Friday, January 30, 2004

The Professor speculates that the military's spring offensive to destroy Al Qaeda remnants, and perhaps catch UBL, is timed to coincide with the election year:

"So why the spate of comments from U.S. brass indicating that they are "sure" of catching bin Laden this year? Is it because they know our Ahab can't afford to miss his whale? Or could it be because, as Bruno and I have speculated for months on the program, we've had him in our crosshairs for some time, and it's only been a matter of waiting for the right moment (i.e., close to the elections)."

I can see that it's tempting to view bin Laden's pending capture as awfully convenient, being an election year, but this overlooks what should be obvious -- and which Phil Carter persuasively points out -- that a large-scale offensive in a hostile terrain translates into a pretty big political risk:

"Anytime you send large numbers of troops into combat, you run the risk of large numbers of casualties. This too is compounded by the mountainous terrain and conditions, because it will make it tougher to evacuate wounded soldiers, as we found out in Operation Anaconda. Those operational risks will transform themselves into political risks for the President, because of the American public's traditional reaction to casualties."

Isn't it the case that politically easy thing to do -- not to say that anything related to combatting terrorism can be "easy" -- would be to keep playing "cat and mouse" with Al Qaeda until a safer point in time? If anything, I think the Bush Administration is being bold trying to wrap this up -- and on a timetable that actually doesn't really correspond to the Presidential elections.

As a commenter on the Bruno and the Mad Professor site points out:

"Isn't it at all plausible that it's actually quite difficult to get sovereign countries, e.g., Syria, Iran, Pakistan, to agree to let U.S. troops roam around looking for bin Laden (or whatever else is out there)?"

Somewhat disjointed, but what I think the person is trying to say is that capturing bin Laden or getting at Al Qaeda in Pakistan isn't as easy as it appears. Profound cynicism tends to lead one to overlook facts and realities that should be obvious. You can say what you want about prescription coverage, steel tariffs and the rest of Bush's domestic "agenda," but it's hard to see that his military and foreign policy aims are coldly calculated to win votes. Cold calculation to win votes comes with stuff you control -- tax cuts, expensive proposals. Military offensives and building democracies are things that are less easily manipulated. And in the end it just seems silly to think that Bush uses his foreign policy agenda as a crass political tool to win elections.
The more I read his stuff, the more impressed I am with his take on politics. That surprise move to replace Joe Trippi in Dean's campaign with Roy Neel, a Gore guy? That's about making sure Dean's database of supporters isn't scuttled in the final days of the campaign. "What do you think Roy Neel is doing there, campaign strategy?" he quips.

You'll remember that in explaining why Al Gore endorsed Dean, and so early, it was said that this way Gore could take over the Dean campaign mechanism for Gore's 2008 run. Ellis speculates that this is why Roy Neel, the Gore guy, is there. What is amazing, if this is true, is that they didn't even wait until the thing was over!
Bruno, what do you think about a gentleman's bet on the outcome of next Tuesday's primaries? Straight up -- who wins what. We could even do it by delegate counts, but that might be a little hard to guess at. Deadline is Monday, 11:59 p.m.
Howard Dean is gambling on winning in Michigan on February 7, eschewing the February 3 contests. Big storyline this week will be whether he can do it. The latest Michigan polls out (albeit from January 25, but I don't think there would be that much upward movement for him coming out of NH) have him trailing Kerry 37% to 14%. (Note also that he's tied with Edwards at 14.)

Question: is Michigan a do or die state for Dean? Followup question: Will the Washington state caucuses change this storyline? Our contacts on the ground in Washington report that he's not doing particularly well there, either. Finally, what to make of the strategy that it's about the delegate count, not state-by-state primary wins?

UPDATE: John Ellis says Dean's strategy is bullshit.
How good is German director Wolfgang Becker's Good Bye, Lenin!, which is set to be released by Sony Pictures Classics in the coming weeks?

It's that good! Fuck that Run Lola, Run bullshit -- this is the real spuzz.

The story, set in East Germany, revolves around a mother, a dutiful party member, who goes into a coma in the days before the Berlin Wall fell, then wakes up eight months later unaware of how much has changed. Her doting son is convinced that his mother's weak heart would be strained too much by the collapse of communism, so he creates a pre-1989 world in the apartment as she recovers. Hilarity ensues.

The picture is funny, touching and a fascinating look at a remarkable point in history, but what will get overseas audiences is that the story goes beyond in-jokes about communist pickles (a recurring prop in the movie). Astute viewers will notice the son's desire not to disappoint the mother, which is something that all children face on some level. It especially struck me how if the plot were changed and the son was gay, for example, and coming out of the closet, the same storyline might emerge.

Good Bye, Lenin! is well worth seeing -- make sure you catch it when it comes out. Too bad it wasn't released before the end of the year, or I think it'd make a strong case for Best Foreign Language Film.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Stuff you don't get to say everyday includes: "What we've done is create this new exotic form of matter."
The Professor notes a Jane's report that the U.S. is considering striking at Hezbollah in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Hey, isn't that where Iraq's WMD are rumored to be?
David Bernstein lays out why -- substantively -- it's difficult to tag Bush as some right-wing nut.

I absolutely agree with this -- he even announced a proposal to raise funding for the NEA! -- and it's why when I talk with anti-Bush people I caution them not to fall off the rhetorical cliff of thinking Bush is "ultraconservative" (Jen hates it when I say that!). Voters are a lot smarter than that, and the dissonance between rhetoric and reality will bite hopeful Democrats in the ass unless they adjust their beliefs.
Jonathan Chait announced he will stop writing Dean-O-Phobe on account of it is no longer necessary.

My favorite reason contained in his smart final entry: "John Kerry takes all the fun out of Dean-o-phobia."
What, did he see a bunch of loose mufflers or something in Albuquerque?

"Retired Gen. Wesley Clark pitched himself to military veterans and other New Mexicans on Wednesday as a kindred spirit and middle-class American who taped up his car muffler when he couldn't afford to replace it."
For those of you interested in the minutiae of the Democratic Primary season, ABC News features a page that has the current delegate tally. I wonder if you were aware that Howard Dean is leading John Kerry 111-102?

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

When John Ellis quotes Lee Atwater, who said "When you got 'em by the throat, you take out a damn howitzer and blow their brains out," he means that the longer a wounded Edwards stays in the picture, the more dangerous he becomes. And by this point, the other candidates -- all of them -- only amount to also-rans.
Bruno brings up the issue that while Bush may have proposed $120 million in new funding for community colleges in order to better train workers, in fact he has cut $800 million in other job training funding. He's certainly got the teachers' union talking points down -- in fact, this has been repeated in a lot of places.

Fair enough, but I noticed that one of the programs allegedly cut was $300 million for vocational education funding -- personally, I'd much rather fund community colleges than auto shop . . . am I oversimplifying?
Great, balanced op-ed in the Washington Post by Duke professor Peter D. Feaver about the WMD issue:

"If the current Kay exit interview had been available in March 2003, it's unlikely that the administration would have pressed for war. But since the war case rested on multiple pillars -- dealing with a problem now before it became an unmanageable problem later, recognizing that Hussein could not be trusted in the long run, recognizing that the war on terrorists involved getting tough on the causes of terrorism (stunted political development in the Middle East), recognizing that the status quo policy on Iraq was responsible for creating the conditions that gave rise to al Qaeda in the first place -- it is possible that reasonable people would have still advocated war."

In short, we need more nuanced discussion about this issue beyond the typical "gunslinging neoconservatives and Bush lied."
Big story in the Chicago Tribune (subscription required) that the U.S. is planning a spring offensive to take care of Al Qaeda/Taliban holdouts, and that it could stretch into Pakistan:

"The Bush administration, deeply concerned about recent assassination attempts against Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and a resurgence of Taliban forces in neighboring Afghanistan, is preparing a U.S. military offensive that would reach inside Pakistan with the goal of destroying Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, military sources said."

(Dan Drezner has more on this.)

Take a step back for half a second -- the U.S. military reaching into Pakistan to mop up remaining Al Qaeda seemed amazing a year ago, much less before 9/11. This is critical.

And does this mean that something might happen with WMD in Syria, too?
Does William Saletan explain my Kerry Fatigue? He almost does!
I said (over/under in parentheses): Kerry (35, Under), Dean (20, Over), Edwards (15, Over), Clark (19, Under), Lieberman (10, Under).

That was almost right, right? Well, except for Kerry doing better than I expected and Edwards not picking up on the Iowa momentum (but he wasn't supposed to, right?).

Is Clark's campaign over? Do we have to wait for Oklahoma for that to happen? Is Dean the anti-Kerry? Is Lieberman over after next Tuesday? Did Edwards peak too soon (!)?

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

The list has been announced, and my Cold Mountain prediction will not come to pass! The insipid Lost in Translation and pedestrian Sea Biscuit have taken its place!

Academy, I beg of you: Pick Johnny Depp for Best Actor -- must not vote for that traitor Sean Penn!

Academy, I beg of you: Choose either LOTR or Master and Commander for Best Picture -- must not reward that cretin Clint Eastwood!

More later . . .

Monday, January 26, 2004

Um . . . how to explain this website? Start with the Bellini Sleeveless Jacket and move on from there (to, say, the special "sock" technology that accentuates one's package).
This is all utterly arbitrary, but I'd like to hear what Bruno thinks . . . The over/under, in this case, constitutes what is considered a win (over) versus what will be considered a loss (under).

John Kerry: 35 percent of the vote
Howard Dean: 20 percent of the vote
Wesley Clark: 19 percent of the vote
John Edwards: 15 percent of the vote
Joe Lieberman: 10 percent of the vote

And, just for kicks, here's my prediction for the final outcome (in order): Kerry, Dean, Edwards, Clark, Lieberman. And listen up here: Kerry will be under, Dean will be over, Clark will be under, Edwards will be over and Lieberman will be under.
The ARG Tracking Polls in New Hampshire show the number of undecideds coming down, which is corresponding with a surge (that word again!) for Edwards. Ryan Lizza of the New Republic has more details about Edwards surge prospects.
David Kay says that Iraqi WMD components might be in Syria.
The Golden Globe awards were announced last night. Results included: Lord of the Rings for Best Picture, Charlize Theron for Best Actress (good), Sean Penn for Best Actor (bad), Peter Jackson for Best Director and the incredibly tasteful Sofia Coppola for Best Screenplay (bad).

Good for Ricky Gervais and The Office. I read this morning that they're planning on making an American version, which is probably a bad idea. Think "Coupling."

I still feel pretty good about my Cold Mountain Oscar prediction, by the way. Do the Globes matter? Read Hollywood Reporter to find out.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Didn't anyone else catch last night's Diane Sawyer interview with Howard and Judy Dean?

If you didn't see it, you might not understand what I'm about to write, but bear with me.

My initial response was very positive -- they, she especially, seem like genuine, good honest folk. But no matter how progressive minded you are, or claim to be, you can't help but wonder whether she is "First Lady" material. She comes off as down-to-earth, intelligent, someone who clearly loves her children and is absolutely dedicated to a career in the noble pursuit of helping people. But she doesn't strike me as someone who will -- or should, in fact -- be crammed into the typical First Lady mold. Her self-effacement is indicative of the majority of everyday decent people -- so much so that it almost exposes other First Ladies as the vacuously political beings they probably are.

In short, I loved her. Her expression almost seemed like a partner who lovingly tolerated her spouse's quirky hobby. It said "I could give a fuck about all of this" -- and not in a dismissive way but rather a "golly, gee, isn't it crazy that I'm on national TV with you" kind of way.

But the whole time Jen and I sat there, it just begged the question.

Me: "Do you think she's First-Lady material?"

Jen: "Uh, no."

Me: "Does it matter?"

Jen: "No. Does it matter to you?"

Me: "Actually, no."

So here's my prediction: if Howard Dean continues what seems to be his inexorable fall into obscurity, I think that Judith Steinberg will become a cultural beacon for how couples in the 21st century function. The trophy-style First Lady will forever be exposed as the silly outdated 1950s-esque anachronism it is. And good riddance.

As with Dean's "God, Gays, Guns" exhortation, it's the exact right message -- the only problem is that it's coming from the wrong person.
He's eschewing New Hampshire spending limits . . . sounds like it came from Clark (read: Lehane).

UPDATE: Hey! I'm smarter than I look! John Ellis, who is someone way more savvy than me thinks the same thing: The Clark Brain Trust. And he's got the same blog layout as DeskJockeys!

Thursday, January 22, 2004

The Post is saying that Al Qaeda is telling its followers to stop counterproductive attacks in Iraq. This is really good news, right? Of course, they suggest attacking American troops at military installations in other countries in the region, but that's preferable to in Iraq, where it's destablizing peace prospects.
Josh Marshall writes that the Drudge "hit" is coming from the RNC. I hadn't thought about that, but if what we're sensing is true -- that it's going to be hard for the Republicans to battle Edwards, then this makes sense.
Ah, here's Bush's community college grant proposal: "Bush said he wants to provide $250 million to the nation's community colleges, so they can train workers for the industries that are creating the most new jobs. The grants would go to schools that team up with employers looking for skilled workers."

Makes you wonder whether the SOTU was meant as a mechanism to create election-ad soundbites with some notable filler (e.g., steroids) tacked on.

It figures, though -- saturate the news cycle after the SOTU with some out-of-state visits to promote new initiatives. Build up your arsenal with photo-ops while keeping the base happy with hot-air speeches about gay marriage.
Is this possibility gaining some traction?
Does the big Drudge scoop have something to do with this? Does it involve drunk driving, cocaine use, strippers or Monkey Business? If not, then I'm not really all that interested.
Can anyone tell me where lame-o "hits" like this one on Edwards (reported on Drudge) come from?
His column this morning is significant -- and when both he and Maureen Dowd pan Dean on the same day, I think that signals problems for the campaign.

Friedman: "God bless the Democratic Party's primary voters in Iowa. They may have rescued our chances of succeeding in Iraq and even winning the war of ideas within the Arab-Muslim world. Go Hawkeyes!"

Hyperbole? He explains further: ". . . Iowa Democrats, in opting for John Kerry and John Edwards over Howard Dean, signaled (among other things) that they want a presidential candidate who is serious about fighting the war against the Islamist totalitarianism threatening open societies."

Dowd is talking mostly about Bush's SOTU, but this is the key point: "With one guttural primary primal scream, [Dean] went from Internet deity to World Wide Wacko and remix victim, with the scream mixed in on Web sites to punctuate Ozzy Osbourne's 'Crazy Train.'"

Now -- will Kerry's ten-point lead hold?
Things not to do include, but are not limited to, telling TSA employees that you have bombs in your checked luggage. Not only do you risk jail time but it will also ensure that you are the butt of jokes in the media the following day.

It reminds me of taking a sandwich known in our local deli as "The Bomb" on a Jet Blue flight -- Jen and I had to remind each other not to use its given name.

Seriously though, I always wondered who actually joked about having bombs or weapons at airport security checks.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Bruno says the mysterious steroid line in Bush's State of the Union is a bait and switch when read alongside the President's next point: abstinence-only education. In other words, it's "You definitely agree with this, so you're lest likey to resist if I lump it with this." I agree with that assessment.

What was (one of the few) strokes of genius in last night's speech was Bush's stuff about the community college system. As far as job training goes, or "retraining" as they're saying, the community college system is the place to go. They're like PT boats compared to battleships (universities or the public school system). Furthermore, I'm guessing the community college systems absorb way more lower-income people and minority students than university systems do.

Today pundits were scratching their heads about why this part of the speech got such a nice response, but my sense is most of America understands exactly why -- because they work. (Those who sneered at this part of the speech run the risk of exposing themselves as the elitists they probably are.)

More help for community colleges is exactly the kind of thing we need to be talking about. Good stuff.
There are several State of the Union drinking games out there. Jen and I decided to do one of our own. Anticipating the themes of the State of the Union, we each picked five words that served as a cue to drink.

Jen chose “safe,” “job(s),” “child(ren),” “Iraq(i)” and “threat.”

I chose “in this country,” “future,” “hope,” “secure/security,” and “terror(ism).”

Jen won, 64 to 32. The final tally went something like this:

Safe (2)
Job(s) (13)
Child(ren) (19)
Iraq(i) (23)
Threat (7)

“In this country” (0)
Future (1)
Hope (2)
Secure/security (8)
Terror(ism) (21)

(Other rules included drinking whenever Bush committed a verbal flub (five times) and shots of Laura.)

Words we should have picked: “freedom,” “nuclear,” “regime,” “responsibility,” “friends,” “danger,” “killers,” “war,” “health,” “work,” “tax,” “seniors,” “economy,” and “act.”

Why did I pick “in this country”? Frank told me once that he loves it when people default to using the well-worn phrase “In this country . . .” when they talk about issues. I wanted to test this -- obviously the Bush team stays away from the phrase -- I wonder if it was on purpose.

Note also that “future” and “hope” barely registered. All I have to say is what happened to David Brooks’ big scoop about a month ago about how the SOTU would feature all these compassionate job creation initiatives? “Administration officials are talking about giving unemployed workers personal re-employment accounts, which they could spend on training, child care, a car, a move to a place with more jobs, or whatever else they think would benefit them,” he wrote back on December 20. I didn’t hear that last night.

From some of my word choices, you see that I expected Bush to do a John Edwards type of thing. What we got seemed to be more of a speech tailored for his conservative base. Gay marriage, personal integrity (at least I think that was the idea behind condemning steroid use in sports), tough talk about security . . . and nothing about Mars.

This morning I thought this: had Dean won, we would have heard David Brooks’ scoop play out. Then it would have been a clear choice -- anger on the left versus a moderate, compassionate vision for the country coming from Bush. After Dean lost so big, I think the Bush team saw its moderate flank exposed. Knowing this might likely be a battle with a candidate like Kerry or Edwards, I have to wonder whether they felt the need to shore up their base going into the election cycle. That’s the only way I can explain it.

In some ways I feel let down. Voters like myself who feel that terrorism and national security are the number one issues the U.S. is facing are looking for their candidate. I think voters like myself are willing to support Republicans provided they forget about these silly red herring issues -- I don’t give a shit about gay marriage, for one (what about “partial-birth” abortion? Where was that last night?). Apparently some people really actually care about these issues -- I’m hoping they get over it . . . say, next week would be nice.

I really think there are a lot of people who are almost right there with the President as long as they hear the right things. Last night I didn’t hear the right things. Which makes me wonder -- what’s the Edwards campaign saying?

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

There's a lot of evidence that says job-retraining programs don't work well because the folks who apply for them tend to be from the bottom of the barrel to begin with -- because they're the ones who get laid off first. Thus, it's harder for them to acquire new skills and get re-employed. It's a tought question, though -- what do you do with such people? I guess job-retraining is the least you can do.
Whoa! I need to make a huge correction . . . I was reading about Bush's record on past State of the Union pledges and I saw that the money to combat AIDS in Africa went through. For whatever reason, I thought that this hadn't materialized, but I was definitely wrong: he signed the bill in May.

Now, that said, Bush is apparently getting ready to unveil a $120 million program for job re-training programs at community colleges. This is a fantastic idea and it's going to be hard for the Democrats to counter. Let's see whether it gets legs.
"The United States east of the Rocky Mountains will see extreme cold in the next two to three weeks with at least one forecaster calling it the coldest in 25 years, meteorologists said on Tuesday."
The more you watch, the clearer it seems that John Edwards is the only Democratic candidate who can overcome the tremendous advantage of the Bush Smirk in terms of connecting with voters. My very amateur sense is that people search, hope against hope, for integrity from candidates. Dean doesn't have it. Clark for sure doesn't have it. Kerry seems too seasoned, in a bad way. Edwards has it. In fact, he almost, but not quite, makes me want to donate money to the campaign.
Democratic also-ran Howard Dean and hardcore stalwart Ian MacKaye.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

For those of you wondering about the Democratic candidates, here is something very important to consider vis a vis "electability."

This morning, Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie was asked on ABC's This Week for an off-the-cuff assessment of the four Iowa frontrunners (Dean, Clark, Kerry and Edwards).

Gillespie had quick and pertinent things to say about Dean, Clark and Kerry. Briefly, it amounted to something along the lines of Dean was too angry, Clark had no policies and Kerry flip-flopped on the war.

When it came to Edwards, however, all he could say was that Edwards was "slick," had a pretty face and that he was a trial lawyer. In fact, he repeated the trial lawyer thing three or four more times.

In short, the Republicans have no answer for John Edwards and that should really make you think long and hard about whom you're supporting as we reach "turkey time," as J-Lo might say.

This has been a special weekend alert from DeskJockeys world headquarters. See you again at work (Tuesday morning, 9 a.m. EST).

Friday, January 16, 2004

In all it's forms. That's my gut response to the anti-NAFTA talk coming out of Gephardt and Dean in this campaign. I refuse to let the Democrats be turned into a party of budget-balancing, isolationist, luddites, just because George Bush has turned his party into the party of overspending, internationalist, space crusaders. I mean, on a Saturday night, which party would you rather go to?

This is all just pandering to the union base, which is one of the last remaining stalwarts the Democrats have. I say, let 'em go, and find a new coalition. Lets send the unions off to the third-world countries, and have 'em start mobilizing workers in Mexico and the like. Then wages will rise, and jobs will float back to the U.S.

On this, the 10th Anniversary of NAFTA, we can and should take some time to reconsider the pitfalls and promises of free trade. I think it's inevitable. What's really getting debated under the hood is not whether free trade works, but whether American Supremacy can continue in a world with true free trade (i.e. no dumb, selective, swing-state pandering tariffs!). And the jury's still out on that one.
Is it just me or is there something creepy sounding about the Kerry "surge"? Especially visualizing the sad tree himself talk about it:

"'Do you like the surge?' Kerry asked. 'Are you ready to add more surge? Are you ready to make more surge, more surge? And are you ready to make more and more surge, a surprise on Monday? Sounds to me you are ready for action.'"

More surge! More surge! Yuck . . .

UPDATE: The New Republic's Noam Scheiber agrees.
And I ask this partly because I want to read more from these guys, and partly because it actually bothers me: What is your gut reaction to the anti-NAFTA/anti-free trade messages coming from Gephardt especially and to a lesser extent Dean?

If it weren't for all the ridiculous quibbling over Iraq (OK, I'm being slightly inflammatory), I think the free trade thing would be a larger issue in the primaries. And for me, with Gephardt it crowds out any support I might feel for his campaign. I think in principle free trade is a good thing, that it has the potential to help stabilize regions and that lower prices for consumer goods ultimately benefit lower-income people much more than unions can ever hope to.

Those are the "in principle" reasons I'm generally in support of free trade candidates. I'm open to hearing about the nitty-girtty issues -- workers' rights, environmental issues, etc. -- but if you were to ask me yes/no on free trade, I'm inclined to say yes.

And if you are supportive of free trade and a candidate doesn't support free trade, is that issue alone enough to dissuade you?

Let's talk about issues because I'm genuinely curious.
Bruno, what do you think of those bumper stickers now?
Never mind, Mattski, Charles Krauthammer already answered my question:

"Columbia made painfully clear what some of us have been saying for years: It is not only pointless to continue orbiting endlessly around the Earth; it is ridiculously expensive and indefensibly risky.

"The president's proposal is a reasonable, measured reconfiguration of the manned space program. True, he could not go all the way. Binding agreements with other countries made it impossible for him to scrap the space station -- a financial sinkhole whose only purpose is its own existence. But he is for phasing it down and for retiring the shuttle within six years."
When I ripped on Howard Dean, I don't know that I intended for this to happen. Bruno, remind me again why you like Kerry?
The most dour columnist on the Times op-ed staff tackles the most dour of topics today: Al Gore.

I don't know why I read it -- I guess between him and Paul Krugman, it was the lesser of two evils. Friday is the worst op-ed page day for the Times.

"The former vice president was in town to give a speech on the Bush administration's environmental policies, which he basically described as an exercise in wholesale environmental destruction."

Definitely shades of that SNL skit . . .

Here's a big hint to the Democratic machine -- hyperbole about Bush doesn't help, and in fact hurts. I finished the column thinking not that I wished the U.S. abolished the electoral college but rather that I'm glad I haven't had to spend the last three years being lectured to by Al Gore.

And Bob Herbert, for that matter, who sums it up:

"'This is insanity,' said Mr. Gore, referring to the administration's handling of the environment. But his speech made it clear that he could just as easily have applied that sentiment to the full range of Bush-Cheney policies. History will not be kind to the chicanery that passes for governing in the Bush II administration."

It has been very cold the last couple of days in New York. Windy, frigid, brutal cold. You walk around in a real Bob Herbert mode, in fact.

If I read his take about Al Gore this past Monday I think I would have been crabby all week. Herbert should stick to cancer sob stories and perversions of justice. At least then I'd feel some of that narcissistic joy of feeling like I care about the downtrodden or whatever. This is just like eating fiber.
The question is whether the Clark "smears" (and pointing out someone's on-the-record statements does not constitute a "smear") are payback for Chris Lehane's apparently ruthless opposition research.

If so, then it puts all the carping in perspective. It makes it hard to pay attention to any of it . . .
The tabloid-esque Drudge Report links, apparently disapprovingly, to a Wesley Clark piece reprinted, disapprovingly by the progressive Common Dreams organization. Both parties, it would seem, intend to show how Wesley Clark flip-flopped on the war.

The irony -- there always has to be irony, doesn't there? -- is that it's a well-written, persuasive and in fact moderate piece! In particular I agree with this statement: "Relationships, institutions and issues have virtually all been mortgaged to success in changing the regime in Baghdad." I think Clark meant it as a warning, but it's the best metaphor for the Bush Administration's so-called unilateralism I've seen yet.

Real-life mortgages involve risks, but they're always calculated risks. I've always thought, insofar as Iraq is concerned, that stretching the UN and our alliances to nearly a psychic breaking point was probably an OK thing in the long run. At the very least, I don't think these alliances are going to be ruptured in the long term -- it's what Rumsfeld might call constructive dissonance, or some such euphemism. In other words, if it was a mortgage, it's one I would take out!

So CNN commentator Clark calls it a mortgage. I'm guessing candidate Clark would call it something like a scratch ticket . . . in any case, I don't think the piece illustrates a flip flop, nor do I think it shows Clark as a gung-ho military guy.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Forget knitting needles, what about all that glass around?
Jen and I (me a little more than Jen, I think) are big Peggy Noonan apologists. Her column today about the imminent Democratic showdown, including the concept of "throbbing love" for Bill Clinton, is a must read.

She always writes very cinematically, which is why I desperately want to write the screenplay to her book What I Saw at the Revolution (if I only knew how, that is), and the images in this piece are priceless:

"[Older members of the press] stuffed their suits into a beige Hartman bag and got a taxi to the airport. They have been on the bus since 1972 or '80 or '84 and they are wondering if history hasn't gotten flatter and thinner and smaller, if history isn't merely recapitulating itself, playing out a drama that seems less central than once it did." (Peggy nails what is wearying about the world for the world weary; if she weren't so devout she'd be right out of a Sartre novel.)

The "wisdom in the older, middle-class and blue-collar Democrats who are wiping the mud off their boots before walking into the Gephardt fundraiser." (What a Norman Rockwell image!)

"Mr. Kerry continues to look like a sad tree, which is a challenge because his face and demeanor are at odds with his message and determination." (A "sad tree!")

If you're left-leaning and can get past the Reagan adulation, What I Saw at the Revolution is a brilliant, brilliant read. If you're down with the Grand Ol' Party, you'll eat it up.
(Wasn't "Mission to Mars" a Disney ride -- it sure sounds like one.) My question (Professor, I'm looking at you) is this -- is Bush's proposal to send a manned mission to Mars a gentle way to let NASA disengage itself from the outmoded and disastrous Shuttle program and/or the outmoded International Space Station? If so, I'm on board (as it were). If not, it would seem like a specious proposal, as Gregg Easterbrook often says.
. . . you really should be reading the week-long series Slate is running under the title "Liberal Hawks Reconsider the Iraq War." Stuff like this is the raw data that will make it into the history books. If you want to be ahead of history, make sure you read it (and the daily installment format is such a treat!).
Things that make me cringe: The words "Dean" and "the angry left" in the same paragraph; the words "Gore" and "moveon.org" in the same paragraph.

Things that give me hope: John Edwards staying the course with his positive message and ending the week before the Iowa caucuses in a statistical tie for the lead.
Bruno, Dean should switch places with DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe and raise all the internet money he wants while leaving the Presidential race to true pros like John Kerry (!) . . .
Somebody, somewhere, writes the filmscript for this story about Hamas' first woman suicide bomber. One of the rumors floating around, according to rumor-filled Debka, is that her husband manipulated her into "martyring" herself because he no longer loved her! It's perfect bleeding-heart drivel -- a beaten-down people, a beastly husband, the "ultimate sacrifice." Brilliant! It's this year's Jenin, Jenin!

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Bruno, apropos our conversation, this is what I'm talking about: former NYC mayor Ed Koch says he's voting for Bush.
The Note notes Edwards big push: "Just how hot can the son of a mill worker get?"
TNR's Ryan Lizza says that Gephardt's numbers aren't going to move much more, and that John Edwards might pick up undecideds and turn out to be the real surprise in Iowa. That would be astounding . . .
The latest Iowa numbers show Dean at 24, Gephardt at 21 and Kerry (!) at 21. This is bad, bad news for Dean. Will it affect the race? Who knows . . .
It could very well be that the bizarre $1.5 billion proposal to strengthen the institution of marriage is a way of satisfying the part of Republican base that allegedly is clamoring for some sort of Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. That's fine as long as it's like every other Bush proposal that sounds good at first but never gets any legs -- I'm still waiting for that money to battle AIDS in Africa and I won't hold my breath for a mission to Mars anytime soon.
Things I don't want the government to spend money on include $1.5 billion for a campaign to extol the virtues of marriage.

In fact, I'd much rather see the money go to patching up Amtrak's operating budget, which is saying a lot.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Big Props to Frank . . .

Oklahoma (ARG): Dean leading Clark 24-21;
Missouri (SurveyUSA): Gephardt leading Dean 37-19;
Delaware (Mason Dixon): Lieberman leading Dean 19-15;
Arizona (as noted below): Clark leading Dean 39-32;
South Carolina (ARG): Dean leading Clark 16-12 (Edwards has 11).

Bottom line is, it's very close. How will February 3 hurt Dean? He's got the financial advantage, but everything else seems shaky right now. This could be interesting . . .
Here's an aggregate of polls from many of the primary states. I think things will change too much after Iowa and NH to speculate right now about Feb 3.
General assignment to people without much to do: sketch out what might happen on February 3 with the primaries in Delaware, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri and Arizona and the caucuses in New Mexico and North Dakota.

For example, I'm reading that Clark is leading Dean in Arizona 39-32. Obviously Iowa and New Hampshire will affect the February 3 primaries, but I'd like to see other polls from these February 3 states, just out of curiosity.
Two quick thoughts, one snarky and one halfway serious:

1) I've heard many of my peers (generally college-educated people in their late 20s) talk about how Bush's spending is out of control; that fiscal responsibility is a high priority for them is just weird -- the conservatives really must have won both the battle and the war.

2) That said, it makes some sense that college-educated people in their late 20s are worried about fiscal responsibility -- it fits in with the anti-corporate, environmentally friendly philosophy. Fiscal responsibility is just another way of expressing that leave-the-campground-nicer-than-you-found-it way of living.

When will pundits comment on this idea? All the other stuff is getting tiring . . . I'm hankering for something much more substantive. Plus, Iowa, New Hampshire and February 3 are all fast approaching, so hopefully the news will become more interesting after that stuff is settled.
Predictions are lame, of course, but one I wish I had made before the year began was that Bush will do better than expected in New York in the general election. I just have a hunch. And it's too late to take credit for it, because there are indications his popularity is increasing.

To be clear, he won't win, of course, but I think it'll be a lot closer than 2000.
We need more images of food art . . . let us know if you can help.
Jen and I came to Finding Nemo a bit late (last night, in fact), but after seeing it, I was curious about the films eligible for the Best Animated Feature category. We loved Finding Nemo, but there are other films on the list that I've heard are good as well.

Monday, January 12, 2004

We got a chance to see the rereleased version of Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers. Two snarky questions: 1) The Pentagon apparently screened this film as a case study -- shouldn't they already know this stuff?; and 2) they say it's a new print, but it still looks pretty crappy . . . what did they do exactly with it?

That said, it's a powerful film, and reading interviews like this one with Israeli writer Benny Morris make me think of the tough decisions the film dramatizes.
Miserable failure. Or was it, "Suck my dick you fucking asshole piece of shit"? Or maybe, "You're not helping, Moron!"

What am I talking about? See here in case you haven't already heard . . .

Friday, January 09, 2004

Now that North Korea's Dear Leader has quit smoking, he's getting all self-righteous and bitchy:

"Reports in the South Korean media said Kim recently singled out smokers as one of the 'three main fools of the 21st century', along with those who are ignorant about computers and music.

"North Korean television has carried slogans and programmes telling people how harmful cigarette smoking can be to their health.

"'Let's quit smoking and contribute in good health to the building of a powerful nation,' Choe Ong-ju, the North's chief public hygiene inspector, urged viewers."

Fuck you, I think I'd rather smoke.
If it ever comes to this, I completely understand:

"In Venezuela, it is politics that dominates the conversation.

"Often the debates can get too heated.

"So much so that some restaurants and shops in the capital Caracas are discouraging people from talking about politics.

"At one Italian cafe in the east of city, there is a sign above the counter which reads in bold letters, 'Here it is forbidden to talk about politics.'

"'We decided to put this sign up because we'd simply had enough of all the heated political discussions between our clients,' Johnny Harlouchi, the manager of the bar, told BBC World Service's Outlook programme."

For too long nothing seemed that important. Now it seems a lot of people feel there are a bunch of important things to talk about . . . I'll keep this anecdote in mind.
What, is Wesley Clark taking up the Howard Dean mantle of all-time idiotic things to say? Under a Clark administration another 9/11 won't happen in the U.S.? That he's so confident of this doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in me. Fool.
It's not enough to run a snarky side piece about how Clinton believed there were WMD. Have some fucking cajones, cabron. (Sorry, I don't know where that last part came from -- probably some graffiti I saw.)
Stratfor has a fascinating analysis of bin Laden's latest message (the same one snarkily cut up below). (Not sure how long it'll be up there, so don't be surprised if it's gone.)
What's more, the WMD aspect of the U.S.'s Iraq policy was just one of many reasons that it did what it did. Paul Wolfowitz in particular noted that "[t]he truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason, but . . . there have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people."

That the U.S. went through the United Nations and attempted to hold it accountable for enforcing its own resolutions was always important, and even without large stockpiles of WMD, the fact remains that Saddam's regime was in violation of too many Security Council resolutions.

Large stockpiles of WMD constitute sexy -- and obvious -- proof that the U.S. did the right thing in Iraq. But someone needs to say, and show, that absent this big smoking gun the U.S. still did the right thing. More work to do on this one.
I mean, I think I know the answer to this, but why is it that none of the pro-war types I usually read are commenting on this Carnegie Report? I mean, none of them are.

Reading them, it makes the news about missions to Mars seem almost Clinton-esque.

Alright, so let me say it: the rush towards war using "cherry-picked" intelligence was necessary for many reasons: a) it had to happen evenutally (you can agree or disagree, but keep in mind that regime change has been the stated U.S. policy for a while now); b) given that it had to happen, it had to happen in the winter or at the very latest spring (France knew this, too); and c) it couldn't wait until 2004 because not only is invading a Middle Eastern country in an election year unwise but it's also unfair -- who is going to "change horses" in that kind of midstream?

If you had been paying attention at all, you knew that the time frame for starting the war was obvious. Unstated, it was the subtext to the UN charade and it colored the debate here as well. Parsing the rhetoric is academic at this point, and I get it when Bush, annoyed, says to Diane Sawyer, "What does it matter?"

Even if no tremendous stockpiles of WMD are found, there was ample reason for the U.S. to do what it did in Iraq. Pollack sums it up:

"The war was not all bad. I do not believe that it was a strategic mistake, although the appalling handling of postwar planning was. There is no question that Saddam Hussein was a force for real instability in the Persian Gulf, and that his removal from power was a tremendous improvement. There is also no question that he was pure evil, and that he headed one of the most despicable regimes of the past fifty years. I am grateful that the United States no longer has to contend with the malign influence of Saddam's Iraq in this economically irreplaceable and increasingly fragile part of the world; nor can I begrudge the Iraqi people one day of their freedom. What's more, we should not forget that containment was failing. The shameful performance of the United Nations Security Council members (particularly France and Germany) in 2002-2003 was final proof that containment would not have lasted much longer; Saddam would eventually have reconstituted his WMD programs, although further in the future than we had thought. That said, the case for war—and for war sooner rather than later—was certainly less compelling than it appeared at the time. At the very least we should recognize that the Administration's rush to war was reckless even on the basis of what we thought we knew in March of 2003. It appears even more reckless in light of what we know today."

I want to hear more, but I want someone to tell the unvarnished truth . . . the challenge is out there.
Kenneth Pollack on what went wrong with the intelligence. His view is that the Administration pressured the intelligence community to interpret bad data which came bad because after UNSCOM inspectors were forced out of Iraq, there wasn't anyone left on the ground there to corroborate good intelligence. This doesn't detract from the outcome, rather that the rush to war violated the public trust.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is saying Iraq never had WMD.

Colin Powell refutes the report.

My sense is the truth will come out somewhere in between. We'll see soon enough. What about this scenario -- they find WMD, but after the 2004 elections after Bush has lost. That would be something . . .

The Producers Guild of America announced the nominees for its best picture award -- the PGA’s best picture winner has corresponded with the Oscar winner in ten of the last 14 years:

Cold Mountain
Master and Commander
Mystic River
The Last Samurai

The Directors Guild of America announced the nominees for its best director award -- the winner of the DGA award wins the Oscar nearly every time (only six times since the award began in 1949 has the winner not won the Oscar):

Clint Eastwood for Mystic River
Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation
Peter Jackson for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Gary Ross for Seabiscuit
Peter Weir for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

All of which lends credence to my idea that Cold Mountain will win Best Picture and Peter Jackson wins Best Director -- both of which outcomes I’m comfortable with -- but of course others are calling Anthony Minghella’s omission from the Best Director race a snub.

The website to track all this is GoldDerby.com.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Reference Point Number Six: Kenneth Pollack's The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq (this despite Pollack being all over cable TV bemoaning the administration's timing or whatever).

And while we're perusing Amazon titles, there are two books I'd like to adapt into screenplays, if I only knew how: Peggy Noonan's What I Saw at the Revolution, which is full of 1980s retro detail, and Motley Crue's The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band, for some of the same reasons as Peggy Noonan's book. I'm only a little bit of the way into Motley Crue's book, but so far it's ridiculous and totally compelling . . .

And with apologies to Lambchop, I think the Peggy Noonan movie should be retitled, "How I Quit Smoking."
Someone in the mainstream media finally breaks the story that Iraq's WMD are in Syria and the fucking thing is in Dutch. Oh well.
The point of which is this: if you believe the threat of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, as it relates to terrorism here and abroad, is the most important issue the U.S. will face in the immediate future, then it is hard to argue that the current administration has not made a good faith effort in this area. And if that trumps all of the other issues -- not supplants, but trumps -- then who are you willing to support in the 2004 Presidential election? I haven't heard anything from the other candidates that would dissuade me from voting for the current administration.
You may have come across Little Green Footballs in the course of surfing the web, and you may think it somehow seems shrill, but scroll through this particular month's archives for some perspective -- it's interesting.
Charles J. Dunlap, Jr.'s "How We Lost the High-Tech War of 2007."
In the Winter 2003 issue of Doublethink, see page 17 for the interview with Christopher Hitchens (even if you disagree, check out the hilarious things he says about Bill Clinton's relationship with the CIA and echo chambers of all sorts):

[Q:] Well, since you believe in [John] Edwards, what is it—

[A:] I don’t believe in him. I mean, I told him I wouldn’t vote for him.

[Q:] Well, why not?

[A:] Because I’d vote for Bush. The important thing is this: Is a candidate completely serious about prosecuting the war on theocratic terrorism to the fullest extent? Only Bush is.

[Q:] Even though he says to the Turkish president, You believe in God, so we understand each other?

[A:] Well, he says that. But he has people around him who are absolutely determined to destroy the terrorists, and they’re smart. That’s another liberal snig that annoys me a lot these days—Bush is stupid, the administration is stupid. The fact has to be faced: The intellectual candle power of this administration is a great deal brighter than the Clinton administration.
From a past LA Weekly column, John Powers on why the Weekly Standard is more fun to read than the Nation:

"As gray and unappetizing as homework, The Nation makes you approach it in the same spirit that Democrats might vote for Gray Davis -- where else can you go? In contrast, The [Weekly] Standard woos you by saying, 'We're having big fun over here on the right.'"
Not to be contrary or anything, but it's basically about what these guys are saying.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

No one should use cocaine, but it's pretty clear by now that this is especially true for older people. But didn't John Entwistle's demise already teach us that?
Fascinating column today. Upshot: we're probably alone out there.
After being tagged for contraband ashtrays in his office, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter pulls out the heavy guns and puts Christopher Hitchens (!) on the story, newspapers report. Hitchens promptly breaks many of the obscure laws that are apparently being enforced during Mayor Bloomberg's tenure. Bloomberg spokesman Ed Skyler calls it the "latest hit piece" from Carter.
So I'm relating to Jen the story below about the lady Al Qaeda bomber at lunch and she says to me, "Wait a second -- eight to 12 pounds of explosives?" And of course I'm like, yes, yes, as far as I remember, that's what the report said. And she replies, "Eight to 12 pounds is the size of a baby . . . the miracle of life sees eight to 12 pounds on the way out, not the way in!" And sure enough, she went and read the story, which confirms it was eight to 12 ounces. Whoops!
It's probably not helping any to keep saying this ridiculous shit.
The Phoenix Suns have traded half their payroll to the Knicks in order to have flexibility in the off-season free agent market.

Out: Penny and Stephon

In: Antonio McDyess and Charlie Ward, among others, and some first-round draft picks

At least they won't be tempted to resign McDyess.

The Knicks came out pretty well with this deal. I'm just worried that they'll make the playoffs and leave the Suns with a lame first-round pick (it was an unconditional first-round pick, so it could theoretically be a lottery pick).

And that's not to say that it isn't a good move for the Suns to build on a young nucleus and get rid of overpriced veterans. I just can't imagine how not to become totally disinterested in this season. But who am I kidding? I haven't watched an NBA game in years.

Monday, January 05, 2004

William S. Burroughs' cut-up writing method applied to Osama Bin Laden's recent statement, George W. Bush's December 17, 2003 proclamation marking Wright Brothers Day, 2003 on the 100th anniversary of their flight at Kitty Hawk, and a Barbra Streisand piece called "Trickle-Down Immorality (Don’t Accept the Lies)" from June 2003:

"A spirit of exploration, secrecy, lies, and deceit in the urge for jihad to character since to infect our states, our cities, our nation, especially spirit when they made beliefs? We cannot let our politicians’ occupation of the 1903 on Wright Brothers. The president steals such slogans, the house of Dayton, Ohio, as funding for schools serving lotion. There is also the one hundred years ago was against nation-building, the jihad, and the second 120-foot flight, faulty intelligence of exaggerated road map and aviation pioneers and Union speech the president vowed. . . . Orbit the Earth, leader, the figurehead of religious-economic ancestors could not follow his example? A Crusader chain of evil."
There are plenty of reasons to distrust what Egyptian authorities say about suspicious plane crashes, so it's no suprise to hear that perhaps terrorists targeted the charter plane that crashed in the Red Sea last week. What is particularly insane -- to me at least -- is that they shot down the plane full of French travelers because of the France's decision to ban Muslim headscarves in schools. Talk about overreacting. What are these people going to do when we finally take over their oil fields?!
Just in case you were starting to get cynical about all these flight cancellations, read this story in the Daily Mirror (!) on why apparently the British Airways flight from London to Dulles on January 2 was canceled:

"US security services told Scotland Yard the woman - almost certainly linked to al-Qaeda - intended to hide eight to 12 ounces of plastic explosive in her vagina.

"She would then go to the toilet during the Boeing 747 flight, remove the material and detonate a blast that would down the aircraft.

"A senior Yard source told the Daily Mirror: 'Smuggling a bomb on to a plane by this method is one of our worst nightmares.

"'If you do not have specific information about the suspect, it would be impossible to carry out an intimate body search of every female passenger.'"

Seriously, when the Mirror is reporting that then I think you can rest assured it's not some plot by Karl Rove to steal the election . . .
Last week I predicted Cold Mountain would win the Oscar for Best Picture, owing to a split between Lord of the Rings enthusiasts and Mystic River apologists. On Sunday we actually saw the film, and I have to say that I'm pretty confident it would have won even if there wasn't this supposed split. And that's not a bad thing because it deserves it.

But for sake of arguments, assuming the Golden Globes are a valid indicator of Oscar worthiness, let's first take a look at the Golden Globe nominees (remember that the Golden Globes have two best picture categories):

Picture - Drama
Cold Mountain
The Lord Of the Rings: The Return Of the King
Master and Commander: The Far Side Of the World
Mystic River

Picture - Musical Or Comedy
Bend It Like Beckham
Big Fish
Finding Nemo
Lost In Translation
Love Actually

Now assuming that Bend It Like Beckham and Love Actually are not in the running, and Finding Nemo wins in the animation category, that leaves Big Fish and Lost In Translation to take the place of Seabiscuit, which I don't expect to be in the running (heh) for the Oscar. Of these two, I'd prefer to see Big Fish make the cut, but I suppose I get that the Coppola P.R. machine can wangle a nomination.

Of the four remaining dramatic selections, Cold Mountain emerges as the favorite. It's that type of movie, first of all, but it's also well done and engaging, with a much better ending than Mystic River. I always thought that Lord of the Rings would be rewarded after its last go-around, but I can't believe it makes the cut here. And if there's any justice in the world, Peter Jackson gets Best Director and Clint Eastwood is shut out of any awards, period. But that's just my two cents. We'll see soon enough.

Friday, January 02, 2004

Cris Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets is in trouble again:

"Kirkwood's attorney, Jane McClellan, asked Judge Virginia Mathis to release Kirkwood pending trial, citing his medical condition. Kirkwood has inoperable bullet fragments near his spine and in his pelvic area and can walk only with the assistance of a walker. In addition, he is taking methadone to overcome drug addiction, McClellan said.

"Mathis denied the request for release, citing Kirkwood's past drug convictions, failures to make court dates and probation violations.

"'You are out of control,' she told him."

I haven't followed the band for a while, but I saw a year or two ago that Cris' brother Curt reformed the band (without his brother and original drummer Derrick Bostrom) and was touring. The story I read then talked about Cris Kirkwood's drug problems.

The Meat Puppets were an excellent band. Being from Phoenix I got to see them play relatively often and their live shows were incredible. By all rights they should have been a modern-day Grateful Dead. Of course at that point the Grateful Dead, having never actually quit, were the modern-day Grateful Dead, and by the time Jerry Garcia died the Meat Puppets lost their touch and became just a footnote. But reading stories like this is just sad.

They were fortunate to get noticed after playing with Nirvana on their unplugged record; it was a shame that they never really capitalized on that.
Just a quick note to say that Monster, starring Charlize Theron, deserves all the good praise it's getting. Everyone talks about how Charlize Theron is the real deal, and she is, but the movie itself is rock solid, especially the end -- the last five or ten minutes of which are the strongest in any film this year.

This stands in stark contrast to the overrated Mystic River; where the end of Mystic River spun out of control, the final scenes of Monster swirl into a tight spiral. Maybe I'll write more later, but for now I'll leave it at this: we needed a reminder that a director can pull you in and manipulate you in a good way instead of just a manipulative way. Excellent stuff and highly recommended.
The big news for 2004, according to the Oconomowoc Focus, will continue to be Roundy's following the annoucement that its distribution center will be built in Pabst Farms.
From the The Colony (TX) Courier-Leader: "Traffic congestion will most certainly become much worse as construction on S.H. 121 begins."
From Prescott, AZ Daily Courier. Among the highlights: "We will break ground on a Prescott parking garage in 2004."

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