Saturday, August 26, 2006


Open Bar/Open Thread

The summer days idly float away. Let's hear what's on your mind.

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Friday, August 25, 2006


Free Tickets To Suozzi-Land

GAWKER does its best to try to boost New York gubernatorial candidate Tom Suozzi in his seemingly Quixotic attempt to catch way-in-frontrunner Eliot Spitzer.

A podcast is chopped up
into three amusing fake commercials.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006


The "Last Hope"

A foreboding view on Iraq from a strong supporter of the mission.

Unlike many opinion journalists on either side of the Iraq debate, Ralph Peters has actually visited the war zone on more than one occasion. Even he has serious concerns about the possibility of success:

Iraqis deserved their chance. They got it. They voted. Three times. Each time along confessional or ethnic lines. They elected ward bosses, not national leaders. We could have skipped the balloting and apportioned legislative seats by population shares.

Iraq doesn't have a democracy in any meaningful sense. It isn't even a nation. Iraqis didn't vote for freedom. They voted for revenge against each other.

In the immediate aftermath of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I argued that the only realistic solution was to break Iraq into three pieces. What we lacked the guts to do, elections have done. The pretense that an Iraqi national identity exists or ever will exist can be sustained no longer.

Iraq doesn't have a government. It has a collection of warlords, demagogues and thieves with official titles. It's time to put our own politics aside and face reality: If Iraq's elected leaders won't stop looting their country long enough to pull together and defeat the foreign terrorists, internal insurgents and militias killing Iraqis, we should not ask our troops to defend them.

Iraqi democracy hasn't yet failed entirely. But it looks as if it might. President Bush needs to face that possibility. Managing the regional and global consequences will be his responsibility. We will have to fight on elsewhere - with more realism and, regrettably, less idealism. The fools who hope Iraq will fail will face more wars, not fewer.

Meanwhile, the test for Iraq's elected government is straightforward: Can it excite Iraqis to a spirit of mortal sacrifice in defense of a constitutional system? The terrorists, insurgents and militiamen will die for their beliefs. If other Iraqis will not risk their lives - in decisive numbers - to seize their unique chance at freedom, there is no hope.

And Iraq is the entire Arab world's last hope.

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Defining The Universe Down

Back when I was a kid, I had to memorize NINE planets! Students these days, now only have to learn eight:

Leading astronomers declared Thursday that Pluto is no longer a planet under historic new guidelines that downsize the solar system from nine planets to eight.

After a tumultuous week of clashing over the essence of the cosmos, the International Astronomical Union stripped Pluto of the planetary status it has held since its discovery in 1930. The new definition of what is — and isn't — a planet fills a centuries-old black hole for scientists
who have labored since Copernicus without one.
Although astronomers applauded after the vote, Jocelyn Bell Burnell — a specialist in neutron stars from Northern Ireland who oversaw the proceedings — urged those who might be "quite
disappointed" to look on the bright side.
"It could be argued that we are creating an umbrella called 'planet' under which the dwarf planets exist," she said, drawing laughter by waving a stuffed Pluto of Walt Disney fame beneath a
real umbrella.

Whatever happened to Leave No Planet Behind?

Alas, poor Pluto, I knew him well...If even the planets can be "downsized" out of jobs what chance do the rest of us have?

Now, in the world of ancient myth, Pluto was the god of the underworld. What does it say about modern conceits that we tempt fate by eliminating the symbolic heavenly body of the afterlife?

UPDATE: From the comments section, Jonathan Funke explores the broader dimensions:

"Robert, you have no idea just how sweeping and political are the implications of the Pluto debate. According to PBS commentators:

And, in fact, the plutons, and Ceres, and all these other bits of rubble, which are fascinating objects, are nothing but aborted planets. And the real planets of the Solar System are the ones that managed to sweep up all of the objects in their own neighborhood to become complete planets....The leftover debris, things like Ceres, we consider to be essentially aborted planets -- aborted fetuses, if you will -- things that didn't make it to the final stage of planethood.

"'Leave No Planet Behind' is merely collateral damage. Space is truly the final frontier...where W. and NARAL will have their High Noon."

I would disagree with the astronomers quoted by PBS to the extent that since these formations are naturaly occurring it is more appropriate to call them "miscarried" or "stillborn" planets, rather than "aborted."

Unless, of course, Mother Nature was popping some celestian Plan B pills.

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From Radical To Populist

Ned Lamont made an interesting rhetorical swivel in his criticism of Joe Lieberman:

Ned Lamont, who defeated Mr. Lieberman in the Democratic primary in part by stoking antiwar sentiment, said that Mr. Lieberman’s comments put him “way outside the mainstream, not just of Democrats, but of the public at large.”

Mr. Lamont has said he would back a plan for a firm timeline of troop withdrawal from Iraq, a position supported by several other Democrats in the Senate.

“Nobody is talking about isolationism,” Mr. Lamont said, responding in a telephone interview to Mr. Lieberman’s remarks. “The problem is that the Bush administration and Senator Lieberman think that you can fight this like a conventional war, and that’s where they are wrong. We have to deal with homeland security, port security, to really protect ourselves.”
In accenting the latter points, Lamont may have figured out a way to make the radical -- pulling out of Iraq -- "populist."

As Arnold Kling points out at Tech Central Station, the public may now see that forced
"democratization" for the Middle East may be the radical idea -- not the need to withdraw precipitously:

My sense is that popular opinion is likely to gravitate toward one of two positions.

1) The Middle East is a hopeless cauldron of hatred. We should focus on homeland security, stay out of the Middle East, and have as little interaction with the Muslim world as possible; or
2) A major war is inevitable, so that we need to get ready for it. Nothing else will stop Iranian aggression, and nothing else will stifle the funding, sponsoring, and glorification of terrorists.

In 2008, I believe that either a Republican running on (1) as a platform or a Democrat running on (2) as a platform could win broad bipartisan support. However, my guess is that the Democrats are likely to come closer to representing (1) in 2008, and as of now my sense is that (1) is more popular than (2).

In my own thinking, I tend to vacillate between (1) and (2). The advantage of (2) is that it helps align our interests with the UK and Israel, which are not in a position to adopt (1). The UK, with its larger and more radical Muslim population, necessarily is affected by international Muslim belligerence. For Israel, staying out of the Middle East is not an option.

The main prediction from this essay is that we will see an outbreak of popular frustration in the next few years. I think that many people are tired of political spin machines, diplomatic "solutions," and fancy intellectual models of the world that fail in practice. They long for a leader who talks straight and who can make the plays work on the field the way they were designed to work on the chalkboard.

The failures of elitist thinking will create an adverse environment for haughty, cerebral politicians such as Tony Blair or Benjamin Netanyahu. Instead, I expect more populist figures to emerge, which gives me considerable misgivings. I think that populist economics is mostly bad. If voters turn to populists on the issue of national security, my guess is that the economy will suffer for it.

But I think that the popular instinct is that the elites so far have not gotten it right on security and Islamic militancy. And in that regard, the popular instinct is right.
So, in Connecticut, it can be argued that Lamont is attempting to portray Lieberman as one of the "haughty politicians" that Kling describes (not too difficult, in my view). Furthermore, Lamont is arguing that his quote-antiwar-unquote position is now represents the mainstream -- as opposed to the "Iraq liberation" view of Lieberman and bush.

Given that Kling has previously been more supportive of the administration, his take on where popular opinion is going may very well be correct. If so, Lieberman may be heading for a second defeat in Connecticut.

That John McCain is
making an apparent step away from his earlier full-throated support of the Bush strategy (with notable detours on issues such as torture) suggests that reflexive defense of the status quo is no longer working -- and sentiment against the war is becoming less a radical notion.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006


20 Years Ago Today...

(give or take a few weeks)
...Alan Moore taught the band to play! Wikipedia's featured article:

Overview · Searching · Editing · Questions · Help

Categories · Featured content · A–Z index

Today's featured article

The cast of Watchmen
Watchmen is a twelve-issue comic book written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons. Originally published by DC Comics as a monthly limited series from 1986 to 1987, it was later republished as a trade paperback. It was one of the first superhero comic books to present itself as serious literature, and it also popularized the more adult-oriented "graphic novel" format. Watchmen is the only graphic novel to have won a Hugo Award, and is also the only graphic novel to appear on Time magazine's list of "100 best novels from 1923 to present." Watchmen is set in 1985 in an alternative history United States where costumed adventurers are real and the country is edging closer to a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. It tells the story of the last remaining superheroes and the events surrounding the mysterious murder of one of their own. In Watchmen, superheroes are presented as real people who must confront ethical and personal issues, who have neuroses and failings, and who are largely lacking in superpowers. (more...)

Recently featured: IG Farben BuildingSesame StreetCynna Kydd

Watchmen -- the series that (along with Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns) transformed the comic book industry.

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Risky Business Indeed!

Well, Mr. Cruise has officially gotten the boot from the Viacom family!

See ya, wouldn't want to be ya!

Ragged Thots readers, of course, knew that this day was coming
more than a year ago:

The thing that Cruise has always had going for him, from his earliest days in Losing It, Taps & Risky Business, through his superstar middle period of Top Gun, Cocktail & A Few Good Men to his more recent fare like Minority Report (which was, as my buddy Dan said, is a seriously underrated movie) is an audience acceptance that he's essentially a good guy -- the cliched "man who men want to be and women want to be with." Even through a couple of divorces (and the Scientology and sexuality stuff in the background), his public persona was still that of a rather stable everyday guy, who guarded his privacy.

That's not the man on display now. He is allowing his public life to become so outsized that it's crowding the image of the man on screen.

This comes at a rather precarious time in his career. Recall that his good performance in Collateral was still completely eclipsed by Jamie Foxx's. There have been other times when Cruise has played across great actors. Hey, he had to watch both Paul Newman and Dustin Hoffman pick up Best Actor Oscars playing opposite him -- while he wasn't even nominated for supporting performances. But, in both of those movies, it was never the case that people
forgot that he was in the film. He became almost an afterthought in Collateral.

And that was before Cruise decided that the entire world had to know all about his personal life -- or at least his version of his personal life.

Viewers may well decide that TMI is just that -- too much information. Can Spielberg save War of the Worlds? Perhaps.

But, Cruise alone may not be enough this time. His loud, ubiquitous, spring romance may well have set him up for a precipitous summer fall.
WOTW, while not a total "bomb", certainly underperformed Cruise's previous blocbusters -- as did this year's Mission Impossible 3.

And sure enough, in telling Cruise to hit the road, Sumner Redstone minced no words in explaining why:

"His recent conduct has not been acceptable to Paramount," the media mogul said.

Redstone believes that the sometimes maniac megastar of such Paramount flicks as "Mission: Impossible" and "Top Gun" actually hurt box-office receipts for his latest "Mission" installment, whose take was considerably below expectations, the paper said.

A poll released in May, around the same time as the movie, showed that half of those surveyed had an "unfavorable" opinion of the star.
On the other hand, Cruise should be happy that the South Park "Trapped In The Closet"/scientology episode lost out in the Emmys to The Simpsons for the prime-time animation prize.

No word yet on whether any studios want to hire Cruise, given his increasing cartoon existence.

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A Chartered Future Course?

In a further ode to 1996, The Washington Post takes a very good, balanced look at a decade of charter schools in the nation's capital:

Ten years after Congress imposed charter schools on a reluctant city, the District has emerged as one of the nation's most important laboratories for school choice and one of the first to confront a central tenet of free-market theory: Will traditional public schools improve with competition? Or will charters take over?

Both sides agree that the District is approaching a critical juncture. With public confidence in the schools at an all-time low, more than 17,000 public school students -- nearly one in four -- have rejected the traditional system in favor of 51 independently run, publicly funded charter schools. That share is one of the largest in the nation and is expected to rise when six more charter schools open their doors this fall.

As charters have proliferated, the number of students attending traditional schools has plummeted from 80,000 a decade ago to 58,000 last school year. Because tax dollars follow the student, charters now claim at least $140 million a year that might otherwise flow to neighborhood schools. That has led traditional schools to cut programs, lay off teachers and, for the first time in nearly a decade, close.

Powerful forces in the national debate are watching closely to see whether D.C. schools can win those students back.

"The hope has always been that the traditional school system would respond by getting better, by doing things that are politically painful, but we've never had a good test of it until now," said Michael Petrilli, a former Bush administration education official who is a vice president of the pro-charter Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

"We're going to see whether D.C. can compete," Petrilli said. 'If that doesn't happen, you'll see charters continue to open.
Charters aren't seen as an always perfect panacea to public schools. The flaws are noted -- several charters have failed and DC charters actually lag behind other charters nationwide.

In welfare reform, it was important that those affected the most -- welfare recipients -- buy into the new system. Similarly, though the story notes a major lawsuit being brought by parents of children remaining in the traditional public school system, who claim that DC's support of charters is undermining their kids' opportunities, parents are pushing to take advantage of the alternatives provided by charters:

Two Rivers has attracted a diverse student body of about 200 children, about half black and a third white, and has a waiting list of 400. Among the students are Sondra Phillips-Gilbert's two children. She said she pulled her son out of nearby Gibbs Elementary after classmates assaulted him three times. The school was also plagued by mold and mildew, she said.

At Two Rivers, Phillips-Gilbert said, her son is thriving and the school welcomes her involvement.

"I don't have money for a private school. If you get rid of charter schools, you're telling the poor children that they're going to have to be locked up in this incompetent school district that doesn't care about them or their parents," she said. "Don't punish the charter schools because our children have an option. If you don't like to see thousands of students leaving DCPS, then do something."
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Clinton Kudos

A Heritage Foundation scholar offers surprising praise for Bill Clinton's role in the 1996 welfare reform.

Robert Rector writes:

Clinton didn't play a major role in shaping the policy details of the landmark 1996 act. But he understood something about policymaking that many conservative strategists and policy wonks could stand to re-learn: It isn't enough to get the technical details of a policy right. Words and symbols matter, too.

Indeed, thanks in large part to his effective use of words and symbols that challenged liberal orthodoxy on issues surrounding the poor, Bill Clinton not only helped "end welfare as we know it," but he helped end welfare as we know it before anyone even knew it.

To fully understand Clinton's role in the passage of this landmark legislation, one must go back to the early days of the 1992 presidential campaign when Clinton first began trying out his welfare themes. According to New York Times reporter Jason DeParle, Clinton regarded his welfare message as the "all-purpose elixir" of his campaign for the presidency.

It was a values message, an economic message and a policy message all in one. And it generated more interest than any other topic Clinton addressed.

A surprising thing about Clinton's welfare message is that it found resonance with many people in low-income neighborhoods. It won Clinton respect from the poor, a group most analysts figured would object strongly to any welfare reform plan.

DeParle reports that in the fall of 1991, Clinton dispatched campaign aide Celinda Lake to North Carolina to conduct focus groups with black voters. The campaign was worried that Clinton's pledge to "end welfare as we know it" might invite Virginia's black governor (and presidential aspirant) Doug Wilder to attack Clinton as a "racist."

Lake found otherwise. "The welfare message, worded correctly, plays extremely well in the black community," Lake reported. Low-income African-Americans were all for cutting welfare, so long as they sensed a corresponding commitment to help them acquire the dignity that comes from gainful employment.
Clinton understood that one had to lay the rhetorical groundwork before a policy can be installed -- and has any hope of success.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006


The Senator's Wife Goes Missing...

...and it will likely take an entire television season to find her!

The premiere episode (reairing again tonight at 9 p.m. on Fox) was not bad. Queer As Folk alum Gale Harrold makes for a good intense FBI agent.

One major question: How come the FBI office
over in this place manage to solve these missing persons case in under an hour?

Just asking.

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Monday, August 21, 2006


Paging Jimmy Carter!!!


Be afraid when a politician uses phrases like,
"straining the psyche" of the public:

Sometimes I'm frustrated, rarely surprised. Sometimes I'm happy. But war is not a time of joy. These aren't joyous times, they're challenging times and they're difficult times and they're straining the psyche of our country, I understand that.
That sounds dangerously like a certain former Southern governor who, as president. found himself beset with skyrocketing energy prices and major problems in the Middle East. In making a nationwide address, he ended up practically psychoanalyzing the electorate.

Bad move.

John Kerry responded sharply, "The American psyche isn't the problem. The problem is this administration's disastrous Iraq policy."


Here's hoping the White House Staff keeps Dubya away from any rabbits.

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A Yen For Nationalism

My friend Steve Clemons, who has written more about Japan than I could even dream about, sees a disturbing rise of nationalism.

This is part and parcel of Prime Minister Koizumi's annual genuflecting at the Yakushin monument -- as
was discussed last week.

Japan is the world's second largest economy, has been the United States's ally ever since the immediate post World War II period and is very much "on our side."

However, the rise of nationalism -- complete with this cultural willingness to gloss over Japan's actions in the first half of the 20th century -- is deeply problematic and not just an emotional annoyance for the Chinese to "get over."

As George Will noted
this weekend:

The museum adjacent to Yasukuni says "The Greater East Asian War" began because, when the New Deal failed to banish the Depression, "the only option open to Roosevelt . . . was to use embargoes to force resource-poor Japan into war. The U.S. economy made a complete recovery once the Americans entered the war." That is disgracefully meretricious — and familiar. For years, a small but vocal cadre of Americans — anti-FDR zealots — said approximately that. But neither Koizumi nor Abe includes the museum in his visits to the shrine.

It would be helpful if [Koizumi's successor Shinto] Abe would discontinue visiting Yasukuni. He could cite the fact, learned last month, that Emperor Hirohito, who died in 1989, stopped visiting it because he strongly objected to the war criminals' enshrinement. Because China decided to be incensed about Koizumi's visits, there has been no Japan-China summit meeting for five years. In 2005, there were vicious anti-Japan riots in China, and 44 million Chinese signed an Internet petition opposing Japan's quest for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. Relations between the nations are colder than at any time since relations were normalized in 1972, when Mao decreed that both the Chinese and Japanese people had been victims of Japan's militarists.


The controversy about Yasukuni should not mystify Americans. With their comparatively minor but still acrimonious arguments about displays of Confederate flags, Americans know how contentious the politics of national memory can be, and they understand the problem of honoring war dead without necessarily honoring the cause for which they died.
Of course, even though the Confederacy still creates emotional pain in the United States, this country is so diverse and spread out that sentiments get diffused. That's not the case in either the small Japan (65 million people) or the huge China (1.3 billion). Neither nation has the diversity that America has -- and even though both adopt Western economies and lifestyles (China, to a lesser extent), the classic culture still has a strong hold.

Honor is still very much a part of these systems: That's why, I believe, Japan refuses to fully acknowledge its past actions. But it is also why China sees Koizumi's actions as not being just respectful to his nation's war dead -- but encouraging the societal forgetting and exacerbating Japan's natiionalism.

No surprise, that simply exacerbates China's nationalism.

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Only One Issue, Cont'd

War, it is said, is politics by other means.

Politics, it is said, makes strange bedfellows.

Thus, it appears to logically follow that "war makes strange bedfellows."

How strange then that that seems to be the least examined aspect
of the New York Times's story on John McCain's gobbling up political talent for 2008:

Mr. McCain and Mr. Bush have grown closer politically in the past few years because of a shared commitment to a decisive battle against terrorism and the insurgency in Iraq, although it is unclear if support for the war will win votes in 2008.

But differences remain on a number of issues, including government ethics, federal spending, stem cell research, climate change and treatment of terrorism suspects. Those divergences and any future splits could prove problematic for Mr. McCain, as well as for some of the Bush loyalists who have signed on with him or are considering doing so.
Despite his past challenges to Mr. Bush, many who served in the president's campaigns or his administration are lining up behind Mr. McCain.
Just the one mention above of raq. But, with the notable exception of immigration, it is the ONLY issue that truly bonds Bush and McCain.

Indeed, this seems to be another example where Iraq has become the unifying issue for what it means to be an acceptable Republican or, as in the case of Joe Lieberman, "an independent that is acceptable to Republicans." Conversely, not how much fellow "maverick" (and Vietnam War hero), Chuck Hagel is now grilled even more than McCain on his GOP bona fides -- because he has taken a far more skeptical stance on the efficacy of the Iraq War.

It is is interesting to note McCain is doing his best to spread his wings to reach the two wings of Republican foreign policy:
The group Mr. McCain consults on foreign policy includes neoconservatives like William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, as well as members of the so-called realist school of foreign policy thought like Brent Scowcroft and Mr. Armitage, who along with his former boss, [Colin] Powell, battled the influence of neoconservatives in Mr. Bush’s first term.
This suggests that McCain wants to have more of an earnest debate in his foreign policy policy discussions than appears to have occurred during the Bush years.

Even as a strong supporter of Iraq, McCain has also been one of the strongest critics of the Guantanamo policy and one of the most outraged over Abu Ghraib. The tension between the neoconservatives and the realist wings would be a good one if a President McCain insisted not only following the rules of war -- which too many of the current administration seemed willing to toss overboard -- but also believing in their moral importance.

Still, given that the war is the issue of the moment and, at the end of the day, more important for Republicans to figure out than Democrats, one is perplexed that The Times would give so remarkably little space to it in formulating why the Bush and McCain camps would have reached something of a rapprochement.

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