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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.

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The Bootstraps Myth

[ 46 ] December 1, 2007 |

Counterintuitive news of the day: when fathers pay child support payments ostensibly to their poverty-stricken ex-partners and children, they’re only helping deepen the women’s poverty.

How? Well, in many states the child support payments made to women on welfare go directly to the state and federal coffers with little to nothing reaching the women themselves. According to the Times, about half the states pass nothing from child support along to the custodial parent (usually a woman), while in most others the custodian gets only $50/month. This counterproductive structure comes thanks to federal law, which requires states to use child support statements to reimburse welfare payments.

To me, the problems with such a system seem blindingly apparent: First, child support payments are, duh, supposed to support children. When the money is going to the government instead of the child, it’s unlikely that is happening. Second, though a goal of the country’s welfare program is to help people to self-sufficiency (a laughable goal given the program’s structure, but still…), refusing them the aid they are due helps ensure that they are unable to do exactly that. As the Times notes:

When Congress set up the current child support system in the 1970s, recovering welfare costs was an explicit goal, with some experts arguing that it was only fair for fathers to repay the government for sustaining their offspring and that giving families the money was a form of “double dipping.” But experience and research have suggested to most experts and state and federal officials from both parties that the policy is counterproductive — driving fathers into the underground economy and leaving families more dependent on aid.

Given that this – at this point – just about universally acknowledged, why hasn’t anything changed?

Well, it almost did change…until the deficit the Bush administration has created crept back into congress’s conscience:

Reflecting a growing, bipartisan sense that diverting child support money to government coffers is counterproductive, Congress, in the Deficit Reduction Act passed in early 2006, took a modest step toward change. Beginning in 2009, states will be permitted to pass along up to $100 for one child and $200 for two or more children, with the state and federal governments giving up a share of welfare repayments they have received in the past.

The Bush administration has set a goal of increasing the share of collections distributed to families and reducing the amount retained by the government. But the drive to reduce the budget deficit has gotten in the way. As part of last-minute budget crunching, the Republican-controlled Congress in that same act reduced by 20 percent the child-support enforcement money it gives to the states, starting this fall. Many states say the effort to force them to pay more of the enforcement costs will impede collections and prevent them from passing more money on to needy families.

So, there’s some good movement, but not enough. Recently, a number of governors wrote a letter to Congress requesting that Congress repeal the program that gives child support money to the government to repay welfare in toto. But in the meantime there are still many too many women like Karla Hart (on whom the Times focuses), who can’t give their kids the $9 they need for a school activity. Getting rid of this welfare “repayment” won’t solve that but those $200/month “extra” would go a long way.

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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.

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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…

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[ 13 ] December 1, 2007 |

Robert Craig Knievel, Jr.

A lot of folks have asked me over the last couple of years why I named that other site after Evel Knievel. I don’t have an especially good answer, except to say that the name made for a good pun and was, for all kinds of reasons, a better choice than “Kennedy’s Magic Johnson.” I never owned an Evel Knievel lunchbox, and I was always too much of a coward to try and emulate his various stunts on the crappy bike I rode as a kid.

Anyhow, the Axis’ namesake passed away today, setting a dark cloud over Clay Aiken’s 29th birthday while commemorating the release of a Michael Jackson album titled, appropriately enough, Thriller.


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Will Any Principled Pro-Life Federalists Please Stand Up?

[ 3 ] 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.)

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Worst American Birthdays, vol. 32

[ 26 ] November 30, 2007 |

Watergate co-conspirator and gibbering loon G. Gordon Liddy turns 77 today.

As a child during the Great Depression, Liddy quivered with glee at the sound of Adolf Hitler’s voice on the radio. As he recounted in his autobiography (appropriately titled Will), the Fuhrer’s words filled him with hope and delivered him from fear.

Hitler’s voice called out calmly, in low, dispassionate tones, but as he spoke of what his people would accomplish, his voice rose in pitch and tempo. Once united, the German people could do anything, surmount any obstacle, rout any enemy, achieve fulfillment. He would lead them; there would be one people, one nation, one leader. Here was the very antithesis of fear — sheer animal confidence and power of will. He sent an electric current through my body and, as the massive audience thundered its absolute support and determination, the air on the back of my neck rose and I realized suddenly that I had stopped breathing.

Hitler taught Liddy that if nations could be “lifted out of weakness,” so might a puny asthmatic boy like himself. To condition his body and soul for a long life of struggle against weakness, Liddy embarked on a fascist-inspired campaign of personal growth. He stood defiantly on railroad tracks, challenging oncoming trains to run him over; he scaled trees during storms and baited the lightning; he killed chickens and ate rats to prove that he could overcome his aversion to death and his fear of vermin.

I killed and killed and killed, and, finally, I could kill efficiently and without emotion or thought. I was satisfied; when my turn to go to war came, I’d be ready. I could kill as I could run — like a machine.

Though Liddy served two years as an artillery officer during the Korean war, he never left stateside and thus never got the chance to kill actual humans. This missed opportunity proved to be an enormous disappointment.

Two decades later, while working as one of Richard Nixon’s resident goons, Liddy’s bloodlust was further thwarted. Though the US continued to wage war against the people of Vietnam, it lacked the will to bomb the dams along the Red River — as Liddy would have preferred — and flood the country. His plans to bomb the Brookings Institution and kill journalists like Jack Anderson were similarly tabled, and Liddy was reduced to planning mere burglaries and scheming to tap the telephone wires of political enemies. Arrested and convicted for his role in planning the Watergate break-in, Liddy endured nearly five years in prison. After his release, he reinvented himself as a novelist, sometime actor and right-wing radio host, where he could apply the rhetorical skills he learned as a child and warn the fatherland of dangers to come.

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[ 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!“)

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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.

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State Sponsored Trolls

[ 14 ] November 30, 2007 |

Walter Pincus, via Defense Tech:

The State Department, departing from traditional public diplomacy techniques, has what it calls a three-person, “digital outreach team” posting entries in Arabic on “influential” Arabic blogs to challenge misrepresentations of the United States and promote moderate views among Islamic youths in the hopes of steering them from terrorism.

The department’s bloggers “speak the language and idiom of the region, know the culture reference points and are often able to converse informally and frankly, rather than adopt the usually more formal persona of a U.S. government spokesperson,” Duncan MacInnes, of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs, told the House Armed Services subcommittee on terrorism and unconventional threats on Thursday.

Huh. I wonder if Al Qaeda deploys teams of trolls onto “influential” American blogs; could we tell the difference between an Al Qaeda troll and a more typical wingnutty troll? On issues of gay rights or abortion, probably not. But then, these ruminations serve only to emphasize how important it is not to allow a “troll gap”; I would hate to think that the future of the Republic is threatened by a troll shortage.

Cross-posted to Tapped.

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[ 1 ] November 30, 2007 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson

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Are You a Liberal?

[ 77 ] November 30, 2007 |

Conservapedia has the scorecard. Give yourself a point for each entry that sounds familiar. Take a celebratory drink for those in bold. Give yourself two points if you have no idea what the fuck they’re talking about.

The style of a liberal often includes these characteristics:

1. calling conservative humor “unprofessional and meaningless, and degrades the quality of your encyclopedia.”
2. overreliance on hearsay, such as the false claim that most support evolution
3. unjustified praise of atheists and other liberals as “geniuses”, despite little achievement
4. calling the use of the term liberal when used in a derogatory context “stupid”
5. denial that people can grow out of a liberal viewpoint, such as atheism
6. denial of accountability
7. insisting on a mindless equality, as in “if you have an entry for Beethoven, then you must allow entries for vulgar rap artists!”
8. concealing one’s liberal views rather than admitting them
9. calling conservative free speech “hate” speech
10. pretending to know more than he does; Isaac Newton admitted that he knew almost nothing, yet a liberal rarely admits that and often pretends to know more than he does
11. resistance to quantifying things, such as liberal bias or openmindedness
12. preference for obscenity and profanity
13. insistence on having the last word in a discussion or debate
14. over-reliance on mockery
15. over-reliance on accusations of hypocrisy
16. hostility to faith
17. insistence on censoring certain speech, such as a description of The Flood or even teaching children about a massive flood, despite its acceptance by a majority of Americans
18. believing that the education of children is for liberals to control
19. believing that conservatives will fail, and refusing to accept when they succeed, as when George W. Bush won in 2000
20. reluctance to admit that anything is morally wrong
21. bullying conservatives who disagree with liberal views
22. draw an analogy between opponents and racists, no matter how illogical
23. claim that science supports their position, and ignore any evidence that shows their position to be false
24. often declare that an adversary should be “ashamed of himself,” while never saying that about a fellow liberal (such as Ted Kennedy or Bill Clinton)
25. willing to give away everything held dear by the majority to avoid serious conflict (such as the appeasement of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, or those liberals who wish to pull our troops out of Iraq, and embolden the terrorists).
26. using hyperbole instead of fact-based logic in an attempt to tug at people’s emotions rather than appealing to their sense of reason.
27. often long-winded and verbose, and in debates liberals often consume more than their fair share of the alloted time, leaving less time for the other side.
28. attempting to control the rules of evidence used in a debate. For example, claiming that Young Earth Creationism is false, and then refusing to allow supporting evidence by claiming that the scientists are religiously motivated.
29. attempting to control the definitions of words through political correctness. For example, referring to Israel as “occupied territories” or suggesting that Al-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq are not part of Al-Qaeda.
30. Dismissing legitimate criticism as “a joke”
31. Denying something widely known to be true but difficult to prove, such as observing that men are far more likely to work in gas stations than women.
32. Will often deny being a liberal, or will claim to be a “true conservative”, while spouting liberal and democratic talking points and criticizing basic conservative beliefs and principles.
33. using non sequiturs in argument, such as responding to the point above that liberals over-rely on accusations of hypocrisy by citing an example of conservatives’ observing liberal hypocrisy. But their example does not help their argument. Quite the contrary, use of that example tends to prove that liberals do over-rely on accusations of hypocrisy (relativism). Think about that.
34. selectively citing the Bible when convenient, even though they hold much of it in disdain.
35. believing that bureaucratic honors or appointments are meaningful achievements.
36. silly demands for apologies.
37. can’t understand the difference between identity (e.g., color of one’s skin), perspective (e.g., Judeo-Christian) and bias (e.g., Bias in Wikipedia).
38. inability or unwillingness to differentiate between genuine conservative arguments and parodies of conservative arguments.
39. “Contrariness is creativity to the untalented” – Dennis Miller’s general observation about liberal behavior.
40. Assuming criminals are on the other side of the political fence, without evidence.

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