Bob Wright and new blogginghead Matt Yglesias worry that the Bushies, in tacit concert with hard-line Israelis, will blow [V] the dialectical opportunity for peace presented by Hamas' election victory. ... What I don't understand is why (as both Wright and Yglesias seem to assume) it would help if the United States now struck a "moderate" hopeful tone, giving Hamas "leeway" in order to "draw [them] in" to the peace process. Isn't that plodding State Department thinking--we send them a positive signal, they respond, etc? If we moved to be nicer to Hamas, it seems more likely that this would be the kiss of death--e.g. it would guarantee that they would become allergic to any moderation. If they're going to change, they need to do it themselves, after assessing their position in honest opposition to their enemies (Israel, and us) in a way that lets them take credit for standing up to them. By talking tough now, Bush doesn't foreclose that possibility--he enhances it, no? Today, confrontation. Manana, aufhebung! ... P.S.: Scott MacMillan makes an intriguing point about the way in which Hamas' very religiosity may allow it to compromise on territory. But I suspect they are a ways away from settling for the "Islamicization of individuals," the so-called "de-territorialized ummah." ... 3:38 P.M.
Here's what kf's cut-rate private eye (alert reader G) dug up on XM satellite radio's Meritocratic Poster Boy Luke Russert! I'd say it will only help him with his target demographic groups. ... Next time I splurge and hire a shamus from Craigslist. ... 2:20 P.M.
Let 144 Flowers Not Bloom: According to Shanghai Daily, the Chinese government has ordered 144 auto manufacturers to "shut down production," rather than let them fight it out and see which ones survive. Now that's industrial policy. In theory the Chinese should pay a price for this anti-market selection. ... P.S.: Some of China's early vehicle exports do seem to be junk, although you'd think that sort of gross defect will be weeded out in the international marketplace, at least if Chinese companies want to sell cars. ... 10:41 P.M.
BrokeBangle Hype: BMW's boasting about record sales, but it sure looks to me like sales of the franchise-making 3 series are flat, flat, flat, despite the introduction of a brand new model embodying big-talker Chris Bangle's latest visionary breakthrough. Shouldn't sales have surged? What if they now collapse, like second-year purchases of the Bangled-up fake-Gehry Z4? ... Customers may be failing to appreciate the new cars' place in the broad sweep of the "biggest single aesthetic undertaking in human history!" Instead, they're just looking at the cars. Philistines! ... 7:27 P.M.
The Justice Department went to court last week to try to force Google, by far the world's largest Internet search engine, to turn over an entire week's worth of searches. ... [snip] ... But the case itself, according to people involved in it and scholars who are following it, has almost nothing to do with privacy.
Gee, it seems like only yesterday the NYT was fronting a story highlighting the terror of computer users who, because of the Justice Department's actions, were now afraid to type in ordinary, curious search requests like "rent boy" for fear their privacy had disappeared. ("Would Google have to inform the government that she was looking for a rent boy - a young male prostitute?"). But it turns out you only imagined that Howell Raines had come back as NYT editor to launch one of his overheated, misguided crusades. It was all a dream, a bad dream. ...[via JustOneMinute ] 3:39 P.M.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson contributes a forceful and admirably BS-free post on a dirty little un-PC secret of the Democratic coalition: Anti-illegal immigrant sentiment among blacks. ... Is this the real, little-noted reason why President Bush made only miminal gains among African-American voters while he was wooing Latinos with his guest worker and quasi-amnesty proposals? ... Note: Just because employers don't "hire Latinos at low-end jobs and exclude blacks from them solely because of their race" doesn't mean illegal immigrants don't drive down wages at the bottom of the job market. Even if the immigrants weren't willing to work for less, the mere presence of more workers drives down wages on simple supply/demand grounds. A big reason wages at the bottom rose in the late Clinton years was a perceived tightness (i.e. shortage) in the low wage labor market, with the result that employers offered wages that weren't quite so low. We want a tight labor market at the bottom again, and restricting immigration could be one reasonable way to get it. African-Americans (as Hutchinson concedes) aren't racist just because they reach that conclusion. ... P.S.: I'm not saying economics is the only reason for anti-illegal fervor among blacks. Cultural resentments may be a big part of it. I'm just saying the economic argument is rational. ... 1:04 A.M. link
Mas Hamas? Bob Wright on why a Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections might be the best outcome [V]. (Hint: It's not just because participating in democracy will moderate them.) ... 11:54 P.M.
AG Synecdoche: Reporters at a press conference so desperately trying to fit it into the pre-existing "story they had in their minds" that they "failed to ask some very basic and important questions"? BoifromTroy shouldn't be shocked, but he does make his case. (His unasked questions--about allegedly sleazy lending practices--are good.) 11:52 P.M.
Lukegate: ... Step 1) Tim Russert books the tired Carville-Matalin act more than 35 times on his Meet the Press talk show, boosting their bankability on the lucrative lecture circuit. Step 2) Carville--with Russert's eager prodding--also uses their most recent, conveniently-timed MTP appearance to plug his new XM Satellite radio sports show. ... That's smarmily venal enough, you say? Wrong! Step 3) Carville's co-host on the XM show is Russert's son, Luke, who is "currently a sophomore at Boston College." Russert and Carville joke about this on the air but don't quite have the balls to actually inform viewers of the key conflict:
MR. RUSSERT: James Carville, before you go I understand that politics may be part of your past, that you're going to go on XM Satellite Radio and do sports?
MR. CARVILLE: Well, Mr. Russert, I can't talk about that too much, but I think there going to be a story tomorrow's paper. Tomorrow night I'll be on the Jay Leno show on NBC, and we'll be talking about some exciting new developments and maybe a new twist on an old career.
MR. RUSSERT: With anyone I know?
MR. CARVILLE: Maybe you would be familiar with someone I'll be teaming up in this, but let's just say it's going to offer a generational look at sports and the coaches of sports and things like that ... [Emph. added]
Har, har. ... Special Russert Prosecutor Arianna Huffington effectively exploits almost all the possible lines of attack here--including, but not limited to, the core charge that Russert has perverted the content of his own show for self-interested motives that might be excused as subconscious if they weren't so blatant:
Does Tim think nobody's going to notice that he's having a guest on his "news" show who is making it possible for his son to co-host a national sports radio show before he's out of college?
You'd think NBC would have an ethics policy or something. ...
P.S.: One angle Arianna misses is the bad parenting angle. It's one thing if a big star uses his connections to get a job for his unemployed son. Connections help. Stars' sons are often talented! But a sophomore in college? Isn't that rushing the connections thing a bit? Does Tim Russert think he's actually doing his son a favor? Does Luke Russert have no spark of honest Oedipal anger? ... The late Marjorie Williams could get a whole column out of this parenting point. I'm not Marjorie Williams, so I'll stop. But quite apart from parenting, the whole thing stinks. If George Stephanopoulos, or someone with a perilous network perch, tried this, they'd be in deep trouble. Maybe Russert is too. ... [Don't you occasionally plug bloggingheads.tv, which you have an interest in?--ed. I do. (I just did again!) But that conflict's obvious to readers on its face. And it felt smarmy enough that I gave up my small ownership interest in bloggingheads. ... I'd also argue that blogs are a different animal, with different rules, than network chat shows. They're more like Don Imus--you listen to him because you're amused by his various conflicts, which are all-too-elaborately disclosed. Here Russert apparently couldn't bring himself to go the hang-it-out Imus route, perhaps because he realizes it wouldn't go over too well.] Russert certainly won't be giving a keynote address at a conference on "Ethics in Media" any time soon! ... Oh, wait. ...
P.P.S.: Does Howie ('Sure, I'm willing to attack my CNN paymasters') Kurtz have the huevos to write about the Russert/Luke/Carville incest in WaPo? I say no! ... 4:53 P.M. link
Josh Marshall opposes Hillary on anti-dynasticist grounds that are valid and resonant but surely second-order. If you actually thought she'd be a terrific president you wouldn't hold her last name against her. (And if you did, she'd change it!) ... 5:37 P.M.
General Motors still seems to be missing the point. On the company's FastLane blog, GM Advanced Concepts Group director Jack Keebler promises to "work on the creation of a line of small, agile, rear-wheel-drive cars." That's fine as far as it goes, but seems consistent with GM's approach of confining rear drive to a couple of sporty car ghettos (e.g. the Camaro and Cadillac) while normal, affordable everyday sedans get the unpleasant front-wheel-drive the corporation deems more suitable to "the intended purpose of the vehicle," to quote Autoblog. This is wrong! Rear-drive is more fun in sporty cars and non-sporty cars! The hot, franchise-making Chrysler 300C is not a "small, agile, rear-wheel-drive" car. It's a big, galumphing rear-wheel drive car. It can carry a family. Moms and dads can enjoy rear-drive dynamics on the way to Bed, Bath & Beyond! Is GM saying that if you have a family you lose interest in how a car feels? It needs a rear-drive Chevy Impala. ... P.S.: Give Keebler points for admitting that his company has produced "perfectly passionless products." ... 5:10 P.M.
TimesSelec t Hitting the Wall: On November 9, 2005 the New York Times announced that its new TimesSelect service had attracted approximately 135,000 paying Web subscribers (i.e., people who weren't getting the service for free as print subscribers). Today, two month's later, the Times reported it has attracted 156,000 paying Web subscribers, according to E&P's relentless Joe Strupp. Doesn't this mean TimesSelect has gained only 21,000 subscribers in the past two months, after attracting 135,000 in the first two months? I think it does! The TimesSelect sign up rate, as predicted with annoying frequency in this space, is slowing dramatically after the initial likely users signed up, despite an aggressive (and probably expensive) advertising campaign. It's a quagmire! ... Is the Times getting desperate? Today the paper announced a 50% price cut for college students, faculty, artists, writers, alumni, Kerry voters, and people with brown eyes or putty-colored computers. ... If they just cut the price one more time by the same amount, they'll hit the sweet spot! ... P.S.: Note how the Times cannily buried the bad news about TimesSelect under its bigger bad news about earnings--a proven public relations technique familiar to those who remember the "Densepack" missile deployment system, which relied on incoming nuclear warheads to knock each other out, minimizing the damage on the ground. Luckily for the paper's spinners, there should be plenty of bad news available in the future to bury the additional bad news under. ...
P.S.--Chris' Double-Secret Hidden Blog! On the other hand, TimesSelect has Chris Suellentrop now, writing a subscriber-only blog, The Opinionator [$], that he describes as a "'but-wait-there's-more' product, the journalism equivalent" of the "free shoephone that Sports Illustrated used to hand out with its paid subscriptions." Suellentrop's almost worth $49.95 by himself! But I suspect that within weeks, if not hours, he'll look at his stats and wish he weren't locked away behind Pinch's wall. ... 1:10 P.M. link
Sources protecting their reporters: Cathy Seipp deals with two newfangled bloggy etiquette questions: 1) When an MSM reporter (or anyone, for that matter) calls you to research a story, do you have to refrain from posting online about it? 2) Do you have to honor unilateral demands for confidentiality in emails from newsworthy figures like MSM reporters? ... I don't know what the right answer is on (2)--it would be nice if there were a technological fix ("Click here if you agree to keep this private.") But Seipp gives what seems like the right answer to (1), which is "no." If a New York Times reporter (hypothetically) calls me on a story, I don't think I have an obligation--as their source--to keep that secret unless I agree to keep it secret. They called me. And it's a story (for a blogger) that the NYT is working on a story! Isn't the default rule in a free country that you can write about what happens to you?** MSM reporters will have to learn how to deal with leaky, bloggy Heisenberg-inducing sources--presumably by extracting promises of confidentiality.*** ... P.S.: It's revealing that prolific NYT emailer and reporter David Cay Johnston seems to automatically assume the new etiquette rules should be written to favor the NYT, requiring bloggers to hold their fire until the mighty Times has the chance to go first. ...
**: The email situation--(2)--seems like a potential exception to this "default rule" because there's now no clean way to extract a promise of confidentiality before it's too late. Make it a "default default rule" then. Update: Reader S.P. says you can always extract the promise of confidentiality in an introductory email. Then, if the receipient agrees, you send the unhinged flamer! Good point. ...
***: But can the sources weasel out, Judith-Miller-style? 7:26 P.M. link
Interviewing Grover Norquist is always a good idea! From A.L. Bardach's piece on Ken Mehlman:
"By the 2006 elections, we'll have gas prices down, people will have forgotten about Katrina, and we'll get the troops coming home from Iraq," ... And then for the coup de grace, says Norquist, his baby face breaking into a wide grin: "We'll bring in al-Zarqawi and Osama Bin Ladin." [Emph. added]
Norquist also talks about the Plame case:
"If Cheney is involved in any way, then [Scooter] Libby pleads guilty and stops the hemorrhaging."
And then Bush pardons both of them? I ask.
"Sure," says Norquist.
But: If Cheney's involved, how does Libby pleading guilty stop the hemorrhaging? 7:02 P.M.
Stephanopoulos is a River in Egypt: Here's This Week'sGeorge Stephanopolous on whether the 1994 "Contract with America" helped the Republicans take Congress:
I don't think that made any difference. ... I think a tax increase and raising taxes on Social Security had a lot more to do with it.
He's in some kind of liberal revisionist denial, right? To pick one salient issue, does Stephanopoulos really think the contract's call for welfare reform, which Clinton campaigned on in 1992 but backburnered, and which Newt Gingrich talked about obsessively, didn't make "any difference"? 4:05 A.M.
Another patient denied a "good death," despite expert opinions: An 11-year old girl said to be in a "vegetative state with no hope of recovery"-- begins to recover, according to Malkin. ... Where's the fabled Republican message machine when it comes to publicizing this story in the MSM? It tends to put GOP activism over Terri Schiavo in a favorable light, no? 3:08 A.M.
This Brokeback Thing Got Me Bad! Brokeback Mountain's marketing mindermast Jack Foley explains his "release strategy" to BoxOfficeMojo:
Foley: I spent a whole lot of time studying gay markets and making the discussion about the movie less abstract. [Emph. added]
Wait, I thought this was a universal love story embraced by mainstream American markets fed up with cynical GOP anti-homosexuality! [$] ... Those early "heartland" venues (e.g., Plano, Texas) that were said to demonstrate the film's across-the-board appeal couldn't have been intentionally located near large gay markets, could they? [You're still at it aren't you? This film is going to do $65M in domestic business, easy--ed. $65 million is not a "runaway phenomenon" (Frank Rich's words)! It's Barbershop 2. $100 million would be a phenomenon. The English Patient, another doomed-romance film, did $110 million, adjusted for inflation. Fahrenheit 9/11 did $119 million, unadjusted, without having any discernible effect on the red states. I'm moving the goalposts!] ... 1:56 A.M.
Ford is smart (from a shareholders' point of view) to get its cost-cutting and plant closing done soon-- i.e., tomorrow. That's because Ford has at least two likely hit products--the Fusion and Edge--entering the market. Once it becomes clear that they're selling and generating profits, it will be harder to convince Ford's workers that sacrifices are necessary. ... 6:20 P.M.
Hillary's negatives among Democrats are rising and she gets thumped by McCain in a head-to-head general election poll. ... She almost loses to "generic GOP." (McCain leads "generic Dem" by 13 points). ... Update: And Molly Ivins is off-board. (Her anti-HRC column seems even angrier with no paragraph breaks!) ... 2:36 A.M.
Checking in with ... Jon Klein! It seems like only a few months ago that oleaginous, self-promoting, lead-with-his-lip CNN chief was righteously lambasting Fox-style partisan pundits. ("We report the news. Fox talks about the news.") Now he's hiring them! ... P.S.: He's tried A! (Storytellin'!) He's tried B! (Blitzer!) He's Tried C! (emo!) Now he's trying F. ... P.P.S.: And he's still getting killed in the ratings. ... Next: Bloggers! ... 6:02 P.M.
Aesthetics in our genes? A couple of times in the past few weeks--mainly when attacking BMW's Chris Bangle, but also in, er, other contexts [v]--I've found myself arguing that there are limits to how far we can push aesthetic experimentation because some aesthetic preferences (e.g. smooth surfaces over pockmarked) are built into our genes by evolution. Even Bob Wright, Mr. Ev Psych, was mildly skeptical [v]. Comes now Arts & Letters Daily's Denis Dutton to offer much-needed guidance, defending "the existence of a universal aesthetic psychology." ... Two loopholes: I suppose Bangle can always argue that his strange, technologically-contrived shapes are a) satisfying an innate human desire for novelty that Dutton talks about--or they are b) simply serving the same showoff function of a "peacock's tail." Regarding (b), I don't see peacocks changing the design of their tails much! Regarding (a), novelty seems like a good way to sell a car for a year (e.g., BMW Z4). Tapping into base, hardwired human aesthetic preferences (for smooth voluptuousness, speculatively) is a good way to sell a car for decades (e.g., Jaguar X-KE). ...
Update: Speaking of attempts to tap into an innate human preference for voluptuousness, Autoblog has posted what they say is the rejected version of the new Chevy Camaro "concept" car, alongside the design that was selected. They're both pretty bad! But the rejected version is merely unimaginative, and at least clean. ...P.S.: And the nixed clay model (scroll down) is affirmatively neat (if not actually "bitchin"). ...[Is that one man's opinion or a hard-wired, universally valid aesthetic judgment?--ed. It's two men's opinion. My Camaro-owning friend P. hates the new one too.] 3:54 P.M. link
Socialist for a Day: I tempted fate by returning to the allegedly friendly Culver City branch of the state DMV, this time at 5:00, the end of the work day when the bureaucrats are frazzled. I was confronted at the information desk by a large, surly-seeeming woman who promptly ... smiled a large, beautiful smile and asked "How can I help you." Then she helped me. ... Scary! ... A few minutes later I was forced to take the bus from my mother's house to my mechanic's garage, in a relatively gritty section of Santa Monica. At rush hour. In L.A! The bus ... well, it arrived within seconds and the driver charged through traffic like a lancer. I got across town in 10 minutes. ... I'll snap out of it, but at the moment I only want to be assisted by unionized civil servants. 12:55 A.M.
Kohoutek Report Made Public: If the report of independent counsel David Barrett says what the New York Sunand New York Times say it says, it's a huge disappointment to Clinton paranoids like myself who are willing to credit the 42d President with an expansive dark side. We wanted evidence that a politicized IRS routinely audited Clinton critics and women who said they'd been the target of his sexual advances (e.g. Paula Jones, Elizabeth Ward Gracen, Juanita Broaddrick). Many of these people were in fact audited. Yet the Barrett document seems to contain nothing about them, only whining by Barrett about how he was blocked from fully prosecuting ex-HUD secretary Henry Cisneros. ... Maybe the redacted portions are the juicy bits--but even the conservative Sun doesn't claim this. Update: Novak insinuates that ... well, something scandalous is in those blacked-out pages. But he doesn't even hint what. ... 12:29 A.M.
My bloggingheads and Slate colleague Eric Umansky makes a good point about presidential "signing statements" [V]: They seem to merely give the President his equal say on how a law should be interpreted--an executive legal spin that balances out the spin the Congress typically hides in a statute's legislative history. But in fact the President has a bit of a drop on the legislature in this interpretive battle, since it's the President who administers and enforces a law until someone challenges it in court--and it can take years before the sometimes-onerous prerequisites for a lawsuit are met ("standing," etc.). That's if the issue is even "justiciable." ... Presidential "signing statements" may be justified as a sort of retaliation--I wrote some Congressional legislative history once myself once, and my goal was to bury the most tendentious and partisan interpretations deep within unbroken paragraphs of tedious boilerplate, where nobody would find them except our allies in the "public interest" bar. But Umansky's right that the relationship between the excutive and legislative branches is not symmetrical when it comes to these statutory commentaries. ... P.S.: I see no solution to the problem except quicker judicial decisions that focus almost entirely on the text rather than the dubious interpretations of either branch. 10:52 P.M. link
Asymptotically approaching persuasiveness: I endorse the emerging line of CW holding that Hillary's plantation" comment was hardly offensive in itself, but rather demonstrated "Hillary's tin ear and her lack of awareness of it"** as she tried to "manipulate the black crowd and let her avoid explaining her support for the Iraq war." ... "Plantation" is a once-loaded locution that long ago became detoxified through overuse. But telling an African-American audience "you know what I'm talking about" re-emphasizes the absurd equation of the life of a slave with the life of a member of the House of Representatives making $165,000 plus perks, minimizing if not trivializing the evil of the former. ...
P.S.: The Michael Goodwin NYDN piece linked above ably outlines the Essential Hillary Dilemma: She's supposed to be the candidate who has the base locked up and can appeal to the center. But thanks to her Iraq vote she now has to re-lock the base while simultaneously appealing to the center. An effective politician might accomplish this while projecting an interesting, variegated, forceful identity. An ineffective politician will look as if she has no identity at all, other than her fabled ambitious calculation. Goodwin:
All this zigzagging from left to right and back again on abortion, health care and national defense is supposed to make her look like a centrist.
It's just making her look confused.
P.P.S.: Goodwin suggests the problem is
she keeps her more moderate and leftist tendencies segregated from each other. The result is that she often seems to be two different people instead of one person with a principled coherence.
But that's another way of saying she's scared to explain both tendencies to both audiences. Is that because a) she doesn't have a single, heartfelt, mixed identity; b) she has an identity but doesn't have the chops to present it persuasively to different audiences or c) she has the identity and the chops but is simply too cautious to try? I wouldn't rule out (c).
**--That's two links to Huffpo, which avoided a completely reflexive defense of Hillary against the Republican "phony outrage machine." Nuance on the bloggy left! Or, in Huffposter John Leo's case, the right. ... 2:32 P.M.
decided that only TimesSelect subscribers should be allowed to e-mail Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, David Brooks, et al.
Not only do you have be a paid ($49.95 for non-print-subscribers) TimesSelect purchaser, but
instead of being able to put an address in a mail program and fire it off at your leisure, TimesSelect subscribers now have to fill out an online form similar to the generic feedback forms found on many Web sites.
Previous TimesSelect experiments deprived the paper's columnists of having their voices heard. This one threatens to deprive them of having interesting things to say in the first place. Not just bad business. Bad journalism. Columnists get tips over email! They get interesting information from like-minded souls, and interesting information from readers who despise them. The Times would give up this Webby power for a mess of Pinch pottage! Now columnists will only hear from those who've paid to be inside the paper's mainly-liberal New York-centric cocoon.
As a result of the disastrous TimesSelect experiment, the paper has begun to formally, technically cut itself off from the world of non-Times readers. (The analogy is imprecise, but imagine what the Times would say if the Bush White House decided to only take emails from citizens who'd registered at, say, a Republican-leaning Web site.)
P.S.: Of course, the columnists have other, real email addresses.(Do you think Brad DeLong has to subscribe to TimesSelect to send an email to Paul Krugman?) They're just not giving these real addresses to mere readers. (Even the TimesSelect readers probably get sent to a special email address that's not the columnist's real, everyday address.)
P.P.S.: Is the Timesflailing self-destructively because it's getting desperate? E&P notes
The Times has been reluctant to provide the most recent data on TimesSelect subscribers, last revealing more than a month ago that some 330,000 people had signed up for TimesSelect. About half of those are believed to be print subscribers who receive complimentary Web access as part of their home delivery plan
With every Web project I've been involved with, there's been an initial surge of interest (as the likely subscribers sign on) and then the numbers fall off sharply. Is this what's happened with TimesSelect? My predictions haven't been wildly reliable lately, but I suspect the "most recent data" doesn't show the Times building dramatically on its early subscriber base. ... (Remember what New York Times Digitial chief Martin Nisenholtz told Steve Outing: "The goal won't be met with TimesSelect subscription numbers in the tens of thousands, Nisenholtz says; it needs to be in the hundreds of thousands in the early years, and even more over the long term." [Emph. added])
an automated response containing the e-mail addresses of New York Times staff members who have made them available to the public
I've used this feature before and received a list of emails for a couple of hundred Times staffers. But I tried it half an hour ago and haven't received a response. Has this directory feature been disabled? If so, the Times has not only cut off its columnists from readers, it has cut off all of its reporters, including those who didn't want to be cut off and had voluntarily published their email addresses. ... Update--Never mind! The list of email addresses eventually arrived, including one for Krugman (which may still work).
More: Dave Mastio suggests the logical next step, until they invent a technology that makes Maureen Dowd visible only to TimesSelect subscribers:
TimesEscort: Really, when columnists are out in public, they're still representing the Times aren't they? TimesSelect will provide escorts to all public events so that Times columnists can focus their social interaction on subscribers.
They've found a job for Howell Raines! ... 12:29 P.M. link
Global Platform Collapse, Cont.: General Motors appears to have definitely reversed its core blunder of last year, the embarrassing decision to stop work on a new line of rear-drive cars. ... The bad news is the rebarbative new Camaro might be GM's rear-drive flagship. ... But, hey, at least the cars will be ready in 2007, only three years behind Chrysler's hot-selling 300 rear-drive sedan. ... What's that? They won't be ready until 2008? Yikes. ... "2008 or 2009"? Sell! ... [via Autoblog] 7:51 P.M.
More evidence that I drastically underestimated Brokeback's appeal. ... [Tks. A.R.]7:05 P.M.
Missing the forest and not even noticing that the trees all kind of look alike:
"If design were reducible to a set of principles, wouldn't we find an awful lot of similar houses, gardens, cars, rooms?" --Gitte Lindgaard, psychology professor at Carleton University in Ottawa.
But ... but ... but ... we do find an awful lot of similar houses, gardens, cars, and rooms, no? Have you been in many living rooms with dark brown walls? 5:32 P.M.
Brokeback, I Just Can't Quit Ya! I ran into Fox News' Roger Friedman, who pointed out that on Friday and Saturday Brokeback Mountain did slightly worse than on those days a week earlier, despite being shown in 683 theaters instead of 483. That suggests to me either a) the film faded in the theaters that had been showing it or b) the new theaters that were added weren't performing as well (perhaps because they weren't as large) as the old ones ... Variety's Ben Fritz indicates the answer is at least in part (a). ... Have Brokeback's marketing execs cannily covered the falloff in old theaters by adding new cities where a predictably brisk opening-weekend business pulls up the total gross (enabling the flim to maintain its media momentum)? I think they have! ... P.S.: Counting the newer theaters, Brokeback's per theater take fell about 35% from Friday to Friday and 30 percent from Saturday to Saturday. True, it fell from a high level. And "older" theaters should see renewed attendance after a win at the Golden Globe ceremony--which just happened to come at exactly the right time to break Brokeback'sincipient mini-slump! "The guys planning & managing this campaign should have been in charge of Operation Iraqi Freedom," one producer told me. "So far they've thought of everything." They should get an Oscar. ...
Update: Informative thread of comments here--many skeptical of the Heartland Embrace thesis. (Sample: "Here in my metro area of over 2 million people it is playing on exactly 2 screens. But, if you listen to the media they make it sound like it is the next blockbuster ... ") 12:11 A.M.
Labor Power: Bill Bradley on how California's unions blocked Schwarzenegger's big solar power initiative--not because it was a bad idea. Rather
organized labor and Democrats in the Assembly who were determined to deny Schwarzenegger an image-boosting win ...
Progressive politics at its best! The better the bill for California, the more dangerously image-boosting, of course. ... Schwarzenegger has now performed an end run around the legislature by getting the state Public Utilities Commission to approve the plan, which Bradley calls
the biggest solar energy program in the country, roughly $3 billion in rate-based customer incentives over the next decade to install solar power devices to generate 3000 megawatts of electric power, the equivalent of a half-dozen big new power plants, on the rooftops of one million homes, businesses, and public buildings. [Emph. added]
11:12 P.M. link
stopped taking on new roles because he's waiting to get that big Oscar nomination, figuring, and rightly so, that once he gets an O nod he can raise his price, get better parts, etc.
That big Oscar nomination would be for Brokeback Mountain--which would be perverse because Gyllenhaal's the fatal problem with the movie. He doesn't seem to have any particular appealing quality that would cause Heath Ledger to carry a torch for him for decades. Gyllenhaal's early-on attempts to charmingly romp in the wilderness fall flat--it wasn't just Meghan Daum's date who was checking his watch in the first half of the film--and in the second half of the film he starts to whine. Big love for Gyllenhaal is supposed to be the motor that drives the movie, but the motor doesn't turn. The film only comes alive when Gyllenaal is dead, and we're left with Heath Ledger in his trailer. ...
P.S.--Casting Call: It's also hard to believe that Gyllenhaal is in demand because, as recounted by Snead, "there is nobody else around to cast as an under-40 romantic male lead." She's asking readers to suggest names. ... Wasn't it only a few days ago that The New York Observer was telling us about a shortage of romantic female leads? No wonder Hollywood is in trouble. ("Can't we get a penguin in that role?") ...
P.P.S.--Crow watch: I will probably be wrong in my rash prediction that Brokeback won't break $50 million in domestic box office. Some anticipatory crow is eaten here [V]. But I'm not ready to eat crow on the underlying claim that, contra Frank Rich, the movie won't make the heartland swoon. Right now it's doing well in a relatively small number of selected theaters. Let's see what happens when it finally goes wide. ... 12:13 P.M. link
Ford Edge: Attractive! Reinforces the sense that Ford, unlike GM, will rebound this year. ... Ford head designer Peter Horbury did a good job for Volvo and he talks like a normal person. He's the anti- Bangle! ... 1:36 P.M.
Did you know that anti-war British pol George Galloway was on the U.K. version of Celebrity Big Brother? With Dennis Rodman? Crawling on the floor pretending to be a cat? Greg Gutfeld enthuses on his Double Secret Hidden Blog (go here and click on "Bio"). ... Gutfeld's not lying. ... Backfill: Steve Smith, a week ago, runs with the Rula Lenska angle. ... Update: Here's a direct link to Gutfeld. ... 12:32 P.M.
Another problem with ever-increasing progressivity:Armed Liberal calculates that the state income tax paid by the top 5% of filers accounts for an astounding 26.9% of California's budget:
I think this is an amazingly bad idea. I don't think that this is a bad idea because it's unfair to the half-million rich households. I think it's a bad idea because it builds insane levels of volatility into the state revenue stream.
Basically, if the rich have a bad year, the state's in trouble. That's what happened, A.L. points out, between 2000 and 2002. ... It certainly doesn't seem like good policy to tie the fate of schools, roads, sewers, hospitals. police etc. so closely to the success of a few mansion-generating sectors, in particular the entertainment industry--especially this year. Would you want to depend on The Island**?
**--I know, I know, it wasn't that bad. Still ... [via Insta] 12:09 P.M.
What caused the online New York Times to surge on Alexa, starting around December 1? I'm stumped. ... Is it all the New York City readers dropping their print subscriptions? ... Reader D.B. suggests the Times' NSA spying scoop is responsible--but that story didn't break until December 15. ... Reader J.M. says, "It's got to be some apparently highly-effective ad buy." ... Contrast with: Other sites that show the sort of slow, steady growth prized by Wall Street analysts. ... 11:41 P.M.
Tomorrow's contrarianism today: Next up in the cycle will be the prediction that Hillary won't run for President in 2008. Why? She's in too much trouble with the anti-war grassroots. Her transparent attempts to tap into anti-Bush sentiments to compensate for her invasion defense are falling flat. McCain looks like he'd beat her. She's too cautious to risk it. She's young--she's got time. Better to wait until the Iraq debate is in the past. .... This bit of anti-CW will have legs, even if it's wrong, because: a) It's not in Hillary's interest right now to deny it; b) If she did nobody would believe her; c) It's not in the press' interest to deny it--it makes the race more suspenseful; d) It's not in any of the other, lesser-known candidates' interest to deny it; e) She doesn't really have to decide until next winter. ... 10:25 P.M. link
Marshall Curry's documentary, Street Fight--about Cory Booker's near-miss 2002 challenge to Newark Mayor Sharpe James--is entertaining enough, especially if you like politics. But it omits a crucial bit of substance: Booker's well-known openness to school choice. It's a little like doing a documentary about George W. Bush and leaving out the Iraq war. Here's an Arianna Huffington column from 2001:
Given this "educational apartheid," it is not surprising that African Americans are at the forefront of demanding revolutionary measures to solve a crisis that is devastating their children's chances for a productive future. Mikel Holt, who chronicled the landmark battle for school choice in Milwaukee, has no illusions about what is at stake. "The old civil rights movement got us to the lunch counter," he says. "The new civil rights agenda is: Can our kids read the menu?"
And young African-American leaders are rallying around this agenda: "It's one of the last remaining major barriers to equality of opportunity in America," Newark-N.J., city councilman Cory Booker told me. "We're not going to fix our schools by tinkering with them. It's going to take radical changes, and we have to be willing to experiment 'by any means necessary' - including with vouchers." [Emph. added]
Booker's readiness to try this distinctly non-Democratic idea is one of the main things that makes him interesting and appealing. It's also one of the main reasons traditional Democratic party interests mobilized so vigorously against him, and the germ of truth in their (successful enough) 2002 attempt to label him a "Republican"--which, in the misleadingly barren context of the movie, sounds like just a smear pulled out of thin air. ... P.S.: Why did Curry leave the key voucher point out? I don't know. My guess is either he didn't want to complicate Booker's current re-run for mayor, or he didn't want to complicate the world views of the mainly left moviegoers who would see his film. But, of course, the film would have been much better if he'd explored the complication instead of pretending it wasn't there. ...
Update--Complexity? You can't handle complexity! Marshall Curry graciously responds on his site: "The issue of vouchers in Newark is much more complicated than it might appear. To have dropped it in superficially would have left a false impression." I'm not convinced. Curry manages to outline these "complexities" in four paragraphs--and I learned as much reading them as I did watching his hour and a half film! For that investment of time, I'd kind of like some complexity! Especially on an issue as crucial to his subject's national political identity as this one. . ... P.S.: Curry admits that Booker's opponent ran ads on the voucher issue. ... P.P.S.: It's hard to believe Curry really thinks his film fearlessly contains scenes that "might hurt Booker's campaign." Most of the scenes he cites--e.g. "Booker fighting with his press person who says he is going to boff his debate"--don't make Booker look bad at all. ... 9:47 P.M. link
GM's new Camaro concept is horrid, a Saturday morning kids' cartoon version of the old Camaro. Hard to believe that product czar and publicity-hog Bob Lutz, who allegedly favors fluid Euro shapes, approved it. Maybe they really should dump him. ... DaimlerChrysler's Challenger looks like the Venus de Milo in comparison--an ideal-typical version of the original Challenger. Better yet would be a car that wasn't another retro-cartoon ... Update: Reportedly, the calamitous Camaro was produced at the last minute when a previous design was junked, not by Lutz but by CEO Rick Wagoner himself. It's hard to believe the cancelled design was worse. ... 9:06 P.M. link
Chief Cocoon-Spinner Back On Job: If you read Adam "Caterpillar" Nagourney in the NYT on Tuesday, you might think Alito was in trouble** due to mounting GOP political difficulties and a galvanized Dem minority:
The different tone on display on Capitol Hill on Monday - and what it suggests for the hearings that are expected to dominate Washington this week - stood as evidence to just how much the political atmosphere has changed since the Judiciary Committee approved Chief Justice Roberts's nomination 13 to 5.
President Bush has lost some political power, and he had to withdraw his previous nominee for this vacancy, Harriet E. Miers, the White House counsel, in the face of widespread criticism from his party's conservative wing.
Congressional Republicans are grappling with ideological divisions and a power struggle in the House after the resignation of Representative Tom DeLay of Texas as majority leader. And they are increasingly worried about the coming midterm elections: ...
It probably did not help the White House that this hearing began as the administration defended a program of domestic surveillance that has been challenged as illegal by many Democrats and some Republicans. ...
Even in the course of Monday's swift-paced hearings, Democrats were ticking off at a dizzying pace issues they intended to press, suggesting that they expected to have a much easier time pinning down Judge Alito than they did Chief Justice Roberts. [Emph. added]
Look out, Sam! ... Two days later, does this passage seem eerily prescient or embarrassingly, cocooningly, wrong? ... In a more sophisticated analysis, John McIntyre of RealClearPolitics, in an item titled "Are Senate Democrats Giving Alito A Pass?" argues that Dem hopes of beating the Republicans in the midterms are operating to lower the partisan pressure on Alito, not raise it:
What is interesting is when you look at the liberal blogs and what they are talking about, the energy is clearly not on Alito, and that should tell you a lot. I think the left-wing blogosphere is coalescing around the idea Bush and the Republicans are toast based on Abramoff, Iraq and the President's spying on the American people. They correctly have determined that Alito is a losing battle for them and they are moving on. And I wonder if that is what we are seeing with Senate Democrats as well.
P.S.: For how a much better, un-cocooned reporter covered the same topic --contrasting the Roberts and Alito nominations, but without Nagourney's underlying drumbeat of imagined Democratic victory--see this Brownstein piece.
**--Correction: Text originally said "you'd think Alito was in big trouble," which was an exaggeration. 1:36 A.M. link
I don't have a dog in the Roggio vs. WaPo fight. But I do have a brother! He's written a non-vituperative, lawyerly, almost Alito-like item taking WaPo's side. ... P.S.: Read the Update before you rip him to shreds. ... Tomorrow, kf on the Northern Marianas! WaPo pays me for this blog. And here I am linking to a pro-WaPo item. Did Jack Abramoff ever get results like that? 4:15 P.M. link
I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, but why are we assuming that the avian flu will mutate (or not mutate) into a global pandemic naturally? If you were a sophisticated Middle Eastern terrorist wouldn't you already be isolating the virus and trying to produce mutations in a lab? If you were an unsophisticated Middle Eastern terrorist who commanded a few dozen cadres willing to die as suicide bombers, wouldn't you instead a) give them the regular old flu and b) expose them to the avian flu germ and c) send them off to the Western world's busiest airports to just walk around and sneeze? Since the threat of a deadly hybrid comes when people get both the regular and avian flu at the same time, the result might be millions and millions of dead infidels. No bombs would be necessary. Nothing even obviously illegal. Just a bunch of people flying around, breathing. ... Of course, it's not as if a source of diseased birds is readily available in a nearby country like Turkey ... Oh, wait. ... P.S.: If not Islamic terrorists, then some other kind of terrorists. Cf., Twelve Monkeys. ... 3:41 P.M. link
Alex Beam on the conspiracy to rehab Doris Kearns Goodwin:
Although many fair-minded people see Goodwin as an inadvertent copier at best, I see a different pattern: an understandable reluctance to talk about the settlement paid to author Lynne McTaggart for "borrowing" from her work. A lack of contrition. The assertion that, of her work, only "The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys" had attribution problems. Then when the Los Angeles Times demonstrated similar problems with Goodwin's Franklin Roosevelt book, "No Ordinary Time," her lawyer angrily accused the paper of practicing "junk journalism."
I hadn't realized [V]the extent to which the debate on how to combat avian flu recapitulates the debate over American foreign policy, with some health experts (let's call them "liberals") arguing for reliance on multinational organizations to fight flu outbreaks in the poor Third World countries that are the breeding grounds for this natural terror. Others think this is a do-gooders' fantasy and argue for a more selfish, unilateral "moat" strategy. Here's Dr. Henry Miller of the Hoover Institution:
If national governments are incapable of appropriate, timely actions to prevent or respond to a potential pandemic of avian flu, to whom could we delegate responsibility? The World Health Organization, perhaps -- a component of the inept, self-serving, scientifically challenged, politically correct, unaccountable United Nations, which gave us the Iraq oil-for-food scandal and its continuing coverup ... Is there anyone so naive to believe that the UN can keep politics out of scientific and medical decisions?
One difference is that, in the flu debate, the "liberals" aren't asking us to rely on the distant prospect of Third World countries developing flourishing economies that lift them out of poverty. They're only asking for a limited infrastructure that lets health workers chopper in, distribute medicine and kill farm animals. ... And it's the liberal position, in this case, that draws on the natural human instinct to retaliate, tit for tat. "Fight the flu over there so we don't have to fight it over here!"--that's the flu-lib cry. ... I don't see an analogue to the idealistic neoconservative position, though. Democracy--either of people or of viruses--isn't going to make the flu go away, right? Nor is anyone (as far as I know) proposing to overthrow governments in order to establish more sanitary conditions. ... 12:52 P.M. link
Thefocus of evil in the auto styling world, BMW design chief Chris Bangle, lectured at the L.A. Auto Show last Thursday. I knew I thought Bangle's cars were ugly--or, rather, unappealingly contrived. But what about the theory? Talking was obviously his strong suit. Why not go?
Several hundred mainly industry types attended. Bangle seemed a pleasant enough fellow--either he's relatively laid back for a meticulous egomaniac, or he does a good job of faking it. He promised his slide show would "rock and roll," and it almost did. My notes aren't precise enough to allow for a lot of direct quotes, but he had four main themes:
1. Car design has closed the gap on architecture. Bauhaus modernism arrived in the 1920s, when cars were still in a near-baroque phase. Autos didn't get Bauhausy until the 50s. Bangle proudly noted that it took only six years for him to echo the complex curves of Frank Gehry's Bilbao museum in the BMW Z4 sports car.
2. Car design is technologically driven--specifically by the tooling. It's all about "what kind of shapes you can get out of tools." At the moment, the big tool is "multiple axis surfacing," which allowed BMW to create its previously "impossible" convex and concave steel panels. Bangle was especially proud of the "digital" technology behind the wrinkles in a new BMW's hood.
3. Car design, and maybe appreciation of car design, is an elite occupation. Bangle noted that anyone with a computer and Photoshop could now alter BMW's designs.** But just because you can buy a cheap machine and bake bread at home "doesn't make you a master baker." This was accompanied by lots of references to "professionalism," "skill level," the ability to understand visual grammar and reach the "highest audience."
4. We should see beyond the single car and see how each product fits into the broad sweep of aesthetic progress. Bangle ridiculed designers who just come up with something they think is "cool." Instead each design has a place in the "biggest single aesthetic undertaking in human history."
To which kf responds:
1. Why do cars have to follow buildings? Bangle didn't seem like a cantankerous visionary as much as an insecure follower. Why be so proud that you managed to ape Bilbao in only 6 years? (Later, in the Q &A, Bangle lamented that his team had difficulty designing a cell phone antennae for BMW because there were no "precedents" to follow from racing cars. Why does he need "precedents"?). You'd think auto design might lead architecture rather than the other way around, cars being a fresher development, in the broad sweep of things, than buildings.
2. Tools are tools: Just because you can make new shapes doesn't mean that they will always be appealing. Bangle interspersed his slide show with photos of beautiful and fashionable women, mainly Audrey Hepburn, which had the effect of subtly subverting his pitch. The design of women, after all, hasn't changed all that much over centuries. Yet they still retain their brand appeal! That's because the attraction is built into our genes. Maybe there are other aesthetic parameters in our genes--a preference for smooth and symmetrical shapes over pockmarked and asymmetrical shapes, for example. [V] (In the environment of our evolution, pockmarks=disease, right?) Hence the smooth, voluptuous Pontiac Solstice. Bangle seems eager to let changes in tooling technology lead him to rapidly create clever shapes that our nimble brains may appreciate on an intellectual level but that our relatively unchanging genes don't let us appreciate on an emotional level. Hence the BMW 3 series.
3. Cool is cool. Deskwork doesn't often produce beauty: Would you rather buy a design from a) sophisticated scholars who urge you to see how it fits into the broad history of aesthetics or b) blindered adolescents who say, "Hey, this is cool"? I'll take (b). It's mighty convenient for an executive who designs ugly cars to ask us to look at them in their grand intellectual context. ... And is aesthetic evolution the result of bold moves by self-conscious theorists like Bangle or the competition of lots of little, "cool" designs by people who quite unaware of how their work compared with that of Archimedes and Vermeer? I'd say the latter, which would make aesthetic evolution more analogous to actual, un-self-conscious Darwinian evolution.
4. Survival of the coolest! In this context, Bangle's loud professionalism seems more like the brittle defense of a man who doesn't want to be judged "fit" or "unfit" in a chaotic battle for popular and artistic survival--someone who'd rather be declared an aesthetic visionary mainly because he's got the job of chief of design for BMW--and who cares what you think anyway?
**--Usually for the better (scroll down).
1:11 P.M. link
Mystery Pollster looks at the numbers and concludes:
[F]or now at least, is that the recent hostility of left-leaning blogs is not evident among rank and file Democrats.
I'd still like to see Edmund Muskie's approval ratings in 1970, just for comparison's sake. ... Update:MP has come up with some 1970 Muskie numbers, and sure enough he was popular too! Just a few anti-war types who were dissatisfied. ... P.S.: Back then, the anti-war movement split the Democratic party and could arguably be characterized as a large, dissident fringe. Today, the anti-war movement arguably is the Democratic party. Doesn't that suggest, polling numbers being equal, that Hillary is in a lot more trouble than Muskie? ... 12:08 A.M.
Instapundit's Katrina/Rita Relief donation list.
Bloggingheads--Bob Wright's videoblog project. Gearbox--Searching for the Semi-Orgasmic Lock-in. Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--He reports! And decides! Wonkette--Makes Jack Shafer feel guilty. Salon--Survives! kf gloating on hold. Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! David Corn--Trustworthy reporting from the left. Washington Monthly--Includes Charlie Peters' proto-blog. Lucianne.com--Stirs the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. Keller's Calmer Times--Registration required. NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare! Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog. Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. Overlawyered.com--Daily horror stories. Eugene Volokh--Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman--Born to blog. Joe Conason--Bush-bashing, free most days. Lloyd Grove--Don't let him write about you. Arianna's Huffosphere--Now a whole fleet of hybrid vehicles. TomPaine.com--Web-lib populists. Take on the News--TomPaine's blog. B-Log--Blog of spirituality! Hit & Run--Reason gone wild! Daniel Weintraub--Beeblogger and Davis Recall Central. Eduwonk--You'll never have to read another mind-numbing education story again. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. John Leo--If you've got political correctness, he's got a column ... [More tk]