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2004/02/29

Oscar Blogging (In Real Time)

- Mmm, Angelina Jolie looks sweet tonight. And I mean really sweet. Enough for me to forgive all the awful movies she's been doing recently.

- Sofia Coppola is really shy -- look at the way she cringes whenever a reporter approaches her. (Though I'd cringe at some of these guys too.)

- The Oscars should really leave these jokey introductions to the MTV Video Awards.

- Okay, Michael Moore being stomped by a Mumak, that's funny.

- Now if only someone'd stomp Billy Crystal. Please. No, stomping isn't good enough for him. I'm sure there are some scenes in The Passion of the Christ that are worthy punishment for his singing.

- What the hell is with all the Pete Rose jokes? What is this, the 1990 Oscars?

- Is it just me, or does Benicio del Toro look like Dr. Zira tonight?

- Wow, Tim Robbins made it through his acceptance speech without an overtly political statement.

- See, now Robin Williams would make a much better host.

- Yay, let's heap more praise on sappy CG cartoons!

- Wow, I can't believe Ngila Dickson beat Ngila Dickson!

- Oh, no, Richard Taylor's going to speak, isn't he. His voice makes me want to drive a screwdriver into each of my ears.

- Richard Taylor's the second winner who thanked his wife (partner) for sticking with him since he was a teenager.

- And the award for Worst Southern Accent goes to Renee Zellweger.

- Oh my Ghu! Liv Tyler doesn't look like a transvestite bullfrog tonight! I could almost believe Aragorn would dump Eowyn for her. Almost.

But then, I always found the Lisa Loeb look hot.

- What drugs did Elvis Costello have to use to get Alison Kraus to marry him?

- Billy Crystal just got better writers. The "I Know You're Thinking" bit was the funniest thing he's done all night.

- Jennifer Garner - post-op transexual.

- Bill Murray - Yet another presenter shows up Billy Crystal.

- Did you know that Scarlett Johnasson is only 19? Yeah. Now I feel guilty when I thinkabout how hot she was in Ghost World.

- Smart move having Julia Roberts pay tribute to Katherine Hepburn -- there's no way she can cream her pants over a dead woman.

- And so the agrandizement of Robert McNamara continues. Whatever PR firm he's using is really good -- they could probably make-over Satan's image.

- Two hours fifteen minutes until the first overtly political (non comedic) moment of the show. It got more claps than Michael Moore last year (and in the same category! What is it with documentarians?) yet most of it seemed more polite than heart-felt, and in the shot of the audience a lot of people seemed to be sitting on their hands.

- Of all the awards for Lord of the Rings to win, editing? The film with overly long fades-to-black during the denoument? This is the one category where the film fell down.

- For every woman, there comes a point when she needs to stop showing off her cleavage. Jamie Lee Curtis has reached that point.

- I don't know anything about the film, but Triplets of Bellvue should definitely win for Best Song.

Nope. Robbed by Shore and Lennox. While I liked the rest of the score, the song really wasn't that good -- especially compared to Emilliana Torrini's job last year. But I think I'm the only person who actually liked "Gollum's Song".

- Trivia for the Best Cinematographer category: John Schwartzman (Seabisquit) is Francis Ford Copolla's nephew, which makes him Sofia's cousin. He's also brother to Jason Schwartzman and son of Talia Shire. That's quite some family.

- If Susan Sarandon doesn't pull up the strap of her dress, she's going to have her own Janet Jackson moment.

- Yay Sofia!

- Well, the show's already running ten minutes long and they still have Best Actor, Actress, Director, and Picture.

- Damn, I was really rooting for Sofia to take Best Director.

- Looks like the only category that isn't going to be clear-cut will be Best Actor -- Murray, Penn, or will Depp pull an upset?

Of all the years to give Spicoli an Oscar. Should've gone to Marray.

- Penn thinks Robert Downey, Jr. is a great actor? What is he, on dope?

- And Cthulhu is he inarticulate when he doesn't have a script.

- Half an hour over-time. I'm missing Subterranean now.

- I'd like to thank Blogger and Blogspot for making this possible, and ABC for airing the show. Now I'm outa here. Gonna watch Beck on Subterranean. Good night.
A Travesty Waiting to Happen

Odds are Return of the King will win a Best Picture Oscar tonight and Peter Jackson will take home the Best Director statuette. The logic is that the Academy often awards past achievements -- hence Russell Crowe's win for Gladiator wasn't because he delivered a superb sword-swinging performance, but because the Academy had snubbed his superior acting job in The Insider the year before. This year the conventional wisdom is that the Academy will award Jackson and RotK as a way of recognizing the whole trilogy, but I can't help but feel that doing so would be fixing a mistake with a travesty.

Now I'm not one of those geeks who thinks Fellowship was robbed in 2002 -- while A Beautiful Mind is unmitigated trash that's been deservedly forgotten by most people, Mulholland Drive, Ghost World, and Donnie Darko were far more deserving than FotR. No, if any part of the trilogy deserved an Oscar, it was The Two Towers. While certainly the weakest film in the series, it was released in a horribly weak year.

But by waiting until this year to reward Lord of the Rings, the Academy has put itself in a position where it has to snub the real best picture of the year -- Lost in Translation, easily the best film of the 21st Century so far, and perhaps the greatest romcom since Bringing up Baby. To overlook what Sofia Coppola's done will discredit the Academy among anyone who still has faith in them. Unfortunately, they're probably trying to compensate for awarding Annie Hall over Star Wars.

2004/02/27

Twisted

The ads for the new movie Twisted promise an Ending. That. Will. Leave. You. Guessing. Which is marketing-speak for a twist so obvious you'll see it coming after the first fifteen minutes -- you know, like a bad episode of Law & Order.

My question is, why bother?

Has any movie with ads like that ever suceeded? I mean, commercials for The Sixth Sense and 12 Monkeys never mentioned their surprise endings, but the craptacular Life of David Gale's ad campaign was based upon nothing else (to the point that you could guess the big twist without even seeing the movie). I'd go so far as to argue that any movie that proclaims the brilliance of its ending is going to be awful.

But then, you can figure that out from Ashley Judd's presence in the film.
Get Out of My Mind, You Commie!

Christopher Hitchens on Australian TV:

    One reason I think [Kerry's] campaign is very lame -- it's supposed to have momentum, I wouldn't say it had much enthusiasm behind it -- he gives the impression that it's kind of his turn to be president and that he has a feeling of entitlement to the job.


Me, at the start of the year:

    And if you look at the serious Democratic candidates this year, all of them save Dean have the same lethargy that plagued Dole and Gore (and to an extent Clinton and Bush) -- as though they've worked their way up the ladder of public service and deserve a shot at the Presidency before they get the fabled gold watch. When you listen to Kerry or Gephardt, there's no sense that they're running because they believe in anything; it's just that Senators are supposed to run for President after so many terms.

2004/02/26

William Castle Presents: The Passion of the Christ

So apparently The Passion is so intense that it's actually killing audience members. Maybe Mel Gibson should go into horror movies, produce a remake of The Tingler.

But then, I suppose the story of a supernatural entity who can't be killed and manages to escape even when nailed to a pair of beams, is something of a horror movie to begin with.

2004/02/25

The Passion of Christ Compels You

Well, Mel Gibson's adaptation of the classic SciFi novel The Thing with Three Souls (usually found in a double-edition with The War God of Israel) hits theaters today, but not before critics hit it. Right now it's a mere 53% on the Tomato Meter -- 35% with the Cream of the Crop critics (cabalists take note of those numbers). So far the best review has to be from David Edelstein, who calls it The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre.

    Ever since his star began to rise after the 1979 Australian thriller Mad Max, Mel Gibson hasn't seemed fully alive on screen unless he's being tortured and mutilated. In the Road Warrior and Lethal Weapon films, as well as such one-shots as Conspiracy Theory (1997) and The Patriot (2000), Gibson courted martyrdom, and he achieved it. He won an Oscar for his labors in Braveheart (1995), which ends with its hero managing to scream "FREEEEE-DOM!!" as he's drawn and quartered. Gibson snatched the pulp movie Payback (1999) away from its writer-director, Brian Helgeland, to make the torture of his character even more gruelingly explicit: He added shots of his toes being smashed by an iron hammer. Payback: That's what almost all of Gibson's movies are about (including his 1990 Hamlet.) Even if he begins as a man of peace, Mad Mel ends as a savage revenger.
Yeah, that does sound a fair summary of Gibosn's career. And let's not forget his ritual emasculation in What Women Want (but of course he can never be too emasculated, because a beef-cake like him could never be gay or anything -- and if you don't believe it, he'll add a scene of Jesus throwing a homosexual out a window).

Even so, the excessive gore that Edelstein (and other critics) goes on to complain about might be interesting -- it has to be better than some lame remake of Dawn of the Dead.
Well That's Got to Be Embarrassing

I'd like to point out that as of 12:52 PM Eastern Time, the Reuters website is broke.

2004/02/24

Something Is Rotten in the State of Texas

A big, ugly kerfluffle is brewing in Texas. One of three things is going on here:

  1. The rumors are true and a story like this is too juicy for people to keep quiet about,
  2. The rumor's been manufactured whole-cloth by the opposition, or
  3. The rumor's true and the opposition is spreading it to ensure a full-blown scandal happens.
If 2) or 3) are the case, then this is really dirty pool, and as satisfying as it would be for this scandal to errupt just as Bush is trying to ban gay marriage (and involving his successor to the governorship of Texas no less), if the Democrats have sunk to Walter Winchell tactics like this, then they're as low as the Republicans.
I Thought We Elected a Republican?

Remember a time when Republicans stood for federalism, the principle that each state should be able to govern itself with minimal interference from Washington? Well, it's no more. Nope, President Bush has decided he doesn't like the way states are handling the question of gay marriage, so he's throwing all pretext to the wind and endorsing a Constitutional Amendment that would ban states from making their own laws on the subject.

Any true conservative, even one who oppose gay marriages, should think this is a horrible idea, no different from, say, a federal law dictating how states should handle gun licences -- something that would have Republicans marching in the streets. But if the Religious Right has so much power over the party that they can get it to scrap its core principles, then it's not the party of conservatives any more.

2004/02/23

Mel Gibson -- Definitely Not a Homersexual

I'm not entirely sure what to make of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Many of the critics haven't even seen the movie yet, and the ones who have can't agree on whether the film's antisemitic. Some of the few specific criticisms I have heard are of things that actually are in the Bible, but so far no one's had the guts to point out that, yes, some of the Gospels do contain antisemitic material -- that the early Christians found it more politically expedient to say the Jews killed Jesus than the Romans (even though the history of the First Century clearly shows that the Romans didn't pussyfoot around with radicals like the J-man).

Then there's the treatment of Gibson's relationship to his father. Certainly some of Gibson's comments about the Holocaust make it sound like he's been infected by his dad's moonbattery, but all the same, I find the attempts to get him to denounce his father reprehensible -- how he gets along with his dad is his business alone and doesn't belong in the public sphere unless he chooses to bring it up.

However, when considering The Passion it might be helpful to note that this isn't the first time Gibson's been accused of intolerence. His first directorial outing, Braveheart, sparked controversy over the portrayal of Edward II as a simpering prissy-boy. We might be able to write that off as a one-time incident or blame it on Wallace's screenplay, except that Gibson's expressed his disgust of homosexuals before. All the way back in 1991, he said:

    "They take it up the ass," Gibson told El Pais as he got out of his chair, bent over and pointed to his butt. "This is only for taking a shit," he said.

    Reminded by the interviewer, Koro Castellano, that he worked with gays while studying at the School of Dramatic Arts, Gibson added: "They were good people, kind, I like them. But their thing is not my thing."

    Castellano said, "But you were obsessed with the thought that if you were an actor, people would confuse you with one of them."

    "Yes," Gibson admitted, "but I did it. I became an actor despite that. But with this look, who's going to think I'm gay? It would be hard to take me for someone like that.

    "Do I sound like a homosexual?" he asked. "Do I talk like them? Do I move like them?

    "What happens is when you're an actor, they stick that label on you," Gibson said. "I go from playing rugby one week to taking dance classes in black leotards the next. Many of the girls that I met in school took it for granted that I was gay."
Now many actors speak more freely when dealing with the foreign press on the theory that the average American will never hear about it (the dumb ones do this when dealing with British reporters, but the smart ones save it for the non-English press). In this case, Gibson was obviously not expecting his comments to make it to America, and when they did his reaction was pretty much the same as it is to criticism of The Passion -- whine, whine, whine, I have a right to my opinion, how dare they criticize me, whine, whine, whine.

    "I don't think there's an apology necessary, and I'm certainly not giving one," Gibson said. "[Those remarks were a response] to a direct question. If someone wants my opinion, I'll give it. What, am I supposed to lie to them?

    "The other thing is, it was translated from English to Spanish, back from Spanish to English, then used by [columnist] Liz Smith [who received the story from this reporter] out of context in her article," Gibson said. "It's old news, really old news."

    The Spanish-to-English translation was done by this reporter, who speaks Spanish, and by a professional translator who emigrated from Cuba.

    The "Good Morning America" interviewer pressed Gibson, "Are you saying to me that you did not make any anti-gay statements at all?"

    Gibson responded: "I didn't lie. Put it that way.... Liz Smith seems to be violating my right to have an opinion. I have a right to an opinion."
So first he raises the possibility that his meaning was lost in the translation, but when given the opportunity to deny the remarks, he doesn't. Instead he switches to a completely moronic tact -- how the hell is Liz Smith infringing upon his right to an opinion by reporting his public statements? Freedom of Speech isn't Freedom from Criticism, and if he's going to take a stand he should have the guts to take the heat from those who disagree.

But he doesn't -- he wants to insulate himself from anyone who disagrees with his views, whether on homosexuality or Jesus. Regardless of whether his film's antisemitic, his attitude is childish.

2004/02/22

Please, Wotan, I'll Slaughter a Goat if You Don't Do This to Us

I take back every nasty thing I've ever said about Edwards. Okay, not every nasty thing -- he's still an inexperienced populist with awful ideas about trade. But even so, he's better than Kerry. Anything but Kerry at this point, just so we don't have to put up with this.

    Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a leading Georgia Republican speaking for President Bush's re-election campaign, predicted Kerry's "32-year history of voting to cut defense programs and cut defense systems" would not play well in the state's primary on March 2.

    In a conference call arranged by the Bush campaign, Chambliss said voters would be looking at the four-term Massachusetts senator's voting record and "beyond what he says."

    "I don't know what it is about what these Republicans who didn't serve in any war have against those of us who are Democrats who did," Kerry told reporters shortly after he arrived in Atlanta.

    "Saxby Chambliss on behalf of the president and his henchmen decided today to question my commitment to the defense of our nation,'' he said. ``I'm not going to stand by and allow these Republicans who continually go to the low road to challenge my commitment."
Note that Kerry's "32-year history" begins after his return from Vietnam, so what he's saying is that no one (at least no one who hasn't served in a war) can question any of his national security policies, in essence giving himself a Get Out of Jail Free card on the subject.

This is why I hate the chicken-hawk argument -- if you take it to its logical extreme you end up with the Federal Republic from Starship Troopers where only those who've served in the military can vote. Sorry, Kerry, doesn't work that way. Fighting in a war doesn't automatically imbue you with superior judgement on foreign policy or military appropriations, any more than being able to install Windows means you can program a computer -- saying that it does is just a weak argumentum ad veracundiam.

(Via Kausfiles.)

2004/02/21

Run, Nader, Run

Well, looks like Ralph Nader might be running for President again, and according to this poll, he could be a spoiler once again.

    If Green Party candidate Ralph Nader were to enter the race he would take four percent of the vote, with Bush and Kerry still almost evenly matched (43 percent-42 percent respectively). Nader's advisors told Fox News Friday that he would enter the race as an independent candidate.
What's interesting is that Nader supporters don't seem to dislike Bush (or at least not significantly more than they dislike Democrats) -- if they did, wouldn't they throw their support to the Democrats so as to ensure Bush's defeat?

2004/02/20

Argumentum ad Trivia

Andrew Sullivan offers this factoid:

    At this point in the election cycle, only three post-war incumbent presidents have been behind their challengers in the polls: Harry Truman and Gerald Ford. And George W. Bush.
Sounds interesting until you consider one thing -- modern polling, with the concept of random samplings and margins of error, has only really been around since the 1920s. That means there are only five Presidents in the sample (Truman (WWII), Eisenhower (Korea), Ford (Vietnam), G.H.W.Bush (Gulf War), G.W.Bush (Iraq)), of which the three Sullivan mentions are the majority. (Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon all fought wars (three of them the same war in fact) but none faced election after the conflicts ended; Carter, Reagan, and Clinton deployed troops in military actions, but none were really significant enough to qualify them as post-war Presidents.)

So let's break this down.

  • Truman -- ended WWII -- behind in polls -- won

  • Eisenhower -- ended Korea -- ahead in the polls -- won

  • Ford -- oversaw final withdrawal of US forces from Vietnam -- behind in polls -- lost

  • G.H.W.Bush -- fought Gulf War -- ahead in polls -- lost

  • G.W.Bush -- fought Afghanistan and Iraq wars -- behind in polls -- ?
Not only do we have a miniscule sample size, but the distribution is pretty much even -- post-war Presidents have a 50-50 chance of winning regardless of whether they're ahead or behind in the polls ten months before the election.

2004/02/19

No Wonder They Can't Stand to See Their Kids Educated by Anyone Else

My encounters with home-schoolers and their parents have left me rather dubious of the concept.

I went to high school with a girl named Michelle who'd been home-schooled until her sophomore year. Michelle's parents were devout Christians though not quite fundamentalists, and her understanding of evolution seemed to've been derived from Jack Chick, but she was one of the sweetest girls you could ever meet -- like something out of the Smurfs or Rainbow Brite. Unfortunately, that left her rather unprepared for the world of high school. (In her parents defense, part of the reason for sending her to a public high school was so she could experience the real world.)

Now, there was also a boy called Ajax at my high school. And I say "called" for a reason -- his real name was Aubrey, but he drank a bottle of Ajax when he was a kid and it left him brain damaged. But he suffered a far worse handicap -- his parents felt so sorry for him that they let him get away with whatever he wanted without ever teaching him discipline. And so it was that even in high school he acted like a kindergartener -- banging on his desk like a drum set, throwing a tanturm if the teacher told him to stop, and generally being unable to sit quietly for ten seconds.

While the school made him attend special ed classes for the core requirements (math, science, English), they let him take regular electives, including a Speech & Drama course that I happened to share with Michelle. There were also a few asshats in the class -- you know, the sort who used to be class clowns but have passed into the realm of hooligans -- and they found that goading Aubrey was a good way to disrupt class without getting punished themselves.

One of the japes they devised was to tell Aubrey that Michelle had a crush on him. He'd ask her out and she'd reject him, then the guys would convince him that she was playing hard to get. This went on for about a month until one day Michelle completely lost it.

Aubrey was sitting next to her, and all through class he was whispering to her: "Why won't you go out with me? I know you like me."

Michelle kept hissing at him to shut up and leave her alone, but he persisted. And persisted. And persisted.

If we'd had regular 50 minute classes, she might've been able to put up with it until the end of the period, but we had 100 minute block scheduling, and after about an hour, Michelle turned to Aubrey and said, "Shut up! I don't like you and I'm not going to go out with you."

"You don't like me?"

"No, Aubrey, I don't like you. I hate you."

"But I thought you were a Christian."

"I am."

"Doesn't the Bible say you're supposed to love every body?"

"Yes, but there's an exception for you." Suddenly Michelle reached down for her backpack and whipped out her Bible. She opened it to the middle and pointed to a random passage. "See, right here. It says Michelle can hate Aubrey."

"Bu--"

"And it says you're going to burn in hell if you don't stop talking to me."

***

I've also encountered some parents -- non-religious ones, no less -- who are absolutely fanatical about home-schooling and think that any government attempt to regulate it is an indictment of their parenting skills. Even though they acknowledge that they know fundies who use home schooling to keep their kids from learning about sex and evolution, they freak out at suggestions that even I, a pretty libertarian person, find perfectly reasonable -- like requiring home-schoolers to take the same standardized tests as regular students so as to ensure that they're actually learning something, or mandating that home-school curricula include evolution.

***

And then, there's this.

    On February 17 NBC's 'Law and Order - Special Victims Unit' - a legal drama produced by Universal TV Productions - aired a show about homeschooling.

    It portrayed homeschooling as a cover for child abuse.

    Needless to say NBC and Universal were unconcerned about offending hundreds of thousands of honest, law-abiding homeschool families.

    [...]

    It is blatantly unfair to negatively portray a minority and tar every homeschooler with the same brush.
Um, no, actually, there's nothing inherently wrong with representing a minority group negatively. See, what they're doing here is palming a card -- "minority," as the word is commonly used in American English, refers to a minority racial or ethnic group. Stereotyping such groups is wrong because it's based upon inherent traits that are beyond an individual's control, not because they're a minority group -- if blacks made up 80% of the population, it'd still be wrong to tell racial jokes involving watermelons. But home-schoolers aren't a minority in that sense -- parents make a conscious decision to home-school their children and can change their mind at any time -- they're merely a subset which makes up less than half of a larger set. As such, negative portrayals of home-school familes are no more intrinsically wrong than negative portrayals of billionaires, or Hollywood actors, or drug dealers.

Now we can debate whether SVU's negative portrayal was unfounded or not (or even whether it should be taken as an indictment of home-schooling in general), but for this organization to couch its outrage in terms of discrimination against racial minorities is an insult to the groups that experience genuine racism.

    The consequences for innocent homeschool families can be serious. Some people might actually believe the picture painted by Law and Order SVU and use the anonymous tip procedure to report homeschool families for abuse and neglect without any factual basis.
On the other hand, some people might read this group's press release and conclude that home-school advocates are whiney bitches.

    HSLDA is considering its options in this matter.
"Considering its options" is usually PR-speak for "our lawyers are trying to figure out how to sue." I'd really like to see that -- it'd be a wonderful laught to watch it get thrown out of court.

2004/02/18

WORLD EXCLUSIVE -- MUST CREDIT GIBBERISH IN NEUTRAL -- MEL GIBSON IN DEAL WITH GOD -- ULTIMATE MARKETING TIE-IN -- RAPTURE SET FOR THIS SUNDAY!

I've learned through sources that Mel Gibson, using the Pope as an intermediary, has struck a deal with God. In return for 30% of the gross, God has agreed to hold the Rapture this Sunday. All church groups attending Sunday afternoon showings of The Passion of the Christ will be taken bodily into heaven at the end of the film (due to guild contracts, the Rapture will have to wait until after the end credits).

Now this part is very important: only those who attend church in the morning and the movie in the afternoon will be taken up. Participating churches will be issuing chits to parishioners at the end of services. You must present your chit along with your ticket stub at the Pearly Gates -- you will not be admitted to heaven if you do not have both.

Check with your pastor or priest to find out whether your church is participating in the promotion.

UPDATE: This really has the folks at New Market, The Passion's distributor, upset. Their head of marketing just sent me this email:

    We had absolutely no knowledge of this deal when we picked up the film. As you know, none of the major studios were willing to touch the film with a ten-foot pole and we picked it up at great financial risk (it's the widest release we've ever distributed). Now we find out that Gibson's struck a deal which will guarantee absolutely no repeat business -- this seriously jeopardizes our long term strategy!

    And on top of that, our research shows that this might actually hurt the film on Sunday. The movie was testing through the roof with males 13-35 (90+ in test screenings!) what with the copious amounts of blood, but now the prospect of spending eternity strumming a harp is seriously turning them off. We're afraid many of them will opt to see the titties in Eurotrip instead.
I Don't Think Allah's Getting a Job as a Campaign Manager

Edwards '04 - Let's Risk It

There are more here.

2004/02/17

Hey, Roger, I Hear Marilyn Manson Used to Star on Wonder Years

Last week Fox News gossip columnist Roger Friedman reported that New Market films was planning to keep Mel Gibson's new film The Passion of the Christ, which some have suggested will enflame antisemitism, from playing in liberal and Jewish neighborhoods.

    Newmarket Films, which is distributing the movie, seems to have picked a pattern that concentrates heavily on the south and the Midwest, focusing on the Bible Belt and locations where "The Passion of the Christ" will meet with the least resistance. West Virginia will have about three times as many theaters as Rhode Island, for example. Vermonters have three theatres while their more conservative next-door neighbors in New Hampshire, a state equal in size, will have twelve.

    Calls to Newmarket and to its public relations firm were not returned to this column yesterday. But in the positioning of "The Passion of the Christ," Gibson has consciously created a divisive atmosphere for the presentation of his film. For example, he has screened the movie widely for groups on the religious right while avoiding all mainstream groups, as well as film critics for fear of poor advance word.
It's a great story with just one small problem -- it's not true -- Friedman completely flubbed up in researching the story. David Poland explains the underlying flaws in the article and how little research he had to do to find the truth:

    Such is the story with today's breathtakingly inaccurate and malicious fairy tale by Roger Friedman, printed at FoxNews.com regarding the release pattern of The Passion of The Christ. The premise of this unresearched mess is that Newmarket Films and Mel Gibson are avoiding big cities and Jewish populations with the theatrical release pattern of the film.

    There has been no journalist who has been more critical of Gibson's self-fulfilling-prophecy style of showing this film selectively, building a furor when he is publicly claiming to be fearful that one will erupt, than myself. However, a major media outlet propagating false information in an attack on the film - especially when suggesting that it is news and not opinion - is beyond any acceptable idea of journalistic ethics.

    Moreover, for Roger Friedman, a Jew, to so incautiously swing these lies around like a bag full of angry cats is, in my opinion, deeply damaging to Jews everywhere who do not wish to be accused of being willing to stoop to any depth in order to maintain our position in society.

    I am not sure that Roger Friedman meant to put such a blatant factual lie in print. I am sure his editors would have stopped it had they known. But Friedman failed to do the most basic job of being a journalist-- checking out the facts. Instead, he lazily went to one internet source, apparently unaware of two basic facts: 1. Ticket sales websites are not well designed for long-range presales. 2. There is no movie ticket sales website that offers tickets to all the theaters in any major market.

    It took me all of two minutes to find out that Roger Friedman's facts were incorrect. I went to two web sites and made one phone call.
Now Poland's giving Friedman the benefit of the doubt here, but I'm not -- this isn't the first time Friedman's published unsubstantiated rumors without fact-checking first. Last year he wrote on Tom Clancy's latest book, which focuses on Jack Ryan Jr. rather than his father, who's been promoted so far up the chain of command that he can't believably involve himself in the plots anymore.

    Was best-selling author Tom Clancy pressured to drop his franchise character from his newest thriller because of ageism?

    And is he writing his own books?

    The answer to the first question, according to sources, is "yes."
Friedman goes on to substantiate -- and that's really stretching the word -- this claim with a series of unnamed sources.

    For years, publishing insiders have wondered whether Clancy has written all his books by himself.
and

    Rovin has done such a bang-up job with "Op Center" that Clancy fans have been wondering if he isn't a major contributor to, if not the outright author of, novels like "Teeth" and other recent Clancy offerings such as "Red Rabbit" and "Without Remorse."
and

    "He sent me a novel once and it was not publishable," says one literary agent.
In other words, Friedman's reporting a bunch of rumors. And having read alt.books.tom-clancy off and on for the last few years, I've never seen anyone apart from drive-by trolls accuse Clancy of using a ghost-writer.

The fact is, Clancy's been up-front about which books he's written, co-written, or share-cropped. He's acknowledged the importance of Larry Bond's war-game to the development of Hunt for Red October and said that he and Bond developed Red Storm Rising while trying to come up with a war-game scenario for a full scale non-nuclear war in Europe (yes, RSR is based on a type of role-playing-game), but Bond was too busy to participate in the actual writing. (One need only read Bond's own WWIII novel Cauldron to see the significant differences in their styles, particularly with regard to air and naval battles.) Clancy's never claimed authorship of the Apostrophe Books (Tom Clancy's Op Center, Tom Clancy's Net Force, etc) beyond coming up with the basic concepts, and the books he has actually coauthored bear two names on the cover. I don't see why he'd be honest about not writing some books but not others. Or, for that matter, how an unknown insurance salesman could finagle someone into ghost-writing a novel for him when no one knew the book would get published let alone become a best-seller. (As it was, Hunt for Red October ended up being published by the Naval Institute Press after being rejected by major publishers.)

Clancy's own reaction to Friedman's allegations was pretty acerbic:

    No, actually i have a deal with the spirit of Elvis, who also writes songs for Madonna. A pity I did not appreciate his work when he was alive. Not a bad ghost, as ghosts go, though the ones at Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, the Tower of London (the correct nomenclature, by the way), are rather more cosmopolitan in their outlook.

    I do not write naked. It could hurt when I spill my coffee, and our maid might die from the thrill.

    [...]

    One of the problems with success is that envious people try to tear you down. This Fox piece, which I saw yesterday, was evidently made from whole cloth. The reporter never even tried to contact me. (Fox has my number, by the way. They've called me before.)
Indeed. Now we have two examples of stories by Friedman which are dead wrong. What does a man got to do to get fired from Fox News?
Virginia, Home of Progressive Homosexuality Laws?

Sometimes Virginia surprises me. Despite being very socially conservative, the state still has libertarian roots, which might explain why, even after voting last week to keep a ban on gay marriage, the House of Delegates today passed one bill that lets employers give health insurance to the partners of homosexual employees, and rejected another that would've prevented gay couples from getting state housing laons. Even though the first passed by a narrow majority and still has to go to state Senate, this is a promising development -- if cultural conservatives can't even stop Virginia from recognizing the rights of gay couples, they've lost the war.
There Is Nothing Funny About Insulting French People. Really.

Did you know that our Canuckian neighbors are in a tizzy over Conan O'Brien broadcasting from Canada last week? Yeah. Apparently he had Triumph the Insult Comic Dog insult the Quebecois, and that's just not allowed. Or something.

One outraged editorialist asked:

    But I wonder how he'd feel if we let Canada's Insulting Beaver Puppet loose on U.S. TV to yuk it up about Sept. 11.
Hold on there Kevin! I know having to share a country with a bunch of Frenchmen is a national tragedy, but how about a little perspective here -- insulting Frenchmen isn't in the same league as joking about the 3000 deaths; it's not even the same sport. With a hypersensitive attitude like that, it's no wonder the country's the butt of so many jokes. (No, Canadians, this isn't the first time we've made fun of you. And, yes, we do think your butt looks big in that dress.)

2004/02/16

Marketing Genius

This is pure brilliance -- Mel Gibson is asking churches to buy airtime on their local cable system to advertize The Passion -- yes, he wants people to run pay for the commercials for him. I don't know why no one ever thought of this before.
Out, Out you Ding-dang-doodle Spot!

The Volokh Conspiracy has an interesting discussion on a college student who's suing her university because a drama class required her to recite lines with naughty-words. Sasha Volokh suggests:

    A useful role these sorts of "ridiculous" accommodation claims serve is to remind us how ideological even innocent-looking activities can be. Putting on Gone with the Wind means that someone has to say "Damn," even if it's against their religion (or other deeply held belief), and what if this is required to get a drama degree from a public university?
To me that seems a perfectly reasonable imposition. Acting is all about saying things you don't necessarily agree with -- if you can't do that, you're not acting and your degree is worthless. I'd put this in the same category as someone going for a biology degree but refusing to study evolution, or an English major specializing in 20th Century British literature objecting to an assignment on D.H. Lawrence -- some fields of study just aren't always compatible with every belief system.
Home Movies

I'm loving the new season of Home Movies on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. Dropping the Squigglevision last season was a major improvement in the watchability, but they were still stuck with a show that had been developed to be a family-friendly broadcast series. This is the first season where they've really cut loose with adult humor (albeit still the dry style of Dr. Katz, so it still stands out in contrast to Brak and Aqua Teen Hunger Force; the only thing the Adult Swim comedies have in common is that they appeal to specialized tastes). I love things like Coach McGuirk explaining to the kids why you don't want to mix liquor and beer -- complete with a rhyme to help them remember.

2004/02/14

This Post Brought to You by Moo-zilla Spaceimpala


This is both the best and most worthless Mozilla Phoenix Firebirdfox extension ever -- created in honor of Mozilla's experimental new browser having to change its name for the second time in three releases, this extension changes the program name every time you use it.

Yes, I'm easily amused.

2004/02/13

Say Goodbye to Misterr Tall Dark & Angsty

Looks like Angel is going to UHF Heaven. If, as rumored, Enterprise is close behind, next season will be a lull point for network SF series, the likes of which haven't seen since the early '90s -- the only series left will be Smallville, Charmed, and perhaps a couple syndicated shows, along with whatever the SciFi channel shows between airings of the Biggest Douche in the Universe and Scare Tactics.
Congresscritters in Slimeball Spinarama

Forget the question of who Kerry's been diddling recently and check out this review of Kerry's recent authorized biography. There are parts of it where he sounds like Mayor Joe Quimby (appropriate considering Quimby's based upon Kerry's pal Teddy "Chappaquiddick" Kennedy).

    A READER LEARNS to read between the lines. Brinkley is loath to say anything critical of Kerry, but every once in a while the cat slips out of the bag anyway, purring suggestively. In prep school, a friend recalls, "John was always talking about global issues. He was only eighteen years old and he knew just everything about politics. . . . That annoyed some people. No doubt about it." "He relished holding court on every policy issue," Brinkley writes. Translation: He was a know-it-all.

    "He always had a sense," says another friend, "of his place in history as a young man." He loved public speaking in the exhortatory mode, especially when he himself was doing the speaking, and he got to hector his first big audience in 1958, at the age of fifteen, in a speech to his classmates called "The Plight of the Negro." One Negro was present. When he vacationed abroad as a college student, another friend recalls, "There was only one thing John had to do in London, and that was go to Hyde Park Corner and make a speech. He stood up on a soapbox and off he went." Translation: He was a windbag and a know-it-all.
Yes, this is what the Democrats are buying and hoping to pass off on America. And they chickened out on nominating Dean because he's conceited?
Pull Ze Strings!

Well, Andrew Sullivan is sounding paranoid about who planted this Kerry/Intern rumor, suggesting it might be former Kerry, Gore, and Clarke adviser Chris Lehane, or maybe Republicans trying to smear Kerry early, or perhaps rival Dems trying to get in a shot at Kerry while making it look like Republicans are behind it.

Sadly, all of those are possible.

Hell, at this point I'm starting to wonder if Peter Jennings asked Wesley Clark if he'd repudiate Michael Moore's allegation that Bush was a deserter, was a way to bring the subject back to media attention.

Yeah, this is going to be a fun election year.

Meanwhile, it's interesting to note that the British press -- from the Indy to the Telegraph -- is all over the Kerry story, but apart from Salon and a couple right-wing organization, the non-blog press in America hasn't touched it yet. I guess the US media actually does have higher standards than our Rightpondian cousins.

At least for now. By Monday this'll reach critical mass and we'll be subjected to wall-to-wall coverage of Interngate II: The Cigar's Revenge. It might even drive Scott Peterson and Michael Jackson off cable for a few days.

2004/02/12

Any Bets on How Long This Page Will Stay Up?

Some days the line between earnestness and self-parody is very fine indeed.

(Via Andrew Sullivan who got it from Taranto.)
And Now It Really Begins

You know that scene in The Two Towers movie where Suicide Bomber Orc is running with the Olympic Torch, and Aragorn's up on the wall shouting "Take him down!" Well, looks like something similar is happening in the presidential campaign, and John Kerry's been cast as the orc. Which I guess makes Matt Drudge Legolas.

    A frantic behind-the-scenes drama is unfolding around Sen. John Kerry and his quest to lockup the Democratic nomination for president, the DRUDGE REPORT can reveal.

    Intrigue surrounds a woman who recently fled the country, reportedly at the prodding of Kerry, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned.

    A serious investigation of the woman and the nature of her relationship with Sen. John Kerry has been underway at TIME magazine, ABC NEWS, the WASHINGTON POST, THE HILL and the ASSOCIATED PRESS, where the woman in question once worked.
Well, the anti-Kerry wave has been long in building, but when it finally hits, it hits big.

I don't find this story particularly surprising -- I mean, a Senator and a ketchup heiress sounds more like an alliance than a romance. The question is, will it have the impact Drudge suggests?

Well Clinton certainly proved that infidelity isn't a crippling liability, but John Kerry is no Bill Clinton. With Clinton, his screwing fit right into his likable frat-boy persona, whereas with Kerry it runs completely counter to his stoney image. Still, it's late in the primaries and Kerry has enough of a lead in most places that this might only slow his race to the finish without putting him out of commision.

What'll decide Kerry's future is how his wife reacts. The thing that most saved Clinton was that Hillary stood by him in public. If Teresa Heinz does the same, Kerry'll have a chance; but if she gives him the cold shoulder, or refuses to appear at his side, or -- worst of all -- files for divorce, I think it's over for him.

2004/02/11

Out, Out, Damn Cheney

Instapundit posts a reader's comment.

    Resolved: There is no significant downside, and nearly limitless upside, in Pres Bush's replacement of Mr. Cheney with the lovely Ms. Rice. Please discuss.
The last clause is entirely superfluous -- there'd be no downside and limitless upside to replacing Cheney with anyone.

Of course Rice as VP would open up an interesting possibility -- what if Hillary Clinton ran in 2008? We'd end up with a situation where no matter who won, we'd have a female President.
Outrageous

It would seem the military's strapped for cash in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The military will have no money to pay for the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for three months beginning Oct. 1 because the White House is declining to ask Congress for funding until December or January, well after the presidential election.

    Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker told the Senate Armed Services Committee the $38 billion he has for 2004 war operations will last only until the end of September, as he spends $3.7 billion a month in Iraq and about $900 million a month in Afghanistan. The Army has about 114,000 soldiers in Iraq and roughly 10,000 in Afghanistan.

    [...]

    U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters Tuesday the decision not to request a supplemental rested with the White House. He could not explain why the administration would allow a three-month gap in funding the war on terror, ostensibly its top priority.

    "They have so many factors to consider. They have to look at all the departments and agencies. I don't know -- they'll certainly know a lot more," Rumsfeld said.

    Rumsfeld and Zakheim have said the delay has to do with wanting to wait to get better detail on what the spending needs will be.

    Zakheim said the services can cover the gap by shifting funding around in regular budgets until the White House requests additional money.
This is completely unacceptable. It was one thing to refuse to estimate the cost of the Iraq invasion before hand, when the exact course of the war remained unpredictable, but at this point the Pentagon should at least be able to give a rough estimate that can be altered as needs be.

The fact that this comes from the White House, and they're delaying until after the election stinks. It's like Bush is trying to hide some bills so his budget doesn't look more bloated than it already is.
We're Still Waiting

Howard Kurtz thinks the Kerry back-lash is (finally!) about to begin.

    John Kerry may have had an easy time of it in the Democratic primaries, but everything he's ever done, said and possibly thought is about to be excavated by the media and the Republicans.
Kurtz then goes on to repeat a recent item in the Drudge Report.

Meanwhile, even Bill Maher is saying Kerry's just your standard-issue untrustworthy politico.

Please, Cthulhu, let this train derail so the Dems can pick a good candidate -- at this point I'd even settle for Edwards though I think he's only marginally better than Kerry and probably not a match for Bush.
For Some Reason I Find This Disturbing

According to Diablo Cody, Arby's now accepts checks. That's just freaky. I mean it was one thing back in high school when my friends and I would pay for entire meals at McDonald's with game-pieces from their annual Monopoly game (and I'm talking like three bags filled with Big Macs and fries, along with sundaes and sodas), but writing a check for curly fries ... that's just not right.
All Your Cartoons Are Belong to Us

It would seem that Comcast is trying to buy out Disney. I hereby predict they'll be bankrupt in five years.

Well, so long as they don't jack up their prices.

2004/02/10

John Kerry -- Live from the Food Court

Watching the news coverage of the Virginia Primary results, I see that Kerry's set to give his victory speech in the Johnson Center at my alma matter, George Mason University. Now on camera the JC looks pretty impressive -- a voluminous enclosed attrium with an American flag the size of a baseball diamond stretched between the third floor collonade. If you're just watching it on TV, you wouldn't realize he's standing in the food court -- if the cameras rotated 90-degrees to the left, you'd see people standing in line at Taco Bell. (In fact, if I were still a student there, I'd be cursing Kerry for ruining my dinner, as I'm sure a number of my friends are doing right now.)

Although the pundits are already playing this as a sign that Kerry can run strong in the south, I think his choice of venue -- the heart of Northern Virginia, one of the wealthiest counties in America -- is telling. Like I mentioned earlier, I'm curious to see a geographic breakdown of the results, to see whether Kerry actually triumphed in the south, or if he's just dominating the populous suburbs of Washington.
Virginia Primary

Well, turn-out looks to be negligible. Admittedly I wet to vote at noon, but given the way the polling station was set up today, they aren't expecting more than a trickle. Normally they put half a dozen booths in the school gym, but today they only had two machines in the teacher lounge -- there were actually more teachers there than voters. They didn't even bother handing out "I Voted" stickers.

Still, the results should be interesting. Virginia is essentially two states -- there's Northern Virginia where I'm at, which is filled with people who moved here to work for the Federal Government; and the rest of the state, which is rather like Texas only wetter -- so there's a good chance we'll see schizophrenic results, probably with Dean and Kerry doing well in the north (and perhaps around Richmond) while Clark and Edwards fight it out in the rest of the state. I hope one of the news casts does a red-and-blue style map to show where different candidates are leading. I'd predict it'd look something like a geologic map of the state.

2004/02/09

Meet Firefox

Turns out that both Firebird .8 and Thunderbird .5 are being released today, though Firebird's getting yet another name change, this time to Firefox. Yeah, I know, not as awe-inspiring as Firebird, and it breaks the -bird theme (the stand-alone Mozilla calendar is Sunbird, and the planned HTML editor was reportedly going to be Moonbird), but apparently there was another program out there using the Firebird name.

I haven't installed the updates yet, and Mozilla.org and Mozillazine seem to be down under the strain, but Slashdot has an article.

UPDATE: Okay, finally got Thunderbird and Firebirdfox installed and working.

Thunderbird works great -- I just unzipped the files, changed the shortcut path, and bippidy-bop. All the extensions still work, though I had to remind TB of the location for a couple. On the surface it doesn't appear to be a great leap forward like .4 was over previous editions. Apart from the ability to share one inbox with multiple addresses, most of the improvements seem to be under the hood.

It was Firefox (awful name) that gave me fits. The new installer worked perfectly, and if I didn't have any extensions I could've just clicked the new icon and gone right into surfing. But I'm the type of guy who modifies FB as much as possible without actually editing the raw code.

Anyways, I figured most of my old extensions would need to be updated, and sure enough, I ended up purging my profile folder, making copies of my bookmarks and user pref files, and reinstalling everything, which took about an hour (I use a lot of extensions). Thankfully only two hadn't been updated for the new release, and both of those were more aesthetic than functional.

2004/02/08

Geek News

I have it on good authority that much delayed Mozilla Firebird .8 will be released tomorrow. It's supposed to contain a bunch of improvements, most notably an installer -- thank Ghu; the old unzip-into-a-folder method made for an easy initial install, but was a bitch and a half when it came to upgrading. The only thing I'm not looking forward to is having to mess around with the extensions, since some will almost inevitably not work with the new version.

Speaking of extensions, Thunderbird users should check out Weather, which adds a panel below the folder pane to display the current weather conditions. The guy who created it says he's working on Firebird/Mozilla version that will show temperature and weather conditions on the statusbar, with more details available in a sidebar; he's also looking into the possibility of adding a Doppler radar display.

I also recently found this nifty little program called Treepad. The free version is a combination text editor and database (the commercial version includes a word processor as well). The database is organized in a branching format, similar to Usenet discussion threads, and you can attach text files to each of the entries. It may not sound particularly useful at first, but once you open it up and start playing around, dozens of possibilities will come to mind -- you can use it as an address book (and the way the branching works, you don't have to waste space on information that doesn't apply to a person -- if a person doesn't have a fax machine, or you don't have their work number, you just don't create a node for it); to catalogue your DVDs or CDs or books; as a back up to your blog; or pretty much any other type of list you can think of.
Pop Quiz

Who said the following:

    There will be a great crisis which I can't foresee the details of. ... I shall save ... the empire.


A) Paul Muad'dib
B) St. Alia of the Knife
C) Leto II
D) Winston Churchill

Answer here.

2004/02/07

Now That's What I'm Talking About

I must be the only person in my generation who doesn't like the American Pie movies. When I was a kid, my parents didn't care if I watched non-violent R-rated movies, so I grew up on Porky's and Animal House, and dozens of other T&A comedies that have faded into obscurity. There's just something about those old films, a certain delight in drugs, nudity and booze, that their modern imitators lack. Although films like American Pie understand the comedic potential of horny men trying desperately to get laid, they fail to exploit multiplicative power of horny men and naked girls. Even the films that use female nudity don't employ it properly -- there's always a wink-wink nudge-nudge element that wasn't present in, say, Animal House Otter found himself with a handful of kleenex, or in Porky's when the guys were watching the girls shower.

However, there is hope. Take a gander at the unrated trailer for the movie Eurotrip. Not bad, I say. Not bad at all. The only question is, is the nudity confined to minor actresses, or do Michelle Trachtenberg and Kristen Kreuk join the fun?
Enroll at the University of Colorado and We'll Give You Two Free Sluts!

The coach of the University of Colorado's football team reportedly says he can't recruit good players if he isn't allowed to organize orgies when they visit the campus.

    "If recruits aren't being shown these type of activities ... it would be a recruiting disadvantage," Robert Chichester, a former associate athletic director at the university, quoted head coach Gary Barnett as having told him.

    "If alcohol happened to be there, Coach Barnett never really voiced an opinion to me that that was objectionable," Chichester said in the deposition released by the university.

    Barnett has denied he condoned such behaviour among his players or that he ignored the allegations when they first came to light. At least two of his football players said in their depositions that Barnett repeatedly warned his players about drinking alcohol.
Now as it happens, I actually know something about this subject, and indeed, the coach is correct -- other schools do use booze and sex to attract students. Back when I was in college, I was in a class with the basketball team's manager. One day we were working on a group project, and somehow the conversation got away from the assignment and onto how he had to make all these preparations for some really great high school player who was visiting the campus that weekend. One of the things he had to do, it turned out, was find a couple sluts and have them waiting in the guest room when the high schooler arrived. I'm not sure if the coach endorsed this recruitment technique, but apparently the team was in on it and had a list of girls who were willing to support the team anyway, anyhow.

2004/02/06

BlairBlog

Looks like Tony Blair might be getting a blog.

    The Labour party is considering giving Tony Blair a weblog as part of its attempt to make its general election campaign an "engaging dialogue with the British people".
I think this is a great idea, and I hope it's imported to the US Congress soon -- I know I'd sleep safer knowing that Tom DeLay was busy blogging instead of drafting a Constitutional amendment against gay marriage.

And just imagine the entertainment value!

John Edwards:

    Had to run all the way back to my office to use the toilet. I was going to use the restroom across from the Senate chambers, but then I saw Teddy Kennedy coming out -- and let me tell you, you do not want to use the bathroom after Teddy. It's not so much the smell (though that is pretty rank) as the mess. The man's blood is 100-proof and his aim is, shall we say, shakier than Don Knott's.


John McCain:

    Did 600 sit-ups this morning. v.good. Ruptured appendix, had to cut it out with a plastic cafeteria knife. Ate it raw.

    Haven't appeared on CNN all week -- need an aide to call Crossfire and book me for this afternoon.


Dennis Kucinich:

    I was just out on the Mall talking to a squirrel. He says the Velbicites from Antares VII have my office bugged. I've sent an intern to the store to buy some tinfoil -- I'll use it to wall-paper the office and block the signals.

    Tomorrow I'm introducing a bill that will require tinfoil manufacturers to make sure their products are thick enough to block all radio signals and mind control rays.
"Meanwhile, Jackson's radioactive right breast continues to devour our great country"

One good thing about the Super Bowl -- it's given Lisa de Moraes material for an entire week's worth of articles, culminating in today's hilarious recap of the latest developments.

    "I'm frustrated at the whole situation," [Timberlake] said, now with his frustrated face on. "I'm frustrated that my character is being questioned and the fact of the matter is, you know, I've had a good year, a really good year, especially with my music."

    He is, of course, mistaken. No one is accusing him of having character.

2004/02/05

Ow

Even Michael Kinsley is making fun of the Democrats' attempt to find a candidate.

    Democrats are cute when they're being pragmatic. They furrow their brows and try to think like Republicans. Or as they imagine Republicans must think. They turn off their hearts and listen for signals from their brains. No swooning is allowed this presidential primary season. "I only care about one thing," they all say. "Which of these guys can beat Bush?" Secretly, they believe none of them can, which makes the amateur pragmatism especially poignant.
Think he's exagerrating? Take a look at this site's pragmatic assessment of Kerry.

    John Kerry looks good on paper but anybody who has been following the race for the nomination knows that Kerry is a potential Dukakis waiting to happen. Quite simply Kerry is going to have a hard time appealing those NASCAR dads we always hear about (if you put any stock in it). Who is a more perfect person for Bush to run against than a rich aloof liberal senator from the north east? Even better for Bush is that the Democratic convention is in Boston (btw who was the genius behind that one?!). How many hit pieces on Kerry are we going to see featuring Ted Kennedy and Michael Dukakis?
Kerry's a bad choice because he's too aloof to woo the NASCAR Dads? No, he's a horrible candidate because he's a nob.

Going with the candidate you think has the best chance of winning is pragmatic. Itemizing each candidates' traits and deciding who'll appeal to the broadest spectrum is silly -- the best gauge of electability is to ask yourself, "If all the candidates were at a party, which of them would be the most popular guest, and which ones would people leave the room to avoid talking to?" In pretty much every election since 1960, the candidate who would be the life of a party has won (though in the case of Nixon and George H.W. Bush, the party would've been the sort where everyone goes home sober at 10:00).
National Guard Transfers

Bill Maher comments on the Bush AWOL claims, suggesting that there's something fishy about how he was able to transfer to another unit.

    [A]s if just any soldier could get a transfer to another base to work on a political campaign - "Sure soldier, just fill out requisition T-93dash08..."
Um, yes, actually. Probably not in the regular military, but Bush was in the Air National Guard, which is an entirely different animal. Guardsmen are called the Weekend Warriors for a reason -- unless they're called-up, their military service is essentially a part time job. That is in fact how the National Guard website describes it.

    You can do all of these with part-time service while maintaining a full-time civilian life. You serve as little as one weekend a month and two weeks a year; the two weeks of annual training are typically held during the summer.
As such, the Guard is very flexible with transfers -- if any Guardsman said, "Hey, I'm moving to Alabama," they'd give him the forms to fill out, whether he was moving to work on a political campaign, to go to college, or live with his parents. The only thing that would make it suspicious would be if Bush had been activated and ordered to Vietnam, but no one's suggested that was the case.

2004/02/04

Was the Holocaust "Morally Unique"?

Sasha Volokh is taking a lot of heat for saying the Holocaust wasn't morally unique.

    Now, the Holocaust is special in various ways. Unlike most other atrocities, it has a specific and important anti-Jewish element, which makes it relevant to modern anti-Semitism. Obviously, it had a racial element (like some other atrocities, but not all), so it's relevant to race relations generally, and people being singled out because of an accident of birth has its own emotional impact, as does people being singled out because of the cultural or religious community they belong to. It was more systematic than some other atrocities, which gives it special importance as an illustration of what an evil government can do if it puts its mind to it (so it may have more relevance as a cautionary tale for, say, the design of political systems). It had its particularly horrific elements -- camps, ovens, and the like -- which makes it particularly spine-chilling. And it took place in a highly developed, industrialized country that didn't have much previous history along those lines, so it's a good illustration of how quickly things can go sour and therefore how important it is to guard against this sort of thing even where you don't think such vigilance is necessary.

    But none of that is moral uniqueness. A serial killer may kill more grislily than someone who's in it for the money; a lynching may be more shocking, or may tell us more about deep political issues, or may be more socially harmful in some sense, than a random drive-by shooting; but all of the above are immoral because they snuff out an innocent life. The same right is violated in each case. Similarly, the reason it's immoral to kill 6 million Jews is because doing so involves 6 million acts of murder. Do I care any extra that they were killed because they were Jewish, or that their killing was systematic? Yes, in various senses, but not in the moral sense.
Meryl Yourish counters:

    Its uniqueness was due to the fact that a nation set out to exterminate all the people in a certain ethnic group, all over the world. Hitler started with the Jews of Europe, and did an astonishingly thorough job. His goal was to continue until the entire planet was judenrein. He didn't "just" kill a lot of Jews. He created an efficient, organized death machine whose purpose was to eliminate Jews from the planet. It wasn't just mass murder. Its purpose was the extinction of the Jews. Exctinction. Let me say that one more time: The extinction of the Jews. Had he succeeded in Russia, Sasha, neither you nor your brother would be alive to blog today. Had he defeated the United States, then I wouldn't be alive to write this today.
To which Volokh responds:

    Alas, I still don't buy the moral uniqueness. To repeat my point from below: the Holocaust is evil because killing six million Jews is six million murders, and committing six million murders is highly, highly evil. Really evil. But not more evil than killing six million other innocents. (As I've mentioned below, the Holocaust also has lots of characteristics that make it especially grisly, especially memorable, especially important as a cautionary tale, especially relevant in a world of ethnic warfare, etc.; but you can be all those things without having extra evil.)

    Take any six million people murdered. You can draw a circle around them and say, "These six million people define a particular group X," and the killing of these people is especially evil because it's the systematic extermination of everyone in group X. Of course, in the general case, there's nothing "special" about group X. It's just a somewhat random assortment of people: {Fred, Dave, Sasha, ...}. Why should the set Y = {Jews} be "special"? Only because there's something special about having Jews in the world. But "an entire people" has no moral value, except insofar as that "people" contains people. I don't care whether Jews as a group exist; but I do care about every individual Jew, as much as I care about every individual whatever-else. Corollary: Every group X containing six million people is equally valuable, and any murder of any group X is equally immoral.
The relevant question here is this -- if al Qaeda managed to nuke New York City and kill six million people, would that make Osama bin Laden as evil as Hitler. By Yourish's argument, no -- even though they both would have killed the same number of innocents, New Yorkers aren't a separate ethnic group, just a bunch of people who lived or worked within a specific geographic area. According to Volokh, yet -- six million murders are six million murders no matter the motivation.

Also, by Yourish's argument, a hypothetical dictator who invades the Pyrranes and erradicates the Basque would be more evil than Hitler, even though there aren't six million Basques -- someone who successfully exterminates a people would be worse than someone who tries and fails (for very large values of "fail").

Now I actually agree with both Volokh and Yourish -- good and evil are multi-variant concepts that can't be mapped into a simple continuum. Just because Hitler is near the edge of the chart on the genocide-axis doesn't mean other people (Josef Stalin, frex) don't surpass him on the body-count-axis.

Now the particular combination of evils embodied by the Holocaust are certainly unique. But so are the evils embodied by the Rwandan and Armenian genocides, or the British handling of the Irish Potato Famine. It doesn't mean all of them aren't comparable, any more than Jeffrey Dahmer isn't comparable to Charles Manson even though they're both morally unique.

It'd be better to say that the Holocaust is the most extreme example of evil -- at least on the genocide axis -- and try to place it in context with the other evils of history, which is what I belive Volokh was advocating in the first place.
And This Breast Signifies Peace and Prosperity

And now even Jim Pinkerton's weighing in on Janet Jackson's boob. I agree with his basic premise, that it's silly to make a federal case out of the matter, but I think one of his points is shakey.

    By now you've no doubt seen the implant-enhanced mammary that was exposed during the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVIII -- destined to be known forever as the Boob Bowl. Strange as it may seem in light of the real perils this country confronts, Washington is making a federal case -- two federal cases, in fact -- over Jackson's bit of exhibitionism. Any investigation is farcical, of course, but the lasting damage it could do the First Amendment, and to free expression in general, is not something to laugh about.
Now for something to be protected under the First Amendment, there needs to be some sort of idea being expressed; I'm not sure Janet Jackson's breast really qualifies. At the very least, I should like to see Justin Timberlake explain the point they were trying to get across during their performance. "Well, dawg, we was tryin' to show that it's okay for a man to follow a woman around, humpin' her leg, and tearing off her clothes."

Preferably he should have to explain it in a real interview, not some Ba-ba Wa-wa fluff-fest.
Who Cares If It's a Tie -- Let's Just Say Clark Won

As I mentioned below, the news media insists on declaring Clark the winner (though barely) in the Oklahoma Primary even though it doesn't make any difference that he got more votes. And now that the delegate totals are in, we can see exactly how stupid it is -- Clark and Edwards ended up with exactly fourteen delegates apiece, despite Clark winning by twelve-hundred some-odd votes.

2004/02/03

It's the Delegates, Stupid (Redux)

Once more the talking heads are hung up on declaring a winner, with all three cable news nets declaring the Oklahoma Primary too close to call. But what is there to call? In a proportional primary like Oklahoma's, there's no prize for winning -- you get delegates based upon your totals. If, as the current numbers indicate, Clark and Edwards are within a hundred votes of each other, then they'll probably end up with the same number of delegates (there might be some discrepancy if one does super well in a few districts). So if Clark ekes out a numerical victory over Edwards, or vice-versa, it won't make the slightest difference outside of the news casts and their pointless desire to annoint a winner.
And Then There Were Six

Looks like Lieberman's dropping out.

Way to go, DNC. Why don't you just end this charade and nominate Bob Dole -- at least he'd have half a chance against Bush.
Shatnerific!

Nothing beats a good collection of novelty mp3s, and this is one of the best around. Besides classics like Thundercats outakes and Shatner singing "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," it includes:

  • Peter Sellers reciting "A Hard Day's Night" in the style fo Sir Lawrence Olivier
  • "Learning Italian with Fabio"
  • "Jesus Loves Me" as sung by Baby Lulu
  • "Menstruation is God's Plan"
  • "Premature Ejaculation" (actually a Christian father explaining nocturnal emissions to his son.
  • Rappin' Rabbit (a Christian rabbit backed up by what sounds like the Hitler Youth)
  • Michael Jordan recording a tag for a Gatorade commercial
  • "Weenie Roast"
  • A German polka cover of Midnight Oil's "Beds Are Burning"
A Message for Wes Clark, Jr.

Slate has an interesting article describing a tirade General Clark's son gave today.

    Maybe Wesley Clark Jr. saw the early exit polls. For whatever reason, he's standing in front of a crowd of reporters outside Clark's campaign headquarters in Oklahoma, looking bitter and sounding as if he thinks his father's campaign is over. "It's been a really disillusioning experience," the candidate's 34-year-old son says. "We sacrificed a hell of a lot for this country over 34 years. We lived in a damn trailer when I was a freshman in high school."
Boo-friggin'-hoo. My father served twenty years in the army, and he isn't going to be President either -- let alone get a cushy job on CNN or with a lobbying firm. The country doesn't owe General Clark any more than it does Sergeant O'Hara or the millions of other veterans out there, so don't act like he's being treated unfairly in the campaign.
Steve Verdon points out this hilarious press release from the Kerry campaign.

    Republican Rhetoric: In 1984 he called for a freeze on testing, production and deployment of nuclear warheads, missiles, and other delivery systems.

    Reality: John Kerry campaigned on a strong support for a nuclear freeze, knowing that the Reagan-era Star Wars, Mutually Assured Destruction policies were not the right course for the country and which violated international agreements such as Nixon's ABMK Treaty. Kerry believed there were better uses for Defense funds than the ridiculous build up of nuclear arms under the Reagan Administration. Kerry also voted for the international ban on the testing on nuclear weapons. The treaty was supported by former chairs of the Joint Chiefs of Staff including now-Secretary of State Colin Powell and has repeatedly called for an end to the Bush Administration's desire to build new bunker busting nuclear weapons.
So Kerry's defense against the Republican accusation is that they're true? Whiskey tango foxtrot, over.

Okay, I can see how the Strategic Defense Initiative violated the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty (I assume that's what ABMK refers to, though I have no idea what the K stands for and Googling only turns up the press resease), but I don't get the reference to MAD -- the threat that we'd respond to nuclear attack by wiping the CCCP off the face of the Earth. In fact, I'm not even clear why Kerry would think MAD a bad policy -- if you want to make sure the other guy doesn't hit you, make sure he knows he'll go down if he tries.

And if I may stoop to grammatical nitpicks, this sentence makes no sense:

    The [test-ban] treaty was supported by former chairs of the Joint Chiefs of Staff including now-Secretary of State Colin Powell and has repeatedly called for an end to the Bush Administration's desire to build new bunker busting nuclear weapons.
Who has? Colin Powell? That's news to me. The treaty? It may call for (stipulate) something repeatedly in its text, but it does so in the simple present, not the present perfect. Kerry? He's not even a subject or object in the sentence. Whoever proof-read that passage should be fired.

    Republican Rhetoric: In 1985, he introduced a Comprehensive Nuclear Freeze Bill, and sponsored two amendments to freeze SDI-related nuclear development until the Soviet Union tested a nuclear weapon.

    Reality: John Kerry has, was, in fact, a strong opponent of Reagan's ill-advised, risky Star Wars defense scheme. Kerry rightly questioned the lack of science behind the laser-shooting satellites Reagan proposed and, instead, favored shifting those funds to the War on Drugs and care for our nation's Veterans--two areas which were repeatedly overlooked in the Reagan Administration budgets.
Notice that the press release only addresses the second part of the Republican claim -- and once more, it agrees that the claim is substantively correct -- but ignores the part about the Comprehensive Nuclear Freeze.

And I'm not even gonna touch the contention that we should've thrown a few more billions at the War on [Some] Drugs -- no matter what you believe, there's not a significance difference between the two parties.

    Republican Rhetoric: "In 1993, Sen. Kerry introduced a plan to: cut the number of Navy submarines and their crews; reduce the number of light infantry units in the Army down to one; reduce Air Force tactical fighter wings; terminate the Navy's coastal mine-hunting ship program; and force the retirement of no less than 60,000 members of the Armed Forces in one year"

    Reality: Kerry Strongly Supported the Military, Introduced a Plan to Reduce the Deficit Without Sacrificing Military - John Kerry has always supported the US. Military--apart from his two tours in U.S. Navy in Vietnam, Kerry has repeatedly supported military budgets and military construction. In contrast to an Administration that has turned the largest surplus in history into a $455 billion deficit, John Kerry was also willing to take the tough steps to reduce budget deficits. Kerry’s legislation, the Deficit Reduction Act of 1993, sought to cut wasteful spending including "wasteful defense programs" as Kerry stated in the Congressional Record. Like many other broad-based deficit reduction packages, Kerry's bill took funding away from wasteful spending on pork barrel items and expensive space programs which have little benefit to the nation and transfers those saving to the general treasury to produce a balanced budget and a better economy for the country. [103rd Congress S.1163]
It's easy to categorize what you're cutting as "wasteful" -- whether it is, is another question entirely. I'm not going to do the research to find out whether Kerry's claim is supportable, only note that, as presented, it's not a very compelling defense.

And if I may return to nitpicking th grammar -- what is up with the initial capitalization in the first line after "Reality"? It looks like it's supposed to be a title, but none of the other sections are thus capitalized. Again, bad proofreading.

You'd think a Presidential candidate could afford a better PR machine than this.

2004/02/02

Michael Eisner -- Man of Vision and Taste

Proof positive that a lobotomized chimp would make a better studio head than some of the people in the business.

    Several months before last summer's release of Finding Nemo, the chairman of Walt Disney Co., Michael Eisner, told his board not to expect a blockbuster and suggested that such a fate might not be all that bad.

    Eisner said that although Pixar Animation Studios was excited about its film, he was not impressed by early cuts he'd seen, according to people familiar with the matter. Should the movie falter, Eisner said, Disney could gain negotiating leverage in contentious talks to extend its partnership with the highflying animation company.
Admittedly I wasn't much impressed by the finished film -- too much of Pixar's patented maudlin syrup for my taste -- but even I can recognize that it's the sort of thing kids slurp up and want seconds on. Expecting Finding Nemo to flop makes Sid "I don't like the title Back to the Future -- change it to Spaceman from Pluto" Sheinberg seem reasonable.

It's a wonder the quality of movies, such as it is, is as high as it is.
Everybody Say "Botox"

Even Howard Dean is getting in on the John Kerry/Botox rumors.
So This Is What I Get for Not Watching Football

Wow, whoda thunk it. A Jackson acting like a fool on national television. But apparently there are enough undersexed men out there excited over a glimpse of Janet Jackson's breast. But since most of them can't just come out and say, "Wow, did you see her gazongas?" they're couching it in a discussion of whether it was planned or an accident.

Come on, boys, if you want to drool, drool.
Don't Be a Brick

Stuff like this makes me glad my high school years are long behind me (though I do occasionally have nightmares where I have to go back and I can't escape; what can I say, it's better than the dreams where I'm being attacked by giant blobs of jello with human heads suspended inside).

    My very own friend advises me not to speak my mind if I am going to offend anyone. And yes I did, I poured it all out, given the opportunity because the discussion was on womens rights and for some reason my teacher asked me if I agreed with affirmative action. Does affirmative action relate to womens rights? Not in my world it does. I guess in her world where being against illegal immigration and calling African-Americans "black" are racist, it does. Well, if asked a question, I am compelled to answer honestly. My mother suggested I could have asked her what it had to with Mary Wollstonecraft, but I was so flustered by her laughter at me, I replied. I said "No". And did that cause commotion! She went as far as to say "Poor ____! He's black!" (I earlier was miming/mocking liberal colleges by saying, "Poor black kid, lets let him in because of his race---" before she interrupted me, shocked I would say "poor" and "black" in one sentence. Perhaps she was more shocked because of the verboten politically incorrect word "b-l-a-c-k". Thank G-D its not the same as the other one. But the way she reacted was as if I did.)

    "Do you believe in socio-economic affirmative action where poor kids get into college?" she asked.

    "Um, yeah I suppose so since I support people like that girl from Homeless to Harvard!"

    "Well, what kind of people live in poor areas?" she asked with a superior tone.

    "Hispanics, blacks..."

    "Well--those are the groups that you are against if you disagree with affirmative action!"

    "Yes, but I don't agree illegal immigrants should be given priority. I don't believe colleges should have to accept them just because of their race or part of town they live in".

    She interpreted my "illegal immigrants" referring to the Hispanics and assumed I was racist, again.

    Then a Hispanic girl next to me started giggling as if everything were cool and I was stupid and ignorant and should be excused. The class chimed in I was ignorant and narrow-minded and had no valid arguments.

    But the teacher questioned my sentence in which modern feminists are overly concerned with their uteruses. When I read it aloud, she doubled up in her plastic chair, laughing like I was too stupid to be taken seriously.

    Since I was stuck on the spot with my futile attempts to convince the class I was not racist and mentally sane, I moved on to the second paragraph of my "paper" that even my mother said had weak arguments. I claimed that since women have the capability to earn more than their husbands and thus have equal rights, modern feminists standpoint is unnecessary in today's society. If women are equal to men now, would more "rights" enable them to have more power over men? The response from the class was that I was sexist.

    Afterwards, she thanked me casually, as if I were heretical, for sharing my "interesting opinions".
That is ace. Asking kids for their opinions and then deriding them if they don't express the right one -- that'll learn them to think for themselves!

Sigh.

Some things never change. It's not quite as bad as the assembly at my high school when the Speech & Drama class was supposed to give orations on freedom of expression, and this guy named Mike Murphy got up on stage in a dress and was promptly dragged off by the vice-principal (irony was not taught at my high school), but it's still pretty dumb.

There were only two or three teachers at my high school who ever encouraged students to think for themselves (that's not counting the football-coaches-cum-history-teachers who didn't care about encouraging students to think, period). I have fond memories of one who flunked a straight-A student because he was just regurgitating the lectures. Of course that teacher left after a couple years because he was dating a student. Normally the school would've looked the other way, especially since he was a track coach, but the student happened to be the daughter of another teacher who had several decades of seniority. (What? Stuff like this never happened at your school?)

    After periods of my teacher talking all about me, I heard from a friend most of the English class hated me for being racist and someone thought I was in the KKK. Of course, my friend had to announce in my defense I was Jewish. She claimed that a lot of blacks and Hispanics in the class were angry and surprised as I was a "nice quiet girl". Some even want to jump me, she said. "They all hate you!" she exclaimed. She was taken aback she was not sure whether to defend me.
That's not a very good friend. In middle school I once made the mistake of telling someone that I was an atheist, and all my friends stuck by me even when everyone else was calling me a devil worshipper and Jew (sadly, I was about the only person around who knew the difference). Okay, so two of them were the original Beavis and Butthead (Andy once tried to see if there was any gas left in a gas-can by using a match for light), and the other was an Ozzy Osborne fan either ten years too early or too late. But they had my back. That's the important thing. (Of course what ultimately saved me from being martyred for my non-religion was that the most popular girl in school (i.e., the first one to develop boobs) also happened to be atheist; so the lesson here is that people are much less militant in their beliefs when they want to get laid with someone who disagrees with them.) Then I entered high school where were enough weirdos that if we wore Docs and old army jackets, or steel-toed boots and black trenchcoats (this was long before those idiots at Columbine gave the trench a bad name), everyone left us alone. Kinda pathetic when you think about it -- "Well, I was going to make fun of you, but I see you have on the +1 Doc Martins of Intimidation and now I'm afraid you might be punk or something" -- but then, most high school students are pathetic. You just have to muddle through so you can ... uh ... go to college and deal with the same type of people, only in frats and sororities.

2004/02/01

Dean vs. Clark: Grudge Match

Allah has an absolutely hilarious two part photo-play showing what really goes on in the Democratic primaries.
The Next Generation ASCII Gaming Console

From BBSpot:

    In a joint announcement today the Nethack Devteam announced a new version of the popular text based game, version 3.4.1, but the big announcement came from ATI which announced a new video card, the ATI Radeon 9500 ASC, optimized for ASCII gaming.

    "The VT100 standard has been around for years, but there really hasn't been a video card company willing to make a card for it," said ATI Director of Product Development, Carlos Neale. "I really think more card and gaming companies will jump on the text bandwagon now that we've thrown our support behind it."
If you don't get the joke, go here and download the latest version of Nethack and play it in ASCII mode. This is hardcore gaming. I mean, the graphics make the Millennium Falcon's display panel look so 1975!