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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Hey, Jews, the Joke’s on You!

January 31st, 2013 - 7:52 am

In the light of the comic genius of people like Jack Benny, the Marx Brothers, and Mel Brooks, it’s sometimes said that Jewish people have an especially keen sense of humor. Perhaps that would explain why so many of them voted for Barack Obama. They must’ve been anticipating the knee-slapping hilarity of Obama pulling the rug out from under them to send them falling butt first onto the hard floor of his broken promises where they’d slip on the banana peel of his deceit and go skittering into the mud pit of his betrayal.

What a chuckle it’s been indeed. Right after winning well over 60% of the Jewish vote in November, Obama delivered his gut-busting punchline by nominating former Senator Chuck Hagel to serve as secretary of Defense. And as if that weren’t funny enough, Hagel is now before the Senate, where he’ll almost certainly be confirmed.

Now the good news for Jews is that Hagel rhymes with bagel, a tasty breadstuff much beloved by our Hebraic citizens. The bad news is just about everything else. Supporters of the former senator have been reassuring various media outlets that Hagel doesn’t dislike Jewish people. And I’m sure that’s mighty Christian of him. The problem is he’s not being asked to dance at a bar-mitzvah. He’s being called to support our allies and stand up to our enemies and when it comes to the Middle East he doesn’t seem quite sure about which are which.

Hagel has complained about the “Jewish lobby,” he’s criticized Israel’s commitment to peace even as her citizens were being slaughtered by terrorists, he’s opposed sanctions against Syria and Iran while describing Israel’s war against terrorist Hezbollah as “the systematic destruction of an American friend,” meaning Lebanon.  He also refused to sign a 1999 letter condemning Russian anti-semitism, a letter that was signed by 99 other senators, which by my count is all of them except Chuck.

Can’t stop laughing? How about this one. Hagel’s supporters say Hagel’s anti-semitic comments and actions and feelings have been taken out of context. And that, coincidentally, is just what Egyptian dictator Mohammed Morsi says about his comments. Morsi, you remember, is the guy to whom Obama just sent a couple of F-16′s. Which must be another of the president’s hilarious Jewish jokes, since Morsi’s also the dude who described Jews as the descendants of apes and pigs. But like Hagel, Morsi says he was misunderstood. After all, who doesn’t love that funny pig in Babe, right? And what about King Kong where that gigantic Jew chased Naomi Watts around. That was fun.

Okay, Obama’s nomination of Hagel — like his weapons aid to Morsi — may not be in the best traditions of Jewish humor, but this administration is certainly a joke to anyone who supports our only true ally in the Middle East.

OTV: Game Shows for the Obama Era

January 28th, 2013 - 6:00 am

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A new reality-style game show called The Job is coming to television on CBS this February. The network description says contestants will compete to win such positions as assistant manager at a restaurant group or editorial assistant with Cosmopolitan magazine.

Clearly, this is TV for the Obama era — an age in which the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high due to an unfortunate economic anomaly called Head-up-the-Kazoo Syndrome which causes a president to strangle the economy with a massive expansion of government while the media put their collective head up his kazoo.

In a Head-up-the-Obama-Kazoo economy, we can look forward to more television shows like The Job in which people are willing to scratch, claw, and publicly debase themselves in order to win those basic human necessities which would be readily available if we, you know, hadn’t re-elected the Kazoo guy.

Those of us who so enjoy the entertainment of human degradation can look forward to Obama Era shows like Meal or no Meal, in which contestants compete, form alliances, flirt, fight, and betray one another in order to win lunch. And I personally can’t wait for the American Idol spin-off Sing for Your Supper, in which the most talented young people in the country perform their hearts out for a crust of bread.

Other upcoming O-TV might include The Big Lie, in which wannabe journalists compete for a job at the New York Times by devising ever more absurd methods of blaming the stagnant economy on the Republicans. Columnist Paul Krugman could even be a panel judge on the show, as soon as the meds kick in and he’s released on his own recognizance.

The age of Obama could inspire a wide array of shows such as Who Wants to be A Thousandaire?,  America’s Got Disability Checks, Wheel of Oppression and The Biggest Loser, Namely Us.

All in all, I’d say the Obama years are promising to truly put the reality into reality TV.

****

Thumbnail image courtesy shutterstock / Nordling

The Bourne Hypocrisy

January 25th, 2013 - 6:00 am
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I had to laugh watching the DVD of the Bourne Identity reboot The Bourne Legacy. When Zero-Dark Thirty honestly portrayed the role waterboarding and hard-line interrogations played in helping the CIA track down Osama bin Laden, our political class, led by Senators Dianne Feinstein, John McCain and Carl Levin, protested the movie’s honesty. Speaking truth to power also seems to have cost the movie’s director Kathryn Bigelow an Oscar nomination. The senators wanted Bigelow to tell the politically correct lie that torture-like tactics don’t work. Think about that for a minute. Would they work on you? Me too. Of course they worked. That doesn’t make them right, but Bigelow has correctly pointed out that her movie doesn’t comment on that.

Anyway, what made me laugh is that the Bourne movies portray the CIA as a murderous criminal organization which lies to congress while slaughtering innocent citizens at will. How come no one’s protested that? Well, you may say, Bourne is fiction and Zero Dark is based on truth. But really, which is worse for America’s image: admitting we played hard ball with a bunch of killer jihadi scumbags — or portraying our intelligence services as soulless assassins slaughtering their own?

Anyway, if you’re wondering, the new Bourne is a fun late night DVD. It’s a little disconcerting to watch a five star cast (Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach, and Albert Finney) delivering nothing but dialogue of the get-me-Quantico-now-now-now variety. But the action’s cool, including the by-now cliched Third World Slum-Chase and a motorcycle chase that should win some sort of stunt man award. And the two stars are expert and appealing.

The Bourne Identity is a great thriller, the rest of the series is way overrated, watchable but second rate. This is as good as any of them, except that wonderful first one.

 

“Justified” Nearing Crime Show Greatness

January 23rd, 2013 - 6:01 am

If you’re not watching the new season of Justified (Tuesdays at 10 on FX), you’re missing the best crime series on TV and what may be about to become one of the genuinely great crime series of all time. For me, most TV shows reach their highest level in the first year. Stories have a theme. The theme works itself out in the first year. Everything else is a sequel, second best. Sometimes by the fourth year a new theme is discovered and the show gets a second wind, but it’s still rarely as good as that first season. Dexter and The Wire, two great shows, come to mind as examples.

But while the first three seasons of Justified have been distinguished by terrific acting, spectacular dialogue, excellent characters and moments of violence that were terrifying without being unnecessarily disgusting (usually), the year-long arcs of the plots have not been as great as the rest of the package. The show is inspired by an Elmore Leonard short story, and while Leonard’s genius for dialogue and his hilarious and realistic approach to human corruption are what inform the show at its best, his satiric and sometimes rambling plotting doesn’t translate that well to TV.(Or maybe it’s just that he’s not writing the show — though the creator Graham Yost has channeled him wonderfully.)

In its first two episodes, however, this season looks to me to have moved to an even higher level. The yearlong plot, which involves the unearthing of a long-lost messenger bag, is inherently compelling and makes a great hook on which to hang the sub-plots. And the main characters seem to have found themselves in ways that give them fresh life. The appealing out-of-his-time hero Raylan Givens (played with a pitch-perfect blend of irony and valor by Timothy Olyphant) is in a relationship with a barmaid that promises some really interesting complications, especially as his ex is about to give birth to their child. The small-town gangster Boyd Crowder (played by The Shield‘s Walton Goggins, one of the best actors on TV, if not the best) is now in a relationship with his widowed sister-in-law Ava (played by the excellent and heart-meltingly beautiful Joelle Carter) that is as genuinely affectionate and touching as it is murderous and corrupt. Nick Searcy’s perfectly played Chief, world-weary but compassionate, is struggling with retirement. And all the new characters — a tent preacher, a constable, the barmaid’s ex — look to be richly drawn and promising.

Really, watching the first two episodes was bliss.

The second golden age of American crime writing, which lived in the novel during the 80′s and 90′s, has moved to television. Justified is an excellent part of that excellent trend and just seems to be getting better.

****

Cross-posted at PJ Lifestyle

Obama’s Second Inaugural and The Party Line

January 21st, 2013 - 5:00 am

It’s difficult to watch Barack Obama begin a second term with the debt, the unemployment rate, the poverty rate, and the number of people on food stamps all higher than they were when he took office the first time. It’s difficult to see him sworn in after he surrendered the war we’d already won in Iraq and doubled down on a war no one could win in Afghanistan. Obamacare is about to contribute to medical entitlements that will devour a third of our profligate budget. The Middle East is being swept under by the tide of Islamism George W. Bush tried so hard to stem. It’s tough to see Obama handed the power of making policy for four more years.

The short-term reasons this happened are becoming clear. The Democrats ran a cynical but effectively targeted campaign. The Republicans were blind to changing demographics and deaf to the fears of the working class. But in a larger sense, it’s just the nature of the beast — namely us; namely humankind.

I had the pleasure last weekend of reading The Party Line, a new play by PJ Media’s own Roger L. Simon and his wife Sheryl Longin. The drama tells two interlocking based-on-truth stories. One is the story of Walter Duranty, a New York Times reporter who won the Pulitzer Prize even as he was covering up the Soviet-created famines that were murdering millions in the Ukraine. The other is the story of Pim Fortuyn, the courageous Dutch politician who warned against the Islamization of the Netherlands and was assassinated by a crazed environmentalist out to protect Muslims.

I call reading this a pleasure because the play is a good one, evocative and powerfully written, as I’d expect from Roger and Sheryl, experts at finding the human drama in historical events. But it was also a disheartening reminder of an aspect of human nature that has haunted me for many years and that has reached a sort of apotheosis with Obama’s re-election

As the title suggests, the theme of the play — and what links the two stories — is the triumph of credo over truth, the ferocious commitment that decent, intelligent, educated people make to virtuous-sounding ideals and well-intended programs that are, in fact, the sure road to atrocity. The utopian hope of Communism, which has caused its adherents to turn a blind eye to mass murder and oppression…  the high-minded lie of multiculturalism, which, in the name of tolerance, has given aid and comfort to the enemies of civilization… Intellectuals and sophisticates not only cling to such fancies but demonize the prophets who try to reveal their real nature.

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Proof of Heaven Isn’t… Still…

January 18th, 2013 - 5:42 am

Proof of Heaven is the sort of book I almost never read, but I’m glad I made an exception. I don’t really follow the whole Near Death Experience, is-there-or-isn’t-there-an-afterlife debate. I’ve come to believe there is more to life than life, but I don’t think about it much. Life itself seems a pretty urgent business and I want to pay attention to it before it’s gone. If there’s nothing afterwards, I’ll never know. If there is, I’ve got an excellent lawyer.

But a friend gave me the book for Christmas. I started it, and found it weirdly compelling. As you’ve probably heard, it’s Dr. Eben Alexander’s memoir of how he, a neurosurgeon, went into a coma and saw the next world. According to Alexander, who should know, he was so brain dead at the time it happened that it’s virtually impossible for this to have been any kind of a dream or hallucination. And as the experience went on for days, there was a lot of detail, including some stuff that struck me as convincing. Nothing he sees on the Other Side is particularly startling. It’s all in line with the instincts of the best sort of faith. We’re loved; we’re forgiven. Oh, and there are angels. I’ve never been so sure about angels, but apparently there they are. Dogs too. I’d be very disappointed if there were no dogs.

Now as one of my novel characters once remarked: There’s a reasonable explanation for everything and that’s the one some people choose to believe. One of the things I liked best about the book is that Alexander is honest enough to allow us into some of the darker places in his psychology. If you want to construct a psychological explanation for his Near Death Event you can. And he even gives several “scientific” explanations of greater or lesser plausibility — the best being that the whole experience was basically the dream he had when his brain was rebooting.

All the same, I found the book oddly believable. It’s not pious or treacly like so many books about faith experiences are. And even though the doc gets pretty New Age and woo-woo by the time he’s finished, it wasn’t alienating if you kept an open mind. It stuck with me for several days after I finished it.

So while no one can offer you a guarantee, I would say this book constitutes a piece of circumstantial evidence for the defense of heaven. Which makes for an interesting read, even if you decide to dismiss it.

A Charming Programmer: Trouble With the Curve

January 16th, 2013 - 5:11 am
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I can tell you two things about Trouble With the Curve: it was utterly predictable and I couldn’t stop watching it. That’s a tribute to the cast mostly, but also to a script that may not be full of surprises, but is at least full of gentle charm and good will.

Clint Eastwood gives an excellent performance as an aging baseball scout beginning to lose his eyesight. Amy Adams is so sweet, vulnerable and charming I could barely believe it was the same actress who played the icy wife in The Master. In this she’s Eastwood’s daughter, a hard-charging lawyer who has no place in her life for love because her dad neglected her. Justin Timberlake — who seems like he should have no talent but actually does — is the ruined pitcher trying to establish a career as a scout. There’s a nasty white boy who’s a hot batting prospect, and a polite, respectful brown fellow who can throw a ball 90 miles an hour but no one’s noticed. You can probably write the rest of the movie yourself.

When it came out, the film took some flak from reviewers because it was just after Eastwood’s appearance at the Republican National Convention. Clint had committed a violation of the Hollywood code that all movie people should remain non-political unless they are left wingers, in which case they can stick their heads up Hugo Chavez’s left nostril and suffer nary a word of rebuke. Once again, our critics displayed their tolerant and diverse attitudes toward everyone who agrees with them about everything and their small-minded nastiness toward anyone who doesn’t tow the party line. Some of them even attacked Eastwood’s performance, which is unforgivably dishonest. He’s terrific.

Which is not to say the film’s any kind of an unsung classic. It’s just nice, that’s all. Characters look for love, they reconcile, they struggle, they forgive, they kiss and hug. It’s a movie! If you’re not in a demanding mood, you’ll enjoy it.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Guns

January 14th, 2013 - 5:30 am

The Oresteia of Aeschylus is the Greek’s great epic about the founding of the state. The trilogy of plays tells how a blood feud in the house of Agamemnon comes to an end when the gods decree that justice shall now be delivered not through individual vengeance but by governmental process. As Charles Hill writes in Grand Strategies, “This makes the death penalty the foundation stone of civilization, for only when a victim’s kin are convinced that the state will exact justice in response to murder will they entrust that power to the state.”

When a state decides to abolish the death penalty, they are reneging on that original agreement. The progressive argument is, essentially, that the contract was made in former times when people were not so civilized as they are now. Years of life under the rule of law have made us better than we were, and we have moved beyond the savage need to punish murder with murder. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, as Ben Kingsley said when he was pretending to be Gandhi.

The conservative argument — the argument, in this case, for preserving capital punishment — is, no, mankind is ever and always what it was. New technologies may have given us greater powers of imprisonment and reform that make execution necessary in fewer cases, but there is still murder in the world and the wronged heart still demands full recompense. The state must hold to at least the minimum of its Oresteian agreement or lose the right to govern.

But Aeschylus notwithstanding, the delivery of justice after an attack is not the only foundational contract a state makes with its people. In allowing the government to maintain a standing army and police force, we are also agreeing to transfer to the state the duty and immense power of defending us from being attacked in the first place. This is not only a matter of practicality, it’s the only method anyone’s come up with to prevent the Hobbesian war of all against all.

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Eerie Book: Your House is on Fire…

January 11th, 2013 - 5:00 am

Last Saturday, the Wall Street Journal’s often excellent weekend Review section featured author Stefan Kiesbye presenting his five best books about the dark side of small towns. I’ve always enjoyed those WSJ five best columns (I did one myself once, in fact, about psychological crime novels) and have found some really good books that way.

But my main point is that the column reminded me of Kiesbye. I wanted to write about him a few months ago and never got the chance because of all the election fuss. I read his novel last year, Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone. Very well-written, well-imagined and creepy stuff about a group of children in a small, isolated village in Germany after the war. It’s a hard book to describe and I wouldn’t want to give too much away, especially since I had the pleasure of stumbling over it in a bookshop and reading it without knowing a thing about it, and it was all the more powerful for that. It even kept me awake a couple of nights.

Basically, it’s a series of linked short stories about the kids in this town and their relationships with the local adults and with each other. Each story begins normally enough and then descends into violence, horror and even the supernatural. It’s all so plausible that it makes you shiver, and the underlying theme of generational sin and culture rises up like smoke until it permeates and blackens every page.

In its eerie atmosphere, it reminded me of We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, a novel I’ve loved since I was a boy. That book has dated a little as others have imitated it, but it still sends a chill up my spine, even more powerfully than Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, which is more often recognized as a classic in the ghost genre. Kiesbye’s novel has that same creepy wrongness about it — an atmosphere that’s very difficult to capture.  The novel is also reminiscent of the recent film The White Ribbon, but while that film was haunting and troubling too, it ultimately subscribed to the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy of German history, wherein everything that came before Nazism can be viewed as a cause of Nazism. Your House is on Fire is smarter and more subtle than that, and therefore more difficult to dismiss after you’ve finished it.

Anyway, if you’re up for — not scares exactly — but just an eerie sense of something terribly wrong, something uncanny, something wicked this way coming, I very much recommend Kiesbye’s book. It’s a scary read with art and smarts — very hard to come by nowadays.

I’ll Show You Oscar Nominations!

January 10th, 2013 - 3:18 pm

Here’s me in The Daily Caller on the Oscar noms:

Ever since the now-famous Senate investigation into Non-Democrat Activities in Hollywood, the question “Are you now or have you ever been a Republican?” has struck fear into the hearts of movie-makers who ever — even if only briefly in their youths — toyed with the idea that there should be constitutional limits on the powers of the government. The industry-wide blacklist that has virtually eliminated conservative directors, screenwriters and actors from “the business” has ensured Americans will be protected from the ideas of dangerous radicals like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and will find nothing but a wholesome diet of pro-Democratic fare at their local multiplex.

Thus it comes as no surprise that this year’s Oscar nominations include Argo, an entertaining escape drama that neatly whitewashes the near-criminal incompetence of the Carter administration in the Middle East; Zero Dark Thirty, a gripping manhunt story that neatly whitewashes the near-criminal incompetence of the Obama administration in the Middle East; Lincoln, a hagiographical snoozer that draws invidious comparisons between a truly great dead president and a truly mediocre living one; and Beasts of the Southern Wild, which makes an exciting fairy tale out of the left’s global warming … well, fairy tale.

Read my nominations here: http://dailycaller.com/2013/01/10/no-oscars-for-these-conservative-masterpieces/#ixzz2HcLg1CU8