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November 9, 2003 Reviews

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Some notes on what seems to be out there, and what some of us have sampled....

Books: Kurt Vonnegut discusses humanism, and his new but unfinished novel...

If God Were Alive Today ... a new novel by Kurt Vonnegut, not yet finished, not yet published.
A bit of Kurt Vonnegut is always welcome and I came across a piece on him in In These Times.  I like the title - Knowing What's Nice.  The piece is a number of excerpts from some of what he said onstage at the University of Wisconsin in Madison on the evening of September 22, 2003.
And his birthday is the 11th - he'll be eighty-one. 
He says he's a humanist - "Do you know what a Humanist is...?  We Humanists try to behave well without any expectation of rewards or punishments in an afterlife.  We serve as best we can the only abstraction with which we have any real familiarity, which is our community."  I get that.  Makes sense to me.  Best to mistrust larger abstractions.
And what he says of the current crop in Washington?  Seems he thinks they are "congenitally defective human beings of a sort who are making this whole country and many other parts of the planet go completely haywire nowadays.  These are people born without consciences. They know full well the pain their actions may cause others to feel but do not care.  They cannot care.  They came into this world with a screw loose, and now theyre taking charge of everything.  They appear to be great leaders because they are so decisive.  Do this!  Do that!  What makes them so decisive is that they do not care and cannot care what happens next."  Yes, indeed.
My musician friends will appreciate this.  "My epitaph, should I ever need one, God forbid: 'The only proof he ever needed of the existence of God was music.'"  And he says nice things about "Sophisticated Lady" by Duke Ellington - but as for me I could never figure out how to transition gracefully out of the bridge back to the main melody.  A great song but puzzling changes.
He goes on to say this:
I realize that some of you may have come in hopes of hearing tips on how to become a professional writer. I say to you, "If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don't have the nerve to be a homosexual, the least you can do is go into the arts.  But do not use semicolons.  They are transvestite hermaphrodites, standing for absolutely nothing.  All they do is show you've been to college."
But actually, to practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow.  So do it.  Dance on your way out of here.  Sing on your way out of here.  Write a love poem when you get home.  Draw a picture of your bed or roommate.
I recommend reading the whole thing.  His recommended reading list matches mine too - I've quoted de Tocqueville here more than a few times.
And he discusses the novel he'll probably never finish.
You'll find the whole thing here:
Knowing What's Nice
By Kurt Vonnegut 

Film: Jessica and Elizabeth get their movies, for no apparent reason...

Films on network television, November 9, 2003
Saving Jessica Lynch: Movie. 9 p.m. Sunday on NBC.
The Elizabeth Smart Story: Movie. 9 p.m. Sunday on CBS.
Films not on network television:
The Reagans: CBS miniseries, cancelled, and perhaps to be shown on "Showtime," a cable network owned by Viacom, which is in turn owned by General Electric.  General Electric owns CBS.
Saving Jessica Lynch is NBC's fact-based story of the capture and rescue of Private First Class Jessica Lynch during the early stages of the Iraq war.  With conflicting versions of exactly what happened that night in Nasiriyah, NBC has rewritten the script a number of times to try to capture the action-adventure military version while avoiding the problem with the facts in the matter.  The rescue was staged and Lynch now says she doesn't remember anything much.  But she knows she didn't shoot her weapon "to the last and go down fighting" and, in fact, she says she was treated "kindly" by her captors, particularly when she was under medical care.  Our government now says she was raped.  The attending Iraqi physicians say they did a full examination and she certainly was not.  Lynch says she doesn't remember anything - she was out cold most of the time.

One critic, Tim Goodman in the San Francisco Chronicle, says this about the film:
The result is a flat, emotionless, rote mess that is neither good enough to watch nor wretched enough to recommend for cheap laughs.  Saving Jessica Lynch - shamefully stealing from Saving Private Ryan in a last-ditch ruse to lure unsuspecting viewers - is a boondoggle either way you look at it.  The movie seems positively Disney-esque given the daily deaths of U.S. soldiers still stationed in Iraq.  It brushes off the legitimate journalistic contention that the whole rescue was, if nothing else, dramatically overstated, by having one character say, "They'll probably say it didn't happen."
Saving Jessica Lynch was not endorsed by Lynch or her family, relying instead on early newspaper coverage (much of it questioned now) and the tale of the Iraqi lawyer, Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, who told troops of her whereabouts and who now, conveniently, has a book about it, called "Because Each Life Is Precious."
That's NBC's version and it is sticking to it.
Well, harmless enough. 
But consider this.  Jonah Goldberg is the conservative commentator whose essays often appear in Town Hall (see December 2003 Links and Recommendations) and the neoconservative Weekly Standard.  His mother, Lucianne Goldberg, manages a conservative website (Lucianne.com) which links to hundreds of news stories every day and invites commentary from its readers.  Below are open threads where one gets a flavor of conservative reaction to current events.  The two quotes below are in reaction to articles about the Jessica Lynch movie, above.  The link to the open thread was removed early on the 9th - as it seems Mrs. Goldberg was a bit put off by what her readers posted.  I found these before the link was disabled.
"Jessie, shut up. You're going to end up with a bunch of money for all this, and if the needs of your country are met by concocting a story, and it doesn't hurt you, what are you squawking about?"
"What an ungrateful person she is.  Maybe they should have just left her in the hospital with her Iraqi boyfriends."
Emotions run high with this bullshit.
As for the other film, the same critic says this:

As for Elizabeth Smart, at least she's got herself a good TV movie, if not any privacy or normalcy.  The biggest question surrounding The Elizabeth Smart Story is: Why?

The Smart family, also touting a new book, has endorsed this movie.  There were reports that Elizabeth even wanted to play herself in it. T his is a family, and a girl, either astonishingly well-adjusted or in a state of crippling and sad denial.

Why would they want to parade their daughter's terrible experience in a made-for-TV movie - and a book, for that matter?

And why would one watch this?  It's not my business.  Surely it was a bad business, but private.  Watching seems... prurient?   I have the same reaction to all the coverage of the trail of Scott Peterson for the murder of his wife.  Hours of such coverage are available every day, on almost any television channel or radio show.  Reams of discussion have been written.  But that a dim but presentable young man offed his wife last Christmas Eve seems not to be my business at all.  There are no issues here.  It is a bad business, but a private matter.  At least with the Kobe Bryant rape trail one can consider issues of race and fairness in America, and issues around the seeming privilege and immunity of celebrity, and issues regarding the accuser - is it appropriate policy to conceal her identity given one's constitutional right to face and answer ones accuser openly and publicly?  These things are public concerns.

Elizabeth Smart is a kid who went through some bad experiences, as did her family.  And I hope things get better for them.  But I will not watch the film.  I'll leave that to the voyeurs.

As for the Reagan miniseries?  Much has been said.  An unflattering take on a dead public figure?  Fine with me.  He did run the country for eight years, and a different take on his competency is one more opinion.  So?  I guess some opinions are too dangerous.  People shouldn't have them?  That sems to be the current conservative Republican view.  More bullshit.

Music: James Brown, an appreciation by Phillip Raines

This week see this perspective on the recent broadcast of the PBS American Masters episode on James Brown by one our readers, Phillip Raines.  Raines is a working musician, a sax player in the Atlanta area.