- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Poker game

“The converse dislike that the nonelite masses feel for their new masters was on display in the Scooter Libby case.

“From outside the castles, the walled compounds of the elite, it all looked like a storm in a teacup. Libby was one of them, so nothing much would happen to him. They would take care of him. What else would they do - throw him off the battlements? That never happens. Ten years on he’ll still be one of them. The guy lost a hand in the poker games that are played between different factions of them, that’s all, up there in their castles.

“From behind the castle moats it all looked different. Those poker games seem far more important to the people playing them than they look to outsiders (or than, in fact, they actually are) because outsiders are hardly ever thought about. … I thought I detected, here and there, some … bafflement among the elites that this emotion did not seem to be much in evidence among people living outside the castle walls.”

- John Derbyshire, writing on “Talking to the Plumber,” on July 22 at National Review web site

Trash alone

Paul Schrader, a screenwriter of films such as Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, wrote: ‘Cultural history has not been kind to Pauline [Kael].’

“Kael assumed she was safe to defend the choices of mass audiences because the old standards of taste would always be there. They were, after all, built into the culture. But those standards were swiftly eroding. Schrader argued that she and her admirers won the battle but lost the war. Acceptable taste became mass-audience taste, box-office receipts the ultimate measure of a film’s worth, sometimes the only measure. Traditional, well-written movies without violence or special effects were pushed to the margins. ‘It was fun watching the applecart being upset,’ Schrader said, ‘but now where do we go for apples?’

“This brings us to Will Smith, the perfect post-Kael moviemaker. … As Smith summarized on 60 Minutes, ‘Independence Day and Men in Black were really no-brainers.’ This was presented with pride and satisfaction. …

“Not long before she died, Pauline Kael remarked to a friend, ‘When we championed trash culture we had no idea it would become the only culture.’ Who did?”

- Robert Fulford, writing on “Pauline Kael & trash cinema” in the July 15 issue of the National Post

The end … again

“The United States does contend with serious problems at home and abroad, but these prophecies of doom, which spread like a computer virus, hardly reflect a rational appraisal of where we stand. Moreover, it is not too difficult to see the ghosts of declinism past in the current rush to pen America´s epitaph. Gloomsayers have been with us, after all, since this country’s founding.

“Late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century European observers, especially royalists and reactionaries, commonly disparaged and discounted the prospects of the new American enterprise. (As the French author Phillip Roger has written in his insightful history of anti-Americanism, influential Parisian authors deprecated not only the new country, but also its animals and plants.) In the 1920s and 1930s, Communist and fascist critics alike offered sweeping condemnations of the U.S. as a degenerate nation.”

- Robert J. Lieber, writing on “Falling Upwards: Declinism, The Box Set” in the summer issue of the World Affairs Journal

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