Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Washington Think Tanks Will Win the War

An obscure post title, I admit. Strangely enough, I've met this person, when she was at Brookings. I agree with the Colonel: "Good luck" with the clusterfuck.

Btw, when this was on CNN this afternoon, I was in the gym. This rather large fellow (he was benching 225 or more) was scoffing at the whole thing. Indeed.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Summer 2007 Is Here

The Memorial Day weekend is the "official" (as in not really official) kick-off of summer. So let summer 2007 begin!--a few days late. We had a very busy weekend, which flooded into the week. So tonite, for example, The Tempest at the Folger. Very interesting production, much warmer and more "human" than the "typical" Tempest.

But then we're heading out of town next weekend. So posting may be light the next week or so.

The upside of this: Politics is, well, pretty humdrum. Not really, but it's in a kind of holding pattern. Not much to post on. The war continues. The president doesn't make any sense, on the war or anything else. HRC has serious liabilities as a candidate.

Oh, it looks like Fred Thompson is going to run. Um, who cares?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Smoltzy at 200!

As long as we're talking baseball, let's take a moment to recognize last night's milestone: John Smoltz won his 200th game. He didn't just win this game. He dominated it. In seven innings, he scattered 7 hits for no runs, struck out 5 and walked none. Best of all, he won it at home against the Mets' Tommy Glavine, who also pitched a solid game in the loss (a 2-1 final).

Smoltz is a lock for the Hall at this point. Given his four years in the bullpen as stopper, during which he saved 154 games and was one of the two most dominant relievers in the NL, his career record most closely resembles that of Dennis Eckersley, who won 197 games while saving 390. Smoltz will never match those save totals, since he's back as a starter. But his record as a starter is better that Eck's was, and his career ERA is lower (3.26 vs. 3.50). Smoltz also pitches during an age of hitter dominance, while Eck played through much of the pitcher-friendly era in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Plus, as all the sporting heads note, Smoltz has the best playoff record in history, although that's padded by the modern era's expanded playoff format. In this respect, I'd compare Smoltz to Curt Schilling (211-140, 3.45 ERA), who may be his closest rival for "most competitive" pitcher in the game.

At 40, Smoltz is still pitching great baseball. He's 7-2 with a 2.58 ERA this year. At this rate, he could pitch for another three or four more years at a peak level. The heaters still smoke, the curveballs still bite, and he's got some of the best control I've ever seen in a power pitcher.

Are You Kidding Me?


Who knew that Boehner's tear glands survived the massive tanning treatments?

Tigers Season

Just a rundown of the Tigers season so far. (I know, not what you were hoping for.) My assessment: The Indians are having a helluva season to be just half a game back in the AL Central. Because the Tigers are having a great season overall (so far). Team hitting: The Tigers are first in Runs, with 260 as of this morning, 16 more than the next two teams. They are also first in Team BA, but that's closely contested. Pitching: In terms of Team ERA, the team is 7th, at 4.34. Frankly, I found this a little surprising, although it's perfectly respectable. My guess is that Team ERA is a stat where the Tigers get better as the season goes on.

As for individual players, Magglio Ordonez is having a monster season. He has as many RBI as games played, 45, and his OPS (On-Base Percentage Plus Slugging) is a startling 1.151. He's hit 12 home runs, 120 total bases. But the player to watch is Placido Polanco . . . hitting .333, with 60 hits so far--just one less than Ordonez.

Even Sheffield is having a decent season, after a slow start (his BA is still a little on the low side, but again, that will come).

OK, I know, no one else is interested in this.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Another Document Dump

There's been another document dump on the US Attorney scandal over the House Judiciary Committee web site, which is amazing given that it's not a Friday. The good folks over at TPM have invited their readers to sift through them here and report any interesting ones. My favorite has to be "DOJ Document Set 10". Go ahead and click on it. Quite intriguing, no?

Publius of Legal Fiction = von Spakovsky?

This story about how a guy named von Spakaovsky, who writes under the nom de plume of Publius, is a Republican operative pressing so-called voter fraud cases. Anyone know if this is the same Publius of the blog Legal Fiction?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Quick Hits

Star Wars Gangsta Rap--hilarious.

"Big Daddy" Robert Byrd--claiming credit. Also, hilarious. (This one is especially for Curat Lex!)

Saturday, May 19, 2007

More AT Wildflowers

Or, just one wildflower. Today was a most beautiful day in the greater D.C. area--sunny, 75 degrees--so it was time for a hike. Manassas Gap to Dick's Dome, and back. My guess is about 14 miles, round-trip. Very nice day.

Catching Up on Movies: Pan's Lab, Notes on a Scan, etc.

Mrs. TMcD recently described the experience of walking into our local video store as a strangely epiphantic event. It's been so long since we've seen any movies that we could rent just about anything. Yee-haa!! Movie bacchanal ahead. After seeing the grim Children of Men last week, I said, "Get something light and fun." So she brought home Notes on a Scandal and Pan's Labyrinth.

Where to begin? First, although you may now be imagining the tenaciousette as Mortella the Goth Queen, this incident may better reflect a disconnect between her undue sense of cinemaphile optimism and the bleak reality of last year's most critically praised movies. We live in a harsh world, says the cinematiste: best not to enjoy movies too much. Mortella couldn't make it through either film to the end. The tenacious one survived, however, so as to witness. Otherwise the fascists would win.

I won't say too much about Notes on a Scandal, except that it is one of those movies that is beautifully acted and utterly unpleasant. None of the characters are remotely sympathetic, and we know this from the start thanks to the diary voiceovers of Judi Dench, whose character is a classic schoolmarm: sweet, like Nurse Ratchet, except she's really a lesbian stalker. (I guess the idea is to deflate the stereotype of the old fuddy redeemed.) Her prey is Cate Blanchett, playing a Mary Kay Latourneau-type who is defined by little more than her weakness, of self-image, of character, of loins. Blanchett is one of the best actresses alive, but she exudes strength. Despite her Oscar nomination, this role pushed her well beyond her credibility. Dench, on the other hand, is truly exceptional, and she almost--almost--makes this film watchable, if only to see her mastery of her craft. The result is Dangerous Minds meets Dangerous Liaisons, but without any of the latter's joie de vivre in the manipulator's game.

Pan's Labyrinth is much better, but still tough going. As the blogger formerly known as Rebecca noted here, it doesn't skimp on the brutality. I've become pretty desensitized over the years, but I found scenes here excruciating (e.g., fascist arrests father and son peasants out hunting wabbits). No wonder little Ophelia retreats into a fantasy world. For me, it reminded most of Salvador Dali. I would take issue with one of Rebecca's main criticism's, however. She complains that there is no thematic connection between the fantasy scenes and the "real world" of Spanish fascists battling resistance fighters living in the woods. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seemed to me the link was pretty obvious, maybe too much so. The rebel spy who mothers Ophelia needs to steal a key to the storehouse; Ophelia is sent to retrieve a key from a monster's lair. The rebel spy needs to filch a knife from the fascist's banquet table; Ophelia is sent to retrieve a knife from another monster's banquet table. And the religious themes evident at the end are not simply grafted on. They appear at the very beginning of the film--as Ophelia longs for transcendence through natural beauty--and reappear throughout.

The point is that transcendence springs up from the experience of suffering and is, ironically enough, inseparable from it. And so, while the Spanish Church may embrace the iconography of power (a feast one cannot eat, as we learn in the stigmata monster's lair), true religion speaks only to the oppressed and stands with those who resist tyranny. That may not be a "new" theme, and the film may be heavy handed at times. But it is rare for modern movies, especially of the fantasy variety, to treat religion seriously, and I thought that, under the circumstances, PL did an admirable job, merging Christian themes and pagan myths into a reasonably coherent narrative. Much to respect in this film, just not so much to enjoy.

Metro Police Crackdown

First, let me make clear that I am not a dog person. So what follows is purely objective.

The last few weeks the Metro DC police have been cracking down, hard, on folks walking their dogs in Logan Circle. They're out there every night, citing those with dogs off leash.

Now, that's against the law--there's a leash law, after all. But on Thursday night, around 7.30 pm, there were two police cruisers in Logan Circle, citing . . . dog walkers.

Is this the best use of Metro DC police resources? I mean, isn't there an open-air drug market somewhere in the District that they could be cracking down on?

The really interesting point here, from a sociological point-of-view, is that the Logan Circle neighborhood is rapidly gentrifying. So just two years ago, the folks out in Logan Circle were loitering, and many of them looked pretty down-trodden. Some of those folks still hang out in Logan Circle, especially during the day. But in the evenings and on the weekends, there's a whole new crowd in the circle. It's still a long way from Dupont, but things are moving in that direction.

My guess is that the police used to cite folks drinking out of bown paper sacks in Logan Circle. Or, since they still do, I mean, that's how the citing dog owners with dogs off-leash started. The police were there, anyway, enforcing minor regulations (like, say, no open containers), and they moved from that to the dogs-off-leash thing.

But the cops who enforce those rules tend to be on bicycles. (Especially on weekends.) But Thursday, two police crusiers. That seems extreme to me.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Comey Testimony & President Bush

We've all seen a lot of commentary about Comey's disturbing testimony before the Senate this week. In all this commentary I keep reading the line that "Bush backed down" and then a few paragraphs later I read that the NSA program was given the go ahead without DOJ approval and then I read another paragraph in the same article that says changes were made to bring the program into conformity with the law. I guess I'm a bit bewildered about this narrative. Obviously these three items aren't consistent: You can't approve a program without DOJ signatures and also "back down" and I'm suspicious of the notion that Bush made changes to the program to get DOJ signatures. Isn't it more likely that Bush didn't back down, approved the program without DOJ signatures and then once he realized that Ashcroft, Comey and others at DOJ were not "team players" he merely told them he would change the program, but in fact he secretly ordered that it continue as was, then he pretended to make changes until Ashcroft and Comey were out. Once he installed his lap dog Gonzales into the position of AG of the DOJ he then got his program approved.

This sequence of events might add another reason as to why he doesn't want to let Gonzo go.

Microsoft Marginalia

Pete Moore of CWRU has an interesting article out over at about how some of the American Coalition Provisional Authority's documents are available online and they contain the usual MS data of changes, drafts... This is gonna be one helluva treasure trove for historians -- a window into the cutting, pasting and spinning of the minions of Bush Empire, Inc.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Falwell Sees the Light

St. Petersburg (AP) In a dramatic but not unexpected move, Jerry Falwell has changed his longstanding position on salvation, arguing for the first time that it should not be understood as "selective" but instead as "universal." The reverend's spokesman characterized the shift as less of a change than a "deepening" of his position.

"Consider me surprised," said Falwell, "but who could have guessed that a known Communist like Martin Luther King, Jr., could have made it in. And Gandhi? Gandhi!!?? He's not even a Christian!"

Falwell pressed his case today before the High Court, but appeared to receive skepticism from the justices. Responding to a question from the Chief Justice, Falwell appeared to lose his cool. "Now, listen here, you can't expect me to have know that Jesus had a gay cousin. OK, so he didn't talk badly about gays, but, hello. . . Leviticus?!"

Falwell also faced tough questioning on his profits from The Clinton Chronicles, a popular series of videos in which a collection of racists, con men, and other assorted misfits accused President Bill Clinton of being a mass-murdering cocaine kingpin. "It was a joke between friends," said Falwell. "He'd call me fatso, and I'd sell videos suggesting he was a gay, miscegenating child molester. Then he'd come down to Lynchburg and we'd laugh about it."

Some observers noted that Falwell changed his position on the availability of salvation after seeing that the Clintons were both placed higher on the "good news" list than he was. "We're all sinners," Falwell told the justices. "How about a little more 'mercy' and a little less 'wrath'? It's all about the love, right? Right!?"

A decision of the Court is still pending, although Reverend Falwell conceded that his record with the courts was less than perfect. "If only it was Clarence Thomas up there making the call, I'd feel pretty good right now," he said. "But with these dirty hippies, who knows?"

What's in a Pseudonym?

In response to yet another MSM whine about rude bloggers, Atrios and Digby are both reflecting today on the importance of blogger pseudonymity. I'll admit to being a late convert to the blogger ethos. My "civic republican" leanings had led me to believe that speech had consequences and that those who raised their voices should be willing to do so transparently, accepting the resulting credit or blame. Shades of both King's civil disobedience and Arendt's notion of performative virtue. When I thought about anonymity, I thought primarily of the unsavory merger of Klansmen and the ACLU fighting to protect the haters from the rebuking public gaze.

I was wrong. Like a lot of people with moderate and institutionalist biases who came of age after Vietnam and civil rights, I assumed the benevolence of the larger political culture. I hadn't anticipated an era of crushing right-wing conformity driven by a malevolent administration and its Quislings in the MSM. I worried about the internet's damaging implications for higher ed (on-line classes and point-and-click plagiarism being real threats) and its tendency to promote fringe cultures, often libertarian or fascist, two seeming opposites that actually share a common ground insofar as they both cultivate rootless, isolated, and fearful individualism. The Bushies are themselves the result of that ethos--lawless, authoritarian free-marketeers who rely on incivility and opacity as tools of blunt manipulation.

A few years ago, this world turned itself upside-down. The same individualistic fragmentations of our political culture that abetted the rise of our Narcissist-in-Chief began to offer a space for real dissent. If Rove and Cheney hid behind a wall of secrecy, bloggers could use that same veil, now democratized, to challenge the facile lickspittle coverage offered by the palace media. Blogger anonymity is the mirror image, the dialectical antithesis of Cheney's cloak and dagger Energy Task Force or Rummy's Office of Special Plans. It all reminds of V For Vendetta--a film with some otherwise serious flaws--where tyranny and terrorism become two sides of the same coin, but ultimately to happy final effect. The important difference is that blogging is not terrorist violence, which Arendt argued was defined by its "silence," but rather persuasive civic speech in a refreshingly direct and unmediated form. As Digby notes, you could finally separate the content of an argument from the credentials of its expositor. Of course, the MSM, frightfully oblivious to state secrecy, now saw the pseudonymous democratic dissenters as the real threat: What are all those lawyers and teachers and housewives hiding!? (Get Ken Starr on this, stat!)

The answers, I think, are identity and authority. Bushie secrecy is all about hiding corrupt authority behind the veil of identity politics, both the traditional "PC" kind ("Don't challenge Condi or Alberto, they've had to overcome 'obstacles' in life!") and its right-wing twin--rich, white, male Xian victimology ("We can trust W because he's got a "good heart" and comes from the 'right' people."). There may have been no better confluence of these two than Colin Powell's infamous speech to the UN, proving that Saddam had WMDs: "He must be right, he's the best credentialed black man in the GOP." By contrast, blogging challenges authority partly by concealing identity, allowing people to unite on grounds independent of race, class, gender, and credential. Which is confusing. Because you have to start evaluating arguments again. Now, there's no reason that one day "Atrios" or "Publius" can't become corroded to the same degree that David Broder, Joe Klein, and Robert Samuelson are today. But, for the moment at least, we've had to ask whether the arbiters of our political culture are really due the respect that we've afforded them for so long. We can thank the secretive bloggers that we can now confidently say "No."

Monday, May 14, 2007

Update: Resolution to Read More

Loyal readers of FFB will remember my New Years resolution to read a book a week--a longstanding goal of mine. The goal is not necessarily to read "quality" books--its really just to spend my "down" time doing something other than watching tv or mindlessly surfing the Internets. So, an update: I am on track, averaging a book a week, if you count Shakespeare plays as "books," which I do. (Even though the plays are in the Riverside Shakespeare, which is one big "book.")

Last week I was helped along by jury duty on Thursday, which meant hours of waiting around in the Jurors Lounge--uninterrupted, for the most part, reading time. (I didn't get selected for a jury, btw.) I plowed through Michael Connelly's Trunk Music, one of his L.A. Harry Bosch detective novels. Actually, I've been reading a fair amount of crime or detective fiction--that Connelly book, George Pelecanos (Hell to Pay), Laura Lippman (In a Strange City), J.B. Stanley (A Fatal Appraisal).

I also recently read a book on Operation Jedburgh, the clandestine aspects of the D-Day invasion, and Orson Scott Card's Seventh Son, which is a fictional/fantasy account of the life of Joseph Smith (Card is an observant Mormon).

So, as you can see, I'm not necessarily "improving my mind" in my reading choices. But I am enjoying the books. I haven't been reading as much non-fiction as I had planned, but the approach that works best for me is to read what I'm interested in, at any given time. So if I just "go with the flow," I read more than if I try to read a book because it's on the schedule, if you know what I mean.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Mother's Day Baby Blogging

Happy Mother's Day to all from young Lang, at 6 months. Here she is, on her own, cute but drooly, and then with her nerdy Uncle Cletus, who apparently didn't bother to iron his shirt for the occasion. Good goin' Cletus.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

For Baseball Fans Only

If you haven't seen the greatest Manny Ramirez moment of all time, read this--and follow the link to the "authorized" video. It is worth it. Trust me.

As we used to say in C-Town, that's just Manny being Manny.

Walking through a Mansfield

Since I've spent the last several weeks grading, I missed commenting on an extraordinary piece of pop political theory written by Harvard's Harvey Mansfield and printed in the Wall Street Journal. Glenn Greenwald has analyzed its tortured view of law here, but I think something also needs to be said about Mansfield's rather odd reading of the history of political thought. As the best known living Straussian, and arguably America's most prominent academic conservative (Samuel Huntington notwithstanding), Mansfield's arguments will be taken seriously in many quarters. His thesis:

Though I want to defend the strong executive, I mainly intend to step back from that defense to show why the debate between the strong executive and its adversary, the rule of law, is necessary, good and--under the Constitution--never-ending.

A pretty wild claim. Mansfield sets out to prove that the American founders--all appearances to the contrary--set out to create an executive who lived above the law, was not bound by either constitution or statute, and embodied the characteristics of Machiavelli's Prince as filtered through the English monarchy. He concedes that rule of law should sometimes win, but only in "quiet times," apparently "quiet" as defined by the executive himself. Remarkably, this argument repeats almost verbatim the most famous claims of Nazi legal theorist Carl Schmitt, whose The Concept of the Political was critiqued almost immediately upon its arrival in 1932 by Leo Strauss. In some ways, Mansfield seems to be undoing that critical distance between Strauss and Schmitt, an interesting development in its own right.

It is true, as I've noted before, that the American founders were indirectly influenced by Machiavelli. Not, however, by The Prince. The real link is to his Discourses, which celebrates the people (as smarter than the prince), the rule of law, the freedoms of speech, and an armed citizenry over specialized mercenary forces. These ideas, filtered through Algernon Sidney and Cato's Letters, created a strong presumption against monarchy, as both Sidney and Cato scorned any presumptions of executive privilege when confronted with the force of law, the authority of the legislature, and the power of the public. It is true, as Mansfield points out, that John Locke defended the executive's "prerogative" power, thus allowing him more discretion than either Sidney or Cato had. But in Mansfield's telling, Locke ("a careful writer") is a closet monarchist who sought to end the English Civil War by letting the absolute king win while making everyone think the legislative power had won.

Note to Straussians: stop using the doctrine of "esoteric teaching" as an invitation to bizarre acts of wingnut wish-fulfillment. Strauss was at least consistent enough to dismiss Locke as overly modern and "liberal." Reading Locke, as Mansfield does, as a more crafty Filmerite, does such violence to his text and to the history of his life and choices that it cannot withstand the laugh test. Locke was so radical that he had to flee to Holland for years, returning to England only when parliament had deposed the Stuarts and replaced them with its preferred royals, William and Mary. If Mansfield wants to use Locke as his prototype for an executive-centered political theory, I certainly hope he won't object when Congress ("the supreme power") commands the army to arrest George W. Bush, send him to Gitmo, and replace him with Al Gore. Locke's grants of prerogative primarily involve softening of the law (pardons), executive efficiency at moments when parliament is not in session, and foreign policy. But Locke always makes it very clear that the executive is bound by natural law and that final say in these matters is legislative. He constantly warns against giving executives too much power. Especially if you like them personally. Good princes, he says, will be followed by bad, and when they abuse their powers, you'll regret having given them a loose leash.

I won't document all of Mansfield's interpretive atrocities. He does a similar inversion on Aristotle, suggesting that Aristotle was really defending the "rule of man" against the "rule of law." What, might we ask, is the larger point of his argument? Apparently, that George Bush is a great leader, "a strong president" like Lincoln or FDR (stop laughing and go read the piece, I'm not making this up!) who is acting in our best interest even if we're too stupid to know it. Because republican (little-R) government means never having to listen to the people. Unless, of course, they're fearfully demanding an end to civil liberties in opposition to intransigent judges and legislators. Then the majority should rule. Finally, Mansfield ends by telling us we need more imperialism, not less. How about just smarter? I'd settle for that.

The Given

So, Broder has a column on the front-loading of the primaries today. My problem with it is that it takes the primary system for granted. Here's an excerpt, which I will mock post-quote:

Instead of there being a steady progression of contests, challenging and whittling the field of contenders in the wide-open races to select a successor to George W. Bush, it is going to be a herky-jerky, feast-or-famine exercise that looks more like Russian roulette than anything that tests who can best fill the most powerful secular office on Earth.

Would the primary process work if there was "a steady progression of contests"? No, not really, because it would still depend on candidates reaching most voters through the media, and thus the media interpretation of early events would still be determinative. IOW, "moral victories" in early contests, beating expectations, etc. The primary process cannot plausibly be described, even if it is a steady progression of "whittling," as "test[ing] who can best fill" the job of president. It doesn't actually address judgment or decisionmaking. It is, today, a test of marketing skills.

Yes, my friends, we choose as president the person best able to market him or herself. That is the system we have. Would a longer term marketing campaign be better? Why?

Because we take the current system as a given. We argue over how to improve a fundamentally flawed system. Now, I don't have a workable alternative, at this time. But the primary system, depending so heavily on "ordinary" voters--and, as the Establishment prefers, voters in small, non-representative states--to determine which candidates should be president and which are not worthy, requiring vast fundraising, etc. If you stop to think about it, it doesn't make much sense.

Even if there is more time between contests, this is still true: "Most of those voters will never have had an opportunity to get even a glance at the candidates. All they will know is what the ads tell them -- and what the media can supply, when reporters are exhausting themselves dashing after the race from state to state."

If this paragraph still makes sense to you, keep working on it:

The mandate for the next pair of national party chairmen should be to agree on a sensible national agenda for the primaries -- either a rotating regional system that gives all states a turn at being early or a plan that allows a random mix of states to vote, but only on dates fixed in advance by the parties, and separated at intervals that allow voters to consider seriously their choices.

How will voters "seriously [consider] their choices" when they are bombarded with stories about $400 haircuts, campaign stop gaffes, and debates like the last two? The system is badly, badly out-of-whack, and tinkering with the ordering and timing of primaries won't fix it.

Now to the silliest part: ""the most powerful secular office on Earth." Huh? Does Broder mean that there are "powerful" non-secular offices? How many divisions has the Pope? (Oh, I know, it's bad form to quote Stalin.) Of course, the Pope can excommunicate you . . . and damn you to eternal hellfire. (I'm lookin' at you, Mexican legislators!) That is power, I guess. But as the Mittser would say, I don't have anything to do with Catholic bishops.

The natural follow-up is . . . who gets Broder's nod as "the most powerful religious office on Earth"?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Darth Cheney's Real Message to the Iraqis

"I am here to put you back on schedule, Commander."

". . . I need more [time]."

"You can tell the Emperor himself."

"The Emperor . . . is coming here? We shall redouble our efforts [at political reconciliation]."

"I hope so, for your sake, Commander. The Emperor isn't as forgiving as I am. [He will probably put your ass in Gitmo.]"

Oh, the joke is lame, I know. It would actually be a helluva lot funnier if Cheney weren't the Emperor.

The visit does suggest that the administration knows that time is limited and that their asses are on the line. So they're not that far gone. It also seems to indicate a new strategery--well, not altogether new--of blaming the Iraqis for the Bush administration's failed policies.

Children of Men

Finally got to see Children of Men last night, reviewed by #3 here. As 3PO says, it has the feel of a "classic." It is a movie, however, that leaves its seams exposed. Maybe it's just because we couldn't turn the volume up especially loud or decipher all the English accents speaking in hushed tones, but here are a few things I didn't get. Maybe those of you who have seen it (#3, Fronesis?, etc.) can answer these issues for me.

1) Why, in a world with a collapsed birth rate, i.e., no children born in more than 18 years, would people be obsessed with preventing immigration? This made no sense to me. It seems like you'd see the opposite: there would be immense competition for immigrants, since they would be the only way to replenish your workforce, even if this would only be a short term solution. Still, any smart country would want to take workers from elsewhere to keep their economy soldiering on at the expense of everybody else's. Plus, you'd want a diverse batch of people for fertility research. You might even tie this to border entry: we'll let you in if you submit to a whole battery of invasive tests. Now, the film does hint at world disorder, but really, did England seem like it could have been that much better?

2) Why exactly were the pro-immigrant rebels called "the Fish"? I get the allusion to Christianity: a radical, apocalyptic group of zealots demanding justice for the poor, the oppressed, the outsiders, etc. There's a lot of religious and specifically Christian imagery here (the miracle baby as messiah ("CoM" = "Son of Man"?), the joke about whether Key was a "virgin," the graffiti fish logo, and the climactic Moses in the bullrushes scene) even if it's intensely anti-institutional, suggesting that the miracle child was seen as a political tool by the violent and unscrupulous from the very start. But was there a more organic reason for the name--one grounded in the logic of the group itself and not just in historico-religious metaphor?

3) Could the leader of the Fish have been much dumber? If you don't want people to know you're going to kill them, you probably shouldn't wave your gun around while screaming things like, "As soon as I go around the corner, kill them!!" In general, I thought the characters were a bit underwritten here. The film's strengths come in its amazing visuals and its dramatic flow, which offer a compelling vision of men pushing relentlessly forward in a world that has lost any hope for the future. But, save Clive Owen's "Theo" (a Christianized "Neo"?), the individual characters lacked depth. Julianne Moore is great as always playing Theo's old flame, and I love the ping-pong ball scene both for its playfulness and its shocking brutality. And yet her dialogue with Theo is beyond lame: "I still see his eyes when I look at you." Urgh. Same for Michael "pull my finger" Caine. On one level, I enjoyed seeing a de-suaved Caine as a whacked out, dying cartoonist dad. But his appearance in the movie also disrupts the fantasy because you just keep thinking, "Hey, it's Michael Caine!" That's always a risk with a familiar actor, but it struck me as a significant problem here.

Don't get me wrong. I greatly enjoyed the film despite its flaws. I don't need perfection to savor a tale well told. This film reminded me of Apocalypse Now as one of those brilliant movies that lacked a certain air-tightness. A final thought: aside from AN, the movies that this reminded me of most were all recent Spielberg: AI (for the themes of futuristic maternity and paternity lost in the woods), Minority Report (the grainy dystopian landscapes and chase scenes), and finally Saving Private Ryan (the war scenes). I wonder how much, if any of that, was intended.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Sunday Show Madness

If, like me, you watch the Sunday shows, for a long time you've been noticing that many pundits have been saying that "if [X] happens, the president will have to change his Iraq policy and start to withdraw US troops." [X] can be just about anything. Now it is if, in September, the surge isn't working, then the president will have to react by pulling out at least some troops--otherwise, the GOP faces serious electroal defeat in 2008.

Have these pundits actually been watching the president? When has he (or his policy) actually responded to events on the ground by de-escalating? I'll admit that Bush responded to the 2006 election by escalating the war, but that hardly suggests that he will radically change course if, this fall, things aren't going any better in Iraq. Remember how the president responded to the ISG report, which the pundits said "the president can't ignore"? He, um, ignored it.

And why would the president worry about electoral defeat in 2008? He's not on the ticket. And he's convinced that he's right. If one thinks that the graybeards of the GOP will pressure Bush into acting in the interests of his party . . . I'd ask what "pressure" can the graybeards put on him? Especially when he answers to a "higher" power?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Coriolanus at the Kennedy Center

So we went to see Shakespeare's Coriolanus at the Kennedy Center (but in the Eisenhower Theater) last night. I'd actually never been to the Kennedy Center before, believe it or not, so it was quite an outing. First of all, let me just say that the Kennedy Center is really not that close to anything. But that aside, it really is a beautiful building, and although I'd scene pictures of the bust of JFK, I'd never realized that it was that big. It should be called "the giant bust of JFK."

Anyway, for those of you unfamiliar with Coriolanus, and I'm betting that that's most everyone, it's a tragedy about a Roman patrician really good at war but really bad at politics--sort of an inverse Karl Rove?--who wins a major battle but then gets himself banished when he finds it impossible to stoop to ask the (fickle) common people for their votes. Once banished, he joins forces with Rome's rival at the time (the Volscians?) to get revenge on Rome. But it turns out that old Coriolanus has a weakness--he can't say no to his mother. So when his mother entreats him not to destroy Rome, he relents, breaking his oath with the Volscians. The Volscians, or at least some of them, then kill him, but then, in a sudden reversal, mourn having done so.

There are those, myself included, who think that this is Shakespeare's most political play, although having read it now a couple times and seen it once, I'm not sure if it has a political message. Other than, "the common people are fickle and easily misled by demagogues." Maybe it is the perfect play for our times.

Last week, btw, we saw Titus Andronicus at the Shakespeare Theater. Now that play is a real hoot. In the final scene, the "tragic hero" actually serves up a human-head pie to his enemies. The debate over Titus is whether it is meant seriously, as the apotheosis of the revenge tragedy form, at least pre-Charles Bronson--or whether it's a "spoof" of the genre, or at least intended to be seen as such by some. The latter interp is Harold Bloom's, and I usually like Bloom's readings, but I'm not sure.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Feline Opinion

That's an old cat, 17-years-old. So she's been around. And she has strong opinions. Apparently.

GOP Debate: Predictions

Mentions of Ronald Reagan by all candidates will exceed mentions of the current president at least 3 to 1. And I'm not counting references to the library.

"Mitt Romney" will prove that he is not ready for prime-time. (Btw, I put that name in scare quotes because the "Mitt Romney" described by many as one of the top-tier candidates in the GOP field is clearly not the Mitt Romney who was governor of Taxachusetts.)

John McCain will compare himself to Ronald Reagan at least six times. He will compare someone to Churchill, and he will invoke Lincoln. He will not mention TR.

Rudy will say "9-11" twenty times. He will not say (the entire phrase) "New York City" once.

And Ron Paul and Duncan Hunter . . . oh, who gives a damn?

Post-Update: Rudy said "New York City" at least twice (I think, in fairness, three times). Romney and McCain did OK. Ron Paul, maybe the least-bad option.

Duncan Hunter . . . did he get to speak tonight?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

#3 has some thoughts on global warming here. Leave it to some "libral" blogger not to finger the real culprit for global warming. But thankfully, this astute person to the left has it all figured out.

Why Is the Right So Hostile to Global Warming?

So, Matt Yglesias links to this strange Sowell column which includes the sentence: "When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup."

My quick answer to that is, um, no. But then I guess in TS's mind, I'm a degenerate.

But the interesting question is about the rest of the column, which tends to be mostly about global warming. And that question is, Why is the right so hostile to global warming? It's altogether possible to imagine a world where conservatives and conservationists are closely allied. (Maybe even a Heideggerian conservatism, TMcD?) But that is not our world. Three theories:

(1) The environmental movement is another one of those "new politics" movements that dates back to the 1960s, so conservatives, who reject everything from that turbulent decade, reject environmentalism. It's a kind of group political response--hostility to a group results in hostility to their positions, even when supported by evidence.

(2) Conservative intellectuals have become so closely tied to business interests, especially the energy industry, that they view the global warming issue indirectly through the prism of corporate self-interest. It's the money, man.

(3) Conservatives are simply hostile to all things modern, and that includes science. So, to the extent that the evidence for global warming rests on science, they reject it. (It's strange that Sowell posits his position as skepticism. But that's a subject for another post.) It's a philosophy thing.

I really don't know, but I think it's probably a combination of (1) and (2). Anyone else have any ideas?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

I'm Thinking of a New Name for the Blog . . .

I like "Daily Kos." Just kidding. But that's essentially what "al-Qaeda in Iraq" achieved by naming itself that. There is no connection b/w "al-Qaeda in Iraq" and the actual al-Qaeda network that attacked the U.S. on 9-11. But what marketing!

The problem from a sane war policy perspective is that General Kristol and his ilk now argue that "we're fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq." That's their newest argument for staying the course. "We can't pull out--we're fighting al-Qaeda! What do you hippies want?" And it makes sense, unless you know that, um, there's no connection. (Kristol may be the most dishonest man alive . . . ?)

It's like naming your slow-pitch softball team the "New York Yankees" and then telling people that you played for the Yankees. (Except, of course, that your slow pitch team is much less lethal than "al-Qaeda in Iraq.")

Mission Accomplished

Folks around the blogosphere are "celebrating" the anniversary of history's most ludicrous photo op. I don't really have anything to add. But I think that it's strange that the prez decided to veto the supplemental today, of all days. I mean, he had ten days. Did he want the symbolism? Why?