Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mad Men, “Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency”

I haven’t blogged about Mad Men recently simply because I’ve had no time.  Last weekend we were in New York, the weekend before time just got away from me.  I’ve been a little disappointed with the season so far.  It’s good, but it didn’t seem to have the juice of seasons 1 and 2.  The story arc was missing and each episode seemed like a one shot, or preludes setting up situations to explore later in the season.  But five episodes into the season seemed a lot for a prelude.   I kept waiting for the season to get going.   

Well, season 3 just got better.  “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency” was brilliant, not least because of the story line involving Joan Holloway (now Joan Harris after her marriage.)  Christina Hendricks get to show off her acting chops in this episode, to marvelous effect.  At the close of the scene with her husband, when he informs Joan that someone else has been made chief resident and that he may have to leave New York to practice somewhere else, like Alabama, she turns away from him to turn off the light.  The slight hesitancy in her movement and the look on her face as she clicks off the lamp tells us everything we need to know.  In a show where subtext is all, Joan’s disappointment in her husband, and her misgivings about her own choices, are clear.  Later, sitting in the hospital waiting room with Don, I couldn’t help thinking, “they belong together.”  Their parting scene, wordless for the most part, when she kisses him on the cheek and then wipes off her lipstick, tells us they think the same thing.  Under different circumstances, Don and Joan could have been a couple.  Knowing Joan’s disappointment in her own choice of a husband, the scene is that much more effective. 

Roger Sterling also gets a big part in this episode.  He realizes before and certainly after the reorganization meeting that, in the view of Sterling-Cooper’s new owners, he is obsolete.  When Bert Cooper says, “Mr. Sterling isn’t even on that chart,” and Guy replies “Well, that was an oversight,” everyone in the room knows what Sterling is - he’s an afterthought.  Later, after Guy’s foot has been severed by a runaway lawnmower, Roger can barely conceal his glee when he’s in the office with the associates.  “He may lose his foot,” Sterling is told, to which he replies, “Just when he got it in the door.”  Roger, of course, knows what it means.  The organizational changes that were to be put in place, with Guy on top and Roger an afterthought, were out the window.  The status quo, with Lane Pryce (who was about to be exiled to India) on top would remain in place. 

Poor Guy.  He had it all, and then an idiot secretary cuts off his foot.  In 1963 this meant the end of your career.  As Joan says to Don in the hospital, “That’s life: One minute, you’re on top of the world; next minute, some secretary’s running you over with a lawn mower.”  Again, because of Joan’s earlier scene with her husband, the words resonate even more clearly.  Joan hasn’t had her foot severed but her life has changed in a way she never expected, or wanted.  When the British owners arrive they confirm what we already suspect, that Guy’s career is over.  “The doctors say he’ll never play golf again,” Saint-John says, in perhaps the funniest line of the episode. 

Conrad Hilton reappears, this time to ask Don or some free advice.  In a perfect Don Draper reaction he tells Hilton, "I think you wouldn't be in the presidential suite right now if you worked for free." Don Draper is subservient to nobody.  Later, when Hilton tells Don that the next time someone like Hilton offers him an opportunity like this he needs to ask for more, Don replies, “One opportunity at a time.” 

The final scene, with Don holding his baby boy Gene, and with Sally is sitting in his lap, is wonderful.  Sally is scared to death of the baby, thinking he’s the ghost of her recently deceased grandfather.  “He’s only a baby," Don tells her. "We don't know who he is yet or who he's going to be. And that is a wonderful thing."  Of course, we can’t help but think of Don himself, the farm boy with the abusive father and resentful stepmother who has made himself into a sophisticated and successful ad man on Madison Avenue.  He’s changed his name and left his past behind.  No one is more aware than Don of the American opportunity to make (or remake) yourself into whoever you want to be.  In mid-1963, pre-assassination and pre-Vietnam, when America was young and optimism was in the air, Don sees those possibilities for his son and it was indeed a wonderful thing.  Again, as I often do when watching Mad Men, I thought of The Great Gatsby.  Don Draper is Jay Gatsby, the self-made man.  Dick Whitman was James Gatz, the man he left behind. 

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11

I mentioned earlier this week that my wife and I are headed to New York City soon with my nieces and nephews and a couple of their spouses. I told them it was their trip to do what they wanted. One thing I told them was not worth doing was heading down to the World Trade Center site. There’s nothing there to see. Now, it appears they want to do some other things down at the tip so we in all likelihood will pass by the site. But, at least as short a time ago as last Christmas, there really was nothing there to see.

Does anyone else out there find this outrageous? Appalling? Remember the cries that went up in the days and weeks after the buildings came down? “Build them higher!” was the call. We wanted to spit in the eye of the terrorists and their enablers and shown them that as Americans we could not be intimidated.

Now I was never part of the “build them higher” crowd. I knew from my time in New York what the main complaint about the World Trade Center area was, besides its ugliness: it took away the street grid and left the area at night a barren wilderness that no one would go near. There were quite a few nice plans though there was one in particular being pushed by the folks over at City Journal that was gorgeous, stately, grand. Instead they picked the Libeskind travesty. I started a blog back in 2003 that died a quick death, but here is what I wrote there in February of that year:

The selection for the World Trade Center design is a travesty - not that it's much or any better than the other finalists. The Libeskind design team must have included George Jetson (and his boy Elroy) - all post-modern angles coming from every which way, nothing having any relation to anything else, nothing pleasing to the eye. To my eye, it's jarring. What's more, it has nothing to do with the other architecture in NYC. The finest architecture in the city in either a neo-classical or art deco style - and now we'll have this thing soaring above the skyline, sticking out like a sore thumb, like aliens have invaded and set up their own world smack in the middle of Lower Manhattan. Furthermore, the design doesn't take into consideration the rest of Lower Manahattan life, which during the 1990s had evolved into a 24 hour a day area - excluding the World Trade Center, which after dark became a desolate wilderness due to its mass and lack of streets. By not bringing back the street grid that the orginal Trade Center replaced, they've guaranteed the same will happen again. It's a shame. They could have done something grand. They could have put up classical buildings that included the necessary office and retail space and still had a beautiful memorial and plenty of green space. Something that, once you turned the corner and saw it all would take your breath away. Instead, they picked a design that, with all it's high-tech post-modern space age newness, is banal, and barren. As Janet Flanner said about the the decision to build the Tour Montparnasse in Paris, which scarred the Parisian skyline in a similar fashion, "C'est bien triste."

But now, eight years later, nothing. My wife said she heard on the news this morning that the memorial should be open soon and apparently the base of the ‘Freedom Tower’ has been laid. The Port Authority executive director says they want it complete by 9/11/2011 (“all else pales in comparison,” he says) but I wouldn’t lay a dime on that bet. I’m also concerned that the memorial will be weepy and PC, rather than grand and tough. We’ll see.

Oh, and there’s this, from one of the articles I just looked up about the subject:

Also gracing the site is the "East-West Connector," a striking subterranean passageway 60 feet below the streets of lower Manhattan that will revolutionize the way tens of thousands of New Yorkers commute to their jobs.

Great. Send everyone underground. Keeping the grid would have made this unnecessary, and it would have allowed street-level businesses to flourish. New York deserved better.

Digital Barbarians

I haven’t read Mark Helprin’s Digital Barbarism: A Writer's Manifesto and I’m not sure if I will, but it sure looks interesting.  I may not read it because I’m already a convert to Mr. Helprin’s point of view.  His subject is something I’ve long been aware of and concerned about.  So what’s it about?  Let Joseph Epstein, whose marvelous review brought the book to my attention, explain:

Mark Helprin's Digital Barbarism is ostensibly a book about copyright: the need for preserving it and indeed extending its span, the distinctions between it and other forms and kinds of property, the political implications behind recent attempts to eliminate it. As a copyright holder myself, who has not thought lengthily on the subject, but only gratefully collects his peasantries (as I refer to my rather meager royalties) and moves on, Mr. Helprin's argument strikes me as sound, persuasive, even penetrating. But the book is about much more than copyright. Digital Barbarism is, in fact, a diatribe, harangue, lecture, attack, onslaught, denunciation, polemic, broadside, fulmination, condemnation, no-holds barred, kick-butt censure of the current, let us call it the digital, age.

And what are Mr. Helprin’s concerns about the digital age?  Epstein:

Without gainsaying the rich new possibilities that digital technology has made available, Helprin makes the case that this same technology inculcates a frenetic habit of mind, quick on the trigger yet slow to appreciate subtlety and dazzlingly blind to beauty. "The character of the machine is that of speed, power, compression, instantaneousness, immense capacity, indifference, and automaticity," he writes. The other side of this debased coin is that the machine does not understand tradition, appreciate stability, enjoy quality, but instead "[hungers] for denser floods of data" and fosters a mentality in which "images have gradually displaced words."

Early in Digital Barbarism, Helprin posits two characters, one a high-flying executive in 2028 of a company that "supplies algorithms for the detection of damage in and the restoration of molecular memories in organic computation," the other a British diplomat in 1908 on holiday at Lake Como. The first is living virtually the virtual life, so to speak, which means that he is hostage to the machinery of communication and information, flooded by e-mail, cell-phone calls, screen imagery, in a life lived very much from without. The second, reachable only by slow international post, lives his life with ample room for reflection, cultivation of the intellect, acquiring musical and literary culture directly and at leisure. Helprin naturally prefers the life of the latter, and if you don't grasp the reasons why, you are a digital barbarian in the making, if not already made.

Reading Mr. Epstein in full will certainly be more profitable than staying here with me.  But, in case you choose wrongly and stay here, let me make my own meager points. 

I’ve been long concerned that the digital age is producing a state of mind that can no longer recognize, never mind appreciate, beauty, depth, or greatness.  We are breeding a generation that is hooked up to all the latest technology but which appreciates only what can be gotten instantaneously and in small packages, via text messages, Twitter, Facebook, and goodness knows what else.  One of the marvels of the Internet revolution is that information can be shared in real time.  But it’s also has its drawbacks.  You can’t do any analysis on these tiny communication devices, all you can do is transfer raw data.  As a result young people today think in 140 characters, and often much less.  Subtlety, depth, analysis, thought, are impossible in these arenas.  An entire generation is swept up in this world, and it will have its consequences. 

I mentioned many months ago that I created a Twitter and Facebook account for myself.  I twittered three times, I believe, before I realized its uselessness.  What does anyone care, even those closest to me, what I’m watching on TV now, or if I’m off to work, or if I’m bored.  Isn’t that the bulk of what gets written on Twitter?  Now, I’m not totally anti-Twitter.  If you’re someone like James Lileks, who can make anything sound funny (“Picked up dog's arthritis meds. At this price I want him to get up on hind legs and riverdance.”) I’ll gladly browse through his Twitter feeds.  But few have that ability.  For most, the twitter above would end after the first sentence, and again I say, who cares?

The same thing with Facebook.  It is a complete waste of time, at least the way the vast majority of people use it.  I joined up hoping to get into conversations with people, debate issues, talk about movies or music, and the site has the potential for that.  But most users are simply not interested in debate, and don’t have the patience or knowledge to engage for any period of time longer than a few minutes.  From what I see, someone makes a statement, you get a lot of concurrences, and some smiley faces and exclamation points.  Who needs it?

As for text messaging, why not pick up the phone if you need to communicate?  I have long said that I will leave this earthly realm without ever having sent a text message or owned a personal cell phone.  I’ll never understand the need to constantly be in touch.  I’m perfectly comfortable alone by myself. When I’m out on my own that’s what I want to be, on my own.

Now, I’m not anti-technology.  I’m simply dismayed at how its used.  Hell, I’m blogging on the Internet as we speak.  But I do it not for you but for myself.  At the very start of this blog I wrote:

I'm thinking writing about my interests may deepen my understanding of them. Pauline Kael once wrote, in her introduction to Deeper Into Movies, that "I write because I love trying to figure out what I feel and what I think about what I feel, and why." I guess I'm thinking something similar for the blog, though I'd be more comfortable saying "I write because I want to figure out what I think, and why.

And that has proved true.  Writing forces me to think, it allows me to organize my thoughts, it gives me an outlet for self-expression.  I enjoy all those things about it.  I read a six or seven other blogs daily because I’ve found people on the internet who make me think, make me laugh, who expand my own horizons.  I love the Internet, when put to the uses of furthering understanding, knowledge, and open debate.  But the instant, cotton-candy uses the digital barbarians employ it for is corrupting.  It doesn’t expand horizons, it limits them.  Stuck in a world of Twitter, Facebook, and text messaging, the youth of today have no time or inclination to explore the worthy things of life. 

My buddy Mike and I have been in agreement for more twenty years that the cultural and social environment of the day have degraded to the point that we no longer have the capacity to produce another Beethoven, or Michelangelo.  The digital generation has furthered this decline.  Not only can’t the digital age produce a Beethoven or a Michelangelo, it can’t recognize their greatness, preferring instead Michael Jackson or Brittney Spears or the latest American Idol winner.  With the great cultural treasures of the western world at their fingertips, they can’t rise above childish modern pop, violent special-effects movies, and mind-numbing video games.  And tiny little hand-held devices. 

I become daily more concerned that we are leaving the treasure of western civilization behind, not simply the cultural aspects of art, music, and literature, but also the organizing political ideas upon which we’ve all previously agreed.  These youth do not understand nor respect republicanism, democracy, or capitalism.  Many openly disdain them.  It’s no secret that the public schools long ago stopped teaching western civilization (except to criticize it).  That loss of knowledge about, and confidence in, those ideas that have shaped our society may now be coming home to roost.  Enter the digital barbarians and their childish sense of entitlement to every whim or fancy, their lack of civility towards anyone who disagrees with them, and you have the potential for true cultural and political chaos. 

Plato asked (and I’m paraphrasing), “what if one generation of children could be perfectly taught?”, implying that it would lead to a perfect social order.  Well, consider the opposite.  What if one generation of children could be perfectly emptied of all the wisdom of their ancestors?  Now, both those scenarios are equally implausible in that they are asking for perfection, which doesn’t exist.  The concern is that we are producing too many citizens devoid of the cultural and political wisdom that once was a inheritance, a given.  Produce enough of them and you end up with a society that becomes unlivable - think modern day England, which many Brits now living in the U.S. consider to have entered into a state of semi-barbarism. 

I nearly didn’t post this.  If I have any readers at all it well might drive them away, or at least solidify their opinion of me as a hopeless old-fogy.  Be that as it may.  But before you laugh off my musings, please read Helprin’s account of the “holy war” he entered into when the Wall Street Journal published his article in defense of copyright, the article that became the basis for his book.  His account of the barbarians ignorant yet ferocious reaction to his column is not pretty.  

I’m self-taught for the most part, but well enough to know that their are things that make life worth living.  The pursuit of virtue, the pursuit of happiness, the pursuit of wisdom, and the pursuit of beauty, all make up a large part of what I consider the good life, and all of these concepts depend upon one another.  My concern for years was that we were raising (or have raised) a generation which no longer recognizes this, that cannot see the sublime in Bach or Shakespeare, that can’t find beauty in Mozart or Raphael, that can’t perceive majesty in Beethoven or Michelangelo.  The digital barbarians heighten that concern, expand it into the political and social arena.  Their’s is, according to Epstein, “a mind propelled by a strong sense of entitlement, inane utopian visions, and less than no regard for those distinctions and discriminations that make a complex culture hum,” and according to Helprin, “"is against property, competition, and the free market," which "favor a world that is planned, controlled, decided, entirely cooperative, and conducive of predetermined outcomes." At minimum, a mindset like this will degrade public life.  At worst, one is reminded of Burke’s dismay as he watched the unfolding of the French Revolution (the italics are mine):

The unbought grace of life … is gone.… All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the super-added ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination, which the heart owns, and the understanding ratifies, as necessary to cover the defects of her naked shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Last one....

...I think. You must read this great post from Yuval Levin over at The Corner. It summarizes what was wrong with Obama's entire speech. Great stuff. An excerpt, but read it all:
"I am not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to
be the last." The last?

Permanent perfection, in this kind of technocratic vision, would surely
require getting every fine detail just right. Yet Obama did not seem to be
advancing a very detailed plan, but rather championing some vague generalities.
And when you line these generalities up, they form a very peculiar and
implausible picture. It will cost $900 billion, involve no tax increases for the
middle class and no Medicare benefit cuts for the elderly, but not add a dime to
the deficit. The basic prerequisites for risk-based insurance will be rendered
illegal, but the public is assured that insurance arrangements need not
change-or rather that they will only improve.

To try to sneak these glaring contradictions past his listeners, the
president engaged in some familiar misdirection. He said the government would
not force people to lose their existing insurance. But the question of
displacement is not about force: employers currently provide insurance not
because they are forced to do so (they are not) but because a combination of
policy and labor market pressures lead them to choose to do so. Change those
pressures and coverage arrangements will change for millions.

And More....

From James Capretta over at National Review's Critical Condition blog:
It’s as if the president and his team haven’t read anything that the
Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has said about the health-care bills under
consideration. The truth is that these bills would add an additional
runaway health-care entitlement to the ones already on the federal books.
CBO has said that the House bill would set in motion new spending that would
grow at about 8 percent rate per year, while the revenue to pay for it would
increase only about 5 percent per year. You don’t have to be a financial
genius to see a problem here.
No one would accuse Obama or his administration of being financial geniuses. At this point I'd settle for minimally competent but, alas, even that standard seems beyond their grasp.

More On The Speech...

...from the marvelous Jennifer Rubin over at Contentions:
Okay, all Americans who think this is a moderate president who isn’t fixated on partisan politics, hold up your hands. Mr. Biden and Ms. Pelosi agree. Anyone else? I didn’t think so. What was the point of this if not to inflame the Right and gin up the Left? Is the president so inured to and so isolated from people with whom he disagrees that he thinks that with a bone like tort reform (which Pelosi and Harry Reid will embrace right after they enact right-to-work legislation for all 50 states and sentence the Democratic party to poverty by offending their key donor class) he can get a deal? The critics of health-care reform, Obama’s brand, can no longer be accused of exaggeration. This is a nationalization vision in which health-care markets, as imperfect as they are, are replaced by government edicts and an avalanche of new taxes (hmm, not too much about those tonight), so that all is provided and all is given (or taken away). Who needs the public option when government micromanages everything?
And, also from Contentions, John Podhoretz:
OK, wait a minute. He’s trying to sell this to the American people by invoking Ted Kennedy and what Ted Kennedy wanted? Notwithstanding the past few weeks, the invocation of Ted Kennedy’s name brings up complicated associations, and not just for conservatives. This conclusion does suggest he is living in a bubble and doesn’t quite get how to speak to those who don’t agree with him.
The italics are mine. Glad too see others whose opinions I respect came away with a similar take on the speech. I agree whole-heartedly with Podhoretz. Ted Kennedy is not someone you should be bringing up when looking for consensus. There are few politicians in history who are more polarizing. That Obama and those who wrote and vetted this speech don't realize this speaks volumes. The really do live in a bubble.

What Was That?

Barack Obama’s speech last night accomplished nothing, except perhaps outrage opponents of his health care package even more.  What exactly is different about what he proposed last night?  Did he really think that soaring rhetoric (along with multiples nasty shots at his opponents) would reframe the debate?  It’s too late for that.  The health care proposals that he has been selling (or not selling) for months now cannot now be sold simply by rephrasing the issue to sound different.  You cannot a) insure millions more Americans who are currently without insurance, b) improve medical coverage for those who already have insurance, and c) do it all for less money.  The American people know that.  As someone on the blogs said last night, Obama apparently still thinks he’s talking to a bunch of third-graders.

So Obama is going to pay for this 900 billion dollar monstrosity by getting rid of waste and abuse in Medicare.  Who believes that?  Medicare is government-run health care.  Obama himself keeps talking about all the inefficiencies Medicare, but he believes that a new government-run option will not be subject to the same waste and abuse?  Good luck with that.   

Also, Obama’s disdain for profits came out once more last night.  He claimed part of the problem with our current system is the health insurers ‘relentless pursuit of profits.’ Well, I don’t know about you but if I’m a shareholder of a company, relentlessly pursuing profits is exactly what I want the company to be doing.  Profits are good.  There’s no substitute for them.  Without profits you have no progress, no expansion.  Go for long enough without profits and you have no jobs. 

He then went on to talk about how his private option could provide a good option for consumers by avoiding the ‘overhead that gets eaten up at private companies by profits.’  The phrase ‘eaten up’ is telling.  Profits, like some vulture, gobble up all the good parts, according to Obama.  Lets set up a company without a profit-motive!  Like, like….let me think…..like Medicare!  Or the post office!  Or the DMV!   

One more thing.  Preventive care is not less expensive.  It’s more expensive.  For the person who eventually ends up not getting a disease, or catches a disease early-on so that it’s more treatable, preventive care is wonderful.  But you’ve got to test everyone, including the vast majority of those who are never going to get the disease.  Those test cost money and it trumps whatever savings you get from the few who do end up benefitting.  I’m not saying preventive care is not a good thing.  It is.  But it doesn’t save money, as Obama and the left continue saying.

The entire speech was a study in disingenuousness.  It will be picked apart today and in the coming days.  And this was his last shot.  He can’t make another nation-wide televised speech on the issue again.  It may be that everyone finally realizes that nothing on the scale of what Obama and the left have proposed will ever get through Congress.  They’ll come together for some minor health insurance reform, i.e. you can’t be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, you don’t lose you coverage if you lose your job, you can buy coverage across state-lines, etc..  A bunch of the congressional clowns will gather around Obama at the signing ceremony and call it a victory.  But no one will be fooled.  Sweeping health care reform is dead.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Did Hitler Want War? Yes.

I blogged the other day about the response to Pat Buchanan’s column last week entitled, Did Hitler Want War?  My subject then was primarily the response to his column.  Today I’d like to take up the column itself.

Buchanan, in his column (and in his recently published book, Churchill, Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War": How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World) assigns the primary blame for the war on the British war guarantee to the Poles.  Had they not issued this guarantee, Buchanan argues, the Poles would have been forced to negotiate the Danzig issue with the Germans, thereby avoiding six years of war and 50 million dead.  The evidence, Buchanan believes, shows that Hitler did not want war, nor was he after world domination.

This is manifestly not so.  If Buchanan amended his question to “Did Hitler Want War in 1939?” then, yes, I would agree with him.  Hitler did not want war in 1939.  Beginning in 1935 until early 1939, he had remilitarized the Rhineland, absorbed Austria, annexed the Sudetenland, and invaded Czechoslovakia proper, all without bloodshed.  His quest for a pan-German state, for Lebensraum, would not be complete without the re-absorption of the German-speaking sections of Poland and the port of Danzig.  He thought he could achieve this goal in the same manner he’d achieved his previous conquests.  Hitler did not believe the Brits would live up to their war guarantee.  He was aware of the decrepit state of their empire and did not believe they’d risk it over such a silly issue as Poland.  He also knew that in Great Britain it was widely believed that Versailles had been too punitive on Germany; the leadership had actually expressed sympathy towards the German goal of re-uniting Danzig as part of the German state.  Why then would they go to war over the issue?

Hitler views were reinforced by his Foreign Minister Ribbentrop, who guaranteed Hitler that the Brits would not fight.  Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when the British ultimatum was delivered.  From Richard Overy’s classic The Road To War:

When finally of 3 September the British ambassador, Nevile Henderson, arrived at the German Foreign Ministry at nine o’clock in the morning to deliver a British ultimatum there was only Hitler’s interpreter, Paul Schmidt, to meet him.  He took the document over to the Chancellery where he found an anxious party of soldiers and officials waiting for news.  He was shown into Hitler’s study, and in the presence of Hitler and Ribbentrop slowly read out the ultimatum. ‘When I finished,’ wrote Schmidt, ‘there was complete silence.  Hitler sat immobile, gazing before him … after an interval which seemed an age he turned to Ribbentrop, who had remained standing at the window. “What now?”, asked Hitler with a savage look.'

One of the reasons Hitler did not want war in 1939 was that he believed Germany was not ready for a global conflict, neither militarily nor socially.  He expected war though, only he hoped it would not begin until 1942 or 1943.  Then Germany would be prepared to fight the great global conflict that he always knew was inevitable.  From Paul Johnson’s magisterial history of the twentieth century, Modern Times:

Everyone knew Hitler’s aims were ambitious.  The German masses believed they could and would be attained without war, by assertive diplomacy backed by armed strength.  The generals were told that war would almost certainly be necessary, but that it would be limited and short.  In fact Hitler’s real programme was far more extensive than the generals, let alone the masses, realized and necessarily involved not merely war but a series of wars.  Hitler meant what he said when he wrote in Mein Kampf: ‘Germany must either be a world power or there will be no Germany.’ When he used the term ‘world power’ he meant something greater than Wilhelmine Germany, merely the dominant power in central Europe: he meant ‘world’ in the full sense.  The lesson he learned in the First World War and from Ludendorff’s analysis of it was that it was essential for Germany to effect a break-out from its Central European base, which could always be encircled.  In Hitler’s view, Ludendorff had just begun to attain this, at Brest-Litovsk, when the ‘stab in the back’ by the Home Front wrecked everything.  Hence his real plans began where Brest-Litovsk ended: the clock was to be put back to 1918, but with Germany solid, united, fresh and, above all, ‘cleansed’…

…Hitler’s full programme, therefore, was as follows.  First, gain control of Germany itself, and begin the cleansing process at home.  Second, destroy the Versailles settlement and establish Germany as the dominant power in Central Europe.  All this could be achieved without war.  Third, on this power basis, destroy the Soviet Union (by war) to rid the ‘breeding-ground’ of the ‘bacillus’ and, by colonization, create a solid economic and strategic power-base from which to establish a continental empire, in which France and Italy would be mere satellites.  In the fourth stage Germany would acquire a large colonial empire in Africa, plus a big ocean navy, to make her one of the four superpowers, in addition to Britain, Japan, and the United States.  Finally, in the generation after his death, Hitler envisaged a decisive struggle between Germany and the United States for world domination.”

The italics above are mine.  In 1939, Hitler was in the second stage of his program.  He was attempting to make Germany the dominant power in Central Europe.  And he thought he could do it without war.  This is where Buchanan errs, by assuming that Danzig was all Hitler wanted.  By 1939, it had become clear to the other European powers that stage two was not the end of Hitler’s program.  They knew then that more was to come and the longer they waited the more difficult it would be to stop him.  Yes, they should have stopped him earlier but now they must stop him.  Not going to war in 1939 would only postpone the inevitable and against an even stronger Germany.  Hitler didn’t want war in 1939 but the Brits, and eventually the Allies, gave it to him, and thank goodness.  We can play the game of ‘what if’ till kingdom-come but going to war, finally, in 1939 against the brutal butcher of Germany was, in my view and most others, the right thing to do.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Beatles, in mono

When I was around twenty years old I lived in a three bedroom townhouse with my brother.  We rented the third bedroom out to a friend of ours.  Now, my brother and I were both music fans, rock and roll and the blues.  I believe I’ve mentioned previously that our record collection approached 1500 LPs.  Our roommate at the time also had a pretty extensive record collection though it was mostly music I wasn’t interested in.  He had one record though that I treasured – the 45 single of The Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back,” which to me is Michael Jackson’s signal achievement as a recording artist (along with “Billie Jean”, perhaps his only one).  The record was loud, in your face, crackling with excitement.  It captured a sound I’d rarely heard before – I thought it was one of the greatest pieces of rock and roll ever recorded.  I listened to it over and over and over again.

Then the roommate moved out, which was fine with me, but he took the record with him.  No problem. I thought, let me just buy a Jackson Five compilation LP.  Which I did. I put “I Want You Back” on the stereo and waited to hear that enormous sound come wash over me.  Except it didn’t.  The enormous sound was gone.  The record sounded like it had been recorded through a muffler, one designed to drain all the excitement out of the recording, to smooth out all the jagged edges.  The verve was gone.  The record was dull.

It didn’t take me long to figure out the problem.  The original 45 that I loved so much was an original recording, in mono.  The compilation LP had been remastered in stereo.  Hence the difference.  Stereo remasters of songs originally recorded in mono drain all the life out of a song.  Early rock and roll, including rock in the 1960’s, was meant to be heard in mono, i.e. on AM radio.  The producers knew that’s where the songs were headed so they recorded the music with that in mind.  Rock and roll’s ultimate destination was a transistor radio and the producers did all they could to ensure the music sounded alive, exciting, immediate through that medium.  Stereo remasters take sandpaper to those recordings, then throw a blanket over them.  I realized then that much of the music I had been listening to had that blanket thrown over them.  I went back to listen to a lot of the records I had from my childhood, original mono recordings, and realized that, scratches and all, the sound was better, more immediate, more alive, than the stereo remasters of songs from the era.  I’ve been acutely aware of the differences between mono and stereo since.

That is why I am so excited about this.  EMI is about to reissue all The Beatles original albums in both stereo and mono, take your pick.  My pick is clearly mono.  Now, if any band in history was meant to be heard in mono, it’s The Beatles.  The enormous sound George Martin produced for them was perfect for AM radio, as history has proved.  Most of what I have of The Beatles are remastered stereo recordings, except for those five or six original release albums I bought as a child.  Now, I’ll be able to listen to the entire catalogue in exhilarating, ear-popping mono.  Read the entire article about the mono release in the Washington Post Style section by Peter Kaufman.  It’s great.  He explains much better than I the virtues of mono.  

I’ve already told my wife what I want for Christmas this year. 

Monday, September 7, 2009

Vertigo, once more

Remember my Vertigo post? I made the claim there that Hitchock’s so-called masterpiece was not all it was cracked up to be. Indeed, it was somewhat less. Now I have confirmation for my opinion from both Lileks (love the new changes to The Bleat) and one Brian Tiemann, who blogs at a site called Peeve Farm. From James:

It’s a sick, clammy, uncomfortable misfire, and aside from the accidental-documentary tour of pre-Summer of Love San Fran, I don’t like it … As a period piece - fashions, colors, cars, “supernatural” ideas, definitions of “psychological” issues - it’s interesting. As cinema, it’s essential, because Hitchcock is one of those directors around whom argument swirls. (Auteur, or manufacturer of popular entertainment whose technical skill gives the impression of art without the substance?) But its flaws are a direct result of its intentions, and its supposed virtues are imagined by people who regard its flaws as intentional. North by Northwest is crackling fun, carried along by the effortless skill of Cary Grant; Rear Window is Stewart at his best, standing in for Hitch as the observer of the great throbbing meat parade on the other side of the pane of glass. (Window, camera lens - same diff.) Vertigo might be the most personal film, which is why it’s the worst.

Mr. Tiemann is a bit more blunt:

Vertigo is crap.

Read the whole thing and you’ll find out why.

I expect Vertigo will continue to fall in public estimation as the original elite class that dubbed it one of the best movies ever dies off. There’s simply no basis for the opinion. Lileks nails it above when he says “supposed virtues are imagined by people who regard its flaws as intentional.” The people who anointed the film back in the 1950’s were the egg-heads of their time, know-nothings who were attracted by its tragic element. As Lileks also points out, there may have been “a dreamlike gauzy palette that sets it apart from other blaring color movies of the era; at the time, it must have seemed almost impressionistic.” Whatever it was, it is no longer apparent to a modern audience. In other words, it hasn’t held up.

To tell you the truth I find it hard to believe that audiences in the 1950’s regarded the film as great. It was elite opinion that gave the film its reputation in later years. Now that those elites are gone, I expect so too is the general consensus that Vertigo is a great movie.

Again, watch these six movies if you want the best of Hitch. In chronological order:

The 39 Steps

The Lady Vanishes

Notorious

Strangers on a Train

Rear Window

North By Northwest

Buchanan and Hitler

How careful must we be when addressing the subject of Adolph Hitler?  Must we always state up front that we consider him to be evil incarnate or worse?  Must we state it at the start of our comments, then restate it at the end, less we be considered some sort of Hitlerite?  Can we never stop to say that, no matter how evil, he was an extraordinarily gifted man? I thought of this last week when reading responses to Patrick Buchanan’s column noting the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II, Did Hitler Want War?  It caused much commentary and condemnation of Buchanan within the blogosphere.  I have my own quarrels with the column, which I’ll address in a bit, but what caused me to start thinking about the above questions were comments made by the blogger Mætenloch over at Ace’s site.  While condemning Buchanan’s column, Mætenloch pulls out a quote from a book review Buchanan wrote in 1977 as an example of Patrick’s “Hitler-love.”  Here’s the quote in question”

"Those of us in childhood during the war years were introduced to Hitler only as caricature. Either he was a ranting, raving, carpet-chewing Chaplinesque buffoon -- or the anti-Christ, Satan Incarnate, a devil without human attribute who had hypnotized the German people.

Such ignorance is folly. Though Hitler was indeed racist and anti-Semitic to the core, a man who without compunction could commit murder and genocide, he was also an individual of great courage, a soldier's soldier in the Great War, a political organizer of the first rank, a leader steeped in the history of Europe, who possessed oratorical powers that could awe even those who despised him.

But Hitler's success was not based on his extraordinary gifts alone. His genius was an intuitive sense of the mushiness, the character flaws, the weakness masquerading as morality that was in the hearts of the statesmen who stood in his path."

What, precisely, can be argued with here?  How are these basic statements of fact an example of Hitler-love?  Hitler was a soldier’s soldier in the first war, one who exhibited his bravery on numerous occasions.  This is well-documented fact.  From Hitler’s Wikipedia entry:

Hitler served in France and Belgium in the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment (called Regiment List after its first commander), ending the war as a Gefreiter (equivalent at the time to a lance corporal in the British and private first class in the American armies). He was a runner, one of the most dangerous jobs on the Western Front, and was often exposed to enemy fire.[14] He participated in a number of major battles on the Western Front, including the First Battle of Ypres, the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Arras and the Battle of Passchendaele. The Battle of Ypres (October 1914), which became known in Germany as the Kindermord bei Ypern (Massacre of the Innocents) saw approximately 40,000 men (between a third and a half) of the nine infantry divisions present killed in 20 days, and Hitler's own company of 250 reduced to 42 by December…Hitler was twice decorated for bravery. He received the Iron Cross, Second Class, in 1914 and Iron Cross, First Class, in 1918, an honour rarely given to a Gefreiter.

It is also well-established fact that Hitler was a first class political organizer, rebuilding the Nazi party from the near-oblivion it had sunk to while he was in prison for his role in the Beer Hall Putsch.  Under his leadership, the Nazis grew from a local Munich-based party to a national one.  While many of the strategies used to achieve this growth did not originate with Hitler, it was Hitler who chose those with the necessary knowledge and expertise to accomplish the task.  He stepped aside and allowed their strategies to work, a sure sign of a confident leader.  The Nazi party also pioneered many political campaign techniques that are still in use today. 

Granting that, none of these strategies would have been successful without what Buchanan calls Hitler’s “oratorical powers that could awe even those who despised him.”  Who can deny this?   

Finally, as for Buchanan’s contention that Hitler’s “genius was an intuitive sense of the mushiness, the character flaws, the weakness masquerading as morality that was in the hearts of the statesmen who stood in his path," there is little to argue with here.  Hitler had long considered the Western European countries leadership soft, their societies decadent.  He doubted their will to fight and events proved him right, right up until the invasion of Poland.  One by one, Hitler made bold moves that were met with nothing but condemnation, or less, from the west: his rearmament; his introduction of an air force;  his reoccupation of the Rhineland; the Anschluss with Austria; his occupation of the Sudetenland; Munich; his invasion of Czechoslovakia.  All of this occurred without bloodshed and while the English and French sat on their hands.  This was the primary reason Hitler thought the French and English would not fight should he move on Poland.  According to German General Wilhelm Keitel, “In Hitler’s opinion, the French were a degenerate, pacifist people, the English were much too decadent to provide real aid to the Poles.”  Hitler himself said, “our enemies have men who are below average.  No personalities.  No masters, men of action … Our enemies are little worms.  I saw them at Munich.”

So I say, Buchanan’s quote above is perfectly accurate and no example of “Hitler-love.”   I understand Pat Buchanan is suspect when talking about Hitler.  Many regard him as an anti-Semite.  His support for the Arabs and his disdain for Israel has been on full-display for decades now.  While he makes no apologies for his stances, I understand how people can take last week’s column on Hitler as further evidence of these views. (As I said above, I hope to make my own disagreements with the column clear in a future post, hopefully this afternoon.) But the excerpted book review quote can only be cited as an example of “Hitler-love” by those who are willing to view everything Buchanan says in the worst light.  It will not do for adults to hold the view that Hitler must have been a pure maniac, possessed by the devil, in order to do the evil he did.  He was a man, an evil man, but one with extraordinary gifts.  For much of the 1930’s he was a perfectly rational actor on the world stage.  He saw better than everyone else, including many of his generals and advisors, what was available to him and he took it with a number of bold but rational strokes.  His first misstep was the invasion of Poland.

Finally, the obligatory final note: whatever I said above is not to be taken as evidence that I am pro-Hitler.  He was wicked, evil, vile, etc. etc.  He was the worst person to ever live.  Hell, even Hitler himself thought so:

 

An Affair To Remember

My baby and I are heading to New York City for a few days soon. This time we will be hosting five of our nieces and nephews, along with two of their spouses (actually one spouse and one intended as of two days ago - congratulations N&N!) They are all between 20 and 29 years old and I love them dearly, one and all. My one command of them before the trip is that they know the lyrics to Rodgers and Hart's "Manhattan" by the time we arrive. As I told them, someone has to be responsible for introducing them to the great cultural treasures that is their heritage so it might as well be me. We'll see if any of them listen. I'm betting no but with these very special kids I wouldn't be surprised if they get together and learn the song with the intention of serenading me and my wife as we all walk the streets of midtown.

I also asked them to think of what they wanted to do. It's their trip and my wife and I have seen and done it all in NYC so we are open to anything. Alas, I've heard not a word of suggestion yet. Kids. Oh well. I guess they are expecting that I will be their tour guide, which is fine but I'm always afraid what I find interesting will not interest them.

So a week or so ago I made a few suggestions via email: one, a picnic in Central Park, two, a trip to the top of the Empire State Building at night. I told them if they like the idea of the Empire State Building then they ought to watch two movies before we go, An Affair To Remember, with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, and Sleepless in Seattle, with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, two movies in which the building plays an important role. Of course, the second movie could almost not exist without the first, as "An Affair To Remember" provides a vital plot element in "Sleepless in Seattle." Anyhow, I am again doubting whether they take me up on my suggestion but yesterday I took myself up on it.

TCM reran "An Affair To Remember" yesterday at 2:00. I had turned the TV on just to check what time the Red Sox game started and came across the movie just before it started. I'd seen it many years ago but had nearly forgotten the plot except for the ending. It's a wonderful movie, as romantic as they get. Cary Grant is his usual perfection but I was also very impressed with Deborah Kerr. I loved her in From Here To Eternity but have seen little else of her. While I can't really call Ms. Kerr beautiful, there is a radiance about her that transcends beauty. That's what they looked for in leading ladies back then, not beauty, but radiance, that something special that lit up the screen. Katherine Hepburn had it, as did Bette Davis, Myrna Loy, Barbara Stanwyck, and others. (Ingrid Bergman had it too, as did Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn, but they also were classic beauties.) Recently, Emma Thompson has it. Ms. Kerr had it in abundance. You have no doubt from the very first scene that Cary Grant will fall helplessly for her - who wouldn't? That was one of the simple secrets of the old days of Hollywood. Charming leading men, radiant leading ladies, combined with witty dialogue and romantic settings. Charm, delight, effervescence. That's what the old-timers understood was the secret to box office success and they delivered more often than we have a right to expect. "An Affair To Remember" delivers in spades, its slight plot notwithstanding.

Okay, I'm ready to go to New York now.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Bring Them Home

In the ten years that I’ve been reading conservative blogs, perhaps no other issue has caused so much commentary among conservatives as George Will’s calls this week for the U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan and Iraq.  Will, the dean of conservative columnists and arguably still the most influential columnist among the public at large, was an early supporter of both wars.  Not only that, he was a supporter of the democracy project, i.e. not simply the wars but the continued U.S. occupation of both Afghanistan and Iraq in order to help both countries foster free, democratic societies.  He has changed his mind, and many conservatives who support a continued presence in those countries have taken him to task.  To say there has been some outrage is nearly understatement; among neo-conservatives the idea that we should leave before the democracies have been allowed to stabilize is near apostasy. 

I agree with Will, though it was not his arguments that have persuaded me but rather Andy McCarthy’s over at National Review.  In an initial column and then in responses to others on the Corner, McCarthy has laid out a lucid, cogently-argued position that appears to me to trump every argument put forth by those who support a continued presence.  Most supporters of a continued presence in both Afghanistan and Iraq point to the success of the surge in Iraq.  We’ve won in Iraq, they argue, though the job is not yet finished; we should not leave until the Iraqi democratic government is secured.  As for Afghanistan, the generals are now planning a similar surge there.  We should stay, allow the surge to work as it did in Iraq, build up the Afghan army, and only start drawing down troop levels once the Afghans can secure the country on their own. 

In his column and responses, which you should read in full, McCarthy explodes the entire ‘democracy project’ rationale:

There’s no question that the surge in Iraq resulted in the rout of al-Qaeda. For that reason, it has to be counted as a net success. It would have been a strategic disaster to retreat while al-Qaeda was present and fortifying itself.

But then there was the rest of the surge rationale: the claim that we needed to secure the Iraqi population so a stable government, one that would be a reliable ally against terror, could emerge. The same argument now is being made about Afghanistan. Have you taken a look at Iraq lately? We went there to topple Saddam; we stayed to build an Islamic “democracy,” and the result is an Iranian satellite. The new Iraq is a sharia state that wants us gone, has denied us basing rights for future military operations, has pressured a weak American president into releasing Iran-backed terrorists, has rolled out the red carpet for Hezbollah, allows Iranian spies to operate freely (causing the recent ouster of the intelligence minister, who was an American ally), tolerates the persecution of religious minorities, and whose soon-to-take-power ruling coalition vows “not to establish relations with the Zionist entity” — a vow that would simply continue longstanding Iraqi policy, as Diana West points out. If that’s success, what does failure look like?….

….The State Department’s new “democratic” constitutions for Afghanistan and Iraq are a disgrace: establishing Islam as the state religion and elevating sharia as fundamental law. That is not exporting our values; it is appeasing Islamism. It is putting on display our lack of will to fight for our principles, which only emboldens our enemies.

I hadn’t known much of this.   Like a lot of people, I’d lost interest in keeping up with the day to day events of the war.  I had assumed that the government in Iraq was holding back the Islamist influence, that while they were giving a nod to Islam as they must, the leadership was for the most part secular and for the most part pro-American.  From what I’d read in the past I had also assumed that a permanent U.S. base in Iraq was a given.  Most troubling, I also had no idea that the Iraqi leadership was now cozy with the Iranian mullahs.  If all of the above is true, it appears that Iraq, whether we stay for one more day or for another decade, will end up being more threatening to U.S. interests and security that it did when Saddam was in power.  McCarthy further points out that we can stay until kingdom come, the results will be the same because of the nature of Islam:

Islamism is not terrorism. To be sure, Islamism includes terrorism in its arsenal. Still, there is major disagreement among Islamists about when violence should be used and how effective it is. In any event, we must fight the tendency to meld these concepts. Terrorism is a tactic that divides Muslims. Islamism is a belief system that unites tens of millions of Muslims. Abdurrahman Wahid, the former president of Indonesia, estimates what he calls the “radicalized” portion of the umma at about 15 percent. I think he’s low-balling it, but even if he’s right, that would be about 200 million people.

So what is Islamism? It is the belief that Islam is not merely a religious creed but a comprehensive guide to human existence, conformity to which is obligatory, that governs all matters political, social, cultural, and religious, from cradle to grave (and, of course, beyond)….

Why should Islamism matter to us? Because, besides being the ideology that catalyzes jihadist terrorism and threatens our freedoms in sundry other ways, Islamism rejects the premises of Western democracy. Islamists believe that sharia is the perfect, non-negotiable blueprint for law and life, prescribed by Allah Himself. Therefore, Islamists reject the notion of free people at liberty to govern themselves, to legislate in contradiction to God’s law. They reject freedom of conscience: Islam must be the state religion, and apostasy from Islam is a capital crime. They deny the principle of equality under the law between men and women, and between Muslims and non-Muslims. They abjure any semblance of Western sexual liberty: gay sex, adultery, and fornication are brutally punished. They countenance slavery. They encourage polygamy. I could go on, but you get the idea.

This is all horrifying to us, but that is because we are a different civilization. Tony Blair was wrong, as Will has realized in more recent times. Individual liberty and democracy are not “universal values of the human spirit.” And our democracy-building enthusiasts are wrong, and unintentionally insulting to Muslims, when they intimate that the Islamic world will fall in love with our values once they taste a little freedom.

President Bush decried the “cultural condescension” of us democracy doubters. But the shoe of arrogance is on the other foot. Those of us who’ve studied Islam have never doubted its “aptitude for democracy” (to borrow Will’s phrase). The issue has never been one of aptitude; it is about principled beliefs. Fundamentalist strains of Islam, including Salafism, have been developed by extraordinary minds. It is not that these Muslims fail to comprehend our principles; they reject them. They have an entirely different conception of the good life. They believe freedom is not individual liberty but individual submission to Allah’s law. Their very conception of freedom is the opposite of ours. When we talk to them about “freedom,” we are ships passing in the night.

That doesn’t make the Islamists backward. They are convinced that Western liberalism and the Judeo-Christian veneration of reason in faith are corrupting influences that rationalize deviations from Allah’s law and His natural order. They believe, instead, in a pre-ordered, totalitarian system in which the individual surrenders his freedom for the good of the umma — and in which sowing discord (i.e., engaging in what we think of as free speech) is a grave sin, on the order of apostasy. They are wrong in this. Our civilization is superior to theirs, which is why we have flourished and they have faltered. But being wrong doesn’t make them crazy. They don’t want what we’re selling, and they have their reasons….

The fact that Islamists disagree with their terrorist factions on tactics obscures the reality that they heartily agree with the terrorists’ contempt for the West. Most of the places that are sources of Islamist terror do not want Western democracy. They want sharia.

If those who support our continued presence in Afghanistan and Iraq could convince me that the continued presence would affect the final outcome in ways substantially beneficial to the U.S., then I would say stay.  But given the nature of the Islamic mind, the hostility the native populations show towards our continued presence in their countries, the slim chance of our ever setting up secular, pro-democratic, pro-western governments there, I say, enough.  Bring our boys home.

This does not mean I am anti-war or am calling for a retreat from the war on terror.  Again, I’ll let McCarthy speak for me:

Mind you, I’m no dove. I daresay I’m as much or more of a hawk than the nation-building side of the house. I’ve bit my tongue for a long time, and it kills me to write this, because I’ve never bought the nonsense about how you can support the troops but not support the mission. And if someone can convince me we need 40,000 or 400,000 or 4 million more troops in Afghanistan to destroy enemies who would otherwise attack the United States, count me in.

That is what the U.S. military is for: to smash the enemy.  Nation-building is beyond our capabilities in nations that simply aren’t interested.  It is not worth a single extra life of our nation’s finest and bravest to continue an occupation, even for the most benevolent reasons, that will accomplish little of benefit to us. 

Bring them home. 

Friday, September 4, 2009

Mad Men: My Old Kentucky Home

In order for you to fully understand my comments about last week’s episode of Mad Men you must first read Will Wilkinson’s post regarding same (hat tip: Jonah Goldberg.) Will’s main point is this:

I see Mad Men as a show about status and status anxiety in an age of cultural ferment.  

In order to demonstrate this point, Will contrasts the situations of Joan and Peggy.  Joan, as I pointed out last season, is the keeper of the keys at Sterling-Cooper.  She thrives in the man-dominated world at SC, using her charms and looks to get what she wants.  Here’s what I said last year:

She's the ultimate 1950's woman, a woman who revels in being a woman, who loves the attention of men. She'll use her looks to get what she wants without ever questioning whether to do so is wrong. She's comfortable in a man's world. This new beat generation is threatening to her. She's the keeper of the keys at Sterling-Cooper and the world SC thrives in and she doesn't want it disturbed.

Will says something about Joan similar in his post:

Joan is omnicompetent, authoritative, and in full control of her abundant femininity. She has fully mastered the arts of mid-century haute bourgeois womanhood and she knows it.

Peggy, on the other hand, was a virtual non-entity in that world. Shy, not particularly attractive, she was noticed by the young men at SC early in the show’s run only for her status as a potential sex-partner.  Once she got fat (during her pregnancy) she became the butt of their jokes.  Only Don noticed her talent.  But change is clearly in the air.  Peggy’s story has dominated the last two episodes and in ways that make it clear she is to be the embodiment of the social and cultural changes that take place in the 1960’s: two episodes ago it was her new-found sexual freedom, last week it was her experimentation with marijuana (“My name is Peggy Olson and I want to smoke some marijuana.”)  Her growing confidence is shown in other ways also, as when she scolds Harry during the diet soft drink commercial auditions, telling him to remember he was only a guest there.  Will again:

She is anxious and awkward about how she stacks up in the world of women and she is anxious and awkward about how she stacks up in the world of men. But she is toughly confident in how she stacks up as a creative worker. The new willingness of the world to reward her for what she does rather than for what she is grants her a power to independently realize her ambitions unavailable to perfect, normatively realized women.

Peggy, show by show, is realizing that the world is opening up for her.  By the end of last week’s episode she is assuring her old-school secretary that she should worry about her: "I am going to get to do everything you want from me." 

For others, however, the curtain may be closing.  Joan is perhaps one of them.  She’s doing what is expected of her: she rose as far as she could expect at Sterling-Cooper and now she has married a dreamboat doctor, Greg.  However, the dreamboat was unsupportive of her when she was proof-reading the television scripts last season (something she clearly loved) and he later forced sex on her in Don’s office, implying that she must have done it before.  Last week during their dinner party for the chief of surgery she discovers quite by accident that Greg may not be so hot a surgeon after all – it comes out that he blundered an operation.  To cover his embarrassment, he forces Joan to take out her accordion and sing for their guests.  She sings Cole Porter’s "C'est Magnifique," which should be the perfect song for Joan.  But the look in her eyes betrays her sadness.  It’s a heart-wrenching scene. 

Last week’s episode made it pretty clear that Roger Sterling and his type are not long for the world.  I was more than a little uncomfortable with how Roger was portrayed in the episode, perhaps because I like his character so much.  His devil-may-care, don’t take the world or yourself too seriously attitude gives the show a breath of fresh air but those days seem to be over, which. for me, is too bad.  I suppose I see nothing wrong with this quintessential 1950’s rake.  They meant no harm.  They just wanted to have a good time.  But the show last week made it clear that Roger is to be a fool – Don actually tells him he’s foolish, echoing my comments last week that Roger was now seen by others as frivolous.  Perhaps Roger’s sin is that he has started taking himself seriously.  He’s searching for happiness, the middle-aged man’s excuse for leaving your wife for a younger woman (though Roger’s ex-wife Mona is much more attractive than Jane.)  I thought last season he was ready to give it all up for the prostitute Vicki (played by the gorgeous Marguerite Moreau).  Instead, he threw over Mona over for Jane, to whom he is now married.  In last week’s episode, he and Jane give a reception at their country club.  But I think the show over-stepped with his black-face routine.  Would a man as worldly as Roger Sterling not know in 1963 how grotesque this appeared?  Remember, as the show itself made clear, this was a gathering of Rockefeller (read: liberal) Republicans.  They were pro-civil rights.  There was much talk of civil rights legislation and there were marches going on all over the country.  Roger Sterling is an ad man on Madison Avenue.  It’s his job to know what’s going on in the world.  It is impossible to believe that he was not aware of the cultural trends that would make the black-face routine an abomination.  Likewise, I also found it hard to believe that everyone but Don Draper would laughingly approve of such a thing.  I think the show got the cultural zeitgeist of the time wrong (perhaps this was plausible in 1953, but not in 1963) but what is worse is that they could have gotten the point across – that Roger and his type are dinosaurs on their way to extinction – in a much subtler way. 

The less said about the storyline with Sally and her grandfather, the better.  I’ll mention one thing.  The book Sally is reading to Gene is Gibbon’s “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.”  This must be considered another hint at where the show is going.  New York City is in decline, the man-dominated world of the 1950’s is on its way out, another world and other cultural types are on the way in.  That’s the direction the show is going.  I may have more to say about this later in the weekend but I’ll leave it here for now.