January 31, 2004

True Patriots reject Bush: If the election were to be held today, John Kerry would defeat George Bush, 43-40%. That is, among people pulling for New England tomorrow, according to this poll. Fans of the NFC champion Carolina Panthers favor the President, 49-33% [link via NY Times "blog"].

January 30, 2004

Watching his press conference this morning, and the manner in which he cut off a questioner who was asking a follow-up to another reporter's question about the Kay testimony before Congress, it occurred to me why feelings about George Bush are so strong in this country. He is the first true "asshole" to be President since Richard Nixon.

I don't mean that necessarily in a negative sense. Many creative artists and talented athletes are assholes; the fact that Picasso was a jerk doesn't make "Guernica" any less powerful, no more than the fact that Gary Sheffield disses reporters makes him any less valuable to his team. In politics, though, that personality type usually has some difficulty succeeding. Having a sense of humility is typically viewed as an important quality to have in a leader, and if there's one thing we know about the President, he is pathologically incapable of ever admitting he was wrong about something.

The call for an independent commission to investigate the mistakes made leading to war against Iraq is one case in point. In Great Britain, Tony Blair was able to use the Hutton Commission to deflect the fact that his government presented incompetent and misleading intelligence to justify war by shifting the onus to the BBC's reporting of same. The question became not whether the intelligence was "sexed up", it was whether Blair knew that the intelligence was sexed up, as the Beeb reported; an incredible bit of political jujitsu, it led to the resignation of several high-ranking directors at the BBC, and allowed Blair to appoint successors more willing to be the mouthpiece of the government (although not without some political fallout: the Hutton Report is being treated with derision by much of Great Britain, as a clumsy whitewash of government actions).

Focusing on whether the client had the specific intent to deceive is precisely what clever defense attorneys use in white collar criminal cases, but it also entails an assumption, on the part of the defense, that the client made a mistake. If the client believes himself to be infallible, that defense won't fly. A President who won't read newspapers, who insults Congressmen from his own party who dare to vote their conscience, who freezes out reporters who attempt to ask difficult questions, and gives demeaning nicknames to those he perceives to be beneath him, is obviously someone who is not going to admit that he blew it, even on a minor point.

And that's problematic. People are willing to accept that our political leaders make mistakes (ie., Clinton during the Lewinsky Affair), and that intelligence from other countries may be spotty. Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, so his downfall, even with the questionable rationale which we chose to go to war, is to be celebrated. But by pretending that nothing went wrong, Bush insults a large portion of the American people, those who disagree with him on other issues, and are not inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt politically, but who are also patriotic citizens who are willing to support him, as President, when the chips are down. In the end, it will prove his downfall, because, when all is said and done, people tend to root against assholes.
Anyone want to lay odds that this document recently "retrieved" from the Iraqi Oil Ministry, is yet another forgery? [link via EllisBlog] Besides the inevitable reference to George Galloway, the bullshit detector of anyone with an IQ over single digits should have been triggered with the listing of a payout to something called the "October 8 Movement" in Brazil. Apparently, Saddam's minions couldn't come up with the name of an actual Brazilian, so they just sent the multi-million dollar bribe to a "movement".

January 29, 2004

Humanitarianism, the last refuge of suckers (or is it "Francophobia, the socialism of chickenhawks").
This can be filed under the category, "Limits of Technology", or perhaps, "Why Some Stereotypes Make Sense". This morning I had a trial in Lancaster, California, a city some fifty miles north of Los Angeles. Rather than just opening up the Thomas Guide and driving to the general location of the courthouse, I decided to use the LA Superior Court's website to give me directions. Bad move--the courthouse was erected in October of last year, and the website the court links to for that purpose, MapQuest, can't give an accurate location, since the access street was built at the same time as the courthouse. So it compensates, giving me directions to a street with the same name, but five miles to the north. I realized something was amiss when the directions I was following led me down to two unpaved roads in the middle of nowhere. When I finally called the court to get directions, the operator had it figured out: "you used MapQuest, didn't you?"

January 27, 2004

Although tonight's victory in New Hampshire doesn't exactly wrap up the nomination for John Kerry, it definitely makes life a lot easier for the next few weeks. Gephardt's withdrawal last week suddenly puts Missouri in play; a larger state than South Carolina, a Kerry victory there (and possibly in Arizona) will overshadow anything Edwards or Clark do next Tuesday. His fundraising has picked up dramatically since his win in Iowa, and his larger-than-expected win this evening will increase his momentum. No matter what Dean says about getting off the deck, New Hampshire was a state he desperately needed to win, and he failed. With the Southern regional primary not until mid-March, Clark and Edwards need to win something besides South Carolina next week, if only to show they have appeal above the Mason-Dixon Line, or their campaigns will be over in a matter of days. With any sort of luck, Kerry could have this all but clinched before California and New York vote on March 2, and not have to even worry about his appeal in the South until November.
With 7% of the vote counted, Kerry has an early 12-point lead...but the exit polls indicate a close race with Dean.

UPDATE: Now with 19% counted, it's up to 14-points...Dean is going to have get a lot closer to claim "Comeback Kid" status. Third place is a coin flip; hard to say that it matters (unless it's not Lieberman).
These are early exit poll figures, but they show Kerry with a narrow lead over Dean in the New Hampshire Primary. Clark, Edwards, and Lieberman trail badly.
I guess the Academy is waiting to honor Kill Bill: Vol. 2 next year. As my sister predicted at the time she received her one and only screener this year, the Art Directors honored Girl With a Pearl Earring with a nomination; if the producers of Gigli had sent them a screener, that too would have been nominated.

January 26, 2004

According to a poll taken throughout western Europe by the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, 35.7% of those polled said that "Jews should stop 'playing the victim' for the Holocaust," 40.5% said that "Jews in their country had "a particular relationship with money'," and that 46% believed that "Jews in their countries had a 'mentality and lifestyle' different than other citizens." Interestingly, the poll showed that anti-Semitism was greater in countries like Italy, Austria, Spain and Germany than it is in France, the country where the focus (particularly from the U.S.) has been more intense. A poll the previous week indicated that as many as one in five Brits did not feel a Jew could serve as Prime Minister. For those who were comforted to believe that European anti-Semitism was confined to the far left and to Arab immigrants, these results should be a sobering antidote.
LA's number two free weekly alternative, LA CityBeat (there is also a version for the Valley, but it's the same paper with a couple of news items pasted in about Glendale), has a pair of interesting articles on the local music scene this week, about the sad downfall of late-sixties pop genius Emmit Rhodes (try getting "Live" or "Falling Sugar" out of your head once you've heard them), and about a band called The Country Teasers playing a gig at The Smell. My baby brother will be delighted to know that the club he owns gets this write-up: "The Smell is Dante’s reverb chamber, rectangular in shape and lined with dense brick and concrete so relentlessly reflective that the sound swirls and bounces like a fire hose in a parking garage.".
Some of you may have listened to NPR's two-hour report on blogs last night, so you will know what I'm talking about, but the rest of you may be getting bits and pieces of it second- or third-hand for the next week, so I will try to summarize it for you. The first hour and forty minutes was taken up by assorted media Big Feet, including liberal Josh Marshall and conservative Jeff Jarvis, feeding us a dry encapsulation of the potential of the new medium (as you might expect, Jarvis brought up the New York Times' refusal to give front page treatment to an anti-Saddam demonstration in the streets of Baghdad last month that drew several thousand; it's becoming a tired rant, akin to Snitchens' tirades about the brain-addled murderer Clinton executed in 1992).

The last twenty minutes featured the long-awaited confrontation between Andrew Sullivan and "Atrios". Neither came across with any distinction. Sullivan, apparently nursing scars from insults, real and perceived, and being unwilling to actually respond on his blog (and thereby link) to anyone to the left of Prof. Reynolds, attacked the anonymity of "Atrios", as if the Philadelphia gym teacher was the first to come up with the idea of publishing under a pseudonym. Besides the fact that Sully himself linked to a conservative blogger, "Tacitus", earlier that day without denouncing his "lack of transparency", anonymous screeds have made a rich contribution to Anglo-American political thought; the Federalist Papers, for example, could be considered a late-eighteenth century proto-blog written by several anonymous writers.

"Atrios", however, illustrated another weakness of the blogosphere: a lack of seriousness about language. When Sully criticized Eschaton for being unwilling to attack his own side, "Atrios" called him a liar. As I mentioned back on January 6, accusing someone of lying ought to be a serious accusation, but bloggers use it instead as a shorthand way of saying that the other guy is wrong about an issue. What has become a perfectly banal insult over the internet resonates quite differently when you actually hear it said over a national radio program.

What's worse, though, was when Atrios was actually called on that statement, he couldn't give an example. Of course, it would have been nice if Sullivan actually had visited Eschaton before making his statement: the very post that topped the blog during the radio program reported on dirty tricks one candidate was using against Howard Dean in New Hampshire, hardly the actions of someone who has any hesitation about going after his own side.

And Atrios has nothing to apologize for publishing a more partisan website than Sullivan's; after all, Sully's crowd is in power, controls most of the political, cultural and business institutions in our society, while the insurgent's role that Atrios has chosen to play necessarily must focus its attacks on the opposition. Sully himself has a side he won't attack: witness his unwillingness to repudiate Matt Drudge's deliberate dowdification of General Clark's Congressional testimony a few weeks back. But still, you can hardly claim the other guy is deliberately misstating what's on your blog when you don't really know either.

January 25, 2004

Spent the afternoon viewing Mystic River, an absolutely amazing film. Why do I think Pauline Kael will be remembered as much for her boneheaded denunciations of Clint Eastwood as for anything else she might have written? Oh, I forgot, she will also be remembered for comparing Last Tango in Butter Paris with "The Rites of Spring".