Friday, April 22, 2005


Weekend Capital Offenses

I will be down in the Maryland/DC area this weekend.

Saturday night, those people strolling the streets of Georgetown might find your favorite RAGGED individual spinning some tunes at in the Griffin Room basement of The Guards, 2915 M Street, NW, Washington, DC.

No, I'm not doing the whole night -- just toning up my DJ skills. Feel free to say "Hello."

Sunday afternoon, I should be found in the lovely Maryland capital city of Annapolis for the annual St. John's College-U.S. Naval Academy croquet match! St. John's by the way is the recently crowned champion of National Intercollegiate Croquet. Go Johnnies!!

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It's Time -- To Chill

Okay, let's get this straight: Ann Coulter, author of three New York Times best-sellers, has landed on the cover of Time magazine (the week after she's named by the same title as one of the 100 most influential public figures). And she's upset about it. "Why can't they just photograph conservatives straight?!" Matt Drudge quotes her as saying.

Well, let's fast-forward past sublime and go right to the ridiculous.

There's a lot to commend about Ann Coulter. I like the fact that she is provocative. I like the fact that she drives college students so nuts that they feel they have to throw pies at her -- and
miss (obviously, being rail-thin has some advantages; conversely, note the misfortune that happened to Bill Kristol and Pat Buchanan -- who thought his salad days were behind him).

This is hardly the first time liberties have been taken by magazine photographers and editors. Newt Gingrich was named Time Man of the Year in 1995. The year before the same publication had shown him as "
mad as hell" and, just in time for the holidays, as "Scrooge" (to be fair, Newsweek only portrayed him as the "Gingrich Who Stole Christmas"). Given that history, many on the Speaker's staff were pleased that the mainstream media had recognized that the rise of the Republican majority and the Contract With America was the dominant story of the year. Time sent a photographer over who took hundreds of photos. The one that ended up on the cover was this. When it finally hit the stands, Gingrich's staff was not exactly thrilled. The question was raised, why use such a close-up that seemed to accent a five o'clock shadow? Why the odd lighting? Why not a "straight", normally-lit photo? Nearly ten years later, those questions still come up.

But, do you complain publicly about it? Of course not. The fact is that Newt was "man of the year." To be upset that the ideal picture wasn't used sounds like whining.

Which is exactly how Ann sounds. Maybe it wasn't fair to use the same photographer who snapped Bill Clinton in a "Lewinsky-esque" position. But there is a sense of irony about it: Coulter's first best-seller was written in the form of an impeachment brief against Clinton.

And, fairly or not, Ann has become a success precisely because she doesn't play it "straight." She revels in being a provocateur. It has worked. She is a "crossover" success to a far greater degree than many less-ferocious conservative writers. The combination of being a leggy blonde with a quick wit and a sharp tongue is catnip for radio and TV bookers, college campuses and just about any sort of political gathering. Hey, Bill Maher loves her -- that means she's officially "cool."

Thus, it's not too surprising that a magazine would approach her, not as they would a "serious" pundit, but as an intriguing cultural phenomenon. That's not to say that Ann isn't serious -- she makes many valid, legitimate political points -- but it is to surmise how she might be viewed by an editorial director putting together a weekly magazine. Yes, it's an interesting question to ask whether a national periodical should make an unsubtle editorial comment with its choice of picture selection. It's nothing short of an American tragedy that the media seem only to single out
conservatives for this sort of treatment.

But, Ann, complaining about the picture? You're on Time magazine! Come on, wouldn't you be the first to say that whining is for liberals? Remember the old adage: There's no such thing as bad publicity.

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Unintended Constitutional Consequences?

Everyone is picking on Tom DeLay and it's getting a bit ridiculous. It turns out that, despite everything that has been, he may be more right than even he knew.

Two weeks ago, he addressed (by video) a conference of conservatives examining the perceived excesses of the judiciary.

DeLay charged that "unelected, and all too often, unaccountable courts have invented out of whole cloth previously invisible and unasserted constitutional rights to privacy, abortion on demand and same-sex marriage."

The right to privacy is problematic for many conservatives, as it was asserted in the case of Griswold v. Connecticut, a 1965 case involving an attempt to sell contraceptives. Just a few years later, it became precedent for Roe v. Wade. Thus, the direct line from "right to privacy" to "right to abortion."

But, who knew exactly how problematic that the right was? Sometimes, you just can't predict
who might be protected by it.

Guess even a man's cave is his castle.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2005


Bolton Down The Nomination

Okay, right off the bat, call me agnostic on the topic of John Bolton's nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. My general belief is that a president should be permitted his executive-branch nominees, unless there is some overwhelmingly outrageous action or behavior in the pick's past.

(Judicial nominees are a bit different, should be examined in more depth and should pass a higher standard. These are, after all, lifetime appointments.)

It appears that there is a pattern in Bolton's background of rather intemperate behavior towards subordinates. In short, he doesn't suffer fools (actual or perceived) gladly. Of course, being an obnoxious boss shouldn't be a non-hire-able offense (if that makes sense) -- particularly in Washington, DC. However, the nomination has moved into a much stranger realm. There are charges that Bolton tried to keep important information away from both Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice and accusations that Bolton may have used NSA surveillance information for his own purposes.

By holding together and eventually raising enough doubts among Republicans, the Democrats have succeeded in
delaying the nomination. And, in situations like this, delay usually means death (I'm avoiding obvious references to the good gentleman from Texas).
Nominations rarely survive a three-week "time-out." It's always so much easier to find more "dirt" (legitimate or otherwise) on a candidate when you have more time.

Meanwhile, it was pretty clear that Chairman Richard Lugar lost control of the Foreign Relations Committee. A chairman isn't supposed to be blind-sided like he was by George Voinovich on Tuesday. True, Voinovich can be something of a flake (last year, he made noises about voting against the tax cut, but then pulled back), but Lugar is supposed to know what's going on. He went into the hearing expecting to pass the nomination out of committee on a 10-8 vote. By the end, he was looking at a 9-9 tie or an 8-10 loss. Not exactly a case of doing one's homework.

Then again, the whole situation in the FRC has like a game of "Whack-A-Mole" ("Whack-A-Mod[erate])?" First, Lincoln Chafee made noises that he might oppose Bolton; then, he said he was leaning toward voting for him. Then Chuck Hagel suggested he had problems with it. Finally, out of nowhere, Voinovich brings things to a screeching halt, saying that, having missed the previous hearings, he hadn't heard about all the accusations against Bolton and couldn't vote in favor based on the Democrats' charges that he had just now heard.

Hagel then piped up with his reservations again. Given that Chuck Hagel is one of many senators thinking about running for president in 2008, he might consider being more straightforward about his caveats/opposition/concerns on Bolton. His, "I'll vote to send him out of committee, but don't make any assurances on the floor" line is a perfect example of why it's so hard for senators to run for the White House. Consider it Hagel's I-voted-for-him-before-I-voted-against-him problem. (FYI, Joe Lieberman pulled the same stunt earlier this month on the bankruptcy bill. He proudly proclaimed how he voted against it on final passage, to ingratiate himself with his Democratic base -- yet voted to invoke cloture, which is the action that actually puts a bill on the glide-path to passage.)

If Bolton ends up going down, the person almost single-handedly responsible for it will be Steve Clemons of the New America foundation. Steve's a friend, despite various political differences. He's a Democrat who worked for Jeff Bingaman for a few years. We've been fortunate enough to end up on a couple of foreign junkets On his blog,
The Washington Note, he has been pushing the Bolton-is-unfit/untrustworthy meme with the intensity of a pit bull with its teeth in someone's leg. It's strange, because Steve, though a Democrat, is not exactly a reflexive partisan, but he really despises Bolton. Via his blog, he may end up doing to Bolton what Bill Kristol did to the Clinton health plan in 1993-94 through his "Project for the Republican Future" memos. The stakes aren't exactly the same, but the comparison is apt. Does this suggest a significant future role within the Democratic Party/liberal policy network for Mr. Clemons? Only time will tell.

The larger question though is whether it is really in the Democrats best interests to put so much energy into defeating a nominee for a position that is, ultimately, a relatively minor part of the United States foreign policy chain.

UPDATE: Minor edits made 4/21/ 05. to help make the sentence about Voinovich comprehensible.

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THOTS 3.0 (4.0?)

This is my third time creating an ongoing writing project called “Ragged Thots.” The first was about seven years ago, at a moment when I was drifting toward being between jobs. It became just a handful of “columns” that I distributed to close friends and associates by e-mail (yes, boys and girls, this was before everyone had a web-site of their own – really!). Surprisingly enough, these mild stabs at “columns” still exist, courtesy of an old high school friend (Sacramento, California portion), David Kensiski.

David and I had somehow re-connected after nearly twenty years (He lives in the San Jose environs, but was in the Baltimore-Washington area for a conference). Anyway, he nicely posted my meager output on his web-space. David had gone into the computer programming business in a big way. Even as freshmen at Jesuit Prep, he was one of the prototype computer geeks. Ah, if only I had paid more attention to him and our friend Steve’s poking around with those old machines!

Anyway, David never took his old site down, so you can find some of my early efforts at the bottom of the Archive section, classified as RAGGED 1.0. It’s about time I checked in with David. His kids are growing so fast.

You will also find a fairly comprehensive collection of my National Review Online column that ran for most of 2000 and a fair bit of 2001. That too, for a while, was called “Ragged Thots.” So you can see that the name has stuck with me for some time. Back in the day when I was writing three columns a week, gosh, did I ever reach for some topics. But, then again, if you can’t be inspired during a presidential election year, when can you? Anyway, that stuff is listed as RAGGED 2.0.

Anyway, feel free to poke around in RAG’s early work – especially the NRO stuff. As I stumble across the Internet and a few other “classic” works of mine pop up, I will add them here, so there will always be some “new” and “new to you” stuff. (Oh, and speaking of that, this piece originally ran in the late, lamented site, Intellectual, and subsequently re-printed on NRO.)

Looking back, I can see that even despite the horrors of 9/11 and the nation’s recovery from it, 2000 was almost as strange a year -- the election, Elian Gonzalez, Rudy Giuliani’s marital breakdown, etc. That was also the year that Florida became the new California – the state where every bizarre political, legal and human-nature drama got played out to the highest (or lowest) level.

Which, alas, is proven by the recently-concluded(?) Terri Schiavo tragedy.

Well, with any luck and the help of those of you out there, this attempt at RAGGED THOTS won't end prematurely.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2005


"Habemus Papam!"

For the last decade, in the United States, April 19th has been associated either with tragedy or sad remembrance (Waco, Oklahoma City, Columbine).

Let us pray that today's news brings with it hope for joyous reflection in the years to come.

UPDATE: Congratulations to the new Holy Father, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI.

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Learning Lessons...

OK, so satire doesn't always work.

For those who misunderstood the point of my previous post (or failed to click on the link at the end), please understand that the "Love that dare not..." Referred to Boston Red Sox fans not gays. If you understand that conceit and read through it, with any luck you'll see I used the Massachusetts connection to make a parodical post portraying something that New Yorkers have noticed over the last few months: Boston fans "coming out of the closet" and proudly wearing their Red Sox attire in the middle of New York. "Victory" refers to the World Series, not the marriage case; "rings" refer to WS rings, not wedding rings...

For future reference, please be aware that in addition to coming across overt puns, readers of this blog might also be introduced to slightly more subtler forms of humor (as well as posts that are straightforward -- no pun intended -- and quite serious. Some may combine attitudes. With any luck, eventual long-time readers will be able to figure out my style at a given moment.

In brief, no offense meant to anyone (except Boston fans)!

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Monday, April 18, 2005


A Love That Dare Not Speak It's Name -- Or Shut Up

For many years -- in fact, for most of our normal, natural lives, everyone knew that those people were around. As a child, you might notice one, but Mom or Dad would tell you that it was rude to point. Your folks would be tolerant and tell you that some people were different and you should let them live their own lives. But, it was always with a suggestion that that particular lifestyle was not something of which they approved or wanted in their home. A brief, youthful, experimentation might get you a whipping which you would never forget. It was driven home quite forcefully that certain individuals should stay in the closet only to come out if they were willing to act like "normal" people.

But, something has happened in recent years. Those people weren't just asking for tolerance any longer. They were in fact demanding acceptance and encouragement for the sort of dirty activity that had led many, many thousands to sad, lonely deaths. Where once, their behavior was kept out of polite society, now they have to push it in your face, marching with their bright colors in the middle of the streets, flaunting a lifestyle that many people still feel is perverted. They even have the nerve to say that they have no choice...that they are born that way.

It's gotten worse since last year. Maybe the presidential campaign had something to do with it. The behavior in the summer and fall was outrageous. Now, they want everyone to move to Massachusetts and celebrate a "victory." They are proudly showing off their rings -- as if they think what they have is close to the real thing.

How dare they mock everything that is good and decent? How dare they think that they can ever be equal?

There must be a constitutional amendment before marriage is permitted for these...these... IDIOTS!!

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CNN? Cartoon Network? Now ESPN?

Thank you, Mr. McErlain, for the mention -- and the months-long encouragement.

I feel it would be appropriate to do some sports commentary here (this being an all-purpose blog). Offwingers, feel free to check my earlier post on Jermaine O'Neal's somewhat controversial statements last week. In general, Eric and I are pretty much on the same page on this one. This is more about green than it is about black or white. However, I will add that this issue will keep popping up as long as the NBA and NFL effectively run a business in which they save millions by not having to be fully responsible for the basic training of their labor force.

The college basketball and football factories get to do the "work" for the pro leagues while blatantly underpaying individuals who have finite playing/earning years. That's why, despite the sport's many problems, baseball is a far more honest system for bringing along talent. A baseball player has the option of either signing a pro contract right out of high school (give or take a few years for, ahem, certain players) and entering the minor leagues -- or going to college with the chance of playing in the College World Series. There is choice up front. As Maurice Clarett found out, the football player who's HS class isn't three years out of school has hardly any (Canada? Please -- in the '60s, young people ran to Canada to avoid the draft). Today's high school basketball players, if they are talented enough, feel they should be allowed that choice.

I think they are right.

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Weekend Diversions

Friday night, an old roommate and I went to see Sin City.

Almost embarrassed that it has taken me two weeks since it opened to see the flick considering, as mentioned before, I'm a comic-book geek from way back (sorry, Marvel Zombies -- and you know who you
are -- I'm a proud DC fan). Co-Director Frank Miller is, of course, one of the most significant creators of thirty years. In the late-'70s, he resuscitated Marvel's Daredevil -- creating ninja-assassin Elektra in the process. Indeed, the Daredevil-Elektra-Bullseye triangle in Ben Affleck's DD movie comes straight out of Miller's stories, though he certainly can't be blamed for the movie's failed execution ).

In the mid-'80s, he wrote and drew (with artist Klaus Janson)
The Dark Knight Returns for DC, heavily influencing Tim Burton's two "Batman" movies a few years later. Rumor has it that this summer's new Batman Begins will likely borrow some of Miller's themes developed in his Batman: Year One mini-series. He also wrote the script for the underrated Robocop 2 and the, um, less-underrated Robocop 3).

After pretty much abandoning the Big Two comic companies in the '90s, Miller went to independent Dark Horse and created the various Sin City mini-series -- all of which remain in print as single-volume
graphic novels.

The movie, which adapts three of the graphic novels, is excellent -- one of the best I've seen in sometime. It grabs you from the opening frame and holds on for more than two hours afterwards.

It's certainly not for everyone. Its violence, quite intense is literally done quite "artfully." The entire movie is shot primarily black and white, except for dabs of color put in to make dramatic contrasts -- red for a femme fatale's dress here, bright yellow for a profoundly evil villain there. Blood is just about every color but red, which makes the gore a bit easier to take -- though multiple mutilations, stabbings, emasculations, beheadings, etc. make up for that mild saving grace. However, Miller and Robert Rodriguez (of Spy Kids & From Dusk Till Dawn fame)have designed the movie in such a way that some of the most extreme activity is either off-camera or is transformed into a comic-book panel-like silhouette.

And, there are very few heroes in the fictional Basin City -- down-on-his luck cop Hartigan may be the only one. It's definitely not the feel-good flick of the year. However, disturbing as it may be on many levels, it still manages to transcend its more overt nihilistic sensibility.

In many ways, this is the Pulp Fiction of the mid-'00s -- and not just because Rodriguez pal Quentin Tarantino has a "guest director" credit (he oversees a car chase). Like Tarantino before them, Rodriguez and Miller use an updated film noir formula of ethically-challenged/devoid protagonists, gorgeous women (though with Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Jamie King, Carla Gugino and Brittany Murphy, SC's hottie quotient far, uh "out-strips" PF's Uma Thurman) monstrous villains and stylized violence. Each movie is told in a chronologically-haphazard non-linear fashion.

Taking another cue from Tarantino, Rodriguez/Miller also use the film as a vehicle to resuscitate the careers of actors who had been given up for dead critically: In '94, it was John Travolta and Bruce Willis; in 'O5, it's Mickey Rourke and, um, Bruce Willis.

And, yep, there's also the requisite big, bad, bald black man: PF's Ving Rhames vs. SC's Michael Clarke Duncan.
Which raises the question, who will Bruce Willis turn to in 2015-16 to give him yet another career boost?

Saturday, I went to see
Julius Caesar. If you're in New York (or planning on visiting in the next seven weeks -- the limited run ends on June 12), go for Denzel Washington's Brutus, but stay for Eamonn Walker's Marc Antony. Washington, of course, is the main draw and certainly responsible for the more-diverse-than-your-average-Broadway audience. He gives a fine performance, but Walker more than holds his own -- as fans of his conflicted-Muslim leader Kareem Said on HBO's "Oz" would have told you ahead of time.

Oh, keep an eye on Kelly AuCoin who does a nice turn as Octavius. Aside from various theatre productions, you've most likely seen him in sporadic "Law & Order" episodes. That should change after this production. The more politically-avid amongst you (and I figure that more than a few readers are here) might be interested in knowing that Kelly is the son of former Oregon Rep. Les AuCoin.

Speaking of the "L&O" franchise, fans will also recognize the very lovely Tamara Tunie (who portrays the medical examiner on the "SVU" spin-off) as Calpurnia.

Next weekend, I'll be back in Annapolis for the annual St. John's College-U.S. Naval Academy croquet match. If you're in the area, check it out.

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