Saturday, March 11, 2006

On an island with David Gilmour

With all the bad news in the world, some of it blogged about here, I've been thinking of doing a new and ongoing series called Things to be Happy About.

The first entry in the series, which shall begin now, is this: The new David Gilmour album, On an Island. To a long-time Pink Floyd fan like me (one the greatest moments of my life was seeing them live at Foxboro Stadium, near Boston, in 1995), this is truly something to be happy about. It's not Pink Floyd, to be sure -- most recently, all we've had is that amazing Live8 performance at Hyde Park, London -- but it's distinctly Gilmour. And that's pretty much as good as it gets.

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In France, it's 1830, 1848, and 1968 all over again

Well, not quite, but there are once again barricades in Paris:

Riot police stormed the marble-halled Sorbonne University early Saturday, pushing out some 200 students occupying the historic institution, some for three days, to protest a government jobs plan.

At least 80 helmeted police officers rushed the landmark institution to dislodge students, some holed up in a classroom barricaded behind desks, chairs and debris.

What's going on?

The disturbances were part of snowballing protests over a new jobs measure that are posing a major test to the government. Up to 600 students were reportedly in the Sorbonne on Friday, joining a sit-in that began Wednesday. The university was forced to close.

Numerous students said that the movement was not over.

The mass occupation at the Sorbonne, in the heart of the Latin Quarter, the Left Bank student neighbourhood, was part of a larger movement by students, along with the country's powerful unions, trying to force the government to withdraw the jobs measure that will make it easier for companies to fire workers younger than 26.

Not that there may not be legitimate problems with the government's new employment policy, but this is just so French, isn't it?

I can't wait for Les Miz, Part Deux.

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From the BBC:

Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has been found dead in the detention centre at The Hague tribunal.

The tribunal said an autopsy would be conducted to establish cause of death, but there was no indication of suicide.

Zdenko Tomanovic, a lawyer for Mr Milosevic, says the autopsy should take place elsewhere as his client said he was being poisoned in the jail.

Mr Milosevic, 64, had been on trial at the UN war crimes tribunal for genocide and other war crimes since 2001.

I wish he'd been convicted and sentenced accordingly for his crimes against humanity. But you'll have to excuse me for not caring much about his death. I am rarely one to treat human life so lightly, but:

Good riddance.


The Washington Post has worldwide reaction to the news here. The BBC has some here. The BBC also has background on Milosevic's rise and fall here, the specific charges against him here, and an obituary here.

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The other Dubai deal

No, Portgate wasn't the last of it. Time is reporting on another deal with the U.A.E.:

Yet while one Dubai company may be giving up on U.S. ports, another one shows no signs of quitting the U.S.—or of giving up a contract with the Navy to provide shore services for vessels in the Middle East. The firm, Inchcape Shipping Services (ISS), is an old British company that last January was sold to a Dubai government investment vehicle for $285 million. ISS has more than 200 offices around the world and provides services to clients ranging from cruise ship operators to oil tankers to commercial cargo vessels. In the U.S., the company operates out of more than a dozen port cities, including Houston, Miami and New Orleans, arranging pilots, tugs, linesmen and stevedores, among other things. The firm is also a defense contractor which has long worked for Britain’s Royal Navy. And last June, the U.S. Navy signed on too, awarding ISS a $50 million contract to be the 'husbanding agent' for vessels in most Southwest Asia ports, including those in the Middle East, according to an unclassified Navy logistics manual for the Fifth Fleet and a press release from ISS.

I'm a little curious. I understand the realities of globalization, but what of the realities of the war on terror? Would all those rebellious Republican Congressmen care to look into this one, too?

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Smearing Harold Ford

Have you heard about the Republican-run website that smears Harold Ford, the Democratic Congressman who is running for the Senate in Tennessee? If you must see it, it's here. But I warn you, it's despicable. It portrays Ford as a pimp-like playboy living "the good life" off of "his campaign contributors' dime".

The site was set up (and funded) by the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Who runs the NRSC? Senator Elizabeth Dole.

Pam Spaulding, who isn't exactly Ford's biggest fan, sums it up well: "The Fancy Ford web site is something to behold and cherish. It tells you all that you need to know about where the great minds of the GOP are when it comes to campaigning -- it's still all about playing on race, racial history and the subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways of invoking the uppity Negro in Southern politics."

And so does Matt Stoller: "A site that portrays a prominent Democratic leader as a black pimp is a sad statement on what the party of Lincoln has come to. So desperate to maintain a corrupt chokehold on power that the Republican leaders are willing to sell out on the deepest sin of our country's history. It's such weakness. What singularly pathetic, cowardly, cowering people."

And Garance Franke-Ruta: "For the G.O.P to go this nasty, this early, against a candidate who is behind in the polls and considered a bit of a long-shot is incomprehensible except as a statement of values by the Republican Party."

This is racism, plain and simple. And it's brought to you by the Republican Party.


(See also The Carpetbagger Report, Taylor Marsh, The Republic of T., and No More Mister Nice Blog.)

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Friday, March 10, 2006

A new low for Bush

From the latest AP-Ipsos poll: "The poll suggests that most Americans wonder whether Bush is up to the job. The survey, conducted Monday through Wednesday of 1,000 people, found that just 37 percent approve of his overall performance. That is the lowest of his presidency."

And on the issues: "Bush's approval rating declined from 39 percent to 36 percent for his handling of domestic affairs and from 47 percent to 43 percent on foreign policy and terrorism. His approval ratings for dealing with the economy and Iraq held steady, but still hovered around 40 percent."

I concur with Steve Benen: "Consider this your morale boost for the day." Make that the weekend.


Steve Clemons is right: "Bush is again off balance -- and it's important that advocates for a different policy course begin pushing hard now, constantly."

Now. Constantly. Let's go.

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Sandra Day O'Connor tells it like it is (too bad she's retired)

Yes, how nice to see retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor speak up against the anti-judicial politics of the Republicans and the danger to American democracy posed by anti-judicial Republicans like Tom DeLay (and otherwise blatantly irresponsible ones like John Cornyn).

From NPR's Nina Totenberg, The Raw Story has the story here. Key passage:

In an unusually forceful and forthright speech, O’Connor said that attacks on the judiciary by some Republican leaders pose a direct threat to our constitutional freedoms... Pointing to the experiences of developing countries and former communist countries where interference with an independent judiciary has allowed dictatorship to flourish, O’Connor said we must be ever-vigilant against those who would strongarm the judiciary into adopting their preferred policies. It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, she said, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.

I'm sure Republican apologists will write O'Connor off as a cranky old centrist, a moderate who was never a real Republican (did Reagan make a mistake?), but her dire warning that these demagogic Republicans have placed America on the slippery slope to dictatorship, the populist tyranny that worried Madison, ought to be heeded.

Here's yet another reason -- and a pretty good one -- why America needs desperately to be saved from the clutches of Republican rule.

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Voting for the Koufax Awards continues but will soon end. The following is reprinted from an earlier post.

Scroll down for new posts on Portgate, Putin's Russia, the global water crisis, and auto-flush toilets.


I'm pleased to tell you that The Reaction been nominated in five categories:

I should also mention that The Moderate Voice, where I'm a co-blogger, has been nominated for Best Group Blog. I'm also singling out The Carpetbagger Report for Best Blog (Non-Professional) -- although there are many great blogs nominated in every category.

Should you care to vote for me (or to vote for someone else), click on these links individually and cast your vote in the Comments section of each individual category post at Wampum -- or click
here, then to each category post.


All I can say is that I don't expect to get through this round. It's clear that some bloggers have launched aggressive campaigns to secure votes. I haven't.

But, you know what, that's fine. The best thing about the Koufax Awards has been the opportunity to discover some great blogs and to get to know many of my fellow bloggers out there. The expansion of my blogroll in recent weeks very much reflects my newfound appreciation for the wonderful community of blogs and bloggers brought together by these awards.

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Portgate: Victory!

Victory indeed.

As some of you know, I was a staunch critic of the Dubai deal from the very beginning. My opposition to the deal wasn't rooted in racism or xenophobia, nor in any sort of blanket criticism of the Muslim (or specifically Arab) world. Rather, I was simply concerned that control of some of America's major ports was being handed over to a foreign state with connections to terrorism. That state may now be an ally of the United States in the war on terror, but, to me, the risk was too high.

In addition, the deal exposed once more just how the Bush Administration operates.

Well, as The Washington Post is reporting, "[t]he United Arab Emirates company that was attempting to take over management operations at six U.S. ports said today that it will divest itself of all U.S. port interests". And this surely is no coincidence: "The decision came several hours after Republican congressional leaders met with President Bush and told him that Congress appeared ready to block the takeover by Dubai Ports World, a deal that has generated fierce opposition on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill but has been defended by the administration."

(More from The New York Times, CNN, and MSNBC.)

Questions linger: What does this whole debacle say about the state of Bush's leadership? What of the apparent rift between the White House and Congessional Republicans? Will Dubai retaliate against U.S. commercial interests, including a deal with Boeing (as The Hill is reporting)? Will the issue now be dropped, or will there be a serious evaluation of port security? Beyond that, will anything actually be done to improve port security? Will Portgate be a lingering issue going into this years midterms? Will Democrats be able to capitalize on this key White House fumble on national security?


Update: Here's what Edward Bilkey, Dubai Ports World COO, said this afternoon: "Because of the strong relationship between the United Arab Emirates and the United States and to preserve this relationship, DP World has decided to transfer fully the U.S. operations of P&O Ports North America, Inc. to a United States entity." We'll have to see just what this "entity" is.


Needless to say, this is the top story at Memeorandum. In particular, see:

Steve Soto at The Left Coaster: "Look, this was a colossal blunder from a cabal that was used to having its way with Congress. How could these guys, weeks after Rove boasted about how the GOP would ram national security down the throats of the Democrats this fall, allow its own committee overseeing foreign investments to rubber stamp a deal that would destroy that whole narrative? And how could the White House assume that a lame veto threat would scare its own party incumbents to allow a transaction that would position Nancy Pelosi to their right on national security?"

Zoe Kentucky at Demagogue: "When it comes to the Dubai deal I think the real issues are the oversight, or the lack thereof, and Bush's "just trust me" attitude. Not that it is a Middle Eastern country. Americans are truly delusional if they think that installing an American company is enough to protect our ports. This is a much bigger issue than that."

And also: The Carpetbagger Report, Taylor Marsh, Shakespeare's Sister -- and Joe Gandelman with updates at The Moderate Voice here, here, and here.


My previous posts on all things Portgate:

And so it goes.

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Putin's progress: A new stage of Russo-American relations

Must-read of the day:

At Newsweek, Michael Hirsh asks the question, "What's Putin's Game?" The short answer: "On the most simple level, Kremlin analysts say, he sees himself picking up the pieces of a failed foreign policy led by Bush, whose confrontation with Iraq has come to grief, whose approach to Iran is all but stalemated and whose democracy project in the Mideast has empowered Islamists." But there's more:

Washington tends to interpret Putin’s diplomatic aggressiveness today as evidence of his growing authoritarianism. But Russians like to put it another way: even while the Russian leader continues to have warm feelings for Bush personally, he’s pretty much had it with the U.S. president’s foreign policy. Putin also knows his independence plays well with the Russian populace, and especially the elite hard-line nomenklatura, the military officers and intelligence colleagues who now represent a majority on many issues in the Kremlin and Duma.

In a certain sense, Bush's loss is Putin's gain. And with Bush losing all over the place at present, with "the vacuum of global leadership left by Bush," there is every reason to believe that Putin's agenda will propel Russia once more to the forefront of global diplomacy.

The neoconservative vision, the one embraced by Bush after 9/11, centered around spreading liberal and democratic values to illiberal and undemocratic states unilaterally, over and above America's immediate national security interests. Iraq was the key battleground, the war that put the neoconservative vision to the test. It may take decades for the results of that test to become fully known, but, for now, that quagmire has severely circumscribed America's ability to use its superpower status to resolve crises elsewhere.

Into the void leaps Vladimir Putin. For better or for worse.

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A global water crisis

We in the West tend to take it for granted, of course, but a new U.N. report concludes that "[a]lmost 20% of the world's population still lacks access to safe drinking water". The BBC reports here.

Other findings contained in the U.N. World Water Development Report:

  • Water quality is declining in most regions, affecting the diversity of freshwater species and ecosystems;
  • Poor water quality is a key cause of poverty. Around 3.1m people died in 2002 as a result of diarrhoeal diseases and malaria, 90% of whom were children;
  • The world will require 55% more food by 2030, increasing the demand for irrigation which already accounts for 70% of all freshwater used by humans;
  • Many places are "losing" 30-40% of water through leakage and illegal extraction; and
  • Political corruption is estimated to cost the water sector millions of dollars every year and undermines services.

Needless to say, this is a serious crisis.

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When modern life flushes you down the crapper

Please excuse the paucity of posts the past couple of days. I'm once again battling a nagging cold and I decided that sleep should be my primary concern.

But let's get back into the swing of things with a link to an extremely funny article at Slate, where Nick Schulz contends that the auto-flush toilet is "the most uncivilized technology of the modern age".

Good times.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

S2D podcast tonight

I'm happy to inform you that I'll be the political guest on Subject2Discussion again this week. The show starts at 10:30 ET tonight.

If you want to listen to it live, click here. If you want to listen to it at your leisure in downloaded or podcasted form, click here.

Last week was a lot of fun. I hope tonight goes just as well.

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The Harper and the Ethics Commissioner: an update

If you were Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and the current Parliamentary ethics commissioner, Bernard Shapiro, announced that he was planning on launching an investigation against one of your Conservative Members of Parliament for conflict-of-interest, what would you do?

If your response was, "Co-operate with the investigation to clear my name and the party's, which would fulfill my campaign promise of a cleaner government," you're wrong. The Harper way to do it is "rush to replace the ethics commissioner".

As I've said before, Parliament hasn't even started, but that whole cool, confident, righteous leader image that Harper managed to project during the election campaign has already fallen to pieces. The new prime minister's displays of resistance towards such a probe, even if there is any justification for the slightest hesitation, are becoming increasingly outrageous (even embarrassing) and are effectively tainting his leadership before he has even begun handling major national and international affairs (apart from appointing the Cabinet, of course).

All of this, of course, leads to bigger concerns. Ethics was a key issue and transparency was a major campaign promise. If Harper is willing to break from this so quickly and nonchalantly, it makes me wonder: what will happen to his promise to refrain from using the notwithstanding clause on the issue of same-sex marriage?

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The Reaction 100,000

I just wanted to mention that The Reaction passed a major milestone late yesterday afternoon, reaching 100,000 hits since its inception at the end of March of last year. 10,000 was only reached on July 24, and much of the growth has happened during the last few months.

For the bigger blogs out there, 100,000 is nothing. For me, though, it's quite something. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for taking the time to visit my blog. Friends, family, readers, co-bloggers, fellow bloggers -- I couldn't do this without you.

Thank you.

And now, onward and (hopefully) upward...


(Remember that you can vote for the Koufax Awards here. I explain it all here.)

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Is there a civil war in Iraq?

Warmongering conservatives (i.e., chickenhawks) are falling all over themselves in contortions of denial and delusion, but at least one leading miliary expert, Army Maj. Gen. (Ret.) William L. Nash, a former commander in Bosnia, says there is: "We're in a civil war now; it's just that not everybody's joined in. The failure to understand that the civil war is already taking place, just not necessarily at the maximum level, means that our counter measures are inadequate and therefore dangerous to our long-term interest. It's our failure to understand reality that has caused us to be late throughout this experience of the last three years in Iraq."

Got that? "It's our failure to understand reality..."

Not that that will stop those warmongering conservatives, particularly of the blogospheric variety, from contorting their denial and delusion yet further. But, then, it's not like they "understand reality" or anything.

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Reaction to the blogs: ROTC, FEMA, and no-nothing Newt

Here are a few great posts for your reading pleasure:

At centrist Midtopia, former ROTC member Sean Aqui examines the issue of the military on college campuses in light of Monday's Solomon Amendment ruling. Aqui: "If military culture grows too separated from civilian culture we risk a 'Prussification' of the military: turning it into an insular society led by elites that have little in common with the people whom they ostensibly serve. That would be a disaster on many levels. The military must be given access to college students both to maintain our physical security and to save the military from itself." It's a solid argument.

At State of the Day, Creature apologizes to Michael Brown. Sort of. (See also Joe Gandelman's apology at The Moderate Voice, with which I agreed completely.)

Speaking of Joe G., he has a round-up of reaction to Jon Stewart's Oscar-host performance here.

At Iddybud, Jude reports that Bush has already pulled the rug out from under the Great Lakes restoration plan. Like Jude, I live near one of the Great Lakes. This isn't good.

The Happy Feminist says we shouldn't take sleep for granted. Well, I love sleeping. It's one of my favourite things to do. But when you have a regular job and a political blog, it becomes something of "a dispensable luxury". Indeed, I'm quite exhausted right now... yet I go on...

The (liberal) Girl Next Door, a regular commenter here at The Reaction, shows how "the Bush administration is slowly yet steadily selling off our country" (well, not my country, but we have our own problems...). Check out the foreign ownership numbers.

At Battlepanda, Angelica writes about the life and death of Baby Chanou.

The Armchair Generalist notes that would-be 2008 contender Newt Gingrich has endorsed "Rumsfeld's transformation philosophy" at the Pentagon: "Gingrich seems rather to want to score some political points here as not only a defense expert but a 'yes-man' to Bush's constituency -- all 34 percent of them who are still blindly loyal to the man." Clearly, Newt knoweth not whereof he speaketh. But what else is new?

At NewsHog, Cernig blasts the neocons: "The neocons, most of them, must be awake all night every night trying to salvage their reputations while making sure as few people as possible realise how badly they were wrong in the first place."

At South by Southwest, Carol looks at the political landscape of the Lone Star State. Down with DeLay is all I can say!

And at The Dark Wraith Forums... well, just check it out. As a non-economist, I find it all quite fascinating.

Read them all. I'll do another R2B soon. (E-mail me or comment here with any suggestions or recommendations.)

(My last R2B is here.)

And now, to sleep...

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South Dakota and abortion (revisited)

As I mentioned here, South Dakota was already "the most difficult place in the country to get an abortion". Well, it got even worse on Monday. From The New York Times:

The governor of South Dakota, Mike Rounds, signed [yesterday] a bill intended to ban most abortions in the state and to set up a challenge to the United States Supreme Court decision, handed down in 1973, that legalized abortion in all states.

The law would make it a crime for doctors to perform an abortion unless it was necessary to save the woman's life, with no exception for cases of rape or incest. Planned Parenthood, which operates the state's only abortion clinic, has pledged to challenge the law in court.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines. The battle of battles in American politics is about to begin. I've long considered myself a moderate pro-choicer, but this struggle over women's reproductive rights pushes me more and more to the side of those who are fighting to protect those rights. The other side, it seems, wants to plunge America back into darkness.


For more, see:

Misty at Shakespeare's Sister: "This bullshit is about control and making one group of people’s beliefs into law and not letting the individual decide what is medically and morally right. Ugh."

Steve Soto at The Left Coaster: "Just like the way the GOP bashed Kerry over his Iraq war vote, the same applies to this. McCain, Allen, and the rest either support what South Dakota and Mississippi have done, or they don't. It is a simple question."

Republicans have effectively used abortion -- hollow, unfulfilled rhetorical pledges to work to overturn Roe -- as a wedge issue to mobilize their base without scaring off moderate and independent voters who are personally uncomfortable with abortion yet who support a woman's right to choose in most cases. And now? As I've said before, many Republicans will now be exposed for what they are, which is rabidly and unapologetically anti-choice. And their presumptive presidential candidates will now be forced to explain themselves. It won't just be a matter of saying that they're for or against abortion in theoretical terms. They'll have to take sides on these latest events in South Dakota and Mississippi. Let's just see how the moderates and independents respond. (And let's see how the Democratic base responds. Is it fully mobilized yet?)

Scott Shields at MyDD makes a similar point: "Advocates for choice have been warning voters about this for years. Obviously, after a while, those warnings sounded alarmist and unrealistic to some. Unfortunately, they were neither. So here we are. This issue no longer exists in the abstract."

See also BlondeSense, Mia Culpa, Middle Earth Journal, I Blame the Patriarchy, and Swing State Project.


Oh, you want to know how moderates and independents will respond? Well, here's one of the best, Justin Gardner at Donklephant: "What a huge step backwards South Dakota has taken today."

There you go.

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Monday, March 06, 2006


As I mentioned the other day, The Reaction has been nominated for five Koufax Awards this year. Should you care to vote for me (or against me!), click here for all the links and instructions.

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A Nixonian Bush: Terrorism, journalism, and the veil of secrecy

On CNN's Reliable Sources today, David Gergen, who knows a thing or two about recent presidential administrations, said that Bush is worse than Nixon in terms of secrecy and the treatment of journalists. Crooks and Liars has the video and some of the transcript.

From said transcript: "This administration has engaged in secrecy at a level we have not seen in over 30 years. Unfortunately, I have to bring up the name of Richard Nixon, because we haven't seen it since the days of Nixon. And now what they're doing -- and they're using the war on terror to justify -- is they're starting to target journalists who try to pierce the veil of secrecy and find things and put them in the newspapers..."

The Moderate Voice, Unclaimed Territory, Firedoglake, Political Animal, and War and Piece have more.

Where exactly are all those free-speech-loving conservatives? Are they too busy trying to find those Danish cartoons? Too busy rallying in support of insensitivity and ignorance? Too busy apologizing for all this trampling of the Constitution?

To them I say: This is what your president is doing. Aren't you angry? Aren't you ashamed?


Crooks and Liars also has video of Jack Murtha's appearance on CBS's Face the Nation: "The public is way ahead of what’s going on in Washington. They no longer believe it. The troops themselves, 70 percent of the troops said we want to come home within a year. The only solution to this is to redeploy. Let me tell you, the only people who want us in Iraq is Iran and al-Qaeda. I've talked to a top-level commander the other day, it was about two weeks ago, and he said China wants us there also. Why? Because we’re depleting our resources, our troop resources and our fiscal resources."

Are you too busy, conservatives, to face reality? Or is "reality" just the latest White House spin?

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Reaction to the Oscars (with updates)

(Live-blogging below!)

Back when I was the film critic for The Tufts Daily, back when I used to go more frequently to the movies, from high school through to a couple of years ago, I cared about the Academy Awards. I despised them, of course, but I nonetheless took an avid interest.

And now? Not so much.

Why the loathing? Well, my contempt is directed largely at the movie industry's narcissistic self-congratulation, at Hollywood's pretentious, self-important Philistinism, at the culture's general love of all things celebrity, the trends of fleeting fashion, at the elevation of entertainment over art even as the entertainers cozy up to the artists. It's all quite revolting.

Yet -- I'll be watching tonight. Why?

Because of Jon Stewart. And because, well, you just have to watch, don't you? I may derive greater satisfaction from the films of The Criterion Collection than from the hyped-up nominees, but ignoring the Oscars essentially means ignoring the current stream of popularity in a world that is increasingly dominated by American "culture". I may not like it, but it behooves me not to ignore it.


Which brings me to this: I'm really not all that negative, preceding rant notwithstanding. I do like many mainstream films, and there were some really good ones last year. My pick for the best film of 2005 (and one of the best American films of recent years):


Truly brilliant.

Enjoy the Oscars, folks. They're about to begin...



-- The opening bit, ending with Jon Stewart and George Clooney in bed together, is hilarious. But Stewart's opening monologue falls a bit flat (and he seems really nervous at the start -- can you blame him?). As with David Letterman, but not quite to that degree, the audience doesn't really know what to make of him -- all those Hollywood bigshots surely wonder if he's crossing the forbidden line that separates sucking up from acute cultural criticism by making too much fun at their expense, by exposing their self-glorification and ultimate mediocrity. He's too much of an outsider, which is why Billy Crystal, the consummate insider and suck up, is always so well liked as host.

-- George Clooney just won for Best Supporting Actor in Syriana. He's one of today's true movie stars, and his performance is excellent, perhaps the best of his career.

-- Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit won for Best Animated Feature. Very good. It's a wonderful film.

-- Rachel Weisz won for Best Supporting Actress in The Constant Gardener. A solid performance. Plus, it's nice to see John le Carre, one of my favourite novelists (and a highly underrated one), get some recognition, if just through a film adaptation -- speaking of which, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, with Richard Burton, is excellent, and The Russia House, with Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer, is pretty good -- but, best of all, see the BBC's George Smiley series with Alec Guinness.

(I haven't seen any of the Best Documentary Short Subject nominees. I'm sure they're good, but -- has anyone?)

-- Best Documentary: March of the Penguins. No surprise. It's a fine film. By the way, did you know that some of the money behind Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room came from Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban? Yup, he was the executive producer. (He also co-executive produced Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck.)

(Is John Williams nominated every year?)

This year's Honorary Oscar goes to Robert Altman. Several times nominated, several times snubbed. I don't like all of his work (the awful Short Cuts, for example), but some of his films are brilliant, especially MASH, Nashville, and Gosford Park. Indeed, I'd put Nashville in my list of the 20-25 or so greatest films of all time -- perhaps no other film captures the essence of America so completely.

(It's great to hear Stephen Colbert and Rob Corddry at the Oscars, eh? Their Daily Show-style clips are hilarious.)

How hard is it out there for a pimp?

I haven't seen any of the Best Foreign Language Film nominees. Alas.

(Isn't it rather odd that some of recently deceased get louder applause than others during the in memoriam tribute? Shouldn't there be silence, then general applause?)

And the Best Actor Oscar goes to... Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote. Also no surprise. I haven't seen it yet, but he's been great in pretty much everything he's ever done: Magnolia, Almost Famous, Cold Mountain, etc. Still, I was sort of rooting for David Strathairn in Good Night, and Good Luck (a mesmerizing performance).

And the Best Actress Oscar goes to... Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line. Also no surprise. And, no, I haven't seen it yet. But she was great in Election, one of the funniest movies ever. From Legally Blonde to this. What a crazy world. (But she's a bit too cute and her acceptance speech is really, really annoying...)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Brokeback Mountain. After this, the deluge... (I mean, it'll win Best Picture and Best Director, right?)

I almost always root for Woody Allen in this next category, but I'm hoping for Syriana this year. Best Original Screenplay: Crash -- no, not the one about car accident fetishism by Canadian David Cronenberg, the one about racism by Paul Haggis, another Canadian.

(Could someone please explain to me how Stephen Gaghan wasn't nominated for Best Director for Syriana? A complete and utter injustice.)

Tom Hanks announces the Best Director nominees. The winner: Ang Lee, right? Right. Hoo-wah.

And, finally... the Best Picture of 2005, as announced by Jack Nicholson: Brokeback Mountain, right? Wrong. It's Crash. Something of a surprise, though there seemed to be a lot of momentum behind it.

And so it goes. Jon Stewart did a fine job -- funny, but nothing terribly memorable. It was all rather predictable and the show, on the whole, was rather flat. And that brings our Oscar live-blogging to an end.

Good night, everyone, and... well, you know the rest.

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Has Bush done anything right since taking office over five years ago?

That's the question for today's Sunday Discussion Group at The Carpetbagger Report. I agree with Steve on this. Afghanistan is one, but has that been a real and lasting success? And it's not like Bush had much choice. He had to do something after 9/11. But the focus soon shifted to Iraq...

Anyway, check it out. There are a lot of good comments.

(By the way, last week was not kind to Bush.)

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The withdrawal from Iraq?

Britain's Telegraph is reporting that "[a]ll British and United States troops serving in Iraq will be withdrawn within a year in an effort to bring peace and stability to the country". More:

According to a senior defence source directly involved in planning the withdrawal, Britain is the driving force behind the scheme. The early spring of next year has been identified as the optimum time for the start of the complex and dangerous operation.

The source explained that troop numbers were expected to decrease slightly over the next 12 months but that the bulk of British and American forces, who make up 138,000 of the coalition's 153,000 troops, would be withdrawn simultaneously.

If true -- and let's make sure to stress the if -- this is big news. No, huge. Stay tuned...

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Bill, Hillary, and Dubai

Do the Clintons even speak to each other? MSNBC is reporting that Hillary was unaware of her husband's connections to Dubai regarding the Portgate scandal. Bill is advising "Dubai leaders on how to handle the growing dispute".

Well, whether they do or don't, this much is clear: On this issue, she's right and he's wrong.

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South Dakota and abortion

Welcome to South Dakota, vanguard of the counter-enlightenment in reproductive rights.

From PBS: "Already, South Dakota is perhaps the most difficult place in the country to get an abortion. There's a 24-hour waiting period and mandatory counseling to discourage the procedure. The law requires parental notification in cases where the patient is a minor. Only one clinic, Planned Parenthood in Sioux Falls, offers the procedure."

Nice, huh? Well, it gets better (uh, worse). It seems it's all about virginity and the alleged sanctity thereof -- see Digby, Echidne, Amanda Marcotte, Maha, and The Wege.

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