Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Patriotism And Slogans

I was driving behind a (gas-guzzling) van today. It had a bumper sticker that read "Real Patriots Defend The Constitution." Makes sense to me. It took me a while to figure out this slogan is supposed to be anti-war. I think it also has something to do with The Patriot Act. Anyone disagree?

Now I'm post-modern enough to see patriotism as a neutral value, since being patriotic to Hitler or Stalin doesn't strike me as that noble. But at least the guy who put on the bumper sticker hadn't completely given up on being a patriotic American--a lot of people who vote like him find that notion troublesome.

Anyway, I checked to see if I could find similar slogans, and ran across a whole page of anti-war stuff, including the above, brought to you by Monterey Bay Educators Against War.

Some of their stuff is hopeless: "War Is Always A Mistake." Some of it is tiresome: "How Many Lives Per Gallon?" Some of it is intriguing: "What Your Flag Stands For Is Up To You." Some of it is dated: "Don't Blame Me, I Voted With The Majority!" Overall, it's pretty amusing. Check it out.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day tribute to fighting men

I was out running early and caught a piece of a radio advertisement referring to a television show, Flags of My Fathers, and I thought to myself, "That's odd. I thought the title was Flags of Our Fathers. They must have changed it for television. Hmm. Not a very good change."

Flags of Our Fathers, of course, is a wonderful book by James Bradley, son of John Bradley, one of the men immortalized by the Iwo Jima flag raising. A true work of art and good history.

Now, just a moment ago, I heard the full commercial that I had caught only a part of earlier. Turns out I misheard it; it's Faith of My Fathers, the title of John McCain's I'm-a-Vietnam-War-Hero-Vote-for-Me-I'm-Running-For-President trade piece. They're using for some idiotic puff piece on John McCain on A&E. You know, Vietnam worked so well for John Kerry, it doesn't surprise me that now they're going to try it for McCain. It's pretty pathetic that that's the title they came up with, but that McCain so tritely trades on the good title of a highly successful work of art pretty well captures McCain's contemporary character, whatever his merits may have been 35 years ago.

Andrew Sullivan's Tortured Logic

Andrew Sullivan has been writing quite a bit about how we've treated our prisoners in the war on terror. It's a worthy topic, no doubt. There's plenty of evidence that we've gone too far, breaking international rules as well as our own. The issue should be investigated and dealt with, but we must remember it's only a part of the war, and a minor part at that. (Sullivan is not much into investigating--he's already decided our problems, common enough in war time, can be laid directly at the feet of George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzalez--verdict first, evidence later.)

Yet, Sullivan thinks we're giving others a reason to object to the war. As he puts it, "Guantanamo and Bagram continue to undermine our cause around the world." (The link is to more Muslim protests against alleged Koran desecration.) Mr. Sullivan, point blank: is the war, which you previously thought worth fighting, no longer so because of how we run our prisons? I have to believe you still think it's worth fighting. (If not, you've simply lost your sense of perspective.)

Therefore, you should realize that we're not giving others a true reason to attack the war, but rather, an excuse, a pretext. If our prisoner situation undermines our cause, it's actually because those against us either don't understand what's happening or simply oppose us anyway. (They had no trouble protesting in large numbers well before the present scandals. And odd that they protest us so easily and don't seem even slightly concerned at regular, vicious human rights abuses from our enemies.)

So it seems to me that those who support the war, while they certainly may write about our prisons, should not let the tail wag the dog. Many people around the world believe ugly and false things about both America and the war on terror. Why not try to help them see things differently? Shrugging your shoulders and saying they have a point because of what we've done isn't merely wrong, it's dishonest.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Recency bias

Rented the Team America dvd as a backup. ColumbusGal despises most such things, though she did consent to see it with me in the theater and couldn't stop herself from laughing at the Hans Brix scene.

Personally, my favorite line was, "You have to act quickly, Gary."

Anyway, I indeed had a chance to watch it--I'm really enjoying my holiday weekend, even thinking of the dead troops from time to time--and the line about Alec Baldwin being America's greatest living actor is the best since Saving Silverman's line about Neil Diamond being America's greatest living songwriter.

So guess who's reading the second story on today's Selected Shorts? That's right: Alec Baldwin. I think this means something. I should play the lottery today. Any ideas for an algorithm to translate his name into numbers?

We also saw The Longest Yard last night, at the drive-in, no less. We southern Ohio hillbillies are Sandler's people.

But I have to say, it was awful. I hope it does well for him, just because we like him, but the first half was a complete mush, and they just couldn't decide what they wanted to do--typical Sandler comedy? An homage to Burt? A bit of drama? It felt like they assigned a series of vignettes to dozen high school seniors, then pasted them all together.

Allons enfant de la patrie...

...le jour de gloire est arrivé!

Later today we should know how the E.U. constitution referendum did in France, but all early signals indicate the answer is non. Maybe I should wait to find out, but I figured I'd gloat now and beat the rush.

Actually, I have no strong feelings about the European Union. While I have certain problems with it, I figure it's mostly their business and I question how much effect it'll have either way. Furthermore, while there are good reasons to vote against it, other reasons are not so savory.

Nevertheless, I have to admit it feels kind of good to see the people of France give the finger to Jacques Chirac, as well as to Gerhard Schröder and José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Congratulations, folks, you've shown the politicians they don't own you--you can think for yourselves. Now if you'd only reconsider the war on terror.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

The Dark Side

Via His Virtualness, Roger Simon asks, "What is fair and balanced?"

I cut and pasted the comment string into a word document and came up with 73 pages. Then I looked through it all. Properly formated into standard text, maybe it would be 2o or 25 pages. How much time does anyone want to spend going through that much material? Will this page, titled "PajamasMedia question No. 1," constitute a fundamental historical document, or just a lot of crap that wasn't worth much until crafted into something else?

Hoping against hope

The AP reports that a former Clinton aide has been acquitted of false statement charges. Paragraphs one through four constitute the lede, and are standard, good journalism:

The former national finance director for Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate campaign was acquitted Friday of lying to the government about a lavish 2000 Hollywood fundraising gala.
David Rosen was charged with two counts of making false statements to the Federal Election Commission about the cost of the star-studded gala, which attracted such celebrities as Cher, Melissa Etheridge, Toni Braxton, Diana Ross, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston.
The jury deliberated about six hours before reaching its verdict.
"It was hard for me to hold back tears. My whole family is crying, and my attorney is crying. It was the happiest moment, next to my marriage, in my life," Rosen said.


Here's paragraph five:

Clinton was not charged, but Republicans closely monitored the trial, hoping fallout from it might damage the New York Democrat's 2006 re-election bid and scuttle any hopes for a possible presidential campaign in 2008.

You know what? I know that's true. But there's no way on God's green earth I could report it to be so. "Republicans," eh? All of them? Drudge reports a big poll saying Hillary's got the White House wrapped up, so her appeal to conservatives must be bearing some fruit. Is there a quote anywhere to support this fifth paragraph? An attribution? Does this reporter or AP routinely insert paragraphs into stories about, say, Tom Delay, that state, "Democrats closely monitored the investigation hoping to bring down Delay, recapture the house of representatives and the White House in 2008"?

Maybe they could have gotten away with a quote from a Republican, saying the standard boilerplate: "We're disapppointed in the verdict but we feel the trial demonstrates the corruption of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party." That's state of the art political reporting, to just repeat whatever predictable garbage a political opponent puts out, but they didn't even go that far. It's just the omniscient voice of . . . of Paul Chavez.

The bottom line is, this is a story about a trial. We don't need Paul Chavez's brain to figure out the political ramifications for us. We'd be quite happy if Paul could just cover the trial, not leverage it into the New York Senate race, the White House race and Revenge of the Sith.

LaGuy adds: By the way, I have it on good authority that there was never any doubt about the actus reus. The acquittal was entirely based on mens rea.

Mr. Douglas

Eddie Albert just died. He was either 97 or 99. In any case, he lived a full life. He was a trapeze artist, a Broadway star and a comic sidekick in countless films. But he'll always be remembered as Oliver Wendell Douglas in Green Acres.

Green Acres was one of several country comedies on CBS in the 60s (all purged by Fred Silverman in 1971--that's another story), but this one was different. While shows like Petticoat Junction and Mayberry R.F.D. had fairly cornpone humor, Green Acres trafficked in the surreal.

The basic premise is simple--they sing it every episode. Albert, as Harvard-trained lawyer Oliver Wendell Douglas, is tired of the big city. He and his unwilling wife, Lisa, move out to a farm, though Oliver is ill-suited for the job. After a fairly normal first season, the writers started taking chances. Soon, Lisa, could see the show's credits. County agent Hank Kimball couldn't say two sentences in a row that made sense, while Arnold Ziffel, the pig/son of a local farmer, could communicate with everyone (except Oliver).

A good episode might have Oliver wake up and, over an inedible breakfast, have a conversation where his wife would mention some bizarre theory. Then he'd go out and meet others in town who, almost by magic, would repeat and build on the bizarre theory (which often turned out to be true).

Without Eddie Albert, who is in practically every scene, the show would fall apart. He was the anchor. Albert was our stand-in. While everyone else was acting crazy, frustrating him beyond endurance, he would react as we would--sensibly at first, then with anger. Watch the show and count how many times each episode he's in a single shot saying "Oh for Pete's...!" or "For the love of...!" (he never gets to finish).

At least that's the conventional view. I subscribe to a more radical reading. I believe, at its best, Green Acres is a joke on Oliver. He's not the only sane man in a crazy world. Rather, everyone understands they're in a TV show, except Oliver. They've all read the scripts, seen the fake backdrops (in the awful Return To Green Acres (1990) you could tell right away they didn't get it when they shot outdoors), they even know about the actors over at Petticoat Junction. Only Oliver Wendell Douglas thinks he's in the real world, and thus can't understand why everyone in Hooterville acts so strangely.

I once pitched a movie version of Green Acres. I was never so nervous. I loved the show so much I really wanted that job. Perhaps it's just as well they didn't buy my take since the rumor was Bette Midler was interested in Lisa. Lisa is a good character, but the emphasis must be on Oliver. Bewitched can have equal leads, but not Green Acres--the show is about how Oliver Wendell Douglas reacts. And because he reacted so well, Eddie Albert deserves to be remembered.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Infelicitous George

No, not George Voinovich, whose crying made me laugh. You see, he's doing it because he cares for his children and grandchildren.

My goodness, I'm glad we elected that man. We nearly elected someone who didn't care for his children and grandchildren. Sort of like that John Bolton guy. You remember that scene reported on 60 Minutes, where Bolton took a light saber and cut the heads off a bunch of junior military cadets? They were all his grandchildren.

No, I'm talking about George Will. I'm not a great fan of his, either, but lately he seems as if he's had a few useful things to say. Today I read his comments about Janice Rogers Brown, that she's out of the mainstream, specifically because she rejects the New Deal court. This much is true.

But here's how George explains it: "She has expressed admiration for the supreme court's pre-1937 hyperactivism in declaring unconstitutional many laws and regulations of the sort that now define the post-New Deal regulatory state."

Now, I know George is busy, but this is an important point. The post New Deal regulatory state is something that even liberals think was a revolution in constitutional law. Given how big a deal that was, and how big a change, how is it sensible to call the failure to adopt that revolution previous to its adoption, not merely activism, a term that should rather be "status quo," but "hyperactivism"?

Come to think of it, George and George seem to have something in common: They don't understand even the most basic of conservative principles, even though they're both happy to trade on conservative support.

There, There, It's Okay

It was quite something to see Senator George V. Voinovich break down over John Bolton. As the V-man explained, he really loves his grandkids, thus his lachrymose fears that Bolton will not represent us properly. Or something like that.

I've seen tears sway people before, though mostly in movies, and the teary one was usually a woman. Do we need this in the Senate? Turn off the waterworks, George, it's just a UN ambassador. I won't be able to take it when we get to the Supreme Court.

Maybe ColumbusGuy could explain better what's going on, since this is his guy.

Those Oldies But Goodies

I was at the newsstand recently. (I used to spend a lot more time there before the internet.) Our new mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, made the cover of Newsweek. This surprised me since I thought Newsweek was a national magazine and I don't even know anyone in town who cares.

They try to tie it in to a bigger piece on Latinos. As they say on the cover, it's all about "How Hispanics Will Change American Politics."

This story's been around so long I can remember reading it before the Republicans took over. My only question is did they bother to write something new or did they dust off the template and change the proper nouns.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

NPR watch II

NPR was on a system-wide roll yesterday.

In separate shows, Day to Day and All Liberal Things Considered, Daniel Shore and Will Saletan both found it ironic that Republicans had threatened a filibuster on one thing or another, in neither case judges. Does it occur to them that they've built their coverage around the idea that the Constitution, nay, the Republic itself boils down to the filibuster? That's ironic. What they should be doing is reporting, with great relief, that the filibuster is healthy and the Republicans are the best thing since Bob Byrd's little dog Billie for showing it to be so.

Dan Shore also had another ironic line that he didn't recognize as ironic. In the stem cell research debate--guess which side Dan's on?--he referred to Bush and other opponents of it, and then to its supporters: "On the other side of the aisle stood the universally respected Nancy Reagan."

And Andrea Seabrook, apparently desperate for a hook for a story, used the theme of "numbers" to tie together a hodge podge of commentary about women in combat. I can't wait for today's effort: "And here's another collection of alphabetic characters . . ."

Idol Aftermath

Carrie won. A bit surprising, but only a bit. What surprises me more is how she floated through the whole competition untouched, since I found her, at best, rather bland.

While I may disagree with the voters, I think they made the right commercial pick. In certain genres, such as rap and rock, street cred can matter (go tell it to the Monkees), but I don't think it's as big a deal in country. As always, the single they've written for her first release--"Inside Your Heaven"--sounds rotten.

I'm not too worried about Bo. He'll land on his feet. I can see Bo and Constantine touring together on a nostalgia tour in twenty years.

Nothing to do now but watch my tape of Lost and wait for the ratings to come in.

PS As predicted, Idol's ratings easily bested those of Lost. Nevertheless, Lost did alright and managed to depress Idol's ratings some.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

American Idol Predictions

I don't know if it was the theatre, the tension or what, but both Bo Bice and Carrie Underwood, American Idol's finalists, were way off last night. Carrie in particular had trouble staying in tune. The judges, even Simon, were too kind--maybe they were swept away with all the love the singers felt in that auditorium.

Here are my predictions for tonight. First, the two-hour finale of American Idol will easily beat the ratings of the two-hour finale of Lost. Both will easily beat Law & Order on NBC and the Amber Frey docudrama on CBS.

As to who will be the American Idol, gotta go with Bo. Both have a deep fan base, and Carrie did have the slight advantage of going last, but I think the R&B vote is more likely to side with the rocker than the country girl.

Minority Rights

Judging by the reaction, I'd call the last-minute deal on judicial nominations a victory for the Democrats. Liberal reaction seem to range from satisfied to questioning, conservative from questioning to despair, at least in my limited reading.

This makes sense. The "nuclear option," if successful, would have been a huge victory for the Republicans. It would have just about guaranteed Bush gets every judge he wants for the rest of his term, while any political fallout for the vote itself was questionable. (The rest--the long run--has to be considered a wash at worst). The compromise, unless it unfolds in unexpected ways (i.e., the Democrats treat the phrase "extraordinary circumstances" as having any meaning), pretty much gives the Democrats what they want--preservation of the (previously unused) judicial filibuster to stop Supreme Court Justices they don't like (that's where it truly matters), while the Republicans apparently back off on the principle of an up or down vote for every nominee.

The bigger point is one I made a few weeks ago. I noted the filibuster is not only NOT one of the Constitution's checks and balances, it's practically anti-Constitution, since the document demands majority vote wins in the Senate. But, I noted, that didn't mean the minority had no power--in fact, there were many things they could do. Above all, they can play politics--if you only have 45 votes on your side, what you have to do is peel off six or seven Senators from the majority and you've made your case. This is how it's supposed to work.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Infectious

His Virtualness (or rather the fruit of his loins) was victimized by a malicious adware group.

The same thing happened to me recently, and it was an awful thing. Threw about 15 shortcut icons onto the desktop and loaded me up with all sorts of crap. Spybot did the trick for me, getting rid of it, so far as I can tell. Lord knows whether something is still there.

I don't even know how I did it, is what really bugs me. I wasn't aware of hitting any buttons, though I am still learning how to use a new laptop. I agree, this is a sleazy thing to do, and I wish great misfortune on these people, jail time if it can be done.

Experts At Everything

It looks like the American Psychiatric Association may soon officially support same-sex marriage. When I first heard this, I wondered "what's it their business?" Then I read the explanation--it's "in the interest of maintaining and promoting mental health." You see, if society gives gays full civil rights, they'll feel better. I preferred it when I didn't understand why it's their business.

It's scary that the APA thinks it can comment on any issue, since, let's face it, everything sooner or later deals with how you feel about yourself. (Normalize anything and those who once felt bad may feel better.)

Do they have even one iota of evidence behind their claim? Any studies (seems doubtful, since there aren't too many gay marriages to study)? Not as far as I can tell. Their so-called scientific opinion seems more like raw politics.

Moreover, they don't even seem to understand the issue--they're personally on one side and think that should be enough as a professional body to speak out. But it's far more complex; most who oppose same sex marriage might agree it would make gays happier, but still feel it's a bad idea.

Fourth, let's be honest--plenty of the history of psychiatry, scientifically and medically speaking, has been on shaky ground. Why don't they spend the next few decades shoring up their own foundations rather than telling society what to do? I know it's not as much fun, but just try and give us good science, we'll take it from there when it comes to politics.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Live Blogging--Senators Make Deal

As I write, Senators are announcing a deal one day before a filibuster vote was to have taken place. The Senators who pulled it off (McCain and Warner, among others) seem quite pleased with themselves. Here's the deal--McCain is talking:

He says the 14 Senators who borkered an agreement prevented a crisis. He thanks Senator Byrd.

They have pledged to vote for cloture for three judges, (including Brown and Owen) but not all, of Bush's announced choices. He says in the future they'll do what they can do prevent filibusters. He claims this will help the Senate, and protect the minority in the future. Only filibusters in "extraordinary circumstances," which I must presume included SC judges.

What's not clear is what we'll happen when future nominees come up, then, particularly for the Supreme Court. Nuclear option could still be on the table.

I wouldn't say this is loss or victory for either side. The Republicans have given up a bit, but maybe something they couldn't get anyway, on a couple nominee, and the Dems have averted a filibuster vote but given in on three judges once pronounced unacceptable. I suppose some might see it as a loss for Frist, who, win or lose, doesn't get a vote on what a lot of rank-and-filers were waiting a long time for.

Now Byrd is talking. He's quoting Franklin's famous line "A republic, if you can keep it," implying the filibuster, unmentioned in the Constitution and perhaps Unconstitutional, has something to do with keeping outrRepublic (much less the filibustering of judges). No mention either of his several rule changes, nor the Democrat-sponsored ban of filibusters a feew years ago (that went nowhere)

Warner is thrilled we won't have to know (now) about the nuclear option.

Presumably more on this later in Pajama Guy, unless American Idol is too entertaining.

PS Irony--an ad by Harry Reid comes on saying it's wrong for one party to have control over who sits on courts (though the Constitution sure seems to think it's okay).

It's hard to say goodbye

The New York Times first public editor, Daniel Okrent, wrote his valedictory Sunday (registration --and soon a whopping $49.95 fee!--required), titled "13 things I meant to write about but never did."

Two of the 13 are direct is-the-Times-biased-against-conservatives points. The first is hilarious. The time Okrent most concisely told his clearest truth ("Is the New York Times a liberal newspaper? Of course it is"), is the time he regrets. Why? B ecause all the people who have been shouting this obvious truth for years shouted about it: "I handed them a machine gun when a pistol would have sufficed."

Yeah, don't want too much of that truth-tellin' goin' on, and we certainly don't want the victims of our bias to be able to complain about it.

Then Okrent turns around and makes the point again, quoting a reader, "If 'Tucker Carlson is identified as a conservative' in the Times, then why is 'Bill Moyers just, well, plain old Bill Moyers'? Good question." Yes, and the answer is, The Times is a liberal paper run by liberals who simply don't understand there is an opposing view out there.

A third point Okrent presents as more a neutral, good-journalistic practice question, which it is, but you add to it a monolithic liberal viewpoint, and the results are predictable: "In the first paragraph, [a quoted-by-name source], apparently picked at random, testifies [about some aspect of the story]. Readers are clearly expected to draw conclusions from this."

Okrent correctly identifies this as shoddy journalism. It's one thing to include an illustrative quote; it's another to hang the story around it and build a shaky structure validating a contested worldview, or even a question of fact.

(Okrent also reveals his lack of understanding of polls, another topic journalists could benefit from overhauling: "If polls involving hundreds of people carry a cautionary note indicating a margin of error of plus or minus five points, what kind of consumer warning should be glued to a reporter's ad hoc poll of three or four respondents?" Trust me, Dan. Margin of error isn't the central problem with polls.)

Other points Okrent includes:
  • Krugman and Dowd stink, which he softens by saying people who say they stink are rude, and that Safire guy, well, watch out for him, too.
  • The Times is sucking wind when it comes to revenue.
  • Barney Calame might have a better idea of what the "public editor" job is than Okrent did.
Give the Times and Okrent both a B for trying, and a B-minus for achievement. I just have one question: Why is tenure in this job temporary?

Heart Of Stone

In a Huffington post (the kind that won't allow any talkback, lest the whole house of cards collapse), Geoffrey R. Stone quotes queen bee Arianna that the Iraq War is "not only founded on lies but conducted on lies." He hurriedly notes "This is certainly right." I agree, except that I'd change "certainly right" to "obviously wrong."

But how I feel is neither here nor there. What is it that bothers Stone so much? He believes our free press is not sufficiently anti-war. Which means we must add him to the ever-lengthening list of opponents of the war too busy forming opinions to have actually read a newspaper in two years.

The BIGGEST NEWS STORY OF THE DECADE SO FAR, after 9/11, has been the troubles we've been having in Iraq. It's been front and center in all our media, even when the reports have often been wrong, dishonest, or almost never sufficiently complex to give proper context. We have been beaten over the head with the bad news. Nothing has affected public opinion more than the relentless, inescapable anti-war message that the media, intentionally or otherwise, have been putting out day after day after day.

Ah, but Stone says, where are the photos of the dead? Well, actually, there have been many photos of dead and soon-dead bodies, and of blown-up buildings and vehicles and people. (More than photos of anything positive going on, that's for sure.). But, and this may be beyond Stone's comprehension, even on days when there are not death photos (you know, like there usually aren't when the media report on the many more dead due to crime or disease or acccidents), the media still faithfully report on the number of deaths, which average readers understand, if there's a camera around, someone could take a picture of.

I'm not calling Stone a ghoul. He merely wants everyone to "feel" more about the war--people thinking deeply about it would be disastrous to his cause.

At least there's one media outlet that reports things as he sees fit--Al Jazeera.

Nagel Doesn't Nail It

I ran across a rather odd bit near at the end of Thomas Nagel's mild review of Women's Lives, Men's Laws, a Catharine MacKinnon collection. I'll get to it in a second.

I call the review mild because Nagel has fundamental differences with MacKinnon but throughout most of it either agrees with her or disagrees on minor, technical issues. Understatement may be preferable to overstatement, but this is more a case of missing the boat.

After taking it easy, his final paragraph begins "MacKinnon’s anti-liberal credo needs to be addressed seriously." Precisely, so why does Nagel wait until the final paragraph to do it, and then only in generalities? He speaks up for "personal autonomy" and notes MacKinnon's policies will lead to "tyranny in the name of equality" (I would have said "tyranny instead of equality") but seems to cede that she's got good ideas that simply go too far--an argument that plays into her claims, rather than refuting them.

Earlier, in comparing one radical critique of liberal society (Marx's) to another (MacKinnon's), Nagel notes Marx's opposition to private property and due process. I'm guessing Nagel would have no trouble stating this is foolish in theory and disastrous in practice. Why then can't he come out and say MacKinnon has rotten ideas based on a faulty view of the world? Is a top-notch thinker like Nagel so cowed by gender politics that he's afraid to appear to be on the wrong side of certain issues for even a second? MacKinnon is a demagogue who throws up raped and dead bodies of women at her opponents, and, if anything, should be treated with contempt for this, not caution.

But here's the bit in the review that got to me:
What about female sexual pleasure? MacKinnon mentions it only once, in a riposte to Judge Richard Posner’s unwise claim that men have a stronger sex drive than women. This, she says ignores "the clitoral orgasm, which, once it gets going, goes on for weeks, and no man can keep up with it, to no end of the frustration of some. (This underlies the often nasty edge to the query 'Did you come?,' when it means, aren’t you done yet? I am.')"
What is going on in Nagel's mind here (a question he should appreciate)? I'm not entirely sure why he's quoting her (read the whole thing for context--it seems to be about how she views sex differently from others); regardless, why call it a "riposte" when it amounts to, in classic MacKinnon style, hyperbolic nonsense, without in any way replying to Posner's "unwise" claim?

The Warren Retort

I hate to take Warren Beatty seriously, since he does it enough for all of us, but let's have a quick look at his recent jab against Schwarzenegger. He says he could do a better job than our Guv, though, alas, he doesn't plan to run. Beatty's solution would be to raise taxes on the rich (I won't mention the problem, this is always his solution), "if only temporarily" (that's priceless).

His best moment is when he notes he has "longer experience in politics than" Arnold. Sorry, Warren, you have NO experience in politics. What you have experience in, and considerably more than even Arnold, is having everyone trip over themselves to serve you, while you flap your lips.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

An immoderate problem

NPR's weekend edition is waxing on about senate traditions and the filibustering of judges. Unless a group of "moderate" senators finds a compromise, the rule change will happen Tuesday.

Who says they're "moderate"? This is judgment journalism, and it's wrong, it's damaging, and it's state of the art in the Manhattan Media.

It's not that hard to avoid. Start with one-word judgments and don't use them. Large, small, fast, slow, liberal, moderate, conservative, extreme. Says who? Just don't use them. It's not that hard.

Try "12 senators" or "12 senators seeking a compromise on judicial filibusters." Facts, not judgments, have this amazing power to focus a story for both writer and reader, and the bonus of avoiding bias.

Now That's Scary

One of my favorite quotes is from the Righteous Brothers (can't remember which) who said when they started, their stuff was too scary to play on the radio, and now it's played in old people's homes to calm down senior citizens.

I remember years ago listening to "Rock Lobster" and "Uncontrollable Urge," wondering why no one would play them on commercial stations. Were these songs too weird for the public to handle? Believe it or not, that's what they thought.

That's why I'm not sure if I should take satisfaction, or get no satisfaction, in that I heard both songs today in major ad campaigns, one for Kmart, one for Mitsubishi.

Predecessors

John Podhoretz (whose taste I don't trust) is turning cartwheels over Ron Howard's latest, Cinderella Man. I'll check it out, but the trailer wasn't much--Seabiscuit with a boxer.

Scarier, he says Howard is this generation's William Wyler. Wyler was a tasteful Hollywood director who made many award-winning "classics," few of which move me. He's not bad--I like him better than the even more tasteful Fred Zinneman, for instance--but when his stuff is on TCM, I rarely make a point of catching it.

No, better Howard be this generation's someone else. Who, though? He's too sincere to be Billy Wilder. Too sentimental to be Howard Hawks. Too contemporary to be John Ford. Too commercial to be Orson Welles. Ron Howard, at his best, has humor, heart and a spark of humanity that set him apart. If he's got to be anyone, let him be our Frank Capra.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Try Sith On For Size

Now that Revenge Of The Sith is out and kicking butt at the box office, there's a sideshow developing about its politics. A number of critics, right and left, claim George Lucas sticks it to another George. However, after having seen it, the anti-Bush claims seem vastly exaggerated.

At heart, the Star Wars saga has always been about good versus evil which, if anything, supports the (allegedly simplistic) views of Bush as opposed to his critics, who believe in looking at the positive side of flying planes into buildings.

Sith is no different. There are a few lines that can be seen as digs. When Chancellor Palpatine fools the Senate into voting him great power, Amidala notes this is how liberty dies--to thunderous applause. (By the way, in the ancient Roman republic, whenever a war started and they needed ruthless efficiency in government, they would vote for one man to take charge--literally known as a "dictator.") And when Anakin says people are either with him or his enemies, Obi-Wan replies that only a Sith see things in absolutes (an absolute statement worthy of a Sith).

But, in general, the plot and dialogue go directly against this drift. In what is the heart of the movie, Palpatine and Anakin have a long talk about how the world works. Palpatine, who represents pure evil, tries to convince Anakin to join his side using relativistic logic--the Jedi and the Sith are simply two sides of the same coin, both believing they're right and both willing to fight for it. Near the end, after Obi-Wan complains that only Sith believe in absolutes, Anakin says to his way of looking at things, the Sith are in the right. Obi-Wan won't have it--forgetting what he said about ten second before, he explains that the Sith Lord is evil. (But then we know from his lies to Luke in A New Hope that Kenobi believes in situational ethics.)

Lucas may have done it unintentionally, but he's made a pro-Bush film.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Another convert

I've been on LAGuy for years that the 17th Amendment ought to be repealed. (That's not the one about keeping soldiers in your home; it's the one that says senators should be elected by the people, instead of their state legislatures.)

I'm glad to see he's finally come around.

Of course, we'd still have George Voinovich. It's not like the legislature would do any better.

The Blame Game

So far I've avoided blaming Newsweek for the rioting in Afghanistan, but its defenders make me want to reconsider.

In the Los Angeles Times, Margaret Carlson claims what's fueling "Arab" (the piece uses the word "Arab") anger is Bush's policies, not a few paragraphs in a magazine. She raises the spectre of Abu Ghraib, natch. She thinks she's giving us the big picture, but the picture is still way too small.

First, we've had Arab resentment of the US for quite a while before Bush, so it can't simply be Bush or his policies. Carlson might then claim it's American policy, but I don't buy that. We have made mistakes, but the hatred is too intense and based on too many outrageous lies to be mainly in our court.

The Bush policy, in fact, has been very favorable to Arabs and Muslims, religious or otherwise, who want freedom and fairness and oppose dictatorship. Yet they continue to hate us. I'm not saying this impression can be changed overnight, and the fault still mostly lies in the horrible untruths their dictators have been using for decades to keep their own people down. But that doesn't let Newsweek or the smug Carlson off the hook. Any reporter or editorialist who leaves a false impression of what America is honestly doing, by simplistic and/or flawed reporting, is adding bricks to the wall. That's the real big picture, which is so foreign to Carlson and other partisan editorialists (on both sides), that I wish she'd spend a long time thinking about it before she dismisses it.

The Cup And The Saucer

There's a very silly anecdote making the rounds that's now been reported at Andrew Sullivan's website. Here's how he (or actually, a reader) puts it:
There was a famous dinner meeting between Washington and Jefferson at which they deliberated the need for a bicameral legislature, with Jefferson suggesting the superiority of a one-chamber model. There are many different accounts of the words exchanged, but they are all something like this: After much discussion around the tea table, Washington turned sharply to Jefferson and said, "You, sir, have just demonstrated the superior excellence of a bi-cameral system by your own hand." "Oh, how is that?" asked Jefferson. "You have poured your tea from your cup out into the saucer to cool. We want the bi-cameral system to cool things."
The message that's meant by this--I'm not making this up--is somehow we should keep the Senate's filibuster.

Okay, let's assume somewhere at some time in the past 225 years, two people actually pronounced words and performed actions that were similar to what you just read above, and we'll further pretend the one in favor of two chambers is named Washington. Is there any way to reasonably interpret this story as backing a Senate procedural rule?

First, let's not forget the House used to have a filibuster, until it (happily) got rid of it in the late 1800s. So, according to the present-day interpretation of this anecdote, I guess all those decades the House and Senate shared a procedural rule, they were thwarting Washington's bi-cameral intentions.

Second, when it comes to passing legislation--Congress's main job--sure, bi-camerality comes into play. But there are instances when the Constitution says screw the bi-cameral system, we only want some action from the Senate. A classic example would be the Article II presidential power to name new judges, where all the Constitution asks is Advise and Consent from the Senate--all saucer, no cup, General Washington.

Third, most importantly, there are clear distinctions between the House and Senate written into the Constitution, and, in fact, the Senate is meant to be the more deliberative body. But these differences have nothing to do with any procedural rules, since both chambers are allowed to set them any way they please, and nothing anywhere says they must be different from each other to please the anecdotal Washington. No, here are the clear differences: Representatives can be 25, Senators must be at least 30. Representatives represent a portion of a state, Senators represent the whole state. Representatives serve 2 years, Senators 6. And, very big, the people vote directly for Representatives, but not for Senators. The main thing in common between the two bodies, however, is they regularly have votes, and the majority wins (with certain rare exceptions). So, while this anecdote doesn't tell you anything about filibusters, it sure is a great argument in favor of repealing the 17th Amendment.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Echo chamber, or just good work?

Interesting discussion by the fine Virginia Postrel on press bias and a Harvard study suggesting that a rejection of the objective journalism model might be good business for publishers.

This is reminscent of Cass Sunstein’s echo chamber argument, that we’ll all end up reading only stuff that we agree with. Sunstein argues this is a bad thing, because it’ll undermine some sort of common fabric of communication. Put another way, we need that objective mediator out there to provide us with a baseline truth, keeping the wild extremists at bay.

Postrel’s story notes the Harvard study’s odd modeling of the problem, trying to capture the idea of bias by noting that, for example, if an unemployment figure is 6 percent, a publisher biased one way might report the rate at 5 percent, while a publisher biased the other way might report the rate as 7 percent.

Oddly, and unsatisfyingly, Postrel leaves the discussion there, noting only the Harvard economist’s comment that sometimes models are too simplified for the real world.

This doesn’t quite capture the point. Her discussion earlier in the article is much better, where the example is an increase of unemployment from 6.1 percent to 6.3 percent. A “negative” story would say, 200,000 more people are unemployed, implying or even stating how terrible that is. A “positive” story would say, that’s a relatively small number with positive implications for the economy. The underlying facts are not in dispute, but the view of them certainly is.

The real issue here is framing, not facts. The simplified (and so erroneous as to be fatally flawed) model posits open misreporting of facts, but this is neither important nor interesting. It’s simple reporting error, or a lie.

The more important questions are, what are the divergent views that are of interest (which is to say, who is interested in writing the “positive” story and who is interested in the “negative” story, with the additional complication that there may be more than two views of interest), and how well are those divergent views expressed?

The better model is captured by a piece from Roger Simon on the UN food for oil scandal. Simon straightforwardly presents the factual issue (a letter from a partisan raising explicit and implicit allegations about the investigators), with a link to the full letter so that readers can judge whether Simon is fair in his post.

Simon notes a developing Pajamas Media policy of posting full documents so that readers can make independent judgments of the quality and fairness of postings. Postrel strongly implies a similar idea, in that “wide ranging” readers can look at both the positively and negatively spun stories and come up with a more complete view than reading just one or the other.

In other words, a robust set of links showing many relevant documents, quotes and other relevant postings gives a pretty darned complete picture, or at least relatively so. The weakness, of course, is complexity and focus, in that the more extensive the information set, the less our ability to render a clear statement or judgment.

All in all, Simon’s model is the good one: 1) facts are the meat of the process and are not negotiable; they may be hard to come by and they may be disputed, but they are nonetheless facts from which all starts and there is probably much less doubt about those facts than the various views which attach to them. 2) Simon’s model refute’s Sunstein’s nightmare, by providing a mechanism in which competing views will indeed be negotiated.

Bad reporters and publishers will tend to be driven out by good ones, who will not deliberately misreport facts or deliberately, ignorantly or carelessly suppress viewpoints, but who will identify the most important facts and views and present them fairly and concisely. Sunstein’s problem is he wants to assert an authority to do this, and unsurprisingly he seems to favor the Manhattan media; Simon’s advantage is actual and transparent analysis that is self-validating.

Cold World

A year ago, Barbara Hall must have been on top of the world. The first show she created, Judging Amy, was doing fine, and her new hit, Joan Of Arcadia, was coming out of its first season.

Now, in the age of Desperate Housewives, both shows are canceled. Has any producer ever lost both her shows in one day? You figure CBS would show a little mercy and let her keep one.

Oh well, I'm sure she'll land on her feet.

Poor Dave

Dave Chappelle is getting publicity like never before, but he's reached that rarefied echelon where this is not good. Ever since he wasn't able to deliver a new season of his show to Comedy Central, even though he signed a contract for $50 million, the rumors have been flying.

Some said he couldn't do it because he was a Muslim. Others said he was smoking crack. Most said he checked into a funny farm. (American Dad even managed to stick in a last-second gag about him last Sunday, where people freaked out at a rock concert had to go the Chappelle tent.)

Chappelle claims he needed to get away because he was too stressed out. He says he "didn't like the direction of the show." Uusally I take a guy at his word, but I have trouble with this. It's not as if he's reading someone else's lines. Dave, baby, if you honestly don't like the direction of the show, since you're 100% in charge, my suggestion is change it.

No Nukes

On the filibuster scene, the Dems have gone blue in the face condemning the Repubs for wanting to break with an august Senate tradition. I have a simple solution. If they're really truly unhappy with the Republicans lowering the standard for stopping debate, when they're back in the majority they can restore the old rules.

Meanwhile, Kausfiles promotes an interesting theory on the nuclear option--it ain't gonna happen. Both sides are playing chicken and one side will back down. If the Repubs don't have the numbers to break a filibuster, they won't vote on it. More interestingly, if the Dems are worried they'll lose on the nuclear option vote, they simply won't filibuster and will let the Senate vote on the (formerly controversial) candidate; they won't force a vote on filibusters until necessary, i.e., for a Supreme Court slot. In that case, they can focus their attention and the voters' attention, and make it about the nominee, not the procedure.

Personally, I question this wisdom. I think the Repubs have the votes (I have sources, and now we'll see how reliable they are) and I don't think the Dems have the patience to swallow over and over, biding their time. Yet, it makes at least nominal sense. If the Dems can manage not to lose on the nuclear option, at least not for a while, when the Repubs are raring to go, I'd rate that at least a minor victory for them. (And a few conservative judges in the lower courts just don't rank next to who runs the high court.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

All the way with Galloway

It was pretty funny seeing George Galloway trying to bluster his way out of the charges against him at this Senate this week. (Needles to say, his fans, who prefer invective over content, thought he did great.)

I honestly think he missed the point of the hearings. We already know he opposes the war and wishes to see a return of fascist rule in Iraq. The only issue is whether he got paid to believe that or whether he came up with it on his own.

Curse you, Powerline! And this is for the horse you rode in on!

Powerline's Scott "Big Trunk" Johnson ("Johnson," eh?) has been on PepsiCo president Indra K. Nooyi for inappropriate remarks at a college graduation speech. As Johnson portrayed it, Nooyi used a rather infantile device to make political comments about the U.S., with five important continents represented by the five fingers, with the U.S. as the middle finger.

PepsiCo objected, and I wondered whether Powerline might not be overplaying its hand; surely the middle finger thing was just a coincidence.

Johnson requested a copy of the speech and PepsiCo resisted, saying he'd take it out of context. So he offered to publish the whole thing. Instead of responding further, PepsiCo's press hacks put out a see-how-patriotic-I-am press release for Nooyi's signature. Then they posted the full transcript, though apparently they didn't provide it directly to Johnson, which I find a bit churlish.

So read the speech text and judge for yourself what Nooyi's patriotism looks like. My guess is the text won't survive the week. All I can say is, I'm sorry I drink Coke, since I won't have the opportunity to protest by quitting Pepsi. Maybe I'll go picket a Taco Bell.

Insta-ouch

When I first began looking at blogs, Andrew Sullivan was a regular stopping point.

During the election, though, I just couldnt' stomach him any longer. And I haven't been back, nor do I expect to. It's all right. He won't miss me.

But His Virtualness dropped a bigger bomb yesterday, commenting on how round the bend Sullivan has gone:

I confess, I find the question of what Andrew thinks less pressing than I used to.

Enough Already

So it looks like early next week there'll finally be a showdown over the judicial filibuster. Next week?! I can't wait that long. We've been talking about this since the late 70s. I don't even care who wins anymore, let's just do it.

I'm guessing the Repubs win if there is a vote, since why would they allow a vote otherwise? We know the Dems will vote in lockstep, and we know at least three Repubs will defect, so the question is can the Dems peel off three more.

The real question, though, if they manage to stop the filibuster, is who will succeed in the pr battle afterward? My guess is most likely "who cares?" will win the day.

(I do love to see Dem partisans like Jim Lampley warning how dangerous the move is, as if they only have the Republicans' best interests at heart. From the start of The Huffington Post Lampley's been such an obvious member of the tinfoil hat brigade that I swore I wouldn't bother with him, but his latest piece is so wonderful I must quote a line: "Five years ago I began telling my friends that George W. Bush and company would provide the greatest stimulus to liberal momentum since 1968." Glad to know it, Jim, just one question: how did the events of six months ago, when Bush got more votes than anyone ever, figure into your claim? I can just see him on Election Night 2004, drunkenly pigeonholing everyone--"with another term for Bush and the Republicans solidly taking the Congress, we can't lose now!." (To be fair to Jim, he does actually believe in crackpot theories about how the election was stolen.))

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

How To Choose

Just got back from voting for mayor. I could sense the excitement level in that I was the only there the entire time. As usual, it's a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledumber. Amazingly, no one is listening to Diane Keaton and treating this like an important decision.

So how to choose between Hahn or Villaraigosa? I use my old test--which side called me less at home. V called me 5 times, H only 2, so H got my vote. Though I'm guessing with that many phone calls, V's got the organization to take it.

Good News

According to The Washington Times, Pat Buchanan claims "the conservative movement has passed into history." If this is true--that Pat Buchanan's idea of conservatism is over--let's celebrate.

Why Bother?

Sometimes you see an editorial so foolish you feel you must refute it. Sometimes you see an editorial so stupid it refutes itself. To anyone who ever took Neil Abercrombie or Dennis Kucinich seriously, please read their incredible reasons for pulling out of Iraq. If anyone can find even the slightest rational argument within, please notify me.

Over-fulsome?

Not to get all treacly about it, but James J. Kilpatrick demonstrates another instance in which LAGuy deserves kudos for his careful use of the language.

I'll drink to that!

Will Kudzu rescue those of us with no self-control?

What Are They Thinking?

The New York Times Company has just announced it will soon be charging for access to many of its features, particularly its Op-Ed columnists. The "modest fee" will be $49.95 for an annual subscription.

Why are they doing this? Alright, for money. But could the timing be worse? Because of its free and easy access on the internet, The New York Times has been able to consolidate its position as the paper of record. If it segregates its columnists behind a toll, readership will drop off in an era when more and more are getting their news and opinions on the net.

Honestly, who's going to pay for the luxury of reading Herbert, Kristof, Krugman, Dowd, Rich, Friedman and Brooks? They'll turn to sources doing it just as well--no, better--for free. Just as bad, less sites will comment on the Times, or link to it. It's as if they wish to remove themselves from the national conversation.

Monday, May 16, 2005

I'll Drink To That

The Supreme Court has just released an opinion striking down state laws banning direct sales of wine from other states through the internet. Mark this one as a victory for the free market and open competition.

The 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition, also gave states broad powers to regulate alcohol sales. The question was how broad. It's questionable if the precedent will have too much effect on other products, since this amendment only deals with alcohol.

I'm a little worried by the tight 5-4 majority. For those who think justices act predictably, there was an interesting mix. The opinion was written by Kennedy, joined by Breyer, Ginsburg, Scalia and Souter. The dissent was by Thomas, joined by O'Connor, Rehnquist and Stevens.

PS According to Stephen Bainbridge:
"Even casual followers of the Supreme Court will note that this is a VERY unusual lineup. According to the Harvard Law Review's statistical analysis of the Supreme Court's 2003 term (available to Westlaw subscribers), in non-unanimous cases, Stevens and Thomas vote together only 16.4% of the time. Conversely, Scalia and Souter voted together in only 20.4% of non-unanimous cases. In none of the 19 5-4 decisions handed down in the 2003 term did the Justices align as they did in this case (the 5 justice majority consisted of Rehnquist, O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas in 9 of the 19 cases and of Stevens, O'Connor, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer in 5.)
"Even more strikingly, out of the 175 5-4 decisions handed down in the ten terms between 1994 and 2003, the Harvard Law Review reports (again available only to Westlaw subscribers) that the Court has never - not once - broken out as it did in this case. Think about that: The 5 justice majority had never voted together in a 5-4 case once in the last 10 years."
Read on to discover why Bainbridge believes each justice voted yes or no.

Too good to check

The White House is now bashing the Newsweek Koran-flushing story. I can see why the Administration is fed up with these investigative reports.

Newsweek editors employed the same "fact-checking" procedure as 60 Minutes' Rathergate producers. CBS gave the White House just a couple of hours to respond to all the allegations, and did not ask the White House point-blank: "Are these memos legit?" When the spokesman didn't challenge the memos, that was enough for 60 Minutes.

Newsweek checked its story with another source, but also didn't specifically ask him to confirm the Koran-flushing. Instead, Newsweek had its second source review the entire story for his reaction. When he didn't remark on the Koran thing, that was good enough for the magazine.

Both false stories ran in part because the spectacular allegations fit perfectly with the journalists pre-conceived view of truth. This is more than sloppy reporting. This is what newsmen mean when a story is "too good to check."

Columbus Guy says: Newsweek runs entire stories by sources? I would think that would be a firing offense at most news organizations, or at the very least something done quite sparingly.

Pajama Guy says: Newsweek, as I understand it, showed the story to a second source who had nothing to do with the original tip. My guess is that's not uncommon, especially if we're talking about a small story -- in this case an item, really.

It's a whole other thing to show a draft to a subject of a story. I think that's pretty rare, though some journalists think it's OK to do. Off the top of my head, I can think of a couple of reasons why it's a bad idea and probably not allowed in most newsrooms:

The first reason is practical: The source, even if he's been cooperative all along -- might not like exactly how you presented him, and could demand unreasonable changes. He might want more quotes, higher billing, or his kid's website mentioned. If you resisted, he might recant, just to mess with you. Or he might take the story elsewhere. That's why most rechecking with any story subject involves just reading back quotes and reviewing dates, facts, etc.

My second reason is legal: It seems to me that a news organization could expose itself to big legal problems if it allowed some reporters to offer pre-publication review to some subjects of stories, but not others. I wouldn't want to be a journalist who got something wrong, got sued, and had to testify why I was willing to give, say, a friendly source a chance to review my copy, but not a hostile one. I also wouldn't want to be an editor forced to explain why I allowed some reporters on some stories to give subjects sneak peaks, but not others.

Validate me

More polling problems. Editor & Publisher reports a poll about a gap between the public and the press. One major finding: "43% of the public say they believe the press has too much freedom, while only 3% of journalists agree."

I don't know what question the public was answering, maybe they don't trust the press, the press isn't doing a good job, but it wasn't that the press has too much freedom.

Star Wars, Nothing But Star Wars

Just a few days before Revenge Of The Sith opens, and the major reviews are starting to dribble out. Thumbs up, for instance, from Roger Ebert and The New York Times. It looks like this film may be the real thing. I can hardly wait.

However, I must take issue with A.O. Scott of the Times. I think he misreads the political subtext. Here's Scott:
" 'This is how liberty dies - to thunderous applause,' Padmé observes as senators,their fears and dreams of glory deftly manipulated by Palpatine, vote to give him sweeping new powers. Revenge of the Sith is about how a republic dismantles its own democratic principles, about how politics becomes militarized, about how a Manichaean ideology undermines the rational exercise of power. Mr. Lucas is clearly jabbing his light saber in the direction of some real-world political leaders. At one point, Darth Vader, already deep in the thrall of the dark side and echoing the words of George W. Bush, hisses at Obi-Wan, 'If you're not with me, you're my enemy.' Obi-Wan's response is likely to surface as a bumper sticker during the next election campaign: 'Only a Sith thinks in absolutes.' "
This is too crude and too far from what's really happened to be mocking Bush--Lucas isn't that stupid. No, this is clearly self-satire. The liberty he's referring to that died was Hollywood's openness to different sorts of films. That ended--to thunderous applause--when Star Wars (1977) started a craze for simplistic blockbusters. And as for Manichaean ideology, no one beats the "me good, Hollywood evil" absolutist stance that Lucas has had for decades, so obviously reflected in an epic that incessantly notes the dangers of the "dark" side, not the "grey" side. I'm glad to see Lucas is wise enough to finally laugh at himself.

Who's Responsible?

Big ruckus, as there should be, over the Newsweek item about the allegd desecration of the Koran at Guantanano Bay that seems to have started a riot and perhaps worse.

In these early hours, it's not clear if Newsweek is retracting the story or not. The two open questions are 1) did they have reliable information and 2) even if they thought it was likely, should they have used discretion and not run such an inflammatory item. After all, a fair number of people have been injured and killed, and people are still steaming--was the story really worth it?

But I don't want to discuss these questions now. What I want to do is remind everyone who's really to blame--the rioters, and those directly egging them on. Protest is one thing, this is quite another. We must not excuse those who can't control themselves or, worse, use this story as a pretext to commit violence.

People do offensive things, intentionally and otherwise, all the time. Perhaps these people should be smarter. (Or perhaps they should be offensive--depends on the situation.) But if someone offends you, shooting him is not the answer, nor should the offense be an excuse for your actions.

Americans are regularly offended by Muslims overseas burning our flag. There are many ways to respond, but an unnacceptable reaction would be to attack a local mosque (even if they support the flag-burning). And if someone did something so outrageous, I would condemn the fool who did it, not the AP for running a photo of flag burners.

Pajama Guy agrees: It's hard to imagine riots in, say, Lynchburg, over a report in the Afghanistan press of Muslims flushing the Bible down the toilet.

Leave It To Jane

The (early) numbers are in, and it looks like Jane Fonda's comeback, Monster-In-Law, won the weekend with a $24 million gross. The film was slaughtered by the critics, but found its audience. (And that audience is different enough from Star Wars' that it may have a decent second weekend.)

While it's not a Focker-sized hit--no one expected that--it did beat Will Ferrell's Kicking And Screaming with a few million to spare. Just like Barbra Streisand (scroll down a bit), Jane was able to return in a film that shows they'll still turn out. Meanwhile, Ferrell shows he can open a film, but still has a way to go before he's the next Adam Sandler.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Click It Or Ticket

Sure, slippery slope arguments are too easy. Anything can be overdone. Why not just take decisions one at a time? But still, there's a grim satisfaction when a slope you predicted years ago slips down to the bottom. (Incidentally, Eugene Volokh has written a paper on slippery slopes well worth reading if you have the time.)

I recall when the first seatbelt laws were passed (for drivers, not manufacturers). The authorities said not to worry, no one will be pulled aside merely for non-compliance--it will only be noted if you've already committed some other violation. I snorted (all alone while reading the paper), saying (to myself) the day will come, and it won't be long, when merely not being belted will get you a ticket.

In the last few weeks, two of my friends have gotten tickets for not wearing a seatbelt. This is now the national standard. I just heard an ad on radio warning drivers about it. While I usually belt up, it's still probably a matter of time before I get my ticket.

The authorities, needless to say, are proud of this new standard. It raises revenue and saves lives--a win-win. There's really nothing to do but wait for them to set their sights on some other way our lives can be improved.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Parsing Mickey Parsing Rush Parsing Borger Parsing Ken

Is it just me, or is the blogosphere really into Rush these days? Who's got the juice, here?

CBS portrayed Ken Starr as implicitly supporting the Democrats in the senate confirmation battles. Starr of course is too lame to take a position on anything--oh, that would be bad, but that would be bad, too. Are we done now? But CBS's Gloria Borger and crew end up using Starr against the Republican position. Limbaugh attacked this full force Friday, partly using an email from Starr saying CBS had fudged the context.

Mickey Kaus is recursively delving (with Instapundit looking over his shoulder) into the dispute over whether CBS misrepresented Ken Starr and Limbaugh misrepresented CBS.

Kaus concludes that CBS was fair to Starr and Starr is just trying to back and fill. Kaus is right to say Starr is a wimpy booster of lawyers, which is to say, unprincipled shills, but Kaus is working too hard on a losing cause.

This Guardian story captures the Borger-style press ethos perfectly, taking Starr out of even the context Kaus argues for, adding a goofy garbage poll ("most Americans favor formaldehyde over benzene as an air-conditioning agent") and adding all sorts of "cruel comma" pseudo-context (Starr prosecuted Clinton, you know, so he's especially believable when he criticizes Republicans, but must not be trusted when he criticizes Democrats). Thanks to JustOneMinute. Gloria believes the Republicans are in error, that comes through loud and clear, and all of Mickey's lawyering won't fix it.

Check This Out

Here are a couple of amusing websites that you, dear reader, might enjoy.

First check out this, a collection of useful French phrases. Not "what time is it?" or "where's the bathroom?" What you need to know is ce restaurant n'est pas aussi bon que le McDonald's ("this restaurant isn't as good as McDonald's"), vos enfants sont très beaux--ils sont adoptes? ("your kids are beautiful--are they adopted?") and parle à mon cul, ma tête est malade ("stop bothering me" or, literally, "speak to my ass, I have a headache.")

Then there's this, a "scambaiting" site, engaging Nigerian email scammers and the like. They contact them and get them to do things (and, obviously, never send them money). I usually leave such stuff alone, but these people have gotten pro-active.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Where was Esther Kartiganer?

It would normally be explained away as be a unfortunate production mistake -- if CBS even made an on-air correction at all. But it's the post-Rathergate era for CBS, and last night's Filibuster Showdown segment on the Evening News has the making of another Pajama Guy-type scandal.

The Evening News, in sum, reported that Ken Starr is criticizing Republican Senators who want to end judicial filibusters. The problem is, if Starr can be believed, he said nothing of the sort.

Now, I don't think Gloria Borger -- the CBS on-air talent -- or her producer purposely edited their videotape to make Starr seem to say the opposite of what he did. But I do believe this is another example of liberal bias at CBS.

Clearly someone at CBS -- maybe Borger, maybe her producer, maybe a senior producer who assigned or reviewed the story -- was looking for a piece that said: "Hey, even respected conservatives deplore what the GOP senators are doing -- that's how extreme Frist & Company are."

It would be a good story, if true, but apparently it wasn't.

No doubt deadline pressures were a factor if a mistake was made. (Deadline pressures, of course, were blamed for the Rathergate debacle.) But that's probably the most common way bias seeps into a print story or a broadcast script. When you don't have time to check everything, the last thing you check is what seems intuitively correct to you.

You can bet if Borger came back with a story that Ted Kennedy was ripping Democrats for being unfair to Bush's nominees, someone at CBS would have re-read the entire transcript to make sure the interview wasn't edited out of context.

Which brings us to Esther Kartiganer. She was the senior producer at 60 Minutes in charge of comparing broadcast scripts against interview transcripts. The idea was to make sure a segment producer did not edit an interview out of context. After Rathergate, Kartiganer was reassigned from "60 Minutes Wednesday" to elsewhere at CBS News.

No word if she ended up on the Evening News.

George, meet Claudia

I wonder if George Voinovich has met Claudia Rosett? Does his staff have access to, oh, I don't know, government investigations or even the news?

NPR's 5 a.m. hour is a rehearsal for its subsequent hour broadcast, and they're often a little edgier, which is to say, more openly liberal, on the first hour. I've never tested, but my guess is what they post on their web site is the second, polished hour. My guess is also that the reporters and producers are all well aware of this and so they tend to have at it in the first hour.

Anyway, they played a lot of tape of Voinovich that I'm guessing won't make the second hour, and boy what a whiner he is. John Bolton yells at employees. I suppose it's worse if he's yelling at the incompetent ones, because those might have greater self esteem problems. (Maybe a know-nothing senator from Ohio could offer them seminars.)

On the other hand, we've got U.N. staffers around the world running local sex scandals, with what western culture considers children, and George doesn't want to upset the poor dears.

Common Argument

When I first started blogging, I figured I'd take to task all the silly letters to the editor I read. After a while I stopped. First, why not give these regular folks their moment in the sun, even if the argument is worthless. Second, who reads letters to the editor anymore with blogs around?

Still, there's an argument I've seen a number of times--I assume the writers came up with it independently, but who knows--regarding Palestinian teens throwing rocks at Israelis. They tend to feel any reaction is an overreaction. (They also act as if that's all that's happening in certain tense areas, but that's a different issue.) Some have even stated rock-throwing is not real violence.

I have a simple experiment to test this. Let's have all the people who make this claim stand in the middle of the street. Then let's have a bunch of teenagers run out from behind buildings and toss the heaviest rocks they can find at them. After it's over, and some people are bleeding, and others have sustained brain damage, and a few have died, let's ask them if they think this amounts to serious violence.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Pay me now, pay me later, pass the donut

One of the good debates about Social Security is whether the 12.4 percent tax, half credited to the employee and half to the employer, is really just 12.4 percent on the employee. I don't see how it can be otherwise, but there are arguments: elasticities determine how much of a price increase is borne by the producer and how much by the consumer.

Stanford researchers have published a paper raising a similar concept. As prior research indicates, fat people earn less in wages than others. However, the paper finds this is because they receive more pay in the form of higher health care costs covered by their employer. To reach the conclusion, they had to do some tricky analysis, showing a pay differential for health care, but not for other benefits the cost of which they believed was unrelated to weight, such as retirement plans. (Maybe there'd be no difference for 401K's, but wouldn't you expect fat people to die earlier than others, and therefore cost less in defined benefits retirement plans? Wouldn't they then be expected to earn more in wages for that reason? God love economics and studies.)

This Is The End

Two things ended yesterday, too good things. One lasted decades, one months.

Dennis Miller's program, taped in LA, will disappear after Friday. It wasn't hard to see this coming--his ratings hardly registered. Yet he had one of the liveliest political talk/humor shows around. (It didn't hurt that he regularly featured friends of mine like Nick Gillespie and Amy Alkon.) His one sin: being on CNBC. Quick now, what channel is CNBC? If this show had been on the Fox lineup, it'd be beating Larry King.

More surprising, and much longer in coming, was theatre critic John Simon being booted from New York Magazine after 37 years. Simon, almost 80, has also been a regular film and book critic. Rarely was the word "critic" more fitting--he didn't like anything. Okay, a slight exaggeration, but Simon was a true highbrow critic, who felt if it isn't art (his exalted concept of art), or at least superior entertainment, he wanted nothing to do with it. For instance, I've read about 30 years of his theatre criticism and I literally cannot remember a single Shakespearean production he liked. I'm sure there must be a few, but none stick out in my memory.

Simon may have been the most hated man in the business. I often disagreed with him, but in a world awash with middlebrows easily impressed by "important" subjects and populists all too ready to wallow in trash, he was a breath of fresh air.

Simon was known not only for his severity, but his way of expressing it. For instance, he regularly mocked the looks of stars he found wanting, describing Liza Minelli and Barbra Streisand in terms that would have gotten him slapped in person. His vocabulary was such that you actually needed a dictionary to follow some of the insults. I recall he described Joey Lauren Adams as "batrachian"--froglike.

Simon also had an unstoppable weakness for puns and plays on words, which I enjoyed. I'm guessing the actors, directors and writers he regularly cut down didn't appreciate it as much.

I own one book of his theatre reviews (Uneasy Stages), two of his film reviews (Something To Declare, Reverse Angle) and have borrowed others. He was tough from the start and has never softened. In what may be his last review, here's his summation of a revival of David Mamet's modern classic, Glengarry Glen Ross:
"Of course, there’ll always be reviewers and audiences who groove on Mamet’s cloacal litanies, cataracts of cacology, and the nastily clever—but not all that clever—verbal power games that all gleefully indulge in. Whoever wants this is welcome to it; mud wrestling also has its dedicated fans. But what are we to make of a theater—of a culture—that considers this stuff high art?"
Simon is still in full possession of his faculties. I think it would be great if The New York Times would hire him just so we could see the theatrical world up in arms.

PS "Cloacal" means sewerlike. "Cacology" means a poor choice of words.

PPS Over at the Huffington Post (scroll down to Tuesday to see what I think of it) David Mamet has taken the time to mark John Simon's departure: "I have just heard that John Simon has been fired from the post he long disgraced at New York Magazine. In his departure he accomplishes that which during his tenure eluded him: he has finally done something for the American Theatre."

Pajama Guy responds: Everything on Fox beats Larry King. The real question is if Miller were on Fox could he have given O'Reilly a run for his money? It's not a far-fetched scenario: At the time Miller signed with CNBC he was doing a weekly commentary on Hannity & Colmes.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

15 years too late?

The Washington Times has a story about vanishing typewriters. If there's a business anywhere still using a typewriter, I'll eat pajamaguy's socks.

But quit wasting your time here and go read LAGuy's link to the Posner piece. That's love.

Tribute

I'm a friend and fan of Judge Richard Posner (I first knew him as a professor and still can't bring myself to call him "Dick").

Anyway, here's a nice tribute (personal and not too fulsome) that I ran across while reading a copyright blog.

Turncoats?

Economic columnist Bruce Bartlett defends himself against criticism that he's abandoned his principles.

The essential idea of economically sound tax policy is that there is nothing bad and everything good about savings and investment. Individuals who accumulate capital benefit, of course, but so does the society in which those individuals live. Simply put, they will put their capital to good use by investing in the economic activity of those around them.

From the left side of the table, capital is the best thing to go after, because it's a big pot of visible money. Let's just take it and we'll be in fat city ever after. It's obvious nonsense, but widely appealing. I myself often think, "If Donald Trump would just give me a million dollars . . ."

The truth is, economic activity in the end is all on the consumption side, and that's where you want taxes to be. If you buy into this belief, then the question becomes how to tax. The choices generally are income taxes, which are just a particular form of sales tax, and sales taxes. Bartlett has got himself caught up in an argument whether to replace the income tax with a sales tax, or to adopt an unhappy construct called the value added tax. What's a good conservative to do?

Babs And Jane

Two of the biggest female film stars of the previous generation sat it out until recently.

Barbra Streisand appeared only twice on screen in the 90s, the last time in The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996). She made her "comeback" last Christmas in Meet The Fockers. Say what you want about the quality of the film, there's no question it was a blockbuster.

Now we turn to Jane Fonda. Her last film, Stanely & Iris, was released in 1990. She's also decided to return via popular comedy, Monster-in-Law, in a theatre near you this Friday. Should be interesting to see if her choice was as wise as Barbra's.

I Would Think That, Wouldn't I?

Excellent, if lengthy, debate at Harvard between Steven Pinker and Elizabeth Spelke. The subject is innate mental differences in men and women. Pinker believes they're significant, Spelke has serious doubts. I think Pinker gets the better of Spelke, but decide for yourself.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

More Early Word

John Podhoretz, whose taste I don't trust, hates the new Star Wars. Fine. But listen to him explain why early major media reviews are positive: "...while the movie critics of my long-ago youth were middlebrow snobs suspicious of populist entertainment, today's critics have turned into toadies. They are afraid of being on an audience's bad side, afraid that a movie they will pan might really strike a chord."

Let's go to the facts, shall we? According to Rotten Tomatoes, a highly forgiving poll of reviewers, the top media critics gave a big thumbs down to Star War Episode I: The Phantom Menace, with only 40% approval, and didn't like Episode II: Attack Of The Clones any better. Unless 1999 to 2002 represents Podhoretz's long-ago youth, he has some splainin' to do.

PS I should note that, according to Rotten Tomatoes, one of the critics who actually liked Episode I was John Podhoretz of the New York Post.

Already Reconsidering

While a lot of the blogosphere has been vicious, my first glance at the newly hatched Huffington Post was fairly positive. Sure, nothing earth-shattering, but a nice design, some interesting names and even a few decent points made.

But that was hours ago. I just looked at it again and, as Captain Spaulding said to Mrs. Rittenhouse, actually it is pretty bad.

While I like the idea of a lot of content, most of what's there is pretty lifeless, and mindless too. For example, Larry Gelbart showing us stuff he cut from Mastergate isn't too compelling.

Much worse is Rob Reiner's ridiculous thoughts on the media. I wouldn't mind if the nonsense were original, but he's recycling echo chamber leftism so tired the Daily Kos wouldn't touch it. And that's the trouble--Reiner is not declaiming at a Malibu cocktail party here, he's competing with other blogs, who can already do what he does a lot better.

Alas, the blog doesn't allow comments. That might make it worthwhile--see which Hollywood heavyweight can go an extra round or two before his publicist intervenes. I mean I could do a point-by-point refutation of Reiner on Pajama Guy but what fun is that--I want to know he's actually hearing the sound of someone disagreeing with him. (To give an example of what he considers an important point, he's yet one more who thinks the mainstream media isn't paying enough attention to the troubles in Iraq, suggesting HE HASN'T LOOKED AT THE FRONT PAGE OF A NEWSPAPER IN TWO YEARS. And he's so behind the times he's still dining out on the ancient and dishonest PIPA poll about what Bush versus Kerry supporters think.)

Enough. Ask me again in an hour and we'll see.

Andy

I just read a fine book, published six years ago, Andy Kaufman Revealed! by Bob Zmuda. Zmuda's the man for the job, since he was Andy's writer, friend, factotum, stooge and partner-in-crime. The trouble with Milos Forman's Man On The Moon (1999) is, though it features a fine Kaufman impersonation by Jim Carrey, it only shows the surface, never explaining what made him tick. Zmuda's book is not only a great history of Kaufman's career, it also shows a human behind the humor.

Kaufman was more a conceptual artist than a comedian. He got laughs, especially early in his career, but he was more interested in provoking a reaction, laughter being just one. Many wondered if he could tell the difference between real life and his routines. Zmuda makes it clear that, as committed as Kaufman was to his bits, he knew a hawk from a handsaw. For instance, when Kaufman "sabotaged" his guest spot on Fridays, the proper people had been notified in advance. Zmuda notes if Andy didn't prepare properly, he would have been kicked out a show biz and forced to do real street theatre before too long.

Kaufman work as he was first tasting success was probably his best. Maybe it's because, as out there as he was, he still had to appeal to an audience, keep stuff relatively short, and get laughs. Signature bits like the foreign man (who would become Latka Gravas on Taxi--Zmuda says Andy was conflicted about appearing on a sitcom, but I guess the money overcame the doubt) and Elvis (an impression the real thing apparently loved) are conceptual gems, compact and well-thought out. Maybe his signature bit, which he performed on the first Saturday Night Live, was lip-synching to a "Mighty Mouse" record. Sure, it's funny to see him mouth "Here I come to save the day!" but the real brilliance is all the his waiting in-between.

However, as he got more famous, and richer, he got more self-indulgent (in my book, not Zmuda's). He could use a bigger canvas, with bigger put-ons. They could still be amusing, even brillant, but they took a lot more time and in their length lacked the polish of his best bits. There was Tony Clifton, the talentless lounge performer, who practically became Andy's alter-ego. (He demanded Clifton be signed to perform on Taxi, but during rehearsal Clifton became so abusive he had to be fired.) I always felt a little bit of Clifton goes a long way. Later, Zmuda himself would put on the Clifton outfit and appear on TV while everyone thought it was Andy. (I don't want to brag, but I've always been good with voices and could tell it wasn't Kaufman).

Kaufman could be naive--he actually believed people could levitate--but he also enjoyed the perks of being a star. For instance, another famous routine (that got a bit tiresome after a while) involved wrestling women--volunteers from the audience. It turns out he'd proposition a good number of these women, and they often said yes.

Once Kaufman became famous, there was the trouble of the boy who cried wolf. He was so well known for put-ons, who could believe him? One of his last big moments was an orchestrated bit where he was seriously injured by professional wrestler Jerry Lawler. Zmuda narrates as if it's a stunt that went awry, but I wasn't buying. When Zmuda fesses up later in the chapter, I don't think too many readers will be surprised.

Kaufman died shockingly young. He got lung cancer (though he didn't smoke) and left us at 35. It's an open question what he would have done if he'd lived, since, with Taxi canceled and a movie career in flames, he was on his way down. Zmuda thinks he knows--Kaufman would have faked his own death.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Judicial independence

ColumbusGuy isn't the only one who admires Hentoff. The Powerline boys have a nice post on the fillibuster building on him, too. Key sentence:

[U]nless opinions are analyzed in good faith, with an eye towards the judges' full body of work and a willingness to accept some opinions one doesn't like, it represents an attempt to discourage independent judicial thinking.

I just have two comments, guys. First, it's not MSM; it's Manhattan Media. Let's not give them universality that they don't deserve, and let's do give them the parochialism they do deserve.

Second, is it just me, or do their icons smack of phallocentrism? (Don't ask me what's up with that Mirengoff guy. That owl is straight out of Neverland.)

Not Clear On The Concept II

Edward Jay Epstein, who wrote a bitter book entitled The Big Picture: The New Logic Of Money And Power In Hollywood, continues his disapproval in pieces for Slate. In his latest harrumph, he takes Arnold Schwarzenegger to task for negotiating such an "absurdly advantageous contract" before making Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines.

Those poor producers, forced to pay Arnold so much.

Epstein asserts "Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna did not agree to pay Schwarzenegger this record sum because he possessed unique acting skills...." Seems pretty obvious to me that's why they did it. Otherwise, Kassar and Vajna were insane to give away the farm when they could have hired someone else just as good for a lot less.

Water, Water Everywhere

It's raining again in LA. This may be the wettest season ever.

I just want to know if we've broken the record yet. If so, can we stop, because I don't think my damp ceiling can take much more.

Jackson: In the sack, son.

I'm not following the Michael Jackson trial that closely, but what I hear amounts to this: While the prosecution's case reinforces many terrible things people suspect about Jackson, the jury won't convict. Too many witnesses against Jackson are tainted with their own legal problems; too many (e.g. the accuser's mother) came off as just plain goofy on the stand; too many (e.g. Jackson's ex-wife) provided testimony that contradicted prosecutors. Then I read NBC's Mike Taibbi's take. Taibbi suggests everything changed for Jackson the moment his defense team conceded, with its first witness, that Jackson indeed chooses to sleep with young boys whenever he can:
Last week there was a sea change in the logical view from here to the finish line of the central contested question of the trial. Anyone watching or listening—including, of course, the jury—now must decide not whether Michael Jackson is a weird, eccentric, idiosyncratic pop icon who is or is not a child molester; but whether Jackson is a grown man who has innocently spent hundreds if not thousands of nights (yes, thousands!, according to the high end estimate of one pro-Jackson source) in bed with a succession of individual boys-- or whether he spent all those nights with all those boys, and molested some of them.
Conceding your client does all sorts of disturbing things while insisting he's not guilty of an actual crime in this particular case is -- no duh -- a risky strategy. Of course, Jackson's next best option may have been to rest without putting on a case at all. Still, I sense this verdict is going the way of the Mike Tyson trial. Tyson's defense also acknowleged he was a bad guy -- so notoriously bad, in fact, that any woman who went up to his hotel room knew she wasn't leaving without submitting to sex. It's not an exact parallel to the Jackson defense strategy, I know. But the evidence against Jackson is a lot more damning than the evidence against Tyson -- and my point is that Jackson's lawyers don't want to be handing this jury any more reason to send him away.

LAGuy adds: Jackson's defense is I may be weird, but it's okay because I didn't do it. Tyson's was I did do it, but the world is weird, which makes it okay.

I will be commenting on the case after the verdict. (Predictions don't interest me that much.) I will say, however--though I admit I haven't followed the case closely--that I find the evidence far from "damning," at least regarding the crimes Jackson has been charged with. The prosecutor seems to want what ColumbusGuy is suggesting--that the jury will throw up their hands, say "he's a weirdo" and toss him in the can just to be safe.

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