Saturday, April 30, 2005

VIETNAM HISTORY LESSON

30 years ago we fled like rats from a burning ship. But was it a failure?
The "civil war between Vietnamese" is a misrepresentation of the Geneva Agreement of 1954 that, among other things, negotiated the removal of the French colonial power and separated North and South Vietnam at the 17th parallel, pending a popular election to be held in 1956 to determine a single government for them both. The majority of the population remained in the communist North, even after several million fled to South Vietnam. Sen. John Kennedy regarded the election as "obviously stacked and subverted in advance."

When, not surprisingly, it did not take place, the war began in the late 1950s with the return of communist cadres to what had now become South Vietnam as a "National Liberation Front" to create an insurgency against the Diem government. Better known as the Viet Cong, the NLF was not an independent political movement of South Vietnamese. According to an editor of the official North Vietnamese People's Daily, "It was set up by our Communist Party." So this was no civil war. North Vietnam began and supported a campaign of Viet Cong subversion of its sovereign southern neighbor.

Driving in downtown Orlando this morning I was surprised to see over 100 Vietnamese Americans protesting the slave-state of Vietnam. While John Kerry was sure that we were committing attrocities, these people are still protesting the attrocities that resulted from our departure.

Friday, April 29, 2005

HERO SENATOR

Dr. Tom Coburn, a U.S. senator from Oklahoma for less than four months, last week was up to old tricks he started playing in the House a decade ago. He was making colleagues' lives miserable by exposing wasteful, unnecessary spending that is supposed to stay hidden. The Senate establishment, like its House counterpart, has retaliated by bringing ethics charges against the obstetrician-senator for going home to Muskogee, Okla., to deliver babies.

His early departure from the Senate would occasion rejoicing there, as he showed April 20. Not observing a freshman senator's customary silent period, he proposed reducing the $592 million for a new U.S. embassy in Baghdad provided by the emergency supplemental appropriations bill. Coburn argued that since only $106 million could be spent over the next two years, "we are going to have $486 million hanging out there that will be rescinded and spent on something else." Instead of settling for the usual voice vote, Coburn insisted on a roll call (which he lost by only 54 to 45).

During six years in the House, Coburn's campaign against pork-barrel spending made him anathema to Republican leaders. He planned a lower profile in the Senate, but the ethics complaint made that impossible. He also had an agenda ensuring him more attention than ordinary freshmen: bringing free market principles to health care, oversight of federal programs (as chairman of the Federal Financial Management Subcommittee) and assaulting congressional pork. For the first time since Phil Gramm left the Senate, Sen. John McCain had an anti-pork partner.

That we have so few Coburns is why I identify less as a Republican and more as a Libertarian.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

NOT ALIVE, NOT DANCIN' - THAT'S WHY WE'RE HERE

SYDNEY (AFP) - Some of the thousands of Australians who flocked to Turkey's Anzac Cove to commemorate their war dead were reportedly outraged when Australian organisers of the ceremony played the Bee Gees' hit song "Stayin' Alive."

The disco hit, along with "You Should Be Dancin", was played on a large screen to entertain some 20,000 people -- mainly Australians and New Zealanders -- during a break in the official programme, The Australian newspaper reported.

"It's not a festival," one member of the crowd, Amy Hutton, was quoted as saying. "You are here to pay respect."

"I think they must have rocks in their heads."

Sunday, April 24, 2005

THE NEW INVENTORS

An interesting article by Virginia Postrel about how consumers are the new inventors.

"A growing body of empirical work shows that users are the first to develop many, and perhaps most, new industrial and consumer products," Eric von Hippel, head of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Group at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote in "Democratizing Innovation," recently published by MIT Press. (The book can be downloaded at Professor von Hippel's Web site, http://web.mit.edu/evhippel/www/ .)

Innovation by users is not new, but it is growing. Thanks to low-cost computer-based design products, innovators do not have to work in a professional organization to have access to high-quality tools. Even home sewing machines have all sorts of computerized abilities. And once a new design is in digital form, the Internet allows users to share their ideas easily.

In order for companies to generate new ideas, Professor von Hippel urges them to pay more attention to "lead users" like these biking enthusiasts: people who stretch the limits of a technology and create their own innovative prototypes.

In a study at 3M, he and several colleagues found that product ideas from lead users generated eight times the sales of ideas generated internally - $146 million versus $18 million a year - in part because lead users were more likely to come up with ideas for entire new product lines rather than minor improvements.

The definition of "lead users" can become a bit circular, identifying anyone who innovates as a "lead user." But in some fields, it is not hard to spot the people whose need to lower costs or enhance performance is particularly great.

"The Disney animators or Pixar animators are ahead on video editing tools from the ordinary consumer," Professor von Hippel said. "Yet we know the stuff that these guys develop now ends up migrating downstream to the general people over time."

Although governments and businesses move toward central planning, consumers still find a way to get what they want.

Friday, April 22, 2005

WASH POST EDITOR: U.S. SHOULD NOT LEAD WORLD

Tom’s post below reminded me of an article that got buried unread in my stack. China’s PEOPLE’S DAILY’s Washington correspondent interview Washington Post’s Managing Editor Philip Bennett. The following excerpts are from the interview that ran in China on 3/10.

Yong Tang: Do you think America should be the leader of the world?

Bennett: No, I don't think US should be the leader of the world. My job is helping my readers trying to understand what is happening now. What is happening now is very difficult to understand. The world is very complex. There are various complex forces occurring in it. I don't think you can imagine a world where one country or one group of people could lead everybody else. I can't imagine that could happen. I also think it is unhealthy to have one country as the leader of the world.
That is also a sort of colonial question. The world has gone through colonialism and imperialism. We have seen the danger and shortcomings of those systems. If we are heading into another period of imperialism where the US thinks itself as the leader of the area and its interest should prevail over all other interests of its neighbors and others, then I think the world will be in an unhappy period.

Yong Tang: So the world order should be democratic?

Bennett: Democracy means many things. How do you define democracy? As a Chinese journalist, you may have your own definition of democracy which corresponds to your history and your way of seeing the world. I may have another definition. Someone else may have their own definitions. Democracy means a lot of different things. As UK late Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, democracy is the least bad system that we have ever thought of. So democracy is never perfect. It always has problems. Our democracy here in the US has many contradictions, problems and challenges. So democracy is not a cure that could turn everything bad into good. It has its own advantages and its disadvantages.

Yong Tang: How do you think of the roles American mainstream media play in American foreign policy?

Bennett: We don't have any political point of view that we are trying to advance. We don't represent any political parties. We are not tied to any political movement. On the news side of the paper we try not to give opinions. So I think the role the Washington Post should play is to hold the government accountable for decisions made by it.


So you see it is all very complex, very complicated. It’s nuanced. And I am glad I have the Washington Post to sort it out for me in a straightforward, pro-America, unbiased manner.
FISH TALE

Heading east along Pensacola Beach, Redman spotted a large shadow in the water
about 100 yards offshore. Thinking it was a large ray that could be hiding a pod
of cobia, he aimed the boat at the mystery spot and closed in.

"Initially, we saw a splash that we thought was a manta ray," Pinney said. "It was about 30 yards off shore."

As the boat got closer, debate arose as to what the spot in the water was. A ray? A whale? It was neither.

What they found was a 14-foot mako shark making a meal of a tarpon estimated to be more than 200 pounds.

"What was left we estimated to be 180-200 pounds," Pinney said. "It was cut off right behind the dorsal fin. I'd say it was missing 30 inches minimum. The total weight had to be 220-250 pounds. Both (the shark and the tarpon) were potential state records."
Seven and a half minutes of constant profanity as a boatful of yahoos try to reel in a giant mako off Pensacola Beach. View the video here.
POLITICS AND THE UNITED NATIONS

The Opinion Journal weighs in on the John Bolton nomination.
Bolton's view--with which this column agrees--seems to be that the U.N. is useful and worthy of respect only insofar as it responds to American leadership and serves American interests. The Democrats' view, by contrast, seems to be that the U.S. has an obligation to follow the U.N., whether it acts in America's interests or not. That's why, for example, John Kerry*, who voted in 2002 to authorize U.S. military force in Iraq, changed his mind the next year when the U.N. Security Council balked at passing a resolution expressly permitting such action.

Only that's not quite right. The classic example of the U.S. leading the U.N. was the first Gulf War. In November 1990 the Security Council passed Resolution 678, which authorized member states "to use all necessary means," including military force, to liberate Kuwait, then under occupation by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The resolution also "request[ed] all States to provide appropriate support" to that end.

In January 1991 Congress obliged. The House voted 250-183, with 179 Democrats voting "no," to authorize U.S. military force. The Senate vote was 52-47, with 45 Democrats voting "no." Only 86 House Democrats and 10 Senate Democrats voted in favor.

Among the negative votes were all five current Democratic members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who were then in Congress: Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, John Kerry, Paul Sarbanes and then-Rep. Barbara Boxer. All told, 25 of the 28 current Senate Democrats who were in Congress in 1991 voted against the Gulf War. (The three who voted for it, in case you're wondering, were Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Tom Carper of Delaware and Harry Reid of Nevada.)

So the U.N. gave the thumbs-up for military force and asked for help, and most Democrats balked. Only a handful of lawmakers, including Sen. Jim Jeffords, ex-Sen. Bob Graham, Reps. John Dingell and Jim Leach and a few other House members (along with Al Gore), took what might be considered the consistent pro-U.N. position, supporting the liberation of Kuwait but not Iraq. Most Dems who now pose as champions of the U.N. showed their disdain for the world body by voting to refuse its request for help in 1991.

It seems fair to conclude, then, that most liberal Democrats, like Bolton, are pro-U.N. only when it suits their purposes--and that their purposes are the opposite of Bolton's. That is, for the Democratic left, the U.N. is useful and worthy of respect only insofar as it acts as an obstacle to American leadership and an opponent of American interests.
QUOTE OF THE DAY

In some professions, a large part of the time of first-rate people is spent countering the half-baked ideas of second-rate people and trying to salvage something from the wreckage of the disasters they create.

-Thomas Sowell

Monday, April 18, 2005

RECENTLY VIEWED

SWINGERS
I saw this when it was originally in theaters and proclaimed it one of my top 100 favorite films. I recently watched it again on IFC and it holds up well. Although the retro-swing era came to a swift conclusion, this film sneaks in a few songs by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy to capture that mid-to-late '90s era. Jon Favreau's character is a bit Woody Allen, but manages to be an interesting pathetic, rather than simply a pathetic loser. That he triumphs in the end in clearing his mind of the past girlfriend and embracing the new relationship with Heather Graham well rewards the patience we have shown in rooting for him while he behaved like a loser. This is a good portrait of an age group that has the bulk of their lives ahead of them, but are too old to be involved in a true "coming-of-age" story.

IN THE BEDROOM
This film was much acclaimed. I give it kudos for being mature - I am always appreciate of films made for grown-ups, but it didn't do a lot for me personally. There is a surface story that is somewhat interesting, and the characters are finely drawn. I especially liked Tom Wilkinson as the dad. He was not overly mousey, but just passive enough to be much more like a real person than most screen dads. I liked how the villain was humanized in the third act, that also was very real. There may have been a tremendous amount of subtext that was lost on me, but generally, I considered the film a well-acted melodrama that took awhile to get going.

ALPHAVILLE
I've wanted to see this French New Wave classic for some time. My first attempt, on the plane home from Monaco, put me to sleep. It would take several attempts before I made it to the end. The film is truly bizarre. I think it's safe to presume there was nothing ever quite like it at the time of its release in 1965. There are stunning visuals sprinkled throughout, and some very interesting situations, such as the public execution cum syncronized swimming exhibition. The story works as a film noir. The femme fatale is stunning with an otherworldly aloofness about her. I love the scene where the goons plan to apprehend the hero by accosting him when he doubles over from laughter after being told a joke. They then stand by, emotionless, as the girl delivers the gag. If you are curious about how Terry Gilliam developed his m.o. and how the French redefined cinema while Hollywood was churning out Doris Day-Rock Hudson vehicles, then this film is a must.

NAPOLEAN DYNAMITE
Every year there are movies that receive acclaim for no discernable reason. This would be 2004's entry. It's the rare movie that puts me to sleep. Alphaville doesn't really count, since I had been up all night before turning it on. This film, however, just never went anywhere interesting. I was asleep within twenty minutes with a sleeping wife on my lap. The next day, I finished watching it, and realized that sleep was the more productive use of time. The music is good and quirky, and the color scheme is vibrant and quirky, but the plot is simply quirky without being interesting or amusing in the least. It's got nothing to say, with no insights on coming of age, or anything. Another instance of a first-time writer-director being lauded unnecessarily.

THE BOURNE SUPREMACY
I really liked The Bourne Identity. It was intelligent entertainment for adults. Director, Doug Liman gave us the sublime Swingers, and also Go, which was quality fare. Liman directed the first Bourne installment, and it worked like a charm. He retreats to behind a desk for this installment, handing the reigns to a director who absolutely destroys the action sequences, opting for close-ups and furious editing, which is a poor substitute for good blocking. Matt Damon is very good in this role - he manages to make Jason Bourne interesting and complex and not at all like a Robocop, impervious to defeat. Joan Allen is interesting as always, even if she is cast as the generic hard-driven agent. There is of course the devious beaurocrat, not below killing a coworker to cover-up his treacherous ways. The Brian Cox character is interesting, even if a touch underdeveloped, because he was in over his head, rather than most movies (like Minority Report) where everything has been thought out to the tiniest detail by the powermongering bossman. I like that this series is aimed for grown-ups, which is increasingly rare for action flicks, but in the end this is a letdown from the fist installment.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Monday, April 11, 2005

HILLARY TRANSFORMED

I was flipping channels Saturday night and caught a minute or two of Hillary Clinton (she's like a horrible car wreck, you have to slow down and look, just to confirm how awful) making a speech on C-SPAN at a Democrat-Farmer-Labor party fundraiser -- Minnesota's version of (D).

It certainly played like a campaign speech. Main themes:

- She bemoaned the "radical right's consolidation of power" (a clever rephrasing of ABB)

- She advocated a "return to traditional values" ("traditional" meaning "consistent with what is taught in college sociology classes")

- She promised a return to a "fair and prosperous America" (which, if achieved, usurps any call to values) (see also, "It's the economy, stupid")

- She promoted "personal responsibility - especially where it counts the most, with our own children." I never did get what she was trying to say there, except that it was something she knows she has to say to get elected. She went on to discuss how she still believes "it takes a village to raise a child," (a statement she knows she cannot escape) and explained what she really meant by that in a way that wasn't what she really meant by that.

- "Poverty is creeping back up." "Children deserve access to medical care." "Jobs are no longer as plentiful or as rewarding." Somewhere in there she talked about moms taking their kids to soccer games and Little League - this from the woman who made the famously disdainful remark about women "staying home and baking cookies," another statement she knows she cannot escape and so must redefine.

- "While the Republicans play their power games, they're leaving America behind - and it's going to take you and me to get it back!! Thank you and God bless you!!"

Well that certainly sounds like a campaign speech to me, using the classic political maneuver of appropriating her opponent's positions. But can she pull it off? It's hard to believe a Clinton can stand behind a microphone and talk about traditional values, personal responsibility, and effective parenting, but if anybody can look into your eyes and confidently say what they do not believe, it's a Clinton.

I know one guy is happy: Dick Morris. He is making a whole career out of respinning the Clinton's spin.

I can only hope that by the time Hillary has someone to run against, he will have figured out how to thoroughly dismantle her. No doubt Karl is working on that today.

Friday, April 08, 2005

THE AMITYVILLE HOKUM

Apparently when the author said THE AMITYVILLE HORROR was a true story, what he meant was that it really was a story. Bummer. The great appeal of that story was that it was supposed to have been based on real events. Funny how a good story takes on a life of its own.

Anson’s tactic was clear—when strapped for good material for a book, pad it with quasi-factoids." And Father Pecoraro, the priest who was driven from the house by demons? According to Moran, who interviewed Pecoraro, "he said he never saw anything in the house."

Joe Nickell, author of Entities: Angels, Spirits, Demons, and Other Alien Beings (and who personally visited Amityville, and interviewed later owners), also found numerous holes in the Amityville story. A few examples: 1) The Lutzes could not have found the demonic hoofprint in the snow when they said they did, because weather records showed there had been no snowfall to leave prints in. 2) Though the book details extensive damage to the home’s doors and hardware, the original locks, doorknobs, and hinges were actually untouched. 3) The book and film show police being called to the house, instead, Nickell writes, "during the 28-day ‘siege’ that drove them from the house, they never once called the police." Over and over, both big claims and small details were refuted by eyewitnesses, investigations, and forensic evidence. Still, the Lutzes stuck to their story, reaping tens of thousands of dollars from the book and film rights.

The truth behind The Amityville Horror was finally revealed when Butch DeFeo’s lawyer, William Weber, admitted that he, along with the Lutzes, "created this horror story over many bottles of wine." The house was never really haunted; the horrific experiences they had claimed were simply made up. Jay Anson further embellished the tale for his book, and by the time the film’s screenwriters had adapted it, any grains of truth that might have been there were long gone. While the Lutzes profited handsomely from their story, Weber had planned to use the haunting to gain a new trial for his client. George Lutz reportedly still claims that the events are mostly true, but has offered no evidence to back up his claim.

Their account was likely influenced by another fictionalized story—that of The Exorcist. In fact, it is not much of a stretch to suggest that The Exorcist strongly influenced the Amityville story; recall that The Exorcist came out in December 1973. Demonic possession and hauntings were very much in the public’s mind when the Lutzes spun their stories of demonic activity a year or two later. The revelation that the story was based on a hoax has led to embarrassment, especially by the handful of "paranormal experts" who "verified" the fictional tale. The Lutzes must have had a good laugh at the expense of the mystery-mongering ghost hunters and self-proclaimed psychics who reported their terrifying visions and verified the house’s (non-existent) demonic residents.

To this day, the fact that The Amityville Horror story was an admitted hoax is still not widely known; as they say, the truth never stands in the way of a good story. Though the story was made up by the Lutzes and further sensationalized by Anson, there were real victims of the Amityville Horror (the film, not the demons). In addition to the murdered DeFeo family, the subsequent occupants of the Amityville home have suffered a continual stream of harassment by curiosity seekers, horror fans, and gawkers who want to photograph and tour their infamous house. Then there are the people who, fooled by the films’ and book’s tagline, think that they are seeing a film based on true events.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Taking out the trash -- FAQ

Q: Don’t you think husbands should be responsible for taking the trash out?

A: The responsibility for trash removal should be determined by each individual couple according to their own circumstances. The blanket policy of the husband always taking out the trash has met disaster in households where the husband is paralyzed from the neck down.

Q: But shouldn’t most husbands be responsible, at least the ones with working limbs?

A: Not necessarily. A better policy would be choosing the spouse with the right aptitude for the job.

Q: Don’t you think this husband would be a prime example of a qualified candidate?

A: I’m not so certain. The wife has shown an incredible ability at trash removal during her single years, whereas the husband has a long record of neglect and funny smells coming from the kitchen.

Q: Why can’t this wife teach this husband the art of trash removal?

A: The husband feels that the wife’s superior ability at the task will create an inferiority complex when his job isn’t good enough for her.

Q: When are you going to take the trash out?

A: Later.