Clooney explains all

We just saw "Syriana" last night. Quite an eye-opener. It appears that the reason there's no democracy in Saudi Arabia or the other oil-rich states is (spoiler alert... sort of) because of a secret plot between the CIA and American oil companies! Sure, every once in a while some kind-hearted emir will try to bring democracy to his people, but we'll nip that effort right in the bud because we need the cheap oil and terrorism!!

It's a bit of a strange theory since, as far as I can see, in the real world the only leader the CIA seems to have any heart in undermining anymore is President Bush.

Seriously, I think I would have preferred to see "Underworld: Evolution". It probably would have a clearer view of the current geopolitical situation.


American Idol's early favorite? (I wouldn't know)

Paris Bennett audition on American Idol - I read about her in the New York Post. The video's a pleasure to watch, and she's probably the first auditionee hip enough to sing Brubeck (well, okay, Paul Desmond). This makes me want to watch the show, after they whittle it down to the actual ten.


NY on $10 a day

An interesting article in this week's New York Magazine: New York on $10 a Day. The reporter limited herself to just that much for a week, which meant a lot of walking around, and a bunch of scrounging, but also going to some interesting, varied free events around the city. $10 a day is not at all feasible, but she makes the obscure stuff sound neat.

UPDATE: Speaking of cool free events: Archives Listening Party tonight at 9! On the Lower East Side.

Well, not those three

Seeing Canada's election results last night, I couldn't help thinking about this old Economist cover:

One down, three to go?

As we now know, Spain was an anomaly (the cover's a little misleading - Aznar didn't run again; it was his party that was defeated). Since March 2004, Blair, Howard and Bush have all been re-elected; of the major leaders who opposed the Iraq War, though - Schroeder of Germany, Chirac of France, Putin of Russia, and Paul Martin of Canada - two have been voted out, and Chirac will most likely lose if he runs again (their elections are in 2007). Vladimir Putin, you could say, is the only leader able to survive taking an antiwar position. A little less cheekily, I'll say that with each election over the last few years we find that the developed world is turning more right-wing, and the adoption of anti-war, anti-American positions looks less like an act of principle and more like an act of desperation by leaders whose policies are otherwise unpopular.

(In Putin's case, what may have saved him is that being against the Iraq War wasn't at all an act of principle - he isn't a left-winger, he just wanted to keep his oil contracts.)

I don't mean to say that these elections prove that the Iraq War, or any other position, is justified - as you probably know, I have a whole bunch of political opinions that put me deeply in the minority, so I wouldn't argue that popularity equals rightness. But it's neat to see this trend, and to note how differently things turned out from how so many people expected they would.


Reaching for the security blanket

Of all the news coming out of Iran, the only part that's a tiny bit encouraging is this one: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Bashar al-Assad meet in Damascus in a "defiant show of solidarity". Hunkering down for solidarity with your one ally doesn't seem like the actions of someone who believes he's some kind of religious prophet and all set to declare nuclear Armageddon. Possibly if he were just thumbing his nose at the rest of the world he wouldn't even bother. Plus, that one ally ("Boy Assad", as Mark Steyn calls him) is hardly a pillar of strength; his continued rule looks shaky even over the next year.

I'd like to think it's a positive sign.


Travel photos roundup

Noah visits Hong Kong and Singapore.

Ken Wheaton visits New Orleans.

Petitedov visits Israel.

Jessica visits Israel.

Chainik Hocker visits Israel.

Karol visits the CORE awards (granted it's not much of a trip, since it was in New York - she did meet John Bolton, though)

A lot of people have been on trips to Israel lately, me included. Sounds like a good indicator for the Holy Land.

I also have some photos, from my trips to Israel and Bangkok, that I've meaning to post. Not like there aren't enough travel photos to be looked at now!


My five weird things

Okay, I've been tagged with another "meme". In this one you have to list five weird habits you have.

Thanks to this one's go-rounds I've learned that Petitedov is a compulsive teacher's pet class-talker, Karol is a lip gloss addict, Ari ...is too, Zelda drinks pickle juice, and Dawn stutters when she talks to someone who stutters. Was this a good idea, people?

And Ace feels "truly alive only on the dance floor". Well, that one I knew.

Doesn't this whole confessional thing seems tailor-made for women? I just don't think your average man wants to show off his actual neurotic habits.

Anyway, I don't think I have many interesting ones:

  1. When I listen to instrumental music or play back music in my head, I usually do out the solfège syllables for it (do-re-mi) at the same time. Since I've never heard of anyone else doing it, I'd assume this is a very weird habit.
  2. When I'm frustrated at work, I will sometimes talk right back to the computer screen. Actually, I will do this while programming at home too.
  3. Blogging... uh, that's kind of a weird habit.
  4. I can't go more than a day or so without wanting to check my email.

Okay, I'm running out of things here. I tend not to pick up that many real habits. I spent two summers ago basically trying to start smoking, and failed. I have short-term obsessions; like I haven't mentioned this before, but lately I've been on a big Wikipedia-editing kick. But who knows how much longer that'll last.

Not sending this to anyone else ('cause that's not how I roll). But if you're inspired to do your own, let me know by linking to me and I'll link back to you.


Clearing up the misconceptions

Random semi-political post here. Via Jane Galt, TigerHawk has a list of his "lefty thoughts" - opinions he has but supposedly shouldn't have as a right-winger. It's sort of long and meandering, but I thought this one was notable:
I don't really understand why people get so bent out of shape over porn. Or pot.

For some reason it's a widespread view that drug legalization and keeping smut legal are left-wing issues. I don't know how this came about - I've certainly never seen any evidence for it. Anecdotally, almost all the conservatives I personally know are social libertarians like me. Heck, I've smoked up with some of them. (That is to say, I would have, if such a thing were legal). Granted, that's not proof, but the track record of our political parties doesn't back up the story either. The only elected leaders I know of that have advocated legalizing drugs are Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, and Congressman Ron Paul; both Republicans (though Paul is really a libertarian). Other than him I've never heard any elected leader, from the most die-hard Republican to the granol-iest Democrat, say a word in favor of drug legalization or against the war on drugs. As for demagoguery on obscenity, it's an equal-opportunity job: for every Lynne Cheney there's a Tipper Gore. I've never seen "public decency" on any GOP issues list; I would assume it must have shown up in some party platforms in, say, 1955. But then again it was probably on the Democrats' as well.

Do the conservatives of the heartland feel more negatively about pornography than people on the coasts? Maybe. Do they favor any more government action to curb it? Haven't seen the evidence.

I think clearing up this misconception would go some way toward improving understanding between the political sides. Well, maybe.


Blog links update

I updated some of the links at the right: new URL's for Kesher Talk and Chainik Hocker (who's back to blogging), and I removed the links to the now-defunct Executive Slacks, delbrians, Ivan Lenin, Material Squirrel and Occam's Toothbrush. Let me know if you want your link restored or you've moved or whatever.


Critical condition

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a massive stroke earlier today. Whether or not he makes it out alive, this will spell a big change in Israeli politics; he was on his way to revolutionizing Israel twice in as many years (last year it was the Gaza pullout; this year he formed a new political party, Kadima, that became Israel's most popular party on inception). I have a feeling he'll make it out of this one; he's nothing if not a fighter. Let's hope so. And when/if he does, I hope he starts hitting the SlimFast in a serious way. With extreme prejudice, as they say.


"There were horses, and a man on fire, and I killed a guy with a trident"

The WFMU blog has a video of a brawl between two competing Russian soccer teams. Or teams and their fans. Not clear. Maybe "brawl" is the wrong word too, because it really just looks like a well-organized battle. In the middle of a parking lot. I don't know that I've ever seen a real-life large-scale confrontation shown this clearly.

Deeply disturbing. And by that I mean "awesome".

Via Peter.

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