Göring: You see, mein Führer, being a Belieber isn’t just about music. It’s about love and trust, about being sweet but still complicated, cocky but non-threatening, sexy but not precisely sexual—whether you’re commanding the Wehrmacht or hiding in an attic somewhere in the Netherlands. Sure, it’s easy to sit here and talk about making a Fascist Bieber, but chances are we would all just end up Bieber-Fascists. Look, Himmler’s already doing the slide-glide thing.
(Hitler turns to see Himmler doing Bieber’s signature dance move across the room. Hitler sighs heavily, realizing it’s useless.)
Hitler: Well, in that case, I suppose we ought to surrender.
She’s still got it: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg receives a warm welcome at the State of the Union.
The New Yorker has just published Jeffrey Toobin’s illuminating profile on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ahead of her 80th birthday on March 15th. (Subscribers to the magazine can access the full text of the ironically-titled piece, “Heavyweight,” at this link.) Chronicling Justice Ginsburg’s early struggles in the male-dominated legal world of the 1950s (Ginsburg had trouble finding someone who would hire her despite having graduated first in her class at Columbia Law), her triumphs as a leading women’s rights advocate with the ACLU, her marriage to the late tax attorney Martin Ginsburg, and her tenure on the Supreme Court, the profile is an understated and touching pre-tribute to the Justice who conventional wisdom tells us is most likely to retire next.
From same-sex marriage ceremonies to retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, partial-birth abortion bans to Lilly Ledbetter, “Heavyweight” is full of interesting tidbits and little gems from Justice Ginsburg herself:
On her brief-writing strategy while litigating cases before the Supreme Court:
“I was doing all these sex-discrimination cases, and my secretary said, ‘I look at these pages and all I see is sex, sex, sex. The judges are men, and when they read that they’re not going to be thinking about what you want them to think about,’ ” Ginsburg recalled. Henceforth, she changed her claim to “gender discrimination.”
On work-life balance:
“It bothers me when people say to make it to the top of the tree you have to give up a family. They say, ‘Look at Kagan, look at Sotomayor’ … What happened to O’Connor, who raised three sons, and I have James and Jane [her son and daughter with Martin Ginsburg]?”
On Chief Justice John Roberts:
“For the public, I think the current Chief is very good at meeting and greeting people, always saying the right thing for the remarks he makes for five or ten minutes at various gatherings.”
On how long she will remain on the bench:
“As long as I can do the job full steam… You can never tell when you’re my age. But, as long as I have the candlepower, I will do it. And I figure next year for certain. After that, who knows?”
Money quotes aside, Toobin’s piece is particularly fascinating when he discusses Justice Ginsburg’s views on the relationship between Congress and the Court. Though she is classified as one of the Supreme Court’s liberals in the vein of Earl Warren and Thurgood Marshall, Ginsburg does not share these predecessors’ conviction that the Court should be the driving force for widespread social change. Instead, Toobin writes, she believes that the Court’s role is to begin dialogue with the elected branches of government, to ask them to reconsider “ancient positions” that may no longer work in our day and age, and then to kick the proverbial ball back to them. In this respect, Justice Ginsburg is very much like President Obama, who also prefers to see social change enacted through the legislative rather than judicial arena (and whose similar views on the judiciary have also been discussed at length by Toobin). It is little wonder, then, that the two seem to get along so famously.
Anyway, the profile is a must-read for anyone who is interested in the Supreme Court, the women’s rights movement, or even just a good life story.
The magazine took a meandering walk through its archives today:
My personal favorites are from the thirties and forties. In February of 1942, The New Yorker reported on “the saddest Valentine’s Day story” of the year:
[It’s] an enormously involved affair which starts with a young lady named Therese telephoning Western Union and asking that Valentine Greeting 242 be delivered to a certain young man. Valentine Greeting 242 might be criticized as kind of silly, but it’s definitely harmless; it reads, “Hens cackle, Roosters crow, You’re my Valentine, Don’t cha know.” Western Union, however, sent out Valentine Greeting 241, which reads, “Be my Valentine, Be my honey, We’ll live on Love and Daddy’s money.” Daddy got hold of it, inevitably, and while he is probably no more suspicious than other daddies, there was a lot of explaining to be done. Western Union, we’re glad to report, wrote a manly, straight-forward letter accepting all the blame, which was considerable.
First comes Christopher Benfey at the New York Review of Books, whose glowing praise for Barack Obama is exceeded only by his palpable disgust for Mitt Romney:
I have no idea what Clint Eastwood had in mind when he dragged an empty chair up to the stage at the Republican Convention in Tampa last August. Maybe he was thinking, as some have suggested, of some bygone exercise in a Lee Strasberg acting class. “Please, Clint. Talk to the chair. You are Hamlet and the chair is Ophelia. Please. Just talk to her.” Or maybe a marriage counselor had used an empty chair to teach the tight-lipped gunslinger from Carmel how to empathize with his wife. “Go ahead, Clint, make her day. Tell her what you’re feeling.”
I was thinking of that empty chair in Tampa as I watched Tuesday’s presidential debate at Hofstra University. I was thinking what our country would be like, what the world would be like, without Barack Obama seated in the Oval Office. That’s the empty chair that keeps me awake at night…
The tragic dimension is there in the President’s face and in his shoulders. It was there, visibly there, in his performance in the first debate—not “lackluster,” as it was widely described, but burdened, bedeviled, fraught. Not for nothing did he invoke, and quite rightly, Abraham Lincoln. During the second debate, he was more combative, confrontational, locked in. But what came through most strongly was the contrast between Romney’s vacuous claim to care for 100 percent of all Americans (since we’re all “children of the same God,” he can apparently include even the 47 percent who are moochers), and the detailed ways, the detailed policies, in which Obama has actually shown that he cares for all of us.
Yeah, I’d say it’s a bit over the top, especially for the New York Review of Books, whose essays are generally more thoughtful and less, shall we say, obsequious. Fortunately, the New Yorker‘s endorsement of the president was substantially more nuanced:
Perhaps inevitably, the President has disappointed some of his most ardent supporters. Part of their disappointment is a reflection of the fantastical expectations that attached to him. Some, quite reasonably, are disappointed in his policy failures (on Guantánamo, climate change, and gun control); others question the morality of the persistent use of predator drones. And, of course, 2012 offers nothing like the ecstasy of taking part in a historical advance: the reëlection of the first African-American President does not inspire the same level of communal pride. But the reëlection of a President who has been progressive, competent, rational, decent, and, at times, visionary is a serious matter. The President has achieved a run of ambitious legislative, social, and foreign-policy successes that relieved a large measure of the human suffering and national shame inflicted by the Bush Administration. Obama has renewed the honor of the office he holds…
One quality that so many voters admired in Obama in 2008 was his unusual temperament: inspirational, yet formal, cool, hyper-rational. He promised to be the least crazy of Presidents, the least erratic and unpredictable. The triumph of that temperament was in evidence on a spring night in 2011, as he performed his duties, with a standup’s precision and preternatural élan, at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, all the while knowing that he had, with no guarantee of success, dispatched Navy seal Team Six to kill bin Laden. In the modern era, we have had Presidents who were known to seduce interns (Kennedy and Clinton), talk to paintings (Nixon), and confuse movies with reality (Reagan). Obama’s restraint has largely served him, and the country, well.
But Obama is also a human being, a flawed and complicated one, and as the world has come to know him better we have sometimes seen the downside of his temperament: a certain insularity and self-satisfaction; a tendency at times—as in the first debate with Mitt Romney—to betray disdain for the unpleasant tasks of politics. As a political warrior, Obama can be withdrawn, even strangely passive. He has sometimes struggled to convey the human stakes of the policies he has initiated. In the remaining days of the campaign, Obama must be entirely, and vividly, present, as he was in the second debate with Romney. He must clarify not only what he has achieved but also what he intends to achieve, how he intends to accelerate the recovery, spur employment, and allay the debt crisis; how he intends to deal with an increasingly perilous situation in Pakistan; what he will do if Iran fails to bring its nuclear program into line with international strictures. Most important, he needs to convey the larger vision that matches his outsized record of achievement.
Meanwhile, the closest thing we have to a king of New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, continues to hold his cards closely.
The New Yorker pens its take on a hypothetical Republican version of the Garden of Eden:
The LORD created the animals and bade Adam to name them. Dressage Animals became known as “horses.” Domesticated Animals for Open-air Transport and other Domesticated Animals That Someone (Unknown) Let Out were called “dogs.” Another large animal was named either “moose” or “elk.” Probably “elk.”
Adam set out to build his own business by himself, beseeching the LORD to provide only paths over land and water. Adam’s understanding of this covenant was that these gifts were not to be tallied against his own achievement later.
Adam created Eve and then created a job for her by making her his first legal wife. They were naked and unashamed, especially the latter. Of these, it turns out, one is much, much better for business.
As it relates to fantasy and fever dreams, however, even that pales in comparison to this actual closing line from today’s Wall Street Journal opinion piece by former GE CEO Jack Welch:
The coming election is too important to be decided on a number. Especially when that number seems so wrong.
This was written, of course, in response to the backlash to his infamous tweet of just days earlier, when he accused the Bureau of Labor Statistics of fudging the unemployment numbers to boost Obama’s reelection chances:
There are times when a single statement so perfectly encapsulates a broader mindset that it practically begs to become a symbol of a certain era of history. The closing line of the WSJ op-ed feels like one of those statements. I use the word “feels” a bit ironically, as that’s the crux of the collective Republican delusion so eloquently recapped by Welch: “that number seems so wrong.”
This is the same flawless logic that brought us “unskewed polls,” repudiation of fact-checking, birtherism, Obama-as-a-Muslim conspiracies, “death panels,” “keep your government hands off my Medicare,” and “Kenyan, anticolonial behavior,” among many others. It’s the type of thinking that renounces reality in favor of overcooked, crackpot interpretations of the world that have no relation to empirical reality.
Years from now, when people look back on the Tea Party era, this accusation against a department staffed by nonpolitical appointees (and whose numbers have consistently given the Obama administration headaches for nearly four years) will have a decently strong case to win the hotly contested quest to determine the single most ridiculous thing said during the Obama years.
The New Yorker‘s excellent editor, David Remnick, interviewed Obama’s old friends and mentors about his debate performance:
“The reason I hate campaigns,” Edley continued, “is that being right on the substance isn’t good enough. That’s why I’m an academic. Of course, Obama knows that, but it’s also a question of what he cares about. I admire him for caring more about the substance than the tactics even if it makes me grimace when I watch him. Why does he do it? Look, we all do things in the short term that are not consistent with a long-term goal, whether it’s failing to save for retirement or watching TV instead of doing your homework. It’s called being human rather than being the ideal client of your handlers. It makes it harder to achieve his goal, which is to get reëlected. But if you wanted authenticity you got it [on Wednesday] night. And, really, you got it in an unsurprising way. We know that Obama skews cerebral and that he has never liked debates as a way to engage issues. He has said that many times.”
I’m partially uncomfortable with this reading of the first presidential debate. Yes, Obama “skews cerebral” (whatever that means). And yes, it may be true that he dislikes debates. But part of the job of being President, or at least of running for reelection, is to confidently, assertively, and (if need be) aggressively point out the blatant lies and deceptions of your opponent — especially if that opponent swerved to the center just in time for the first debate after spending a year and a half saying something completely different.
Obama’s lack of the fighter instinct is worrying, and the implications extend beyond these presidential debates. We saw it in the healthcare fight in 2010, when he allowed Republicans to manhandle him and destroy his message because he simply didn’t have the will or the desire to hit back. We glimpsed it as well at the Democratic National Convention this year, when Bill Clinton provided an abler defense of the Obama administration than the president himself ever has. And we saw it in last Wednesday’s inaugural debate, when Mitt Romney lied and deceived his way to a startling victory — one free of facts and consistency, to be sure, but no less convincing as a piece of political theater. If Obama really intends to spend another four years in the White House, he may want to start by making sure he doesn’t let Romney run all over him with falsities and grand — but vague and mathematically impossible — budget plans.
- Unlike the Corporate Media, Citizens Aren’t Buying Romney’s Debate Lies (politicususa.com)
- Hilarious: Obama’s Friends Explain Why He Lost The Debate (Hint: It Might Involve Him Being Too Smart, Too Kind, Too High-Minded, and Too Cool) (minx.cc)
- Why he’s falling apart (tarpon.wordpress.com)
- “Looks Like He Does Need a Teleprompter” (musingsofarightwingnut.wordpress.com)
- Nutter: ‘Lie after lie after lie’ from Romney during debate (politico.com)
- Who can replace Kerry as Obama’s debate practice sparring partner? (althouse.blogspot.com)
- Booting Up: Presidential Debate Post Mortem Edition (betabeat.com)
- Why President Obama Did Not ‘Go For The Jugular’ In Debate (dekerivers.wordpress.com)
- Obama-Romney in Denver – II (arunwithaview.wordpress.com)
It is hard to overestimate the risks that Benjamin Netanyahu poses to the future of his own country. As Prime Minister, he has done more than any other political figure to embolden and elevate the reactionary forces in Israel, to eliminate the dwindling possibility of a just settlement with the Palestinians, and to isolate his country on the world diplomatic stage. Now Netanyahu seems determined, more than ever, to alienate the President of the United States and, as an ally of Mitt Romney’s campaign, to make himself a factor in the 2012 election—one no less pivotal than the most super Super PAC. “Who are you trying to replace?” the opposition leader, Shaul Mofaz, asked of Netanyahu in the Knesset on Wednesday. “The Administration in Washington or that in Tehran?”
(Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the heads-up.)
- Netanyahu’s warmongering spells high noon for the Israel lobby (mondoweiss.net)
- Netanyahu says he’ll uphold Israel’s interests even if ‘best of friends’ doesn’t agree (warsclerotic.wordpress.com)
- Benjamin Netanyahu says US does not have ‘moral right’ over Iran – Telegraph (warsclerotic.wordpress.com)
- Joe Klein On Netanyahu’s Behavior: “Outrageous And Disgusting” (alan.com)
- No time for Netanyahu – Obama’s doing Letterman (warsclerotic.wordpress.com)
- White House declines Netanyahu request to meet with Obama (mikereport.wordpress.com)
For the November 25th issue of The New York Review of Books, author Zadie Smith contributed an essay titled “Generation Why?” Ostensibly, the column was a review of Aaron Sorkin’s much-ballyhooed film, The Social Network, but Smith clearly had bigger fish to fry than nerdy billionaires (especially since Sorkin and director David Fincher had already undertaken this task so elegantly themselves).
No, the issue at stake was not Facebook but the “generation” for which it was created and for whom, perhaps, its existence circumscribes theirs. Smith, in attempting to extricate Facebook from its inevitable foundation myths, nevertheless concludes that she will someday “misremember my closeness to Zuckerberg [she, too, was on Harvard’s campus for Facebook’s birth in 2003], in the same spirit that everyone in ‘60s Liverpool met John Lennon.” And yet an acute sense of separation haunts her, as much for its seeming incongruity (Smith is only nine years Mark Zuckerberg’s senior) as for its depth.
“You want to be optimistic about your own generation,” Smith muses, with a touch of nostalgia. “You want to keep pace with them and not to fear what you don’t understand.” She would be wise to heed her own advice. For what she contends in “Generation Why?” – that for the unwashed masses who fancy Facebook, Twitter, et al among life’s requisites, their online reincarnations have themselves become unhinged from, or even superseded, reality – is as emblematic of the anachronisms of the old-guard cohort (whom she affectionately dubs “1.0 people”) as it is a functional indictment of their successors.
The New Yorker’s Susan Orlean stumbles into the same trap, albeit somewhat more amiably. On her blog, “Free Range,” she posits a new hierarchy of friendship: the Social Index, a ranking of relationships by the relative frequencies of online vs. offline contact. “Human relationships used to be easy,” she explains. But “now, thanks to social media, it’s all gone sideways.” Orlean then proceeds to delineate these subtle distinctions: between “the friend you know well” and “the friend you sort of know” and “the friend, or friend-like entity, whom you met initially via Facebook or Twitter or Goodreads or, heaven help us, MySpace,” and so on. Wisely, she keeps the column short and employs a jocular tone, one whose comic value is reaffirmed by her promotion of the Social Index on – where else? – Twitter, using the hashtag #socialindex.
But one can detect a beguiling undercurrent of cynicism beneath Orlean’s evident joviality. What Zadie Smith and Susan Orlean share – in addition to their niche of the “celebrity lifestyle” whose attainment, Smith assures us, is the raison d’être of the Facebook generation – is the creeping suspicion, despite reaching a career zenith, of their continuing exclusion from the proverbial “Porcellian Club” of Zuckerberg’s collegiate fantasies. This, then, is a fate to which both they and those they pity are likewise consigned. The irony, of course, is their refusal, or inability, to identify these “People 2.0” as their kindred spirits.
Smith opts instead for the appeal to authority. In this case, that role falls to Jaron Lanier, a “master programmer and virtual reality pioneer.” (Smith, who is 35, quickly reminds us that Lanier, 50, is “not of my generation,” an assertion whose brashness once more belies her commonalities with that perpetually group-conscious underclass of Facebookers.) Quoting extensively from Lanier’s book, You Are Not a Gadget, Smith appropriates the tech-philosopher’s arm’s-length aspect toward technology as her own, spraying the reader with snippets of his wisdom. (In the book’s preface, Lanier cautioned against this Girl Talk-esque brand of mishmash, lamenting that his words would be “scanned, rehashed, and misrepresented by crowds of quick and sloppy readers into wikis and automatically aggregated wireless text message streams.”)
But Smith and Lanier have separately, and preemptively, doomed themselves to contemporary irrelevance by adhering to a retrograde narrative of the modern condition. Together, their worst nightmare is the narrowing of human existence into unintentionally confined spaces. This process takes place via “lock-in,” a series of inadvertently interacting steps which, taken together, preclude the possibility of reversal or alteration. Such was the case, Lanier argues (and Smith dutifully recounts), in the invention of the MIDI file type, a once-cutting edge format for storing and playing digital music, whose binary limitations preternaturally forced the beautiful infinity of analog melodies into a prepackaged sepulcher of bits and bytes. Once the standard had been formalized, the jig was up: there was no turning back. Music had forever changed, and not necessarily for the better. Lanier unwittingly reformulates – on behalf of the self-described “software idiot” Zadie Smith – these same fears in regard to social media.
These visions of doom are misplaced. One can feel almost viscerally the bored sighs emanating from countless millennials’ diaphragms as Zadie Smith ages before their very eyes: “When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. In a way it’s a transcendent experience: we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears.” Such generous hyperbolizing obscures whatever consideration Smith’s fretting may warrant on the margins. If rescuing this Lost Generation is her utmost objective, then her plea for sanity, easily mistaken for groveling, will scatter Zuckerberg’s millions of disciples like so many cards in a two-bit parlor trick.
Notably, Zadie Smith gently ridicules the Facebook era’s emphasis on connectivity, remarking snidely that Zuckerberg “used the word ‘connect’ as believers use the word ‘Jesus,’ as if it were sacred in and of itself.” The quality of those interactions, she worries, is not worth the minimal effort exerted to vivify them. And yet she comes agonizingly close, on multiple occasions, to grasping the essence of this generation that remains simultaneously adjacent to, but seemingly unreachable from, her own. “Watching this movie, even though you know Sorkin wants your disapproval, you can’t help feel a little swell of pride in this 2.0 generation,” Smith concedes. “They’ve spent a decade being berated for not making the right sorts of paintings or novels or music or politics. Turns out the brightest 2.0 kids have been doing something else extraordinary. They’ve been making a world.”
Sound familiar? It should. The specter of John Lennon, the one “that everyone in ’60s Liverpool met,” haunts every word of “Generation Why?” Even Zadie Smith, for whom Lennon (unlike Lanier) is clearly not a peer, cannot ignore the contemporary relevance of the former’s transformative impact on society. Culture may move more rapidly in the digital era than it did in the 1960s, but its disruptive rhythm has survived largely intact. Rebellion, experimentation, innovation: these are all hallmarks of the creative subculture, as each subsequent breakthrough quickly buries its predecessors. Mark Zuckerberg, then, is the spiritual descendant of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” We are, indeed, all connected (much to Smith’s everlasting surprise).
This is the epiphanic truth that the Facebook generation has uncovered, even if in so doing they remain blissfully unaware of the historical import of their actions. To be sure, their self-absorbed ignorance of a chronology of innovation is itself a product of the ever-shifting nature of modern culture. A generation once encompassed two or three decades; now, an absence of even five years from civilization would reduce the most precocious techie to the countenance of a Luddite. But, somewhat paradoxically (considering her alarm at Facebook’s social impact), Smith digests technology’s ephemeral nature with ease, as she states at the end of her essay: “I can’t imagine life without files but I can just about imagine a time when Facebook will seem as comically obsolete as LiveJournal.”
If this is the case, then what, precisely, is the cause for concern? Conceivably, Zadie Smith, who teaches literature, senses an intellectual fence over which the social media-savvy yet literarily deficient minds of her young charges are unable to vault. Perhaps, for a ponderous writer such as Susan Orlean, who once penned a 282-page paean to orchids, it is a fear of losing her audience to ever-decreasing attention spans. For Jaron Lanier, it may be the horror at a remix culture in which the devolution of works of art into haphazardly scissored segments (à la David Shields’ Reality Hunger) threatens the very nature of public expression. Perhaps Zadie Smith and Susan Orlean and Jaron Lanier and so many others of their age and temperament, finding themselves unable to “keep pace with [the younger generation],” succumb to the all-too-human instinct to “fear what [they] don’t understand.” In short, they face the same challenge that confronted the parents and teachers and writers of the ‘60s generation, fifty years later. They, like Mark Zuckerberg and the hordes of Facebook users who followed him in the quest for digital immortality, face the fear of oblivion.
There is an inherent danger in adapting any book into a feature-length film. This is doubly true when the book’s subject is flowers. So when Charlie Kaufman transformed Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession into a screenplay (and, eventually, into a film directed by Spike Jonze), naysayers had plenty of reason to be skeptical. That movies rarely live up to the books on which they are based is one of the most pervasive truisms in both literature and film; but where tradition dictated one trajectory, Kaufman took the road less traveled.
2002’s Adaptation was, alternately, a narcissistic endeavor of self-absorption by a screenwriter who failed both to appreciate the book’s subject matter and translate it into a compelling narrative, or a revelatory piece of meta-fiction, in which the film itself appears to be an unfolding work in progress even as the viewer watches it. Middle ground is scarce when it comes to Adaptation (and, more generally, Charlie Kaufman as a creative artist); it may be revered or loathed, but rarely dismissed.
Notwithstanding the ubiquitous axioms, I never believed the book would live up to this particular movie. And well before I had actually finished reading The Orchid Thief, it was quite clear that comparing the two is a near impossibility. Adaptation is as much concerned with orchids as The Orchid Thief is with, well, its adaptation, even though John Laroche, the thief of the book’s title, plays a major role in the movie as well. Nevertheless, it must be stated that, bucking historical trends, the movie beats the book.
It is unclear why someone thought it would be a good idea to turn a meandering reflection on Florida, Seminole Native Americans, eccentric white men with loose teeth, and a shared passion for orchids — hunting orchids, buying orchids, selling orchids, naming orchids, growing orchids, cloning orchids — into a 114-minute movie. Contemporary cinema tends to adhere to narrative arcs, comprehensible characters, and plausible events (at least within the context of the film’s universe, whether that be modern-day New York or a galaxy far, far away). What it generally shies away from are stories with no real ending and whose meatiest content is reserved for fastidious descriptions of orchid flowers and lengthy digressions into the history of their commercialization.
In fact, what Kaufman nobly managed to do, regardless of one’s feelings on his method of arriving at his destination, was extract the one essential aspect of Orlean’s book and turn it into the overriding theme of his screenplay. He prefers to think of it as evolution or adaptation; but more simply, The Orchid Thief is about passion. Orlean writes in the first person, noting early on that Laroche “is quite an unusual person. He is also the most moral amoral person I’ve ever known.” The author peppers her accounts with seemingly random tidbits, as when she notes that “there are more golf courses per person in Naples than anywhere else in the world,” a piece of trivia ostensibly thrown in precisely because she had mentioned the city. Little comments like this are scattered in bunches throughout the book, and many seem superfluous or, at the very least, unnecessarily detailed. Without them, The Orchid Thief would be a third of its actual length, but somehow one gets the feeling it would fail to retain its substance in their absence.
What, then, is its substance? Facially, The Orchid Thief is about a man accused of stealing orchids from federally protected land. More broadly, however, his is a parable of the shape that passions can take and the way in which virtually anything can serve as a muse for a perfectly suited person. Where it gets bogged down is in the essay-length forays into the history of orchids as commodities, needlessly expansive depictions of strands of conversation at orchid expositions, and other similarly elongated tales that seem gratuitous, although not necessarily incongruous in the context of the book as a whole. This is not to say that many parts of The Orchid Thief were not fascinating, because they were. However, while Charlie Kaufman quickly recognized that his screenplay would have to forfeit faithfulness to the content in favor of thematic fidelity, Susan Orlean appears to have missed a similar message in adapting the stories she lived and heard to the written page. Both works are flawed tributes to their predecessors: Kaufman plays God with facts, and Orlean refuses to discriminate her numerous segments for relevance. But if perfection is unattainable, one may as well be entertained, and the prize in that category goes to Adaptation, not The Orchid Thief.