Friday, July 31, 2009
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Nerd Journal: "I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered!" -- the new Prisoner!
- The official website of the new "Prisoner" at AMCTV.
- The new "Prisoner" is at Comic-Con.
- Wired.Com interviews Jim Caviezel. And also interviews Ian McKellen.
- Nine minutes of video from the show! Take a look!
I know, most of you have already figured out why I oppose national health care. In a nutshell, I hate the poor and want them to die so that all my rich friends can use their bodies as mulch for their diamond ranches. But y'all keep asking, so here goes the longer explanation.
Once the government gets into the business of providing our health care, the government gets into the business of deciding whose life matters, and how much. It gets into the business of deciding what we "really" want, where what we really want can never be a second chocolate eclair that might make us a size fourteen and raise the cost of treating us.I realize that to most people, these are airy-fairy considerations that should be overridden by the many "practical" considerations of the awesomenes of central health care. Well, I'm actually pretty underwhelmed by that awesomeness, for reasons I'll happily elaborate elsewhere. But not here, because fundamentally, to me, the effect on the tax code and the relative efficiency of various sorts of bureaucracy are mostly beside the point. The real issue is the effect on future lives, and future freedom. And in my opinion, they way in overwhelmingly on the side of stopping further government encroachments into health care provision.
There is only one kind of 'alcohol educator' worth listening to, and they are called sommeliers.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
. . . the U.K. is by far the most unpleasant country in which to be ill in the Western world. Even Greeks living in Britain return home for medical treatment if they are physically able to do so.Oh, my! As usual, the best medical advice is "Don't get sick."
The government-run health-care system—which in the U.K. is believed to be the necessary institutional corollary to an inalienable right to health care—has pauperized the entire population. This is not to say that in every last case the treatment is bad: A pauper may be well or badly treated, according to the inclination, temperament and abilities of those providing the treatment. But a pauper must accept what he is given.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Academic freedom is about freedom for the academy to irritate the outside world without consequences. It’s not freedom to depart from the conventional wisdom of the academy.
I tend to distrust power unchecked by competition. This makes me particularly suspicious of federal policies that take a strong role in directing private decisions.. . . This philosophical inclination most likely influences my views of the healthcare debate. The more power a centralized government authority asserts, the more worried I am that the power will be misused either purposefully or, more likely, because of some well-intentioned but mistaken social theory. I prefer reforms that set up rules of the game but end up with power over key decisions as decentralized as possible.
The second instalment in the chronicles of Isambard Smith - Captain in the service of the British Space Empire - and of his android pilot Polly Carveth and loyal and noble friend the psychopathic alien headhunter, Suruk. Tea... a beverage brewed from the fermented dried leaves of the shrub Camellia sinensis and imbibed by all the great civilisations in the galaxy's history; a source of refreshment, stimulation and, above all else, of moral fibre - without which the British Space Empire must surely crumble to leave Earth at the mercy of its enemies. Sixty per cent of the Empire's tea is grown on one world: Urn, principal planet of the Didcot system. If Earth is to keep fighting, the tea must flow. When a crazed cult leader overthrows the government of Urn, Isambard Smith and his vaguely competent crew find themselves saddled with new allies: a legion of tea-obsessed nomads, an overly-civilised alien horde and a commando unit so elite that it only has five members. Only together can they defeat the self-proclaimed God Emperor of Didcot and confront the true power behind the coup: the sinister legions of the Ghast Empire and Smith's old enemy, Commander 462.
Stupid-Gate Update: Cambridge Cops vs. Identity Politics -- Plus Quote of the Day and Iowahawk Satire Alert
Check out Ms. King calling out various people for rushing to judgment without having all the facts. Heck, yeah.
I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.
RELATED POST: Mark Steyn on Stupid-Gate.
Monday, July 27, 2009
The unfortunate reality for all Taiwan citizens is that Ma's image as a superior leader has been built on the incompetence of others and the fact that his relatively high approval rates were derived from his personal image instead of appreciation for his actual (in)competence and the lackluster performance of his administrative team.Indecisiveness and lack of transparency in decision-making, inability to impose internal discipline, excessive uses of double-standards in political manoeuvring and outright opportunism constitute Ma's political weaknesses.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
We are headed now, it seems, into a legal thicket created by the incompatibility of two notions of equality: "disparate impact" and "equal protection under the law." The former is a legalism evolved from judicial interpretations of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act; the latter is a constitutional guarantee.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
By common consent, the most memorable moment of Barack Obama's otherwise listless press conference on "health care" were his robust remarks on the "racist" incident involving professor Henry Louis Gates and the Cambridge police. The latter "acted stupidly," pronounced the chief of state. The president of the United States may be reluctant to condemn Ayatollah Khamenei or Hugo Chávez or that guy in Honduras without examining all the nuances and footnotes, but sometimes there are outrages so heinous that even the famously nuanced must step up to the plate and speak truth to power. And thank God the leader of the free world had the guts to stand up and speak truth to municipal police Sgt. James Crowley.
This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our "solution" to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we've received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.With deep apology to our customers,Jeff BezosFounder & CEOAmazon.com
Friday, July 24, 2009
A braver cook than I actually made this cake. The verdict? I quote: "If not for the dirty, swinish note at the end of each bite, it would have utterly won me over."
Um . . . yeah. EWWWWWW!
Only a year ago, Harvard had a $36.9 billion endowment, the largest in academia. Now that endowment has imploded, and the university faces the worst financial crisis in its 373-year history. Could the same lethal mix of uncurbed expansion, colossal debt, arrogance, and mismanagement that ravaged Wall Street bring down America’s most famous university?I wouldn't be surprised.
I like this piquant comparison between old Red and new Green (both want to control you, after all, in the name of "the Greater Good"):
Ideologies often credit man with either more nobility or more venality than he deserves. In reality he is a mundane creature. He wants a home for himself and those he loves, stocked with food. And he wants to have the right to control his own destiny, own his own stuff, and to acquire more if he can without interference or fear of imminent death. Such low-level acquisitive desires support high concepts: property rights and the rule of law, without which there would be no foundation for democracy.Yes! That's me. My basic political position is "Leave Me Alone To Live My Little Life."
So . . . since I am on the record as being both anti-Red and anti-Green, does this make me doubly evil? Tee hee!
My desire to live a free, mundane life is a fundamental cog in our messy, glorious, capitalist democracy. It is built on millions of such small entrenched positions. Red-filtered, my desires are despicable and bourgeois and must be beaten out of me with indoctrination or force. Green-filtered, my small desires are despicable acts of ecological vandalism. My house is a carbon factory. My desire to travel, to own stuff, to eat meat, to procreate, to heat my house, to shower for a really, really long time; all are evil.The word evil is used advisedly. Both the green and red positions are infused with overpowering religiosity. Dissenters from the consensus are shunned apostates. Professor Ian Pilmer, the Australian geologist and climate change sceptic, could not find a publisher for his book Heaven and Earth, which questions the orthodoxy about global warming. He is the subject of hate mail and demonstrations. It is entirely immaterial whether he is right or wrong. An environment that stifles his right to a voice is worse than one that is overheating.
As for Far-Out Green as some kind of crazy pseudo-cult, I've said that many times before.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Leszek Kolakowski, a Polish philosopher who rejected Marxism and helped inspire the Solidarity movement in his native land while living in exile, died Friday in Oxford, England. He was 81.Godspeed, sir.
In Warsaw, Parliament held a moment of silence in his honor, for his service to Poland's freedom.
In a long and wide-ranging career, Mr. Kolakowski most famously dissected the intellectual underpinnings of the Communist system he had supported as a young man, at the height of the cold war’s ideological and military arms race. He was an academic whose influence reached far beyond the academy’s gates and a scholar whose writings could be playful and satirical, but most of all, accessible.. . . His most influential work, the three-volume “Main Currents of Marxism: Its Rise, Growth and Dissolution,” published in the 1970s, was a history and critique that called the philosophy “the greatest fantasy of our century.” He argued that Stalinism was not a perversion of Marxist thought, but rather its natural conclusion.
For all the talk about how research universities place an increasing value on teaching, a survey on tenure standards in political science departments finds not only that research remains dominant, but that poor teaching may be tolerated at doctoral-granting universities.A national survey of department chairs found that superior research compensates for "mediocre teaching" at 55 percent of Ph.D. granting institutions, compared to 34 percent of master's institutions and 17 percent of bachelor's institutions.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Information-controlling companies want to avoid the label Orwellian, but it certainly doesn't help when the thing you're being Orwellian about is the work of George Orwell.
In 1920, Charles M. Higgins, an Irish immigrant (and local history buff) decided to build an altar on Battle Hill to the long-slighted Revolutionary War Battle of Long Island, the first major battle after the Declaration of Independence. He chose to top the monument with a statue of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom. Perhaps anticipating that Minerva might get lonely at the top, he made sure she had a friend nearby: Minerva’s waving hand is reciprocated directly 3.5 miles to the West by Lady Liberty’s upraised torch.
Monday, July 20, 2009
See NASA's website for more on the moon landing (including video). Get your lunar overdose here!
Explore Earth's satellite with Google Moon. Neat!
DVD recommendation: 1995's "Apollo 13." (Yes, yes, I know it's not Apollo 11. But it gives you a sense of the risk, work, dedication, and human element involved in the space program. Plus Gary Sinise and Ed Harris turn in great performances.)
Book to consider: sci fi giant Robert A. Heinlein's complicated The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress about a lunar colony's revolt from its masters on Earth.
I've been mad about space ever since I was little. I wanted to be an astronomer when I was very small. And, yes, I've visited Space Camp!
The President’s advisers promised him that taking a principled stand on settlements would generate goodwill in the Arab world. There is no doubt that the Cairo speech struck a chord with many Arabs. But goodwill of that sort is not a strategic commodity. Even a popular honest broker cannot reshape the iron interests of the parties on the ground, none of whom see much benefit in taking risks to achieve a goal that they do not really believe in. Many Western diplomats tell themselves that peace is nearly at hand, but the parties on the ground—Arab and Jewish alike—are highly skeptical. And for good reason. The power of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syria, supported by Iran, looms in the background. It is highly unlikely that, in the next four years, a major breakthrough will take place. In order to maintain good relations with Washington, the leaders in the region will certainly play along with the Obama administration. But the name of their game is not “Peacemaking” but, rather, “Shift the Blame.” Its object is to take positions that paint one’s rivals as the real obstructionists in the eyes of Washington.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Which artifacts would you include among the 100? Tough -- and delightful -- question! They have to be man-made artifacts.
But the consequence of funding the metastasization of government through the confiscation of the fruits of the citizen's labor is the remorseless shriveling of liberty.Now that's a lovely turn of phrase. The article in which it appears is also worth your time. (Mark Steyn always is, even when you don't agree with him.)
The second quote is also from the same source; Steyn quotes one history professor (Paul Rahe) who says this:
Human dignity is bound up with taking responsibility for conducting one's own affairs.Yes! Citizens or subjects? Citizens or sheep?
Bonus: Lots of quotes from Tocqueville in the article. I do love me some Tocqueville.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Ma Ying-jeou is a FREAKING DISASTER. He could go down in history as the guy who presided over Taiwan's destruction as an independent democratic state. I cannot BELIEVE the sort of news I hear coming out of Taiwan. Oh, plenty of people are furious as all get out, but Ma is calling the shots. Does he just not understand the dangers here? Is he that naive that he actually believes Beijing's protestations of good will? Or is he and the KMT perfectly happy to sell out the democrats in exchange for goodies and privileges as imperial satraps to Beijing?
Excuse me while I go beat my head against the wall.
Here is a piquant summation of government involvement in the world of student loans:
From a simple loan-guarantee program to a “public option” to a union-staffed, government-run monopoly in 44 years: “This is sort of a long progression that shows you how the federal government can take over an economy,” says Neal McCluskey, associate director of the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom. “We’ve pushed out private lenders who had a legitimate interest in making sure someone has the ability to succeed in college, graduate, and pay back the loan, and we’ve made this just pure welfare.”There's a case to be made against more college entitlements, and Reason has a fresh video on just this issue.
Look, Obama's education policy ideas are a disaster waiting to happen. They will make the cost of education even higher. I am dead serious about this.
~Following Lance on Twitter is FABULOUS!
~What was the deal with the radio ban a couple days ago? It seemed to be a collective fit of nostalgia for how cycling was done long ago. Trying to turn back the clock to a simpler era? (Here's a snarky British commentary.)
~Levi Leipheimer crashed and broke his wrist yesterday, and he's out of the Tour. Oh, no! That's horrible! (There's a fresh video update from him on his website -- cast and all.)
~Is this the rainiest Tour ever or what? Here in Nerdworld, the rain is never-ending, too.
~A thought: Actual racing and cyclists aside, commentator Bob Roll is one of my favorite things about the Tour. He's crazy, amusing, energetic, and completely unlike any other commentator. I found this article about him from 2007, and the basic ideas are still true. If you don't know who Bob "Bobke" Roll is, check out this little blurb from him:
"On Tour," says Roll, a former professional cyclist and member of the original 7-Eleven cycling team, "no matter how perfectly you spoke French, [French waiters] pretended like they didn't understand you. That got old real fast. To get revenge, I decided to mispronounce as many French words as I could. Then I got to doing it all the time."That's simply hilarious . . . and sounds pretty much like the sort of stuff I would do.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
"... reaching out to our enemies at the expense of our friends just leads to fewer friends and more enemies."Too true. Why even BE a friend, if the enemies get all the goodies?
One thought, though: what do we do with "frenemies"?
- "China's False Monoculture" -- the myth of Chinese homogeneity; China's not nearly as uniform as people think. In fact, only about half the population speaks Mandarin, and China has dozens of (officially recognized) minority people groups and plenty of strange "autonomous regions." Recent riots by Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang and last year's unrest in Tibet should be reminders of ethnic/tribal/social/religious/cultural chasms, exacerbated by China's use of force to absorb minority groups.
- "When China Rules the World" -- Hey, we welcome our new insect overlords. Or not.
- "China's 100 Years of Ineptitude" -- or why China's not going to rule the world, or even Asia. (Do you really think that the true Asian democracies will meekly roll over and accept the hegemony of China?)
It has some sobering parallels and corollaries for us Yanks too, you know. The last thing education at any level needs is more government MEDDLING and pie-eyed utopian visions of classroom as social engineering laboratory for "social justice" and whatnot.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Is choosing between Big Business and Big Government really choosing the lesser of two evils? Or is this actually a false dichotomy (and one that's vastly reductive)?
Bonus: a quote from Ayn Rand.
I'll be seeing it in a few days, and I'll post a review when I do!
Monday, July 13, 2009
Sunday, July 12, 2009
(Still, some things are just pricelessly precious.)
Anyway, here is an interesting link (filched from Neatorama) about how the average American family spends its income, according to a new survey by the US Department of Labor. Of course, when it comes to the actual percentages, YMMV. Check out the intriguing graphic (click to enlarge).
Number 3 made me laugh: "Leech wifi from your neighbor."
Number 4 made me laugh harder: "Screw with wifi leeches."
Number 96 is my favorite, though.
Friday, July 10, 2009
Anyway, there is something so elemental about the mountain stages. In the end, it's about a guy and his bike, taking on Nature itself. (Plus the whole thing is like a metaphor for grad school!) It's about endurance and grit, and I love how the fans cheer on everybody. All those guys are amazing athletes, and they're going to be doing punishing rides nearly everyday until July 26 when the Tour ends in Paris. This whole thing is an epic odyssey.
So! Are you gentler readers out there watching the Tour too?
Here's something else you might find interesting: a BUNCH of my friends are rabid Tour fans with me. Every summer we're utter addicts and junkies for the entire duration of the race. Are you surprised that the ladies love the Tour too? (And no, it's not only about Lance.)
Take a look and listen to these 10 delightful musical cartoons. Classical music has never been so much fun. (Link via Miss Cellania.)
Thursday, July 09, 2009
Oh, Iowahawk. We're not worthy, we're not worthy! Blurb:
READ THE WHOLE THING.
LOS ANGELES - Millions of fans from around the globe gathered along Sunset Boulevard to pay final respects to California today, as a slow moving funeral procession transported the eccentric superstar state's remains to its final resting place in a Winchell's Donuts dumpster in Van Nuys. The self-proclaimed 'King of Pop Culture' died last week at 160, in what coroners ruled an accidental case of financial autoerotic asphyxiation. The death sent shock waves across the world and sparked an outpouring of grief by rabid fans.
"I don't care what the tabloids and the Wall Street Journal say," said a weeping Illinois. "I still love you, Cali!"The 640-mile long funeral parade route was lined with flowers, candles, teddy bears, and IOUs from millions of mourners and debtors who made the somber journey to watch the passing of the state that had once ruled the box office and industrial charts.
You know what? I'm going to make a new tag just for Iowahawk.
This news story makes me deliriously happy! Blurb:
Oxford University Press is publishing the world’s first historical thesaurus. This is a vast work, with about a million meanings organised into a quarter of a million categories. It has taken 50 years and millions of hours by scholars to produce. This is a gigantic Roget, but with the words dated chronologically. So it answers the question: “Which words were available to express concept X at period Y?”, from Beowulf to Beckett.Awesome!
Have even the liberal cheerleaders begun to lose patience with the Obama Show? Enough already mucking about making pretentious speeches and grand gestures. There's a lot of show-offery in the Obama Show, isn't there? Then again, his proposed economic and domestic policies are so catastrophically unwise and economically suicidal that maybe it's not SUCH a bad thing to have him cavorting around waxing eloquent about Pakistani cooking and Urdu poetry.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
(Warning: Angry History Nerd Rant coming in 3... 2... 1...)
Did the Cold War end because one day everyone simply and magically woke up and decided, "Hey, let's just change our attitudes, hold hands, sing Kumbaya, and be friends?" Sure, one day the Soviets just decided, hey, let's all be friends. All of their own accord.
WELL, DID IT END THAT WAY?
I DON'T REMEMBER THAT BEING HOW THE END CAME, PEOPLE.
AND I DON'T REMEMBER THAT BEING HOW THE END CAME, MR. PRESIDENT.
Here is a piece of Obama's speech in Moscow to the students of the New Economic School, and I am frankly angry about the disingenuous whitewashing and -- fine, let's say it -- willful distortion and mangling of history. I've been critical of Obama's tenuous grasp of history before, as you well know, but this time I'm aggravated enough to rant.
I really shouldn't rant because I have deadlines for papers and no time, but I will do the following. I shall quote you the bit of the speech that sent me into a fury, and you tell me if you can see what's wrong with it. I'll even highlight the bit I especially want you to read:
Like President Medvedev and myself, you're not old enough to have witnessed the darkest hours of the Cold War, when hydrogen bombs were tested in the atmosphere, and children drilled in fallout shelters, and we reached the brink of nuclear catastrophe. But you are the last generation born when the world was divided. At that time, the American and Soviet armies were still massed in Europe, trained and ready to fight. The ideological trenches of the last century were roughly in place. Competition in everything from astrophysics to athletics was treated as a zero-sum game. If one person won, then the other person had to lose.O RLY? O RLY? PFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFT. Tell me, do you notice anything missing from this account?
And then, within a few short years, the world as it was ceased to be. Now, make no mistake: This change did not come from any one nation. The Cold War reached a conclusion because of the actions of many nations over many years, and because the people of Russia and Eastern Europe stood up and decided that its end would be peaceful.
Read the whole thing.
Of $157.8 billion "made available" under the stimulus, only $56.3 billion has been paid out — or 7% of the total $787 billion. And according to ex-Treasury Department economist Bruce Bartlett, "just 11% of the the discretionary spending on highways, mass transit, energy efficiency and other programs involving direct government purchases will have been spent by the end of this fiscal year."
Based on this, there are only two possible conclusions: One, the stimulus has been the most inept public waste of money in history. Or two, it was a cynical attempt by the Democrats to vastly expand the scope of government during a time of crisis. Or maybe it's both.
After all, how else could a government seize major parts of a once-private economy with nary a peep? How else could it boost spending to record levels, then blame earlier administrations for their fiscal incontinence? And how else could they add $10 trillion to the nation's debt in just 10 years and still claim fiscal prudence?
This is just depressing. I'm going back to my research and the Tour de Lance.
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Monday, July 06, 2009
SHANGHAI -- The official death toll in riots in China's northwestern Xinjiang region rose sharply Monday, with the government saying that 140 had been killed in what appears to be one of the deadliest episodes of unrest in China in decades.What is going on over there?
Police said at least 828 other people were injured in violence that began Sunday in Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital. Witnesses said the conflicts pitted security forces against demonstrators, and members of the region's Turkic-speaking Uighur ethnic group against members of the country's Han Chinese majority. Many among the predominantly Muslim Uighurs have chafed at Chinese government rule.
The official tally of dead and injured increased Monday as more information came out of Urumqi through the state-run Xinhua news agency, although it appeared that most or all of the violence had ended by the early hours of Monday.
Meanwhile, none of this has appeared in the MSM because it's too busy frothing over Michael Jackson.
With the clock running out on a new US-Russian arms treaty before the previous Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, expires on December 5, a senior White House official said Sunday said that the difficulty of the task might mean temporarily bypassing the Senate’s constitutional role in ratifying treaties by enforcing certain aspects of a new deal on an executive levels and a “provisional basis” until the Senate ratifies the treaty.Dude, where's my Constitution? Senate ratification is specifically written into the Constitution as part of its system of checks-and-balances, and it's there to balance/counteract the executive branch.
(The requirement is 2/3 of the Senate. Would Obama really have such a hard time getting the 60 Dems in the Senate to ratify his treaty? Call me crazy, but I'm beginning to think this administration is much too much in love with the idea not only of an ever-expanding federal government, but also with the idea of an ever-expanding executive branch at the head of that ballooning government. People yelled and screamed about an overly powerful executive when Bush was in office; where's the howling now?)
Sunday, July 05, 2009
Saturday, July 04, 2009
"We must, indeed, all hang together or most assuredly we shall all hang separately!"
--Benjamin Franklin's quip on declaring independence
It all happened 233 years ago in Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Let's celebrate by re-reading Jefferson's famous words:
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
"I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp & parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore."Yes, indeed! It was, though, only the beginning. Independence was declared in 1776, but it took many more years of hardship in the American Revolution to win freedom at last in 1781. Looking back now at history with 20/20 vision, things seem so certain -- but only because we know what would happen. We forget how difficult it was to bring forth a nation, now the oldest modern democracy in the world, but which in 1776 was a bold experiment. (And here is a great quote and a nice editorial.)
History aside, it's a HOLIDAY, so it is time to enjoy and have a good time! Bring on the fireworks, picnics, cookouts, parades, music, and festivities. Here are a few Fourth of July links to give your day a flourish of fun:
- How to photograph fireworks.
- 50 movies for 50 states.
- A cake suitable for the occasion!
- I've been telling you forever to read David McCullough's excellent book 1776. Go. Read. Now.
Friday, July 03, 2009
Having said that, though, director Michael Mann's film has its fair share of problems. It is a good film but not a great one, when it had all the makings of being a truly great one. Unrealized potential is a very special kind of failure. Here, it left me with a restless sense of unfulfilment; it seemed as if the film were on a leash for 2 hours and never quite let go to run passionately riot as it should, and Mann never quite manages to get under Dillinger's and Purvis's skin to figure out what really, viscerally made them tick as human beings. In the end, there's more crime than drama in this crime drama -- and that in itself is a cinematic crime.
There is a visual lyricism in this film that is undeniable. It's a splendidly gorgeous film to see, and the attention to detail is remarkable. The movie manages to evoke and create an entire vanished world -- and, what's more difficult still -- to sustain that. Oh, and I absolutely love the vintage cars.
From jailbreaks to bank robberies to shootouts, who doesn't love a beautifully filmed action scene?
Marion Cotillard as Billie Frechette
OK, I confess: part of me was hoping Cotillard's performance would be bad just so I could entitle this review "Moll Flounders, with apologies to Daniel Defoe." But Cotillard is very good indeed and she has no missteps at all (and I still got to use that bad literary pun, so all is well!). In fact, Cotillard's performance is one of the highlights of the film. Straight from her Oscar-winning turn in "La Vie en Rose," she brings a sense of fragile humanity to her role as Dillinger's lover, and she elevates the part of "gangster's moll"from mere obligatory guys' eye candy to a picture of desperate desire both for love and for a better life. She becomes a woman worth risking capture for. Her final scene is fantastic.
Johnny Depp as John Dillinger:
This film hinges entirely on Depp's performance. I knew this going into the theater. What I hadn't anticipated was that Depp single-handedly makes this movie worth watching -- and single-handedly saves it from its own flaws.
Depp has made an entire storied career from playing quirky, eccentric characters, and the role that finally catapulted him into superstardom (Captain Jack Sparrow) fit right into the pattern. Here he tackles the role of Dillinger with gusto, though I think the character's underwritten and underdeveloped -- the writers could have done more with him, so Depp in turn could do more with him. As things are, you get occasional flashes of brilliance -- and these actually become frustrating, because I kept wanting more. But Depp, even if constrained by the script, manages to work his own magic anyway with his sheer personal magnetism. His Dillinger is the single best thing about this movie, and he somehow conveys a world of character without having to say anything in several scenes. The scene in which he asks, "What's the score?" is excellent.
A note: Depp just keeps growing better-looking as the years go by. It's not fair, is it? He's come a long way since "21 Jump Street," and in this film, he wears his role as arrestingly as he wears his tailored outfits. The camera loves him, as it should, and Depp's charisma is as close as we ever really get to Mann's exploration of why and how Dillinger was such a sensation in his time.
Looks aside, the talent is obvious. When he is not on screen, his absence is acutely felt; the other actors (including Bale) simply cannot fill the void.
Unabashed "eye candy" photo for La Parisienne and Thalia:
robbing banks and stealing hearts . . . plus gorgeous vintage cars
Stephen Lang as lawman Charles Winstead turns in a few memorable moments. Unfortunately, they come far too late in the movie, and the best of them would have been much more compelling if the Winstead character had been better developed previously in the film.
Mann throws in just enough hints to drive you mad with the thought that he had an inkling of what was possible but never fulfilled it -- that he walked up to the door but never stepped through. Two examples: Mann glances at (but, infuriatingly, never really examines) the nature and meaning of Dillinger's popularity -- Dillinger as folk hero, Dillinger as celebrity. This movie could have done something brilliant with these ideas, just as it should have done more to get under Dillinger's slick surface. That we ever get the sense of depth to Dillinger is basically due to the adept Depp.
Pacing (and Plodding):
This movie drags in places -- too many places. The script has problems of construction; the result is that it often seems episodic, hopping disjointedly from one setpiece to another. A sense of smooth, sustained development is missing, so there's little sense of building to a climax. The robberies and shootouts and jailbreaks are all very well done, but they have to serve a greater purpose of narrative -- and here Mann drops the ball. You never get a real sense of building urgency or the sense that the action has much effect on the characters involved (except for several redeeming scenes of Depp). The ending seems abrupt and unsatisfying.
The pacing error is compounded by the failure to develop supporting characters. There are too many minor figures, and they come and go so quickly that you never really figure out who they are or why they matter before they vanish. No sooner could I realize, "Hey, that's Giovanni Ribisi!" than he's gone as if he had never existed, and I never figured out what difference his appearance actually made. What a waste of Mr. Ribisi and every other actor who shared his plight in this film.
OK, this paragraph is spoiler-ish. This movie has a lot of deaths, predictably. But without character development, the deaths seem hollow and meaningless. On several occasions, both lawman Purvis and outlaw Dillinger are present when their companions die. But the emotional power is missing because we don't really have any feeling for the dying men, and their deaths ultimately don't drive the story either in terms of character development of their surviving friends or in terms of narrative action. OK, one exception: the opening sequence. (Why did I keep thinking -- obsessively -- about Sean Connery?) On other occasions, shootout deaths seem to matter little even when lawman Purvis is doing the shooting -- you'd think these scenes would do something to give Purvis a personality, but they don't seem to register even on Purvis, much less the audience.
My complaint about character development finds its best (or worst) example in . . .
Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis:
Purvis is the man tasked by J. Edgar Hoover (a rather cartoonishly rendered Billy Crudup) with apprehending Dillinger. OK, if Dillinger is a charismatic scoundrel who's captured the public's imagination and proceeded to elude all attempts at capture, then we ought to have Purvis as a nemesis worth having, right? Someone tough, smart, and as relentless and interesting in the pursuit as Dillinger is in the chase, right? RIGHT?? Ummmm . . . NO.
How the answer could possibly be "no" when (a) the character needs it and (b) the character is played by none other than CHRISTIAN BALE is one of the great sad mysteries of this movie. A little side note here:
ON MR. BALE, AKA "THE MAN WHO ISN'T THERE":
I am on the record as being a great fan of Christian Bale, whose undeniable talent has always brought both heat and light to the movie screen from "Empire of the Sun" to "American Psycho" to the Batman movies. Given that, I'm completely baffled at his appearances in this summer season. When I had first heard that Bale would star in both "Terminator Salvation"and "Public Enemies," I thought Summer 2009 would be the Summer of Bale just as Summer 2008 was the radiant, unforgettable Summer of Downey ("Iron Man" and "Tropic Thunder"). Bale was supposed to take the cinema by storm; goodness knows we were all ready and eager for it after last summer's "The Dark Knight."
So what the heck happened? Bale was utterly flat, unsympathetic, and uncharismatic in "Terminator Salvation,"and in "Public Enemies," he is likewise so grim-faced and stoic that he seems a caricature of the character. There was not a single flicker of individuality or personality in Bale's Purvis. He was unable to capture the attention, much less the imagination, of the audience, and I felt no investment at all in his quest to capture Dillinger. The climax of the film became an anti-climax.
FROM MY CORRESPONDENCE FILE:
Dear Christian Bale's Charisma,
I hope you're enjoying your vacation, wherever it is that you've gone. You've worked very hard and done very well over the years, and I'm sure you deserve your holiday. BUT, vacation is over, and it's time to pack up the beach chairs, finish your mai tai, and come back to work. Christian Bale is doing the best he can, but he needs you back, and so do I -- and the rest of the movie fans. Please come back soon!
COMPLETELY (?) UNFAIR MOVIE COMPARISON:
Go watch Brian De Palma's splendid 1987 film "The Untouchables." Now that's a 1930s gangster film that knows how to develop both plot and the characters, big and small, and bring a real sense of urgency, drama, and action. In recent years I've made fun of Kevin Costner a lot (you can't possibly think I'd let him get away unscathed from the shipwreck of a flick known as "Waterworld"), but his turn as Eliot Ness in "The Untouchables" is flawless down to his final line, and he is everything that Christian Bale's Purvis could/should have been but wasn't. The supporting cast of that movie actually emerged as individual characters, and the deaths along the way actually mattered both in terms of character development and the plot. Sean Connery's turn rightfully won him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Finally, De Palma's movie gave you a sense of the dangerous cat-and-mouse game between Ness and his nemesis Al Capone (the great Robert de Niro, commanding the screen); the taut, sustained drama and the action it brings is real and visceral.
"Public Enemies" is a flawed but worthwhile and stylish, intelligent crime drama that is elevated (and indeed redeemed) by Depp's performance. Go see it. In the places that it is less than it could be, it's still passable and watchable; in the places that it is good, it is brilliant.
Mad Minerva gives this film a grade of B-. (I suppose it really is a solid B, but I'm so disappointed by Bale's second strikeout in a single season that I'm feeling really vicious. Besides, a taut crime drama should not PLOD as often as this one did.)
RottenTomatoes gives "Public Enemies" a "fresh" rating of 63%.
The official website is here.
"Public Enemies" runs for 140 minutes and is rated R for violence and a little language (but mostly violence with tommy guns and rifles in bank robberies and shootouts).