Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Church and State, and Silliness: Last year, in a discussion of church/state boundaries, I asked:
If the presence of a monument to the ten commandments is enough to create an intolerable mixing of church and state, what of a town like San Francisco, named unambiguously for a Catholic saint? Surely the person disturbed by the commandments monument should be concerned about living in a town founded on a purely religious name, for there is no secondary meaning to the name itself, as there is, arguably, a secondary meaning to the commandments (i.e., the sanctity, tradition, and enduring of the law). But even if not, what if the town of San Francisco memorialized its namesake with a monument in a public square, a statue to Saint Francis? Surely this does no more to "establish" religion than the naming of the town itself. That is, if the town is clearly named for a Catholic saint, what exactly is made different by, in essence, personifying that name in stone on the common? If you don't think the statue should stand, it's a bit hard to argue that you can abide the name.
I noted my general skepticism for slippery slopes, but also that the way church/state jurisprudence was trending, nothing was out of the question.

As it turns out, nothing is out of the question.

Roland Garros: I managed to see a bit of the Serena match yesterday, while waiting for an oil change. She managed to effectively dispatch a nobody, but given their absence from the spotlight lately, any win is good for the sisters. I see that Justine pulled a Lleyton Hewitt, getting bounced as defending champ by a who-dat (in this case by 85th ranked Tathiana Garbin). Agassi, too, fell to an unseeded player. Could be an interesting tournament.

Of course, a look at the draws reminds the viewer that this is unlike any other slam. See all the French and Spanish surnames? This is the major tour stop for specialty players, clay courters who can't compete on the rest of the tour. It's nice in that it regularly injects a new name into the tennis world -- a name that usually goes straight into the "where are they now?" files. (The last ten years of Roland Garros winners goes: Bruguera, Muster, Kafelnikov, Kuerten, Moya, Agassi, Kuerten, Kuerten, Costa, Ferrero.) The classic serve-volley game does little here. McEnroe never won it; nor did modern volley heroes Rafter, Becker, Krajicek, or Sampras -- the latter of whom rarely bothered to try).

Enough stalling. On to my run down. On the men's side, look for a specialist to win, with an outside chance for Roger Federer. I'd love to see Grosjean win at home, although that means getting past multi-slam winner Federer and previous French Open champ Juan Carlos Ferrero.

On the ladies' side, the French is a more interesting tourney. Evert famously owned it in the 70s and 80s. Seles and Graf split it in the 80s and 90s. Since then it has been up for grabs, with seven different winners the past seven years. With Henin out, the favorites will be Capriati and Serena. J.Cap seems to be nearing the end of her career, and is not going out in a blaze of glory. (She could have retired in 2002 as a legend of early promise finally fulfilled.) Serena and Venus are always question marks. I don't see either one with her heart in the game anymore. They both have the power and stamina to succeed on any given day, but Henin has heralded the return of the giant-killers. The big girls are less fearsome now that the willowy Belgian has shown that giving up seven inches (to Venus) or 20 pounds (to Serena) doesn't spell defeat. This tournament might be just the time for one of the tall, fast "Russian mafia" women to break from the pack. Look for Myskina, Sharapova, Dementieva, Petrova, or a handful of others, similarly named, to threaten at some point.

Razor, I hope you get the chance to chime in. Surely your client will understand if you fail to object at a key point because you were listening to Radio Roland Garros out of your brief bag.

More: Here's a good article on the rise of the specialists on clay. It also handicaps this edition of the annual march of the men with vowel-names, which I simply cannot do. From the BBC, of course, whose web tennis coverage is unrivaled.

Assertions and Contradictions: Just spooling here . . .

Robert DeNiro has become a thoroughly unimpressive actor. He plays himself exclusively now. The man who, after becoming famous for playing a mobster and a boxer, took the role of Rupert Pupkin? He is no more.

Meanwhile, I would still pay $50 to see Gene Hackman read the phone book. If there is an actor who has the potential to be the next Hackman, it's Kevin Bacon. He can be charming, smarmy, cool, serious. In Mystic River, he and Fishburne stole the show for me. (Robbins, who I almost always like, and Penn, who I almost never like, went over the top. Penn, in particular, doesn't have the range to play anything other than himself. See DeNiro, above.)

There are too many rock-and-roll guitar solos to number, but only a handful of them are absolutes. Here are four: Scotty Moore on Elvis's "That's Alright Mama"; James Burton on "Hello, Mary Lou"; Paul McCartney on "Taxman" (listen to it and think "Jesus, this is less than a year after they cut 'Drive My Car'!"); Keith Richards in an altered state on "Sympathy for the Devil."

An even harder thing for a guitarist is to lay off, to sit in the pocket while someone else gets the spotlight, but still play obviously spectacular guitar. Buddy Guy did this for Junior Wells on the Hoodoo Man Blues record. More recently, Primus's Larry LaLonde did it for Les Claypool's feature-instrument level bass playing.

Speaking of bass, listen to Cream's famous live take of "Crossroads" (it's the Winterlands version, I think). Listen to what Jack Bruce does when Clapton starts to solo: his left hand starts fluttering up the neck of the bass, and the bottom falls out of the song. It's a textbook example of what a bass player shouldn't do. When the guitarist jams the accelerator, the bassist needs to hold the wheel steady. I'm not a big fan of Cream, but Bruce should horsewhipped anyway.

By the way, Clapton is by far the most overpraised guitar player ever. Except for Jimmy Page, maybe. Of the three Yardbirds who went on to guitar god status, nobody could touch Jeff Beck.

Rough Week: There's been a little more on my desk at work this week, plus things at home are nuts. In an odd sort of coincidence, I'm unmoved to comment on nearly everything happening in the world. Well, to be more specific, I'm moved to say only "Eh." I have a little time today, so I'll comment briefly.

The president was an embarrassment in his major/minor speech, for which the administration totally botched the PR. The first rule here is "Don't hype a same-old speech as a big deal." Second rule: "Never try to un-hype it when you figure out that you screwed up." The third rule is debatable, but I'd go for "Make sure the president can pronounce the name of the prison where soldiers were beating the POWs"; Helps to make him look, you know, up to speed.

My wife, who is leaning Kerry at this point, and I talked the other day about the election (in our standard 5 weekly minutes of adult conversation) and I gave her the "why Bush?" list: social security reform, vouchers, taxes. But I realize that the first two remain a pipe dream when all of his political capital is spent on the sands between the Tigris and Euphrates; the third is his big strength, but he's already cut taxes. Where does he go from here? Naturally, to tax reform: a flat tax, burning the tax code, consumption tax . . . something. But a big plan, again, requires big political capital.

On the war, being even more hawkish than the neo-cons, I find Bush and Kerry roughly equal. True, Kerry's position is one he pretty much backed into, but the political will won't be there for him to change direction quickly.

Like a lot of fiscal conservatives, I held out for a long time believing that, although I disagree with the GOP on social issues, it was the more vital party for libertarians: it was less splintered and corrupted by competing special interests; it was now the party of Reagan, not Nixon; it had become, ironically, the party of free speech. No more.

Bush is a liberal, like his father was, like Nixon became. Reagan, I think, never gave a crap what the NYT editorial board thought of him. Bush does, and has embraced the politics of gesture for that reason. Bush wants to win votes by making himself palatable to 51% of the voting demographic. Reagan, instead, led, and the country followed. I didn't entirely agree with Reagan, either, but he was the most radical president of the second half of the 20th century. Not long ago, there was talk that the Dems might go the road of the Whigs. At the time I admitted the possibility, though I was careful to note that it wasn't necessarily a boon for the GOP. But now I think we may have rhetorically prepared the casket for the wrong party.

Monday, May 24, 2004

TNR Spins: Noam Scheiber has a moment of vertigo as he rushes to defend Kerry's plan to defer the nomination in order to continue raising money:
The real reason Democrats want more time to raise money is so blindingly obvious it hardly needs pointing out--but apparently not quite that obvious, so here goes: The Republicans are raising well over $200 million for the re-election of George W. Bush. If Kerry doesn't try to establish some rough parity on this front, he's going to get blown out of the water.
This is the famous Clinton reasoning of the 1990s: financial parity justifies any number of fund-raising sins. Scheiber should recall that the critics of this move aren't calling it illegal (as some of Clinton's fund-raising irregularities might have been); they're calling it stupid. They're not complaining that the Kerry campaign will, to quote Scheiber, to buy "Jaguars for Kerry campaign staffers" or "[g]old-plated light fixtures at campaign headquarters"; they're complaining that this plays into Kerry's negatives in a bad, bad way. Even Boston Democrats are saying this.
"My hope and expectation is that he will come and accept the nomination here," said Paul Guzzi, a board member of Boston 2004, the local fund-raising arm of the convention.

. . . "My advice? Do what everybody else has done in the past," [Boston Mayor Thomas] Menino told reporters.

"Just do it. Just get it done."

Beyond the "we must fight" rhetoric, Scheiber's own colleague, Ryan Lizza, argued back in April that the very financial situation Kerry's camp is now sweating is actually more of a benefit to Kerry than to Bush. (Although Bush will have the post-convention advantage, Kerry has it now.) I disagreed with Lizza's analysis at the time -- as I still do -- and now, apparently, Scheiber has agreed.

But I don't think it will come down to the money. As I argued here, the pre- and post-convention landscape offers Bush a lot of near-zero-cost opportunities to use incumbency as a campaign tool, to look presidential. Besides, Kerry's attempt to stretch the literal meaning of the convention, for the sake of a few bucks, is a bad trade off: it makes Kerry look non-presidential, and it puts a decidedly negative spin on his convention bounce. I don't think he should do it, and I bet that -- in the end -- he won't.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The UN's Quiet Disgrace: You have to hunt for news on the UN's shameful money-laundering deal with Saddam, Oil-for-Food, by which Saddam prospered and special friends and relatives of the UN (not to mention pro-Saddam western politicians) prospered. See Claudia Rosett today for the latest:
Within a year of the start of Cotecna's services, its contract was further amended to add charges above those initially agreed to, including a hike in the "per man day fee" to $600 from an initial $499. This higher fee "was exactly equal to the offer of the second lowest bidder," say the auditors, adding that the Procurement Division and Oil-for-Food "should have gone for a fresh bid."
If this kind of bid-fixing anomaly showed up in a Halliburton contract, you can be damn sure every paper in America would be tut-tutting about it.
Looking Back: Last night I was reading a bit about General MacArthur in the Philippines -- General Arthur MacArthur, that is: Douglas's father. Following the Spanish-American War, MacArthur was installed as the governor general of the archipelago. Accounts differ, and it's probably unfair to blame MacArthur when President McKinley saw himself as a "Christianizing" force, but the occupation was clearly a struggle. As this article notes, a three-year "great insurrection" under the guidance of Emilio Aguinaldo claimed more than 4,000 American lives:
Thousands more died later of diseases they had contracted in the Philippines. The American casualty count in the Philippines was almost 10 times what it was during the Spanish-American War. Some 20,000 Filipino soldiers were killed. Nearly 200,000 civilians died in the insurrection, either from the actual fighting or from the disease and pestilence it spawned.
The insurrection, declared over by McKinley's sucessor, Teddy Roosevelt, in 1903, would actually continue for another decade.

The cookie-pusher that McKinley and, later, Roosevelt relied on to try out a bit of the carrot on the Filipinos (and ostensibly rest MacArthur's stick) was civil administrator (and later governor general) William Howard Taft. It worked, except when it didn't:

Under Taft's leadership, the Americans sponsored huge programs in education, public health and economic improvement. Meanwhile, MacArthur's army ruthlessly pacified the country, ignoring its civilian advisors. Filipinos were alternately terrified, gratified and confused.
Cost estimates run to $600 million for the pacification of the Philippines, well over $12 billion in 2002 dollars. The Philippines did finally, famously, get democracy, although along the way it became proverbial for banana republic ways under Marcos (who, like Saddam, was once a U.S. ally of convenience).

On top of that, McKinley comes across as the foreign policy airhead that Dubya is caricatured to be. (For example, McK's great goal, to Christianize the Philippines, was something the Spanish had taken care of 250 years earlier.) In addition, he clearly misread the situation. Having fought for several years against Spanish colonial masters, the Filipinos felt that the U.S. victory over Spain might end their struggle. McKinley was thus unwise to announce a policy of annexation and "assimilation." As Gates makes clear, independence for the Philippines, while reserving a naval presence for the U.S. (which MacArthur deemed necessary, and his son proved essential), was certainly on the table:

McKinley, however, was reluctant to move too quickly, for he knew that many other Americans rejected the colonial ambitions of their compatriots. Thus, although he dispatched troops to the Philippines, the President did not have a firm policy regarding the disposition of the islands. He might take a naval base and leave the Philippines in Spanish hands; he might become the champion of Philippine independence; or he might take the entire group of islands as an American colony. Much depended on the response he received from the American electorate regarding the various options.
It has often been said that the turning of Filipino rebel guns, once pointed at Spaniards, on the U.S. garrison forced McKinley's hand, but it's probably more accurate to say that McKinley's creeping colonialism didn't inspire confidence in Aguinaldo's anti-colonial forces.

But, to paraphrase Arlo Guthrie, I didn't come her to talk about the Philippines; All this is in preface to what I really wanted to say: I think we're doing pretty well in Iraq, by historical standards. Ted Kennedy says it's turning into Vietnam, but it's not. It isn't even turning into the Philippines.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

What me, post? I'm going to be next-to-worthless this week and absolutely worthless next week. I have a two-day trial starting tomorrow (non-jury, so I don't need to get my teeth whitened) and then I leave for vacation on Saturday. I'll be gone all of next week. Soooo, I'm going to disappear like Flyer for a bit.

I apologize to all my rabid (not vapid!) fans out there, and most of all to Eno.
Dead Horse: "Record" gas prices continue to dominate the economic news. Several key Dems are calling for 60 million barrels from the strategic petroleum reserve be dumped on the market. There are several problems with this. First, as we discussed the other day, and which ANWR opponents would be so keen to tell us, 60 million barrels is less than three days' supply. Second, part of the reason for the rising prices is rising demand outpacing refining capacity. Dumping a bunch of unrefined crude on the market does nothing to alleviate the refinery bottleneck. (Here's a good overview of how refinery economics affect gas prices.) Third, as has been mentioned everywhere except the major media stories on gas prices, the cost of a gallon of gas is still historically low.

It's worth noting that John Kerry is not among the Democrats calling for tapping the SPR. No doubt he's delighted by the price spikes, as his needling of Bush reflects:

"Yesterday, gas prices soared to more than $2 a gallon, but this administration still has not done anything to help" Kerry said. "Their inaction is costing working Americans their jobs, their savings and the opportunity to get ahead."
I'll take an inactive administration any day, of course. Once a president gets it in his head that its his job to fix the price of a commodity, expect the economy to sputter. Nixon's wage-price controls and the pornographic farm policy we've pursued since FDR do a lot to prove this. (More to the point, OPEC already makes its living by monkeying with the price of petroleum. With them price fixing on one end, and a Kerry administration price fixing on the other, probability is about 1.0 that you'll get screwed in between.) That aside, what would Kerry do?
Kerry promised to provide relief by suspending filling the SPR, working more effectively with oil-producing nations and enacting simpler and cleaner national fuel strategies.
I'm not sure what any of that means. Sure, you can stop topping up the SPR, but something inside me says Bush is doing this for a reason. As for working with oil-producing nations, isn't Bush supposed to be in bed with the Saudis via Kennebunkport regular Prince Bandar? How do you work closer with OPEC than that? Does Kerry mean he'll grovel better than Bush? And how about Kerry's wonderfully non-specific "simpler and cleaner" strategies? Let's start with cleaner: Will that mean retooling refineries? Expect another price jump. Will that mean California-style formulations nationwide? Another 20 cents, minimum -- and that's before a new gas tax is added. How about simpler? Don't ask me why, but I have the feeling that he doesn't mean allowing a free market to streamline things. No, from a Democrat (and, more often than not these days, a Republican) "making things simpler" means Uncle Whiskers telling you what to do.

Let's stop having a national panic attack over this.

More: Alan Reynolds at Cato endorses tapping the reserves, on the grounds that the market just needs a "shock":

With nearly 700 million barrels of oil in its war chest, the United States is quite capable of giving OPEC a bloody nose. Far from being a well-disciplined cartel, most OPEC producers would scramble to "make hay while the sun shines" by maximizing production if they feared the United States might flood the market, even for short while.

The U.S. government should simply let it be known that significant yet undisclosed sales of petroleum reserves are by no means out of the question. That would scare OPEC a little, and it would scare oil traders a lot.

He's cavalier about justifying this as laissez-faire policy, saying that while the price of oil should be market determined,
". . . the OPEC oil cartel is one of those "market forces." And so is the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR)."
That sounds a little like justifying parity pricing of crops by saying, "Well, the U.S. government is a market force": technically true, but not desirable.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Sarin in Iraq: Say, isn't sarin-primed ordnance a weapon of mass destruction?
A roadside bomb containing deadly sarin nerve agent exploded near a U.S. military convoy, the U.S. military said Monday. It was believed to be the first confirmed discovery of any of the banned weapons that the United States cited in making its case for the Iraq (news - web sites) war.

. . .

Two former weapons inspectors — Hans Blix and David Kay — said the shell was likely a stray weapon that had been scavenged by militants and did not signify that Iraq had large stockpiles of such weapons.

What's a couple of nerve gas shells among friends, hey? I've always thought that the best tactic for the Democrats was to be more credulous of WMD intel than even Bush. They should have been saying all along, "We know there are WMDs in Iraq, but Bush let them all slip away in his failed invasion." Finding sarin in a roadside bomb would only reinforce the point. Unfortunately, the Dems went for the quick fix (the "Phantom WMD" tactic) and are now wedded to a strategy of having to downplay something like sarin in IEDs, dismissing it as a technicality.

That said, I don't think this is terribly significant. But I would bet that many Americans are psychologically primed for a WMD discovery. Anything to relieve the unrelenting cognitive dissonance.

Movie: This weekend's DVD viewing left me in the mood to critique. It was a movie, Brian De Palma's Blow Out, that I had been meaning to see since god knows when. (Probably film class, circa 1991, when I put it off to watch the four-hour cut of Erich von Stroheim's Greed. I think the more authoritative six-hour cut is restored now, if you've got the time. I'll pass.) I'd heard quite a bit: It's an homage to Hitch, an homage to Antonioni, De Palma's best work. I hadn't been prepared for it to be rather embarassing.

Briefly, John Travolta plays a movie sound man who accidentally records the sounds of a car accident in which a presidential candidate dies. The sound may prove that it wasn't an accident at all. Along the way, we get all the ridiculous conventions of the genre: the hero haunted by his past, driven to rectify his ancient failures by replaying the scenario; the political cover-up, with "powerful men" (never explained) remotely controlling an agent (who just happens to be a most-wanted slasher, to boot); the disbelieving cops; the car chase; the foot chase; the Ruby Keeler naif.

I can forgive some of this stuff by way of my Bringing Up Baby rule*: films that were at one time quite inventive take on tarnish of banality in the recycling center that is Hollywood. (It's possible that such devices were not quite so hackneyed back in 1981 -- although I doubt it.) What I can't forgive is the dialogue. De Palma wrote it, in addition to directing it, and despite the best efforts of its cast, it creaks like an old hinge, particularly the scenes with Travolta and the film's victim/stooge/romantic female lead, Nancy Allen. De Palma's characters usually sound like they're in a movie. Sometimes, as in The Untouchables, this adds the right touch. (And Untouchables is, after all, a cartoonish romp, with De Niro chewing scenery start to finish.) In Blow Out, it just sounds like bad writing.

The camera work is often quite good, even in its ostentatious bits, like the 360 pans and the geeky montages in split screen. (Okay, it gets a little annoying, but I cut some slack here because it was, after all, 1981.) It doesn't save the film, though. The same themes that worked so well in The Conversation, Coppola's take on nearly identical subject matter, aren't manipulated deftly or subtly here.

*I forgot that I had written about this before. See here for more on the Bringing Up Baby rule.

Marriage D-Day Grand Finale: As my state begins marrying same-sex couples, I thought I'd drop in one more bit of my own bemusement. E.J. Graff has written at TNR on the likely cultural acceptance of this big step:
Say a pair of Boston newlyweds goes to Georgia to visit the in-laws. One of the women drops dead from a heart attack. The county coroner refuses to let her wedded spouse ship the body home to Boston, insisting that under Georgia law the two were not legal kin. Such outrages already happen, but now, because it's about marriage--a certified political issue--the story will hit the news. Which side do you think most people will take: the cold-hearted state's or the weeping widow's?
I think he's right, which leaves me optimistic. Still, the legal concerns resonate. Whether or not Goodridge is successful as policy is not my concern. I think it's a rotton precedent, set by judicialists wishing to advance the social ball irrespective of the rules of the game. Graff says, in effect, Goodridge will be less culturally troublesome than Roe. Like I said, I'm optimistic. But that doesn't make it any better of a decision, judicially, than Roe.

Technicalities aside, mazel tov to the newlyweds.

Fish Story: I thought something was odd in the reporting on that train explosion in North Korea last month. Nobody asked any questions. The press seemed pretty satisfied at whatever explanations the Norks put up.

Now Glenn has an update.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Thinking About DoD: Victor Hansen makes the case for Rummy. In doing so, he becomes the first (that I have seen) to do make a real case either for or against the SECDEF. (Most of what I've read takes the case as self-evident -- whether pro or con.) Hansen:
So in this election-year carping, we worry only about what we are doing, never the enemy, whose problems are legion and growing. Indeed, there are two constants in this war: Every time the United States engages the enemy it wins, and every time Iraqis are given a chance at a secure, peaceful local election they act responsibly and eschew candidates of violence and hate. Unless those facts change, America will win the peace. If we will fight more aggressively in the shadows while the new government basks in the light of success, the miracle of Iraq will come to pass — and it simply would not have without the likes of a Donald Rumsfeld.
I haven't agreed with some of Rumsfeld's decisions, and I think he's definitely a lightening rod. But I'm not sure he should be 86'd over the abuse scandal. Beyond that, John Kerry's call for his resignation is such high political farce that Rummy's presence is more appreciated: firstly because Kerry has a reputation for being uninformed and uninvolved in such matters (do you suppose he ever considered calling for Bill Cohen to resign when our military bombed the Chinese embassy in Serbia? do you think he was contemporaneously aware of it?); secondly because Rumsfeld's bluntness and bullheadedness are put into relief by Kerry's empty arrogance.

Even Kerry's suggestion that McCain should replace Rumsfeld was farcical. I respect McCain as much as the next guy, and damned if I can think of a better man to call a hero. The idea of McCain as VP for a Democrat is excellent (though he'd fit better with the [erstwhile, at least] maverick Lieberman than with a party hack like Kerry). But as SECDEF? The mercurial McCain would make Rumsfeld look calm and rather deferential by contrast. McCain is a loose cannon, unreliable when juiced about something, and (I suspect) a little too credulous of the "bold maverick" puff the media gives him. McCain makes a good senator -- one of 100 votes, someone who is willing to say "bullshit" to his party. Problem is, I think McCain has gotten to like saying "bullshit" to his party. He is decidedly jealous of his maverick image, and thus he cultivates it. I wouldn't want him at the Pentagon. As a senator (or VP) he is able to do only limited damage.

Rumsfeld has done a fair job given what he was asked to do -- take America into two wars, both of which (we were told ad nauseam) had serious quagmire potential. And he succeeded. I would say that seldom has more been done to further our national security with less loss of life.

More: Here's Lieberman, for what it's worth:

Many argue that we can only rectify the wrongs done in the Iraqi prisons if Donald Rumsfeld resigns. I disagree. Unless there is clear evidence connecting him to the wrongdoing, it is neither sensible nor fair to force the resignation of the secretary of defense, who clearly retains the confidence of the commander in chief, in the midst of a war. I have yet to see such evidence. Secretary Rumsfeld's removal would delight foreign and domestic opponents of America's presence in Iraq.
Well, it's not a full-throated endorsement, but it's likely the best he can expect from that side of the aisle.
Worth Talking About: Jonah Goldberg says he'd gladly accept a Bush loss in November in exchange for victory in Iraq. On the other hand, he says, there do seem to be quite a few Democrats for whom the inverse (or is that the converse?) seems to be true: they'd rather lose in Iraq and take the White House; in fact, many of them (including their candidate) seem to think that there is a causal relationship here. I agree, but in a different direction. For them, bad news in Iraq equals Kerry victory. For me, Kerry victory means bad news in Iraq. Says Goldberg,
Now, there are plenty of prominent liberals who do see winning the war as more important than hurting Bush, which is not to say they wouldn't cheer if Bush lost. My short, but not exhaustive, list includes: Sen. Joe Lieberman, the editors of The New Republic, Christopher Hitchens, the Washington Post editorial board, Michael Ignatieff, Tom Friedman, Sen. Zell Miller, and a few others.
Worth noting that none of them is going to get the Dem nomination.
Great Piece on the Democratization of Film: The Weekly Standard continues to dominate the other political weeklies/biweeklies in having fresh, fun content on the web. Here's an article on fan films, how technology has allowed them to get better and better, why copyright might become an issue, and the puzzlement of why Star Trek and Star Wars fan films are so much better than the dreck the studios who own the franchises turn out.
More on this at Instapundit: Indcjournal does an interview of the one and only Instapundit in true Faux(politik) style. It's rather amusing...heh.

Link props to Vodka.
More ANWR: One of the arguments against ANWR drilling is that the reserves there amount to only a "six-month supply" of oil. By rough calculation, I make this out to be about 3.6 billion barrels of oil (at a 20 million barrel/day consumption rate), which is so far to the low end of various estimates that it is wholly disingenuous. The DOI suggests a mean estimate of 10.4 billion barrels, or roughly three times what the critics say. (Read on in that DOI document, by the way, to see how we would bend over backward to protect the ecosystem.)

Okay, so all I've really shown is that there might be something closer to an 18-month supply of oil, right? Luckily, we don't have to survive solely on domestic production, so we can use our reserves strategically. Our other production in Alaska gives us about 1.5 million barrels per day. Pumping ANWR at the same rate means a steady supply (to the effect of doubling our Alaska production) for 19 years. What's the economic effect? Everyone, including OPEC, seems to think that $30/barrel is a decent target for oil prices. At that price, 1.5 million barrel/day is $16 billion per year. $16 billion dollars that we don't send to OPECs mid-east kleptocracies and South American banana republics. (Scroll down to the bottom chart on this page and note how oil prices start to get all squirrely right about the time OPEC becomes a major force. Note, too, that the Middle East really starts to go to hell right about that time. Coincidentally, terrorists get into executing innocent Jews for sport. Seeing a pattern?) Even chopping down pie-eyed union-job estimates (in which there is a guy who watches the guy who watches the guy who watches the guy who flips the switch, etc.), ANWR could create between 50,000 and 200,000 new jobs -- and not all of them in Alaska.

So an extra 1.5 billion barrel/day is nothing to sneeze at, no matter what the tree huggers say. As for the "environment," ANWR can benefit, too. We give "big oil" a million acres (out of 19) to study, then about 2000 for actual drilling, and Alaska gets enough do-re-mi to fund the rest of ANWR in perpetuity. But won't the caribou suffer? Pfft. The caribou herds still go to Prudhoe Bay to birth calves, despite the fact that we pump out 1.5 million barrels every day there. There is still a bit of a scuffle among environmentalists over this. Some of them have seen the dramatic increase in caribou population in the Prudhoe fields and come to rethink the effects of responsible exploration and drilling. Others have simply ignored the inconvenient facts.

I'm really a green at heart -- right, Razor? And I think it will be a great day when we wean ourselves from oil, though the biggest impact will be in foreign policy, not the environment. In fact, the technological strides we have made in our ability to burn more oil with less pollution shows that we're heading in the right direction. Perhaps 10 years from now, the kind of combustion/electric hybrid technology we're beginning to see now will be commonplace. The efficiency of both the electric and combustion components will only increase. The green side refuses to see this, refuses to credit the good news. Maybe we'll always burn some oil. What's wrong with that? At the rate we're going, we'll do it with negligible effect. This is another thing the greens won't countenance. It's a moral equation for them, and burning oil is just plain evil. How much won't matter, nor will the actual effects. The fringe should be ignored.

Meanwhile, I'm scientifically optimistic, even if politically pessimistic.

Better Than "Leash Lady": Brooke has crowned Lynndie England the "Tonya Harding of Operation Iraqi Freedom." Some great commentary, plus links. Go check it out.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Pain at the Pump: Doesn't that sound like one of those Newsweek features from the late 70s? You know, the ones that showed huge lines at gas stations, and prices that, allowing for inflation, would be about $6 per gallon. I stand by my previous dismissal of the oil price spikes. Oil has, in constant dollars, gotten ever cheaper. In fact, the price problems tend to come less from dwindling supplies, as the greens would have us believe, but from self-imposed restriction. (In other words, prices have fallen despite our best efforts to put oil supplies out of reach.)

For example, we continue to refuse drilling in the Arctic national Wildlife Refuge, with those opposed claiming that any significant production there would take a decade anyway. That's a decade we could start chipping away at right now, though. As for environmental concerns, it's hard for me to believe that an area four times the size of New Jersey can't withstand some limited exploration for oil.

It's high time to break ground in ANWR.

Procrastination: I had been putting off this VC post by Randy Barnett until I had time to really sit down and think about it. I've now read it, and it will likely take some more thinking, but it's a great overview of the subject. I'm already a defender of his view (the importance of the 9th Amendment and the presumption of liberty) as I outlined here.

It's worth a look at the whole thing.

How can I comment without seeming churlish? Michael Berg, father of Nick, is venting his more than understandable grief, by attacking Bush, Rumsfeld and the Patriot Act. All good targets for stand-alone reasons, but to tie them into Berg's death is a bit much.

If the invasion of Iraq was unfounded or unjust, fine. If Rumsfeld rushed us into a war that he didn't know how to handle once he "won" it, fine. If the Patriot Act is over-reaching and unconstitutional - fine again; plenty of people feel the same way.

It goes without saying that Berg's son did not deserve to die, nor are the men who killed him anything less than savage animals. However, Nick Berg went to Iraq, not once, but twice, of his own volition, to make money, which by his own words, he did.

Mr. Berg is suffering through something I simply cannot comprehend. I watched the video and couldn't make it through to the end - it's just that horrific. But for all that, it is irresponsible for the media to publish his grief-distorted thoughts as some sort of proof that the war/invasion was wrong, that Rumsfeld must go, and that the Patriot Act is a violation of every civil right we possess. Berg should not be a symbol to anyone of anything - other than a reinforcement that the extremists need to be hunted down. Will we get every one? Of course not. Must we try? We must.
Howard Stern Kicked Me Out Of His Car: Ira Glass comes to Howard's defense in the New York Times:
Sadly, lots of smart people shrug off the recent government crackdown on Howard Stern -- and on other "indecency" -- as if it were nastiness going on in some bad neighborhood of the broadcast dial, one that doesn't concern them, one that they'd never stoop to visit.

But the recent F.C.C. rulings make me Stern's brother as I've never been before. Here are just a few of the things we've broadcast on our show that now could conceivably result in fines of up to a half million dollars for the 484 public stations that run the program: assorted curse words, people saying "damn" and "goddamn" (a recent F.C.C. decision declared that "profane" and "blasphemous" speech would now come under scrutiny); various prison stories; and a very funny story by the writer David Sedaris that takes place in a bathroom and that violates all three F.C.C. criteria for "indecency." It's explicitly graphic in talking about "excretory organs or activities"; Sedaris repeats and dwells on the descriptions at length, and he absolutely means to pander and shock. That's what makes it funny.

Link via Jeff Jarvis, who notes that some radio stations are pre-emptively taking Elton's "The Bitch Is Back" off the playlist, fearing FCC interest in the key word.

Come to think of it, I agree with that last decision. But not for the same reasons.

"Faking the Funk": A thoughtful essay (especially considering the comic potential of the subject) about another curious pandering habit the Democrats have developed: trying to be "down" with the hip-hoppers:
SO WHY DOES the hip-hop world, for whom "keeping it real" is so often a manifesto, reward some of the most ridiculous fibs told in American politics? One answer is the silence on the other side of the ballot: Republicans, who could engage hip-hop listeners via issues where there's potential common ground (education, entrepreneurship), rarely do so. And the hip-hop community, like most embryonic voting blocs, will take its access where it can find it. "At least he's paying attention" is the common defense the music's fans offer of the aforementioned Democratic suck-ups.

Whether hip-hop voters can expect much more than that down the road is another question. The Democrats' empty praise of hip-hop mirrors the empty solutions--substandard schools, lowered standards, the touting of affirmative action as the panacea for every ill--the party routinely offers to address the concerns of minorities, blacks in particular. It's what a party does when it knows it can get away with paying lip service to a group of voters--like the hip-hop fans now dazzled by the Democrats.

I would submit that, of the young, black, hip-hop-listener demographic, the Democrat will get upwards of 95% of those who bother to vote. As critics like Thomas Sowell, Larry Elder, Shelby Steele, and (to some extent) Stanley Crouch have said, it is the fact that the Democrats get nearly undiluted support from the black community that has brought the party to the point of simply throwing them a cultural bone here and there, but doing nothing in the actual interest of the black community. Vouchers would be a start, but the Dems have to line up for the unions. In other words, in a conflict between two core Democrat groups, who gets the meat and who gets the bone? Until they threaten to split in larger numbers, the blacks will always get the bone.
That Big Ice Movie: Via Drudge comes this story from England, slugged "Ice age movie is realistic, says Britain's chief scientist." Now, with all the criticism of the science in the film, I could only wonder what her majesty's geek, Sir David King, might have found "realistic" about it.
"The general interaction between the scientific community and political community is interestingly well portrayed," he said . . . I think palaeoclimatologists can closely identify with the discussion.
Other than that, Sir David? It "plays fast and loose with some of the science of climate change."

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Thank god they don't have a steroid problem in tennis: Please, someone...tell me what happened to little Jenny Capriati.
Humane Torture? This all really boils down to our having watched too many "Hogan's Heroes" episodes. WWII and Hollywood's portrayal thereof, lead many to believe that POW camps were orderly, neat and civil, where a clear chain of command existed, and there was accountability on both sides. I suppose that was true to some extent given the past "norms of war". For example, in "The Bridge Over the River Kwai", for all of the tough images it gave us of how poorly off the Allies were in the Pacific camps, we were really only lead to believe that the ordeal was more of a battle of wills - who would crack first: the worked-nearly-to-death prisoners or the brittle, exiled guards and commanders who had to face the reality that they weren't fighting for honor, but just keeping watch over inferior gaijin?

The fact is that the Pacific prisoners suffered under horrible conditions, which included out-and-out torture, death marches, malnutrition, zero medical care, and isolation from the outside world. Read "Ghost Soldiers" for a wonderful, if horrifying, account. This is because the Japanese did not believe that the Americans were fighting a just war, and that Westerners were in fact an inferior race to them.

John McCain might offer a similar opinion of the Vietnamese prisoner camp standards. Recall the high regard in which the VC held the imperialist capitalists.

Nonetheless, we in the "west" like to superimpose a "tough but fair" gloss to the imprisonment and interrogation of enemy soldiers (and hell, Rumsfeld isn't even acknowledging that the Iraqis were soldiers - they are terrorists in his book, and rightly so). We suppose that we are above the inhumane practices of our enemies. People look at the Nuremberg trials and figure that even the most despicable humans are entitled to three hots and a cot and plenty of writing material for letters home.

However, that world is over. Battles aren't fought in trenches, in the woods or on the fields, where if your enemy wasn't exactly offering himself up as a target, he was at least not hiding behind civilians, while wearing a mask. The fact today is that no one can match us on those fronts. So, our enemy no longer bothers. Battles are now fought in restaurants, buses and, most importantly, the media. Our enemy is mostly faceless (or at least masked) and of any age or gender. Most importantly, his cause is wrapped in the shroud of his god - which gives him justification for the atrocities he commits.

Because the enemy does not want to meet us on the "honorable" field of combat, we should not treat the enemy as part of an army, which is due a certain degree of respect or at least recognition.

Our enemy is just as happy to purposely kill our children and our adult civilians (note that all wars kill children and adult civilians - the question is one of intent and purpose). We can no longer stand idly by and just store these terrorist prisoners while their brethern carry on their deviant mission. We are obligated to take the battle to them on all fronts, and in all manners. There is no room for open torture, because our people will not tolerate it; but nothing in the acts of these terrorists has earned them our respect. They have long given up that privilege.

Eno is right. Dress them all up in women's clothing and make them eat pork rinds until they give up what they know. Hell, in some cities in America, that's called good living.
The Whole Story? The leash lady from those Abu Ghraib Mapplethorpe pix is talking:
"I was instructed by persons in higher rank to stand there and hold this leash and look at the camera," [Pfc. Lynndie England] said.

England said the actions depicted in the photos were intended to put psychological pressure on the Iraqi prisoners.

"Well, I mean, they [the photos] were for psy-op reasons," she said "And the reasons worked. I mean, so to us, we were doing our job, which meant we were doing what we were told, and the outcome was what they wanted. They'd come back and they'd look at the pictures, and they'd state, 'Oh, that's a good tactic, keep it up. That's working. This is working. Keep doing it. It's getting what we need.'"

I'm no more inclined to believe her than her CO, but it does go straight to what I've been saying for the past week. Should the extent of out interrogation methods be to bring in POWs, give them a nice meal and a good cigar, politely ask if the happen to know where the next Jordanian Embassy deal will go down, and nod and send them off with personal Red Cross minders after they say "No" (or "I spit on you, yankee jackal")? Can we, in good conscience, do a little more? Not rape or beatings or the rack or fingernail pulling, but just a little humiliation or bruising of the ego?

Validity of methods could be a big deal here if she was truly "just following orders." Perhaps "orders" don't excuse real atrocities, like sytematic murder, brutalization, or rape, but they might just excuse the leash.

Responsibility: Jacob Levy had an excellent piece in TNR a while ago in which he discussed political apologies and "taking responsibility." He used Janet Reno up as an example:
I can still elevate my blood pressure just by calling to mind her statement--"I made the decisions; I'm accountable; the buck stops with me"--and the accompanying adulation she received from the media. Because, you see, she didn't take responsibility. She performed a three-step dance. First, she insisted that everything that happened was the Branch Davidians's fault. Second, she said that no one under her ought to be fired or otherwise held accountable, because the responsibility was hers. Then she did nothing. She didn't resign. She didn't offer a resignation. She didn't so much as apologize. She mouthed the word "responsibility" in order to deflect accountability from her subordinates and allow it to land ... nowhere in particular.
Levy's follow-up over at the Conspiracy suggests that Rumsfeld is going to try the very same thing.

I'm not sure where I stand on this. After all, Reno ordered the Waco attack, and thus the loss of life that resulted falls at her feet. Rumsfeld did not order, as far as we know, systematic abuse of POWs. Perhaps one could argue that what happens at the prison is technically his responsibility -- and I think I'd agree (though I don't really think it's a firing offense). But Levy is making an argument of equivalence between holding Reno responsible for the foreseeable effects of her policies and holding Rumsfeld responsible for what the much-touted investigation has said were not systemic abuses.

On the other hand, one can argue that the Taguba report's general "failure of leadership" conclusion implicates Rumsfeld. Perhaps, but perhaps not. There are plenty of things we don't blame on the top leadership. Those things just don't happen to make headlines, even if they may equally imply a breakdown in leadership -- and may in fact be better examples of why a CEO, a secretary of Defense, or any other high-ranking official can no longer lead effectively.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Hide the children: Here comes the flip flop. Yes, it's apparently that time again. Otherwise attractive and fashionably-dressed women succumbing to the sloppy, floppy sell-out that is the thong sandal, or flip flop. You'll see women wearing full-blown business suits and a pair of ratty, worn flip flops, sauntering by as if this was perfectly acceptable behavior.

I'll just say it one more time: Ladies, we don't want to see your feet unless they are a) under or on our sheets, b) perched precariously upon four-inch heels, mostly shrouded in black leather, or c) at the beach.

Monday, May 10, 2004

He ain't (that) heavy: We've all, by now, been inundated with the government, the media, and various doctors telling us how fat we all are. In fact, the thing is down to a science. If your "BMI" is over 25, then you're overweight. Push 30, and then you're downright obese.

Who are some obvious examples those who are overweight? Well, for instance, Brad Pitt, Michael Jordan and Mel Gibson, obviously. Obese? Well, look no further than George Clooney or Sammy Sosa. Now, there is a small footnote in the BMI calculations that the algebra really doesn't apply to weightlifters and the like who pack on dense, weighty muscle, but if the BMI doesn't apply to these "ideal" men, then why should it apply to the rest of us?
The solution to this crisis seems obvious: Americans should find a way to weigh less. A recent article by Harvard Medical School researchers was more specific: "Adults should try to maintain a body mass index between 18.5 and 21.9 to minimise their risk of disease" (for an average-height woman, this would mean maintaining a weight between seven and a half and nine stone).
Okay then. Here's Razor: 6'2", 205 lbs (this has been my weight for past two years at least) - drumroll please....26.3(!)

I lift weights twice a week, and do cardio another two times (half hour each time), more than many, but hardly in the elite class of professional athletes. Objectively, I think I could lose 10 pounds and have a the beginnings of a noticeable six pack. So let's subtract those 10 pounds: 25!! Okay, another 10 and I could start looking like Lance Armstrong (except all my weight wouldn't be in my thighs): 23.8. To get just in the range they want, I'd have to weigh 170 lbs, which gives me a read-out of 21.8. If I weighed 170 lbs, I'd look like a toothpick. Not only is that not what I want to look like, it's entirely unnatural. I watch what I eat to a degree (I cut out most sweets), but I otherwise adhere to no particular plan. Plus I work out as mentioned above fairly religiously. For me to lose 35 lbs, which is almost 20% of my body weight, I'd have to work out basically every day for an hour, and eat salads and chicken breasts exclusively.

Now, just to give you a final indicator of how ridiculous the BMI standard is, I had my body fat measured with the calipers (they are applied to your thigh, chest and stomach) about six months ago: 14%. According to the convential science, that's just beyond the "Athlete" category. Yet, I'm "overweight". Perhaps there's just a touch of "Chicken Little" in these reports.
It's not irony...:...but it's funny. Ladies and Gentlemen, I bring you Katherine Harris - someone to whom you can entrust your votes.
The Day After Tomorrow: Two pieces on the new disaster humper. Bjorn Lomborg has a sober take on the misguided film; Gregg Easterbrook has a bit of a laugh.
Bloggled!: Ahhh, new stuff. I love new stuff. I shall toy with the template incessantly until it is nearly unreadable. Sorry for silence on Friday, but connection to "the Internet" was down all day. You would have been held rapt, rapt I tell you, as I gave you the blow-by-blow on "Friends". But, like so much airy fluff, it has dissipated from my consciousness to the point where I strongly doubt there ever was such a show.

I'm down to about 2 network shows now - I still watch "NYPD Blue" and "West Wing". Other than that it's HBO ("Sopranos" and "Deadwood" - which is simply the best writing I've seen in a drama), and TLC/Discovery Channels.

On to tinkering!
All Mozart Sounds the Same? I really like this. I also agree with some of it. My wife can't get into classical music. She says she feels like "you have to be in the club" to get it. (I know people who feel the same way about jazz -- I mean, Jesus, it's dance music!)

Anyway, I managed to lose that hesitation early on. My father used to take me to the opera once in a while. I loved the dressing up, the drama, and sometimes the music. Other times, though, I felt like I had to sit respectfully and try not to yawn. A lot of this crap is boring as hell. But I was just a kid, so what did I know. Then, one night, about an act or so into Verdi's Ernani, I noticed my father checking his watch. This, from a guy who puts on Der Fliegende Hollander (or however you spell it) to relax! At the interval, he asked if I was liking it. I'm sure he would've stayed, for my benefit, had I declared the show a triumph. But I said "no" and we left. So I got over the "castor oil" thing. You don't have to like it all.

Actually, I was briefly afraid that the whole thing had lost its magic, now that I knew it was okay to be bored, to think a performance (or composer) stunk: I went to a Pagliacci with my school -- hated it. And I saw Gotterdammerung and nearly blew out my ears from yawning so much. I gave up for a while and concentrated on Motorhead. Then my father an I went to Barber of Seville at the Met -- Thomas Hampsen as Figaro -- and I was blown away again (I actually shouted "Bravo!" at Hampsen's curtain call, felt like an idiot and a poseur, and vowed not to do it again. But he did deserve it.)

Via, via, via. I got this link from Lileks, who got it from Teachout, who got it from somebody else who has a complementary list about poetry. Sample:

Everything you liked in high school is bad. Everything your English teacher told you to like is also bad, but for different reasons. If you liked what your English teacher told you to like, you are now teaching English.
I missed the whole teaching English thing, but only by thismuch.
Bloggered Up: 'Scuse me while I go and relearn how to use Blogger. I'm not exactly a tech type. Hey, at least I got the comments enabled! Razor, if you care to pick a new template (since I picked the last [lame] one), there's a whole passel of new ones.
Getting My Back? I'm consistently misunderstood on this point (and I stupidly rode the issue into the wind over at Radley's place), so I was glad to read Stephen Green's post today on torture. He doesn't argue in favor of torturing POWs, nor does he attempt to argue that the magnitude of Saddam's crimes excuses ours. But he is the only other blogger I've read who has had the stones to say, in some way, "Let's be careful with the word "atrocity."
Alan Dershowitz, the noted lefty attorney, has called for legalized torture, in "ticking time bomb" cases. Given the nature of the conflict in Iraq today, does he think that Americans are justified in using psychological torture to save lives?

If not, why not?

And why has he not spoken out publicly on the matter?

Just to be certain, let me throw out the same caveats on quoting Steve's material here. First, I don't know if he agrees with me, in whole or in part. (Perhaps I sensed that he, too, saw the entirety of opinion pointing in one direction; that always spooks me.) Second, as details continue to emerge, there can be no doubt that crimes of abuse and torture were indeed committed at Abu Ghraib. (And I never argued that there weren't.) The solution here is to punish the guilty, of course, but also to reform the policy. Third, I don't (and I'm pretty sure Steve doesn't) make a brief in favor of torture so much as in favor of a stated policy from leaders who are honest and clear-eyed about the implications of a zero-tolerance policy -- the policy implied when people rise as one and cry, "Atrocity!"

I did some thinking about it this weekend. I haven't seen the latest pictures, but I thought of one of the awful stories that came out last week: the one in which the guards made some frail old Iraqi woman get down on hands and knees so that they could ride her like a horse. Seems inhuman, doesn't it. But I know that if my son's life were on the line, perhaps in a Daniel Pearl sort of way, and I thought this woman had information that could help me save him . . . well, Heigh-ho, Silver! So what that she's an old lady? That much is an emotional trick. After all, if you would exempt an old lady from any methods, you exempt all of humanity. (And if you wish to do so, I have no argument with you.)

No, I don't think the guards at Abu Ghraib were acting in a "ticking time bomb" sort of way. They were getting kicks from power, and they should pay. But I still think that snap labeling everything an atrocity can only, in effect, defin atrocity down. The holocaust is a good example of atrocity, especially the part when the Nazis fed Jews, one after another, into ovens.

Panties on a prisoner's head? Not so atrocious.

Friday, May 07, 2004

The Dating Scene: Snicker.

(Link via TNR's unspeakable blog.)

Meanwhile: I await, with bated breath, Razor's review of last night's "media event of the decade."

And as long as I've switched gears, I picked up Joe Jackson's Volume 4 recently. I've always been a big JJ fan, though I was afraid that this one might disappoint. He's reformed his original band, the one that cut the seminal Look Sharp, and I was afraid the new record would be merely an exercise in nostalgia. Turns out it is. The nice surprise is that JJ's self-indulgent nostalgia trip is better than most artists' attempts to be serious. Some of it reminds me of Elvis Costello's attempts to recapture the past with his Attractions sessions, particularly tunes like "Pony Street" or "Tear off Your Own Head." Both artists seem to miss their glory days, though they relive them in much the way you might expect from a couple of forty-somethings.

The record opens with "Take It Like a Man," featuring the punky beats and dirty guitars you might expect from the Look Sharp days, but overlaid with the kind of shimmering piano lines JJ used on Night and Day; "Still Alive" is a bit of snarky, post-relationship fun; and "Awkward Age" could almost be JJ singing to the young man he was in the late 70s, cutting songs like "Fools in Love" and "Happy Loving Couples."

"Chrome," a dark meditation and an ironic half-samba that never breaks a sweat, starts a bit of an interlude, a second movement in unfamiliar territory. It is surprisingly effective, but it is atypical JJ and perhaps not the best kind of material for him. On could imagine Donald Fagan playing this one. Similarly, "Love at First Light" is unusual; it's a clumsily earnest take on the morning after a one-night stand. In the song's defense, I don't think there's an unclumsy way to write about this subject. Perhaps for that reason, the song is effective and about as close to innocence as JJ can get. "Fairy Dust," which owes equal allegiance to "Right" from the underappreciated Heaven and Hell, and Night and Day's "Real Men," is a brutally ironic workout that takes on both homophobia and flashy queening; and "Little Bit Stupid" is a medium-cool take on a hackneyed riff that is saved by clever self-deprecation. "Blue Flame" is nearly unlistenable, sounding only as if JJ were parodying himself; and "Dirty Martini" is a half-hearted attempt at dirty boogie that never finds its groove.

With that, we're back to terra cognita, as the brilliant sendup "Thugs 'r' Us" knocks white suburban hip-hoppers to a ska beat that could be right off Beat Crazy. The closer, "Bright Grey," is a breakup song (taken at "Got the Time" pace) with a bit of unexpected hopefulness and maturity.

None of this would work if not for the fact that the original JJ band is heavyweights and professionals, top to bottom. Graham Maby could be the most tastefully "out front" bass player since Paul McCartney, Gary Sanford has lost none of the edge of his punky attack on "Got the Time," and Dave Houghton is a rock. If they're not having fun on this record, they're doing a fine job of faking it. And that makes the difference. Who wants to watch the Rolling Stones or the Who going through the motions on progressively worse material? This band, on the other hand, seems to have made a point of avoiding the pothole of self-parody on the road of nostalgia.

As a sidenote, the bonus second CD of the set is six classics from the band's live tune-ups before the recording of the album. It's worth a listen, but most of it is self-consciously faithful to the original (rather than playful, in the vein of JJ's Live 80-86 riffing on old material), with the exception of an odd arrangement of "It's Different for Girls" with a piano intro that sounds like it's going to turn into "One to One" until the band kicks in.

The whole thing is worth a listen, and certainly worth the money for a fan who has suffered through Jackson's lean years. This is as close to a real second act as you'll find.

POW Backlash? Radley provides a useful roundup of the pro-war dismissal of the Abu Ghraib issue. I agree with his criticisms, even though I've been pretty dismissive myself. But I'd like to use Radley's post as a springboard for clarity. Alan Dershowitz was on NPR this morning (I'll try to rouse myself to link when they put it up; it was a short clip anyway), and he managed to make the point pretty succinctly. I'll have to paraphrase: He said that the problem here is not what we did to Iraqi POWs. In fact, we may need to use some forms of coercion, including humiliation and threats, to do the job in Iraq, to gather intelligence, to ward off attacks. (Dershowitz has famously written on the justified uses of torture.) The problem, said Dershowitz, is that we are having this conversation now, rather than two years ago. We need to decide, at the highest levels, where we will draw the line on coercion, and enforce that policy. Instead, the government is deliberately vague as a matter of policy, which emboldens those who execute policy at the hands-on level to improvise until they are caught.

I would imagine Radley's already seen it, but everyone crying about torture at Abu Ghraib should sit down with Mark Bowden's Atlantic article on torture and shut up until they've read it and formulated a clear, bright line on torture. After that, if someone still wants to make POW camps a coercion-free zone, I'll accept that opinion -- though I think it a ridiculous and poorly reasoned policy. But too much of the head shaking and tongue clucking over the issue has come from people who haven't thought it out.

I think humiliation, disorientation, discomfort, sleep deprivation, and the like are totally fair game. Even a certain amount of non-deadly force and pain is completely reasonable. Solitary confinement, darkness, "cells of little ease": these are within bounds. Threats of death and threats of actual torture draw up next to that line I draw. Beatings cross the line. Besides, I think physical torture is of little effect anyway. A person in the throes of such suffering will say whatever makes the pain stop. That kind of torture is solely for the satisfaction of the captor, and serves no tactical purpose other than to instill fear in those not yet captured.

In other words, Muslims with panties on their heads, laughed at by infidel women, and led on leashes is not only acceptable, it is probably the most highly effective of the humiliation techniques for these prisoners, since both women and sex are, to some extent, unclean.

Again, I need to emphasize that these same acts of humiliation, when done for sport or to "blow off steam," are unnecessary, unproductive, and dishonorable. At the very least, they call for non-judicial punishment. Similarly, if prisoners are obviously not in a position to yield quality intelligence, these tactics are gratuitous. I would guess that only about 10-20% of the POWs can offer us anything of value. And we know who they are; the rest we are just keeping off the streets.

So there are some crimes to be prosecuted here, and some acts that we should, maybe, be ashamed of. But, to take things up to Radley's level of rhetoric, let's have some f*cking perspective.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Not only good, but daring!: With regard to your snarky post-script, I would say that "Friends" dared to be realistic in not bringing in the token minority to "round out" the cast. You know, the six whitebread Gen Xers and their keepin-it-real building Super (who gets to impart his Bronx-bred wisdom on the naive ensemble), or maybe the six of them and the precocious street kid from the streets who cracks wise on them as they enter "Central Perk" (that's the coffee shop where they congregate Eno).

The fact is the real people that led lives akin to "Friends" don't mix with the building staff; they don't acknowledge the street urchins, and if most of their friends are from college or even earlier, then they probably look, act and think just like they do. Putting in "persons of color" (although it was done in Season 9 with Aisha Tyler, who is very, very funny and smoking hot) would be the most blatant of pandering, and do more of a disservice than excluding them altogether (which was just about done). In short, "Friends" was the most revolutionary t.v. series since "All In the Family". There can be no debate.

Of course, some people share your viewpoint rather strongly.
The Telly: All that Razor says is correct. I haven't watched a sitcom regularly since "Newhart" went off the air. I haven't watched a drama regularly since Crockett got the dumb haircut and the Testarossa on "Miami Vice." That said, there has been praise (albeit not entirely unalloyed) in unexpected quarters for "Friends," so I'm willing to take it on faith that this was an influential show. Even people who derided it are talking about it; such is the definition of a media sensation.

Might I propose, not altogether unexpectedly, that "Friends" was, in fact, no more than the best of what was on? That's a low bar to clear, you must admit. In addition, it was the first sitcom to deal explicitly with your (and my) generation without looking through a home/family prism. The kids from, oh, let's say "Silver Spoons" are all grown up now, living in New York. (But not really. Where are the roaches? The tortuous hallways of walkups and railroads [they don't live in the Ansonia, after all]? The Saharan steam heat that makes the windows drip?*) Anyway, being the only thing at that time featuring characters of that age, it had a built in demographic of twentysomethings who rival the baby-boomers for believing that they are the most fascinating thing on the planet.

All this aside, I think it is rather a defining characteristic of our generation that, as you say, there is no bad TV. I'd claim that this is all due to a certain amount of goggle-eyed wonder. We were, after all, the kids who grew up with three networks, PBS, and some UHF stations that showed a lot of religious programming and reruns of "Green Acres" and had to be, literally, tuned in on the crank dial. I can see how the menu of choices could be like heroin to someone my age. (Hell, Springsteen's silly "57 Channels (and nothin' on)" is going to be out of whack by an order of magnitude any day.)

As long as you brought it up, I heard the Cars on the ol' wireless driving to work this ayem. I have their stuff on vinyl, so it doesn't go into heavy rotation. Still, about 85% of their stuff is wonderful, cannily composed stuff, quick and sweet, like musical Pixie Stix. And then, of course, there is the added charm of memories of listening to Candy-O on 8-track with my friend's high-school-age sister in her Ford Maverick, knowing that she really, deep down, dug me and could tell that I was very mature for my age. Ah, the stuff of 10-year-old dreams.

*Sidebar: For that matter, Mr. Urban Liberal Smarty-pants, where are the blacks on "Friends"? Or the chicanos? Is this some parallel-universe New York? If not for a certain condescendingly pat nebbishyness of some of the charcters, which we are meant to take as a stale approximation of Jewishness (or what Jewishness might seem like to a bunch of honky writers who grew up in gated communities), it could be a shiny-toothed Aryan uber-city in a world where the Nazis won the war. "Welcome Back, Kotter" was more diverse than this twenty-five years ago.

There's no such thing as bad t.v.: If Eno can (rightly) declare that there are no bad songs, then I shall make the same bold statement over the television and its programming. Note to our reader(s): Eno is a devout t.v.-avoider and as such, any comments he makes on this post will be based only on pure speculation, and without any good opposed to all his other posts.

With "Friends" coming to its cataclysmic finale tonight (in case you haven't heard), I declare "Friends" to be a great t.v. show. I watched it, if not religiously, then near so (at least until the past two years) and enjoyed 8 out of every 10 episodes. While the stars of the show are all 8 to 2 years older than me, considering it started the year after I graduated from college, I always viewed them as immediate peers, albeit with better apartments (even in Philly I couldn't afford the space they had). While I didn't have a close-knit group of sexy, funny buddies (I was the only one) coming over every few seconds, that lifestyle of loose yet intense camraderie was something I could certainly relate to from college - indeed Slate refers to the dorm-like life the "Friends" cast led - no real responsibility [children were apparently born, but almost never seen], casual sex among and between, and pizza/beer diets) - and like anything else, that which you can relate to you develop an affinity for.

The show got much broader and less interesting as the years went by. It probably jumped the shark after Season 7 when Monica married Chandler got married (everything leading up the the wedding was funny - especially when the two first hook up in London for one of Ross' many marriages - Eno, just play along), but things went downhill as the show must then inevitably succumbed to the gravity of married life where nothing funny happens...

Still, as far as sitcoms go, it was better than most, in an artform where even middling is renewed for a second season. Will I miss it? No. It's fair to say that as the cast grew up and moved on, so have I. I'm in to "Overhaulin'" now.
Votes and Taxes: Eric, of Vikingpundit, among many others, is keeping the torch lit for Teresa Heinz to turn over her returns. As all-things-Kerry is Eric's cause celebre, this should not come as a surprise. To be fair, Eric quotes from the Washington Post, which is itself calling for the tax returns.

I'm on the fence on revealing tax returns. On the one hand, who cares how much money a candidate's wife makes or doesn't make? As the saying goes, she ain't being elected. Moreover, she's not the traditional candidate's wife (ED: You can say that again!). What I mean is that a) she's a second wife, who doesn't really have all that much time with Senator Kerry; b) she has a very sizable private source of income that is more than just your usual royalties from the children's book. On the other, whether she likes it or not, she's going to be public property if hubby gets the nod. She better get used to the transparency sooner rather than later.

I understand everyone just honestly wants to make sure that she's not being paid money by Al Qaeda, and that no one on the Right will start anew the "privileged, out-of-touch" chanting, but really, it's not about what she is supposed to be hiding (i.e. "I never really knew she was rich until I saw the 1040 EZ form. Now I'm totally against those elitist people!"), but it's a symbolic show of humility and openness. We Americans get suspicious when candidates don't open up their lives to us, even though most of us would be appalled give the same obligation (I know, I know, no one forced Kerry to run for President [ED: That's what you think.]).

My advice would be to resist, resist, resist. In the end, it's not a vote-loser. People are voting on Iraq, the economy, and Iraq. The fact the polls are showing Bush to still be leading is only bad news for Kerry. Tax returns aren't going to solve that problem.

Tane and Tother: Bush's luck seems to run hot and cold at the same time. When Iraq is going well, the economy is in the tank. These days, the press can talk of nothing but the horror (the horror!) of American occupation. (Oh yeah, and the Friends deal.) Meanwhile, the economy hums like a swarm of bees:
The productivity of America's companies rose solidly in the opening quarter of this year, and new filings for jobless benefits plunged last week to their lowest level in more than three years, good news for the country's economic health.

. . . The Labor Department reported Thursday that productivity — the amount an employee produces for every hour on the job — rose at a 3.5 percent annual rate in the January-to-March quarter, up from a 2.5 percent pace registered in the previous quarter.

. . . In a second report from the department, new applications filed for unemployment insurance dropped by a seasonally adjusted 25,000 to 315,000, for the week ending May 1. That marked the lowest level since Oct. 28, 2000.

The layoffs picture presented by the jobless claims filings looked better than economists had expected. They had forecast claims to dip to around 335,000 last week.

Maybe the best he can hope for is for both to muddle along. Assuming an true inverse variation, though, the pictures of summary executions in Abu Ghraib should turn up presently.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

More Torture: I think we're generally in agreement, Razor. Here's the Times, proving my point. What do they choose to get upset about?
The behavior depicted in the photos — which, among other things, show naked prisoners being subjected to sexual humiliation by American women — defies basic standards of human decency and the accepted conventions of war.
And today,
. . . images of uniformed American men and women gleefully brutalizing prisoners in exactly the manner most horrific to Muslims has been seared into the minds of television viewers around the world.
My italics, meant to emphasize that, of course, dismemberment, rape, or beatings would be less horrific to Muslims than having some infidel women laughing at an Iraqi's pecker. Are the editorialists at the Times really this dumb?
Getting Macro -- Again: I lost a longer version of this, along with my patience to recompose it. This will have to suffice. You say, ". . . if you disagree with one of the tenets of the belief . . ." But that treats the issue rather cavalierly, as though we were talking about not eating meat during lent. The position of the Catholic Church is: No, good Catholics cannot disagree on abortion. (You may, in fact, disagree with that too, but you just go further onto shaky doctrinal ground.) Remember, the pope is not fallible. He is the authority in interpreting Christian morality for his church. If you disagree with him on the subject of an ex cathedra pronouncement, you're denying the infallibility of the pontiff.

In other words, you disagree with the pope over abortion. If you think that's okay, you've also disagreed with the church itself on the pope's authority. Seems to me that you can keep up these disagreements until doomsday. So what's the call here? How much dogma can you actually disagree with and still be a Catholic? Half? Three-fourths? Are any disagreements off limits? Murder? Apostasy? Can you be an atheistic Catholic?

So it comes down to this, the very reason the Anglicans call them Papists: Either you believe the pope has this authority or you don't. If you do, you're a Catholic. If you don't, you're a protestant (i.e., protesting the authority of the pope).

The Church hasn't spoken definitively on contraception, capital punishment, fasting, and other moral matters. The Church has a position on these issues, but they are not issues of dogma. Abortion is -- whether Catholics like it or not.

I hate to get all macro on you again: Regarding torturing the Iraqi prisoners: As for those individuals, I could just about care less. If they are trying to kill our troops or our contractors, then no punishment is really too much.

On the other hand, we should never condone inhumane treatment of prisoners under our watch. That doesn't mean we can't f*ck with their minds, belittle them, or spit on the graves of their ancestors in order to get them to talk. But, when we treat them no better than Uday did members of the Iraqi Olympic squad, then I think we have to take a step back. Clearly, hooding them and putting electrodes around their nuts is beyond the pale. If we want our POWs to be treated humanely then, we have an obligation to do the same.

Of course, the matter revolves around the Rumsfeld definition of POW. If he can put guys in Gitmo for years without due process because they are "enemy combatants" and not members of a "lawful" militia, then I suppose you can just as easily say the guys in the prisons over in Iraq aren't POWs either. I just think that quibbling gets you nowhere at the end of the day.

Or at the very least, don't take pictures you idiots.
"He's f%$#ing dead!": Finally, a fitting eulogy to the memory of Pat Tillman, the football player turned Ranger. From what I can tell, this is how he wanted to be remembered, if at all.
Why can't you just agree with me?: Things would really go much smoother, you know?

Regarding the Church, under your theory, if you disagree with one of the tenets of the belief, you shouldn't hold yourself out as a "believer". That's like saying if you don't believe in fiscal restraint, you can't be a Republican -- well, ummm, that used to be an apt analogy. Growing up as a "Catholic" I disagreed with the Church on a number of issues, but also found my particular church and its members to be well worth the periodic fits of rage the larger institution drove me into (hmm, this is on the level of whatever is between micro and macro). I still believed in enough of what the church was selling that I wanted to belong.

It turns out, in the end, that I couldn't keep reconciling ALL of the differences that I had, so I skedaddled. That's why the Jews make more sense. You can be Orthodox and adhere strictly to everything the Old Testament says. Then you can be Reformed, which is the post-modern judiasm. Then you have Kabbalah - which is available to pop stars and au courant actresses. See, something for everyone.
The Way the Cookie Crumbles: Ladies and gentlemen, John Kerry, entrepreneur.

(Link via the Man Without Qualities.)

Torture? As long as I'm eliciting opinion, Razor, let me drop this on you: I am relatively undisturbed by the pictures and stories out of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Obviously, an investigation is warranted, and any evidence of actual torture or homicide should result in court-martial, etc., etc, etc. End of disclaimer.

So some Iraqi soldiers were paraded naked with female GIs leering at them? I bet it must have been embarrassing for them. Too bad. If I were running that prison, I would demand that such discomfort be routine when attempting to extract information from prisoners. What's next? The international community moaning about the Geneva convention because an interrogator at the prison ostentatiously ate bacon in front of Muslims? Give me a break. Embarrassment and discomfort are routine tools in these situations, for several reasons. First, to obtain intelligence. If a Muslim prisoner is so afraid of unclean, unshrouded women peeking at his johnson, you'd be a fool not to take advantage of that. Second, to break a prisoner's will. Suppose you've got a tough case, a real fanatic Ba'athist, say. He won't talk; he won't cooperate; your stoolies tell you he's rabble-rousing in the exercise yard. If you can destroy his credibility with a little cultural loss of face, it's a lot better than having to rough him up. (And, please, don't tell me you think that prisoner-of-war guards should be Quakers. Sometimes a stitch now will save nine later, if you know what I mean.)

Anyway, I bet some things at Abu Ghraib have crossed the line. In such cases, we should punish those responsible, along with their superiors. But let's stop pretending that our armed forces should run the jails like the Little Sisters of the Poor, that we should play pattycake with thugs and killers, or that most of the accusations amount to much in the first place.

Later: I should note that these same actions, designed to cause embarrassment, humiliation, and discomfort, are certainly gratuitous if the guards did this solely for sport.

Macro/Micro and the Church: I have to take issue with you, Razor. You're unlikely to find many people (at least in the non-victim category) who hold the church in as much contempt as I for their sins of commission and omission. That's all fine. I don't think, though, that it gives Catholics some sort of fundamental carte blanche to wander off the moral reservation. In other words, the Pope has spoken, in all his authority, on abortion. You either buy what he says or you don't. If he spoke ex cathedra in a contradictory way -- for example, using his authority to condone molestation -- you might have a valid point. Until then, using the excuse that priests and bishops are sinful, human, and fallible is to commit an ad hominem fallacy. The tenets of Catholic belief are not predicated on the sterling character of its employees.

The church is hypocritical, true. Might as well add disgustingly wealthy for an organization founded on a biblical injunction to embrace poverty; horribly politicized, particularly on the local level; and totally out of step with the modern world, not because of Biblical demand, but because the rules that govern it reflect the medieval worldview in which they were codified.

Still, as I said, Il Papa has ruled on abortion. Either you agree with him or you don't. And if you don't, why on earth call yourself a Catholic when you are literally practicing the very essence of protestantism -- protesting the authority of the papacy.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Macro/micro: Eno, you make a great point about religion being arduous. Clearly, without sacrifice, the Catholic Church is nothing. For that matter, any religion worth a farthing has to impose some tough restrictions (i.e. Scientology - you're not allowed to keep any of your money).

My point was more on the macro stage, however. It's not about the hypocrisy of the individual ("I'm a Catholic, but Jesus was just a great guy; hardly the son of God."), but about the hypocrisy of the Church. I'd argue that any Bishop who covered up the pedophilia, whether out of bad will or a mis-guided attempt to look out for "everyone's best interests" should not only be denied communion, but be de-frocked while you're at it. We don't need to pile on the excesses of the Church of centuries ago when it was perfectly fine to kill and steal in "the name of the Lord". We can do just fine with what we have.

My point is that the Catholic Church, for all its love of proclamations and censure, had better turn the magnifying glass on itself first. Holier than thou, indeed.
On Belief: Not entirely unrelated (okay, it's entirely unrelated; but it's my post, so shut up!), I find myself very sympathetic to Charles Murray, interviewed here, on the matter of faith:
Murray: With the Enlightenment, we started a whole series of major acquisitions of new knowledge about how the world works. These were important and real and had great amounts of truth to them. They also played hell with the old verities. I'm thinking of the rule of reason as against traditional religion. I'm thinking Darwinism. I?m thinking of Freud. And Einstein.

In all sorts of ways, you had body blows to the ways of looking at the world that gave concepts such as truth, beauty, and the good their meaning. Take the good as the obvious example. If we are bundles of chemicals and religion is irrelevant and we have no souls, etc., etc., etc. -- I can go through the whole litany -- the good is sort of stripped of texture and richness.

reason: But the Enlightenment view is essentially correct, right? We are chemicals....

Murray: Here's the central dilemma. If the new wisdom is correct, then all of the anomie and the alienation and the nihilism and the rest of it make a lot of sense. As I note in the book, if that's all true, then one novelist suggests that all we can do is maintain a considered boredom in the face of the abyss. There have been a wide variety of efforts in the 20th century to come up with a rationale for positive action, but I actually think that the only way to maintain one's energy and sense of purpose is by being deliberately forgetful. That's why Camus was so miserable. He couldn't be forgetful enough.

I'm an agnostic, but I should add that I think the most foolish of all religious beliefs is confident atheism.

reason: So you're laying down a 21st-century variation of Pascal's wager? You don't really believe the transcendental goods are ordained by God, but we have to act as if they're true if we want to live purposeful lives?

Murray: You're right. I'm not a believer, but I am also not nearly as confident as intellectuals were 50 or 60 years ago that I do know the truth. I am much less willing to say, boy, was Johann Sebastian Bach deluded [because he believed in God].

Meanwhile: I get awful tired of those who think their religion so weak that it can't withstand a little creative license. Here's a good example of someone fretting about The Da Vinci Code, a work of fiction, after all.
We Don't Need Transubstantiation at My House: We have Stove Top Stuffing instead! Little Protestant wonderlings always want to stay for dinner.

I have to admit, though, that I sympathize with the Catholic Church. Really, what's the point of having people call themselves "Catholic" if it doesn't mean anything?

I've always thought that religion should be challenging. It should be difficult, because it should call on you to do things that are atypical: love your enemies and turn the other cheek come to mind. If religion simply validates your prejudices and justifies your natural reactions, it's a bit of a farce, no? Like a religion that sees the summum bonum in big, long joints full of crazy-sticky bud and unlimited credit at a Pizza Hut that delivers at any hour. (I used to belong to that church.)

The modern outlook on religion and morality is one rooted in convenience. I mean, the abortion lobby won't even ponder the likelihood that abortion may be morally troubling, even if sensible policy means not criminalizing it. No, it would cut too deep into a woman's freedom to choose (not to mention increasing her indenture to awful things like responsible planning, caution, and the all-night pharmacy -- and the women in Kabul thought they had it rough!). Abortion must instead be not just legal but morally neutral -- and that, I think, is a big stretch.

I agree that the church is flirting with irrelevance; we may or may not think that's a good thing. And it did, at one time, have power over kingdoms, never mind a uterus. To put it in modern terms, sooner or later they have to start protecting their brand, or it will come to be meaningless. (Much like "protestant." Are ya done protesting yet?) Moral authority is a fragile thing, and the church (when it isn't busy destroying its own by diddling the altar boys and covering it up at the highest levels, that is) has to enforce it from time to time to keep it from total atrophy. (And the fact that this is a minor flap, at best, shows that nobody really gives a fig if the church denies them communion; they'll go get it from a "liberal church," assuming that their piety is more than a sham anyway.)

So if you don't much care for what the Romans teach, you might have to find something else to be. (As Razor did.) Imagine claiming to be Muslim, but thinking, "That whole 'There is but one God and Muhammed is his prophet' thing is a bit, mmmm, confining." Sorry, but as much as you might want to be or call yourself a Muslim, you ain't. At some point, you just have to get over the fact that a religion asks you to follow certain strictures.

Thus, I don't understand Catholics who say they disagree with the church on matters of ex cathedra doctrine. If they want to leave the church over those disagreements, bully for them! (I did exactly that myself.) But cafeteria Catholicism, or Islam or Buddhism or whatever, is just embarrassing. It's like going on a diet that allows you to eat what you want, f*ck with your bathroom scale, and make up your own cholesterol numbers out of thin air.

I may not believe in god, but I do believe in intellectual honesty.