Thursday, September 30, 2004

Loyal listeners know that Bruno and the Professor are always talking about Canada this, Canada that, Canada, Canada, Canada. I wonder if they read this in the Times yesterday, then -- "Canada's Prophets of Pessimism (Is It the Weather?)":
As one of Canada's pre-eminent historians, David Bercuson of the University of Calgary is not your average couch potato. But with beer in hand and feet up on the sofa, he watched the Olympics on television last month to cheer on the world champion hurdler Perdita Félicien to win a gold medal for Canada.

When Ms. Félicien inexplicably stumbled into the very first hurdle like a rank amateur, Mr. Bercuson dashed straight to his computer. He knocked out a screed declaring that her sad performance, and that of the entire Canadian Olympic team, was just another symptom of "the national malaise" that is making Canada a second-rate, uncompetitive nation.

"It's not the individual performers whose shortcomings are on display for all the world to see," he wrote in an op-ed article for The Calgary Herald. "It is the very spirit of the nation and the sickness that now has hold of it that is at fault."

His acidic commentary is characteristic of the view of a growing number of historians, foreign policy thinkers and columnists from some of the nation's top newspapers. Many see themselves as part of an informal school that has no name or single mentor, but all are writing the same assessment: Canada is in decline, or at the very least, has fallen short of their aspirations.
Academics are despairing:
"I'm in almost total despair,'' Michael Bliss, a University of Toronto historian, said in an interview. "You have a country, but what is it for and what is it doing?"
The devastating conclusion: "A country is not just a health system."

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Here's why Bush, et al. won't be invading Iran anytime soon -- regime change will happen on its own! "Dancing strictly sitting down":
Our "Inside the Middle East" crew was not given filming permission on the Iranian mainland. We were to fly to the vacation resort of Kish the next day: the only location in Iran, it seems, that officials were happy for us to film.

Kish is an island south of the Iranian mainland in the Persian Gulf. I was told it was a freer, more open version of the Iranian mainland.

. . .

There are coffee shops and hot dog stands that wouldn't look out of place in a European shopping center. The women push the boundaries of what is socially acceptable with smaller, more colorful hijabs that barely cover their heads.

I spoke to Myriam and her veil-free 12-year-old daughter in the mall.

"Here, she can wear what she wants. That's why she likes it here," Myriam says.

On the mainland, the Islamic Republic requires all girls over the age of 9 to cover up from head to toe.

And although alcohol is illegal, I am told that all I have to do is ask for it, and it could be delivered to my hotel room within a few hours.

Two years ago, the first five-star hotel opened in Kish. The Dariush Grand is an enormous complex built in the image of the ancient city of Persepolis in southern Iran. It smacks more of pre-revolution grandeur than stern Islamic Republic.

There is more freedom in Kish, without a doubt -- but not enough, according to some. Almost everyone I spoke to criticized the status quo in the Islamic regime. Some would do it in a subtle manner; others would openly call the ayatollahs crooks.

Having spent much time in Arab countries in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia and Syria, where openly criticizing the government can mean a considerable period of time in jail, I knew this was something powerful.

. . .

The hope, for some at least, is to test things out on the island to determine how well they might work within the existing set of rules that govern the rest of the country.

"Kish has become a model, a pioneer," adds Bazhad Shenandeh, "And this is a place where things are tested and if it fits within the context of the regulations, then things could move onto the mainland."
Sounds good to me . . .

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Yesterday, we expressed surprise that the Professor thought that Dan Rather was being unfairly maligned. Today, I understand why: Poll: CBS' Memo Story an 'Honest Mistake.'"

Fifty-six percent of the poll's respondents said Rather and CBS made an honest mistake. Ha! Totally fucking blinkered. And I can guarantee you that if this were, you know, some news dude at Fox some huge portion of that 56 percent would be going apeshit.

More about the poll:
In the poll, 56% said that Rather and CBS had made an honest mistake — perhaps because of "carelessness in their fact-checking and reporting." Asked if CBS News should fire Rather, 64% said no.

The poll also found 55% of people think they can trust CBS News to report the news accurately; 41% said they can't. Asked about general media accuracy, 52% were positive, 47% negative.

Brent Bozell, founder of the Media Research Center and a frequent critic of Rather, said that neither CBS News nor the media in general should be heartened by the findings.

"CBS' credibility problem is much deeper than Dan Rather," Bozell said. "Forty-one percent of people not believing you is trouble in paradise." And, he said, when 47% of Americans "don't trust the media, you've got a credibility issue — everyone in the media is being punished."
Again, go back to what I wrote about Kerry trying to convince voters that the war is fucked -- it's all fine and well, but if nearly half the people you're reaching out to don't believe what they read, then you're fucked.

And it's true -- I'm beginning to think that Kerry is fucked. And the idea that Dan Rather and CBS gets off without blame here is just beyond comprehension.

Monday, September 27, 2004

I have no idea why the Professor is sticking up for Dan Rather, unless he's kidding around:
Rumors are swirling that the venerable Dan Rather will be out of CBS by spring, a victim of his own courage to stand by his decision to air the story and his honesty and forthrightness in owning up to his mistakes.
"A victiim of his own courage to stand by his decision" to air a story buttressed by clearly faked documents? Is he nuts?

And somehow I think the Professor would be saying something completely different had this been a story aired on Fox about John Kerry.

Dude, don't stick up for these guys! They are the problem!

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Out of boredom, I got sucked into more poll stuff. Via Instapundit (credit where due), I found the Mystery Pollster, which is very interesting if you want to get distracted for a while.

From Mystery Pollster, I jumped over to PollingReport.com, which had these numbers on the way the country is going. Last week I wondered whether this was a dumb indicator, and I have to say that I continue to believe it. The question this time, about which you can see (Gallup) data stretching back to 1998, reads, "In general, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time?" Again, take a minute or two to picture how you might respond to this question -- just to get a sense of how bad a question it is.

Just out of curiosity, I looked at the numbers around Sept. 11. If you can explain them, then maybe you've cracked the code and you should be advising either of the candidates. Short of that, I'm just stumped.

In the period from September 7 to September 10, 2001, 43 percent of those polled by Gallup were satisfied with the way things were going in the United States while 55 percent were dissatisfied (2 percent had no opinion).

In the period from September 14 to September 15, 2001 -- just days after Sept. 11 -- 61 percent of those polled by Gallup were satisfied with the way things were going in the United States at this time while 36 percent were dissatisfied (3 percent had no opinion).

So we can conclude, therefore, that Sept. 11 was good for the country. What de fuck?
A variant of the argument in the New Republic:
Still, [Drew] Barrymore's documentary [on MTV called "The Best Place to Start"] is symptomatic of much of what's wrong with the quadrennial efforts to mobilize young voters. It starts off well-intentioned, but ends up being both patronizing and vacuous. "The Best Place to Start," like other non-partisan get-out-the-vote efforts, takes the position that voting is good because--well, it just is. Your ancestors fought a revolution and marched in Selma for that right, so you'd better use it. Vote because you should, and because a grateful Drew Barrymore will hug you if you do.

. . .

Are efforts like MTV's effective? I'm not so sure. Too often in these kinds of campaigns, voting comes across as just another one of those things that young people really should do, pathetically gussied up as fun and cool by well-meaning adults. Hey kids, they seem to say, voting can be just as much fun as not having sex and not taking drugs! Barrymore more or less follows this script; she talks about voting like a civic virtue that one should practice along with all the other virtues--and to fight the man, or whatever. That message may indeed motivate some voters. But there are also significant issues facing young voters in this election: a war they will fight, a deficit they will pay for, and a country whose shattered reputation it will be up to them to fix. At a time like this, might a plain appeal to self-interest be less patronizing and, ultimately, more effective?
This, I think, qualifies as the (soft) liberal counterpart to the conservative "please don't bother" message I wrote about before. I always thought health care was a salient issue for recent college grads and even for the dropout mothers they sometimes feature on MTV. I'm not sure how important the U.N. is to young voters, but maybe it is. The deficit? I guess so, but you're talking to a demographic that has been weaned on super-loose credit card companies.
This Drudge-linked story caught my eye: "Edwards in Columbia: Let's 'outsource' Bush." I'm telling you, the Edwards/Cheney debate is going to be entertaining. The Drudged portion:
[Edwards] drew his biggest response when he criticized Bush administration officials for suggesting that outsourcing American jobs is good for the economy.

The audience responded with boos, but they suddenly turned to cheers at Edwards’ next words.

“Here’s what would be good for the American economy — to outsource George W. Bush.”
Slightly serious note here -- it's not really outsourcing that people are upset about but rather "offshoring." "Let's offshore Bush" sounds better, but maybe it sounds too much like "exiling," and that kind of tone wouldn't exactly elevate the debate.

Outsourcing is the sensible way for companies to become more efficient. A computer job, whether it's for a big company or a small firm servicing a big company, is still a computer job. Ask Bruno -- he works for an outsourcing firm.

The problem (assuming you buy into the notion that it is a problem) is when outsourced jobs are offshored to places like India, which is what Edwards was railing against during his run for the nomination.

Switching gears here, this is part of why I think it's lame to get too worked up over politics:
Edwards was running late, and the throng waiting to rally with him at Martin Luther King Jr. Park took notice. They sat for two hours in the sweltering heat inside the community center, a block off Five Points.

“The Democrats are back, and we’re hot,” said state party chairman Joe Erwin, who looked out over the predominantly white audience and said, “You look a little too hot.”

The restless crowd was not amused.

State Treasurer Grady Patterson, sitting in the VIP section, kept looking at his watch, wondering whether it was worth staying around. At times he covered his ears to shut out the loud music of the rock bands that were entertaining the crowd. Several people left, saying they were tired of waiting for Edwards.

Erwin was visibly irritated.

“Sorry for the delay,” he apologized. Erwin asked the volunteers to open all the doors to allow the cool, fall-like air to come in. He suggested the crowd take a break and mingle outside where cooler temperatures prevailed.

Some took the cue and went home. The hall was about half-full by the time Edwards arrived.
Talk about taking the energy away from an event! Bad form, for sure.

I went to a stump rally thingy once -- during the 1992 election. That was back when Arizona was firmly Republican, so we got one lame quick visit by Quayle. I was not a Quayle apologist, but I was curious what these things were like. It was over pretty quickly and I have/had no memory what he actually said, though someone shoved a Bush/Quayle sign in my hands that I had no idea what to do with. When I returned home, I ran into my neighbors, who looked at me with the sign like I was insane.

Just so you know, I voted for Clinton twice!
Actually, it's oppo research on the topic of oppo research, with substantive arguments about Iraq for good measure: Andrew McCarthy in the National Review, "Listening to Kerry."

I don't know how much of what he writes translates into campaign stump speech, but treat it as a direction the Republicans may eventually go.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

I forgot to mention yesterday the single most important reason the CBS bullshit is horrible and maybe deadly for Kerry. Specifically, Kerry's new strategy -- arguing that things are worse than we're led to believe in Iraq -- entirely depends on press accounts of what's going on in Iraq.

Persuadables (i.e., disaffected Independents and Republicans) already sense that the media knows jackshit about what's really happening in Iraq -- and this is despite the daily news of terrorism, beheadings, etc. A large group of persuadables thinks that the press doesn't get out of the green zone enough, and they're hesitant to buy into the fundamental truth -- as far as Kerry is concerned -- that things are totally fucked there.

So anything that erodes public confidence in the media even more -- and for persuadables, I think the CBS thing was a big confidence drain -- therefore taints Kerry's message big time.

There's no way to get through to people with the message that everything went wrong in Iraq if they're unconvinced it's all wrong in the first place.

If Kerry loses (and I'm not convinced things are all that bad for him now), I wouldn't be surprised if more than one or two people make this connection. Picture it as the reverse of Cronkite '68.
I was kind of confused after reading David Brooks' column today about Kerry's speech yesterday. Brooks makes it sound like Kerry made a big anti-war speech that advocated cutting and running:
First, Kerry argued that Iraq was never a serious threat to the United States, that the war was never justified and that Bush's focus on Iraq was a "profound diversion" from the real enemy, Osama bin Laden.

Second, Kerry argued that we are losing the war in Iraq. Casualties are mounting, the insurgency is spreading, and daily life is more miserable.

Third, Kerry argued that in times like this, brave leaders should tell the truth to the American people. Kerry reminded his audience that during Vietnam, he returned home "to offer my own personal voice of dissent," and he's decided to do the same thing now. The parallel is clear: Iraq is the new Vietnam.

Finally, Kerry declared that it is time to get out, beginning next summer. The message is that if Kerry is elected, the entire momentum of U.S. policy will be toward getting American troops out of Iraq as quickly as possible and shifting responsibility for Iraq onto other countries.
As I noted yesterday, I only heard some excerpts, and I was typing as I was listening, so I figured maybe I should revist my Tom Sawyer thesis.

In fact, after reading Brooks' damning final thoughts, I was sure I got it all wrong:
[I]f the whole war is a mistake, shouldn't we stop fighting tomorrow? What do you say to the last man to die for a "profound diversion"?

But that is what the next few weeks are going to be about. This country has long needed to have a straight up-or-down debate on the war. Now that Kerry has positioned himself as the antiwar candidate, it can.
Then I read -- just to be clear, the subway was all f u c k e d up this morning and while the train I was in was stuck in the station, I killed a little time reading Paul Krugman's column on the same page. Krugman, I was heartened to find, heard what I heard from Kerry:
The Bush administration fostered the Iraq insurgency by botching the essential tasks of enlisting allies, rebuilding infrastructure, training and equipping local security forces, and preparing for elections. It's understandable, then, that John Kerry - whose speech yesterday was deadly accurate in its description of Mr. Bush's mistakes - proposes going back and doing the job right.

But I hope that Mr. Kerry won't allow himself to be trapped into trying to fulfill neocon fantasies. If there ever was a chance to turn Iraq into a pro-American beacon of democracy, that chance perished a long time ago.
What gives? Was this another masterful "Flipper" performance in which one heard what they wanted to hear? An aside: I've written before that Bush is a master in making one think that he's above condescension (that's the short version -- longer version has to do with the infamous Bush Smirk), but perhaps Kerry has perfected a brilliant post-modern version of a campaign speech in which one sees one's reflection no matter the politics. (Bruno, we need more research here!)

So I was doubly heartened to read Josh Marshall's critique of Brooks this morning:
It fell, it seems, to David Brooks to start the effort to distort what John Kerry said in his speech yesterday and pull the debate back from any discussion of what is actually going on in Iraq. His column in tomorrow's Times is a classic Brooks' 'faint praiser' in which he structures the column as an attempt to give his quarry his due while actually distorting what the person in question actually said.

. . .

To read Brooks' column, Kerry came out foursquare for a rapid withdrawal from Iraq. But read the actual speech. That's not what he said at all. Brooks hangs the claim on a passage toward the end of the speech in which Kerry says that if the president does all the right things now we could begin withdrawing troops a year from now -- next summer -- and "realistically aim" to have all of our troops out in four years.
I thought so! And I'll go one further: maybe Brooks is guilty of Laphamizing Kerry! How else did he come up with a smart, well-constructed 750-word op-ed so soon?

Monday, September 20, 2004

I'm listening to an extended excerpt of Kerry's speech this morning right now and everything I wrote before is dead on, I think -- Kerry's making a good list of Bush's mistakes in Iraq -- the advice is so good, I bet Bush will take it!

This, to be clear, just makes Kerry seem like the Perot of 2004, in that Perot's ideas in 1992 and 1996 ended up affecting the campaign's issues, but did nothing to actually get Perot elected. In this way, I think Bush is pulling a Tom Sawyer with the whitewashed fence -- convince hapless Ben Rogers to do the heavy lifting and sit back and enjoy the rewards!

“Say, Tom, let me whitewash a little.”
The previous two posts were meant to build up to my final point, which I've been wondering about for a couple of weeks now. Basically, it's the idea that things in Iraq are a mess and hopeless, etc. and that Bush is to blame.

I see, for example, that Kerry seems to be embarking on a strategy that focuses on the problems in Iraq -- he's in New York at NYU as I type this apparently giving a speech stating as much.

But even if the war is messy right now, by blaming Bush for the casualties and shortsightedness in attacking Iraq, I don't think Kerry's message will gain traction. It may work with voters who believed that Iraq was OK provided that no U.S. troops got hurt or that things would go smoothly, but did anyone actually believe that would be true? What kind of person thinks that sacrifice is alright provided we don't have to sacrifice? So I don't think that message will work.

The other issue -- that Bush has been sugarcoating (to use a popular term right now) the news -- is a better issue, but again, how much it will work is up for debate. Who thinks that the President is the person who reports the unvarnished truth? What President has ever done this? To me, this Kerry tack amounts to pointing out that the President spins. Of course he spins! Does any serious voter expect a politician not to spin?

Going one further, if Kerry means to say that a) things in Iraq are bad, and b) the President is sugarcoating the news coming out of Iraq, then I'm still not sure his message will work. It still doesn't address the main point, which is that we're at a precarious point in history where civilization hangs in the balance -- and Kerry saying that Iraq looks bad now only proves this point, not negates it, which is perhaps the opposite of what Democratic partisans want to say (specifically, that this was an unnecessary war of choice). Needless to say, Kerry pointing out that the President is unconvincingly sunny only doubly proves the original point.

So now Kerry is in the bad position of arguing that things are worse than you think in Iraq and the President is too optimistic about it. Excuse me if I seem dense, but this is Kerry's message? Isn't it actually the Republican/Bush message, only magnified?

The final question I have is this -- based on Kerry's supposed inability to gain traction on either a domestic message or a foreign policy message, what is the right message? Or is Kerry just doomed to be without one? Bruno, help me out here!
I've been reading a lot about right track/wrong track poll numbers and how they're important indicators of Bush's chances for reelection, but I can't figure out how they really relate.

I know those who know these things say they matter, but when you look at the questions actually asked voters, I question how good an indicator it is.

If you were to be called and asked, for example "Do you feel things in this country are generally going in the right direction, or do you think things are seriously off on the wrong track?" how would you respond? If you're a Kerry apologist, you'd obviously think things were on the wrong track. If you're a Bush apologist, I don't know that you'd automatically say that things are generally going in the right direction -- isn't it possible, for example, to want to stick with Bush's plan (whatever it is) but think that in the short term the country may or may not be headed in the "right" direction?

And I think the phrasing of that question (by Penn's National Annenberg Election Survey) is better than, say, this wording from a Newsweek poll: "Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time?" This question seems obviously poorly worded -- can't someone who is not only a Bush apologist but an out-and-out Bush supporter be dissatisfied with the way things are going? And that would be all the more reason for this kind of voter to stick with Bush? (In fact, the numbers skew worse for Bush when the question is phrased this way.)

It sort of reminds me of the question from a poll several months ago about casualties in Iraq. I can't remember exactly when or where the poll was conducted, or by whom, but the poll, if memory serves, asked whether we had an acceptable number of casualties in Iraq -- as if any number of casualties was acceptable! I'm sure people who were polled were able to see through the question and give their pollable feelings about the war, but when you think about it, it's really poorly worded . . .
I was interested in reading this month's Vanity Fair piece on the Bush v. Gore decision. It was OK but in the end I was disappointed -- way too little balance from the law clerks who supplied the arc and quotes for the story, and while I believe the clerks think what they think about the case, I just don't have much faith in Graydon Carter putting out anything remotely balanced a month before the election.

On that note, I see that CBS apparently is prepared to back down from their absurd contention that those memos were real. I would not be surprised that Bush's extended bounce in the polls owes much to this retarded story -- and not only because it's crowding out other more pertinent issues.

Right or wrong, voters -- especially voters who actually vote (i.e., Republicans and Independents) -- deeply resent it when the media fuck around with their ostensibly objective reporting. And if there's a backlash, it's safe to say that it doesn't help Kerry. Just as the hypothetical swing Peoria-playing voter watches, say, the protests in New York and naturally feels more inclined to support Bush's message, I think there are a bunch of voters who see Dan Rather pulling 10-plus days of this shit, conclude that he's shilling for Kerry and naturally lean back towards Bush's message (if not Bush himself).

In other words, Rather's being a world-class stooge right now and I can't imagine Kerry is too happy about it.

And to get back to the original point, I half-read the Vanity Fair piece thinking there were some legitimate issues surrounding Florida's voting procedures. Then I remembered what a self-obsessed cock Graydon Carter is and dismissed the story out of hand. As I've said many times before in many other contexts: "Dude, you're not helping."

Friday, September 17, 2004

New blog to follow: Robot House! Good to know, especially because Bruno and the Professor don't allow comments anymore!
At least the Times' A.O. Scott doesn't fall for the bullshit:
Every time Mr. Sayles faces a choice between high-minded didacticism and persuasive drama, you can almost hear him tapping the lectern for your full attention. Occasionally, someone will throw a punch, shoot a gun or shed a tear, but mostly they stand around in medium-range shots, engaging in flagrant exposition. As [lead character private investigator] Danny shambles along, asking the wrong questions and getting into trouble with the folks who hired him, you start to feel as if you're watching a very long episode of "The Rockford Files" written by the staff of The Nation.
Take that, Ebert -- stooge!
I knew it! Roger Ebert apologizing for John Sayles' Silver City! And he's not even very subtle about tying it into the election:
It's a good question whether movies like this have any real political influence. Certainly Sayles is a lifelong liberal and so is his cinematographer, the great Haskell Wexler. (So are Murphy and Dreyfuss, for that matter.) They create a character who is obviously intended to be George W. Bush. How do we know that? Because Dickie Pilager speaks in short, simplistic sound bites, uses platitudes to conceal his real objectives and has verbal vertigo. Now, then: Am I attacking the president with that previous sentence or only describing him? Perhaps to describe George W.'s speaking style in that way is not particularly damaging, because America is familiar with the way he talks, and about half of us are comfortable with it.

That's why "Silver City" may not change any votes. There is nothing in the movie's portrait of Pilager/Bush that has not already been absorbed and discounted by the electorate. Everybody knows that Bush expresses noble thoughts about the environment while his administration labors to license more pollution and less conservation. We know Bush's sponsors include the giant energy companies, and that Enron and Ken Lay were his major contributors before Lay's fall from grace. So when Dickie Pillager is revealed as the creature of anti-environment conglomerates, it comes as old news.
Three and-a-half stars out of four! Is he fucking kidding?
I like it!

Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Rotten Tomatoes link for Silver City.
I have one (guardedly) positive Sayles review: Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer:
In many ways, Silver City is Mr. Sayles’ most pessimistic film since Limbo (1999), which had a dangerously unresolved and utterly depressing ending. This time around, I’m already depressed by the direction political campaigning has taken, using the Big Lie as a campaign tactic for a susceptible public and a compliant press that has ignored its mission of truth-seeking investigative journalism. (Thank God for Michael Moore, Jon Stewart and several comic strips, not including the pernicious and fallacious Fillmore.) In this context, Mr. Sayles seems to have intended Silver City as a wake-up call to all us potentially complacent anti-Bushites. He needn’t have gone to all the trouble of alerting us, since everything I read and hear from our side is full of doom and gloom. As it happens, the grotesque spectacle provided by both Chris Cooper’s Dickie Pilager and George W. Bush’s George W. Bush is painful to watch in light of its apparent success at mass persuasion.
Four more to go! (Feel free to use the Village Voice review below as a baseline.)
Standing on principle! I misunderestimated the critics:
With hardly a breath taken in contemplation of the sulfurous odor left to linger by Casa de los Babys, our reigning middle-class-liberal auteur does it again—takes on a loaded social context with the grace of a rail-splitter. Is there another socially engaged American filmmaker as tone-deaf and clubfooted as John Sayles? I suppose we should be glad he's engaged at all, although this year it's hardly cause for braggadocio. An ambitious but chickenhearted state of the union address, Silver City begins aptly enough with a campaign commercial—for a witless, DWI-haunted Bush-fils simulacrum (Chris Cooper), whose bid for the Colorado governorship is being paid for and shepherded by a corporate mogul (Kris Kristofferson) longing to turn the state's national parks into malls. Only Sayles could try and fail to locate comedy in President Malaprop's podium fumblings, but forget it, we have a macguffin to deal with—an unidentified body gets hooked during the lakeside ad shoot, and a hasty investigation/cover-up by the inept candidate's handlers ensues.

. . .

Perhaps worst of all, and despite his lead-lined-glove style, Sayles's flaccid drama can hardly even work up a tremor of outrage about Bushie political puppeteering and high capitalism, in this our year of holy dissent. Any single minute of news footage, employed in any one of a dozen documentaries seen in the city this summer, has a deeper bite.
Well put!
Does "political art" always have to suck so badly? Jen and I saw John Sayles' new movie, Silver City, which is basically a whodunnit set during a gubernatorial campaign. I'm a big John Sayles apologist, so it sort of upsets me to say that Sayles totally phoned this one in so that he could "make a statement."

Before you accuse me -- the right-wing nut -- of disliking a movie because of its supposed politics, just know that this is somehow simultaneously the most choppy, unfocused and uninteresting, and uninterestingly pat film of his I've seen. If you see this film and you don't think so, please let me know because I'd like to understand why.

The movie, like I said, is a Sayles-esque whodunnit -- he focuses on a small town and tries his hardest to cut across all social levels to weave a tale. But it's just not very good. Which makes you wonder, Why release this now?

Simple -- they're pulling a Michael Moore. Check the production notes on the Silver City site (click on "cast and notes" and "production notes" if you don't believe me) -- Sayles says as much:
Explains Sayles about the relatively brief period of pre-production [which explains the incoherent story, I suppose!] he and [producing partner Maggie] Renzi allotted themselves for the making of Silver City. "We wanted the film to be in theaters before the election. You hope it makes some noise and gets into the conversation. I think Silver City is a good thing to be out there during the campaign.
Now, if it's unclear, let me emphasize that this film is barely "political." Sure, it's got that Sayles-esque distrust of developers and politicians, but that aspect of his stuff was not necessarily political to me. The only thing that's remotely "political" is his crude characterization of the gubernatorial candidate the story (sort of) revolves around. Chris Cooper's Dickie Pilager (subtle!) is George Bush as I'd expect Chris Cooper believes George Bush is, which is to say, he's bumbling, dumb and, well, dumb. So Sayles' big message -- what he wants to get into the "conversation" -- is that, I guess, Bush is dumb.

Except it's not particularly funny. I mean, it's funny in a ha-ha we-know-the-truth kind of funny, but other than that Cooper's character is a side note.

The production notes continue, quoting Sayles' co-producer:
Echoing the feelings of much of the cast and crew, Renzi says, "John is an authentic American voice who has always been respected by those who've discovered him. He's as legitimate a spokesman for this moment as Michael Moore or Al Franken."
Dude, they're totally trying to cash in on this Fahrenheit 9/11 thing! Which is where my prediction comes in . . .

I am wagering that at least five "respected" film critics will give big props to Silver City because they can't possibly pan a political film this close to the election. I'm looking in particular at Roger Ebert! Again, watch the film if you want, but try to convince me it wasn't a total mess. Some good acting, granted, but plot- and story-wise it was shit.

And I'll go one further: I think Newmarket Films set this up! They are responsible for marketing the movie as a film-noir Fahrenheit 9/11 -- I'm convinced in my Rovian heart of hearts that Newmarket knows that no critic wants to pan a "liberal" political movie this close to the election! Fuckers!

I think the movie comes out this weekend, so we'll have to watch the reviews.
In the interest of gambling/irresponsible speculation, I'm going to wager that Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz is gone, regardless of who wins the election.

I know many have speculated this before, but his off-message Times op-ed today jumped out at me in a weird way.

Basically it's a piece about a journalist he knows in Indonesia who may or may not be convicted of criminal defamation. Wolfowitz calls on the Indonesian government to do the right thing and dismiss the case.

Quick question: Why the fuck would Paul Wolfowitz writing an op-ed about a court case against a journalist in Indonesia? In part, he answers:
In the interest of disclosure, I should say that I have known Mr. Bambang for nearly 20 years. I knew him particularly well in the late 1980's, when I was American ambassador in Jakarta. I know him to be a journalist of enormous integrity, someone who takes seriously his responsibility not only to publish the truth but also not to publish falsehoods. He is also a Muslim who has courageously denounced terrorism and extremism on the editorial pages of his magazine.

But my concerns about this case extend far beyond my worry about the fate of a friend. I believe that the whole world has a stake in the success of democracy in Indonesia. If this country of almost 240 million, with more Muslims than any other in the world - indeed, with more than 15 percent of the world's Muslim population - can demonstrate its capacity to develop democratic institutions, even in the face of economic adversity, it will be a valuable example for the rest of the world . . .
So let me ask again (kindly reread previous paragraph . . . OK) . . .

Now, how do you read Wolfowitz's piece? I say he's cashing in on his influence while he can! And I imagine that he may or may not have been able to exert influence through official channels -- this seems like the kind of legitimate case that those in the upper levels of goverment would overlook in the name of diplomacy (see also, Bush-Putin-Chechnya, Saudi Royal Family-Every Administration Since the 1950s-Oil, etc.).

In fact, one almost wonders whether the end is coming sooner than you think . . . doesn't one?

That is, unless Wolfowitz, a team player, is going to bat "unofficially" for an administration trying to burnish its commitment to democracy . . . or deflecting attention away from its incongruous stance on Russian Democracy! The head reels!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Are these guys fucking nuts? Repeating the negative for like the fifth straight day?

Monday, September 13, 2004

A little more on the Kerry thingy . . . even though I'm guessing it's wildly misleading and that the expiration of the assault weapons ban is probably a bogus issue, this ad seems pretty effective!

And Kerry has used the idea in recent stump speeches:
Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry yesterday charged that President Bush and Vice President Cheney were "trying to scare Americans" with the threat of terrorism while making it possible for Al Qaeda to stockpile weapons in the United States by allowing the ban on assault weapons to lapse.

"The 9/11 commission and other reports have shown that Al Qaeda wanted to come into America, and in the Al Qaeda manual of terror, they were telling people to go out and buy assault weapons," Kerry told about 250 voters at a community center in the battleground state of Missouri.
Of course, Bush quietly called for the ban to be renewed (Congress declined to send him a bill to sign), so he is able to deny that he's for Al Qaeda getting assault weapons . . .

Without getting into the details, I'm not convinced that the assault weapons ban was a "good" thing, but I don't really care either way. I don't shoot guns, I don't own guns and I don't even see guns, so it makes little difference to me what happens with the ban. At the same time, I'm agnostic enough about it to listen to both sides, and it seems that Kerry should go with this issue if it polls well!
I'm not sure why thinking about John Kerry's campaign should appeal to me at all today, but for some reason I've been thinking about it. I tell you, I'm kind of looking forward to the debates, because I'd sort of like to know why I should vote for either candidate.

For real! I really believe this!

I think I have a pretty good idea about what Bush is about, but I have to say that I'm not entirely clear about Kerry's positions. I'm interested in the campaigning stuff, so I appreciate Noam Scheiber's view of Kerry's apparent new strategy, "George Bush Talks the Game but Doesn't Deliver," in this case Bush's failure in North Korea.

Bill Kristol's take on the same story deflates whatever gains Scheiber detects. It's simple: once you get past the "message," the question is what exactly is Kerry arguing for:
Kerry did charge "that this is one of the most serious failures and challenges to the security of the United States, and it really underscores the way in which George Bush talks the game but doesn't deliver." He continued, according to Sanger: "'They have taken their eye off the real ball,' Mr. Kerry said, his voice almost shaking in anger. 'They took it off in Afghanistan and shifted it to Iraq. They took it off in North Korea and shifted it to Iraq.'"

So far, so uneventful. But then Sanger apparently pointed out to Kerry that the Bush administration had, after all, organized negotiations involving North Korea's neighbors to try to deal with North Korea's nuclear program. Mr. Kerry dismissed those: "They haven't made it work, they haven't put anything real on the table.'' So what would Kerry put on the table? What would Kerry's policy be? Kerry might have expected this question when he placed the call. Here is Kerry's (non-) answer:

"When Mr. Kerry was pressed about how he would handle the threat of a North Korean nuclear test if he was in the Oval Office, he declined to be prescriptive, other than to say that the issue would probably have to be taken to the United Nations Security Council. 'Hypothetical questions are not real,' he said, arguing that North Korea was a case for preventive diplomacy, and that Mr. Bush's 'ideologically driven' approach had kept him from truly engaging North Korea. 'The Chinese are frustrated, the South Koreans, the Japanese are frustrated,' he said.'"

"He declined to be prescriptive." Fantastic! A presidential candidate calls a reporter to highlight a topic, and then has no policy to prescribe--except going to the U.N. Security Council, three of whose five permanent members are already involved in the negotiations the Bush administration is conducting.

Does Kerry realize that he is running for president? Voters do rather like their next president to indicate what he might do. Even if it means being "prescriptive."
Kristol makes a good point . . . why on earth would Kerry press Bush on North Korea, of all things? North Korea, more than any other issue, is the one thing that the President -- any President! -- has virtually zero control over. War with North Korea is a non-starter. Diplomacy hasn't worked. Engagement hasn't worked. Isolation hasn't worked.

Which makes me wonder whether Kerry is good at campaigning at all. Or what the point of it all is. Which is . . . ? Can anyone help here?
In catching up on my newspaper reading on the train this weekend, I started to read Roger Lowenstein's Sunday Times Magazine piece from the other weekend about how politicians use the issue of jobs. The crux of the piece (at least the half that I read . . . heh) was that both Bush and Kerry were disingenuous about how many jobs could be created. (A wrapup of the article is here; alas, I missed my chance to get the original link.)

So it got me thinking about a big idea, which I may or may not be able to explore at some point. It basically investigates the notion that people who lose their jobs will somehow go postal and blame the boss -- you know, the disgruntled employee who gets fired and then comes back to the office with a shotgun to take revenge on his old workplace.

In the Going Postal scenario, the victims of the flagging economy come back to the office with a metaphorical shotgun -- both Kerry and Bush seem, according to the Lowenstein article, to fear this possibility, so both freely pepper their stump speeches with promises to create jobs (Kerry) or inoculations of a bad record (Bush).

But is there reason to think that voters always go postal? Do they necessarily blame Bush if the economy doesn't go as well as it should? Do they really believe Kerry will put them back to work, or give them better work?

Which brings me to my second big idea -- again, which I may or may not be exploring. Basically, it's the notion that Americans don't always vote with their pocketbooks, or vote out of self-interest. Aren't there a fair number of voters who understand intuitively that even if a policy doesn't benefit them, it still may be the right thing to do?

I think this is more powerful an idea that you may think. We know already that left-leaning voters tend to vote this way -- especially the younger, socially conscious voter. The issue of health insurance -- most of us have health insurance but we still find that issue salient either because we know that our job situation is tenuous (which admittedly is self serving) or because we know how important an issue it is for people. But the same type of voter will gladly support Kerry's plan (not that I've heard a lot about it, but I'll parrot Democratic talking points anyway right now) to give 20 some-odd million people health coverage. That's not voting in one's self interest. Same for other programs: job training, unemployment, welfare, etc.

The big idea I was thinking about doesn't talk so much about the obvious above but rather why or how people who aren't fatcats support Bush's economic or tax policy. In other words, it's not necessarily that they think for a second that they'll get money back from the gov but rather that by lowering taxes for fatcats, it is for the greater good. I bet there are many Republican-leaning people who fall into this category.

How to cash in on the big idea? Can't the candidates exploit it somehow? And wouldn't it be more gratifying intellectually to have a candidate abandon the knee-jerk self-interest message they seem to hammer away at? I'd be much more comfortable with it.

I'd much rather hear Kerry admit that it's hard to keep jobs at home but we need to cushion the blow for the most vulnerable sectors of the economy because it's the right thing to do.

I'd much rather hear Bush explain that it's unlikely the middle class will feel much tax relief from his tax cuts, but that by flattening the tax structure, it makes it more likely that an environment will be created where our economy is in a better position to . . . blah, blah . . . you get the point.

Now I want to go back and read David Brooks' column from last week because I think he starts to explain this a little . . .
I can't believe that the story about CBS's sloppy use of forged memos continues to be the big story all the way into the following week. That's bad news for Kerry . . .

Friday, September 10, 2004

The Edwards/Cheney matchup is the one to watch! And this just shows how entertaining the two might be in the debates:
Indicators measure the nation's unemployment rate, consumer spending and other economic milestones, but Vice President Dick Cheney says it misses the hundreds of thousands who make money selling on eBay.

["]That's a source that didn't even exist 10 years ago," Cheney told an audience in Cincinnati on Thursday. "Four hundred thousand people make some money trading on eBay."
To which Edwards responded:
"If we only included bake sales and how much money kids make at lemonade stands, this economy would really be cooking," Edwards said in a statement.
Vice Presidential debates are scheduled for . . . October 5, 2004 at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, moderated by PBS's Gwen Ifill (thanks, Note!). Looking forward to it!
Now that talk of proportional typeset has become this week's hanging chad, I think it's fair to pin this on Karl Rove! I say this half-kidding, too: what could be better to obfuscate the real story than plant a couple of obviously fake documents? And before you think I'm being too blame-the-victim about it, I think CBS was fucking retarded to put those .pdfs online!

It's safe to say that this will clog up the next couple of news cycles -- at least through September 11, if not beyond. After that, we're talking about the election as a matter of days, not months. Much more of this and Kerry's really fucked . . .

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Complete rumor, but seemingly well sourced with facts that seem plausible. Do not click the link if you don't want to know!
If you're at all interested in the hubbub about the memo to file that CBS has about Bush's National Guard service, check out this (feel free not to read the comments because I can guess what they're probably like). Amazing!
Is this getting weird or what?
U.S. deaths in Iraq recently topped 1,000, while the ever-growing list of Gene Simmons' lovers has reached 4,700.
Does the preoccupation with Bush's National Guard Record mean that there aren't more important issues to cover in the election?

Where did I read that this is a Rovian setup?

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Does anyone truly believe that the members of the media coordinated the timing of their Bush National Guard Bombshell? I didn't until I read Kristof on the way to work this morning -- he of the James Wilson/Steven Hatfill "scoops!" (I actually like his ANWR and snowmobile reporting, but these scoops were kind of like Iraqi WMD.)

Followup: Does anyone really care that Bush weaseled his way out of Vietnam in the late 1960s? And would folks even care that he blew lines at Camp David during the first Bush Administration? That was before his 9/11 transformation . . . I say it's old news!
During the primary season I cringed at the thought of Howard Dean, mostly because it pained me to watch such an undisciplined campaigner. I still cringe when I think about it.

And it's strange to me how John Kerry seems to be doing the same thing -- take this, for example:
JOHN KERRY said yesterday that Iraq was "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time." . . .

Not an unheard of point of view. Indeed, as President Bush pointed out today, it was Howard Dean's position during the primary season. On December 15, 2003, in a speech at the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles, Dean said that "the capture of Saddam Hussein has not made America safer." Dean also said, "The difficulties and tragedies we have faced in Iraq show the administration launched the war in the wrong way, at the wrong time, with inadequate planning, insufficient help, and at the extraordinary cost, so far, of $166 billion."

But who challenged Dean immediately? John Kerry. On December 16, at Drake University in Iowa, Kerry asserted that "those who doubted whether Iraq or the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein, and those who believe today that we are not safer with his capture, don't have the judgment to be president or the credibility to be elected president."
Over and over again, Kerry seems to reiterate, underscore and emphasize the way the Republicans have defined him. Do they think no one pays attention? Maybe people don't pay attention; I'd like to think there was some good reason for it!

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

I'm not sure how serious Bush is about a National Sales Tax. I always assumed it would be an outrageously regressive move, and it looks like it in fact would be:
The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy has issued an 18-page report, The Effects of Replacing Most Federal Taxes with a National Sales Tax: A State-by-State Distributional Analysis. The report concludes that replacing existing federal taxes with a national sales tax would shift the tax burden from well-off individuals and states to middle- and lower-income individuals and states:

• In virtually every state, the bottom 80% of taxpayers would face much higher taxes (a $3,200 per year average tax increase).
• The 80% of middle- and lower-income taxpayers would pay 51% more in taxes.
• The wealthiest 1% of taxpayers would save $225,000 in taxes each year.
• 13 states (and D.C.) would pay less, while the remaining 37 states would pay more.
• Of the total amount shifted among states, 50% would go to California and New York (even though most Californians and New Yorkers would nevertheless pay considerably higher taxes.
The post also notes winners and losers under such a plan. Winners would include New Jersey, New York and California while the losers would be Mississippi, Idaho and . . . Washington (!). Who knew Washington was so retro?
And let's talk about how the general impressions of each candidate, as stoked by the media, work. The ten-second burst for Bush: he flubs his message. The ten-second burst for Kerry: he's a phony. I think Bush wins here. Big time.

Earlier when I wrote about Drudge's nookie, I was getting at something that I've been pondering for a while about how gut voters vote. If I could pick one characteristic the theoretical gut voter looks for -- intuitively looks for -- it's sincerity. And as we know, after 9/11 sincerity supplanted irony . . . (I know, I know -- just bear with me here).

I'm beginning to think that for all Bush's foibles, one thing he beats out Kerry on is his sincerity. (Maybe that's why I shut off when I hear the same-old "Bush Lied" thing.) And in the same way, one attribute I don't think many people ascribe to Kerry is sincerity.

Now before you get all glum, I think it's clear that this is still a very, very close election. But I do wonder whether someone like Joe Lieberman would have been a better gut candidate. Even if you think he's a DINO (Democrat in Name Only), Democrats -- unless they really don't care about beating Bush -- maybe should have paid attention to Joe's intangibles. And my general impression is that he's got sincerity up the wazoo. (Maybe Edwards, too, though who knows . . .).
Do Bush's verbal gaffes help or hurt him? I say help! Stuff like this is actually really funny:
President Bush's bout with the English language continued Monday, when he offered a surprising explanation of what gynecologists might do with their patients if not for pesky malpractice lawsuits.

"Too many good docs are getting out of business," Bush said. "Too many OB-GYNS aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country."

It's not clear what Bush meant to say, but it was presumed that he misspoke. The statement came as he attacked his Democratic opponents, Sens. John F. Kerry and John Edwards, for siding with trial lawyers over doctors in the battle to limit lawsuits.

Bush has a well-known history of such gaffes and poked fun at his own verbal "flaws" during his speech last week at the Republican National Convention.

The "love" reference followed another bit of odd phrasing two days earlier during a Saturday speech at an Erie, Pa., football stadium. There, he was explaining last year's $87-billion appropriation for "armor and body parts and ammunition and fuel" for Iraq and Afghanistan.

He did not intend to be macabre. Bush simply flubbed his usual line, explaining that the money was intended for — among other things — body armor and spare parts.
And let's be honest -- free associate here with me -- but I don't think the majority of people in the U.S. think he's an idiot when he misspeaks. And when reputable publications print stories like this you almost start to wonder -- in the deep recesses of your Karl Rovian heart of hearts -- whether the gaffes are on purpose. Why? Because for every funny anecdote about Bush, all it really does is get more people to pick apart what he meant to say. I don't think the OB-GYN malpractice issue is one that most people would connect to Bush, but now they do!
I know this might sound strange, but of all the "Flipper" allegations (and I try not to pay attention to most of them), I think this latest Kerry straddle is the worst. And assuming the facts are correct (though I wouldn't be surprised if Drudge got it wrong), the picture it creates shows why I think that hypothetical gut voter won't break for Kerry come Turkey Time.

Look at the story a little closer and let yourself do some free associating -- the tableau is the worst of all political worlds: flopping, campaign posturing and a general phoniness that gut voters hate.

But you have to admit that the story is funny!

And I think this because it's one of those stories that you share with your co-workers, at the doctor's office, your in-laws, that guy at the 7-11 or the doorman -- one of those non-partisan aren't-politicians-dumb kind of stories that spread a lot quicker than, say, his health care policy (which is . . . ?). And when I talk about the gut voter, this is exactly -- precisely -- what I'm talking about -- that kind of sum-up-in-a-ten-second-anecdote impression that are traded so easily.

Which is probably why I saw it on Drudge, now that I think about it!
Really interesting post here about the situation in Chechnya, which unfortunately has been reduced to a rebels vs. Putin dichotomy. In short, it posits that what's driving the terrorism we're seeing isn't the early independence movement but rather an Al Qaeda-like (and in fact Al Qaeda) hijacking of a fragile state in order to foment a wider region-wide rebellion -- the goal being nothing less than a Caucasus caliphate. That obviously raises the stakes and makes it doubly important for Russia to put it down. Is it too simplistic to notice the similarities between Chechnya and the intransigent parts of Iraq?

To that point, note the New Nihilism of this quote from a weekend Times article:
"We ride on the subway and think it is for the last time," the Rev. Aleksandr Borisov told Russian Orthodox worshipers on Sunday morning. "We gather in a church and think it is our last liturgy."

This was not simply the homily of a Sunday sermon. Following one of the most horrific terrorist acts in recent times, with the massacre of hundreds of children, parents and teachers in a schoolhouse on Friday, Father Borisov said he was speaking quite literally.

"We received a warning yesterday that terrorist acts are planned in churches in the center of Moscow," he said at the Church of SS. Cosmas and Damian in the heart of the capital, one of many churches across Russia holding memorial services for the victims on Sunday. "World War III has begun."
If you have any ideas about how to defuse this situation, let us know . . .

Friday, September 03, 2004

Just a final thought about the convention here, but noting the huge disconnect between the triumphalism of Republican partisans over the Zell Miller coup and the assurance on the part of Democratic partisans over the potential blowback over his speech, wouldn't Ed Koch have been a much better example of a Democrat experiencing a post-9/11 Bush Conversion? He makes the case better than anyone else I think.

Of course, he's pretty much old news, but he was recently active, telling New Yorkers to "make nice."

But wait a second! It turns out Koch did make his case during the convention! I had no idea . . . shows how much I pay attention . . . I guess two New York mayors in primetime would have been too much . . .
So it seems there has been some sort of resolution in the hostage situation; CNN and NPR are both reporting that Russian news agency Interfax is saying that upwards of 200 have been killed. (Side note: it seems the Russian authorities were fudging the numbers for the last couple of days and there actually may have been close to 1,000 people held hostage.)

Just wondering, but have there been any terrorist attacks (or military engagements) in recent memory that have been this brazen, craven or sick? Even 9/11 was a sort of aerial attack -- a removed kind of indiscriminate bombing. This is just straight-up, face-to-face brutality. And targeting children. Children!

Timothy McVeigh killed a bunch of kids, but he didn't take them hostage . . .

The worrying thing, in terms of where civilization is headed, is that this particular act of terrorism raises the bar quite a bit. All acts of terrorism are disturbing, but this is just very, very disturbing.
Special Forces troops on Afghanistan have killed a Taliban fighter they referred to as "Billy the Kid". The operation was carried out perfectly and served as a big morale boost to the troops there.

But this was interesting:
The coalition soldiers came in with overwhelming force, but they used it sparingly. Because there were shots fired, they handcuffed some 22 men in the village of fighting age and above. Then they were searched and questioned. But contrary to popular perceptions, soldiers here operate with very strict rules, and unless they find weapons or other evidence on someone, they cannot be detained, which is similar to how the police operate in the U.S. So after several hours, only two men were detained while the rest had their plastic cuffs cut free and were left to ponder the American soldiers actions, that seemed to have taken them completely by surprise.

Even without detainees, operations like this are never a wasted exercise because fingerprints are taken from all the men and entered into a massive database that is designed to prevent people making their way into the U.S. to carry out terror attacks the way the Sept.11 hijackers did.
The idea that we have Special Operations guys over in Afghanistan taking fingerprints seems odd, but I guess it just goes to show how long a slog this war against terror will be . . .
I'm impressed by the discipline and well-craftedness of the Republican Convention. And at the risk of stating the obvious, I'll state the obvious here.

First, having Giuliani speak was masterful, even if it in retrospect seems the obvious choice. Of course, you can't come to New York and not have him speak, but the salient detail is that they came to New York and had him speak. And the only thing better than having him remind the country of Bush's major issue (and Giuliani is the authority on all things 9/11) was to have him remind everyone of 9/11 and slam Kerry. That's just a devastating bit of Rovian Brilliance.

(Side note: WNYC is replaying Edwards speaking last night -- Edwards' voice is raspy and he sounds tired. I'm not sure why he should sound tired, either -- I haven't even noticed that he's been campaigning this past week.)

Now I don't really believe that Giuliani turned to Bernard Kerik in the aftermath of 9/11 and said (as per his speech on Monday) "Thank God George Bush is our President." I do believe that at some point he wondered whether our response to that terrorism would have been as robust had Gore been President -- and I'd believe that because I wondered that myself at some point!

Point being (and I'm conflating some points here but bear with me), for many (OK, maybe me, but I've heard this anecdotally from others), Giuliani's performance as mayor after 9/11 was tranformative -- both in terms of how they perceived the mayor and how they perceived Republicans, or at least Bush. It was common to hear people say that they hated Giuliani before 9/11, but damn it, he really took charge and showed some backbone. Especially his refusal to accept $10 million in aid from a Saudi prince after the prince added in subsequent public statements that U.S. policies were partly to blame. That was the start of what is now sometimes maligned as moral clarity. And it's hard not to return to his statement ("And one of the reasons I think this happened is because people were engaged in moral equivalency in not understanding the difference between liberal democracies like the United States, like Israel, and terrorist states and those who condone terrorism") and not feel like he's on the right track here.

I am convinced that having Giuliani speak activated that perhaps repressed memory for swing/Democratic/potentially converted voters.

The rest of the speakers continued attacking Kerry throughout the week. And say what you want about Cheney and Bush, but Schwarzenegger, Miller and Pataki are all impressive character witnesses -- especially if you think about how they play in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Michigan (Florida was probably too distracted by Frances to pay much attention this week, I'm guessing).

As for Bush, he came through. I often find myself waiting for a verbal flub from him (to the detriment of actually listening to him) and he didn't really have any last night. Perhaps it's the soft bigotry of low expectations, but when it comes to the President maybe it's better to have low expectations than high ones in the first place!

At any rate, I think it's going to be close -- worth watching in the next two months -- at least I hope so . . .

Thursday, September 02, 2004

(For some reason I just thought of Steve Martin's "Let's Get Small"; why, I don't know.)

Anyhoo, there's a big disconnect between what's happening in New York -- the crafted Republican message (read: infomercial) and the childish whining of protesters** -- and the horrifying news abroad.

Chechnya is like the West Bank-Gaza Strip on mega steroids (apologies to Thomas Friedman) in that as intractable and hopeless the situation in Israel appears, it's about fifty times worse in Russia. (Bruno, this is where the New Nihilism kicks in -- as horrible as imperialistic Russia may have been in Chechnya, how can you not expect Russia to react strongly to three or four major terrorist attacks?)

And what is happening in France might be a similar New Nihilist turning point. Assuming de Grille-pain doesn't pull off a miracle and get the two journalists freed -- which sensible people would assume would be the rational thing for terrorists to do (don't alienate a swing country like France!) -- France might yet come around on this terror thing. And I'm guessing the backlash in the impoverished suburbs of Paris won't be pretty.

And while we're being morbid, isn't, like, today the best day for a major terror attack in, say, California? No Bush bounce that way, right? But either the authorities have it under control or the terrorists aren't that smart -- hopefully both . . .

**[Forgive me if I sound harsh, but I listen to WNYC (NPR) all day long, so I think I can vent once in a while; I just finished hearing -- I think it was -- Donna Lieberman, the head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, complain about police tactics in the city -- I guess I just have very little patience for middle-class white kids who provoke cops in order to get arrested . . . isn't running a website a more efficient way to disseminate a message?]
I didn't watch any of last night's convention stuff (better stuff to do), but I've been reading stuff that people have written about it enough to get the general idea.

Obviously Miller could have said basically anything and it still would have been a coup for the Republicans. People probably pay too much attention to the "interesting" turncoats -- David Brock, Arianna Huffington, all the vile 60s-era ex-liberal conservatives like Cal Thomas, et al. (I suppose Christopher Hitchens counts as someone who is now "interesting," but fuck me if I dis him -- he makes too much sense!)

But I digress -- point being, Miller seems like the retarded kid the lunchroom bullies toy with: "Go over to Principal Kerry and spell 'run' three times fast!" (Perhaps I overstate . . .)
The indispensible Reason Convention blog has pictures of the Axis of Eve protest at Battery Park. Best underwear message: "Give Bush the Finger."
This is one of the more interesting things I've read about the messages of the two parties and how they play out -- also perhaps why people are drawn to the Republican message in the first place.
Commenting on the skeezy Dennis Hastert comments, Instapundit tangentially notes a genius idea:
. . . why doesn't the United States address the Afghan opium trade by just buying the stuff up? Presumably, farmers would be just as happy to sell their poppies to us, and that would keep them off the market, as well as depriving bad guys of a revenue source. Am I missing something here
Actually, isn't this a great idea? Besides the apparent unseemliness of encouraging poppy farming, what's the downside? And when I think about it, I have very little against the poppy (or coca) farmers to begin with, so why not just pay them for it?

Going back to Hastert, I have been very comfortable with not hearing him or Delay or Santorum or any of those other shrill weirdos on the right during the convention. The doggedly moderate message they've put forth has been fine with me, but I'm not sure I'm a typical voter. Who knows, though, maybe I am . . .

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The Casbah and the Centrisk. Or Wahabbis and Wicke. Saud and the Saxån? "Three Killed in Rush for IKEA Vouchers in Saudi":
Sixteen shoppers were injured at the Sweden-based furniture store opening in Jeddah. Medics revived some 20 customers who had fainted in the crush. IKEA said two were killed.

The rush was triggered by an offer for the first 50 shoppers to receive $150 in vouchers. An IKEA statement said more than 20,000 people showed up.
Like Michael Jordan, you can't stop globalization -- you can only hope to contain it . . .
This Russian school thing is fucking craven. Lots of links here if you're interested.
Actually, this might have been posted yesterday, but it's pretty funny.
It's ironic that the Republicans' message -- that terror is the most important issue -- is almost (almost) distracting from the frightening news of terrorism in the last couple of days: two nearly simultaneous bus bombings in Israel proper, up to 300 schoolchildren held hostage in Russia (think about that for half a second -- 200 schoolchildren!), a subway bombing in Russia, 12 Nepalese executed in Iraq (and a scary reaction to that in Nepal) -- not to mention the French hostages in Iraq or the Russian airliners.

If it truly is a Global War on Terror then we should be a little freaked out. I'm relieved that the first couple of days in New York have been relatively quiet and peaceful, but there's still today and tomorrow.
The Times channels John Sayles (who has a new movie coming out soon -- a political satire of sorts, I've read) this morning with its "Serving Canapés, Then Recalling the 107th Floor" article:
To be a banquet worker is to be invisible. Do not engage customers in chitchat. Just collect the discarded shrimp tails, keep the cheese platters fresh and know how to pose simple questions - "Hors d'oeuvre?" - so unobtrusively that you might as well be a phantom.

These rules hold true no matter how often out-of-town customers turn a certain jagged phrase into a political rally cry, and no matter how often their bar-banter invocation of that phrase, September 11th, sends you back. You ask if they'd like another mojito, and you say nothing more.

Monzur Ahmed, who has been managing a buffet table this week for several Republican National Convention parties at the Noche restaurant in Times Square, says nothing as speakers use September 11th to justify four more years for their candidate. He tells no one about his life at Windows on the World, the glittery restaurant on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center's north tower, or about the 79 friends and colleagues who died, including a beloved uncle.
But no matter how inadvertently insensitive outsiders can be (the Republican convention in New York in 2004 is the movie Sayles probably should have been making), you have to hand it to Arnold Schwarzenegger -- his "economic girlie men" line was great. And I'll tell you what -- the twins were great, too -- Jenna has her dad's smirk down pat!

Bruno, Professor (and Eugene!) -- if you're not watching you should be, because from a purely aesthetic point of view, this convention has been politically brilliant so far.

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