Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Kuci and Sharpie: Sounds like a kids' TV show, doesn't it? You make a great point about the psychotic "get the hell off the stage!" tantrum that is rising in every serious candidate's throat. But they dare not say it! The luckiest bastard in the world right now is Kucinich: As long as he can draw numbers approximating Sharpton's (or Moseley-Braun's, for that matter), he's got a ticket to all the big-league events. After all, nobody's going to tell the black guy he can't come.

Sharpton and Kucinich represent two major modern principles in action. For Sharpton, it's the guiding principle of affirmative action: i.e., race as a resume bullet. Nobody's really going to ask if Sharpton is qualified for the job. Even the toughest question in the debates, asking him if he'd apologize (to Stephen Pagones, I infer) for Tawana Brawley, was quickly swept off when he answered, "No." Hell, apologies are coin of the realm in politics. Bill Clinton apologized to everybody in the world (even if we all knew it wasn't sincere), with that bite-the-lip, feel-the-pain bathos he made an art form.

Kucinich represents the clouded mind of the politician who is unaware that he embodies the principle of failing upwards. Kucinich's abysmal performance as mayor of Cleveland should have relegated him to the dog-catcher tier of politics. Instead, he has leveraged his good intentions and "outsider" goofiness into a decent ride in the national Democrat junior varsity. He's a socialist, of course, and one who thinks that Americans agree with him. He's the kind of guy who thinks that disconnecting work requirements from welfare is a human rights kind of issue. He could never possibly run a successful democratic state on his principles without leaving it in a fiscal situation reminiscent of . . . well, how about Cleveland circa 1979?

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

I propose the "Let's Be Serious" Test: Okay, so the Dems were at it again last night in Iowa for another round of meaningless talking and pandering, but this time, to mid-westerners! Absent: Lieby (who has forsaken Iowa). Present only as talking heads: Kerry (from D.C.) and Edwards (also D.C.) [strangely, Lieby and Kerry both miss out on the vote on Medicare, yet Kerry is right in D.C. - this is even more interesting in light of the first question from Brokaw]:
I'm going to go to Senator Kerry, if I can, in Washington, D.C.

Senator, Hillary Clinton has already issued a press release saying that this is a Trojan horse that is designed to bring about the demise of Medicare. Do you honestly think that the AARP, that Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, for example, or Senator Dorgan of North Dakota, are determined to bring about the demise of Medicare? Because they've indicated that they support this.
Kerry sums up on the whole thing by saying:
This represents a special interest giveaway. And the headlines you saw in the newspapers the last days said, "Drug Companies Win." Now if the drug companies win, who's losing? It's the seniors in America.
So, let's get this straight, he's against the thing because it's a "special interest handout" (and in debate-speak, what isn't a "special interest handout"?), but he doesn't vote against it?! Got to love the Kerry mode of representation.

Okay, I could go on and on, but here's my real point. Why do we have to listen to Kucinich and Sharpton? I mean, Kerry is a lost-cause, but he has some money behind him and at least a snowball's chance of getting the nod. But Kuci and Sharpie are there only to pander to very small minority interests, and their platforms have zero-chance of being endorsed anywhere by anyone. Wouldn't it be great if in the middle of some bizarre speech by Sharpton if Dean just said: "Listen, I've heard enough for you. Go back to Brooklyn. You're a kook and a crook and no one is going to vote for you. You're wasting valuable time - my time - and it's about time that you get off this stage and let serious people tell this country about their viable ideas."

Wouldn't that be priceless? Of course the moment he said that, he'd be labeled a "racist" and the confederate-flag voter issue would be given new life. And Kuci - this wackjob needs to get back to his conspiracy newsletter or whatever he has and stop parading around like anyone wants to hear a single thing that comes out of that pointy head. Ambassador Braun at least doesn't speak that much so she doesn't waste as much time, but isn't she sort of an insult to women? Is this the best they can do? I understand most are waiting for Hillary, but surely someone must be more worthy of the platform.

I think I may run for president in 2008 on the platform that I shouldn't be allowed to run. I won't even need a campaign manager to fire mid-course.
TMQ to the NFL: In a move that has stunned industry insiders, TMQ is heading over to, where his weekly column will now be featured, as of

Odd place to land, I must admit. It's not like the NFL is known for its loosey-goosey approach to projecting its image (or the commentary thereon). But, on the other hand, at least the NFL isn't owned by Disney (it isn't, right? at least not yet, I think), so Gregg should feel free to lambaste Eisner at will.

MORE: Here's an article from a Buffalo newspaper commenting on the move. Easterbrook says, in reference to his new masters:
"They told me to keep it the way it is," he said, "so the pictures of cheerleaders - and also some beefcake, pictures of shirtless football players - will continue, along with asides about physics, politics and all the zany stuff that's part of TMQ."
Headlines: How to report this story? The New York Post might say, "New Europe: 'Old Europe Squaresville.'" The Daily News (if they know where the Czech Republic is) might write, "Czechs say, 'EU? EU Can Keep It!" National Review would no doubt slug it, "Klaus to EU: 'Quit Imminentizing the Eschaton!'" However you slice it, the Czechs don't plan to kiss much French ass in the EU:
Czech President Vaclav Klaus said Europeans are living in a "dream world" of welfare and long vacations and have yet to realize "they are not moving toward some sort of nirvana."

The Czech Republic is a candidate for European Union membership, but Mr. Klaus, who was elected president in February, made clear in an interview his distaste for the organization.

The last Czech president was a huge Zappa fan. The new one (with the same first name) appears to have a knack for the sport of indoor French bashing. Perhaps non-mealy-mouthed politicians could be a growth export industry for the Czechs.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Commanding Masters: I know last week I promised a movie, book and disc review, but I reneged. I'm giving you instead another movie review. This time, something actually in the theatres: "Master and Commander - The Far Side of the World". Short version: if you like the books, you like the movie. Long version: This movie was not dumbed down and is instead a heartfelt take on the novels. There's no love stories, no traditional comic side-kicks, no macho bravado, and no weakening of what was a hard, dirty, violent life as a professional sailor in the King's navy.

Yes, the movie changed a few things around. Instead of the War of 1812 with the Brits against the Yanks, it's now 1805, with the Brits slogging it out with the French (probably the last time anyone feared the French in a war; I mean anyone not allied with them). Of course, if you're going to get anyone to see the movie in the U.S., it's probably best not to have us as the "bad guys". And there were a few other changes that were needed to meld essentially two books, the first and the tenth.

With the books (and I've only read 5), what makes them so much fun is that O'Brian never takes it easy on you. There's no glossary, only a simple drawing of a ship, with the various sails and masts identified. Right away, you're thrown into a world of nautical slang, foreign dialects, and British minutiae. You either ride the tide, or you're drowned. Simple and at times, maddening. Well, same with the movie. Either you're okay watching a film about ships, about "The Service", about cannonballs and broadsides, and about two different men who share an uncanny friendship that serves as salvation to them both throughout their journey, or you're going to be unhappy. There's no sappy love interest to draw in the traditional female audience, and there's almost no scenes shot on land to placate those who will get sick of the rolling waves and claustrophobic conditions.

Crowe simply nails the character. I was afraid he'd play Jack Aubrey too sanctimonious, too "heroic", but he draws out the character's strengths: his wit, his compassion, and his tremendous leadership. He makes the movie. His friend and confidant, Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) is played very naturally and true to form. They only leave out the bit concerning his being a spy for Ireland, but the movie can only be so long. There are a couple of scenes where you burst out laughing (just like the book) and enough instances that make you glad you don't live in the 19th century. You also become intently involved with the lives of some of the junior officers and even some of the lowly "able seamen".

This is one of the few movies I'd say you really should see on the big screen (for obvious reasons). There's also some great music - assuming you like classical, with an emphasis on violin and cello (Aubrey and Maturn's instruments). Very enjoyable 2+ hours.
Kerry on the Stump: Bush has pardoned the turkey, but Kerry is still on Howard Dean's chopping block. The tone of this story suggests that, for all the "we've got plenty of time to turn this around" rhetoric, Kerry is a few short steps from begging for votes in New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, Viking Pundit sees Massachusetts starting to fall the same way. Someone in the campaign should write a memo to the candidate on the risks associated with losing your home state. Someone, preferably, who is willing to go the way of the last person to confront Kerry on strategy.

Idiotic: Maybe I'm just a grumpy guy, but I've always thought the president should be docked a half-day's pay for this ceremony.

Friday, November 21, 2003

The "Amiable Dunce": A fine, balanced, and funny review of Peter Schweizer's Reagan's War over at Reason. Sample:
Yet if there was an eggplant where Reagan’s brain should have been, how did he manage to win the Cold War? How did he bring a victorious end to an ideological and military deadlock that defied Kennedy’s best and brightest, Johnson’s political cunning, Carter’s brilliance (certified not only by his nuclear physics degree but also by an Evelyn Wood speed reading diploma), Eisenhower’s strategic prowess, and even Nixon’s widely acknowledged (if not always admired) skills as a back-alley fighter?

The general response among America’s chattering classes has been that Reagan was the political equivalent of the millionth customer at Bloomingdale’s. He was the guy lucky enough to walk through the door as the prize was handed out, as if everything was pre-ordained and would have happened the same way no matter whether the White House had been occupied by Michael Dukakis or George McGovern or Susan Sarandon. An alternative theory posits that Gorbachev was some sort of Jeffersonian kamikaze pilot, taking his whole nation over the cliff for the thrill of being proclaimed Time’s Man of the Decade.

Reagan, Schweizer says, won the cold war by forcing the USSR into an arms race they couldn't win.
In retrospect, Reagan’s point that the Soviet economy was on life support seems obvious to the point of banality. In fact, that’s one of the arguments his critics use against him: that the Soviet economy would have imploded anyway, even without Reagan’s defense buildup. But that’s not the way foreign policy intellectuals saw it in 1982.
There follows a list of embarrassing statements from the economic likes of Thurow and Galbraith, with a howler from Arthur Schlesinger thrown in for good measure.

As I was arguing yesterday, re: The Day After, it's the ultimate cup of hemlock for liberals to face the mounting evidence that Reagan not only engineered the defeat of the USSR, but that it was a bold and coherent plan he had formulated since even before his governorship:

As early as 1963, Reagan argued that the arms race should be not reined in but accelerated. "If we truly believe that our way of life is best, aren’t the Russians more likely to recognize that fact and modify their stand if we let their economy come unhinged, so the contrast is apparent?" he asked in a speech that year. "In an all-out race our system is strong," said Reagan, "and eventually the enemy gives up the race as a hopeless cause."

He wanted to use American technology to leverage an arms race that would force Moscow’s wheezing command economy into a Hobson’s choice between guns and butter. Either way, Reagan believed, the Soviets would lose: They could never keep up with the United States in an arms race, but abandoning it would be suicidal for a state that conducted all its business at gunpoint.

I have a friend who is very definitely not a Republican; he is, rather, a pretty serious minarchist who happens to think a country as powerful as America shouldn't get pushed around by shithead foreign politicians. Despite his non-conservative leanings, he rarely refers to Reagan as anything other than "that great man." I think we're down to only the kool-aid-drinking left (i.e., the actual socialists) that hasn't recognized that history has Reagan on track for the American political pantheon, once all the boomer historians kick off and a disinterested account is written.
Reasonable minds will differ: One can certainly understand the paranoia surrounding the JFK murder what with all the strong competing forces working at the time. You have the Russsians, the Cubans, the Mob, the military, the CIA, and your wackjobs. Any one of these groups probably had it in for JFK to one degree or another. Now, the single bullet theory, while not making any sense, doesn't necessarily invalidate the prospect that Oswald did it. But, I look at it more from the perspective that for him to have done it alone, would have taken the alignment of every cosmic force available. He's not detected, he fires perfect, rapid-succession shots on a moving target from far away, he calmly walks away from the depository, again un-noticed. Then miraculously, he's found sitting in a theatre when no one saw him do it?

I dunno. It will never be solved to anyone's liking, but it doesn't mean we shouldn't try harder.
More JFK: I've mentioned before that I was, as a younger man, a bit of a buff on the conspiracy theories (much to the chagrin of my PoliSci prof Doug Munro, who went on to found a policy think tank; give him some money). I'm less inclined toward the conspiracy view now, though articles like this one still confound me. Says the author, historian Gleaves Whitney:
Gerald Posner (in Case Closed) and Robert Dallek (in An Unfinished Life) have observed that many people drawn to conspiracy theories just do not want to accept that a lowlife like Oswald could single-handedly cut short the life of a charismatic leader like Kennedy. It despoils the myth of Camelot.
Well, I was never much for the Camelot myth. People still spin theories because so many questions went unanswered. More Whitney:
For nearly 40 years, the commission's work has been scrutinized. After all, it's methods were sometimes flawed, its evidence occasionally inconclusive, and its judgments at times spotty. A number of issues went unresolved. Did authorities in Dallas handle every piece of evidence according to the best crime scene investigation techniques? No.
Wow. There's an understatement, considering nobody knows where Kennedy's brain ended up. Plus, nobody in the Dallas police department recorded or took notes at Oswald's primary interrogation.
Were certain questions answered inconclusively? Of course.
The "of course" is rather cavalier. The key to the Warren Commission's case was the famed single-bullet theory, which suggested that, of Oswald's three shots, one missed entirely, one hit Kennedy's neck, and the third "magic" bullet hit Kennedy's back, exited through his neck, and went on to hit John Connally in the body, hand, and leg, only to be "found" later, intact, on Kennedy's stretcher at the hospital. And this still doesn't account for possible bullet damage to the presidential limo, plus a shot that hit a curb near a bystander. This is an obvious case of an implausible threory contructed to fit the facts, rather than facts laid out in a logical manner to create a plausible reconstruction.
The assassin had a motivation to kill. Lee Harvey Oswald was mentally unstable, a Communist who had a long history of associating with fringe leftist groups. He lived for a time in the U.S.S.R., was sympathetic to Castro's Cuban revolution, and was a rifleman trained by the Marines. Clearly he was willing and able, if the opportunity arose, to kill a U.S. president who vowed to resist Communist threats to the free world.
Yes, I don't doubt that Oswald was manning a gun. But it does seem odd that Oswald was connected in so many ways to forces hostile to Kennedy; that he defected to the USSR and then repatriated so easily; that he was himself killed so soon after the crime. As to the "rifleman in the Marines" description of Oswald, he was, by most accounts from the service, a poor shot; recall that the Zapruder film indicated that Oswald would have needed to get off three shots, at least two of them on the mark, in about 6 seconds. From a cheap, mail-order, bolt-action rifle.

As for the Jack Ruby connection, Whitney says:

Finally, it is a stretch to claim that Jack Ruby was part of a conspiracy to kill Oswald. Ruby arrived at the Dallas jail 30 minutes after Oswald was originally scheduled to be transferred to a different facility. Oswald was unexpectedly delayed, and Ruby seized the opportunity to shoot the assassin — not typically the way conspirators behave — and insisted to the end of his life that he acted alone.
True, it is odd that Ruby would show up late if popping Oswald was important to him, not just a "target of opportunity" situation. But why was he strolling into the police station, armed, in the first place?

Whiney's conclusion, "that the man who murdered President Kennedy was Lee Harvey Oswald, and that there was no conspiracy, foreign or domestic, that brought JFK down," is not outrageous, but his dismissal of the oddities of the event, and its aftermath, is unconvincing. The theories persist because the Warren Report was not particularly dispositive on many of the circumstances surrounding the case. I've come to believe that Whitney's conclusion is the most likely; but not everyone who disagrees is an Oliver Stone fruitcake.

It's a fair (second) cop: When not busy kowtowing to Bush's every demand (do I need the sarcasm codes?), Blair actually gets some work done at home. He just got over the final hurdle in revoking the "double jeopardy" law that has for centuries protected those acquitted of crimes from being re-tried on the same charge later in time.

It will only apply to bench trials, and only for certain crimes like murder, rape, and armed robbery. Also, you need compelling new evidence, such as the now ubiquitous DNA test. I think it makes sense as DNA is changing the name of the game, and because it's so unassailable (save for lab error), you're a fool not to open up a trial if you can clearly tie someone to the crime.

The issue of overturning jury trials, was indeed a sticky wicket, and left, perhaps for another day.
More Turkey: Lileks, on the What It Means patrol, echoing my sentiments:
It’s going to take another attack to convince the fence-sitters: I hear this all the time. I don’t think that’s the case. I think the next attack on American soil will jolt whose who’ve moved on, who’ve forgotten the aching, clammy dread we all felt after 9/11. But others will believe that we brought it on ourselves. You already read it around the web – the bombings in Turkey were a response to Britain’s assistance for toppling Saddam; what did we expect? In other words: if we fight back, we get what we deserve. If we do not fight back, and we are attacked again, you can blame it on the crimes for which we have not yet sufficiently atoned. The only proper posture for the West is supine. Curl up and let them kick until they’re spent. Give them Israel and New York and perhaps they’ll go away.

This is either going to end on their terms, or ours. Which would you prefer?

There's more.
And One More Thing: Taking the trash out to the dumpster last night, a young guy pulled up in a quasi-sporty-looking car, dropping off his recycling on his way out of the parking lot. Before he got out of the car, I could tell that he had music playing in his car -- you know how you can hear the muffled sounds but can't tell quite what it is. I assumed he'd open his door and I'd be awash in the standard, thumping machine-made beats and basslines that have so thoroughly destroyed the fun of pop music.

Nope. He opens the door, and it's Coleman Hawkins blowing "Body and Soul." Amen.

Some Observations: NPR's "All Things Considered" had a segment last night on the TV film The Day After, which -- I'm sure you recall -- was broadcast 20 years ago this year. That film, the darling of the unilateral disarmament crowd, scared me to pieces. So NPR talks to some people who had been involved in the movie, and not one of them says, "Gee, you know, things worked out pretty goddamn well; no matter how gratuitously we hyped the nuclear threat, I'm kind of glad we didn't disarm." Well I'm glad we didn't. I remember all that "Reagan wants to blow up the world" and "He's a warmonger" stuff -- "He can't be trusted with 'the button'" was another big one. And I look at the kind of vitriol Bush is getting in Europe now (and here, too). I'm not going to trust the pricks who were wrong last time (and can't admit it).

In another anniversary event, John Kennedy was killed 40 years ago tomorrow. I never thought about it from my parents' perspective, even living in Dallas, hearing them talk about Love Field, Dealey Plaza. These were real places, places that still existed and that you might drive to. Imagine what it will mean for this generation to live in New York and talk about the World Trade Center. For my parents, a couple of "New Frontier" Democrats living in Dallas less than 20 years after the assassination, this was the scene of their 9/11. Dealey Plaza was the World Trade Center for their generation, the place where the unthinkable happened. A part of them will always be there, just as a part of me will always be looking out from Windows on the World, in the North Tower -- the best address in the world: 1 World Trade Center.

Finally, I've just finished Walter Isaacson's biography of Benjamin Franklin. It's no scholarly tome, but that's a good thing. The book is, like Franklin, a little breezy and informal, not concerned with putting on airs, but certainly not superficial. We don't hear about who sat in which chair at the Franklin family table when Ben was young -- accompanied by some ridiculous theoryabout the sense of superiority or inferiority or whatever that this gave the subject of the book. We see what Franklin does, we read a bit of what he writes. If Isaacson's conclusions and themes seem a touch plain or pedestrian, perhaps it's for the best; Franklin liked nothing more than being a bit pedestrian himself, admonishing his children to take pride in their middle-class family, to avoid aping the aristocracy. America, he thought, would be successful as a middle-class country, blending industry with frugality, simple hard work with inventive entrepreneurship, and a niggardly state with a generous people. He was, on the whole, correct.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

No Deal, Jacko: In an interesting twist, the very thing that got MJ off from criminal prosecution in the 1993 child molestation case, that is $15MM, won't be able to help him now. It turns out CA passed a law that prevents a civil suit from coinciding with a criminal suit, whereby one of the terms of the settlement to the civil suit is that the Plaintiff/victim cannot testify in the criminal forum. It also turns out that this law was passed directly in response to the first MJ case. This means MJ better have some strong alibis, because I don't think he's going to want a jury to hear something similar to this.
The Book: Okay, I'm reading Gravity's Rainbow. I had of course heard of the book and I even had started his newer book, Mason & Dixon. But, I picked it up during the summer, and it was simply too big to transport to the beach. I regretfully stopped about 100 pages in. However, as hard as I thought that book was...holy mind fu*k Batman, G.R. is in a league of its own.

I purposely avoided the companion book because I figured I was man enough for the job of slogging through on my own. Well, I'm 2/3 of the way done, and it's quite clear, I'm going to have to go back in again, this time armed with the companion.

Is it the (claimed) 400 characters (who can count?)? Is it the complete absence of traditional narrative structure? Is it the mind-boggling historical/artistic/musical/philosophical allusions that riddle the book like chopped nuts riddle pecan pie? I don't know, but my head hurts, man. It hurts for real. I've given up going back and re-reading sections now. I'm just moving ahead and through. In pulp, I can read 100 pages an hour, no sweat. With this, we're talking 30-40 tops. Most of the time I feel like I'm on LSD (rumor has it Pynchon was a bit abuzz when he wrote the thing as well).

The most rudimentary plot synopsis goes like this: An American GI stationed in London as WWII is all but done is having his way with the English birds. Funny thing though. Usually within 24 hours of his snogging with a young thing, a German V-2 rocket lands where he was just doing his own rocket work. This uncanny coincidence is not going un-noticed by the Brass who soon see fit to send him on his way to see if he can't find out more about the rockets. Along the way, well.... It's hard to tell you much more than that because that would require so much more than I can offer you.

You have to read this book on faith that everything your crazed eyes pass over is all connected somehow. There's talking lightbulbs, an orgy ship that roams the seas, musician chimpanzees, S&M-crazed nazi actresses, and rockets, rockets, rockets - rocket parts, plans and practioneers. Chemicals, explosives, wires, metals. Oh, and the sex! There's no shortage of that - even without the orgy ship.

It's one of those mind-altering experiences that you usually can only share with someone who has been likewise afflicted because, as you can see, after only a few minutes, it makes no sense to anyone who hasn't read it (to the extent it makes sense to those who have).

You know, I avidly read the new darlings of post-modernism (DFW, Eggers, etc.) and Eno knows all-too-well my affections for them. But Pynchon is their grand-daddy. The guy who broke all the rules so the rest could even get a publisher. Whether he's brilliant or not, I will refrain from saying until I finish, but the mind needed to create this book cannot be of this Earth.

Mostly I just hurt.
Bombs in Turkey: Bush's fault, no doubt. I still think this is the next world war. What will it take for countries to wake up to the threat? Turkey, I think, will be more particularly in the crosshairs: a westernized Muslim nation, the former seat of a once-great Muslim empire, and a neighbor of Iran, Iraq, and Syria.

Meanwhile, in London:

As marchers chanting "George Bush, terrorist" made their way through a business district, a few scuffled with three Bush supporters holding U.S. flags and a sign saying "support America." Police quickly intervened and bundled the trio into a nearby office building.

"I think it's a disgrace that these people are basically siding with Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida," said one of the three, Londoner Robert Temple. "Where were they when (former Romanian dictator Nicolae) Ceausescu came to town and why aren't they protesting against the people who blew up Turkey today?"

Good question.

More, from Bush's speech in England:

On September the 11th, 2001, terrorists left their mark of murder on my country, and took the lives of 67 British citizens. With the passing of months and years, it is the natural human desire to resume a quiet life and to put that day behind us, as if waking from a dark dream. The hope that danger has passed is comforting, is understanding, and it is false. The attacks that followed -- on Bali, Jakarta, Casablanca, Bombay, Mombassa, Najaf, Jerusalem, Riyadh, Baghdad, and Istanbul -- were not dreams. They're part of the global campaign by terrorist networks to intimidate and demoralize all who oppose them.

Following Up: Jeffrey Rosen responds to Jonathan Rauch at TNR. He thinks the rational basis test fails. He may have a point (the fact that the court didn't apply strict scrutiny surprised me too(, but I'm not yet convinced by any of the arguments that Massachusetts has a reasonable interest in denying same-sex marriage.

Under strict scrutiny, though, I think my position is well borne out. It isn't the institution of marriage, per se, that is at issue; it's the fact that state (and federal, for that matter) governments use that sanctioned relationship as a basis for policy (taxation, inheritance, medical decisions and visitation, child support and custody). Once the state decides to extend benefits to married couples, without any option for homosexuals who desire a simlar relationship with all the attendant benefits, equal treatment is violated.

The Ahts: Okay, everyone is sick of me and my constant pandering to the Right, so I thought I'd change gears a bit. One movie review; one disc review; one book review (well, more of the effects this book has had on me as I have been reading it).

The Film: "Auto Focus" starring Greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe. Based on the book by Robert Graysmith, it tells of the rather sordid story that the actor Bob Crane's life turned into after his repressive Catholic upbringing was shed for one involving lots of sex, lies and videotape. Kinnear is Crane (who if you don't know somehow, was Captain Hogan of "Hogan's Heroes" fame), and he is played quite sympathetically. Crane, in this account, is almost nothing like his famous dashing, confident character. Rather, Crane was in radio for quite a long time and "Heroes" was his first moving picture starring role. Crane was good-looking and smart, but he really didn't exploit even the modest fame radio gave him. However, "Heroes" was the tipping point for him. To say that it changed him, is quite the understatement.

Dafoe plays another creepy, smiley, underworld-type who may or may not have had a thing for Crane and his ahhh, thing. Dafoe is "Carpy" (John Carpenter) who used to be the L.A. rep for this company called Sony that was trying to introduce this thing called a "VTR" or Video Tape Recorder. It was so prohibitively expensive that only corporations and Hollywood actors (and Elvis, apparently) could afford the things. Grainy, black-and-white, but without the need for reel-to-reel eq, it's considered the coolest thing since the hi-fi.

We see Crane awaken to the "orgy" world, mostly at Carpenter's insistence (who's oily demeanor helps set the stage, plus his hep batchelor pad), and really excel at it during his six-year ride on "Heroes". Let's just say meeting women became a whole lot easier then (with Carpy happily in for the "ride"). Oh, did I mention he drums at a local strip club for kicks? Crane moves from wife no. 1, to no.2 but his addiction to sex grows ever stronger. When "Heroes" ends, Crane is reduced to a traveling dinner theatre troupe which he headlines and does a yeoman's job of it. He finally gets his break with a Disney pic, "Superdad". Well, the fact that most of you never heard of it tells you all you need to know. Then we have the quick spiral downward which ultimately ends with Crane down--on-his-luck, and trapped in a world that has enveloped him, finally leaving him murdered.

The book, but not really the movie so much, tries to pin it on Carpenter, who may have gotten just too jealous over sharing Crane. The movie doesn't investigate that deeply into the "whos" and "whys", but really keeps the "focus" on Crane and how he lived out his dual life.

I really liked the movie for the performances, which were all honest, and not done with any "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" angles. The story is largely based on the author's conjecture, since there weren't that many who came out and talked about Crane. A jury found Carpenter innocent (he wasn't indicted until 1992 or so), and there were certain hundreds of humiliated women and scorned husbands that had motives to take Crane out.

The movie is really quite sad in the end as you see a likeable guy drowned by his perversions. Someone who had obvious talent, couldn't quite connect in the real world once the fans went away. I suppose that's the old Hollywood chestnut.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

"Drugs, money laundering...I'm telling you folks, it's all the Clintons!": Drug addiction is a disease and one that is not to be laughed at. Even Rush is entitled to recover in peace. So, that's why I'm focusing on the money laundering. It seems he used to have regular cash deliveries from his bank in the amount of $9,900 (just under the $10,000 reporting limit) sent to his office. Why? Well, the bank thought it was a good idea, according to Rush's lawyers. And that bank has paid a $10MM fine for the favor. I hope we get to hear more.
Now, to the Knots: As you mention, Flyer, more to come on this gay marriage decision. I'm skeptical on the an amendment to the state constitution. It takes a lot of support, sustained over a period of years. I think there may be a bit of trial and error (and litigation) as the legislature tries to walk through this, and a compromise may be possible.

I should follow up on my comments from yesterday. I'm wholly enthusiastic and happy for the gays in Massachusetts, who -- even if they can't go out and get hitched today -- have won a significant battle. That said, I am disappointed in a legal/political sense: Jon Rauch hits the legal disappointments here, where he says:

By contrast, judicial imposition could turn gay marriage into a poster child for judicial arrogance. I'm not just talking about a gay-bashing backlash from the Christian right. If the courts short-circuit the political process, how will we gay couples ever convince the public of the full legitimacy of our marriages? We'll always be, in some sense, wards of the court.
I think he's right; the honest way to do this is through legislation -- and it's coming before long. Further, as I've said before, that legislation should not be aimed at opening up government-sanctioned civil marriage rights to homosexuals; rather it should be legislation logically flowing from the simple question: What business is it of the government who I choose to marry?

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Head planted in sand: SJC may have ruled gay mariage bans unconstitutional, but what's going to happen in the legislature?
But the issue may find a hostile audience in the Massachusetts Legislature, which has been considering a constitutional amendment that would legally define a marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The state's powerful Speaker of the House, Tom Finneran of Boston, has endorsed this proposal.

And Republican Gov. Mitt Romney criticizing the ruling, saying: "Marriage is an institution between a man and a woman. I will support an amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution that makes that expressly clear. Of course, we must provide basic civil rights and appropriate benefits to nontraditional couples, but marriage is a special institution that should be reserved for a man and a woman."
I smell a civil union compromise ahead, disappointingly. Romney and Mass. Republicans could be bold and allow gay marriage whole-hog, but they'll continue to try to protect a long past vision of marriage. While I commend the court's ruling (particularly it's decison to force the legislature to actually legislate and risk political capital), I don't think we'll see anything more progressive than what already exists in Vermont.
The Big News: My first (long) post on this got lost when the server burped. Massachusetts SJC rules in favor of gay marriage. Amen.

From the opinion:

The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens. In reaching our conclusion we have given full deference to the arguments made by the Commonwealth. But it has failed to identify any constitutionally adequate reason for denying civil marriage to same-sex couples . . .

It is undoubtedly for these concrete reasons, as well as for its intimately personal significance, that civil marriage has long been termed a "civil right" . . . Without the right to marry -- or more properly, the right to choose to marry -- one is excluded from the full range of human experience and denied full protection of the laws for one's "avowed commitment to an intimate and lasting human relationship" . . .

The department argues that no fundamental right or "suspect" class is at issue here, and rational basis is the appropriate standard of review. For the reasons we explain below, we conclude that the marriage ban does not meet the rational basis test for either due process or equal protection. Because the statute does not survive rational basis review, we do not consider the plaintiffs' arguments that this case merits strict judicial,scrutiny . . .

The "marriage is procreation" argument singles out the one unbridgeable difference between same-sex and opposite-sex couples, and transforms that difference into the essence of legal marriage. Like "Amendment 2" to the Constitution of Colorado, which effectively denied homosexual persons equality under the law and full access to the political process, the marriage restriction impermissibly "identifies persons by a single trait and then denies them protection across the board."

Rush reviewed: Limbaugh made his return to radio yesterday, and John Podhoretz notes that it was a different Rush.
His bluntness was, at times, staggering. Responding to critics who had dug up a quote from 1995 about how more rich white people should go to jail for drug use and accused him of hypocrisy, Limbaugh said he had himself begun taking drugs around the same time and that "the truth of the matter is that I avoided the subject of drugs because I was keeping a secret . . . I've been doing what drug addicts do, which is keep secrets."
Later Limbaugh rambles about "being responsible for my own happiness," and being "reborn at the age of 50," making one ask, "What did they do to you?"

Perhaps the "reborn Rush" will be allow a note of humility to creep into his broadcasts, making him more tolerable for many. But will it make him less entertaining and stylish? Wait and see, and check the January Arbitron ratings.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Damn that Marmaduke: Pandagon's list of 2003's most annoying consevatives. It's pretty funny, though not in the way I think the author meant. Bill Keane (creator of the strip Family Circus) and "whoever does Marmaduke" (Brad Anderson, as I found it in 14 seconds with Google, but Pandagon couldn't trouble himself to name) make it in at #13, quite impressive for two cartoonists who I didn't know were still producing new material, but are apparently high ranking puppeteers in the VRWC.

Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity tie for #1 (snore...even most conservatives have gotten bored with Fox News and Coulter's book was criticized from both ends of the spectrum). Oddly enough, Mickey Kaus is #14 (not quite as annoying as large slobbering dogs) for "masquerading as a liberal."

W., disappointinly, only makes it to #7. Hang in there, George. There's always next year.

Good for a chuckle, but Pandagon does little to back up his criticism of any of the Top 20, and some are just laughably irrelevant (Sandy Rios?). Sheesh, this guy annoys easily.

Link via Cobb.

Birthday: "And to think we used to do this for free!"

Uh, is there something you're not telling me?

Louisiana politics: Rod Dreher reports on Bobby Jindal's loss in Saturday's gubernatorial run-off election. The wonkish Republican lost to Democrat Kathleen Blanco (sort of a liberal Elizabeth Dole). Dreher chalks it up to politics and "negative advertising" by Blanco, and Jindal's inability to respond effectively in the campaign's closing days. It's too bad, as Jindal seems like a rising consevative star in a state that could use one.
Justice: The New Hampshire decision makes little logical sense, of course, but then logic has never been the hole card of the marriage defenders. Funny, the theme seems to be that if we just don't admit it, then it can't happen. If we just say that adultery can't happen when the spouse runs off with a same-sex participant, then it must be true. But if that isn't just as unfaithful as running off with a man, then the word loses all meaning. If Jacobs says that marriage is needed to make opposites attract, then I guess he was asleep during puberty. Marriage is not about producing offspring, it's about two people deciding they want to solidify their status vis-a-vis the outside world. Like Eno has said on numerous occasions, the government shouldn't have any role in that personal decision. Well, this is old hat, but disturbing nonetheless. Keep your heads buried, just make sure you cover your rear as well. You never know when some guy will want to make you his wife.
And I didn't get you a thing: Eno keeping alive his well-known sentimentalist streak alive by noting our birthday. And to think we used to do this for free!
Noteworthy? FauxPolitik celebrated its one year anniversary over the weekend. I note that Glenn's congratulatory card is late.
Justice Sidetracked: Jeff Jacoby looks at the implications of same-sex marriage in a New Hampshire divorce case:
When the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled in a divorce case recently that a married woman who had a lesbian affair had not committed adultery in the eyes of the law, one disappointed party was GLAD, the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. In an amicus brief, GLAD had taken the side of the betrayed husband, who wanted to be divorced from his wife not on the neutral grounds of "irreconcilable differences," but on the specific fault ground of adultery.
Jacoby goes on to get everything else wrong, though, by praising the decision. Jacoby, like the court, thinks adultery, like marriage, is between a man and a woman, and that to grant legitimacy to a divorce on the grounds of adultery, when the actual adultery was a lesbian affair, is to see homosexual and heterosexual sex as threateningly similar. This is a cowardly decision. The court, to hold as it did, must have willfully decided the case not on its merits but with an eye toward how such a case would sit as precedent. In fact, I submit it to you: Is it not obvious that the woman in question was unfaithful to her marriage vows? To make the case that she was not is to marshall judicial fiat against the facts of the case and reasonable interpretation. This kind of irresponsible judicial thread-the-needle doesn't stand up to common sense and logic; further, it does so with callous disregard of the case at hand -- that is, denying justice to a reasonable complainant for divorce because a grant of divorce under the terms he requests challenges how a particular judge feels about the legitimacy of the queer.

Jacoby ends with a standard "marriage defender" non-sequitur:

The purpose of marriage is to unite the fundamental opposites of male and female -- the only kind of union that can produce new life. Wherever human society has developed, marriage has developed too, and always for the purpose of bridging the divide between men and women. We look back with scorn at those who twisted the law to make marriage serve their racist agenda [i.e., those who made anti-miscegenation laws]. So will our descendants look at us if we yield to the demand that the marriage laws be twisted to suit a radical sexual agenda.
In other words, Jacoby thinks the fight to open marriage beyond racial laws is morally the same as the fight to keep it closed to homosexuals. The tortured logic of that boggles the mind. Jacoby, like those who fought miscegenation, thinks that his argument is made when he simply covers his eyes and says, "This is not how marriage should be!" Moronic, yes, but at least one court has borrowed his blindfold.
That Time Again? It seems we're fated to live this over and over, at least until the boomers die. Rolling Stone has released its list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time." How much surprise can there be in this anymore? The only question seems to be, "Did Revolver or Sgt. Pepper get the #1 spot?" According to Rolling Stone, Pepper wins. Top 10:
1. The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

2. The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds

3. The Beatles, Revolver

4. Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited

5. The Beatles, Rubber Soul

6. Marvin Gaye, What's Going On

7. The Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street

8. The Clash, London Calling

9. Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde

10. The Beatles, The Beatles (The White Album)

Pointless to argue with this sort of tabulated nonsense, I suppose, but I have to make the point that nothing Bob Dylan ever did comes within a country mile of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On.
Beer and Pussy: P.J. O'Rourke has a piece out of Iraq in this month's Atlantic. It's worth a read, but the real meat comes in the interview (available here) in which he talks about taking over for Atlantic editor-at-large Michael Kelly, who was killed during his embed. Begging your pardon while I quote liberally:
Oh, yeah. These guys just loved Mike, and they really wanted to talk about it. I mean, everybody from General Blount right down to the sergeant who had been driving Mike around—not the one who was driving when he died, but who had been driving him around when he was with his proper embed, before he sort of wiggled out in order to get up to the front. Every single one of them said, "I've just never met anyone who was interested in the same stuff that I am." For one of them, it would be military history, for another one it would be politics, for one of them it would be logistics and planning. Finally, I get down to this sergeant and he said: "Me and Mike, we used to talk for hours." And I asked, "What'd you talk about?" And—if you'll excuse the language— he said, "Beer and pussy." In fact, Mike had bumped into somebody else I talked to, a photographer for USA Today, Jack Gruber, and he said, "Yeah, I bumped into Mike and he said, 'It's been a long time since I've been around eighteen-year olds—if I have to talk about beer and pussy for one more minute, my head is going to explode.'" But they just all loved him. Mike's enthusiasm, and his way of paying attention to people, and the fact that for at least those moments he was with those people, he did care about that stuff in the way they did—that's part of what made him such a good reporter.
I have to admit that I was disappointed that Atlantic did no wrapup on their dead colleague, other than an editor's note. Perhaps these comments from O'Rourke are as close as we'll get to knowing what Kelly saw in Iraq, where he went, what he thought. I wish he was still here to write about it all.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Sticky Wicket: Much is being made (or not) about the sudden about-face (or natural evolution of the original strategy) in the U.S. policy towards Iraq and who is to run it, and when. The pundits have been gleefully saying how Bremer was "summoned" back to D.C. to give a brief on what the situation was, and then get educated on what it will be. Rather than infuriate Eno with some vapid quote from MSNBC or the WaPo, I went to Connie, for a detached view, but from a consistent supporter of the Bush policies.

In that vein, the Connie reports that the situation is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the facts still suggest that most of the attacks are coming from foreign nationals, and are not necessarily reflective of "Ameen Iraq" (my version of "Joe America") and his viewpoints on the occupation. Stated differently, the attacks are opportunistic and designed to inflict pain on the U.S., more as revenge for its infidel ways than for its toppling of Saddam.

On the other, there are serious concerns about the apparent shift in U.S. doctrine to speed up the hand-off of power to the natives. First of all, what do you leave in your wake?
Mr Bremer had previously insisted that the drafting of a constitution should precede elections (as in Afghanistan). But writing constitutions is a painfully slow process—Afghanistan’s effort, unveiled two months late, is a case in point.

And as the CIA report suggests, time may not be on America’s side. According to the New York Times, Mr Bremer is expected to urge Iraqis to hold elections in the first half of next year. However, he must still work out an agreement with the country’s Governing Council, a 24-member executive made up of Iraqis but set up by America. The council is expected to seek more immediate power for itself, possibly instead of rushed elections. Any solution will require delicate handling of the country’s ethnic divisions, as the Sunni Muslim and Kurdish minorities will be worried about too much power accruing to the Shia Muslim majority.
But, if you wait too long, you face the real possiblity of countries like Italy backing out (notice how brave Berlusconi seeks to appear by keeping his forces in the face of one attack) and Japan never showing up. Granted, both of those countries are giving nominal support, but sometimes the appearance is more important than what lies beneath.

In the end you can probably view this in one of two ways: (1) all of the attacks and sudden reversals in policy show that W never had a realistic gameplan and that he's simply treading water with no attainable objective in sight with the shift in policy aimed solely at appeasing future voters; or (2) Iraq is a wildly fluid place, with near anarchy, a disturbing mixture of ethnic influences, no democratic tradition in recent memory, and hell, throw in 70% unemployment, no running water, security or healthcare.
Everything You Didn't Know about Keith: Richards, that is. For instance, did you know he's "a dab hand at sports"?
. . . in Jamaica, Mick Jagger would challenge Richards — then in his ‘elegantly wasted’ phase — to a game of tennis. Sir Mick appeared for the contest dressed for Wimbledon; his opponent sported ragged jeans and kept a butt end clamped to his lip throughout. Keith won the match 6–1.
(Link thanks to Hit & Run.)
Breathing Room for Dean? So says TNR:
The emerging conventional wisdom on Howard Dean's forthcoming endorsements by the country's two most powerful service unions . . . is that, by so clearly elevating Dean to the status of front-runner, they make him an even fatter target for rivals to attack . . . But since Dean was already the front-runner before the SEIU and AFSCME endorsements, the practical effect of those endorsements will be to transform him from de facto front-runner to prohibitive favorite. And what having a prohibitive favorite does is create a situation in which no other candidate can beat Dean outright. Instead, they have to try to win what's essentially a race for second place . . . But if the only race that matters for the moment is the race for second place--i.e., just making the playoffs--why on earth would you waste your time attacking the guy who's in first? The only front-runner any candidate should now care about is the guy who's the front-runner in the race for second. Which means the attacks on Dean should start to diminish.
Don't tell that to Joe Lieberman, who just made a big (for rural New England, anyway) media buy specifically to whack Dean:
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, trailing his major rivals in New Hampshire, takes a few soft swipes at front-runner Howard Dean in a new television ad that began airing Friday . . . He doesn't name Dean, but the subject is clear . . . It is the first ad of the presidential campaign that singles out a Democratic rival albeit without naming names.
I think TNR's analysis is wrong-headed anyway. If Kerry were the solid front-runner, with Dean as a strong dark horse, it would pay to attack the dark horse, partly because Kerry is running, for all its bluster, a bland campaign. But when a candidate like Dean has the "big mo" and a huge financial advantage, he's a sensible target, particularly as a front-runner. If you want headlines, hit the guy who's getting headlines. (Of course, Kerry's getting headlines too. But the rule there that obtains is "Never interfere with your opponent when he is in the process of self-destructing.")
Big difference: What's a quadrillion dollars among friends.

If there is a correction, I'm sure it will be followed by a giant "BUT." For Vanity Fair columnists, any dollar amount more than what Affleck spent on "make-up jewelry" for you-know-who is beyond their ken, and is therefore unreasonable. So even if we're only several trillion in hock, it's time to start soaking somebody. Just not P-Diddy, 'cause he raised like tons of money for charity when he ran the NYC marathon and his Grammy after-parties 'effin rock.

Too fast, too fast: Can we please get through Thanksgiving first?

That said, I wholly strongly endorse Bowen's musical choice. "Tis not the season, till I hear it.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Pride goeth before the fall: I think that's the 11th Commandment or something. Anyway, in the category of "never saw it coming" Judge Moore is given the boot. He's now free to make the rounds at revival tents everywhere. Clearly, that is where he belongs.

Nonetheless, complaints were made:
On Thursday, some of Moore's supporters promised to file suit over the chief justice's removal, saying his ouster overturned the will of those who elected him to office.

"Our vote is being negated," said Bob Jewitt, a media coordinator for the Christian Defense Coalition.
Umm, yeah, see, just because you're an elected official it doesn't mean you can flaunt the Constitution. You could vote in a candidate whose sole platform was to put Jews into "education camps" but that doesn't mean he gets to do it.
Those Crazy Senators! So the GOP is going to gab for 30 hours to highlight the unfair obstructionism of the Democrats using (gasp) The Filibuster (/gasp) to oppose judicial nominations. Easterbrook has a good take:
"This is not just for show," Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, one of the yak-a-thon proponents, pronounced. Of course it's just for show! There is zero possibility the event will change Democratic votes on the disputed nominees . . . [Majority Leader Bill] Frist says the yak-a-thon will raise public awareness regarding the cloture rule. People are going to march in the streets about cloture?
Raise public awareness? Isn't that we have liberal whiners . . . er, activists for? I've made no secret of the fact that I think the Democrats' strategy is petty, juvenile, ill conceived, and likely to backfire. The GOP, obviously, believes in fighting fire with fire -- hence the petty, juvenile, ill conceived gesture now going on in the Senate that will likely backfire.

In the coincidences department, Easterbrook is surely aware that his brother Frank has been mentioned as a possible "spoiler" recess appointment if the Dems succeed in blocking the current slate. The idea goes that Bush, if defeated by the Senate, would recess-appoint some leading conservative intellectuals for a year -- ostensibly to make the Dems realize how safe-as-milk mainstream the current nominees really are. Easterbrook, Posner, Kozinski, and Bork are regularly mentioned in this scenario, though at least the first two have flirted enough with libertarian ideas to be as likely unpalatable to the right as the left.

More: Larry Solum (emphatically not a right-wing shill) drops the hammer too. (Link via Randy Barnett, who is taking this on over at Volokh's place.)

Priorities: Turns out all that money that was paid to the states by Big Tobacco as penalties, and which was slated for use in funding anti-tobacco programs for the kids, isn't being used to fund anti-tobacco programs for the kids. Okay, but at least the money taught the tobacco companies a lesson, right? Right? Uh oh:
At the same time, cigarette makers pumped up their marketing budgets by 66 percent in the three years following the settlement to a record $11.45 billion a year, the group's report said.
D-Day As Reported by CNN: Funny piece over at Right Wing News on how today's media would cover D-Day, ya know if there was like a time machine thingy. Anyway, it's priceless satire. Here's a snippet:
Casualties at day’s end are nothing short of horrific; at least 8,000 and possibly as many as 9,000 were wounded in the haphazardly coordinated attack, which seems to have no unifying purpose or intent. Of this number at least 3,000 have been estimated as having been killed, making June 6th by far, the worst single day of the war which has dragged on now - with no exit strategy in sight - as the American economy still struggles to recover from Herbert Hoover’s depression and its 25% unemployment.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Temper, Temper: USA Today has a cover story on Howard Dean, picking up the "temperament" thread that came loose in a recent debate. It begins with this paragraph:
Howard Dean's temper is no secret here in his home state. He has called political opponents "boneheads" and said they're "in la-la land." He's told lawmakers that he would like to see them lose their jobs. One longtime adversary wonders whether he's up to tasks that require tact, such as international diplomacy.
Is Dean too much of a hotheat to be president? I don't think so. This is a nice example of "meme" journalism. The "Dean Temper" story has been bouncing in the undercurrents for a while, and his opponents have quietly made it a key talking point. But it comes across as a little bit silly. For one thing, Dean's mouth has been the source of his stellar rise in popularity among the party faithful. Yes, he'll have to modulate for the general election, but for now he's clearly riding a straight-talk wave. For another, Dean's outbursts have been pretty minor. I was among the minority who thought he defended himself well over his Confederate flag comments, and thought he had no reason to apologize. Perhaps it was a gaffe according to the Kinsley definition -- when a politician accidentally speaks the truth -- but the fallout would have been much less if the Democrats didn't insist on sharing the stage with race hustler Al Sharpton, who will call out any statement that even appears to break the Democrats' byzantine racial taboos.

Finally, look at the successful presidents who had trouble restraining their emotional side: Nixon presided over a period of very successful diplomacy, despite a short-fused temperament and a tendency to vehemently denounce his opponents for everything, including bad weather; Clinton was notoriously hotheaded (and foulmouthed) and still managed to project a friendly, if slightly oleaginous, persona; LBJ had almost no ability to self-edit, including on racial issues, but still pressed for the civil rights victories that cemented his legacy; Truman, while president, once publically threatened to break the jaw of a critic who panned his daughter's musical debut.

Dean's competitors, particularly Kerry, want to foster a public perception that Dean is not a fellow we want to trust with "the button." Back to USA Today:

[Presidential scholar Fred] Greenstein predicts that if Dean is the Democratic nominee, Bush will run ads attacking him "on grounds of stability." He even imagines a hypothetical spot in which Dean "sends off the (nuclear) missiles and then says, 'Maybe I should rethink this.' " Greenstein hastily adds: "I'm not saying that's what he would do."
My apologies to Greenstein, but he sounds like a shill. The fact that he says this legitimizes the point, even though the evidence suggests Bush is set to run a high-minded, rhetorically shiny campaign (as incumbents usually do). It's a self-fulfilling prophecy in camouflage: Dean's competition can invoke just this kind of logic to paint Dean as -- if not unfit for the presidency -- an unwise choice to run against Bush. In other words, it's the same thing: If Kerry, for example, strategically raises Greestein's "Bush will attack" point, it's the same damn thing as Kerry making the attack himself, only with the added twist of gutlessness.

I disagree with Howard Dean about pretty much everything, but the gun-to-the-head test tells me I'd vote for him over the midgets who benefit from the propigation of the "temper" line.

Hairlines on the sly: I am continually fascinated by balding men. Not in a kinky way, mind you, but in a sociological way. First off, balding is genetic. There's no fault involved as to who goes bald, and there's nothing we can really do to stop it, despite Rogaine's best advertising efforts. All things being equal, men would prefer not to go bald, but in the end, there's no shame in it and it's up to the man to go through the seven stages of coping. Some do it easier than others.

Now, I'm not balding yet, and if the wives' tale holds true, I won't be anytime soon (mother's father wasn't; my dad has his and almost no grey hair to boot - and I've found no evidence of coloring). But even if I were, the last fu*king thing I'm gonna do is get plugs. I see three men regularly (two on the train, one at work) who got them some time ago, at a point when they obviously thought they were as bald as they were going to get. Wrong. Now they're left with the fringe on the side and a ridiculous, artificial hairline in the front, with a regular pattern of plugs fading toward the top and back. I'm sure they got sold on them by some shyster "doctor" who assured them this would be the miracle cure. Now, thousands of dollars later, and with the passage of time, they're left off worse than if they never did a thing.

I'm also amazed by the combover. There has to be a point where you have to stop compensating for the lack of middle, by stretching the sides. Worse still, those who come up from the back and either comb it all forward, or swirl it around. Sometimes we're talking a handful of strands plastered straight across to give the briefest illusion of a hairline, of course only when viewed from straight on and at eye-level (which probably, not-coincidentally, equates to the man's view in the mirror each morning). Let's call this the "Guiliani" (although I see now he's given up the ghost).

I guess the question is: who do they think they are fooling? And also, can the person really feel that much better about himself by doing it? Here's the real proof. Compare men like Michael Jordan (and we'll leave aside, for the moment, whether black men can pull off the bald look more effectively), Patrick Stewart, and Yul Brynner, even. Then look at someone using the -over. Granted the aforementioned men are all good-looking, in-shape athletes or actors, but still. A dignified, graceful bald or semi-bald head that is well-maintained (shaving, polishing, etc.) has to win hands-down over a sick, twisted attempt to manipulate what you have left into a full cover. And let's not start on toupes.
Sly Restaurants: Well, I tend to agree that government inspections are iffy in their efficacy, but certainly if there weren't any inspections, I don't know that that would be a good thing either. Maybe we should allow the two markets to exist. Licensed ones would obviously be more expensive for the consumer (as they are for the restauranteur), but they would have the benefit of offering "cleared" product (and don't forget it's not just the food, but the physical plant as well that is declared "safe") and could then hire the celebrity chef. Then you'd have the mom-and-pop places or back-door soup kitchens where there is no pretense of "legitimacy" but you get literally home-cooked food at low prices. Then when you sued for food poisoning, the defense lawyer would simply say: "Well, you knew this was an unlicensed restaurant, didn't you?"

As Eno would say:"Let the market sort it out."
Restaurants on the Sly: Radley links to a NYT article on a boomlet in unlicensed restaurants. Says the article:
These underground restaurants range from upscale to gritty, and are born from youthful idealism, ethnic tradition or economic necessity. They lack certification from any government agency and are, strictly speaking, against the law. You dine in them at your own risk. If you can find them.
I saw this phenomenon, on a smaller scale, in the alleyways of the string of Hispanic-flavored little towns along the Jersey side of the Hudson: Jersey City, Hoboken, Weehawken, Union City. One Cuban fellow I worked with (call him Carlos) was a good example: After work, he would go home, open the back door, and dish out homemade comfort food -- soups, stews, red beans -- that his wife cooked up during the day. It was only a couple of bucks, and it was great food. A number of Puerto Ricans and Salvadorans ran similar businesses, with good food at good prices -- all illegal as hell. Of course, their market wasn't the white yuppies but the locals, so word of mouth tended not to spread very far, and the likelihood of a health department bust was low.

What Radley doesn't say, and the article only implies, is that in a major city, the restaurant business is a racket in which the business owner is regularly rolled by suppliers, the mob, and . . . the state. (In Massachusetts, you need a special license to serve milk, for chrissake.)

''It's all about how to avoid making people sick,'' said Jack Breslin, director of the consumer protection program at the San Francisco health department. ''If no one is looking over my shoulder to see how I'm storing, processing and serving my food, the greater the risk of something bad happening.''
It's a lovely sentiment, but really, I'm a big boy now. I can weigh the risks of getting my menudo or pupusas on the sly. The cost of opening a restaurant is often prohibitive, especially in a poor neighborhood. Carlos couldn't charge his neighbors enough to go legit; as it was, his prices covered food costs and a bit of profit for his family. Getting licensed, providing bathrooms, meeting ADA access requirements: these were not in his budget, and they would have priced him out of his market's reach. In the end, how much do you want to pay for a plastic bowl of red beans and a hunk of cornbread on a napkin? How much more is it worth, and how much better is it, in a china bowl with silverware?

Another thing: Carlos . . . was essentially a garbage man, managing waste disposal for a large apartment building. I regularly saw him digging through the central dumpster because the chute was clogged. Does it make a difference? I had no concerns about eating the food he served, about getting sick from contamination, from food poisoning. In fact, I think I probably felt better about it from seeing how clean he kept the trash room at that building.

TMQ Triumphant: Easterbrook finds a new (temporary) home at Football Outsiders. Link via Reynolds.
Boxers/briefs redux: CNN thinks its important that we find out if presidential candidates prefer Mac or PC formats. At least important enough to bully some girl into asking the question at the Rock the Vote debate.

I'm glad she has the nerve to write about it, but I wish she'd told the CNN handlers to stop insulting the youth of America.

That's my job.

Link via Bitter.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

My kind of town: 13 Chicago, 11 Austrian, 1 Keynes - 71 total. Razor's right that some of the questions were difficult to find a perfect answer: I revert back to that academic mainstay, "The best choice available." Since most of my economic study has come from P.J. O'Rourke books, I'm surprised I was able to answer any of them without a stiff drink. Business school teaches many things well, but economics is treated a little lightly, mostly a test of basic aptitude and the ability to read funny charts. And, as I've remarked before, my undergraduate instruction was remarkably unbiased. Although, a test like this uncovers some underlying beliefs, which is where I think my Chicago side comes out.

The funny part was reading the Socialist answers.

Chicago-Mmmmm, Pizza: No, I'm not dead. Just in the middle of midterms, so an economics quiz is a little redundant right now. I promise to join back in the fun as soon as I'm able. Till then...
And the answer is: Perhaps surprisingly here is my breakdown: 13 Answers = Chicago; 6=Austrian; 5=Keynes; 1=Social. Overall score = 55. Certainly my college training was mostly Keynesian by nature, but Milton Friedman's annoying personality aside, I more closely align myself with the Chicago School of thought, but with enough areas requiring government intervention that I am hardly a purist. The test was obvious in terms of what was Austrian and what was socialist (just look for the word "exploit" or "capitalist" in it), but the distinction between Keynesian and Chicago were not always so obvious.

My left-leanings come in the socio-environmental arena, but not monetary policy, defense, unions or wages. Good quiz. I couldn't easily answer a few, which made it fun to sort them out.
What's Your EQ? Call it your economics quotient. Actually, this quiz just sorts out economic preferences, but with a little more detail than most multiple choicers. It asks you to choose from four "school" answers to each of 25 questions -- a Socialist answer, a Keynesian answer, a Chicago answer, and the right answer . . . er, I mean the Austrian answer.

Try it and see where you fall. I'll give you my guesses: Razor is a solid Keynesian, but with a dash of Chicago. Don't play Monopoly with him, since that's where he lets out his inner capitalist-pig demons and will squash you like fly.

Flyer is a Chicago boy; yeah, he read Ayn Rand and everything, but he's still wary that the market might prove fallible . . . someday.

I suppose you can guess where I sit -- I got an 85. (Link via Hit & Run.)

Don't Look at Me: Bush's steel tariffs are indefensible. I think you're right that, as soon as the Supremes called the election for Bush, he realized he had to do something to solidify West Virginia and Michigan and Pennsylvania for 2004, since it would be statistically unlikely for him to win Florida again -- assuming, of course, that voters there can use some kind of ballot.

As for the EPA's New Source Review reinterpretation, try this piece by Jonathan Adler, in which he says:

Many of the charges against the Bush Administration's NSR reforms are simply untrue. The Natural Resources Defense Council, for instance, claims that the regulatory changes allow facilities to increase their emissions if they qualify for certain exemptions. Not so. Under the rules finalized this summer month, upgrades or repairs that increase a facility's emission potential are still required to adopt state-of-the-art pollution controls under NSR. The rule only exempts proposed repairs and modifications that will not increase emissions above permitted levels, and that also meet several other conditions designed to prevent wholesale reconstruction of facilities under the guise of maintenance and repair. The point of these changes is to facilitate modifications and repairs that enhance the safety, reliability, and efficiency (and therefore the environmental performance) of existing plants.
Since that's National Review, you'll probably bust my balls over being gullible. Fair enough: Here's Easterbrook's full argument on Bush the enviro-monster. It only mentions New Source en passant, but the gist is the same:
Taken together, Bush's three dramatic anti-pollution decisions should lead to the biggest pollution reduction since the 1991 Clean Air Act amendments.

Why is the Bush environmental record so relentlessly distorted? Because it could ruin the instant-doomsday script. Democrats are bashing the president for political reasons, just as Republicans bashed Clinton for political reasons. Environmental lobbies raise money better in an atmosphere of panic, and so they are exaggerating the case against Bush.

Here he is again last year in a speech at an energy technology seminar:
More generally, the stupidness of the current debate was on display in the synthetic furor over the new-source rule. Environmentalists were right to say that some Ohio Valley plants were evading the intent of the rule, and business was right to complain that new-source perverse incentives were the worst provisions of the otherwise highly successful Clean Air Act. But the significance of the rule was blown all out of proportion. Enviros and the media suggested the Midwest plants were causing some kind of astonishing calamity, when in fact air pollution in the Midwest and on the East Coast is in steady decline; what was really at issue in the new-source rule was not higher pollution, but the future rate of decline.
Bonus: Here's a good study, by someone who has actually read the New Source rules start to finish, which concludes that:
The disproportion between the rhetoric and the reality of air quality policy is really a measure of the disenfranchisement environmental groups fear will take place if a relatively simpler scheme of regulation is adopted--a scheme that will remove their de facto seat at the regulators' table and courthouse steps. Keep this in mind as the new round of public hearings offers mostly nonsensical noise pollution.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Speaking of efficiency: Well, we all now how big a proponent of the free market Bush is, right? And interfering with that market is something he simply finds an anathema to his neo-con philosophy, right? And large, distorted tariffs on imports certainly would represent such an interference, right? Right?? Oh, wait, those tariffs were for "trade promotion" and so, using Bush's penchant for labeling, that's justified.

Listen, I understand the games countries play with subsidizing certain industries to boost productivity and/or lower prices. Responding countries slap on tariffs, called "safeguard restrictions" to fight fire with fire.

But here's the issue, the WTO, our brainchild and pet project decided not once, but twice, that Bush's pandering to steel states was illegal. In response, Bush is "considering" still whether he's going to remove them. People say that the U.S. doesn't need to play nice with its "allies" because we're right, and everyone else is too wimpy to do what needs to be done. On the security issue, I'll agree. However, these tariffs have nothing to do with security...not even under the expanded umbrella that Ridge et al. use. It's about securing W. Va. among other states come election time. The increased antagonism towards the U.S. will have a reckoning. No, we're not about to face invasion, but an economic cold shoulder is hardly helpful to either side. Hell, even most steel producers don't even want the things. And if those struggling American steel companies want any kind of international market, long term, then they had better re-prioritize their votes. The stakes only get higher.
My real motive: To detract from workplace efficiency by draining wokers' utility as they spiral deeper, ever deeper, into blog arguments.

If you can show that but for the added cost of an upgrade, a polluter would have modernized, then yes, that law is perversely written. But is the company more or less dirty before the upgrade, i.e. is the upgrade designed so that more pollutants can be shed from boiler more quickly? Okay, now I'm reducing this to the micro-, micro- level, and may be impossible to debate. Clinton's final days were full of questionable activity (Ed: as opposed to the first 7.5 years??) to be sure, but the solution to poorly written or unrealistic regulations is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater for the sake of "efficiency". Please, re-write the things, by all means. But don't simply erase them and claim the problem solved. And to be clear, the new regulations provide an alarming back door: Up to 20% of the value of the physical plant can be spent on upgrades without improving pollution controls. This to me sounds like a bone thrown.

Last, all the revised EPA regulations do is invite the states to come around with process servers.
On Motives: So, why the great environmentalist outcry? Because you and I both know that environmentalism is first and foremost a business. Just as you can never get a mailing from NARAL that doesn't scream that the sword of Damocles hangs over legal abortion, so too does the green lobby use ridiculous rhetoric, garbled logic, and one-sided research to get between you and your money -- no matter whether the real news is good or bad. Anyway, the news on the environment is good.

Any organization quickly develops beyond its original goals and becomes a self-perpetuation machine, an organism designed for fundraising. (Trust me on this; I've worked in non-profit development.) It's always about a crisis that can only be averted if you Give Now. Note that NPR, following its $200 million endowment from the Kroc estate, one of the biggest philanthropic gifts in history, is not even thinking about dropping the public-funding teat from its ratlike jaws, nor will there even be a brief fundraising holiday for stations. If anything, NPR will announce that this endowment calls for an expanded mandate.

What Comes After Cubed? For a green, you're sounding a little purple about this. Okay, I too am opposed to billowing fumes of untreated coal fumes, but that's not what's at stake here. I quote from the editorial you linked (here, by the way):
One of its main targets was a rule requiring operators of older, coal-fired plants to install the most up-to-date pollution-control equipment whenever they upgraded their facilities in a way that increased airborne emissions. During the late 1990s dozens of companies, including Southern, were slapped with stiff fines and sued for violating that rule.

Last month, the EPA essentially wrote the rule out of existence and will now allow polluters to increase emissions without having to install new control equipment. EPA officials insist that lawsuits filed under the previous rule will still be pursued, but that assurance is worthless. Certainly, utility executives don't seem too worried by the prospect.

The claim that we're rolling back environmental protection, as that author firmly believes, is at best an extremely one-sided reading of the rule changes, as even the nature-boy, anti-SUV Easterbrook has admitted:
Congress has not altered environmental law under Bush 43, and administration decisions in matters such as the "new source review" issue [i.e., the policy under which the polluters had been pursued] on power plants will, in the worst case, simply slow the rate at which pollution declines.
I agree with you that efficiency is a matter of some perspective. I'm talking about principles. Bush waived those coal-emissions regulations because companies were using the restrictions as a reason not to upgrade. Plus, some of the upgrades that tripped the requirement for updated pollution control were questionable. It was, in short, onerous policy. So is the principle cleaner air or having "tough" policies? Under the Bush rules, the plants can upgrade facilities (thus reducing some pollutants -- a good thing, after all) without having to comply with the heavy, stack-scrubber pollution-control updates that would blow the capital improvements budget -- the requirement of which would lead to the unintended outcome of the Clinton-era EPA rules: no upgrades at all, increased pollution as plants age, and a strained business-regulatory relationship. Thus was Clinton able to claim he had tough EPA rules on the books, even though those rules increased pollution by discouraging upgrades.

In other words, the Bush compromise reduces pollution less than total implementation of the Clinton-era rules. But those rules provided a perverse incentive for coal burners to run decrepit plants on outdated technology for as long as they possibly could. Bush has in effect handed the environment half a loaf, instead of none; and the environmentalists have collectively shit in his hand for it.

More: This is all slightly reminiscent of the idea that Bush "wants more arsenic in your water." Clinton, on his way out the door, had dropped arsenic tolerance to nearly unmeetable levels (unmeetable, at least, without huge increases in local spending -- another unfunded mandate). In addition, a lot of the morbidity and mortality information showed that the reduction would have a negligible effect on public health. In other words, Clinton made a huge, expensive, and poorly understood environmental gesture (but not, by the way, until he was grabbing his hat on the way out); Bush put things back to where they had been for 99.999% of Clinton's 8 years, and the greens roasted him for it. That's why we need efficiency in environmental policy. Not everything that is arguably good for the environment is worth the cost, either factored or unintended. I agree that efficiency has an unfriendly face, since it effectively puts a price on everything -- even endangered Warblers. But everything does have a price, even if we don't admit it.

Cubed: Fair enough, and you're right about not being prosecuted under laws that have changed (i.e. animal buggery...oh, wait, that still is a crime...heheh...forget it). However, those past-polluters have been sitting in violation for the past three years while the Admin. held off until they managed to change EPA ah, laws. I question the "efficiency" label as one that is easily applied whenever one wants to re-characterize their actions. Plus everything is economic. We prosecute murderers, however, first and foremost because it's simply wrong, although you could quite easily make an efficiency argument too about why random murders would drag down the economy.

When we look back to some of the horrors of pollution, I think the efficiency argument is further weakened (and nice try with the absurdist example of the Warbler - we're talking billowing plumes of un-treated coal fumes that lead to acid rain, contaminated drinking water, and lung problems - obviously editors read enough Grisham novels to catch on to the lawyer tricks). Efficiency, like anything else, is dependent on perspective. It's certainly more efficient for the companies and their creditors and employees to operate without costly scrubbers and monitors weighing down the bottom line. Not so much for the neighboring housing market or farm, however. Should the laws be modernized to ensure effective remedies? Yes, but that's not what Bush is really doing. He's taking off any risk of sanction.

When you let the asylums run the place...well, you know how that chestnut goes. No one should be left to police themselves. Just like taking a quiz in high school where you grade your own results (or worse, let your best buddy do it), there's little incentive to mark "F" when with a few cosmetic changes, you have a "B". And what market, exactly, is there for pollution regulation? I'm not going to buy a car from GM because it (or its supplier) uses hundreds of dangerous, polluting chemicals to make the impact-resistant plastic resins in a bumper? By the time I learn of all this, it's water under the bridge, and GM has pledged to change its evil ways.

If Bush wants to phase out antiquated laws, that's one thing. But leaving nothing in their place seems a bit drastic, and not very realistic.
Squared: I'm not sure my take on Bush's environmental record will ever satisfy you, but here goes: We're not talking about laws here -- we're talking about EPA regulations (regulations : laws :: M*A*S*H : Catch-22). I don't think this is a case of ex post facto legitimizing of polluters. Simply put, the EPA has adopted new standards; rather than pursue polluters under the old standards, the department will leave that money in the bank. Sensible, as far as I'm concerned.

Okay, I won't split hairs. Call them laws. From a strict legal standpoint, a change in law (or jurisprudence) will naturally affect those charged. Let's say you're charged with eating a roast beef sandwich in the park. The day before you're called to stand trial for your offense, the city parks commission decides that they will now allow roast-beef-sandwich-eating activities. So you're gonna go before that judge and say, "Fair cop, your honor. I'll pay the fine"? Forgive me, but bullshit. You're going to argue that the change in policy shows that the park has awakened to your plight and blah blah blah, and you'll either win or cause the park to spend gobs of money fighting your appeal -- that is, fighting to prosecute you for something you're now allowed to do anyway.

[Sidebar: Your attempt to stir my moral indignation with a gratuitous death-penalty reference is wasted. Besides, it's only an old lawyer's trick of distraction. Who cares what the inverse of this situation is? We're not talking about the inverse. The analogy above is a better way to look at it.]

Moreover, the change in policy, which will no doubt be covered by the "neutral" media as a sop to "big pollution," is part of an overall pro-market plan for environmental efficiency; it's about time, too, that we approached the environment as we would any other issue of enormous cost and uncertain benefit. (E.g., how many people would you put out of work to save a Cerulean Warbler?) Part of that cost-benefit reassessment will obviously trickle down into enforcement, with activities like prosecution of non-crimes being pretty high on the budget-cutting list. If it's time for the old liberal-green policy paradigm to be reconsidered (and I think it is), doesn't it make sense to shut down prosecutions on things we don't consider crimes anymore?

The environmentalists will spin everything Bush does as part of a black-thumbed plan to pave the entire country (except for snowmobile trails). It doesn't wash, though. The decision to change pollution standards is a good idea, and the decision to cease prosecution under the old standards is smart policy and good budgeting.

"I sentence you to be a lawyer...for life.": Slate, last week, published a little piece about William Saletan's experiences with traffic court in Maryland/D.C. I laughed and laughed...not at the experiences he recounted, but at his disbelief/bemusement over the encounters. He presumed that logic and fairness prevailed in the justice system. Even funnier, at the traffic court level.

As a practicing commercial litigator, my experiences in traffic court are infrequent, thank god. I usually end up there as a favor to a client or friend. Traffic court may best exemplify the two-headed purpose of government bureaucracy: 1) patronage, 2) revenue generator. The judges are all hacks. I don't mean this in a personal way, but in the sense that the worst thing they're seeing is well, traffic violations. There's not much drama there, much less any high-level analysis or policy-making, and as such, they're lazy and not really interested in working too hard. In Philly, it's about 8 "courtrooms" each manned by one police officer who stands-in for the reporting officer (meaning they don't make the actual officer who found the violation appear - the stand-in simply reads from the citation), plus a tipstaff (think "Bull" from Nightcourt), and a judge. Before them, the huddled masses. Insult to injury to those masses, the attorneys get to sit up front, and go first. Our only other perk is we can avoid the metal detectors.

Anyway, back to the hacks. These judges are only there to generate revenue. They really don't care about what happened, and as such, they are pre-disposed to take the officer's side of things 99 times out of 100. This is why you hire an attorney. With an attorney, your odds increase to losing on the cited violation only about 79 times out of 100. Yes, you can always appeal afterwards and start anew and make a deal with the A.D.A., but it's better to clear it up right away. See, an attorney knows the game. We know that the Court will be more apt to let you off if it can still serve its purpose of making money.

Let' say you get caught speeding 55 in a 35. 20mph over, that's some pretty hefty points on your license, not to mention a fine. But, if your record is otherwise good, and you weren't drinking Bud while you were driving, an attorney can usually get the judge to knock your citation down to a "3111" which is a generic non-point moving violation. $99 later, and you're off the hook and your insurance company is never the wiser.

Now if you're dealing with a mere parking violation, then yes, you simply mail in your check. You lose so much more value in taking time off of work, only to wait for two hours and have the judge not listen to your arguments as he finds you guilty. Why bother? You may very well be smarter than the system, but the system always wins. There's my free legal advice.
"Close the barn doors before the cows get back in!": This is the only interesting news to come out of the Kerry campaign since it started. Now what? Bring out Al Gore as his V.P.?

Friday, November 07, 2003

Okay, but square this: Yup the economy is humming. Again, that's how economies work in free markets, they cycle between times of plenty and times of drought. Is Bush responsible for either the highs or the lows? Nope.

Yes, Bush's speech was excellent (from our point of view anyway), and it's time for the do-nothings in Olde Europe to understand that all their speeches don't amount to the force of one Abrams tank. Might does not make right, but neither does being contrary on every point make you brilliant. It just makes you disagreeable without offering viable alternatives.

But, what about our environment? Why is Bush bending over backwards to help polluters? Interestingly, it's not that his policies going forward were changed (we already knew he intended to give polluters a break), but now he's killing the investigations into those already tagged for penalty. Meaning those that were in violation of earlier laws, will now be judged under the rules as written. The inverse of that would be akin to executing someone for an act that wasn't a crime at the time the person committed it. Lovely policy.