Hollywood made a silent film in the 21st century. Big whoop. Now they’re acting like they pioneered something “groundbreaking.” Originality is clearly not Hollywood’s forte. Perhaps their sanity is also in question. When the industry touts a film such as The Artist merely because the movie features a cute dog and a handsome unknown French actor, I wonder who exactly should go to rehab. Now the French acteur is going to win lots of awards, and the boorish Weinstein Brothers will plow ahead with their grand careers despite the fact that Harvey “The Punisher” Weinstein is rumored to be fond of hurling unbelievable insults as well as office paraphernalia at his underlings. I guess people take his movie choices seriously because he has produced so many great movies in the past. Either that or they’re scared to say he’s a big fat demon who will get an Oscar for convincing us his crappy silent film actually deserves one.

“Originality is clearly not Hollywood’s forte.”

In more clichéd news from Los AN-hell-eez, it has been reported that Demi Moore collapsed and entered rehab because of her addictions to…get ready for it…the list is a doozy…here it comes…wait for it…wait for it…Red Bull, nitrous oxide, Adderall, and synthetic marijuana. All this with huge doses of no food. She has been in AA for years and her sponsor just died. Is this the reason for her relapse? Poor dear has no clue what it means to age gracefully. Dare I say her greatest addiction is to youth? Get up, get out of Hollywood, and get over it, lady. Your kneecaps are too wrinkled to wear short skirts. You are an embarrassment to your children. Go back to Sun Valley and grow old gracefully and in obscurity. Your mind is befuddled. Cut your hair, get some air, or push up daisies. Please.

Nutbags are just as ubiquitous over in England. Nothing compares to Sinead O’Connor. She was famous about 25 years ago because she shaved her head, tore up a picture of the Pope, and sang a song called Nothing Compares to You. O’Connor has been in the news recently because she decided to get married in Vegas looking like a fat, pink, tattooed version of Britney Spears when she was mad at Kevin Federline. Or maybe she looked more like a sea lion that was undergoing chemo. Either way, Sinead left her new doofus of a hubby two weeks after tying the knot. After that she Tweeted that they reconciled, but it only lasted a few days before they broke up again. Guess what? Now they’re back together! The guy looks normal, but he is a drug counselor so maybe he’s a bit bonkers himself. Maybe he’s looking for new clients? Too bad Sinead doesn’t look like she did back when she was actually famous for something, but the sex is probably still good, as it always is with the non compos mentis.

At the end of Sunday mass at the church this writer attends in Washington, D.C., the pastor asked the congregation to remain for a few minutes.

Then, on the instructions of Cardinal Archbishop Donald Wuerl, the pastor proceeded to read a letter.

In the letter, the Church denounced the Obama administration for ordering all Catholic schools, hospitals and social services to provide, in their health insurance coverage for employes, free contraceptives, free sterilizations and free “morning-after” pills.

Parishioners were urged to contact their representatives in Congress to bring about a reversal of President Obama’s new policy.

Now, not only is this a battle the Church must fight, it is a battle the Church can win if it has the moral stamina to say the course.

In forcing the Church to violate its own principles, Obama has committed an act of federal aggression, crossing the line between church and state to appease his ACLU and feminist allies, while humiliating the Catholic bishops.

Should the Church submit, its moral authority in America would disappear.

“If Obama loses the Catholic vote, he loses the election.”

Now, undeniably, the church milquetoast of past decades that refused to discipline pro-abortion Catholics allowed the impression to form that while the hierarchy may protest, eventually it will go along to get along with a Democratic Party that was once home to most Catholics.

Obama’s problem today is that not only is he forcing the Church to violate her conscience, he dissed the highest prelate in America.

In November, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, held what he describes as an “extraordinarily friendly” meeting with Obama at the White House.

The president assured the archbishop of his respect for the Church, and the archbishop came away persuaded Obama would never force the Church to adopt any policy that would violate her principles.

Ten days ago, Obama sandbagged the archbishop.

He informed Cardinal-designate Dolan by phone that, with the sole concession of the Church being given an extra year, to August 2013, to comply, the new policy, as set down by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, will be imposed. All social and educational institutions of the Catholic church will offer health insurance covering birth control, or face fines.

Middle America’s quaint pastimes are mocked. Quirky teens navigate suburbia’s dark, surreal underbelly. Filmmakers make films about filmmaking. Families are weird, the planet is dying, baby boomers are awesome, everyone’s gay, and America sucks.

Welcome to the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, which, as you can see from this year’s lineup, was indistinguishable from every previous Sundance Film Festival.

Aging actor turned mail-order mogul and wealthy landlord Robert Redford was instrumental in founding the festival in 1978, ostensibly to help local Chamber of Commerce types promote Utah to Hollywood as a shooting location (movies, not mammals or drugs). Today, Sundance is an annual busman’s holiday for the showbiz elite and those who aspire to join their ranks.

“If accusations of hypocrisy trouble Redford’s tousled head, he doesn’t let it show in public.”

Being able to say your movie “played Sundance” shoves a budding filmmaker into a higher caste. If it’s a festival hit, distributors will fight over it, your calls are more likely to be returned, and you may even snag an Oscar nomination.

Not all the entertainment at Sundance is up on the screen. This year, comedian Chris Rock manhandled a reporter and broke his camera when the fellow dared mention Newt Gingrich’s name in his presence. Those craving celebrity-spotting thrills of a quieter kind can take in the many dinners, concerts, and parties sponsored by the likes of Google and T-Mobile while rooting through their swag bags for high-end goodies.

The irony seems to be lost on these assembled blue-state hipsters that during their favorite film festival, Park City’s faux-rustic streets sport as many sponsor logos as the average NASCAR vehicle.

Sundance has become so “establishment” that it’s spawned the parallel Slamdance festival, a “guerrilla” challenge to the former’s elitist commercialism. Now in its 18th year, Slamdance has also launched some Hollywood careers, but its recent partnership with Microsoft and Xbox cost it some indie cred. Surely a counter-counter-“-dance” festival is taking form in some college kid’s mind. Luckily, Utah has lots of space.

Redford and company’s yearly journey to the Jell-O State is the farthest most of them get from either coast, not counting trips to Cannes.

Alejandrina Cabrera was born and raised in America and graduated in the 1980s from the same Arizona public high school as former UFC heavyweight champion Cain “Brown Pride” Velasquez. On Wednesday a judge in Yuma County—a flat, sun-murdered vacuity in the Grand Canyon State’s dusty southwestern corner—ruled that Cabrera does not possess the rudimentary English skills necessary to serve on San Luis City Council.

A video of Cabrera’s court appearance reveals a woman with a weaker grasp of Inglés than even José Jiménez, Speedy Gonzales, or the Frito Bandito:

Prosecutor: Where did you go to high school?
Cabrera: In 1986.
Where at?
In, um…in 1983.
Excuse me—I asked you when—where did you go to high school?
[Pause] Yes.
What school?
After, uh, high school, um, I went to college.
And where did you go—
[Judge Nelson interrupts]
Nelson: Just a moment. Mrs. Cabrera, you can step down. You can go back there.

The judge had heard enough. In his ruling that disqualified Cabrera from eligibility to run for a seat on the San Luis City Council, Nelson pointed to a “large gap” between Cabrera’s “basic survival English” and the level of aptitude required to perform her duties. “It was clear to the court that she was stymied by many questions, did not understand many questions, failed to comprehend what was being asked, and guessed at answers,” Nelson wrote. Cabrera’s lawyers appealed Nelson’s ruling on Friday and are expected to file an appellate brief today.

“Although E Pluribus Unum sounds nice in theory, it tends not to work in practice, especially when one emphasizes the Pluribus at the Unum’s expense.”

Arizona has become a bellwether for what will likely be America’s grandest cultural divide of the 21st century: the demographic struggle between Anglos and Hispanics, two groups that are split along a seemingly intractable linguistic rift. Arizona is home to an ongoing immigration dispute that has pitted the governor against the president. The state recently outlawed a “Mexican-American Studies” program that was deemed to encourage Hispanic resentment against Anglos.

In 2006, Arizona voters overwhelmingly passed a measure that made English the official state language. Although the United States has no official lingua americana, a recent poll shows that two-thirds of Americans prefer that English be legally enshrined. In last week’s GOP debate, sour-tempered silver gnome Newt Gingrich said he favored making English the official national language.

This has all fallen on deaf ears in the heat-wilted border town of San Luis, AZ, probably because nine out of ten residents speak Spanish at home. The 2010 US Census pegged the city’s population as slightly over 25,000, with a decisively dominant 99% of its residents being Hispanic. (The quotient was less than 90% in 2000.) So as someone who’s fluent in Spanish but only possesses “survival English” skills, Cabrera would adequately represent her local constituency.

Our Peace Prize president lobbed some harsh words toward Iran in his long-winded pep rally last Tuesday night:

Ending the Iraq war has allowed us to strike decisive blows against our enemies.  From Pakistan to Yemen, the al Qaeda operatives who remain are scrambling, knowing that they can’t escape the reach of the United States of America. (Applause.)

He is referring to the drone war. Moments later, Obama turned his sights on the big enchilada:

Look at Iran….The regime is more isolated than ever before; its leaders are faced with crippling sanctions, and as long as they shirk their responsibilities, this pressure will not relent.

Let there be no doubt:  America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal. (Applause.)

“A war president is almost a cinch for reelection. War is a great distraction.”

Washington does not have diplomatic relations with Tehran. Congressional resolutions have effectively mandated that the White House not negotiate with Iran. The propaganda line is that Iran is a terrorist pariah state. The unstated but de facto US policy toward Iran seems to be regime change. First came economic sanctions, now an embargo of Iran’s oil exports, to which EU has just agreed.

This affair is all about Washington’s ongoing effort to demonize Iran and justify increasingly onerous economic sanctions on them, as was the case with Iraq. The hook on which they are hanging this policy is Tehran’s alleged program to acquire nuclear weapons. Such a development supposedly endangers our “allies” and “interests.” They used a very similar hook—a supposed threat about “weapons of mass destruction”—to get the weary American public to go along with the Bush/Cheney invasion of Iraq.

Iran looks like a replay. Although the projected threat from Iran has been hyped to the skies, I have seen no convincing proof of an Iranian nuclear-weapons program. Chief of state Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa forbidding the development and use of nuclear weapons. The US National Intelligence Estimates of 2007 concluded that Iran had not been developing a nuclear-weapons program for the previous four years.

What’s the latest from the scientific frontlines in the IQ Wars?

As you’ll recall from the press, the Bad Guys are social scientists such as Arthur Jensen, Linda Gottfredson, Charles Murray, and the late Richard Herrnstein. They have all argued that there are differences in average intelligence among races and other politically fraught groups which impact their overall real-world performance. They also argue that these IQ gaps are likely to stubbornly resist complete eradication in the short and medium terms.

In a word: crimethink!

Granted, the IQ Realists’ views sound plausible. And their predictions, such as our growing college-admissions mania, have often come true. The real reason for elites’ periodic witch-burnings when some intellectual authority figure—such as Harvard President Larry Summers in 2005 or DNA structure co-discoverer James D. Watson in 2007—lets slip that he finds some of the IQ Realist case persuasive seems to be that, deep down, most suspect that The Bell Curve was on to something.

“Deep down, most suspect that The Bell Curve was on to something.”

In interesting contrast to the IQ Realist school is the IQ Ameliorist school. Seven prominent members, including Richard E. Nisbett and James Flynn, have coauthored a lengthy new paper in American Psychologist called Intelligence: New Findings and Theoretical Developments. It is a useful Greatest Hits collection of all research published since 1994’s The Bell Curve that could suggest the problems posed by current IQ inequality might not be as permanent as the Realists imply.

Yet the Ameliorists themselves are crimethinkers. Being experts, the seven Ameliorists are closer to the Realists than they are to the conventional wisdom that IQ is discredited, biased, or meaningless: “The measurement of intelligence is one of psychology’s greatest achievements.…”

The seven coauthors declare that for individuals, IQ “is a reasonably good predictor of grades at school, performance at work, and many other aspects of success in life (Gottfredson, 2004; Herrnstein & Murray, 1994).” (As the citations suggest, the Ameliorists and the Realists are generally respectful of each others’ work.)

Even more courageously, the seven Ameliorists note that IQ tests are valuable because they quantify that most career-threatening of hot buttons in American intellectual life—racial differences in intelligence—which they find both sizable and socially significant:

IQ is also important because some group differences are large and predictive of performance in many domains. Much evidence indicates that it would be difficult to overcome racial disadvantage if IQ differences could not be ameliorated.

It wasn’t Italy’s finest hour. Not even Gabrielle D’Annunzio—poet, patriot, propagandist, and proto-fascist—could spin this into a maritime Titanic-like drama. Once the Costa Concordia hit a rock off the Tuscan coast, the passengers and crew acted like cowards. This much we know. But knowing Italy—a country that successfully switched sides in both World Wars—the truth will never emerge. Human nature’s eternal glories and failings have always played a leading part in Italy’s long and magnificent history. Heroes turn into baddies, defeats into victories, burlesque into opera. They say Italy is more of an idea than a country. Where else would a benevolent dictator’s innocent mistress be shot and hanged upside down by men who pride themselves as protectors of the weaker sex?

When I first heard the news of the Costa Concordia’s sinking off an island I have sailed around more times than I can remember, I thought it was a joke gone wrong. Surely the reason was bella figura, the Italian male’s unique style of pride, all show and no substance. Since it is the centennial of the Titanic’s sinking, for one sick moment I imagined some show-off captain had tried an impossible maneuver to impress his friends ashore. As of this writing, it seems that is why he went 300 meters off the mainland rather than the required 1,500. Still, at least 17 people are certified dead. Even in Italy, Captain Schettino risks going down in history as a man who not only ran his boat aground—modern equipment notwithstanding—but one who was in the bar with two female companions and who jumped ship long before his passengers.

“The strong managed to get a place on the lifeboats; the weak did not.”

In the chaos that ensued after the ship began to sink, the legendary edict of women and children first—which is not part of maritime law, and I would know, since my father was a ship owner—fear took over with the predictable Darwinian results. The strong managed to get a place on the lifeboats; the weak did not. But 100 years ago when the Titanic sunk, 72% of the women and 50% of the children were saved, as opposed to 18% of the men. With a few exceptions, this was the way it should have been. Three Italian men from steerage were allegedly shot dead for disobeying the order to allow women first. The ratio of those who survived reflected the era’s chivalry.

Which brings me to Cosmo Duff-Gordon, a Titanic survivor, a Scottish aristocrat and landowner, and a Silver Medal Winner in the 1906 Olympics in fencing. Looking at his record, Duff-Gordon embodied the ideal of the clean-living hero, the Beau Geste of the upper classes. Yet all the qualities of leadership, heroism, pride, and noblesse oblige failed him when it really counted. He escaped on Lifeboat No. 1, the only man among women and children. It was also whispered that he and his wife bribed rowing crewmen not to pick up victims in the water in case they swamped the boat. (This was never proved.) In his defense, Lifeboat No. 1 took on only 12 people. Still, he stinks to high heaven.

Instead of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” Florida’s homeless population may soon be singing “Put Me Up at the Ballpark.”

Florida Senate Bill 816 unanimously passed a preliminary committee vote on Monday and now must leap through three more procedural hula hoops before it reaches the Senate floor. If it and a similar Florida House bill pass, the owners of the Sunshine State’s pro sports teams would be required to pay back an estimated $271 million in public funds they’ve received if they fail to prove that they’ve used their facilities as homeless shelters on days when they weren’t being used for contracted sporting and entertainment events.

Come again?

As freaky-deaky as it sounds, the bill is based on an actual passage in a Florida statute that was passed in 1988 and called for precisely such an oddball arrangement—in order for team owners to receive public funding to erect their glimmeringly gaudy athletic palaces, now-deceased Democratic Senator Jack Gordon had insisted on a stipulation where sporting arenas were required to be used for housing the homeless—or the indigent, or the disenfranchised, or the unsheltered, or street persons, or bums, or whatever you prefer to call them—on days when there were no Jacksonville Jaguars games or Miami Sound Machine concerts.

“Politics is politics, ma’am, and just like the homeless, it usually stinks.”

News reports have referred to it as “a long-forgotten law,” an “old statute” that opportunistic lawmakers recently “dug up,” “a dormant 1988 law,” “a little-known state law,” and something that was “Tucked away deep in the annals of Florida law.” The way they talk, one would think you needed a rusty old crypt key to find it. Truth is, it’s been there in the public record since 1988 for anyone who bothered to read it.

It’s simply never been enforced. And apparently none of Florida’s team owners, nor the multiple out-of-state owners who still receive public funds for using Florida ballparks during spring training, have ever obeyed it.

Not that it’d be easy to obey. The 1988 statute obviously didn’t consider logistics. What do you do when the local team has an extended home stand? Herd the stadium’s part-time occupants into buses and dump ’em back on Skid Row until the team goes on the road again? And exactly how homeless does one have to be to score the luxury suites?

Some are now alarmed that there’ll be bums in the bleachers and derelicts in the dugouts and that knife-wielding, crack-puffing ne’er-do-wells will be stinking up the skyboxes. They warn that conditions would quickly devolve into a bloody Katrina-level Superdome rapefest. Others cheer that the state is finally doing something to more adequately serve Florida’s homeless population, which is estimated at anywhere from 50,000 to 90,000—in other words, far more people than usually attend a Marlins home game.

Back when Mickey Mantle was swatting home runs and Bart Starr was throwing touchdown passes, major-league sporting arenas tended to be privately funded.

Have you noticed a strange undertone of snark on 60 Minutes every time they feature an entrepreneur? When Lesley Stahl interviewed the founder of Groupon last week, she felt the need to needle him with, “Here’s some of the adjectives that were used to describe you….Thin-skinned, impetuous, and childish.”

Conversely, they grovel at the feet of pompous bureaucrats. When they interviewed the head of the IMF, they came up with lines such as: “The IMF…sits on a fund of $842 billion. But that’s not nearly enough….”

This represents a deep divide in the American psyche. The right sees entrepreneurs as job machines who create wealth for everyone, and they view the government as a parasite thwarting both rich and poor. The left, in turn, portrays entrepreneurs as the parasites. In this instance, the left is wrong and I think it’s because they don’t understand the pie analogy. They think a rich person has taken more than his slice of the pie, which leaves less for the rest of us. They didn’t take math in college and don’t understand that “greedy” entrepreneurs keep creating more pies. While the left scoffs at the idea of more than one pie, they have no problem with Obama trying to synthesize the process by printing more money. They don’t mind the government having infinite cash, but when it comes to an individual having money to burn, they’d rather torch it all.

“Big Business and Big Government, who still haven’t officially announced that they’re married, have been seeking to get even bigger lately.”

Big Business and Big Government, who still haven’t officially announced that they’re married, have been seeking to get even bigger lately. They’d been trying to push a bill called SOPA—the Stop Online Piracy Act—that empowered Wall Street and the White House to decide who gets to do what on the Internet. But the Big Biz/Big Guv tag-team wrestling duo suffered a smackdown. In protest of SOPA, huge sites such as Wikipedia blacked themselves out for a day on January 18th.

In retaliation, the Justice Department chose the wealthy but charisma-challenged Kim Dotcom (né Kim Schmitz, AKA Kimble, AKA Kim Tim Jim Vestor) to represent all that is evil about Internet piracy on January 19th. Cooperating with the FBI, authorities in New Zealand invaded his home, confiscated his belongings, and threw him in jail a day after the SOPA blackout. He was deemed a flight risk and is still incarcerated.

Upping the ante after the feds shut down Dotcom’s site Megaupload, the online “global brain” that calls itself Anonymous hacked an array of government and corporate websites.

The escalating antics mirrored Dotcom’s countersuit from December after Universal Music Group tried preventing him from using their artists to promote his file-sharing software. UMG claimed they had the right to prevent rappers on their roster from promoting certain brands, and Dotcom sued them for lying. UMG lost, and after seeing the groundswell of support the anti-SOPA movement got, it looks like Big Business and Big Government are going to lose again. I hope.

Again, we have two sides: Us and Them. The other side says Megaupload cost Hollywood and record companies hundreds of millions of dollars by allowing users to send each other copyrighted content. Megaupload had a reported 50 million unique visitors a day and was responsible for an estimated 1% of all Internet traffic in North America. (Kim Dotcom himself bragged that it was 4%.) That’s a lot of data and a lot of profits.

No doubt at least some in the art world gave a sigh of relief to learn that Damien Hirst’s latest retrospective, The Complete Spot Paintings, is dedicated to his innocuous colored spots. It will not feature putrefying cow heads, animal carcasses, flies, or maggots, even though the repellent and the revolting seem to hold a special charm for this young British artist.

But the fact that Hirst is in the news again brings up the two questions that lurk in the mind of all those who gag when visiting the Tate Modern: Why do wealthy collectors of contemporary art pay such outlandish sums for the objects they acquire, and why must they buy only the ugly and disgusting? Surely they could buy beautiful works of art for the same price.

In his insightful and entertaining analysis of the contemporary art market, The $12 Million Stuffed Shark, Don Thompson answers the first question:

The motivation that drives the consumer to bid at a branded auction house, or to purchase from a branded dealer, or to prefer art that has been certified by having a show at a branded museum, is the same motivation that drives the purchase of other luxury consumer goods….What the rich seem to want to acquire is what economists call positional goods; things that prove to the rest of the world that they really are rich.

“These days, if you can view and smell a work of contemporary art without being forced to stifle your gag reflex, you’re already ahead of the game.”

So far, so good. As evolutionary psychology teaches us, the human male seeking to attract a mate must demonstrate that he will be a good provider, that he has access to the resources the female requires for herself and any offspring. During the Stone Age, a female sought a male who was a good hunter. Today, she seeks a male with plenty of money…the more money, the more access to resources. Since the invention of money, the sexiest part of a man’s body has been his wallet.

But still there is the second question: Why must this ostentatious display of wealth be made by purchasing ugly and revolting objects…the uglier and the more revolting, the better? The fact is that anyone can buy a beautiful work of art, but it takes a whole lot of money to buy something that is intrinsically disgusting and to then convince the world that the loathsome thing has great artistic and monetary value.

Money in the collector’s hands has become modernity’s philosopher’s stone. And just like the alchemists sought to convince the credulous that they could turn lead into gold, so today’s wealthy collector demonstrates his possession of the ultimate positional quality. He is the magician who can change the ugly into the artistic merely by making a purchase that proclaims to the world, “My riches have made me a master of wizardry. I can transmute putrescence into high art.” As Thompson succinctly puts it, “art history is now rewritten with a check”—and the collector with his checkbook or electronic transfer puts a Hirst or an Ofili on the same level as a Rembrandt.

Therefore, more than collectors, dealers, or artists, people such as Saatchi, Gagosian, and Hirst are really aspiring magicians. They take what is bon pour la poubelle—rotting food and flesh, excrement—and pronounce it to be not only not garbage, but high art. They remind one of the projector in Gulliver’s Travels:

His employment, from his first coming into the academy, was an operation to reduce human excrement to its original food, by separating the several parts, removing the tincture which it receives from the gall, making the odour exhale, and scumming off the saliva. He had a weekly allowance, from the society, of a vessel filled with human ordure, about the bigness of a Bristol barrel.

Swift’s projector was not successful in his endeavors, but today’s contemporary-art collectors have at least succeeded in transforming ordure into art.

So let us be thankful that at Hirst’s latest show, spots before our eyes are the most distressing things we see. These days, if you can view and smell a work of contemporary art without being forced to stifle your gag reflex, you’re already ahead of the game.