31 October 2005

I guess Bush isn't so averse to rewarding bad behavior after all. First, he pays off the North Koreans after promising not to, and now he rewards the Right's unabashed smear attacks on his personal friend and lawyer by giving them exactly what they wanted.

If I were NARAL or MoveOn, I would already be cutting ads to start airing ASAP, preferably today, to paint this guy as a fascist wacko. I think the top thing they can get him on is his opposition to the Family and Medical Leave Act (the Planned Parenthood decision is what riles up the base, but notification laws are popular with a lot of people).

I have to say, though, that I don't think they're going to get him on his court decisions alone. He's conservative, but his decisions aren't so crazy that it's worth destroying the Senate to block him. They need to find wacky speeches/articles and/or personal dirt if they want to win this thing.

28 October 2005

Today's pop cultural updates: King Kong is three hours long, and George Takei is gay.
I miss the academic life. I especially regret the fact that I may never edit an annotated version of a famous work of literature, which is basically what I was born to do. As Nabokov and the editor of The Annotated Sherlock Holmes already know, sometimes a great work of art isn't complete without a trenchant critical comment in the footnotes. Yesterday I found such a moment in my Yale edition of Shakespeare's Cymbeline:
I did not take my leave of him, but had
Most pretty things to say; ere I could tell him
How I would think on him at certain hours
Such thoughts and such, or I could make him swear
The shes of Italy should not betray
Mine interest and his honour, or have charg'd him
At the sixth hour of morn, at noon, at midnight,
To encounter me with orisons, for then
I am in heaven for him; or ere I could
Give him that parting kiss which I had set
Betwixt two charming words, comes in my father,
And like the tyrannous breathing of the north
Shakes all our buds from growing.
And then, this priceless note from editor Samuel B. Hemingway: "Utterly worthless are the guesses of editors as to what Imogen's two charming words would have been."

27 October 2005

I'm going to miss Miers. The reason I enjoyed this whole spectacle, I've realized, is that this was the first blunder by President Bush that I could wholeheartedly enjoy—where nobody died, for one thing. It's hard to take satisfaction in the mess surrounding Iraq or Katrina, but with the Miers nomination, nothing was hurt except for a lot of conservative feelings.

25 October 2005

Maybe the White House counsel staff really was distracted the week Harriet Miers was tapped by the President for the Supreme Court.

No, they weren't distracted by grand jury testimony or questions about the Hurricane response. They were too busy accusing the Onion of using the Presidential Seal as an implicit endorsement of their newspaper. (Never mind that the seal is used on a page that makes fun of the President every week.) I'm glad the Commander-in-Chief's crack legal team jumped right on this one. Anybody with more time than me and some familiarity with Wayback want to see how long they were using the Seal before the White House noticed?

24 October 2005

This list of the best movies of all time is refreshingly goofy, if nothing else:
1. Goodfellas
2. Vertigo
3. Jaws
4. Fight Club
5. The Godfather Part II
6. Citizen Kane
7. Tokyo Story
8. The Empire Strikes Back
9. The Lord of the Rings
10. His Girl Friday
Press reports refer casually to the list as a "critics' poll," and say that it was created by "a panel of experts," which, unless I'm wrong, consists entirely of the editorial staff of Total Film magazine. Oh well. Not a bad list, all in all, but one of those choices really bugs me. Can you guess which one?

23 October 2005

The dictionary entry for "damn with faint praise" ought to include a link to this page from the official Harriet Miers site. Really, it needs to be seen to be believed.

My favorite quote: "She has a tremendous amount of respect for the rule of law..." (To paraphrase Jon Stewart: "Hey, everybody! The woman who wants to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court believes in laws! I wonder what the Secretary of Commerce thinks about capitalism!")

21 October 2005

It's marathon season, and the NY Times has dragged up the bogeyman of too much water. They ran this exact same story last year, as I recall.

Here's my two cents: I'm running in a marathon relay this weekend (I'm only going 10K). You can be sure that the last thing I'm going to worry about is drinking too much water. For races 10K and longer, if you're going reasonably fast (faster than 9 minute miles, I'd say), you WILL lose water if it's over 60 degrees, and you WILL NOT be able to replenish water as quickly as you lose it.

The victims of hyponatremia cited in this article are probably going very slowly (so they're not losing water) and are ignoring all of their body's natural signs that they have enough water in them. (The need to urinate is pretty darn reliable in this regard.) If this article helps to educate those people that they don't need to gorge themselves on water, fine.

But, it's simply irresponsible to say that no one has ever died from dehydration while running. This guy is the most famous victim, and there are other football players like him who die every year from dehydration and related causes (like heart failure and heat stroke). Short of dying, there are a lot of bad things that can happen to you if you don't drink enough water - you can pass out or become ill, and your race performance will certainly suffer.

Lastly, the article suggests that sports drinks are no different from water. That's not true - it's much easier to absorb sports drinks when you're dehydrated and sweating and your electrolytes are out of balance.

20 October 2005

The editors of IMDb have posted their personal choices for the top fifteen movies of the past fifteen years. For the record, here's my list, although this ranking hasn't really stabilized yet:
1. Chungking Express
2. Eyes Wide Shut
3. L.A. Confidential
4. Spellbound
5. Dancer in the Dark
6. Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2
7. The Silence of the Lambs
8. Crumb
9. Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control
10. High Fidelity
11. Spirited Away
12. Miller's Crossing
13. Pulp Fiction
14. Memento
15. Vanilla Sky
I wish I could have found room for The Limey and The Winslow Boy, not to mention The Usual Suspects, but when you think about it, fifteen slots aren't nearly enough.

19 October 2005

Today's fun list is Prospect's ranking of the top 100 public intellectuals in the world. Chomsky is at the top, although, really, shouldn't the obvious choice be Vaclav Havel? More weirdness: Arundhati Roy, Howard Zinn, Cornell West, and Harold Bloom weren't even on the short list, apparently, but Elaine Scarry was—even though Scarry's major qualification, it seems, is her goofy theory about airplane crashes. And where the *$%& is Mailer?
Another reason why I need to get cable: Rachael Ray now has four shows running in regular rotation on the Food Network. She's also putting together an afternoon talk show and a magazine. "The only thing that seemed worrisome," says the magazine's former design editor, "is that Rachael wanted a magazine of basically everything she thought was great." Sounds a lot like this blog, doesn't it?

18 October 2005

Wow, the Times is fast: they've already responded to my question about the net worth of Harriet Miers. But really, I'm left with more questions than before. The article attributes her moderate holdings to generous giving, care of her elderly mother, and "working for a government salary since 2001." But she earned $577,000 in 2000, and currently makes $161,000 a year at the White House. At that level, a net worth of $675,000—and only $295,000 in investible assets—isn't just surprising, it's shocking.

Let me spell this out: Harriet Miers invested her money in a remarkably thoughtless way. Even if we take the most generous assumption and say that she gave away almost everything she made, she would be in a position to give away a lot more today if she'd been more careful about her finances even fifteen or twenty years ago. Again, I don't have a huge point to press here, but $295,000 in cash and bonds is a weird portfolio, given that Miers is supposed to be a remarkably astute, detail-oriented, brilliant corporate lawyer. Based on the evidence, she's given less thought to her own finances than to Meyer v. Nebraska, and that's saying something.
Wikipedia's recent featured article about the Derek and the Dominos song "Layla" got me to thinking about an underappreciated musical convention: the coda or outro, in which an otherwise self-contained pop song segues into a closing section that is unrelated to the main body of the song—and presumably often cut for radio play—but which inexplicably makes the entire song more moving, mysterious, or universal. "Hey Jude" probably has the greatest coda in all of pop music, but "Layla," which moves from jaw-dropping guitar work to a transcendent piano close, is arguably even more perfect. (Are there degrees of perfection? Probably not. Oh well.)

In any case, I've recently realized that a lot of my favorite songs, ranging from "Dry the Rain" by the Beta Band to "English Beefcake" by James, have one thing in common: great, weird, mysterious, transcendent codas. Clearly, the rational thing would be to look for more. Anyone out there have a favorite coda or two?
Here's a question that hasn't been raised yet: If Harriet Miers is so smart, why isn't she rich? Based on her personal financial disclosure statement, her investible net worth is $545,000, tops. This might seem respectable, but think about it: she's sixty years old, unmarried, no kids, one of the top lawyers in the country, former partner at her law firm, and a Republican, for chrissake. Shouldn't she be a millionaire by now? I mean, I was disappointed that John Roberts didn't own any index funds, but compared to Miers—who owns one stock, a lot of cash in a money market fund, some Treasury bonds, and some oil and gas interests—he's Warren Buffett.

Apparently the business community thinks that Miers is just great. What are they thinking?

17 October 2005

At this point, I'm inclined to think that Harriet Miers is doomed. Here's the clincher: John Fund of the Wall Street Journal reports that the White House arranged for a conference call on October 3 between a group of prominent religious conservatives and two of Mier's close friends—including Justice Nathan Hecht—who basically guaranteed that Miers would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Obviously, this is pretty sleazy, but consider the practical consequences. If this turns out to be true, it will be politically impossible for any Democrat to vote for Miers. This means that she won't even get out of committee. The senate Judiciary Committee has eight Democrats and ten Republicans, which means that only a couple of Republican nays will swing the vote against her—and I'd be really surprised if she got nine or ten Republican votes. After that, even if she gets to the full Senate, it will be easy for conservative Republicans to vote against Miers without political consequences—which is exactly what will happen.

Anyway, it's going to be a really, really interesting couple of months. I've become a Miers junkie, and those guys at the National Review are just feeding my habit.

14 October 2005

More on Harriet Miers...

I haven't seen this wholly articulated anywhere, so I don't have any links. But it seems to me that this nomination might turn out to be the biggest mistake of the Bush Presidency, in terms of electoral consequences.

As best outlined in What's the Matter With Kansas, the Republican Party has ridden to electoral victory over the past decade by fanning the flames of outrage among evangelical Christians. The number one accelerant is abortion, and the number one source of outrage for abortion activists is Roe v. Wade. These people are willing to die to overturn Roe v. Wade. We all heard Bush promise to appoint Scalia-Thomas types to the Supreme Court, and we all heard the plaintive cries from both sides that the next president would get to appoint four nominees to the Supreme Court.

Well, this president hasn't gotten his four nominees, although given the ages of some of the sitting justices, he might still get one or two more. But he's gotten two nominees, and he's punted on both of them - and in doing so, he broke his promise to the Right, and he deprived abortion activists of a long-awaited righteous battle between Good and Evil, between a Christian justice and the Hated Left.

Ok, so he pissed off his base by breaking his campaign promise. Why should that matter so much? Clinton pissed off his base all the time. The difference here is, evangelical Christians aren't activists you can take for granted. They could just as soon hold their noses and walk away from the political process altogether, just like they did back in the seventies and eighties. Remember Karl Rove's 4 million missing evangelical voters in the 2000 election? They could go missing again if, after all their work and sacrifice in getting a conservative into the White House, they come away empty-handed on the one issue that matters the most. If the White House mishandles this thing, I think it could break the political will, semi-permanently, of many rank-and-file members of the Christian right.

This goes way beyond the 2006 elections. It could arguably have a much greater impact on the 2008 presidential election, when Christians are wondering whether it's worth their while to work for another presidential candidate who promises them the world. That said, the White House and the Republican party aren't stupid, and they'll do all they can to keep evangelicals on board - maybe by rescinding Miers, maybe by bringing up some other issue, like gay marriage, to crusade against.
Do Supreme Court justices get more liberal on the Court? If so, why?

On the first question, the pro position is here, and the anti position is here. I personally think that the evidence on Justice Stevens is that he clearly turned more liberal on the court, and Souter probably did as well; but in general, the Supreme Court is a pretty conservative body and O'Conner and Kennedy are simply not liberals. They disappoint conservatives because they're not ideologues.

On the second question, there are several possible explanations for why a justice might shift positions, and I've seen each of these explanations being used at various times by commentators (The comments section of the Volokh post above does a good job laying these out):

1. Liberal arguments are better. (Unless you're prepared to deal with those tricky and seductive liberal arguments, you're likely to be taken in. This seems silly to me, but as a liberal-leaning kind of guy, I have to chuckle whenever I hear its variants, especially coming from conservatives. And frankly, given the options laid out below, it might just be the best explanation out there.)

2. The "Georgetown cocktail set" works its magic on the nominee. (This is a variation on the first position, adding an element of social pressure on the judges. Even sillier than the first reason.)

3. Power corrupts, and so the weaker-minded judges will be more likely to throw off the shackles of judicial restraint than will the stout conservatives. (This at least has some plausibility to it - but you cannot convince me that Scalia, Thomas, and Rehnquist are (were) not very activist. Bush v. Gore is exhibit A. These guys do engage in judicial activism when it suits their ideology. The Rehnquist move to overturn a lot of Congressional laws on the basis of "states' rights" was itself a move to insert the court into policy-making; it would have certainly been more "restrained" to refuse to hear constitutional challenges to federal laws.)

My conclusion: I see no reason why people should get reliably more liberal or more conservative once they get on the bench. I don't know why Stevens and Souter did turn more liberal, except that maybe the court gave them a new perspective on issues that they didn't have before. An inexperience nominiee might be confused and make bad decisions if they don't already have an articulated philosophy, but that is different from an ideological shift.

13 October 2005

I still really want to see Elizabethtown, an apparently lousy movie which has already inspired at least one great snide review:
This isn't drama; it's asking people to fork over nine bucks to hear what's on your iPod.
But really, the movie to see this weekend has got to be Domino. Keira Knightley and Christopher Walken and Mickey Rourke and Lucy Liu in a Tony Scott action movie written by Donnie Darko? Holy mother of God. Haiwen, what are you doing on Saturday?
When I'm reading or writing or doing chores at home, I like to have something playing in the background, which often means that I'll watch a movie with the sound turned down. I'm also lazy, which means that I'll usually just play whatever is in the DVD player. As a result, I sometimes watch the same movie five or six times over the course of a week—although my mind is usually elsewhere, of course. Scarface was the movie of choice over the weekend, but at some point I got tired of it, and switched to a reliable standby, The Red Shoes.

Regular readers of this blog know that I've watched The Red Shoes more than a few times. In fact, it may currently hold the record for the movie I've watched the most (although I suspect that Blue Velvet may still be the champion). I'm still firmly convinced, as I was earlier this year, that it's the best movie ever made, and it's so rich in incident and detail that I always notice something new whenever I watch it. (You could easily spend the entire movie just watching what's happening in the background.) However, at some point this week, I realized something that left me flabbergasted. Are you ready for it? You sure?

The dancing in this movie is amazing.

This is arguably the dumbest thing I've ever blogged. Of course the dancing in The Red Shoes is amazing. But for some reason, I've always been drawn to other things—the story, the acting, the incredible visual imagination—and never really thought about the dancing itself. Now, watching it with the sound off, I finally understand. It's like watching Casablanca as a thriller, and then suddenly discovering the love story. Watching Moira Shearer pirouette and seeing it, really seeing it, makes the entire movie more meaningful. How could anyone not fall in love with this woman?
Apparently cigarette smoking may lower your IQ. Tell that to Edward R. Murrow.
Harold Pinter has won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Cool. With every year that passes, however, I find myself asking one question: What about Mailer? The question has become even more urgent over the past couple of years. I began reading Norman Mailer when I was in my early teens, and always took him for granted. It's only recently that I've begun to realize how unique the guy was—a great novelist of powerful language and ideas who was also a public intellectual, a journalist, a critic, a rabble-rouser, and a bully. There's nobody else like Mailer in America today, and even worldwide, only Arundhati Roy comes immediately to mind—and Roy seems to have given up fiction for good. Yes, Mailer was profoundly self-destructive, and yes, he stabbed his wife and chewed off Rip Torn's ear, but unlike other self-destructive writers, he never totally imploded, and managed to remain a major force in letters for sixty-five consecutive years. That's awe-inspiring.

There seems to be a lot of nostalgia for the dead breed of the supercritic, as witnessed by the recent outpouring of material on Edmund Wilson. Mailer, in many ways, was—and is—more extraordinary. Awarding him the Nobel Prize would highlight his amazing career, and bring attention to the fact that writers like Mailer have ceased to exist, right when the world needs them most. We need more monsters like this guy.

12 October 2005

Is Harvard's admissions procedure the way it is because the university needs to protect its brand image?

11 October 2005

And here's the kicker. While researching Caryn James online, I realized that she was the author of one of the dumbest pieces that the Times ever published, an article on last year's National Book Awards, in which she complained that "the judges apparently went out of their way to nominate books that have scarcely been noticed," and "by trying to strong-arm readers' taste, the judges are guaranteeing that their prize remains marginal." In other words, big ambitious movies are lame because they're too mainstream, and "woozy and poetic" novels are lame because they aren't mainstream enough. Clearly, this critic needs her own blog.
I'm usually pretty forgiving of pop cultural criticism written on deadline (I mean, it's hard, for one thing), but this piece from the New York Times strikes me as unforgivably shoddy. Headlined "The Trouble With Films That Try to Think," it dismisses "big idea" movies like Good Night, and Good Luck and the forthcoming All the King's Men as "timid films with portentous-sounding themes, works that offer prepackaged schoolroom lessons or canned debates." Here are a few of the piece's insights:
1. The fact that many such films take place in the past (or seem "hyperreal," as in the case of A History of Violence) is "a symptom of this timidity."

2. All the King's Men can be "easily dismissed" because "the film's subject is self-contained." (Does anybody even know what this means?)

3. A History of Violence concludes that "violence is everywhere and in everyone," which is "not a thoughtful probing of the question" and "a spurious and facile statement." (It's also a spurious and facile statement that the movie never makes, which should be obvious to anyone who saw the movie and thought about it for more than a minute.)

4. Good Night, and Good Luck is damned with faint praise, with the critic noting that "the film's beautiful direction and acting deflects attention from its lack of context."

5. Million Dollar Baby showed that you could make "a tough subject like euthanasia palatable," which strikes me as a weird comment for a number of reasons. (Is "euthanasia" really the subject of Million Dollar Baby? Is "palatable" the first word anyone would use to describe that movie's final scenes? I'd argue that Million Dollar Baby is about euthanasia to roughly the same degree as Dancer in the Dark is about capital punishment.)
Most incredibly, the article provides no counterexamples (apparently, there has never been a successful movie that tackled a big issue in an acceptable manner) and offers no suggestions as to how Hollywood could break out of its circle of timidity. This sort of non-article would be embarrassing enough on any subject, but to accuse a handful of interesting, ambitious movies of "timidity" because they fail to meet this critic's underdeveloped and unstated criteria of significance is, quite simply, shameful. I can't believe that the Times even published this.

Maybe I'm just mad because I saw Good Night, and Good Luck last night, and would argue that it is one of the strongest American movies of the year. Caryn James, of course, trashes it by noting that its story "is too simple and nostalgic" to apply to contemporary events. Really? How? She doesn't elaborate. On the other hand, she credits George Clooney for "using his clout to edge Hollywood toward movies that think, even if they rarely come through with Deep Thoughts." That's the last sentence of this embarrassing article, which fails to offer a single deep thought of its own, either primarily or secondhand. This is supposed to be criticism?

10 October 2005

UNICEF bombs the Smurfs.

08 October 2005

Speaking of someone who knows the West, this posting at the National Review describes Victor Davis Hanson as "the brilliant classicist, military historian, scholar, author and essayist." Aren't those all the same thing?
Senator Conrad Burns has praised Harriet Miers for her "knowledge of the West." You know, that's something I've always wanted someone to say about me. Unfortunately, I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing here. Are we talking sagebrush or Sophocles?

07 October 2005

Dave emerges from the depths for a moment to talk about a subject near and dear to his heart: baseball. Call me a fair-weather fan, or maybe I just didn't live there long enough, but I'm not rooting for Boston to win it all this year. You might recall that their recently ended title drought was merely the third-longest in history -- and the other two are still going. So they really ought to give one of those Chicago teams a chance. My order of preference for AL pennant: 1. Chicago, 2. Anybody but the Yankees.

In the other league, it's a toss-up. Houston and San Diego have streaks even longer than Chicago's -- infinity years. Granted, they weren't playing baseball for all those years, but they still make a case that their time is due. St. Louis is a classy outfit and they haven't won it all since 1982, and the Braves deserve more than their one puny title for 14 years of dominance. Personally, I think that even though I now have a personal connection to San Diego, a team that finished above .500 only by winning its last game doesn't deserve to win a pennant. My anti-Texas bias results in my choice of: 1. St. Louis, 2. Atlanta, 3. Houston, 4. San Diego.

White Sox in 6 in the Series.
This article by the New Republic, which lists the top 15 hacks in the Bush Administration, is a little unfair, but fun to read. It's also depressing. Why am I slaving away in the private sector, when I could be on the fast track for a sweet job in the Department of Health and Human Services?
Does anyone with a bit of a background in campaign finance law/nonprofit organization law know if this website is illegal?

I saw the website advertised on a sidebar of a conservative blog, so it means there's advertising money behind it. I don't know why, but it seems creepy that a nonprofit can set up a website for, advertise, and promote the president's supreme court nominee. I mean, if they were doing political ads for the president they would fall under McCain-Feingold and they'd have to abide by certain limits on content and fundraising (which I can't really enumerate because I don't know them). This might be argued to be policy-based, not political, but I don't know if that's a meaningful distinction.

I do note that the organization calls itself "nonpartisan." Isn't promotion of the administration, by definition, "partisan"?
Harvard's endowment surges past $25 billion ($10 billion more than Yale's). As Harvey Mansfield puts it, "It's nice to be rich."
Boy, the subway was awfully empty this morning. I actually got a seat!

06 October 2005

I'm not sure why this never occurred to me before, but Jenny Lewis, the singer who single-handedly walks away with the song "Nothing Better" by the Postal Service ("I feel I must interject here / You're getting carried away feeling sorry for yourself..."), has her own band, Rilo Kiley. It's, uh, pretty great. In fact, it makes me a little dizzy, which means that it would probably kill Noah.

It turns out that Jenny Lewis also played the girl in The Wizard, which means that she's been on my radar for a lot longer than I would have guessed.
Why isn't anybody else blogging these days? Is it because you all have girlfriends?
I recently told the ex-Pegasus that I've always wanted to write a sociological study of Chinese restaurants, especially the small lunch counters that appear on every block in Brooklyn, not to mention Helsinki and Saugatuck, Michigan. Where do they come from? How do they find their staff? Where does the guy with the scooter sleep?

This article in the Times (by former Crimson writer Jennifer 8. Lee, whose inexplicable byline is fondly remembered by quite a few Harvard students) goes a long way towards answering these questions. Apparently there's a cluster of Chinatown employment agencies under the Manhattan bridge that send chefs and staff (including "deliverymen who can drive" and "deliverymen who don't need to drive") to Chinese restaurants from Queens to South Carolina:
For workers who cannot read the names of their destinations in English, area codes serve as the restaurants' main geographical identifiers. The workers do not see America as a series of cities or even states, but as a collection of area codes, almost all with dozens upon dozens of Chinese restaurants looking for help. Maps in every Chinese agency break down the country by area code, with recently introduced area codes scribbled in by hand.
Jobs beyond commuting distance of New York include free room and board in restaurant-provided dorms. (Workers commute on the Chinatown bus, of course.)

Anyway, the article confirms what I've always suspected: if you're at a Chinese restaurant that employs non-Chinese workers, watch out. Something just ain't right.
Great line from Peggy Noonan's column on why Bush chose Harriet Miers:
Old standard answer: In time of war he didn't want to pick a fight with Congress that he didn't have to pick. Obvious reply: So in time of war he picks a fight with his base?
I know you're probably all tired of Miers postings, but I just can't help myself. Maybe the President's secret plan is to get me addicted to the conservative blogosphere.

05 October 2005

If I were living in Los Angeles, I'd be strongly tempted to check out the second Liberty Film Festival later this month, which is being billed as "Hollywood's conservative film festival." Festival highlights include a screening of The Searchers, several Ayn Rand tributes, and Fellowship 9/11, a spoof of...well, you can probably guess. (Not sure how funny the movie itself would be, but the title makes me smile.) Guest speakers include David Horowitz, Michael Medved—and Joel Surnow, creater of 24. (Yikes. I mean, I know that President Palmer is probably a Republican, but still...)
In more important news, the transmission of Tom Cruise's genetic material has been a complete success. All right!
Sorry, I can't resist: here's Jon Stewart on Harriet Miers.
George Will's column on Harriet Miers ("Can This Nomination Be Justified?") is well worth reading. My favorite paragraph is probably the mildest:
The wisdom of presumptive opposition to Miers's confirmation flows from the fact that constitutional reasoning is a talent—a skill acquired, as intellectual skills are, by years of practice sustained by intense interest. It is not usually acquired in the normal course of even a fine lawyer's career. The burden is on Miers to demonstrate such talents, and on senators to compel such a demonstration or reject the nomination.
All in all, the best reporting and commentary on the Miers nomination is coming, not surprisingly, from the right. The National Review has a lot of good stuff, especially on David Frum's blog. Frum also deserves credit for raising Miers's name as early as July 4, although, he now concedes, he was "mostly joking."
Not to get political or anything, but here's President Bush on the possible avian flu pandemic:
I am concerned about avian flu. I'm concerned about what an avian flu outbreak could mean for the United States and the world. I have thought through the scenarios of what an avian flu outbreak could mean. I tried to get a better handle on what the decision-making process would be by reading Mr. Barry's book on the influenza outbreak in 1918. I would recommend it.

The policy decisions for a president in dealing with an avian flu outbreak are difficult. One example: If we had an outbreak somewhere in the United States, do we not then quarantine that part of the country? And how do you, then, enforce a quarantine? It's one thing to shut down airplanes. It's another thing to prevent people from coming in to get exposed to the avian flu.

And who best to be able to effect a quarantine?

One option is the use of a military that's able to plan and move. So that's why I put it on the table. I think it's an important debate for Congress to have.
Hmmm...right. Meanwhile, in order to pay for Katrina relief without raising taxes (or calling off tax cuts, for that matter), the new budget proposed by House Republicans includes a $1.8 billion funding cut for—can you guess?—the Centers for Disease Control.

04 October 2005

Malcolm Gladwell checks in with a fascinating review of a new book called The Chosen, a history of the admissions process at Ivy League universities. Harvard does not emerge unscathed.
Apparently direct-to-video sequels are experiencing something of a renaissance these days, with upcoming DVDs including sequels to Carlito's Way, American Pie, and—get ready for it, Nat—8 Seconds.

01 October 2005

Currently in theaters are two very interesting, flawed thrillers, The Constant Gardener and A History of Violence. The two movies couldn't be more different, of course: one is by a director who looks outward into international themes and huge casts of characters, while the other is by a director whose gaze is decidedly inward—sometimes to bone, tissue, and raw tendon.

My major criticism of The Constant Gardener is that I wish it had been an hour longer. There's a lot of interesting stuff going on here, but sometimes we seem to be watching a brilliantly edited trailer for an epic miniseries. I really wish I knew more about those hateful British civil servants, for one thing, and the possibly gay African doctor, and the wife's helpful cousin, and the venal pharmaceutical executives—more about every character, actually, many of whom are fascinating but only half-glimpsed. I hear that the original cut of this film was over three hours long, though, which gives me hope for an extended edition on DVD. (On the other hand, I'm still waiting for the four-hour version of Kill Bill.)

As for A History of Violence, it's the sort of movie that ought to play better on a second viewing, if only because the first viewing is too tense to offer anything resembling a good time. At least with a second viewing, you'd know when to cover your eyes—and there are a few moments here that are worthier of eye-covering than anything since they found the girl's body in the closet in The Ring. As a result, you spend most of the movie waiting for the next shocking effect, which which tends to distract from the generally fine performances and direction. (The, er, facial prosthetics are pretty good, too.) The movie also suffers from a very strange shift in tone: the first ninety minutes are best described as Shaymalanesque, with occasional flashes of ultraviolence, and then suddenly we're in Miller's Crossing. It lets us off the hook, in short—which is not something that I would have expected from the director who once showed us Geena Davis giving birth to a giant maggot.
As usual, I'm about a year behind the times, but I feel compelled to state the obvious: if you haven't bought—or at least borrowed—the album Funeral by the Arcade Fire, you really ought to do something about that. I was apparently in some sort of coma circa 1997, when OK Computer first came out, but I imagine that the feeling of discovery, or recognition, or whatever, must have been similar. This is the album that I've always wanted to find, without quite knowing what I was looking for. It's sort of like Berlin-era Bowie, but not really, and sort of like Radiohead, but only to the extent that every band is sort of like Radiohead, depending on which Radiohead you mean. (In fact, I've found that the "sort of like Radiohead" observation, which has been applied to bands as diverse as Keane, Coldplay, and Sigur Ros, is a great cop-out whenever I'm asked my opinion of an artist that I know nothing about. As long as the listener doesn't try to pin me down to a particular phase in Radiohead's career, I'm rarely, if ever, wrong.)

Anyway, this is a great album that you all should buy. (This means you, A.D.) It's hard to single out particular songs here, but I'm particuarly fond of "The Backseat," which I find really moving, and also expressive of what Pitchfork calls "a common phenomenon—a love of backseat window-gazing, inextricably linked to an intense fear of driving—that ultimately suggests a conclusive optimism through ongoing self-examination." Well, right. It's always nice when a hip music website tells you something about yourself that you didn't know before.