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

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Entertainment News: Janet Jackson was on David Letterman last night clearly not wanting to go into the whole "issue," but Dave basically forced her to do so -- it made him look like a bit of an ass. Kathy Griffin was amusing in her "D-List" stand-up show that aired on Bravo. And on the bittersweet movie front, you have God Said, "HA!" (Julia Sweeney shows the value of laughing since crying is harder, while talking about both her brother and herself getting cancer, one dying) on cable/video and Wilbur Wants To Kill Himself, another whimsical but serious tale from across the pond, and in theaters over here now.

On the sports front, the first official game of the baseball season (Yankee/Tampa Bay, Japan) was not quite worth getting up at 5AM EST to watch/listen (I caught the end at around 7:30), unless you were entertained by the 8-3 drubbing the Yanks got with one of their new relievers getting hurt for good measure. Tampa is the king of the world, for a day at least. [Update: They lost 12-1 the next day.] Finally, the season overview was supplied by my local paper, and the NY Mets was predicted to have about 75-82 wins ... a significant improvement that will require better defense than they are showing in the Grapefruit League.


Dr. Rice Update/ The Bush Principle Upheld [My Discussion]; Liberal "Air America" radio starts tomorrow.


Legal: A relatively minor border search ruling was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court today, one in which even the lawyer who lost admits wasn't too serious. Of more importance, is an extension of the "protective sweeps" exception to the Fourth Amendment beyond arrests that the Fifth Circuit handed down recently. Thanks to a reader for pointing it out; my second thoughts on the matter can be found here. The Fifth is a sort of conservative Ninth, though less often the subject of such scorn. The Supreme Court also protected our privacy from conspiracy buffs wanting sensitive crime scene photos. Good reference to Greek mythology.

Monday, March 29, 2004

A Bit More: On Thursday, I linked to my post finding fault with the bill to protect the unborn from violence by calling them "children" with penalties equivalent to harm to the mother (death penalty excepted). William Saletan challenged my point of view in part by noting the alternative that I supported did not mention the unborn at all. I respond here and here. He has a point, but not only is it not as great as he implies, it's expressed in a flawed way. And so it goes.
Richard Clarke Report: Clarkegate (grin) is a clear example of how Kerry (whose 1971 Dick Cavett appearance was re-aired on C-SPAN over the weekend; pretty impressive though his opponent was a bit too ad hominem and kneejerk to serve as a proper foil) has to take a "don't foul things up" strategy. Clarke continued to impress, putting out his far from controversial (see here and here) case and calmly answering critics.

And what lame ass critics. We have the Senator Majority Leader making arguably libelous insinuations. And, Condi Rice refuses to testify under oath, perhaps because she knows what would happen if she did. It's a matter of protecting the executive privilege (and separation of powers) to talk to their national security advisors about policy. The finely tuned "privilege" involved here does not cover: members of the Cabinet, Deputy National Security Advisors, or National Security Advisors not quite talking about policy (see last link). The fact she talked publicly about the matter apparently doesn't breach the privilege either ... as long as she doesn't have to speak publicly to a congressional committee. Oh wait. The 9/11 Commission is a special committee not really a branch of Congress.

Ah for a simpler place. A place where truth prevails, life is more fun, and misguided grown-ups are properly put in their place using logic, persistence, and some creativity. A place of talking dogs and slackers voiced by vegetarian disk jockeys. You know ... the land of Scooby Doo.


Talking About Misguided Grownups: Mark Kleiman helpfully explains how early Christians gave up their lives resisting the "ceremonial deism" of Ancient Rome. A piece education expert Diane Ravitch should read before justifying the use of "under God" in the Pledge because our forefathers (well, George Washington didn't have kids, but you get the idea) honored the principle. The idea, Ms Ravitch, is not that we shouldn't understand what they believed or even read what they said, but that we personally should not be compelled to accept their ultimately religious belief via a form of test oath. Is this THAT complicated? I guess so.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Bell and Whistle Alert: New Google Bar; especially useful to search past entries.

Possession: To follow up an earlier post (3/22) about Possession (book by A.S. Byatt; movie directed by Neil LaBute), let me say that I grew tired of the novel. This doesn't take away the pure skill involved; this is a literary detective story of sorts in which the literary (chunks of it -- poems, fables, letters, biography, and journals of various individuals past and present) is remarkably created from scratch with literary criticism of such creations tossed in for added measure. All the same, I had two problems: first, after a while, I grew tired of the 19th Century literature material. Second, the current day story lost it's way.

The book was just too long for my tastes ... over six hundred pages ... and I grew tired of it after awhile. Someone who appreciated the lit material (that all the same should be tasted for it truly is well done) more might still be troubled. The last third of the book in particular seemed rushed and the relationship between the two main characters could have been fleshed out more. A condensed version with a bit of tweaking has lots of potential, since there is a lot there to like. As is, I felt the whole not as good as the sum (or perhaps some) of its parts. Upon reflection, it also seems that many of the characters were rather unpleasant for one reason or the other, tragic or otherwise.

As to the movie. I re-watched the movie over the weekend and listened to the DVD commentary (well done -- as readers of this blog might know, I am a big fan of good DVD commentary; btw the commentary to School of Rock was a disappointment). The movie was better than I immediately remembered it to be; it came back to me that I disliked it most in regards to a basic component of the 19th Century love story (loyal to the book). On the whole, the movie is a fairly good translation. The 19th Century story (along with the actors in it) is especially good, but even the modern day parts (condensed for the screen, at times a bit roughly) was also good. I particularly was struck by how looking at the faces of the characters was valuable -- slight things like eye blinking or quick glances.

I would say I still think the Aaron Eckhart came off a bit overbearing as the male professor (made an American here), while Gwyneth Paltrow (whose stay in England makes the penchant for putting her in English roles [including, Sylvia] somewhat more defensible ... to the untrained ear [mine], her accent sounds true) came off better. Still, on the whole, the film was a rewarding experience. The basic turnoff (which I will leave to the viewer) was a somewhat personal belief concerning the characters. The final scene was especially charming.

Columnists are certainly entitled to their views. They are free to speculate and suppose. They can draw--or suggest--connections that go beyond just-the-facts reporting. But Safire's recent work--unburdened by factchecking, unchallenged by editors--shows he is more intent on manipulating than interpreting the available information.

-- David Corn, on William Safire's columns on Iraq/Al Qaida connections

"An opinion may be wrongheaded," Safire told me by e-mail last week, "but it is never wrong. A belief or a conviction, no matter how illogical, crackbrained or infuriating, is an idea subject to vigorous dispute but is not an assertion subject to editorial or legal correction." ....

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who would have made an excellent editorial page editor if he could have put up with the meetings, once said that "everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."

-- NYT public editor responds

Standards For Opinion Writers: The spirit behind Corn's words came to mind when I read a column by Zev Chafets earlier concerning how "Clarke makes [the 9/11 Commission] political." The opinion piece, as I was led to say in an email to its author, went further than opinion ... it was akin to a pro-Bush smear job. It mischaracterized what Richard Clarke said, ignored the ugly actions of the Bush camp, and in general put everything in a pro-Bush light that the facts does not bear out. This includes coverage in his own paper. Chafets' sarcastic comments about the Commission itself aren't just unpleasant, but misleading.

As with other columnists, this cannot be just shrugged off as opinion. It is opinion based on misleading and even false facts. As my now deceased senator said, they can have their opinion, but not their own facts. When they try, I am especially upset disgusted, and, yes, I do think editorial correction in some light is necessary. If not, the worth and integrity of the page drops in my estimation. I fully accept that the line is hazy, "facts" are not always clear things, but I am not just talking about weak or even fraudulent implication, which is still opinion. I mean argument, especially weakly backed up implication, based on basically bad facts. And not just one bad fact, several. Opinions are not free from any standards ... I'm not talking about legal action, which even here would likely run into First Amendment problems. I'm talking about ethical and editorial standards. I'm talking about the basic respect I have for the writers.

I have nothing but disdain for stuff such as the linked column. You might disagree, but I hope the above discussion raise questions in general that do not just apply to a particular individual, but in general.

[C-SPAN re-aired an interesting Booknotes, originally aired right before Gulf War II, on an excellent book entitled The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America’s Military by Dana Priest. This seems a fitting place to mention the fact; the transcript and actual video can be found here.]

Saturday, March 27, 2004

We can't take the presidency, but we can take our village.

-- Mayor Jason West, in the news for performing same sex marriages, on Greens winning control of New Paltz, NY

News: I am continuously sickened by the attacks on Richard Clarke. The other side cannot just dispute the critical message of someone whose expertise in the field was used by four presidents. They have to attack his integrity. My personal feelings are well known to my readers, but the most noteworthy thing to me is that this excessive negativity has to turn off less passionately anti-Bush people than I, right?

I have read remarks from those in the middle and yes some supportive of the President in various ways in general who speak about Clarke with respect. Others are troubled by the tone. The problem is that the tone is not atypical ... more and more, we see that it is endemic to an administration many voters honestly believed would be a "uniter not a divider." It has not been ... as Richard Cohen recently said, it might be its greatest failing. One, especially with everything else, that compels us to vote it out of office. [Brad Delong has a lot of good stuff on this issue as well as economic campaign issues like the problematic Medicare law and outsourcing; see, here and here.]

As to the whole gay marriage thing, one thing I was thinking about is that I'm somewhat uneasy that out of state couples are flocking to California to get married (now that the court put out an injunction, presumably people might be going to Oregon or wherever the latest burst of activity might be). It is legitimate in my view for local officials and members of the clergy to challenge the law. All the same, the strongest argument to me is that they are doing so to protect the rights of the citizens of their communities. And, thousands of disputed out of state marriages seems to be a lot more messy. Ultimately, it is a matter of equality for all, but it does honestly make me somewhat uneasy that it was done in this way. The more low key and restrained actions in New Paltz, for instance, might be the best way. But, yes, the national attention San Francisco is getting has its benefits too.

I discuss the interesting issue of states putting out license plates promoting only one side of the abortion debate here, in particular focusing on the reaffirmance of the opinion striking down such a practice in South Carolina.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Potential Future Developments: An interesting appellate case along with the fact that even the major Democratic presidential candidates honored an individuals rights view of the Second Amendment suggests the possibility that gun rights might be a matter the Supreme Court might directly deal with in a few years. It already used a federal gun free school act and the Brady Act (background checks) to deal with federalism issues. And, though the lower court case involved here followed normal practice in upholding the (federal) law involved, it did so by using a nuanced test that mixes both individual and collective rights versions. Various circuits use different tests [the opinion spells out three ... the one used by my own is not noted, but see, e.g. here] and conflict is sure to arise at some point.

The law involved a federal regulation over military bases that applied state gun laws. The majority basically relied on the argument that a revolver is not a "militia weapon," since it only is used for personal defense or target shooting. An arguable statement as is, the concurrence would decide it on even narrower grounds -- the fact it was basically a concealed weapon case made it a reasonable regulation, and the broader questions were too interesting to thrust aside so cavalierly. A case from Utah (the 10th Circuit), one can imagine another judge agreeing in a closer case, and joining the Fifth in recognizing an individual right to own a firearm.


Rev. Newdow: Do you know that Michael Newdow is a minister in the Universal Life Church and First Amendmist (sic) Church of True Science. Lawyer, doctor, minister ... a true jack of all trades. More seriously, this discussion further explains how one need not to be an atheist to agree with Newdow. And is it a sort of loyalty oath?


Unborn Victims' Bill: There is probably no compelling need to in 2004 to suddenly have a law that protects the unborn in particular when a federal crime is committed, especially when over twenty states do not. It is divisive, partly because a major reason (with election year overtones) for it is to symbolically [use of the word "child" to apply to even an embryo, etc.] or concretely limit the range of the pro-choice movement. An alternative that dealt with some of these concerns was voted down. Perhaps, it might be on some level a good thing to accept such a law to show the reasonableness of the abortion choice movement. All the same, members of it still have a right to be suspicious. Of particular concern to me is the fact you need not know the woman be pregnant for it to come into effect.

[Update: I discuss this is in more detail here, while Jack Balkin argues (3/26) that it cuts against the pro-life position as well. I would toss in a proviso to the effect we no longer deal with Roe, but whatever somewhat watered down form of it the courts are willing to uphold.]

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

The only thing this time-wasting pest Newdow has going for him is that he's right. Those of us who believe in God don't need to inject our faith into a patriotic affirmation and coerce all schoolchildren into going along. The key word in the pledge is the last one.

-- William Safire

Truly American: Safire spends most of his column badmouthing Michael Newdow (with a pause to kiss up to Scalia and his "I will not recuse" memo), including suggesting a father has no standing to sue because he isn't the custodial parent. He shared custody when this thing started and still has the right to have a role in her education. Not having the state inculcate her against his religious beliefs seems to be one such role. Still, Safire (besides, showing his language guy side, noting it ruins the flow of the Pledge ... no surprise, since it was an after the fact [50 or so years at that] addition) sees the problem with the Pledge. I don't think his solution to have the state say to students that they need not say the two words saves the day though. The message stands.

Newdow's oral argument impressed a lot of people. It makes me proud to be an American. As he said, you can call the practice "trivial," "nonsectarian," or "ceremonial deism," but it's still selective religious belief supported by the state daily using school children as their tools. It unifies by ignoring certain believers; it solemnizes via religious doctrine. Prayer or not, this is wrong. There are better ways of doing this, if one wants to truly honor the words of the Pledge itself.

It is unfortunate a child has to suffer, but is the father to blame, or the state? Who (surely not via a Congress where being an atheist or defending one would make you very popular, if you could get elected in the first place) ultimately illegitimately put their religious views forward?


Richard Clarke: My strategy is to try to keep things in perspective, including evidence that seems to further my belief that the Bush Administration is fouling things up. Thus, I think we should keep a level head when examining the remarks of Clarke, and remember things might not be as clear as he implies. All the same, it just adds to the puzzle. Of course, we again are hearing about how bad Clinton was. Just how bad was he? Talking about foreign policy problems, how about the long sad history of Haiti?

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

The American flag, then, throughout more than 200 years of our history, has come to be the visible symbol embodying our Nation. It does not represent the views of any particular political party, and it does not represent any particular political philosophy. For the last fifty years, however, it has represented a particular religious view. Thus, rather than being "one Nation indivisible," America is now divided on the basis of religion by its very own symbol. That this division is most prominent in the public schools is simply impermissible.

-- Michael A. Newdow's Reply Brief

Supreme Court: On the eve of the oral argument for the "under God" case, I offer this expression of my views, submitted after the lower court ruling was handed down. Dr. Newdow (he graduated both law and medical school, currently an emergency room doctor) offered an impressive brief. A betting man would probably say that he will lose, but arguments like "it's a patriotic exercise" or a "respect of tradition" are still rather trivial (replace "God" with "Jesus" and it clearly becomes troubling, but not because it isn't "patriotic" or "traditional" any more). Another important case involving what sort of assistance one must give to the police gets the JP treatment here. I explain why "Justice Scalia is Not Scum" here.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Books and Poetry: I am currently reading Possession (later made into a somewhat lacking movie) by A.S. Byatt. It concerns (simply put) a pair of young English academics investigating a mystery involving two Victorian Age poets and how their investigation changes their lives. The author amazingly recreates not only the age, but the poetry, fables, and other writings (all a creation of her imagination and worthwhile on their own) of those being investigated. I have just started the rather long book, but it is both quite readable and astounding in its range and breadth. The introduction and forward alone draw you in, including a lovely third person summary of the author's life, followed by her own comments in honor of the tenth anniversary edition of the book.

One thing the author creates are the poems of the 19th century individuals being investigated. [The importance of such things suggests why a film version is inherently lacking, though the film is worth seeing -- it does a decent job translating the book into a new medium.] Poetry is not my thing really, partly because its tendency toward abstractions, which is not quite how I view the world in general. (The flowery, poetic, language of some also annoys.) I prefer poetry in prose.

Still, while reading the characters' poetry, I considered the remarkable power of poetry to say so much in so few words. Prose requires pages, poetry a few stanzas ... like a picture that is worth a thousand words, poetry can through its imagery open up deep truths. I have deep respect for quotes and passages of prose that get to the heart of the matter in a particularly powerful way. Shall I not too honor poetry's ability to do this, even if the mode might turn me off in certain cases? The answer is implied ... the literary device of the rhetoric question, used both in poetry and prose.

On the subject of authors ... Bill Moyers had the actor Hal Holbrook (best known, perhaps, as "Deep Throat" in the movie version of All The President's Men) on recently to talk about his continuing portrayal (over forty years) of Mark Twain in one man shows. It was a powerful interview, and it was amazing to hear the passion in Holbrook's voice. I wish I will have the same passion he has in that later time in my life. Holbrook was especially empathetic on the importance of expressing Twain's unpleasant descriptions of racism, including the repeated use of the word "nigger." He notes that Twain WANTED us to be uncomfortable ... we HAVE to be uncomfortable for his writing to truly have force. I use caps advisably -- it reflects the passion of the speaker.


News: Balkinization has excellent coverage (along with Political Animal and Legal Fiction) on Bush and terror, recent FCC anti-speech rulings, and Bush's "compassionate conservatism." The Richard Clarke interview in particular again makes be wonder: "what exactly would make anyone want to vote for this guy?" If the President's foreign policy/war on terror bona fides are criticized even by "hawks" like Clarke, what is left? Is Kerry that bad?

Sunday, March 21, 2004

The United States military has dropped all criminal charges against an Army Muslim chaplain who ministered to suspected terrorist detainees at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay.

-- oops [thanks to BTC News for the link]

War: Fiction and Reality -- Bon Voyage is an enjoyable homage to wartime suspense movies, a nostalgic look at 1941 France, and a great vehicle for French star Isabelle Adjani. On a more serious war related subject, Terrorism, Freedom And Security: Winning Without War by Philip B. Heyman is a well written little volume. Talking about "war," as to Guantanamo Bay military trials, see here [article] and here [my comments], and how the Spanish elections are involved in the mix, here. On how the whole "landslide" was exaggerated, an interesting example of buying into dubious presumptions, see here.


NYC Education:The blog cited on this last issue also makes a good point about the recent decision in New York City to install an "end" to social promotion of third graders. It notes even critics of this move (a teacher relative of mine supported the substance of the move, finding the high school students shteacheshs to be nearly illiterate, but opposed the means -- the mayor set up a panel to decide such matters, it disagreed, so he replaced a few members right before the vote) underestimates the problem.

Various urban school systems are just too broken, their students too behind and need of help, for such a policy to work in the current system (which is why a few of the panel members were uncomfortable with it). Systematic change is damn hard though, so we have bandaids that just continue the problem. In some fashion, affirmative action is in this league. It is of some value, but core systematic problems remain. The fact the "solution" is troubling in other ways just piles on things.


Yes ... Spring is here.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

I am constantly surprised at the animosity toward Bush.

-- Richard Cohen

This is the sort of thing that explains why there will be an uphill battle for Democrats, especially if Sen. Kerry (as is his wont) tries to heavy handedly carry it out. Cohen spends the whole column explaining how President Bush (after appearing to accomplish just that in Texas) totally failed at his promise to be a "uniter, not a divider." [History will show he did it before even being officially elected, during the election controversy. It was downhill from there.] And, he is surprised that people strongly dislike the guy? Admittedly, as shown by his changing tune on the war, Cohen is a bit slow on the uptake, but this is ridiculous.

Furthermore, it should be underlined that it is debatable how successful President Bush handled things right after 9/11. It is questionable, factoring in the "tax shift" process (explained here, and pointed out by both Sen. Edwards and Howard Dean), that he truly reduced taxes. Military reforms are blackened by the costs in the long run arising from our Iraqi excursion. The missile system is of debatable use and the educational reforms are suspect. Thus, even the promises allegedly fulfilled or praiseworthy actions as suggested in the piece at the end of the day doesn't quite work out. And, Cohen was far from silent about some of these things. But, still, he is surprised at just how much people don't like the guy.

Aggravating, but quite revealing.


Late Night: The mayor of New Paltz, NY, who got in trouble recently for marrying some same sex couples recently was a guest on Conan. It was a nice little interview, fairly serious, if not excessively so. The mayor is in his mid-twenties, and is a house painter and amateur performer, given the mayoral job is part time and only pays $8K a year. Dave had Courtney Love on and she made a total fool out of herself, appearing basically to be on drugs of some sort. She flashed him repeatedly (no Drew Barrymore, who flashed him a decade ago on his birthday, she) and rambled on and on (plus performed her number badly) as he looked on clearly uncomfortable. I don't quite understand why Letterman allowed this to go on -- it was not his finest hour. Love was later arrested that night for hitting an audience member at an unscheduled concert with a microphone stand.


The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday overruled its staff and declared that an expletive uttered by rock star Bono on NBC last year was both indecent and profane. The agency made it clear that virtually any use of the F-word was inappropriate for over-the-air radio and television.

"The 'F-word' is one of the most vulgar, graphic and explicit descriptions of sexual activity in the English language," the commission said Thursday. "The fact that the use of this word may have been unintentional is irrelevant; it still has the same effect of exposing children to indecent language."

I was not aware that the word "fuck" had some inherently sacrilegious ("profane") meaning. Also, it amuses me how various nasty epithets are acceptable but a passing unscripted "fucking brilliant" on an award show (I'm guessing Bono cursed in some of his songs) is so outrageous. The prudery involved here, the going so far as overruling a staff recommendation, is patently obvious.


Happy Birthday ... C-SPAN.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Happy St. JP Day everyone. As noted, this is in honor of Irish/Italian mutts, combining St. Joseph's (3/19, Italians) with St. Patrick's (3/17, Irish) without quite the Catholic guilt. The ideal meal is pasta and beer, though pizza and beer will do in a pinch. Our target today is Justice Antonin Scalia, whose duck hunting excursion with Vice President Cheney was troubling for the activity alone, but the controversy is more a matter of him not being impartial or appearing not to be. The latter is probably the clearest problem, and I don't think his refutation quite works. Not that my opinion ultimately matters ... recusal somewhat surprisingly is in the hand of the individual. Weird way to deal with alleged impartiality in a way, isn't it?

Since today is nominally a saint day, perhaps it would be timely for me to comment on something that The Close by Rev. Breyer [see 3/13] inspired. On some level, I clearly think it limiting to base one's religious faith largely on one work, especially the latter half of it (aka The Bible/New Testament). All the same, putting aside the fact Rev. Breyer also studied its context and other traditions, there is value in this focused technique. The human brain can only process so much, so it is useful to narrow one's focus when considering the basics. For instance, The Constitution is brief, but out from it springs broad tentacles, even when single words ("liberty") are at stake. Our "constitution" is much broader than the document by that name, which we must interpret and reflect upon.

The same with The Bible. Christianity is not merely the words of the New Testament, but an interpretation of them as well as a matter of broad themes and values that rises above it. The books of the Bible are there to guide believers, but belief is not limited by its words. Both Jews and Christians have spent lifetimes interpreting it, providing analysis, and setting forth doctrine growing from it. The books, even individual passages (as in many homilies in church services), provide a starting point for reflection, one surely in some way limited by the source, but truly complex and open ended enough to provide expansive opportunities for study and thought. Perhaps, it isn't so bad that in some way some basis of agreement, some agreed upon starting point is used by the society at large.
Movies: Searching for some late night TV, I recently came upon the 1940s version of Chicago, Roxie Hart. A non-musical that follows the basic storyline and stars Ginger Rogers, it is an enjoyable romp, and has a surprisingly naughty edge. After all, it was filmed in the era of the Hays Code, which made it a bit of a no no for crime to be glorified or laughed off. Recently, I also caught Harlan County War (starring Holly Hunt), based on a true story of a coal strike in the 1970s, also the subject of an Oscar winning documentary. Very good film and will appeal to one's inner leftist.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Reasoned Judgment: A major pet peeve of mine, notwithstanding my own limitations and that of various modes of analysis (e.g., short article, speech, debate point must each work within the limits of their genre), is the use of bad arguments. This includes shoddy justification, exaggerated claims, and attacks with more emotion than substance. A particularly bothersome strategy is arguing from bad premises -- a house, no matter how lovely, will fall, if the foundation is made of sand. It might take a while to prove it, and that's the rub -- appearance sometimes is all one needs to win the day.

This troubles me no matter who does it, though I follow the norm of concentrating on material I tend to agree with (matching my beliefs, "neutral" material, material that examines all the sides, and material I partly disagree with ... though more well rounded than just listening to "talk radio" or NPR, this surely isn't a perfect circle either). My heart might be with someone, but I still might think they are wrong in a particular case. [I also might respect the argument of an opponent or even agree on a particular point, but believe they are still basically wrong. Too often people deem either one of these things impossible.]

I find it useful that I personally am somewhat close or deal with people I disagree with, though generally respect. I sometimes wonder how certain people disagree with me; not on all things mind you, but on particular matters that seem so "obvious." The fact they do not, however, keeps me honest -- I cannot totally demonize or belittle those who in some form share the beliefs of family and friends. This wide breadth also influences my belief in equality, since I know/respect/love someone that in some form fits nearly any group one can imagine. So, how can I not equally respect their kindred? Not perfectly mind ya ... but in general, it helps to keep me honest.


Interesting: The NYT had a fascinating article comparing the languages of China and Japan. China tries to translate foreign terms into Chinese, while Japan has a special (and limited number of) sort of character to deal with foreigners. This includes those born in Japan, but who left the country. This is taken to the degree that if a Japanese parent wanted to call their child "George Bush," they could only use the state sanctioned wording. On that subject, an interesting opinion piece uses Napolean's "French Revolution by force" strategy to suggest the problems with the means we use to promote arguably ideal ends in the Middle East.

[Update: I was notified the struck out phrase was included in error; upon re-reading the article, the relevant portion said "First are the Chinese characters, called kanji here. Japanese names are written in kanji. Currently, the number of kanji permitted for names stands at 2,230, and selecting a character outside this list is illegal." A bit more info supplied by my source:

Japanese uses two syllabaries, katakana and hiragana. They look different but are identical - same set of syllables are used. The NYT story ... underplays the degree to which English is used in place of and in addition to the three indigenous writing sets (none of which are in fact indigenous, but you get the idea), a lot of it nonsensical advertising.

Again, I appreciate any corrections or comments ... "my own limitations," indeed! Lol.]

Happy ... St. Patrick's Day. Friday is St. Joseph's Day, which I know about not only because it's my name, but also because it is in honor of the patron saint of my other half ... Italians [though, a bit ironically, I was named after my Irish grandfather]. Perhaps, us Irish/Italian mutts should have a special day -- March 18 -- I'll call it St. JP day, though in my case, I'd allow homosexuals to march in the parade.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Today's Papers over in Slate has more "trouble for Bush" news than usual. Four key stories: US Leadership misleading Aristide/Aristide not just some crazy nut; mad cow/possible governmental wrongdoing; fun with mercury (great link to a graphic comparing language of the administrative proposal and that of a lobby group and more on the "policy over science" theme of this administration), and a comment that four deaths in Iraq is no longer "big" news for major papers [suggests a box on the front page with a running tally]. I also respond to today's article about use of maiden names, here.


Foreign Affairs: A fairly consistent theme, including in my local paper (sigh), is that the people of Spain misguidedly gave in to terrorists by voting their leaders (supporters of our Iraqi policy) out of office after the 3/11 series of bombings. Others, including some who support our policy, point out that correlation doesn't prove causation -- after all, didn't we (like Bin Laden wanted) eventually take our troops out of Saudi Arabia? Also, perhaps, the people of Spain saw the attacks as proving their leadership's way (which the people as a whole opposed long before 3/11/04) didn't work. Or rather, thought the response (including early on insisting [via shoddy evidence] that clearly Al Qaida didn't have anything to do with it) proved the current leadership had to go.

Since the tragedy of 9-11 which understandably shook and outraged everyone in this country, we have increasingly embraced at the highest official level what I think fairly can be called a paranoiac view of the world. Summarized in a phrase repeatedly used at the highest level, "he who is not with us is against us."

I say repeatedly because actually some months ago I did a computer check to see how often its been used at the very highest level in public statements. The count then quite literally was ninety-nine. So it's a phrase which obviously reflects a deeply felt perception. I strongly suspect the person who uses that phrase doesn't know its historical or intellectual origins. It is a phrase popularized by Lenin (Applause) when he attacked the social democrats on the grounds that they were anti-Bolshevik and therefore he who is not with us is against us and can be handled accordingly.

-- Zbigniew Brzezinski, in a foreign policy speech worth reading in full

Also of Interest: A State Department discussion of the Bill of Rights, including privacy and voting rights (their account of Election 2000 is a bit, um questionable, but overall, interesting stuff here). And, for those so inclined, a law review article on how severity of crime affects application of rights. Ah, I also hear Illinois had a primary ... I believe Kerry won it, but perhaps I should double check to make sure.
Kerry Bashing: I responded to an attack (from a Bush hater at that) that claims Kerry is a habitual liar. As my second reply to criticisms of my far from effusive defense suggests, it turns out his "lie" actually turns out to be rather true. While on the message board, I responded to a cheap shot at Kerry not having a platform. The person I challenged might not be my political persuasion, but on some level I see his point [as is suggested by my second reply], but why express it in such a snarky fashion? Past experience suggests some inability to hide his disdain, even though deep down, there is someone you can debate reasonably. Since this describes me to some extent, I can't be too critical, but it is an easy way to rub someone the wrong way.

[Update: To clarify a bit, this matter involved Sen. Kerry stating he voted for a Cuban Embargo law. He didn't vote on the final version. This was deemed by Tim Noah (on record of not being a big fan of the President) at Slate as a "whopper" and a symbol of his "wont" to lie. It turns out that Kerry did vote for the law, but not the Conference Report because of a particular element that he found troubling, which by the way has yet to be used. Good example of his "caveat" tendencies, but surely not a lie. If "friendly" columnists are going to be like this, it's going to be a long seven and a half months. Discussion with link to blog pointing out the nuances involved, here.]


Broken Wings: Daphne and her four children try to cope with the abrupt death of husband/father. As the family seems to fall apart, a sudden incident gives them a chance to heal their 'broken wings.' Excellent film ... the only thing that makes it a "foreign" film is that it was made in Israel. The family and its problems could be from the states. One more reason why more people should give foreign films a chance, subtitles and all. [My younger brother, no bibliophile he, saw The Passion recently ... on the request of a friend. Thought it okay, but then, he's okay with subtitles -- he's used to them from Japanese animation videos.]


News From The Camp Nowhere: The Observer's David Rose hears the Tipton Three give a harrowing account of their captivity in Cuba [Thanks to BTC News for the link]. Note also, the new link to the right ... Sadly No.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Baseball: I'm not paying too much attention to the recent steroids news, though (naively or not) I think its use disparages the game. More pleasantly, I caught a bit of pre-season baseball. The Mets look about on par -- the starting pitching thus far is rather good, but the hitting a bit suspect (a couple times, they had good first innings and then lost in the ninth, not scoring the rest of the game ... this brings back a few bad flashbacks from '03). And, Reyes tweaked his hamstring today ... ah, the memories. The Yanks' starting pitching, excepting Mussina, are having a mixed Spring -- though the team is known to be not a big Spring Training sort of team in regards to record. Good to be able to catch some baseball on weekend afternoons again. The NYT had a nice article on Al Leiter.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Celebrity Follies: Britney Spears nixed her suicide ... video, that is [patterned on Leaving Las Vegas] . Tom Cruise fired a key assistant because of criticism over Tom's emphasis on Scientology. Julia Roberts (no not that one; a NC 96 year old grandmother) was charged with crack possession. The President's press secretary's father released a conspiracy account of how LBJ was behind the JFK assassination. And after a defendant made a crack at her about oral sex, a local judge [allegedly] commented that he was too small for her.


God's Justice: A judge in North Carolina got in some trouble by suggesting that "so help you God" not be used as the default oath [not prohibited, though that is how it was spun by some], one of various ways he proposed to deal with the more diverse clientele that use the courts. It is an example how people do not like you to remove the remaining establishments of religion in this country. The idea that the judge was acting in the interests of "non-Christians" was troubling though, since not only do many Christians oppose oaths [e.g. Quakers; see also, Art. II of the Constitution with its "affirmation" alternative to the Presidential Oath], but many non-Christians do not mind it (not only Christians believe in God!). Finally, it is to be noted that a non-religious oath is somewhat of a contradiction in terms -- it is an "affirmation," since an oath is a "swearing" act that implies the presence of a deity.

[Update: As related in the comments to the original posting of the story (see link) and to me personally, the trend has been away from "so help me God" oaths, though their popularity does depend on the locale.]

Snarky Judges: Researching another matter, I came across a narrowly divided (11-9) appellate refusal for re-hearing of an important Miranda (confession rules) case involving the use of trickery during an interrogation. The dissent raises an important, if debatable point, one even one of the original concurring judges agreed was troubling. Thus, this makes the snarky concurrence particularly troubling, the snarkiness suggested by this passage: "But we are not free to rewrite the law. And that is where I part company with Judge Trott and his merry band of dissenters." "Merry" they were not in this particular case, but this opinion suggests snarkiness among the judiciary is not just the realm of Justice Scalia. It remains amusing, but on some basic level one would hope that judges did not write with the maturity of little children sticking their tongues out at people they don't like.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Melissa Ann Rowland: A tragic case that is getting some media attention involves a woman charged with murder for refusing to have a Caesarian section, which allegedly led to the death of one of the twins she was carrying. The case is infamous because of the claim that she refused because she didn't want a scar. A more complete account: Prosecutors allege [she denies it] that Rowland told a nurse during a January visit to a hospital that doctors wanted to cut her "from breast bone to pubic bone" and she would rather "lose one of the babies than be cut like that." It is also noted that in actuality, such an invasive procedure will not be necessary; only a "bikini incision" would be used in most cases.

The case is even more complex. The women later noted she already had scars from past caesareans. Also, Rowland has a history of mental illness, including apparently suicide attempts. The stress of the moment for such an individual is apparent. This is the sort of person the state charges with murder, surely likely to make her case a cause celebre? As noted by Rachel Roth in Making Women Pay: The Hidden Costs of Fetal Rights and others, the "typical" case (the situation is far from typical, obviously) involves a woman with religious claims or who are worried about the dangers of such an invasive procedure (one known to be performed unnecessarily in some cases). Also, the women often are very emotionally vulnerable, and sometimes not properly handled by impersonal medical authorities.

The details, especially given medical privacy rules, continue to be hazy and will become less hazy over time. Suffice to say, the case is troubling, including the stereotypical way some are presenting it. The use of a case of this sort to influence policy as to totally competent women or women whose personal actions (smoking, drug use, and so forth) affect their pregnancies would be misguided. The problems of mentally troubled and emotionally unstable women, on the other hand, should be addressed with these sort of cases in mind.
The Close: A Young Woman's First Year at Seminary. Rev. Chloe Breyer recently wrote an article about her part in an interfaith effort to rebuild a mosque in Afghanistan. It was interesting and down to earth, leading me to read her autobiography. The book's theme perhaps could be found in her discussion of her internship in Bellevue in which one of her roles was to lead a discussion group among prisoners. One prison was upset that the even experts were not sure about the meaning of the Bible -- he wanted a religion that provided answers, while she liked the fact it had so many fascinating questions.

The book is like that -- it doesn't have many answers about the complexities of her religious faith, but examines the questions as she deals with her first year at an Episcopal seminary. Rev. Breyer is clearly in the liberal Christian tradition, unsure about her faith and true calling, struggling to serve her God. On the other hand, and this didn't quite please this skeptic, at the end of the day she is mostly accepting of the mysteries of her faith. For instance, she starts out saying Paul's letters at some points seemed a bit unsavory, but ends up saying she accepted their truth, even quoting one feminist religious scholar that argued he'd be supporting gay rights if alive today [uh ... unsure about that]. The book isn't an apologia of the faith though; it is an expression of her individual story and faith. And, it serves it's purpose on that end. For some, she and her faith might be deemed too human; for others, including to a large part myself, it is inspiring.

[Rev. Breyer comes from a mixed faith household -- her mother is Anglican and father is a secular Jew. She also is pretty well off, as suggested by her references to her travels and education. The sense of privilege seeps out at times and is a bit annoying. It is not addressed at all in the cited article or book, but she is the daughter of Justice Stephen Breyer.]

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Mail Call: Apparently, I was right to be suspicious of the El Gordo Spanish Sweepstake Lottery Company S.A. notice I got in the mail today. Apparently, it is a snail mail scam akin to the Nigeria Email Scam, one that has gotten some notice already. As someone else said, I did get a nice Spanish stamp. Also, one must respect the effort given to some of these things.

I also got my Edwards Campaign DVD, timely, I guess, since Sen. Kerry was today reported to have the delegates needed for the nomination. It is somewhat hard to flip through, but it's a good idea with a typically personal/down to earth interview, campaign commercials, a slide slow, personal message, and linkage to his website. The DVD was "free" with a $10 contribution [$35 would get you a copy of his book, also a good idea], and as noted, I used the $13 I received from a CD lawsuit payout to buy it. Kerry doesn't seem to have this sort of thing (he does have clothing and so forth) ... he should think about it. It's easier than downloading stuff off the website, a bit more personal, and is a cute little "gift" for supplying a small donation.

[Update: The middle road taken by the participants as a whole in a Nation article on outsourcing suggests a problem I had with Edwards' emphasis on trade limitations. Bit simplistic. While there, check the review on CJ Rehnquist's new book on the election of 1876; a good warning as to the limitations of "law office history" or even originalist judging as any.]

Finally, I welcome any free stuff. This includes sample music CDs to promote musicals, address labels, and catalogs trying make me spend more money. Okay, that isn't always a good thing.
TV Update: Echostar (Direct TV) and Viacom solved their differences ... David Letterman has returned! Game Over (Wednesday 8PM UPN) is billed as the first Prime Time show that solely uses computer generated images (CGI). Reboot was the true pioneer in CGI, a Saturday Morning Cartoon with creative storylines, fully formed characters, and eventually, a serious story arc that is more often seen in anime than regular animated cartoons. I was a bit hooked on it and the email addy for this blog is a takeoff of one of the characters. It ended badly -- new episodes were funded, a mixed bag, and then it ended with a cliffhanger that never was resolved!

[Update: I caught some of the show ... a bit lame though Patrick Washburn (Puddy from Seinfeld, now Lydia's boyfriend on Less Than Perfect, is always fun.).]

The Barbarian Invasions: This won the 2003 Best Foreign Film Academy Award (Canada/Quebec). The movie is a sequel of sorts to The Decline of the American Empire (which I did not see, but apparently it is a bit of a talkfest, not quite as deep as the title implies), and the gang of fun loving academics come together again to be there for their dying friend. Roger Ebert suggests that few want to see a film where someone has a hard time dying (except, perhaps, if Mel Gibson directs), though I think that's the problem here -- things (with a lot of help with his son's money) are a bit too perfect. And, though Remy went to Burlington for medical treatment, Gov. Dean did not have a cameo!

The characters and dialogue still are adult and intelligent, the dramatic moments still present, but it all has a sense of unreality that troubled me some. It also was a bit too flippant. Still, in a day where it's so much trouble to get medicinal marijuana, it's nice to see that some can get medicinal heroin (go to the police station, ask the local narcotic detective ...) without too much trouble. The title itself is a metaphor made after a clip of the attack on the twin towers is shown (will the attacks be but a first of a stream of "barbarian invasions?"). I don't know if the film quite earned the right to such a weighty metaphor, but there is enough to it that the audience still respects its use. Perhaps, enough that it won an Oscar, though I think the fact it was Canadian (and the other nominees a tad obscure) helped some as well.


News: More on how the Bush Administration inhibited democracy in Latin America because they didn't like the democratically elected leadership. A satirical look at current events that is funny enough that I just might put it on my blogroll. It is especially tragic when nonmilitary die in overseas conflicts, including a reporter in Haiti and a human rights activist specializing in women rights (one of the victims of those pretending to be Iraqi police). [Update: Some reports that it might have been a real police officer. See, e.g., here with fuller story about victim.]

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Well, I'm pretty forceful in expressing my opposition to the Bush administration. And there is a certain danger, which I actually turned into almost reality, that because I consider the policies extremist, that I myself become an extremist. And that actually -- if that happens, then I have failed because I think that I am -- I believe in an open society ["nobody has -- is in possession of the truth, and therefore you need a critical process"], I recognize that I may be wrong -- and in fact, I'm admitting that I may actually be actively wrong by being so rabid -- but I feel that I have to state my view in a very straightforward -- and I feel passionately about it.

-- George Soros

One of those moments: A day is truly worth living if there is at least one truly amusing, thought provoking, or deep moment special to it -- hopefully all of the above. An example occurred as I was on the subway coming home today. On the way out, I heard someone tell her someone who asked her occupation that she was in marketing ... for Philip Morris. "Philip Morris?" Yes, Philip Morris. This led me to think, as I trudged through the teeming masses, of various follow-ups ... "You know, I help market cancer, and so forth." Oh, did I say that a twisted sense of humor is a must, as well? Just a few pearls of wisdom I supply free of charge.


More on Martha: Celebrity Justice is generally atypical justice, but it does provide some insights into the general activities of the system itself. An article that looks at the sentencing procedure using Martha Stewart a guide (the article assumes she will get a higher sentence than many other sources) is such an example. Not only do we learn that very few actually win on appeal (a tiny amount get a full acquittal at the end of the day), but some of the troubling principles applied. For instance, there is the well known principle that even if you later show remorse, using your constitutional right to a trial (including if there is a decent chance for a lesser sentence or even an acquittal) will get you in trouble. Less well known is that even elements of the "crime" not proven beyond a reasonable doubt very well might be weighed in sentencing. And, often quite constitutionally so.

More on the intricacies and pratfalls of criminal appeals.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

David Letterman Deprivation: Though it apparently is not of much interest to my daily paper, a contractual dispute between Direct TV and Viacom has resulted in a blackout of various stations in my areas (the exact contours depends on the locale), including: CBS, Comedy Central, BET [forgot that one! Boondocks will be glad.], MTV, VH-1, Nickelodean, and Noggin Network. This followed another dispute between YES Network (Yankees) that resulted in my need to listen to the games on the radio; I need to do the same for Mets games when I'm visiting my mom because of the increased fees required to have FSNY coverage. I know I'm a bit too young to be nostalgic, but this sort of thing was not a problem in the past. The games were on broadcast t.v. and CBS was not blocked. In fact, I think a local station like CBS should be required via some sort of "must carry" rule, or the corporation involved should pay a lot more than they do now to use public airwaves.

TV Update: Talking about TV, I caught an amusing new series entitled Significant Others (Bravo, Tu 9:30PM) about couples dealing with relationship issues. The cast of mostly unknowns came off well. I also caught some of the press conference of the formation of a new PAC entitled (this is serious, but still funny) Godless Americans PAC. Idealistic bunch ... amusing problem -- the fact that a candidate would not want to be endorsed by them. This led to a whole exchange on how they might formulate a quid pro quo in order not to do so!


Best of JET: I was perusing my blog and found an old post of mine [I don't keep a copy of most of what I write online, so I guess future biographers will just have to do with an incomplete account of my life's opus.] that seems to fit the current times as good as any. It is entitled God's (or Nature's) Law Enforcement ... I have been told it has a bit of Camus to it, but (though I found The Plague quite rewarding) it was in no way consciously influenced by him.


Trivia ... Why are storks associated with babies

Monday, March 08, 2004

The people of Iraq, striving to reclaim their freedom, which was usurped by the previous tyrannical regime, rejecting violence and coercion in all their forms, and particularly when used as instruments of governance, have determined that they shall hereafter remain a free people governed under the rule of law.

These people, affirming today their respect for international law, especially having been amongst the founders of the United Nations, working to reclaim their legitimate place among nations, have endeavored at the same time to preserve the unity of their homeland in a spirit of fraternity and solidarity in order to draw the features of the future new Iraq, and to establish the mechanisms aiming, amongst other aims, to erase the effects of racist and sectarian policies and practices.

- opening of provisional Iraqi Constitution; does the U.S. also respect "international law?" Did it when it repeated aided the "previous tyrannical regime?" Does it "reject[] violence and coercion?" Is its constitutional vision one that is closely intertwined with the UN or world community, the latter of which is something its Declaration of Independence did appeal to?


Book Review: I have recently read a compilation of Constitutional Law Stories edited by Michael C. Dorf. The word "stories" is apt -- though the Supreme Court take cases these days mainly for their broader implications [which has troubling implication itself; see, e.g., here], individual cases have their own "stories" that are of interest and help in miniature to examine the broader issues. So is the case here; though some of the chapters are better than others, on the whole, the book provides an interesting and thought provoking analysis of some of the top rulings in constitutional history. The lay reader and those who have examined many of these opinions/issues in detail both will benefit from this volume. Each chapter is an independent discussion, so one can pick and choose among those that are of particular interest. Overall, a good addition to one's library or reading list.


News: I discuss various issues involved in the Martha Stewart verdict, including comparisons to her acts and those of President Bush, here. Two Supreme Court rulings handed down today are dealt with here. Sadly, the long expected death (suicide) of monologuist Spalding Gray was confirmed when his body was found. The newly appointed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is discussed here.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Justice Blackmun Papers Released: As I note here, though it's important to remember that public officials are not average citizens, to have respect for their office, it is also important to sometimes keep in mind the more human aspects of their personalities. A public official is not just a machine, but a human personality, and this is both interesting and important in that it affects how s/he serves the public. Therefore, it useful that Justice Blackmun's papers are being released, as agreed upon, five years after his death along with interviews with a former law clerk that were part of an oral history project. Four hours of the interviews were aired over the weekend (a bit too concerned with his retirement), and are accessible with further background materials here.

A modest, shy, hard working, and somewhat tentative individual (he never quite was sure if it would have been better if he went into medicine), Justice Blackmun was an ideal public servant. Others on the bench overshadowed him, but that only made him that much easier to relate to. He is best known for writing Roe v. Wade (and for some, his dissent in Bowers v. Hardwick, now the law of the land), but his career is much richer than that. Over time, his concern for the "little people," average individuals in need of justice truly showed itself. As Justice Blackmun noted "It's their [the people's] Supreme Court." And, in the end, he was their (our) justice.


Good Snack: Hummus ... especially on Ritz Crackers.


Excellent analysis of President Bush by a disheartened Republican can be found here. Putting aside the subject matter of this particular post, the guy in general deserves a regular column in some major magazine. He is consistently excellent, if perhaps a bit too eloquently expansive sometimes. A bit of the William Buckley Jr. disease, perhaps. lol.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Martha Stewart: Talking about InstaPundit, one of his readers quipped that "she has been found guilty of covering up crimes the government couldn't prove she committed." This is in reference to the fact that the insider trading charge was dropped by the judge, so she was punished for covering up something they couldn't prove. I don't claim to know the particulars, since honestly I don't fully care, but this fact is not particularly remarkable. Quite often, police use indirect means to prosecute, and the same applies when big boys and girls are involved.

Some consistently oppose the practice, but many now defending Martha wouldn't be too upset if it was some petty drug dealer in the dock. A message is being sent, and in this day and age, a message that you shouldn't obstruct governmental investigations or play fast and loose with regulatory rules is not necessarily a bad thing, is it? I leave the particulars to the experts ... she might not deserve punishment. But, the particular charges are not patently unjust in my view just because "government couldn't prove she committed" the underlining charge. Good meme to promote, though.
InstaPundit Watch ... some of the more stupid comments:

This [after 9/11] is not a time to err on the side of caution; not a time to weigh the risks to an infinite balance; not a time for the cynicism of the worldly wise who favour playing it long. ["This is what Blair gets, and the war critics don't."]

This is what InstaPundit doesn't get: war critics realize that the world changed after 9/11, but not SO much that an ill advised war based on poor intelligence, bad planning, and sneering at the world community is a good thing. It clearly is a matter of a different mindset, one that leads many (like the anti-communists of the old) to support this President, even though they fully know he is doing a poor job in many respects domestically and even internationally. I feel sorry for Andrew Sullivan -- a "deal killer" for him is not respecting this mindset, but so is cynically depriving people (read gays) of constitutional rights for political reasons. The devil or the deep blue sea, hmm Andy?

And Rush Limbaugh would be off the air for much less than this [latest targeted Howard Stern material] -- in fact, he was taken off ESPN for much less than this, with no noticeable hue and cry from Stern's current defenders.

Well, actually, some of his defenders on the free speech side were upset that Rush was fired. I, for one, felt he should not have been. Second, the comment is stupid in that (ahem) Rush was fired by private actors, while Stern is being targeted by the government. Do you see the somewhat different problem here?

Hey, the North Koreans like him [Kerry]!

Two things. Yes, it wouldn't be horrible if a dangerous nation with the BOMB might be able to work better with Kerry. Second, again, what exactly is the implication here? Clearly, voting for Kerry is in some fashion voting for the Kim Jong-il. Way to go snide boy! btw Iran in '80 seemed to be more positive about Reagan (waiting until he came to office to let out the hostages, etc.) ... they eventually saw that he was no great prize, didn't they?

LT Smash looks at who's complaining about the Bush commercials and discovers that they've been doing that themselves for quite a while.

Actually, he only talks about two of the critics. There are more families of survivors, firemen, and people in general who are upset about the ads [criticized for other reasons]. And, sure, part of it is that the ads are just part of a wider problem of his failure to do all he can and the use of 9/11 to explain away a ton of problems (bad management of the war and economic decisionmaking, especially). The snide remarks that the critics are just partisan whiners is equally distasteful -- some might be oversensitive, but hell, if you are going to be oversensitive about something ...

Yep. They [The media] want people to forget [about 9/11], so they'll think that stories like Martha and Kobe are actually important -- and so that they'll be more likely to vote for a Democrat.

Yup, vote for Kerry, vote for the biased liberal media! To take the strawman argument, obviously 9/11 and the way it changed our lives, and how we as a nation must respond is an appropriate issue for the election. DUH! I don't think people will "forget" if the President is careful not to use certain emotionally tinged imagery of Ground Zero, do you?

There is a reason why some on the left side of the aisle don't like Instapundit too much ... and it's not just because they disagree with him on substantive issues. This selection from recent posts might be worse than most, but from experience, it isn't totally out of character. And, it's the sort of biased reporting that closes off debate. It's on both sides, sure enough. I'm sensitive to particular forms of it given my beliefs (e.g. my libertarian side leads me to appreciate certain more conservative blogs, even if they [fairly] criticize certain liberal views of which I agree), but the above should be a warning for both sides.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Comments From The Right: I just checked Volokh Conspiracy [good website to get a conservative/libertarian view of legal matters and some public affairs], and saw a couple partisan pieces by libertarian Randy Barnett. The second deals with conservative backlash to big government President Bush. It quotes three strands of thought, two reminding people the importance of beating Kerry, one because hey the likes of the leadership of Iran and Syria would just LOVE if he wins. We get a list chock full of the horribles a President Kerry will bring.

The other piece was worse since it had more personal commentary, mostly Dean bashing, and talking about how horrible the 60s were. He quotes (clearly supportingly) how cynical and selfish the people represented by Dean truly were. And, ends about how back then "there was only one voice heard" unlike today in which "thanks to talk radio, the internet, and now FoxNews, there is a genuine contest." Oh please -- one voice? One wonders how President Nixon was elected given the uniformity of public thought in the era. I thought Professor Barnett, who I met once and who has some interesting libertarian views, was above this type of crap.
Owner v. Guardian (and Passion v. Contemplation): When I first responded to an article discussing how the move to replace the word pet (companion animal ) "owner" with "guardian" is a reflection of our anthromorphising of animals, I let my passions get away with me a bit. [For instance, the post implies the author doesn't think animals are moral objects, which is not fair.] It's a occupational hazard for those who frequent message boards, though I think there is a certain truth that comes out all the same. I provide it as an example in all its unedited glory. Lol. Still, if only they had a delete function!

Besides, I think I ended up with my underlining principle coming through: pets are not mere things, they are complex thinking beings that require us to have certain moral obligations that in some sense do make them a sort of "person." And, though labels have theirs limits, "guardian" does suggest what is at stake. You "own" a television set; perhaps you should do more than "own" a dog. Finally, the author does try to prove too much by implying society's humanizing of animals (again, I think he exaggerates for effect) was somehow a recent development or that on some level it was largely a bad one. I think not, and very few, even those who he is directly disputing truly equalize humans with animals. My annoyance therefore had more than a core of truth.

The fact I was guilty a bit as well doesn't save him, especially since he had more time to contemplate things. And, got a stipend for his efforts!


Under The Tuscan Sun: I recently watched this movie on DVD, having already seen it in the theater. The reason was largely because it has an audio commentary (by the director/screenwriter) track, which I consistently find quite interesting. Not only does watching the film without the original audio provide a new look, but the commentary allows you to hear a behind the scenes discussion that supplies an additional level to the film experience.

The director/screenwriter does a good job here, and it is specifically valuable in this case because it helps you better respect the complexities of a film that is on some level a predictable story of a divorced woman getting over heartache by buying a villa in Tuscany. All the same, it is much more than that, though Diane Lane and the scenery alone make it worth watching. As the commentary notes, the Diane Lane storyline was being developed already when the director read the book, and the book served mainly as useful scenery and metaphor.

While at the video store, I also passed Soldier's Girl, which is based on a true story. A tragic love story with some "behind the scenes" commentary supplied on the DVD. The makeup featurette just might surprise you. I also saw that the School of Rock DVD has a commentary track with Jack Black, and given his style and performance at the Academy Awards (one of the few things after the opening worth watching), I'm looking forward to listening to that too!

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Politics: The Kerry v. Bush Race has started ... sigh ... this looks to be messy. The President's first ads use images of 9/11 and Ground Zero to promote him as a strong and resolute [too firmly resolute? you decide] leader in troubling times. They have gotten some criticism from fairly interested parties (you know, victim families and such) as tawdry politicizing of the tragedy. Two amusing aspects: the same group that pushes back the Republican NYC Convention to September says Kerry is the one politicizing the issue. Second, the fire fighters in the ads are from out of town. On a somewhat lighter subject, here's some alternatives to the currently proposed anti-gay marriage amendment.

To throw the President a bone, some ridiculed his State of the Union mention of steroids in sports. The issue is now a big issue in my local paper given some top baseball stars are accused of using the substance. And, baseball is our national past time. It's not a trivial issue, especially given his former connection to the Texas Rangers. The connection to illegal drug use in particular is also evident. I surely disagree on the particulars on how to deal with the issue, but, yes, he was right to bring it up. Oh, things like the environment might have been talked to as well ...
West Wing: Maybe, I should start to having a running "what I said about issues touched upon in West Wing this week" segment. After all, the politicalization of scientific funding/research has been a concern of mine, and the politics of the judicial nomination process surely has been. A word ... citing Supreme Court justices that were recess appointed, justices that later easily were confirmed for that matter, is not quite an answer to those worried about recess appointments of controversial lower appointees the Senate has already blocked or held up. I'm glad no major social problem was solved this week (such as Social Security) as is happening a bit too often these days. I also enjoy Toby's new aide and the Vice President is a keeper ... remember, Gary Cole previously played the role as Mike Brady in a television movie.

Talking about ongoing concerns, it is good to know that the new touch screen voting systems seemed to work well yesterday, their first big test. The problem of security is ongoing, but it's a good start.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Various: Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) put forth a good alternate view on the whole Haiti mess, as suggested by her show's website. I discussed the limitations of Supreme Court review here, receiving a couple interesting replies. I'm wary about plans by the federal government to loosen restrictions on same sex public education as suggested by an old essay of mine.

And, surely President Kerrywould assure us of various important things, even with limitations inherent in the political situation (and his own personality) ... see here for a good summary ... but let's not take this as a reason to just paper over problems or assumed problems that Kerry must face as a candidate. For instance, the "flip flop" issue (an abbreviated list is offered here). We change our minds, especially as information and our understanding of the world develops over time. In some cases, the alleged change is not really a change. Still, it's an issue Kerry must face, especially in his worse "overnuance" moments. Ignoring it or claiming the other side is just bashing him is not the way to win. And this is from someone who is fully aware that a win is essential.

Anyway, I think I need a break from this whole race ... how about those Mets? Just might have a decent season ... got a few pretty good pick-ups ... dare to dream of .500?


Happy Birthday ... Jessica Biel and Casimir Pulaski, especially for you Chicago residents.

So It Begins Wednesday: mmm Julia Stiles has this nice black number on David Letterman. Okay now ... I seriously wish the primary season (well, okay ... yes, other states get to vote and all ... expect Kucinich to get a few more delegates) didn't end so soon, and that it was more of a race. Sen. Kerry did well in the end, most think, by getting through the Dean Boomlet days. And, adapted his campaign to answer competition. All the same, I don't think he was properly vetted, and we had some serious candidates this time around, candidates that deserved more of a look. And, too many Democratic voters were and still are worried about Kerry for him to clinch things on March 2. We also will be thoroughly sick of Kerry vs. Bush long before November, doncha think?

Well, I do like Teresa Heinz-Kerry. She's a keeper, and I don't even like ketchup. Oh, it's nice that Dean won Vt, so each of my candidates won a state. Now, let's hope my candidate wins at least 270 electoral votes. Anyway, since from the beginning ... with a moment of indecision inbetween ... Kerry was the frontrunner, why not just make it Kerry/Edwards? It actually has a lot of good things going for it, though Kerry/McCain is refreshingly outrageous, and other choices might work. For now, I'm looking toward baseball season.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Super Tuesday: With John Kerry being expected to accomplish a LOTR sort sweep, I did my civic duty ... voted for Sen. Edwards. I went to the nearby public school qua polling place, signed my name, and went into that nostalgic connection to the past -- the manual lever polling machine. I noticed something a bit unexpected -- you checked individual delegates (two of Sen. Edwards' delegates are local public officials of mine, not that I got anything in the mail or anything from their offices to vote for the guy ... excuse me? a bit more effort please). For state elections, we in NY get useful booklets on the candidates with a discussion on the voting process itself. I think the same should be the case for presidential elections, including in local papers. It is a shame how we still don't make it as easy and understandable as it could be, and truly do our best to promote basic aspects of citizenship.

Talking about my candidate, David Brooks criticizes Sen. Edwards for talking about poverty the wrong way ... Brooks wants the focus to be on values, not jobs or money. [Toss in some welfare bashing and the implication the poor are so much better now under welfare reform.] This is interesting in a nation whose founders felt the two were deeply intertwined. The reason why those without property could not be trusted with the vote, the argument went, was that they had nothing to defend, so would not have the virtue needed to be independent citizens. As usual, they had a point.

You can talk all about values, and surely it is an important subject that Democrats too often are loath to discuss, but surely having a good job, education (another thing the Democrats focus on), and so forth are essential in building an ethos that furthers such values. And, Edwards not only talks about how he was an American success story (by working hard, studying, and believing in himself), but talks about how voters will trust a person like him ... the "values of a small Southern mill town" subtext is apparent. I'd take this over the AWOL "compassionate conservative" of President Bush that Brooks almost amusingly pines over.


Haiti: Not too long ago, I saw a very good documentary about the attempted coup against President Chavez of Venezuela, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. The Bush Administration right away supported the rebels, even though Chavez was democratically elected, and the coup was clearly illegal. The situation was less messy than in Haiti, but somewhat similar, in that the society was deeply divided with Chavez having much support among the poor. On the other hand, he was very controversial, and ruled with a heavy hand that resulted in some justified criticism. He now is ridiculing the President of the United States as an unelected official, one that he will outlast. Given past events, I don't think we can blame the guy.

The U.S. looked pretty bad, for those who paid attention to what to most amounted to a sideshow (though Venezuela's oil and more stable society made it harder to just write it off as another Third World basket case), and the same applies to Haiti. Again, we supported the rebels, again we seemed to ignore that a democratically elected official was being chased out of office by violent means. What message does this send?

Also, we too have a greatly divided nation with a President who came into office under a cloud, and one who many strongly oppose. So, we have a chance, if not an obligation, to show that there is another way besides violence and coups. The fact we aren't dealing with angels is besides the point ... such is how things work in the real world. The important thing is the process ... and looking the other way as Aristide is chased out of his own country while thugs benefit is not the process I'd hope this country would want to be seen to support.

[After I first wrote this, I read a pessimistic view of the current situation as reported by the NYT. Simply put: those in control are not the democratically elected government or those next in the line of succession once the President resigns, but "men with guns." Or rather, those who used them in the past to reap disorder and terror. The more things change ...]

Monday, March 01, 2004

[O]ne way or another the U.S., either through its action or inaction, enabled a coup to dispose of a democratically elected leader. Yeah, yeah, I know Aristide is no Mandala, but doesn't the principle of the thing bother the Bushies at all? Aren't they the ones running on Moral Clarity and the spreading of democracy far and wide? Just what kind of message is this sending (and I know they're big on setting examples) to goons all across the world? Go right ahead and topple your democratically elected leader, just as long as the Bush administration don't like him America won't lift a finger.

-- Battlepanda

I am honestly overwhelmed by the number of blogs out there ... one can get lost trying to keep up with them as shown by the excellent insight I found on the blog of someone who left a comment on Legal Fiction. She also is a fan of TNR, referring to a new article there on Haiti. I share the views put forth by both. It is the definition of nuance that something doesn't have an easy answer, and Haiti is a clear example -- you can argue that Aristide had to go (or Saddam for that matter), but be upset on how it was accomplished. The whole thing is rather symbolic in this particular case as well -- as Legal Fiction himself said when comparing recent Bush rhetoric with how we treated the Haiti situation. And so it goes.


Super Tuesday: I need not be coy ... I'm voting for Sen. Edwards tomorrow. It really amounts to a protest vote, since it's pretty clear he is a long shot. Still, this was true about Dean, who I liked a lot for various reasons, and even for Gen. Clark, who I liked too. I don't like Sen. Kerry. I respect him, but don't really care for him. I expect he has a decent shot, but worry about him. And, he continues to piss me off. That's distastefully blunt, but it is the emotion that comes to mind once too often. Let me give you a couple examples.

For the second time in as many debates, Sen. Kerry brought up his plan to add 40 thousand more troops to Iraq. This might be necessary. Anyway, it surely is controversial, since many feel we have too many already, and feel if anything we should drop off some (let more UN troops handle it, let's say) after we nominally hand power over to the Iraqis. So, it would be nice if he said how he'd do it. Rep. Kucinich, showing he has a role if a forlorn one, called Sen. Kerry on it -- twice. Sen. Kerry just ignores him and goes into his boilerplate anti-Bush spiel. What is the point of being so far ahead, if it doesn't allow you to actually say something besides blather? As I said already, I'm sick of his blather, thoughtful it might be. [I defend against criticism of it here, but really, the guy has a point.]

And then there's gay marriage. Okay ... I admit it is a bit of a side show, though I hold fast to my belief the underlining social issues involved are very important and really matter. Sen. Edwards says "leave it to the states ... if a state accepts it, federal benefits would accrue, but leave it to the states." A bit of a copout, but hey, it's probably the best way out these days. What does Kerry do in the NY Debate? First, he gratuitously says that he personally (when not directly asked, it is a bit stupid to do something like this on controversial issues) doesn't think "marriage" applies to same sex couples [he was married twice, so he'd know, right?], but then adds he went to a same sex "wedding" ceremony, so he's not a bigot or anything. Oh please ... makes him sound like a total hypocrite. He can't stop himself -- he has to overnuance things and then outsmart himself, while complaining when someone calls him on it.

The problem is that he has the delegates and the twenty years in federal office that Edwards does not. Still, he does have his own problems, and doesn't need my vote yet. I'll give it to him when I have to ... for now I offer this:


Anyway, what is with this near 60 weather? I guess the Staten Island groundhog might have been right ... a bit of early Spring over here.

Politics: Balkanization [2/28] among others discussed the removing of two dissenting voices from the President's bioethics panel (irony of ironies, the removal was argued sometimes as neutral, when it was surely likely not). This is just a part of the administration's hard time in accepting debate, especially when it's politically problematic for them. When this seeps into scientific and intelligence areas, we are really in trouble. Bioethics is inherently divisive, and such a panel MUST be allowed to include dissenting views. This is a troubling example of a broader trend. My comments on the NY Debate are here and Kerry's recent foreign policy speech, here. And lousy or no, the U.S. did not do a great job of dealing with the fall of Aristide. Same old, same old.


Oscars: Billy Crystal's open montage and musical numbers were fun but then we had a long period of mostly dullness. The show could have been over before March, if all the technical awards (and a few more, such as song) were handed out to Lord of the Rings all at once. Before 11, if all the awards from New Zealand and Australia were handed out together. Things perked up when the winner for Documentary Short gave an eloquent speech for her work Chernobyl Heart [Tim Robbins gave a nice speech too with a great end bit about victims of abuse.] The performances for "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" (A Mighty Wind) and "Belleville Rendez-ous" (The Triplets of Belleville) really gave a needed energy as things approached hour three. Also, the "words to the 'you're done' instrumental" by Jack Black and Will Farrell was hilarious as well.

The LOTR swept, except for those wherein they weren't nominated. A few "what were they thinking" presenter match-ups (the worse, John Travolta and Sandra Bullock). Charlize Theron has an emotional speech as did Renee Zellweger (the best part of Cold Mountain, but Patricia Clarkson was better). I'm truly annoyed Sean Penn won over Ben Kingsley or Bill Murray ... his overacting didn't match their excellent performances. The winner of the "Short Film" (Live Action) went long. Sofia Coppola was sweet when she accepted her award for Best (Original) Screenplay. And, the winner for Finding Nemo impressed women everywhere (except those who thought it too corny) by sweetly saying how he passed a note to his now wife in school. Overall, the 76th Annual Academy Awards were rather dull.