We watched Zero Dark Thirty the other evening, and it struck me that as a big screen country we've reached the cinematic region located roughly halfway between The Green Berets and Platoon in terms of how America copes on film with disastrous, ethics-destroying wars of adventure.
Of course, Zero Dark Thirty isn't about Iraq. It's barely about Afghanistan. But it's most certainly about an era in U.S. military and geopolitical history, an era of crazed intervention and reactionary excuses from both major political parties, an era whose closing credits we're just beginning to glimpse. Perhaps the flick is best understood as The Deer Hunter of the post 9/11 war era - gritty and judgemental of extended American arms in the showing, not the telling, defined at least in part by the gimmick of Russian roulette just as Zero Dark Thirty has concentrated discussion around CIA dark sites and torture.
Frankly, I found Zero Dark Thirty brilliant and honest - not jingoistic at all. From the ghostly voices in lower Manhattan, recorded and doomed to die on that horrible day to the zipping of bin Laden into a U.S. Navy body bag, the film never really cheers, and Kathryn Bigelow doesn't so much create a gleaming American hero from the obsessive Jessica Chastain character as she molds a lasting anti-hero.
I'm embarassed for hit-and-run progressives who believe the film somehow "justifies" water boarding and "enhanced interrogation." It does not. It presents them as facts. As Lance Mannion correctly argued, those lefty critics were all "too distracted listening for speeches that were never delivered." The movie is also long and uncomfortable, like this long dark epoch itself. And the torture is as troubling as the bin Laden killing is matter of fact and mundane.
Indeed, Zero Dark Thirty is an antidote to the entertaining but anodyne Argo, which won Best Picture and is something of a paean to the days when we could all root for the hard-working men and women of the underdog CIA, represented by the handsome, bearded humanist Ben Affleck. In other words, the days of the late 70s - the Deer Hunter era itself, when the U.S. was the weakened world power limping home from Vietnam, and the echoes of the Church hearings still rang in our collective ears like the last chord of a Ramones set.
I was thinking about all of this when Blue Girl's instinctively bilious reaction to Andrew Sullivan's Iraq mea culpa crossed my feed reader.
How is he (and others) trying to wash off that blood? By writing blog posts? How courageous of them. How meaningful for that little dead boy in the photo he included in his post.
Rumsfeld and Cheney were great at projecting confidence, competence and management skills. And we were all still traumatized by 9/11 and grappling with how to respond to it. But we know now they were as terrified as we were, and their fear drove them to abandon restraint or skepticism or competent military and intelligence advice.
This feels like an academic debate. But it isn’t. I have blood on my hands. However many times I try to wash them, the blood will not come off.
BG is right, of course. The tenth anniversary of the war brought out the worst in those who'd supported it, and now regret their public words. Sullivan's was the just the most egregious example: as if his personal wrangling matters at all. Sully's post-Iraq angst has all the relative value of the post-sleep crud you flick from your eyes in the morning shower. As Blue Girl stingingly wrote:
You are embarrassing yourself. I am embarrassed for you. Please stop. Stick to writing about product placement in digital media. As far as I know, no one's kids are going to die hawking Coca Cola.
As James Wolcott coldly noted this week, those whooping "war whore" voices of 2003 have quieted, even if some emerged from intellectual hidey holes to squeak, "sorry!"
How the chickenhawks loved to castigate their opponents as chicken-hearted. I'll never forget the sick feeling I had watching the live coverage of the first US "shock and awe" bombing runs on Baghdad, with so much of the media in vainglorious hoopla mode, as if it were Super Bowl halftime entertainment.
It was quite the week for liberals who went along with the obvious lies and frabrications and bullying on Iraq in 2003 to pen boring and overly familiar apologia for - you know - assisting in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people and ruining the national reputation internationally for a generation. Charles Pierce was particularly tough on Ezra Klein (who, it must be noted, was in college at the time), but his critique can stand in for the whole sordid genre:
The members of the liberal political elite in this country were piss-down-their-legs scared of two things in 2002. First, that the next attack would land on their heads, since most of them live and work in or near what were presumed to be the primary target zones, both of which actually had been already. And second, that they would get called fifth-columnists (or worse) by the triumphalism of the incipient American imperial adventure in southwest Asia. Nobody wants to be George McGovern, after all.
As is our habit in these (long quiet) precincts, we usually turn to the fabulous M.A. Peel for all things Catholic, Irish, and Mad Men (usually in that order). So we can't let a season turn - though it really hasn't - without a nod to Ms. Peel's take on the new fellow in white paying his own hotel bill like any other Roman holidaymaker, fitting for Palm Sunday:
Much is being made of Pope Francis being the first pontiff of the Americas, the first non-European pope. I think that pales in comparison to being the first Jesuit.
The Guardian had an interesting voting interactive before the election. For each of the 115 cardinals they had some background, and listed the one thing each had stated as a priority. For the Argentine Cardinal Bergoglio, that was "reforming the Curia."
A Jesuit reforming a power structure is the ecclestiastical equivalent of bringing coals to Newcastle. The Jesuits wrote the book on intrigue and power.
They did indeed. At least till Don Draper, anway. And that little spring fiesta kicks off in two short weeks. As with the Vatican, we're always ready to cheer a little humility. Wonder what Ms. Peel will make of the new 1967ish look?
A number of years ago, my Parliamentary namesake the well-known Labour MP Tom Watson from West Bromwich East was kindly giving me a tour behind the scenes of Whitehall, where he was then running the Cabinet Office at the very center of the British Government. As I recall, Tom's office overlooked Horse Guards Parade on one side and the back garden of 10 Downing Street, then tenanted by Gordon Brown, on the other. Catching my look of historical hankering as I gazed out his windows, he took me on a whirlwind look through the passageways until we ended up in Number 10 itself (it's really all one big, rambling connected complex - but perhaps that's a state secret I shouldn't divulge).
In any event, there we were looking around the grand staircase with its portraits, the white drawing room where Presidents are photographed with Prime Ministers, and the famed cabinet room. And just before we left the building - through the black No. 10 door itself, as it turned out - Tom pointed out a rather deflated old brown leather wing chair in the corner of the vestibule. That he said, with some historic flourish, is Winston Churchill's reading chair.
I was recalling this moment of history-related generosity on Mr. Watson's part - it was very cool - as I sailed through The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965, the posthumous collaboration between the eminent Connecticut historian William Manchester and Paul Reid. Manchester, the most prominent Western hemisphere Churchillian, was the author of two volumes of a planned three volume biography of Churchill, the last of which was published in 1988 left Churchill on the edge of the premiereship - and the Second World War - in 1940. Manchester's health failed him, though he compiled acres of notes and outlines for the final volume before he died in 2003.
Like many armchair historians, Manchester's writing was formative for me. Goodbye Darkness, his account of the war in the Pacific, in part a first-person narrative, is among the great war books ever written. Manchester had the knack for weaving large-scale events into ground-level stories that imparted both the global machinations of empires and lives of actual people. So when my friend Eric Goldberg, over some Italian wine at I Trulli, strongly recommended the Manchester-Reid book - and Eric has never steered me wrong on history - a download was imminent.
I'd read the somewhat mixed reviews last fall when the book was released, but was intrigued by how Reid, who met Manchester as a reporter for the Palm Beach Post, deciphered both the old man's notes and his intentions like a one-man Bletchley Park team and produced a long, final chapter. And I'm not disappointed. Indeed, I think Reid's journalistic skills serve him very well on the vast, global canvas that was the last quarter century of Churchill's life. And I'm struck with the real generosity and ambition of the book. Certainly, the world didn't demand another Churchill biography; the Roy Jenkins book could certainly have served as the last big 20th century summation of that giant's life. Yet Reid is sure to explain - and then to demonstrate in capturing the sweep of events that defined Manchester's first two works - that this is a Manchester book and worthy of that reputation. The bones of garden are Manchester; the walls and pathways are laid out and familiar and the soil well-tilled with a lifetime's research. The plants are mainly Reid's - but they're arranged in the way that Gertrude Jekyll gardens still are decades after the great gardener's death. The grand design is recognizable.
As to Churchill, such is the cartoonish reputation still that it's always refreshing to read an open-eyed biography - one that countenances weakness, failure, and (perhaps) the immorality and folly of empire itself. Nonetheless, courage really was contagious in Britain in 1941 - and Churchill's keen sense of the Cold War's rise remains an example of actual strategic thinking by a major political leader. I'm not saying Churchill's world view should be welcomed early in this new century as a tonic for our global problems, nor that Churchill's famously loopy tactical ideas are either. But that clarity? By all means.
I run my business largely on Google's platform: email, files, calendar, my telephone number and easy syncing across multiple devices. I'm also a power user of Google's Android mobile operating system - it's my choice for both phone and tablet. Of course, Google is my default search engine and mapping program. And like many journalists, academics, and information obsessed geeks, I organized the RSS feeds from blogs and news sites that I followed with Google Reader.
Last week in my Forbes column, I joined the general din of outrage among hard-core Reader users when Google announced it was killing the service.
Does Google understand the concept of corporate social responsibility? That seems to be the basic question around the company’s strange decision to shut down a tiny service that serves as a major audience conduit for many thousands of bloggers, citizen journalists, and self publishers.
Google’s announcement today that it is destroying Google Reader, the most popular RSS syndication tool was a massive blow to the blogging community – and to most of those speaking out tonight via social media, an entirely unnecessary attack on an important corner of the public Internet by a company with more than $50 billion in revenue and a newly-won reputation as a tech giant on the move.
Don't forget, Google launched Reader to gain an important niche in the news world - and because of its dominance in search and email, Reader quickly became the largest RSS outlet in the world. But Google seems obsessed with its failed social media platform G+ and is apparently interested in competing with Amazon and Apple on paid magazine and news subscriptions. So Reader became a cost center of limited value....or so the Google chieftains believed.
In fact, the decision to shutter Reader has been a disaster for Google because the company alienated that key user base so completely (and cluelessly, if you ask me). For the couple million it probably saved in not maintaining Reader, it lost many untold millions in social capital and negative publicity, threatening the reception of its upcoming Glass product - and leading most of the tech press to mock this week's release of its new note-taking product, Google Keep.
The headlines told the story - nobody trusts Google to keep a service, even if its successful in winning adoption.
Om Malik was particularly tough - and on point:
Sorry Google, but you might not realize that you are acting like the company you wanted to replace: Microsoft. The Barons of Redmond used to float products into the market — smart displays and weird stuff — that companies like Samsung and LG would put out in the market, only to yank them later. In the end, I stopped believing in Microsoft and shifted my dollars and attention to other brands.
And so on. It really is a matter of trust, and that's something that co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin don't seem to understand. Sure, they're great at innovation for a large company. But where's the sense of common cause, the recognition that social capital actually matters over the long term.
Maybe Dave Winer is right: maybe Google really is no good at being evil.
Postscript: I'm trying Feedly as my new RSS reader. It's pretty good. A little too "magazine" like compared to Reader's spare stack of links, but I'll keep it for a while and see.
As Levi Asher will tell you, Mets culture is built upon the best-known ash heap in Western literature.
This is a valley of ashes -- a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.
None of those ash-gray men is named Duda or Nieuwenhuis or Cowgill or Baxter in Scott Fitzgerald's version, but those names and others will patrol what Art Rust Jr. used to call the "outer gardens" when the Mets outfield was several hundred feet to the west in old Shea Stadium.
At Citi Field, the General Manager's office overlooks the broad outfield through the girders of "Shea Bridge," the pedestrian walkway that links the leftfield stands with the big concessions concourse out past centerfield. Looking down from those shiny windows like a modern-day Doctor T. J. Eckleburg is Richard "Sandy" Alderson, a veteran attorney and West Coast baseball executive now in his third year as Commissioner Selig's mandated dismantler of the New York Mets as a high budget, big market sports operation.
...his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days, under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.
The dumping ground that the dour Alderson broods over is the Mets outfield, once a place of almost literary exploits - the ground where Tommie Agee roamed and Cleon Jones excelled, where Rusty Staub played one-armed and Darryl Strawberry went yard. It's territory that belongs to Mookie and Lenny, McReynolds and Beltran, Maz and Swoboda. Heck, Ellis Valentine, Bruce Boisclair and Steve Henderson would look pretty good right now.
But Alderson joked his way through the winter months, minimizing both his respect for the Mets fan base and his own ability to secure a Major League outfielder. Oh sure, he signed Marlon Byrd, the 35-year-old journeyman with a .278 career average and a 50-game suspension for PED abuse last season. That'll bring a vast over-capacity to what has increasingly been an emptier ballpark in this, the Alderson Era.
Occasionally a line of gray cars crawls along an invisible track, gives out a ghastly creak, and comes to rest, and immediately the ash-gray men swarm up with leaden spades and stir up an impenetrable cloud, which screens their obscure operations from your sight.
Take a look around. Duda is big lug who can hit a ball a long way way when the lumber catches it. But he's 27, he can't field (first base is his "natural" position) and the coaching staff doesn't love his work ethic. Baxter is a local product with hustle and fire who saved Johan Santana's ill-fated (for him, and us) no-hitter - and who remains a great fifth outfielder to have on a gritty, winning team. Cowgill is an over-achiever imported from Oakland, a quadruple A Lenny Dykstra wannabe who will clearly grace the "More Cowgill!" 7Line T-shirt by Opening Day. And Nieuwenhuis? Well, we can't help but nod along with the Wall Street Journal's Tim Marchman, who argues that "Captain Kirk" (as some of the faithful call him) personifies the Alderson-led New York Mets. On the one hand, "there is a long list of things not to like about Nieuwenhuis's game." And on the other, "He doesn't do anything that well, but he also isn't terrible at a variety of things. Not being terrible counts for a lot."
Oh boy, get me the season ticket office on the line - and hurry! This Mets outfield isn't bad. It's historically bad. Darkly bad. Tragically bad. Just not - as Sandy Alderson seems to believe - humorously bad. Casey Stengel's not around any more. Howard Megdal wrote in the offseason: "This is not to say the 2013 Mets will be worse than the 1993 or 1962 Mets. But their outfield probably will be."
The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic—their irises are one yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness, or forgot them and moved away.
In truth, there's a kind of eternal blindness required by sports fandom. To root, we must forgive. And certainly, we should forget. The Wilpon family's Madoff troubles obscure a long-term problem with how management ran a big market franchise. The Mets haven't won since 1986, when Nelson Doubleday owned half the team. They came close with an over-achieving team in 2000 and not as close with an under-achieving squad in 2006. And then they faded like the oculist's sign out on Roosevelt Avenue, and despite a spiffy new stadium, many fans forgot them and moved away.
Sandy Alderson let Jose Reyes - the greatest shortstop in Mets history and half of the team's famed Core Two (with David Wright) - walk with no formal offer and a nasty little barb about a "box of chocolates." His disdain was obvious. He traded Carlos Beltran for a high-end soup bone named Wheeler, who may make it to Queens later this year. And then he moved the team's lone bright spot last season, Cy Young winning knuckleball philosopher R.A. Dickey, to the Blue Jays for an oft-injured 24-year-old catching prospect who can hit named d'Arnaud. There seems to be a lack of fellowship with the fans on the part of the Mets GM, a bit of cold distance.
Yet even as polite an eminence as prolific Mets blogger Greg Prince came oh-so-close to asking of Alderson, "where's the frigging outfield at?!" during a recent conference call with bloggers. So pronounced is the Mets outfield wont that even Alderson - who staged faux "interest" in the likes of B.J. Upton and Michael Bourn during the winter - didn't try to layer any lipstick on that snout. In every interview, he's basically stipulated that the Mets outfield will stink. No apologies. No real plan for improvement. Buy your tickets and shut up.
The Aldersonian motto seems to be simple. Zero. Fucks. Given. The perfect 7Line T-shirt for this upcoming season, by the way.
The valley of ashes is bounded on one side by a small foul river, and, when the drawbridge is up to let barges through, the passengers on waiting trains can stare at the dismal scene for as long as half an hour. There is always a halt there of at least a minute, and it was because of this that I first met Tom Buchanan’s mistress.
The dismal scene may include an Opening Day non-sellout, as Shannon Shark has been busy chronicling on his happily revived and re-clawed Mets Police blog. Shark's at his best when the Mets are at their worst (happy solicitude and an endless parade of jersey porn don't really suit his considerable talents), and he's been laying into the team with the highest low-end ticket prices for an Opening Day tilt in Major League Baseball. His quickie investigation last week (ice cream cone included) shows that lo and behold, you could easily purchase blocks of Mets tickets to opening day a dozen at a time - in every section of the ballpark for the April 1 game with the visiting Padres. Bring the kiddies, bring the wife, bring the whole church choir. [And do yourself a favor and pick up Shannon's excellent Mets memoir, Send The Beer Guy.]
But above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg.
The gray land and bleak dust of Citi Field are broken by few beams. Matt Harvey is one of the best young pitchers in the big leagues, tough and throws hard and inside. Ike Davis can hit when healthy. David Wright is David Wright, part third-baseman, part Mets marketing plan. Jordany Valdespin is talented and (perhaps) maturing. He may even play the outfield. The rest is backup infielders, old prospects, third and fourth starters, comebacking relief specialists, veteran bench players.
This will be a long season. Opening Day is less than two weeks away. There is no outfield. Alderson's front office lies quiescent and faded like the oculist's sign. And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into fourth place.
Just seven years after the very halls of the Superdome were a national symbol of abandonment, the failure of government, and the disproportionality of society's response when it is so clearly divided by race and money, the National Football League turned its back on the people of New Orleans with a mammoth expression of glitz and electronics - a display every bit as pompous and crass as Air Force One tilting its wings so that George W. Bush could catch of a fleeting glance of flooded glory.
I don't blame Beyonce, really. She did the job she was contracted for, donned the latex and leather corset, and slunk professionally around a stage drunken with LED lighting and dozens of dancers who mimmicked her moves. Yeah call me a geezer, kiddies, but I thought the idea was that what happened in Las Vegas stayed in Las Vegas. Or is that just a slogan?
The NFL itself didn't even lip sync a concern for New Orleans, or the recognition that a national tragedy unfolded in the Dome, in the streets outside, and in the parishes to the south and east, where hundreds died waiting for help that never came. Last night's gaudy casino fest could have been in any dome, from Tampa to Minneapolis, Seattle to Indianapolis. It spoke not at all of the incredible city of culture that is New Orleans, one of the rare large-scale urban places in the United States that has heroically resisted the pull of social and cultural homogeneity.
What a disgrace. Where was the music? Where was the glorious sound of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and its deeply emotional tradition of New Orleans jazz, a form that to this day thrills the tendons, muscles and bones that lead human beings to move and dance and sway. Where were the modern jazz artists who call New Orleans home? Where were the blues artists who find NOLA to be one of the few places in the U.S. with enough venues to play two shows a day and sleep till noon? And where were the marching bands? Man, the halftime of any Ole Miss-Tulane game has better, more authentic music.
There was blackout in the third quarter last night. Perhaps it represented the still fragile state of New Orleans' recovery, and the city's delicate infrastructure. Or maybe the stadium simply blew a fuse with the technological schock-o-thon at halftime. The game itself was pretty good. But the blackout had another meaning to me. It may have featured Destiny's Child - but it most surely lacked destiny's children.
Shame on the NFL (and their sponsoring Pepsi overlords) for ignoring one of the great seats of American culture. Heckuva job, Beyonce.
This video gem is just B-roll from the New York subway in 1986 - 42nd Street, the shuttle, and Times Square. Trains, graffiti, grime, old signs from the 50s, and suits with shoulder pads. That was Ed Koch's New York.
The man was picaresque character, a giant whose corners would be knocked off by today's anodyne culture before he ever attained high office. Koch was a piece of work, alternately a racially insensitive bully who swung hard right during Reagan and sold the city to developers - and a surprisingly kind man in person who treated regular people like taxi drivers, waiters, cops and little old ladies with genuine respect.
In the mid-80s, he planned a big affordable housing initiative with his pals in the real estate industry. One particular development was to go up in the southern end Kingsbridge, just down the hill from Riverdale, about a thousand units. There was vocal protest. I was deputy editor and political reporter for The Riverdale Press at the time, and Buddy Stein and I traveled to City Hall one afternoon for a meeting with Koch and his team.
The man was civility itself: we lunched with the Mayor and his deputies in his private dining room as he tried to sell the plan. At one point he turned and repeated a quip he was to use dozens of times in his (unsuccessful in the end) quest to build the housing complex.
"Tom, you know how it is in Riverdale, don't you? It's last one in, shut the door!"
The line, delivered loudly with that familiar rising cadence, carried all of its inherent 'Kochness' like the blast of tunnel wind from the IRT as it hit Times Square in the 80s, covered with the tags of teenagers from the outer boroughs. That was a New York we won't see again. Grimy, full of fear, without the polish and the brass plaques and the property values. There was no better place on earth for a young reporter to go out, collect stories, and write. I miss it.
Sure, the heroine at the center of Brave is a princess, a plot decision met with some derision from the feminist commentariat, which was looking for a more radical lead role in Disney and Pixar's new hit movie, heavily promoted as a movie about a new type of cinematic girl (new at least for big budget animated adventures). But I'm inclined to dismiss that dismissal and to conclude that Brave really is a radical departure for the Pixar hit machine. And to my eye, it's an important mainstream feminist document.
First, let's get this out of the way. Brave is important because it's a big budget mainstream flick - one of the summer's feel-good family hits! - not an art house indie or a film that a dozen film students load into their Netflix queues. Many millions will watch. And many millions of children will watch over and over and over again - as is the habit of children with their favorite movies. That means many millions of boys and girls will internalize the ethics of Brave, just as they did Toy Story or Wall-E or Finding Nemo.
And those ethics revolve clearly around a notion of feminism that dashes away the post-feminist compromise and places - oh, the very radicalism of it - free will at the center of a strong female character's plot line. To put it bluntly, Merida is the first animated princess in major American film history who does not fall in love, who does not act on the basis of romantic motivation, and who does not (mild spoiler alert) choose a handsome mate in the end.