Thursday, December 02, 2021

Someone finally solves the "Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?" argument.

And that someone is me.

The answer is: "No, of course not."

My reasoning:

“Set at Christmas” does not "a Christmas movie” make.

Look at it this way: if you remove the Christmas setting or framework of a film involving the holiday, do you still have basically the same movie or do you have something different?

If the answer is “different,” then it’s a Christmas movie.

Debate resolved!

I’ll fling a controversy grenade on my way out: 

Using the same rationale, It’s a Wonderful Life is not a Christmas movie, either.

A "strict parent."

When you sell your soul, you find yourself saying evil things like this.

I have an idea: how about America start acting like a strict parent and cut Ray Dalio's allowance? Mindsets like this--abroad and here--are why I don't have any particular beef with soaking the rich.

Yes, I know--they have lawyers and accountants to help their cash escape capture. And I'm certainly no friend of the idea of a beefed-up IRS which will invariably audit the hell out of the middle class instead of the connected.

But, in principle, yes--sign me up for the billionaire tax. I long since stopped being an unpaid apologist for these sorts of people:

"As a top down country what they [China] are doing is--they behave like a strict parent."

Why could motivate someone to say something so heartless and stupid like that? 

Oh:

Per Axios, just a week ago Dalio’s firm announced that it had raised more than a billion dollars to launch its third investment fund in China

While Arendt's thesis is open to challenge, it seems pretty clear to me that in America, evil wears the most banal of guises. We're quite ok with that--so long as evil is well-dressed and deals in civil, soothing and ambiguous rhetoric.

Meanwhile, the poorest of the poor are spending a fifth to a quarter of their income on water and sewerage bills.

 Analysts developed a slate of policy recommendations they said could limit burdensome water costs and improve service.

Among their recommendations: Permanently prohibit water shutoffs for poor households.

Michigan communities were ordered to stop water shutoffs when the coronavirus pandemic hit last year. Detroit — where years ago the water department conducted a controversial shutoff campaign to amid its financial crisis — will continue its moratorium through 2022

A shutoff can be the last straw for families facing expenses they can't afford, creating problems ranging from stress to poor hygiene to lost parental rights, Read said. 

As well as banning shutoffs, analysts recommended utilities and state policymakers find ways to help households struggling to pay for water services, including forgiving existing debts, discounting services or providing well and septic system repair grants to needy families. 

They also recommended: 

  • Addressing gaps in technical and financial capacity among Michigan water and sewer utilities by providing funding and expertise to cash-strapped utilities. 
  • Improving data collection by requiring Michigan utilities to report on their finances, infrastructure and maintenance plans.
  • Requiring utilities to seek input from the communities they serve before making infrastructure and planning decisions.
  • Have the state take a larger role in utility oversight to ensure public health protection, water quality and appropriate water rates.

While water affordability is an acute problem in Detroit and other Michigan cities, it is not solely an urban problem, the analysts cautioned. Low-income residents of the Thumb spend 20-25% of their incomes on water and sewer bills; low-income residents in portions of central Michigan and the western Upper Peninsula spend 15-20%.

Michigan residents who have private water supplies, such as septic systems and wells, also face challenges. Analysts found about 20% of wells and 27% of septic systems in Michigan are in need of repair and replacement.

Water bills have certainly shot up in our humble suburb, but thanks be to God it doesn't eat a quarter of our income. But I know people who have experienced water shutoffs, and it left scars. 

Capturing some of the Dalio class' cash might help. Especially when you consider how many good-paying American jobs they have connived in shipping over to Xi's realm.

 

The Women Show the Way.

The Women's Tennis Association cancels its Chinese tournaments in protest of the treatment of their colleague and probable rape victim, Peng Shaui.

Here is the statement.

It shouldn't be remarkable, but it is.

And in related news, cheers to the students at the Catholic University of America, who have secured a commitment to divest from companies profiting from the destruction of Uyghurs

Watch them like hawks and make sure they do it, student activists. It's going to take unrelenting pressure and years to achieve. 

And now to the boos: the unutterably corrupt International Olympic Committee wonders what the fuss is. They talked to Peng and she sounded great!

Christiane Amanpour, committing journalism, notes that the IOC hasn't bothered to release the video of the call.  

And, finally recognizing that they are being seen as the cash-worshiping whores they are, the IOC insists they really care, had a second call with Peng and are engaged in "quiet diplomacy."

Translation: they are going to grind their teeth at the WTA, fake empathy and pray to Mammon it all blows over.

Wait and see.

And if the plans for the interior of Notre Dame de Paris are in fact a Pantheism Epcot, then you can bay for the heads of Catholic diocesan bureaucrats to put a stop to it.

What is interesting about The Architect's Newspaper article is this: underneath all of the framing about traditionalist anger and pouncing conservatives, there's a recognition that what has been described is a bad idea. 

Hence the repeated reminders that none of the proposals are unalterable and much could change:

“What they are proposing to do to Notre-Dame would never be done to Westminster Abbey or Saint Peter’s in Rome,” lamented Paris-based architect and urbanist Maurice Culot to The Telegraph. “It’s a kind of theme park and very childish and trivial given the grandeur of the place.”

As mentioned, none of the features detailed above are set in stone and church officials will publicly reveal proposed changes to the church’s interior on December 9 when a host of approaches under consideration come under review by France’s National Heritage and Architecture Commission. Like any other culturally and historically sensitive restoration project of this scale, much could change between now and 2024.

A parting thought: pace Maurice Culot, I do not have much difficulty imagining the powers that be doing the same thing to Saint Peter's. 

The past several generations have seen Catholic tastemakers doggedly trying to replace one form of kitsch (real or imagined) with their own vision, which comes with a much shorter use-by date than they think, itself turning into kitsch. 

What stops the Vatican from doing so is the loss of tourism income. 

Which itself proves that tourists from across the globe do not need LED light shows to appreciate Catholic houses of worship and art.

 

Monday, November 29, 2021

Ten years.

 

 Running Back Hassan Haskins (No. 25): Five touchdowns and a Michigan legend.

As sharp-eyed readers may recall, back in September I described Michigan football as a "pit toilet" despite an early ok start.

That was mostly based on the following fact: the Wolverines can't win what had become the Buckeyes' Game at the end of the year.

And the team I saw--running the ball like something out of the Ten Year War days (my first football memory was Michigan beating OSU in 1975)...that's not going to work against a bunch of speedsters playing NFL-level offensive ball who can dial up points at will.  

Honestly, The Game had become an annual exercise in crushing-disappointment-to-utter-humiliation. Absolutely the latter over the last two games (a corona outbreak killed last year's game, mercifully-so given how crap Michigan was).

Imagine the Red Sox vs. Yankees rivalry before 2004: that's what it had become. 

A rivalry mostly in the minds of the consistently-beaten.

And after the Wolverines blew a two touchdown lead over the clearly-tougher and more-motivated Michigan State Spartans, this year's match-up was another foregone conclusion, one I grimly sat down to watch with zero hope, and carefully-policed to douse any embers of deceitful hope that may start to ignite.

But somehow...this version of the Wolverines hammered, mashed and clawed their way to victory. 294 yards rushing, 169 of it from Haskins. Three sacks and 15 (!) pressures from DE Aidan Hutchinson, and a back-breaking sack from David Ojabo.

Yet, I didn't let the embers ignite until the Wolverines scored their last touchdown with 2:17 left in what was once again, The Game

It's a rivalry again. And I feel like the six year old cheering at the Zenith in the living room again.

But here's hoping that Michigan plants its feet back on the ground today. Because they are headed to utterly-unfamiliar ground: the Big 10 Championship Game. And Iowa gives me bad nightmares from the past. 

Update:

Your sports weekend was not this bad, I assure you. Even if you rooted for OSU.

I'm pretty sure the tats are temporary, so at least there is that. 

But genuine props for going ALL OUT--and in the opposing team's stadium, too.  Dude, you are definitely a diehard fan.


 Hat tip to MGoBlog for the find.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Remember this moment when the Nu variant starts rampaging.

Eh, let's wait and see about a travel stop from South Africa, says "America's Doctor."

Why? Because it's still early:

Only a few cases of the B.1.1.529 “Nu” variant have been detected [outside of South Africa] so far. By the logic of March 2020, that should make this an opportune moment to slap a travel ban on southern Africa. We might not be able to stop Nu from reaching the U.S. but we can limit the number of travelers bringing it in, slowing the spread. And the slower the spread is, the fewer people will be infected while the country waits for Pfizer and Moderna to produce an updated vaccine, if need be.

I have an idea: tell him he's acting like a fellow over-rated egomaniac when the latter was too late about stopping travel from Europe.

That might do it.

The UK has already issued a travel stop. 

Meanwhile, the stock market dropped like a stone today--maybe that will wake up a caretaker or two at the White House.

Here's some more data about the variant that's giving some epidemiologists the sweats.

It's rampaging through the South African province that includes Pretoria and Johannesburg, and has surpassed Delta in the course of three weeks.

[Update: mirabile dictu, someone is awake in DC: travel ban begins Monday, which I hope means we test everyone in the meantime and then citizens and legal residents who return, too. Good on the Administration for acting quickly.]

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

My Much Better Half and I saw our first movie in a theatre in more than two years.

 

But it seemed longer. Heather and I didn't get to the theatre much before the apocalypse, as being the shuttle drivers for the various activities of our unsocialized homeschoolers limited our options and frankly, energy, for Yet Another Drive. 

Yet, when Amy said Branagh's look at growing up in Belfast during the beginning of The Troubles was worthwhile, I thought: "Why not? We liked going way back when." So we did--after our shuttling duties and other commitments ended at 9pm.

We had the whole place to ourselves.

I have liked Kenneth Branagh since I popped Henry V into the VCR back in 1990. Whether in front of the camera (the underrated noir homage Dead Again), or behind it (Cinderella and--yes--Thor), he produces. One of these sets of days, I'm going to watch his four-hour Hamlet.

See above comments re: shuttle runs. It is possible--we managed to watch Lonesome Dove over the course of a month a while back.

In Belfast, Branagh remembers life in a mixed neighborhood of the titular capital of Northern Ireland from August 1969 through Easter 1970. It starts off idyllic, with the eight-year-old Buddy Branagh slaying dragons with a wooden sword and trashcan shield, and then chatting with all his neighbors as he responds to the relayed call from Ma to come home.

Then the pogrom begins. The windows of their Catholic neighbors' homes are broken out by a rampaging mob of "fellow" Protestants who finish the rampage by detonating a car.

I use "fellow" advisedly, as it is clear that Ma and Pa are only culturally Protestant and not hatemonger material. Nor are Buddy's more observant paternal grandparents, played to perfection by Judi Dench and CiarĂ¡n Hinds, inclined to hate beadsqueezers. Indeed, even the fire-and-brimstone preacher Buddy and his brother Will hear one Sunday inveighs sweatily against damnation in general terms, leaving the papists out of it.

I mean, in the reverend's circles it's presumed that practitioners of popery have punched their passes to perdition.

And yet, the fact the reverend hammers the congregation for its own sins and does not even mention Catholics after The Troubles erupt is probably more noteworthy than I originally thought. He even gets a great line at the end about remembering a deceased family member.

The Troubles strike as the Branagh family faces its own troubles: a nearly-unpayable tax debt forces Pa to work (sporadically) in England as a tradesman, straining the marriage as the two Branagh boys become unruly. Pa increasingly wants to move the family to England because of better economic opportunity, which slowly materializes as he impresses his English employer. 

As the neighborhood turns into a walled enclave, Pa also wants to get out for reasons of safety. A pair of local Protestant slobs radicalize into UVF types and start threatening the moderate Protestants as well as Catholics. Pa has no truck with them, threatening to kill their leader after he tries to extort Pa. But it becomes clear the UVEffers are becoming ascendant, with all that entails.

Nevertheless, Ma repeatedly balks against the very thought of leaving for any reason. She is rooted in this Belfast neighborhood. It is home and nowhere else is. And she is right, and quite persuasive.

That is, until it no longer is home--not any more. No matter how much you wish it were otherwise.

For Buddy and the family, the theatre (stage and screen) is an escape, and Branagh films the theatrical depictions in color: Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, One Million Years B.C. (which annoys Ma considerably, for some reason), A Christmas Carol. Everything else--including the TV--is black and white. 

It mostly works, though the reference to High Noon (which Buddy watches on TV) is a bit too heavy-handed in a later scene.

But the odd moment or two aside, Belfast hangs together beautifully. Branagh conveys a sense of place, of roots, of a neighborhood where the commonalities outweigh sectarian differences--right down to betting the horses and waking deceased loved ones in the home. They're all Belfast Irish, Protestant or Catholic. It does not matter.

Until, one horrible summer, it did--and the old neighborhood slowly died.

All of the main players--newcomer Jude Hill, Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, the aforementioned Dench and Hinds--are superb. And yes, my fellow Americans, the Ulster accent, while not Glaswegian, takes some getting used to. However, you will understand everyone after some exposure.

The film ends with a dedication to all of Belfast--those who left, those who stayed, and those who were lost. Go see it--it is well worth whatever you spend to see it on the big screen. The theatre will certainly be happy to see you, too.

Afterwards, make sure to appreciate your own neighborhoods. 

And then imagine what they might look like after another couple decades of polarization.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The root of the Catholic Church's endless crisis? Lying to itself.

Amongst the too-many pieces of unsolicited advice I give my children is to not lie to themselves, either. Once falsehood becomes one of your mental navigation tools, you are headed to shipwreck.

Lying always takes a toll on you. Even if no one else sees it and there are no immediate repercussions.

But when it becomes institutionalized? 

It wrecks other people's lives, too. No matter how much you would like to pretend otherwise.

Which brings me to this Pillar story about the hellish priest from Cleveland, Robert McWilliams, whom the federal authorities have thankfully locked away for life.

When a federal judge decided this month on a prison sentence for Fr. Robert McWilliams — convicted of child abuse, child pornography, and child trafficking — she had two versions of past events from which to choose.

In the account of McWilliams’ lawyer, the priest needed help, therapeutic treatment, to address the “demons from his childhood” which influenced the heinous crimes of his adult life.

The “demons” were not specified, but since a prosecutor’s memo spent several pages discussing the correlation between suffering abuse and committing it, it’s reasonable to presume that’s what McWilliam’s attorney was getting at.

But the prosecutor argued that McWilliams was not “corralled into a crime by a series of unfortunate life circumstances.” Instead, her assessment was blunt: McWilliams was “cruel,” “calculating,” and a “sociopath.”

The judge who sentenced McWilliams to life in federal prison seemed to align with the prosecution.

But whether McWilliams is more like an unfeeling Hannibal Lecter or instead a damaged, criminally unmoored Buffalo Bill, both accounts leave the Diocese of Cleveland in a difficult position.

Either its seminary was unable to weed out a sociopath ordained a priest just five years ago, or it was unable to realize that a deranged and unstable trauma victim was unsuitable for priestly ministry. 

That is the sort of horror that makes honest people and institutions take stock and make changes.

So what is the response of the leadership of the Cleveland diocese to their ordination of Buffalo Lecter?

Seminary screening is not perfect, nor is it foolproof. But when the system is beaten, most observers would expect a thorough postmortem — the kind that results in a clearly articulated set of changes, and a public commitment to follow through on them.

In Cleveland, seminary administrators have said thus far that the McWilliams saga hasn’t really suggested to them any particular changes they ought to make. That prompted one victim of McWilliams to suggest last week those administrators need, as it were, to take “their heads out of their asses.”

If a seminary doesn’t see an evaluative failure in the ordination of a sociopath, some Catholics have asked, what certitude can be had that McWilliams is the only one to graduate from the place? If there aren’t specific failures to recognize and to change, is it reasonable to conclude the failures are systemic, and the changes must be, too? 

But a thorough, impartial investigation might turn up blameworthy clerics. 

Worse, it could upset the leadership's equilibrium, cause it to question itself and tell it that real penance and reform are necessary.

Better to just maintain the self-deception that everything is basically fine.

We are an Easter People.

Forward in Hope. 

Your Preferred Tuneful Whistle Past the Graveyard.

Despite the blaring klaxons, closing parishes and all the other evidence to the contrary.


That's not what the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is for.

The President has ordered the release of 50,000,000 barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum reserve, in conjunction with nations which are oil-poor through no fault of their own.

Here is the text of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve law, to the extent enactments of our national legislature still govern the actions of the Imperial Presidency.

And here are the statutory requirements for drawing upon the Reserve.

But here's the bottom line:

The Biden administration has argued that the supply of oil has not kept pace with demand as the global economy emerged from the pandemic, and the reserve is the right tool to help ease the problem.

Americans used an average of 20.7 million barrels a day during September, according to the Energy Information Administration. That means that the release nearly equals about two-and-a-half days of additional supply.

The decision comes after weeks of diplomatic negotiations and the release will be taken in parallel with other nations. Japan and South Korea are also participating.

The U.S. Department of Energy will make the oil available from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in two ways; 32 million barrels will be released in the next few months and will return to the reserve in the years ahead, the White House said. Another 18 barrels will be part of a sale of oil that Congress had previously authorized.

A trickle of oil over several months...and buying more to replenish it at who knows what kind of prices.

I don't think it is going to help much.

The Children of Modernity.

All of Hitler's political ideas had their origin in the Enlightenment. These included the concept of the nation as a higher historical force, the notion of superior political sovereignty derived from the general will of the people, and the idea of inherent racial differences in human culture.

These were distinct derivations from Enlightenment anthropology which rejected premodern theology and the common roots and transcendent interests of mankind. The cult of the will is the basis of modern culture, and Hitler merely carried it to an extreme. The very concept of National Socialism as the "will to create a new man" was possible only in the twentieth century context as a typically modern, antitraditional idea. 

The same may be said of the Nazi search for extreme autonomy, a radical freedom for the German people. Hitler carried the modern goal of breaking the limits and setting new records to an unprecedented point. For no other movement did the modern doctrine of man as the measure of all things rule to such an extent. 

Thus Daniel Bell has judged that all self-centered, subjective modern culture stresses the "triumph of the will"--one of the most common Nazi concepts--and that Hitler is another typical product of modernity.

This also holds with regard to social and economic programs. No ruler in modern times has gone to such lengths as Hitler to acquire, among other things, the natural resources necessary for a modern economy. Nazi Gleichschaultung ["co-ordination", the process by which NSDAP control extended throughout society] and the effort at status revolution tended to unite German society and overcome class distinctions for the first time in German history. 

Though Nazi antiurbanism is said to have been inherently reactionary, radical antiurbanism has become a major trend of the late twentieth century. In fact, though the German war economy promoted de facto urbanization and greater industrialization, rather than the reverse, an ultimate Nazi economic goal was to balance farm and industry. When sought by liberals, this is frequently deemed to be the height of enlightenment and sophistication. Finally, Hitler was well in advance of his times in his concern about ecology, environmental reform, and pollution.

Truly large-scale genocide or mass murder is a prototypical development of the twentieth century, from Turkey and Russia to Germany, Cambodia and the countries of Africa. The unique Nazi tactic was to modernize the process, to accomplish the mass murder more efficiently and surgically than other great liquidators in Turkey, Russia or Cambodia have done. Nor was Hitler's genocidal program any more or less "rational," since the goal of mass murder is always political, ideological, or religious and not a matter of practical economic ends, pace Stalin or Mao Tse-Tung. 

--Stanley G. Payne, A History of Fascism: 1914-1945, pp. 203-204 (Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1995). 

Monday, November 22, 2021

Boycott the 2022 Games entirely.

Until today, I thought the Administration's idea of a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics would be a good response to the communist thugs in Beijing.

That was before the corrupt oafs at the International Olympic Committee pronounced themselves "relieved" by their staged "one-on-one" discussion with the imprisoned Peng Shuai

Now? 

To metaphorical hell with the Games.

Yes, I know it punishes innocent foreign athletes for the misdeeds of the host nation. But really, to even be seen in events stage-managed by Xi's New Maoist State...is it worth it?

If they go ahead and send American athletes, I think the rest of us should express our displeasure by making sure NBC has the lowest-ever Olympics TV ratings. Who knows--maybe the advertisers will take a hint or two?


Someone finally solves the "Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?" argument.

And that someone is me. The answer is: "No, of course not." My reasoning: “Set at Christmas” does not "a Christmas movi...