Hogan's Alley

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Flickr Photo Of The Day - Le Plus Ca Change...

Teheran, 1951
Teheran 1951
Originally uploaded by ART NAHPRO.


Are YouTube and MySpace Enabling Narcissism Or Communication?

The ABC evening news the other night presented a story reporting on a new study that asserted that college students today are more narcissistic than preceding generations. One of the "symptoms" of this narcissism, according to the psychologists doing the research, was the wide popularity of YouTube and MySpace:

"Current technology fuels the increase in narcissism," Twenge said. "By its very name, MySpace encourages attention-seeking, as does YouTube."
Their thesis seems to be that this generation has been over-encouraged since childhood to see themselves as special. The practice of lavishing praise on all participants in sports, school activities, artistic endeavors, etc may have been well intended, but has now left us with a generation that is isolated and regards itself as undeservedly wonderful. Thus, sharing my every action and thought with the world via the internet is worth doing because all I do is inherently interesting. Anyone even quickly perusing these videos and sites available celebrating the self will discover vast quantities of pointless, irrelevant and stupid contributions. The same can certainly be also said for the blogosphere, present company occasionally included.

But, let me proffer an alternative view of the popularity of self-expression on the internet. America and much of the West has become a very disconnected society. We cling to our diversity-sanctioned subgroups. Neighborhoods in suburbia are partially defined by the planned play of our children. Parents schlep the kids to play groups, soccer practice, violin lessons, etc. Gone are the days of unprogrammed play via which children found each other, decided who they liked, invented their own play and came to know one another intimately. By the time kids arrive in high school, usually mixing for the first time with kids from other middle schools, they must try to socialize by presenting who they are to their new peers. This can be a very dangerous exercise in the highly stratified and cliquish adolescent high school milieu.

To survive this social environment, each young person will often withhold any part of their personality that could label them as an out-group member, subjecting them to potential banishment. Black raincoats and guns can become the only avenue remaining for some in that circumstance.

In a front page review of a first novel by Tom McCarthy, Leisl Schilliger reminds us of a valuable lesson from Jean Paul Sartre in "Nausea":

In Sartre’s novel, Roquentin keeps a detailed journal to convince himself of the singularity of his existence, taking care not “to let any nuances or small facts escape, even if they seem insignificant.” He argues that “in order for the most banal event to become an adventure, it is necessary, and sufficient, to retell it.” But if you get too caught up in the retelling, do you lose track of the reality? Roquentin decides it doesn’t matter. “Man is, above all, a storyteller,” he reasons. “He lives surrounded by his stories and by those of others. He sees everything that happens to him through these stories; and he tries to live his life as if he were recounting it.” As for authenticity, he scoffs: “As if there could be true stories! Things happen one way, we tell them in another.” (Emphasis added.)

In this view, YouTube, MySpace and the Blogosphere are nothing more than attempts, often admittedly desperate, to tell the world our story, to proclaim our personhood. Equally important, these media allow us to hear the stories of others. In this exchange we can overcome the separateness imposed by an increasingly separated and dangerous world. The internet is the modern extension of the verbal storytelling traditions of ancient ancestors.

I don't see that as a bad thing. It is a necessary adaptation facilitated by the new technology.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"Lost" Addiction Run Amok

If you have become totally overcome by your addiction to everything "Lost", here is a new way to show off your illness. A site called Insanely Great News has posted PDF's of Dharma Initiative food labels. Now your cupboard can look like Hurley's food larder on the island. Labels are provided for salt, cola, peanut butter and a number of other staples.


Beaver In Big Apple

The discovery of a beaver in the Bronx River in NY City's borough of the Bronx is said to be the first such occurrence in 200 years. This event puts me in mind of my cousin who, in the early sixties, lived a few blocks from the Bronx River in Yonkers, about a half a mile north of the Bronx border. Urban frontier scouts they were.

Back in those pre-PETA days when young boys felt zero compunction about killing animals, Jackie and his friends regularly trapped muskrats in the Bronx River. The muskrats were skinned and the furs sold to the furrier in a local department store, Wanamakers.

Personally, I was secretly glad that on our family visits to Jackie and family, we were always too busy to go over and check the traps. I was totally urbanized, coming from the west side of Yonkers, not the more suburban east side wildernesses. Hearing chickens killed in the live poultry market was as close as I wanted to come to the process of putting meat on my plate.

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Michael Moore

Michael Moore
Originally uploaded by Erik R. Bishoff.
Oh my God, I'm being pursued by documentary makers! (see posting immediately below.)


Michael Moore Can Dish It Out, But Can't Apparently Take It

The Sunday Times had an interesting piece reporting on the soon-to-be-released documentary by Rick Caine and Debbie Melnyk called "Manufacturing Dissent". The filmmakers, who started their coverage of Michael Moore as fans of his, gradually came to see him as a propagandist of the first order, rather that any sort of objective journalist. Two prime examples of Moore's disingenuousness cited were:

“We didn’t want to refute anything,” Ms. Melnyk said. “We just wanted to take a look at Michael Moore and his films. It was only by talking to people that we found out this other stuff.”

In part the “stuff” amounts to a catalog of alleged errors — both of omission and commission — in Mr. Moore’s films, beginning with his 1989 debut, "Roger and Me" That film largely revolved around Mr. Moore’s fruitless attempts to interview Roger Smith, then the chairman of General Motors, after his company closed plants in Mr. Moore’s birthplace, Flint, Mich.: an interview that occurred, Ms. Melnyk and Mr. Caine said, although Mr. Moore left it on the cutting-room floor.


In “Manufacturing Dissent” Mr. Caine and Ms. Melnyk — whose previous films include “Junket Whore,” about movie journalists, and "Citizen Black" about Conrad Black— note that the scene in “Fahrenheit 9/11” in which President Bush greets “the haves, and the have-mores” took place at the annual Al Smith Dinner, where politicians traditionally make sport of themselves. Ms. Melnyk and Mr. Caine received a video of the speeches from the dinner’s sponsor, the Archdiocese of New York. “Al Gore later answers a question by saying, ‘I invented the Internet,’ ” Mr. Caine said. “It’s all about them making jokes at their own expense.”

None of this is news to those not blinded by hatred of Bush. It seems to me that any objective viewer would see Moore's films as highly selective and manipulated versions of reality. We'll see what the impact of this new film is on Moore's next project, "Sicko", an expected attack on the American health care system.

The core issue for documentary makers is the philosophical question:

Calling the Melnyk-Caine film “unbelievably fair,” Mr. Pierson said it asks what really matters in nonfiction filmmaking: Should all documentary-making be considered subjective and ultimately manipulative, or should the viewer be able to believe what he or she sees? “I found it encouraging,” he said, “that my students were dumbstruck.”


Flickr Photo Of The Day

when the rain is gone...
Originally uploaded by dolcedo.
Is the sun setting on the recent success of the world economy?


Stock Markets Take Big Plunge

Whoa, the US markets dropped big time today apparently in response to major drops in the Chinese markets. At closing, the Dow was down about 416 points. Also effecting the markets in America were lower than expected numbers in durable goods production. What will tomorrow bring.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

Oscar Picks

For the record, at 7:07 PM EST, here are my personal choices for the top five categories and my predictions of the likely winners.

Supporting Actor - I would like to see Jackie Earl Haley win. His comeback story is great and the role, playing a child sexual predator, required some bravery. The likely winner, Eddie Murphy. In truth, I have not seen Dreamgirls, but I can't imagine that anything Eddie could do would surpass his competition.

Supporting Actress - It seems to be unavoidable that Jennifer Hudson will take home the trophy, but for me, Rinko Kikuchi in Babel was just brilliant and totally believable.

Leading Actor - I actually think that Leonardo DiCaprio should have been nominated for The Departed, not Blood Diamond, but he was great in both. The Academy will probably give it to Forest Whitaker. He seems to be on a run.

Leading Actress - My choice and my predicted winner is Helen Mirren. She made this mysterious, secret person come truly alive.

Best Picture - The most enjoyable and satisfying film of the year was The Departed. Unfortunately, it will suffer in the voting because so many Academy members see all the films on DVD at home. This was the only movie I've have seen in years with so much applause and cheering by an audience. It was totally involving for all, and this was is a largely white neighborhood where silence during movies is the norm.

One last prediction: An Inconvenient Truth will absolutely take home the Oscar for Documentary Feature. It is a unavoidable opportunity for the Hollywood community to symbolically vote one more time for Al Gore and to teach the unwashed millions another lesson about the truth of world and national affairs and global science. Then they can all pile into their 8 miles to the gallon limos to be driven to their private jets so they can go back to work at their movie locations or the equally important ski jaunt at Sun Valley.

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Flickr Photo Of The Day

oscar and hot chocolates
Originally uploaded by omeyisland.
Some of the regular folks after a win at a previous Academy Awards.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Flickr Photo Of The Day

Blue Romance...
Originally uploaded by Sneska.
As the mood strikes I will post a photo from the archives at Flickr. Please feel free to click on the photo to link to the Flickr page with its access to the other work of the photographers in question.


David Geffen, Free Man In Paris Again?

In 1974 Joni Mitchell released her great album, Court and Spark. Included on the record was a song that resonated with every person bearing up under the stress of managing people in any kind of organization. The song is "Free Man in Paris" and here are some of the lyrics:

The way I see it, he said
You just can't win it...
Everybody's in it for their own gain
You can't please em all
There's always somebody calling you down
I do my best
And I do good business
There's a lot of people asking for my time
They're trying to get ahead
They're trying to be a good friend of mine

I was a free man in paris
I felt unfettered and alive
There was nobody calling me up for favors
And no one's future to decide
You know I'd go back there tomorrow
But for the work I've taken on
Stoking the star maker machinery
Behind the popular song

As is well known, that song was written about Mitchell's former manager and then-current boss at Arista Records, one David Geffen.

Now that his low key conversation with Maureen Dowd, the doyenne of political name calling, has turned into the big story of the week, he may well be wishing for a quiet stroll on the Champs Elysees.

To be sure, the current dust up between Hillary and Obama and their camps is only the first of many in this long night of our presidential saga. Just wait until Rudi, with his wives and drag costumes fully engages in the race. You ain't seen nothin' until we get to a Hillary vs. Rudi election campaign. Those people take no prisoners and they've been developing their portfolios on one another since the almost-was Senate race in 2000.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Randy Newman - A Few Words in Defense of Our Country

Writing about Dennis Kucinich's Cleveland days put me in mind of Randy Newman's song, "Burn On Big River", about the time the Cayahoga river caught on fire. To be sure, this was in the pre-Kucinich days of Cleveland's glory.

Sadly, YouTube has no version of that song. In its place is a relatively new song by Randy, reflecting on America's current place in history.

Kos Blasts Dennis K., The Dems Space Cadet Candidate

If like me you have wondered why the netroots haven't climbed on the Kucinich bandwagon, Dr. Kos explains it all. Kucinich's first sin is that he, according to Kos' sources, was "virulently anti-abortion" until 2004. The main problem Kos has with Kucinich, in the end, is that he is patently unelectable.

This last point is explained by quotes like the following provided by Kos:

Spirit merges with matter to sanctify the universe. Matter transcends to return to spirit. The interchangeability of matter and spirit means the starlit magic of the outermost life of our universe becomes the soul-light magic of the innermost life of our self. The energy of the stars becomes us. We become the energy of the stars. Stardust and spirit unite and we begin: One with the universe. Whole and holy. From one source, endless creative energy, bursting forth, kinetic, elemental. We, the earth, air, water and fire-source of nearly fifteen billion years of cosmic spiraling.
And let us not forget Dennis' history making term as Mayor of Cleveland. He managed to be the first mayor since the Great Depression to let his city slip into default in 1978 and barely survived a recall election, winning by only 236 votes out of over 120,000 votes cast.

Except for this stuff, Kucinich is great on the war and is seen as ideal presidential material by some true believers. Kos is more focused on victory in these post-Lieberman days.

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American Idol - The First Dropouts

Three of the four contestants who left last night were in the bottom four as ranked by DialIdol. The slight surprise was Nicole Tranquillo, who was ranked sixth from the bottom. During the show it was announced that Sunjaya Malakar was in the top three vote getters for the men. DialIdol has him at number two. So the lesson is that the DialIdol predictions cannot be taken literally, which they themselves recognize. But in general terms, that site is able to distinguish among those at the higher or lower end of the contestant pile.

Those still at the bottom of the list can redeem themselves with great performances next week, and the reverse is also possible. So the rankings may change. The only two whose fates cannot change next week are Sundance and Antonella. They are demonstrably so bad that significant improvement is not possible. They will continue, for a few weeks, to be protected by the cynical voters following the Vote For The Worst ploy. However, as the field shrinks, more and more people will vote independently for their favorites and the proportion of cynical voters will be reduced to meaninglessness.

Announced last night were the celebrity guests for this season. These kids will have the honor of being coached by Tony Bennett and the laughable spectacle of receiving advice from Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits. How many versions of "Mrs. Brown", or "I'm Henry VIII" can we stand? Smiling and looking cute is Noone's only real claim to fame.

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How Do Past Oscar Winners Stand Up?

If you have ever been certain that the best film of a given year was not selected by the Oscar voters, here is your chance to see that judgment quantified. The folks at Rotten Tomatoes have applied their numerical rating scheme to the 79 films that have won the Best Picture Academy Award over the years. The resultant ranking can be accessed, sadly, only one film at a time.

Suffice it to say that the list includes such dreck as Cimarron and The Greatest Show On Earth at the bottom of the list. To save you some time and to make the point I want to convey, the top ten ranked Oscar winners are:
10. Casablanca
9. The Godfather, Part II
8. Lawrence of Arabia
7. The Best Years of Our Lives
6. Marty
5. Rebecca
4. Sunrise (1927 silent film directed by F.W Murnau)
3. All About Eve
2. On the Waterfront
1. The Godfather

All very fine films, with the possible exception of Sunrise, which I have never seen. What the list highlights is the frequency with which the Academy misses the better films released in a given year. Stories that tug at the heart or are uplifting seem to be favored. (The Godfather films being the exceptions that prove the rule.) Nowhere on the list are such gems as The Maltese Falcon, Ragging Bull, Citizen Kane, and dozens of other great films.

So it may very well be the case again this Sunday night. If uplifting is what is sought, then Miss Sunshine will prevail. If The Academy wants to make a political point of some kind in this very political year, then Babel will win. But what about our view of these films years hence?

If The Queen is selected, will future audiences see it as too bound up in issues of our time, with no broader human lessons to tell? If it is Little Miss Sunshine, will that film come to be seen as essentially a small, quirky, overrated movie, admired only for its very smallness in the face of the vast Hollywood studio machines? Would Letters From Iwo Jima come to be seen as a minor film that rose to prominence only when accompanied by its sister production, Flags of Our Fathers? The Departed, just another crime drama? Babel as episodic, with a long disconnected jaunt into the Mexican desert?

The point is that is possible to imagine such views of five films currently all considered important to the art form, and impossible to know for sure how our view of these films will evolve. My own pick for the most complete and satisfying film of the lot is The Departed, but I'm not going to lose any sleep over the outcome of Sunday's display of wretched excess. Neither should you.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Lost: Hot Steaming Tattoo

Last night's show featured Jack in the hottest TV, FCC approved, love making seen in a long time. Along the way in a flashback he is "marked" by his Thai girlfriend with the Chinese characters meaning, "he walks amongst us, but he is not one of us". The triangle and number 5 of Jack's full tattoo have not yet appeared. As an aside, Jack's vacation site in Thailand is mentioned to be Phuket, the site of the main impact of the 2005 tsunami. Possible future tie in of the Lost events with that earthquake and its aftermath?

Although the ABC promo department promised the revelation of three key issues, only the circumstances of the tattoo are really revealed in any detail. We do get to see the previously snatched members of the Tallies, both adults and children. They are still alive and have come to "watch". What they have come to watch is not clear.

Having returned to the main island, Sawyer and Kate's romance seems to have cooled down via an argument over whether or not to follow Kate's desire to immediately return to the Hydra island to rescue Jack.

Back on the Hydra island, Jack decides to try to save Juliet from being executed for killing Danny. Lingering gazes between the two are exchanged. It is my belief that the character name Juliet was chosen to foreshadow an affair between she and Jack, of which both the Losties and the Others will disapprove. Only time will tell. A new character, Isabel, who appears to rank just below Ben in the Others hierarchy.

All good stuff. As usual, left me wanting more.


American Idol, The Final 24 Disappoint

The cutting, self-consumed voice of Simon Cowell is also often the bearer of hard truths on the American Idol show. The last two nights were no exception. The performances by the men on night one were safe and pedestrian at best. All were totally forgettable and singers. The only one to provoke any interest was Chris Sligh. It was not his performance, but his decision to take a well-deserved shot at Simon for his involvement with Tele Tubbies and Il Divo. The problem was it seemed too calculated by half. Now that Simon has no actual vote in who departs, Chris seems to have decided to try to garner the anti-Cowell votes of the audience to himself. If Sundance Head survives it will be proof that the tone deaf, goof-on-the-show vote is dominant.

Night two for the women was not much better, but it was a little better. Credible performances by Sabrina Sloan, Leslie Hunt and Jordin Sparks should keep them in the game. My pre-24 Fav, Melinda Doolittle, was great. She also has the advantage of projecting the likable personality of a solid person with her feet on the ground, which should carry her a long way in the voting.

The final singer of the night, Lakisha Jones, proved to be the strongest of the evening. She absolutely belted out a version of "And I Am Telling You" from Dreamgirls that brought down the house and resulted in only highly positive comments from the judges. Her pitch and delivery was perfect and she seemed to deeply feel the sentiment of the song. In the future, her problem will be with more subtle material and, frankly, with her weight. Idol voters seem to have liked their female singers on the svelte side.

Update: The philistines over at Vote for the Worst have selected Sundance Head and Antonella Barba as the ones their acolytes should support. They were my picks for the worst. So far it seems to be working if the predictions at DialIdol are close to correct. That site unbelievably has Sundance as the top vote getter among the men, with Antonella Barba as number two among the women. Their predictions for those who will lose tonight are Amy Krebs , Alaina Alexander, Paul Kim and Nicholas Pedro.


Katrina Recovery Even Kicks Habitat For Humanity's Ass

In the year since Katrina hit, Habitat for Humanity has been able to complete only 416 houses of the hoped for "thousands" that had been planned to rebuild on the Gulf coast. Apparently the complexity of the insurance and regulatory environment has stymied more than just the public sector.

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Some Tennis Players Are More Equal Than Other Tennis Players

Wimbeldon has finally knuckled under to the demand that prize money for men and women's championships be the same.

"Tennis is one of the few sports in which women and men compete in the same event at the same time,'' club chairman Tim Phillips said at a news conference. ''We believe our decision to offer equal prize money provides a boost for the game as a whole and recognizes the enormous contribution that women players make to the game and to Wimbledon.

''In short, good for tennis, good for women players and good for Wimbledon.''

At least the poor dears won't have to play the brutal five sets forced on the men, since the game has apparently decided that women are not up to the challenge.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Hold On

While I'm in the mood, here's a second dose of Mr. Waits. Hold On from "Mule Variations". The professional video for the record.

Tom Waits - 'Tom Traubert's Blues'

If you are in the mood to listen to the poet of the haunted and broken ones, here is Tom Waits in 1977 singing a somewhat slowed down version of Tom Traubert's Blues, AKA Matilda from his album, "Small Change".

Half Inch Of Snow Snarls Capitol Of Greatest Nation In The World

As luck would have it, yesterday I drove home to Connecticut from Arlington Virginia. We left about two or more hours after passing snow squalls had dropped between a quarter and half an inch of snow on the area. The streets in Arlington were passable. The infamous Beltway, however, was quite another matter.

In the two hours since the snow fell, not a single grain of salt had been laid on the highway. Upon crossing the river north onto the Maryland portion of the highway things became intolerable. The half inch of snow had been compacted by traffic into a slushy mash, with snow remaining between the lanes of traffic. Local drivers, unused to driving in snow went into panic mode and the road slowed to a crawl. It took us one and a quarter hours to travel the 15 - 18 miles between Arlington and I95. Nowhere was there evidence of salt.

We did observe three salt spreaders on the opposite side of the road. Behind them traffic seemed to be racing along. When we finally reached I95, in the space of one mile, the blacktop went from icy, to wet, to bone dry. And thus it was all the way north. The application of salt had easily melted the snow and the movement of the traffic at 65 mph had dried the road quickly.

I have heard tales of DC becoming snowbound in two inches of snow, schools, government offices closing, etc. Having experienced a taste of it now first hand, I can't understand how local citizens tolerate in year in, year out. It has even become a joke. "Snow Flake Falls, DC Closes." Sad.

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Rebuilding The World Trade Center Site

On September 11 of last year Keith Olberman took his one note anti-Bush screed to new depths when he told his viewers that Bush was to blame for the continuing failure to rebuild on the hole in the ground that is still the site of the former World Trade Center in Manhattan. That was when, for me, he lost all credibility and became simply another posturing media fame seeker.

Anyone who has lived in the New York area understands, in a exquisitely painful way, that the fiasco at ground zero is the result of battles between the owners of the land, the Port Authority of NY and NJ, a quasi-public agency run by appointees of the Governors of New York and New Jersey, (who today are two different men than held those offices in 2001), the private owner of the destroyed buildings, his insurance companies, the demands of the families of those lost on 9/11 and a host of community interests in NY representing public safety, anti-terrorism, architecture aesthetics, and neighborhood businesses and residents. Oh yes, and the army of lawyers representing all those parties. The only entity with virtually zero say in the outcome in lower Manhattan is the Federal Government. Olberman should have known better.

My point here is not to rehash the details and arguments of the sorry history of that tragic site, but rather to point out yet another latecomer's bitching about the now planned resolution about to be constructed. The latest kvetch to emerge is the NY Times' erstwhile architecture critic du jour, Nicolai Ouroussoff, who continues to find fault with the design of the so called Freedom Tower to be built on the site.

Nowhere is that failure of ambition more evident than in the tower’s base. In a society where the social contract that binds us together is fraying, the most incisive architects have found ways to create a more fluid relationship between private and public realms. The lobby of Thom Mayne’s Phare Tower in Paris, for example, is conceived as an extension of the public realm, drawing in the surrounding streetscape and tunneling deep into the ground to connect to a network of underground trains.

By comparison the Freedom Tower is conceived as a barricaded fortress. Its base, a 20-story-high windowless concrete bunker that houses the lobby as well as many of the structure’s mechanical systems, is clad in laminated glass panels to give it visual allure, but the message is the same. It speaks less of resilience and tolerance than of paranoia. It’s a building armored against an outside world that we no longer trust.

Someone, and I elect myself, needs to point out to Mr. Ouroussoff, that it is only paranoia if no one is in fact trying to get you. In the present case, as amply evidenced by the rubble still being cleared from the area five and a half years later, someone has, and still would like to do spectacular killing in America. If Mr. Ouroussoff stopped looking up at buildings all day and read a newspaper occasionally he might understand that security concerns must sadly be a necessary part of all new building designs.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

The Non-Binding Resolution: But What Do The Democrats Want To Do?

Accompanying its story about the passage of the non-binding resolution, which simply states,

‘’Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq'’ and that ‘’Congress disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq.'’,
the Times provides a selection of quotes from the debate over the resolution.

What is striking about the statements of those supporting the resolution is their clear opposition to the Petraeus plan for using the additional troops to police and hold secure the dangerous neighborhoods of Baghdad. They clearly mean to draw a line in the sand. What is less clear is what they would have the US troops do if and when they are able to stop the "surge" ("escalation" in the symbol language of the Vietnam era set.)

Here is a sampling taken from these quotes alone:

Rep. Tom Lantos: "Let us make this resolution the first step on their journey home. We must begin a reduction in force at the fastest responsible rate possible, consistent with the safety of our troops." In other words, pull out ASAP.

Rep. Joe Bocca: "The President had failed to convince me in 2002, and I am still not convinced to this day. I say let’s support this resolution. Let’s bring back our men.” A quick pullout as well.

Rep. Dale Kidee: "Before the end of this year, U.S. troops should be redeployed and their efforts focused on support and training the Iraqi Security Forces. It is their country, it is their fight, and it is their future.” Presumably a redeployment safe areas and a focus on training Iraqis.

Rep. Lois Capps: "Madam Speaker, it is time to stop the war in Iraq. Support the troops. Indeed, bring them home.” Another vote for a quick pullout.

Rep. Wayne Gilchrest: "If our young men and women are brave enough to go into Iraq and Afghanistan, then we as Members of Congress must be brave enough and informed to start a dialogue in Damascus, in Tehran, in the entire region, to hasten peace." Supporting a new emphasis on talks with Syria and Iran, with no guidance on the disposition of troops already in Iraq.

Nothing is said about the likely outcome should Bush follow their advice or if they are ultimately able to force him to abandon this plan. Clearly, absent any other new and innovative ideas from the Dems, the status quo would continue to drag along until the death tolls from bombings and death squads again embolden the Congress to further micromanage the war. The problem for them at that juncture is that they will be forced to choose a direction for the next American move and then live with the after effects. I doubt seriously that any potential Democratic candidates for President want to be saddled with that burden. My prediction is that no meaningful Congressional action will attract enough votes for passage.

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Netroots Taken To Task For Blind Support For Edward's House Bloggers

Dan Gerstein in Politico neatly highlights the problem with Kos and company. They are not interested in presenting or arguing political thought, they are purely interested in attacking their opposition by any means necessary. This is so even, as Gerstein points out, at the cost of winning converts to their view of things. While this is often also true of true believer bloggers on the right, Gerstein has chosen to take his own side of the political aisle to task.

What these liberal bloggers fail to appreciate is that this petty, polarizing approach is not how you ultimately win in politics – especially in an era when most average voters outside the ideological extremes are fed up with the shrill, reflexive partisanship that dominates Washington, and when the fastest growing party in America is no party.

The blogger bomb-throwing may be good for inflaming the activist base, and, as they demonstrated in the 2006 Lieberman-Lamont Senate primary race in Connecticut, for occasionally blowing up the opposition. It’s not bad for bullying your friends, either, as the liberal blogosphere did last week in pressuring Edwards to not fire the two bloggers who penned the offensive anti-religious posts.

But the typical blog mix of insults and incitements is just not an effective strategy for persuading people outside of your circle of belief – be they moderate Democrats, moderate Republicans, or the swelling number of independents – to join your cause. In fact, it’s far more likely to alienate than propagate them.

Something else most liberal bloggers fail to appreciate – we as Democrats can’t afford to repel those middle of the road, largely non-partisan voters.

In case you are in any doubt as to the truth of what Gerstein says, read the comments reacting to his piece. Precious little argument as to fact or philosophy, just pure name calling. They repeatedly refer to him as "Dangerstein", "Neocon" and that most dreaded of appellations, "Republican". (For the record, Gerstein is a Democrat who worked for Leiberman, a fact taken by the lefties as sure proof of his evilness.)

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Saturday Night Live: Lost Elevator

SNL's hilarious take on Lost and those of us addicted to it.

Democrats, May Be Shut Out Of Power In The Long Term By Their Opposition To The War

Lawrence Haas, a former communications director for VP Al Gore, draws a parallel between the current scramble among Democrats to be the most anti-war partisans and the post-Vietnam collapse of their power after Carter's single term.

Key quote:

Will history repeat itself? To be sure, the White House seems an achievable target for Democrats in 2008, just as it was in 1976. Public disenchantment with President Bush in general, and with the war in Iraq in particular, should give Democrats a good head start.

Leading Democrats, none more so than their presidential candidates, are disavowing their previous votes or statements for the war and competing for anti-Bush purity. They are demanding that Bush end the war in Iraq before the next (presumably Democratic) president takes office in 2009. Momentum is building to block funding later this year.

But, in playing to their anti-war political base, congressional Democrats are pushing party orthodoxy on foreign policy further to the left. After a two-year campaign, any successful Democratic candidate for president may wind up with little leeway to project U.S. power abroad.

Unfortunately, the world will not likely cooperate with a hemmed-in president. Just as Soviet expansionism in the late 1970s reminded America that the Cold War was still on, so may the aftermath of Iraq remind Americans of the larger struggle at hand. Just as our withdrawal from Vietnam emboldened the Soviets, a withdrawal from Iraq may do likewise for today’s enemies.

Clearly, a failure in Iraq will create a haven for terrorists, including those from al-Qaida whom we are fighting there today. It will create a regional power vacuum to be filled by an increasingly emboldened Iran, which is stoking the fires in Iraq while ignoring international efforts to stop its nuclear program.

The world will grow more dangerous, not less. Failure in Iraq, leading to an exodus of U.S. forces, will provide merely the illusion of peace. The terrorists will challenge the United States in more places around the world while plotting to bring more turmoil to our homeland.

At some point, the nation will recapture its spirit. Taunted by our enemies or attacked directly, Americans will look to the party that is ready to respond in kind. Will Democrats once more be on the losing end?

Just the kind of sentiment that will drive the boys and girls over at Daily Kos right up the wall. Heh.

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Lost: Let's Do The Time Warp Again

I don't quite know what to make of the Lost universe after last night's episode. We are led to believe that Desmond was transported back to his life with Penny Widmore in London at the moment of the hatch implosion when he turned the key. The flashback then follows him to the point where he meets an older woman jeweler who knows all about everyone's future and insists that Desmond not marry Penny so he can find his was to the Island and push the button for three years. Is this person real or a dream? How can she possibly know all of this? Is she and older, future version of some one we know already? Penny? Desmond is then transported back to the Island just after the implosion, naked, as we had seen him before. Where are we in time? What is the present? Totally confusing for the moment, but I'm willing to go along until future episodes make things clearer.

As an aside, in the flashback Desmond encounters Charlie singing for coins in the street. The sign on Charlie's guitar case announce that he is "Charlie Hieronymous Pace", a clear easter egg reference to H. Bosch, the 15th Century painter. Above is a possibly relevant one of his paintings, "Ship of Fools".


American Idol, The Final 24

The announcement of the final 24 American Idol contestants last night left me perplexed, confused and angry.

For a few of the chosen, we had seen their performances at some point before last night. At least there was some basis for agreeing or disagreeing with the judges choice. But for others, I don't ever remember laying eyes on them before last night. Most in this category were fine. Happily, my ultimate pick, Melinda Doolittle, survived and really shined. She showed little sign of her previous shyness in her performance, a good omen for the future.

One great mystery is the choosing of Sundance Head. He sounded quite good in the early auditions, so much so that I had picked him as a finalist then, but in two appearances on subsequent shows he has been barely adequate. Why he survived is a mystery. It leads one to suspect that factors other than singing talent are at play in the selection process. Are such things as the appeal or lack thereof of an a back story, the appearance, ethnic group, likability also in the mix unbeknown to us?

As I suspected, two of my top picks from the auditions disappeared from the face of the earth. Sarah Kreuger and Ebony Jointer were never seen performing. I never even saw a shot of Kreuger's face in the last two shows. They are gone, with no explanation of whether there singing was not up to par, they in some way offended the producers, or had baggage in their backgrounds that led the producers to banish them.

The bottom line for me is that I will not again watch the audition shows. Now that we know that some we may like will be disappeared and that others will show up only at the last minute, the only reason for watching the auditions is to laugh at the deluded ones. That would require a fairly enormous cruel streak.


Saudi Brokering Of Peace Between Fatah and Hamas May Have Failed

What appeared last week as a breakthrough between the warring Palestinian factions in Mecca may have fallen apart. Fatah leader, Mahmoud Abbas canceled a planned TV appearance to lay out the agreement to Palestinians.


Hillary Shouldn't Apologize, Another View

In today's NY Times' firewalled article, David Brooks takes another view of Hillary's stance on the war and finds no reason she needs to apologize. Key point:

When you look back at Clinton’s thinking, you don’t see a classic war supporter. You see a person who was trying to seek balance between opposing arguments. You also see a person who deferred to the office of the presidency. You see a person who, as president, would be fox to Bush’s hedgehog: who would see problems in their complexities rather than in their essentials; who would elevate procedural concerns over philosophical ones; who would postpone decision points for as long as possible; and who would make distinctions few heed.

Today, the liberal wing of the Democratic Party believes that the world, and Hillary Clinton in particular, owes it an apology. If she apologizes, she’ll forfeit her integrity. She will be apologizing for being herself.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

American Idol, Hollywood, Part 1

Last night's episode had the bodies flying this way and that so fast that it was impossible to keep track of who was sent home and who survived. In fact the American Idol website uses the confusion as a tease to encourage viewers to be sure to see episode 2.

Did the Hollywood auditions leave you wanting answers? You’re in for some surprises! Watch tonight at 9/8c on FOX as the highly anticipated Top 24 are revealed!

Some of my early picks did clearly depart. Of my top three, Melinda Doolittle seemed to survive...I think. Sarah Kreuger was no where to be seen. As for Ebony Jointer, I believe I saw her, from the rear only, leaving the room with the others in the final group of rejectees. Too bad if true. Only tonight's episode will tell the tale. Infuriatingly effective tactic by Simon Fuller, ABC and company.


Why Are The Democrats Reluctant To Force An End In Iraq? It's The Politics, Stupid

In case, like me, you have been mystified by the statements by Democratic leaders in Congress that the non-binding resolutions now being considered are just a necessary first step, John Bresnahan in The Politico provides the explanation.

Pelosi, Murtha and company, along with the key anti-war groups, are concerned that they will lose support in the polls if they go for an immediate cut off of funds. They believe they will be vulnerable to the charge that they are abandoning US troops in the field. Thus, the plan is to slowly choke the ability of the Defense Dept. to field the necessary number of troops by limiting the number of tours any individual or unit can serve and requiring absolute adherence to the highest standards of training and equipment readiness before any unit can be deployed into Iraq.

Pelosi and other top Democrats are not yet prepared for an open battle with the White House over ending funding for the war, and they are wary of Republican claims that Democratic leaders would endanger the welfare of U.S. troops. The new approach of first reducing the number of troops available for the conflict, while maintaining funding levels for units already in the field, gives political cover to conservative House Democrats who are nervous about appearing "anti-military" while also mollifying the anti-war left, which has long been agitating for Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to be more aggressive.

"What we have staked out is a campaign to stop the war without cutting off funding" for the troops, said Tom Mazzie of Americans Against Escalation of the War in Iraq. "We call it the 'readiness strategy.'"

Murtha's proposal, which has been kept under tight wraps, is likely to pass the House next month or in early April as part of the supplemental spending bill, Democratic insiders said, if the language remains tightly focused and does not threaten funding levels for combat forces already in the field. The battle will then shift to the Senate. Anti-war groups like Mazzie's are prepared to spend at least $6.5 million on a TV ad campaign and at least $2 million more on a grass-roots lobbying effort. Vulnerable GOP incumbents like Sens. Norm Coleman of Minnestoa, Susan Collins of Maine, Gordon Smith of Oregon and John Sununu of New Hampshire will be targeted by the anti-war organizations, according to Mazzie and former Rep. Tom Andrews, D-Maine, head of the Win Without War Coalition.

The fly in the ointment for the Dems, of course, would be any significant signs of success of the Petraeus strategy. If poll numbers start to reflect that Americans are beginning to believe that the new approach is in fact working, the Dems will be seen as choking off that rarest of things in our sorry involvement in Iraq, success. If Sadr has in fact fled the country and actions against Shiite neighborhoods are the initial signs of such success, the very gradualism of the Democratic approach will be its undoing. They will be hoisted on their own lack of political courage.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Billy Connolly - A Wee Afgani

Another example of Connolly's madness.

Billy Connolly - Wildebeeste

Here's a selection from the wild and under appreciated Scotsman, Billy Connolly.

Language warning.

Hillary's Problem With Renouncing Her Support For Attacking Saddam

Christopher Hitchens in Slate lays out chapter and verse of Hillary's problem and her refusal to declare her vote authorizing our attack on Iraq. The core of the problem for her is that in 1998, hubby Bill advocated and signed the "Iraq Liberation Act". She also spoke forcefully of the danger she believed Saddam posed for the West in October 2002:

In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al-Qaida members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.

This also raises the question that will not be asked of Barack Obama in the run up to the Democratic nomination, why did he believe invading Iraq was wrong in 2002 - 2003? Is there a record of his opposition and rationale? Did he alone among our political leaders see through the faulty intelligence and into the impossibility of the post war internecine warfare? If so, he should be bragging about it. He may indeed possess the stuff of greatness.

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North Korea, The Six Party Talks Seemed To Have Worked

Well, what do you know. The diplomatic thrust of the Bush Administration to deal with North Korea only via the group of six nations, not through one on one talks seems to have worked. The Washington Post headline reads, "N. Korea Agrees to Nuclear Disarmament." It doesn't get much clearer than that.

So where are all the Clintonistas and Bush haters who wrote prolifically that only one on one talks would work? Has anyone seen even a word of acknowledgment that Bush and Rice might have gotten this one right?


Monday, February 12, 2007

Ahmadinejad: Are Americans Responsible For All Terror In Iraq?

In an interview broadcast this morning on ABC's Good Morning America, Iranian President Ahmadinejad responds with the following to one of Diane Sawyer's questions:

Ahmadinejad: … [Laughs] Well I think that you should check your source because people say different things. One of the interior ministry officials from Iran (sic) said that all of these terrors are done by American forces, and that was an official. He had an official position in Iraq.

Emphasis added.

Prior to this point, he also implies that the Bathist and Sunni insurgents attacking Shiites are American led:

Ahmadinejad: Let me ask you a question, those people who are killing the Shiites, are they organized by Americans?

Sawyer: Sunnis? Baathists?

Ahmadinejad: Anyone, anyone. Are the Baathists organized in Kuwait by Americans? Why do you say no? No, I am just asking you a question, who organizes them?

Note, he is being very playful with Sawyer, who he says at one point is, "only a journalist." He is just raising a question. He maintains full deniability about affirmatively making such accusations. And yet...it seems perfectly clear that he is reflecting the view of, if not himself, significant numbers of people in the middle east.

What then would happen in Iraq if, or more likely when, America withdraws. Will a Sunni/Shiite bloodbath ensue as many, including Andrew Sullivan predict? Sullivan argues in effect that such Muslim on Muslim terror will expose the perpetrators as simple murderers, not Islamic heroes battling the infidels.

But what if they are not so fanatical and stupid as we presume? Suppose, upon the departure of American troops they see that continuing terror bombings will expose there position as protectors of Islam against the West? The al Qaeda types will, I predict stop their suicide bombings. That, of course, will do nothing to halt the internecine warfare between Shi'a and Sunni, which is purely murderous, not fundamentally suicidal. Both sides will openly fight to establish their interests and geographic control with remote controlled bombs and death squads. Assistance from the Saudi's and Iranians will no doubt ensue at a large scale, until the conflict threatens to inflame the region and interfere with the flow of oil money to the pockets of both nations. Then peace conferences will be brokered and some tentative peace agreement instituted.

The deeply relevant question for America is what will be the tolerance in some newly peaceful Iraq for al Qaeda? Will their training bases and the flow of weapons and funds to their Iraqi bases be ignored by the government? Under those conditions will they prosper and grow, able to plan and execute new attacks on the West? If they do, what will be the realistic possibilities of US troops then in Kuwait or the Kurdish areas to re-invade central Iraq to quash the terrorists?

I think that our chances of successfully stopping them will be nil. Imagine the argument here about the then proffered evidence of al Qaeda growth and involvement in new attacks on Europe or America. Just look at the current wave of international and domestic doubt the US allegations of Iran being the source for new and effective IED weapons being used against American troops in Iraq. The legacy of Chenney and Rumsfeld. Also, wouldn't any newly "independent" Iraqi government oppose the reintroduction of US forces in any number back into their territory?

In short, if, as Democrats believe, we have just duly appointed Gen. Petraeus to engage in a fool's errand, the end of American involvement in Iraq is now in sight. The insurgent forces will fight mightily, especially via bombings killing as many American troops and Iraqi civilians as possible to assure reportage by the media that the "surge" is failing. We will depart, with or without our tails between our legs, and we will hunker down in the region and here at home awaiting the next attack. You can bet your house that the next President, of either party, will not instigate large scale military response to future attacks without crystal clear evidence and a target that will only require minimal, brief, overwhelming force, followed by a rapid exit. The enemy is not so foolish as to provide such a vulnerable paper trail.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

American Idol Addendum

One long shot for the final twelve that I forgot to mention in my last post was a guy named Chris Sligh, who auditioned in Birmingham. On the surface, Chris doesn't look the part. He is an overweight kid with glasses and a white afro. However, his voice was good, always on pitch. On voice alone he probably wouldn't make it, but, as shown in the banter with the judges and with Ryan Seacrest, he has a tremendous sense of humor. If he can find the space to be funny in Hollywood, people may want to keep him around for the long haul.

Also, the contestant I called Branson Rogers in the above post is actually Brandon Rogers, also a background singer.


American Idol - Predicting the Winners

This year I have watched all the audition episodes, painful as that was. The pain is generated by having to sit by and watch hopelessly deluded people submit themselves to the snickering of the judges. This year they added the additional cruelty of having one of the pair of exit doors locked, so that countless numbers of hopefuls, trying to escape the room, would bang into the locked door and have to be told by the gleeful judges, "Other door." If the one door had to be locked for some arcane security reason, I emphasize the use of the word "if", then simply posting a handwritten sign on the operative door saying simply, "Exit" would have solved the problem. Clearly they wanted this final embarrassment available as a last blow to the dignity of these people. Cruelty is the only rationale for such a choice.

The reason that I sat through this pageant of misery is that in prior years my occasional viewing managed to spot the 30 second audition of some of the truly talented people, specifically Kelly Clarkson in the first year and Katherine McPhee last year. In those years when I came upon a voice in the auditions that moved me, that person became my immediate pick for season. The show proved much more enjoyable if I had a rooting stake in the proceedings from the start.

So, this year I have decided to commit my choices in writing before the "Hollywood" portion of the season begins.

First, my listing to the standouts, by the city in which their audition occured:

In Minneapolis there was Sarah Kreuger.
In Memphis, Melinda Doolittle and the improbably named, Sundance Head.
In New York there was Jenry Bejarano, Jory Steinberg and Porcelana Petrino.
In Birmingham, Jamie Lynn Ward.
In LA, Branson Rogers.
In San Antonio, Bailey Brown.

In the final audition show they displayed some of the best and worst that hadn't been shown in prior shows. Among those, Paul Kim and Ebony Jointer stood out.

Among the eleven that stood out to me, seven are female. Among the three that I think will/should win it all, all are female. My heterosexuality is showing.

First, there was Sarah Kreuger, a young dark haired woman with great control over her voice. What may skunk her chances is that she is the same type (pretty, white, female,dark hair) as last year's Katherine McPhee.

Then, in the very next show, there was Melinda Doolittle. She is a professional background singer whose voice, and mastery of her instrument, gave me goose bumps. Against her prevailing at the end is a painful shyness. Her career has been in avoiding the spotlight. If she can overcome this part of her personality, as advised by the judges, she will prevail. If not, she may be forced to leave way too early.

In the last show, three young roller skating carhops came to the audition together. One, a tall, willowy, beautiful teenager with an absolutely great voice appeared. Her name is Ebony Jointer. Remember that name. She will be a star, regardless of how she fares on Idol.

So, my emotional pick as the best of the lot is Melinda Doolittle. Her fate will depend entirely on whether she is able to project her voice and personality into her performances. Ebony Jointer would be my choice if I were a betting man. The men of America will fall in love with her. If she doesn't display some quirk of personality the makes the other half of the audience hate her, she will be the odds on favorite. Sarah Kreuger will probably be an also ran, unless her performing skill are far superior to the others.

Please be kind in future when you link to this post to mock me mercilessly for missing the boat entirely. If, on the other hand, I have hit it on the head, I will be available next season to advise bettors, for a reasonable fee.


The Academy Awards

For the record, now that I have seen all the films nominated for Best Picture, my pick would be The Departed. It is the complete package, acting, writing, photography, editing, all orchestrated by Scorsese to achieve a totally engaging, emotionally satisfying experience. It is the only film I've seen this year that had the audience audibly reacting throughout and applauding at the payoff in the final scene.

It is clearly also Scorsese's year for Best Director. If not now, when?

As for the other nominated films, they are all truly first class efforts. It has been a really solid year for movies. If you have not had a chance to see any of them, they are now beginning to be released on DVD.

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Miles Davis - So What

This is a shortened version of the full performance of "So What" from Davis' classic Kind of Blue album. Not shown on this piece is John Coltrane's solo. The full performance would not post to Blogger from You Tube, perhaps it was too long. Do yourself a favor and go to You Tube, search for Miles Davis and locate the full 8 minute plus version. It is great.