Friday, September 24, 2004

Quote of the Day:
"Examinations are formidable even to the best prepared, for the greatest fool may ask more than the wisest man can answer."
~ Charles Caleb Colton

Song of the Day:
Shania Twain, "No One Needs To Know"

Happy Birthday:
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Phil Hartman
Jim Henson
Linda McCartney
Nia Vardalos

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Quote of the Day:
"A poet more than thirty years old is simply an overgrown child."
~ H. L. Mencken

Song of the Day:
Doris Troy, "Just One Look"

Happy Birthday
Jason Alexander
Ray Charles
John Coltrane
Julio Iglesias
Mickey Rooney
Bruce Springsteen
Sing it with me: You cannot give tax "refunds" to people who don't pay taxes in the first place.

I'll grant that some of the people this article refers to as "the poor" have paid some federal payroll taxes, and therefore it's possible that some of the money the meanie Republicans aren't going to "refund" them could make up for taxes they may have paid. But not all of it. And the rest of us don't get refunds on payroll taxes either (Leave aside the point that some of us don't actually pay payroll taxes all year. I'm a bit ambivalent about that part of our tax policy.)

The bottom line: If you don't pay income taxes, you don't get an income tax refund. You might get "a windfall," "a handout," "welfare," "a gift" -- but not a refund. Words mean things.

Parroting the Democrats' misleading terminology is just partisan hackery. Same goes for saving this nice summation of the other side till the very end of the piece: "House leaders have long argued that tax cuts are meant to be relief for taxpayers, not added welfare payments for those who do not pay income taxes."

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Lyric of the Day:
"Does he love you like he's been loving me?"
~ Reba McEntire, "Does He Love You"

Happy Birthday:
Scott Baio
Andrea Bocelli
Joan Jett
Tommy Lasorda

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Quote of the Day:
"All human beings should try to learn before they die what they are running from, and to, and why."
~ James Thurber

Song of the Day:
R.E.M. "What's the Frequency, Kenneth"

Happy Birthday:
Larry Hagman
Faith Hill
Stephen King
Ricki Lake
Bill Murray
H.G. Wells

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Mark Steyn says memogate has become a farce:

Dan keeps demanding Bush respond to the ''serious questions'' raised by his fake memos. ''With respect, Mr. President,'' he droned the other day, ''answer the questions.'' The president would love to, but he's doubled up with laughter.
Steyn thinks CBS is stonewalling because the identity of the source "is even more incriminating than the fake documents."

I'm not so sure. But does seem a little odd that they're not hanging their source out to dry by now. Do that, fire a producer or two, and the story is old news by Tuesday evening. Why are they dragging it out?
David Brooks on John Kerry's search for a message: "And so it came to pass there are no swing voters left, because they've all been hired by campaign Kerry."
Jonathan V. Last has an excellent tick-tock on how the CBS forgery story unfolded, starting with the initial catch by a poster on freerepublic.com just a few hours after the 60 Minutes piece aired.
Am I reading this right? Is CBS really blaming the White House for not questioning the authenticity of the "Killian memos" prior to the 60 Minutes broadcast?

Half an hour later, [CBS reporter John] Roberts called "60 Minutes" producer Mary Mapes with word that [Bush commuincations directector Dan] Bartlett was not challenging the authenticity of the documents. Mapes told her bosses, who were so relieved that they cut from Rather's story an interview with a handwriting expert who had examined the memos.

At that point, said "60 Minutes" executive Josh Howard, "we completely abandoned the process of authenticating the documents. Obviously, looking back on it, that was a mistake. We stopped questioning ourselves. I suppose you could say we let our guard down."
Yeah, I suppose you could.

More Howard:

"We gave the documents to the White House to say, 'Wave us off this if we're wrong.' " But Bartlett said CBS never asked him to verify the memos and that he had neither the time nor the resources to do so.
Bartlett: "How am I supposed to verify something that came from a dead man in three hours?"

So CBS shows the White House the documents the day the story is going to air, representing them as authentic documents from Killian's personal file. And because Dan Bartlett doesn't knock them down as forgeries, the whole mess is his fault?

The new CBS defense: "We were testing Dan Bartlett. The real story here is his incompetence!"

Weak.

Rather needs to stop taking Howard Kurtz's phone calls, because every time the WP prints something on this story, CBS looks worse. The WP also has a graphic comparing the documents with the real deal.
Frank Rich in the NYT writes a piece entitled "This Time Bill O'Reilly Got It Right" that seems at first to be a promising acknowledgment that CNN is a load of liberal horse crap. (Don't get me started on the bizarro interview I saw the other day where Aaron Brown asked Sen. Bayh (D-Ind.) to tell us what he's seen on the campaign trail regarding the feeling the American people have about Iraq. He asked Sen. Bayh as if the Democrat senator was going to give us some sort of statistically significant, unbiased Gallup litmus of the American mindset. What a bunch of garbage.) In the end, of course, it's really no more than another masquerade for beating on Fox News. What a fool I was to believe that anyone could simply acknowledge that CNN (or, say, the NYT) was biased crap without taking shots at Fox News.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Tuesday Morning Quarterback, Gregg Easterbrook's weekly NFL hyper-mega-recap, is available here each week.

In other sports news, the Duke football team is no doubt thrilled to be in Blacksburg today for its first game against new ACC foe Virginia Tech.
Captain Indignant didn't like the use of "grow" as a transitive verb at the GOP convention. I agree. It's only slightly less grating to me than it was when Bill Clinton pioneered it.
Quote of the Day:
"When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece."
~ John Ruskin

Song of the Day:
Beastie Boys, "Intergalactic"

Happy Birthday:
Lance Armstrong
James Gandolfini
Greta Garbo
Old line: Bush talks too much about his religious beliefs.
New line: The public doesn't know enough about Bush's religous beliefs!

Thursday, September 16, 2004

What If

So, I've been reading the book Chinese in America by Iris Chang. It led me to contemplate what might have happened if the Chinese had discovered America. Being over here in Asia, I can't help but notice that so many English words have been incorporated into daily use -- the most prominent probably "Bye bye." What if the Chinese had discovered America? Would Chinese be the dominant language? Or is it something about English -- that it is phonetic -- that led it to become so universal and ubiquitous? In Asia, Chinese is very much the dominant language in the way that English is over much of the world. What reason is there to believe that an Asian language could not have become as ubiquitous as a Western language?
Quote of the Day:
"To fulfill a dream, to be allowed to sweat over lonely labor, to be given the chance to create, is the meat and potatoes of life."
~ Bette Davis

Song of the Day:
James, "Born of Frustration"

Happy Birthday:
The Kitchen Cabinet
Henry V
Lauren Bacall
Nadia Boulanger
David Copperfield
B.B. King
J.C. Penney

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Moderates Are Dumb

That seems to be the suggestion of this, from a Volokh reader:

Compared to most groups, conservative Republicans are particularly well educated, as are liberal Democrats (who in 2002 report insignificantly more years of education than conservative Republicans). It's moderate and conservative Democrats who have tended to be particularly poorly educated.
Of course, it's been well documented that university faculties are overwhelmingly left-leaning. ("Does it surprise me that smart people should be supporting Kerry? No," says this smug Princeton professor.) So the real question, says the reader, is "why are smart people in universities so different from smart people in the real world?"
A bridal shop unexpectedly went under this week, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania reacted vigorously:

To make sure that no brides last weekend would have to cancel their weddings -- or wed without their veils -- Pennsylvania Attorney General Jerry Pappert went to court Thursday night and obtained an emergency injunction to open the stores Friday. Consumer protection agents were available, keys to the stores in hand, to whisk any future bride to the stores. Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini also directed that all stores reopen for at least four days from noon to 5 p.m. this week to allow customers to pick up prepaid merchandise.
Next month in Martha Stewart Weddings: "How To Tell if Your Bridal Shop Is About To File for Chapter 11."
A very astute Dick Morris column today concludes that Kerry is in trouble because even his supporters don't really like him.
Lyric of the Day:
"My father is a bastard,
My ma's an S.O.B.
My grandpa's always plastered,
My grandma pushes tea.
My sister wears a mustache,
My brother wears a dress.
Goodness gracious, that's why I'm a mess!"
~ West Side Story, "Gee, Officer Krupke"

Happy Birthday:
Agatha Christie
Tommy Lee Jones
Dan Marino
Merlin Olsen
Oliver Stone
William H. Taft

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Black To Fade?

Jessica Seigel reports on yet another sure-to-fail attempt by the fashion powers that be to get women to abandon black as their wardrobe staple:

[M]any designers wear black in their Fashion Week bows even while sending out orange dresses - surely a secret message to New Yorkers and fellow travelers to stay strong: so buy the kelp-green bag, coral-reef scarf and turquoise shoes. Mix and match. The rest stays black.
Pink was supposed to the new black last spring. Now we're being told it's white.

Meanwhile, I have been on the lookout for a knee-length wool coat for the winter -- in black, of course.
Eugene Volokh has uncovered the shocking truth about the perverts we're allowing to get married these days. Via InstaPundit.
Jonah Goldberg loveslovesloves the CBS forgeries controversy: "If this story were hot fudge, I would smear it all over my body and then roll around in nougat."

Tell me about it! If this story were liver, I would eat it with fava beans and a nice chianti. If it were a radish, I would grate it with a microplane, blend it in a tarragon-pea purée, and serve it over mixed greens. If it were non-fat chocolate frozen yogurt, I would strip to my undies and eat it from the carton while watching Law & Order.

Seriously, the only way this could get more satisfying would be if we learned that CBS got the documents fresh off a Kerry campaign printer. Unfortunately, I suspect that the original source was some poor schmuck who thought he was doing Kerry a favor and got carried away. The real loser is CBS.

NRO's Kerry Spot has been an excellent up-to-the-minute source on all this.
Celebrity Sightings

I did see two interesting people on a domestic leg of my flight: a former Super Millionaire player and someone who most certainly was wearing a Superbowl ring.
Blogging from the Tokyo International Airport only because I can. It costs about a dollar for ten minutes of access, and seeing that no one has seen fit to send me email during the sixteen or so hours I've been traveling, I've finished checking my email and have six minutes of time left.

Sorry I've been gone from the blog -- a move and a variety of other events have taken up my time. I'm now overseas for a week, but will try to blog interesting news if and when it arises.

It's difficult to post anything interesting here because I can only have one browser window open at a time at this internet kiosk.
Lyric of the Day:
"It's not I'm anti-social, I'm only anti-work."
~ West Side Story, "Gee, Officer Krupke"

Happy Birthday:
Faith Ford
Franz Josef Haydn
Ivan Pavlov
John Pelham
Albert Shanker
Kimberly Williams

Monday, September 13, 2004

Lyric of the Day:
"Dear kindly Judge, your Honor, my parents treat me rough.
With all their marijuana, they won't give me a puff.
They didn't wanna have me, but somehow I was had.
Leapin' lizards! That's why I'm so bad!"
~ West Side Story, "Gee, Officer Krupke"

Happy Birthday:
Fiona Apple
Nell Carter
Roald Dahl
Bela Karolyi
Jean Smart

Back from the Beach

Vacation's over; it sort of feels like school has started again. Except that I'm back at the same desk I sat at all summer.

Kate is somewhere over the Pacific right now, but stay alert for possible blogging from her once she gets where she's going.
Kathryn Jean Lopez links to this description of a class at Yale Law. The class is "Regulating Love, Sex, and Marriage." Lopez thinks the syllabus, which features many titles on domestic abuse and marital rape, indicates that the class is teaching that "MARRIAGE = OPPRESSING, BEATING, AND RAPING WOMEN."

Lopez doesn't account for the fact that virtually all legal instruction centers around conflict and worst-case scenarios. In the classic contracts cases, for example, you've got letters crossing in the mail, intentional breach, tragic misunderstandings, unconscionability, et cetera. Somebody's always unhappy; that's why they're in court. But the take-home message of contract law isn't "Don't form contracts"; it's "Here's how we've structured the law to prevent and minimize conflicts."

Similarly, you're not going to learn marriage or family law by reading about how fantastic marriage and families are. Violence, rape, and other forms of exploitation are bad things that happen in marriages. That's why you see a lot about them on the syllabus of a marriage law class.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

A WP article explores the difference in fertility rates between the red and blue Americas:

In states where Bush won a popular majority in 2000, the average woman bears 2.11 children in her lifetime -- which is enough to replace the population. In states where Gore won a majority of votes in 2000, the average woman bears 1.89 children, which is not enough to avoid population decline. Indeed, if the Gore states seceded from the Bush states and formed a new nation, it would have the same fertility rate, and the same rapidly aging population, as France -- that bastion of "old Europe."
And that means the reds are poised to take over. Get busy, blue Americans!

I am now officially on vacation! It has been a hectic September, following a blah summer, and I am ready for some real downtime. I'll be back this weekend or next week.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Book/Movie Review

Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies as Opposed to Stephen Fry's Bright Young Things: Doubting All

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh is an epic satire of English high society after the Great War written with the brittle wit, insinuating intimacy, and skittering attention span of a gossip column. The protagonist Adam Fenwick-Symes, a posh but broke young writer, does, in fact, end up penning a tell-all newspaper column after his unpublished manuscript is confiscated at customs on his return from the continent and burned. (The officer also takes his copy of Purgatorio, which "doesn't look right." It isn't: based on what follows, Inferno would have been more appropriate.) Typically of both himself and all the people in his set, what Adam feels is more on the order of inconvenience than outrage.

For one thing, he's already spent the advance from his publisher. Having no money or income further means he can't afford to marry his girl Nina. The fate of their engagement goes up and down with Adam's financial prospects, and in the world Waugh depicts there's no other basis for marriage, certainly nothing like common morality or religious adherence. Which turns out to have its convenient side, after all: Adam and Nina don't let the inadvisability of their marrying each other keep them from sleeping together, even after she's married to someone else. (Nina brings Adam home for Christmas and presents him as her husband to her addled father, and to the servants who know better.) Nobody in the vast array of characters Adam and Nina come across socially and professionally would do any different. Adultery is common morality to them.

Vile Bodies imagines no alternative in the present for its amoral creatures (who live down to such names as Miles Malpractice, Father Rothschild S.J., and the Duchess of Stayle) and only a worse future, when they'll lack the will to get serious about the (unspecified) international conflict they'll be engaged in. (We last see Adam, having lost his platoon on "the biggest battlefield in the history of the world," a scene of "unrelieved desolation," still playing footsie with Nina by mail and trying to get his money from a drunken major who earlier placed a bet on a winning horse for him.)

When Adam first visits Nina's father (to hit him up for £1,000 so they can marry), he asks the taxi driver to take him to Doubting, the father's house. The taxi driver refers to it as Doubting Hall, which he pronounces Doubting 'All, the pun at the center of the book's vortex. From Waugh's point of view, "doubting all" is the characters' universal problem. (Vile Bodies came out in 1930, the year Waugh converted to Catholicism.) The glittering world of the book is a world without answers in which it's considered vulgarly "impudent" even to formulate the questions.

But despite the prophet's disapproval underlying the book, you can see why it would be sensationally and enduringly popular. It presents the same warning as a medieval ship of fools--"Repent Before It's Too Late!"--but with enticing, exquisitely kaleidoscopic, jazz-age dazzle. (Plus it has the good commercial sense not to get too specific about those unformulated questions.) What keeps the book spinning and refracting light is the way Waugh maintains a mature distance from the characters' gaddings-about while describing them in an up-to-the-minute idiom they themselves could appreciate. The book is giddy yet effortlessly accomplished, as if the author had performed an autopsy with a pearl-handled letter opener, without getting up from his chair or even putting down his cocktail. Waugh, who published the book when he was 26, comes across as the most enviably, fantastically deft young-old man, the ultramodern precocious fogey (infinitely better company than T.S. Eliot).

Vile Bodies is perhaps the least cumbersome, the most "deliciously" entertaining epic in literature. Its qualities are so unusual for epic that it applies some pressure to the definition of the genre. Epic is the romance of the group, and in its classic literary form, in Virgil's Aeneid, it serves as a glorification and justification of the group's destiny. Their destiny is ordained by the heavens and their military prowess in establishing a realm on earth reflects this higher sanction. Milton's Paradise Lost puts more emphasis on the spiritual than the earthly element but likewise has a martial vigor and grandiloquence.

The question, then, is whether Vile Bodies is too slight for epic. We expect a certain monumentalism of the genre, but epic has to mean something besides a production of sufficient scale (walled cities, sea-darkening fleets, massed armies, transport to heaven and hell, etc.). Isn't scope perhaps more important, that is, the ambition of the author to achieve an encompassing vision of the significance of the group's destiny? This factor gives Fiddler on the Roof (1971) more epic dimension than Lawrence of Arabia (1962), for all its chivalric sweep, and it's precisely what Waugh sneaks in on you while you're cackling over his clueless debauchees.

Another problem with epic is that in modern democratic countries artists tend not to be possessed of epic certainty. It turns out that such certainty, however, isn't essential. Instead, the artist's vision can be an expression of his doubt as to the group's destiny. Thus, Vile Bodies is an epic treatment of the English elite in which their presumption of eminence has a grandly hollow resonance.

Which is to say that Vile Bodies is an ironic epic--it pointedly places an epic structure on a foundation incapable of supporting it. The focal moment in this respect comes when Nina and Ginger, the rich husband she doesn't love, are flying to Monte Carlo for their honeymoon and Ginger asks if she knows a bit of poetry that he only half-remembers and misquotes and has no idea is John of Gaunt's tribute to England in Shakespeare's Richard II. (Ginger's version begins, "This scepter'd isle, this earth of majesty, this something or other Eden.") Ginger gestures toward the English epic ethos by following up with, "Well, I mean to say, don't you feel somehow, up in the air like this and looking down and seeing everything underneath. I mean, don't you have a sort of feeling rather like that, if you see what I mean?" Ginger, like Waugh, is looking down on the island but in his mouth the most movingly nationalistic verse in English letters becomes burlesque, exposing Ginger and his kind and sapping the sentiment as he gives halting voice it. To finish off any pretensions to national ascendancy Waugh ends his book by plunking down on that outsized battlefield a warrior-protagonist too emblematically depleted to accomplish anything on it.

Americans, who have become the most self-questioning of all triumphant peoples, have grown familiar since the 1970s with ironic epic in our movies. For instance, Francis Ford Coppola's first two Godfather movies (1972, 1974) show the establishment of a Sicilian-American dynasty on new shores, as if in continuation of the Aeneid. The characters at the center of the action where the heroes would be in the ancient poem, however, are brutal criminals. The baptism sequence at the end of the first picture, in which the crown "prince" Michael stands godfather to his nephew while his henchmen murder his rivals with paramilitary precision, manifests not the sanction of the gods but the empty formality of Michael's religious commitment. It certainly isn't sin-cleansing blood that's flowing.

Robert Altman's Nashville (1975) is perhaps the closest thing to Waugh's Vile Bodies in movies: both wickedly satirize enclosed societies in a way that radiates beyond them. Set in the country music industry, Nashville is a casually structured pageant of the comings and goings, the ups and downs, the ambitions, ruminations, and dalliances, of 26 characters--"royalty," courtiers, suppliants, all of them more or less ridiculous or compromised--who converge at a concert in support of a self-appointed savior of a presidential candidate. On Sunday morning we get a cross-section of the church services they attend, with apparent sincerity, but their lives are caught up in a kitsch mixture of art, religion, and politics that seems to satisfy no one deeply. Nashville ends with an assassination at the city's replica of the Parthenon and the final shot is a pan up to the empty sky, putting in place epic monumentalism and undermining it at the same time. (Nashville is much closer to Vile Bodies than Altman's Gosford Park (2001), a satiric murder mystery that "achieves" an almost Soviet degree of humorlessness about British class relations.)

This does not mean, unfortunately, that filming Vile Bodies is a sure thing. The actor Stephen Fry (A Handful of Dust (1988), Peter's Friends (1992), Wilde (1997), Gosford Park (2001)) has made his directorial debut with an adaptation of it and the kindest thing I can say is that the new title Bright Young Things, a phrase drawn from the book, is better than the original. Vile Bodies suits a collection of Jonathan Swift's poems (e.g., "The Lady's Dressing Room" which makes you gag til you laugh); Waugh's disgust just isn't that carnal. (After sleeping with Adam Nina says, "All this fuss about sleeping together. For physical pleasure I'd sooner go to my dentist any day.")

Adam's volume of Purgatorio has been dropped, but the movie opens at an Inferno-themed party, hinting at a spiritual-visionary quality that, alas, it otherwise misses entirely. Beneath its chic surface the non-stop partying in Vile Bodies is supposed to be as ghastly as in Poe's Masque of the Red Death, but Fry's handling of the breathless opening bash is too explicit. If any director does have the touch to get a memorable laugh from a flapper saying how bored she is while flapping, it isn't Fry. From the start everything that's understated in Waugh becomes overstated in the movie, which you could forgive if it helped people who haven't read the book get the jokes. But that's just the start of the movie's problems. The culmination of them is that Fry either doesn't understand the total irony of Waugh's view in Vile Bodies or deliberately chose to violate it in order to make the movie more palatably movieish.

The movie turns Adam, Waugh's cipher of a writer-protagonist, a juvenile so trivial the association with the fall of man and original sin seems (purposely) overblown, into a romantic hero. This changes the genre of the movie from an all-out epic satire into an ironic romance with a heroic turnaround on Adam's part. Late in the book Adam sighs, "Oh, Nina, what a lot of parties," and then in parenthesis the narrator describes the variety of parties these shiny insects have been swarming to for years on end, leading up to the incomplete phrase, "Those vile bodies." In the movie the parenthesis is given as a speech to Adam, suggesting he's become fed up and is gaining insight that the Adam of the book is incapable of. (And also suggesting an identity of Adam with Waugh that in the book could function in only the most self-accusatory way.)

In order to sustain Adam's maturation, the script hacks off the subsequent episode in which he takes the married Nina to Doubting Hall for Christmas, leaving behind a (rubber) check for Ginger in repayment of the amount for which Adam had previously sold his interest in Nina to him. Adam, Doubting, Christmas--does this sound like an expendable episode in a Catholic author's work? Instead the movie changes the book's era from the "near future" to the historical late '30s and adds a coda in which Nina works in a war-production factory and Adam, having got the money from the major, gives it to Ginger and moves in with Nina to live contentedly broke. You'd think a gay English director with a literary bent would be familiar enough with Auden to know that the atmosphere of the '20s and '30s aren't interchangeable, but what's really dispiriting is the way the movie turns blitzed-out London into a re-education camp for Adam and Nina.

The movie doesn't trust us to enjoy Waugh's vision and be improved by it, so it keeps senselessly propounding Waugh's disgust with the high-society revels outright. The taxi driver, for instance, doesn't say "Doubting 'All" but he does complain to Adam that an experience like the Great War would be good for the young people nowadays. Though he's meant to be a crank (the movie couldn't be explicitly pro-war, of course), that's exactly how the script has rewritten the ending. And while the American lady evangelist Mrs. Melrose Ape is still presented as a grotesque charlatan (lighted from below Stockard Channing in a gaudy purple suit looks like Little Richard), the opening of her speech, "Just you look at yourselves," which in the book brings on such searching self-examination as "Darling, is my nose awful?", now leads to a tirade that reflects the movie's own attitude toward the superficially beau monde.

The most explicit condemnation comes, peculiarly, from a race car driver Miles Malpractice is going with, who hollers something like, "What's wrong with you people?!" The movie doesn't make clear his source of moral authority and then drops him from the picture. In the scene in the book the driver "heartlessly" shows more concern about his car than about Agatha Runcible, who's driven off in it and disappeared. (Why have we been given this speech, which, in the characters' parlance, is truly "bogus," and not the slapstick involving Agatha's smoking in the pits?)

But the most staggering switch-up comes in the handling of the homosexual Miles. The movie's Miles, a snotty, ferret-faced drug addict, is flagrant in a way he isn't in the book, and yet when he has to leave the country because of his homosexuality Fry stops everything for a tearful scene clearly meant to elicit our sympathy. It makes no sense: the movie has, if anything, made Miles even more representative of his hellish circle, undercutting any reason for us to care especially what happens to him. (In the book Miles's fate is summed up in two unemphatically informative lines between Adam and Nina.) This ill-fitting Wilde remnant is an obvious piece of self-serving special pleading on the part of the openly gay Fry, and it grinds the story's gears to filings.

The huge cast of characters in the book whirl by in a blur and register like an infinite string of zeroes with no positive integer at their head. Waugh shows no affection for any of them, no investment in any individual's fate. There's every reason to sympathize with actual victims of oppressive sexuality laws, but these aren't real people. They're not even realistically drawn characters. They're appealing because they're so totally, amusingly, flatly irredeemable.

The book is not for simps who think a work should give you a reason to care about, root for, or like the characters. This is related to the fact that it's not a novel in any sense except the least meaningful (as a work of prose fiction of a certain length). It's prose satire and so thoroughgoingly satiric it scarcely contains what could be a called a satiric norm, i.e., a standard, explicit or implicit, by reference to which the targets of the satire could ameliorate their behavior. We can infer a norm by negative implication but that's very different from having anything invested in the characters' fates.

By contrast, in Nashville Altman respects his central figure Barbara Jean as an artist in the midst of all the empty activity, and the Godfather movies are tragic by virtue of making clear to us what Michael might have been if he hadn't got involved in the family operations. Both movies have a more palpable, passionate sense of this world as fallen, of experience as a decidedly mixed proposition, than Vile Bodies. Waugh's tone in the book is perfectly, glacially consistent. Fry's movie varies the tone, fumblingly, and comes to seem like a bad adaptation of Anthony Powell rather than a bad adaptation of Waugh. Powell is a greater writer than Waugh but this doesn't rate as a feat.

Bright Young Things is the sort of movie that makes critics say it's as relevant now as it was when published. On the one hand, irony, the literary genre that measures the distance between the ideal and the real, is always "relevant," given man's moral imperfectibility. On the other hand, Vile Bodies wasn't especially predictive of the English "near future." No one can say the English didn't pull their socks up and defend the better cause in World War II. Not only that, the soldiers would have been a decade or so junior to Waugh, which is something no satirist expects, that the younger generation will have strengths and virtues his own lacks.

Fry has asked for this kind of comment by eliciting contemporary concern over tabloid news and paparazzi and commercial violations of privacy. This kind of banality is nearly the reverse of Waugh's suavity and misplaced to boot, since the problem to Waugh is not that the characters are caught out by the press but that they're doing what they're doing in the first place. But as an aesthetic matter it's worse that when the movie makes Waugh's naughty figurines redeemable they cease to be interesting. This is nearly inevitable because the script hasn't changed the story enough to support its romantic warping of a plot originally carpentered as satire.

All told, Bright Young Things is one of the most depressing obliterations of a literary source that comes to mind, much worse than the recent Wings of the Dove (1997) and Nicholas Nickleby (2002). It harks back to a fundamentally compromised Hollywood studio production like Madame Bovary (1949), a movie that similarly fails to appreciate, or even perceive, its source author's ironic outlook.

I'm a slow reader and I tore through Waugh's 321-page book at cheetah speed. If you add travel time, dinner, and the now-endless advertisements and previews before the 106-minute movie, you could stay home, read the whole book, and still get to bed earlier. The pleasures supplied by the comic acting of Jim Broadbent, Fenella Woolgar, Imelda Staunton, and Peter O'Toole are considerable but too incidental to rate a recommendation. There's no reason to see the movie.

A footnote about fallen behavior: lest anyone think that Waugh wrote from a morally unattainable height, look for the bananas in this review of a memoir by his son Auberon.

You can find this review and a lot besides at Blogcritics.