Monday, July 27, 2009

Defiant ignorance

The most disturbing thing about Obama is not his preternatural self-assuredness. That's almost acceptable on some level because he is about as charismatic as he thinks he is. Instead, The Monk is most disturbed by Obama's belief that what he says is true even if it is undeniably false, and his unshakeable belief that his policy prescriptions will work even when every shred of scientific and economic evidence (depending upon the subject) conclusively prove otherwise.

This is nothing less than defiant ignorance, or aggressive solipsism. And it's not the sign of an intellectual or a highly intelligent person, it's the sign of a doctrinaire demagogue. For all his love of Keynesian economics (most of which is bunk), Obama still hasn't taken to heart the Keynesian maxim "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"

Thus, Fred Barnes' column on Obamanomics is a must read. Here's the core:

. . . He wants to eliminate many deductions for upper middle class and wealthy taxpayers. He's eager to spur the growth of unions, though success here is likely to slow the rate of growth and increase the rate of unemployment. He wants government to intervene more aggressively in the economy, a reliable job killer. He's asked for authority to seize any financial institution deemed (by his administration) a "systemic risk" to the economy. He thinks government can teach the private sector lessons in efficiency. That would be an historic first. He believes his budget, which triples the national debt, "lays the foundation for a secure and lasting prosperity."

Whew! And this is just what Obama has proposed in the first six months of his presidency. Obamanomics pays lip service to a free market economy. But Obama hasn't a clue what makes it work.

Not the only one

I'm not the only contrarian who thinks the latest HP movie is a dud.

First, on second look Monkette agreed with a couple of my main complaints -- most notably how director David Yates botched the climactic scenes at the end. She just finished re-reading the book and that persuaded her I had a point. (Seriously, if this were anyone else other than my better half, I trumpet this as a mea culpa and publicize it all over the country).

Second, a friend of mine who is both Irish and a Jew (don't ask), let's call him Seamus O'Goldberg, mentioned that upon re-watching the movies for HP3 and HP4, and considering HP6 once again, he and the O'Goldberg family are a bit worried about the upcoming two-part finale film. The most redeeming feature of the finale, however, is that there's a LOT of Harry and Hermione adventure (Ron buggers off for a while) and Emma Watson is the strongest of the three young actors.

Third, the dropoff -- the HP take for weekend #2 was 61% less than for weekend #1. That's huge in Hollywood terms. Worse yet, that weekend #1 take was a bit lower than it would have been if the movie had actually opened on a Friday instead of a Wednesday. HP6 made more than 1/2 of its Wednesday-Sunday take in its opening week on its first two nights. Last year, The Dark Knight made $158M+ in its first three nights, HP6 made $159M+ in five. Then again, TDK was a fantastic movie.

See? Sooner or later there are people who come around to agree with me when I have a decent point to make. It's just a question of when they admit it . . . like PaMonk, who completely botched his most recent presidential vote.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

To have come so far, with so far left to go . . .

Years ago, The Monk was a sports reporter. Not a "professional" journalist, I was an associate editor and editor of the sports section of The Cavalier Daily, Virginia's college newspaper. And considering the talent I worked with (four of my six associate editors became professional journalists; the smart ones became lawyers) and the accolades the paper routinely received, we were certainly legitimate reporters.

One endeavor I attempted was to attract female reporters to my department. It was a boys' club, no question, and that was a turn-off in recruiting. And in the late '80s and early '90s, there were not many young women interested in writing about sports at Virginia generally -- football was a dating event and drunkfest, basketball games were covered by editors, and other than soccer, the other sports were uninteresting. I made little traction. My successor as editor did groom a reporter for our section and she became the first female associate sports editor at the paper in about five years and maybe the third or fourth ever. She was also too smart for the business -- she's a partner at a law firm in the Tidewater area.

Access to the players was another issue: after a game at Kansas, Virginia's strength coach barred a female reporter from the football locker room by physically blocking her path. And if a female reporter gained access, the default for jocks is to see "female" and not "reporter" -- just ask Lisa Olson or Suzy Kolber.

There are a lot of obstacles for female sports reporters to achieve success and respect, not just the old warhorse men who think women and sports reporting don't mix. Some are their own colleagues, like Carolyn Hughes who committed adultery with pitcher Derek Lowe, and Lisa Guerrero -- a pretty face with vacant space above her neck. Some are the network fools, like the ones at ABC who decided to axe pioneer Lesley Visser because they thought she was too old (after that backlash and Guerrero's incompetence, ABC has used old pro Michelle Tafoya on NBA broadcasts). Some, unfortunately, are the ones who've achieved decent positions but are not good at their jobs (Pam Ward -- seriously, why doesn't ESPN just replace her in all assignments with Beth Mowins who can actually call a game?).

And heaven forfend if: (1) you're a female sports reporter; (2) you're good at the job; (3) you're attractive. Melissa Stark had to fight for acceptance. But she never faced this: getting videotaped nude after undressing in her hotel room by a stalker.

That's what happened to Erin Andrews, the extremely popular and perpetually genial ESPN sideline reporter. Andrews is pretty good at her job, and that's not easy because sideline reporting is a job in which it is more difficult to be good than to suck. She's also off-the-charts popular because she's attractive, friendly, and covers primarily college sports.

Whoever taped and posted that video should be prosecuted criminally. Andrews has vowed to kick his a** through the legal system. Good. If so, he'll get what he deserves.

But female sports reporters will have another inconceivably heinous thing to worry about while fighting for respect in a male-dominated business.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The 66-year old overnight sensation, RIP

It's a bit rare for retired New York City schoolteachers to become overnight sensations. It's a bit surprising when the sensation in question has been to your house, had a few with your dad, and you played with his daughter when you were kids. And Mom and Dad STILL had to buy my copy of his book as a Xmas present! That teacher was Frank McCourt, whose unorthodox teaching methods and overflowing classes were notorious in the City's elite Stuyvesant High School.

In 1930, Angela and Malachy McCourt had their first child, Francis. He was the product of a knee-trembler -- a drunken fit of passion that resulted in Malachy and Angela's marriage and led eventually to (at least) five more pregnancies, six more kids and a completely failed life together until the early 1940s. Their time together is aptly described in one of the most arresting passages in non-fiction literature:

When I look back on my childhood, I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: The happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood. People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and all the terrible things they did to us for 800 long years.

That's the second paragraph of Angela's Ashes, the memoir that transformed an unknown retired English teacher into a media and publishing sensation around his 66th birthday. Frank McCourt was a colleague of PaMonk from 1972-1987, and was the oldest of the seven McCourt children, of whom four boys (Frank, Malachy Jr., Alfie and Michael) survived into adulthood, but his sister and a pair of twin brothers died before age 6. Angela's Ashes, McCourt's tragicomic tale of growing up in Depression-era Limerick, Ireland, is by turns sad, horrific, and hilarious.

And serendipitous. McCourt had wanted to write about his childhood for years, and when he finally found his voice and constructed his manuscript, his timing was perfect. In 1996, a tremendous international publishing convention in Germany had as its theme Irish culture. The word of mouth for McCourt's memoir was fantastic, and the momentum continued as the book became a bestseller (4,000,000 in hardback sales), Pulitzer Prize winner, and National Book Critics Circle Award recipient. Here's the rave review from Michiko Kakutani.

McCourt himself was a media darling. From Letterman to Charlie Rose to Larry King to talk shows throughout the nation, the charming, understated and slight aging gentleman with the soft Irish lilt was the perfect guest -- profound, funny and sharp-witted. And he had more reason to show his face on TV almost immediately after the initial book momentum died down -- the Alan Parker adaptation of the memoir into a movie (far inferior to the book). McCourt wrote two more memoirs, the introspective and self-pitying 'Tis and the episodic Teacher Man, neither of which attained the critical, financial or literary success of Ashes. By the publication of those books, however, McCourt was a commercial publishing hit and a millionaire.

Not bad for a retired teacher who stole apples and milk to survive childhood and help feed his family, struggled to obtain the qualifications he needed to become a teacher in New York City because he'd quit schooling at 13 to help his family, and taught in some of the best and worst schools in the City.

Yesterday he died as a result of metastatic melanoma.

Frank McCourt, RIP.

Harry Potter #6 -- that was the best they could do?

The Monk and Monkette saw the HP6 movie yesterday and have a full he said/she said take -- the boss liked it, I thought it sort of sucked -- the worst one since Chris Columbus's kiddie flicks for HP1 and HP2.

Because the boss doesn't have a blog, I can have my say here.

Everyone knows the set-up: After HP5, the return of Lord Voldemort is known and irrefutable. Harry is now The Chosen One -- the wizarding world's Jesus. The best way to protect him is to keep him going to school in the exceedingly well-protected confines of Hogwarts. And as the Death Eaters perform their mischief in the wider world, and the darkness of old Snakeface begins to affect the world, Hogwarts is a safe haven. The kids go to school, become adolescents and suffer their hormonal fugue states, the professors continue their teaching . . . but all in the lee of a dark wind blowing.

The book itself is 600+ pages, but far tighter and shorter than book 5, HP and the Order of the Phoenix (800+ pages), or book 4, HP and the Goblet of Fire. Books 4 and 5 were made into far better movies.

Here is the Good, Bad and Ugly of HP6 (movie version):

The Good:

(1) Generally the kids are getting better and better as actors. Daniel Radcliffe continues to get middling reviews, but I think that's a bum rap. He's done far better as the series has progressed. Emma Watson is very good. Rupert Grint has a fine comic acting future.

(2) The reviews for Michael Gambon have been universally positive and with good reason. He plays a wistful and perhaps mildly regretful Dumbledore very well. The other old bugger of note, Jim Broadbent, is quite good too.

(3) The opening set piece with Snakeface's minions destroying the Millenium Bridge is pretty cool.

(4) The boys playing the young Tom Riddle are quite creepy, especially the teenage version.

(5) Luna Lovegood had a far larger role than in the book -- Evanna Lynch is just the perfect space case for the role and consigning her to the three lines she had in the book would have been a disappointment.

The Ugly: (we'll go out of order because the Bad may be a long list)

(1) the effects in the cave where Dumbledore and Harry fight the zombies protecting Voldemort's horcrux hiding place are weak -- too obviously effects.

(2) Helena Bonham Carter's teeth -- perfectly British, crossed with vampire.

(3) The comment by Tonks that the werewolf Lupin's agitation and irritation as the moon ascends to full are worst at the "beginning of the cycle" -- lycanthropy as the magical equivalent of the menstrual cycle. Ick.

The Bad:

First, a preliminary note. Warner Bros. pushed the release date of the movie back from Thanksgiving 2008 to mid-July 2009 to make it a summer "tent-pole" movie (supporting the company's earnings for the year). But with eight extra months to make the film better . . . the filmakers failed. There's no quality comparison between last summer's mid-July blockbuster (The Dark Knight -- an all-time great) and this mess. Specific criticisms (SPOILERS ABOUND):

(1) The Dumbledore-Harry relationship's foundations are undercooked. As compensation for avoiding Harry in book 5 (and movie 5, as the ending colloquy between them showed), Dumbledore specifically sets up a special independent study class for Harry with himself as the professor -- the life and times of Tom Riddle. This is the crux of the book and completely lost in the movie. It adds to the relationship between the two in the book, which is lost in the movie.

(2) Lost flashbacks -- there are at minimum four flashbacks of Tom Riddle and his evil foundations, only two are shown in the movie (although one isn't really about him being evil) and that's bad. The ones cut from the film show Riddle as a parricide and conniver -- making Voldy seem far more evil and adding to the dread of the book.

(3) The love-sick kids. One of the best scenes in the movie has Hermione pining for Ron and asking Harry how it feels when he sees Ginny Weasley kissing her boyfriend. As Hermione cries on Harry's shoulder, he says, "it feels like this." That's brilliant. But the ridiculous amount of screen time for Jessie Cave (Lavender Brown) and Ron's love foibles is just far too much.

(4) Quidditch. Again, a bit much. HP5 had none and the movie certainly didn't suck. There were 10-15 minutes of quidditch in HP6 and it could have been cut in half.

(5) Pacing. Good gosh this was awful: bang-up opening, interesting scenes until Hogwarts, dreary, choppy, slow, inconsistent thereafter. The two final action sequences come completely out of the blue.

(6) The finale. This was botched twice over. First, one key aspect of the battle in the cave is that Harry must get himself and Dumbledore back to Hogwarts (and I think he took Dumbledore over the latter's objections) by apparating (Rowling's equivalent of teleporting). Harry had never done any such task -- he could only do so over short distances by himself. Now he shows his courage and dedication by performing such magic over a long distance to save his professor's life -- that was completely lost in the movie both emotionally and functionally (couldn't even tell Harry performed the magic).

Second, Dumbledore's death. This was a complete failure to mark the scene. Usually in large productions the movie handles such a scene as well as the book (see, Gandalf v. Balrog in The Fellowship of the Ring). Not here. In the book, Dumbledore paralyzed Harry during the Draco-Dumbledore confrontation and Harry was hidden under his invisibility cloak. It is not believeable that Harry would just stay silent and hide when Dumbledore is in trouble, but that's what happened in the movie.

Third, the attack on Hogwarts is completely botched. This was a huge battle and action scene in the book; in the movie, the scene plays like the art museum defacing by the Joker in the original Batman movie -- a band of ne'er-do-wells committing mere mischief. But Hogwarts is the bastion of "good wizards" and the attack is a challenge to the peace and prosperity for which it stands. Good luck discerning that in the movie.

(7) The Half Blood Prince. This is one of the weaker mysteries in the series and a bit of a dud, but ultimately makes some sense. In the movie, it's barely a footnote and the revelation is a real yawner.

David Yates has the helm for the last two movies in the series (book 7 is getting split into two films). He did well with book 5, he needs to redeem himself after this adaptation of book 6.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Palin and the GOP

On further review, the grand old dame of the GOP (Peggy Noonan) is dead-on in her evaluation of Sarah Palin.

Her history does not need to be rehearsed at any length. Ten months ago she was embraced with friendliness by her party. The left and the media immediately overplayed their hand, with attacks on her children. The party rallied round, as a party should. She went on the trail a sensation but demonstrated in the ensuing months that she was not ready to go national and in fact never would be. She was hungry, loved politics, had charm and energy, loved walking onto the stage, waving and doing the stump speech. All good. But she was not thoughtful. She was a gifted retail politician who displayed the disadvantages of being born into a point of view (in her case a form of conservatism; elsewhere and in other circumstances, it could have been a form of liberalism) and swallowing it whole: She never learned how the other sides think, or why.

Noonan liked Palin's speech at the Republican National Convention and has not become an Obamacan like other "conservative" pundits like David Brooks, Kathleen Parker or William F. Buckley's son Christopher. In other words, she didn't lose her f*cking mind last year. So her short summary on Palin's rise, fall and failure is both credible and thoughtful.

We liked Gov. Palin when she blew away the GOP Convention. We liked her when she held her own in the VP debate. We liked how she rallied the base around a candidate that had formerly been anathema to it. She didn't lose the 2008 election, McCain's panicky response to the financial crisis did (along with his unwillingness to hammer Obama's weaknesses). But as a future standardbearer for the party and a potential candidate for 2012 or 2016, she's inadequate. There are far better possibilities. The GOP just needs to find them because there's no telling what damage Obama can do to this country if he serves two terms.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The idiocy of Obama

Just 5.5 months into the Obama Administration and the following has been revealed: Obama is merely a useful idiot.

He's a useful idiot for (or of) the environmental Left, which wants high energy taxes that will have the most negligible possible effect on "climate change" even as the global warming science has become increasingly discredited and the Obama Administration has suppressed contrary viewpoints. Do you really think "renewable energy" will solve our alleged energy problems? Ask the Californians how that's working out.

He's a useful idiot for the socialization of health care, which is perfectly summed up as "We'll raise your taxes and in exchange we're going to cut your treatments."

He's a useful idiot for the unions, who even get a huge lift from the ridiculous climate change bill because government grants for projects will only go to grantees who implement union wage rules under the Davis-Bacon Act -- a guaranteed added cost to any project of about 30%.

And ultimately, he's a useful idiot for the despots of the world. Every major foreign policy decision by Obama has been wrong: pressuring Israel, calling for Zelaya's reinstatement in Honduras, silence in the face of the Iranian popular uprising (where now a major clerical group is defying the ayatollahs), betraying Poland and Czech Republic on missile defense, and prioritizing a moronically ridiculous idea of nuclear arm reduction negotiations that demonstrates only that Obama learned nothing from Reagan's triumph in the Cold War.

Oh yeah, the economy has become worse than Obama's tax-and-spend aides predicted too.

And to think, we have 3.5 to 7.5 more years of this. What a disaster.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

On Liberty

Something to ponder on the 233rd anniversary of the founding of the Republic:

"Liberty is not the power of doing what we like, but the right to do what we ought."

- The British historian Lord Acton

Most would define freedom as the ability to do what he wants. That understanding is venal and incomplete.

A contribution from the late Henry Hyde:

Democracy is an ongoing moral experiment in a people's capacity to govern themselves. And only a certain kind of people can be self-governing: People who have been formed by a life-affirming culture; people who are not, in the depth of their souls, utter pragmatists; people who do not worship false gods; people who are inwardly self-governing in terms of their appetites and aspirations; people who cherish goods worth cherishing and honor heroes worth honoring.

When the Founders staked their lives, fortunes and sacred honor on the American democratic experiment, they did not think that free government was inevitable, only that it was possible. And the Founders believed that its possibility depended on a certain kind of people: a people who knew that freedom, rightly understood, is not a matter of doing whatever we like, but of having the right to do what we ought. Freedom and virtue were inseparable, in their minds, and that meant that the house of freedom must rest on the foundation of a life-affirming culture.