Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Friday, March 31, 2006

Worst President Ever

No. This post is not about who you think it's about. I don't have any new or original gripe about the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We'll have enough opportunities to pee on his leg-acy in future posts. And since there's always the remote possibility that, after a bout of stroke-inducing intern sex, he'll be secretly replaced by a comic impersonator who miraculously transforms his corrupt and moribund administration into FDR with more puppies and less polio, we should probably hold off on any final ranking of his presidency.

When the day comes, however, we should be prepared. So, who IS the worst president? Looking at C-Span's Survey of Presidential Leadership, the Historians' results, I was only mildly surprised to see that their bottom four were: 1) Buchanan, 2) A. Johnson, 3) Pierce, 4) Harding. Not a bad list. Importanly, Buchanan finished exactly where he should have as the worst president prior to the 21st century. JB wasn't just weak, ineffectual, or corrupt, he led the country into mistakes of world-historical importance. I am interested, however, at the commonalities of these bottom-feeders and how this list differs from others I saw a decade or more ago, when Harding, Hoover, Nixon, and Grant all figured among the "worst." The top three on C-Span's survey were all Democrats on the wrong side of history with respect to the race issue, either before or after the Civil War. So placing them at the bottom is minimally controversial, at least today. I suspect that the reason they're now on bottom is a coincidence of memory between today's Dems and Pubies: the Dems have been the party of racial progressivism since the 1960s, whereas the Pubies have gradually replaced race with abortion as the pivot of their culture war, embracing racial emancipation as template for fetal rights. Historians of both parties can then condemn the same men if for slightly different reasons.

What most surprised me about the list was the rehabilitation of Nixon, who has scaled from bottom three a few years ago to a respectable 25th best out of 41 now. On both his ranking and his raw score (477/1000), he's only slightly below average. Frankly, this is a bit daft. Although you can make a case for some of Nixon's policies, foreign (China) and domestic (approving the EPA), no president has ever done more damage to the institution of the presidency or behaved with such cynical lawlessness both at home and abroad. But again, I suspect that current politics shed light on the change: the GOP now wants above all else to vindicate the "imperial presidency," whereas Dems can look back on Nixon's policies as moderate in retrospect, at least when compared to GWB.

It shouldn't be a shock that contemporary politics can affect historians' evaluations of past presidents. But it also opens up another realm of prediction: what will happen to these evaluations as a result of the likely political shifts of the next several years? In other words, how will Bush's legacy affect theirs? My guess is that if, as I think likely, issues of GOP corruption and executive power eventually reach a critical mass, resulting in either a public fall by Bush or an ascendent McCain-reformism movement within the GOP, Nixon and Harding will again drop as they become emblematic of a stained present that both parties want to wash clean. I also expect Clinton to climb about ten spots from his current 21st as the shock of sex scandal fades and the 1990s come to be seen, for the nostalgics of both parties, as the new 1950s. Any thoughts?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Any Insight Here?

Does anyone know why the GOP-controlled Congress decided to push forward with immigration legislation this year? Is it possible to think of an issue that is more internally divisive for the Republican party? It's a perfect wedge issue, splitting the GOP intelligentsia from the populists, big business from small town, elites from mass. It's brutal for them--almost as bad as the Iraq War is for Democratic officeholders. Immigration even generates some of the same intensity of emotion for Republican base voters as the Iraq War issues (e.g., torture, casualties, Guantanamo, WMD) do for Democrats, as this repulsive Georgia blogger nicely illustrates.

It's not as though the illegal immigration problem suddenly metastasized. Sure, there's been grassroots organizing and agitation on the right, from the likes of the Minutemen and others, but the GOP could have held off on the matter until after the elections. Democratic officeholders are masters at telling their base voters to chill out (or worse); Republicans could have done the same.

There hasn't been significant movement on immigration since 1986. Why now? What were they thinking? I can see why individual Republicans, particuarly in border areas, might want to bring up the issue. But why did the leadership permit it? Did the president insist on it? Does he even care how much pain and suffering he causes these guys?

Dare to Dream?

From Ruy Teixeira's latest report:

"In the most recent Gallup poll, the Democrats had a 16 point lead among registered voters (55-39) in the generic congressional contest, their largest lead on this question since 1982.
The Democrats are also running large leads among independents in the generic Congressional ballot–generally in the 14-22 point range. As far back as I can get data (1982), the Democrats have never had a lead among independents larger than 4 points in an actual election."

A significant problem for Democrats, however, is gerrymandering, especially of the accidental variety. Democratic voters tend to be packed in congressional districts, particuarly in large, lopsidedly Democratic urban areas, wasting lots of votes. Republican voters are much more efficiently distributed across congressional districts. In 2004, Bush beat Kerry 51-48 in the popular vote, but won a majority in nearly 60% of all congressional districts. Combined with the weak competition in congressional elections, it will take a major electoral earthquake to break down all these barriers in the way of Democratic control of Congress. But if these kinds of polls hold, it's possible.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Shabbat Goy: Au Contraire

"You guys have become the Jews of the 21st century," said Michael Horowitz, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, to a conference of evangelicals in Washington this week. The conference is called " The War on Christians and the Values Voters in 2006." Speakers include: Tom Delay, John Cornyn, Sam Brownback, and many other stars in the Christian right firmament.

Not to carry the Jewish analogy too far, however, conference organizer Rick Scarborough invites attendees to view Tom DeLay as a Christ figure, a man "God has appointed" brought down by his faith in God. After DeLay finished his speech, Scarborogh remarked that "God always does his best work right after a crucifixion."

Speaking of "laughing behind backs": Former DeLay communications director Michael Scanlon described his plan for mobilizing conservative Christians against the Coushatta tribe's casino competition as: "bring out the wackos to vote against something and make sure the rest of the public lets the whole thing slip past them." The plan will work, he continued, because, "The wackos get their information from the Christian right, Christian radio, the internet and telephone trees."

Did "Christ" have "Judas" working for him as communications director? Or is DeLay a false prophet? Wonder how the evangelicals incorporate the Coushattas into their theodicy.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Reshuffle and Dis-Card

So Bush has finally decided to make a personnel change in order to shake up his troubled administration. Budget deficits are piling up, New Orleans is still reeling, and Iraq could re-explode any minute. As architect of all those mistakes, and consistent advocate of Bush's hard-right policies, Andy Card had to go. Oh wait, that's not right. The problem is that Bush has become a flip flopping, big-government "liberal." Somebody find me a moderate! Hey wait, Andy Card's from Taxachusetts. He once ran for office as a social moderate, and I can't remember him ever accusing a Democrat of sodomizing a terrorist. Fire that guy!

Lesson: when in doubt, purge your last moderate.

Is the US Israel's Shabbat Goy?

Since Israel is voting today for a new government, I thought it might be fitting to make a few comments about Mearsheimer’s and Walt’s recent essay on “The Israel Lobby”, which argues that said lobby has been very effective at getting the US to support Israel way beyond our self interest. ( has a good page on it, including links to the paper and reactions to it. My own feeling is that M & W are mostly on target, except that in their argument they have grossly underestimated the power of mythos (sacred stories such as in the Bible) and thereby have given way too much weight to the Jewish forces of the pro-Israeli lobby rather than fully understanding the eager role that America’s Christians play in all this. Seems to me that were it not for the fact that so many Christians in middle America really believe that Israel is “God’s chosen people and you don’t mess with them or you will get on the wrong side of God” as well as the prophecy that Christ won’t return until after the resuscitation of Israel, then it is my guess that US policy would be far less supportive – if it don’t play in Peoria, it don’t play in America. I know all the talk about Israel being our only democratic ally in the Middle East (can’t say they’re the only democracy now, can we?), but they’re not sitting on a pile of oil and so what do we really get from this relationship? How are we to explain it? Why do we really risk the inevitable terrorist attacks to support them so much? And I’m not a big fan of conspiracy theories in general nor in this case – I just think that middle America really supports the Jewish Lobby because it fits in well with their faith and ideology, and were it not for this widespread base of support, the Jewish Lobby would be fairly weak in their appeals to American politicians.

As for the rather provocative title of this post, those of you who do not know, a Shabbat goy is a gentile hired or persuaded by an orthodox Jew to do the work for him that is prohibited on the Sabbath. I was first introduced to the term by a fairly secular American Jewish fellow with whom I was I roommate at the University of Tel Aviv for a couple of weeks. We were talking about fundagelical Americans and he told me “O, the Orthodox Jewish people really love those evangelical Christians in the US, because they’re such suckers. A lot of them are actually honored and eager to be Shabbat goys.” I had never heard the term before and so he explained that many evangelicals somehow feel motivated to be Shabbat goys because of their faith in the Bible and that the Jewish people are the chosen ones and all that. Then he added, “And often the they are laughed at behind their backs.” Of course I’m not saying that every Christian who volunteers to be a Shabbat goy is some sort of deluded Christian rightwing nut, nor am I saying that every Jew who has one secretly makes fun of him or her behind their back (I’d like to think, for example, that Al Gore’s being a Shabbat goy for Lieberman is a true expression of friendship). I see, here ( that the Shabbat goys are indeed the subject of humor. At any rate, I have to wonder whether the Israelis deep down inside know that America is risking a lot for them without much of a good reason other than Christian religious ideology, and whether they secretly laugh at this behind our backs. Just a thought.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Dada, National Gallery of Art, February 19-May 14

Went to see the dada exhibition at the National Gallery East Building yesterday. It's quite a show, arranged into rooms based on the cities where the dada movement was active: Zurich, Berlin, Hannover, Cologne, New York, and Paris. The gallery has managed to bring together hundreds of posters, paintings, and objects, including Sophie Taeuber's marionettes, Prussian Archangel, and lots of Man Ray.

It was interesting to see how the dadaists, especially those in Berlin, were reacting not just to the first world war, but specifically to the treatment of wounded and maimed veterans. Many, many prints, paintings, and objects deal with prosthetics, with amputation, with disfigurement. Of the many timely aspects of the show--and there were many--this one was eerily timely.

Lots of dada must have been "better" live, because so much of it was performance. For example, the poems with words, or sound poems, sound funny in the recordings, and they were reportedly uproariously funny when performed. Unfortunately, the museum didn't have any of that on film (or video). I guess it was even before the advent of the talkie. I would also have loved to have seen the puppet show that used the marionettes to spoof Freud and Jung.

The highlight of the show may be the automated playing of the disconcerting Le Ballet mécanique by the "robot band"--made up of 16 grand pianos, four bass drums, three xylophones, and a series of alarms and bells. It's strangely musical and yet cacophonous at the same time. Parts of the ballet sound like machinegun fire, parts like construction, parts like the workings of a factory.

My one random thought about the show is that the greatest pop cultural impact of dada must be Monthy Python's Flying Circus. Monty Python is really, really dada. (Think sound poems.)

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Do You Believe in Miracles?

George Mason knocks out UConn! Btw, if you bet on this one, you coulda retired. Oh, well, back to work tomorrow.

This may have been the most exciting game of the year. If not, I'm interested in knowing what game I missed. When UConn tied in regulation, you know you thought it was over . . . but GMU came back. They are unstoppable. Florida should just concede.

Southern Gothic

Amazing Washington Post profile of Ed Buckham, a character more outlandish than anything dreamed up by Robert Penn Warren: Evangelical minister, former chief of staff to Tom Delay, head of Alexander Strategy Group,organizer of US Family Network.

Amazing tidbits:
Even after he stepped down from DeLay’s staff, Buckham “continued to serve as DeLay's spiritual adviser and prayed frequently with him, the former aides said,”and “if an individual called DeLay's appointments secretary saying they wanted to talk to DeLay about overregulation, the appointment secretary would say go speak to Buckham,”

Expenditures and activities of the US Family Network:
*1/3 of the $3.02 million collected went to Buckham and his wife
*Collection of Salvador Dali and Peter Max prints for the HQ offices
*Skybox at MCI Center
*$20,100 vase from Royal Doulton
*Lobbying against cigarette regulations (paid for by RJR)
*Radio ads in the districts of vulnerable Democrats
*Radio ads calling for President Clinton’s resignation

Right wing evangelical minister cum political operative cum tobacco lobbyist uses donations to US Family Network to buy psychedelic and surrealist art?? Only in “Ammuhrica” as our president might say.

Hee Haw Heaven

I have a confession. As a kid in South Carolina, I grew up on Hee Haw. If I were a red state patriot like Ben Domenench, I'd use this as a demonstration of my essential virtue, the source of my homespun superiority to all you yankee snobs. But that would be rude, and it's not exactly like I grew up on a farm anyway. Still, I always liked the show: the corny humor, the Honies (in their cut-offs!), and the music, which I absorbed much more than I probably knew at the time.

So this morning I'd like to mark the passing of Hee Haw's great co-host, Buck Owens. I don't know how much attention this is getting nationally, but in Nashville, this is a big deal. If you only knew Buck Owens from the show, you might think he was just a studio-made country star--a redneck Davey Jones (that was a Monkees reference, for all you younguns'). He was much more. Long before Hee Haw, Buck made a big impact on country music. As a small-time TV show host, he was the first to put an unknown Loretta Lynn on screen, and Merle Haggard got his start playing bass in Buck's band, the Buckaroos. As a musician, Buck created the "Bakersfield Sound," a rockin' alternative to Nashville studio polish, something like a Honky Tonk version of the Byrds. The Beatles loved Buck so much that they covered one of his songs on Help!, and he was probably the single biggest influence on Dwight Yoakum, who, to my mind, is the lord of all things country. It's not hard to see Buck as a forerunner of the "alt country" that I love today: Wilco, Son Volt, the Jayhawks, Steve Earle, Lucinda and Emmylou. Farewell, Buck.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Frame Job

TMcD's first post raises the interesting problem of Democrats and "frames." I'm not a fan of Lakoff's, either. But I have a point/question for discussion (as someone who hasn't read this latest book by Lakoff, admittedly):

Maybe Lakoff gives frames too much credit. There may be an endless number of possible frames, and it may be possible to switch frames. But. It's also possible that there are a very, very limited number of frames that actually work in (small-d democrat or American or modern) politics. Most of the frames that exist seem to be contrast frames--we are what we are not, which is the other side. At the same time, though, maybe there is one ur-frame, which is almost a cheat in politics. And that ur-frame is the total denial of ambiguity, the "you can have your cake and eat it too" frame that, in small-d democratic politics since ancient Athens (I'm looking at you, Ivy) wins, every time, at least in the short-run.

In other words, it's OK to say that the GOP has framed itself as the strict daddy party. I think that that is basically true. But it's "more true" that the GOP has engaged in the ur-frame, promising tax cuts and balanced budgets, war without sacrifice, an invasive wiretapping program and complete law-abidingness and no violation of civil liberties. If you listen to the modern GOP, there is no such thing as a trade-off.

If you give the average voter the following choice: Party A says that we can get most of what we want, but it means (a) slightly higher taxes, (b) slightly more government regulation, and (c) some limits on individual freedom and choice. Party B says that we can get the same, or maybe more, of what we want, but with (a) lower taxes, (b) less government, and (c) more freedom and choice. The voters will tend to choose Party B.

Party B's platform was essentially compassionate conservatism, which promised the same, maybe more, social goods but less of the unavoidable trade-offs.

My sense is that if Party B wants to promise the impossible, it can win in the short, even middle-term, if it has some luck and a palatable enough candidate. But Party B can't actually deliver the impossible. Thus, at some point--and I have to admit, I'm surprised to this day that that point has yet to be reached--the voters decide that Party B can't deliver on its promises.

In the example above, Party A is the Democrats of Clinton and Gore. Clinton proved that he was a master of the difficult trade-off. But after the 9/11 attacks, especially, large segments of the U.S. didn't want to hear that the attacks were "blowback," that U.S. policy was at least part of the explanation, etc. They wanted to hear about how we were going to kill the evildoers. Even if those evildoers were in Iraq. Etc.

So, to make a long story short, I think it's fine to worry about frames. But what's at stake here may be a very simple frame: whether the world is one of black and white, in which "people like us" are the white hats, the other guys are the black hats, or whether there is ambiguity, whether you can't have your cake and eat it too.

Pandora's Box

I guess it's my turn to take up Emery’s offer to blog maybe once or twice a week. In my first entry I thought it would be good to open up Pandora’s Box. Now at this point, good readers, you might just think this a figure of speech, but no, I really am going to open up Pandora’s Box (I can just hear Emery asking himself,” O Sh--! What have I unleashed?”). Relax, Emery it’s not that bad. As you all probably recall, a few weeks ago the L.A. Times broke the story that the US envoy to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said of the Iraq conflict , "We have opened the Pandora's box and the question is, what is the way forward?" Most are familiar enough with the myth to understand that this was no upbeat assessment, and the press naturally pounced on it. However, it’s worth examining Khalilzad’s comment in greater detail to take note of the ironies and implications of the allusion. The Pandora myth is first attested in Hesiod, an irascible Boiotian farmer of ca. 700 B.C., both in his Theogony and Works and Days. The “box” (really a jar) is only mentioned in Works and Days 53-105. I pick up the story where Zeus is addressing Iapetos’ son Prometheus, who has just pissed off the big fella by stealing fire for man (translation by McLennan):

Then Zeus who gathers clouds addressed him angrily,
"You, Iapetos' Son, knowing cunning more than all,
with glee you stole the fire and deceived my mind;
for you will be great sorrow, and for future men.
As fire's price I'll give an evil thing, which all
shall cherish in their hearts, embracing their own scourge."
Thus spoke the sire of gods and men, and laughed aloud.
He bade Hephaistos, well-renowned, to wet the earth
with water speedily, to add both human voice
and strength, to make a face like deathless goddesses',
a maiden's lovely, charming shape; Athena was
to teach the crafts and weaving on the well-wrought loom;
and Aphrodite was to bathe her head with grace
and difficult desire and limb-fatiguing care;
to add a dog-like, shameless mind and thieving ways
he charged to Hermes Argeiphontes, to the guide.
He spoke, and they obeyed Lord Zeus, the Son of Kronos.
Forthwith from earth the famous Doubly-lame One formed
a modest maiden's shape, as Kronos' Son had planned;
Bright-eyed Athene then arrayed and girded her;
The goddess Graces and august Persuasion put
the golden necklaces upon her skin; and then
the fair-tressed Hours crowned her head with spring-time flowers;
Athene draped her frame with every ornament.
The Argos-slaying guide implanted in her breast
deceits and wheedling words, the habits of a thief,
according to loud-thundering Zeus's plans. And speech
the herald of the gods put in, and named the maid
Pandora, since all those who hold Olympian homes
had given gifts to her, sorrows for hard-working men.
But when the sire had made the hopeless, towering trap,
he sent the Argus-slaying, famed swift messenger
of gods to bring the gift to Epimetheus, who
forgot Prometheus told him to accept no gift
from Zeus Olympian, but to send it back in case
it be, perhaps, some evil thing for mortal men.
But when he took and kept the scourge, he understood.
At first the tribes of men had lived upon the earth
apart and free of evils and of tiresome toil
and hard diseases, which have brought to men their dooms,
because by hardship mortal men are quickly aged.
But with her hands the woman raised the jar's great lid,
released all these, devising grievous cares for men.
Alone there, Elpis [Hope], in her indestructible home,
remained within, beneath the lip, nor by the door
escaped, because the vessel's lid had stopped her first,
by will of aegis-bearing, cloud-compelling Zeus.
Among the people wander countless miseries;
the earth is full of evils, and the sea is full;
diseases come by day to people, and by night,
spontaneous, rushing, bringing mortals evil things
in silence, since contriving Zeus removed their voice.
And thus from Zeus's mind there can be no escape.

OK, so this is obviously another misogynistic Eve story, but even so, the US envoy to Iraq equated the US to the archetypal “evil...scourge... shameless, deceptive... thieving... bitch” (the Greek is better rendered “bitch” than the colorless “dog-like”) who opened a jar that contained ills, unleashing them all upon mankind. Another thing – the alluring Pandora was accepted and enabled by Epimetheus, the dumb brother of Prometheus and whose name means something like “Think-Too-Late” or “Think-After-The-Fact”. I’ll leave it up to you, dear readers, to speculate on the Epimetheus(es) of Khalilzad's allusion. Khalilzad then asks, “What is the way forward?” Well, I hate to break it to the good envoy, but the ills were never put back in the jar once they were released, nor was there any cure for them. Another interesting fact is that the only thing that Zeus kept under the lid was Elpis, or Hope. The two most common interpretations of this interesting detail are that either Zeus kept Hope under wraps because Hope is often mankind’s only comfort and so a good, while others take Hope to be another evil, because it causes only self delusion. Either way, we have no Hope in the world for Pandora’s action, unless we follow the later myth wherein Pandora opened the jar a second time to let Hope out too, in which case we have a Hope that either comforts or deludes us. Yes, I’d say that Mr. Khalilzad has let slip out a pretty good analysis of the conundrum the Iraqi people are facing with the US in Iraq: can’t live with ‘em or without ‘em.

Don't be a Lakoff

Hi, long time listener, first time blogger. So this is a trial run. I'm excited about joining FFB's staff and will try to uphold its lofty standards with both pointed provocation and kindly decorum. The first comes naturally, the latter will take some practice.

In framing my first post, I thought I'd take up one of the most popular political books of the last year or so, George Lakoff's Don't Think Of An Elephant, the book that made "framing" the hot concept for angry Dems around the blogosphere. (OK, I know I'm late to the game, but I just read it.) He's even been holding workshops and consulting with Howie Dean and congressional Dems. Simple summary: language matters, and the GOP's current political dominance depends upon their skill in defining the debate before it has even begun. Who could possibly defend a "death tax," beg for a UN "permission slip," or oppose a "healthy forest" initiative? Lakoff has written extensively on morals and metaphors in modern politics, and he's got a few bits of decent practical advice here, especially his warning to beware what you concede to opponents through the language you use and his suggestion that Dems should think about their proposals in terms of how they contribute to long-term strategic narratives rather than short-term expediencies.

Mostly, however, the book's a disaster. Lakoff's main problem is that he couldn't find a decent "frame" if it bit him in the ass, a problem if you want to be a language guru. (Oh well, so much for decorum.) Take his biggest frame as an example. As Lakoff explains it, today's politics is based on familial metaphors. The GOP's issues all appeal to a "strict father" frame, whereas Dems are "nurturant parents." Even if you don't like the GOP positions on any given issue, you vote for them because you find the larger frame attractive. If Dems want to compete, they need to find ways to accent the nurturing parent frame that is their natural advantage. Unfortunately for Lakoff, it would be hard to find a better example of accepting your opponents's frame than Dems embracing something as embarassingly wimpy as "nurturant parent." This is nothing more than a watered down version of the "daddy party" vs. "mommy party" distinction that Chris Matthews rides every night, with "mommies" replaced by the vaguely androgynous "parent," evoking late-sipping, breast-feeding, mini-vanning dads, and shrewish, "ain't bakin' no cookies" moms. Now, I can't say I object too much to the co-parenting movement's effort to get fathers more involved with their kids, etc. But as politics, this is deadly. Who do you want fighting the war on terror, a strict dad or a nurturant parent? Not surprisingly, Lakoff makes some truly pathetic comments about foreign policy: "Do we really think that the United States will have the protection of innocent Afghans in mind if it rains terror down on the Afghan infrastructure?" Ack. If you want to attack the GOP claims to be "strict fathers," accuse them of being "spoiled children." It rings truer, it picks up on all the same "you're in it for yourself" themes, and it's less of a red state giveaway.

Lakoff's got other problems as well. He fails to adequately account for political infrastructure (talk radio, cable news, corporate think tanks), which are the GOP's real edge. And he also gives the GOP's frames waaay too much credit. Despite the framing, GOP tax policies have never been broadly popular, and nobody's really fooled by that "Healthy Forest" stuff--it just undermines your credibility when you twist language that much. In other words, try as he might, Lakoff still "thinks of an elephant."

Politically Useless Stories

The Afghan Christian convert about to be put on capital trial for apostasy is a classic example of a politically useless story. Coverage of foreign affairs in the US is usually driven by domestic political interests: in order for a foreign affairs story to have "legs," some important group or faction needs to find the issue useful for prosecuting an agenda or hammering its domestic enemies.

Just looked at on the surface, this particular story has everything you would want for purposes of political melodrama and symbolism. A man may be put to death simply for his Christian beliefs, not deported or jailed, but killed . He stands firm in his faith, refuses to recant despite facing potential martyrdom. Isn't this a wonderful story/drama? A single individual up against tyranny of the worst sort, a courtroom showdown of good versus evil. Why doesn't this get Natallee Hollaway / Terri Shiavo -style coverage? Because it's politically useless--radically so, in fact.

Left-leaning groups find such behavior unpleasant to contemplate. Oppressed peoples oppressing others. Although embarrassing to Bush, the whole story just seems to play into the hands of anti-Islamic bigotry. The latter is so revolting that it's best not to risk bringing up the issue.

Right-leaning groups don't want to face what this story says about the transformative power of US military might: not that transformative. Afghanistan is supposed to be our big success story in Bush's grand narrative of liberating 50 million people, This is what kind of government our Christian president and overwhelmingly Christian military has empowered there? The constitution states that no law can contradict Islam, and under sharia death is the punishment for converting to Christianity (and apostasy generally). So much for freedom, the secret yearning of all hearts everywhere.

So as of now the story here is relegated to the backburner: little commentary on either right or left, no excitement. A couple of dutiful editorials, but that's about it.

Meanwhile, the story is enormously useful in Afghanistan itself. It's a great way for domestic opponents to embarras Karzai and make him appear a puppet of western governments. Prominent clerics there are calling for mob action against the poor man--"tear him to pieces"--if the government finds some way to free him as "mentally incompetent."

OK, so this depressing set of thoughts is my first ever blog post. Sorry! (I don't know whether I'll like doing this as much as being part of the peanut gallery in comments, but I'll give it a try.)

One Last Question

About the Ben Domenech resignation. It's clear from all the reporting about B.D.'s college days that he didn't graduate from college. Now, there are all sorts of reasons why one doesn't actually finish a degree. And we know that B.D. had lots of D.C. connections. Maybe he was just impatient to get to the big capital city and make his splash--which, in retrospect, he certainly did.

So this is just speculation. But people might also fail to complete a degree, from time to time, because they are expelled, or suspended, or asked to leave.

One reason one might get "kicked out" is . . . plagiarism.

And it's possible that, were that to happen with a relatively well-connected, willing-to-sue young man with a huge conservative chip on his shoulder, the College and the student might just agree to a voluntary parting of the ways . . . .

Again, this is rank speculation. I have no evidence, only inferences drawn from the facts as I know them from press accounts only and my experience as an instructor, as well as B.D.'s seeming inability to actually write his own prose. But speculation can be fun, no?

Film Review: Hustle and Flow (dir. C. Brewer, 2005)

This film documenting how it's out here for a pimp is surprisingly compelling. As you almost certainly know by now, Djay (Terence Howard) is a small-time hustler in Memphis, pimping the miniscule Nola (Taryn Manning) out of his car and Lexus out of a strip club. Plus, he's got Shug (Taraji P. Henson) at home, pregnant with some john's child. But Djay, like so many people, is convinced that he should be, and can be so much more than a pimp. In a series of chance encounters, he meets up with a Casio keyboard, and then an old friend who "produces," if just church choirs and recording depositions. That friend, "Key," is played by the ubiquitous Anthony Anderson (I count ten credited appearances in tv and film in 2005 alone, for example), but he actually acts here, and quite well.

Djay's plan is to record a demo and get it in the hands of local rapper made good, Skinny Black (Ludacris), when he delivers some premium grass to a Fourth of July party at Arnel's (Arnel is played by that infamous Scientologist Isaac Hayes). He hustles, he flows, and in the end, he gets in a little over his head.

Things don't go quite as planned, and I won't ruin the ending. But the characters actually grow and change as they struggle to find some meanings in their dreary lives. It's that part of the film that's the most compelling.

Howard is impressive in this role. He masters a difficult accent (well, btw), and he makes Djay a real character. The film doesn't sugarcoat these characters. Speaking of which, maybe the most amazing performance is Taryn Manning's as Nola, the streetwalker. Given her career so far, I guess it's not a surprise to see her put in a Charlize Theron-like performance, acting through make-up and costuming that makes her significantly less-than glamorous. But this performance definitely put her on the map, for me.

When did Ludacris become such a pop cultural icon? Crash, Hustle and Flow. Yesterday at the Mall, I saw him in an AIDS awareness campaign advertisement. I know I'm getting old, but when did that happen, and how did I miss it?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Changes at Freedom from Blog, Maybe (?)

I've invited a few friends to help out with Freedom from Blog; the intent is to turn FFB into a group blog. The primary reason I'm doing this: It's becoming harder and harder for me to keep this hizzie up, and the invitees have proven that they can write great posts, even if they've been doing it in comments.

A good blog, or even an OK blog, like FFB, is really a group project. Now is the time, about a year in, to take this to the next level. (Btw, the invites were extended also on the basis of consistency with the FFB editorial policy/point-of-view.)

I hope that my invitees will take me up on this.

Btw, I thought of starting a new group blog, separate from FFB, and trying to keep up both a group blog and an individual blog. But given that it's hard to keep up with one blog, it would be almost impossible to keep up with two.

A Small Victory

Domenech resigns.

Feingold on The Daily Show

My first thought: Wow, I don't think I've ever seen the real Big Russ smile before. Certainly not so much.

My second thought: If The Daily Show audience was the electorate, the Jewish McGovern would win in a walk.

My third thought: The Daily Show audience is not a representative sample of the electorate.

Fortune Cookie

You will be advanced socially, without any special effort. Must be my lucky day. Unless, of course, that's some kind of "social promotion" reference.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

More Red Dawn

CL, in a "stealth" comment below, sings the praises of Red Dawn and objects to my comparison of the events of the film to the Iraq war. With any such comparison, of course, there're levels or layers of literalness one can apply. I never said that the Iraqi insurgency and the "Wolverines" were one and the same. My point was a little more subtle than that, and, for those who don't like subtlety, here it is:

Any rightwinger who ever loved this movie has to engage in Orwellian doublethink to continue to love the idea of wholesome U.S. teenagers fighting a guerrilla war against Soviet invaders and, at the same time, to think that the Iraqi insurgents are "terrorists" or, even worst, cowardly terrorists, when they use the same tactics against American invaders.

Some Bug

Paul points out to me that there are actually a few comments for recent posts, but that for some reason the comment counters are reading zero. If I have time today, I'll check out Blogger Command and see if there's a reason for that.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Two Words You Can't Say on Television

At least not together: "Permanent bases." As in, permanent U.S. bases in Iraq. I've been bothered by this for a long time. There's plenty of evidence that the U.S. is building permanent bases in Iraq, bases that would replace the need for at least some of the bases in Saudi Arabia and establish a permanent presence in the country.

That's why the president can't say "when" all U.S. troops will be pulled out of Iraq--because, if we're in these permanent bases, then we're never going to pull out all our troops.

Foreign media outlets have covered the permanent bases being constructed, but the U.S. media, not so much. Why not? Why are these the two words that can't be used on television--at least, not together.

Maybe one reason: The Pentagon calls these enduring bases. I guess nothing is permanent, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Cheney Logic

Dick Cheney has said that "The only way to lose this fight is to quit . . . ."

OK. But how about winning the war, Dick? The statement's "logic" suggests that, by continuing to fight, we will win. Because winning and losing, it's got to be one or the other, right? So continue fighting, and win. Quit, and lose. But wait a minute. The sentence doesn't say that. Indeed, the only way to "win" would seem to be not to lose, which means, . . . fighting forever.

Is Cheney proposing an endless war? Well, the president today said that a "complete withdrawal" from Iraq would have to come under a "future president," but he backed down when pushed on that, saying that he wouldn't give a timetable.

So here you go: No peace with honor, folks. This isn't the 1970s. Peace means quitting, defeat. So, let the next president take the blame for losing Iraq. Not this administration, people. They've never made any mistakes.

I can hear it now: "President Feingold lost Iraq!"

Reinterpreting Red Dawn

This Brad Delong post about the new conservative WaPo blogger (?) and his love for the "greatest pro-gun film of all time" raises an interesting question. Of course, many, many people will remember the film, Red Dawn, in which a team of red-blooded American high school students fight the Red Army and their Cuban allies in a guerrilla war in the Rocky Mountain states, after a Soviet invasion of the U.S. Now, this film was a kind of rightwing porn for the Reagan years--the Commies arrested people based on the gun registration and license lists at the hardware store and set up re-education camps at drive-ins.

But, given the current state of things in Iraq, don't we have to re-interpret the actions of the high schoolers ("Wolverines!")? I mean, I watched the movie about a month ago--I admit it, I'm a sick man, but it was on cable, what was I to do?--and it sure looked to me like those high schoolers were gutless cowards, unwilling to take on the Red Army head-on, and thus hiding in the shadows, even as a kind of, er, "insurgency," planting booby traps--we didn't know the term IED back in the Reagan years--blowing up a Soviet recreation facility, etc. I mean, that's terrorism, isn't it?

OK, sure, the Soviets had invaded the United States, so I guess that makes it OK for the Americans to mount an insurgency. No, wait, that can't make it OK.

Like I said: the rightwing fantasy turned rightwing nightmare.

Love This Picture

From today's Post review of "The Real Housewives of Orange County." This picture really is worth a thousand words. Yeah, sure, one of those words is "rich," and another rhymes with "rich." But just a little deeper. Look at that sun-damaged skin, those surgically enhanced breasts, the face-lifted face, and that look of derision, perhaps even scorn. This is the photo of the week.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Quarterly Rant

There's a lot of discussion of fingerpointing in the comments below. Just to be clear: I'm not talking about pointing fingers. I mean, at this point, is fingerpointing necessary? Is there any question who is responsible for the debacle in Iraq? Who engaged in illegal wiretaps? Who is responsible for the budget deficit? Um, no. It seems to me that you only point fingers when assigning responsibility is at minimum debatable. Here, there's no debate.

I'm talking about holding people responsible for their actions. That's a good, old-fashioned, even conservative value. I'm also talking about attacking your opponent, something that establishment-D.C. Democrats are remarkably bad at. Remarkably. The Democratic establishment is all-defense, no offense, and they haven't had a turnover in ten years. For non-football folks out there, that means you cannot score.

As for swing voters, if I've learned one thing from Bush, it's that ideas are over-rated. Other than cutting taxes and "restoring honor and dignity to the Oval Office," what ideas did he have in 2000? (Of course, I know that he didn't really win in 2000, but let's pretend like he did. Like we always do.) In 2002, he ran on "strength." "Resolutenessitudity." Or something to do with testicles. It's hazy in mind: when I think of it, I just keep seeing triple-amputee and actual veteran Max Cleland morph into Osama bin Laden. Now there's an idea for you: Democrats support terrorists. That's how you win "swing voters": by attacking your opponents.

Or, how about the flyers in rural counties in 2004 saying that Kerry would ban the Bible and mandate homosexual marriage? How about the incessant drumbeat to the gun-owners in the U.S. that the Democrats will make private ownership of firearms illegal, just like in Soviet Russia? I'm old enough to remember how the GOP used the Democratic party's national position on race and civil rights to "swing" the South into the GOP column. Did they do that through "new ideas," or through, at the highest level of that discourse, coded messages, and at the basest level, racist appeals? I think we all know the answer.

Attack, attack, attack. Below the media radar, that's all the GOP ever does. Reagan's "welfare queens driving Cadillacs," Bush's coded "man-animal hybrids" nonsense. That's what they've been doing for thirty, forty years now. But if the big, bad Democrats do that, well, they'll lose. Because that never works. Voters don't like it when you're mean. (Unless, of course, you're mean to the right groups.)

If "going on the offensive" works when you're the party in power (GOP, 2002), it should work when you're the party out of power (Dems, 2006). Especially when the polls suggest that you have the upper hand on most issues and have pulled even, even on your weakest issues.

The worst thing the Dems could do, though, would be run on domestic issues (health care), where their greatest strengths are in the polls. Of course, that's what they'll do, as if on cue (Oh, but it will be one Hell of a moral victory!). Who said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? It wasn't Howard Dean, that's for sure.

I said it in 2004, and I wish I had meant it: If the Democrats can't beat this band of crooks, kooks, and losers, then I just need to find another political party. Don't talk to me about "throwing my vote away": I live in D.C., and thus I don't get to vote in any elections that actually count anyway. (Freedom's just another word for living in the District.)

The DK?

Seems that dk imparts his wisdom in some of the most-visited precincts of the Internets as well as in backwaters like FFB. Unless, of course, this isn't the same dk?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

If You're Looking for an Eastern Front Novel

Check out the newly back in print The Stalin Front by Gert Ledig. It's extremely dark, beautifully translated from the German, and the last twenty or so pages are a more cynical Catch-22. That's some catch, that catch-22.

Democratic Ideas

In comments to the previous post, there's a mention of one of my least favorite Rovian implanted memes: the Democrats have no new ideas.

Why is this one on my list? Because this meme works to short-circuit any actual discussion of Democratic ideas; it comes out of Chris Matthews's or Tim Russert's mouth, and the discussion is how the Democrats can't do any better. Any better than what? Invading a country that posed no threat to the United States, expending hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands, tens of thousands of human lives, for . . . what, exactly? Was that a novel idea? How about launching said war without any revenue to pay for it, i.e., waging war on a credit card? That's a new idea, but certainly not a good one. How is this for a novel idea: let's bypass the FISA Court and engage in electronic wiretapping willy-nilly. That's novel, alright, and illegal. It boggles my mind that any thinking person could possibly entertain the thought that the Democrats could do worse.

The meme is simply a way to change the subject from the failure of the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress. The complete and utter failure of the GOP's policies over the last fie years.

But it works. It gives the "objective" media a "balancing story" to the story of GOP failure: "Well, even if the Republicans have made a massive cluster fuck out of everything, the Democrats don't have any ideas."

This is curious. Is it "new ideas" that the American people want? Is fiscal discipline a new idea? Not really. Is actually having some idea how you're going to fund your programs a new idea? Nope. Would it be a new idea to actually have a policy team making policy in the White House, as opposed to the political operation running everything? So it's not really new ideas that people want (to the extent that ideas matter).

I would even go further: Are there really any "new ideas"?

But what about the Feingold resolution? Is that a disaster in the making? That's the Rovian meme. Again, is it an old idea to hold leaders accountable for their actions, for their past statements of fact? Is it an old, worthless idea, to hold investigations, to find out why things turned out the way that they did?

Feingold Resolution

Polls show about 40% public support for the Feingold censure resolution, when he's the only one out there pushing for it. If there was actual leadership from Democrats, they could make an issue out of this. But they're scared.

The media frame is completely whack. This is not about the "liberal bloggers." It's about Feingold's (1) sincere political beliefs, which never get mentioned in coverage of the resolution; and (2) a strategic gamble that getting out in front of the rest of the party--and, trying to catch up to the public, as Congressman Murtha would say--is his best bet for the 2008 primaries. The rest of the Democratic contenders have to wake up, or we might end up with "the Jewish McGovern," as TMcD once described the junior senator from Wisconsin.

Existential Threat?

George F. Will writes this morning that the present moment is "one of the most dangerous [to the United States] since World War II." This is patently absurd. Since the end of WWII, the United States has been in a shooting war with Soviet MiGs in the Korean War, and a full-fledged shooting war with the Red Chinese in Korea. The danger of escalation from "police action" to wider war was always present, and the initial U.N. commander, MacArthur, was a bit of a loon. There was the Berlin Crisis, which threatened from time to time to throw Europe into a total war. Speaking of total war, there's the issue of an all-out nuclear exchange between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. There was, of course, the Cuban Missile Crisis, perhaps the closest the world has ever come to nuclear armeggedon. But don't forget the Yom Kippur War, 1973, when the United States escalated from Def Con 4 to Def Con 3 in response to Soviet sabre rattling in defense of Egypt and Syria. (Making this even a more dangerous moment, Nixon was consumed by the Watergate scandal and frackin' Al Haig was calling the shots.) I'm sure that there were points in the Reagan years when the danger of a nuclear "exchange" was heightened for one reason or another.

Terrorism, on the other hand, simply does not pose an existential threat to the United States.

North Korea simply does not pose an existential threat to the United States. Neither does a nuclear armed Iran.

Terrorists, North Korea, and Iran can cause a lot of mischief. Armed with a few nuclear weapons, they might even be able to destroy one or three American cities. (And I don't take this threat that lightly, since I live in one of the prime targets for such an attack. I'm not out there in the hinterlands, folks.) That's a danger, although how great a danger, I'm never sure.

But no matter how great, that is not an existential threat to the United States. (A nuclear attack on the United States is, on the other hand, an existential threat to the country that undertakes it against the United States. It seems to me that the political pressure after such an attack would be overwhelming to respond with devastating impact. That would not be one of the U.S.'s finest moments, but I think it's pretty predictable.)

Saturday, March 18, 2006

World Baseball Catastrophe

In this earlier post, I predicted the apocalypse based on the United States baseball team's poor performance in the WBC. Now, the U.S. was eliminated, in a loss to Mexico. So the U.S. is now # 3 in North America in baseball, having lost both to Canada and Mexico. And now our over-payed, over-indulged, over-muscled superstars can return to spring training. Good work, fellas.

Who cares about baseball anymore? As Bob Dylan might say, It's not me, babe.

JFK Library

[Edited version] Back from Boston. Went to the JFK Presidential Library and Museum yesterday, and have a few thoughts on it. First, 1960 was a long, long time ago, in political terms. Think about it: the U.S. elected this son of privilege, a Democrat from Massachusetts. Could Kennedy get elected today? Not likely. The reason: the entire political landscape has been transformed. In comments, Wilson suggests that Kerry came close, and that with Kennedy's looks, he might have won. I'm skeptical. Kerry came close, but without a southern state . . . ? Wilson's suggestion about the primaries is more where I was going with this somewhat elliptical point: Kennedy didn't have to run on social issues. If Kennedy were around today, is there much doubt that his positions on such issues would be much farther to the right than, say, his brother's? (An aside: It's strange to think of what a dinosaur the "remaining" Kennedy is. His father was ambassador to the Court of St. James while Hitler was chancellor of Germany. Think about that.)

Additional thought: the political events of the 1950s and 1960s, especially the political figures of that period, have largely receded from memory. One video highlights how JFK "lost" the 1956 vice presidential nomination to Estes Kefauver. Anybody out there have a good idea who Kefauver was?

(Note to TMcD: Thanks for the editing. I was groggy when I wrote this, I guess. Btw, sure I know who Kefauver was. But I'm a bad measure for how well or poorly known a political figure is. My point instead was that these relatively major players on the national scene fade so quickly. So quickly. In twenty years, only hard-core political junkies will be able to tell you more than a few words about John Edwards, for example.)

Second, 1960 was a very short time ago, in historical terms. The museum has no "real" artifacts (although maybe Rebecca and Paul might have something to say here). Can a campaign button that's not even an antique really be a display? Nothing there is very old. The papers on display look like they were typed up last week.

Other thoughts: The Cuban missile crisis was a scary time. But the movie they show at the JFK library makes a much stronger case, at least, much more than I think is justified, that the Soviets "backed down." Now, it's true that Krushchev pulled the Soviet missiles out of Cuba. But at the same time, the U.S. agreed to dismantle its Atlas missiles deployed in Turkey. Those missiles were obsolete, but the U.S. did cut a deal here, a deal that doesn't really fit into the propaganda story. But it's part of the story, grudgingly admitted, in a final text screen, during the video.

Finally, the White House section highlights state dinners, but do they really have to display a picture of JFK and Jackie with the Shah of Iran? That seems wrong to me.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Beware the Ides of March

It's a chilly, blustery day here in Beantown. Noticed the 30-mile/hour gusts while walking part of the Freedom Trail.

The world was once a tiny place. Just go to any historical building, like the ones here in Boston. CL, Stepanie, and I used to go see shows at the Beachland Ballroom east of Cleveland. Well, the "famous" meeting room in Faneuil Hall is smaller than the Beachland Ballroom. I'd say, by a lot, smaller. The room in the Old State House that the Writs of Assistance case was tried is the size of a middling lecture room. Assuming that many, many people, relatively, attended that trial, or meetings at Faneuil Hall, that means that "many" used to be a lot fewer than it is today.

Favorite factoid of the day: Back in the 1870's, the City of Boston considered tearing down the Old State House, which was then run down and badly in need of restoration. (The building does set on a great piece of real estate, downtown.) The City of Chicago offered to buy the building, move it to Chicago, and open it as a tourist attraction. Lesson: There's not a hustle, not a single angle, that the City of Chicago ever misses. I mean, this is a city that dug a canal and reversed the flow of the Chicago River to drain its sewage through the Illinois River rather than into Lake Michigan. A city that turned the Great Fire of 1871 into an excuse to build one of the world's greatest architectural cities. A city that has one of the most ill-fated baseball teams, but that plays in the world's most beautiful sports facility (hint: not the Chisox).

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

In Boston

Hey readers, I'm on a work trip in Boston, blogging on the hotel's wireless network. Is it secure? I have no idea. But what is there to steal from my laptop?

Not much to report. Just checking in.

Any thoughts out there on Cobra II, the new book on the Iraqi war "plans"? Gordon and Traynor have been all over the tv the last few days, selling their book on how the Bush administration didn't plan for the post-war. Is that, um, newsworthy? Didn't we know this two years ago? Like, say, before the 2004 election?

This is the problem with the Iraq war. If you've been paying attention, and you don't buy the crap that the administration's flaks have been selling for the duration, then you know all these things. If you weren't paying attention, you still think Saddam was involved in 9-11. And if you're in that latter group, then you may just be immune to the truth.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Wired for Sound

No, not an announcement of FFB podcasting--although that day will come. Just a quick note on a party I went to last night. There was a guy there, I talked to, who had to be the odd-est guy I've talked to in a long time. And I talk to CL about every other week, so that tells you something.

I mentioned Wikipedia--which I'm a big fan of, btw. This guy got very interested. Apparently, he's a big-time Wikipedia "editor," and he feels it's his obligation to police incorrect language usage on Wikipedia. Oh, this story gets even better. He told me how yesterday he spent a good part of the day sorting out the use and misuse of the word "epicenter" in 50-some entries. Apparently, many people misuse the term "epicenter" to mean, well, "center." As in "the epicenter of bluegrass." This is a no-no, I guess. But the worst use of "epicenter," I was told, was this: "The epicenter of the Kobe earthquake was 10 km below the surface." Why? Because I didn't know this, but an "epicenter" must be a point on the surface (that's what the "epi" means). When I asked why the sentence in question was incorrect, I got a "Are you kidding me?" response. Oh, I was kind of kidding him, actually. But I played along.

OK, this little story says one thing: The party did not rock (although a good time was had by all). And this guy, while odd, is actually a good guy.

FFB Straw Poll

Watching Press the Meat, and this question arises: Which presidential contender for 2008 are you least looking forward to watching for hundreds of hours on television? The choices are:

Joe Biden (The biggest windbag in the Senate. And that's saying something.)

George Allen (Jeffersonian conservative, or major tool. Or Jeffersonian conservative tool?)

John Kerry (There's an old saying in Texas . . . Fool me once, shame on, er, . . . won't be fooled again.)

Bill Frist ("Did I mention I'm a doctor?")

Hillary (Please, God, no.)

McCain (Maverick, or Bush's lap dog? Or, Bush's lap dog named "Maverick.")

Btw, why didn't Li'l Russ ask Allen why he voted for the partial-birth abortion ban if he really thinks that the abortion issue should be left to the States? Because he didn't think of that question? Or because he doesn't like to ask his guests hard questions? C'mon Li'l Russ. At least try to phone it in.

Iraq War Inside the Beltway Mind

Inside the beltway, the Iraq debate continues, in the same terms it has been conducted for at least the past two years. "More troops." "Making progress." "The media don't report the good news." "Incompetence." "The next six months are critical for U.S. success in Iraq."

The last is my favorite. How many times have we been told that the next six months are critical? I'm sure that I heard this, the first time, more than six months ago. So, what happened? Is this the proverbial corner, that we are always turning, turning and turning . . . ? (Insert your "circling the bowl" joke here.)

The only new element is the civil war. Is Iraq on the brink of a civil war, in the midst of a civil war, or not even close to a civil war? The (new) debate rages. But it is already familiar.

Speaking of familiar, are we going to war against Iran? Expect a use of force against Iran resolution, this September or October. Just in time for the midterms. Because, as dumbass Allen just said, "We can't allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon." OK, then I guess that means WAR (although I expect an air war rather than an invasion).

Friday, March 10, 2006

Fancy Pants

Josh Marshall posted to this, so most of you will see it anyway. But check out this new GOP smear site on Harold Ford, Jr., called Fancy Ford. I'm not sure about the tone. Am I supposed to get a sense that Ford is a homosexual, or that he's "just" a heterosexual big spender? Some things made me think that there was a sexuality subtext, but then there's the picture of the Playboy bunnies (?).

I guess that a smear site need not choose a smear theory and stick with it (?).

Any thoughts, especially from my Tennessee readers? [Sunday update: Lots of thoughts from readers in the comments.]

Krugman Says

"The truth is that everything the new wave of Bush critics has to say was obvious long ago to any commentator who was willing to look at the facts." Indeed.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Impending Apocalypse: Indisputable Evidence

Canada defeats Team U.S.A. in baseball, 8-6, and (Team U.S.A.) is in danger of elimination from the World Baseball Classic. To move on, Team U.S.A. needs to beat South Africa (they play baseball in South Africa?) and for Canada to beat Mexico. If Mexico wins, the U.S. advances if Mexico score more than two runs. (I won't pretend to understand that last sentence. That's what it said in the paper.)

On the same day, new allegations that Bonds used steroids during his record-setting season(s). Nothing to see here, folks, move along.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I Was Out of Town

OK, so I've been on the road again, making music with my friends, or something like that. But I'm back, and I'm ready to crank up some vitriol. But not quite yet.

Oh, yeah--one last shout out, to that guy next to me on the airplane. You know who you are. The guy who worked his BlackBerry like a true CrackBerry head for the entire flight. I know that there's probably not a good reason why they say "please stow all electronic devices," but maybe, just maybe, there is. If I were a more, well, aggressive individual, you might have achieved a much more intimate level of contact with that device. And by intimate, I mean, I would have shoved it up your . . . er, let's keep this subtle.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Live Blogging: Is It Over, Already?

"Tolerance." That's the theme of the night. So please tolerate my link to this earlier post with my predictions. OK, I didn't get them all right . . . but Best Picture, Actor, Actress, and Director. I'll take that.

Thank you, Academy. Thank you.

So, Memoirs of a Geisha has to be the most award-winning film panned by the critics. It won all (?) the visual-type rewards (that King Kong didn't). It's at the top of my list now, although it doesn't come out on DVD until March 28.

And what was with the Oscars' attacks on DVD tonight? C'mon folks, that's where the money is.

And, one more thing. It's hard out here for a pimp. Word. Out. Hollah.

Live Blogging: It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp

Indeed. But should you follow the hip hop song with a sistah? Sorry, Queen Latifah. I never really thought about it, Your Highness, but Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, that must be a sex song . . . 'cause what else could it be?

And It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp wins. HOLLAH. Oh yeah. That's how we roll in this hizzie.

And, did it just get easier out here for a pimp? Hollah.

On a non-pimp note, I'm a big Robert Altman fan. I thought I had reviews of The Long Goodbye and California Split, but I couldn't find them just now. (???)

Live Blogging: Is That a Burning Car? On the Stage?

OK, March of the Penguins had to win best feature documentary. Those crazy Frenchmen, with their stuffed penguins. Hmm. That's odd. See my review of the movie here.

The make-up skit with Will Ferrell and Steve Carell backs up my zany Oscars idea.

Btw, I really like this song from Crash.

Live Blogging: If We Pull Down This Statue . . .

Well, Jon Stewart isn't pulling punches, is he?

Live Blogging: Technical Awards

Those Wallace and Gromit guys were, well, wired for sound. Bowties. Giant bowties. My. Oh. My.

And of course King Kong had to win best visual effects. But when is Andy Serkis going to get an acting role where he's not a visual effect?

Ben Stiller as "green screen." Tom Hanks in the timing skit. I think I see a pattern here: this is the zany Oscars. Apparently, with a host who can't sing, they can't go to musical numbers. And Jon Stewart isn't really a stand-up comic, not like Steve Martin or Chris Rock. Let's keep an eye out . . . for more zaniness.

Live Blogging: Opening Monologue and Clooney Oscar

The opening skit, with the previous hosts, was pretty funny. The monologue was probably a little too edgy, too political, for the Establishment. The crowd seemed a little uncomfortable, but I liked it. Especially the montage of "heterosexual" cowboy movies. I mean, who hasn't thought that that scene from Shane was, well, a little gay? And if you don't like Shane, then you're not really a man. And that goes for gay and straight men. It's one of the top five guy movies of all time.

Clooney takes the Best Supporting Oscar. OK, then Brokeback Mountain is in worse shape than I thought. I find Clooney impossible to dislike. (I'm sure someone out there dsagrees.) But I haven't seen Syriana, so no comment on the performance.

Need More Bloggers

Well, the world doesn't really need more bloggers, but this blogger needs more blogger friends. Or more of his friends to blog, at least. It looks like Supra! is defunct, and Wilson went so far as to delete his blog. (I hear that Wilson is thinking about starting a group blog, but it's in the developmental stage.) That means the only link to an updated blog in the blogroll (blogroll of three) is second americano, a very fine blog, but lonely over there.

I will note that there is some activity (?) here, with a date of January 26 of this year. But no posts.

Why not, people?

Speaking of Movies

We went to the D.C. Independent Film Festival Friday night and saw two shorts and a feature. The first short was more a music video than anything else ("The Photographer"). The second short was a horror film, "Something Came Over Them," about an evil little girl who gives away lemonade that takes away all inhibitions, with disastrous results, of course. And she may not be an evil little girl, but instead some kind of Hell spawn. It's a short, so that's never really resolved.

The feature was actually pretty good: The Limb Salesman, a Canadian film from 2004, with a creepy sci-fi plot about a post-environmental apocalyptic world in which the main character sells limbs to mutants born without them. If you get a chance to see this film, see it.

Film Review: Crash (dir. P. Haggis, 2005)

The recent film, nominated for Best Picture, not the kinky 1996 David Cronenberg movie.

Many of the reviews of this movie focus on the importance of cars in the L.A. of the film; the title of the film suggests that cars are important to the theme, because in English today, cars, planes, operating systems, and markets are about the only things that crash. But my sense is that the movie is more about the ubiquity of guns. The plot is exceedingly complex, but the point of the movie is that this set of characters interact over the course of 36 hours--the black cop (Don Cheadle) and his Latina partner (Jennifer Esposito), the white D.A. (Brendan Fraser?) and his bitchy wife (Sandra Bullock), the racist white cop (Matt Dillon, who could win for Best Supporting here) and his partner (Ryan Phillipe), the Latino locksmith, the Persian/Iranian shopkeeper, his wife and doctor daughter, the black t.v. director (Terence Howard) and his wife (Thandie Newton), the black carjackers, including the black cop's brother and the other one, played by Ludacris (?). And almost everyone is the victim of either a crime or a car accident; a few players only commit crimes. But the number of times that the conflicts that are detailed become potentially deadly because of the ubiquity of guns is really interesting.

I won't even try to summarize the plot. Let me just say that this movie took awhile to "grow" on me. The early scenes might lead one to think that the movie is going to be a series of cheap jokes, ethnic stereotypes, and cliches. But it's a lot more. (This is not the best review, I'll admit. But this movie may be more than this man can review.)

The one theme I want to point out: The white characters in the movie are all, in the end, dependent on some person of color, even if they don't really realize it. And the persons of color in the film are all, to some extent, pushed around by the Man, i.e., the white man (or white woman, in the case of bitchy Sandra Bullock). The theme of the movie is, at some level, that we are all in this multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society together, even if we can't all get along. So that means that we keep crashing into one another, sometimes hurting one another--in the film, mostly hurting one another--but sometimes helping one another. The end of the film [spoiler alert] where Ludacris sets the Asians free from the van (not much of a spoiler, if you didn't see the movie) illustrates how even the worst characters can help others, even when doing so isn't "in his interests." The scene where the "good cop" shoots Don Cheadle's brother shows that even the best characters can hurt others. The interactions are so complex, but the point is, I think, that every action in the plot has consequences, for good or ill, at the next point in the plot--consequences for the other characters and, in the end, for the characters themselves.

Btw, in the previous post I predicted that Crash would win Best Picture. Given the options, Crash is the movie that more people saw, and the least controversial choice. No one saw Capote (not even me, not yet), and the other nominees are too hot for the Academy to handle, in my opinion. My guess, the Academy will reward the politically controversial films in other categories and go with Crash for Best Picture. It may be political, too, but it's not controversial by the standard set by Munich, Good Night, and Good Luck, and Brokeback Mountain.

I'll be live blogging at least some of the Oscars, at least until I fall asleep.

Where is "Real" America?

The storyline coming out of the pre-Oscars hoopla is that Hollywood is "out of touch" with heartland America. Brokeback Mountain (review) is exhibit one, but then Good Night, and Good Luck (review), Capote and Transamerica, maybe Crash (review), and Munich (review), all line up one way or the other in this frame which says that Hollywood doesn't make movies that appeal to "mainstream" or "genuine" Americans.

Now, this frame is maddeningly wrong-headed.

First, Hollywood is first and foremost a company town, and those companies are driven by the profit margin. So Hollywood makes movie after movie that "appeals" to that market. I'm not sure what those movies are, though. On CNN this morning, the hard-hitting Oscars coverage visited Lenanon, Kansas, which apparently is in "real America," and the senior citizen residents of that town wanted Hollywood to make movies like The Sound of Music. Hmm. Now, no one can say that I don't lo-o-o-ve that film. But that movie exists and, well, really, do we need another Sound of Music? (One might ask whether we need another Poseidon Adventure, but we are getting it, this summer, at a multiplex near you.)

It seems to me that Hollywood makes lots of movies that appeal to "middle America." Now, it's true that Hollywood makes few movies that appeal to senior citizens--the only people who can actually live in the bucolic simplicity of Kansas, where my guess is that without Social Security checks the economy of Lebanon, Kansas, would utterly collapse. But my understanding is that senior citizens are not very much of the market for movies.

But one thing said during this story really caught my attention. One of the senior citizens said that she hadn't seen Brokeback Mountain, that that movie was really for people in California. Now, given the frame, apparently California is not "real" America. Of course, there are thirty-two million Americans in California. Even if California is not a monolith, and I think that we all agree it's not, that's a helluva lot more Americans than live in Lebanon, Kansas, or in Kansas, or even in the Great Plains as a whole. So why don't those millions of Americans get the label "real" America? Because they don't live in the middle of B-F Kansas?

It seems to me that the movies that win Academy Awards are usually different from the most popular movies of the year--except for a few exceptions, like The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. These movies will generally have a smaller market than the big releases--that's why so many of them have been independent films in recent years--but that doesn't mean that the market doesn't matter.

Well, can't finish this one now. Maybe it is provocative enough to get some comments.

Btw, my predictions: Crash Best Picture, Hoffman Best Actor, Witherspoon Best Actress, Gyllenhall Best Supporting, no prediction in Best Supporting Actress, Ang Lee Best Director. So Brokeback Mountain doesn't get shutout, but it doesn't win everything.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Saturday Cat Blogging: You Are My Sunshine

Evil Survey Missing Values

I'm a little disappointed that Curatosaurus has not submitted his evil test score. (Nor has iumike, or mikton, or lips, for that matter.) Now, it's possible that he's been too busy to take the test. (I'll pause to let ninophile stop laughing.) Or that his score was so-o-o evil that it undermined his "paragon of virtue" shtick. Or so-o-o-o low that it undermines his "bad boy" self-image? Or maybe he's just got better things to do.

Speaking of having better things to do . . . .

I got a little interested in the evil test and started looking around. There are all sorts of fun interactive tests at the evil test site, blogthings, including "girls-only" tests like Do You Ruin Relationships?, which I didn't take, of course (it's girls-only), but which sounds like it could be funny. And then there's How Sexy Are you?, which also looks pretty funny.

Another site with interactive tests is OKCupid. The tests there seem to be a little more "raunchy," and the site seems to also be some kind of dating service, as well. It's a sketchy, not safe for work web environment, if you ask me. But I liked this one: The Would You Have Been a Nazi Test.

The Expatriate
Achtung! You are 38% brainwashworthy, 22% antitolerant, and 33% blindly patriotic
Congratulations! You are not susceptible to brainwashing, your values and cares extend beyond the borders of your own country, and your Blind Patriotism does not reach unhealthy levels. If you had been German in the 30s, you would've left the country.

One bad scenario -- as I hypothetically project you back in time -- is that you just wouldn't have cared one way or the other about Nazism. Maybe politics don't interest you enough. But the fact that you took this test means they probably do. I'm gonna give you the benefit of the doubt.

Did you know that many of the smartest Germans departed prior to the beginning of World War II, because they knew some evil shit was brewing? Brain Drain. Many of them were scientists. It is very possible you could have been one of them.

Conclusion: born and raised in Germany in the early 1930's, you would not have been a Nazi.

The Would You Have Been A Nazi? Test

- it rules -

My test tracked 3 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 55% on brainwashworthy
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 23% on antitolerant
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 42% on patriotic
Link: The Would You Have Been a Nazi Test written by jason_bateman on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Btw, I'm not sure that I'm 38% brainwashworthy. But these tests are finely tuned psychological tools, so they can reveal things about you that you don't know about yourself.

It actually looks like OKCupid allows users (once you sign up, which probably involves that dating aspect of the site, which I would rather avoid, you know) to generate their own tests and then send them to their friends. Talk about better things to do . . . .

I Didn't Know Lincoln Was Even There

From Milbank's piece in the Post the other day (too lazy to link):

Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who included a guest-worker provision in his legislation, said it is necessary to bring 11 million illegal aliens "out of the shadows."

But the very notion enraged his colleague Grassley, who called Specter's plan "a wink and a nod to amnesty" for illegals. "If it looks acts and smells like amnesty then it is amnesty," he protested, saying the program "denigrates the value of citizenship." In addition to his tirade about "Main Street Washington," he railed against "Bahama-like mailbox corporations."

At the end of his stemwinder, Grassley observed that his end was missing. "I see my staff took the bottom line away from me, because I probably shouldn't have said it," he confessed.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) pleaded for understanding, reminding Grassley that "there are four of us who are first-generation Americans" on the committee.

This produced a round of me-too statements. "My grandparents came here as immigrants," volunteered Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) "My great-great-great-great-grandfather was an immigrant, I'm proud to say," offered Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). "The last one got here about 1850."

"Did they miss the Civil War, Senator?" Specter inquired.

"Lincoln killed one of them at Antietam," the senator from Alabama rejoined.

A friend pointed this one out to me. There's your modern Republican party, folks. The Republican party that describes its own greatest president as a killer.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging: Guest Cat Isabella

A Great Post from the Early Days

Some of you may not have been reading FFb when this post was published. So why not read it now?

One Thing

One thing to keep in mind, whether it's about Bush's poll numbers or violence in Iraq. A bad week, an especially low point, is almost always followed by a slightly better, slightly higher number. So, a week in which 1300 people are killed in sectarian violence will almost always be followed by a less deadly week. A really low poll number, like a 34, will be followed by some better numbers.

In this age of spin, spinmeisters have learned to game this fact of life in this Universe (Emery's fifth law: The line goes up and down, not just up, not just down.) How? Minimize the low point, wait for the violence to lessen, for the poll numbers to tick up, and then claim that "things are going in the right direction."

Watch for it, people.

Update: iumike is correct to call me on this one: I can't claim credit for regression to the mean, nor can I call that "Emery's fifth law." You might think that, but Emery's fourth law is that I can.