May 31, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

So tonight I finally got around to seeing it. And let's just say it merits the lack of attention I gave it for a month. If I had to describe it in 1 word I'd go with - lame. Jackman's game enough and certainly put in many hours making his body look like an action figure. And I liked all 5 minutes that Gambit got. But overall there's little here that merits praise.

Posted by armand at 10:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Well-Known Doctor Murdered in Wichita Church

Distubring news out of Kansas. He'd been shot before, and the news report notes years of harrassment.

Posted by armand at 01:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Rafa Loses!?!

Since I don't like hockey or the NBA the biggest sports news of the week, for me, had been the news that Rachel Alexandra wasn't going to run in the Belmont. Well that just changed as Rafa Nadal lost to a young Swede I'd never heard of. His unbeaten streak at the French Open ends after winning 31 straight matches.

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May 30, 2009

Total Eclipse of the Heart - The Literal Video

Since we all love (or hate, but probably mostly love or laugh at) the original - this is funny.

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May 29, 2009

Nothing But the Truth

So I'm 24 minutes into the film inspired by, but not based on, the press stories outing Valerie Plame. On the one hand part of me is really into this. It's very well directed (by Rod Lurie) and already it's clear that Vera Farmiga is going to knock this out of the park as the Plame character. But some of the rest of the casting is abysmal. Noah Wyle mistakes shouting and jerky body movements for being powerful, insightful, and gruff, and Kate Beckinsale, yeesh. Unless she's fighting Lycans she always seems to have the fortitude of a not especially bright, social-climbing 22 year old. The idea that she's supposed to be a veteran national reporter at the major DC paper, I'm not buying it. No.

A little over one hour in the fact that Beckinsale is weak and her character is a little dim and irritating aren't bringing this down since happily she's spending much of the movie in jail (and by happily I mean happily we don't have to watch her all the time). The movie continues to be very good - and something it would be worthwhile for law, journalism and intel students to watch. And Farmiga continues to impress. I'm thinking she may have been robbed of an Oscar nomination last year.

And it's over. That is a great movie, and one that should definitely be taught in classes dealing with the US government, journalism, and intelligence. And happily by the end Beckinsale's improved a good bit.

Posted by armand at 10:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

That New Fangled Idea: Women in the US Government

In a post noting that G. Gordon Liddy doesn't think women should be judges, Karen Tumulty reminds us that his old boss, Richard Nixon, didn't think women should be in any jobs. This reminds me of something that I'm surprised doesn't get more attention - it's only since the mid-1970s that women have had a steady presence as members of the US cabinet. Prior to the mid-1970s, there were only two women in the cabinet - Frances Perkins under Franklin Roosevelt, and Oveta Culp Hobby under Dwight Eisenhower. The combined number of women in the cabinets of Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson - 0. It's rather startling that that's left out of discussion of those presdencies, and that discussions of national politics don't more often note that women have held positions of power in Washington for only a mere 30 years or so. Though I suppose the tone of this week's news coverage clearly conveys that it's a new idea that some would like to push back.

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

The "S" Word

Well, that took a little longer than I thought but this morning in the NYT piece about Sotomayor's "judicial temperment, there it was: "strident." I also expect more spicy, fiery, emotional and the like. Just so we all know that even Yale educated federal judges are still crazy emotional foreign bitches. I don't know if I have the stomach to keep track of all the othering that's going on with this.

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May 28, 2009

Schools Ban Hugging?

Apparently there are some schools where "needless hugging", or any hugging for that matter, will not be tolerated.

Posted by armand at 05:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 27, 2009

Reasons 512 and 513 I'm Glad Ann Althouse Isn't on Our Law Faculty

Her tendency to share every bizarre thought she has about the physical appearance or body movements of other women continues. Her all-knowingness appears so vast, I really wonder where she buys her crystal balls.

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Kmeic Comes Out Strongly for Sotomayor

The well-known right-leaning (and Catholic) legal scholar attracted a great deal of criticism from some on the Right and some active in the Church for his endorsement of President Obama. It's interesting to see him come out strongly in support of President Obama's first Supreme Court nominee.

In other Sotomayor news, Yglesias notes that some are comparing her to the wrong George W. Bush nominee. And as the first comment in that thread notes, George Will is still either a liar, or incredibly lazy and needs to finish reading a person's comments before trashing them.

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May 26, 2009

Another Victory for Yale Law

For people who keep track of such things, if Sonia Sotomayor is confirmed she'll join Justices Alito and Thomas as alums of Yale Law serving on the nation's highest court (and I assume there are still some who hope for one or both Clintons to join them some day).

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The Coming Attacks on Judge Sotomayor

Tom Goldstein lays out the paths of attack we will see against her.

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May 24, 2009

Is Colombia Drifting Away from Democracy?

A troubling change.

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May 22, 2009

Fighting the Taliban in Pink Boxers

One of the things I find most peculiar of late about those on the right who are obsessed (and I don't use the word lightly, you know the type) with all things gay is their contention that if DADT is ended, suddenly the barracks is going to be filled with people prancing around in boas. Now of course a logical person would realize that there already dozens of formal and informal ways of dealing with disruptive behavior in the military, and scrapping DADT has nothing to do with those - but these people aren't logical, and they are, apparently, gripped by a terrible fear of boas and similar articles of clothing.

I'd love to see the reaction of those people to this story. Are they aghast that young American warriors are wearing pink boxers? Do they think it's a sign that the Rapture is nigh? Whatever their supporting reaction might be, kudos to Secretary Gates for praising this young man.

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The National Journal - Accepting Right-Wing Talking Points and Creating New Ones

Just another morning's work in how they cover the court-related news. First, Stuart Taylor calls Judge Sotomayor (who he's down-graded to the fifth most likely person to replace Justice Souter) a racist. and calls for her to be banished from polite society. Then Kirk Victor writes a piece whose headline boldly claims that Democrats began the ideological wars over the Court in the 1980s. That would come as quite a shock to those involved in the fights over President Nixon's nominees, or Judge Parker who was denied a seat on the Court in 1930, or any of the ideological fights over Court nominees that happened before the twentieth. Maybe it's just me but I'd think a publication that seeks to be the paper of record for DC should employ folks who have at least a little knowledge of US political history.

Posted by armand at 11:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Will Collin Peterson and Big Agriculture-Funded Democrats Kill the Climate Change Bill?

This story has been bubbling up for a few days now. The ethanol lobby apparently fears the bill - and if there is any industry that's used to government handouts and protection from free-market forces it's Big Agriculture. In other words it's used to the government carving out protections for it, and it will use its abundant clout and money to force similar exemptions for itself here. Throw in the fact that many of the Democrats on this committee are unusually right-wing (albeit lovers of government subsidies and anti-free market) and the fact that several vulnerable Democrats are on this committee and this could present some real problems for the Democratic majority if Peterson is able to hold his committee members in line.

Posted by armand at 11:41 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Preventive Detention

What Hilzoy says.

The power to detain people without filing criminal charges against them is a dictatorial power. It is inherently arbitrary. What is it that they are supposed to have done? If it is not a crime, why on earth not make it one? If it is a crime, and we have evidence that this person committed it, but that evidence was extracted under torture, then perhaps we need to remind ourselves of the fact that torture is unreliable.
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May 21, 2009

The Return of Suzanne Haik Terrell?

Right-wing, whore-bangin' (I mean no offense to whores, but right-wing zealots should be called out on their hypocrisy) Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) might face a semi-serious primary challenge after all next year. The woman who almost toppled Mary Landrieu in 2002 is considering jumping into the race. Vitter remains very popular among Louisiana Republicans, so I have my doubts about whether they'd really toss him out of office. But it appears possible the young (for the Senate) senator might have to work harder than expected over the next year to keep his seat.

Posted by armand at 01:04 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 20, 2009

Democrats Surrender Prematurely

I just plain don't get the brain trust that runs the Democrats in Congress (if there is one). I mean, they have an overwhelming majority in the House, and have either 59 or 60 votes in the Senate (depending on when Franken gets seated), yet they seem to act like the minority party most of the time. Whenever the Republicans squawk about something, their first inclination is to retreat and give the Republicans more-or-less what they asked for. This does not seem consistent with a party that has many more votes than the minority.

This latest maneuver might be the silliest. Obama wants to close Guantanamo; Republicans oppose this. I have no idea why they oppose closing the prison there. There isn't any logical reason to keep open the prison, given that it has such an awful reputation in the world. It can only help our public (and private) diplomacy if we can say that it is behind us. As best I can tell, the Republicans basically oppose anything Obama asks for. Doesn't matter what it is. They are just reflexively opposed to anything the President offers. But, they recognize, they can't run with that idea publicly: people won't take them seriously if they stand in front of the cameras and say "Well, Jim, we just think everything the President says is wrong; we oppose his economic policy, his supreme court nominee, the food he ate for breakfast, his choice of where to vacation, and we oppose the clothes he is wearing now. Did you see the color of that tie?" They need something that sorta sounds like reasons; they need something that sorta/kinda/maybe sounds plausible to repeat to the idiotbox and general public.

So the Republicans bash their heads against the wall for a while, and come up with: "You can't close Guantanamo because then all those evil terrorist killers would come to the United States and get released and be living next door to YOU!!!!" This is the dumbest argument in the history of dumb arguments. No person with half a brain believes that we're planning on taking Guantanamo detainees and just letting them walk around Kansas, NYC or LA. It's so stupid that it defies description: no one, right or left, is going to let actual terrorist just walk out of prisons and into American neighborhoods. Its such a duplicitous argument, so false on its face, that it is hard to believe that anyone took it seriously, much less that the Republican talking heads could get it out without breaking out in gales of laughter.

(Note to freaky wingnuts who find this: closing Guantanamo does not automatically mean bringing the people to the US. There are other options. Guam. Releasing them back to their country of citizenship (who mostly don't want them). Afghanistan. Something. Maybe we could put them in prison in the US. That's one of the ideas (and a decent one, in my opinion, as no one escapes from Federal "SuperMax" prisons), but not the only choice. So, the fact that Obama wants to close Guantanamo does not automatically mean they will end up in prison in the US.)

Of course, the wingnuts ate it up and went nuts. All of which was predictable and silly.

I sorta figured this dumb argument would make silly headlines at Malkin's site, drudge would put sirens and flashers on it for a day or two, the American public wouldn't like it, but it would fade into the background in a day or two as the insane silliness of the idea became apparent (and we found something else to argue about, like a Supreme Court nominee). All the Democrats had to do was say calming things to the cameras and wait it out. We'd find something to do with the detainees, Guatanamo would be closed in just over half a year, and things would improve for America. But no.

Today, we read that the Senate Democrats have caved, and are removing the funding that would allow Obama to close Guantanamo. I have no idea why they caved. One line by Reid stands out: "We will never allow terrorists to be released into the United States." Well, no shit Sherlock. Can we have a statement about whether the US will release murders, rapists and child molesters into the US? Of course we aren't going to release terrorists into the US (of course, we have no way of knowing if they are terrorists, but that's an entirely separate argument).

Reid's statements seems to indicate that the Democrats are taking seriously this argument about releasing the terrorists into the US. And, as noted, the argument is complete crap. I have images of gibbering howler monkeys deep down inside the Republican Party HQ making up arguments left and right and throwing them around like, well, monkey poo. Whatever sticks the highest are the dumb-ass arguments they march out to the cameras and fling out to the American public. And those monkeys are just having a great day today. They've achieved the highest pinnacle a monkey can aspire to: they got the Senate Majority leader to take one of their poo-encrusted ridiculous arguments seriously. Man, the free bananas must be flying around down in the basement today.

Dear Democrats In Congress: when someone flings poo at you, don't look at it carefully, pause meaningfully, and start a dialog with it. It's poo. If you engage with it, the best you can hope for is that you get it on your shoe (still not an optimal outcome). The worst is if you have to eat it (which is what Harry Reid did today). What you really need to do is ignore it. If the Republicans want to fling poo, then ignore them. If they want to think for half a second and come up with something that has an ounce or even a gram of sense, then you can engage it meaningfully. But when they fling poo, just ignore it.

I think I'm most distressed because the Democrats didn't even seem to want to debate the ridiculous idea, or even just wait it out. It's as if Reid can't tell that someone just flung poo at him; he doesn't even know the moronic arguments from the ones he actually has to take seriously. His default position seems to be: if the Republican's squawk, give them something (in this case, give them everything). And all this does is give a Pavlovian positive reinforcement to the Republicans. Imagine what they are thinking: "If Reid will cave for this ridiculous bullshit, I'll bet we can completely derail the Supreme Court nominee by claiming nine judges are too many, and we should save money by having only eight!" I'll bet the Republicans order another couple of cages of howler monkeys and stock up on bananas. All kinds of shit will start to fly out of there now. The complete lack of reason and sense (even simple political calculation) shown by the Democrats here is disheartening.

Update: I got further down the NYT story and found another howler by Reid:

Mr. Reid in his comments, however, was unequivocal in insisting that the terrorism suspects never reach American shores. "You can’t put them in prison unless you release them," he said. "We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States."

Is this guy brain damaged? What the fuck does "You can't put them in prison unless you release them" mean? That's just shear idiocy. It doesn't even make sense as a sentence in the English language. I think what he means is that "Everyone who goes to prison eventually gets out, so we can't put the terrorists in prison" which is equally as stupid. We put all kinds of people in prison, and they never get out. Charles Manson? Dahlmer?

What kind of idiot morans are running this party I just joined?

Posted by baltar at 08:50 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

May 19, 2009

Lisa Schwarzbaum on Taking Woodstock

So writing from Cannes, EW's reporter doesn't like Ang Lee's latest:

There's very little of the authentic music and even less of the authentic vibe in Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock, a view of the legendary 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Festival as seen through the eyes of a gay, Jewish, aspiring interior designer and his immigrant parents who ran a ratty Catskill motel down the road from where it all went down. So if you want the truth - and the spirit - get Michael Wadleigh's great 1970 Woodstock documentary on Netflix.

Umm, yes, if you want the "truth" go see a documentary. Who would have thought!?! Personally, I'd much rather see an Ang Lee movie with that cast than the "truth". The "truth" is at this point beaten to death - and that's before we get into it being smelly and dirty, and as Charlotte noted in The Last Days of Disco: "You know the Woodstock generation of the 1960s that were so full of themselves and conceited? None of those people could dance."

Posted by armand at 11:48 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A SCOTUS Interview for Deval Patrick?

I'll be surprised if the nominee to replace Souter isn't a woman, but Gov. Patrick (D-MA) would seem to be well-qualified for the position. And he's certainly got the diverse life experience that some people would like to see in the next justice. There's a rumor out that he's meeting with President Obama about the position. And hey, given his approval rating (27% according to SUSA back in March), it would seem that sending him to One First Street would make a lot of citizens of the Commonwealth quite happy.

Posted by armand at 10:40 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 18, 2009

Book Review: "Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World" by Liaquat Ahamed

This book is not about the modern financial crash, but is instead about the global depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s (though the author has a short final chapter that tries to tie the present financial crisis to the actions/decisions in the earlier crisis; it is not a very good comparison, and seems forced). It weaves and turns through a host of political and economic people, focusing on four: Montagu Normam (head of the Bank of England), Emile Moreau (head of the Banque de France), Hjalmar Schacht (of the Reichsbank) and Benjamin Strong (head of the NY branch of the Federal Reserve). In the preface, Ahamed says he is writing a biography of the four people and using the events of the economic crash to talk about them and their personalities. In reality, the book is about the events over about a 15-year span (1918 to 1933) that resulted in the greatest international economic collapse of the modern era. It is less biography, and more history, but with a focus on the personalities of these four people.

Its a quick read (even at 500+ pages), as Ahamed has an easy writing style and peppers the economic history with asides about the personalities of the four central individuals (as well as other key characters that wander in and out of the story). Ahamed's central thesis is that two dominant ideological positions (one economic and one political) drove the world over an economic cliff, and that disaster was probably avoidable (and if not avoidable, then the crash could have at least been mitigated).

The political position that broke the world was the question of reparations (from Germany to Britain/France) stemming from World War I. In our modern age, reparations seem a quaint historical artifact. Today, the idea of making the losing state pay for the cost of a war seems practically problematic (could the loser really afford the bill?) and morally questionable. Historically, however, this was the norm. The experiences of the victorious states trying to get the defeated Germans (who didn't think of themselves as defeated) to pay for the costs of war was one of the prime reasons the international economic system collapsed in the early 1930s. As Ahamed notes, Germany's bill (from the victorious states) amounted to about $12 billion when the entire German economy had a GDP of only $7 billion (granted, the bill was spread over a couple of decades). Germany essentially owed two years worth of their entire output to Britain/France (and that was bargained down from the initial reparations goal of $55 billion). Ahamed argues that these costs were a serious burden to Germany, and hindered economic recovery and policy over time.

However, the real story of the reparations is political, not economic. The reason everyone was so entrenched in getting Germany to pay had to do with the debts of the victors, not the losers: Britain and France had spent money like mad during the war, and had to borrow billions from the Americans in order to keep fighting. Britain and France were willing to borrow because they expected to use German money to pay back the loans; historically, this is how wars worked. The loser paid the bills. So, while it became clearer and clearer during the 1920s that Germany could not pay back the reparations (for economic and political reasons), Britain and France could not afford to let the issue go, as they expected to use the money to pay back the United States (and couldn't pay us back without the money). The political divisions between Britain, France and the US over reparations were caught up in issues of war debt, payments, economic policy, and domestic politics. Over time, reparations divided these states, which hindered their ability to come together to stave off the global economic collapse.

For Ahamed, the US isn't blameless here: the US pushed Britain and France to reduce or eliminate the reparations, but refused to discuss reducing the debts that Britain and France owed us (by our logic, at the time, reparations were a political issue and repayment of British/French war debt was an economic issue, and the two were independent). While Ahamed's book has some flaws (see below), he is very good at showing how interconnected/interdependent the global economy and politics was even in the (ancient by modern standards) 1920s.

The second part of the reasons for the global collapse focuses on an economic belief, an ideology. The economic ideology that broke the world was the issue of gold, or the gold standard. Up until this time, states used currency backed by gold. The amount of gold a state had determined how much currency it could issue. But (by the light of modern economics) it also determined a host of other issues: inflation, investment, deflation, growth, employment, etc. In other words, while in the modern era we have central banks (like the Fed) who determine the supply of money by fiddling with interest rates (the price to borrow money), back in the days of the gold standard, the interest rate was determined by the supply and availability of gold. If gold was plentiful, interest rates were low (there was money around to be borrowed). If there was no new gold on the market, then interest rates were high (the supply of money was very small, as money had to be backed by gold, and no gold was available). In hindsight (according to Ahamed), we can look back over centuries of European history and see that gold allowed modest growth (as new sources were found) and general stability. However, as the world moved into the modern era, gold became a ball-and-chain that prevented economic growth. As populations grew, and as the industrial revolution expanded economies, the limited supply of gold (Ahamed makes the claim at one point that - as of the 1920s - all the gold ever mined in the history of humanity would fill one modest two-story house) limited economic growth. If paper money is to be backed by gold, and there is a limited supply of gold, then (by definition) there is a limited supply of money. Limiting the supply of money means high interest rates, which suppresses economic growth. This is the conventional wisdom in economic today, and is so uncontroversial that is hardly seems mentioning

Yet, this was heresy in the 1920s. And, as Ahamed makes clear, the "gold fetish" of the central bankers was not based on economic theory, but on history and belief (ideology). States kept to the gold standard because that is what they had always done. Ahamed's story is also about the struggle of the states to get back to the gold standard they had abandoned in order to fight World War I. And most succeeded: by various economic measures (balanced budgets, borrowing, inflation, deflation, etc.) most of the states managed to bring themselves back to the gold standard of the pre-war period. The cost of this action, however, was massive. None of the economies grew robustly (except the US, which never left the gold standard and was starting its ascent to be the global hegemon it is today) and all had a variety of economic problems (unemployment, slow growth, balance-of-payments issues) that triggered political problems (lack of growth and unemployment cause the fall of several governments in Europe, for example). In short, the ideology of gold drove states to make economic decisions that triggered political crises. In Ahamed's view, this is one of the foundational causes of the rise of Nazism in Germany (but, just as much, one of the causes of the inability of Britain and France to afford to be able to re-arm and oppose Nazi Germany, though I'm interpreting Ahamed at this point). In fact, as Ahamed makes clear, one of the few good points about the global great depression was that it proved, beyond a doubt, that the gold standard was impossible for modern economies to adhere to. It seems clear (again, in hindsight) that the depression was as bad as it was because of the gold standard, and had the world abandoned it earlier, we could have mitigated some of the problems.

All in all, an interesting story. But Ahamed has some failures, though they are systemic and not historical. By choosing to focus on the four characters (and calling the book a biography in the preface), Ahamed is somewhat guilty of false advertising. This is clearly a work of history; the story he wants to tell is one of the intersection of economics, politics and ideology. Yet, by choosing to focus on the four characters, readers get the impression (or, at least, I do) that the real motive power of the economic collapse is in the story of these four men. As the book unfolds, however, you see that these men are embedded in the ideology of the times, and of the political structures of the times. Moreover, to tell this complex story (four countries, fifteen years, plus bit parts for other states/governments as necessary), it becomes necessary to move the camera away from the activities of these four onto other actors (Churchill, Roosevelt, Hitler, etc.) as they make decisions that influence the outcome. As a reader, I started to get the impression that the focus on the four "main characters" was distracting, and that the real story was happening in other places that Ahamed wasn't showcasing. I understand Ahamed's focus on the four; he gives clear evidence that the four corresponded with each other and became (in a few cases) friends. The closeness shared by these four central bankers as the global economy spins out of control makes for a compelling narrative structure. However, the facts don't seem to support that narrative structure; as the global economy truly collapses in the early 1930s, only one of the four characters is even in power anymore (Norman, in England, is still head of the bank; Moreau has moved to a more lucrative private bank; Schacht was given the boot by the German government and has drifted towards Nazism, and Strong had died in the late 1920s). The story at this point is almost entirely one of other characters, and I wanted to see what they were doing and how their actions affected the course of events. In Ahamed's defense, he moves onto these other characters, but calling the book a biography seems a stretch at this point. In the end, I'm left wanting more detail and description of the actions and governments as the world falls apart. The focus on the four individuals creates a nice narrative structure, but fails to be able to effectively tell the entire story. (And, it should be noted, perhaps the story is greater than Ahamed can tell in only 500 pages.)

But maybe this is just my problem with biographies. I rarely read biographies; history is a complex mix of characters, structures, parties, movements, ideas and ideologies. Any focus on a single individual will, by definition, miss telling the whole story. And I'm more interested in the whole story than the complete story of one (even important) individual among a whole tapestry. As such, biographies seem narrow and that's the impression I get from Ahamed. There is a fascinating story here, and Ahamed seems to pick up 75% or so. But I get the feeling that there is more out there that really explains how the world fell of a cliff, and it isn't in the book. (Speculatively, I wonder if the relationship between these four bankers caught the eye of a literary agent or publisher, and if Ahamed shifted the focus of the work to the four central bankers (and away from the central story) on advice of someone who thought it would read easier or be easier to sell. I have no idea if this is the case, but it seems plausible. Ahamed's background is in investments and finance, not history or biography.)

Still, for those interested in the period or in a look at an economic crisis that is significantly worse than what we are experiencing today, this is a good read at a not-to-complex level. Somewhat recommended.

Posted by baltar at 09:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 17, 2009

Seth Rogen

So I'm doing my usual graduation afternoon activity - watching a movie. In this case it's Pineapple Express. And I'm sort of hoping Seth Rogen's 15 minutes are up. Forcing out throaty yells and acting like you think you are adorable while you seem to have the mind of a 13 year old ... eh. I've gotten bored with him/that. Of course I'm kind of bored with the whole Judd Apatow thing. And the movie really isn't all that good either. Manic + stupid doesn't necessarily equal funny.

That said, James Franco is great.

Posted by armand at 02:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 15, 2009

Gov. Huntsman (R-UT) to Be Ambassador to China!?!

I'm stunned. He appears to have a bright political future, and he takes a top diplomatic post in an administration run by the other party? That's a bold move.

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

The US Didn't Torture During Bush-Cheney's 2nd Term?

That's what Lawrence Wilkerson says. I think Josh Marshall is right to have highlighted these remarks. If the US hasn't tortured anyone since 2004, and if most of those acts weren't aimed at preempting terrorist attacks, but at finding confirmation for a non-existent Saddam-al Qaeda link, that significantly changes how the national dialogue on this story should be conducted. Of course it could also mean significantly different legal consequences for those involved.

Posted by armand at 03:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 14, 2009

Lindsey Graham's Contortions Regarding the Law and Torture

Dahlia Lithick covers the law-respectin' (kinda, sorta) senator from South Carolina. Graham explains

that the lawbreaking that happened with respect to torture: a) wasn't lawbreaking, b) was justifiable lawbreaking, c) was lawbreaking done with the complicity of congressional Democrats, d) doesn't matter because al-Qaida is terrible, or e) wouldn't be lawbreaking if the Spanish police were doing it.

Lithwick argues that Graham is in other words speaking up for a "national Twinkie defense".

Graham is willing to strap a saddle onto that Twinkie today and ride … and ride and ride.
Posted by armand at 06:32 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Most Say It Doesn't Matter If Obama Appoints a Woman

According to a Gallup poll a big majority of Americans don't think it matters if Obama appoints a woman to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court. I haven't looked into the poli sci research on this question in at least 5 years, but as I recall studies from the 1990s at the state level showed that once there was one female member of a supreme court there was relatively little push to add more additional women to the those courts. And of course out of 50 states there are only 3 on which the number of female justices if greater than the number of male justices (Wisconsin, Michigan, and, since mid-March, Tennessee).

Posted by armand at 02:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Lost - The Incident

Note to screenwriters - you can't detonate a plutonium bomb by hitting it with a rock. Also, unless you are writing a character who is a self-centered dick of stupefying proportions it isn't too likely that character would want to take 5 minutes off to chat about his love life while one of his friends is bleeding out from a gunshot wound. As luck would have it the writers for Lost are writing a self-centered dick of stupefying proportions, so, doctor or not, it's not shocking Jack would do that. But other writers, don't follow that example.

As to the part of the plot we care about - that was cool. So Egyptian mythology? Norse? Was it "the incident" that damaged the statue? Was it a statue of Sobek? Was that Smokey down there with Jacob and Ben? Lots of questions to ponder until the show returns in 2010.

Posted by armand at 02:12 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

"Coal is West Virginia"

I have no idea what the point of this West Virginia Public Radio story on the "Battle of Ringtones" was meant to convey. The story had a very pro-coal vibe to it (the only ringtones discussed were pro-coal ones; none by anti-mountain-top removal were mentioned). It seemed more like a commercial than an actual news story.

And then they played the ringtones. Oh. My. God.

I can't embed them; but go here and listen to them. Really. Seriously. Go and listen. I'll wait.

As the story notes, these ringtones were made from songs commissioned by the West Virginia Coal Association in the 1980s. They don't sound like 1980s music; at best, very bad 1960s pop, and possibly even earlier. Schmaltzy crappy music to the Nth degree. Really: go and listen. You'll pee your pants.

(For those that still haven't clicked through to listen, here is a parody video made by the Sierra Club that makes fun of the awfulness of the songs, and (heavy-handedly) argues that the future of West Virginia is clean "green" energy. Ignore the Sierra Club propaganda and listen to the music:)

Now: the really funny part. As the WV Public Radio story notes, you can play the ringtones at the WV Coal Association website, but you can't actually use them as ringtones. No one can figure out how. The tech-savvy (sarcasm) WV Coal Association has prevented piracy of their ringtones (more sarcasm) by making them undownloadable. This is clearly effective at preventing unauthorized use (OOPS: except for the Sierra Club! Tricky eco-veggitarian bastards!) (Note: that was more sarcasm), but somewhat ineffective at spreading the "Coal is West Virginia" message every time someones cell phone goes off.

So, my operating theory at this point is that someone at West Virginia Public radio is pro-environment, and wanted to make fun of the idiot coal association, so drafted what is essentially a fake story that sounds pro-coal at first listen, but is really anti-coal because it makes them look like idiots. Nothing else can explain that radio story. No one younger than 40 can listen to that awful "Coal is West Virginia" crappy music and think highly of the brain trust (note: last bit of sarcasm) that thought making those ringtones would promote coal in West Virginia.

Clearly, they need some new PR people working the pro-coal position here.

Posted by baltar at 11:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Two "Torture" Related Comments

There have been two recent torture related debates floating around that I have wanted to add my two-cents to.

1. Obama's U-turn on the photos of detainees. Look; I understand the "don't release" side of this argument. I see that releasing a couple of hundred photos of Muslims who are being (at a bare minimum) humiliated by uniformed US soldiers is going to inflame some part of the Middle East. I get that. But thinking that not releasing them is going to prevent that outrage is very short sighted. Obama's reversal does not (I think) guarantee that the photos won't be released (the ACLU lawsuit will continue to move forward); plus, I suspect that the photos will come out at some point in the future (near or far is unknown) either through leaks or by court order. So, not releasing them just punts the issue down the road, it doesn't make it go away. You can't make it go away until you come to terms with the entire thing, and coming to terms with in involves a public debate (and possible hearings/independent prosecutor/"truth commission"). That's what the world expects of the US and its democratic system, and the "harm" to the US image by releasing them must be balanced against the "harm" that remaining secret will continue to do to our image. So: it's a trade-off between harm of the images versus harm to our overall image of being free. I understand that reasonable people can disagree reasonably about which harm is greater (I'm on the side that argues releasing them is less harm than not releasing them), but I'd like to see a greater debate about this, and see Obama acknowledge (publicly) the harm that keeping them secret does to our image at home and abroad.

2. The recent "torture is effective" meme that the fucknut wingers are propagating. (Also see an idiotic column by Cohen.) Look, if we're going to make public policy based on what is "effective" versus what is not, then there are a host of issues to reconsider. For example (and very directly relevant): if it is OK to torture a terrorist who might have knowledge of a "ticking bomb," why is it not OK to torture uniformed enemy soldiers that are more likely to have knowledge of enemy formations/plans/actions? The odds of a terrorist having actionable intelligence are actually lower (I would think) than the odds of an enemy soldier (during war) having information that can clearly save lives on the battlefield. (In both cases we are talking about high-ranking terrorists and soldiers: I'm assuming; one could make a similar argument so long as we are talking about terrorists and soldiers at roughly equal "ranks.") The point is that if we decide torture is acceptable because it has utility under some circumstances, then torture becomes acceptable under all circumstances that are roughly equal (kidnappers? drug wholesalers/kingpins? public corruption cases? getting the billions back from Bernie Madoff?). The "ticking time-bomb" scenario argues for rationalizing torture based on utilitarian principles (take actions that produce the greatest gain for the most people); but there are a host of moral, legal, social and philosophical arguments against utilitarianism. Moreover, our political system isn't based on utilitarianism, and it shouldn't be allowed to creep in on this policy.

Posted by baltar at 11:00 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 13, 2009

I found Paradise.

I had no idea that paradise was this close.

Posted by baltar at 10:32 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 11, 2009

Marc Ambinder Clearly Thinks SCOTUS Nominees Should Be Sitting on a Court

How else to explain his dismissive comments about Jennifer Granholm and Janet Napolitano? People across DC read him, so his thoughts may matter in terms of the initial reaction to the nominee. And if he's well-informed, it looks like I may lose a bet.

Posted by armand at 04:25 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Your Sotomayor Links for This Monday

First, Mark Kernes at Adult Video News reports that Judge Sotomayor isn't likely to be a friend of students' free speech rights. At least that's what he draws from her involvement in a 3 judge panel's ruling in the Doninger case (interestingly, the other two judges on the panel are women who are favorites of some on the Right).

And Mike Doyle thinks Jeff Rosen's much derided anonymously-sourced hit piece on Judge Sotomayor might've been on to something after all - at least if you compare evaluations of her on the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary to evaluations given to two female judges on the 7th Circuit.

Posted by armand at 02:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Timberlake, Samberg, Clarkson and Sarandon on SNL

Happy Mother's Day. This is 100 times funnier than the famous Timberlake and Samberg pairing (and no not only because of my love of Clarkson - but that helps).

Posted by armand at 10:12 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 10, 2009

State of Play (the Miniseries)

Apparently its similarities to the Affleck and Crowe movie are fewer than one might think. On the whole this is a newspaper story, and a very good one. Honestly, the series probably doesn't need to be as long as it is (there were six episodes). Parts of it are drawn out, though other parts are a bit rushed (like the ending turn, which didn't quite work for me). But even if the pacing isn't perfect it remains engrossing, and a largely well told tale, that is well-acted throughout. While showing how a major newspaper story is built, it also successfully presents some great, fully-realized characters, who are then brought to life by excellent actors. As much as I love Polly Walker and Bill Nighy my favorites were two Doctor Who veterans - John Simm (the Master!) and Marc Warren (Elton Pope!). But one of the great joys of this series is that even the small roles are beautifully filled out. I've heard mixed reports on the movie, but I was happy to see that the miniseries merits its fine reputation.

Posted by armand at 05:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 08, 2009

Mark Halperin Remains a Hack

The top story on The Page right now is that Michelle Obama went out for a hamburger today. Could this guy be any more insular and obsessed with trivialities?

Posted by armand at 02:34 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Replacing Justice Souter

According to Jan Crawford Greenburg the list is down to 6 people. She lists 3 of them, all of whom have been listed on various lists of likely nominees.

Posted by armand at 02:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Question Time and the Rule of George W. Bush

Today Andrew Sullivan links to sparring between Gordon Brown and David Cameron as a way of explaining why he asks tough questions and expects tough debates. The British system certainly is different from the American one where the David Broders, George Wills, and Sally Quinns of the world appear to think such questioning is unseemly. Sullivan's link reminds me of something that had crossed my mind before. If we had the British system on these shores, do you think we would have been spared George W. Bush? The idea of him taking questions in this format, well, it's hard to imagine.

And no, this doesn't mean I favor the proposal some throw out from time to time calling for the US president to answer similar questions in front of Congress. That seems to me to be completely inappropriate given our presidential system, and a largely pointless endeavor. If you want question time, push for a new constitution and a switch to a parliamentary system.

Posted by armand at 11:40 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 05, 2009

What Exactly Does Ross Douthat Want from the Republicans?

So the New York Times thinks it should have another right-winger on its op-ed pages. Naturally said writer is interested in revitalizing the country's right-wing party. But exactly what does he want it to be? Well, not Rush. But also not pragmatists. Centrists are, in his words, "intellectually vacuous". Apparently only small-government people need belong to this party (which will, then, make it a permanent minority party for the foreseeable future unless it runs savvy flim-flam artists because if it's been abundantly clear for decades that the American public is disinterested in a small government). He likes Democrats from the 80's who made their party more Republican - but the Republicans are already Republican, so I'm not sure of the value of that example. He wants a small government that innovates. Am I missing something? That he wants intellectually rigorous change is nice and all - but I'm left with not even the vaguest idea of what that would look like.

Posted by armand at 04:49 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 04, 2009

Fred Kaplan's Most Important Movies About War and Diplomacy

He thinks Stephen Walt and Dan Drezner have, at best, a weird take on the movies you really need to see to understand IR.

Posted by armand at 10:47 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Coasting With Cokie

Jack Shafer has as little use for Cokie Roberts as I do. Is insipid the word? Or vacuous? In any event she's one of the many reasons I gave up on NPR and (Steph's Sunday show) years ago.

Posted by armand at 11:30 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Jeff Rosen and Stuart Taylor Gossip About Judge Sotomayor

That's really all there is to these early attacks on the 2nd Ciruit judge. We get blind quotes about potential this and possible that, and extraordinarily vague comments that rebut each other ... but mostly it comes off like they are chatting at a 10th grade lunch table. These two might write on legal issues for publications respected in the halls of power - but I wouldn't call them journalists. They are right to note that her position on Ricci would be attacked at her confirmation hearing (should she have one), but that's not remotely surprising. And the less said about Taylor's claim that she masquerades as a moderate the better. He's in full-on Bob Novak mode there.

Posted by armand at 08:40 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 03, 2009


Damn that's a good movie. It's right up there with The Fall and I've Loved You So Long at the top of my list of films of 2008 (of course there are no doubt good ones I have yet to see - and for "good on its own terms" I'd throw Quantum of Solace into that mix). I've got to see more Isabel Coixet films. I liked every single thing about this. It was shot beautifully and the music was great, as was the acting. On that, how was Ben Kingsley not nominated for Best Actor? And Patricia Clarkson and Peter Sarsgaard were very good too. And the writing was superb. Superb. This gets a big thumbs-up from me.

Posted by armand at 11:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Sex Boycott in Kenya

They aren't just in old Greek plays any more.

Posted by armand at 09:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 02, 2009

Kentucky Derby Day - 2009

The horse racing news of the day is who isn't racing (Derby favorite I Want Revenge was scratched) and who raced yesterday (Rachel Alexandra won the Kentucky Oaks by over 20 lengths yesterday - yes, you read that right, over 20 lengths). But for the big race of today I'll go ahead and stick my neck out and say that my picks out of the remaining favorites are Friesan Fire and Chocolate Candy (and no, no simply because Jenny Craig is running a horse named that). And for those of you who like to bet exotics, I'd say include Summer Bird. He's still extremely young and hasn't raced much, but he looks like he could have quite a future. Should be an exciting race. This is a deep, high-quality field where a lot of horses have a legitimate shot at winning.

Posted by armand at 03:48 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack