Friday, July 30, 2010

Fletch on Movies

As part of my Shabbat/convelescent reading, I've been going through the "Fletch" novels of Gregory McDonald. Like every red-blooded Genxer, I was introduced to Fletch via the movie, which I often put in my top 5 favorite movies. The first book has basically the same plot skeleton, but is not nearly the same level of comedy, as the film. I will have more to say about the books soon, but I wanted to jump the topic with a quote from a later book in the series, "Fletch's Moxie" which is about the movie business. McDonald sets his books in different 'worlds' and will go on a particular author-filibuster on that subject (e.g. the art world, journalism, politics).

"Moxie" is about movies and actors, and the following speech is a wonderful description (something I wish I'd written) about the terrible 'message movies' that usually win Best Picture, and what is mistaken as 'serious' filmmaking:
"I’m just reading this filmscript.” Fletch jiggled his knee under it. "I don’t know, of course. Never read a filmscript before. It strikes me as pretty terrible. The characters all seem to be like people you meet at a cocktail party—all fronts and no backs. They don’t talk the way people really talk. I do a little writing myself—on days when there are hurricanes. It seems to me, in this filmscript much time and space are wasted while the author is floundering around trying to arrive at an idea. All that should be cut away. Don’t you think writing should begin after the idea is achieved?" Mooney was looking at him like a bull bored with the pasture. "It treats controversial old issues in an insulting, offensive way. Instead of trying to create any sort of understanding, my reading of it is that it is trying to provoke hatred—deliberately."
Apply this to any number of the Best Pictures of the past decade (e.g. American Beauty, Crash, Million Dollar Baby, anything by Ron Freakin' Howard after Apollo 11).

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Missing Old Enemies

My birthday's coming up (and my brother just hit the Big 4-0) so I've been listening to a lot of 70s and 80s music. Just now, hearing "Burning Heart" by Journey Foreigner Survivor, reminds me of a point about our old enemies, the Commies, and our new ones, the Sicko Mooslims. If you recall from the song, and the accompanying movie (Rocky IV), the Russians were a technocratic menace able to create chemical-mechanical monsters to dominate the world. While the reality was sad (Russia seemed to be a third world country with a first world reputation, hence their designation of the 'Second World' in that particular triad), there's an essential fact here: the Commies were totalitarian, fascist, brutal, atheist, racist, and implacable. Their core idea, Marxism, is seductive - especially for the third world, and the Soviets were undeniably trying to take over the world. We must remember these facts. Yet, I miss one key aspect of having them as enemies: their denial of God came with a veneration of science and the arts. This enemy insisted on having high education, music, dance, and critically: science and technology. And because our enemies were trying to dominate these fields, we needed to keep up.

Why did JFK's famous Boston accented boast "putting a man on the moon at the end of the decade" actually happen? I ask this because many pundits like bloviating that if a president makes such a boast then we can accomplish it (Bush tried this, so did His Honor Jed Bartlett). The reason we got to the moon wasn't because of JFK's boast, it was because we were in a death race in tech and science with the Rooskies. The moon was just Vietnam in space.

I miss this part of my old enemy - their primacy of science and technology meant we needed to do that too. It made us invest seriously in education (e.g. my mother was sent to grad school on a Defense scholarship to learn Spanish - because Commies were everywhere, we needed to know what they knew... nowadays we discharge linguists from the military if they're gay). The commies converted the isolationists and anti-intellectuals - who now vocally dominate the GOP - to celebrate American international achievement in every endeavor. *

Our new enemies, radical Muslims, are similar in some respects, and worse in many others, than the Soviets. Ironically, one of the main crimes of Communism - atheism - turns out to have been a mixed blessing. If you had asked a normal American back in the Cold War 50s, why we were fighting the Commies, they're respond "atheism!" This is why we made "In God We Trust" our national motto, and put God in (badly) the Pledge of Allegiance. That's even what I recall reading in the words of the Rav. Yet the radical Muslim enemy is quite theistic, and it's their theism that makes them much worse than the Commies could ever hope to be.

The God Fearing radical Muslims, because they fear a god, hate science, technology and art. Six months before 9/11, the Taliban dynamited famous, and 1500 year old, statues of Buddha - the violence driven by righteous religious belief.

As a child of the 80s, I lived in fear of the Commies, especially with Reagan and Thatcher rattling their geriatric sabres, but my antagonism of the Soviets wasn't about their atheism as much as their desire to turn the whole world into a totalitarian hell-hole. People argued that their cruelty came from atheism, yet not many people become suicide bombers if they don't believe in an afterlife.

The god the radical Muslims trust in, the one they are under, is what motivates their very worst behavior. Suicide bombing? Slaughtering children? All because of theism. And like with the old rock Buddha, these God-fearers hate science and art. In fact, universities are as much a target for these God-fearers as idol worshiping Hebrews and Nazarenes.

And this leads to the crux of the matter: because our current enemy is animated by religion and hates science, our counter-response is one of beliefs and not of science. The growth of American power in the Twentieth Century came from our choice of enemy. Our new enemy is going to help us go down the dismal road of religious fervor (to combat theirs) with full throated anti-intellectualism - because that's not the perceived battleground.

The further sick irony is that it's precisely in science, tech and art that we can beat the Radical Muslims. Not only does the rest of the world treasure the Western World's dominance in science and art (just ask the billions or so heathens out there, a.k.a. Chinese, Indians, Japanese) but it is only through a desperate push to replace oil as fuel that we will defeat our enemies. George W Bush and cronies thought we could beat the Mooslims by conquering them (hence the Iraq War) but the only way to truly conquer them is to destroy their power from within - eliminate our dependency on oil. Just as we conquered Communism by impoverishing them in the arms and space race, so we can impoverish our enemies now in a more direct fashion. If we invent easy solar power, for example, the terrorist funding will turn into thick black mud.**

This is why I miss the commies: they were good enemies not only because they allowed us to create decent James Bond films, but because they brought out the best of the West: science, tech, and art; and because they turned our idiot religious thugs to at least accept all religious people - even Jews - and to reject isolationism. Our current enemies are bringing the worst in us: religious intolerance, rejection of science, fighting over belief and not excellence. We were cursed in 2001 to have the worst kind of president to respond to the current enemy (ironically his father was pretty bad in his response to the fall of the Berlin Wall, but like in everything Bush Jr. made Bush Sr. look like Abe Lincoln). I hope that Obama is able to convince America that we need to take the science-tech response to our current enemies... it's the only thing that can save us from a pretty bad next decade.


* We can still see vestiges of the Kommie Kompetition with our fear of the Chinese - and there's potential there for the old Cold War rivalry to be renewed. Except that the Chinese don't seem to care about taking over the world, unlike the USSR, and while they are a brutal threat to key allies (ask South Korea and Japan how much they like China), common Americans may not fear the Chinese like the way we did the Soviets, and the fear is what drove our country to excel in science, tech, and art.

** Note, they still have drug money, but one problem at a time.

Top pic from here. Second and third pics from the Wiki. According to the Wiki, the second pic is of kids pledging allegiance with the "Bellamy Salute" - invented by the Pledge's author - yet was adopted by the Italian Fascists and later the Nazis. Wow, life is ironic.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Reverse Boycott Time

While I'm not in favor of anti-Semites, and their Halloween costume cousins Anti-Zionists, being so loud (hate speech is rough on the psyche) I am glad when they are vocal. According to Jacob Weisberg's recent Slate column (h.t. Goldblog), a number of celebrities are boycotting Israel. A great quote:
What they're saying instead is: "We consider your country so intrinsically reprehensible that we are gong to treat all of your citizens as pariahs." Instead of warning that Israel risks becoming an apartheid society if it fails to make peace, boycotters have concluded that Israel already is an irredeemable apartheid society.
Now, as I've mentioned here, I keep my eye on those moral artists who davka tour Israel, so I'm happy to track the opposite side of the spectrum as well. So, according to Slate, here are the new immoral anti-Zionist scum: Meg Ryan, The Pixies, Elvis Costello. Now I have no idea who the Pixies are, and now I'm glad that I don't have to, but I have experience with the other two scumbags and I find a bittersweet silver lining to the hate cloud.

First of all, sweet anorexic airhead shiksa Meg Ryan. What red-blooded American GenX male has not feared her presence in any movie? She's in the category of "pretty only to women" (other members of this group: Julia Roberts and Sarah Jessica Parker) and her one character, recycled in numerous romantic comedies, is the same shrill high-maintenance ditz we discovered when Sally met Harry. Those of us who have secretly detested her reduction of femininity to the most irritating traits (helpless, brainless, neurotic, impossible to please, materialist, irresponsible) can have a concrete reason to hate her.

But the real prize is Elvis Costello. Man oh man, I do not like that guy's music. And yet, all the pallid hipster music snobs have insisted for decades that he's some kind of genius. Yet, these aesthetes seem to overlook that the man sings like a geek. It's his own pretentiousness, the arrogance of his fans, and his utter lack of voice quality that has earned my ire before his latest bigoted escapade. And, hey, look at the Wiki, it says that "Elvis" (a.k.a. Declan Patrick MacManus) had a famous incident in 1979 of publicly calling James Brown and Ray Charles the N-word.

So here ya go, the great entertainers and the moral conscience.

Cotello pic from here.

Big B and His Tongs

This is a video of my eldest back when he was just learning to walk. The original vid was silent, taken from a low-res digital camera. The moment captured on film is priceless: Big B, wearing his overalls Snuffy Smith style (one strap), holding his then favorite kitchen appliance: black plastic catering salad tongs (from Stella's of New Haven ob"m). He had one tongs in one hand and strides over to the drawer which usually housed the other pair. Noticing it empty, he wheels around, spies the prize on the floor, siezes it, then strides off, wanging the two tongs together, looking for a fife (for all we know). Enjoy.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Dental Day Tomorrow

Tomorrow, I'm going in for a dreaded dental procedure. My dentists in New Haven botched a root canal, and the crown has fallen out, the tooth irreparable... good times. So I'm going for a full fledged tooth extraction. Following that, I'm told that I can't blow my nose for three days and that sneezing could be dangerous. Again, good times. I may be stuck in bed for a while so I may be able to blog some stuff (the backlog on the blog is enormous).

Image from here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Rav Yehudah Amital Zt"l Updates

Some links to eulogies and other resources for my recently departed Rosh Yeshiva. These are from the Yeshiva and I'm just reproducing their list (however I want to emphasize the one from Jewish Ideas Daily which is a great web-resource, and subscription source in general).
1) R. Yoel Amital (Hebrew) (audio)
2) R. Shlomo Brin (Hebrew) (audio)
3) R. Aharon Lichtenstein (Hebrew) (audio)
4) R. Moshe Taragin (English) (audio)

...Some others from around the blogosphere. The first three are from Yeshiva alumni.

Elli Fischer
Michael Eisenberg
Alex Israel
Jewish Ideas Daily
"A Rare Breed this Simple Jew" (Ha'aretz)

Friday, July 09, 2010

Rav Yehudah Amital Zt"l

My Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yehudah Amital, died this morning at age 85. He was a gadol b'Torah and gadol b'middot, a truly angelic person who radiated warmth for Torah and for humanity like his teacher, Rav Avraham Yitzhak Kook. Rav Amital zt'l was also a Shoah survivor who came to Israel in 1944 and fought in the War of Independence as a member of the Haganah. Thus, he was an embodiment of modern Jewish History as well as an embodiment of Jewish wisdom and spirituality.

Barukh Dayan ha-Emet.

Update: Some links to eulogies.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Tea Party?

The current Tea-Party takes their title from the Boston Tea Party. From the beginning, I've been disturbed by the imagery because even though the original Tea-Partiers became heroes of the American Revolution, at the time they were committing treason. And the current teabaggers, by using that event as a standard, are thus declaring to the world that they intend treason. No?

That established, the Tea Party is in fact the wrong image - because bottom line, the rebellion/treason that they intend to enact is Fort Sumter. Not just because the Teabaggers are generally egotistical misanthropic crackers, but also because they hate non-Whites and especially our Black president.

Image from here. And, note, these people are proud of their Frankenstein imagery.