Wednesday, December 31, 2008
My lovely wife Jeanne, I and our four boys went to see Marley and Me yesterday. I liked it a lot even though it made me bawl like a child. Jeanne sniffed some but none of our teenagers did. I think that may be because they don't really believe dogs die. Several elderly ladies left the theater before the end, not because they didn't like the movie, I'm sure, but because they did not want to see the end that was clearly coming.
There are two famous movie versions of Henry V's St. Crispin Day Speech. One by the legendary Laurence Olivier and the other by Kenneth Branagh. To me there is no comparison. And through the wonder of You Tube, you too can make the comparison. It is not just the acting that is better with Branagh, it is also the directing. Watching the two, I almost don't know why the Oliver version is even famous.
With these remarks, it might not surprise you that I think Olivier is overrated. Yes, he has some roles that are powerful, but overall I don't like watching him too much, especially when he was a young man.
While I am recommending parts of Henry V, take a look at this speech by Branagh the night before the battle. It follows my favorite part of the play when Harry in disguise talks with his men. It is a great speech, a look inside Harry and his guilt for his father's seizure of the kingship, and a perceptive discourse on the benefits and costs of power.
And to tell you the truth, I find this one irresistible as well, although it depends a bit more on the development of the Fluellen in the movie through an incredible performance by Ian Holm.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
The predictable responses to Israel's actions are now occurring. The European Countries and the US are calling for a cease fire. The diplomats insist something must be done to stop the damage. The international media run the story non-stop and the New York Times has regularly updated headlines on its website with the number of people killed.
When Israel attacks, the countries of the world call for a cease fire. When Hamas sends missiles every day into Israel, the world is silent. Admittedly, Israel is more powerful militarily than Hamas, but the principle of self defense applies equally. And more importantly, Hamas attacks are directed at civilians, whereas Israel's are directed at military targets.
The key point here is that Israel does not merely have to fight against Hamas and the other Palestinian militants. If that were the entire fight, Israel would win decisively. Rather, Israel must also fight the diplomats and media of the world. And that is what constrains it. Hamas cannot stop Israel's attacks, but the diplomats and the media can.
I have said it many times before. Israel must plan its defense and its attacks taking into account all of its opponents. Let me give you an example. Israel had two options here. It could have used the air attacks, and immediately followed up with a ground invasion to destroy the underground infrastructure that Hamas has built in Gaza. If Isreal were to do that, the invasion should have already started. Israel might have two weeks to get the job done before the international pressure forced them to stop.
Alternatively, Israel could engage in the bombing, and expect to allow a cease fire if Hamas promises to stop the missiles. Then, when Hamas starts the missiles again, they could invade, and would have a bit more leeway (not a lot, but some).
I hope Israel thinks this way. But I am not very optimistic, based on their past performances.
One complaint against Israel
Most seriously, the critics do not offer any
alternatives. What is Israel
Monday, December 29, 2008
Thank God for the Wall Street Journal. Jenkins explains why if you start with bad policy and then screw it up, the results are likely to be disappointing.
Meanwhile, Krugman explains why we must spend more money. Does he think it's possible for a government to ever get to the point where it should stop spending? I think when we have 100 million dollar bills, we should call them "Krugmans".
Peggy Noonan has discovered books. You go, girl. I like books too. They're fun to read and you learn stuff. Does she remind anybody else of the WASP aunt from hell? When I read her, I feel like I am being bombarded by gigantic Macy Thanksgiving parade scale thought balloons, extremely large and colorful, but empty. It's unsettling. Or as Peggy would say, jarring. Even worse, rather jarring. O God, I feel so jarred. It's like, she's on her way to some party with her expensive friends, and she has a sense of something. Of absence. Of presence. Of both absence and presence. She sees a Christmas tree. It reminds her -- it's Christmas. Where are the men we once had? In the future, we may have less money. This is a truth. And then her friend says, "Peggy, you know, money isn't everything." Now that's a thought worth hanging onto. Some banality inflated to monstrous size. If you had me at Gitmo, and read her stuff over and over to me, I would tell you everything I knew.
Google changes the party line. Are they being evil, or did something that was evil before somehow change?
Those darn Hollywood commies. They are difficult to make fun of because they are just so appalling.
VD Hanson as usual is on to something, or at least two things: Media atmospherics will change greatly once Obama is in office. Happy days will be here again. And also about Rick Warren. Both Warren and Obama are big salesmen of vague New Agey meets Jesus bromides, all-American flim-flammers. Hope and Change and the Purpose Driven Life are both at bottom marketing strategies, the products of which are, respectively, Obama and Warren. They belong together. Maybe they'll fall in love and get married. Warren probably watched the Denver Obamaclypse and thought "I wish I could fill a stadium like that. Jesus, will you help me fill a stadium like that?"
And here's one of the few things I've read about the recession I agree with.
I love the Teaching Company, the company that sells academic type courses on a variety of subjects. The courses are not short, ranging from 6 hours (12 30-minute lectures) to 24 hours (48 30-minute lectures), with some even longer.
I have to believe that I am one of the most frequent users of their products. On my account page with the company, it says I have purchased 60 courses, and I have also listened to many over the years that I have taken out from the library. Overall, the courses have represented something of a second education for me, teaching me about subjects that my ordinary education slighted, such as Ancient Rome and Greece, the Middle Ages, and Physics, just to name a few. I can't recommend their courses enough. Of course, there are some duds, and even some so biased that they are hard to bear -- this one, for example -- but overall they are just great.
In the last year or two, the Teaching Company has had some competition for my commuting time, and my consumption has decreased. I listen to podcasts from Econtalk, from Philosophy Bites, and from some other places, but I still enjoy the Teaching Company courses.
Well, today, I plan to recommend a course I have never listened to. Strange, but I feel it is justified. It is Jerry Z. Muller's, Thinking About Capitalism, based in part on his book The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Modern European Thought (which I am reading now and which is quite excellent). I have also heard him lecture on C Span. Not only is Muller excellent, but the subject is an extremely important one. I am planning on ordering the course right away, and will let you know what I think.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Mark Bowden, an Atlantic Monthly writer, says Bush ought to ask the Iraqi government to pardon the shoe-thrower.
Magnanimity is a strong prerogative, too seldom used. It is a chance for the man to be as large as the office. No one was better at this than Abraham Lincoln, whose frequent public acts of forgiveness, from promoting his political rivals to commuting the death sentences of Union soldiers, earned him an enduring legacy of kindness and humility. Less remarked upon is Lincoln's shrewdness. He was no softy. He signed many a death warrant for deliberate acts of cruelty or criminality in the ranks, but he understood that sparing a "simple soldier boy" for panicking or for falling asleep would do far more for the army's morale than another execution would do for its discipline.
I think Bowden - no supporter of Bush - is probably right in this case.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
As I have been stressing lately, the financial crisis is an incredibly complicated matter, and part of the problem is that so many different government policies were involved. Here is another aspect.
What caused the housing boom? Russ Roberts writes:
We have heard a great deal about the first three, but Russ makes a strong case that the tax change was far more important than people have realized.
Vernon L. Smith, a Nobel laureate and economics professor at George Mason University, has said the tax law change was responsible for “fueling the mother of all housing bubbles.”
By favoring real estate, the tax code pushed many Americans to begin thinking of their houses more as an investment than as a place to live. It helped change the national conversation about housing. Not only did real estate look like a can’t-miss investment for much of the last decade, it was also a tax-free one.
The timing seems right on this. Russ has a chart: