31 October 2006

Another High Quality Massachusetts Politician

Giving his all in the doomed battle to elect Phil Angelides governor of California, my Senator, John F. Kerry, found the right note to rally Democratic loyalists:
You know, education, if you make the most of it, if you study hard and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.
The audio is here. And here's the video.

As long time readers will know, my brother, an MD, is currently serving in Baghdad.

Kerry explains it all:
Senator John Kerry issued the following statement in response to White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, assorted right wing nut-jobs, and right wing talk show hosts desperately distorting Kerry’s comments about President Bush to divert attention from their disastrous record:

"If anyone thinks a veteran would criticize the more than 140,000 heroes serving in Iraq and not the president who got us stuck there, they’re crazy. This is the classic G.O.P. playbook. I’m sick and tired of these despicable Republican attacks that always seem to come from those who never can be found to serve in war, but love to attack those who did.

I’m not going to be lectured by a stuffed suit White House mouthpiece standing behind a podium, or doughy Rush Limbaugh, who no doubt today will take a break from belittling Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s disease to start lying about me just as they have lied about Iraq. It disgusts me that these Republican hacks, who have never worn the uniform of our country lie and distort so blatantly and carelessly about those who have…

Bottom line, these Republicans want to debate straw men because they’re afraid to debate real men…"
I am completely convinced that John Kerry meant to make a bad joke about President Bush, rather than a gratuitous insult aimed at the troops. So having made a stupid slip of the tongue, he immediately started digging himself an even deeper hole.

30 October 2006

"Decades Of Distrust"

My son came home from school today and said the words that every father fears, "Dad, we're studying Israeli/Arab history in social studies." The basis for their study is a single double-sided page of information, with the same heading as this post, put between the Israeli and Palestinian flags. Why simplify, when you can over-simplify.

The summary is not as bad as I feared, but it ain't great. The Palestinians outnumbered the Jews, it admits, but they were still the underdog. The Jews had a "well-trained experienced army" as many Jews had fought with the British in World War II. (No, there's no mention of anything else the Jews might have gotten up to in World War II that would effect how they fought once in Palestine.) The Palestinians, however, "had never recovered from the Arab revolt against the Ottomans." (The summary does not mention that the revolt happened in 1916-1918, or that the entire Arab force was 5000 men, but apparently this was one of those devastating victories that makes it impossible to fight a war against refugees 30 years later.)

Here are the specific acts of terrorism mentioned in the summary: "one massacre of 250 Arabs at Dayr Yasin near Jerusalem"; "There were many Arab terrorist attacks to avenge this victory [the Six Day War], including the 1972 murders of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games"; "Mr Sadat, however, paid for the peace with his life: he was assassinated by Muslim extremists"; "In 1994, an Israeli extremist was responsible for the Hebron Massacre in which 29 Palestinians were killed in an attack on a Muslim mosque"; "In 1995, another Jewish extremist, angered by the Israeli prime minister's peace efforts assassinated Yitzak Rabin." The article does mention Arab terrorism generally, but always attributes the charge to someone: the US government says that Hamas has been responsible for suicide bombings (no specifics, please) or "Israelis blame Palestinians for frequent violent attacks." That last is followed immediately by "Palestinians blame Israel" for violent clampdowns, including the "'assassination' of several of their top leaders."

Far be it from me to claim that the Israelis are angels or the Palestinians devils. The Israelis have made mistakes and lost opportunities. But the important lesson that is missed by this even-Stephen summary of the last 60 years of Israeli-Arab relations is that the Arabs can stop this at any time, and only the Arabs can stop it. By the way, the first question my son had to answer after reading this summary was "What is prejudice?" The second was "How does prejudice arise?" He knew what was expected of him -- be blamed the parents.

29 October 2006

Truth, Or No Truth? Is This A Real ABC Show?


"Show Me the Money," a new high-octane variety/game show series to be hosted by Emmy-winning television legend William Shatner, will premiere WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 22 (8:00-9:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network.

In "Show Me the Money" contestants must answer a minimum of six trivia questions. After each answer, the contestant chooses from among thirteen stunning dancers on stage, each of whom holds a scroll with a dollar figure to be added or subtracted -- for correct or incorrect answers -- to the contestant's total.

A correct answer, combined with choosing a dancer holding big money, can quickly catapult the player's winnings into the millions. But a wrong answer, combined with the wrong dancer, can wipe out winnings in an instant. There is no opportunity to play it safe - contestants will be tempted to take the money and run, but this rollercoaster ride of a game show requires that you play to the very end.

Adding to the variety aspect of the show are the thirteen stunning Million-Dollar Dancers who are always ready to break into any style of dance, while audacious master of ceremonies William Shatner spontaneously boogies with the beauties on stage.

With a career that spans some 50 years, Shatner is well known for originating the role of Captain James T. Kirk in the original "Star Trek" television series, and has remained a pop culture icon whose stature seems to grow with each passing year. Shatner will continue in his other ABC role, that of Denny Crane on ABC's hit series "Boston Legal," for which he has won back-to-back Emmy Awards.

"Show Me the Money" is produced by Endemol USA, a division of Endemol Holding. David Goldberg is the president of Endemol USA. Endemol USA is a leading producer of television programming specializing in reality and non-scripted genres for network and cable television. The company produces hit series including ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." Endemol USA is a division of Endemol Holding, a prominent international content developer, producer and distributor of television and online programming. The company, headquartered in the Netherlands, has subsidiaries and joint ventures in 21 countries, including the major European markets, the U.S., South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Australia. Endemol Entertainment is a fully owned subsidiary of telecommunications giant Telefsnica S.A., one of the largest companies in Spain. The series is executive-produced by Mike Nichols.

ABC Media Relations Contact:
Virginia Mastroianni (818) 460-6989/Virginia.M.Mastroianni@abc.com

From The BrothersJudd Archives: IS ALL MOVEMENT PROGRESS?

I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

Thomas Jefferson, as quoted by James Pinkerton in Tech Central Station. Thanks to Paul Cella for the pointer.

This quote, apparently inscribed into the Jefferson Memorial, is the glory and the tragedy of the United States rolled into one. The whole American project is the world's most (only?) successful radical revolution. Almost the entirety of our history as a nation, from colonization through revolution through industrialization through the civil war through manifest destiny through the World Wars through the civil rights movement, has cemented in our souls a theory of inevitable Progress and a belief that Inevitable Progress is Good.

And progress has been good, as who can deny. (Hi, Orrin)

Nevertheless, the theory of Inevitable Progress is pernicious and we are, right now, suffering from it. One cannot read Goodridge, the Massachusetts gay marriage case, without coming away with the sense that the Court believes that this change is inevitable. In the past marriage was closed and in the future it will be open, and Progress requires that we move it along, doing our small part in a vast historical enterprise.

Once we recognize this thought, we see it every where. How many changes are urged upon us on the grounds that some institution has been changed in the past and Progress demands that we continue the process? We must open up marriage, we must further reduce discrimination, we must widen the scope of our civil rights, we must broaden Medicaid to include prescription drugs, etc. Much of our politics has now come down to "our parents did X and our children will do Z, so we are obliged to do Y." Doesn't this explain the relatively muted reaction to Goodridge? We all knew it was inevitable, so why not get it over with.

More recently, we've started to work the theory backward. If some trend can be seen to have increased over time, we call it Progress. The seemingly inevitable loosening of television standards, to take a miner example, is Progress, with each new televised transgression applauded by the critics as "cutting edge" entertainment. Increasing sexual promiscuity is Progress. The increasing number of instances in which human life can be taken, is Progress. Swing is progress from Jazz; Rock is progress from Swing; and Rap is progress from Rock. (The process does have its limits. No one thinks that Disco was Progress.)

We hear this theory propounded all the time. Whenever a President says that our greatness is just beginning, he is speaking of Inevitable Progress. When people speak about the coming American century, both now and 100 years ago, they are speaking of Inevitable Progress. When people speak of lifespans of 140 years, or living on the Moon, or transferring our consciousness to computers, they are really saying that our ancesters lived 35 years if they were lucky, our parents will live 70 years unless they're unlucky and so our kids should live for ever.

In some ways, our belief in Inevitable Progress is human. Humans always believe that a trend, once identified, will continue undisturbed. We're always drawing lines through past events and projecting them confidently into the future. People in stagnant societies draw their line and assume nothing will change. Americans are among the few that can look at their entire history and say, "things have always gotten better, so they will always get better."

We have now taken this human trait, however, and made it uniquely American. Because our government is more thought experiment than historical tradition, we feel free to change the thought behind it. We have now taken our observation of improvement over time (a debatable observation, but one common to both conservatives and liberals), developed a theory of Inevitable Progress and made it our governing principle. What else does it mean to say that our centuries old founding document is a "living Constitution"?

And thus the definition of an American conservative as someone who stands athwart History yelling stop. The very definition embodies the idea of doomed opposition to Inevitable Progress and by doing so implies that true conservatism is unAmerican. And yet, I still believe. Not all movement is progress. Trends don't continue on forever, life without measure. We are not simply a bridge between the glorious past and an even more glorious future. The future is not always better than the past. If a little is good, it doesn't follow that more is better. Americans can no more foresee the future than could the Romans or the Greeks or the Goths.

I see the train a'comin, but all I can do is stand on the tracks yelling stop.
Posted by David Cohen at December 4, 2003 11:59 AM

And I Said I'd Never Post There Again

OJ finds a coreligionist.

Peter Sellers Does Bob Newhart

The best comic of the 20th century was Bob Newhart, most famous for his telephone call bits. Here, Peter Sellers plays the US President in Dr. Strangelove as a Bob Newhart character.

Sometimes We Can Make Time Go Backwards

I see on the blogs that Bill O'Reilly went on Oprah to shill for his new book about the cultural war between the Traditionalists and the Secular Progressives:
Bill: You know, we have our military fighting for our country overseas. We at home have to fight for our country. Do you want to be Denmark? Do you want to be Holland? That's what the S-Ps [secular-progressives] want. Anything goes: euthanasia, legalized narcotics, unfettered abortion, on and on and on and on. Look, when you and I were growing up, what kind of music did we listen to?

Oprah: I listened to The Temptations. …

Bill: What are the kids listening to now? Ho's. Glocks. Drugs. We've come a long way, haven't we? … These are the kids at 9, 10 …They know all about it. There's no more Temptations. They're obsolete. How about movies? What did we go to see? We went to see The Blob. Steve McQueen running around going, "There's the blob." We had a lot of laughs. Popcorn. Now they have a chainsaw guy cutting off people's arms. That's what kids are seeing. Oh, we've come a long way, haven't we? This country is under siege.

Oprah: But this is a country that allows The Blob and also allows chainsaw movies because this is America.

Bill: I'm not advocating a ban of chainsaw movies. Alright? I'm telling you it's bad. That's what I'm telling you. It's bad. So is gangster rap. You know it's bad. You've got an unsupervised 9-year-old whose parents aren't around thinking that he's going to go out and sell a couple of vials of crack, that's bad. Where is the counter influence? S-Ps don't make any judgments on behavior. S-P's don't want any restrictions on what you can or can't do. Yeah, we live in a country, that's allowed. It's bad. People have to start to make judgments.
I was thinking about this cultural war this evening, when my wife and I watched About Last Night. The movie is 20 years old, and what has happened to movies in the mean time is shocking. The movies have gotten much smaller. Characters in About Last Night smoke, they smoke dope, they have anonymous sex and there is a middle portion of about 15 minutes in which we watch a montage of naked Demi Moore and naked Rob Lowe having sex. They just don't make 'em like that any more.

So in this one area, we have pushed back against inevitable Progress. We haven't won the war, but here's a battle we did win.

27 October 2006

Mystery Solved.

According to this story, American men have less testosterone than their fathers. Doctors say that this is true even holding constant age, smoking and obesity. We note, though, that this is not actually a study of American men:
The participants in the study of the health and endocrine functioning consisted of randomly selected Boston-area men ages 45-79, born between 1916 and 1945. Data was collected initially in 1987-1989, and two follow up visits were done in 1995-1997 and 2002-2004. There were a total of 2,769 observations taken on 1,532 men.

Do Conservatives Now Have To Start Rolling the "R"?

I don't usually steal stories from Best of the Web, assuming that you all would have already read them their. This story on a new Nicaraguan ban on all abortions, even when the actual health of the mother is threatened, is too delicious to ignore:
Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, who was a supporter of abortion rights as a young revolutionary, has said he has become a devout Roman Catholic and now opposes abortion.

Ortega's socialist government of the 1980s had a contentious relationship with the Catholic church, but Ortega recently has established warm ties with leading church figures in Nicaragua.
So now Kerry and Harkin are figuratively, as well as literally, to the left of Ortega.

A New Winner?

Republican Attack Ad Offends Canada (Ian Austen, NY Times, 10/27/06)
A Republican television commercial that has drawn criticism in the United States has also become a political and diplomatic issue in Canada.

"Canada can take care of North Korea. They’re not busy," says an actor in the campaign advertisement, against Representative Harold E. Ford Jr., a Democratic candidate for the Senate in Tennessee.

Whatever its intent, the aside is seen in Canada as a suggestion that the country is a free rider when it comes to global security. While Canada did not participate in the invasion of Iraq, it has posted a large portion of its army in Afghanistan as part of NATO forces since 2002.
Well, the point was that the character, a Harold Ford supporter, was ignorant.

26 October 2006

When Did We All Become Maiden Librarians?

German soldiers in Afghanistan have been caught acting like, well, German soldiers:
Sick war pictures that put Germany to shame (Allan Hall, Daily Mail, 10/26/06)

German soldiers have caused international outrage after posing with a human skull in Afghanistan.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged that the troops would be punished for desecrating the dead.
I'm shocked, shocked to find out that soldiers are taking macabre trophies and posing for shocking photographs. Innate human dignity blah ... common humanity blah ... respect for other traditions blah ... come as liberators blah blah blah. We all love humanity, but I'm not sure that we've ever met a human being.

Where Is Everyone?

We're all discussing whether to invade Iraq. I predict that we end up going for it.

25 October 2006

Puts You Right Off Recipe Blogging

A strange cure for the baby blues (Helen Weathers, Daily Mail, 10/24/06)
As Margherita Watt, in a state of euphoric exhaustion, lay cradling her newborn daughter, Dixie, following a seven-hour natural water birth at home, her husband, Will, dutifully went to the kitchen to prepare her first proper meal.

A short while later, he returned with a cup of strong tea and a plate of what looked like chopped steak fried in olive oil for his wife.

Tentatively, she took a bite, chewed and swallowed rather quickly to avoid thinking too much about what she was eating. 'It tasted a bit like a rich, gamey meat,' says Margherita, 28, a former PR executive, who gave birth 12 weeks ago. ...[W]hat Margherita was eating was her own placenta, delivered minutes after her baby was born at 7.08am on July 28 and then stored in the fridge in a plastic box - alongside the celebratory champagne - to await the frying pan that afternoon....

Today, there are websites featuring 'placenta' recipes, including lasagne, spaghetti bolognaise, or placenta paté - although Margherita preferred to keep hers plain and simple rather than turn it into a culinary event.
Brings a whole new meaning to "making from scratch."

24 October 2006

Scampi Con Alio y Ollio Over Fettucine

Heat water to cook the pasta, one gallon for each pound of Fettucine. Put one tablespoon olive oil and two tablespoons salt into the water.

Pour 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil into a cold frying pan.

Mince and then crush two cloves garlic (or use garlic to taste, but increase your estimate of the most garlic you can possibly handle by 50%).

Put the garlic and a pinch of red pepper into the cold oil.

When the pasta water reaches a rapid boil, add the Fettucine. Stir occasionally until the pasta is al dente, about ten minutes.

After adding the Fettucine to the water, turn on the heat under the frying pan to medium high. Cook the garlic and pepper in the oil for two minutes. Add 1 pound fresh (unfrozen) deveined, deshelled shrimp. Cook, stirring frequently until the shrimp is pink, the garlic is golden and the pasta is done.

Turn off the heat under the frying pan while you drain the pasta. Pour the shrimp and oil into the pasta and toss. Serve immediately.

Always Funny

23 October 2006

At Least Brain Tumors Made Sense

According to London's Daily Mail, Men who use mobile phones face increased risk of infertility.

But are they using it correctly?

The Most Important Story Of The Month

In the midst of intense but necessarily temporary focus on the mid-term election, I've become convinced that the biggest story of October 2006 is the recently approved widening of the Panama Canal. Cheap transport of goods from one country to another will do more to better the human condition than anything any government will do over the next 8 years. The Panamanian people, 80% of whom just voted to approve a $5 billion bond issue to pay for the canal improvements, just took a point off of annual inflation and added a few points to global GDP growth.

Thanks, Panama.

The Most Important Story Of The Month

The story so nice, I posted it twice.

21 October 2006

Yeah, Sure, "Cheney"

A University of Washington "economic geologist" claims that the Earth has "lots and lots" of oil.
Eric Cheney said Friday in a news release that changing economics, technological advances and efforts such as recycling and substitution make the world's mineral resources virtually infinite.

For instance, oil deposits unreachable 40 years ago can be tapped using improved technology, and oil once too costly to extract from tar sands, organic matter or coal is now worth manufacturing. Though some resources might be costlier now, they still are needed.

"The most common question I get is, 'When are we going to run out of oil?' The correct response is, 'Never,'" said Cheney. "It might be a heck of a lot more expensive than it is now, but there will always be some oil available at a price, perhaps $10 to $100 a gallon.
It's not apparent whether this is economics or geology speaking. It is basic economics that we will never run out of oil, we'll just pay more and more until substitutes are found that make sense at a given price. As far as that's concerned, I'm told by friends in the oil business that they need to be assured of long-term prices above $60 per barrel to make investments in substitutes pay-off. As OPEC must know that, too, I suspect that it'll be a while before we see long-term prices above $60 per barrel.

Stopped Clocks

Instapundit points us to this study of academics showing that they are out of step with the general population. They are, and I'm sure that's a tragedy, but that doesn't mean that they're wrong. To cite two examples from the article:
Almost one-third of professors cite the United States as among the top two greatest threats to international stability -- more than cited Iran, China, or Iraq.

Fifty-four percent of professors say U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is partially responsible for the growth of Islamic militancy.
Certainly, no one can doubt that US foreign policy is partially responsible for the growth of Islamo-fascism. After all, with a different US foreign policy, Israel would have long since been pushed back into the sea. The US is the greatest threat to "international stability," and proudly so. The professors are quite correct; where they go wrong is wishing for the stability of evil regimes.

19 October 2006

Politically Ambiguous

Orrin, pursuing his theory that there's no bad way to cook a potato, points us to this article on the traditional feast at the end of Ramadan:
Everywhere you go, Mrs. Kucukkal notes, you eat, even if you're not particularly hungry or have already enjoyed that particular dish at someone else's house. Otherwise, she says, you risk making your host feel badly.
The word "host" struck me as odd, and I realized that I couldn't tell if it was a politically correct refusal to recognize gender (like using actor when referring to an actress) or if it was a politically incorrect focus on the pater familias, rather than the wife cum servant who actually did the work.

This is not an unusual confusion. Modern politically correct anti-gender discrimination law, which among other things makes it illegal to swear in front of ladies, is easily confused with Victorian mores.

18 October 2006

Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny

"Daddy, could you download 'Killing me softly'?"

WashPo: Gays = Traitors

The Washington Post notes that Gerry Studds husband won't be able to collect his pension, and tries to gin up some controversy:
The federal government has refused to pay death benefits to the spouse of former congressman Gerry E. Studds (D-Mass.), the first openly gay member of Congress. . . .

Peter Graves, a spokesman for the Office of Personnel Management, which administers the congressional pension program, said same-sex partners are not recognized as spouses for any marriage benefits. He said Studds's case is the first of its kind known to the agency.

Under federal law, pensions can be denied only to lawmakers' same-sex partners and to people convicted of espionage or treason, Graves said.
Other people who can be denied pensions: complete strangers; girlfriends; mothers; bestfriends; platonic roomates; and supportive bloggers.

The Caterpillar Cometh

Following up on the Somali cab-driver story, what I'm afraid is turning into a caterpillar of a problem drops its next boot in this story of a Minneapolis bus driver refusing to drive buses carrying ads for a gay magazine. The driver claims that his religious beliefs prohibit him from driving the bus. The bus company has decided to accommodate him; his union objects. I suppose that I should come down on the side of accommodating religion, but as with the Somali cabbies, I just can't.

As long-time readers of the blog know, I misspent my youth at a large New York corporate law firm. Then, as now, law students as a whole tended towards the center-left and competition among the top firms for the best students was intense. This meant, first and foremost, that we got paid significant amounts of money. But there was also competition among the firms to prove that they weren't just a dead-weight social cost by having strong pro bono programs. This is a system by which law firms provide legal services to poor people and the lefty social agenda at no cost to the client. Associates also feel quite proud of their pro bono work, and it's one of the firm attributes always emphasized when interviewing season comes to the law schools.

It wasn't until about a year into my tenure at big New York firm that I noticed something kind of obvious. My fellows and I were paid a salary that varied not-at-all depending on the sort of work we were doing. Work on a pro bono case. Get paid. Work on a corporate takeover. Get paid. We were proud of doing our bit for society, but we should have been proud of getting paid top establishment lawyer salaries for putting the screws to the establishment. The only one sacrificing for the public good was the firm, and it was getting good publicity, an arm up on recruiting and, while it was about it, associate on-the-job training on cases where a screw-up would have at most a negligible impact on the bottom line. While I'm willing to sacrifice for my principles, it is infinitely better to have other people sacrifice for my principles.

Similarly with the bus driver. He's not saying that his religion requires him to quit a secure union job with a company that, for money, promotes the gay lifestyle. He's saying that his religion requires his company to custom design his job while paying him exactly as much as if he weren't adding to their administrative headache.

Yea, Us!

Welcome to our 300 millionth American. The more of us the better.

"Let a chicken or pig be born in Delhi or Shanghai and the bean counters at the U.N. and World Bank will tell you that the nation is wealthier. But let an Indian or Chinese mother give birth to a son or daughter, and it goes down in their crabbed little ledgers as a liability."

-- Julian Simon

17 October 2006

If You Could Make It There

Word from the New York Times that MetLife has sold Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village for $5.4 Billion. Stuyvesant and Peter Cooper are apartment complexes -- 27 separate buildings with more than 11,000 apartments -- located on the lower east side of Manhattan. I used to live across the street from Stuyvesant.

They are largely middle class and, at least when I lived in the area, largely white. About 75% of the apartments are rent controlled. I assume that MetLife sold out because it didn't want to deal with the grief that's going to come to the owner over the next generation as the development emerges from rent control. From the article:
Daniel R. Garodnick, a city councilman who lives in Peter Cooper Village and helped organize the tenant offer, expressed disappointment in the outcome. Nearly three quarters of the 11,232 apartments have regulated rents that are roughly half the market rents, and tenants fear that a new owner will bring sweeping changes.

"We want to know how the new owner intends to preserve the long-term affordability of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village," Mr. Garodnick said. "We expect a new owner to not only to honor his obligations under the law, but to come up with a plan that preserves the long-term affordability of this middle-class community."

Most of the 11,232 apartments in the complexes are now subject to rent regulation. When MetLife announced earlier this year that it was putting the two complexes up for sale, it bridled at suggestions that the company had any continuing obligation to provide below-market housing. Real estate companies leaped at the prospect.

Company executives have suggested to city officials and reporters that many of the 25,000 residents of Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town made too much money to qualify for any kind of assistance.

In recent years, MetLife has ousted illegal sublettors and tenants whose apartments were not their primary residences. Under city regulations, an apartment can cease to be rent-controlled or rent-stabilized when it becomes vacant, or when the rent reaches $2,000 a month and the existing tenant’s household income rises above $175,000 for two successive years. As a result, about 27 percent of the apartments in the complexes are now leased at market rates. An additional 1,600 units will be freed of rent regulation over the next two years, according to sale documents.
Again we see that for many people the political impulse is inextricably tied to the delight in being able to tell other people what they have to do with their property. America has a liberal party and a conservative party, but has never had a successful "don't just do something, stand there" party.

15 October 2006

My Home Town

A skosh of national attention today, as the New York Times notes that "Hampshire County, Mass., home to Northampton, had the highest proportion of female couples [of any county in the nation], at 1.7 percent." The other national media mention of Northampton I noticed this week was as the home of Kevin Barrett's publisher for his next book of essays, including the essay in which he likens 9/11 to the Reichstag fire. This led to his recent statement that to compare that dummy George Bush to Reichschancellor Hitler is unfair to Hitler.

14 October 2006

Until Tomorrow

Geoffrey Stone, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School has published a completely anodyne list of things liberals believe. Other commentators have claimed that the list is not particularly useful: liberals believe in things that are good. But I think that the list is honest; liberals really to believe in puppy dogs, warm spring days, wild flowers in green meadows and fluffy little bunnies. Conservatives believe that winter is coming.

The real stunner is that, seventy years after the New Deal, Stone can convincingly get around to defining liberalism. It's not that liberalism hasn't been defined before. It's that every day brings its own liberalism. Liberalism is about never having to say, "I was wrong yesterday" because today's liberalism is entirely different and not at all responsible for those reactionaries who used the name yesterday.

On the other hand, according to liberals today's conservatives are responsible for the Dark Ages, the Inquisition and Joe McCarthy. Conservatives tend to agree.

Stone challenges his readers to come up with their own tenets of conservatism. Conservatives, of course, don't have to keep inventing ourselves. Those who obsess about these things generally accept Russell Kirk's six canons of conservatism:

(1) Belief that a divine intent rules society as well as conscience, forging an eternal chain of right and duty which links great and obscure, living and dead. Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems.

(2) Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of traditional life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems.

(3) Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes. The only true equality is moral equality; all other attempts at levelling lead to despair, if enforced by positive legislation.

(4) Persuasion that property and freedom are inseparably connected, and that economic levelling is not economic progress. Separate property from private possession and liberty is erased.

(5) Faith in prescription and distrust of 'sophisters and calculators.' Man must put a control upon his will and his appetite, for conservatives know man to be governed more by emotion than by reason. Tradition and sound prejudice provide checks upon man's anarchic impulse.

(6) Recognition that change and reform are not identical, and that innovation is a devouring conflagration more often than it is a torch of progress. Society must alter, for slow change is the means of its conservation, like the human body's perpetual renewal; but Providence is the proper instrument for change, and the test of a statesman is his cognizance of the real tendency of Providential social forces.


From the Slate review of a new electronic book from Sony.
We expect our electronics displays to dazzle, but the Reader's is dull, and its palette is Etch A Sketch gray. There are also problems with 'ghosting,' and since it has no backlight, you need a clip-on light to read in bed. Unfortunately, the slightly reflective screen tends to bounce the beam into your eyes. The biggest problem with E Ink is that it has a very slow refresh rate—around a second to turn a page. Though that doesn't sound like much, it's quite a pregnant pause: Clicking through the Reader's menus is tedious, and page turns quickly become a bore.

The Reader works well for plain-old, front-to-back reading. As long as you don't do a lot of flipping back and forth, the device won't let you down. But it doesn't have a search function, nor will your book's index or table of contents be hyperlinked to the pages they reference. So, ironically, it's significantly easier to find information in a paper book than in its digital equivalent. Sony's e-content is also read-only: You can bookmark a page, but you can't add marginalia.
So it's not as good as an actual book.

Isaac Asmimov (in an essay I can't find online) once described the perfect reading system: high definition, high contrast, portable, zero marginal energy use, stable long term memory and easily disposable. In other words, a book.

13 October 2006

Hang Him High

NBC has obtained video tape showing Jonathan Pollard in the act of stealing classified documents for Israel, and uses this excuse to rehash the issue of whether he should be let go. I hadn't thought about the case in years, and I seem to have mellowed in the mean time. I don't think, any more, that he should be executed. On the other hand, I still think he needs to be locked up until he dies.

The Worst Show On TV

It is hyperbolic to call Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip the worst show on TV. That makes it exactly the sort of claim one would expect to see on the show. It's not quite clear what prompted NBC to give Aaron Sorkin an hour of prime time programming to taunt everyone who ever did him wrong -- including NBC -- but it doesn't make for Must See TV.

The production values are excellent. The acting is fine. The writing is even good, mostly. The problem is that Sorkin's life simply isn't that interesting, and neither are his flaws. He is a control freak with a drug problem. If he were poor and had booted away all his opportunities, that might make for good television. As all it got him was more prime time opportunities, it makes for boring television. (This problem is nicely recapitulated on the show. Bradley Whitford plays a movie director who blows a drug test and, since he can't direct a movie for two years, is forced to become executive producer of a network tv show. It's just a tragedy, except he doesn't have to wear orange jumpsuits to work every day.)

The show within a show is lame, the characters are not like any real people you've ever met and the brave Christian baiting is so 90s. But the show really came to an end last week, in its third episode. Christine Lahti was introduced as a recurring character, a Maureen Dowd clone who doesn't mind showing some cleavage to get the story. The key to good television is "show, don't tell." A show about the characters being interviewed is all tell, no show.

Serial drama is a new modern art form. All other art, from the beginning of the world until Marconi, occurred within a limited space. It had a beginning, middle and an end that would come after a certain amount of paint, ink, tears, vibrato, etc., had been expended.

Serial dramas are not meant to end. They might go on for years, and at the beginning the author doesn't know which of characters, actors, tropes, sets or fashions with which he begins will make it to the end. In the beginning, Garry Marshall thought Fonzie was a minor character; Sorkin never foresaw 9/11 when he begain The West Wing. Even those shows that reset at the end of every episode, Star Trek, say, or Gilligan's Island, are about the characters.

Really good television, therefore, reveals the inner world of the characters over time through their actions.

Sorkin is short-circuiting that process. Having a journalist stalk around the set asking explicit questions about the characters' inner life and getting answers is a lazy, cheaterpants way of avoiding building consistent yet surprising characterizations over time. It is the difference between Lahti asking (and this is a prediction, not reportage) "Why do so many people in comedy come from unhappy childhoods?" rather than having us notice, a while from now, "Boy, how come so many of these people, so successful in material terms, are so unhappy."

I don't know how many of you are familiar with "Mary Sue." Mary Sue is a creature (mostly) of fan fiction ("fanfic"), which is fiction written by fans of a particular show set in the world of the show. The first fanfic of which anyone is aware came from the original Star Trek. After the show was cancelled, fans kept it alive by publishing their own magazines ("zines") filled with fanfic. (The most infamous fanfic is "slash", which comes from "Kirk/Spock," or homosexual erotica, mostly written by women, starring Kirk and Spock.)

Eventually, the fanfic world noticed that there were a lot of stories out there about a new beautiful young crew member joining the Enterprise, immediately becoming immensely popular with the entire crew and then, using some surprising skill at which she was expert, saving the ship from utter disaster. Spock would admire her logic, Kirk her daring and Chekov her ass. The stories were mostly, though not uniformly, bad. This character, whose only purpose is to fulfill authorial fantasy, was dubbed "Mary Sue." (The Wikipedia entry on Mary Sue is here.)

Lahti's character is a Mary Sue: a representative of the author sent into the story to quiz the characters. In a larger sense, though, the entire show is a Mary Sue; it is the rewriting of history to acknowledge Aaron Sorkin's greatness, his beauty and his special skills. Everyone likes him and Chekov is checking out his ass. It is the worst think on television.

12 October 2006

I Blame Human Activity

Fed Finds Cooling in Housing Market (Martin Crutsinger, AP, 10/12/06)
The economy continued to grow in the early fall despite a "widespread cooling" in the once-hot housing market, the Federal Reserve reported Thursday.
Notice that this is ostensibly an article about the strong and growing economy.

10 October 2006

Elect Democrats And Die

OJ points us to David Zucker's new anti-Democrat ad. Not your usual political ad.

09 October 2006

Glad We've Got That Settled

Episcopal Diocese may quit marriages: Same-sex debate drives Mass. plan (Michael Paulson, Boston Globe, 10/8/06)
In a novel approach to the tensions that have accompanied the same-sex marriage debate in many religious denominations, the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts this month will consider getting out of the marriage business.

A group of local Episcopal priests, saying that the gay marriage debate has intensified their longtime concern about acting as agents of the state by officiating at marriages, is proposing that the Episcopal Church adopt a new approach. Any couples qualified to get married under state law could be married by a justice of the peace, and then, if they want a religious imprimatur for their marriage, they could come to the Episcopal Church seeking a blessing from a priest.

The approach, radical for the United States, is commonly practiced in Europe.
This isn't too far from my preferred solution -- get the state out of the marriage business -- but does the Episcopal Church really need to give people fewer reasons to come to church?

08 October 2006

Brought To You By Eminent Domain

It being a beautiful fall day, we took a ride up to the Quabbin Reservoir, Boston's main source of drinking water. The Quabbin was formed by damming a small valley in the late '30s and early '40s. Four towns, Enfield, Prescott, Dana and Greenwich, were disincorporated and the land handed off to other surrounding towns. Portions of each town are now underwater, most of the homes having been either razed or moved.

06 October 2006

Hypocrisy In Service To Civilization

In today's Bleat, Lileks says, apropos of the Somali cab drivers in Minneapolis who refuse to take passengers carrying alcohol:
I’ve taken a lot of cabs in the East Coast. Hindus, Jews, Muslims. No one ever complained if I had a Big Mac in my hand, or asked if it had bacon, and the Muslim cabbies who picked me up outside of various bars surely knew I was carrying alcohol, if only in bloodstream form. Truth be told, my introduction to actual real-life Muslims came in the form of many cabbie colloquies. I’m sure the hard-core guys just kept their mouths clamped, but I remember a few inter-faith dialogues, and they all boiled down to the same things – respect, tolerance, everyone likes Jesus, peace, have a nice night, smiles all around.
We've all had these conversations, particularly when carrying alcohol in bloodstream form. I assume that none of us confuse them with Interfaith Dialogues. They are much better than that.

It used to be that we could rely on money to be the universal solvent. People would come to America, many would live in ethnic ghettos where they would speak honestly with the like-minded and follow their quaint folk ways. But every day the men (usually) would have to travel into the majority world and conform enough to earn a living. Over time, with the help of the public schools and the media of the day, the ghetto culture would be subsumed in the majority culture, changing in large ways while changing the majority culture in small ways. The melting pot was a crucible, not a stew pot.

Now we have lost our willingness to enforce conformity with penury. We certainly will not get conformity. The question is whether we can avoid penury.

05 October 2006

Oy Gevalt, Faisal, Get A Load Of Hugo

YNet News, a not completely reliable Israeli news service and web site is pushing a story entitled Israeli company discovers oil at drilling site near Dead Sea. The amount is minuscule, but they think that there might be more oil in the area. That should make for some interesting OPEC meetings.

04 October 2006

I'm Sure That I'm Missing Something Obvious

But other than be a gay Republican, what is it that Foley did that Democrats object to? I know what he did that conservatives object to, but what are the liberals complaining about?

03 October 2006

Mark Foley And Yom Kippur

For the sin which we have committed before You under duress or willingly.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by hard-heartedness.

For the sin which we have committed before You inadvertently.

And for the sin which we have committed before You with an utterance of the lips.

For the sin which we have committed before You with immorality.

And for the sin which we have committed before You openly or secretly.

For the sin which we have committed before You with knowledge and with deceit.

And for the sin which we have committed before You through speech.

For the sin which we have committed before You by deceiving a fellowman.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by improper thoughts.

For the sin which we have committed before You by a gathering of lewdness.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by verbal [insincere] confession.

For the sin which we have committed before You by disrespect for parents and teachers.

And for the sin which we have committed before You intentionally or unintentionally.

For the sin which we have committed before You by using coercion.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by desecrating the Divine Name.

For the sin which we have committed before You by impurity of speech.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by foolish talk.

For the sin which we have committed before You with the evil inclination.

And for the sin which we have committed before You knowingly or unknowingly.

For all these, God of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, atone for us.

For the sin which we have committed before You by false denial and lying.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by a bribe-taking or a bribe-giving hand.

For the sin which we have committed before You by scoffing.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by evil talk [about another].

For the sin which we have committed before You in business dealings.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by eating and drinking.

For the sin which we have committed before You by [taking or giving] interest and by usury.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by a haughty demeanor.

For the sin which we have committed before You by the prattle of our lips.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by a glance of the eye.

For the sin which we have committed before You with proud looks.

And for the sin which we have committed before You with impudence.

For all these, God of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, atone for us.

For the sin which we have committed before You by casting off the yoke [of Heaven].

And for the sin which we have committed before You in passing judgment.

For the sin which we have committed before You by scheming against a fellowman.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by a begrudging eye.

For the sin which we have committed before You by frivolity.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by obduracy.

For the sin which we have committed before You by running to do evil.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by tale-bearing.

For the sin which we have committed before You by swearing in vain.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by causeless hatred.

For the sin which we have committed before You by embezzlement.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by a confused heart.

For all these, God of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, atone for us.

And for the sins for which we are obligated to bring a burnt-offering.

And for the sins for which we are obligated to bring a sin-offering.

And for the sins for which we are obligated to bring a varying offering [according to one's means].

And for the sins for which we are obligated to bring a guilt-offering for a certain or doubtful trespass.

And for the sins for which we incur the penalty of lashing for rebelliousness.

And for the sins for which we incur the penalty of forty lashes.

And for the sins for which we incur the penalty of death by the hand of Heaven.

And for the sins for which we incur the penalty of excision and childlessness.

And for the sins for which we incur the penalty of the four forms of capital punishment executed by the Court: stoning, burning, decapitation and strangulation.

For [transgressing] positive and prohibitory mitzvot, whether [the prohibitions] can be rectified by a specifically prescribed act or not, those of which we are aware and those of which we are not aware; those of which we are aware, we have already declared them before You and confessed them to You, and those of which we are not aware --- before You they are revealed and known, as it is stated:The hidden things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things are for us and for our children forever, that we may carry out all the words of this Torah. For You are the Pardoner of Israel and the Forgiver of the tribes of Yeshurun in every generation, and aside from You we have no King who forgives and pardons.
I was in Temple yesteday, and thus missed most of the Mark Foley revelations as they came down the (information super) highway. I can't say I'm sorry.

Yom Kippur is all about repentence and in taking as fair a look at ourselves as we can manage. (King David says that no man can truly know his own sins, and so G-d must help us recognize our transgressions.) Yom Kippur can be a very legalistic holiday and it can be a sobering holiday, but it is also a joyful and, yesterday at least, laugh out loud funny holiday. One of the confessions we must say is a list of the various types of sins we can commit as a community, and one of the sins we confess is that we have committed immoral sexual acts. Yesterday, for the first time I remember, we sang the confession in English. When the Congregation sang out, "we have committed immoral sexual acts," I could not go on.

So, while I'm not willing to cut Congressmen Foley any slack (and I couldn't help it because I'm an alcoholic is not an excuse as far as G-d is concerned), I do find that, just for today only, I'm not able to climb up on any high horse. He did something stupid and immoral and he's being punished as he should be. In the final accounting, none of us are going to get away scot free. (Is that an ethnic slur? And if not, why not?)