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Wednesday, December 31, 2003

What Would War Be Without Rumors?

Here is a chilling example of the kind of "chatter" that has brought us to Orange Alert. One hopes it is just that—typical terrorist ranting. But empty boast or not, here it is, reported in today’s DEBKAfile:


"The banner headline spread across the front page of Il Giornale, the respected Milan daily reads: 'Al Qaeda: We will destroy New York within 35 days. Threat on the Internet. Countdown begins.'

"The threat was contained in a video clip featured on a web site associated with the fundamentalist terror group. It announced al Qaeda plans to destroy New York in a nuclear blast on February 2. Il Giornale claims the FBI blocked and removed the web site.

"The video clip showed three possible scenarios: 1. A bomb or giant fireball from the skies that will cover the metropolis with a radioactive cloud. 2. A storm of radioactive clouds that will topple skyscrapers one by one, along with the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge. 3. An explosion on board a charter aircraft that will cause a radioactive cloud to spread over the city.

"The video clip was accompanied by large, red-lettered Arabic captions saying: 'If God wills it, the end of America is near.'

"DEBKAfile’s counter-terrorism sources say they cannot verify the authorship or gauge the seriousness of the threat because the Internet site is no longer accessible. But the report appeared in a newspaper widely viewed as the flagship of Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Such reports - even if not authenticated - tend to contribute to the mounting sense of alarm generated by 'Orange Alert' in America and other Western countries.

"It comes against the backdrop of appeals to New Year revelers to stay away from the traditional New Year’s Eve celebrations in Times Square, Rome’s St. Peter’s Square, Moscow’s Red Square and London’s Trafalgar Square – or even Disney World and the Las Vegas Strip. All these sites are surrounded by heavy security."


posted by Robert on Wednesday, December 31, 2003 | link

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Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Best Books

That is, the best books I’ve read this year. For a variety of reasons, my total count of books read was down somewhat, but if I finish Patrick O’Brian’s The One Hundred Days, a Christmas gift from my wife and my first dip into the Aubrey saga, then I will hit 43. To my mind, a good year of reading means at least one book a week, though by my grandmother Evers’ reckoning that number would fall short more than 50%. But, while she had Perry Mason on TV, I have in that medium CSI, college sports, and the not-quite-Lucy-and-Ethel adventures of Paris Hilton—to name just a few such indulgences. To paraphrase the quite recently late and stellar literary interpreter and critic Hugh Kenner, TV shows replace, for the literate, numerous low-brow books. We readers all have a taste for the low brow, doncha know.

Let me start with my favorite re-readings this year:

Hamlet, Our Town (Wilder), A Guide for the Perplexed (E. F. Schumacher), Life of Dante (Boccaccio), Purgatorio (Dante), The Book of Francois Villon (Swinburne, tr.), A Lost Lady (Cather), A Christmas Carol (Dickens).

New readings:

The entire series thus far of impeccably researched and imaginatively riveting historical spy fictions by Alan Furst. He nails, in my mind’s eye, the intrigue building up to and including WWII in Europe and the fate of those who must somehow pick sides as the war rages around and through them. My favorite among his wonderful books is The Polish Officer, but I would recommend starting at the beginning of the series, only seven books so far, with Night Soldiers, and moving yourself through them as they build in intensity. Onward, Alan Furst!

Today, I finished Victor Davis Hanson’s latest, Ripples of War. All I can say at this moment is that his genius grows, as genius must—and, in these times, we are fortunate it does. His take on one of the Union’s handful of great generals, W. T. Sherman:

“Contrary to popular opinion and hysterical slurs, Sherman’s legacy of destroying civic property and morale was not Dresden, Hiroshima, or My Lai.. His Army of the West never deliberately killed civilians, raped, or murdered. Rather, Sherman’s war against property and civic infrastructure has now been ingrained as the unofficial policy of the United States military at war—as the recent conflicts in Iraq, the Balkans, and Afghanistan attest. Like Sherman, we prefer to attack the will and the property of a nation to resist through the destruction of its communications and the property of its government and elite without aiming either to kill all its soldiers or randomly target civilians.”

Tight insight—one well argued in the book. Compare such a way of waging war with the way our current adversaries do. Suicide patriotism, anyone? Compare any of their thinkers with Mr. Hanson. In fact, compare any of ours with him. If you value lucidity—if you know what the word means—Hanson is your man.

Delightful books I won’t get to finish before the new year: Christopher Dawson’s Dynamics of World History, William H. Pritchard’s Shelf Life: Literary Essays and Reviews, and Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had.

Finally, re poetry: Having put out a book of my own poems last Spring, The UFOs of October, I trust I will not be asked my unbiased opinion of the best new book of poetry I read this year.

posted by Robert on Tuesday, December 30, 2003 | link

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Monday, December 29, 2003

World’s Worst Movie Reviewers

My survey begins and ends with Newsday’s John Anderson, who, like most veteran movie reviewers, has seen far too many films—whether good or bad—and written too often and for too long against weekly deadlines to pay much attention to the quality of his arguments or logic of his positions. Overwhelmed by constant immersion in the conventions of cinematic exposition and argument, whatever skills the reviewer once had exhibited in the print medium are subsumed in surface effect, pushing current ideological buttons wildly and nonsensically in an effort to appear up to date and in the saddle. Anderson, one of the better writers among film reviewers out there, nevertheless is of interest as a type, representative of what most of us find when we check out the week’s reviews in our local papers. (Perhaps you have better examples? Let me know.)

We know we are knee deep in ideological territory in such reviews when we come across descriptions of The Lord of the Rings as a warning “about imperialistic power and disharmony among races” (Why do the orcs hate us?) and of Cold Mountain as food for pondering the lesson that, “The South may have lost the Civil War, but it won the peace (never mind that it now runs the country).”

Worse in a movie reviewer, of course, is pre-judging a film early and often, as Anderson has done to Mel Gibson’s unreleased The Passion of the Christ, a movie he is “looking forward to in 2004.” Why? “Pure curiosity. Will Mel Gibson polarize the entire Western world with his portrayal of Christ’s last hours? It seems likely to be either a landmine or a pointless, painful indulgence.”

In another article, he asks if The Passion will “be as mutton-headed as we suspect or will it spark a nationwide craze for learning Aramaic?”

Endearing bit of sarcasm that, but I am most concerned about the author's use of the “royal we,” a clear symptom not of a writer's cuteness but of writerly rot.

posted by Robert on Monday, December 29, 2003 | link

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Saturday, December 27, 2003

A Fiasco for Our Times

Control any impulse you might have to take in the Civil War epic Cold Mountain, as muddled a piece of filmmaking as I’ve seen all year. Neither “stunning entertainment” (The New Yorker) nor “brilliant” (Newsday), neither a “triumph” (Rolling Stone) nor “one of the best pictures of the year” (assorted brain-dead reviewers), Cold Mountain is instead a hodge-podge of liberal conceits regarding the inefficacy of war. Ironically, the film is set in gorgeous Romanian mountain country, a stand-in for rural North Carolina, that would have been unavailable for Hollywood exploitation were it not for the success of another great conflict, the Cold War. Did I mention the anachronistic imposition of current leftish notions about everything from the relationship between the sexes to the relationship between man and beast?

This isn’t a review, just a mini-harangue, so I won’t go into details, except to say that vignettes that derail plot progression give us among others a near-gay performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman as a randy heterosexual minister on the run for having impregnated a slave girl and by Eilleen Atkins as a New-Age-witch goat woman who nurses the film’s hero’s gunshot wounds--but not before bleeding to death a goat while caressing it sensually, extolling its beauty, then thanking the carcass before butchering it for dinner.

Read the reviews first, and if you know anything about the War Between the States/Civil War, then you’ll note as I did that many are taking the film as an anti-war and even anti-Southern metaphor for our times, which, my not having read it, the book the movie is based on may in fact be. But instead of being the inspirational, cautionary film about the futility of war it intends to be, Cold Mountain ends up being in itself an exercise in the futility of reading history exclusively through the lens of intellectually slothful filmmakers.

Note: If you just can’t stay away from movies starring the great actress Nicole Kidman, do go see The Human Stain—a truly cautionary film about the kinds of deceits fostered in colleges that are educating, among others, the next generation of Hollywood filmmakers.

posted by Robert on Saturday, December 27, 2003 | link

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Wednesday, December 24, 2003

The Lost Democrats

Julia Gorin makes a strong case at Opinion Journal this morning that the Democrats have lost "the heart of the electorate"—as have Democrat-tilting media powerhouses such as Lesley Stahl and Katie Couric. What none of them get is that there's a world of pop-music-formatted, apolitical radio out there whose listeners—including the audience for the New York metro area's WKTU—responded to the capture of Saddam with joy. Unlike Stahl and Couric, who continue to put downward spin on our successes in the War on Terrorists. Here’s an excerpt:

"What KTU's listeners in Jersey, Staten Island, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and upper Manhattan have is not called intellect. It is instinct, something from which the Lesley Stahls and Katie Courics of the world divorced themselves long ago. So that they could appear to have intellect. In the end, they are left with neither. Which makes the minority and/or working-class KTU fans--who politically fall under what is called the 'up for grabs' segment of the population--a class above the media elite attempting to manipulate their thinking."


posted by Robert on Wednesday, December 24, 2003 | link

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Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Here's to the Coast Guard, Pilots & Missle Batteries!

Not to alarm anyone, but this just came in off DEBKAfile:

"US says it has received “specific information” of possible al Qaeda terror attack in Bahrain where US Fifth Fleet based. Americans in Israel are also mentioned. Alerts updated for Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Kenya. Warning refers to possible use of non-conventional weapons.

"Since US up-scaled terror alert Sunday - with accent on al Qaeda aviation threat – authorities working with airlines to improve security, impose extra protection at airports for holiday period. Some foreign pilots have been arrested. Pentagon drilled move to secret locations at a moment’s notice in “continuity of government” exercise Tuesday in Washington.

"Missiles batteries deployed around Washington and New York City and irregular air patrols ordered. Governors were given lists of measures and sites to be protected. Bush urged Americans to go about holidays normally amid beefed up security."

My wife Gae and I have been observing very high altitude jet streams for the past few days over NYC, so this comes as no surprise. Neither were we surprised by the heavily armed police officers we've seen at various locations during our trips to work, to shop for Christmas and Channuka gifts, etc.

All this mobilization to defend us from attacks that may or may not occur in the next month or so is definitely a good thing. Dreadful the possibilities, but the element of surprise has long been stripped from the enemy. And, regarding our offence, I have no problem with our government using that element to our advantage.

So, long story short, my first Christmas toast after the one honoring those in the family who have passed on will be to our family, friends, and neighbors spending their holidays in defence of ours.


posted by Robert on Tuesday, December 23, 2003 | link

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Monday, December 22, 2003

Christmas Toast Countdown

Have your Christmas toasts ready? And the Wild Turkey 101 to do right by them? My first suggestion is below. (Any of your suggestions will be very well appreciated as I used this one at Thanksgiving before an audience of mostly in-laws, a demanding and heartless crew who fidget with their Lexus keys when they get bored with the conversation ((a word that, for them, has far too many syllables))).


... here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years.

(Wordsworth, from Tintern Abbey)


On both a more and less somber note: If you, on the other hand, should be so unlucky in the near or far future as to have to deliver an impromptu eulogy for somebody you knew only at keg parties, and, worse, forget the person's name when you reach the lectern, try this Kingsley Amis poem:


Death has got something to be said for it;
There's no need to get out of bed for it;
Wherever you may be,
They bring it to you, free.


Begging your apologies, I always get this way during Code Orange.






posted by Robert on Monday, December 22, 2003 | link

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Thursday, December 18, 2003

Are we not men?

If the context is the contemporary American household, where self-absorbed parents devote virtual "quality" time to the raising of their offspring, hardly distinguishing between the sexes in the process, then the answer to Devo's New Wave Rock question of yore is a resounding NO. I've posted about this vis a vis the battle to destroy the Boy Scouts and other institutions that don't accept it as fate that young boys grow up to be wimps and/or barbarians, but the definitive take on the subject is now on the Web at Claremont Review of Books, titled--you guessed it--"Wimps and Barbarians: The Sons of Murphy Brown."

The author is Terrence O. Moore, a former Marine officer and current educator, but he does not limit his observations to young "men," expanding his sight to young women and what he keeps hearing them say about the situation: "most women today must choose between males who are whiny, incapable of making decisions, and in general of 'acting like men,' or those who treat women roughly and are unreliable, unmannerly, and usually stupid."

Moore adds, though, that young men--at least some of them, presumably the growing numbers of those not lurking in the halls and stairwells of public schools looking for trouble--are not exactly proud of how they're turning out. Murphy Brown, I suppose would just label this situation ironic and get back to whomever she had on the cell.

The author clinched it for me when he evoked C. S. Lewis: "In the well-ordered soul, as C.S. Lewis put it, 'the head rules the belly through the chest.' In the souls of today's barbarians, clearly thumos has allied itself with the unbridled appetites, and reason has been thrown out the window." It is a question of metaphysics, and, as Moore shows, the solution starts there.




posted by Robert on Thursday, December 18, 2003 | link

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Sunday, December 14, 2003

Not cut from the same cloth

My favorite priest in my local parish, Father Ted, before beginning 9:00 Mass this morning, said from behind the altar that he'd been walking in Midtown NY last week when he spied a few discarded playing cards on the sidewalk and picked one up. Low and behold, reaching into his alb, he drew the card and showed it to the parishioners. You guessed it, was the ace of spades. He then went on to say that it was a very good thing capturing that butcher.

Later on, during the homily, he warned us that politically correct suppresors of Christianity won't stop with suppression, and that we should expect repression here in the near future. We may soon be like Mexico, he said, where they ban the wearing of the Roman collar. (Let us pray for otherwise, por favor.)

Don't you wish you had a forthright priest like Father Ted in your parish, too?

posted by Robert on Sunday, December 14, 2003 | link

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Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Check This Out.

Dang it, if Spinsters was any cooler, I’d lose my mouse to frostbite. Don’t you just love being cutting edge? You guys already knew what a gonzo good poet Bob is, and look who just found out! The Circle finally got around to praising The UFOs of October. The review is short but sums up the book pretty well. I am half way through it myself and will post on it later on the other site. Despite starting one paragraph with the words “As I indicated,” the guy nails the finely developed voice of the poems, the cyclical nature of each poetic episode, and the fun of reading Bob’s stuff. From the review:

“Reading The UFOs of October provides a jolt to the reader whose expectations for contemporary poetry have been dulled by countless volumes of pseudo-experimental or boring confessional poetry. For one thing, Robert Bové can tell a damn good story. For another, Bové's stories are strange without being kitschy or trite, as well as poetic without losing a colorful narrative voice.”

I quote that piece because it wraps up the gist of the whole piece. Good luck finding the review itself. From the homepage (which is pretty cool in its own right) go to the Winter issue and scroll down to the book reviews.

posted by Lee Ann on Tuesday, December 02, 2003 | link

Wow.

I scored 123.5 on the legendary 80s quiz.



posted by Lee Ann on Tuesday, December 02, 2003 | link

Sowell Patrol.

The Intellectual Deity is back with this nifty little collection of distilled wisdom:

“When you see a four-year-old bossing a two-year-old, you are seeing the fundamental problem of the human race -- and the reason so many idealistic political movements for a better world have ended in mass-murdering dictatorships. Giving leaders enough power to create ‘social justice’ is giving them enough power to destroy all justice, all freedom, and all human dignity.”

“One of the reasons psychology is so popular on the left may be that it enables them to do an end run around facts and logic, and attribute other people's disagreements with them to unworthy motives or irrational drives.”

“Whenever people talk glibly of a need to achieve educational ‘excellence,’ I think of what an improvement it would be if our public schools could just achieve mediocrity.”


But then, this one hits too close to home:

“As I try to clear out the paper jungle in my office, my wife has suggested using dynamite. But I am saving that as Plan B.”

posted by Lee Ann on Tuesday, December 02, 2003 | link

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Monday, December 01, 2003

Belated Happy Thanksgiving.

I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Note to Bob: on Turkey Day, you don't press the flesh, you consume mass quantities of it.

posted by Lee Ann on Monday, December 01, 2003 | link

Update.

Okay, I really haven’t cared much about politics lately. The Liberals are still racist slime. The Islamofascists still haven’t clued into the 15th century. Hollywood celebrities are still morons. Same old same old. Football has been great. To recap what little I can tell you about the ‘Ski family saga:

The federal investigation by the Treasury Department just might be related to the investigation by the Trussville police which could maybe have something to do with Hon’s upcoming divorce.

And you thought life offline was boring.

posted by Lee Ann on Monday, December 01, 2003 | link

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Contact Spinster Lee Ann at calhounista_at_hotmail

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Two Babes and a Bob! Opinion, insight, commentary, sarcasm, scathing polemic, and wit by Lee Ann, Carol, and Robert. Featuring the spectral presence of Gena.
Contact the Spinsters at: brodskii@yahoo.com (Gena) calhounista@hotmail.com (Lee Ann)

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