Friday, May 29, 2009

Quote of the Day: Insiders

Bill Kristol:
Safe rule of American politics: Two-thirds of “GOP Insiders” are never right.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

CNN's Borger willfully ignorant of Soto criticism

I'll say this up front, I fully expect Sotomayor to be confirmed barring any serious new revelations. This is a post about media laziness and bias.

In a blog post entitled "'Empathy' is not a dirty word", Gloria Borger acknowledged the conservative argument against empathy then very unconvincingly tried to ignore those arguments. Then she displayed how little serious work she had put into her rambling:

Borger:
And then there's this: Can anyone point to a pattern in Sotomayor's opinions which are based more on 'empathy' than the law? Of course not.

Well, Borger clearly didn't go to the Heritage Foundation's website, or casually browse National Review Online or any other well established conservative haunts. That would require... uh... work. And it would have revealed talk of the Ricci v. DeStefano case going back to October of 2008 -- that would be the "white (and Hispanic) firefighters" case.

But had she perused The New Frickin' Republic she might have noticed accusations of bullying, sloppy legal reasoning, and poor temperament.

TNR:
The most consistent concern was that Sotomayor, although an able lawyer, was "not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench," as one former Second Circuit clerk for another judge put it. "She has an inflated opinion of herself, and is domineering during oral arguments, but her questions aren't penetrating and don't get to the heart of the issue." (During one argument, an elderly judicial colleague is said to have leaned over and said, "Will you please stop talking and let them talk?")

[...]

Her opinions, although competent, are viewed by former prosecutors as not especially clean or tight, and sometimes miss the forest for the trees.

[...]

Some former clerks and prosecutors expressed concerns about her command of technical legal details: In 2001, for example, a conservative colleague, Ralph Winter, included an unusual footnote in a case suggesting that an earlier opinion by Sotomayor might have inadvertently misstated the law in a way that misled litigants.

[...]

[The 2nd Circuit panel ruling on the Ricci case] provoked Judge Cabranes, a fellow Clinton appointee, to object to the panel's opinion that contained "no reference whatsoever to the constitutional issues at the core of this case."


After reading Rosen's reporting in TNR one is left to conclude that Sotomayor is either not terribly intelligent or that she's the sort of emotional flake that makes a bad judge. I'm not inclined to call a graduate of Yale Law and Princeton undergrad dim, but neither prospect excites me.

Ms. Borger -- it's called Google. Use it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Coulter pwns Carville re: Soto

It's sad how Carville resorts to non sequitur and ad hominem attacks against Rush Limbaugh, Ann, and Alberto Gonzales. Sotomayor is indefensible on the merits.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Soto

Ace and crew (and many others) have been doing a good job at criticizing Sotomayor, so I'm not going to hack through everything here and reinvent the wheel.

This video is getting a lot of attention:


Now, the dirty little secret about philosophy of law is that there isn't a good way around the idea that judges, at least on occasion do make new law. Even the most conservative/originalist/positivist/whatever-ist judge, when faced with a true stumper, makes new law.

The difference is that liberal judges see this not as a bug, but a feature! Novel theories about liberty or justice are so flexible as to justify virtually anything the jurist desires. With Obama's appointment of Sotomayor we've discarded even the facade of intellectual justification for activism, opting instead for "empathy" and her life experience as a Latina.

Personally, I am much more offended by the reverse racism Sotomayor has displayed. But I'm not surprised by it. She's exactly the sort of person Obama is going to pick every chance he gets.

Oh, and somebody tell Miguel Estrada that it's cool to be a Latino nominee again, and that non-majority life experiences are important to good jurisprudence.

So, this Senator from Pennsyltucky casts a protest vote against Soto's nomination, though I'm not sure any other Obama nominee would be better.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Guano

Dilbert's hit or miss. This one's a hit in my book.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Terminator

I can't give Terminator: Salvation the same praise I gave Star Trek. If you're on the fence about whether to see this flick, take a pass. It's not terrible, but it's debatable whether it's worth 130 minutes of your life.

I overlooked certain faults in Star Trek that made it less realistic, such as the fortuitous chain of events that connected Kirk with Scotty and brought them to the Enterprise. I'm less forgiving of Terminator. Maybe I'm being a little overly nuanced, but the idealized and distant future of Star Trek allows a more fantastic vision than a dark film of the Terminator line, dystopic and set in the not too distant future.

The movie starts out fine, but a few events really took me out of the moment.

...minor spoilers...

John traipsing around with the secret weapon on a USB thumb-drive? Central Command is filled with pushovers... "Hey John, you don't obey orders, you're basically a cult leader and a loose cannon in general, but you're going to be in charge of testing the secret weapon that could make or break humanity. Here ya go. Oh, and if you fail we could all be dead within the week. Toodles!"

Perhaps the least believable moment in the film, Blair's decision to free Marcus?

And maybe it's just me, but didn't the Skynet processing/detention area have too much of a "secret dungeon lair" feel to it? A few too many random gas flares for my taste.

The CGI is great throughout the film... except we still can't render live people just yet. Since there was no compelling reason to render the particular person they chose to render, the fact that it was a little rough around the edges detracts from the realism.

Weren't they a little too close for that detonation at the end? And by a little too close, I mean about a mile too close.

I won't even get into the ending, but suffice it to say it was a little sappy for my taste.

I wasn't thrilled with the casting of Christan Bale as John Connor. His voice was a little less scratchy than in Batman, but sounds like he still needs some Ricola. Looks like we're stuck with him though.

I give the film an official rating of "meh"--- Ok, "meh-plus".

(Don't ask me how many thumbs that is.)

EDIT (5/26): National Review's take on Terminator reminded me of something John Connor said that I didn't care for: "The best the film can do in the way of humanizing its characters is to have Connor announce that humans do not make decisions based on 'cold calculation.'"

I know the writers of Salvation couldn't "chase plot threads" from The Sarah Connor Chronicles, but an unmistakable development in John's character in TV series was that he was decreasingly trusting of humans with their inherent faults and more trusting of his captured and reprogrammed machines. I don't want to say I "liked" this cold and calculating John Connor, but I agreed with it to some extent and thought it was a natural development.

Also, this film is apparently being called a "prequel", which is a virtually meaningless term in a universe routinely changed by time travel. It occurs at a later date than any Terminator so far and introduces a new Terminator model not discussed in any prior Terminator film.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What if Bush Did It: VDH edition

Victor Davis Hanson gives us a first class WIBDI criticism of the media:
For the last eight years, rendition (hey, they even made a hit-piece movie about the supposedly awful practice), intercepts, military tribunals, and Iraq were sort of the refrains of the liberal-media choruses. Looking back, in light of the Obama media, was such hysteria simply politics, pure and simple? Bush did it: bad; Obama did it: fine? Was the issue always just Bush, and never (as alleged) the Bush profligacy in spending — given the silence now over Obama's crazed borrowing? Was there never any real concern about the supposed "cultural of corruption" when the media seized on a Tom DeLay, Duke Cunningham, Mark Foley, etc. — given the pass granted to Rangel, Dodd, and the tax-fraud nominations to the Cabinet.

In other words, to pick up any of these magazines and newspapers now is to see tortured apologies...


I disagree with him about this though:
Perhaps the media doesn't get it that the American people can more easily take the bias of an attack-dog, go-for-the jugular media that claims it is the watchdog of the public trust and therefore must skin the president, far more than such carnivores suddenly becoming sheepish and obsequious, as ministers of truth, rephrasing and repackaging the party line.


VDH has far more faith than I do in the ability of the American people, centrist voters in particular, to see through this.

CAFE Consequences

Does Obama really believe this stuff, or is he just grasping for more control?

The proposed CAFE standards will not reduce gasoline consumption, it will probably increase consumption as the marginal utility of gasoline will be higher. So, no joy on the whole carbon output thing.

And with the higher marginal utility of fuel, people will commute farther to work. More cars on the road. More congestion. More infrastructure wear and tear.

More sprawl. More urban flight.

More traffic fatalities, possibly more Americans killed per year than in six years of the Iraq war. (h/t AoSHQ)

That's not to say there won't be some good that will come of this, just that there's a whole crapload of bad that is part and parcel with this mandate, and it really won't address what they're telling us it will address - carbon output.

I take little comfort from the fact that the auto companies "agreed" to the new CAFE standards since two of the Big Three are wards of the state.

No, this appears to be a power grab -- a way to force people to buy cars they wouldn't otherwise want to buy in order to satisfy political dogma.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Trek

The new Star Trek film is being billed as the first Star Trek for everybody. Well, maybe not everybody. Let's go with "for anybody vaguely interested in sci-fi action".

Prerequisite knowledge for Star Trek:
You have to be vaguely aware of the major characters, Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Uhura, you have to know generally what a Vulcan is, what the Federation is, and that's about it.

Sure, Sulu, Chekov, Scotty, and even Captain Pike are there, but their presence isn't a central focus of the movie. Bones' presence is prominent, but he's less important than might have been said about the original television series. The Platonic triumvirate of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy does not exist here. This is the Kirk and Spock show.

The aesthetic has been changed greatly from prior Treks. The musical score (with a notable exception) does not make heavy-handed references to prior themes. The special effects, particularly warp drive and transporter, have been updated markedly. Great efforts have been taken to make sure this is not your father's Star Trek.

I'm about to engage in some major spoilage, so anything below the banner should probably be avoided by those who haven't seen the film. But before I do that, I'll just say that it's arguably the best Star Trek film made yet. That's not to say it's going to win any academy awards, but if you like this sort of thing, you'll like Star Trek.

Star Trek Banner

The opening scene is magnificently epic. The (near) silence of space was a welcome quasi-reality check and allowed for pauses in the dramatic musical score - the pause that refreshes. Everything up to the loss of the USS Kelvin is in-and-of-itself worth the entire price of admission.

That overwhelming first burst of pure awesome is then followed by a tween-age James Tiberius Kirk joyriding in his stepfather's "antique" sports car, jamming out to the Beastie Boys' Sabotage. One cannot help but love this miscreant young Kirk, who unsurprisingly grows up to be an incorrigible jackass - but you still love him.

The parallel scenes of young Spock were also well done and informative of Spock's inner struggle. A rage brews inside of Spock, and on the occasions when the pressure-cooker bursts the outcome is chaotic, animal fury.

I've seen a lot of praise of Zachary Quinto's portrayal of Spock. I have nothing bad to say about him, but I've never thought playing a Vulcan would be a particularly hard role. He certainly looks the part of Spock, so he's half-way there once he gets his ears put on in make-up.

The initial "awesome" carries most of the movie. The audience barely notices the campy bits of Trek self-reference thrown in to amuse the fan-boys.

The appearance of Spock-Prime is not nearly as dramatic as I think the writers had intended. Nimoy's age has finally caught up to him, and the frail Spock-Prime waving off the giant bug monster with a teensy torch was more unbelievable than faster-than-light travel.

The momentum is basically carried through to the end, where we get some more buzzkill in the denouement. Spock-Prime's conversation with Quinto's Spock injects an unwelcome twist of illogical motivation into Spock-Prime's earlier scene with Kirk. Spock was willing to risk the destruction of the Federation over a desire to see young Kirk and young Spock develop a friendship. Really? That's the sort of campy humanism Gene Roddenberry might have approved of, but my inner nerd felt the "Die, Wesley, Die!" impulse.

To put a final bit of lameness on the film, they pulled out the old theme music and had Nimoy do a "final frontier" voice-over. During the opening sequence and the first scene with the USS Kelvin I was really glad they hadn't used heavy-handed musical throwbacks. Rebooting the series requires a "no lameness" rule. Using the essentially unadulterated original score was jarring amidst the new aesthetic of the movie.

Still, it was a very enjoyable bit of sci-fi. If you've ever watched a Star Trek movie and thought it was the slightest bit agreeable you'll like this one for sure.

Whether Paramount will be successful in "rebooting" the Star Trek universe has yet to be seen. Supposedly work is being done on a sequel penciled in for 2011 and the actors have been signed to two more pictures. That might work. Translating this into television might be more difficult as the bar has been set fairly high for production value and overall quality.

Friday, May 15, 2009

On Categorizing Obama

Conservatives need to separate the intellectual desire to categorize the ideology of Barack Obama and the Washington Democrats from the electoral imperative that they be very cautious about doing so.

There's a resolution before the RNC to categorize the Democrat(ic) party as "The Democrat Socialist Party". How moronic. The Democrat/Democratic thing sorta tweaks Democrats and the media, so I find it sort of benignly amusing. But this Dem-Socialist thing is the wrong thing at the wrong time. No swing or independent voter is going to be "educated" by this, and Republicans ought to have learned by now that any public initiative that is borderline or half-baked will not work once it goes through the media grinder. To put this in terms Yogi Berra might approve, if it's fifty-fifty it probably won't work. This seems to be short of fifty-fifty.

On the other hand, the recent celebration of one hundred days of glory has prompted some renewed efforts among the punditry to categorize POTUS-44. Jim Geraghty's excellent NR piece, The Alinsky Administration, examines Obama's actions and discounts the idea that Obama is particularly ideological in favor of the idea that he is power-seeking in the Alinksy mode.

I can't argue with the idea that Obama's methods have been textbook Alinsky, or with the idea that he's essentially power-seeking. For an administration claiming it doesn't want to "run the banks", "run the car companies", etc., I'd say replacing CEOs, capping salaries, destroying the bankruptcy capital structure, setting advertising levels, and killing product lines looks an awful lot like "running" these businesses.

But Obama doesn't strike me as the type who seeks power merely for its own sake. The Clintonite "because I can" hedonistic power trip of interns and cigars is unlikely to repeat itself with this President. Obama seeks power in order to further his ideological agenda. That Obama has occasionally stopped short of ideological purity from time to time should not be an indication that the underlying ideology does not exist, but rather that he's the incrementalist neo-Fabian socialist I've always thought he was. Go as far as you can, and no further, re-setting the baseline at every step.

Furthermore, the ways in which Obama has disappointed his fellow partisans haven't been in ways that dissuade me from thinking he's a Fabian. His flip flops have mostly been on national security issues such as rendition, military tribunals, prisoner detention, and the sudden lack of interest in pulling out of Iraq. Frankly, these are all areas where virtually any historical progressive, socialist, or fascist leader would have approved of Obama's actions. (Wilson, FDR, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Mussolini, etc.) I can't think of a single economic issue on which he's moderated.

Am I being hypocritical in calling Obama a socialist while saying the RNC shouldn't? I don't think so. The RNC is engaged in a fundamentally different activity than I am.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Worst Gov in Country for SCOTUS?

Are you kidding me, Jennifer Granholm for Supreme Court?

Granholm has got to be in contention for the worst governor in the country, right up there with Schwarzenegger and Rendell.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Hello sixty buck oil

The NYMEX Lt. Sweet Crude June futures contract blipped up to $60.08 in early trading today. The August through November contracts are all currently above $60.

This with the deepest recession in a generation and real unemployment in the neighborhood of 10%.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

All Hail Joss

Sci-fi routinely deals with deeply philosophical questions in a way other genres just can't. The Mind-Body Problem and related issues of identity and personhood are forefront in the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, the Borg race from the Star Trek franchise, the original Star Trek movie, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, The Matrix, Blade Runner, Terminator: Salvation (from what I gather from the ad campaign), and probably a dozen more I can't recall at the moment.

The season finale of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse series on Fox takes the mind-body problem, shakes it, turns it completely inside out, and sets it on fire. Individual episodes of Dollhouse might have been shaky, but the finale "Omega" was brilliant.

Self-aware dolls apart from their original selves or their imprints, references to Nietzche's √úbermensch concept, and the absurdity of Echo chasing down the "wedge" (hard drive) holding her original persona... what's not to like?

I'm not a full-bore Joss-o-phile, never watched Buffy or Angel, and thought Firefly was good but significantly shy of great. This, I'm all on board with.

Which, of course, means it will be canceled promptly.

==============

UPDATE: 5/11 - Dollhouse didn't do too well in the E! "Save One Show" poll.
Terminator- 53%
Chuck - 25%
Dollhouse- 10%
Life- 8%
Privileged- 4%

(via Jonah Goldberg, who is apparently pro-Terminator)

This would have been a tough pick for me. I'm very pro Terminator and Dollhouse. I like Chuck, but think it's run its course and would suffer if extended. I wouldn't have thought Dollhouse was in such jeopardy just yet, but then again, it is Fox we're talking about here.

To paraphrase the Robert Oppenheimer/the Bhagavad Gita, "Now I am become Fox, destroyer of awesome shows."

Friday, May 08, 2009

Babylon 5 Star a Radio Talker

I thought I recognized Jerry Doyle on CNBC... he played Michael Garibaldi on the sci-fi TV cult classic Babylon 5.

Now he's an "independent conservative" radio talk show host.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Shame on Tom Ridge

He couldn't just gracefully decline to run for Senate, he had to go on Tweety's show and bad mouth the party.

(Bill Pascoe's blog piece is interesting in its own right, but I'm citing it because he's summarized and partially transcribed the Hardball dialog.)

Ridge complained that the party wasn't inclusive enough on social issues, doing his very best Christie Whitman impersonation. Of course, the party was inclusive enough to send Ridge to Congress for a few terms, elect him Governor twice, and put up with Arlen Specter for nearly three decades (until he left).

Is this the same sort of intolerant Republican Party where a televangelist like Pat Robertson endorsed the very pro-choice, Planned-Parenthood-donating, public-funds-for-abortion, adulterer Rudy Giuliani?

But we've already put this baby to bed. Specter's departure was the direct result of a fiscal policy vote. Multiple generations of voters who had previously supported him were rejecting him over that vote. His opponent ran an organization that was involved solely with fiscal issues, not social issues.

To twist the knife, Ridge wouldn't commit to supporting Toomey in a Toomey versus Specter general election. I can see how he would hedge on the primary election given that Asher and Gleason are no doubt scrambling for another candidate, but to hedge on support in the general election? Who's acting in bad faith and being exclusionary now?

Shame on you, Governor Ridge, for lying about your party and for abandoning it should you not get your way.

Ruffini on the variety of moderates

I basically agree with Patrick Ruffini here (with only one or two quibbles that will go unmentioned). There's a difference between the Maine gals and those like Specter and Lieberman.

I wasn't happy with Collins and Snowe's votes on the stimulus, but it is useful to make this distinction between the Maine Senators and Specter. For them, one gets the sense that it's not about ego or entitlement.
[...]
If it's a choice between Lindsey Graham, a headline-grabbing conservative-hating conservative, or an honest, workmanlike moderate like Collins who will not go out of their way to rip the party to pieces in the press, sign me up for the moderate.
[...]
There is a categorical difference between egomaniacs or iconoclasts like Specter, Chafee, and frankly Lieberman who fancy themselves Senators-for-life and think of themselves as entirely above party, and those who understand that parties and ideological blocs are vital to shifting the political center of gravity. Yes, they won't be with us on stuff like earmarks, and yes, we'll razz them about that. But you know what? No intellectually honest person could ever call them a Specter.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Ridge/McCain Trap

Those promoting Ridge for Senate are falling into the McCain trap.

John McCain is an honorable guy who is a selective media favorite, has problems with the base of the party, lacks a coherent economic message, and is generally unexciting. He also happened to be associated with some very unpopular policies of the Bush administration.

And so it is with Tom Ridge. And don't think the media won't turn on Ridge in a heartbeat.

McCain was "the only candidate who can win"... who ended up losing pretty badly.

Let's not do that again.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Socialist Bacchanalia

May Day has turned into some sort of anarcho-socialist version of Bacchanalia. Reports of violence in Greece, Turkey, Germany.

Perhaps they ought to go back to the original "let's get drunk and screw" Bacchanalia. Let the steam off a little bit.