August 25, 2005

It took only two years for Ahnolt to reach the same low level of support that it took Grey Davis five years to attain. Believe it or not, he's even more unpopular in California than George Bush is in the rest of the country.
YBK [Part 16]: Summertime is traditionally the coolest period of the year for bankruptcy filings, while spring and fall usually see most of the action. This is not surprising, since consumers always have big-ticket expenditures around the holidays at the end of the year, and family vacations and weddings in the middle; not until they get their first credit card bill afterwards do they finally begin the overdue process of reevaluating their debt situation.

Whether this summer will be any different may be critical to whether there is another Black Friday in October ten weeks from tomorrow. According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, bankruptcy filings soared to a record level in the quarter ending June 30, 2005. A total of 467,333 bankruptcies were filed, surpassing the previous quarterly record by over 7%, and as I mentioned last month, it beat the same period last year by 12%. Again, this has happened without any significant gains occurring in California, which has disproportionately benefitted from the Housing Bubble.

August 24, 2005

Apparently, the American Legion leader who's been so vociferous in denouncing those peaceniks opposing the President got as close to the frontlines during 'Nam as the President did....
In what is becoming a hardy perennial, yet another article on the death of motion pictures. It runs through the whole litany of reasons, from formulaic pictures, to excessive in-theatre advertising, to the advent of technology that brings a comparable visual experience into the privacy of your own home, as well as a new claim (that the publicizing of celebritydom has made the "real life" antics of stars more entertaining than the films they appear in) that can barely withstand the giggle test. It concludes with the announcement of what may be a sea change in philosophy at some of the studios:
With the task so large, and so very complex, Hollywood is still grappling with how to broach solutions.

[Michael] Lynton (Sony) said he would focus on making "only movies we hope will be really good." At Fox, executives said they are looking to limit marketing costs. At Universal, [Marc] Shmuger said he intends to reassert "time and care and passion" in movie production. Some of his own summer movies, he conceded, should never have been made.

He declined to name them.
Mr. Shmuger, it should be pointed out, has been the Veep at Universal since December, 2000, so it's not like he's blasting what others greenlit.

IMHO, you can boil all these explanations down, and what you will come up with is that the long-term trends have pointed to declining movie attendance since the late-1940's. If given a choice, most people would prefer to do something at home with their families rather than go out, and technological advances now mean that the one big advantage that motion pictures still had over television, the visual experience, is almost gone.

It's not a question of scripts, or cellphone noise, or expensive popcorn; once the potential movie consumer starts asking himself why he has to go see something on a movie screen rather than waiting until it comes out on DVD, the bar gets set much higher, and it's not something that will go away simply because the studios decide to release better movies. In other words, no matter how good the movie, if it doesn't promise the viewer a sumptuous visual treat, as with the Lord of the Rings movies or Revenge of the Sith, or an excuse to communally experience an uncommonly hilarious or traumatic film, he would just as soon stay home.
Fund-Raising !! Fund-Raising !!

I haven't done this before, but I thought I'd avail myself of the opportunity to do some fundraising for a truly worthy charity this week: me.

I've been doing this for three and a half years now, and I have always maintained my amateur status. But I love writing, much more than I what I actually do for a living, and if I'm going to devote the time necessary to be a writer, I need some help.

So if you have a few dollars to swing my way, the PAYPAL button will point you in the right direction, and you will have my undying gratitude...thank you.
Say It Ain't So, Lance: Well, it probably ain't so. The paper that broke the story, L'Equipe, has been out to get Armstrong for years, and the problems with the chain of custody concerning the urine sample probably won't get this case out the arraignment stage. Nice try....

August 23, 2005

Bring me Wallace, alive if possible; dead...just as good. Seven hundred years ago today, Sir William Wallace was drawn and quartered by the forces of King Edward I.

August 22, 2005

In a column from last week that has been approvingly cited elsewhere, New Republic writer Jonathon Chait questions the validity of the notion that a veteran has a special moral claim to comment on foreign policy, asking:
One of the important ideas of a democratic culture is that we all have equal standing in the public square. That doesn't mean stupid ideas should be taken as seriously as smart ones. It means that the content of an argument should be judged on its own merits.

The left seems to be embracing the notion of moral authority in part as a tactical response to the right. For years, conservatives have said or implied that if you criticize a war, you hate the soldiers. During the Clinton years, conservatives insisted that the president lacked "moral authority" to send troops into battle because he had avoided the draft as a youth or, later, because he lied about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

So adopting veterans or their mourning parents as spokesmen is an understandable counter-tactic. It was a major part of the rationale behind John Kerry's candidacy. The trouble is, plenty of liberals have come to believe their own bleatings about moral authority. Liberal blogs are filled with attacks on "chicken hawk" conservatives who support the war but never served in the military.


The silliness of this argument is obvious. There are parents of dead soldiers on both sides. Conservatives have begun trotting out their own this week. What does this tell us about the virtues or flaws of the war? Nothing.

Or maybe liberals think that having served in war, or losing a loved one in war, gives you standing to oppose wars but not to support them. The trouble is, any war, no matter how justified, has a war hero or relative who opposes it.

Sheehan also criticizes the Afghanistan war. One of the most common (and strongest) liberal indictments of the Iraq war is that it diverted troops that could have been deployed against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Are liberals who make that case, yet failed to enlist themselves, chicken hawks too?
To answer Mr. Chait's question, yes, absolutely. I don't happen to care for the word "chickenhawk", as it conjures up an association with pederasty, preferring instead the word "coward", but liberals like myself who support sending our troops to fight the remnants of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan without being willing to volunteer myself are as cowardly and gutless as Cheney, Bush, Hitchens, and the rest of the neocons, all of whom became more vociferous in support of an aggressive foreign policy once they were safely out of harm's way.

In fact, I have less of an excuse. When the President commenced hostilities with the Taliban in October, 2001, I was 38 years old. I probably wouldn't have been the optimal material for a recruit (think "Private Pyle" from Full Metal Jacket in terms of body type), but older men than I volunteered. I'm single, with no children, and the type of legal practice where I could afford to suspend operations for a time without hurting my clients. And I supported our fight in Afghanistan, as did most of the rest of the human race.

When Pat Tillman volunteered for duty, almost a full year after 9/11, and months after the Taliban had fled into the mountains, he wasn't much younger than I, and he was in an occupation that had a very narrow timeframe for him to excel. He went anyways, and never came back. Tillman was a hero; I'm not.

And that is why the story of Casey Sheehan resonates, and why his mom's vigil has so captured the public's imagination. Casey Sheehan did not have to die in the service of his country, but he chose to do so. I have no idea what mixture of idealism and calculation went into his decision, but he made a choice to put himself in danger, because our democratically-elected leaders told him that his country needed him. And as a result, he's dead.

Now that his life is over, his mother, like so many other parents who've gone through the hell of having to bury a child, asks why he had to die. Was it to punish Iraq for the deaths of September 11? There's no evidence Iraq had anything to do with 9/11. To protect the "homeland" from WMD's? Iraq, as it turns out, didn't have any. To fight "Islamofascism"? Saddam was one of the most repugnant dictators who ever lived, but he was kind of weak on the "islamo-" part of the equation, and anyways, the constitution that's being drafted doesn't seem that much different than the laws governing Iran or Saudi Arabia. And, of course, Al Qaeda is more powerful than ever.

I'd say Ms. Sheehan has a right to some answers, as do the rest of us. And yes, Mr. Chait, giving greater moral weight to the opinions of those, like Ms. Sheehan, who've paid the ultimate price, while disregarding the views of those who claim that in spite of this being the most important cause of their generation, they don't have to sacrifice, is only fair. Realizing that such a cost must be borne by people like the Sheehan family is the only way one the "content of an argument" should be judged on its merits.
Museum of Retreads: Where the Spice Girls, Jar-Jar Binks, David Hasselhoff and Anna Kournikova still your local Ninety-nine Cent Store. [link via Defamer]

August 21, 2005

YBK [Part 15]: The nation's paper of record finally reports on the bankruptcy boom that began with the passage of the new law. What's interesting about the NY Times article is that it indicates that the states where filings have gone up most dramatically are those that have been untouched by the Housing Bubble, like Idaho, Indiana, Ohio, Texas and Utah. Residents in those states can't stave off the debt collector when times are tough by borrowing on the equity of their home, so they often have no choice but to file.

The YBK trouble will occur when the bubble begins to burst elsewhere, in states like California, Massachusetts and New York. As one of the Volokh Conspirators notes, 61% of all new mortgages in California are interest-only, no-money-down deeds of trust, where the borrower agrees to incur a sizeable debt on their home in the expectation that they will be able to refinance or sell at a higher price down the line, before monthly payments at a prohibitively higher level kick in. If they are unable to do that, the borrower has two options: either file a Chapter 13, and try to repay the arrearage over a period of time, or simply default, and allow the lender to foreclose.

The result is scary to think about. Lenders, who are limited to what they can recover in a foreclosure to the actual value of the property plus costs, will lose their figurative shirts. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which exist to alleviate the burden for low and middle income borrowers to buy a house, could collapse, requiring a massive government bailout that will dwarf the S&L bailout in the '90's. Unsecured creditors, like the credit card companies that so aggressively lobbied Congress to pass its wish-list, will see a lot of their loans vanish in bankruptcy, especially non-delinquent accounts. And for homeowners, the expectations that were generated by the steady, dramatic rise in home values may make the fall especially galling. We might be staring into the abyss if the bubble begins bursting before October 17.
Wow. A law prof with a blog doesn't perform the one ethical requirement all attorneys must obey, that of performing due diligence, then complains that others are being "uncivil" to point that out? Unfreakingbelievable. [link via ODub]