The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

A beautiful film. Just brilliant. Fincher has a way with narrative, from the way he sets up the film’s themes with the clockmaker vignette, to the craft shown with the Paris taxi scene, to the superb timing of the “Did I ever tell you that I’ve been struck by lightning seven times?” clips. I’ll reserve judgment until I see Milk and The Wrestler, but for the time being this is my favorite film of the year.

That said, the most touching – and tragic – aspect of the movie was its setting. Inasmuch as it’s about anything, Button is about New Orleans. It’s about race in New Orleans, it’s about New Orleans sea culture, it’s about New Orleans as the only place on earth where someone like Benjamin could exist and make sense. So it was wrenching that Fincher chose to tell the story through flashbacks, flashbacks from a hospital bed as Katrina is about to make landfall.

On Gaza

There is no Israel/Palestine debate in the United States. Not really. We have debates about tactics, like the one that’s currently taking place. We can argue over whether the current bout of high-tech butchery in Gaza is a justified reaction to rocket attacks, or whether it’s yet another counterproductive escalatory measure from Tel Aviv. But we never discuss the endgame. I have never heard a debate between the hawks and doves about what end-state American policy should be oriented toward achieving.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t positions on the matter. Indeed, that’s the problem – there’s only one position, that of the peace camp. Ask anyone of that (my, our) persuasion – Daniel Levy, Rob Malley, Gershom Gorenberg, Jeremy Ben-Ami etc. – what end-state they’re looking for, and you’ll get roughly the same answer. There is a center and left-of-center consensus around a return to the pre-1967 borders, full dismantling of the settlements, and an acknowledgement of and compromise on the right of return. There is room for negotiation – on whether Jerusalem will be split per pre-1967 lines or jointly administered, on how many refugees to allow back into Israel proper, on the amount of reparations to be offered to those not allowed to return – but there’s a blueprint for a settlement that the peace camp holds in common. It’s a consensus that’s reflected in a whole range of peace initiatives, from the Clinton parameters to the Arab Peace Initiative to the Geneva Initiative, and which, thank God, Barack Obama supports. It’s the only conceivable arrangement that both Tel Aviv and Ramallah would ever agree to simultaneously, and so we support it.

But I don’t know what we’re arguing against. I’ve never heard anyone at The New Republic, Commentary, The Weekly Standard, or any other neoconservative publication outline their counter-proposal. I have never read an article by Marty Peretz, Norm Podhoretz, or anyone else of that ilk outline what final status they’d prefer. How much of the occupied territories are they willing to give up? How many of the settlements? Would they accept any refugees back into Israel? If so, how many? If not, how would they compensate them? If they’d retain or, worse, fully annex any Palestinian land, how would they deal with its residents? Would they have a vote for the Knesset, or would they exist representation-less, as second-class citizens?

These aren’t rhetorical questions; I’m genuinely interested in the answer. I want to know what kind of end-state these commentators want. Once they put a proposal like that forward, we can have a debate. We can argue over who’s likelier to get Palestinian compliance, who’ll prove more effective in stopping rocket attacks and suicide bombings, who’ll prove more effective in winning over other Arab states, etc. But it’s time for the hawks to put up or shut up. If they have a counter-proposal, let’s hear it. If they don’t, then they better start getting behind the peace process. Because right now, there is no alternative.

How Could We Allow Something Like This Without Pumping Our Fists?

Sure, sure, we can debate about whether Battlestar Galactica or 24 best exemplifies the Bush era, but can we all agree that Lorraine Ali is crazy in calling American Idiot the defining album of the period? I mean, c’mon. Not only is it a pretty lazy choice, but it’s a bad album. When a record’s only halfway decent track is a note-for-note rip-off of “Wonderwall”, it’s not exactly a great accomplishment.

Indeed, here are five albums and ten songs that better exemplify the era than AI. Leave your own in comments.

Albums:

  • Tha Carter III, Lil Wayne
  • Arular, M.I.A.
  • Game Theory, The Roots
  • One Beat, Sleater-Kinney
  • Apologies to the Queen Mary, Wolf Parade

    Songs:

  • “Intervention”, Arcade Fire
  • “He War”, Cat Power
  • “Mosh”, Eminem
  • “Two Words”, Kanye West
  • “Monster Hospital”, Metric
  • “M.I.A”, M.I.A.
  • “One Beat”, Sleater-Kinney
  • “The Modern Age”, The Strokes
  • “Jesus Etc.”, Wilco
  • “I’ll Believe in Anything”, Wolf Parade
  • You Can Be a Follower, But Who’s Your Leader?

    Courtesy of Ygz’s comments section, this Tony Lukas piece basically nails the Kennedy School, both at the time and nineteen years later. Not only that, but Lukas almost off-handedly demolishes the IOP more effectively than either Garrett or I could:

    For two decades, the grubby business of getting elected has been largely ”ghettoized” in the Institute of Politics, where defeated politicians repair for four-month stints as ”fellows” to brood over lost battles and teach the occasional noncredit seminar to starstruck undergraduates.

    Yeah, pretty much. Also, Dick Neustadt’s proposal for “cross-fertilization” between the IOP and the rest of the Kennedy School is pretty hilarious:

    ”American bureaucrats, like the American professional middle class in general, have long felt themselves superior to politicians,” Neustadt says. ”I think it’s incumbent on a school dedicated to public service to take politics more seriously than that, because in our system only the politician carries legitimacy. We should administer an innoculation against sneering.”

    Trust me, dealing with the IOP is hardly “innoculation against sneering”. Among most people, it provides considerable justification for such sneering.