Saturday, December 31, 2005

The New Year

So here we are, at the "final throes" of this foul year of Our Lord 2005, at the point when people suddenly stop for a second to wax pensive and poetic. I guess I'm among the worst of them.

It seems to me that, for the world at large, 2005 was an awful year. Of course, we didn't exactly kick it off in grand style; I myself nearly worried myself an ulcer wondering where W would spend that infamous "political capital." Perhaps the greatest harbinger of the year to come, however, was the main event of Christmas Day, 2004: a tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed 283,100 people, possibly the worst natural disaster of our time.

That deluge was followed some 8 months later by another one that destroyed the heart of Old Dixie: New Orleans. The president and congress were already having an awful year at that point, but the following days saw new lows in government approval ratings. Combined with corruption scandals, stalling legislative momentum, the final defeat of a Social Security overhaul that can only be described as "quixotic," and the first indictment of a sitting member of the Administration in over a hundred years, I think we can safely say it was a very, very bad year for the government.

We lost several of our best and brightest this year as well. Among those with "2005" chiseled under their names are Rosa Parks, Saul Bellow, Johnny Carson, and Pope John Paul II. We also should not forget Richard Pryor, the great Nazi hunter Simon Weisenthal and Luther Vandross. And yes Pat Morita (aka. "Mr. Miyagi"), we wax on and wax off in mourning for you, as well.

So everyone, let's raise a toast to 2005: Thank God it's over.

[This year actually turned out to be fairly good for me personally. I got my degree in May, a great teaching gig in the summer, and was hired for my first "real" job. I also got some great schadenfreude out of watching W have the single worst year of his presidency. But maybe that's just me being optimistic!]

Friday, December 30, 2005

Well, at least it's an investigation... I guess...

In the headlines today is the news that the Justice Dept. is investigating the domestic surveillance issue with the Bush Administration. That sounds good on its face; the problem, however, lies in the headlines. The Justice Dept. is not investigating whether people were spied on illegally, or whether the Administration was using some sort of Nixonian tactic of wiretapping political opponents or scapegoats or something. Instead, they're concerned merely with who leaked the information to the New York Times.

Methinks they're missing the point.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Something is on the march, anyway...

Apparently it's not just the Sunnis in Iraq who are, shall we say, considering all their options when it comes to how to best govern Iraq. From Knight Ridder (c/o Georgia10 at Dkos):
Kurdish leaders have inserted more than 10,000 of their militia members into Iraqi army divisions in northern Iraq to lay the groundwork to swarm south, seize the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and possibly half of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and secure the borders of an independent Kurdistan.

Five days of interviews with Kurdish leaders and troops in the region suggest that U.S. plans to bring unity to Iraq before withdrawing American troops by training and equipping a national army aren't gaining traction. Instead, some troops who are formally under U.S. and Iraqi national command are preparing to protect territory and ethnic and religious interests in the event of Iraq's fragmentation, which many of them think is inevitable.

Remember, people, the Kurds have been probably the single most cooperative group in this whole conflict. I think this shows pretty well how well our efforts to bring about a peaceful, democratic Iraq are going. This, of course, must be tempered by the counter-evidence of the elections (and vice versa), but then again, I dunno about you but I still haven't figured out just what the impact of those elections is.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmas blogging

Sorry I haven't been doing my requisite complaining over here in our little corner of the blogosphere. Amber and I went off to see her parents in Michigan over Christmas. I have to say, I made off like a bandit, but one of my best gifts was... a webcam! Sweet!

Now I can spray endless chunky malodorous streams of jpeg from my little Indiana lagoon all over the fallow fields and murky streams of the Ranch!

Behold the fertilization of the blogosphere!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Bad Day for ID

The Intelligent Design people in Dover, PA got "pwn3d" in court today. Georgia10 from DKos read the decision (which was a big "hell no," in case ya hadn't guessed) and picked out the choicest morsels. Here's a snippet:
"The breathtaking inanity of the Board's decision [to approve Intelligent Design] is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources."

It appears the judge was not impressed.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

ooooh snap!

Here's a funny exchange between uber-douchebag John Cornyn (R-MobilExxon) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) (c/o DailyKos):
Cornyn: "None of your civil liberties matter much after you’re dead."
Feingold: "Give me liberty or give me death."

Telling, very telling.

War Powers

Update: Kevin Drum echoes my sentiments (well, he didn't read my post to come to this conclusion, but you get my drift).

Josh Marshall wrote a fascinating post discussing Thomas Jefferson's reflections on the possibility of the chief executive needing to bypass federal law for the sake of expediency or of protecting the Republic. Jefferson's idea is that, for sure, it may happen in some cases, but in such an event the President must then go before Congress/the people/the Supreme Court/whoever and admit that he broke the law, explain the necessity of his actions, and place himself at the mercy of the rest of the country to decide his fate.

Josh has some good commentary on this, and my perspective is similar, though perhaps not identical, to his. Jefferson's idea of what a president should do in such cases preserves the rule of law. The president is never above the law, but there are times when he must break it and then ask others with a greater share of sovereignty than himself to change the law to make an exception for him. Thus the rule of law remains inviolate.

This is substantially different from what W is doing. He is saying that, by virtue of being a wartime president during the War on Terrorism, he has the authority to set aside the law, answering to no one for his choices: not the Judiciary, not Congress, not even the Constitution itself.

Yet the point of the rule of law is that it cannot be bypassed or partially recognized. You either have it or you don't. W is by no means the first president to set aside the rule of law; many of even our greatest presidents have done so in wartime. All of those other cases, however, differ not only from Jefferson, but from W. Jefferson believed that the law was always supreme, even during wartime, while W is trying to lay the groundwork for an executive that is more or less permanently above the law.

Does that sound harsh or dramatic? Think about the War on Terrorism for a second. When does it end? When the practice of terrorism is wiped off the face of the earth, or perhaps when no fringe militant group has a beef with the U.S.? Such objectives are impossible, and therefore the "war" to achieve such objectives could last, in theory, forever. Thus every president from now on could be considered a "wartime" president, possessing the power to bypass standing law at his prerogative.

new revelations on Bush's domestic surveillance

Lots of news today on the Bush Administration's surveillance measures. The skinny of it so far is that, under current law, the president has the power to conduct domestic surveillance on Americans or others pending approval by court under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In order to expedite that process, however, the President can authorize surveillance immediately as long as then seeks a retroactive approval of his actions within 72 hours. Furthermore, the court almost never denies such requests (estimates lie between 0 and 6 denials in 15,000 requests), so the President doesn't exactly have his proverbial hands tied here.

The problem with W's actions, however, lie in the fact that he decided that he doesn't even have to ask the court at all to spy on Americans on American soil.

For more on the nitty gritty of the issue, I'd suggest going over to Talking Points Memo: Josh, as usual, is all over this and has some great insights. Arguments from the Administration and their congressional/journalist cronies are weak and being pretty soundly debunked all over the place: Kos has the latest on such developments (I'm only linking to the general websites here, and not specific articles, because both sites are watching this closely and a number of posts worth looking at). For instance, AG Gonzalez is claiming that the congressional authorization of force in Afghanistan gave the president this ability, even though he also admits that the Administration didn't seek a specific resolution for this in Congress because even a congress dominated by the President's own party wouldn't pass it (here's a collection of legislators of both parties saying that the resolution does not allow the president to set aside the laws).

This is big; more to follow.

Monday, December 19, 2005

new job

Some of you may know that I've been unemployed now for a couple of months. Well, today I got a job! I'm now the Senior Library Specialist at the Medieval Institute at the University of Notre Dame. It's my first real-life career gig!

Unfortunately, though, I won't be wearing any armor, nor do they allow broadswords or mead in the building (especially the two together!).

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Bowl game rankings

Here's a ranking and brief commentary on this year's bowl games. This writer tends to be a little pompous, even by sports writer standards (they never stop bragging about their predictions), but admittedly he is right much of the time.

He offers some pretty funny comments on several of the games, but here's a great quote for you Tech fans:
"7) Holiday (Dec. 29): Oregon (10-1) vs. Oklahoma (7-4). Hmmm ... a 10-1 Pac-10 team ticked off about its BCS snub playing against a potentially dangerous 7-4 Big 12 team. Where have we seen this before? Ah yes ... last year's Holiday Bowl."

Holiday Bowl 2004: Texas Tech vs. #4 California (Tech won 45-31)

He's a lot more optimistic about this one than I am (personally, I think the Sooners are gonna get blown off the field--and I can't wait to see it!), but it is a good point.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Chick-Fil-A Bowl?

I know it's petty, but this kinda crap ticks me off. The bowl game in Atlanta is the Peach Bowl; that name fits the venue, it's got class, and it's got a long tradition. Next year, however, it will be the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. What a lame game name. What's next? Will the Cotton Bowl become the Taco Bell Bowl? Or the Sugar Bowl become the Macy's Bowl? Why do these damn corporate sponsors have to taint everything they touch? What would've been wrong with putting Chick-Fil-A banners in the stadium and letting them put ads on during it? Hell, it would have even been okay to call it "the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl," sorta like "the Mobil Cotton Bowl." It still sucks, but at least that way it's still the Peach Bowl.

More on domestic surveillance

Holy cow. That story I posted earlier about the anti-war groups being "monitored" by the FBI isn't even the big domestic surveillance story today. The New York Times dug up evidence that the President also gave an executive order authorizing the surveillance of individuals. The argument about illegality and unconstitutionality that I posted earlier was actually made in reference to this latter action, not the former. Mea culpa for getting those two switched earlier (though I'm willing to bet the same argument applies to both cases).

This story gets bigger, however: it appears the NYT sat on this story for about a year. Sitting on such an important story, one about a serious breach of public trust, not to mention the law, would be a bad enough idea. The Times, however, may have had the goods on this story before election day, thus impacting the election by their choice not to inform us about our candidates.

This, of course, is not the only little nugget of information that the media sat on until after the election. There was also the Valerie Plame affair and the CBS report undermining the Administration's case for war in Iraq. As Will Brunch put it:
"Voters could have gone to the polls on Election Day, Nov. 4 [sic], 2004, knowing that Bush was spying on Americans, that a key White House aide was charged with felonies, and that the initial rationales for Iraq were bogus.

And so it turns out that the media had the power to alter this country's disastrous direction back in 2004, after all. And we didn't even have to click our heels three times.

We'd only needed to do our job."

The White House gets Blitzed

Check this out. It's a rare blog scoop: a memo from the presidents of the major networks that fell out of Wolf Blitzer's pocket and recovered by a reporter.

The shorter version: W, you lied to us about the dems having the same info, it makes us look bad, screw you.

Ya think they'll back that up?

W's intelligence

Yes, I know, it's an ambiguous title. And yes, I know, this news is all over "the internets," so I'm being repititious. Nevertheless, I think this bears repeating.

So you know that the president's newest justification for the war is the argument that Democrats had the same intel as he did when they voted to authorize force.

Well, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), aka. "DiFi," authorized the Congressional Research Office to investigate this allegation.

Ready for a shocker, everyone? The president... wait for it... was lying to you.

I know, it's shocking. An interesting interpretation of "a new era of accountability" that younger Bush has.

Read your Orwell

Creepy. Now it seems the government is spying on its own citizens. I can't help but wonder if the Ranch has its own FBI file now.


Here's a piece from a DailyKos writer named Obsidian Wings explaining why this is not only illegal, but unconstitutional. Though I would hope that's fairly obvious.

Your Government's Priorities

Why the sudden need to cut education (for the first time in a decade) and poor people's health care, you might ask? Simple: to help pay for the $100 billion in rich people's tax cuts our oh-so-Christian congress passed last week!

It just makes me feel so warm and fuzzy inside.


Go see it. It's good, and important.

What's up with Clooney's political movies lately? This one, like Good Night, and Good Luck, is very good. The difference lies in the complexity: Good Night is very simple and straightforward, but Syriana is almost baroque in its complexity. It's the kind of movie that I think you'd have to see several times to catch it all. I know I'll have to. Even the first time, though, it's gripping and has a great plot, but the central idea-- oil-- is written all over every scene. Everyone's lives in the movie are shaped and dictated by the struggle for it, some in interesting ways.

It will definitely make you think the next time you stop at the gas station.

Monday, December 12, 2005

the politics of capital punishment

In the headlines today is Governor Schwarzenegger's belated decision not to grant clemency to Crips founder Stanley "Tookie" Williams. I'm tempted to say Williams got a raw deal on this one: One must consider his continuing and effective work to end gang violence (people balance that with his unwillingness to admit guilt for his crime, which is construed as "lack of remorse," but this argument is not convincing, especially considering his free admittance of the fact that he did plenty of other awful things as a Crip). I'm not crystal clear on all the details, however, so that's not exactly what this post is about.

I want to point to one snippet from the article to make a point about the death penalty, however:
"Schwarzenegger, weakened by a loss on all his initiatives in a special election he called last month, would have risked alienating his Republican party if he granted clemency."

This is not to say that der Gropenfuhrer definitely made the decision because he caved to his base, but it is possible. And the fact that external politics is a possible factor in decisions to kill someone or not is, in my opinion, a huge argument against the death penalty.

In other words, if the decision whether or not to let you live is being made by someone thinking more about their next election (and it would, in almost any case, be made by such a person), then maybe giving them that decision in the first place was a bad idea.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Read your Kafka

Well, this is bizarre, yet chilling. Did anyone else know that we have "secret laws," laws passed by Congress that aren't allowed to be told to the American people? That's news to me. I can say, though, that I'm just tickled pink to know that I or anyone else could be in violation of a law I can't be told about.

Folks, Kevin Drum asks a great question: what could possibly be the point of a "secret law"? Isn't such a thing oxymoronic, as the whole point of a law is that it keeps people from doing certain things (thus implying that they have to be told it's against the law)?

There is an answer to this question, people: entrapment. The point of having a secret law, as opposed to a real law, is to get people to break it, not follow it. Thus it is an excuse to haul people in almost willy-nilly. The fact that such a law must, by definition, be in violation of a bushel of constitutional rights should be both boneheadedly obvious and truly frightening, given that these things exist and have not, as of yet, been contested.

An Interview with Mary Mapes

Today Hunter from DailyKos conducted an email interview with Mary Mapes, the reporter who broke the story of, among other things, the Bush Texas Air National Guard story and the Abu Ghraib story. She discusses the TANG case, supplementing it with additional documents to disprove claims that the docs were forged. She also discusses why that conversation ended prematurely when their authenticity was called into question, and CBS essentially didn't try to fight back.

As a supplement to this interview, I want to take a moment to point out something that got shockingly little airtime during the whole TANG debate, so little, in fact, that even people I know who paid fairly close attention to this debate don't remember.

The story that supposedly broke the back of the "authenticity" argument was an interview with Marian Carr Knox, the secretary of Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, W's squad commander and the man who allegedly dictated the memos saying that W failed to live up to his Guard commitments. Knox told CBS that she didn't write the memos, which everyone in the media jumped on immediately as exoneration for W (and damnation for Mary Mapes and Dan Rather). What they didn't pay much attention to, however, is that she also said that the information contained in the documents was true:
“I know that I didn’t type them," says Knox. "However, the information in those is correct.”

She then corroborates that Bush didn't take the required physical (a major item in the docs), got in through preferential treatment, and acted as if the rules did not apply to him.

How was this information portrayed by the press and pundits? Well, here is the headline from USA Today: "Secretary: Memos are Forgeries."

Your "liberal" media at work.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


Here is an interesting comparison of speechifying during the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. Take a look at how eerily familiar some of it sounds.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The War on Christmas

In all of the media obsession with this supposed "debate," I figured I oughta post something on the "War on Christmas" as described in some circles in our country. I'm not 100% on one side or the other, I think both have valid points, but there's also some faux argumentation going on.

First of all, I think it's pretty obvious that the conservative argument of retail companies "banning Christmas" from their stores is horse hockey. Have you been to the mall lately? Most choose to use "Happy Holidays" (a phrase that's been around for a long time) so that they can capitalize on every holiday going on right now (there are, last time I counted, no less than five). The number of people that are actually offended by "Merry Christmas" is tiny indeed, and besides that, Christmas has been largely secular for some time now (take the American preference for secular "Santa Claus" type imagery over Nativity/Incarnation images, for instance, which has been the rule ever since I can remember).

I'm also more than a little suspicious of attempts to lay the blame for the war at the feet of "liberals" or "political correctness." Those arguments tend to be little more than the stock knee-jerk "blame the left" approach to everything imaginable, no matter how preposterous, and I doubt that such instances in the Christmas debate are any different. Bill O'Reilly has made this his favorite cudgel, and has gone f*&king bonkers in his ranting and screaming. Yet he can't make any coherent case for his insinuations about "leftist" anti-Christmas machinations.

At the same time, something about the way we've been celebrating the holiday, or something about our religious sensibilities, perhaps, has led to the perception that there is a growing stigma against saying "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays." I'm not sure if that's true or not, but I do think it's possible. If such a thing really is happening, then I think people have a perfectly legitimate complaint. There's no stigma against any other holiday, so why should there be for Christmas?

All in all, I suspect that this whole thing might just a lot of hot air, with the O'Reilly's out there blowing a gasket about something that doesn't really exist.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Larry Kilgore: Fighting for the Republic of Gilea...err, Texas

Unreal. This is the campaign website for Larry Kilgore, candidate for Texas governor. I'm assuming he's an independent, as no party would ever abide this character. This dude is mad as a hatter; in a nutshell, he wants secession and the legislation of Old Testament biblical law (because, of course, you can't have just one!). Just check out the "issues" link.

Utterly bonkers.

Monday, December 05, 2005

3 receivers? SAYS WHO?!?

For you Tech fans out there, Michael Lewis of the New York Times Magazine wrote a long but positively superb piece on the most successful misfit in college football: coach Mike Leach.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Mercenaries in Iraq Get Away with Murder

Complementing this video, ostensibly of "independent contractors" (aka. mercenaries) shooting at Iraqi civilians just for kicks, is this article from the LA Times (c/o Atrios):
"Private security contractors have been involved in scores of shootings in Iraq, but none have been prosecuted despite findings in at least one fatal case that the men had not followed proper procedures, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Times.

Instead, security contractors suspected of reckless behavior are sent home, sometimes with the knowledge of U.S. officials, raising questions about accountability and stirring fierce resentment among Iraqis.
The contractors function in a legal gray area. Under an order issued by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority that administered Iraq until June 2004, contractors suspected of wrongdoing are to be prosecuted in their home countries. The contractors have immunity from Iraqi courts and have so far not faced American prosecution, giving little recourse to Iraqis seeking justice for wrongful shootings."

Would this qualify as freeance or peeance?

This Year's Bowl Schedule

Alright everyone, the bowl games have been announced, here's the breakdown (it's a long list, so I cut out the lamer ones):
Pioneer PureVision Las Vegas
BYU (6-5) vs. California (7-4)
Las Vegas, Nev. Dec. 22
8 p.m. ESPN

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
Colorado State (6-5) vs. Navy (7-4)
San Diego, Calif. Dec. 22
10:30 p.m. ESPN2

Fort Worth
Kansas (6-5) vs. Houston (6-5)
Fort Worth, Texas Dec. 23
8 p.m. ESPN

Champs Sports
Clemson (7-4) vs. Colorado (7-5)
Orlando, Fla. Dec. 27
5 p.m. ESPN

Arizona State (6-5) vs. Rutgers (7-4)
Phoenix, Ariz. Dec. 27
8:30 p.m. ESPN

MPC Computers
Boise State (9-3) vs. Boston College (8-3)
Boise, Idaho Dec. 28
4:30 p.m. ESPN

MasterCard Alamo
Michigan (7-4) vs. Nebraska (7-4)
San Antonio, Texas Dec. 28
8 p.m. ESPN

Emerald Bowl
Georgia Tech (7-4) vs. Utah (6-5)
San Francisco, Calif. Dec. 29
4:30 p.m. ESPN

Pacific Life Holiday
Oregon (10-1) vs. Oklahoma (7-4)
San Diego, Calif. Dec. 29 8 p.m. ESPN

Gaylord Hotels Music City
Minnesota (7-4) vs. Virginia (6-5)
Nashville, Tenn. Dec. 30

Vitalis Sun
Northwestern (7-4) vs. UCLA (9-2)
El Paso, Texas Dec. 30
2 p.m. CBS

South Carolina (7-4) vs. Missouri (6-5)
Shreveport, La. Dec. 30
3:30 p.m. ESPN

Chick-fil-A Peach
Miami (9-2) vs. LSU (10-2)
Atlanta, Ga. Dec. 30
7:30 p.m. ESPN

Meineke Car Care
South Florida (6-5) vs. NC State (6-5)
Charlotte, N.C. Dec. 31
11 a.m. ESPN2 Houston
TCU (10-1) vs. Iowa State (7-4)
Houston, Texas Dec. 31
2:30 p.m. ESPN2

AT&T Cotton
Texas Tech (9-2) vs. Alabama (9-2)
Dallas, Texas Jan. 2
11 a.m. Fox

Iowa (7-4) vs. Florida (8-3)
Tampa, Fla. Jan. 2
11 a.m. ESPN

Toyota Gator
Louisville (9-2) vs. Virginia Tech (10-2)
Jacksonville, Fla. Jan. 2
12:30 p.m. NBC

Capital One
Wisconsin (9-3) vs. Auburn (9-2)
Orlando, Fla. Jan. 2
1 p.m. ABC

Tostitos Fiesta
Notre Dame (9-2) vs. Ohio State (9-2)
Tempe, Ariz. Jan. 2
4:30 p.m. ABC

Nokia Sugar
West Virginia (10-1) vs. Georgia (10-2)
Atlanta Jan. 2
8:30 p.m. ABC

FedEx Orange
Penn State (10-1) vs. Florida State (8-4)
Miami, Fla. Jan. 3
8 p.m. ABC

The Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi
USC (12-0) vs. Texas (12-0)

I have to say I'm pretty pleased with the turnout. It looks like many of these are gonna be competitive games (the only BCS one I think is a no-brainer is the Sugar-- the Dawgs are gonna clean house!). I know people wanna poop on Florida State's abilities, but don't forget what they did to Miami and Va. Tech. Penn St.'s gonna have their hands full.

As far as the non-BCSers, I'm pretty excited about the Gator, Cotton (I hate that I won't be able to rout for the Tide this year-- go Red Raiders!), Peach, Music City, Holiday, Emerald, and Alamo Bowls.

It's gonna be a great bowl season, but at the end of the day I think it's gonna be a bad year for the Big 12. I think the losers will include:
Iowa State- TCU's got the numbers, it's theirs to lose
Missouri- South Carolina's used to a lot tougher competition, and has upset some of them
Oklahoma- laugh all you want at a football team called the Ducks, but they only have 1 loss... and it was to USC. I would say Oklahoma shouldn't even bother to show up to this one, but I just love watching them get their clocks cleaned. This is gonna be a blowout.
Nebraska- this could be close, but Michigan will pull it out
Colorado- Clemson beat Florida State. Need I say more?
Colorado State- they suck. Navy sucks. But Navy sucks less.

It, of course, goes without saying that the only 2 good teams in the Big 12 will have their hands full with USC and 'Bama, and could very well join this list. At the moment, though, I have faith that Tech and Texas can pull it out.

The Political Compass

I've had conversations with several of you about the meaning of the words "liberal" and "conservative." The gist of the conversations was that the words are hard to pin down for various reasons, among them being that:
1. the meanings in changing as we speak,
2. often we envision not liberals or conservatives but rather caricatures of liberals or conservatives, and
3. the words simply often mean different things to different people.

Here is a site that plots you on a 2-dimensional graph, which (so it claims) gives a more accurate representation of your beliefs than simply the liberal/conservative axis. It has a left-right horizontal axis, which is economic (the further right you are, the less you like government/co-operative regulation of the market), and a libertarian/authoritarian political axis (the more "authoritarian," the more you support deference to tradition/the government).

I'll let you decide how accurate a portrayal it gives of people's dispositions, but mine sounds fairly close: -6.25, -4.92, which makes me a libertarian leftist (I suspect most people who identify themselves as "liberal" would fall in this category, as it appears to say you believe government has the responsibility to provide basic needs and ensure fair play, but not the right to tell you how to live your life).

Take the test, and tell me where you landed.

Walk the Line

I've been a little antcy about seeing this movie, being a Johnny Cash fan and worrying about how well the impersonations would hold up. No matter how good the soundtrack, script, and cinematography, this movie's effectiveness would depend entirely upon the mimicking abilities of Juaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. The issue was further complicated by the fact that, unlike, for instance, Jamie Foxx in Ray, Phoenix neither looks like Cash, nor sounds like him, nor is a competent musician.

Of course, David Straithairn did it, acing an impersonation of Edward R. Murrow in Good Night, and Good Luck, but not everyone is David Straithairn.

Despite all that, Phoenix nailed it. Ebert says he couldn't tell it wasn't actually Cash's voice in the soundtrack; I dunno about that, but there was an almost uncanny resemblance there. There is one moment that not only immediately put my worries to rest, but should probably earn Phoenix the Oscar. Before Cash develops his signature sound, he is auditioning in Sun Studios in Memphis, and is asked to play a song he wrote. He clumsily wades into "Folsom Prison Blues," and as the song progresses, he figures out what The Man in Black should sound like, gradually dropping an octave and doubling the pace, and Phoenix transforms into Johnny Cash right in front of our eyes.

As far as the rest of the films goes, the story was good if fairly typical of musician bios, Witherspoon was really good (she was flawless in some really difficult acting moments where she has to walk offstage and onstage, shifting her personality on a dime), and the writers had some fun with the cast (you get to Elvis offer Cash a chili dog during a show and Waylon Jennings letting Cash crash in his hippied-out Memphis shithole apartment).

The best part is, you walk out of the movie with Johnny Cash tunes stuck in your head for the rest of the day.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Prairie Chapel Ranch

Came across this article where the Free Press reporter listens to Jim Hightower (former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture, currently writer/pundit) talk about the formation of W's cowboy persona. I've complained before about W's overdone accent (honestly, who pronounces our country "Merrka"?) and overuse of cowboy metaphors, considering he's a Connecticut yankee who went to Yale, but this is just priceless.

Just how old is Prairie Chapel Ranch, W's Crawford haven? Well, folks, it dates all the way back to... 1999. Apparently, Karl Rove decided that the best way for W to win the presidential election was for him to build up a cowboy image, which meant he needed a ranch. It has no horses (W doesn't ride horses, and rumor has it he's afraid of them), and the cattle aren't his. The old-timey ranch house was built in 2000, and was finished around election time.

And the best part? According to Hightower, "But the real irony is that the ranchette is a former pig farm, which is quite fitting.”

What a phony.

the new "victory in Iraq" plan

So the written complement to the President's speech today on victory in Iraq is available here, in PDF format. If you have time, have a look. I have to warn you, it's verbose and propagandistic, which makes it a little irritating, but I suppose we should expect nothing less.

The release is notable mainly for its almost utter lack of detail. How they managed to fill 38 pages with nothing but generalities and platitudes is a true testament to politics. Its intent is not to set out a detailed plan of action, but rather simply to convince us that the present one is solid and progressing well, and uses lots of cherry-picked statistics to achieve that end. Think of it as the PDF of a Fox News broadcast.

That being said, I want to focus on just a couple of spots that I myself found particularly disturbing. The first is this quote:
"It is not realistic to expect a fully functioning democracy, able to defeat its enemies and peacefully reconcile generational grievances, to be in place less than 3 years after Saddam was finally removed from power."

Umm, was it realistic 3 years ago, when Rumsfeld told us: "Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that..."? We never signed on for years, and wouldn't have if we knew that was the consequence of going to war. Combine this with Murtha's statement on Hardball that generals have told him it would take 25 years to prepare troops for a stable Iraq, and we have an unacceptable situation (1,000 American deaths/year X 25 years...).

The other major concern (though admittedly one we've known about for some time) is this passage from the "long term goals" section:
"An Iraq that is stable, united, peaceful, democratic, and secure..."

Sounds obvious enough, but are these goals really viable? Is a united, democratic Iraq that "is a partner in the global war on terror" a realistic goal? I think not, for reasons I ennumerated here. A more realistic goal (in fact, the inevitable conclusion to this whole snafu) would be "An Iraq that is divided, oppressive, Islamist, and wrapped around the Ayatollah's little finger."

Of course, we should not be surprised. We've been cycling through impossible goals in Iraq for several years, from findng WMDs that weren't there, to finding links to terrorists that didn't exist,...