Fund Fund Fund

Let’s talk about smart people. For a while, I thought I was one. I was one of the smarter kids in my high school classes, as long as we define high school of a series of classrooms in which everything is taugh but math. I had to work hard, sure, and do lots of dull memorization to pick things up, but I got good grades, and befriended the people who go better grades, and they would have been able to spot a phony.

College was less satisfying; I was meeting people in the tip-top percentile of intellect, and I clearly was just a little bit below that. Washington has treated me much the same way, as I’ve met the people who are, indisputably, the best there is at what I do. (There are times I feel like the best-trained ninja going up against Wolverine in a Frank Miller splash page.)

Still, that test of the others – being accepted or not being accepted by the people you know are smart – is proving pretty useful. After two-and-a-half years in the libertarian sphere, after wondering why my brilliant friends like* Katherine Mangu-Ward and Julian Sanchez and Kerry Howley and Will Wilkinson had been invited to Liberty Funds, I wondered why I was not.

A word about Liberty Fund. It’s a program set up by nice, big libertarian endowments that brings libertarians together to talk about economics and philosophy.

So: My friends were going to these things, and not me. I assumed, in December, that I was more of a reporter than a philosopher, and that was that. In January, that changed: I was invited to a LF about public choice theory. That’s how I spent this past weekend.

Thoughts? It’s a good program, executed well, and so intellectually challenging that I wonder how I spend my time in Washington again. There is really nothing like hunkering down for 90 minute stretches to convince a room of smart people that, no, really, you and you alone have the right idea for a majoritarian government reform that would stave off the tyranny of faction.

*one way you can tell they’re smart is that they say “such as” instead of “like” in the right places

Yet More Movies

Coraline (2009) – Tim Burton and me, we get each other. Even though, unbecoming of a master of fantasy, he only has one aesthetic, I’ve enjoyed more or less every minute he’s put on the screen. (The big exception is Mars Attacks, and I didn’t hate that as much as I remembered when I caught part of it on TV last year.) Coraline is a sort of Burton sampler, with themes (a house with no reality beyond its environs!) and designs (black and white stripes!) familiar from his previous work, but it’s better than anything he’s done since the early 1990s. It has the feel of a standard, with unforgettable little adrenaline jolting scenes and many moments of beauty that are revealed, later on, to foreshadow menace. (All manner of menacing cliches, like scary fog and dead trees and withered old ladies, become tokens of warmth, and that’s another thing I loved.) 10/10

Harry un ami qui vous veut du bien (2000) – Known stateside as “With a Friend Like Harry” and known (awesomely) in the UK as “Harry, He’s Here to Help.” I’d never have seen this if not for my quest to watch all the critically-adored films I missed this decade, and I could have lived without seeing it. Dominik Moll’s thriller is a diverting Hitchcock pastiche that never picks up real momentum, and suffers from strange lead performances from Sergi Lopez as a way-too-obvious sociopath and Laurent Lucas as a distaff family man. 5/10

Happy Feet (2006) – From the man who brought you Babe and Lorenzo’s Oil comes a movie with all the cuteness of the first film and all the distressing emotional notes of the second. Nobody warned me that this would be a fable about physical disability – a darn adorable one, natch. 7/10

Changeling (2008) – A piece of shit. 2/10

Some thoughts on the Decade Project

I am listening to every song that made the end of the year Billboard Top 100 chart, supplementing my already pretty-good knowledge of indie rock and hip-hop and dinosaur nonsense like Richard Thompson with oodles and oodles of pop nonsense. Early reflections:

– When Tom Chaplin of Keane sang the lines “I’m getting old and I need something to rely on,” he was 25 years old.

– Nickelback had more top 40 hits than almost any band I like, and almost all of them are completely fucking awful. (I do not completely hate “How You Remind Me,” but re-writing it fifty times is the apex of uncool.)

– David Banner’s “Play” is to “Wait (The Whisper Song)” as Michael Steele is to Barack Obama.

Mort Kondracke: Fool

I love watching the Beltway Boys on Fox – because no one else is watching, Fred Barnes and Mort Kondracke say absolutely brain-dead shit. To wit, I just heard Kondracke pronounce Nancy Pelosi once of the “losers” of the week because the stimulus bill included an “earmark” for an “$8 million train from Las Vegas to Disneyland.”

OK. First, it was $8 billion, not million. Second the earmark didn’t make it in. Third, Anaheim is not just “Disneyland.” It’s a city of 350,000 people, bigger than Cincinatti or Pittsburgh, and its location in the sprawling Los Angeles metro area connects it to 19.5 million more people of whom at least a few would like to head to Las Vegas.

Some more movies

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009) – Meh. 3/10.

Things We Lost in the Fire (2007) – Bah, I have no use for these sorts of movies. Benicio del Toro is fine as a smoldering drug addict who moves in with a recently widowed woman. But if you’ve seen one sad drug-dealer-sees-the-light movie you’ve seen them all. 4/10.

Lady in the Water (2006) – It’s really too bad that M. Night Shyalaman’s “fairy tale” makes no sense and stumbles again and again against the fourth wall with a humor that the director can’t follow through. It’s lovely to look at, and packed with great actors (Jeffrey Wright! Jared Harris!), and I got sucked in at times, like when Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) dives into the apartment pool to grab magical healing mud for Stori (Bryce Dallas Howard). And hey, another director would have botched up this script even more. But it’s still a bad movie. 3/10.

In the Valley of Elah (2007) – I’m proud of my fellow humans for ignoring this hackish Oscar bait by Paul Haggis, and if he hadn’t co-written Casino Royale I would take a few paragraphs to argue for his extradition to Nunavut. Tommy Lee Jones, attempting to act “stolid and forlorn,” ends up acting like a zombie. The political message makes no sense. Nothing works. 2/10.

The Namesake (2007) – Is Mira Nair’s charm just lost on me? She makes lovely, meandering films with beautiful Indian actors who do stuff you’d pretty much predict they’d do. Aside from the novelty of Kal Penn putting in a great dramatic performance, this is melodrama that doesn’t let us get close enough to some of the key characters. 5/10.

The Invasion (2007) – The third remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is not the worst – the Donald Sutherland version is weak 1990s horror – and at times the momentum of Nicole Kidman’s flight out of a well-evoked D.C. (even though I could tell what wasn’t filmed here) is comparable to the momentum Children of Men. Still, it’s pretty stupid. 5/10.

The Tao of Steve (2000) – I’d seen this in 2001, on VHS, alone in my parents house and full of fear and wonder about the post-collegiate life. (Yes, I harbored this fear even when I was a freshman.) It’s exactly as good as I remembered: not great, but not bad. Jenniphr Goodman is a flavorless director, big on the walk-and-talk scene, which gives this all a washed-out feel because the characters only ever walk in a few cutesy settings – a school, a crash pad, a married friend’s house. Donal Logue found a role that fit him perfectly as Dex, the overweight, over-educated stoner whose complex wooing laws break down when he falls for a girl he hadn’t much noticed in college. Greer Goodman, the director’s sister, is brittle and memorable as the college non-fame, and I wonder whatever happened to her. The rest of the cast is either bland or bad (what’s with the spaz who can’t figure out Dex’s “Tao” rules?) and the soundtrack is dripping with sugar, but what stuck with me – why I’d recommend it anyway – was the bleached southwestern setting. I am a sucker for movies about parts of America that no one films in, unless they’re filming a cliche that fits the setting. 7/10.