February 28, 2005

Sen. Specter and the Need to "Balance" the Circuit Courts

So Arlen Specter believes that William Myers needs to join the Ninth Circuit because it is a "very liberal" Circuit that needs to be balanced. Yet the next controversial Court of Appeals nominee that the Republicans plan to push is Terrence Boyle's nomination to the 4th Circuit. How in the world is putting a Jesse Helms protege on what's already the country's most activist, right-wing federal appeals court going to achieve this mysterious "balance" that Sen. Specter apparently feels is so desperately needed in the judiciary? Is balance only needed in the West?

Posted by armand at 04:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

And A Very Special Oscar For ...

OK, whether or not you watched last night's fashion, oops, I mean awards, show, if you could pick out one bit of work from last year's films that you think was under-appreciated and worthy of recognition, what kind of award would you give? While Julie Delpy's swaying hips in Before Sunset come to mind (she was amazing), I think I'd pick out Mark Wahlberg's work in I Heart Huckabees. I had some problems with the film as a whole - but for me, that may have been the year's most over-looked, but seemingly award-worthy performance. Though of course I also absolutely adored Napoleon's love interest in Napoleon Dynamite. I don't even know that actress's name, but she was wonderful.

Posted by armand at 04:02 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

"The Rescue Artist"

Sunday's New York Times Magazine featured this excellent feature on Jonathan Safran Foer. I loved his Everything is Illuminated, and am eagerly awaiting Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. From this article it sounds like it should be a fascinating work of art.

Beyond that though, the feature is, in and of itself, a gem. It's sharp, insightful and gives us an interesting glimpse of this "European novelist who happens to be writing in America" with a "penchant for giving money away". And the e-mails from him that the author includes ... those are well worth giving a look.

Posted by armand at 03:32 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Sam Johnson (R-TX) Wants to Be a War Criminal

Quite apart from the moral issues here (horrifying), or the basic strategic implications (also horrifying), these comments by a veteran member of the US House from Dallas are simply bizarre from a logical standpoint - the US should respond to CHEMICAL weapons that MIGHT exist and MIGHT be used, by launching an aggressive first strike with NUCLEAR weapons that DO exist and WILL be used to kill untold thousands (or more) who've never done a thing the US or Americans, and have no plans to. What exactly does that do to protect Americans, fight WMD proliferation, rogue behavior, etc.? Simply making the comments undermines our position and damages our reputation. If this guy actually thinks this stuff ... what's he doing in Congress?

Posted by armand at 11:23 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 27, 2005

Churchill: Neocon Demigod

The Neocon's love of Winston Churchill is nothing new. Jacob Heilbrunn discusses a bit of its history in today's New York Times. In addition to discussing this history, Heilbrunn discusses some of the logical problems that stem from this adoration. As much as he's used by many conservatives in the United States (his reputation in the UK is rather different) as a symbol of principled fights against fascists and a protector of freedom, he was also a man who's imperialist past had a great deal to do with a string of wars, very likely undermined Britain's strength and position in the world, and he was far from a steadfast friend of would-be democrats the world over. But since conservatives can't possibly like the other destroyer of the last century's leading fascists (of course FDR was hugely important in establishing the economic regimes that have allowed untold billions to flow to conservative causes ... but c'mon, all that big government, those regulations, Social Security ... can't praise him), Churchcill's their man.

Posted by armand at 05:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 26, 2005

Egyptian Democracy?

President Mubarak's call to open up this year's presidential elections in Egypt is quite a surprise, and, if you like the idea of spreading democracy in the Middle East, you've got to give the Bush administration credit for the pressure they have recently put on Egypt to move in this direction. If you want to follow some of the thoughts of the informed blogosphere on this I suggest you look at these posts by Issandr, Praktike, and Jonathan. Still, while it is a move that will no doubt please the pro-democracy crowd, this is ar event that need to be watched with caution and a healthy bit of skepticism. Lots of countries have elections. That does not mean that they are open, free and fair. Simply creating the possibility of putting names other than Mubarak's on the presidential ballot does not mean you'll necessarily have much of a race for the country's highest office. Given the lack of press freedoms, or freedom of speech and assembly, in Egypt one should be very cautious about thinking this will lead to a general acceptance of open, organized dissent against the state and the current establishment. And even if something that remotely resembles a Western political campaign comes to pass, Mubarak will still win. In fact, this move might even make him more popular. But all in all, it's an interesting development, and bears a great deal of further attention.

Posted by armand at 01:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 25, 2005

The Conservative Case Against Wal-Mart

Professor Bainbridge makes a very strong case against the mega-corporation. Kevin Drum disagrees with him on a few key points, but in this debate my sympathies lie with Bainbridge. The points he raises are points that all of us who tend to be pro-commerce and wary of excessive constraints on businesses should keep in mind.

Posted by armand at 03:54 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Television Networks in the Middle East

If you are interested in press freedom and/or the content of television coverage in the Middle East you should check out this piece in The Economist. It gets at two constants that greatly limit the impact of the media in the region: 1) state control of the press and 2) the dominance of Saudi Arabia. Both are troubling if we are serious about encouraging democracy, debate, and respect for basic human rights in the area.

Posted by armand at 12:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Bush Budget - 99 Programs Terminated, 55 Deeply Cut

This month most of the policy discussions we hear relating to national politics have been focused on the president's push for changes in Social Security. But of course something else important happened this month that relates to many more national policies - the president released his newest budget. Except for the funding for Iraq and the DOD and one or two social programs (like the exceptionally deep cut to housing assistance for the disabled) most of the changes that the president have proposed have gotten little attention. So, I thought it might be useful, just to get a sense of what else the president thinks needs to be done away with or seriously "reformed", to link to this list of the programs he's trying to eliminate or deeply cut spending on. If anything on this list strikes you as a particularly good or bad chocie, comment away.

Posted by armand at 12:07 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Jane Mayer on Extraordinary Rendition

If you haven't gotten around to reading Jane Mayer's article in the New Yorker (the February 14 & 21 issue), you should. It's been out for a little while now, but before it fades from discussions entirely, I want to impress upon you how important it is. It succinctly deals with a host of issues that are of central importance to the conduct of President Bush's foreign policy. These include: a discussion of "The New Paradigm" this administration is using to deal with suspected terrorists (don't put them on trial, just lock 'em up ... forever); the frankly ridiculous, but apparently dangerously serious, views that White House has about the scope of its authority (John Yoo has very limited vision of checks and balances); the types of torture in which the US is complicit (not a full list, but boiling an arm and the like gives you an idea); and the limits of what can be gained through extraordinary rendition and the use of torture, and the exceedingly unhelpful consequences that can result from these policies. It's a great article.

UPDATE: Bob Herbert has a good piece on this topic in the New York Times today.

Posted by armand at 11:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 24, 2005

The Process of Electing a New Pope

Given the recent turn in the pope's health I think it may be good to remind our readers of John Allen's book Conclave that deals with the process papal elections. My comments on this text, and the parties that will be battling to elect one of their own as the next pope, can be found here and here.

And as I mentioned here, most of the names that are discussed as likely successors to John Paul II in the media are among the names Allen floats as likely candidates.

And for those of you with lots of time on your hands, you can find many musings on possible successors to the pope in the archives of Allen's "Word from Rome" column. For example, this column discusses Cardinals Bergoglio, Scola and Napier, this one has more on Bergoglio, and this one from last March has a list of his top 5 Italian and 3rd World candidates from that time period.

Posted by armand at 03:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Fabulous Mullahs

For a second, I thought George Bush was talking about wrestling, and one of it's most glorious ladies, Lillian Ellison. Don't know what I'm talking about? Check the BBC link, and listen to the audio (about halfway down the page, on the right, a link to video and audio). As if nuke-u-lur isn't enough to make me batty.

Oh yeah, and "Iran is not Iraq." Good, good. But what is North Korea?

Posted by binky at 09:22 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Sandra Day O'Connor as the Court's Weather Vane

Jack Balkin has this to say about Justice O'Connor's position in Johnson v. California:

"In saying that Thomas and Scalia aren't being consistent, I do not mean to suggest that O'Connor is. As Thomas correctly points out, her refusal to defer to prison administrators in Johnson is in tension with her deference to university administrators in Grutter. And there are passages in today's opinion that are, frankly, laughable (emphasis mine) given what she wrote in Grutter."

Most of his post is on how he thinks the opinions of Justices Thomas and Scalia fly in the face of their supposedly principled positions on the government's use of race. He still expects a certain level of consistency from Thomas and Scalia, something he obviously gave up for in O'Connor a long time ago.

Posted by armand at 09:10 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 23, 2005

Gifford Miller's Case Against the West Side Stadium

Since I know there is some interest in this issue among readers of the blog, I thought I'd alert you to these arguments recently made by New York City Council Speaker Gifford Miller opposing Mayor Bloomberg's plans for the construction of the proposed stadium for the Jets.

Posted by armand at 04:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Those Helpful Arms Dealers

Douglas Farrah notes the unexpected people who win contracts to bring humanitarian aid to Darfur.

Posted by armand at 12:59 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Richard Raymond and Antonio Villaraigosa

For those of you on the lookout for rising Hispanic political stars here are two bright possibilities in watch in 2005 and 2006. Richard Raymond, one of the most impressive Democrats in the Texas legislature is weighing an intra-party challenge to Rep. Henry Cuellar (though of course I also like the man that Cuellar pushed out of office in the last election cycle, former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez). And in California, former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, the guy that I hoped would win four years ago, has a big lead in the race for mayor of Los Angeles.

Posted by armand at 12:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Goodbye Lenin

This is a charming, well made and, fundamentally, sweet little film. Some viewers might be disturbed by the fact that what the film’s protagonist, Alex, does is arguably disturbed and selfish. But it is also understandable. What Alex is trying to do is protect his mother. He doesn’t think she will be able to take the shock of learning that East Germany has collapsed while she has been in a coma, so he goes to great lengths to hide this from her. This leads to some entertaining turns, some unexpected discoveries, and interesting riffs on what we should expect of those we love, and whether or not we should hide hard truths from them. The entire ensemble turns in strong performances, and the director does a fine job too, even if one or two moments (such as the anti-East German protests) are not especially believable. I recommend this film.

Posted by armand at 10:28 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 22, 2005

White House Disinvites Royal Couple?

Does anyone know if this is really true?

Digby tells us that someone in the White House says Camilla Parker Bowles has been disinvited from an official state visit because she's a divorcee (you know, like President Reagan and Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh).

This sounds too outrageous to be actually true. Can anyone confirm or deny?

Posted by baltar at 12:22 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Advice for Britney Spears

While she really hasn't made headlines that recently, she really does need a good personal manager. Just a few lifestyle suggestions:

* Shagging Fred Durst doesn't make you feel any cooler, just itchier

The others are good too...

Posted by baltar at 12:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 21, 2005

Arkansas by David Leavitt

If you read this blog for awhile, or you know me, you might know that I have a particular fondness for good short fiction - see here, here and here. I'm always intrigued when I read a new writer, and I am thrilled when I find that they've produced something wonderful. I had that experience reading the first story in this collection by David Leavitt, "The Term Paper Artist". Some people would likely be turned off by the subject matter (a novelist writes papers for young men at UCLA in return for getting to give them blow jobs), but it's a terrific piece of work. Smart, thoughtful, insightful, and very sharply written. The other two stories in this collection don't measure up to that one, but I'm definitely going to try to read more of his work.

Posted by armand at 09:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Presidents Day

As if last Monday wasn't a lame and evil enough holiday, today February and the US government bring us another one. Today we have Presidents Day foisted upon us. Is my annoyance limited to the fact that the postal service is closed today? No, though that is annoying. Or is it that the never-got-over-the-joys-of-student-council set wants a day specially reserved for themselves? No, that's not too distressing since it's abundantly clear that no one really cares. What really bugs me is that we have a day presumably meant to celebrate all the presidents when some of them are not figures worth celebrating (far from it in fact). Let's call this Washington and Lincoln day, or just ditch the whole thing.

Posted by armand at 03:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

This Year's Ashoura Attacks

Helena Cobban notes the commendable self-restraint shown by Shiites in the wake of the Ashoura attacks in Iraq. Given the highly unstable nature of what's going on in Iraq right now, it really is remarkable - and perhaps something for which Americans should be very thankful.

Posted by armand at 12:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Being "PC" in a University Job

I think this post by David Bernstein is mostly on target, and raises an important point. But I think he's largely wrong if he's implying that somehow this puts conservatives or libertarians at a special risk. Maybe it does at Harvard. But the vast majority of schools aren't Harvard, and many academic disciplines aren't dominated by cliques trying to stifle conservative views. Actually, at many schools it's views that conflict with conservative interpretations that are stifled. As conservatives so often love to point out - most of the map of the US between the coasts is red. The larger point should be to encourage open debate and serious inquiry as a general matter. Conseratives love to publicly lament their victimization on this score, but in some areas they certainly aren't the ones (or at the least the only ones)held up for ridicule and scorn. I mean I can't recall the last time Congress voted to condemn the finding of a "conservative" scientific study, but they've certainly condemned scientific findings that they fear lead to "liberal" values. Of course really that study did no such thing - it was simply reporting the findings of dozens of works of research in that area. But the idea that treading on orthodoxies is only dangerous for conservatives is flat-out wrong.

Posted by armand at 11:24 AM | Comments (41) | TrackBack

The Filibuster: Why Iraqis Love What Bill Frist Loathes

This story from Bill Press seems almost too cute to be true. But presuming it is, it's good to know that the democrats in Iraq are drawing upon the ideas of Locke, Rousseau and other proponents of limited government. Democracy can only work in a diverse society if the power of the majority is constrained. And the steps that Bill Frist is having to turn to are getting down-right pathetic. It's hardly a rule's fault that he's far and away the most ineffective "leader" that the Senate has had since it entered the television age. It's not like this is a new rule. Sadly (for some of us) the Republican majority in the Senate should be much more fearsome when Mitch McConnell (presumably) takes over as Majority Leader in 2007.

Posted by armand at 10:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Million Dollar Baby

Million Dollar Baby is the third of this year’s nominees for the Best Picture Oscar that I have seen. That it received a nomination is no surprise. It is a classic, all-American story of hard work, sacrifice, bonding and redemption.

Of course it is also very predictable, and told in a style that feels the need to explain close to every plot turn in deep detail. The script could have benefited from a bit of tightening. And I don’t think that Eastwood’s use of the camera is as interesting as Marc Forster’s in Finding Neverland, to say nothing of Michel Gondry’s in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. But of course in certain ways these flaws contribute to it being so American.

But flawed or not, it’s a very good film, and Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman turn in solid performances. And, of course, Hilary Swank is terrific.

Posted by armand at 09:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 19, 2005

The Biggest Explosion in Centuries

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime event. We have observed an object only 20km across, on the other side of our galaxy, releasing more energy in a 10th of a second than the Sun emits in 100,000 years," said Dr Fender.

I can't be the only person who's rather happy that this is a once in a lifetime (or many lifetimes event), or that it happened 50,000 light-years away.

Posted by armand at 06:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 18, 2005

Jamie Gorelick on Secret Prisoners and Extraordinary Rendition

This is from Jane Mayer's article in The New Yorker:

"In criminal justice, you either prosecute the suspects or let them go. But if you've treated then in ways that won't allow you to prosecute them you're in this no man's land. What do you do with these people?"

I think the former Deputy Attorney General raises an intriguing question.

Posted by armand at 01:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Iraqi Revolving Door

Perhaps John Negroponte is the best man for the "Intelligence Czar" job. I won't hold my breath (he has no background in creating and managing intelligence, though he is clearly a consumer of it).

It should also be noted that he was not the first choice (according to the NYT). Both Robert Gates (a former head of the CIA) and William Barr (a former Attorney General) turned down the job. Hence, Bush was forced to find someone to fill a critical position.

My biggest objection to this is what it does to the efforts in Iraq to rebuild and stabilize the country. The war started 23 months ago. In those 23 months, the American in charge of getting Iraq back on its feet has changed many times: Garner (3 months), Bremer (12 months), and then Negroponte (8 months). Now someone new will step in.

What about continuity? I think it would take some months to understand the job, the people, the disputes and the whole ball of wax. No person can be effective without basic knowledge of the situation, and Iraq is a more complicated place than most. Hence, it looks to me like just when someone might actually be getting a handle on the place, they are yanked out.

Is it any wonder that there are accounting irregularities, failed projects, and general problems?

Posted by baltar at 11:48 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 17, 2005

Senator Byrd, Ayatollah Khomeni and Louis Farrakhan

These are names that we all clearly associate with each other, no? Like bread and butter, cheese and macaroni, Joanie and Chachi.

I mean, I know when I think of my senior senator, automatically his close associates come to mind. These other names always pop into my head: Zacarias Moussaoui, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Angela Davis, Fidel Castro.

Yeah, I'm pulling your leg. But the "discover the network" people are not. Wonkette and others already have discussed this more than it deserves, I suppose.

Posted by binky at 01:45 PM | Comments (6)

Rice on Syrian Responsibility

While acknowledging that the United States does not know who was behind the Monday bombing that killed the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, Ms. Rice said Syria should be held at least indirectly responsible, "given their continued interference in Lebanese affairs."

If we are using interference in the affairs of others as the new standard by which to judge states you'd think the US has an awful lot for which to answer. Why don't we just condemn Syria for what we know it does? You'd think state actions shouldn't be based on uninformed guesses. And there are plenty of bad things we know that Syria does. Hey, we even ask them to do some of those awful things for us.

Posted by armand at 09:54 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 16, 2005

Darth Cheney

I've just started reading Jane Mayer's piece on "extraordinary rendition". I probably won't get around to finishing it for a day or two, but it looks like a first-rate piece of work that I'll have more to say about later.

For now I thought I'd just note a couple of comments made by (many argue) the most powerful man in the world, Vice President Dick Cheney on Meet the Press. Cheney actually said we need to "work through, sort of, the dark side" ... "it's vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective". And here I was thinking that the president had said that our objective was seeing to it that world leaders who thought like this were driven out of power. Such a noble fight for freedom we are fighting. But then I guess we learned that at Abu Ghraib.

Posted by armand at 02:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Thanks to Lurch (who should stop lurking and start commenting, ahem) for passing this along. Ah, the Onion.

Posted by binky at 12:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 15, 2005

This Gannon/Guckert Thing Gets Weird, and Proves God Exists.

This thing is getting very, very strange. Jeff Gannon, of Talon News, got daily White House press passes and asked massively softball questions of the McClellan and Bush. Except Jeff Gannon has no background in journalism, and Talon News seems to be funded by GOP money (hint: that makes him not a journalist, and why didn't the White House know it?).

That would be weird enough, but now it turns out that Jeff Gannon isn't really Jeff Gannon, but is Jeff Guckert. And Jeff Guckert had run some male-escort websites that seem to include himself as an escort. Yes, you read that correctly: the White House gave a press pass to a GOP funded non-journalist who asked several questions of Bush and many questions of McCellan, and who was also a male prostitute (the non-journalist, not McCellan). Some of the escort websites were active for the first month that Gannon/Guckert was working in the White House.

While I wish I could write something original that seems devistatingly funny about this, the most perfect paragraph comes from The Poor Man:

Everyone is still missing the point of the story. The story is not, as nitwits like Howie Kurtz maintain, that people are being mean to someone just because he's conservative. The story is not that Gannon is a hypocrite for promoting an anti-gay agenda. The story is not even that the White House gave such access to a reporter for a dummy news service operating under an assumed name, and may have used him to expose Valerie Plame. This is not the story.
The story is that God exists.
Think about it: what are the chances that a media whore like Gannon would turn out to be an actual whore? It's impossible. It boggles the mind how infinitely unlikely this is. It's like if you found someone pirating CDs, and it turns out he actually had a peg leg and a parrot on his shoulder and sailed around the Caribbean saying "arrrrrr!" and plundering booty. You wouldn't believe it. But there it is: impossible, but true. Impossible truths are miracles, and only God can work miracles. Ergo, God exists. Q.E.D

That pirate thing just kills me.

Posted by baltar at 12:44 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Tom Delay is Funny?

I'm not sure I believe this, but according to Steve Clemons/The Washington Note, Tom Delay can really do a good stand up schtick:

He [Delay] noted that James Dobson was already preparing to picket the White House for that slobbery kiss that Bush planted on Joe Lieberman at the State of the Union address. He said that Frist had nothing on him. Frist might be a surgeon but offered that he (DeLay) was the "only living heart donor." He thanked the media for giving him the kind of reputation that made him so effective with freshmen Congressmen. He said "Honestly, I can't tell you how much easier it is to squeeze votes out of these freshmen (Congressmen) or money out of big donors when they think if they say 'no,' I'm going to put a horse head in their bed or something."

We should still get rid of him.

Posted by baltar at 12:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Rafiq Hariri

Tim Cavanaugh offers this praise of the Lebanese leader who was killed, along with a dozen others, in a car bomb attack yesterday.

If anyone wants to offer theories on the causes or effects of this assassination, here's a thread to do it. Personally, I fail to see how Bashar Assad would stand to gain from this. But as to who did it ... there seem to me to be several reasonable theories out there.

Posted by armand at 11:59 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The "Debt Society"

OK, I'm still steamed at Mary Landrieu over her vote to confirm AG Gonzalez. That said, she's come up with what could be an excellent new line for her party. It contrasts very well, with Bush's "Ownership Society".

Posted by armand at 08:06 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 14, 2005

The Winners in Iraq: Pro-Iran and Pro-Hezbollah!

Hmmm. Is this exactly what Team Bush had in mind? Hundreds of billions spent, all the deaths, injuries and destruction, anatgonism against the United States at record levels in many places of the world, and we get a government controlled by Islamic parties that are close to Iran. Well, at least it's a triumph for democracy.

Of course I guess we could defend the White House and say that they didn't want democracy - they wanted to install a dictatorship under Chalabi. Of course he was (is?) on Iran's payroll, and is lately woo-ing Muqtada al-Sadr. Can Cheney and the folks at the Defense Department pick dependable friends or what?

Of course it now looks like the only possibility for limiting the influence of the Shiite parties is to get Iraq's Sunni Arabs to take part in the new political system we've installed, and the Shiites are going to build upon. Though of course we've done plenty to make that difficult since 2003. Anyone have any ideas as to how we can go about achieving that? I would have had a few earlier on in our involvement, but given our actions over the course of the last few years, and the fact that I bunch of people with some huge grievances against that population are about to design a new constitution and take over the reins of power ... I'm not optimistic about them wanting to fight within the system. In the long-term hopefully. But for now, I'm not optimistic.

Posted by armand at 11:19 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

I Can't Take Cokie

Yeesh! Not only was she seconding Mara Liasson's bizarro take from earlier in the weekend regarding the election of Howard Dean as DNC chair (um ladies, you and your disgruntled sources might think it's a disasterous choice, but stop saying that's what Democrats think since he won that race pretty easily which would seem to imply that many Democrats support the choice), she was parroting a ridiculous line about the fact that Democrats were on the verge of collapse because Republicans won more counties nation-wide in November.

Who cares about counties? Last I heard, people vote, not counties. I'm not exactly quaking in my boots over the fact that Republicans won 97 of the 100 fastest growing counties in the country (and who fed her that weird statistic anyway?). Usually huge growth rates mean that the preexisting numbers were pathetically small, so high growth rates aren't that big a deal if what we're interested in is the number of actual voters (which is what you'd think we'd be interested in in a democratic system). True there are exceptions like Clark in Nevada. But if you want to find some fact that spells imminent doom for the Democrats, you can surely do better than that.

Posted by armand at 11:04 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 13, 2005

Bright Young Things

This film adaptation of Waugh's Vile Bodies doesn't really work. I think that part of the problem is the director, Stephen Fry. He does some interesting things with the camera, makes some beautiful images, shows a great flair for color and design, and he assembled a top notch cast (though I am soooooo sick of Simon Callow's endless mugging for the camera - but thankfully he's only in this for about 60 seconds). But he doesn't develop a coherent feel to the picture. He seems to enjoy the cheeky fun of it too much, so when it speeds into decay, death, destruction and despair ... well, it's a very choppy ride - 20 foot swells on the North Sea choppy. And really I just don't think he was perhaps the right person to do this. Waugh requires an unusual combination of cynicism and sentimentality that I don't think Fry pulls off well.

All that said, there are some marvelous little bits to it, it's filmed in some lovely locations, and there are a few gems of performances - from a tiny bit of Imelda Stauton as a reserved, proper but furious and appalled mother, to Dan Ackroyd's Canadian-born media baron, to a major supporting turn by the fetching Scot James McAvoy as the ill-fated Earl Balcairn. If anyone steals the movie though it's probably Fenella Woolgar who pops in and out of the film playing the well-meaning but decadent Agatha. She gives a turn that's essential if we are to buy that much of London cares about one goes on in the lives of these Bright Young Things.

Posted by armand at 02:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Crown Prince Abdullah - A "Reformer" Who Gets to Keep Absolute Power

While I hadn't thought of it in terms of exactly the string of connections Matt Yglesias brings up here - he's largerly spot on. These elections do make Abdullah look good in US eyes, while also making clear that the US shouldn't pressure the Saudis (not that they'd ever really dream of doing so) because any successor state would be far worse for the US. So everybody wins - Bush gets to talk about "democracy" spreading across the region, the Saudis get to keep their unquestioned power in the country, and both regimes get the benefit of getting al-Jazeera shut down (not directly related to this point, but since Matt brings it up ....).

The only problems with this analysis are that 1) the election results may embolden more aggressive actions by rebelious religious types in the country - and while I presume the government can handle that, that group is not small in number so we could see greater instability in the future and 2) this overstates the role the Crown Prince has in the country. Yes, he's a key figure, and he's certainly the key figure supporting elections, but it's best to remember that the family does like to act on the basis of consensus when possible, and the Crown Prince has several half-brothers and nephews who would like to undermine him.

Posted by armand at 02:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 12, 2005

Which Red Sox Player Are You?

If you like the Sox and are looking to kill a minute or two of your day, you might want to check this out.

Me? According to the quiz ...

You are Mark Bellhorn! You are extremely quiet, which makes you mysterious. You don't express your emotions a lot or smile, but when you do it can brighten up a person's day! You are also very humble and nice and don't let your talents, as well as looks, go to your head. Ring my Bellhorn!

At the risk of not being very humble, that sounds at least a little bit accurate.

Posted by armand at 04:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

An Update on Iraq's Kurds

If you are interested in a succinct review of the likely behavior of Iraq's Kurds in the wake of the January 30 elections, Forbes.com has a good update. As the article notes, the Kirkuk issue is key, and it will be interesting to see what changes there in light of the recent electoral wins for the Kurds in that province.

Posted by armand at 03:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"Liberal" NPR and the Choice of Howard Dean

Was anyone else listening to NPR this morning? If so, am I the only person who found it odd that their entire story about the election of Howard Dean as head of the DNC dealt with intra-party fears relating to his election? You'd think that if those fears were so strong he wouldn't have just gotten elected with a massive level of support from within the party. Isn't winning by a huge margin usually a sign of strength?

Posted by armand at 02:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Book Review: David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest

Halberstam's book (already discussed here and here) is a review of the political decisions that were made between about 1960 (when Kennedy takes office) and about 1965 (when the decisions were made to Americanize the war and increase troop strength to over 500,000) to involve America in Vietnam. The book does not end in 1965, but the narrative becomes more hurried after that point. The book was written in 1972 (before the final pull-out of American combat troops in 1972, and before the final fall of Saigon in 1975), but does not really suffer much from being written so close to the events described.

It is a very good book. Halberstam was originally a journalist (for the NYT, and won a Pulizter for his work reporting in Vietnam in the early 1960s), and his natural instincts are to talk about the people and the decisions they made (in terms of IR theory, this means that none of the state-level or international-level forces are discussed). He carefully writes biographies of all the major characters of the period. In a literary sense, this is the books greatest flaw, as the flowing narrative of the political story of America in Vietnam is broken by 5 to 20 page biographies of individuals at somewhat random points (i.e., the biographies are not always when a character first appears in the narrative, or when a character makes a fateful or important decision). If you can absorb that, then Halberstam tells a compelling story.

In condensed form, Kennedy got us into the war in the name of standing up to the Soviets (whom he had been badly rattled by at a meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna early in his term) and being resolutely anti-communist. As the war heated up, he began to have doubts and encouraged some members of his staff to see if the military was withholding accurate information (a precursor to perhaps getting America out of Vietnam). Then Kennedy was assasinated. Johnson moves in only 12 months before election, and immediately puts Vietnam on the back burner (make no news so I can win was what he told the military and national security people). After re-election, Johnson personalized the war into a Johnson-versus-Ho face off, and he refused to blink, so he continued to follow the general military recommendations to increase the tempo and force of the war (small bombing ---> large bombing ---> troops for protection of air bases ---> troops to hold areas near the coast to free up the South Vietnamese forces to fight the Viet Cong ---> American combat troops to go after the Viet Cong in large numbers) in an attempt to convince the North Vietnamese (who were fighting, to them, a civil war or war of national liberation) that we were more serious about winning than they were. All attempts by either the military or civilian bureaucracy to try and show that America was losing at every escalation step were squelched either by the military itself or by Johnson's staff (don't bring him bad news) or by Johnson's decision-making style. Hence, America's Vietnam war.

You have to buy Halberstam as objective to buy the story. And that's a somewhat tough nut to swallow. Halberstam is already on record (in newspapers and previous books) as saying that there are serious problems with Vietman. So he's not objective. Of course, history proved that America did make serious miscalculations on just about every political, economic, and miltary level over the course of the many years that this policy developed, so maybe Halberstam (who isn't objective) is right anyway. Certainly the story, logic and quotations are compelling evidence of a government bureaucracy gone horribly wrong.

What does this mean for our country's present actions in Iraq? Perversely, this book made me somewhat more optimistic. In the 1960s (according to Halberstam), the Congress and the People were systematically lied to, ignored, normal Constitutional checks-and-balances were shoved to the side, the Executive practiced active deception on Congress and the Press, and the military clearly had a political role to play (it wasn't a neutral judge of the strengths and weaknesses of Executive policies, but was an active advocate for some political policies over others). As a result of all of this, the country was led into a prolonged war that cost 55,000 lives over more than a decade. Yet, the United States made it out of Vietnam and learned lessons that supposedly would prevent something like this from happening again. In other words, we survived a horribly wrong set of policies. Thus, whatever happens in Iraq (the disaster many claim, or the slowly-improving conditions the administrations points to), the United States will likely (probably) manage to eventually disengage from Iraq without too much damage to us (it was a different story for the Vietnamese themselves, as it likely will be for the Iraqis).

There are two dark clouds in this somewhat optimistic view. First, the press. Halberstam is a supporter (not a shock), and clearly feels that the press did a very good job uncovering the deceptions of the Executive and feeding the growing public sentiment against the war. Today, the press seems more constrained and tame than 40 years ago. Fewer reporters exist to pry around for stories (as a result of the consolidation of the news corporations). Conditions on the ground in Iraq prevent reporters from themselves investigating how good or bad things really are there. The military itself "manages" the press differently (it is clear from Halberstam that its the Colonels and Majors in Vietnam who have enough of a big-picture to be able to see if the overall policy is a success or failure, not the Lieutenants down in the trenches; yet, for all the success of the embedded journalists in Iraq, they are mostly down with the Lieutenants - this makes for good photos and stories about brave soldiers, but doesn't really give the journalists a chance to tell whether things are goind well or not in the big picture in Iraq). Hence, the press seems more limited than it was, which makes it harder for the people to hear of deceptions and failures. But there still is a press, and it still does its job.

The real dark cloud is Congress. It is clear from Halberstam's narrative that, while Congress was Democratic for both Kennedy and Johnson, there were real political battles as Congress took its job seriously as a check and a balance on Executive power. Democratic Senators would call for investigations and give public speeches in the Senate condemning Johnson and his latest policies. You couldn't imagine that happening now. For all the power of the press, Congress has the authority (and, I would argue, the duty) to force the Executive to come clean about the real story and the real policy. Congress acted this way in Vietnam (a Democratic Congress took on a Democratic President), but I think is clearly avoiding it now in the name of Republican party unity. This is not a partisan issue: every American should be in favor of Congress doing its Constitutional duty and forcing the executive to explain itself. I'll be just as in favor of this when a Democrat makes it back into the White House as I am today. This is critical to making our democratic experiment work, and its right there in the Constitution.

One final note on the optimistic front. One of the most depressing aspects of todays debate on Iraq is the constant attack by pro-Adminstration people on the patriotism of the critics, the liberal-anti-administration bias of the press, and how any criticism of the war is tantamount to treason because if fails to "support the troops". That the resolute path the adminstration has choosen is correct, whether we see it today or not. It's an ongoing attempt to shape the dialog and suppress larger questions of the rightness of the overall goals in the policy. I worry that the longer it goes on, the harder and harder it is to have those real debates. However, it happened in Vietnam as well and while that war was longer the debate never died out, and in the end the policies were overturned. Thus, one can read this paragraph fairly optimistically today (pg. 655):

Nor had they, leaders of a democracy, bothered to involve the people of their country in the course they had chosen: they knew the right path and they knew how much could be revealed, step by step along the way. The had manipulated the public, the Congress and the press from the start, told half truths, about why we were going in, how deeply we were going in, how much we were spending, and how long we were in for. When their predictions turned out to be hopelessly inaccurate, and when the public and the Congress, annoyed at being manipulated, soured on the war, the the architects had been aggrieved. They had turned on those very symbols of the democratic society they had once manipulated, criticizing them for the lack of fiber, stamina and lack of belief. Why weren't the journalists more supportive? How could you make public policy with television cameras everywhere? The day after he withdrew from re-election in 1968 Lyndon Johnson flew to Chicago for a convention of broadcasters and he had placed the blame for the failure squarely on their shoulders, their fault being that the cameras had revealed just how empty it all was. A good war televises well; a bad war televises poorly. Maxwell Taylor was the key military figure in all the estimates, and his projections - that the war would be short, that the bombing would be a major asset - had proven to be false, but he had never adjusted his views to those failures; there was no sense of remorse, or concern on why they had failed to estimate correctly. Rather, even in his memoirs, the blame was placed on those elements of society which had undermined support for the war; when the book was finished, friends, looking at the galleys, cautioned him to tone down criticism of the press. What was singularly missing from all the memoirs of the period - save for a brief interview with Dean Rusk after the publications of the Pentagon Papers - was an iota of public admission that they had miscalculated. The faults, it seemed, were not theirs, the fault was this country which was not worthy of them. So they lost it all.

In the end, all the propaganda couldn't change the underlying reality of the wrong policy in the wrong place. I have hope that, if Iraq is the wrong policy in the wrong place, that the reality of that will eventually shine through, and the US will adjust the policy. With the Republicans controlling all three branches, and Congress prostrating itself in front of the Executive, all I have is hope. However, that's about the same position many people were in 40 years ago. I hope it doesn't take 10 years this time around.


Posted by baltar at 12:40 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 11, 2005

More on the Evil Troll at the State Department

And why or why isn't the latest Clarke memo that the White House finally agreed to release a bigger story? I mean I realize some old British couple is getting married, and the US has entirely predictably refused to engage in bilateral talks with North Korea, and there are yet more dead in Iraq ... but isn't exposing (albeit for the umpteenth time) that the Secretary of State is a big liar with no integrity, and that the White House sat on its hands on the terrorism issue for 8 months pre-9/11 kind of important?

Posted by armand at 11:26 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The Gannon Story on Aaron Brown

The White House may very well be able to control presidential press conferences with an iron fist ... but given this transcript it appears that they may need to extend their control and handlers to the production staff on Aaron Brown's show. If they don't do a better job of framing this issue people might pick up on the fact that there's a real story here - and an extremely troubling one at that.

Posted by armand at 11:21 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Secret Lives of Dentists

I watched this on the recommendation of Joshua S., and my initial reaction to it was less than positive. Any film that features teeth being drilled, little girls squealing and young children vomiting, starts out with some big strikes against it. That said, this is a really interesting film. Campbell Scott, Denis Leary and Hope Davis put in some fine work here. The plot couldn’t be more simple. A man fears his wife is having an affair, but doesn’t want to confront her about it. But the execution of that idea is very well done in an occasionally startlingly unique way. It’s a very serious movie about infidelity, relationships, and family. But it’s quirky and inventive at the same time. If it weren’t for the subject matter it could almost be a bit of odd fun. This is something kind of different, but I think it’s well worth checking out. Even the music adds some spice with some unexpected touches – including such a varied mix of tunes as opera, “Fever”, and a couple of clips from The The’s “Dusk” – and the score is generally pretty good.

Posted by armand at 10:06 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 10, 2005

Duchess of Cornwall

OK, for any of you who might know more about the royal family and titles than I do ...

If Camilla is going to eventually become the Princess Consort, and if she's going to already get the HRH moniker as soon as she marries Prince Charles, why isn't she going to get the title of Princess of Wales? Is it all a PR thing - that the family is worried about pissing off the Diana groupies? Or is there a more official reason for it?

Posted by armand at 01:33 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The Future of the Press?

As only Fafblog can, the future of the White House Press Corps.

Posted by baltar at 12:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 09, 2005

Mark Dayton to Retire

Damn. I suppose there will be some who say that this could actually work to the benefit of the Democratic Party, but I'm not on the payroll of the Democratic Party. I think he's been an excellent public servant for the last 4 years, and I'm sure my brother (our frequent commentor Morris) will agree that it's too bad that his tendency to engage in at times politically-careless honesty may have imperiled his ability to continue to work hard in the Senate toward the best interests of the people of Minnesota and the United States.

Posted by armand at 02:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Campbell vs. Bauer in South Carolina

This should be fun. Andre Bauer, 35 and best known for his looks and shoutings matches with the Charleston police, is going to be challenged for another term as Lt. Governor by fellow 30-something Republican Mike Campbell. Even if Democrats have little hope of winning major elections in South Carolina, I suppose they can at least sit back and be amused by the spectacle of prominent Republicans tearing into each other.

Posted by armand at 11:17 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 08, 2005

Is Decision-Making More Important Than Ideology?

I'm still walking my way through Halberstam's The Best and The Brightest (previously discussed here, with no takers). I ran across this passage (page 362 in my version) that I thought was interesting:

Part of this [executive branch confusion about Vietnam] was the growing sense of failure over Vietnam and part of it was the new style that Lyndon Johnson had brought to the White House and the government at large, a sharp contrast to the Kennedy style, which was post-Bay of Pigs to ventilate an issue as much as possible within the government. Above all, Johnson believed in secrecy. He liked to control all discussions; the more delicate the subject, the more he liked to control it. Thus by his very style Johnson limited the amount of innergovernmental consensus, whether a good policy or not, a wise one or not. The important thing was to get everyone aboard; if there was consensus there was no dissent and this was a comforting feeling, it eased Johnson's insecurities.

In other words, Johnson didn't use the vast executive branch bureaucracy as a way of testing a variety of ideas and policies to find the best solution to achieve American aims (which are, by defintion, set by the President): Johnson ran the executive branch as a consensus-building machine, discouraging critics and pessimists. By this system, the decisions to intervene with more and more American combat troops into Vietnam could not be stopped, as any who argued against the system were physically pushed out of government or at least out of positions of authority with respect to decisions in Vietnam (the decision to intervene in the first place was made before Johnson came to power, so this failure of decision-making is only related to decisions to escalate).

Johnson's style of decision-making seems clearly related to Bush. Bush, as well, pushes away people who challenge his decisions and question his assumptions. (The parallel to Vietnam is that it has led to equally bad decisions being made by the government as a whole, not necessarily that Iraq will turn into another Vietnam.)

David Brooks (who does not deserve his place as a New York Times columnist) had a mostly incoherent column back in June of 2004. He argues that there is a "civil war in the educated class". There isn't, and the rest of the article makes no case for any kind of civil war, but does talk about how people make decisions:

Instead, the contest between these elite groups is often about culture, values and, importantly, leadership skills. What sorts of people should run this country? Which virtues are most important for a leader?
Knowledge-class types are more likely to value leaders who possess what may be called university skills: the ability to read and digest large amounts of information and discuss their way through to a nuanced solution. Democratic administrations tend to value self-expression over self-discipline. Democratic candidates — from Clinton to Kerry — often run late.
Managers are more likely to value leaders whom they see as simple, straight-talking men and women of faith. They prize leaders who are good at managing people, not just ideas. They are more likely to distrust those who seem overly intellectual or narcissistically self-reflective.
Republican administrations tend to be tightly organized and calm, in a corporate sort of way, and place a higher value on loyalty and formality. George Bush says he doesn't read the papers. That's a direct assault on the knowledge class and something no Democrat would say.

This description of "knowledge types" and "managers" seems to draw from the Halberstam description of Johnson's adminstration. "Managers" seek loyalty and consensus, to manage the different branches and far-flung parts of a government or business. "Managers" work to assemble teams to put a consensus policy into action, and effectively get the job done. This is Johnson (Senate leader) and Bush (businessman, Governor of Texas). "Knowledge types" seek a more chaotic environment where different policies and people compete to find "correct" policies to best achieve the goals of the administration (Kennedy, Roosevelt).

So Brooks is dead wrong in pointing to Democrats as "knowledge types" and Republicans as "managers". The decision-making styles of different adminstrations are more likely related to personality types and proffesional backgrounds than political ideology (professors versus businesspeople). Brooks is, surprisingly, right in considering different management and decision-making styles when thinking about the Presidency, just wrong in making this a voting issue (and a party issue) when it is mostly an issue of how President's act, manage and decide.

And what it comes down to, for me, is that the "manager" types are awful at making good decisions. I mean, it's one thing to run a Senate or a corporation in the name of loyalty and consensus, but an entirely different thing when running a country. Consensus may be fine for business, but it has no real place in effective policy evaluation. I don't care how collegial the meetings are, I care that the government make accurate and effective decisions to implement the goals they are pursuing (no matter what ideology creates those goals).

Halberstam makes the case for Johnson and Vietnam, and we have seen by our own eyes with Bush and Iraq, that insular, closed, consensus-building adminstrations can easily convince themselves that they are taking the best path to policy implementation. By removing all dissenting voices from the decision-making circles, they achive consensus (and ensure loyalty, as "dis-loyal" dissidents are removed from the decision-making circles - see what happened to Oneil, Powell, Whitman, Clarke, etc.), but the policies they implement are just plain bad. Which is what you would expect when there are no critics around to challenge people's assumptions and poke holes in their favorite theories.

I'm not sure I'm prepared to advocate that people should vote for President based on how the candidates make decisions and ignore ideology, but certainly the issue should recieve some discussion during elections. I think I can make the case that bad ideology doesn't do as much damage as bad decision-making, and that our worst foreign policy disasters have occured because of bad decision-making, not bad ideology.

(Just because some part of one of David Brooks' columns was right doesn't mean he should keep his job.)

(Oh, and we can also blame Congress for this. There is nothing in the Constitution that requires the Executive to avoid a "manager" mindset, but the roll of Congress is to challenge the Executive and force it to answer questions and justify actions. This (Republican) Congress is clearly falling down on that job, in the name of partisan unity. The results have been a long stream of bad decisions that remain unchallenged or investigated by a separate, but equal, branch of government.)

Posted by baltar at 05:26 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

An Alternative Executive Branch

I'm not so cranky about Gonzales getting confirmed by the Senate. I mean, I'd be happy with another choice, and I'm not really sure he's particularly well qualified, but I"m not getting worked up over it. However, this set of other recommended cabinet changes is quite funny. I mean, replacing Gale Norton with the "corpse of James Watt"? I'll admit, it really wouldn't make much difference. Check it out.

Posted by baltar at 03:25 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Saudi's Elections

Can't you just feel the winds of democracy and freedom blowing across the Middle East! Wasn't it great when we installed democracy in Kuwait? Oh, what? We didn't? We put an oil-rich autocrat back on the throne? Huh. Odd that. Well, at least we have meaningful elections on Iraq, right? Oh, you say that the winners of that vote are promising to take away a host of basic freedoms that are recognized in the West, and that in many regions (maybe even the whole country!) women are going to be treated like second-class citizens in lots of ways? Huh. Well, that's too bad. But hey, over a thousand dead, over ten thousand maimed, and hundreds of billions spent at least makes one thing clear - we like freedom! And we won't give up our quest for its spread even if it results in only gradual progress (and if we have to prop up lots of torturers to do it). Really, really gradual. OK, glacial.

But there are still signs of hope. I mean elections are even coming to Saudi! True, women can't vote. And there's no input from its huge population of foreign workers. And no one under 21 has a say (but hey, only 2/3's of the country is in their teens or younger). And yeah, of the tiny proportion of people who live in Saudi who are allowed to have a voice in this process, only 25% have bothered to register to vote. And yeah, these are only municipal elections (I want a stop light at that intersection!). And yeah, they are in 3 stages so the government can "evaluate" them as the process unfolds. But progress is progress, right? Even if it's ... (hmmm, what's slower than a glacier?). And I'm sure that as long as we keep pursuing our current foreign policies freedom will soon ring from Mecca to Medina. Hey, maybe they won't even throw improperly dressed girls into burning buildings any more! Or, dare we dream, they might even allow a non-government approved religious ceremony to take place somewhere in the country!

Posted by armand at 01:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 07, 2005

The Papal Succession: No New Names

As the blog's resident College of Cardinals nerd I thought I'd briefly note that while the world's papers have been busy writing a flurry of articles on who might succeed the current pontiff given his prolonged hospital stay, there aren't really any new names emerging in those "the next pope" lists. The names of Cardinals Arinze and Tettamanzi are present on every one of them, and the names of Cardinals Hummes and Ratzinger are on the vast majority of them. Even the other names that fill out the lists are names that have been discussed for some time (like Cardinals Bergoglio, Schonborn, Scola, Rivera Carreara and Rodriguez Maradiaga). Of course none of this means that the next pope must be a name on one of these lists - but the odds would seem to point in that direction. As to what surprises there are, I'm a bit surprised not to see the name of Cardinal Ivan Dias of India on the lists, and I'm deeply troubled to see that the name of Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos continues to be mentioned prominently. While many of the cardinals from Latin America and Africa have continually made heartless remarks about the church's abuse crisis, his comments have been particularly appalling.

Posted by armand at 12:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Grudge

If you've seen The Ring, there's absolutely no reason to watch this. Actually, even if you haven't, there's not much of a reason to watch it.

Posted by armand at 11:33 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 05, 2005

Matt Brown Throws His Hat in the Ring

While the Democratic establishment may continue to favor the possibility of a US Senate candidacy in Rhode Isalnd by US Rep. Jim Langevin, another major candidate has announced his candidacy for the seat currently held by Republican Lincoln Chafee. Secretary of State Matt Brown has formally announced that he will run for the Democratic nomination for that Senate seat.

Posted by armand at 03:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Big Tobacco and the RICO Laws

"In now holding that district courts may never order disgorgement as a remedy for RICO violations, this court ignores controlling Supreme Court precedent, disregards Congress's plain language, and creates a circuit split--all in deciding an issue not properly before us."

Gee Judge Tatel, tell us what you really think about yesterday's decision. If you don't want to read the decision itself - here's a brief report on the case and the ruling.

Posted by armand at 11:39 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Ian Holm in Big Night

Big Night is a nice movie. Not amazing, great or superb - but very nice. And hey, who can ever argue with anything that gives us a chance to gaze upon and enjoy Isabella Rosselini?

But thinking about it, a question about today's actors occurs to me ... is there anything Ian Holm can't do? The quality of his performances, and his range, is remarkable.

Posted by armand at 11:18 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

A Day at the Races

The star race today has got to be the Grade I Donn Handicap. Its field is impressive, and it includes two excellent five year-olds, Roses in May (who last year was only beaten by the amazing Horse of the Year Ghostzapper) and Saint Liam (who only lost to Ghostzapper by a head in last year's Woodward Stakes). But I'm bringing up racing today on the off-chance that a particular friend checks this site today. Just in case, so you know, the field in today's Grade II Strub Stakes features both Rock Hard Ten and Imperialism. So I suppose it's time for another round of jokes about these horses' names to commence.

Posted by armand at 11:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 04, 2005

"Wrong Word Choices"

From CNN:

A three-star Marine general who said it was "fun to shoot some people" should have chosen his words more carefully, the Marine Corps commandant said Thursday. Lt. Gen. James Mattis, who commanded Marine expeditions in Afghanistan and Iraq, made the comments Tuesday during a panel discussion in San Diego, California. "Actually it's quite fun to fight them, you know. It's a hell of a hoot," Mattis said, prompting laughter from some military members in the audience. "It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up there with you. I like brawling. "You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil," Mattis said. "You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."

How do people like this maintain their leadership positions?

It's not that I am naive enough to think that no soldier has ever felt what he describes, and throughout history people have written about the joy of battle. However, to use the casual language he did in a panel discussion... First, what an idiot. Second, if that's the way he speaks in public, who knows what example he's setting out of the camera's eye. Third, the result of this is probably going to be negative for the regular marine. Again, what an idiot.

Posted by binky at 10:50 AM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

February 03, 2005

Why Even Have a House Ethics Committee?

Seriously folks - why? If members who take these investigations seriously aren't allowed to serve on it ...

Is it that disbanding it is sure to get a day of bad press? I find that hard to believe. I mean yeah, were that to happen Jim Lehrer might ask Norm Ornstein a serious question or two, and end his questioning with a cynical, depressed statement, and Aaron Brown might get all huffy for a few minutes. But c'mon - that's not exactly serious accountability that the powers that be need to worry about. The press has shown that unless hookers, dead bodies or under-age boys are involved, they aren't especially interested in congressional ethics controversies. So why doesn't DeLay just go ahead and disband the thing if it's going to be a toothless tiger?

And speaking of DeLay's iron-fisted rule of the people's house ...

I can't recall anything in many, many years remotely similar to DeLay not only stripping Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) of his committee chairmanship, but booting him off the Veteran's Affairs committee entirely. If that's not unprecedented, and it might be, it's something that hasn't happened in ages.

Posted by armand at 09:02 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Wonkette Watches So We Don't Have To

I mean the man spewed numbers - economic numbers relating to 2042! This from a White House that has to continual revise its numbers from PAST budgets. Anyway, if you didn't tune in, go look at Wonkette to see what he said. I'm especially amused at/appalled by 9:31-9:33.

Posted by armand at 12:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bush's Cocoon

Ya know, it's almost not news anymore, but it still boggles the mind:

Fargo City Commissioner Linda Coates is among more than 40 area residents included on a list of people barred from attending President Bush's speech today in Fargo.
Among the 42 area people on the do-not-admit list: two high school students, a librarian, a Democratic campaign manager and several university professors.


The list contains a wide range of people. Several wrote opinion page letters to The Forum criticizing Bush or the war in Iraq. Others wrote letters in support of gay rights or of Democratic policies.

I thought he was everybody's President?

(Via Josh Marshall.)

Posted by baltar at 11:48 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Social Security IV: The Return of 70s "Crisis"

Via a comment over at Crooked Timber, I found a link to a post called Social Security crisis, circa 1978 in which Michael Green discusses an LA Times story about Bush and social security. The upshot is that the Bush position on social security (to twist an old phrase) is "old wine but a new vintage." Crisis indeed.

Posted by binky at 09:43 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 02, 2005

Bound and Gagged

In Beyond the Bounds Baltar took us to the world where visiting travelers were accompanied - even to the bathroom - by minders. No, it wasn't the Soviet Union or Cuba, it was the inauguration of George W. Bush. In my comment, I compared the minders to action of the good old USSR or Fidel Castro. I have to admit, however, that I was wrong to make that comparison. I picked the wrong socialist!

It must have been the use of the word "minder" that got me off on the wrong socialist track. Instead of thinking about Soviet tourism and the inability of the (supposedly) party faithful to speak freely to reporters, I should have been thinking of nipples. That's right! Janet Jackson's nipple, to be exact. And how could I have forgotten on superbowl eve, especially since the spambots have been loading us up with superbowl comment spam in the dark of night?!

Guessed the correct socialist yet? If you were thinking Hugo Chavez...ding ding ding...you win the prize. From the BBC:

Venezuela has passed a controversial media law condemned by the opposition and a human rights group for threatening freedom of expression. Discussion of the law has dominated political debate in recent months.
The government of President Hugo Chavez says the law will improve the quality of Venezuelan television and open up access to the media.
Media outlets will face heavy fines or even closure if they do not follow the rules.
After six weeks of debate and a marathon final two day session, the government majority in Venezuela's parliament finally got what it wanted: a new law that it says will encourage higher standards in broadcasting, protect children from inappropriate sex and violence and democratise access to the airways.
The opposition, which controls most of Venezuela's private media, insists the new law on "Social Responsibility in TV and Radio" is aimed at silencing them.
They point to the possible suspension of licences for those who broadcast messages that promote the disruption of public order.
Their concerns were echoed on Wednesday by Human Rights Watch, which repeated earlier warnings that the legislation could seriously threaten freedom of expression.
Government supporters, however, have argued that the owners of Venezuela's private media are more worried by the law's provision that a portion of all programming must be made in Venezuela, and that some of this must be produced independently.

No word yet on whether the new law in Venezuela will require the pixelation of cartoon characters' butts. Guess it's a good thing the US has new enemies, otherwise it would be bad news for the administration to be cribbing so many moves from the commie playbook.

Posted by binky at 11:19 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Ignorance and High Schools

I'd be surprised if you haven't heard about the recent Knight Foundation/UConn survey (here is a copy of the final report - warning: pdf file) of high school students (and teachers). The purpose of the survey was to measure the students knowledge and opinions with respect to a range of questions on the Constitution, free speach and the media. The survey covered 544 high schools and about 112,000 students. Some results that struck me:

1. The one everybody's talking about: 12% of students said they strongly agreed that the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees. An additional 23% mildly agree that the First Amendment goes too far. That's just over a third of high school students who think the First Amendment's rights are too broad. That's just plain scary. What is unbelievably frightening is that 29% of teachers fall into those two categories (9% and 20%).
2. About a third (32%) think the press has too much freedom to "do what it wants" in the US: 38% of teachers agree with this.. And the alternative is....14% strongly feel that the press should get government permission to print stories, while 22% mildly feel that the press should get permission (for teachers, those categories are 6% strongly and 12% mildly).
3. Another big one: 75% think it is illegal to burn the US flag in protest. Three quarters of high school students are wrong. That's frightening. (Of course, 40% of teachers also think this. Can we please fire them?)
4. 26% of high schools do not offer a student newspaper. Fine. Here's the kicker: "Of the high schools that do not offer student newspapers, 40 percent have eliminated student papers within the last five years." (pg 15). That's right, 10% of high schools (40% of the 26%) in this country allow a senior to graduate without ever having written a single paper.

To be honest, I'm shocked by the ignorance and opinions of the students, but even more shocked by the ignorance and opinions of the teachers. You can't really blame the students for not knowing anything, if the teachers don't have a clue. And the fact that there are high schools where students never write papers is just staggering. Is it time to move to Canada?

Posted by baltar at 04:32 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

The White House and the Press

Posted without comment: (cite)

The Bush administration has provided White House media credentials to a man who has virtually no journalistic background, asks softball questions to the president and his spokesman in the midst of contentious news conferences, and routinely reprints long passages verbatim from official press releases as original news articles on his website.
Jeff Gannon calls himself the White House correspondent for TalonNews.com, a website that says it is "committed to delivering accurate, unbiased news coverage to our readers." It is operated by a Texas-based Republican Party delegate and political activist who also runs GOPUSA.com, a website that touts itself as "bringing the conservative message to America."


He [McClellan] said other reporters and political commentators from lesser-known newsletters and from across the political spectrum also attend briefings, though he could not recall any Internet bloggers. McClellan said it is not the White House's role to decide who is and who is not a real journalist and dismissed any notion of conspiracy.
Nonetheless, transcripts of White House briefings indicate that McClellan often calls on Gannon and that the press secretary -- and the president -- have found relief in a question from Gannon after critical lines of questioning from mainstream news organizations.

No comment what-so-ever.

Posted by baltar at 03:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A Thought Experiment on Iraq

Read the following paragragh. As you are reading, replace the words in the original text with words referring to our actions in Iraq:

Replace "Kennedy Administration" with "George W. Bush Administration"

Replace "Eisenhower" with "Clinton"

Replace "Asia" with "the Middle East"

Replace "Vietnam" with "Iraq"

Replace "Ho Chi Minh" with "Zarqawi" or "Bin Laden"

Replace "Communist" with "Islamic"

Replace "Diem" with "Allawi"

Replace "Domino Theory" with "Theory that says Al Queda is hierarchical and tied to states like Saddam's"

(If anyone can find a better replacement for Domino Theory, I'm open to suggestions. This phrase is awkward, but close.)

But the Kennedy Administration did not re-evaluate any of the Eisenhower conceptions in Asia; if anything, the Kennedy people would set out to upgrade and modernize the means of carrying out those policies. Later, as their policies floundered in Vietnam, they would lash out in frustration at their own personnel there, at the reporters, at the imcompetence of the client government. What they did not realize was the the problem was not just American personnel, which was often incompetence, nor the governmental reporting, which was highly dishonest, nor the client government, which was just as bad as its worst critics claimed - the real problem was the failure to re-examine the assumptions of the era, particularly in Asia. There was no real attempt, when the new Adminstration came in, to analyze Ho Ci Minh's position in terms of the Vietnamese people and in terms of the larger Communist world, to establish what Diem represented, to to determine whether the domino theory was in fact valid. Each time the question of the domino theory was sent to intelligence experts for evaluation, they would send back answers which reflected their doubts about its validity, but the highest level of government left the domino theory alone. It was as if, by questioning it, they might have revealed its emptiness, and would then have been forced to act on their new discovery. In fact, the President's own public statements on Laos and Vietnam...reflected if not his endorsement of the domino theory, then his belief that he could not yet challenge it, and by his failure to challenge it, the necessity to go along with it.


The quote comes from David Halbertam's book The Best and the Brightest (pg. 122 in my version). When I finish it, I'll post a full review.

Posted by baltar at 03:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 01, 2005

15 Votes Needed for Same-Sex Marriage in Canada

The spread of gay marriage has been moving at a brisk pace on a province by province pace - but same-sex couples across the entire country may soon have the opportunity to marry. The government of Prime Minister Paul Martin has finally put forward it's long-awaited same-sex marriage bill. A Globe and Mail poll finds 139 MPs in favor of the legislation and 118 opposed, with 49 undecided or not stating their preference. If 15 of those members vote in favor of the proposal, gay marriage will soon be the law of the land in our neighbor to the North.

Posted by armand at 04:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Michael Coleman Running for Governor of Ohio

I suppose some people will look askance at the chances of an African-American or a mayor of Columbus - much less an African-American mayor of Columbus - getting elected governor of Ohio. But hey, the former wasn't an obstacle to his election as mayor, and given his tenure as mayor, the latter might even turn out to be a plus. He's an impressive guy, has some interesting accomplishments to note, and he's has shown that he can raise money. Given the pathetic state of the Democratic party in Ohio you'd have to think that whomever that party nominates in 2006 will face on up-hill race that November, but Coleman's could prove to be an unusually strong candidacy.

Posted by armand at 12:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Social Security III: The Rumble of the Nerds

Alright, sorry about that last bit, but it's starting to have that feel to it, no? Laugh over? Good, because now I'm going to talk about economics. Oh no, not in that much detail, but I have a two part thought this morning.

The first part is a thought about Krugman, and that this column of his effectively calls out economists in favor of social security privatization. Krugman the economist (as opposed to Krugman the pundit) makes an appearance today, and does a little math for us on social security. I know not everyone likes Krugman, but I find his presentation of data to be mostly direct, easily understandable, and measured in terms of its reliability. Maybe it's some teacher thing. The important point about reliability here is that Krugman, like any good academic writer, not only acknowledges the flaws in others' reasoning, but addresses the underlying issues and assumptions behind the logic. Today's piece examines the assumptions necessary to believe social security privatization will return as predicted:

Which brings us to the privatizers' Catch-22.
They can rescue their happy vision for stock returns by claiming that the Social Security actuaries are vastly underestimating future economic growth. But in that case, we don't need to worry about Social Security's future: if the economy grows fast enough to generate a rate of return that makes privatization work, it will also yield a bonanza of payroll tax revenue that will keep the current system sound for generations to come.
Alternatively, privatizers can unhappily admit that future stock returns will be much lower than they have been claiming. But without those high returns, the arithmetic of their schemes collapses.
It really is that stark: any growth projection that would permit the stock returns the privatizers need to make their schemes work would put Social Security solidly in the black.
And I suspect that at least some privatizers know that. Mr. Baker has devised a test he calls "no economist left behind": he challenges economists to make a projection of economic growth, dividends and capital gains that will yield a 6.5 percent rate of return over 75 years. Not one economist who supports privatization has been willing to take the test.
But the offer still stands. Ladies and gentlemen, would you care to explain your position?

This brings me to my second point about economics, which is a beef shared by others of my profession and is nothing all that new, but is shockingly absent from many public discussions of economic policy and specifically social security reform. This is a beef that unfailingly conjures up my mother's voice in my head:

"You know what happens when you assume....

Come on, your mother told you that one too, didn't she? I'm not suggesting that "u and me" are asses. Rather, I'd like to twist the phrase:

You know what happens when you don't acknowledge your assumptions...

Missing from much of this discussion, on both sides, is precisely that recognition that in order to crank these numbers through, we all are making assumptions. And here comes the final resolution about social security (and yes I am dusting off my worst case scenario yet again) when we're talking about keeping Granny from having to eat catfood because our poverty safety net failed, I want my government to make a conservative assumption. Heck, if we could afford it, it would be nice to assume the worst, and then when things came out somewhere in the middle, we could take the extra money and build some new bombs - oops, I meant schools - or something. Assuming the best case scenario (and if you believe Krugman's numbers, you'd have to be hanging with the Oompa Loompas to think we'd get over 100 on the price-earnings ratio) when planning for the future of social security, well, you know what my mother says. Except that instead of just "u and me" it makes asses out of all of us.

Posted by binky at 09:12 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack