Monday, September 29, 2014

Cults and Cruelty

Okay, cut it out Ross Douthat, it's getting spooky now. I swear I had been meaning all week to write something about cults and totalistic movements (Robert Lifton's term); I just needed that one galvanic jolt from the outside world that gives a potential blog topic some claim to newsworthiness and urgency-- and that bothers me enough to set my internal furnaces of outrage belching again. And there, in my hour of need, was Ross Douthat's column on the New York Times Op-Ed page yesterday morning-- treating the subject I wanted to write about, and taking a stance toward it that was perfectly calibrated to rile me up. And this despite the fact that there's been nothing in the news or elsewhere that would explain why we were both thinking, at this particular moment, about cults! Yikes. Why should I, of all people, gain clairvoyance into the mind of Douthat, of all people?-- and why should these sympathies of interest be accompanied by such violent antipathies of outlook? Oh well.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Iraq, Syria, and Commentarial Truancy

I've been meaning to write something for weeks now about America's deepening military engagement in Iraq and Syria, but I've been afflicted with a terrible writer's block every time I tried to do so. I get the feeling I'm not alone in this. Of course, now, a month or so in, and in light of the decision to arm the Syrian rebels, the blogs and opinion pages are finally starting to light up with concern. But for a while there, I think no one really wanted to speak, for once. So they tried saying nothing, and hoped no one would notice. And no one did. History kept uncoiling in front of them, despite their silence.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Hell, Again

A friend recently asked about an argument I had made in the early days of this blog about the Christian doctrine of hell -- I'm against it, it turns out. The trouble is that I seem spiritually -- even somatically -- incapable of just declaring that I am against it and moving on. For me, this doctrine is that eternally festering ideological wound-- the one that every writer or blogger or op-ed hack has a version of (else why would they be compelled to go on saying the same things over and over again?). It's the inner scab that gets accidentally reopened by innocent bystanders from time to time -- and compels one to get on one's hobby horse again and ride the poor nag into the ground.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Rand Paul: The Prison Reform Candidate?

Earlier in the summer, when the unrest in Ferguson, MO was beginning in earnest, I recall seeing at least two different commentators make the same point about the Republican response to these events. Namely, they argued that this response was surprisingly favorable to the protestors in Ferguson, given what has been standard GOP rhetoric on race, crime, and law enforcement since at least 1968. Could it be, they queried, that something fundamental has changed in the Republican stance on these issues in the last few years? First it was Peter Beinart in The Atlantic who made the suggestion, then I saw Thomas Edsall in the New York Times saying something similar shortly thereafter. Evidently, conventional wisdom was flying into formation at light speed.

Monday, September 1, 2014

"William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe" (2009): A Review

Labor Day is as good a time as any to reflect on left-wing icons from the last century, and it was in that spirit that I rented "William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe" last night and pressed play. As the film progressed, so did my emotional state.  I found myself at first balling my hands in rage and pausing the movie every few seconds to argue with the narrator; then my attitude shifted to cool tolerance as I began waiting for the thing to end, so I could write a devastating critique on this blog; ten minutes away from the finish, however, and my mood changed completely. It suddenly became clear that I had been "had" by the film, in the best possible way. That is to say, my earlier anger had been the deliberate consequence of the narrative technique of the film, and this made me feel both relieved and embarrassed. By the end, however, I was too deeply moved to care about either feeling.  In short, I found this to be an astonishing documentary by two very gifted filmmakers.