Saturday, March 08, 2003

Howler History. One of the most valuable cites on my daily must-read list has to be The Daily Howler. Five days a week, Bob Somerby provides ample evidence of the way in which our mainstream media distorts stories and skews the facts, and worse. Most of the time, the Howler directs its attention at debunking spurious hit-pieces aimed at Democrats, but it's goal is to combat journalistic malpractice wherever it occurs. The Howler was one of the few places you could go to get a tough, fair defense of President Bush during the brief Harken scandal period. I was never quite satisfied with the Howler's arguments on that topic, and perhaps you may not be convinced on some other issue, but I urge you to take a close look at what Somerby has to say, and consider it carefully.

This past week, the Howler has embarked upon a project called "Howler History". The topic is the press's blatant smearing of Gore's relationship with one of his political advisors during the 2000 campaign, Naomi Wolf. I didn't know much about the Wolf business back then, and I don't really remember any of it today. But reading through the Howler's pieces, which are all thoroughly backed up with ample quoting from primary sources, it shows the same pattern of baseless Gore-bashing that dogged the Democratic nominee for over a year-and-a-half leading up to the election.

Monday's entry details the "discovery" of Naomi Wolf, who was "secretly" advising the Gore campaign. Of course, she was doing this by sitting only a few rows back from the stage at a Gore-Bradley debate; hardly where the Gore campaign would have put her if they were trying to keep her secret. Nevermind, the press corps leaped into action, and the rest is Howler History. Follow the link.

Next up is Tuesday's entry gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the development of the "earth tones" brouhaha. Apparently, the Washington press corps had nothing better to do than to comment on Gore's choice of clothes, and the discovery that he often wore cowboy boots put them into hysterics. Of course, this was an early attempt by Gore to "reinvent himself" because "he didn't know who he was". On the other hand, it's just possible that Gore had consistently donned cowboy boots throughout his public career, and in his private life as well. Gore's explanation: "I'm from Tennessee!" Not good enough for the press, who had decided that everything Gore did was carefully calculated for political effect. Right? Follow the link.

Wednesday's entry gets even worse, showing how the press corps bends over backwards to spin a perfectly unremarkable non-story into a big issue. The story goes that Naomi Wolf advised Gore that he had to become an "Alpha male". What Wolf actually said is that he should be more forthright with his criticisms of President Clinton to establish that he is his own man, as every Vice-President must do when running for President. But the boring and true story wasn't nearly as much fun as the fun and false story, so the press closed their eyes and pretended that Wolf had said something really weird. Follow the link.

The Howler took Thursday off to redirect its attention to current journalistic misconduct, and provides instead some info on the continuing Kerry-bashing going on at the Boston Glode. Apparently, the Globe is having a really hard time dealing with the fact that John Kerry is not Irish, and, even more astounding, is Jewish. Holy shit!! Follow the link. But Howler history returned yesterday when Friday's entry detailed the continued press obsession with Gore's wardrobe. Apparently, no one wanted to talk about the substantive differences between the two presidential candidates, but everyone wanted to have a good laugh about the colors that Gore was wearing. And everyone was fixated on the fact that Naomi Wolf had advised the earth-tones ensemble. Wolf and Gore both denied that she had anything to do with his clothes, but the press corps kept going. What was the source for this "story"? Follow the link.

The Howler promises that the final installment of the Wolf series will appear today. Stay tuned.

I realize that this is all ancient history, but I think it's really important for everyone to know how irresponsibly the press behaved during the 2000 election cycle. Howler History is a remarkable account of a press corps that avoids at all costs having to discuss substantive political issues, and is all to eager to descend into adolescent gossip-mongering. And, as Thursday's entry shows, this process is beginning all over again, and the first target is Senator John Kerry. Regardless of your political beliefs, the Daily Howler is an invaluable resource for those of us who have learned not to blindly trust the press, and Bob Somerby is performing a public service by wading through the muck on our behalf.

Conservative readers of Terminus may worry that the political leanings of the Howler will not match their own, and they are probably right. However, the Howler has shown an admirable level of independence, and is willing to go after journalistic malfeasance wherever it happens. Even if you end up in "disagreeance" with the conclusions reached on a particular issue, it is important to see the kind of sloppy hack-work that creates this country's political debates.

Friday, March 07, 2003

Let's Not Do That Again. Going back to the well, folks, for another great post from Daily Kos. This time, the subject is the Bush press conference last night, which I watched with interest. Personally, I thought he was pretty poor. I mean, look, if yo are going on television in front of the whole world to argue that we must go to war now, and you duck the tough questions (and get pissy with the reporters who ask them), how do you think that looks? When a reporter asks you about one of the potential downsides of your plan, and you say that you are "concerned" and that you "think about it", but you don't give any clue as to the content of those thoughts, how do you think that looks? When you overturn a long-standing tradition of giving the first question to the most well-known and well-regarded White House reporter of all time, Helen Thomas, and don't let her ask any question at all, how do you think that looks?

To me, it looks like a man who's stubbornly backing an argument he knows he can't win.

What really pissed me off is how he said, more than once, that he has not decided to go to war. That's a bald-faced lie. [But it's a minor, political lie that doesn't really matter, to be fair.] By his own words, the United States has three goals: disarmament, regime change, and promoting democracy. Disarmament can be achieved through inspections, but regime change and promoting democracy absolutely cannot. There is no way to remove Saddam Hussein and remake the country's government into a democracy without going to war. I mean, Hussein isn't going to install democracy voluntarily, and even if he were to step down and flee into exile, the guys left at the top aren't going to install democracy; they're going to take over. So, something ain't right. Either he already has decided to go to war (he did, months ago at the very least), or he's lying about his true motives. Perhaps both, but I'm willing to concede that his public motives are his true motives.

As an international strategy, his press conference is not going to bring people around to our side. Most other countries in the world don't believe that "regime change" is, in and of itself, a legitimate goal. I think this view carries a lot of weight. I mean, it's pretty dangerous to allow one country to invade another because they don't like the other's leaders. Now, Bush tried to argue that Iraq presents a real threat to the United States. Except that he didn't really argue for it, he asserted it, and it's a tough assertion to prove, because Saddam Hussein has no missiles which are even able to cover one-tenth of the distance between Iraq and the United States. Sure, Saddam could sell nukes to terrorists, if he had nukes. He doesn't. Of course, he might build nukes in the future. But not if there's a tough inspections regime in place he couldn't.

So, you see, Bush needs the regime change goal in order to get support for war, because inspections can't meet it. But regime change is an illegitimate goal, and inspections may be able to deal with the goal of disarmament, thus making war at best premature, and possibly unnecessary. This is why France, Germany, Russia, Canada, China, Turkey, Jordan, etc., etc., oppose the United States on this issue. The only way to answer this objection is to prove that inspections can't work, and Bush didn't even attempt to make that case.

UPDATE: If you haven't already, be sure to check out the response from Liberal Oasis. It's the best treatment I've seen so far.
Saudi Arabia: Bastion of Religious Tolerance. From Daily Kos, we have the story of two Middle Eastern countries. One of them is a brutal and repressive Muslim regime which does not allow any expression of Christian faith. It enforces this policy with brutal police actions aimed directly at Christians. The other country has a history of religious intolerance, but the current government has clamped down on it severely. While the majority of the second country's citizens are Muslims, the Christian minority is permitted to freely and openly practice their religion. There are even Christians in very high positions within the government. One of these countries is on America's Top Six list of countries practicing severe religious intolerance, and one of them isn't.

The first country is Saudi Arabia. They are not on the list. The second country is Iraq. They are.

If this makes any sense to you, please email me. I want to start taking the same drugs as you do.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

The Bond Project: The Living Daylights. The role of James Bond, 007, was portrayed by Roger Moore in seven consecutive Bond films spanning more than ten years. In that time, the Bond franchise developed a highly recognizable tone and style defined in large part by Moore’s approach to the character. When it came time to find a replacement, producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli was ready to take the franchise in an entirely new direction.

Before settling on Timothy Dalton, several other actors were considered, including Sam Neill and Pierce Brosnan. In fact, but for contractual obligations he had with “Remington Steele”, Brosnan was to have taken the mantle from Moore eight years before his eventual debut in GoldenEye. Fortunately or unfortunately, Brosnan’s loss was Dalton’s gain, and Bond fans were treated to a very different James Bond.

Before taking the role, Dalton made clear his interest in grounding his portrayal firmly in the character as he appeared in Ian Fleming’s books. In the films, the character of Bond had originally been established by Sean Connery in Dr. No, with significant input from that film’s director, Terence Young. Since then, the character had evolved a great deal, but gradually. Even as the actors came and went, the Bond character was always more or less consistent from film to film. Watching the movies in chronological order, while changes in approach are evident between films and between actors, there never had been a major re-imagining of James Bond. Timothy Dalton set out to change that, and he had the full support of the production team.

Dalton’s Bond was a much darker, grittier secret agent than Moore’s. He’s also more human, and more vulnerable, than any portrayal in the franchise to that point. Timothy Dalton was interested in Bond as a character, and as a human being, in addition to Bond as action-hero. This gives Dalton’s films an added layer of depth that most Bond films never even aspired to. I was amazed while watching this film to notice how closely I was following Dalton’s face during close-ups. Dalton, in this film, showcased an ability to use his face and his eyes to clue the audience in to what Bond was thinking during each scene. Though a subtle example, this was indicative of the massive change in approach that Dalton’s Bond represented.

Unfairly, this film is more often remembered for another change in approach. Bond’s legendary promiscuity is sharply downplayed. Upon meeting Kara, the film’s female protagonist, Bond does not immediately appear to be trying to sleep with her. Rather, this film allows a relationship to develop between the characters which is, though quite conventional by action-movie standards, a rather striking departure for Bond.

The story is also a change of pace, being only the second film in the franchise (after For Your Eyes Only) which tries to fool the audience as to the identity of the film’s true villain. Again, this is a highly effective tactic which encourages the audience to pay closer attention to the story than is normally warranted. For the most part, this tactic pays off, as the story is very interesting and engaging. It is a terrible shame that Walter Gotell was not healthy enough to take a major role in this film. Because of audience’s familiarity with General Gogol, the first act would have been far more tense and far more exciting than it was. As it turned out, even with a brand new character written-in to replace General Gogol, the intrigues of the first act are very enjoyable.

The film’s primary weakness comes from Whitaker, an American arms trader portrayed by Joe Don Baker (Mitchell!). The performance was perfectly adequate, but Whitaker as written was a little too eccentric (almost to the point of silliness), and this eccentricity greatly undermined the otherwise straightforward approach to the story. Before the disappointing fire fight with Whitaker, audiences are treated to one of the best done action sequences in the franchise’s long history.

The Bottom Line: This film represents a stunning re-working of the Bond franchise, maintaining the same elements that the series has always relied on, but re-calibrating them around a new star with a wildly new approach to the character.

The Bond Project continues with License to Kill.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Credibility Gap. Matt Bivens at The Nation has a short blurb each day called "The Daily Outrage". Yesterday's entry details the advice given to Republicans by pollster Frank Luntz to confuse and mislead voters on environmental issues. Here's the quote from Bivens's post: "Luntz says George Bush and the Republicans are vulnerable on environmental issues -- i.e., they're out-of-step with Americans -- and so have to start muddying the waters, lest the voters notice." Emphasis mine. What a lovely choice of words. Isn't muddying the waters, among other things, exactly what we're talking about here?

The other point I want to bring out of this is that most Americans are well to the left of the White House on environmental issues, and yet the Republican Media Establishment (and sometimes even the Mainstream Media Establishment) continue to portray environmental issues as fringe-leftist issues. It's just not true. That's preciely why the Republicans have to play these silly games with terms.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

The Escalating Crisis with North Korea. Honestly, it's a scary time to be alive. As if we didn't have enough to worry about with (a) terrorism, and (b) the inevitable (but unnecessary) war with Iraq, North Korea is simply refusing to go away. I'm telling you, that Kim Jong-Il guy is really impatient. If he would just cool it for six to twelve months, Bush would still have plenty of time to fight that war *after* Iraq has been dealt with. But no, like the little child he is, Kim Jong-Il wants his war now, now, now!! And it's starting to worry a lot of people. Fortunately or unfortunately, none of those people seem to live or work at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. To say that the White House response to this crisis has been lacking is an understatement akin to saying that the Tampa Bay Bucs did "pretty well" in the playoffs.

Josh Marshall has the kind of post that keeps him popular with many in the political-blog community. He's got a good breakdown of the breakdown up on his site right now. It has been clear to everybody for the last couple of months now that North Korea is trying to get the United States to sit down, diplomatically, one-on-one. It has been unclear to me why that is such a big thing to ask. Until we engage with North Korea diplomatically, they will continue to up the ante, unless they finally go too far and force us to engage militarily. Either way, engagement will have to occur before this crisis can be resolved. Which sort of engagement would you prefer at this point?

Richard Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State, told Congress that he would prefer to engage diplomatically. The White House was furious.

The trouble with all of this is that the United States has no North Korea policy. Some of the more hard-line of the war hawks want to hold off on North Korea until after Iraq is over, and then go to war. The moderates want to deal with North Korea diplomatically now and defuse the situation as soon as possible. The last thing they want is for North Korea to think they can take advantage of US focus on Iraq to get away with ever more flagrant provocations. President Bush is in the middle on this one, and if he has a policy in mind, he isn't telling anyone.

Seriously, this one goes way beyond my personal and political animosity toward Bush. These successive escalations can only lead to one place, sooner or later, and that's war. This is homeland security right here. This is a threat to American lives. This is exactly the kind of crisis that requires strong leadership, and it could hardly be more important. Bush's failure is far more than simply a political embarrassment to him. It's a gaping weakness in the national security of this country, and it must be addressed.
Back to the Future. Tucker (aka Keith) and I disagree about a hell of a lot, especially when it comes to politics. But we both love movies, and sometimes (only sometimes) we love the same movies. Check out Tucker's World to find his discussion of the Back to the Future Trilogy. Tucker loves these films, and so do I. That having been said, I think he goes a little over the top. I mean, they are really good movies that are really fun to watch, but they're far from perfect.

Keith likes Part 2 a lot more than I do. You see, the film-makers didn't initially plan for a trilogy. They made one really good movie, and it hit, so they decided to follow it up. But they had this line at the end of the first movie, establising that the follow-up was concerned with addressing some problem with Marty's kids. As a little teaser at the end of a stand-alone film, it works. But when the filmmakers tried to expand it into a real sequel, they failed miserably. The whole storyline about Marty's kids is utterly uninteresting. It rambles and meanders around just long enough to establish the real story of the sequel, which is similarly truncated due to the time spent running around in the future. What results is a movie which totally fails to stand up on its own merits. There isn't a single unified story here, it's just two pieces which work to link the end of Part 1 with the beginning of Part 3. [Interestingly, if you go from Part 1 to Part 3 (switching as soon as the Delorean departs 1955), skipping part 2 entirely, it still mostly makes sense and you really don't miss much of any importance.]

Part 3 is greatly maligned in most circles, but to me, it's a vast improvement over Part 2. Sure, there's a lot of cheesiness in it, but the story is a lot better than Part 2, mainly because it has a single story which is developed from beginning to end. You know, like in a movie. Actually, the low point of the final installment is the whole business about overcoming Marty's hang-up about being called a chicken, which was inserted into the series out of nowhere in the second installment. I credit the filmmakers with trying to give Marty a charcter arc, but they didn't do it very well.

Still, the movies are all highly entertaining, and it's a lot of fun to try to follow the crazy twists of the time-travel story. Next time you watch, try to count how many time-travelling Deloreans are in Hill Valley at any one time. There are frequently several. Unlike most time-travel stories, the film-makers this time thought very hard about how time travel works, and what its "rules" are, and they applied them very well. Nevertheless, there are some weird issues hidden in the corners that are fun to play with.

Take a look at the fantastic DVD set for loads of behind-the-scenes, documentary, and trivia materials.
Hooray! Lots of good news on the personal front today. First, I've managed to fix my archives, sort of. Now, if you click on archives, you get a complete list of every week that Terminus has been in existence. I found some pretty interesting stuff back there, too. I'm still trying to improve the archives page, but don't hold your breath. Second, I'm planning to travel to Borders Books and Music after class today to buy some extremely dorky DVDs, because I feel that I haven't been sufficiently indulging my dorkiness lately. I thought that being in law school and writing a blog would take care of it all by itself, but dorkiness is like most narcotics... you start needing more and more just to maintain. So, I'm going to buy Doctor Who: The Aztecs and Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos. Get dorkier than that, I dare you. On a whim, I thought I'd check out King Crimson's official website to find out when their next album would be release. I found out, much to my surprise, that it's already out, and that King Crimson will be at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia on Friday. Yeah, this Friday. Holy shit, right? That was lucky. Not sure, yet, if I'll be able to go. Fingers are crossed.

Come to think of it, I probably shouldn't go. I've got this appellate brief due in next Monday, and it needs a lot of work. God damn it. Law school eats your life.

Monday, March 03, 2003

Complaints Department. I'm going to get some things off my chest here, so sit back, and I'll try not to spit.

I'm getting really angry at a lot of the tactics employed by the war hawks. Here at Terminus, I have gone to great pains to establish a strong argument in support of my position. I wish those on the other side would do the same. Some people have done, and I have tried to point out their work here for the benefit of the many people who are still conflicted about the war. But by far what we get from the media is cheap, sarcastic, mindless bashing of the doves. I'll give you a couple of examples.

The conservative talk radio station out of Philadelphia, "The Big Talker" 1210 AM, is sponsoring a "Rally for America" at Valley Forge. The idea is to get lots of people together to show support for the troops. When I first heard about these rallies, which are being held all over the country and drawing a miniscule sliver of the numbers that the anti-war rallies are getting, I immediately wondered if these were not "pro-war" rallies, despite the frequent denials. Dom Giordano addressed the issue on Saturday on his radio program. He said that if someone were "ambivalent" about the war (as many people are) wanted to show support for the troops, they would be welcome. He used the word "ambivalent" several times, but he never appealed to people who do not support the war, and yet still want to support the troops. Also, he repeatedly drew a distinction between these "Rallies for America" and the other, vastly larger protest rallies. Those rallies, the ones that set records all over the world a couple of weeks ago, are filled with people who hate the President and hate America. Giordano mentioned those things several times, and always together, as if it's a single unit.

What's wrong with this? Well, it implies (intentially, of course) that people who oppose war do not support the troops, hate Bush, and hate America. This is complete bullshit. I support the troops wholeheartedly. This shouldn't even need to be said. The troops are putting their lives on the line in defense of freedom and democracy. If the particular mission coming down the chain-of-command isn't likely to promote the goals of defending freedom and democracy, that's hardly the fault of the troops. Troops may sign up with the intent of defending freedom and democracy, but they don't have a "freedom and democracy" clause in their contracts which allow them to decline service in missions which don't meet that standard. They fight because they are ordered to fight, and because they honor their commitment to the country, to the military, and to the President. If I were in the armed forces, despite opposing this war, I would fight it. That's why I didn't join the military, because I didn't want to put myself in a position where I would have to kill people in service of a cause I might not agree with. And because I'm fat, weak, and have a high aversion to physical exertion.

Let me make this very clear. I support the troops, I do not support the war. I hate President Bush, I do not hate America.

On the 'Imus in the Morning' program today, Imus was having some fun at the expense of Fred Durst. I hate Limp Bizkit, and have no special affection for Durst either. I don't even know (and perhaps this is obvious) how to spell his last name. But Imus was busting on him for using the non-word "agree-ance", and for making hideously awful music. For one of his "bumpers" today, Imus ran the "agree-ance" quote, played the first verse of George Michael's "Faith", and then segued it into the chorus of Limp Bizkit's cover of the same song. The point of all of this is that Durst's oppostition of the war is not to be taken seriously. But then, do we need hawks to tell us that a singer from a shitty band is not a serious critic of foreign policy? No. Who pays attention to Durst? Republicans. Why? To discredit people who appen to agree with him.

And it's a little rich for someone who supports President Bush to make fun of someone for speaking poorly. Not to mention someone like Don Imus who gives a microphone to Bo Dietl. Which is more embarrassing... the most powerful man in the world not knowing how to pronounce "nuclear", or some singer in a shitty band saying "agree-ance"? And I don't see how the utter hideousness of Limp Bizkit's "music" is relevant to the debate in any way.

Stunts like this piss me off, and it shows the intellectual bankruptcy of most of the Republican media establishment on the issue of war. Indeed, on most issues.

I have no doubt that Bush genuinely believes in the course he is charting, and there is an argument to be made to support his cause, his aims, and his methods. There is a real argument to be had about this, and having it would benefit us all. But ducking a real debate by smearing opponents of war, who also genuinely believe in their cause, and have a strong argument to make in support of that cause, is petty, small, and cowardly.

And, more importantly, it pisses me off.

Anyway, I want to make it very clear to everyone that I wholeheartedly support the troops, without reservation. Their courage and dedication is a tribute to this country. I only wish they had better leaders in Washington.

Sunday, March 02, 2003

Diplomatic Fiasco #19,434. Oh my God, I can't believe how bad it's getting. I woke up this morning to start blogging, but my friggin' dad knocked me off the friggin' computer. I really wish I didn't still live with my parents, but the money I save is just too good to pass up. Anyway, by the time I got back on again to scan the headlines and forcibly inject my opinion into the internet, there were also sorts of crazy stories going around. And most of them are very, very bad for the White House.

Let's see... looks like Turkey voted no (barely) on allowing U.S. troops to deploy from there. This is a serious diplomatic fuck-up for sure, but it's not immediately obvious why. It's clear that it creates a logistical nightmare, since troops and equipment were literally parked off the cost of Turkey waiting to deploy. It's clear (and this is the most serious ramification) that it makes the war more dangerous for our troops who eventually go in. Don't get me wrong, we still have a mind-boggling degree of military supremacy, but a double-fronted war would have spread Iraq's troops that much more thinly. It also undercuts the argument, again, about how much of a threat Saddam is. Think about it: the deal that Turkey rejected was a pretty damn good deal. Some $30 billion, plus massive concessions allowing you to have an influential role in post-war Iraq. All you have to do in exchange is let the Yankees use some of your land from which to launch their invasion. Seems pretty sweet to me, but the Turks turned it down. It's the part about post-war influence that reveals just how serious this fuck-up is. As Josh Marshall explains, the U.S. government has already publicly admitted that they were willing to sell out the Iraqi Kurds in order to get Turkish support. Now, the Kurds are publicly betrayed, and the U.S. still doesn't get it's two-fronted war. That's a fiasco, and the White House has egg all over its face.

Next we've got this devastating revelation about the NSA wire-tapping the U.N. delegations of countries with key votes in the security council in order to, I don't know, get a lead on how they're going to vote. This is not playing nice, and it looks like it was authorized pretty high up the chain of command. Rice seems to be directly implicated by this article in The Observer. The article discusses a memo originating high up in the NSA directing the agency to spy on the U.N. delegates. You can see the memo here. The fact that this is happening is not surprising. Like the spy plane that crashed in China in 2001, the problem isn't the spying, it's the getting caught. The U.S. just got caught, and that will probably enrage precisely those "swing vote" nations that the White House is counting on.

Now, I've told you before that the United States will go to war no matter what the UN does. But, there could still be problems. If this new UN resolution doesn't pass, Tony Blair will be under tremendous pressure. It's even possible that Britain would back out of our "coalition", which would be a devastating blow the United States.

Another set-back for the United States is that fact that Saddam Hussein is destroying the controversial Al Samoud II missiles. As absurd as it was to think of going to war over some missiles that could only fly 130 miles, we will now be going to war over some destroyed missiles which could have only flown 130 miles. But think about that for a minute. Saddam Hussein is destroying weapons which the UN has objected to, and this is a set-back to the White House plan. Isn't that exactly what we want him to do?

This story has so many twists and turns to it, I will be really disappointed when the war actually starts. First of all, a lot of people are going to die in the first couple of days. We are about to witness what could be the most devastating sustained bombing campaign the world has ever seen. Second of all, once that starts, the press will jump immediately into war mode, during which time nothing will be reported which might even possibly be construed to criticize the White House, even a little bit. So, enjoy the diplomatic process stories while you still can. I will be.

In fairness, I should point out the one piece of good news I heard this morning. And it's really, really good news. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, suspected of planning the September 11 attacks, has been arrested in Pakistan. For those of you who like that sort of thing, it looks like he'll be taken to some secret location outside the United States and tortured. I'm not a fan of torture, but in spite of this, it's still really excellent news.