Archives for December, 2005

Vital Issues of the Day

Why is it that, after rating some 500 movies on Netflix, the “recommendations” algorithim seems incapable of figuring out what I like, when Tivo, after two months, is almost breaking even?

Also, over vacation, I became hooked on Epitafios, the Argentianian serial-killer show on HBO. The plot is utterly stupid, but it draws you in like a Telemundo soap opera. The lead actors especially. The sexy shrink is, uh, sexy, and the male lead is noir-perfect, with a hangdog face, disgusted by the world but kept going on pure spite. But my HBO On Demand has all the episodes except for No. 7. Since No. 6 ended on a cliffhanger, I don’t want to skip to No. 8. But No. 7 doesn’t air until January 18th. Somebody help.

Posted on Dec 28, 2005 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Dream Job

I know it’s a load of crap, but I just love this:

Thompson pauses the DVD near the film’s end to explicate this point–the U.S. Constitution. One character, he says, represents the Jeffersonian Democrats, “operating from the heart” and believing “what you need will come to you,” while another illustrates the Alexander Hamilton Federalists, a work-oriented guy who believes in centralized power.

The movie? Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the 1982 teen flick about a year at a California high school. Although it’s fundamentally a sex/breasts/party movie, Thompson admits, even the characters’ names underscore his argument that Fast Times has a deeper message: pot-smoking surfer dude Jeff Spicoli is the Jeffersonian, while ambitious burger flipper Brad Hamilton is the Federalist. More evidence: when history teacher Mr. Hand gives Spicoli a home lesson on the American Revolution, Spicoli articulates what he’s learned: “What Jefferson was saying was, Ã?Â?Ã?¢Ã?¢?Ã?¬Ã?Â??Hey, you know, we left this England place because it was bogus. So if we don’t get some cool rules ourselves, pronto, we’ll just be bogus too–right?'”

Fast Times as an allegory for the debate occasioned by Hamilton’s Report on Manufactures. Shall we be a country of harried strivers, or a nation of yeoman stoners? In Amy Heckerling’s movie, it’s clear who wins out in the end. Jefferson Spicoli rescues Brooke Shields from drowning and gets to jam with the Stones, while it’s worth remembering that what happened to poor Brad Hamilton vis a vis Phoebe Cates is in many ways worse than taking one in the chest in North Jersey. Doesn’t anyone ever knock any more, indeed.

Thompson, by the way, is the director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, and in those quiet moments, catching his breath after shutting his office door and laughing himself dizzy, I bet he wonders just what it is he did in a past life to build up so much good karma.

Posted on Dec 14, 2005 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Lifeboat Ethics

Michael Kinsley’s latest on torture over at Slate is so good it hurts.

All this talk about whether the law should be enforced and whether there are grounds for being lenient with people who, in compelling circumstances, break the law, puts me in mind of one of the funner cases from law school, Regina v. Dudley & Stephens. It sucks to be the cabin boy.

Posted on Dec 14, 2005 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Cory Maye

Cory Maye never wrote a children’s book or caught the attention of Snoop Dog or Jamie Foxx. But from all appearances, he’s a hell of a lot more deserving of clemency than Stanley “Tookie” Williams.

Maye is on death row in Mississippi right now for killing a police officer. From the new Wikipedia entry:

At 11 p.m. on the night of December 26, 2001, Jones accompanied a seven-member SWAT team from the Pearl River Basin Narcotics Task Force, a four-county police agency responsible for drug enforcement. He was not a member of the team, but had been invited along as he had passed along an confidential tip that large quantities of marijuana were being stored and sold in the apartment of Jamie Smith, who lived in the other half of the duplex. The officers had obtained search warrants for both apartments. Whether the warrants legally allowed for a no-knock entry is still not clear.

While Smith was arrested without incident, and significant quantities of marijuana were found in his home, both Maye’s current and former attorneys say Smith was never charged with drug possession or distribution. Jefferson Davis County District Attorney Clarence “Buddy” McDonald says he doesn’t remember Smith being charged or convicted.

There is disagreement about what happened next. The officers then either served the warrant on Maye’s half of the duplex, or entered what they thought was another door to Smith’s in search of more contraband (later, prosecutors would say both were served simultaneously). Attorneys for Mississippi and Maye differ on whether the police clearly identified themselves. Maye, who was asleep at the time of the raid, retreated to his bedroom and readied a .38-caliber pistol. When Jones entered, Maye fired three times. Jones was wearing a bulletproof vest, but it did not cover the area where he was hit, and the injury proved fatal.

Maye had no criminal record, and there were no drugs in his apartment, where he lived with his 18-month-old daughter. This sounds like a case of mistake-of-fact–self-defense gone wrong–since it’s hard to believe that a man in no legal jeopardy would decide to shoot one police officer and then surrender. At the very least, we know enough to say that this man should not be executed.

Radley Balko’s the only reason we know about this case. His latest is here. And the work he’s done on the case may just save a man’s life. So if you’ve got a blog, spread the word. Saving a guy’s life would be a whole lot more impressive and worthwhile than getting Dan Rather fired.

Posted on Dec 14, 2005 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Torture Debate

I confess I’m not kept up nights by visions of Khalid Sheik Mohammed being waterboarded. I’d probably be a better person if I were. And no, I wouldn’t convict the guy who tortured a terrorist to save New York City from a nuking. Nor would any jury. (There you go: the answer to the ticking time bomb scenario is jury nullification.)

But how ridiculous is it that the entire torture debate centers on this made-up scenario? Talk about framing the debate. It’s as if NARAL got the whole world to agree that the national conversation on abortion should start (and end) with the hypothetical of a 12-year-old rape victim who’ll have a heart attack if she comes to term. And incidentally, she’s carrying Damien.

I support the McCain bill because I don’t support the torture of innocent goat farmers who’ve offended their neighbors. And because once you accept the legality of torture, I don’t think you can confine it to people like Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Krauthammer’s FISA-court proposal is particularly asinine here. What are the odds that the “Torture Court” (there’s a lovely concept) would be any less of a rubber stamp than the FISA court? And I support the McCain bill because I haven’t seen anything suggesting the intelligence value we’d get–even assuming it could be confined to folks like KSM–is worth further soiling ourselves in front of a world that thinks we’re supposed to be better than this. And, perhaps most of all, I support it because the administration needs to be reminded who makes the law in this country. Lest we forget, it was–and perhaps still is–the position of the administration that Congress can make no law prohibiting war crimes. And there was nothing in those memos limiting that doctrine of presidential absolutism, such that it would not apply American citizens. As they never tire of insisting, America is a battlefield, and anything goes. Anything the president says, that is.

Posted on Dec 13, 2005 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Terrorism: It’s as Dangerous as Fat Kids!

For a long time I’ve wished a major public figure would help spread the word that the risk of terrorism has been greatly exaggerated. But reading Radley’s latest, it occurs to me that the public health nuts may be doing that job inadvertently. You had Mayor Bloomberg telling people that the NYC smoking ban saved more people than died in Worth Trade Center. And now, apparently, U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona is telling people that childhood obesity is “every bit as threatening to us as the terrorist threat.” You could get irritated by the comparison, but if people start to take this to heart, they’re less likely to duct tape themselves in their houses while frantically emailing their congressman to take away all their rights.

Posted on Dec 12, 2005 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Sad Day

I learned today that two great Americans just died. The man I’m named after, Eugene McCarthy, passed away today in Georgetown. A good man in a bad trade, and one who brought down a bastard of a sitting president. He had a perspective that folks on both sides of the aisle could benefit from:

In McCarthy’s 1998 book, ”No-Fault Politics,” editor Keith C. Burris described McCarthy in the introduction as ”a Catholic committed to social justice but a skeptic about reform, about do-gooders, about the power of the state and the competence of government, and about the liberal reliance upon material cures for social problems.”

I was lucky enough to meet McCarthy briefly a couple of years ago.

I never got to meet Bill Bradford, who died last Thursday, though we talked on the phone several times. Bill was the founder and editor of Liberty magazine, and the man who gave me my first chance at writing for an audience broader than a college or law school campus. I’m one of many for whom he did that favor. Liberty, at its best, was a terrific magazine. An inreach journal, it published its share of “Ayn Rand’s Fascination with Charlie’s Angels” sorts of articles. But it was also less predictable, more adventurous, and far more fun to read than almost any political magazine out there. I hope new editor Steve Cox can carry on that tradition. Bill was, from all accounts, difficult to get along with, like most political radicals, though in my dealings with him, he was always gracious and charming.

Two men who went their own way, and by their very presence made the world more promising and more interesting. Rest in peace.

Posted on Dec 10, 2005 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Question Time

Question Time is just awesome. I’ve been mesmerized by it since I was a little kid watching Margaret Thatcher. Eccentric backbenchers with puce-colored teeth and puke-colored ties standing up and taking the piss out of the PM, and the PM standing back up and giving it right back. Monty Python meets C-Span.

Plus, it gives you some indication that the folks running things are not complete idiots. I’ve been around smart, articulate people long enough to know they have no particular virtue that means they should be running things. But as long as we can’t institute a system where in Buckley’s phrase, we’re governed by the first couple of hundred people in the telephone directory, it is some consolation to know that your political leadership can speak in complete, coherent sentences and think on their feet.

As it is now, we’ve got a selection process that has resulted in the elevation of a man whose chief life accomplishment seems to have been quitting drinking when he was 40. Which most people manage to do just because of the increasing severity of hangovers, without making a big deal out of it.

Though on second thought, most of us don’t have to go to 26 office Christmas parties this month. Just reading this made me want a drink.

Posted on Dec 9, 2005 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Elliott Brood

I have a new favorite band this week. Elliot Brood, out of Toronto. They refer to their music as “Death Country” or “Blackgrass.” A lot of banjo, and mumbled dark lyrics, and I learn from Wikipedia that “One notable aspect of the band’s live performance is that Pitkin uses a large plastic suitcase in place of a bass drum which produces a similar but subdued effect.” Perfect. Get both their albums off iTunes. Heard it on the CBC Radio 3 podcast, which is pretty good, eh.


Posted on Dec 8, 2005 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Cato Unbound

Check out Cato’s new monthly webzine Cato Unbound, this month featuring an essay by James Buchanan on three constitutional amendments for the 21st century. Akhil Amar, that rarest of creatures, a liberal originalist, responds forcefully here.

Posted on Dec 7, 2005 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

AEI Comix

Apropos of the post below, I am happy to report that since 2003, Marvel Comics has seen the light. They’ve contracted with AEI’s Karl Zinsmeister to write a comic book about the Iraq War.

Marvel Comics (the people behind Spiderman and other pop icons) asked TAE editor in chief Karl Zinsmeister to write a true-life drama about our GIs battling in Iraq. Dan Jurgens, master illustrator for the Superman series, drew the classic comic-book images. !

Zinsmeister is new to the comic book format, but as the author of articles on the Iraq War such as “The War is Over, and We Won” (June 2005), somehow I think he’ll get the hang of it.

Posted on Dec 7, 2005 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Why Does Captain America Hate America?

I recently stumbled across an important paper by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies that identifies the latest threat to our nation’s yout': comic books.

The Defense Department must face international terrorism without the aid of a celebrated hero of past victories ���¢�¢?�¬�¢?? comics figure Captain America.

Even after September 11th, Marvel Comics and other publishers are disseminating comic books that actively promote a destructive cynicism and mistrust of the United States Government.

They express anti-war sentiments, condemn America as a racist state, liken the actions of our Armed Forces to the murderous crimes of Islamic terrorists, portray terrorists as advocates for sympathetic causes, show others to be victims of U.S. aggression, and reveal our Government officials to be scheming, evil villains.

Well, maybe not a new threat. Taking a page from the EC Comics hearings of the ’50s, Medved and the other guy note:

For nearly three generations, comic books have exploited dark, disturbing, and violent themes ���¢�¢?�¬�¢?? painful transformations, isolated freaks and killers, corruption in high places, and criminal conspiracies. The new emphasis,
however, goes further than ever before ���¢�¢?�¬�¢?? imputing guilt not only to a few malevolent tycoons and their henchmen, but to the American military establishment and the nation at large.

I haven’t read the comics assailed in the paper, but they sound kind of silly (surprise!) But at least Marvel Comics does its work without the benefit of government largesse, and without any grants from the State Department or US-AID.

Posted on Dec 5, 2005 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Out of Iraq

Listen to former NSA director Lt. Gen. William Odom, from today’s “Morning Edition” on NPR, talking about getting out of Iraq. Crisp, to the point, forceful, and convincing. Though I was already convinced.

Posted on Dec 2, 2005 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Watching You

Very interesting column by Bob Novak today on FBI abuses under Hoover. Novak recounts a speech by Judge Laurence H. Silberman, who as a deputy attorney general in the Ford administration reported to the House Judiciary Committee in 1974 on secret files kept by J. Edgar Hoover. His experience then was enough to give this FISA court judge pause about government surveillance. (Though he seems to conclude that the real problem was just that Hoover was a bad man).

Novak’s piece has something for everyone. Conservatives will love this tale of liberal hypocrisy involving Bill Moyers:

When President Johnson’s aide Walter Jenkins was arrested for homosexual conduct in a men’s room during the 1964 campaign, Silberman said, LBJ aide Bill Moyers directed Hoover to find similar conduct on Barry Goldwater’s staff. “Moyers’ memo to the FBI was in one of the files,” he continued. An “outraged” Moyers telephoned Silberman, he said, to assert that the memo was “phony.” “Taken aback,” said Silberman, he offered an investigation to publicly exonerate Moyers. “There was a pause on the line, and then he (Moyers) said, Ã?Â?Ã?¢Ã?¢?Ã?¬Ã?Â??I was very young. How will I explain this to my children?’ ” “Silberman’s account of our conversation is at odds with mine,” Moyers told me when I asked for comment.

Liberals will read the reference to the MLK bugging, recall the history, and wonder how anyone can support enhanced surveillance power for the federal government… and they’ll feel that way at least until 2008.

Libertarians will wonder why conservatives want to give the woman who brought you the Travel Office Scandal the ability to build a dossier on anyone in the country.

And libertarians who read the Washington Post every day will wonder why somebody as keenly aware of the potential for government abuses as Silberman apparently is could recommend an expanded surveillance role for the Pentagon:

CIFA’s abilities would increase considerably under the proposal being reviewed by the White House, which was made by a presidential commission on intelligence chaired by retired appellate court judge Laurence H. Silberman and former senator Charles S. Robb (D-Va.). The commission urged that CIFA be given authority to carry out domestic criminal investigations and clandestine operations against potential threats inside the United States.

Posted on Dec 1, 2005 in Uncategorized | Comments Off