The Truth is Hard, But Kinda Funny

Two views of William F. Buckley from the Op-Ed page of today’s New York Times, visible at exactly the same level on the same page of the print edition:

 But most of the world — including most of the Jewish diaspora — will have a hard time coming up with a decent justification for opposing a Palestinian campaign for equal rights. Israel’s apologists will be left mimicking the argument that William F. Buckley once made about the Jim Crow South. In 1957, he asked rhetorically whether the white South was entitled to prevail “politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically.” The “sobering answer,” he concluded, was yes, given the white community’s superior civilization.

–Michelle Goldberg, “Is Liberal Zionism Dead?”

Same page, five inches away:

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Heading Out to the Highway (with David Brooks)

The ethics of driving is a topic dear to my heart, having lost my two closest childhood friends (and the wife of one of those friends, who was also a friend) to traffic accidents, and living as I do in north Jersey, where every day’s commute is a near-death experience. I hate cars, I hate driving, and above all, I hate driving in New Jersey, so I’m always open to anyone who’s willing to trash the way “we” drive, ascribe it to “our” moral failings, and demand that “we” do better. (I hijacked a presentation on the Aristotelian virtue of eubolia at the Felician Ethics Conference this past fall to insist that in the modern world, eubolia is a virtue best exemplified by virtuous drivers.)

This anti-driving (or anti-bad-driving, or anti-ubiquitously-bad-driving) attitude competes with another downer sentiment of mine: I can’t stand David Brooks. Just to be clear: I can’t fucking stand David Brooks.

So I opened up this morning’s New York Times, turned to the Op-Ed page, and faced a bit of a dilemma. Here was David Brooks trashing the way “we” drive, describing Jersey drivers as people who “treat driving as if it were foreplay to genocide,” acknowledging that “driving means making a thousand small decisions” (internalized eubolia, anyone?), and getting a few things right. But like so many so-called dilemmas, this one wasn’t an instance of that fabled entity, the irresolvable ontologically-based moral dilemma, and collapsed before long. Because as per usual, Brooks managed to snatch polemical failure from the jaws of success, re-confirming my hate for everything he writes.   Continue reading

(Law of) Identity Politics

The razor-sharp mind of David Brooks at work, in a column on the recent anti-Trump march on Washington, D.C.:

The biggest problem with identity politics is that its categories don’t explain what is going on now.

Two paragraphs later:

I loathed Trump’s inaugural: It offered a zero-sum, ethnically pure, backward-looking brutalistic nationalism. But it was a coherent vision, and he is rallying a true and fervent love of our home.

So either ethnicity is not a category of identity politics, or the concept of ethnicity is irrelevant to explaining a coherent vision based on a brutal, nationalist conception of ethnic purity.

Either way, rest assured: we can count on David Brooks to light the way in these dark times. Good to know.

Interstellar

I saw “Interstellar” last night–somewhat pathetically, the third film I’ve managed to see in the theaters this calendar year. (The other two were “Omar” and “Atlas Shrugged 3.”) My advice: ignore the nay-saying critics and see it. I didn’t quite understand it, and haven’t quite digested it, but absolutely do not regret having seen the 10:30 pm showing, and staying until 1:20 am.

The two best reviews I read were A.O. Scott’s in The New York Times, and Dana Stevens’s in Slate.  The film does have some flaws, however,  and David Denby’s review in The New Yorker is a painless guide to them.

P.S., Before the feature presentation, I saw a preview for a forthcoming Ridley Scott film, “Exodus: Gods and Kings.” I’ll probably be there when it opens in December, but I’m kind of hoping we don’t get the ancient historical reprise of the other “Exodus” film.  I have to admit that one of these days, I’d really like to see a film version of the Exodus story as depicted from the Canaanite perspective: “Promised Land: Invasion of the Yahwists.” Rated NC-17 for violence and potentially unsettling political implications.

Postscript 2, November 12, 2014. Here’s an interesting real-life postscript to the movie, the European Space Agency’s successful landing of its spaceship Rosetta/Philae on Comet 67P/Churuyomov-Gerasimenko.

Postscript 3, November 16, 2014 (HERE BE SPOILERS): The ending of “Interstellar” seems preposterous to those of unschooled in the relevant physics, but from what I’ve been reading, it’s basically on-target (not that I know). I saw a piece by Neil deGrasse Tyson that gave a scientific thumbs-up to the film, but I lost track of it, so here’s a piece from Time that seems to come to the same conclusions.

Postscript 4, November 20, 2014 (MORE SPOILERS!). The commentary on “Interstellar” keeps coming, and I keep reading it. Here’s an  intelligent piece by Dennis Overbye, mostly focused on the science of the film.

By contrast, David Brooks, who focuses on the non-scientific elements of the film, is predictably vacuous, as he is on most subjects. Brooks is right that the film offers some insightful depictions of non-romantic love. But this gets things wildly wrong:

On top of that, there is an even more attenuated love. It’s the love humans have for their ancestors and the love they have for the unborn. In the movie, 12 apostles go out alone into space to look for habitable planets. They are sacrificing their lives so that canisters of frozen embryos can be born again in some place far away.

Nolan wants us to see the magnetic force of these attachments: The way attachments can exert a gravitational pull on people who are separated by vast distances or even by death. Their attention is riveted by the beloved. They hunger for reunion.

Actually, you could more plausibly argue that Nolan wants us to see the perversity of such attachments–attachments to potential beings that require the sacrifice of actual ones. Can we really love our distant and anonymous ancestors, much less love frozen embryos? The claim is simply preposterous, and ignores what the film is really about.

More Brooksoid blather:

Bloggers have noticed the religious symbols in the movie. There are those 12 apostles, and there’s a Noah’s ark. There is a fallen angel named Dr. Mann who turns satanic in an inverse Garden of Eden. The space project is named Lazarus. The heroine saves the world at age 33. There’s an infinitely greater and incorporeal intelligence offering merciful salvation.