Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Heeeere's Johnny? Two views duke it out in the 'sphere following Johnny Carson's death. Were his success and staying power a function of his genius, or was he simply too bland, too generic to be superseded.

I dig Terry Teachout, but I disagree with him. Carson was a master of comic timing -- the old-school comic timing. Jay Leno has comic timing that seems like a copy of a copy of a copy . . . you get the picture. It's canned. I suppose you could accuse Carson of being canned, but he put it in the can, of course; it was his product. (That's not meant to excuse him. He phoned it in a lot of the time, and over a three decade ride, I suppose that's bound to happen.) Carson's humor defined what was American television humor; it was quintessentially American, with its puns and gags, but with a viper's tongue for self-obsessed celebrities and preening politicians. Thus, if Johnny Carson leaves a vaporous legacy, why do Dave and Jay still do his show every night? True, Letterman added a (welcome) surreal bite to Carson's canny staging, but he didn't ever drop the canny staging, the knowing smirk, the mock-appeal to the audience following a joke that hits only the groan spot. And Leno has taken the Carson schtick and given it a good bleaching, so that what remains of the Tonight Show is no longer the meant and potatoes of Johnny's thiry years (and, yes, some find meat and potatoes boring) but a sort of predigested slurry, now with 50% more "laffs"!

Here's Johnny's legacy: He built a nascent format into an institution; neither of his predecessors, Jack Parr or Steve Allen, could have done so. For thirty years, Carson was the water cooler man; before Seinfeld and his catchphrases became Xeroxed break-room fodder (lifeless drones repeating "yadda yadda yadda" and "master of my domain" over and over, usually out of context), you came to work with a load of zingers to tell the guy who hadn't watched Johnny the night before.

The format is moribund. But that's not Johnny's fault, or not entirely. True, he didn't take chances; he wasn't edgy. But that wasn't his slot. He was for mass consumption. Is that the problem? Critics are quick to say that broad appeal means bland appeal -- but sometimes it doesn't.

Anyhoo, it's the curse of Carson's long, quiet retirement. The reexamination of his went on while he played tennis in Beverly Hills, and the new judgement is ready immediately, upon his death. Of the icon, the legend in his own time, the most successful entertainer, both in finances and ratings, of his active period, we can now only muster a dismissive "Carson? Meh."

Friday, January 21, 2005

Seems to Me: Let's talk about protesters. The ones who shouted obscenities at Bush's inauguration, for example. Now it seems to me that protesting is a fine enough thing in theory, but it needs to be done with a modicum of thoughtfulness -- otherwise, you send the wrong message. To put it plainly, protesting the inauguration, I think, is equivalent to protesting democracy, or that democracy worked. The people have spoken, the president has been elected, and inauguration is what the constitutional process requires -- that we give the guy the job he won. You may like Dubya; you may not; you may think he's an evil, conniving bastard, fiddling around in the basement of the east wing with test tubes, trying to find a way to turn the blood of welfare chiselers into oil. Fair enough. But shut up for half an hour on January 20th, okay? Protest the man all you want, but yesterday was about the office, the institution. Have just a little bit of respect for that, enough respect to refrain, say, from shouting during the inauguration ceremony. Is it really too much to ask? Will democracy fall apart if we shut up and have a little f*cking decorum (sorry) for about twenty one and a half minutes?

I think not. (And I'm not suggesting we make a law, anyway. "Congress shall make no law . . . except when hairy chicks and dudes who need to bathe interrupt a solemn ceremony.") Let me analogize. It's like football: When a guy on the visiting team takes a serious hit, even the home crowd is supposed to cheer when he walks off the field. Folks, even Eagles fans do this (though not reliably, and they might still assault the guy after the game). Is this really so hard, to sit on your hands for one chilly afternoon, maybe just to thank god (or Wicca, or whatever you dig) that we have peaceful transitions of government, free elections, and another chance in four years to vote the bums out? Apparently, yes; the protesters, the chronically indignent, had to give us their version of cheering when the visiting QB takes a hit, and booing when he's able to walk off the field. They have to prove, all over again, the general crybaby nature of their political outlook: It's all about me, you see, and my guy should have won, see, and would have won if Americans weren't so stupid, corrupt, and bloodthirsty. Thus I will be the essence of the spoiler. If I can't have my way, I will ruin the occasion for everyone else

Look, few people can match me for disgust. You disgusted with Bush? Guess how I felt for 8 years of President Liar Phony Crook Shady Land Deal Cheatin' on the Old Lady Giving Missile Technology to the Chinese for Campaign Cash Clinton? But I still wouldn't have disrupted his inauguration. (Partly because that would make him look dignified, and me like a buffoon. And let me tell you, if you can make Clinton look dignified, you are a buffoon.)

If for no other reason, can we do this just to show that we still have some goddamn manners when it comes to the institutions of high office? I'm not asking anyone to respect the man. Just respect the process that still makes us unique among nations.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

What Bush was really thinking:: His 2nd Inaug Speech is begging for some translation. Luckily, my mind-reading machine was on while I watched on t.v. Let's listen in, shall we?

Today it will be my great honor to take the Presidential Oath of Office for the second time. I am humbled by the trust and confidence of my fellow citizens. With that trust comes a duty to serve all Americans, and I will do my best to fulfill that duty every day as president.

And when I say "humbled by the trust and confidence", I mean this is the last bit of lip-service you commie peace-niks are going to get for the next 4 years. I kick ass!

Four years ago, I came to Washington with a commitment to solve problems, instead of passing them on to future presidents and future generations. I have applied that principle to every decision I have made as president, and I am proud of what we have achieved.

And wars in distant countries which were started for no apparent reason, which will kill 1,000 of our soldiers annually, and last into the next decade are not technically "problems". Nor was it a "decision I have made as president". Rummy made me do it (Cheney said to say that if anyone asked).

We worked with Congress to provide historic tax relief for small businesses and families. Now our economy is strong and getting stronger. America has created more than 2 million jobs in the past year. Interest rates, mortgage rates and inflation are all low. And homeownership is at an all-time high.

"Historic tax relief" because it's gonna be history once I tell you how we're going to pay for Iraq. Homo-what?? Oh, "homeownership" not "homoerotic"! Got it. Remind me to cancel those Log Cabin meetings.

We raised standards in public schools and insisted on accountability — and now children are making hopeful progress in reading and math. Parents have real options when schools fail to teach. And the achievement gap is beginning to close.

Soundin' good Georgie-boy. Wish Dick would slow down on his reading though...this ear piece thingamojob doesn't work as good as the one in the second debate. Lucky for this bulky coat, though.

We strengthened and modernized Medicare — and now low-income seniors are getting money to buy prescription drugs. Medicare now covers preventive screenings and offers a free physical for every new enrollee. And next year, the program will offer prescription drug coverage to every American senior.

These accomplishments met essential priorities, and they have made America stronger for future generations. Yet our greatest duties have been those that our country could not have envisioned on Inauguration Day four years ago.

Kids, old people...blah, blah, blah. This domestic stuff is torture...I ... mean ... "non-traditional coercion". Okay, 9/11, yes!

The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, brought grief to our nation and changed the course of history. Since that morning, America has rallied many nations to our side and fought the terrorists abroad so that we do not have to face them here at home. We have brought our enemies to justice. We have removed terror regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. And we are working with nations around the world to ensure that the world's deadliest weapons never reach terrorist hands.

Yeah, like when Chirac said "We are all Americans." Now it's like, "We are all freakin' lame-ass UN fancy boys." Bring it on Frency!! Er, I mean, no...don't bring it on. Leave it off. Or...hey there's Colin. Yup, that's what it's going to be like from now on Powell...sixth row, next to some deputy from "Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry". Heheh. And wherever those WMD Saddam had went to, we're gonna get 'em. Condi thinks maybe South Africa in the diamond mines.

We are winning the war on terror because of the courage, idealism and sacrifice of our military, intelligence and homeland security personnel. They are making America safer and the world more peaceful. And our whole nation is grateful to them and their families.

Brilliant of Karl to put that last sentence in. They can't boo me after that! "Cut 'em off at the knees" - that's Rovey's motto.

In this new war, the wisest use of American strength is to advance freedom. America is more secure because millions of men and women in Afghanistan lined up to vote in a free election — the first in that nation's 5,000-year existence and a landmark event in the history of liberty. America is more secure because free Iraqis will soon choose their own leaders. Freedom is on the march, and it is changing the world.

One lesson of history is that free societies do not export terror. Free governments respect the aspiration of their citizens and serve their hope for a better life. Free nations are peaceful nations. For the sake of our interests and our ideals, this great republic will always lead the cause of freedom.

Gotta keep selling this. Course, doesn't do any good. The liberal media is all like: "Bush, the war monger. He's so reprehensiblous." They just don't see God's hand like I do.

We are also working to expand freedom here at home. Over the next four years, we will ease the burden of the complicated tax code by making it simpler and fairer. We will protect entrepreneurs and workers from frivolous lawsuits and needless regulation. We will make health care more affordable and accessible for American families. We will continue the work of education reform, especially in our public high schools. And we will work to strengthen Social Security for our children and grandchildren.

Simple. Just how I like it. And those freakin' John Edwards wannabes. Suing those poor defenseless entrepreneurial insurance companies. Talk about being reprehensical! Alright, calm down W...getting to the end, gotta look presidential.

These are large goals. They will affect every American, and they do not belong to one politician or one party. Inaugurations are a time to leave behind the partisan debates of a political year and focus on the opportunities that lie ahead. Working together, we can achieve important results and lay the foundation for a stronger, more prosperous country.

In this time of change, some things do not change: the values we try to live by, the institutions that give our lives meaning and purpose. America is stronger because of the volunteer groups and faith-based charities that provide a safety net of mercy and compassion. In our kind and decent society, we have a special duty to protect the weak and the vulnerable. So I will continue to lead this good-hearted nation toward a culture of life.

Tell you what I'm valuin' 'bout now: 200-head dinner at $5,000 a plate! And I'm gone by coffee. Three words: "Freakin'...huge...library!"

For all Americans, these years in our history will always stand apart. There are quiet times in the life of a nation when little is expected of its leaders or its people. This is not one of those times. This is a time that requires firm resolve, clear vision and the deep faith in the values that make our nation strong.

God, it's cold. Hey, didn't Truman die or something from his inauguration? Oh, that's why the buck stopped! Gotta tell Barb about that one - maybe get a "gold star" for that one. heheh

I am optimistic about the future of our country. One of my favorite sayings comes from Tom Lea, an artist Laura and I knew in Texas. Tom wrote: “Sara and I live on the east side of the mountain. It is the sunrise side, not the sunset side. It is the side to see the day that is coming, not the side to see the day that is gone.” I see a bright day coming for America. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve this great nation, and I am eager for the work ahead.

May God continue to bless America and all who call it home.

Mom always told me not to stare at the sun. Artists.
Welcome to Philadelphia: I know I'm guilty of writing too many fluff pieces and too many arguing esoteric ideology that probably interests no one. So, I'm going to remedy that and just link to a post recalling a Sergeant's trip home from Iraq after being "in country" for a year.

What's most interesting, and what takes up a good part of the post, is his trip through the airport, security and onto the plane, and the myriad of reactions he gets from downright hostile (surprise, the TSA employees), to thankful and appreciative (coach class).

The part that got me, and which shows how much we all really have to be thankful for:

“Listen and listen carefully. What do you hear?” said the first sergeant leading a series of redeployment briefings inside an old chapel at Dix. Nothing. “Exactly. There are no mortars. No snipers. No IEDs. Just America, and we will get you home.”

As Stephen Green would say, "a must read".

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Game, set, match: Sports Illustrated did a great piece in last week's issue regarding Federer, which I felt was much-needed given how little we still know about the man off the court. Apparently he was a Safin-like rabble-rouser on the court until about two years ago, when he not-so-coincidentally started dominating matches. What may be more amazing is that he's doing it all now pretty much without a coach - although he does rely on some old hands as advisors. Playing without a coach is not so incredible; even winning some Slams without a coach is not beyond compare; but so utterly dominating the game (See U.S. Open, 2004, Hewitt) while playing a style of game that has never been seen is truly amazing. Pick any of the great mens' players - they were all reliant on two to three skill sets which they perfected to carry them through (Sampras - serve, and serve and volley; Agassi - return of serve, footwork; McEnroe - net play, intimidation; Lendl - groundstrokes, tireless pressure).

But Federer does it all. Now, that's not to say he has the hardest serve (he doesn't) or the fastest feet (nope), but that he has the complete game. He is never out of position, he can poinpoint his serves, returns, passes, and basic groundstrokes. He's adept at the net or he can hang back and tire you out with placement. And, he does it all with this graceful aplomb that is such a welcome change from the plodding cannon-armed serve specialists (Roddick, Hewitt et al), or the wimpy, touchy boys (see Spain, France, hell even Germany).

I think the only thing that stops him is injury, which he has struggled with at times. I think he masters the French Open either this year or the next. He's simply too talented to be another Sampras in that regard.
That Time Again? The Aussie Open has early round action this week. I predict some new names making big splashes. The women's game finally opened up last year beyond a Williams/Henin/Capriati chokehold, with four different grand slam winners. On the men's side, Federer took three of four (the miss being the French, which became an optional stop for non-specialists, starting with Sampras, in the 90s).

If anyone can continue to dominate men's tennis, it's the suprememly talented Federer. But I think the next generation of tennis players has seen that a wide open game is necessary, and that big serves don't win matches on their own anymore.

Social Security: Viking Pundit has been Johnny on the spot lately on what passes for policy discussion in Washington. Here he is parsing Rahm Emmanuel, whom the Dems sent forward to spin on the subject this weekend.

My take on this is pretty simple, and it might surprise you. The GOP says, let's do private accounts. I'm for it, but the tiny amounts they're proposing to "privatize" are insulting. Meanwhile the Dems say that any privatization will result in unfunded mandates (which we have anyway, but I see their point) so we should, at the most, go for a typically Washingtonian and meaningless "reform" package based on accounting sleight of hand, maybe with a split-the-difference adjustment to the cost of living increase.

As I said, this may surprise you, coming from a libertarianish conservative, but what we need to do is raise taxes. Raise the payroll tax by a point. Raise the level at which payroll taxes cut out, too. (With an automatic sunset provision, by the way -- something that should be standard in every spending bill.) But -- and it's a big but -- raise payroll taxes only in conjunction with real reform. By which I mean the increase would pay for significant privatization. Second, we've gone long enough without means testing benefits like Medicare and Social Security. Remember all the rich and famous waterheads during the election who thought it was politically astute to say, "George Bush gave me a tax cut. I don't need a tax cut!" Well, why the hell aren't they saying, "Congress gave me generous Social Security and Medicare benefits. I don't need those!"

I'm not deaf to the several good points being made on the left -- and there are several, even if they're not being made very often. So I'll put my money where my mouth is: Raise my taxes. I'm unlikely to see benefits from Social Security, and I'm a little old for microscopic privatization measures to make any difference, really. So as long as I'm eating Tender Vittles in my golden years, I might as well advocate the idea that I be the last one to do so. While my desire would be to kill the program entirely, I know that's not going to happen. As long as it exists, it should, to the greatest extent possible, exist as a choice. The only road to that is to stop lying about how we fund entitlements.

Pay for it honestly, or kill it.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Lighten Up, Sweet Cheeks: Larry's in trouble over at Harvard. Here's a snip:
The president of Harvard University prompted criticism for suggesting that innate differences between the sexes could help explain why fewer women succeed in science and math careers.

Lawrence H. Summers, speaking Friday at an economic conference, also questioned how great a role discrimination plays in keeping female scientists and engineers from advancing at elite universities.

The remarks prompted Massachusetts Institute of Technology biologist Nancy Hopkins — a Harvard graduate — to walk out on Summers' talk, The Boston Globe reported.

(Love that "-- a Harvard graduate --" parenthetical to describe Mme. Hopkins. Is that to excuse? To explain.) So, interested? Go read the rest. I'll be here.


You know, there is a certain kind of person (and they tend to appear on the left -- sorry, Razor) who, though nominally educated and open minded (soi disant, anyway), will stand for only so much of the obvious before storming out in a huff. Or pinning her ears shut and shouting, "I can't hear you. La la la la la la la la la." And this is at Harvard, too. I'll be sure to archive this link for the next time someone needs to make a snide comment about creationist educators in Kansas. Because, let me tell you, over yonder Harvard-way, there are folks who (honestly) believe (really and truly believe) that the only differences that exist between boys and girls are socially constructed. (Of course, this same type of person is apt to get weepy and all Pulitzer/Oscar nuts over movies or books in which a boy/girl raised as a girl/boy fights his/her social assignment to live as she/he pleases. Go figger.) In other words, Larry Summers is not in trouble for being a sexist pig, though that is what it seems like madame is having corset strangulation over. No, Larry's backpedaling because he said that not everything about men and women is socially constructed, which to the elite womyn of Harvard's feel-good-about-having-ovaries police is the same thing.

There is work being done right now, some of which I have seen first hand, on this very issue (i.e., Why do fewer women become scientists and engineers?). If you can't take it seriously enough to look at all the possibilities (including the possibility that, yes, men -- on average -- perform better spatially and mathematically) you don't deserve to get upset about it. Here's a small tip to some of Harvard's so-called scientists. Rejecting theories because of how they make you feel is not science. Demanding that the answer to an investigation of cause and effect necessarily be non-threatening to your worldview is not science. It's religion. And it's just as kooky as the flat-earthers, faith healers, UFOlogists, creationist schoolteachers, and every other dogmatic yutz with a "scientific" interest in protecting his or her little psychological coccoon.

Jesus Unavailable for Comment: Fun weekend in the NFL - all the top-seeds (but not necessarily all the favorites) won. Only one game was close, and that involved a team whose offense scored 3 points, being twice in a position to seal the deal, only to come up woefully short. Hmmm, was there something else at work? The Steelers' players seem to think so: "God gave us another chance."

But, I mean, it's just a game right? Apparently not:

"God had His hand in that game. Nobody misses field goals like that, having opportunity after opportunity to win a game. We had no chance. It wasn't even in our hands. When that happens, you thank Him and move on."

"I hate using that word miracle. Miracles are when you heal the blind and the crippled can walk, but this was the closest thing to a miracle that it gets."

I think you can more accurately chalk the win up to bad coaching decisions (kneel on 3rd down just to bleed two seconds off the clock??!) and a choke artist kicker who was thinking too hard about his 47-yard doink just minutes before.

Or is it Destiny? Eno?

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

One for Razor: Will Collier details his 2004 in memo form, dropping the bomb in Item 15, very casually, about how he met the boys from Rush this year. Now, of the the 40 items he addresses, which one do you think is getting the most feedback in the comments? Ah, Rush fans, you're a predictable, innocently geeky, wonderfully loyal lot, god love you. An Israeli and a Palestinian, at each others throats in full-blooded rage, could be made like brothers should a common acquaintance mention that they both dig Rush. 2000-year-old blood feud? F*ck it, baby. "Hey, Husseini, Schlomo and I were just talking about the big fat sound Geddy honks out of his Rick on Farewell to Kings."

I might just dust off (koff, koff) my old vinyl copy of Caress of Steel tonight and spark up a big one in your collective honor.

By George: Howard Fineman's latest Newsweek piece is their variation on the current "Whither the Media?" theme. (Two things come to mind immediately. First, we're through the looking glass when the media begins pondering itself so aggressively. Two, anytime the media ponders anything this aggressively, it means that the story was over last week/month/year. In many respects, this was true even in the antedeluvian pre-new media age.)

Anyhoo, Fineman takes on the state of the so-called MSM, which he dubs the AMMP (American Mainstream Media Party -- which beats MSM for accuracy in labeling, if you ask me), and the take is good if not exactly earth-shaking. I think he hits it particularly squarely with this point:

Bush doesn't hate the AMMP (indeed, he likes his share of reporters on a personal basis). He just refuses to care about what it's up to.
Between total disdain and total lack of interest, which do you think galls the media the most? I'd bet that more than half of the media's anti-Bush sentiment comes from the recognition that the guy just won't jump through their hoops.

Sidenote: This can certainly be a bit of culture shock, particularly when recalling that Dubya's predecessor used to call up the media at home, late at night, and ask them, "Could ya come on over? And could ya bring yer hoops?" To give the metaphor a real Razorian working-over, their hoops were as predictable as his jumps, and as predictable as their praise of his jumps. (When was the last time any reporter wrote anything about Clinton that didn't use some sort of "troubled, but brilliant" formulation?) Clinton wasn't that skilled, that brilliant; he simply had a brilliant (and sociopathic) synergy with the media: the needed each other in a pretty sick way. At any rate, if you think about it, all the Dan Rather kind of shit is really nothing more than the media mooning for a guy who could give good soundbite and great scandal, the two things they love, and come back to them, begging to be kicked again.

These symptoms are all in the DSM-IV, if you care to look.

Second sidenote: Fineman is also right to note that the party that will play the Republicans to the MSM's Whigs is, naturally, "the Blogger Nation."

Lovely: "Talk of the Town," in the New Yorker, is always a great cheap read at Barnes and Noble. Here's a good example of how they put a more complex twist on what everyone else would play off as a two-paragraph "News of the Weird" story. It's about how living in Brooklyn and having a nearly famous name changed one man's life.
Russell Jones is a forty-four-year-old art director who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. In the early winter of 1996, he and his wife began to receive some unusual phone calls late at night. They would pick up the receiver and a voice would shout "Yo, Dirty!" or just "Dirteee!" and then hang up. Jones was mystified; he thought that maybe his number had been written down in a bathroom stall somewhere.
I wonder if Bjorn has read this yet: Michael Crichton has a new novel out: "State of Fear", which takes on, no not some new killer virus, no not Japanese businessmen (a laughable concept today), no, not even dinosaurs, but rather, environmental extremists. His purpose this time is to show how science loses its power once it becomes tied up in the political arena; where objective findings are used more and more for one-sided purposes, and often delivered in a way to create fear in the minds of the listeners.

A brief interview with my hometown paper, the Philly Inquirer (free sign up required) reveals that HIS fear is that we ignore the fact that we don't know everything, and instead rely on half-baked theories and the panic they induce to arrive at mis-guided conclusions, and then create government policy on those conclusions. He notes that we're just not able yet to realistically calculate what our impact is on our world (although he certainly acknowledges that we are doing something to the planet), and that we need for the technology to be in place first, before we come to conclusions. Given our present limitations, wouldn't it be better to use our time and energy to address the problems we CAN solve or at least impact, like poverty, disease, etc.? He says to keep funding the search for environmental change and its causes, but to clamp down on the unregulated fear-mongering, so that we don't move suddenly in one direction that we may later regret (remember the "absolute" pending doom of overpopulation and a new ice age - anyone, anyone?).

Crichton gives a shout-out to Lomborg as an example of someone who has received ad hominem attacks simply for expressing a truly objective viewpoint about a subject that is crying out for a balanced analysis. All we hear, Crichton would say, is either the Sierra Club accusations or the Big Business denials. Both have valid points, except that they're drowned out in the rush to grab headlines. People like Lomborg can't even be read without the political undertones rushing to the fore, and smearing his carefully crafted position.

Anyway, it's refreshing to see that Crichton, someone who has "sold out" to Hollywood, has retained the objectivity and creativity for which he is rightly praised.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Taking on the Myths: The Atlantic takes a timeout from its overhaul (which has apparently consisted of hiring the entire JV squad of the New Republic) to throw a couple of political/policy curveballs. First up, Chuck Todd offers a takedown of triangulation, and how the Democrats (via Clinton's famous "political skills," which, Democrats are coming to see, benefited only him, often at their expense) triangulated their way into a pretty weak tea, policy-wise. The implied praise for Dubya: You may not like his ideas, but at least he has some.

Next, Ben Wittes makes a compelling case for cutting loose Roe vs. Wade. Says Wittes,

By removing the issue from the policy arena, the Supreme Court has prevented abortion-rights supporters from winning a debate in which public opinion favors them.

Since its inception, Roe has had a deep legitimacy problem, stemming from its weakness as a legal opinion. Consevatives who fulminate that the court made up the right to abortion, which appears explicitly nowhere in the Constitution, are being simplistic -- but they're not entirely wrong.

Later, he says that he'd feel different "if the right to abortion . . . were unambiguously protected by the Constitution."
But let's be frank: it isn't. The right to abortion remains a highly debatable proposition, both jurisprudentially and morally. The mere fact that liberals have to devote so much political energy to pretending that the right exists beyond democratic debate proves that it doesn't.
My italics.

Finally, Jon Rauch goes in search of Red America, or Blue America, or whatever that whole two Americas thing is. He only finds one. Way out on the fringes, political partisans are getting louder and more shrill. No wonder, he says, that American voters tend to think that "the Democratic Party [is] to their left and the Republican Party [is] to their right."

Sorry none of the links gets to more than an excerpt. It's worth buying the issue. Hold off on the subscription, though. The magazine shows many symptoms of a return to its former self: a left-center exercise in yawning and page turning. Cait Flanagan has departed for the New Yorker, David Brooks for the Times; P.J. O'Rourke has been relegated to short, almost purposely unfunny policy explications each month, while Mark Steyn mans the graveyard shift. Rauch hangs on, writing the best of the rest. Cover stories fall to Jim Fallows, Bill Langewiesche�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������

Why I Didn't Post Today -- Number 227 in a Series: "The morning comes with such pain," said Dan Hicks. At 6:15 I barely knew who I was, let alone where. I did know, however, that I had rolled into day three of a shitty little cold that was making me (and my family) miserable. My wife had left for work an hour before, at least, and I was stretched out across the width of the bed. A voice from the bathroom reminded me why I had woken up at this horrid hour in the first place: "Da, I'm pooping!"

Five minutes later, we're headed back into his room. I squint into the light on his bookcase and throw the hail mary: "You could climb into bed and read with your flashlight," I suggest. Miraculously he takes the pass and heads for the end zone. I have bought myself 15 minutes.

Flash forward. The boy is at school. I say to myself, foolishly, "This might be a good time to set up the router that has languished beside the desktop for weeks." Flash forward again. I have five minutes until I absolutely HAVE to be at the school door to get my son, and the tech support guy on the other end of the line is still speaking as though I have to check the manual to find the Start menu. God bless these people; after all, they spend 90% of their time with the people who just want it to work, dammit, and they must habitually drift into micro-step speak, even with their dogs: "Roll over, boy. Now click 'OK'."

Naptime, and I'm ready for one myself, but I waste five minutes on a cigarette (they always taste terrible when I'm sick) and end up still awake and alert enough to answer the phone. My boss. Another in a long string of multi-part projects with "short fuses" and "quick turnarounds," as he would put it. As it turns out, I have, according to the budget, 37 hours of work to do. By Thursday . . . morning. I yell and scream; to his credit, my boss takes it like a man, but he doesn't really back down on the deadline. Sure, I can give him half on Thursday and half on Friday. Of course, driving to work (67 miles, each way) on both days will eat away almost all of my non-childcare-related waking hours, so it ain't really a compromise. After I hang up, I stop myself from calling his boss to ask why it is that however much we fall behind in the delivery schedule comes out of my time in the end. Yep, that'd make me a prick. Officially.

Steam Wars: I like to pride myself on how infrequently I reveal my geek roots on this blog, but rather present only a strong, intelligent, manly and let's face it, wildly attractive, image. But it's true, as a teenager, I collected comic books, got heavily into D&D, and at one point, was pretty convinced I was a ninja. I eventually got over these issues, but parts of my heart have kept them just barely alive, on a sort of statis, only to be revived at certain times.

Well, this site/concept got the blood pumping a bit. The idea is an alternative reality of the late 19th and early 20th century -- if nations could have engineered these giant steam robots to conduct military operations with. Sort of like having the great ironclads on land. This site is only one of the many out there, but its creator seems to have had this concept rolling around for decades. The artwork is way cool, and he has thought out the whole history of that world ... making a very interesting tableau.

Now, whether the idea will ever see itself on the big screen or even in a graphic novel remains unknown, and given the relative lack of success seen by "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow", it may only remain an un-realized idea. But still, I certainly applaud the creativity, and my inner geek is just hopping about with joy. Oh the battles I could have led...
After all, Lenin was bald: Not content with merely controlling the speech, movement and thoughts of its citizenry, North Korea launches an aggressive plan to limit the length of its people's hair. Long hair, it is explained, is not only unruly and not so hygenic, it drains the vitamins from your body. Flat tops and shaved sides are more in line with the "Socialist lifestyle". Ridiculed were actual citizens who were growing their hair high to cover balding.

Okay, fine. But what about this guy? "Do as I say, not as I do." Repeat.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Straight from the horse's mouth: Over at DailyKos, an internal White House memo is reproduced on the Admin's policy for overhauling S.S. and how to convince the American Public it's the way to go. Here's the "meaty" part:

We will focus on Social Security immediately in this new year. Our strategy will probably include speeches early this month to establish an important premise: the current system is heading for an iceberg. The notion that younger workers will receive anything like the benefits they have been promised is fiction, unless significant reforms are undertaken. We need to establish in the public mind a key fiscal fact: right now we are on an unsustainable course. That reality needs to be seared into the public consciousness; it is the pre-condition to authentic reform.
The Democrat Party leadership, the AARP, and many others will go after Social Security reform hammer and tongs. See today's silly New York Times editorial (its only one for the day) as one example. But Democrats and liberals are in a precarious position; they are attempting to block reform to a system that almost every serious-minded person concedes needs it. They are in a position of arguing against modernizing a system created almost four generations ago. Increasingly the Democrat Party is the party of obstruction and opposition. It is the Party of the Past.

Kos is up in arms about the memo, and views it as chicanery. Even this liberal-minded pundit, however, sees it simply as the position of the administration with some added language on how to "sell" that position. If Kos believes that W is the first president to sell a policy on fear, then he is woefully misguided (see, e.g. Hillary's National Healthcare stump-speeches).

Anyway, here you have it. This is the W agenda. It's hardly earth-shaking in either its substance or its delivery. And regardless of your take on the issue, the current system is broken. The Dems will no doubt force concessions, but one hopes that the compromise solution doesn't resemble either the quagmire of campaign finance reform, or the ineffectual tax relief plan that was eventually conceded to Bush in the early part of his first term. Real change is needed - only the AARP would argue to the contrary.
Death and Taxes...Graphically: For some, conceptualizing where tax dollars go is difficult. For others, there is no illusion. For them all, there is this visual depiction. Somewhere, George W. Bush is smiling....er smirking.
It Ain't Just Me: Viking Pundit grapples with the existential questions of blogging.

It's been a good run, but it it might just be over. On the right, want to see Krugman kicked again? On the left, want to hear the illogical (and rather ungrammatical) echo chamber at work on Social Security? (Yes, in this entry Josh Marshall is actually agreeing with a reader who says that our national debt is interfering with our ability to balloon the national debt to cover the funding gap on Social Security.) Want a plague on both houses?

Help yourself.

A Review, of Sorts: I did make time to watch Robert MacNeil's "Do You Speak American?" on PBS. I was a fan of his "Story of English" series many years ago, and as an English major I specialized in the history of the language Middle English literature. But I got excited for nothing. The show (a series of three one-hour episodes, really) was very short on information, contained very little technical discussion of dialect (as opposed to accent), focused almost exclusively on vocabulary rather than syntax or grammar (aside from one decent segment on black vernacular), and showcased MacNeil's nearly non-existent interviewing skills. I can't remember him asking a single decent follow-up question in the whole thing.

Perhaps the PBS viewer has gotten dumber in the past 20 years, but there was almost no meat to chew on in the whole program, other than a nod to the quasi-controversy of making English the official language. Yawn. The funny thing is, they're even hawking a "companion book" for the series (PBS stations will sell anything for a little extra do-re-mi). How they stretched it beyond a three-fold flyer is beyond me.

Oh Yeah? I may not post a lot, but . . . well. I'm sexy as the day is long. Anyway, without getting too Lileksian on you, the boy has been out of school for two weeks (an alarmingly long Xmas vacation, if you ask me -- which you didn't) and the wife has been busy like you read about, now commuting two hours plus into Boston once or twice a week, on top of the hour-plus to go see her main client in Worcester most other days. If I've had a spare moment, it has been spent catching my breath, trying to think of something new to make for dinner, or setting up/taking down seasonally appropriate decorations. (You can't say Christmas in this town.)

But still, not much to write about, is there? Yet another comment about the tsunami disaster? Redundancy squared. A friend of mine was in Sri Lanka when it hit, so I'm well aware of how awful it all is. Enough, though.

There was this piece in the Weekly Standard recently that looked at how a federal ruling may put an end to minority set-asides in government spending.

Masked by evasive terminology and justified by tendentious studies, minority business set-asides persist. Politicians know that lawsuits against such programs are costly and time-consuming, and they are not above retaliating against firms with the temerity to sue. And if the government loses after years of litigation, the taxpayers cover the legal fees.

Now that calculus may change, because a federal judge in Miami has just given the victims of preferences an important new tool. On November 10, the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District ($792 million budget) recommended ending its two-decade-old contracting preference program, even though there was no pending litigation. Board members had become worried about being held personally liable for implementing the program.

I'm of mixed feelings on the matter. I'd like to see preferences and set-asides (read: quotas -- those things that we officially don't use in America) demolished and repudiated as unconstitutional (which they are, prima facie -- right, Razor?), but I think this method lets the country off the hook. It begins the process of bringing down the color code, clearly a step in the direction of MLK's "dream." But it skips the difficult debate on the merits of a government that ceases to care what color its citizens are, for any reason. Not to get all touchy-feely, but there is something to be said for closure. This is one of the reasons that the "reparations" movement, as repugnant as it is philosophically, has not been categorically rejected in Washington. There is a real attraction to the idea of making a single payout -- as long as it clears the books of any supposed debt owed to today's black Americans. I don't much like that logic, and I'd rather see reparations (and, in the same way, preferences) fall on the merits; but I do understand the attraction.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

100 Oldest ".com" domain names, in order: Find them here. I never would have guessed these names were being snapped up in the mid- to late-80s. It is telling though to see the companies that were aware of ICANN, and who made sure to reserve their names, thereby stopping the cyber-squatting that was to become such the rage in the mid-90s: Intel.com; Apple.com; HP.com; Xerox.com. All companies that had and have a strong tech presence and presumably enough geeks to know that the domains were coming on line for registration.

I wish I had known this before setting my time machine to 1993. I was hoping to snap up 3com.com or UNISYS.com. Oh well. At least I can get in on the whole Enron deal...

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

5 Things: A great website with a simple idea: lists of "5 Things". Here's my favorite so far: "5 Terrible Fake Names for James Bond Women":

1. Cunnalingua Fränka
2. Bosomy Flava
3. Badonka Donk
4. Felacia Von Succulent
5. Uterus Jones
And we can now put this to rest(?): We all know now how much pride and credit the blogosphere took for foisting Rather on his own font-petard regarding the alleged National Guard reports on Bush's service. Whole websites have been created whose only point is to make fun of Rather - which as Danny might say is "like shooting a barrel full of monkeys in a pond, on a hot summer night that makes tight underwear uncomfortable."

However, the charm of bloggers is that we're all more or less amateurs - we have day jobs that keep us in clothing and fed, while we just use the keyboard as a hobby. Some are better than others; some post more frequently (AHEM!); some are shoddy. Point being, if you're going to attack a professional journalist and his big time news organization, you should be careful to tread carefully in your glass house, lest you stub your toe of indignity against a clear pane (I can abuse metaphors like a horse drinking from a cart he was lead behind).

Here's one view on why the anti-Rather bloggers were just as guilty of rushing to judgment as Rather. Remember, "MSM" doesn't have to be a bad thing. I don't think anyone would want to rely solely on bloggers for their news, unless Top 10 lists, and bad poetry are what keeps our nation running.