No Country for Old Men

[Amazon Link]

This completes the reading mini-project on which I embarked back in 2014 or so: to read the novels on John J. Miller's Conservative Lit 101 list. I had previously read two: Advise and Consent, The Bonfire of the Vanities. You can, if you want, read my takes on the others: The Thanatos Syndrome, by Walker Percy; Mr. Sammler's Planet, by Saul Bellow; Midcentury, by John dos Passos; The Time It Never Rained, by Elmer Kelton; Shelley’s Heart, by Charles McCarry; Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson; Freddy and Fredericka, by Mark Helprin.

And now, No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy. Did you see the movie? Well, especially in the early going, it's just like the movie. Apparently, Mr. McCarthy wrote it as a screenplay first, then hammered it into a novel. Then the Coen brothers adapted their screenplay from the novel.

The book puts a greater emphasis on Sheriff Bell's character; his inner monologue appears throughout the book. He's a decent man, haunted by an act of semi-cowardice back in World War II. But he's bemused by the modern world, never more so than in his current case: a heroin trade out in the wilderness has gone very awry, with just about everyone involved seriously dead. But a good old boy, Llewelyn Moss, happens upon the carnage, and makes the mistake of his life: absconding with a document case filled with $2.4 million.

This puts him at odds with the Mexican drug gang, of course. But also with the guy you probably remember most from the movie: Anton Chigurh, a hitman who plays by his own rules. And his own rules involve murdering just about anyone who gets in his way. Or offends him. Or just engages him in conversation.

The book's body count is impressive, I'm pretty sure even higher than in the movie. But weaving in and out is a dark lecture about evil, fate, and a God who's impotent in the face of injustice. You'd best muddle through in whatever way you can.

McCarthy's style is to use quotation marks not at all, apostrophes almost never. Fun! Not too hard to get used to.

The Greatest Showman

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

They don't make movies like this any more! Well, that's not exactly true. They made this one. And it's not bad, a musical extravaganza with a number of eye-popping production numbers. And it did OK at the box office, too, so maybe they'll be making more movies like they don't make any more.

It is a very loose biography of P. T. Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman. In fact "very loose" is probably an understatement; a number of the characters and plot-driving incidents are completely made up. But Barnum might have approved: why let the facts get in the way of a good yarn?

Barnum is the son of a scrabbling laborer, catching the eye of a rich man's daughter. Much of his motivation is to scramble for an opening into upper-class society. His ambitious dreams bring him to establish a "museum", which is really kind of a (literal) freak show. His tireless promotions bring him monetary success, but not the respect he craves. He finds a pathway to that by persuading Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale, to embark on an American tour. But before you can say "second act crisis", This causes him to neglect the freak show/circus (bad) and also his wife and family (worse). But do things eventually work out? Sure!

Very predictable? Yes. You bet.

The movie, for better or worse, finds Deep Lessons in Barnum's story. Aren't the freaks people too, deserving of respect? Of course, and we're beaten over the head with that. Also, there's an inter-racial romance between Barnum's white business partner and an African-American trapeze artist. Doesn't that cause problems? You bet.

This movie would probably be pretty dreary without Hugh Jackman in the title role. His enthusiasm and charisma really carry the day.

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 10:10 doesn't like those winking wankers:

    10 Whoever winks maliciously causes grief,
        and a chattering fool comes to ruin.

    That is our default NIV translation. Some translations, however, turn that last bit around. For example, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) saith:

    Whoever winks the eye causes trouble, but the one who rebukes boldly makes peace.

    I have no idea who's right here. Although I like the "chattering fool" imagery; it's nice to know they had those guys back in Ancient Israel too.

  • This morning, Twitter stock is worth about 80% of what it was a day ago. Apparently, investors suddenly realized that Twitter sucks. (Or, more accurately, that it sucks about 20% more than their previous estimates of its suckitude.)

    Why does it suck? Mike Godwin (at Reason) knows: Twitter Sucks Because We Suck. Don’t Blame @Jack. (If you don't know @jack, read on…)

    A lot of criticism of Twitter takes the form of public tweets aimed at Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey (@jack). Those tweets have heated up in recent years because Twitter is President Donald Trump's second-favorite tool for reaching his base. (Perpetual campaign rallies ranks number one, because of all the cheering.) These days, many of the complaints charge that Dorsey and his company aren't doing enough "conversational health work" to make Twitter an inclusive public forum for divergent opinions that also reduces or prevents "abusive" speech.

    The hard fact is, no matter how much Dorsey commits himself to making Twitter a safe space for debate, conversation, and entertainment, he's always going to be criticized for not doing enough. (In this, Dorsey has the small comfort of not being Mark Zuckerberg, who I'm guessing gets orders of magnitude more criticism because Facebook is orders of magnitude more successful—despite today's market slump.) Dorsey will remain in the crosshairs as long as he runs the company—that's because, if you're running a social-media platform, there's no version of top-down censorship of "abusive" content that works out well.

    Latest example of things not working out well, according to Twitchy: PATHETIC! “The sweetest woman on Twitter” has been punished “FOR HATE SPEECH”. (Caps lock in original.)

  • There is much hilarity in this Katherine Timpf article at National Review: Professor: I ‘DEMAND That White Editors Resign’. The prof is Randa Jarrar, previously noted for her wacky tweets after Barbara Bush died. Her Twitter account is now set to private, but somehow this leaked out:

    At some point, all of us in the literary community must DEMAND that white editors resign. It’s time to STEP DOWN and hand over the positions of power. We don’t have to wait for them to [f***] up. The fact that they hold these positions is [f***] up enough.

    The incident that inspired Randa's race-based hatred was a poem in The Nation, which you may read (at least for now) here. It's not much: blank-verse advice to street beggars on how best to appeal to the pocketbooks of passers-by.

    But it did not appeal to some Nation readers, and it drew a wonderful apology from the mag and its poetry editors. (Yes, there's more than one poetry editor at the Nation. It's a tough job.)

    As poetry editors, we hold ourselves responsible for the ways in which the work we select is received. We made a serious mistake by choosing to publish the poem “How-To.” We are sorry for the pain we have caused to the many communities affected by this poem. We recognize that we must now earn your trust back. Some of our readers have asked what we were thinking. When we read the poem we took it as a profane, over-the-top attack on the ways in which members of many groups are asked, or required, to perform the work of marginalization. We can no longer read the poem in that way.

    We are currently revising our process for solicited and unsolicited submissions. But more importantly, we are listening, and we are working. We are grateful for the insightful critiques we have heard, but we know that the onus of change is on us, and we take that responsibility seriously. In the end, this decision means that we need to step back and look at not only our editing process, but at ourselves as editors.

    So: a miniature Cultural Revolution at the Nation, complete with public humiliation and self-abnegation. Report to the re-education camps, white poetry editors!

    And don't for a moment imagine that Randa and her ilk wouldn't do the same to us, if they had the power to do so.

  • At AEI, Mark Thiessen puts forth a contrarian thesis: Trump is using tariffs to advance a radical free-trade agenda.

    At the Group of Seven summit in Quebec, Trump was roundly criticized for publicly berating allies over their trade practices and provoking a needless trade war. Well, once again, it appears Trump is being proved right. On Wednesday, he and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced a cease-fire in their trade war and promised to seek the complete elimination of most trade barriers between the United States and the European Union. “We agreed today . . . to work together toward zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods,” declared the two leaders in a joint statement.

    Zero tariffs. Wednesday’s breakthrough with the European Union shows that, contrary to what his critics allege, Trump is not a protectionist; rather, he is using tariffs as a tool to advance a radical free-trade agenda.

    Well, that would be just great. But…

  • That prompted a near-instantaneous rebuttal from Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek, who asks: Why Not Take Trump at His (Many) Word(s)?

    This declaration is completely unsupportable. To make it, Mr. Thiessen ignores the fact that every word about trade that has come over the past few decades from the mouth of Donald Trump reveals the president to be an unvarnished mercantilist. Contrary to what economically informed and genuine free-traders understand, Trump believes that countries compete against each other economically – that trade surpluses are evidence of a country’s economic success and that trade deficits are evidence both of economic failure at home and of nefarious trading practices abroad – that tariffs and subsidies implemented by foreign governments strengthen foreign economies at our expense – that exports are a benefit and imports are a cost – and therefore that government should arrange for the country to export as much as possible and to import as little as possible.

    Although widely swallowed, each of these mercantilists beliefs is unalloyed nonsense.

    I think Professor Boudreaux has the preponderance of evidence on his side. For one thing, as he notes, if Trump were a true free trader, he would simply do whatever he could, within his power, to drop US tariffs to zero.