Saturday, July 16, 2005

This Is More Like It: Back to NadaGate

The latest addition to the NYT op-ed stable is John Tierney and he's got a piece out that's got to have Karl "the MSM-slayer" Rove feeling his oats:

Karl Rove's version of events now looks less like a smear and more like the truth: Mr. Wilson's investigation, far from being requested and then suppressed by a White House afraid of its contents, was a low-level report of not much interest to anyone outside the Wilson household.

So what exactly is this scandal about? Why are the villagers still screaming to burn the witch? Well, there's always the chance that the prosecutor will turn up evidence of perjury or obstruction of justice during the investigation, which would just prove once again that the easiest way to uncover corruption in Washington is to create it yourself by investigating nonexistent crimes.

For now, though, it looks as if this scandal is about a spy who was not endangered, a whistle-blower who did not blow the whistle and was not smeared, and a White House official who has not been fired for a felony that he did not commit. And so far the only victim is a reporter who did not write a story about it.

It would be logical to name it the Not-a-gate scandal, but I prefer a bilingual variation. It may someday make a good trivia question:

What do you call a scandal that's not scandalous?

Nadagate.

A Tale of Two Huskies

Eric Pfieffer goes where few men dare; he took a stroll down Pennsylvania Ave. Last Thursday to check out the MoveOn rally demanding Karl Rove's head on a pike in Lafayette Park. I suppose most conservatives would be more irritated by the hippie in the Che shirt, (is it Che? On second glance it might be Jimi Hendrix. Well, it's someone annoying, I'm sure) but I think another snapshot tells us more about the character of the bull-goose-loony-left.

It was 90+ degrees F. in Washington last Thursday, and this dog is not only sitting on concrete in the sun, it's wearing a cardboard garment. The photo caught my eye immediately because I also have a husky. On a day like last Thursday, she's allowed outside for no more than 30 minutes at a time, and even then she's in the shade on grass in a spot where she can dig in damp sand if she wants to. She usually wants to. Now I'm not claiming that this picture captures Kisa at the exact moment poor Left Wing Husky was baking on the sidewalk, but she certainly spent several hours in this spot on that day:


So there you have it. MoveOn.dogs are encouraged to perpetuate hysterical accusations with no basis in fact and are rewarded by being forced to broil in Husky Hell. Reformclub.blogspot.dogs are encouraged to live in tolerant peace with all their fellows and are rewarded with a spot on the couch in an air-conditioned living room, which is incidentally right next to the kitchen where even more almost-heavenly rewards are usually available.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Monk Is Back—I Mean Really Back



Well, yes, the USA Network mystery series Monk has now been back for two episodes, and the news is good. The first two shows have both been excellent, with all the strengths of the series fully manifest.

Of course, the biggest concern going in to the season was the loss of Bitty Schram, who was abruptly fired at the midpoint of the past season, apparently over a salary disagreement. Many Monkophiles had expressed concern that the new character, Natalie Teeger, played by Traylor Howard, had not been particularly interesting during the second half of last season's episodes, after replacing Schram's Sharona. Of course, it was difficult to know exactly how Howard's character could fit in, given that she had obviously been shoehorned into scripts fashioned for Schram's character. And of course Bitty Schram was one of the many good things about the show.

I am an incurable optimist, however, and here is what I wrote to my fellow Reform Clubbers last week before episode 1 aired:

"I like Traylor Howard more than I liked Bitty Schram, actually. Sharona was fun and Schram just exploded off the screen, but I like to concentrate on the mystery, and Bitty Schram was so relentless in calling attention to herself that I found it distracting. (Shaloub does enough of that, and brilliantly.) Of course, the non-mystery stuff is probably what a lot of people like most about the show, so I'm perhaps in the minority on that.

"However, I thought the big problem with the Howard shows was that the scripts were weak: the mysteries were even more forced than usual, to the point of absurdity in the one where Natalie runs for office. That one was obviously written for Schramm, and is not at all right for Natalie. Bitty Schram helped distract us from the central absurdities of the show in her episodes, but with the more normal character played by Traylor Howard replacing her, it's pretty obvious when the stories are weak. The one that took place in Vegas last season was great, however, because the mystery was good. (Of course, it was easy to solve, but it was fun to watch Monk and Captain Stottelmeyer figure it out.)
"Hence, I have some hope that this season's eps will be better, in that they will have been written with the new character in mind. The fngers are crossed.

So far, my wish has been granted. Monk appears on USA Network Friday nights at 9:00, and is shown several additional times throughout the week.

Baker and Karnick Crash the Wedding . . .

It's the weekend, so let's enjoy a little movie trailer starring yours truly and S.T. Karnick.

Opening Night Movie Review: Wedding Crashers

Romantic comedies tend to revolve around weddings, but usually the nuptials are reserved for the end. And the wedding is typically a serious (though joyful) moment, the one toward which all the comedy has in fact been leading. As its title would suggest, Wedding Crashers starts with a wedding, ends with a wedding, and has numerous other ones in the middle. And in this film, the weddings are a big part of the comedy.

Wedding Crashers
is quite simply the funniest and most delightful comedy since Dodgeball. The film is amply studded with humor both high and low, and the lead performances, by Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, are utterly superb. The two are absolutely at the top of their game, and Vaughn's comic acting is even more impressive than Wilson's.

The ability to play each moment as if it were absolutely real—that is the key to making a farce truly funny, and Vaughn's persuasiveness as actor makes an adventure of every moment he is onscreen. Wilson is his typical charming self in this film, alternately zany and terribly sincere, but likewise working at a very high level here.

The supporting cast is very effective, too, though Jane Seymour's character is largely dropped after just a few comically disturbing interactions with the lead characters. Christopher Walken is fine as Secretary Cleary, and Will Ferrell is Will Ferrell as the legendary Chaz, king of the crashers. The two ingenues are more interesting than most, as played by Rachel McAdams and Isla Fisher. Fisher is particularly impressive and funny as a romantically voracious girl who (quite unwittingly) turns the tables on Vaughn's Jeremy. The main antagonist (Bradley Cooper, I think), a young phony who is engaged to Claire Cleary (McAdams), is as stupendously evil and exaggerated a villain as he could possibly be without the filmmakers actually rendering him in animation.

The story, as most are probably aware, is of two not-so-young bachelors who crash weddings in order to hit on young ladies when they are presumably at their most vulnerable. (Later in the film, an even more opportune time for such activities is revealed.) Naturally, and quite comically, the biters are bit quite hard, shortly after the very funny plot-establishing opening sequences. John (Wilson) falls in love with Claire, daughter of the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, and forces Jeremy (Vaughn) to go with him to the Secretary's house for the weekend.

From that point on, irony piles upon irony (in the classic sense of a reversal), and the film achieves quite a few truly hilarious scenes. There are also some moments of real drama and emotional truth, as the characters furiously try to figure out what they really want and find what is best for them. But those moments are appropriately few, and they flow naturally from the earlier events of the story.

The screenplay was written with great skill. There is, for example, a moment that we very much want to see happen, yet the screenwriters make us wait until the last minutes of the film before allowing it to come to pass—and it is all the more satisfying for having been delayed. As with most comedies, the proceedings start to drag a bit in the 1/2-3/4 segment, but the rest of the film is about as funny as you would want it.

The great literary scholar Northrop Frye pointed out that romantic comedies deal with issues of the perpetuation of life, and derive from ancient fertility rites. That, he said, is why they tend to revolve around marriage. The makers of Wedding Crashers have thus hit upon a theme that goes to the heart of what romantic comedies are all about. But they are also all about laughs, and Wedding Crashers delivers them in profusion.

It's a funny, dirty, messy, crazy film, and a real delight.

An African Perspective on Live8

A very interesting op-ed in today's New York Times, by Jean-Claude Shanda Tonme, a consultant on international law and a columnist for Le Messager (a Cameroonian daily, where a version of the article first appeared), uses the Live8 concert project as a reason to consider what he believes to be the real problems of Africa today.

Tomne says that he and other Africans certainly "hold nothing against" the organizers of and participants in Live8, but he avers, "We Africans know what the problem is, and no one else should speak in our name. Africa has men of letters and science, great thinkers and stifled geniuses who at the risk of torture rise up to declare the truth and demand liberty.

"Don't insult Africa," Tonme continues, "this continent so rich yet so badly led. Instead, insult its leaders, who have ruined everything. Our anger is all the greater because despite all the presidents for life, despite all the evidence of genocide, we didn't hear anyone at Live 8 raise a cry for democracy in Africa. . . . Don't they understand that fighting poverty is fruitless if dictatorships remain in place?"

Tomne points out that this is a highly paternalistic attitude, and he stresses that Africans are fully capable of taking on the responsibility ofself-government under liberal, Western-style principles.

"Africa's real problem," he says, "is the lack of freedom of expression, the usurpation of power, the brutal oppression." As a result, "Neither debt relief nor huge amounts of food aid nor an invasion of experts will change anything. Those will merely prop up the continent's dictators."

"What is at issue is an Africa where dictators kill, steal and usurp power yet are treated like heroes at meetings of the African Union. What is at issue is rulers like François Bozizé, the coup leader running the Central Africa Republic, and Faure Gnassingbé, who just succeeded his father as president of Togo, free to trample universal suffrage and muzzle their people with no danger that they'll lose their seats at the United Nations. Who here wants a concert against poverty when an African is born, lives and dies without ever being able to vote freely?"

Tomne's conclusion: "In Africa, our leaders have led us into misery, and we need to rid ourselves of these cancers. We would have preferred for the musicians in Philadelphia and London to have marched and sung for political revolution. Instead, they mourned a corpse while forgetting to denounce the murderer."

Movies' Box Office Tailspin Arrested—But for How Long?

Thomas Hibbs has provided a very insightful review of Fantastic Four in today's edition of National Review Online.

For me, the most interesting aspect of the review is Hibbs's observations about the decline in movie box office receipts from last year to this:

"One reasonable answer to the question of box-office decline is that the quality of the films is down this year. One of the little noticed features of this year's decline is the post-opening week dive that so many big films are enduring. Just last week, for example, War of the Worlds in its second weekend in release dropped about 60 percent from its opening. That's a sign that, while advertising and stars can create a big opening week, only solid word of mouth can maintain a film's popularity. (As a means of comparing quality with hype, consider that a documentary, not yet in wide release, about migratory penguins, The March of Penguins, ranked 13th last week but took in more money per screen than did F4.)"

Hibbs is correct to note that receipts for a film's second and subsequent weeks are the best gauge of whether it has real appeal.

I think, however, that there is more going on here. As I have noted before, American culture is in fact in the midst of a Romantic era, and the box-office dominance of the comic-book style of motion picture is one clear manifestation of it. Cultural trends, however, are always in flux, and a move too far in one direction usually brings an equal and opposite reaction.

I suspect that our Romantic worldview is too deeply ingrained to become unstuck by one summer of slow movie ticket sales, but it seems possible that a more realistic style of presentation of an essential Romanic vision may arise. However, today's release of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory may well provide a boost to the current Romantic narrative trend and forestall a great sense of a need for change. In addition, it will be interesting to see what affect The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe has on the industry beginning later this year.

The Strangely Rewarding Novels of Charles Williams

Elsewhere on this site, Kathy Hutchins briefly mentioned the novels of twentieth century British writer Charles Williams. I agree with Kathy's implicit assessment that Williams's novels are excellent.

I think that their decidedly lower popularity compared with the major works of Williams's friends Tolkien and Lewis is explained by the great difficulty most readers encounter in understanding precisely what is going on in Williams's novels.

One problem is that the books do not lie in a single identifiable genre. They are part horror, part fantasy, part mystery, part action-adventure, and all simultaneously. The events are those of romance, but the texture is of a realistic novel. One's expectations continually prove wrong.

The greater difficulty, however, surely lies in the nature of the world Williams depicts. It is exactly like our own, except for one thing, and this thing makes it so unlike our own as to be continually puzzling.

In these "spiritual thrillers," ideas and concepts from the spiritual realm manifest themselves in the natural world, though they are not immediately identified as doing so. If that seems a rather difficult explanation to grasp, it is because the concept itself is something that is best experienced rather than summarized.

However, once one overcomes the surface strangeness of Williams's narratives, they are quite compelling.

I would suggest starting with the most conventional of his books, War in Heaven (1930), his first novel. It tells the story of the Holy Grail having been found in a country church, and recounts the efforts of two groups to gain control over it. If this sounds rather like Tolkien's later Lord of the Rings trilogy, one can only note that great minds think alike, especially when they are friends and read each other's books. (Obviously the influence in this case would have been from Williams to Tolkien.)

Most of Williams's novels can be obtained online through used-book services, and some are available as etexts. Project Gutenberg Australia offers a page where some books no longer in copyright in Australia are available online. (These books are still in copyright in the United States and many other nations.)

An excellent introduction to Williams's fiction is available online here.

I highly recommend Charles Williams's challenging and rewarding novels. Careful reading of them will fully repay the effort expended.

More ROVE REVERSAL

Jay's post just doesn't do justice to the sturm und drang we've had around here the last couple of days since he kicked over the lantern like Mrs. O'Leary's cow (no offense Jay and no harm since this town is electronic).

Let's have a little excerpt from the AP story that greeted me this morning:

WASHINGTON - Chief presidential adviser Karl Rove testified to a grand jury that he talked with two journalists before they divulged the identity of an undercover CIA officer but that he originally learned about the operative from the news media and not government sources, according to a person briefed on the testimony.

The person, who works in the legal profession and spoke only on condition of anonymity because of grand jury secrecy, told The Associated Press that Rove testified last year that he remembers specifically being told by columnist Robert Novak that Valerie Plame, the wife of a harsh
Iraq war critic, worked for the CIA.

Rove testified that Novak originally called him the Tuesday before Plame's identity was revealed in July 2003 to discuss another story.

And also this nice bit:

Wilson acknowledged his wife was no longer in an undercover job at the time Novak's column first identified her. "My wife was not a clandestine officer the day that Bob Novak blew her identity," he said.

The story seems to confirm what some on this blog have suggested, which is that the White House was allowing another firestorm to build only to cut the legs out from under opponents as with the Dan Rather controversy, thus making the MoveOn crowd look like MooreOn's.

It also confirms what Rush Limbaugh has said (yes, the much hated Mr. Limbaugh), which is that Valerie Plame's covert career ended when she married the high profile Mr. Wilson.

UPDATE: Clifford May has a very interesting column up at National Review suggesting that Wilson may himself have been responsible for bringing up Ms. Plame's former undercover status during his interview with David Corn.

ROVE REVERSAL

In light of this story, I retract my earlier call for Karl Rove to be jettisoned. If Novak told it to him rather than the other way around, it is no big deal that he was peddling it to beat reporters afterwards.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Terrorism, Treason, and Harry Potter

Over the past few days, some astonishing claims have been made. Claims like:

The Founding Fathers were terrorists.

Karl Rove is guilty of treason.

And now, there is an even more troubling claim, one that strikes even deeper at the heart of America than national security and foreign policy:

Papa Ratzi doesn't like Harry Potter.

The Hutchins household has been beset with Potterphilia since the first one hit paperback; I've followed the arguments that have raged at least since that time with a mixture of confusion and bemusement. Most of the troubles with Harry seemed to me to miss the point completely. They assume that because a world is depicted using a vocabulary which shares some words with the vocabulary of occultism, that Harry Potter depicts the occult. In fact, the reason occultism and diabolism are perceived as dangers by Christians is that it involves invoking the Devil. Harry Potter does not contain a Devil, nor angels, nor much of a concept of God. Witchcraft in Harry Potter is not a denial of God, it's an alternative technology. If Harry Potter says anything deeper than a wading pool about the real world, it's because it's a allegory of the moral choices we must make about technology. (I'm not claiming there is any deep meaning to Potter; it's imaginitively rich but substantively shallow. It's still a cracking good read.)

But it occurs to me now that this error pervades discussions about everything.

George Washington was rebelling against the British crown. The rump Ba'athists are rebelling against the Iraqi government. If the Ba'athists are terrorists, then George Washington was a terrorist.

Karl Rove revealed the identity of a CIA employee to a reporter. Aldrich Ames revealed the identity of CIA employees to the Russians. If Aldrich Ames was a traitor, then Karl Rove is a traitor.

The unwillingness to make distinctions, to care deeply enough about what one says to identify the essentials in the flood of accidents, is a kind of intellectual and moral infantilism. If man does not exercise his capacity for moral reasoning on the small things, at leisure, then he will lack the capacity to think clearly when it truly is important, and time is short.

Dick Morris on Karl Rove

Read it here. (Hat tip to Southern Appeal)

An excerpt:

Rove did not call Time magazine’s Matt Cooper. Cooper called him. He did not mention Valerie Plame’s name. He may not have even known it. He had no intent to reveal her identity. The context of the conversation was that Rove was trying to disabuse Cooper of the impression that CIA Director George Tenet had been the moving force in choosing former Ambassador Joe Wilson to investigate the nuclear dealings reported to be going on in Niger.

Rove said that it was not Tenet who pushed the appointment but that it likely stemmed from the fact that Wilson’s wife “apparently works” at the CIA.

To call that conversation a deliberate revelation of an agent’s identity designed to blow her cover is a far, far stretch of the statute’s wording and intent.

Employee Stock Options & the FASB Fiasco

More than a year has passed since I last criticized The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) for what later became a mandate to U.S. companies to "expense" employee stock options. Law and economics scholar Jim DeLong – a powerful early critic of this ill-fated “expensing” crusade -- has written a terrific “We told you so” update on some unintended consequences it has already produced.

For background, here are a few excerpts from my April 2004 piece:

“Public companies would be required to first estimate the "fair value" of such options at the time they are granted, and then subtract that estimate from revenues as if it were a known and current expense (rather than an unknown and future expense). . . . This proposed blurring of the critical distinction between actual costs today and possible costs tomorrow matters most to cash-starved younger firms whose earnings are typically reinvested in expanding the firm. There are two reasons: First, deferred expenses are particularly preferable to immediate expenses whenever revenue is expected to be higher in the future. Second, expenses that are contingent on both a higher stock price and employee retention are always preferable to larger fixed salaries from a stockholder's point of view. The fashionable trend of switching from options to restricted stock, by contrast, transfers risk from executives to stockholders -- dilution is immediate and restricted stock retains value even if the stock falls. . . . If the unique benefits of stock options in linking risk and reward are artificially discouraged by mandating an artificial redefinition of costs, that will reduce the information and comparability of reported earnings by increasing the portion of earnings that depends on inherently crude estimates constructed with assorted subjective techniques . . . . The FASB proposal to require companies to treat the estimated fair value of stock options as an actual and current expense rests on a dubious conjecture about what the cost of stock options to stockholders really is and when it occurs. In reality, the estimated value of options to employees at the moment they are granted is not at all the same as the cost to shareholders if and when those options are later exercised. The FASB scheme looks like a risky way to repair some problem that has yet to be seriously defined.”

Christianity Today Eye on Baylor. . . Again.

CT cuts in with a quick blip on the Baylor story as the Regents gather. Check it out here. If you want a lot of overview material just search our website for Baylor.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Is this Like Kryptonite to Lefties?

Wall Street Journal on Rove

The WSJ thinks Rove is going to easily survive and explains why.

Here's a bit:

In short, Joe Wilson hadn't told the truth about what he'd discovered in Africa, how he'd discovered it, what he'd told the CIA about it, or even why he was sent on the mission. The media and the Kerry campaign promptly abandoned him, though the former never did give as much prominence to his debunking as they did to his original accusations. But if anyone can remember another public figure so entirely and thoroughly discredited, let us know.

If there's any scandal at all here, it is that this entire episode has been allowed to waste so much government time and media attention, not to mention inspire a "special counsel" probe. The Bush Administration is also guilty on this count, since it went along with the appointment of prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in an election year in order to punt the issue down the road. But now Mr. Fitzgerald has become an unguided missile, holding reporters in contempt for not disclosing their sources even as it becomes clearer all the time that no underlying crime was at issue.


As for the press corps, rather than calling for Mr. Rove to be fired, they ought to be grateful to him for telling the truth.

An Extraordinary Piece of Music

The Inconsolable Secret, the new two-CD release by the progressive rock group Glass Hammer is now out, and I can summarize my reaction with a simple exclamation:

Wow!

The album went on sale yesterday (sound samples are available here), but I have had a copy for about ten days. (Full disclosure: I helped edit The Lay of Lirazel, the lengthy narrative poem written by composer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist Steve Babb, on which the concept of The Inconsolable Secret is based, and which is included as a .pdf file on disc 1 of the set.)

The music is composed by Fred Schendel and Steve Babb, and the lyrics are by Babb. Schendel plays numerous keyboards and guitars, and Babb sings and plays keyboards and bass guitar. Matt Mendians is the band's superb drummer, and Walter Moore sings primary lead vocals, with Susy Bogdanowicz providing additional voice parts. Several guest players provide additional instrumental and vocal accompaniment.

I have listened to disc one about a half-dozen times now, and am finally beginning to assimilate it. It includes only two songs, one of which is about 15 1/2 minutes long and the other almost 25 minutes in length. Both songs are highly complex, with musical themes arising and recurring in varying instrumentation and unexpected combinations. The disc includes the basic progressive rock setup employing drums, bass guitar, a wide variety of keyboards, guitars, a variety of male and female vocals, etc. The meters change unpredictably, and the vocal melodies are anything but simple. Gaining a full understanding of the two songs has proven highly challenging to me. However, I am coming to the conclusion that the two songs are truly brilliant—classics of the form. I believe that I will require another half-dozen listens of that disc before I can review the album for a broader public. But I will do so soon.

I've just listened to disc two for the first time, and all I can say about it is that it is stunningly beautiful. This disc has grabbed me immediately. Combining very complex progressive rock instrumentation with beautifully written and arranged orchestral sections, the eleven songs of disc two hang together perfectly as a long musical suite following the narrative of The Lay of Lirazel. The musical styles on this disc range from intelligent art rock to classical and early romantic music, with several passages reminiscent of early twentieth century composers such as Ravel and Debussey. It has the beauty of great classical music.

Disc two appears to me to be a new step in the realm of popular music. It is that important. All told, The Inconsolable Secret strikes me as being something very, very special indeed, a true work of art. I greatly look forward to being able to assimilate it sufficiently to write about it in detail.

To Steve Babb, Fred Schendel, and the rest of Glass Hammer: Bravo!

The Summer Heat and the Press

Please correct me if I'm wrong---it hardly would be the first time---but the NY Times and the rest of the mainstream press, having proclaimed the Valerie Plame affair at the outset to be a crime, then not a crime when the special prosecutor began to demand their notes and the identities of their sources, now argue again that it was a crime, as Dr. Evil, aka Karl Rove, has proven to be involved. Even more amusing is the spectacle of the press---the ineffable LA Times is particularly egregious on this point---complaining about the impropriety of leaks. And the central reality is that Rove's "leak"---it was nothing of the kind, in that Time's Cooper sought him out rather than the reverse---actually was truthful, an adjective that never again will be associated with the name Joe Wilson. Actually, the "leak" was both truthful and not criminal in terms of the plain language of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act; and neither Dick Cheney (Halliburton Professor of Evil) nor the Director of Central Intelligence (I don't want to reveal his name) were involved. Instead, it appears clear that Rove revealed the nepotism involved in terms of Plame's suggestion of Wilson for the Niger trip, which Wilson then used as a platform for a disinformation campaign.

So: Has the summer heat affected the Beltway press? It is not even August yet! Or has the illusory press bias about which the vast right-wing conspiracy complains so much revealed itself yet again? Naaaahhhh.

Homnick Warns the West of Israelization

You can thrive despite being terrorized. It's a cheery depressing message from Jay Homnick at American Spectator.

U2, Oasis, and Evangelism

Interesting bit here about U2's Bono trying to convert Oasis' Liam Gallagher to Christianity.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

In Defense of Mr. Rove . . .

I'm including two links:

First, the Byron York piece, which is based on interview material with Rove's lawyer.

Second, Rich Galen's short essay (link should work for about a week, then check Galen's archive for 7-15-05) for his inside baseball politics list. Galen's essay captures my own feelings of how things will likely go. I think the White House hangs tough and the tempest is over by August.

Leaky Karl

My Republican credentials are displayed shinily on my sleeve. I like George W. Bush, Rush Limbaugh and that pre-diet-Limbaugh-lookalike, Karl Rove.

But it seems clear right now that Rove was the source who tipped the Press to the identity of CIA Agent Valerie Plame as part of a political effort to discredit her husband, Mr. Ambassador Wilson.

Wagons are being circled by loyal Republican "Guards". They'll do just fine, I suspect, without my company.

Count me out, I say. I'm not in favor of this type of dishonest clandestine back-stabbing manipulation of political stories, and I'll throw Karl Rove under the bus just as fast as I would Sidney Blumenthal.

It's dirty; we don't need to do that to win, and even if we did need it, that would not be sufficient justification. Throw the bum out.

Mid-release Film Review: The War of the Worlds

Grandma was in town and could watch kids, wife was on call, Grandpa and I slipped out to the local cineplex for the latest Spielberg offering. Among his blockbusters, I think The War of the Worlds is the least interesting. Bad word of mouth is going to make this film tail off rather quickly. It will still make a lot of money, but not mega-money and not massive DVD sales.

Tom Cruise has talent. He and Dakota Fanning make a convincing pair as they flee the devastation consuming both city and countryside around them. His scene with Tim Robbins is good and gives one a sense of small scale human drama in the midst of annihilation. One can't complain about the acting.

What one can complain about is the plot. It is absolutely full of holes. I don't want to put spoilers in the review, so I'll simply report that the willing suspension of disbelief is severely strained by a lot of "Yeah, but what about x?" from the viewer. Spielberg generates terror, but not compelling terror because there are too many pieces that don't fit.

I have to agree with S.T. Karnick that the film was unnecessary, and since we already know the ending, lacks even the punch that the Twilight Zone style twist would provide. I'd say skip it, but if you're a movie fan, there isn't much else out there right now.

Monday, July 11, 2005

More On What Is A Terrorist

This is really quite unbelievable. I refer to the comments on my previous post, offered by my friends Tlaloc, James Elliott, TVD, and LA. As I understand the general trust of their view, aggregated crudely, it is that the distinction between "terrorists" and "insurgents" is driven not by their tactics but instead by their objectives and by someone's dictionary.

I'm sorry, but this is sophistry, pure and simple. Attacks intended to murder civilians by the score (or more) constitute terrorism, regardless of whether the murderers are locals or immigrants, regardless of their goals (even if they can be discerned), regardless of the particular groups to which they do or do not belong, ad infinitum. Or do my friends want to argue that, say, the IRA attacks in London in the 1980s did not constitute terrorism? By the way, I did not put words into Tlaloc's mouth; I merely quoted him.

What Is a Terrorist?

My esteemed friend Tlaloc argues in a comment that "'terrorist' is a fine term for Al Qaeda. 'Insurgent' on the other hand is perfectly accurate for the forces in Iraq." Well, that just about sums it all up, doesn't it? If the Islamic fascists are bombing westerners, they are terrorists. If they are bombing Iraqi civilians in a direct effort to make U.S. policy appear doomed, well, then they are insurgents. Does Tlaloc actually read what he writes?

Kristol Right Again?

Now he's saying that Gonzales is the choice of the Bush administration to be the next chief justice.

He was dead-on about O'Connor, I'm hoping he isn't going to go 2 for 2.

Who Was That Masked Man?

In the comics and Zorro movies, the moment of the unmasking of the hero is always played with high drama. For some of us foreign policy dweebs and military big-thinker wannabees of the blogosphere, this is a similar moment. We've been asking for some time now, as we read with envy the latest piece of brilliance from The Belmont Club: Who is this Wretchard? And how can he be so damn smart? Who does he know? How come I don't know people like that?

Now we know who he is at least. (Hap tip: Chicago Boyz.)

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Journalists Gearing Up for Riots . . .

After stories of New York Times desecration by a jailed reporter. Read on at Scrappleface!

Fertile Fields

Since there was some resistance to my earlier assertion that demographers pretty much agreed that the world's population would begin to fall in the 21st century, I thought maybe I'd better go take a second look. It has been many years since I've done any fertility and childbearing research; the past ten years I was stuck at the other end of the lifespan, studying old people.

Nothing's changed; if anything, the models predict faster declines and lower levels of eventual fertility than I recall from 20 years ago. UNEP's World Population Prospects interactive website is a data geek's dream. I blame Reform Club commenters for the state of my lawn; I really should have been mowing grass yesterday, not constructing life tables.

Much was made of the fact that the UN projects population out to 2050 and at that point population is still rising. That's simply an artifact of the cut-off point that was chosen for the display. There's no mystery to how the predictions are constructed, and it's easy to extend the curves out as long as you'd like. But you don't even need to do that to conclude that the UN asserts just what I asserted: fertility rates will converge towards a rate that is less than replacement. It's right there on the methods page: based on the best models of fertility UNEP has, world-wide, fertility is converging on 1.85 children per woman, but not all countries will get there before 2050. They predict world-wide TFR below replacement (2.1 children per woman) starting in 2039. Annual growth rate peaked in 1965; excess of births over deaths peaked in 1985. Because of the lag between fertility changes and population changes, you don't see this translate into a decline in absolute population levels until later; from the UN data I calculate the growth rate goes below zero, and hence population peaks and begins to decline, in 2070.

The fertility transition is one of the most widely observed, predictable, well-established phenomena in social science. It is not a fantasy of right-wing nut job cornucopian economists; in fact it is such a bedrock of boring mainstream population science that a contrarian like me should be a little embarrassed spending so much time talking about it.