William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Category: Culture (page 1 of 259)

The best that has been thought and written and why these ideals are difficult to meet.

How Quickly The Popular Mind Forgets — Guest Post by The Blonde Bombshell

Was it only four short months ago that Donald Trump was excoriated by the press for suggesting that he may not wholeheartedly embrace the election results? In answer to a question posed by Chris Wallace during the last presidential debate asking if he will concede if he loses, Trump said, “I’ll keep you in suspense.” Objectively, this could mean yes, but it could mean no. The public and press would have to wait until the time came for Trump to act.

Trump’s glibness in answering the question may have been in partial response to the DNC’s successful efforts from to steal the nomination from Bernie Sanders a mere three months before. Trump’s non-answer was greeted with howls not only from Hillary Clinton (“horrifying”) but also:

Finley: Trump’s noncommittal to outcome the last straw (In retrospect, quite amusing.)

Donald Trump trashes our democracy (For heaven’s sake, who is the “our” in this statement.)

Is Trump the first-ever candidate not to say he’ll accept election results? (Why is “ever” gaining popularity as a headline word?)

The ridiculous comparison of Al Gore to Donald Trump (Al Gore once owned a television network, and Donald Trump has been on television.)

John Oliver offers Trump his Emmy in return for accepting election results (Why was not a similar offer extended to Mrs. Clinton? The hubris embedded this stunt is breathtaking.)

The “I’ll keep you in suspense” remark caused so much blowback because of course Mrs. Clinton would win, and of course Trump would have to concede, and of course he would have to grovel at Hillary’s feet. Only an idiot would have imagined that Trump would be, well, triumphant. All the angst was focused on the potentiality of Trump not accepting the election results. None of it considered Mrs. Clinton’s, the DNC’s, or the Democrat rank and file’s inability to accept the election results.

The list of people not accepting the election results and/or not attending the inauguration grew by the day. There were singers who did not perform at the inauguration—once an honor—because of “death threats.” (Enough of the death threats on both the right and the left. What do the death-threaters hope to accomplish, besides showcasing the depth of their ignorance? Every responsible gun owner knows that one does not point the gun unless they plan to pull the trigger. The corollary is not to make a death threat unless you personally plan to go through with it, and in the process to leave as much evidence for law enforcement as possible to pin the dirty deed on you.)

Well, the election did not go as planned, and the DNC and their fellow travelers are confronted with a Republican President, a Republican Senate, a Republican House, and a majority of Republican Governors. Instead of working to forge middle ground, and make a few strands of gold from a heap of straw, those disappointed by Trump’s win plan took to the streets and tried to cause as much childish disruption as possible. Woe to those who think that this will end at midnight of January 20th. We are in for four years of the constant buzz of protest accompanied by the soundtrack of never-ending gay dance parties.

This, I submit, is the result of thirty years of “everyone gets a trophy” public education. This is what happens when children are not confronted with failure. Without learning to fail, one doesn’t learn to overcome and to make the best of a bad situation. These poor souls have not yet learned that they are not the center of the universe, and no one cares about the lint in their navel that they can spin into thread and commission someone to knit into a sweater for their dog.

Trump has a hard job ahead of him. Not only does he have to be leader of the free world and contend with an actively oppositional spy apparatus, but he also has to reinforce his legitimacy as president of not only the millionaire celebrity class (hello, they make their living by repeating words other people wrote and many of them haven’t graduated from a conventional high school, let alone college, and we have to listen to their endless lectures on climate change? And what is this about Chinese interests owning the major studios?) but also the less well-off professional activists, who may or may not be on the payroll of Mr. Soros.

Good luck, Mr. Trump. If anyone can prevail against these odds, it will be you.

Editor’s note Russia’s plan comes to fruition!

Going In Style—To The Movies

I once had the idea of doing a weekly movie review. This would have been unlike standard reviews, because I would not write about the movies in question. I would start with the name and premise of the new movie, but then let myself become distracted by the larger theme. The subtle and comedic idea (these words are relative) would be that the movie must be so bad it wasn’t worth seeing.

But I couldn’t bring myself to it, because the idea required me to pay attention to new movies. After one or two failed attempts, the realization that most new movies were worse than I had imagined discouraged me.

I was reminded of this when I saw the trailer for the remake of Going In Style. If one had to use one word to describe it, that word would be awful. But it was awful in an instructive way.

The original (spoiler alert!) had George Burns at his magnificent best, Art Carney underplaying with intent, and Lee Strasberg looking like he never could have been young. The trio share a (real!) apartment in Astoria, Queens. Except for Carney, they are without family. They spend the endless summers sitting on a park bench waiting for the inevitable. The highlights of the day see Carney crossing his leg to find ease and brushing a speck of dust from his jacket.

Burns, for the sole reason of excitement and the realization that if they were caught their lives could not worsen, proposes robbing a bank. Strasberg warns that they could get shot. Burns answers, “What’s the difference?”, and Carney somewhat exasperated echoes, “Yeah, Willie. What’s the difference?”

After a brief reconnoitre in the city (all New Yorkers call lower Manhattan “The city”) and the purchase of Groucho-glasses for disguise, the sounding furrows are smited and the robbery, which is somewhat sloppy, occurs. The men come alive again. Strasberg sheds forty years; he even giggles.

But the next day, after hiding their moderate haul (about thirty-five thousand) with Carney’s nephew (who knows nothing of the heist), Strasberg dies of a heart attack sitting on that same park bench. Burns and Carney agree to pretend Strasberg left a twenty-five thousand life insurance policy and to give it to Carney’s nephew, who with his family, including an adorable little girl who acts as real little girls act and who is only on screen for a few minutes, is struggling.

On a lark, Burns and Carney head to Vegas, to live it up just once more. They hit a lucky streak, winning more than double what they stole. Worried they might themselves be robbed, they head back to New York on a late night flight. Back in their apartment, Carney, exhausted, goes to sleep. Burns dozes in a chair, but awakens early to hear on the radio the police are closing in on the daring bank robbers. Burns tries to wake Carney, but he has passed away in the night.

Burns brings the Vegas winnings to Carney’s nephew and takes him into his confidence, telling him of his uncle’s death. Burns returns home and in the movie’s most poignant moment, takes down some old photographs, which include one of his real-life wife Gracie Allen who was then deceased. Brought to tears over the memories, Burns becomes incontinent. While in the bathroom to clean himself, he realizes he has become in old age what he was in young age.

As Burns prepares for the funeral next morning, he is arrested. He admits the robbery, but claims to have buried the money and refuses to say where.

The closing scene has Carney’s nephew visiting Burns in prison, advising him that things would be easier if he were to return the loot. Burns refuses, knowing life outside could not be worse than inside. As the guard escorts him away, Burns tells the nephew not to worry, tips him a wink and says, “Besides, no tinhorn joint like this could ever hold me.” The screen fades as Burns walks beyond the sunset.

My description has not done the movie justice; it would be better to watch it yourself. Do so before watching the trailer for the remake.

The remake has done us one service: everything that is wrong with modern movies is in that trailer. Old movies had to, or were forced to, or anyway did focus on story, requiring a narrative to drive the film forward. Most modern movies rely on “sequences” that are stitched together. (Too many more are “message” or purposely depressing movies, which bore with certainty.)

Much modern movie making must happen like the following. The producers and directors sit around spitballing and say things like, “Wouldn’t it be cool,” or funny or sad or whatever, “if this happened?” “Yes, that would be cool/funny/sad,” comes the reply. These cool-funny-sad sequences are gathered, the costs of simulating them on a computer or filming them are calculated, the affordable ones are kept and the rest discarded.

Then the big question: “Now that that’s done, how do we put them together?” That’s when the writers must be brought in, to do the thankless and forlorn task of making an edible stew from incongruous ingredients.

If the movie is an “action” movie, a.k.a. cartoon (live action or animated), the sequences are filled with impossible reactions, strings of impossible escapes, and impossible physics. Not one or two impossibilities, but many in rapid-fire succession piled atop one another so there is no time to think about what you just saw was impossible. The result is less gripping than watching somebody play a video game. You never care about anybody, and all you can recall is if this or that sequence was cool.

If the movie is a comedy, as is the Going in Style remake, sight gags and punchlines go in search of situations that might make sense in the loose plot. If a joke is thought funny, the plot is stretched, even past the snapping point. No matter what, the movie is juiced, cramming in as many laughs-per-minute and silly elements as possible.

I admit I am only going by the trailer, but it is clear the remake is a modern movie.

The three old men now live in what Hollywood imagines a Queens apartment looks like: clean and bright, and in reality beyond the means of Social Security. There is no sense three old men, or indeed anybody, actually lives there. The park bench has been replaced by three comfortable seats in front of a huge television (a worse slow death).

In a George Lucas-type move where Han no longer shoots first, the new director has the bank ripping off one of the old men, Michael Caine, giving Caine motive for revenge. As he is in the bank learning of his plight, three men wearing cool masks and cool guns and with ninja cool moves (what a sequence!) rob the bank, giving Caine inspiration. Caine is heard to say, “These banks have practically destroyed this country, and nothing ever happens to them” (a true enough line).

That Caine was cheated on his mortgage is not sufficient motive, however. An evil corporation next tells Morgan Freeman his pension has dissolved. The description of the plot issued by the studio suggests the men are reduced to eating dog food, which is surely no less expensive than people food, yet they are always shown spending money in diners. Alan Arkin at last says “I wanna rob that bank” that ripped us off.

Next comes the cool sequence of the old men using their smart phones to surreptitiously film the bank’s security systems. There is a suggestion the families of the old men play a much larger part in this movie, adding the schmaltz and precociousness that is de rigueur when kids are shown.

Does the robbery come next? No. Who wants to jump right in to a bank robbery when we can instead have the cool and hilarious sequence of the men having a practice robbery of a grocery store? Ann Margret shows up to spill a few sex jokes, because sex jokes from a wrinkled old lady are always hilarious. The grocery store heist goes hilariously awry, and it allows for the hilarious sequence of two men escaping on an electric wheel chair.

Does the robbery come next? No. Who wants to jump right in to a bank robbery with old men, when we can instead have the hilarious sequence and comedic elements of the old men enlisting real hardened criminals to lay out a cool bank-robbing plan? Incidentally, the bank being robbed is not in the city, but is now in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which is hipper and cooler.

I have no inside information, but I’d bet good money that none of the old men croaks, unless it is to mimic a frog in some hilarious sequence, that the bank managers get their comeuppance in a hilarious way, that the hardened criminals are blamed for the heist in a hilarious and action-packed sequence, that there are adorable and precocious kids romping through money given to their cool charity by the old men, and that the three men ride off into the sunset in some way which bespeaks of vast amounts of money being spent on their conveyance. (After the movie is released, and if you see it, check back here to verify these predictions.)

Since all three men are (it’s true) great actors, there are bound to be some funny lines (especially from Arkin), but a few laughs will be all that anybody remembers.

And that is what makes a modern movie.

Tolerance Brutes Have Esolen On The Ropes

What do you think about a guy who goes around writing things like this? Recalling, as you read, Jesus and the Lord God and the Holy Ghost are one:

Now we may glimpse the vast sweep of the condemnation of sodomy as leveled in Leviticus. “You shall not lie down with a man as with a woman,” says the Lord, for “it is to’evah,” typically translated as “an abomination.” But the word and its near relations in Hebrew suggest three things: going badly astray, that is, wandering to your confusion and ruin; repugnant filth, as of excrement and loathsome disease; and idol-worship, with its combination of the bizarre and the disgusting—think of Moloch and the charred little ones. To lie with a man as with a woman is to engage in unreality, un-creation; it is like fouling yourself with excrement, or like eating filth not meant for food; it is like falling in adoration of the idols that are tohu w’vohu, waste and void, like the emptiness of the world before God said, “Let there be light.”

The reminder about the Trinity was to show that Jesus, who is one with the Lord God, said some fairly, well, merciless things to say about certain acts, things the modern world would rather not hear about. Rather, the world doesn’t mind hearing things like this, or like anything, so much as has an intense dislike knowing there are actual people who believe these words.

Anthony Esolen, the author of the passage, believes the words. Diverse words, too, given their variance with the spirit of the day. And we all love diversity, don’t we?

Well, there’s diversity, as in Webster’s “multiplicity of difference; multiformity; variance”, fine things all (up to a point). And then there’s Diversity, as in rigid strict mandatory unbending ruthless quota-bearing uniformity. Capital-D Diversity is the not so much the idol of the age, but a blunt instrument of political power.

Esolen penned an essay on the Big D, which was given by its editors the appropriate title “My College Succumbed to the Totalitarian Diversity Cult“. His college is the ostensibly Catholic Providence College. In it he asked:

Is not diversity as it is now preached a solvent for any culture? That is, supposing that the people of a tribe in the interior of Brazil are compelled to accept cultural diversity for its own sake, rather than merely adopting and adapting this or that beneficent feature of another culture (something that people have always done), will that not mean that their own culture must eventually vanish, or be reduced to the superficialities of food and dress?

Is not diversity, as currently promoted, at odds with the foundational diversity built into the nature of the human race, the diversity of male and female, to be resolved most dynamically and creatively in the union of man and woman in marriage?

These were the beginnings of the questions and intelligent comments. And the start of his troubles.

You know what happened. A brace of brats filled their diapers and went bawling to the Providence President who, befitting his sober and stately and priestly office, promptly capitulated. Perhaps he couldn’t deal with the stink. Or perhaps he felt it his duty to toss, albeit softly, Esolen to the baying mob, this being the default and reflexive action of college presidents everywhere since the Sixties.

That’s the briefest summary. Read about the full hilarity here and here. Don’t miss the petulance of the Faculty, which is circulating the petition and document “Breaking the Silence“. It begins:

As PC Faculty, we pledge to break the silence around systemic racism and discrimination on Providence College’s campus. While we vigorously support free expression, recent publications on the part of PC faculty have involved racist, xenophobic, misogynist, homophobic, and religiously chauvinist statements.

The poor bloated pink-faced Faculty! I can’t speak for the reader, but my awareness has just been raised. No Siberian gulag came close to the horrors present at Providence. It’s worse than you might have thought. In Siberia, Stalin & Co. at least let dissidents forage for scraps of pine bark to eat. At Providence, that pestilential hotbed of racism and X-phobia, people have to pay some $60,000 per annum for the privilege to be abused—and that figure includes room and board. I wonder if they have meatless Fridays. Skip it.

“All Faculty, Briggs? Come now. There must be some Traditionalist Reactionaries remaining who haven’t self-emasculated and who defend poor Esolen.”

We know of one. A female creature (as Mike Royko would have said) by the name of Holly Taylor Coolman, who teaches theology. She gave an interview at Crux where she wondered aloud about the diminishing Catholic identify at Providence. About the row she said, “Our campus has seen increasing frustrations in the last few years, and I came to feel that a big blow-up was almost inevitable.” Asked if the disruption was between secularists and Catholics, she answered:

Not exactly. Another group immediately involved here are some of the people who tend to fall on the margins in our community-and also those supporting them. They have serious concerns about systemic forms of exclusion. (And here, too, are a number of concerns that I myself share.)

They can see, for example, that Providence College’s 100-year history includes almost nothing of the African-American experience, or of Hispanic culture and tradition. In the last few years, the college has made a concerted effort to recruit more students, faculty, and staff from underrepresented groups, but frankly, it hasn’t always succeeded in offering needed support once they arrive.

Coolwoman is right. A diligent search reveals no history of Hottentots, Maori, or Samoans at Providence. Damn few Finns and Latvians, neither. About horse lovers and other underrepresented groups, a count cannot be easily discovered, but it’s good money these folks were shunned.

But then, you didn’t see a lot of Irish learning to click in the Kalahari, an observed and undeniable fact which can only be, so Diversity theory assures, the result of systematic exclusion and racism. Probably sexism, homophobia, and every other manner of intellectual vice, too.

After all, should not a black man amble up to Providence to learn all about being black in the current climate instead of reading Shakespeare, Newton, Newman, Thucydides, Dante (translated by Esolen), Euclid, et cetera? Is not college about finding others who share your identify and reveling in that identity, however limited in place or time it is, making others acutely aware of that identity, and making that identity the sole basis and purpose of your life, and not about learning the best that was thought and said?

Esolen doesn’t think so. That fine gentleman is aware that you don’t need to go to college to know what you already know or believe what you already believe and can’t be talked out of. If all you care about is “social justice”, skip college, go right into “activism”, or stare at your identity in a reflection at the lake like that Greek fellow, and save yourself, or your parents, a bundle.

Problem is, Esolen is surrounded by social justice warriors who, though they lack in intellect, fortitude, and cleverness, are great in number and abound in indefatigable self-righteousness. The strain of defending Truth and Commonsense might be getting to him. This we gather from his recent essay in The Catholic Thing. Pardon the extensive quote.

Because of recent events at the school where I teach, Providence College, I have come to see that the winning side of the so-called culture wars has no interest in rational or equable conversation about the neuralgic issues of our time. I use the word interest advisedly. They have nothing to gain by it.

We can ask, till we are exhausted from asking, what they mean by “marriage,” if the thing is not rooted in the fundamental biology of the human race, and exactly what justifies any boundaries at all wherewith they suppose they can limit the definition. If man and man, why not man and woman and woman?…

It won’t matter. The aim was never rational coherence, or even a concern for the common good. The aim was power: to get what they wanted, to keep it, and to crush those who would question their right to it.

So they have the power now, power gained not by argument, whereof there has been very little, but by a combination of political force, mass media sentimentalism, public lassitude, and an anti-culture of licentiousness and the neglect of children.

Why bother to argue?…

Why indeed? Arguing only exposes you as an enemy of The People, and targets you as problem that must be dealt with—as Esolen learned with his Diversity essay. Argument and question are taken as political attacks, which, in a sense, they are. The Faculty who have surrendered to the World “are by nature no better and no worse than anyone else. It’s just that they have, whether they acknowledge it or not, exchanged the God of heaven for a god of prestige and power. Politics is the god.”

As long as you possess the “right” politics, you are like the pagan who has secured divine favor by the “right” sacrificial rituals.

You may then do as you please. You may, for example, go out of your way to ruin reputations and careers and turn families upside down; all justified, all for the good of the “cause.”

It is obvious our friend needs cheering up. What practical things can we do to help?

Pray, for one. It is still and always the best weapon. If you’re up for more earthly activities, you can buy his books. His Dante is excellent, and his The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization is great fun. There are many more.

Bonus Embattled conservative professor refuses to be silenced: ‘They did not kill the lion’.

Stream: Fake News of the Decade? Or, Does Russia Rule The World?

This is posting here a day late, because I had already promised the Vox Day post yesterday. Yet there is still some fun to be had at the Stream: Is the Trump/Russia ‘Dossier’ the Fake News of the Decade?

Fake news or conspiracy theory? Or the most epic troll since Dan Rather was conned into accepting forged documents about George Bush? Or a hilarious amalgam of all three?

All elements of this story are as yet unknown, but what is unfolding has the makings of historical high comedy. Here’s a rundown.

Buzzfeed, a website whose specialty is celebrity tittle-tattle, asinine quizzes such as “Which ‘Pixie Hollow Fairy Are You?“, and get-skinny-quick-by-petting-cats articles, published a document, which they gave the graduated title of dossier, which purported to show how Russia, under the devious and genius scheming of Vladimir Putin, had been grooming and bribing Donald Trump for many years, and blackmailing him by threatening to reveal perverted sexual practices, so that Trump would be induced to enter the US Presidential election, win it by secret dirt supplied by Russian intelligence agents, and so place the once United States of America under the control of a foreign government.

Yes, really.

Go there to read the rest.

The last lines of the piece: “The story isn’t over. The news on why Steele wrote the document, if he wrote it, and why, including who paid him for it, is bound to generate even more fun.”

Assuming (it’s not a stretch) that Steele wrote the document, how did he arrive at the contents? Did he make it up whole cloth, filling in bits with suppositions he knew could never be checked because many of the events took place long ago in Russia? Was he given dirt by Republican NeverTrumpers and assured by them it was true? Was Steele himself duped by actual Russians who couldn’t believe their luck?

Did Steele, or whomever, do it to scam McCain and other NeverTrumpers? Would a real live MI-6 agent really think fictional scribblings would fool real live CIA and FBI agents? Maybe he thought the document would never be made public, because the Republicans who asked for it during the election would never release it, since it would paint the GOP in a bad light. But now that it has become public, Steele has scarpered, to use a Britishism. Is he now in Moscow sharing a flat with Edward Snowden?

If Steele was duped, are we going to hear of tales of a wigged Debbie Wasserman Schultz faking a Russian accent whispering in Steele’s ear? “Listen very carefully…I shall say this only once!

Addendum: see also this.

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