Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Separated at birth

Eventually, one comes to the conclusion that Noam Chomsky is the Bobby Fischer of the academic Left: a brief, brilliant career in the '50's or '60's, then a slow descent into anti-Semitism, paranoia and madness.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Res ipsa loquitur

China’s increasing nationalism has been noted by The Weekly Standard. Also, John Derbyshire wrote a nice piece on Sima Qian:
And yet, for all its great humanity, for all its heartbreaking appeal, Sima Qian's letter strikes a Western reader as odd. It would, I think, have struck a contemporary Roman as odd, too… It touches, as I said, on some of the grand themes of human life. The oddity is in the themes it leaves out.

Please read these articles. They strike me as parallel descriptions of the tone, peculiar to my ears, of the films Hero and Iron Monkey. In the first, the King of Qin, the Chinese Emperor que futuris, is poised to invade Jet Li’s homeland of Zhou. But Li decides that unity is preferable to division, chaos and war, and declines his opportunity to kill the King. In the second, the vigilante Iron Monkey fights and defeats a corrupt Imperial governor in the late 1800s.

Now, those things are all very well and good. But the tone of these movies is entirely foreign to me. Yes, the Qin Emperor will end the internecine war of the Seven Kingdoms. But if this were a Western movie about, say, Henry Tudor and Wales, Edward I and Scotland, or George II and the ’45, one of two tones could be employed: either the king is a murderous butthead bent on annexation, conquest and tyranny (Braveheart), or he is a self-interested but good man who will be required to rule well (Henry V).

Now, Lord knows, a lot of Western movies don’t even reach this level of political sophistication: David Duchovny noted that The X-Files’s unintentional subtext was that all the evil in the world was the fault of a handful of middle-aged white males. If so, this would still fall under Category A above. But in Hero, the supremacy of the future emperor is unquestioned; his morality is quite literally unremarkable. In Iron Monkey, when the corrupt official’s replacement arrives, Wong-Fei Hung merely notes, “Ah, the new governor. Let us hope he is honest.” That’s all? Why not, “Ah, the new governor. Let us hope he is honest, lest we have to kick his sorry ass back to Beijing, as well”?

In a society far more primitive than 1890s China’s, the Magna Carta noted that the king was expected to perform in certain ways and guaranteed certain rights of the lords and commons; the Dragon Throne was generally unencumbered by such worries.

And let me be frank: I prefer Kill Bill to most martial arts films for one simple reason: Quentin Tarantino’s chewy morality. Sure, his films are about bad things happening to bad people: that’s the attraction. But how do you know they are bad people unless the film paints them so? Everything you know about QT’s characters comes from the films themselves. Jules and the Bride are amoral characters who awaken to morality; for me, they are the attraction of his films.

(As for the “threat” of Chinese nationalism: well, if the Kuomintang itself can agree with the PRC that Taiwan is a part of China, while deferring to the indefinite future any declarations or changes of sovereignty between the mainland and Taiwan, I will not worry about the fire in Asia too much.)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

What I Love about Humanity Is...

Isn't it amazing that the same bad ideas, or heresies, if you will, keep popping up? Consider the Catholic Encyclopedia on the Albigenses:
Hence, the liberation of the soul from its captivity in the body is the true end of our being. To attain this, suicide is commendable; it was customary among them in the form of the endura (starvation). The extinction of bodily life on the largest scale consistent with human existence is also a perfect aim. As generation propagates the slavery of the soul to the body, perpetual chastity should be practiced. Matrimonial intercourse is unlawful; concubinage, being of a less permanent nature, is preferable to marriage. Abandonment of his wife by the husband, or vice versa, is desirable. Generation was abhorred by the Albigenses even in the animal kingdom. Consequently, abstention from all animal food, except fish, was enjoined.... War and capital punishment were absolutely condemned.

If you allow a mirror-inversion of doctrine, that the flesh is Good and the Spirit (or Mind) is Evil, you can find a one-to-one symmetry with modern radical environmentalists, neo-Luddites and anti-globalization protestors. Really, we should give up our modern nomenclature and go back to the ways of the Mediæval era, with Albigensianism, Pelagianism and Manichæism all fighting for our souls. It just sounds much cooler.

"War and capital punishment were condemned..." Hmm, maybe we aren't too far from the bad old days, after all.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Uh... what the hell?

So you think a website dedicated to finding books would be well-written, huh?

Think again:
He was the most significant science fiction writer since H. G. Wells. — Robert Silberberg

Robert Heinlein, as much as any writer while I was growing up, taught me to argue with the excepted version. — Samuel R. Delaney

We perceive down a path marked by his ideas. — Tom Clancy

Oh, Robert SILBERBERG! The EXCEPTED version!! And the Clancy quote appears as ‘a path’ and ‘the path’ on the same page!!! (Yes, the latter is the one that makes sense.)

AGH! We need to return our schools to rote drill and memorization!!

Modern Grotesque

Stephen Green compares, properly, San Francisco's Planning Commission to the Red Guards : “In a 5–0 vote, it ordered Johnston to build a...