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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Saturday, May 31, 2008

OBAMA GIVES IN TO THE MAN

Sen. Barack Obama is leaving Trinity United Church of Christ, his longtime religious home in Chicago and a place that has triggered repeated controversies during his presidential bid.

Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt confirmed Obama is essentially resigning from the church. No other details were immediately available, although Obama is expected to speak on the topic later this evening.

Friday, May 30, 2008

BAD COMPANY

" If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful."
Jeff Bezos

The Battlefield series by Electronic Arts are popular X-Box games in which you can only play online with others. You cannot succeed without the interaction of others connected to their X-Boxes over the internet. That's a pretty interesting concept and it seems to be working well for the company. However their most recent offering takes this a step further in terms of marketing.

Battlefield: Bad Company is the latest release by EA, and it has a special trait: features in the game are only possible to access if you pay for them. Not in game money, but in real actual dollars. You have to pay EA extra money to unlock portions of the game which you already paid for. Cracked has a new article up entitled Five Innovative Ways the Gaming Industry is Screwing You, and here's how they describe this feature:
In other words, you paid for everything available in the game when you first bought it. You just aren't allowed to use everything you paid for unless you shell out even more money. Think about that for just one minute and see if your mind doesn't implode. Buying something. That you paid for. And own. That you can hold in your hand. And yes, early testers say that people who pay to unlock these guns will supposedly have a very distinct advantage over the people who use the default guns.
EA is testing this to see if it will make them money, and if it does, expect many other games to take this step. As they say, this is like buying a car with air conditioning that you have to pay extra to have OnStar activate it for you. Sure, you bought and paid for it, but this special feature will cost you.

This is a disturbing, if predictable, trend. I advise not purchasing this game, just to send the gaming industry a message. If you were looking into any new EA game, perhaps it's time to think again. This is the kind of marketing step we can all have an impact on and hopefully cut off before it gets far.

NO THANKS, CAN WE TRY AGAIN?

"Insane time, indeed."

Its a Girl!
Long time readers of this blog know how fond I am of comments, and it always brightens my day when I see someone has left one on my articles. Your input and reactions to what I say or point to is encouraging and usually enlightening as well. Thus, when I read a comment on my entry about abandoning babies a few days ago by the blogger Iamfelix (whose blog Trying To Be Thoughtful I recommend), I had to post about it.

In it, Iamfelix suggests that this story from England is further evidence of the insane society we live in:
Hospital workers in Wolverhampton's New Cross hospital in Britain were stunned, when a couple who traveled to India for IVF treatment, dumped their newborn twins at the hospital when they found out they were not boys.

The parents of Indian heritage, who live as British citizens in the city of Birmingham reportedly told doctors they did not want the "wrong sex" babies as soon as they were born by Caesarean section in the hospital, a fortnight ago.
Here's the punch line:
The husband, aged 72, reportedly asked medics how long it would be before his wife, aged 59, was fit enough to fly back to India for more IVF treatment, because they wanted a boy to continue the family name.
Yes, that's right, the couple dumped the girls they had because the husband wanted boys, then asked when they could try again. The babies are abandoned (in what would be described as a safe haven) and have not been visited again by the parents. Girls? No good.

I wrote about this over a year ago, Where The Girls Aren't. China has a serious problem at present with this effect: parents want boys, and since they can only have a certain number of babies, they prefer girls over boys. Artificial insemination can theoretically weight toward girls and some areas such as Korea are trying to do so. It is culturally preferred by some to have a boy at least at first, so they can carry on the family name. Boys can take over the family business, they have greater status in society, they reflect upon the father's greater virility and masculinity, according to some cultures. Having a girl is expensive, not productive: she will cost you a dowry, she won't take over your work, she won't contribute to the household.

So the effort is to get boys, at whatever cost. In this case, the cost of two little girls having a home and a family.

SKIN DEEP?

"The view that we can be colorblind is a wonderful, idealistic perspective, but we don't live there"

baby girl
Not so long ago, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright declared that blacks and whites thought differently, that genetically the two ethnic groups are diverse. This was a point that eugenicists of the past enthusiastically endorsed: blacks are genetically diverse from whites, actually a different strain of human being with a different brain (inferior in their mindset, superior in Wright's). Now the welfare services of America seem to be agreeing.
Several leading child welfare groups Tuesday urged an overhaul of federal laws dealing with transracial adoption, arguing that black children in foster care are ill-served by a "colorblind" approach meant to encourage their adoption by white families.
These groups want white parents who adopt a black child to take sensitivity training, so that they can be prepared for their child's innate blacknitude. No white parent could possibly raise a black child as if they're a beloved child, they can't comprehend their innate blackness which is genetically different from them. Why, he looks different, can't you see? It's obvious!

This push comes about during the debate over 1994 Multi-Ethnic Placement Act, a bill that governins adoption of children from foster care. This bill directs the agencies to ignore the color of the parents and in their training to not care what ethnic background they happen to come from. It presumes that human beings are human regardless of the melanin content in their skin, in other words.

I find the concept that black children have to be raised "black" or with special black awareness not just absurd, but insulting. Blackness is at best cultural, we're all human beings. There's no difference between me and my buddy Ken that his darker hue explains. Sure he's bizarrely creative and unhindered by conventional morality, but that's not because his brain is black and mine is white, he's just a guy like me.

The demand that white parents have to have special training to adopt a black kid is offensive, it is in direct violation to the principles of Martin Luther King jr, and it plays exactly into the hand of gross racists.

We don't live in a colorblind society - but efforts like this merely ensure we never will.

HOW COULD YOU USE TALKING POINTS??

"I Knew It Was a Terrible Mistake, but I Didn’t Mention It Until I Got a Book Contract."
-Ann Althouse

Scott McClellan
As I poked fun at in yesterday's Quote of the Day, former Bush administration press secretary Scott McClellan has a new book coming out just in time for the presidential election that is very critical of and attacks president Bush. He was quite condemning of Richard Clarke's book in 2004 for its timing and content, but now that he's out of work and considered a lousy press secretary by most, he has a book filled with stuff that will make it popular with news shows and publishers. I'm sure it's just a coincidence that it is coming out just before the general election for President of the United States.

The news of this book has been received with great acclaim by various news programs because it says a few things that they've been saying about President Bush, and there's a certain approach to the interviews with White House officials about this book that is consistent in various sources. For example, here's Katie Couric from CBS News:
KATIE COURIC: A lot of people seem to be saying, in response to this book, that this doesn't sound like the Scott McClellan they knew. Let's take a listen.
KARL ROVE: This doesn't sound like Scott. It really doesn't. Not the Scott McClellan I've known for a long time.

DAN BARTLETT: He's like a fundamentally different person than all of us knew.

TRENT DUFFY: The voice that comes out of this book is certainly not Scott McClellan's.
KATIE COURIC: With all due respect, Ari, it sounds as if you all are operating from the same play book. Did you get together and discuss how to respond to this?
And here's Chris Matthews on Hardball:
MATTHEWS: That's the White House talking point, Ari. You're using the word puzzling. That is White House talking point.

FLEISCHER: Chris I just agreed with what Dana said. What's wrong with agreeing with what somebody says? It's an accurate observation. I think it shouldn't surprise you that people might agree.

MATTHEWS: The exact lingo you're using.

FLEISCHER: You said it and I agreed with it.

MATTHEWS: I find that there is an amazing synchronicity of reaction that sounds like it's regimental.

ARI FLEISCHER: No, I think that it's just that we all worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Scott for so long and we never heard Scott talk about manipulation, talk about propaganda....
At first blush this sounds very odd coming from news broadcasters. "Talking points" are standard for dealing with the press, they are formed by a meeting in which the various people who will go talk to reporters agree on specific areas and terms they will use to discuss issues so that a coordinated story comes from the source (usually political). If the president is questioned about his health, then the talking points might be about jogging and how hard he works, for example. Talking points are not rare or exceptional, they are exactly how the press is handled, it is a continuous, regular, and absolutely predictable pattern and system.

To have Katie Couric and Chris Matthews acting as if they are baffled that the White House might be coordinating the message that they send out is like having a golfer baffled that their caddy carries the golf clubs or a NASCAR driver confused that he has to turn left. That's how everyone does it, that's how the game is played. It isn't improper or even noteworthy, this is the first time I can remember any news organization even bringing up the concept or questioning it.

Yet when you think about this a bit more, it begins to make sense. It isn't the concept of talking points that these objective and balanced journalists are concerned with. They think Scott McClellan is telling the truth, it's not even questioned. Chris Matthews compared it to Mr Smith Goes to Washington when the corrupt senator goes around yelling the truth, finally. They presume that McClellan was playing along reluctantly and now is going to tell everyone how it really was.

So they extend that to Ari Fleischer and the rest of the White House officials. They are saying "Come on Ari, you're just giving us the talking points. It's okay, you can tell us how you really feel. McClellan had the guts to tell us about it, now you can too, go ahead!" They are convinced that the talking points are something these guys have to say, but don't really believe.

Given that nobody else in the administration is remotely inclined to say anything of this sort and is amazed that McClellan started to all the sudden, given that there's no evidence of McClellan's "stunning news" bits (except one, I'll get to that in a bit), and given the timing of the book written in such a way to guarantee lots of free publicity and purchases by Bush-hating leftists, you would expect that cynical, objective journalists would be skeptical of what he has to say. Yet it goes the other way. Read any blog's comment section on this, or any left-leaning blog entry about the book. The same theme comes up again and again: they aren't proving this to be lies! It must be true!

This is known as "confirmation bias" in which they hear what they want and believe to be accurate and presume it to be true without questioning it. The problem is, the burden of proof is on Scott McClellan, if he wants people to believe his points, he's got to prove them, not simply spew the left's talking points on President Bush. Does he in the book? Well it's not out yet, so who knows, somehow I doubt it. Bare assertion and descriptions of experiences he claims to have had are enough to convince the willing.

The concept that talking points are somehow restricted to politicians and coordination of message is limited to damage control or the White House is absurd to begin with. One of my favorite moments from the Rush Limbaugh show in 2000 was this sequence in which Rush plays a montage of almost 20 different news broadcasters and pundits when Dick Cheney was announced as the Vice Presidential candidate for Governor George W. Bush. At the time, this was considered a very wise, astute maneuver, because Dick Cheney was so brilliant, respected, and honorable, a man they all considered wise and capable. The choice brought gravitas to the ticket:
HUNT: He is a man who meets all George W.'s weaknesses: lack of foreign policy experience, lack of gravitas. I think now when Gore is trying to make the case of lack of gravitas against George W. ...

WILLIAMS: Now we look and we see the son, who is seeking some gravitas, to say to people that he is an intelligent man...

SHIPMAN: There is a lot talk they are looking at older candidates, candidates with gravitas.

ROBERTS: He's had health problems, uh, he's worked for a Big Oil company, but he has the gravitas. You can sum it up in one word: stature.

FAZIO: I really believe that George W. Bush needed that perhaps more than anyone in recent memory because, if there is a rap about him, it may go to the gravitas issue.

GREENFIELD: If the question about Governor Bush was one of the weight, or to use the favorite phrase of the moment, "gravitas"...

ALTER: What he gets here is grav-i-tas, a sense of weight, competence, and administrative ability.

KERREY: I've gotta strengthen it in some fashion. I've gotta bring gravitas to the ticket.

KERREY: He does not need anybody to give him gravitas!

CARLSON: It means that Bush, you know, Gore has experience and gravitas.

McCURRY: I think he also needs to demonstrate some gravitas, too.

DONALDSON: ...that he was put on the ticket, but by former President Bush, to give gravitas to the ticket.

CLIFT: Well, Dick Cheney brings congeniality and he brings gravitas.

ISAACSON: He does seem to bring some vigor as well as gravitas and stature to the ticket.

HUNT: It's called "gravitas."

NOVAK: Right.

SHIELDS A little gravitas!

WOODRUFF: You certainly have gravitas tonight.

DONALDSON: Displayed tonight a certain gravitas.

RUSH: Now, I don't care. I don't care how it happens. I don't care whether they all got together and decided, or one person used it and they all decided to mimic. They are who they are, and that montage is a good illustration.
What made it so hilarious is that I remember how it happened, and it was just comical how every single pundit and broadcaster described it in these terms. Rush just grabbed a tiny portion, this was the word they all were using. It was like a 3 year old running around repeating a word they heard over and over because it sounds funny to them. I don't think it was a deliberate, carefully coordinated effort by a cabal of news broadcasters, I think the news media often has a hive mind where they pick up on a certain concept or story and hammer it gleefully to be part of the crowd, one of the cool guys, to be in on it. Blogs do the same thing (something I try to avoid unless I believe I can substantively add something to it).

That's why for the media to act like something odd is happening when the White House guys all have the same kind of stories or lines is so bizarre and laughable.

I said earlier that there was one part of Scott McClellan's book that wasn't without evidence, and here's what I meant. The strongest criticisms of the Bush administration in the book include these (courtesy The Politico):
  • McClellan charges that Bush relied on “propaganda” to sell the war.
  • He says the White House press corps was too easy on the administration during the run-up to the war.
  • He admits that some of his own assertions from the briefing room podium turned out to be “badly misguided.”
  • Suggests that McClellan was continuing to defend them despite mounting evidence they had not given him all the facts.
  • McClellan asserts that the aides — Karl Rove, the president’s senior adviser, and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff — “had at best misled” him about their role in the disclosure of former CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity.
It is the first one that is what I am referring to: President Bush used propaganda to sell the war. This strikes me as the same kind of obvious as the talking points above. He used propaganda? Well, yes. That's how you try to influence people and sell your position. That's what every politician and advertiser does to try to get support for their product or idea.

Using propaganda isn't bad, it's why and how you use it that matters. If your point is true and valid, if your cause is just and what you are trying to get people to do or back is a proper idea, then propaganda is not improper. Of course President Bush used propaganda to sell the war. Scott McClellan is using propaganda to sell his book. Senator Obama is using propaganda to run for president. Propaganda doesn't mean "a bunch of lies" it means "information that is spread for the purpose of promoting some cause."

Attacking President Bush of using propaganda to sell the war is like accusing a basketball player of throwing orange balls at a basket. That's what you do, it is what you are supposed to do. This kind of thing, the timing, is meant to hurt Senator McCain's effort to win the presidency, and while I don't want the man to win anyway, I am annoyed at the transparent effort here. Talk about using propaganda, but in this case, it's deliberately false and manufactured.

McClellan was a pretty lousy press secretary, he stumbled in his delivery, he was awkward handling questions, he failed to deal with major issues, he didn't address important topics, he was just hapless. Was it on purpose because he didn't like the job or the administration or is he just that bad at the job? Watching him on TV shows he certainly seems consistently awkward.

*Thanks to Newsbusters for the transcripts.

*UPDATE: the Soros-owned publisher that is printing McClellan's book is backtracking a bit, saying that McClellan never meant to imply that President Bush lied to him.

*UPDATE 2: The publisher and editor had a bit of input into how the book turned out, according to a story by Dan Eggen and Linton Weeks at the Washington Post:
Osnos said McClellan just needed editorial guidance to tell the story he wanted to tell all along.

"First we had to ascertain what kind of book he wanted to write," said Osnos, a former Washington Post reporter and editor. "We are journalists, independent-minded publishers. We weren't interested in a book that was just a defense of the Bush administration. It had to pass our test of independence, integrity and candor."
You see, they didn't want a book that failed to bash President Bush. They not only wouldn't publish such a thing, but they specifically consider anything supporting or defending the man to lack integrity and candor. And independence, why, there's really nothing out there bashing President Bush, it's so independent practically nobody in the media business does so. And by nobody I mean "almost everyone." That quote is an interesting way to explain his position. This is the book McClellan always wanted to write, you can tell by the fact that we required him to write something that attacked President Bush.

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WHAT ON EARTH COULD HAVE CHANGED?

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn't belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?
-Sesame Street

I offer you two stories, to let you contrast and compare. The first is about news coverage in Iraq and a mysterious plummet in coverage. American Journalism Review has some information about the precipitous drop in coverage of Iraq in the legacy media:

Iraq Network NewsDuring the first 10 weeks of 2007, Iraq accounted for 23 percent of the newshole for network TV news. In 2008, it plummeted to 3 percent during that period. On cable networks it fell from 24 percent to 1 percent, according to a study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Iraq Cable NewsThe numbers also were dismal for the country's dailies. By Acuna's count, during the first three months of this year, front-page stories about Iraq in the Bee were down 70 percent from the same time last year. Articles about Iraq once topped the list for reader feedback. By mid-2007, "Their interest just dropped off; it was noticeable to me," says the public editor.
Print news dropped by 70%. Debate in congress and mention of Iraq and the rebuilding efforts there have vanished from the political debate as well. It does not come up in speeches or in the congressional record as often as it did even a year ago.

And the second story with which to compare? This story by the AFP in France:
World leaders, including UN chief Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on Thursday hailed Baghdad's progress in combatting violence and stabilising Iraq.

A declaration adopted by 100 delegations at a Stockholm conference said the participants "recognised the important efforts made by the (Iraqi) government to improve security and public order and combat terrorism and sectarian violence across Iraq."

It also acknowledged political and economic progress made, and said that "given the difficult context, these successes are all the more remarkable."
...
Rice said that while Iraq was "making good progress there remain challenges. Not everything that needs to be accomplished has been accomplished."

Miliband was also optimistic and noted that at the conference, "instead of talking about the last five years every speaker has talked about the next five years, and that is a really profound change of perspective."
The meeting was about Iraq's debts, which total over 150 billion dollars, but which have been reduced by over sixty billion. As oil production continues to increase and the nation enjoys ever greater stability and reduction in violence, the debt will continue to shrink. Investing in Iraqi currency is a good idea, as I suggested over a year ago on this blog.

The contrast of these two stories is significant, I think. It is obvious: the better things get in Iraq, the less the legacy media wants to cover it, and the less the Democrats want to talk about it.

Did you guess which thing was not like the others?
Did you guess which thing just doesn't belong?
If you guessed this one is not like the others,
Then you're absolutely...right!

*Tip of the hat to Gateway Pundit for the news story, and Ace of Spades HQ for the Iraq Good News story.
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Quote of the Day

"We can't destroy the inequities between men and women until we destroy marriage."
-Robin Morgan
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Thursday, May 29, 2008

PELOSI'S VIEW

"To go beyond the bounds of moderation is to outrage humanity."
-Blaise Pascal

Surge vs Democrats
I'm not big on pile ons or trying to be on top of breaking events and news to get my foot in the door first - that's probably one reason why after over two years I'm still a pretty small blog. Generally speaking if you let something cool a bit, new information comes out that clarifies, expands, or changes the perspective on issues and events. Certainly I benefit from reading the thoughts and analysis of others.

Yet sometimes something comes out that I want to get some thoughts published about before the event gets stale in peoples' minds and something happened today that I broke my general rule and wanted to post about this late.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is about as leftist as you can get, she's a bona fide San Francisco leftist, she's a full blow pinko as they said in the 60s: not all the way red, but certainly of a similar hue. She made a few statements to the friendly San Francisco Chronicle Newspaper that I wanted to pass along. It is an interview that you can hear the audio of, and I wanted to highlight a couple lines here:
Well, the purpose of the surge was to provide a secure space, a time for the political change to occur to accomplish the reconciliation. That didn’t happen. Whatever the military success, and progress that may have been made, the surge didn’t accomplish its goal. And some of the success of the surge is that the goodwill of the Iranians-they decided in Basra when the fighting would end, they negotiated that cessation of hostilities-the Iranians.
First, good for her for recognizing and saying publicly that the Surge is working. The change in tactics in Iraq is making a huge difference and it undeniably, objectively is doing the job, rapidly. Al`Qaeda is squealing about failure and loss, Iraq is becoming what all reasonable people hoped it would.

Second, good for her for crediting the coalition troops for doing the job.

The problem is, she wants to give some of the credit to Iran of all places. She literally said that some of the success is due to the goodwill of the Iranians who she claims were in charge and made the decisions for peace and negotiations. Why, without them being such good guys and helping us out, there would never have been peace at all!


Iran MilitiaThis is the Iran that supplied the Iraqi terrorists and death squads with funds, weaponry, explosives, soldiers, and leadership. The same Iran that is working on a nuclear weapon that the president has repeatedly claimed will be used against Israel. Iran is the reason that the conflict continued as long as it did, that things were as rough in Iraq as they have been for these years. It was Iran who supplied IEDs that blew up coalition soldiers and Iraqi people. It was Iran who supplied the weaoons to kill soldiers, the training to fight and kill and destroy. Iran is arming the al`Qaeda troops in Afghanistan as well, and are said to be in meetings with the terrorist organization. It was only the efforts of the US military and President Bush that led to a halt of many of these operations in Iraq.

Iran has about as much goodwill for Iran and the coalition troops as Michael Moore has for President Bush. They were doing everything short of a full scale invasion of the country to prevent stability and peace in Iraq. They were using every means possible to destabilize, destroy, and afflict the entire nation, determined to prevent a peaceful non Muslim democracy from being a neighbor. They are the nation that declared war on the US in 1979 and have acted on it for all this time.

The government of Iran in no way, under no circumstances, in any conceivable way contributed to the peace in Iraq by any semblance of goodwill. I know that at least some of the people of Iran had goodwill toward their neighbors and the US, but not the government. This is one of the most shockingly insulting, offensive, idiotic, and unbelievable statements ever uttered by a US politician. This is the woman who is two steps from the presidency if God forbid there was some catastrophe. She is a leader in congress, one of the heads of the Democratic Party, she has a responsibility to not even consider this kind of vomit, let alone say it in a clueless manner.

She delivered it in a way that clearly was unaware of how unspeakable and horrible it was. It was like someone dumping rat poison in the soup cauldron at a mess hall for the soldiers, without even thinking there was anything that could be wrong with it.

How could someone say anything this awful? I believe it comes from a basic worldview and a need to hold a political position.

WARMONGERS
First, for folks like Nancy Pelosi, war is childish and immature, it is like boys fighting with sticks or playing cowboys and indians, it is something we should outgrow, but some unenlightened among us, some more immature never do. Adults would solve situations without shooting each other, after all. War is simply wrong, it always is a failure, it represents bloodthirsty and stupid people in charge.

Thus, the military is a mechanism of failure, of testosterone-driven uneducated and simple, possibly inbred hicks from flyover country. They represent a place to put these people and keep them busy with drills and delivering food to needy places, not fighting. The smart, the enlightened, the truly mature are able to solve problems and deal with evil by using negotiation, diplomacy, by reaching out to them and letting them know you are their friend. This is what drives former president Jimmy Carter to say something like this:
Mr Carter said Iranians had a right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes but he understood the concerns that it raised in Israel.

He added: "The US should say 'we want to be your friend'".

Mr Carter said they should normalise trade relations with Iran.

"We want to help with technology to build a peaceful nuclear programme," he added.
The reason they are so upset is our fault, naturally. They would be fine if only we'd be nice to them. The fact that it failed utterly for President Carter the first time is irrelevant, it just needs to be tried again. It will work, because they're so smart and good at it that they can talk anyone, anywhere out of their nasty ways. It is just a matter of approach.

You cannot, therefore, give the credit to the military for success, they can't achieve anything good with their bombs and their guns. War, good god y'all, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing, says Nancy Pelosi. You succeed by diplomacy, by working through channels. Clearly it was negotiations with the Iranians that did the job, and even if it wasn't well this paves the way for future negotiations, possibly with the wonderful and understanding Jimmy Carter.

DRUMMING
Second, the Drum Principle applies, sadly. Were Nancy Pelosi to admit that yes, the surge worked, it was a good idea, and it did just what the right and President Bush said it would. This will not do. There must be a way to spin this, to make it seem like Bush got lucky, that he got help, that it turned out that way despite the best efforts of the fumbling chimp Bush.

What's more, the ever present fear is that the US will engage in military action against Iran (who, by all objective standards deserves a spanking) and thus the original context of the Drum Principle comes into play. Kevin Drum stated his position of abandoning what he believed in and claimed to stand for because it might help President Bush build momentum and public approval for military action against Iran. Thus, he didn't bother saying anything against the horrors of the nation, he refused to condemn the evils of the oppressive religious regime. It didn't matter that these guys stood for everything that he opposes, it didn't matter that everything he condemns as horrible they did and still do.

It still doesn't matter. You keep your mouth shut, and even spin matters in any way necessary to avoid giving President Bush any credit or possible leverage to use in what they are certain is a plan to invade Iran. As the Weekly Standard points out, just two months ago, Speaker Pelosi cautioned any enthusiasm regarding the incredible success of the surge in Basra:
"I hope we don't hear any glorification of what happened in Basra."
Naturally, we can't give the military credit or glory for their work. That would be wrong, unseemly, too useful to President Bush. Iran now, sure you can give them credit, even where it is utterly inappropriate. Our own boys? Hey, they're only in Iraq because they were too stupid to stay out of the military.

CONCLUSION
Giving Iran credit for goodwill in it's surrender, humiliation, and shameful defeat in Iraq is like giving the Nazi party credit for Hitler committing suicide or the retreat out of France. Good job boys, you cared so much for peace you retreated! Lets give them all a hand of applause. It's like giving the Klan credit for falling apart and not lynching blacks and Jews any more. Goodwill.

I have no doubt the uncontained fury of military folks and the outrage of the general public will wash over Speaker Pelosi and a retraction and apology that really isn't either will be issued by her soon. Yet this is on the record.

This is what the leadership of the Democratic Party stands for.

Tip of the Pirate Hat to Ace of Spades Headquarters for the Pelosi info.
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WOMEN IN THE CITY

"The most exciting,
challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you find someone to love the you you love, well, that's just fabulous."
-Carrie

Sluts in the City
Hollywood has for a long time considered the female audience critical. Movie makers inject romance into stories that is sometimes jarring and out of place just to get women to watch movies, presuming that men will go anyway. Yet there has not been a movie such as Sex and the City that has been so totally pointed at and meant for women exclusively. Even man-bashing or romantic chick flicks have been intended for dates, as misguided as that thought might be, but Sex and the City is for women only.

Will it work? Will a movie that deliberately does not want men to attend succeed? The opening weekend looks big, and there definitely is a cult following of the trashy, shallow and morally vapid television show. The initial showings are said to be sold out, and the women who love this show will likely see it more than once, possibly even dragging some hapless guy along.

This is a gamble, but primarily targeting women has worked well for almost a century in advertising, since women tend to like shopping more than men. I'd like this trash to tank, but I know better.
“Oh, I get it. It’s a show about three hookers and their mom.”
-Peter Griffin, Family Guy
*UPDATE: A reviwer at The UK Daily Mail (Liz Jones) had this line about the movie:
And while straight men universally hated SATC (they professed to find Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw repellent, while in reality being unable to cope with her straight-talking prickliness), women - pretty much all women - loved it.
First off, pretty much all women didn't love it, but Ms Jones is suffering from the "everybody I know" syndrome that happens a lot.

Yet when she comes to why men disliked the show, I'm just stunned. Yes, that's it, we didn't care for the show because of the raw grrl power, it was their witchy magic and simple creatures such as us knuckledragging men were speechless and slack jawed at her straight talk. Surely their magical woman might is too much for we men, who can only comprehend beer and football. It wasn't that the women were bitchy sluts who represent everything wrong with modern culture and the primary reason so many men have decided marriage - or any long term relationship - is not worth the effort. We were reduced to anger because of our fear and confusion in the face of the horse-faced Sarah Jessica Parker.

Sure.

Daily Mail article courtesy Protein Wisdom.
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SURRENDER ATTEMPTS FAIL

"To know what is right and yet not do it is the worst cowardice."
-Confucius

Iraq
Recently, Senator McCain invited Senator Obama to go with him on a fact finding trip to Iraq. Senator Obama, who has not been there since 2006, rejected the plan, calling it a "political stunt," but at least he didn't call it a distraction. One of the reasons Senator Obama might be less than inclined to go to Iraq is because it does not fit his constant narrative of wasted lives and money, of loss, quagmire, defeat, and the need for surrender and retreat. I say constant, because that was his theme for years until very recently when the entire topic of Iraq dropped out of his speeches and comments.

That might be related to the fact that Iraq is being settled, being pacified, the bad guys are being stomped and surrendering, and the surge is objectively and undeniably working. Even al`Qaeda has declared defeat, according to analysis of the websites and chatter from the terrorist group. Strategy Page has been analyzing this information and has this analysis:
Al Qaeda web sites are making a lot of noise about "why we lost in Iraq." Western intelligence agencies are fascinated by the statistics being posted in several of these Arab language sites. Not the kind of stuff you read about in the Western media. According to al Qaeda, their collapse in Iraq was steep and catastrophic. According to their stats, in late 2006, al Qaeda was responsible for 60 percent of the terrorist attacks, and nearly all the ones that involved killing a lot of civilians. The rest of the violence was carried out by Iraqi Sunni Arab groups, who were trying in vain to scare the Americans out of the country.

Today, al Qaeda has been shattered, with most of its leadership and foot soldiers dead, captured or moved from Iraq. As a result, al Qaeda attacks have declined more than 90 percent. Worse, most of their Iraqi Sunni Arab allies have turned on them, or simply quit. This "betrayal" is handled carefully on the terrorist web sites, for it is seen as both shameful, and perhaps recoverable.
Al`Qaeda failed in its basic objective, despite the best attempts by the Democrats in congress and the anti-war left in the US and elsewhere: to make matters so unpleasant in Iraq that the coalition gave up and left. Sure, Democrats offered up more than fifty attempts to assist the terrorists in this goal, almost five dozen specific bills designed to surrender to al`Qaeda, but all of these bills failed.

President Bush stood tall and stood firm both for the people of Iraq and the military of the US and elsewhere. He refused to give up just because it was taking longer than some (not the administration) said it would and was harder than some people hoped. He saw that the effort was not only making progress but was absolutely possible to succeed in, and worth the difficulty and expense. President Bush did not waver in the face of contempt, hate, and bitterness flung at him daily by the press and many in the US. As a result, we have something to be proud of, and reasonable hope for more to be even more proud of in the future.

Meanwhile, shamed, defeated, and destroyed, al`Qaeda has nothing to be proud of and angry Muslims all around them. Because of al`Qaeda's murder of fellow Arabs and Muslims, they turned their own supporters against them. They were betting on the horror being too much for the US to stomach - and for many in the country it was - and that the end result of taking over Iraq would be worth temporarily upsetting the locals. They saw the damage as something they could fix over time. They were wrong.

And you can thank the unloved, often maligned President Bush for that.

*UPDATE: Senator Obama, possibly realizing how weak and foolish he looked in his refusal to Senator McCain, is looking at a trip to Iraq now.

FUEL PRICES AND FOOLS

"All you have to do is drive down the street in your car, see the price at the pump, and you know that Americans can no longer afford George W. Bush as President and his Rubber Stamp Republican Congress."
-Nancy Pelosi April 26, 2006

One of the strange things about politics is how people react to and treat different events. For example, in the US, the economy is always blamed on the president, even though he has little to no control or power over it whatsoever - that's mostly in congress' hands. That's why every election except ones a Democrat is the incumbent in, the press talks about how awful the economy is - the Wall Street Journal recently noted that consumer confidence, informed by the legacy media, is as low today as it was before President Clinton was elected. A complete coincidence, no doubt.

Take gas prices. The president is blamed for gas prices, I had a friend growl about how President Bush should do more about gas prices. When I pressed him to explain what, exactly, he's supposed to do he muttered something about Saudi Arabia, but had no answers. When I pointed out the things the President has done (new nuclear power plants ready to build, new refineries, pushed for new drilling) he just scowled. The concept that the president can wave a magic president wand and suddenly prices drop is just somehow ingrained in people's heads. Take a look at this chart (courtesy Gateway Pundit):

Gas Prices
This is how gas prices have acted in the last few years. See that big blue spike, like the global warming hockey stick graph? That's what happened to gas prices once Democrats took over congress. Who gets blamed? President Bush. That makes no sense, everyone knows how high gas prices have gotten, the graph doesn't even show the dips when the gas prices actually started to go down in the past, but we all know what its like. The fact that they went up precipitously after the Democrats took office is also not exactly an unfamiliar fact. Yet people don't even consider that when they look at the economy.

In fact, many still blame the GOP even though they were hurled unceremoniously and deservingly out of power. That just irrational. Why are gas prices going up like this? Well there are a lot of reasons, some behind the scenes such as speculation and money futures investment that I won't go into here, but one of the reasons is that the Democrats are in charge of congress.

It is not coincidental that the price of gasoline has skyrocketed since Democrats took over. The Democratic congress has not only refused to take actions that would ease prices and increase supply, they have blocked attempts to make cheaper gas available for purchase from Canada. As I wrote about a few weeks ago, this active and passive effort has cause a real increase in gas prices that could have been at least eased.

Now we have even more sad news: the Democratic congress is deliberately blocking any new efforts for independent energy in the US. They claimed to have a plan in 2006 during the election, yet that plan has not emerged - unless they meant "a plan to block anything that would help." Here's what I mean.

President Bush recently gave a speech in which he called congress to take action to reduce energy costs which are driving increases in costs everywhere. He pointed out that new drilling must be done for the United States to achieve increased energy independence and lower prices. He suggested increased effort for clean, cheap nuclear power. He pointed out that opposition to drilling for oil is not reasonable:
Somehow if you mention ANWR it means you don't care about the environment. Well, I'm hoping now people, when they say ANWR, it means you don't care about the gasoline prices that people are paying.
The answer from the Democrats? Class warfare, envy, and rejection. The answer was that the President is just interested in helping big oil, that he has no new ideas, and that he hates the environment. In other words: we have no answers, we reject any ideas, and we're going to do nothing to help, while claiming the problem is your fault.

The President said he had no problem with a Federal Gas Tax "holiday" from Memorial Day to Labor Day (roughly late May to early September) in time for the summer and most people's big vacation and travel time. Democrats in congress said they would only support it if the oil companies paid for it. In other words: they would support a tax suspension only if the taxes were paid anyway. They want the money, and they want consumers to think congress saved them money.

The Democrats in congress have one answer: tax the oil companies more. Sure, it does nothing to reduce prices - it would probably increase them, in fact - but it gives congress more money to play with.

Listen, voters, they don't want to do anything to help you with your gas price woes. One of the reasons has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with power and greed. Every gallon of gas is worth quite a bit in federal taxes, the higher the price, the higher the taxes, and thus the more money that the government gets to play with. There's more, though.

They want prices to be high not only because they believe that driving cars is destroying the world and it is only fair that the US pays as much in gas as Europe (still cheaper in the US) but they want the economy to suffer and voters to be angry and feel the sting in their pocketbooks because of the effect I pointed out above: people blame the President. They think "President Bush is a Republican and he made gas prices like this, I won't vote for another Republican." Never mind how retarded that is, that's what they want to happen.

Like the Democrats in California who were caught on audio discussing how they could deliberately tank the California economy long enough to get more Democrats elected, these guys at the federal level want to do the same thing. They won't address this problem until they get a bigger majority in congress and a Democratic president - if ever.

This is the worst congress, ever. They do not accomplish anything positive, they lied about their plans in Iraq to gain power, they have failed in every single major goal they set out before the voters to get elected, and they are actively working to cost you more money at the gas pump. If you want to know more about what congress is doing to not only drive prices up but block ways to bring it down, Gateway Pundit has an excellent article up, including a map of areas off limits to drilling around the US (hint: nearly everywhere) according to congressional law. They refuse to do anything to increase supply.

They are costing you every time you fill your tank, and that cost will extend at least ten years in the future.

Again: just something to consider when you vote this November. Keep in mind who is responsible, and what is going on in Washington. Remember this when you fill your car up next time, when you buy any food, when you go for medical care (yes, the gas prices affect that too). Remember who is responsible.

*UPDATE: Here is a petition you can sign that calls congress to legislate drilling for oil in the US in areas where we have fuel. Sure, this won't make oil prices drop tomorrow, but then that's what President Clinton said fourteen years ago when he vetoed drilling in ANWR. Do it now, for tomorrow.

Previously on WATN:

Congress and the Economy
Obscene Profits
Taxing Gas
Oily Politics
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TOLKIEN APOCRYPHA

"There's an awful lot of incident that happens during that 60 year gap."

The Hobbit
Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy was met with great acclaim, fanfare, a host of Oscar trophies, and made almost three billion dollars worldwide. The effects and cinematography were breathtaking, the acting was solid, and the storytelling was fairly capable. What was lacking was loyalty to the books, particularly in the second movie. Each movie changed the original story in small or subtle ways, sometimes because of considerations for the length of the movie, sometimes because of the change from one medium (print) to another (film), and sometimes just out of Peter Jackson's whim.

The Two Towers was riddled with pointless changes, added material that lengthened the movie, and absurd mischaracterizations. Excellent scenes and concepts in the book were abandoned for Jackson's personal vision and drive, from Aragorn falling off a cliff to Fangorn being ignorant of the forest he allegedly was shepherding over being burnt and cut down, to Faramir trying to take the ring to Minas Tirith, where Frodo hands the ring to a Nazgul that is chased off by a man on a horse. The rape of the original concepts and story was nearly total in this book, saved only by a few faithful points such as the flooding of Isengard.

Because of these changes and Peter Jackson's apparent lack of respect for the books, many fans of the story were very disappointed and frustrated with the series, although the first was so incredibly true to the story and so well done his actions are almost forgivable. Now he's not going to be making a two-part The Hobbit adaptation to movie, with Guillermo Del Toro handling the directorial reins this time. Del Toro is talented and has a handle on the fantastic, and although his vision is a bit darker than The Hobbit deserves, I'm willing to give him a shot.

It is a recent internet chat that gives me grave concerns over Jackson and Del Toro's plans. The tone and vision of the movie, what they think the book is about is the first, minor concern:
WetaHost: Hi. Do you intend to play this one by the Book (The Hobbit that is) and make it a very light childrens tale on film, or do you plan to stick with the much darker treatment- in keeping with the LotR films - particularly the latter ones. My personal preference would be for the latter - cannot see how eg. the Rivendell Elves could regress from their nobility in LotR to those "...Tra-la-la-la...." singing versions which wer in teh Hobbit Book. Thank you. "Tra-la-la-la" singing
Guillermo del Toro: We’ll see about the “Tra-la-la-“ later- but the book, I believe, in echoing the “loss of innocence” England experienced after WWI, is a passage form innocence to a darker, more somber state- The visual / thematic progression should reflect that in the camera style, color palette, textural choices, etc.
Peter Jackson: As I said earlier, I personally feel that The Hobbit can, and should have a different tone. The "tone" of these stories shouldn't be defined by the pressure our characters were under in LOTR. The world is a different place at the time of the Hobbit. The shadow is not so dark. However, what should stay the same is the reality of Middle-earth, and the integrity we bring to it as film makers.
In other words: they think the Hobbit is about Tolkien experiencing World War I and coming out of it darker and less innocent. Although Tolkien did say the war shaped his vision of the world, the Hobbit was not about loss of innocence, it is a simple faerie tale set in Tolkien's world written for children. This direct intent to show a certain vision rather than take the book as it is means an imposition of the director's concept rather than letting the story speak for its self, which is exactly what Jackson did, and is what I meant by a darker vision by Guillermo.

Now I agree that the light hearted singing sections of the book with Dwarves singing their plate breaking "Bilbo Baggins hates" song was incredibly out of character for the dour, flinty fellows (then again, the constant use of Gimli as a comedic figure in LOTR was as well), so I wouldn't mind seeing the songs go away but there is a line at which, when crossed, you lose the themes and feeling of the book. I'm concerned Del Toro's worldview and style will cross that line too easily.

Then we get this little tidbit:
WetaHost: Will Gollum play a role in the second film? If not, any plans to find a different role for Andy Serkis? Because, and I think most will agree with me, everything is better with more Serkis.
Guillermo del Toro: Yes! As all of you know, Gollum has a rather fascinating arch to go through and his alliance to Shelob or his period of imprisonment in Thranduil's, etc but it is early still- so early in fact that to reveal more would tie our hands and be counterproductive.
WetaHost: My question is one that I think you will hear alot of from many of us...from what material will you pulling the second movie from? I know it'll be great with you two on board, but I am mighty curious. I am a huge fan of both of you and I look foward to more Tolkien films!
Guillermo del Toro: The idea is to find a compelling way to join THE HOBBIT and FELLOWSHIP and enhance the 5 films both visually an in their Cosmology. There’s omissions and material enough in the available, licensed material to attempt this. The agreement is, however, that the second film must be relevant and emotionally strong enough to be brought to life but that we must try and contain the HOBBIT in a single film.
Peter Jackson: I'm really looking forward to developing Film Two. It gives us a freedom that we haven't really had on our Tolkien journey. Some of you may well say that's a good thing of course! The Hobbit is interesting in how Tolkien created a feeling of dangerous events unfolding, which preoccupy Gandalf. There's an awful lot of incident that happens during that 60 year gap. At this stage, we're not imagining a film that literally covers 60 years, like a bio-pic or documentary. We would figure out what happens during that 60 years, and choose one short section of time to drop in and dramatise for the screen. I'm really interested in how it effects The Hobbit - do we show what happens to Gandalf during his trips away? We'll see. We may well have seeds for Film Two that we'll subtly sow during The Hobbit.
In other words, the second film is not the second half of The Hobbit. They are not breaking up the long book into two sections, they are making up the second movie whole cloth out of materials not in any of the books. They want to create a "bridge" film between The Hobbit and the Fellowship of the Rings. Where did Gollum go? What was Gandalf up to? There are plenty of events that happen off screen, but J.R.R. Tolkien did not write them down and thus, this will just be an invention by the pair.

Small wonder Christopher Tolkien, the son of the great writer, is trying to stop the movie from being made. He wants to take back the film rights, and while the reason is not reported yet, I wouldn't be surprised to find out this is exactly why. These guys want to tamper with the Tolkien legacy and vision, to create their own story.

I can live with a darker version of the Hobbit that might omit some parts I like - I could handle The Fellowship of the Rings without Tom Bombadil, even though it violates the story in a significant way. What I do not want to see is these guys invent an entire new story using the characters however they wish. I do not care to see an entire movie consisting of the crap Peter Jackson jammed into the movies to fit his vision that had nothing to do with the original books.

I understand that a director has to make his own product with his own vision, but you can take that too far and forget that you're filming a movie adaptation of a book, not a story you invented. When they abandon the entire concept of adapting a book and make up their own film, that's when a director goes too far.

At this point, I hope Christopher Tolkien can win his lawsuit, but I just don't see that happening.
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Quote of the Day

"Think about it: if you've found yourself suddenly irritated by any of the people or outlets I mentioned above this election, is it really they who've changed? Or are they simply less charming when they're not confirming your comfortable beliefs?"
-James Poniewozik
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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Second Quote of the Day

"Well, why, all of a sudden, if he had all these grave concerns, did he not raise these sooner? This is one-and-a-half years after he left the administration. And now, all of a sudden, he's raising these grave concerns that he claims he had. And I think you have to look at some of the facts. One, he is bringing this up in the heat of a presidential campaign."
-Scott McClellan, writer of a Bush-bashing tell-all book during the heat of a presidential campaign, regarding Richard Clarke's book in 2004

FAIR ENDING?

"The baby’s needs are very insistent, and they’re normally not responsive to things like the mother’s needs for sleep, or food, or rest or break. That experience the first night of being more incredibly tired than I’ve ever been in my life, from having gone through the experience of the labor, and it was grueling as they tend to be. And just thinking that I felt badly deserved of a break — long, uninterrupted sleep, and not getting it, and the dawning realization that the days when you could depend on justice, in that sense, were over."
-Susan Mushart
A Montana woman whose newborn son was found dead in a trash bin near the University of Southern California campus in 2005 pleaded no contest to child endangerment Tuesday after four attempts to charge her with murder were dismissed.

Holly Ashcraft, 23, entered the plea in Superior Court to the charge and a special allegation that the endangerment resulted in death.

Under a plea agreement, she will be sentenced June 27 to time already served - about 30 days of jail time and about 695 days of electronic monitoring. She also will be placed on five years' probation, said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

Judge Kathleen Kennedy warned Ashcraft she could face up to 10 years in prison if she violates probation.

It was "a fair ending to a tragic situation," said her attorney, Mark Geragos.
Sad CommentaryYes, you read that right. She murdered her newborn child and got a month of jail and 5 years probation. Her attorney calls that fair, I wonder what the baby would have called it? Baby abandonment is not rare, sadly. Women (particularly prostitutes) will dump their baby after birth and move on, not wanting the child to begin with and not wanting to pay for or get an abortion. The baby is born, alive, and left to starve to death and die from exposure... or rats. By their mother.

I can't find the news stories, but I recall in the same day about six or eight years ago two events: a woman was convicted of abandoning her child to die and got probation, and a woman killed a dog and got... 3 years imprisonment. I guess the dog was grown up.

Apparently killing a baby is not so very bad a thing, something that men like C. Everett Koop warned about in the 1970s with legalized abortion being commanded by the Supreme Court. Diminish the significance of life and humanity and it has repercussions, this isn't something you can do in isolation. Killing unborn helpless babies isn't just permissible, it must be legal and is even supported by government funds. How far of a stretch is it from that to killing newborns? Not far, apparently. Abandon a baby and get a slap on the wrist, after all, the mother suffers the most, right? Sure, she doesn't die in agony and loneliness, but she feels bad about it, and that's even worse, right?

To combat baby abandonment, some cities are working on tough new laws that provide a safe place for women to abandon their children. In other words, they are trying to make it easier, safer, and more legal to ditch children. The problem, apparently, is not abandoning babies, it's doing it in dumpsters. At least with the Safe Haven concept their baby will probably survive, but it seems likely to me that giving women an anonymous place to abandon their children at is not exactly going to reduce the number of incidents.

Society is not enhanced by assisting mothers in abandoning their babies. The answer isn't to use government funds to make this easier and free of what little legal consequence finally reaches the woman who does so.

The thing is, there are plenty of places you can go when you are pregnant and need help. You can leave the child with a family member, you can put it up for adoption, you can get help from any of dozens of charity groups (mostly run by Christians) or, if you just are interested in murdering this inconvenient child, you can get plenty of help from groups like Planned Parenthood.

At some point I'd like to believe that even the dullest among us would work out that doing what results in babies will, eventually, result in babies. That promiscuous sex, that sex outside marriage which provides stability, income, and parents is a bad thing if for no other reason than it results in a helpless, innocent life being ruined or even ended because of your animalistic lust. Human beings control their emotions and desires with responsibility, honor, and morality. Animals just slake their lusts for food or sex or sleep or what have you without concern for any of those things. Can anyone truly say becoming more like animals is a positive move for society?

And in the process of us ever seeking greater pleasure with lesser responsibility, rejecting anyone who dares call it wrong, babies suffer the most. Helpless, innocent, weak, trusting babies.
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MISSPOKE, pt 2

"At least you didn't misspell potato"

Buchenwald Liberation
In the 2004 presidential election, Senator John Kerry told his favorite war story of shipping a CIA agent up into Cambodia in his swiftboat on Christmas and being given a hat by the man as a memento of their time together. Over the years, Kerry had told that story many times, it was in the congressional record several times, for example. Yet when examined more closely, it turned out to be utterly absurd. The rivers leading to Cambodia were blocked off with concrete and a swiftboat couldn't get there. The CIA wouldn't use some unknown and take him off patrol for such a mission. The event couldn't possibly have happened on Christmas, and so on.

It was an embarrassment for Senator Kerry, although he clung to the story and keeps telling an altered version of it. Senator Clinton in trying to establish her ability to face difficult and dangerous situations told a story of landing under sniper fire and almost crashing in Bosnia. Later, this was shown (with video) to be not just exaggeration, but a total and obvious lie: she knew it was not true and said it anyway. In her case at least this wasn't an often-repeated lie from her career, no that is relegated to her story about being named after Sir Edmund Hillary, the famous climber. Problem is, she was born before Hillary became famous.

Senator Obama has shared a few of these kind of tales. He claimed his father met his mom because of a Kennedy donation to help fly Kenyan students into the US, but the Kennedies didn't pay for that flight. He claimed his parents met on the Selma march, but he was born in 1961 and the march didn't happen until 1965, the year I was born. Most recently, he told an audience that an uncle who signed up the day after the Pearl Harbor attack helped liberate Auschwitz.

Bloggers quickly noted that Auschwitz was liberated in 1945 by Soviet forces, while the US army was bogged down in the Battle of the Bulge. Later he noted that it wasn't actually Auschwitz, it was Buchenwald.

Now, most gaffes I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt to, anyone who speaks for a living over long periods of time is going to make mistakes, say things they didn't mean to, and stumble. Some people tend to do it more often than others, some almost never seem to stumble. Particularly inexperienced speakers will do it more often out of nerves and lack of practice, such as Senator Obama. He's sort of the anti-Bush, as I've noted before: he's great with lots of preparation and time to work out his lines, he's not very good at all off the cuff or when faced with something he's not ready for.

The problem here is that Buchenwald and Auschwitz don't exactly sound the same, so the confusion is not a logical one. Further, research indicates that his great uncle (not uncle, although calling him that is not particularly noteworthy) was in the Navy (in the Pacific), not Patton's 3rd army. Apparently, nobody in Senator Obama's family signed up right after Pearl Harbor. Nobody in Obama's family shows up in the list of names of the 89th Infantry Division during WW2.

The thing is, this could simply be a story little Barack Obama was told about his family's history, something to make him proud. It's not exactly unknown in human history that someone will exaggerate some relative's achievements for their kids. So he may just be guilty of passing along nonsense without bothering to check up on it - embarrassing, but not particularly problematic other than just one more demonstration the man isn't ready for the most powerful job in the world, something everyone already knows.

Yet I wonder, did he simply figure nobody would check? That even if it was found out, the press wouldn't care? Politicians spend their lives trying to sway people and particularly ones like Senator Obama are always looking for the hook, the great line that will wow the crowd. In the past, without the blogosphere paying attention, Senator Obama was largely given a pass. He could say whatever he wanted because he was a rising star in the Democratic party and the press wasn't exactly going to burn the midnight oil researching his information. That's not true any more, he's got to face the new media, and you cannot walk away with nonsense like that unconfronted.

What worked so well for politicians in the past - tell the audience what they want to hear then change the story for the next, invent things and people to illustrate your speech if the facts won't cooperate, etc - aren't working so well any more. Sure, the legacy media will go along, they haven't the time and especially the inclination to check this stuff. But the new media does, in spades.

And I'm not even going to get into the double standard of coverage and gaffes in the media here - everyone already knows it without needing repetition.

*tip of the hat to AD at Ace of Spades HQ for the background research

*UPDATE: there is a C.T Payne in the infantry, but Obama's great-uncle was named Charles W. Payne according to the geneology site at About.com.

Previously on WATN:

Speaking and Lying
Creative History 101
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MOVIE THOUGHTS: INDIANA JONES

"You know for an old man you ain't bad in a fight. What are you, like 80? "

Crystal Skull
Yesterday I saw the new Indiana Jones movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Crystal Skull. It was overlong and the storytelling was poorer than Spielberg's other work. This isn't a review so much as an analysis of the movie. Before you read much further, understand that I'm going to tell a lot of things about the movie that might be considered "spoilers" although this is hardly a mystery movie, so if you want it all to be fresh, don't read.

The movie started out with a testament to the flaws in the movie: a pointless five minute sequence of a hot rod full of teenagers driving down a dusty Nevada road past military vehicles. The sequence really had nothing to do with the movie or the story, it was just there apparently because Spielberg and Lucas love the 50s so much they just wanted a long, loving look at the time period.

There are several early sequences in the movie of this sort, pointlessly extended scenes where the story plods along if it moves at all and you're shown just how these two remember the time period. Once you get past this and into South America, the movie actually starts to move along, I know this sounds odd since there is a chase scene early in the movie and an extended fight in the warehouse where the Ark of the Covenant was stored in the first movie, but the film really didn't move very well up to that point. These guys are better at pacing and storytelling, you can tell from their previous efforts. It was as if they'd both forgotten fundamental aspects of their craft by this point.

I don't know if they were trying to give the film a more sedate, orderly pace because Indy was older, but it didn't work. Mercifully the abused Marcus Brody character was gone, he couldn't be portrayed as a hapless buffoon like he was in the 3rd movie. Yet the wry, fun part of Indiana Jones was gone, all that was left was grim and adventurous. He lacked any humor, although situations provided it. There never was any sense of danger or difficulty for him except right at the beginning, but then you knew that with 80 minutes of film left to go he wasn't particularly threatened at that point.

Spielberg packed the movie with his pet theme: lightbulb-headed gray aliens, something he comes back to again and again like an addict. The previous three movies dealt with religious themes and treated them with respect, but this one embraced the goofy theories of von Däniken from the 1970s; Mayans worshipped aliens!

There was only one really effective scene in the movie for me, one particularly chilling and powerful sequence. When in the jungle in tents, the Russian caricature (like Natasha from a Bullwinkle cartoon) played by Cate Blanchett confronts Indiana Jones with the crystal skull. She explains why Stalin wants control over the skull and its alleged powers in the jungle. If I could I'd offer up an exact quote, but the script isn't out there yet and my memory isn't that good.

She explains that with the skull she believes that she will be able to use psychic powers to control minds and insert information into them. That with the full powers of what she believes is in the Mayan temple at El Dorado she would be able to control the US president's mind, direct the military, control minds of the citizens to understand the "true history" Soviet-style. That with this power, education and entertainment would all be controlled by the Soviet Union, and through this the nation would change from within and not even realize what was happening.

The ironic thing is that was exactly what the Soviet Union was trying to do in the United States, and what Senator McCarthy was trying to stop in the 1950s. This was the precise concern that the people who were fighting against communism held. They believed (and this was later shown to be true in KGB documents released after the Soviet Union fell) that the communists were attempting through infiltrating education, entertainment, and government to manipulate and slowly change the nation from within to become communist. Sadly, their fears drove them to unAmerican tyranny and horrendous abuses of power, but their worries were quite valid.

Yet the movie treats anti-Communism as actually more pervasive and sinister than Communism its self. The government, particularly the FBI, is dark and dangerous, using their power to get Indy fired, to ransack his office, to pressure his boss. They follow him and investigate him. Meanwhile, the Russians are treated more as a cartoon, they are generic bad guys without character or distinction, basic movie heavies who move freely wherever Indiana Jones goes, even trying to kidnap him at gunpoint in a crowded malt shop.

In other words, not only did Spielberg and Lucas rarely have an idea what made Soviet Communists bad or why Russians were the enemy in the 1950s, they also went out of their way to make the McCarthy hearings and ideas seem plausible. If Russians were that prevalent and active in America, if they were able to take over a US military base in force with an invasion of trained soldiers, kidnap US citizens and move through the country in and out without the slightest difficulty (with Russian weapons, no less), then McCarthy had a point. He probably wasn't even going far enough.

Yet the movie makes the McCarthy era seem worse than the Russians, more dark and sinister, more awful. The Russians have no personality, they aren't shown to be particularly bad at all. Even when they do something objectively horrible like gun down US soldiers to invade an institution, the music gives no cue that this was bad, and it's all done clean and off screen. Soldiers died, OK move on.

It was only that one scene, the explanation of the reason they wanted the skull, where communism was shown in anything like it's real nature. To take everything over, everywhere, not by military force, but by indoctrination, manipulation, by creeping infiltration and to from within "fix" things by reeducation, taking away free will and liberty so that everyone does what they believe is not morally right, but politically correct in its truest and original sense.

Spielberg has no problem showing how bad Nazis are. Lucas designed the Storm Troopers after nazi helmets. But when it came to Soviet communism, both of them seemed clueless about why it was bad, they just were the next set of meaningless bad guys, thugs to chase and harass Indiana Jones.

The movie suffers from an abundance of CGI rather than stunts (mostly because Harrison Ford at 65 isn't up to that kind of thing these days) and seriously suffers from the indestructible man syndrome: you can take insane damage and walk away unharmed, but I can live with that in a pulp movie... up to a point. Being nuked in a refrigerator and flying a mile crosses that line.

Overall, the movie wasn't as bad as Temple of Doom, if for no other reason than it lacked Short Round and Kate Capshaw. It was nice to see a matronly Karen Allen back on screen, and although he was much subdued and even cowed, Harrison Ford did well enough as Indiana Jones. Shia LaBeouf was good as the youthful sidekick, he wasn't obnoxious and he played a different character than his previous cinematic outings. It wasn't awful, and there were some enjoyable sequences. I'd recommend watching it from Netflix or on Cable.

Incidentally, those crystal skulls from Mayan ruins? They first showed up in the 1800s and were soon demonstrated to have been made more recently than the old kingdoms. They were hoaxes.

SCHOOLHOUSE ROCKS

"A constitutional democracy is in serious trouble if its citizenry does not have a certain degree of education and civic virtue."
-Phillip E. Johnson

Schoolhouse Rock
Civics is the study of one's country and culture, the history of the nation and how it works. More than simply history it teaches the function of government and economics as well as how this came about and why, if it is done well. Generally speaking, the level of civics familiarity in America is near to illiteracy due to an almost total disregard of the subject in schools and popular culture. It is seen as boring, or worse, even possibly damaging because it is so focused on white man's culture that it encourages patriotism and oppression. Better to teach how America is a bad place with evil in its past than teach civics, some believe.

There's a test put out by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a 60-question multiple choice exam which measures your civics familiarity. It not only looks at questions such as the content of the Declaration of Independence and the branches of US government, but it looks at the philosophies behind why they came about and the meaning of various economic points. This sounds dry, and perhaps it isn't "your thing" but ultimately it matters a great deal if you know this kind of information, particularly if you care to vote.

7,000 college seniors across the United States were tested and they scored an average 54.2%. That's an F in any institution, but it was up 1% from last year. Harvard students scored the highest, with 69.6%, a D. The test is here if you wish to try yourself

Among the notes that accompany the test's information are these bullet points:
  • Seniors do not know basic facts of American history. Only 45.9% know that Yorktown was the battle that ended the American Revolution.
  • Seniors do not know the basic timeline of American history. Only 47.7% know that Fort Sumter came before Gettysburg and that Gettysburg came before Appomattox.
  • Seniors do not know America’s founding documents. Only 45.9% know that the line “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” comes from the Declaration of Independence.
  • Seniors do not know the rudiments of America’s historical relations with the world. Only 42.7% know that NATO was formed to resist Soviet expansion.
Unfortunately for some universities and colleges, their students did poorer on the test as Seniors than as Freshmen. This suggests that their education was so corrosive on civics that they lost knowledge or were taught falsehoods - or at least their learning environment was so poor they forgot what they once knew.

One of the oddities that showed up was that while the overall test scores were on average better at more expensive, prestigious institutions, the cheaper and less impressive colleges and universities showed less of this loss of test scores in Seniors compared to Freshmen. In other words, whatever the effect is that is making students do poorer on these tests after four years of college is less pronounced in cheaper colleges. Sadly, very prestigious institutions such as Princeton (once America's finest college) tended to produce students that performed worse, not better.

In essence, these institutions aren't teaching much about America, neither are the previous levels of education, and whatever they did teach actually caused them to do worse, not better, by their fourth year. This does not speak well of civics education in the United States. These incredibly expensive institutions are turning out uninformed, ignorant citizens, allegedly the leaders of tomorrow.

The institution that did the best at teaching civics? Rhodes. They didn't score the highest on average, but their students learned the most between Freshman and Senior, based on this test. Cornell by contrast did the worst: students apparently lost knowledge in those four years.

I managed an 85%. How will you do?

*Tip of the Tricorner hat to Ace of Spades HQ for this test.
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