Public Nuisance

Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.

The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Saturday, August 30, 2003
The latest terrorism in Iraq, with over 100 now confirmed dead and another 300 injured, is a major setback for any chance of a positive resolution. A group of Saudis, Kuwaitis, Iraqis, and Palestinians have now been arrested; all are said to have ties to al Qaeda.

The quick arrests are fortunate, but for many the US will be considered responsible and hostility towards us will increase. Two crimes at major Islamic holy sites were committed in the 1970s and 80s. An Australian Christian who was apparently schizophrenic attacked worshippers at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and a group of Islamic fanatics temporarily seized control of the Kaaba in Mecca. Both incidents resulted in riots at US embassies in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Islamic world, although the total American involvement with the crimes was zero. In this case, there is blame to go around - much of it to the Shia authorities whose request to keep GIs away from holy sites was accepted by the occupation. But for all of Iraq, we are pretty much in a "you broke it, you own it" situation. Under international law, our status as occupying power gives us a responsibility to keep public order in the country.

It's becoming clear now that Iraq really is a battle in the War on Terrorism - and it's a battle that al Qaeda is winning. The Baath Party was something of a relic from the wave of secular nationalism that swept the Arab world in the Nasser era. As bad as it was, it at least kept the more modern Arab fashion of Wahabbist terrorism out of Iraq. Now Wahabbism and al Qaeda are in Iraq, and it will be extremely difficult to form a government strong enough to drive them out. More likely, we will wind up with a government like that of Yemen, which is unfiendly to al Qaeda, but not effective enough to prevent it from operating in their territory.

Remeber when our 'liberation' of Iraq was going to send a surge of democratic reform through Syria and Iran? I suspect that Syrians, looking at the chaos in Iraq, feel a lot more satisfied with their government than they did a few months ago.

Thursday, August 28, 2003
Rebuilding Iraq

From the new Iraqi blog, Baghdad Burning:

Listen to this little anecdote. One of my cousins works in a prominent engineering company in Baghdad- we’ll call the company H. This company is well-known for designing and building bridges all over Iraq. My cousin, a structural engineer, is a bridge freak. He spends hours talking about pillars and trusses and steel structures to anyone who’ll listen.

As May was drawing to a close, his manager told him that someone from the CPA wanted the company to estimate the building costs of replacing the New Diyala Bridge on the South East end of Baghdad. He got his team together, they went out and assessed the damage, decided it wasn’t too extensive, but it would be costly. They did the necessary tests and analyses (mumblings about soil composition and water depth, expansion joints and girders) and came up with a number they tentatively put forward- $300,000. This included new plans and designs, raw materials (quite cheap in Iraq), labor, contractors, travel expenses, etc.

Let’s pretend my cousin is a dolt. Let’s pretend he hasn’t been working with bridges for over 17 years. Let’s pretend he didn’t work on replacing at least 20 of the 133 bridges damaged during the first Gulf War. Let’s pretend he’s wrong and the cost of rebuilding this bridge is four times the number they estimated- let’s pretend it will actually cost $1,200,000. Let’s just use our imagination.

A week later, the New Diyala Bridge contract was given to an American company. This particular company estimated the cost of rebuilding the bridge would be around- brace yourselves- $50,000,000 !!

Why are our troops dying in Baghdad? In substantial part, because the US won't allow a dilution of American power in making decisions on the occupation and the orgainization of a new government. What would it cost us to allow the UN, which has more expertise in nation building, to exercise authority in those areas? In part, it would cost the power to see that all contracts for the rebuilding are awarded to American companies - not just any American companies, but those well connected to the Republican Party.

I don't like to believe that our troops are dying for Halliburton and Bechtel. And maybe it isn't true. But I do follow the evidence, and that is where the evidence leads.

The Amazing Race

Any doubts that the Internet is revolutionizing politics should be put to rest at this point. Remember, the Iowa caucuses are still months away. Not one vote has been counted. And yet the Democratic race has totally turned over from where it was a year ago. Back then, Dean was the longshot outsider, running at 2% or even worse in the polls. Lieberman and Kerry were the favorites.

The most recent poll shows Dean with a 20 point lead in New Hampshire. Today, with nine official candidates in the race, we can pretty much say that eight of them don't matter. This is now a two way race, and one of the candidates isn't even in it yet.

Dean has established this dominance almost entirely through the Internet. He has used it brilliantly as an organizing toll, publicity machine, and especially for fundraising. Dean's lead in the polls isn't in itself crushing to his opponents, not with a large undecided bloc and months before the primary. But when combined with his growing advantage in money, and their total lack of traction, it probably is.

With other candidates flat or sinking in the polls, only Clark can now beat Dean. True, he got a weak 2% in this poll. I admit I was hoping for a number in the 5 - 10 range, but without having declared his candidacy, run any ads, or made any speeches in New Hampshire, there is no grounds for panic. Dean himself has shown how to go from nowhere to a strong showing with a compelling candidate.

If you want proof that Clark matters, look no further than the Mighty Wurlitzer, which is revving up very loudly in the past few days with a clear purpose:smear General Clark. The sudden rush seems to be partly an attempt to start putting anti-Clark memes into the media, and partly a warning to Clark: this, and more, is what we'll do to you if you decide to run. Either way, it shows that the right has concluded the same thing that many Democrats have: Clark can win the nomination and he can beat Bush. That conclusion is worth noting: these guys may be ignorami when it comes to running the country, but they are very good at winning elections (and stealing the close ones that they lose). If they weren't they wouldn't have had the opportunity to show their incompetence at governing.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003
This "Mendacity Index" published by the Wahington Monthly doesn't mean much - the scores used to rate the lies are thoroughly arbitrary. But it's still worth noting that , not only are Clinton's scores the lowest, they should be even lower because one of his 'lies' is a pure myth:

During a weekly Oval Office radio address on June 8th, 1996, Clinton told his audience that "I have vivid and painful memories of black churches being burned in my own state when I was a child." The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported the following day that there was no evidence available of a black church ever being burned down in Arkansas.

True Enough. But, as Likely Story points out, the Democrat-Gazette retracted that story a few days later, admitting that not only had there been a suspicious burning of a black church when Clinton was in High School, but it had taken place in Hot Springs - the very town the he lived in.

Some other statemnts listed also are not lies in the strict sense - they're examples of verbal trickery or unusually intense spinning, but not strictly false. And in Reagan's case, he probably believed most of the whoppers he told - even after he was corrected. (And how did Reagan's claim that subs could launch, then recall nuclear missiles - and his subsequent claim that he had never said it - fail to make the list?) Clinton's however, is the only one in the set that is genuinely true - neither false nor deceptive.

The other thing that is striking is that Bush has needed only 2/3s of a single term to pile up a record of falsehoods that, at the very least, matches up well with those of Clinton and Reagan, both noted for their flexible ways with the truth, over two full terms. If this country is unfortunate enough to suffer 5 more years of Dubya, he is likely to be all alone in the record books - the Jerry Rice of presidential liars.

Across the Pond

The now-infamous BBC story that the Iraq intelligence dossier had been 'sexed up' was published in late May. The story was one of hundreds published in the UK investigating the honesty of the case that was laid out for war against Iraq, but particularly important because this one triggered a chain of events leading to the public exposure of the story's main source, Dr David Kelly on July 9 and Dr Kelly's suicide on July 17. Although Dr Kelly's death, notwithstanding the inevitable tin-foil hat speculations, was almost certainly a suicide and there is no evidence a crime was comitted, a full inquiry into his death was promptly undertaken. The UK Secretary of Defence has already testifed before this inquiry, and tomorrow (already today in the UK) PM Blair will be questioned. The case has generated a blizzard of coverage in the UK and internationally.

On July 14, Robert Novak published a column which revealed the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson, a CIA covert operative working on weapons proliferation issues. Novak was clear about where he had obtained his information: "Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report." The senior administration officials revealing that information committed a felony by exposing a CIA agent. Who specifically committed that crime is unknown - Joseph Wilson, the husband of Valerie Plame Wilson, has stated that he believes one was Karl Rove, but has given no reason why he suspects Rove in particular. The White House has repeatedly refused to deny that senior officials were involved.

It is unclear at this time whether any investigation at all is going on. There apparently is an internal inquiry within the CIA, which may choose to ask for a further inquiry by the FBI. Congressional Democrats have asked for hearings, but have no power to launch a meaningful inquiry without Republican support, which hasn't appeared. The US media has been invisible on the Plame story - a Google search brings up more hits for English media than the major American sources. This is part of a broader pattern - with the exception of the famous 16 words, there has been little questioning by American journalists of the administration's case for war.

The stark contrast between the Plame and Kelly stories is one example of a broader reality - the entire system of Presidential accountability in this country is barely breathing. In the three years of this administration, neither the House nor Senate has held a single tough inquiry into any aspect of the Executive, nor are they likely to do so while they continue under Republican control. More than any President of the modern era, George Bush has not only partisan majorities in both houses, but disciplined majorities who will not undertake or permit any exercise of their oversight responsibilities that might embarass him. The media is largely supine. The Independent Counsel law has lapsed, and any inquiry carried out under the aegis of John Ashcroft will not be allowed to go too far.

Any checks on misconduct in this White House have to come from within, and it's clear that those amount to little or nothing. We've already seen that Shinseki, who told the White House truth it didn't want to hear about the manpower requirements for occupying Iraq, was promptly shown the door, while officials who handed on helpful misinformation about yellowcake and aluminum tubes were rewarded. The White House demanded that congressional staff take polygraph tests when a document shown to Congress leaked, and threatened to use the Patriot Act to investigate the leak of embarassing information about cutbacks to the Sky Marshal program, but it only yawns at leaks from its own people, and the Congress and media yawn with it.

One of the many ways to distinguish a Bush "conservative" from a real conservative is that the former find this situation pleasant. Bush supporters welcome anything that helps their leader avoid the consequences of his actions. They repeat the stories, although most of them surely know better, that the tax cuts have little or nothing to do with soaring deficits, and that striking at Saddam Hussein means striking at al Qaeda. Bush conservatives believe that, with their allies now in power, checks on the executive are unnecessary and mere obstructions.

If the full story of this administration ever comes out, we will probably discover that it is among the most corrupt in the nation's history. If you find that statement offensive and think it just slander or partisan posturing, then, whatever else you may believe, you are not a conservative. Real conservatives know that power corrupts. Real conservatives understand that government must be held in check because without accountability corruption will arise, whether the government is led by George Bush or George Washington.

Monday, August 25, 2003
Clark Poll

The Draft Clark campaign released the results of a new poll today showing that most Democratic primary voters agree it is not too late for a new candidate to enter the race, and a significant number are already supporting Clark. In looking more closely at the raw numbers from the poll not mentioned in the press release, I discovered some even more striking results:
  • When given a bio describing Clark as a "Rhodes scholar" and "former NATO Supreme Commander", voters chose Clark over Bush by 9%. When the word "bootylicious" was added to the Clark bio, his margin rose to an even more imprssive 14%.
  • In a result that may explain the struggling campaign of Larry Flynt, voters chose Bush by a large margin over an unnamed opponent described as "a crippled smut peddler with no education and substance abuse issues".
  • When asked why they supported their candidate, 43% of Dean backers cited his opposition to the President's Iraq policy, while 26% cited his health care plan. Asked the same question, 100% of the Graham voter said, "I like his crackers."
  • 31% of Bush voters said they supported him because his tax cuts had helped ordinary families. Of these, 74% stated they were "very interested" in an opportunity to purchase an oceanfront timeshare in Nebraska.
  • Although 73% of voters listed "national security experince" as very important or somewhat important in a prospective President, only 26% rated "former Mr Universe" as important in a prospective Governor. Among Democrats, in a number which seems to be linked to the sinking poll results of Joseph Lieberman, 82% thought it important that the Democratic presidential candidate be "not a Republican".
  • When informed of the movement to draft a man in his own age group, 100% of current US Presidents panicked and hid under their desks, until reassured that this form of "draft" didn't involve actual military duties.
Nixon's the One

Off the Kuff tells the story of a politician who truly lives down to his famous name.
A Simple Plan

Calpundit wonders what Bush is trying to do in Iraq.

So what is he doing? His reluctance to involve the UN or the rest of the world is at least understandable given his worldview, but his reluctance to do anything just boggles the imagination. Even accepting the world on his terms, his actions make no sense.

At this point, I simply have no idea what he's up to. He's in the process of losing the war he was so eager to fight six months ago, a loss that could have a devastating impact on American security, and he doesn't show any signs of caring. He's seemingly more interested in protecting his tax cuts than he is in making sure that our victory in Iraq remains a victory.

First, it's often dangerous to assume there is a master plan with this bunch. They have a habit of getting into messes by just doing whatever expedience or ideology calls for and then finding ways of explaining why this was exactly where the brilliant all-contingencies-allowed-for long range framework called for them to be at this point. The budget deficits are less a cunning plan to destroy Social Security than simply the automatic result of cutting and recutting taxes without any attempt to impose politically unpopular spending discipline. The same thing can be seen in Iraq; having fallen into a sewer they come up with the 'flypaper' story to show that the sewer is the ideal place to be.

I suspect that the broader strategy in Iraq was what the Neocon master plan called for: use this attack and later ones in Syria and perhaps elsewhere to launch a domino effect of creating pro-Western, anti-terror, and perhaps even democratic regimes throughout the Middle East. Having run into total failure on the first plan, the backup looks something like this: Take one year to throw together something that looks like a democratic regime in Iraq or a reasonable facsimile thereof. This allows the troops to withdraw at exactly the time you want them to. The upcoming or just-completed withdrawal can be announced with fanfare at the Republican Convention, and Bush can get great campaign photo ops with returning troops. The new government will probably give us long term leases on a base or two, where we can keep watch over Syria, Iran, and the Gulf. Mission accomplished, a new regime in Iraq, the world made safe for democracy.

It won't hold, of course, but the beauty of this plan is that it doesn't have to. If we withdraw in one year, the new government only has to hang on for a few months until the first Tuesday of November, and that should be very doable.

Plan A: reform and redesign the entire Middle East. Plan B: set up a Potemkin republic that will hold long enough for one election. Think of it as the option we didn't try in Vietnam: declare victory and get out.

Saturday, August 23, 2003
Atrios and Mark Kleiman are clashing over whether Davis should be recalled. The interesting development here is a new poll that shows Davis may not be toast just yet. (50% for recall, 45% against, only 5% undecided.) I'm still predicting that Bustamante comes out on top when this is all over, but this swing against the recall is pretty striking.
Friday, August 22, 2003
Quite a few blogs were nice enough to link to my recent post on biblical marriage. Most of these were political blogs much like this one, some generally more personal with occasional political comments. This blog, though, is definitely a bit off the path of my normal internet surfing. But it looks like a pretty good site, and anybody who advertises three Nina Hartley videos on his home page is OK with me.
The Loony Right

I'm skeptical about the single gumman theory, the magic bullet, and all that. But it makes a lot more sense than this. (Link from Benniferus.)
A Nuisance Endorsement

The Clarksphere believes that Clark is going to run. Not an objective analysis - a Clark blog without a Clark candidacy is a pretty empty exercise. (This campaignless campaign blog had a classy farewell post.) But it makes a lot of sense, and I agree with the conclusion.

If Clark does run, I will be supporting him from my internet soapbox and most likely the local campaign headquarters. This isn't my normal practice; I usually look on Democratic primaries as an interested observer, not involved and not caring too strongly about who wins. A few times I haven't made up my mind until I was actually holding the ballot. In many cases I don't see a lot of difference between the candidates; often I've been torn between the candidate I'm really rooting for and the one most likely to win. The latter is less a factor than it used to be, as my own ideas have evolved from pretty far left to quite moderate left of center. I wouldn't support Kucinich, for example, even if I believed he could really win.

In this race, there aren't major differences between the principal candidates. Edwards is arguably underqualified, but smart enough that if he does somehow win, I think he can do well. Moseley-Braun is probably not up to the job, but she isn't going to be the nominee, nor will Sharpton. And even Moseley-Braun is as well qualified as Bush in 2000, and probably smarter.

On issues, they've all put together competing health care plans, but even if I studied the plans and issues closely enough to have a strong feeling about which was best, it wouldn't really be a deciding factor. The bill, if there is one, that finally gets through Congress isn't going to look a lot like the campaign plan anyway. They differed on whether to start Gulf War II, but that's now water under the bridge. What to do next in Iraq matters; whether we should have gone in at all is now a historical, not a political question.

So why go with Clark when he isn't even a declared candidate, and his views on many issues are unknown? I'll post a longer answer later, but the short and simple one is: it's about winning.

It Only Sounds Like the Onion

It seems I'm being sued, and I can't even afford a good lawyer right now. Fortunately, Gene Volokh, who warned me about the suit, will be one of my co-defendants. Maybe I can talk him into helping me pro bono.
Thursday, August 21, 2003
Josh Marshall has some doubts about the claim that the attack against the Baghdad UN facility constitutes evidence that resistance forces are getting desperate:

I'm probably getting certain particulars of this wrong, but there's a basic principle in scientific theory: an hypothesis, to be a real hypothesis, must be capable of disproof. In other words, for an hypothesis to be a valid basis for research, there must be some data which, if found to be true, would prove the hypothesis was false. Otherwise, there's no way to test it....

Now, we've already had the 'flypaper' theory: that guerilla attacks against American troops are a good thing because we're pulling 'the terrorists' out of the woodwork and attacking them on our own terms. And now we have what I guess we could call the 'paradoxically positive mass-casualty terrorism event' theory: that mass-casualty terrorism events show the success of our policy since they are a sign 'the terrorists' are becoming desperate.

For my part, I don't think either guerrilla attacks or mass-casualty terror attacks in themselves show the administration's policy is a failure. This is a difficult business. But they also don't strike me as positive developments.

Josh is on the right track here, but I think he misses, or at least doesn't put clearly, the key point. What theories like these render untestable is the claim that we're winning the war against terrorism, and the related claim that the occupation of Iraq is succeeding. If the attacks against US and UN targets were decreasing and becoming less destructive, certainly the administration and its supporters would cite this, justifiably, as evidence of success. You can count on it that you'll never see an analysis in Instapundit, the New York Post, or Weekly Standard that says, "Paradoxically, the fact that no Americans have been killed or wounded in Iraq in the past week shows that opposition forces are regrouping and may now be stronger than ever." But when the attacks and the violence increase, you do see claims that the enemy is growing increasingly desperate, and the rising casualties are really a sign of success.

So this gives the Bush supporters the chance to do what they like best: write the headline first, "Iraq Rebuilding Increasingly Successful - New Iraq is Major Victory Against Terrorism" and then fill in the story around the headline. The facts, whatever they are, will be guaranteed to match the headline.

There's something a bit strange about South Koreans. Sure, they're very big on your ordinary garden variety cluelessness. They seem to be nearly unanimously eager to have Americans out of their country so that there will be no obstacle to Kim Jong Il invading. They figure that's perfectly safe because, after all, he's Korean, so he couldn't possibly do anything that would harm other Koreans, could he? Sure, he keeps about a million people in slave labor camps, and he spends a fortune on building missiles while his people are so hungry they eat bark and the corpses of friends who recently died of starvation. But he's one of us, so he has to be a good guy at heart.

That, however, is just routine stupidity and ultimately boring. Sometimes, however, the stupidity is truly unroutine. A fine example, courtesy of Gwielo Diaries:

Some people even misunderstood an enterprise as an organization for social works rather than for seeking profit. Hyundai Motor Company, not long ago, had to suffer a bitter insult from members of a civic group, of which was unknown and irrelevant to Hyundai. The group members flocked in front of the company`s headquarters in Yangjae-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul, threatening “Provide us with expenses for visiting the U.S. and demonstrating against it, or we will take a shower of buckets of feces.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2003
I had my first view of Peter Ueberroth as a candidate on TV tonight, and my belief that he can pose a significant challenge to Schwarzenegger is weakening fast. "I'm not good on TV" he said, and I'd have to confirm that assessment. He wasn't covered at all heavily, being shown after Arnold and getting significantly less screen time on every news show I saw. And he didn't use his limited time very effectively, reading from a pedestrian text with weak delivery. "California is in a deep hole, but we can recover." (Quoting from memory not a transcript.) The second half, where he should have raised his voice and shown some real confidence in the future, he swallowed the line and sounded like he was apologizing for delivering standard political piffle.

So much for his style score. Kevin reviews Ueberroth on substance and is no more impressed than I am.

Several additions have been made to the already excessive Nuisance blogroll. Angry Bear, Likely Story, Limbaughtomy, and To The Barricades are relatively new blogs, while some other additions are long overdue.
Monday, August 18, 2003
Biblical Marriage

Atrios recently mentioned that the Presidential Prayer Team is currently urging us to:

Pray for the President as he seeks wisdom on how to legally codify the definition of marriage. Pray that it will be according to biblical principles. With many forces insisting on variant definitions of marriage, pray that God's Word and His standards will be honored by our government.

Here at the Nuisance, we believe prayer should be balanced by action. And, perhaps unlike certain others, we actually do read the Bible. So here, in support of the Prayer Team's admirable goals, is a proposed Constitutional Amendment codifying marriage entirely on biblical principles:

1 Marriage in the United States shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women.1 Marriage shall not impede a man's right to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives.2

2 A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed.3 Marriage of a believer and a non-believer shall be forbidden.4

3 Since marriage is for life, neither this Constitution nor the constitution of any State, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to permit divorce.5

4 If a married man dies without children, his brother shall marry the widow. If he refuses to marry his brother's widow or deliberately does not give her children, he shall pay a fine of one shoe and be otherwise punished in a manner to be determined by law.6

1: Gen. 29, 17 - 28; II Sam. 3, 2 - 5.
2: II Sam. 5:13; I Kings 11:3; II Chron 11:21
3: Deut. 22, 13 - 21
4: Gen 24:3; Num 25 1 - 9; Ezra 9:12; Neh. 10:30
5: Deut 22:19; Mark 10:9
6: Gen. 38 6 - 10; Deut 25 5 - 10

Addendum: I have been accused by commenters at OTB of misstating the texts and twisting the meaning. (What the last few commenters here said, I don't know, since my comments system is down at the moment.) Obviously, this post isn't intended to be a detailed examination of biblical marriage, any more than I seriously advocate the above amendment. But I will address some of their issues.

There are biblical passages permitting divorce, see particularly Deut 24 1 - 4. The prohibition in Deut 22 that I cited isn't universal. But for the majority Christian population of this country, Deut 24 is superceded by the Gospels, and Christ's statement cited above, "What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder" seems to be absolute and universal. (I suppose it would allow divorces for civil marriage, but the distinction between civil and religious marriage is an anachronism for either OT or NT times.)

The Deut 24 divorce law is as problematic as the laws I cited above, since it allows men to divorce, but not women. Causes are ambiguous; according to my biblical concordance, the school of Shammai required adultery or some similar strong cause; the school of Hillel allowed divorce for almost any reason. (In Jewish tradition, such disputes are almost always decided in favor of Hillel.) Divorce simply to take a 'trophy wife' seems to have been already known and disdained (Mala 2 14 - 16). Women, however, could not divorce. A woman seems to have had no alternative but to return to her family, if they would take her back. For an example see Judges 19:2; a concubine either "plays the harlot" (Masoretic) or "becomes angry" (Septuagint) with her husband and returns to her father. In either case, her conduct seems to be frowned on; see the rest of Judges 19 for her fate - note that the husband's actions don't seem to be condemned.

Obviously, it is not expected that the bride be a virgin in all cases, since marriage of widows and divorced women is allowed. And a few other exceptions are made, Deut 22 28 - 29 allows for a shotgun wedding when a couple is caught in the act. So the first clause of part 2 is oversimplified, but other than shotgun weddings, second marriages, and presumably women who have been raped, the rule would have applied. By the actual language of the text, it would indeed apply to all marriages, but remember that Deuteronomy predates the invention of lawyers - some flexibility to avoid an absurd result is implied.

Although it would be easy to get that impression, I want to make clear that I am not suggesting that the laws of the OT are absurd or barbaric. Whether you are a Jew, Christian, or secularist, it is important to remember that the laws were incredibly successful in their time and place. Like all laws, they were designed to ensure the community's survival. In biblical times, Jews wee a small and generally weak community, mingling with Egyptians, Babylonians, Philistines, Moabites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Amorites, and many other groups. Many of those other tribes/cultures were more numerous and powerful than the Jews. With the exceptions of the Persians and Assyrians, almost all of them are extinct and have been for a millienium or far more. The Jews survive and their fundamental idea, monotheism, has sparked religions - which can be seen, in a sense, as Judaic offshoots - whose followers are in the billions.

Traditional marriage is just that - traditional, not biblical. I am aware of no passage, OT or NT, which explicitly bans polygamy, and, as the passages above show, it was practiced by major biblical figures including Jacob, David, and Solomon. Homosexuality is certainly barred by the laws of Leviticus, but is is questionable whether the doctrine that Christ's life and death freed Christians from the OT law applies to that passage. Divorce is forbidden by Christ, but accepted by most Christians. And I won't even go into the many passages in the NT which condemn the luxury, acquisitiveness, and wealth which are so visible among many who claim to accept the Bible as a final guide in all things.

Those who wish to condemn gay marriage are free to do so. I myself have no problems with calling it a union or using some other term, so long as the legal rights of gay people are respected. But I do dislike it when those who advocate denying equal protection to gay people hide behind a few sentences in the Bible and say that they are merely expressing God's immutable will.

Fear Unbalanced

A fair and balanced excerpt from Bill O'Reilly's latest column:

In a few weeks, the Fox News Channel will celebrate its seventh birthday awash in publicity and success. From virtually nothing, the organization that employs me has risen up to become one of the most powerful news agencies in the country... But the country is worse off because of the brutal repercussions of that success. A nation that prides itself on diversity of opinion and acceptance of differing political points of view is being subjected to an orgy of media defamation and sometimes outright hatred.

Bill Simon Headed Out?

Bill Simon and Cruz Bustamante were on Meet the Press yesterday. Simon was asked whether he was in the race to stay, and his answers struck me as unusual, almost implying that he was considering dropping out, although nobody has yet reported such a plan. Still, it would have been very easy to just say, "I'm in this race to stay" and he really didn't.

MR. WILLIAMS: Mr. Simon, to you, sir, you, too, are one of many, and I want to read you something from Thursday’s Washington Post about drop-out pressure. “California Republicans say lawmakers and others tied to the White House have been putting what one called ‘heavy pressure’ on Simon and McClintock to drop out...Mr. Simon, are you in this race till the very end?

MR. BILL SIMON: I’m in this race, Brian. I’m not under any pressure to quit. The bottom line is this: What we need to do now is campaign hard for the next 52 days, give our citizens a message, a vision for the state of California. That’s the most important thing. We should have a series of debates. We ought to let our people make a decision....

MR. WILLIAMS: Would a telephone call from, say, to pick a name, a Karl Rove, for the good of the party, to streamline things, to make sure the GOP gets this Statehouse and holds it, have any sway with you?

MR. SIMON: Well, certainly, I’d be happy to talk to Mr. Rove. I’m a great admirer of his. But right now what I’m looking forward to is campaigning around the state which is what I’ve been doing the last week. And I know that our people are hungry for leadership, and Lieutenant Governor said, many millions of people voted for him. They voted for me, too...

MR. WILLIAMS: I’ll ask again, sir, are you in this till the very end, no questions?

MR. SIMON: You know, I’m running hard, Brian, and I’ll just say this. I admire Mr. Dreier, but I’ve got other endorsements. This is not about endorsements. This is not about politics. This is about doing the right thing. That’s why our people are fed up because we’ve been having too much politics out here.

Is Simon negotiating terms to drop out? He's independently rich, so he wouldn't just be looking for a job. Still, he might be looking for a prestigious appointment from Rove - an ambassadorship in some comfy first-world capital - or a policy commitment from Arnold, or maybe both.

More discussed in the news reports was Cruz Bustamante taking something of a shot at Gray Davis - another example of the tension between Bustamante and Davis which I've discussed before:

MR. WILLIAMS: It is a strange ballot, a strange election for that matter, but on the ballot, voters will actually have an opportunity to vote no to the recall, “No, I don’t think this is a good idea, but should the recall happen, here is the candidate I would like to succeed,” and it strikes me that your position aligns nicely with the choice of the voters on the ballot.

LT. GOV. BUSTAMANTE: I think I provide a very positive—if some of the governor’s minions would stop trying to undercut my efforts, I think we could have a very coalesced opportunity for Democrats to be able to make sure that we clearly go after this position and we have a possibility of having a win-win position on the ballot.

Minority Outreach, GOP Style
Two stories, found while strolling around blogdom this morning, reveal that Republicans have found a powerful new weapon with which to influence minority voters: bad English.

From the Monitor, link via Charles:

McALLEN — Local Democratic leaders are upset about a new radio spot that is running on at least one area radio station attacking State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

Hinojosa is among the 11 Democrat senators holed up in and Albuquerque, N.M., hotel to break quorum in the State Senate and prevent passage of a congressional redistricting plan that would slice up Rio Grande Valley congressional representation....

But it’s not necessarily the words in the ad that have Democrats so steamed. While the ad might mislead listeners about Hinojosa’s voting record, local leaders are questioning the method of delivery.

The radio spot features two unidentified actors — one female, the other an older male — speaking in cartoonish, thickly Mexican-accented English.

“That’s the mentality that the Republicans have of our part of the state,” said Juan Maldonado, chairman of the statewide Tejano Democrats organization. “They think we’re still sleeping under a cactus with a big sombrero and don’t know how to speak English.”

I found this today on a new blog (actually, almost a year old, but new to me) called So Far, So Left:

Riley's opponents also have targeted black voters, airing a radio ad on stations with mostly black audiences featuring a man with poor diction warning, "Our property taxes could go up as much as fo' hundred percent," and blaming "Montgomery insiders who have been ignorin' us for years." The ad was paid for by a political action committee whose top contributors are the state's largest bank, a leading insurance company, two timber and paper companies and county farmers federations.

Saturday, August 16, 2003
Rest in Hell

His Grace! impossible! what dead!
Of old age too, and in his bed!...
Behold his funeral appears,
Nor widow's sighs, nor orphan's tears,
Wont at such times each heart to pierce,
Attend the progress of his hearse.
But what of that, his friends may say,
He had those honors in his day.
True to his profit and his pride,
He made them weep before he died.

-- Swift

It seems that attempts were made by those who held the strange opinion that Idi Amin hadn't already been blotting the world for too long to find him some donated kidneys that might delay his journey to the nether regions a few years longer. Fortunately, the available organs proved to be incompatible, although Amin did say they were "delicious".

Amin's death, which set off widespread mourning absolutely nowhere, left his coveted title of "Craziest Living Homicidal Ex-dictator" open. Although insiders say Saddam Hussein has the inside track to replace Amin, his reign is expected to be a short one, since the "living" part is mandatory for all title holders. Kim Jong Il and Ayatollah Khameini are both reported to be making quiet inquiries on replacing Hussein, should they lose their current positions.

Arnold Who?

The past week has been nearly perfect for Arnold Scwarzenegger. He has completely dominated all coverage of the race, and done so while ducking any discussion of issues or explanation of what he plans to do if elected. The candidate most dangerous to him, Peter Ueberroth, has been so invisible in the media he might as well have been kidnapped. For all practical purposes, none of his opponents have started campaigning yet.

And with all that, the latest poll shows that he is now narrowly trailing Cruz Bustamante. Disregard what all the media talking heads have been telling you over the past week - they're ignorant as usual. The favorite in this race, particularly with the Republican vote split, is Bustamante.

Friday, August 15, 2003
What has it Got in its Ballot Box?

Via Oxblog, I have just learned that yet another candidate is running for Governor of California. And if he doesn't win, he can always look into replacing Colin Powell if he does leave the State Department. State's headquarters are traditionally referred to as 'Foggy Bottom', which soulds like the sort of place this statesman would be at home in.
This is rather obviously a lame idea. So blatantly lame that it might be an example of what Billmon called "closing the Washington Monument".

Or maybe the people running this administration are just total f**kheads. There is some evidence to support that theory..

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Rumor has it that Martin Scorsese is preparing to direct a trilogy of films based on the justly famous Hyperion novels of Dan Simmons. I looked around a bit on the web for further details, but found nothing not derivative from the original story linked here.

This is both a fascinating prospect and a daunting challenge. The Hyperion saga consists of four volumes; the first two and the last two each form a single story. The stories are set about 250 years apart and closely interlinked; each of the four volumes runs around 500 pages or more. The stories include crises of galactic scope and events set on scores of different planets, but Hyperion is far more than a straight space opera. It's also one of the most ambitious and complex epics of science fiction.

The first, Hyperion, is the most unfilmable. It is modeled on the Canterbury Tales: a story of seven pilgrims seeking a creature of vast but uncertain powers and entirely unknown objectives known as the Shrike. The Shrike resides in or near the Time Tombs, a mysterious group of artifacts on the backwards planet Hyperion which appear to be moving backwards in time. Simultaneously, Hyperion seems about to become the central battlefield of a galactic war between the mysterious Ousters and the Hegemony. Starting appropriately with a poet, six of the seven pilgrims tell stories of how they came to be on the Pilgrimage and what they seek to gain from the Shrike. Each story is narrated in a different style; each raises questions about the nature of the Shrike and the Time Tombs, as well as broader questions about faith, art, and life. Each tale could potentially make a full movie; how all could be crammed into one, which would also tell the broader story of the pilgrimmage, is hard to imagine. Hyperion ends as the pilgrims approach the Time Tombs; their confrontation with the Shrike and the fate of the Hegemony are covered in the sequel, The Fall of Hyperion.

Taking place centuries later, the sequels Endymion and The Rise of Enymion tell the story of Raul, a native of Hyperion, and Aenea, the daughter of one of the original pilgrims, as they seek to escape and ultimately overthrow the Pax, a theocracy established by Father Lenar Hoyt, another one of the pilgrims. Hoyt has now become Pope of an all-powerful reborn Catholic Church, whose power is based on the sacrament of resurrection, allowing its members to escape death. This story is far more amenable to cinematic treatment, but by itself, lacking the connections to the earlier saga, would be vastly less interesting and meaningful.

According to the reports, an earlier script which tried to adhere closely to the novels has been rejected. Simmons himself has written a new treatment which radically reimagines the story, placing Raul and Aenea, who in the novels hadn't yet been born, on the original Shrike pilgrimmage. Raul is reportedly going to be played by Leonard DiCaprio; no actress has been chosen for Aenea.

The alphabet for California's recall election has now been set. Kevin and a few others have gotten confused about this, so I'll try to explain how it works.

The Assembly is the house of the state legislature equivalent to the House of Representatives, where all members stand for election every two years. The state is divided into 80 Assembly districts. In District 1, candidates will be listed in alphabetical order, not ordered by the real alphabet but by the alphabet drawn at random by the Secretary of State: R, W, Q, O, ... D, Y, F, L. In District 2, the letters will be rotated by one place, so it uses the alphabet W, Q, O, J, ... Y, F, L, R. In District 3, it's Q, O, J, ... F, L, R, W. And so on down to District 26, where L has been rotated into first place: L, R, W, Q, ... D, Y, F. District 27 goes back to the same alphabet as District 1, which will be used again for District 53 and District 79.

This system isn't only for the current election with 100+ candidates. It's used in all California elections, even normal ones with about 6 or 7 names on the ballot. Here is the alphabet from 2002. This elaborate method is used because the great state of California presumes that its voters are unable to read through a list of candidates, even a short list, without just voting for the first name they see. This is the same state which believes that the voters are disciplined enough to read through 10,000 words of legal language in the text of a proposed new law, understand the initiative and what effects it would have, and make an intelligent decision about whether or not to change the law accordingly.

Monday, August 11, 2003
Around the Web

  • Aurabass is so grateful for all the free political advice we've been getting from Republicans lately that he returns the favor.
  • I won't give a source for this Post article on how the Bush gang lied about Iraq's nuclear program since it's already been linked at about 127 blogs.
  • Jim My-name-is-harder-to-spell-than-Arnie's gives his recollections of an encounter with the bureaucratic mind.
  • The Likely Story notices an interesting development in the Valerie Plame story, the first in some time. A story in the St Petersburg Times states that Wilson believes he knows who is responsible for blowing his wife's cover and may name them in the future.
Sunday, August 10, 2003
Recall Again

The California Secretary of State has now certified exactly 84 candidates for Governor, with 100 more candidates under review.

Most interesting point: Arianna Huffington is not on the official list of candidates who have received or are awaiting confirmation. Whether this is a significant fact or merely a slip up, I don't currently know. Arianna is still running according to her web site.

Update: Probably just a goof. The latest version of the list has added nine names (but still not Arianna). Up to 89 on the ballot, 104 under review.

Saturday, August 09, 2003
Running Men

I've been unable to find a full list so far, but the final count for gubernatorial candidates after today's filing deadline is "over 125". Of the major names, in are Arnold, Simon, McClintock, Ueberroth, Bustamante, and Huffington, A. Most notably out in the final days are Issa and Garamendi. Garamendi may have found a horse's head in his bed today, because only a few hours before he quit, it was a very different story:

Democratic Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, who said he has been asked by some party leaders to drop out in favor of Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, pledged to stay in the race.

"He's said it pretty emphatically -- he's not going to back out," said Gary Gartner, a spokesman for Garamendi.

The pundits seem to be calling this as a race in which Schwarzenegger will be the favorite. With the hard right conservatives going to other candidates and another prominent, and more qualified, moderate Republican in the race, I don't see it that way. The early call here: recall will pass and Bustamante will become the next Governor.

And, oh yes, Georgy is in. According to her blog, she was the ninth person to actually file completed paperwork in Santa Clara county. She has also matched Arianna's promise not to spend over $10 million on her campaign.

Friday, August 08, 2003
Lear In Sacramento

So we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news, and we’ll talk with them too –
Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out –
And take upon’s the mystery of things,
As if we were God’s spies.

Laughing at Gilded Butterflies: Comedian Gallagher is now a candidate for Governor. If elected, he pledges to combat gay sex by legalizing gay marriage. "That kills the sex every time." He is joined by someone named Angelyne, who apparently is semi-famous in Hollywood as a career wannabe and publicity hound, who occasionally buys billboards to promote her own alleged celebrity.

Court News: The California Supremes have rejected challenges to the election and it will go forward as planned. There probably is no federal appeal on the suits because the California court normally has the last word on state law. And if the case were appealed to the Supreme Court, they'd probably just cancel the election and name Schwarzenegger Governor.

Who's In: I was right in predicting that another prominent Democrat would go in to challenge Bustamante, but wrong on the name. Turns out that Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi has decided on a run. This will be a problem for Bustamante, but not necessarily a huge one. Garamendi hasn't got a very strong base of support, and indications are that party leadership is likely to unite behind Bustamante.

Also possibly in is former Olympics chairman and baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth. An Ueberroth candidacy is bad news for Arnold, since they draw from the same pool of moderate Republicans and socially liberal, fiscally conservative independents. And in terms of actual qualifications, Ueberroth has a pretty obvious advantage over the Terminator, having actually run complex organizations and made them profitable. But the LA Olympics were 20 years ago and Ueberroth's name is no longer familiar to many voters.

Who's Out: With the court's decision not to change the rules, Gray Davis's attempt to be a candidate to replace himself is finished. He will have to put all his hopes on winning the recall, where the polls are said to be moving against him, although the recall was losing in the last published poll I saw.

Also out is Darrell Issa, who financed the whole recall operation. He was in a three way contest with Bill Simon and Tom McClintock for the hard right Republican vote, which is around 20 - 25% of the tatal vote. That left him with, optomistically, maybe 12% of the vote, and he correctly figured that Schwarzenegger and Bustamante will both do better.

Rumors continue to circulate that Feinstein will jump in, but she is still out. And staying out, I believe. If she wanted to jump in, she'd have done so already.

Thursday, August 07, 2003
The People's Favorite

While I've written quite a lot about the better-known candidates and prospective candidates on the recall ballot, from the evidence of my hit counter, nobody is very interested. Googlers just want to read about Georgy.

Arianna, Arnold, Cruz, Darrell, Dick, and Dianne have generated about half a dozen search engine hits between them. Gubernatorial hotty Georgy is now the top political figure on my reference list and 3rd overall, having passed Valerie Plame and Ollie North, and trailing only Firefly hotty Morena Baccarin and beefcake hotty Joe Millionaire. This although I'm a modest #16 on the Google page rankings for "Georgy Russell".

Most hits have been directly on the name, but several added the word 'thong' and a few have cut directly to the ambition which, let's face it, underlies most of the media/web interest in Georgy's campaign and is, presumably, about as likely for most of my searchers as the prospect of Georgy actually moving into the Governor's mansion. So far, zero hits on "Georgy Russell education reform" or "Georgy Russell environmental policy", although if you check the site linked above, she does indeed have some things to say on these topics.

I'm not alone in noticing this phenomenon. One right-leaning blogger got so many hits after posting one brief article that he decided to give the people what they wanted and is now Georgy blogging exclusively at "Georgy Watch".

Just Wondering

Kevin Drum has a screen shot of the BBC's story on Arnold up at his blog.

But I confess to being confused. Which of those two stories is the photograph supposed to be illustrating?

The story is getting wild now - with Arnold confounding the expectations of myself and almost everybody else that he wouldn't run, Democrats clearly felt it was time to bring out the big guns. Hours later, Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante announced he is running.

Now the key question is how many other prominent Democrats will join Bustamante on the ballot. The party leadership would presumably prefer that Bustamante be there alone. As Lieutenant Governor he is a logical sucessor, and if he is the only major Democrat in the race he will be very hard to beat. Also, the party leadership likes the idea of Bustamante at the top of the ticket; it is assumed that his presence will bring hispanic voters to the polls who, while they are there, will vote for the rest of the party ticket. And a hispanic, Democratic Governor of California certainly doesn't hurt in the attempt to keep the growing national hispanic vote in the Democratic party.

Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez has been talking about running, but the presence of another prominent hispanic Democrat on the ballot may keep her out. Attorney General Bill Lockyer and Treasurer Phil Angelides were both preparing for possible runs in 2006; if Bustamante wins, they'll have to wait for 2010. My guess is that with the ice broken, at least one other name Democrat wil run. It's a reasonable choice because, unlike a regular election, a Congressman or elected official can take a shot without risking their current job. And, in this chaos, they just might win.

Arianna Huffington has now also declared that she is running. This may or may not mean that her ex-husband Michael is out. With Arnold in, I think Michael's chance of actually winning have gone from slim to would-be-none-except-that-this-whole-scene-is-so-nutty.

And with Hollywood's most beefy celebrity now in the race, there is a clear opening for one of Tinseltown's least muscular celebs.

My early call: if Bustamante is the only big-name Democrat on the ballot, he's a near-certain winner. Under most circumstances, Bustamante rather than Schwarzenegger will be the favorite.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003
Tapped has a nice dismissal of the smear that Democrats are anti-Catholic for blocking extreme right judicial nominees who happen to be Catholic.

The truth is that the Democrats haven't blocked a single nominee who believed in the Catholic doctrine on human life since Bush took office, and they never will. That's because an orthodox Catholic would be against capital punishment, and such a nominee will not reach the Senate while Bush is in office. So if there is religious discrimination here, it's coming from Bush.

But there is no religious discrimination. Many Catholics have chosen to take a position which supports church teaching on abortion and often also opposing gay rights, while rejecting most other church teachings on social justice, starting but by no means ending with opposition to the death penalty. Since this doesn't reflect Catholic religious teaching, it should be seen as what it is, fundamentally a political position, which may be influenced by religious ideas. George Bush agrees with this political position and has gone to this group, rather than orthodox Catholics whom he does not agree with, for his judicial nominations. There is nothing wrong with Bush picking judges because they profess an ideology he supports, and nothing wrong with Democrats opposing choices on the same grounds. What's wrong is smearing opponents with a charge of bigotry when you know it's false.

While various bloggers on the left have been discussing obsessive political hatred, our friends on the right have once again displayed it in action. Right blogger John Hawkins has polled some of his fellows to compose a list of the most evil figures in American history. Coming in 3rd, after the Rosenbergs and Benedict Arnold - in other words ahead of Charles Manson, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Wilkes Booth, Johnny Walker Lindh, John Wayne Gacy, Aldrich Ames, Tim McVeigh, etc - is none other than Bill Clinton. If that isn't enough of an illustration of embarassing ideological blinders, the man right after Clinton and still ahead of those I've just listed is the most decent, if not the best, President since Eisenhower: Jimmy Carter, who is followed by Jesse Jackson. I guess we can be thankful that Martin Luther King didn't make the list - haven't these guys heard that he was a Commie?

Tied for ninth with McVeigh, Booth, and LBJ is Hillary Clinton. (Hawkins actually has this group at 8 - 11, but he has incorrectly counted John Walker and John Walker Lindh separately. I combined the votes, so Lindh is alone in eighth.) So here's a handy trick to identify a modern conservative: ask him if Hillary Clinton is worse than Tim McVeigh and John Wilkes Booth, then watch as he struggles with this 'difficult' question.

It's a useful guide for considering Conservative ethical standards. I suppose that even most Conservatives, if forced to really pick sides on the topic, would admit that slavery and Jim Crow were even greater evils than the Clinton administration. But while four people associated with the latter made the list, only two associated with the former, Booth and Robert Byrd, made the cut. And Byrd is clearly in less for supporting the Klan in his youth than for supporting Clinton in his maturity.

Franklin Roosevelt has the unique distinction ofmaking both this list and the list, drawn from roughly the same group of bloggers, of the twenty greatest Americans.

In all, the list consists of six traitors (including Ethel Rosenberg, who was probably innocent, Alger Hiss, who might have been, and Lindh, who probably is legally innocent of treason), three assassins (including the dueler Aaron Burr), one mass murderer, one terrorist, Richard Nixon (poor guy can't catch a break, even from Republicans), and nine largely moderate political figures. Although being a traitor is, second only to being a leader of the Democratic Party, the best way to make the list, the leaders and organizers of the greatest treason in the country's history are conspicuously absent. For a conservative all traitors are equal, but some are more equal than others.

Meryl thinks the list is sexist, and she may have a point. Although Ronald Reagan beats out Washington on the right's list of the greatest Americans, Nancy Reagan didn't make the list. Hillary rates close to her husband in the right's demonology; Nancy is far behind hers in their calendar of saints. This reflects sexism to some degree, but just as much it reflects intellectual dishonesty. Conservatives give Reagan credit for many things he didn't actually do: most famously, this includes winning the Cold War, but it also includes inventing Ronald Reagan. When he married Nancy, Ronald Reagan was past 40, an age at which most people's life paths are pretty well fixed - and he was a moderate to liberal Democrat whose only serious political activism had been as a union official in SAG. Bill Clinton found and married the ideal partner for his existing ambitions; Reagan, far more than his admirers have ever been willing to admit, found his ambitions largely in his partner.

Correction: As pointed out in the comments, John was right and I was wrong on the matter of John Walker. Walker was a low-ranking naval officer and the central figure in the family spy ring that was busted up about a decade ago. I knew of the case, but had forgotten the name. This doesn't change anything in the post substantively - it just substitutes in the bottom twenty a man who definitely is a real traitor for someone who, by the legal definition, probably isn't.

Campaign Watch

Various bloggers and commenters in left blogtopia have lately been suggesting that Joe Liebermant is essentially a Republican disguised as a Democrat. This hardly looks reasonable; his voting record, aside from his understandable loyalty to the financial services industry which is critical in his home state, is solidly in the Democratic mainstream.

But Slate and Matt Yglesias have raised a more telling criticism that explains why I can't see supporting Lieberman in the primaries. Electability isn't just issues, it's also a candidate's political skills. And Lieberman doesn't have what it takes. He isn't a very gifted speaker or campaigner, but I doubt his toughness even more.

Part of this may be that he's simply out of practice. He won for the Senate easily his last two times out, so except for 2000 - and his weak performance for Gore is part of my doubts of him today - he hasn't been in a tight race since he defeated Lowell Weicker in 1988. I don't know the story of that campaign, but I do know that Weicker is a man of decency and integrity. He was from the original Republican Party, a party of political moderation and personal honor that is now nearly extinct. In his moment of greatest national fame, as a member of the Watergate Committee, Weicker took the quaint position that a President, even one of his own party, was not above the law. It's safe to assume that his campaign reflected that.

If 2004 is close, as it probably will be, we know what to expect from Bush and Rove. They will run a campaign that makes Francis Urquhart look like Little Lord Fauntleroy - or Lowell Weicker. It will be rough on whoever the Democrats nominate, especially since Bush will use talk radio and the media to do his dirty work for him, while denouncing any effective counterattack as dirty campaigning and personal smears. Bluntly, I don't believe that the guy who apologized in Florida for the position that illegal votes shouldn't count has the toughness or the tactical skill to win that fight. In fact, I think that Rove would grind him into lunch meat.

Monday, August 04, 2003
Thin Blue Laughs

Hollywood doesn't seem to know what to do with Rowan Atkinson. He is one of the greatest living comics, as can be attested by anyone who has seen his brilliant work in the classic britcoms Black Adder and The Thin Blue Line. And yet the highlight of his film career is a one-scene role as a priest in the only really good film he has appeared in, Four Weddings and a Funeral. Along with some voice work in The Lion King, Atkinson has also appeared in the mediocre Bean (adapted from my least favorite of his major TV roles), played the villian in last year's Scooby Doo movie, and was in the wretched Rat Race.

This movie, incidentally, may earn a booby prize as the worst abuse of talent in cinematic history. The cast was astonishing: with Atkinson and John Cleese, it featured the stars of probably the two funniest TV series ever made. Also present were Oscar winners Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding Jr, and Kathy Bates. Those five are more talent than most movies have or need, but the cast included as well the very funny Jon Lovitz, Seth Green, who did fine work on Buffy and was the only performer in the most recent Austin Powers sequel whose work was still fresh, Wayne Knight (Seinfeld's Newman), and Breckin Meyer, star of the short-lived but fairly good comedy, Inside Schwartz. The director, Jerry Zucker, was Executive Producer for the string of hilarious Leslie Nielsen vehicles that included Airplane!, Top Secret! and the Naked Gun series. How do you go wrong with so much talent? I don't know, but Rat Race did, and did it spectacularly.

Atkinson's current film, Johnny English, wastes only the talents of himself and villain John Malkovich - the female lead, Natalie Imbruglia, is gorgeous but has no noticable acting skills - but it wastes them thoroughly. Atkinson plays a bumbling agent who dreams of being the next James Bond but is used only as a paper pusher. He gets his chance to become a real secret agent when his own stupidity leads to the death of all the competent spies. His first assignment is to guard the Crown Jewels at an event where they are, inevitably, stolen. This launches a series of allegedly comic misadventures as English chases down the jewels and thwarts the evil plan of Pascal Sauvage (Malkovich) to make himself King, assisted by Imbruglia as an Interpol agent and Ben Miller as English's far more competent assistant, Bough. The running joke in which Bough seems to feel sincere admiration for his imbecilic boss lead to some of the film's few funny moments. The weak plot isn't intended to be more than a setup for the jokes and would be passable if the jokes were better.

Johnny English runs short at 86 minutes, but it feels far longer. The final credits actually come as something of a relief. Every one of the 24 half-hour episodes of Black Adder, even the forgettable first series, had more laughs than the one and a half hours of Johnny English. And most of them had better stories, too.

There is hope of an improvement in Atkinson's upcoming film, the unreleased Love Actually, which is a group of intertwined love stories. It will reunite Atkinson with the writer Richard Curtis (who will also be making his directorial debut). Curtis was one of the authors of Black Adder, and has an impressive list of other writing credits for the screen (Notting Hill, Bridget Jones's Diary, and the aforementioned Four Weddings and a Funeral) and TV (The Vicar of Dibley and Not the Nine O'Clock News). The cast is impressive: Atkinson, Liam Neeson, Elisha Cuthbert (24's Kim), Colin Firth, Shannon Elizabeth (American Pie's Nadia), Hugh Grant, Kiera Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean), Denise Richards, Emma Thompson, and Alan Rickman (Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films).

Update: At least one person who has seen an advance screening of Love Actually actually loved it.

Friday, August 01, 2003
Hasta la Vista

Jay Leno said last night that Arnold will appear on the Tonight Show next week to announce whether he is running. That certainly means he won't run - an announcement of a real candidacy would be made in a press conference, not on a talk show. He's doing Leno to say he won't run and slip in a few plugs for T3 - which is doing poorly at the box office, at least relative to the numbers that would be needed to make a profit on one of the most expensive movies in history.

Regrettably, this means that Georgy Russell will be unable to carry out her pledge to challenge Mr Steroids in "an intellectual debate or mud wrestling. His choice." As for the fact that this almost certainly means Richard Riordan will be a candidate, Georgy goes all Dubya and says bring it on.