Friday, June 30, 2006
Where To Draw The Line
Part of the Supreme Court's big finish included an opinion mostly upholding the power of Texas to redistrict as it chooses when it chooses. Here's how the LA Times puts it:
By clever line-drawing, [Tom] DeLay and the Texas Legislature — with both houses newly under GOP control in 2003 — remade its delegation in Congress, turning a 17-15 Democratic majority into a 21-11 Republican majority in 2004. The bold move signaled an escalation in partisan warfare.What they fail to mention is when they redrew the lines, Texas was a majority Republican state by a lopsided margin, some say 60%-40%. So the earlier gerrymander was even more clever in defying the will of the people.
I guess the partisan warfare had escalated earlier than the Times thought.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
The Walls of the Holy Land
I don't know what you might have seen on CNN today, but where I am in Jerusalem everyone is getting along okay. (I know my viewpoint is superficial, but so is the media's.) I have walked the streets (in the Muslim and Jewish quarters) of the Old City today (and all week) and felt quite safe. We have also been to Galilee, Golan Heights (ate Druze bread), and down past Jericho and across the wall (they don't call it a fence here) to Bethlehem. Bethlehem is definitely not the same as last I was here (1999). Overall tourism seems down significantly, but in Bethlehem in particular many tours will just not criss the wall. Many stores are closed up.
At the Golan Heights we saw across the border to Syria and could almost see Damascus. Near there many Druze live and we had our lunch at a Druze restaurant. They have terraced the mountains over many years and have great orchards and other farming. The druze bread, a flat bread spread with yogurt and drizzled with olive oil and hyssop, was quite yummy.
The Western Wall yesterday. No particular signs of trouble, though there may have been a heavier police presence there. I am here with my 14 year old son and there were many boys of thirteen who had just celebrated their Bar Mitzvah recently getting a portrait in front of the Wall.
The Corners Of My Mind
James Lileks, in today's Bleat, notes the famous execution of a Vietcong in Saigon wasn't just photographed, but also filmed. How does he know? He saw the footage in the Monkee's movie Head.
Well, yeah, I've seen that. But I first saw the footage years ago at the Ann Arbor 16mm Film Festival in a short called Disco Dog.
The soundtrack of the film consists of disco tunes and, for some reason, the opening riffs to some Stones' songs. But it's the visuals that set this film apart.
The first half of the movie repeatedly shows the eye-slicing scene from Un Chien Andalou. (I don't usually give warnings about links, but if you click on this one, you will see the frame where the eye is being sliced.)
As if that weren't enough, the second half is the guy in Saigon being shot in the head, falling down and having his blood pool in the street, over and over and over.
I later heard the film was shown to clear the auditorium, but I have to admit, I've pretty much forgotten everything I saw at the festival except this.
Worst New Phrase
In an LA Times front page piece on the dangers of secondhand smoke, Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona says "the debate is over." Hmm. Who else talks like that?
I'm not saying there aren't situations where the evidence is so one-sided debate is pointless unless you have some startling new information. Nevertheless, there are still hot issues--oh, let's say global warming and secondhand smoke--where scientists will tell you there are plenty of basic questions still unanswered.
My suggestion: don't say "the debate is over." It's sounds like you're afraid to have one.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Tired Of The Dance
It's getting to be a ritual. The Senate votes on a flag-burning amendment and comes up a yea or two short. The reason it's so close is this amendment is popular, so as many senators as possible, especially Dems, want to vote for it, but enough are held in reserve to guarantee they don't get the required two-thirds.
I've argued against this amendment so much in the past that I'm not even gonna repeat what I've said--I'll just sit tight until the next vote. So when Bill Frist says "countless men and women have died defending that flag" I won't bother to point out that no one dies for a piece of cloth, but rather the ideas behind it, and the greatest idea behind America is personal freedom.
I find these votes a cynical exercise. I suppose a fair amount of Republicans actually favor carving out this exception to the First Amendment and would be glad to see people rot in jail for expressing their hatred of America, but my guess is if they voted secretly, they couldn't even muster 50%.
In The Supe
Superman Returns opens today. Just as he's gonna save the earth from evil, Hollywood is hoping he'll save the summer from the doldrums. Oh, the numbers have been okay, but 1) the reviews haven't and 2) grosses may be up due to ticket price, but attendance is down.
The next two weeks, with Superman and Pirates Of the Caribbean opening, will pretty much determine how big the summer is. But I feel the age of the blockbuster, as least as we've known it, is coming to an end.
Tom Shone's thoughtful book Blockbuster, which looks at Hollywood's big hits from Jaws up to the present, describes how the change has taken place. A lot of megahits in the 70s and 80s were actually pretty good, and there was enough room to go off the beaten path. Now it's a grim industry, where tremendous amounts are spent to create franchises and the audience, even when they turn out, is rarely surprised. In fact, that's precisely what Hollywood doesn't want--audiences are given what they expect. The sense of spontaneity is gone.
Also, the audience is staying home more than ever. Not avoiding the movie, just watching it on their own TV. DVDs, tapes and so on have surpassed theatrical gross--the tail is wagging the dog. This trend will continue, and movies will no longer be primarily a communal experience.
When I was growing up in Detroit in the middle of the blockbuster era, amd something like Star Wars or Superman opened, we would go across town to the huge screen at the Americana Theater. It was an event. Young people are still the most enthusiastic moviegoers, but in ten years, even they will be more likely to wait for it to come out on DVD (or whatever format they have then).
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Since The New York Times makes a habit of exposing classified national security programs, the editors over at The National Review think Bush should pull their press credentials (among other things).
Does this have a chance of working? It's not as if the Times will have trouble finding out what the Bush people are saying, or not be able to ask them questions. Barring them will just allow them to play the martyr-for-the-First-Amendment card.
The quiz I posted yesterday got a few responses, but most people didn't seem to think it fit into our format. I wasn't aware we had a format.
For those who are curious, here are the answers. (You can still scroll down and take the test first.) I'll list them chronologically by author.
Horace - Purple prose
Swift - Sweetness and light
Congreve - Music hath charms to soothe the savagre breast
Pope - Namby-pamby
Kant - End in itself
Coleridge - Willing suspension of disbelief
Shelley - Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world
Keats - Negative capability
Carlyle - The dismal science
T. S. Eliot - Objective correlative
Monday, June 26, 2006
Stay The Course
There are a lot of classically bad arguments in the debate over Iraq. One is the ad hominem attack, saying, for example, those who support the war have never personally fought. Another is related--questioning motives (the war is for oil, those who oppose it hate America, etc.).
Maybe the most popular bad argument these days--you hear it from Howard Dean, John Murtha, John Kerry, all the usual suspects--is the "stay-the-course" argument; that our strategy has failed and staying the course is simply prolonging the failure. As others have put it, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.
The insanity quotation is from Benjamin Franklin. I'm not saying it's necessarily wrong (and at least he's being witty), but you have to look at the circumstances. Democrats say the Republicans' strategy in Iraq is to "stay the course," which is no strategy at all. This is untrue on its face, since our strategy is constantly evolving as we integrate new intelligence. But even if it weren't changing, that doesn't mean it's wrong.
Imagine you're on a boat trip into unknown territory. Would you go to the captain and complain "we've been at sailing west for weeks and no land yet--are you suggesting we just keep doing the same thing?" It's not insane to think if you keep going you may find land. More important, if you're past the point of no return, the only guaranteed disaster is turning back.
I've been reading up on literary theory. In doing so, I've found out where a lot of familar phrases come from.
So here's a quiz. Match the phrase with the writer who created or popularized it. (Answers will be provided later.)
B. End in itself
C. Purple prose
D. The dismal science
E. Sweetness and light
F. Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast
G. Objective correlative
H. Willing suspension of disbelief
I. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world
J. Negative capability
10. T. S. Eliot
PS The answers are listed here, but give the quiz a shot before you look them up.
PPS Welcome friends of The Volokh Conspiracy. I'm about to leave for the weekend, but feel free to check out our archives.
Are You Sure?
Warning: I'm about to discuss "neocons." All such discussions are suspect since the word may not mean anything.
Robert Alter reviews Reading Leo Strauss by Steven B. Smith in The New York Times Sunday Book Review. The book is an attempt to clarify the politics and influence of Strauss. But Alter can't resist the opportunity to take some cheap shots at the neocons.
Alter notes Strauss "argued against the very idea of political certitude that has been embraced by certain neoconservatives." I'm guessing he means the certain neoconservatives who support the war in Iraq, or this sentence has no point. Yet, neocons, including those in the Bush administration, are no more certain of their ideas than the average politically engaged person in this country. If anything, neocons, who support universal freedom of speech and freedom of religion, are more open to uncertainty than most. What angers Alter, and others like him, is that the neocons have heard his ideas and disagreed.
Alter bemoans how polarized politics has become. He also wonders why the neocons have turned to the right, since Strauss was not political. My answer is the neocons haven't turned right, they're old-style liberals who remained true to their beliefs while many of their compatriots decided being left meant being anti-war and against the influence of America. If the left would come home, maybe there wouldn't be so much polarization.
Sunday, June 25, 2006
Who Would Jesus Vote For?
Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education, rant replaces reason yet again. Randall Balmer, in "Jesus Is Not a Republican," hides behind his religion to make intellecutally dishonest attacks on politics he disagrees with (in this case, conservative--last week Ann Coulter did the same against liberals).
I was going to fisk his piece, but it turns out Rick Garnett has already discussed it at Mirror Of Justice. Perhaps not in great detail, but he gets the basics right.
Saturday, June 24, 2006
Aaron Spelling just died. He produced more hours of TV than anyone else.
His shows include The Mod Squad, S.W.A.T., Charlie's Angels, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Hart To Hart, Dynasty, T.J. Hooker, Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place.
It's a great American story. A poor Jewish kid rises out of poverty to become one of the most powerful men in Hollywood.
And yet, with all those titles to his credit, I'm not sure if I've ever sat through an entire hour of anything he created.
Friday, June 23, 2006
Absent a showing by Osama bin Laden, er, absent a showing by AnnArborGuy or the even more rarely seen ChicagoGuy, heartland blogging will be light for two weeks. The ColumbusGuy Clan is traveling southeasterly, then southwesterly, then south, thence north again.
(And don't forget, a good way to celebrate the Fourth of July is to patronize your local pistol range.)
Late And Later
I heard comedian Louis C. K. interviewed on NPR. He used to write for Conan O'Brien and discussed my favorite recurring bit, "Actual Items."
Let's go back a little. David Letterman revolutionized late night TV by using found comedy. He'd go out on the streets and talk to people, show weird items from the news or in stores, answer viewer mail, etc. Steve Allen may have started the trend, but Letterman really ran with it, and gave it a modern spin.
Jay Leno, for all his popularity, was not an originator. He started doing the Tonight Show as a Carson acolyte, and later shifted in the direction of Letterman.
Conan was something new. He was clearly a fan of Letterman, but took it one step further--he did fake found comedy. A signature piece like "Actual Items" is the old Letterman routine "Small Town News," but Conan takes pieces found in the paper and adds bizarre twists.
I think he knew it was a good routine, since he did it on his first show and has been doing it ever since. He has examples up on his website. For instance, there's a small note in an ad for Supermac And Cheese that says "regular mac and cheese still available for step-children." Or in a promotion for large, ugly panties, the copy reads "the fastest way to tell your husband you're done with sex."
PS Is it just me, or has Letterman's comedy been getting surreal lately? I'm not sure if it's because he cares more or has stopped caring.
It's The Old Army Game
Here's an argument you see every day--columnist Joan Vennochi wants a return of the draft. After all, not only would it take away the freedom of millions, but it would guarantee our military will be less effective. Who wouldn't want that?
The left has been cynically asking for conscription since the war on terror started in earnest. They want to make sure everyone has to pay (though, oddly, they don't believe this is a good idea when it comes to taxes).
When that strategy fails, they get even more cynical and claim the Republicans are going to bring back the draft. I can't tell you how many anti-Bush emails I got from friends before the last election saying he'd do this. I wrote back saying you got the wrong party--it's the Democrats who long for a draft.
It does fit with their strategy. They want to lose this war as soon as is practical. A draft would certainly help.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Appellate judge John Noonan writes, ""There is a line at which the government must stop."
Sounds like new law to me, and I for one do not believe it.
In any case, I suppose it's a good thing that there's a way to reach a man's innermost thoughts.
Thanks, You Bastards
Double good news for Israel.
First, the international Red Cross finally admitted the beleaguered nation as a member.
Second, the Presbyterian Church has voted to overturn its planned divestment.
What's shameful is that either of these thing should be a big deal. Anyway, here's hoping this is just the beginning and the world is finally coming to its senses.
It's the longest day of the year.
Rodgers and Hart wrote a pretty cool ballad called "The Shortest Day Of The Year," but as far as I know, no one wrote about the longest day. I guess moonlight inspires composers more than sunlight.
But who doesn't like long days? Nothing's more depressing than looking out the window, see it's getting dark, and realizing it's not even 6 yet.
That's why I've always felt we should feel good three quarters of the year. After all, through spring and fall, we're getting more than 12 hours of sunlight. And from winter through spring the days are getting longer. That only leaves autumn, and if you live where the leaves change, that's not too bad either.
Justice Kennedy has taken Sandra Day O'Connor's old spot as the ideological center of the court. While he's still firmly in the conservative column, he likes to write opinions that split the difference.
His latest opus is Rapanos. Both right and left were hoping for a bright line interpretation of the Clean Water Act. Instead, we have a wishy-washy "significant nexus" standard for wetlands that guarantees a lot more litigation.
Why not just say it doesn't matter since he expects the problem will go away in 25 years?
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Ray Richmond of The Hollywood Reporter is angry at the mainstream media for giving Ann Coulter so much attention. Or any at all.
Maybe they are overdoing it, but, to be fair, she became a celebrity pundit by putting in years of hard work, not just by being a leggy blonde. (Though it didn't hurt.)
In any case, Richmond's outrage seems to be selective:
At the same time, I don't buy the argument that Coulter is merely a significantly slimmer and slightly more feminine Michael Moore. At least Moore tries to provoke discussion. All Coulter seeks to trigger is a fatter income.1) Coulter may sometimes spout hate, or nonsense, or hateful nonsense, but she comes by it honestly.
2) That Richmond thinks Moore's crackpot ideas are more deserving of respect is a pretty clear giveaway not just that he's a partisan (I assumed that already), but a particularly clueless one.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
His Virtualness notes that Don Ho engaged in bit of medical tourism, heading to Thailand. In this case it wasn't a question of saving money (although the cost at $30,000 to $40,000 is probably less than comparable surgery in the U.S). It was that the operation wasn't even available in the U.S. Bureaucrats said, "Die," but were given the Heave Ho.
And in other news, a mechanical pacemaker was replaced by one conjured from living tissue. How long before "living tissue" and "mechanical tissue" become indistinguishable?
UPDATE: Fixed a couple of typos. Epistemological question: Why bother now?
tee chnicl dffcultty
Once again I--aka, my computer connection--am suffering from technical difficulties. My modem is only working intermittently. So I'm dashing this off while I can.
That reminds me of my favorite item on a Letterman list of least favorite car features: "intermittent steering.
Monday, June 19, 2006
Waving The Magic Wand
The Democrats have come out with their plan. Don't look for anything on Iraq. What their base wants and what the public at large wants makes silence a good option.
So, even though the economy's been doing okay for the last few years, they concentrate on money issues. What are they promising? Lower gas prices, lower college tuition, higher wages, less outsourcing, no more "gouging" and lower drug prices.
Sounds great to me. And how will they do it? They'll just pass some laws making it so. Brilliant.
Of course, it may lead to shortages, worse medical care and a lot more bankruptcy, but they can worry about that next election.
Sunday, June 18, 2006
We Still Need Him
Being a big Beatles' fan, I might write something at length about Paul McCartney later. For now, let's just wish him a happy 64th.
This post is unfair because it's about something I thought I heard. I could be completely wrong.
Anyway, I heard California senator Barbara Boxer on the radio addressing a conference of left-wing bloggers. Someone asked why didn't she fight to have Bush impeached. (This is considered a serious question over at the Daily Kos, I guess.)
I swear I heard her say there's nothing she could do since the Democrats don't have the House. Now if she did say this, I must ask, isn't impeachment left to the Senate?
Columbus Guy says: Well, actually, I never would have thought it possiblle, but Boxer has you on this one. Impeachment is as indictment. Clinton was, indeed, impeached; it was only that the clowns in the Senate did not convict.
LAGuy Notes: Yes, I remembered that. I even remember the powerful Ways And Means committee in a close vote to impeach Nixon for lying to the public. But where's your training, CGuy--you should cite chapter and verse in the Constitution.
Saturday, June 17, 2006
We have been reading Wittgenstein in my book group. Though his stuff is a bit tricky (perhaps it's the translation), he's easier to read than I expected.
I have no breaking news on Ludwig, but here are some interesting facts I picked up while checking up on him.
He went to high school with Hitler.
He came from a very rich family and but gave away his money. However, he gave it to his sisters, since he figured they were already rich and it wouldn't corrupt them.
Four of his five brothers committed suicide.
He wrote the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus while in his 20s. It was his only work of philosophy published during his lifetime and it revolutionized the field. In fact, he felt he had solved all the problem of philosophy so gave it up for almost a decade. During this period, one of his jobs was as a gardener at a monastery.
One of the messages of the Tractatus is all talk about metaphysics is nonsensical--including what's written in the Tractatus.
He inspired and hung out with the logical positivists in Vienna, but claimed they didn't understand what he was saying.
He enjoyed mystery novels and westerns.
It's reported he got into a tussle with Karl Popper at Cambridge in 1946.
He died at the age of 62. His last words were "Tell them I've had a wonderful life."
Friday, June 16, 2006
First Murtha, then the 17th Amendment
Ann Coulter's free-association response to the words, "Jack Murtha": ""The reason soldiers invented 'fragging.'"
Oh, God love her. But that's bad, Ann, bad. Down, you bad girl. Don't. Stop.
Anyway, it turns out ColumbusGuy isn't the only lunatic who thinks it was a mistake to adopt the 17th Amendment.
I guess the Dems are dropping their "move America forward" policy for "New Directions."
I'd say we've heard the last of this motto. What's next, guys?
So the UN's in a snit over Bolton again. Watch for Cryin' George Voinovich to appear in the NYTimes soon.
I'm just thinkin', what an appeal this would make to conservative voters, to cut UN funding in half two months before the election.
The reality, though, is that the papers would get in a snit, too, and the Republicans would probably end up doubling the funding and apologizing for the world's hating us.
Good News? Bad News? It's Just A Poll.
Zarqawi's death seems to have given Bush a small uptick in the polls. (Or maybe not.) Unless more positive stories follow, however, Bush's numbers should drift back down to pre-Zarqawi levels.
Many Democrats are licking their lips in anticipation of the elections. But they're missing one point. Bush isn't running--not in 2006, not in 2008. And while the public may be soured on Republicans, it's not as if they suddenly like the Dems.
The real key is how many races are competitive. The vast majority in the House are pretty much sewn up. (This may not be the Founding Fathers' plan, but the two leading parties sure love it.)
As far as Bush's popularity, or the Iraq war's popularity, or the Repubs' generic popularity, these things tend to fade in particular races. Furthermore, politicians--especially members of the House--are highly attuned to the interests of their constituents. (As the Tipster used to say, all politics are local. Then Newt proved him wrong.)
I've been avoiding polls about specific races, since it's still too early. Remember, all it takes is one knockout commercial and you're back on top.
Nevertheless, things are looking good for the Dems. But how much can they celebrate (inside, I mean--outside both parties will claim victory) if they blow their big chance to regain Congress?
PS I think the Democrats realize they can't take anything for granted. The Washington Post ran an interesting collection of quotes on how to win Congress back.
Some of it is the same useless advice you always hear. Bill Maher says go for the jugular, as if they don't already do this. Bob Shrum wants a date for the troops to come home, which most Americans understand doesn't work. Tony Podesta says: "Watch tapes of Rep. Jack Murtha. Voters hunger for plainspoken talk about the challenges we face and what America should do to meet those challenges." I don't think he gets it's the media that's so taken with Murtha. When his ideas were put to a vote, even he didn't support them. Terry McAuliffe says "Throw focus groups and polls aside." Stop, you're killing me.
On the other hand, a number of big-name Democrats give sensible and sometimes tactical advice. Tony Coelho and Bill Richardson say don't let the election be about how bad the Republcans are (and how the Dems will retaliate if voted in) but on the positive things Democrats will do. Robert Strauss says go after all the Republicans, even in safe seats--put them on the defensive and make them spend money. Jack Quinn says talk about Iraq, but stress victory, not withdrawal. Donna Brazile advises the Dems to go after disaffected Republicans just as the Repubs went after blue-collar Democrats. Dee Dee Myers suggests they try to attract unmarried women and those who feel disenfranchised.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
George Will has an oddly pessimistic column on Zarqawi's death: Iraqis are beyond help:
An Army captain asked, ``What kind of people loot dirt?'' There are many answers to that question. Here is one: A kind of people who are hard to help.
Let's start a pool on when George will be running a column on a fine dinner he had in a Baghdad restaurant. I'll say by July 2007.
Summer's Here And The Time Is Right
Summer has become, for better or worse, the season of the movie blockbuster. Kids are out of school and TV is in reruns.
So far the grosses are running ahead of last year, but the odd thing is there hasn't been a true critics' hit yet. Just because a film is big doesn't mean it has to be dumb (exactly). So films open huge and then don't get much word of mouth and collapse.
Pixar's Cars just opened to decent but not great reviews. Most of them imply the film is a bit too long and slow. In any case, it opened well with a $60 million weekend, but Pixar's last two, The Incredibles and Finding Nemo opened with over $70 million.
Before that, there was The Break-Up, The Omen, X-Men: The Last Stand, The Da Vinci Code, Over The Hedge, Poseidon and Mission: Impossible 3. None got great reviews--in fact, most were slammed. While several are racking up decent numbers, none will reach the super-blockbuster level of $300 million.
So is there any hope? Well, the buzz on the Superman Returns is good. (It better be considering the budget.) Perhaps the Pirates Of the Caribbean sequel will score. Let's not rule out Snakes On A Plane. Or maybe something else will surprise, like the latest M. Night Shyamalan.
To see some earlier predictions, check out this post from our blogger friend Gaucho.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
I just read George De Stefano's An Offer We Can't Refuse. It's about the Mafia in popular culture, with partiuclar emphasis on (not surprisingly) The Godfather and The Sopranos. (The author also takes a little excursion to bash the crude Italian caricatures of Spike Lee.)
However, what interested me most was the history of the Mafia. For instance, I always thought it was some ancient thing, when, in fact, the Sicilian roots only go back to the late 1800s. Furthemore, it wasn't directly exported to America, even though the stereotype of Italian immigrants at the time were of dangerous, dishonest people. It's fascinating to read the openly racist articles back then in The New York Times. It makes you wonder how people in 2100 will look at today's headlines.
Italians didn't dominate crime in the 20s and 30s--there were plenty of Irish thugs, Jewish thugs and so on. But because of Al Capone, and movies like Scarface and Little Caesar, Italians became associated with crime.
This might have died out, but Congressional hearings in the 50s and 60s popularized the idea of a highly organized, national (or international) Italian crime syndicate. In fact, even at its height, it wasn't so widespread and certainly not that organized. Sure, they had their hands in a lot of pies, and they controlled many Italian neighborhoods, but their power has always been greatly magnified in the popular mind.
Ironically, as the Mafia has been steadily losing power (helped by the harsh penalties of the RICO statute), it's become more widespread in our culture, mostly because of The Godfather and The Sopranos. Whatever influence it once had is mostly gone, with the heads of the top "families" dead or in jail. But then, cowboy stories became more popoular only after their era was over. (When the legend becomes fact, make movies about the legend.)
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Watch The Wording
Ohio Senator George Voinovich was one of two Republicans to vote against the repeal of the estate tax. (Actually, it's worse--he voted to prevent a vote on the repeal. The law would pass if the Senate did its duty, but it only take 41 Senators to hold up business.)
What was his argument? "I am thinking not only about the present but about our children and grandchildren and the legacy--or burden--we will leave them." So he wants to leave a legacy to our children by not allowing private citizens to leave a legacy to their children.
Thanks, George. And tell me where to send my money, since you obviously know how to spend it better.
Democrats' Bind Or Democrats Blind?
The Sunday New York Times features a review by Joe Klein of Peter Beinart's book on how only liberals can win the war on terror. Klein and Beinart are reasonable men, but they're in a bind. They want to beat the terrorists, but as Democrats can't admit George Bush could be doing anything right. This doesn't leave much room to maneuver. (It's not unlike John Kerry saying he'd do things differently in Iraq but when pressed for details, it was pretty much what Bush was already doing.)
Beinart's thesis is we need to look to Harry Truman and his ilk--the liberals who took on communism and ultimately won. Klein approves, but then must do the near-impossible task of explaining how Truman and Bush approach their tasks of fighting a worldwide movement antithetical to freedom and democracy in completely different ways.
There's barely a sentence Klein writes that holds up to analysis. Let's just go straight to his conclusion:
At the end of World War II, America's leaders realized it was no longer possible to retreat behind our oceans[...]. We were indispensable to global stability, and there were difficult choices to be made about how to exercise our power and moral authority. Remarkably, on their very first try, Harry Truman's liberal anti-Communists developed a global leadership strategy that was strong, sophisticated, optimistic and humane.So how exactly is Bush's plan different?
Strong? No one's claiming Bush isn't showing strength--quite the opposite.
Sophisticated? Truman and his followers fought against communism in all sorts of ways, just as Bush has against terrorism: new rules at home (the difference is those in the 40s and 50s were much tougher on our civil rights), wars, diplomacy (believe it or not we work with other countries on many different levels), etc. Klein has to caricature Bush to pretend his plans, which attempt to deal with the real root cause of the problem (our enemies are raised in unfree countries and taught lies from birth), are based on simplistic and unrealistic expectations--as if the same criticisms, with more jusitifcation, couldn't have been made against the massive project of turning back the tide of communbism, and as if no significant errors were made in this fight. Klein states one thing Truman's people had was patience, but Klein's already run out of patience with Bush.
Optimistic? Once again, most complain Bush has too much optimism, not too little.
Humane? This is funny, since Truman's first big act was to drop atom bombs on civilian populations. Meanwhile, Bush has worked as never before to avoid collateral damage. But what Klein really means is the Marshall plan. Has he not been reading the papers? The outrage in the US is Bush is spending too much to rebuild, not too little.
One must ask precisely what would Klein do differently. I don't mean minor tactics, I mean on a large scale. Would he show our enemies he's not willing to fight? Would he have left Iraq alone, so we could still have a dangerous dictator there on top of all the other problems that exist? Is greater diplomacy the answer (that's the one Bush's opponents always talk about)? If someone could explain to me how giving in to the UN more--when they hate Israel, are bought off by Iraq and don't really care what Iran does--is the answer, please let me know. The fact is, we got all the support we were gonna get for the war--France, Germany and Russia were playing us, hoping, if anything, to give Saddam more freedom.
Here's the truth Beinart and Klein can't--or won't--face: there is a direct line from Truman to today's neocons. If anything, the neocons are the last stand of old-style liberalism. (Remember, neocons are liberals who became disenchanted with where liberalism was going--even Klein and Beinart agree modern liberals have lost their way.) I'd love to see its revival in the Democratic party, but until then, if you want to fight the war on terror seriously, it seems to me there's only one place to go.
Monday, June 12, 2006
Last week I had jury duty. It's like a mini-draft. I suppose I shouldn't complain, since the state isn't asking that much. Still, at the very least, it's a major annoyance.
I've often wondered if we couldn't try an all-volunteer system. I realize a lot of people (usually the kind who like social engineering and think stripping two years of our lives for national service would be a neat idea) want a mix of society, but 1) who says we wouldn't get it and 2) I don't care.
By the way, if they paid real money--say $100 a day for the first week of the trial with a $50 a day raise each week after that--people would be lining up. But paying what was a living wage in the 1890s doesn't cut it.
I almost got on a jury--a criminal trial . However, the defendant took the plea bargain at the last second and we were dismissed. So nothing happened. I could have stayed home.
Sunday, June 11, 2006
The Sopranos, created by David Chase, is one of the best dramas on TV. But sometimes I wonder if Chase isn't trying to be too different.
What viewers like is lots of whacking. Chase realizes he can't kill a regular every week, but he sometimes seems to intentionally stymie audience expectation.
In this season's finale, shown last Sunday, he set up a lot of things and nothing paid off--not the way people like, anyway. New York planned to kill someone from New Jersey, and Tony was even tipped off, but nothing happened. Tony got a chance to put the screws to Phil in the hospital, but had kind words instead. Christopher was sleeping with Tony's girl but when Tony found out he didn't do anything. AJ looked ready to take on some street toughs but bribed his way out. Carmela wanted to search for Adrianna (whom she doesn't know was murdered) but dropped it.
It's still great writing but Chase better watch out. If you keep doing the same thing, your anti-formula becomes just another formula.
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Anonymous thinks ColumbusGuy hates technology. I'm pretty sure he's mistaken. Most of the time I'm unaware of it, I'd say, and of the remainder I'm ordinarily neutral to impressed by it.
But let me quote the imitable Rex Stout:
At dinner he started on automation. He has always been anti-machine, and on automation his position was that it would soon make life an absurdity. It was already bad enough; on a cold and windy March day he was eating his evening meal in comfortable warmth, and he had no personal connection whatever with the production of the warmth. The check that had paid the oil bill was connected, but *he* wasn't. Soon, with automation, no one would have any connection with the processes and phenomena that make it possible to stay alive. We would all be parasites, living not on some other living organisms but on machines, arrived at the ultimate ignominy. I tried to put up a stiff argument, but he knows more words.
"I have no inkling. I have no plan. I have only a commitment, and I intend to meet it, though at the moment I have no idea when or how. How many times has the answer to some bothersome question come while you were brushing your teeth?"
"More than once."
"I'll be brushing mine in a couple of hours. Not with an electric thing; with that machine the fear of electrocution would squelch all mental processes. As an anthropologist, are you concerned with the menace of automation?"
"As an anthropologist, no."
"As a man you are."
"Why . . . yes."
"Your son is twenty-one years old. Are you aware that by averting this calamity for him we will be compelling him inevitably to suffer a worse one?"
Very neat. Confronted by a father worried sick about a son locked up for the big one, he had dealt with that in less than a quarter of an hour and steered him to automation; a fresh audience, better than me, since he had had me at dinner. Neat.
House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi's bid to temporarily remove embattled Democratic Rep. William Jefferson from the powerful Ways and Means Committee while he remains the subject of a federal corruption investigation is headed for a showdown next week.
Now, at some point, wouldn't you, as a reporter, be embarrassed about writing "the powerful Ways and Means Committee"? Why don't we just put it in the stylebook, "the Powerful Committee on Ways and Means," along with "the Lackluster Committee on Science" and "the Bloated Committee on Agriculture"?
Not Funny As A Crutch
A few days ago I wrote that Ann Coulter in her latest book seems to be using her religion as an excuse to be cruel. The book also features a very tired and absurd attack on evolution. (For a taste of her claims, see her latest column.)
I'm not sure which is worse--using one's religion to be nasty, or using it to be stupid.
Friday, June 09, 2006
I'd like a new keyboard, please.
US scientists have created a sensor that can "feel" the texture of objects to the same degree of sensitivity as a human fingertip.
Does anyone remember that 1970's game show, "Name that Tune," where contestants vied to be the first to recognize a song based on the fewest notes played? They would bid against each other, "I can name that tune in five notes," "I can name that tune in four notes," "Name that tune." I think occasionally someone would do it in one note. I don't remember whether they were given clues.
I'm convinced grocery store loyalty cards create a similar dynamic. It's not just aq question of printing out coupons for pretzels for someone who buys cheetos. I'm sure there are actuaries somewhere who are not only answering questions such as who you voted for in the last presidential election based on your shopping patterns, but that they're competing: "I can tell you whether he prefers blondes or brunettes in three weeks" "I can tell you his vote in 2004, 2000 and 1996 with two weeks of shopping data," "Name that man's vote!"
Anyway, looks like the Pentagon is finding another way to do it, too.
New Scientist has discovered that Pentagon's National Security Agency, which specialises in eavesdropping and code-breaking, is funding research into the mass harvesting of the information that people post about themselves on social networks. And it could harness advances in internet technology - specifically the forthcoming "semantic web" championed by the web standards organisation W3C - to combine data from social networking websites with details such as banking, retail and property records, allowing the NSA to build extensive, all-embracing personal profiles of individuals.
Now that the primaries are over, it's time to make a prediction. Will the next Governor of California be a Democrat? Yes. It'll either be Phil Angelides or Arnold Schwarzenegger.
By now we've all heard about the death of al-Zarqawi. There's not much I can add. I did hear a rumor that he was given up by some Sunnis as part of an overture to give up violence and become part of the government. This story is completely unconfirmed, but one can always hope.
Columbus Guy says: The thing that outrages me is, we knew where he was, and we didn't execute a warrant? This is a war crime.
Blogspot, which runs this site, has been having technical difficulties this week. We'll try our best, but if there are no new posts, don't blame us.
Columbus Guy says: Well, you can continue to blame me.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
Coulter Goes Wilde
Ann Coulter is in trouble. More than usual, I mean. Her new book, Godless: The Church Of Liberalism (which I haven't read and probably won't) has some nasty stuff in it. What's causing the most stir is her attack on certain anti-Bush 9/11 widows. She calls them "the Witches of East Brunswick" and says they enjoyed their husbands' deaths since it made them celebrities.
Why does she do this? Here's her explanation from an interview in Human Events: "....Christianity fuels everything I write. Being a Christian means that I am called upon to do battle against lies, injustice, cruelty, hypocrisy...." Isn't that great--using your religions as an excuse to be cruel.
I felt I'd heard this argument before, and I have. From act two of The Importance Of Being Earnest:
Gwendolen:....if I may speak candidly--
Cecily: Pray do! I think that whenever one has anything unpleasant to say, one should always be quite candid.
Columbus Guy says: Any post with this many comments deserves its own photo.
We would be remiss if we didn't note the passing of Billy Preston. Keyboardist Preston has the unique honor of being the only artist officially credited on a Beatles' song. I don't mean listed somewhere on an album, I mean the hit single "Get Back" is credited to "The Beatles with Billy Preston." He deserved it--his lively organ solo adds quite a bit.
He also appears in the rooftop concert--that last Beatles' live performance--seen in the movie Let It Be.
I'd say his career never reached that height again, though he was only in his early 20s. Still, he had some major songs in the 70s. "Outa-Space" went to #2 and "Space Race" #4. Then there are his #1 hits, "Will It Go Round In Circles" and "Nothing From Nothing." In 1980 he had a #4 hit with Syreeta, "With You I'm Born Again." Not my favorite, but his last big charting number.
He also played on sessions with many other greats, including The Rolling Stones, Dylan, Aretha Franklin and Sly & The Family Stone.
Whenever I think of him, I remember watching him on TV in the 70s. He was performing "Will It Go Round In Circles." My father walked in and said that no one writes melodies any more. I couldn't help but laugh, since the song starts "I got a song I ain't got no melody."
(Another line is "I've got a dance, I ain't got no steps/I'm gonna let the music move me around" This should be Taylor Hicks' theme song.)
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
My Faith In Democracy Is Restored (And We're Not Talking About Amercan Idol This Time)
Congrats (I simply can't write "kudos"--the word makes me shudder) to California voters for decisively rejecting Prop 82. This was Rob Reiner's plan to pay for universal preschool through a huge new tax that soaked the rich.
The last poll I read (a few weeks ago) had it winning, so I'm surprised and heartened. This was a bad idea all around. Why? I don't have to explain any more since it ain't gonna happen. (The previous sentence was written by a nursery school dropout.)
A sidenote: Supporters claimed a study had shown every dollar spent on preschool led to a two to four dollar gain for society. I don't need to read other studies to know this is absurd. First, the sky-high return--if they'd been reasonable and said you make a $1.10 on every $1.00 spent, maybe they'd have some credibility. Second, the variance. Their research is so inexact that they don't know if things'll be two times better or four times better! What they're doing is hard to distinguish from guessing.
Editor Kevin Naff of the gay-themed Houston Voice has outed two cable reporters, Anderson Cooper (CNN) and Shepard Smith (Fox News). Cooper, for one, has not discussed his sexuality because he feels he needs to mix in with others, and such information might get in the way. This has apparently unhinged Naff, who replies "Does [Cooper] believe that female and African-American reporters lack credibility to cover stories since their minority status is showing?"
First, the comparison of your own struggle with what blacks or women go through can be facile. Race isn't sex which isn't sexual orientation. (One of the differences, in fact, is you can determine the first two by looking at someone, while the third requires gaydar.)
But let's assume the analogy is perfect, and see if Naff still makes sense. Let's say some reporter has indeterminate racial characteristics and an interviewer asks her "are you white or black?" She might (and should) respond "what difference does it make, it's no one's business." And you know who'd be the first to support her? Kevin Naff.
The folks over at The M Zone have a great post on net neutrality. If you read blogs (and I'm guessing you do), this concerns you. Check it out.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Lately, Rolling Stone magazine has been humiliating itself with its political coverage. Not because it's partisan--we expect that--but because it's nutty.
A month ago, it had a feature by Sean Wilentz wondering if Bush was the worst president ever. I thought it would be a while before they beat this childish ("it's happening now so nothing could be more important, and since I don't like him no one could be worse") outburst, but it didn't take long.
The latest edition offers a piece by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. who's written a crackpot investigation of the last election. Let me quote him:
The first indication that something was gravely amiss on November 2nd, 2004, was the inexplicable discrepancies between exit polls and actual vote counts. Polls in thirty states weren't just off the mark -- they deviated to an extent that cannot be accounted for by their margin of error. In all but four states, the discrepancy favored President Bush.The discrepancy he's referring to is the exit polls versus actual results. Now I would have said it favored Kerry--the incorrect exit polls showed him ahead where he wasn't. Kennedy will have none of that. He says we can count on the polls (even though they've been consistently mistaken, he assures us they're an "exact science"), therefore the election results were wrong.
Yep, that's his thesis. Like the polls, don't like the votes? Have the polls decide the victor.
Some believe this article was actually written and published now to hurt the chances of Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio's Secretary of State in 2004 (and therefore involved in voting irregularities) and presently running for Governor. He's a conservative African-American so he must be stopped--if Repubs start getting the black vote, the Dems are doomed. But even though this would only require a two-man conspiracy (Kennedy and RS publisher Jann Wenner)--not the mind-bogglingly large one required to steal a Presidential election on a state-by-state basis--I don't believe it. I believe this is an honest feature from an honest partisan ("honest partisan" in the sense of "I believe any lunacy on my side while even obviously true statements from my opponents are satanic lies.")
PS Since I wrote this, Salon has published a piece that demolishes all of Kennedy's arguments. It shouldn't be necessary, but, alas, it probably is. Kennedy claimed to have carefully examined the evidence, but he must have done it with his eyes closed.
To quote Groucho in Horse Feathers, he's a disgrace to the family name, if such a thing is possible.
PPS Here's another takedown from the Mystery Pollster.
Monday, June 05, 2006
His Virtualness observes that the NyTimes wants more dead body photos. Fine. I seem to recall that they and the nets stopped running the video and other images of people leaping out of the towers pretty quickly -- didn't want to stir things up, you know.
So, now that they want corpses, let them use those photos up first.
What did the Buddhist say to the delivery pizza man? Make me one with everything.
"For the first time, scientists at the Max-Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Martinsried near Munich coupled living brain tissue to a chip equivalent to the chips that run computers"
I was reading Todd McCarthy's Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood and there it was, near the bottom of page 440: "accomodate."
Is it that hard to remember--two m's, not one? Just recall it has the same root as "commode."
My prediction: by 2050, "accomodate" will be an accepted alternate spelling.
Columbus Guy says: What are you sweating about? By 2050 gas will be five or six bucks a gallon, and you'll be a piece of assembly code.
LAGuy adds: Going further, by 2100 it'll be the preferred spelling and Columbus will be the capital of a new country founded on worship of Ohio State football.
I don't usually link to J.R. Jones of the Chicago Reader because he's one of the worst film critics around and it's best just to ignore him. But a short comment on his review of An Inconvenient Truth.
Here's what Jones has to say:
In Fahrenheit 9/11, which premiered at Cannes in 2004, Gore was portrayed as the ultimate loser, silencing members of the Congressional Black Caucus on the floor of the Senate when they tried to protest the Supreme Court ruling that robbed him of the presidency. But when An Inconvenient Truth premiered at this year’s festival Gore was treated like a superstar....[U]nlike the modern campaign biography, which presumes to lay bare the candidate’s character through some Oprah-friendly personal crisis (Clinton’s abusive stepfather, Bush’s heavy drinking, Kerry’s heroics in Vietnam), An Inconvenient Truth reveals Gore’s substance....Even the story of Nancy Gore’s lung cancer comes with a lesson in personal responsibility, as Al recalls how his Tennessee family finally “connected the dots” and quit growing tobacco: “Whatever explanations had seemed to make sense in the past just didn’t cut it anymore.”So there are two Gores, the loser presiding over his loss of the presidency, and the new, substantial one learning life lessons.
Actually, one of Gore's greatest moments was that day in the Senate. Mind you, he only did what he was required to do, but that's practically bravery for a politician. The Congressional Black Caucus had no standing to speak (and no serious argument anyway) and I hope those involved in this outrage are forever remembered as people with contempt for the Constitution and no sense of honor.
On the other hand, Gore's been exploiting personal tragedy (including the lung cancer story) in his speeches for years.
Good work, Al. If the voters are as clueless as Jones, it's time to run.
Columbus Guy says: The man is Carteresque in his reprehensibility. I just heard a replay of his interview on "Fresh Air," during which he engaged in a lengthy discourse on multiple intelligences and how George Bush "is a very intelligent man. There are many kinds of intelligence . . ." Yeah. I'm guessing Bush has the idiot kind, with the Listens-to-Karl-Rove Savant variation.
But let me finish this post by speaking slowly, deeply and appending the following so that I'll sound intelligent the way Gore does: "If you will."
Please, please, Al. Run again. Please?
Sunday, June 04, 2006
I was just watching As Good As It Gets, the 1997 romantic comedy, and something really stood out. Not the Oscar-winning performances by Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt. Not the sharp screenplay by Mark Andrus and James L. Brooks.
No, what struck me was the price of gas when they stopped at a Mobil. It was $1.13 a gallon. I'd settle for twice that right now.
Columbus Guy says: What's burning my buns is the pattern of the price changes: It drops a penny at a time, a nickel at a time, three cents at a time, until it's fallen by 25 cents or 30. Then, boom, it jumps 25 or 30 or 35 cents, and then starts dropping a penny at a time . . .
The only thing I've guessed right is that the price would be low Memorial Day weekend -- it fell every day here -- and that it would be higher right after. As we speak, it's fallen to a relative low, in the low $2.60's. Perhaps tomorrow or Monday it will be $2.85, and all at once.
Anyway, buck up, LAGuy. You could be HonoluluGuy.
LAGuy notes: I don't know what they're charging in Honolulu (it's a long, hard drive) but I'd kill for $2.85. I got some gas today and the cheapest I could find was $3.31.
Saturday, June 03, 2006
The Show Must Go On
Pigeon Update (No Pictures This Time)
Faithful readers know I had problems with pigeons on my balcony. Well, not the pigeons per se, but the blasted noise they make. My sleep patterns were greatly disturbed.
They built a nest and I put a chicken egg in it. I hoped they'd leave, but instead they tried to hatch it. That was okay, because while they were doing that they weren't billing and cooing.
This worked about four weeks, but a few days ago they gave up on the egg and started making noise again. Then, miraculously, they got quiet and started disassembling the nest. Looks like they're packing up. Whether it's to migrate or they just got tired of that gigantic egg I don't know. I only hope they don't come back.
If any pigeon fanciers out there can explain their activity, I'd love to hear it.
Friday, June 02, 2006
To Bee Or Not To Bee
I watched the National Spelling Bee last night. Very exciting. The best thing was they announced the words before showing the TV audience how to spell them. Most of them were impossible, but the last three I actually got!
The winning word was ursprache, meaning protolanguage. I didn't know the word, but hearing the meaning and the German etymology, I was able to figure it out.
The previous two words were actually pretty easy, and fairly common. One was kundalini. I'm no yoga expert, but I've certainly seen this word a number of times, along with chakra, satori, namaste, tantra and Kama Sutra.
The other was another of German origin, maybe my favorite next to schadenfreude and frankfurter--weltschmerz (world-weariness). I was surprised to see it in a late round. Maybe they thought the contestants would add on a "t" near the end.
Roger L. Simon makes a curious argument. I agree with him that Denny Hastert's attempt to protect his people from searches is based on a flawed legal claim. Simon is insulted when others say "you don't understand the separation of powers"--the Constitution's tricky, but it's not that tricky.
But then Simon notes "...the Constitution is a document written in 1789 when there were slaves in the country and women couldn't vote." He seems to imply even if Hastert's constitutional argument is correct we can still ignore it.
America, in fact, dealt with slavery and women's suffrage not by ignoring the Constitution, but by changing it. Check out the 13th Amendment and the 19th Amendment. If you don't get that, maybe you don't get the separation of powers, either (which actually is pretty tricky).
Thursday, June 01, 2006
The P-boys are defending Jimmy Carter against criticism for benefiting from a million dollar donation from the bin Laden group, essentially on the same grounds that the Dubai ports deal was defended by sensible people, namely, that they happen top be Arab does not make them terrorists or disqualify them from the ordinary functions of investment, markets and liberty generally.
Here's my question. Isn't it about time for the bin Laden group to consider a corporate name change?
As Drudge has been featuring (yeah, that's right, we link to Drudge--he needs the hits), a war veteran is suing Michael Moore over his portrayal in Fahrenheit 9/11. Sergeant Peter Damon is claiming "loss of reputation, emotional distress, embarrassment, and personal humiliation":
Moore's film may be hateful and dishonest, but I think he'll win.
In the movie, Damon is shown lying on a gurney, with his wounds bandaged. He says he feels likes he's "being crushed in a vise."
"But they (the painkillers) do a lot to help it," he says. "And they take a lot of the edge off of it."
Damon is shown shortly after U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., is speaking about the Bush administration and says, "You know, they say they're not leaving any veterans behind, but they're leaving all kinds of veterans behind."
Damon contends that Moore's positioning of the clip just after the congressman's comments makes him appear as if he feels like he was "left behind" by the Bush administration and the military.
What Damon opposes is essentially Moore's MO. He regularly cuts things together and leaves out information to give the viewer a particular impression. The question is should he have to pay.
I'm not saying Moore can get away with anything. He can't show a soldier leaving a meeting and say he's leaving a brothel. But if you don't say something and figure the audience will infer something else, I think that is not enough for a lawsuit. Look at the example above. Moore can claim "Damon was injured and this is what he said, and this is what Jim McDermott said, too (and I think McDermott is right)--neither I nor McDermott claim that he's referring in any way to Damon in particular."
In other words, I think Moore can get away with the sin of omission. Every documentary has to leave out a lot more than it puts in. Being required to put everything in so that everyone shown in the film is happy is too high a standard to meet.
Columbus Guy says: That's not quite right. You can clearly be held responsible for inferences. It seems likely to me, though, that as you've described it there really is no inference to be had (a guy on a gurney talking about pain? You may as well assume all wounded and their families are Cindy Sheehans, and I'll bet the vast majority are anti-Sheehans), and perhaps more importantly, the inference, if there, has no culpability. I don't know, it's only that I'm doubtful.
And besides, I thought the whole point of brothels was to have meetings?
LAGuy replies: Now who's inferring things? I didn't say you can't be held responsible for something implied. I said Michael Moore will win this case.
Nevertheless, I think the implication Damon sees is there.