"Is it possible for me to have more objections to a paragraph than there are words in it?"This in response to an Obsidian Wings post in which it is posited that America is a "Utopian Society," on its way upward and onward, foreward and farther toward "a middle-class egalitarian meritocratic democracy." And yea, the lion shall lay down with the lamb. How one squares "egalitarian" with "meritocratic" is wholly beyond me; the very notion of merit, let alone of a meritocracy, implies a neat ordering of human beings by innate ability and willingness to strive. I understand that modern liberalism is basically crackpot Rawlsianism, that what is meant by "egalitarian" has mostly to do with giving every boy and girl a fair shake at a college scholarship, but still, those words sit together as uncomfortably as military intelligence, or Christian charity. (And let's not even dip into how the technocratic-scientific rubrics of merit measurement conflict with small-d democracy. We haven't got all day.) Even assuming it were possible, and possible in these here United States, a society of universal Bachelors of the Arts, paid maternity leave, and third-rail social security hardly represents an "achievable perfection." It suggests a modestly preferable alternative to the Congo, perhaps, but hardly the Kingdom come.
-Ethan at 6th or 7th
Friday, July 23, 2010
You can make real pommes frites at home. You'll need a deep pot, a lot of peanut oil, and a good thermometer. But is it worth it? Do you really want to waste all that expensive oil for one or two uses at most? Do you really want to stand over the oil, adjusting the flame on the stove to keep the temperature constant? It's a pain in the ass, and it's a waste of time and money. Here is a fine substitute, roasted rather than fried, perfumed with olive oil and cracked pepper. I've also included a recipe for a simple aioli. I use a mandoline to cut the potatoes, but you can just as easily cut them by hand.
2 lbs russett potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/4"-thick strips
extra virgin olive oil
coarse sea salt
hand-ground black peppercorns
Preheat the oven to 400.
Rinse the cut potatoes in several changes of water, and then dry them. A good trick for quickly drying them is to use the naturally dry environment of your refrigerator. Lay the drained, damp potatoes on some cookie racks on a big roasting pan and put them, uncovered, in the fridge for 20 minutes or so. They will dry right out.
Toss the potatoes with a few teaspoons of olive oil, just enough to very thinly coat them. Season generously with sea salt and black pepper, tossing again to coat evenly. Lay out in a single layer on parchment paper on a shallow roasting pan(or use a non-stick pan). Place in the oven and roast until golden brown, 40-50 minutes. Serve immediately.
1 whole head garlic, cloves smashed, diced, and diced again until almost a paste
fine sea salt
2 egg yolks
juice of a small lemon
1-2 tbspns dijon mustard
up to 3 cups extra virgin olive oil
Mash and dice the garlic, folding in a few pinches of salt as you do, then set aside.
Whisk together the lemon, egg yolk, and mustard.
Whisking constantly, begin adding the oil in a very slow, thin stream. If at any point it starts to separate, stop adding oil but continue vigorously whisking until it rebounds, then resume adding oil. Continue adding the oil until you get to the desired consistency, which should be thick, but not so thickened as a commercial mayonnaise. Aioli is a sauce. Ideally, it should be somewhere between a hollandaise (which is a bit runny) and something like Miracle Whip. Fold in the garlic paste and allow to rest for 30 minutes or so for the flavors to mix and mellow.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
ATTENTION! If you are some kind of fucking idiot and haven't figured out everything that happens in Inception from the trailers, then spoilers.
The cinematic progenitor of Christopher Nolan's new movie, Inception, is the catastrophically ridiculous Robin Williams vehicle, What Dreams May Come. What it lacks in goofy black guardian angels, it makes up for in its grotesquely impoverished view of the human imagination. Empowered to create one's own reality, the best that anyone can do in What Dreams is plop themselves into your secretary's Best-of-the-Impressionists wall calendar. But Chris Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister--and really, was there ever a more apropos name?--can't even manage Monet. The visual experience of Inception left me with the distinct impression that I had been drugged by a circa-1999 Tom Ford for Gucci ad and then mercilessly date-raped by his shiny partner, a Lexus commercial. I kept expecting "The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection" to dash across the screen in some boldly sans-serif font. I kept expecting the lease options.
The setup of Inception is supposed to be a brain-teaser. Leonardo DiCaprio and his Jerry Bruckheimer band of specialists (The Chemist, the Forger, the Architect . . . Oh, Lord) invade people's dreams and steal their ideas, or in the case of the central action in this instance, plant a bug of a new idea in someone's brain. Here, they are trying to convince the sharp-jawed, Savile-row scion of some kind of Charles Foster Kane energy executive that what he really wants to do is break up his dad's monopoly. This all has something to do with Ken Watanabe, who runs a rival company? Whatever. The movie doesn't care. Because the fundamental conflict that drives the entire narrative is so hastily and poorly sketched, the dour, totalitarian porentousness of the proceedings seems more than a tad overwrought. Well, this is Christopher Nolan, after all, who played a story about a man who dresses up like a bat in order to karate-chop Bond villians with a straighter face than a community-theater production of Lear, so I'm not sure what else I expected. Inception trips in at well over two hours, which according to the exhaustively-repeated conceit of the film itself is well over a billion years of dream-time, and it contains a single joke. I counted. It involved Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose high, tight ass is the only thing I recall fondly of my wasted time in the theater, and Ellen Page sharing a brief kiss, and the whole movie seems ashamed of it. This is serious.
Anyway, the differing speed of the passage of time is just a part of the larger conceit, which is that not only can Leonardo et al. invade dreams, but that by descending into ever-deeper states of unconsciousness, they can concoct dreams-within-dreams. Even as action/scifi fare this is pretty thin gruel, and since Nolan insists on cluttering the goings-on with pages and pages of expository dialogue full of crackpot ontology and two-joint epistemological impoderables, the whole edifice reeks faintly of the ridiculous. In his silly but entertaining Existenz, which had the misfortune to come out opposite The Matrix, Croneberg managed with much greater ease and humor to trip the lysergical-acidic borders of multiple mind-states and alternate consciousness. In Inception, dreams sit neatly within dreams like Matryoshka dolls, everything just-so, ascent and descent symbolized by Leonardo DiCaprio's rickety dream-elevator (no, really), which, obviously, plies a linear path from top to bottom. By the way, this constant mentioning of other movies is intentional. Inception is the most derivative film ever made, so shameless in its cribbing that you'd think it were meant as pastiche, except for its relentless, monotonous self-seriousness.
The characters in Inception keep asking each other if they remember how they got there, there being here, or there, or where they are, or whatever, the point being that “in a dream,” three words repeated with talismanic frequency, as if the filmmakers thought we might forget, you only ever find yourself in media res, with no recollection of how you arrived at the bar, so to speak. It was a familiar feeling. As the movie dragged into its third hour, I began to feel something similar myself. How did I get here? and, Please let this all be a dream. The punishing score, which Hans Zimmer ripped off from Eyes Wide Shut, drones at merciless volume throughout, and by the time Joseph Gordon-Levitt was floating around weightlessly and everyone else was attacking Cobra Commander's arctic lair (no, really), I thought I might burst an eardrum. Ellen Page, who sometime in the first hour demonstrated a remarkable capacity to fold dream-Paris back on itself and generally bend reality like Neo meets MC Escher is along for the ride, but doesn't actully do anything once the action gets underway, other than harrass DiCaprio for imprisonining his memory of his dead wife in, um, the basement? In the hotel room where she committed suicide. Jesus Christ, Nolan, eat a fucking muffin. Schindler's List had more laughs. By the way, the wife-in-the-limbo-of-her-own-imagining, that too is ripped off from What Dreams May Come. Inception isn't a movie. It's an exquisite corpse. A mash-up.
The visual effects have been widely praised, but I found them dull and uninspired. The whole film is flat, colorless, and corporate. My dreams are a lot less Prada and a lot more Alexander McQueen, if you know what I'm saying. Everything is shot at flat angles, and the interminable gun battles and hallway fisticuffs are filmed with so much quick-cutting that you can't tell who's punching whom or shooting what, especially in the big alpine shootout (ripped off from about seven different Bond numbers, the opening of True Lies, Ice Station Zebra, etc.), where everyone, good and bad alike, is dressed in identical white parkas and face masks! The Matrix was dumb, but it was true to its comic-book-meets-kung-fu aesthetic and actually gave us a few full karate chops before the camera cut away, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, whose wire-based aerial combat is also ripped off, was filmed almost entirely in balletic long-shot. Well, everyone's metallic threads glint and do not wrinkle, the men wear spread collars, and Marion Cotillard wanders around wondering what she's doing here, especially as the strains of Je ne regrette rien keep rising in the ghostly background. I would take this as a quirky, metafictive joke, except this is a Christopher Nolan movie, and the rare joke sticks out like Spock at the Funnybone.
I suppose I could list the other movies and moviemakers that Nolan shamelessly rips off. The Wizard of Oz. Miyazaki. Michael Mann. Oh, why bother. Inception is dull, overlong, sexless, and unimaginative. It is a $200 million car commercial, a glossy magazine photo. You give yourself license to create whole worlds from the stuff of pure consciousness, and the best you can come up with is a corner café in Paris and the generic cityscape of Gotham City? Christopher Nolan, you are ripping off your own stupid movies! "If you die this deep, you'll end up in limbo," DiCaprio warns. Oh, let's repeat the adverb. Portentously. Pass me the pistol, brother. I'm going in.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Here is another Nice Liberal who seems to believe that if Barack Obama doesn't stand for the things that he convinced himself for no reason and with no real evidence that Barack Obama stood for, then by the Lord above and all the choirs of heavenly goddamn angels, he must believe in nothing at all. But obviously Barack Obama believes in many things. He believes in state capital. He believes in the continuity of American hegemony abroad. He believes that terrorism is an adequate pretext for the erosion of liberty, and he believes that "security" is the most essential public function of the state. He believes in the narrative of personal uplift and betterment via meritocratic credentialism. He believes in American exceptionalism.
I do not expect Barack Obama to condemn the Tea Party's racist elements, any more than I expect Ben Jealous to lead the war in Afghanistan. But I do not expect him, or his administration, to make the work of the NAACP harder, to contradict them for doing that which the administration can not. I do not expect them to minimize those elements, thus minimizing the NAACP's fight, and then accede, to people who are pulling from the darkest, vilest reaches of the American psyche.This is nuts. The first sentence doesn't make any sense--not even if you stipulate that the war in Afghanistan is something other than an excercise in abject mass murder, which I won't, because it's an exercise in abject mass murder. The second sentence is even crazier, for exactly that reason: that the insane death-worshipping, Mammon's-teat-suckling, Molech-praising, blood-drinking reptiloid in the White House should somehow work in concert with the Nice-Liberal rump NAACP in order to bring about peaceonearthgoodwilltomen is plainly not . . . let's use the Liberal's favorite word . . . plainly not realistic.
Look, Ta-Nehisi, the "darkest, vilest reaches of the American psyche" aren't contained within the windy confines of infamous Coelacanth, Andrew Breitbart's skull, nor yet within the raucus but underpopulated tea-party clubs, but in the administration of Barack Obama.
In its ongoing effort to destroy my childhood, Hollywood has added to the Predator franchise. According to IMDB, both the original Predator and the newly released Predators run 107 minutes, but the original zips by, while the remake seems to take place in real time, over several days and nights. The original flick managed to be tense and suspenseful while making a little knowing fun of schlock action and scifi horror. It establishes setting and characters quickly; it's stuffed with hilariously quotable lines, and it steals liberally from Alien, most successfully by emulating the slow reveal. The tension builds as the team gets picked off one by one, and although there's never really any doubt that Arnold is going to come out alive, the movie confronts him with sufficient hardship and a seemingly insurmountable foe, so that by the time he rises from a pool of muck, slathered in mud, in one of Hollywood's greatest ever beefcake moments, you're actually wondering: is he going to make it? Will it work?
The first sequel was a dull horror movie set in LA. I think Danny Glover was in it? Whatever. The current sequel just fucking ruins everything. The monsters are revealed right at the end of the first reel, and boy are they monsters. Look, I understand that this is a movie about alien hunters persuing humans on a distant moon, and I am willing to suspend my disbelief and believe that a bunch of gas giants parked, literally Joe Biden, three feet away from each other will not be torn apart by tidal gravitational forces, but I am just not able to believe that these retarded space monsters were able to develop energy weapons and faster-than-light interstellar travel. All they do is roar at each other and make funny arm motions and fail utterly to cooperate in any meaningful way. The raptors in Jurrasic Park were more convincing teammates. I guess the conceit is that this is like, what, paintball for these guys? You know, put on some face paint, wargame it up in the woods, then grab a few brews and head home to the wives, back to the office on Monday, something like that? The only thing that makes less sense is Alice Braga's accent.
After ACORN and now this, I really have to wonder if the Democrats and Brietbart aren't actually working together on a whole Sistah Soljah campaign.She "has to wonder." What was it what I said just the other day? Oh:
Racism and cultural resentment are whipped and manipulated by political and media elites--there is that word again--in order to forestall and undermine class solidarity.You mean the President of the United States, Our President, would cynically ply American ethnocentrism, mold the "racial divide" in concert with media interlocutors in order to direct popular resentment and public attention into the spectacle of social conflict while he and the rest of the fat cats go merrily making off with the gold? I can't believe it. Not Obama. Not Our PRESIDENT!
Digby's very next sentence:
It's a little bit hard to see why anyone over 10 years old would fall for the same ruse over and over again.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
The Government did not fail to detect the 9/11 attacks because it was unable to collect information relating to the plot. It did collect exactly that, but because it surveilled so much information, it was incapable of recognizing what it possessed ("connecting the dots"). Despite that, we have since then continuously expanded the Government's surveillance powers. Virtually every time the political class reveals some Scary New Event, it demands and obtains greater spying authorities (and, of course, more and more money). And each time that happens, its ability to detect actually relevant threats diminishes.While I am plainly sympathetic to Greenwald's gripes about the surveillance state in Soviet America, I think he comes at it wrong. Sure, America is a death-dealing monster, but it's a slightly ridiculous one, a rubber-suited Godzilla, a Cyclops rather than a Circe. I don't mean to diminish the horrors America inflicts around the globe or the iniquities it commits within its own borders, and I surely wouldn't want to get caught up in some NSA dragnet--hell, I get the sweats going through airport security. But you have to admit that as dystopias go, ours tends toward the absurd . . . an overpriced, gel-sole cross-trainer stepping on a human's open-toed strappy sandal . . . forever.
The government intercepts almost 2 billion telephone calls and texts every day! What can it do with them? I can't even follow My Boyfriend Johnny Weir's semi-daily Twitterz without getting confused. Is this . . . what day is this? And again, I'm not saying this to diminish the general awfulness of squishy totalitarianism, but perhaps it is an awfulness more akin to a bad oyster than a bullet to the back of the head? I don't know. Look, murderous singlemindedness is so twentieth century, and I frankly see a future when it no longer matters that there is no social security, or whatever, because every single American will be a lifetime employee of the Hornito's Presents The Defense Department.
Monday, July 19, 2010
It would be tasteless to suggest that for all the bluster and hectoring phrase-makeing of his famous book, what really appealed to Allan Bloom about his perfect fantasy university was that it consisted of lush young men lying about in bed sheets, drinking wine from bowls, respitefully free of female troubles. (Quite unlike my own fantasy university, which consists of a blast crater.) Bloom's conservative adopters focus on his defense of the canon, which they've heard features several prominent People Not of Color, and ignore the seminaryish air with its soupçon of priestly ephebophilia wafting over the carrel walls. Anyway, Bloom was always honest about the elite-making charter of the academe. He openly urged his students to abandon their families and religion. To join the higher ranks of the illuminati, a man should de-class and deracinate; the baggage of prior prejudices must be left before the jetway.
I thought fondly of old old Bloom when reading Ross Douthat's latest contribution to the alumni magazine, in which he laments the failure of Harvard to admit more "aspiring farmers." What? Really. Within narrow--very narrow--limits, Douthat does make the reasonable point that 4-H is just as good as the debate team, and I am sure that it's true that poor and rural whites are the most underrepresented population in the Cambridge cosmopolis. However:
If such universities are trying to create an elite as diverse as the nation it inhabits, they should remember that there’s more to diversity than skin color — and that both their school and their country might be better off if they admitted a few more R.O.T.C. cadets, and a few more aspiring farmers."An elite as diverse as the nation it inhabits." Oh my. Now quite plainly the process whereby one transforms from affirmative action student to elite meritocrat involves sloughing off one's class and race, forgoing solidarity (except where strategically useful, cf. "Yes We Can"), and renovating oneself as a member of a new class. That is the nature of the elite, and that is the nature of the meritocracy. The emperor need not be born in Rome, and all that. Look at Barack Obama, or better yet, look at Bill Clinton, the man from Hope, y'all.
In any case, within the social circles of the American ruling class, there is plenty of comparative status anxiety, and I am sure that Pat Buchanan, who merely went to Georgetown, really does believe that Middle America suffers deep psychic wounds as a result of the Ivy League's failure to actively recruit more Cletuses and Lurlenes. (This Buchananian thesis is the ostensible jumping-off point for Douthat's column.) Douthat takes this spoonful of sugar and spins it into an airy pink cloud of cotton candy. Underrepresentation at Harvard is actually the proximate cause of race paranoia in the white middle- and underclass. I know the Ivies work hard to instill their culture of institutional narcicism in undergrads, but even from a guy like Douthat, this is a bit much.
White anxiety results from the economic pressures of post-industrial America, from the perception that changing demographics are reducing the relative importance of whites. The stagnation of real wages, the end of lifetime employment, the economic devastation of small cities and towns, and so on all contribute to the feeling that they are besieged. Racism and cultural resentment are whipped and manipulated by political and media elites--there is that word again--in order to forestall and undermine class solidarity. I mean, not to get too conspiratorial on you, but Martin Luther King didn't get shot when he was talking about Negroes; he got shot when he started talking about the poor. Cultural resentment is an institutional mechanism, perhaps the institutional mechanism, through which Douthat's elites maintain their status and refocus the energies of a restive public, who might otherwise be inclined to blow up the G-20 or what have you.