.

"The Four Feathers" is the only movie in which Ledger appears that I have seen before and will want to see again. The movie was savagely mocked, particularly for the casting-directors decision to give Kate Hudson a leading role as an English aristocratic girl. This criticism has merit. It was one of her worst performances to date. But Ledger and Djimon Honsou (or some such spelling) were capable enough leads to make the movie into a memorable experience; the movie also has some excellent, if also infrequent, action sequences.

There were other movies as well. The aforementioned revisionist western, "Ned Kelly," was probably the other notable of those that I have seen. Not that this movie merits repeated viewings. It was (and will continue to be) overshadowed by another Australian western, "the Proposition." Nonetheless, Ledger did a good job of making a heroic and charismatic figure out of a bank-robber. I still remember the emotional intonations of his lines.

And then, of course, there is "The Dark Knight." As you know, if you visit this blog from time to time, I have already predicted that Heath Ledger will be the best Joker to date, and considering that Jack Nicholson played the Joker, that isn't saying nothing. Of course, the audiences will flock to see what may be the last movie in which Heath Ledger appears (there were other projects in production, but these may or may not be shelved depending on where they are in the process). Even so, it's tragic that there wasn't more.