22 December 2006

My mini-hunt is up.

21 December 2006

I'm in Zambia now, and while I won't give a comprehensive description of the country right now, I'll try to post my impressions after they've had more of a chance to form. I will say that my experiences do not resemble those described in this NY Times article entitled "In Zambia, Safaris With a Penthouse Touch" anointing Zambia as an "in" luxury destination for 2007.

17 December 2006

Off to Africa tomorrow. I'll try to bring back a wish-granting monkey paw . If they're out of those, maybe I can score a t-shirt.

14 December 2006

I was subjected to an Ann Coulter op-ed piece this morning where she repeated the Republican talking point that Democratic gains this year weren't even in step with historic opposition performance 6 years into a President's term. Republicans who actually bother to give a figure say the average is about 30 House seats, and they say it's the average for the past "several decades."


By my count,

Democrats actually picked up 5 House seats in 1998 while the Senate stayed even.

Democrats picked up 5 House seats and 8 Senate seats in 1986.

Democrats picked up 49 House seats and 4 Senate seats in 1974.

That pretty well covers the past several decades. The mean gain for the party opposing the President is under 17 House seats.

It's possible, however, that Rs really meant to include earlier elections; I went back and tried to figure it out (not easy with some of these elections; I gave up on 1822 and 1794) and excluding those two years, there was a historical average of a bit under 30 losses for the president. So I guess if we want to compare the Democrats' gains to those amassed against Ulysses S. Grant (loss of something like 97 seats) or FDR (loss of 72), then yes, they are below average. Barely.

(A few notes on methodology: I got my data from the House of Representatives Clerk. When there were multiple parties, I treated the small parties like the opposition. When the House increased in size, which happened a lot back in the day, I would add the President's losses to the opposition's gains and divide by two. Finally, there were big realignments in 1822 and 1794, so I didn't count those elections, but I don't think they represented large net movements against the respective administrations. Historians among the readers, feel free to correct me. Had I included them, the average might have dropped to as few as 25 seats).

12 December 2006

Note to self: never update your Netflix queue while drunk. I suppose it isn't the worst thing you could do while intoxicated, but there's still something unnerving about opening that red envelope and finding that you've rented Hudson Hawk.

09 December 2006

I suppose most readers of this blog pretty much give George W. Bush zero political credibility, but I for one have often thought that he's got a good tactical political sense about him. Firing Rumsfeld, for one thing, was the exact right thing to do at the time it was done.

It's surprising to me, then, how poorly he's used the Iraq Study Group. (Note: the following analysis doesn't have anything to do with the wisdom of their recommendations; I'm not qualified to evaluate that. It's the President's public reaction that I'm critiquing.) It's really not necessary to appoint this study group to actually come up with new ideas on Iraq; there are literally thousands of people with more expertise who are working in various agencies in Washington who have come up with plenty of ideas. The purpose of appointing a Study Group composed, as I can see it, of People With Credibility, is to have them suggest something and then give the President political cover for doing it. The President has massive face-saving problems when it comes to Iraq; any suggestion of changing strategy looks like a political defeat. So instead of him admitting he's been wrong, he can say he's following the recommendations of wise people.

Of course, he hasn't done this at all; he's essentially rejected the Study Group's recommendations, managing to eliminate all political benefit they could have conveyed to him AND exacerbating his stubbornness/stupidity image. It may have made sense from a policy standpoint to reject those recommendations, but it was politically calamitous to do so. If he didn't want those options on the table, he should have told the study group (when it was still secret) that they were off the table. Even better, from a Machiavellian point of view, would have been to tell them exactly what to recommend.
Despite a sluggish start and a depressing summer, this has turned out be a surprisingly excellent year for movies. Any year that can boast career-defining works by Martin Scorsese, Pedro Almodovar, David Lynch, Robert Altman, and even Michael Mann is, by definition, extraordinary. There's even a Lars Von Trier movie (Manderlay) that I somehow haven't seen yet. If Curtis Hanson's Lucky You hadn't been pushed back to next spring, this year would have seen a major new release from all of my favorite living (or recently living) directors, except for one. And it sounds like Wong Kar-Wai has something amazing up his sleeve for next year.

All this, and A Canterbury Tale is finally out on DVD. Who needs YouTube, anyway?
I never thought that I would find a picture that would make me laugh harder than this photo of Malaysian politician Lim Keng Yaik (blogged here several times before). And I haven't. But this picture of Harvard's own Jorie Graham on the foetry.com website comes pretty close.

Foetry.com, by the way, is a muckracking site about the military-industrial-poetry complex, focusing on fraudulent and unethical practices in poetry contests, run by an angry librarian. I love the Internet.

08 December 2006

"Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?" Judging from the reviews of High Fidelity: The Musical, if you actually end up seeing this show, it'll probably be the latter.

07 December 2006

Recently, for the first time since college, I've been seeing a lot of movies alone, often in nearly empty matinees. It's a nice change of pace, and it makes me reflect on how movies can be shaped by the environment in which you see them. Obviously, there are certain movies that should only be seen with an audience. The Aristocrats, for example, is physically impossible to endure on DVD, without the safety and anonymity of a darkened theater, especially if you're watching it with anyone but a close friend. I'd also say that Borat should only be seen in a packed audience, preferably in Brooklyn. By contrast, The Fountain should only be seen in an empty auditorium. (One giggler in the room, and that whole beautiful, delicate, absurd movie would fall apart.)

Finally, Inland Empire, which I saw today, should only be seen alone, just so you aren't cornered into giving an opinion right after the credits roll. It's the weirdest movie that David Lynch has ever made, which means that it isn't the sort of thing you can figure out over a couple of cappuccinos. I'd be actively against any attempt to reduce it to a neat row of symbols. This isn't a puzzle, but a process, or a dream, an extended rhapsody on two sequences from Lynch's earlier films: Laura Dern's choked sobs near the end of Blue Velvet, and the last twenty minutes of Mulholland Drive, here transformed into an epic of nearly three hours. It's something of an endurance test, but it contains some of the most amazing stuff that Lynch has ever done. Like Blue Velvet, it evokes almost every emotion that you can feel at the movies. Just remember not to bring a date.

05 December 2006

Are libertarians the next big Democratic constituency?

Sebastian Mallaby reports that some Cato Institute wonk is suggesting that a libertarian-Democrat fusion might make sense in the future. The wonk, a man named Brink Lindsey, believes that there is a fundamental tension between libertarianism (small government, personal autonomy) and Christian Conservatism (Government promoting religious values). It's true that their alliance is slightly anomalous - southern conservatives have disliked the federal government for the past half century at least in part because liberals in DC forced them to adhere to different values.

George W. Bush was the perfect Republican presidential candidate in 2000 because he could bridge the divide between the small government people and the Christians, and he got both to vote for him. There are obvious fissures in the party, and the 2008 primary is going to lay them bare.

That said, I think that Lindsey (and Mallaby) are still going out on a limb with their next suggestion. Mallaby claims that libertarians should realistically stop trying to dismantle government and should just try to keep it from growing any more. And Democrats should be happy with what they have and just stop trying to grow the government. Once they do that, they'll be a happy supermajority, so the argument goes, because both oppose the Christian right on social issues.

The problem is that neither side wants that. Libertarians don't want to keep sending 40% of their income to the government, and most Democrats (the ones who believe in something besides getting elected) would like to strengthen the social safety net, especially in the realm of health care. I don't see these two sides being especially comfortable with each other.

One final note: My sneaking suspicion is that libertarianism is going to increase dramatically in scope over the next decade or so. I think that a large number of people under 40 are going to transform their famous apathy into general distrust of government. I don't see this as a good thing at all, but I think if these people believe in the government they would care more about who runs it. So this is not, in my opinion, an inconsequential debate at all. It could be that libertarians form a swing bloc that pushes both parties to support their policies.

04 December 2006

A New York Times writer who apparently lives on the planet Zorkon thinks that the Twins should sign Barry Bonds.