Friday, February 14, 2003

PUBLIC APPROVAL OF BUSH ECONOMY DROPS AGAIN -- The latest CBS News/New York Times poll shows that public support for Mr Bush's handling of the economy has fallen to a new low of 38 percent. Only 39% think the economy is in good shape and a plurality of 41% think Congress should be most focused on improving the economy. This must look pretty familiar to veterans of the Bush 1.0 admin.

Meanwhile, that poll also reveals that most Americans--59%--want to give the U.N. weapons inspectors more time in Iraq before going to war and 56% want the U.S. to go to war against Iraq only with U.N. approval. The poll also shows that Mr Bush's personal job approval rating has fallen to 53%--the lowest level since before the Al Qaeda terror attacks on September 11, 2001. While 53% of poll respondents approve of Mr Bush's Iraq policy, only 47% approve of his overall foreign policy, probably in reaction to rows with our European NATO allies. In addition, only about one-third of Americans think we are winning the war against terrorism, while 20% think the terrorists are winning. The rest think it is pretty much a standoff right now. Only 49% of the public believes Mr Bush has a clear plan to win the war on terror.

This war on Iraq must be looking more and more politically necessary for the Bush admininstration.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

BUSH 2.0 LOOKING A LOT LIKE 1.0 -- Or maybe even worse. At least Bush 1.0 won a war and got (most of) the troops out quickly. Such is not likely to be the case for Mr Bush 2.0, who is soon to launch an aggressive war that will quickly succeed in toppling a brutal dictator and replacing him with even more chaos and terrorism. But as the economy tumbles to depths not seen since the last Bush admin and the budget deficit balloons to heights not seen since the last Bush admin, the public is beginning to notice.

After its dramatic victories in the 2002 elections, the Bush admin obviously began to believe its own press clippings--always a bad idea for professional athelets, rock stars, and politicians. But in 2002, the public voted for what it hoped would be a strong stand against international terrorism, not for gigantic budget deficits and tax cuts skewed to the wealthy (again). Nevertheless, this is what they are getting. A real opportunity to jam a shiv (politically speaking, of couse) between Mr Bush's ribs now presents itself to Democrats. Even Republicans are skeptical of Mr Bush's healthcare and taxation policies. If Republicans can publicly question the admin's loyalty to sound fiscal policies, what can Democrats do?

What indeed?
ISRAELI BUTCHER CAN BE TRIED FOR WAR CRIMES -- The highest court in Belgium has ruled that, under the country's "universal jurisdiction" law, which allows for the prosecution of alleged war crimes no matter where they took place, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon can be tried for war crimes, but only after he leaves office. Mr Sharon could even be tried in absentia--the most likely possibility for such a proceeding since he is unlikely to ever step foot in Belgium again. The Israelis reacted by withdrawing their ambassador to Belgium for 'consultation.'

Frankly, I'm pleased. Mr Sharon's history of brutality against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon (which Mr Sharon, as Defense Minister at the time, orchestrated), is well documented. An Israeli investigation into the massacre of Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps outside Beirut in 1982 held Mr Sharon indirectly responsible and he was forced to resign from the right-wing Likud government. Nevertheless, many human rights campaigners believe Mr Sharon was more directly responsible for the massacres (and other brutalities) than has been let on and they have urged the Belgian government to bring Mr Sharon to trial. It seems that day is now closer than ever.

I eagerly await Mr Safire's outraged response (on behalf of his buddy Arik) in The New York Times.
NORTH KOREAN NUKES CAN REACH WEST COAST...BUT IT ISN'T A CRISIS -- Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lowell Jacoby and Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet told the Senate Armed Services Committee today that North Korea can probably hit the western coast of the United States with a missile armed with a nuclear weapon. White House mouthpiece Ari Fleischer tried to downplay the testimony, calling it old news. Mr Fleischer also said North Korea's ability to strike the U.S. homeland with nuclear missiles indicates the importance of building a shield against long-range missiles.

Fair enough, but the testimony by Mr Jacoby and Mr Tenet makes it clear to even the most blinkered observers that North Korea's nuclear-armed regime is far more important and dangerous than the ramshackle government in Baghdad. North Korea possesses the most dangerous weapons in the world and has a long history of involvement with international terrorism.

Having proven incapable and unwilling to solve the North Korean non-crisis through diplomacy, the Bush admin has offered the pathetic explanation that the People's Republic of China must help resolve this crisis--a contention Beijing was quick to dismiss. "Although it touches upon regional security and nuclear proliferation, the key to resolving this issue is the resumption of dialogue between the US and North Korea," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said in Beijing. (Courtesy of The Australian Financial Review.)

All this makes a mockery of the Bush admin's pitiful insistence that the North Korean situation is 'not a crisis'. If one of the most dangerous and unpredictable dictatorships in the world having the capacity to hit the west coast of the United States with a nuclear weapon, what is?
KERRY SURGERY GOES WELL -- The good news for all us John Kerry fans (and decent human beings in general) is that the Massachussets Senator's surgery for prostate cancer reportedly went well and the Democratic presidential aspirant is resting comfortably at the peerless Johns Hopkins Hospital. Thank goodness. I wish you well, Senator Kerry, and look forward to working on your campaign in Maryland.
CONGRESS BLOCKS BUSH'S SNOOP PROGRAM -- House and Senate conferees have agreed to forbid the Bush admin from implementing its Total Information Awareness (TIA) program, that would have granted the government sweeping new powers to monitor the lawful activities of American citizens. Senator Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who sponsored the Senate amendment (blocking TIA implentation), said, "It looks like Congress is getting the message from the American people loud and clear and that is: Stop the trifling of the civil liberties of law-abiding Americans."

Civil libertarian groups on the Left and Right deplored the powers the TIA would give to the president and police and demanded that Congress prevent the program from ever becoming law. Said Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), ranking minority member on the Senate Judiciary Committee: "If there is one thing that should unite everybody, from the very conservative member to the very liberal member, it is a concern that our own government should not spy on law-abiding citizens."

Amen to that, Senator. Congress is often roasted by the Left, Right, and Center for its corruption and cowardice, but this is a shining example of our elected legislators holding their hands up and shouting 'STOP!' at a power-mad administration bent on imposing its will on a largely clueless populace.
THAI GOVERNMENT: OUR WOMEN MUST HAVE BIGGER BREASTS! -- Yes, it is true, the public health ministry of the government of Thailand is urging women in that country to perform exercises that allegedly will increase bust size. In fact, the government is holding information and demonstration seminars on the subject for Thai women. Clearly, this is a country with no serious problems demanding public attention.
TORY OFFICIAL NABBED FOR CHILD PORN -- Those wacky, repressed, and perverted Tories are back in the news as another of their number was run up on sex charges, this time for accessing child pornography on the Internet. The link between Conservative Brits and sexual perversion is firmly established, though only partly understood. The search for an explanation and cure will continue.
TO SHOW OR NOT TO SHOW -- A Kerry blue terrier nicknamed Mick won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. I own a dog, a perfect golden retriever named Ajax who turns four years old on the last day of February. Although Ajax is a purebreed with a champion or two in his bloodline, I have never had the slightest inclination to show him at events such as these. Firstly, I had never had a dog before getting Ajax and knew nothing about such things. Secondly, and more importantly, I only got Ajax because I love dogs and wanted his companionship. Although I want everyone to like Ajax, I've never had the urge to attract the approval of people I don't know for the sort of dog Ajax has become.

My earlier characterization aside, Ajax is not--strictly speaking--perfect. He barks too much sometimes. He begs too much almost all the time. He demands a lot of attention and steals my place in bed almost every time the opportunity presents itself. He also likes to roll around in the snow and grass and never passes up the chance to stomp through a muddy puddle of water on the sidewalk or the park. He loathes baths and resists until it is made absolutely clear to him that, like it or not, he's going to get wet and scrubbed clean.

In other words, he's a typical happy dog. He loves running in the park so much that he almost seems to bounce for about twenty yards after I drop his leash. He's very fond of having his neck rubbed and his chin scratched. Ajax likes to do dog things and play with dogs, but is absolutely devoted to me and my family. I have no arguments with those who wish to show their dogs, it just isn't the thing for me. Frankly, I can see what the owners get out of it, but I can't see what the dogs get out of it. Perhaps I'm missing something and I'm happy to be enlightened if this is the case. My guess is, dogs want to run in the grass, sniff other dogs, play fetch, chew on the ears of their buddies, have their necks scratched, play tug-of-war with old socks, enjoy frequent tasty treats, and fall asleep on warm and comfy sofas. At least, that's what Ajax likes to do.
BUSH ADMIN BOLDLY PUNTS ON NORTH KOREA -- When Iraq tries to acquire nuclear weapons and fails, the Bush admin wants to invade the country, depose its government, and rule it from Washington. When North Korea tries to acquire nuclear weapons and succeeds, the Bush admin wants to let the U.N. handle things. What happens if that fails--strongly worded letter to the editor?
GREENSPAN GETS IT HALF RIGHT -- In testimony to the Senate Banking Committee yesterday, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan foolishly endorsed Mr Bush's plan to abolish share dividend taxation, but did contradict administration hacks by declaring that the rising budget deficits are a danger to future economic health. Mr Greenspan's comments are likely to make it more difficult for the Bush admin to sell its deficit-licious budget plan to a Congress where even some Republicans have been less than enthusiastic.

“Alan Greenspan, two years ago, breathed life in the administration's proposal for tax cuts. Today, I think he gave the kiss of death,” Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) said. Let's hope so.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

MY 'ELITE' PRESCHOOL IN THE NEWS -- Today's edition of The Washington Post devotes more than a few column inches to the story of the National Child Research Center (NCRC) and the consternation its planned expansion is causing among some local residents of the tony Cleveland Park area of Washington, D.C. The Post writes that:

"Four-year-old Buzzie Dall, Franklin Roosevelt's grandson, was driven there every morning from the White House, and Lyndon Johnson's daughter Lynda Bird also attended. The school enrolled children of lawmakers including senators William Proxmire and H. John Heinz III and congressman Morris Udall. Gerald Ford's press secretary Ron Nessen and Bill Clinton's press secretary Joe Lockhart sent children. Alexa Halaby, sister of Jordan's Queen Noor, is a board member and leading advocate of the expansion who has two daughters who graduated and a son still there.

One letter to the city in support of the expansion came on ambassadorial letterhead, dispatched by Stuart Bernstein, ambassador to Denmark and an NCRC grandfather.

Critics say NCRC is a 'nursery school on steroids' and call it Washington's version of New York's 92nd Street Y Nursery School, the kiddie asylum for which neurotic parents supposedly begin plotting admission strategies before their child's conception.

But in its worn circa-1905 mansion, NCRC seems lower-key, more like home than the stereotypical gold-plated nursery. Just a generation ago a goat lived on the property as a farm pet, and a trashed Volvo was parked on the grounds as play equipment. The school preserves that air of casually calculated play experience. And it draws from far beyond rich, white Cleveland Park, seeking minority students (35 percent), scholarship students (15 percent) and children with disabilities (two kids per classroom)."

It is strange to read of my preschool this way. I remember playing in that old Volvo for at least ten minutes a day--day after day--during outside playtime at NCRC. I remember the wonderful teachers (mine were Nan and Nancy), and I remember the many friends I made there. But most of all, I remember NCRC not as an 'elite' school of elite families (an epithet that has rarely--if ever--been attached to my family), but as the place where I learned to sing "If You're Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands."

Since I'm not a resident of Cleveland Park, I have not really formed an opinion on the expansion of NCRC, but I do have an opinion about the school itself. It's a treasure. Whatever the eventual outcome of the expansion controversy, all Cleveland Park residents would do well to remember that.
AND THEN THERE WERE 7 -- The senior Senator from Flordia, Bob Graham, will seek the Democratic nomination for president, making him the seventh Democrat to enter the race. Graham had intended to enter the race earlier, but was diagnosed with a heart ailment that required surgery. Graham is 66 and his staff expects him back at work soon.

This also makes Mr Graham the second Democrat in poor health to join the race (see John Kerry below). I agree with many of Graham's stands on national security and he is certainly invulnerable to Republican attack on that issue. Mr Graham believes transnational terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and Hizbollah are a greater danger to the United States than Iraq and has been harshly critical of the Bush admin's myopic obsession with Saddam Hussein. I agree completely.

However, it must be noted that Senator Graham's voting record is definitely on the conservative side for a Democrat. In fact, in National Journal's recent review of the voting records of various Democratic presidential aspirants, Senator Graham was evaluated as perhaps the most conservative of the bunch. He's particularly chummy with business interets and his very moderate record on public policy will make him a tough sell to many Democratic primary voters. Graham is also an extremely avid (and that's a kind way of putting it) diarist, known for detailing the most minute aspects of his life in a journal. It was for this reason, among others, that Vice President Gore considered, and then rejected, Bob Graham as a potential running mate in 2000. Republican hit squads are also likely to make much of the fact that the Senator's brother used to run The Washington Post and later committed suicide--the implication being that there is a history of mental illness in Senator Graham's family.

On the other hand, Senator Graham was twice elected governor of Florida and has twice been elected a senator from that state. In other words, Floridians like and vote for Bob Graham and taking Florida away from Mr Bush is central to Democratic plans to retake the White House in 2004.
2002 NFL All-Rookie Team -- I offer here my selections for the 2002 NFL All-Rookie Team. I'm a bit late, I know, but you may have noticed certain things going on around the globe and in my home town of Washington, D.C. My mind has been elsewhere, but I return to professional football long enough to produce this...

OFFENSE

QB/ Patrick Ramsey/ Washington Redskins
TB/ Clinton Portis/ Denver Broncos
FB/ Najeh Davenport/ Green Bay Packers
TE/ Jeremy Shockey/ New York Giants
WR/ Donte Stallworth/ New Orleans Saints
WR/ Andre Davis/ Cleveland Browns
LT/ Levi Jones/ Cincinnati Bengals
LG/ LeCharls Bentley/ New Orleans Saints
C/ Andre Gurode/ Dallas Cowboys
RG/ Kendall Simmons/ Pittsburgh Steelers
RT/ Mike Williams/ Buffalo Bills

Explanations
It was a weak year for rookie quarterbacks this season and only the three first round picks--David Carr, Joey Harrington, and Patrick Ramsey--deserved consideration. Ramsey had a much better touchdown to interception ratio than the two quarterbacks taken ahead of him and that, plus his superior passer rating, gets him the nod. It might be argued that Ramsey had a better team around him and had an easier time of it, but that sort of thing is difficult to measure. The numbers don't lie--Ramsey played better than any other rookie quarterback this year.

Clinton Portis was an easy choice and Davenport was the best of a mediocre crop of fullbacks. Shockey was another easy choice at tight end, as no other rookie produced anywhere close to the numbers the University of Miami product did. Rookie wideouts typically have a tough time and don't produce big numbers and this season was no exception. However, Stallworth caught eight touchdown passes and Davis caught six for a poor Cleveland offense. Both players are speed receivers who made big plays and might signal a return to the days of smaller, faster wideouts.

Most 'experts' believed Levi Jones was taken far too high with the tenth pick in the draft. Perhaps he was, but he earned his paycheck this season. On the other side, Mike Williams was brilliant for Buffalo, committing only two penalties all season and giving Drew Bledsoe plenty of time to make plays in the passing game. Williams is going to be a great player for years to come if he stays healthy. LeCharls Bentley, the second first round pick of the Saints, played very well at guard--a move from his college position of center. Andre Gurode, part of a great Dallas draft, solidified what had been a weak spot for the Cowboys and was arguably the best offensive lineman the team had this past season. Kendall Simmons fit in the way Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca did when the Steelers took him in the first round a few years ago. Pittsburgh knows how to draft linemen.

DEFENSE

DE/ Julius Peppers/ Carolina Panthers
DT/ John Henderson/ Jacksonville Jaguars
DT/ Larry Tripplett/ Indianapolis Colts
DE/ Dwight Freeney/ Indianapolis Colts
MLB/ Napoleon Harris/ Oakland Raiders
LB/ Akin Ayodele/ Jacksonville Jaguars
LB/ Ben Leber/ San Diego Chargers
FS/ Roy Williams/ Dallas Cowboys
SS/ Ed Reed/ Baltimore Ravens
CB/ Quentin Jammer/ San Diego Chargers
CB/ Derek Ross/ Dallas Cowboys

K/ Mark Bryant/ New York Giants
P/ Dave Zastudil/ Baltimore Ravens

Explanations
Julius Peppers terrorized opposing quarterbacks despite playing only 12 games. A steroid suspension throws some darkness on his achievements, but his contributions cannot be ignored. John Henderson couldn't play the run at all, but he did have 6.5 sacks and it was a weak year for rookie defensive tackles, despite all the attention paid to the position in the first round of the draft. Larry Tripplett of the Colts played well for Tony Dungy, but not as well as Dwight Freeney, who proved Indianapolis GM Bill Polian correct, after being taken with the 11th pick overall. Freeney is a speedy pass-rushing terror who reminds me of a young Manley or Haley.

It was a very weak year for rookie linebackers and none really stood out. Harris eventually played well for the Raiders and Leber and Ayodele were sleeper hits for the Chargers and Jaguars. Robert Thomas, taken in the first round by the Rams, was a bust, but may improve.

Roy Williams is a future Pro Bowl player at either safety position and Derek Ross was a surprise after being taken in the third round. Ross sometimes played like a shutdown corner and both he and Williams--along with Gurode--made the 2002 draft a bonanza for the Cowboys. Ed Reed was magnificent at strong safety and is already a Pro Bowl caliber player there. If any team drafted better than Dallas it is Baltimore, who are led by crack personnel expert Ozzie Newsome. Quentin Jammer missed time with a contract dispute, started slow, but showed his stuff in the second half of the season. He was a good pick early in the first round. Philip Buchanon of the Raiders actually played better than Jammer or Ross, but missed half the season with an injury and that costs him his place on this team.

There were no outstanding rookie kickers this year, but Mark Bryant topped 100 points for the season and wins this award by default. Dave Zastudil of the Ravens proved that it sometimes does pay to draft a punter. Nearly half of Zastudil's punts were dropped inside the opponent's twenty-yard line. He should be a good one for years.
RUMMY'S RELATIVES WRITE HIM OFF -- Hiding away in The London Daily Telegraph, a right-wing British newspaper (I am personally familiar with the paper's entire Washington staff) is a hilarious newsbite about how Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's German relatives want nothing to do with their American kin. "We are embarrassed to be related to him," says Rumsfeld's cousin Karin Cecere (nee Rumsfeld). Ms Cecere's 85-year-old mother adds: "We don't have much to do with him anymore...but for God's sake, he'd better not start a war." Got to love that!
BINNY SPEAKS -- Well, it didn't have the lush production values of the 'Girls Gone Wild' franchise, but Osama Bin Laden's latest video installment in his ongoing Comments from the Cave series did have its moments of unintended comedy. At times it seemed the translator--who could not have possibly have spoken in a more ponderous monotone--became bored with Mr Bin Laden's constant Koranic sermonizing and just summarized his monologue with a dismissive 'more verses from the Koran' comment.

I didn't hear anything that even remotely indicated that Al Qaeda has been working in tandem with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Of course, Mr Bin Laden referred to the U.S. troops as 'crusaders', accused the United States of wanting to steal the wealth of Moslems, and referred to the entire enterprise as a Jewish plot to control the Middle East. Not very nice, I grant you, but where is the umbilical cord between Mr Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein?

I don't see how General Powell helped his case for invading Iraq when he suggested this videotape establishes a firm link between the Iraqi dictator and the Wahabi terror chieftain. Mr Bin Laden mentioned Saddam Hussein only once and never uttered anything to suggest that a working alliance (or even an amicable friendship) exists between the two men. In the end, it is just more overhyped nonsense from an administration that regularly substitutes public relations in the place of actual facts. What a disgrace.
SENATOR KERRY HAS CANCER -- The office of Senator John Kerry (D-MASS) has announced that the presidential aspirant has an early form of prostate cancer. Apparently, at this stage the cancer is highly treatable and survival rates are about 95 percent. Senator Kerry's office says the condition will not affect his presidential campaign.
COLIN POWELL MAKES A FOOL OF HIMSELF -- Testifying before the Senate Budget Committee earlier today, Secretary of State Colin Powell breathlessly revealed the Bush admin's latest justification for invading Iraq: Osama Bin Laden (remember him?) won't be rooting for us. The Bush admin has allegedly obtained information (yeah, I suppose it happens from time to time) that Mr Bin Laden will soon release a videotape recording to the Arab satellite network Al Jazeera, in which he declares his willingess to fight alongside Iraq against the American invaders. Apparently, on the tape Mr Bin Laden "speaks to the people of Iraq and talks about their struggle and how he is in partnership with Iraq.'' According to Mr Powell, this is damning evidence of Iraqi-Al Qaeda collusion.

Can this get any more stupid? (Always a dangerous question to ask about the Bush admin, I know.) What did we expect from Mr Bin Laden--that he'd look askance at a U.S. invasion of an Islamic country, but be too busy organizing his collection of commemorative Civil War dinner plates to intervene himself? Of course Mr Bin Laden means to take part in anti-American attacks during the course of our invasion of Iraq. Did anyone actually believe otherwise? So what is the news here?

But I'm afraid it gets even better. Al Jazeera denies all knowledge of any new Bin Laden videotape and when questioned about this, Mr Powell says: "Be patient, it's coming.'' What the Hell is that supposed to mean? Meanwhile, CIA Director George Tenet, in a separate hearing today, said he knows nothing about the content of this new Bin Laden communication. (I've just heard on CNN that a Bin Laden videotape will air on Al Jazeera at 3 PM.)

Could it get any sillier? The answer to that, I've learned, is: Yes, it can always get sillier.
KRUGMAN = HAMMER, BUSH = NAIL -- The invaluable Paul Krugman hits the nail on the head again. To wit:
In the United States it is taken as axiomatic that America is a country that really faces up to evildoers, while those sniveling old Europeans just don't have the nerve. And the U.S. commentariat, with few exceptions, describes Mr. Bush as a decisive leader who really gets to grips with problems. Tough-guy rhetoric aside, this image seems to be based on the following policy — as opposed to political — achievements: (1) The overthrow of the Taliban; (2) . . . any suggestions for 2?
NARCISSISM AND MURDER -- Appropos of nothing in the headlines, I include this discussion of malignant narcissim and serial killers, at Pop Matters. Hmm. Maybe it is relevant now.
THE ACADEMY GETS IT WRONG AGAIN -- The big winner in the Oscar nominations race has been "Chicago", a wonderful musical satire/comedy based on the play choreographed by Bob Fosse. "Chicago" earned 13 nominations--and I do mean earned. It's a terrific film that probably should have received a 14th nomination--specifically, Richard Gere for Best Actor. Gere was magnificent as the super-cynical celeb attorney Bill Flynn and I don't know how the Academy missed him. (Actually, I do know--the Academy voters are idiots, but I'm still surprised Gere was snubbed.) I was very pleased Queen Latifah earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination. I was shocked at the superb performance Ms Latifah produced and had no idea she could do such a thing. Frankly, I didn't consider her awful sitcom, "Living Single," adequate preparation for "Chicago", but either I was wrong or the woman has more talent than she has previously demonstrated. I hope she wins.

The huge mistake was made in the Best Director category, as Peter Jackson ("The Two Towers") was scandalously overlooked. Jackson, who was nominated in this category last year for his masterpiece "The Fellowship of the Ring", crafted a nearly perfect movie with "The Two Towers." The film is a breathtaking action flick that still retains the moral depth and profundity imbued in the story by JRR Tolkien 50 years ago. Jackson even inserted a romance (li'l somthin' for the ladies) that Tolkien had deleted from the original story. It was a good idea, too, because anything that gets screen time for Liv Tyler is probably a good idea.

That Jackson could be overlooked this way is truly astonishing--until one considers the age of Academy voters. The average Academy voter is almost dead and many of these pre-corpses regard a movie about elves and wizards--and featuring spectacular special effects--to be somehow less worthy than more traditional cinema fare like "The Hours." This reminds me of the way the Academy chose "Ordinary People" over "Raiders of the Lost Ark" as Best Picture back in 1982. No doubt the Academy voters figured a taut story of a family in perile spoke more to the human condition than an action flick about a tomb raider gangbusting around the globe in pursuit of ancient relics--with a horde of Nazis on his tail the entire time. More than 20 years later, which film do you think has demonstrated more staying power? Last year, the Academy chose "A Beautiful Mind" over "The Fellowship of the Ring", a decision that will look just as silly 20 years from now as choosing "Ordinary People" over "Raiders of the Lost Ark" does now. What Mr Jackson has achieved with "The Two Towers" is truly special and for him to not even earn a nomination for his work is a colossal mistake. ('Colossal' in the context of such things, of course.)

Whatever the Academy decides for itself, the best movie of 2002 was "The Two Towers" and the best director of 2002 was Peter Jackson. The Academy Awards show will take place in about six weeks, on March 23rd, and then we'll learn if those dusty carcasses have learned anything from their mistake last year. My guess is that they have not. From choosing "The English Patient" over "Fargo" and "Titanic" over "L.A. Confidential", the Academy has demonstrated beyond a shadow of the doubt that the one thing we can rely on is that they will get it wrong. I don't expect 2003 to be any different.
DOGS & CHICKS -- I guess I don't get all the manicure and comfort food stuff, but this brief column about how one woman finds refuge from the travails of modern life in her companionship with a wonderful dog still caught my attention on the train this morning. Perhaps I can teach Ajax to bring me a soda while I'm watching basketball on television.

Probably not.

Monday, February 10, 2003

DUDE, YOU'RE GETTING A DOOBIE -- The drug war claims the Dell dude.
THE AXIS OF EVIL STRIKES BACK -- As I have noted elsewhere in this space, the Bush admin's myopic obsession with Iraq becomes only more glaring when one considers what the other two members of the Axis of Evil have been up to. North Korea is rattling its nuclear-tipped sabres and setting all of Northeast Asia on edge. Consider this lovely bit of news from the Japanese media:
Tensions were high in Japan with a major Japanese newspaper reporting that the Japanese government was considering mobilizing its military if North Korea fired another missile over Japan, as it did in August 1998.
Meanwhile, Iran now claims its own 'peaceful' nuclear program that even the Bush admin admits is worrying. (Of course, it is not a crisis. Heavens no! A crisis would mean something must be done. As long as our government denies that a crisis exists in northeast Asia or Iran, the Bush admin doesn't have to have a policy for either cris--I mean, situation.)

However, neither North Korea or Iran will be ignored and are clearly using our present obsession with Iraq--and consequent reluctance to engage elsewhere--to press their own dangerous nuclear ambitions. What the Iraq crisis has taught Third World dictators and would-be aggressors everywhere that pursuing nuclear weapons and not getting them (Iraq) leads to an American military attack, but pursuing nuclear weapons and actually acquiring them means the U.S. must think twice (or not think at all) about sending its troops into battle.

Mr Bush claims to be horrified at the prospect of Saddam Hussein distributing chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons to the enemies of western civilization. Odd then, that Mr Bush shows so little alarm at the prospect of North Korea--which either possesses nuclear weapons now or could in months--doing the same. After all, North Korea has exported missile technology to countries like Pakistan, Egypt, and Yemen. In addition, North Korea is responsible for terrorist bombings all over Asia and aid to anti-western terrorist groups all over the world. To any reasonable observer, North Korea is clearly a greater threat than Iraq and yet Iraq receives all of Mr Bush's attention.

How can the foreign policy of the United States be made this way?
DRUID KING A SWISS BANKER? -- Okay, probably not. But a new archaelogical find in southern England proves that the man who most likely oversaw the construction of the Stonehenge monument on Salisbury Plain was from the Alpine region of Europe.

Does this really matter? Well, it indicates that much of ancient British culture was imported from the continent--including the greatest gift of ancient Britain to the modern world. Does that really matter? Well, to history geeks like myself it does. So there.
SO STUPID IT MUST BE TEXAS -- Burglar falls asleep while robbing store.

Is Bill O'Reilly Getting Dumber or Just Louder?


Have a look at this transcript of the Bill O'Reilly Show on the blog of This Modern World. I don't happen to agree with much that Mr O'Reilly's guest says, but I do think it is shameful that Mr O'Reilly 'debates' this way. O'Reilly has a case he could make, but he's not smart enough to make it and even if he was, he's not decent enough to make it politely. What a creep.