I haven't had much to say about Iraq lately because it just seems too hopeless and depressing. The Bush Administration is obviously just flailing around, trying to run out the clock.
January 13, 2007
Radar magazine lists five pundits (David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, Peter Beinart, Jeffrey Goldberg, and Fareed Zakaria), who helped push America into the Iraq nightmare and whose careers have only prospered since then. And Radar lists four pundits who were right (William S. Lind, Robert Scheer, Jonathan Schell, and Scott Ritter) and have seen few (if any) rewards other than being able to say "I told you so." Schell of notes: "There doesn't seem to be a rush to find the people who were right about Iraq and install them in the mainstream media."
Yet, life is only getting sweeter for the boys who helped get us into this war. For example:
"Before the war [Tom Friedman] was charging less than $40,000 to give a speech; these days it's a rumored $65,000. And afterward the audiences are encouraged to scoop up copies of the World is Flat, his paean to corporate globalism that has been on the Times best-seller list for 91 weeks. The royalties certainly help defray the costs of a $9.3 million mansion in Bethesda and a second home in Aspen that—if the local phone book and Google Earth are to be trusted—is a massive chateau with its own lake on the swanky northern side of town, where Prince Bandar has his monstrosity."
Friedman is married to a billionaire's daughter, so he doesn't have to earn his Starwood mansion with the sweat of his brow, but it looks like he could, if collecting $65k per speech requires any sweat. (By the way, Prince Bandar's ski chalet is 55,000 square feet with a 17,000 square foot guest cottage.)
This reminds me of something I don't really understand: why affluent people will pay unbelievable amounts of money to attend a lecture so they can bask in the (one would think) unedifying physical presence of somebody like Tom Friedman, whom they can see for free on television practically every week. For instance, this season the Los Angeles Music Center Speaker Series charges $50 on up (way up) per lecture by Zakaria, George Will, or Jim Lehrer, who are all regulars on the free tube.
A couple of years ago, the big highlight of the season was Dan Rather, who was so popular he was the only speaker to appear on both the A and B series. Personally, having seen hundreds of hours of Ol' Dan on TV, my urge to shell out 50 clams to see him as a dot-like life form as viewed from the second balcony of the cavernous Dorothy Chandler Pavilion was limited.
I guess, the point, though, is that having seen Rather up close and personal on the idiot box for free for all those years, a lot of wealthy people were excited about being allowed to proffer cash offerings so they can worship him in the flesh from afar.
Watching "Patton" with my son, I got to wondering whether there's ever been a bigger gap in acting quality between the star and just about everybody else in the movie. George C. Scott is as tremendous as in memory and legend, but the supporting cast members, even Karl Malden as Gen. Omar Bradley, are wooden, as stiff and phony-sounding as the players in a high school musical. Scott just sucks up all the charisma in every scene.
Only Michael Bates, who was an officer of a Gurkha regiment in Burma in WWII, shows flair as Field Marshall Montgomery (or, as Sam Goldwyn once introduced Monty at a formal dinner party in Hollywood, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Field Marshall Montgomery Ward" -- in the ensuing embarrassed silence, one wit piped up: "No, Sam, I think you meant to say 'Field Marshall Field.'")
January 12, 2007
One of the ironic side-effects of the vast 2003 brouhaha over Rush Limbaugh saying "the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well" was that sporting press finally started to shut up about black quarterbacks just to prove Rush wrong.
There are still exceptions. For example, the New York Times ran an old-fashioned booster article before the college title game:
Acceptance Still Lags for Black Quarterbacks
By WILLIAM C. RHODEN
"Monday night’s national title game, the first time in B.C.S. history that black starting quarterbacks have met in a game involving the No. 1 and No. 2 teams, is a milestone that should be celebrated not shunned."
But that's rarer these days after Rush's "gaffe."
Not surprisingly, there has been little coverage lately as black QB performance in the NFL has tailed off.
2006 was another unimpressive year for black quarterbacks in the NFL. Veteran Steve McNair had another solid season, throwing for the 14th most yardage of any NFL quarterback (and was also 14th in passer efficiency), leading Baltimore to an impressive 13-3 record. Donovan McNabb started the season very well, but was hurt for the last six games of the season. He still finished 20th overall in passing yardage (and 4th in passer rating). (His replacement, the aged Jeff Garcia, did just as well in efficiency.)
Then came Michael Vick at #22 in yards passing, but he did set a new record for quarterbacks by rushing for over 1000 yards. Rookie Vince Young was 26th, but also ran well, and was coming on very strong in the second half of the season. David Garrard was 30th.
McNair was the only black among the 12 starting quarterbacks in the playoffs, although McNabb's Philadelphia made it, but the Eagles had a better record after Garcia took over as the starting quarterback.
So, it's looking like the black quarterback boom is petering out, as every hot idea does in the NFL, sooner or later, as opponents figure out how to adjust to innovations, such as quarterbacks who are better runners. Black quarterbacks will likely continue to be common in the NFL, but only in numbers somewhat disproportionately more represented than their share of the overall U.S. population, not the wildly disproportionate numbers of blacks found at tailback or cornerback.
Still, an awful lot of teams would surely like to have LSU's strong-armed 6-6 260 JaMarcus Russell.
January 11, 2007
In the spirit of our recent discussion of singers' heights:
Man shot in argument over James Brown's height
Two Atmore men exchanged gunfire Monday, injuring one of them when the friends got into an argument about how tall the recently deceased soul singer James Brown was, police said.
I haven't checked the statistics lately, but what I'm noticing in daily life is that the Latino surge into LA may have peaked, with ridiculously high home prices driving Mexicans to other states. Instead, Southern California is becoming more and more dominated by ... well, I don't know the term for them. They're typically white people from western Asia who have strong small business moneymaking chops, don't mind crowding an extended family into one house, and maybe aren't real enthusiastic about following government regulations and paying taxes: e.g., Iranians, Armenians, Israelis, Lebanese, Syrians, etc.
They often come from exotic ethnic minorities -- for example, my wife used to frequent a shop owned by the mother of Paula Abdul, the judge on American Idol, who is a Jewish Arab of Syrian origin. Other shopkeepers have prominently displayed pictures of the Virgin Mary with Arabic inscriptions. Many of the Iranians are Jewish.
The funny thing is that there isn't even a collective word for them: Asian Caucasians? Men with deep voices? The gold chain nestled in chest hair set? The second coming of the Ottoman Empire?
A reader writes:
"Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a politically correct synonym. I suspect it's because you're trying to aggregate groups who hate each other (Arabs vs. Israelis, Armenians vs. Turks), so there's no political pressure for a particular PC term to identify the group as a whole."
That makes sense. Even though the West Asian immigrants seem quite similar culturally to average Americans like me, back in the Old Country they hate each other too much to form umbrella organizations here. In contrast, the Nixon Administration could group Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans together because, while they didn't particularly like each other, they were too isolated from each other on different islands back home, and in different parts of America, to really hate each other So ambitious activists saw the advantages in political muscle for getting affirmative action handouts of claiming to represent a bigger synthetic umbrella category: Hispanics / Latinos.
January 10, 2007
Across Difficult Country is impressed with Apple's new iPhone and this age of wonders we live in:
"I saw footage of the Steve Jobs Apple iPhone demo, and one of the things you can do with iPhone is upload photos to it, then, by touching the screen, make them larger and smaller. Am I the only one reminded of the moon landing? Larger, smaller – by touching the screen. I'm thinking of how stout Cortez must have felt on that mountaintop. Larger. Smaller. By touching the screen."
The Supreme Court endorsed racial preferences a few years ago, endorsing the popular belief that ethnic diversity stimulates intellectual life.
Similarly, back in 2004, The Economist opined:
"Even if there were a stark choice between diversity and social solidarity, it is not clear that the latter would be better. In 1856 Walter Bagehot, deprived of the diversity which the past century and a half has brought, railed against his tight-knit society, which he thought stifled excitement and innovative thinking. “You may talk of the tyranny of Nero and Tiberius,” he wrote, “but the real tyranny is the tyranny of your next-door neighbour.”
Print journalists are always denouncing bloggers for posting without taking time to think, but do they bother doing reality checks themselves?
To test The Economist's theory, let's make up a list of British thinkers active in 1856:
Charles Darwin, James Clerk Maxwell, John Stuart Mill, Florence Nightingale, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Benjamin Disraeli, Francis Galton, Matthew Arnold, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Charles Dickens, John Ruskin, Robert Browning, Thomas Henry Huxley, William Makepeace Thackeray, Richard Burton, Anthony Trollope, Michael Faraday, Lewis Carroll, George Eliot…
In this company, even Walter Bagehot himself, an outstanding public intellectual and journalist, seems a little outclassed.
I suspect that it's more likely that ethnic diversity stifles innovative thinking by making political correctness more mandatory to keep the peace.
January 9, 2007
National suicide via politeness. A TV commercial on YouTube.
A reader writes:
The National Health Interview Survey measured the shoeless height of 33,531 American white men. These are the means by region:
Height in Inches
And the percent 6'1" or over:
The differences here are small, but this might be part of the reason for height differences between country and rock singers.
I wonder if the General Social Survey asks men in different regions how tall they are. Then we could find out which part of the country has the biggest liars.
From my upcoming review in the American Conservative:
Broadway musical composers can't seem to come up with catchy tunes anymore, so Hollywood has turned instead to singers' biopics, such as recent Oscar-winners "Walk the Line" (Johnny Cash) and "Ray" (Ray Charles), so audiences can still leave the theatre humming the hits.
Unfortunately, musical career arcs generally lack fresh drama. The genre's standard plot sees the struggling young prodigy get a quick lesson in how to sell a song from a veteran Svengali, after which he ascends to superstardom during a montage. In Act II, the singer struggles with his "inner demons," which predictably turn out to be drugs or drink.
It doesn't help that filmmakers have been oddly averse to honesty about why we idolize outstanding singers. "Walk the Line," for example, implied that Cash became a legend because of the emotional trauma of his younger brother's death. Likewise, when Hollywood finally makes "The Shaquille O'Neal Story," we'll no doubt learn that Shaq grew up to be a 7'1" NBA center because his beloved pet dog got run over.
What made Cash unique, however, was that bass-baritone voice with which he would thrillingly rumble, "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash." Joaquin Phoenix, a fine actor but a mere baritone, couldn't match it.
In contrast, "Dreamgirls," the deservedly crowd-pleasing film version of the 1981 Broadway musical, demonstrates how making stuff up can be more truthful. A highly fictionalized account of Motown's Supremes (renamed the Dreams), it refreshingly puts conflicts over voices and looks at the center of this story of three Detroit high school friends who become the biggest American pop group of the 1960s.
January 8, 2007
My new VDARE.com column: "Muller, Malkin, and Muslim Terrorists."
A reader writes:
I also have the impression that front men are often shorter than the rest of the band, as in RHCP, Dio, Genesis. There may be a correlation with short height and extroversion (maybe only on subracial level, as in Italians are shorter and more extrovert than Swedes)
Btw, I find your reasoning about rock stars' average height very interesting, but also noticed that many many people find this kind of reasoning boring/disturbing/weird. Why?
Good question. Anybody have any thoughts?
January 7, 2007
Charles C. Mann wrote a article many years ago in the Atlantic Monthly pointing out that landowners have an incentive to quietly exterminate any endangered species they find on their land. A flock of sheep are particularly good for eradicating plant species.
Of course, it’s also true that many endangered species aren’t really endangered. It’s just that nobody bothered looking for them until a development was announced. At that point, opponents of the real estate development hire naturalists to find little known species on the property.
It’s often easier to find some supposedly rare species on a piece of land than for the developers to find that particular species in enough places elsewhere to show it isn’t rare. Although the public tends to visualize every endangered species as panda bears or whooping cranes, weeds are particularly useful to anti-developers, since their geographic spread is often poorly known because who cares about weeds?
Thus it’s easier to portray them as endangered. For example, the discovery of the San Fernando Spineflower, a tiny weed almost indistinguisable from the San Gabriel Spineflower, helped derail development of the billion dollar Ahmanson Ranch project outside of Los Angeles.