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NeoCon Think

It doesn't really take much effort, nor does it take much critical analysis or systematic observation, and in fact, a second-rate gypsy with a scuffed plastic globe could discern these facts with similar effort, but I'm starting to get a grip on the NeoCon mindset and worldview. Firstly, there's the religious angle. NeoCons have no qualms aggressively mobilising Christians to vote on a card blatantly sympathetic to the Christian fundamentalist POV. To this end a deluded (fundamentalistically deluded) President who leads his committees in group prayer, who publicly declares his faith in a god-given mission for the US with him as its prophet. US Christians are a stable and easily-led (malleable) electorate. And therefore a faith-based principle of governance — because Bush believes what the NeoCons feed him, he believes that with god, his actions are right. No worries here about the merger of church and executive branch, of god and policy, no nervous glances back to the Declaration of Independence and its deliberate separation of these, but then again no hesitation to exploit the terms of freedom and the founding ideals. Then again, it's not really about church and state, it's more the NeoCon religion and state — a ruthlessly pragmatic grinding of a naively christian monkey. The organ grinder metaphor is seriously underused here. It's a religion bordering on idealistic mania, a belief in America as unilateral thug concocted in some disenfranchised professor's cold and clammy night of the soul — all the hallmarks of a conservative academic nightmare. Hence the propagation of belief in the myth of America, big dopey bovine America, as the foremost bastion of freedom and the corporate model of nations. A fatuous myth, but easy to consume and excrete. Lo-cal, highly processed. Vibrates with all that flag-hailing latent patriotism slash nationalism slash unilateralism. A belief that the myth is sufficient to make Americans feel better about themselves in the world. But ultimately, the NeoCons know this is a necessary myth. Hence their equally disturbing hubris and anti-intellectual (where 'intellectual' equals advice, dialogue, empathy, understanding, rational diplomacy and being right) dismissal of criticism and accountability. For all intents, the NeoCons are a junta in suits. And then there is the management of illusion — much like an advertising exec's offer of a complete marketing package beginning to end. The steady PR buildup to create an enemy of the American people (and this is generally consistent with Republican thinking since Truman, Reagan, and Rumsfeld for the last 25 years, be it communism or terror), to manufacture a need to go to war, to evince the reality and urgency of the threat. To create economic climates which conversely become dependent on military spending, and for defense contractors to jump in on. To create the illusion of an humanitarian intervention, to stand up for an exportable freedom in the little countries — I mean LBJ spouted this shit in the 60s too. Or let's talk about Nicaragua, El Salvador, Granada and, er, Cambodia etc etc. And then always to follow the predictable pattern of non-involvement, reinforcement, buildup and then bombing, more troops and presto! entanglement, quagmire and exit strategy. Well, the NeoCons accelerated this process somewhat with the pre-emptive doctrine. To create the illusion that free market forces and interventionist competition (economic imperialism, what you will) will be the greatest boon to a 'liberated' people. To deny the reality of any situation, just like denying the subtleties of impending civil war and the difficulty and gross inhumanity of the NeoCon model for social happiness, actually, to completely avoid reality and convince the voters at home that things are going well in Iraq. To maintain the illusion that withdrawing from the Kyoto and non-proliferation treaties are beneficial to world stability — to keep at bay the reality that NeoCon think is explicitly creating the conditions for future wars and greater oil-dependence. To build the illusion that cutting tax for the rich is actually good for the poor too — like what, some 'trickle down' effect there? To destroy the illusion that citizens, combatants and enemies have rights and humanity. To maintain the canting illusion that the war on terror is actually fighting terrorism. To keep up the illusion that America has lots of popular allies all round the world. Or the far more disturbing sanction of torture — hard core torture — destigmatised by a bunch of glib-tongued idealists? This is the sickest of all. To so blatantly miss the point that deliberate torture is probably the single strongest determinant in making terrorists out of people who might previously only have been nationalists. And I'm not even going to begin talking about exploiting a Republican-sympathetic media. Or the corporate fundraising behind the election. Mix it all up: faith, myth, illusion — that's NeoCon think. Go forth and conquer.

Errol Morris, The Fog of War

A well-timed effort from a master docomaker which nonetheless lacks teeth and balance. I was in a mood to bone up on MacNamara in Chomsky et al but my library don't stock him. I wanted that pre-emptive context. The problem with Fog is there's almost no context in 't. None of the dirt and urgency of current docos like those reviewed further below. Fog is a monoperspectival piece of self-celebration, a safely circumscribed recollection. Mac is a seductively likeable old man, full of intelligent charm, but by the end this charm actually becomes closed and sinister, a glib political act. And since we only get his POV, this shouldn't really be called a documentary per sé. "I lived the cold war" he proudly exclaims, implying he helped make it what it was. Mac is a numbers man and often his early years come across like a statistician’s dream of war, all efficiency and shifty ethical rhetoric. There's a subtle parallel of the Tokyo firebombings (efficient order there) and footage of napalm canisters being filled in Vietnam — and Morris, regrettably doesn't force the point though it could've damned the Mac and his efficient blame shoveling. Then there's the acutely political tactic Mac espouses to 'never answer a [journalist's] question, but to answer as if they'd asked the question you wanted' — which is an incredibly cynical/revealing observation for a non-elected civilian to make, and waters down the mettle of his veiled criticism (in the extras) of a US government acting unilaterally on the world stage. It also makes you wonder what skills a former Secretary of Defense brought to the World Bank. He's a player yet non-partisan, an executive professional. The arbitrary way he became SecDef under Kennedy is glib and cronyistic, just like becoming president of the World Bank because LBJ pulled a few strings — and he laughingly puts the deprecating gloss on it himself — is all highly suspicious. Ultimately there's no critical balance here, no corrective viewpoint outside of the Mac's head; some inconclusive lesson plans for immorality and criminality in war and serious mistakes and errors of judgment; but ultimately this player won't disclose more than is politically necessary to politically appear like the better man. He admits to making mistakes but won't elaborate on them — he knows exactly when to close the lid on all those vicious worms, he knows to keep himself unaccountable. Mind you, the questions were pretty stupid at times: "Do you feel guilty for Vietnam?" — I mean really, Errol, do you think that'll trip him up? In terms of look though, this is quite well done — with a really effective montage of people moving at two speeds, stillness and movement; and there's some amazing archival footage and taped conversations — none of the stock footage we've come to expect. And there's Philip Glass' moody score deepening the shallow context unnecessarily, which at time had me thinking of an inverse parallel with The Thin Red Line, I know not why. But I wonder when Henry Kissinger is going to get his documentary due. Would a rehabilitated Hitchens be up to the task?

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

Yes, and again. This time almost exclusively reading the footnotes. Still amazed I can dip into the Jest at any page and have my faith in fiction Of Our Time renewed, revitalized, refuelled. It still makes me laugh consistently and maniacally. It still has more precise description than the average dictionary. Faves: this, the closure of Orin’s account of the Hal/mould episode:
'"Help! My son at this! My son has eaten this! Help!" she kept screaming, running in tight little right-faces just inside this perfect box of string [in the garden], and I’m seeing The Mad Stork’s face at the glass door over the deck, palms out and thumbs together to make a frame, and Mario my other brother next to him as usual down around his knee, with Mario’s face all squished against the glass from supporting his weight, their breath on the window spreading, Hal inside the string finally and trying to follow her, crying, and not impossibly I also crying a little, just from the infectious stress, and those two through the back door’s glass just watching, and fucking Booboo [Mario] also trying to make that frame with his hands, so finally it was Mr Reehagen next door, who was so-called "friends" with her, who had to come out and over and finally had to hook up the hose.’ (note 234, pp1043-4)
And then, cross-checking the references back to the main text. The amazingly/anally detailed Thanksgiving dinner where Joelle is introduced the sad family unit; with Jim’s drunken discourse on Studio and Method and Orin’s impression of Carl Sagan (pp744-7). Hilarious. Also, I’m starting to think that not Gus van Sant (who owns the rights) but Wes Anderson is the ideal man to direct a film of the Jest.

Listening to Pet Sounds after Smile

PS is definitely pop-format compacter than the explicitly widescreen Smile, but there’s similar attention to instrumental detail and unique-affective sound, for complete 'feels'. PS is acid self-consciousness to Smile’s hashed-out fun. I can't quite put my finger on the musical theory or technicality of the chords, but the arrangements of PS are unexpectedly complex, the furthest thing from three-chord rock. Everything sounds mixed for directest communication, cf Brian singing solo sans backing on two tracks. Which makes me determined to hear the full stereo mix on the boxset — the mono is very compressed but the detail still contributes to the ‘feel’, minimally perceived. The odd chunky rhythm and reach for Spector-fullness; the instrumental breathers and the extension of songs — some seem to grow in strange directions; the general upward trend of the great bass lines especially, cf Smile’s general downward rumbles. The bass is the primary rhythm instrument here — not a backbeat to be found. Sonically PS is ruby and gold to Smile’s mellow browns and greens. Though there’s innocence-lost themes on both, PS lacks the apotheosis of the Child suite. But again, in terms of progress and development, there’s more space between PS and Smile than there is between Sgt Pepper and the White Album — worlds apart. Still, it takes a certain bent genius (or a musical monk — aldus Van Dyke) to realise that a heavily-echoed empty water container is sonically appropriate for a song of love lost (Caroline, no). Also, I’ve been paying closer attention to Mike Love’s singing. Particularly, how he always puts in a basic level of effort and commitment. There’s times when he goes that extra yard of course (I Get Around, All I Want to Do etc), but even in hardcore Brian songs like That’s not Me he puts in a sufficiently good vocal — though he knows it’s up the Brian country. Singing a line like "all that matters to me is how good I could be to just one girl" — you just know Mike doesn’t think that way, that old Love stud.

Listening to Baroque music

Especially JS Bach: infinite embellishment within the scale, a rigorous structure and the beauty arising from rigour. An aesthetics unencumbered by form yet intensely formal. So naturally paced and cohesive, from exploratory to inward and meditative moods to chorals of praise; a sense of sufficiency with form and hence with man under god. I love it all, the Brandenburgs, the harpsichords and fugues; the music of precision within a genre. And a reminder that such music is the directest and least error-prone means to experience and understand the mindset of the past. Completely cerebral, completely lacking all dance, but nearly perfect as rarefied music.

Philip Roth, I Married a Communist

A testament to betrayal set in the treacherous period of McCarthyist America. The crush and crumple of another vivid, rangy athletic male and his passionate particularity. A brilliant establishment of a political era, but in equally tall and rangy prose lacking the verve and raciness of Sabbath’s Theatre, that hysterical desire machine. I guess this is part and parcel with a novel told in recollection whilst building a double, triple, then quadruple character portrait. Roth handles it effortlessly of course but the fare is drier than his contemporaneous books. The US fetish for righteous blamelessness and betrayal though no one really knew what Communism was; the undercurrent of a-Semitism in Red-baiting; the destructive tides enveloping the righteous, usually to further a personal cause. The pleasure of betrayal. The purifying acid and abrasion of the purely literary Glucksman. The rather brilliant rundown of the Nixon funeral (p278) fittingly closing the Tricky portrait; the hilarious account of getting laid for the first time at an Abbott & Costello drive-in movie, the windows steamed and the engine flooded. Memorables: «… nothing so audaciously creative in even the most ordinary as the workings of revenge. And nothing so ruthlessly creative in even the most refined as the workings of betrayal.» (p184). The entire page of 223 («Politics is the great generaliser… and literature the great particulariser… in an antagonistic relationship [to each other]» is full of exemplary advice. «I think of the McCarthy era as inaugurating the postwar triumph of gossip as the unifying credo of the world’s oldest democratic republic. In Gossip We Trust. Gossip as gospel, the national faith… the American unthinking.» (p284) And of course there’s Roth’s sustained work of the memory, painting a complex background to partly explain the world we inhabit and inherit today.

Scraps of contrasting televisuals: I’m starting to think that much if not most of an actor’s onscreen ability has to do with that difficult essence: screen presence. Basically, notice its terrific absence whenever Nicole Kidman is on screen. There’s nothing there: just a face reading lines. More explicitly, put her next to a Lauren Bacall (upcoming film), or hell, even compare her with Scarlett Johansson (only 20 yrs old!), and it becomes clear that all those directors and co-stars are full of shit when talking 'bout her ‘amazing talent’ (Nicole’s). She does nothing technically to suggest presence of character, or of a character inhabiting space or silence. She has a problem externalising the punctuated differences of identity. She doesn’t have the gravity of attraction and appeal, the mechanics of presence.

Holy literary crossover, Batman. I got the word on TV and a quick browse confirmed that Michael Winterbottom is adapting and filming Tristram Shandy! I wonder how Mr W.B. (and Mr Steve Coogan, ideal choice) will translate to screen this most digressive, tangent-prone and formally satirical novel. How to film its myriad deviations, meanderings, alternations and u-turns, all its swerves and slews and knotty elaborations and detailed expansions, its rabbiting bush-beatings and non-tautological paddings. How to visualise its effusive and time-compressing anecdotal, parenthetic and episodic discontinuities into a coherent narrative? Nothing so odd will do long.

My other favourite little low-brow pleasure of late has been American Chopper — the Series over on Discovery Channel (the Orange County Chopper lot). It’s like watching a script-girl’s wet dream of directing a TV show. You’ve got tight deadline-driven action (to build a custom bike in so many days), you’ve got all the unpredictable events and errors, and you’ve got a killer cast of contrasts: the walrus father with head fulla steam; the moderate son trying to screw his girlfriend without cleaning the shop; another doofus son and a bunch of mechanics just jawdropping "awesome" whenever something goes right. But especially, the innate knack they all have for spinning neat summaries at every junction. A quick sum-up of what was good about making the deadline, or when the parts came in on time, or that awesome paint job on the fender, or the problems of working with Dad. It’s like the script girl provides every cue to interpret and thematise every event in the same bland manner of Americans and their seeming preparedness/spontaneousness in appearing on TV. The show shovels cliché, and the bikes are "awesome" works of mechanical art, and the dramas are carefully edited into the narrative, and those hunks of shiny metal look awesomely uncomfortable to ride, and it’s as deliberate as hell without quite being pro wrestling, but I love watching its drama by numbers, its tattoo and tough love Americana. Hilarious.

100% content, folks, all the time.

posted by rino breebaart  # 5:25 pm
For the Lawd's sake Reens, how do I (Adam, you've no doubt guessed) respond to such an immense block of words as thought. Let me just stick to The Fog of War for now, which I saw the other night on DVD for the same reasons you checked it out. So yes, the big problem is lack of context. Morris is only interested in McNamara's angle here (payloads, civilians dead) and thus seems to decide to leave out any other social background. What the film is all about, I think, is not content, but form. Rhythm, in particular. With the Glass music and the quick-fire stats and figures working you over, a real lull is produced. Each "chapter" begins with a short interview / tape before speeding things up with archival footage and the inevitable quick-cut of numbers. Morris' own additions don't help either -dominoes falling, skulls cracking (again and again and again - did someone say "Jiminy Jillickers!"). All these additions are banal, obvious and add nothing to our understanding of McNamara and his decisions. What is most interesting to me is how intelligent men make such outrageous and vicious decisions regarding the lives of others. It's the same neo-con question we're asking today. And the film is pitifully short of insight here. In fact, the film has too little of McNamara, and Morris hurts himself with cutting dead footage away between his pauses - it feels like "treated" commentary, a kind of stylised censorship. What we really needed to see was McNamara over longer blocks of time explaining his positions, decisions, while the viewer was able to view his face, his body language, letting those things reveal what they may. So, overall, a wasted opportunity. There's a good book on McNamara's policies and repurcussions, which I saw in Berkelouw last night but forget now - more on that later - oh yes, much more.
Adam, your Fog points are right on. Critically astute and correct. You see, this is why you should write me more letters.

The thing with the skulls was disturbing and unnecessary. And you leave it thinking the Mac was solely responsible for making cars safer and introducing the safety belt -- which I know is wrong and discounts the good lobbying that went on. I can't believe, in retrospect, with the full force of Hicks dropping in a pun, how poor the documentary-quality of the film was. It's too much a celebration verging on the slick corporate production, something the Mac would show his shareholders in an effort to show his humanity. Who's the film really pitched to? I suspect it's the political pragmatists and numbers men like the Mac, wherever they're concocting the New Enemy in NeoCon City.
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