Having never seen the Supreme Court in session in person, I didn't know that there is a specific order in which the justices sit on the bench until I saw Orin Kerr mention it today. According to Kerr, now that Alito has been confirmed, the justices will sit from left to right in this order:
Breyer Thomas Kennedy Stevens Roberts Scalia Souter Ginsberg Alito
The rule seems to be that the Chief sits in the middle, while the others alternate left and right closest to the middle in order of seniority, starting from the seat to the left of the Chief Justice's:
7 5 3 1 Chief 2 4 6 8
This got me thinking: what would need to happen so that all the liberal justices sit to the left of the Chief Justice and all the conservative justices sit on the right*?
Scenario number one:
L Breyer/Ginsberg Souter Stevens Roberts Scalia Thomas Alito C
The major obstacle to this is that if anyone from the current court retires, it'd likely be Stevens.
Scenario number two:
L Gonzales Breyer Souter Ginsberg Thomas Alito C1 C2
For my next blog post on the Supreme Court I think I'm going to analyze the justices' hairstyles.
continue reading "MUSICAL CHAIRS, SUPREME COURT EDITION" »
*If I recall correctly, the left-right spectrum originated from the French monarch in which the king's advisors who agree with him would sit on the right while those who disagree would sit on the left. And no, I'm not comparing the Supreme Court to a monarchy.
Assorted thoughts on the State of the Union address...
1) Where was the rest of the Supreme Court? I only saw Roberts, Souter, Thomas and Alito. There was an odd-looking woman who could have been a relative of Ginsburg, but it definitely wasn't her. Where were the rest of them?
2) Speaking of the Supreme Court, I thought they were supposed to sit politely with their hands folded on their laps. They stood and applauded several times. What gives?
3) I love the crowd shots, especially the Democrats looking like they're trying to be polite but not really meaning it. Hillary Clinton really needs to work on her poker face.
4) It's a shame Cindy Sheehan got arrested before the speech began. She has the potential to do more for the Republican party than Michael Moore. Maybe she'll be sitting in Jimmy Carter's box at the 2008 Democratic convention.
5) Tim Kaine, seriously dude, get that left eyebrow checked out. The Democratic response is boring enough anyway, but when you hypnotize us with your errant left eyebrow, it is utterly impossible to concentrate on the message. Get that thing stapled down if you need to. Your political career depends on it.
Watching the brouhaha over James Frey's rehab-memoir "A Million Little Pieces" has been good spectator sport—especially if, like me, you've been waiting for Oprah to be taken down a few pegs. And I don't have much sympathy for the author, either. He must have known he was trying to put one over on his readers, even if the story he was telling was probably a lot more entertaining than it otherwise would have been.
But the most recent development is also the most inane: a spate of lawsuits over those claiming that the work of fictional non-fiction caused them some kind of legally cognizable harm.
During his class on contract and tort remedies at DePaul University law school the other day, professor Bruce Ottley was asked by a student about one of the recent lawsuits filed against James Frey and the publisher of Frey's quasi-memoir "A Million Little Pieces."During his class on contract and tort remedies at DePaul University law school the other day, professor Bruce Ottley was asked by a student about one of the recent lawsuits filed against James Frey and the publisher of Frey's quasi-memoir "A Million Little Pieces."
The federal court suit in Seattle is seeking compensation for, among other things, "the lost value of the readers' time."
"The question that came up is, How do you value somebody's time in reading a book? OK, I spent X number of hours reading this book. What is the value of that time?" Ottley recounted last week. "You wouldn't do it at a billing rate sort of thing, so how do you figure out the value of the time you spend reading a newspaper or a book? I don't know how you are going to do that."
At least two other suits have been filed against Frey and publisher Random House. They are in Cook County Circuit Court and in state court in Los Angeles. Like the Seattle action, they seek class-action status and allege that plaintiffs bought the book in reliance on fraudulent misrepresentations about its truthfulness.
He added, "My impression is that this book was unequivocally billed as a true memoir, that no reasonable consumer should have known or suspected that it was, in important respects, false and knowingly false."
But, said Ottley, how much of a memoir cannot be true to be a cause of action?
"You've said. 'This is a true story and in reliance on that I bought the book.' Well, maybe part of it is true. Does every single word have to be true?" he said. "Not many books would stand up to that."
To date, class-action lawsuits have been filed in Seattle, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles on behalf of readers who allegedly wasted their time reading Frey's book. Forgive me for being so bold as to disagree with a professor of law, but I think these lawsuits are completely worthless. And I'm not as willing as he is to brush off First Amendment concerns. Are we really going to make publishers responsible for fact checking everything they publish under the category of non-fiction? How is that not going to cause a chilling effect on speech?
These aren't the most idiotic of the lawsuits, though. This one is:
Another suit, filed in Manhattan Supreme Court by social worker Jennifer Cohn, stated that as a "health care professional" she recommended the book to people with substance abuse and legal problems because of its "redemptive theme."
Cohn is seeking $10 million on behalf of consumers she claims were injured by Frey's fibs.
Apparently, they'll let just anyone be a "health care professional" these days. And you don't even need to take any responsability for the health care that you are providing professionally, either.
Because I have seen exaclty zero of the movies nominated for major awards—you have to go all the way down to "Best Animated Feature" before you come to a movie I've seen—I won't bother making predictions this year. But I will note that the nominations are in, and they are pretty much as everyone expected.
According to the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the second most important issue to House Republicans in the race for House majority leader is the marriage amendment. The budget is first, while ethics is third. I repeat: ethics is number three. So according to the average House Republican, a frugal crook or a religious crook is still preferable to someone who's against the marriage amendment. And lest I state the obvious, they're still in the middle of the Abramoff scandal. How high did ethics rank before? Fifth? Eighth? Right below "Darrin Stephens #1 or Darrin Stephens #2"?
Texas A&M recently ratcheted up its battle with the Seattle Seahawks over the Seahawks’ alleged infringement of Texas A&M’s “12th Man” trademarks. Texas A&M filed “for a temporary restraining order in the 85th District Court of Brazos County, Texas, where Texas A&M is located.” (Seattle Times article here.) The case sounds like a loser.
continue reading "THE 12TH MAN GOES TO COURT" »
A quick comment about the procedure in this case before I offer my thoughts. The litigants in this case obviously stand to benefit from home court advantage (lame pun intended). Seattle benefits by bringing the case in Seattle, and Texas A&M in Texas. The Seahawks received a cease and desist letter (as reported by local papers) and Seattle should have right away brought a declaratory relief action in federal court in Seattle. Instead, they will likely end up in federal court in Texas – if they can remove the case (they probably can on several grounds). The fact that Texas A&M brought the case in the 85th District Court of Brazos County speaks volumes about Texas A&M's view of the merits of the case. (If there’s ever a classic unfair local litigant scenario that diversity jurisdiction is intended to address, this is it.) As compared to state courts, federal courts are generally viewed as stricter, less tolerant of smoke and mirrors, and a place where you are more likely to get a fair airing of the issues. And HELLO, where do you want to be if you are a trademark plaintiff with a strong case? Why Texas A&M went to 85th District Court in Brazos County I have no idea, but one guess is that they don’t see themselves as having a very strong case and they are hoping a judge in this court is more likely to be susceptible to local sympathies and grant the injunction.
The legal/factual issues are not black and white. In a nutshell, trademark law protects against uses of similar or identical marks that are likely to cause consumer confusion. Generally speaking, unless a mark is famous, people can use the same marks with unrelated goods (e.g., Apple computers and Apple tobacco). So the question for the court is whether the Seahawks are using the mark in a manner that is likely to cause confusion. A common sense answer to that is no. But common sense does not always dictate the outcome of cases. On the legal front, Texas A&M faces several significant hurdles.
First, it is likely to be subject to the defenses of laches and acquiescence. Trademark owners must police against infringers or risk losing their rights in the mark. In this case, the Seahawks have been using the 12th man for a long time (Texas A&M will argue that the Seahawks' use was not commercial in nature):
the Seahawks retired the number 12 in 1984. This means no player on the team can wear the number 12 on their jersey. They also have a ceremony before each home game where a flag bearing the #12 is raised by a prominent individual.
I would bet the Seahawks and stadium vendors have sold 12th man merchandise for a long time now – albeit maybe not with as much enthusiasm. Texas A&M slept on their rights and now cannot come back to assert them. (In Texas A&M’s favor they have successfully gone after other teams.)
Second, it’s unclear that anyone in Seattle is actually using “12th Man” as a mark. No one is selling 12th man “branded” equipment. They are selling Seahawks or private label equipment that feature Seahawks players, one of which is the 12th Man. This is arguably non-trademark use.
Finally, Texas A&M is unlikely to be able to prove likely confusion. There are a variety of arguments that can be made around this issue (the colors/logos/uniforms are different, sports teams are local in nature, sports fans -- at least those who are likely to buy this sort of merchandise -- are discriminating purchasers). Any sports fan that confuses Texas A&M's 12th Man with Seattle's 12th Man is not a real sports fan.
It’s always tough to tell what will happen but this sounds like a loser of a case. A win for Texas A&M is also bad from a policy standpoint. Aside from the policy against ownership of concepts, these are two sports teams we are talking about. Although they play in different areas, the more popular team should be able to use this concept. And it's a concept that combines fan appreciation with the classic boyhood dream of being called out from the stands and being asked to suit up and get in the game. No one should be able to trademark that!
In defense of Texas A&M, they are required to police against infringers in order to retain rights in the mark. Not acting in this context leaves them open to a laches / acquiescence argument by subsequent infringers.
It’s funny, I’m not sure why copyright law always gets a bad rap and is often the target of wealth redistribution-minded creative commonsers. The real devils in the US intellectual property regime are trademarks and patents.
[slightly edited for formatting and typos]
Here's how they voted on cloture for the Alito nomination:
Senators up for election in 2006 are italicized, those who voted for cloture in "Kerry" states or against in "Bush" states are bolded, and those who will probably run for president are capitalized. All six of the presidential contenders voted against cloture, while the five who are up for re-election in 2006 in Democratic states and voted for cloture will be getting a lot of heat from Democrats, and probably will face primary challenges. I don't know what else can be said about this data. Draw your own conclusions.
Social scientists have proved for the hundredth time that Republicans are racists. The Washington Post dutifully reports.
The analysis found that substantial majorities of Americans, liberals and conservatives, found it more difficult to associate black faces with positive concepts than white faces -- evidence of implicit bias. But districts that registered higher levels of bias systematically produced more votes for Bush.
"Obviously, such research does not speak at all to the question of the prejudice level of the president," said Banaji, "but it does show that George W. Bush is appealing as a leader to those Americans who harbor greater anti-black prejudice."
And there will be much rejoicing among those who follow James Lileks' simple rules for making a fool of yourself on the internet. Charming example here ("Unfortunately, the study doesn't investigate the complexities of 'why' folks who vote Repug are more likely to be racist.") More incisive political theory. ("I never understand why they need studies to prove the obvious!")
But does the study really say what they say it says? Back to the article:
For their study, Nosek, Banaji and social psychologist Erik Thompson culled self-acknowledged views about blacks from nearly 130,000 whites, who volunteered online to participate in a widely used test of racial bias that measures the speed of people's associations between black or white faces and positive or negative words. The researchers examined correlations between explicit and implicit attitudes and voting behavior in all 435 congressional districts.
You can take an online demonstration version of the test by clicking here. It measures the speed with which you associate positive and negative ideas with African and European faces.
The analysis found that substantial majorities of Americans, liberals and conservatives, found it more difficult to associate black faces with positive concepts than white faces -- evidence of implicit bias. But districts that registered higher levels of bias systematically produced more votes for Bush.
I'll leave it to others to critique the science (at this moment the methodology has yet to be released) and note only that the result as described above is something quite different from Dr. Banaji's assertion that "George W. Bush is appealing as a leader to those Americans who harbor greater anti-black prejudice."
Regardless, this periodic debate (hardly a year goes by without new scientific proof that Republicans are evil) touches on a larger truth about American politics. Since there are only two parties, everyone's got some loonies on their side.
Are racists more likely to be Republicans? We can debate what it means to be racist, soft bigotry of low expectations and all that, but insofar as we are talking about gun-toting, confederate flag flying, cross burning rednecks, the answer is obviously yes. Those people voted for someone, and it probably wasn't John Kerry.
The problem arises from our irresistible compulsion to draw invalid conclusions from uncontroversial facts. "Racists are Republicans" does not mean "Republicans are racists." And it doesn't mean Democrats are not racists. It certainly doesn't mean YOU are not a racist.
It is an incontrovertible fact that high school dropouts preferred John Kerry in the 2004 election. What does this say about Democrats? Not much.
Which party is supported by drug dealers? Which party is supported by child molesters? Booger eaters? Double dippers? Toilet seat leaver uppers?
It only matters if you're a partisan or a fool.
Photographer Olivo Barbieri's photographs from far-off perspectives take on an unreal quality, as if what you're really looking at is an intricate scaled model and not the thing itself. († Robot Action Boy.)
Streets are strangely clean, trees look plastic, and odd distortions of scale create the opposite effect of what we expect from aerial photography--a complete overview, like military surveillance. "I was a little bit tired of the idea of photography allowing you to see everything," Barbieri says. "After 9/11 the world had become a little bit blurred because things that seemed impossible happened. My desire was to look at the city again."
A completely different—but similarly disorienting—take on perspective can often be found at NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day website, a collection of sometimes startlingly beautiful images from deep space and our solar system. It's difficult to contemplate the immensity of some of the images, but not difficult to realize how aesthetically appealing the images are.
The film follows Andy and Mike, two anti-globalist humorists, as they impersonate WTO spokesmen at speeches, conferences, and interviews on cable news. The pair scored numerous legitimate speaking gigs through their parody web site, GATT.org. They address a conference in Finland on "Textiles of the Future," and lecture a university economics department on a WTO plan to feed third world countries with recycled human waste. Everywhere they go, they expect to be thrown out. Instead, more often than not, they are taken completely seriously. Since the movie came out, through a new parody site, the Yes Men have taken to impersonating representatives of Dow Chemical.
Whatever your politics, The Yes Men is a hilarious and thought-provoking documentary. Check it out.
It's my unfortunate duty to report that I'm no longer able to contribute to BTD. In one sense my departure won't make much of a difference, given how infrequently I've posted over the last few months. Art writing consumes more of my time and focus, and yet not nearly enough of it—I still try to keep up with all the hour-by-hour political maneuvers. But even by the modest standards set by most political bloggers, I can't (or don't) process it in a way that amounts to meaningful contributions here.
I think BTD is a great project, and over the last year I've learned a great deal about the other side of the aisle, through some epic rows over Sinclair, SBVT, the filibuster, heteronormativity, and the like. It's probably best for the BTD project to make room for fresh blood—contributors who bring vibrant new opinions to the page, day by day, and can draw out the best opinions from across the political spectrum.
I'm hoping that the guys will let me keep my set of keys, just in case I'm ever freed up from the dayjob constraints or have something truly awesome I need to say. I'll certainly be reading and probably won't be able to resist smacking Steve around a bit, once elections are upon us again. But it's been my distinct pleasure to write here, and I look forward to seeing what happens here next.
I know someone like this.
There is only a pathway from the front door to the bedroom and to the kitchen. Floor to ceiling with boxes of stuff, papers and whatnot. Three defunct cars, 2 Caddy's and a Lincoln adorn the driveway in front of his swanky digs. He was going to sell them, but never got around to it, and he thinks they are worth what they would be in the condition they were in when he left them to deteriorate. He thinks EVERYTHING is worth what it would fetch in a premium market with the demand of the right buyer. So now he uses the trunks of these cars in winter as freezer storage!
One year he bought about twenty cabbages to bring home and make sauerkraut. It was Christmastime, and while he was parked in a mall, someone attempted to break into his trunk but instead just broke the lock. Instead of getting a new lock to replace it, he shopped the wrecking yards to get a deal on a new one. By Spring he still hadn't secured one and as you can guess the cabbages were getting pretty ripe in the trunk. The odour of rotting cabbage was so horrific that he had to drive around with both windows down to survive the stench! I was tempted more than once to grab my drill and reem out the defunct lock to let those cabbages free, but he wouldn't hear of it. Because of course he was going to get around to it, tomorrow.
So then he falls ill, and we feared he would not recover. He is rushed to the hospital and after some time, he does recover. But as he is 76 years old, walks with the aid of a walker, and has no washroom on the floor that he lives on, and in the conditions described above, a psychological assessment was requested by family members. (He can well afford to hire a plumber to install a bathroom, but he thinks that he can do it more capably, efficiently and cheaper than a plumber and is going to ' get around to it soon.') He is highly intelligent, makes a lot of sense and he passed with flying colours!
But alas we thought, all is not lost. Health care workers have to go to his home to inspect his living conditions before he can be released by rehab. Eureka! Someone will finally see the light! No way will they release someone who can hardly walk to this home where there is no bathroom on the same floor.... Guess what? They did. God only knows what he said to them, but I can guess.
Catching up with him on the phone, while interesting, is always tense. If you mention a subjct whereupon he has clipped an article (and as he has many interests, he clips many) he'll say "Hold on a minute," and he could be gone for twenty looking for it while you're left on hold. I get around this now by quickly saying, "Wait, Dad, please don't go!"
I guess one would expect a high frequency of softballs in this context, but HH really takes it to the limit.
Calling anyone who questions the administration's justification for the domestic surveillance program "disingenuous" without offering any reasons (other than the questioning) is a credibility killer in itself. But Rove really drives it home when he calls the administration's legal reasoning on this issue "impeccable". (I'm not really sure what this word means in this context, but if Rove is seriously reaching if he intends the term to mean conclusive.)
But what really cries out for an explanation is this. Right after Rove finishes explaining how the AUMF authorizes GW to do pretty much anything, including trumping FISA, Rove goes on to argue why Congress must re-authorize the USA PATRIOT Act. THAT makes no sense whatsoever. Why on earth would Congress need to authorize the President to take action which Congress already supposedly authorized by passing the AUMF? Rove just got done explaining how "impeccable" legal reasoning allows the President to do something which ostensibly is prohibited by law. If he can do this, certainly the President can effect that which the USA PATRIOT Act authorizes.
Maybe I'm missing something.
Follow up: Hewitt proceeds to pull the YANAL (You are not a Lawyer) card on Jonathan Alter. Few maneuvers are so tacky. Doing so following a Karl Rove interview allowing without comment discussion of "impeccable" legal analysis in the context of GW's domestic surveillance program (which presents the greyest of questions), however, probably takes the cake. [edited for typo]
Yet another Lost episode. Spoilers and such follow.
continue reading "LOST: BAPTISMS AND MAYHEM" »
This one, titled "Fire + Water," felt kind of so-so to me: an average degree of suspense and feeling of dread without a lot of payoff. The flashbacks didn't really add much to Charlie's character for me. In fact, other than fill in the holes between his previous flashbacks, they didn't seem to serve much of a purpose at all. On the other hand, there were some fairly well executed hallucination sequences, something I always enjoy and which we haven't seen in a while. And the acting, as always, was top notch.
Links and miscellanea
>, contains a hidden link to a parapsychology site that publishes Ingo Swann's writings on remote viewing. (Swann is a psychic who worked with the CIA and the Stanford Research Institute to develop a coordinate remote viewing intelligence program for the government. Some—including myself, actually— have speculated that the "Swan Station" may be a reference to Ingo Swann and remote viewing and that the numbers may be coordinates used in a remote viewing exercise.) Olivie's website also has a technical credit that points back to BigSpaceship, and has a hidden (but broken) link to a "Dr. Ragnar Nielsson" at the Hanso Foundation. After looking at these websites, I don't think they have any formal connection to the show. Still, it's fun to see the Lost universe spread throughout internet culture.
It was also implied that we'll find out even more about the Monster.
Observations and speculation
The butcher cover to the North American Yesterday...and Today album was a piece of "pop art satire." ... [T]he photograph (called, properly, "A Somnambulant Adventure") was part of a group of three photos that were intended to debunk the Beatles' legendary status. The mental image was supposed to form that these guys were just humans after all. John (and later Paul) have said that it was a commentary on war.
In "Fire + Water," Charlie (a one-time British pop star) finds himself engaged in somnambulism—or, sleepwalking. Nice touch.
This wasn't one of my favorite episodes. I don't think it quite worked to drive either the story or the characters. Nothing about the episode really made me want to empathize with Charlie. It wasn't terrible, but I can't say I enjoyed it all that much either. Next week looks like it will get us back on track as far as action and story go. Hopefully.
American Idol is in the first stage of its fifth season. The judges are traveling around America, sorting through the assembled multitudes in seach of a couple hundred prospects for the second round in Hollywood.
I'm going to go ahead and call this one.
Paris Bennett will be the next American Idol.
It's a done deal. You heard it here first.
I sometimes watch old episodes of CSI. The one in Las Vegas. It's the only one I've seen. It's a good show.
Here's the thing, though, and this really bugs the crap out of me. When the CSI people investigate a crime scene, they never turn on the lights. They always poke around with flashlights, spot little toenails or blood spots on the floor or whatever, but always in the dark. Then when they go back to CSI headquarters, guess what? It's ridiculously dark in there!
TURN ON THE LIGHTS, PEOPLE!!! For the love of God, turn on the lights!!!
(Still, good show).
(Note, there are also legalistic things about the show that bug me, mostly involving criminal defense lawyers who sit idly by, perhaps with an occasional visible fret, as their clients confess to the cops. But hey, if we're going to sweat the legalistic quibbles, we're not going to watch TV, are we?)
Will Baude has a persuasive op-ed in the New York Times (click through Will's blog post here) arguing that even if Roe v. Wade is reversed, the abortion problem will ultimately require a federal solution. Typically thoughtful commentary follows at Will's group blog, Crescat Sententia.
Will's piece hardly constitutes a defense of Roe, nor is it meant to. He points out that if abortion were left to the states, they would likely approach the question in contentious and contradictory ways. As Baude puts it, "A patchwork of state abortion regulations, however, will lead not to compromise, but chaos."
He's right, but then, sometimes regulatory chaos is a good thing. State-level law is a primordial policy soup, subject to the Darwinian pressures of elections and lawsuits. Good ideas adapt and propagate. Bad ones wither and die. It's messy. It's chaotic. It's perplexing and unwieldy, but it's a glorious disaster. It's democracy. And it works.
A whole lot of internet traffic if that name happens to be Geronimo Jackson. If you're interested in internet traffic patterns (like, for example, the Georgy Effect I wrote about years ago), read on. If not, as the Clampetts say, do come back now, ya hear!
continue reading "GERONIMO!: WHAT'S IN A NAME?" »
Geronimo Jackson, in case you've been skipping over my recent Lost posts, is the name of a band that came up in this week's episode. I first mentioned the band two weeks ago, noting that Lost writers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof had urged listeners to keep a look out for the band ("a band not a lot of people have heard about. They just pressed one very obscure album in the mid to late 70s.") I first speculated that they had misspoke, and what they really meant was Geronimo Black, a band founded by Frank Zappa's drummer Jimmy Carl Black after Zappa broke up the Mothers. I noticed that they even had a song called "Other Man," which, to Lost fans has a wry significance. I posted my theory at The Fuselage, where it passed without much notice or attention. Bill also wrote about the pressing Geronimo Jackson issue at his blog, So Quoted. In fact, Bill and I were the only two people I know to make any mention of it.
Flash forward one week to last Wednesday. It turns out I was wrong (which I readily admitted in my weekly Lost post) and it was, in fact, Geronimo Jackson that gets mentioned in the latest episode. As Hurley and Charlie are looking through the hatch's record collection, they comment on the record. Charlie notes that he's never heard of them, and claims to know a lot about music (being a former rockstar himself). They even ask Sayid, the former Iraqi National Guard heartthrob, if he's ever heard of Geronimo Jackson (he hadn't).
Lost fans, assuming that nothing gets mentioned (let alone repeated) on the show without a reason, hopped on the internet after the episode aired and began Googling. Because I had published a post that included speculation about Geronimo Jackson a week earlier, our site was one of the first—and one of the only relevant—results that came up. This chart shows you the net effect of all of those internet searches:
Bill's blog experienced the same effect. I was somewhat gratified to discover that even though people had reached my post searching for information on the elusive (and, I've concluded, purely fictional) Geronimo Jackson, because they were Lost fans, they were also able to enjoy my observations about the show. Pretty soon, I discovered my posts were being linked by people on internet discussion boards all over the place under the heading, "I found this interesting blog while searching for Geronimo Jackson..." For a blogger, it doesn't get much more gratifying than that. We love it when people actually read the inane stuff we write. Someone was even kind enough to post a link to our blog (completely unsolicited) in the comments of Whitney Matheson's excellent pop culture blog, Pop Candy (by far the biggest single source of traffic over the last couple days).
What have I learned from all this? Not much, really. Instant internet fame (even by these modest standards) is capricious and fleeting. There's not much I could do to duplicate this phenomenon, even if I tried. (Yesterday was, in fact, our biggest traffic day in the history of BTD. Our previous highest day was the result Instapundit linking, in Glenn's enticingly laconic style, of a post I wrote called "The Mentos Conspiracy") We may have picked up a few more readers for the weekly Lost updates. But I imagine that things should settle down to pre-Geronimo Jackson levels in no time.
My power of sports prognostication has been seriously off lately. My fantasy football team finished dead last (and it wasn't even close), I've already picked as many NFL playoff games incorrectly as the last two years combined, and I also said off-blog that there was no way Theo Epstein was coming back to the Red Sox, or that the Jets would hire Eric Mangini as head coach. And now I'm going to pick both road teams to win in the championship games, something that hasn't happened in over ten years. But before we get to that ...
continue reading "SO MUCH FOR THE REMATCH" »
Pittsburgh 24, Denver 20
The Broncos did not look impressive last week (not that I'm bitter or anything), but the Steelers sure did. And while Plummer still hasn't been put in a pressure situation, Ben Roethlisburger looked as if he's becoming a top quarterback. The only thing I'm worrying about is if Bill Cowher faces a tough decision late in the game and decides to go the conservative route as he always does.
Carolina 27, Seattle 17
No DeShaun Foster, Julius Peppers isn't 100%, but I'm going with them anyway. For the whole year, the Seahawks have been paper tigers, getting soft wins over the Cowboys (late Drew Bledsoe pick) and Giants (three Jay Feely missed field goals), and that win last week wasn't that impressive either. And has any running back with similar numbers ever come up as small as Shaun Alexander consistently has in big game situations?
Another action-packed episode. And it seems like just seven days ago we had a new one, too.
Spoilers and speculation after the jump.
continue reading "LOST: THE HUNT" »
This one was intense, with not a lot to break up the intensity. Both the main storyline and Jack's flashback were dark and dismal. Of course, I loved it. My main complaint with Season 2 is that it hasn't been nearly as suspenseful and frightening as Season 1. While I still don't think this was one of the most suspenseful episodes in the series, it at least got things back on the right track.
Links and miscellanea:
Carlton Cuse: Now you've seen the latest incarnation of the Monster, and uh ... all those flashes, Damon, do you wanna make any comment about ...
Damon Lindelof: Yeah, it's kinda ... it's kind of interesting, they're very short and very brief and sort of ... uh, I think I will sort of leave to the audience to sort of interpret what they will, but if ... I would, my own interpretation, Carlton, would be that, you know, that the thing that all the flashes had in common was they seemed to be moments from Mr. Eko's life ...
CC: They did, yes ...
DL: Some of which, we may not have even seen yet. So, I don't know what I would intuit by the fact that the Monster was in someway almost sort of the ethernet connection to his emotions but was in some way downloading his fears and anxieties and ...
CC: ... analyzing them ...
DL: ... and then was somehow able not to, uh, attack him based on the fact that Eko did not seem particularly afraid of him, which might explain why Locke was not ...
CC: ... right ...
DL: ... savaged by the Monster in Season One. That would be, I don't know, just my theory.
CC: And you know what, I would, uh, I would put a little bit of credence to a lot of that speculation. I think that that's, uh ... you know, the Monster, obviously, might be reacting to certain aspects of, uh, the character that he is facing.
Second, we were informed that Dharma is an acronym. From now on, I will refer to it as D.H.A.R.M.A. It's more difficult to type, but accuracy does not come without its cost. Let the speculation begin about its meaning.
Observations and speculations:
I enjoyed this one, and it sure is nice to get to see new episodes on consecutive weeks. Next week's episode, "Fire + Water" looks like it may have Charlie flashbacks and may return us to a familiar motif: the lucid/prescient hallucination.
If anyone could tell me what happened in the last couple of minutes, I'd appreciate it. My DVR stopped right after Jack asked Ana Lucia if she had actually killed one of "them."
At Huffington Post Mr. Hitchens speaks out about his involvement in the civil suit challenging the administration's domestic spying program. His entire post is below the fold, but he makes all of following points:
The administration claimed disclosure of the spying program was a threat to national security, even though common sense dictates that sophisticated players such as the participants in the 9-11 plot assume they are being monitored at all times.Kudos to him for participating in the lawsuit and speaking out. I think he sugarcoats the situation a bit.
The administration argued that Congress unwittingly granted it the power to engage in domestic spying which makes the line-drawing all the more imporatnt. [I think he's wrong on this count. Congress did not grant this power.]
The domestic spying program ensnared innocent Americans, potentially diverting resources from known threats.
The executive branch in general has bungled many aspects of the GWOT, (including domestic prosecutions).
In general, we should be wary of increased in government power in the name of national security.
We have to draw some sort of line with respect to executive power. We set dangerous precedent when we fail to do so.
We have to have high standards for when we allow our government to treat us as enemies.
The bottom line is that the President took the law into his own hands in order to avoid the accountability the would have attached with Congressional approval. In the process he probably infringed on the rights on some innocent Americans – the exact situation Congressional oversight is designed to protect against. This is unacceptable. Period. Why? Because by definition, there are no limits to this type of Presidential aggrandizement. It's limitless.
continue reading "HITCHENS SPEAKS" »
The full text of his post below
Although I am named in this suit in my own behalf, I am motivated to join it by concerns well beyond my own. I have been frankly appalled by the discrepant and contradictory positions taken by the Administration in this matter. First, the entire existence of the NSA's monitoring was a secret, and its very disclosure denounced as a threat to national security.
Then it was argued that Congress had already implicitly granted the power to conduct warrantless surveillance on the territory of the United States, which seemed to make the reason for the original secrecy more rather than less mysterious. (I think we may take it for granted that our deadly enemies understand that their communications may be intercepted.)
It now appears that Congress may have granted this authority, but without quite knowing that it had, and certainly without knowing the extent of it.
This makes it critically important that we establish an understood line, and test the cases in which it may or may not be crossed.
Let me give a very direct instance of what I mean. We have recently learned that the NSA used law enforcement agencies to track members of a pacifist organisation in Baltimore. This is, first of all, an appalling abuse of state power and an unjustified invasion of privacy, uncovered by any definition of "national security" however expansive. It is, no less importantly, a stupid diversion of scarce resources from the real target. It is a certainty that if all the facts were known we would become aware of many more such cases of misconduct and waste.
We are, in essence, being asked to trust the state to know best. What reason do we have for such confidence? The agencies entrusted with our protection have repeatedly been shown, before and after the fall of 2001, to be conspicuous for their incompetence and venality. No serious reform of these institutions has been undertaken or even proposed: Mr George Tenet (whose underlings have generated leaks designed to sabotage the Administration's own policy of regime-change in Iraq, and whose immense and unconstitutionally secret budget could not finance the infiltration of a group which John Walker Lindh could join with ease) was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
I believe the President when he says that this will be a very long war, and insofar as a mere civilian may say so, I consider myself enlisted in it. But this consideration in itself makes it imperative that we not take panic or emergency measures in the short term, and then permit them to become institutionalised. I need hardly add that wire-tapping is only one of the many areas in which this holds true.
The better the ostensible justification for an infringement upon domestic liberty, the more suspicious one ought to be of it. We are hardly likely to be told that the government would feel less encumbered if it could dispense with the Bill of Rights. But a power or a right, once relinquished to one administration for one reason, will unfailingly be exploited by successor administrations, for quite other reasons. It is therefore of the first importance that we demarcate, clearly and immediately, the areas in which our government may or may not treat us as potential enemies.
As someone who for several years dealt with epilepsy and the medication (and side effects) attendant to that condition, I'm appalled to read that coverage under the new Medicare prescription drug dispensation restricts and excludes whole classes of antiepileptic drugs. Barbiturates, for example, are not covered at all, for seemingly arbitrary reasons—though I agree with one TPM reader that there's surely a Republican shibboleth at the root of that objection.
continue reading "This Is Your Congress. This Is Your Congress on Drugs." »
Perhaps some congressmen vaguely recalled "barbiturates" from the Just Say No! educational pamphlets that his children probably accepted as to-do lists for the weekend. Maybe, just as with the ink and the pork and the coveting the neighbor's ass, benzodiazepenes are namechecked in the Book of Leviticus; where there's legislation authored by the Republican leadership, there's fire—and brimstone. Or more insidiously, as the above-linked reader puts it, "maybe the competing drug classes are much more profitable for someone's campaign contributors (as both benzodiazepines and barbiturates are cheap and produced as generics, unlike their likely treatment alternatives)."
Whatever the reasoning and whatever your philosophical inclinations toward state health care, it must be acknowledged that there simply is no second-best alternative to some of these drugs. My experience was instructive. I experienced seizures belonging to a variety called tonic clonic, which sounds like a long-last Pavement album. After my first seizures, many of the antiepileptics I tried caused extremely severe side effects: in the worst cases, seizures, but also profuse nosebleeds and profound visual chromatic defects (dramatic "red-shifting" in everything I saw, as it were). Tonic-clonic seizures: not as fun as they sound. Tonic-clonic side effects: nearly as disappointing as the seizures.
My antiepileptic wasn't a barbiturate, but I was prescribed many before I found a medication with a profile of side effects I could live with. (I eventually weaned myself off antiepileptics and have lived fun and fancy free for two or three years now—although another seizure would mean that I'd have to return to the pills for good.)
But my profile did change over time, and it's conceivable that at some point I might have had to (and may still yet) need to explore other options or even take a cocktail of medications. Given that under the new dispensation, anticonvulsants old (mysoline) and new (lyrica)—along with whole categories of drugs (benzodiazepines, barbiturates)—are not covered by Medicare, appropriate prescriptions will only be an affordable option for those not well off if dual eligibility (state and federal aid) allows for the right intersection of drug coverages. Which is to say nothing about the process for determining the right intersection of drug coverages.
State Medicaid, federal Medicare, and temporary emergency relief, that is—of the likes declared by several states already in the wake of institutional confusion and exceptional incompetence seen in the rollout. The Citizen reports on just one of the many cases of the new January blues, in which an epileptic was greeted by the pharmacist with hundreds of dollars in copayments, no clear avenue for redressing her situation, and limited time to resolve the problem.
Again, the tragedy with specific respect to epilepsy is that there is no second-best alternative for many of the available drugs—but these are predictable problems that probably apply to a range of chronic conditions. I haven't followed the prescription drug benefit fallout as closely as your Ezra or your Lindsay; the most insightful thing I could say about the issue is that it's one helluva sedative. Feel free to take me to task for the angles I haven't appreciated here—I'm sure I'm just repeating the basic orthodox liberal points on the subject. But the complaints raised by the Epilepsy Foundation strike me as very obvious, the sort of broad, foundational considerations raised by the very prospect of revising state health care standards. How was Congress able to so deliberately fail to address these concerns?
It happens that I'm young, educated, not dependent on state aid, not infirm or unaware of events, and probably not even likely to have a seizure any time in the near future. But, of course, you don't write Medicare legislation with people like me in mind. Congress deliberately ignored and excluded those for whom the legislation matters most.
Following my lead, Golden Globes were given out last night to Lost (best drama series) and House (best actor in a drama series, Hugh Laurie). Now if only the foreign press would recognize the greatness of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
When I met Salim Nourallah for the first time, he was gracious and self-effacing. He had just finished a modest set as the opening act for The Foxymorons (a band that I've written about here several times) and wanted to know if Allison and I were a fan of the band. He enthusiastically said he loved the Foxymorons and that was why he had agreed to do the show. Tall, handsome and scruffy, Salim Nourallah looks the part of the rockstar in everything but attitude. When I asked him if I could buy a copy of his new album, Beautiful Noise, he was almost apologetic ("It's $15. Is that okay?").
I'd been casually following Salim's career since I arrived in Dallas six-and-a-half years ago. One of the first albums I ever bought of a Dallas act was The Happiness Factor's Self Improvement?, Salim's mod-punk Brit-pop band that, in my opinion anyway, outplays Oasis at its own game. As we made awkward small talk with Salim, remembering that he had once collaborated with his brother, Faris, and also remembering that I had heard Faris had also put out solo albums, I asked, "What's your brother up to these days?" I didn't realize then that it was a loaded question.
continue reading "BEAUTIFUL NOISES AND BROTHERS GRIM" »
Faris Nourallah, sometime after recording with Salim as the Nourallah Brothers, has developed agoraphobia and apparent anti-social tendencies. As Salim said, "He's becoming more and more out of touch with reality. It's really sad." (Sad, along with sentimental and nostalgic, is an mood that the Nourallah Brothers captured exquisitely in their self-titled, and only, album.) As further explained in this Dallas Observer article:
These days, Salim describes his brother's condition like this: "My brother basically doesn't leave the house." In coarse terms, he's a hermit. Faris isn't proud of this fact, although it's hard to resist the marketing appeal of such eccentricity. The promotional one-sheet for his solo album, I Love Faris, reads, "Faris Nourallah lives in his own world. He exists almost exclusively within the confines of his one-bedroom home and backyard studio; he doesn't go out to shows and hasn't bought a new record in years. This self-imposed isolation has allowed Faris to develop his unique and endearing style of songwriting." ... [B]y his early 30s, the world had become a dangerous place for Faris Nourallah. He could hardly leave the house without dissolving into a mess of cold sweats and heart palpitations. Partly as therapy, partly out of boredom, he started making music by himself--without his brother for the first time. While Salim continued business as usual with the Happiness Factor--rehearsals, gigging, blah blah blah--Faris quietly put together a solo album of songs filled with Tinkertoy melodies, made-up words ("brogadiccio") and fantastic imagery ("lemon-pie moons").
Even though Faris now lives as a shut-in, he continues to make music that is strange and wonderful—like a sort of modern-day working Syd Barrett. He has just, in fact, released a retrospective, Near the Sun: the Best Songs of Faris Nourallah. And, somewhat peculiarly for someone who spends his days as a Dallas recluse, Faris apparently has quite a following in Europe. (His second album, King of Sweden is so titled because one Swedish woman was so taken by Faris's music that she traveled all the way to Texas just to meet him.) Faris's music, like his brother Salim's, is introspective, pretty and fragile. The melodies are lovely, but there's a slightly unbalanced, off-kilter quality that's either off-putting or engaging—and, perhaps, both—depending on how the listener approaches it.
Salim Nourallah's music is much more straight-forward, if somewhat dark and brooding. Salim's two albums, Polaroid and Beautiful Noise, have adult-oriented, British-tinged pop that explores serious themes like death, fear and disappointment. It's not bubble gum dance music, certainly, but it's not inaccessible either. In fact, despite being generally moody, the songs are actually quite catchy. (Both brothers Nourallah, whether together or separately, have a gift for finding melodic hooks. All those hours the two spent listening to The Beatles and The Kinks were apparently not wasted.) Self-produced and self-engineered in Salim's own Pleasantry Lane studio, the album sounds technically perfect, too.
The Happiness Factor:
From KERA, the Dallas NPR affiliate, An interview with Salim Nourallah, discussing his newest album, Beautiful Noise.
Buy music from Salim and Faris Nourallah at Amazon:
From time to time, we plan to post some of the entries found over at the BTD Forum. This, our first entry in the "Best of BTD Forum" category, comes from regular poster Gattigap. The entire thread can be found here.
Hello, Gentle Reader –
I’m writing you today to tell you the story of Gus. (No, not the poster known as Gus.)
This, I’m coming to realize, is one profoundly stupid cat.
In our backyard we have a Jacaranda tree. Gus, it appears, likes our Jacaranda tree.
Day 1: We find Gus sitting in the V in the tree, mewing for help. About 5 feet up. Reach out and grab Gus, tell him not to climb the tree, put him down. Away he goes.
Day 2: Gus climbs waaaaaay up into the tree, probably 15 feet. Unreachable by any ladders in our possession. Fortunately, the landscaping guy is around, and Mrs. Gattigap asks for the guy’s help. Guy puts on the tree-climbing gear, hops up the tree, gets Gus, drops him onto blanket that Mrs. G and MIL are holding aloft. Gus darts for the house.
Day 3: Mrs. G out for the day, me and FIL at home. Early afternoon. Hear mewing outside. Curse. Look up, Gus is in the same precise spot. Call Mrs. G. Come to consensus that the answer is not to employ fire dept. at cost of (reportedly) hundreds of dollars for a 1-minute kitten rescue. Answer, instead, is to let the cat figure out how to get down, because otherwise this little endeavor is headed for painful, utter failure.
Several hours later, Gus is still there. FIL and I step outside to assess the situation. FIL says, you know, when I was a kid, we’d get cats out of trees by tossing rocks at it.
I arch eyebrows, look over at FIL. FIL turns palms up, adopts “I’m just sayin’” expression.
We assemble various wiffle balls, soft mini-basketballs, etc. Toss each up to Gus such that the top of the arc comes close to him. Gus is unmoved, though he finds this exercise interesting. 15 minutes later, a mini-basketball occupies Gus’ exact spot on the branch. Gus tumbles, falls to the deck below. Lands upright -- though, admittedly, dispassionate observers wouldn’t call this a perfect 4-point landing. Gus darts into house (and is unharmed from the experience). FIL and I decide to volunteer that we saw Gus fall, though not necessarily mention that we tossed balls in his direction.
Day 4: Gus back in tree, in same freakin’ spot. I have to leave for a dinner, plan is for others to let Gus figure out the mechanics of tree descent on his own.
I return after event. Everyone in house is asleep, except Gus, who’s still in the tree, mewing. I softly call up to Gus. Explain, cajole, plead, curse. Gus is unmoved. I contemplate what to do, and while engaged in Deep Thought on the topic, fall asleep on couch.
Awake at about 1am. Mrs. G is there, worrying about Gus. We go outside to assess our options. Gus still there, still mewing. We’re both exhausted. Mrs. G worries about Gus falling asleep and then, well, falling. At this point, I don’t see this as a uniformly bad outcome. Mrs. G disagrees. We need Options.
Well, says I, we could toss balls up in his direction, see if he’s encouraged to come down. No, says she, that sounds a bit cruel.
Maybe, says she, you could get out the hose and spray water near him. You know, just to encourage him to come down.
I arch eyebrows, look over at Mrs. G. She turns palms up, adopts “I’m just sayin’” expression.
So, at 1am, I get out the Domestic Water Cannon. Spray hose in Gus’ general direction. Gus is unmoved.
It’s at this point, Gentle Reader, that your author lost patience with this overall exercise. I adjusted the arc of the water slightly, and what was a Warning Shot Across The Bow became more of a Direct Water Assault.
Gus tumbles, falls, lands upright. Though, admittedly, most dispassionate observers wouldn’t call it a perfect 4-point landing. Wet, bedraggled Gus darts into house to gorge on food and receive pampering from Mrs. G while I turn off the Water Cannon.
Though I’ve been traveling the last couple of days, I am writing this epistle from the SFO terminal returning home. Just spoke on the phone with Mrs. G.
Gus is in the tree.
Your faithful friend,
The New York Review of Books publishes a letter† by several law professors and former government officials responding to the DOJ letter to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees defending GW’s “domestic spying program”.*
The letter contains an interesting tidbit that has not seen much light and which was not mentioned at all by the DOJ letter. It notes FISA specifically allows for “wartime domestic surveillance – but only for the first fifteen days of war.” [citing 50 USC § 1811.] The letter also notes that FISA states it is “the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance...may be conducted.”
continue reading "THE AUMF HOUSE OF CARDS" »
The administration argued (among other things) in a DOJ letter responding to the NYT article that Congressional authorization for the use of military force following 9-11 granted (or supplemented) the President the power to engage in domestic surveillance. (“The President's constitutional authority to direct the NSA to conduct the activities he described is supplemented by statutory authority under the AUMF.”). But this claim was undermined by Tom Dashcle’s revelation that the administration – moments before approval of the AUMF – sought to include language ostensibly extending the scope of the AUMF to cover activity inside the United States. A Washington Post article noted:
“Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the administration sought to add the words ‘in the United States and’ after ‘appropriate force’ in the agreed-upon text,” Daschle wrote. “This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas – where we all understood he wanted authority to act – but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused.”
The fact that the administration sought and was denied an expansion of the AUMF to include domestic powers constitutes anecdotal evidence that the administration knew the language of the AUMF – as agreed upon – did not extend to actions in the United States. The FISA language highlighted in the letter further bolsters the case that Congress did not impliedly carve out an exception to FISA in the AUMF. One could make the argument that Congress believed it did not need to explicitly grant domestic powers in the AUMF but this ascribes a level of carelessness to Congress that courts usually do not buy into when engaging in statutory construction. While Congress in reality is imperfect and makes mistakes, when construing a statute with respect to Congressional intent, courts assume Congress acts rationally.
So this leaves the administration in the least favorable of the Youngstown categories – i.e., where Congress has specifically denied the power sought to be exercised by the executive and where the executive nevertheless exercises this power. As Justice Frankfurter noted in Youngstown, a famous wartime separation of powers case:
It is one thing to draw an intention of Congress from general language and to say that Congress would have explicitly written what is inferred, where Congress has not addressed itself to a specific situation. It is quite impossible, however, when Congress did specifically address itself to a problem, as Congress did to that of seizure, to find secreted in the interstices of legislation the very grant of power which Congress consciously withheld. To find authority so explicitly withheld is...to disrespect the whole legislative process and the constitutional division of authority between President and Congress. Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579, 609 (1952). (Frankfurter, J., concurring).
That language pretty much undermines the “AUMF authorization” argument.
Here is the distilled version of this point: FISA is a federal statute dealing with electronic surveillance. A New York Times story alleged the administration conducted extensive surveillance outside the strictures of FISA. In the wake of the domestic spying story the administration argued that in passing the AUMF, Congress impliedly authorized the President to engage in whatever was necessary. Then Tom Daschle reveals that the administration sought to expand the scope of the AUMF to cover domestic activities and Congress refused. This significantly undermines the administration’s theory. It’s now further undermined by the fact that FISA provides it is the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance may be conducted and actually provides for wartime domestic surveillance, but only for the first fifteen days following the start of war – i.e., Congressed already addressed the issue of wartime domestic surveillance and only authorized it for the first fifteen days. The “AUMF authorization” starts to seem pretty flimsy. This may leave the President in the position of arguing that his inherent powers as Commander-in-Chief authorized the surveillance at issue notwithstanding Congressional non-approval of these actions. This is a dicey position to take.
I’m not saying the President’s actions were blatantly illegal, or even illegal. The resolution of whether his actions were appropriate is obviously gray. Particularly so, because this case involves application of separation of powers questions that are unsettled, and which involve deep-seated policy questions. (Also because the facts underlying the program are largely unknown – e.g., even with respect to whether and how many calls were monitored, how they were monitored, and whether they involved agents of foreign governments or threats.) The resolution of these questions is necessarily influenced by one’s thinking on the proper scope of the legislative and executive powers (as modified, if at all, by the novelties of the war on terror). Still, I think it’s a lot dicier to argue that the President took these actions in the face of Congressional disapproval (or non-approval).†† It's fair to presume the President did so to avoid the accountability that working with Congress would have required. And this is one aspect of this whole program that Americans may find unpalatable.
Related: Julian Sanchez interviews whistleblower Russell Tice in Reason magazine here.
* Politically speaking, this is the perfect way to describe it.
†† There’s some caselaw on whether the President has the inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence, but none of it seems to conclusively resolve the issue.
I had this idea while watching the CBS commercials during the Patriots game yesterday: a two-part crossover television event on Criminal Minds and In Justice. I know they're on different networks, but everyone would tune in to this. Imagine: you have a bunch of smarty-pants on one show proving how guilty some guy is, then you have the smarty-pants on the other show arguing that he's actually innocent, and you as the viewer get to make the final call (with an online poll!). It's interactive, it's definitely going to be better than the Ally McBeal/The Practice crossover from several years ago or the multiple Buffy/Angel crossovers that never served much of a purpose, and most importantly, it completely overturns the premise of the two shows, which seems to be that the criminals are all guilty (Criminal Minds) or that the prisoners are all innocent (In Justice).
I think this is the most brilliant idea I've had since I decided to microwave bacon before frying it.
A few things before my picks for the NFL playoffs, which is way more fun to think and write about than the Alito hearings:
Now, onward with my picks:
Seattle 28, Washington 13
Despite my mispick last week, I stand by my statement that I have no idea how the Redskins made the playoffs, and now I have no idea how they won last week's game. Brunell and Portis both look beat up, and unlike last week they'll have to move the ball to win, because Hasselbeck isn't going to give the ball away like Chris Simms did.
New England 24, Denver 23
On the one hand, the Broncos have a superior running game, a great offensive line, a more reliable defense, and have played great the whole season. On the other, it's Jake Plummer vs. Tom Brady, and I don't care how well he's played so far this year, it's still Jake Plummer and he's not trustworthy under pressure until proven otherwise. The whole season for the Broncos had been about taking the pressure away from Plummer, but that's not going to be possible in the playoffs.
Indianapolis 38, Pittsburgh 17
Not that I need another reason to think that the Colts will absolutely destroy the Steelers, but now I see that Joey Porter is complaining about how the Colts won the last time they played by being the smarter team. Seriously, he was complaining, among other things, that the Colts were running the ball when they had a pass defense on the field and passing the ball when they had a run defense. Even Jon Kitna was able to move the ball up and down the field against the Steelers last week; what do you think Manning is going to do to them?
Carolina 19, Chicago 9
The Panthers defense won't be as good as they were last week, but how are the Bears going to score? Everyone thinks Rex Grossman is vastly superior to Kyle Orton, but in a game-and-a-half so far with Grossman their offensive production has consisted of 24 points against the Packers, and a one yard, one play touchdown "drive" against the Falcons in which Grossman handed off the ball. Orton was the lowest rated passer with a 59.7 rating this year, but what is Grossman's rating so far? 59.7. Grossman's passes might look prettier than Orton's, but the end results are the same. And let's remember that he has played a grand total of 8 games in the NFL and has thrown only 4 touchdown passes. The Bears need to force multiple turnovers to win the game, but for that plan to succeed they'll also need to not give the ball away on offense, and I think Orton is better suited for that role as ball protector than Grossman is.
Yeah, I’m probably overreacting over something that’s essentially “wassup,” but you know what? I just find the whole thing vaguely racist. No, hear me out. It’s like, the very concept of Parnell and Samberg, who appear to be two suburban white guys, rapping about going to a nerdy movie is intrinsically funny. Why is that? Is it because rapping is expected to be reserved for hyperviolent, hypersexualized, and, of course, hyperblack discussion of killin’, jewelry, and, of course, bitches? There’s this whole ignorant, mostly middle-class, mostly white conceit that hip-hop is purely thuggery that has pissed me off since mostly middle-class, mostly white kids started chanting “Fuck tha police!” along with NWA almost two decades ago. This “Lazy Sunday” thing draws its humor—and, hell, Parnell’s whole rapping shtick—from that racist conceit.
What I find so troublesome is the connection between form and content that goes unchallenged, even though it doesn’t hold up to even the slightest scrutiny. A Tribe Called Quest left their wallet in El Segundo 15 years ago, at about the same time De La Soul was exploring issues of identity in “Me, Myself, and I.” J-Live, the Pharcyde, and the greatest of all time, LL Cool J, have numerous songs about love. And we’ve all decided to fall out over Kanye West’s biographical journeys of lost love, insecurity, family, and spirituality. Yet Parnell is able to don this stereotypical swagger and elicit laughter.
The writer goes on to say, apparently with complete seriousness, that Parnell is engaging in "postmodern black face."
I think the issue here is that this writer, Vincent Williams of the Baltimore's City Paper weekly alternative, as he admits himself, obviously doesn't get the joke. And the joke, of course, is that Parnell and Samburg are taking on the affectations and swagger of gangsta rap, but they're completely clueless nerds. This skit makes fun of poseur geeky urban white guys, and that's funny. Nothing that Parnell and Samburg does could be seen as stereotypically black. As far as Samburg and Parnell having outdated concepts of what's cool in hip-hop, well, yeah. That's the point. These guys are hopelessly unaware of how unhip they are. How someone could interpret this as "vaguely racist" really defies explanation. Unless white guys making fun of themselves is racist. But that thought just makes my head spin.
And here's another thing that I don't think anyone can seriously argue about:
Double true! (†Throwing Things)
One would think that the purpose of hearings is to find out more about the nominee, which would necessitate letting Alito talk. Not so. Instead, the hearings have been about having the Senators talk ... and talk and talk and talk. Of the 18 Senators on the Judiciary Committee, 15 of them spoke more words than Alito did in their alloted question time. And I don't see any Democratic/Republican disparity—both sides are equally capable in filibustering (well, I guess that's not the right word).
Finally, at long last, we have a new episode to chew on. And so, without any further ado as they say, let's discuss The Twenty-Third Psalm.
continue reading "LOST: THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH" »
Lost Links and Miscellanea:
Observations and Speculations
By the way, here's some evidence that the Darma Initiative conspiracy may reach father than any of us suspected:
(Photo courtesy of "imfromthepast" on The Fuselage)
Because someone at BTD should say something about the Alito confirmation hearings. Nora Demleitner, a former judicial clerk of Judge Alito has a nice recap of the first day of the hearings. Notable quotable:
Most of the Senators’ attacks on and defenses of Judge Alito and his record were predictable. While the Republicans proclaimed Judge Alito’s eminent qualifications and record — which nobody seems to seriously dispute — others highlighted his concern for judicial restraint, a codeword presumably for opposition to matters such as abortion and gay marriage and the defense of states’ rights. The Democrats, on the other hand, focused on Judge Alito’s supposedly conservative record as a judge and voiced their distress about his perceived views on abortion, the right to privacy, and separation of powers.
More interesting has been Senator Charles Schumer’s attack on Judge Alito. He accused the Judge of reaching predictably conservative outcomes but hiding them behind judicial craftmanship. This is a difficult line of argument to refute. All of those of us who believe that Judge Alito decides each case on its merits may be just dupes -- duped by a super smart judge who has followed his personal ideology for decades. It seems difficult to imagine that a person could have been hiding such strong personal beliefs from virtually everyone with whom he has worked for such a long time. However, nothing is impossible if we believe that Judge Alito is Dr. No.
If Senator Schumer’s line of attack were to succeed, non-ideological judges may face an uphill battle in confirmation hearings. Our judicial system is designed, through procedural and evidentiary rules, burdens of proof, and even substantive law, to make certain outcomes more likely than others, to benefit certain groups of litigants over others. For these reasons comparing one appellate judge’s record against those of all other appellate judges is most difficult, if not impossible, in light of the vast number of cases in which Judge Alito participated. The results of such a comparison may be downright misleading if done with an ideologically driven outcome in mind.
And that's why Schumer's argument won't ultimately win the day, either. In fact, by focusing on such an obviously skewed basis for criticism, Senator Schumer's making it look like there must be no legitimate basis to oppose this nominee. Attorney Wendy Keefer has a critique of day 2, arguing that the Senate spent too much time quering Judge Alito on outcomes, and not enough on the judicial process.
I haven't been able to follow the hearings much myself. Some very premature impressions from the little bit I have heard/watched: First, the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee seem to be going through the motions. They seem resigned that Alito's going to be confirmed and don't seem willing go the distance to defeat the nomination if that's what it takes. Surprising, given that Alito is unquestionably conservative. Unsurprising, though, considering that Alito is unquestionably qualified and intelligent. Second, while Alito is doubtlessly bright, he doesn't strike me, at least in his mannerisms, as the superintellect that Chief Justice Roberts is. He seems more warm and personable than Roberts was, though.
Meanwhile, on the left, hysterical interpretations of Alito's statements abound, such as interpreting this statement by Alito:
It was a time of turmoil at colleges and universities. And I saw some very smart people and very privileged people behaving irresponsibly. And I couldn't help making a contrast between some of the worst of what I saw on the campus and the good sense and the decency of the people back in my own community.
to mean this:
I think it's fairly certain that he's not talking about branding frat boys' asses or getting drunk and stealing Christmas Trees. He's talking about anti-war protestors, feminists etc. And like so many campus conservatives of that era, he sounds like he's still carrying around a boatload of resentment toward them.
Because what Alito was really saying, apparently, was that he hates minorities, women and civil rights. It's not much of a leap, really, provided that you already see the world through polarized glasses and presume Judge Alito to be pure evil!, never mind what all of Alito's colleagues say about the man.
Sigh. At the end of the day, I fear that the Culture Wars are wars of attrition.
Dean Esmay, who calls those individuals traitors who leaked information about the NSA's domestic spying program:
When I say "treason" I don't mean it in an insulting or hyperbolic way. I mean in a literal way: we need to find these 21st century Julius Rosenbergs, these modern day reincarnations of Alger Hiss, put them on trial before a jury of their peers, with defense counsel. When they are found guilty, we should then hang them by the neck until the are dead, dead, dead.(† Lindsay Beyerstein) Calling for the execution of New York Times reporters! Or the government officials who gave the reporters the story? I concur with Julian Sanchez—since the distinction between the NSA program and the FISA secret wiretaps is judicial oversight, I'm not sure that the NYT has provided nutritious succor to the enemies of freedom. So I say that we don't hang James Risen or the whistleblowers. Also, I say we never hang journalists for reporting on whistleblowing, and also don't hang whistleblowers for alerting the public to secretive executive alterations to public understandings of private rights—but then I also just simply don't get the sort of erotic thrill out of the notion of justice dispensed by a length of rope that Esmay does. I realize that it's me who's missing out.
No sympathy. No mercy. Am I angry? You bet I am. But not in an explosive way. Just in the same seething way I was angry on 9/11.
These people have endangered American lives and American security. They need to be found, tried, and executed.
Picking then correctly is another matter of course, but I've been 10-1 and 9-2 the last two years, so how hard could it be?
Tampa Bay 10, Washington 9
Should I go with the team with the good defense, a wide receiver having a career year, and an inexperienced running back and quarterback, or the team with the good defense, a wide receiver having a career year, and an old, beat-up running back and quarterback? I'll take the home team. Frankly, I have no idea how either team even made the playoffs.
New England 24, Jacksonville 13
The Jaguars are going to have serious problems moving the ball, since 1) the Patriots defense is playing as well as they have the whole year, 2) both Fred Taylor and Greg Jones are big backs, and the Patriots usually do much better against big running backs than speedy ones, 3) Byron Leftwich is just returning from injury, and 4) it'll be really, really cold. The Patriots cornerbacks are still suspect, but the Jaguars don't have the receivers to exploit that.
Pittsburgh 35, Cincinnati 20
Except for a blowout win against the Lions, the Bengals haven't played well in a month, and their defense has been mediocre all year. In the last seven weeks, they've given up 45 to the Colts, 29 to the Ravens, 31 to the Steelers, 20 to the Browns, and 37(!) to the Bills. Teams with a great offense and below average defense usually lose in the first round. The Steelers are the Steelers as always, good enough to beat teams with flaws but not good enough to beat teams without.
Carolina 24, New York 17
The Panthers were my preseason NFC pick so I'll stick with them for at least one week. That, and Eli Manning might be the most shaky quarterback in this year's playoffs. Like the other NFC game, I don't feel strongly about this pick, since there's a good chance Tiki Barber (the real MVP) can go crazy for 250 yards.
A while back at the BTD Forum, I posted a list of each kind of Diet Coke available, ranked in order of preference. Here's an updated list:
UPDATE: Kevin Drum asks about my (and others') preference for Coke Light:
So Coke Light is Coke Zero? Why then does Greg rank Coke Light #1 and Coke Zero #6 ("not bad, but there's something slightly empty to its flavor")? I think Greg needs to perform a blind taste test. For what it's worth, though, this 1999 article in the Atlanta Business Chronicle confirms that when Coke Light was introduced overseas it kicked Diet Coke's butt pretty spectacularly. That Ace-K stuff must be sweetener gold.
Similarly, Nic in the comments states, "Uh, Coke Zero IS Coke Light. Same formula, sweetened with aspartame and acesulfame potassium. Maybe things are just more fun in Mexico."
I like Kevin's idea of a blind taste test. There's a specialty grocery store, Central Market, in Dallas that I seem to recall sells Coke Light. (Mexican Coke is easy to locate in Texas, but Central Market is the only place I've ever seen Coke Light domestically.) I'm certainly willing to entertain Nic's theory as well. Maybe Coke Light isn't any different than Coke Zero, but in my mind it's associated with sitting under a palapa on white, sandy beaches and staring out into the turquoise water of Playa Del Carmen. It's also possible that when I had Coke Light, several years ago, I didn't have anything to compare it with other than Diet Coke, so it tasted that much better. When I get a chance, I'll pick some of each up and put it to the test.
Bayes is all wrong about Robin Givhan's column on Abramoff's gangsta style. I really like the archetype of a self-serious beat writer who can't help but transform the news through her individual lens. Also, Abramoff did show up to trial in a floor-length trench coat and coal-black fedora. The fashion analysis makes clear that Abramoff is simply dressing true to form.
What's the current over/under on congressmen implicated in the scandal, 20? Republicans 18, Democrats 2 sound like the right spread?
To the draft, or not to the draft? One thing I think I think about Young's throwing motion and its potential to impede his success in the NFL: It's important to remember that Young is 6'5" and some change. That makes him taller than plenty of quarterbacks—not all, but many—so I'd like to see what his motion actually amounts to in terms of height and arc at release. It certainly looks worrisome, but Young's passing style has not amounted to cringeworthy performances this year. The scouts may be wrong about his NFL prospects.
No doubt his passing accuracy still needs development, even if his style is acceptable, but that's something he's going to get through an NFL team whether he takes another college year or not. The same is true for Matt Leinart and every other quarterback who makes the pro-ball transition.
So, draft? I'm completely happy to see Vince Young stick around and rack up trophies for my alma mater, but he ought to go in, especially if he thinks that Houston is now reconsidering their options. And Houston should reconsider their options. They have a great prospect in Reggie Bush, but they have a great prospect and homegrown hero in Vince Young. Houston must not only develop its loser team but also could use to invest in its relationship with its fans. The day after the Rose Bowl, calls poured into local sports radio affiliates from Houston fans voicing their support for a Young-helmed offense. It's a win-win decision with the first pick, sure, but Young brings intangibles to the team that Bush doesn't offer.
The number of "over-votes" in Florida for Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election, i.e., votes in which both the checkbox for Gore was selected and "Gore" was offered in the write-in box. President Bush captured approximately 17,000 over-votes. († Kevin Drum)
I didn't know the price of a stamp was going up from 37 cents to 39 cents next Sunday until I had read it from a blog several days ago. You'd have figured that I'd have heard about this earlier since I actually try to pay attention to the news. Good thing I pay all my bills online. (Take that, U.S. Postal Service bastards!)
Hey, there's some coal miners trapped. Let's blame Bush!
I predict Republicans do surprisingly well in the next election. And then the Democrats have no idea what hit them. In case you missed it, that was the script for both 2002 and 2004. Is there any reason to believe things will be any different in 2006? Sure, the Republicans are crooks and have bad policy, but they were crooks and had bad policy in 2004 too. And have the Democrats gotten any smarter in the interim? Among the grass-roots, the favorite for the nomination is Wesley Clark. I rest my case.
I don't think the above link is indicative of the Democratic Party as a whole, but it'd be nice if more than a few of them show they have a clue, no?
I'm impressed by this flash animation, "EPIC". It's very well done and thought-provoking.
Go watch, then read some critiques below the fold.
continue reading "THE COMING MEDIA DYSTOPIA" »
"EPIC" is interesting in what it selects as notable, and also in what it notably omits. Wikipedia isn't mentioned at all, for instance. (I'd be interested to see how Wikipedia is supposed to fit into this supposed hegemonic society. How could such a democratic institution become an empire?) I also found it interesting (for whatever reason) that Google Print was never mentioned. Surely, this will be one of the key components of the Google grid.
The film also seems a bit preoccupied with only a few corporate brands: Blogger gets mentioned, but not WordPress or Movable Type; Friendster gets mentioned, but not MySpace. This seems to fit into the underlying theme of massive media consolidation, but it doesn't really reflect the extremely competitive marketplace of the present.
And, finally, the biggest problem with "EPIC" is that it ignores the role played by professional journalists, and the extent to which the new media relies on the old media for primary source material. Sure, it might sound significant if the New York Times were to close up shop in a fit of Luddite rebellion, but what about all the other newspapers around the world, not to mention AP, Reuters, AFP, the BBC, et al., who provide the raw material for news information. The media universe imagined in "EPIC" couldn't exist without some good old fashioned news reporting. After all, computer algorithms still have to have some data to input before they can deliver their personalized outputs. If anything, it seems like primary source news reporting would be more, not less, in demand.
That said, I really enjoyed "EPIC." It would make a great premise for a futuristic novel or movie.
UPDATE: Note that Google Print gets a mention in the most recent version—as does the iPod (or WiFiPod). Not a whole lot has changed, but what's with that upbeat ending?
Hi. It's been a while, hasn't it? I won't dwell, or get overly introspective. I've just been a bit checked out of politics and uninspired to make general commentary.
But I have a story to share — one from over the holidays. I attended a bunch of lovely parties and met a bunch of lovely, fascinating people. But there was one that made a bigger impression than the others. I call him The Astroturfer.
Most of you are probably familiar with the term. For those who aren't: it refers to the sponsorship of allegedly spontaneous opinions. Generally this refers to work done in the political arena — the classic example is a fake grassroots blog that endorses the party line. But my Astroturfer worked on movie campaigns, exclaiming his love for his clients' products in various online forums.
None of this is too surprising. You shouldn't trust strangers on the internet, after all. I am, perhaps, touchier about this stuff than most people, but in general I suspect that everyone realizes that there is money being spent to push online opinion in subtle ways.
What amazed me was the dedication and depth behind these campaigns. The Astroturfer said it wasn't unusual to spend three or four months building an identity in a given online forum prior to hatching the sponsored opinion. Frequently, he said, his fake persona would have received invitations to help administer the forum by that point. And when others make accusations against The Astroturfer, it's common for the people he's been fooling to spring to his defense. He'll have been there for a while, after all, contributing to the discussion and making everyone feel good about themselves.
I find all of this pretty horrifying. The Astroturfer wouldn't say what sites he frequents — "all the ones you don't," was his stock answer — but he did mention some of the movies for which he'd campaigned. Out of respect for my hosts, I won't share the names of those films — but they were big, big features. Some of the campaigns began more than a year before the movies' release dates.
"You have to give more than you take," he said at one point, as if he worked for a lumber company that also planted trees. I don't know if this sort of thing will bother anyone else. But personally, I really don't like the idea of corporations secretly pretending to be my friends over a period of months in order to better sell me products. I don't want to be sold, fooled, or otherwise harvested. Make an honest case, then leave me alone.
Being less than a novice when it comes to science—either theoretical or applied—I'm not one to evaluate anyone's biological and genetic claims. It certainly does pique my interest, however, when apparently intelligent and well-qualified scientists make claims about extending life expectancy for several centuries:
"Average life spans would be in the region of 1,000 years," [Dr. Aubrey de Grey] says. "Seriously."
De Grey and his wife Adelaide are fixtures around Cambridge. She’s a researcher in genetics; he’s an academic maverick. ... De Grey believes he has unlocked the mysteries of immortality.
"The aging process is really a buildup of side effects of being alive in the first place," he says.
De Grey has identified the biological processes he thinks are responsible for aging, including the mutations that cause cancer and the gradual buildup of useless, toxic junk.
What does this accumulation of junk within the cells lead to?
"It depends on the tissue. In the eye, there is a type of junk that accumulates in the back of the retina that eventually causes us to go blind. It's called age-related macular degeneration. In the arteries, you have a different type of cell which accumulates a different type of junk that eventually causes arteriosclerosis," he says.
But de Grey has gone way beyond describing the causes of degeneration. In a series of papers he has developed a theory he calls "Engineered Negligible Senescence". Simply put, it says science will soon enable us to grow old without aging.
De Grey says that not all of the conditions that cause our bodies to age can be avoided or prevented…yet. "But I do claim that we have a fighting chance of developing ways to prevent them within the next 25 years or so."
So humans will be just as spry at 500 as we were at 25?
"If you have difficultly imaging this, think about the situation with houses. With moderate maintenance they stay up, they stay intact, inhabitable more or less forever. It’s just that we have to do a bit of maintenance to keep them going. And it's going to be the same with us," says de Grey.
Naturally, de Gray's radical thinking doesn't go unquestioned.
Dr. Olshansky studies longevity and aging at the University of Illinois in Chicago. He says de Grey’s predictions are more science fiction than science.
"From an evolutionary perspective, we're designed to make it, to grow and develop and to reproduce, pass our genes on to the next generation, and ensure the reproductive success of our offspring," says Dr. Olshansky. "So you know, early 60s, one might argue, is where evolution has us surviving optimally. But we go well beyond that, well beyond the end of our reproductive period. So it's no surprise that we see things go wrong with these bodies when we use them beyond their warranty period. And that's exactly what we're doing."
As I noted earlier, I'm not a scientist. In fact, I'm so non-scientific in my thinking and my ability to evaluate claims such as this, that one of my first reactions upon reading this article was to reduce this to terms that I can relate to: what might all this have to do with the Hanso Foundation and its clandestine activities on a certain tropical island?