Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Why "Democrat Party" is Pejorative

Matthew Yglesias has a series of posts up about why Democrats shouldn't take it when Republicans call them the "Democrat Party," as the President did in the State of the Union. Ezra Klein wonders whether it's pejorative at all.

It is. The last syllable in a word is important. The suffix "-crat" rhymes will all sorts of unpleasant words: bureaucrat, plutocrat,
kleptocrat. Even a less unflattering word like "technocrat" still conjures up a member of an elite group in perfect isolation from the rest of society.

(h/t Josh Marshall.)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Brit Version of Mac Ads

Via Andrew Sullivan, here's the British version of the Mac ads:

Two thoughts: first, the British PC guy isn't as charming as John Hodgman. And second, this confirms that the PC character's similarity with Bill Gates is definitely not an accident.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Secret Veep

Amazing. This administration is so secretive you can't even find out who works at Dick Cheney's Deathstar.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Barack and Making Nice

Both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times have biographical stories today about Barack Obama's experience as President of the Harvard Law Review (The NYT story is better.) As readers might know, the staff of the Harvard Law Review are chosen for their analytic and writing skills; they are the elite of their class and customarily go on to play prominent roles in politics, business, and the judiciary. Once chosen, they elect a President to lead the publication. Barack Obama was the first African-American to receive this honor.

To be truthful, I had thought that Obama's conciliatory rhetoric was political calculation: that he struck a bipartisan pose because it was beneficial for him. The articles suggest that I've been too cynical. During his tenure at the Law Review Obama was known for the same virtue he's known for today: he gave people he disagreed with a fair hearing and bridged divides. That's why the conservative faction at the Law Review backed him, and that's how he got elected.

Not to be too perverse, but I can't say I'm happy to know of Obama's authenticity on this matter. Basically, I agree with Paul Krugman's analysis (sorry, paysite):
The nastiness of modern American politics isn’t the result of a random outbreak of bad manners. It’s a symptom of deeper factors — mainly the growing polarization of our economy. And history says that we’ll see a return to bipartisanship only if and when that economic polarization is reversed ... I urge Mr. Obama — and everyone else who thinks that good will alone is enough to change the tone of our politics — to read the speeches of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the quintessential example of a president who tackled big problems that demanded solutions ... what we need now is another F.D.R., not another Dwight Eisenhower.
Krugman is right. What the Democrats need in 2008 is a fighter. No holding hands and singing Kumbaya, please.

Huckabee on Meet the Press

I've said this before, but I'll say it again: former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee could well be the dark horse candidate for the Republican nomination. His performance on Meet the Press today was pitch-perfect: he's got an appealing manner and a great political ear. Huckabee parried Russert's thrusts well (apparently there was a Willie Horton-type episode which will certainly get some play in the race.)

Will Huckabee win? Well, Republicans usually don't elect insurgent candidates. They'll probably go with McCain, but Huckabee will give him a scare.

Best Films of the Millenium (So Far)

Why? Because it’s never too early to make a pointless list of some of your favorite movies.

1. Mulholland Drive
Like all of Lynch’s films, Mulholland Drive is rich, beautiful and atmospheric. What makes this movie his best is a rigorous and stunningly innovative structure. Instead of a linear narrative, this movie is shaped like an infinity symbol. It curves around, goes through a small hole and comes out the other side into a mirror-image world. And hey, a really hot lesbian scene doesn’t hurt either.
2. Talk to Her
As he often does, Almodovar takes some rather outrageous behavior and turns it into a parable of the human heart. His control over the filmmaking elements is total. Like Mulholland Drive, this is the greatest work of a true master.
3. Almost Famous
Cameron Crowe’s movie speaks of his experiences as a rock critic prodigy for Rolling Stone. His love of the music world is palpable. The performances he gets from his cast are luminous.
4. School of Rock
Like Big was to the 80s and Groundhog Day was to the 90s, this is the great concept comedy of this decade. Jack Black is great fun and brings home a winning message about the rewards of mentorship.
5. Before Night Falls
Javier Bardem is brilliant as Reinaldo Arenas in Julian Schnabel’s moving true-to-life story of a gay writer in Castro’s Cuba.
6. Monsters, Inc.
I’m an animator, and you have to give the greatest animation studio in the world its props. (I could just as easily put Finding Nemo here too.) What makes Pixar better than the other 3D studios is not technique, although theirs is as good as any. It is that they tell perfectly crafted stories of humanistic import.
7. The Departed
Scorsese returns to his favorite turf and his best form. What an ensemble!
8. Sideways
There were intelligent character comedies with fewer flaws around – Little Miss Sunshine for one – but none had as much heart as this ruthless but compassionate view of one of life’s losers.
9. Spellbound
You have to have a documentary on the list, and no other doc was as charming or thought-provoking as this one.
10. Lost in Translation
A beautiful, minimalist tale (so I’ll make my blurb minimalist too.)

Honorable mention: 28 Days Later, About A Boy, Amelie, Cast Away, Chicken Run, Cinderella Man, The Dreamers, Finding Nemo, High Fidelity, Little Miss Sunshine, Maria Full of Grace, Minority Report, Punch-Drunk Love, Sexy Beast, Spanglish, Spirited Away, The Fast Runner, Y Tu Mama Tambien, You Can Count on Me.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


The YouTube guys announce that they will soon be sharing revenue with video-providers. As I've written before, coordination with a hardware-maker (like umm, say... Apple?) will be necessary to complete the most economically vigorous model of internet TV, but this is a big step forward.

Presidential Stylings

Here's an interesting little morsel about Presidential salutes to the military from the always informative Gary Wills:
That is an innovation that was begun by Ronald Reagan. Dwight Eisenhower, a real general, knew that the salute is for the uniform, and as president he was not wearing one. An exchange of salutes was out of order. (via Greenwald)
The State of the Union speech is another ritual that has grown around the Presidency. The constitution mandates a report to Congress, but it does not require the presence of the President. Washington gave the speech himself, but the tradition was discontinued by Jefferson, who believed the practice to be too monarchical. The modern State of the Union speech was reintroduced by Woodrow Wilson.

Of course, no modern President would ever think of forsaking either of these rituals today: they're simply too telegenic.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Prodigal Litigant

The Los Angeles Times tells of a 10-year-old suing for creative control of a film. "She wanted to make all the decisions and stuff," budding filmmaker Dominic Kay says. It's a cruel world.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

More on that Locket

It seems like I wasn't the only one who's imagination was captured by the locket from The Illusionist. At EBay bidding is currently at $81 on a little trinket that doesn't even open like the real one does... it just "gives the illusion that it can be". And then the listing ends with the motto: "nothing is what is seems". I guess that's mystical talk for caveat emptor.
UPDATE: Amazing. Final price on the auction was $285.00. To be blunt, the thing looks pretty crappy.
UPDATE 2: Here some other posts on this subject:
How to Build the Locket from The Illusionist, pt 1
How to Build the Locket from The Illusionist, pt. 2

Primary Crunch

The New York Times reports that four large states -- California, Florida, Illinois and New Jersey -- are likely to move their primaries up to February 5, joining a crush of 8 other states already having primaries on that date. The experts are in almost comic disagreement on what it all means, but they agree on one thing: it will have big (and perhaps unexpected) implications.

The conventional wisdom is that this will help Hillary Clinton since she is anticipated to be the big money-raiser. However, I think this is a tough schedule for her:
Iowa Caucus (01/14/08): Edwards is tailor-made for this state. He did well there in 2004 and he's polling well there now.
Nevada Caucus (01/19/08): This is good for Southwest boy Richardson, and the union presence might help Edwards.
New Hampshire Primary (01/22/08): Obama is leading in the polls and really seems to relate to voters in this state.
South Carolina Primary (01/29/08): Neighbor John Edwards won this state handily in 2004. The black vote might benefit Obama, but Hillary and Edwards won't concede it.
SuperTuesday (02/05/08): Could be as many as twelve states... a real national primary that will require big bucks to win.

I think the net effect of this move will be to make it more difficult for insurgents, like Carter in '76, to win. It will also make the "internet primary" -- the competition for grass-roots online support that Dean won so handily in 2004 -- much more important. And sadly, it will provide less of an opportunity for Presidential candidates to be scrutinized and vetted.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Dr. Burke Checks In

I had no idea there was such a thing as an in-patient homophobe rehabilitation program.

Usually, when a celeb screws up (Mel Gibson, Mark Foley, Lindsey Lohan, Miss USA) they pretend it was due to drugs or booze and check into rehab. Admirably, Isaiah Washington has at least dispensed with that part of the charade. But of course, if this becomes the norm then the boon to psychiatric facilities could be impressive. Why not have in-patient facilities for bad driving (Billy Joel) or lip-syncing (Ashlee Simpson) or for just making bad movies (Rob Schneider)?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

State of the Blog Address

My Fellow Citizens of the World...

It's been a bit more than two months since my first post here at Wagster Speaks. There have been 54 other posts since then. According to Google Analytics, I've received multiple visits from Brazil, Singapore, China, Australia, and Belgium. And readership seems to be modestly trending up, with 62 visits in November, 260 in December, and 291 so far in January.

I have no aspiration to be the next Josh Marshall or Kevin Drum. But I do appreciate that some of you take the time out of your day to see what I've been thinking about. It's gratifying to throw little capsules of meaning out into cyberspace.

So this is all a way of saying... the state of the blog is not half-bad. Thanks for reading. And don't be shy about leaving comments... I've made it very easy to do so: no registration is necessary. (I don't think I'm really going to feel like I have blog until there is a flame war in comments.)

Monday, January 22, 2007

Hello Twenties!

Bush's approval rating is now down to 28% in one major poll. It's worth mentioning, Nixon's lowest rating after Watergate was 24%... he's getting real close to the bottom of the barrel.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Morbid Auction

Theodore Kaczynski -- the Unabomber -- is certainly depraved and may be insane. Still, I think he has a point here.

The U.S. is seeking to auction off censored pieces of Kaczynski's writing in order to pay restitution to his victims; Kaczynski argues that this is a breach of his First Amendment rights. The Son of Sam laws were clearly set up to stop criminals from profiting from their crimes. They certainly don't give government the right to censor or destroy the writings of someone who has been criminally convicted. Ideally, these writings would neither be suppressed nor paid much attention to.

I have more sympathy for Theodore's brother, David Kaczynski. David was the one who turned Theodore in, possibly saving many lives. He acted in a morally exemplary way, at great personal cost. In return, the government misled him and even sought the death penalty for Theodore, contrary to what they had previously intimated. Now they prepare to sell off family correspondence as what David calls "murderibilia." The whole spectacle is indeed lacking in decorum. Why not also sell Unabomber trading cards?

Homebaked Films is Live!

My company website is finally up!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Locket from The Illusionist

I just finished seeing The Illusionist. Not a bad movie, but I must admit I got distracted there for a while trying to figure out if it would be possible to build the locket that appears in the picture. Here's the clip:

After fooling around with pen and paper, I'm convinced it would be possible, and there seems to be something similar here. So, the locket... possible. The photo sitting there in the middle... that, not so much.
UPDATE: Here some other posts on this subject:
More on That Locket
How to Build the Locket from The Illusionist, pt 1
How to Build the Locket from The Illusionist, pt. 2

Friday, January 19, 2007

Crazy Political Ideas, Part Two

On Wednesday I wrote about a plan to make campaign donations anonymous. Sure, it’s an idea that has never really taken off, and probably never will… but isn’t the elegance of the concept beautiful? Here’s another proposal in that same category: a way to reform the electoral college without a constitutional amendment.

In the year 2000, in what is a continuing tragedy for our country, George W. Bush was elected President without attaining a plurality of the votes. In 2004, the roles were nearly reversed: Bush got about 3 million more votes than Kerry, but was only 100,000 Ohio votes from losing the electoral college. When such events occur the legitimacy of elections is unnecessarily put to question. What’s worse, the electoral college activates all sort of nightmare scenarios – electoral ties, faithless electors that sway a result, etc. – which could easily lead to constitutional crises.

How do we fix this? Passing a constitutional amendment to abolish the electoral college is close to impossible. The current scheme favors smaller states, but constitutional amendments require the assent of two-thirds of all states. Some of them would need to vote against their interests in order for such a measure to pass.

In September of last year a bill passed the California legislature that found a clever way around this problem. Under current law, states have the right to enact whatever method of apportioning electors they choose. What the California measure proposed was that the state send electors for the winner of the popular vote, regardless of who won the California vote. But this law would only kick in once other states agreed to do the exact same thing... enough other states so that they could elect a President all by themselves.

Clever, no? In the meantime, California would not sacrifice its influence in the electoral college. But if enough big states acted in their own interest and rebelled against the electoral college, then these states could elect a President no matter what the small states did. The United States could finally elect a President by popular vote.

Unfortunately, Governor Schwarzenneger chose to veto the bill, and no other states have taken it up. Right now, common sense direct democracy is just a fond dream.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Going South

Kevin Drum points out that Iraq is now more unpopular than Vietnam ever was.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Make Campaign Donations Anonymous

For years now the debate about campaign finance has sought to prune a shrubbery of laws like a neurotic gardener: perhaps if we lowered a donating limit here or offered a bit more disclosure there then the whole plant would sit much better.

What these proposals have failed to do is fully satisfy two competing and compelling interests. We need to protect the integrity of the law-making process from wealthy individuals and corporate interests who seek to purchase access and influence. However, donating to a candidate so he can get his message out is speech, and it ought to receive the firmest first amendment protection we can offer it. What is the best way to balance these concerns?

A few years ago Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres offered a bold proposal: make campaign contributions anonymous. Political donors would be required to donate their monies to a third party -- perhaps the FEC. Then the FEC would give these contributions to the candidates in lump sums without telling them where the monies came from. After respectable period -- say ten or twenty years -- disclosure of the donors' identities could be made.

What this would do is immediately destroy the practice of buying access -- or even votes -- with campaign contributions. Donors could give money to candidates because they agreed with them, but giving money to influence lawmakers or assure access would be ineffective. Of course, someone could say "hey, I gave $2,000 to your campaign, Congressman! Let's take a meeting." But the Congressman would not know whether they were telling the truth or not. They could just as easily be making it up.

I am yet to hear a compelling argument against this proposal. As best as I can tell, the only reason it hasn't been advanced as an option is because it would put incumbents at a disadvantage... and unfortunately, incumbents would have to be the ones to enact it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Download Your Hardware!

Download your hardware? you say. Impossible! Hardware is the physical stuff that makes your computer or consumer product run. Software is the digital instructions that tell it how to run. The latter can be upgraded, but the former needs to be replaced.

Well, that all might change by end of the decade. Today Hewlett-Packard has announced a new nanocomputing breakthrough that would allow circuits to be modified and upgraded without being replaced. Wowzer!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Hey, Live Music Fans!

Do you love to hear your favorite musicians live? Are you frustrated when you miss concerts you really want to see? Here's the perfect fix: it's called iConcertCal.

It is a free plug-in for iTunes that scans your music library and finds when the artists in it are playing in your area. iConcertCal displays this information on the iTunes visualizer. Installation couldn't be easier. Concert information is automatically downloaded each week.

Sorry, PC people. This is Mac only, at least for now.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: Jeff from iConcertCal writes:
"Thanks for your blog about iConcertCal! I'm glad you like it. I just wanted to let you know that iConcertCal is actually available for both Macs and PCs. If you get a chance, would you mind fixing that line in your blog that says: "Sorry, PC people. This is Mac only, at least for now."

Thanks again for spreading the word about iConcertCal."
You're welcome, Jeff! Sorry for the mistake, and thank you for the software.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

River of Doubt

Knowing I liked Presidential histories, my friend Ivanna gave me a book for Christmas called The River of Doubt. It's about Theodore Roosevelt's expedition to explore the Amazon not long after he lost the 1912 election.

No mere political bio, this book reads like the kind of outdoor adventure story Jon Krakauer would tell. The trip was a triumph of the age of exploration, an achievement so impressive that many doubted Roosevelt's account of it. An important 1,000-mile long tributary of the Amazon was charted. On the way, the expedition had to grapple with hostile Indians, devastating rapids, outbreaks of cholera, man-eating fish, hunger, dissension and even a murder in their ranks. Roosevelt himself comes to the cusp of death. Other leading characters include Roosevelt's son Kermit and the very formidable co-commander of the expedition, the Brazilian Candido Rondon. Both these two could match our 26th President for strength of will.

Martin Scorsese has announced his intention to make a film out of Edmund Morris's excellent book, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. He has chosen to concentrate on Roosevelt's time with the Rough Riders fighting the Spanish-American War. The question is, why make only one film? This, the most colorful of all our Presidents, could provide the grist for ten different movies. The "River of Doubt" episode could be certainly be one of them. This book is recommended!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Bush Speech Roundup

Kevin Drum makes some interesting points (and asks a pertinent question) regarding the speech last night.

Howard Fineman talks a little about the presentation:
George W. Bush spoke with all the confidence of a perp in a police lineup. I first interviewed the guy in 1987 and began covering his political rise in 1993, and I have never seen him, in public or private, look less convincing, less sure of himself, less cocky. With his knitted brow and stricken features, he looked, well, scared. Not surprising since what he was doing in the White House library was announcing the escalation of an unpopular war. (via Josh Marshall)
Who is for this surge? The military is not. The Iraqis are not. The Democrats are not. Many Republicans are not. The public is not. Even the intellectual fathers of the surge idea consider the scope of this one insufficient and likely to fail. Are we down to just Laura and Barney yet?

Coming Up: The Digital Living Room

The President announced yesterday a momentous change of policy on the most important foreign policy issues of our day... but I'm going to keep on blogging about Apple! Yes, this is now an all-Apple all-the-time blog.

All the hullabaloo at the MacWorld keynote Tuesday was about the iPhone, and it's easy to understand why: it's a great product that will revolutionize a huge market. AppleTV, however, could ultimately be the more significant product release. The merging of the computer in the study with the entertainment center in the living room has huge implications for how content is delivered to the home. Apple is wisely building it's presence in the video sector bit by bit. It is steadily recruiting more and more networks and studios to release their shows on iTunes: Tuesday it was Paramount. And it is producing devices to play this content: Macs, iPods, and now iPhones and AppleTVs. This is smart, because digital media has a bit of a chicken and the egg problem: both sides -- content and hardware -- need to be developed in parallel so that they support each other.

There is one step Apple needs to take before their video downloads really take off. The winning model for internet TV will almost certainly be free, advertiser-supported content for digital devices. It need not necessarily be streaming material: hi-def content could download automatically or at the viewers request, overnight or in the background. This new paradigm will offer benefits to both advertisers and audiences.

Advertisers will be thrilled because an integrated content/hardware vendor like Apple will be able to set it up so that you can't fast-forward through their ads. Companies would get guaranteed eyeballs, something they've been getting less and less of with the advent of the DVR. Another thing that would make them happy: through questionnaires or other data-gathering methods, Apple could target ads according to location and demographics: health clubs could advertise just in their neighborhood; luxury cars could advertise just to the people who could afford them. And finally, after seeing an ad, the viewer could click on a button and see an infomercial... or even click on a button and make an impulse purchase. The combination of these advantages would be the holy grail for advertisers: the most powerful advertising medium ever invented.

But what would the viewers get? Surely they can't be thrilled at seeing ads they used to be able to skip over. Some of them might be uncomfortable at their personal information being used to target ads at them (although it doesn't seem to bother g-mail users much.) Well, this kind of advertising would provide so much more added-value that it would be possible to show far fewer commercials. (And this would probably be necessary in order to attract the more affluent consumer who could afford program-purchasing or DVR/cable.) For internet TV viewers, choice will be practically infinite. Timing will be at their discretion. And of course, the content itself will be totally free, other than broadband fees. No more cable subscription bills.

Once this system takes hold it will change everything. It's possible that, as with GoogleAds, advertisers might pay for eyeballs without even seeing the content that will host their ad. If a sixteen-year-old kid with a videocam in his garage creates compelling programming, he would not only attract an audience (as podcasters and YouTubers do today) but also receive advertising revenue for it. The big shows would still be with us, but there would be much more of a grass roots presence in television. Show producers would not need to get their funding from distributors. The business models which rule the making of television would be undermined completely. And not incidentally, the piracy problem will be obviated.

Why do I think this will be the winning model? We've been through this before. Cable could have become an advertising-free zone, but we found that advertisers outbidded viewers. They were willing to pay more to buy eyeballs than the viewers were willing to pay to avoid seeing ads. Yes, there will always be a subscriber or pay-per-view sector, as there is today. But as is the case today, most content will be advertiser-supported.

Apple is in a unique position to make this happen. Now that Jobs is on the board of Disney he has some leverage in getting their cooperation. From what I hear, ABC is very happy with their experience of providing ad-supported TV shows free on their website. A board relationship ties Apple with another possible strategic partner: Google. They might be of assistance tackling the data management issues and selling ads.

Yes, there are other companies that might be players in this sector -- Sony and Microsoft come to mind -- but a project such as this would run counter to the culture of those companies. Microsoft relies too much on third-party suppliers; their great success came from not integrating. Sony has tried to branch out into content, but it is still too hardware-centric. In contrast, Apple's key competencies in marketing and crafting consumer experience would be a neat match to the project's challenges.

O Brave New World that has such TV in it!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Fratellis, pt. 2

During his keynote speech yesterday Steve Jobs introduced the new iPod silhouette ads. He said the music was by an "up-and-coming British pop band". Yes, it was the Fratellis, the band I was blogging about a couple of days ago. Check it out:

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Where I Genuflect Before the Greatness of Apple

Steve Jobs just finished his keynote address at the MacWorld convention. It might well be the biggest product release day in Apple history: he announced shipping dates for both the iPhone and AppleTV. Both devices have the capacity to truly change the way we live our lives. As of this point in the afternoon, Apple stock is up around 7%.

I might write more about these products later, but I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what makes Apple such a great company. The areas that analysts identify as Apple strengths are industrial design, marketing, and consumer experience. These are the aesthetic parts of their business. Most other tech companies are run by techies. Apple has many talented technologists, but in its essence it is a company of artists. Like no other business brand in the world, they excel at shaping the means of technology to the senses, dreams and desires of human beings.

That is a great and important thing.

Are You Listening, FreshDirect?

For those of you who don't live in New York, FreshDirect is the latest in a line of companies that allow you to order your groceries online and have them delivered within a day. The history of these companies is not encouraging: starting with stock market dud Webvan, most have gone out of business. However, FreshDirect has gotten a foothold in New York, perhaps because of its emphasis on quality, ease of ordering, and an advertising campaign featuring celebrities identified with New York such as Spike Lee and Cynthia Nixon.

People who use FreshDirect are usually fans, but invariably they all have the same complaint about the company. The groceries come in boxes that take a long time to break down for recycling. This is too much for effete urbanites such as ourselves. It would be much easier to get the goods in bags, which could be folded and discarded easily.

The reason FreshDirect doesn't use bags is clear. Bags don't stack and organize well in a truck. They slide around and don't protect the produce. Well, FreshDirect... I have the solution for you.

Have you seen those motorized conveyors they use at the dry cleaners, FreshDirect? Rather than go search for your shirt, the dry cleaner will press a switch and the shirt will slide around the conveyor until it comes to him. Sometimes they use a similar mechanism to check coats at museums or theatres. Simply install a system like this in all your trucks. Instead of letting bags slide around the truck, hang the bags on these belts.

The virtues of this system would be many:
  • The groceries would be perfectly insulated from any impacts: the bags would all swing in unison but hit nothing.
  • Retrieving the bags would be fast. The belts could loaded in the order in which they would be delivered.
  • You could pack the trucks more; maybe 3 or 4 levels of bags. You wouldn't have to lose space in the truck with an aisle for the delivery person to use.
  • Less truck refrigeration would be lost in the summer: the groceries would come out of a small door that was open for short time, rather than a big door that was open for a long time.
  • If there's a similar conveyor system in the plant, it might even be possible to load the trucks mechanically.
  • And of course, your lazy clientele will be happier.
You're welcome, FreshDirect. I await my royalties.

PS: It's an exciting 'Business and Technology' day! Steve Jobs will deliver the keynote at the MacWorld convention. Rumors are he will unveil the iPhone. Expectations are that owners of the new iPhone will be irresistable to the opposite sex AND enjoy spiritual peace. Look forward to iBlogging from me!

Monday, January 8, 2007

Scolding Cowardice

I have to differ with one of my favorite bloggers, Glenn Greenwald. Glenn is one of the best when it comes to legal issues, but today he advances the tired argument that war supporters are cowards and worthy of disregard if volunteers are needed to fight in Iraq and they do not step in to fill the gap.

This just seems too convenient for me. To honestly support the war you have to make a great personal sacrifice for your country, but to oppose it you just need to sit comfy and point to the hypocrisy of your opponents. Nearly all Americans are supporting the war, because most of us are paying taxes to fight it. I once knew a woman back in the days of the Reagan military build-up who sent the IRS a check for half the money she owed in taxes and a photocopy of a check to charity in the amount of the other half. She also included a letter explaining that since the Pentagon was taking up half the federal budget and she was a pacifist, she could not in good conscience pay the whole amount she owed to the government. Agree or disagree with her, she was taking a principled stand that put her in harm's way: she could have gone to jail for what she did. People who fault the war's supporters for not having the courage of their convictions should at least be willing to make an equivalent sacrifice themselves.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Stop Me If This Is Too Obvious

The happiest, most functional people are the ones who are able to create a personal narrative that integrates, explains and predicts their past, present and future. This narrative connects their existence with a cause beyond their self. These people's lives are suffused with a sense of meaning and mission, place and belonging -- they know where they've been, know where they're going, and they're filled with confidence that they will tread their path rightly.

To create this narrative, however, corners of life have to be bent, crammed, and cut off. All that is discordant to the governing narrative is suppressed, forgotten, or diminished.

One of the hallmarks of sanity is the ability to distort reality productively.

“Gotta Win” Means You Lose

There’s no bigger fish in poker than the guy who walks to the table with the mentality of “I gotta win!” All through the night he’s going to be bluffing too much, calling bets he shouldn’t, and holding on to a bad hand hoping he’ll hit the inside straight. A good table will make mince meat of such a player. The consummate poker player, on the other hand, arrives to the game confident of his abilities, but humbly knowing he might get a long spate of good cards or a long spate of bad cards. The difference with him is that he is sure maximize his wins and minimize his losses. By the end of the night, odds are he’ll be ahead.

Football is a different matter. Making a tackle, rushing a passer or crunching through a defensive line is a matter of strength, speed, and skill, sure -- but it is also substantially a matter of will and emotion. It is about wanting a particular outcome so badly that an extra notch of force is squeezed out of your body. "Gotta win" wins in football.

The fault of our President and many of his supporters today is that they think the world is a football match instead of a poker game. “We’ve got to win this war,” says McCain. “We got to win in Iraq, and we will win in Iraq,” says Bush. I have no trouble with this as rhetoric – indeed, it would be impossible to run a war without it – but what troubles me is that they seem to think this way too. They see the outcomes as either positive or dispositive, when really there is a range of possibilities from the acceptable to the bad to the outright catastrophic.

For the sake of a thought experiment, let’s imagine a problem with two possible options to address it. The first gives you a 1% chance of ‘winning’ and 99% chance of a catastrophic outcome. The second gives you a 50% chance of a bad outcome and a 50% chance of a catastrophic outcome. The football player will choose the first option – win at all costs! The poker player will choose the second option, try to minimize his loss, and hope for a better hand next time.

This is precisely the sort of question we face in Iraq today, and it looks like we’re poised to take the fool’s choice. I’ve written about the trouble with a surge elsewhere. In order to provide security in Baghdad US forces will have to be much more exposed than they are now. They will also have to engage a new foe on a new front: the Mahdi army. Both these factors will lead to higher US casualties, which in turn will erode domestic support and make it harder to sell the US public on the long-term engagement that is necessary to minimize the chances of a catastrophic outcome in Iraq. The surge will also be deeply unpopular among the Baghdad populace, further deteriorating support for the Iraqi government. And crucially, the Shiites will be further radicalized and factionalized, making the formation of stable government all the more difficult.

This is too high a price to pay for the wildest of hail marys.

Friday, January 5, 2007

We're Not Going to Tell You

Another chapter in the annals of administration secrecy.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

The Evidence Against Padilla

The New York Times runs an informative article about the government's evidence against Jose Padilla.

As you might recall, Padilla was detained without charges for three years. His case was due to be reviewed by the Supreme Court. When the administration saw that its practice of detaining whoever it deems to be an "enemy combatant" -- for as long as it likes and without review -- was going to be put to a legal test, it quickly switched Padilla to the criminal as opposed to the military track, so as to avoid such an accounting.

Now the Times reveals what it says is the bulk of the administration's case against Padilla: seven largely inconclusive wiretapped conversations. The Times quotes from some of them. To say there is no smoking gun is to be charitable. Of course, Ashcroft's claims of a 'dirty bomb' plot have disappeared into the ether.

The issue of guilt or innocence may be rendered moot if a psychiatric evaluation this week finds that torture and solitary confinement have rendered Padilla incapable of aiding in his own defense, as his lawyers claim. The article quotes Deborah Pearlstein from Human Rights First as describing this case as "the most gross deprivation of human rights that we’ve seen in this country for a long time."

One day soon America will rediscover its conscience and reclaim its principles.

New Music!

An online acquaintance of mine turned me on to a new band called The Fratellis. Their debut LP "Costello Music" won't come out in the US till March, but they're already quite big in the UK. Despair not, however. You can download their US EP -- "Flathead" -- though iTunes. It's great stuff... power pop but with an urgency that just screams "LISTEN!"

You can sample their stuff here or visit the iTunes store.

Monday, January 1, 2007

La Seduzione - Characters

(This is part of an ongoing description of the making of an 3D animated short.)

Here is a rough sketch I did in Photoshop of what Sophia and Marcello might look like. Certainly they will be tweaked a lot beyond this. I'm not sure about Marcello's facial hair, and I don't think their mouths will be perfect spheres: Sophia's will be a little wider than round (since she is a 'broad') and Marcello's a little taller than perfectly round.

This last week I made some models of the characters in Model Magic. This is a material that Scott Dodson introduced me to when we were making It's About My Brother; on that project, we used it just for the hair. For this film, I made the mouths and eyebrows out of it. Ping pong balls filled in nicely for eyeballs, and I wrapped Model Magic around them to make the eyelids. I cut out the flat face shapes behind the mouths from foam core. Then, with either marker or paint, I gave everything a rough color.

I'm actually pretty bad at making things with my hands, but this was a great exercise. The experience of molding the characters with my hands -- instead of teasing electrons trapped in a box -- led me to think about what the characters should look like and gain some new insights. But most importantly, now that I'm working on the storyboards I have something to play with when I'm trying to come up with new pieces of business. And the business -- how the facial elements rearrange themselves so the characters can express themselves -- will be what this little short will stand or fall on.

A Winter of Republican Discontent

Robert Novak reports in the Washington Post today that as of now only 12 of 49 Republican Senators will support a "surge" of troops into Iraq. Yesterday, on Fox News Sunday Dick Lugar (R-IN) indicated that things could get ugly if Bush did not consult with Congress regarding his next step.

It's possible that the Republican 'intervention' I anticipated in the last post might happen earlier than expected. Still, the tools Congress has to stop a commander-in-chief are blunt and politically unpalatable: withholding funds and retracting war-making authority. If Bush is determined, he will probably get his escalation.