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Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Leftovers, F9/11, and My Life, Pages 370-670

Yes, I have returned and amazingly, I have found that life goes on despite my not connecting to the Internet for days on end.

Leftovers

A couple of items caught my eye in the interim, which I will share now, including the opening of the Bangkok subway:

Thailand's new US$3.5 billion subway opened in Bangkok on Saturday in the government's latest attempt to ease the traffic jams that often choke the capital and force some motorists to keep portable urinals in their cars.

You know the traffic is bad when you look in the car next to yours and the driver is taking a leak. I hope Thai cars feature tinted windows.

I also enjoyed Paula Jones on the Clinton memoirs:

Hillary Rodham Clinton famously blamed the scandals that led to her husband's impeachment on a "vast right-wing conspiracy." Jones told ABC News Primetime's Cynthia McFadden: "I agree that I was a small little entity in this big vast whatever-you-want-to-call-it that got erected."

Did she really need to use the word "erected" there?

And while I'm on this theme, what was up with the Ben Affleck reference in the opening scene of Fahrenheit 9/11: "Was it all a dream? Ben Affleck was there, and he's often in my dreams." I'm not sure what Michael Moore--a married guy with a teenage daughter--is doing dreaming about Ben Affleck.

Fahrenheit 9/11

Now that I'm out of sophomoric news references, I'll add that Fahrenheit 9/11 was precisely what I expected. Since I'm up on all of my anti-Bush talking points, nothing much surprised me, though I had forgotten the extent of the protests along the motorcade at Bush's inauguration, and the blacked-out draft records was a good bit. Lots of people have attacked Moore for "lying" when in fact he's just selective in what information he includes since he's making a case against Bush. At least he makes no pretense of being "fair and balanced" or anything, and the audience is aware of where Moore is coming from, so I see no problem.

The imagery and the presentation are excellent, mixing some hilarity (the Today show clip of a woman trying to get into a harness to escape a skyscraper was great) with some horror. There are a few cheap shots at the administration ("fine French linen") but not as many as some claim. The clips of people being made-up for TV appearances I didn't like during the opening credits because I (like others) mistakenly thought the idea was to sneer. But I figured it out when Moore showed the aftermath of the interviews at the film's end, with Ashcroft pulling out his ear piece and laughing, etc.: the point is that the terror threat is a made-for-TV event.

The main problem with F9/11 is that Moore isn't overly disciplined in the argument he presents. Is the administration overstating the terror threat to scare the public into submission? Yes, Moore says. But he also includes a section on how inadequate the Oregon State Police's funding is, leaving the Pacific coast open to attack. So should we be scared of that? It seems a contradiction to me. Also, Moore seems to have both contempt and sympathy for US troops in Iraq. He shows how boorish, stupid and inhumane some of them are with quotes ("I hate this country") and video of soldiers humiliating Iraqi captives. Then he tells us that the poor are victimized by military recruitment and he chronicles the grief of a mother from Flint whose son died in the war. I understand that this isn't a total inconsistency since you can argue that war is a dehumanizing experience and these kids over in the desert have started seeing Iraqis as subhuman as a survival mechanism and through no fault of their own. That, however, needed to be said more explicitly, especially since war proponents were obviously going to seize on the film as evidence of Moore not backing our troops.

My Life: Pages 370-670

I've also been doing some reading, charging ahead another 300 pages in My Life (I've done some other reading too, realizing that Angels and Demons is exactly the same book as Da Vinci Code, for one thing). Under 300 pages to go!

I left off right at Clinton's decision to run for president in 1992. In his campaign account, Clinton notes that Gennifer Flowers changed her story about their having an affair, but he never gets into details about what actually went on. All he does is refer to a court statement he later gave in which he admits they had a relationship that should not have occurred, or some phrasing like that, and that's all he writes of it, a minor disappointment. On the other campaign controversy, the Vietnam draft (which I covered in my second 100 pages installment two weeks ago), Clinton claims the colonel who admitted him to ROTC also changed his story (previously he couldn't recall meeting Clinton) because his daughter worked for the Bush campaign.

Other '92 highlights include the trashing of Zell Miller and George Stephanopoulos. Clinton quotes from Miller's nominating speech at the convention, recalling his childhood being raised only by his mother, who built their house and was comforted by the radio addresses of FDR. Clinton says he doesn't know why Miller has gone away from his roots and started supporting large tax cuts for the rich these last few years. Stephanopoulos, though praised at a few points by Clinton for his skill, comes out looking bad nevertheless. He's described as lying on the floor of a New Hampshire hotel, crying and suggesting Clinton withdraw from the race, while James Carville stays tough and urges Clinton to fight back. Clinton also blames George for his poor initial response to the Oklahoma City bombing.

Once Clinton becomes president, the book becomes very choppy. He rarely spends more than a couple of pages on one thing, skipping between foreign trips, Whitewater developments, legislative battles with Congress, complaining about media coverage, changes in his staff, crisis situations, and family life. I guess that's how the presidency really is, juggling so many things at once, but it makes for a less than satisfying narrative. It makes me wonder whether a chronological history of everything Clinton did, month to month, is really the best way to cover his presidency. He could've done themed sections--foreign affairs, economic policy, Ken Starr, etc. Perhaps he'll have some wise words near the end summing it all up that will be worth the wait.