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Your humble narrator is...
...a research analyst at a think tank in the Washington DC area. Born in Israel, raised in Kentucky, movie fanatic and sports nut.
My first-hand account of the Palestinian divestment conference at the U. of Michigan
Archives

:: Saturday, October 18, 2003 ::

Can I get a little accuracy here?
This is certainly not an annoying instance of movie mis-information along the lines of the dishonest hack critique of Tarantino discussed at length below, but shouldn't people who write about movies in the public sphere be expected to have actually seen the relevant movies to whatever it is they're talking about? Here's the beginning of The Economist's review of Clint Eastwood's new movie:
Vengeance has been the basis for many great films, but none by Clint Eastwood, with the possible exception of “Pale Rider”. Though critics like to describe the characters he has played as avenging angels, even the retired gunfighter hired by a group of frontier prostitutes to vindicate them in the Oscar-winning “Unforgiven” is just a man doing a job.
They're right about Unforgiven, but apparently they've never heard of The Outlaw Josey Wales, which is actually one of Eastwood's most famous directorial efforts. He plays a farmer pursuing the bandits who destroyed his home and murdered his family. There are other things going on in the plot, like his being hunted by US soldiers for having joined a Confederate guerrilla group after the end of the Civil War (that's why he's "the outlaw" Josey Wales), but I certainly think it counts as a movie based on vengeance.
6:31 PM
:: Friday, October 17, 2003 ::
You call that an apology?
Gregg Easterbrook has apologized for his post that I discussed below--but for a specific point that I hadn't even noticed as something that might offend anyone:
Where I failed most is in the two sentences about adoration of money. I noted that many Christian executives adore money above all else, and in the 20-minute reality of blog composition, that seemed to me, writing it, fairness and fair spreading of blame. But accusing a Christian of adoring money above all else does not engage any history of ugly stereotypes. Accuse a Jewish person of this and you invoke a thousand years of stereotypes about that which Jews have specific historical reasons to fear. What I wrote here was simply wrong, and for being wrong, I apologize.
OK, so he's sorry about something that I hadn't even noticed as possibly being construed as feeding the ancient stereotype of money-grubbing Jews, and he explicitly says he didn't intend to make that association. But what about invoking the Holocaust to hold Jewish movie executives to a separate standard? Nary a word about that, even though Easterbrook goes on to say:
It was terrible that I implied that the Jewishness of studio executives has anything whatsoever to do with awful movies like Kill Bill. Nothing about Eisner or Weinstein causes any movie to be bad or awful; they're just supervisors. For all I know neither of them even focused on the adoration-of-violence aspect until the reviews came out. My attempt to connect my perfectly justified horror at an ugly and corrupting movie to the religious faith and ethnic identity of certain executives was hopelessly clumsy.
As a matter of fact, he did imply that the Jewishness of studio executives has something do with violent movies like Kill Bill, when he said that "Recent European history alone ought to cause Jewish executives to experience second thoughts about glorifying the killing of the helpless as a fun lifestyle choice." And this was an instance of connecting his negative feelings about a movie to "the religious faith and ethnic identity of certain executives," the very thing that he says he's apologizing for. He's just apologizing for something that seems to have come across to some people as "they made this movie because they're Jews (since Jews care more about money than anything else)," whereas my problem is with his using the Holocaust to hold Jews to an unfair standard. That's clearly a case of connecting their Jewish identity to his argument in a way that offends at least some people, certainly myself.

Of course, the main problem I had with his original post, as I mentioned below, was the utter hack job he did in arguing about Tarantino's movies, claiming that they're only about violence when in fact they aren't, and pretending that nobody thinks he's a good filmmaker when in fact tons of people do. Naturally there's no re-thinking those facts (not his opinion on whether he likes the movies or not) on his part. But to stand pat on this explicit evocation of the Holocaust, while apologizing for a barely noticeable, unintentional evocation of the Jews=greedy stereotype, is even lamer.
3:02 PM
:: Thursday, October 16, 2003 ::
Is it really all about the schools?
Josh Marshall raises a good point in this post about news from Iraq:
Every time I hear some conservative wag trumpeting "the schools, the schools!" I have to admit it gives me flashbacks to Herve Villechaize and the intro to Fantasy Island ("de plane, de plane!").

The schools are great. But we're not there to reopen schools.
Not surprisingly, when American soliders get killed or attacked in Iraq, that counts as bigger news in America than Iraqi schools opening. American combat casualties in a post-war, post-"Mission Accomplished" scenario is a very unusual situation, seeing as how there were no such US casualties in Bosnia, Kosovo, or, contrary to occasional propaganda efforts by the administration, post-WWII Germany.

Obviously it's a good thing that Saddam-free schools are opening in Iraq. But does that affect the level of US casualties there? Is that a reliable indicator of an eventual successful transition to a stable Iraq that will remain prosperous and stable after US forces leave? Can the US mission in Iraq succeed, to the extent of establishing an Arab democracy, as long as US soldiers are being attacked and killed at the rate of 2 or 3 per week? Those are tough questions, and the jury's still out, but invoking Iraqi school openings isn't a sufficient answer.
2:17 PM
:: Monday, October 13, 2003 ::
A lot of nonsense
This post on Gregg Easterbrook's TNR blog is completely preposterous. He goes off on Tarantino, or at least the director he thinks Tarantino is. Ultimately, evaluting movies is a very subjective thing, so there's not much point in arguing against someone who says "This movie sucks!" by saying "No it doesn't!" But Easterbrook is wading into far deeper territory than just proclaiming his distate for Tarantino's movies:
All of Tarantino's work is pure junk. How can you be a renowned director without ever having made a film that's even good, to say nothing of great? No film student in 50 years will spend a single second with a Tarantino movie, except to shake his or her head.
Uh, well, it's tough to be a renowned director if there aren't at least a decent number of people who think your movies are good. Like I said, that's pretty subjective, but the question he asks sort of answers itself. However, the last statement above is utter BS. Nobody who's followed movies over the past decade can deny the prominence and influence that Tarantino's movies have had, even if they don't like them. To make a rough analogy, I saw the mid '60s movie Blow-Up a few years back, and I thought it was very pretentious and overrated. But since I know a lot about the next decade of American cinema, I would never deny the major influence that movie had on many subsequent directors and their movies, including some of my personal favorites. Any film student today (almost 40 years later) who wants to study movies from that era has to see that film, no question about it. The same will obviously be true a few decades from now regarding anyone who wants to study movies from the past 10 years or so--Pulp Fiction will be required viewing for them.
Tarantino does nothing but churn out shabby depictions of slaughter as a form of pleasure--and that, for decades, has been what the least imaginative and least talented of Hollywood churn out. Supposedly it's "revolutionary," or something, that Tarantino films revel in violence to a preposterous degree, but that's like saying it is revolutionary for a presidential candidate to revel in complaints against Washington bureaucrats. Nothing about Hollywood is more hackneyed or trite than preposterous violence--and that's all Tarantino has ever put onto film.
Easterbrook must never have seen Jackie Brown, or is just pretending that he hasn't, because there isn't much violence in that movie at all, and what there is consists of nothing more than a few gunshots and people getting killed off-screen. It's very different in that regard from the handful of seriously violent scenes in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, and on another planet from the massive carnage of Kill Bill. Jackie Brown isn't what made Tarantino famous, but it's completely disingenuous for Easterbrook to say that Tarantino has never put anything but "preposterous violence" onto film without acknowledging that one notable exception in his career, which after all consists of only four movies so far.

Of course, it's also totally wrong to look at Tarantino's first two movies and say that there isn't anything there but "preposterous violence." What draws many people to his movies is how he builds characters, and entire scenes, out of his dialogue, which usually somehow manages to be low-brow and brilliant at the same time. Kill Bill is sort of different in that respect, as the emphasis is more on action than on dialogue, but anyone who's honestly assessing his first three movies has to acknowledge the pre-eminence of the dialogue over just about everything else. Again, this doesn't mean you have to like it or think that it's good, but you can't say it's something that it isn't, as Easterbrook is doing by pretending that there's nothing but violence in any of Tarantino's movies.

I'm not even going to talk about the parts of Easterbrook's post where he essentially blames violent Hollywood movies for Columbine and global terrorism.

Then he does talk about Tarantino's screenplays...sort of:
And his supposed innovative screenplays? Spare me. The out-of-sequence technique Tarantino uses is praised as ingenious, yet every first-year film student is taught this device. To laud Tarantino as innovative because events happen out-of-sequence is like lauding The Bridges of Madison County as innovative because it opens with a discovered letter from someone who has died. All novice novelists know that device. Of course, the novelistic device may be used well or poorly, just as time-shifted cinema may be good or bad. Tarantino's out-of-sequence film moments are, uniformly, trite drivel.
Notice the problem? Easterbrook reduces all the praise that Tarantino has ever gotten for any aspects of any of his screenplays to one, and only one, item: the non-linear narrative. Needless to say, this is not the only thing, or even anywhere near the main thing, that garners praise for Tarantino's screenplays. It's the dialogue and the characters that do it. And this is another case where Easterbrook is ignoring Jackie Brown, which is almost entirely linear in its narrative, except for one central scene that gets shown a few times from a few different characters' perspectives.

Is there a more classic example of projecting your feelings onto other people than this next bit?
[H]is career validates the idea that you can accomplish nothing at all in any meaningful sense and yet acquire fame. The idea that you can get celebrity, money, and women through the movies without having any merits whatsoever is at the core of Hollywood's conception of itself. Tarantino is its ultimate expression of this phoniness. Please don't tell me that makes him ironically postmodern.
OK, once again, the reason that Tarantino has acquired fame and adulation is that a lot of people like his movies! As has been well established, Gregg Easterbrook is not one of them. Fair enough. But how does this mean what he thinks it means about Hollywood? I'm not exactly a champion of the idea that Hollywood is all about merit, but Tarantino has not gained fame as a great director in spite of being widely regarded as a no-talent fraud. He's gotten to where he is by being widely regarded as an extremely talented filmmaker.

After reading the following bit, I'll give Easterbrook the benefit of the doubt in one respect by assuming that he's Jewish:
Disney's CEO, Michael Eisner, is Jewish; the chief of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, is Jewish. Yes, there are plenty of Christian and other Hollywood executives who worship money above all else, promoting for profit the adulation of violence. Does that make it right for Jewish executives to worship money above all else, by promoting for profit the adulation of violence? Recent European history alone ought to cause Jewish executives to experience second thoughts about glorifying the killing of the helpless as a fun lifestyle choice.
Uhhh, what? Violence in movies is bad because it'll cause another Holocaust? I can't think of any other way to interpret his conclusion. Like I said, I'm guessing that Easterbrook is a fellow yid, or else I'd be highly offended by someone lecturing Jews about how they should remember the Holocaust. Given that this is probably from a member of the tribe, all I can say is that I totally disagree with him on this point.

It's been a long time since I read anything so dishonest about movies. It's not just a matter of taste in this case, it's a matter of honestly acknowledging what certain movies do or don't do.

UPON FURTHER REVIEW: As NYer points out in comments, Easterbrook is not a yid! Boy, what a jerk. I'm not saying that it should be taboo for non-Jews to bring up the Holocaust to make this or that point, but for a Gentile to play that card--and on such tenuous grounds--against Jews? That really bothers me.
4:19 PM
:: Sunday, October 12, 2003 ::
The main culprit goes unaccused
The Washington Post has a big article up about Condoleeza Rice's role in the nasty administration infighting on major foreign policy problems. Not surprisingly, it doesn't paint a very pretty picture, although the person with ultimate responsibility for some of these problems escapes the article without being directly criticized:
Rice's reputation was damaged in July, when she acknowledged that she had not entirely read the most authoritative assessment of prewar intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs. She also said the White House was unaware of CIA doubts about an allegation that Iraq had sought uranium in Africa, although her staff had received two CIA memos and a call from CIA Director George J. Tenet on the subject.

But the complaints about her skills at managing foreign policy are in many ways more serious, and have not received much of a public airing.

Many officials with firsthand knowledge of White House decision making contend that Rice is weak at forging those decisions, sometimes attempting to meld incompatible approaches that later fail. She is also perceived as not resolving enough issues before they reach the president and doing a poor job of making sure his wishes are carried out.

Administration officials said the situation has left many problems unresolved, especially at lower levels, and led to frequent policy shifts. Decisions are made and then altered or reversed, and feuding advisers have been emboldened to keep pressing their case or to even ignore policy guidance in the hope of achieving final victory.

In Rice, "you've never really had a national security adviser who's ready to discipline the process, to drive decisions to conclusions and, once decisions are made, to enforce them," said one former senior NSC staff member. In particular, he said, "she will never discipline Don Rumsfeld" when he undercuts decisions that have been made. "Never any sanctions. Never any discipline. He never paid a price."
In Rice's defense, I question the rationale of blaming the security adviser for failing to discipline senior officials who undercut administration policy. I can see that it's her job to stay on top of what's happening in terms of implementing decisions, and, at a minimum, to make sure that the information on that gets to the president, but actually disciplining people at that high a level is his job, not hers. This is especially evident in the part of the article that deals with North Korea:
From the start, top administration officials have waged a bitter battle over policy toward North Korea. Powell has led a group seeking to engage with the secretive and isolated communist government; Rumsfeld and Cheney believe talk is useless and have sought to destabilize and ultimately topple the government. Neither side has gained the upper hand, resulting in a policy stalemate that has left allies and North Korea perplexed.

The two factions, convinced they had the backing of the president, have pursued contradictory policies, often scheming to undermine each other. Insiders said that Rice rarely kept on top of the intramural bickering, though she seemed to lean more toward the Rumsfeld/Cheney group, and at times recommended policies to the president that he later rejected.
That both factions had their own preferred policies was never a secret, and to one extent or another, that happens on plenty of issues in just about every administration. It doesn't inevitably have to lead to major problems, but to have both factions actually thinking that they were winning with the president? That's utterly inexcusable. Bush is 100% responsible for a fiasco of that sort at that high a level.
12:46 AM

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