OK, so yeah, I'm interested in the Supreme Court. It affects all our lives more than many of us realize, so, yes ... one more post on it!
With the end of the term we get all the statistical analyses of the Court's decisions for the year. One that usually gets a lot of attention is which Federal Circuits the Court affirms the most, and which they reverse the most (of course most cases are reversals, the Court wouldn't take them otherwise). This year the Circuit Court affirmed at the highest rate was the 4th Circuit (the Eastern court that is generally regarded as the most conservative in the country).
Another statistic that is often widely followed is which justices voted together the most often. Most of the pairs at the top of the list this year fit together in ways that you would likely expect given that the Court is often portrayed as a 5-4 "conservative"/"liberal" court with a split matching the votes in Bush v. Gore. However, I think it's pretty notable that O'Connor and Breyer voted together 70% of the time. By comparison, Scalia and Thomas voted together 73% of the time. More and more it's looking like Breyer is going to fill O'Connor's pivotal shoes. To a certain degree, he already does.
At least he is according to this analysis by Eugene Volokh. Other analyses of the views of members of the Court have shown that to be true as well. Another interesting thing (though not something that's particularly surprising) about Volokh's analysis is that the "pragmatists" on the Court are less likely to respect free speech rights than the "formalists". Who does Volokh find is the least protective of free speech rights? Justice Breyer.
Is there any other way to describe this analysis of Justice Thomas by Jack Balkin?
"Clarence Thomas shows, once again, that he has no conception of what constitutional freedom means. Thomas swallows the Administration's strongest claims hook line and sinker. If the Executive determines that an American citizen is an enemy combatant, that is all the process that is due. Courts have nothing to say. This is an outrageous position for a Justice who purports to defend the American Constitution. Thomas's opinion shows how easily the theory of the "Unitary Executive" so much beloved by legal conservatives can be turned into a justification for authoritarianism. Because the Executive needs to be energetic, act in secrecy, and with dispatch, power to make decisions about war and foreign affairs must rest in a single hand. Because it must rest in a single hand, there can be no oversight by the judiciary. "Judicial interference in these domains destroys the purpose of vesting primary responsibility in a unitary Executive." That means that the Executive can simply round up whoever it likes, declare them an enemy combatant, and hold them indefinitely. Guaranteeing rights to be heard, present evidence, and consult with counsel will interfere with the ability of the Executive to interrogate abuse and torture detainees. Although Thomas is often praised for being independent-minded, when it comes to assertions of executive power-- and particularly executive power to mistreat prisoners-- he is the most syncophantic of the Justices. He has never seen an arbitrary executive action he didn't like. There is an authoritarian strain in his opinions that is truly frightening."
In the elections held by our neighbors to the North yesterday, my personal favorite for the leadership of the Conservative party earlier this year managed to eke out a victory in the riding she was contesting in Ontario.
Another important point about the impact of the make-up of the Supreme Court is raised by Stuart Benjamin here. One can quibble about how firmly each of the justices fits into his classifications of them as "pragmatists" or "formalists" but I think it's clear that like the "liberal"/"conservative" divide, this split explains a lot of the variation in their votes. It also points to a key reason why Justice Breyer or Justice Kennedy is likely to slip into the pivotal role on the Court when Justice O'Connor retires.
Eugene Volokh challenges the view that Scalia and Thomas are identical ideological twins here. I'd say he's right. Of course they vote the same way much of the time. The Court is unanimous much of the time, and when it's not it's likely to break into factions that broadly match the ideologies of the elites who appointed particular justices. But as Hamdi showed yesterday, and the cyberporn case showed today, these two do disagree on matters of considerable importance.
So over the last two nights I’ve rented two movies set in the America of a few decades ago, both dealing with characters struggling with whether or not they want to be adults. Neither was brilliant, but both were solid and had their moments. Of the two I preferred A Walk on the Moon. Of course I do have a long-standing fondness for Diane Lane. But beyond that, it conveyed a vivid depiction of a certain type of family and summer lifestyle in 1969. It also had a terrific turn by Liev Schreiber who walks away with the movie’s acting laurels in his role as Lane’s husband. As to The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys … it was fine. Nothing great, nothing awful. If you think it’s the kind of thing you’d like, you probably will. Generally, it’s fine. Though if anyone wishes to explain the appeal of Jenna Malone to me, please feel free. She’s one ingenue of the moment I just don’t get. Plain, and she stands there except when she over-emotes in an arched yet all-American Helen Hunt style. Is she just thriving off Donnie Darko’s (deserved) cool reputation? Oh, though if you’re thinking of renting TDLOAB because you think you might enjoy a Kieran Culkin movie, I’d like to turn your attention to Igby Goes Down. Now that was a great little movie.Posted by armand at 10:34 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
In his review of Reagan in the June 28 issue of The New Yorker Edmund Morris had a few lines that sounded strangely familiar. “Ronald Reagan was not an initiator; he never called a meeting or drafted a new policy or hired or fired, unless somebody suggested it.” Am I the only person who thinks this sounds just like what Condi Rice (wrongly) thinks her job is? It sounds spot on to me. Of course it also sounds a bit like W as well. But for a real description of Bush, errr, Reagan, check this out: “Reagan’s most regrettable characteristic in later years was his incuriosity, compounded, as it was, by a refusal to be budged from any shibboleth that suited him.” Spooky, no? Is there something in the job description for Republicans who want to live at 1600 Pennsylvania (or something in their primary system and constituencies) that requires absolute cognitive consistency?
The National Journal has the following quotation from Grover Norquist relating to his crusade to put Reagan’s face on the $10 bill: “As a board member of the NRA, I can … tell you that [Alexander Hamilton] was a bad shot.” Uh-huh. I fail to see what’s so funny about a man being murdered. And maybe I’m getting extra-patriotic with the 4th right around the corner, or maybe I’m a little too security conscious post 9/11, or maybe I haven’t yet forgiven the bombastic, loathsome scum that I think do bear some responsibility for the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, but should we really be making jokes about murdered political leaders part of the civic discourse, even on symbolic matters?
On a purely substantive note, I still think that putting Ronald “I love deficits!” Reagan on currency is a truly moronic concept. And that he should displace Hamilton of all people … that’s a proposal that should laughed back under whatever rock it escaped from.
So a number of blogs have posted about the president's June 24 interview with an Irish journalist. All the postings I have seen so far have rightly criticized the response from the White House to this interview, particularly given the fact that the White House had the questions in advance. That practice is completely ridiculous -- I mean must we throw journalistic standards completely out the window and insist on rules that'll allow Washington to be run (probably into the ground) by 3rd graders? And the president channeling Ross Perot (I gave up trying to count the number of times he said "let me finish" -- it was lots and lots) was just embarrassing. Apparently the man's fear of follow-up questions knows no bounds. It seems Team Bush will not be satsified until they ban all media that doesn't approach their officials on bended knee (and feel free to read as much as you like into "on bended knee").
Now all that is bad enough, and shows yet again that this administration is wildly insulated and arrogant, and has little interest in seriously communicating with the people at large. But just as bad, maybe even worse, are the substantive beliefs about the nature of the world that our would-be emperor has come to believe while he's cloistered away with his minions and hagiographers. In the interview he calls Pakistan a democracy. HUH?!?!?!?!? Referring to Afghanistan as an emerging democracy, well, that won't cause me to choke. It's looking at the world through rose-colored glasses that are 80-feet thick, but I can see him saying it. But by what bizarro-world rules of government is Pakistan a democracy? As ever, the man is completely out of touch, insulated and incurious. And apparently he now wants the world to emulate a military dictatorship. But I suppose given Gitmo, Ashcroft, Abu Ghraib and the PATRIOT Act that really shouldn't come as a surprise.
Saw a really weird movie last night. Not good, not bad...just weird. Ozark Savage caught my eye at the video store. Not really sure why. The director must have had a budget that just covered film, pizza and beer (and probably a illegal substances, too). Oh, and guns. Lots of guns. I found a review that described it as Jackie Chan meets John Woo meets Tarantino, and the only thing I'd add to that is you need to throw in some American Redneck. The plot was something about an ancient chinese coin (if you had it you owned Hong Kong) and a wizard battling a minion of the devil. This is completely irrelevant. What the movie is about, is Ozark wandering about, shooting people with style, getting shot with style, and generally cracking wise about life. All done in the style of an old detective movie shot on cheap film in modern San Diego. The thing is, it's better than it sounds. It tried to hard to be a cult film, but it had more heart than, say Payback (John Woo - go back to Hong Kong!). If you see it somewhere (cheap), it's worth a rent if you like these kind of things.
OK, so it's a huge day in terms of Supreme Court opinions. I'm sure I'll post more on these over the next week, but my first reaction is more a style point than a substantive point. O'Connor dissented from the bench on Blakely. How often does that happen (especially since she hardly ever has to dissent, period)? As to the nature of that opinion, I can't wait to get a look at it in light of Judge Young's ruling in Green. But I haven't read over it yet so I won't say much more it on at the moment beyond noting that if it's making O'Connor really mad that's probably a good thing. It would seem to point to the Court becoming more reluctant to approve of the Sentencing Guidelines as currently constructed.
Or at least he does by the standard of his own inane and dangerous rhetoric on this issue since he came to power. I mean really. That no one has raised this issue more prominently -- that he's been completely ineffective and done little more than pouted while an "Axis of Evil" state has actively pursued a nuclear weapons program -- shows a shocking lack of concern for national security by both politicians and the press.
And apparently he knows nothing about them. Here's a hint to supposedly serious news publications. If you're going to have someone write would-be pithy snapshots of the swing states, how about having someone who has a clue about them write them. It's just a thought. I mean if Saletan thinks that Morgantown is socially conservative as West Virginia towns go, or that Charles Town is representative of West Viginia ... well, he isn't even in the same room as the first vague clue he's hoping to find.
Which isn't to say that his overall point is inaccurate. But he should just say what he has to say and stop pretending that he's learned anything from his visit to middle America.
I don't think this is illegal. But I definitely think it's sleazy and reeks of "old times there are not forgotten".
In Massachusetts we have another federal judge taking on the federal sentencing guidelines. In fact, he is finding them unconstitutional. You can read his lengthy opinion here. I don't know that I'll ever make it all the way through it, but what I have read is interesting. Sadly, I doubt it will lead to much change in the system.
Update: Well, having read the whole thing last night, it's really quite interesting. It'll be interesting to see what the First Circuit does with it.
OK, Atrios has already pointed this out. And yeah, usually there's nothing as mind-numbingly predictable and vacuous in all of television as a Newshour discussion with their historians (And what's with the constant appearances of Beschloss and Smith? Doesn't Ms. Ifill know that there are other historians in the world?). But really, having a roundtable discussion about a book that no one on the panel has read? Now that's journalism with high standards.
OK, so Paul Krugman's latest column referenced what has to be one of the biggest domestic terrorism arrests ever. But where was the coverage of this last year? Am I the only person out there who missed this story ? And how is that possible given the media's supposed obsession with terrorism and homeland security?
OK, since earlier I was wondering what the vice president was doing ordering an airliner to be shot down, I suppose I should mention the following from Newsweek:
"NEWSWEEK has learned that some on the commission staff were, in fact, highly skeptical of the vice president's account and made their views clearer in an earlier draft of their staff report. According to one knowledgeable source, some staffers 'flat out didn't believe the call ever took place.' "When the early draft conveying that skepticism was circulated to the administration, it provoked an angry reaction. In a letter from White House lawyers last Tuesday and a series of phone calls, the White House vigorously lobbied the commission to change the language in its report. 'We didn't think it was written in a way that clearly reflected the accounting the president and vice president had given to the commission,' White House spokesman Dan Bartlett told NEWSWEEK. "Ultimately the chairman and vice chair of the commission, former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean and former representative Lee Hamilton -- both of whom have sought mightily to appear nonpartisan -- agreed to remove some of the offending language. The report 'was watered down,' groused one staffer."
Interesting information. But this raises a much bigger question. How much of the language in the 9/11 Commission reports is going to be what they think, and how much is going to be "watered down".
Well that was interesting. In a no-confidnce vote in the Knesset today Ariel Sharon's government won, surviving with a vote of 55-50. What made it unexpectedly close is that Labor backed away from its promise to provide Sharon with a "safety net" because the no-confidence motion dealt with his government's economic program. Apparently Labor will only provide him with such a safety net (while they are out of the government) on no-confidence votes dealing with the Gaza pullout plan.
In another interesting turn a senior Labor MK said that if they were "forced" to join the government in order to keep the Gaza plan on track Labor would demand the Treasury portfolio. That would obviously require Finance Minsiter Netanyahu to either accept a demotion or leave the cabinet. And the long-term implications of that could be ... interesting.
I skimmed Henry Nau's At Home Abroad: Identity and Power in American Foreign Policy over the weekend. Nau is basically arguing that too often studies of foreign relations give a special place to the influence of material power without considering the effect of identity on these relationships. This is not a new argument, but it is an important one and Nau adds something to this literature. Readers interested in this topic might find some of his typologies useful, particularly those related to how the structure of the international system changes depending upon both the distribution of power and the level of shared identity. Nau argues that anarchy is only the norm in international relations when the system features divergent identities but a roughly equal balance of material power.
Yes, horse racing really does continue after the Belmont Stakes. For those of you with any interest in it, it looks like we may be seeing the rise of a new female champion. Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year who has won the Eclipse award for top older female horse the last two years, was soundly beaten in the Ogden Phipps Handicapp yesterday afternoon at Belmont Park. Sightseek was the winner. 2002 Two-Year-Old champion Storm Flag Flying placed. It looks like Azeri's domination of this division may be coming to an end. There will be a real competition to see who takes away this year's Eclipse award.
Shameless + Audacious = Senate Republicans. How else can you explain them voting down an amendment aimed at stiffening penalites for war profiteering and fraud. Republicans, tough on crime, unless the criminals work for Halliburton.
So it looks like the UK and its allies have successfully blocked Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt from winning the presidency of the EU Commission. Does anyone have any insights into who will succeed Romano Prodi? From what I've read it look like the prime minister of Luxembourg can have the job (even though 2 of the last 4 commission presidents have been from tiny Luxembourg), but that he doesn't want it. So if he holds to that opinion, who will rise instead? At the moment I'd guess Portugal's Antonio Vitorino, though who knows, maybe this could be how Joschka Fischer ends his days in politics.
This is a great post. Go read it if you want to understand just how harrowing the Office of Legal Counsel's Torture Memo (written by Judge Jay Bybee) really is. Publius does a superb job of working through the legalese and getting to the terrifying heart of what people in high office were officially recommending. That people who purport to love freedom and what America stands for would make these kinds of arguments is truly grotesque. And that they are still in high office is sickening.
Gail Sheehy has been writing some great pieces on what really happened on the morning of 9/11, and the response to it, in the New York Observor. From the latest one we get this sad timeline, a timeline that makes clear that at least some of the planes -- certainly Flight 93 -- should never have gotten into the air that morning.
But Flight 11 had missed its first mark at 8:13 a.m., when, shortly after controllers asked the pilot to climb to 35,000 feet, the transponder stopped transmitting the electronic signal that identifies exact location and altitude. Air traffic manager Glenn Michael later said, "We considered it at that time to be a possible hijacking."
At 8:14 a.m., F.A.A. flight controllers in Boston began hearing an extraordinary radio transmission from the cockpit of Flight 11 that should have set off alarm bells. Before their F.A.A. superiors forbade them to talk to anyone, two of the controllers told the Christian Science Monitor on Sept. 11 that the captain of Flight 11, John Ogonowski, was surreptitiously triggering a "push-to-talk" button on the aircraft’s yoke most of the way to New York. When controllers picked up the voices of men speaking in Arabic and heavily accented English, they knew something was terribly wrong. More than one F.A.A. controller heard an ominous statement by a terrorist in the background saying, "We have more planes. We have other planes."
Apparently, none of this crucial information was transmitted to other American pilots already airborne—notably Flight 77 out of Dulles, which took off at 8:20 a.m. only to be redirected to its target, the Pentagon—or to other airlines with planes in harm’s way: United’s Flight 173, which took off at 8:14 a.m. from Boston, or United’s Flight 93, whose "wheels-up" was recorded at 8:42 a.m.
It's worth reading the whole thing if you want to begin to understand some of the preventable negligence that occurred that day.
So I have 2 questions on this topic. One, why was it the Vice President and not the President who authorized the shooting down of Flight 93? Secondly, in what circumstances should this be the norm? I'm skeptical of creating hard rules on the matter, but given that an airliner may very well be hijacked in the future shouldn't we have more of a national discussion about when it is or is not appropriate to blow it out of the sky? Personally, I think the government should be extremely reluctant to do such a thing. But from a lot of the reporting I've seen on the matter it seems that much of the media thinks the government will not be doing its job in an age of terrorism if a plane is not immediately shot down after a commercial pilot loses control of an aircraft.
You should really go check out Politics1. Scroll down the front page to the story "Return to the Moon". This is just outrageous. Members of Congress supporting Sun Myung Moon is bad enough. But some of them are practically cavorting with him. These politicians (including Danny Davis and Curt Weldon) should really be held accountable for this and forced to explain their actions. If Rev. Moon is their kind of hero, do we really want these guys in Congress?
Big government can save us from shabby slobs! Really though, if you're in need of a chuckle, this Matt Yglesias post is pretty cute.
Speaking of polling, Mother Jones just released a new poll. Yes, it's Mother Jones, but poll was a real national sample and seems to represent a real attempt to find valid results (only 42% of the sample voted for Al Gore, while 50% voted for GWB - this would almost argue for skewing the results in favor of Bush, since the actual numbers in 2000 should be something like 51/49 for Gore over Bush).
The poll results are interesting. I'll only make a general comment: something like two-thirds of those polled think the country is heading in the wrong direction, but in a vote between Kerry and Bush it's a dead heat. Unless I can't do math, that means one in six voters thinks the country is going badly, but is voting for Bush (presumably the man most people hold responsible for all the badness). What I'd really like to see is a poll devoted to those people. Who are they? How do they think? To whom do they attribute the problems, and what do they want as solutions? Are they idiots, or do they have a real logic to why they believe the way they do and will continue to vote for Bush? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
In case you haven't seen it, the Coalition Provisional Authority (you know, us) did a poll of Iraqis rating the popularity of various Iraqi political leaders. The most popular individual was Shiite Grand Ayathollah Ali Sistani who had the support of 70% of Iraqis. Who was the second most popular leader in the country? Muqtada al-Sadr, a man that U.S. forces have been in open combat with for months. That such an individual has the support of 67% of Iraqis can't be a good sign. Nor can the fact that Iyad Allawi, the new prime minister, has the support of just 23% of the population.
Jay Bybee was perhaps my least favorite Bush II appointee to a federal circuit court (though yes, it is hard to pick just one) even before it was revealed that he wrote the Justice Department’s “torture memo” arguing that the president basically has the powers of a totalitarian monster, including the power to break U.S. law and order torture (and remember that in the memo Bybee considers only a very few particularly heinous acts to be torture). This is just one more thing to add to a lengthy list of actions by Judge Bybee that show a frightening lack of concern for basic human rights and the liberty of average Americans. With that in mind I would like to take a moment to thank the 19 senators (all Democrats) who voted against his nomination to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003: Barbara Boxer, Robert Byrd, Hillary Clinton, Jon Corzine, Mark Dayton, Dick Durbin, Russ Feingold, Dianne Feinstein, Tom Harkin, Dan Inouye, Edward Kennedy, Frank Lautenberg, Carl Levin, Barbara Mikulski, Patty Murray, Jack Reed, Paul Sarbanes, Debbie Stabenow and Ron Wyden. Sadly the president and 74 senators backed him, so he now serves on that influential body. But at least some of our public servants are insisting that our judges respect liberty, the Bill of Rights and American law.
It takes a lot to stun me. A hell of a lot. But this ... seems like I just stepped out of a time machine or into a totally different universe (note that I did not use the word surreal -- can we all agree that word is used far too often lately?). In his concurrence in the Newdow case yesterday Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the Establishment Clause should not apply to the states. Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you to a man who seems comfortable remaking the United States in the image of Puritan New England or Habsburg Spain or ... modern-day Iran? Please remember to vote for John Kerry in November if you don't want modern-day Torquemadas on the Supreme Court. I think I'll be shaking my head over this all day long.
Elections are frequently about "swing" voters. That seems to be more true than ever this year as according to the polls those who favor and oppose the president seem to be fervently holding to their positions. The millions upon millions that are going to be spent appear likely to be focused at a tiny slice of the electorate. My question is -- why is this the case? True, I'm no fan of the president so I might be missing something. But is there ANYTHING that could cause the president's popularity with Republicans to fall? Right now his numbers with his "base" are better than Reagan's were, even in light of severe concerns in many quarters about issues such as Iraq. I suppose this is why I am keeping my eye on the effect of Diplomats and Commanders for Change. It strikes me that nothing is going to lower his support in his base constituency until other Republicans start talking more openly about the failures of his policies (and yes, I'm discounting the Republicans he's fired for daring to criticize him). This organization may open a door that will allow Republicans to honestly and constructively criticize the president. And that could, in turn, cause his support among Republicans to finally begin to wane.
The Slacktivist has an interesting post about the role of real policy debates (as opposed to just partisan bickering/warfare) in present American politics. The Slacktivist's position is that policy debates have two real goals: finding a good solution to a real societal problem (increasing the general welfare), or using the policy process to gain more political power for your side (welfare gains are irrelevant). He notes that our present president is of the latter camp. This article partially echos a Washington Monthly piece from a few months back.
I have little more to add. The two articles sum up what others have noted: this administration has little patience for real policy debates. Everyone is either driven to win at any cost (Rove and the re-election) or over-committed to an ideological position (the neo-cons and Iraq) that an actual debate over the costs, benefits and unintended consequences of any particular policy are immediately shown the door. The fact that this is the rule, rather than the exception, in this administration is just mind-boggling. Real, reasoned debate over policy is essential to any democracy, and certainly essential in this dumbed-down political system we use. Willfully ignoring (or suppressing) policy debates is incompetence, and that should lead to people being fired (at least, that's what's supposed to happen in the real world).
At least for me, this is the key issue that turned me away from this administration. I am ideologically closer to the republican party than the democratic one, but the relentless ignorance and lack of interest in exploring the consequences of this adminstration's actions stuns me. Fine, be ideological, but if the round peg won't fit in the square hole, don't keep smashing it with a hammer again and again and again and again. Either find the right hole for that peg (find a new problem that your solution works for) or find a new peg for that hole (find a different solution to solve that problem). This seems so obvious that it scarcely seems worth mentioning, but it seems missing to this president and administration. There were plenty of problems back in January of 2001. The lack of reasoned policy debate has created new ones (Iraq, budget, "no child left behind", civil liberties - I could go on) and let old ones fester (social security, terrorism, environment, etc). Hence, ignoring policy in favor of ideology has made things worse. Thus, having never voted democrat for president ever, I gladly will go off in November and do so. I prefer solutions that are not ideological to ideologies that don't solve problems.
Now I'm not going to hold my breath for Fox "News" to start seriously reconsidering the level of its allegiance on the administration, but it will be interesting to see if the "Diplomats and Commanders for Change" group can affect the public dialogue and perceptions about President Bush's (mis)handling of foreign policy. This bipartisan group of 26 individuals with long, distinguished resumes on foreign policy and national security issues includes many people who served prominently in Republican administrations (for example, Jack Matlock, Jospeh Hoar, Phyllis Oakley and Nick Veliotes) who have come together to question the president's leadership and call for his replacement. I don't expect this will initially be a huge story. It's not the kind of thing that interests the American media (policy wonks? ewwwwwh), and it's not the kind of story they are used to covering. But it really does show how deep the concern about the president's stewardship is getting, and it opens up more room for more prominent critics to call for a change in the direction of our policies.
So I can happily report, having spent part of last week in Manhattan, that Franz Ferdinand is still in heavy rotation in bars and clubs all the way from the East Village to the West Village. As "it" bands with hyped albums go, that one is holding up extremely well. And it was cool to still hear talented New York locals (and supposedly really nice folks too) Stellastarr*. It's been a good spring for music.
I bought Season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer a few weeks ago. That season may be best known to some for its relentless darkness (addiction, murder, a flaying), but it is also well known for including “Once More With Feeling”, the brilliant musical episode. At first glance probably the most exciting and unusual things about this episode are the elaborate staging, the imaginative dance numbers, and the fascinating array of musical styles in the songs. In this episode the Buffy-verse is opened up, and a whole new world of movement and style of action occurs.
But the more I think about it I suppose what’s at the center of its fabulousness is, as is so often the case with Buffy, the use of language in the episode. Putting dialogue into song really allows you to say things and get things across that you couldn’t otherwise do. It allows the creators to take their cleverness up a notch.
This opens up whole new possibilities for comedy. For example, consider Anya’s song (part of the larger “I’ve Got a Theory” song where characters discuss why everyone is bursting into song): “I’ve got a theory, it could be bunnies” [cricket chirps, stares of disbelief from her friends, then – BOOM – big rock music lights and explosions and the high energy wailing begins] “Bunnies aren’t just cute like everybody supposes. They’ve got them hoppy legs and twitchy little noses. And what’s with all the carrots? What do they need such good eyesight for anyway? Bunnies! Bunnies! It must be bunnies! [final light extravaganza, followed, once again, by stares of disbelief, then] … Or maybe midgets.” Is there any way such a hilariously unlikely phobia could be brought forth in such an amusing way outside of a song?
Another lyrical bit I like is the bridge in Spike’s song. It’s really longing and desperately romantic, but the wordplay is great considering that he’s a vampire (a focus on hearts and blood). “I know I should go, but I follow you like a man possessed. There’s a traitor here beneath my breast, and it hurts me more than you’ve ever guessed. If my heart could beat it would break my chest, but I can see you’re unimpressed, so leave me be …”.
The songs also allow different characters the neat trick of saying vastly different things with the same words. Consider the double meaning of “What Can’t We Do If We’re Together” which at first sounds like it’s a rousing, good-feeling, bonding number, but which is also conveying the debilitating level of Buffy’s boredom and ennui. The irony meter is arguably even higher in other numbers. Tara sings “I’m Under Your Spell” to Willow proclaiming her love and how Willow has changed her life, oblivious to the fact that she is literally under Willow’s spell. Buffy sings a string of shiny platitudes (“Where there’s life, there’s hope. Every day’s a gift. Wishes can come true …”) while beating to death evil minions. This juxtaposition is intriguing given that many of the musicals most Americans are aware of are positively dripping in sincerity and sentimentality.
And then there’s just the simple pleasure of opening up language choices. For example, how often can characters say things like “I was able to examine the body while the police were taking witness arias”, “clearly our number is a retro-pastiche, it’s never going to be a breakaway pop hit” or even “I think this line’s mostly filler”.
Of course this episode has many other virtues too, but as with so many things the fundamental strength of the work is in the writing.
Reagan's funeral is on just about every major news channel right now. I understand that he is important figure to some people, and many consider him a founder of modern conservativism, but the endless coverage that makes him out to be a saint seems odd to me. In the end, he was just another person. OK, he was President, but so were (at this point) 42 other men. Hopefully, there will be many more. Anyone who knows anything about politics realizes that Reagan had his flaws. Those on the left acknowledge more flaws than those on the right, but anyone who claims Reagan had no flaws is seriously deluded.
So why all this pagentry? My best guess is that we haven't had one of these in a really long time, and we Americans equate our presidents to be kings. The last presidential funeral was Johnson, and the only one to die since then has been Nixon (who had a somewhat checkered past), so Reagan is the first we have been able to unreservedly celebrate/mourn in over thirty years. That's a lot of pent up pagentry. Calpundit had a nice argument that Reagan is deified by the mainstream right for being so relentlessly on message (against communism, small government, lower taxes, etc.) while the actual policies were a mixed bag (again, depending where you are on the left/right scale, your mileage may vary). That's fine, but in theory everyone should be judged on what they do, not how they look while doing it.
Thus, this continuing hagiography irritates me. It's not that I'm relentlessly anti-Reagan (or pro-Reagan), it's just that I'd love to actually remember the guy for his successes and failures, large and small. If we can't be honest about someone when they die, when can we? This is the last memory many will have about Reagan, and while this may help Reagan's overall image in a popular sense, it does a disservice to our popular democracy (in the midst of an election year). Celebrate him for his accomplishments, and honestly recognize the mistakes. No more, no less.
In case you've been living in a cave recently and haven't gotten the news, the Israeli government is in a great deal of turmoil. The latest move is that the National Religious Party might pull out of the ruling coalition. In any event, it's looking increasingly likely that Labor will join the government at some point.
There are a number of potential consequences of such a move that will be worth watching. The most obvious deal with the Gaza pull-out and what the implications will be for the eventual Labor leadership election. But another is what it will mean for the career of Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. If Labor's votes are needed they will doubtless pull Israel's economic plans in directions he doesn't want to take the country. Of course if they enter the government they will no doubt demand a major ministry or two (and of late Netanyahu's relationship with Prime Minister Sharon is even worse than usual). But if Netanyahu retains his ministry he will be put in an even more difficult position in trying to run the Israeli economy. Netanyahu is already a polarizing figure of course, but such a role could conceivably run up his negatives even higher than they already are. Maybe he won't be Sharon's successor after all.
OK, let's all say it together now:
1. Clinton left office more popular than Reagan. 2. George H.W. Bush was the most popular recent president (on average) over the course of his presidency. 3. Reagan slashed taxes, but then (to paraphrase Paul Krugman in his June 8 column) he raised more taxes on more American than any peacetime president. And his policies forced both of his successors to raise taxes further.
If people want to praise Reagan, fine. But let's try and do it without lying about his image, his record and the effects of his policies. Just because Fred Barnes and the rest of the Noonanesque chorus say something 1,000 times doesn't make it true. Those who say such things should 1) know better if they are supposedly experts, and 2) stop lying to the world just because they liked the guy. Praise things that actually happened, and let people evaluate him as he actually was.
Now I'm all in favor of focusing on the good that people have done after they've died. Or at least trying to. But I've got to say that the extent of the hagiography that is going on this morning is astounding. I was listening to NPR this morning for about 90 minutes and I didn't hear one mention of Iran-Contra (you know, back when the Reagan team lied to Congress, committed obstruction of justice and sold arms to the Khomenei regime -- something you'd think would be brought up given the war on terrorism). I also didn't hear a single word about how Reagan RAISED taxes after he cut them. The extent to which even supposedly thoughtful programs seem determined to remember the former president with a few key words and ignore anything that doesn't match that narrative is not one of American journalism's finer moments. I mean criticism, especially on Iran-Contra, dominated much of his presidency. You would think that the scandal would have been at least briefly discussed this morning.
I will though mention one part of the coverage that's really pleased me. I've long felt that Nancy Reagan is under-appreciated, and it's nice to see her finally being discussed in a positive light. Nancy's had a tough time of it. Conservatives thought she was a moderate meddler. Liberals saw her as cold, aloof, out of touch ("just say no") and too focused on interior design. Both sides have come to see her as a little kooky (the Joan Quigley thing). But I think she had a positive influence, and played an important role in the Reagan White House. She seems to have had excellent political instincts (yes, she did pull back some conservative plans, but sometimes going to extremes can be political suicide, just ask Newt Gingrich), she seems to have really been sincere in her devotion to the president, since leaving the White House she's been a marvelous spokesperson for medical research, and she's taken all the slings and arrows thrown her way with considerable grace. Publicly I mean, I don't expect anyone to be polite in private. She never stooped to the nasty innuendo that the supposedly-grandmotherly Barbara Bush has stooped to.
So if reports from late last week are to be believed (I'm skeptical, but since hardly anyone really knows they might be true) John Kerry is to name his running mate "within days". While I was thinking that Kerry might try to shift his campaign to focus more on forgotten Americans and corporate abuses (in which case Tom Vilsack or John Edwards would seem the likely pick), it has looked more and more over the last several weeks like Kerry is most comfortable (and might have his best political issue) in discussing the failures of President Bush on foreign affairs and national security issues. Since he seems particularly interested in branding his campaign around those issues it strikes me that one name on the list of potential vice presidents stands out above the rest -- Gen. Wesley Clark. So I suppose I'm going to predict that he chooses to run with Gen. Clark this year. I'm a fan of Wesley Clark, so I'm fine with that. If not Clark, of the names most often discussed, Sen. Graham of Florida could also fit well on a ticket focusing on security issues.
Mark Kleiman raises an excellent point about the FBI's behavior in the Brandon Mayfield case. This case really should send shivers up your spine about what the Bush administration is doing at Guantanamo.
At some point I might have a lot to say about Jeffrey Goldberg's fascinating Reporter at Large column in the May 31 issue of The New Yorker. But I'd like to save most of my thoughts until I've finished reading it. I've had quite a hard time finishing it actually. The picture it paints of the settlers, the Palestinians and Israeli politics is exceedingly depressing. And with it being so thorough and vivid, well, I just haven't had the heart to finish it yet since any implications he draws at the end are likely to be harrowing and bleak. But I do want to comment on one point.
In the article the Chief of Staff of the IDF is discussing past decisions relating to the circumstances in which terrorist leaders would be targeted for assassination. In one instance he notes that a decision was made to kill a particular leader if he was just in the company of his wife, but not if he was in the company of his children. Now I'm sure some people and theologies have their own justifications for why the lives of children are more pure and sacred than those of adults -- though personally I think that's ridiculous and appalling. But more to the point I really would have thought that a state with as Realist a foreign policy as Israel's wouldn't be subscribing to the view that killing certain types of supposed civilians is worse than killing other types of supposed civilians (I say supposed since I know nothing about the wife or minors in question). I know that in many cases they've called off attacks because of possible civilian deaths. But that they're rank ordering the value of the lives of different types of civilians, that strikes me as a little odd.
Oh, and yes, I'm aware that there are perfectly good political reasons for avoiding killing children. But given the stakes involved in this case and the fact that Israel has few friends and little likelihood of gaining friends, I would think that it would be less likely than your average democracy to adjust national security decisions on the basis of public opinion.
My other reaction to television this morning isn't so positive. I tend to skip over the video channels, but as I was doing so today I noticed that the same video was playing simultaneously on MTV and VH1, so I took a minute to watch it. It was the video for what I'm guessing is Britney's latest forgettable single. And the video was (like the song) mostly easily forgotten. Yes, she seemed to be flailing about in an attempt at drama instead of shaking around to some bit of boring choreography, but other than that it was mostly predictable (yes, including more bad eye make-up and outfits that are trying so hard to be skanky that they really aren't remotely sexy). What did stick out about it though is that her co-star in it was (the ever handsome) Stephen Dorf. While it's nice to see he's getting work and publicity, it's sad that someone who not so many moons ago showed great promise as an actor is reduced to "performing" in something so facile that you think it will cease to exist before it runs to its ending. But I guess I'll look on the bright side and hope that this gets him more attention and maybe even better acting gigs.
If you want to see him in something that's really underappreciated and worth much, much more of your time than a Britney video you should go rent Bob Rafelson's Blood and Wine. It's a really fine piece of film noir with a great cast. Jack Nicholson, Michael Caine, Judy Davis, Jennifer Lopez and Harold Perrineau Jr. are in it as well as Mr. Dorf. I don't know why it's been forgotten.
So I bought season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer last week. I love that show. Anyway, as I surfed around to see what had been written about various episodes I discovered that the BBC had a habit of slicing bits and pieces out of the show -- sometimes even entire scenes. Apparently some of Buffy was just too menacing or gorey for the British censors. While I have a number of problems with the American media and its own tendencies toward self-censorship, I'd just like to take this moment to praise our system, UPN and the WB. Thanks for not being as paternalistic and squeamish as the Brits. Thanks for letting me see the stylized, fictional violence that happened with some frequency on Buffy. It served to tell a larger story that embraced some basically all-American values, including just how horrible and wrong things like rape and murder are. Killing fictional characters can make for great and meaningful art. It can have that effect in books, in paintings, in movies, and yes, in TV. And thanks for thinking I was mature enough to make my own viewing choices. And as for the British .... stop letting the government make those kinds of choices for you.
So says Byron in the comments section following this post on Burnt Orange Report. I've got to say I agree. It's a Cardinal's perogative if he wants to deny people wearing rainbow-colored sashes communion. Maybe he sincerely thinks it'll save their souls and help them mend their ways. But it is nonetheless denying communion on the basis of a fashion choice (albeit one with political meaning), and that makes him appear to be a tacky, petty bully.