Saturday, January 31, 2009

Your Typical Internet Debate Thread

The Chinese government is essentially a bunch of plutocrats.

No. They're totalitarians.

Plutocrats that own people are totalitarians. The party rules the country the same way a CEO rules a business.

Yep, CEOs routinely torture, imprison, and kill their opponents.

They would if they could.

They would if they could? What kind of an answer is that?

The correct one.

No. It's an assumption about what lies in someone else's heart and soul.

CEOs have no soul. Until you become better informed about such basic facts, I don't see how we can continue this conversation.

But "They would if they could" is not a fact. It's a hypothetical that might or might not be true.

Under the standard definition of "fact" --

Please don't pick up that dictionary.

-- a "fact" is the quality of being actual --

Here we go...

-- or is a piece of information being presented as having objective reality.

But simply presenting something as an objective reality doesn't make it an objective reality.

You're not following my reasoning; otherwise, you would agree with me. As the Observer Effect in quantum mechanics tells us, if I observe CEOs to have no soul, then the probability function collapses and that specific reality, in fact, comes into being.

That's not quite what the Observer Effect says.

I checked it on Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is open source. Anyone can post incorrect information on it.

Look, I've got Wikipedia backing me up. What have you got?

I work in the field of theoretical phys --

Don't make me start quoting Lawrence Lessig.

Touche. But if I might, under your standard definitions --


I'm sorry?

You said definitions. I gave one definition.

Two parts of the same definition, you're right. I'm sorry.

You realize you just discredited your entire argument, of course.

I'm sorry?

If you can't get a simple thing like that straight, how can anyone trust your work in the field of theoretical whatever?

I misspoke. I owned up to it. I apologized. Can we move on?

Really, if you can't keep up with me, I don't see how we can continue this conversation.

Would it help if I apologized again?

Definition, definitions. Don't try and parse my words. That's my thing.

Well, I've also worked professionally as a editor for more than fifteen years --

And you still don't understand "context." Sheesh!

Can we please get back to the original point?

Why not? I'll argue anything.

Thank you. Now --

"Context" --

Oh, for crying out loud...

-- the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning.

I understand "context," I promise you.

But not which parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage apply.

You mean cherry-picking.

Are you pissing on me?

Believe me, if I were pissing on you, you'd be wet. That's called objective reali --

Seriously, are you pissing on me?

Just make your damn point.

You realize your use of "damn" just discredited your entire argument.

Your point?

My "damn" point. Can't you even keep track of your own words?

I'm opening my zipper.

Just like a conservative, always marking his damn territory.

I'm pro-gay marriage and pro-choice. What kind of "conservative" is that?

A bad one.

*sigh* You had a point about context?

Right. My point is that you don't understand the context of the context. The "meta-context," if you will.

The meta-context?

The meta-context.

Is that like the Muffin Man?

Seriously, are you pissing on me?

You're right. I'm sorry.

And I apologize for any misunderstanding on your part of anything that I've said.

Then clarify this for me. You seem to be saying that all plutocrats that own people are totalitarians.

Taken out of context, you might try and make that case.

And that plutocrats are by definition wealthy.

Under the standard definition, yes.

Okay, but totalitarians like the Taliban basically owned everyone in Afghanistan, yet they were essentially dirt poor. You don't have to be rich to be a dictator. Are those totalitarians also plutocrats?

They would have been wealthy if they could have been. Meta-context! Meta-context!

Look, all I'm saying --

Why do you people keep forcing me to prove how smart I am?!

All I'm saying is that not all totalitarians are plutocrats, and not all plutocrats are totalitarians.

*deep sigh* Under the meta-context --

And that we really have to be careful making blanket statements about a large group, whether we're talking about CEOs or minorities or members of a given religion.

Seriously, are you pissing on me? Because I want to agree with that, so I must have lost track of the meta-context. Or something.

Let me put it this way, are all liberals the same?

Of course not.

Do they all march in lockstep, or believe the same thing, or agree on every single tactic and issue?

Don't pick nits. I really hate that about you.

So if we can't make blanket statements about liberals as a group, how can we make it about CEOs?

Haven't you been listening? They're CEOs!

What, there are no liberal CEOs?


I think you're cherry-picking your sample here.

No, you're just not understanding my statistical method; otherwise, you would agree with me.

Oh, I understand your statistical method, and your study design. I edit this stuff, remember?

Then why do you continue to claim there is more uncertainty about the cause of global warming than just five guys in the pay of Big Oil?

Because it's true. I see it all the time in the studies I edit.

Then why do I keep saying it's only five guys in the pay of Big Oil?

I'm not following you.

Oh, that's been clear from the start.

Is this some meta-context, observer effect thing again?

Look, didn't you edit two studies about the clean-up efforts for the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska?

I did, yes.

And didn't Exxon fund a percentage of those two studies?

Exxon spilled the oil. Of course they helped pay for the studies judging the effectiveness of their clean-up efforts.

So you indirectly took money from Big Oil, which discredits you completely on the subject of global warming.

But the Exxon Valdez oil spill has nothing to do with global warming.


And both studies were critical of Exxon.

Irrelevant. It's the --

-- meta-context. Right.

Like I'm always saying, science is just too big for us to teach people to actually judge the science. Therefore, we have to basically give up teaching people how to understand the scientific method and, really, science itself and instead teach them how to judge the messenger rather than the science.

Well, that does make things easier, I suppose.

Exactly. You took money from Big Oil, so I don't have to take seriously anything you have to say about science.

What about Einstein?

What about him?

Einstein was a patent clerk. What the hell does a patent clerk know about physics and relativity?

My point exactly.

So under your method, wouldn't relativity be a fraud, because the messenger had that whole patent clerk thing going on?

Don't pick nits. I really hate that about you.

All I'm saying is --

I'm going to make you apologize again, you know, just to keep the peace in the forum.


And Einstein never took money from Big Oil.

He would have if he could have, I'm sure.

Don't be absurd. That's a blanket generalization, and you can't make those.

You mean like all CEOs wanting to imprison and torture people, if they could?

What did I just say about picking nits?

*sigh* There really is no room in your world for honest, intelligent people to come to different conclusions about politics, or policy, or whatever, is there?

Of course not. If they were honest and intelligent, they would agree me.

[MODERATOR'S NOTE: This thread is now closed.]

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Obligatory Stimulus Quote Post

Steve Chapman:

We all know how we got into this economic mess. We spent too much, borrowed with abandon, and acted like the bills would never come due. So what's the prescription for getting out? Spending more, borrowing more, and acting like the bills will never come due.
When asked at a press briefing about the interest cost affecting the overall cost of stimulus package, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Tuesday said, "The real price tag is how much the plan costs now, $825 billion." He likened it to being asked how much a house costs. Typically the price given is the sales price, not the 30-year cost with interest, he said.
Jacob Sullum:
Even as President Obama promises that the federal government will spend the $1 trillion or so contemplated in the stimulus legislation in a utterly open, totally transparent, and absolutely accountable way, he demands that members of Congress vote for the 647-page monstrosity before they can possibly have time to read and digest it. "We don't have a moment to spare," he says, eliciting praise from Honeywell CEO David Cote, who raves, "Thank God you are not a timid man."
Glenn Reynolds:
“Not a moment to spare.” Because given enough time, people might wise up . . . .?
Hale Stewart:

The country is in the middle of one of the worst recessions in over 70 years. Consumer spending is falling off a cliff, industrial production is collapsing, capacity utilization is down, housing is in the tank, unemployment is rising, more and more companies are announcing big lay-offs, investment spending is falling .... you get the idea. The government is the only player who can do anything right now because every other economic player is out of the game. Yet -- according to Republican economic philosophy -- this is the time to become fiscal conservatives.


$20 million “for the removal of small- to medium-sized fish passage barriers.”
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi:
Yes, we wrote the bill. Yes, we won the election.
$25 million to rehabilitate off-roading (ATV) trails.
Bob Cesca:
Republicans on the Hill, on the radio and on cable news seemed to have forgotten how ridiculous George W. Bush looked when he performed his pee-pants-dance in public; acting like a petulant, entitled twerp who could, at any moment, very nearly regress into an actual terrible-twos tantrum, only to pull himself back at the last second and find some restraint just before reflexively dropping to the ground in a raging tempest of elbows, fists and teeth. The Republicans seemed to have forgotten about the inefficacy of this routine because it's precisely the behavior they're exhibiting this week. They're acting like Bush Republicans.
$70 million to “Support Supercomputing Activities” for climate research.
Bob Cesca:
Their political audacity, while never surprising, always seems to confound expectations and defy logic. Having relegated themselves to the status of a regional, minor party due to their unserious, fear-mongering wedge politics and well-documented record of disastrous policy-making, they remain so hubristic as to crap their cages and demand a seat at the Big Boy Table, as if they're the majority party in Congress -- as if they somehow earned an equal voice in this thing by way of their awesome record on the economy.
$150 million for honey bee insurance.
Megan McArdle:

Though you wouldn't think it from the really quite shocking incivility emanating from the pro-stimulus side, the empirical evidence that this works in a large industrial economy like ours is basically nonexistent. The problem is, we have very, very few examples to test on: America during the Great Depression, and Japan in the 1990s. And neither America nor Japan managed to stimulate their way out of their troubles. You can argue--and many do--that this is because we, and they, didn't stimulate enough. That may be true. But unless you can forward test your theory, it's a just so story . . . as we just painfully found out about the "It was all the Fed's fault" narrative of the 1930s banking collapse. There is no excuse for calling people who question your highly theoretical model fools and charlatans.

What we've got, since Japan really never did emerge from its lost decade, is basically one fact: America entered World War II in a depression, and emerged from World War II without one.

Jon Sanders:
Resorting to overturned Keynesian nostrums in the middle of a recession is as backwards as physicians today treating a deadly infection by bloodletting. Think about it: if more government spending truly stimulated the economy, then why is the economy in such a shambles after eight years of the Bush administration and Congress growing federal spending from $1.86 trillion in 2001 to $2.98 trillion in 2008?
The Wall Street Journal:
Another "stimulus" secret is that some $252 billion is for income-transfer payments -- that is, not investments that arguably help everyone, but cash or benefits to individuals for doing nothing at all. There's $81 billion for Medicaid, $36 billion for expanded unemployment benefits, $20 billion for food stamps, and $83 billion for the earned income credit for people who don't pay income tax. While some of that may be justified to help poorer Americans ride out the recession, they aren't job creators.
Lawrence B. Lindsey:
For a similar amount of money, the government could essentially cut the payroll tax in half, taking three points off the rate for both the employer and the employee. This would put $1,500 into the pocket of a typical worker making $50,000, with a similar amount going to his or her employer. It would provide a powerful stimulus to the spending stream, as well as a significant, six percentage point reduction in the tax burden of employment for people making less than $100,000. The effects would be immediate.
The Note:
Controversy over the contraception provision was sparked over the weekend when George Stephanopoulos asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about it on ABC's "This Week."

"Hundreds of millions of dollars to expand family planning services. How is that stimulus?" asked Stephanopoulos.

"Well, the family planning services reduce cost," said Pelosi. "They reduce cost. The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now and part of what we do for children's health, education and some of those elements are to help the states meet their financial needs. One of those -- one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception, will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government."

"So no apologies for that?" asked Stephanopoulos.

"No apologies," said Pelosi.
ABC News:
The contraceptive provision was dropped after President Barack Obama placed a call to Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., on Monday. Waxman is the chairman of the committee that inserted the contraception provision into the stimulus package last week.
Art Brodsky:
Kicking out family planning angered a lot of women, a key constituency for the Democratic party. Putting in more non-productive tax cuts angered a lot of progressives.
Brutally Honest:
The stimulus package passed by a vote of 244-188. Eleven Democrats voted against the measure, while no Republicans supported it.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi:
"Well, we are definitely stepping up to the plate to say we'll be accountable," she said in an interview broadcast Thursday. "Republicans have had their chance. They decided to oppose — that's their choice."
The House decisively rejected a Republican-sponsored alternative to the Democrats' $825 billion economic stimulus bill. On a largely party-line vote, the House voted against a plan that emphasized tax cuts over than government spending to stimulate economic growth.
The Hill:
Despite what some described as “significant” Democratic trepidation, a number of Democrats said that many in the caucus were very hesitant to deliver any kind of blow to their president during his second week in office.

For the 11 Democrats, though – mainly a mix of fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats and newly elected Freshmen – it was just as important to send a message to their leaders that they have more work to do.
Bob Krumm:
Even more depressing is learning who will pay what to afford the “stimulus” bill. It averages to only $6,700 per household. But wait, not all households pay taxes. Broken down by income levels the result is pretty depressing. The good news, however, is that we will probably never have to pay the nearly trillion dollar bill back. Not directly. Instead it will be taken from all of us–even the non taxpayers–in the form of inflation.
Ben Stein:
For the amount spent we could have given every unemployed person in the United States roughly $75,000.
Rush Limbaugh:
There's a serious debate in this country as to how best to end the recession. The average recession will last five to 11 months; the average recovery will last six years. Recessions will end on their own if they're left alone. What can make the recession worse is the wrong kind of government intervention.
President Barack Obama:
You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done.
Stephen Dinan:
The two sides of Capitol Hill appear to be engaging in a bidding war to see who can put more money toward the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases in its version of the economic stimulus bill.

The House included $335 million in its package. But the Senate, not to be outdone, provided $400 million in STD spending in its bill.
[A]nother magical stimulus moment for Madam Speaker. It couldn’t be clearer: If we reduce the number of STDs, we reduce our aggregate health care expenses, which in turn stimulates the economy by … ensuring there aren’t so many people laid up at home with gonorrhea that they can’t go to the mall to shop, I guess.
Mary Katherine Ham:
Republican Strategy: Just have Nancy Pelosi continue to explain the stimulus.
Robert Elisberg:
It's all those crafty Republican economic plans that got us in this national economic disaster in the first place.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D.-CA):
Mr. Chairman, we do not have a crisis at Freddie Mac, and in particular at Fannie Mae, under the outstanding leadership of Mr. Frank Raines. Everything in the 1992 act has worked just fine.
Rep. Barney Frank (D.-MA), George Gould, and Franklin Raines:
Rep. Frank: Let me ask [George] Gould and [Franklin] Raines on behalf of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, do you feel that over the past years you have been substantially under-regulated? Mr. Raines?

Mr. Raines:
No, sir.

Mr. Frank: Mr. Gould?

Mr. Gould: No, sir. . . .

Mr. Frank: OK. Then I am not entirely sure why we are here. . . . I believe there has been more alarm raised about potential unsafety and unsoundness than, in fact, exists.
ABC News:
The federal takeover of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will likely lower the cost of a mortgage for buyers with good credit, but it will also likely stick U.S. taxpayers with a bill in the tens of billions of dollars, analysts have concluded.

The mountain of losses by the two huge quasi-governmental agencies threatened the entire mortgage and credit industry since Fannie and Freddie, as they are popularly known on Wall Street, back up nearly half of the country's mortgages.

Both companies were placed on Sunday into a government conservatorship that will be run by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the new agency created by Congress this summer to regulate Fannie and Freddie.
Hugh Hewitt:
Americans wanted a stimulus bill that would produce rapid expansion in jobs and economic activity. They are instead being offered a federal fire hose of payoffs and pork, the only utility of which is to underscore that a long eight years out of the White House didn’t change basic Democratic impulses. This is a teaching moment with few equals, and the GOP needs to pound it home again and again: Giving the Democrats all of the power meant giving them all of the money, and they intend to spend it.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs:
I think the spending in this bill will create jobs. It will put people back to work. It will get this economy moving again. Some people might not want to do that.
Ben Stein:
The new kind of politics of hope. Eight hours of debate in the HR to pass a bill spending $820 billion, or roughly $102 billion per hour of debate.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Thing That Made It Real

When things started happening with the screenwriting, none of it seemed entirely real.

I was still living back east. I had never met my agent face to face. I had never met the producer who got interested in the first script we went out with. I had never met the development person who consistently gave me four hair-pullingly awful notes for each one that actually made the script better, though I later realized that was a pretty good ratio. I had never met the director who the producer sent the script to, and whose brother finally convinced him to read it, and who then taught me more in 1 hour on the phone than I ever learned from any 10 screenwriting how-to books combined.

It was easy to believe this was all happening to someone else. I was living in a tiny apartment, after all. And even then, I kept the Christmas tree up for an entire year, just so I could fill the hole in the living room left by my ex-girlfriend taking her share of the furniture when we split. I still had to walk a block in the snow to the laundromat as well, which will pop anyone's ego balloon.

Like Mickey Rourke says, I was a man alone in those days, and all I really had was my dog.

Then I got the tape.

It was the trailer the director and his brother (the effects guy) had put together for the film they were shooting while all the phone calls and discussions about my own script were happening. "World War II meets Lord of the Rings," I remembered them telling me, as I ripped open the FedEx package, popped the VHS cassette in the VCR, and then sat down on the floor with the dog. And I sat down heavily, too, because that was the moment when it finally hit me. That was the moment when I realized all of this really was, honestly and truly, actually happening.

I must have watched it 30 times that first afternoon and evening. And I've lost count of how often I've watched it since. More than enough that the video had begun to fade by the time I finally converted it to a digital file.

My script never got filmed in the end. Maybe in the Evil Mirror Universe, we were all ruthless enough to have gotten away with what we were trying to make. I still get a rush whenever I watch that tape, though, whether the cassette that still sits on my shelf or the file that now sits on my hard drive.

And it's still one of the coolest low-budget sci-fi movie trailers I've ever seen.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"The New Guy"

I remember sitting with a friend, a writer/director, several years ago, and trying to figure out whether it was still worth it for either of us to stay in the Hollywood game.

We had met years before, when he had been attached to direct the first of my scripts that had gone anywhere and the world had looked like it would finally be, if not our oyster, then at least our really, good all-you-could-eat salad bar. That project, like most in this town, ended up never getting made, but the two of us had stayed friends. We had had our separate successes since then, too. More successes than any sane person could ever reasonably expect to have in this business, in fact, though we were both far from being A-listers.

And that was our dilemma. We had had enough success to know that we were good, and to know that we could do this. But we weren't successful enough to be sure that all the sacrifices and various insanities involved would actually be worth it in the end.

We were both pushing 40 as well. That's not a good age to be in this business when you're still working to establish yourself on people's go-to lists. Especially when you could see the choice of another, more stable life looming on the horizon. And the fact that the other life included a woman you were thinking of proposing to, well, that just made the idea of moving on even more attractive.

So he and I talked. And talked.

And talked.

Did we really want to keep spending time in well-appointed rooms drinking overpriced bottled water with people who we really didn't care for (and who didn't really care for us, either) while talking about movies we all knew would never get made? Did we really want to write, direct, or write/direct the kind of projects we were actually in the running for? Did we realize that we had become those cynical guys who had fondly, if sadly, shaken their heads at us when we first started out, all full of hope and confidence that we could change the rules and never end up like them?

Did we remember why we had even wanted to make, write, and write/make movies in the first place?

I did, or at least I did a few days later, when some other friends and I gathered for 3 hours on the rooftop parking lot of a Ralph's grocery store and shot The New Guy.

We didn't have the equipment we needed. We didn't have the money we needed. We didn't have the real crew we needed. But we did have a security guard trying to run us off every 20 minutes or so. And a serious need to make something without all the agents, scammers, ego trippers, and layer upon layer of development "notes" that can suffocate a project before it even takes its first breath.

And we had fun. More fun than I could remember having since the days after I had first moved to Hollywood.

That morning, I remembered why I had wanted to come here in the first place.

Just watching it, even now, I get that same feeling...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Whoa, Helen!

Unless I misheard completely, legendary reporter/columnist Helen Thomas, at yesterday's White House press briefing, asked Press Secretary Robert Gibbs the following vintage Helen Thomas question:

Why does [President Obama] want to sent more troops to Afghanistan to kill people?
Even though change has come to America, I find it oddly comforting that Helen "My follow-up is, why does [President Bush] want to drop bombs on innocent Iraqis?" Thomas has stayed the same.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Pop Quiz: Jon Stewart Edition

Which of the following is the real Jon Stewart?

A) The concerned, intellectual comedian who once told both hosts of CNN's left/right debate show Crossfire that "What you do is not honest. What you do is partisan hackery. You have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably."

B) The concerned, intellectual comedian who, despite more and more young people getting their political news from his fake news show and the responsibility to the public discourse that entails, strings together out-of-context political sound bites for laughs and responds to a Sarah Palin comment with the f-bomb.

(Hint: Person A may actually be Person B, because he did call Crossfire's Tucker Carlson an arguably manly expletive during his interview. And Person B may actually be Al Franken.)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dude, Where's My Philanthropist?

As a companion piece to the I Pledge video, Ashton Kutcher has published "Creating a Nation of Philanthropists, One Pledge at a Time" over at The Huffington Post. I'm still not sure that Jason Bateman's pledge to flush only "after a deuce, never a single," qualifies as philanthropy, especially if you're the one who has to use the bathroom next, but curiosity got the better of me. Besides, few people in Hollywood with a career like Ashton Kutcher's are actually stupid. Wrong on the issues, maybe. Often misguided, definitely. But generally, not stupid. So I wondered how he would justify that video, which has received so much Internet mockery.

When I graduated from high school, I had three opportunities -- go to college, get a job, or join the service. Although I considered putting my eight years of Boy Scout experience and love for our nation to the test by joining the military, I did not want to put myself in a position where I might be commanded to take the life of another, and quickly ended my flirtation with military service.
I won't second-guess anyone's decision not to serve in the military. I never served, either. It was the right decision for me (and for the military) at the time. Ashton's was probably the right decision in his case, too. But if the deciding factor against joining the military was that Ashton might be commanded to take the life of another, I'm not sure how serious an option military service really was for him. And if it wasn't a serious possibility, why even bring it up?

Back in my younger days, the answer for myself (and for a lot of other young liberals) was that I thought saying this would make the other side take my views more seriously, and that my own side would grant me some well-deserved (I thought) props for ethics. ("I could have served, sure, but I chose not to, because I won't kill on command, even though they will.") And maybe this memory is what makes me uncomfortable with Ashton's wording. After all, it would be absurd to suggest that starring in Dude, Where's My Car? is ethically superior to serving in the U.S. Navy when it led the rescue and relief effort after the Indonesian tsunami. Or in the Special Forces when they helped drive the Taliban from power and gave 26 million Afghans a fighting chance at a real future for the first time in decades. That would be a Joel Stein column, and I want to give Ashton more credit than that.
Today, serving our country no longer simply means drop and give me 20, this is your rifle, defend this land we call home.
When, exactly, did it ever mean only that, Ashton?
National service is becoming a term used to define a much broader and equally passionate category of patriotism. This brand of patriotism is inclusive of a pure humanitarian effort guided by the simple virtue of the giving of oneself for the benefit of another in the name of the United States of America.
Unlike those seamen and naval officers delivering aid, relief, and rescue after the Indonesian tsunami, apparently. Or those in the National Guard whenever a disaster strikes within our own borders. Or those pilots who stopped a slaughter in the Balkans–twice. Did wearing a uniform mean those were "impure" humanitarian efforts for the benefit of another in the name of the United States of America?
Americans are on the brink of the Newer Deal where we will join hands in an effort to resurrect the pride in a government that supports us in supporting ourselves.
Actually, the best thing the government can do to support me in supporting myself is to lower my Self-Employment Tax. It can let me keep more of my own hard-earned money rather than taxing it away from me so that it can then "support" me in supporting myself. Where can I join hands to bring about that Newer Deal?
Our new leader understands the value of our collective voices, he believes in our ability to create a greater good, and knows that as a nation we are willing to sacrifice selfishness for a more robust happiness.
You know, I can remember someone writing a line like this, at some point, about every single president in my lifetime.
Four years ago I sat in a hotel room with Israel's Head of State, then former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, where he proceeded to tell me what he felt made America a great country. He said that throughout history America, more than any other nation, has supported itself and consistently extended itself to other countries in need without looking for anything in return. I bit my lip as I thought about our national pursuit of Middle Eastern oil and how much more we could be doing as a country for so many resource depleted nations. I kept my retort to this gracious offering to myself and accepted it as a political offering of good will.
I hope Ashton has more encounters like this. One of the things that changed my own view of America, and even my politics, was actually talking with people who had lived behind the Iron Curtain, whether in Eastern Europe or in the former Soviet Union.

At first, I went into those conversations much like Ashton did. I thought these Russians and Europeans had to be joking, or even slightly crazy. Didn't they realize that the Soviet Union and America had simply been two competing ideologies, two versions of empire, with the only real difference being that those of us in the West had a slightly longer leash? Couldn't they see all the flaws and failed promise, all the unfulfilled potential and broken ideals of my own country? How nearly every American action they thought had been helpful in ending Communism had actually been a terrible mistake? That because we were not perfect, that meant we were bad?

I eventually realized that the problem in perspective was actually my own, rather than theirs. I came around, and maybe Ashton will too. Someday.
Later I dissected his semantics, justifying the statement as truth based on the use of the word "history," as opposed to "recent history." I considered the support we have shown for so many countries in crisis throughout history, including outreach during the tsunami, and China's earthquake, and thought that most certainly from Israel's perspective we have been extraordinarily supportive.
I confess, I'm just not following him here. What Shimon Peres said was truthful because he used the word "history" and not "recent history," but then the examples of American generosity he mentions are the recent history of the Indonesian tsunami and the Chinese earthquake, which he includes as "history" rather than as "recent history"? Is Ashton trying to say that we were better in the past or that we're better now? That we're better compared to some other point in our history or that we're better (or worse) then the nations of centuries ago? That he considered what we did after the Indonesian tsunami and the Chinese Earthquake, but that he found our efforts lacking compared to, say, the Marshall Plan or what he thought they should have been?

Maybe it's me, but I'm really just not following him here...

And how did Ashton Kutcher wind up sitting in a hotel room with the Prime Minister of Israel anyway?
However, I couldn't help but feel we are falling short of this measure of greatness, both domestically and abroad. Following my meeting with Prime Minister Peres, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of desire -- desire to live in a country of philanthropists and to have the world recognize Americans as citizens dedicated to selfless goodwill.
You already live in that country, Ashton. America has the highest rate of charitable giving by its citizens of any developed nation in the world, and I'd wager that we'll top any list that includes the developing nations as well. That's why the UN and our European friends tend to focus only on government aid in these areas. Including what Americans give privately, on their own, without any need for direction by a political leader or bureaucrat, would mean the rest of the world might have rethink their stereotype of us. If you want to argue that we still should be doing more, then fair enough. But at least give us the credit for what we already do, rather than playing into the caricature of Americans as selfish "charity failures."

Of course, if your goal really is an America dedicated to "selfless goodwill," then getting global credit and accolades for our selfless acts should be beside the point. A person with selfless goodwill does what is right because it is right, not because he or she gets good press out of it. If some areas that have benefited from our generosity, like sub-Saharan Africa and the Balkans and elsewhere, have a generally high opinion of us, that's a fine thing. But if a poll shows that Western Europeans find us stingy, I'm not about to lose any sleep over it. And majorities in some areas of the world will view us badly no matter what we do.
With that as my lofty goal, I observed the state of our greatness and became determined to make this goal a reality.
See the two paragraphs above.
Two years after this meeting, I stood in my agent's living room (who happens to be the brother of our nine and a half fingered future chief of staff) where I met a man who was contemplating throwing his hat in the ring for the hardest job in the world. I had met a few presidential candidates before in my life and heard many speak but I had never seen one with more audacity, not of hope, just audacity.
See? I told you Ashton wasn't stupid. Wrong on the issues, maybe. Often misguided, definitely. But not stupid.
Barack Obama stood in front of a room of Los Angeles liberals and told us that everyone could have the American dream... but we were going to have to work for it. He said that every kid will get assistance for college but they were going to have to work for it. He explained that our nation could become independent of foreign oil but that we were going to have to give up a bit of our current comfortable existence. Now, from the mouth of an average straight-shooting American that may not sound audacious at all, but for a politician seeking endorsements to tell people that they are going to have to make sacrifices for the greater good, that he is not going to wave his magic legislative wand and fix it, that's audacity. That audacity is what gave me hope.
Was this a fund-raiser, by any chance? Because this is exactly what I would say to a room of Los Angeles liberals if I wanted them to feel good about themselves, to feel good about me, and then to open their checkbooks.
Maybe following Barack Obama's speech on Tuesday we will be inspired to do more for our country, or to fear less, but today we have been asked to serve not just for a day but to make it part of our lifestyle.
I'll leave this comment to Powerline reader Dr. Susan Harms: "What do they think the rest of us 'commoners' out here are doing? We are doing all of that, silently, without the camera, and without telling anyone."
A wise friend once told me that every time you serve someone else you take on all of their good traits.
Wait for it...
Maybe this explains the outstanding character of Barack Obama.
Yes. Who knew the Chicago political machine was so selfless and noble?
He is a servant to this country and he has inspired me to adopt his spirit and to serve him with that dream of a great America in tow.
Change. Hope. Yadda yadda.
A year ago my wife and I looked one another in the eye and promised to dedicate ourselves to finding a cause to champion.
To me, this one is priceless. It's not that Ashton and Demi encountered a person, or a situation, and were so moved they felt that they had to do something. They decided that they wanted to champion a cause, then went looking for a cause to champion.

Anyone else reminded of that old joke, "I want to make a fashion statement, but I don't know what to say"?
After sifting through the wreckage of issues that our world faces --
Or at least through the "cause coverage" written up by their personal assistants.
-- we were continually confronted with one issue that pulled at our heartstrings and haunted our thoughts: the abolition of 21st century slavery.
Worthy cause. No argument from me here.
We've spent the last four months studying human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children and are shocked and offended by every story we hear. In our pursuit we have been confronted with finding a tangible, quantifiable solution to the crisis that has become the second most profitable illicit trade in the world, only bested by the drug trade. When faced with such a huge issue with very ambiguous tactical solutions, one can become paralyzed by the data and horrific stories. We found ourselves in such a place and realized that the only way to create effective change is to first state your intention. Thus the Presidential Pledge was born.
Slavery in America was ended by the Civil War. The international slave trade was ended by the British Navy. And the first step to ending slavery in this still-new century? Make a goofy video with Hollywood celebrities vowing to smile more. That's some seriously out-of-the-box thinking, guys. I wish I had thought of this back in the Reagan Era.
Making a pledge forces you to be accountable not only to others but also to yourself.
Jason Bateman better not slip up and flush after a single. Because we're going to hold him accountable.
Establishing a pledge also offers an opportunity to create community and unity around the cause, thus accelerating one's pursuit. Once you are on record, your community and your peers can and will hold you accountable for results.
This will be Hollywood-style accounting, of course. ("Net profits? What net profits?")
Therefore, we as individuals will be forced to deliver. This may be one of the only positive attributes of our egos. So let us put our egos to work.
And this may be the most honest thing I've ever heard a Hollywood celebrity said.
We call it a Presidential Pledge. We have gathered a group of individuals who share the courage to pledge to our president, and the world at large, what it is that they are willing to do, give, or sacrifice, in an effort to help their fellow man.
Unless P. Diddy has been leaving his lights on because he's afraid of the dark, I don't remember one pledge in that video that showed actual courage. Even the pledge to advance stem cell research was fairly non-controversial, because the argument is over embryonic stem cells in particular, not stem cell research in general.

The people who marched for civil rights in the South when that meant firehoses and police dogs showed courage, Ashton. Afghans reporting the locations of IEDs to Coalition forces when that could mean a death sentence are showing courage. Protesting a dictatorship when that means a life sentence in a prison that really is everything that Guantanamo Bay has been claimed to be is showing courage. Christian missionaries who stay in an war-torn African nation are showing courage. Iraqis who voted despite the threat of terrorist bombs showed courage.

I could go on, but I hope Ashton and his friends get the picture: Courage is not a bunch of successful actors and actresses pledging in a warm, safe studio to do what any decent person should already be doing anyway—or a blogger in a warm, safe apartment taking issue with them.
Our hope is that this effort will inspire others to do the same, with individuals posting their initiatives within their communities. This is not a selfless utopian action. In fact it is a very selfish one. By improving the lives of those who surround us we will in effect improve our own.
Sounds eerily like the reasoning behind Bush's foreign policy of spreading democracy around the world. I didn't know Ashton was on board that.
At the very least. if these pledges allow someone a moment of contemplation as to what they could do, say, or pledge to do for someone else's benefit, we will strengthen the state of our union. If we can build a collective consciousness of service for one another, the echo of these actions will reach beyond our borders. We will stand truer in the resolve that this country is in fact a great one, and we will be one step closer to achieving the goal of creating a nation of philanthropists. I encourage everyone to take a few moments to reflect on how they can serve our great nation and to create their own Presidential Pledge at
The Presidential Pledge did, in fact, make me reflect on many things. Unfortunately, I'm not sure any of them were the ones that Ashton intended.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Mathematical Thought for the Day

Courtesy of Tim Blair:

In 2004, George W. Bush continued dividing America with his divisive policies by divisively winning the election with 50.7 per cent of the vote. In 2008, Barack Obama united the entire world in a unifying spirit of unity by winning with 52.9 per cent of the vote.
Then again, is it really surprising that 2.2% can make such a profound difference, when only 1% can give us this?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Blogging Angry

I'm spending today muddling through issues dealing with and created by a client that no longer understands the concept of payment in 30 days. I'll be back tomorrow, because it's probably best I don't "blog angry" right now.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Two (and a Half) Inaugural Prayers

Rev. Rick Warren (full text here):

Rev. Joseph Lowery (full text here):

For those who objected that including Rev. Warren in the inauguration was an insult or sent a message of exclusion and divisiveness, I have a modest proposal.

I won't ask you to agree with Rev. Warren. I disagree with him on many things myself, including Prop 8. And I certainly won't ask you to like him, though I have the feeling he and I would probably get along quite well if we ever had dinner together, even with all our disagreements. I will, however, ask that you grant he delivered a superb invocation, avoided politics, and struck just the right note for the occasion in focusing on what we have in common rather than on our disagreements. And that to many other people, including myself, his sharing the stage with Rev. Lowery was equally powerful symbolism that President Obama does intend to be the president of all Americans, not just those who agree with him. And that this was a moment for the entire nation, not just those who voted for the Democrat.

In return, I will gladly grant that Rev. Lowery is an elderly man, did amazing things during the Civil Rights Movement and with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and probably never believed he would see the day a black man was sworn in as President of the United States. And I will gladly give him a well-earned pass for any possible offense that could be taken from his rhyming implications that only white needs to embrace what is right and that yellow is not currently mellow.


No? Then maybe you'll prefer this alternative invocation from Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

24 Shots at Love: The Lost Episode

Previously on 24 Shots at Love...

TAYLOR: Terrorists have infiltrated a VH1 reality dating show. With the P.L.O.T. Device, they can piggyback the show's signal and hack our nation's entire infrastructure. These madmen can bring our country to its knees, and that's no basic cable double-entendre.

BAUER: Every woman I love ends up dead or hating me. I'm the perfect choice to go undercover on this show and regain the P.L.O.T. Device. What other option do you have, Madam President? Bret Michaels?

MICHAELS: Why am I still getting classified threat briefings? Doesn't President Taylor know I'm hungover? Big John, get these guys out of here.

JOHN: Everything's proceeding according to plan. No one suspects a thing.

BAUER: I shot you dead four seasons ago, Nina. You mind telling me what you're doing here at the Jello-Shot Sniper Challenge?

NINA: Jack, I already said, my name on this show is Position Impossible.


NINA: I'm just trying to win immunity, Jack! Just like all the other girls!


BAUER: You better start dancing on that pole, Renee, or you'll jeopardize both our covers.

RENEE: Let me make this clear, Jack. I'm only here to keep an eye on you. Once the P.L.O.T. Device is recovered, you're coming back with me to face indictment for your crimes.

BAUER: So you're not willing to do whatever it takes to defend this country.

RENEE: It's a pole, Jack! The FBI has strict guidelines regarding the conduct of its agents!

BAUER: And I once killed a man using someone else's hangnail. Why don't you go hide under the Craft Services table with the rest of the UN?

BAUER: What kind of name is New York anyway?

NEW YORK: It's my code name. Like Position Impossible.

BAUER: Your code name?

NEW YORK: Yeah. The producers gave us all a sexy code name—


NEW YORK: Conspiracy?! What are you buggin' about now, crazy man?!


NEW YORK: You think you scare me?! I stalked Flavor Flav! Twice!


NEW YORK: Oh, you did not just get racial on me, you profiling son of a—


Poolside, with four women and Jack Bauer.

BAUER: I have four beautiful, suspicious women before me, but only three Security Clearances. This elimination has been my hardest mission yet. Sextreme Prejudice, you won the Field Medic Lap Dance Challenge, so you've earned this week's stay of execution.

SEXTREME: Yea for me!


SEXTREME: I just wanted some exposure for my music career!


Sextreme Prejudice pouts quietly.

BAUER: Now, then. Double-Dee Seven, you've provided me with so much meaningful intel during our private debriefings. At this point in my life, I never thought—

CHLOE: (on radio) Jack! It's Chloe!

BAUER: Go ahead, Chloe.

CHLOE: (on radio) Jack, I've been monitoring the infrared and biometric satellite data for your coordinates, and Position Impossible's heart rate just shot way up when you mentioned Double-Dee Seven giving you meaningful intel!


NINA: I don't—


NINA: We're all here for you, Jack!


NINA: Yes! Yes! I'm here for you, Jack!

Jack shoots Nina dead. Again.

BAUER: Well, then. This week's elimination has apparently just been taken care of, but this is also the episode where I tell you that we're off to some scenic, tropical resort for our final elimination challenge. So pack your bags, ladies! We're going to Guantanamo Bay!

SEXTREME: Yea for me!


SEXTREME: I thought this was television!


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I Pledge...

...never to take Hollywood celebrities seriously. Ever.

Watching this, my first thought was of how these same celebrities would have reacted back in 2005, if a video had been posted of people pledging "to be a servant to our president," as Demi Moore does here, or "to be of service to George W. Bush," as Anthony Keidis does here to Barack Obama. And really, Anthony, what's the deal with kissing your own biceps while you pledge to be of service to the new president? What position are you applying for? National Bouncer?

I remember a conversation with a Hollywood friend only a few weeks after 9/11. After detailing the litany of new and resurgent American sins that had supposedly been committed since that date, he told me the one that was really crawling around under his skin. I knew this was the worst in his mind, because he had saved it for last. And because the contempt in his voice took on a more disgusted, and more menacing, tone.

"People are making patriotic videos of their kids to send to the president," he said.

A patriotic video message to the president. The horror...

I wonder if anyone in those earlier videos ever pledged to be his servant?

Then again, I'm happy these celebrities have realized all the wonderful possibilities they now have to help make our country better. It was simply inconceivable, for example, to have smiled more during the last eight years. Or to have spent less time giving other drivers the finger. And of all the Bush administration's many crimes, preventing P. Diddy from turning off his own lights to conserve energy may be what finally puts Dick Cheney in prison.

Maybe I shouldn't be too hard on these celebrities, though. Their definition of patriotism is apparently the same as Joel Stein's, after all. Whether you love this country, whether you feel patriotic about it, whether you feel a stake in its success, that all depends on who sits in the Oval Office. There's nothing deeper at issue than the last election result.

Welcome back to America, guys.

UPDATE: Iowahawk has the full, ah, "transcript" of this video.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pop Quiz: Presidential Inauguration Edition

Which of the following talented Internet filmmakers will end up being most disappointed by the Obama administration?

A) This group:

B) This group:

(Hint: Of course 5- to 12-year-olds have their own fully formed, independently held political views. Those views just happen to be the same ones their parents hold, that's all.)

Sunday, January 18, 2009


I will freely admit that like a lot of McCain voters, I've been pleasantly surprised by Obama so far.

Not that I don't see real problems and serious disagreements in the near future.

I have faith, however, in the one thing that will undoubtedly save us all.

Go have some fun of your own at Obamicon.Me.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Kate Says

Following in Simon Baker's footsteps, Kate Beckinsdale has decided to try her hand as a political commentator as well:

"I don't care whether [Barack Obama] has a cigarette or not. I think it's just so fantastic we have a president who can finally read."
Actually, I think it was the script for Underworld: Evolution that destroyed President Bush's ability to read. I know it destroyed my ability to follow the plot of that film, or really do much of anything except stare at Kate's corset and black-rubber catsuit for roughly two hours.

Now, I understand the director and co-writer of Underworld: Evolution was Kate's husband, Len Wiseman, but couldn't she have spoken some truth to power back then as well, and told him that script was a stinker?

(Hat Tip: JammieWearingFool)

Spotted While Walking the Dog II

Old Movie Quote of the Day

"They're only dangerous when they're provoked... You there, give me that pole."

Friday, January 16, 2009

10 Reasons Why I Blog

1. My wife got tired of hearing me talk back to the television.

2. Where else am I going to publish something like Larry King Live: The Lost Episode?

3. If it's my own blog, I can skip number three.

4. Facebook just isn't as much fun these days.

5. I'm wondering how long it will take before someone insists that I should focus entirely on politics, humor, political humor, or personal posts rather than mixing it all up like I do.

6. Making up a post like This Blog Is Only 43% Manly is just plain fun.

7. Freedom of speech, baby!

8. Bonekickers annoyed me that much. Really.

9. If it's my own blog, I can post a "10 Things" list with only nine entries.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Oh, Do I Know People Like This...

More at Diversity Lane...

Mickey Says

Mickey Rourke won the Golden Globe for Best Actor the other night. I haven't seen the performance that snagged Rourke his award, but this part of his acceptance speech snagged me:

I'd like to thank all my dogs, the ones that are here and the ones that aren't here anymore, because sometimes when a man's alone, that's all you got is your dog, and they meant the world to me.
I've been there, too, Mickey, especially during my screenwriting days. The old Hollywood joke that "if you want a friend, get a dog" is so bitterly funny only because it's generally so bitterly true. And I can think of one particularly hellish year alone that I might not have made it through without this dog:

That's Mira. She's no longer with us, but she still means the world to me.

And I have never liked Mickey Rourke more than I do right now.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Debate They Didn't Broadcast

Some "historical perspective" in honor of Sen. Hillary Clinton's confirmation hearing for the already-legendary-before-they've-even-done-anything Obama "Team of Rivals":

"Obviously, George, Senator Obama was hypnotized by the Rev. Wright. The American people deserve a hypnotist, not a subject, in the White House. During the Clinton administration, when someone needed hypnotizing, they all said, 'Send the First Lady!'"

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Obligatory Gaza Quote Post

Christopher Hitchens:

It is only when one begins to grasp all the foregoing that one understands exactly how disgusting and squalid is the behavior of the Hamas gang. It knows very well that sanctions are injuring every Palestinian citizen, but—just like Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq—it declines to cease the indiscriminate violence and the racist and religious demagogy that led to the sanctions in the first place. Palestine is a common home for several religious and national groups, but Hamas dogmatically insists that the whole territory is instead an exclusively Muslim part of a future Islamic empire. At a time when democratic and reformist trends are observable in the region, from Lebanon to the Gulf, Hamas' leadership is physically and economically a part of the clientele of two of the area's worst dictatorships. (Should you ever be in need of a free laugh, look up those Western "intellectuals" who believe that a vote for an Islamist party and an Islamic state is a way to vote against corruption! They have not lately studied Iran and Saudi Arabia.) Gaza could have been a prefiguration of a future self-determined Palestinian state. Instead, it has been hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood and made into a place of repression for its inhabitants and aggression for its neighbors. Once again, the Party of God has the whip hand. To read Benny Morris is to be quite able—and quite free—to doubt that there should ever have been an Israeli state to begin with. But to see Hamas at work is to resolve that whatever replaces or follows Zionism, it must not be the wasteland of Islamic theocracy.
Glenn Greenwald:
Meanwhile, most of the rest of the world -- Europe, South America, Asia, the Middle East, the U.N. leadership -- opposes and condemns the attack, all to no avail. The parties with the superior military might -- the U.S. and Israel -- dismiss world opinion as essentially irrelevant. Even the pro-war rhetorical tactics are the same, just as those who opposed the Iraq war were said to be "pro-Saddam," those who oppose the Israeli attack on Gaza are now "pro-Hamas."
Daniel Finkelstein:
So when Israel is urged to respect world opinion and put its faith in the international community the point is rather being missed. The very idea of Israel is a rejection of this option. Israel only exists because Jews do not feel safe as the wards of world opinion. Zionism, that word that is so abused, so reviled, is founded on a determination that, at the end of the day, somehow the Jews will defend themselves and their fellow Jews from destruction. If world opinion was enough, there would be no Israel.

The poverty and the death and the despair among the Palestinians in Gaza moves me to tears. How can it not? Who can see pictures of children in a war zone or a slum street and not be angry and bewildered and driven to protest? And what is so appalling is that it is so unnecessary. For there can be peace and prosperity at the smallest of prices. The Palestinians need only say that they will allow Israel to exist in peace. They need only say this tiny thing, and mean it, and there is pretty much nothing they cannot have.

Yet they will not say it. And they will not mean it. For they do not want the Jews. Again and again - again and again - the Palestinians have been offered a nation state in a divided Palestine. And again and again they have turned the offer down, for it has always been more important to drive out the Jews than to have a Palestinian state. It is difficult sometimes to avoid the feeling that Hamas and Hezbollah don't want to kill Jews because they hate Israel. They hate Israel because they want to kill Jews.

There cannot be peace until this changes. For Israel will not rely on airy guarantees and international gestures to defend it. At its very core, it will not. It will lay down its arms when the Jews are safe, but it will not do it until they are.
Mark Steyn:
Like East and West Pakistan, the "Palestinian Authority" has split into two states — and, just as India does with Bangladesh and Pakistan, Israel treats its eastern and western Muslim neighbors quite differently. On its borders with Gaza, it maintains an economic blockade. On its borders with the West Bank, it's removed checkpoints, created a free-trade regime and helped facilitate a remarkable economic boom in a rump statelet that's done little to deserve it. Israel did this with the intention of demonstrating to Gazans that there's a heavy price to be paid for supporting Hamas. It's not obvious, however, that Gazans care.
Victor Davis Hanson:
Almost no other issue in recent memory has illustrated the moral bankruptcy of much of the international community. Hamas has no pretensions, like the PA, of being a governing authority; it used violence to rout the PA and then bragged that its charter pledging the destruction of Israel remained unchanged. Israel evacuated Gaza; Gazans in response looted their own infrastructure, alienated both the PA and Egypt,and then sent off more than 6,000 rockets against Israeli civilians, while eagerly becoming a terrorist puppet of theocratic Iran.

Nothing could be more clear: either the fact that a constitutional republic was trying to avoid civilian casualties while a terrorist organization was intent on killing Jewish civilians as it used its own citizens as shields to protect mostly young male terrorists; or the world's craven reaction to all this.
Carlo Strenger:
I will never stop criticising Israeli policies that I take to be wrong-headed, short-sighted or immoral. But I have no sympathy for the critics of Israel who refuse to see that there are ideologies who put destruction above human life and wellbeing. Hamas has changed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from something that can be solved, to a clash defined by the principle that only one side can survive - critics cannot expect Israel to accept this simply because it is the stronger side.
Jeffrey Goldberg:
For the record: I defend Israel's right to defend itself, but I fear that Gaza will quickly become a quagmire. I fear for the lives of Israelis, obviously, but I also fear for the lives of Palestinian civilians -- I have friends there, in harm's way -- in part because the Israeli army (and I say this from personal experience) can be a big, rough bulldozer of an army, and in part (large part) because Hamas terrorists unblinkingly and ostentatiously use their own civilians as human shields. I've seen this up-close, and it's repulsive. One story the media isn't telling, because it's impossible to get this story in these circumstances (especially because Israel stupidly won't allow foreign reporters into Gaza) is how much resentment the Hamas policy of using Palestinians as human shields causes among Gaza civilians. Early reports indicate that Hamas mortar teams were firing from the UN School. This shouldn't surprise anyone.

One more thing, speaking of pornography -- we've all seen endless pictures of dead Palestinian children now. It's a terrible, ghastly, horrible thing, the deaths of children, and for the parents it doesn't matter if they were killed by accident or by mistake. But ask yourselves this: Why are these pictures so omnipresent? I'll tell you why, again from firsthand, and repeated, experience: Hamas (and the Aksa Brigades, and Islamic Jihad, the whole bunch) prevents the burial, or even preparation of the bodies for burial, until the bodies are used as props in the Palestinian Passion Play. Once, in Khan Younis, I actually saw gunmen unwrap a shrouded body, carry it a hundred yards and position it atop a pile of rubble -- and then wait a half-hour until photographers showed. It was one of the more horrible things I've seen in my life. And it's typical of Hamas. If reporters would probe deeper, they'd learn the awful truth of Hamas. But Palestinian moral failings are not of great interest to many people.
Matthew Yglesias:

One time when I was riding my bike, someone threw a smallish rock at me from a housing project across the street. As it happens, the kid didn’t hit me and everything was fine. But I suppose if he’d hit me in just the right way I could have been knocked down and injured. And depending on what the cars on the road were doing, it’s conceivable that I could have wound up being run over and terribly injured. Long story short, it was a pretty terrible thing for the thrower to be doing. And this has been a sporadic problem in the city for a while. But obviously it wouldn’t have bene right for me to stop, get off my bike, pull a bazooka out of my bag, and blow the houses from which the rock emanated to smithereens while shouting “self-defense!” and “double-effect!” And had I done so, and killed some innocent people in the course of things, and then I’d tried to say that the real blame for the deaths lay with the rock-thrower who’d started it everyone would look at me like I was crazy. And this is true even though it’s clear that going to the police would have been useless in that case.

I don’t believe in analogies, so don’t read that as one. Rather, it makes the point that the existence of a right to self-defense doesn’t authorize just doing whatever any more than the injustice of occupation justifies deliberately targeting civilians.

Michael C. Moynihan:
Now, having visited Sderot last year (where, incidentally, I spent the day with an Israeli peacenik), I have an enormous amount of sympathy for those hyperventilating bicyclists of Southern Israel, and I am obviously quite hostile to an illiberal political movement that hates dancing, gays, and dancing gays. But leaving that aside, lets fine-tune Yglesias's analogy: Imagine if Matt rode his bike by this project every day—and was attacked with rocks everyday. And imagine that the rock thrower was attempting to obtain bigger and more deadly rocks to target him and his Dalton School classmates. And imagine if the rock-thrower organized everyone in his project to, say, write a charter that demanded the liquidation of Dalton and its students. And one day, rather than tossing the requisite rock, the young project-dweller decided to kidnap Matt for a few years. And so on.

But I'm making a spurious argument, after all, because as Yglesias explains in the same post, he doesn't "believe in analogies, so don't read that as one." We won't.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Battle of Long Beach Harbor

This past week, the Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain stopped at Long Beach during their travels up and down the California coast. Pirate fan and tall ship lover that my wife is, she immediately booked us on Saturday's "Battle Sail." I didn't need much convincing to join her.

I realized during the drive to Long Beach that the day would be full of the "unexpected." Getting caught behind slow-moving cars on the freeway is nothing new in Southern California, for instance. Having every single slow-moving car be a Toyota Camry, however, is. And I mean Camry after Camry after Camry, defying all laws of probability. And just to reinforce the point, one particularly seedy portion of Long Beach showed us more pairs of cops and pairs of Mormons than I've ever seen together on a single street. (Not surprisingly, the Mormons looked a lot happier than the cops.)

Then we were at the harbor, and caught our first sight of where we would spend the next few hours.

Over the years, I've also realized that doings things with my wife means a very different experience than what another couple would have doing the exact same thing. My wife had already spent most of the past week in Long Beach at an astronomy conference, but she had spent her lunch breaks at the harbor. So when we arrived on Saturday, the Captain-in-Training and some of the crew of the Lady Washington already knew her, shouted greetings that surprised the rest of the ticket-holders (and myself), and basically cheered when they realized she would be sailing on their ship that day. (If we stay in California long enough, I have no doubt my wife will end up being Governor K., if she chooses.)

Once on board, the "unexpected" turned out to be unexpected bonuses. The Lady Washington appeared in all three Pirates of the Caribbean films, and was also the holodeck ship in Star Trek: Generations. My wife got her "Pirates fix," and the Trekker in me felt a warm glow as I stood where Data threw Beverly Crusher overboard.

That was just the start. Luckily for me, only two passengers showed up in full pirate costume. (I'll admit it. I just don't get the whole "pirate" thing.) And considering the crew and officers of the Lady Washington were far more Master and Commander than Curse of the Black Pearl, those two kept their "piratey-ness" to a minimum. (Unlike the female passenger with the cackling laugh of a turkey on Ecstasy, who thankfully sailed on the Hawaiian Chieftain and could be heard halfway across Long Beach Harbor.)

The group of Russians sailing with us more than made up for the two pirates, though, and for the piercing laugh from the other ship. I can't think of another language that I understand so little but enjoy listening to so much. And seeing a stocky bear of a man shouting insults in Russian at the Hawaiian Chieftain during the battle was worth the entire cost of the tickets all by itself.

Watching films about ships like these simply doesn't do the experience justice. The sound of wind actually filling real sails makes Dolby or THX Surround seem full of static. Feeling the deck shifting with the waves beneath your feet can't be recreated by camera work, no matter how good. Questions were fielded and answered for hours, and volunteers even got put to work.

My wife and I were lucky enough to spend most of the battle on the quarter-deck, between the First Mate shouting orders to the crew and the Captain (and Captain-in-Training) shouting orders to the First Mate. It was the best spot possible for me, because I could overhear the battle tactics being formulated and discussed. I played a lot of historical naval war games back in high school, but this was as close to the real thing as I'll probably ever get: On an actual tall ship, on actual water, with actual wind and actual sails and actual cannon being fired.

Adding to the day's defiance of all typical likelihoods, the captain of the Lady Washington turned out to be a distant relation of mine. Captain M. hails from the same Scottish clan that I do. "The M.'s have a long history of mariners," he said.

To which I replied, without thinking, "Stretching right back to the shipwreck that made us all Scottish."

Captain M. blinked for a moment, and I had visions of being tossed overboard like Beverly Crusher. But then he laughed. (Thank God.) And countered, "But we stayed mariners, just so we could get back off that island."

The battle itself was more intricate than any war game prepared me for. A constant jockeying for position, moves and countermoves based on how the other ship adjusted its sails. And in one thoroughly exciting mix of miscalculation, shifting wind, and who knows what else, the two ships passed so close that Captain M. had to fire up the diesel engines to avoid the rigging of each ship catching on the other. Even then, the aft boom of the Hawaiian Chieftain still grazed our ropes only a few feet above our heads. (Talk about getting your money's worth.)

In the end, no doubt existed that the Lady Washington had prevailed. The Hawaiian Chieftain was outmaneuvered from the start. Even considering that all the cannon were firing blanks, as one of our crew said, "Whenever you get off a point-blank shot at the other ship's stern, there's no question who won."

I think that "Mister Gunner" came to regret that stern shot, though. As I was told, after each trip out, the crewmember who made the worst mistake has to buy the beer. And even though the cannon were shooting blanks, Captain M. didn't want to set one off so close to the Hawaiian Chieftain while maneuvering to avoid its rigging. So as the crew and passengers cheered what in a real battle would have been the end of the Hawaiian Chieftain's rudder, I could hear Captain M. asking the Captain-in-Training, "Did he really set off that cannon after I yelled 'Hold fire!' three times?"

He really did.

In another time, of course, they would have been buying "Mister Gunner" drinks instead of the other way around.

Turns out the Lady Washington also has overnight "passage." My wife and I are already checking our calenders.

UPDATE: The official blog of the Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain can be found here.