Today, I heard the heartbeat of the 71-day-old creature currently residing inside my wife.
In 32 weeks, I’ll finally get to meet the little guy.
Today, I heard the heartbeat of the 71-day-old creature currently residing inside my wife.
In 32 weeks, I’ll finally get to meet the little guy.
Will’s post on housing prices got me to thinking – “Didn’t we discuss something almost like this almost three years ago?”
Admittedly, I was talking about deflation and home ownership rates, and not about stupid people taking on stupid amounts of debt. But the princple remains the same: This hot housing market can’t go on.
Did I see Star Wars yet?
Ahem. Excuse me.
Did I see “Star Wars: Episode III
I’m not sure why I neglected to post this earlier (probably because my own contribution was so sloppily written), but Lance McMurray at Red State Rant offered several bloggers the chance to ask questions of former Senator (and Governor) Zell Miller in a bloggerific group interview. Lance has posted the results in two parts, and it’s good stuff–my outbreak of grammar and punctuation dysfunction being a notable exception.
We need a new termite treatment and bond. So I take an hour and a half off of work today to meet with one weasel–uh, I mean, inspector, who sits down at my kitchen table to give me his spiel, including a long and very specific bit about how his company’s bond is better than his competitions’, because “we don’t just cover structural stuff, we cover the contents, too, you know, cabinets, books, anything else that might get damaged, where those guys don’t.”
Then, after I got rid of the guy, I read his contract, which says, “This Agreement provides for repair of structural damage only. It excludes damage to the contents of the Property.”
Do these jackasses assume that nobody’s going to read the contract? You don’t want to carry some coverage or another, fine. Frankly, I’m not really worried about termites eating my books. But don’t sit there in my house and lie to my face.
Sumbitch had the most expensive price, too. Into the trash his quote goes. [/yoda]
Ever heard of Henry Raddick? He’s been something of an internet sensation for years now, but I was blissfully unaware of his fame until a friend emailed me this link to his Amazon reviews, which frankly defy description (beyond the word “hysterical,” that is). A sample, in this case a review for “Know Your Pug”:
An excellent guide which is helping me get to know my pug Grendel, which is not an easy job. My children have taken to attaching surprisingly realistic stick-on ears to his rump and he turned around and bit me recently when I tried to put a piece of cheese rind into what I thought was his mouth.
There are dozens more, and they get weirder and funnier as you go along. Happy grazing…
I’ve been skeptical about the much-discussed housing bubble in the past. I’m getting less skeptical when I read things like this:
As recently as 2002, only 11% of the new mortgages in the [San Francisco Bay] area were interest-only mortgages. But today 66% of new mortgages in the area are financed that way. While such mortgages are not as common nationwide, the upward trend extends across the country. Fewer than 10% of new mortgages nationwide were interest-only mortgages in 2002 but that has now risen to 31%.
That’s from a pithy and rather scary WSJ column by Thomas Sowell, and I’m sorry to say that it tracks with what I’ve been hearing about in two regions I’m familiar with, namely metro Atlanta and the north Gulf Coast of Florida.
Atlanta first. Driving around here and seeing signs for houses ranging from “upper $400′s” to “$750′s” and up–and this is not in the fancier sections, mind you–I’ve been asking for years, “Who the hell buys these places, and what do they do for a living? How can that many people afford the mortgage on a house like that?” The answer may be, “They can’t–unless it’s floating on a cheap ARM or LIBOR.”
I was talking with a friend a couple of weeks ago, whose next-door neighbor is indebted about as deeply as you can possibly imagine: interest-only main mortgage on a very pricey home, a home-equity loan based on its appreciation (meaning he owns absolutely nothing), and various auto loans and personal lines of credit. According to my friend, this guy and his wife are obsessed with ‘keeping up with the Joneses,’ and have spent every penny of that credit on lavish home improvements, furnishings, electronics and such. Here’s the kicker: they’re trying to sell off their house to buy a bigger and more expensive one in a supposedly more-desireable subdivision, but they’re asking so much (they have to, they’re upside down on the house), they aren’t getting any bites. And balloon payments on those loans are getting closer every day.
No, wait, that wasn’t the kicker. That’s just a random data point about one couple who’re making spectacularly stupid decisions. Here’s the kicker: the neighborhood they’re in has a 29% foreclosure rate, according to a local realtor my friend also talked to. This isn’t what you’d think of as a high-risk area, either. This is one of the toniest suburbs in the state. There are an awful lot of trailer parks that don’t have 29% foreclosure rates.
Second, north Florida. For the last four years or so–beginning roughly fifteen minutes after I sold the house I used to own in Panama City–real estate in the Florida Panhandle has been on a jaw-dropping boom. Lots within smelling distance of the water began to flip at multiples of their original selling prices, and construction has exploded. Panama City Beach alone has over thirty new high-rise condo complexes in various stages of construction–forget the old “Redneck Riviera” scene, it looks like South Beach down there today.
You’ve heard of “doing land-office business?” That’s what’s been going on in the Panhandle since roughly 2002. Lots, condos, and houses have flipped and flipped and flipped, from one speculating owner to another, with the price just about doubling every time in many cases–and almost all of them are on interest-only or ARM loans. Housing has gotten so expensive along the once-sleepy coast, home values are being forced up well to the north, as people look to once-backwater burgs like Ponce De Leon and Defuniak Springs for an affordable house.
“So what?” you ask. “Coastal property always appreciates, this is just a previously little-known area that’s been discovered and is being bought up.” And that’s true–except that according to a construction foreman I know in Destin, housing sales plummeted by 28% in April, and May is looking just as bad. He’s working on a large project in Destin where five “flips” backed out on deals in just the last two weeks. He also tells me that multitudes of “for sale” signs have popped up all along the coastal roads in the last couple of months, where previously the properties were being snapped up within days or even hours of going on the market.
All anecdotal, to be sure, and Neal Cavuto would argue that we’re talking about three particularly distorted markets where speculation is rampant, not the whole country. But all of the above, plus Sowell’s numbers certainly suggests to me that there are going to be an awful lot of high-dollar properties defaulting into the hand of lenders over the next couple of years. Opportunities for some, and disasters for others.
I’m hearing quite a bit of chatter through the USAF contractor grapevine that Zarqawi is dead. The only reason I mention it here is, the rumor is apparently rampant at Hurlburt
AFB Field, home of the Air Force Special Ops guys, some of whom would be in a position to know such things.
Take it for what you paid for it, but I certainly hope the murderous son of a bitch is assuming room temperature in Hell.
I’ve always thought that one of the biggest problems with schools, at any level, is too many of the adults who work there never had any life experiences outside of school. After finishing school, they immediately became teachers, just changing where they stood (or sat) in the classroom. For some of them, never having lived in the “real world” outside of a schoolhouse had the deleterious effect of never really forcing them to grow up, and to set aside their own adolesent hang-ups and insecurities.
If this story is any indication, I’m right.
A suggestion for Principal Holton: grow up.
…Safe and somewhat unsound.
I was pretty much done with “Star Wars” posts, but then I read author Orson Scott Card’s review, which is as perfect a take on the new movie as I can imagine:
Even though the characterization is nonexistent, the relationships like a seven-year-old’s impression of how grownups act, the politics clearly the product of a mind that has never grasped history, and the science at the “How can rivers flow north?” level, the underlying saga still manages to touch a chord.
Don’t misunderstand. I laughed along with the other people in the theater at those horrible moments when the poor actors were forced to say some of the most appalling lines ever spoken on the screen. I could not possibly care about characters who were never for a moment believable as human beings.
But the story itself, the epic that had so inspired Young Mr. Lucas, does have grandeur in it that his own ineptness was unable to destroy. There is power in the sheer ambition of it.
Here’s the strange thing. Even though that opening day audience largely understood how bad the writing was — and laughed out loud and even cheered for the absolutely worst lines — they still got a sense of fulfilment out of watching everything come together.
I’m glad I saw it.
And, incredibly enough, I will almost certainly see it again. And buy the DVD.
Read the rest, and be sorry that Lucas didn’t have the good sense to hire somebody who writes as well as Card.
Yet another post-Newsweekgate tendentious defense of the MSM today, this time from Terry M. Neal in the Washington Post. Most of it is now-familiar “fake but accurate” claptrap, and I was about to quit reading halfway through when Neal popped of with this howler:
Some conservative bloggers have suggested that the media should never criticize or raise critical questions of the military in wartime. Some have extended that criticism, conveniently, to cover the president’s wartime policies.
Oh, really? Which ones? Can you provide a quote, a link, a reference to a single blogger who’s said any such thing, or are did you just prop up an imaginary straw man?
Really great “journalism” there, Terry. Yep, all those editors really came in handy for that one.
Neal gives away the game in the next couple of sentences:
But that’s such a different standard than what most journalists are taught. No wonder people think most reporters are liberal. It’s because journalism is in itself, as a profession, by definition liberal.
Hey, Terry–here’s a suggestion. After you’ve spent most of your column repeating cant Bush-bashing talking points and inventing non-quotes that no blogger ever actually wrote, it’s not real smart to then go off on the old Helen Thomas “Of course we’re liberals–all smart, open-minded people are liberals” wacky train. That’s a really, really stupid thing to do in a column supposedly about now the press isn’t biased.
Just for future reference, you know.
Tigerhawk, via Instapundit:
Bloggers as a group combine two attributes — the ability to assemble expertise on almost any topic at extreme speed, and the propensity to write at very high velocity. This combination of expertise and velocity comes at the cost, perhaps, of sobriety…
NOTE: Not even gonna try to catch up on the news before we head home tomorrow. We spent three days in Tring, without an internet connection nor even a spare moment to watch the tellie. Er… the TV.
On the other hand, the wedding was perfect and the reception was even better.
More on Wednesday, jetlag permitting.
Best news I’ve seen all week:
Billionaire developer Donald Trump has officially thrown his support behind a plant to rebuild the Twin Towers at Ground Zero in practically the same form they were in prior to the September 11 attacks with a few safety modifications.
Trump implored Governor George Pataki to discard the plans for the ‘Freedom Tower’ presently on the table, describing the design as ‘the worst pile of crap architecture I’ve ever seen in my life,’ according to a report published in ‘Newsday.’
Wednesday, Trump held a news conference at Trump Towers on Fifth Avenue to announce his support for a ‘taller, stronger, more beautiful version of the World Trade Center.’
Even the Donald gets one right now and then.
In a word, “Wow.”
When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time imagining how the original “Star Wars” story would end.
Some of my imagining was half-baked. I was convinced that Darth Vader was lying about being Luke’s father, for instance. I figured Vader as a bit player in the final movie, set to be killed off by Luke and “the Other” about halfway through, just a warm-up for the real confrontation with the Emperor (“the Other,” by the way, was almost certainly a sprightly young guy of about my age, height, and looks). Luke and the Rebels would storm the Imperial Palace, overthrow the Empire, and have one hell of a party–with no singing teddy bears.
I imagined a vast, sweeping final battle, but instead we got a Death Star rehash and Ewoks. It took another 22 years for something very close to that last adolescent vision to come to the screen: “Revenge of the Sith” is in scope, story, and spectacle, everything “Return of the Jedi” should have been, but wasn’t.
It’s also something the first two prequels ought to have been: story-rich and emotionally engaging. Where “Episode I” elicited virtually no emotions from the audience beyond disappointment, and “Episode II” only brief delight when Yoda joins the fray, the final film grabs you to the point of being wrenching. Even better, there’s not a single utterance from the dreaded Binks in the entire two hours and 22 minutes of “Episode III.”
That’s probably enough before jumping into spoiler territory; more after the jump. I strongly suggest that you stop here until after you see the movie. I went in almost entirely spoiler-free, beyond knowing what everybody knew from the previous films, and it was worth it. But suffice to say: see it. As I suspected, The Pod is full of crap. At long last, this really is the one we’ve been waiting for.
Oh, wait, one more thing: the alleged Bush-bashing stuff has been completely overblown. Trust me on this one. If you get offended by this movie on political grounds, you probably also go into a frothing rage when the car in front of you turns on its left-turn signal. If it weren’t for the dumb press coverage, you wouldn’t even notice the supposed “controversial” bits.
I was going to see Star Wars tonight — it’s just after midnight London time. Then I got busy doing really fun stuff, and put it off until tomorrow.
Well, tomorrow is coming up awfully fast, and we’re already making other plans…
There’s a slight chance I won’t see the movie until after we get back to the States — the movie I’ve been waiting to see for 28 years.
But you know what? If I have to wait a week, London makes the wait more than worth it. I’m in love with this town, and with the people even more.
UPDATE: You know what sucks about blogging on London time? I don’t get my fresh Bleat until tomorrow morning. That’s just unAmerican.
Had a perfect little afternoon.
Lunch with Megan McArdle, followed by some shopping on Jermyn Street. (If you ever find yourself there and in need of a suit, stop in at Roderick Charles. I just bought a charcoal herringbone double-breasted number there, and it’s undoubtedly the finest thing I’ve ever owned. And for a very reasonable price. Anyway.)
Back in the hotel for a bit, because Melissa needed a nap. My perfect little afternoon was nearly spoiled when I read this:
…it was the press’s turn to fight back as Bush spokesman Scott McClellan opened his briefing to questions.
[Joined in progess]
Q With respect, who made you the editor of Newsweek? Do you think it’s appropriate for you, at that podium, speaking with the authority of the President of the United States, to tell an American magazine what they should print?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not telling them. I’m saying that we would encourage them to help –
Q You’re pressuring them.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I’m saying that we would encourage them –
Q It’s not pressure?
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, this report caused serious damage to the image of the United States abroad. And Newsweek has said that they got it wrong. I think Newsweek recognizes the responsibility they have. We appreciate the step that they took by retracting the story. Now we would encourage them to move forward and do all that they can to help repair the damage that has been done by this report. And that’s all I’m saying. But, no, you’re absolutely right, it’s not my position to get into telling people what they can and cannot report….
Q Are you asking them to write a story about how great the American military is; is that what you’re saying here?
MR. McCLELLAN: Elisabeth, let me finish my sentence. Our military –
Q You’ve already said what you’re — I know what — how it ends.
Yeah, well Newsweek knew how the Flushed Koran story ended, too, didn’t they?
This stuff just makes me mad, because the media is acting like an spoiled child. Michael Isikoff and Newsweek screwed up, and people died.
Now, McClellan makes the perfectly reasonable suggestion that Newsweek maybe, possibly take a little more responsiblity than they did on Monday. I’m sorry, but the Modified Limited Hangout wasn’t enough for Nixon in ’73, and it’s not good enough for Newsweek in ’05.
Instead… instead we get more of these goddamned Gotcha Journalism games.
Newsweek knows what it ought to do — exactly what McClellan suggested. But because a government official suggested it, Newsweek (and the entire press in general, it seems) feels free to keep doing the wrong thing.
Why? Because the government said to.
That’s the attitude of a spoiled child, who won’t do something he or she knows she should (or might even really want to) simply because Mommy or Daddy told them to do it.
Most blogs are more grown up than that — and most blogs are written by teenagers.
So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get back to my vacation now and do some grown-up things.
UPDATE: More here from James Dunnigan. Money line: “Newsweek, like most American media, is known to have higher standards than al Qaeda propagandists. But not that high.”
I got nothin’ on the Star Wars front today. Have to watch the movie to get any more. Meanwhile, Michelle is picking up the slack with her usual flair (15 pieces, minimum), and the fantastic Vader Blog wraps up in style.
UPDATE: Okay, just one more link, from a BBC reporter who liveblogged a marathon of all six movies in London yesterday (and where was Martini Boy while the London Symphony was playing all that soundtrack music in Leicester Square, hmm?).
Okay, I didn’t know how to use the shotgun yet, but still..
P.S. I’d get mad at the Pod for posting bad E3 dialogue in the Corner–but I have to forgive the guy, ’cause I thought the opening wasn’t until tomorrow night, and would have wasted my ticket.
No, it is tomorrow night. Stupid Pod.
…coincidence? I wonder…?”
If you know where that quote comes from, then you ought to be reading this site daily. If you don’t, then you ought to read it twice a day.
Almost exactly six years ago, I wrote a column about the enduring appeal of “Star Wars” and then-impending release of “Episode I.” In the conclusion, I said,
I don’t know whether this movie will be everything I want it to be. I don’t know if it’s humanly possible for any movie to live up to the expectations for The Phantom Menace.
Yikes, was that prophetic. While it did have its moments, “Episode I” not only didn’t live up to expectations, it was never remotely as good as that first, wonderous preview trailer that ran in the fall of 1998.
While I’m not a ‘hata’ of either “Episode I” or the “Star Wars” prequels in general, I’m also quite aware of their flaws. You know the oft-stated complaints: weak dialogue, lack of credible humor, no characters as fun as Han Solo, bloated CGI action scenes, and the cinematic war crime known as Jar-Jar Binks ($1 to Jim Geraghty). I’m sure you can fill in plenty of your own pet peeves.
(Here’s one to start with: Haley Joel Osment was turned down for the part of Anakin Skywalker in favor of Jake Lloyd. Just think about that a little.)
But the newer movies have inherent problems, regardless of any of the above, most notably (a) the burden of carrying all the exposition leading up to the original films, and even worse, (b) the audience already knows how they’re going to end.
The first problem nearly killed “Episode I,” all by itself. Exposition has never been one of George Lucas’s strong points, and of necessity, the first new movie was loaded with it. I’d argue that the Senate scenes in both Episodes I and II were needed to set up and complete the overall plot, but I’d also have a hard time disputing those who’d say that requirement didn’t make the scenes any less boring and/or inexplicable in an action movie.
Which brings us to the second inherent problem, and this week’s “Episode III”–a movie in which 99% of the audience already knows the ending.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave since 1983, before you even think about watching this movie, you already know that in it, the Emperor wipes out the Jedi Knights while seizing power, Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader, and Skywalker’s two children, Luke and Leia, are hidden from him before they’re born. That’s it. That’s the story.
All we lack are the details
Talk about closing the barn door after the horse has run away, broken a leg, and been beheaded by a raving mob:
Newsweek magazine, under fire for publishing a story that led to deadly protests in Afghanistan, said Monday it was retracting its report that a military probe had found evidence of desecration of the Quran by U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay.
Earlier Monday, Bush administration officials had brushed off an apology that Newsweek’s editor Mark Whitaker had made in an editor’s note and criticized the magazine’s handling of the story.
Protests broke out across much of the Muslim world last week after Newsweek reported that U.S. investigators found evidence that interrogators had flushed a copy of Muslim’s holy book down a toilet in an attempt to rattle detainees. The violence left about 15 dead and scores injured in Afghanistan.
As of yet, there’s been no public word from the bogus story’s authors, Mike “Spikey” Isikoff and John Barry. Since I haven’t read anybody else saying it yet, I’ll jump up and be the first: they should be fired, at a bare minimum. The editors who allowed the bogus story to run should be fired. Richard M. Smith, the editor-in-chief of the magazine, should resign in disgrace, or be fired himself.
Want to know why I think all that? Even if you put aside the sixteen dead people (and you can’t, and shouldn’t), my own brother-in-law is stationed in Afghanistan, and thanks to the above ass clowns, his job just got a whole lot harder and more dangerous.
Nice work, Spikey. Proud of yourself?
Yeah, all those wonderful credentialed “journalists” and “editors” in the MSM. Great people you got there. Very professional and careful. I’m sure Steve Lovelady and his ilk will be out there defending them all, tooth and nail.
Three years ago, I invented the term “pulling a Fukuyama” to explain why Roger Ebert gave “The Phantom Menace” more stars than “Attack of the Clones”:
Ebert has his head so far up his ass, he can lick his own esophagus.
It looks like Roger’s cranialrectalotomy was a complete success.
RELATED: The Dark Side is so strong, it seems to have betrayed and murdered George Lucas.
Yes, Newsweek and Michael Isikoff screwed up.
Yes, because of their screw-up, people died.
Yes, the US position in the Middle East and Central Asia was damaged – not fatally, but perhaps permanently.
No – nothing will change in the way the MSM conducts business.
Let me repeat that, just to make myself clear: Nothing will change. No improvements will be made. For the MSM, the lesson learned is not “let’s stick to the facts next time.” The lesson is, “let’s be more careful in how we present what we think the story is/should be.”
If there’s any kind of tipping point here, it will be in how the public perceives the news. There will be no change, none at all, in how the MSM perceives the news – nor in how it will choose to shape the story.
9/11 changed everything, we keep saying. For the MSM, 9/11 changed maybe a couple things
On many occasions, the jihadists in Iraq have been very specific as well as very general. When they murdered Sergio Vieira de Mello, the brilliant and brave U.N. representative assigned to Baghdad by Kofi Annan, the terrorists’ communiquComments Off
Jeebus, but London is expensive. There is, however, a trick to staying here without constantly worrying about the expense. (Two tricks, actually, but the first one doesn’t count, because I’m not the sole male heir of Bill Gates or Warren Buffett.) Anyway, here’s the trick.
Accept the fact that you’re getting screwed at the time you change currency. Once your dollars have become pounds, do not think of this again. From that point on, try to think of dollars and pounds as being equal.
That 10-pound BLT at the hotel lobby bar wasn’t really 20 bucks. It was ten. Sure, that’s a lot of money for a sandwich, but still in line with hotel prices. Four dollars for a Coke? No! If you can convince yourself that a pound is a dollar is a pound, that refreshing pause only cost you two dollars. Pricey? Sure. But what did you expect, tourist?
We enjoyed a lovely Italian lunch today, only 45 dollars including wine and tip. I know that’s not true, but I got over my anger on Sunday when I changed all those dollars.
Saturday night was my first real night in London, since we can’t count Jetlag Friday as any kind of day or night at all. Samizdata‘s Perry de Havilland threw the Anglosphere Blogger Bash at his lovely Chelsea home, and it was a fine time. I was already in love with London before meeting Perry and his crew (after a three-year wait). But by the time the evening was over, I had several new crushes.
First off, don’t let Megan McArdle let you buy that “I’m such a geek!” thing she has going. Not even though Megan believes it herself. In the real world, she’s far more hip & cool than she’ll ever give herself credit for. Megan was also able to make me feel 15 years old again — you know, back when the pretty girls still made me feel short.
Jessica is exactly what I expected, even though I didn’t expect her there at all. It was only after a second introduction and some pleasant chatter that I placed the face with the blog. I’m pretty sure Jessica holds her liquor better than I hold mine, because I distinctly remember making an ass of myself twice in her presence, and her not even one time at all. That said, if I ever find myself in her hometown of Atlanta, I’m going to: A) ask to crash on her sofa; and B) try not to make any passes. I promise.
Vita Maynard is simply lovely, and will steal your cigars right out of your offering hand. Or something like that. If she has a blog, I didn’t catch the name, because I was too busy flirting/trying to get free ballroom dance lessons. Vita also provided us with info on where to get the best – everything – in London, so I expect my first child will be born into a state of extreme poverty.
Samizdata’s Adriana Cronin was my first-ever blog-crush (remember that picture with her on the motorcycle from way back when?), and was probably yours, too. In person she’s even cooler, funnier, and hotter. Also, she has one of those party-stopping laughs. The kind where everyone stops what they’re doing because they just have to get in on the joke.
Rachel Clarke knows her Scotch. In fact, she even knows my Scotch better than I do. It helps that she works for a distributor. It helps even more that she’s bright and charming and simply a joy to speak with. If this all sounds like I’m just sucking up to a pretty girl so that I might get a nice bottle of duty free… well, I’m not just sucking up. It’s all true, every word.
Oh, there were guys there, too.
The whole Samizdata gang – David Carr, Brian Micklethwait, Gabriel Syme, Robert Clayton Dean, Jonathan Pearce, Michael Jennings – and some others whose names escape me right now. Too many to give individual kudos to, so let me sum up:
These guys can drink you under the table, and talk your ears off once you’re down there.
My kind of guys. My kind of party.
Thanks again to Perry the Uberhost. And if you’re ever lucky enough to find yourself at one of his famous parties, be sure to ask him about the Cold War history behind his wet bar.
Fair warning: You can look forward to a lot of “Star Wars” content this week. Hey, what did you expect–you’re reading a web site whose owner posted pictures of his Lego Star Destroyer. Deal with it.
First up from this side of the pond (I have it on good authority that Steve has already arranged for midnight-premeire tickets somewhere near Picadilly Circus, by the way), there’s the reported anti-Bush political content in Episode III.
Short version: I don’t much care.
Long version: It’s no particular suprise that George Lucas is a leftie. The guy’s been marinating in the moonbat stew of San Francisco and Marin County for most of his life, and he’s also one of those unfortunate people who romanticizes the Viet Cong. In numerous interviews over the last 30 years, he’s talked about how the rebels (and Wookies, and even Ewoks) in “Star Wars” were loosely based on the Communist gurellas from Vietnam, who in Lucas’s imagination, ‘defeated’ a technologically superior enemy. If you go back and look at the very early Star Wars writings, including the first page of the Lucas-directed novelization (actually written by sci-fi hack Alan Dean Foster), it’s very obvious that the Emperor was based on Richard Nixon.
That’s all pretty funny, at least in my mind. It serves mostly to illustrate that Lucas bought into the post-hippie mythology of the Vietnam War, instead of studying the actual history–otherwise, his rebels’ greatest victories would come courtesy of sympathizers in the Imperial Media and dissenters in the Imperial Opposition Party (and that’s not even mentioning the postwar Ewok boat people or Wookie concentration camps).
To Lucas’s credit, however, he kept this stuff very much down in the subtext for the original three films, and they were all the better for it. Unless you’d heard him talking about it, you’d never have picked up on the specious Vietnam analogy, just to pick one example. When “Star Wars” first premeired in 1977, one of the film’s main selling points was its complete lack of political baggage. After a decade of “China Syndromes” and “All The President’s Men,” or even “Dirty Harry” on the other side, “Star Wars” came as a massive relief to audiences who were sick of being lectured to by movie makers.
Unfortunately, Lucas let his oddball Marin politics creep into the three “prequel” films, with references to the “greedy trade federation” and other villains drawn from the “banking guild,” and there are a few other rather silly asides (one villain is named “Noot Gunray”–please, even Al Franken would be embarrased by that one), but even then, the dorm-room political hackery is overwhelmed by the overall story and bombast, and I expect that to still be the case in “Episode III.”
Let me put it bluntly: I’m not much inclined to take Lucas’s politics seriously either way. He’s proven himself to be a pretty unsophisticated political thinker in the past, to say nothing of a raging hypocrite, as Jim Geraghty aptly pointed out a while back. I compare my reaction to alleged Bush-bashing in “Episode III” the same way I viewed the Wachowski Brothers’ lame politicizing of the two “Matrix” sequels: the ideological musings of anybody dumb enough to take Cornell West seriously aren’t worth getting worked up over.
Ditto for Lucas. Come Thursday (very early), I plan to snicker at the politics and enjoy the moviemaking instead. As Lileks said going into “Episode II,” my requirements are simple: just don’t suck.
More tomorrow, so like I said, consider yourselves warned…
Remember, a few years back, when a pompous New York Times reporter was asked to give a commencement speech at Rockford College, and wound up delivering a tiresome anti-war harangue instead? The guy’s name was Chris Hedges, and he was literally booed off the stage, partly because his message was so tendentious (opening sentence: “I want to speak to you today about war and empire”), and partly because it was incredibly rude of Hedges to spend somebody else’s graduation day giving them a political diatribe.
For future commencement speakers, that’s how you don’t do it. And as another point of reference, here’s how you do do it, courtesy of Vice President Dick Cheney, who gave the commencement address at Auburn University (my alma mater) yesterday. Read the whole thing, as they say. It’s a really nice speech: short, funny, touching, and enjoyable regardless of your politics.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t quote my favorite section here:
I know you’ll always carry with you the Auburn spirit, and fond memories of your time here. You’ll remember the Cater Hall call-outs; the Tiger Walk; the flight of the Eagle; and the music of the fight song played every day at noon. You’ll remember many challenges as well — hard work in the classroom, long nights in the lab or library, and all those hours spent circling the campus, looking for a place to park. (Laughter.) You’ll remember those special places — Samford Hall, Jordan-Hare Stadium, the Concourse, Toomer’s Corner, the Supper Club. (Applause.) And you’ll remember your senior year, for the many fine achievements in academics, research, and athletics, and for a football record of 13 and 0 which sounds a lot like a national champion to me. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: War Eagle!
I still can’t quite believe the Vice President of the United States actually mentioned the War Eagle Supper Club. My only quibble: I would have noted Auburn alumnus Johnny Mike Spann. But it’s still a terrific speech.