Thursday, June 30, 2005

What In The World?

I'm about to write on War Of The Worlds. Since I'm not a daily reviewer, I don't care if I give away the plot. So if you haven't seen it and you don't want to know too much, stop reading here.

The reviews were fairly positive and I figured this is Spielberg's metier, so I had high hopes. The theatre was crowded, but hardly packed, which surprised me. Is word getting out already, or are people just tired of Tom Cruise? Still, it is Wednesday and this isn't a sequel, so how much can you expect.

Anyway, the film was a disappointment. Spielberg still knows how to direct wonderful sequences, but when they don't add up to anything, who cares. The design and shooting of the aliens wreaking havoc is a lot of fun, but there's no forward motion in the film.

To avoid cliches, Spielberg, Cruise and writers Josh Friedman and David Koepp give us the limited viewpoint of one man and his kids, amidst worldwide devastation. The trouble is, nothing Cruise does matters--he has no real plan, so for all his movement he might just as well stay in one place. (Spielberg's AI--don't get me started--has the same problem: the protagonist goes on a mission that makes no sense. That both films have the protagonist succeed in the mission only insults the audience's intelligence.)

And though I suppose the screenwriters could explain the aliens' actions, I sure can't. At first they vaporize humans wholesale, which makes sense to me, since they're out to exterminate us. Later, they capture humans one by one and hold onto them--even if they're doing this for future anal-probing, I still don't get the mixed strategy. Also, they'll kill thousands at a time, then tool around way too long in a musty basement.

When the action slows down, Cruise bickers with his son and tries to calm down his daughter. This is so tiresome you wish he'd just leave them behind.

The dialogue is bad throughout. Early on, we find the son is writing a paper on the French occupation of Algeria. Yeah, that's a common high school subject (in films that try to connect their story with terrorism and insurgency--too bad nothing in this film actually reflects the real world, because then this would just be bad foreshadowing rather than confused foreshadowing). Worse, the daughter doesn't want a sliver removed because she explains when the body is ready, the foreign matter will be expelled. I almost walked out. It's the worst line of the decade so far, and I don't see it being topped.

I read somewhere there was a different ending this time around, but it's the same ending all versions have--the aliens die due to microbiological infection. (For once an actual parallel with the real world--the aliens die like American Indians did when Europeans came here.) How did anyone not understand this is the classic ending? It reminds me of how several people wrote that Sleepy Hollow had a Scooby Doo ending, and how disappointed I was when it had the exact opposite.

Cruise and kids go through all sorts of dangerous situations and do nothing special to protect themselves. Luckily, Cruise is armed with enough star power to protect anyone in his family circle. But even he can't save this film.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Maybe we need to drop the ombudsmen

When I saw the NPR ombudsman's headline, "Is Liberal Bias What NPR Listeners Secretly Want?," I was convinced it was going to be a screed about conservatives seeing liberal ghosts.

Having read the piece, I confess I was wrong. Or at least, I might be wrong; it's so incoherent that I don't actually have any idea what he's trying to say. He does take more than 1300 words to do it, though, which is not exactly brief.

If any Pajama Guy readers can make heads or tails of it, do tell.

Separation Anxiety

Ever since the Supreme Court's Ten Commandments decision on Monday (no-go on public display, sort of), the usual suspects have come out to whine that "separation of church and state" is not in the First Amendment, but comes from a letter written by Jefferson in 1802.

I'm perfectly satisfied that separation is an important part of the First Amendment (it's a good historical and logical reading of the two religion clauses), and the main question today should be how to apply it, not whether it exists.

But I'm not writing this post to make that claim--too many others have done it already (some of the arguments: "separation of powers" and "checks and balances" don't appear in the Constitution either; the idea of separation, or a metaphorical wall, between religion and government goes back before the Constitution and is a tradition the Founding Fathers drew upon; the man more responsible for the Constitution than anyone else, Madison, used very similar phrases to Jefferson's a number of times).

Still, here's what gets me. A lot of anti-separationists act as if Jefferson tossed off this letter: "Having lovely time in Bahamas. Wish you were here. We need a wall of separation between church and state. Best Wishes, T. J."

In fact, Jefferson spent a lot of time on this letter, conferred with others, and understood it was a major public statement on the First Amendment. Which leads me to a question: If he was so obviously wrong, how come (as far as I know) we have no record of a bunch of other Founding Fathers writing Jefferson to the effect "you screwed up, Tom."

By the way, looking over various websites, I found a long and confusing webpage that discusses the claim in yesterday's post regarding the Declaration Of Independence as part of U. S. law.

Columbus Guy says: We're all Googlers now. I found the same web page, but ended up not finding it satisfying, probably for its lack of focus and clarity. But it is worth a link.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Powerline drops the ball?

Scott Mirengoff of the normally stalwart Powerline puts forth an unusual though appealing proposition:

[D]oes the Declaration [of Independence] have any legal status . . . ?Of course it does, although virtually no one seems to know it. In 1878 Congress enacted a revised version of the United States Code that included a new first section entitled "The Organic Laws of the United States." . . . The Code is Congress's official compilation of federal law; the organic laws of the United States are the country's foundational laws.

The obvious flaw that struck me was that Congress has no more authority to do this than it does to amend the Constitution. But, they could of course make their own intrepretation, and they could adopt this as "law" to whatever extent that has significance. And as an intellectual matter it's nice to think that Congress might be so organized, tidy and principled.

But a few minutes looking at the U.S. Code online reveals no such provision. Is there a cite? I could easily have missed it, since I'm no great shakes on research. But the more I look at it, the more I wonder if this isn't simply some text out of some introduction somewhere. If so, that's a pretty weak argument. Reminds me of NPR and Marci Hamilton (who made another NPR appearance today on the Ten Commandments cases).

LAGuy asks: Does this mean we still hate England?

Time for a guardianship?

Looks like George H.W. Bush is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Sigh.

LAGuy replies: When Bush the Elder starts hanging out with Carter, then it's time for concern.

Columbus Guy says: Never happen. Carter isn't that smart.

Looking Back, Looking Down

Senator Barack Obama recently made some statements about Abe Lincoln that have already been mocked over at Kausfiles. But there's still a bit more to say.

Obama notes "I cannot swallow whole the view of Lincoln as the Great Emancipator. As a law professor and civil rights lawyer and as an African-American, I am fully aware of his limited views on race."

This is true. Back in the 1800s, people simply weren't the moral giants they are today. Thank goodness we finally know what's true and have no reason to feel humble about how people will view us in 150 years.

And what might Lincoln have thought of Obama's personal success? "I like to believe he would have appreciated the irony."

Let's see. Lincoln prosecuted an extremely bloody war that freed the slaves. More than a century later, a black man is elected Senator of his home state. I think Obama and I have some disagreement over what "irony" means.

Go Fire Yourself

The Supreme Court ended its term yesterday with no Justice announcing retirement. The rumor had been there might be two--Rehnquist and O'Connor. (Note even if Bush got two conservative judges okayed for these positions, he probably wouldn't change the tenor of the court much. Now if Stevens left....)

This doesn't mean no one's leaving. We'll have to wait and see. In particular, Rehnquist seems quite ill and one wonders if he's fit enough to continue.

But ask yourself, if you had the best job in the world, with tremendous power and prestige, and one that required little or no work (if you didn't feel like it), and you had nothing much else to look forward to--would you fire yourself?

It makes me wonder about Jay Leno's announced retirement in 2009. Easy to say today, but let's see how he feels around 2008.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Giving us the finger

(Disclaimer: This post is entirely unrelated to the last one. At least, I think it is.)

Rich Lowry says not to worry about finger print identification. This has been going on for some time, and you can't go a month without reading about iris scans and the like. Really, the next stage--this year? Next?--will be that this sort of thing will no longer be the topic of essays and news stories. Here's hoping Nat Hentoff lives forever, but I fear he won't.

Every man in America

The local paper is running the same movie advertisement every paper in America is running, in smaller, fourth-week size now, with Angelina Jolie looking prom-dress fetching, juxtaposed with some guy, call him Mr. Smith. Pitched across the top of the ad is Ebert & Roeper's review, "Two thumbs way up."

Great teachers

Nat Hentoff says the president is the "head teacher of our constitutional liberties."

Wouldn't that be the supreme court? (Understand, of course, that Hentoff and I are both speaking of job descriptions, not performance.)

You Gotta Believe

Howard Zinn has a piece on American exceptionalism (he's agin' it, of course) in the Boston Review. It's pretty much the same Zinn you can get anywhere--if you resent America and don't know much history, it's for you.

Nevertheless, there are some claims that throw light on how Zinn (and other critics) argue about the war in Iraq.

Zinn huffs and puffs about how Bush bases his decisions on divine sanction, but he has no evidence. All he has are a few hearsay quotes that prove nothing. Yet, the idea is catnip to Zinn--it must be true because it's so much fun to believe. (It sure is more fun than arguing over actual substance.)

I'm fairly sensitive to religion-talk in politics, and Bush, as devout as he may be personally, is pretty much the same as most politicians. Like so many others, from Carter to Clinton, he prays for guidance, but when it comes to acting, he has real-world reasons. If you bother to read his speeches (for example, here's his famous--or infamous--speech on the USS Lincoln), he tries to explain why we're fighting a war on terror, and it's not because "I asked the Big Guy what to do and this is what he told me personally." In fact, it's pretty much unimaginable he'd say anything like that. That people such as Zinn not only believe he could say something like that, but actually has, shows how irrational they are.

There are people who talk like this, of course. Our enemies.

After mischaracterizing the war in Iraq as a religious crusade, Zinn warns us "Divine ordination is a very dangerous idea" since if you act with Heaven's approval "you need no human standard of morality." This is piling stupidity on top of intellectual dishonestly. After all, it's possible to be a believer and maintain high (human) moral standards, just as it's possible to fight for a secular idea and be ruthless.

I'll skip over the rest of the piece, but let me note something near the end. Zinn writes "Here in the United States, despite the media’s failure to report it, there is a growing resistance to the war in Iraq." Apparently, we'll have to add Zinn to the ever-growing list of leftists WHO HAVE NOT READ A NEWSPAPER OR WATCHED A NEWS TELECAST IN THE LAST THREE MONTHS.

He goes on to say "Perhaps most significant is that among the armed forces, and families of those in the armed forces, there is more and more opposition to it." Why is this significant? If there's a general trend against the war, we'd expect most or all groups, from those who strongly oppose it to those who strongly favor it, to be moving in the same direction. (I'm reminded of the Monty Python sketch comparing the intelligence of penguins to humans. They note the penguin's brain is smaller, but if you enlarge the bird to the size of a human, the brain is still smaller, BUT it's bigger than it was before.)

Reviewer Should Re-listen

The New York Times Book Review finally gets around to noticing the fairly influential book South Park Conservatives. The review, by Liesl Schillinger, is, alas, condescending and clueless. But that's not what I want to talk about.

Here's how it starts:
In a well-known spoof of a typical talk-radio exchange, two callers debate a fatuous point. The first says: ''Right-thinking people in this country are sick and tired of being told that ordinary, decent people are fed up with this country being sick and tired. I'm certainly not and I'm sick and tired of being told that I am.'' The second caller retorts, ''Well, I meet a lot of people, and I'm convinced that the vast majority of wrong-thinking people are right.'' A conservative housewife, listening to the blather, snaps, ''Liberal rubbish!'' and turns the dial.
She's referring to a Monty Python bit from their 1973 three-sided album, Matching Tie & Handkerchief. In fact, it's not a spoof of a "typical talk-radio exchange," if such a thing even existed on the BBC in the early 70s. The radio show is a panel discussion, not a debate, with a moderator who takes questions from a live audience. If Python is spoofing anything, it's not talk-radio callers (who aren't to be found here) but authority figures making stuffy and meaningless statements.

(And the housewife doesn't turn the dial, she shuts the radio off.)

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Template Twins

This blog's look is known as "Dots." We like it because it fits the "pajama" theme. It would also be suitable for a blog about clowns. Perhaps that's why you rarely see it.

But we're always glad to point out sister blogs: different content, same template. Previously, we've sent you to GayandRight which, as you might guess, is a blog run by a gay conservative.

Now we have History On Trial, a blog by and about Deborah Lipstadt, Holocaust historian. To be honest, I'm not sure if "Dots" is the best format for her subject, but that's her call.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

If only it were true

MRC reports that Katie Couric told Kofi Annan "You literally have the weight of the world on your shoulders.”

That Katie. She literally has sawdust for brains.

New Measure

At a recent film (okay, Batman Begins), I was handed an audience reaction tearaway card by the good people at CinemaScore.

They asked my sex and age, my grade for the film, and my reasons for attending--same as always. But in the past, they'd asked if I'd recommend the film. Now, they ask if I would buy or rent the film.

This hardly seems the same thing. If I like a film, I will recommend it, but I probably won't buy or rent it. Or do they mean would I buy or rent it if I hadn't seen it already? Even then it's not the same thing.

Who decided this new question was better?

Columbus Guy says: What's the problem? If studios care whether someone likes the film, it's only because that's a proxy for what they really care about, will this film make money? If they've decided to cut to the chase, good for them. In fact, it seems a superior question, since now they're saying they'd put some money on the line (of course, people are always saying they'll put money on the line when they won't, but that's another version of the problem).

Friday, June 24, 2005

About time

So Bush is going to address the nation to remake the case for the Iraq war. Good for him.


Edelstein is obviously wrong. The juxtaposition of the ketchup bottle and "Everybody Hurts" was perfect. Congratulations to Ms. Ephron. The first decent thing she's done since "When Harry Met Sally." That's not a bad track record.

p.s. Nicole Kidman is almost too good; she does every part so perfectly that I find myself thinking how skilled she is almost as much as enjoying the character. Almost.

A theory of everything

I've been thinking about this for weeks, years actually, but it's seemed to wonky to post. Now that Kelo has come out in the disgusting way that it did, it seems as good a time as any.

My theory is there is a central characteristic view that divides Democrats and Republicans. It's not merely a constellation of issues (gun control, lower taxes, universal health care) and it's not just one ad hoc issue (e.g., abortion). It's one issue, but it's more fundamental, and it has explanatory power.

But what is it? My nominees have been:

1) whether you believe (which is to say, what is your "best answer") government is inherently good, or inherently bad;
2) whether you believe in individualism or collectivism;
3) whether you believe in property or not.

I think I incline toward (2), but I'm volatile on the topic. I think property (and by that I mean strong property rights, not the Sunstein version, where you have strong property rights up until the point they decide it's good to take them away) is just an offshoot of (2). And (1) is just a specific restatement of the more general (2).

UPDATE: Anonymous writes: [B]oth conservatives and liberals believe in individualism or collectivism, when it suits them. . . . I'm sure down deep both sides are consistent in some way, but they seem to keep changing on the surface.

Columbus Guy responds: Anonymous is more generous than I am. I'm not sure they're consistent deep down; I'd rather suspect not. But anonymous makes a good point; the conservative case for morals laws is a hard one, which, while not quite the same as saying it's a weak one, does present problems in terms of systematic justifications.

Imagine If They Were Liberals

For years, I've heard the fear expressed that our Supreme Court is too conservative. Lately, though, the other side's been ascendant, winning one big case after another.

So what do these non-conservatives believe? To pick a few highlights: the government may regulate political speech during an election; the government may judge people by the color of their skin; growing a crop and selling it to your neighbor qualifies as interstate commerce; and now, of course, that the government, if it doesn't think you're using your property to make them enough money, can take it away.

By the way, this successful group on the Court is generally referred to as--don't laugh--"moderates."

PS If you get a chance, read the Kelo case linked above. Especially the dissents.

It'll probably be fixed by the time you read this.

From David Edelstein's review of Bewitched, in Slate, 4:15 p.m., June 23:

I liked the snazzy Steve Lawrence vocal of the Bewitched theme, but using R.E.M.'s impassioned "Everybody Hurts"—written by Michael Stipe after the suicide of Kurt Cobain—to underscore shots of Kidman and Ferrell feeling blue about their inability to pair off is an aesthetic crime.
"Everybody Hurts" (a song I've written about in the past--it's probably caused more suicides than it's stopped) was released in 1992. Cobain died in 1994.

Also from the review:
[Michael Caine] has the film's best joke, fuming about Isabel taking a part in a remake of show that "is an insult to our wife [sic] of life!" It would have been even funnier if his "way of life" weren't exactly the same as it's portrayed in the sitcom.

And the writing would be even clearer if Edelstein got the quote right the first time. Does Slate have editors? I'll volunteer.

PS A correction has appeared, as predicted:

Thanks to the many (many) R.E.M./Cobain fans who wrote to say that "Everybody Hurts" was written (by Bill Berry) well before Kurt Cobain's suicide. The Cobain-inspired song was, of course, "Let Me In." However, "Everybody Hurts" was intended as a plea to teenagers not to kill themselves (and was sometimes paired in concert with "Let Me In"). Using the song in a sitcom context remains insensitive, to say the least.

The other, more obvious error, is still there.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

What's My Line

It's hard to complain about the top 100 movie lines, according to the American Film Institute. Most are famous and deserve to be on the list. Nevertheless, I'll give it a shot.

Their first mistake was allowing more than one quote per film. A film like Casablanca is a compendium of great lines--you could create the entire list from it. The AFI list has six. Better to have just one line represent any given film.

About ten lines or so seem too trivial to me to make the list, but that's not bad.

Then there's the trouble of comedians--funny lines aren't necessarily classic lines. They had to include something from Groucho, so they used the fairly famous elephant-in-the-pajamas bit from Animal Crackers. Fair enough, but it's not as if this is his best single line or moment. (How about "We're fighting for the woman's honor--which is more than she ever did.")

Then there are lines which became famous at least partly from promotion, such as "They're here" or "No wire hangers, ever!" or "Houston, we have a problem." Are these famous movie lines, or famous lines from ad campaigns?

A few shouldn't be on the list because they're famous from other source. For instance, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers" was well known from the play A Streetcar Named Desire before the movie.

The only line I feel they severely underrated is "Well, nobody's perfect" from Some Like It Hot. I was sure it'd be top ten, but it's only #48.

P.S. One more complaint. I think they could have found room for at least one line from the best dialogue writer around today, Quentin Tarantino. A few of his lines appear in the ballot of the top 400 choices, but they're still missing what I'd choose: "I'm going to get medieval on your ass."

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

What are the odds?

Shortly after 9/11, Warren Buffet said the U.S. would almost certainly be attacked by a nuclear explosion. He just wasn't sure when.

Was he right? I supposed so then and suppose so now. But where do Warren or I get the data to justify the belief?

Richard Lugar claims to know. Just ask 85 experts, then you can say, 30 percent chance of nuclear explosion next 10 years (albeit anywhere in the world, not just the U.S.).

I think my favorite part is this: When I said 30 percent, I was being imprecise. The true, honest to goodness figure is 29.2 percent.

I don't know who knows less about numbers, reporters or experts.

The secret to success

A quick googling reveals that it was playwrite Jean Giradoux, Groucho Marx, George Burns, and Samuel Goldwyn and news dust Daniel Schorr who said, "Sincerity. If you can fake that, you've got it made."

I have to say, though, that I thought Meryl Streep, Sally Field and Sissy Spacek could all do a better job crying on the senate floor than either George Voinovich or Dick Durbin.

LAGuy intereferes: The word is "playwright," as in wainwright or wheelwright. This is because, once upon a time, writing plays was considered a craft.

Columbus Guy piles on: I always have trouble with copywright, too. Can I blame it on the public schools? We need a law: NPSLB, No Poor Speller Left Behind.

LAGuy won't stop: I can understand the earlier confusion, since a playwright writes. But copyright simply means the right to make copies.

Columbus Guy rejoins: Copies of what you write? (Besides, I always thought it was the right to prevent someone else from making copies, through the rite of legal proceedings. After all, I have the right to copy all sorts of things in the public domain and even some that are not, but I have no copyright on them.)

To Cringe Or Not To Cringe

After watching the first three episodes of Lisa Kudrow's new show, The Comeback, I think I get it. She plays Valerie Cherish, a sitcom actress also starring in her own reality show. Each week we watch her discover, yet again, that she's not the sexy star she thinks she is.

I don't think I can take much more. While there have good shows based on embarrassment (The Office comes to mind), I'm not really sure if I like a show that exists mainly to humiliate its protagonist.

By the way, the magazine ad for the show has Lisa Kudrow in a meat grinder. Didn't a lot of people get mad when Larry Flynt tried the same thing?

Columbus Guy says: I'm very disappointed, LAGuy. I expected a photo with the meat grinder link, and you give us a transcript? I know we're all about words around here, but still . . .

LAGuy explains: I have a magazine with the Lisa Kudrow ad, but not the technological capability to post it. I searched the web for it, but no go. Same for Flynt. (By the way, just as the Kudrow people were being symbolic, Flynt was being satirical.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Social Security failings

I didn't believe President Bush was caving on private accounts for Social Security until I read this sentence: "This in no way should be interpreted to mean that the president is backing off of personal accounts," White House spokesman Trent Duffy said. "He is not."

UPDATE: Curses. I fell prey to LAGuy's recurrent Mitch Albom's disease.

Bush tanks private accounts

I wasn't sure that the president was giving up on private accounts for Social Security until I read this: "This in no way should be interpreted to mean that the president is backing off of personal accounts," White House spokesman Trent Duffy said. "He is not."

Better or worse than the filibuster?

The Democrats continue being obstructionists (not that anyone thought anything else was possible) and the vote on John Bolton has been delayed yet again. With 60 votes needed to end debate, the count was 54-38. (A few crossed party lines, most notably George Voinovoich, R-Ohio.)

So now there's talk of making Bolton a recess appointment. I've done a number of posts about the filibuster--how it is not only not in the Constitution, but is, in essence, anti-Constitutional--but what of the recess appointment?

At least it's in the Constitution. But the reasons behind it have disappeared. The idea of appointing someone when the Congress wasn't around made sense in an age before email, phones and telegraphs. Temporarily filling an important office was understandable before planes, trains and automobiles.

Now that we know what the Senate thinks, and now that we travel across the nation in hours and communicate instantaneously, it's silly to have recess appointments. Any President who takes advantage of the clause may be following the words of the Constitution, but not the spirit.

Columbus Guy says: The same George Voinovich that voted Bolton out of committee so he could have a floor vote, but said he would vote against him, is now supporting the filibuster, preventing him from having a floor vote? The man has a highly refined sense of principle, I suppose. He must be doing it for, not only his children and grandchildren, but all our children and grandchildren.

Monday, June 20, 2005

140-year insurgency

An anti-Bush, anti-Republican theme increasingly popular lately among the press and the left is the need for a withdrawal plan from Iraq; another popular left theme is that American voters with religious backgrounds are similar to the Iraqi insurgents, in that they are bigoted and otherwise intolerant.

Here's a much better comparison for them: With several years of error, we essentially settled the question of whether humans could be property in 1865. Yet, even today, we are still putting on trial people charged with refusing to accept that basic value of Western culture.

So what's our withdrawal plan from Iraq, where insurgents refuse to accept basic Wetern value, e.g., not lopping off heads with knives? I'd say, whatever it takes, even if it's 140 years.

Know Your TV History

A review of Celebrity Charades in the Hollywood Reporter starts thus:

Charades, especially with the right players, is that rarest of party games--wholesome and fun. Playing it, that is. Watching it is another story, which is probably why no one has tried to televise it. Until now.

Interesting theory. Too bad that Pantomime Quiz, aka Stump The Stars, aka Celebrity Charades, is about as old as TV itself.

The concept originated in local LA TV in 1948. It was on network primetime throughout the 50s, hosted by Mike Stokey. After a hiatus, it returned, in both daytime and syndicated form, at various years in the 60s. The latest effort to revive it--until now--was the syndicated Celebrity Charades of 1979-1980.

Someone wake up the editors at the Reporter.

Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings

To the surprise of no one (except the majority), recent research suggests the benefits of the Head Start program are minimal. This hasn't prevented the Head Start people from trumpeting how useful they are--if anything, this only makes them louder.

Because the public feels good is being done, emphasis on "feel," they hate to stop it. They're all warm and fuzzy inside, knowing such programs exist. (Another example is the anti-drug DARE, which doesn't seem to work). And woe to any politician who wants to cut funding--being armed with only facts against feelings is a dangerous place to be.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

I think it doesn't mean what you think it means

Speaking of the benefits of the First Amendment, the Downing Street memos are getting lots of press play. It reminds me of an interview I heard earlier this week, probably on NPR, in which one of the Time reporters who had made a big splash with "torture" at Guantanamo Bay said that most of the emails they were getting were along the lines of, "That's it? Why aren't we pulling these guys' fingernails out?"

Here's a key sentence from one of the memos, set forth in an AP story published today in our local paper (unlike LAGuy, there's something wrong with my industry, so I haven't found a link).

The truth is that what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein's WMD programs, but our tolerance of them post 11 September. (March 22, 2002 memo to Jack Straw, published by AP.)

And the press and the Dems consider this a scandal? I realize that what concerns the Dems, getting George Bush and the Republicans out of office, did not change 11 September, but, yes, our tolerance of a great deal changed 11 September.

New Flag Burning Argument?

They're at it again. Apparently having a lot of time on their hands, the Senate is considering yet again an amendment banning flag burning (and other signs of disrespect).

This issue has been around so long most people don't even want to hear the arguments any more. But maybe, just maybe, I have a slightly different take. So hear me out.

You don't like seeing the flag burned. Neither do I. But wouldn't you rather know the reason it's not being burned is because people revere it, not because they fear it?

Columbus Guy says: This was one of the most despicable things George H.W. Bush did, pushing the flag burning amendment. (P.J. O'Rourke's most excellent Parliament of Whores has a wonderful chapter on the supreme court's decision on this, "Doing the most imoprtant kind of nothing: The Supreme Court") It's hard to imagine a more directly political act of speech than burning the flag, but George wanted to fuss with the First Amendment for his own campaign interests. (Of course, what he did pales compared to what George W. Bush, the supreme court and Congress did with McCain Feingold.)

Anyway, LAGuy forgets another, less noble benefit to broad First Amendment protections: It flushes the idiots out, so you know who they are. Burn, baby, burn.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Kansas couldn't keep it

I just read the Kansas Supreme Court's school funding opinion, and boy is it a hoot. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in separation of powers.

Most of the text of it is dedicated to reviewing the immensely bureaucratic nature of school funding: BSAPP, cost studies, at-risk, bilingual, local option budget, cost of living weightings, and on and on. A true delight. (I'm not being ironic; I'm being sick. It's hiliarious what smart people will do, thinking they're accomplishing something, when in fact they're cratering.)

All of that is what the legislature did, and it's a rubric only Satan could love. Balanced against that is something similar, though discussed only summarily, called the Augenblick & Myers study. Different rubric and yet the same; but it comes up with more money, $853 million worth.

Here's the best part of the whole thing: The court reviews, extensively, the state legislature's work. Not enough, the court says. The court says, cursorily, that the A&M study is the only other cost information it has, so that's what it's going to use. And now, the punchline:

"We further conclude, after careful consideration, that at least one-third of the $853 million amount . . . shall be funded for the 2005-2006 school year."

Think about this. You had a legislature work for however many months on a silly and cumbersome rubric; you had Augenblick and Myers do the same, coming up with something different. Now you've got the supreme court working through it and pulling up the magic number of . . . one-third. There isn't a single word in the opinion to justify that, apart from the court's "careful consideration." I'd love to know what that "careful consideration" consisted of. "Hey, Billy, what do you think? 80 percent?" "Nah, too much. 15 percent tops." "Are you guys both crazy? It ought to be 130 percent minimum." "Look folks, let's put an end to this with paper, scissors, rock."

There isn't a thing about this case that is judicial in any reasonable sense. Stipulate that what the legislature did is stupid, but as lawyers like to say, that proves too much. All of government is stupid. Adding the court on top of the mix just makes it stupid squared.

Update: I forgot my second-favorite part of the Kansas school funding decision. After the Kansas Supreme Court rewrites a law for the legislature, here's how it ends its opinion:

"We readily acknowledge that our present remedy is far from perfect; indeed we acknoweldge that is merely a balancing of several factors."

Those factors are:
* "the ever present need for Kansas school children to receive a constitutionally adequate education"
* "The role of this court as defined in the Kansas Constitution."
* ". . . acknowledgement of the unique difficulties inherent in the legislative process."
* "the press of time caused by the rapidly approaching school year."

Sounds good, right? They're acknowledging the arbitrariness of the process, saying that humans can only do so much, that what this group of seven people does won't vary in any principled sense from what the next group of seven, or 100 or whatever does. More importantly, they're acknowledging that courts and legislatures fill different roles, right?

Nope. Sorry. They're just warning the legislature that no matter what it does, it's the court that makes the decisions, bucko: "Accordingly, we retain jurisdiction of this appeal. If necessary, further action will be taken by this court . . .."

If you can keep it II

LAGuy puts his finger on the heart of the problem, asking whether, if a state constitution guarantees citizens something, a quality education, say, what are courts to do but enforce it?

Okay. Let's say we're guaranteed a quality education. Cost (per the Kansas Supreme Court) $2.5 billion.

And of course, we're guaranteed health care (quality health care). Cost (per, let's say, the Kansas Supreme Court) $3.0 billion.

And what the heck, let's say we're entitled to a couple of other absolutely necessary things, cost $5.0 billion. Total budget: $10.5 billion.

Just to simplify, let's say, not that our total tax collections are $10 billion, a half billion short, but that our total state economy is $10 billion, a half billion short. What order is the supreme court going to issue then? Pixie dust?

My question is, is separation of powers essential to American government? If it is, is the spending power legislative? I think it's Nebraska that has a unicameral legislature; why not go a step further? Is there any reason to think that a state could not freely adopt a government that did not include separation of powers at all?

Update: Anonymous writes: How many times are the courts supposed to tell the legislature "do it" until they decide to take it into their own hands? As the judges say, no remedy means no right.

Columbus Guy responds: That's fine, but what Anonymous does not understand, or ignores, is that then the court is no longer acting as a court, but is instead acting as a legislature. If you collapse separation of powers by expanding judicial review to the point where the legislature has no discretion, you've eliminated the legislature, by making it a mere advisory body to the court. Anonymous seems to be familiar with the decision, as his language accurately reflects the court's language. But he seems unclear that there simply isn't any reasonable grounds to say that 2.6 billion is constitutional, but 2.45 billion isn't. That's just silly. This Kansas court is a joke.

But, as I implied earlier, if Kansas wants to adopt a single-branch government, why not? That's up to the people of Kansas. (Although I have to say, it does strike me as un-American. Separation of powers is a pretty important, fundamental concept.)

Box(ing) Office

Michael Medved, conservative film critic, has been known to pay fast and loose with numbers. One of his big claims--that Hollywood lost most of its audience in the 60s when it stopped making audience-friendly films--is simply wrong.

So perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised by a brazenly incorrrect claim he made today. He was discussing the puzzling failure of his favorite film this year, Cinderella Man. (Here's what I have to say about it.) He suggested it was because a previous boxing film, Million Dollar Baby, flopped, and people were tired of such movies.

Medved didn't just hate Million Dollar Baby, he led a virtual crusade against it. Here are the facts:

Cinderella Man. Budget -- $88 million. Domestic gross -- $34.8 million (and running out of steam).

Million Dollar Baby. Budget -- $30 million. Domestic gross -- $100 million (and another $107 million internationally).

Friday, June 17, 2005

If you can keep it

One of the questions raised by Bush v. Gore was whether there was any limit to what states can do with their own governments. Could they, for example, adopt communism? Eliminate the vote altogether in favor of a theocracy? There is a republican form of government clause in the U.S. Constitution, but it's never been used, so far as I know.

I raise the question because separation of powers, a basic tenet of American government, is under assault nationwide in a series of school funding cases. Ohio has gone round and round on it, til the supreme court finally gave up when the legislature continually did not listen to it.

Kansas is in the midst of its own version of this sort of constitutional crisis, with the court issuing an order that a $142 million spending increase--5 percent of the state education budget--was not enough. Ten percent minimum.

If courts can order legislatures to do anything, but in particular, to spend particular amounts, what is left of separation of powers?

LAGuy adds: The judiciary is part of a republic. There's no question they can make orders consistent with their findings. The question is not merely can they overstep their boundaries, but who gets to decide. I mean, if citizens are guaranteed something (say, a quality education), and the state keeps refusing to give it, what are the courts to do but try to enforce the law?

As I believe ColumbusGuy knows, the republican form of government clause has been brought up a number of times before the Supreme Court, especially after the Civil War. The Court declared the issue is non-justiciable. In other words, it's up to the Congress, not the courts, to decide some state's freedom has been taken away and send in the troops. I'm not only sure Congress won't send troops to overturn a state court decision regarding state law, I'm glad they won't.

So who else can solve the problem? Well, you got a legislature and a governor--they can decide to ignore the court's decision and wait to see who backs down (the Andrew Jackson option). Apparently this is what's happening in Ohio. But I don't think it's much of a solution. It wreaks havoc with the rule of law. And lord help you if the feds get involved.

So is there any hope left? Sure. It's with the people. They still have the franchise. It might take a while, but sooner or later, through normal, republican means, they can see to it that the judges are replaced, and the new judges know their place. Now when your judges start declaring elections illegal, that's when you got a real republican clause claim.

Long Odds

When ideas are highly unlikely, it can be tricky to figure just how unlikely. It's easy to understand that an even-odds horse is far more likely to win the race than a longshot. But when things are so unlikely that they're outside everyday experience--well, who can "feel" the difference between a billion-to-one shot and a trillion-to-one?

Over at The Huffington Post, Michael Shermer writes about the evolution-creationism controversy. He attacks "Intelligent Design" theory as a gussied up form of creationism, as well as yet another god of the gaps argument.

He goes on, however, to make a parenthetical remark that caught the attention of Eugene Volokh and Clayton Cramer. He calls evolution denial "the doppelganger of Holocaust denial."

Volokh has trouble with this analogy because he believes Holocaust denial has an immorality attached that doesn't fit creationism. While Volokh's essentially right about this, I think Shermer would simply reply he's only comparing, without getting into questions of good or bad, the thought processes of the two groups; that they both have a worldview that makes them ignore the massive evidence against their theory and accept weak or hopeless evidence. Since Shermer has written a whole book on why people believe weird things, and has studied these arguments for years, I guess he feels the kind of "debates" you get into with creationists and holocaust deniers are, intellectually speaking, quite similar.

Cramer goes further and says Shermer's just wrong--that the Holocaust is better proved than evolution. Is it that obvious? We run into the problem listed above: how do you measure the unlikeliness of the counterarguments? Or to put it in a positive way, there's tons of evidence for evolution. As Shermer notes, this evidence comes from numerous independent lines of scientific research. You have to be pretty perverse to deny it.

Moreover, I don't think Cramer understands how tenuous his argument is. Imagine things in a century. We already have plenty of evidence for evolution, and by then we'll have ten times more. Meanwhile, the Holocaust will be outside living memory and means of falsifying historical evidence (already good) will be better than ever. I don't think a Clayton Cramer in 2100 will be quite so sure of himself.

But there's an even bigger point here that I think both Volokh and Cramer miss. Volokh lives and works in America, and most of his friends and associates are American or at least part of the Western world. So when he posted about another aspect of Shermer's piece, the comments he received were somewhat predictable: a number wrote in using the arguments of creationists, but no one (that I noticed) defended Holocaust denial.

Yet, there are places in the world where Jew-hating is popular. In these lands, Holocaust denial is common, and the taint against it doesn't exist, at least not like it does in Eugene Volokh's world. In such places, intelligent people seeking the truth might give more credence to Holocaust denial than Clayton Cramer does. I can easily imagine the smart set at a university mocking creationists while taking Holocaust denial seriously.

I wonder how they'd respond to Shermer's argument on their blogs?

Withdrawal Symptoms

Dear Mr. Hitler,

So far, World War II has been a disaster. Sure, we captured a lot of land, but we've lost over 100,000 soldiers and there's no end in sight. To be honest, there are times we can't figure what we're doing overseas any more.

So we just thought we'd let you know that you better surrender soon. Otherwise, we will pull out in early 1944.



Thursday, June 16, 2005

Mind Your Own Business

A 4-year-old lost consciousness on Disney World's Mission: Space ride and was declared dead at the hospital. 8.6 million had previously ridden the attraction without incident.

Representative Ed Markey of Massachusetts says this death "is a perfect example of why the federal government should be able to investigate." (At present, theme parks are controlled by state law.)

So you can all sleep easy. When anything goes seriously wrong anywhere, Ed Markey is working on your behalf to make it a federal matter.

Roger Simon vs. PBS

Before Memorial Day, Roger Simon posed the question, "What is fair and balanced?"

Now PBS is taking a look at their fairness standards. By itself, the policy isn't terrible, if it is a bit bureaucratic (as it seems these things must be). Here's a hint, though, guys: It's the execution. Why don't you ask the views of someone who voted for Reagan once in a while? What's that? Oh, you silly PBS people. I meant someone on your staff.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Sandler's people

So The Longest Yard is on track for $125 million in three weeks. Good, good. Count that as a success. But come on, Adam. You can afford to write a decent script, and Punch Drunk Love, among other things, shows you're interested.

LAGuy notes: The flyovers may have bad taste, but they're not stupid. When they smell a non-Adam Sandler film starring Adam Sandler (e.g., Punch Drink Love or Spanglish) they stay away. Actors try to expand from their original base, but very few get to be Tom Hanks.

Columbus Guy ripostes: They don't have to make it Spanglish or Punch Drunk Love. They just have to introduce a bit of quality. We flyover folk will still like it, as long as he keesp Rob Schneider.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Sneddon's Folly

I might be out the next few days, so I trust ColumbusGuy and--who knows--maybe Pajama Guy himself, will pick up the slack.

Well, I finally get to write my piece on Michael Jackson. (Here's a link, but really, is it necessary?) I've been steaming about this farce for quite a while, but since the jury got it right, I'm a lot calmer.

D.A. Tom Sneddon should feel ashamed for bringing this to court. I can't read minds, but his case was so weak it's hard to understand how it happened short of personal vendetta. Maybe he just got tired of going to cocktail parties and having friends ask "when you gonna put that creep in jail?"

Even with new anti-Michael Jackson laws that allow prosecutors to bring in inflammatory, unfounded evidence of previous molestation, he still had nothing. Every little bit of evidence that he found on his fishing expeditions at Neverland, all the characters he brought in to build his case, all the testimony, everything he presented, was compromised and questionable. The jury had to acquit even if the defense presented nothing.

It's scary when a prosecutor can bring the entire apparatus of the state to bear down on one man just because he's become an embarrassment. Did this happen? I can't be sure. But seeing a number of prosecutors gnashing their teeth because they think Jackson got away with it does not fill me with confidence.

As to Jackson himself, beyond being weird, and liking kids around, I don't know exactly what he did. There's no question in my mind, though, there was reasonable doubt as to his guilt. (Perhaps Sneddon was counting on the revulsion we feel against child molesters to create a jury that would toss Jackson in jail just to be safe.) But beyond that, think about it. Jackson, if he was a true pedophile who actively sought out children to have sex with, had the perfect set-up for years, really decades. He had a lovely place, lots of money, celebrity, privacy and tons of kids. A real active pedophile would have had sex countless times with hundreds of kids, or at least attempted sex. A prosecutor would have no trouble getting great evidence and testimony from numerous sources, not the threadbare case Sneddon presented.

PS It shouldn't matter, but the jury was all-white. I say it shouldn't matter, except that the Supreme Court keeps saying it does. They just continue their foolish racializing of the justice system. Both sides are allowed to pick the jury--let's leave it at that.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Why I'm not Scrappleface

The U.S. Senate today exhumed the body of Sen. William E. Borah, R-Idaho, to flail at his corpse with canes.

Sen. Joseph Biden said the exhumation and caning was meant to demonstrate the august deliberative body's contrition for its failure to pass anti-lynching laws at the turn of the 20th century.

"We tried the apology thing, but it just didn't feel like it was enough," Biden said. "No matter how much we blamed other people we don't even know, so that we could get some o' that good TV lovin' we love so much, it just didn't feel sincere.

"So we thought to ourselves, 'Maybe it's because we didn't have anything to do what those clowns who served here 100 years ago were doing'."

That's when Sen. Joe Lieberman suggested digging up Borah, Biden said.

"We don't reawwy know whether Sen. Borah fiwwibustered the wwynching wwaws," Lieberman said. "But that's not reawwy the point. The point is, we're reawwy, reawwy sorry for what that fat bastard did."

Live Blogging

I doubt too many people will rush to Pajama Guy to get their Michael Jackson news, but as long as it's on TV, I figured I'd live-blog the reading of the verdict. I'll probably write more about it later, after I've had time to reflect.

If he's found guilty of lewd acts upon a child, I'm hearing, he goes to jail immediately. Different from most criminal cases. Many are speculating how he'll survive in prison, but let's wait for the verdict first.

The courthouse, inside and out, is alive, of course. There'll be an audio feed of the verdict, though no video.

It's hard to imagine what Michael Jackson is thinking now. (Though that's always been true.)

There will be a bunch of charges, starting with conspiracy, followed by molesting. Later charges are lesser charges. There was a lot for the jury to handle.

They're all in the courtroom, though there's no audio yet. The court clerk should be starting the proceedings soon.

I wonder how many millions are watching and listening right now. I'm sure the news that the verdict is in spread like wildfire. People at work must be taking time off.

While we're waiting, let's think about the oddity of the jury system to begin with. Citizens used to be collected in the village to give evidence, now they sit quietly and determine the facts. It's an awesome responsibility, having a fellow citizen's life in your hands. At least I hope they realize it's an awesome responsibility.

It's possible, apparently, that there'll be a partial verdict--that the jury finds on certain charges and is hung on others. That would be odd.

The original announcement said the verdict would be read at 1:30 PST, and it's now past 2.

Someone is now suggesting the judge may know the verdict already. And even the prosecutor! That can't be right. Also the defense lawyer. How is this possible? Some commentators are saying it looks good for the prosecutor. We'll know in a minute or two. Funny how this case seems so much bigger than anything the Supreme Court is doing now.

The jury has walked into the courtroom.

Now the judge has entered the courtroom.

I have to admit I feel nervous, though I don't know why.

There's been a lot of secrecy in this trial, even as to questions the jury had for the judge.

Another question: how influenced was this (non-sequestered) jury by all the publicity and open discussion of the case?

By the way, nice weather out there.

Big crowd outside. How will they react? I'd guess most are Jackson fans.

It's now 2:10. (By the way, the time codes attached to these posts, unlessed they're messed with, are based on when the writing starts, not when it ends.)

A prosecutor-commentator is saying there'll be convictions based on the time line of the jury, but she's worried it won't be harsh enough anyway.

The jury is looking at the judge, apparently. Bad for Jackson? Or did they plan it. (When you're a game show contestant, for instance, you're told not to stare at friends in the audience.)

The sound is finally turned on in the courtroom.

The verdict:

Count 1: Not guilty!

Count 2: Not guilty!

Wow! Those are the biggies.

3: Not guilty!

4: Not guilty! (Look 'em up later)

5: Not guilty!

6: Not guilty!

7: Not guilty! (including lesser)

8: Not guilty! (top and bottom)

9: Not guilty! (top and bottom)

10: Not guilty! (top and bottom!)

He runs the table!!!!!!!!!!!

I congratulate the jury on the fine job it has done.

More later.

Columbus Guy adds: LAGuy says, "I doubt too many people will rush to Pajama Guy to get their Michael Jackson news." Maybe so, but I came here first. Except for about 10 minutes today, an accident, I assure you, all of my Michael Jackson news has come from PajamaGuy.

On Top

An interesting annotation of "You're The Top" at Slate. It's probably Cole Porter's greatest list song, but every year it gets a little harder to understand. While the guide's helpful, it's certainly interesting to see what Timothy Noah considers worth explaining.

I guess I can see footnotes on Irene Bordoni or George Jean Nathan, though people aware of Cole Porter's theatrical world know these names. I would have thought, however, that Vincent Youmans is still remembered. (In the 1960s off-Broadway production, certain names were updated, and "Vincent Youmans" was replaced with an awkward use of "Toscanini.")

Other terms that need explaining: "cellophane," "Garbo's salary," "Arrow collar," "Waldorf salad," "Mrs. Astor" and "the pants on a Roxy Usher."

Terms requiring no explanation: "Napoleon Brandy," "a night at Coney," "Boticcelli," "a Coolidge dollar," "Pepsodent" and "the steppes of Russia."

Seems somewhat arbitrary (or maybe it's just me).

Regardless, in another generation, even such familiar names as "Mae West," "Durante" and "Ovaltine" may need explaining. Lucky for Porter "Let's Do It" is mostly about animals.


I was walking down the street over the weekend when I saw a guy offering massage. Ten bucks for ten minutes. It's been years since I had a nice massage, so I figured why not.

He explained it was an acupressure massage. After five minutes of digging his elbow into my spine, I was ready to cry uncle. But I figured I'd paid for ten minutes so let's get the whole painful treatment.

I swear I can remember when massages felt good.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

An acorn

I love Thomas Sowell's personality and arguments, but I rarely like his writing, either in his columns or his books. Nonetheless, he did pull off a nice line the other day, which he set up by asking, Is emptying bed pans in a hospital menial work?

What would happen if bed pans didn't get emptied? Let people stop emptying bed pans for a month and there would be bigger problems than if sociologists stopped working for a year.

LAGuy with an irrelevant aside: I'm reminded of an old joke. A boy is sent to a boarding school. He calls his mother and says he misses the pot that used to be under the bed. She says he always did.

Last Chance

Today is the last day the controversial artwork below will still be on this scroll. I got a lot of interesting comments (some on the blog, others via email) about the stuff, so why not roll the page down and take one last look--perhaps even add a comment or two.

Not that it will disappear, but tomorrow, if you want to check it out, you'll have to go to the June archives.

Nobody Knows Anything

Experts are still scratching their heads at the relative failure of Cinderella Man. The Ron Howard film, starring Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweger, which got great reviews and tested through the roof, opened to a disappointing $18.3 million, behind three other films that were already playing. Now, in its second week, it's dropping approximately 50%, suggesting word of mouth won't save it. The film is not a complete flop, but it's not the summer counter-programming hit that Universal was counting on.

The first rule of show biz is you don't have to explain failure--that's the norm. Still, let me try to give a few reasons why the film is underperforming. Others have noted the confusing title and worse slogan: "When America was on its knees, he brought us to our feet." (Just what are they suggesting?) In this front-loaded age, the audience has to know what to expect.

But I think the problem goes deeper. Some films play better to critics and preview audiences than to regular crowds. Films with a prestigious pedigree (check), solid craftmanship (check) and good intentions (double check), for example. I think regular moviegoers saw the trailer and thought "this is a film that's supposed to be good for me." Who needs that? And I think it plays as a film that's too earnest, too depressing and not really surprising. It's not bad, but it's not something you'll call your friends about.

On the other hand, if you want to see a well-marketed film that gets the audience really excited, no matter what the critics say, look no further than Mr. & Mrs. Smith. It made more on its first day than Cinderella Man made in its first weekend.

Some have suggested Crowe's phone-tossing incident hurt his film. I don't buy it. The muted response from the audience was clear before that, and if you don't distinguish yourself quickly in the summer, it's rare you get another chance. Besides, Brad dumped Jen for Angelina and the audience isn't punishing him for that.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Gap

The Canadian Supreme Court just declared the country's health care regime cannot be squared with basic human rights. Many citizens have to wait for long periods while sick and in pain, and cannot (officially) go outside the system to seek a cure. This ruling displeased egalitarian Canadians such as Prime Minister Paul Martin who pledged "we're not going to have a two-tier health-care system in this country."

Think about this. What concerns Martin is not that everyone be guaranteed good, much less excellent, care. He knows that's not possible. So what he concentrates on is making sure those who try to get better than what's available are pulled back down.

This is an essential problem with people who are more concerned about the gap than the problem. Last week The New York Times had a major piece on how the richest in the U.S. are richer than ever. That sounded good to me, but apparently it's not supposed to be, since it increases the gap between top and bottom. It's better that the rich have less and everything else be the same, if the gap is what matters.

Being richer should be advantageous, with no apologies. This creates incentives to work hard and be creative. While I understand worrying about those at the bottom, and making sure (based on whatever system you think works best) no one falls too low, I don't understand people who focus negatively on how well people do at the top. Maybe someone should teach the gapsters this isn't a zero sum game.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Panther Patch Job

The Steve Martin Pink Panther movie has been postponed from August to February. This is a sure sign they've got a stinker, and know it.

I have a suggestion. If they do any reshooting, how about taking Kevin Kline, who presently plays Chief Inspector Dreyfus, and putting him in the Clouseau role?

ColumbusGuy adds: Yeah, this smelled bad from the get-go. It's risky to take such a good performance and simply try to play it again. Maybe LAGuy could give us a piece on sequels, when they have worked and when they have not. (And if he can tell us when they will work and when they won't, he'll retire a very rich man.)

Who's the bigger bonehead?

Sen. Dick Durbin is whining and blaming the press for Howard Dean's foolish remarks.

"I think we all understand what's happening with you all (in the press)," Durbin said. "The right wing has got the agenda moving. Fox [News Channel] and everybody's got the agenda. It's all about Howard Dean. You've bought into it. You can't let up on it. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves."

It's just childish to skip over your own faults and your friends' and allies' to attack people you disagree with for essentially the same behavior. You ought to be ashamed, indeed.

What must really be galling for Durbin, though, is that he's right. Just exactly how is this a news story? What Dean says counts as news, though not of particularly high quality, but Democrats whining about the press? How is that news? Here's how reporter James Lakely and his editors wrote it:

"I think we all understand what's happening with you all," said Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, in remarks echoing Hillary Rodham Clinton's blaming a "vast right-wing conspiracy" for her husband's legal-ethical woes.

Uh, guys, do you think we have a little editorializing going on here? Who do you think you are? The New York Times?

Blowing Smoke

Some people are unhappy that federal prosecutors are "only" asking for $10 billion (billion with a "B") from the tobacco industry to spend on programs to end smoking. They smell sellout. They want $130 billion dollars for these programs.

I have a suggestion. How about spending zero dollars, since I think everyone's already caught on that cigarettes are bad. If people want to stop and need help, they can pay for the privilege with the money they save not buying death sticks.

Smokin' California weed

Bob Novak had better be careful. Whatever medical condition he has won't protect him from federal prosecution for doin' the wacky weed.

Novak today writes that, yes, Hillary Clinton has tied up her party's money, the East Coast branch, anyway, for the 2008 presidential race. But she's at risk from Hollywood.

It's not going to happen. You would, indeed, expect some Democrats somewhere to attempt to wrench control of the party from the Clintons. But the Clintons are good at what they do, and they are ruthless. She'll have the West Coast money tied up shortly, too. Her only real battle is trying to understand the new media landscape, now that the Manhattan media no longer run the show.

But Manhattan media is still influential and will attempt a comeback. Add to that that Hillary will soon begin to vote right, in addition to talking right, and she will be formidable. The Republicans have done well, so they cannot be counted out, but expect a battle royale. Perhaps this will be the cycle where the black vote saves the country.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Tell it to the Marines II

Several folks are noting Amnesty International's call for U.S. leaders to be tried by foreign courts. Why not? This is precisely what the ICC stands for.

I told you so

Rarely does the "I told you so" seem attractive. Perhaps it's effective, I don't know.

In Uncle Milton's case, however, I think he's entitled. (Registration required today, but not tomorrow and after.) Ohio is working on vouchers and will get them from the legislature. What the supreme court will do with them, however, is as closely correlated to tea leaves as it is law.

Update: ColumbusGuy edited out an embarassing little "remains to be seen" line. Boy is his face red.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Hoax alert

Powerline has a photo of an apparently standard road sign that is so stupid it must be seen to be believed, and even then it cannot be believed.

The P-boys have a good deal of credibility and apparently this is real. But who could ever have put such a thing together?

LAGuy says: I've seen those signs ever since I moved here in the 90s. I don't know how long they've been there, but I assume the government saw there was a problem and decided to put a few signs up. Others want to go much further, as you know, such as stations along the way that give help to those breaking into the country. (By the way, I favor fairly open borders.)

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Tell it to the Marines

The most wicked and damaging thing Bill Clinton did in his eight years as president, and he did several such things, was signing the treaty creating the International Criminal Court.

Bush repudiated the signature, of course, and the treaty has never been submitted to the senate. But there isn't much doubt that a subsequent president conceivably could do so. A President Hillary Clinton surely would, as would have a President Kerry; one wonders what a President McCain would do.

During his term, Clinton himself was investigated for alleged violations of international law for his acts in bombing the former Yugoslavia. The prosecutor, exercising discretion, declined to pursue the matter (this preceded the ICC, but the principle is similar).

Many people cheered when the dread Augusto Pinochet was indicted by a Spanish judge, and there seems to be no end to efforts to try him for his supposed crimes against humanity.

I don't argue that Pinochet didn't murder people. I'll accept that he did. What I argue is, Saddam, Stalin, Castro and any number of others murdered people, too, but they would never be prosecuted, because they are favored.

More importantly, the U.S. president, and for that matter, the leader of every nation, must always be free to go to war. If you want to hang him (or her) for doing it, fine. Defeat them in war and hang them. If you can't defeat them in war, then give it up. Crimes within the jurisdiction of your government are one thing, but your whining complaints about policies with which you disagree are entirely something else.

The busybody Spaniards are at it again, wanting the option to prosecute U.S. soldiers. Sorry, Santiago. Tell it to the Marines.

Keep 'em Comin'

So far we've had some interesting comments on the controversial art below. It'd be great if we could have more. So let's hear from you. And tell your friends. (Looks like I'll be out a day or two anyway, so keep it going while I'm gone.)

Monday, June 06, 2005

A painting done in a somewhat primitive style. Very colorful, very sweet. A woman, possibly African, perhaps pregant, wears a bluish veil against a lively yellow background, while things that look like butterflies flit by. She has a lump of something where her right breast might be, and it's bedecked with jewels. Perhaps this is some sort of fertility painting. Posted by Hello

Quite beautiful. The kind of thing I imagine I'd see hanging on the wall in a religious Christian household. It's Jesus on the cross, of course. He's in some murky substance, could be lucite, or liquid. It's yellowish-red, suggesting blood--the human side--against shafts of light from above--the heavenly side. Posted by Hello

Monday Morning Art Corner

You may or may not recognize the two pieces of art reproduced above. If you don't know what they are, please look at them and try to respond to the work alone. Even if you know what they are, try to pretend you're looking at them for the first time. Feel free to leave a comment on how you react.

I'm hardly an art critic, but my captions are what I would think after first seeing these pieces, with no background knowledge.

Both have been denounced by mayors, senators and columnists across the country--most of whom hadn't actually seen them. (And the controversy doesn't stop at our shores. For example, at the National Gallery of Australia, Dr. Brian Kennedy canceled an entire exhibit that featured the first painting.)

The first work is the "dung-smeared" Holy Virgin Mary by Chris Ofili (1996). The second is the even more controversial Piss Christ by Andres Serrano (1989), where a cross was submerged in urine (and blood). Both worked were widely condemned when they debuted, and have since become symbols of the art world's contempt for religious and Christian sensibility. The controversy has never really died down--it doesn't take much for opponents to mention these betes noirs. For example, in an otherwise reasonable column by Charles Krauthammer on the treatment of the Koran at Gitmo, he can't help but raise the spectre of these two works.

That's why I decided to show these pieces. I doubt if they can be understood unseen. I don't see two cheap and easy attacks on Christianty--if anything, they strike me as deeply religious work. (Not that offensive art shouldn't be protected, just that it's time for conservatives to stop using them as examples of attacks.)

I could try to put the artwork in context--Ofili, of African heritage, regularly uses elephant dung in his work, that sort of thing--but it's probably better to let the works speak for themselves. Go ahead and read more about them if you wish, but for now, just seeing them should be enough.

Some societies are not as tolerant as ours. We should celebrate such tolerance, not bemoan that things have gone too far.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

One Man's Meat

Favorite TV shows . . . that hardly seems like blog material. Nonetheless, I really loved It Takes A Thief.

Lately, though, I don't often think in terms of favorites. Given the question, Arrested Development is probably the answer. Although I can't say that I watch them, except incidentally, there's something quite appealing about JAG, similar to the way there was something appealing about Walker Texas Ranger; I think it's the off-kilter polish.

As to what we actually watch, I'd have to go ask the neighborhood dealer, or John Ashcroft Gonzales. Six Feet Under, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Bob Newhart, Ozzie & Harriet (that one probably doesn't count, though we did enjoy it recently). I'll occasionally do South Park or the Simpsons, though ColumbusGal usually won't have it. ("Matt Damon!")

We finished The Job last night, last three episodes, which somehow struck a false note. The show was still there, but something changed. It was the first time I started noticing tangential characters and plotlines carrying forward, and they started to develop the characters' storylines with drama in mind, instead of humor. That might have been a fine thing to do, but it wasn't The Job. More recency bias: Twice yesterday, once in the series' end, I heard Joey Ramone's "What A Wonderful World, when I couldn't say that I've ever heard it before.

LAGuy pops in: A few comments.

Interesting that you've had so much TV caviar (those high-toned HBO series) without most of the meat and potatoes the networks provide. Even Arrested Development, which just got picked up for a third season, is a rarefied show, watched by few, loved by critics.

If you like Six Feet Under, perhaps you'd like other HBO dramas, from the highly decorated Sopranos on down. And if you like Curb Your Enthusiasm, perhaps you'd like The Larry Sanders Show.

But the truth is, if you want to know what America talked about in the last decade, you'd watch the network hits. See the years-long romance of Ross and Rachel. (If you don't know who they are, you're in trouble.) It may grow tiresome, but Friends, at its best, was a witty series in the Mary Tyler Moore mold (though filled with more sex).

I'm surprised ColumbusGal has trouble with The Simpsons (though not with South Park--a brilliant show in many ways, but meant to be shocking.) While the show has been demonstrating the law of diminishing returns for a while, I think The Simpsons, no matter what you may have heard from William Bennett, is widely and properly regarded as one of the high points of pop culture in the 20th century.

And one more thing. If you like Curb Your Enthusiasm, why not see the original Larry David concept (without swearing) in the excellent Seinfeld series? The leads are all fine, but Jason Alexander gives one of the greatest sustained performances in television history.

Was It Worth It?

I just saw Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star. Weak, even by David Spade standards. But I wasn't expecting anything.

What bothered me is he plays a former 70s sitcom star whose catchphrase, repeated throughout the movie, is "nucking futs!" A friend of mine was insulted by the language. I was insulted in another way.

The idea that anyone could get away with such a catchphrase, when "kiss my grits" or "sit on it" was as dirty as it got, is ridiculous. (You couldn't get away with it today, either.) Is a cheap line like this funnier than a well-thought out catchphrase that might actually be possible?

I'm reminded of two films from the early 90s that both made a similar mistake. For The Boys follows two entertainers, played by Bette Midler and James Caan, over several decades. In one section, they have a TV show in the 50s, where they make sex jokes that were simply unimaginable then. Same for Billy Crystal in Mr. Saturday Night, who, no matter how angry his character was, would simply not make gay jokes against a competitor on 1950's TV.

Both these movies spent millions on sets, costumes, makeup, hair, etc., to capture a period look, and then tossed it all away in the need to make dirty gags that they figured a modern audience would respond to better.

Was it worth it? Nucking fo!

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Doin' The Job

Spent the week watching Denis Leary's The Job. My God, is it funny. We had watched it when it was on network television (how did that ever happen?), notwithstanding that we don't have a television.

It didn't last long, of course. Go see its entry in The comments are perfectly bimodal: It's either the best thing ever written for television or it has no redeeming value whatever.

I wonder if it translated well to cable and a new setting in the fire station?

LAGuy incoherently shoots from the hip: Whenever anyone brags that he doesn't watch TV, or he doesn't even own a set, I reply he's taking the bread out of my children's mouths. (This is a lie, of course--I just don't like the smugness of many anti-TV people).

I admit that while I enjoy TV, and enjoy getting paychecks writing for TV, you can get along just fine without it. I've had long periods without watching--or missing--it. (I recall Garrison Keiller saying--on radio, of course--that TV is a failed experiment. While he was (mostly) joking, that's the way it always goes. Over a century ago, the stupidity of the new generation was due to the idiotic books they read. A bit later, it was radio. Now everyone casually knows it's TV and cable that have got us in this mess.)

The people behind the whole Jump The Shark thing (friends of mine) obviously love TV. Only true lovers would spend so much time being jilted.

Anyway, since ColumbusGuy gets to pick and choose what he'll watch on DVD, perhaps someone who has watched more indiscriminately can be of service. I'd love to know what he's been watching, and what his favorite shows are.

Inconsistent Radical

In a Boston Phoenix article, Chris Lehmann gives a by-the-numbers Marxist critique of The New York Times' endless series on class in America. Lehman, like a good radical, understands in our liberal society, the Times is as much a part of the Establishment as George W. Bush--they're merely two sides of the same coin, with a paramount interest in protecting the prerogatives of the ruling class.

Now there's nothing wrong with attacking the Times from the left (okay, there is--it means your analysis is way off, especially economically), but at least be consistent. If you believe our society is founded on the rich getting richer, always at the expense of everyone else, keep your blinders on and go at it.

But Lehmann disappointed me. He states that class is destiny in America, particularly for groups such as "poor black voters in Ohio and Florida." Ohio and Florida? I realize some far leftists like to spice up their economic analysis with a little racial resentment, but really, for a Marxist to partake in the paranoia of mere big D Democrats is enough to make you lose faith in radicalism.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Culture For The Masses

Considering the hullabaloo surrounding Paris Hilton's ad for Carl's Jr. hamburgers, I'm surprised no one has commented on a very positive aspect of the whole thing. The background music is "I Love Paris." Anything that spreads Cole Porter to the larger public is okay in my book.

Non-review Of Bad Review

I don't recommend Terry Eagleton's review in The Nation of Russell Jacoby's Picture Imperfect. The book is about utopias, but beyond that it's hard to say, so incoherent is the piece. Too bad, since I find the topic particularly intriguing.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

I Can See For Miles

Some readers complain when I put up posts well in advance of the time officially listed, but it's usually because I'll be gone a day or two and like to have something new up. In any case, if it's not yet Thursday, you shouldn't be reading this. Don't worry, it's a perennial so it won't be dated.

Let's talk about the national anthem. It's an embarrassment. It's an old drinking song that's not only hard to sing, but such a rotten melody that it's hardly worth singing. So many other nations have more stirring tunes.

Then there's the subject--the flag. I got nothing against our flag (though it's a rare day when I refer to it as a star-spangled banner), but I'd rather sing about the beauty of our country, or the people in it, or the liberty we all enjoy.

Then there's another problem I thought of when my mind was wandering during an excruciating a cappella version. We only sing the first verse--which is fine with me, we don't need to sit through the other three. But this means we end on a question mark. We end the song asking ourselves if the flag is still waving. Our anthem offers no closure.

What we need to do, after singing the final line, is to answer "yes, it does!" And then play ball.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Back to the future

My spider sense tells me LAGuy's going to engage in some unjustified carping about our national symbols tomorrow, attacking both our flag and our national anthem. I think we should make him recite the pledge of allegiance in public 1000 times until he cries, honoring a traditional older than even the filibuster.

First off, what do you want for an anthem, something like Ode to Joy? Beauty is where you find it and I'm not sure I'd rather have Beethoven on the job. It's rather amazing how many smart people have been writing constitutions since ours was written, and how consistently they've done such a poor job.

Second off, what's wrong with ending on a question? It's a rather great question and I can think of few things better to plant in the national psyche than that one.

And speaking of which, what's wrong with the flag? Who are you? William Kunstler?

One Is Hard Enough

If I had to list the hundred most foolish things anyone has ever said, two of them would be "The personal is political" and “Pornography is the theory, rape is the practice.” So I was astonished to find, in New York Magazine, both were coined by well-known feminist Robin Morgan.

Congratulations. I've yet to compile the list, but I bet you're the only twofer.

Now You Tell Us

So now we know who Deep Throat was. The wait was so long the revelation is a bit of an anti-climax. I guess I'd rather know than not, but it sure would have been more fun if we found out while Nixon was still alive.

Actually, the whole Deep Throat thing was not helpful. It turned an important story about government corruption and investigative reporting into a silly mystery.

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