Wednesday, July 30, 2008

North Korea's misery

This story was in the news today:

U.N.: Millions at risk in N.K. food crisis

And this isn't the first time.

North Korea routinely inflicts famine on its people while spending 25% of its GDP on its 1.2 million man military, all in the interests of preserving perhaps the most repressive government in the world.

The people of North Korea have no freedom of thought, let alone political freedom. Their government subjects them to a constant barrage of propaganda demonizing the West and mythologizing the "Dear Leader", Kim Jong Il (who lives in luxury and promotes a personality cult rivaling that of Big Brother). Hundreds of thousands of people languish in prison camps where they are starved, tortured, and worked to death, simply for being "class enemies".

The picture above is telling; North Korea is so backwards, they can't even afford to keep the lights on, while their vibrant neighbor below has become one of the richest economies in Asia. The continued existence of the North Korean regime is a travesty.

Unfortunately, there's very little we in the West can do about it. A war has the potential to be devastating and costly, even without the use of nuclear weapons.

The best outcome would be for the North Korean people themselves to rise up and overthrow Kim Jong Il, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the effect decades of indoctrination has had on them. Getting an accurate picture of North Korea from the inside is very tricky, due to the government's secrecy and tight control of information. But it seems as though most North Koreans have very little awareness of the world around them. It's sad that any people could be made to believe that the brutal repression and total deprivation that passes for life in North Korea is as good as it gets.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Musings on the Religious Right

After reading this article in MacLeans, I have to say that I was forced to rethink my views on social conservatives, not just in the US, but here in Canada as well.

The article makes the point that many religious voters may be gradually coming to the realization that abortion and gay marriage are not the only religious/moral issues in politics. Such a statement seems self-evident, but those two issues have dominated political discourse for so long that many of us have forgotten.

For example, ensuring access to health care, stopping climate change, and opposition to torture and unjust wars are all things that the Religious Right cares about (or should care about). And it's clear to everyone that the right wing of the American political establishment has been disastrous on every single one of those issues. Not very Christian.

And we have an interesting shift this election season. Unlike prior elections, it's the Democrat, Barack Obama, who often talks about his personal faith and religious beliefs, partly out of necessity (because of all the "secret Muslim" smears), and partly because it's something he seems to genuinely care deeply about. In contrast, John McCain rarely, if ever, talks about his religious beliefs.

That's not to say it's smooth sailing for Obama with religious conservatives; he supports abortion rights, and his association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright was repellent for many voters whether they were religious or not. And the polls aren't cause for much encouragement just yet, still showing McCain ahead by large margins in this demographic group.

But Obama does have a chance to make inroads.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Late night comedy

In fairness to all the Miss Teen South Carolinas out there, this French guy is pretty damn stupid too:

I do think the audience was just fucking with him. Otherwise, that's really scary.

Sunday roundup of interesting things

God, am I ever tired.

1. Contrasts:

Two months ago in the Oval Office, President George W. Bush, coming to the end of a two-term presidency and presumably
as expert on Israeli-Palestinian policy as he is ever going to be, was
accompanied by a team of no fewer than five advisers and spokespeople during a
40-minute interview with this writer and three other Israeli journalists.

In March, on his whirlwind visit to Israel, Republican presidential nominee
John McCain, one of whose primary strengths is said to be his intimate grasp of
foreign affairs, chose to bring along Sen. Joe Lieberman to the interview our
diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon and I conducted with him, looked to
Lieberman several times for reassurance on his answers and seemed a little
flummoxed by a question relating to the nuances of settlement construction.

On Wednesday evening, toward the end of his packed one-day visit here,
Barack Obama, the Democratic senator who is leading the race for the White House
and who lacks long years of foreign policy involvement, spoke to The Jerusalem
Post with only a single aide in his King David Hotel room, and that aide's sole
contribution to the conversation was to suggest that the candidate and I switch
seats so that our photographer would get better lighting for his pictures.

2. Read Frank Rich.

3. Steve Benen on McCain's incoherent economic "plans":

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, McCain’s chief economic adviser, told Slate, “[McCain]
has certainly I’m sure said things in town halls” that don’t jibe perfectly with
his written plan. But that doesn’t mean it’s official.”

Got that? If we want to better understand John McCain’s economic
policies, we should overlook what John McCain says about his economic policies.
McCain’s “official” positions don’t come from McCain.

4. This study finds that while Obama has received more media coverage in recent weeks than McCain, he is generally covered more negatively. Such a conclusion would come as a surprise to most right-wingers convinced of the liberal bias of the mainstream media, but it's no surprise to myself and others who have been chronicling the free ride that McCain has gotten.

5. Read Bob Herbert too.

6. The NDP have suddenly discovered that their inner free market capitalist. No carbon tariffs (to be placed on imports from high-polluting countries), they argue, since they'll just invite court battles and expensive litigation.

Adam Radwanski thinks they only oppose it because it's the Liberals proposing it. Perhaps if the NDP had more to offer than kneejerk and irrational opposition to any policy idea that they aren't responsible for, they'd no longer be a permanent third party.

In any case, carbon tariffs are not the greatest economic policy, but they are pretty good environmental policy. It's a good way to reward domestic producers who do hold to some carbon standards while encouraging other countries to improve theirs. But it's certainly not something that will help the economy over the short term. Really, all these bold environmental plans are hard sells, because none of them are great for the economy. And the health of the economy is something that is foremost in many voters' minds.

7. Oh boy, creationists in Texas are trying to advance a new "weak-evolution curriculum" for high schoolers. Come on, Texas, I'm rootin' for ya! You can be the new Stupidest State!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Why is the Presidential race so close?

The short answer is that it's only July, and Americans simply aren't paying much attention to politics right now. But Steve Benen has reason to be nervous:

So why am I still a nervous-nelly? Because Obama’s been running a
nearly-flawless campaign in a cycle in which Americans are practically desperate
to vote for a Democrat. McCain, burdened by gaffes, flip-flops, and surrogate
scandals, has been a bumbling, incoherent candidate, who can’t seem to do
anything right.
He notes in the same post that McCain is currently spending heavily in key battleground states, while Obama is not, choosing to save his money a little longer. This must surely have something to do with new poll numbers that show him losing ground to McCain in states like Minnesota and Colorado.

Still, he shouldn't get complacent. His world tour bought him a lot of fawning press coverage and unbeatable imagery of hundreds of thousands of Berliners turning out to see him, but the real battle is going to take place domestically. American voters are generally quite insular and don't usually care much about foreign policy...unless there is a clear and present danger to national security (in which case they want to confront it) or they are stuck in an unpopular war like Iraq or Vietnam (in which case they want to get out as soon as possible; misconceptions about the first issue usually lead to the second). I don't know how much Obama's wildly successful foreign trip will impress laid-off factory workers in Michigan or suspicious gun owners in Ohio, since it was mainly about building and strengthening diplomatic relationships, and possibly increasing international engagement, something that many Americans are wary of.

In any case, here's yet more idiocy from the McCain campaign:

In his interview with NBC's Kelly O'Donnell, which will air on NBC's Nightly News tonight, McCain questions whether Obama should have given a speech in Berlin before becoming president.

"I would rather speak at a rally or a political gathering any place outside of the country after I am president of the United States," McCain told O'Donnell.

"But that's a judgment that Sen. Obama and the American people will make."
Yeah, it's not like McMaverick's given any speeches outside the US during this campaign.[/snark]

However, on June 20, McCain himself gave a speech in Canada — to the Economic
Club of Canada — in which he applauded NAFTA’s successes. An implicit message
behind that speech was that Obama had been critical of the trade accord. Also,
McCain’s trip to Canada was paid for by the campaign.
Also, Colombia and Mexico, this very month.

Another senior moment, or was he just being disingenuous?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Obama, the "inexperienced" candidate

The conventional wisdom about this campaign, propogated by the vapid US political media, is that McCain has lots of foreign policy experience, and it's Obama who needs to prove his credentials in international affairs. That was a major goal of Obama's world tour this week, as he travelled across the Middle East and Europe, culminating in his speech today in Berlin.

By most accounts, his trip was a resounding success. Iraq's leader publicly endorsed his withdrawal plan, sending McCain and the Bush White House into a tizzy as they scrambled to spin his comments. The Globe and Mail approvingly notes his "delicate dance" through the "political mindfield" of the Mideast. The same article implies that both Israeli and Palestinian leaders were very impressed with Obama, an achievement worthy of no small amount of admiration. He drew a crowd of 200,000 in Berlin, and is clearly the favored candidate for Europeans.

Meanwhile, McCain referenced an imaginary border between Iraq and Pakistan, mentioned Czechoslovakia in the present tense on several occasions, even though that country no longer exists, confused the timeline of the Iraq surge, and credited it for saving the life of a Sunni tribal leader who actually was murdered.

Ginandtacos does a good job highlighting the absurdity of all this:

Imagine this for a moment. Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki gives an interview
with a well-respected news magazine and says:

“Look, there is absolutely no way the government of Iraq can support a timetable
for American military withdrawl. It’s the wrong plan, period. We need American
troops here until the job is done and we don’t know when that is.”

In other words, imagine that he stated John McCain’s position almost verbatim. Tell me what the reaction would look like among the American media and voters. I will save you the trouble: shit would not hit the fan, for no fan on Earth would be powerful enough to withstand the nor’easter of shit that would result. The fan would
literally be buried under an Everest-sized mountain of rhetorical feces. And Obama’s campaign would rapidly become an updated version of McGovern ‘72. McCain would do nothing but repeat this single talking point incessantly. Your email inbox would fill to bursting with forwarded emails of al-Maliki’s quote and endless derision of Obama’s contrarian position. We wouldn’t have a campaign so much as we’d be having Obama’s wake.

Of course, Mr. al-Maliki did not say that. He said the exact opposite. In effect, he offered Obama’s position as his own opinion on withdrawl:

“That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the
possibility of slight changes,” al-Maliki was quoted as saying. “Those who
operate on the premise of short time periods in Iraq today are being more
realistic. Artificially prolonging the tenure of U.S. troops in Iraq would cause

While one high-profile Republican strategist responded to this development succinctly (”We’re fucked.”) this will ultimately amount to a minor flap in the campaign. No eulogies will be sung for McCain. The man who thinks Pakistan and Iraq share a border or that Czechoslovakia is still a country or that he knows what Iraq needs more than the Iraqis do will continue to wear the Foreign Policy Expert crown. Obama will remain the guy your aunts and uncles very seriously intone about as “too inexperienced,” lacking McCain’s many years of experience in being white promising to cut taxes international affairs. No one will point out that McCain has repeatedly stated that when the elected government of Iraq wants us out, we’ll leave.

Also this from Slate.

The truth is that John McCain is a complete lightweight on foreign policy (just like he is on almost every other issue) who sees the world in very simple and incorrect terms, just like George Bush. The idea that this issue is his "strength" is based entirely on the notion that being pro-war somehow means you are knowledgable about the world. You'd think people would know better than to fall for this crap, since the hawkish foreign policy establishment was so utterly and completely wrong on Iraq, but never underestimate the stupidity of the US media.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

More depressingly predictable oopsies from the McCain campaign

So McCain has been going around saying that the surge strategy is to be credited for protecting the main architects of the "Anbar Awakening", Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha and other Sunni tribal leaders that decided to ally with US forces against Islamist militias in that province:

"Colonel MacFarland was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks," said
the Senator. "Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik
and others. And it began the Anbar awakening."

The Arizona Republican's
campaign went further the next day, claiming that the major figures that turned
around Anbar province would have been killed had the surge policy not been in
place. "If Barack Obama had had his way, the Sheiks who started the Awakening
would have been murdered at the hands of al Qaeda," said
spokesman Tucker Bounds

Just one problem. That "major Sunni sheikh" referenced by McCain (most likely Sattar) was indeed killed in a terrorist attack in September 2007. Actually, two problems, since the "Awakening" had its origins in late 2006, well before the surge began to be implemented in late 2007. The truth is that the truce with Sunni tribal leaders and the troop surge are two separate events that occured independently of each other.

But don't think a little teensy-weensy mistake like that would faze McMaverick. No sir, he had other plans, such as attempting to upstage Obama's Berlin address with a publicity stunt on an offshore oil rig. He was going to talk about how great and environmentally friendly they are. Key word, "was", since the whole thing had to be cancelled because of an oil spill and a hurricane. Seriously. I'm not making this shit up.

Big bump in inflation


Canada's consumer prices were up a huge 3.1 per cent in June compared to a year
ago, pushed higher by expensive gasoline, Statistics Canada says.

June's increase was the largest since September, 2005. Excluding gasoline, total
inflation was up 1.8 per cent in the past 12 months, Statscan said.

Core inflation, which excludes the most volatile prices, was far more subdued, rising
just 1.5 per cent.

That's pretty far from the official target of 2%.

Yeah I know, the price of gasoline is like a force of nature; there's certainly nothing that the Bank of Canada can do about it. But like I keep saying, we best get used to it. Whether gasoline prices will continue to spur inflation over the long term is anyone's guess. The most optimistic scenario is that the market will keep finding ways to use less of it, keeping prices in check. But who knows, our society is so completely addicted to the stuff that it may take more time than we'd like. And until that time, expect more headlines like the above.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Obama's huge win on Iraq

McCain is really running out of tricks. One thing he was really hoping to nail Obama on was the supposed success of the Iraq "surge", which he has supported ever since it was first proposed.

And it's true. Although Iraq remains a country afflicted by sectarian tension and frequent violence, the level of mayhem is nowhere near what it was only a year ago. American troop deaths are way down, and ceasefires are holding in both Sunni and Shiite areas.

Of course, the surge isn't wholly responsible for all of this; as Steve Benen summarizes, the Anbar truce was put into effect long before US troop levels increased, and the fact that most parts of Iraq have been effectively ethnically cleansed hasn't hurt either. Muqtada al Sadr has also held to a ceasefire for several months, probably in service to his own long-term goals, not any desire for peace and harmony.

The underlying problem (lack of central government power) remains, but for the moment, Iraq is in a period of relative calm.

So it's a win-win situation for McCain isn't it? Yglesias outlines it pretty well:

He'd spent, several weeks with the main theme of his campaign being, quite
literally, to criticize Barack Obama for not having been physically present in
Iraq recently. This (of course) got Obama to go to Iraq, thus setting up a
dilemma. Either Obama would survey the "progress" in Iraq and change his
position, thus making him a flip-flopper, or else he would refuse to change his
position, thus making him obstinate and out of touch with reality.

But what happens when the Prime Minister of Iraq says that Obama's withdrawal plan is a good one? It completely undercuts the two prior avenues of attack. How exactly can McCain argue with that? The Bush administration scrambled to do some damage-control (putting pressure on Maliki's office to say he was mistranslated or some other bullshit), but the damage should already be done. Maliki publicly endorsed Obama's Iraq plan (and his people made this very clear today).

I don't know if the US political media is smart enough to understand what has just happened here, but this is potentially a huge debacle for John McCain and indeed, the entire right-wing foreign policy worldview. McCain wants everyone to think that everything in Iraq is going just peachy because of the success of the surge, but at the same time, he speaks gravely about how irresponsible and reckless it would be to agree to any kind of withdrawal timeline. He can't have it both ways, especially when the fucking Prime Minister of Iraq is saying the exact opposite.

It astonishes me that so many Americans still give the Republicans the edge on foreign policy, even after a disastrous war and the total erosion of America's reputation worldwide. This should be a wake-up call.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Harper's cowardly position on Khadr

(For anyone wondering about the lack of updates, I've been suffering from Dark Knight withdrawal and too depressed to blog. Recovering...)

The Khadr tape continues to make waves across Canada, and many are asking how our government can approve of his treatment and continued denial of anything resembling due process, even hawkish columnists like Jonathan Kay at the National Post.

To summarize, Khadr was a child soldier, and the main accusation against him is most likely bullshit. Yet Harper's stance is disappointing, to put it mildly.

From Dr. Dawg:

Indeed, Harper's stubbornness on the matter, it seems to me, borders on
pathology. He seems to delight in it. "Mr. Khadr faces serious charges. There is
a judicial process underway to determine Mr. Khadr's fate. This should
continue," his new mouthpiece Kory Teneycke said, only a few minutes after
images of Khadr's interrogation by CSIS were flashed around the world.

"Judicial process?" Khadr has been held in a detention camp for six years
without trial. He was tortured
right from the get-go
. When the "judge" of the case agreed to too many
preliminary defence motions on issues of disclosure, he was summarily replaced.
Evidence has been tampered with by the prosecution. If ever there was a classic
kangaroo court, the Gitmo "military tribunals" are certainly that.

Is this the rule of law that Harper supports?

I hope not.

I think Harper's a smart fellow, and I really don't believe him to be the right-wing nutjob that many on the Canadian Left do, but during his term as Prime Minister, he sure has been very reluctant to challenge Bush on these issues, even when Canadian citizens are involved, as in the case of Khadr.

The fact is that Bush is the worst president of our generation, widely despised around the world, and responsible for numerous human rights violations, even war crimes depending on who you talk to. There's only so much Harper can do, and I don't expect him to expend much diplomatic capital on freeing an accused terrorist. But we can do without the patronizing "judicial process underway" bullshit.

Friday, July 18, 2008

My Dark Knight review

Saw it. It was good. Good night.

....okay, just kidding!

I really am almost speechless! It's quite hard to put my thoughts into words, or at least organize them coherently.

To start out with, yes, Heath Ledger is amazing. The hype was justified; Ledger creates a terrifying, unique, and darkly funny character that you just cannot take your eyes off of, whether he's sticking knives in people's mouths, waxing philosophical about the dark side of human nature, or doing magic tricks with pencils. I'd be shocked if he didn't at least get nominated for an Oscar.

Bale, Freeman and Caine are all quite good, reprising their roles from the first film, though Alfred seems to have a lot less to do in this one, as does Bale, since the Bruce:Batman screen time ratio seems to have decreased considerably. And newcomers Gyllenhal and Eckart are both superb.

The action is staged with considerably more confidence than in Begins. The set pieces, from an excursion to Hong Kong to the Batmobile vs a tractor trailer, are all spectacular; even more so with the towering IMAX cinematography. Some of the camera angles from the tops of skyscrapers are just stunning.

I loved the new Batman suit. It does seem quite a bit more flexible, finally allowing Batman to turn his neck! There was surprisingly little of the Bat-pod; it's really only featured in one scene.

But what really makes this film special is not the action or the Bat-toys. No, what makes it special is that this is a disturbing and nihilistic piece of work that actually has something to say about the world we live in, which is a very pleasant surprise coming from a big-budget summer blockbuster.

The Joker is scary not just because of the terrible things he does, but also the terrible possibility that he may be right; that society is just a thin facade for our inner barbarism and immorality. This generates a lot of suspense towards the end, as the Joker puts his theory to the test, with hundreds of lives hanging in the balance.

But this movie is really about Harvey Dent, not the Joker or Batman. And his arc, absurd as it seems at first glance, really works. It's what brings the movie full circle, and generates the most tragedy (also some very gruesome CGI work). Dent represents hope and idealism in a nasty world, and the nasty world chews him up and spits him back out. Pretty bleak stuff for a comic book movie.

Frankly, after watching TDK, I am more mystified than ever about some critics' complaints about the length. It was the fastest two and a half hours of my life. I kept looking at my watch, not because I was bored, but because I was shocked at how little of the movie was left. After waiting three years for a movie, two and a half hours of payoff doesn't seem like much.

But it was worth the wait, in any case. The ending is intriguing, and although it could serve as a finale for the series, it also gives hints about where the next one could go. I really hope Bale and Nolan decide to do another one.

In any case, go see it. Now. It's the best superhero movie ever, the best film of the year so far, and one of the greatest cinematic experiences of the decade. Don't miss it.

UPDATE: Just on time, the next installment in Iron Man and Batman:

Made $66 million on its opening day, more than Begins made in its entire opening weekend. The best comment I've read so far is that it's like Titanic for the Y chromosome. Probably won't match its gross though, unfortunately.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Too damn hot

Well, the heat is stifling this Thursday evening, even here in Halifax. So I don't have much energy for blogging.

I'll direct you to this excellent post on ginandtacos, satirizing the McCain campaign:

My fellow Americans,

Now that I’m making up a little ground in the polls I think we should talk about what I am doing. Frankly you all are starting to worry me a bit. Some of you are seriously considering voting for me. Do you have any idea how ridiculous that is?

Listen. This entire campaign is just an elaborate piece of performance art. An experiment, if you will. We are seriously just fucking around with you - seeing how blatantly we can give you the finger without losing your support. I had Phil Gramm (remember when he ran for President and finished behind Lamar Alexander?!?!) go on TV and call you a bunch of whiners for complaining about the economy. Read that again - my multimillionaire surrogate mocked your economic difficulties! I also promised to stay in Iraq (you know, that war you fucking hate!) for 100 years while all but guaranteeing a new war in Iran. It’s like Marcel Duchamp crawled from the grave and ran for President.

I’m publicly dropping hints that Mitt Romney will be my running mate. Mitt Fucking Romney!!! I mean, come on. I can barely even talk about it with a straight face, and you retards just keep applauding! Next I’ll roast a live panda over a bonfire while my campaign staff steal medicine from pediatric cancer patients. And my supporters will send more checks! Ha ha!

Even when I act senile - trying to provoke a reaction like “Oh my God, this demented fossil can’t possibly have his finger on the button” - you’re unfazed! I just gave a goddamn speech about Czechoslovakia (and did it again after I got called on it!) That hasn’t been a country for, what, 20 years? Your response: crown me a foreign policy “expert!” You gotta be shitting me.

Click the link for more.

What else?

Well, it seems Canada is a good place to live if you have cancer. That's good to hear, but our stats on colorectal cancer aren't so great. I don't even know what colorectal cancer is, but it sounds bad.

Anyway, go see The Dark Knight tomorrow! I sure as hell am; I've got my tickets for IMAX, and am just bubbling over with excitement.

UPDATE: Okay, this is just classic. Larry Craig: "we won't let them jerk us around by the gas nozzle"

Oh my god. I'm just about LOL'd out when it comes to Larry Craig. Lest we forget, there was also this gem from our favorite toilet paper challenged Senator:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"Hero's welcome" in Lebanon

I find this a little hard to understand. Well, maybe not hard to understand, exactly, but hard to empathize with. Samir Kuntar was the most high profile Hezbollah prisoner that Israel released today, and his claim to fame was bashing a four year old girl's skull in with a rifle butt, killing her. That's their "hero".

It's really quite tragic when a people become so radicalized that a monster like Kuntar becomes a hero in their minds. And keep in mind that this is Lebanon, not the West Bank or Gaza. This is no better than Palestinians idolizing people who blow themselves up in crowded places.

MSM, where art thou?

So McCain just flip-flopped on Afghanistan, basically adopting the position that Obama has held for months (sending more troops there), but you wouldn't know it from watching the news.

Honestly, this has what the entire campaign has been like so far. It's absolutely maddening.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Middle of the week mini-roundup

I know, it's a strange time to be doing one of my trademarked roundups, but the alternative would be to write four or five little posts, which I view as cheating.

1. It seems that the New Yorker article about Obama was actually pretty damned interesting. Nate from FiveThirtyEight recaps:

Ryan Lizza's 15,000-word epic by no means paints the most flattering picture of
Barack Obama. His Obama is remarkably intelligent and very level-headed, but
also understands every lever of power, and is ambitious to the point of being
ruthless.Well, no shit he's ambitious. For any American to go from a relatively
unprivileged childhood (or a privileged one for that matter) to be on the
doorstep of the Preisdency by the time he's age 46 requires a perfect storm of
luck, intelligence, and ambition. Obama has ample amounts of each.

But the article is more remarkable for revealing what Obama is not.

One, he's not some Pierre Trudeau type of academic. Obama became interested
in politics very early, and seemed to have some keen understanding of his upside
potential. The sometimes languid pace of academia was not really compatible with

Two, Obama was not corrupt. He knew how to navigate the rules of the
system. But he didn't cheat the system. Obama succeeded, for instance, in
disqualifying Alice Palmer from the ballot in the Illinois State Senate because
she faked hundreds of signatures to get her name on it, and then Obama called
her out. That's maybe not the most mannerly, tea-and-crumpets way of doing
things. But Obama didn't cheat. Palmer had cheated. What Obama did was to
exploit some of the inefficiencies of the Chicago machine system. Tony Rezko
donates, though legal channels, a bunch of money because he expects you to
behave like a typical machine politician and do him illegal favors? What to do?
Well, you take his money. And then you don't do him the favors.

I'll have to give it a read, but 15,000 words is too many to handle right now.

2. I also missed this during my brief break from blogging and the internet:

'Heroic' fighting repels Afghan militants

Apparently there was a big huge battle in Afghanistan that resulted in 9 US dead and 15 wounded, as well as dozens and dozens of Taliban killed, as hundreds of militants attempted to capture a coalition outpost in eastern Afghanistan. This was the deadliest single day for US forces in that country in 3 years.

If the Taliban is able to carry out an operation involving hundreds of men and mount a credible attack against a US military base, I'd say that means the situation is not improving.

3. Ooh, the plot thickens. An expert hired by Stephen Harper says there isn't enough evidence to conclude that Tom Zytaruk's interview tape was doctored, contradicting the others that Harper got to examine it. I gotta say, Harper is really pushing this lawsuit. I guess it's possible that he simply doesn't remember what he said about the Cadman deal, but he's playing it hard the other way.

4. Big financial worries on Wall Street, amid impending bailouts of major mortgage financiers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and ominious comments from Ben Bernanke. And an idiotic run on IndyMac isn't helping things. What part of "deposit insurance" do these people not understand? And for those who do understand it, what kind of moron keeps their entire life savings in deposits at a US bank? In Canada, it's different. The chances of one of our chartered banks going poof is practically zero (the World Economic Forum rated our banks the second safest in the world, behind only Switzerland). But in the unregulated and free-wheeling US financial sector, don't you dare trust all your money to one bank.

Anyways, bad shit all around.

5. What is with all these snooty New York critics bashing The Dark Knight? The film currently has four negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, all of them courtesy of New York magazine critics. This one faults it for not being a masterpiece. This one faults it for being too serious. This one says it's "noisy and sadistic". This one thinks it's too violent and "isn't necessarily fun".

Jesus Christ, if you don't want a sadistic, noisy, violent, and serious near-masterpiece, go watch Space Chimps, you pretentious fucks. Another recurring theme with these negative reviews is that it isn't enough like Tim Burton's movies. The last reviewer even says this:

In brief, Warner Bros. has continued to drain the poetry, fantasy, and comedy
out of Tim Burton’s original conception for “Batman” (1989), completing the job
of coarsening the material into hyperviolent summer action spectacle.

Well I don't give a shit about "Tim Burton's original conception for Batman", because it was a very flawed conception. Fun and entertaining, but I don't even put it in the same league as Batman Begins. The critics sure liked the pretty set design, but beyond that, Jack Nicholson had too much screentime, the action was clumsy, and the Joker killing Bruce's parents was just stupid. And by Returns, it was clear that Burton had no respect for the source material, preferring to apply his own quirky style and sensibilities to Batman's world.

Check out Berardinelli for a real review of the movie written by someone who isn't a hack. More reviews should be flooding in pretty soon.

6. I think I'll wait for the paperback, but The Dark Side by Jane Mayer looks really interesting. It appears to be an in-depth examination of the US torture regime that developed after 9/11. Must be a disturbing and anger-inducing read.

Omar Khadr footage

Riveting footage of a series of CSIS interrogations of the teenage Omar Khadr in Guantanamo Bay was released today. You can see it here.

For those who don't know, Khadr is a Canadian citizen of Pakistani ethnicity who was captured in Afghanistan in late 2002 after a battle with US troops. His father was a member of Al Qaeda, and Khadr was sort of conscripted (and indoctrinated) into the fight. He is accused of killing an American soldier with a hand grenade. He was only 16 at the time, and he has been held at Guantanamo for nearly 6 years.

The video shows an increasingly agitated and distraught Khadr who quickly realizes the CSIS agents are not there to help him, but simply to get information. Thus, he doesn't show much willingness to cooperate.

Honestly, I don't know what to think about this case. I feel kind of bad for him. What chance did he have, really, given his upbringing? He was just a kid; technically a child soldier. The "evidence" that he threw the deadly grenade is very shaky; there's a very good chance he didn't do it. I think he was just a scared 16 year old in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And it really begs the question, what useful information could he possibly possess, six years after the fact? They say he personally met Osama Bin Laden when he was ten, but so what?

This is why the entire system that the Bush administration tried to put in place is so unjust. Charge them, release them, or shoot them, but don't keep them in limbo. Holding these prisoners indefinitely is something akin to mental torture, as we can see in the tape. Khadr had no idea what was going to happen to him; he had not been sentenced; he did not have the comfort of knowing he'll be released when the war was over, as is usually the case with POWs. If the Bush administration had its way, he'd have no rights at all, but at least with the Supreme Court rulings he was given the right to his day in court. His case will be heard by a military tribunal this October, which looks set to be a sham trial, as the previous judge was removed by the Bush administration for demanding crucial documents and other evidence (including the CSIS video) to be handed over to the defense.

UPDATE: Harper's position on the case remains unchanged.

Really, my biggest problem with all of this is the very likely possibility that he will not get a fair trial. The Americans know that if he did, few of the charges would stick. They might get him on the conspiracy charge, or even attempted murder, but there's no way they can prove he killed that soldier. And even if he did, that's murder? A brainwashed child soldier being forced to kill?

Yet more election stupidity

Whoops! GOPer On McCain's Veep List Struggles To Cite Differences Between McCain And Bush

Ha! Pick him, John!

But maybe he at least knows that Czechoslovakia no longer exists, unlike a certain someone:

"I was concerned about a couple of steps that the Russian government took in the
last several days. One was reducing the energy supplies to Czechoslovakia.
Apparently that is in reaction to the Czech’s agreement with us concerning
missile defense, and again some of the Russian now announcement they are now
retargeting new targets, something they abandoned at the end of the Cold War, is
also a concern. So we see the tensions between Russia and their neighbors, as
well as Russia and the United States are somewhat increasing.”

It's not the first time McCain's made this mistake either; you'd think someone would let him know that Czechoslovakia isn't around any more.

At the time, David Frum argued,
“Barack Obama refers to the ‘president of Canada,’ the kind of misstep that
would cost a Republican candidate for president dearly.”

It seems Frum had it
backwards. The media jumped all over Obama’s inconsequential error. McCain,
meanwhile, makes mistakes like
this all the time
, almost always with no media scrutiny at all.

How much attention do you suppose McCain’s Czechoslovakia mistake will get?

Not very fuckin' much. Benen has a longer post on the AP's disgraceful coverage of the presidential race here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

What I'm reading, Chapter 1

So, for this first (first of many, I'm hoping) installment, I'll talk about A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, which I have just finished.

In short, it is a post-apocalyptic epic spanning hundreds of years after a devastating nuclear holocaust which wipes out nearly all human civilization. It is very much a "cold war book", in that Miller remains pessimistic and cynical throughout about the seeming inevitability of Armageddon, like many of his contemporaries back in the 1960s.

The story follows the monks and abbots of the Order of Leibowitz (the Catholic church survives) as they attempt to preserve the "Memorabilia" (the surviving texts of our destroyed civilization, many of which are incomprehensible to our backwards descendents) through the ages. Leibowitz himself (eventually canonized) was an engineer who lived at the time of the "flame deluge" (the monks' term for the holocaust) and tried to save as many books as possible from the frenzed mobs of survivors who attempted to wipe out all traces of the scientific knowledge that they held responsible for the destruction.

There are three separate novellas within the book, each representing a specific stage in the development of human civilization. It is captivating and well-written, with judicious use of Latin (the monks speak a hybrid Anglo-Latin as their first language), and includes many interesting philosophical debates concerning the morality of euthanasia, the double-edged sword of technological progress, and the depressing regularity in which humanity repeats the same mistakes over and over again. Miller also reminds the reader of the crucial role the church played in preserving knowledge after the fall of the Roman Empire.

There are some minor anachronisms (in a futuristic society which has mastered space travel, computers nevertheless remain enormous) and it may not seem as relevant now as it was in 1960, but 48 years later, it remains a classic of the science fiction genre.

Check it out here.

Poor attempt at satire

So I guess the big political controversy during my brief break from blogging was this:

First of all, this is supposed to be SATIRE. Apparently the article within the magazine examines the numerous wacko rumors and smears that have been circulating about Obama, and they are certainly not trying to promote them.

However...I do see a big problem with this cover, and the Obama campaign is right to take issue with it. Many people will see the cover but not read the article. Depicting Obama in such a way, whatever the intent, will help perpetuate the toxic meme that Obama is somehow linked to Islamic terrorists and/or is anti-American, simply through subliminal means. The more people see Obama+turban, or Obama+Bin Laden, or Obama+AK47, or Obama+burning American flag, the more they will associate him with those things, consciously or not. If the New Yorker's intention was to defend him against these silly rumors, they should have known better than to use such an inflammatory and potentially harmful cover image.

Back and better than ever

Hey everyone, I'm pretty much done with the moving now. Got my phone, cable and internet hooked up this morning. I'll try to write a post or two tonight, but no guarantees, given how much work I have left to do.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Just a few things

I'm really busy at the moment, moving into a new apartment. So I won't have much time for blogging over the next couple days.

1. Here in Nova Scotia, there are some concerns about tasers. It seems that police are using them as a "compliance tool" on people who are not actively resisting. Imagine that. People in positions of authority over others abusing that power. Shocking.

2. Stephen Harper is trying to get Tom Zytaruk to testify on the authenticity of his interview tape in which the PM apparently acknowledges that a life insurance policy was offered to dying MP Chuck Cadman in exchange for a crucial vote. The Tories have long alleged that portions of the audio on the tape were doctored, based on expert analysis of a copy they obtained. Should be interesting.

3. Finally, John Cole is exasperated over the media's failure to notice the McCain campaign's disastrous week:

What is most amazing about all this is that he keeps getting away with it, and
the media refuses to hold him responsible for the things he says. Imagine if Obama
had done all these things this wee
k- they would be doing post-mortems on the
failed Obama candidacy on the Sunday shows. Compare the reaction to the whiners
comment and the Obama bitter remarks. Those seats on the new
Straight Talk Express
must be really hard to earn.

Even worse, TIME's Mark Halperin declared this to be a good week for McCain and the Republicans!

Despite the dozens of slip-ups, gaffes, flip-flops, and other pretty glaring
mistakes made by the McCain campaign, an overall disastrous performance,
Time’s Mark Halperin declares the week a win for… McCain and

Not only that, but McCain won every metric Halperin used to judge, save one, the
economy. On that, even with Gramm’s “whiner” comments and the tanking market and
skyrocketing costs of fuel (now at $147 a barrel) and McCain’s calling Social
Security a disgrace, Halperin did not see fit to score that a win for the
Democrats. He called it a tie.

Screw it. I am going outside to get some sun.
I am going to break my computer if I keep reading this crap. Liberal media, my

I don't know how anyone can watch this coverage and still buy into the "liberal media" bullshit.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

More McCain bashing

I know, I know, it's almost like beating a dead horse. If the McCain campaign remains this confused and incoherent, Obama should absolutely whoop him in November. But go figure, the polls continue to show a relatively close race, and it's vitally important that Obama wins. So without further ado, here's more McCain bashing.

Poor message discipline has been the downfall of many a campaign. Take this, for example:

With the economy on the top of voters' minds, Republican presidential candidate John McCain's top
economic adviser said the Arizona senator will lay down a detailed program to
revive dynamic growth with dramatic tax and spending reforms.

In an interview with the Washington Times, Phil Gramm, a
former Texas senator who is now vice chairman of UBS, the giant Swiss bank, said
he expects Mr. McCain to inherit a sluggish economy if he wins the presidency,
weighed down above all by the conviction of many Americans that economic
conditions are the worst in two or three decades and that America is in

"You've heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession," he
said, noting that growth has held up at about 1 percent despite all the
publicity over losing jobs to India, China, illegal immigration, housing and
credit problems and record oil prices. "We may have a recession; we haven't had
one yet."

"We have sort of become a nation of whiners," he
said. "You just hear this constant whining, complaining about a loss of
competitiveness, America in decline" despite a major export boom that is the
primary reason that growth continues in the economy, he said.

Uh huh. That's just great; calling people suffering from the economic slowdown "whiners". I'm sure that's the message John McCain wants to be sending. I don't know how aggressive the Obama campaign will be with these foibles, but between this and the Social Security "disgrace", McCain has given them a lot of ammunition.

And I have to say that I don't know what he means by a "major export boom". Admittedly, I haven't been keeping up with all the data on US trade, but a quick check of The Economist shows that the US still has a trade deficit of $831 billion for the year. Perhaps the declining value of the dollar has indeed made US exports more competitive, but that hardly accounts for all the other economic ills afflicting the country.

Next, we come to a slightly entertaining story, dug up by Steve Benen (who is probably doing the best job at eviscerating McCain at every opportunity):

I’ve been following John McCain for quite some time, but my single favorite
McCain story of all time came in March 2007, when the senator was chatting with
some reporters aboard his campaign bus. The subject turned to sexual health and
contraception — and McCain hadn’t the foggiest idea what to say.

Asked whether federal grants to education should focus on abstinence-only, McCain
wasn’t sure. Asked whether he believes “contraceptives help stop the spread of
HIV,” McCain said he had no idea. Asked if contraceptives “stop the spread of
sexually transmitted diseases,” McCain was
, looked at the ceiling, and urgently motioned for his staff to
rescue him.

These weren’t trick questions, but McCain ended up looking like
a fool. After a quarter-century in Congress, during which time McCain has
participated in thousands of policy hearings, and has voted on hundreds of bills
relating to public health, but as a presidential candidate, he hasn’t the
foggiest idea if contraceptives can “stop the spread of sexually transmitted

The subject continues to confound the poor man.

So, to recap, McCain doesn't know anything about the economy. He doesn't know anything about contraception and STDs, apparently. He doesn't know anything about Social Security, and has no coherent plan to "fix" it. He has flip-flopped on dozens of issues. He is prone to make inappropriate jokes about killing Iranians.

Can anyone explain to me how the election polls could possibly still show a "close race"? Maybe it's because the media, still obsessed with worshipping the very ground that McCain stands on, just doesn't want to publicize all these embarassing stories.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

For all those unaware of internet traditions

If you've ever been "Rick Roll'd", or been assaulted with some obnoxious attack like "LOL, I pwn3d j00 u St00p1D n00b! ROMFL!!!!!!", and the experience left you dumbfounded, this site is for you:

(context here)

The fix is in

So that's it, Bush wins. You heard me correctly. Bush wins. Yeah, the guy with a 28% approval rating. The Senate has voted to immunize lawbreaking telecoms and cover George Bush's ass. They've also affirmed that if the President says so, it's legal. And what of the Fourth Ammendment to the US Constitution? Apparently, it isn't so fucking important after all.

Glenn Greenwald documents the atrocities here. And here's Jonathan Turley on Countdown once again, utterly astonished at what's happening:

Even though I'm not American, this is something that makes me so incredibly angry inside that I have difficulty even writing coherently about it. It's just such an obviously corrupt and unjust move by the Congress, but that's not what really pisses me off. No, what really pisses me off is what a stupid and inexplicable political move this is by the Dems.

I'm someone who wants to cheer for the Democrats. After 8 years of stunningly incompetent and criminal misrule by the Republicans, America desperately needs a strong, assertive Democratic administration and Democratic legislature. But there is no way to defend their actions today. It is a craven, even criminal, capitulation to an incredibly unpopular President. And Obama voted for it, contrary to all his earlier statements of opposition to telecom immunity, and his vow to support a filibuster of any bill that contained it. Oddly enough, Hillary Clinton voted against it. I applaud any Democrat who voted against this disgrace, but given her lack of interest in this issue in the past, I can't help but wonder if she's just trying to bolster her case for why she should be the nominee instead of Obama. Not that I can really fault her; if Obama continues to piss off his base and go back on prior promises, a convention fight may again become a possibility.

Alberta and the "Green Shift"

Following up on my earlier post, it's worth noting that the Prairie provinces are particularly at risk from climate change. Four Strong Winds summarizes the problem pretty well:

First, let's look at the Columbia Icefields – the source of the North Saskatchewan and Athabasca rivers (you
remember that last one, it's the one the Oil/Tar Sands need to produce all that
oil that's 'driving' our economy). The Athabasca glacier has lost half of its
volume in the last 125 years, and continues to lose 16,000,000 cubic
meters of ice a year
. Further south, the summer flows of the North and South
Saskatchewan Rivers are at 66.6% and 53.8% of what they were in 1910
. These
rivers (and their related systems) don't just provide drinking water for cities
like Edmonton and Calgary, but are the backbone of our farming, ranching, and
tourism industries. In 2003, the Bow was listed as one of Canada's most
endangered rivers. Sadly, you can't drink oil.

That 2-4 degree increase in temperature doesn't just mean less glaciers; it means less rainfall, and more
evaporation. It means the shifting of the climate found in the extreme southeast
of the province as far north as Calgary or even Red Deer. The effect this type
of a shift on our rural economies will not be minor by any stretch of the

For all the handwringing over carbon taxes and what they would do to Alberta's oil economy, it does not seem to be a province that could easily weather the effects of global warming.

In any case, I think Alberta can handle some extra taxes. It's become an economic powerhouse, with oil prices through the roof, a per capita GDP 50% higher than the national average, and people making $15/hour at Tim Hortons.

I don't know how it's polling out west, but a large majority of Canadians are in favor of strong action on the environment, which gives, at least implicity, some kind of a mandate to Dion and the Liberals.

The Liberal Green Shift isn't a perfect plan, but it's a little depressing that Harper would rather duck the debate altogether, given how important this issue is, not only for his home province of Alberta, but for all of Canada. Also depressing that it's inevitably going to be cast in terms of the traditional East-West divide in federal politics. This shouldn't be about that; it's about how we as a nation are going to deal with climate change.

Economics funnies!

Yikes, McCain's ignorance of economics really knows no bounds. This is him on taxes and revenues:

ROBERTS: Senator, you can't get over the fact, though, that extending the Bush
tax cuts, as you want to do, and adding in your tax cuts do take the deficit
number -- we actually go from a $70 billion surplus to a $445 billion deficit.

MCCAIN: You can't seem to get over the fact that it's spending that's out of
control. And you restrain spending and also you can't get over the fact that
historically when you raise people's taxes, guess what, revenue goes down. Every
time we cut capital gains taxes, there has been an increase in revenue.
I'm glad
to have this discussion with you, and obviously you disagree, but the facts are
that when you keep taxes low, when you restrain spending, as we did in 1982 when
Ronald Reagan came to office, then the economy grows. We've created 46 million
new jobs since 1982, because of lower taxes, but the spending got out of
control, and that obviously caused the deficit, which then caused us to have to
borrow money from China, et cetera, et cetera. And that's our problem that we
have today, is spending and not keeping taxes low and stimulating the economy.

I don't know if McCain really believes that lowering taxes will bring in more money, but he seems to be confusing capital gains taxes with overall income taxes, which are two very different things. It is true that when the capital gains tax rate is slashed, revenues often spike the following year, and when it is raised, the opposite occurs. This is because investors and businessmen (the people most like to show substantial capital gains income) can simply defer realization of their capital gains until a time when the tax rate is more favorable. Therefore, it's not too surprising that we may see a short term spike in revenues the year after the rate is cut, as investors scurry to cash in their capital gains while the tax rate is low.

Sources: Congressional Budget Office; Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis; Department of the Treasury.

We can see that rate cuts do indeed result in the expected spike in realizations.

However, there is no evidence that a lower rate increases revenues over the long term. Higher taxes may lead investors to purchase less stocks or real estate, but it is far from clear that this disincentive offsets the loss of revenues from a lower tax rate.

Anyway, I digress.

It seems as though McCain has read or heard that cutting capital gains taxes can increase revenues, which is misleading at best, and has applied that to all taxes, which takes us into the realm of the absurd. Cutting individual income taxes, as Bush did, most certainly does not raise revenues, not even over the short term, because people don't have any flexibility over when they can pay them, and even if they do spur some economic growth, that growth will take years to manifest and the increased incomes probably won't offset the decline in revenues anyway. Paul Krugman has a nice, simple graph to illustrate this.

(Real revenues per capita on the y-axis)

Whatever the case may be, McCain clearly does not know what he's talking about. Extending the Bush tax cuts and implementing his own would be disastrous for deficit reduction. The "wasteful spending" that he goes on and on about pales in comparison to the absurd policies that he advocates.

But that's not all, boys and girls. No sir, not content with making a fool of himself on taxes, McCain had to produce this potentially disastrous quote:

I'd like to start out by giving you a little straight talk. Under the
present set-up, because we've mortgaged our children's futures, you will not
have Social Security benefits that present-day retirees have unless we fix it.
And Americans have got to understand that.

Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day
retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today. And that's a
It's an absolute disgrace, and it's got to be fixed.

Um, okay....actually, that's how Social Security has always worked. So is he saying that Social Security is a disgrace? Because I'm sure that will play well in Florida...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

"Yo, Harper!"

Bush summons Canadian leader with a "Yo Harper!"

Um, no comment.... at least it wasn't a "here, boy"

Iraqis want a timetable for US withdrawal

Iraq insists on withdrawal timetable
Iraqi security adviser says country will insist on
timetable for withdrawal of American troops

AP News
Jul 08, 2008 09:34 EST

Iraq's national security adviser said Tuesday his country
will not accept any security deal with the United States unless it contains
specific dates for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces.

The comments by Mouwaffak al-Rubaie were the strongest yet by an Iraqi
official about the deal now under negotiation with U.S. officials. They came a
day after Iraq's prime minister first said publicly that he expects the pending
troop deal with the United States to have some type of timetable for

Heh. I'd say this throws a monkey wrench into Republican talking points. Timetables may be for pinko commie sissy Democrats, but they are also for the democratically elected Iraqi government, apparently.

I could be mistaken, but I believe majorities of Iraqi citizens have long desired a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces from their country, if not an immediate pullout. This is simply the result of Iraqi politicians being pressured by their constituents to do something about it. It's in situations like these that we more clearly see the political clout of the Iraqi government vis a vis the US military. The US cannot be seen as disregarding the will of the Iraqis, since that would call into question the motives behind the entire enterprise. But just how much is the US prepared to put up with? Suppose Maliki enters into some treaty with Iran that runs directly contrary to US interests? How would Bush react to that?

Monday, July 7, 2008

I think even the Republicans know they'll lose...

I've said it before, and I'll say it again; McCain is just an awful public speaker.

At least he has a revolutionary new plan to balance the budget. What is this wonderous plan, you ask? Just win the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, silly. And then use those savings to eliminate the deficit. Still no word on how he plans to pay for all the tax cuts he's promised, but I'm confident we'll hear some bold new initiatives from the McCain camp in the coming months, like "John McCain will lower the price of oil", or "John McCain will ensure that we find a cure for cancer" (which would lower health care costs, of course), or "John McCain will make first contact with space aliens who will give us all kinds of cool world-saving technology".

UPDATE: Steve Benen sums up McCain's economic plan pretty well:

There’s a $410 billion budget deficit, which McCain will eliminate in his
first term. How? He just will. He wants to cut taxes by about a trillion
dollars. How can we afford it? We just can. McCain realizes the value of the
dollar is down, and he’s committed to reversing this. How? He just will.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Sunday evening politics roundup

1. The late Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina was a racist piece of garbage who embraced all the wrong causes and struggled against most of the right ones. Therefore, it's a little surprising to see right-wingers describing him as some honorable exemplar of the conservative movement.

Um, are you sure you want to go there guys? Are you sure you want to be describing the pro-segregation, pro-apartheid racist fuck as someone who embodies your values? Are you sure you want to be calling the guy who said this;

The government should spend less money on people with AIDS because they got sick
as a result of deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct.
someone who embodies your values?

Read hilzoy's devastating post for more on the charming life of the delightful Senator Jesse Helms, unrepentant bigot to the end.

2. It looks like the right-wing nutosphere will have to find some new conspiracy theories about Obama:

AJ Strata appears to have done a pretty thorough debunking of the Obama fake birth certificate nonsense, enough so that Charles Johnson at LGF is cautioning folks to move on to issues of some substantive value, and it would appear to most reasonable observers that this issue is final over. Unfortunately, most reasonable observers are unaware of the proud tradition of wankery in blogging.
For example, when it was shown that the Graeme Frost family was in fact entitled to the health care they received, and were not merely rich loafers sucking on the public teat while lying about their financial condition, the issue for most people was settled. Not, however, on blogs, as we then learned that someone, somewhere, was able to talk to an insurance agent in Baltimore and tentatively price an insurance policy for merely half the Frost monthly income, and that if they sold all their belongings and their house they could have, in fact, been privately insured while living on the street. “YOU SEE- RIGHT WING BLOGS WERE CORRECT ALL ALONG!”
If you need another example of more recent vintage, I would point you this Red State post highlighted at Open Left in which we learn that the removal of non-weapons grade uranium from Iraq is, in fact, proof positive of the Saddam Hussein nuclear weapons program. You see- all you folks who thought there were no WMD’s were wrong, and Bush was right! Suck on that!
As such, while those of us working in reality may think this birth certificate saga is finally over, in a matter of days we will learn a kerning was off, or a comma misplaced, and the true perfidy of the Obama campaign will be brought to light, and once again we can celebrate the great truth detectors of the right wing blogosphere.
Does anyone want to bet me?

3. As if we needed any more evidence that the media is hopelessly in the tank for McCain:

The most important part:

The underlying point of the piece seems to be that Obama will be perceived as
having shifted — angering the right (for inconsistency and political expediency)
and offending the left (for moving away from his previous commitment) — even if
there’s no substantive change at all. But here’s the key point that’s usually
over looked: that’s why we have the media. We’re supposed to have reporters,
like the AP’s Jennifer Loven, to help us separate fact and fiction. If Obama
hasn’t shifted at all — and he hasn’t — we don’t need the Associated Press to
manufacture details and tell us of potential consequences of public confusion,
we need the Associated Press to help people be less confused. You know, by
reporting actual facts.

I think the US media has long since dropped any pretence of being there to separate fact from fiction when it comes to politics. Nonsensical campaign narratives and Republican spin are just about the only things the Beltway media takes seriously these days.


Bob Schieffer, on Face the Nation, responding to John Kerry stating that McCain
has completely changed his position on a large number of issues:
“Are you attacking John McCain’s integrity?”
I threw the remote. I like getting my heart rate up while riding the exercise bike and using the treadmill, but for
chrissakes Schieffer. I don’t want to have a heart attack.

I wonder if he had that shocked look on his face again. I can almost understand why the Democrats are afraid to show any backbone; the second they do, these media stars look at them like they just kicked a puppy.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Nothing to fear from climate change?

And to stay on the subject of the environment for a minute, a new study concluded that Canada is the country best positioned to avoid the dangers of climate change. It's not just because we're a cold country that wouldn't mind some warmer weather (that viewpoint is dangerously wrong), but because we're a developed country with a low population density and a healthy economy that is better prepared to deal with environmental catastrophe.

I can't say I'm too reassured, because even if climate change fails to hurt us directly, there's nothing stopping it from hurting us indirectly. We live in a global economy, and environmental catastrophes around the world cannot fail to impact us, irregardless of how well equipped we are to deal with our own problems.

The problem with meat

Okay, I admit it. I like a nice, juicy steak as much as the next guy. I also like hamburgers, and lamb souvlaki, and pork chops, and bacon, and sausages, and just about every other red meat. It's just really good.

But at the same time, I try to limit my consumption of red meat, by opting for poultry, fish, or even vegetarian meals as often as possible. Why? This graph says it all:

(graph from here)

The production of meat, and especially beef, is just an extraordinarily inefficient way to feed the human race. One acre of land used for corn farming produces ten times as much usable protein mass as the same land used for cattle. And those cattle have to eat too. Check page 23 of the above PDF to see feed-to-product ratios; to get equivalent amounts of beef and poultry (the final product that makes it to supermarket shelves), cows need to be fed 3 to 5 times as much.

Ezra Klein sums up the problem pretty well here:

Bacon is transcendent. The words "porterhouse" and "steak" make my mouth water.
Pork belly makes me simultaneously believe in God and doubt my own religious
tradition. And because of this, I'm not a full vegetarian. But I should be. And
not liking liberals don't change the truth about meat: Industrial
agriculture is cruel, meat production is a huge contributor to global warming,
and the market for meat contributes to world hunger in a substantial and direct

I won't convert to vegetarianism any time soon. Nor is vegetarianism necessary for the long-term survival of the human race. But at the same time, we should all do what we can to cut down on our consumption of meat, and especially red meat. It wouldn't just be good for the planet, it'd be good for ourselves as well. With obesity rates through the roof in North America (not to mention incidence of heart disease and other health problems resulting from poor diets), eating more veggies and less red meat is just what the doctor ordered.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Morgentaler and the Order of Canada

I feel like I should say something about this, since it's gotten a lot of attention on the Canadian blogosphere (of which I am a part, after all). Those on the Left are hailing Dr. Henry Morgentaler's admittment into the Order of Canada as a well-deserved and overdue honour to a man who fought for abortion rights his whole life, while some on the Right are comparing him to Hitler (an ironic accusation against a man who was an inmate of Auschwitz), and are saying this "debases" the Order of Canada. Stephen Harper has criticized the decision for sowing disunity among Canadians, pointing out that the Order of Canada should be something to bring us together as a country in honouring our best and brightest. Some previous recipients are even returning their medals in protest.

I support a woman's right to have a clean, safe abortion. It's one of those things that is going to happen regardless of legality (like drug use), so I think the best thing to do is accept it and ensure it is kept out in the open where it can be regulated. Certainly abortion should always be viewed as a last resort, and I am opposed to partial birth abortions (unless the health of the mother is threatened) but I'm not someone who believes life begins at conception, or that an fertilized egg is fundamentally different from the sum of its parts.

So on those grounds, I'm not philosophically opposed to someone like Morgentaler being appointed to the Order, in light of his contributions toward more progressive Canadian social and health policy. It's too bad that this award had to be given within the context of a hot-button political debate (perhaps not quite as hot as it used to be, but one still capable of stirring up a lot of emotion), but sometimes awards themselves can be powerful political statements. As for the merits of this particular one, I leave that to others to wrangle over.

UPDATE: This one didn't exactly "bring Canadians together" either.

The best comic book movie ever?

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone (3 1/2 stars out of 4):
Heads up: a thunderbolt is about to rip into the blanket of bland we call summer movies. The Dark Knight , director Christopher Nolan's absolute stunner of a follow-up to 2005's Batman Begins , is a potent provocation decked out as a comic-book movie. Feverish action? Check. Dazzling spectacle? Check. Devilish fun? Check. But Nolan is just warming up. There's something raw and elemental at work in this artfully imagined universe. Striking out from his Batman origin story, Nolan cuts through to a deeper dimension. Huh? Wha? How can a conflicted guy in a bat suit and a villain with a cracked, painted-on clown smile speak to the essentials of the human condition? Just hang on for a shock to the system. . . .I can only speak superlatives of Ledger, who is mad-crazy-blazing brilliant as the Joker. Miles from Jack Nicholson's broadly funny take on the role in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman, Ledger takes the role to the shadows, where even what's comic is hardly a relief. . . .No fair giving away the mysteries of The Dark Knight. It's enough to marvel at the way Nolan — a world-class filmmaker, be it Memento, Insomnia or The Prestige — brings pop escapism whisper-close to enduring art. It's enough to watch Bale chillingly render Batman as a lost warrior, evoking Al Pacino in The Godfather II in his delusion and desolation. It's enough to see Ledger conjure up the anarchy of the Sex Pistols and A Clockwork Orange as he creates a Joker for the ages.

Todd Gilchrist, IGN (5 out of 5 stars):
Superior to all three Spider-Man installments and even its amazing predecessor in terms of conceptualization, writing, acting, and direction, Nolan's follow-up to Batman Begins is a dark, complex and disturbing film , not the least of which because it grafts its heroics onto the blueprint of actual reality rather than that of spandex-clad supermen. And while such a distinction may make little difference to those already eagerly anticipating the return of the caped crusader, suffice it to say that The Dark Knight qualifies as the first official comic book adaptation that truly succeeds in being a great artistic achievement in its own right. . . .Meanwhile, the violence is quite possibly the most intense I have ever seen in a PG-13 film, leaving myself and others wondering how The Dark Knight avoided an R. . . .Finally, there's Ledger, whose performance I suspect will be the subject of many analyses of all sorts in the weeks and months to come. What he does with The Joker is, quite frankly, nothing short of transcendent. Early in the film he explains the origins of his trademark facial scars, and you worry for a moment that the filmmakers are giving this psychopath some kind of convenient explanation, which, talented though he was, Ledger won't be able to overcome. But by the third time he's explained where they come from – each time telling a different tale – you realize that Ledger was a master of his craft, only in his final years finding roles that truly offered him the chance to explore that mastery. His is the definitive movie Joker, and he owns the role and achieves a level of abject insanity that is terrifying as it is irresistible.

Emmanuel Levy (A):
Dark, grim, haunting and visionary, "The Dark Knight" is nothing short of brilliant, the best and scariest comic hero adaptation you are likely to see this summer season, and perhaps during the whole year . At least two notches above "Batman Begins," this follow-up represents Christopher Nolan's most accomplished and mature work, and mind you, he is one of the few Hollywood directors who have never made a bad picture.

The Movie Blog (8.5 out of 10):
The action in The Dark Knight was vastly superior to Batman Begins in every way, shape and form. And we’re not just talking about fight scenes either. There are a couple of scenes that are more like heist movies than comic book ones and they totally work. The camera work is also much better for the fight and action in this movie than they were in the original which was quite a relief since that was one of my few complains about Begins.

FilmFocus (from Holland) (5 out of 5 stars):
Nolan kicks in the narrative overdrive from the first minute and doesn't relent after that. A spectacular bank job with a gruesome aftermath introduces Heath Ledger's Joker, aka "The Scariest Supervillain Of All Time™". Ledger's performance is so incredibly strong that by all means come July 24th, it should become the pure definition of the term 'sociopath' in your friendly neighbourhood dictionary. Ledger, who sadly passed away in the beginning of this year, leaves a legacy unlike anything that has ever been seen in a comic book film adaptation as Batman's nemesis....The Dark Knight rises above the tropes of the super hero movie and establishes itself as a sprawling crime epic filled with intrigues and plot twists that can easily hold its own against classics from the Warner archives like L.A. Confidential and Heat.

Brad Brevet, from :
What can I say? There are moments in film history when everything is pushed aside and performance exceeds genre. Batman Begins told audiences and film critics it was possible to root a comic book generated superhero in reality. Earlier this year Iron Man set out to do the same but lost its balance in the final act. The Dark Knight manages to exceed expectation with a villain so maniacal, his desire for destruction begins to make sense to the point you understand his desire for all out anarchy while you are cheering for the opposition in a war that basically boils down to one side against individual terrorism. . . .In terms of comic book film adaptations this is the pinnacle . The argument saying this is the Godfather Part II of comic book movies would insinuate that Batman Begins is on equal terms with the original Godfather , which is far from true. However, if we could call this The Godfather of comic book movies I wait anxiously for what may/will become the film that caps off the trilogy.

All the things you never thought you would see in a Batman film are present in "The Dark Knight." Christopher Nolan's dark, disturbing sequel to 2006's "Batman Begins" pulls off an impossible task: making an epic from a movie with a man in tights. The film also reveals to a mass audience what fans of the characters have known for years - the Joker is nothing to laugh at. . .. Christopher Nolan never meant to be a director of titanic tent-pole films, but he delivers them with grace, confidence, and power. The fights are true to Batman and the chase scenes are electric. If "The Dark Knight" were simply an action film, it would be one of the best. However, what makes the film truly amazing is how it grows beyond its basic remit as a summer action film. The story, guided by the Joker's antics, reveals a dark rumination on the Western World in the twenty-first century. It suggests the line between upstanding citizen and a homicidal clown is not very well defined. The film has a sense of relevance in a way no other superhero movie can claim to suggest. This is a truly amazing feat for any film, never mind one which features an actual building exploding. . . .Make no mistake; "The Dark Knight" is frightening. Tension ramps up. Blood is spilled. Every body that drops has weight. Every shout is as unsettling as an explosion. As soon as the Joker begins his stage show of terror, you will expect every window and every quiet moment to explode into anarchy. This is not the Superfriends. Scooby and Daphne are no where to be found. Even if they were, they would be strung up on the pillars of Gotham City Hall, broken and still bleeding with a note posted to Scoob's intestines saying, "Good one, Shaggy." The vision of humanity the Joker presents will haunt you.

Tom McLean, Newsarama :
The Dark Knight is an intense, thrilling, smart and amazing film that truly vies for the crown of the greatest movie ever made from a comic book. Yes, it’s that good. Weaving a plot of complexity and depth that pits well-drawn characters against each other in a battle of anarchy against order, sanity against insanity and life against death, The Dark Knight excels on nearly every level and delivers that most rare of movie gems — a spectacle that succeeds in challenging its genre and its audience, creating an experience that will completely satisfy and thrill filmgoers of all types. Even scratching the surface of the many ways in which this film pleases, surprises, shocks and thrills would take more time and be inferior to watching the film itself, which even at 2 & 1/2 hours only rarely compels criticism of overstaying its welcome or of venturing into territory that could be cut.

Mr. Disgusting, from Bloody Disgusting :
If 2008 proved anything thus far, it's that there is hope for cinema. With dozens upon dozens of mind-numbing films being dumped into theaters, we have already seen a few glimmers of hope, even though I still haven't seen a film that blew me away... that is until last night. Warner Bros. Pictures' THE DARK KNIGHT is not only the best film I have seen this year, but quite possibly the best superhero movie ever made. . . .If DARK KNIGHT gets anything less than an Oscar nomination it would be a great injustice to the world of cinema. Nolan has delivered an epic masterpiece that will literally take your breath away. If this film doesn't make you feel like a kid again, maybe there's no hope for you...

Staci Lane, :
Martin Scorsese's The Departed . Michael Mann's Heat . Brian de Palma's The Untouchables . And now, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight can join the ranks as one of the best crime dramas in modern movie history. It's only incidental it's set in the fictional gritty city of Gotham, and it just happens to feature a superhero wearing a bat-suit and an arch-villain in clown makeup.