Let's never

Here's the strangest paragraph from John Kerry's speech:
I want to address these next words directly to President George W. Bush: In the weeks ahead, let's be optimists, not just opponents. Let's build unity in the American family, not angry division. Let's honor this nation's diversity; let's respect one another; and let's never misuse for political purposes the most precious document in American history, the Constitution of the United States.

It's strange because previously in the same speech he accused President Bush of lying to the American people, trampling on the constitution, starting the war in Iraq for oil and acting at the behest of the Saudis. Okay, he didn't explicitly say these things, but he used the formulation "when I'm president I guarantee I won't lie to the American people," etc. etc. You know what he means.

Then, in this paragraph, there's the call for civility and respect in politics.

Then there's the last clause of the paragraph, which I guess would count as another attack on Bush except I don't even understand what he means. You can ignore the Constitution, certainly, but what does it mean to "misuse" it? The Supreme Court could do that, but I don't see how the President could. What misuse is he talking about?

Kerry, as I understand, spent months and months working on this speech. I think he needs a better editor.

UPDATE: As commenter Dave points out, the last part is Kerry-speak for "Mr. Bush, I resent you for trying to force me to vote against the anti-gay-marriage amendment."


Dirty Meryl

The New York Post says the new movie The Village is not-so-secretly a Bush-bashing polemic: "...the scares are very strictly rationed in what amounts to a heavy-handed political allegory about leaders who - without getting into any details - stir up fear (and restrict freedoms) to further their agenda. In case anyone misses Shyamalan's target, the chief leader's name is Walker - and the director goes to extraordinary lengths to mention the name, which also happens to be the middle name of a contemporary politician."

Curiously, that's the same story about the upcoming remake of The Manchurian Candidate, which features a manipulative leader who uses fear of terrorism to control the populace. In case it wasn't obvious enough, Meryl Streep has claimed that her portrayal is modelled on Republicans Karen Hughes and Peggy Noonan.

It's tempting to pin this outpouring of vitriol on an out-of-touch liberal entertainment industry. On the other hand, perhaps they're just playing to an audience. There certainly is a market for hatred of Bush and the war on terror (however ill-founded), as the careers of Al Franken and Michael Moore have proven. And certainly in the 70's Hollywood did understand its audience, with a whole host of politically-motivated movies (Dirty Harry, Death Wish, First Blood (aka Rambo I), and many others) that played to right-wing frustrations and anticipated the desire for a restorative figure like Ronald Reagan.

So, are these movies part of a groundswell of righteous left-wing fervor? Or just meaningless propaganda produced by Kerry's rich Hollywood backers? I guess we'll only know when the box-office receipts come in.


It’s been a bloody stupid day
My baby called me up to say
"Don’t call me love, don’t call me"
It’s not all she said

I truly love her but I know
I’m bad for her, I’m bad and so
At least she may forgive me for my honesty

My friend came back from being abroad
He was rich and I was overawed
His ship came in
I’m standing on the harbor wall

Another friend, the one I love
Turns to me, "have you seen enough?
Let’s hang about
There’s nothing like a sunset here tonight"

It’s been a bloody stupid day
(Don’t leave the light on, baby)
My baby called me up to say
(Don’t leave the light, on baby
I’ll see you sometime, maybe
Don’t leave the light on, baby)
It finally dawned on me tonight
Best to go down without a fight
I know you will forgive me for my honesty

Belle and Sebastian, "Don't Leave the Light On, Baby"

UPDATE: Excess commentary removed.

My sources say no

The one nice thing that's come out of the current Democratic Convention is the opportunity for me to revisit one of my old horse-race predictions; here's what I wrote five months ago, after Wesley Clark dropped out of the Democratic nomination race: "Next to drop out: Dean, followed by Edwards. Kucinich and Sharpton will stay in up until the convention." As is par for the course, my predictive abilities were spotty: I was right about the order, but wrong about Kucinich and Sharpton: they both conceded before the convention, the cowards!

I currently have only one running prediction on this site that I know of, which is that Kerry won't win more than 10 states, with an addendum that I'd be surprised if he got more than two.

Actually in May I guessed informally that Air America only had three more months of existence to go. That now looks like an underestimate, but que sera and so forth.


Sign o' the times

It appears that the protestor last witnessed by Jessica at New Vintage goading the attendees at Clinton's book-release party has now managed to get former Senator and 9/11 commissioner Bob Kerrey to unleash a torrent of profanities his way. At least I'm assuming it's the same guy, judging by the... uniquely-phrased sign. He sure knows how to get people riled up.

Via QandO, which also links to a video (I haven't seen it).

Veggie beast

Thanks to an online poll, PETA has decided on this year's sexiest vegetarians: they're Outkast's Andre 3000 (male) and Alicia Silverstone (female). The full list of "nominees" is interesting, because there are a lot of names I hadn't seen before (Ghostface Killah?)

This, by the way, is the only time of the year I'll quote PETA approvingly on anything, because those guys are out of control.

Via New Yorkish.

I'm back at my cliff

What a nice morning surprise... it appears that access to Blogger at work has been re-activated, thank the Lord! It may have been my gently-worded "please restore access" email that did the trick... sometimes you just have to ask.


Ordinary delusions

Score another one for the "Wisdom of Crowds" theory: Slate has an interesting article about a new paper that claims that Dutch tulip-bulb mania, the standard example of an irrational investment bubble, was actually a rational response to financial rule-changing by the Dutch legislature. It was done to help save well-connected Dutch investors from losing a lot of money in the tulip market, but had the side effect of turning every tulip bought into a nearly risk-free "tulip option", by government mandate. Prices went up about twenty-fold.

It brings to mind a recent quote by Jane Galt: "when there's something puzzlingly, inextricably wrong, you need generally look no further than the government to find out what's causing it."

Via kottke.org.

I'll be gone till Monday. Enjoy the "Summer of Mike"!


Not amn't

From an interesting essay on the merits of laissez-fair over "prescriptivism" in English language correctness, at God of the Machine:
"Ain't I" was a perfectly acceptable and euphonious usage 150 years ago — it shows up in Henry James — until the schoolmarms got wind of it and began to insist on "am I not," or worse, the illogical "aren't I."

Makes a lot of sense.

...found on a random traipse.

It's a light and tumble journey

I'm posting this from home. As was pointed out in the comments, I can write things during the day and then post them when I get home, but I haven't gotten into the swing of that yet. Also, Plan B plans are definitely underway.

What's been going on since my hiatus? In world news, it looks like Wilson's pants are still on fire, Berger's pants contained, then lost, national security documents, and the UN pants at the thought of an unprotected Israel.

Also, the province of Canada allowed Al-Jazeera in but still censors Fox News.

In personal news, last night I was at Red Bamboo, in Greenwich Village, for the first time, which I think ranks at the top with Angelica Kitchen among strictly vegetarian Manhattan restaurants. I very much recommend it, especially if you're into the meat substitutes, which are their specialty. The buffalo wings (with vegan blue cheese sauce) appetizer is fantastic.

Also, I've been having an erratic sleep schedule. Maybe it's blog-related stress, or general work-related stress, or it's from some other source of stress, I don't know. Probably not blog-related, because it's happened over all of the last week. My vacation time is overdue, is probably the real issue.


Spiderman 2

I saw Spiderman 2 last weekend, and I have to give a recommendation for this well-paced, emotionally-charged movie. It was better than the first one in just about every aspect. It's more mature and less "zippy", and all the CGI scenes, which were sort of crappy in the original, look more believable (although he still jumps between the buildings too fast, in my opinion).

Being a Joseph Campbell enthusiast, I was pleased by how many elements of the hero myth found their way into the movie: the hero reluctantly called to battle, the absent or deceased father-figure (Uncle Ben), the symbolic death and rebirth of the hero (Peter Parker loses, then regains, his superpowers), the hero's subsequent enlightenment about his role in the world (he realizes he must remain Spiderman despite the personal hardships it would cause), and a symbolic reunion with the father-figure (Peter has another conversation with Uncle Ben in a dream sequence). It's always nice to see these elements re-explored in contemporary fiction.

I don't think I gave away anything super-critical to the movie there.

Plus his landlord's daughter was hot, maybe even hotter than the oh-so-perky Mary Jane. I hope we see more of her in films to come. Maybe it's just my Eastern European bias (the character is possibly a Jew, don't know about the actress).


John Kerry clenches his fist, puts on a righteous grimace, and tries to wow 'em with an all-out Black Power salute, '68-style, in front of the NAACP.

I can't decide, is this photo more deeply insulting to black people or white people? I'd have to give the edge to black people, this act being both patronizing and utterly out-of-touch. On the other hand, he's striking a pose associated with black militancy against White America, which as a white person I naturally find upsetting.


Truth revealed

I have to admit, I haven't been following the whole Wilson/Plame/Novak/Niger/uranium/16 words story very closely over the last year, besides seeing an episode of The Daily Show with Joe Wilson as a guest (and he did seem much too pleased with himself to be a credible source). Somehow Joe Wilson and his wife were the latest victims of the current administration's witch hunt against anyone who would dissent against the Iraq war. It's the type of he-said-she-said stuff that's two or three levels removed from my political interests.

Anyway, Christopher Hitchens sums up the recent revelations that, as far as anyone knows, Wilson lied, Bush told the truth, and the Iraqis did try to obtain uranium yellowcake from Niger.

McDonald's is the place to rock
It is a restaurant where they buy food to eat
It is a good place to listen to the music
People flock here to get down to the rock music

Rock and Roll McDonald's!
Rock and Roll McDonald's!
Rock and Roll McDonald's!
Rock and Roll McDonald's!

McDonald's will make you fat
They serve Big Macs
They serve Quarter-Pounders
They will put pounds on you

Rock and Roll McDonald's!
Rock and Roll McDonald's!
Rock and Roll McDonald's!
Rock and Roll McDonald's!

McDonald's hamburgers are the worst
They are worse than Burger King
A Big Mac has 26 grams of fat
A Quarter-Pounder has 28 grams of fat

Rock and Roll McDonald's!
Rock and Roll McDonald's!
Rock and Roll McDonald's!
Rock and Roll McDonald's!

Rock over London, rock on Chicago:
Wheaties, breakfast of champions.

Wesley Willis, "Rock and Roll McDonald's"

...speaking of Wesley Willis.


Out of bed like Brian Wilson

Last night I was at the inaugural event of the Archives Music Project. We heard the Beach Boys album "Smile", which American genius Brian Wilson was halfway through creating when he suffered his mental breakdown. It was never completed and never fully released (although much of it's been released in one form or another, including "Good Vibrations"); Brian Wilson sat out most of the 70's, 80's and 90's, then spent last year finishing it and now it's about to be re-released. We heard it first. My verdict: it sounds good, it's a lot like "Pet Sounds", but as played by some sort of psychedelic busking band. I hope to hear it again.

There was a good turnout, including a bunch of people I know, and some who read about it in Time Out New York. It's planned to be a regular happening so I hope to be back. However, a man has certain expectations, and if the organizers don't see fit to include either The Shaggs, Wesley Willis, or "Into Outer Space with Lucia Pamela" in upcoming events I will assume there is some sort of conspiracy afoot and will be forced to act accordingly.

(Pictured at right is a theremin, of course.)

UPDATE: I guess I should have a correction here: Mike D, who unlike me actually knows things about music from the 60's and 70's, says that Smile was mostly canned for financial and legal reasons, and that Brian Wilson was still active musically in the early part of the 70's.


We're not scaremongering

I hate to start another flame war (who knew so many people liked the minimum wage?), and I really feel like posting song lyrics again, but anyway here goes: The Utter Waste Of Recycling by Alan Caruba. What do you people think? It certainly corroborates stories I've heard about NYC recycling mostly going to wast. I've been thinking about this recently because other tenants in my building keep harassing us about putting cardboard boxes and glass jars and such in the trash. I mean, I really try to recycle, and I've been into the concept of recycling for a long time, but sometimes things slip and I'd like to feel that all the effort I'm putting in has some actual value.


A day at the Cloisters

Over the weekend I finally visited the Cloisters with some other people. It's been six years that I've been meaning to go but finally it happened.

The Cloisters were built in the 1920's and 30's and were clearly conceived before the advent of mass tourism, back when it made perfect sense to just ship in a set of structures from medieval-era monasteries from around Europe and rebuild them in Upper Manhattan; it was the only way that most East Coasters could see Old World artifacts for themselves. It would be unimagineable for such a thing to be created today, for better or for worse.

The architecture is very nice and well-maintained: it really reminds me of its various authentic counterparts in Europe, and the artwork hanging on the walls is very nice too, a lot of pietas and the like.

Also, this being a small world we live in, I ran into an ex of mine from college who it turns out now works there on the weekends; it's always something, as they say.

No limit

Economist Steven Landsburg writes about the minimum wage. He says that the usual justification (that it's a job-killer) is false, claiming that there's no statistical evidence that it impacts low-paying jobs. Actually, he admits that there have been "dozens of published studies" that show that it does lead to fewer low-paying jobs, but then weakly states that there must a much greater number of unpublished studies that show no correlation. He doesn't bother to offer any direct evidence of that; it's a very bizarre unsupported argument for a professional economist to make.

Nevertheless, he still objects to the minimum wage, on the grounds that, as opposed to a general welfare program, in which all taxpayers shoulder the burden for financially supporting the poor, "the minimum wage places the entire burden on one small group: the employers of low-wage workers and, to some extent, their customers." It's like an unfair, you could say regressive, taxation system.

I think both of these reasons are valid, and I too object to the minimum wage, although mostly for a third, moral reason: if person A and person B enter an agreement in which one agrees to pay the other a certain amount for a certain amount work done, what right do "the people" have to get involved and decide the amount of pay is too low and the transaction shouldn't be allowed to occur?


The first victim

Daniel Lewin was the TA in a network algorithms class I took in college. The next year he co-founded Akamai, the web data-caching company that was valued at billions of dollars after its IPO in 1999. He was en route to a business trip on American Airlines flight 11, which was hijacked and crashed into the WTC's north tower on Sept. 11. The speculation, based on some circumstantial evidence, is that he fought back against the hijackers, using training he had gained while serving in an elite commando unit in the Israel army, and they killed him while onboard the flight. Thus he's sometimes referred to as "the first victim of 9/11".

Last week his remains were finally identified.


Salsa class update

I had my 2nd salsa class yesterday evening; it went very well. I've learned a whole bunch of basic moves and spins after only two hour-long sessions. After two more of these I think I'll be ready to hold on my own on the dance floor.

One of the many nice things about dancing, that I was re-reminded of yesterday, is that you can find out a lot about personal chemistry between you and the other person in a very short period of time. You get a sense for who they are as a social being.

Salsa music is phenomenal too. I love the non-stop nature of it, it reminds me of gears constantly turning.

Still acting up

DMX is under arrest for... well, it's an impressive list: assault, car theft, impersonating an FBI agent, possession of drugs. He faces up to seven years in prison.

This is sad. I always liked DMX, especially that song "What's My Name?"; he has a very good rhythmic sense.

Mystikal, another great rapper with a distinct vocal style, is serving a six-year sentence for sexual assault. Also very sad. I mean, it's good that he's doing the time, it's sad that he committed the felony in the first place and put himself out of commission.

Maybe it's the rappers who shout more than they actually rap that you have to watch out for. Come to think of it, ODB aka Dirt McGirt, who also fits the profile, was also in jail for, let me look it up... two years, on drug charges. Maybe there's a pattern here, I don't know, it's just a theory.


France perpetuates more needless suffering

France, motivated by financial interests, blocks action at the UN, taking the side of a genocidal dictatorship against the U.S. Only it's not Iraq this time, it's the Sudan.

Execution of a chump

Saddam Hussein dead pool. Seems like good clean fun. My guess is, factoring in the circus atmosphere and the difficult job it'll be for the local Judge Lance al-Ito to keep things moving forward... maybe around early October '04. Though to paraphrase an old joke, I can predict he'll die on an Iraqi holiday.

A bin Laden dead pool would be fun too, although it might have to be retroactive, for those like me who suspect he's already a smear on a cave wall somewhere.

Via Allah.


Quick hits

It's Edwards

Kerry picks first-term senator John Edwards as his VP candidate. It was probably the best choice he could have made, even though I think Edwards is wrong about NAFTA, wrong about protectionism, wrong about school vouchers, tort reform and health care. He seems reasonable on foreign policy (though he did bizarrely vote against the $87 billion Iraq package), and he seems more charismatic and less dour than probably anyone else in the Democratic party. If he can detract attention from the rhetorical holes Kerry is prone to digging himself into, he'll be a worthwhile addition for that reason alone.

Just enough for the city

Highlights of last weekend:


"Wary or nuanced"

The New York Times argues against a planned Senate vote on Bush's proposed anti-gay-marriage amendment:
The amendment had been slated for consideration after the election, at the earliest. But with their slender majority power increasingly threatened, G.O.P. strategists clearly hope to squeeze some Democrats — Senator John Kerry included — who are wary or nuanced about the issue to provide attack-ad scripts for the campaign.

Wow. I must admit, it's news to me that Kerry doesn't want to take a stand on the amendment. To Bush-haters, the proposed amendment is an obvious sign that Bush is dangerously in thrall to the Christian right. It does seem, on the surface, like a pretty extreme step to take: enshrining the illegalization of gay marriage as a permanent part of the U.S. constitution. As the opinion piece notes, there's no chance of the amendment getting ratified by the states. Yet Kerry would prefer to keep silent even on this matter.

(Via Best of the Web.)


Why should I be standing in line

Evan Coyne Maloney has a new video up, interviewing people at Clinton's book signing. Hey, Bill, write a boring book if you want to, but don't piss off the Israeli Avril Lavigne fans! They waited a long time in line for the wrong person. I'm warning you, this can end in no good; Nader could tell you that.

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