Saturday, December 30, 2006

Vacuum Energy Favorite Posts of 2006

Emulating blogger Ann Althouse's similar listing, these are my favorite posts from 2006 listed on a monthtly basis.

January to May: No posts.

June: Liberal wierdness on Iraq

July: The centrist internet goes nuts over Mel Gibson

August: Campaign finance reform is political gasoline.

September: The repairer of reputations

October: A post-modern pet peeve

November: The chameleon changes his colors.

December: The real reason why the Republicans lost the election

Sunday, December 17, 2006

An even worse choice for "Person of the Year" chooses Mr. "I am macaca." as its "Person of the Year". Notice the resonance with Time Magazine's "you, the internet user".

Time magazine wimps out

Time Magazine wimped out with its choice of "Person of the Year": You. The explanation:
But look at 2006 through a different lens and you'll see another story, one that isn't about conflict or great men. It's a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It's about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people's network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.
Why didn't Time Magazine choose the obvious candidate, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for "Person of the Year"? Here is one answer:
And Stengel said if the magazine had decided to go with an individual, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the likely choice. "It just felt to me a little off selecting him," Stengel said.
Ahmadinejad is only masterminding the American retreat from the Middle East, pushing Iran into the nuclear club as fast as he can, establishing himself as the world leader of the Holocaust-denial movement, and threatening Israel with annihilation on a weekly basis. Saudi Arabia is already threatening a regional sectarian and/or atomic war to prevent the coming Ahmadinejad hegemony.

In short, Ahmadinejad is bestriding the world like a titan. But making him "Person of the Year" might call attention to the fact that somebody, somewhere -- and maybe someone from the United States -- might actually have to do something to stop him someday. The mainstream media can't risk that happening!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Thoughts about Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto"

I watched Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto" on Friday night. Keeping in mind the caveat about not believing everything one sees in the movies, I think the film makes a pretty good "two hour tour" of the late 14th or early 15th century Mayan civilization.

Yes, that's it. That is the whole movie.

You don't believe me? Well, perhaps there were a few minor points that arose in the film that deserve some extra comments:
  • According to Gibson, there is supposed to be some kind of parallel between the Mayans, their downfall at the hands of European invaders, and the Bush Administration and Iraq. You might even believe that if you spent all of your adult life in an ultra-Left wing anthroplogy department. The problem with any such comparison is that modern industrial societies have armies of people called "scientists", "economists", and "political scientists" who get paid to analyze problems and recommend ways of fixing them. Yes, even President Bush has a better grasp of the world and the tools necessary to understand it than his ancient Mayan counterparts.

  • I could have sworn that the grotesque, evil dwarf from "The Passion of the Christ" makes a brief appearance in "Apocalypto". Does this make "Apocalypto" objectively pro-conquistador?

  • It's interesting that a film can show graphic combat scenes, animal violence, human sacrifices, and big piles of dismembered and rotting bodies but still be fairly scrupulous about keeping the actress's tops on and the sex off-camera -- the R-rating must be protected at all costs.

You know that you're getting old when...

you start defending the purity of the English language from things that some people believe are words. For example, "natch" is not a real word. Even as an abbreviation it seems like it is derived from a misspelling of "naturally" as "natchurally". The word seems to me something cooked up by the drug subculture insofar as the only people I seem to hear saying it are weedy college undergraduates ... and certain trendy and purportedly serious writers.

Another example is Merriam-Webster's word of the year for 2006: "truthiness" (please please don't spell it "truthyness"). The definition given by the American Dialect Society is "the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true". Of course, back in the good old days when statements were either true or false, this would be called some variant of stupidity, delusion, or sophistry.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

First impressions about the Iraq Study Group's report

I haven't read the report yet, but my impressions from the media's reporting about it is that isn't such a piece of bad news for President Bush as you might have been led to believe. The main recommendations of the report seem to be that the United States should reduce its troop committment to Iraq to a rump force that would be devoted to training the Iraqi military forces; that the United States should open negotiations with Iran and Syria and the other regional powers over the future of Iraq; and that a final settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict should be negotiated in these talks as well.

My first impression is that Democrats are heralding this report primarily because it opens diplomatic relations, of a sort, between the United States and Iran. This has been a standing Democratic goal since the Clinton Administration, but it doesn't look quite as wimpy when you have the claim of stabilizing Iraq to use as a cover story.

A more comprehensive judgement is that, in chess parlance, this is what is called "exchanging queens". The report basically suggests trading a United States military force large enough to topple a dictator in exchange for Iran's terror network and it's Palestinian allies. This is a testament to the fact that the Washington political culture realizes that enough United States troops stationed in the Middle East to be a threat to Iran can make a useful bargaining counter. This also gives the ISG report a rather limited shelf-life. Despite Jonah Goldberg's suggestion that keeping troops in Iraq until 2008 is now the "mainstream" view, I woudn't make any bets that Democrats are going to wait until anywheres near 2008 (or even next week) to start pushing for a faster withdrawal than the ISG report recommends.

For the time being the ISG report is basically the United States telling Iran "Let's make a mutual draw-down of forces in the Middle East." Compared to the United States' pre-2003 message to Iraq, namely "Please don't hurt us.", the ISG report thus makes a certain amount of sense. Unfortunately, it's the kind of sense that the exactly analagous report from 1967 or so would have made to the Hubert Humphreys of the world. The report also underscores a silver lining to the Bush Administration's conduct of operations in Iraq: Iran has not been able to produce a Middle Eastern "Tet offensive" against American forces.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Post #300

Only random thoughts are being deployed for this blogging milestone. I'm saving the good stuff for post #1000.
  • The Gates Foundation is planning to run through its $60 billion dollars within 50 years of the trustee's deaths. This is presumably to avoid the Gates Foundation becoming a sitting duck for a future "bureaucratic capture" -- wealthy foundations attract the kind of attention from political operators that high-stakes gamblers attract from mafia kingpins. Twentieth century liberals in particular were notorious for targeting the big charitable foundations established with industrial profits such as the Ford Foundation.

  • A review of the movie "The Nativity Story" faults it for not making the Virgin Mary more of a contemporary American teenager (author's italics):
    It seems odd that [director] Hardwicke, who coaxed superb performances from both Evan Rachel Wood and Holly Hunter in the emotionally raw coming-of-age story Thirteen, would be content with such a placid, even submissive Mary. As she proved in Whale Rider, [actress] Castle-Hughes has no shortage of spark. If only the movie had tweaked expectations enough to give her Mary a Gethsemane moment, in which she struggled to reconcile the directive of her God with her natural adolescent desire to rebel, to have fun, maybe even to taste the pleasures of the flesh.
    I'm not a Biblical scholar, but I think its safe to say that giving the Virgin Mary the sexual mores of a twenty-first century MTV "fly girl" pretty much directly contradicts the point of the nativity story. Or why can't the Virgin Mary be more like Lindsay Lohan?

Friday, December 01, 2006

The real reason why the Republicans lost the election

The real reason why the Republicans lost Congress in last month's elections is very simple: they ran out of leaders. To illustrate, here is the list of Democratic Senate and House leaders (i.e. Presidents of the Senate, Presidents Pro Tempore, Speakers of the House, Majority/Minority Leaders and Majority/Minority Whips) who left their Party's congressional Leadership during the 12 years of Republican control of the House:
  • Al Gore lost the position of President of the Senate in 2001 when his Vice-Presidential term expired. He also left the Executive branch leadership when his 2000 Presidential campaign was defeated.
  • Tom Daschle lost the position of Senate Majority/Minority leader when he was defeated for reelection in 2004.
  • Wendell Ford lost the position of Senate Majority/Minority Whip when he retired from the Senate in 1999.
  • Dick Gephardt resigned as House Minority Leader to run for President in 2002 and didn't run for reelection to the House in 2004.
  • David Bonior did not run for reelection in 2002 after he was redistricted out of his House sear.
Contrast this with the Republican list:
  • Strom Thurmond was no longer President Pro Tempore Emeritus of the Senate when he resigned from the Senate in 2002.
  • Bob Dole lost the position of Senate Majority Leader when he resigned from the Senate to run unsuccessfully for President in 1996.
  • Don Nickles decided not to contend for the position of Senate Majority Whip position after the Republicans won back the Senate 2002 and did not run for reelection in 2004
  • Bill Frist lost the position of Senate Majority Leader when he decided not to run for reelection in 2006
  • Newt Gingrich resigned as Speaker of the House and as Representative in 1998 after a revolt of the House Republicans against him due to the Republican's poor political performance against the President Clinton-led Democrats.
  • Bob Livingston resigned as Speaker of the House elect in 1998 and from the House in 1999 after revelations of marital infidelity arose during the Clinton-impeachment debate.
  • Dennis Hastert stepped down as Speaker after the Republicans lost the House in 2006.
  • Dick Armey stepped down as House Majority Leader when he didn't run for reelection in 2002
  • Tom DeLay was forced to step down as House Majority Leader in 2005 after being indicted and did not run for reelection in 2006

It's pretty easy to see what has been going on for the last 12 years. The nearly indestructible Democrats have taken 4 "political casulties" during the last 12 years, with all four coming in the early years of President Bush's first Presidential election and first term. The relatively more volatile Republicans, on the other hand, have taken 5 "political casulties" -- mostly in a running battle to defeat President Clinton starting with the 1996 elections -- with 4 leaders leaving Congress for other pursuits. It's easy to see that Republicans could have been at a competitive disadvantage against the Democrats when the original architects of the 1994 Republican revolution have mostly been replaced by their second and third-rank understudies by 2006.

The one Republican exception to the rule is the past Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who will return to the Senate as Minorty Whip in 2006. The fact that Trent Lott is a political surviver with the skill to make it back into the leadership ranks after getting nailed by the Democrats in 2002 gives me some hope that the Republicans might win back the Senate in 2008.

There are a few lessons to be taken from this list. The first is that the Founding Fathers intentionally made the President an especially powerful Chief Executive for the express purpose of making it very difficult for Congress to impeach or otherwise dominate him*. Newt Gingrich the Impeacher and Tom Daschle the Obstructionist learned that lesson the hard way! The second lesson is that the 1994-era reform of voluntary term limits for Senaters and Representatives will almost certainly weaken any Party that adheres to them by replacing experienced leaders with untested subordinates. The Republicans might still want to keep term limits in mind as a reform, but they should be expecting their future control of Congress to be cut short by another "2006" if they do.

*The Murray Convention for the third person singular pronoun -- that the pronoun corresponding to the author's sex be consistently used -- is adopted here.

Looks like I picked a good year to leave Syracuse.

More than 600 illnesses reported that are related to a famous local restaurant.