Friday, October 31, 2003

I WANT MY TMQ!!: First, the good news, er sort of. TMQ is most likely coming back. Well, that's not even clear from Easterbrook's cryptic announcement on Easterblogg, but it's seems doubtful he'd allow that to die. He clearly enjoys it too much. Interestingly, from the tone of the post, it's not obvious that TNR will host it. We'll see.

Now, the better news. Given the absence of our favorite NFL/college football column, some intrepid fans at Football Outsiders ran themselves a contest for TMQ-like articles, and then put them together into "Thursday Morning Quarterback". Good stuff, that.
You have been warned: Don't mess with South Philly girls.
The Article Should Really Have Been About the Relevance of Slate: Slate actually paid a writer to wax philosophical about Playboy. Why can't men just enjoy pictures of naked women accompanied by articles and interviews that pander to our gender interests? Isn't this, afterall, what the lad mags like FHM and Stuff are premised on (granted with just enough fabric covering delicate body parts to avoid full-blown nudity). Sure, Playboy has always been a bit pretentious about its existence, and Heffner's larger-than-life aura can wear thin, but still, it's about naked chicks people. In many cases, that mag is a young boy's first exposure to nudity (well, of the kind he'd be interested in anyway) and it's sort of been the holy grail of growing up. Don't try to legitimize it or make it more than what it is.

The article fails to address at all (which is kind of shocking) the fact that the internet is infringing upon Playboy's once hallowed status. With a home computer and a hook-up, kids today (once they get around their parents' filters) can see a heck of a lot more than you'll ever find in the pages of Heffner's rag. That's where Playboy loses its relevance - it's no longer coveted. Still, the magazine is glossy, with "high-class" women and celebrites in it, plus it has a certain charm about it that allows it to even occasionaly survive the random mother/wife raid. You want to argue about degrading women? Playboy isn't the place to start.
Diversity in the Workplace: A fairly meaningful story (about a meaningless report) from the New York Times:
An internal report that harshly criticized the Justice Department's diversity efforts was edited so heavily when it was posted on the department's Web site two weeks ago that half of its 186 pages, including the summary, were blacked out.

The deleted passages, electronically recovered by a self-described "information archaeologist" in Tucson, portrayed the department's record on diversity as seriously flawed, specifically in the hiring, promotion and retention of minority lawyers.

Agree or disagree with the goals of the diversity mongers, this is plain shameful.
Mark Corallo, a Justice Department spokesman, said that portions of the report, and even its conclusions, were "deliberative and predecisional" and so could be excluded from the public report under provisions in the Freedom of Information Act. Mr. Corallo said some of the consultants' findings were inaccurate, but he said he could not discuss deleted passages.
I'd be sympathetic if Mr. Corallo came out and said to the press, "We think diversity studies such as this are a noxious brew of bullshit and political correctness." As long as DOJ released it uncensored. It doesn't help matters to look like you're hiding a critical report, even if that report is twaddle.
Blogroll News: Just the other day, Brooke was fretting that nobody knows her blog exists. That's worth some remedy. You may know of her from her occasional posts at the Agitator, but she has much more right here. She's written on the odd (and perhaps satirical) phenomenon of blogging for Jesus. And when she writes that she's found the best headline ever, believe her.

Everybody click on Obernews on the blogroll.

The Most Compelling Argument Against College Campus Diversity: This should get the Supreme Court's attention.

Props to FARK.
When Boy George is your Rasputin, you know things are amiss: Hardly on the scale of things that matter, but the Rosie O'Donnell feud, now trial, with her publisher Gruner + Jahr, is climbing the charts for unintentional comedy. Here's a sample:
G+J blamed its falling out with O'Donnell in part on Boy George, who allegedly urged her to shed the image of a saccharin talk-show queen for that of a caustic comedian and high-profile lesbian. "She went to London and Boy George tells her she is too suburban," said G+J attorney Marty Hyman, citing a June 2002 e-mail that suggested the magazine tackle more controversial subjects.
I wonder if he had anything to do with that awful haircut.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

My crystal ball: What was it I said about Bush taking credit?
Spun: Well, there's two realities here. One, the economic reality. Two, the political reality. We all know which one is more important. Just as the Dems lose their political podium from which to preach Bush's domestic ills, Bush I'm sure is ramping up his "see, my tax cuts really work" speech to be parroted by Commerce, Treasury and Cheney for good measure. That is the political reality.

The economic reality is that politics don't have short-term financial impact unless we're talking New Deal-level stimulus. Tax cuts don't do anything short term to impact the economy. Rather they make people save more, rather than spend. Plus, those tax cuts weren't even that big.

This, however, is not an anti-tax-cut rant. I'm sort of neutral on the whole thing, and as someone who studied economics, more interested in the economic reality than the spin accompanying it. Tax cuts serve their purpose, and there are many wonderful arguments for them. Eno and I had argued before about this issue, and one of my main objections is that if Bush was going to really cut taxes, then he shouldn't be half-assed about it.

The fact is the economy helps or hurts the standing president, but for no good reason. Clinton and Reagan started with a bad one, and then went out with a great one - two presidents with opposite idealogies, who garnered the same outcome. Yes, there is always Congress to appease, but the point is that it's really out of a president's hands. The Dems were hitting hard on the economy because it's a free shot, and everyone does it. However, it doesn't really advance the ball, because once in office, you do whatever you want anyway (remember Bush's smaller government pledge?).
Spin This: According to this story on the business wire, the horrible "Bush economy" continues on its predictable course:
Third-quarter gross domestic product, a measure of all the goods and services produced in the U.S., rose at a sizzling 7.2% annual rate, more than double the 3.3% rate in the second quarter, the Commerce Department said Thursday . . . The third-quarter growth pace was the fastest since the first quarter of 1984, when the economy grew at a heady 9% pace.
Keep an eye on the Democrats. How on earth will they sell this story? Sure, later on they can trot out the homeless and the "working poor" and claim that Bush's economy is "heartless," just like they did with Reagan. (Note that such concern was curiously absent in the Clinton economy.) But up until yesterday, the Dems have been painting Bush as an economic idiot with the "worst policies since Herbert Hoover."

I bet John Kerry kicked the wall so hard this morning, he broke three toes.

Fountains of Wayne Follow-up: Now I sit through "Hackensack" multiple times a day. It sounds a bit like Freedy Johnston, but not as good, and it has that navel-gazing-90s-slacker tone to it. Ugh. Why the buzz on this crap?
Google my schoogle, y'all: Sorry, trying to invent a Snoop Dogg-like language. Anyway, excellent post and excerpts at Marginal Revolution regarding the proposed IPO of Google and why it's not the sure-fire thing you might at first think (like me). Biggest worry? Why Microsoft of course, when it bundles in it's own algorithmic search engine with future Windows products just at about the same time Google goes public. Funny how these coincidences happen.
We hold these truths to be self-evident:

1) Union workers shall wear t-shirts bearing patriotic themes no fewer than thrice-weekly; the other two days are reserved for Hooters insignia.

2) All lawyers engaged in the practice of litigation shall be either emptily-shrill, -threatening or -boastful (and none shall resemble Lara Flynn Boyle).

3) No character in a film or on t.v. fears a gun in their face until the hammer is menacingly cocked. At that point, we all know the gunman (or woman) is "fucking serious, man!" and it's time to start singing.

4) Flip flops are the devil's work.

5) All men and women desire (whether secretly or not) Katie Couric.

6) The Victoria's Secret catalogue arrival in the mail is highly anticipated and always a bit of a let-down once it's here.

7) Saying "'The West Wing' has jumped the shark" has jumped the shark. Many debate where "jumping the shark" has jumped the shark. I say no.

8) 2004 shall be the year of Techno. [Just wanted to see if you were still reading].
Intel inadequacy: Well, if we assume the intel was strong up until 2002 (when we had recent information from the evicted inspectors, and presumably, spies in situ), and then we were left guessing for all of 2003, then the analysis of that information was woefully deficient and/or simply hopeful. If it fell apart in 1998, then we had no business assuming anything, much less invading Iraq on that pretense alone. Like just about everyone, I'm pleased as punch that Saddam is deposed and we're in there. I don't care all that much about coalition-building, other than from the strain it puts on our monetary and human resources. However, at best we were doing a pre-emptive strike on a proven dangerous character. Yes, he used chemical weapons, but they were on a minority population (i.e. most Iraqis wouldn't shed any tears) within the boundaries of Iraq - something he could get away with. You didn't see anyone launching attacks against Hussein for the little ol' dead Kurds. There was no evidence even in Gulf War I, of him using them on foreign soldiers. As for his nuclear capabilities, it's always a dangerous scenario, but until an actual threat can be perceived, it's not one that justifies a pre-emptive invasion (see, e.g., Korea, North - a country openly flaunting its nukes and its intent to "test" them).

Again, Bush did the right thing for potentially flawed reasons (at least his stated reasons). No one really cares because it was Saddam freakin' Hussein, but it doesn't make it any more supportable. I don't seriously think Bush fooled anyone - rather they were all happy to go along and prop up the flimsy evidence in accordance with the Wolfowitz doctrine. The DOD, the CIA, State, and Congress wwere all (well, nearly all) happy to go kick some A-rab ass (I mean, Afghanistan hardly counted, really). And don't forget the atmosphere: dissent was dangerously close to treason, in many eyes. I concede that it's not an either/or scenario, but something, somewhere fell apart, and no one can figure out what, which is really the scary part.

Hey, at least I'm not as bad as this.
First, allow me to beat a dead horse: I was listening to Howard Stern this morning on the ride to the train and picked it up as Quentin Tarantino walked in. He was there basically to talk about "Kill Bill". Howard simply loved the movie; Robin pretty much hated it. Her critique (and she went off on Q.T. about it) somewhat matched Flyer's; to wit: no character development, gratuitous violence, no explanation of who anyone was and hence, no emotional involvement. Quentin rebutted (and I only caught about 10 mintutes altogether) that he was doing an homage to martial arts pics - that in martial arts pics, it's not about characters and their motivations (unless it's revenge, of course), but about the visuals, the action, and all the cool nicknames and fighting styles. To her credit, Robin understood what the film was about also honoring other styles of movies, and her critque was quite blunt: It's an insult to Sergio Leone (the great spaghetti western director). Q.T. was put off, but he kept on going. Stern was firmly in his corner. I would have liked to hear more, but I had to get my train. However, the kicker was this: Q.T. -- "So, Robin, will you go see the second part?" Robin - "I have to so I can actually see a movie." [meaning the first half didn't stand on it's own]. Very entertaining. I call it a draw.
Inept/Inadequate: I understand your point, Razor, but I still think your either/or scenario (lies/mistakes, duped/asleep at the switch) is a bit oversimplified. Let me give you an example: Where did the intel (assuming, for the moment, that the problem lies there) break down? Were we right that Saddam had the goods right up until, say, the end of 2002, at which point our intel missed him a) hiding it, b) smuggling it out, or c) destroying it (a process for which he was obliged to keep records). If our intel didn't break down until late last year, I'd say we did a damn good job. If our intel broke down in 1998, when the last inspectors were packed out, we've got more to worry about -- since we know that there were weapons at one point, and now they're gone with no record of whether they were destroyed. What we do know is that, at some point, the facts on the ground in Iraq diverged from the best guesses of the CIA. Until we know when that point came, and why, there's little we can say about intelligence failure.

Going back to your previous post, and the scenario in which Bush duped us all, the wily devil, is there any logical reason to believe this -- other than pure politics? Could a president -- in office only two years -- bypass the bureaucracy and the Congress; fool the CIA, the UN, and everyone else who was convinced that Saddam had WMDs; and, having done all that, not have any plan for what to tell the world when the WMDs don't turn up? It seems like an amazing amount of trickery for Bush to pull off only to stumble over himself trying to explain where the goods went. Hell, if the administration went through all that without manufacturing some evidence they could plant in Iraq -- just in case this very scenario came to pass -- they don't deserve another four years.

(Side note: And why is it always the "dumbest" presidents [Dubya, Reagan] who apparently have the easiest time making the hyperintelligent ranking Democrats on the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees look like the Keystone Cops?)

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

I still vote for "inept": Okay let's buy into your "third gunman" approach, that we were caught napping on the massive hide-and-go-seek project which Saddam ramped up on short notice. This means we either a) stopped paying attention or b) were duped. Again, which do you prefer? If we buy into your premise (certainly not yours alone) then you'd have to admit that we're not talking about two buckets of enriched uranium, but thousands of missiles and their prospective payload, plus all the material needed to manufacture and reproduce. So, we either ignored or missed great big tractor trailer convoys heading Syria-way and the massive earth-moving projects needed to hide whatever couldn't be transported out. We can catch on to fictitous uranium deals in Niger, but not to these large-scale projects. I find it hard to believe that in addition to our satellites, we had no human intel on these issues.

Regarding whether Bush would sell the war on faulty intel, I'd argue that either it was so "black and white" that he really would use any excuse, or he figured (like nearly all of us) that once in place, we'd be falling over the stuff, thereby providing the shaky premise with its justification. I dunno, it's a bit of a boondoggle that for whatever reason, isn't grabbing all that much purchase for the Dem candidates. Maybe because despite the means, the end was justified; i.e. Saddam simply had to go.
The Million Dollar Question: Razor asks:
Either Bush "lied" to us regarding the intel on Saddam's capabilities or our intelligence-gathering/interpretation was woefully inept. Which would you prefer? And no weasilng that we were more concerned about the "potential" for WMDs - clearly it was being played that WMD capability was imminent if not already achieved.
Which would I prefer, or which do I think to be the case? I'll try not to weasel too much, but I do insist on rejecting the premise. I think our intel was woefully inadequate, but not inept. In addition, I think Bush spun the intel to his ends, and I argue here that he's not the first. Further, I think that the mess the administration has made of the WMD issue shows that they were unprepared for Saddam to play his last card, effectively "disappearing" the WMDs. What he did with them is, of course, academic at this point. Mull it over for yourself: If you were Bush, would you have sold the war on a premise that would embarrass you within months?

Thus I think that spotty intel was the likely problem, though I don't fault our agencies entirely for this. It's a tough business. I think I'm willing to forgive spotty intel than presidential lying (see Clinton, William) because intel is hit or miss, while lying is a deliberate act.

There are several possibilities that could moot the whole business though. First, something could turn up in Iraq. David Kay's report is full of tantalizing tidbits, even if it lacks a smoking gun. Second, we could find the WMDs elsewhere. Based on the fact that we know Saddam was effectively telling his WMD teams, "Don't let the inspectors find the 'stuff,'" and that Saddam liked to bury things in remote places, I don't think we have heard the end of the story. I could be wrong, but I think that buying the explanation the left prefers now ("there just weren't any gosh darned WMDs") is willfully obtuse and overly simplistic simply because there are points to be scored now.

If the left were smart about this, they'd be pursuing a strategy that says: Hell, everybody knows the bastard had the weapons, but now we don't know where they are. Anyone considering voting for Bush should ask himself: Does that make me feel safer?

Eno's Posts: Very good support re: NPR's willful blindness (another example of pathology). Even I, a Bush doubter in spades, heard a multitude of statements by the Administration regarding the suspicion of strong foreign influence in the Iraq bombings. I mean, NPR has no leg to stand on regarding that position. Of course I will re-iterate that Bush's speech on the carrier was more than just a little bit pumped up. His "Mission Accomplished', while technically accurate (the mission to remove Saddam from power [if not the planet] was certainly accomplished), tended to down play what was ahead (certainly the tougher of the two missions). Better that the banner read: "So far, so good" or "Part I of VI achieved". It's like if we had won the African campaign during WWII and FDR comes out and says "Game over except for the 'difficult work ahead' in liberating and rebuilding Belgium and France, and then invading and rebuilding Japan, the South Pacific and Germany."

As for Clinton's lying problem, don't rule out that Blair is lying. Let's say he covered up the first few murmurs but as they recurred, he saw the need to come out in the open about them. One murmur is minimal news, 5 or 6 certainly would be cause for worry.

More of an aside: W/r/t WMDs in Iraq. Either Bush "lied" to us regarding the intel on Saddam's capabilities or our intelligence-gathering/interpretation was woefully inept. Which would you prefer? And no weasilng that we were more concerned about the "potential" for WMDs - clearly it was being played that WMD capability was imminent if not already achieved.
The Definition of Pathology? Does that knucklehead Clinton have some frighteningly strong urge to lie about absolutely everything?
Downing Street says it is "mystified" by reports that Tony Blair discussed his health problems several years ago with Bill Clinton.

Mr Blair's spokesman insisted that his irregular heart beat, which caused him to be hospitalised briefly last week, had never happened before.

But ex-US President Clinton was quoted in the Sunday Mirror as saying: "I've known about this for a long time. He told me about it quite a few years ago."

Jesus. It's just embarrassing. (Link via the Corner.)
In Black and White: One of things Bush is often criticized for, and fairly, is his unwillingness to see things in shades of grey (e.g., with us/against us, good/evil). Oddly, though, when Bush acknowledges ambiguity, the left doesn't seem to notice. The most obvious case of late is the "mission accomplished" flap; liberal pundits are making great hay out of the idea that Bush essentially declared victory on the USS Lincoln months ago, and that the administration was blindsided by the post-war struggles. Not the case, of course. Bush was quite clear in that speech that "We have difficult work to do in Iraq. We're bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous."

Another idea that TNR floats today is that the administration sees the resistance in Iraq in the same black and white terms:

[I]mplicit (and occasionally explicit) in the comments of the president and other high-ranking administration officials is the idea that this resistance is all indigenous--i.e, deposed Saddam loyalists who can't stand the thought of Iraq becoming a liberal democracy. Would that it were. Unfortunately, if one thing's become obvious during the attacks of the last several weeks, it's that there's an increasingly foreign dimension to them. According today's press accounts, for example, at least one perpetrator of yesterday's attacks (and probably many more) was Syrian, not Iraqi.

Why would the administration be so intent on creating the false impression that the terrorist attacks were an exclusively indigenous affair?

Want the short answer? They're not creating that false impression. The administration's position is much more nuanced, but certainly not unclear, and not creating a false impression of a simple, post-Baathist resistance. From the President's speech last month:
Some of the attackers are members of the old Saddam regime, who fled the battlefield and now fight in the shadows. Some of the attackers are foreign terrorists, who have come to Iraq to pursue their war on America and other free nations. We cannot be certain to what extent these groups work together. We do know they have a common goal -- reclaiming Iraq for tyranny.
From Scott McClellan's press briefing Monday, responding to the question of who is perpetrating the bombings in Iraq:
I think that our military leaders in the region in Iraq have been specific about saying that what we have are holdouts of the former regime who are in Iraq and foreign terrorists who have entered the country. We also have a number of criminals that were let loose when Saddam Hussein's regime was falling.
From the Reuters report on this week's attacks:
Bush has blamed "foreign terrorists" and forces loyal to Saddam for the unrelenting violence.
[Emphasis added above.] Enough? TNR goes on claim, after setting up the straw man, that the administration is "unwilling to concede" that the resistance goes beyond Baathist holdouts because such a concession would suggest
a) that a complete breakdown of planning prevented American forces from effectively sealing Iraq's borders shortly after our initial invasion; b) that a glaring lack of manpower is preventing American forces from sealing Iraq's borders even today; and c) the recent spate of attacks is attributable to a) and/or b).
Considering the administration does explicitly concede the point, what does that do to the argument that supposedly "follows" from that point? Look, I don't dispute the possibility that sealing the borders was (and remains) a problem. That in itself doesn't indicate a "complete breakdown of planning." (The museum looting indicated that, remember?) In addition, I concede the lack of manpower in Iraq, but the needed manpower is decidedly not military; the reinforcements should be explicitly civil in nature, mainly to take a burden off soldiers who are doing civil/community infrastructure projects. But TNR should at least display the intellectual honesty to make their case on these points, instead of resorting to a false proposition that, at rock bottom, amounts to "Bush won't admit it so it must be the case."

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Fixing Iraq: Amatzia Baram, writing in the NYT, has a suggestion for pacifying the Sunni Triangle. If I take him correctly, he advocates turning Iraq into . . . Chicago:
New efforts ought to be made to persuade the sheiks to assert their influence and help keep the peace. The easiest would simply be to hire the sheiks and their tribesmen — putting them on salaries and allowing them to spread the wealth among their people. In addition, sheiks in areas where coalition soldiers and oil pipelines are coming under frequent attacks should be told that the only way their tribes can receive luxuries — extra government services, construction aid, easy access to senior officials in Baghdad — is by making sure that there are no attacks against coalition soldiers in their domain.

If a sheik refused to cooperate, not only could his perks be withheld, they could be given to a neighboring sheik. This would eventually pit the uncooperative sheik against his own tribesmen, who would see that he was not serving their interests.

I'm not sure this is a great idea. Isn't the idea here to make Iraq a modern democracy? Introducing a system of dollar-bought patronage kicks responsibility down the road since, at some point, the payments will have to stop. It seems the better policy would be to draw a bright line now, ending patronage as a political incentive (and a favorite one of Saddam's to boot) in favor of representation, the foundation of democracy, as an incentive. Baram admits that part of the "Sunni problem" is that very loss of Saddam-backed patronage. Better, then, that we wean them from it now, with U.S. troops attending the event, than later under a new and untested Iraqi democracy.
Movies: There is a category of film that one might call, lacking better terminology, the moral-responsibility-in-war film. Most famous, I suppose, is Judgement at Nuremburg, wherein the "just following orders" excuse for war crime was dealt with harshly. But there is a film, set when the consequences of World War 2 were unimaginable, that confounds the viewer with the complexity of the war crime.

Breaker Morant follows the fate of three British soldiers in the Boer War, two Australian enlistees and one English officer, the eponymous Harry "Breaker" Morant (played by Edward Woodward -- the Equalizer! -- well enough for you to forget what he went on to do on TV). Harry is gentleman officer, a bit of a poet, unaware that the assumptions upon which his world, and his career, rests are about to crumble when, following what he believes to be a standing order, he executes a group of captured Boer guerillas that his garrison cannot afford to guard (including a German missionary who may or may not have been aiding the guerillas). When the British government receives a formal protest from the German government, Harry and his two Australian aides are court-martialed for war crimes, despite -- as becomes obvious -- the British Army's tacit approval of the execution of prisoners. Their young military lawyer (in a bravura show by Jack Thompson), aware that his defendants are intended to be scapegoats, nevertheless puts on a serious and unexpected defense.

One of the amazing aspects of the direction (by Bruce Beresford) is that, despite our distaste for what these soldiers have done, our sympathy for them is not systematically destroyed by cinematic moralizing. While quite obviously an anti-war film, Breaker Morant refuses to do what the bureaucracy does in the story -- namely, to indict the soldiers in lieu of the generals, and themselves. No one watching the film will ever confuse its motives, or be fooled into sympathy for Nazi footsoldiers who implemented the final solution for their superiors two generations later. But the cold economy of the military courtroom dramatized here (and I'm nothing if not a sucker for courtroom drama -- it's the lawyer manqué in me) makes a plea to recognize moral intricacy of war -- an exercise, quite simply, in efficient killing. As the soldiers' defense attorney says, echoing others, "The barbarities of war are seldom committed by abnormal men. The tragedy of war is that these horrors are committed by normal men in abnormal situations."

Breaker Morant is exceptional because it's impossible to pigeonhole. As I said, it's neither a moral lecture on the brutality of 19th century colonialism nor a brief against culpability. In fact, one figure of great sympathy, and clearly a directorial persona, is the figure of Thomas, the defense attorney, who wages his own battle with idealism as he grows closer to clients he believes to be guilty of some sort of war crime. Breaker Morant is instead a simple human drama, a mournful meditation upon the normal men in abnormal situations.

Kerry is Very . . . Transparent, maybe. TNR takes him to task for modifying his position on Iraq yet again. This time, they think they've detected a trace of the ghost in the machine: the poll that found voters favoring Kerry's "nuanced" position on Iraq to Howard Dean's outright opposition. TNR smells bad data, and rightly so.
Now, it would indeed be significant if a large majority of early-primary-state voters favored the position of candidates, like John Kerry and Dick Gephardt, who supported the war but have since grown critical of it. But, as we pointed out last week, it's far from clear that the poll in question actually supports that result. The biggest reason for doubt is that the same poll later asks, straight up, how important it is for a candidate to have "opposed the war from the beginning," to which 68 percent of the very same voters responded either "very" or "somewhat."
TNR goes on to break down the wording of the relevant question, discovering "wording . . . very likely to bias respondents in the direction of the Kerry position." To be fair, some polling includes these sorts of confounds for the purpose of exposing weak data, finding conflicts in voters' attitudes, and testing the efficacy of different wordings. But don't you think Kerry and his staff would know that? According to the NYT, no:
In any case, Mr. Kerry said he took solace from a poll last week finding that many voters in three early primary states said they wanted a presidential nominee who supported the war in Iraq but was critical of Mr. Bush for not assembling an international coalition.
So we've now learned two things. First, Kerry's staff can't read and interpret a poll. Two, Kerry's position on Iraq is nothing more than a Clintonian hunk of policy play-dough that he can furtively squeeze into the right shape while fogging his audience with what has become his campaign boilerplate. Actually, it is possible that Kerry's team does understand the poll and is trying to make the best of a bad situation. If so, though, it's a weak play that proves only that Kerry realizes the awful straits he's blundered into. TNR concludes:
Bottom line: If Kerry thinks Democratic voters in Iowa and New Hampshire have come around to his position on the war (for that matter, if Kerry thinks voters in Iowa and New Hampshire can identify his position on the war...), he's got another think coming.
It had better come quick.
That's why I get mine on QVC:

-- "Why are diamonds valuable? No, really, why?"

++ "Well, they're used as cutting instruments in industrial processes."

-- "Yeah, but those diamonds are tiny and cheap, and those are actually used for something. I'm talking about those things in jewelry stores that just sit there and look pretty."

++ "Well, even if they're just hunks of coal, they're very scarce, and the companies that mine them entitled to a return on their money in harvesting, polishing and selling those coal bits, right? You're not some commie pinko now are you?"

--"No, of course not, I've read Atas Shrugged you know - cover-to-cover."

++ "Right, then you understand that people are engaged in the industry for selfish reasons, i.e. to make a profit so they can earn a living, just like the rest of us. I mean, it's not like there's diamonds laying all around that the De Beers conglomerate keeps off the market so as to artificially inflate the price as it exploits nearly slave labor to keep already rock bottom costs low, all the while marketing the hell out of the idea that you can only love a woman if it's expressed in diamonds....Why are you laughing?"

-- "Buddy, De Beers makes OPEC look downright charitable."

IMPORTANT: Linked article written in 1982 - still fun, but not entirely au courant. Link props to FARK.

MORE: Most telling quote from the article, actually from a DeBeers study:
Women are in unanimous agreement that they want to be surprised with gifts.... They want, of course, to be surprised for the thrill of it. However, a deeper, more important reason lies behind this desire.... "freedom from guilt." Some of the women pointed out that if their husbands enlisted their help in purchasing a gift (like diamond jewelry), their practical nature would come to the fore and they would be compelled to object to the purchase.
What saps we are...

Monday, October 27, 2003

Top 40: Not your typical Top 40 list. I like 22, 31 and 38 in particular.
The Station Agent: We saw it this weekend. Boy, it was a wonderful movie. Not terribly complex, but very entertaining. Peter was really funny and also touching in his role which certainly addressed his being a dwarf, but it wasn't necessarily the center of the movie's universe. His character is very quiet and withdrawn, but most of the fun of the movie is seeing his character smile and open up (not always with successful consequences - which is part of any reality). I'd definitely recommend it. If you're a train buff, then it's a must-see, but even if not, the supporting acting is equally excellent and the care that went into the filming is so obvious.
Double-Speak?: By now you've seen this phrase countless times in various news articles about Iraq in the past few months: "XXX soldiers have died in combat since May 1, when President Bush declared major operations were over." Hell, I just read it today. I suppose some would say it's the only way to differentiate from those killed during the invasion part of the campaign. Also, many are loathe to say "during the occupation" in reference to the post-invasion era. But certainly, reporters could say: "since the re-building of Iraq began" or "subsequent to toppling the Hussein regime." But no, each time another soldier dies, the papers almost gleefully juxtapose that death with the reference to Bush saying "combat" is "over" - when "combat" is clearly not "over".

There's little question Bush was just a tad too happy when we took over Iraq (certainly most countries are thankful they're not in the morass we're in now [I didn't say "quagmire"!]), but he was right to declare "combat operations" over in the sense of theatre maneuverings. Now it's nation-building time (even though Rumsfeld wouldn't let anyone believe it would ever happen), and it's time to face facts that it's going to be ugly for a while before it gets pretty. That said, pot-shots through veiled snide asides in reporting the mounting death toll is simply petty. We get it, we get it already.
Nominee Brown: Well, I've been reading over the PFAW Report on the Janice Rogers Brown nomination. It raises some interesting points (though any judge who has served through over 900 cases will have written some controversial things). For example, on a case that was in the news recently:
Relying on precedent that the majority pointed out had been handed down three decades before the development of modern commercial speech jurisprudence, Justice Brown disagreed with the majority [in Nike v. Kasky] that Nike's speech was commercial. She argued instead that Nike's labor practices were themselves a matter of public concern and thus Nike’s mailings and other speech on the subject should have been protected even if false.
I can understand disagreeing with Brown on this, though I personally do not; what I can't understand is treating her opinion as thoroughly outside the mainstream. Jonathan Rauch (not a right winger, he) wrote a reasoned defense of the kind of logic Brown used:
. . . empowering the courts to act as roving truth commissions would overburden the legal system and chill public discourse. Centuries of hard experience with inquisitions and censorship boards and speech codes have proved that vigorous, uninhibited public debate is the only reliable way to sort truth from falsehood. The cure for bad speech is more speech. This is the great paradox at the heart of the First Amendment: To learn truth, allow lies.
In another example, PFAW cites People ex. rel. Gallo v. Acuna:
Writing for a majority of the court, Justice Brown upheld an injunction which, among other things, denied the right of certain alleged gang members to be "in the company of any other VSL or VST [gang] member while '[s]tanding, sitting, walking, driving, gathering or appearing anywhere in public view' in the four-block Rocksprings area." As two of the dissenters pointed out, the language of the injunction was alarmingly broad and invited selective, and possibly discriminatory, enforcement.
I won't try to justify the principle, since I haven't read the case, but I will note two things in passing. For one, Brown wrote for the majority; thus, this isn't an example of her hanging off the right end of the bench. For another, this kind of incursion on freedom of association needs more context. For example, we do see personal and locality restraining orders that do not require a conviction of a crime. Finally, the plea for free-association rights is a little disingenuous coming from an organization that consistently opposes the Boy Scouts in their efforts to apply the principle.

There are numerous instances in PFAW's brief against Brown where I disagree with Brown's opinions, whether expressed from the bench or in another setting. I don't, however, see the pattern they're purporting to show: that Brown is a judicial activist, hostile to civil rights, or outside the mainstream. I agree that difference of legal opinion entitles a Senator to vote against a nominee. I don't agree that such diffence should be used, in good conscience, to deny a vote or justify a filibuster blocking the action of a majority of the Senate. That is to say, if Brown's opinions offend a Senator, he or she can, and should, vote to not confirm. But raising the difference of opinion to the level of disqualification, as Senators like Schumer and Leahy have admitted that they intend to do as often as possible, misapplies the Senate's function in the judicial nomination process.

More: Clint Bolick says Brown's not a right-wing stooge, but a sophisticated, libertarian conservative. No doubt that means she'll drop off even quicker than Miguel Estrada.

"Blah"ging: Finally a day with only a small pile of schoolwork to do, no need to be at work at the store, and utterly miserable weather providing no temptation for recreation. Perfect day to pick up the slack, blogging-wise.

Of course I get sick. Could feel it coming on for a day or two, it hit full steam last night. I was last sick almost three years ago, so I'm out of practice, and out of drugs. I think I'll get some TheraFlu. Liquids and medicine, both good when sick, right? Other than that, it's naps and a reruns. And trying to wrap up a project for Marketing class tomorrow night. Shite!

Will post if the dope works.

Science and Sociology: A good piece on the pseudoscience-buster site Butterflies and Wheels explores the economics and emotions of organic food and the opposition to genetically modified crops:
Much of the opposition to transgenic food crops is that they are allowing and will increasingly allow farmers to produce food crops with reduced pesticides or even no pesticides and use agronomic methods such as sustainable conservation tillage which prevent soil erosion, conserve water and preserve biodiversity in ways that "organic" agriculture cannot. When honestly and properly understood, pesticide-free transgenic food crops (crops using lower amounts of less environmentally toxic pesticides than the "all natural" pesticides of "organic" farmers) undercut the benefits of "organic" food consumption. This means that conventional farmers could mass-produce food that more than matches the alleged health and environmental benefits of "organic" food at a lower cost and price. Why then, would anyone buy "organic" food let alone pay a premium for it?
Further, the author examines the effect of scarcity and concludes that much of the popularity of organic food, the "snob-value," is not true to its espoused principles:
Globalization has been the mechanism by which the increasing global food production leads to greater diversity of available foodstuffs and therefore greater choice, but it also deprives the snobs of that sense of exclusivity in the items they consume. In a world of increasing free trade and technological advancement, the food snobs seek to pursue an anti-trade ("buy locally"), anti-technology agenda in order to preserve their status and self-esteem, even if it is at the expense of continuing the increase in food production to meet a growing world population and make the technologies of accessibility and abundance available to those who have not had the opportunity to benefit as fully as others from them.
If nothing else, the human misery in developing countries should factor into a clear-eyed analysis of the costs and benefits of genetically modified food. Worth a read. (Via A&LD.)

Friday, October 24, 2003

The Next Filibuster: I'm just starting to read up on Janice Rogers Brown, the latest Bush judicial nominee to meet with some strong degree of opposition. Eugene has a fine post on People for the American Way's rhetorical bombast about a Brown decision. He notes that PFAW calls one of her decisions "very disturbing" when it actually is fairly mainstream. (Read for yourself: her dissent starts on page 94 of the pdf file.)

NPR had a brief bit on Brown this week, which is when I really started to pay attention to what the major media were saying about her. The NPR reporter excerpted some bits of her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, noting that, when pressed to defend some of her opinions, Brown sounded "confused." In fact, she didn't, in my opinion. The reporter gave only slender set-up before playing a quick clip, but in it she quite confidently replied to a question from Arlen Spector that she disagreed with him. Thus, I'm still confused about the characterization of her as "confused."

As far as the politics go, we've been through the song and dance about whether this is a poor strategy for the Dems, so I won't revisit that, except to say that I think it's lacking in foresight and good judgement. The other party always gets a turn to play the advise and consent role, and upping the stakes as the Dems are will come back to bite them.

Rush must be flipping out (and not from Oxycontin): So, Junior Seau, one of the all-time great NFL linebackers is asked about this upcoming game in which he will be facing his former team (Chargers) and in particular, a rather nimble running back, Ladanian Tomlinson. When asked how he intended to stop L.T., Seau responded that the best way would be to fill him up on watermelon and fried chicken. Outrageous, right? Fuzzy Zoeller got the snot beaten out of him by the press for his collard greens comment about Tiger. So, shouldn't Seau be sanctioned?

Well, no. First of all, it's Junior Seau who's saying this, a class act if there ever was one (does he get a break for being Samoan and not white? Sure, but read on). Secondly, he's buddies with L.T. (we all know friends can get away with busting on each other, even in non P.C. ways). Last (and most importantly) they actually used to eat fried chicken and watermelon together - indeed those two delicacies are among L.T.'s favorites. Moreover, L.T. is cool with it and even wore Seau's jersey around practice to show his support. So, in this case, a stereotypical comment was actually founded in truth, thereby eliminating the stereotype. Limbaugh would argue that there's a double-standard. But, one must always consider the source (Rush is hardly going to be cut any slack when he voices his opinion on ESPN). More importantly, one must consider the truth. There was no demonstrable truth in what Rush said; it was at best an honest opinion - which perhaps makes it even worse. Therein lies the difference.
Inconsistent? Moi?!: Kerry on the defensive again re: his stance on Iraq. Here's how he cleans up the confusion:
"There's no inconsistency in me," Senator Kerry, of Massachusetts, assured one voter at a house party in New Hampshire recently. "I know what people say," he said on the MSNBC news program "Hardball With Chris Matthews" on Monday night. "My position could not be more clear."
Oh yeah? Here's what a strong Kerry supporter says:
"His biggest problem is Iraq — that he can't explain his position in two sentences," said Dan Caligari, a longtime New Hampshire campaign organizer who is backing Mr. Kerry.
Props to Vikingpundit for the link.
Quit Bugging Me: So, as it turns out, the little bug in Mayor Street's office didn't turn up anything incriminating. Granted, it was only there for about two weeks, but still. And as John says:
"From the very, very beginning, I said they can capture any conversations they want in my office, and I said there will be no corruption, no sex and no profanity," the mayor said moments after a speech to cheering supporters at Faith Tabernacle Church in North Philadelphia. "That's what I said then, and that's what I'm telling you now."
Of course, he said they wouldn't catch him doing anything wrong in his office. Well, the scandal isn't over, and no one is quite sure how it will affect the race, but at least the Feds are being forthcoming as much as they can which is fair, I suppose.
It's Not Important, I Suppose: But I did watch the final takeoff of the Concorde on CNN this a.m. An amazing, gorgeous work of engineering and, after 30 years, still the coolest (civilian) thing in the sky.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Great Movies: I'd propose "Big Night" which stars, among others, Tony Shaloub and Stanley Tucci as Italian immigrant brothers (respectively, Primo - the purist chef and Secondo - the smooth front man who loves his brother but needs money to keep the doors open ) located in coastal New Jersey during the 50s. Their goal is to force real Italian food onto the un-suspecting American populace at a time when red/white checkercloth, red gravy, and mandolins ruled supreme. The opening scene alone is reason enough to see the film as Primo suffers apoplexy when a woman orders a side of spaghetti and meatballs with her risotto.

Needless to say, they're about out of money and can't compete with the restaurant down the street, Pascal's (the eponymous proprietor played by Ian Holm of all people) who serves the people what they want and revels in it (clearly, he has no soul). Anyway, Pascal (who had been trying to get the brothers to come work for him) promises Secondo (or so he thinks) that he can get Louie Prima in their restaurant after a gig, and with the right press coverage, the place will take off. Well, you get a lot of fun of watching the brothers prepare for their "Big Night", but the real scene-stealer is the food. Do NOT watch this on an empty stomach. Great period music too - kind of kitschy, but so is the movie. There's lots more going on in the movie, and some really fine acting too. It won't tax you or bowl you over with literary allusions, but that's okay - you'll still go back for seconds.
Of Bills Who Kill: Eno's pick of "Rouge" is probably a great one. I've only seen "White" so I can't say. In my household, it's becoming increasingly difficult to see the movies I really want to catch up on (it's either Disney or romantic comedies - Mrs. Razor more aligned with the happy-enders). I sneak one in now and then, but the disgusted looks I get mid-way are a bit much to take (I took her to see The Pledge, starring Nicholson, directed by Penn - it's a brilliant, heartfelt film with a decidedly disturbing undertone and subject matter. The ending about breaks your heart. Mrs. Razor wanted my head examined after that one). Although this weekend we are taking a Saturday in the city (Philly) and will likely head over to the Ritz for a movie. Suggestions? I'm considering "The Station Agent" as a nice compromise between an arty film and one with at least the hope of happiness in the end.

Anyway, more on Kill Bill. In its defense, the thing was filmed as one piece and then was divided in two for financial/marketing reasons (people don't sit through 4 hour movies). So, it's either Miramax's fault or Q.T.'s for not doing a better job of realizing this up-front, and then fixing it during filming, not editing. But, that only addresses the format, not the film itself.

Flyer is right that the movie has to stand by itself, and not only be for those who are movie geeks for a certain era and genre. But I also think that Q.T. will always suffer from Pulp Fiction and to some extent, Resovoir Dogs. The expectation was that he would continue in those veins (i.e. modern-day gangster pics - albeit wonderfully thoughtful ones). Q.T. said he wanted to do a pure action film and not slow it down like he did in his prior movies. Again, you can question his intent, his idea, or his editing, but I still think the pictures on the celluloid (at least he didn't do it in digital!) hold their own.
Style in spades: Razor's review of Kill Bill, which differed quite a bit from mine, was very sharp. And I don't disagree with most of his points. Yes my heart was racing, and yes it was visually spectacular (I thought the image of the water pump at the end of the final fight scene was great, and a rare moment of reflection in a movie that never stops jerking your head in different directions). Maybe it's just a matter of taste, because I don't think Tarantino is any less of a film maker. But I think he made some blunders.

You have to expect the altered chronology in a Tarantino film, so that didn't bother me. But in his past movies he manages to bring it together at the end, so you know what you were seeing before. Maybe we'll get all the story we need in Episode Two, but I believe that a movie needs to be able to stand on its own, without prequels or sequels. The next movie may give more information or tell what comes next (or before, a la Godfather II) but each one has to justify itself. And that, to me, Tarantino failed to do. All the high wire act and choreography in the world couldn't sway me from the opinion that Quentin shot enough action for five movies, but couldn't come up with enough story to fill out one.

I guess the style is the story, along with the multiple homages and musical orgy. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I picked up the details of that stuff better, but I was pretty much stumped beyond "Allusion to Kung Fu film X." I don't have a real history with that stuff, so it wasn't as powerful, I guess.

I'm glad you liked it Razor, and many others I've talked to did as well. I've got Pulp Fiction on DVD, though. That'll hold me over till Kill Bill 2 - Revenge Of The Sequel has past.

Movies: In the spirit of Roger Simon and Dan Drezner, I've been thinking about movies lately. Maybe it's all the Quentin yapping we've done (although Flyer and Razor have seen Kill Bill, so I'll skip further comment until I see it). Nonetheless, and aware of the fact that such things are moot, I've been trying to assemble a bit of a desert island movie list -- presuming, of course, a desert island with screening facilities. Rather than just put up a list, though, I'll take them one at a time, giving each one a bit of meditation. I can't guarantee how often they'll pop up. Probably whenever I'm bored.

First on the list, though not in any particular order, is Krzysztof Kieslowski's Red (Trois Couleurs: Rouge). Although not entirely seperable from the rest of his masterpiece trilogy, and the last of the three, it does not depend on the other two for its effect, which is massive. A rather spare story of the chance meeting between a young woman with a nascent modeling career (Valentine, played by the stunning Irène Jacob) and an old and disgraced judge (played by the astounding Jean-Louis Trintignant) in Switzerland, the movie manages an epic scope, mostly by not shying away from themes (chance, and second chances) that can become cloying if treated coyly or breezily, and embracing just enough magical realism to be uplifting, even as death, tragedy, disgrace, and distrust permeate the story. They meet after Valentine has hit his dog with her car, and she finds herself drawn to him, while repulsed by the merciless sport he makes of his neighbors' lives, and his general cynicism. ("Are you a lawyer?" she asks. "Worse," he says: "A judge.")

As we slowly learn the story of his own humiliating past, and as Valentine's humiliation unfolds in the present, they develop a closeness that, it seems, would make them lovers were he not 50 years her senior. The overall effect, subtle until a crescendo ending, is a suggestion that the universe has bent around these two people to offer a mysterious sort of redemption that comes to fruition only in a moment of stark tragedy. Kieslowski pulls this off without hesitation, and without the sort of affectation that might cheapen the film with sentimentality. At the same time, he rebuffs our questions, allowing mystery to remain mystery, content not to attempt a reconciliation between the canvas of a seemingly disinterested universe and the quirks of fortune and happenstance that stipple it. The film's power resides there, in the manner of Kubrick's 2001, in its refusal to reduce the circumstances into which its characters fall to an effable scope. But whereas Kubrick wrote large, with humans venturing into the unfathomable universe, Kieslowski instead shows us how the same enigma is at work in two lives on Earth.

How to raise your blog portfolio: Funny article from on how to get your blog noticed so you can make it into the big-leagues. Blogger provides an assortment of intro paragraphs for different types of stories (genre fiction, New Yorker fodder, etc.). Which one would lead to a story that gets published? Here's one which combines the detective novel with the mid-twentieth century Jewish immigrant genre:
Izzy Goldman was about one hundred and fifty pounds of loose kugel in an ill-fitting suit ("Off the rack!" he said proudly. "Below wholesale!") His eyes were golden brown potato latkes, and his weak chin was roughly the same color. He sat on top of an overturned milk crate and he was smoking a cigar the size of a shofar. He said: "I need a mohel."
Bill Kills: So I saw "Kill Bill" last night with my brother. Having now heard some very disparate comments on the movie (Flyer being the most "anti") I was really interested to see what my reaction would be. First off, and as I alluded to in an earlier post, this is a genre film - actually it's an homage to a host of genre films and even some icons of the film world. From the "chop socky" films of the Shaw Brothers, to some Kurosawa, to spaghetti westerns, to blacksploitation, to John Huston (oh and some anime thrown in for good measure).

I will strongly agree with Flyer on one point: the plot is simplistic; the characters somewhat shallow. But, this film is chopped in half, and the film does not track on a straight chronology, so it's not fair to say at this point, that more exposition isn't on the way. In my opinion, however, even if there's not much more background, the film is a winner.

This is not only a film-buff's delight, it's a visual and aural masterpiece. Some may say that it's all flash, no fire, and fair enough. But when you view the film in the context of a genre, revenge film, then the gloss becomes the grit. It's not just the story being told, but the way in which it's told. The music is simply overwhelmingly brilliant (and let's face it, has long been a Tarantino mainstay). We get music from Nancy Sinatra to the Japanese neo-retro-punk trio the "5,6,7,8s". The RZA does the original score, and he blows the doors of the mutha. Some scenes get three, four, five tunes/scores to accompany them - and I couldn't wait for the next one each time. Half of them went over my head, but the ones that I did catch, all come from somewhere or allude to another film or genre - again, you can't disassociate the film from its post-modern self - everything is a reference to something else, and if you don't like that, or can't groove with it, then you won't like or much appreciate this film.

The violence is totally over-the-top, and is cartoonish, from the aterial blood sprays, to the flying limbs and distorted grimaces. Wire work, stunt-doubles, and screaming "hiii-yaas" all reflect this film's roots in the 70s Hong Kong flicks. At the same time, the choreography is amazing. While the action is fast and furious, there's no simple filler - each balletic battle shows something new - from the brutally realistic opening knife fight between The Bride (a/k/a "Black Mamba") and Vernita Green (a/k/a "Copperhead") to the serene long-anticipated battle between Uma and Lucy Liu in the snow-filled Zen garden (the setting of which was taken straight from Kurosawa).

Now, about Uma. She's everything to this film and either you buy her or you don't. I bought her in everything except some of the fight scenes. It's clear, she's not very athletically inclined - her stances and footwork don't inspire that awe you got from Bruce Lee or Jet Li, but guess what, she's an actress first, a fighter, a distant second. Many actors have played action heroes without any actual fighting ability, and I'd rather see a good actor fake the fights, than the other way around. She exudes bad-assness, yet shows real vulnerability, fear and pain. I'm not sure many other actresses could have done it all like she did.

Sonny Chiba is simply amazing and is the only rival for her in re: screen presence. He is magic; alternating between making you bust out and laugh, or sit in silence as you revere his gravity. This guy has been gone too long. There are so many other characters in this film that you can't possibly mention them all. But, two quick shout-outs to Darryl Hannah and David Carradine. Hannah isn't in it for long, but you'll never look at her the same way again after seeing her play a one-eyed psychotic assassin. Carradine you actually never see, but his deep, gravelly voice fills you with dread every time it comes into your ears.

Anyway, many will be disgusted by the violence and rightfully so - it's a bit much. But if you can again look at this film as the reference guide to the many films that came before, you will be able to contextualize it. It doesn't stir your brain like "Pulp Fiction" does. Rather, it jump-starts your heart, and makes your pulse run a few notches faster. It's a daring and fresh film, despite it going over old ground. Say what you will, but no one else would have even thought about doing this film, and you can see the love Q.T. has for his craft and for the hundreds of films that inspired him growing up. This is not a throw-away or cynical film - this was done with great love and passion - something you cannot simply dismiss with a wave of "it's too violent".
Rummy Follow Up: Look at that memo again. Look at the distribution list:
TO: Gen. Dick Myers
Paul Wolfowitz
Gen. Pete Pace
Doug Feith
Where's the leak? This list puts the "top" in "top brass." You can bet pretty confidently that it's not Feith or Wolfowitz. The other two are JCS brass, meaning dead-solid Pentagon -- the hate-Rummy capital of official Washington. Just speculating here, but an axe is being ground, and it pays to look for the convenient pile of wood.

Who knows. Could be anyone.

More: The tastefully named Brendan at Human Liberty makes a case that argues for an inside job:

It occurs to me that the leaked memo comes at a good time for the Republicans. It lowers the bar for what the public should expect from the Iraqi occupation. The leak happens to come with just about the right amount of time for the public to assimilate new ideas before the election. Democrat critics will now be forced to be even more critical of the Administration than the Administration is being of itself. They will temporarily be able to say, "Gotcha," but that will wear thin pretty quick.
I'm inferring here, but I think he's saying that if Rumsfeld didn't leak the memo, he should have.
Dear Friend of Freedom: That's how the letter opens. Accurate enough (since that's what I consider myself), and just cheesy enough for a mailing from the ACLU. And that's what it was.
There is no higher calling, no greater reward, democracy can offer an individual than the opportunity to stand up for fundamental freedoms in trying times.
So join the ACLU, etc., etc. Nice wind up; now here's the pitch.
These are, indeed, trying times for civil liberties.
Two guesses what's coming next.
Attorney General John Ashcroft is waging a relentless campaign to undermine our freedom, shamelessly using the war on terror as cover for his assault
Surely you've read about it: how he burned the Reichstag last year, then seized "emergency" dictatorial powers. Perhaps you've seen the Muslims being loaded into the train cars. No one knows where they are taken. No one asks.
And Congress has been disappointingly complicit, with too few members on either side of the aisle resisting the Attorney General's pressure to make unprecedented, unnecessary, and unjustified incursions into our freedom.
You recall how Ashcroft stunningly arm-twisted the Senate into a 98-1 passage of the Patriot Act, right? Some of the Democratic lawmakers bullied into complicity are, in fact, so ashamed of it that they're running for the presidency.
Thousands of Americans who have done nothing more than attend a particular church service [one by this guy?] or peace rally [like this one?] have come under surveillance . . . College students and retirees have been interrogated by the Secret Service or FBI agents because of anonymous tips about their anti-Bush statements or the posters on their walls.
I suppose they're referring to the students questioned by the Secret Service because their anti-Bush statements included talking about hiring a sniper to kill the president. The Secret Service follows up all reports of threats. That's their policy, and the JFK assassination led to it. I think it's a wise policy. And this has happened to thousands? I'm sure thousands complain every day about being abused by the government. Check them out; they'll be mostly membersd of the tin-foil-hat club.
People have lost jobs or been denied credit because their names wound up on unchecked but widely circulated lists of suspected terrorists -- often by mistaken identity or misspellings.
Sorry, but lost jobs and denied credit aren't things we can hang on Ashcroft. Those are the actions of private companies. Nice try.
The ACLU's Keep America Safe and Free Campaign is working to . . . [r]epeal the anti-civil liberties provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act that pose a clear and present danger to the constitution. These include a provision that might allow the actions of that dissent from government policy, such as Greenpeace, to be treated as "domestic terrorism."
Yes, but not because of the dissent, but because of how it's done. Like with bombs. Greenpeace here is used as an example because people tend to think they're all warm, fuzzy people. Not necessarily so. The hard green left flirts with terror tactics, and some of the most violent groups have ties to mainstream "progressive" groups, like PETA.
. . . [and to s]top the government's unwarranted [but not literally "without a warrant," in the judicial sense] spying on political and religious activities and its investigations into our reading habits by forcing libraries and bookstores to report on the activities of their patrons.
The library canard lives. The Justice department, with a judge's permission, can subpoena your library records. Just like that other mortal threat to civil liberties, the grand jury.
[R]ecently passed legislation prohibited implementation of President Bush's proposed domestic spy program, Operation TIPS. The ACLU has been the most outspoken critic of this offensive effort to pursuade neighbors to spy on neighbors.
Actually, we have a program like that already where I live -- a neighborhood watch program. You know, you see the odd guy fondling himself at the bus stop where the schoolgirls are waiting for their bus, so you call the cops. Sing it with me: You say "domestic spying," I say "common sense"; let's call the whole thing off!

I can't go on. Look, I understand the ACLU's mission; and when you set yourself up as "the Defender of X," whatever X may be, you see threats to X everywhere. That's the nature of things. But it also has a darker side to it, the "firehouse" side. If your job is to man the firehouse, waiting for the fire, you can get a little restless. It's not that you wish for fires, or that you wish for people to get hurt, but you do want action. You might jump for the pump-wagon when the phone rings, for example, thinking it's the fire bell.

We've been over the Ashcroft routine before. My choice as AG? No. Raging enemy of the Constitution? Come off it. Janet Reno was more of a threat. The courts have had ample opportunity to smack the Justice department down. Instead the courts have upheld its actions -- and not just whack-job, ultra-right Reagan judges have upheld. Ironically, the defenders of freedom have been the ones who have had to resort to overheated rhetoric, exaggeration, and out-of-context citations to make the case that, sometime next week, we'll all be sitting around saying, "First, Ashcroft came for the Muslims . . ."

I'll keep my money for now. It's not that I don't want to support freedom, but the ACLU is gratuitously overplaying this. Likewise, I refuse to give money to groups that hyperventilate about how "reproductive rights" are teetering on the precipice and that the overturning of Roe will be followed quickly by theocracy, the Handmaid's Tale, and . . . er, something else I can't remember. Sure, I'm pro-choice, but I think the Roe decision was crap. (I'm an unabashed fan of the majority decision in Lawrence, leaning on the presumption of liberty rather than privacy.)

I think my money's better spent at the NRA, who stand up for the amendment that seems to have gone missing around the ACLU offices. If a single Constitutionally ordained freedom will be eradicated in my lifetime, believe me, it won't be speech, press, or religion. It'll be guns.

More: Enjoy beating up on Ashcroft? The beat up on him for some indisputable offenses.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

From the Onion: Too, too funny:
Limbaugh Says Drug Addiction A Remnant Of Clinton Administration

WEST PALM BEACH, FL—Frankly discussing his addiction to painkillers, conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh told his radio audience Monday that his abuse of OxyContin was a "remnant of the anything-goes ideology of the Clinton Administration." "Friends, all I can say is 'I told you so,'" said Limbaugh, from an undisclosed drug-treatment facility. "Were it not for Bill Clinton's loose policies on drug offenders and his rampant immorality, I would not have found myself in this predicament." Limbaugh added that he's staying at a rehab center created by the tax-and-spend liberals.
The Sushi Memo: Rummy's got nothing on big NYC law firms. They write really important memos, like where to get the best lunch-time sushi. You can get the .pdf version over at Gawker. Here's the attorney who apparently requested the memo. There's really nothing else to say about this.
Not that literacy has anything to do with teaching: That poor bastard in the Boston area, who is employed and paid quite well to be the superintendant at the Lawrence School finally passed his literacy test - on the fourth try. Good example to set for students: Tests have no meaning because you can always take them again.
Rummy's Memo: It's getting some big play today, in old and new media. From reading it, I can't see what the big deal is. His main point seems to be:
Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?
Which is to say, simply, that when we ask whether we're winning the terror war, we have to first be honest that the old ways of measuring success don't hold.

This is not stunning. After China, Korea, the Bay of Pigs, and Vietnam, I'd be surprised if the brass at the Pentagon weren't asking these same questions about the Cold War in the 1970s. It certainly didn't look like we were winning that one. At least we're asking the right questions, and early.

Powell in 2008: We all know that once a person puts his/her hat into the ring for an office, the attacks begin, and we always end up liking the person (not necessarily the candidate - there is a difference) a little less. Certainly we need look no further than Der Schwarz to see how he was brought down a few notches when focus was trained on his free-wheeling younger days, and his free-feeling later days. That said, unless there's murder (and sometimes even that isn't enough - Ted Kennedy), the candidate will survive to run.

Colin Powell, despite whatever personal foibles might be exposed, has got to be The Man for 2008. Witness what he's done just in the past few weeks. He got the U.N. to agree on the Iraq's future (granted, it's not in the form of a check or manpower, but a great start nonetheless), now he gets warring factions in the Sudan to agree on a peaceful power share after fifty years of civil war! This guy is everything Bush is not (actual war veteran with major chops in military leadership and now, international diplomacy; conciliatory without giving away the farm, well-spoken, thoughtful, and without the religious overtones). Other than Rumsfeld killing him off with a drone, I can't see how the prize isn't his for the taking. God, would he scare the Democrats to death.
I'm Back: So put away your goddamn fetishes already. I took yesterday off to spend with my son. He and I baked cookies together. Nice, wholesome fun. Meanwhile, you guys were for christsake discussing the pubic hairstyles (and thanking other blogs for stories we scooped a week ago). I tell you, I can't leave for a second without this place falling to pieces over the kind of silly . . .

Ooooh look! Liza was beating David!

In one incident last June in London, court papers allege Minnelli consumed a bottle of vodka before she threw a lamp at Gest in their hotel suite.

She later "began beating (Gest) about the head and face with her fists," the lawsuit said. When Gest asked a security guard to intervene, court papers say Minnelli punched him in the stomach.

Well, we always suspected he wasn't really, er, up for the fight. But decking the security guard, too? Send Liza after Osama!

Anyhow, what was I saying?

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Whither doggy style: Not to up the ante, but this was quite the "How do you do" from Michael Bowen this morning. Must be something freaky in the water these days.
Of merkins and landing strips: Whither body hair? I don't mean to turn this otherwise staid blog into a rousing fetish column (Eno's heart couldn't take it), but I found this article rather interesting, if unflinchingly frank. I can't do much to add to the article, so I will drop you this sliver on "interactive" shaving to get your interest piqued:
Shaving is often an activity in dominance/submission role-play and works well in combination with bondage between very skilled and trusting partners. The act of shaving one's own genitalia is a very frequent request which a dominant will make of a submissive for various purposes: whim, demanding a gesture of submission, personal preference in aesthetics and hygiene, and fetish.
Think of that next time your five o'clock shadow is staring you in the face.
Even NPR Feels Bad for O'Reilly: In a rather unusual move, the Ombudsman for NPR cops to Terry Gross going too far with her interview technique. Says the Ombud:
Even so, I agree with the listeners who complained about the tone of the interview: Her questions were pointed from the beginning. She went after O'Reilly using critical quotes from the Franken book and a New York Times book review. That put O'Reilly at his most prickly and defensive mode, and Gross was never able to get him back into the interview in an effective way. * * * By the time the interview was about halfway through, it felt as though Terry Gross was indeed "carrying Al Franken's water," as some listeners say. It was not about O'Reilly's ideas, or his attitudes or even about his book. It was about O'Reilly as political media phenomenon. That's a legitimate subject for discussion, but in this case, it was an interview that was, in the end, unfair to O'Reilly.
Of course this isn't the point.

The point is that O'Reilly went running away like a baby (err, if babies could run, that is). He wasn't in physical danger, and there was no reason he couldn't have used his scintillating intellect to match wits with Gross. But give up? That sets a dangerous precedent for his guests.

MORE: Here's O'Reilly's response to the vicious left-wing attacks. Don't look for anything cogent; he just whines even though he says he's "reporting" the facts. Someone who dishes it out as much as he does isn't allowed to whine. It's like Rush arguing for leniency for his drug problem. Live by the sword, die by the sword.
Hmmpnph, wha, what's happening?: Did I miss something? Oh, okay, forget ... *snooorrre*
Mea culpa oh wise and powerful Eno. Nothing escapes your omniscience. Nothing is beyond your incisive commentary.

That's what i get for blogging between paragraphs of a case writeup. I really need to channel my "inner editor."

Re Stop, Attn: Snide Comment Dept.: I don't know how to say this, Flyer, but . . . er . . . look within for wisdom.
Stop: Or I'll say stop again! No really, no more leaking. Ever. Er, ever again.

Samizdata has the scoop on the administration's new no-leaking policy. It's short, so I'll clip it.

The Bush administration recently has been pummeled by a quasi-scandal involving the leak of the name of a purported CIA "covert operative." I won't go into any details here, as I don't think there is any "there" there. One of the responses of the Bushies was to crack down on leakers in the administration.

This new anti-leaking policy was, of course, promptly, well, leaked.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Bush told his senior aides Tuesday that he 'didn't want to see any stories' quoting unnamed administration officials in the media anymore, and that if he did, there would be consequences, said a senior administration official who asked that his name not be used."
Heh, heh. Unnamed sources in D.C. are as common as the politicos themselves. The game of figuring out which leaks are intentional and which are sneaky is recreation. It's not going to stop anytime soon.

Or so I've been told by a high ranking administration official.

NPR slip-up: Is Nina Totenberg "dropping the mask" to reveal her deepest hopes? I'd say "not long for this world" has pretty clear meaning.

Sidenote: Somebody give Charles Krauthammer a rimshot, please.

Torture and interrogation: A very good, and very long, article on The Atlantic about the use of torture and coercion in interrogation sessions. It talks specifically about the U.S.'s practice in the war on terrorism. It's a sincere look at both sides of the issue, the abohorent acts of cruelty and reasonable use of intimidation, fear, and confusion tactics.

It's a complicated issue, but I think Mark Bowden gets it right in his conclusion.

The Bush Administration has adopted exactly the right posture on the matter. Candor and consistency are not always public virtues. Torture is a crime against humanity, but coercion is an issue that is rightly handled with a wink, or even a touch of hypocrisy; it should be banned but also quietly practiced. Those who protest coercive methods will exaggerate their horrors, which is good: it generates a useful climate of fear. It is wise of the President to reiterate U.S. support for international agreements banning torture, and it is wise for American interrogators to employ whatever coercive methods work. It is also smart not to discuss the matter with anyone.
There are some unpleasant things we must do and not talk about. And those who oppose these acts serve an important purpose in not letting certain lines be crossed.

Thanks to Malcolm at Occam's Toothbrush.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Clark's campaign: He's getting lots of headlines, but when's the money gonna roll in to give him a legitimate shot? Even funnier, look who he trails.
That Said: Cautions for the other side, too. There's an article in National Review (not online) this week regarding the effect of unemployment on presidential elections. The author, Ramesh Ponnuru, wisely dismisses the notion that the jobless numbers will be Bush's weak spot. As Ramesh rightly observes, the jobless rate, about 6%, is low by historical standards. "Until the mid 1990s," he observes
many economists believed that the "natural" unemployment rate was between 5 and 6 percent, and that any attempt to drive it down further would ignite inflation. The unemployment rate in 1992, following the last recession, was 7.5 percent. it was still 6.1 percent in 1994, and nobody thought we were mired in a depression then.
I think this is right. Remember the old Capitol Steps song?
Hark, when Gerald Ford was king
We were bored with everything.
Unemployment 6 percent.
What a boring president.
Nothing major needed fixin’
So he pardoned Richard Nixon
Unemployment of 6% goes from being a yawner to "the worst economic performance since Herbert Hoover." Democrats can hype the 3% jobless figures from the late 90s, but the fact is that those numbers are a historical aberration. So 2 million people lost jobs since 2000. The question is, heartless as it may sound, were those jobs that needed to be lost based on the speculative hiring of the tech boom? And while it may be true that most unemployed people will vote Democratic, how many of the unemployed are chronically so? How many would vote Democrat anyway? It's a hard puzzle to put together, and any argument that a 6% jobless rate hurts Bush is conjecture.

People vote their pocketbook, I'm sure; but those employed right now are seeing business pick up. For 94% of the country, things are humming again. I've argued before that this might be as good as it gets, at least for a while. Seeing the NASDAQ double in the span of 3 years is not an economic necessity in my book, nor do I think it's a wise aim. I would caution any Democrat running on economic issues against citing the late 90s as a model. For one thing, history argues that the sort of growth we saw is unusual, to say the least. For another, we found out that such growth, when it's based on little concrete performance, looks like speculation -- but only after you've lost the principal. Finally, I think the sorts of incentives a president would have to offer to boost manufacturing -- where the job recovery is slowest -- would come with some unsavory economic consequences.

The better the economy gets, the more Democrats will have to hammer Bush on Iraq. Ironically, I think that's to their benefit. I think that's where they'll get traction, particularly if the press continues to play it as a failure. Bush has been unable to get his message across on our long-term commitments, the total cost, and what we expect out of it in the end. Until he does that, and does it well enough to bring the public around, he's vulnerable. Too bad he alienated John McCain. McCain could sell neoconservatism to the independents. Bush, so far, cannot.

The Dominant Party: Freddy Barnes, over at the Weekly Standard, has an article on realignment: according to Barnes, the GOP is poised to dominate like they haven't in generations, perhaps even to the extent that the Democrats did following the New Deal. With only a token caveat about drawing conclusions from the California recall, Barnes is off and running:
Look at the recall. With two ballot questions, no party primaries, and a short campaign, it wasn't a normal election. But it displayed all the signs of realignment. Republicans were enthusiastic, Democrats downcast, Latinos in play, and the gender gap was stood on its head. The result: California is no longer a reliably Democratic state. Until the October 7 recall that replaced Democratic governor Gray Davis with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republicans hadn't won a major statewide race since 1994. Bush spent millions there in 2000 but lost California by 11 points to Al Gore, who spent zilch in the state.
Of his conclusion, that California is in play for 2004, I'd caution anyone in the White House against taking this too seriously. California was different: the incumbent was dreadfully unpopular; his only Democratic challenger, Cruz Bustamente, ran an inept campaign that couldn't even stake out a position on whether to vote "No" on the recall; the Republican winner ended up being a pro-choice, pro-gay social moderate. Despite the cries of protest about "groping," female voters generally gave Schwarzenegger, like Clinton before him, a "get out of jail free" card on the issue based on his clear stance on Roe.

If 2004 pitted Bush against an unpopular moderate-to-liberal incumbent, I'd like his chances. As it stands, Bush is in the no man's land of a mid-first-termer. He can shake it off, like Reagan, or he can fall victim to it, like his father -- all while Democrats get several months of free shooting at Bush during the primary.

Bush will probably have enough money to make a stand in California, while other GOP candidates have had to husband their resources. But I would do some hard thinking before I dropped $50 million there trying to overcome the decidedly liberal slant to California's voting public.

Revenge is a dish best served with multiple punches to the head: Man molests child. Child grows up and turns into a mess, including jail time. Molestor goes to jail. Victim and molestor share cell. Let the beatings begin!
But was he right: So all this Easterbrook nonsense convinced me to go see Kill Bill Saturday night. Just how bad could it be, right? I mean I can take violence and gore, whether it's "realistic," like the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, or cartoonish violence a la Tarantino. I'm even on board for the occasional slasher flick (I just watched the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre a few weeks ago: cool!). So my reaction to KB: Fuck you, Quentin! Give me my $7.50 back.

Let's see, every gory, limb-hacking, blood spewing scene gets dragged out long enough to make you wonder if they left anything on the floor, one character in two hours is given any detail, the plot is barely alluded to, occasionally, in a weak attempt to justify the most sickening violence imaginable, and all we get at the end is Tarantino's mocking snicker as it's revealed that you've got to shell out more money to see the sequel just to find out why hell these people are all intent on killing each other (it ruins nothing to reveal that KB is only the setup, since anyone thinking person not prepared to sit in the theater for four hours can figure out after 30 minutes that he'll never finsih the story in one flick).

Tarantino has got plenty of talent, a great eye for visuals, and the guts to make a film that disturbs you a little, and make you like it. Sometimes it's just making you sing along with his soundtrack. How disturbing was it to find yourself bopping along to the "ooga chaka, ooga chaka" of "Stuck in the Middle With You" in Reservoir Dogs. Great moment. Or the overdose scene in Pulp Fiction, when Uma Thurman get the adrenaline needle into the heart. Disturbing, but the story justifies it. That's what happens when somebody OD's on heroin.

But KB doesn't even pretend to justify the violence with any backbone. It's just purley offensive dreck. Tarantino's ego has apparently gotten so big he believes every precious scene, every clever line, every gross out decapitation must be preserved to get the artisitic vision just right. But if that vision begins and ends with buckets of blood splashing across the screen, it's not one I'm interested in.

For the record, I don't have any money-hungry Jew criticism to throw on top. Tarantino and Pulp Fiction made Miramax, so Eisner and the Weinsteins are just a bit compromised. And they knew it would be a money maker, but you don't have to be Jewish to put out bad movies for the sake of profit.

Meathead, moi: Since I never have become a fan of TMQ or Easterbrook, though I recognize his knowledge and considerable talent, I guess I fall squarely in the meathead ranks, at least when it comes to sports. Which is fine with me. They can stick Easterbrook virtually anywhere and I won't notice. I never read him on ESPN, but that's mainly because I don't read about sports on the web unless I'm looking for something specific in order to post about it. I read my sports where you're supposed to, on the can. If ESPN had published Easterbrook in The Magazine, I might have read him more. Gues that won't be happening now.

That doesn't mean I agree with ESPN/Disney's actions. I read about this on Friday on Roger Simon's blog and was struck by the reaction by his readers. Gregg's comments were out of line, but I thought his style was always intentionally over the top, trying to tweak a few noses in every paragraph. Maybe I never got him, but I didn't think what he said was anti-Semitic. Careless, yes, but people reacted as though this were coming from some sober-sided CNN stuffed shirt. Some writers use shocking statements to get attention, then focus that attention on what they really care about. Gregg was using some harsh rhetoric to inspire a little criticism of the atrocious Kill Bill (see my next post), but many got stuck on the hook.

I'm sorry ESPN has taken the action they have, but this clearly comes from the top, that is to say Michael Eisner, who got personally skewered by Easterbrook. I don't think you can blame ESPN management, unless you expect a management walkout on the issue. Sorry, but TMQ wasn't that important.

Who's watching Street and why?: Let me say this: mad, crazy props to the Philly Inquirer which is really keeping tabs on the Mayor Street issue (and the mayoral race as a whole), and from all angles: the political implications and shifts; the legal aspects; the cold reality facing us all regardless of who wins. It's really been going out of its way to keep a level head and try to describe the story and answer factual questions, rather than interpret it, while still keeping the focus on what the City needs from a mayor, rather than whodunnit.

My fear is that if Katz wins, he faces a huge uphill climb from the black voters who are coming out in droves for Street (after all, he is the victim here) and a polarized City Council. My fear is that if Street wins, and then he's indicted, we lose all ability to get anything done in the city. Hell, even if he's not indicted, the questions won't evaporate over night. Either way you slice it, it has potential for disaster. Well, at least we have the Eagles. Hmmm, Kansas City looks good right about now.
TMQ: Razor, I think you make a point about TNR. Wherever TMQ is published, those who liked his columns enough to follow him from Slate to ESPN (like me -- not a fan of ESPN) will follow elsewhere.

TNR is such a good pick because they can stop publishing his blog, which recycled and previewed TMQ jokes horribly.

Easterbigot: Actually, I don't think that for a second, I just like sensationalistic headlines. Eno, you and I had discussed before why TMQ was better on Slate (where the subject matter was a bit out of place, but the tone was a perfect match; as opposed to ESPN where the subject matter matched, but the tone was entirely disjointed and was "saved" only by Easterbrook's fortunate love of cheesecake models and cheerleaders). Of course Slate is run by MSN which had joined with the "Go Network" (i.e. Disney) for its web portals. So, I'm not sure he even goes back to Slate. So, why not put him on TNR where he's already established a presence and they're not going to shy away from his occasional comment (unless it's conservative!). Boy, my Tuesdays have lost a bit of their lustre (okay, this is like saying my Yngwie Malmsteen album has lost some of its gentle soothing rhythms).