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A Real Making-Shit-Up Renaissance Man

[ 24 ] December 3, 2007 |

The guy who filed fictions in the guise of reporting from Lebanon is also the author of the seminal The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Intelligent Design. Of course he is! The title is a little redundant, though.

Suckers

[ 15 ] December 2, 2007 |

Joe Sheehan (subscribers only) points out that it would be crazy for the Twins to trade Johan Santana for young pitching that hasn’t proven it can handle a major league workload — something it had plenty of — as opposed to major league hitters, which they lack at several positions. (At the very least, if they deal with the Yankees they should hold out for Cano, not Cabrera, who has well-below-average range for a CF and doesn’t hit enough to play the corners.) They don’t seem to consider that because, as Sheehan correctly points out, “no matter what a team actually needs, its GM always thinks it need pitching. ” But, of course, there’s the even better option:

Of course, there’s another option here, one that hasn’t been brought up very often. By virtue of having very few veteran players, the Twins have a low payroll, and one that is unlikely to rise much in the next few years given all of that cost-controlled pitching. They’re also moving into a new ballpark in 2009, one that should provide a larger-than usual boost in revenue as they get out from under a brutal lease at the Metrodome. Like all teams, the Twins have seen a jump in central-fund revenue, and even in the new park, they may find themselves the recipient of revenue-sharing money.

Taking that into consideration, the Twins should sign Johan Santana themselves. Even setting a new pitching standard of $20 million a year, or $22 million a year, is more than affordable for a team that will be able to support a payroll approaching $100 million and won’t come close to that figure without Santana around. The key thing we know about the free agent market is that the very best players in baseball are the ones on which you should spend your money. It’s infinitely better to overpay a bit—if it’s even overpaying—for Johan Santana than it is to try and replace his performance in the market, or through development.

Like Alex Rodriguez in 2000, like Barry Bonds in 1992, like Greg Maddux that same winter, Johan Santana is an elite talent irreplaceable through normal means, and as durable as any pitcher can be in modern baseball. If the standard in six years and $140 million, or seven and $155 million, as ridiculous as those figures sound, they may be well worth it if the alternative is spending two-thirds of that over that same period for half the performance.

Trading Santana for 50 cents on the dollar at best isn’t just a bad trade; it’s an outrage. This isn’t a baseball move, like letting Hunter walk (which was smart; he wasn’t worth the money.) They’re not going to use the money to sign a better player. And remember that the Twins, owned by one of the richest people in the country, are getting a large and absolutely indefensible taxpayer subsidy for the new stadium that will increase their revenues. I’m going to guess that the need to be able to pay their talent came up quite a bit when defending this regressive distribution of state revenues. And yet, when it comes to retaining the best pitcher in the game, Pohlad won’t risk any of his mutli-billion dollar fortune; after all, he can just take revenue-sharing money from teams that actually invest in their product along with a nice fat check from the state and make a safe profit instead. It’s a disgrace.

To Sum Up

[ 0 ] December 1, 2007 |

Edroso manages to get No Country For Old Men right in one sentence:

No Country For Old Men is an excellent chase film with twangy talk about the persistence of evil inserted at puzzling intervals.

Although mostly very-good-to-superb, I found the picture a tad disappointing, and there’s no question that the windy, portentous monologues the movie inexplicably stops dead in its tracks to give to Tommy Lee Jones’s character are the major culprit. Roy goes on to say:

In No Country, Chighur’s conversations are a little in that vein, but the pronouncements of Sheriff Bell and Ellis are closer to the tedious lecture Commissioner Hardy gives the reporters near the end of The Asphalt Jungle: an insertion that is supposed to radiate meaning onto the action from the outside. In Jungle this comes off as a quick gloss or a way of getting around the Hays Office, and is followed by a more appropriate, though downbeat, spurt of narrative; in No Country the Hardys just hang around the periphery being premonitory until near the end, when they surge to subsume and kill the story. This is the real “dismal tide”: geezers talking about good and evil (and what do they say, exactly, besides good sure is good and evil sure is evil?) till their chatter drowns out a perfectly good action picture.

They didn’t detract from the virtues of the film quite as much for me as they did for Roy, but all the tell-don’t-show bullshit towards the end is an odd lapse from the Coens (especially since their trademark dueling non-sequiturs worked surprisingly well within the McCarthy story.) I don’t know how much of it comes directly from the novel, but that’s no excuse in any case.

Saturday Issue of Obscure Interest Blogging

[ 24 ] December 1, 2007 |

Finally, the N.H.L. has altered their awful schedule, under which teams visit those in other conferences only once every three years. Since I was in Calgary for 12 days last year and saw the Canucks twice live and another time on T.V., but of course can almost never see any western team out here, I have to echo the comments of Willie Mitchell:

We’re tired of seeing Calgary, Minnesota, Edmonton. For us it would mean more travel, but I’d jump on that in a heartbeat. Guys want to play at M.S.G. [Madison Square Garden]. I want to get to the new arena in New Jersey. Never mind the fans, as a player you want to play against the best.

The strangest misconception that the league has is that playing 8 games a year against a team encouraged rivalries. But of course it’s the opposite; intradivisional rivalries just get boring when you see the same team again and again and again. And to pre-empt the same kind of argument you hear in baseball, yes some of the inter-conference games will be lousy (“who wants to see Tampa Bay play the Nationals?”) No, Ranger fans probably won’t be thrilled to see Columbus (although it may make me more likely to score tickets from the Bean family!) But these arguments seem not to realize that the Devil Rays and Panthers have to play somebody. Who wants to see Tampa Bay play the Royals again? If I still had access to a Flames season ticket I’d rather see Florida once than Minnesota for the fourth time.

Also, I should mention that serious or casual puckheads should note that this comes from the Times’ new hockey blog. Among others, it includes Jeff Z. Klein, the former sports editor of the Voice and author of an entertaining Bill Jamesian study of the game. Sounds like it will be useful.

Special Guest Star

[ 0 ] December 1, 2007 |

Longtime friend of L, G & M Julia is starting a regular guest posting gig at Firedoglake. And even better, her first post is about Giuliani and his history of promoting corrupt incompetents, so check it out…

Will Any Principled Pro-Life Federalists Please Stand Up?

[ 4 ] November 30, 2007 |

I see that Rudy Giuliani — who Ann Althouse assured us in the august pages of the New York Times was a deeply principled federalist — has come out in favor of federal abortion regulations as long as he favors the regulations. States’ rights! Admittedly, if he were a truly principled federalist like Ron Paul he would favor making abortion first degree murder in all 50 states.

Speaking of which, John Holbo says most of what I would say in response to the second point raised by Ramesh Ponnuru’s latest response on the topic. My short version is that when evaluating public discourse I’m interested in the implications of the policies being advocated, not in the subjective motivations of the speaker. We know that 1)support for abortion criminalization has a strong tendency in the U.S. to be bundled together with reactionary positions on gender and sexuality, 2)given the choice between a policy that is likely to reduce abortion rates but is inconsistent with regulating female sexuality (such as providing greater access to contraception) American pro-lifers will tend to sacrifice the former principle, and 3)American pro-lifers favor some policies that increase injury to women without protecting fetal life at all. I hardly think it’s absurd to infer from this that American pro-life politics may involve things other than the pure desire to protect fetal life, but at any rate it’s the effect of the policies than actually matters.

With respect to the federalism issue, Ponnuru concedes Paul’s inconsistency but goes on to say that “it hardly follows that Lemieux is right to say that almost everybody who says they want the issue to be resolved by the states is lying.” Unless the argument turns on hair-splitting about the distinction between “lying” and “implausibly misinformed about recent political events and/or shamelessly unprincipled,” however, I do want to defend a strong version of this claim. At least when it comes to people with any prominence in American politics, aside from a tiny fraction of libertarians almost none of the people who claim to support the overturning of Roe to “send the issue back to the states” actually believes that abortion should be strictly a state issue. Every single pro-life Republican in Congress voted for the “Partial Birth” Abortion Ban Act. President Bush signed it. As far as I can tell, every major pro-life organization supported it (and, of course, support more extensive federal regulation.) Most conservative pundits who wrote about the topic supported it (see some relevant links here) and supported Carhart II. If Ponnuru can come up with some examples of prominent abortion opponents who consistently oppose any federal regulation of abortion, I’ll retract the charge, but in the vast majority of cases deploying rhetoric about “federalism” is nothing but a cynical prop (or is based on an incredibly misinformed view about what COngressional Republicans actually think about abortion.)

UnFairTax

[ 23 ] November 30, 2007 |

Although I agree that the biggest beneficiary of the Huckabee surge is Rudy Giuliani, it now can’t be considered entirely impossible that Huckabee will get the nomination. Given this, it seems worth pointing out that his national sales tax scheme is completely insane. Beaudrot is especially good on the bait-and-switch that the plan represents:

Frustration with the complicated nature of the tax code is a reason to simplify the tax code, not to enact some crazy regressive tax scheme that would have the side effect of creating a massive informal market in untaxed goods. You could have an income tax that computed your tax liability based on a seventh degree polynomial that you could fill out on a post card, so long as the only input is “How much money did you make last year?”. Instead, our tax code asks you how much you made from working, which is treated differently from money earned from interest and dividends, which is treated differently from capital gains. And then we start asking how much you gave to charity, how much you spent on health care, how many kids you have, whether any of them are in college or require child care, whether you bought a hybrid car, etc. ad nauseum. In addition, all these nickel-and-dime deductions and credits end up forcing the government to increase its overall tax rate on the income that is taxable. It makes you have a lot of sympathy for the “broad base, low rates” position that used to be the mainstream position in the Republican party.

Right. As was true with Forbes as well, the trick is to conflate complex with progressive, when in fact the two are logically independent. You can greatly simplify the tax code without making it more regressive. And what’s really sad is that this crackpot plan won’t keep the Hair Club For Growth and other Republican business interests from trying to destroy his candidacy anyway. (Although I can’t wait for Huckabee’s next pandering ad with “celebrity” endorsement: “Hey, I’m Giuseppe Franco. I’m not putting my name on the line for a crank sales tax plan that doesn’t work!“)

Believing Your Own Press

[ 26 ] November 30, 2007 |

Thers asks: “what does it mean that The Matrix, the first one, is a watchable movie, when the dialogue is so astoundingly stupid?” Well, it means that a movie can be entertaining even if poorly written and not very well-acted if it has other virtues. But it also means that some movies of significant entertainment value but limited aesthetic mertis — especially if they have a soupcon of pretension — get inexplicably treated as if they were Works of Profound Genius. And what’s worse is that the Wachowskis seemed to take the highest praise given their decent B-movie seriously, leading to the leaden-paced, interminable, suffused-with-Baudrillardian-wankery sequels. Sad.

More on Paul And Abortion

[ 5 ] November 29, 2007 |

Ramesh Ponnuru objects to my post about Ron Paul and abortion, but fails to address most of the points. To respond to each of his arguments in turn:

  • Ponnuru calls my argument that bans on “partial birth” objection do not protect fetal life — and hence (unlike a general ban on the procedure, at least in the abstract) cannot be defended in libertarian terms — “absurd,” but doesn’t explain why. On the question of whether such bans may result to injury to women, don’t take my word for it; believe Focus on the Family’s VP, who correctly points out that in some cases beinf forced to perform the D&E means there is greater…danger of internal bleeding from a perforated uterus.” (Being a pro-choice radical, I do dissent from his belief that more uteral perforation is a good thing.) Unless you believe implausibly that women will just stop getting D&Es, though, the bans also do essentially nothing to protect fetal life. Again, don’t take my word for it; Solicitor General Clement conceded at oral argument that “no woman would be prevented from terminating her pregnancy,” which is just self-evidently true; a woman prohibited from getting a D&X can always get a D&E. I have no idea what the libertarian justification for such an irrational federal statute could be, and Ponnuru doesn’t provide any assistance on the point.
  • On the question of whether Paul’s record is consistent with the assertion that abortion is a state issue, this seems pretty straightforward. When you say that abortion is a state issue and then vote for a federal abortion regulation…I think the contradiction is fairly ironclad. Admittedly, Paul’s inconsistency is lesser than most other “overturning Roe will send the issue back to the states” types; he has, for example, consistently voted against legislation making it a crime to transport a minor across state lines to obtain an abortion. This is in contrast to Ponnuru’s favorite candidate John McCain, who while arguing that abortion should be sent back to the states has not only voted for pretty much every federal abortion regulation to come down the pike but also supports a constitutional amendment that would ban abortion in all 50 states. I don’t think elaborate argument is required to demonstrate the inconsistency of such policy positions with the proposition that abortion should be a state issue, but this is pretty much the standard Republican position. While in some cases the federalism dodge may involve a simple error in judgment, when you simultaneously claim that abortion should be a state issue and favor federal abortion regulation I don’t think claims of dishonesty are particularly unfair. Ponnuru also claims that “there are good reasons to expect stalemate at the federal level.” This is probably true insofar as a flat-out ban on abortion is concerned, but 1)there are plenty of abortion regulations short of a ban which may have a chance of being passed (and some of which already have), and 2)such claims often involve the assumption that the abortion debate will displaced to the state level, which given that most opponents of Roe also favor (and logically should favor) federal abortion legislation is quite clearly false.

At any rate, I stand by both of my points: supporting federal “partial birth” abortion legislation is consistent with neither libertarianism nor leaving abortion as a state issue.

UPDATE: I was probably too generous to Paul above. As Tom points out, Paul has also sponsored legislation that would define the fetus as a “person” from the moment of conception. In other words, as long as the 14th Amendment remains in force Paul would make abortion first degree murder in all 50 states, and federal agents would also presumably have to routinely investigate miscarriages, etc. It remains unclear to me how this is consistent with the position that abortion should be left to the states.

To Be Fair and Balanced

[ 0 ] November 28, 2007 |

Given the minor discussion in comments about Sting’s merits as a solo artist, I thought we should things turn over to the man himself:

It hit me the other day, and it was like, “Whoa—that’s so bizarre.” I was sitting at one of my pianos, working out some chords for my forthcoming album The Tepid Heart, when the wife asked me to pick up some diet soda. Since the staff was off (it was a Sunday), and the kids were due home from football practice soon, I said sure and drove down to the cornershop.

When I got there, the kid behind the counter had a tape playing that sounded oddly familiar. It wasn’t really my cup of tea—polyrhythmic and uptempo, with intense emotional energy and electrically amplified guitars instead of acoustic. And the kid was, to be honest, playing it a bit loud. But instead of being annoyed, I found it compelling in a weird sort of way. When I asked the kid who it was, he said he’d found it in a bag of stuff that used to belong to his older brother. “It’s old, but I like it,” he said. “It’s kind of reggae, but it sounds punk, too.”

Well, several weeks went by, but it kept nagging at me. Then, finally, last Thursday, I figured it out. I was in the den, watching some figure skating on TV and reading Parade. (Isn’t it funny how these things always hit you at the oddest times?) Anyway, there was an article about a policewoman who volunteers teaching schoolchildren about pet safety, when suddenly, it clicked: That kid was listening to Outlandos d’Amour, the first record by my old band, The Police!

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Wow… I haven’t thought about The Police in years.” And neither had I, but you know what? It sounds nothing like what you’d expect after hearing “Fields Of Gold.” At first, I thought, “Wait… Is this just my memory playing tricks on me? I mean, I recorded the love theme from The Three Musketeers with Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart, for Christ’s sake. How cool could I possibly be?” But then I dusted off a bunch of the old LPs and, boy, was I amazed. Those records were actually pretty rockin’! You wouldn’t think that kind of stuff would come from me, but, hey, the opening track, “Next To You”? Come on! And the rest of the album, too: “So Lonely,” “Born In the ’50s,” and you’ve got to admit that “Sally Be My Girl” is one cool song. I was like, “Did I write this stuff? No way!”

Seems about right. I had forgotten about the Three Musketeers thing; I think it took George Harrison longer to write “Got My Mind Set on You“…

Against The Sorkinization of Hollywood

[ 28 ] November 28, 2007 |

A good article by Sudhir Muralidhar that, rather than attempting to project wingnut aesthetic Stalinism onto the public, wonders if anti-war movies are flopping not because the public loves the war and loves George Bush but because they…seem awful?

How else to explain Lions for Lambs, the most inert, predictable, and unnecessary political film to come out this year? Directed by Redford, the movie turns on the choices of three pairs of characters: A Republican senator (Tom Cruise) and a journalist (Meryl Streep) called to interview him about a new war strategy, two idealistic college graduates recently enlisted in the Army and deployed in Afghanistan (Michael Pena and Derek Luke) to employ that strategy, and a young student disenchanted with the American political process (Andrew Garfield) who must defend his apathy to his liberal political science professor (Redford). Lions for Lambs attempts to distill the debacle of the Iraq War through these characters, to demonstrate how the American public’s (students’) disillusionment with our political process allowed Washington elites (politicians and journalists) to deceive the country and send bright, well-intentioned men (young soldiers on the frontlines) to their death.

Such unsubtle frameworks usually work better in theater than in cinema, and it’s no surprise that Lions for Lambs feels much less like a Hollywood movie than a well-financed play. Not a good play, mind you, but a play written by a precocious high school student who watches lots of CNN. Matthew Michael Carnahan, the screenwriter behind this dreck, litters his dialogue with allusions to Abu Ghraib and Iran’s nuclear program but does little more than reference these real-world events. Cruise’s slick Republican senator speaks about his new war strategy in such vague terms that one cannot help but wonder if Carnahan has ever heard a real policy speech or even read an article on the war that was longer than an entry on the Huffington Post.

As I mentioned elsewhere, descriptions of this film remind me of nothing to much as the nightmarishly atrocious post-9/11 episode of The West Wing. (I know, I know, we wrote it in 24 hours or something. The problem is, virtually all of Studio 60 consisted of the same kind of position-paper reading, although at least they didn’t literally lock students into a room while Sorkin preached at them.)

Muralidhar does seem a little more sympathetic to Redacted but concedes its aesthetic failures. I’ll just add that I’m amused by people are talking about a Brian DePalma movie flopping as if this proves something about the administration and the war. People must love Bush if nobody sees Redacted following the incredible box-office success of Mission to Mars and Femme Fatale!

Sorry, But…

[ 48 ] November 28, 2007 |



Do They Know They Celebrate Christmas In Warmer Climes At All?

Roger claims that Wham!’s “Last Christmas” is indisputably the worst Christmas song ever. Now, it’s certainly awful. But its awfulness cannot hold a candle to “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” an exceptionally lame song sung by mostly third-rate British pop stars that is also an unfortunate combination of self-congratulatory charity project and egregious racist condescension. Really, it begins and ends any such discussion. Indeed, it’s so bad that even the Canadian analogue (though not a Christmas song) is much better, if only on the strength of Gordon Lightfoot’s shades and Neil Young’s sideburns…

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