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Archive for October, 2007


[ 15 ] October 27, 2007 |

FUCK. Oh, yes; and YEAH!!!!!!


Gail Collins: There To Make MoDo and Bobo Look Smart

[ 28 ] October 27, 2007 |

I forgot to blog about this on Thursday, but this has to rank as one of the most remarkable recent paragraphs written on the increasingly embarrassing NYT op-ed page:

Lately, anti-Huckabee conservatives have been suggesting he’s soft on crime. The story involves an Arkansas man, Wayne DuMond, who was accused of kidnapping and raping a high school cheerleader in 1985. While he was free awaiting trial, masked men broke into his home, beat and castrated him. His testicles wound up in a jar of formaldehyde, on display on the desk of the local sheriff. At the trial, he was sentenced to life plus 20 years. When Huckabee became governor, DuMond was still in an apparently hopeless situation, though theoretically eligible for parole. Huckabee championed his cause, and wrote him a congratulatory letter when he was finally released in 1999. Then in 2000 DuMond moved to Kansas City, where he sexually assaulted and murdered a woman who lived near his home.

“There’s nothing you can say, but my gosh, it’s the thing you pray never happens,” the clearly tortured Huckabee recently told The National Review. “And it did.” If by some miracle he became the presidential nominee, there would obviously be many opportunities to point out that Michael Dukakis never sent a letter to Willie Horton celebrating his furlough.

Why do the leaders of the religious right keep sidling away from a Baptist minister whose greatest political sin seems to have been showing compassion to a prisoner who appeared to deserve it?

Tristero and Somerby point out the rather massive gap in the story here: that DuMond was released not out of some independent sense of compassion but because a wingnut campaign on his behalf was launched because the woman DuMond raped was a distant relative of Bill Clinton. There also doesn’t seem to be any corroborating evidence that DuMond was the victim of a vigilante attack, which is the presumed source of the “compassion” allegedly demonstrated by Huckabee (unless Collins wants to argue for early parole for serial rapists on the merits.) This was not just a parole that happened under Huckabee’s watch, but one he personally intervened to secure. Was this result of a careful assessment of the facts? Where did he get the information that made him decide that keeping DuMond in prison was unjust? Er:

The state official who advised Huckabee on the Dumond case confirmed that the governor knew very little about Ashley Stevens’ case:

“I don’t believe that he had access to, or read, the law enforcement records or parole commission’s files — even by then,” the official said. “He already seemed to have made up his mind, and his knowledge of the case appeared to be limited to a large degree as to what people had told him, what Jay Cole had told him, and what he had read in the New York Post.”

Jay Cole, like Huckabee, is a Baptist minister, pastor for the Mission Fellowship Bible Church in Fayetteville and a close friend of the governor and his wife. On the ultra-conservative radio program he hosts, Cole has championed the cause of Wayne Dumond for more than a decade.

Cole has repeatedly claimed that Dumond’s various travails are the result of Ashley Stevens’ distant relationship to Bill Clinton.

The governor was also apparently relying on information he got from Steve Dunleavy, first as a correspondent for the tabloid television show “A Current Affair” and later as a columnist for the New York Post.

Much of what Dunleavy has written about the Dumond saga has been either unverified or is demonstrably untrue. Dunleavy has all but accused Ashley Stevens of having fabricated her rape, derisively referring to her in one column as a “so-called victim,” and brusquely asserting in another, “That rape never happened.”

The columnist wrote that Dumond was a “Vietnam veteran with no record” when in fact he did have a criminal record. He claimed there existed DNA evidence by “one of the most respected DNA experts in the country” to exonerate Dumond, even though there was no such evidence. He wrote that Bill Clinton had personally intervened to keep Dumond in prison, even though Clinton had recused himself in 1990 from any involvement in the case because of his distant relationship with Stevens.

“The problem with the governor is that he listens to Jay Cole and reads Steve Dunleavy and believes them … without doing other substantative work,” the state official said.

Had Huckabee examined in detail the parole board’s files regarding Dumond, he would have known Dumond had compiled a lengthy criminal resume.

Interesting definition of “compassion” there. The bottom line is that a woman is dead, not as a tragic consequence of an imperfect parole system but because Huckabee went along with crackpot anti-Clinton conspiracy nuts and released someone with a significant history of violence and sexual assault. Seems like something worth considering when determining if someone would make a good president for me. But that would mean returning to the lunatic war on the Clintons, in which the Times was frequently complicit, and we can’t have that!

The Overrated Led By the Even More Overrated

[ 16 ] October 27, 2007 |

The glorious effects of the reign of Charlie Weis, Super Genius (TM):

Weis’ Fighting Irish now stand at 1-7. This record is only the faintest indicator of just how awful Notre Dame is. They have lost nine of their last 10 games, by an average of 24 points. None has been close. While Notre Dame has suffered very few injuries, three of its opponents have had to play the Irish without their starting quarterbacks. Two of those teams, USC and Michigan, nonetheless beat Notre Dame by a larger margin than either has beaten any other opponent so far this year. Notre Dame’s lone win came against UCLA, which had been forced to use its third-string quarterback, a walk-on. In that game, Notre Dame compiled just 140 yards of offense, but won with the help of seven Bruin turnovers, five of them hand-delivered courtesy of the hapless walk-on signal-caller.

Just how bad is Notre Dame? Of the 119 teams in Division I-A, ND is 119th in total offense, 119th in rushing offense, 112th in passing offense, and 118th in scoring. If Notre Dame had doubled its scoring output, it would still rank 108th. If it doubled its rushing output (currently 34 yards a game), it would barely eke out Duke for 118th place.

The only thing not to like is that we’ll lose the annual pleasure of Notre Dame being humiliatingly demolished in a bowl game. On the other hand, this is one more BCS bowl a year with some chance of having a competitive game.

Maybe I’m wrong, but it also seems to me that Weis is getting off relatively unscathed here. Callahan is having an awful-but-not-quite-this-awful year with a proud team, and people in Lincoln want his head on a pointed stick. I haven’t sensed this with Weis.

Enough to Make Me Pine for Eastwood

[ 19 ] October 27, 2007 |

Clint Eastwood gets disrespected a lot around here, so it’s important now and again to recognize that he’s made a genuine cinematic contribution as a director. Scott and I might disagree as to the level of his achievement with Unforgiven and (perhaps) Letters from Iwo Jima, but I’d think we’d concur that Mystic River is an outstanding piece of work. Just how well Eastwood handled the Lehane novel was driven home last night when I watched the unfortunate Gone Baby Gone.

As mentioned, Gone Baby Gone is based on a Dennis Lehane novel (Lehane has also done work for The Wire, and the commonalities are evident) and covers much the same territory as Mystic River; the nexus of child molestation with white ethnic neighborhood politics. I haven’t read either novel, so can’t say anything conclusive about the relative strength of the source material for either film. I can say, however, that Ben Affleck (who directed and co-wrote the screenplay) set out to make An Important Serious Film that would, hopefully, go some distance to getting his career back on track after J-Lo, Daredevil, and several other bad choices. He covers some of the increasingly familiar territory of white ethnic Boston (Boston and Baltimore are the new New York as far as police procedurals go) decently enough, although without ever reaching the insight into the structure of those neighborhoods that we find in The Departed or especially Mystic River. Affleck grew up in Cambridge and put that experience to some good effect Good Will Hunting, while Eastwood is anything but a native, but for whatever reason (more experience, more talent, more distance from the subject matter) the latter paints a far more compelling picture of how a neighborhood actually functions, especially where criminal and police life meet, than the former.

That’s fine; saying that a movie isn’t as good as Mystic River isn’t a fair critique. Affleck coaxes some good acting out of his under-rated brother, and paints a reasonably effective picture both of the deteriorating relationship between the protagonist and his girlfriend, and of the dysfunction in the family of the victim. He even manages to do a solid job of weaving that dysfunction into the tapestry of the neighborhood. Unfortunately, the situation deteriorates from there. Although there are elements of the police procedural aspect that recall the Wire (including a cameo by Michael Williams, aka Omar Little), Affleck doesn’t handle the police well; for me the plot barely held together while I was in the theater, collapsing utterly when I took time to give it a second thought. Morgan Freeman delivers an inexplicably weak performance, although Ed Harris does well enough with the material that he’s given. Part of the problem is that the cops are given a panoply of often contradictory motivations, there actions being somewhat explicable from one point of view, then utterly nonsensical after the next twist. When, afterwards, you sit down and think about what the main police characters actually did, the plot makes not a lick of sense.

The biggest problem, however, stems from Affleck’s desire to make An Important Serious Film. Without going into spoilerish detail, in order to convince us that he’s making an ISF, he has to give us a Moral Conundrum, and he has to kill a kid. The former is presented as the film shambles to its collapse, and involves a key decision made by our protagonist. Unfortunately, we know so little about our protagonist that we can’t a) reasonably predict what decision he’s planning to make, or b) explain why he made it. That’s a problem; the end of a movie is supposed to flow from its beginning. Affleck the director gives us some hint of where his protagonist is coming from (pay attention to the discussion of deep, non-consensual identification in the opening monologue), but it’s fair to say that the apparently decisive considerations make themselves evident only in the first and last two minutes of the film, and even then only in a “What? Huh? Oh, I suppose maybe that’s what he was getting at…” kind of sense. As for the kid, I won’t go into details, but I very much felt that the child was essentially sacrificed on the altar of Ben Affleck’s quest for seriousness. What I heard was this: “Would someone who wasn’t Serious kill a kid? Take me Seriously!” Now, I hardly opposed to the killing of kids in movies, but it should be done for some purpose other than the director’s quest for relevance.

Gone Baby Gone isn’t wholly without charm, but I can’t recommend it. Watch Mystic River again, or sit down in front of a few episodes of the Wire.

[ 0 ] October 27, 2007 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson and Starbuck

"Ain’t Gonna Study War No More"

[ 7 ] October 27, 2007 |

If I had a “Greatest American Birthdays” series, I’d certainly have to include Mahalia Jackson, who must be counted as one of the most remarkable performers of the 20th century. She was probably best remembered for her renditions of “We Shall Overcome,” but her performance of “I Been ‘Buked and I Been Scorned” — which she sang just prior to MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech — was at least as powerful and has been unjustly left behind by popular memory of the civil rights era.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any film of that performance online, but I did manage to turn up this fantastic clip from a 1969 concert in Sweden. Most of that concert appears to be on YouTube, so if you’re in the mood to be completely blown away, do yourself a favor and watch.

If she hadn’t died too young in 1972, she’d have turned 96 today (which still would have been too soon to lose a voice like hers).

The Beauchamp Response

[ 12 ] October 26, 2007 |

I’ve long been skeptical about the Beauchamp stories, and wouldn’t be surprised if more elements of them were proven false. Having said that, though, I see nothing objectionable here. Obviously, 1)there’s no reason to uncritically believe the self-serving results of an investigation the Army refuses to make public, and 2)a recantation under the supervision of his superiors is hardly credible, especially if it’s subsequently withdrawn without his supervisor’s presence. The other thing to note is that the easy way out for TNR would be to just throw Beauchamp under the bus, since nothing of any significance turns on the veracity of his stories (contrary to the myths being spun about these cases, nobody cared about his diaries until right-wing bloggers made a big deal about them, and nobody’s case against the war turns on the bad behavior of some individual soldiers), especially since it’s not as if the magazine is against the war anyway. I think Foer deserves credit for backing up his writer until actual verifiable evidence that further aspects of his stories are false (and “they don’t sound right” or “no soldiers would ever do anything against the rules” certainly don’t count) emerges.

UPDATE: A correspondent points out that Beauchamp didn’t even retract his story to the military. but simply refused to say anything.

UPDATE THE SECOND: A roundup of wingnuttery on the subject from John Cole.

Department of Understatement

[ 24 ] October 26, 2007 |

From a mound of student essays I’m in the midst of grading:

The abolition of slavery following the [civil] war was a great victory for African Americans, especially those living in the south.

Why yes. I suppose it was.

About Time

[ 16 ] October 26, 2007 |

Georgia Supreme Court rules, 4-3, that Genarlow Wilson’s 10-year sentence for receiving a consensual blow-job from a 15 year-old when he was 17 was cruel and unusual punishment.

The Case Against Mukasey

[ 0 ] October 26, 2007 |

I lay it out in a new article at TAP.

This is a difficult question; I fully expected to support the nomination, and I certainly don’t think that there will be a better candidate. The bottom line for me is that nobody is going to act as a good AG for this administration, so it’s more important for the Senate to send a signal that opposition to arbitrary executive power and torture should be non-negotiable issues (and defining torture as not-torture and nominally opposing torture but removing any checks on executive power that could actually prevent it are not going to fool anybody.)

Moral Relativist Of The Day

[ 7 ] October 26, 2007 |

Rudy Giuliani.

This is a distinction that many Iraq dead-enders don’t seem to grasp, but it’s quite straightforward, so let me help. “Torture is wrong” is –right or wrong — not a moral relativist position. “Torture is wrong when other people do it but OK when we do it” is pretty much the definition of a moral relativist position, and indeed the kind that is especially odious: exempting yourself from the standards from which you hold others. You’re welcome!

Tough Gig

[ 0 ] October 26, 2007 |

Hank Steinbrenner:

“I think the most important thing is, whoever we hire, give him a chance. Because he’s not getting the ’96 Yankees. He’s getting a younger team, and for the most part, it’s a transition period, so give him a little while.”

Yeah, you have to show great patience with a manager given that paucity of talent to work with. Right. Assuming the major free agents return, the ’96 Yankees are clearly better than the ’08 Yankees at the following positions:

  • Centerfield
  • First base, assuming they don’t sign someone better than Tino “Even More Overrated Than Mattingly” Martinez

And, er, that’s it. O’Neill and Abreu are a wash, although I grant that Abreu has much lower Water Coolers Destroyed and Bitching Incessantly About Belt-High Pitches Down the Middle Called Strikes averages. Jeter ’08 is obviously better than Jeter ’96, even granting the regression in his defense. And some of remaining edges are, of course, massive: one of the 10 best players ever against the shell of Wade Boggs and Charlie Hayes, Cano against Duncan (although Duncan did have a fluke season in ’96 itself,) Matsui/Damon against Ice Williams, bordeline HOFer Jorge Posada against Joe Girardi. The ’96 Yankees did have a veteran rotation, but apart from Cone’s 11 starts it was merely good; Petite was a little better, but it seems likely that Wang/Hughes/Chamberlain will outpitch Key/Rogers/Doc (ERA+s of the latter 3: 107, 107, 100.)

Even granting that the earlier team had an excellent bench (one thing Torre deserves credit for, and which largely got away from him in later years) and more bullpen depth, please. Whoever manages the team in ’07 ’08 will have far more to work with and merits a high level of impatience.

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