Monday, June 13, 2011

Tree, Weiner, Sarah and Donne

Here are some thoughts in passing on matters of the moment...

Tree of Life

The three film directors working today whose work I most admire are Ang Lee, Peter Weir and Terrence Malick. Recently I saw Malick's new film, Tree of Life, and I found it breathtakingly beautiful and brilliant. It is not a film for everyone; you must have a certain level of film culture in order to understand its intent and appreciate its execution. This is a film about the tragedy and travails of a Waco, Texas, family in the 1950s that includes dinosaurs and the Big Bang. In short, it is an art film, the kind of film I watched when I was in film school; the kind of film that is rarely if ever made these days. But it is a masterpiece, and when it was over, I was speechless.

Malick is a visionary, a poetic filmmaker who reminds us that film is essentially a visual medium. He never hesitates to stop a film cold and demand that we look at an image, indeed, meditate on it. His cinema is almost mystical in its quest to find the most profound meaning in the most mundane image - a bird in flight, a young woman in love in flight, a child's imagination in flight. Tree of Life is a magnificent visual poem about life and hope and love; the kind of film which only a visionary of Malick's talent and integrity could have conceived and accomplished. Credit must also be given to Bill Pohlad of River Road Films for having had the courage and independence to bring this work of art to the screen.

Weiner's Dilemma

I do not share the incipient delight of most conservatives at the auto-destruction of Congressman Anthony Weiner, though I do welcome his imminent departure from the political scene. The embarrassment caused by him to his constituents and to his family, and the deepening sense of cynicism which his arrogant stupidity must engender, are not a cause for celebration. I have long felt that Congressman Weiner, in his hubris, self-righteous elitism and nasty-minded behavior represented a threat to the nation. We now see that they represent a threat to himself.

Weiner's smug, bullying far-left politics are, in my view, dangerous to the Republic. Weiner, and those like him on the left, despise the United States and the values upon which it was founded, and seek nothing more ardently than to transform it into their elitist concept of a socialist oligarchy over which they alone will have control. He has not learned the lesson of history, that those who erode democracy in favor of centralized control in the name of ideology become the first victims of the concomitant loss of liberty. While I take no joy in the manner of his demise, I do welcome his disappearance. If he is capable of feeling shame about his own misbehavior, and compassion for those whom he has injured by it, he will resign.

Palin Obsession

Why is the mainstream media so obsessed with Sarah Palin? I heard a report recently that even they now admit that their absorption with her is excessive, and like addicts, they are trying to wean (or Weiner) themselves from it. That the media is shamefully biased toward the left is indisputable; but the unceasing reportage on everything to do with Governor Palin, her family and her aspirations is, quite frankly, bewildering to me. She does not hold public office and does not appear to be seeking to hold public office, yet the leftist press covers her as if she were the Empress of America gone berserk.

Now let me be clear: I am not a fan of Governor Palin. Though I find her generally sincere, in my view she has turned herself into a joke, and I earnestly hope that she does not enter the presidential race. But for the press to demand the release of thousands of her emails as governor, and to send dozens of reporters to Alaska to comb through them looking for scandal or dirt, for the editors of the New York Times and Washington Post to ask its readers to help them to sift through the massive release and report back to them, goes far beyond any normal interest in a former public servant. In fact, it strikes me as a new low in journalistic standards.

I can only imagine that the self-important poohbahs of the press hate Sarah Palin, and that they hate her because they fear her. Yet given her lack of official standing, surely this fear is irrational. But the fact is that she speaks to average Americans with an earnestness and a plainness which the mainstream press have long since eschewed in their elitist righteousness, and in their firm conviction that they own the news in America, and only they have a right to shape public opinion. Sarah Palin, for all her missteps and shortcomings, threatens their ossifying grip on opinion in our society, and they cannot forgive or forget her for it.

Bin Laden

In much the same spirit in which I wrote about Anthony Weiner, I felt no need to celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden. In fact, I found the spectacle of people cheering in the streets at the news troubling. It reminded me of reports I had seen of Palestinians dancing publicly in the wake of the 9-11 attacks. Both demonstrations, I thought, were inappropriate to the point of being repulsive. As the poet, John Donne, said: Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.

I learned the news of bin Laden's death with a feeling of relief, and a rather grim sense that justice had at last been done. He was a murderer, a lunatic, a religious fanatic. He made a sham of the faith he claimed to propound, and, as all cowards do, he sent young, brainwashed followers out to die, while he remained in safety. His death was the inevitable end of a despicable despot.

That said, I continue to be troubled by the official reports of the circumstances surrounding it. At first the Administration claimed he had been killed in the course of a fierce and protracted gun battle, and only after having refused to surrender and having lunged for a weapon. As the hours and days went by, all that changed. There was no gun battle, evidently no attempt to take him into custody, and no resistance on his part. It seems in the end of it that he was simply shot to death, unarmed, in front of one of his wives. The public lack of will to learn the truth in this killing is understandable given the subject of the story; nonetheless, I believe that history demands it.

If, as it now appears, the raiders simply burst in on bin Laden with orders to kill him, then the President has violated American law. I refer, of course, to the Presidential directive issued by Jimmy Carter prohibiting the United States from engaging in the assassination of any foreign leader. As far as I know, no one in the media or the political establishment has raised this question. We would, I suppose, prefer just to forget the matter. But my reading of history tells me that such matters reawaken eventually and at great cost. Perhaps, rather than boast of the event, we ought to be examining it soberly and, as bin Laden never would have done, in the light of reason and the law. That is the best way to put his lethal legacy behind us.