Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Letter from Alexander the Great to the Chians, 334 or 333/2 BC

The following is an English translation of this letter (inscribed on stone, see picture to left) from Alexander the Great to the Chians. It dates to 334 or 333/2 BC:

From king Alexander to the people of Chios,
written in the prytany of Deisitheos.

All those exiled from Chios are to return, and the constitution on Chios is to be democratic. Drafters of legislation are to be selected to write and emend the laws so as to ensure that there be no impediment to a democratic constitution and the return of the exiles. Anything already emended or drafted is to be referred to Alexander.

The people of Chios are to supply twenty triremes, with crews, at their own expense, and these are to sail for as long as the rest of the Greek naval force accompanies us at sea.

With respect to those men who betrayed the city to the barbarians, all those who escaped are to be exiled from all the cities that share the peace [of Corinth], and to be liable to seizure under the decree of the Greeks. Those who have been caught are to be brought back and tried in the Council of the Greeks. In the event of disagreement between those who have returned and those in the city, in that matter they are to be judged by us.

A wicked thought enters into my mind: Would it be terribly unfair if we changed the name of Alexander to Bush, Chios to Iraq, triremes to Iraqi soldiers or police...?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Winner-Take-All, Beeyatches!

So, as many of you know, the GOP prefers winner-take-all primaries (and caucuses?), whereas the Dems have a more proportional system (but with those pesky super-delegates, to disempower the rank-and-file). Maybe this reflects something about the parties, I'm not sure. That's not where I'm going with this.

Think what happens today (this evening) in Florida, though, where the election morning polls show a nail-biter. A photo finish. Etc. Link.

What if McCain wins by 1,000 or 10,000 votes, out of millions cast? And then takes ALL of Florida's delegates? My guess is that the folks at The Corner, Rush Limbaugh, all the Mac-haters out there will have a problem (suddenly discover the problems) with winner-take-all. Just a guess.

But if Romney wins by 1,000 or 10,000 votes, of millions cast, I believe that the GOP establishment and the conservative chattering class will rediscover the importance of winner-take-all in the system bequeathed to us by the Framers (just kidding!)--seriously, the winner-take-all thing might not even get mentioned, if the Rombot wins.

Let's see what happens.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Post-SotU "Is Bush Alive?" Blogging

Thanks, #3, for watching the State of the Union so I didn't have to. Yawwwwn. What did I tell you? Non-eee-vent.

I only wanted to see the post speech cable news spin. Nice to see that both CNN and MSNBC have hired Barack Obama as a commentator. On himself. "So, Senator, what do you think about being crowned the new JFK by the only Americans who would know?" "Gosh, I'm uncomfortable with that comparison. It's like being called the next Mickey Mantle or the next Willie Mays--did you know they played ball in New York and California?" I'd say I was shocked not to hear any real commentary on the State of the Union, but I've already forgotten there was one.

Not to rain on the Obamapalooza, but how much does Teddy Kennedy's endorsement really count? As a southern boy, I can't say he means much to me, but maybe you Yanks will have a different view. I'll buy that he speaks to a lot of older voters who remember Camelot. And his speech today was a blistering shot at team Clinton. But I must have heard half a dozen talky heads say that this would sway the Latino vote because JFK stood up for the migrant farm workers--what? 45 years ago!? Really? Does Teddy's touch heal urinary problems and make mice immortal too? How many magical black messiahs from the Green Mile can we have on one campaign? I should have known we were in trouble when Chris frickin' Matthews had to be the voice of reason, reminding us that HRC is still the front runner in most Super-T states. They should stop calling this "spin" and just hand out whiplash collars and insurance payments to regular viewers. Next week: why Obama outwhited, outblacked, and outsmarted himself.

Not Much There: SOTU So Long

Takeaway point: If that sounded (to you) like a SOTU address designed to actually address the pressing issues of the coming year, then you are delusional. Besides the stimulus, which got about two minutes of speech time, did Bush even speak about the economy? The stock market? He mentioned housing, in like two sentences. One thinks that there's a disconnect. Where have we seen this before? Oh, yeah. 1991-92. Who was president then? Oh, yeah. "Message: I care." Or not.

Bloggered 2

I'm getting bored, and Blogger is acting up. It clearly doesn't like multiple edits of the same posts. So maybe more in a bit.

More Live-Blogging 2

9:31 pm. "The whim of the gavel." What is that, like flipping a coin?

9:29 pm. Stem cells, blah blah. Micro issues.

9:29 pm. The most dynamic nation on earth?

9:28 pm. "Global climate change." But no one gets a "free ride."

9:26 pm. Clean coal! Waiting for "switch grass." Waiting . . . waiting . . . renewable fuels . . . clean technology . . . for India and China . . . reverse the growth of greenhouse gasses . . . c'mon "switch grass."

9:25 pm. Worker retraining. How many SOTU's have included this? How many auto workers have been retrained since the 1970s?

More Live-Blogging

9:24 pm. Onward, to trade. And "purveyors of false populism"? What's false about it?

9:23 pm. Pell Grants for Kids? That's a weird idea. It's like the inverse of public education. Rather than assume that kids will attend public schools, it assumes that poor families should pay for school. That's the college model in the U.S. (for good or ill), but not the primary and secondary school model.

9:22 pm. Does Bush sound like he really cares about these domestic issues?

9:20 pm. He's really flying through the issues. Already to education.

9:20 pm. Did you see the dirty look the Dems got a few minutes ago with the balanced budget/surplus cheers (jeers)?


Blogger isn't liking my live-blogging.

Live Blogging the SOTU

9:16 pm. Surplus by 2012?

9:15 pm. He just started five minutes ago, and he's already through stimulus and making the tax cuts permanent? And now he's promised to veto any tax increase. Does this mean that we're going to get half an hour on Iraq?

9:14 pm. Taxes. "I welcome their enthusiasm." No Democrats are laughing?

9:13 pm. The economy is "uncertain"? If folks would just stop having these kitchen table conversations, wouldn't we all be better off?

9:12 pm. The collective wisdom of ordinary people? Man, we are screwed.

9:11 pm. I think the two parties can cooperate in writing checks to the voters in an election year, don't you? Free money!

9:10 pm. Is the state of the union strong?

9:10 pm. Does Cheney look ill?

9:07 pm. Lots of hand shaking. Booooring.

9:05 pm. I wonder if Boehner is going to cry tonite?

9:05 pm. Butterflies?

9:03 pm. Let's get this started.

9:02 pm. If Paulson is Lex Luthor, which super villain is Chertoff?

9:01 pm. Hank Paulson is like Lex Luthor, but without the competence (or genius IQ).

8:59 pm. Laura's bright red dress? Egad. Matthews is praising Laura's intellect now. Really? He just said she's "literate." Well, that is something, I guess.

8:55 pm. OK, so I'm going to give this a shot. If I get bored, I will stop. The early released text doesn't sound that promising, does it?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Why, Oh Why, Did Saddam Force Us to Invade Iraq?

Just saw Scott Pelley's interview with the Lebanese-American FBI agent who spent months interrogating Saddam. No revelations. We knew ALL of this before. But the media meme above drives me crazy: "Why, if Saddam didn't have any WMD, didn't he just tell us that so we wouldn't have had to invade Iraq?"

OK, let's remember what happened. We said, "We'll invade you if you don't account for the WMDs." Saddam says "Whozywhatsit?" He lets the inspectors in. They spend months and don't find anything. Bush says "Screw it, I'm invading anyway." Hans Blix says "More time! More time!" Saddam says "Gimme some cash and a jail-free exile, and I'm Audi!" Bush says "Kaboom, mothafuckah!"

When in this time line did Saddam supposedly force us into the quag?

Gripe number two: Pelley asks FBI guy if Saddam hoped to reconstitute his weapons programs one day. FBI guy says "Yes." Gotcha!! That's why we invaded, appeaserbitches!! Unsaid? How exactly was he going to do this under a permanent inspection system and international sanction regime? Or, better yet, while in exile in Egypt?

Romney Brother . . . Number Six

Have you guys been reading the Five Brothers blog? It's the "house blog" over at Well, heading into Florida, who's rooting for the Mittster like the sixth Romney brother?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Sweet Caroline, Good Times Never Seemed So Good

Neal Diamond reference, anyone? You know you knew it.

After Barack's big win tonight, he's sure to get a few good days of media mojo. All of this week's spin about how he's losing white votes without gaining black ones, how he can't take a punch, and how his being dragged into the mud will sully his "politics of hope," well, that's yesterday's meme. Today's headlines will be: Hillary can't throw a punch, Bill can't shut up, and Obama can't give a speech that's less than "transcendent" even as he's sharpening his elbows. Uh oh. If there's one thing we've learned in this campaign so far, it's that Democratic voters respond with unquenchable anger to oppressive media narratives, no matter who the beneficiary is.

But let's savor the moment. Obama's 28-point win beat the most wildly optimistic polls, which had him winning by 22 (versus a low of +3 in ARG). And yet, despite that overwhelming margin, TMcD suspects that Nana and Pop McD may have thrown their votes away on some well-coiffed white boy, losing their chance to tell their young Boo, years from now, that they had stood for something back when it mattered, that they had voted for hope, for unity, and for the future. Those chances don't come along very often. At least not in South Carolina.

Great Reagan's Ghost!

Have you guys been following the audible whisper controversy? It seems that, in the recent GOP debate, when Russert asked the Rombot about whether he would do what Reagan did with Social Security, before the 'bot answered, there was an audible whisper, "Raised taxes." Then the 'bot said that he wouldn't raise taxes.

Some have speculated that this was an ear piece--but (duh) you can't hear an ear piece, because it's in the speaker's ear. Whatever it was, it wasn't an ear piece. People, get serious.

It seems to me that there's only one explanation: It was Reagan's ghost. I mean, as many times as these guys have invoked his name, it was inevitable that his spirit would return to the world of the living to set things right. (In his case, "right" may have multiple meanings.) If I'm right, the next time there's a GOP debate, the disembodied whisper will say . . . "I sure as hell wouldn't have invaded Iraq. Morons." Or something similar.

The Co-Presidency Meme Rides Again

Seems like the chattering class has latched on to the "two for the price of one" pitfalls of the Clinton(s) campaign this weekend. Here's William Greider on "Slick Willie": The one-two style of Clintons, however, is as informative as low-life street fighters. Mr. Bill punches Obama in the kidney and from the rear. When Obama whirls around to strike back, there stands Mrs. Clinton, looking like a prim Sunday School teacher and citing goody-goody lessons she learned from her 135 years in government.

Here's Colby King in the WP: But don't point that out to the Clintons. They are always right and see no reason to apologize or take back anything they have said or done. And, as we have seen, Billary will say and do anything to come out ahead.

Ouch. And here's Garry Wills, in the NYT: Mrs. Clinton claims that her time [as first spouse] was an active one. [Bill] can hardly be expected to show less involvement when he returns to the scene of his time in power as the resident expert. He is not the kind to be a potted plant in the White House.

Can one read anything into this--other than ambivalence by a good chunk of the liberal commentariat toward the return of the Clintons to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? No, I think that's about it. Greider makes the point:

The style is very familiar to official Washington, not just among the Clintons' partisan adversaries, but among their supporters. The man lied to his friends. All the time. They got used to it. They came to expect it. I observe a good many old hands among the Senate Democrats are getting behind Obama. It would be good to know more about why they declined to make the more obvious choice of endorsing the power couple.

So much dislike for the power couple.

Update: Missed this. LOL.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Water Don't Burn

I always correct people when they say that the Cuyahoga River caught on fire. Water. Don't. Burn. It was the pollution floating on top of the river, man.

But here's a photo. The burning is clearly on the surface. Questions?

Iron Resolutions

I see others are reading and exercising. I wanted to say a few things on the latter (I think I've covered the former). My goal this year is to average 30 miles a week, running, and to break 70 minutes in the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler in April. That (the latter) will be a challenge, as I only managed to break 74 minutes last year--so it would mark a substantial improvement over 2007. And I need to start doing some speedwork to meet that goal.

I'm also committing a good chunk of time to the weight room. I'm doing weights at least twice a week, and aiming for three weights workouts a week (one day chest and back, one day arms/shoulders, and Fridays chest, arms and shoulders combined). My goal is to beat my all-time max on the bench, which, as TMcD can testify, is 245 lbs (way back in 1994?). Just after the New Year, I pushed up 205 pretty easily, so I'm moving in the right direction. Of course, I weigh substantially less than in 1994, so 250 lbs in 2008 will actually represent a much greater accomplishment than the 245 lbs in the 1990s--at least as a ratio of body weight.

Gone Baby Gone by Dennis Lehane

So I'm about a book behind schedule, but I did finish the third book of the year, Lehane's Gone Baby Gone. Seeing that I've plowed through most Pelecanos and Connelly, and I haven't found anyone else I like quite so much, I decided to try out Lehane.

I have to say that I loved the first half of this novel. It's gripping, and funny, actually. But I hated the last 100 pages. I don't want to get into details or SPOILERS. But let me just say that, in the last 100 pages, Lehane violates one of the fundamental rules of crime thrillers/mysteries--namely, he introduces a new character who knows what's going on and solves the "mystery" for the protagonists. That's a quick way to help out your protagonists--a pair of detectives, Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennarro--when all leads go cold. But it's just a cop-out in my view. Better leave the detectives without a solution than to cheat.

Also, the novel is exceedingly violent. Normally, that's OK. But Patrick Kenzie shoots what, six people in the novel? In the real world, he would be in prison, not on the streets with a private dick license.

Overall, I wouldn't recommend the novel. I'm curious about the film--the novel has so much action in it, how can they compress it into 2 hours or a little more? Maybe I'll see the movie. Maybe.

Rudy! A Prospective Retrospective

To be honest, we always knew that Rudy was a non-serious candidate for the GOP nomination. Didn't we? I mean, as TMcD once described him, he is and has always been "a pro-choice, pro-gay, cousin-marrying, serial adulterer." Link Not that there's anything wrong with that (except for the adultery part, honey!). Rudy had the support of the NYC-DC right-wing pundit class, but that support was always based on the idea that he was the best bet to hold onto the White House. I think that was it, anyway--next time I see George Will on the street, I'll have to ask him.

In contact with actual voters, and here I mean actual GOP primary voters, Rudy fared very poorly--as we always knew he would, right? I mean, it seems so obvious now.

Rudy crashed and burned in New Hampshire, and then conveniently decided that he hadn't actually tried there anyway. Then came the bizarre (one hesitates to call it) "strategic" decision to pour all his resources into Florida, because . . . what was the idea again? That Florida is really a northeastern state? That Florida is like the sixth burrough?

Some bloggers have attributed Rudy's fall to "ShagGate." Others, I hear, think his biggest problem with primary voters is that his own kids don't like him. (This one gives too much credit to primary voters, I think.)

No one, at least no one I've ever read, has suggested that Rudy's fall was precipitated by that weird eye-popping thing he does on the teevee. Oh, yeah, you know what I'm talking about. Some television consultant, at some point, told Rudy that he should avoid blinking on camera. (My guess is that Rudy has a natural tendency to Nixonesque eye-darting, which is correctable.) To counteract the tendency to blink, when Rudy wants to emphasize a point, he bulges his eyes, showing as much of the whites of his eyes as possible. You've noticed. Admit it.

But we don't need an elaborate theory to explain why a candidate with socially liberal views (on abortion, guns, and gay rights at least), from NYC, without foreign policy experience, and with, to be kind, a "colorful" personal history, didn't make the cut when actual voters started paying attention, do we?

Rudy, we barely knew thee. By which I mean, we knew you too, too well.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Weak Candidate

Despite Bill Clinton's enduring popularity among Democrats, I think it's interesting how divisive a figure HRC is in the Democratic primary. Look at the state-by-state polls. Even in places where the campaign is not remotely underway, HRC rarely has 50% of Democrats polled. She has 100% name recognition; she is the wife of a popular former president; she is the familiar safe choice for all the low-information voters out there. And she is still a long way away from unifying the party.

Here are the Real Clear Politics averages of recent polls in some big states where the campaign has never gotten underway:

California: HRC 43.5, Obama 31.5, Edwards 10.5
Florida: HRC 48.8, Obama 29.8, Edwards 11.3
New York HRC 50.2, Obama 27.5, Edwards 9.5
New Jersey HRC 45, Obama 26.7, Edwards 10.3

Now these polls obviously require Obama to make up an enormous amount of ground, probably more than he can do. But it shows how weak a candidate HRC is within her own party.

This is another reason why I think divisions in the Democratic party are more serious than most think. HRC just is not a consensus choice among Democrats. Obama is getting more congressional endorsements every day. This is quite a fight.

"It's the Economy, Stupid!"

Well, the economy must really be set to tank if the Fed is willing to cut rates by 3/4 of percentage points in the face of higher inflation and a sagging dollar. We truly are in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation, thanks to conservative economic policy.

As November approaches, look for the economy to eclipse Iraq and every other issue. I'm not sure if this will help or harm the Democrats, given the ability of the right-wing noise machine to always create a narrative that blames Dems and "librals" for all the world's ills.

Early prediction: should Hillary win the Democratic palm, she will get pounded on NAFTA, or SHAFTA as it has come to be known. It doesn't matter that she's not responsible for it and most Republicans also supported it. Bill pushed it through, and she will be considered guilty by association.

Update 9:45 AM: Investors seem to think the Fed's move is a sign of desperation: The Dow and Nasdaq both plunged at the open.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Myrtle's a Beach

Goodbye, Cliama-Oblinton '08. These guys really don't like each other. If you had any hope they might combine on a ticket, tonight should have killed it.

I didn't see the entire debate, just some large chunks including the opening cage match (twice). Hard to say who came out on top. Obama looked better to me--more presidential, more focused on issues, more honest, less of a lying (hmm. . . . what word can I use here without sounding sexist? Oh!) bitch. I'm sure the Hillary partisans think the opposite and are happy at how their gal handed O-man his testicles, deep fried. I even heard a guy on CNN saying he thought John Edwards was the big winner here tonight. (Note to that CNN guy: the guy who has no chance to win and who won't even be VP no matter what could not have "won" if winner is somehow connected to electoral outcomes, as is expected with what we in the biz call "debates.") When exactly was it that they declared their famed "truce"? Was that in this election?

I dislike all this rancor. Intellectually, I get that politics is about conflict. But at a gut level, I find it annoying when candidates in such fundamental agreement on the issues light into each other over minutiae. Dear Hillary, I like you. . . enough. Please stop pissing me off so that I can vote for you in good conscience when (or if) you're the nominee. Don't make me vote "present."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Year in Music 2007

Gasp! Coming up for air after elections. Think happy thoughts. Puppies. Babies. Sunshine. Bush on a spit. Music. Music!! That'll do it.

I've been waiting to do my year in review on music until I had absorbed some Christmas acquisitions. Lots of good records this year. I don't know if there are any true classics, but much to enjoy. And, of course, the following list is 100% metaphysically perfect, unaffected by idiosyncratic tastes or human subjectivity. Some of this I commented upon earlier, hence the links.

1) Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Still my favorite.

2) Josh Rouse, Country Mouse, City House. Overlooked by most critics, probably because he's so easy to take for granted. And the title's stupid. Just one bittersweetly perfect pop song after another.

3) Amy Winehouse, Back to Black. Yeah, I know she's a nutcase. But "Rehab" is an amazing single, and the whole frickin' album catapults you up to Motown heaven.

4) Wilco, Sky Blue Sky. "Dad rock," my ass.

5) Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha. The first half is one amazing tune after another. Love those high lonesome whistles and swooning strings. But it does wear one out by the end.

6) Ryan Adams, Easy Tiger. Yeah, I know he's a nutcase who can't edit himself. But look, this time he edited himself. OK, almost. His best overall record since Gold (2001).

7) Patty Griffin, Children Running Through

8) Liam Finn, I Am Lightning. Sounds like a great old Spilt Enz record. Natch, family affair, etc., etc. But he sounds more like uncle Tim than dad Neil.

9) Okkervil River, The Stage Names. A great year for rock & roll in Austin, what with these guys and Spoon.

10) Iron & Wine, The Shepherd's Dog. Sam Beam got a band! This slot is really a hard pick b/w this record and my SC boys, Band of Horses, whose Cease to Begin has better hooks. But I think I'll probably be listening to Iron & Wine longer.

I had to leave off some really good CDs, a couple because I'm getting too old (Radiohead, White Stripes), one because the nostalgia meant less to me than to others (Springsteen), one because, despite/thanks to its excellence, Mrs. TMcD is playing it to death in her car (Rilo Kiley), two because I haven't really processed them yet (LCD Soundsystem, The National), one because I've only heard the two admittedly amazing singles (Feist), and one because I think it actually came out in 2006 (Ron Sexsmith). Still, there's a special category this year:

Movie soundtracks! Walk Hard is an entertaining movie, but the soundtrack surpasses it. Too many funny songs to mention, whether it's the title track, "(Mama) You Gotta Love Your Negro Man," "Let's Duet" (with the best/silliest double entendres I've heard in ages), "Royal Jelly" (a perfect Dylan spoof), or a 70s variety show version of David Bowie's "Starman" that will make you wretch and giggle simultaneously.

On the more serious side, Once is a really great movie that made a lot of critics' end of year lists. The story of a street corner "busker" in Dublin, it is a musical for people who hate "musicals." Apparently, Glenn Hansard is a cult hero in Ireland, along with his regular band, the Frames. I understand why. The music is stunningly affecting, and if this doesn't get an Oscar nod, at least in the music category, I will be seriously pissed. In both the European and American senses.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Terps Shock the Heels

While waiting for the big political news of the night, maybe you caught the plucky University of Maryland College Park Terrapins mens basketball squad knock off the "undefeated" University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Tarheels (formerly 18-0), 82-80.

That pulls the (inconsistent) Terps' record to 12-7, but maybe the selection committee will put some weight on this win, when the tournament comes around. Of course, after winning the ACC tournament, I guess the Terps will get an automatic bid. So maybe not an issue . . . but if not, maybe the Terps can win . . . six more games? Seven to get in?

Friday, January 18, 2008

In My Mind I'm Goin' to (South) Carolina

Let's face it. The GOP primary in South Carolina is the highlight of nominating season. Where else can you see libertarians (Ron Paul) sucking up to fundamentalist Baptists (Bob Jones) who have already endorsed recently pro-choice, pro-gay Mormons (Willard M. Romney)? Where else will full grown men who expect to be President (Mike Dale Huck) champion the confederate flag as the emblem of freedom and patriotism? Where else can you see Republican war heroes (Saint John) tarred as traitors with Negro babies? Ah, home!

Best part, my native region--the upstate, aka, the I-85 corridor--is center to much of the crazy. Maybe it's our close proximity to the aforementioned Bob Jones University, which still frowns on interracial dating. Maybe it's the glow of Gaffney's famous "Peachoid," symbolically mooning America's travelers. Who knows? Back in the day, we used to elect a liberal woman with a son named "Scooter" to Congress. But that was before the GOP figured out that they could run whispering campaigns accusing pretty much anyone of being a lesbian or a race-traitor, before push polls ("Does it affect your vote to know that my Democratic opponent is a Jew who ALSO rejects Jesus as his savior?"*) became the state poems, and before the incarnate Ronald Reagan mystically reappeared in SC next to his twin brother Jesus bearing golden tablets with the words "No enemies to the right." Those of you from up nauuth may find this hard to believe, but it's actually a nice place to live. Lots of colleges, increasing prosperity, international diversity, and more civic boosterism than you would expect. Just don't forget the extra pad of crazy for your grits.

Enough ruminatin'. Here are my predictions: Huck wins by four over McCain in SC, while Romney takes the Sin State in a cakewalk. Nomination looks like it's going Willard's way. And Hillary takes Nevah-da. Makes me wish they had already built that Yucca Mountain project.

P.S. the South will rise again, Yankee bitches.

* the cited example is an actual push poll used by former governor Carroll Campbell against a Holocaust survivor. Yee-frickin'-ha.

Film Review: Cloverfield, dir. Matt Reeves (2008)

It's been a long time since I reviewed a movie here, so why not start with an instant classic? This Blair Witch Project meets Godzilla meets 9/11 monster movie mash-up works on a number of levels. Oh, it's pure entertainment--I'm not sure that there's a theme there, other than you never know when you're going to die . . . so live every day like your last. Or giant monsters can really f**k a city up. Or something. But the movie works because it sticks with the "found object/document" conceit--the movie is framed as a videotape found "in the area formerly known as Central Park" after a giant monster attacks the city (guess they didn't rebuild?).

That narrative frame tells us all we need to know--*SPOILER*--the main characters are going to die. Because they don't narrate, they're just on the tape. I really liked that the main characters don't "solve the mystery," "defeat the monster," or anything. They get killed--not really "one by one," but they get it in the end. Indeed, the "main main character" does things that don't make sense unless one assumes that he really doesn't know what's going on. (Of course, if he didn't do those things, less of a movie. I understand that.)

Oh, and there are a couple of scenes shot in ways that the "in the moment" handheld camera dude wouldn't shoot--mainly framing shots, not that important.

So just a group of [privileged young New Yorkers], "in the moment," the moment of the Apocalypse. It's short--you couldn't sustain this for that long, although the movie doesn't even get close to the line, IMO. Maybe they show a bit too much of the monster. It could have been left to the imagination a bit more.

I won't write too many SPOILERS. I liked the small monsters--a nice touch. And what was with the "bite"? As some of you know, I hate a movie that explains too much. And this one explained nothing.

Cold Frontin'

It's not too cold to exercise. This isn't a surprise to me, a veteran of running through several Cleveland winters. Unless you have certain forms of asthma, cold air doesn't damage your lungs--indeed, it isn't cold air that hurts, anyway, but dry air--despite what hundreds--literally--of people have told me over the years. Trust me, if cold air damaged your lungs, that 20-miler in the blizzard back in 2001 would have killed me. (The NPS would have found my body after the snow melted, I guess.)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Shaking in Shaker?

Cleveland's most famous suburb makes the Times today. Link. But not in a good way. Shaker Heights, like many of the nation's inner ring suburbs, has been under pressure for a long time now. With the housing crisis, it's likely to go under--despite the valiant efforts of its biracial population. The other "heights" are likely to go, as well. But I'm curious to hear what Paul thinks.

It's Snowing Outside

The Metro area is under a "snow emergency." It is snowing. But it's (a balmy) 34 degrees, no snow is sticking to roadways yet, and they're predicting rain for later. Hmmm. I'm personally downgrading this to a "snow event."

Update: It's sticking to the streets now. But there's still the issue of rain later.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Culture Shock

Some comments I've heard at the grocery store, around town, in my first week back in the US:

1. "The poor [in the US] who can't afford health insurance have better medical coverage than those with some money."

2. "The muslims want to destroy us and take over the world."

3. "I like Obama as a person, but I would never vote for him."

4. "The looming recession doesn't bother me -- I've already lived a full life. Besides, the Lord will return soon."

5. "We need to cut the deficit, but we can't cut military spending because there are too many threats out there."

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Books for 2008

Keeping up with my quest to read a book a week, here's an update on 2008. The first book for 2008 was The Overlook by Michael Connelly. As I've said before, I am a big fan of the Harry Bosch series, and this is the last in that line. Connelly originally wrote this one as a magazine serial, and it's a little more bare-bones than the typical Bosch novel. But it's a compressed story, too--taking place over just 12 hours. Mixes together the stuff of noir--murder, a femme fatale, etc.--with contemporary issues (terrorism). A good, if quick, read.

On the work trip, I read The Ruins by Scott Smith. Smith wrote the novel (and screenplay) for A Simple Plan, which I liked (the movie). This is his second book, a psychological horror/suspense novel about tourists in Mexico. If you like this sort of thing (horror novels), it's pretty good. Smith writes the novel in an interesting way, telling the story from the points of view of four different characters, delving into each character's fears, hopes, etc. And the "creeping terror" in the novel is more a force of nature than anything else--although there's an interesting element there, too, with Mayans. The novel doesn't explain too much--the characters never quite know what's going on, until it's much too late. To be honest, I found this one hard to put down. So I guess that's an endorsement.

I see that they're making a movie version. Reading the novel, I thought to myself--I wonder how long before they make the movie version. The answer was, they already had.

Two weeks in, two books down. This year I resolve to actually record what it is I'm reading.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Beware the Cloud City

Now that the Ice Planet Hoth has been blasted to bits by Imperial Stormtroopers, the Rebel Alliance is in full retreat. As they flee to the rendezvous point, maybe Obama can make a pit stop on Dagobah and learn the ways of the Force. (Who is Yoda in this analogy? Bobby Kennedy?)

But the crew aboard the Millenium Falcon should remember--the Empire beats them to Las Vegas, er, the Cloud City.

I have a bad feeling about this.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Obligatory Football Analogy

It's all matchups, folks. Whether one team wins the championship depends on who they have to play and how well that team matches up. It's the same in politics.

Objectively, Obama is a weak candidate on paper. Against a truly appealing Democrat with (actual) experience and (actual) supporters, he'd be an also-ran, if he'd even decided to run. But against HRC, he can run up the score. The reason: HRC doesn't have a defense against the politics of hope, compellingly presented. She can't play that kind of game. (Think U of M against App State's or Oregon's spread offense.)

On the GOP side, I don't know. Romney (in his current incarnation) doesn't matchup well against McCain, in NH. But elsewhere, McCain can't play in states where the Independent vote isn't the key. If a loss in NH effectively ends the Romney campaign (its viability, anyway), then who does McCain matchup against?

The interesting matchup in a Republican primary, without Independents (or at least so many) is McCain versus Huckabee. Neither is an orthodox GOPper.

In the general . . . I think Obama matches up well against most GOP candidates. More thoughts on that, if and when it happens.

All Over But the Cryin'. Oh, Wait. . . .

HRC seems to have gotten both MSM skewering and blogger sympathy after she broke down in tears today. For my part, I'm less bothered that she cried than why she cried. She didn't get emotional about the Iraq War, or endless tax cuts for the super-rich, or the collapse of rule of law under Bush. She cried because she thought she might lose the nomination, prompting her to whine that Barack Obama will take our nation "backwards." Sheesh. How narcissistic can you get!?

These two agree on almost every singe policy position. They're both relative newcomers to elected office. Yet the mere thought that we as a nation might be denied her extra special and oh so personal political mojo causes her to lose it and weep for our stupidity. Not a shining moment. I think she'll lose big tomorrow, and the nomination too. But if somehow she wins, the tears will get credit, and we're the ones who will look pathetic.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Who Won?

OK, here's the question Frances asked tonite, and I think it's a good one. If you were a GOP primary voter, which of those five candidates in the Fox forum would you vote for? It's easy to eliminate Thompson (who was in rare grumpy old man form tonite, no?). But among the remaining four: Rudy, Huckabee, Romney, McCain?

It's a tough one. But the Fox (out of) focus group thought that Romney won the debate tonite. I didn't see that, but I'm not a NH GOP primary voter. Did anyone else see it that way?

Btw, have you ever heard a debate less relevant to actual public policy? Was there even a health-care question? An education question? An economy (and/or jobs) question? How much time was spent on tax cuts? One would think that illegal immigration was the single most pressing issue of our time, and that everything else is just dandy. There wasn't even an Iraq question, was there? What did they spend 90 minutes talking about? Whether A raised taxes more than B, and whether C supports "amnesty."

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Charlie Gibson is an Idiot and Other Observations

Best moment of the Dem debate: Charlie Gibson, bemoaning the prospective repeal of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, says "Take two married professors here at St. Anselm College and they're making $200,000 a year." The audience laughed uproariously. Methinks he's been listening to David Horowitz's circuit speech too much.

Aside from that, Gibson seems to have a big boner for George Bush. He looooves the Iraq War, which, apparently, we're now winning decisively.

One other note: HRC got seriously pissed off responding to Edwards on whether she's an agent of "change." Her argument won on the merits but I thought it looked awful. Interesting to see JE going after HRC, trying to knock her out of the race.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Obligatory Star Wars Analogy

Remember what happened after the plucky Rebel Alliance, on the strength of all those young and first-time voters, blew up the Death Star? Do you? Yes, it was called The Empire Strikes Back. Maybe New Hampshire isn't (quite) the Ice Planet Hoth, but my guess is that the Clinton Empire will attack Obama in the Granite State like AT-AT walkers firing on those power generators.

The Ewoks ain't dancing yet, folks.

The big questions: (1) how traceable to the Clintons will these attacks be? and (2) what will the substance of the attacks be?

(1) My guess is that the attacks will have to come from the Big Dog himself. HRC herself has to be careful--they've spent all that time trying to humanize her, after all. The attempts to attack through surrogates have been, mostly, non-starters.

(2) How to attack? The experience issue has been a bomb for the Clintons, mainly because few people actually buy that being First Lady is meaningful experience. (My guess.) The "he's a Muslim" attack--which I heard some of, in Michigan, for the holidays, btw--can't come from the campaign. Unelectable? That won't fly, will it?

I'm genuinely curious to see what happens next.

Btw, did Howard Dean lay the groundwork for last night's Obama victory? Dean failed, of course, in mobilizing young and first-time voters, and it looks like Obama succeeded where Dean failed (like Luke succeeded where Anakin failed). But did the Obama campaign learn from the failures of the Dean campaign? That's something I wish an enterprising journo would pursue.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

O! Bama

OK, I'm pretty damned happy about how Iowa went tonight. I've long been in the ABH camp (anybody but ____), and early last summer I put away my doubts concerning Obama's lame bipartisanship rag to jump on the bandwagon. Some credit to Chicago DK for helping convince me of BO's skills and gravitas. Even if I was too much of a pessimist to have predicted it, an Obama win coupled with a Hillary bronze was my dream scenario. And Obama's speech was phenomenal. If he can maintain this tone and even a fraction of this intensity, it will be a good year for the Democrats.

Some other observations:
1) Edwards's speech was a triple with no one on base and the pitcher on deck. It reminded me of why I liked him and why I could support him enthusiastically were he the nominee. But it probably won't be enough for him to crack the headlines, given the Obama and Huck narratives that will consume all the oxygen. The CNN spin: didn't he need to WIN Iowa?

2) HRC's speech was also good, if less noteworthy. I'm not sure how she turns it around for New Hampshire without some extraordinary event. Dems don't like "inevitable" frontrunners. Never have. And the press loves the "failing favorite" story. They've been getting it ready for months. Not fair, but she knew the game and didn't anticipate. She was due for a stumble. Plus, women voted more for Obama. Ouch. (No surprise--the sisterhood has never walked the walk.)

3) The GOP race was definitely the undercard. Much lower turnout than the Dems, despite the competitive race, and the Huck win--a great story--will be buried well behind Obama's. His speech was nice, but lacked the urgency on the Dem side. In an ordinary year, that speech would have shone. But not this time. His presence seemed small.

4) Romney got humiliated. Whew. I find him the most personally distasteful of all the major Publies, but I think he's electable. Maybe not as much as Saint John. But I'd still rather see the Dem run against a McCain or a Huck, just to reduce the smarm factor this year. I cringe at the thought of seeing Mitt on TV every day for the next ten months. I still think he's the nomination favorite, however.

5) Did any of the announcers tonight even mention Rudy or Paul? Paul had a pretty good finish at 10% and couldn't even get onto the pie charts. I want Paul to remain in contention as long as possible because (a) he's a constant burr to the GOP on the war, and (b) his nuttiness entertains me--in 2008 the only "sane" man in the GOP is a certified loon.

6) Obama needs to ditch the bearded beret guy from the speech backdrop. America may be ready for a black president, but we're not ready for that guy.

Multi-State Christmas Rampage

Not locked in the "War Against Christmas" wing of Gitmo, folks. Instead, Frances and I have been on a multi-state Christmas rampage, spreading Christmas cheer from (Gulf) coast to the Great Lakes, if not, technically, coast-to-coast. And far from "War Against Christmas," these unbelievers proudly celebrate the birth of Christ! And not just by doing our patriotic duty to spend, spend, SPEND. We even went to church--and attended the children's Christmas pageant. Beat that, Christophiles!

(Christmas pageant aside: If the young fella singing "Silent Night" starts on the wrong beat, you should settle in for an ol'-fashioned butchering of that old chestnut.)

Favorite gifts? My momma got me a Browns jersey--an authentic one (#10!), not some cheap replica thing. (Let's all hope this Brady Quinn experiment works out, or I might not be able to wear it, which would be a shame.) And an iPod Shuffle. Yeehaw. And you?

(I know, I know, Christ is the greatest gift of all. But G-d didn't get that just for you, now, did he? I mean, Christ is sort-of a non-excludable public good.)

(Oh, and don't say love. That's for losers.)

New Years resolutions? Mine is to fight an existential war against stupidity. Hey, it's us, or them. No in-between. No fence to sit on. Which side are you on? (Lookin' at you, readers.)

Fa La La La Lang

A belated Merry Christmas from the Langalina, pictured here in various states of holiday cheer. She enjoyed spending her vacation pulling on electrical cords, climbing stairs, chasing cats, entertaining the world's smallest Santa (her cousin Hal @ 5 1/2 months), and proudly strutting her stuff. She first walked almost two months ago but then decided it wasn't all that fun and went back to mostly crawling. That ended in South Carolina, where she decided she would practice her best Frankenstein march in pursuit of new toys, her grand-pop's feet, and yummy yummy cat food.

Hope all your holidays were similarly joyous, and that Bill O'Reilly wasn't peering through your windows policing for creches and Christmas trees. Until I see new posts from them, I'll fear that #3 and Frances have been thrown in Guantanamo Bay's "War on Christmas" wing. Happy Holidays, Y'alls!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Ghost of Predictions Past

On the eve of Iowa, why not link to a great post from ten months ago? #3 speculates on Rudy invincibility and Newt possibility, Frances dreams of a mysterious GOP outsider (Huck?), Curat thinks the Romney name smells sweet, and I wonder about a Brownback dark horse run to the right (oops) and a "draft Jeb!" juggernaut (double oops). In my defense, I also said I thought Saint John was the man to beat--a prediction that, miraculously, looks still in play. Odds go to Curat, however. Props. We'll see how those bets pay out in another couple of weeks.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Old Nine Farts

Speaking of Ted Olson, I just finished reading Jeffrey Toobin's The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court. Its major revelations--that Souter weeps when he thinks about Bush v. Gore, that O'Connor came to despise Bush for his lawlessness and extremism and regrets having installed him in the White House, that John Roberts is less a human being than a Federalist Society cyborg, etc.--got loads of press when the book came out a few months back.

Toobin's attention to legal detail and flair for high drama make the book a great read. His key argument, that rigid ideology has overtaken all other criteria in both the selection of justices and the creation of court majorities, is hard to deny, as is his demonstration that such forces are much stronger on the court's right than its "left" (such as it is). Toobin goes out of his way to present sympathetic and nuanced portraits of each justice, even while exposing their warts. Clarence Thomas, destined to go down as one of the most pathetic and loathsome justices in history, a man consumed by rage, vengeance, and victimization while occupying one of the world's best jobs--a job for which he was at best minimally qualified--gets the common man hero treatment. He's apparently keepin' it real by taking his RV for sleep-overs to Wal-Mart while following NASCAR. (Paraphrase: "Golly, how lucky to be surrounded by all my whitest brothers.") He's nice to janitors and dogs. Were Toobin writing an expose on the power structures of Oz, I suspect he'd compliment the Wicked Witch of the East on her shoes and the Witch of the West on her fondness for exotic animals. Still, his analysis of Thomas as a man driven by personal grievance rather than by reasoned philosophy is calmly devastating.

The central portraits in the book are O'Connor's and Kennedy's, as they should be. The former comes off much better than the latter. Sandy may be a country club dame policing the aesthetics of policy, but at least she's not a finger-to-the-wind flake enamored of his own grandiose cosmic importance. For me, some of the lesser portraits may have been the most interesting: Jay Sekulow, Ted Olson, and especially Stephen Breyer, who is as close to a hero as this story can get.

Toobin ends on an apocalyptic note. The Court, he believes, is headed into the dark night of hard right ideology. If there is any minor consolation, it is that, as awful as Sam Alito is, Toobin makes a strong case that both Al Gonzalez and Harriet Miers would have been even worse (the wingnuts were wrong to see them as squishy "moderates"). Happy New Year!!

Beavis and Bhutto

I've been waiting patiently for Tekne at Second Americano to weigh in on the unpleasantness in Pakistan. Still no luck. Absent her expertise, I'll just have to blindly bloviate. Nothing new about that. And it certainly won't disqualify me from writing a column at the NYT. So here goes.

Pervez did it. Or, let's just say he was "involved." No evidence. Just a gut feeling. The method of assassination, the poor security, the proximity to elections, the government lies about exactly how she died--it all looks bad for the General. At the very least, he got a heads up about an ISI plot and happily averted his eyes.

Maybe he even called Bush to get a green light and some advice on how to handle the post-assassination media blitz. Has anyone seen Ted Olson lately?