Sunday, September 21, 2008


Every now and then I come across a blog post that is so spot on I wish I had written it myself. I can at least endorse it by quotation:

As you watch the current Wall Street meltdown unfold you should bear in mind that the crisis doesn't represent a failure of capitalism, it represents a triumph of plutocracy -- government by, of and for the wealthy. This is the way plutocracy is supposed to work.

In a plutocracy like ours, the wealthy instruct the government, a wholly owned subsidiary of corporate America, to construct a system, a set of rules, under which corporate America can behave like a pack of rabid hyenas in its hysterical pursuit of short-term profits. When and if the hysteria leads to a breakdown of the system -- basically because the suckers get tired of being defrauded, or run out of money to lose -- corporate America instructs the government to bail it out with tax dollars from ordinary Americans . . . that is to say, the same suckers it was trying to swindle by other means.

The wealthy never lose. Dick Fuld, the CEO of Lehman Brothers, got a bonus of 22 million dollars last year, as he was in the process of defrauding hundreds of thousands of people with essentially worthless financial instruments and leading his company forward into bankruptcy. The two top officers of Merrill Lynch, which had to sell itself to the Bank Of America to avoid the fate of Lehman Brothers, will split a parting gift of 47 million dollars. The financial institutions which tried to make quick bucks by selling bundles of nearly valueless mortgages are now going to sell those bundles to the American taxpayer, in what will surely be the greatest act of corporate welfare in the history of human civilization.

Such moments in history are instructive. They remind us that corporate America, and conservative apologists for the "free market", have no real interest in free markets -- they are interested in free money for the wealthy. If they can get it through unregulated fraud, that's fine -- if they can get it through corporate socialism, that's fine, too . . . as long as they get it.

This is the sort of racket which used to be called "the old army game". Like any sophisticated con, it's a no-lose system for the hucksters who are running it, corporate America's wealthy elite. Trust me -- Dick Fuld is not going to give back the 22 million he got for doing his part to send the world economy into a tailspin, placing the welfare of millions at risk. And he's not going to jail, either -- because he was operating within the laws that he and his fellow hyenas paid to have enacted.

It's plutocracy as usual.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Not Your Bloggish Blog, Revisited

I have made PMD even less bloggish, shutting down the "Comments" feature, removing the sketchy blogroll, and eliminating Sitemeter. I have no idea who if anyone is reading this, and no one who doesn't know who I am can reach me.

This is in part sheer self-protectiveness. One of the results of my depression over the past two years has been an increasing incapacity to deal with non-positive interactions. Whether in "real life" or in cyberspace, I want to avoid that sort of contact as much as possible. I cannot handle the jostling and frequent rudeness on web bulletin boards, and I have eliminated as many of them from my awareness as possible. I post on only a handful of boards anymore, and hope to get the number down to zero soon. I try not to comment on others' blogs; I am also trying not to cultivate "virtual friendships," and have sometimes elected to go silent rather than try to explain why those quasi-relationships are not healthy for me. All these are survival tactics; the world of someone who has been at the edge of suicide himself, and was horrifyingly involved with an even more suicidal individual (there are gradations!), is truly not like the world of those not so affected.

I don't want to make this sound more sad or pitiful than it is. I choose to limit myself in this way so as to be happier; a degree of happiness is still somewhat available to me, but only if I take intelligent precautions.

Since PMD is more than ever for my use primarily, it may become less penetrable for other readers. I may largely discontinue the sort of explanatory language I fitfully use to give some slight context to my observations; but that remains to be seen. I may experiment with a more stream-of-consciousness style. I could, of course, revert to a non-web-based diary that would not raise any of these issues of communicative clarity, since no one else would be able to read the entries. But for some possibly perverse reason, I like the thought of remaining at the edge of invisibility without becoming functionally invisible. Hence a blog that is shadowy, unpromoted, unconnected, vaguely solipsistic; but that can still be found and read, and may occasionally appeal to a kindred reader.

UPDATE (5/1/2009): I took up these themes again when I revived the blog in May 2009. Essentially, this all still applies. I thought a lot about these issues in the intervening months, but didn't really change my views on them. The Vanity Fair article "You've Got (Hate) Mail," discussed in another post, did nothing to dissuade these attitudes, trust me.

I'm aware in re-reading some of these posts that it can all be a little much of a downer, and to any readers I do have, I apologize for that. I'm just trying to be utterly clear (with myself as much as anyone) about the whys and wherefores of these decisions, as small as they are.

More Anti-Religious Observations

I have come to the conclusion that religion cannot be part of the solution to the harms that religion causes. The answer to the damage caused by Christianity is not nicer Christians; it is not the United Church of Christ, or the Unitarian Universalists, or Quakers. The correct response to the incorrect guidance of religions does not involve Reform Jews or moderate Muslims; or Hinduism or Buddhism; or Native American spirituality, enlightened ecumenicism, or parapsychology. The only proper response -- not that I'm holding my breath -- would be the voluntary cessation of the relgious project, retaining only those philosophical and ethical insights that are valuable moving forward and that can float free of dogma and worship.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Whitest Time Ever, Revisited

I am not a big one for outlinks, but Andrew Sullivan's blog drew my attention to Jonathan Bines's "Black Comic Introduces McCain," the funniest piece I've seen on the madness of the past few weeks.

What up, RNC!


You white motherfuckers!


This conference so white, Helen Mirren tried to snort it!


Y’all the whitest white people in the history of white people. Even Barbara Bush sitting here right now going: ‘These are some white motherfuckers.’


You’re so white, your vice presidential nominee got the word ‘pale’ in her name!

(laughter, applause)

Farther on, the comic apostrophizes Levi Johnston:

Where the baby daddy at? Where he at?

(crowd noise)

You knocked her up, man? That’s cool. That’s cool.


You know that word ‘abstinence’—you know that mean ‘no fucking,’ right?


I guess they didn’t make that clear at the seminar.


‘So I just use this abstinence, that mean we can fuck all we want, right?’ No!


But you know I feel you, man. I do. Because the fact is, you live in motherfucking Alaska! What else is there to do but fuck?


Just fuck! That’s all there is to do! Just fuck!


That’s all Alaska is. Just a bunch of crazy white people fucking!

(sustained laughter and applause)

And you know he got to marry that girl, too. Because … her momma done shot a moose.


She shot a motherfucking moose! Put its head up on the wall and everything. That’s cold, man. That’s like Al Qaeda shit. Post that shit on the Internet as a warning to other moose.


’Cause when a girl’s momma shoot a moose, that’s, like, a red flag for me. I take that shit into consideration. I do! It’s like, ‘Yeah, you fine. No doubt. You real fine. And you got a great personality. And you drunk. But … ain’t your momma the one done shot a moose? I’ll be seeing you later on.’ I practice abstinence with moose-shooting-momma-having bitches.


But it's time to bring out the white man you've all been waiting for. This man is so white, he makes y'all look Mexican.


He spent five long years locked up in a POW camp, and returned a national hero.


And fucked every white woman in America.

(sustained applause)

'Cause five years--that makes you horny. And women, they looove to fuck war heroes. Basically, if you were white and female in 1973, you were fucked by John McCain.

("USA! USA! USA!")

And then he married a fine rich white girl whose daddy owned a beer company.

(laughter, applause)

And he wants to be president? Sheeet, you already got money, beer and pussy! What the fuck you want with the presidency? Quit while you're ahead! You're 72 years old--just drink, fuck, and play golf, you dumb white motherfucker!

(raucous laughter, applause)

Ladies and gentlemen, the next President of the United States of America, John McCain!

My Wardrobe: Vintage Black Bowler Hat

I recall a discussion on one of the menswear boards as to whether anyone had ever seen a contemporary gentleman wearing a bowler hat in a non-costumey way -- whether that would be too "over the top," even in England. Well, hat-watchers, you might have scored such a sighting on the streets of Appleton, Wisconsin, today.

I looked for a perfect vintage black bowler in my size for a long while, and finally snapped one up for a reasonable cost on Ebay. Today was the hat's "debut"; I wore it with a British tan suit, and had a most gratifying response. People loved the hat -- "Very dapper, my man!" was just one of the comments. Guys wanted to know where I had found it. The bowler was quite the hit, proving to me once again that with the right attitude, you can pull off sartorial gestures you wouldn't think possible of success.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Fairy Caravan

Beatrix Potter's The Fairy Caravan (1929), one of her last books and the longest of any of them, had its origins in the 1903 The Tale of Tuppenny, about a guinea-pig, which was intended as one of the canonical series of Potter tales -- it was written contemporaneously with The Tale of Two Bad Mice and The Pie and the Patty-Pan. The original version of Tuppenny eventually appeared in the miniature format long after Potter's death, but she also re-wrote it as the opening chapter of The Fairy Caravan, describing how the guinea-pig runs away from his village. He falls in with a traveling caravan of performing animals who have a charm that prevents them from being seen by humans.

The structure of The Fairy Caravan is, as Potter herself admitted, "rambling." The format, in which the animals have adventures punctuated by stretches of their own story-telling, is very reminiscent of Hugh Lofting's Dr. Dolittle books, which are also quite episodic and full of the animals' own tales. The structure was intended to accommodate odds and ends of Potter's writing that hadn't been fully developed elsewhere. There were plenty such; in fact, Potter made notes toward a Caravan sequel which would house more of these bits. (Some of this writing is preserved in Leslie Linder's invaluable A History of the Writings of Beatrix Potter.)

Tuppenny isn't sustained as the lead character; the bulk of the narrative (14 of the 23 chapters) is dominated by the disappearance, rediscovery, and illness of Paddy Pig, who plays a Pigmy Elephant (among other parts) in the animals' circus. Potter later commented that Paddy was "tiresome," but she in fact had a sure hand with pigs (Pigling Bland, Little Pig Robinson), and Paddy's illness and recuperation makes for one of the funniest passages in any of her books. The animals, aware that "it is unsafe to allow a delirious pig to sleep on the cold ground," hide the ill Paddy in a stable, whose farmer owner " was having his...supper, quite unconscious that his stable had been requisitioned as a hospital for sick pigs." Convalescent aid is sought in the form of the cat nurse Mary Ellen, who drives Paddy quite mad with her ministrations:

"Was it a leetle sick piggy-wiggy? was it cold then?" purred Mary Ellen..."Bless its little pettitoes! No, it must not kick its blanket off its beddee beddee!"..."I'm skumfished!...Take away this awful cat!" screamed Paddy Pig.

I had no idea what "skumfished" meant at first -- it's Cumberland dialect for "discomfited"; Potter uses a lot of unusual words. But it has a great evocative sound, doesn't it?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bresson and Greenaway

When creators are also theorists, and are given to manifestos and such, the by-products of their theories, the actual created works, are often far more interesting than the theories themselves. The works may be intended as illustrations of the theories, but if the works are any good, I think the theories merely serve them as combustible fuel -- necessary to get going and to keep going, but used up in the going.

Robert Bresson and Peter Greenaway are two of the most stridently theoretical and prone to announcement-making of all film directors. Both have championed and sought to create bodies of cinema that spurn the theatrical and literary tendencies that they believe poison most conventional film-making. Neither has ever been shy about expressing the opinion that the overwhelming majority of films have no artistic qualities whatsoever. They are exclusionary, purist, and disdainful of commercial and audience concerns. Greenaway, admittedly, has a little more of the showman about him -- a vein of humor in his early work, a strong epater le bourgeois reliance on sex and violence in his later. Bresson had the orneriness to leave all surface appeal out of his work, jettisoning (for the most part), professional actors, pretty images, musical accompaniment, and other props of the movies.

I like many films by both directors, but unlike a Jean Renoir or a Robert Altman who opens a path for others, the oeuvres of these hermetics are basically interesting dead ends. There is nothing wrong with that, although there are fervent Bressonians (Greenaway has by now alienated most of his admirers) who hold that Bresson is the ne plus ultra of cinema. I don't honestly think that most of them would truly wish for or appreciate a film culture that was wholly or largely Bressonian (not that such a thing is imaginable in the real world), and apparently no one else does either -- Bresson has had no virtually no imitators or disciples of note and impact. That is what I mean by a "dead end."

I recently watched Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar, his film about the life and death of a saintly donkey, and was moved and impressed by it without necessarily wanting to bow down before the Bresson altar. Balthazar is a fine, distinctive, valuable film, of which there are many in the world, and it is always good to have one more. That should be enough. I have no inclination to use Bresson's (occasional) greatness as an example to chide other film-makers; in my view, there is no warrant for that.

I also read Bresson's Notes on Cinematography (he draws a distinction between his "cinematography" and the general run of "cinema"). This is composed of brief observations and absolutist statements, with the occasional gem almost lost amid the general hot air. The well-known French bent toward abstraction is in full swing. Bresson's emphasis on the "painterly" eye and the "necessary" rather than the beautiful image links him even more firmly with Greenaway (who is an accomplished art historian and curator).

I do like it when Bresson says that he aims for his non-professional actors ("models," he calls them) to be "involuntarily expressive" rather than "willfully inexpressive." That should be quoted to some of Bresson's detractors, who think that by drilling his performers through re-takes until they were drained, he was attempting to achieve a robotic effect. Not at all; whether he was right or wrong, he felt that only by getting them completely beyond any desire to express could he liberate the meanings of the characters and the lines they speak.

I also find Bresson's attitude toward the technology of film-making to be stimulating:

What no human eye is capable of catching,...your camera catches without knowing what it is, and pins it down with a machine's...indifference.

Compare this to a similar rumination of Douglas Sirk in Sirk on Sirk:

...the camera sees with its own eye. It sees things the human eye does not detect. And ultimately you learn to trust your camera.

Amusingly, what Sirk was talking about was the camera detecting Rock Hudson's star quality -- a far cry from Bresson's precoccupations! Sirk understood that "a film has to make back its money," while Bresson had a not a shread of commercial or crowd-pleasing instinct in his body. He grasped instead for the purity he admired above all: "From the beings and things of nature, washed clean of all art and especially of the art of drama, you will make an art." I think that longing for purity is a trap (well described as such by Annie Dillard in Living By Fiction); film, like fiction also, is a notably impure art. But no one can deny that Bresson stuck to his vision.

POSTSCRIPT: My correspondent Robert Kennedy sent a most interesting comment in which he took some issue with my notion that Bresson did not "open a path" for other directors; on the contrary, Robert shows that many directors both slightly like and completely unlike Bresson have been inspired and stimulated by the example of his technique. That is unquestionably opening a path, so I stand corrected! Robert agrees with me that no one has adopted the entire Bresson program, or is recognizably a disciple in the way that one can clearly identify roots of Alan Rudolph's or Paul Thomas Anderson's work in Altman.

Robert also discusses the basis of Bresson's perfectionism in his Catholic religious beliefs, with which I am admittedly out of sympathy. Robert notes that for Bresson, "creating cinematic acts of perfection was as sacred an act in his eyes as prayer, where renouncing the superficialities of the material world, which is what he did in his films, was how one communicated with God." That is very well put, and clearly many individual artists pursue some notion of "purity" which lends distinction to their art, no matter whether Annie Dillard and I feel there are pitfalls in this approach.

The greater pitfall, though, lies in the relative assessment of the worth of artists who pursue purity and those who do not. In my view "purer" is not artistically better, more virtuous, or superior in any other sense. So I do have a beef with some admirers of Bresson (and Dreyer, and even my beloved Ozu) who brandish those directors' purported purity of purpose and execution as a stick to beat other artists with. I like the very impure Sirk as much as the ascetic Bresson.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Whitest Time Ever

The Washington Post reported that with only 36 black delegates out of 2,380 total delegates on the floor of the 2008 Republican Convention, this was the whitest political convention in 40 years. Hmm, does anyone think this wasn't by design? It was exactly as much so as Sarah Palin (thanks, but no thanks!), Rudy Giuliani, and others making their veiled or not-so-veiled racist attacks on "uppity" "community organizers," etc. This was the whitest time ever, because the Republicans realize that they have to appeal to the racist streak in the numerically dwindling white American electorate in order to win this election. That's the agenda, and Palin embodies it; McCain is simply along for the ride at this point. This may be the last time this particular appeal is demographically possible; the GOP is trying to make the most of it. This is probably the final great white rally.

The Democrats were very polite, almost courtly, about McCain at their convention; quite obviously, the favor was not returned. So I think they need to stop being so nice, and give Joe "Attack Dog" Biden free rein to do what he does so well. The notion that the Dems have to treat Palin with kid gloves because she's a woman went out the window with her speech; she is clearly not some sensitive soul (which we all should have realized in advance -- I mean she's the governor of Alaska, our last frontier state, for goodness sake). Let her have it!

If by great misfortune McCain should win this election -- and I rule out no possibility -- then I console myself with the thought of the extended Palin clan descending on Washington like the Beverly Hillbillies; the town would never be the same. As for the ones who would be left behind in Alaska, I am sure the mainstream and tabloid media both would oblige our fascination by setting up permanent reporting outposts there. One never knows when a maniac relative might emerge from the woods.

If this scenario comes to pass, I especially hope that "fuckin redneck"-in-chief Levi Johnston becomes a fixture on the D.C. scene. As we saw at the Convention and was widely noted in the blogosphere, Levi cleans up quite nicely (although I don't know about that "Bristol" ring finger tattoo; and have we heard him speak yet?). As a result of Levi's completely unexpected national exposure, this burning hunk of teenage love should experience a copious bounty of sexual opportunity over the coming years, which doesn't bode well for his upcoming marriage to Bristol.

UPDATE (5/21/2009): Watching the continuing GOP implosion since the election leaves me speechless. Rahm Emanuel, Tim Kaine, and others are probably crossing their fingers that the Republicans keep on doing exactly what they are doing. And the incredible whiteness of it all has merely been underlined by the horribly token-ish tenure of Michael Steele as party chair -- I mean, the man is a clown.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sarah Palin

When you get to know her, you're going to be as impressed as I am. -- John McCain, Friday, August 29, 2008

I wasn't able to resist junping into this fray. Over at the Life After the Oil Crash forum, poster "Velociraptor" sensibly commented with respect to Sarah Palin's announcement of her daughter's pregnancy:

My guess is that Bristol will have a "miscarriage" over the next couple months.

To which I replied:

Exactly. In the absence of both Sarah's and Bristol's medical records being shared with the press, this is all just stuff that that the family is saying. The only incontrovertible fact in the matter is that someone gave birth to a Down's syndrome child in April. And if it was Sarah, then the circumstances were strange to say the least.

I went on to say in a couple more posts:

I don't believe McCain for an instant when he says he knew about this alleged pregnancy of Bristol's (and if he did, since no statement was made until today, then he was involved in a pre-emptive cover-up of an inconvenient fact). No way that Sarah Palin would pass the vetting process in that case -- a "Jamie Lynn Spears pregnancy" in the midst of a national campaign would be considered too ridiculously distracting (as it is proving to be). But of course McCain's people did a very poor vetting job, in every way.

(BTW, since this sort of thing happens repeatedly, I'd like to say that I just don't get what goes on with vetting at this level. Why don't they just hire the world's best private investigators and tell them, Get us the absolute worst dirt you can find on this prospect, and we'll assess how bad it is? What's with all these surprises?)

Prediction: enough will happen over the next 48 hours that Palin's undeserving name will not be put in nomination. A good thing, too, since she is the least qualified presumptive Vice Presidential nominee in history, and I don't want there to be any chance of her being one weak heartbeat away from the Oval Office.

Prediction: McCain's campaign and Republican prospects will be in general disarray at that point, and it serves them right.

Prediction: the Obama folks won't have to do a thing except turn cartwheels in private.


A thought experiment that is making its way around the blogosphere: imagine what the reaction would be (most especially from the evangelical right) if the Obamas had an unmarried, 17-year-old pregnant daughter whose pregnancy they tried to cover up. Can't you just imagine the barely veiled racism that would come into play?

I'm going to be pretty mean myself here, and say that we haven't had a white trash moment like the extended Palin clan in national politics since the heyday of Billy Carter.

When a poster asserted that at least Palin wasn't "covering up" her daughter's pregnancy, I snapped back:

Of course they were trying to cover it up (if Bristol is indeed pregnant, which I am by no means convinced of). They only made an announcement today in the face of considerable pressure from the blogosphere. When were Palin and McCain planning to let us know this distracting fact? Surely John McCain understands that in the modern media environment, everything will come out, everything is in the game. How could he choose a Vice President who is not only manifestly unqualified, but comes with so much garbage? Even if if he is lying and didn't in fact know about Bristol's "pregnancy" (or that Palin faked her own earlier "pregnancy," if that is the case), there is still "Troopergate" to deal with. The Alaskan legislature set aside $100,000.00 in July to investigate Palin on that point. Whatever McCain's people didn't know (and Palin might have pulled a Tom Eagleton and dissembled about quite a bit), they knew about that: it was in the news and public record. Their selection process stunk.

In my view, this disqualifies McCain (whom I have liked in the past, and would have voted for in 2000) from serious consideration for the Presidency at this point. He's not demonstrating good judgment.

Finally, I mused:

Ladies and gentlemen, this is now officially a media circus. If I was in charge at CNN or NBC or the New York Times or Reuters, I would have 25 reporters on the ground in Alaska turning over every rock and interviewing residents of tiny hamlets who probably never thought to speak to someone from another state, let alone Big Media. I have no doubt that this is exactly what is going on. I wouldn't let my people sleep till we had juiced this situation for all it's worth.

UPDATE (5/21/2009): Clearly I was wrong about a few things: Palin did get nominated; Bristol did give birth; and, although I continue to find Sarah Palin's handling of her pregnancy with Trig odd, to say the least, I propose that we concede to her version of the story (Andrew Sullivan probably wouldn't agree). I am completely unsurprised that Bristol and Levi Johnston never tied the knot. I am also unsurprised that the Palins and Johnstons aren't going away: they love the media and the media loves them. I do have to say, I think Bristol is proving to be quite a bit more impressive than her mom -- she seems to have the most graceful touch of anyone in either of these extended families.

UPDATE (7/7/2009): After Palin's bizarre resignation from the Alaska governorship, I posted a couple of comments at the Brainstorm blog:

Nutcase, pure and simple, and in way over her head. Palin is not qualified to be a dog-catcher, let alone a mayor, governor, or president. The media will always love her because she’s “colorful,” so she’s probably not going away, but I really wish she would. She has never given the slightest indication of wanting to execute the responsibilities of an office, only of wanting to win them, so this latest move is entirely in character.


There was a line of thinking at one point that what Palin needed to do in order to make herself a more credible candidate for 2012 was to go back to Alaska and bone up on policy (in addition to, well, you know, governing). We know enough about Palin now to understand that would never happen even if she had a hundred years to play with; she has no interest in doing it, and probably no capacity for doing it, either. What you see is what you get, and Tina Fey’s parodic Palin is unnervingly close to the real thing.

I cannot believe that anyone would think she is a serious possibility for president. She has no appeal beyond the GOP’s rapidly shrinking “base.” She can have them for all the good it will do her.