April 30, 2005

Popular - Season 2

What a crashing disappointment. As I wrote at some length last year (here and here) while uneven the first season of Popular was on occasion very funny. Very very. High school dramedy at its campy and conniving extreme. But just in case you feel like trying out season 2 on dvd as well - STOP!!!!! It's positively dreadful. The good moments can be counted on one hand (Mike Damus as Clarence, Mary Cherry lip-synching "Rock Me Amadeus" in a Bob Mackie gown that literally lights up the room, most everything involving Emory Dick and his sisters, a character named Helacious), and the bad moments are legion. In season 2 the blondes versus the browns fights end, and pretty much every week is a very special episode - leukemia, addiction, teen marriage, whatever. And given that the Popular universe is already well-established as being not remotely rooted in reality - the awfulness of serious would-be drama done in conventional ways in that setting is ... well, awful. Don't put yourself through it. Watch and laugh at the funny parts of season 1 and don't worry about where the writers and producers took the characters from there.

Posted by armand at 11:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Kyrgyz Marriages

Via The Downtown Lad I found this story on marriages in Kyrgyzstan.

More than half of Kyrgyzstan's married women were snatched from the street by their husbands in a custom known as "ala kachuu," which translates roughly as "grab and run." In its most benign form, it is a kind of elopement, in which a man whisks away a willing girlfriend. But often it is something more violent.

Recent surveys suggest that the rate of abductions has steadily grown in the last 50 years and that at least a third of Kyrgyzstan's brides are now taken against their will.

If this is what some people think society should be based on ...

Posted by armand at 10:52 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Saudis, Texans - Can You Tell the Difference?

Ugh. There are days when I am disgusted by close to everything relating to the Saudi government and how the Bush administration deals with them. Those are the days that end in "d-a-y".

Posted by armand at 10:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 29, 2005

Is That Confetti You Have in Your Hand?

Chalk it up to my Flaming Lips love, but I swear Sam Rockwell looks like Wayne Coyne in this picture from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (and that is somehow so right, because as we all know, Wayne Coyne is from Mars).

This movie has me feeling wildly apprehensive, more so than when the Lord of the Rings was in production. The Rings series was a love of my late childhood, and I was ultimately satisfied with the product (hey - there will always be compromises in Hollywood and aside from dwarf tossing Jackson did a good job). It was fairytale-ish, but that was OK, and somehow that connection from when I read the series - something like 5 times in 8th grade alone - stayed with me.

Hitchhiker's Guide, however, came later, one of those books that smacks you in the head when you're most confused as a late adolescent/early adult, and gives you something to grab on to. It wasn't that it showed you good and evil in an epic struggle like Rings, but that every one of us is lost - in a way - yet in keeping moving and continuing the adventure of life will be alright -in a way. And the Hitchhiker's Guide did it in a way that was funny, clever, sweet and not preachy. With a wink. That's why this review makes me guardedly hopeful. Dare I say: "I can't wait?"

And while we are speaking of both movies and the Flaming Lips, Bradley Beesley has released The Fearless Freaks, his documentary based on the result of more than a decade of filming. Here is the homepage for more information, and here is a review of the film. For the truly dedicated, you can advance order a copy here.

Posted by binky at 01:46 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

John Bolton: Disagree with Me? You're Fired!

Yes, there's more. This wouldn't necessarily be the end of the world ... but of course some of those he was trying to get fired didn't actually work for him (would you want a guy like that in your office?) and of course when it came to who knew what was actually going on ... they did, he didn't. So he wanted them fired for not backing up his inaccurate view of reality on matters involving of grave threat to the nation's security.

And of course this is just part of the problem. He declines to give his superiors information they request (actually lies to them about its existence), misleads (or lies) to Congress about his past behavior, and the area of government policy he's responsible for (arms control non-prolieration) is perhaps the most disastrous foreign policy failure of this administration over the last couple of years.

Why does a man like this have the president's support for high office? Better yet, why is the president trusting him at this very moment to carry out vital government work that deals with our national security given his long record of failure and hugely inaccurate analysis?

Posted by armand at 10:40 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The President Wants to Cut Social Security

Yeah, the title of the post is from the files of "well, duh". But last night made it clearer than ever.

His proposal to reduce guaranteed benefits for everyone but the working poor is designed to provide specific direction to Congress on how to shore up the system -- and pressure Democrats to support a plan that protects those earning the least.

In other news from the morning papers - it's been a particularly bad day in Iraq. As part of these attacks there was an attack on Iraq's Interior Minister - after he'd been on the job for all of one day - but the SCIRI member survived the attack on his home. Of course earlier this week a member of the Allawi faction in the new parliament was shot to death at her home.

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April 28, 2005

More Mind Readers Working for the President

Scott McClellan said Wednesday, "If we think people are coming to the event to disrupt it, obviously, they're going to be asked to leave."

Are they kidding? This is the White House's PUBLIC position? What Scott McClellan tells reporters? On the record?

I'm speechless. Every time this White House hits a new level of arrogance you can't think it would go any farther, but then it does.

It's been perfectly clear that that's what they've been doing for ages, but to say so this brazenly is shocking. Of course there is the issue of them publicly stating that those who MIGHT dissent shouldn't have access to areas near where the president will be (much less access to the president himself), which shows on its own a frightful lack of respect for what many people consider to be perfectly appropriate levels of democracy and political discourse. But beyond that, apparently the support staff for such events has now acquired the ability to read minds (maybe they got this power from the Wall Street Journal) and can determine exactly who intends to do exactly what at public events. I understand the desire to script events, but I think there is something very troubling, bordering on revolting, about this.

Posted by armand at 10:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The President Contradictory on Social Security?!?

The hell you say! There's no getting around the fact that his "plan" (which is, of course, nothing of the sort) is built on contradictory assumptions.

Posted by armand at 10:37 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Crossing State Lines for an Abortion

In light of Binky's post yesterday, I think it's appropriate to link to this hypothetical by Publius today.

Posted by armand at 04:07 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

The Cartoons of Kevin Siers

His Bolton "Mirror Mirror" one from April 22 is my favorite political cartoon of late.

Posted by armand at 12:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

400 Attacks a Week, Sixty Casualties a Day

I'm not sure where things stand in Iraq, but if these are the numbers put out by the Pentagon (which you would think would be the source most likely to be cautious in their reporting) it doesn't look to me like we are "winning" the war. And of course these are just the attacks in Iraq, the attacks worldwide more than tripled last year.

Maybe new Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq (and interim Oil Minister) Chalabi will make all the difference and turn things around. Yeah, right, that's the ticket. I'm not saying that we should leave, but is this really the kind of government our soldiers should be dying for? I think that's a legitimate question.

Posted by armand at 10:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 27, 2005

They say it's going to be a big year for hurricanes

And the list of reasons to love to hate Florida continues to grow. "[C]hief sponsor, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican of Florida. "

Posted by binky at 11:53 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Graphing the Rise and Fall of Names

The Pearls and Opals of the world are long gone. The Pauls, Johns and Scotts are becoming rarer. Alexis surged for girls in the 1980's, and Trinity is soaring at the moment. Follow this Eric Muller post to see graphic representations of the rise and fall of the popularity of names in the United States. It's a fun site.

Posted by armand at 02:47 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Guns, Foreign Courts and the US Supremes

This ruling is just the kind of thing that must send the results-oriented activists on both the left and right screaming about how "their" justices could do such a thing. In Small, if you only look at the results and not the legal reasoning, and c'mon, we know that results are what the evangelical right and the anti-gun folks are most focused on, not constitutional interpretation - O'Connor, Souter, Ginsburg, Stevens and Breyer are pro-gun rights, with Thomas, Kennedy and Scalia opposed to them. And not only that, those last three argue that official government policies should be dependent on the findings of courts outside the United States! Whatever must Bill Frist, Tony Perkins and the rest of that crew be thinking.

Posted by armand at 12:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Filibuster Irony

I realize the word is often grossly misused, but I think this is an actual example of irony. One of the judges that the Democrats in the Senate are blocking is the son of a former senator who used the filibuster to against Lyndon Johnson's nomination of Abe Fortas to the position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court back in the 1960's. Now I don't know if Richard Griffin is technically being filibustered at this point (I don't think he is), but it's an odd coincidence (though perhaps not that odd given the degree to which holding political office in this country is tied to family bonds and connections).

Posted by armand at 11:54 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bonnie Prince Billy Live

OK, I should probably leave this post to Binky since she knows his work better than I do (so Binky, you know, feel free to write a new post on this, alter this one to add your thoughts, or just express your thoughts in the comments if you want), but I continue to apparently miss the point relating to what makes Will Oldham so great. And after seeing him live ... I still don't get it. Whereas last Monday night's Clem Snide show (scroll down a couple of posts to read about it) and great energy and showed off some of their skills and music in a whole new light, and I can't say seeing Will Oldham live gave me any insights into his music that I don't get from his recordings. I'm not arguing that it's not still fitting music to be depressed to. But I didn't find him to be especially impressive on stage.

Posted by armand at 11:44 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 26, 2005

Terrifying Anti-AIDS Art

It's French, naturally. And it's remarkable - a compelling and disturbing work that is very effective at producing a visceral reaction.

Needless to say, we're unlikely to see anything like it here, and not just because of the bare ass. Though I think this is a perfect example of showing how that ridiculous puritanical taboo can get in the way of a public good. This shot wouldn't be nearly as terrifying if the guy was covered. And this is one of the most effective anti-unsafe sex images I've ever seen.

Posted by armand at 01:34 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Clem Snide and End of Love

Last night, after seeing a speech by Seymour Hersh, I went to an old-time neighborhood drinking establishment. You can imagine my surprise that Eef Barzalay opened the door for me to go in, and you can imagine my further surpise to find out I was walking into a free Clem Snide show in what would seem an extremely unlikely location. But as surprises go, it was one I was very happy to fall into. They were tremendously entertaining, playing both their own music (beautifully of course), covers (of, among others, Johnny Cash, CCR, Nico, even Christina Aguilera), and inviting people in the audience to come up and sing (so we were also treated to renditions of "I'm on Fire" and "Take on Me"). All in all it was a great show, perhaps livelier and louder than one would have expected, and it led me to pick up their latest album, End of Love. It is, predictably, great stuff - lovely music and very fine lyrics.

Posted by armand at 11:42 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

A Lampson vs. DeLay Race?

Richard Morrison has decided not to run against Tom DeLay, but according to Roll Call, former Congressman Nick Lampson has decided to take him on. I think it would be one of the sweetest bits of election night 2006 if my favorite of the Texans unseated by Tom DeLay's remap of the Texas congressional districts came back and defeated the Majority Leader. I'm not saying it's going to happen - but it would definitely bring a smile to my face.

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

April 24, 2005

Primer and Melinda and Melinda

Primer is a dynamite little movie. When I say little I mean that itís a masterpiece of small-budget filmmaking. Itís the kind of film where in the credits the director thanks his parents for feeding the crew, and afterwards you really want to give the guy a congratulatory hug for pulling things off so well with so little support. But beyond that, itís a surprisingly effective and taut sci-fi story. I donít know how much I should say about the plot. Two friends build a machine in oneís garage. The machine appears to offer all sorts of possibilities. But itís also a catalyst that makes old friends distrustful, and it forces them to confront questions about what to do given a sudden increase in power. But basically Iíd just say that if you are interested in actual ďindependentĒ films you shouldnít let these 78 minutes pass you by. Will it change your life or lead you to fall in love with it? Probably not. But itís a triumph of artistic creation and ingenuity, and itís great to know that things like this are being made. I mean on the commentaries (which I highly recommend if you are an aspiring director) you hear that he didn't know the first thing about putting music in a movie, but that, like most everything else, is done very successfully.

By comparison, Melinda and Melinda is pretty much a disaster. While the opening couple of minutes evoked some very happy memories for me (they are set in Pastis), if you donít have a personal tie to any of the locations or the cast and crew involved in this production, Iím hard pressed to think of anything one is likely to like about it. The story is contrived, and itís pulled off in a way thatís neither entertaining, nor really matches the banal structure it seeks to follow. There are some very fine actors here forced into parts where they have little to do (Johnny Lee Miller and Chloe Sevigny) or are forced into overacting (Rahda Mitchell). And as to what Will Ferrell is doing in this movie, I have no idea. Just how bad is it? I enjoyed The Curse of the Jade Scorpion much more, and I donít even like Helen Hunt. As that comparison implies, Melinda is a dreadful mess.

Posted by armand at 07:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Inside the Conclave

Time has the deepest story I've seen yet on exactly where the votes were going in the Sistine Chapel. Ratzinger led throughout, with strong backing from both Italians and Latin Americans. After Martini faded the "liberals" moved toward Bergoglio, though apparently Bergoglio himself may have been backing Ratzinger (I've seen that in other reports too). Tettamanzi got few votes.

Posted by armand at 11:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Iraq Price Tag - Over $300 Billion So Far

The new supplemental bill is about $81 billion, which when you add that to the previously approved $228 billion ... ugh, can do the math, but I don't want to think about it. Of course Larry Summers was pushed out of his White House job for daring to say it would cost $200 billion. Wolfowitz and Natsios said the US wouldn't have to pay for reconstuction at all. Right. Maybe in a dream world where the president behaves like his father and fosters ties with other countries and builds alliances that include commitments to pay for joint action ... but that was never in the cards with this presidency (much like the notion that Iraqi oil would pay for it all should have always been considered a fantasy). And of course there is no sign that the insurgency will be ending any time soon, and when even the Iraqis who want to work through the system we put in place are taking 3 months to form a government ... ugh, there goes my head again. The costs mount and mount. And when you consider the things that money could have been used for, the lives that could have otherwise been bettered with those funds - all those diasbled people in need of services, the kids who don't get scholarships, the people who can't afford health insurance, the possibility of providing better health insurance coverage, of maintaining the country's natural wonders, fixing lousy schools, hiring more language specialists to protect us from future terrorist attacks, helping to put the arts back in education - the list of what could be done with over $309 billion is an incredibly long list. The costs go far deeper than most of us want to think about - and that's before we even get into the direct human costs.

Posted by armand at 11:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Kissing Babies in New York

If political success really is dependent on one's ability to win over the little ones, it looks like Gifford Miller might be the best bet in the mayoral primary.

Posted by armand at 11:04 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 23, 2005

The TriBeCa Film Festival

Began in New York this week. It offers all sorts of apparent delights like The Beat My Heart Skipped, but being always curious about the oddities of Peter Greenaway I'd probably try to check out The Tulse Luper Suitcases.

Posted by armand at 04:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tom DeLay Wants Judges Intimidated

That says it all right there, doesn't it? The Majority Leader of of the US House of Representatives looks at our justice system like a Klan leader from the 1950's or a mafia chief from the 1930's and not only that, he uses the same kind of threatening language. How is this acceptable in our political system?

Posted by armand at 01:10 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 22, 2005

Benedict XVI Opposes Gay Marriage in Spain

That in itself is entirely expected. There are all sorts of things that Prime Minister Zapatero has proposed that have appalled the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Spain. But what struck me about these stories was the following:

He said every profession linked with implementing homosexual marriages should oppose it, even if it meant losing their jobs.
So he'd rather see unemployment and hungry families than gay marriage? I mean it strikes me that this prioritization implies that. It also would seem to raise the stakes in terms of how he will deal with Catholic politicians in the US who carry out policies that the church opposes. Though of course it needn't stop at the politicians. If he's going to advocate getting out of the political system if it means opposing Church preferences ... it would seem conceivable that he'd call on Catholic soldiers in Iraq to leave the service rather than fight in a war the Church opposes.

Posted by armand at 02:46 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Uptown and Old Metarie Represented in the State Senate By Someone from North of the Lake!?!

Judging from this list of the potential candidates to replace the late, legendary John Hainkel (R-New Orleans) in the Louisiana State Senate apparently that's quite possible. Ah, how the influence of the traditional elites fades as the great suburban and exurban trends continue.

Posted by armand at 01:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Claire McCaskill to Run for the Senate in 2006?

If she decides to do so, Missouri will suddenly leap up the list of races to watch in the next cycle. Senator Talent should still be favored at this point, but McCaskill could be a very strong opponent.

Posted by armand at 01:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 21, 2005

The WSJ: Simultaneously Seers and Thought Police

This link to a piece in the Wall Street Journal includes some remarkable language:

Just as embarrassing has been Nebraska's Charles Hagel, whose waffling on the nomination should be understood as an attempt to curry favor with the liberal media and strike a blow for the permanent State Department bureaucracy that he has long allied himself with.

That's quite a piece of writing. The ham-handed silliness, the arrogance, the cliched insults, the demand to obey ... and I was completely unaware of the fact that the writers at the WSJ apparently have the ability to peer into a man's soul and read his true intentions, beliefs and values. That's quite an accomplishment for people who write in such a banal style.

Posted by armand at 04:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Comey's Out at the DOJ

This appears to be significant loss to the country and the government. From all accounts I've read the Deputy Attorney General is a talented leader who is serious about the law. And, in fact, that seriousness might have blocked him from other positions in the government.

He was rumored to be a candidate for attorney general after his boss, John Ashcroft, stepped down. But his chances weren't good from the start. Some of the president's top advisers felt he was insensitive to political concerns ...

Yes, we wouldn't want an Attorney General who put the law above politics, now would we. Best of luck in the future Mr. Comey.

Posted by armand at 12:01 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Another Howie Kurtz Idiocy

At least this one is less damaging than many of his poorly informed comments.

"I guess none of the journalistic handicappers had much of a clue."

Huh? You spend a large portion of your life talking to blow-dry types pontificting on things that they clearly know nothing about, and THIS is when you decide to smack down people who make inaccurate predictions? One, guessing wrong doesn't mean that they lacked "much of a clue", and two, several of them guessed right. John Allen was openly discussing this, and the bookies had Ratzinger down as one of the favorites.

Howie, speaking of those who don't have much of a clue ...

Posted by armand at 11:54 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Texas Bans Gay Foster Parents

Quite a contrast to the Connecticut post below. Both have Republican governors, but politics in Connecticut and Texas are obviously very different things.

Posted by armand at 11:35 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Dr. Strangelove vs. Duck Soup

Norbizness has offered some tough choices before (like Duck Soup vs. Airplane!) in his comedy film competition, but this one is one of the hardest choices. Still, it's only fitting that the two films in the final are both classics for the ages.

Posted by armand at 11:22 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Civil Unions in Connecticut

Governor Rell has signed them into law.

The new law extends to gay couples the rights and responsibilities married couples have under 588 state statutes, including the right to file a joint tax return and make medical decisions for a partner.

The law does not allow gay marriage. In fact it explicitly bans it.

And despite bipartisan support, the bill was only considered politically acceptable after an amendment was added by the House of Representatives that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.That addition was key to winning Rell's signature.
Posted by armand at 09:30 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 20, 2005

A Moment of Silence

I'm going to suspend blogging for the rest of today. Baltar's father died recently, and the memorial service is today. I'm sure I speak for all of us in extending our condolences, concern and affection to him and his family in this difficult time.

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

Senator Jeffords Won't Seek Reelection

I suppose this will inevitably lead to talk of Congressman Bernie Sanders running for the now open Senate seat. While I don't agree with Sanders on everything (not even close) it's probably not the worst idea in the world to have a variety of views in the Senate.

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

Andrew Sullivan on Benedict XVI

Some of the most succinct criticisms of the election of Benedict XVI are coming from Andrew Sullivan. He's been writing on nothing else for the last 24 hours. The posts here and here get to the heart of his reaction.

Posted by armand at 11:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 19, 2005

Benedict XVI

Huh - I wonder how the new pope's name will be interpreted in light of St. Malachy's prophecies. Scroll down to the next to last pope.

With the new pope being Ratzinger it looks like John Allen will be in even more demand than usual for interviews - he literally wrote the book on the man.

UPDATE: His opening remarks suggest that the unusual focus John Paul II put on Mary may continue.

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

The Final Papal Prediction

I'm being called upon to make a final prediction about who the new pope is given how short the conclave was. I'm EXTREMELY reluctant to do this ... watch it be one of the Portugese men I don't know much about ... and of course Tettamanzi still seems the likeliest choice ... but why pick the favorite? That's no fun. Since I mentioned my gut instinct about Bergoglio before - that's who I'll go with.

Posted by armand at 12:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A New Pope!

Well that was fast - the white smoke and the bells appeared around noon today, EST.

Posted by armand at 12:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Chris Heinz Won't Run for Congress

Not a surprise.

Posted by armand at 09:05 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Potential Popes from the 2003 Consistory

Given that so far we've only seen black smoke, here's a little more on some names that might come up in dicussions inside the Sistine Chapel. None of them are necessarily favorites, though all the Italians have been mentioned by various Vatican source. They are just names to keep in mind in case the man who emerges on the balcony isn't a Tettamanzi, Ratzinger, or one of the oft-mentioned Latin Americans.

John Paul II made a comment about his successor between the 2001 and 2003 consistories that suggested that his successor would be someone who was not yet in the College of Cardinals. If that prediction holds true, his successor could be of any of 31 men. As this period of prognostications and unusual interest in Church personnel matters continues, I thought I would briefly describe six of them. Three are Italians whose names have made the list of papabile. The others are non-Italians who are not generally viewed to be likely contenders, but might be interesting choices.

Cardinal Angelo Scola, 63, the Patriarch of Venice, appears the most likely choice from this consistory. Heís a clear doctrinal conservative. But this former rector of the Lateran University is also considered to have a curious mind and a gracious interpersonal style.

Tarcisco Bertone, 70, the Archbishop of Genoa and a Salesian, is another clear doctrinal conservative. He used to be the Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (headed by Cardinal Ratzinger).

Ennio Antonelli, 68, the Archbishop of Florence, is generally viewed as more moderate than the other two Italians. Heís very interested in peace and justice issues, is seen as a very successful pastor and is often compared to Pope John Paul I.

Carlos Amigo Vallejo, 70 the Archbishop of Seville, is a Spanish Franciscan. Orthodox on doctrine, he has been actively involved in relations with the Islamic world. He supervised the opening of diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Morocco when he was Archbishop of Tangiers.

Bernard Panafieu, 74, the Archbishop of Marseilles, is like Antonelli, a doctrinal moderate. He has also taken a lead role in relations with Islam, a key issue in his native France.

Rodolfo Quezada Toruno, 73, Archbishop of Guatemala, like Franceís Panafieu hasnít made media lists of the papabile. But he could be an interesting candidate who could potentially bring together developing world cardinals, those on the left-wing of the Latin American church, and those who believe that church leaders should be a very public voice in the civil and moral affairs of their country. He has been a prominent figure in seeking to heal his war-torn country.

Posted by armand at 08:21 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 18, 2005

Could Michael Howard Survive Because of Conservative Losses?

I doubt it. But you never know. Considering that the Conservative party does like to turn on its own of late, you'd think that a strong challenge to Howard's leadership is not only possible but likely, if the Conservatives don't do well in next month's vote. But an interesting point to notice if you look at his likely rivals (and you'd think that for those you should just look behind him in the Shadow Cabinet) is that some of them are having to defend seats that are far from safe. For example, two of the big three positions are held by men (Shadow Chancellor Oliver Letwin and Shadow Home Secretary David Davis) who are defending margins of less than 2000 votes (Letwin holds one of the most endangered seats of any Conservative). It could be that some of his most effective potential successors won't even be in the House again after this election. I'm sure it's not the kind of job security Howard wants, but it's interesting to note.

Posted by armand at 12:55 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The Conclave Begins

A few thoughts to keep in mind over the next few days about the election of the successor to John Paul II.

First, this conclave is different than its predecessors in some key respects. There are fewer Italians, more cardinals from the developing world, there are simply more cardinals than there have ever been before in a conclave, and the cardinals will be staying in vastly more comfortable conditions than they did previously. So this one might work differently than previous conclaves. However, if it follows the patterns of conclaves in the 20th century we should have a new pope by the end of the week.

Presuming that the conclave doesn't go on for more than 10 days, any candidate who is opposed by more than one third of the conclave can't be elected.

Prior to the death of John Paul II the candidate most often tipped to succeed him was Cardinal Tettamanzi, the Archbishop of Milan. In the last week or two the name that has been coming out of Rome most often is the Dean of the College of Cardinals and the long-serving Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

There appears to be an interest in the next pope being media-friendly, multilingual and open to more "collegiality". While Ratzinger is the stalwart leader of the "Border Patrol" party and thus an obvious exception to this last belief, many cardinals, irrespective of their doctrinal views, appear to want less centralized control coming from Rome. And many of the cardinals have talked of the importance of having a pope who knows what it is like to run a large diocese.

Cardinals are well aware of the fact that the main areas of growth in the Church are in the developing world, but some (especially some of the relatively liberal Europeans) are also worried about the decline of Catholicism in Europe.

Some cardinals are wary of another very lengthy papcy coming on the heels of one of the longest in history.

Put that all together and ... who knows? Tettamanzi still seems the likeliest candidate, though I've had a strong gut feeling about Bergoglio for quite some time. And there are several other names that would one could see being elected, though of course the order in which they are proposed (something we may never know) will affect the result as well. In any event it will likely be over in a matter of days (the election of John Paul I only took 4 ballots), but of course this one is different from those that occurred before, so ... we'll see.

Posted by armand at 12:29 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Bolton Blocked Powell, Armitage and Rice (Supposedly His Superiors) from Vital Information

If the US Senate is at all "reality-based", even just a bit, you'd think this would finish off this nomination. I'm nothing less than appalled at these charges. I've always thought the number one reason to block Bolton from another government position is the inept and dangerous behavior he's engaged in in his current position - but every time you think you've heard the worst of that, it just keeps getting worse.

John R. Bolton -- who is seeking confirmation as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations -- often blocked then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and, on one occasion, his successor, Condoleezza Rice, from receiving information vital to U.S. strategies on Iran, according to current and former officials who have worked with Bolton ...

Two officials described a memo that had been prepared for Powell at the end of October 2003, ahead of a critical international meeting on Iran, informing him that the United States was losing support for efforts to have the U.N. Security Council investigate Iran's nuclear program. Bolton allegedly argued that it would be premature to throw in the towel. "When Armitage's staff asked for information about what other countries were thinking, Bolton said that information couldn't be collected," according to one official with firsthand knowledge of the exchange ...

Bolton's time at the State Department under Rice has been brief. But authoritative officials said Bolton let her go on her first European trip without knowing about the growing opposition there to Bolton's campaign to oust the head of the U.N. nuclear agency. "She went off without knowing the details of what everybody else was saying about how they were not going to join the campaign," according to a senior official. Bolton has been trying to replace Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who is perceived by some within the Bush administration as too soft on Iran.

Publicly, Rice has staunchly defended Bolton's credentials and urged the Senate to quickly confirm him. But privately, officials said, she has kept him out of key discussions on Iran since taking over in January.

If Rice doesn't trust him to do his current job, why should he be getting another one?

Posted by armand at 11:09 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 17, 2005

Kurtz on the Schiavo Memo: Kos Right, the Post Wrong

One could practically spend an entire career writing critiques of the inaccuracies and inanities promulgated by Howie Kurtz, so it's no surprise that bloggers like Atrios and Kos regularly take him on. But the withering assessment by Kos of the Post's response to complaints against a recent Kurtz story is just so on (in terms of capturing the habits of Kurtz and the MSM) that I think it merits mentioning:

So, according to Getler, good journalism was practiced by Kurtz's coverage of rank partisan speculation by irresponsible and extremist Right Wing bloggers. But good journalism does NOT require coverage of fact based and reasoned critique of Kurtz's irresponsible work.

Remember folks. Allen's story was RIGHT! Kurtz's story was WRONG!

But Getler has harsh words for Allen and flowers for Kurtz and Powerline.

Pathetic. Yes, the Liberal Media. My ass.

Big media is all about the story and controversy, and far too many successful reporters find it easy to just fill up their columns with the pontifications of ill-informed hacks, rather than to really get to the bottom of things. And too many of the major outlets value snazzy stories that sell over funding lengthy investigations or getting at dry facts. The people who put their own face and names on these supposed "news" stories, and those that abet them, should be ashamed of themselves and find a new line of work. They aren't journalists in any sense of the word that I'm familiar with.

Posted by armand at 01:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bad Education

With Talk to Her (2002) and Bad Education (2004) Pedro Almodovar has shown the kind of vision, skill and quality film making that very few directors ever exhibit in one film over their entire career, much less in two films that they complete back to back. Both deserve to be close to the pinnacle of the "best films of the year" lists for their respective release periods. And I can't wait to see what he's got in store for his viewers next.

Bad Education really isn't what I was expecting. After All About My Mother and Talk to Her I was expecting something of a conventional (by Almodovar standards) drama in terms of the film's structure, if not in terms of its subject matter. And from the mentions of the movie that I heard when it was released last year I knew it dealt with a priest-student abuse story. Well, it's dramatic, and that is part of what's going on, but it's much more than that. Right from the start (the credits are inventive, bold and look great) you get a sense of the fact that this is, probably above all else, a film noir. It's very much like Hitchcock, and in terms of its construction it is built upon the continual peeling away of various layers. It contains stories within stories within stories (on the commentary track Almodovar compares it to those Russian dolls that get ever smaller was you unwrap the surrounding layers), and you are shifting back and forth through different times, realities and imagined realties throughout the film. Yes, the priest-boy thing is part of the film. But beyond obvious plot events and motivations it also deals a great deal with how we construct stories, moves and perspectives, and all kinds of things that go into film making.

I think it's an excellent film, and it features Gael Garcia Bernal in one of his best (maybe the best) performances yet. He has to go through some remarkable changes in the film, and he carries it off extremely well. I'm rather shocked he didn't get more award nominations for this role. It's unusually difficult, and he's great.

Posted by armand at 10:56 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Just What Is a Constitution in Exile Movement?

Jeffrey Rosen's piece in The New York Times Magazine is something I hope to get around to reading in the next day or two. On Saturday it prompted two critical posts by David Bernstein dealing with a variety of issues. Some of these appear worth noting - but one of the most basic criticisms appears bizarre to me. He writes: " the phrase 'Constitution in Exile movement' implies that there is some organized group that has a specific platform". Huh? In politics we refer to all sorts of ideological movements (which seems to be what Rosen means by this term - from what I can telling by skimming through his article). Just because a group doesn't use Roberts Rules of Order, meet every third Tuesday and require dues doesn't mean it doesn't still exist in a broader sense.

Posted by armand at 10:34 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Iran's Mullahs: More Supportive of Abortion Rights than the GOP

So does this make the Republicans in DC more or less supportive of bombing them?

It's an interesting story, and of course it points out how off-base many people's perceptions of Iran are. And of course it also goes to show, yet again, that kill-'em-all invective to the contrary, there are many, many ways in which Iranian society is much like that of the US - so maybe we should work harder to foster ties and promote understandings that can lead to government reform.

Posted by armand at 09:50 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 16, 2005

Bush Administration Hides War on Terror Statistics from the Public

It's bad enough that they hide their own heads in the sand, but apparently they want to force our heads down there to. I suppose they just want us happily exist in the dark singing tra-la-la to ourselves and avoid noticing the fact that terrorist attacks increased to twenty-year-high levels in 2003 and 2004, and the trend line keeps going up up up (and this isn't counting attacks on American troops on Iraq). With "success" in fighting these actions on that scale I suppose it's sadly predictable that they'd cancel the publication of reports rather than spread, and have to respond to, the bad news.

Posted by armand at 01:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 15, 2005

The Single Transferable Vote: Good for Labour?

This post by John Quiggin raises a very interesting idea. For one thing, I think there's much to be said for this voting system if democracies are supposed to represent the desires of the people (and hence account for the intensity and complexity of the preferences of voters, not just their primary direction). But beyond that, if we were to expect that parties will do what is in their best interest and seek their own survival and growth, a plausible case can be made that this is very much in the party's interest. I presume it hasn't been proposed because of the potential uncertainty (from the perspective of the party and its campaigns) it would introduce, and because Labour fears such a change could lead to the eventual adoption of proportional representation. But given the current political divides in the UK - for now, this would seem to be a system that would benefit the incumbent party.

Posted by armand at 01:00 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 14, 2005

John Bolton: Like Noam Chomsky Crossed With Pat Buchanan

Yikes - talk about a frightening mutant. But that's what Laura Rozen labels likely UN Ambassador Bolton given his comments on Kosovo and Somalia. But what really takes my breath away is the story by Jason Vest that she links to. I didn't think my opinion of Bolton could fall any further. I can't think of a single position in any level of government that I think he should be entrusted with. But it turns out he's even more egregious than I thought. Out of that story Rozen highlights Bolton's attempts to get someone fired for daring to take maternity leave. But read the whole thing. It's filled with a bill of particulars that illustrate a pretty grotesquely warped individual with political views than cavemen could relate to. I mean there are already a host of reasons to oppose him. I haven't seen any evidence that he'd be even a passably effective diplomat and in his current brief he's done an absolutely terrible job. But it's amazing how every time you turn a corner the guy becomes ever more appalling. This nominee unqualified ... but so much more! This should trouble us all, but then he's brought to us by the same guy who brought us Bernie Kerik, so sadly it's not all that surprising.

Posted by armand at 04:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

John Prescott and the Battlebus

I know a lot about British politics, but I guess I missed the missed the class that dealt with one of The Transformers offering his services to the Labour Party. What am I talking about? This.

Posted by armand at 02:01 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A German Pope?

John Allen reports that the campaign to name Cardinal Ratzinger the next pope is for real and has a lot of support. Nonetheless the situation is "still quite fluid".

Posted by armand at 01:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Onion's "What Do You Think?" on DeLay

Easy laughs, arguably cruel laughs, depressing laughs - but laughs nonetheless.

Posted by armand at 12:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A Pointless Brooks Column on Bolton, Part II

I see that Armand has, with vim and vigor, torn Brooks a new one. Brooks succeeded in irritating me with his column as well, and I thought I'd elevate my comments to a new post rather than tag on Armand.

David Brooks' supposed topic is John Bolton, but in reality he takes on the idea of global governance (whatever that is). The centerpiece of his column is a five-point explanation of:

why this vaporous global-governance notion is a dangerous illusion, and [why] that we Americans, like most other peoples, will never accept it.

The tenuous link to Bolton is that Bolton is firmly against this creeping threat to America, and will steadfastly work in the UN to shine the bright light of truth and rightousness at it (where I guess it will shrivel up and die). Why is "global governance" so bad?

We'll never accept it, first, because it is undemocratic. It is impossible to set up legitimate global authorities because there is no global democracy, no sense of common peoplehood and trust. So multilateral organizations can never look like legislatures, with open debate, up or down votes and the losers accepting majority decisions.
Instead, they look like meetings of unelected elites, of technocrats who make decisions in secret and who rely upon intentionally impenetrable language, who settle differences through arcane fudges. Americans, like most peoples, will never surrender even a bit of their national democracy for the sake of multilateral technocracy.

Huh? We certainly can set up a "global democracy" that would make the UN and other institutions more democratic. It wouldn't be (technically) hard. I suspect that all those black-helecopter people would object if we went in that way, but not the globalists. As to "common peoplehood and trust", isn't that the sole reason expressed in Bush's 2nd Inaugruation for pushing freedom around the world? Isn't that why we're in Iraq? If it doesn't exist, why are so many millions trying to get into the US? And why, because of this lack of "common peoplehood and trust" can't we have debate and votes? I don't see, logically, why a lack of trust precludes governance. In fact, it's the lack of trust that makes governance: a formal checks-and-balances legal government allows winners and loser to co-exist and forestalls revolutions. Not for the first time does Brooks make no sense.

As for "unelected elites", what the hell is Bolton? (Or, for that matter, I don't remember voting for Brooks, so what the hell is he?) All modern governments are filled with unelected elites. The American government contains 1.8 million non-postal executive branch employees. Last I checked, we only elected one of those. Is he really proposing elections for all those posts? He might have a good point about "decisions in secret", but international treaties are public (though the deliberations may not be: this is true of every level of government - try sitting in on any executive-branch policy meeting or a House-Senate conference committee meeting and see how public those are). The UN may not be as public as Brooks wants, but that criticism is insufficient as a significant criticism (given the secrecy that US citizens accept of this President). And what the hell is this "Americans will never surrender even a bit of their national democracy" crap? We have signed (and adhere to) many, many international treaties that all remove some of our sovereignty. We have done this for centuries, and I don't see the republic crumbling yet.

Second, we will never accept global governance because it inevitably devolves into corruption. The panoply of U.N. scandals flows from a single source: the lack of democratic accountability. These supranational organizations exist in their own insular, self-indulgent aerie.

This is just pathetic. How does global governance inevitably become corrupt? What reason? What logic? What inevitability? And the UN is accountable: the member states can leave the organization, or can put pressure on it in other ways (the US failed to pay dues for most of a decade). If enough members do this, the UN will change. The fact that it hasn't changed to what the US wants doesn't mean that the UN isn't democratic, it means that the rest of the world doesn't necessarily want what the US is proposing. That's not a lack of "democratic accountability", that actually fairly democratic. We just don't like it.

We will never accept global governance, third, because we love our Constitution and will never grant any other law supremacy over it. Like most peoples (Europeans are the exception), we will never allow transnational organizations to overrule our own laws, regulations and precedents. We think our Constitution is superior to the sloppy authority granted to, say, the International Criminal Court.

This is true. This is also true for all the other 200-odd states in the world. Any international treaty can be avoided by the state withdrawing from it. It is worth noting that we, as noted above, have numerous times already allowed "transnational organizations to overrule our own laws, regulations and precedents." Look at NAFTA. Look at the WTO. We have signed treaties that superceded our own laws. Brooks must know this, so this is just stupid.

Fourth, we understand that these mushy international organizations liberate the barbaric and handcuff the civilized. Bodies like the U.N. can toss hapless resolutions at the Milosevics, the Saddams or the butchers of Darfur, but they can do nothing to restrain them. Meanwhile, the forces of decency can be paralyzed as they wait for "the international community."

Look, the UN is handcuffed because the states with power in the UN vote to prevent it from acting: it's not inherent in the UN itself. We toss resolutions at Milosevic (actually, didn't we toss bombs at him?) because thats what the UN voted to do. The UN has no power and authority other than what the member states grant it. The world genuinely disagreed about what to do about Saddam. Blaming the UN for a failure to act in Iraq is a fundamental misunderstanding of how the UN operates (and Brooks isn't that stupid). And the UN hasn't done anything in Darfur because there isn't enough global support (money and soldiers) to actually do something. That's not the UN's fault. As for the hamstrung "forces of decency", I didn't see them waiting before invading Iraq two years ago. And the "forces of decency" could stop Darfur if they weren't tied down in Iraq today (and really wanted to do something, which I don't think most Americans would support). The UN is supposed to be a quasi-representative body: it's supposed to take the general support of the "international community" to do something. If there is insufficient support in the community, nothing happens. This sound remarkably similar to getting legislation passed in the US Congress.

Fifth, we know that when push comes to shove, all the grand talk about international norms is often just a cover for opposing the global elite's bÍtes noires of the moment - usually the U.S. or Israel. We will never grant legitimacy to forums that are so often manipulated for partisan ends.

I think this paragraph come closest to Brooks' real objection: he hates the UN because the UN might actually do something independent of what the US wants. If the UN is even partially democratic (in the sense of responding to the will of the world's peoples), then given that the world sometimes disagrees with the United States, we should expect the UN to disagree as well. Brooks can't have it both ways: either the UN is democratic, in which case it will oppose the US at times, or the UN becomes a US puppet - in which case the UN will not be democratic and will lose global legitimacy (and then what good is it?).

In the end, I think this is Brooks real point: the UN doesn't do what we want, so it is "elitist" and "undemocratic". He just wants a global body to rubber-stamp US policy, and seems to reject the idea that the rest of the world actually disagrees with us on some policies. If he legitimately believes that, he's not qualified to write columns for the New York Times. If he knows that the world sometimes disagrees with us, and that the UN represents some of that disagreement, then the column is disingenious and Brooks should stop hiding.

If I had to guess which one, I might just go with the former. This sentence: "We will never grant legitimacy to forums that are so often manipulated for partisan ends." is sheer idiocy. What did Congress just do in the Terry Schiavo case? What are most Congressional hearings these days? What is the President's "rah-rah" Social Security privatization campaign about? How are those so very different from the UN?

A monumentally poor column by Brooks.

Posted by baltar at 12:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A Pointless Brooks Column on Bolton

Ugh. For something that wants to be the paper of record, The New York Times sure does print a lot of columns that are more useful at the bottom of a birdcage than they are at seriously considering the issues of the day. The columns of David Brooks are but one example, but it's columns like this that show why his work frequently merits inclusion in that ignominious group. The column would appear to be about Bolton, but really it's about this stupid straw-man argument that if we don't have a loudmouth yelling at the top of his lungs to stop things, the UN is going to take over the world. How said loudmouth will stop such an occurence is unclear (as is why Bolton would be an effective loudmouth ... just being a bully doesn't mean you can actually stop things, and there's precious little evidence that Bolton is even remotely effective when it comes to achieving outcomes congruent with the national interest). And who exactly are these people who want to make the UN a world government? I read about them all the time in the speeches of the black helicopter set (and now Brooks) but I've never come across one who worked for any part of this or any other government. Really this is just pointless name calling that 1) fails to really get at the root of the problems of the UN 2) totally overlooks its successes and 3) has little to do with Bolton, his potential effectivess in the post he's nominated for, or his pathetic failures in previous government posts. And it's filled with blatant inaccuracies and misleading comments. The UN didn't restrain Saddam? All the evidence is that, yes, it did. It "liberates the barbaric"? There are several people who've been convicted of war crimes that would obviously disagree. And what is this silliness about the US people refusing to accept global governance? In terms of trade - they already accept it. But in terms of non-economic matters, who thinks the level of sovereignty shift he implies is even a remote possibility that merits discussion? No one outside the Jesse Helms alternate reality set. And, in any event, if the American people are so united and unchanging in that regard ... well, what does it matter who's at the UN parroting that line? Why do we need Bolton then? If things are so clear, perhaps we should confirm an actual parrot.

I could spend more time on this and rip it apart logically, but it's such a mess it hardly seems worth the effort. This looks more like something written the night before to turn in a 10th grade social studies class than something that should be in what hopes to be the country's greatest newspaper.

Posted by armand at 09:45 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

April 13, 2005

We Must Impeach Nino!

I hereby declare Orin Kerr the Volokh conspirator with the best sense of humor. I love clever - and this is both clever and really funny.

Posted by armand at 12:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Everyone Should Read Fafblog

If you don't already, you are missing out on satire of John Stewartish proportions (and sometimes better). On Presidential WMD Fact-Finding Commisions:

We Apologize For The Inconvenience
The precis of the final report of the Medium Lobster Commission, reporting on the failure to accurately determine Saddam Hussein's weapons capabilities in the months preceding the Iraq War:
America's intelligence agencies made thorough and grievous errors in their assessments of Iraq's weapons capabilites. For example, in the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, the line "Saddam Hussein is made entirely of poison and can launch fifty fusion warheads from his perpetually-flared nostrils" should properly have read "No nukes here, nothing to see, all done now." The commission has concluded these were wholly the result of clerical error, most likely a typo or a severe paper jam.
The CIA's secretary, Mrs. Bigglesby, has been given a stern talking-to. Further, the commission strongly recommends that the intelligence community double the number of proofreaders currently on staff, as well as update its spellchecking software. As of publication date, the National Security Council was still using Word 98; updating to Office XP would, according to sources at the commission's local Staples, reduce the number of future preventive wars and massive unilateral invasions by up to 50%.
The commission did not investigate who ordered these intelligence assessments, or who read them (if anyone did), and is not particularly interested in theories as to who did. The commission is only interested in intelligence in the abstract, which is most sublime at the precise moment of its creation, when it most purely reflects the Form of Intelligence itself. Whoever might use it, whatever it might blow up, is insufficiently fascinating to us.
Later this year the commission will investigate whether or not one hundred thousand Iraqi corpses were the product of a misplaced carriage return.

I'm still using Word98, I think. That might explain a few things...

Posted by baltar at 10:17 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 12, 2005

Mississippi, All Alone on Open Containers

Look out Mississippi - MADD and its lackeys are sure to be gunning for you.

Posted by armand at 01:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Arrests at Last Year's GOP Convention

You'd think it's bad enough that the president is constantly jetting around the country, at the tax payers' expense, to promote his Social Security "plan" to hand-picked audiences. And that's before we even get into the fact that you can get thrown out of these hand-picked crowds by just having the wrong sort of bumper sticker on your car.

But as we've known for a long time, Republican efforts to stop completely legitimate political discussion go far past that. This story is just outrageous. The list of things wrong here is astounding - the edited video tapes, the lies by the police, the fact that people were being arrested for peaceful activity on the far side of Manhattan from the convention. It's at times like this that I think it's no wonder that Bush gets along so well with the Saudis and Putin. He didn't show the slightest interest in respecting the Constitution, free expression or fundamental political rights when he went to NYC for his crowning.

Posted by armand at 11:58 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Nice Hats Camilla

I don't expect I'll be writing many posts on this blog about the Duchess of Cornwall, but I just thought that in my opinion both the outfits she wore on her wedding day were really quite flattering. It was nice to see someone who reguarly takes an inordinate amount of abuse because her appearance look so happy and appealing on her wedding day.

Posted by armand at 11:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sabato: People Vote Marriages, Not Policies

Senator Russ Feingold who has been very publicly testing the waters for a 2008 presidential run is getting divorced. What I find peculiar about this article on that event and its impact on his political future is that always-ready-to-be-quoted University of Virginia political scientist thinks that this will end any shot he has at getting elected in '08. He says that that's not the kind of personal background red staters will approve of. Well, I suppose that's kind of true - but 1) no Democrat is going to be competitive in most of the red states and 2) Feingold's voting record is enough to turn off red-state voters. Opposition researchers can find a host of things there that than can use to attack a Feingold candidacy. There's not much of a need to go into his marital status. The country wasn't going to elect him anyway.

Posted by armand at 09:48 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 11, 2005

Bolton Before the Committee: Diffident and Mendacious

Fred Kaplan , Dave Meyer and Steve Clemons have reports on John Bolton's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today. They are definitely worth your time if you are interested in this matter since the "mainstream" press seems to be doing a pretty lame job of covering this event. Even NPR was talking about them in ways that made it seem that Democrats were just being partisan. There's MUCH more to it than that, and Republican senators Hagel and Chafee asked some tough questions too. If the the committee choose to really grill this nominee and bring in all the players from Bush's first term who could undermine his credibility, he should be easily defeated. But, even under the leadership of the usually respectable Dick Lugar, it appears unlikely that the committee will choose to do that. Still, we'll see. Carl Ford's testimony tomorrow certainly offers the possibility for more fireworks.

Posted by armand at 08:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Washington Post: Confirm Bolton

Just thought I'd point out the latest evidence that dumb, wild generalizations notwithstanding, not all of the country's major newspapers are anti-Bush or "liberal". The Washington Post's editorial page, which hasn't been remotely hard on Bush for the last four years, has come out in support of the president again, urging the confirmation of John Bolton as the US Ambassador to the United Nations. They say there's no good reason to vote against him. That's ridiculous of course. I mean even if you thought that he should be confirmed, there are still many legitimate reasons not to vote for such an inept, arrogant, dangerous and ineffective nominee. Steve Clemons has been detailing some of the reasons for weeks.

Posted by armand at 02:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Purple Noon

I watched this classic Rene Clement adaptation of one of Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley stories last night. Since I saw the similar The Talented Mr. Ripley some years ago I couldn't help but compare it to that film. Both present pretty scenes of Italy and hard-hearted and manipulative young Greenleafs, though in both cases I'd say that the Minghella version outshines this interpretation. That film from 1999 was exceptionally beautiful and Jude Law's performance was superb (though I couldn't help but be struck by the similarities in some of the facial expressions struck by Law and Maurice Ronet who plays the same role in Purple Noon). But otherwise I think a case could be made for this film being at least the equal of Minghella's more elaborate and lush star-studded work (that was nominated for 5 Oscars). And in some ways it's superior.

But comparing the two is really surprisingly difficult given that this is in so many ways Tom Ripley's movie and Ripley is played very differently in the two films. I though Matt Damon was very good, but ... well, he and Alain Delon, Ripley in Purple Noon, seem to be playing two different men. Damon's Ripley is more insecure and desperate. Delon's is more street-wise and unhinged (though in a quietly cool way). He's more of a classic sociopath, and Delon is nothing short of magnificent in the role. And between this and L'Eclisse (which I reviewed last week) I can't wait to see him in more things. Between his looks and his talent I'm amazed he didn't get more work in the US (presuming he sought it). He's extraordinary - and those close-ups of him at the end when he's with Madge - wow. He's such a creepy and compelling combination of menace and attraction.

Posted by armand at 11:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Turks Hate the USA More Than They Hate Greece!

Via Laura Rozen I found this report by Karl Vick in The Washington Post. This is simply astounding. Turkey is a NATO ally. Traditionally we've had pretty good ties (though the 1990-1991 Gulf War and its aftermath put a strain on them). But under George W. Bush twice as many Turks hate us as hate Greece. I can barely process it. The Turks and the Greeks have been rivals for millenia, and of course early in the 20th century they fought a very nasty war that led to the kinds of ugly ethnic massacres and forced relocations of large populations that we in the US now associate with the former Yugoslavia or the Arab-Israeli dispute. And yet - they see the US as the enemy. I'd usually take a shot at how Bush foreign policy is damaging US interests and security - but on this one I think the numbers can speak for themselves.

Posted by armand at 10:43 AM | Comments (10)

April 10, 2005

An Update on Cardinals Darmaatmadja, Ouellet and Bergoglio

OK, here's your papal conclave post for today. I've noticed that John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter has a list of 20 top possibilities for the next pope posted on that organization's website. The only names that are new to me as papabile on this list are Cardinal Darmaatmadja, a Jesuit and the Archbishop of Jakarta, and Cardinal Ouellet, the Archbishop of Quebec City. The latter is one of the youngest cardinals, and that could count against him. But he is multilingual, a clear doctrinal conservative, and popular with many in the current establishment. Cardinal Darmaatmadja is a very interesting possibility. Much attention is being given to the next pope's possible dealings with the Islamic world and the interest of the Church in protecting and appealing to the poor - Darmaatmadja would seem to have a strong resume for dealing with those issues. Still, while certainly an intriguing choice, and one that makes some sense if the Church is interest in reaching out to Asia, I'll be surprised (though not at all unpleasantly) if he gets the nod.

As to other contenders I've noticed that several news outlets have suggested the fact that Cardinal Bergoglio only has one lung might imperil his candidacy. I suppose it might - but if so, that's really silly. He's only had one lung for something like 50 years, and he's relatively young and seemingly in good health at the moment. And at a time when many cardinals seem to be concerned about starting another lengthy papacy I suppose it's conceivable that this could actually work in his favor since at 68 he's younger than a large majority of the College of Cardinals.

Finally I'll note that it's interesting to have seen quotations from a couple of cardinals this week that the default thinking still seems to be to pick an Italian as pope. I forget the exact quotation and which US cardinal it came from, but one of them stated (and another cardinal was on the record agreeing with him) that given that the pope is Bishop of Rome the next pope is likely to be an Italian - though if they can't agree on an Italian, then it will be someone from Latin America.

Posted by armand at 04:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Michele Bachmann, Candidate for the US House, Literally Lurks in the Bushes to Spy on Gays

This likely takes the award for the saddest and most pathetic move by a state legislator last week. Late last week there was a big gay rights rally in St. Paul, outside the state capitol. While that was going on State Sen. Michele Bachmann (a candidate for the US House seat that Mark Kennedy is vacating to run for the US Senate) tried to force a floor vote on a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. After that move failed, Bachmann left the building and proceeded to take up a position - HIDING IN THE BUSHES - from which she could peer out at the rally.

It's hard to know where to even start with this. I mean, not knowing that much about her I do wonder why a State Senator has bodyguards (as apparently she does; they were standing around her as she hid from view). But the bigger point is - how weak and pointless are you has a human being, much less as a political advocate, if you are not willing to confront those whose basic political rights you are so eager to take away? But if you want a sad laugh at what politics has come to - or at least what one loathsome politician has come to - here are some photos of her pathetic action.

Posted by armand at 11:55 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bringing the Frat Boys Back to Broadway

What - They left? OK, I kid. This feature in today's New York Times notes that Spamalot is tapping into a desperately prized demographic that the Great White Way has had some trouble (relatively speaking) attracting of late.

"Spamalot" may have created an entirely new breed of raving musical theater fan, one who has probably never heard of Rodgers and Hammerstein or Kander and Ebb or even - gasp - Stephen Sondheim, but who can quote full stretches of dialogue from 30-year-old films by British sketch-comedy troupes.

Oh, but wait. It gets better. Apparently the appeal is that it's just not very Broadway - or Broadway as perceived by young straight guys anyway.

That's because "Spamalot," Broadway's hottest show, drawn from the 1975 cult film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," has managed to tap into a rare, highly prized Broadway demographic: men; specifically, the kinds of teenagers and 20-somethings who find jokes about fish, flatulence and the French absolutely sidesplitting and who normally wouldn't be headed to the theater unless dragged by a girlfriend, school trip or court order.

So here's to what's going to save New York theater and keep actors and artisans employed (and I'm not being entirely condescending - I mean I want to see artists and theater succeed) - jokes about fish, flatulence and the French.

Posted by armand at 11:03 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 09, 2005

Bellamy Road Dominates the Wood Memorial

The Kentucky Derby is just 4 weeks away, and this Saturday features two of the main preps for that race, the Wood Memorial in New York and the Santa Anita Derby in California. As to the first race, Bellamy Road won. But he didn't just win. He pretty much embarrassed the competition and destroyed records in the process. He set a record for the stakes, and more or less equaled the record for the TRACK (I say more or less since they didn't time races in hundreths of a second back when the record was set in 1973). He beat Survivalist, winner of the Gotham Stakes and the horse who placed, by an enormous 17 1/2 lengths.

Bellamy Road is just one of the many top Kentucky Derby hopefuls that are trained by Nick Zito. Zito also trains High Fly and Noble Causeway (the 1-2 finishers in last week's Florida Derby) and the highly touted Sun King. He's owned by (insert the Darth Vader music) George Steinbrenner.

The Santa Anita Derby turned out to be a rather less remarkable affair - unless you had a bet on the winner, a 30-1 shot named Buzzards Bay. The race featured two of the big names of this class from last year - Breeders Cup Juvenile winner Wilko, and Sweet Catomine, the 2004 Eclipse Award winner - but they finished third and fifth, respectively.

Posted by armand at 07:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Cherry Blossoms

For the next week I'm going to be in Washington DC with a group of undergraduate "diplomats" at a simulation. So, I wanted to take a moment to publicly thank Armand and Baltar for holding down the fort, and for soliciting calming thoughts directed toward the kiddies, so that I return from this adventure with no extra gray hairs.

Posted by binky at 04:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Fluctuating Odds in the Betting on the Papacy

OK, I don't take this to mean ANYTHING. But hey, we are going to keep hearing stories about who's likely to be elected for at least another 9 days - so why not continue to follow the silly side of this as an entertaining balance to the serious discussions? Paddy Power is one of the on-line betting services that allows you to put money on who's going to be elected as John Paul II's successor - and I see that their odds have changed on a few candidates since last I checked (about a week ago). Cardinal Arinze remains at 11-4, but is now the sole betting favorite since Cardinal Tettamanzi, the Archbishop of Milan, has slipped to 7-2. Cardinals Rodriguez Maradiaga and Ratzinger stay where they were previously in the next most likely group but are joined by Cardinal Bergoglio, a Jesuit and the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, who has flown up the odds from a 20-1 bet to a 7-1 bet (like Ratzinger). Cardinal Hummes, Archbishop of Sao Paulo, holds at 9-1.

Posted by armand at 02:01 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Stage Beauty

It's a very slight film. It's fine. Most everyone involved does a perfectly adequate job. It's raises some interesting identity issues - but doesn't really pursue them anywhere. So that makes it, what? An ok 2-and-a-half star kind of a film? So ... I guess my general reaction to it is that it's something that's unlikely to stir up strongly positive or negative reactions.

There is one exception to that though. Billy Crudup is excellent. That's no surprise of course. He had that great run at the end of the millenium when he turned in some superb (and interestingly varied) performances (Jesus' Son, Waking the Dead, Almost Famous). But, it's great to see that he hasn't lost his touch - and that he can continually increase his range.

Posted by armand at 01:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

About All Those Schools We Are Building in Iraq ...

Apparently there's at least one less than we thought. I don't know which is sadder though - that the Army does such lousy PR work, or that the reporter was happy to be used as a shill for a would-be military-run photo op but disinterested in giving her or his audience any information about what actually happened when it didn't turn out in a way that the Army wanted.

Posted by armand at 01:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 08, 2005

Jeanne Gets "Gobsmacked by History"

Jeanne d'Arc has an enlightening post building upon a piece in the WSJ. It's clear that our expectations of what constituted abusive treatment of prisoners were different - stunningly, gigtanticly, titanicly different - back during an era when it was American soldiers who were being abused, and her post deals with some of the facts of that era. We are holding ourselves to a standard that's so much weaker than that we which we expected Japanese to uphold that it's close to impossible to compare the two. I pray that the actions of the Bush administration on this topic won't come back to harm US troops in the future - though it seems a close to a certainty that they will.

Posted by armand at 02:05 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Right Wing, Democracy, and Civil Unions

It's not that the heated response of certain conservative activists to Connecticut being on the verge of legalizing civil unions for gay couples - without any pressure from the courts - is at all surprising. But it sure does make an awful lot of people look like hypocrites. As Chris Bowers puts it:

First, they deny facts, claiming that the majority doesn't support something when a poll shows they clearly do. Then, after years of whining about undemocratic "activist judges," when a civil unions bill passes through the duly elected state legislature without any judicial pressure at all, they claim the state legislature is undemocratic.

It's entirely clear that what they care about is the outcome, not the process, so it would be pretty refreshing if all this hyperbole about the courts would cease. Sadly, we all know it won't. But events like this show the true colors of many on the right.

Posted by armand at 11:53 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Uncanny Similarities Between a Supreme Court Appointment and an Oscar Contest

This post at Underneath Their Robes is really pretty clever. How do you tell who are the real players who are in the running for the next opening on the US Supreme Court? How can one hope to systematicly rate their chances? Why comparing it to this year's competition for the Best Actress Oscar of course!

Posted by armand at 11:36 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 07, 2005

Breaking Down Provincial Politics in Iraq

This article by Edmund Sanders in the Los Angeles Times covers the maelstrom that is local politics in Iraq. This is an interesting report for several reasons, but one of its deeply unsettling moments involves Basra:

One of the most surprising local power struggles is in Basra, where two rival Shiite parties are jockeying for control. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, long a dominant force in Iraq's second-largest city, campaigned under the name Basra Islamic Alliance and won 20 of the 41 seats. The rival Al Fadila al Islamiya, or Islamic Virtue Party, linked to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr, captured 12 seats. But Al Fadila leaders quickly forged a coalition with three smaller parties, giving them a 21-20 edge and control of the council. Though both are religious parties, Al Fadila's brand of Shiite Islam is seen as more extreme. Clerics linked to Al Fadila are believed to have participated in a violent attack last month by Sadr followers on a group of male and female students enjoying a picnic together and listening to music, behavior that they called "immoral." Now, Al Fadila leader Mohammed Musabah Waily is the governor of Basra and SCIRI members complain that their suggestions are routinely ignored at council meetings and they've been passed over for senior leadership posts.

Washington must love that bit of democracy.

Posted by armand at 01:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Mike Damus on Popular

I am making my way through the second season of Popular right now. I am doing this extremely slowly since, while the first season was filled with delicious camp and a never-ending flood of 80's pop culture references, the first half of season two is a dreadful bore. It's composed of months of "very special" storylines, be it cough syrup addiction, body image issues or a kid fighting leukemia. I think certain Christian groups might find a lot to enjoy here (though they might be troubled at the casting of Ann-Margaret as God), but this show's best moments are when it is deliriously silly and storylines prominently feature Mary Cherry and Nicole Julian being unhinged or sinister and looking fabulous as they do it. Having recently sat through the close to unbearable leukemia episodes I did find one thing about them to enjoy though - Mike Damus's portrayal of Clarence, Harrison's sick roomie at the hospital and, eventually, would-be guardian angel (here's a needless hint - these episodes first ran around Christmas). While most of the guys on this show are complete bores (that's probably mostly the fault of the writers who seem much more interested in illustrating the lives of bitchy and/or hopelessly insecure girls; I actually sort of like the guy who plays Josh, the school's golden jock) as Clarence Damus is a huge breath of fresh air. He's energetic, compelling, and, once he's dead, well, it doesn't hurt that he's very cute. He also benefits from having the sort of huge eyes that are probably helpful in conveying all sorts of emotions. I really wish that he'd been a regular on the show. Though of course then he'd have been saddled with the dialogue and storylines of season 2 ... and judging from the first half of the season, that would be a harsh fate. I'm really hoping the show improves before I get to the end (it was only on for 2 seasons).

If you are interested you can find my reviews of season 1 here and here.

Posted by armand at 11:56 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Something rotten in the state of Florida

Call me a cynic, but why am I having trouble believing that all this stuff coming out of Florida is a coincidence?

Sen. Mel Martinez said Wednesday an infamous unsigned memo passed around on Capitol Hill emphasizing the politics of the Terri Schiavo case originated in his office.
The memo -- first reported by ABC News on March 18 and by The Washington Post and The Associated Press two days later -- said the fight going on then over removing Schiavo's feeding tube "is a great political issue ... and a tough issue for Democrats."
"This is an important moral issue and the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue," said the memo, which was described at the time as being circulated among Senate Republicans while legislation was being considered to place the Schiavo case under the jurisdiction of federal courts.
Martinez, R-Florida, said in a written statement that he discovered Wednesday that the memo had been written by an aide in his office.
"It is with profound disappointment and regret that I learned today that a senior member of my staff was unilaterally responsible for this document," Martinez said.

I know Baltar is of the belief that Jebby is going to run for president. If the well-known nastiness of Florida politics erupts onto the national scene, we are all going to have to get reading on our Carl Hiaasen primers.

Posted by binky at 09:44 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 06, 2005

Now we're arresting children...

This piece in the New York Times doesn't begin to delve into the certain complexities of this case, but it is one more in a series of recent articles I have read that basically suggest that any teenager - perhaps younger - who expresses in writing, thoughts that are possible to perceive as being about certain subjects (suicide, bombing, shooting, hating people in school) open themselves up to suspension (if they're lucky) or worse. This case looks like a real mess, and touches on homeschooling, traditional religious values in public schools, (excessive?) parental control, immigration violations, you name it. However, I'd really like to see the school assignment in question. At this point, it's impossible to see what are the facts of the case after one article, and I hope that more reporting follows to shine some light on the issue.

And it makes me really sad for kids who are trying to become creative writers, or artists, or hell, just are trying out ideas on paper. Shoot, it's a good thing I'm not in school...I used to fill a good bit of time drawing sketches of dinosaurs biting the heads off of teachers, or blood dripping off the (in reality metaphorical) knives I imagined catty teenagers driving deep in each others' hearts. And I'm sure the VH (Van Halen, not VH1) symbol is some kind of crime. Oh wait, no, because I listened in the Diamond Dave days and did not commit the sin of accepting Sammy Hagar. But seriously, what teenager doesn't think gloomy thoughts? How many are obsessed or at least fascinated with death or suicide? How many write about those thoughts, either in a journal, a creative fiction assignment, or a report for social science or health class? What is happening to our children's ability to express themselves?

Posted by binky at 11:51 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Home Sweet Home

Have I said how glad I am not to be living in Florida anymore? More wacky hijinks, I mean, legislative politics, from the Sunshine State. And note, our friend of the "right to sue your professors for confronting you with facts" bill is quoted as a sponsor.

Gov. Jeb Bush said Tuesday he intends to sign a bill that would allow people who feel threatened -- even on the street or at a baseball game -- to "meet force with force" and defend themselves without fear of prosecution.
The measure, the top priority of the National Rifle Association in Florida this year, passed the House 94-20 on Tuesday. It had already passed the Senate.
Bush, who has championed tougher penalties for people convicted of using guns in crimes, said the bill is about self-defense and called it "a good, common sense, anti-crime issue."
The measure essentially extends a right Floridians already have in their home or car. Under present law, however, people attacked anywhere else are supposed to do what they can to avoid escalating the situation and can use deadly force only after they've tried to retreat.
"I'm sorry, people, but if I'm attacked I shouldn't have a duty to retreat," said the bill's sponsor, state Rep. Dennis Baxley. "That's a good way to get shot in the back."
Baxley said that if people have the clear right to defend themselves without having to worry about legal consequences, criminals will think twice.

And to think I nearly cried when I had to trade in my Florida driver's license.

Posted by binky at 11:23 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The Post Profiles Cardinals Hummes and Rodriguez Maradiaga

Since Binky has expressed an interest in seeing a Latin American elected pope, here are profiles - one and two - run in The Washington Post describing two of the leading candidates from Central and South America. Personally, there are some cardinals from this area who's election would trouble me. But these two could be interesting choices. And everything seems to point to them both being leading contenders.

Posted by armand at 11:25 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The Future of the House of Grimaldi

With the death of Prince Rainier, Monaco has a new leader for the first time in 55 years. Since I was wondering if the old rules still applied and that Monaco would revert to France if the new ruler, Prince Albert II, died without issue, apparently that won't happen. Prince Ranier changed the constitution. If Prince Albert dies without having any children who can succeed him, the crown would pass to his sister Princess Caroline. Next in line after her is her eldest son, Andrea Casiraghi. Casiraghi is described (and pictured) this way by Hello! magazine - "If trendy, long-haired heart-throbs had a poster boy, Princess Caroline of Monaco's son Andrea Casiraghi would be it." So, one day, the ruler of Monaco may be a Casiraghi.

Posted by armand at 11:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 05, 2005

Senator Cornyn Says Republicans Are at Fault for Inciting Murder

The recent comments by US Senator John Cornyn stating that it's not surprising judges are being killed at a time when they are seen as being out of the mainstream of America have been deservedly rebuked by voices all across the blogsphere. But what a lot of the critics seem to be missing is pointed out on Uggabugga. If you follow Cornyn's argument (it's preposterous of course, but let's give the Senator the benefit of the doubt and assume he's logical) it's actually the Republicans who are endlessly attacking the judiciary that are at fault for these murders. Who knows what he first thought when he made his assinine and distasteful comments, but I doubt he sought to incriminate himself.

Posted by armand at 04:52 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Antonioni's L'Eclisse

The images, the atmosphere, the music, it's a carefully designed spectacle presented in a way that makes you constantly confront questions of design and reality. Antonioni forces you to be clever, and to be aware. He makes you see and mark things through both their presence and through their absence, and he forces you to be aware that the world you see and inhabit can slip away at any moment. I love that about his work. And his command of stillness, of everyday moments, and his recognition of and appreciation for the awkwardness, oddities and uncertainties of life are also central in the brilliance of his art. Iím not saying that I donít find some of his films slow of course. I mean I presume thatís the first complaint that most American viewers today would have with him. There came a point in LíAvventura when I couldnít wait for them to leave that island. But slow pacing and frustration are things we canít get away from, and as the Lincoln Center scholar on the commentary track points out, Antonioni was perhaps the director most associated with ďEuropean modern cinemaĒ, presenting films that captured the rhythms, sights, sounds and feel of contemporary life.

This film is centered on two characters, Vittoria (played by Monica Vitti) and Piero (played by Alain Delon). Vittoria has just broken off a long-term relationship. Sheís lost in her world. But sheís fascinated. She loves, and she finds the world wonderful. But everything seems beyond her somehow, or far separate from her touch or control. She feels like a foreign creature. Piero is a man on the make, and a man of his times. But even his life isnít entirely clear, and while heís more comfortable amid his surroundings, heís not fundamentally decisive, knowledgeable or at ease. Both lead actors are great. What Vitti can say with her face and her body movements is remarkable. And Delon is moving and entirely plausible as well. That's no minor feat for a man so jaw-droppingly pretty, and in a film with such unconventional dialogue.

I really liked this movie. I also loved LíAvventura and Blow-Up (though the latter is a rather different animal). I donít think we have films like this any longer. And Iím not just referring to its fragmentary structure, its quiet moments, its mystery, the fact that its principal characters arenít always at the center of the film, or the filmís shifting tone and point of view. The film is fascinating and thoughtful, but while being smart, the key thing here is that Antonioni and his actors are masterful at establishing moods and engaging in a very basic sort of communication and illustration. The direction and acting in this are simply superb. But sadly, I donít think many in todayís audiences would put up with it. People donít want to be faced with uncertainty and complexity when they go to the theater. So sadly, we get less of this, and more Independence Day's. Itís a very sad state of affairs.

Posted by armand at 01:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Best Defense Yet of Banning Gay Marriage

Via Sebastian Holsclaw at Obsidian Wings comes this link to Jane Galt's argument that the externalities of allowing gay marriage might form enough of a net societal negative to justify society banning gay marriage:

To which, again, the other side replies "That's ridiculous! I would never change my willingness to get married based on whether or not gay people were getting married!"
Now, economists hear this sort of argument all the time. "That's ridiculous! I would never start working fewer hours because my taxes went up!" This ignores the fact that you may not be the marginal case. The marginal case may be some consultant who just can't justify sacrificing valuable leisure for a new project when he's only making 60 cents on the dollar. The result will nonetheless be the same: less economic activity. Similarly, you--highly educated, firmly socialised, upper middle class you--may not be the marginal marriage candidate; it may be some high school dropout in Tuscaloosa. That doesn't mean that the institution of marriage won't be weakened in America just the same.
(Snip)
This should not be taken as an endorsement of the idea that gay marriage will weaken the current institution. I can tell a plausible story where it does; I can tell a plausible story where it doesn't. I have no idea which one is true. That is why I have no opinion on gay marriage, and am not planning to develop one. Marriage is a big institution; too big for me to feel I have a successful handle on it.
(Snip)
My only request is that people try to be a leeetle more humble about their ability to imagine the subtle results of big policy changes. The argument that gay marriage will not change the institution of marriage because you can't imagine it changing your personal reaction is pretty arrogant. It imagines, first of all, that your behavior is a guide for the behavior of everyone else in society, when in fact, as you may have noticed, all sorts of different people react to all sorts of different things in all sorts of different ways, which is why we have to have elections and stuff. And second, the unwavering belief that the only reason that marriage, always and everywhere, is a male-female institution (I exclude rare ritual behaviors), is just some sort of bizarre historical coincidence, and that you know better, needs examining. If you think you know why marriage is male-female, and why that's either outdated because of all the ways in which reproduction has lately changed, or was a bad reason to start with, then you are in a good place to advocate reform. If you think that marriage is just that way because our ancestors were all a bunch of repressed bastards with dark Freudian complexes that made them homophobic bigots, I'm a little leery of letting you muck around with it.

I'm not sure I buy this, but I thought this was the best defense of the status quo that I had seen. At least this makes some sort of plausible connection between gay marriage and a net-societal negative. How plausible this is remains debateable.

My initial response is that, while certainly society has the right to regulate private conduct that has public effects (hence the right to prevent me owning nuclear weapons or, more controversially, prevent me taking heroin - both of those private actions are likely to have public effects), this is not an overwhelming right. Not all private actions with public effects are regulateable: if I collect stamps, that effects what I spend money on, which is a public effect, but no one would realistically argue that I shouldn't be allowed to collect stamps (or, the stamps I collect should be regulated). Ms. Galt would need to demonstrate that the externalities of gay marriage are enough of a negative effect on society to outweight the obvious negatives of preventing citizens from marrying whom they want. I'm not saying she can't, I'm just arguing that it's a very high hurdle (especially for a libertarian).

Never the less, this is the most logical defense of the ban I have seen.

Posted by baltar at 12:12 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

April 04, 2005

The Top 10 Reasons to Block John Bolton's Nomination

Suzanne Nossel gives us her list. These are all good reasons - but #1 is probably the most important. There's nothing about his performance in public life to suggest he'll be a remotely effective advocate for the United States, and his public service this far has had disasterous consequences.

Posted by armand at 01:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Ashton Carter: A Failure of Policy, Not Spying

I found this oped by Ashton Carter via Laura Rozen at War and Piece. It's one of the most succinct and cutting columns I've read in weeks. Carter's case is that if you are pursuing bad policies, the quality intelligence isn't going to make any difference, and your policies can easily get in the way of any attempts to improve intelligence.

If you don't have a policy, intelligence is irrelevant. North Korea's runaway nuclear program is a policy failure, not an intelligence failure. What's worse, policy failure has actually caused intelligence failure in North Korea.

It's well worth a minute of your time - go read it.

Posted by armand at 10:21 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Spinach is Exploding!

No, you don't have to duck and cover in the produce department. But here Virgina Postrel alerts us to the fact that the popularity of one of my favorite leafy greens has spiked since the early 1990's.

Posted by armand at 09:48 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 03, 2005

Judge Silberman is a Liar

Judge Silberman of the US Circuit Court for the District of Columbia has a well-established history as a partisan Republican. But when he's wearing his hat as the co-chairman of the president's commission investigating all intelligence failures before Iraq that don't make the White House look bad, how does he get away with saying such a complete jaw-on-the-floor lie as this?

Silberman had a slightly different take: ''It's true, we put our prestige on the line . . . but the truth of the matter is that every intelligence agency that we know of . . . in the world, had the same views."

That's just plainly not true. The State Department's intelligence shop didn't buy into the excesses of some of the other US agencies. And the reports on the "Curveball" fiasco make it clear that there were certainly people within the intelligence community who didn't believe the mendacious manipulators that the politicians and their toadies at the top of some of these agencies longingly promoted. And there's an important article today by Dafna Linzer that states that UN inspectors and disproved all of the most alarming claims raised by President Bush as necessitating the invasion of Iraq - before we actually launched the invasion.

This is yet more sad revisionist history/ass-covering that the press shouldn't put up with. But given the fact that such comments are allowed to be the last word in stories printed by reputable major news sources it appears that the press is more interested in maintaining it's "balance" and he said/she said norms than in taking a firm line against deceitful acts and general incompetence.

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

Fox News "Defends" John Bolton by Making Fun of the Names of His Opponents

I'm not making this up. This kind of thing is sad and passe when you're 7 years old. But the cohosts of Fox & Friends (which, sort of in Fox's defense, is the most insipid show on their schedule and something that would be canceled if they had any standards or self-respect - but of course we know they don't ...) ridiculed the opposition to John Bolton's nomination as UN Ambassador by 62 US ambassadors by ... saying that some of them had funny names. How utterly pathetic.

Hat tip to Steve Clemons who is continuing to do great work on the Bolton nomination.

Posted by armand at 02:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Lost Landmarks of New York

There are always many things worth reading in the Sunday New York Times, but I'd like to draw your attention to this article on some of the treasures the city has lost over the years. True, preservationists can be a complete pain. But some of the things they work to save ... well, it's terribly sad that some of those things are lost forever. The article (which on the web includes a link to a slideshow) mentions several well known structures like the Singer Building, but it also covers some lesser known sites. This example largely sums to the tale:

MARINE GRILL 34th Street at Herald Square 1912-1990

Tucked into the basement of the McAlpin Hotel, the grill was a vast, kaleidoscopically ornamented terra cotta grotto. Multicolor ceramic embellishments flowed up the thick columns and across the vaults of its ceiling, and maritime murals lined the room. ďEven the radiator grills were punctuated with beautiful ornament of ceramic,Ē recalled Susan Tunick, president of the Friends of Terra Cotta, and the murals, she added, were ďabsolutely thrilling.Ē ďYou could see Wall Street; you could see early schooners,Ē she said. ďIt went all the way up to the phenomenal steam liners, the big ocean voyage cruise ships.Ē While leading a walking tour in 1990, Ms. Tunick stumbled across evidence that the Marine Grill was being demolished. ďThere was a huge Dumpster outside the back of the McAlpin, filled with the room,Ē she recalled. ďIt was really horrible.Ē After its demolition, the once splendid grotto became a storage room for the Gap. Ms. Tunick and others managed to salvage a few of the maritime murals, six of which are on display in the Fulton Street Broadway- Nassau subway station.
Posted by armand at 01:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The First Stunningly Bad Conclave Analysis!

I'm going to give this to MSNBC - the first news outlet I've seen that in its desperate desire to push square cardinals into round categorizations that American readers can supposedly understand not only reverts to the tried and truly meaningless liberal-moderate-conservative labels, but manages to get even those dumbed-down labels completely wrong when it comes to certain cardinals.

I'm referring to the "potential successors" page they have up as party of their John Paul II coverage. As part of that they include the expected liberal-conservative classiffications and thumn-nail sketches. But clearly they need to find better sources for their analysis - because I can't imagine what measures they are using when they label Cardinals Schonborn and Castrillon Hoyos as "liberals". They are nothing of the sort by the standards of the College of Cardinals.

Posted by armand at 12:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 02, 2005

Movie Review: Troy

Directed by Wolfgang Peterson (who should have known better).

Starring: Brad Pitt's butt and chiseled abs, Legolas, Boromir, Peter O'Toole (who should have known better), 300 Hungarians and 500 Mexicans (I watched some of the extras).

Written by some idiot who should be shot while being strangled.

Review: Craptastic!

In case anyone is unclear on this, this movie sucked. I have not read the Iliad, so I won't be able to comment on how accurate the overall story is to the written word (given how crappy everything else was, I'm guessing they screwed this up, too). That being said, this movie was awful from beginning to end. I'm glad I was drinking while watching it - it made it much funnier.

The acting was uniformly awful. Everyone over-acted as much as they could. They seemed to be trying to outdo themselves, like it was a contest. The only exception to this was Brad Pitt, who kept the same face on no matter what he was doing - killing people, screwing people, annoying people or dying (oops, did I give that away - sorry!).

The special effects were nice, but who cares? The story sucked and the acting sucked, so the pretty eye candy was diverting for a few moments, but after you see the first battle scene, the rest don't do as much for you.

Maybe someone can help me here with my Greek mythology. The movie had lots of people talking about the Greek Gods, but they never made any sort of appearance. I mean, no one got smote, disappeared in a puff of smoke, got turned into a newt or had superhuman strength. I thought the deal with the Greek Gods were that they involved themselves in human affairs? They were always snatching the odd human to mate with, give things to, force them on quests or something. None of that happened here. Does the Iliad have anything like that?

The one exception to the above statement was Brad Pitt as Achilles. Of course, everyone knows the legend of Achilles: can't be hurt, except in his heel. This is because some of his genes are divine (his mother, I think, was a god of some kind). This fact is not mentioned in the movie. In fact, Achilles is introduced as some great fighter, and no one explains why he is so good. Or that he is invulnerable. The first time in the movie that any actual weapon touches him is when a dumb arrow smacks him in the heel (of course, Legolas fires it: couldn't they have given him some other weapon? We already have seen him shoot arrows for three movies). This sort of misses the whole invulnerable point, I thought. I mean, no one really knows (according to the movie) that he's invulnerable, since no one every really gets a swing at him. Again, this sort of removes any "divineness" of the whole thing.

I'll make a brief point at the end about the military absurdities of the movie. Everyone in the movie is complete moron about anything military. First of all the city of Troy (violating historical accuracy) is a city about a half a mile from the Aegean, but has no port. That's right, no docks, no way for ships to bring things into the city. Complete idiocy. Second, no one in Troy has a boat/ship. It's a complete surprise when the entire Greek fleet shows up, 'cause Troy is completely incapable of actually looking for them in the ocean (or, you know, fighting them out in the ocean). Third, the Troyean (Troyish?) strategy for winning the fight cleverly involves letting the Greeks land, and then waiting for them to attack. I don't know about you, but the best way to stop a bunch of people on boats from attacking you is to never let them get out of the boats. See, they are very vulnerable when they are on burnable wooding things in small groups. No one in Troy seems to realize this, so the Greeks waltz ashore unopposed. Fourth, the Troyeans (who have these really big walls around their city, see) choose to fight the Greeks (who outnumber them two or three to one) outside their walls. That's right, they build these great, heaping walls, then don't use them. Complete idiocy. What I do remember of the legend of the Iliad, was that their was a siege: see the Troyeans stayed inside, while the Greeks were outside. Hence the need for that horse thingy, 'cause the Greeks couldn't get in any other way. Fifth, where was the siege? The Greeks came in from the ocean, and the Troyeans just fought them there. Did it occur to anyone in Troy that they had a whole bunch of "running away" options, since they were not surrounded by Greeks? Sixth, how come no one (on either side) built anything larger than a bow and arrow? There were no siege engines (catapults, etc.) on either side. Now maybe they hadn't been invented yet, but couldn't the Greeks have invented a ram? I mean, how, exactly, did the Greeks expect to knock down the walls of Troy? Seventh, and finally, while the Troyeans are celebrating the Greek retreat ("Hey, where did they go? They were here 12 days ago. Huh, maybe we should have kept an eye on them. But they left us this really great horse statue. Let's bring it inside!"), the entire Greek fleet is around the corner, hanging out waiting for darkness so they can assemble (quietly: 30,000 Greeks quietly assembled just in front of the walls and no one heard them) on the sand in front of Troy and wait for the dudes in the horse to let them in. Some Troy sentry (perhaps the only damn one in the army) happens to walk along and see them. He is promptly killed. Here is the interesting part: this does not tip off Troy. See, scout/sentries have two jobs. First, go find the bad guys. Second, by failure to come back and tell someone you didn't find anything, that tells the rest of the army that you are dead (and, you found the bad guys). So when the (now dead) Troyean sentry fails to return to Troy, that should clue Troy in that something might, just possibly, maybe be going on. They fail to think in this general direction, and are (justifiably) burnt to a crisp by the entire Greek army.

I realize it isn't the job of the movie to be either legendarily or historically correct. I continue, however, to object when people act like complete raving lunatics in movies. Even total idiots realize you can't knock down 40-foot high stone walls with bronze swords and wooden spears.

In sum: do not watch this movie unless you are completely desperate (and drunk), are in love with Brad Pitt (who is really, really hot in this), or need an example of how to most efficiently piss away $100million (or whatever the budget was on this).

Posted by baltar at 05:40 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Hitchens, the Pope, Cardinal Law and the Conclave

Christopher Hitchens has a history of bluntly stating his views that certain prominent figures in the Roman Catholic Church receive too much praise. His criticisms of Mother Teresa are probably the most well known instances of this trait. But just because someone has a habit of saying things that many would strongly disagree with hardly makes one wrong, and it's probably fair that he reminds us of some of John Paul II's darker moves at this time when the pope is generally receiving effusive praise. The Roman Catholic Church has much to be ashamed of when it comes to the handling of sexual abuse allegations both in the United States and abroad, and the protection it has afforded Cardinal Law is deservedly controversial.

Something that Hitchens doesn't address though I think deserves to be explicitly mentioned. Unless there are some rules I don't know about, Cardinal Law will be a voting member of the coming conclave. While many of the cardinals (particularly those from Latin America) have had stunningly cruel, oafish and arrogant things to say about the abuse scandal, the level of Law's actually involvement in it is unusually (and distressingly) high - and I imagine many of the world's Catholics will not be pleased to know that this man will have a say in selecting the next "Holy Father". But as Hitchens notes John Paul II has seen to it that Law still has a hand appointing bishops and disciplining priests. So perhaps this realization will not surprise many. Still, I would hope it would make many people reflect on and consider changing certain church practices, even if their maintenance at this time is not particularly surprising.

Posted by armand at 02:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Early Favorites to Succeed John Paul II

Given news reports, it appears that later this month we will have a new pope for the first time since 1978. The conclave that will choose the successor to John Paul II will meet approximately 15 days after his death, and if it holds to historical patterns, a new pope will be elected after a few days of deliberations, prayers and votes. In the coming weeks media outlets are likely to be filled with stories about potential pontiffs. I thought Iíd start off Bloodless Coupís coverage of this issue by simply putting forth the names listed by John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter as the ten leading candidates back in 2003. There may have been some changes to his list in the interim, but all ten still make some lists Iíve seen more recently. Considering that, you may want to carefully watch coverage of these ten cardinals in the coming weeks: Arinze (Nigeria), Bergoglio (Argentina), Danneels (Belgium), Dias (India), Hummes (Brazil), Kasper (Germany), Rivera Carrera (Mexico), Rodriguez Maradiaga (Honduras), Schonborn (Austria) and Tettamanzi (Italy). While I have listed the country that each of these men comes from two of them, Arinze and Kasper, are perhaps more figures of Rome than the rest given that their primary leadership role is as a head of a church organization, not as archbishop of a large archdiocese. Kasper, 72, is President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Arinze, also 72, is Prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (he was President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue from 1985-2002).

Many of the issues that dominate the politics of the church do not conform neatly to American perceptions of liberal/conservative divides. Instead, key disputes include matters such as which issues to prioritize, the level of control that should be exerted from Rome, the level of pressure that should be exerted on governments to enforce church policies, and what areas of the world should be prioritized in trying to expand the church (do you try to win back what is seen as a wayward Europe, or do you give up on Europe and move more vigorously into the Third World). And of course by the measures of the American media most of the likely candidates are ďconservativeĒ (and something like 98% of the voting cardinals have been appointed by John Paul II). Even so, the American press will still undoubtedly try to frame this election at least partially in terms of a whether or not the church is going to move in a more liberal or conservative direction. Given the way those words are generally understood in the United States, itís my perception that Arinze and Rivera Carrera are the most conservative of the Third World candidates with Schonborn being the most conservative European. Danneels and Kasper are probably the most liberal of Allenís ten, though in terms of economic issues Cardinals Hummes and Rodriguez have long highlighted the plight of the poor, the costs of globalization and the difficult conditions facing the people of the Third World.

For some of the early thumb-nail press sketches of these men, and other possibilities, you can look here, here and here.

Posted by armand at 11:16 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Don't Ask Don't Tell: We're Less Secure, and It's Cost Us $95 Million

Yesterday I linked to a post by DavidNYC that showed us that that newest investigation into intelligence failures before Iraq suggested that our militaryís antidiluvean anti-gay policies were harming national security. As our own Binky Rasmussen noted in a comment, the ďPrimary SourcesĒ section of the May issue of The Atlantic has more on this issue - and the numbers they have are so troubling that I think merit another post on this matter. They report these facts contained in a GAO report: the Defense Department may have had to spend $95 million to recruit and train replacements for the gays pushed out of the service; 757 of those pushed out had a ďcritical occupationĒ like voice interceptor or translator; and 322 of them had knowledge of important languages like Arabic, Farsi and Korean. As Binky noted, there's a lot we still don't know about this. But what we do know is extremely troubling. Keep these numbers in mind (in addition to things like our lack of a response to North Korea reprocessing nuclear fuel, and our frightening policies related to Pakistan) the next time you hear someone say that the president is doing all he can to protect national security.

Posted by armand at 10:54 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Closer

Last night I was finally able to watch this film, directed by Mike Nichols and adapted by Patrick Marber from his own play. Given the talent behind the scenes and the quality of the cast Ė Natalie Portman, Clive Owen, Jude Law and Julia Roberts Ė I had been looking forward to it for some time. On the whole it was worth the wait. It looks great, the entire cast is very good, and Owenís performance is exceptionally marvelous. The only major problem that I have with it is a matter of the script and structure. After the first twenty or thirty minutes every scene is one extremely tense moment after another. Basically the script skips over months or years at a time, and only shows you the moments in these charactersí lives when they have their most raw arguments, choose to expose their betrayals, and emerge aching and wounded. While many of these moments are very well written and acted, I imagine this design worked much better on the stage. Simply watching these events on a screen probably lessens their impact given that they are just presented in a stream, one after another. It is likely harder to maintain a consistent visceral reaction, even to these types of event, without greater variation, dynamism or movement in the fights we witness when we are viewing them in a more distanced way. But that is just a marginal criticism. Itís not the best film of the 2004, and itís certainly not a first-date kind of a movie, but itís quite well done. And Iíd say itís worth watching on the basis of Owen and Portmanís performances alone.

Posted by armand at 10:47 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 01, 2005

"Our Military's Antediluvian Anti-Gay Policies"

DavidNYC (sadly) illustrates all too well one of the ways the right-wing of this country is endangering national security.

Posted by armand at 10:38 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Capito Very Likely to Challenge Byrd

There have been rumors flying for weeks (months?) that Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito will challenge incumbent US Senator Robert C. Byrd who appears inclined to run for a 9th term in the Senate next year. And beyond that, it's been rumored that the White House and Karl Rove plan to pay particular attention to this race. On the basis of comments I've heard from a variety of Democratic officials in the state - their view is that those rumors are entirely accurate. Byrd hasn't faced serious opposition since ... well, I have no idea. Long, long, long before my time - if ever. So West Virginia, a state where Byrd is wildly popular since he'll never let anyone forget about the money he funnels home, but also a state where Bush beat Kerry 56-43, may soon see the biggest-budgeted and most-partisan Senate race it's ever had. Just this week Moveon, with an assist from Senator Obama, raised $634,000 for Byrd in less than 24 hours.

Posted by armand at 09:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Pope is Gravely Ill

This is not exactly a new development, but it appears that the pope's health has taken a severe turn for the worse recently. During his last prolonged health scare I created this post which includes links to a variety of things I've written related on the process of electing a pope and some of the men who are among the candidates to succeed John Paul II. Should events warrant it, it may be of use to you as you try to understand news stories that come out in the coming days. And as events warrant it, I will of course write a great deal more on this topic.

Posted by armand at 09:33 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack