Saturday, July 30, 2005

 

What A Nice Day For A...

...white wedding.

Debra Dickerson noticed the same thing I did about the summer's hit comedy.

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Beyond My Ken -- But Not Yours!

Bummed as I am that I wasn't even nominated, I should pass along my proxy to urge my straight female (or gay male) readers to send my Brooklyn homie Ken Wheaton some Cosmo love!

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Friday, July 29, 2005

 

Which Court Has He Been Looking At?

I've been meaning to respond to this before now. Last week David Adesnik at the rather excellent Oxblog responded to Sandra Day O'Connor's rather dumb statement about John Roberts, "He's good in every way, except he's not a woman," with an equally silly statement of his own: "If there is one institution in this country that should be protected from affirmative action, then the Supreme Court is it."

Oh, come on! If by affirmative action, one means the ideal sense -- thoughts of religion, ethnicity and gender factor into a given choice of a qualified candidate -- then affirmative action has played a role in the Supreme Court for decades.

And not just in the case of Clarence Thomas, which David mentions. George H.W. Bush was a bit more blatant in selecting a black man to replace Thurgood Marshall. But where do phrases such as "
the Jewish seat" come from? Not from the identity politics of the last thirty years or so:

"[Louis] Brandeis' seat [appointed in 1916], called the "Jewish seat," was handed over, in succession, to Felix Frankfurter, Arthur Goldberg and Abe Fortas, before President Nixon broke with tradition by appointing Harry Blackmun in 1969."
Similarly, there was also discussion of a "Catholic seat" going back many years before the 1960s.

Bean-counting on the high court may be somewhat unsavory, but it's hardly anything new.

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Hanging With The Wrong Crowd

I'll be one of a few folks doing some guest-blogging over at The Washington Note, while proprietor Steve Clemons takes a few well-deserved days off. My sense is that there might be some discussion amongst the folks there about the issue of John Bolton.

Just a hunch.

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Thursday, July 28, 2005

 

Likelihood of Cheney Run Increases Exponentially!

Geez, talk about inviting a "Make my day" response!!

Drudge states that veteran WH crank, Helen Thomas, vows to kill herself if Cheney runs for president! Knowing how little regard this White House has for the media in general -- and, yes, Thomas (who's best days are well behind her as she becomes a sad partisan figure in her elder years) in particular, why would she give Cheney and Co. such a perfect straight line?

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Bolton, Lazarus Rising?

My post earlier this week where I declared that Bolton's likelihood of becoming UN ambassador was dead, may turn out to have been wildly premature (sorry, my liberal-leaning visitors!) given the suggestion that a recess appointment is indeed coming. That speculation was largely built on the MSNBC report that Bolton had testified before the Fitzgerald grand jury -- and then not disclosed it on a Senate Foreign Relations Committee questionnaire -- and Steve Clemons' assertion that Bolton was a major source for Miller.

The State Department has now stepped forward to back up Bolton's response on the document as being "truthful." MSNBC has also apparently backtracked from its previous report. If that is indeed the case, Senate Democrats may not protest a recess appointment with as much vigor. Though it raises the question of how MSNBC could have made such a big mistake? I mean, we're talking about a contested nomination and the biggest political story of the summer (for the sake of this point, John Roberts' nomination is not considered a "political" story). That's a pretty big error for a major news organization to make.

UPDATE: It seems that not only big-time news organizations are making errors when it comes to John Bolton. Within hours of the State Department's statement supporting him, that assertion was - ahem - modified: Bolton wasn't interviewed in the Plame leak, but was questioned by the SD's inspector general's office in an internal review of the Niger uranium story. That event with the IG would have fallen under the parameters of the SFR Committee questionnaire regarding legal proceedings. However:
[State Department spokesman Neal] Clay said Bolton "didn't recall being interviewed by the State Department's inspector general" when he filled out the form. "Therefore, his form, as submitted, was inaccurate," Clay said.
"He will correct it."

Will this admission fire up Democrats to cry foul over Bolton? We shall see.

UPDATE: Apparently, the answer is yes. Senate Democrats send a letter to the president urging him not to appoint Bolton, because of the questionnaire issue. (Hat tip: Josh Marshall)


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Libby & Rove's Surprising Alibi?

I'm not sure if this was Arianna's intent, but this contribution to the Rove-Plame story is a real eye-opener. She states that the hot rumor going around The Times is that Miller was outraged at Joseph Wilson getting a prime op-ed spot to attack the administration's Niger/pre-war intelligence argument. Arianna asserts that Miller may have felt that her reporting was being implicitly attacked in Wilson's piece:

The idea that intelligence was being fixed goes to the heart of Miller's credibility. So she calls her friends in the intelligence community and asks, Who is this guy? She finds out he's married to a CIA agent. She then passes on the info about Mrs. Wilson to Scooter Libby (Newsday has identified a meeting Miller had on July 8 in Washington with an "unnamed government official"). Maybe Miller tells Rove too -- or Libby does. The White House hatchet men turn around and tell Novak and Cooper. The story gets out.
Now, if Rove and Libby were not honest with the grand jury, they could still face legal complications. However, the explanation that has been circulated from the Rove camp -- that he learned Plame's status from a media source -- would, in the scenario Arianna outlines, be true. Now, what happened after that is, of course, what prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is trying to ascertain. But, it would be quite ironic if, after all this, Miller's role could actually produce evidence exculpatory of administration officials.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

 

Good For Wie, But Not For Thee?

What's OK for a 15-year old female golfer and 18 year-old male hockey player, but not OK for an 18 year-old male basketball player? Answer here. Hat tip to the always invaluable Eric McErlain. Oh, Eric, it's not just the double standard that is heinous: How about the ingratitude of the NBA that they pass this age-limit rule two years after LeBron James emerges to finally get the league out of its post-Jordan doldrums? Some earlier discussion on this topic.

Oh, congrats to Eric for once again being part of Forbes' annual
"Best of" blog round-up. Considering that he managed to be recognized during a year when the site's main focus -- hockey -- was, ahem, "on ice" is a testament to Eric's general good writing and flexibility.

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Not Standing Pat

With a noon press conference, New York Gov. George Pataki calls it a wrap after three terms in Albany.

The fact that this announcement is occurring less than 48 hours after two seemingly unrelated events -- the big AFL-CIO
split and the latest record company payola scandal -- may not be a coincidence.

If any one state shows the growing power of the Service Employees International Union, it's New York. Under the leadership of Dennis Rivera, SEIU Local 1199 has, over the last eight years
negotiated a friendly takeover of George Pataki:
[I]n a masterful display of political maneuvering, Rivera pushed Pataki in 1996 to create additional state health insurance for poor families. When the governor obligingly raided a new $1 billion state health fund this January to provide wage hikes for Rivera's members...the endorsement became a foregone conclusion.
Of course, that was a great deal for Rivera and, in the short-term, for Pataki too. Gone, in short order was the man first elected in 1994 on a fiscal and law-and-order conservative platform that toppled Mario Cuomo. This new political marriage -- a Republican governor with flexible "principles" and a very canny union leader -- has helped contribute to the long-term budgetary nightmare facing the state. Because of his alliance with Rivera, Pataki has expanded family and children's health-care benefits -- thus putting more pressure on a Medicaid system that is already the most generous in the nation.

Local 1199 showed quite clearly that they don't need Democrats (or the broader AFL-CIO structure to get its way) -- just a compliant governor of any party (plus a remarkably dysfunctional legislature). Surely, the national SEIU must have been noting these recent developments.

The payola story, meanwhile, displays the continued rise of New York's Attorney General, one of the most aggressive politicians in the country. Spitzer will be the Democratic gubernatorial nominee next year. As of this writing, he is the overwhelming favorite to be the next governor too. Sure, there are any number of reasons to criticize him for his "sue-and-settle" intimidation technique. Here's one. And here's another. And, he had a rather embarrassing stumble recently when he lost a major case.

But the fact remains that this aggressiveness has given the AG a national profile. And, after 12 years, Pataki has shown that he has nothing new to offer the voters. Spitzer would trounce him.

And so, Pataki sees the writing on the wall and exits -- stage left (wink, wink). He is considering a run for the presidency. Given how he has left the state -- and his other social libeal moves -- it is hard to see how he could get a foothold in the Republican base.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

 

Newbies, Lefties & Wannabes

My one-two punch of posts on John Roberts and John Bolton (I considered combining the two into one uber-post called, "Blogging on the John," but realized that would have been in poor taste) has driven quite a a number of new folks to these here parts. Welcome one and all!! You may not agree with everything you read here, but I hope you manage to drop by again in the future.

To save you the trouble of trying to figure out everything about me, here's one of my earliest posts -- my second one, I believe -- it's a quickie synopsis that expands a little on the "About Me" stuff to the left.

I encourage you to check the "Ragged 2.0/1.0" section in the archives to get a flavor of some of my other web-writing going back, in some cases nearly eight years.

A quick note on the blogroll: You might notice that isn't exactly ideologically consistent. That is intentional. I recognize that there are many voices that are influencing the current political debate, and so I wanted to include a representative sample (nowhere near as comprehensive as the esteemed John Cole, but I'm still trying). In addition to adding people who have been so kind as to place me in their blogroll, I've also included a few random sites that have given me some key fact or insight. In short, they have value. For the time being, I'm not going to segregate sites by political sensibility. However, in the near future, I will be adding a comic-book blogroll and that will most likely be put in a separate space -- possibly called "Fortress of Solitude." "The Batcave" or just..."undisclosed location."

Anyway, that's it! Thanks for dropping by and see you soon!

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"It's Not An Important Movie...But It's Fun"

An instant judgment for this fine cinematic fare.

No, that wasn't me saying that -- though I agree with that assessment from 60-something lady who had just gotten out of the 11:20 a.m. screening this morning (I'm officially on vacation from the day job this week). She was chatting -- rather loudly -- on a payphone in the theater lobby. Obviously referring to stars Vince Vaugh and Owen Wilson she said to the person on the other end, "I just love those guys."

Now, Wedding Crashers is an R-movie that certainly earns its rating: bare breasts, inappropriate language, casual and kinky sex and so forth. Not for kids (though I thought I noticed a couple of teenagers in there). Sure, there are scenes in seriously bad taste -- the movie's web-site was forced to take down the print-your-own-Purple-Hearts page after veterans and some congressmen complained. Of course, I'm not sure that Jewish viewers might have been thrilled with their passing themselves off as members of the tribe to infiltrate at least one wedding. But, that's the point, the movie seems unafraid of possibly offending someone -- which is what makes it funny. One U.S. senator has been chastised for appearing in the movie. He responded to his critics in, IMHO, an appropriately dismissive manner. (One mild criticism: In the early part of the film where the Wilson and Vaughn rogues crash various weddings, the audience sees Irish, Italian, Jewish and Indian families represented -- how come no black or Latino ceremonies were bum-rushed? A rather disappointing omission -- they certainly could have passed themselves off as friends, if not relatives.)

The fact that an older lady enjoyed what is on its surface, a rather sophomoric production aimed at the teen/20s/30s cohort, says one thing: This is a well-crafted, well-written and just plain funny movie (the different quirks of the various members of the Cleary clan make for some truly gut-busting classic comedy. Fans of Eleanor Roosevelt should be wary about going to this movie. More, I cannot say).

It says something that last weekend's box-office take for WC was only off 23 percent from its opening take. Given how most summer movies plunge 50 percent or more in the second week, it says that this one has great word-of-mouth and a fair bit of repeat business, for which, at least one columnist already suggests that his teen-age sons are partly responsible.

Conversely, the successful mixture of raunchy fun with a heart and likeable characters (the same menu that made the first American Pie a critical and box-office hit) also provides a lesson why horror movies are bombing this year.

As a friend of mine asked recently, "Is the constant pessimism finally getting to everyone?" I think so. There are so many real-life terrifying events of late that folks don't want to be reminded of it in a movie house. That may be another reason why Fantastic Four, despite poor-to-middlin' reviews blew away everyone's predictions in ticket sales. Yes, it has an edge of sadness -- particularly with The Thing -- but it is ultimately a feel-good popcorn flick.

Just like Wedding Crashers.

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Monday, July 25, 2005

 

Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been...

...a member of the Federalist Society?

Roberts says he has no memory of being a member -- but his name appears in leadership directory. Given that so many of those supporting Roberts -- in and outside of the administration -- are either members or close allies of the FS, why would Roberts and the WH seemingly rush to distance him? It really makes it look like he either has something to hide -- or is somehow ashamed of the group.

Yes, it is a mainstream conservative legal organization. But, forget about using Ruth Bader Ginsburg as an example of what should and should not be asked of a SCOTUS nomination: How about noting that she was counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union? Yes, the ACLU is considered a "mainstream" legal organization, but its positions quite often place it on the stream's left bank. Downplaying one's residence on the right bank is rather foolish, when it's pretty clear that that's where you are.

In a similar vein, my really smart New York Post colleague, Ryan Sager gives some support to Sen. Chuck Schumer's desire to hear more about where Roberts stands on significant
issues:

[Cato Institute fellow Randy] Barnett points to possibly the most disturbing thing Roberts said during his confirmation to the appellate bench. Asked by Schumer about his judicial philosophy, he demurred, saying: "I don't feel that I bring a coherent, universal approach that applies across the board."

"If you put somebody on the court who does not have a way of reading the Constitution that constrains their decisions," Barnett says, "then all the emphasis has to be on the personal and political views of the nominee . . . What else will guide them?"

Roberts may have more solid "conservative" credentials than, say, David Souter did. But that's hardly enough reason for the Senate to confirm, essentially, a blank slate.

Roberts should be grilled.

He should be asked his views on everything — from the Second Amendment to the Commerce Clause to the Takings Clause.

And he should answer. We're not buying a computer. We're trusting a human being with the care of our Constitution.

On his personal site, Ryan buttresses his point by helpfully laying out the transcript of the exchange between Schumer and Roberts at the Judiciary Committee's circuit court nomination hearings.

Not quite germane, but quite funny are Orrin Hatch's most un-Senatorial opinion that Schumer was asking "dumb-ass questions." It's always a hoot to see collegiality occasionally go out the window in the often-moribund U.S. Senate.

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Isn't This Speaking Ill Of The Dead?

It was one thing for Letterman to announce that Johnny was writing a few of his jokes before his death. Letterman can actually, you know, deliver a line. But Al Gore!?!?!??

Say it isn't so, Johnny!!!

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Sunday, July 24, 2005

 

Seventh Wonder

Conquering cancer, the French --heck, the rest of Europe, too -- and the hearts of millions. Quite a lot to, ahem, "Crow" about! Thanks for the memories and the inspiration, Mr. Armstrong.

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Weekend Comic Book Blogging



1)Jim Aparo, 1932-2005

Not quite up there with a pop culture icon like James "Scotty" Doohan, the
passing of comic book artist Jim Aparo earlier last week shouldn't go unmentioned. Fan favorites such as Neal Adams, Frank Miller and Marshall Rogers may have made their standout marks on Batman. But for a generation who grew up reading the Caped Crusader in the '70s and '80s, Aparo was the Batman artist. Indeed, he drew over a 100 issues of the Bat-team title Brave And The Bold.
Aparo wasn't ever seen as "cool", but he had a wonderfully clean style and a natural sense of storytelling. His style also seemed perfect for a character nicknamed the "Darknight Detective." He was also the main artist on the previously
mentioned psycho-Spectre stories of the mid-'70s.

An excellent appreciation -- written just a few years ago as Aparo essentially retired from the business -- can be found
here. Some cool covers and panel art are included.

2) Finally, saw Fantastic Four last weekend. And, generally speaking, I liked it. Indeed, my major objections to it are from the basic plot set-up that had been revealed in advance -- arch-enemy Victor von Doom is on the same experimental space-rocket along with the future FF. This fits in with a problem that I have noticed
before: The apparent cinematic need for the villain to have a key role in the hero's origins. Maybe it's to dumb things down for the audience, but once you notice it, it becomes really repetitive.

That said, the story was pretty straightforward with a somewhat strained, yet believable-under-the-conventions-of-the-medium modern updating of the team's origin. I found myself liking all the performances -- except Ioan Grufford as Reed "Mr. Fantastic" Richards. I never took him seriously as a guy who is supposed to be super-smart. Yes, it's also hard to take Jessica Alba as genetic scientist Sue "Invisible Woman" Storm. But, she at least a compensating personality and other, um, "assets." No, I'm not trying to be sexist here. Grufford's a good-looking guy, but he just doesn't bring anything to the role (Grufford, though, does benefit from great CGI special effects in demonstrating his stretching powers).


In contrast, Chris Evans as Johnny Storm, AKA "The Human Torch," is both a pretty-boy actor who manages to come across as both an arrogant jerk and an engaging character enjoying has transformation into a living ball of fire. Similarly, Mike Chiklis's Ben Grimm/The Thing captures the gruffness and poignancy found in the original Lee/Kirby years.

(Possible SPOILER question here:


Doesn't von Doom's machine that switches The Thing back to his old self -- which Grimm voluntarily reverses to save the team -- also have the ability to switch him again? Movie left that unclear.)

Anyway, the conclusion left no doubt that there would be a sequel -- given that a boat is seen heading for von Doom's homeland of Latveria (in the comics, he rules the small Eastern European nation). If that is a real set up for a likely FFII, it may actually be better. When von Doom is removed from his regal trappings -- as he was in this movie -- he comes across as an ersatz version of the Norman Osborne seen in the first Spider-Man movie: One more powerful technology mogul gone evil. As my friend Ali says, Julian McManhon's "Doom" is just not interesting -- and the best Marvel movies of the last few years (the aforementioned Spider-Man flicks and X-Men) have very good villains that make for intriguing counterbalances with the heroes.

That's what makes FF an OK film, better than what most critics have said, but with room for much improvement in the inevitable follow-ups.

UPDATE: Oh, how could I forget my slightly more in-depth review of William Eisner's final work? Find that right here.

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