Troubleshooter Peppers Troubled Shooter: Cheney "troubleshooter" Mary Matalin really knows how to keep herself out of the story, huh? Anything to selflessly make her boss look good:
She also described a vice president, who, she said, was in no condition in the hours after the shooting to speak out himself. ... [snip] "And I said, O.K., this guy is going to be worthless about getting me what I need to help him here,' " ...
No wonder President Bush likes her so much! ... P.S.: If Cheney's initial draft of a "brief statement" was so "bad" that Matalin told them not to put it out, wasn't it her job to draft a better one? ... P.P.S.: Or was something else going on? (Imus to Matalin: "The point is that's insane to tell me and anybody else that it made sense for this friend of his ... to call the Corpus Christi paper.") ... Pure speculation: Cheney hates the regular White House MSM press corps so much he couldn't bring himself to give them this horribly embarrassing story. ... 1:09 A.M.
Free Speech minus ...
A few Western countries have stupid laws, erratically enforced, against denying the Holocaust ... -- M. Kinsley, Slate, two weeks ago.
Not that erratically, it turns out. Austrian prosecutors are asking to increase the three year sentence meted out to (despicable, creepy, infamous etc.) British writer David Irving for violating a criminal statute that penalizes anyone who "denies, grossly plays down, approves or tries to excuse" the Holocaust in print "or other media." ... Denying the Holocaust may or may not be the same thing as merely depicting the Prophet, but jailing someone for denying the Holocaust seems like the same thing as jailing someone for depicting the Prophet. The New York Post, shamefully, ran the story of the sentencing under a nyah-nyah headline of "Deny This!" We'll see how the Post'scrack editorial writers reconcile this glee at Irving's imprisonment with their criticism of the administration ("Bushies betray free speech") for having failed to defend in stronger terms the "freedoms that Americans hold dear" in the case of the Danish cartoonists. ... The Anti-Defamation League, also shamefully, limits its criticism to "acknowledging that America's constitutional system bars prosecution for hate speech" before rushing to congratulate the Austrian court for having "sent an unmistakable and important message." I'm afraid it did. ... 10:35 P.M.
The Times' Sacred Rattner and his "Chinese Wall": Any mention of investment banker Steven Rattner in the New York Times has to be read with intense suspicion--he's a longtime friend and adviser to NYT publisher Pinch Sulzberger and gets featured in the Times with unfailing, gratuitous deference. Even if Sulzberger didn't want Rattner to be treated like a sacred cow he'd still be treated like a sacred cow by editors and reporters who aren't sure what Sulzberger wants. ...
So here was Rattner getting a nice little bit of launch publicity in the Sunday Business section for his new hedge fund. Nothing unusual there! (How do they get these scoops?) What I didn't understand was the part about the "Chinese Wall" Rattner has pledged to erect within his firm. I'm no expert--I barely understand what investment banking is, let alone what constitutes "due diligence," but here's what I think is going on (something that's explained only in the most abstract and unhelpful way by the NYT's Andrew Ross Sorkin):
Rattner's new hedge fund will specialize in the same industry sector--media and communications--in which Rattner's Quadrangle Group also runs a private equity fund. Now suppose, hypothetically, that the Quadrangle private equity fund is thinking of buying a part of media firm Knight-Ridder, currently on the block. In the course of its "due diligence" as a potential purchaser, Quadrangle gets to look at everything within the company--five years of financial reports, projections, special projects, etc. Let's speculate, again hypothetically, that the results aren't that promising--the billions of potential cost savings Quadrangle thought they would find aren't there. There's no fat to cut! The equity fund concludes buying Knight Ridder isn't a good deal.
Now let's say that Quadrangle's hedge fund is "long" in Knight-Ridder stock. (Again, this is hypothetical, especially since the hedge fund isn't even established). The hedge fund is betting that private equity funds are going to buy Knight Ridder at a 20% premium above the current trading price. Of course, the hedge fund execs aren't supposed to be privy to Knight Ridder's books. But senior Quadrangle managers (e.g. Rattner) now know the meaning of every last detail of KR's business because of the diligent investigations of Quadrangle's private equity fund. Are they really going to allow their hedge fund to make a "long" bet on Knight-Ridder stock if they know Knight Ridder isn't worth the money? Can any business like Knight-Ridder (or Time Warner) really trust the Quadrangle's private equity side not to share information with the hedge fund side? More subtly, can they--with many millions at stake--trust that Rattner (also with many millions at stake) won't sigh, roll his eyes, or cough, or otherwise telegraph doubts when he (hypothetically!) hears his hedge fund guys explain why they think Knight-Ridder stock is a terrific buy and worth a whole lot of money? Yes, says Rattner! "[T]he two funds," Sorkin dutifully reports, are to be "separated by a so-called Chinese Wall. "
But wait. Rattner also tells Sorkin that the two sides will "share ideas about industry trends", and that he
hoped that investment managers who specialized in public market media companies would "offer a window into the other side of the house."
What kind of Chinese Wall is that? It lets "ideas" through but not ...er, what? (What if you see a "trend" that "there's no more fat to cut at big media firms"?) Isn't Rattner's promise of semi-porous purity the sort of claim of which the New York Times would ordinarily be a tad skeptical? (Substitute the name "Frist" or "Marvin Bush" for "Rattner" to see what I mean.)
Assignment Desk: This is clearly a job for one of the Times' excellent, fearless business columnists--say Floyd Norris or Joe Nocera. Nocera would be especially well-suited, since unlike Sorkin he's good at explaining things like hedge funds and conflicts of interest in language ordinary readers can understand. Is Pinch's workout buddy blowing smoke or not? If not, nail him to the wall! It's not as if Nocera has kids to put through college. ... Oh wait. [ Better not recommend any interns for jobs at the Times--ed I knew there was a high-minded reason I don't have interns.]
P.S.: Of course, it's not clear that any media company really wants to get tough on Rattner. He might be buying up their stock one day. ... 1:19 A.M.
Stix Nix Crix Pix: It's a post-nomination heartland breakout runaway red state frenzy! Brokeback Mountain'sdomestic box office take has ... "collapsed," according to Andrew Sullivan. ... But hey, "less so than the other [eggheady, leftish and New Yorkerish] Oscar contenders." ... [You only wrote this so you could use that hed--ed True. I should have used it earlier. But it could be better. Remember the French word for "prize" ... ] ... See also J. Leo. ... Update: It's not just me! BoxOffice Mojo'sBrandon Gray, writing for the LAT, confirms the bumpless box office fizzle:
If you thought box office results were low for best picture contenders on the first weekend after nominations were announced, take a look at what happened in their second week basking in Oscar's glow.
As a group, this year's best picture nominees dropped an average of 43% last weekend from the previous weekend's already dismal results.
How bad does it look? Last year's best picture candidates — the least profitable group of nominees on record — fell just 17% in the same frame.
"Brokeback Mountain" fared the best among this year's crop, and it was down 33%. It's the only best picture nominee that rates more than a blip on the box office radar, with a $4 million weekend and a $66.5 million tally in 66 days.
"Capote" crumbled 45%, "Good Night, and Good Luck" slumped 43% and "Munich" sank 53% from already pitiful grosses the weekend before. ...
"Brokeback Mountain" ads, for instance, trumpet the picture's legion of awards and nominations, essentially telling filmgoers they must see the picture because it's important and revelatory.
The message that "Brokeback Mountain" happens to be a universally resonant love story is buried underneath all the trophies. The result? The picture seems to have lost momentum since receiving all those Academy Award nominations. [Emph. added]
Beating Capote doesn't mean you've moved the red states on gay rights! ... [Tks. to alert reader M.C.] 9:50 P.M.
To Drudge: The newsweeklies are the caboose on a story more often than they're the locomotive, no? ... 12:18 A.M.
Harmonic convergence of right-wing isssues: Gay marriage becomes immigration loophole in UK. ... "Immigrants face less rigorous tests if they seek to gain British citizenship through a civil partnership," notes the Sunday Times--though I doubt the additional "consummation" requirement for heteros is rigorously enforced. ... Isn't the problem simply that a gay-union loophole multiplies the number of possibilities for sham marriages (and probably by more than a factor of 2, because it's less of a psychological effort for heteros to room with a same-sex pal for two years than to feign marriage with an opposite-sex pal)? ... [via Lucianne] 12:23 P.M.
To Roger's commenters: RTN can be a statement of strength, not a proposal for retreat to a pre-9/11 mindset. The struggle against Al Qaeda is now up to speed, the argument goes. It can now become--or, rather, we are now strong enough to have it become--one of the normal jobs of government, as standing off against the Communists was for four decades during which Americans managed to pay attention to other issues and lead normal lives that were only occasionally punctured by a sense of crisis (e.g. Cuban missiles).
To Roger: We even elected Democrats during those decades, yet somehow Communism was still contained and then defeated. Even accepting your assertion that Al Qaeda is an enemy that's less "normal" than Russian Bolsheviks, it's not our enemies I'd have the Dems "normalize," but the fight against them (including all sorts of additional eavesdropping, provisions of the Patriot Act, etc., if necessary). Do you plan on keeping the country in a permanent state of forget-all-else crisis until Al Qaeda (and its inevitable imitators) are completely defeated? Then the terrorists will have ...
Nor do Dems have to use the actual phrase "return to normalcy," of course. Preferably not, in fact. But that's the gist. ... Bonus: The theme is one of the few that might be effective against John McCain, whose highly advertised flaw is that he's a hothead, who will probably have a tumult-inducing domestic reform agenda, and whose less highly advertised flaw may be that he's "never seen a war he didn't want to start." [v] ... 1:01 A.M. link
Abandoning Democracy--Shibley's Choice: An unsatisfying op-ed by Shibley Telhami argues that U.S. Middle East policy has a choice to make:
1) Continue to pursue democracy, knowing the elections will be won by Islamists, but expecting that through a policy of "partial engagement and patience" that "their aims once they are in power" can be moderated; or
2) "[R]ethink the policy of accelerated electoral democracy and focus on a more incremental approach of institutional and economic reforms of existing [i.e. non-democratic] governments."
There's no third way, Telhami says--specifically, no hope that elections will bring to power secular reformers anytime soon. ... So far, so good. ... But then it becomes clear Telhami himself favors Choice 2, without giving much of a reason for it. "[E]conomic, educational and judicial development, coupled with a strong human rights policy, have a far greater chance to make a difference," he asserts. Why? When has Mideast "development" ever worked in the past? Haven't we been pursuing "development" in Egypt for decades? Choice 1, as described by Telhami himself, seems quite appealing. In Palestine, as he concedes--and Iraq, as David Ignatius argues--it still might work. There may be reasons it's a bad choice,** but Telhami doesn't bother to give them. ...
P.S.: Why doesn't this statement, made by U.S. Ambassador Khalilzad about the dickering Iraqi factions, reflect the proper, adult, non-bullying/non-enabling attitude that might also be taken with respect to Hamas?
"They will make their choices. We will make our choices, based on their choices."
**--You could argue, for example (as does my colleague Robert Wright [ search for "meme" ]), that modern info technology will produce democracy anyway, with or without aggressive promotion by the U.S.. That may render Choice #1 unnecessary. But it also complicates choice #2, no? Will pursuing an "incremental" approach ensure that when democracy does come there will be a vibrant civil middle to throw its electoral weight around? Telhami's own skepticism seems to argue against any hope that the mosques will quickly fade into the background. Isn't it just as likely that our support of "existing governments" will guarantee that when democracy comes we're seen as full enemies and not half-allies by the victorious Islamists? [You say that like it's a bad thing not to be everybody's friend-ed. Good point. Yes, my Telhami-like assumption is that it's easier to get elected Islamist governments to moderate if we avoid 100% enmity.] ... 11:04 P.M.
Klein and petard w/5 hoist: In yet another big, inexplicably-timed story on Jon Klein's epic boastful flailing and water-treading at CNN--he's now "savoring small victories"!-- the NYT's Jacques Steinberg notes that CNN's viewership fell by 37,000 in prime time between 2004 and 2005, while Fox's viewership rose by 49,000. Ah, but "Mr. Klein discerned a silver lining"--among viewers 25-54 years old, those most "attractive to advertisers," it seems CNN "was up 9,000." ...That's 9 with three zeroes! ... But if it's 25-54 year olds who count, Steinberg eventually notes, MSNBC "has lately been gaining on CNN." Actually, reports TVnewser, in recent days MSNBC has been regularly beating Klein's network at 7 and 8 P.M. in this allegedly crucial demographic ... P.S.: Has any news executive ever achieved as high a ratio of media face time/results as Jon Klein? ... P.P.S.: Maybe he deserves it. Any old suit could figure out how to get beaten by ideologically-driven Fox. But it took a visionary genius to figure out how to also get beaten by MSNBC! ... 1:17 A.M.
Greenspan vs. the Gravy Train: David Smith wittily translates into understandable English Alan Greenspan's sharp parting critique of Fannie Mae--the famous taxpayer-subsidized gravy train for ex-pols--and its counterpart, Freddie Mac. ... As I understand it, Greenspan's point is that Fannie Mae does a fine job of creating a secondary market for mortgages, which helps everyone. (Mortgage lenders can then re-lend the money to additional homebuyers). But then Fannie Mae also uses its implicit federal bailout guarantee to simply trade assets on its own account, which is not only a) an easy way to profit from the taxpayer's de facto assumption of bailout risk (which lets Fannie Mae borrow money more cheaply than other investors can), thus helping Fannie Mae pay ridiculous multi-millon-dollar salaries to ex-pols who can lobby Congress to maintain the subsidy; but also b) actually turns out to create instability and the chance of a big crash. ... Recommendation: We should rein in this second activity, which a Senate bill does but the House bill doesn't. ... P.S.: But can't we also get some of those millions back from Jim Johnson? ... 7:09 P.M.
Veepswapping--Solving Bush's Heir Quality Problem: The possibility that Cheney would resign--allowing Bush to appoint and anoint a successor--seemed plausible before Cheney's hunting accident. It's probably less likely now, because Bush wouldn't want to be seen as having given in to the press mob. Still--as Peggy Noonan points out, drawing a stern CW rebuke from ABC's The Note--if Bush sees his legacy as Iraq he has to be thinking about how to guarantee he's followed by someone "who will continue his policy, and not pull the plug, and burrow through." ... You might say that if Bush hasn't at least considered the possibility of having Cheney resign--and if Cheney hasn't considered it too--then they should probably both quit immediately on the grounds that they lack the imagination necessary to govern. (He could become editor of The Note!) ... P.S.: The problem, in addition to those outlined by Noonan (e.g., 'nine enemies and one ingrate') is that anointment by Bush doesn't currently seem like such an advantage in the general election. Especially if you are semi-front-runner John McCain. Why would McCain want to be appointed Bush's VP? Right now, McCain is effectively separated from most of Bush's failures and mistakes. He can suggest he'd do things differently and propose dramatic reforms that aren't Bush's reforms--yet he can still be as conservative as he wants to be and cozy up to the Bushies as needed. It's the best of both worlds. ... It follows thatBush would only want to anoint a successor if he wanted to anoint someone other than McCain--if, for example, he deemed McCain an undesirable successor. ...
Backfill: Anti-Bush conservative Bruce Bartlett called for appointing and anointing a new VP back in 2004. He notes that Cheney wouldn't even have to lose influence--Bush could keep him on as a White House counselor. ("I'll get to spend more time with the president!") ... Update:NRO's Jim Geraghty floats some truly horrifying names, including Newt Gingrich and ("intriguingly"!) Alberto Gonazales. ... 4:55 P.M.
The Health Paranoid Report: As someone who, like many, filters his drinking water to eliminate the slightest trace of lead, I've wondered if Harry Whittington is really out of the woods if doctors leave bird shot in his body--assuming that the shot contains lead. This Slate Explainer is not very encouraging.
Still, numerous case reports and several studies have demonstrated that gunshot injury can cause lead toxicity. A recent survey of about 500 shooting victims in South Central Los Angeles found a significant and consistent increase in blood lead levels over the months following an injury.
The chance of getting lead poisoning increases with the number of bullet fragments or pellets you have lodged inside of you. A large number of very small lead pellets—perhaps like those lodged in Whittington's head, neck, and chest—would be the most dangerous on account of their large surface area.
Has the press determined yet whether the pellets had lead in them? ... P.S.: It's those "subtle but serious changes in cognition and concentration" that worry the most! ... Film at 11 [v]. ... 1:40 P.M.
Ford Nose: Harold Ford Jr., running appealing to the right in the Tennessee Senate race, isn't scared of departing from Democratic orthodoxy on Social Security:
It was in the area of entitlements that Ford made his boldest statements. He says we need to notify people 40 and under right now that they won't be getting Social Security until they are 70. Increased life expectancy is threatening the solvency of the program. He also favors means testing so that those making over $300,000 a year would not receive a Social Security check. He is opposed to private accounts.
Sounds tough and sensible. The obvious problem is that if you cut off benefits only to those "making over $300,000 a year" you don't save the system very much money--especially if the over-$300,000 test applies to income earned at the time the benefits are received, when many affluent seniors are retired and living off investment income. If it applies to peak-earning years, it would cut off more people, of course, though I'd guess not more than the top one or two percent. (The top five percent of all households began down at $150,499 in 2001.) But it's a camel's nose. ... [via Instapundit] 1:05 P.M.
Return to 'Return to Normalcy' II: Bob Wright doesn't think much of my** suggestion that the Democrats adopt some variation of "Return to Normalcy" as their overarching 2006-2008 theme. He notes it's not exactly a clarion call of passionate idealism. That may be true. But here are some advantages:
1) It covers a lot: The essential premise is that Bush has stretched the military, the Constitution and the civility of our politics to the limit in reaction to the threat of future 9/11s. All this fevered straining and leveraging may have been appropriate at the time, but there's no real need to keep running in hyperdrive. We can routinize the anti-terror struggle the way we routinized the Cold War, when just as much was at stake. We don't have to make an end run around the Constitution or a duly-passed statute (wiretapping). We don't have to torture prisoners or hold them forever without hearings. We don't have to slight disaster relief (Katrina) because the Department of Homeland Security worries only about terrorists. We don't have to unmask CIA agents in a desperate effort to build a case for war. ** We don't have to alienate our allies. We don't have to run giant deficits to finance our armed forces, as if the "Global War on Terror" were a temporary crisis that will be over in three years. It's not. It's a semi-permanent part of the landscape. Democrats can contain the terrorist threat the way, for four decades, they helped contain the Russians--while (as during the Cold War) we allow ourselves to turn our attention to domestic problems such as health care and Social Security.
2) It not only changes the focus from foreign policy (on which Dems tend to lose) to domestic policy (where Dems are poised to win)--it does this a) without minimizing the importance of the anti-terror effort but also b) without requiring the public to decide that Democrats are actually better equipped to fight Al Qaeda. All they have to decide is that the Dems are right to say, "We can handle it." Wright wants a full-blooded campaign that tells voters the Bush approach to the terror, including the Iraq War, is "completely wrongheaded." But Iraq has already been invaded--whoever is president is going to have to deal with the reality that exists now. The abnormal--an experiment in Iraqi democracy--is now the normal. Or, rather, it needs to be the normal. Isn't it easier to simply convince the public that a Dem approach will be just as effective at making the best of that situation, at a tolerable casualty level? Democrats, after all, already have the votes of Americans who think Bush's approach is "completely wrongheaded." And the mere goal of "returning to normalcy" will by itself do a lot to decathect the terror war abroad, without suggesting a reversal or retreat.
3) It bridges over the rift within the Democratic Party without seeming to be a vague compromise. The idea that Bush has gone a bit crazy trying to remake history after 9/11 incorporates a fairly severe critique of his presidency, all the more powerful because it is accurate. At the same time, "normalcy"--or whatever synonym you prefer--rhetorically counters the idea that Dems are the wacky, fringe, cultural boundary-pushing party of drugs, gay marriage, euthanasia, etc. Mudcat Saunders will be happy. (Or else it implies that gay unions, tolerance, self-medication, etc. now are the normal American institutions--so Frank Rich will be happy too. Win-win!)
RTN isn't the message for which I'd cheer the loudest. It's not a reform message, in itself. It's a centrist message (base-based politics, as opposed to compromise-based politics, is one of the Bush practices that's been straining our normal political civility). But it's not a "radical centrist" message. I'd prefer a presidential candidate who takes on both the business lobby on the Republican side and the union and racial preference lobbies on the Democratic side. But then I'll probably be voting for John McCain, rather than a Democrat, in 2008.
P.S.: Wright doesn't think much of McCain either.
** Actually, the suggestion was first made by Peggy Noonan during the 2004 campaign.
*** Have I missed any of the day's scandals? OK, Abramoff. Abramoff doesn't fit. But 4 out of 5 isn't bad.
Update: RTN certainly beats the Dem's latest syncretic effort, which amalgamates the Bushies' various sins (Katrina, Iraq, Plame, Cheney's hunting accident) as the product of a "secretive administration" (Sen. Reid) that refuses to "level with the American people" (Sen. Clinton). For one thing, unlike Reid's theme, RTN isn't entirely negative, or process-oriented. It says at least something about where a non-secretive, leveling Dem government would want to take the nation. ... RTN also subsumes Reid's theme--a "normal" administration would not be so secretive! 2:43 A.M. link
Matt Volk sees signs that the long -waitedToyota hybird SUV Highlander isn't selling.. He suggests it's overpriced. ($43,600, with nav--yikes.) The alternative explanation, of course, is that it doesn't look different from a regular Highlander. Unlike the weird Prius, it's not a rolling advertisement of your eco-credentials. ... I know people who have traded in sexy Audi A4 sedans for Priuses because--in concerned-about-the-planet Hollywood--Priuses are sexier. The trick doesn't work if you drive up in what looks like an ordinary family SUV and have to explain that it's really a hybrid. ... Maybe Toyota could solve the problem with some wacky, nerdy hybrid-only wheels. ... Update: Ford may or may not have a competing "hybrid" hydraulic propulsion system that could be superior to Toyota's. Will Arianna Huffington soon be driving an F-150 pickup? See the lively discussion in the comments section of this Autoblog post. ... 12:11 P.M. link
Dick Morris is usually smart and wrong. But this column seems right. ... It was especially clever of Ken Mehlman to stigmatize Hillary's "angry" quality, since being vacuously angry at Bush is the one obvious way she has of appealing to the Democrats' left base while sticking with her support for the Iraq war. ... Left on affect, Right on effect! ... She was presumably planning to be angry a lot over the next couple of years. ... 11:50 A.M. link
Buried lede of the day? Deep in a piece on new Republican House Majority Leader John Boehne r, former Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey admits he opposes both the Iraq War and No Child Left Behind:
Armey said Boehner will have to temper his views to reflect the conference's. He cited his own votes for President Bush's No Child Left Behind education law and the authorization to go to war in Iraq as positions he never would have taken if he was not majority leader.
Armey joins Chuck Hagel and Newt Gingrich as the Democrats' last, best hopes for getting out their anti-Bush message. [But there are still entire large institutions dedicated to effectively battling the Bush administration's bellicose right-wing policies!--ed You mean the FBI and CIA.] 11:07 A.M. link
kf Touches the Heart of the Heartland! I hadn't realized, until someone tipped me off, that Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 had exactly the same marketing strategy as Brokeback Mountain, the gist of which was "Hey, a film sticks it to the conservatives but it's playing in the red states!" This is the now-familiar Heartland Breakout meme. Moore boasted that his movie was big "in every single red state in America. ... It sold out in Fayetteville, North Carolina." As with Brokeback, the press bought into the story. In 2004, Time magazine wrote:
You would have expected Moore's movie to play well in the liberal big cities, and it is doing so. But the film is also touching the heart of the heartland. In Bartlett, Tenn., a Memphis subuurb, the rooms at Stage Road Cinema showing Fahrenheit 9/11 have been packed ...
I've gotten lots of email asking why I've written so many items about Brokeback. Forty-two items on the subject would be one thing. But forty-three?I must be an anti-homosexual bigot, or a closeted self-hater, or just generally hateful, etc. Here's why I thinkI've written so much on it:
1. The Heartland Breakout Meme seems like B.S.: Fahrenheit wound up reaching about the same number of theaters--approximately 2,000 at its widest distribution--as Brokeback. But Byron York, for his book The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy, got hold of confidential movie-industry data showing that, contrary to the Heartland Breakout scenario, Fahrenheit had done the vast bulk of its business in the usual blue state urban centers (and in ... Canada). It had almost uniformly underperformed in red state cities--including Time's Memphis, where the audience was more than 50% lower than you'd expect given Memphis' share of moviegoers. Some enterprising reporter should get hold of similar data for Brokeback, once its run is over. Do you want to bet they show the same insular, blue-state dominance? The only difference would be that Fahrenheit 9/11 (at $119 million) was much more popular than Brokeback, measured in box office.
2. The Heartland Breakout Meme seems like B.S. of the sort that consistently hurts Democrats (and others who believe it): B.S. is B.S.. Bloggers are allowed to point it out (he says defensively)--especially if it's B.S. the mainstream press has no particular interest in pointing out (because it kills the story, or because they'll seem homophobic).** But this B.S. falls into a special category: the sort of gratifying myth that in the past has helped lull liberals (and gay rights activists who may or may not be liberals) into wild overconfidence. Remember when Democrats actually believed that Fahrenheit would help push Bush out of office? It didn't work out that way. Moore's film didn't change many minds in part because, as York puts it, it "never reached audiences that had the power to defeat the president at the polls." Despite all the "heartland" hype, it was a blue-state movie. York notes that Mel Gibson's Passion of Christ--a mirror-image "red state" movie that did well where Fahrenheit did badly, badly where Fahrenheit did well--prefigured the 2004 results, in that it attracted an audience roughly three times the size of Fahrenheit's (or four times Brokeback's!).
Much of Democratic politics seems to now consist of embracing and fanning similarly comforting, but ultimately deceptive, liberal memes. Enron has fatally damaged Bush, Abu Ghraib has fatally damaged Bush, Katrina has fatally damaged Bush, Abramoff has fatally damaged Bush, the Plame investigation will fatally damage Bush--you can catch the latest allegedly devastating issue every day on Huffington Post or Daily Kos (and frequently in the NYT). If you believe the hype--if you don't compare Michael Moore's box office with Mel Gibson's box office, in effect--you'll believe that Democrats don't need to change to win. They just need to push all these hot memes forcefully. If you don't believe the hype--if you think that netroots Dems are too often like the Iraqi Sunnis who think they're a majority--you'll look for a Bill Clinton-like alternative with greater red-state appeal.
More specifically, if you believe Brokeback Mountain is sweeping the heartland, you won't hesitate before presenting gay marriage as the obvious next step in the evolution of civil right--a step that's already been taken, really, according to Frank Rich. After all, they swooned over Ennis and Jack in Plano, Texas! If you don't buy the Heartland Breakout spin, you'll press the gay marriage issue much more cautiously (and will especially avoid the moralistic, guilt-tripping attitude that allows Republicans to pull off the Democrats-are-the-real-elitists act that Tom Frank writes about in What's the Matter with Kansas.)
Misjudging the depth of cultural antipathy to homosexuality can be costly for political groups aside from Democrats. Did gay activists realize, when they pressed the incoming Clinton administration to allow homosexuals to serve openly in the military, that the result would be to formalize an often-oppressive "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy? Why, wondered Andrew Sullivan in 2001, do "we seem to be going in reverse"? Which brings us to 3.
3. If the Heartland Breakout Meme is B.S. with respect to Brokeback, it's B.S. for a reason: A big reason gay rights advocates might underestimate the difficulty of their campaigns is that they accept a facile analogy of civil rights for gays with civil rights for racial minorities. Didn't Harry Truman integrate the armed forces by decree? Well, why couldn't Clinton do the same? Answer: Because integrating by sexual orientation isn't the same thing as integrating by race. Sexual orientation involves actual differences in behavior (at least a strong tendency--orientation!--toward such behavioral differences). The military might well have difficulty openly assimilating male soldiers who want to have sex with other men--the culture of many military institutions runs on sublimated hetero impulses (something dramatized effectively in the movie Jarhead, among other places). Marines use the idea of "Jody," the mythical civilian back home who is screwing your girlfriend/wife, to get soldiers committed to battle. The trick might not work so effectively on Marines who are less hot for the women back home than the men in their own units. No doubt other tricks could be developed to motivate gay Marines. The point isn't that gays shouldn't be able to openly serve, but that it's not a simple adjustment to make. Less simple than opening the Marine Corps to all races.
The Brokeback Breakout idea is both a symptom of this oversimplification--after all, why shouldn't the red states embrace the benign modern counterpart of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?"--and a cause. If you think the visceral straight male reaction against male homosexual sex has effectively disappeared--look at Plano, etc.--you won't spend a lot of time trying to figure out the possible deep-seated, even innate, sources of resistance to liberalization, and you'll tend to be surprised and baffled by their persistence. At worst, you'll pass them off as sheer redneck bigotry--a proven way to lose the red states for good.
Maybe the truth won't set you free. But B.S. seems even less likely.
**--The Brokeback Heartland Breakout story is similar in this respect to the hardy perennial "Seniors Are the New Peace Corps Workers" story that my old boss, Charles Peters, used to talk about. According to Peters, a former Peace Corps official, reporters are unable to resist the idea that kindly Americans in their sunset years would give something back to the less fortunate overseas. They're probably still writing this story even today. The only problem, Peters says, is that the story isn't true--seniors, by and large, make terrible Peace Corps volunteers. But do you want to be the schmuck who points that out?
Update: Sullivan responds, distinguishes himself from Frank Rich, and makes a good point about "putting love at the core of gay identity, rather than merely sex." ... He's also right, I think, that the movie's not that good! (That doesn't stop him, of course, from condemning as sadly homophobic anyone else who doesn't appreciate the "classic tale of star-crossed lovers.") ... Reader E., echoing another Sullivan argument, says I
underestimate the difficulties in integrating the races back in the day. Racial riots in the military were not uncommon in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. I remember being trained as a junior officer back in the 1990s how to deal with and respond to racial riots, should one occur.
I seriously doubt there would be nearly as many anti-homosexual riots in today's military, should it be openly integrated (remember it is de facto integrated in many units already). To that extent, integrating homosexuals would actually be easier than integrating the races in the military.
1:31 A.M. link
Attention, Mr. Soros: The owner of the domain name Impeachbush.com, who bought it as an investment back in May, 1999, has decided that this is the time to put it on the market, which must mean something. ... It will be interesting to see, not just what such a URL is worth, but whether it's worth more to an anti-Bush group or to Karl Rove. ... 10:41 P.M.
Bill Bradley on how the Democratic Party in California is gearing up to serve its "anchor tenant," the teachers' union. ... In passing, Bradley summarizes the current, depressing state of California politics: The transportation lobby has plotted a big bond issue "to stop the education lobby from taking money from the gas tax which is supposed to be allocated for roads and highways and other transportation." So the education lobby is plotting with its underlings (the Democrats) to take money away from the transportation lobby's bond issue and divert it to the school bureaucracy. Democratic Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez declares education must be the "first priority" for funds "until every child in this state receives a decent education and a fair chance to succeed." Conveniently, there's no danger of that happening any time soon, at least as long as the California Teachers Association is in charge. 12:38 P.M.
Clooney to Academy: "Vote for my overrated film and I won't embarrass you like Michael Moore." At least I think that's what he's saying. ... 2:56 P.M.
Details emerge of an Al Qaeda plot against L.A.'s tallest building, and this time the Los Angeles Times actually deigns to mention it (unlike last September, when reporting geo-specific taped Al Qaeda threats against Los Angeles and Melbourne was beneath the dignity of the paper). ... They're getting this "news" concept down! ... Next maybe they'll even tell me about the fatal shooting (by police, of a carjacker) down the block. I can dream, can't I? ... 2:40 P.M.
I want to know more about Andrew Sullivan's readers' warts, don't you? 2:39 A.M.
Greg Packer, the MSM's "designated 'man-on-the-street' for all articles ever written" is back, and Patterico's got him. ... 2:32 A.M.
I'm with Hugh Hewitt--Andrew Sullivan's attempt to browbeat American publications into republishing those Mohammed cartoons seems close to unhinged. I thought the point was to defend the right of cartoonists to publish potentially offensive messages, not to embrace offense. "Yes, Western freedom really is all about dissing your Prophet!"--is that what we want to tell an Islamic world trying to decide whether to side with Western freedom? ... P.S.: Buying Danish products, on the other hand, doesn't embrace or repeat the offense but does support a friendly government unfairly attacked. ... More discussion here [v], and here [v]. My videoblog colleague Robert Wright is by his own admission somewhat overcaffeinated. ... 2:25 A.M.
Thie AutoSpies site--which exactly doesn't flaunt indicia of credibility--claims that GM's Rick Wagoner only has thirty days left. Beats me. (It's such an easy prediction I've made it myself [v]!) ... The comments thread is informative, though. ... 9:48 P.M.
Brokeback meets Heartland. Brokeback retreats. Focus Features has dropped 126 theaters from Brokeback Mountain'sdistribution going into this weekend, according to BoxOfficeMojo--presumably part of its retreat to "core markets." ... The film's still doing decent business, but wasn't this supposed to be Brokeback's moment to reach out and take advantage of its vaunted embrace by red state audiences? Or was the "Red State Breakout" story always more spin than reality? [Hey, they got 150 people a showing on weekends at a giant artsy theater in Missoula, Montana!--ed If you are bowled over by that, I have an excitable blog to sell you.] ... 5:57 P.M.
Liberal interest groups are also refusing to compromise. I'm told they were urging Democratic members of Congress this week not to amend FISA. They would rather wait until next year, figuring they will have more congressional support after the 2006 elections. They also want to pursue their lawsuit charging that the president's actions are illegal.
Or maybe they're (inadvertently) being responsible--in effect, letting the administration spy without external supervision for another year before the program is formalized and restricted. ... P.S.: Is it the Constitution's fault? I agree [v-md*] with RightWing Nuthouse--if the administration went through 5,000 phone calls and emails and identified 10 people suspicious enough to watch, that's a good ratio of searches to success, not a sign that the program is overbroad or useless (as WaPo's editors seem to believe). ... Maybe the government's not casting its electronic net wide enough. I'd rather they go through 100,000 phone calls and identify 20 people. ... And if the ratio to justify "probable cause" is really "right for one out of every two guys," as a "government official who has studied the program closely" suggests to WaPo, that shows how wildly obsolete the Constitution's "probable cause" requirement is when you're trying to catch not horse thieves in 1789 but people with weapons that can kill whole cities in 2006. ...
*: video includes moose deployment. 10:58 P.M. link
Best sign for Dems in 2006: Adam Nagourney has stopped coming up with giddy, wishful-thinking reasons they'll win and started coming up with hand-wringing reasons they'll lose. [He's escaped the cocoon?-ed Or he's still in the cocoon, but even the cocoon is worried!] ... Maybe if all the drearily conventional Dem congressional hacks the NYT quotes (Pelosi, Boxer, Dodd, Kerry, Hillary) promised to resign en masse if their party is given control of Congress, to make room for new faces. A sort of Divorce Settlement with America. That would be a banner to rally around. ... kf's nominee for a Dem theme: Return to Normalcy (which includes, as a minor component, normalizing, legalizing and limiting necessary government eavesdropping). And don't forget health care. ... 2:13 P.M.
Does Steve Jobs really get away with not having license plates on his car? I thought we tolerate vast money inequality because we enforce social equality! Especially in Silicon Valley. That means moguls have to obey the rules, no? 12:31 P.M.
McCain on "24":Either political brilliance or Darwinian hypocrisy. I can't figure out which. ... ut it's pretty clear what McCain's weak spot is: the need for press attention. A couple of months without a call from Meet the Press and he'll fall apart! ... 12:12 P.M.
Veteran Detroit columnist Jerry Flint of Forbes says "Enough already on General Motors and Bankruptcy. ... GM isn't going bankrupt this year; GM isn't going bankrupt next year." Why? Because the main reason GM would go bankrupt "is to break a union contract:"
That works with airlines because there are always some Navy top guns who owe on their Corvettes and will replace your striking pilots. And there are lots of women left to replace your striking stews.
But replacing 150,000 United Auto Workers members is another story. A judge could tell them to work for 10 cents an hour, but it's still a free country; they can strike, and they would. Plus, they are stronger than the company. The workers own paid-up houses, cars and boats and have working wives (or husbands). GM would have to negotiate any change in the contract, so the bankruptcy ploy just doesn't work here.
Hmm. Is that a reason General Motors won't go bankrupt or a reason it will? Certainly makes you want to invest in GM, doesn't it? ... A work-rule-addicted union that's "stronger than the company" is not a problem Toyota and Honda have. ... [via Autoblog] 11:09 A.M.
How many Hollywood stars does it take to plot an anti-Bush Oscar rant? Four, plus Gore Vidal, apparently. ... George Clooney confirms Bill O'Reilly's crude paranoia. ... Update: Clooney also takes issue with kf's contention that films "have long lead times" and "are lousy barometers of 'America today.'"
You have to remember, the beauty of blogging is that they can fact-check a tremendous amount of things journalists say instantaneously, but who is their ombudsman? Who corrects them? Along the way an awful lot of crap gets out.
Some say Clooney's drama-sappingly one-sided Good Night and Good Luck could have used a fact-checker too! What a waste of good acting. ... P.S.: Less cattily, Clooney, like many movie-makers, seem to think the greater paychecks that come with working in films are inevitably accompanied by greater culture-shaping influence, when in reality TV shows and rap songs are far less ponderously reactive and therefore more influential. The list of culture-shaping films is pretty short--Clooney reaches back to 1967 and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" for its "impact on the social conscience." But even in the 1960's, Bill Cosby's "I Spy" was arguably much more influential, in part because it beat "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" by two years. ... 10:40 A.M
"Is it the torture that causes them to go all weak-kneed? That's obviously part of it." ... Psst, Nora: It's the ratings. ... McCain is to pundit shows what lesbians are to Howard Stern. ... 10:33 A.M.
Hybrids: The Silent Killers! [via Autoblog] 12: 17 A.M.
Another Wishful Liberal MSM Meme dies a lonely death: Remember when the images from Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath were going to awaken Americans to the need to address yawning inequalities of race and class, etc.? Here's Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, in a recent presentation to the Center for American Progress [pdf]:
People also think that America has made progress in terms of race, and people don't like revisiting things when they think that there has been progress. And unfortunately, Katrina did not add much to this dialogue, and certainly the post – we could have a whole symposium on the post-Katrina environment and how that may or may not have worked to actually promote a constructive dialogue in this country on race. But it is certainly true that people very quickly got off any kind of analysis that Katrina was due to race and the patterns of Katrina were due to race.
And when we try to test that, even as recently as a couple of weeks ago, in focus groups, people said – white people said, "Well, hey, it was an African-American mayor. It was a black mayor. It was just incompetence. It was corruption. It had nothing to do with race. A black mayor couldn't get black people out of New Orleans." And so people have really settled back into actually kind of a mean-spirited assessment here. Far from Katrina promoting very much, if anything Katrina is backfiring a little bit.
And you may have heard the NPR story today, which was excellent in the polling data, where people who welcomed once Katrina people keep to their neighborhoods and to their cities now want them to go back, now say, "Well, it's the crime rates. They don't fit in. They don't dress the same. They don't speak the same. We want them to go home now. Enough is enough. We've been generous for five minutes. That's plenty, and get back on your own." [Emph. added]
Hmm. The MSM's Murtha Hype backfires on the Dems. ... The MSM Katrina Hype backfires on the Dems. ... And they say it's wrong to worry about the Brokeback Hype! ...[Don't forget the Exxon and Abramoff hype!--ed. Oh, right. That will save the Dems!] ... 8:19 P.M. link
a) Excitable! b) Any Weapon to Hand: Andrew Sullivan now says it's unfair to lump Brokeback Mountain in with Good Night and Good Luck as a "left-messaged" film.
I can see the left-wing message in some of the movies, but I fail to see it in "Brokeback." The movie is about two men in a star-crossed relationship. It's about impossible love and the limits of human happiness. Yes, it clearly aims for the two to be happy - but the pursuit of happiness is now "left-messaged"? Is "Romeo and Juliet" "left-messaged"?
Please. In theory, Sullivan has a point: there are Republicans who support gay marriage and traditional Democrats who oppose it. In practice, of course, he's being either self-delusional or disingenuous. Republicans are the ones who pushed a federal constitutional gay marriage ban, no? Did they hope the issue would mobilize the left? Meanwhile, gay rights are one of the constellation of cultural causes that have loosely coagulated around the Democratic Party (especially movie-industry Democrats).* And the film, while not ostentatiously** didactic, effectively dramatizes the case for gay marriage, it seems to me. *** ... Does Andrew really deny these drearily obvious things? Yes, when it temporarily helps his side in a rhetorical skirmish. That's one of the characteristics that made him such a joy to work for! ...
*--Sullivan could always argue that Democrats aren't on the "left" and Republicans aren't on the "right." The night is young. ...
**--Having belatedly looked up the meaning of "didactic," I added this word.
***: That's why Frank Rich [$] could use the film's prospective success to practically call for reconvening the Electoral College in order to reverse the results of the 2004 election. ("It's a story America may be more than ready to hear a year after its president cynically flogged a legally superfluous (and unpassable) constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage for the sole purpose of whipping up the basest hostilities of his electoral base.") Even if the film is a purely apolitical tragedy (which is isn't), the Hollywood figures who vote on the Oscars think, along with Rich, that it has anti-Bush, anti-GOP, and anti-religious-right significance. ... 1:51 P.M. link
In Iraq, the country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al- Sistani, decried the drawings but did not call for protests.
"We strongly denounce and condemn this horrific action," he said in a statement posted on his Web site and dated Tuesday.
Al-Sistani, who wields enormous influence over Iraq's majority Shiites, made no call for protests and suggested that militant Muslims were partly to blame for distorting Islam's image.
He referred to "misguided and oppressive" segments of the Muslim community and said their actions "projected a distorted and dark image of the faith of justice, love and brotherhood."
"Enemies have exploited this ... to spread their poison and revive their old hatreds with new methods and mechanisms," he said.
[Thx. to reader A.] 2:55 A.M.
Bush jumps on the alcohol wagon: When making the case for an alcohol-based economy, Robert Zubrin argues
(1) Our main energy problem is obtaining liquid fuel that can power cars, not obtaining electricity:
Today's favorite alternatives to oil are wind, solar, hydroelectric, and nuclear power. They each have strengths and weaknesses, but the bottom line is that these are all methods of generating electricity—and electricity is far from the central issue of energy independence. The United States has plenty of coal, and if necessary could easily generate all of its electric power that way.
(2) The idea of a "hydrogen economy" is entirely fraudulent, because "[h]ydrogen is not a source of energy. In order to be obtained, it must be made—either through the electrolysis of water, or through the breakdown of petroleum, natural gas, or coal."
When hydrogen is made by electrolysis, the process yields 85 units of hydrogen energy for every 100 units of electrical energy used to break down the water. That is 85 percent efficiency. If the hydrogen is then used in a fuel cell in an electric car, only about 55 percent of its energy value will be used; the rest is wasted to heat and so forth. The net result of these two processes: the amount of useable energy yielded by the hydrogen will be only about 47 percent as much as went into producing it in the first place.
Well, sure. Still, if we have plenty of electricty, but not enough portable fuel to power cars, it might make sense to convert that electricty into portable hydrogen fuel even if only 47% of the electricity's energy actually made it to the car's driving wheels, no? True, if the electricity were made from coal, there would presumably be a pollution problem. But Zubrin isn't making an environmental argument about obtaining alternative clean fuels. He's making a geo-strategic argument about how "to liberate ourselves from the threat of foreign economic domination, undercut the financiers of terror, and give ourselves the free hand necessary to deal with Middle Eastern extremists." It's not at all clear to me he's shown hydrogen to be "entirely fraudulent" as an answer to that strategic problem. ...
Backup: Here's a detailed, geeky, seemingly dispassionate report on the difficulties facing a "hydrogen economy." It agrees with Zubrin that hydrogen is only an energy "carrier"--because its energy content is "less, often significantly less, than the energy it takes to produce it." But it doesn't agree that this knocks hydrogen out of consideration, noting that energy carriers'
use can be justified only by special benefits associated with their use. In the case of hydrogen, a special benefit is that it can be converted into electricity for transportation using fuel cells with an efficiency that is at least twice as high as the conversion in thermodynamic heat engines. Other benefits include the reduction of pollutants and greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere by transportation. [Emph. added]
So there. ... [Tks to reader F.B.] 2:39 A.M.
Hillary's Best Friend: El Podito knows him when he sees him--
Kerry would be doing Hillary a favor to run against her, because stuffing the guy who got 59 million votes in 2004 would be a mark of her electoral power come 2008.
Right. Remember the Washington Generals? ... P.S.: But Podhoretz is semi-delusional if he thinks there "will be no room for any Democrat to challenge her" from the Netroots side. ... 10:33 P.M.
Stick Clovis in your Plano, Brokeback-in-the-heartland spinners! Clovis, New Mexico is just the sort of heartlandish town that's supposed to now be in a "swoon over the star-crossed gay cowboys of 'Brokeback Mountain,'" according to [$] NYT columnist Frank Rich. Marlena Hartz of the Clovis News Journal reports on the film's reception:
"Brokeback Mountain" arrived in Clovis on Friday at the Hilltop Twin Theatre. It has grossed $1,400 since it premiered, according to Hilltop employee Stewart Neff. Even for a small theater, that's a low figure, Neff said, especially for a film that has already pocketed a Golden Globe, leads in a number of Academy Award nominations, and is predicted to nab the Oscar for best picture. [Emphasis added]
I was wrong, so wrong, to predict Brokeback wouldn't break the $50 million barrier [v]. But just because Brokeback makes a lot of money does not mean it's accomplished the fabled "red state breakout," notwithstanding the press' eagerness to buy its studio's story line to that effect. You can make a lot of money playing metropolitan centers and the coasts.** The test of whether the film could "Move the 'Heartland'"--the LAT's query, which prompted Rich to predict a "resounding yes"--was always going to come when it went "wide" and expanded into smaller markets like Clovis. ...
P.S.--The 5.8% Oscar Bump: Last night (Friday) Brokeback did an estimated 5.8% more business nationally than the previous Friday, although it showed 26% more theaters. In an ordinary week, that would be a solid performance (given that the added theaters are probably also smaller theaters). But am I crazy to think that 5.8% is not an impressive gain in the week after a film was nominated for 8 Academy Awards? ... Update: Not crazy. Both Variety and BoxOfficeMojo express disappointment with Brokeback's lack of bump. Here's Variety's Ben Fritz:
Three of the four best picture noms still in release got a modest bump out of their expansions, while "Brokeback Mountain" declined despite adding over 400 playdates. ...
As it added 435 playdates to reach a total of 2,089 and hit many small markets where art house pics rarely play, "Brokeback Mountain" experienced a 13% drop despite its Oscar noms.
Meanwhile, Munich increased 11% and Walk the Line, shut out of the Best Picture category, bumped up 13% despite adding almost as many theaters as Brokeback. ... P.S:BoxOfficeMojo's account includes a rare defensive, excuse-making quote from Brokeback's maker, Focus Features, andits head of distribution, Jack Foley:
"We've got a lot of runs that have been playing for a month, and some of these markets are over-encumbered," Foley noted of Focus' highest-grossing picture ever. "So there's a weakness in some of these theaters that are playing out. It's a function of normal attrition, despite the Academy awards stuff. It's the core markets that it's important to sustain."
Wait. I thought this was the big moment when Foley's film was going to go wide and "break out" into the red states, not fall back on its "core markets." Note to Foley: You've been peddling the 'Heartland Embraces Brokeback' story to an eager, unquestioning press for months. This is no time to back down! ...
**:-- Matt Yglesias points out to me [v] it's not simply Hollywood's films that skew "left." Hollywood's audience--largely young people, in cities--skews left also. There's less of a mismatch there than Hollywood critics like Ben Stein and Evan Coyne Maloney like to claim. But this natural congruence also means a film can succeed at the box office without changing many minds in Bush country. ... [Tks to reader S.B.]8:59 P.M.
Why We Are Willing to Pay $2 for the New York Post in Los Angeles: They give us the Death Cheese Bus.
Why We Are Still Not Willing to Pay 50 cents for the Los Angeles Times in Los Angeles: The director of the James Bond movie "Die Another Day,"--as well as "XXX: State of the Union," "Mulholland Falls," and "Once Were Warriors"--is arrested "after allegedly dressing as a woman and offering sex to an undercover Los Angeles police officer in exchange for money." (Apparently he's selling, not buying!) The mighty local monopoly paper gives it ... two sentences buried in a news roundup on page B4. Too interesting! People might talk about it.**
P.S.: The New York Daily News, operating on an East Coast deadline, managed to generate a whole page on the busted director. But then they had a genetic advantage--lack of the LAT's twittish, slow, respectable, self-satisfied news-averse corporate DNA! ... [Alert reader G. tipped me off to this stark contrast.] ...
**--Alternative explanation: The Times is not that twittish. Calls were made and they're actively protecting somebody. ... Cover-up or clueless? It's hard to assess these competing theories--the results are indistinguishable. ... 4:40 P.M.
Ending Oil As We Know It: Thomas Friedman argues [$] for "breaking America's addiction to oil," but not because it will take away a strategic weapon (the threat of oil cutoffs) from Middle East autocrats. Instead, he claims easy oil dollars have prevented Arab countries from developing the middle class industries (and resultant power centers) that would support democracy. Without oil,
[w]hoever ruled [would have to] nuture a society that would empower its men and women to get educated and start companies to compete globally, because that was the only way they could thrive. ... [snip]
The only way [new leaders put in place by elections] will allow for real political parties, institutions, free press, competitive free markets and proper education --a civil society--is if we also bring down the price of oil and make internal reform the only way for these societies to sustain themselves. People change when they have to, not when we tell them to. [Emphasis added]
I can't help noticing that Friedman's logic is more or less identical to the logic of welfare reform. Welfare reformers argued that without easy cash welfare, single mothers would have to organize their lives more purposefully around work. Hortatory efforts were ineffective--people would change their lives when they had to change their lives to sustain themselves. Friedman is simply applying this same (to my mind, powerful) materialist logic at the level of nations rather than individuals.
The difference is that vigorous welfare reform threatens a complete cutoff of welfare--or at least a cutoff that would put individuals who refuse to work into an unsustainable economic position. But there is little chance of an analogous, near-complete cutoff of oil revenues to Arab-Muslim autocracies. Even if we were to magically develop alternative competing fuel sources overnight, oil is still going to be useful and valuable. Oil producing nations like Iran and Saudi Arabia will still generate billions and billions in easy revenue for many, many years, no? Will a mere price cut (Friedman throws out the highly optimistic goal of $20 a barrel oil) be enough to actually force unwilling regimes to "nurture" the productive middle class that they find so threatening? Or will they just cancel extravagant oil-funded projects and contain whatever discontent results from straitened economic circumstances the way they always have?
Before the 1996 welfare reform, remember, the typical Republican approach was to reduce welfare benefits, not end them. But it turned out merely reducing benefits wasn't enough to force the change--indeed, benefit reductions arguably offered the worst of both worlds. Welfare mothers were still trapped in a dysfunctional welfare-based culture--they were just poorer welfare mothers trapped in a dysfunctional welfare-based culture. Similarly, Bush's Friedmanesque efforts to reduce the price of oil might just produce poorer, angrier autocracies. The real equivalent of welfare reform--an actual end to oil revenues--seems outside the realm of possibility. ... Update: Alert reader D.J. notes "the price of a barrel of oil was $22 in 2002" and it didn't produce "real political parties, institutions, free press, competitive free markets" and the other wonderful aspects of the "internal reform" Friedman envisions. In fact, the price hovered roughly around the $15-20 level from about 1986 to 2000. Why would $20/barrel do the trick today? ... Rich Lowry makes a similar point toward the end of this column.. ...
The cruder, strategic argument for alternative fuels--that they would simply take the retaliatory oil weapon out of Middle East autocrats' hands--seems stronger than Friedman's more complex, appealing quasi-Marxist argument. ...
P.S.: I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't realistically hope for the growth of middle class economies in nations like Saudi Arabia and Iran. I just wouldn't count on Friedmanesque oil shock treatment--as opposed to Internet-publicized, envy-producing national prosperity stories (Iraq, in the theoretical future)--to produce them. ...
P.P.S: A short, vloggische discussion of this issue, featuring Matt Yglesias, can be found here [v] . ... 3:54 P.M.
Combing the Long Tail: I used to think that if you took a) the year's five best songs by bestselling popular music artists and b) the year's five best songs from artists who are completely unknown nationally--including one-hit wonders-- the songs on list (b) would be just as good as the songs on (a). But my friend E. pointed out that I'm wrong. The (b) songs would be much, much better! ... You just have to find them. ... With this in mind, I try to tune to Demolisten, a weekly L.A. college radio show that sorts through and plays submissions from unreleased acts. ... If I hear one good song by an artist I figure, "That's a good song." If I hear two good songs by an artist I figure, "That's a good artist." Last year the application of this crude A&R algorithm yielded up continuing kf fave Inflight Movie. This year's two-hit find seems to be A Faulty Chromosome. ...
P.S.: Fans of The Strokes will like A Faulty Chromosome! Except maybe they won't, because A Faulty Chromosome is much, much better. ... 2:14 A.M.
My grandmother's cousin Charlie, the only known acting talent in my family tree, turned 101 recently and some blogs have affectionately saluted him for his enormous list of successful performances. A warm and funny guy, even if he was the rent collector for Pottersville. ... Correction: He was the rent collector for Pottersfield. ... I believe he was also the man who brought in a scale model of Pottersville to show to George Bailey. But I could be wrong. Anyway, he worked for the evil Mr. Potter, OK? [No thanks to alert reader M.H.!] 3:54 P.M.
He draws salaries from two of the most important media companies in the country: CNN, which is owned by Time Warner, and The Post, which is owned by The Washington Post Company. Such arrangements do not violate Post policy. In fact, The Post has quite liberal rules regarding extracurricular work by its reporters and editors. [Emph. added]
Thursday, WaPo ran a piece about its own sportswriter, Tony Kornheiser, who is being wooed by various television and radio stations, including some owned by Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder:
Kornheiser would be prohibited from writing for The Post if he accepted a position with a Snyder-owned company. Under the newspaper's conflict-of-interest rules, a sportswriter cannot write about a team while accepting payment from it. [Emph. added]
Hmm. Could Seelye, as suspected, have been a wee bit conned about what does and doesn't normally violate Post policy? If Kornheiser can't write about a team while accepting payment from it for extracurricular work why can Kurtz write about CNN while accepting payment from it for extracurricular work? Are the ethics rules tighter for sportswriters than for reporters? Tighter than for reporters whose beat is chastising other reporters for violating ethics rules? Is Kurtz a bigger star at the paper than Kornheiser? Is that why he gets a pass? How does Kornheiser feel about that? Should Kornheiser hire Kurtz's lawyer? ... P.S.: At the bottom of the Post's piece on Kornheiser, we learn
Staff writer Howard Kurtz contributed to this report.
Did Kurtz himself write the paragraph about "the newspaper's conflict-of-interest rules"? If so, wasn't that itself ... you know, a conflict of interest? ... P.P.S.: Nah. After all, it's not as if whoever wrote the graf in question described the ethics rules narrowly, as if they apply only to "a sportswriter" but not to any other kind of reporter! Oh, wait. ... 1:24 A.M. link
Anti-Brokebacklashlash: Nikki Finke claims it's not red state moviegoers who are avoiding Brokeback Mountain because they're "disgusted" by "the possibility of glimpsing simulated gay sex." It's the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences--even "baby boomers and younger Academy members." I'm skeptical, as one should always be regarding a Nikki Finke article. Surely some Academy members are viscerally averse to watching gay sex. (They have genes too.) But Finke's three-alarm charge of hypocrisy smells like a brilliant move to counter the mild anti-Brokeback backlash evident at the recent SAG awards. ... P.S.: You knew there would be an anti-homophobic guilt trip somewhere in this process. I didn't realize it would be directed at Hollywood liberals rather than moviegoers. But it makes sense--as Finke notes, guilt-trips work on them. ... P.P.S.: Many commenters have noticed the obvious--the Best Picture nominees are four left-messaged political films, plus a movie about Truman Capote! But if you read Finke's column, you realize it's really not that bad. It's worse! If she's even 50% on the mark, the Academy Awards are now hopelessly, pervasively, and openly politicized (and the politics are Hollywood Left). Maybe they should be carried on Daily Kos. ...
Nominee for Best Euphemistic Attempt to Hide That the Five Nominated "Small Films With Deep Political and Social Themes" Were Actuallly Small Films With Liberal Political and Social Themes: Sharon Waxman of the New York Times, who also writes:
Many nominees observed that Oscar voters seemed to be in a ruminative mood, perhaps reflecting the nation at large.
Or perhaps not! 9:23 A.M. link
Lutz's Revenge? Is Dan Neil overextended? Since he won the Pulitzer Prize for his auto reviews he's added a magazine column and radio commentaries on a local NPR station. But his formerly funny auto reviews have become a disappointing parade of Hearty Hackisms ("... ladies and gentlemen, what we have here is the Buick from another planet") and strained laugh lines ("Americans who might otherwise think [hybrids are] all a plot reeking of patchouli and macrobiotic ice cream."). Neil's heart's not in it anymore. Let him move on. ... 8:47 A.M. (early!)
Mission of Burma? One of the tiny little suprises in last night's so-so SOTU was Bush's inclusion of Burma--along with North Korea, Iran, Syria, and Zimbabwe--on the list of non-democratic nations whose freedom is required for the "peace of this world." For some background, here is a recent report, commissioned and seemingly endorsed by Vaclav Havel and Desmond Tutu [pdf], calling the current dictatorial Burmese government a "threat to the peace." The report apparently seeks to establish the prerequisites for possible U.N. Security Council actions, including "the authorization of a U.N. peacekeeping force to enter the territory." ... 4:46 P.M.
To Democrats desperately searching for an alternative to Hillary: What's wrong with Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania? Assuming he wins reelection, he's governor of a large swing state. He's sensible, plain-spoken and candid--the Democrats' McCain. (It takes one to beat one.) Is there something impolitic (or worse) in his background that causes him to be Unmentioned? If so, please clue me in. ... 2:43 P.M.
Why did the traditionally uninspiring State of the Union address become such a big deal? I blame the Feiler Faster principle [v]: Our society's ability to quickly and comfortably process information has become so great that we get bored without new masses of information to run through the machine. So, in the non-political culture, nice, second-order holidays like Valentine's Day and Halloween get built up into huge events requiring hours of hype and effort. Similarly, SOTU gets built up into another momentous make-or break occasion ... P.S.: Conversely, any day that doesn't feature either a make-or-break moment, major terrorist attack, near-apocalyptic natural disaster or celebrity murder becomes a "slow news day." Hillary Clinton's January 16 "plantation" comments generated controversy, we were told, because she foolishly made them "on a boring day" (Chris Matthews)-- a boring day on which there was a) an ongoing, bloody war in Iraq, b) a terror bombing in Afghanistan, c) mystery as to which Al Qaeda leaders, if any, we'd killed in a controversial Predator missile attack; d) unrest in Nepal, e) final campaigning in the Palestinian election, f) Israel's prime minister in a coma, g) a confrontation with Iran over the bomb, h) spreading bird flu and i) ongoing scandals over eavesdropping and sleazy lobbying. ... Boring days aren't what they used to be! 1:08 P.M.
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), the only GOP senator who has not said how she would vote on Alito's nomination, agreed. "I find it regrettable that there are those who are trying to resurrect a filibuster even as there is clearly nothing in the record that constitutes extraordinary circumstances," she said. [Emph. added]
The way Snowe is talking, you'd think "extraordinary circumstances" was a clause written into the Constitution (like "probable cause" or "high crimes and misdemeanors") instead of a banal fudge-phrase sealing a temporary deal among a few Senators a few months ago. ... And why should their deal bind anyone who isn't a party to it? ... P.S.: I'm not convinced Alito isn't the best we're likely to get under the circumstances, but filibustering a Supreme Court nominee--in essence, requiring a supermajority before you fill a lifetime, unelected office with vast, uncheckable power--seems more defensible than the average, everyday minority obstructionism. It's an honorable course Democrats might choose to take. ... P.P.S.: It's also honorable to stage a vote even if you know you're going to lose! ... 7:29 P.M.
Bob Wright and new blogginghead Matt Yglesias worry that the Bushies, in tacit concert with hard-line Israelis, will blow [V] the dialectical opportunity for peace presented by Hamas' election victory. ... What I don't understand is why (as both Wright and Yglesias seem to assume) it would help if the United States now struck a "moderate" hopeful tone, giving Hamas "leeway" in order to "draw [them] in" to the peace process. Isn't that plodding State Department thinking--we send them a positive signal, they respond, etc? If we moved to be nicer to Hamas, it seems more likely that this would be the kiss of death--e.g. it would guarantee that they would become allergic to any moderation. If they're going to change, they need to do it themselves, after assessing their position in honest opposition to their enemies (Israel, and us) in a way that lets them take credit for standing up to them. By talking tough now, Bush doesn't foreclose that possibility--he enhances it, no? Today, confrontation. Manana, aufhebung! ... P.S.: Scott MacMillan makes an intriguing point about the way in which Hamas' very religiosity may allow it to compromise on territory. But I suspect they are a ways away from settling for the "Islamicization of individuals," the so-called "de-territorialized ummah." ... 3:38 P.M.
Here's what kf's cut-rate private eye (alert reader G) dug up on XM satellite radio's Meritocratic Poster Boy Luke Russert! I'd say it will only help him with his target demographic groups. ... Next time I splurge and hire a shamus from Craigslist. ... 2:20 P.M.
Let 144 Flowers Not Bloom: According to Shanghai Daily, the Chinese government has ordered 144 auto manufacturers to "shut down production," rather than let them fight it out and see which ones survive. Now that's industrial policy. In theory the Chinese should pay a price for this anti-market selection. ... P.S.: Some of China's early vehicle exports do seem to be junk, although you'd think that sort of gross defect will be weeded out in the international marketplace, at least if Chinese companies want to sell cars. ... 10:41 P.M.
BrokeBangle Hype: BMW's boasting about record sales, but it sure looks to me like sales of the franchise-making 3 series are flat, flat, flat, despite the introduction of a brand new model embodying big-talker Chris Bangle's latest visionary breakthrough. Shouldn't sales have surged? What if they now collapse, like second-year purchases of the Bangled-up fake-Gehry Z4? ... Customers may be failing to appreciate the new cars' place in the broad sweep of the "biggest single aesthetic undertaking in human history!" Instead, they're just looking at the cars. Philistines! ... 7:27 P.M.
The Justice Department went to court last week to try to force Google, by far the world's largest Internet search engine, to turn over an entire week's worth of searches. ... [snip] ... But the case itself, according to people involved in it and scholars who are following it, has almost nothing to do with privacy.
Gee, it seems like only yesterday the NYT was fronting a story highlighting the terror of computer users who, because of the Justice Department's actions, were now afraid to type in ordinary, curious search requests like "rent boy" for fear their privacy had disappeared. ("Would Google have to inform the government that she was looking for a rent boy - a young male prostitute?"). But it turns out you only imagined that Howell Raines had come back as NYT editor to launch one of his overheated, misguided crusades. It was all a dream, a bad dream. ...[via JustOneMinute ] 3:39 P.M.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson contributes a forceful and admirably BS-free post on a dirty little un-PC secret of the Democratic coalition: Anti-illegal immigrant sentiment among blacks. ... Is this the real, little-noted reason why President Bush made only miminal gains among African-American voters while he was wooing Latinos with his guest worker and quasi-amnesty proposals? ... Note: Just because employers don't "hire Latinos at low-end jobs and exclude blacks from them solely because of their race" doesn't mean illegal immigrants don't drive down wages at the bottom of the job market. Even if the immigrants weren't willing to work for less, the mere presence of more workers drives down wages on simple supply/demand grounds. A big reason wages at the bottom rose in the late Clinton years was a perceived tightness (i.e. shortage) in the low wage labor market, with the result that employers offered wages that weren't quite so low. We want a tight labor market at the bottom again, and restricting immigration could be one reasonable way to get it. African-Americans (as Hutchinson concedes) aren't racist just because they reach that conclusion. ... P.S.: I'm not saying economics is the only reason for anti-illegal fervor among blacks. Cultural resentments may be a big part of it. I'm just saying the economic argument is rational. ... 1:04 A.M. link
Mas Hamas? Bob Wright on why a Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections might be the best outcome [V]. (Hint: It's not just because participating in democracy will moderate them.) ... 11:54 P.M.
AG Synecdoche: Reporters at a press conference so desperately trying to fit it into the pre-existing "story they had in their minds" that they "failed to ask some very basic and important questions"? BoifromTroy shouldn't be shocked, but he does make his case. (His unasked questions--about allegedly sleazy lending practices--are good.) 11:52 P.M.
Lukegate: ... Step 1) Tim Russert books the tired Carville-Matalin act more than 35 times on his Meet the Press talk show, boosting their bankability on the lucrative lecture circuit. Step 2) Carville--with Russert's eager prodding--also uses their most recent, conveniently-timed MTP appearance to plug his new XM Satellite radio sports show. ... That's smarmily venal enough, you say? Wrong! Step 3) Carville's co-host on the XM show is Russert's son, Luke, who is "currently a sophomore at Boston College." Russert and Carville joke about this on the air but don't quite have the balls to actually inform viewers of the key conflict:
MR. RUSSERT: James Carville, before you go I understand that politics may be part of your past, that you're going to go on XM Satellite Radio and do sports?
MR. CARVILLE: Well, Mr. Russert, I can't talk about that too much, but I think there going to be a story tomorrow's paper. Tomorrow night I'll be on the Jay Leno show on NBC, and we'll be talking about some exciting new developments and maybe a new twist on an old career.
MR. RUSSERT: With anyone I know?
MR. CARVILLE: Maybe you would be familiar with someone I'll be teaming up in this, but let's just say it's going to offer a generational look at sports and the coaches of sports and things like that ... [Emph. added]
Har, har. ... Special Russert Prosecutor Arianna Huffington effectively exploits almost all the possible lines of attack here--including, but not limited to, the core charge that Russert has perverted the content of his own show for self-interested motives that might be excused as subconscious if they weren't so blatant:
Does Tim think nobody's going to notice that he's having a guest on his "news" show who is making it possible for his son to co-host a national sports radio show before he's out of college?
You'd think NBC would have an ethics policy or something. ...
P.S.: One angle Arianna misses is the bad parenting angle. It's one thing if a big star uses his connections to get a job for his unemployed son. Connections help. Stars' sons are often talented! But a sophomore in college? Isn't that rushing the connections thing a bit? Does Tim Russert think he's actually doing his son a favor? Does Luke Russert have no spark of honest Oedipal anger? ... The late Marjorie Williams could get a whole column out of this parenting point. I'm not Marjorie Williams, so I'll stop. But quite apart from parenting, the whole thing stinks. If George Stephanopoulos, or someone with a perilous network perch, tried this, they'd be in deep trouble. Maybe Russert is too. ... [Don't you occasionally plug bloggingheads.tv, which you have an interest in?--ed. I do. (I just did again!) But that conflict's obvious to readers on its face. And it felt smarmy enough that I gave up my small ownership interest in bloggingheads. ... I'd also argue that blogs are a different animal, with different rules, than network chat shows. They're more like Don Imus--you listen to him because you're amused by his various conflicts, which are all-too-elaborately disclosed. Here Russert apparently couldn't bring himself to go the hang-it-out Imus route, perhaps because he realizes it wouldn't go over too well.] Russert certainly won't be giving a keynote address at a conference on "Ethics in Media" any time soon! ... Oh, wait. ...
P.P.S.: Does Howie ('Sure, I'm willing to attack my CNN paymasters') Kurtz have the huevos to write about the Russert/Luke/Carville incest in WaPo? I say no! ... 4:53 P.M. link
Josh Marshall opposes Hillary on anti-dynasticist grounds that are valid and resonant but surely second-order. If you actually thought she'd be a terrific president you wouldn't hold her last name against her. (And if you did, she'd change it!) ... 5:37 P.M.
General Motors still seems to be missing the point. On the company's FastLane blog, GM Advanced Concepts Group director Jack Keebler promises to "work on the creation of a line of small, agile, rear-wheel-drive cars." That's fine as far as it goes, but seems consistent with GM's approach of confining rear drive to a couple of sporty car ghettos (e.g. the Camaro and Cadillac) while normal, affordable everyday sedans get the unpleasant front-wheel-drive the corporation deems more suitable to "the intended purpose of the vehicle," to quote Autoblog. This is wrong! Rear-drive is more fun in sporty cars and non-sporty cars! The hot, franchise-making Chrysler 300C is not a "small, agile, rear-wheel-drive" car. It's a big, galumphing rear-wheel drive car. It can carry a family. Moms and dads can enjoy rear-drive dynamics on the way to Bed, Bath & Beyond! Is GM saying that if you have a family you lose interest in how a car feels? It needs a rear-drive Chevy Impala. ... P.S.: Give Keebler points for admitting that his company has produced "perfectly passionless products." ... 5:10 P.M.
TimesSelec t Hitting the Wall: On November 9, 2005 the New York Times announced that its new TimesSelect service had attracted approximately 135,000 paying Web subscribers (i.e., people who weren't getting the service for free as print subscribers). Today, two month's later, the Times reported it has attracted 156,000 paying Web subscribers, according to E&P's relentless Joe Strupp. Doesn't this mean TimesSelect has gained only 21,000 subscribers in the past two months, after attracting 135,000 in the first two months? I think it does! The TimesSelect sign up rate, as predicted with annoying frequency in this space, is slowing dramatically after the initial likely users signed up, despite an aggressive (and probably expensive) advertising campaign. It's a quagmire! ... Is the Times getting desperate? Today the paper announced a 50% price cut for college students, faculty, artists, writers, alumni, Kerry voters, and people with brown eyes or putty-colored computers. ... If they just cut the price one more time by the same amount, they'll hit the sweet spot! ... P.S.: Note how the Times cannily buried the bad news about TimesSelect under its bigger bad news about earnings--a proven public relations technique familiar to those who remember the "Densepack" missile deployment system, which relied on incoming nuclear warheads to knock each other out, minimizing the damage on the ground. Luckily for the paper's spinners, there should be plenty of bad news available in the future to bury the additional bad news under. ...
P.S.--Chris' Double-Secret Hidden Blog! On the other hand, TimesSelect has Chris Suellentrop now, writing a subscriber-only blog, The Opinionator [$], that he describes as a "'but-wait-there's-more' product, the journalism equivalent" of the "free shoephone that Sports Illustrated used to hand out with its paid subscriptions." Suellentrop's almost worth $49.95 by himself! But I suspect that within weeks, if not hours, he'll look at his stats and wish he weren't locked away behind Pinch's wall. ... 1:10 P.M. link
Sources protecting their reporters: Cathy Seipp deals with two newfangled bloggy etiquette questions: 1) When an MSM reporter (or anyone, for that matter) calls you to research a story, do you have to refrain from posting online about it? 2) Do you have to honor unilateral demands for confidentiality in emails from newsworthy figures like MSM reporters? ... I don't know what the right answer is on (2)--it would be nice if there were a technological fix ("Click here if you agree to keep this private.") But Seipp gives what seems like the right answer to (1), which is "no." If a New York Times reporter (hypothetically) calls me on a story, I don't think I have an obligation--as their source--to keep that secret unless I agree to keep it secret. They called me. And it's a story (for a blogger) that the NYT is working on a story! Isn't the default rule in a free country that you can write about what happens to you?** MSM reporters will have to learn how to deal with leaky, bloggy Heisenberg-inducing sources--presumably by extracting promises of confidentiality.*** ... P.S.: It's revealing that prolific NYT emailer and reporter David Cay Johnston seems to automatically assume the new etiquette rules should be written to favor the NYT, requiring bloggers to hold their fire until the mighty Times has the chance to go first. ...
**: The email situation--(2)--seems like a potential exception to this "default rule" because there's now no clean way to extract a promise of confidentiality before it's too late. Make it a "default default rule" then. Update: Reader S.P. says you can always extract the promise of confidentiality in an introductory email. Then, if the receipient agrees, you send the unhinged flamer! Good point. ...
***: But can the sources weasel out, Judith-Miller-style? 7:26 P.M. link
Interviewing Grover Norquist is always a good idea! From A.L. Bardach's piece on Ken Mehlman:
"By the 2006 elections, we'll have gas prices down, people will have forgotten about Katrina, and we'll get the troops coming home from Iraq," ... And then for the coup de grace, says Norquist, his baby face breaking into a wide grin: "We'll bring in al-Zarqawi and Osama Bin Ladin." [Emph. added]
Norquist also talks about the Plame case:
"If Cheney is involved in any way, then [Scooter] Libby pleads guilty and stops the hemorrhaging."
And then Bush pardons both of them? I ask.
"Sure," says Norquist.
But: If Cheney's involved, how does Libby pleading guilty stop the hemorrhaging? 7:02 P.M.
Stephanopoulos is a River in Egypt: Here's This Week'sGeorge Stephanopolous on whether the 1994 "Contract with America" helped the Republicans take Congress:
I don't think that made any difference. ... I think a tax increase and raising taxes on Social Security had a lot more to do with it.
He's in some kind of liberal revisionist denial, right? To pick one salient issue, does Stephanopoulos really think the contract's call for welfare reform, which Clinton campaigned on in 1992 but backburnered, and which Newt Gingrich talked about obsessively, didn't make "any difference"? 4:05 A.M.
Another patient denied a "good death," despite expert opinions: An 11-year old girl said to be in a "vegetative state with no hope of recovery"-- begins to recover, according to Malkin. ... Where's the fabled Republican message machine when it comes to publicizing this story in the MSM? It tends to put GOP activism over Terri Schiavo in a favorable light, no? 3:08 A.M.
This Brokeback Thing Got Me Bad! Brokeback Mountain's marketing mindermast Jack Foley explains his "release strategy" to BoxOfficeMojo:
Foley: I spent a whole lot of time studying gay markets and making the discussion about the movie less abstract. [Emph. added]
Wait, I thought this was a universal love story embraced by mainstream American markets fed up with cynical GOP anti-homosexuality! [$] ... Those early "heartland" venues (e.g., Plano, Texas) that were said to demonstrate the film's across-the-board appeal couldn't have been intentionally located near large gay markets, could they? [You're still at it aren't you? This film is going to do $65M in domestic business, easy--ed. $65 million is not a "runaway phenomenon" (Frank Rich's words)! It's Barbershop 2. $100 million would be a phenomenon. The English Patient, another doomed-romance film, did $110 million, adjusted for inflation. Fahrenheit 9/11 did $119 million, unadjusted, without having any discernible effect on the red states. I'm moving the goalposts!] ... 1:56 A.M.
Ford is smart (from a shareholders' point of view) to get its cost-cutting and plant closing done soon-- i.e., tomorrow. That's because Ford has at least two likely hit products--the Fusion and Edge--entering the market. Once it becomes clear that they're selling and generating profits, it will be harder to convince Ford's workers that sacrifices are necessary. ... 6:20 P.M.
Hillary's negatives among Democrats are rising and she gets thumped by McCain in a head-to-head general election poll. ... She almost loses to "generic GOP." (McCain leads "generic Dem" by 13 points). ... Update: And Molly Ivins is off-board. (Her anti-HRC column seems even angrier with no paragraph breaks!) ... 2:36 A.M.
Instapundit's Katrina/Rita Relief donation list.
Bloggingheads--Bob Wright's videoblog project. Gearbox--Searching for the Semi-Orgasmic Lock-in. Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--He reports! And decides! Wonkette--Makes Jack Shafer feel guilty. Salon--Survives! kf gloating on hold. Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! David Corn--Trustworthy reporting from the left. Washington Monthly--Includes Charlie Peters' proto-blog. Lucianne.com--Stirs the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. Keller's Calmer Times--Registration required. NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare! Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog. Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. Overlawyered.com--Daily horror stories. Eugene Volokh--Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman--Born to blog. Joe Conason--Bush-bashing, free most days. Lloyd Grove--Don't let him write about you. Arianna's Huffosphere--Now a whole fleet of hybrid vehicles. TomPaine.com--Web-lib populists. Take on the News--TomPaine's blog. B-Log--Blog of spirituality! Hit & Run--Reason gone wild! Daniel Weintraub--Beeblogger and Davis Recall Central. Eduwonk--You'll never have to read another mind-numbing education story again. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. John Leo--If you've got political correctness, he's got a column ... [More tk]