Friday, July 21, 2006


After two days of listening to R's and D's in the House on the symbolic resolutions in support of Israel, I am no more clear what our nation's official strategic policy is in the Middle East. I do not dispute that we have a strategic interest in supporting Israel, and I am okay with establishing our own military might in the region, but for me there has always been a major disconnect between what our objectives and reasons probably are, and what our leaders say they are. I think our enemies understand our motives better than our citizens do. I think an argument can be made that this is "our war," but I don't hear that argument being articulated in the political rhetoric.

In a signed editorial, "It's Our War," William Kristol calls for America to play her rightful role in this war by "countering this act of aggression by Iran with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait?"

"Why wait?" Well, one reason is that the United States has not been attacked. A second is a small thing called the Constitution. Where does George W. Bush get the authority to launch a war on Iran? When did Congress declare war or authorize a war on Iran?

Thursday, July 20, 2006


On balance, we suppose we're inclined to support the legislation. But the tone of the debate gives us second thoughts--in particular, this October 2004 quote from John Edwards:
"We will stop juvenile diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other debilitating diseases. . . . People like Chris Reeve will get out of their wheelchairs and walk again with stem cell research."

When people who claim to be speaking out for science talk like faith healers, they risk discrediting the entire enterprise. By contrast, President Bush's approach to the question, as we noted five years ago, is nuanced and thoughtful.

Further, Bush's foes and the press frequently misstate his position, referring to a "ban on stem-cell research." In fact, the Bush policy places no restrictions on any kind of stem-cell research that does not receive federal money, or on federal funding of adult stem-cell research. It does limit federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research to those cell lines that were in existence at the time the policy was initiated, in August 2001, but prior to then there was no federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, so that the policy actually liberalized the conditions for federal research grants. Supporters of research subsidies are asking for a further liberalization, not a reversal of a "ban."

Why do people think that the government will somehow do the research better than private industry? If stem cells have promise then a risk-taker stands to be a billionaire.

Let's remember that government gains its power and influence from problems while individuals gain their power and influence from solutions. That's why schools struggle to educate kids and grocery stores have 30 varities of mustard.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

After two weeks of testimony, a jury took only a few hours to convict a South Korean national, Tongsun Park, of acting as an unregistered agent of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The conspiracy of which he was a part ran for 10 years, ending in late 2002, and helped one of the world’s worst regimes maintain its grip on power.

But The New York Times did not assign a reporter to his trial, its total coverage amounting to a brief wire report on the day following Mr. Park’s conviction. Of the other major national dailies, The Washington Post ran a single news-brief item, the Los Angeles Times not a word.

Given the stakes—and what the Park trial clearly demonstrated about the seamier side of the U.N.—it hardly made sense.

The most innocent explanation is that the major newspapers had simply moved on to other things, frustrated by the apparent complexity and opacity of the oil-for-food scandal, of which the Korean fixer is only one colorful part.

But some critics contend there may have been another factor: a combination of sullenness and embarrassment on the part of what bloggers gleefully disdain as “the mainstream media.”

“The oil-for-food story began on the Op-Ed page of The Wall Street Journal. The U.N. denied it had done anything wrong for the longest time, and most of the press followed its lead,” said James Bone, New York correspondent of The Times of London. “Many of the major newspapers came to the story late and are embarrassed by it.”

The media spent the time leading up to the war saying it would be a bloodbath with thousands of Americans dying and months of fighting. When the Iraqi Army laid down like lambs, the media said that everyone knew the fighting would be easy, but re-building would be impossible because you cannot force democracy.

Since the Iraqis voted in greater numbers than Americans do the frame became Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction and Saddam would have eventually fallen through the sanctions. This story shows that the sanctions only made Saddam stronger, not too unlike the way prohibition made Al Capone stronger.

Many in the media were quick to judge Bush's failure to see 9-11 coming, but they were in no way critical of Clinton's nonaction in the 1990s. It's easy to be a critic of a proactive plan, because any pencil pusher would do it differently. It's a simple economic question. You get more of the behavior you reward and less of the behavior you punish. While Bush fights terrorism I will do my part and not pay for the New York Times.

Monday, July 17, 2006


A live microphone catches them unawares. . .

Bush: Yo Blair How are you doing?
Blair: I'm just...
Bush: You're leaving?
Blair: No, no, no not yet. On this trade thingy...[inaudible]
Bush: yeah I told that to the man
Blair: Are you planning to say that here or not?
Bush: If you want me to
Blair: Well, it's just that if the discussion arises...
Bush: I just want some movement.
Blair: Yeah
Bush: Yesterday we didn't see much movement
Blair: No, no, it may be that it's not, it maybe that it's impossible
Bush: I am prepared to say it
Blair: But it's just I think what we need to be an opposition
Bush: Who is introducing the trade
Blair: Angela
Bush: Tell her to call 'em
Blair: Yes
Bush: Tell her to put him on them on the spot.Thanks for [inaudbible] it's awfully thoughtful of you
Blair: It's a pleasure
Bush: I know you picked it out yourself
Blair: Oh, absoultely, in fact [inaudble]
Bush: What about Kofi [inaudible] his attitude to ceasefire and everything else ... happens
Blair: Yeah, no I think the [inaudible] is really difficult. We can't stop this unless you get this international business agreed.
Bush: Yeah
Blair: I don't know what you guys have talked about but as I say I am perfectly happy to try and see what the lie of the land is but you need that done quickly because otherwise it will spiral
Bush: I think Condi is going to go pretty soon
Blair: But that's that's that's all that matters. But if you, you see it will take some time to get that together
Bush: Yeah, yeah
Blair: But at least it gives people...
Bush: It's a process, I agree. I told her your offer to...
Blair:'s only if I mean... you know. If she's got a..., or if she needs the ground prepared as it were... Because obviously if she goes out, she's got to succeed, if it were, whereas I can go out and just talk
Bush: You see, the ... thing is what they need to do is to get Syria, to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over
Blair: [inaudible]
Bush: [inadubile]
Blair: Syria
Bush: Why?
Blair: Because I think this is all part of the same thing
Bush: Yeah.
Blair: What does he think? He thinks if Lebanon turns out fine, if we get a solution in Israel and Palestine, Iraq goes in the right way...
Bush: Yeah, yeah, he is sweet
Blair: He is honey. And that's what the whole thing is about. It's the same with Iraq
Bush: I felt like telling Kofi to call, to get on the phone to Bashad [Bashir Assad](9a and make something happen
Blair: Yeah
Bush: [inaudible]
Bush: We are not blaming the Lebanese government
Blair: Is this...? (at this point Blair taps the microphone in front of him and the sound is cut.)

The close relationship hasn't been harmed by the media's negativity toward Iraq.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A History of Violence (A Movie Review)

Viggo Mortensen has an impressive range. Having recently seen him as the no-good brother in Sean Penn’s INDIAN RUNNER, you would think he would be forever typecast as the loser. Here he plays the mild-mannered husband, father and small businessman and he plays it note perfect. When his restaurant is invaded by gunmen, his defeat of those thugs is a great heroic movie moment. As the rest of the movie unfolds, Viggo’s range is tested as he reveals more of his true self. He should have been nominated.

Unlike other movies based on graphic novels such as Sin City, and The Road to Perdition, a History of Violence doesn’t have that overly stylized art direction that takes you out of the realness of the story. Cronenberg makes up for this by inventing his own things to take you out of the story. For instance, Maria Bello and Viggo Mortensen by their actions do not seem to have been together long enough to have produced a high school aged son. There is some sort of excitement between them that exists in the world of newness. It seems like he is just recently in her life or he just returned from war.

When the violence heats up, we expect as an audience to see some gore, but sometimes the gore we see is stylized in the slasher movie mode instead of the cops and robbers mode. It draws too much attention to that style and leads you away from the act.

But the only truly groaning preposterous part of the film is the affectedness of William Hurt’s performance. Of course, Hurt made his career playing the driest of leading men and his attempt to give a character some spice is so offbeat and comic it just doesn’t match the action happening simultaneously.

The last thing, though minor, is that the son overcomes a bully we're to believe because he is the son of Viggo and inherited the same prowess. The only problem is that the actor that plays the son isn't quite right for the kind of transformation and it seems forced rather than natural.

For all I know maybe these are elements of graphic novels that fans have long ago forgiven or even expected, but this was actually a good idea and a more decent story than the average movie and I think that those certain elements detract from the overall result.

It’s a bubble film for me. Sometimes I watch these movies again and they grow on me enough that I forgive the imperfections. Other times, the imperfections scream louder subsequent times and I write them off. I’m wondering where this one will take me.

I've seen FORREST GUMP on TV a few times in the last couple of years, and though it was a movie that I critical of the time, especially Hanks voice choice for the character, I have since come to admire and enjoy it. Go figure.

I watched or listened to most of the ladies Wimbledon matches yesterday as we were working on the rental house. Most interesting was the match between the diminutive (by Tennis standards) Justine Henin-Hardene and the 26th year old French player Severine Bremond. Bremond had to play three qualifying matches just to get into the tourney and then beat three higher ranked opponents to get to the Belgian born Hardene. The tenacious Hardene recently won the French Open and had won every major except for Wimbledon and this looks like her year and yet this unknown gave her the toughest match yet, 6-4,6-4. We also learn in the match that Severine didn’t take up tennis seriously until she was 18 (Tracy Austin won the U.S. Open at 16). If she were 19 or 20, they’d be talking her up as a rising star. Since she is already 26, was this her only chance?

On the men’s side it was tough seeing Andre Agassi losing in his last appearance. He’s become such a gracious player and good all around guy in ways the brash Connors and McEnroe never quite could, though I always liked both of those guys with the edge to Connors and his sweaty bangs. In that era, I use to bang a tennis ball against the garage door for hours letting my bangs hang over my eyes pretending to be Jimmy. American Tennis domination is over with Sampras and Agassi gone and Roddick not quite good enough to beat Nadal and Federer. Those two in the final as a rematch of the French Open would make great sport.

I haven’t played the game in a few years, because it sometimes inflames my back injury. Watching these past few weeks has made me begin to miss it again.

After Tennis I turned it over to the World Cup where Germany and Italy were trying to break the scoreless tie in their first overtime period. Though I immediately began rooting for Germany and their superior beer, Italy made things happen and scored two quick goals in the second overtime. I’m at least grateful that it didn’t end with an anti-climactic penalty kick.

American football doesn’t break a tie very well either, I think. I don’t like the NFL’s Sudden Death, because it comes down to a coin flip. College Football’s recent tie-breaker is even worse, because it can cause so much scoring that the final score doesn’t even reflect the overall experience of the game. Why not just play an entire quarter to decide the outcome? If that doesn’t work let it end in a tie.

Monday, July 03, 2006


Two thirds of Americans do not know the words of The Star Spangled Banner. And we care nothing about futbol. But we will whup anyone in a fair fight, until proven otherwise.

This is just the kind of election year emotional issue that is supposed to distract us from issues like the Social Security insolvency and a war the press doesn’t support. It’s such a non-issue that I wonder how many people have actually even seen a person burn a flag in protest.

On the other hand, those against the amendment seem very worried that it’s a ban on speech. What bothers me is the same critics are usually quiet as mice when actual verbal speech is restricted. If we decide to stretch speech to mean any overt act of expression, then it seems that actual verbal speech (covered specifically in the constitution) has to be protected at the very least at equal levels. The campaign finance reform laws are a much more serious breach of the constitution than the protection of a few marginal characters that want to do something rebellious.

Those who love campaign finance reform because they think their side is under funded in the realm of campaign speech may also protect flag burners simple because they make up a part of their constituency. Instead of an amendment, maybe the Supreme Court needs to address the flag burning issue again and explain why flag burning is a more important political tool than the ability to promote the positives or negatives of a candidate for public office.