stuff by better writers than i

Because some days I just can't do this myself, you know?

--Christopher Hitchens doing a book review.

--An oldie-but-goodie by Nick Gillespie.

--Some guy I've never heard of ties together the continuity of Episode IV with I-III quite convincingly.


when they were young

Via MR, a gallery of world leaders depicted in their youth.

Putin and Bush look more or less the same as they did when they were 12.

But the coolest by far was Chirac.


all this has happened before

I've got a movie I'm working on. The pitch:

A small group of determined insurgents wreak havoc in the face of an overwhelming invading force. They are able to confound the best efforts of the invaders to win the hearts and minds of the local populace. The locals are reluctant to adopt the invaders' form of government, despite the invaders' deep conviction that their way really is in the best interest of the locals, whom they view as having liberated.

The insurgents become increasingly violent, even turning on each other. The leadership of the invading force realize that they lack the will to do what it takes to defeat the insurgents. Some of the commanders bemoan the fact that they are acting as police.

The climax is bloody. In fact, the details of how this all resolves are left fuzzy. But it is clear that the invading force eventually leaves.

Casting? Who do you think should play the leaders of the insurgents? Arnold Vosloo? Maybe Phillip Rhys?

How about Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell, Jennifer Grey, and Lea Thompson?

I dare you to rent Red Dawn, watch it, and then flip over to CNN without wincing.

I'm just sayin' is all...


unintended consequences?

NY Times:

Canada will formally apologize on Friday to software engineer Maher Arar, who was deported to Syria by U.S. agents after Canadian police mistakenly labeled him an Islamic extremist, and offer him C$10 millioncompensation, according to media reports.

Arar...says he was repeatedly tortured during the year he spent in Damascus jails...

The affair tarnished the reputation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and strained Canada's relations with the United States, which has kept Arar on a security watch list even though Ottawa insists he has no links to terror groups. [emphasis added]

I suppose this is a reasonable stance to take. After all, if Mr. Arar didn't harbor strong anti-American sentiments before, he almost certainly does now.


quis custodiet ipsos custodes

"Speed cameras in the Scottish Borders may soon be monitored by security cameras to protect them from vandals."

Whole story here, though to my mind, that sentence pretty much says it all.




A thread over at Hit and Run on the mounting evidence that Durham DA Mike Nifong is not merely incompetent, but flagrantly corrupt produced the following comment:

The people who hired Nifong need to feel this one when they pay their taxes. Accountability.

Now. I will 100% own up to the fact that my gut reaction to this statement was informed by the fact that I am, technically speaking, among "the people who hired Nifong." Not that I voted for him (or, indeed, at all) but I do pay taxes to the City and County of Durham. (Quite a lot, actually, but that's a topic for another day.)

Upon further reflection, though, I think Mr. Franklin may be on to something...but he's only got half of the equation. My reply:

That sounds nice on paper, but would you really want a world where taxpayers are effectively financially liable for the wrongful actions of elected officials?


This does seem a bit scary, especially if you scale up to the potential wrongdoing of governors and presidents. But maybe the fact that we are insulated from the consequences of our elected officials' actions is, in fact, a bug rather than a feature.

Secret ballots absolve you of responsibility for the power (however small) you wield over your fellow citizens. What if, in order to vote for a candidate, you had to sign a joint liability agreement? Something to the effect of "In casting this vote for the candidate of my choice, I hereby acknowledge my share of personal liability, not to exceed $X, for any civil or criminal damages incurred by said candidate during the execution of this term of office, should he/she be elected to said office."

I don't even think that X would need to be a very high number at all to effect a profound change in the way people exercised the franchise.


fly airtran

The only people I find more boring than children are the people who don't realize (or have been forced to forget) how boring their children are.

I'm sorry if that stings a little, but it's true. Until you've lived long enough to have gotten your heart broken, lost a loved one, or been responsible for having hurt someone else in a profound way (ideally all three) you simply aren't likely be over the inborn notion that you are the center of the universe. Ergo: selfish, limited, and boring. Not to mention obnoxious.

Bill Hicks put it more succinctly: "You're not a person until you're in my phonebook."

I do deeply respect people who knowingly and willingly take on the task of ushering these little not-quite-humans-yet on towards adulthood. Especially those that do a good job of it. Seriously, my hat's off.

But in my experience, there is no shortage of people just like this:

Flight attendants often deal with obnoxious passengers who won't listen to instructions by kicking them off the plane. But a Massachusetts couple think AirTran Airways went overboard by treating their crying 3-year-old daughter in much the same way.

Julie and Gerry Kulesza and daughter Elly were removed from the flight when the girl refused to take her seat before takeoff, airline officials said Tuesday. But her parents said they just needed a little more time to calm her down.


"The flight was already delayed 15 minutes and in fairness to the other 112 passengers on the plane, the crew made an operational decision to remove the family," [AiTran spokesperson] Graham-Weaver said.

But Julie Kulesza said: "We weren't giving an opportunity to hold her, console her or anything."


The Orlando-based carrier reimbursed the family $595.80, the cost of the three tickets, and offered them three roundtrip tickets anywhere the airline flies, Graham-Weaver said.

But that's too little, too late for the Kuleszas. The father said they would never fly AirTran again.

Personally, I think it's a real shame that they reimbursed the family. But knowing that these yahoos will never fly AirTran again makes the airline very attractive to me.

I actually witnessed a near-identical scenario on a flight not that long ago. The child was not settled in his seat at takeoff. And to be honest, I could have cared less whether the kid went flying down the aisle like an errant piece of carry-on...it was the incessant negotiation taking place between the parents and a damn four-year old that made me want to open a vein.

The flight attendants on that flight--I think--decided to let it go, probably to avoid the very fiasco described above. I can't say that I blame them.

(via To The People)


a january (double) haiku

The Y on Monday
New Year's resolutions still
Fill treadmills with flab

Sweaty smells alight
Fill my nostrils with the funk
Of month-old turkey


the best 2 sentences I've read today

"Bringing [Rich] Little in after [Stephen] Colbert is like having Pat Boone follow the MC5. Too little, too late -- and too telling."



two quickies

--I want to party with Kiefer Sutherland. Anyone who takes the prototype action figure version of himself out drinking and ends up setting it on fire has a pretty healthy perspective on what matters in life.

--Matt sent me this interview with Ray Kurzweil on, among other things, how and when we will be able to upload our consciousness and transcend our corporeal nature. (Via technology, that is.) I'm hoping it occurs sometime after they invent computers that don't crash but before I become incontinent.

in defense of scooter's defense

As I am a "blogger" and not a "journalist" I will dispense with any summary of the relevant facts and go straight into the commentary. Adequate coverage of the Scooter Libby trial that began today can be found here.

While the schadenfreude I readily admit to entertaining in seeing pretty much any high government official indicted for pretty much anything would seem to dictate my stance on the matter, I actually find myself sympathetic to Mr. Libby's position.

For starters, he is not being charged for the crime that took place, but with lying to investigators about it. Lying to the cops shouldn't be a crime, if for no other reason than such charges only seem to be applied in high-profile cases where the feds aren't likely to convict on the actual crime being investigated. Which is to say, this is a convenient way to take a weak case to trial. (Astute readers will recall that this is exactly what happened to Martha Stewart.)

In the face of such dubious charges, attorneys for the defense are expected to claim that Mr. Libby did not, in fact, "lie" when questioned, but rather "misremembered".

If you think about it, this is entirely plausible. Memory, after all, is quite fallible. I misremember things nearly every day...especially the particulars of conversations. (Just ask my wife. She, on the other hand, has trouble remembering whether she's seen a movie or not. I'm sure this is instructive.)

The beauty of this defense is that it is impossible to prove one way or another. Short of a recording of Mr. Libby on the phone immediately after the interview in question saying, "hey, the FBI was just here and I lied my ass off to them about the Plame thing," I don't really see how anyone besides Libby can ever really know whether he "lied" or "misremembered".

The point being, the defense just has to convince the jury that it's possible.

And suppose for a moment that it's actually true. I'd hate to think I could be facing up to 30 years in prison for something that happens to me almost every day.

Especially since I probably wouldn't be able to count on a presidential pardon.



This may end up being completely lame, but I thought it would be interesting to try...

(Hit refresh for the latest version)

08:06--I knew David Palmer, David Palmer was a friend of mine...you sir, are no David Palmer.

08:10--Jack goes all GTA on a civ! Assad is my favorite character since Nina...I will be sad when they kill him.

08:18--I'm having a very hard time buying the guy that played Kumar and Taj in Van Wilder as a terrorist.

08:21--More comic relief from Chloe, please!

08:25--Hey nurse! Dose Taj with a shitload of morphine so he passes out!!!

08:30--So the detainees all speak English?

08:35--Well...I'm guessing the concentration camp "special detention facility" arc is going to send this show over the shark with the wingnuts who have thought of it as a policy manual.

I hope.

08:52--Where were this guy's balls when Taj had a gun on his family?

09:00--Not the Sarge!!!

OK. I was right. This is lame. Besides, I need to eat.

You're on your own.


The first two hours of 24 last night were sufficiently interesting to capture my interest. There were the contrived scenarios and awkwardly rushed expositionary dialog (think Gilmore Girls meets CSPAN) that have become the show's stock in trade (has this show really been on for half a decade already???) but it also included the best. Escape. Ever. (Let's just say Keifer's work in The Lost Boys came in handy.)

As always, some smart and politically astute people are looking for the political subtext. Personally, I think part of the show's success is that they've managed to be ideologically (and morally) ambiguous enough that everyone tends to project their own viewpoint on the subtext. That said, Jack's newly acquired aversion to torture has the potential to take the show down some interesting paths. Let's hope the writers don't wimp out.

If I get dinner fixed in time, I may try to liveblog hours 3 and 4 tonight. Stay away if you are west of the EST and don't wish to encounter spoilers.




Via Jesse Walker comes news that Robert Anton Wilson has reached the next stage in his evolution.

The last thing he is known to have written is the following, posted on his blog Saturday:

Various medical authorities swarm in and out of here predicting I have between two days and two months to live. I think they are guessing. I remain cheerful and unimpressed. I look forward without dogmatic optimism but without dread. I love you all and I deeply implore you to keep the lasagna flying.

Please pardon my levity, I don't see how to take death seriously. It seems absurd.


to dig out of this hole, all we need is a bigger shovel

Tonight, the president is going to address the nation. The substantive content of his speech (to the extent that anything issuing forth from this particular president's lips is substantive) is already well-known: he's going to make a case for sending more troops to Iraq. The buzzword is "surge".

Which I suppose is catchier than "more of the same, only harder!"

I don't get it. Why make a case? Why act like dissenting opinions matter? As a member of the 74% or so of the public that don't think this Iraq adventure is going so swimingly, I have to say I find it almost insulting that he would go through the motions of pretending like he gives a damn what anyone else thinks.

Don't get me wrong--I do believe that as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of a sovereign nation, it is within his constitutional authority to fuck up on foreign policy as much as he likes, without asking anyone's permission. It's a priviledge of the office, and one that he has exercised vigorously. (I also believe that it is the duty of the congress to put a stop to such things by using the power of the purse.)

That this war is unpopular is not sufficient reason to stop it. (Of course, neither was the fact that it was popular reason enough to start it.)

No, the reason to stop this war it is that on the best days, the criteria for victory was not realistic. The rest of the time, it just didn't (and doesn't) exist.

The chief argument against complete withdrawal from Iraq is that we have, in the prescient words of Colin Powell, "broken it". The power vacuum that we created has enabled a civil war. Herein lies the problem: the only way a war (civil or otherwise) ever really ends is by one side defeating another. Therefore, if we were serious about ending the conflict within Iraq, we would have to take sides.

Since the average House Intelligence Chairman doesn't have the first clue about the difference between Shia and Sunni (and neither do I--nor do I care), it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which Americans as a group could be rallied to one cause or another. More to the point, why should we be? That we would be unwilling to actually do what it would take to end the violence in Iraq doesn't reflect a weakness of our national character--it merely highlights the fact that we simply don't have a dog in this fight.

But to leave Iraq is to admit that we screwed it up and can't fix it. The thing is...WE SCREWED IT UP AND CAN'T FIX IT!!!. To stay (or surge) is to do nothing more than delay the inevitable consequences of our actions. We do so at a considerable cost, however you chose to measure it.

Instead, the president would doom us to an endless cycle of violence, retribution, and face-saving.

Skip the speech. Not only is there the A&E premier of The Sopranos, but BET is starting The Wire from the begining in the same time slot.

Addendum: a commenter at Hit and Run writes:

"Here is how it works:

G. W. Bush proposes a surge of troops, thinking that the new Democratic congress will not be stupid enough approve it.

Then, when things get worse, the Republicans can say "Well, if the Democrats would have just given us the troops, things would have been different", and they can easily shift the blame to the "spineless" Democrats.

Of course, the trouble with Bush's plan is that the Democrats might just be stupid enough to give Bush his troops."

The fact that this is actually a plausible explanation shows you just how far we've fallen here.


comparitive health care and a book report

I am still alive (thanks for asking, AB). M and I have been off visiting family for the past couple of weeks, mostly in the intermittently frozen tundra of southeastern Manitoba.

Without getting into personal details, a great deal of our time was spent in a hospital (visiting) which afforded me an "opportunity" to see firsthand a bit of something about which a lot of Americans have both strong opinions and no firsthand knowledge: namely, the Canadian health care system. I don't claim that my limited perspective makes me an expert, but it is worth pointing out that the system does not appear to be as abjectly horrible as some make it out to be.

Neither does it inspire (in me) anything resembling a desire to see it emulated here. The staff I observed were, as a group, very diligent and caring. They were also understaffed and probably a bit overworked. Communication among various units was abysmal. Without family or friends following up on things and advocating for you, you run the risk of things sliding a bit longer than they should, on pretty basic stuff (like changes to medication, changes to diet, etc.)

Bottom line: given the choice, I'd rather get sick in the States. Higher out of pocket costs don't bother me much; one, because the tax rates up north are higher, so you're paying anyway, and two, because frankly I can afford it. If I were closer to the poverty line than I am (and make no mistake--I am not rolling in money here), maybe it would appeal to me more, but I since most of the agitators for SocMed I've encountered are also the type that buy $3 coffee and shop at Whole Foods, I think they should be careful what they wish for...

Which reminds me...I did read a handful of good books. One of which was Hell's Half Acre, by Will Christopher Baer. I've been meaning to write about Baer for a while now: A sample:

The guy is sputtering and I catch him by the lapels, as if to help him up. The mocha is dripping down the front of his pants in little chocolate rivulets and the guy moans in despair. No one pays us any attention and I glance up the street to see that John Ransom Miller is disappearing around the corner. I apologize loudly and use my right hand to smear the whipped cream around on my guy's chest and slip my left hand into his breast pocket, palming his wallet.

My favorite shirt, the guy says. My favorite shirt is ruined.

It's not ruined, I say. Take it to your dry cleaner and it's good as new.

I can't, he says. I'm a communist.


I don't believe in dry cleaners. They are servants of the ruling class.

How about that. I just mugged a communist and I will eat my hat if his wallet is not empty. The last time I looked at a newspaper, the Russian government was running vodka into Canada and selling used office furniture for pennies. The guy has probably got moths in his pockets. I give his collar a brutal tug and he flails weakly at me. He is so mournful that I'm tempted to slap him around but I don't have time for such indulgences.

You motherfucker. What kind of communist drinks a mocha with whipped cream?

The guy moans. I can't help it, he says. I'm a victim of advertising. I walk past a Starbucks and I become a robot. Their mochas are divine.

The gods are laughing at me. I can hear them up there.

You're a class traitor, I say.

The communist goes limp in my arms and I drop him like a sack of compost. He immediately curls up on the sidewalk and I imagine he will lie there until the stormtroopers come for him.

Good stuff. Savage prose. Modern noir at its finest. He gets compared to Chuck Palahniuk, but in truth, I think Baer has a better voice. Check him out (if you like your stories drenched in blood and postmodern pop culture references, that is).