Friday, December 31, 2004

Predictions

Here are mine:

War on Terror: The Iraq elections go much better than expected. By June both Zarqawi and bin Laden are captured or killed, and Iraq is being called an even bigger success story than Afghanistan. The Democrats move on. By August they are making their dire predictions about Iran, which is now getting squeezed by a U.S.-led naval blockade. With President Bush making good on his promise to stop the Mullahs from getting the bomb, regime change is in the air.

Politics: By the end of 2005 it will be clear that Indiana Senator Evan Bayh will run in 2008, to the delight of Democratic moderates who hope someone will deny Hillary Rodham Clinton the nomination. Jeb Bush signals that if HRC runs, he will too.

Pop culture: Both "The Passion of the Christ" and "Farenheit 9/11" fail to win Oscars. Best Picture goes to a movie nobody will remember in 10 years. Martha Stewart is bigger than ever. Tapped by NBC to star in and executive produce a second edition of "The Apprentice," she crushes Trump in the Nielsens.

Law: Michael Jackson is convicted under an avalanche of evidence and Clarence Thomas is elevated to Chief Justice.

Sports: Curse-busting mania continues as the Chicago Cubs jump out to a big lead before the All-Star break, fade in July, manage to hang on to a wild card spot, but fall to the Mets in the playoffs.

Sy-cho?

From My Lai to Abu Ghraib, Seymour "Sy" Hersh has made a career of exposing things the government would rather hide. Lately, however, he seems to be exposing his own ignorance.

In a short Reason interview (not yet available online) he's asked "What's the best-case scenario for Iraq now?" His response:

"We lose. The faster we lose the better....

We're told we're fighting an insurgency there. 'Insurgency'? No way. They're the people we went to war with: the Sunnis, the people we thought we beat. It's not an insurgent movement; it's the original war, now being fought on their terms."
Stunning. So we're fighting on their terms. Imagine I'm a Sunni before America invades. "Here are the terms upon which we'd like to fight the war. Instead of controlling all or most of the country, as we have for decades, we want to control almost none of it. Instead of fielding our old, huge army and fighting against thousands of enemy soldiers every day, causing massive casualties, we'd rather have several thousand thugs with little central control who can only make small amounts of mayhem, and have to resort to soft targets much of the time. Instead of walking proudly in the streets as we always did, we'd rather spend our time skulking and wearing masks because we can't afford to be spotted. Instead of running things completely, we'd rather have 85% of our countrymen despise us so much they're not even willing to negotiate to bring us back into the fold, while elections are planned so their opinion matters as it has never before. And, oh yeah, we want to make sure we lose more men on a regular basis than our opponents do." Some terms.

As to the sickening idea that the sooner we lose the better, this would be a huge victory for terrorists everywhere. It would be a signal that terrorism works and the U.S. is a paper tiger, time to really start attacking. And it could mean a horrendous civil war in Iraq that might end in hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions dead, likely followed by a return to brutal dictatorship. Is Hersh so upset by how we run our prisons (or petulant since his reporting isn't getting the attention he thinks it deserves) that he doesn't care about the millions of Iraqis, Americans and others who are fighting right now to bring democracy to the area?

Thursday, December 30, 2004

How much money is enough?

It's going to be an interesting question as the death toll rises in Asia, and many in the international community are already calling the US "stingy." If Americans write a check for five billion, will that be enough to convince the world we're a generous country? Fifteen billion -- the amount Bush has proposed to fight AIDS in Africa? Or will we -- and should we -- have to give more?

LAGuy responds: "Many" are calling us stingy? Some cites, please. This whole name-calling thing has tremendous traction, but it still smells like a non-story to me.

Pajama Guy responds: The UN's emergency relief coordinator, for starters, seconded by The New York Times which headlines today's lead editorial "Are We Stingy? Yes." I'm now calling my crack staff of researchers in from Christmas vacation to work their way through the foreign papers, and should have more cites shortly.

LAGuy shoots back: One screwy guy shoots off his mouth for a second in an extreme situation and soon takes it back, stating--correctly I'd say--that he wasn't specifically referring to the U.S. That's it, the entire "negative" reaction of the "international community." The NYT is just part of the gigantic amount of nattering, pro and con--mostly con on hundreds of radio shows and editorials--unleashed by this non-story.

Pajama Guy adds: Feisty. But when does a non-story become a story? The Minneopolis Star-Tribune described the US aid response niggling while insisting, "The criticism began almost immediately, and it did not come only from a U.N. official." True. Democratic Congressman Joseph Crowley called the initial $35 milllion pledged by Bush a drop in the bucket. The French daily Le Figaro dismissed the amount as completely ridiculous and made the inevitable comparison to the amount we're spending to prosecute the war on terror in Iraq.

Meanwhile, now that it's clear that America will contribute far more money through a four-country (US, India, Japan and Australia) aid coalition, at least one international ingrate is complaining that the US is using its generosity to undermine the UN. God forbid!

In the upcoming days, listen for variations on this talking point: "How can we be spending hundreds of billions on war, and not spend more for the Tsunami victims?" And when this becomes the next hot issue, remember: You heard it first on Pajama Guy.

Just an idea

My old friend, John, a rock-ribbed Republican, once had an idea. He wanted to pose as a Democrat Elector. When the College voted, he'd be a faithless Elector and choose the Republican. I said one vote would not be enough. He said the Right should put about 100,000 young conservatives in deep cover and, who knows, maybe 20 or 30 years from now, it'd bear fruit.

So I'm just throwing out the idea. Warning--you can only get away with this once. But start now, Democrats read this blog, too.

Pajama Guy responds: Maybe the Republicans have already started putting LA Guy's plan into place.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Requests

Hey, Pajama Guy, will this blog have any year-end awards? It might be fun. Why don't you create some? ChicagoGuy (who must have New Year's Day off) and I could respond.

Now onto another request. A reader has asked what's the difference between common and civil law. Like many legal questions, the basic answer is actually pretty easy, even if many lawyers would like to pretend it's a mystery. Of course, my answer will also be oversimplified and thus useless for any deep (or graded) discussion.

Common law is judge-made law. It's law that's been created over the years by jurists and their numerous precedents which continue to be respected. It's law by accretion, rather than creation directly by statute. The British system is common law, as are many of their former colonies, including the USA. At present, in every country I've aware of with a common law tradition, this law has been codified into statutes.

Civil law is used in continental Europe and pretty much everywhere else with an organized court system. It's law that's specifically written down as a code with basic rules and principles for running a society. Civil law was originally Roman law and has been modified by many legal scholars since. In the past few hundred years, the specifics of this code have been greatly changed in many different ways in many different countries (whereas a few hundred years ago much of Europe shared a similar civil law).

The main difference in how common law and civil law societies operate is in how the courts approach the law. In civil law countries, the code is seen as the basic source of law, whereas in common law countries, judge-made law--precedent--is at least as important as the statutory law. Judges in civil law countries will explain their reasoning but generally not site previous cases. A popular example to demonstrate what civil law is like is an umpire, who determines how baseball rules should be applied, but doesn't care what previous umpires have done in similar situations.

A number of places have an official mix of both common and civil law. (I think Louisiana is am example, where they've had American common law mixed with the French Napoleonic Code.)

However, the truth is, in the real world, the distinction between the two systems is harder and harder to maintain. Common Law countries have legislatures that pass reams of laws that specifically state what must be done in both general and specific situations, and often overturn long-held common-law rules. Meanwhile, though civil law courts may keep up the pretense that it's legislatures who make laws and courts who interpret them, there is simply no way to "interpret" the law without creating new rules and applications that fill in what legislatures by necessity will leave out; furthermore, many courts in civil law countries are quite mindful of past cases.

There are secondary differences between civil and common law, some would claim, such as differing emphases on society versus the individual, but I question if these differences are consistent or meaningful.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Posner dicta

What is often bracing about Richard Posner's writing is not merely the ideas, but the no-nonsense way he expresses them. Along with his own fascinating blog, this week he's guest-blogging at Leiter Reports.

His first post was on religion, morality and public policy. It's worth reading. Responding to some comments, he added a few paragraphs on the main misconceptions of law students. I can't resist quoting a portion:

"There are two, and they are closely related. The first is the idea that the law exists somewhere, in a book presumably (or, to be modern, in an electronic database), and that what you learn in law school is how to find the book, and that what law professors do, to justify making you sit in class for three years, is hide the book from you. The second misconception is that legal reasoning is something special, subtle, esoteric, which will enable you once you have learned it to answer a question in a way that would make no sense to a lay person. In other words--and this is what joins the misconceptions--law is a mystery.

"....[I]t should be possible to explain everything in law in perfectly simple, everyday, common sense terms. That should be the law student's, the lawyer's, and the judge's creed."

Smooth Sailing?

So Bill Kristol suggests (either as inside info or trial balloon) that President Bush will nominate Mike McConnell to replace Chief Justice Rehnquist.

I know McConnell and think he'd make a fine choice. While I disagree with him strongly on certain issues, I can truly say he's got the intellect and temperament to be on the Court.

I question if Bush will directly raise McConnell to Chief Justice when he'd like to promote from within. (When Reagan replaced Chief Justice Burger, he kicked Rehnquist upstairs while picking Scalia as the new Associate.) The real question now is how much will the Dems obstruct and how hard will the Repubs fight back. The Supreme Court, after all, is the gift that keeps on giving.

The Dems are spoiling for a fight and think losing the court means the apocalypse, yet know they'll lose if there's an open vote. Here's my advice to them: remain calm and pick your fights. The Republicans have 55 Senators and are ready to go nuclear, so try to hold on at least until the next election gives you a clue about the public's feelings.

Why sit back and take it? Because if Rehnquist goes, at worst you're replacing a conservative vote with a conservative vote (and someone like McConnell may move in directions no one expects). As far as the position of Chief Justice, who cares? The CJ really has no more control than any other Justice. Even if you just want to practice fighting, why bruise yourself until you have to?

Pajama Guy responds: W has done a lot to address two problems conservatives had with his dad's presidency (Saddam, taxes). If he picks McConnell he allays the fears of a lot of his supporters who worry he doesn't care enough about the Court to nominate and fight for an anti-Souter. Still, doesn't he really have to flip two seats from liberal to conservative to make the Right whole on that one?

Monday, December 27, 2004

UBL: Block the Vote

Usama bin Laden is calling on Iraqis to boycott the vote; those who do cast ballots will be considered infidels. Sounds like a bad move by UBL. If there's a big turnout, as there was in Afghanistan, won't that undercut his standing among terrorists?

Please be seated

I had an epiphany at church on Christmas Eve. It was packed. We arrived 20 minutes early, and could hardly squeeze through the doors to stand in the vestibule. At the same time, the pews were nowhere near filled -- because so many people were "saving" so many seats.

It occurred to me we need to ban seat-saving -- at rock concerts, Hollywood blockbusters or midnight Mass. If you have the time to show up an hour early to get a seat, fine. But you better bring the whole clan with you, because any open spaces will remain up for grabs.

Short of an eBay auction (a little unseemly for church, if not Farm Aid) a seat-saving ban would best allocate seats to the fannies that value them most. The person willing to expend the most time actually sitting in the seat will get it. Now 9 of ten spots go to people with one friend obnoxious enough to claim every seat he can drape a topcoat and scarf across, while other people stand in the aisles.

A seat-saving ban would also cut the amount of time anyone would have to spend waiting on line for popular events, especially if it's clear that you lose your claim to your spot even if you have to go the the bathroom. Imagine the increased worker productivity when week-long camp-outs for Star Wars tickets or Filene's Basement Bridal Gown Sales become be a thing of the past.

I look forward to the Becker-Posner blog addressing this issue after the holidays.

Moratorium

Yes, Dan Rather's performance in the forged document scandal was shameful. But to compare him to a Nazi minister of propaganda is overdoing it.

Yet that's what Thomas Sowell does in his latest column. He awards Rather the "Joseph Goebbels award" with Ted Koppel a close second. Rather might have done a rotten job on a ridiculous story, but do we really need to compare him to a Nazi?

Pundits can't wait to talk about Goebbels and the "Big Lie" technique these days. (Incidentally, it seems the actual phrase comes from Hitler in Mein Kampf, not Goebbels.) In the past year or so, they've brought up the "Big Lie" regarding Iraq--Al Qaeda ties, attacks on Iraq--Al Qaeda ties, the Swift Boat ads and countless other subjects.

Most of these supposed "lies" are actually political disagreements. But even when people get stuff completely wrong, and even in the rare case when they know they're wrong, I think it's time we stopped comparing political opponents to Nazis. Especially when there are real enemies out there who may actually deserve the comparison. Let's try to keep it down to McCarthyism or less from now on.

Pajama Guy responds: I'll support the moratorium, though not without first pointing out that the left throws around comparisons to Hitler far more than the right. Here's a pretty good compendium of Bush=Hitler citations alone.

Friday, December 24, 2004

We Wish You...

...a Merry Christmas. And a happy New Year while we're at it. You can't bring us figgy pudding, and we don't have a tip jar, but there is one thing you can do for us at this time of giving. Let your friends know about us. Send a mailer around with our URL. When it comes to blogs, the more the merrier.

We'll continue to blog when the feeling strikes us over the next week, and resolve to go roaring into 2005 with better than ever insights and rants. Who knows, we might even shake ChicagoGuy out of his stupor.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Hey, Judt

Tony Judt has a very disappointing piece in The Nation on anti-Semitism. While he makes a few decent points, overall he can't get around the issue of Israel.

He states that most analysts can agree "that there is a link between hostility to Jews and events in the Middle East." Okay. He then fails to take the next logical and moral step, but instead starts making excuses for anti-Semites. He actually think the solution is to allow more criticism of Israel, both to blow off steam and to make it clear where the real problem is (that Israel does not speak for the Jews); and the reason there's not enough open discussion of the problem is because so many unfairly equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.

This is obscene nonsense. Let's work backwards. First, no one claims that all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, so Judt has a strawman here. What is true, however, is when you look at the astounding amount of criticism Israel receives (more than all other countries put together, perhaps), the sort of criticism it receives (it's condemned for activities other countries casually do) and the absurdity of so much of the criticism (there's hardly a problem in the world--and quite a few non-existent problems--that Zionism isn't blamed for), it becomes obvious much of Israel's opposition is based in something beyond reason that might as well be called anti-Semitism.

As far as the need to openly criticize Israel, there is not the slightest shortage. Yet Judt wants more, it would seem. No, we need less, and far more measured criticism. Lack of open criticism is not a problem making some lash out--rather, too much criticism is a symptom of the sickness already out there. We need to attack the anti-Semitism of the critics, no matter how much it hurts their feelings, and not ease their way so that somehow, magically, in the future, there'll be less anti-Semitism.

But let's assume the vicious hatred of Israel has a basis in truth. So what? And let's throw in that Israel purports to speak for the Jews and even that most Jews agree. Once again, so what? The main point is this in no way excuses the thuggish and/or hateful actions against Jews in Europe and elsewhere (not even in Israel as Jews qua Jews). This should have been the beginning and end of Judt's analysis.

Here's an interesting quote from the piece:
And there is good evidence that Europeans have considerably more balanced views than Americans on the Israel-Palestine conflict in general. Thus, although Europeans are more likely to sympathize with the Palestinians than with Israel, they do so only by a ratio of 24:15, according to the ADL. Americans, by contrast, sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinians, by a ratio of 55:18 (Gallup).
Okay, class, who can see the elementary error in logic here?

Who can you count on?

Marx said history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. Well, I'm not sure if the Florida 2000 recount wasn't already farce, but what's going on in Washington right now definitely is.

After counting the votes for a third time, Democrat Christine Gregoire has pulled ahead in the race for governor for the first time. By ten votes. Furthermore, 700 uncounted votes were discovered in a highly Democrat county.

A few observations.

First, even though discovering new ballots stinks to high heaven, I doubt very much the Democrats would have the nerve to pull a Chicago-style outright theft of the election. (As Edward G. Robinson put it in Key Largo: "Get my boys to bring the voters out. And then count the votes over and over again till they added up right...")

Second, there's some dispute over which kind of recount is better, machine or hand. Neither is. Machines are more reliable in most ways, but they make huge systematic errors that humans wouldn't. (I'm not impressed by the argument they're only as good as their programmers. A car's only as good as its designer and mechanic, but I'd rather drive it across the country than walk.) Also, if you decide to have laws where counters have to divine the desires of voters who don't follow the rules, humans are incomparably better. But when it comes to mind-numbing grunt tasks, machines are far faster and more accurate than humans. And unlike a properly designed machine, humans can have both conscious and, worse for our concerns, unconscious bias.

If I had to pick one method, I'd probably pick machines, just to avoid the possibility of political corruption. But I'd also have both parties check out those machines.

Third, some have suggested a re-vote. They say it's better for the legitimacy of the Governor to have a new vote than let the courts decide. This is nuts. Leaving aside the tremendous hassle and expense, why would a new election be better than the old one? And it's not the courts who decide the winner, it's the courts who decide what's the fairest way to count the votes to let the people decide the winner.

Fourth, I hope this isn't the continuing fallout of the voter paranoia started in 2000. I have no trouble in searching out and prosecuting actual voter fraud. But numerous recounts, new laws and court decisions that bend over backwards to give voters who screwed up another chance are a waste of time. If the margin of error is greater than the margin of victory, I almost don't care who wins--use the NBA rule on ball out if you like. After a certain point, keeping elections alive and insisting on counting every vote no matter what, simply introduces more chance for corruption, not less.

In the same way the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, followed by Vietnam and Watergate, turned too many Americans into overly cynical citizens who look for conspiracies when the explanation is out there in the open, now I fear we've got sore losers or fools or whatever who don't understand that, overall, we've got a pretty efficient voting system, and one that's probably cleaner than it's ever been.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Big Picture

Santa brought the kids a video projector and dropped it off with me and Mrs. Pajama Guy a few days early for safe keeping. So after the kids went to bed last night we gave it a test run -- to ensure the Christmas surprise went off without a hitch.

I'd considered the video projector a sort of poor man's 70-inch plasma. Then I hooked up the DVD, tossed in Bull Durham, and flipped the switch. Yikes! The picture is huge! Like, 10 feet across the living room. And clear.

I've paid nine bucks to watched blurrier images on smaller screens in pseudo-multiplexes carved out of the grand old theaters of yesteryear.

Neoconned

I've been meaning to write something about Jeffrey Wells. He's a fairly nutty veteran film critic/journalist with a regular spot on the internet. He's got bizarre taste and is often pushing the next big film that no one will care about (e.g., Blue Crush, Man On Fire, The Mothman Prophecies, Closer, etc.).

I don't care that I disagree since I'm not gonna agree with any critic all the time anyway. The point is he's lively, up on the latest, and not afraid to state his opinion, so I check out his stuff. If he has a flaw, which was very obvious this year, it's he's a dogmatic blue-stater--not especially well-informed and thus easy prey for every crackpot documentary coming down the pike ("Bush And The Devil is a significant, though-provoking film corralling the evidence the President has literally sold his soul to Satan"). No matter how childish or overheated the argument is against Bush or America (and that's pretty much what documentaries are these days), he's a willing audience.

The latest doc that has him taken in is a virulent anti-neocon and anti-war piece funded by the BBC, The Power Of Nightmares, with the all-too-usual condescending and even outrageous arguments one gets from the European Left. Rather than rationally discuss the war, and the people who are behind it, it mindlessly demonizes them, avoiding any real debate. For this, Wells calls their argument deep and revealing.

So I emailed him a letter. Perhaps he'll publish part of it, but it's too long to reprint completely, so let me do that here. Mind you, I tried my best to keep it as short and simple as possible. By the way, I suggest you read his piece on the documentary before you read my reply:

Re: The Power Of Nightmares

The word "neocon" has apparently become a catch-all pejorative used against those who favor the war in Iraq. According to your piece, this BBC-funded documentary about "neocons" attacks people like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, neither of whom are real neocons--they're both old-school conservative Republicans. In fact, when this doc was made, there wasn't a single neocon in Bush's Cabinet

But the word at one time had some meaning--even if neocons never all marched in lockstep--and it sure seems this documentary is clueless.

You write that according to The Power Of Nightmares, neocons are "enemies of liberal thought and the pursuit of personal fulfillment" and, in the director's own words, "believe that the main problem with modern society is that individuals question everything." This is vile garbage.

Neocons, for all the mysterious nonsense one hears about them, are not hard to understand. They are old-style liberals who, some years ago, split with the left, though they may feel the left split from them. (How liberals have split into different strains through the years is a lengthy story I don't have time to get into.)

What do neocons believe in? Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the universal franchise, free trade, equality of the sexes, due process, open scientific inquiry, that sort of stuff.

The neocons strongly believe, in other words, in freedom and democracy. In fact, they think democracy and liberty are such wonderful things that everyone should be given a chance to enjoy them (or at least freely reject them). And they don't object to America using its influence (sometimes--though rarely--to the point of war) to help spread these things.

But what do you hear from certain crackpots who hate the dreaded neocons? That they have a weird, anti-freedom creed, and pray at the altar of Leo Strauss who secretly taught them to take over the world. It's very much like those who believe in the conspiracy of The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion. And I use the comparison advisedly--"neocon" to the European Left, and even moreso in the Middle East, has become another useful code word to cover one's anti-Semitism. It is true, by the way, that neocons are disproportionately Jewish and strong supporters of Israel--yet another reason for the European Left to mindlessly despise them.

It's quite ironic you state we should "act like good reasonable Gregory Peck-styled liberals" and avoid clannish fights like in The Big Country. I personally can't think of an icon better than the Gregory Peck of The Big Country and To Kill A Mockingbird to symbolize the virile strand of liberalism that neocons represent. He's a guy who believes in doing what's right, including protecting the weak, and does it no matter what the rest of the community thinks, no matter how much he's misunderstood, even at the point of putting himself in danger. And, when all is said and done, he isn't afraid to kick a little ass if required.

To compare the "fundamentalism" of the neocons, who believe in a basic liberal society, to that of fanatics who want to inflict the exact opposite on hundreds of millions of people, is sickening. There are plenty of serious arguments against the War on Terror. Unfortunately, the documentaries you seem to favor, with dark conspiracies and cheap demonizing, rarely make them. I guess it's just a lot easier to label someone, and attribute to them everything you hate, than to actually take on their arguments.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Bad Santa

We TiVo-ed Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for the kids, and I watched it for the first time in decades. Man, I hadn't realized Santa was such a -- can I say this on the Internet? -- prick!

He's nasty to Mrs. Claus, a nightmare boss to the elves and basically the evil twin of the jolly Kringle orphan depicted in another Bass/Rankin classic Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

It starts when Bass and Rankin take a really hard line on that stuff about excluding poor Rudolph from reindeer games. Here Blitzen plays the heavy -- the epitome of the jerk little league coach. Santa even breaks Donder's balls for siring a funny-looking son.

Bottom line: Christmastown is a strikingly un-Christian place. I'm too young to say... Did this actually reflect life in America when RTRNRD premiered 40 years ago?

Even the moral of the story is profoundly unsettling: Burl Ives utters something about Santa coming to understand that he was "too hard" on Rudolph (as opposed, presumably, to "just tough enough"). Santa's epiphany is followed by his eureka! moment: Rudolph's nose goes off in the middle of Santa's monologue. St. Nick starts to chew Rudolph out.... but then it occurs to him that Rudolph can help him navigate the blinding snowstorm that threatens Christmas. It turns out society has a use for misfits after all!

Isn't it that kind of thinking that leads to dwarf tossing and other UN-banned abominations?

LAGuy adds: Anyone who goes out caroling knows the message of the song "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer"--you'll have plenty of friends as long as you're useful to them. Then how the reindeer loved him, indeed.

The Best

Last night I was flipping around and there was Pulp Fiction, about 90 minutes in. PF is one of those classics that, even though I own the video and the DVD, I always stop to watch and suddenly realize it's an hour later.

I still remember a friend coming back from Cannes in 1994 telling me how much fun it was. I saw it the night after it opened in Westwood (that's around UCLA for you out-of-towners) and later attended a party where I told everyone how much I liked it. The surprising thing was half the people there had already seen it.

This is not going to be an appreciation of the film. Long before I typed anything on this blog, I wrote thousands of words about PF and I don't know if I want to do it again. Suffice it to say PF is the only film made in the last 15 years that makes my top ten of all time list.

Quentin Tarantino has lately been staking out new territory with his Kill Bill films. In a few weeks I'll be discussing that, and many other items, in my annual "film year in review" essay. The only difference is this time I'll be blogging it. I hope to get feedback, so let others know.

In fact, if anyone wants to nominate their favorite films of the year, now would be a good time to start.

ShiverING

Have you seen those ING ads where the dollar bills are alive? The ones where they move about to Neil Hefti's Odd Couple Theme? I don't know about you, but those ads give me the creeps.

Here's what the ING press release says:
"We're dealing with what I'd call charm more than humor," says BBH Executive Creative Director Kevin McKeon. "It's all about people's relationship with their money. Here the dollar bills are your little buddies that are working for you and are there for you, so we gave them a kind of light-hearted quality."
Kevin, there are a lot of things I like about dollar bills, and high on the list is they're inanimate.

Monday, December 20, 2004

A New Twist

To read more on the Tony Twist case (see below, yesterday), check out the Volokh Conspiracy, here and here (scroll down a bit). Professor Volokh has been commenting on the case for a while. He's solidly on the First Amendment side against an encroaching right of publicity. In fact, he wrote an amicus brief to the Missouri Supreme Court on behalf of writers such as Michael Crichton and Larry David.

The good news is the Professor feels the Supreme Court will yet hear the case--that it earlier denied appeal because it prefers to wait until the case fully wends its way through the Missouri courts.

Saddam's Little Instruction Book

With the Iraq war crime trials coming up, we're sure to hear a lot about Saddam's approach to state craft. Here's a head start, courtesy of the Iraq Survey Group report on Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. When the so-called Duelfer Report was released this fall, the headline was "No WMD Found". Far less attention was paid to the peek the report provides into the Butcher of Baghdad's executive suite. The ISG interviewed many top regime officials including Saddam himself. Those interviews reveal a lot about Saddam's management style.

I wonder how many Pajama Guy readers will see their own bosses somewhere in the following 20 Saddam leadership tips culled from the Duelfer Report (sung to the tune of "Life’s Little Instruction Book"):

1. Hire yes-men. "Saddam did not encourage advice from subordinates unless he had first signaled he wanted it," the Duelfer Report says. These sycophants would then argue for whatever policy Saddam had decided on.

2. Expect them to know what you're thinking. The Duelfer Report reveals that Saddam did a lot of business with a wink and a nod, which meant – as Tariq Aziz told interviewers -- that Saddam's top aides spent a lot of their time trying to guess exactly what was in Saddam's head, so that they could "tailor their advice to it."

3. Encourage office gossip and backstabbing. Saddam was pleased when his underlings went behind each other's backs. Even though this engendered a "corrosive gossip culture," Saddam thought "it put another check on subordinates."

4. Fear: the most effective motivational tool. Those around Saddam "feared that he would know if they even thought of something that was less than fully supportive of the Regime." For good reason: "Saddam used violence liberally as an administrative method, to ensure loyalty, repress even helpful criticism and to ensure prompt compliance with his orders."

5. Use the carrot as well as the stick. The Duelfer report says Saddam "consistently applied both positive and negative currents in all aspects of his rule." His staff recounted that Saddam would severely punish, even jail, his personal servants for minor infractions. When they were later released, "Saddam would cook a meal for them himself."

6. All you ever need to know about the world, you can learn at the movies. Saddam said he tried to understand Western culture, and admitted he relied on movies to achieve this.

7. What you can't learn from movies you can find on the Internet. Saddam's Director of Military Intelligence told the ISG he relied on the World Wide Web to learn what the US-led coalition was up to. Direct quote: "The Internet—it has everything."

8. If you can’t find it on the Net, check with the gals in the typing pool. "Saddam said he found women to be great sources of information, particularly within the various government ministries."

9. But if you want to know what's really going on, ask the man on the street. The Duelfer Report says, "Saddam claimed he regularly met with the Iraqi people as he found them to be the best source of accurate information."

10. Know your enemy's weakness. In an apparent reference to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the Duelfer report says that during the summer of 1998 "Baghdad viewed the domestic controversies in the United States as indicating, if not weakness, certainly a distraction to the White House." About the time Clinton testified before the grand jury, Saddam kicked weapons inspectors out of Iraq.

11. Always keep a scapegoat at the ready. "Blame-shifting was typical of Saddam," Duelfer reports. State institutions existed largely as lightning rods for blame, so any potentially embarrassing change of course "would not be seen as an earlier misjudgment on Saddam’s part."

12. Nepotism trumps competence. In the final years of his regime, Saddam listened less to his long-time advisors and turned more to family members, such as his murderous son Qusay. This despite the obvious: that Qusay wasn't up to the task.

13. Maintain outside interests. Beginning in 1999 Saddam began writing novels. Because of the amount of time he spent on his books, Saddam would come to his ministers' meetings unprepared. He wouldn't "even read the summary notes his staff prepared for him for the meeting," according to one senior official.

14. Now and then, take a break from the office. Reaching Saddam could be a problem even for senior officials. They were "often unable to locate Saddam for days, even in periods of crisis." As one top Saddam aide told ISG investigators, "Sometimes it would take three days to get in touch with Saddam."

15. Don't answer your phone. By Saddam's own account, he had only used a telephone twice since 1990, for fear of being located for a US attack.

16. Watch what you eat. The Iraq government operated a laboratory specifically to test Saddam's food for poison.

17. Accentuate the positive. Key regime members "habitually" concealed from Saddam unpleasant realities of Iraq's industrial and military capabilities and of public opinion. Such lies led Saddam to grossly miscalculate Iraq’s ability to respond to the US-led attack.

18. Eliminate the Negative. Asked how Saddam treated people who brought him bad news, one top aide replied that he'd never known any instance of anybody bringing bad news to Saddam.

19. Encourage "out-of-the-box" thinking (to a point). In 1982, Saddam asked his inner circle for creative ideas on how to end the war with Iran. His Health Minister suggested Saddam temporarily resign and resume office after peace was achieved. Saddam ordered the man executed and his dismembered body delivered to his wife.

20. Above all, be a nice guy. Or in Saddam’s own words, "Good personal relations bring out the best in people."

Do they smell blood?

Political opponents always pretend to like each other--smoothes the way in general and helps with public good will. But when someone looks weakened, the knives come out.

Donald Rumsfeld has undoubtedly rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Fighting the war in Iraq made him a lightning rod for Democrats, while undiplomatic statements and army modernization has caught him trouble with his own party.

But it's not easy to attack a man who has the soldiers on his side. So how they must have loved it when a soldier blindsided the Defense Secretary with a question about vehicle armor and received a flat-footed response. Now it was okay to stick it to him.

Suddenly, Trent Lott and John McCain were a lot freer with their negative assessments. Now comes the story of how Rumsfeld has not personally signed letters of condolence, and people like Chuck Hagel are up in arms. Even though this has little to do with his fitness to plan the war in Iraq, it nevertheless is the sort of thing that hits home with the public, thus allowing politicians to play the self-righteous card.

In Hollywood, when your last few films have flopped, you gotta blame someone, so you fire your agent. But Bush just won reelection, and has always liked Rumsfeld, so I'm guessing that's enough. His enemies will try to pile on for a while, but when the see the President won't budge, they'll back off. But I've been wrong before.

Those who want him gone, by the way, should ask if the new guy is likely to be better. The reply "he can't be worse" is invariably mistaken.

Pajama Guy responds: Bush backs Rummy today. I think he will keep Rumsfeld for reasons set out by Frum.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Bankrupt court decision

I don't usually blog heavy on a weekend, but I still can't get over the worst judicial result in years. A St. Louis jury (a while ago) awarded NHL star Tony Twist $15 million for the unauthorized use of his name in a Todd McFarlane comic, and the decision was (in the main) upheld. McFarlane is the very successful creator of Spawn.

This case never should have gone to trial. There should be a First Amendment right to use a famous person's name within a book or work of art. It's astounding that such an insignificant use of a name--any name--can be actionable.

McFarlane nicknamed a crime boss Antonio "Tony Twist" Twistelli. It seems to me an affectionate tribute, but who cares. Even if it was done because McFarlane hates Twist, no rational reader would think the character is anything like the real person. But because of the ever-encroaching right of publicity, we have less and less freedom to write as we wish. How long will satire be protected? What about mixing real life characters in fiction (a la Ragtime)?

The jury declared McFarlane's company profited by using Twist's name. Huh? Show me one person who spent a single cent because he couldn't wait to read about a villain named after a hockey player. And, in the other direction, I don't see how this has done anything but help the moneymaking potential of Tony Twist's name.

So, damage to Twist--$0. Profit to McFarlane due to use of Twist's name--$0. Jury award--$15 million.

McFarlane has just declared bankruptcy. The Supreme Court has, alas, rejected his appeal. Perhaps they're waiting for a split in the circuits, but the law here is too important and unsettled to leave alone.

I'm now wondering whether to publish this. It's merely my opinion, and I have honestly tried to get the facts straight. But who knows what's legal these days?

I should send this to my friend, Tom Franck, a stand-up comedian. Go to his blog to find the connection to DC comics. Apparently, an old friend decided to give him a tribute and so Tom, in Green Lantern, is the most popular comedian in the world. But he is taken hostage and harmed, so maybe Tom can get his $15 million anyway.

Attlas Shrugged

So I got my free copy of Atlas Shrugged (see December 11 entry). It's the 15th printing of the 1996 copyright mass market paperback version from Signet.

Anyway, I noticed on page 836 the word "acting" has an extra "t." Can someone please get on that?

Dumb Giovanni

For the second time this year, Giovanni Ribisi is playing a brainy aviation technician in a major Hollywood film. First time was Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow, and now Flight Of The Phoenix. Maybe he liked the parts. Maybe he liked the money.

Or maybe he's worried he's still best known as Phoebe's moronic brother Frank Jr. on Friends, and wants to change his image so audiences will accept him in smarter roles.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Shhh

Michael Gorman, president-elect of the American Library Assn., had a nasty little editorial in the Friday LA Times. He's unhappy with all the hype about Google some day delivering all the information in the world. (I must have missed this hype). He states we still need libraries, since you need depth of knowledge, not just a bunch of facts out of context.

I think we already know that, Mr. Gorman. What Google and other search engines do is make gathering information easier, sort of like what libraries were created for. I suppose when the first library was founded, some crotchety itinerant teacher said this new nonsense destroys knowledge because now we won't have to memorize everything.

Google and its ilk are tools, just like library cards and the Dewey Decimal System. We control the tools, Mr. Gorman, not the other way around. And who knows, maybe many years from now Google et al will completely replace physical libraries. I'll tell you what won't stop the transition--pissy, territorial arguments.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Indecent at Wal-Mart

Want to talk about politicians doing harm? What about New York Congressman Anthony Weiner organizing a campaign against Wal-Mart in Queens?

Who's with Weiner?

Unions of course, which allege that the un-unionized Wal-Mart pays low wages. (In reality, its average urban pay of $10.38 an hour is twice New York's minimum wage).

The New York Times also mentions that the manager of a nearby CompUSA is "up in arms and preparing." (After all, it wouldn't be fair if Wal-Mart slashed prices and put a small neighborhood computer merchant out of business.)

But get this: Also uniting against Wal-Mart, the Times says, are "immigrant advocacy groups, religious organizations, and the NAACP."

Immigrants, religious organizations and the NAACP? What the heck is that about? Brian M. McLaughlin, president of the New York City Central Labor Council explains:

"We think Wal-Mart is a thread that links us all together. Wal-Mart is a buzzword for indecency."


This is the bizarro world of the Left. Wal-Mart would bring lower prices, a bigger selection and more convenient shopping hours to a neighborhood of New York City that is decidedly working class. Wal-Mart's a place where you can reliably find not only elderly workers, but disabled employees. Aren't these the people Democrats brag about standing up for?

And now the company which used to get scolded for refusing to sell filthy, violent, misogynistic rap records and racy magazines is the buzzword for indecency?

Sheesh!

First, do no harm

Out here in California, we vote on lots of referenda. My pro-government friends hate this--they feel laws should only be made by experts, i.e., politicians. One suggested a simple plan: that all referenda be suggestions which the California legislature could then vote up or down. I replied why not just send every voter a letter each month saying "screw you"?

It's not that I think the people are so great at creating laws. It's just that I don't think politicians are any better. Exhibit A--Governor Blagojevich of Illinois wants to ban the sale of violent video games to minors. Every time I think we're finally turning into a serious country, some politician has to back a silly law like this.

Now I admit we didn't have video games at home when I was growing up. We had to settle for TV, where Elmer Fudd shot at Bugs Bunny and Moe used a sander on Curly's head. If we wanted to use fake weapons on fake targets, we had to go outside. Sometimes we even used real weapons on real targets. It seems to me as long as there are boys (and men), they will play games that feature destruction. The trick is to teach them when and why violence is wrong, not to pretend it doesn't exist.

I don't object to parents deciding what sort of games their kids should own. In fact, that's precisely the proper way to deal with this situation. (I might add that the vast majority of people who purchase these video games are adults, and the vast majority of minors who purchase them get parental permission.)

What I do object to is politicians working overtime to make our country a worse place.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

DC City Council Plays Hardball

You gotta love it. Let the billionaires build their own stadiums.

Old Young

Neil Young is one of the greatest rock stars of all time, and after 40 years in the business he certainly deserves a greatest hits collection. But does he deserve this greatest hits collection? There are sixteen tracks, but they're not at all representative of his career.

The first eleven cuts were released between 1969 and 1972, all but one of which appear on just three albums. The first fourteen tracks only go up to 1979. That means the last two songs represent his far from negligible work of the past 25 years.

I bet if his label Warner Bros. took a poll (and for all I know they did), these 16 songs would all be in the top 20 or 25 of fan favorites, but an artist such as Young deserves better.

Lisa Loves Larry

Lisa Kudrow is set to star in an HBO series The Comeback about a sitcom actress trying to get her career going again. Isn't that the same plot Larry David (the character) was pitching a few seasons ago on Curb Your Enthusiasm?

I'm reminded of the Seinfeld episode where they shoot a pilot. The intentionally ridiculous plot is a judge sentences someone to be Jerry's butler. Some time after, I recall some show--was it King Of Queens?--used the same plot. Whether it was a salute or lack of imagination I don't know.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Portnoy's Mom's Complaint

In Portnoy's Complaint, the mother says "my problem is I'm too nice," which author Philip Roth notes is a claim even a child can see through. (I don't have a copy of the book around, so I'm counting on years-old memory.) But this doesn't stop losing political parties from saying the same thing.

Look at the latest by Michael Moore, where he agrees with the bizarre essay by Mel Giles that compares Democrats to abused wives. They have to learn to stop blaming themselves when they get hit. The Republicans are cruel and the Democrats keep making the mistake of being too nice about it.

Or look at Tom Tomorrow. A recent cartoon shows Democrats who want to have a fair debate being crushed by crazed Republicans. The problem, boiled down, even taking satirical exaggeration into account? Democrats are just too darned nice.

Can anyone be so removed from reality that they believe this? Can they have missed all the vicious insults and nasty tactics their side employed in the recent election? Philip Roth should do his fellow Democrats a favor and remind them that a child can see through this claim no matter who it comes from.

I'm not saying Republicans are any better. They're just not in recrimination mode right now. I guarantee if they lost big they'd be complaining that they believe in fair play while their opponents stop at nothing.

(I'll have more on fooling yourself in the near future. Or I may be fooling myself.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Multiple heads to roll at CBS?

The Washington Times has the story.

My question: If Dan Rather's resignation as Evening News anchor had nothing to do with Rathergate, does that mean that after the internal investigation at CBS is completed he still could get bounced from his new full-time investigative reporting job at 60 Minutes? (Just kidding.)

Lettuce

It's no fair mocking typos and misspellings on blogs--the unpaid wretches who write them must do their own proofing as well. But when someone calls attention to an error, and is in error himself...

I mentioned James Lileks yesterday, and I'm giving him more free publicity now, which is like a public access show telling you to watch Desperate Housewives.

In today's dashed-off episode, Lileks reproduces a delightful ad for skinless wieners (and frankfurters) circa WWII. One kid is asking another "How come your mom lets you eat two wieners?"

Lileks' (or Lileks's, if your prefer--both are acceptable no matter what you've heard) comment is strange:
I can understand why they wrote "lets" - all available extra apostrophes were diverted to wartime use, after all.
No James, they didn't use an apostrophe because "lets" was correct. I'll help you out--I let, you let, she (i.e., your mom) lets.

At least he didn't suggest it should be "you're mom let's."

Pajama Guy responds: If correct spelling, by-the-book grammer and competent copy-editing become required for blogging, I'm toast.

LAGuy bounces back: I assume Pajama Guy's obvious error above is intentional.

Anonymous said... My guess is PajamaGuy erred sincerely. What say, PjG? Willing to fess up?

Pajama Guy responds: You're both right. I sincerely tried to get it right, but intentionally didn't check what I wrote.

"The Fun Suit"

Seven years ago I bought a suit to wear to my rehearsal dinner. My bride-to-be picked it out. Being a conservative guy, every suit I'd ever had was navy blue, charcoal gray or blue or gray pin stripe. This suit was different. I don't know enough about fabrics to describe it without making it sound ugly, but I'll try. It is kind of a greenish brown crosshatch, with three-buttons and pleated pants. The guy who sold it to me was one of those great suit salesmen who make you feel good by pinching the shoulders up, slapping your biceps and exclaiming, "Dang, you fill out this jacket like nobody's business! Did you used to play ball?"

In our new family it instantly became known as "The Fun Suit," because as I handed the salesman my credit card, he looked me in the eyes and solemnly predicted, "You're going to have a lot of fun in this suit."

So I did. Yesterday was our wedding anniversary. Seven years, three kids, three jobs, two states and a dog later, The Fun Suit is too frayed to keep wearing, and will soon be packed off for the Christmas clothing drive. May the next guy have as much fun in it as I did.

The Worst Generation

I get annoyed when I hear, over and over, how rotten kids are today, and how society's never been worse. Don't these people realize the 70s, when I grew up, was the worst generation ever? At least that's all I remember hearing back then.

I actually thought my generation was unique. I didn't realize all adults forget what it was like when they grew up (or pretend to forget) so they can curse the latest generation.

That's why I enjoy stumbling across old passages condemning how rotten kids were during what we imagine now was a golden age. The following is from Agee On Film:

"The March Of Time's issue about teen-age girls is worth seeing in the sense that one might examine with interest a slide of cancer tissue. These girls may be no worse than the teen-age girls of any other country, class, or generation, but I would be sorry really to believe that, and am sorrier still to imagine their children."
James Agee, August 11, 1945, discussing your grandma.

Monday, December 13, 2004

No, this is why it sucks

Rolling Stone has had its top 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time issue out for a while. The list--from a poll of industry people--is fairly conventional. Anyone who cares about music will have countless quibbles, but, as such lists go, it'll do.

However, I've noticed a couple bloggers complaining about #3, John Lennon's "Imagine." ("Like a Rolling Stone" and "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" are #1 and #2--they both deserve to be high up so we'll let 'em be.) I don't even think it should be on the list, but I disagree as to why.

James Lileks notes, correctly, it doesn't rock. But, even though this is a list of rock songs, they don't all have to rock.

Over at The Volokh Conspiracy, Jim Lindgren complains the song is a recipe for totalitarianism. Well, yeah, but that's part of its brilliance. Lennon could write simple anthems of love and peace ("Give Peace A Chance," "All You Need Is Love," "The Word") with the best of them, but "Imagine" is a more complex Marxist plea for worldwide understanding, where he tries to cut away at the thicket of the modern world that blocks utopia. Of course it wouldn't work. Lennon hadn't figured that out yet (though he sure wasn't giving away his possessions before everyone else did), but you can still admire the straightforward, no-nonsense idealism that takes on the theme in such a distinct way.

Here's why the song is no good: the tune stinks. It doesn't fit the lyric at all. Lennon wants to be ethereal but ends up lugubrious, almost morose. The chords, the tempo, the piano, the echo--it sounds spooky, even creepy. This melody would be perfect if he were writing about the last days of Bela Lugosi, and couldn't be less fitting for an exploration of utopia.

Also, points off for rhyming "one" with "one."

Sunday, December 12, 2004

"They're always giving out awards"

It's December. Film critics are giving out awards.

The latest come from the LA Film Critics, and they did a pretty good job. Best picture is Sideways. (I met the cast a few days ago at a special screening, but I'd already seen and loved it.) It also won for director, screenplay, supporting actor and supporting actress. This may be too much, but I'd rather have them lavish their awards on a good film than some pseudo-classy literary adaptation. Sideways may not be amazing (as recent small American films such as Ghost World and American Splendor were), but it's a well-written movie about interesting, realistic characters, which is getting to be a rarity. It's also a bit of a comeback for Payne, whose About Schmidt I found slow. I hope the Oscars take the hint.

Imelda Staunton won best actress for Vera Drake. Like most people, I haven't seen it. Liam Neeson is a curious winner for Kinsey. He seemed to me a bit lackluster, and occasionally had trouble with the accent. (At least Laura Linney, who's done much better work elsewhere, didn't get a supporting actress nod as his wife.)

They also gave Jerry Lewis a lifetime achievement award. I wish the Academy would try the same thing just to see what he'd do.

Unread book review

The best-selling book this Christmas season seems to be America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction by Jon Stewart and the Daily Show staff. It's not a book you read from cover to cover--you dip in.

I've been dipping in here and there and must say so far I've been disappointed. The jokes would do for a daily topical monologue, perhaps, but ultimately aren't smart enough. National Lampoon did this sort of satirical comedy far better years ago. And for laughs based on history, let me suggest you read (or re-read) Our Dumb Century from The Onion.


Saturday, December 11, 2004

Capitalism for free

Before I forget: If you're a guy or gal who happens to be in Los Angeles, drop by the Center For Inquiry at 4773 Hollywood Boulevard to pick up a free copy of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. No kidding. The place is open weekdays from 7 to 7.

Right result, wrong reason

I was not especially impressed with the choice of Bernard Kerik for Secretary of Homeland Security. He might have been big in New York, but I wasn't convinced he had what it takes for the majors. Guess we'll never know.

Still, if it turns out he has stepped down due to yet another nannygate (though many doubt this is the real reason), it shows we're still wasting our time worrying about minor or non-existent ethical problems when we should be far more concerned with ability.

I have little doubt Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood would have been better Attorneys General than Janet Reno. And who knows how much better Waco would have been handled if President Clinton had been looking for competence before gender.

Friday, December 10, 2004

MoveOn Hustles along

Looking at the piece below, I was wondering how Republicans should feel about a powerful yet ineffective group such as MoveOn taking over the mainstream of the Democratic party. I was reminded of my second-favorite bit of dialogue from The Hustler, where George C. Scott gives Jackie Gleason advice about Paul Newman:

Fast Eddie: I'm the best you ever seen Fats. I'm the best there is. Even if you beat me I'm still the best.

Bert: Stay with this kid. He's a loser.

So many losers, so much time

Howard Dean just made a big speech on the future of the Democrat Party. Guess what: he believes Democrats have to become more liberal to win. I'm more offended by the lack of originality than the bad thinking.

I hate to break it to all the fired-up Dems out there, but moving toward the center is a good idea. In the last 36 years, the only Democrats to be President were centrists (and only once did one barely get over the 50% mark), while anyone who seemed too liberal was decisively turned away. I'm not saying a liberal can't ever win--timing is everything. I'm merely claiming if you want to win, the best strategy by far is to run a center-left candidate.

Meanwhile, the front-runner for 2008 (really too far in the future--I try to avoid such pointless speculation) appears to be Hillary Clinton. She's been trying to reposition herself, but she's still the perfect candidate for a party with a death wish.

The Clinton's man, DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe, is bragging 2004 was a success since the Dems raised more money than the Repubs. But I thought the Dems were trying to get money out of politics. Maybe I misheard that.

And the group that got so much of that money, the hilariously named MoveOn.Org, is a picture of fecklessness. They got millions from "grass-root contributors" (like George Soros) and now claim they're going to run the party for a while. This is good news if your bumper sticker reads "Bush=Hitler" but otherwise the Dems could use better standard-bearers. It won't matter because they'll be out of money by 2008--they plan to blow it investigating the Ohio vote over and over.

Beating up on the Weak

The question is not why did they cancel McEnroe, the question is why did they put it on? Not that you can blame the show's non-existent ratings on its content--most people don't know what channel CNBC is on, and the few that do don't watch it in the evening for entertainment.

But why would anyone--no matter how much drugs they use--even consider letting McEnroe host a talk show? He's Magic Johnson without the charm.

On the other hand, CNBC's Dennis Miller show has turned into a surprisingly good daily mix of comedy and talk. (I'd say this even if he didn't feature friends of mine, like Virginia Postrel and Amy Alkon this week alone.) Too bad he's on CNBC, where no one will watch. If CNN or FOX News has an opening in their lineup they should pick Miller up.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Update

After the Becker-Posner Blog received 254 combined replies to the short essays written on Monday, Judge Posner has decided to reply in another short essay.

This model is superior to Pajama Guy, where I'm essentially talking to myself.

Wing doesn't fly

I just watched West Wing for the first time in over a year, since my pals Penn & Teller were making a guest appearance. Actually, the show is now lousy with star support--this episode also had Ed O'Neill, Gary Cole, Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Alda. Since President Bartlet's second term is running out, they appear to be preparing for a stirring race between a conservative Democrat and a liberal Republican. (Alda is the Republican, so goodbye Gary Cole.)

The show is still entertaining, with its behind-the-scenes view of power. But with creator Aaron Sorkin gone, the sparkling dialogue, which was its hallmark, is missing. I don't like to say this about any show that's a going concern, but I believe it's jumped the shark.

Too bad. I often watch Lost (which I gave a thumbs down to earlier on this blog). I haven't built my schedule around two prime time shows in one night since the glory days of NBC's Must See TV. Come to think of it, I do watch The Simpsons and then stick around for Arrested Development, so I guess Sunday is the new Thursday.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Coming to a Theatre Closer to You

Last weekend, Mike Nichol's film Closer opened. (That's how it's referred to--as Mike Nichol's. Forget that it's based closely on Patrick Marber's play, with a screenplay by Patrick Marber. Of course, to most people, it's really Julia Robert's.)

Over at Showbizdata, they claim it performed better than expected with a huge per screen average of $16,193. Well, that would be great if it opened on 2000 or 3000 screens, but because it only opened on 476, in places where a modern romance (if that's the proper word) starring Julia Roberts had a built-in crowd, the number is good but not spectacular.

My guess is the producers are dismayed. The overall number is fine, but internals are weak. Most films show a significant rise in take from Friday to Saturday, often over 50%. A 30% rise is weak. Closer only rose 11%. This suggests horrible word of mouth.

It'll open wide soon, but if the numbers don't get better, Closer will close even faster. (By the way, I haven't seen the film but am not a big fan of the play.)

Business as Usual

The House has overwhelmingly voted to overhaul U.S. intelligence operations. So we set up a huge new bureacracy to solve a non-existent problem--practically a reflex action in DC.

Ah, well. At least it probably won't make things considerably worse.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Now He Tells Us

Andrew Sullivan wrote a tremendous amount of nutty things about Iraq before the U.S. Presidential election. He was so clueless that, even though he thought the war essential, he didn't think Bush understood that better than Kerry. All he could say, over and over, regardless of the evidence, was things were going horribly.

So Sullivan decides now, in The New Republic--when no one really gives a damn, by the way--to start getting optimistic. Never fear, though. If you read the piece, you'll see he's still making the same bad arguments--he's just finally chosen to see the good news that's been there all along.

Waste of time

I think Kofi Annan is doing a rotten job as head of the U.N. I wouldn't be surprised if he's a crook. But Norm Coleman and others openly calling for his resignation is cheap grandstanding that does no one any good.

Department of Bad Arguments

When I read Michael Gerhardt and Erwin Chemerinksy's pro-filibuster editorial in the Sunday Los Angeles Times, I didn't particularly care that they were being hypocritical. Yesterday, Chemerinksy was outed by the Volokh Conspiracy. It appears Chemerinksy co-authored (he likes working with others) a law review article in 1997 opposing the Senate filibuster. Since then, of course, Republicans have taken over the Presidency and Senate, so the good professor has warmed up to what he once considered outrageous.

I didn't care because the question is which argument is right, not what side Chemerinsky is on today. I also didn't care because the argument they made last Sunday is absurd. Essentially, they prefer a modern procedural rule over the Constitutional duty of "Advice and Consent" the Senate was given by the Founding Fathers.

The only reason the Republicans are fearful of the "nuclear option," which would get rid of this rule that allows 40 Senators to shut down the Senate whenever they please, is that they fear--quite properly--that they may yet again be in the minority. No one can claim either side believes in it as a matter of principle.

A Decent Start

The new Becker-Posner blog promises to give us an essay or two each Monday, after which we can comment away for the rest of the week. We'll see how long this can last.

The first pair of short pieces are on preventive war. Nothing earthshattering. Both Becker and Posner see it as acceptable, even wise, under the proper circumstances. Just as predictably, whenever Posner is introduced to a new audience, and pushes his economic analysis (as simplified as it is on a blog) in their faces, they mostly respond in the negative.

As I write this, Posner's mini-essay has attracted 112 comments and Becker's 41. (This may be because Posner's piece is the more recent, or it may be because he's better known than the Nobel Prize-winning Becker.) Color me envious.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Did I say that out loud?

2004 was a year of astounding public statements.

For instance, there's Arlen Specter. After a great victory for Bush and himself (helped by Bush) he chose that time to warn the President not to pick judges who are too conservative. What he's supposed to say is as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he will work hard to get the President's choices confirmed and then, in private, warn Bush against overdoing it. His statement demonstrated not independence, but stupidity.

Earlier this year, several military people said they had Osama bin Laden cornered and expected him captured within the year. Why would anyone ever say this? I don't even see how it could be a psych-op to smoke him out, or demoralize his people. (It could be a psych-op to demoralize us, I guess.) If you actually have him cornered, you hold your breath for as long as is needed and...capture him! And if you can't capture him, I guess you didn't really have him cornered. Thank goodness Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf seems to get it and is now saying the trail is cold. This gives me great hope for the future.

Finally, we have Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson resigning with this statement: "For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do." Great, any other suggestions? I guess he wants to have a better record protecting us than the next guy.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Before the Parade passes by

The highlight of any Sunday is reading Walter Scott's Personality Parade. He'll take questions from across the nation and, whether he knows the answer or not, give a definite response.

In this week's, Henry R. [Rollins?] of Los Angeles asks how much power Vladimir Putin has compared to past Russian leaders. I would expect most might say that the former communist leaders had more power, even a relatively weak one like Gorbachev. You'd figure at least Breshnev, who put down freedom breaking out in Czechoslovakia in 1968, had more power. But no, expert Walter Scott says Putin's the most powerful leader Russia's had since Stalin. Stalin! Too bad he can't fix an election in the Ukraine.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

A show called Fred

For about a month now I've been seeing posters at bus stops of Geoffrey Rush portraying Peter Sellers in an HBO movie debuting this Sunday. And all I can think when I see them is "wow, he sure looks like Fred Armisen."

Friday, December 03, 2004

Premature or immature?

In yesterday's Slate, Fred Kaplan writes about James Baker's New York Times Op-Ed regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict. What fascinated me most was what Kaplan said in passing.

Kaplan (along with Baker) doesn't believe, as neocons do--well, as Kaplan believes neocons do--"the road to Jerusalem runs through Baghdad." In other words, some thought a free Iraq would help popularize democracy in the Middle East, thus making even the Arab-Israeli conflict easier to deal with. Or as Kaplan hyperbolically puts it (pretending to speak for neocons) "a stable, democratic Iraq would light a blazing trail of freedom across the Middle East."

Kaplan starts his next sentence "[o]nce this theory proved fanciful..." Pardon me? How has it been proved wrong? Iraq is still on the way to democracy, supported by the vast majority of its citizens; meanwhile, there are new chances in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though no one knows where it's going. (Probably nowhere, as most neocons, I believe, expect.)

Kaplan ends his piece saying President Bush shouldn't listen to the "same advisers who led him astray on Iraq." Huh? Did I miss something? Has the Iraq war been lost while I was out? Did Bush just lose his reelection bid?

I understand that Kaplan can't wait to call the ongoing (and, I would say, so far, mostly successful) war in Iraq a failure, but shouldn't he at least wait until it seems to be over? I know it's frustrating when you hate something so much, but I would suggest holding off for about 4 or 5, maybe 10 years, when he'll have the proper perspective. Then, if he still wants to make such pronouncements, even in passing, go right ahead.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

What did I tell you?

As I predicted, sort of, Nancy Zerg didn't win her second day on Jeopardy! In fact, she didn't have a chance. By Final Jeopardy, she was in third place with $5200, less than half the leader's $14,200.

It was never going to be a superior player who'd take down Ken Jennings. It was just going to be someone in the right place at the right time.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Bye, Ken

It was bound to happen sooner or later, and it happened later. Ken Jennings finally lost on Jeopardy!, after 75 appearances. Last year the show got rid of its silly five-game limit and Jennings was the first to really take advantage of the rule change.

Jennings' streak got me watching the show again. He was so good the result was rarely in doubt by Final Jeopardy. However, in this last game he blew two second-round daily doubles, either one of which would have put him out of reach. Even then, he was well ahead and would have won if he'd figured H&R Block is the company with 70,000 part-time white collar employees.

I knew some people were in the anti-Jennings camp. They thought he was creepy and smug. A few even suggested the fix was in. Well, I guess they can start watching again. I can just about guarantee there won't be another streak like that in our lifetimes.

Ken Jennings now has plenty of time to figure what to do with what's left after taxes of $2.5 million. (I think it's silly we tax windfalls like game show and gambling winnings, but that's another piece.) He'll make a bunch of media appearances and then become the answer to a trivia question.

So will Nancy Zerg, who beat him. I'll watch to see how she does tomorrow, but I doubt she'll finish out the week.

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