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February 19, 2009 - February 12, 2009

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Meditations on Steven Spielberg

My personal favorite scene from all of Spielberg's movies.
makes me like him, in spite of my reasons for not liking him.

ALWAYS PONDERING. Last night I watched a movie I'd never seen, Always, and then went to bed. This morning I woke with no memory of having dreamed, but the first thought in my head was a question: Why isn't Steven Spielberg a conservative Republican? He isn't, of course, as Wikipedia makes clear:
  • Spielberg generally supports U.S. Democratic Party candidates. He has donated over $800,000 for the Democratic party and its nominees. He has been a close friend of former President Bill Clinton and worked with the President for the USA Millennium celebrations. He directed an 18-minute film for the project, scored by John Williams and entitled The American Journey. It was shown at America's Millennium Gala on December 31, 1999, in the National Mall at the Reflecting Pool at the base of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.
  • On February 20, 2007, Spielberg, Katzenberg, and David Geffen invited Democrats to a fundraiser for Barack Obama,. But on June 14, 2007, Spielberg endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) for President. While Geffen and Katzenberg supported Obama, Spielberg was always a supporter of Hillary Clinton. However Spielberg directed a video for Obama at the DNC in August 2008 and attended Obama's inauguration.
But his movies consistently seem to endorse old-fashioned values so traditional that his critics accuse him of being both sentimental and unwilling to take cinematic risks. They're frequently baffled about his reasons for making some of the movies he does because he so often seems to be admiring a past the left would prefer to forget altogether or remember only in harshly pejorative terms. I'm baffled too. He's a liberal Democrat who's also proud to admit the influence on his work of John Ford and Frank Capra. What liberal views those two gentlemen with anything but scorn these days?

That's why this post. I don't have the answer as I write this. I don't even have the answer to the question of why the question should matter to me or anyone. But when I wake up with a stark question of this sort, as I sometimes do, I try to find an answer. The subconscious sometimes has something in mind (pun intended). Yet I can't promise that this is going anywhere. It might be a series of provocative non sequiturs without a conclusion. Still, thinking out loud or on paper (or on-screen) is its own kind of window. What you see through that window is up to you.

I'll start with the catalyst. Always is a decidedly odd choice for a big-time director, an updated remake of a not particularly distinguished Spencer Tracy WWII vehicle called A Guy Named Joe about a daredevil pilot who dies and comes back as a novice angel to help a novice pilot learn how to fly. Spielberg's version featured Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter, Brad Johnson, John Goodman, and Audrey Hepburn in her final movie role as, ironically(?), the angel who guides Richard Dreyfuss from death to the afterlife. Audrey was beautiful but largely wasted in the part, which came across as a coy cameo. Holly Hunter was, as always, a force of nature, but this time stuffed into a character that never quite let her take flight (pun intend-- well,. let's get back to that later). John Goodman was great, Brad Johnson was unexpectedly charming, and Richard Dreyfuss was a fatal miscast. He's not Spencer Tracy, he's not a hero-type, and his constant acting was a constant reminder that this was a movie, one in which he was a method fish thrashing annoyingly in sentimental waters.

The puns do seem to be piling up. Spielberg did a movie about a daredevil angel trying to earn his wings by teaching his aviationally challenged girlfriend, and his own romantic successor, to fly. Isn't that too clever by half? And he destroys his own homage to one of the great actors of all time by choosing for the lead role a stand-in for himself, the hopelessly uncool, eponymous protagonist of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. Who's really grappling with flight issues here? Not forgetting for a moment that in this context, flying is living.

Airplanes and helicopters, the mechanical manifestations of flight, are ubiquitous in Spielberg movies. It's plain to see that he just loves them (especially the silvery beauties of World War II vintage), which are important presences or backdrops in Empire of the Sun, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic ParkBand of Brothers, The Terminal, Always, and even the pilot episode of the doomed Amazing Stories TV series. Not to mention the meta-planes of Close Encounters and E.T. For Spielberg, flight is the departure point for adventure, excitement, drama, and romance.
He's criticized for being sentimental, although what he really is is a romantic fixated on the larger-than-life heroes of the World War II generation. It was Fitzgerald who defined the difference between a romantic and a sentimentalist: "The 'romantic,' as he distinguished him from the 'sentimentalist' in This Side of Paradise, had a 'desperate confidence' that things wouldn't last."

I'm thinking this is a key distinction in Spielberg's case. It may explain everything that seems contradictory about him. And there are plenty of contradictory things about him.

His movies are jam-packed with brats who never listen to or interact with their parents. One of the reasons I don't like a lot of his movies. I just want to smack the kids we're supposed to identify with. It's impossible to resist the impression that they're all stand-ins for Spielberg, the Kid who always knows better than what any adult is telling him. Spielberg is a good deal older than I am, but I've often felt I was brought up behind my time. My father was one of the last Victorians; when he told you what to do in that voice, you did it and you didn't answer back or, much worse, ignore him. Spielberg seems to have been brought up ahead of his time, merrily ignoring parental questions and edicts with the full confidence that there would be no consequences. Maybe that's what divorce does to you.

Yet in his movies that aren't expressly about bratty children, he seems to admire precisely the people who were brought up to do the hard thing, the dutiful thing, regardless of the danger. Saving Private Ryan is a monumental if flawed ode to a generation of men who absolutely could not have been brought up like all the self-absorbed jerky kids he insists on populating his more contemporary movies with. What gives with that?

And, yes, he's Jewish by birth, but that's not an answer. It's just another set of contradictions. He goes out on a limb to make Schindler's List, easily the fourteenth or twentieth best movie about the Holocaust (first if you count production budget), and then he turns around and crucifies Israel with the blatantly inaccurate and libelous movie called Munich, which plays into a lot of the worst anti-Israeli propaganda of our time, at the worst possible time for the world's Jews. If he ever was, he's not really a Jew anymore. The answer lies elsewhere.

So here's what I'm thinking. It's a nerd-geek-romantic-post-civilization kind of syndrome. He belongs to the very first wave of Baby Boomers (born in 1946), and he knows in his heart of hearts that his parents' generation was just flat superior to what has come after. He's the romantic who knows with 'desperate confidence' that such greatness does not last. In his mind, it ended with the end of World War II. So he sees no contradiction in having one set of values for the World War II generation and a completely different set of values for the post WWII generations. Philosophically, he's in the business of arbitrating the decline. He's a diehard patriot, but he no longer believes in the American tradition of self-reliance, achievement, duty, morality, and courage which built the country. He's a liberal by default, because all the heroes are dead or dying. The people who are left need a great big nanny government to compensate for their weaknesses. He's bi-polar about America. He made it on his own, thanks to his assimilation of the values he detected in the previous generation. But he no longer believes anyone else can.

Maybe that's why Always planted the question. It's a remake. Of a World War II movie. But the planes the pilots are flying are B-24 Liberator bombers (or something like). And it takes some scrambling on the part of the viewer to determine when exactly the action is supposed to be taking place. Time cues are few and mostly musical. What seems clear is that in Spielberg's mind, the story is still occurring in 1944, back when people had this kind of character, but because he knows his audience, he has to pretend it's happening some decades later. Problem is, the movie feels like 1944. It would have worked better without the commercial timeslip.

Gosh. This post is actually getting somewhere. I'll close with a quote from an older IP post that explains the "post-civilization" reference. What's sad is that Spielberg has come to believe American greatness is only a story, an artifact, a movie. He's spent his whole life on the outside looking in, an antihero geek convinced that the heroic past is only a glorious movie remembrance, not even realizing that his own life is proof that his "liberal" perspective on the helplessness of his fellow citizens is wrong.

When it comes to how leaders in all ages act, I believe post-modernism has always been with us in one key respect. This is that the complexity of contemporary life has (habitually) reached a point which can no longer be dominated by human will, either in the singular power of human individuality or the united spirit of a single community. It must be compromised to keep the impending catastrophe from doing us all in. We must, at last, begin to embrace the status quo, settle for less than our boldest dreams, initiate a process of self repudiation in recompense for the grievances of others, or even deny (or doubt) our own human right to survive. We become so supremely civilized we forget that survival is always at risk and always worth fighting for.

It's contemporary bias which blinds us to the fact that this is a recurring phase in human affairs. Every civilization has fallen, after all. Notably, the fall of every civilization has also been stage managed by small men in the grip of the syndrome I choose to call Post-Civilization. The fall always begins at the point when the supposedly wisest and smartest decide that the best days are behind, and the future can only be negotiated successfully be aiming lower, accepting more of the demands of opponents and enemies, and accepting the possibility that their most deeply held traditions may be flawed or defective. If a civilization were a human body, this would be a period of bleeding out, the slow numbing of limbs, the dimming of self-consciousness, the fading of strength, resignation to a death only faintly anticipated.

Most small men are simply flawed and, well, undersized, readily accepted by the hordes of like-minded comrades who are also self-righteously fixated on doing what seems easy right now. Sometimes, small men can even be courageous, as when they they defend the broken barricades of bad ideas their egos can't live without. The dangerous small men are those who possess enormous talent but approach their challenges with a post-civilization mentality. They seek to shepherd us gently into that good night where all journeys end. Their only ideal is the zero-sum game, because they are realistic, pragmatic, and wise.

He'd do better to realize that there are still brave men who fly P-38s, P-47s, P-51s -- and A-10 Thunderbolts and FA-18s -- who yet believe in the potential for good of mankind and the power of individual Americans -- and Israelis -- to make fine and glorious dreams come true.

Pull out! Pull out!

Pull out, Steven. I think that's what I wanted to say. We ALL have more talent for flying than you think. Release yourself and believe again. If YOU can, maybe some of the deluded Obama faithful can too. Maybe that's how you earn your wings.

What to Do:

Fighting Back.

Hit the streets!

IT'S WAR. LIKE WE SAID. What needs to be done is simple. Learn from the left. LEARN FROM THE LEFT!

Pour into public places with a protest so huge even the Mass Media can't ignore it. Organize. Buy all the left wing radical books about protesting, and do everything they tell you.

I know it's not your way. You have a much more civil view of politics and democracy. But your country is being stolen from you under your nose. And it's happening really damned fast. The only remaining alternative is public protest.

Make signs. Organize rallies. Everywhere. For once, Michelle Malkin is right. But she's too tentative. Don't be afraid to point out who it is that's stealing our country. Have the guts to name names. The names to name are Obama, Pelosi, Reid, Frank, Schumer, Durbin, and Biden.

It's true that the nation and the world aren't used to protests from conservatives. That's our strength. If WE revolt, the world will cover the story even if the NYT And Time don't want to. Do you know what I'm asking?

Civil disobedience. Forget the castrati conversations of National Review, InstaPundit, and Ace of Spades. Forget blogging period. Forget the stylized carpings of Hannity and Savage. Hit the pavement with everything you've got. Brandish your signs. Spraypaint walls. Stop traffic. Overturn cars. Get arrested. Fill the streets with thousands of taxpayers. Force the local TV news stations to cover your protest. MAKE THE POINT. 

Fight! Fight! Fight!

They're pauperizing you and your children forever. It's 1776 again. Do you get it? DO YOU GET IT?


You better.

In case you don't, here's the text of the Declaration of Independence. Read it from the standpoint of TODAY, February 18, 2009. Do you get it yet?


Now get to work. The left thinks you'll take it and take it and take it. They think they have months if not years. What's vital is to show them is that they don't have even days.


Make them scared. Of days.


And if InstaPunk doesn't like this, he can kiss my punk ass. Now get your sorry old JS ass in gear or don't EVER whine here again.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Eye of the Super Nanny State

It neither slumbers nor sleeps.

STIMULUS PLUS. Despite the FDR legacy it references so self-consciously, the first 100 days of the Obama administration are likely to reduce personal liberties in this country more than anything which has occurred here in the 220 years since the constitution was ratified. Consider just a few of the developments we've witnessed in a mere month.

Congress has passed a bill -- which none of the legislators voting on it had time to read -- that at one fell swoop committed taxpayers to the largest single government spending spree in the history of the United States. The price tag is bigger than the entire cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (or World War II for that matter). Worse, much of the expenditure on government jobs will become a permanent part of the national budget, re-funded ad infinitum, a burden the citizens who actually work for a living will be paying for in perpetuity.

The bill also includes dramatic changes in the administration of healthcare, welfare, and unemployment benefits. It includes provisions for government intrusion into private treatment decisions between patients and physicians, with a new federal right to proscribe treatments deemed too expensive or experimental. It's the first, vital step toward the rationing of healthcare based on actuarial factors such as age and lifestyle. You can now be too old or too politically incorrect (smokers!) to receive available treatment that could save your life. With respect to welfare, the bill commits the federal government to begin paying bonuses to the states for increasing their welfare caseloads. And unemployment benefits will now be paid to people who actually quit both full-time and part-time jobs because of personal and family circumstances unrelated to their employment. The real long-term costs of these changes are unfunded since no one has estimated or budgeted for the loss of life, jobs (through increased employer risk and nonproductive expense), employment incentive, and GDP that will follow as the night the day.

We are guaranteed that there will be more bureaucrats, more paperwork, more invasion (and regulation) of our private lives, more welfare cheats, higher costs of trying to do business, more federal intrusions into business operations, more expensive lawsuits, and ever higher taxes on those who do the real work that pays for all the parasites. But high taxes will no longer be an electoral basis for changing the government because most of what the bill calls tax cuts will be checks written to people who don't pay income taxes now. For the first time in our history taxpayers will be the minority of the population. And who else has any incentive to restrain government spending? Even FDR never dreamed of such a one-shot coup against the schmucks who pay the bill for all of government's presumptions.

That's less than 30 days in.

What will the next 30 or 60 days bring? Worse things. Much worse things.

Congress will pass a bill that eliminates privacy in votes on whether or not a workforce wants to be unionized. Which will immediately revive the ancient union practice of intimidation, violence, and extortion against those employees who prefer to bet their livelihoods on a company rather than a union. Small businesses will go out of business by the tens of thousands because unlike businesses, unions are legally entitled to be monopolies and apply the full weight of their power to every entrepreneur, no matter how small.

The sabers are already rattling in the House and the Senate for an all-out assault on the only aspect of the First Amendment Democrats disapprove of, meaning the only aspect the founders actually cared about -- political speech. The Tolerant Ones will go the last mile for the free speech rights of seditionists, traitors, pornographers, and jihadists, but they are adamantly opposed to free expression in the two parts of the mass media they don't own lock, stock and barrel -- talk radio and the internet. Look for the FCC to revive the Fairness doctrine via regulatory rather than legislative procedures. And then look for them to extend the authority of the FCC to the Internet.

On other fronts, the Obama administration is in the process of 1) eradicating the independence of the census by appropriating it to White House control so that the electoral college, apportionments of congressional seats, and other partisan considerations can be invisibly "fixed" via statistical conjuring, 2)  conspiring to sell out the sovereignty of the United States in economic matters by subscribing to the ludicrous leftist hoax called Global Warming in a variety of anti-capitalist international forums, 3) abdicating the moral authority of the United States to oppose murderous regimes in the middle east by blaming all international problems on George W. Bush's foreign policy, and 4) endorsing worldwide anti-semitism by participating in the vicious Durban initiative denouncing the Jews, and Jews only, for racism in the middle east. 

And if you oppose gay marriage, be prepared to be prosecuted openly, or perscuted insidiously, for hate crimes.

Meanwhile, the Tolerant Ones in charge of governments at the state, municipal, county, city, and township levels are continuing with their various offensives against parental input to public schools and textbooks, freedom of public worship in any form outside a church, the Second Amendment, smoking (in cars, at home, in the Grand Canyon), child discipline, food (freedom of 'eat'), cars (hybrids yes, SUVs immoral), fuel (corn yes, gasoline Armageddon), parental notifiication of abortion requests by minor children (even in cases of statutory rape), and arguments against Global Warming in the presence of a minor (public school programmed) child.

Our freedoms are being devoured. This is not a paranoid fantasy. It's the onrushing juggernaut of hatred launched against us by those who call themselves -- laughably, absurdly, grotesquely -- "liberals."

What they are is fascists. And if you don't start looking for ways to fight back now, it will be too late before you even have time to get the dumb look off your face. (Christopher Buckley, Kathleen Parker, and Peggy Noonan, take note.)


A Challenge Ignored

Don't know if atheists like this poster or not.
They probably do -- after all, bald IS the new
hair, for men at least. But it also reminds me
of a superior analogy: atheism is to religion
like neuter is to sex -- freer but MUCH duller.

NOBODIES QUERYING SOMEBODIES. I sent an email to (h/t the unutterably tiresome Allahpundit) after one of its bloggers issued a contemptuous challenge to anyone who believed in miracles to explain why Flight 1549 was saved while Flight 3407 was allowed to perish without a single life saved. At the time, I didn't know that the blogger, Heather MacDonald, was lionized by anyone. Certainly, nothing in her presentation suggested she should be. Still, I made a good faith effort, which you can read below:

Warm greetings to SecularRight.

I happened onto your site because of the HotAir link about plane crashes. One of my readers posted a link to a post I'd done after Flt 1549 anticipating your response after the latest plane crash. Without knowing that, I also posted a link to same. None of your commenters bothered to respond to it, which is fine, of course, but I thought I might toss a challenge your way that could entertain both our readerships.

If you take the time to look at, I think you'll find that our commenters are among the best in the blogosphere -- intelligent, educated, polite, and frequently insightful. You'll also find that Instapunk itself is by no means a headquarters for fundamentalist, Bible-beating Born-Agains. In fact, I've been pretty hard on them all my life.

But we've also been extremely hard on the fashionable post-modern fad of Dawkins-style atheism, and I'd be happy to go head to head with you on the points you secularists seem so pridefully certain about -- i.e., the defensibility of atheism, neo-Darwinian evolution, and the atheist imperative to turn the constitutional concept of separation of church and state on its head.

Here are some specific posts you can read to acquaint yourself with 1) Instapunk, and 2) some of the possible debate subjects:

1) About Instapunk --  (Also: About me... )

2) About:

Ayn Rand
The Reality Mess
The Secular Death Wish

Read recent posts as well to realize that Instapunk probably shares many of your political viewpoints and is as conversant with popular culture, politics, and economics as our much smarter secularist brethren. I think you can see we'd treat you fairly unless you treated us unfairly.

Truth is, I'm a skeptical Christian of the old-fashioned Episcopal denomination before it was gutted by, among others, the Archbishop of Canterbury. But I'm a devout believer in the existence of a creator god who is both impossibly remote from human existence and infinitely personal in his interactions with his creation. And, no, I don't think he's whispering in my ear when I express my personal opinions. I believe in the power of science. But I also think Roger Penrose is onto something with his speculations about the quantum brain.

Let me know if you'd like to converse and debate across the blog space. My intentions are honorable.


As it turns out, I shouldn't have expected any response. Heather MacDonald is yet another Yalie, a summa cum laude majoring in "why Yalies are smarter than absolutely every f___ing other person on earth." God, sometimes it seems that everyone in print went to that damn second-rate institution in New Haven. So we expect her to be a real conservative why? When I wrote the challenge, I concede I was being so impartial and fair that I didn't even notice she was a she. How about that for a rightwing Bible-beating bigot? If only I'd known, I'd have been able to reference a post (search "valujet") I wrote to my own computer all the way back in 1997, long before Glenn Reynolds invented the Internet and acquired the monopoly on conservative thought in the United States. What awful thoughts I had back then. But in retrospect, doesn't it seem like some kind of honest-to-God answer to the trumped-up metaphysical question Heather asked in her patronizing post about miracles?

An interesting footnote to airline horror stories: a potentially juicy statistic that could generate a lot of spectacular graphics if its subject were on the approved list. The ValuJet flight that plunged into a Florida swamp and got an entire airline grounded had a female captain. There can't be too many of these on airline payrolls at present since the training ground for commercial pilots is still principally the military, and we've heard plenty about how the deck is stacked against women pilots there. So, if I wanted to calculate a scary statistic, all I'd have to do would be to compute the odds of being in a plane crash with a female pilot versus the odds with a male pilot. The 3600-year figure cited above is, of course, the odds associated with male pilots. It's a figure that takes in thousands upon thousands of commercial flights every day, all over the world, for a generation. The odds for a female pilot would encompass only a tiny fraction of the number of flights and thus a ridiculously small number of passenger miles. In this context, even a single crash makes female pilots statistically high risk -- no, make that extremely high risk --in comparison to the overall record. Yet has anyone seen a TV graphic that shouts, FEMALE AIRLINE PILOTS: ARE THEY SAFE? Of course not. In every airline crash I can recall, the possibility of pilot error was not ruled out until the final report was issued by the FAA. In the ValuJet case, it was hardly mentioned from day one on in any of the reportage. Are statistics really neutral and factual? No. They depend first and foremost on what topics we choose to cite odds and percentages about. After that, they depend on what point we're trying to prove.

I think so. How about you?

Hey, Heather. Want to talk?

Forgive me. I understand you may just be on auto-pilot.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Furies are Flying

An extraordinary film clip from 1934.

SMACKDOWNS. According to CrystalLinks (scroll), they were minor gods but much feared:

In Greek mythology the Erinyes or Eumenides (the Romans called them the Furies) were female personifications of vengeance. They were usually said to have been born from the blood of Uranus when Cronus castrated him. According to a variant account, they were born from Nyx. Their number is usually left indeterminate, though Virgil, probably working from an Alexandrian source, recognized three: Alecto ("unceasing"), Megaera ("grudging"), and Tisiphone ("avenging murder"). The heads of the Erinyes were wreathed with serpents, their eyes dripped with blood, and their whole appearance was terrific and appalling...

The Erinyes generally stood for the rightness of things within the standard order; for example, Heraclitus declared that if Helios decided to change the course of the Sun through the sky, they would prevent him from doing so. But for the most part they were understood as the persecutors of mortal men and women who broke "natural" laws.

If you think the Republicans in congress are weak and passive, take heart in the knowledge that the three surviving conservative Furies are spitting fire in the blogosphere.

Just a few days ago, Laura Ingraham descended on RINO Arlen Specter like a ton of bricks.

Today, Ann Coulter has published a murderous new column titled "Goodbye, America! It was fun while it lasted."

And Michelle Malkin has discovered a gem of wicked satire called "The Obamasburg Address."

Take the time to make yourself vulnerable to all three. You might get scorched in the process, but it's worth the risk.

Morituri te salutamus.

P.S. Is this a Fury of the future? Let's hope.

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