Richard Corliss

Richard Corliss, one of Time’s two major film critics (the other being the incomparable Richard Schickel), has died at the age of 71.

For TIME, he was an indestructible, inexhaustible resource. He wrote some 2,500 reviews and other articles for the magazine, including more than two dozen cover stories. He covered, at various times, theater and television, wrote about theme parks and Las Vegas shows, contributed cover stories on topics as far afield as yoga and Rush Limbaugh. And as TIME’s longest-serving movie critic (and perhaps the magazine’s most quoted writer of all time), he was a perceptive, invaluable guide through three and a half decades of Hollywood films, stars and trends…

His reviews were authoritative but never intimidating; he had an encyclopedic knowledge of film, but never flaunted it. His prose was zestful and sparkling — it simply jumped off the page…

He was a workaholic, who loved writing in the wee hours and pushed deadlines to the breaking point — but always came through with pristine prose that left his editors in awe. He pulled countless all-nighters in his office, catching a couple of hours sleep on his couch, then emerging bright-eyed in the morning, sometimes with a fresh shirt brought up to the office by Mary. (When, every once in a while, the clutter of books and videos that were always piled high in his office suddenly disappeared — that was usually Mary too, having come round in the evening to help him clean out.)

Posted in Film | Leave a comment

2015 World Happiness Report

A huge study of happiness (aka senses of subjective well-being) has evaluated all the countries in the world:

The 2015 World Happiness Report is the third of its kind and is edited by a team of renowned academics and analysts – among them American economist Jeffrey Sachs and head of the London School of Economics’ ‘wellbeing’ programme, Richard Laynard.

Amazingly, the top 10 scorers are… well…

  1. Switzerland
  2. Iceland
  3. Denmark
  4. Norway
  5. Canada
  6. Finland
  7. Netherlands
  8. Sweden
  9. New Zealand
  10. Australia

Notice a pattern?

From the study’s conclusion:

There is a common social theme that emerges consistently from the World Happiness Report 2015. At both the individual and national levels, all measures of well-being, including emotions and life evaluations, are strongly influenced by the quality of the surrounding social norms and institutions. These include family and friendships at the individual level, the presence of trust and empathy at the neighborhood and community levels, and power and quality of the over- arching social norms that determine the quality of life within and among nations and generations. When these social factors are well-rooted and readily available, communities and nations are more resilient, and even natural disasters can add strength to the community as it comes together in response.

The challenge is to ensure that policies are designed and delivered in ways that enrich the social fabric, and teach the pleasure and power of empathy to current and future generations. Under the pressures of putting right what is obviously wrong, there is often too little attention paid to building the vital social fabric.

Of course, while the study controlled for gender and age, it did not control for race, probably the most salient and statistically significant variable they could look at.

I wonder why that might be?

I mean, did anyone involved with the study try to correlate happiness in a country with, say, the percentage of non-hispanic whites in that respective country? In other words, might it be the case that the more white and racially homogenous a country is, the higher its rate of happiness? Might then, the best predictor be some combination of whiteness, racial homogeneity, ancestral ties to the geography, Lockean individual freedoms, and/or more universalistic, Aristotelian, social welfare programs?

About ten years ago, liberal academic Robert Putnam famously and reluctantly concluded that the more ‘diverse’ (racially mixed) a geographic region is, the less social capital there is as a result. People of all races in such a region trust each other less, don’t get to know their neighbors, help each other out less, etc.

From the Report:

Three-quarters of the differences among countries, and also among regions, are accounted for by differences in six key variables, each of which digs into a different aspect of life. The six factors are GDP per capita, healthy years of life expectancy, social support (as measured by having someone to count on in times of trouble), trust (as measured by a perceived absence of corruption in government and business), perceived freedom to make life decisions, and generosity (as measured by recent donations, adjusted for differences in income). Differences in social support, incomes and healthy life expectancy are the three most important factors, with their relative importance depending on the comparison group chosen. International differences in positive and negative emotions (affect) are much less fully explained by these six factors. When affect measures are used as additional elements in the explanation of life evaluations, only positive emotions contribute significantly, appearing to provide an important channel for the effects of both perceived freedom and social support.

To give an idea of the scope of discrepancies between nations when it comes to social capital:

According to the results of the World Values Survey for the 2010-14 wave, 66% of respondents in the Netherlands and 61% in Sweden answered that most people can be trusted, compared with just 35% in the US and 28% in Russia.

And that 35% for the U.S. is looking at the U.S. as a whole. What sorts of deviations in social capital might we find within the U.S., say, between Omaha, NE and… oh, I don’t know… Los Angeles, CA (i.e., the model for the future of America)?

In any event, it would seem that social capital is a hugely important factor for the researchers. But the Report finds the formation of social capital very much a mystery! There’s an 800 pound gorilla standing in front of them, but they can’t see it:

Yet if social capital is so important to well-being, both directly and indirectly, how is high social capital achieved? Can societies invest in social capital in the same way that they invest in human and physical capital? Can we measure the rate of return to investments in social capital, in terms of benefits to SWB and economic performance?

The answer to these questions is that we don’t really know. What we know is that some societies display attributes of high social capital – trust, low corruption, strong social support networks – while others do not. Yet why one society has strong social capital while another does not is a bit of a mystery.

What is a real mystery, however, is how the same study that says the above can also say this elsewhere in the Report:

These debates continue to rage among the social scientists, with no consensus yet in sight. Part of the problem is that the high-trust, high social-capital societies tend to have certain key features in common, and causality is thereby very difficult to determine. The highest social capital region of the world, the three Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway, and Sweden) and other Nordic countries (Finland, Iceland), have all of the attributes that researchers have suggested: high civic participation, high ethnic homogeneity, high social and economic equality, and low public corruption. The result is a very high level of social trust not matched almost anywhere else in the world.

Posted in International, Sociology | Leave a comment

JYT: 4/24/2015

Another day, another NYT Obituaries section & another Theater section:


All the (obituaries) news that’s fit to print!

Posted in Jewish, NYT | Leave a comment

The Armenian Genocide vs. The Holocaust™

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide of Christian minorities by a sultanate Ottoman Empire (modern day Turkey.)

When I was a freshman in college, I had a floor-mate in my dorm named Don, who was an American-born, 18 year old of Armenian descent. I vividly remember him telling me the harrowing story of his own family’s slim and precarious survival of the Armenian genocide, a story I can only presume was passed down to him, and a story that reinforced the brute contingency of his own existence.

When an Ottoman killing squad came to his family’s house, bent on slaughter, Don’s grandfather (who was only 5 years old at the time) happened to be playing in a crawlspace underneath the house.

The boy stayed quiet, hidden and no doubt terrified, while inside the house his entire extended family was butchered to death.

It was by through this moment of spatio-temporal fortuitousness and happenstance, of fate in its most primordial form, that Don’s grandfather survived… thereby allowing Don himself to someday come into existence.

Of the Armenian genocide:

The total number of people killed as a result has been estimated at between 1 and 1.5 million. The starting date is conventionally held to be 24 April 1915, the day Ottoman authorities rounded up and arrested some 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople. The genocide was carried out during and after World War I and implemented in two phases: the wholesale killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and subjection of army conscripts to forced labour, followed by the deportation of women, children, the elderly and infirm on death marches leading to the Syrian desert. Driven forward by military escorts, the deportees were deprived of food and water and subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and massacre. Other indigenous and Christian ethnic groups such as the Assyrians and the Ottoman Greeks were similarly targeted for extermination by the Ottoman government, and their treatment is considered by many historians to be part of the same genocidal policy.

The events of that time are one of unspeakable horror.

One might then find it surprising that none too many Americans appear to be aware of this genocide, mainly because Armenians haven’t had the funds to trademark the atrocity, publicize it ’round the clock, nor build huge Memorials in every Western country to forever commemorate its horrific occurrence.

In Tablet magazine (“A New Read on Jewish Life”), Peter Balakian has a piece titled “Jews and the Armenian Genocide“:

In recent decades, the contributions to the understanding of the Armenian genocide made by Jewish scholars both in Israel and worldwide have been extraordinary. The list is long and includes Elie Wiesel, Deborah Lipstadt, Robert Jay Lifton, Robert Melson, Irvin Staub, Jay Winter, Yehuda Bauer, Israel Charny, Donna-Lee Frieze, Colin Tatz, Yair Auron, documentary filmmaker Andrew Goldberg, and many others. In the United States, the Center For Jewish History, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, U.S. Holocaust Memorial and Museum, the Houston Holocaust Museum, the Illinois Holocaust Museum, and the Museum of Tolerance have all made a difference in giving space to program Armenian genocide events over the past two decades.

Notwithstanding the deep involvement and commitment of Jewish intellectuals to the Armenian plight and discourse, the Israeli government has not been able to pass an Armenian genocide resolution, which is to say, to make an official gesture of redress to Turkish denial. In recent years, the Israeli government has reiterated at times some of the Turkish government’s propaganda. For example, several years ago Foreign Minister Simon Peres stated, “We reject attempts to create a similarity between the Holocaust and the Armenian allegations. What the Armenians went through is a tragedy, but not genocide.” Until recently Turkey has been a friendly Muslim ally in a hostile region. In their trade relationship Turkey is a key supplier of water to Israel, and Israel supplies Turkey with high-powered weapons, and the lucrative military manufacturing deals are important to Israel’s economy…

But for Balakian, this strategy is no longer advantageous because, well, things have changed:

… But in recent years the alliance between Turkey and Israel has eroded. The Turkish flotilla incident of 2010—when Turkey sought to bring relief to Palestinians in Gaza and were met with gunfire by Israeli forces that killed several Turks—created a significant rupture. And a new wave of anti-Semitism has erupted in Turkey, and now Hamas has its headquarters in Istanbul. Recently, President Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of surpassing Hitler’s “barbarism” for its military actions in Gaza.

So, what is to be done?

At the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide might this be a time—when the ironies of history have surfaced, especially in the wake of the collapse of Israeli-Turkish relations—for Israel to rethink the moral concession it has made in this ethical arena? Not as revenge against Turkey, but as thoughtful reflection on painful truths.

Now that Turkey is a lost cause with respect to the Zionist cause, now is a convenient time for… atonement.

Tablet magazine has a companion piece by Andrew Tarsy on how “Jewish Organizations Must Stop Denying the Armenian Genocide“. The article’s byline reads: “Staying silent in the face of radical evil is wrong. It’s time for us to engage.”

National Jewish organizations in the United States have played a dangerous game for decades, giving safe harbor to denial of the Armenian genocide. As its 100th anniversary arrives on April 24, there is an opportunity to turn the page on a dismal chapter of Jewish American history…

Over the past three decades, various national Jewish leaders have urged Armenians to address their need for validation by taking up the matter with the Republic of Turkey itself. Imagine Jews being told to do the same with Germans. Jewish leaders have made public comments that deliberately provide cover for those who willfully undermine the truth; and in our name, they habitually advocate against congressional efforts to acknowledge the genocide. Some even take steps to exclude the Armenian story from genocide education curriculums and Holocaust commemoration events.

The reasons provided to support these choices?

First, Turkey is an important ally to Israel and Jews cannot afford to risk provoking their anger by telling the truth. In addition, Turkey has been tolerant toward Jews within its borders and we owe them a debt of gratitude. Paradoxically, we are also told that Jews in Turkey will not be safe if Jews in America speak plainly about the Armenian genocide.

Second, we are told that Armenian advocates might use the designation of “genocide” and any platform we give them to make comparisons and connections to the Holocaust that advance their own cause of recognition. We should not support the Holocaust being used for this kind of purpose.

No advocate for this position has been more outspoken than Abraham Foxman, longtime National Director of the Anti-Defamation League. He has hardly lacked for company among the most prominent professional and volunteer leaders within the ADL and in other national Jewish organizations.

Here, we have a stark and dissonant logical endpoint to Jewish particularism, separatism, and ‘Is-it-good-for-the-Jews?’ ethnocentrism, trumping even the most uncontroversial of moral cognitivism, trumping the objective and irrefutable genocide of non-Jews in the early 20th century.

But, surely, Tarsy is just engaging in hearsay, right?

Eight years ago the Jewish community in Greater Boston made a very different choice. I was Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League there at the time. Our diverse Jewish community chose to publicly acknowledge that the events beginning in Constantinople on April 24, 1915, were indeed genocide, and that a congressional resolution saying as much was in order.

Those involved in the Boston decision and those who supported it were not poorly informed, nor did they take the challenges of Jewish and Israeli security lightly. It would also be inaccurate to say, as Mr. Foxman did shortly thereafter, that we were prioritizing an Armenian cause above concern for Turkish Jews or Israel or that our judgment was clouded by assimilation and intermarriage, charges he also made via the media. In fact the decision to acknowledge the Armenian genocide was a matter governed by the facts as well as they could be understood. I believe that the frustration Mr. Foxman directed at the Boston Jewish community was based on its refusal to defer to his judgment and the commitments he may have made on the community’s behalf.

Foxman, still the MSM’s go-to guy for pontifications about what constitutes legitimate ‘hate crimes’, deployed here what is for Jews the slander of all slanders: accusing the Boston group of being (gasp!) “clouded by assimilation and intermarriage.”

Never forget, however, that to simply point out the existence of such peculiar Jewish ethnocentrism automatically qualifies one as being ‘anti-Semitic’.

Tarsy continues:

Since the episode in Boston, some of the most prominent national Jewish organizations have followed suit in one way or another, using the word genocide with varying degrees of sincerity and candor and virtually no follow-through.

In his concluding paragraphs, Tarsy has recommendations for powerful American Jewish groups:

The American Jewish community would be wise to retire two morally and strategically bankrupt imperatives that have contributed mightily to this morass.

The first of these feckless imperatives is that anything said to be necessary for Israel’s safety and Jewish security can be justified without rigorous and transparent analysis…

A second imperative we must fully let go of is that the Holocaust has to be insulated from comparison and even commemoration alongside other catastrophic crimes like the Armenian genocide.

Posted in History, International, Jewish | Leave a comment

Pew: Gun Rights Tops Gun Control in Major Public Opinion Shift

Sometimes, The Organizer overplays his hand. Regarding a recent Pew poll:

Pew_20150420Exactly two years after President Obama’s bid for gun control following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting died in Congress, a new poll has discovered a huge shift in public opinion to backing Second Amendment gun rights and away from controlling gun ownership.

The reason: Americans now believe having a gun is the best way to protect against crime, 63 percent to 30 percent.

Pew Research Center found that while support for gun control once reached 66 percent, it has dropped to 46 percent while support for gun rights has jumped 52 percent, the highest ever in the past 25 years.

“We are at a moment when most Americans believe crime rates are rising and when most believe gun ownership – not gun control – makes people safer,” said the survey.

The Organizer’s concerted effort to make Ferguson, MO a modern-day Selma, AL may have backfired on him, amongst the constituency he knows the least about… white Americans.

Posted in Culture, National | Leave a comment

Rubio’s Sugar Daddy

From a Politico piece on Rubio’s Sugar Daddy:

Marco Rubio’s campaign is premised on the idea that he’s the candidate best suited to bridge the divide between conservatives and the GOP establishment — if he can stay in the race long enough to make that case against better-funded opponents like Jeb Bush.

Enter Norman Braman, an 82-year-old self-made billionaire with a fondness for Rubio and an equally intense distaste for Bush.

Braman, a former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles football franchise, is poised to occupy the sugar-daddy role for Rubio that, in 2012, Sheldon Adelson played for Newt Gingrich and Foster Friess played for Rick Santorum: the mega-contributor who kept their candidacies afloat even after other donors had written them off.

The Miami businessman, Braman’s friends say, is considering spending anywhere from $10 million to $25 million — and possibly even more — on Rubio’s behalf, a cash stake that could potentially alter the course of the Republican race by enabling the Florida senator to wage a protracted fight for the nomination.

Adelson, (the oddball Christian) Friess, and now Braman.

So… I wonder what a President Rubio’s policy towards Israel might be? From the Politico piece:

After Rubio was elected to the Senate in 2010 — a race that Braman and his wife Irma poured nearly $10,000 into — the two families traveled together to Israel.

In his recently published memoir, Rubio dedicated an entire paragraph of the acknowledgments to Braman and suggested that he’d become a father-like figure to him.

I suppose it’s a sign of the times, and a dynamic that will only get worse: incomparable mega-wealth pouring zillions into a perception-based, medium-is-the-message Media Culture… one which is increasingly predictive of Jellyfish voting behavior.

Posted in Jewish, Republican Party | Leave a comment

Junior Brown & Hank Thompson – Gotta Sell Them Chickens (1997)

Posted in Music | Leave a comment

Cranston Reading McCarthy

From the ABQ Journal is a piece regarding Bryan Cranston (one of the best actors of his generation) reading from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (one of the best novels of the 20th century by one of the best living novelists):

The state Tourism Department has enlisted some star power for a new video about New Mexico’s natural beauty in the hopes that some famous help will get the message to a larger audience.

“Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston narrates “Wild Territory,” the latest addition to the “New Mexico True Stories” series. In the 1½-minute film, “Cranston reads from Cormac McCarthy’s novel “Blood Meridian” over footage shot at Bosque del Apache, Valles Caldera, the Taos Gorge and other scenic locations.

McCarthy gave permission for use of the text, and Tourism Secretary Rebecca Latham said Cranston — the state’s first choice for narrator — agreed to read it.

“We just felt fortunate that he saw the beauty of what we were trying to do and saw the power of this piece,” she said…

Latham said Cranston didn’t want to become the focus of the video, and the Tourism Department intentionally left his name off a news release announcing the release. But she knows that pairing an acclaimed writer and actor who both have ties to the state — Cranston worked in New Mexico while making “Breaking Bad,” and McCarthy has a home near Santa Fe — should certainly help “to get more eyes on it.”

Posted in Literature | Leave a comment

Husband Sets Wife on Fire in Pakistan Honor Killing

Muslims doing what Muslims do best:

A Pakistani man and his father have been arrested in the country’s latest so-called “honour killing” after they set the son’s wife alight for leaving the house without asking his permission, police said Sunday.

Muhammad Siddique became enraged on learning that his wife, Shabana Bibi, 25, had visited her sister without first asking him if she could go out, her brother Muhammad Azam said.

Siddique and his father then beat Bibi before dousing her with petrol and setting her on fire in Central Pakistan’s Muzaffargarh district on Friday, Azam said.

Don’t get on your ‘high horse’, Christians!

Allahu Akbar!

Posted in Islam | Leave a comment

Grohl’s Charmed Life – Pt. 28

From a Rolling Stone cover story on Ringo Starr comes further evidence that Dave Grohl has the greatest life of any human on the planet:

There are times when Ringo can be quite acerbic. “I was having dinner with him recently in L.A. with Dave Grohl and our wives,” says Paul McCartney. “I know Ringo has been sober for years, so I joked, ‘C’mon, Ringo, have a whiskey.’ Ringo looked at me for a second and says, ‘What, and end up looking like you?’ I deserved it.”

Posted in Music | Leave a comment