Hillary's Secret Challenger

Hillary's Secret Challenger

Hillary's Secret Challenger

A mostly political Weblog.
Jan. 2 2006 10:40 PM

Hillary's Secret Challenger

Now he can be revealed.

Is it really so savvy for Hillary Clinton to make a showy stand against violent video games? Sure, it appeals to centrist, family voters. But it also highlights the least appealing aspect of Hillary's persona--the moralistic nanny who knows best and will use the government to tell you how to live your life (and who has little feel for free speech, or freedom generally). ... P.S.: I'm not saying the legislation Clinton co-sponsored isn't in itself sensible, though it's hard to believe regulating video game sales couldn't be handled on the state level. I'm questioning whether glomming on to this issue will help Clinton politically. ... 7:34 P.M. 

OK, how about 45% slave, 55% free? So if only Polk had been more of a consensus president we would have ended slavery without a war?  ... 7:06 P.M.


Hillary vs. the Blogs, cont.: From David Perlmutter--

Politicians have always needed to balance the base and the middle. Blogs make this tension, if not more difficult, more public.

Emphasis not added, but appropriate. Perlmutter writes seriously and smartly about Hillary Clinton's dilemma in this regard, though:

a) He takes Kos rather too seriously, calling him "a political kingmaker." (Oh yeah? Name the king);

b) He underemphasizes the extent to which Hillary's character--specifically her innate and exaggerated caution, calculation, and need for control--makes her a particularly bad match for the blog age, maybe as bad a match as Nixon or LBJ were for the TV age in 1960. Perlmutter notes that blogs and blog readers reward risk-taking passion and honesty. That he then actually mulls over the question of whether Clinton herself should blog--treating her dilemma as the same dilemma faced by any frontrunner, as if there were any hope that her blog would ever be worthwhile--shows that he doesn't fully appreciate Hillary's characterological inhospitability to the bloggerly virtues. ...


1:40 A.M. link

It turns out that my auto industry predictions for 2006--Ford recovers, GM doesn't-- are the automotive press-corps' CW. Sorry about that. [via Autoblog] 2:29 P.M.

Is the Fourth Amendment the problem? Charles Fried raises the interesting issue: Whether the Constitution itself, with its "probable cause" requirement, is incompatible with the sort of Echelon-like "computerized scan of all international electronic communications" that's essential to preventing terrorism. The Constitution isn't always right! ... Fried urges "ingenuity" in interpreting it. ... P.S.: Today it's "international electronic communications," but of course if there's a credible threat of home-grown terrorism it may also become necessary to scan domestic electronic communications, in which case a lot of the Fourth Amendment loopholes currently being cited in the defense of Bush's FISA snooping (e.g., "border search") will not be available. 2:07 P.M.


Nine more lives for Chalabi? 11:32 A.M.

Strike three at the LAT? 11:22 A.M.


Do you think, like the NYT, that Democratic "Frustration Over Iraq Vote Unlikely to Trouble [Hillary] Clinton"? Think, with Ron Brownstein, that the main threat to Hillary from the anti-war left in the presidential primaries will likely come in the form of the little-known, noncharismatic Sen. Russell Feingold? Well, think again! 12:06 A.M. link

Maybe it would be good for Bush if Karl Rove were indicted--Rove seems to have given bad, conventional advice on how to turn the President around the polls, at least according to the aides who dished to WaPo (which, by the way, is unlikely to endear them to Bush):

Rove, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman and White House strategic planning director Peter H. Wehner urged the president to dust off the 2004 election strategy and fight back, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal deliberations. White House counselor Dan Bartlett and communications director Nicolle Wallace, however, counseled a more textured approach. The same-old Bush was not enough, they said; he needed to be more detailed about his strategy in Iraq and, most of all, more open in admitting mistakes -- something that does not come easily to Bush.

Although Rove raised concerns about giving critics too much ground, the younger-generation aides prevailed. ...


If I were a paranoid homophobe or a blogger locked into a rash prediction  I might be suspicious that BoxOfficeMojo has no figures for how Brokeback Mountain  did Tuesday, 12/27. They have Tuesday results for Kong! They have Tuesday results for Geisha. They have Tuesday results for the hapless Producers and tiny little Bee Season. But nothing for Brokeback. According to the B.O.M. site, this means the movie's "studio is no longer tracking it on a daily basis." But that begs the question ("Why?") doesn't it? If this universal love story is capturing the hearts of mainstream America as Frank Rich said it would, Focus Features should want to tell us! (Do they actually not know the results? Or are they just clamming up? [They might be on vacation--alert reader S. That's what they'd like you to believe!]) ... 12/30 Update: Estimates now  up, showing a non-huge 12/27 drop. 10:59 P.M. link

Das Gloat:

When I or virtually any other mainstream journalist writes something, it goes through several filters before the reader sees it. At least four experienced Times editors will have examined this column, for example. They will have checked it for accuracy, fairness, grammar, taste and libel, among other things. -- The late David Shaw, Pulitzer-winning L.A. Times media critic, 3/27/2005


I almost hate to write this item--the LAT has been getting livelier recently, and if it goes into a fit of fact-checking in response to its latest round of screw-ups that will only put the bloodless twits back in charge. But you had to wonder where were those fabled four layers of experienced editors these past few days when a) the paper ran an April Fool's press release in a front-page story  as if it were actual news and b) publisher Jeff Johnson's Sunday opinion section ran a piece charging that "the Rev. Jerry Falwell claimed that Ellen DeGeneres played a role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina because she was the host of the Emmy Awards ceremony preceding both events," something the paper now admits Falwell didn't say. Update: Reader B.Z. notes that the bogus Falwell tale seemingly also started as a joke  on Dateline Hollywood--about Pat Robertson, not Falwell. And B.W. notes that April Fool's release  was pretty hard to not recognize as a joke. ...  [Maybe one of the four editors took a buyout, two were on vacation and the last was the sort of turkey that comes to roost in any large organization over the years--ed More likely the Times was faced with the standard end-of-year newspaper dilemma--it has to generate lots of stories to wrap around those lucrative Christmas sale ads, while at the same time everyone's taking time off for the holidays. The result is you publish a lot of junk. Blogs don't have that problem! We don't need to generate lots of copy during the holidays because nobody's reading us then anyway!] 10:35 P.M. link

Everybody wants to work for Mort! ...[via mediabistro] 11:27 A.M.

Charlie Cook (in his weekly email) has identified the person responsible for Bush's bounceback. It's the same figure credited by J.Po a few weeks ago. But Cook puts the case with exceptional clarity:

While few, if any, would question the right of Rep. John Murtha ... to call for a withdrawal of troops from Iraq, or say he was acting for reasons of political expediency rather than principle, in retrospect, his move might have been strategically helpful to the president.

Prior to Murtha's well-publicized speech advocating an early withdrawal, the spotlight had been on the Bush administration's use of intelligence that led to the decision to go to war, with some questioning whether the administration either lied, fabricated or exaggerated evidence used to justify the United States' action.

Murtha's speech changed the debate, away from whether we should have invaded Iraq and whether the use of intelligence to make that decision was flawed toward the more problematic issue of "what do we do now?" [Emph. added]

Backward lean:Newsweek's Howard Fineman missed the pro-Bush implications a month ago when he hyped Murtha's "one-man tipping point," didn't he? 1:37 A.M. link

Prolific but low-selling singer-songwriter Ryan Adams is really carrying his modest, aw-shucks routine too far. Here he responds to the suggestion that he should spend more time on each album:

"No, because this story's about me, and it's not about you. It's not about the listener; it's about me. It's like a book. If a book's moving too ... fast for you and it's too many words, put down the book and go pick up a book of the week from the Oprah club.

"You want to read a real book and, like, want to be involved in a real process, this is my process. I'm not going to change my story. People can come to my story when they want. But I'll ... make as many records as I want ... 'cause that's what I'm into.... I'm the best. No one else is going to work at this pace again for a long time with these results. ... " [Emph. added]

Hey, cool. All right then. ... 11:50 P.M.

Iraq the Model is telling me at least as much  about what's going on in Iraq as the New York Times these days. ... 10:12 P.M.

Easiest prediction of the year: They won't be able to make enough of this thing. 8:19 P.M.

So that's what he's been doing: One reason the warrantless eavesdropping controversy may help, rather than hurt, Bush in the polls has more to do with the character of his administration than popular support for eavesdropping. In particular, Bush's tendency to hide behind a carapace of formal, not-completely-apposite justifications (e.g. "we must recognize Iraq as the central front in our war on terror") leads voters to ask what is really going on behind the facade. The Katrina botch suggested not much--maybe Bush, as the left-wing caricatures always suggested, really was out to lunch, playing computer golf in the Oval Office while various Michael Brownian cronies held meetings to plan their wardrobes. That's why, if the Bushies have really had the energy to secretly do all sorts of illegal spying against terrorists, it's almost reassuring. At least they've been on the case, doing their job as they see it. The more thorough and secret the eavesdropping, the more reassuring on this score. ... 1:05 P.M. link

King Kong Will Carry Cuyahoga! Movie box office sales are now so eagerly watched and rapidly disseminated that they are reported before they actually occur. BoxOfficeMojo says (as highlighted on Drudge) that King Kong has regained first place by doing more than $10M of business on Monday, 12/26 which--unless I'm misreading the calendar--hasn't happened yet. ... I know the number is identified as an "estimate." But if you're going to "estimate," why stop at tonight? Give us tomorrow too, and the next six months! I thought the idea was that nobody could really predict which movie will catch and retain the fancy of people looking for something to do on any given evening. Isn't the appeal of sites like BoxOfficeMojo that they purport to give us the actual answers, the equivalent of election returns--not projections? The sites or (more likely) the studios are now blurring the line between what's happened and what's expected to happen, when the point is to see whether what's expected to happen actually happens! ... P.S.: And do you really trust the studio that made King Kong to accurately report that its movie will beat Narnia tonight? Isn't that like trusting John Kerry's prediction that he'll win Ohio? What if previously unknown pockets of semi-religious, exurban children suddenly demand to see a Christian allegory! ... 12:28 P.M. link

Books have long lead times (Exhibit A):

"[W]hich of your safe white men are going to excite the base the way Hillary does, so they can spend all their time in the middle? I'll answer: None."--Susan Estrich, "The Case for Hillary Clinton," as quoted in the N.Y. T. Book Review.

Hmm. Exciting the base is not something Hillary Clinton has been doing a lot of lately! I doubt that the Democrats' "base" will forgive her for her Iraq vote even if the war turns into a relative success. Suppose that happens--what's she going to do, run on a campaign of "I told you so"? That's always a turn-on for the die-hards! ... By Estrich's own logic, Hillary will have to spend an inordinate amount of time in the primaries camped out on the left on issues other than Iraq, in order to compensate for her pro-war stand. ... P.S.: Maybe she just can't win in the Democratic primaries and needs to run as an independent! Of course, I've said the same thing about John McCain (if, as is possible, he can't win the GOP nomination) and you could also say the same thing about Rudolph Giuliani. They can't all run as independents, can they? ... Right? ....... Hello? ... Update: Both emailer M.P. and the NYT note that Hillary's approval ratings among Dems (79% here) remain high. But are rank and file voters the leading or trailing indicators here? Weren't Edmund Muskie's approval ratings high a couple of years out? ... 11:44 P.M.

Robert Wright questions  the lack of MSM coverage for charges of a corrupt bargain in Iraq, specifically a Kirkuk-for-Baghdad swap between the Kurds (who get Kirkuk) and the Shiites (who'd get Baghdad). Iraq the Model has the scuttlebutt. ... One implication of such a deal, of course, is that it would set the stage for a partition of the country, de facto or otherwise.... Update: Mohammed of ITM seems more optimistic today. than a few days ago, although he clearly takes claims of election shenanigans more seriously than the Western media. ... 1:43 P.M.

Crack for the week: Bush hits 50% on Rasmussen. ... Another spy scandal and he'll be at 60%! ...12:59 A.M.

Do you really believe Americans are going to want to pay good money to listen to this sort of treacly, in-your-face romantic dialogue between two males:

"I love this man from Alaska. I do. I love him. I feel that my blood in my veins is with his blood. I love him."

I don't think so! ... Oh wait. Sorry. That was Sen. Byrd, not Brokeback Mountain.  ... P.S.: It was Byrd having a fight with Sen. Stevens. I wouldn't want to hear him when he's making up. ... [Thx. to M.P.] 11:21 P.M.

Murray Waas disdainfully writes that I "disdainfully wrote" about how unseriously the political establishment took Jack Anderson in 2002 (after he reported that John McCain was "poised to switch parties.") I don't think I was being disdainful, just noting a phenomenon that Waas himself acknowledges. I take my cue on Anderson from Charles Peters, my old boss at the Washington Monthly, who hardly scorned Anderson: he proudly published Anderson's entertaining blow-by-blow account of breaking the Sherman Adams scandal in the Eisenhower administration. (Key moment: A panicked office-holder tells Anderson, "But those were only loans!") ... In any case, I recommend Waas' appreciation, especially his distinction between journalists who seek entree and those who get it because they're feared. But I wonder whether he's right to charge that many reporters still sell out to the powerful in order to mingle with White House aides and generals at glamorous D.C. banquets.  In 2005, a journalist who seeks acceptance by the White House gets to enjoy the rich social life of George Bush's Washington. A journalist who blows the lid off the White House gets to enjoy the rich social life of Graydon Carter's New York. Which would you rather enjoy? ... 11:17 P.M.

"All the signs of a runaway phenomenon are present."  If I read this chart  correctly,** it doesn't look too good forFrank Rich's prediction of heartland success for Brokeback Mountain's story of two cowboys who, er, "unexpectedly forge a lifelong connection." ... Maybe Rich was thinking of this earlier film. ... [How much business does it have to do for you to be wrong and Rich right?--ed $50M domestic gross  and I'm wrong. That would be bigger than Miss Congeniality 2!] ... [Thks. to N.Z. ]

** Update: Several readers suggest I've indeed read the chart incorrectly and Brokeback will make $50M easily. They could be right! ... The film's makers are  pushing it into expanded distribution ahead of schedule. But is that because momentum is building or because they need to get it out there before the fast-fading hype dies? My guess is the latter. ... More: Roger Friedman is skeptical too. ... 12:04 A.M.

I'm so happy I don't work   for   Mort Zuckerman!  11:07 A.M. link

Amnesty for illegal wiretappers? Aren't the parameters of the great eavesdropping debate becoming clearer? 1) The administration bypassed the special FISA court, not because it would somehow have been too time consuming to obtain warrants, but because warrants wouldn't have been granted under the "probable cause" standard; 2) the warrants wouldn't have been granted because the wiretaps were quasi-data-mining wiretaps, trolling phone calls of 10% likely suspects for tip-off phrases like "Brooklyn Bridge;"3) that's probably illegal; 4) but it's also probably a good way to stop terror plots--it hardly presents a "false choice;" 5) the solution is to make it explicitly legal--lower the standard for search warrants, allow mass warrants for whole bundles of phone calls, while retaining some judicial supervision. ... Explicit legalization seems the obvious solution because the "privacy" interest involved--the danger that government has "listened in on some people who turned out not to pose a threat"--is, if not trivial, several orders of magnitude lower  than the threat itself. Privacy interests have always been overblown in the American civil libertarian scheme of things, and they're becoming more overblown now that email communications are routinely introduced in court, while cell phone conversations get picked up by amateur scanners. "Reasonable expectations of privacy," as the lawyers put it, are simply lower in the age of blogs and Webcams  and surveillance videos than in the age of dial telephones. ... I wouldn't be all that upset if the Feds ran every damn phone call through the Echelon-style NSA computers. Do you have a problem with that? ... 10:16 A.M. link

Henry Waxman's Dangerous Gas! A subway (or elevated rail line) down Wilshire Boulevard is one of the rare mass transit ideas for Los Angeles that make a lot of sense. The street is an unusual-for-the-region densely populated spine of tall buildings. Subway-related commercial development won't do much aesthetic damage--it's ugly already! Rep. Henry Waxman of West L.A. has now introduced a bill to fund the Wilshire subway. Of course, if Waxman hadn't short-sightedly blocked the subway twenty years ago (allegedly on the grounds that methane gas pockets made construction unsafe) it would be built already. ... Shouldn't Waxman be forced to undergo some humiliating ritual of self-criticism? ... [via L.A. Observed7:45 P.M.

Dickerson vs. Maguire: Did Karl Rove dissemble to the special prosecutor by not revealing he'd talked to Time's Matt Cooper about Valerie Plame? Slate's John Dickerson (Cooper's former Time colleague) suspects yes. JustOneMinute'sTom Maguire tries to shoot holes in Dickerson's account.

Rove apparently claims he didn't remember talking to Cooper--it was only when Time reporter Viveca Novak tipped off his lawyer that his memory was jogged. Dickerson says it's implausible that Rove would forget the Cooper conversation after:

a) Rove wrote an ass-covering email about it;

b) Cooper wrote a story saying unnamed "government officials" had leaked to him about Plame;

c) Washington made a big fuss over the Plame disclosure;

d) Plame's husband specifically accused Rove of outing her;

e) Bush's press secretary was barraged with questions about Plame leaks and seemingly denied Rove was involved;

f) Rove received a subpoena with Matt Cooper's name on it; and

g) Cooper made headlines by almost going to jail for refusing to talk.

Maguire makes one good point about b)--the big, initial Plame story, for which Rove was accused of being the source, was Robert Novak's, not Cooper's. Cooper's ran only online--it wasn't even in the printed Time, and it could easily have been overlooked in the fuss over Robert Novak's piece (and over all the other journalists, besides R. Novak and Cooper, who were leaked to). But that leaves a), c), d), e), f) and g)! I say Rove's story is still implausible, though not beyond a reasonable doubt (unless Fitzgerald has other evidence). The other big pro-Rove factor: Rove hadn't talked to Cooper before, and Cooper wasn't a widely-feared Washington knife-fighter like Robert Novak, with whom any conversation was inherently fraught with peril and therefore memorable. ...

P.S.: The Wall Street Journal explains that Viveca Novak's testimony  (she tipped off Rove's attorney that Rove might have talked to Cooper, and the attorney "looked surprised")

may bolster Mr. Rove's explanation of absent-mindedness, because he neglected to tell even his own lawyer that the conversation took place.

This exculpatory theory impressed me when I first heard it, but on second thought it makes no sense. Of course Rove's attorney looked surprised! If Rove had told his attorney about the conversation, after all, and the attorney knew Rove hadn't told the grand jury about it, then the attorney would be in some kind of tough spot too, no? If he wasn't genuinely surprised by Novak's tip, he'd have been well advised to fake it.

P.P.S.: Rove didn't testify to grand jury about the Cooper conversation until October, 2004--eight months after he failed to mention it in his first appearance. But mightn't he have notified the special prosecutor that he wanted to change his story long before October--indeed, immediately after the Viveca Novak tip months before-- and only gotten around to actually testifying at that late date? This is one reason the timing of his lawyer's meeting with V. Novak is important--it might have occurred before memory-tickling item g) on the above list, for example. But the timing is apparently murky. V. Novak guesses it was May, which is right around when Fitzgerald's subpoena of Cooper made the news.

P.P.P.S.: Isn't it a bit strange that the reported reaction of Rove's lawyer to being tipped off to his client's omission was to conduct an email search for evidence of a Rove/Cooper conversation? Wouldn't the logical reaction of Rove's lawyer have been to ask Rove? Are we to believe that Rove didn't even remember then?

P.P.P.P.S.: See Jane Hamsher for many, many more nuances--including the bizarre and mysterious VandeHei Theory. ...

P.P.P.P.P.S.: At least Bush didn't just appoint Rove-alibi-witness V. Novak's husband to a plum federal job. That would start people talking! ... Oh, wait. ... 11:39 P.M.

Wow! Plano! Frank Rich  predicts big heartland B.O. for "Brokeback," with "millions of moviegoers soon to swoon over the star-crossed gay cowboys."

But I'll rashly predict that the big Hollywood question posed on the front page of The Los Angeles Times after those stunning weekend grosses -- ''Can 'Brokeback Mountain' Move the Heartland?'' -- will be answered with a resounding yes. All the signs of a runaway phenomenon are present, from an instant parody on ''Saturday Night Live'' to the report that a multiplex in Plano, Tex., sold more advance tickets for the so-called ''gay cowboy picture'' than for ''King Kong.'' ... The X factor is that the film delivers a story previously untold by A-list Hollywood. It's a story America may be more than ready to hear a year after its president cynically flogged a legally superfluous (and unpassable) constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage for the sole purpose of whipping up the basest hostilities of his electoral base. [Emph. added]

I think not. One of us is in a cocoon! ... Only time will tell. ...  P.S.: Ann Althouse caricatures Rich's argument:

"We're sick of this damned President, so we want to see cowboys make love."

P.P.S.: You're So Wrong You're Right! But Rich's prediction is clear-eyed realism compared with the cocooned-within-the-cocoon argument I heard at an L.A. party last weekend--that everyone's so liberated when it comes to homosexuality that "Brokeback" is arriving decades too late to be a hit. (Didn't Lonesome Cowboys come out in 1967!) ... P.P.P.S.: Will that be Rich's fallback if/when the movie's box office disappoints? No, he's not that crazy. He's more likely to blame the studio's timid hide-the-homosexuality marketing campaign. ...

Update: As expected, Plano Texas turns out not to be what Frank Rich seems to think it is, according to alert reader M.V.:

Plano, TX is NOT the heartland. It's a ritzy, upscale, SUV-choked, conspicuous-consumption-driven Dallas exurb populated by more east-coast "expatriates" than native Texans

3:25 P.M. link

Am I crazy or has the L.A. Times front page gotten much livelier since Dean Baquet took over? The paper now reliably fronts one, two, or even three pieces you actually want to read--pieces that aren't available in the New York Times. Even when the stories don't totally deliver the goods (and Sunday's big Scientology piece buries many of the best details**) it's refreshing to be disappointed! ... New Page One editor John Arthur  is said to not share the usual LAT twittish sensibilities. ... P.S.: This should alert civic-minded Angelenos to the grave danger that Baquet will do an excellent job, prolonging the Times' monopolistic death grip and preventing viable alternatives from emerging. ...

**--Next time, more Xenu! Thanks. 1:19 A.M.

Is The Fire Out? In a significant disappointment, Hon. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) has failed to match the standard of Congressional dignity she set in her holiday card last year. But it's close! ... 4:43 P.M.

We all have our bubbles: From the NYT's Wednesday columnist pages--

OP-ED COLUMNIST W. Won't Read This
Published: December 14, 2005  

Never ask a guy who's in a bubble if he's in a bubble. He can't answer.

To continue reading this article, you must be a subscriber to TimesSelect.

[Via reader A.H.]11:29 P.M.

The NBC Nightly News netcast (available from this page) is a huge convenience. It's the same show that they broadcast. They better hope it doesn't catch on too rapidly--after all, what if everyone got their news this way? Wouldn't NBC be in trouble? It's not that I wouldn't pay money for their product. But they've been protected by their position as holder of scarce broadcast frequencies. Once the Nightly News is just another Webcast, competition will be fierce--barriers to entry in the Webcasting business, it seems, are close to zero. There will be 50 or 500 competing Webcasts, not two. Advantage: Pajamas! I suppose I'm the last guy to have figured this out. ... P.S.: Does this mean Katie Couric's salary will go down or up? Someone who can increase market share in a competitive industry, after all, might be all the more precious. ... 8:24 P.M.

The only way in which these elections may lead to a US withdrawal is that they will ensconce parliamentarians who want the US out on a short timetable. Virtually all the Sunnis who come in will push for that result (which is why the US Right is silly to be all agog about Fallujans voting), and so with the members of the Sadr Movement, now a key component of the Shiite religious United Iraqi Alliance. That is, these elections lead to a US withdrawal on terms unfavorable to the Bush administration. Nor is there much hope that a parliament that kicked the US out could turn around and restore order in the country. [Emph. added]

Er, isn't that one reason why they might not kick us out on a short timetable? Isn't it even a reason for hoping that they'll, say, balance their desire to kick us out with their desire to maintain order! Why does Cole assume that Iraqi parliamentarians are irrational? 5:09 P.M.

Iraqi democracy must have matured if voters are already worrying about "flip-flops."  ... That's from much-maligned Pajamas Media's multi-blogger coverage of Iraq, which seems like a success. (But--graphically, at least--it's more fun to read Iraq the Model on his own site! Why take individualistic, colorful bloggers and plug them into a standard format?) ... Factors operating against PJ Media: There may not be as many days as inspiring as this one. And the MSM isn't standing still. John Burns' interactive report from Iraq [available from the NYT home page ] is the best thing I've seen on the Web today. It's highly informative (i.e. about Ambassador Khalilzad's preferences in a government) and if you can get through it without tearing up you're tougher than I am. ....

Less sentimentally: In a BHTV "Afterthought," Robert Wright  admits that "conceivably" the Iraq War has "hastened the trend toward pluralism and, ultimately, toward democracy" in the Middle East, but he adds:

I don't see any way it could hasten the trend enough to compensate for all the blowback it's generated, blowback that will be coming home to roost for years if not decades.

That's a sophisticated, post-12/14 case against the war. I suspect Wright is right--but we don't know, do we? We don't know how fast the revolutionary info technologies that Wright says were bringing democracy anyway would have worked on regimes like Saddam's and Mubarak's. We might have been waiting a long time, enduring a status quo that wasn't exactly not generating well-funded anti-American terrorists (a status quo that democracy offers one hope of ending). We also don't know how long the anti-American blowback from Iraq will last, and whether it will be in any meaningful sense negated by a pro-American blowback. The bad blowback might well be shorter-lived than Wright expects, thanks to the faster opinion cycle  generated those very information technologies he touts.  Even Wright says it might only last "years." ... The important thing now, I think, is to be of two minds: Punish Bush for his miscalculations in one part of our minds, but not let that desire for accountability--i.e., the palpable urge to see him humiliated among Democrats and even some anti-war Republican Scowcroftians--prevent us (by prompting a premature troop withdrawal) from making the democracy vs. blowback calculus work as favorably as possible. ... 4:00 P.M. link

Well, of course King Kong'sdoing worse than expected. Nobody wants to have sex with a giant ape! I could have told them that. What were they thinking? ... [via Drudge] 2:20 P.M.

"Brokeback" Still Breaking: If homosexuality is in the genes, is aversion to homosexuality in the genes? The problem with argument-by-videoblog would seem to be its tedious inefficiency compared with swift and precise communication by typed text. But video also has advantages--for one, it can force you to go places you don't want to go (and are able to avoid in the solitary dictatorship of a blog).  Here's one of those places! ** ... P.S.: I'd also claim (contra  CNN's Jon Klein) that two people yelling at each other can clarify agreement and disagreement more efficiently than two people writing and linking to (and then waiting for a response from) each other. ... Bonus: In this episode, the Pinch Sulzberger Moose finds work! ...  P.P.S.: Lucky neither Bob Wright nor myself lives in the U.K. According to Mark Steyn, one of us--I'm not sure which one--might get a call from police enforcing the Anti-Social Behaviour Order. ...

**--Not safe for work! (A proven traffic-building technique I learned from Moxie.) 11:38 A.M.

I don't believe the part about "mandatory sexual positions." Specifics, please. [Via HuffPo] ... 2:51 P.M.

The Vote:Iraq the Model rises to the occasion with a moving and informative post. Juan Cole provides  valuable pissy counterpoint. But he argues:

The only way the vote will happen at all is that the US military has forbidden all vehicular traffic, so everyone has to walk for the next few days. This tactic prevents carbombings from disrupting the elections, but it is a desperate measure and not a sign of an election that could be certified as free and fair.

Car bombs are hard to stop, as we may discover in the U.S. someday soon. I don't quite see why making everyone get out of the their vehicles for a couple of days somehow makes an election unfree or unfair. (We should maybe try that policy in a few cities here.) Cole seems awfully eager to pre-tarnish the balloting. ...

P.S.: In the WSJ, Michael Rubin argues that Iraqis are holding ineffective leaders accountable. Allawi presided over massive corruption. He's gone. Jaafari's ineffectual--he'll soon be out too. But what if nobody can do the job, and voters get tired of shuttling between failed leaders (the situation Albert O. Hirschman famously said  U.S. auto buyers were in during the 1960s when they would shuttle between GM and Ford's junky products). I agree that elections are the best bet--Hirschman was wrong about the auto market too. Yet it's slightly troubling that, as Cole notes, the otherwise-encouraging  ABC News/Time poll found that more than 90% of Iraqis now favor a "strong single Iraqi leader," while support for a government of "mainly ... military leaders" has doubled (to 49%). [They haven't tried Chalabi yet, have they?--ed. There's the Democrats' nightmare.] ... More: One advantage the Iraqis have had, accountability-wise, is several votes (and quasi-votes) in rapid succession. That's arguably just the ticket when a country's starting up--if a leader clearly isn't doing the job, he can be gone in a matter of months (before destroys the nation). But the current election will choose a parliament that is to serve for four years! If those leaders screw up, their government won't make it to the end of their terms. Which means that after Thursday, accountability is in some crucial  respect out of the voters hands. ... Wouldn't a two-year term have been better? If the Sunnis are still angry after this vote, do we think they're going to wait patiently four years to have another crack at it? Where's Feiler when you need him? ... 2:27 P.M.

Slate's Fred Kaplan, no Bush defender, blasts Murtha:

It's regrettable that Rep. John Murtha, who pushed the withdrawal option to the political center, made his move before Iraq's Dec. 15 elections. A U.S. pullout would be far more palatable—politically, strategically, and morally—if it at least appeared to come at the request of the new, democratically chosen Iraqi government. The Bush administration may even have been leaning toward that scenario before Murtha spoke up.

The timing of Murtha's withdrawal speech, it seems to me, only made patriotic sense (as opposed to, e.g., partisan sense or self-promotional sense) if Murtha thought the Iraqi election this week would go badly. A sudden U.S. withdrawal after an ignominious electoral failure would look worse than a withdrawal set in motion beforehand. But if Murtha is pessimistic about the elections he's more contrarian than I'd thought. ... 10:31 A.M.

The Tsunami of Guilt Gathers Force Offshore:

"Brokeback Mountain" seems to have everything going for it: great reviews, a remarkable opening weekend and dominance in the first wave of the Hollywood awards season, underscored Tuesday by seven Golden Globe nominations, the most of any film.

But there's one important landmark the film has yet to reach — roping in a mass audience.

-- "Can 'Brokeback Mountain' Move the Heartland, LAT, 12/14/05

P.S.: Reader C. E., reacting to an earlier "Brokeback" post, emails:

If I follow your logic, I should be genetically repelled from such films as Out of Africa, The Princess Bride, The Notebook, Wuthering Heights, The Big Easy, and basically every Hollywood romance ever made except Brokeback Mountain because I couldn't possibly enjoy a story about people who are not like myself.

Er, no. If a gay man, say, goes to see "Wuthering Heights," there is at least one romantic lead of the sex he's interested in! In "Brokeback Mountain," neither of the two romantic leads is of a sex I'm interested in. ... My wild hypothesis is that more people will go see a movie if it features an actor or actress they find attractive! If heterosexual men in heartland America don't flock to see "Brokeback Mountain" it's not because they're bigoted. It's because they're heterosexual. "Heterosexuals Attracted to Members of the Opposite Sex"--for those cultural critics wondering what a commercial disappointment for this much-heralded movie will Tell Us About America Today, there's your headline. ...

P.P.S.: Universal love story or epater les bourgeois? You make the call! If you want to be convinced that Brokeback Mountain is a gay movie, read David Leavitt's annoying article arguing that it's not a gay movie. Especially this sentence:

His Ennis Del Mar is as monolithic as the mountainscape in which—with the same swiftness, brutality, and precision that he exhibits in shooting an elk—he fucks Jack Twist for the first time.

You wouldn't write that last bit in a classy publication like Slate if it were Jane Twist! Leavitt is taking both sexual pleasure from his sentence and pleasure in shocking his readers. If that's the pleasure he takes from the film, it's a gay film! [Don't you mean it's a "paean to masculinity"--ed Yes. Right.Tom of Finland's work is another paean to masculinity.] ... 1:43 A.M. link

kf Essay Question: Rep. John Murtha is quoted in this week's Newsweek saying that if Bush II had invited him to the White House and let him air his views the way Bush I did, his high-profile call for rapid redeployment in Iraq could have been avoided.

"If they'd talked to me, it wouldn't have happened."

In 1995, Newt Gingrich publicly suggested he wouldn't have provoked a government shutdown if he hadn't been made to use the rear door of President Clinton's plane. Gingrich was widely denounced as a petty crybaby. How is what Murtha told Newsweek any different? Murtha says he thinks the nation is on a disastrous course in the Iraq War. Would he really not have spoken out if he'd been "talked to" and buttered up with access? (Murtha explicitly notes that Bush I didn't necessarily take the advice of his White House guests. He was just courteous enough to invite them and "listen to" them.")

Is Murtha a dissenter or just dissed? Discuss.

Update: Reader M. says I'm conflating "Gingrich's desire for status with Murtha's desire for input." But if the current President Bush had heard Murtha out, but then ignored him, would Murtha really have refrained from going public even though, in his view, " [t]he future of our country is at risk" and our soldiers are dying for a "flawed policy wrapped in illusion"? Refraining from dissent in order to maintain a possible future channel of "input" (an old Washington tradeoff) is different from getting bought off by mere trappings of status. But if the issue is war and peace it may not be a more moral choice. And the more the "input" in question involves ego-enhancing trappings (e.g. White House visits) and the charade of "access" rather than actual influence, the less moral it becomes, and the more it approaches the Gingrichian gold standard of pettiness. [I thought you were going to say, "in D.C., 'input' is status."--ed I was! But Murtha doesn't seem like the type who'd dine out on 'as I was telling the President' stories.]  3:19 A.M. link

A Golden Future at NYT? Ken Auletta's piece is a marker that New York publishing CW is entertaining the notion that  NYT publisher "Pinch" Sulzberger may go. The Gay Talese quote ("You get a bad king every once in a while") helps. The stock chart is brutal, though not as brutal as the Boston Herald. Still, New York publishing CW thought that Clinton was a goner in 1998 and that Bush was a goner in 2004. It's like the Note on drugs! A cool-headed outsider perspective suggests that at least one more anti-Pinch tidbit or scandal will be required for the Class B shareholders to end their family nightmare. Or at least start a new chapter. ...[Conflict: Auletta's wife is my agent too!6:00 P.M.

Stenchblog Update: I still find mystery-stench   stories disturbing, even when the stench is sweet. Someone (a mindermast!) could be trying out a delivery mechanism. That's why it's not all that reassuring when, as on Thursday, "nothing dangerous" is found in the air. ... Antiparanoia: Reader J. emails--

I understand completely why these "mysterious smell" stories make you wonder if something more nefarious is going on. However, I'm at a loss to explain why this is a story this year. I live on the Upper West Side and have been intermittently smelling the sweet, maple-syrup smell for years now. For no reason I'm aware of it was this winter that both the NYT and hipster bloggers noticed it for the first time.

And for the record, I tend to think the benzene hypothesis kicked around online - used to clean boilers - is most likely correct. [Emph. added]

Come to think of it, a sweet, maple-syrup smell is the smell my 14-year old car makes. (I'm told it's the smell of leaking coolant hitting hot metal.) It's all coming back, Proust-like. ... 9:57 P.M.

Guilt-Trip, Incoming! I'm highly skeptical that a movie about gay cowhands, however good, will find a large mainstream audience. I'll go see it, but I don't want to go see it. (Why? Sexual orientation really is in the genes. Sorry.) When the film's national box office fails to live up to its hype and to the record attendance at a few early screenings, prepare to be subjected to a tedious round of guilt-tripping and chin-scratching by Frank Rich and every metropolitan daily entertainment writer who yearns to write about What the Movies Say About America Today. (Wild guess: They say we're still homophobic!) That will be harder to ignore than the movie. ... Maybe if we all go see it, Rich won't write about it! [He'll write about it-ed Good point.]  9:15 P.M. link

How Stuff Works: Sculpting the news! The printed graphic sidebar to the LAT's front-page, most e-mailed piece  on the Bugatti Veyron supercar features this technical tidbit:

Rigid but lightweight sculpted carbon-fiber body weighs 4,300 pounds, more than four times the weight of a Dodge Viper. [Emph. added]

Alert reader D notes that this is not only wrong but obviously, nonsensically wrong! Why design a high-tech lightweight car and make it four times as heavy as the competition?  In a footnote, the Times sources its chart to How Stuff Works, where D found the following sentence:

Even though the body is sculpted in carbon fiber to minimize its mass, the car weighs in at about 4,300 pounds (1,950 kg). For comparison, a Dodge Viper weighs about 1,000 pounds (454 kg) less. [Emph. added]

That's more like it.  ... Not hard to tell what happened here. The LAT can't even steal straight! ... Desperate attempt to find Larger Significance in this incident: Here's a question for MoveOn and everyone whining about the Times staff reductions: Is it more likely that this minor howler resulted from

a)  corporate layoffs and staff cuts that have left the Times with too few editors to do a good job; or

b) a history of bloat and lassitude that have left the Times with too many non-good** editors who should be laid off?

**--Four layers of "experiencedTimes editors," according to the late David Shaw's famous anti-blogging article--which might as well have been subtitled "Invitation to a Layoff." 9:54 P.M.

One Way McCain Isn't Reagan: Peggy Noonan's  Thursday piece on immigration seems like a fairly decisive break with Bush's (and McCain's, and the Wall Street Journal's) immigration policy. She notes, with particular disapproval, the condescending tone with which bien pensants of both parties discuss groups like the Minutemen:

There are people who want to return to the old ways and rescue some of the old attitudes. There are groups that seek to restore border integrity. But they are denigrated by many, even the president, who has called them vigilantes. The New Yorker this week carries a mildly snotty piece by a writer named Daniel Kurtz-Phelan in which he interviews members of a group of would-be Minutemen who seek to watch the borders with Mexico and Canada. They are "running freelance patrols"; they are xenophobic; they dismiss critics as "communists" and "child molesters."

How nice to be patronized by young men whose place is so secure they have two last names. How nice to be looked down on for caring.

As a Reaganite, Noonan must have recognized that elite condescension instantly, allergically. It's similar to the condescension 50s and 60s elites felt for fervent anti-Communists, and almost precisely the condescension those who bought into the Nixon-Moynihan-liberal welfare reform consensus of the 70s felt for those rustic, unsophisticated voters who actually wanted welfare recipients to work--as if you could do that!--rather than receive cleverly-designed guaranteed income payments. One of the great things about America is that this sort of condescension is almost always pure political poison in the long run (and usually in the short run). In the 70s, then-governor Reagan labelled Nixon's sophisticated guaranteed income plan a "megadole." The rest is history! We're still waiting for the politician to credibly take on the equivalent Bush-McCain-liberal pro-amnesty consensus--and its disdain for those rustic, unsophisticated voters who actually want resident illegals to return to their home countries and get in line before they're legalized. As if you could  do that!  ...

P.S.: Free-market elements of the right (i.e. Milton Friedman) were part of the elite guaranteed income consensus of the 1970s, just as Paul Gigot's WSJ editorial page is part of the elite pro-amnesty consensus of the 2000s. Friedman gave liberal journalists their "even" lede--as in "Even conservative economist Milton Friedman ..."--but that didn't save the consensus from devastating conservative assault. I suspect Gigot will be similarly effective. ... 7:57 P.M. link

The Tao of Brown-nosing: A central principle of business, maybe of life, is separating what might be called the "suck" from the "ask." That is, you want to butter up people who might do you favors in a time period as remote as possible from the time when you actually need the favor. It's not just that you shouldn't call only when you want something. Even when I've spent plenty of time being gratuitously complimentary to people, I've learned to never accidentally say something nice ("today's blog post was especially incisive ...") in the same email in which I ask them to do something for me. Simultaneous flattery actually hurts your cause. Better to just start schnorring.

This isn't a logical principle--you can be an odious Darwinian climber whether you follow the rule or not. Suck/ask separation simply enables more effective climbing. Why? I don't know. But something in the primitive human brain makes it more difficult to question the sincerity of flattery if there's no evident purpose to it at the time it's proffered. ...

Hollywood culture, which is all about pointlessly cultivating "relationships," long ago recognized this psychological reality. Which is why, when Barbra Streisand got a lot of publicity by cancelling her LAT subscription to protest the sacking of columnist Robert Scheer, my trackball was drawn Ouija-like to NEXIS, where, sure enough, a search of "byline (Scheer) and Barbra" produced a 1993 LAT interview of impressive sycophancy. Highlights (in addition to Scheer's softball questions):

Like the rabbinical student she played in "Yentl," which she also directed, Streisand is both enthusiastic and bookish in her fascination with issues, excitedly referring to one think-tank study or another. She claims no great expertise, but resents the notion that a women who has been successful in the world of entertainment is not entitled to speak out. ... [snip]

Few careers in Hollywood could match that of Streisand. With 57 gold and platinum albums and more than 60 million albums sold, she is the top-selling female artist in the world. Along the way, she became a producer and director, and won the 1968 Oscar for best actress in her debut film, "Funny Girl."
Streisand has endowed academic chairs covering women's studies at USC, cardiovascular research at UCLA and another at the Environmental Defense Fund. Her Streisand foundation grants around $1 million a year ...

Am I saying that Streisand came to Scheer's defense because Scheer, who long ago cast aside pointless populist inhibitions about befriending celebrities, defended her and sucked up over a decade earlier?  No. ... I mean, yes! ... Or rather, who knows? That's the beauty of Suck/Ask Separation. ... (And in this case Scheer almost certainly didn't even have to ask.) ... 5:18 P.M. link

They laughed when blogger Sam Jaffe suggested, back on May 10, that GM would be sold to Toyota. They're not laughing anymore, I tell you! At least as long as Mr. Kerkorian** is around. ... I still don't understand  why Toyota would want to buy into GM's UAW tsuris, especially since a purchase might give the union an opening to organize Toyota's current, non-union North American operations. ... [via Autoblog]

**--misspelling corrected. At least I didn't say "Kevorkian"--though he may be needed soon. 1:10 P.M.

David Smith, who's still doggingFannie Mae--the taxpayer-subsidized gravy train for Democratic pols (until Jim Johnson and Frank Raines went and spoiled it for everyone)-- interprets WaPo's recent ingenuous treatment of the agency. ... P.S.: It's admirable that WaPo appends a "full list of blogs" linking to its article. But why isn't Smith's blog included? 11:14 A.M. 

Just Askin':Shouldn't Ayatollah Sistani be Time Magazine's Man of the Year? If we have any hope of achieving our goals in Iraq, it is thanks to him, no? ... Is antiwar sentiment in the Democratic primaries going to be so great that maybe Hillary would be well-advised to run for president as an independent? ... 3:32 A.M. link

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