28 January 2008
Yet, I think we may, finally, be entering the peace before the General Election storm. The worst of the acrimony and contempt seems finally to be petering out, and the results coming largely to naught. The Republicans seem to be inching closer to accepting John McCain as their date to the prom, hesitant as they may be about it, while the Clintonian implosion of the past few weeks has probably all but coronated Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee. Today's endorsement of Obama by Sen. Edward Kennedy may finally have tipped the scales in the latter: in a stunningly scrupulous rejection of self-interested slash-and-burn politics, Sen. Kennedy may well have directed Democrats away from immediate immolation. Make no mistake: this is a Good Thing. Democrats, like Hamlet, are usually their own worst enemies, destroying themselves rather than their opponents. In recent weeks, the Clintons all but discredited themselves from the running not so much by any particular action but by demonstrating the willingness to return the party to internecine warfare, and while that may have worked well enough in other circumstances, the current ones demand otherwise. People are mad as Hell about politics as usual, and they're not going to take it anymore.
But, I think, it's also about people being furious about the various forms of fury itself. One of the reasons Senator Clinton was given a reprieve by Democrats in New Hampshire and Nevada was the vulturous behaviour of media figures like Andrew Sullivan, whose insistently vituperative derangement about the Clintons was perhaps the best gift he could have given them. Sullivan, though by no means alone in his position, represents the kind of 90s vitriolic, visceral and counter-sensical monomania that fed American politics of the past fifteen years, and people have seen where such thinking has led them. The Clintons, similarly, represent the win-at-all-costs strategy, and they're being rejected, too, though it's probably crucial that Democrats are doing the rejection of them on their own terms, and not those of others. (The same is true of Romney, whose over-packaged "say anything" campaign is being received with relative ambivalence.) The media generally are being punished, too, with last-minute mind-changes and disingenuous self-reporting, it seems, designed to throw all of that polling, prognostication and general gotcha-ism into disrepute. The electorate seems to be asking, "You think you know what are issues are," before immediately answering with a stern, "No. No, you don't." There's a whole lot of whoop-ass to go round, and voters seem very much unafraid to dole it out. Howard Beale would be proud.
And yet, for all that anger, for all that a-pox-on-all-your-houses kind of fury, the voters in both parties seem to be leaning toward the figures who represent at least some kind of integrity and some kind of trans-party appeal. McCain is about the only Republican candidate with a chance of winning Democratic voters, while Obama is the only Democratic one capable of doing the reverse. Neither are ideal candidates, but they serve in counter-point to one another, with McCain the voice of experience and Obama the voice of youth (I will not say "hope," a word now largely bereft of meaning in this context). All those of ideas of political predestination that once surrounded Clinton and Giuliani are on the verge of being relegated to the historical junk-heap, and all the political calculus that had become conventional wisdom in recent years is already there. It's as if voters have become cynical about-- wait for it-- cynicism and they're responding in kind, as well they should. It has been a long time in the coming, and while this could, admittedly, be premature, it's almost cause for-- dare one say?-- hope.
22 January 2008
Just a few short notes, writing from one campus before I set out for another, on the Academy Award nominations announced today:
- Conspicuously missing: Marisa Tomei for Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, Donald Pinsent for Away from Her and Max von Sydow for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. When will the academy stop ignoring Max? He's the Joseph Cotten of foreign films: in every bloody classic there is, or so it seems, and he's usually tremendous; and yet, nary a nomination. C'mon-- he's Max von fucking goddamn Sydow! He had two scenes in that movie, and yet every critic I've read felt compelled to remark on his brilliance in them. Maybe the power of you-know-who compelled them.
- Pleasant surprises: Ruby Dee and Hal Holbrook, for American Gangster and Into The Wild, two performers capable of changing an entire movie with a single scene. For Mr. Holbrook, it's about bloody time. Hal might actually win it: in a year when it looks like non-American talent will win big, his nomination will allow the academy to assert its appreciation of home-born legends.
- Foregone conclusions: I think the top acting honours are set in stone. It'll be Julie Christie and Daniel Day-Lewis. Do any of the other nominees in either categorty even stand a chance? The academy is dying to reward Julie Christie, as well it should. Her performance is absolutely heart-breaking. Also look for Tilda Swinton to grab the award for Michael Clayton; it'll probably be the acknowledgement the academy gives for not being able to reward it in other categories.
- Insult to injury: after being robbed last year, and maintaining the longest losing streak in Oscar history, you'd think the Academy would have had the grace to toss Peter O'Toole a nod for Ratatouille. The poor bastard just can't catch a break. He should have won for Venus, just as he should have won for Lawrence of Arabia -- wait for it-- forty-five years ago.
- Look for No Country For Old Men to win Best Picture. I'd be shocked-- shocked, I tell you-- if it didn't. Why? Because it doesn't deserve to. Consider it the Coens' version of The Departed. Best Picture is always about cultural cachet, and No Country has it in spades right now.
- Striking the Match: Will the writer's strike end in time for the ceremony? Count on it. There's just too much money involved in the Oscars for everyone to let it continue and disrupt the grand tradition.
So there we are. Dispute as you will. Must to campus number two. It's going to be a long bloody day.
04 January 2008
One of the odder things about the English language is the panoply of words that act as collective nouns. Some are still in common use-- a litter of puppies, a range of mountains, a bed of flowers, a class of students, a crowd of people-- and some are just odd enough that some remember them just for their oddness, like a murder of crows. How some of them came to be, or how they're ever used, is curious and often fun stuff; sometimes, however, they're just outright funny, especially when they've obviously been adapted to contemporary purposes. Here are a few samples from academic contexts:
- A group of academics is called a faculty;
- A group of Assistant Professors is a clamber;
- A group of Associate Professors is a tenure;
- A group of Full Professors is an entropy or an entrenchment.
You have to adore the progression. Some other related collectives: a oversight of deans; an essence of existentialists; a lack of principals (savour the irony); a brood of researchers; a drowse of underachievers; a leap of overachievers; and, of course, there's a nullity of nihilists (say that ten times fast). Even the student year-levels have their own collectives: a plenitude of freshmen, a platitude of sophomores, a gratitude of juniors and an attitude of seniors; better yet, there are also fortitudes of graduate students and doggednesses of doctoral candidates all working on their angsts of dissertations. Lovely when language offers its implicit commentaries, non? Frankly, I think a group of doctoral candidates should be a delay or an insecurity; even a poverty would do.
Some other choice examples, even though surely the catch of collective nouns is language at its most sly:
- an ingratitude of children
- a rash of dermatologists
- a guess of diagnosticians
- a gross of farts
- a conjunction of grammarians
- a smear of gynecologists
- a thicket of idiots
- a spread of nymphomaniacs
- a tenet of palindromes (clever indeed)
- a babel (or a babble) of words
Many of these were surely invented only recently, of course, but one has to admire the elegance of them. You can read amusedly through some sites through the link above. Reminds me, though, that I'll have to pick up James Lipton's An Exaltation of Larks (yes, that James Lipton), which seems to have been the source for many of the above. Makes me wonder what a group of partial-load professors would be. A posse? A parade? A temper?
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