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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Reagan Docudrama ... critics yawn: CBS cancelled the docudrama on the Reagans after conservatives put forth a major opposition campaign. This weekend it is shown on Showtime, which I do not get. All the same, the critics are mostly bored with the whole thing, wondering what all the fuss is about. As to the infamous AIDS line, removed in the final cut, see here.
Will try this new style for a bit ... see how I like it.
"The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding." ... As discussed here, even former Bush Administration officials are concerned with the lengths the administration is going regarding enemy combatants. The good intentions leading to bad results also applies to the situation in Iraq, leading Thomas Friedman to be in the uncomfortable of not just opposing his wife, but also his good sense on this issue as discussed by Jack Balkin.

"But here's why the left needs to get beyond its opposition to the war and start pitching in with its own ideas and moral support to try to make lemons into lemonade in Baghdad."

This is the central fallacy of his stance, one shared by others who oppose the administration on much, but not on the intervention in Iraq itself (oh, they often don't like the method, but the cause appeals). The suggestion the "liberal left" is single mindedly opposing the war and the Bush Administration is just wrong. Earlier in the column he wonders why protesters are only targeting Bush, not Bin Laden. I reckon they might realize that protests influence democratically (sic) chosen leaders like Blair and Bush more so than terrorists. Overall, however, those who oppose Bush's (and targeting strawmen like British anti-war protests is a tad bit ridiculous anyway) path are talking about alternatives.

Where in his column are his quotes from Democratic candidates, not a noncandidate like Sen. Biden, who rail against the President (without supporting withdrawal) for being counterproductive in the war against terror, while providing alternatives? Nowhere. Or the analysis by those against the war in articles, blogs, message boards, and so forth about what we need to do now? Or the anti-Bush brigade that has " beyond its opposition to the war" and dealing with the here and now? Nowhere ... it's quite easy for Friedman to dream his little dream when his only opposition is so lame.

[See also, Mark Kleiman, who addresses those unable to "acknowledge that even some of the people who opposed the war did so because they thought there were better ways of fighting terrorism. It's even possible they were right." He also suggests that someone truly serious and smart would have used Bill Clinton (supportive of Prime Minister Blair) to promote the war. Nah, wouldn't fit into their "our way or the highway" politics. Kleiman also provides a link to an editorial that rejects the value of the largely ignored Feith memo leaked by the Weekly Standard.]

As Balkin notes, his final statement leaves a lot to be desired: "For my money, the right liberal approach to Iraq is to say: We can do it better. Which is why the sign I most hungered to see in London was, "Thanks, Mr. Bush. We'll take it from here."

Now, let's accept that leaving now would be bad -- this is not the slam dunk both of them suggest to any degree given that self-determination involves letting those on the ground decide their own fate. Of course, it is a bit too late to care about that now, I guess. The ultimate problem is what the heck do liberal dissidents supposed to be "thankful" for? They rightly think the administration took a risky path in a slipshod and corrupt matter which continues to look somewhat bleak (see BTC News for ongoing coverage), symbolized by the quick and top secret nature of the President's Thanksgiving visit there (nice gesture, exaggerated by supporters). For this, they are to give thanks?

The ultimate problem is, of course, "we" are not going to "take it from here." The President will (at the very least) control things for the next fourteen months, continuing the rough path that is now being taken. I am all for more input from the loyal opposition on how best to handle things, but I'd also appreciate some recognition from critics like Friedman that this group does realize the gravity of the terrorist threat. They just do not agree with him on the way to deal with nor are they trustful that those currently with the responsibility of carrying out such an attack will do a good job. Why Friedman is as trustful as he seems to be (he surely is not supportive of the administration's abilities overall) and so dismissive of those not as naive as he too often seems is a bit unclear to me.

On the other hand, as Justice Brandeis noted long ago: >"The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding."

PS: Friedman noted: "Ultimately, only Arabs and Muslims can root out this threat, but they will do that only when they have ownership over their own lives and societies. Nurturing that is our real goal in Iraq." Thomas Friedman has to explain in a bit more detail on how an outside force coming in to depose its leadership, having major say on who its leadership will be and the nature of its constitution building procedure as well as any number of domestic relations for the indeterminate future, and stationing hundreds of thousands of its own military there is the best way to carry this out.
Hyperbolize ... at first, I thought this word was a neologism of my own creation when I used it for the first time (at least, I think so) recently. It had a great sound to it, and I was quite impressed with myself. Silly rabbit. See here.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Maureen Dowd just introduced Tom Brokaw, who is up for some award or something. She graduated college around the time I was born, but damn she looked great. Dowd was in the black dress and had a cute haircut that partially covered her eyes. She started off with a Bush joke ... Robert Novak didn't seem to appreciate her remarks, but I did. Lol.

Friday, November 28, 2003

The reality of this subject is that no one gets off that easy. Some of the acting may not be the best and many of the points aren't made with a soft touch, but damn, I can't think of another film about addiction with a more accurate view from the inside. Not that I'm saying I would know, uh...forget it.

The film kicks off with a study of just how much maintenance is required for Alix to support her "illness". "Requiem for a Dream" may have nailed the ritual of hardcore drug use, but "Acts of Worship" nails the need and desperation in a far more naked way.

-- from a review of Acts of Worship, based on the filmaker's own experiences.

This is basically my sentiment of the film. Though I saw the film not too far from the Lower East Side (Manhattan, NY) setting, I cannot validate its realism. All the same, it seems pretty true to life. All the same, the movie is a bit hard to take because of some amateurish acting and writing. It especially hurts the intriguing subplot of the recovered addict who tries to help (her photographs of addicts impresses the art world, but on some level, she cannot quite accept her success). And, some of the messages of the film (including the source of the title) are not exactly handled with finesse. Still, the movie retains a sense of hardhitting truth to it that makes you stick with it.

Thanksgiving ... was better than expected. Family is often best handled in small doses.
"As a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, I have been to their gatherings. I spoke at the 2001 SCV convention in Lafayette, La. The Military Order of the Stars and Bars presented me with a battle flag and a wooden canteen like the ones my ancestors carried."

-- Patrick J. Buchanan, defending the Confederate Flag.

I did not realize Mr. Buchanan's deep rebel roots. It does amuse me how deeply patriotic sorts such as he do so much to defend those who committed treason against the U.S. government. [Well, surely, they did so technically, right?] I am actually sympathetic to the overall tone of the article, but isn't there a certain disconnect to displaying the flag of a defeated nation (aka the Confederacy) on the statehouse of a state in the United States of America? Y'all fought that battle already, bravely it's true, but you lost it all the same. I reckon some of the states in the Southwest should fly a Mexican Flag underneath the Stars and Stripes, since they too fought the good fight, against foreign invaders that supported slavery and conquest.

But, then again, we don't usually display the flags of countries we fought against on property of a state of the United States of America, even if they did so courageous, and their descendants still live among us. I understand the cultural messages the article speaks of, but (maybe it's the Yankee in me) it still seems a tad bit strange.


An interesting argument in support of Wes Clark. BTC News today also had a couple interesting links to contrasting analysis of this intriguing candidate.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Boondocks ... I have no idea where the current storyline is going. The last few days involved a pair of dirty underwear being on the table. I find the childish trend of this sharp and funny comic strip a bit troubling. The storyline about finding Condy Rice a boyfriend went on a bit too long and was probably unwisely revived. This current storyline really is making me start to wonder ... I forgave you for the disappearance of the biracial couple (some "oh he didn't write that!" hilarity there), but where the heck are you going with this? Do you not like being on the editorial pages of certain newspapers or something?

Kate and Leopold was on TV again tonight ... good romance, great leading man.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

The Republican Collapse: "It's really gotten close to the point where the only reason for limited-government types to vote for Republican presidents is that they occasionally appoint judges who believe that the Constitution restrains federal and state regulatory power; Republican-appointed judges even tend to have a broader view of the restraints the First Amendment places on government than do liberal judges. [horrors!] But the spending record of Republicans in the Bush years is just appalling. The latest on this can be found here." [David Bernstein]

After a 6AM Saturday, three hour arm twisting, vote, the new Medicare reform package was passed in the Republican House by a few votes. Today, it passed in the Republican Senate 54-44 (Lieberman and Kerry, opposition, not voting), the deciding votes Democrat dissenters. A look at the tally shows that a few Republicans did not vote for it, opposing (benefit to the President's re-election campaign aside) this large raise in governmental spending. If fiscal security and (surely not, not in leadership at least) fair play is not shown by the opposition, what exactly leads one to want to vote Republican? Morality? Supporting the f-ed up foreign policy of the President? Throw me a bone here fellas.

Meanwhile, the government added to the charges of the Guantanamo Bay chaplain suspected of illegally assisting the detainees there. Apparently, he committed adultery (or at least had sexual relations with someone other than his wife) and viewed and stored pornography on a Department of Defense computer. Are we trying to send some sort of message here, guys? Of greater note, perhaps, is the fact the government will allow him to return to duty at a base in Georgia as long as he does not come in contact with Guantanamo Bay detainees. To be continued?

Love Actually ... is a bit shameless. The acting overall is very good, but only some of the stories work above the "this is just laying things on a bit thick" level. It averages out okay with a few quite enjoyable subplots, including a pair who fall in love while working in a porn movie. On the other hand, instead of watching a subplot rip it off, why not just watch About the Boy itself?

Happy Birthday ... Christina Applegate.
Football -- Stars Hang On: This weekend had plenty of exciting games, where the underdogs gave the stars scares. The problem for those who wanted to see some upsets was that time and time again the star scored at the end of the game to tie or win (and each time the star won in OT). Among this group was (a bit ironically) the Jets, who played one of the few teams worse off than them, the Jaguars. The exception (other than Chicago, who beat the slipping Broncos) might have been the Ravens (who lost 9-6 last week), who manufactured a late Fourth Quarter drive, after being down seventeen points (tying things up at the end of regulation), winning in OT. On the other hand, Seattle is not exactly one of your elite division leaders. Still, allowing the Ravens to score over forty points is a bit sad.

And, sigh, we have the NY Giants. The Giants (4-7) might have did their fans a favor by basically eliminating themselves by losing the game against Tampa Bay (5-6), who now (given an easy schedule) have kept their slim hopes alive. The Giants lost another game in their now predictable fashion; the second Monday Night Game wherein they embarassed themselves. The final was 19-13. Let's see. From what I saw, the First Half and much of the Second (glutton for punishment, I), they had at least two Red Zone turnovers (one ending the First Half, after another impressive drive went for naught -- this happened over, and over, and over again this season) that could have gave them at least six points. As we shall see, that could have meant a 19-17 win for the Giants. On the other hand, one of Tampa Bay's scores occurred because of three penalties by the Giants that gave them around half of their yardage.

The worse came at the end. Hoping to clinch the game, Tampa Bay took a time out before the two minute warning on Fourth and inches (instead of letting the time run out and play the down after the warning), and couldn't convert. This gave the Giants some precious time and the ball. They managed -7yd. Two minute warning and Fourth Down. What to do? Well, with the ball on your own three and fourth and seventeen (or so), going for it is risky, especially if you are the Losers (oh, I mean the Giants). A safety, a move that the Pats used to their advantage a few weeks back, is an idea. You can go for the onside and even if you don't get it (likely), you have a time out to stop the clock. You'd have something less than a minute left. What do the Giants do? The safety ... but they waste thier remaining timeout, after having the warning to think about it. No recovery. Time expires on downs.

The fact the final was as close as it was suggests that Tampa Bay is not much better, but this game is typical of the Giants ... UGLY. Bad is one thing, but these guys show just enough to make you think they should win (you know, they are due), and then they get ya. It's like a sadistic game of rope and dope. I'm just glad I'm not a big basketball fan ... watching the Knicks do a version of this many times a week would be just too much.

In honor of TMQ, the ESPN football guy fired for putting his foot in his mouth, I offer this.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Obit: Edward Schempp, Who Fought School Bible Readings, Dies at 95. His lawsuit went to the Supreme Court and was a basic reaffirmance of importance of barring state action from religious practice. The decision held that:

Because of the prohibition of the First Amendment against the enactment by Congress of any law "respecting an establishment of religion," which is made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, no state law or school board may require that passages from the Bible be read or that the Lord's Prayer be recited in the public schools of a State at the beginning of each school day - even if individual students may be excused from attending or participating in such exercises upon written request of their parents.

Though the case is arguably about a certain select practice, the principle protected was much broader. This was suggested by the presence of several concurring opinions, representing the views of justices from various faiths. As summarized by the majority:

"The place of religion in our society is an exalted one, achieved through a long tradition of reliance on the home, the church and the inviolable citadel of the individual heart and mind. We have come to recognize through bitter experience that it is not within the power of government to invade that citadel, whether its purpose or effect be to aid or oppose, to advance or retard. In the relationship between man and religion, the State is firmly committed to a position of neutrality."

How this is to be applied remains controversial, but the overall principle should not be. And, pending events only make this all the more clear ... the alternative, selective assistance of certain religious faiths is the road to ruin. So is the basic message of our Constitution and our basic principles as a nation itself. The fact they are often honored in breach is not enough to dismiss them as naive platitudes. And, it is often up to regular citizens, like Edward Schempp, to reaffirm them.


Senior citizens amok? Might happen ... see the closing vignette found in this article on the pending Medicare legislation.
Outside of terrorism and foreign affairs, the most pressing pieces in Congress under full Republican control is the pending Medicare and Energy Bills. Both are flawed, rushed, and seen as fundamentally necessary for the political future of the President. This results in a general mess that I rail about here. Seriously, the substantive problems with the legislation aside (too much in this mega-legislation even for me to handle, really), the process and political motivations involved are what really trouble me. Similar things can be said about the whole judicial appointment mess.


David Brooks manages to sound crass even when he is basically on the right side. His latest column puts forth the conservative (yes, he puts himself in that camp) case for same sex marriage, which also is contemplated via a somewhat different perspective here.

You get a feeling this column might be a bit off early on: "Anybody who has several sexual partners in a year is committing spiritual suicide. He or she is ripping the veil from all that is private and delicate in oneself, and pulverizing it in an assembly line of selfish sensations." Okay, David, do you have exact numbers here? How about if you have two partners? Will three lead you down to the road to perdition? Now, spiritual suicide might be deemed worth it and all, but just curious.

He also gets a dig at liberals, who apparently see the issue as one of economic benefits or just another civil right entitlement program. Brooks, however, takes a somewhat strong view: "We should insist on gay marriage. We should regard it as scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity." At some point, this all becomes not just unsavory, but just plain dangerous. It is quite nice that Brooks sees that quite a few things threaten marriage today, same sex unions is at best at the bottom of the pile, and marriage is a quite beneficial (better yet fundamental) institution. All the same, this mandatory marriage sentiment is just too much. Marriage is not always great Brooks, and you and your conservative pals do not have the right to insist on how people live their lives.


Blue Gate Crossing, a teen drama from Taiwan has a timely subplot. The film concerns a triangle formed by two best friends, one of whom likes a boy on the swim team, but is too shy to tell him. This leads to complications when the boy thinks the other one likes him, which is fine with him, since he likes her. Unfortunately, not only doesn't she (at least romantically), but she secretly likes her friend. A basic little story told in a gentle and thoughtful way with very good performances by all the leads. It is unfortunate that more teens are not liable to go to a film (if they could find it) with subtitles, since there are not enough films of this sort for teenagers. Oh, we do have the WB, but this film actually has a real life feel to it.


The FBI is worried about anti-war protesters. I'm worried about the First Amendment.

Friday, November 21, 2003

"Rational Basis" is the test that the Massachusetts Supreme judicial Court [as compared to its Supreme Executive Court?] argued that the ban on same sex marriages did not meet. See, for instance, the discussion in this debate on the subject currently found in the New Republic. The reply is that it is "reasonable" (if not necessarily correct) or "rational" to argue that special benefits to heterosexual couples (e.g., marriage) further the states' interest in advancing the best way to raise children (i.e., via a man and a woman, preferably by natural means). I think this makes a valid point, but obviously, it depends on what you mean by "rational basis." Clearly, if this was some law regulating widgets, the test would be less strict.

Let's be honest here. Justice Rehnquist sometimes asks when an advocate talks about how a law is "irrational," if s/he means the legislators who wrote it were basically crazy or something. The comment is not only used by conservatives; John Hart Ely (recently deceased) also often noted that it is rather hard to think of a truly irrational law. The only reason a law is not "rational" is because certain interests are deemed illegitimate or the burden inflicted is deemed to harm a protected class or fundamental right. And, this is exactly what is at stake here: classification by sexual orientation and sex/gender is treated differently than classification by say intelligence, and marriage is fundamental civil right. So, the obstacles the state has to climb over might not be "strict" (really hard, as if free speech was at stake), it is more than "rational basis." I'd call it (no, I didn't originate the term) "rational basis plus."

The habit of pretending or assuming things are less complex than they really are is not just present in cases like this. For instance, many think the President's general practice is to act irrationally. This leads to people arguing that on subjects like invading Iraq that there is some method to his madness. And, the critics look silly. The better path is to show that your opponents' arguments are on balance unreasonable or problematic. For instance, if you think a "compelling" case is needed to go to war, maybe the case was mixed, but not compelling. You need not exaggerate either side (those totally assured of their validity are leading themselves to the path of ruin or the misguided assurance they denounce in their foes) to win in the end. In fact, you very well might do a better job not doing so.

And, so would be the case in the same sex marriage case ... yes, in some way perhaps the discrimination is rational or enough so that the courts should not second guess the legislature. All the same, given the interests at stake, this is not enough. A closer, but not even a very close, look will show the state's case is a bit too weak to pass muster. Or maybe not ... but this is what is really being done here, and it is misguided to pretend otherwise.
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is a documentary concerning a coup attempt in 2002 against the controversial populist leader in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez. The film does not really do a great job putting the coup in context, though it does give you an idea why Chavez was so popular (the documentary was originally going to be about Chavez himself, but then the coup happened while they were down there). The official site alone supplies a timeline of the coup that suggests a complexity not supplied in the film itself. All the same, the documentary gives one an amazing "you are there" look at how the government was seized, misinformation sent, and (this appears to be rare overall) the official government was able to seize back power in the end. It must have been amazing to be a part of it all.

And, though the movie just hints at it, it was not a high point of the Bush Presidency when it at first made noises supporting the coup, accepted (according to the documentary's take) misinformation, and was not that concerned that a democratically supported government was overturned. This probably did not invite good feelings when Chavez returned to power a couple days later.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Thoughts: More on the Same Sex Marriage Decision, Feith Memo on Al Qaeda links (link to Talking Points Memo, see also, BTC News today), a response to comments on juries determining sanity, and to thoughtful comments on dividing the Ninth Circuit and judicial nomination wars per se.

[Update: I got some interesting replies to my Same Sex Marriage Post, many in opposition, leading me to try to defend my case. I was clearly annoyed with some of the arguments, since they went much further than the case at issue, and were on some level just plain wrong. Still, I understand the argument against judicial involvement, but basic equality is at stake here. The argument (or fear) that the net result will be a backlash is understandable as well, though is not the state involved more liberal than most? And, back in the 1940s, a California court struck down a miscegenation law, long before the Supreme Court did. The sky did not fall. Perhaps, the public debate (yes, even in an election year) this forces is a good thing.

On the other hand, another reply reflected the fact that many are deep down willing to accept equity for homosexuals, but are hesitant to "legitimatize" them. Thus, perhaps, "marriage" is a too culturally laden term, and the Vermont "domestic unions" path is a better way to go. Cultural acceptance cannot be supplied by the courts, only legal rights, and "marriage" is as symbolic/cultural as it is legal. I hope this would be acceptable to the court, especially since their is rumblings of a constitutional amendment to overrule the decision.

Finally, one reply supplied an interesting reason against the ruling ... I didn't buy it, but interesting all the same. It was a natural law argument, but that can be used to support the ruling too. It is only selective argument that allows natural law or religion to only be used to oppose this sort of thing.]
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Holds Ban on Same Sex Marriage Unconstitutional: "Barred access to the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage, a person who enters into an intimate, exclusive union with another of the same sex is arbitrarily deprived of membership in one of our community's most rewarding and cherished institutions. That exclusion is incompatible with the constitutional principles of respect for individual autonomy and equality under law." (ruling) (see also here and here (Nov. 18) and some good news articles here)

How do we judge such a decision? One important thing to do is to note that it is a state law decision, one that factored in state constitutional commands and practices. For instance, other states do not have similar anti-discrimination laws and acceptance of same sex couple adoptions. Or they might have explicitly anti-homosexual clauses in their constitutions (as Hawaii, recently amended, does). Likewise, there is a fear that such rulings will spread, like some kind of contagion (horrors!). Thus, the latter link argues that it will encourage a federal marriage amendment (aka a federal marriage discrimination amendment), which will inhibit legislative and societal change. Of course, there is no guarantee (especially given the Defense of Marriage Act) that other states will have to accept gay marriages authorized by other states, and even Massachusetts can amend its constitution to stop state decisions of this sort. But, yes, hysteria is a possible consequence, especially in areas where anti-gay religious sentiment dominates.

Rulings such as these make sense and use reasonable application of basic constitutional themes. The best way to go is a "take it slow" technique, and the Court did give the state six months to respond. Furthermore, Massachusetts is a fairly liberal state (Vermont, where this also basically occurred, is libertarian; Hawaii is liberal as well), so it has that going for it as well. Still, it is troubling when a major change of this sort occurs via a 4-3 ruling, the minority arguing that child rearing concerns are valid enough to justify the classification and that equal deprivation is not a violation of equal protection (both men and women must marry the opposite sex and no matter what sexual orientation you are, you can marry). I find such reasoning a tad bit specious (to put it mildly), but remember Loving v. Virginia (laws against miscegenation are unconstitutional) was unanimous.

We also have the "slippery slope" sort of arguments that we heard when the Supreme Court barred laws against homosexual sodomy. Mostly tedious though broadly reasonable in a "taken to its logical conclusion, if the world actually worked that way" way. For instance, "see, anti-discrimination laws, including the ERA, can be read to justify and/or assist homosexuals, including homosexual marriage." Yes, one stone of the wall and only the concurrence focused on equal protection of sex/gender. The concurrence was correct to argue that discrimination by sexual orientation usually results in discrimination by sex, partly because the latter is based on sexual stereotypes. It is not a broadly accepted view all the same.

As to the argument that now multiple marriages and incestuous marriages, explain to me how discrimination by sexual orientation is valid comparably as discrimination by those two criteria. For instance, where is the acceptance and anti-discrimination laws of such conduct? Yes, some religions (such as dissident Mormon sects) support polygamy and some forms of incest are rather tenuous (how about fifth cousins?), but it does not take too much to differentiate them from same sex relationships. Many support a basic right of privacy or individual liberty, even those against homosexual marriage, even though it might taken to its logical conclusion involve consensual use of drugs. Protections would be mightily limited if slippery slopes ruled the day, no matter what side you are on. [For instance, if you are against abortion, why allow it for woman's health?]

Massachusetts' constitution logically was read to ban discrimination. The state was given six months to adapt, though apparently (see today's discussion of the case here) there is not enough time to amend the document, which is troubling. All the same, the ruling was a good one, though the response might not be. All the same, naive as it might be, I share the sentiment of the concurrence:

"I am hopeful that our decision will be accepted by those thoughtful citizens who believe that same-sex unions should not be approved by the State. I am not referring here to acceptance in the sense of grudging acknowledgment of the court's authority to adjudicate the matter. My hope is more liberating. The plaintiffs are members of our community, our neighbors, our coworkers, our friends. As pointed out by the court, their professions include investment advisor, computer engineer, teacher, therapist, and lawyer. The plaintiffs volunteer in our schools, worship beside us in our religious houses, and have children who play with our children, to mention just a few ordinary daily contacts. We share a common humanity and participate together in the social contract that is the foundation of our Commonwealth. Simple principles of decency dictate that we extend to the plaintiffs, and to their new status, full acceptance, tolerance, and respect. We should do so because it is the right thing to do."

[Update: Looking at the news coverage, we find out that: "President Bush denounced Tuesday's ruling. 'Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman,' he said in London. 'Today's decision ... violates this important principle.'" This was not surprising, but even if you agree with it, look at it a bit closely. Is it really the state's role to determine what is "sacred?" I don't think so. Does the President think those religions that do feel same sex marriages are 'sacred,' are wrong and have no right to be honored by the state? Does he have a set of guidelines to determine what is and is not sacred? Just curious. As the ruling said, when it boils down to it, we are talking about a licensing statute. The sacred nature of the marriage is a private religious matter, one arguably often not present is marriages today or in the past.]

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Republican Dissent and Rumblings re Iraq: Michelle Goldberg has some good comments about the abyss possible (or rather existing) in Iraq in her recent Salon column about her presence at a Republican retreat. Said one member:

"The premise that people would want passionately to be rescued is of course in question," he said. In fighting the Iraq insurgency, "We're going to kill a lot of Iraqis and restrict their movement. We may well become a guerrilla-manufacturing machine."

and ...

"Our goal is not a free Iraq," Pipes continued. "Our goal is an Iraq that does not endanger us."

The operative word being "us."

[I list Slate on my list of links because I find its content, especially it's reader comment section ['the fray," which often is more useful than the actual articles ... BTC is authored by a consistent contributor] worthwhile enough that I focus an unequal amount of my time there. Salon actually also has a lot going for it, but it is not quite free -- you are required to get a "one day free passe," which is inconvenient, but relatively painless, and can be done repeatedly. Current content suggests that it should be.]

Monday, November 17, 2003

Need to find a church? Well though the Catholic Church has a new trick or two up it's sleeve to determine marital compatibility, the Beer Church has a lot going for it:

"For each and every one of you, your own appreciation of beer is something deeply personal. The appreciation of Beer is also something that is universal. Beer Church is about the relationship of the two; your personal affection for beer, and humanity's overwhelming love of Beer. Beer Church is a celebration of Beer (with a capital "B"). Beer Church represents the "something larger than yourself" to which you belong by virtue of your very personal love for beer. Beer Church is about the one thing that we all have in common, regardless of all of our other differences. Something we all believe in. Beer.

Any gender, any sexual preference, any nationality, any shoe size or hair style; beer drinkers of the world are all part of something much larger than themselves. They are part of a loosely connected, diverse social group of countless individuals all around the world, with at least one thing in common. Beer. And sure, someone might be able to say the same thing about cheese, or coffee, or many other things, but we didn't. We said it about beer. And because you know the difference, you are one of us. You are Beer Church."

Anyway, mixed reviews aside, Looney Toons: Back In Action was a fun movie. I could do without the twelve minutes of "pre-show" entertainment, which included five commercials, five previews, and about a half minute of theater (no talking, etc.) stuff. The current practice of commercials, overproduced and expensive they might be, is surely one of the nadirs of current movie going experience. I am not totally sure why we need extended end credits (this one has a closing joke afterwards for those who stuck around, like I always do) with details such as catering and on the set tutoring, but commercials is a bit too tv for me.

As to the movie itself, Brendan Fraser was right ... this is no Space Jam. Its energy level and mentality is consistently on the cartoon level with many nifty in jokes for adults (who grew up watching this stuff, after all, more so than the children they take with them). Fraser and Steve Martin (as the head of the Acme Corporation) are very good, though Jenna Elfman is rather stiff. There was a bunch of cameos, including some genre favs (Leo Rossi has a nonspeaking role as an Acme lackey), but Wile E. Coyote isn't on screen enough, I think. Joan Cusack has another zany role, the sort she does best. The "inside paintings" scene is a wonder to behold, but more importantly, more often than not, the scenes are fun and loyal to the characters. The final battle scene between Bugs and Daffy vs. the Martian was fun as well.

Much better than a full length takeoff of shorts has any right to be, especially with the mixture of animation with live action. Fun stuff.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Giants lose ... do I hear hammering? Yes, the nails on their coffin. Bengals do it ... they are the ones who give KC their first loss, like the lowly Giants did a few years ago when Denver was but a few games from a perfect record. A day of toughly played games (outside of Philly and Cleveland) so far. Buffalo had the "don't see this every Sunday" line of 2 3 3 2, two safeties and field goals.

And, the Jets' defense again cannot stop 4th and Goal at the line, adding another collapse at the end of the Half. This sort of play is why I can't relax today! See here.
Sunday News Items: Telling families soldiers have died, the death of a loyal fan, and the charity of a leader of the team for which she rooted.

A few of my own comments. The first piece is an eloquent piece that can be read no matter what your position is, though it's easy to use it in an ant-war way. I heard the fan in question on talk radio, and it was sometimes hard to take given her illness and hacking cough. Sad case, she died too long, but it is a good human interest story of an ordinary person getting her little chance to shine. The final story regards Al Leiter, surely one of those athletes that makes caring about adults playing children games worthwhile. It is unfortunate (lol) that he is a Republican, since I can easily see him going into politics some day as he himself has admitted is an interest of his.

The Weekly Standard leaked a memo to the Senate Intelligence Committee that suggests there is strong proof that Saddam Hussein and Al Qaida has had strong connections over the years. This would dispel the consistent criticism, one that even President Bush has basically admitted was accurate to some degree, that such links were exaggerated. Or were basically "lies." My philosophy in areas like this was that speaking in absolutes were a bad idea and that the ultimate test was twofold: (1) were the connections not just present (the organization so diffuse, I think some connections or meetings could have existed) but significant enough to be considered "major" and (2) on a cost/benefit level, was the choices made to go to war correct?

The reply to the article was tentative, but many doubted the source, argued the evidence was rough, that the Defense Department and others on the Senate Intelligence Committee weren't impressed, it serves as an example of the selective concern of the administration for secrecy, and that other countries still had much more major connections anyway. See, for instance, here (Nov. 15) and here.

My overall philosophy, though I agree with many of these concerns, is that you got to be careful with absolute attacks and do more than making personal shots at the sources. It is easy to do so when the other side basically taunts you by exaggerating, misleading, lying, and bullying as they make moves that substantively you feel are often at best misguided, at worse dangerous. Still, let's not make the mistake of trying to make shades of grey into black and white. I think this might be such a case ... no connections? I'm doubtful. Major connections? Doubtful as well. Somewhere in between that still was twisted by the administration for their own ends while simplifying a complex situation? Yes ... after all, it seems to be their de facto position on most matters of this sort.

I wrote this as I read some news online while the NY Giants bungled their way through another half. I missed their one score (a field goal on an Eagles mistake), but saw their inability to score on First and Goal on the 1, after quickly getting there once the Eagles fairly easily went up 14-3. Yes, this is not a game worth watching without doing something else. Meanwhile, the Bengals (a player of which guaranteed a win this weekend) are tied at the Half with Kansas City 3-3. The Bengals is a bad team actually showing some life, while the Giants are a mediocre team with the potential for more that has found more and more ways to look pathetic. So it goes.

The Giants have came back from the dead (only to collapse again in the post season) enough times to be more cocky than they really have a right to be. They are really pushing the envelope here, aren't they?
Thoughts: Suggesting the benefits of online message boards, I questioned and got information from others regarding Dean/Kerry and Clark as well as providing a summary of the judicial nominations wars (ending with some proposed solutions).

Talking about judges ... Barnhart v. Thomas (11/12) was the first ruling handed down by the Supreme Court, striking down a lower court ruling that was in conflict with other circuits. No, it was not a Ninth Circuit ruling (which was cited for its consistency with other circuits on the matter), which was a prime target during the Senate talkathon. The true breadth of the "liberal" nature of the circuit is suspect, of course, when it hands down a ruling that production of machine gun parts is not a matter of interstate commerce, written by one of its conservative wunderkinds.

Anyway, back to the ruling. The ruling involved a federal disability case involving an claimant that could not get a job because the profession she was able to do in her current state was basically obsolete (manual elevator operation). Justice Scalia, writing for an unanimous Court, argued that a literal reading of the law could reasonably mean that being able to do a job is all that is required, not that the job actually exists. [Again, we see that federal legislation is rarely a wonder of clarity and courts disagree on their "obvious" meaning.] The alternative, he suggests, would be to open up the path of people refusing to work or something. Or perhaps make it harder to enforce the law.

The lower court logically noted that the ruling sets up an absurd situation of depriving her of benefits because she is able to do something that doesn't exist. And, yes, as Justice Scalia notes, being able to do the job might serve as a proxy of ability to work at all. The problem, however, is the result here is a Catch 22: being able to do the job, even if it doesn't exist, stops the process. All the lower court gave her was a chance to go to the next step, which would determine if she could work that was available.

This literal, hard nosed, and ultimately unjust reading of public benefit law reminds me of the unanimous ruling against innocent public housing tenants. It also suggests what happens when you do not have even one true liberal in the mode of a Justice Douglas, Brennan, or Marshall.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Master and Commander: I did not read the books, so I cannot say if the movie do not follow their spirit. All the same, I am with Christopher Hitchens on the point that the movie is missing something. It surely does sound like the books, partly because they are 'R' rated in spirit, has more bite. Furthermore, the movie was rather boring for long stretches. Long stretches at sea and (though it might look great) not much interesting period or sight specific sense of detail in the telling. The movie has various stock themes, Russell Crowe's character is actually a bit boring, and a few times it is a bit confusing to tell what exactly is going on. Thumbs down.

I caught Jessica Lynch on Letterman. She looked like a deer caught in headlights, which is a bit surprising since she did have nationally broadcast interviews already. One thing that might have unnerved her a bit was the studio audience, who gave her a standing ovation when after she came on (on crutches), something you don't see every day. Letterman basically had to lead her the whole way, but you can tell he deeply respects people like her (another person he sees in this light is Sen. McCain). And, as Richard Cohen recently said in a column, I respect her as well. She, understandably given the usual propaganda of war, has been used as a "hero," (she calls herself a "survivor") but no matter how much her story has been mischaracterized, the fact is she is a hero. And, she has made an effort to not help spread the more fictitious stories.

[Update: As noted by Salon, this low key, taciturn interview style has been her style, even with the more obtrusive Diane Sawyer.]

Lynch might have been used by the administration and its supporters in a cynical way, but that is no fault of hers. She just went over, served her country, and nearly died in the process. One reason she did not, and Lynch reaffirmed this on Letterman, was that Iraqi medical staff and others helped her. Her best friend (a Hopi) was not so lucky; she died over there. It is the harm to people like these that truly is why I am so appalled at the missteps involved in this damn war. I too applaud your efforts ... damn if our leadership doesn't serve us as well as you do.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Talkathon Over ... nothing changes. Oh, Sen. Zell Miller ("D") made an ass out of himself, comparing the effort against Justice Janice Rogers Brown to a lynching, but his support for the re-election of President Bush (like come on man! Sen. Lieberman is running!) made him persona non grata to many Democrats anyway. In the end, it is like the Republicans made themselves look foolish, given they again failed to get a cloture vote and the whole thing looked liked a staged waste of time. The big show of bringing out cots beforehand suggested as much:

"Republicans very much wanted the cots [which in the end were not really unused], with their implicit message of physical discomfort and commitment. On Wednesday, in the presence of a large press contingent, they had 10 cots installed in the Strom Thurmond Room, named for the South Carolina senator who in 1957 famously held the floor single-handedly for 24 hours 18 minutes to oppose a civil rights bill, a record still unmatched."

I also do not think any reminder of Strom Thurmond in this context was a good thing, though again, the conservative sorts this whole thing was primarily meant to satisfy might have appreciated the symbolism. For those just annoyed at the Democrats getting a small victory by blocking the nominations (something Republicans used to do quietly via the now revoked power to hold up nominations in committee), having to stay around for forty or so hours while the Democrats repeatedly railed against them, probably did not seem worth it given the net result.
More on the C-SPAN talkathon. The Senate Republicans figured that thirty hours of repetitive politically motivated theater was not enough, so even after thirty hours, they are still at it. On the other hand, maybe the Democrats are getting a bit tired. Assistant Minority Leader Sen. Reid (NV) a little after midnight was down to citing the number of suicides that occurred during the whole thing, one more thing they could have been talking about besides this whole affair. When he noted his own father committed suicide, well, that might have been one of those "too much information" moments.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Reviews: West Wing was quite good tonight. Matthew Perry again was excellent, suggesting the "Ainsley Hayes" conservative slot on the show should be used more often. One reason why it was good was because it something going on beside malaise. It had that, but it had more too, including a good subplot about the Chief Justice that was a payoff of repeated references sprinkled into various episodes about his slow mental disintegration.

On the other hand, In the Cut was ridiculous. I liked or respected past films by Jane Campion. Meg Ryan looks pretty sexy nude and did pretty well with the material with which she was dealt. It is rare to find a film with even a hint of a penis (admittedly, female frontal nudity generally stops at the chest) and Campion doesn't disappoint there. Also, I'm sure the film was meant to have some deep, feminist, and/or intricately psychological point of view about sexuality. So be it. The movie was boring, pretentious, stereotypical, and ridiculous. It annoyed me because the presence of serious portrayal of sexuality is rather rare in wide release films and this effort did not do much to help that.

A halfway good analyst could probably write a social thesis using the film as a subject and the film wasn't total garbage. All the same, it was a waste of the potential to actually say something about the issues while telling a good story. On that level, it was akin to run of the mill straight to video late night thrillers, which also tend to be explicit, have some lame stereotypical supporting characters, and seem attracted to the seedy underside of things. They also at times even provide a useful message or two, the surprising artistic value especially nice given it was unexpected. You expect more of this sort of fare, though perhaps, the pretentious aspects of Campion's past work made it not totally surprising.
"Rookie" of the Year: Two sportswriters left off Hideki Matsui's name off their 2003 AL Rookie of the Year ballots, thus paving the way for Angel Berroa of the Kansas City Royals' to win by a hair. [Matsui would not even had to be first place on both of their ballots, given the winner was determined by four points.] Their reasoning was that someone who spent ten years in Japan, was a multiple MVP over there, and was hired by the Yankees for that very reason was in spirit not a "rookie." This caused some controversy, since technically Matsui is a rookie, given this is his first year of playing American ball.

Oh please. Yes, technically he is a rookie, but also, technically, sportswriters need not vote for the player with the best stats. Like a juror, they can vote their "conscience" so to speak, and cannot be penalized for voting for other reasons. And, one of the two argued that he didn't know if Matsui would be his choice anyway. Sure. It is notable, though, two others left Berroa's name off, so there was some kind of parity in sense all the same. Anyway, Matsui is not a rookie. He is not just an experienced player, he was a superior one, and did so with an elite team in his league. Thus, the true rookie should have an added edge, since he played basically at the same skill level without years of experience to guide him.

A final argument is that this would mean that Jackie Robinson would not have properly been a rookie of the year, given his years in the Negro Leagues. First off, the ability of a pioneer such as he to adapt to the majors is just not comparable to a Japanese player joining the majors years after other Asian players did so, and in a totally different racial climate. I leave aside comparing the skill levels of Negro and modern Japanese baseball, though given his wartime service, I believe Robinson was not in the Negro Leagues for ten years like Matsui was in his league. Finally, if his baseball experience was comparable, no, in a sense, Robinson was not a "rookie."

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Gilmore Girls was excellent tonight. Sometimes I find the show annoying or the characterizations a bit too simplistic (last season had the lousy idea of making Paris' losing her virginity serve as a way to totally embarass her, while Rory shined as the innocent and supportive one), but the basic power of the writing and characters continue to make it eminently watchable. All the same, there seems to be a few episodes in which special effort was given to the screenplay, and the excellence of the writing particularly shines. Tonight was one such night, especially two extended dinner scenes where the wit, characters, and fast pace nature of the show's dialogue truly stood out. I could imagine it being in some witty play. It is one of those moments where television actually seems artistic, lol.

Rory also seems more mature these days, as portrayed by Alexis Bleidel (btw she is only a couple years older than the character, as compared to the actress who plays Paris). This adds to the show, I think, because it takes us in a new direction, making us see her in a new light. Since the mom/daughter relationship is so central to the show, I was wondering how they would handle having Rory away at Yale. The way to do this is to continue to have the two together a lot, which is reasonable since Yale is a fairly close driving distance to her home (as compared to Harvard). All the same, we get a few shades of college life as well. It's working rather well thus far.

The upcoming (Wed Night) "talkathon" or "anti-filibuster" sponsored (so to speak) by the Republicans in the Senate to show conservative activists that they care that Democrats are making a fuss about a few judicial appointments is pretty amusing in a way. It sounds like the making of good theater and something to watch late at night, given the dearth of good repeats and late night porn. It is a cynical power play of sorts all the same, of course, and I give my .02 over here. All the same, I find the average person does not care much about it, or is tired of the whole thing. And, I had trouble finding much about it (it starts tomorrow night after all) in the blog universe. Oh well, let's see how it goes.
My Veteran's Day post.

Monday, November 10, 2003

An excellent essay about Sylvia by someone who did not see the film at the time of writing it can be found here. Readers are well advised to use the "more by user" feature, since there is a consistence excellence to his writing and reasoned thought that is often remarkable.

Chicago acted to settle a long standing lawsuit involving panhandlers. The problem: "Currently you can't have a blanket ban on panhandling like that," said Jennifer Hoyle, spokeswoman for the city's Law Department. "It's considered a limit on commercial speech." Those who have been ticketed can obtain $50, arrested $400. Of course, when dealing with this group, it is hard to deliver.

I would suggest going around and putting money in their cups. Panhandlers also can milk the settlement: promote their newly obtained status as fighters in support of the First Amendment. Panhandling is as popular, after all, as another group whose commercial speech rights are being threatened: telemarketers. Seriously, panhandlers have always provided an important resource -- putting a human face on the ills of society as well as allowing us to personally and directly attempt to deal with the problem. I do not think giving panhandlers money is always the best way to help them (but damn if the city, as NYC does through advertising, suggests I cannot decide to spend my money thusly), but covering up the problem by basically banning them (selectively enforced, of course) is not the solution either.

A nod, a bit early, to all those veterans out there, including those in active service. The LA Times had a pair of valuable stories on those currently fighting the imperfect fight in Iraq today. One gives a measured look at the morale of the troops, basically it is better than one can expect, and troubled in some ways as is understandable. Another article discusses those injured, a group we rarely hear about, many of whom owe their lives to improved battle armor. Veteran's Day is scheduled on the official date that WWI ended, a war with many tragedies for often worthless ends. Thus, I think it proper to honor veterans on this day while still remembering how much a mess war all too often turns out to be.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Thoughts: The presidential caucus/primary season is but a couple months away, but it still seems too early to start worrying about things. These things do tend to come up and bite ya, if you aren't careful though. I add to the discussion here, arguing that a new rule change might not only lead to a brokered convention, but might help Kerry (someone else responds, continuing a theme of his, and arguing otherwise).

I also suggest that libertarians (and others) might support a Democratic win because the Republican opposition would better serve as a check. This makes sense, since those friendly with the Democrats are accused of unfairly criticizing this administration selectively. This might be true, but other than the Republicans being in power now, it is only natural to be more harsh to those you trust/disagree with less. This is the value of a "loyal opposition." This is hard for some to accept, as shown by the replies which basically write off the whole Republican Party for what I believe are the wrongs of one wing of it. This tendency to demonize the opposition, shown especially on political message boards, troubles me, and I'm no evenhanded soul myself in that department.

Football: Beware of games in which you are heavily favored, especially if you are going against desperate teams. The Giants played horrible against 1-7 Atlanta, who beat them last year without Michael Vick, and beat them this year as well (now they are 2-7). This game unfortunately did not knock them out of contention, so fans have to bear with them some more, waiting for them to again show their talent, so they can again mess up for one last time. The Jets beat Oakland, but it took a 21-10/24-24 turnaround in the Fourth Quarter to do so, and this time the kicker did his job. An overtime win is always nice, but the history (and early whipping in this very game) between these teams made it even more sweet. The Jets might be 3-6, but fans still have a reason to watch the games -- pride and games like this.

Movies: I am not really a big fan of poetry, since I tend to enjoy poetry in prose more, nor do I know very much about Sylvia Plath. One thing I did learn when I read about the film Sylvia was that those who study her are often divided into two groups: those who are more sympathetic to her, and those who are more sympathetic to her husband. This involves those trying to determine why she committed suicide at a young age, which I found a bit strange, since given her history (she tried to commit suicide before she met him), it appears that Plath had some predilection to it either way. Blaming either, unless somehow their general flaws or decisions were so different from typical of the era to warrant notice (I have my doubts), seems silly. Of course, I know nearly nothing of the background, so who am I to say?

Not knowing much about the background is actually useful in a way when you watch a based on reality film such as this. I do think that films have some responsibility not to twist the truth too much, especially since many do formulate their views on reality from them (unconsciously or not), and knowing the background story does affect how one accepts a film. To take an extreme case, no matter how superior as an art form JFK might be, conspiracy theory twisting of fact such as that bothers me.

Anyway, the thing that stood out about Sylvia was the Oscar nomination worthy performance of Gwyneth Paltrow, who had a bit of an uphill battle given the film seemed underwritten and without a full picture of the characters (mainly Plath and her husband, Ted Hughes). This made the film somewhat flawed, but Paltrow's performance as well as an excellent sense of mood and place surely made it worth watching.

As some reviews note, the screenplay leaves open a lot of questions, even in the limited area of the film (mainly the couple's relationship and Plath's slow loss of control, which the film implies were somewhat closely entwined, especially at the very end), so it is an imperfect work. Also, I too think's Palthrow's real life mother shines in the one scene she is in, playing Plath's mother. Jared Harris as a literary critic and Michael Gambon as her neighbor are also very good in small roles. Finally, is that her in the nude scenes? I wonder. [Plath's sexuality is apparently key to her personality; it is said to be strong and more daring than others of her generation in the c. 1960 era of her adulthood.]

Friday, November 07, 2003

The penchant for the critics of the administration and its supporters (and de facto syncophants, such as those who let him invade Iraq and pooh pooh about the problems involved after the fact, but then vote for his $87B funding bill, only to let it be passed via voice vote so they aren't too public about it, and so forth) to lash back is understandable, but still somewhat troubling.

"Lies," Memory Holes, and Whitewashing touches upon this fact. For instance, I quote someone who specifies what exactly he means by "lies," which turns out to be broader than a common definition of the term might involve. This adds fuel to the other side, but it's not necessary, is it? The "lies" in many cases quite arguably are that; other times they are misleading enough to be wrong on that ground alone. Let's not fall into the trap of being as simplistic as we accuse those we criticize of being.

The same by the way, and I know politics is all about turning up the sound sometimes, in other battles. For instance, Justice Janice Rogers Brown is the latest controversial nominee to be opposed by the Democrats (came out of committee 10-9). Clearly, her tone, strong views (which she publicly promoted in speeches using language meant to excite), and strategic importance (selection to the DC Circuit, possible short list to Supreme Court) all give Democrats valid reasons to oppose her.

One needs not use hyperbole, such as railing on her guarded support of Lochner v. N.Y., a controversial early 20th Century ruling that honored economic rights, here the right of a bakery employee to work over ten hours or so. This line of cases also struck down minimum wage laws, union protection laws, and many more instances firmly supported these days. All the same, the ultimate core of the decision was honoring property rights via a higher standard of review. Quite arguably, property rights sometimes are slighted these days, and some of the controversial cases where Justice Brown honored property can be defended, and were not solo dissents. You can disagree without going the route of Senator Schumer and suggesting any support of Lochner was basically totally unreasonable for a judicial nominee.

'Places I Never Meant to Be' edited by Judy Blume is an excellent collection of "Original Stories by Censored Writers" for teenagers. It suggests not only is teenage fiction excellent as literature, but is not just for teenagers. Each writer had their work censored in some fashion and follow their stories with a little essay about censorship. On the Fringe edited by Donald R. Gallo is also another excellent collection of short stories concerning teenagers in crisis, this time not critical moments per se, but outcasts who each have their own story and burdens to bear. Both are a good way to take a taste of many writers and get some insights about teenagers in the process.

[Ironically, given the theme of the first book, two education majors who reviewed it on the Amazon.com site didn't like the second one because of the bad language in it! It makes you fear the future of education or wonder if they don't curse down in Mississipi.]

Thursday, November 06, 2003

In the News Update: The UN took Door Number Three ... the cloning issue was punted for a couple years. As to partial birth abortion, a major abortion provider was given a temporary restraining order by a NY federal district judge, which makes two in what is likely to be numerous ones of the kind. Of interest in the ruling is a statement by the government that Congress did not suggest there is no medical debate on the "health" need of the banned procedure. This is important because it read the Stenberg v Carhart ruling that overturned a state law to mean that serious debate in the medical community that the procedure was less risky was all that was necessary for it to be constitutionally required as an option.

Also, there was an article about the use of lingerie in France, which noted: "Lingerie is so important to a French woman's sexual self-esteem, it seems, that only 3 percent of French women believe they are seductive in the nude." Amusing, but actually it is a generally accepted concept -- nudity per se is not as seductive as clothes that hint but don't totally expose sexuality. It is because certain body parts are hidden that makes them so sexual. The seductive nature of breasts in a society in which they are always exposed is likely to be low. Also, the normal person has flaws, and just laying them all out is not really that sexy in many cases. This means even a little bit of fabric can lead to a more sexual result than total nudity.

Thinking about presents for the holidays? I got an advertisement in the mail that suggests tooth whitening would be an excellent Christmas present. I think not ... the guys I know do not care that much about their teeth and the women might should be a tad insulted if I implied that they needed it. Some ideas (since, like it or not, the time is approaching): money boxes or trees (I got one for my nephew last year ... little kids love money), food (early on, my mom just loved English Toffee, as did the rest of us who sampled it; my sisters like coffees and teas), gift cards or certificates (boring, but some people are too hard to buy for or even like them), books (excellent, including those cute bears, some of which have chocolate in their backpacks), cute catalogue thingies (catalog shoppers know of what I speak), and calendars (loads of themes, including the small desktop daily ones ... for instance, each day I have a For Better or For Worse cartoon to read).

btw I'm getting a bit tired at the continuing sense of anomie on West Wing. It's getting boring and truly depressing. Yes, it is honest and accurate in the wake of the kidnapping of the President's daughter and the "lame duck" blues, but it has to be laid on a tad less thick. Please.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

In the News: Some stuff in the news caught my eye, so let me briefly comment on them. First off, one ongoing thing I have commented on is the partial birth abortion ban (see, e.g., Oct. 23). It was signed into law and immediately a temporary restraining order by a Nebraska federal judge (an arguably quite similar state ban in Nebraska was struck down by the Supreme Court). So, I ask, just what is the point of it all?

Meanwhile, Bush is pushing the UN to totally ban cloning, as compared to just banning reproductive cloning. An alternate plan would leave the decision of therapeutic cloning up to individual nations or just do nothing for a couple years. It seemed shall we say (if we want to be nice) a bit ironic that the U.S. wants to push the U.N. to set moral restraints that are surely not universal, given the second option is supported by nations such as Great Britain. After all, in areas such as international justice, the environment, and even trade the U.S. is loathe to join such conventions because they threaten our sovereignty and force us to go along with the wishes of others. Or perhaps they try to do too much, such as conventions to support women that might in some way conceivably support abortion rights. This does not seem that, shall we say consistent, does it?

Is it "a political triumph political triumph for the anti-abortion movement, a reflection of its influence with a Republican-controlled Congress and a Republican president" and "a validation of the movement's long-term strategy of incrementalism, restricting abortion step by step?" If so, if it is just suspended by the courts, what is the ultimate point? More heat? More of the same? A symbol that helps push along less emotional restrictions or other symbolic measures? One thing it does not really seem to be is a path to a constructive middle ground. Legislation with a "health" exception would have done that. But, perhaps, a middle ground is not what those in power want.

CBS also decided to not air a Reagan biopic that conservative critics, from what they saw and heard about it, soundly criticized. As the NYT noted yesterday: "CBS's decision to hand the program off to the Showtime cable channel will leave it with a far smaller audience. Cable TV seems to have become the home of any programming with the least hint of political controversy. Meanwhile, the networks grow increasingly brave about broadcasting shows featuring lingerie models parading in the latest fashions, and ordinary people competing for cash by eating live insects." Not to worry, though. The story about the rescued female service woman, a prime propaganda event for the administration, will be aired. How about just not watching what you do not like? I believed that was the idea around here. See also, here.

William Safire on the same page as the CBS comments quoted above had a column on Putin's current selective campaign against Russian mafia that threatens his political power. He ends with this comment: "Which side to root for in the struggle for Russia's political soul: oligarchy or siloviki? Which door: the Lady or the Tiger? I remember the same choice in the war between Iran and Iraq. We can root only for both sides to lose." It made me think ... we actually did not do this. We rooted for Iraq more, helping Saddam increase power and prestige, and continued to assist him when we knew he was killing Kurds. Our selective memory now forgets this fact, blaming him for invasion and genocide as if he didn't have help.

Some interesting stuff: abortion's loaded language (written by the paper's ombudsman, an excellent concept), just how conservative is the Pledge?, and the book Food, Inc. by Peter Pringle. It is about genetically modified foods and besides being quick reading, it is evenhanded -- concern with guarded optimism about its potential.

Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde recently came out on video and DVD. It was derivative, wasted the talents of such people as Bob Newhart, but did have a few good lines. Three of the lesser supporting cast members did the DVD commentary, and this is the way to watch the film ... at home, where you can make fun of it ala Mystery Science Theater 3000. As a time waster, this is the best way to go. Oh, they left out Elle's friend's dog. They put in a cameo for her husband and son, but leave out the dog, even though the film is about Elle going to DC to fight animal cosmetic testing [the film is a victim of the "not serious enough to carry such a serious theme" disease, Distinguished Gentlemen is also a victim]. This is a bit annoying.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Happy birthday ... literally ... Harry Joseph Letterman. From AP: "Letterman, 56, said the baby - his first child - is named after his father, Harry Joseph Letterman, who died at 57." The news just came out, though we first found out about it when Paul Shafer guest host on the show last night because Dave was otherwise engaged. I did not think Regina Lasko was that far along. Anyway, the report said it was born "late Monday Night" ... a late show, hmm? [It was born 11:58PM last night. That baby has a sense of timing!]

Conan O'Brien's wife recently gave birth and Letterman was nice enough to welcome her into the world. I guess it's a good time for late night hosts to have their first child. [I just saw his first night back. Dave is great when he is on, and he was tonight. In honor of the birth, he brought on his "special guest," Regis Philbin, who he clearly respects highly, and made it apparent tonight. This sort of show suggests why I think he trumps Leno, ratings aside.]

Reflection: The way to survival in this world, especially on bad days, is not to take things too serious or at least find some humor in it all. It is good, for instance, to appreciate at least the irony or basic stupidity even in the worse things in life. You might laugh sadly, but laugh you do. I find that each day is likely to have some nice moment, a moment of pure joy, which makes even the most mundane day have that little bit of shine. Now, most days have more than one of these moments, but even one makes life worth living, not to be too melodramatic. I feel deep sorrow for those who lives are so bad that they truly do not have such moments or the moments are so overtaken by other events that it amounts to the same thing.

One fun way to enjoy life is the idea of double meanings to generally innocent events or comments. For instance, I used to listen to a radio show in which there were many "in" code words and images that made the audience seem to be like one big family. Part of this was to avoid censors; for instance, oral sex was said to be giving or receiving an "atta girl," arising from one poor soul who got in trouble for saying that to his g/f after she did the deed. This also happens, of course, in our day to day life with friends, family, and loved ones. An ongoing joke with a friend of mine led me to laugh out loud about a line about a butterfly's habits.

Thanks ... to the author of BTC News (see links) for the link to my humble blog ... yours is a worthy addition to the blog universe.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Happy birthday Michael Dukakis (b. 1933).

What was he thinking moment: The Jets fumbled/intercepted their way to a 31-28 overtime loss yesterday, while the Giants are undergoing their now annual November/December game of catch-up, which might be a bit harder given one too many bad losses early. Luck is also going their way ... last time it was a blocked punt that was retrieved and ran in for a first down. This time it was a two point conversion attempt that was actually successfully converted. And, good for them, since the Jets came back from a two touchdown deficit late. The Giants missed a 39yd field goal attempt in OT and time was running out with a tie seeming more and more likely.

And then, the Jets did something else that was stupid ... this seems to be an ongoing theme for them this year. Chad and company scored twice in the last six minutes or so, tying the game with less than thirty seconds left. They were driving again, given a second life after the Giants kicking team performed up to par (that is, below it), and it was Fourth and a few yards. Their kicking team was nothing to write home about would have to convert a fifty one yarder ... the last time the guy (who missed two extra points last year for the Vikings) made a comparable attempt was years ago. The worse that could happen if they went for it would be that the Giants would start on around the 30 yard line. This really is not good field condition, and a failed kick would only mean they would have it better. Oh, and the Jets already made two fourth downs.

Of course, they decide to go for the kick. And, take their sweet time about it. Thus, they don't even miss, but have it blocked, looking bad doing it. In a way, this was better, because the ball wound up farther away than the spot of the kick, but it gave new life to the Giants and took the air out of the Jets. At 2-5 (at the time), why not risk the Fourth Down, given the kick was unlikely to result in a positive outcome? In a somewhat similar position, the Houston Texans went for a risky win at the Goal Line instead of a tie (or 7 instead of 3 later when they played the Jets), and feeded off the success. Playing scared, like Fassel did when he didn't let the time tick away vs. Dallas (giving them time to score) because he remembered what happen to the kicker in the playoffs turned out to bite them. And, I just knew it was a stupid decision at the time.

It was one of those WHAT WERE THEY THINKING moments. Oh, and, assurances otherwise aside, Bobby Valentine did take a job managing the Chiba Lions. Sports figures and contracts are akin to politicians and re-election decisions.

Thoughts: This weekend and today provided me with some fuel for thought. File sharing and safer elections, Leno v. Letterman, and Dean and the Confederate Flag are some things that I found interesting.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Movie: Bubba Ho-Tep is an off the wall little film that suggests you can find serious material in some of the least likely places. The film concerns a soul stealing mummy invading a Texas nursing home, and a pair of residents who find out and fight back. The serious undertone comes when the film deals with the struggles of the elderly residents, sick, alone, and wistful. One would not expect such complex material when one finds out that the protagonist is Elvis Presley (he changed places with an impersonator) and his backup claims to be JFK (painted black ... Ossie Davis plays him). Bruce Campbell of Evil Dead fame plays it totally straight , the dreary view of the nursing home is well portrayed, and the movie on the whole is really a serious work, putting aside some of its silliness. The movie at its heart is a character study and deserves wider release.