Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Oscar Predictions 2006

I haven't found any reasonable predictions for the nominees yet, so here are my own. I stake my claim today, December 28th, 2005. Take issue, comment - and then come March, let's see how far off I am.

*indicates my prediction for winner, though this will be revised after the actual nominees come out.

Best Picture
Brokeback Mountain*
Match Point
Good Night and Good Luck
Munich
Broken Flowers

My reasoning: Brokeback is this year's Titanic. It has everything Hollywood looks for in Best Picture: doomed romance, sweeping epic, stars giving Oscar-calibar performances. As for the rest: Syriana is too circuitous for Hollywood. Hollywood is going to be dying to recognize Woody's first good movie in years. Good Night and Good Luck speaks to the heart of the Hollywood blacklist angst. I put Broken Flowers up here becuase it was the first great movie of 2005 and I hope the Academy remembers it, though it's been shut out of a lot the more recent awards so there's a more than even money chance they'll go with something bigger and more recent (though not necessarily better) like Geisha or The Producers. Munich is the dark horse, but the topicality and seriousness is compelling. (By all accounts, War of the Worlds is the Speilberg movie that should be up here instead, but the Academy has a short memory.)

Best Actor
Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain*
Philip Seymor Hoffman, Capote
David Strathairn, Good Night, And Good Luck
Joaquin Phoenix, Walk the Line
Bill Murray, Broken Flowers

My reasoning: This will be a showdown between Hoffman and Ledger, but Brokeback will be on a sweap, and the straight-acting gay man will trump the sissy. Murray already had his day in the sun but still needs to be up there again for another truly great performance. Phoenix and Strathairn also give transformative performances but not quite as remarkable as the others.


Best Actress

Ziyi Zhang, Memoirs of Geisha*
Felicity Huffman, Transamerica
Scarlett Johansson, Match Point
Naomi Watts, King Kong
Judy Dench, Mrs. Henderson Presents

My reasoning: This year doesn't present as many best actress opportunities as best actor, and there's no real standout like Charleze Therone's "Monster." The first four are the big praiseworthy performances. Dench's is a lesser known work but you can't go wrong including her. However, Zhang has the most buzz going into the season, so my money is on her.

Best Director
Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain*
Woody Allen, Match Point
Steven Speilberg, Munich
Ron Howard, Cinderella Man
David Cronenberg, A History of Violence

My reasoning: Best director is always a bit of a weird category. Brokeback will be on a sweep and Ang Lee, perhaps our current greatest film resource, is a cinch, here. Woody will be here. The others are a bit unpredictable, but Speilberg, Howard, and Cronenberg all deliver noteworthy films directed with an auter's touch. Other equal possibilities here would be Paul Haggis for Crash, Clooney for Good Night & Good Luck. Jackson would be here for King Kong but I think coming off the Rings Trilogy the Academy will want to spread the wealth.

Best Screenplay (Adapted)
Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana, Brokeback Mountain*
Dan Futterman, Capote
Josh Olson, A History of Violence
Stephen Gaghan, Syriana
Robin Swicord & Doug Wright, Memoirs of a Geisha

Best Screenplay (Original)
Noah Baumbach, The Squid and the Whale*
Paul Haggis, Crash
George Clooney and Grant Heslov, Good Night and Good Luck
Jim Jarmusch, Broken Flowers
Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman, Cinderella Man

My reasoning: a lot of good writing this year. Brokeback takes its category. Since it's an adaptation, that leaves original screenplay wide open. I loved Broken Flowers, but The Squid and the Whale has received the most favorable reviews in this category, so I predict that.


The Supports are harder to do but here goes.

Best Supporting Actor
George Cloony, Syriana*
Matt Dillon, Crash
Paul Giamatti, Cinderella Man
Brian Cox, Match Point
Anthony Hopkins, Proof

Best Supporting Actress
Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain*
Tilda Swinton, Broken Flowers
Catherine Keener, Capote
Maria Bello, A History of Violence
Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardner

Reasoning: Supporting actor categories need to be memorable roles that threaten to overtake their movies without overshadowing the main performances. I didn't see Cinderella Man or Constant Gardner (i cribbed these from the Globes) but all these others do that. Michelle Williams is the sentimental favorite, and Cloony gives his best performance ever in Syriana - it's time he gets an Oscar. Filling out best supporting actor was hard - I admit to cribbing Anthony Hopkins from someone else and Brian Cox is a total stab in the dark until I see Match Point. I reserve the right to update these two categories in January.

/marty

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

New Jersey: fuhgeddaboutit

In case you haven't heard, the State of New Jersey (where I live) is looking for a new motto.


At our holiday party, we found the concept hilarious. So we decided to come up with a few of our own. Here are some favorites:


New Jersey: It's Not So Bad

New Jersey: It Could Be Worse

New Jersey: What Exit?

New Jersey: You Talkin' to Me?

New Jersey: Another Thirty-Five Cents, Please

New Jersey: No Parking, Midnight to Six AM

New Jersey: The Suburb State

New Jersey: The Property Tax State

New Jersey: The Shopping Mall State

New Jersey: The Traffic Jam State

New Jersey: The Pothole State

New Jersey: Come See What's Burried Here

New Jersey: You Can Be Outta Here in an Hour

New Jersey: At Least It's Not West Virginia


Got one? Send it in....

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Top 10 Conspiracies of 2005

Here it is again. Time for the top 10 Conspiracy Theories of 2005!

(For a refresher on the rules, see last year's post.)

This year saw one conspiracy after another flow from the administration. Given that vastness of them all, the entire year is almost a tribute to Bush's second term.

Here, then, without further ado, are this year's top 10 conspiracy theories:

10. Winning in the "most weird" category. Too nutty to otherwise make the list except that it was reported in USA Today: that Japan's Yakuza mafia used a Russian-made electromagnetic generator to cause Hurricane Katrina in a bid to avenge itself for the Hiroshima atom bomb attack.

9. An item from last year comes back again: Deibold's voting machines are selected by Republicans because they are designed to be hacked, so much so that the CEO has resigned in anticipation of shareholder lawsuits.

8. John Roberts, if not gay himself, is a secret gay rights champion.

7. The bird flu pandemic scare is a hoax created by the Bush administration designed to sell more Tamiflu.

6. One of my personal favorites: that Google is a secret military conspiracy designed to "identify dissenters" and "control the world". Well, maybe at the very least they distort their search results to favor their own properties.

5. The levees in New Orleans were intentionally blown in order to kill the city's black population.

4. The recent oil price spikes are symptoms of intentional gouging, neglect of resources, profit taking, and other nefarious doings by Big Oil. Or were they simply the precursor to the End of Civilization?

3. That EVERYONE is behind The Valerie Plame conspiracy, including: Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, George Bush, Judith Miller, The New York Times, and no less than 23 administration officials.

2. In a way, this year, I think we can say that the entire Iraq war was one big conspiracy.

and the number one conspiracy theory of 2005:

1. The CIA is kidnapping and holding prisoners in secret, Soviet-era detention camps in Eastern Europe. (Maybe something this eggregious still can be a conspiracy, even if it's true....)

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Weighing Roberts

Well, I've retreated a little bit from my wholehearted endorsement of Roberts, but I don't know that I would vote against him

As earlier analysis in the Times has allowed, it seems that Robert's judicial philosophy is somewhere between a Thomas/Bork/Scalia and a Renquist. He does not believe in a "general" right to privacy (a la Thomas/Bork), but he does believe, unlike Scalia, that the constitition can "evolve" to include modern concepts of morality and new technologies. That puts him somewhere between very and extremely conservative.

I certainly would never *endorse* someone of this temperment. I personally believe in the Kennedian approach of looking at universal (i.e., international) human values and in respecting precidents in social rights, which would argue for a general privacy right.

But I say that the question is this: does a President have the right to nominate someone of his own judicial philosophy, as long as that philosophy is not TOO far outside the mainstream? I would certainly want a Democratic president to be able to nominate someone with clear liberal views. Roberts, it seems to me, is just inside the line of being within the conservative mainstream. And I find his ability to reason and change his opinion (however obtuse it may be) reassuring. So - while I have more misgivings than before - if it were me, I would still vote to confirm.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Survive the Plague

My friends - the time has come to expect the worst.

I'm not talking about another terrorist attack. I'm not talking about a hurricane. I'm talking about a plague that world leaders know is coming - possibly as soon as this fall - and is projected to kill as many as one of every three living people, close to two billion. The plague will leave communities isolated, our economy destroyed, our country defenseless, and world-wide institutions shattered more than New Orleans.

This is not science fiction. This is true. I'm talking about Avian bird flu.

The bird flu is very likely coming, and our government is totally unprepared to deal with it.

What can you do? Here are some suggestions:

1. Stock up on tamiflu before supplies run out or governments prevent you from ordering abroad.

2. Stock your home with supplies. Don't forget masks, gloves, and first aid kit.

3. Keep your car gas tank topped off; have a couple gallans in the garage.

4. Arrange for work-from-home options with your business or employer. Do you have off-site access to essential computer networks, files, and business records?

5. Practice good hygiene this winter. Use antibacterial soap.

6. Pray.

7. Sign this form to impeach Bush here, here, and here.

Sorry, I wish I could offer you more. At least this is something.

God bless, and good luck.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Human Stain

As someone who has signed petitions calling for Bush's impeachment (based on Abu Ghraib), I didn't think I needed to add my voice to the chorus calling for Brown's firing. Until I read this story.

I'd still like to see Bush impeached for what he's done to descimate the honor and competance of this country. As that's not likely to happen, at this point, I'd settle for the sacking of a least one incompetant (#*@bag. So if Andrew Sullivan's call for a rousing blogger chorus to stoke the public anger can make it so, I'm more than happy to take part.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Bunk Versus De-Bunk

Salvation Army (SA) Divisional Commander Major Dalton Cunningham:
"I don't think anyone could have predicted the geographical expanse and the massive destruction that was going to happen would be this huge."

National Geographic, 2004:
The Federal Emergency Management Agency lists a hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of the most dire threats to the nation, up there with a large earthquake in California or a terrorist attack on New York City. Even the Red Cross no longer opens hurricane shelters in the city, claiming the risk to its workers is too great.


George W. Bush, President of the United States:
"I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees."

Al Naomi, Project Manager, New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps, June 6, 2005:
"In fiscal year 2006, the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is bracing for a record $71.2 million reduction in federal funding....I've been here over 30 years and I've never seen this level of reduction.... These projects are literally life-and-death projects to the people of south Louisiana.... The cuts mean major hurricane and flood protection projects will not be awarded..."


FEMA Director Michael Brown:
"We did not anticipate ... that there would be quite the numbers that we are dealing with, and that we would have the logistical problems that we're having getting those people evacuated."

LSU’s Hurricane Center, Summer, 2005:

From the simulation, officials estimate that a storm like Hurricane Pam would:
  • cause flooding that would leave 300,000 people trapped in New Orleans, many of whom would not have private transportation for evacuation;
  • send evacuees to 1,000 shelters, which would likely remain open for 100 days;
  • require the transfer of patients from hospitals in harm’s way to hospitals in other parts of the state;
  • trigger outbreaks of tetanus, influenza, and other diseases likely to be present after a storm;
  • create 30 million cubic yards of debris and 237,000 cubic yards of household hazardous waste.


    Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, the head of the National Guard Bureau:
    "We did not anticipate the collapse of local law enforcement."

    National Guard Fact Sheet, Army National Guard Charter:
    "Under state law, the ARNG provides protection of life, property and preserves peace, order and public safety. These missions are accomplished through emergency relief support during natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes and forest fires; search and rescue operations; support to civil defense authorities; maintenance of vital public services, and counterdrug operations."

    Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff:
    "I have not heard a report of thousands of people in the Convention Center who don't have food and water."

    CNN (website and Cable news), Simultaneously:
    "At the Ernest Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, thousands of increasingly frustrated people waited for help amid dead bodies, feces and garbage, in 90-degree heat and rain with little food and water. (See video on the desperate conditions -- 4:36)"
  • Interviewing the Government about Katrina

    Here's how it goes,

    "Sir, why are all those people dying? Why is the city on fire?"

    "Lie. Lie lie. 9/11. Lie lie. Heros. Rebuild in no time. Big Lie."

    "But we've known for years that the levies would break if hurricane would hit New Orleans. Look, here's a study."

    "Lie lie lie. Tremendous job. Lie lie lie. Possible link to Al Queda. Dodge. Distortion."

    "We're getting reports on the ground that people are shooting at the rescue workers."

    "Lie. Homosexuals. Liberals. Terrorist-sympathizers. Ad hominum. Smear victims."

    "How can you say that?"

    "Lie lie lie lie lie lie lie lie lie lie lie. Definitely looking into possible Al Queda links."

    "How would you assess the situation now? Do you think the government should be doing more?"

    "Everything is going fine. Now I have to cut short this interview, I have a golf appointment with Tiger Woods."

    (Aside, later: "Damn it, Karl. How come the usual bullshit isn't working???")

    Friday, August 19, 2005

    Pope-180

    Looks like the Pope's PR people have gotten him out in front of the recent anti-semitic commentary:

    Pope Speaks Against Anti-Semitism

    Wednesday, August 17, 2005

    The Glamour of Protest

    It's been all over the New York Times for a week, so I won't link to a specific article. But the Isreali pullout from Gaza has received the royal investigative journalism treatment, repleat with interactive guides and in-depth interviews.

    It's been illustrative: so much of the daily lives of Isrealis, what one might call the "Jewish side of the story," has gotten overlooked in the last few years of Infatada coverage and Palestinian/Isreali negotiational struggle. For a few weeks, now, we see Jews in an internal struggle, debating land for peace in a very viceral, and emotional, way.

    It makes for great newspaper copy. The newspapers love a story of protestors, conflict, heartrending and vivid emotion. Plain old tragedy - an endless parade of bombing deaths, life under terrorism, etc. - that gets old pretty fast. (Witness Iraq.) What's news is chants, civil disobedience, clashes with police.

    In a very real way, the coverage of this story has humanized the difficulties of the Isreali situation. Up until now, it has been Hamas and Palestinian terrorists who have received the sympathetic coverage, the media bluster, and the faux analysis. Perhaps that's why world sympathy has tended to sway toward the Palestians.

    Will coverage of the protests by Jewish hardliners and religious extremists sway public sympathy back the other way? My guess is that it will, at least for a time. The public loves this stuff: the passionate young people, the clash with police. We love the bad boys, the martyrs, the hardliners precisely because they seem so passionate and so committed: whether or not the cause is just, or historically accurate, or logically necessary.

    In this case, I believe that intellectually, Sharon is right and the protestors wrong: the pullout from Gaza will strengthen Isreal. It is not a retreat but a strategic regrouping. Why waste precious Army resources guarding a few thousand settlers and imprisoning millions of Palistinians into a makeshift fortress, when you can pull back to more defensible lines, better distribute resources, and focus on core territory? Whether or not this will lead to further road map negotiations, I don't know. It's really less important. The key is that it's militarily sound. Even if Gaza became a "terror hotbed," it would certainly lead to more easily defendable borders, more ability to strike back and defend. So it's a strategically wise move.

    However, I've come to actually appreciate the protests by the religious hardliners. Those people are not only making a point - that Isreal is being asked to give up land in exchange for nothing (no peace, no settlement, not even a real truce). But rather, that people who are actively living lives and have created homes, communities, a future out of a desert landscape, are giving all that up largely without violence (the little violence today I find very disturbing), but with a forceful, heartfelt petition that is the core of a democratic society. Their voices are heard, yet they are still one with the army, one with the Isreali state, and even with the government they disagree with.

    Contrast this to the lawnessness we see all around in the region: from Sunni terrorists blowing up Shiites in Iraq, to the petty bickering, self-aggrandizing, and distrust in the Palestinian Authority, to the mysogeny, non-democracy, and secrecy of the Syrians and the Saudis. We owe the religious hardliners and anti-withdrawal protesters in Isreal a real debt: they've demonstrated, once again, that Isreal is the only democracy in the region, and how a democracy registers, deals with, and implements diffucult, wrenching decisions as a society. And that moral equivalencies between Isreal and the Palestinians simply do not work, when one side is a functioning democracy, and the other a poor, unrepresented and fractious populous ruled by gangs of theives, blood-royalty, and terrorists.

    Saturday, August 06, 2005

    The Stupididium.....

    When you look over these statistics that break down how opinions about gay marriage fall, it's interesting to note that it is more opposed by people over 35 than by younder people (and even more opposed by people over 60). It's also more opposed by less educated people, and by more religious people.

    Not unexpected, but it does pose a quandry. Because I've never been very good at figuring out how to talk to irrational, stupid old people.

    A Cuddly Conservative?

    I know we're supposed to be freaked out by conservatives - and I know that we don't hardly know much about this guy, Roberts. But the more I read...the more I actually like him (despite his "conservative" views).....


    Roberts Helped Group on Gay Rights


    Maybe he actually is an astute pick to replace O'Conner, another mainstream conservative with an open and reasoned approach to the law.

    If I were going to prepare to argue a case for gay marriage in the high court, this is the guy I'd prepare my arguments for. If we have a constitutional argument in our favor that really holds water...I think that not only would we convince him, he'd have to, out of logical necessity, become a forceful advocate for our cause.

    Thursday, July 28, 2005

    Vatican Smears Itself

    At first, I thought the Isrealis were just being a bit over-sensitive when they complained about the Pope's omission of the Netanya terrorism in his recent litany against international terror. His press agent's reponse was, well, the Netanya attacks happened two weeks ago, and the Pope was only referring to the last week. Okay, and, well, perhaps the Isreali's are a bit over-sensitive about the first German Pope since the Holocaust.

    Now, it turns out, the Pope says he intentionally omitted condeming the slaughter of innocent Jews because he's an anti-Zionist. Hmmm....could this Pope be as unashamedly anti-semitic as he is homophobic?

    Vatican Denounces Some Israel Retaliation - Yahoo! News

    If so, it's not surprising. Bigotry is back in vogue. Just read on below....

    Era of the Fashionable Bigots

    It's been going on for five years now - so you'd think we'd all written enough about it - but the steady erosion of gay rights (and, now, other minority rights) really hasn't been discussed in any satisfactory way.

    I'm not just talking about the fact that "anti-gay-marriage" amendments are being passed in many states. Yes, that's disturbing, but that's really more of a pre-emptive dismissal of rights we've yet to win. There are gains and setbacks and roadblocks in any civil rights movement, so, I take that with a grain of salt.

    No, what's disturbing is how swiftly and quickly the newly fashionable bigots behind these movements (and I rightly refer to them as, indeed, bigots) have been able to turn the media to their favor, and begin rolling back rights we already have - rights like adoption, equal protection, and even just basic human rights like the ability to enter into contracts. Sure, they aren't yet stringing us up like the mullas in Iran...and I doubt such a thing could happen here. But their progress has been surprising, and has contributed to the increasing violence and harassment against gays. Progress that they've been able to win because the media has largely let their arguments be aired and discussed without question.

    It didn't use to be so. The media, back in the Clinton days, had a healthy skepticism for running despairingly, ultra-religious denunciation of gays (or Jews, Muslims, blacks, or other minorities). Not any more. What was once out of bounds - bad taste and pure and plain brimstone-brimming, fire-ranting bigotry - is now, simply, "the other side of the story." Christian bigots, ignoramus, and other simply vengeful and foul people are put on TV and in newspapers to tell the world how "homosexuality is a sin" and other such nonsense as if this were a real debate that needed to happen. This has gotten even worse since the re-election of George Bush - who courted the bigot-vote to re-elect him. Whether or not that was really a factor, the media has swallowed the line that ultra-right-bigots are behind the current political climate (though they call them "values voters"), and these people need to be given a voice on TV. The bigot-as-star has even gone so far as to become entertainment, with ABC (and others) basing reality shows around it.

    Then there are the bigot leaders, who now have been enshrined in the halls of power. Just a few years ago, someone like James Dobson was just a far-out anti-gay wacko with a crackpot following. Now, the media heads directly to Dobson for anti-gay quotes whenever an issue like marriage rights or adoption is discussed; Dobson's think tank even holds sway with the White House without anyone batting an eye....this is a little like installing the grand wizard of the KKK as a D.C. lobbyist who makes media commentary on issues pertaining to racial profiling and equal opportunity. On one side of the issue is a minority group suggesting a remedy (whose merits may indeed be fairly debated) about entrenched discrimination: on the other, a devoted hatemonger who responds by calling that minority an abomination, and who dismisses not only the remedy, and the premise of discrimination, but is given a platform for espousing, in ever so polite language, why such discrimination is not only necessary but a "blessing by God."

    Of course, it's hard for the media to resist giving mouthpieces to these people when even the Pope is pressing the same bigoted line.

    Why shouldn't these people be given a voice? What harm does it do?

    Well, I think the issue becomes immediately understandable - even to conservatives - if the bigot on the other side of the issue is Osama bin Laden rather than James Dobson. Would the media seriously consider putting on bin Laden or one of his henchmen to explain the terrorist point of view? Maybe the terrorists have a point, after all? Maybe we should see their side of it too.....after all, isn't getting both sides of the story what being "objective" really means? And isn't this the media's job, to "objectively" relay the disagreement?

    No, conservatives would say. That kind of moral relativism is exactly what the terrorists want to take advantage of. That kind of moral relativism - saying that the terrorist point of view deserves equal time with ours - is decadent and, perhaps, even treasonous. There are certain arguments - arguments, for instance, that innocent civilians should be blown up - that need to be, shall we say, put in proper context, morally judged, if you will, as not acceptable to civilized society.

    You know. I agree with that. I'm not saying that there aren't policy issues, there aren't wrongs done by America that we should debate. But I don't think the terrorist "point of view" is deserving of a platform when we are under attack. That's a little like giving free propaganda to the enemy. And a civilized society should have boundaries. Not ALL points of view deserve to be treated equally.

    Interestingly, no one brings the unlikely connection between the anti-gay Christian right and Islamic-fascist-terrorists home more clearly than the dear old anti-gay hatemonger, Fred Phelps (remember him, the one who protested Matthew Sheppard's funeral?), who is now spewing anti-gay rhetoric at the funerals of American soldiers killed in Iraq. In his weirdly twisted mind, gays have taken over America, and having our soldiers killed in Iraq is God's just punishment. What can one say about such fire-breathing wackiness except, bin Laden has an American cousin, and his name is Phelps?

    Don't think that Dobson and that whole crowd is all that much different, either. Their intolerance isn't just for gays: it's really for the American ideals of freedom and human rights. Conservatives are quick to point to "moral relativism" when it's an issue they agree with. But there can be no moral relativism on gay rights either: you either believe in the American ideal of providing equal rights and due process for all, or you're a plain old bigot (or far-out religious nut-job) who'd throw out the constitution in a heartbeat if it led you one step closer to installing your absolutist, fascist religious state. These statements about gay people used to be out of bounds - and they still ought to be. The media should not be giving equal comfort to people who hold active, destructive malice towards a minority, whether those people are Nazis, KKK, Islamic terrorists, or anti-homosexual Christians. There has to be standards in a civilized society.

    Unfortunately, such is no longer the case. The media no longer seem to believe that gay people deserve the same consideration as other minorities. And the fact that the media gives these guys a free pass - without contextualizing, without commenting - but simply puts them on as potentially legitimate: it underscores the still-inherent bigotry of the media itself, and of mainstream America. And THAT's what's most disturbing about this recent trend.

    Tuesday, July 12, 2005

    Unraveling the Thread

    Here's what Karl Rove actually said to Matt Cooper of Time, according to Cooper's email:


    "it was, KR said, wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd [weapons of mass destruction] issues who authorized the trip"


    In other words, the intent of Rove's conversation with Cooper was to downplay the significance of Wilson's discrediting of Iraq's intention to get uranium and wmd (the administration's theory for the war). He wanted Time to downplay the significance of Wilson's story by in effect saying that the trip was on behest of his wife, not at the direction of the head of the CIA.

    What's undecipherable here from this email alone is Rove's intent. Was his intent merely to have Time downplay the Wilson story? Or was there a more sinister intent to in effect "smear" Wilson by "outing" his wife as a CIA agent? In order to answer this question you would need basically answer this question: did Rove know that Wilson's wife's activities for the CIA were meant to be covert?

    Let's look at the facts. Rove peddled his story to three reporters: Cooper, Miller, and Novak. Only Novak bit the story and went on to spin it into a report that focused on "outing" Valerie Plame. We don't know what Rove actually said to Novak or why - but clearly, a fact was disclosed that Novak (rightly) perceived to be covert information and worthy of a story.

    Let's first give Rove the benefit of the doubt and see where this goes. If Rove did not know that Plame's identity was covert, then the point he is trying to make is that apparently the fact that Plame was Wilson's wife somehow discredits the trip, and discredits Wilson's report. The trip was authorized...why? Because of personal relationship? But in this view, I'm having real trouble understanding what Rove is trying to achieve with this tidbit. That because the trip came out of a personal relationship, we should not believe it, or reporters should not discuss it? I don't really see how this makes Wilson's report any less valid. Sure, the internal process of the CIA might be a bit sloppy, but how does this fact serve to disuade reporters (or the public) from believing Wilson's report?

    Now, let's say that Rove *did* know that he was disclosing a secret identity. Then this would change Rove's motive - not so much to discredit Wilson's report, but to exact a kind of revenge. Rove pitched the idea to three reporters, and only the most conservative one "bought" the pitch and disclosed Plame's identity. This logic makes perfect sense as it was effective and in fact what happened - Plame's identity was compromised, and Wilson "suffered" for his contradiction of the White House.

    But this also leads to another question. If Rove disclosed this information *intentionally* to exact revenge on someone contradicting the White House propaganda on Iraq...one asks, why? The only reason would be to strike fear into other possible sources of contradiction, and pre-empt further scruitiny of the Iraq-wmd scenario (as this contradiction was already out of the bag). But if this is the case, then one must seriously ask - did Rove do this entirely on his own? Even if one credits Rove with being smart enough to leave Bush with plausible deniability, one must imagine at least a conversation like this: Bush to Rove: You have me standing up and saying that Iraq has WMDs. That Wilson guy is going to make me look like a fool. Rove to Bush: You're right. I'll take care of it. We'll have no more contradictions like that.

    So it seems to me that if the question here is proving Rove's intentions, when one looks at plausible motivations, the burden seems to be to seriously be on Rove to come up with some convincing reason why he would push a story about Wilson's wife's involvement in his trip if the motive wasn't to "reveal" her status. And if he can't do that, then one must ask who else in the Administration - and even if Bush himself - might have been involved in compromising American security in order to insure their lie about why we were going to war.

    The Plame Game

    Well, the teflon, naked emperor is finally taking a ding.

    Karl Rove's leak of the Valerie Plame name is finally coming out. It's like a small rip in the cloth...and the maggots underneath starting to come into view. Immediately, the Democrats jump on it like a horde of angry bees.

    But this is just a small, minor lie, for this administration. They must be curious why their lie doesn't seem to be playing anymore. After all, if an administration can lie about going to war, about conducting a war, about their political opponents, about their spending habits, and about just about everything else in this country - why should the public care about one little CIA operative?

    Why? Because this little needle has a hook...and the hook has been caught. Start pulling on this lie, and maybe the whole cloak of invulnerability and hubris will start to unravel. And before long, the other, bigger lies might start to be really understood by the public: we may all finally get to see this administration as just one big heap of maggots, stewing on the floor. And wouldn't that be even better than having won the election, and inhereted that mess?

    Monday, June 20, 2005

    The Moral Democracy

    The triumphant rise of the Religious Right since the election has once again forced us, as a democracy, to question what role morality plays in a plurastic society. The issue plays itself out in a number of realms, including stem cells, gay marriage, and the general tolerance of society for pluralistic values.

    For Liberals who see these moralistic debates as an assault on our freedoms, we are, perhaps, angered, if not a bit terrified. But maybe it's good that we, as a society, have this discussion. Because a pluralistic society needs to understand its basic moral assumptions. About this, Mario Cuomo recently writes in the New York Times, "...our pluralistic political system adopts rights that arise out of consensus, not the dictates of religious orthodoxy.... Every day Americans who abhor the death penalty, contraceptives, abortions and war are required to pay taxes used in part for purposes they consider offensive. That is part of the price we pay for this uniquely successful democracy." So, as a society, we have our consensus morality - one that we support, even if it isn't our own.

    Consensus, here, is the key issue. Consensus versus minority rights. When does a minority view become "intruded upon" - a right that needs protection from the majority? When is the consensus morality something that we personally support (through taxes, abiding laws, etc.) even when it goes against our own private morality?

    These are difficult, critical issues for a pluralistic society. Conservative Christians often portray themselves as a besieged minority, fighting for their rights (they way gays, blacks, and women do). So is supporting gay rights and gay marriage akin to supporting school prayer and outlawing abortion? Are all moral issues created equal and in equal conflict?

    I think, logically, they can't be - no Democracy would survive if all minority beliefs were equal. The key, then, is to distinguish between a moral consensus that all can support, and moral rights for minorities that don't infringe the majority.

    If gay marriage really did harm the heterosexual institution - then, this it seems to me would be a question for the general consensus to decide. But if it does not...if it merely extends rights to a minority...then the consensus should have no business in it.

    Similarly, if prayer in school had no effect on a minority group - if it were merely about what we all felt was the best way to give thanks to God in a constitutional manner - then the consensus should have a say on this as well. But if we are talking about denying a religious minority their right to express their views (or right to NOT believe in God)...then perhaps the consensus should stay out, decide which religious minority was being infringed upon (the one who wants to pray to God, or the one who wants to deny the existence of God), and grant them their rights.

    The public sphere allows for many arguments to be made on all these cases. Our founders foresaw that a free press - free discussion - would allow the best of these views to emerge and dominate the consensus. Not all views are made to be decided by consensus: but where minority rights are at issues, the discussion will sort these out as well.

    While many polemic arguments are made on all of these cases, I think that what we need most, these days, is for reflective, concerned discussion that sorts out these issues in a logical way. Unfortunately, there is way too little of that. Let me just give an example:

    On gay marriage. Can a case really be made that this threatens the heterosexual institution? I really think not. Those who try to make the case rely on bad faith and bad science. All evidence suggests that support for equal marriage rights strengthens the institution for all. But even if it did not, there is very little scientific evidence that providing these rights to one group of people has any negative effect on society at all. Those who have an ingrained prejudice against homosexuality will be hard to convince on this matter. But our government HAS decided (in the Lawrence versus Texas case) that homosexuality is a value-neutral orientation in our society. So, the extension of marriage rights is the next logical conclusion. However, this discussion of the perceived threat to society *is* the right discussion: and these prejudices and convictions do need to be sorted out for a confused public, and once they are, the public, I believe, will have to conclude as the courts have done (as their only reasonable argument left will be religious fear).

    On school prayer. Does NO prayer infringe upon the rights of the observantly religious? (A case could be made for prayer before the school lunch meal as well.) Possibly so - a routine with no moment of prayer forces these students to give up their daily observances. Can a case be made that having a prayer in school infringes on the rights of atheists? In some cases, it could - if a specific prayer is led by a teacher, if it mentions God, it could be seen as religious coercion. It seems then we have two minorities whose rights are pitted against each other. What is the Solomon-like solution? Don't we - as a more fundamentally religious country - shrink away at the French response, to ban all religious expression whatsoever, as akin to a punishment for all? What about the opposite approach - the encouragement of a flourishing of all kinds of religious and secular modes? For instance, could a moment of silent reflection - in which students of any faith or non-faith can decide what to do with their time - provide a solution in which both minorities were protected, and the consensus upheld as well? In fact, if done well, it can lead to a discussion and interest in various faiths and an ecumenical curiosity. This sort of religious discussion in fact is part of the essence of liberal democracy - and we shouldn't fear to have it in our schools (where it can only help).

    On the death penalty, right to die, abortion, and stem cells - all these issues are about the beginnings and the endings of life. And here, one could reasonably argue, the consensus must hold. We are all minorities (we are all mortal, and born, and die) in these issues. So as a society, Cuomo is right: we must decide what moral belief we can reach as a pluralistic consensus. And those of us who disagree, must agree to live with the consensus - or attempt to change it, if we feel we must, through the moral argument and logical persuasion that is the lifeblood of our pluralistic Democracy.

    Friday, June 03, 2005

    Tuesday, May 17, 2005

    Two Sides of a Dirty Coin

    The most recent boil-up over the Newsweek article about desecration of the Koran provides an interesting window into the current public psyche.

    Depending upon your political persuasion, there are two entirely different ways to read this episode.

    If you are one of the growing hordes of Conservatives, particularly right-wingers with access to the internet bloggoshpere, this incident is a signature for mainstream media hubris, neigh - nearly treachery and anti-U.S. animus. The lesson is that the mainstream media will do anything to "get the goods" on the Bush Administration/U.S. government, even if it means fabricating an "irresponsible" incendiary story. The resulting deaths in Afghanistan - whether or not directly the result of this story - are therefore ON YOUR HEADS and you should be ashamed. (No one in this camp wonders if in fact the deaths ought to be on the heads of the military commanders who allowed the Abu Ghraib scandal to happen and the high level of distrust to occur in the first place.) In this reading, the story could not possibly be true, and it's the motives of the reporters that are immediately questioned. This is a knee-jerk suspect-the-messenger response where all non-conservative reporting is biased, if not oughtright fabrication, with patently disasterous consequences that are the responsibility of those who wrote the story.

    However, if you are NOT one of these hordes (let's say a liberal, moderate, libertarian, or just plain out-of-touch stoner), then I think your read of the situation is completely different. In this case, this story is a prime example of Right-wing censorship (akin to what's going on at NPR and PBS): a prime example of Right-wing government pressure to silence the mainstream media, to bury the story and deflect blame for anit-American sentiment onto anyone but themselves. In this reading, the story is likely most definitely true - the delayed reaction from the government merely a response to the deaths in Afghanistan and the quagmire they face: divert the issue from their own incompetence to a "mistake" of the media, and demand an apology. (Where's the apology for Abu Ghraib? Huh?). In this reading, the responsibility lies squarely in the lap of the administration, who will stoop to anything to defelct the attention onto some other issue, and Newsweek, in retracting the story, has caved to the pressure "to save its own hide," as Daily Kos puts it.

    While I might be more inclined myself to prefer the latter reading, I have to admit: I honestly don't know. The facts are mysterious. Deliberately mysterious, no doubt. The mainstream media, if they are going to go after the excesses and mistakes of this administration, really needs to get their ducks in a row and come up with a bulletproof story, not some half-investigated innuendo.

    I think the problem is that the mainstream media don't really realize the seriousness of the threat. This right-wing mood in the country is dangerous, and this administration's (and their pseudo-Christian-right backers) thirst for power rather boldfaced. Our freedoms have been under attack for a long time, and eroding day by day. Now, they have a large and vocal public chorus helping them along. Trading on half-baked stories of innuendo and salaciousness is just playing into their hands. It's time for some real journalism that can convince not just liberals and moderates but open-minded conservatives as well. And if they can't do it...we're all in trouble.

    Thursday, March 03, 2005

    Anti-Semitism Finds the Left

    This week, a group called CampusTruth.org took out a quarter-page ad in the New York Times deriding growing anit-semitism on college campuses.

    Their website notes several anti-semitic incidents at campuses around the country. As a gay person who has lived with homophobia for years, these incidents sound very familiar: name-calling, harrassment, intimidation. What's not familiar is hearing the name "Jew" rather than "fag" being yelled out of a passing car. What's even more unfamiliar is to find the name calling and intimidation being sponsored by groups that on the political spectrum would more readily label themselves "leftist" rather than "right."

    These aren't the only recent incidents. Ward Churchill, a tenured college professor from Colorado, recently created a stir when he was scheduled to deliver a speech to a college in New York, where families of 9/11 victims would be in attendance, that would compare the victims of 9/11 to Adolf Eichmann. (Missing from all the discussion of Churchill's supposed critique of the "guilt" of 9/11 victims is any mention of just how shabby a piece of intellectual thinking it is - hardly worthy of a D+ on a high school term paper, let alone a college teacher with tenure. His reasoning that the political inaction of American citizens working in the towers under an American government that conducts war in the middle East is morally equivalent to Eichmann's actions of "making the trains run," would, in the first place, make all Americans - himself included - equivalent to Eichmann, whether or not they happened to die in a horrible and tragic airplane bombing that day. Not to mention all the basic lessons from Russeau, Kant, Satre, and dozens of others about the social compact and the nature of culpability that any freshman college student learns to impress his girlfriend. But more on this later.) Less well known is that Churchill is also a "holocaust denier" who claims that counts of holocaust deaths have been greatly exaggerated by Jews. We've heard this canard before. But it's the first time I've heard it from a leftist, postmodern college humanities professor cloaked in the language of neo-Marxist deconstruction.

    The marriage of anti-semitism with the left is not a new event. Stalin was notorious for Siberianizing Jews, and Communist russia was was supporter of eccumenicism. But the number-one Jew hater in history certain must be Mr. Hitler. Fascism, from the original German fheurer through his many mini-incarnations in the neo-nazi movement, has been our most strident font of anti-semitism for decades, to the point of practical cliche, where it even becomes the butt of a popular Broadway musical. ("The Producers" fabulous hit, "Springtime for Hitler."). Jews of my generation and younger - mid-forties, comfortably urban - have really never experienced anti-semitism in this country. So this slow but distinct rise in anti-semitic voices is somewhat interesting, at the least, if not actually disturbing. (If I sound a little more sanguine than CampusTruth.org, please forgive me. I have not read any stories about Jews being lynched or beaten to death...so I still feel it is still not quite yet the problem that racism and homophobia is right now.)

    What is...oddly...most disturbing is to hear these old neo-nazi canards being espoused by card-carrying liberal deconstructionist members of the left. When did Deleuze and Guitiari, Eagleton and Foucault, lead to holocaust-denying and equating Zionism with racism? Hmmm...well, if one digs deep enough, one finds right-ist, anti-semitic tendancies in at least one or two of these famous deconstructionist thinkers. I think it was maybe Lacan. But I could be wrong about that.

    I don't think one can blame Lacan for this one. I think what's led to the recent headlong embrace of this thinking by the left is our war in Iraq. The thinking goes like this: Richard Perle, Wolfowitz, these Jews in the Defense Department have dragged us into this war. Then, isn't Isreal better off with Iraq out of the picture? Aren't we torturing Arab's in Abu Ghraib? And if I hate George Bush (because he's a rightist, big-business American pig), and George went and had a war and killed Arabs, and Arabs hate Jews, and Jews work for George, then, I must hate Jews too. The friend of my enemeny is my enemey sort of an equation.

    The level of sophistication this shows is I would say about 2nd grade. Maybe that's giving it too much credit. That it is coming from the left is...at best...disappointing. At worst, it speaks of the utter inability of the left to put together a cogent thought - let alone create a working policy for a country like America, or even win an election.

    It is, I must say, about the level I would expect from someone like Ward Churchill. Churchill was recently fired from his job because of the scandal his appearance in New York created. That Mr. Churchill was fired I find not the least bit upsetting. That he was allowed to work at all - and that what he was passing off as education or deconstruction or whatever it was he was teaching was actually taught at some point to impressionable college students - that I find disturbing. Nevermind whether it was anti-semitic. It wasn't event coherent. And it certainly isn't based on anything that someone would find in any humanly flawed but critically sharp thinker like Lacan. Or Derrida. Or Marx. Or Russeau. Or Kant. Or even my grandmother, for that matter.

    I guess that what I'm saying is that what depresses me about the recent anti-semitism of the Left isn't what it says about Jews. It's what it says about the Left. If the even SOME of the Left will madly rush to embrace a logic of a kind of "the friend of my enemy is my enemeny" racism, at the expense of all of the great leftist thinkers who would have us look at historicity, positionality, and contextuality, then what hope do we have of building any kind of progressive movement with vitality and relevance? What kind of hope do we have to ever wrest back our country from the anti-progressive interests that have hijacked our political agenda and pose the real challenges to our intellects? What hope do we even have that the Left even understands its own thinkers, agenda, and ideas?

    And if this kind of depressingly vacuous burbling makes me - a lifelong Democrat - shudder...just think what fodder it's giving to our nemesis, the far right.

    Tuesday, January 25, 2005

    Does Gay Marriage Prevent Straight Divorce?

    Two very intriguing statistics have recently emerged -

    Massachusetts, the only state that allows gay marriage, has the lowest divorce rate in the country.

    Vermont, the only state with gay civil unions, has the second lowest.

    So...this is pretty strong evidence that gay marriage prevents straight divorce!

    (Thanks to gay 365 for the stats.)

    Of course, one can say just about anything with stats, as gay bashers and anti-marriage foes often do. But certainly this is better evidence than anything they've presented - countrary to being a danger for marriage, it looks like gay marriage is the best thing that could ever happen to heterosexual marriage. Imagine that!