January 18, 2007

Old Man’s War

Just finished Old Man’s War. It had been favorably reviewed by someone whose opinion I respect, and it had received a certain amount of buzz for being picked up as a book after the author serialized it on his own website.

Didn’t do much for me. Admittedly, I now see that PNH refers to it as a “juvenile,” and I suppose it’s fine as juveniles go. As adult fiction, it’s flat and shallow.

What’s the Matter with Kansas?

Read What’s the Matter with Kansas? recently. The book homed in on and answered a question that has been bugging me for a long time.

The way I see it, the Republican party doesn’t seem like it should hold together as a single party. There are the country-club conservatives, people interested in laissez-faire economic policies (or blatantly favorable economic policies) and not particularly interested in social issues. And there are the red-meat conservatives, who seem more populist, but are mostly interested in social issues. The way I’ve always perceived it, each pays lip-service to the interests of the other, but ultimately their interests don’t overlap, and may even clash.

Kansas responds to this directly, and essentially portrays the plebian red-meat conservatives as the willing dupes of the country-club conservatives, who push on hot-button issues to get them worked up, without ever really throwing them a bone. People always talk about banning abortion, but nobody ever does anything about it.

And this is where I find a point of disagreement: over the past few years, right-wing triumphalism has led to more actual action on those issues. South Dakota did outlaw abortion. Most states have constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.

And of course, over the past 6 years, a different wing of conservatism has achieved prominence, the neoconservatives, the foreign-intervention maximalists. Frank doesn’t really address this faction, but in the current political climate, it’s impossible to talk about politics without talking about that.

Still, these are isolated problems in what is otherwise an interesting and entertaining read. Frank does show how the embrace of laissez-faire principles has damaged Kansas, but those principles have become part of the red-meat faction’s holy crusade, even to the direct self-impoverishment of its members. And shows how the bizarre history of the state brought them 180° politically to where they are.

Children of men

Saw Children of Men. See this movie. Very powerful. It gets inside your head in a way few movies do. The visuals—the set dressing, etc—are all an important part of the story and deeply layered, and invite repeat viewings.

The Good Shepherd

Saw The Good Shepherd recently. Interesting but flawed movie.


  • It’s long. Really long. At 165 minutes, it can only be considered self-indulgently long (it’s been a pet project of De Niro’s for a decade). And it’s not exactly as if every one of those minutes is action-packed.
  • Matt Damon plays the part of Edward Wilson, a buttoned-down CIA man (a fictionalized version of the actual James Jesus Angleton), but his portrayal is so buttoned-down that it’s hard for the audience to get inside his head at all. Why does he join the CIA? Why does he do anything? He’s a cipher.

Still, there are worse ways to spend a cold and rainy afternoon.

The movie covers the life of Wilson from college through middle age, and it’s amusing to note that boy-faced Matt Damon looks the same throughout the movie, but Angelina Jolie, who plays his wife, has obviously been made up (or digitally rejuvenated in post) to look young in college-age scenes—when she first appeared on-screen, I was surprised—“that sounds like Angelina Jolie, and it looks like a younger version of her, but that’s not her.”