Saturday, July 03, 2010

It all starts... with a choice -

- again to turn a formerly political blog into a movie review one: yes, Eclipse is out, yes, I saw it at its opening at midnight a couple of nights ago, yes, I saw it again alone yesterday, and yes, I'm going to talk about it herein.

First let me say that Roger Ebert is a big whiner. His review, which I saw described elsewhere as having "richly" detailed the plot of the entire Twilight series, was full of - let's call it "baloney": it was so rife with misstatements and chortling over his and his audience's sophistication (of course as contrasted with the Twilight girls' silly naivete) that it was hard for me to read seriously.

Because that, I think, is where you have to start with these movies: in order to do justice to the experience of those same Twilight girls, of whom I represent a piece of the upper end of the bell curve, the movies have to be in earnest. There's plenty of room for teenage repartee, but the object of the game is suspension of disbelief - Bella really is, for some reason, the target of deadly supernatural forces; she really is the love of Edward's, um, existence; she really does have to choose between Edward's overprotective, jealous, but very sincere adoration and Jacob's more normal plane of devotion.

Or, as the Eclipse screenplay makes clear to the relief of moms of tweens and romantic teens everywhere, she has to choose between who she ought to (implied: "wishes she could") be and who she is. Finally, an attempt to explain why she sticks with the vampire! Melissa Whosis (sorry, I don't google before my first cup of coffee), who wrote the screenplay, either on her own or by direction gives Bella one speech in which she explains that since discovering that the vampires' "world" exists, she's been more comfortable, more self-actualized if you will, whenever she's been in or interacting with that world than she ever was while "literally stumbling through [her] life." Great move! I've been Team Edward all along, but - more on this point later - it's awfully nice to have a reason for it beyond, "He's smokin'!" (Especially since young Taylor Lautner has now just about achieved parity in that regard, much as it oogs me out to admit it.)

All righty then: this is the best of the Twilight franchise. Partly that distinction was handed to it on a platter, because of the books, Eclipse is also the best - most "happening" plot, best character interactions, best theme to move it along. But it's also an earned distinction, as the secondary characters have a chance in Eclipse to do something - one scene in which Jasper tells the story of his bloody life before becoming a Cullen finally gives Jackson Rathbone something worthwhile to say, and he and Ashley Greene/Alice have a nice little moment at its end, for instance. Rosalie finally gets a backstory for why she's so darn mad all the time (that's in the book, but Nikki Reed does a good job with it). The Lesser Wolves, for lack of a better term, get to strut a little of their stuff, albeit mostly silently, hanging onto their endearing teen-boy goofiness where it makes sense but going alert, wary, and all business when they're around vampires.

And Jacob and Edward? Well, I've always given Robert Pattinson credit for being a better actor than his pretty face allows him to be for many critics. The big challenge for him in these movies is indeed to overcome that face: can we feel sympathy for him in spite of the fact (yes, fact) that Jacob really is the better choice by pretty much any light? And Taylor Lautner - can he be believable as the underdog love-interest? Can he generate enough romantic chemistry with Bella (they had plenty of buddy-buddy chemistry in New Moon) to make their climactic kiss make sense?

A scene in which Jacob and Edward actually talk with one another, awkward in the book because it has to take place as Bella, the narrator, drifts in and out of sleep (lots of references to "what a strange dream I'm having, all this whispering," etc.), works better in the movie because the movie is able to suspend its already less determined first-person-ness temporarily and have that conversation while Bella's actually out like a light. Edward's very reluctant resignation to the necessity of Jacob's keeping Bella warm is clear; Jacob's smug satisfaction in that role is just as clear. Each of them moves from belligerence to a tentative understanding, even acceptance, of one another's importance to Bella, while in Edward's case never ceding his primacy, and in Jacob's case never ending his rivalry. Edward is smoother, more measured in his emotions, either because of his much longer life (or whatever) or because Robert Pattinson's just that way; who knows? Jacob lapses back into uncertain-sixteen-year-old as he asks how Edward felt when he thought he'd lost Bella forever back in the New Moon days; it was a credible moment. In other words, the boys did good.

As for their interactions with Bella now. Edward has fewer "Twilight" moments now, in which he seems to be orbiting Bella, anticipating her, weirdly cautious with her - I'm thinking of the scene in Twilight when he helps her off with her jacket the first time she visits his family, when she's just trying to shrug it off and he's getting in the way trying to take it, touching her while trying not to touch her too much; that little bit was a nice illustration of the dual differences of era and species between them. Instead, Edward finally acts mostly human with Bella in Eclipse - true, the most perfectly devoted (and chaste) beau a high school senior ever had in her most fevered dreams, but at least not strange. They're very sweet together.

Jacob and Bella? Trickier. Jacob, appropriately, seems to feel time flying by, all through the film; he rushes everything he says and does with Bella. There's the sense that he'd have better luck with Bella if he took more time with her, and that he knows it, too. His desperation is pretty palpable. His first, unwelcome kiss got lots of squees from the girls (I restrained myself, cognizant that better was on the way); the second, which he approached with a small smile that I thought was just about the perfect balance between joy and triumph, got more, followed by that sighing silence that meant, "OK, now I understand that 'Team Jacob' thing." Also very sweet. Taylor Lautner had some heavy lifting to do in this role, in this film - as heavy as this genre gets, anyway; I thought he carried it off well.

As for the cinematography: we were back to the Twilight blues in many places, cold sharp drama, but overall effectively used; the special effects were, I thought, graceful and not too intrusive, so that's a big plus. There was a LOT less sparkling, such that when it did occur, its subtlety was a subtext rather than a "Hey! Look at me sparkling!" moment.

So now is the time in Sprockets when I diss the critics. Their problem, most of 'em, is that they insist on reviewing these movies as if they stand alone, not just separate from one another but separate from the canon of the four books. I use "canon" here advisedly, not just with regard to the details of the books' world, but also with regard to the attitude of those who read and enjoy them. I've never deluded myself that these books are lit'rature - they're an escape into the world teenage girls like me (I'm still well in touch with that girl I used to be) wished existed. Not a world of vampires and werewolves, although as long as we're making a world, why not make it an interesting one? But a world in which those things that seemed absolutely vital, or absolutely clear, or absolutely unbearable, to my absolutist thirteen-to-nineteen-year-old self, really were that absolute. A world in which my first love really was the love of my life, in which his leaving me felt like my death, in which every decision I made felt as if it had lifelong consequences. It's adolescence in its purest form, and when it's examined from a position of adult judgment and experience (I won't call it "wisdom" since I don't give a lot of movie critics credit for that), it looks jejune.

My church just put on Our Town. At one point in the second act, "Love and Marriage," the Stage Manager urges the audience to remember what young love was like, to put themselves into that faraway place in order to appreciate the scene to come. That attitude is what the Twilight series, books or movies, also requires: a willingness to forget what you've learned over time, to ignore the constant pull of popular culture to be more and more cynical, and simply to open oneself to a kind of distilled, self-perceived purity that doesn't actually exist in ground truth. I can do that. I don't often get the chance, which is why I've enjoyed these books and movies so much.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sherlock Holmes, steampunk, and canon

How this sorta-politics blog keeps turning into a movie review blog, I don't know... but it keeps happening.

I finally saw Sherlock Holmes today, having wanted to catch its Christmas opening but being far too busy living actual life with my actual loved ones to indulge in vicarious life with the ever-crushworthy detective. (More about that in a moment.) I was... bemused. Because I liked it QUITE a lot, in spite of a convoluted and hard-to-follow plot (which, like my darling Twilight movies, relies pretty heavily on an informed audience, of which I'm definitely one - but it was still hard to follow), weird casting in the parts of Irene Adler (about whom I say "meh") and John Watson (about whom I say, "FINALLY, a movie where I can like Jude Law!" even while acknowledging how little like the traditionally understood Watson he is), and heavy application of steampunk.

Actually, that last point turns out to be a big reason why I liked it, I think, to my surprise: I thought the steampunk stuff was distracting me until I suddenly realized that I was looking for it eagerly in every scene.

So anyway, what was to like? STRICT ADHERENCE TO CANON on points that don't usually benefit from that attention. I've read six or seven critics' reviews now, and (I love when this happens) except about Downey's performance as Holmes, they don't agree about much. However, one point on which they do seem to agree is that this movie is, like, totally revisionist. I argue that it's Basil Rathbone that's the revisionist (but great in his own way, I'm sure - though it occurs to me that I've never seen any Holmes movie until this one). Go back and read the stories: Holmes isn't fastidious, he's messy. (Tobacco in a slipper?) He isn't prissy, he's blasé about moral lapses. (King of Bohemia has ill-advised affair with Adler; Holmes doesn't bat an eyelash, just goes to work recovering the evidence.) He is a bare-knuckles fighter, as well as an adept of "baritsu." He is likely to appear in disreputable costumes at unexpected moments. He doesn't eat, live, or entertain himself as a Victorian British gentleman of independent means would; he's described by his creator (or is it "his biographer"? Who can say?) as "bohemian" and "eccentric." So when I first saw trailers for this movie, I thought, "Robert Downey, Jr.? Really?" But I quickly came around to, "Swoon!"

Because I've had a crush on Holmes forEVer. My parents had a copy of The Seven Per Cent Solution lying around; I fell into it when I was, oh, twelve, and the allure of the moody druggy Holmes led me to the "trad" Holmes of Doyle - wherein the moody druggy Holmes was visible at the edges of the stories - and those two together led me to the Laurie King Holmes-in-"retirement," the most crushworthy of all, because finally we no longer have to guess at and hope for clues to his emotional climate. Holmes: the best bad boy ever, because he's not really bad, just inscrutable and untouchable.

I also decided, eventually, that I liked the direction and the cinematography a lot: there was not one scene of a sunny London, which makes great sense in the time-context: the sun had a tough row to how in coal-heated London. Ritchie's overcranked and undercranked scenes were disconcerting but effective; perhaps if I watched 24 I'd not be so whipsawed by them, but even though I had to mentally reset myself each time the speed of action changed, I dug the way it looked.

And the Holmes-Watson bromance? First, never say that word again; it's stupid. Second, you know, there was no "gay" there for me, though just about every reviewer seemed to find it. (Please see the paragraph a few up, about how dreamy Holmes is, and then see "projection" in the dictionary, I'm thinking. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Obviously I'm employing it myself, incorporating my own bias.) The scene (SPOILER!) in which Adler, Holmes, and Watson are arrayed in that order along the side of a building that explodes toward them was, I thought, terrific: Holmes, caught between his best friend and the newly returned woman he won't quite admit he loves, makes a typical Holmes snap decision, turns toward one, looks back toward the other, and races for the one - all in slow-motion, and shot confusingly on purpose (I think) so that until he reaches his destination we can't tell which one he's running toward, which one he's wishing he could also save. How is that evidence of Holmes's sexual orientation? He loves both; he can only get to one. The rest of the Holmes-Watson interaction is exactly like the conversations my husband has with his brother - occasional uncomfortable references to an affection they don't want to talk about, lots of ribbing, quarrelling, and punching. What?

And the steampunk. Brass clockworks. A waistcoat lying dusty in the road (you know that thing that appears sometimes in catalogues and women's mags as a "weskit"? A tailored vest? Well, that's a waistcoat. It's how it's pronounced. Silly catalogues and mags). The Tower Bridge under construction - it's ultramodern! It's ultra-retro! It's an engineering marvel rendered with slide rules and a preponderance of hand tools with steam power (hence the "steam" of steampunk) for the heavy lifting. Whoa. It's all so beautiful, so soot-soiled, so romantic, so gritty, so full of portents, manners, cruelty, and quick double-entendre.

I give the movie a big analog 9 or so, cast in brass and tarnished by the sulfurous "fog" of Victorian London. Fun!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Global warmi - I mean "climate change"

Megan McArdle, writing here in The Atlantic, criticizes the "scientists" (scare quotes rendered necessary by their alleged reprehensible behavior) involved in the CRU anthropogenic-global-warming email collusion/data fudging/destroying-fest. That's good; she should. She says that

...I have yet to see the makings of a grand conspiracy, rather than the petty bullying of the powerful over the weak, the insider of the outsider. I'll take the statements of this particular group of scientists with a little more salt in the future. But as far as I can tell, the weight of the evidence--and what we know about the history of the planet, and carbon dioxide--still seems to be on their side.

But here's the problem: what is the "weight of the evidence"? This group's original data set was destroyed. Inadvertantly? Possibly... but considering that they were discussing destroying it in the event of a freedom-of-information request, that too is questionable. As one of McArdle's commenters said, "One notes that, in both law and common sense, when a person destroys evidence, you are allowed to presume that it supported his opponent's case."

Sure, it's not the only evidence. But there have been problems with every data set I've heard of: new urban heat-sinks where temperature stations used to be rural, cherry-picked tree ring data, glaciers growing where not measured for an AGW paper, shrinking where the AGW boosters measured, inability to explain the mechanism behind either an ice age or a warming period, pre-1960s temperature data that dramatically smooths out temperature variance graphs, Mars warming up in the absence of coal-fired power plants and SUVs... With all this uncertainty out there - uncertainty noticed only by "skeptics" (another McArdle commenter noted that skepticism used to be considered a virtue in science, not a vice) - one could be forgiven for believing that the really bad acting on the part of these CRU folks calls their findings into question.

I used to be a geologist. In the summer before I graduated, I worked for a gold mining company, collecting rock samples from a very steep hunk of the Sierra Nevada. Here's how you collect a rock sample: you locate yourself on a map, find a rock where you're standing, whack it with a rock hammer until you can collect enough pieces of it to fill a bag about the size of a quart of milk. Mark the location on your map with a unique identifier, mark the bag the same way, stick the bag in your backpack, take it to a lab. The first step - locate yourself on a map - is VITALLY important, because if you don't know where your sample came from, you can't draw any conclusions about where the most gold is. (Samples A, B, and C, in an east-west line, show increasing gold concentrations to the west; perhaps you could put a mine toward the western extent of your sampling area; you certainly wouldn't put it to the east. But say you mislabel your bag - I did that ONCE - or you can't find yourself on the map; where do you dig?)

My map, the best one available for my field area, had 40-foot contours. Think of contour lines as the "bathtub ring" around an object - put a big irregular rock in a tub, fill the tub exactly an inch deep, and look down on it from above. The "bathtub ring" around the rock would be exactly level at one inch, and would show the shape of that rock at a height above ground (the bottom of the tub) of one inch. Now fill the tub two inches high and look down on THAT bathtub ring to see the shape of the rock at two inches above ground. Et cetera. Draw those bathtub rings and you have a contour map of the rock, with bathtub rings closer together where the rock's side is steep, farther apart where it's more gently slanted down. Now scale up: a field area five miles square or so, with the "bathtub rings" at 40-foot intervals. It's mountainous - but most of the outcrops of rock, ridges, cliffs, are shorter than 40 feet. So the map, friends, is nearly useless: you can't tell where you are from it. I could be standing next to a thirty-foot ridge of rock as steep as the side of a building, and it'd be nowhere on my map if it happened to fall between, say, the 5,000- and 5,040-foot contours.

So I had to start from a known point (say, the end of the high-center dirt road I drove to get to the area), tie off a 200-foot nylon tape measure, take a bearing with my trusty compass, and walk to the end of my tape. Mark that spot, on the ground and on the map. Go back and untie my measure, return to new known spot. Tie off measure, take a bearing, walk (or sometimes, essentially rappel, using my tape measure as a line - though the steep slopes naturally mess up the horizontal measurement)... until I could get to the area from which I was to collect a sample. Oh, and sketch in those 20- and 30-foot cliffs and ridges, for the next schmuck. Took a long time.

The point is, my model - my map - was missing a LOT of data, and in fact bore next to no resemblance to reality. I had to fill in those data as best I could, and I had to do it with an eye to the next baby geologist who would be sampling there - he or she would need to know where things were, just as I had. So I had to be (a) careful and (b) transparent. But even so, my map at the end of summer was only a little better than the one I started with, because it only improved where I was sampling; to look at my map, the next baby geologist might think, "Wow, this area here where Jamie was working sure had a lot of cliffs and ridges; luckily it evens out over here in the part she didn't get to. I'll start there!" And that baby geologist would find him- or herself rappelling down scree slopes hanging onto a 200-foot tape for dear life, just as I had.

The dangers of relying on a model, that's what I'm talking about. And when you throw in incomplete reality checks, reality checks in only the convenient or hypothesis-confirming places, and deletion of reality checks that either do not or might not agree with your model, well, the best face you can put on that is that, poor you, you're going to get all wrapped up in the model and lose the ground truth, ending up looking like a fool; the worst face is that you're trying deliberately to deceive.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

And just to clarify...

I've spent too much time today, as I did after seeing Twilight, reading movie reviews. The reviewers, almost to a wo/man, hate New Moon* - and who can blame them? It's not a movie for movie fans. It's a movie adaptation of - not even a book for book fans, but a book for fans of a specific mythos.

I am not a fool (she insists uneasily). At no time have I ever had even the sneakiest secret thought that Stephenie Meyers is a good writer**. I've had a free sample of her post-Twilight-series novel The Host on my Kindle since I finished the T-series, but haven't even been able to slog my way through its few pages; Meyers simply writes like a halfway decent fanfic "author." (I've read too much fanfiction; most writers in the genre really suck wind.) And of course I've dealt with Bella as Mary Sue, last year after reading Twilight.

In other words, it's not the writing.

As for plot, well, I wouldn't be the first to point out that there isn't much that makes sense, has any kind of inevitability, or appears to be moving forward in any of the four Twilight books. It isn't the plot.

Characterization: in short, all characters in Meyers' books appear to have come out of either a Harlequin romance or an iconography - a bad one. I remember a quote from the VERY funny Jean Kerr in Penny Candy, in which she describes her lengthy convalescence after a bad cold; she talks about how she wants to use this enforced bedrest to read a "good" book, and keeps trying to pick up some giant worthy tome - but reverts again and again to a trashy novel, even though she knows it's trashy. I don't have Penny Candy, to my sorrow, but she says something like this: "What is it with the way these characters are portrayed? If he has 'crisp black hair,' then she simply can't have 'moist red lips'; things like that just don't happen in real life. She should have 'dry pale lips,' or he should have 'limp gray hair.'" And so, no, it's not the characterization.

As I've said too many times now, it's seventeen, that's what it is: for someone like me, much older than seventeen, it's a grasping for what once seemed like a possibility, now revealed to be a fever dream - not just impossible but not even really desirable once the fever cools. For the kids of the right approximate age, I have to speak from memory, but it seems to me to be an affirmation that that bruised and battered sense of possibility, so alive in the ultra-romantic anti-cynics who think they're world-weary, could indeed be real... somewhere.

* I do find it interesting that they hate it for such varying reasons: the split between those who think Stewart is brilliant but hampered by the screenplay and those who think she's a one-trick pony and in this movie the screenplay asks her to do another trick that she's just not up to is particularly clear. Lautner gets kudos for being the "only" member of the young cast who can act, or emote, or smile naturally, or make you care what happens to him; he also gets slammed for posing, reading lines, being utterly unbelievable, etc., etc. Pattinson is a minor character, really, but because he was so important in the first movie, HE gets roundly slammed for being all emo and stuff. Dakota Fanning gets oddly enthused reviews considering how little she had to do - and honestly, put me in red contact lenses and I could smile enigmatically as well as she does. Across the board, they all seem to love Michael Sheen, whom I've never even heard of but who is evidently a "serious" actor - apparently you can be totally embarrassingly over-the-top and all the reviewers around will say you're being "deliciously campy" if you were a "serious" actor before. Some loved the soundtrack; some hated it. (I hated it.) Many, but not all, liked the cinematography. Weitz's direction was generally noted as a step up from Hardwicke's - but not in every case; some reviewers thought Hardwicke, as opposed to Weitz, really understood her subject matter, whereas Weitz is just out to make a buck. Whatever.

** But at least the Twilight books do explicitly encourage the reading of good stuff. Bella's a big booster of classical romance.

As the kids say, zomg!

For a both hilarious and oogy take on the whole Twilight series, go here. But brace yourself: while everybody who's paid the slightest attention to the books knows that Stephenie Meyers, a Mormon, pays a certain homage to her faith throughout the series, the link seeks to explore JUST HOW MUCH homage.

F'rinstance: Edward Cullen, from the books' descriptions, looks a whoooole lot like Joseph Smith. Yeesh!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Seeing New Moon

It's November, and that means it's Twilight time! The breathlessly-awaited Part Deux, New Moon, came out today; I saw it with my oldest kid at 12:30 in the morning, all the midnight showings at our local theater being sold out.

So I'm tired. But here's the thing: I'd see it again this minute if I could, and not just because I find Robert Pattinson to be what the fangirlz call "a hot mess." (Though I do.) I went in Team Edward; I remain Team Edward, but only because it's fantasy, where it costs nothing to say, "You love who you love": in reality, who couldn't see that Jacob is better for Bella? Even my son was whispering that undeniable truth to me at almost three in the morning. I'd see it again for the same reason that I saw Twilight as many times as I could get to a theater, then squee'ed like those fangirlz again when my children got me the DVD for Christmas: because there's nothing like an utterly unreal romance.

The premise, set up by Stephenie Meyers, is perfect: vampires live forever, or near enough, because they simply no longer change physically; similarly, they change mentally or emotionally only with great difficulty, and any change of that sort that they undergo is for all intents and purposes permanent. So when Edward, a 109-year-old vampire, falls in love - for whatever reason! though I appreciate the bootlegged Midnight Sun's Edward-voiced explanation, on which maybe more later - with human Bella, it's a true endless love. And Bella, who's set up in the books more effectively than in the movies as a sort of vampire-lite even as a human - pale though she's grown up in Phoenix, standoffish, super-constant, readily accepting of the vampires' world - reciprocates that love in every measure including its permanence.

Of course, anyone who fell in love at seventeen knows that the love of a seventeen-year-old is like an old-fashioned sparkler: white-hot and exciting, quickly fading, and suddenly gone. Some few seventeen-year-olds find that their loves evolve into something deeper and longer-lasting; a couple of friends of mine who started dating at that age are happily and solidly married now, twenty years later, on that account. But the dastardly appeal of Edward and Bella's romance is that the white-hot excitement never has to fade. And who, as they put yet another load of laundry into the washing machine and read yet another story to the children who have resulted from a different species of love, wouldn't want to believe in that possibility?

My favorite moments: the collective gasp through the theater when cute little TOTALLY hunky (and recently legal) Taylor Lautner gratuitously whips off his shirt to stanch Bella's bleeding head wound; even though we'd all seen bazillions of pictures of Lautner's buffing-up, it was jolly good fun to see it all together with our (mostly) commadres on the big screen. The latter third of the movie, wherein they finally let Edward ditch the red lipstick and look absolutely haggard and awful in his grief. And, even though it didn't have the *whoo-ee* of the first kiss in Twilight, the few kisses in New Moon focused less on Edward's giddy triumph at managing to kiss Bella without killing her and more on his pain and difficulty in kissing her; one kiss in particular, I can't recall which, stood out because he gives a little whimper at the end. And I'd be lying if I said that the scene in which Edward leaves Bella in the woods, when he's trying to convince her that he's leaving because he doesn't want her any more rather than because he's desperately afraid that he'll end up either killing her or not being able to protect her from his own family, didn't make me turn cold all over.

Pattinson was, I thought, spot-on as a man with no more will to live, and then, finally, after Edward and Bella's reunion, a man who's decided to live again but is terrified of the price; I've seen some reviews call him wooden or mopey, and I disagree wholeheartedly. He struck me as hopeless, which is exactly what Edward's supposed to be. Stewart's sometimes near-suicidal, sometimes inappropriate-affect Bella is harder for me to feel sorry for - probably because I actually was an eighteen-year-old human girl in love with the wrong guy once, and I lived not only to tell the tale, but to love the right guy and build a life with him. And so we get to Lautner: the right guy. He did a fantastic job making me, die-hard Team Edward as I am, wish that there were some Star Trek-esque alternative reality scenario in which he gets the girl. I bled for him in a way that I couldn't for Bella or Edward - who, after all, were going to end up together; all poor Jacob gets, in the end, is an awkward imprinting on Bella and Edward's baby daughter, a way to heal a mythic breach but hardly more than a consolation prize for a guy whose devotion never flagged.

Wonder when I can get away to see it again...

Monday, November 09, 2009

A useful illustration

Ross Douthat, writing in the New York Times, made the case that the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (today!) should be more noteworthy than it is. He said that "For most of the last century, the West faced real enemies: totalitarian, aggressive, armed to the teeth. Between 1918 and 1989, it was possible to believe that liberal democracy was a parenthesis in history, destined to be undone by revolution, ground under by jackboots, or burned like chaff in the fire of the atom bomb....Twenty years ago today, this threat disappeared."

One commenter, a popular guy (his comment recommended by 252 readers as I write) who likes the word "specious," responded thusly:

That is utter nonsense. More like the chaff of fear that Mr. Douthat's ilk uses to obfuscate the truth. Douthat needs to go back to school and study history. It was Mikail Gorbachov that in 1988 announced that the Soviet Union would abandon the Brezhnev Doctrine and allow the Eastern bloc nations to freely determine their own internal affairs.

It was Gorbachev that ended the cold war. Not Günther Schabowski and not Ronald Reagan. It was the insightful courage of Mikail Gorbachev that ended it.

After a not so veiled dig at President Obama for not attending a 9 November ceremony in Germany, Mr. Douthat delivers this false paean:

"Never has liberation come to so many people all at once — to Eastern Europe’s millions, released from decades of bondage; to the world, freed from the shadow of nuclear Armageddon; and to the democratic West, victorious after a century of ideological struggle."

Balderdash, Mr. Douthat. Why is it that it was Mikail Gorbachev who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace and not Günther Schabowski (and never Reagn)? Why does Mr. Douthat ignore the facts of history? Because he cannot make his specious point if he adheres to the truth.

The final nail in the coffin of Mr. Douthat's specious treatise comes in a statement from his last paragraph: "Maybe we miss living with the possibility of real defeat." The problem, Mr. Douthat, is that the rise and fall of a great nation has its lesson even today. Great nations don't fall from forces arrayed against them from without. They fall from the corrupt forces that rot them from within.

Yes, America is in danger of defeat but not from external enemies. We are on the road to defeat because of the naysayers in our Congress and the hatemongers who cannot abide Barack Obama's Presidency.

And that, as Edith Ann was wont to say, is the truth.

I've reproduced virtually the entire comment, because of two things: first, the commenter's contention that Gorbachev's winning of the Nobel Prize for Peace is evidence of some kind (please see my prior post - oh please, if you're one of the few who really do believe that Pres. Obama "earned" that prize! - for how I and many others feel about the anointing of somebody or other by a few Scandihoovians - of whom, two generations removed, I'm one in part). Sheesh.

And second, gosh, I agree with his third-to-last paragraph - the one where he says a grave danger to the United States is rot from within. But in the penultimate paragraph, wherein he says that the rot emanates from "hatemongers cannot abide Barack Obama's Presidency" - that's where I think it's obvious I disagree. I believe, and I believe that I have actual history on my side, that it's the push to increase government control of individuals that is the "rot from within" we should dread. Not the people who are against increased government control; the people actually fighting to bring it about.

The commenter doesn't have history to back him up; he doesn't even have white-sheeted midnight bonfires to back him up. He has his feelings. And he signs himself "Cmdr" - that is, "Commander." Of what?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Going feckless into that dark night

The President's unexpected winning of the Nobel Prize for peace, and his inexplicable acceptance of it, beggars my ability to be sanguine... I didn't froth at the mouth when I heard, as some people did; I didn't laugh or cry about it. But I can't be sanguine.

The only explanation for it is that Oslo, at any rate (I'd assume they represent a big whomp of Europe, though clearly not our again-friends the French, nor the truly heroic Lech Walesa, whose ideology I disagree with but whose courage and persistence earned him what used to be this honor), hopes to influence American foreign policy - and just as discomfiting, that they believe they can do it, with this president. Why reward a chief executive for doing nothing except to be a different president from the previous one? Why? Because they want him to continue doing nothing. Doing something, and worse yet, urging allies to do something along with us, is so distasteful, so risky at the ballot box.

That this desire is freaking short-sighted, stupid, and transitory (wait until Norway gets into hot water; we'll see how long the "America as unexceptional parvenu" thing lasts) is beside the point. The point is that Pres. Obama was a fool to accept. He either tied his own hands or presented the near-certainty that he'll have to "betray" his neo-Viking BFFs sometime soon, squandering his presidential credibility overseas as he's squandering it at home.

I say again, as I said in election season: Why on earth THIS man? Who anointed this naif?

Charles Krauthammer looks deeper:

The corollary to unchosen European collapse was unchosen American ascendancy. We--whom Lincoln once called God's "almost chosen people"--did not save Europe twice in order to emerge from the ashes as the world's co-hegemon. We went in to defend ourselves and save civilization. Our dominance after World War II was not sought. Nor was the even more remarkable dominance after the Soviet collapse. We are the rarest of geopolitical phenomena: the accidental hegemon and, given our history of isolationism and lack of instinctive imperial ambition, the reluctant hegemon--and now, after a near-decade of strenuous post-9/11 exertion, more reluctant than ever.

Which leads to my second proposition: Facing the choice of whether to maintain our dominance or to gradually, deliberately, willingly, and indeed relievedly give it up, we are currently on a course towards the latter. The current liberal ascendancy in the United States--controlling the executive and both houses of Congress, dominating the media and elite culture--has set us on a course for decline. And this is true for both foreign and domestic policies. Indeed, they work synergistically to ensure that outcome.


In Strasbourg, President Obama was asked about American exceptionalism. His answer? "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism." Interesting response. Because if everyone is exceptional, no one is.

In other words, our president considers himself elected to preside over our decline.

I am not ready to decline.

Physical decline, our culture of youth notwithstanding, is the right and proper condition for the elder whose grandchildren are old enough to fetch and carry, responsible enough to want to be helpful; it's a well-deserved rest after a lifetime of striving. Whether it's the right and proper condition for a nation, I can't say - but certainly, when decline overtakes a nation as it overtakes an otherwise vigorous person stricken with a wasting disease (like France, with its life-sapping repeated revolutions focusing on egalite at the expense of liberte) or a sudden double-amputation (like Britain, losing so many of its people and God knows how much of its treasure to war twice in two generations - with Churchill's speeches still echoing down the rubbled streets of London, Britain no longer had legs to stand on), it's a tragedy, not something to be sought. What's the deal with the neo-Vikings? Have they utterly forgotten themselves? Or are they so envious of the vigor of those who are still vigorous that they have to do their best, in grand Leftist style, to even the field at their low level?

Not that Vikings were like us. Vikings took what they wanted; we keep trying to give back what's thrust upon us. We're the perfect hegemon, not, as Krauthammer says, just the accidental one: we're the hegemon who never wanted the job, who is terribly uncomfortable with it, who, while repeatedly and sometimes wearily stepping up to fulfill the responsibilities of it, is constantly on guard against the nation-state equivalent of the droit de seigneur that goes along with it.

Be careful what you wish for, Europe.