Reader Mail

Lost in Johannson

Scarlett letters. Plus, Ben Stein, Hollywood, and Leni. Aristide development. The end of innocence. Snoop dogs, and more.

3.2.04

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SCARLETT LETTERS
Re: Wlady Pleszczynski Oscar Showtime:

Wlady must have filed his Oscar reflections very late indeed -- unless he's back on the Coast where the time difference would have made his working conditions more civilized. I'm impressed. Just like the old days, when theater critics actually wrote for the morning papers. He captured the flavor of the evening with near perfection, too. And he was quite right about Scarlett Johannson, who, like the impressive Sophia Coppola herself, seems to know more about older characters than she has a right to. I watched Lost in Translation the previous night and was struck dumb by how this scion of the famous film family, Sophia, caught the middle-aged American male's angst so brilliantly. Of course she had Bill Murray, sadly overlooked in favor of Sean Penn, as her muse and vehicle, but how do young women like that know so much? I've been in that Tokyo hotel room, or one very like it. Enough said. Except this: Can't we just make Billy Crystal the permanent host?
-- Kenneth E. Grubbs, Jr.
Director, National Journalism Center

I was amused by your description of Susan Sarandon's attire. As my wife and I watched her and Tim Robbins' presentation, we both remarked about a near-Janet Jackson Moment. Clearly, the show's director had the same thoughts, because right then the camera zoomed in on her until the bottom of the frame was about even with her collarbones. Good timing!
-- Warren Mowry

You are right!!! Johannson is the Learned Hand of the acting set. I spent three years in Japan working on my Ph.D. and Lost in Translation did as good a job capturing Japanese opacity and gaijin alienation as I have ever seen on the screen. If you've never seen it, you might take a look at Tokyo Pop -- very underrated in my opinion.
-- Marc Epstein

It's KathArine Hepburn. I know because I spell my name the same way. Loved the article, otherwise.
-- Kit Winterer
Turangi, New Zealand

ARISTIDE'S RANGEL
Re: George Neumayr's Kerry's Dirty Diplomacy:

Kerry's professed opinion of Aristide is but another manifestation of his and his party's tin ear concerning morality and the menace to America when race is involved. Another is the ludicrous presence of Sharpton on their stage. What does it say about the two remaining dwarves that neither has taken the numerous opportunities to tell him directly: " You're, at the least, a fraud, an anarchist, an anti-christ, and a criminal, and one of us is leaving this stage right now." It tells us all we need to know about the essential amorality of the Democratic Party. (This moral relativism has even seeped into the right, where conservative commentators have expressed appreciation of Sharpton's one-liners, and where the Republicans have denied a forum to Keyes, a brilliant, genuinely moral and religious man.) I fear the actions and statements of Kerry and Rangel represent a graver problem for America's future than just pandering for the black vote. In fact they despise our values and role in the world and are dedicated to tearing it down. (Does the seemingly avuncular -- but also Mephistophelian -- Rangel like anything about his country, other than the personal opportunity to rise to power and ease?)
-- J.R. Wheatley
Harper Woods, Michigan.
(Filed from New Orleans, La. where I'm convinced the Republicans couldn't win a national election with a half million vote lead with 15 minutes left in the polling hours.)

HOLLYWOOD'S LENI
Re: Ben Stein's Riefenstahl Madness:

I believe the inclusion of Leni Riefenstahl was directly related to inclusion of Elia Kazan in the list of the recently departed.

At the time of Riefenstahl's death, many Hollywood and New York Times's types tried to compare her notoriety with Kazan's. Basically, the obits read: she may have had horrible politics but could sure create great films. Another case of Hollywood's strange moral equivalence. For them, Kazan fighting against Communists = Riefenstahl whoring for Hitler.
-- Chris Harley
Piedmont, California

I saw the "In Memoriam" bit at the Oscars. I don't know anything about Gregory Peck and never saw (or read -- somehow never had it assigned in high school) To Kill a Mockingbird, so I can't compare him to Leni. However, I caught another person in that segment: Elia Kazan. Hollywood fawns over Leni and how wonderful a director she was, but mention Kazan and the spitting begins. The message we get is that it's okay to be Hitler's favorite and produce the most significant Nazi propaganda, but it doesn't matter how good a director you are if you expose Hollywood's communists.
-- Jeff Chrzanowski
Marlton, New Jersey

I did notice that the applause died down to nothing when she appeared in the "In Memoriam" segment. I think most people were taken by surprise. I was. But, then again, you are talking about a crowd, many of whom fully support Fidel Castro and probably supported the Soviet Union.

I would guess the thinking of including Riefenstahl in the list is that she was a filmmaker first, Nazi second. And the elitist attitude that runs Hollywood and that could snuggle up to The Beard, could put Hitler's most ardent propagandist up on a pedestal.

It can be a tough choice for some. Not me. The cinematography in Triumph of the Will is amazing. The subject matter was excrement. I saw it once, was amazed, then watched the documentary series World At War to remember what Leni's efforts really represented.
-- Paul Austin

Ben, you are missing conscience of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.
-- Jeff Brownell
Herndon, Virginia

Tell Ben Stein that not all Jews are as simpleminded as he is. Many of us recognize that Leni Riefenstahl was a major film artist who paid with her career for making one retrospectively infamous propaganda film for Adolf Hitler. Since 6 million innocent Jews also lost their lives, the loss Riefenstahl suffered seems rather insignificant. But it was entirely appropriate for the motion picture academy to memorialize the director of Olympiad and Triumph of the Will on her death.
-- unsigned

Are these the same people who accuse Mel Gibson of anti-Semitism?
-- Kevin Walsh

THE END OF INNOCENCE
Re: Elihu Yale's Gay Marriage, Hollywood-Style and Reader Mail's The Climax of the Plot: He's Not for Me:

A delightful article to be sure but I was struck almost dumb by the handful of readers who, in responding to the article, find something shocking, simply shocking, in the idea of homosexuality. Where have these people been all their lives? Are they so sheltered and ignorant and lacking in ordinary human empathy, that they are utterly incapable of thinking that two people of the same sex might fall in love and/or find sexual relations as exciting and rewarding as heterosexuals do?

How can anyone be so ignorant and have managed to live this long?
-- Tom Anderson
Bradenton, Florida

SNOOP DOGS
Re: Jed Babbin's Spies vs. Spies vs. Spies

Secretary Babbin's Jim Morrison moment with Sidney Reilly is very amusing, but he makes an absolute whopper.

Clare Short was very much more than Minister for Paper Clips. She was Secretary of State for International Development, because, like, only the left cares about the poor, OK? In this capacity she threw an unproductive fortune of my money around the world. She only resigned on the war on principle after it was over.

Secretary Babbin is admirably honest in expressing his spiritualist tendencies. To find a third way between the neoconservatives and the paleoconservatives, he should found his own school of thought - "the spiritualo-conservatives." He can kick off by confirming that Osama's dead and that George W. Bush will beat John Kerry.
-- Martin Kelly
Glasgow
SCOTLAND

Jed Babbin replies:
Sorry to have demeaned the office from which Clare Short (any relation to Madeleine the Short?) wasted so much of Mr. Kelly's money. I meant to convey my contempt for her lack of knowledge and expertise in national security matters which is, I believe, comprehensive. Look at it this way: maybe Blair will finally leave, and Short will be thrown in jail for violating the Official Secrets Act. That's what we call a "twofer" over here.

SINNER, REPENT
Re: James Bowman's review of The Passion of the Christ:

I just read James Bowman's review of The Passion of the Christ.

It's now official. Bowman doesn't like anything! I thought Mel Gibson may have appealed to Bowman's snobbishness by using subtitles but alas, even that was not enough.
-- C.J. Cheetham

YOUNG AT HEART
Re: Paul Beston's Coal Into Diamonds

Whoah, there, Monsieur Beston! I do admire your somber nod to the late and mighty Johnny Cash, but cannot hold my tongue in regards to your scurrilous condemnation of Neil Young. I can't vouch for "Pochahontas" because I've never heard it, but to dismiss the old codger's general output as overrated simply because he calls Cortez a killer and tells Clear Channel where to stick it; that's a tad unfair. He's written marvelous, haunting ditties that belie the coarse Haight-Ashbury approximation you've sketched. If you're curious, try the recent re-issue of "On the Beach." If you're familiar with this recording and still not a fan, then I can do no more on poor Shaky's behalf.
-- Andrew Simmons
San Francisco, California

LOOKING OUT FOR VEEP HILLARY
Re: The Washington Prowler's Double Your Trouble:

I see The Prowler dips again into the Hillary as VP waters for 2004. This shows that Kerry will pick someone as soon as possible since he can't afford these reports about Hillary week after week. An earlier than normal VP pick should help the GOP hammer both ends of the DNC ticket.

But I do get a little weary of the usual conventional wisdom about Hillary being on the ticket and it loses this year, or that she'll have to wait until 2012 if it wins, etc. What about the possibility a Kerry/Clinton ticket wins in 2004 but is so lame, so overreaching, so inept, and so grid-locked with a GOP Congress that by 2008 it goes down in flames at the polls? Now that sets up a scenario I'd like to see discussed -- what does Hillary do then?
-- Greg Barnard
Franklin, Tennessee

IT'S UNDER MY THUMB
Re: Theodora Blanchfield's Security Blankets:

I find it interesting that any time security issues come up the discussion invariably turn to some sort of national ID card and/or database. The presumption being that the big bad intruder when found will have the equivalent of the K-Mart Blue Light Special flashing over his head from the system. And my response is, not hardly. Look it has already been admitted by TSA no more than several weeks ago that Osama bin Laden was not in the database they run. TSA has also admitted that they have no procedure for purging someone who is in their database incorrectly. The Social Security system has a team of professionals working with the IRS to close loopholes in the interlink between their systems as it relates to ITN numbers issued by the IRS. And remember the fiasco of last year with Mr. Poindexter? Credit firms like Equifax have something like a 3-5% error rate on the data they keep. Is this kind of performance acceptable for a National ID system? If it is not bullet proof, what value does it serve?

I fear not the great database in the sky on civil liberties issues. I fear it for the irreparable damage that it could possibly do to individual lives. At a 1% error rate per year, that is 3 million Americans who may be incorrectly injured in some fashion. Yes, Americans may like the idea of a national ID card for its supposed curative effects. But let's paint the picture of how this would affect them in practice and then see how they like the idea. Would they say yes if they knew that for a family of four they may have one chance in 25 of having incorrect damaging data on a family member? I think the answer would be a resounding no.

The other practical consideration you mentioned, the need to carry some form of ID. Cards can be duplicated, stolen, forged, lost. As a practical matter cards and passports are a loser. We, the human race, already carry the most nearly perfect ID, a thumbprint. Prints are hard to remove, not easy to duplicate, won't get lost or stolen. Devices already exist to capture, test, compare and store biometric data. Some for less than $200 a unit. If the approach is a national ID, use the biometric data in all of us.

As the commercial says -- "Don't leave home without it."
-- John McGinnis
Arlington, Texas

DEAD RINGER
Re: GMS's letter ("Mug Shot") in Reader Mail's The Climax of the Plot:

Readers' comments about "the new JFK's" appearance reminded me of one of the characters in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. In that film, two Hobbits take a ride on a walking/talking tree. The tree's "face" looks as if it were modeled on the haughty, French-looking junior senator from Massachusetts, who by the way served in Vietnam. In addition, the tree's slow-wittedness and reluctance to join The War To Save Middle Earth also seems to be derivative.
-- Bob Johnson
Bedford, Texas

SEEING IS NOT BELIEVING
Re: I. Moore's letter ("Feel the Kerry Draft") in Reader Mail's The Climax of the Plot :

I find it difficult to believe that anyone could read the article about John Kerry's support of the Equal Rights Amendment twenty years ago and find no contradiction between his "belief " then and his "belief" now. Then, Kerry felt that amending the Constitution was the only way to guarantee equal rights to all women (read feminist voters). Now, it is an illegitimate method of retaining the sanctity of marriage.
-- Joe Baum

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