Subscribe via RSS Feed

Archive for December, 2004

Suggested New Year’s Resolution for the Editors of the National Review

[ 0 ] December 31, 2004 |

1) Hire a real economist. There are real right-wing economists out there–several of them. I’m sure a few of them would be willing to write now and again for such an august and historic publication. Having this clown as your economist does a disservice to conserative economic analysis, as the sensible reader might conclude that this is the best conservative economic analysis has to offer. If you decide you need partisan hacks to defend the Bush administration whatever they do, you can still do better. You owe your masters better sophists. You should be able to make DeLong and Krugman work up a bit of sweat while fisking your nonsense.


What the hell?

[ 0 ] December 31, 2004 |

He couldn’t make the time himself, so he sends a lame duck and his even lamer brother?

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 – Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, seeking to raise the American profile in the international relief effort in Asia, will tour devastated parts of the region next week to assess the need for future aid programs along with Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, the White House announced Thursday.

At least Jeb is better than Neil, who’d probably spend his time there looking for cheap hookers.

Objective, Indeed

[ 0 ] December 31, 2004 |

Redbeard on this editorial from David Holcberg, research associate at the Ayn Rand Institute.

I was looking for something to buy in a book catalog and asked my dad about The Fountainhead, which I had only vaguely heard discussed as an ‘important book.’ My dad stopped what he was doing, looked at me, and clearly pronounced, ‘That woman is evil.’

I have since come to realize that while she may be evil, her followers are stupid.

New Year

[ 0 ] December 31, 2004 |

Best wishes to all from Lawyers, Guns and Money. Have fun, stay safe.

Special shout-out to those stuck in places they’d rather not be.

May 2005 be a better year than 2004.

Rob’s Top Ten, 2004

[ 0 ] December 31, 2004 |

Because of the absurd manner in which studios release films at the end of the year, any “Best of” list collected in late December threatens to exclude several of the best films of the year. I haven’t seen Million Dollar Baby, Hotel Rwanda, The Assasination of Richard Nixon, The Woodsman, The Sea Inside, or the Merchant of Venice, all of which are listed as 2004 films. On the other end, many films technically credited as 2003 aren’t available for viewing until 2004. At least one on my list is listed as a 2003 feature, while another (Hero) is listed as 2002. Caveats aside, and in no particular order. . .

The Big Red One: Lee Marvin doesn’t really act. I’m not sure what it is that he does, but it grows more powerful with distance. Big Red One in its reconstructed version is a useful corrective to the Brokaw/Spielberg “Greatest Generation” tripe. No one in the First Infantry fought for freedom or democracy; they fought to stay alive. The best scene comes on Omaha Beach, where Marvin has to shoot at Mark Hamill’s character to make him advance in a nearly suicidal mission.

Closer: Thoughts given here.

Bad Education: Reviewed here.

Vera Drake: Quiet, well made, and deeply evocative of moment and milieu while keeping the focus on character and personality.

Sideways: I can’t really add much to what Scott has said here.

Maria Full of Grace: I thought that Marston missed a bit of an opportunity in the second half; I never got the sense of raw terror that I think would afflict anyone fleeing alone from murderous drug dealers in a strange, foreign city with no money. That the film wasn’t as good as it could have been, however, shouldn’t detract from how good it was.

Hero: Technically a 2002 film, I didn’t even see it in the theaters during its 2004 release. Nevertheless, it would be a pity to exclude such a fine effort from the end of the year top list. A stunning but, in some ways, surprisingly subtle combination of visual majesty and political complexity centered on China’s founding mythistory.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Can’t tell you how much I love this film. Best movie ever made about a romantic relationship.

Blind Shaft: A 2003 release that didn’t make it to Seattle until March or April. If Manohla Dargis can include it on her list, I can include it on mine. Bitter, desperate small time hustlers in China resort to serial murder in an effort to feed their families. Great stuff.

The Aviator: I liked this film much better than I thought I would. Probably the most important element of my fondness is Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of Hughes. I’ve tended to be pretty hard on Leo; the only performances I really like are those in which he plays himself (Celebrity, The Beach to a lesser extent), and I thought he was a tremendous problem in The Gangs of New York. He really comes through here, though, as do Blanchett and of course Baldwin. It would be a pity for Scorcese to win Best Picture for the Aviator, but more because of the strength of past efforts than the weakness of this one.

Honorable Mention:

Spiderman 2
The Return
The Motorcycle Diaries
Shaun of the Dead
A Very Long Engagement
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Best Time I had in a Theater:

Lawrence of Arabia at the Cinerama. Better than sex.

That Was One Crappy Year

[ 0 ] December 30, 2004 |

Make sure to take Roger Ailes’s year in review quiz. And hope that we’ll get Jesse Taylor’s 20 most annoying conservatives soon…

What say we leave the Stalinist criticism to the National Review?

[ 2 ] December 30, 2004 |

When recently discussing the best-reviewed movies of the year, I (perhaps willfully) left one obvious candidate out. Well, among the best critics of the vaguely alternative press, I’m afraid Before Sunset is the year’s best-reviewed film. Since I haven’t actually seen it, I guess I can’t say more than I already have. Although if it’s better than #2 or #4 I would donate half of all my future earnings to the RNC.

I have, unfortunately, seen #3. I can’t nominate a worst movie of the year–not being a professional, I avoid the best candidates–but Dogville must be the most dismaying. Lars von Trier is not without talent and has made good movies before, but between the silly cameos, leaden pace, and banal, relentlessly self-congratulatory politics he’s become a Stanley Kramer for pretentious assholes. The fact that he dresses up his cliches with pointless avant-garde moves rather than square dramatizations just makes it worse. To discuss the aesthetics of Dogville is beside the point, anyway. I have yet to see a critic offer a plausible expressive function served by the line-drawn sets; it’s obvious that it’s just irrelevant wankery. Getting to the point, Voice critic Dennis Lim offers his defense: “Whether or not you buy Lars von Trier’s view of America—wait, why don’t you buy Lars von Trier’s view of America? Has it really been that hard this year?”

Ah, yes, now we get to the heart of the matter; the interminable Dogville is A Bracing Laying Bare of George W. Bush’s America. Not only is this irrelevant to the film’s actual merits, it’s not even right. The minor problem is that the film provides rather more convincing evidence of von Trier’s issues with women than “America’s.” I was willing to cut him some slack for the humiliation he visited on the fearless Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves, but enough. Once a philosopher, twice a pervert, thrice a misogynist. The major problem is that this movie is not about America, or American politics, or anything other than the director’s preening self-righteousness. The repellent and pathetically cliched closing, in which “Young Americans” is played over a montage of photos of American poverty, is a necessary attempted grounding because the rest of the movie fails to convey anything other than von Trier’s highly uninteresting thoughts about the crudest abstractions. I happen, in general, to prefer European democratic political arrangements to their rapidly worsening American counterpart myself, but you have to be a Grade A moron to think that there’s something uniquely American about conformity and violence and gender oppression. (And while, of course, worthwhile political thoughts are not necessary components to making a good movie, they are when your movie is nothing but a crude metaphor for said thoughts.) And then you have John Hurt’s fake middlebrow narration, intended to convey the earth-shattering insight that small town America is not actually as it’s portrayed in 50s sitcoms and nostalgic plays. Boy, that routine never gets tired!

The fact that this abject disaster ranks above Sideways is every bit as embarrassing as Roger Ebert recommending Garfield the Movie or Jersey Girl. George Bush is a terrible, terrible president, but he cannot make a shitty movie good merely because it’s made by an anti-American crank.

Rest in Peace, Detective Briscoe

[ 0 ] December 29, 2004 |

I understand, given the events in South Asia, that this is a relatively minor tragedy. Nonetheless, I’ll miss Jerry Orbach, as much for his long-term presence on Law and Order as for his roles in such films as Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Rummy Gets One Right

[ 0 ] December 28, 2004 |

What are the chances?

WASHINGTON, Dec. 28 – The Pentagon has told the White House and Congress that it plans sharp cuts in the Air Force’s program for the F/A-22, the most expensive fighter jet in history, in an effort that budget analysts said was intended to offset mounting deficits and the growing costs of the war in Iraq.

Senior Pentagon and Air Force officials were still discussing details of the cutbacks. One leading industry analyst, Loren Thompson, said the program could be ended after producing about 160 aircraft, possibly saving more than $15 billion over time but significantly raising the cost per plane. The Pentagon has already spent nearly $40 billion to develop the aircraft, which is just now coming into full production, Air Force officials said.

A Defense Department spokesman, Eric Ruff, declined to discuss any specific decisions on the Raptor program but said that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz, had spoken with lawmakers in recent days “to discuss long-term modifications to the tactical fighter programs.”

The F-22 is precisely the kind of weapon that we don’t need right now, or in the foreseeable future. Completely unnecessary for the war in Iraq, or for wars against Iran or North Korea. China is at least a generation behind, and buying 160 rather than 300 aircraft won’t make a bit of difference for continuing R&D.

The Bearable Secularism of American Constitutionalism

[ 0 ] December 28, 2004 |

A terrific post by Lindsay Beyerstein noting that to the extent they’re meaningful, claims that the United States is a “Christian Nation” are false. Indeed, I think her point that “[t]he values of the constitution are consistent with many of the values of Christianity, but also with the values of many other religions and many secular ethics. The critical point is that the constitution does not appeal to Christian doctrine to justify authority. I.e., the authority of the constitution does not rest upon tenets of faith, revealed truth, or the dogma of any particular religion” can be pushed even further. She is correct to note, of course, the dispositive point that the Constitution–rather remarkably given the historical context–conspicuously omits any reference to a religious authority. But I would say that the vast majority of the Constitution is neither consistent nor inconsistent with Christianity. Both the text of the document and The Federalist are overwhelmingly preoccupied with the practical problems of government, not the metaphysical grounding of state authority; the failures of the Articles of Confederation and the problems of large-scale republicanism figure rather more largely than the Ten Commandments in constructing our constitution. Indeed, all “Christian Nation” arguments must confront the obvious fact that the Constitution is primarily concerned with procedural structures as opposed to substantive rights. Granting that I lack the specialKaye Grogan edition, I don’t believe that the Bible takes any position on whether separation of powers is preferable to Westminster fusionism, or on whether federal courts should have original jurisdiction in cases involving diplomats. The vast majority of the content of American constitutionalism is wholly irrelevant to any religious text.


[ 0 ] December 27, 2004 |

I wrote recently that Sideways was the best reviewed film of the year. I’m not sure if this is true any longer; the reviews from top critics of Million Dollar Baby have been remarkably good. (Sideways still has a slightly higher Metacritic score, but eyeballing the reviews and year-end lists of major critics, Eastwood’s movie seems to have been reviewed even more enthusiastically.) Both A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis, for example, rank it the year’s best film. (In an oddity, Stephen Holden–normally a perfect negative litmus test for my own tastes–has a top ten list I’m in much greater agreement with.)

Now, Million Dollar Baby, which I haven’t yet seen, certainly might be an outstanding film; Eastwood did, after all, direct his best film just last year. Still, I suspect I might fall in with the few dissenters. And the reason for my skepticism is simple: is there a director who gets a freer ride from most good critics than Clint Eastwood? There’s something about his status as a film icon, slow pace, formal immersion in genre conventions, and noir lighting that makes many American critics swoon on contact. (This style is often called “modest,” although it draws attention to itself every bit as much as the more innovative theatricality of a Welles or Scorsese.) Even if you consider Mystic River and Unforgiven the masterpieces they’re often called as opposed to the very good movies I consider them, the idea that he’s anything close to the best American director currently working is laughable nonsense. Consider the record. The two movies I’ve named are my exhaustive list of good Clint Eastwood pictures, with the new one pending. Admittedly, I’ve never seen his highly regarded version of The Horseshit of Robert James Waller, so let’s say that’s three. There are a couple of passable-plus westerns, and a couple of honorable failures (Bird and White Hunter); basically neutral, the kind of mediocre patch almost all directors have. But beyond this, what’s amazing is how many absolutely, irredeemably terrible movies Eastwood has directed. Robert Altman may be the most uneven of America’s living first-rate filmmakers, but I would watch Pret A Porter 100 times before watching Absolute Power–a howlingly awful “thriller” that is among the worst movies I’ve seen in a theatre in the last 15 years–again once. Midnight in the Garden of Good And Evil is only marginally better, and it compensates by being even more soporific. During my second most recent awful stomach flu, I watched some of Blood Work on TBS and thought I was watching a fifth-rate CSI knockoff until a cadaverous looking Eastwood ambled into the picture. Then you’ve got the atrocious Dirty Harry sequel, the atrocious Dirty Harry clone, awful sci-fi, awful Kevin Costner vehicle. I’m sorry, but if that’s the best American director I’m Robert Bresson.

So, while Million Dollar Baby may be great, I’m approaching it strictly on a wait-and-see basis.

Pointless questions

[ 0 ] December 27, 2004 |

I’ve spent the last several days with my family, away from computers and email. This has given me time to ponder various trivialities far more than I, or anyone, should. In that spirit, I have a pointless observation and equally pointless question. Due to the near-complete failure of my generation to breed efficiently, my family skews rather old. When it comes to computers, the use-age distribution is about what you’d expect–noone over 75 has much to do with computers, 40-75 is more mixed, with some moderate use, and us under-40’s are mostly daily users.

Here’s my puzzle–another relatively new technology has an inverse age-use pattern. I’m talking about microwaves. My sister doesn’t have one. I use it only to occasionally reheat certain kinds of leftovers, at most. My parents use it for a bit more. But my grandmother–and indeed, all my elderly family members–use the damn thing all the time, cooking a host of items normal people wouldn’t dream of using a microwave for–any and all vegetables, “baked” potatoes fish, bechemel sauce (take it out and stir it every 15 seconds), and even scrambled eggs, which clearly take longer than in a frying pan. I casually mentioned how fondly I remembered the popcorn from my grandmother’s oldfashioned 50’s popcorn popper, and she said I could have it if I wanted to dig it out of storage–she only eats (ugh!) microwave popcorn now. I half-expected the Christmas roast to come out of the microwave.

So is this a common trend, or just my weird family? And if this is a larger trend, what explains it? Why would one technological innovation so captivate a generation of people who’ve had more than a half-century to become set in their ways? Or is it just that they’re sick of cooking after all these years, so they latch onto any time-saving device? Of course, the computer could save them time on a number of other tasks….

Page 1 of 712345...Last »