FauxPolitik

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Sour Apple: So, Apple is flying high with its iPod and the just-relased iPod Mini (my advice, wait for prices to drop - you can get a 15 Gig iPod for only $50 more than the 4 Gig Mini), which not only look cool, and have great design (as almost all Apple products do), but the fu*kers are actually making Apple tons o' money. Then you throw in iTunes, Apple's proprietary music downloading service, which managed to get good titles at reasonable prices - something no one else could do until Apple did it (another typical Apple move), and you have a nice little product to sell forever and ever. Of course, Apple has made its music files proprietary by using its own coding to keep you beholden to it in the long-run, which isn't very cricket, but helps ensure the $$ keeps coming in, as you provide a closed-loop system. At least that was the thought.

Comes now Real Networks (maker of RealPlayer), the ubiquitous streaming media company and its music downloading software, Harmony. No biggie for Apple, right? It's the 800-pound gorilla in portable digital music, and since you need to convert to its AAC format, piss off Real, right? Well, except for that issue about how Real reverse-engineered the AAC code, and then made it so the Harmony songs could fit onto the iPods; something which Apple has fought tooth-and-nail since hackers started trying.

But as this author points out, maybe Apple wants to hold back the dogs and see if this unintentional partnership might not yield dividends. Because the iPod is the shiznizzle, this move by Real just gives more outlets for people to obtain music to put on their iPods. While competing companies keep running at iPod with promises of more battery time, and superior sound quality, to date, they have fallen short. Even the venerable Sony Walkman brand, which promises all these things and more, is apparently suffering from a lousy interface, and crappy logic, plus the absence of a playlist function (!), from the two reviews I've read so far.

So, if everyone who's anyone is going to be using the iPod, why not expand the market for those users. What you lose in $.99 downloads, you gain in $249 to $400 hardware purchases. Anyway, it's an idea worth pursuing before the lawyers eat up too much in billable hours.

Because I think you should know these things: We've all seen countless airline hijacker movies or movies like "Airforce One" where there's gunplay in an airliner, flying at altitude. Then, some wise guy who can't aim shoots and the bullet goes into and then out of the cabin wall, causing a huge sucking, whooshing sound, followed by flying paper, and then flying people out of a now-gaping hole. And you know the hero will just manage to snag an errant seatbelt at the last moment before he tumbles down 35,000 feet himself.

Come on people, you know you've seen this!

Anyway, there's no way it could happen. So, you're okay; fire away.

Mo' money, mo' money, MO' money: In a post worth noting, Will over at Vodkapundit, shows how the Dems are actually out-spending and out-raising the GOP to the tune of around $30MM.

Will also snarkily, if truthfully, states how if the roles were reversed, every headline would be screaming about how our democracy is grinding to a halt in the wake of special interest fundraising.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Google has no clothes: The backlash is beginning. This is the classic American story. Little start-up, bucks the system, sticks it to the man, and succeeds where others have failed. The people rejoice; the critics swoon. Little start-up becomes the industry standard; more rejoicing, more swooning.

Then, not-so-little start-up starts rubbing your nose in it. First, they do this exclusive Gmail thingy which has people jumping up and down, and selling their self-respect (if not their souls) to get one of these email accounts, which is just...an...email...account. As I've said before, it's cool b/c it's exclusive; not because it means anything.

Then, the now-behemoth, decides it's going IPO, at a strike price of over $100. Well, you don't have to be Jim Cramer to hate the idea, but it helps.

I still think the thing will sell, b/c, hey, it's Google. But, I'm giving the company six months before an SEC investigation is launched, and we finally see Google morph into Microsoft.

Moral? Americans love a success story, until it's too successful.

"...choked my nuts off.":  Yes, it's everyone's favorite tennis player from Down Undah, talking about life after the ATP: Patrick Rafter (the link may be for SI subscribers only, not sure what kind of embedded cookies my browers has currently).  This link has the part of the conversation that was not included in the print-version of SI this past week. 

The above quote refers to the 2000 finals between Raffie and Sampras, and how Pat wishes he could have played it over and not choked his proverbial nuts off. 

So he's not playing pro tennis anymore, just some World Team Tennis (which is barely tennis).  What is he doing then?

SI: Do you keep up with your training at all?

Rafter: I play a sport called Aussie Rules Footie and play for a [Sydney-based] team called the North Shore Bombers. Sydney is a rugby-dominated city. There are two types of rugby in Australia. We have the Rugby Union and Rugby League. This is like the third tier. They're not quite sure where to put me. I'm not a little player, so they think I should be up with the forwards, sort of muscling around a bit. I'm still fit, and I still run pretty quick so they are now putting me in faster positions. The great thing about it is the sport is played in a really good spirit. We go in hard. We tackle hard. We hit hard. But outside of that, there's no cheap shots at the head, and we sit down and have a chat after the game with all the guys. It's done in a really great manner. I just love playing a team sport. The one thing I really missed in tennis was not having that opportunity enough. We had the Davis Cup and that was it.

Other than that, he's playing golf, hanging out with his kid, and enjoying a nice beer and barbie.

We, of course, hate him.

Monday, July 26, 2004

What is it with running backs?:  (I'll just keep this to the modern era).  First, it was Barry Sanders retiring on the eve of having the all time rushing record, then Robert Smith, of the Vikings just when his career was about to break open, now...it's Ricky Williams, he of the wedding dress, dreadlocks, and social anxiety disorder.  At age 27, he's leaving it all behind, to go walk, not run, the earth.

The boy never did quite fit in with the rest of the NFL.  He was quiet, he was introspective, and he never was the dominant force that everyone expected, although he was still very good.  He left the "Aints" in a funk, but seemed to have found equanimity in Miama - he even shaved his head to show his renewal.  But alas, it was for naught.  He was just one of those people who never really wanted to be a football player, but because he was so damn good at it, he felt the need to keep going, probably more to please others than himself.  As he put it, he wasn't strong enough to be without football, now he is.  Good luck Ricky, you can stop running now.

MORE:  Well, I suppose Ricky maybe could have made up his mind earlier than two days before camp opens.  He really did screw his team out of the chance to find a replacement (Eddie George, anyone?).  Yes, it's better than opening day, but not by much.  By all accounts, he was in great shape and all gung ho during the off season meetings.  Peter King says it all better than I (no shock there).

Friday, July 23, 2004

Lesson:  Don't mess with Lance:  It seems that a certain Italian rider, who has dissed Armstrong in the past for his association with a controversial doping doctor, thought he might try to get into the escape riders' pack during Stage 18 of le Tour.  Seems Lance wasn't going to allow that, even though he has the race firmly in hand, and had no stake in winning this stage.

Once the other riders in the escape pack see Lance, they ask the Italian to fall back so they can have a chance to win, knowing if Lance is in the lead pack, they're screwed.  The bastardo then sheepishly limps back into the peloton, Lance at his elbow.  That's fucking awesome.

Here's a lede for the 6 'o-clock news: "For the Greeks, it was almost a social duty for adult males to take adolescent boys as lovers."  I could comment more, but really, what else can I say? 

Thursday, July 22, 2004

More Neruda: I mentioned the old ratchet-jaw last week, regarding his 100th birthday.  (Luckily, he's been, er, decomposing for the last several of those anniversaries.)  The Weekly Standard looks closer this week.
Yes, his work is still plagiarized by teenage boys in Latin America, who see his Twenty Love Poems and a Desperate Song and figure there is nothing wrong with borrowing from it--just as one poem in the book is itself stolen from Rabindranath Tagore--and presenting its overwrought lines to their girlfriends. But if those boys grow up to be serious writers, they leave Neruda behind.
Stephen Schwartz quotes this little number, from 1953, an ode to the recently late Stalin:
In recent years the dove,

Peace, the wandering persecuted rose,

Found herself on his shoulders

And Stalin, the giant,

Carried her at the heights of his forehead. . .

Lovely.

A Bill W. Moment?  Jon Last may actually be ready for help.
My name is Jonathan and I'm a Philly fan. In 1995, the Philadelphia Eagles made what was then the biggest free-agent signing in sports, acquiring star running back Ricky Watters for $6.9 million per year. In his first game as an Eagle, Watters found his new team losing in the fourth quarter to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Quarterback Randall Cunningham (I once went trick-or-treating at his house) threw a pass to him over the middle, and as the ball neared, Watters saw defensive backs fast approaching. He put his hands up and, instead of catching the ball, batted it down.

After the game reporters asked Watters why he'd refused to catch the pass. He explained that the Eagles were probably going to lose and he saw no reason to take a hit in the middle of the field. "For who?" Watters asked defiantly. "For what?"

This, says Last, is emblematic of professional sports in Philadelphia.

And one of these days, we'll be up to a whopping two-tenthousandth:  Heheh.  Check out blogshares for this blog's market share currently:  0.000150179 %.  I mean, we're talking serious influence!  You all have our promise, however, not to abuse this great power.  Just like Uncle Ben told Peter Parker:  "With great power comes hot redheads with big bjoobies."  Something like that anyway.  Back to that nuclear fusion project...

What could possibly go wrong?SCENE:  A group of scientists digging up ice in the Antarctic.  Cold, nighttime.  Pan to inside the dig tent.  Players:  Rolf, the serious-minded German geologist, who really wanted to join the ballet at a young age, but couldn't muster the courage to tell his father.  Sonya, the sexy paleontologist, just out of grad school, and working on her first dig as a full-fledged member of the team.  She wants to prove to herself that she can do this job, as opposed to what her father wanted her to be:  a ballerina.  Michael, not a scientist, but an experienced guide to far-out places.  A rugged individualist, lives in a cabin on the edge of Alaska in his free time.  No interest in ballet.  Last, we have Carl, the paterfamilias of the scientific community.  His theory is that the earliest intergalactic bodies to have crashed into Earth, di so here, in Antarctica, and spawned life.  He believes that remnants of that early life may still exist, deep under the ice.  Needless to say, he's a pariah in the scientific community.

C:  "Sonya, bring me the portable sonar. Yes, just wheel it over here, I think we may have found something." 

Sonya pushes the cart, the wheels emitting their familiar squeak, and stops before the hole that was just drilled (the tenth of the day), letting Carl and Rolf set up the sonar.

R:  "Ja, just a bit more...ummmph, there.  Mein gott, this thing is heavier each time I am lifting it.  This is the last one today, and then we are to the camping van for the dancing....I mean, I MEAN for the eating, ja, ... essen.  No dancing.  Okay, Herr Doktor?"  Rolf looks around sheepishly.

C:  "Okay, okay Rolf." Carl, not noticing the verbal slip  "Just this once more.  But I have a feeling, I have a feeling about this one."

M:  "That's what you said yesterday, last week, and last year, Doc.  Well, in any event, I'm going outside to look for any of those bears we saw yesterday.  See ya."  Exit, Michael.

*Whoommp!*  *Whoommp!*  The sonar sends its powerful vibrations through the ice crust, into the drilled canal, down deep into the ice core.

C:  "Hmmm, hmmm.  Take a look Sonya, Carl.  This image...doesn't it seem intriguing?"  They all crowd around the green, flickering screen, trying to discern what the image means.  "I think...yes...I think we've found something.  Rolf, quickly, let's lower the claw and bring it up!!"

More mechanical type sound as the three maneuver the claw tripod over the hole, and begin to lower it down into the hole.  Minutes later...

S: "Yes, yes...it's almost to the top.  Quick, Doctor, get the table ready, I'll maneuver it on to the top of it."  Sonya quickly angles the claw device over the table, and with the use of a few switches, lowers the payload onto the table.  It is only approximately fourteen inches square, weighing no more than 1.5 pounds, and is jet black, yet shiny.  They all crowd in, looking... searching.

R: "Do you smell that?  What is it? I am never before smelling this...this.... AGHAGHGHAGHGH!" 

Cut to outside.  Michael is on patrol with his rifle.  He quickly turns as he hears the screams.  He immediately rushes into the scientific tent.

M: "What's going on? I heard a...."  An unseen force hits Michael from behind and knocks him down, unconscious.  Lights cut out.  A wet, chewing sound is heard.  Fade out.

Funny little story, right?  Kind of like "The Thing", right?  Just fiction, right?  Right?!?



Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Ideal Challenger...disastrous championKasparov writes about Fischer.  You see, Kasparov is in the midst of creating a six volume series on chess' great champions, which involves re-creating hundreds of each player's matches, move-by-move (Apparently, he has some time on his hands while IBM works on it's next artificial intelligence minion.  If you ask me, and no one has quite yet, I'd get that teddy bear from "A.I." - it was the only quasi-sentinent being in that movie that showed any life or intelligence - yeesh).

As we've heard, Fischer has gone of the deep end (well okay, that was long ago - it's just that he's finally reaching the bottom of the pool), and is currently in custody in Japan; one step removed from being in custody in the U.S.  But Kasparov is more interested in what might have been with young Robert:
Despite his short stay at the top there is little to debate about the chess of Bobby Fischer. He changed the game in a way that hadn't been seen since the late 19th century. The gap between Mr. Fischer and his contemporaries was the largest ever. He singlehandedly revitalized a game that had been stagnating under the control of the Communists of the Soviet sports hierarchy.
For whatever reason, Fischer couldn't hack the limelight, and he began a slow descent into a bizarre pastiche of anti-semitism and paranoia, until he eventually winked out of our consciousness.  But, Kasparov remarks that despite the Salinger-esque retreat from the world, followed by an embarrassing (more of the conspiracies, capped by a tacit approval of 9/11), if decently-played, re-match with Spassky fairly recently, Fischer made chess what it is today. However, Karpov fears that Fischer's re-emergence, albeit unwillingly, into the spotlight may undo some of the good his initial splash made:
An entire generation of top American players learned the game as kids thanks to Mr. Fischer. Today's flourishing scholastic chess movement could be harmed as his woes and beliefs make headlines around the world. People may believe that this is what happens when a genius plays chess--instead of what happens when a fragile mind leaves his life's work behind.
Props to A&L Daily.



More exclusivity...for no apparent reason:  At least these insecure do-nothings are honest about their intentions:  it's exclusive so more people will want to join (even though we won't let them! harhar).  Get that tautology? It's popular because no one's allowed in.  I think Washington D.C. must be the worst place on earth to live - at least if you're even tangentially involved in politics.  Thankfully, Wonkette is all over the muthafucka.

"I still won three purple hearts.":  In case you're one of the few select people who haven't seen "This Land" yet, get a-clicking.  Effing funny.

Monday, July 19, 2004

James Bond unavailable for comment:  The FBI takes gadget weapons seriously.  So much so, they're putting on the web its "Guide to Concealable Weapons" .   Not that we at FauxPolitik condone the use of concealed weapons for any purpose (well, maybe to open bottles of beer), but these are pretty cool and ingenious.

"Looks like you've played a little football.":  Private clubs.  Martha (no, not that Martha, the other Martha), made the news a couple of years back, and has kept her cause going, protesting the right of Augusta National to exclude whole classes of people from its membership.  It was somehow surprising to her that a bunch of men wanted to play golf without a bunch of women around, there being no evidence of this happening daily since golf was invented o'er the craggy moors of Scotland. 
 
Anyway, her annual diatribe brings to the fore, each year, the perennial argument over whether private clubs should be allowed to keep people out, regardless or reason, those they find "not club material".  Morever, these reasons most assuredly include explicit dis-tastes for those of certain genders, sexual persuasions, races, and notably, political bent.  It seems some rather exclusive clubs in San Fran have these traits, and are not only prosperous, they have twenty-year waiting lists.  Some of these male-only clubs compel women, when they're allowed in at all, come in the back door, and eat in side rooms. 
 
Now, the point of this post is hardly to debate whether the clubs should be allowed (they're private, and so, they should), but why one would choose to belong.  I've been a member of exclusionary groups; my fraternity being perhaps the most obvious.  Why did I join?  Well in part, b/c most of my friends did, and I wanted to keep hanging around them.  Also, the nearly endless supply of beer was a nice attraction.  But most of all, you join a group to take on that group's identity.  Our identity was our seemingly limitless capacity for alcohol.  It wasn't, certainly, the ability to attract the largest swath of attractive women (even my now-wife, would usually only end up at our house after making a tour of the other ones with her friends - to her credit). 
 
No, we chose to live together so we could behave like the barbarians we were, taking pleasure in the variety of substances we could consume, and then expel, at regular intervals.  A behavior which we all knew the presence of women would seriously curtail.  Now, I justify what I did on the premise that it was college, and if you're going to get your jollies, that's the time to do it.  You can spend the next 40 to 60 years of adulthood slowing down and acting properly. 
 
The question is, do I want to join a club akin to my fraternity days (albeit one that is better-funded) now, when I'm ten years (or looking forward) 20 years removed?  I think my answer is "no".  Why?  Because it's reality time now.   It's time to rear your children, work at a job, establish your career, and prove to your spouse that s/he made the right choice way back when.  If you have to reguarly shut yourself behind closed doors, so you can wear blackface and sing minstrel tunes, then I think you've failed at the whole adult thing.  10 hours on the fairway and in the clubhouse is not a right, it's a tacit preference for your caddy over your family or friends.  Do it regularly enough and one can righteously question whether being a grown up is something you're really cut out for.  Problem is that many of these members are running our country and it's top corporations. 
 
Again, no one should be allowed to close these clubs, or force a change upon them that they don't want.  And it's not to say that private organizations don't effect great good from time-to-time.  But throwing an annual charity benefit when you let the chicks and the darkies in, doesn't quite make up for the time you've spent hiding from them, or worse, belittling or even seeking to harm them behind your mahogany doors.  As a grown up might say:  "It's important to share and play nicely with others."
 

Friday, July 16, 2004

Don't worry, flourescent orange is the new black:  So, Martha gets 5 mos. in jail, followed by two years of probation.  This is pretty much all she could have hoped for.  The absolute minimum was, I believe, 5 mos probation in addition to 5 mos. jail.  So, all we get is Martha having to call in, for an extra year-and-a-half, when she wants to fly in her own jet from corporate headquarters to one of her villas.  I mean, it will be annoying sure, but not really hamper her lifestyle. 
 
While I wouldn't want to spend even one second in jail, five months is really a blink of an eye, especially since she's going to minimum security, where she'll be surrounded by non-violent offenders, with whom she can share stock tips. 
 
The "other hand" insists on being recognized here, and for this purpose:  to remind everyone that she's going to jail for lying to the Gubernment about something that she did or did not do - which, if she did do it, wasn't a crime!  Imagine being questioned by the FBI over whether you used conditioner with your shampoo and lying about it, and the going to jail for five months.  So, when you hear cries of witch hunt by her camp, you can kind of see the point, even though you're only playing the teensiest violin you can find, as a soundtrack for your sympathy.


Change Afoot: I'm going through a period of transition at work right now -- in fact, today is my last day of helping to phase out my position (though I will stay on as a contractor, but not full time). My editorial duties will slow down, but my childcare and household duties will likely take a bigger bite of time than I am gaining -- and at odder hours. Additionally, I currently sit in front of a computer all day. That will end, too.

For those reasons, my presence here at FauxPolitik can't help but feel the effects. I'll likely be posting fewer pieces, and less specifically "newsy" ones, since I'll be unable to troll the papers and blogs the way I do now. Ideally, I'd like them to be longer pieces, more analysis, fewer snippets and links. We'll see how that works out. I trust our vast readership can be patient while I settle into the new routine, and while I take a well-deserved vacation in early August.

Required Linking: Seems to me that we shouldn't miss a chance to help get this story out. It concerns a Northwest flight, a bunch of shaken passengers, and 14 Syrians with strange looking parcels, shoes, and bags making repeated trips to the bathroom.

Link via Hit & Run.

More: Welcome back to Orin Kerr, who has returned to the Volokh Conspiracy following his clerkship. He notes the story linked above and mentions that

People are thinking: Is it true, in whole or in part? Why haven't major newspapers and TV picked up on it? My guess is that the blogosphere won't let up until there are some answers, and that the pressure will yield some answers sooner rather than later.
I hope so.

Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em: Jacob Sullum has your basic rundown on the legislation that hands the tobacco industry to the FDA.

Twin Trouble: Michelle Cottle makes a snarky and intellectually dishonest argument that the presence of "the Bush Twins" (jesus, that sounds like a porno title) in Vogue gives carte blanche to a liberal press drooling to dig dirt.
Once the girls become political tools, however, the rules change. The White House loses the moral high ground. The media feel more emboldened. Already, in opening access to the girls for a splashy interview/photo spread in Vogue (and a smaller feature in People in May), George and Laura can no longer declare their daughters part of a media-free zone.
Oh, fer chrissake, we're talking about Vogue and People! It's not like they're writing op-eds for the Washington Times. How many glossy-mag puff pieces did Chelsea Clinton get without "changing the rules" or "embolden[ing]" the media? This is what presidential daughters do: go to the non-serious media and say, "I'm not really political, but I do support my daddy."

Believe it or not, Cottle's answer to the Chelsea comparison sinks even lower. First she implies that the Bushes' misbehaviors set them apart. (Of course, we don't really know if that's true, since major reporters never bar-flied it in college-kid watering holes waiting to drop a dime on Chelsea.) Then Cottle dredges up a bizarre, blame-the-victim diatribe that can only be craven or jaw-droppingly ignorant:

But even if Jenna and Barbara had been the picture of adolescent decorum, they would now still be facing a different level of public scrutiny than, say, Chelsea. Why? Because they're twins. Let's face it, twin girls in particular hold a bizarre fascination for the public at large. (Just ask the Olson sisters, whose every burp and sniffle get saturation coverage.) Identical or fraternal, the mere word "twins" strikes a deep--and deeply twisted--chord in far too many folks. As young, nubile, rich, solidly attractive 20-somethings with disturbingly perfect teeth, the Bush twins are guaranteed to become the featured fantasy of legions of male voters in red, blue, and purple states alike.
That's right, girls; stay out of those magazines and newspapers, since everyone knows that twins are perv bait. And don't wear any miniskirts, 'cause that's asking for it.

The last straw is Cottle dressing this horror show up in concern for "the girls."

Give the girl a break, George. Tell her you appreciate her desire to lend a pretty, pampered hand during these tough electoral times, but that you love her and her sister far too much to let them wander into the fray utterly unexperienced and unprepared for the potential fallout (not to mention the icky stalkers).
Er, they are adults now, I believe -- aren't they honey-pie? So why don't you sidle your sweet cheeks on over to your desk and hack out a non-condescending, non-patronizing correction, as you would likely ask any male-chauvinist-pig reporter to do if he referred to adult women "girls." And what's with the fake outrage over Bush "using" his daughters to boost his image? President Blowjob (remember him?) used that trick every time another blowsy lounge singer or silicone'd erstwhile pageanteer claimed knowledge of the presidential member. "Oops, another 'bimbo eruption'! Somebody get Chelsea so she can hold the President's hand while he walks to Marine One. The press will be there." By that standard, George and Laura are parents of the year.

Cottle is an insufferable fool.

The Ultimate Vanity Publication:  We all remember those silly yet entertaining old movies where a bunch of people sit around a t.v. and suddenly see the image of their recently-departed crazy uncle, who intones these words:  "If you're watching this, I'm already dead."  He then goes on to say how whoever can stay in his old house overnight will share in his millions.  Typical hilarity ensues.
 
Well, this extreme example is an apt example of what is apparently becoming more popular today:  the instructional (coined "ethical") will.  Basically, in addition to your legal last will and testament, you leave a companion will, which will describe your values, how you wish your legacy to be fulfilled, and maybe some more annoying parental advice. 
 
To which I say:  bushwah.  Just as you can't take it with you, you also can't rule from The Great Beyond.  If you haven't made a significant enough impact on the lives of your loved ones by the time you kick it, then what gives you the right to impose upon them when you're gone?  Only hubris makes us write these things.  If you want to write a goodbye letter, be my guest.  But don't presume to hand down instructions when you're reduced to an urn on the mantle.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

The Gray Lady Is Fading Fast: This ought to make Eno happy. It's no secret to anyone that Google is the 800-pound gorilla in the search engine game. If you want to make it big time, you better show up on the first 1-3 pages or you'll probably never be seen. Well, in that case, the NYT may soon be nearly irrelevant on the Web.

See, Google rates its searches by popularity, i.e. linkage. Problem is (and this is by no means exclusive to the NYT, but b/c it's [still] the 800-pound gorilla in the news biz, it's the best example), after one week, all NYT articles go pay-per-view, and at $3.00 a hit. Which means, it's nearly impossible (but not entirely), and mostly non-sensical, to do much linking to NYT articles since they'll be all but un-readable in seven days.

This might not have been such a big deal, but some wise-acre over at the digital NYT famously bet $1,000 that NYT articles would trump blogs on top stories in 2007, in terms of search engine relevance.

Any bets on FauxPolitik being on page 1 of Google searches for top stories in 2007?

Steyn Whine: Hugh Hewitt linked to a June Dan Kennedy piece in the Boston Phoenix that purports to hammer Mark Steyn pretty hard, comparing him to (gasp) Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. Decide for yourself. (I'll admit I'm a Steyn reader, although we certainly differ on numerous issues; his New Criterion stuff is particularly good.) I think it's a pretty slender indictment for a pushing-2500-word, media-crit meditation -- essentially that Steyn punches hard and has been careless with some facts, and -- oh, yeah -- he's a homophobe. Wow.

To take the slenderest of charges first, the homophobe accusation comes from an unsourced bit in which Kennedy implies that Steyn likes to assure people that he's not gay, and from a quote in which Steyn says that L. Frank Baum, creator of the Wizard of Oz stories, was not gay -- that "the original friend of Dorothy was not a Friend of Dorothy." Get it? Vicious, I know.

As to the fact twisting, Kennedy points to a Steyn column on Max Cleland:

[I]in perhaps his sleaziest column of 2004, a condescending dismissal of triple-amputee war hero Max Cleland, Steyn’s principal source was [Ann] Coulter.
I read Coulter's column on Cleland. It was pretty brutal, unfairly making out Cleland to be a boob or a schlemozzel. The facts that Steyn took from it are essentially undisputed: that Cleland was terribly injured in Vietnam, but it was in a grenade accident -- not in combat (which Cleland also saw). Steyn's column was not belittling (he describes Coulter's own column as "merciless") and Kennedy attempts to associate Steyn with Coulter simply to dismiss them both with the same critique. It doesn't work.

Kennedy's final judgement on Steyn is that he's a good writer who is altogether too glib and flippant to be taken seriously or trusted on the facts. Two things, though:

First, Steyn is an opinionist, not a reporter. (To put it another way, what do you want to bet that they just loved Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11?)

Second, in this same article, speaking of Steyn's major employer, media group Hollinger, Kennedy says of its erstwhile owner Conrad Black:

[Black is] now in trouble for allegedly lying about money, or lying about alleged money, or some such thing.
That sounds . . . er, just a bit too glib and flippant to be taken seriously or trusted on the facts, doesn't it?

Transparent: The New York Times is oddly willing to flirt with tabloid journalism on this Cheney story, although note that the headline, "Hear the Rumor on Cheney? Capital Buzzes, Denials Aside," makes the trojan horse explicit. It's the old "we're only reporting this because everyone is talking about it" dodge.
In the annals of Washington conspiracy theories, the latest one, about Vice President Dick Cheney's future on the Republican ticket, is as ingenious as it is far-fetched. But that has not stopped it from racing through Republican and Democratic circles like the latest low-carb diet.
So the core of this piece has been flat-out denied, and even the writer, Lizzie Bumiller, calls it far-fetched. So why did it go into the paper? Scratch that. Why did it go to Page F*cking One?
The newest theory - advanced privately by prominent Democrats, including members of Congress - holds that Mr. Cheney recently dismissed his personal doctor so that he could see a new one, who will conveniently tell him in August that his heart problems make him unfit to run with Mr. Bush.
Note the sourcing -- Democrats. Remember when GOP sources were speculating early last week that Hillary would be Kerry's running mate? Nobody but Drudge would touch it. Now some Democrats are bullshitting at the water cooler, and it's Page One of the Times? Help me out here.

This is the kind of story the New York POst runs. Don't get me wrong. I love the Post. But the Times claims the mantle of "paper of record," sets the news agenda for America every day. They wanted this to be front page news, even if it isn't, really. Again, why? Let's be grown up and stipulate the obvious -- that the Times and Bumiller are in the tank for Kerry. A couple of possibilities:

1. It make it look as though the Bush campaign is foundering, and Cheney is the first piece of deadweight jetsam.

2. Similarly, it makes it appear that Bush has already lost confidence in Cheney and is scrambling for excuses to dump him.

3. By way of timing, it leaves the impression that John Edwards is the reason for the scramble, that Kerry made such a strong pick as to worry the Bush campaign team.

Just some thoughts.

More: Wow. This came out shockingly similar to Stephen Green's post on the same topic. His is wittier, though:

Shoot, I'd like nothing better than to see Cheney drop out, for whatever reason, and be replaced by Condi Rice at the bottom of the ticket. OK, maybe there's a few things I'd like better, but they all involve a myself, a Hi-Def camcorder, and several leggy movie starlets of the redhead and brunette variety -- but that's nothing I can really talk about on a family blog.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Ain't We Got Troubles? Some thoughts from Randy Barnett.
One of my pet peeves is the trope, "In these troubled times...." A few weeks ago, I was at a conference also attended by a much younger and quite pessimistic professor of English. I tried to buck him up by telling him that things were not going to hell in a hand basket. Indeed, politically speaking, things were looking up. Mine was a comment, not on current party politics, but on the revival of classical liberalism, the more radical variant of which is libertarianism. He tried to take solace from my going back from decade to decade in search of one where times were less troubled than today.

The 70's? (Vietnam, boat people, gas lines, stagflation, Iranian hostage crisis, the cold war)

The 60's? (Cuban Missle Crisis, assassinations, race riots, Vietnam, but an excellent sound track, the cold war)

The 50's? (Korea, global Communism, Mutual Assured Destruction, Selma, the cold war)

The 40's? (WWII, the Holocaust)

The 30's? (the Great Depression, the rise of National Socialism and Fascism, War in Europe)

The 20's? (Prohibition and the attendant rise of organized crime with its widespread violence and corruption, stock market collapse)

The 10's? (WWI and the "lost generation")

Too much before then and I lose my sense of the decades, but we had the savagery of Southern reaction to Reconstruction followed by a racial apartheid that lasted until the 1960s, and legal slavery before that--not to mention a Civil War in between that killed more Americans than any other and the Indian Wars that followed. The antebellum decades were not all that terrific either.

To all this you can add the lack of antibiotics.

He ends:
Of course, much remains to be done on the field of ideas, but I think we who love liberty should pause to appreciate the progress that has been made and that continues apace.
It's nice to read some optimism from time to time. I'm not sure I agree that liberty is on the ascendant. It's more of a mixed bag. Worth a turn in the grey cells, though.

By the way, after reading Barnett's stuff for years, it was odd to see his picture. I always pictured him a bit like the long-haired liberty lawyer James Woods played in whatever movie that was, or at least a bit like Steven Pinker. Nope. You could argue that one has to polish up to go before the Supreme Court, but that never stopped David Boies.

Preserve what for whom? The Senate, in a bit stronger effort than was anticipated, struck down the proposed Constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriages. Only 48 voted to keep it alive (and as noted, this was a procedural vote, not a vote to enact it), which was 12 short of what was needed to keep it alive.

Two dueling quotes:
"It's not about how to protect the sanctity of marriage," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). "It's about politics -- an attempt to drive a wedge between one group of citizens and the rest of the country, solely for partisan advantage.

"No one wants to discriminate against gays," responded Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah). "Simply put, we want to preserve traditional marriage."

Well, politically speaking, I'm not sure what advantage any politican gets over another through the passage of the amendment. I mean, you can certainly say that heteros get the advantage of marriage over homos, but beyond that, me no unnerstand.

As for Hatch, and as my lede indicates, what are we exactly preserving? An over-50% failure rate? Britney Spears and her right to marry for 36 hours? More alimony for Elizabeth Taylor's boys? Yes, there are some extreme examples here, but marriage is between two people. Beyond that, what universal truth are we upholding here?

The Third Way: So what does one do with Kerry? If one is vehemently anti-Bush, then your only choice is to vote for Kerry, as a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush.

Hell, even if you're vehemently anti-Kerry, how do you happily pull the lever for Bush? At this point, I'm not sure what anyone who originally voted Bush into office can find left of that candidate today.

Bush has spent more of our money than any liberal president ever did. If he didn't lie (as I maintain he did not), he put us in a war based on some of the most thoroughly flawed intelligence one could have hoped for - and possibly slanted to fit into the Administration's worldview (As an aside, I heard him give a recent stump speech, in which he acknowledged that we "haven't found stockpiles of wmd, but we still did the right thing" [talk about means justifying ends] - which is like saying Heidi Klum hasn't turned me down for a date yet - both technically true, both quite misleading). He's curiously inept at explaining himself, he has a VP who is uncomfortably good at explaining his thoughts, and yet neither can quite convince us that they have our best interests at heart. Last, if you're not utterly mortified down to the core of your shriveled little conservative heart (j/k!!) at his invasive tinkering with our social mores (marriage, religion, speech), then you must be Gary Bauer or in his church.

So we go to Kerry who, as everyone kindly notes, blows with the strongest wind, is not very charismatic, will also spend crazy money (just on different things), and in whom no one will entrust much confidence to lead us through whatever is left of Iraq come next January ("Hey, I know, let's put the French in charge!"). He is equally out-of-touch, and for all his years in the Senate, has remarkably few true leadership moments to show for it. How did we end up with they guy?

I suppose you could blame the primaries for this, but I go one level further down and blame the machine and Terry McAuliffe. The primaries gave us a bunch of stiffs (Gephardt and Graham), no-experience flim-flam artists (Dean, Braun and Clark), no-hope time-wasting charlatans (Kucinich and Sharpton), and then those who have glimmers of hope, yet are hopelessly "not Clinton" (Lieberman, Kerry and Edwards) -- and yes, many of these candidates could go in more than one of these categories. This is because no one showed any arm-twisting leadership to groom and then promote, a true leader from within the party.

Problem is that McAuliffe is only in existence to a) raise money, b) deny reality, and c) see (a). Remember when Ed Rendell was briefly the chairman, and how quickly he got canned when he said Gore should abide by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision, and just "concede" for the good of the nation? No one wants a free-thinker at that post. In fact, no one wants a thinker at all. Just bring in the bucks, use every opportunity to lose your credibility in "Meet the Press" debates, and then we'll get you a nice ambassadorship somewhere. Don't actually provide any leadership (this is, after all, how the GOP got Dole in 1996).

Most agree a third-party candidate is not the way to go, b/c then you face the possibility that the winner only has a minority of the country behind him or her, but I would suggest that given our last election fiasco, there's no guarantee the winner actually gets more than the loser anyway. However, even if you legitimately win 51% to 49%, is that exactly a mandate from The People?

Shouldn't we have a legitimate choice between these two buffoons? Don't we deserve better? Hmmm, come to think of it, maybe we don't.

Up Next: If the British Open at Royal Troon doesn't flush the notably absent Flyer out of the shrubbery, I'm taking his name off the masthead. Here's Quin Hillyer on The (note capitalization) Open Championship, the golf world's answer to Wimbledon:
Of all the Open Championship courses, Troon — in southwest Scotland, hard by the Irish Sea — is the one that most thoroughly and directly hugs a real shoreline, the one with the fewest quirky shots, the one with the most dramatic change of personality between the front nine and the back. The tee box of its most famous hole, the tiny-greened, 123-yard par-3 known as the Postage Stamp, stands on a hillock so exposed to the fierce sea winds that at least one slender golfer has been be blown almost entirely off balance while in mid-swing (believe me, I know).
Hillyer also notes "the famous 'slump' of Tiger Woods (Lord, bless us all with "slumps" so sublime!)," echoing something I have said in the near past. It's nice to be in a slump and still be the number one player in the world.
Ah, yes, Tiger. Poor, pitiful Tiger. Tiger whose game, say the critics, has completely run away from him. Tiger who "only" finished 22nd in the Masters and 17th at a brutal U.S. Open. This Tiger is a horribly plagued critter with merely one victory this year. And two thirds. And two fourths. And two sevenths, including two weeks ago at the prestigious Western Open. That's where this beleaguered player, who is so delusional about being "really close" to finding his proper swing mechanics with a driver, merely hit eleven of 14 fairways in windy conditions on the final day. Eleven of 14 fairways in the wind at Troon, combined with Woods's unmatched creativity and putting stroke, and Tiger could eat the whole rest of the field for breakfast and not even burp.
So have at it, Flyer. I want to read your thoughts on Troon, on how the players stack up, on which particular scotch you'll be drinking as you follow the boys round the links. Don't make me get my Donald Trump on.

Global Warming: The "hockey stick" image of long-term global climate change bites the dust:
The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims that human activities are responsible for nearly all earth’s recorded warming during the past two centuries. A widely circulated image that dramatically depicts these temperature trends resembles a hockey stick with three distinct parts: a flat "shaft" extending from A.D. 200 to 1900, a “blade” shooting up from A.D. 1900 to 2002 . . . Michael Mann of the University of Virginia and Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia updated the influential reconstruction of global and hemispheric air temperatures (Geophysical Research Letters, 2003) used in the IPCC’s third assessment of climate change. However, five independent research groups have uncovered problems with this reconstruction, calling into question all three components of the "hockey stick."
There's lot's more. This news would be detrimental to the fundraising efforts of various environmentalist groups. Luckily, the media can be counted on to keep this whole thing quiet.

Link via Hit & Run.

Big, Big Congratulations: A friend, curator at the Portland Museum of Art, has pulled a rave review for her latest show from dean of critics Hilton Kramer in the New York Observer.
I have lately been reminded of all this reactionary rejection of modernism by a splendid exhibition called Monet to Matisse, Homer to Hartley: American Masters and Their European Muses, at the Portland (Maine) Museum of Art, which brilliantly traces the influence of European modernism on American art in purely artistic terms. Indeed, I doubt if this sometimes touchy and divisive subject has ever before been as scrupulously explored as it is now in this exhibition. From both the European and American perspectives, this show and its catalog are exemplary in every respect . . . The curator of this remarkable exhibition, Carrie Haslett Bodzioney, has brought an unfailing eye, too, to the many other pairings that are the distinctive feature of American Masters and Their European Muses
Whole thing here. Er, Carrie, you do know that Mr. Kramer's a neoconservative, don't you?

More Kerry: Like I said, I'm not unfamiliar with the concept of party loyalty. I was a Republican once, many years ago. (The party ran Bob Dole; I voted for Perot; end of story. G'night.) So, Democrats, Kerry is your Bob Dole. You shouldn't have to put up with microwaved Senatorial leftovers. If you had any balls, you'd have nominated the Scream Queen of Vermont, mental breakdown or not. If you had any sense, you'd have nominated Joe Lieberman and pulled my vote for the first time since 1988. If you had any decency, you'd have nominated Dick Gephardt, who has been begging you for it, like the JV pine-rider hoping the coach will put him in at a clutch moment, since I was in short pants and he was a pro-lifer. And if you had any audacity, you would have run Clinton again, if only as a favor to her husband, who is pestering the public again with his silly book and sillier interviews.

Nope. Instead we get the ticket I predicted in February. I really, really don't want to vote for Bush this year. Help me out for god's sake.

More: Conversely, Jesse Walker writes,

Making me root for a sanctimonious statist blowhard like Kerry isn't the worst thing Bush has done to the country. But it's the offense that I take most personally.

Throw It Away: My last issue of TNR showed up yesterday, and it appears to be all about how bold and thoughtful Kerry is for picking Edwards. Recall that this is the magazine that wouldn't give Kerry the time of day in January. Worse, the lead-off column, Pete Beinart's Republic Bulletin, is a suck-up piece of the first water. This is part of my problem with TNR: Beinart was always my idea of a reasonable Democrat -- partisan but not spiteful, intelligent but not arrogant -- a Razorian Democrat, if I may coin a term. Now comes Beinart in this issue to tell us that
[i]n choosing John Edwards as his running mate, John Kerry displayed a trait rare among politicians: true self-confidence.
He would have shown self-confidence by picking McCain, too, implicitly declaring his party bereft of VP material. Who cares? One gets the feeling that Kerry has never lacked for self-confidence, founded or not. What he hasn't shown is principle. He wouldn't have shown it picking McCain, and he didn't show it by picking Edwards.
Republicans will likely argue that Edwards's outsized influence reflects Kerry's weakness. But it is actually a sign of both political and governmental strength. In Iowa, remember, Kerry won in part by borrowing from Dean--sprinkling his stump speech with phrases like "bring it on," which echoed Dean's blunt, angry style.
Ditto. What the hell does Kerry stand for? This guy's a pastiche of whatever's selling today, and Beinart would have called him on it months ago. Look, I understand getting behind your candidate, being loyal to the party, etc. But have we come to the point of praising an empty-vessel candidate for his excellent borrowing? Jon Chait made a long and rather boring argument in defense of Rubinomics a few weeks ago in a TNR debate with Bob Samuelson. I didn't entirely agree with him, but he had some good points -- one of which was that an agressive program of deficit reduction and free trade was a success. It may, in fact, come to be seen as Clinton's real, if rather incidental, contribution to domestic policy. (Rubinomics: Step one, get yourself a roaring economic boom . . .) Anyway, Kerry, like most of the other Dems for Pres this year, was more than happy to jettison the free trade portion of the equation as soon as the Senator from Breck appeared to be succeeding with the protection racket. (Give Edwards this: he was able to kill 'em softly -- sob stories and soft-pedaled heartland pro-Americanism. Kerry barged in, with typical subtlety, howling about "outsourcing" and "Benedict Arnold CEOs.")

So now the empty-vessel candidate, in a move that smacks of naked political machination, takes as his running mate the soft-focus protectionist because it sells, and Beinart can only spin it as the wisdom of Solomon.

Having forfeited some control over his choice of running mate, Kerry is now about to forfeit some control over his campaign's message. Most veeps quietly shelve whatever independent vision or positions they had prior to joining the ticket so as to perfectly match the nominee. In this case, however, it is Kerry who is shifting his message in response to Edwards. In his speech announcing the selection, Kerry said, "As so many of you know, throughout the campaign, John talked about the great divide in this country--the 'two Americas'--that exists between those who are doing well and those who are struggling to make it from day to day. That concern is at the center of this campaign."
This is praise, by the way. Beinart thinks this all proves that Kerry is working to get the party on board, admitting that he has flaws as a candidate, etc. Facile analysis, at best. If you're Ronald Reagan, and you've just hijacked the party of Rockefeller Republicanism and thrown the rudder hard right, you may want to toss a bone to the base in the person of George H.W. Bush -- a non-ideologue compromiser, top level bureaucrat, diplomat, etc. -- even if you don't like him. But this year? Man, the Democrat faithful will follow John Kerry over a cliff based solely on who his opponent is. (And over a cliff may just be where Kerry is taking them if he wants to ride "Two America" protectionism and European diplo-petting into the White House.) With the base energized, this would be a year to go long, go for the open man in the end zone. Kerry, instead, is running on dicredited economic ideas that no serious thinker in the party believes (and which he borrowed from his VP, who has the sole qualification of having been in the Senate for about 45 minutes) and a platitudinous but non-specific foreign policy that would have somehow finessed the Iraq war such to make America safe, keep Europe happy, reduce the threat of terror, kill crabgrass, and find that slipper that's been at large under the chaise longue for several weeks.

If Kerry loses, it's bad for the party. But if he wins, it's bad for the country. You needn't be a GOP stalwart to believe this either. Clintonism wasn't just the Dems best run since LBJ drove the New Frontier into the Great Society/Vietnam ditch; it was their only one. Joe Lieberman's muscular Clintonism, the real hope of the party, seemed anachronistic in the primaries, as every other candidate either exploded on stage or practiced regular contortionism to keep sounding like he opposed George Bush's every turn of madness while also keeping the headlines at his back. Given that old Joe was the VP candidate last time around, you'd think he could muster double digits. I suppose that's what you can expect when you won't trade your principles for a good catchphrase.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

The Perfect Noir? TNR pitches Jacques Tourneur's Out of the Past as exemplary of its genre. Interstingly, this was on Terry Teachout's CCI list -- see my post here for links. (Teachout offered Double Indemnity as a comparison point, though Indemnity is really the Citizen Kane of noir: so frequently called the best that the appellation lacks any meaning.) Here's Chris Orr on Past:
If this latter portion of the film follows the noir formula to the letter--the night, the city, the convoluted plot full of double and triple crosses--it only underscores the ways in which Out of the Past has already left the formula behind. Rather than allow the urban nightscape to suggest the ubiquitous decay and inescapable corruption of the modern world, Tourneur has by now shown us other places, alternative realities. The most obvious is Bridgeport, where the film opens and closes, a bucolic paradise of sunshine, mountain vistas, and tender, uncomplicated love. (Imagine Jim Thompson in Walden Pond.) But there is also Acapulco, where the early encounters between Mitchum and Greer capture nighttime at its most seductive: the tropical rain shower that catches the new lovers outside; the bungalow set among jungle foliage and lit by "one little light"; the glowing beach, where the two ensnare one another against a backdrop of fishing nets. Both visions--the mountains at daytime, the ocean at night--may turn out to be nothing more than dreams for Mitchum, but their very existence as dreams lends Out of the Past a wistful air, a sense of loss absent from most hard-boiled noir.
I'll second that. As a big fan of these films, I've always loved, for example, Bogart's Big Sleep performance; but Bogie's Marlowe is, by comparison, a pretty cleaned-up tough guy. He's got the patter and the tough, but not the mournfulness. To some extent, that's a reflection of Chandler's stories, but even in The Maltese Falcon, it's hard to believe that he's really in love with Brigid O'Shaunessy, even as he sends her up the river and says, "I'll be waiting." On the other hand, a palpable sense of doom hangs in the air in Out of the Past, showing us more than a cynically jocular anti-hero like Phillip Marlowe, showing us the fateful choices, the ruined lives, and the haunting memories.

Orr makes a tacit point by neglecting to mention Taylor Hackford's Against All Odds, which remade part of Out of the Past with Jeff Bridges as the Mitchum character and Rachel Ward as the Greer character (with Greer playing Ward's mother). Odds is a fashionable piece to despise, though it's not as bad as some would have it; and, as a remake of a classic, it is an immediate dead letter for the professional nostalgists in film criticism. But Hackford knew what he was doing, and the electric charge of foreboding translates well into the later movie. Of course, there's no touching Mitchum for laconic style, and Bridges wisely doesn't even try, but Ward is every bit the seductress that Greer was back when, and James Woods is reasonably menacing. Try both, but definitely see Out of the Past.

As a side note, and rather heretically, I think Chinatown beats out both Indemnity and Past as the top of the noir heap. Polanski's use of color, particularly the dry browns and tans of the parched land and the lush greens of the irrigated citrus farms, is every bit as artistically rendered and pregnant with meaning as the classic use of shadow and light in the old B&W noirs.

Sounds Like a Slow-Mo Y2K: The Times reports:
The collapse of the Earth's magnetic field, which both guards the planet and guides many of its creatures, appears to have started in earnest about 150 years ago. The field's strength has waned 10 to 15 percent, and the deterioration has accelerated of late, increasing debate over whether it portends a reversal of the lines of magnetic force that normally envelop the Earth.

During a reversal, the main field weakens, almost vanishes, then reappears with opposite polarity. Afterward, compass needles that normally point north would point south, and during the thousands of years of transition, much in the heavens and Earth would go askew.

A reversal could knock out power grids, hurt astronauts and satellites, widen atmospheric ozone holes, send polar auroras flashing to the equator and confuse birds, fish and migratory animals that rely on the steadiness of the magnetic field as a navigation aid. But experts said the repercussions would fall short of catastrophic, despite a few proclamations of doom and sketchy evidence of past links between field reversals and species extinctions.

Sounds like Bush's fault to me.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Spidey: Saw it this past weekend, and was very happy to have seen it on the big screen.

Alex Ross' drawings at the outset which served to re-cap, during opening credits, the previous movie were really excellent, and so much more interesting than most of the inkers you see in various media. His drawings were a bit less photo-realistic than what he usually produces, but he manages to convey so much in his static pictures, that you are really moved by them.

The movie was a full two hours, and while there were a few dead spots, you were taken along for the ride quite nicely. Our protagonist, Peter Parker, is faced with the dilemma of being a superhero in an everyday world - from his outfit ruining his whites in the wash (didn't Aunt May teach him anything?) to the fact that it's really hard to go to class, do your homework, work a job, pay attention to the cute redhead, and, oh by the way, save NYC every 10 mins. Something has to give, and this instance, it's readily apparent to Mr. Parker that it's the tights and mask.

In a very funny manner, Sam Raimi (the director) shows Peter's new life without the webs to be a breath of fresh air. So much so that Peter even enjoys having to wear his glasses again, because he'll walk into things without them. He can iron his pants, read his assignments, and even take the time to woo his beloved.

Oh, but then this guy with the 4 metal arms gets in the way. Villains are always the most fun to play, but they invariably suffer from our mental comparisons to the source material, and from the fact that they're really just one-note portrayals: take over the world. Alfred Molina does a very good job of showing his transformation from altruistic scientist, to deranged, if conflicted, meglomaniac. It's just that, well, the point of the movie is Spiderman, and there just isn't enough film to focus on the other side of having super-human powers.

That said, you get to see all kinds of scenarios for Peter Parker and/or Spiderman to shine, from using your powers to deliver pizzas, to being helpless and literally lifted by the hands of a grateful citizenry, even as they realize that "he's just a kid."

In the grand scheme of superhero movies and/or television shows (non-cartoon variety), Spidey and Spidey-2 are the best. The first Batman was excellent, but it has suffered from disappointing inconsistency ever since (they can't even keep the same Bruce Wayne from pic-to-pic). X-Men is also excellent, but being more of an ensemble piece, you don't get the introspection you find in something like Spiderman, as you have to spread the focus over 6-7 different characters.

There are some really great stand-alone moments too: J. Jonah Jameson as played by KK Simmons is simply everything you could want and more. You relish every scene that he has, and fortunately, the producers/director gave him more scenery to chew (in a good way). The montage showing Peter during his first day without his "spidey sense", with "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" as the score, just brings a smile to your face.

Really, this is a thinking-person's superhero movie. It nails just about all its landings: faithfulness to comic book, great, great special effects and action, real characters doing unreal things, malevolent villain, and a central theme of being true to yourself, no matter how odd that may feel. It's worth the $8.50; even my wife thought so.

I wanna be a lobster: Yeah, the boiling alive part sucks, but the sex part seems pretty cool. Plus you get to piss in the face of other guys just to show how tough you are. Check it out.

Oh and a good swipe at PETA while you're at it.

Props to A&L Daily.

How to Run a Goddamn Occupation: I hear commentary all the time about how the CPA went too far in purging Ba'athists from the Army and civil service in Iraq. Retired Colonel Jack Jacobs said it for the umpteenth time on Imus this morning. The purge, he said, put us at least a year behind schedule as far as a working army and civil service goes. Perhaps he has a point, but is it better to err on the side of caution?

I'm currently reading about MacArthur's reconquest of the Phillipines. MacArthur went to great lengths not to punish those who collaborated with the Japanese puppet government, the Laurel regime, in Manila. (Partially, it is said, because he had social friends who were compromised, and anti-collaborationist fervor would have ended their public lives.) The fact that MacArthur fought to clear the names of his friends enervated the court set up to try collaborators, essentially taking away the credibility of the only truth and reconciliation the Filipinos would get.

One of those MacArthur fought for was Manuel Roxas y Acuna, who quickly rose to power through the senate and into the presidency. His regime established the pattern of corruption and violence that would characterize the government, culminating in the Marcos regime.

Meanwhile, of course, the Huk rebellion intensified. The Hukbalahap began as a resistance movement against the Japanese occupation -- kind of the the Free French of the Islands. After the war, they saw the pardoning of upper- and middle-class Laurel collaborationists as an insult, and were forced to watch these bureaucrats reassume control of the country they had betrayed, and that the Huk had fought for. One can fault the Huk rebellion for turning to the communists for aid and ideology, but one can hardly be surprised that they did. (Imagine if the first president of liberated France had been a high Vichy official, then put yourself in Chas. De Gaulle's shoes. You might have picked your gun and started calling your old resistance buddies.)

All this is nothing definitive, simply counterexample. But I wouldn't be too quick to fault the CPA for their purge.

Why I'm Not a Liberal: NPR did a piece on Pablo Neruda this morning. Stalinist artists seem so much easier to rehabilitate than Stalinist politicians or spies. Anyhow, I realized that although I continue to flirt with the left in policy matters, I'm still temperamentally conservative. For poetry, give me T.S. Eliot, which is conservative poetry inasmuch as reading it requires the study of Western Civilization & Literature, plus four or five dead languages. Liberals would never go in for that sort of thing. Well, no, they would, as long as the dead languages were aboriginal, and were cruelly destroyed by white men. Unless it was, say, Stalin's ethnic and cultural cleansing of the Turkic tribes in Northeastern Russia. That doesn't rate so high on their outrage scale, I guess.

Just Asking: Here's a thought experiment. Imagine a "foreign element" in the population. Perhaps the first thing you notice is the music. These days it seems impossible to go from one radio station to another without hearing some of "their" music. It's so loud, so crude. They refuse to learn your language, and seem to demand translation (or at least endless linguistic patience) in all things. They eat food that you find disgusting -- and they seem to rub it in your face, too, because it's turning up everywhere these days. They're different; you can just tell by the way they walk and talk, and the way they dress -- god, the way they dress. They're loud and lewd, and they have no taste at all.

They are, let's be honest, not like you, maybe even inferior, and you hate them and wish them back to their own damn country, or at least out of your town. Recently, some people (your people, that is) burned down one of their restaurants, kind of to say, "You're kind isn't welcome here." Now you know about the kinds of things that went on in Alabama and Mississippi in the civil rights struggle, and civil rights are important to you. You're not inclined toward violence, really, but you feel some sense of cultural satisfaction, a modicum of justification, since these people were polluting your town.

So it's pretty clear what's going on, right? It's obvious that you're a white person, maybe in Denver or one of the larger towns outside of LA -- maybe Orange County or something. Might as well admit it: You're a bigot, and you're complaining about the hispanics.

But what if you're French, complaining about Americans?

Friday, July 09, 2004

Cultural Concurrence? Terry Teachout has an psychological tool (and I don't mean Freud) over at his blog. It's sort of like one of those internet quizzes (which major 15th century Magyar poet are you?) but actually, you know, interesting. It's 100 binary choices in the various realms of the arts (and some spice questions thrown in on sushi, computers, and city transportation) that he says will, er . . . I'll let him explain it:
Now it happens that I studied statistics and experimental design during my two-year stint as a psych major, back when I still thought I wanted to become a shrink. As a result, it occurred to me that if you collected enough data points about the taste of an individual, you could easily put together a test that would provide a fairly accurate measure of the extent to which the test-taker resembled the test-maker. It was this insight that inspired me to create the Teachout Cultural Concurrence Index, a battery of 100 questions that measures how closely your taste agrees with mine.
I am in 62% concurrence (although I had to throw out a couple of questions -- the only dance question I could really express a preference on was Astaire/Kelly).

Give it a try, and mull this: What sorts of choices would show up on a Cultural Concurrence list for you? Maybe Top Gun versus Days of Thunder?

When Tom met Nicole: Tom Cruise met Nicole Kidman when they were filming "Days of Thunder" together (also starring Robert Duvall and Randy Quaid). Now, that movie, as anyone can tell you, is Top Gun on wheels. First you have same star and director/producers. Then you have same cheesy whiny guitar soundtrack. Next, your brash, young driver/pilot initially wows the competition with his raw prowess. The hot instructor/doctor can't keep her hands off of him. However, he soon is brought back to reality after a nasty accident. After that, he's not the same driver/piolt. But, he finds redemption in the big race/encounter, where he overcomes his fear, pays a small penance to the memory of his partner/friend, and comes out the hero, this time, humbled and respectful of his place in the scheme of things.

Okay, there you have it. But you know what? I like both of those movies. I just watched "Days" a few nights ago, and offer some thoughts, as I know you all want to hear them.

First, it's just fun seeing stock cars circa 1989. Looking under the hood you still see these large, round, silver air filters - just like you saw on all the big block American engines until about 10 years ago. But these are the high performance racing Chevy Luminas, et al. Funny.

Second, in the final race, Cole's return to Daytona after his bad accident, he's in last place mid-way through the race. Now, this is a 200-lap race, so by lap 100 or so, in most oval races, that means you're probably two laps off the lead at this point. But...a bad accident occurs, and there's smoke and oil everywhere, and Cole has to go through it or admit that he can no longer race. He's talked through it by Duvall: "Pick a line and go through it. You can do it Cole!" But can he? Yes...yes he can. And he does! Cole lets out a whoop of triumph and he literally puts the pedal to the metal and off he goes. A mere few laps later, he's in ninth - which looks like no more than a 100 yards off the leader. Point is, he was in last after 100 or more laps, but he was never off the lead lap! No way. And they call "The Day After Tomorrow" unrealistic!

Third, Nicole Kidman, as much as I like to look at her, is no doctor. I mean, Kelly Preston as a Top Gun flight instructor? Sure. But Kidman doesn't have the gravitas that Kelly possessed. Her examination of Cole to see how he's recovering, and she's doing the "close your eyes, walk, open, walk" routine, just too amateur.

Next, Cary Elwes as the young punk driver. I'm sorry, he's a good actor, but he's about as much a NASCAR driver as I am. See, Cruise's Cole was an open-wheel driver who lost his sponsor, so he debases himself in the stock cars. That's why it's okay for him to be down South with the good old boys. But Elwes, well, he's more fitting for Victorian period pieces.

Last, nothing beats Duvall. You can say that for any movie he's in. When he's talking to the chassis, explaining to it how he's going to engineer it. "I'm gonna put a fuel line in you that can hold a gallon of fuel." Priceless man, priceless. I wished I was that Lumina, I tell you.

Tennis Rewind: I was away for the Wimbledon finals, the results of which delighted me, so I didn't say much. But while catching up on the commentary I missed, I came across this article in Slate by TCS editor Nick Schulz (who has elsewhere argued in favor of performance enhancing drugs -- so he's not a straight-up, Enobarbus-style tennis reactionary), in which he argues that technology is hurting tennis.
Tennis players are better conditioned and far stronger than they were 20 or 30 years ago. But the athletes have changed far less than the racket technology. Compared to today's composite frames and Kevlar strings, rackets made of wood or the metal T2000 (popularized by Jimmy Connors) look like they should hang in a natural history museum. Modern rackets are significantly bigger and stronger than old models, yet weigh half as much. No wonder a former technical director of the International Tennis Federation has said that "we are approaching the limit on reaction time for the return of serve."
As I've argued before, we stand at a frontier in the sport. Crossing the border, allowing technology to continue apace, will make the game (at least the men's game, for now) more like archery -- players effectively watching each other launch missiles, with scores being determined by double faults and mis-serves, not the actual playing of tennis.

To his credit, Schulz actually does the research and suggests four possible solutions: bigger balls, higher net, longer court, and less racquet power. Only the last, he says, will forestall another arms race. He's not as obsessive as I am -- I've argued for wooden racquets -- but he does see the need clearly.

Still, fixing the rackets seems like the only sensible solution. While the sport's governing bodies obsessively regulate court, net, and ball specifications, they've only just started paying attention to racket technology. In the early 1980s, the ITF started imposing size restrictions on racket heads, but 20 years later they've yet to limit what rackets can be made from.
He also analogizes to the USGA, which would kick a player off the course for some of the hardware a weekend golfer uses without a second thought. Why not make tennis that way? An oversized racquet might be perfect for a kid just learning the game -- more power to make those shots that require adult height and strength otherwise. Professionals should play at a higher level.

Schulz argues that taming technology would improve tennis and even boost its popularity. A secondary benefit, implied above, is that the increased reliance on strategy and athletic artistry will, in general, keep the professional game an adult game. Cranking up the speed had already made it a bangers game in 1991, when a 39-year-old Jimmy Connors was a dinosaur (albeit one who still roared) at the U.S. Open. Today, at 34, Agassi is the old man on the courts -- and he has arguably stayed a year or two too long. Ivanisevic, at 32, was the grand old man of Wimbledon this year. Rod Laver, by contrast, won the Grand Slam at 31. Ken Rosewall won the U.S. Open at 36 and the Aussie at 37. Don Budge left the game at 27 to fight in World War 2, believing he had plenty of years left in him. (A war injury actually ended his career.) Pancho Gonzales was 40 before the Open Era had even begun, but he joined the professional tour anyway and won his share of trophies. Today, every 26-year-old is watching his back for the teenager who can serve like a neutron bomb. I'll grant you the Darwinian argument that the old man can't compete anymore. But what if the kid's a 6'8" monster who serves over 150 mph but doesn't know the ad court from the deuce court? That day is coming, and at that point, it's not tennis anymore.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

More Money: I've been reading and hearing about this new San Francisco proposal on homelessness. Mayor Gavin Newsom has gotten good press for his "innovative" approach, and the NPR story last night was predictably glowing. Briefly, from the LA Times article linked above:
The new plan, which Bush administration officials have praised as a potential national model, would try to move the most desperate street people out of shelters and into permanent housing where they could receive treatment for addiction, mental illnesses and other chronic health problems.
Essentially, instead of giving money to homeless people (which is a rotten idea in itself) and hoping that they pay for housing with it, San Francisco aims to cut out the middle man, hold onto the money, and instead provide the housing itself. (Never mind that the city already provides the shelters.) In other words, the solution is to make these people wards of the state.

This is innovative and ambitious public policy at its worst. (No surprise, then, that the Bush administration digs it.) It is intended to solve a problem that either doesn't exist (homelessness due to lack of quality/affordable housing) or won't be solved by creating extra housing (homelessness based on mental illness, drugs/alcohol). Much of the praise heaped on the program on NPR focused on how, by bypassing the homeless and funding housing instead, the beneficiary can't use the money to buy drugs. Of course, if that were the case, we could just cut all of their benefits -- then they'd all clean up and get jobs at Prudential and Wells Fargo. Or cadge change, buy shitty drugs, use dirty needles, and so on. Whichever. The only homeless people NPR talked to were reasonably articulate folks who praised the system. Bully for them, but they didn't sound like the homeless I knew from New York, the ones who walked in circles and pissed on the curb.

It is axiomatic that when an employer offers better benefits, more people will compete for those jobs. Well, San Francisco decided a long time ago that it was hiring the homeless, and that no application would be turned down. They still haven't made the connection, and still attempt to solve the problem by upping the benefits.

The Art of the Tip: Some feel that waiters and waitresses should be like referees in an NFL game: you don't know they're around unless the mess up. Others feel that a good waitron will enhance the dining experience by helping in making selections, or by giving that degree of attention that can make you feel like a big shot. Regardless of what you think they should be doing, you will no doubt voice your approval, or lack thereof, through your tip. And there's the rub.

The servers just want the biggest tip possible. I'm sure most are happy if you enjoy your dining experience, but unless they share in the profits of the establishment, all they want is the gratuity, and if that involved spitting in your soup, then guess what you're getting with your gazpacho each time? And that's the question: how can you maximize your tip?

Fortunately for waitron everywhere, there is a bona-fide proven way to automatically increase your tips by at least 10% overnight!! How much would you pay for such valuable information? $29.99? $18.99? Something-else-ending-in-$.99? Well, here at FauxPolitik, we give it out for free (Adobe required). Enjoy.

Just don't touch me while I'm eating.

Eye of the Beholder? From AP:
President Bush should consider dumping Vice President Dick Cheney from the Republican ticket this year, an influential former GOP senator said Wednesday.
Care to take a guess at who Mr. Emphasis Added might be? Write your guess on a piece of paper, and don't show it to anyone yet.
Alfonse D'Amato said Bush should consider putting Secretary of State Colin Powell or Sen. John McCain of Arizona on the GOP ticket.

There was no immediate comment from the Bush-Cheney campaign.

Yes, it's Senator Pothole, Al D'Amato! You remember how influential Al D'Amato is, right? Remember how Bush made that now-famous trip to kiss his ring back in 1999, before running for president?

Oh, who are we kidding. Al D'Amato was a pork-barrel Republican in a Democratic state who may have rolled a few logs in Congress, but was not exactly electoral dynamite. He wasn't asked to be on any presidential tickets, for example, thanks to what you might call a shaky ethics record. Newsday used to call him the "master of plausible deniability."

Anyhow, it just goes to show you that anytime a politician, no matter how thoroughly beaten or disgraced, wants to criticize his own party, the press will dredge him up as a "repected and influential" former whatnot.

Meanwhile: The President actually got off the line of the day:
A reporter noted that Edwards was being described as "charming, engaging, a nimble campaigner, a populist and even sexy" and asked, "How does he stack up against Dick Cheney?" Bush didn't hesitate: "Dick Cheney can be president. Next?"
You have to admit, that's about the best takedown since Lloyd Bentsen croaked out "You're no Jack Kennedy" to a previous flyweight VP. More telling, though, was Kerry's shotgun response:
Bush "was right that Dick Cheney was ready to take over on day one, and he did and has been ever since, folks, and that's what we have got to change," Kerry said.

Earlier, Kerry's campaign said Bush was "hitting the panic button." "The fact that the president of the United States is personally taking swipes at the Kerry-Edwards ticket a mere day after it was announced speaks volumes," the campaign said in a statement. "It's just disappointing that the president of the United States would stoop to this kind of political bickering."

If this characterizes the fight we'll see, Bush has nothing to worry about. When your opponent cracks off a hard right hand to your jaw, and you dance around for a few minutes pretending he swung and missed, you've lost the point. Americans may seem dumb, but they know how to score a political bout.

Writers Wanted: At his rally to introduce the running mate that everyone likes more than the top of the ticket, Kerry described his campaign this way:
"I want you to know we think this is a dream ticket. We've got better vision. We've got better ideas. We've got real plans. We've got a better sense of what's happening to America," Kerry said.

"And," Kerry added with a grin, "We've got better hair."

Kerry used the "better hair" line three times Tuesday . . .

Ah, that's our Johnny-boy. Imagine Al Gore, but take away the charm and the witty banter.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

It's only satire if it's not (entirely) true: "The Onion" has really gone too far this time. Really. I mean, this is just SO unfair.

And What I Learned: This weekend I watched Razor engage, with typical Razorian wit and sarcasm, in a long conversation with Canadians regarding proper usage of the term "eh." And he made no enemies in the process.

I can think of two possible explanations:

1. Razor is more charming than I have previously realized and should go into international relations.

2. Canadians have something like a cultural battered-wife syndrome with Americans that keeps them earnestly explaining things to drunken Yanks and ignoring the condescension that they get in return, including cracks about their military, jokes about the worthless specie ("How much is that in real money?" went the refrain), and giggles about their shameful musical exports ("We send you the crap," said one Canadian fellow).

To all our Canadian readers (and we must have, golly, three or so?), it was a delightful visit. It had been years since my last visit to Frostback territory, and I am even more convinced of its charms.

Now, about this idea of paying $11.00 for cigarettes . . .

Late Happenings: Recovery from a weekend of debauchery and besottedness forced me to withhold comment on Kerry's choice for VP. All the speculation pushed aside, there is a bit of clarity to hindsight, a realization that picking Edwards was Kerry's only option. The Hillary thing was unlikely from the start, and Kerry/Gephardt could be bottled and sold as an insomnia tonic.

Here at FauxPolitik, of course, it was not hindsight but foresight that put us in the vanguard of this issue. I'll quote from a February post:

I think Edwards has given up. He'll tail along, perhaps hoping for that Kerry misstep, but he knows he's a natural for the VP slot: young, southern, unseasoned but promising. Once the junior candidates have left the stage, with Dean in a sputtering rage on a stage in Guam, hoping they have some delegates, Kerry and Edwards will run a hand-holding, soft-soap final lap into Boston and declare themselves the high-minded ticket.
Well, that's just what they did, with Edwards hanging on in the primaries to build name recognition, but never attacking or dismissing Kerry.

But what's the upshot here? Obviously, Kerry's attempts to straddle on protectionism come back to haunt him, since Edwards was the protectionist par excellence of the primaries. Don't hold your breath for a free-trade plank in the platform.

Edwards, like Kerry, voted against the famous $87 billion for the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns. The fact that Kerry spent so much time spinning this vote ("I voted for it before I voted against it") seems to indicate that it is a non-winner in the focus groups. Bush should have little problem painting this duo as making the perfect the enemy of the good while out troops were in harm's way.

Finally, Kerry is lucky to have a young, energetic running mate. But he'll be inclined to keep him on a string. The more Americans saw of Edwards, the more they seemed, inexplicably, to warm to his transparent car-salesman charm and poor-huckleberry bootstraps story. Meanwhile, Kerry seems to be more popular in the abstract, getting a bounce whenever he disappears from sight. What better way to instill a sense of buyer's remorse in this ticket than to spend the next three months on a continent-wide tour of in-the-flesh proof that primary-voting Democrats put the wrong guy at the top of the ticket? Of course, I don't buy the entire "Edwards's charisma will overshadow Kerry" argument. True, Kerry could have picked his arthritic old housecat as a running mate and suffered by comparison. But if you're going to be second banana in your own campaign, pick someone with low negatives -- i.e., not Hillary. Edwards was the right pick. Let him do his thing.

More: Jon Chait puts this last point vividly (here, scroll down to his first post):

In fact, here's my ideal plan for the Kerry campaign. At an upcoming rally, an anti-Kerry protestor starts to burn an American flag. Kerry leaps down from the podium and starts strangling the protestor with his bare hands, then hurls him to the ground and rescues the flag. In the course of putting out the fire, he suffers minor burns that, the campaign announces, will force him to be hospitalized and inaccessible to the media and the public until mid-October. In the meantime, Edwards is dispatched to present the Democratic message for the next three and half months.

Sounds good, huh? All they need is to gin up a protestor who's willing to endure some minor, non-lethal choking.

Public Service: Don't care to trundle through 1000 pages of Clintonian sel-aggrandizement and apologia in Bill's My Life? You're in luck. The Weekly Standard has published a Cliff's Notes version. It's detailed enough so that we see him waxing odd, and perhaps honest in spite of himself:
CHAPTER 18: After Yale, Clinton takes a job at the University of Arkansas Law School in Fayetteville. He finds the work congenial and makes several lasting friends among his faculty colleagues. A man named Bob Leflar, for instance: One time they were playing a game of touch football, and Clinton was quarterback, and Leflar was being guarded by a 9-year-old boy. So Clinton called a play that Leflar executed perfectly: He "knocked the boy to the ground and ran left. He was wide open." Touchdown! The moral of the story being that Bob Leflar was a Democrat, and "if we had more like him, we'd win more often." Meanwhile, Clinton is engaged in intensive long-distance negotiations with Hillary about their future together. Both of them are uncertain what to do. Once, when Hillary visits Clinton in Fayetteville, it occurs to him that "her lovely but large head seemed to be too big for her body."
But we also run over more of the same old ground:
CHAPTER 16: Clinton returns to Arkansas and prepares for induction into the army, which involves a complicated series of perfectly innocent transactions, and if anybody says different he's a liar. During this period, "I spent most evenings and a lot of days with Betsey Reader, who had been a year ahead of me in school" and was "wise, wistful, and kind." Through another complicated series of innocent transactions, Clinton escapes the draft altogether. Back in Oxford, he again takes up with Martha Saxton. Then he visits Amsterdam "with my artist friend Aimée Gautier." In Amsterdam, "the famous red-light district featured perfectly legal prostitutes sitting on display in their windows," though he doesn't have sexual relations with those women, either.
If Clinton failed to learn a lesson in 8 years, it was the lesson that his oleaginous charm is most effective in short doses. His life, as rewritten by the world VRWC headquarters, almost makes you want to hear more -- but not 1000 pages more, certainly.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Super Geek: Okay, Spidey-2 is out and it's getting just wonderful reviews. The first one was just about everything you could have realistically asked for in a Hollywood movie. Director = perfect (thank God they got Raimi and not Cameron who was going to put DiCaprio in the title role); Peter Parker = perfect (love him or hate him, Maguire says more with an eyebrow than most with twenty lines); Spidey: perfect; villain: well-portrayed, if not a perfect concept (Dafoe is good, but he can't help but chew the scenery); MJ = perfect (that upside down kiss of hers in the rain!); back story and supporting character = nearly-perfect. All this perfection despite the fact the producers were working against thirty years of anticipation. People like me who read every one of the Spidey titles that Marvel put out over the years, with the stories and artwork getting better as the years went past. That movie had a much better chance of being dashed upon the rocks of our collective memories.

Spidey was our first wise-cracking superhero. He wasn't some second-tier guy like Hawkeye, who flung arrows side-by-side with his own verbal barbs. He was "The Man", yet he was a boy, forever, a boy. He was smart, yet horribly un-cool. He was the perfect (mutated) human specimen, yet he was relegated to photography and helping his elderly aunt and uncle out around the house. He was good looking and funny, yet only the piggish lout got the girl next door. So, just about everyone who read the books could relate to all or part of his plight.

Yet put him in costume and he ... soared. He couldn't be stopped, and whether it was punches *pow!* or his ascerbic wit, the enemy was helpless in his web. He was my favorite.

I'm going to see it when I get back from my northern adventure this weekend. Even more to look forward to, Alex Ross re-tells Movie 1 in the opening credits through a series of his gorgeous drawings. That alone is worth the price of admission. I can't wait.