August 31, 2009

The Greatest Senators in History

Erik Loomis is writing short pieces on the men he believes deserve to be so remembered, including Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, George Norris, and Robert Wagner.

UPDATE: He's added Robert LaFollette.

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August 27, 2009

What Movies Best Capture the Awkwardness of the Early 20s?

Three good picks, even though I'd rate the Baumbach and Stillman films above The Graduate on that score.

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August 26, 2009

Oh Those Krazy Kids These Days - Pittsburgh 2009

So I saw that on the first day of class the flyers were already up - Come and disrupt the G-20 in Pittsburgh! Which leads me to throw out the following questions to you all. Is this just about people people wanting to do something Xtreme? Or do these people actually think the G-20 is some sort of cabal? And if so, do they really think that some stunts they attempt will harm the cabal in any way? There actually is opinion research on the famous Seattle protests, and that work suggests the protestors hurt their cause. I'm inclined to believe that much of this among students is that a bunch of people want to pull pranks, and feel like they are doing something. But then like the old-fashioned media I tend to forget a big chunk of the country is into conspiracy theories.

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August 25, 2009

The Decline of Western Civilization, Part 23,506

I heard a local radio station advertising "a special martini night" at one of the local student bars. How special? "Tequila Sunrise-Banana Cream Martinis" were on special.

I don't know what that is, but it isn't a martini. Whoever invented it should be shot, and the bar should be burned down.

For added irony, the bar is "The Vintage Room," which purports to have a wine list, and at one point tried to be an adult bar (where actual adults, as opposed to drunk sorostitues, hung out.)

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Next thing you know, they'll ban dancing

Or Bacon. Zing!

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Revolutionary Road

Did the pairing of the words Winslet and Mendes lead many of the country's film critics to take leave of their senses? Because having finally watched one of last year's most-lauded films my response is: "you've got to be f-ing kidding." That thing was abysmal. Oh sure, it was shiny enough, and Ms. Winslet looked great in her vintage attire. And true, it had the horribly overbearing music and self-important shot selection that's sadly associated with many an Oscar nominee. So to the extent that it played to the Academy's taste for things both better-looking and more heavy-handed than you'll see on Lifetime, I get its laurels in a way. But still, it just really wasn't very good. At all. The exact same thing was covered in a number of plays and movies that were actually produced in the 1950s and 1960s - and it was done much better by the likes of Nicholas Ray and Britain's Angry Young Men. This thing was thin, predictable, boring, unpleasant, and about as subtle as Aretha Franklin belting out an anthem while also playing the cymbals. Like I said, there are some positives on the side (Kathy Bates for instance, and naturally, given the source material, there are some good lines), but on the whole this stunk and I'm really glad the star won her Oscar for The Reader instead.

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

A Reason Why the Next California Governor Should Be Capping Off a Long Career

Because having to deal with a deficit that's about to balloon to that size as you begin office will likely doom the political fortunes of anyone seeking to use a stay in Sacramento as a stepping stone to other high offices.

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The Rise of the 60-Vote Senate

An interesting historical overview.

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I see that Obama just re-nominated Bernanke to head the Fed for another four years. This would be the same Bernanke that led the Fed through the worst recession in since the great depression. I'm certainly not convinced the guy is the right one in that job. Moreover, Obama ran on a "change" platform, and keeping the same guy doesn't seem much like change.

Has their ever been a case of a Fed Chairman who lost their job after one term? Have we gotten to the point that you cannot fire the Chair of Fed? Sure seems that way.

(I'm assuming that Obama is keeping Bernanke for stability reasons; that tossing him out will roil the economic waters (no matter how bad/good Bernanke is, or however good/bad his replacement would be, there will be economic uncertainty if he goes), and Obama doesn't want to harm the chances of a recovery by throwing uncertainty into the mix. Thus, he keeps Bernanke. That's my hypothesis.)

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August 24, 2009

Nate Silver's August 2009 Senate Rankings

In a notable switch, he now sees Republicans as slightly more likely to gain Senate seats than to lose them.

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August 23, 2009

The Miss Universe Pageant Still Gets Primetime Network Coverage?

I mean I knew that, but still, it feels sort of surprising to see it as you scroll through the channels. It seems more of an era when Michael Eisner was introducing some family fare earlier on Sunday night, or maybe even a time when you'd find Dinah Shore or Johnny Carson on television.

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Who'll Hook Up With Whom

So is the take away from this that men are sluttier than women, or that women are more shallow than men? (I don't mean the question to imply there's anything negative about being slutty or shallow).

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Do these pants make my ass look less competent?

by guest blogger BelowZero

A recent article in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology demonstrates that when people are instructed to focus on a woman's physical appearance, she is perceived to be both less competent and less human. The study compared evaluations of Angelina Jolie and Sarah Palin made when people were asked to describe Jolie or Palin's "personal appearance" versus "who they are as a person." The problem is that most of the time, superficial information - like physical appearance - is processed automatically (outside of conscious awareness) and judgments about things like character and competence require more deliberate processing. At least, that's the case for women. People do seem to automatically associate leadership qualities with men. This relationship between appearance and competence is particularly problematic for female political candidates. There is a lot of evidence female candidates receive significantly more media coverage of their physically appearance and significantly less substantive coverage. This difference in coverage reinforces perceptions of women as less competent politically than men and provides little to motivate the more deliberative style of processing necessary to override implicit gender stereotypes.

The study also cites previously gathered evidence that women can objectify themselves by linking their self-worth to their physical appearance. Not a huge surprise to anyone who has picked up a copy of Self, Cosmopolitan, or Allure lately. Those who do so tend to perceive themselves as less competent and also perform less competently when cues regarding physical appearance are salient. This suggests that women preoccupied with their own appearances are screwed twice over - they fail to recognize their own worth, and so does everyone else.

The finding about dehumanization is surprising, maybe even disturbing, given the participants in this study were merely asked to describe Jolie and Palin's appearance in writing - from memory with no visual cues - a seemingly innocuous task. Dehumanization is a psychological mechanism underlying aggression and violence across a variety of contexts - from hazing to ethnic cleansing. The authors argue that objectifying women is dehumanizing and, as a result, promotes violence against women. (The sarcastic survey researcher in me says: They probably could have investigated this link empirically by asking survey participants if they felt like pushing Palin or Jolie down a flight of stairs. Look at the picture of Palin in her leather mini and think about how you would answer that question.) But, this result does seem to bolster the arguments of pornography opponents who contend the objectification of women through sexual images encourages violence again women, even if the images themselves are not violent in nature.

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August 22, 2009

Is There Such a Thing as a War of Necessity?

Rob Farley argues no.

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August 21, 2009

Daniel V's Win on Project Runway

Ummm, well, yeah. As I said last night, I loved that last dress of his - an opinion shared by Diane von Furstenberg. But should he really have beaten Korto? Probably not. Though as much as a lot of us will say he won because he's so kissable (see the link), his ties to the judges make one wonder if he should have been included in the competition in the first place.

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The Race for Mayor of Houston

It's all about the run-off. Details here and here.

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August 20, 2009

Kristen Johnston Joins Ugly Betty

And she's going to be playing off Amanda! Great news for those of us who enjoy one of the better and sadly under-utilized comic actresses out there.

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August 19, 2009

Local color

Today while on I68 headed towards my favorite local mountain biking spot, I passed a pickup hauling a trailer with one bumper sticker on it:

Don't blame me, I voted for Palin!

Well, now, of course you did.

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OK, I Weep Slightly Less For My Country

Barney Franks isn't everyone's cup of tea, but he does have a good command of the english language:

That....was awesome.

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August 18, 2009

Biden Versus Gates on Nuclear Warhead Modernization

Secretary Clinton's comments in this meeting were interesting too.

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From Mississippi to Minnesota

How is it possible that I couldn't care less about Brett Favre and yet I'm sick of him nonetheless?

Posted by armand at 12:55 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Democrats Make a Mistake in NY-23

A great run-down on the race can be found here.

Yeesh, I get that the Third Way/DLC/centrist crowd loves nominating moderates in tough districts, but couldn't they have chosen a registered Democrat? The only possible Democratic contender not in favor of a public option on health care? A "Democrat" who is to the right of his Republican and Conservative opponents on gay rights? Unless this guy gets extraordinarily lucky, I don't see how Owens can win. And a lot of Democrats won't be sad to see his campaign go down in flames.

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August 17, 2009

A New Chief Judge of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals

A second recent surprise shift in the leadership of one of the nation's top courts (after the sudden change on the Fourth Circuit) has occurred. This appears timed solely to ensure that a "conservative" jurist remains at the top of the court for the next several years. This sort of thing is of course entirely predictable when laws are written that tightly rule people out of contention for high office depending on the number of birthdays they have had. And one wonders if something similar will happen on the Fifth Circuit some years from now. Is Reagan-appointee Edith Hollan Jones going to want to be succeed by another Republican appointee like Jerry Smith or Emilio Garza, or by a Bill Clinton appointee?

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(500) Days of Summer

It gets two big thumbs up from me. It might not quite be quite up to the level of Coraline or The Hurt Locker, but it's very good. It's a great movie about falling into a certain sort of love. A love where you are more in love with the idea of love, the idea of being in love, or the idea of a person or relationship, than with the actual person you are supposedly connected with (which is why I think some of the criticism of the female lead being a cypher is off-base - that's kind of the whole point of the movie). I think both the writing and direction are extremely strong, and both leads give winning performances (and the supporting players are good too). I liked it a lot.

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Somedays, I Just Weep For My Country

Via The Daily Beast, we discover that not everybody is doing badly in this recession: Fox News is having a great year!

Fox's viewership is up 11 percent over last year, according to Nielsen Media Research. CNN and MSNBC, which benefited from interest in the campaign last year, are down. O'Reilly, who already had cable news' most popular show, Beck and Sean Hannity lead the way.

Great. Just great. I realize that everyone thinks they live in momentous times (and, in fact, most times are not momentous), but I think its pretty clear that the traditional news media (a few sources of news that everybody reads; traces it's roots back to major metropolitan newspapers started in the 1800s) is dead. It will stagger on for a few more years, or decades, but the idea of our society having a central source of "news" that each party then parses for their own spin/argument is behind us. The new era involves (clearly) separate sources of news for each political pole. This has to exacerbate the partisan divide (and the cultural divide, and likely the class divide, and a few other divides if I thought about it more). And, really, can't be good for politics over the short, medium, or long-term.

Oh, and just in case you thought that there was a glimmer of intelligence on the right, here's Bernard Goldberg to squash that idea:

Since Fox is already the network of choice for conservatives, the ratings indicate it must be drawing in more moderates and even liberals, said Bernard Goldberg, best-selling author of [a bunch of crappy books]. The poor economy and the administration's ambitious agenda have made people anxious and searching for a media outlet that understands them, he said.

Right. It has to be liberals and moderates moving to Fox, since all the conservatives/Republicans (all of them, 100% of them - really!) watch Fox exclusively. It couldn't possibly be that Fox's ratings increases are coming from more and more conservatives turning on the TV because Rush (on the radio) has told them that Obama wants to socialize their dead grandparents or something. It couldn't possibly be that more conservatives are switching off ABC/CBS/NBC and moving to Fox in order to let Hannity/O'Reilly/Beck let them feel better about their privileged positions in American society. Nope, it has to be that liberals and moderates are moving over.

Way to hypothesize without a shred of evidence, Goldberg.

I has to be a Monday, right?

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

August 16, 2009

I feel safer part eleventy thirty seven

While I am whiling away the hours in Charlotte, courtesy of USAirways and the rain, it strikes me that on this journey I have discovered something important about national security. There must be a surfeit of bluehaired terrorists ready to make liquid/gel bombs in the Greater Palm Beaches. However there are none of these in the Pittsburgh metro area. It must be so, just check with the TSA.

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August 14, 2009

5 For the Day: Cary Grant

A tribute to the man I'd say was probably the greatest male movie star of the 20th century.

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The New, or Newish, Gilded Age

Krugman uses this chart to note that economic inequality continues to rise. But I think an as interesting point is that the share of national income made by the top 0.01% has increased notably (in terms of a % rise from the start to the end of an administration) under 4 of the last 5 presidencies - Carter, Reagan, Clinton and GW Bush. Of course the recent shifts are particiularly dramatic, but this is something that's being going on for a while in our political/economic system. Of course this wasn't always the norm (it actually fell under the Wilson, Hoover and FD Roosevelt presidencies). One wonders if the very rich doing better under so many recent, and seemingly different, administrations, is a product of how the modern US political system works.

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August 13, 2009

Movie Remake News of the Week

Maybe this isn't quite as bad as remaking Red Dawn, but Bryan Singer has signed on to direct a complete reimagining of Battlestar Galactica that has nothing to do with the recent reimagining that was enormously successful.

Posted by armand at 09:39 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 12, 2009

The Depths of Ignorance Know No Bounds

Via Sullivan, we get this:

According to Public Policy Polling (PPP), a North Carolina polling firm, only 24% of self-identified Republican voters in the state believe Barack Obama was born in the United States. 47% do not believe that Obama is American born, and 29% of Republicans aren’t sure.

One part of PPP’s data might reassure sentient readers somewhat: 7% of those who voted for John McCain do not believe Hawaii to be a part of the United States. Now perhaps this is just another irrational expression of Obama hatred. But, it may also be older voters who never quite absorbed the news that our 50th state is indeed our 50th state.

Great. Not only do about half of North Carolina Republicans think Obama is an illegal President, but 7% don't believe that the 50th state is a state. Who are these people? Where do they live? What do they do all day?

I'm some moderate way along towards believing that we should re-fight the Civil War and let the South win.

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August 10, 2009

The Best of John Hughes

There are lots of lists being created following the death of the man who defined the 1980s for a lot of white teens. But to me Sixteen Candles stands clearly atop the rest of his work. Disagree?

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August 09, 2009

The Hurt Locker

I won't join the chorus proclaiming it the best film of the year, but it's good. Often very good. I won't be the least bit surprised to see it nominated for Best Picture, or to see nominations for Kathryn Bigelow as Best Director and Jeremy Renner as Best Actor. Though, personally, Anthony Mackie was my favorite actor in the film, the praise Renner has been getting is much deserved.

It's an Oscar-y movie, in both the good ways and the bad ways. Some of the pulse-racing and heart-tugging is awfully predictable. There are a couple bits that I'd have preferred to see cut, and which seemed to be "nominate this serious film" moments. But thankfully those are few in number, and for the most part, this very well constructed. It's a powerful, tense story, and it's done quite well.

By the way, do any of you have a movie that you think is the "best" so far this year?

Posted by armand at 05:27 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Atticus Finch's Support for The Man

Malcolm Gladwell has an interesting piece in The New Yorker on the limits of Southern liberalism in the mid-20th century, focusing on how supposed liberals like Gov. "Big Jim" Folsom (D-AL) and fictional lawyer Atticus Finch were more willing than is usually discussed to twist the laws of the time in ways to uphold long-standing prejudices. A taste of his argument:

Finch will stand up to racists. He'll use his moral authority to shame them into silence. He will leave the judge standing on the sidewalk while he shakes hands with Negroes. What he will not do is look at the problem of racism outside the immediate context of Mr. Cunningham, Mr. Levy, and the island community of Maycomb, Alabama.

Folsom was the same way. He knew the frailties of his fellow - Alabamians when it came to race. But he could not grasp that those frailties were more than personal - that racism had a structural dimension. After he was elected governor a second time, in 1955, Folsom organized the first inaugural ball for blacks in Alabama’s history. That's a very nice gesture. Yet it doesn't undermine segregation to give Negroes their own party. It makes it more palatable ...

We are back in the embrace of Folsomism. Finch wants his white, male jurors to do the right thing. But as a good Jim Crow liberal he dare not challenge the foundations of their privilege. Instead, Finch does what lawyers for black men did in those days. He encourages them to swap one of their prejudices for another ...

"Scout," Finch says to his daughter, after he and Sheriff Tate have cut their little side deal. "Mr. Ewell fell on his knife. Can you possibly understand?" Understand what? That her father and the Sheriff have decided to obstruct justice in the name of saving their beloved neighbor the burden of angel-food cake? Atticus Finch is faced with jurors who have one set of standards for white people like the Ewells and another set for black folk like Tom Robinson. His response is to adopt one set of standards for respectable whites like Boo Radley and another for white trash like Bob Ewell.

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August 06, 2009

Justice Sotomayor

She was confirmed this afternoon by a vote of 68-31, with 9 Republicans joining 59 Democrats in favor (as expected Sen. Kennedy was not present to vote). Out of the current justices, only Justices Thomas and Alito had more votes cast against their nomination. That said, I'm inclined to think that there will be a more divisive fight over President Obama's next nominee to the high court, regardless of whom he nominates.

Posted by armand at 04:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Feelings of Warmth and Visions of Competence

This post is mostly about Susan Fiske's work and the growing diversity in people's perceptions of what I guess we could call "Black America". But I look at these numbers and mostly I remember yet another thing John Kerry didn't hit hard enough in 2004 - in terms of domestic politics (whether it's wise internationally is a different issue), it always makes sense to run against Saudi Arabia. Given the ease with which the Bush administration could be linked to the Gulf royals you'd really think Democrats would have hit that point harder. Of course these numbers also show that Democrats shouldn't cower from demanding "the rich" pay more taxes than "the middle class", and help explain Rudy Giuliani's popularity, his megalomania notwithstanding (since he took care of those icky homeless).

Posted by armand at 02:53 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 05, 2009

The National Journal Lists the 10 Most Vulnerable Senate Seats

Here. I don't know what they are smoking, but I'd say it's fairly questionable stuff. Unless they've got pictures of some weird, wild stuff in Alexi's closet, there's no way Illinois should be #2 on this list.

Posted by armand at 03:23 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 04, 2009

The Senate, Small States, and Corporate PAC Money

There are all kinds of problems with the US Senate, but this is one I hadn't ever thought much about. You know, if one sees senators being dependent on corporate PAC money as a problem. The numbers are striking.

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Just How Low Has the Washington Post Sunk?

Pretty damn low. Which makes this sad - but also pretty damn funny.

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

August 03, 2009

Rachel Alexandra Wins the Haskell

The Preakness winner won another one the top races in the US, winning by 6 lengths over Belmont-winning Summer Bird. She was carrying less weight, but it's another impressive win for the filly. She won't be going to the Breeder's Cup, but a race against the outstanding, undefeated 5 year old Zenyatta is still a possibility.

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