Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Fire with fire
Have at 'em, boys. Introducing Texans For Truth.

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Approaching 1,000
The New York Times reports that today's fatality in Iraq brings the total number of American soldiers killed in Iraq to 989. Atrios links to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, which has the number at 999. When the number hits 1,000, which it is likely to do within 4 or 5 days at the current rate, the President will take a hit in the opinion polls.

I still can't believe it. 1,000 dead Americans, all in the service of a false bill of goods. This alone should be enough to evict Bush from office.

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Monday, September 06, 2004

As if we didn't hate the Yankees before
Steinbrenner and Co. throw a fit and ask the Commissioner's office to award them a forfeit. The Devil Rays couldn't get out of Tampa because of a hurricane. Hmm. Think anyone is scared of the Red Sox and wants every win they can get, even if they don't have to play the game?

What nonsense. There hasn't been a forfeit for this reason since 1902. Give the Devil Rays a break. Play the game. The Yanks will probably beat them anyway.

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Saturday, September 04, 2004

Sullie drops Bush!
It's official. Andrew Sullivan no longer supports George W. Bush. He writes:

"And the president made it clear that discriminating against gay people, keeping them from full civic dignity and equality, is now a core value for him and his party. The opposite is a core value for me. Some things you can trade away. Some things you can compromise on. Some things you can give any politician a pass on. But there are other values - of basic human dignity and equality - that cannot be sacrificed without losing your integrity itself. "
Right on.

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Now we panic
Newsweek seconds the Time poll. I thought Ruy Teixera said that independents were trending for Kerry? What happened? Because Kerry got next to no bounce from the DNC, this can't be spun as anything but really bad news for the challenger.

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Friday, September 03, 2004

Bush and Cheney Don't Understand the East
No, I don't think Kerry will campaign on the issue of anti-East Coast bias. So why does the Bush campaign think that this horseshit is stump speech material? Why is it that Republicans are the only ones who are ever allowed to get away with naked regionalism? Sure, there are plenty of elitist Democrats who don't think very much of what lies below the Mason-Dixon line, but it would never end up in one of Kerry's speeches, for crying out loud.

Just one more indication that the GOP has no record to run on.

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Think Twice
No one wants to publish this, so you can have it for free:

I support John Kerry for President, because nothing inspires my confidence like a flip-flopper. In fact, when deciding which candidate to support, we would all be well-advised to pick the one who has changed his or her mind the most often. The way I see it, you simply can’t change your mind enough.

No one embodies the dangers of rarely having second thoughts about anything better than the current occupant of the White House. President Bush goes to great lengths – including abstaining from reading newspaper articles and books about current affairs – to avoid encountering events, ideas, and facts which might clash with his most deeply-held beliefs. Instead his advisors filter everything for him, up to and including intelligence about countries the President is about to invade. His myopia is so extreme that when asked earlier this year at a press conference if he had made any mistakes during his tenure in office, he couldn’t think of a single one.

This should disturb us because most normal people make several mistakes every day. I can probably think of 10 in the last 48 hours alone. To go three whole years without making a single error of any kind is a feat not even Cal Ripken could achieve. But the unsettling thing is not that Bush stonewalled the press about his mistakes, but rather that he genuinely believes his term to be mistake-free. Coming from a man who has presided over both the greatest net job loss since the Hoover administration and the worst act of terrorism in human history, such steel-jawed resolve seems strange at best, and blisteringly ignorant at worst.

By contrast, Senator Kerry has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to change his mind. After a tour of combat duty in Vietnam, Kerry had a change of heart about the wisdom of conducting a brutal war against a peasant agrarian society with little strategic importance, and became a leader of the anti-war movement. More recently, after voting to give President Bush the authority to use force against Iraq, Kerry has come to the conclusion that he was mistaken. And lest he be accused of undue fealty to the polls, his second-guessing took place before public opinion had turned against the war.

Why do some people, unlike John Kerry, cling to beliefs and positions which are overwhelmingly contradicted by the available evidence? Most politicians, and even some major-league general managers, are very reluctant to flip-flop, for fear that a change of heart will reflect poorly on their ability to make sound decisions. Better to see a bad choice through to the end, they reason, than to admit goofing up in the first place.

Philadelphia’s own Ed Wade labored for six weeks under the delusion that the journeyman right-hander Paul Abbott is a legitimate answer to the Phillies’ fifth-starter problems. Despite the fact that Abbott was consistently abysmal, made it into the sixth inning only twice in eight starts, and sports a career ERA of nearly 5.00, it took Wade more than a month to finally send him packing.

Perhaps more importantly, evidence which contrasts with our core beliefs makes us very uncomfortable. For years I wore undershirts beneath my button-downs, even in the dense heat of the summer, believing that wearing two shirts actually makes you cooler. I liked the way the undershirts looked, and besides, my father had told me it was true, so I really wanted to believe it.

Growing evidence, in the form of persistent sweat stains, ruined shirts, and years of extreme heat-related discomfort, led me to acknowledge, subconsciously, that this belief was mistaken. It wasn’t until last June, battling the oppressive summer heat of Beirut, that I finally abandoned the Two Shirt Doctrine.

I am no different than most Americans, who have the good sense to perform the occasional about-face when things go awry. A year ago the public was solidly in favor of the Iraq adventure. After 12 months of car bombings, roadside ambushes, beheadings, kidnappings, suicide attacks, general lawlessness, and nearly 1,000 dead Americans, that same public has concluded that the whole idea was fundamentally mistaken in the first place.

A thoughtful person is able to revise his or her beliefs in light of new evidence, and to devise an adjusted course of action based on that updated information. Sometimes, of course, the situation calls for resolve, and occasionally the available evidence serves to obscure a deeper reality, but most of the time people just don’t want to admit that they’re wrong. This is one thing if t-shirts or pennant races are at stake, and quite another if it’s the future of the free world.

John Kerry, on the other hand, is the thinking person’s candidate, someone capable of recognizing and rectifying a mistake, as well as staying firm when necessary. So while his aides may not fancy it, I’d like to suggest a new campaign slogan – John Kerry, A President Who’ll Think Twice, Or Maybe Even Three Times.

It’s a sure-fire winner. I think.

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From the RNC's adolescent attack site:
Boy, John Edwards and John Kerry sure look a little too chummy here, don't they? Maybe I should vote for George W. Bush, a man's man who would never be caught looking soulfully into the eyes of a girlie-man Democrat.

Even for these guys, this is below the belt.

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Doesn't this exceed the inflation rate just a touch?
Maybe the valley Bush says we're headed for after climbing all those hills sucks too. The "biggest increase ever" in Medicare premiums seems rather ill-timed for the Bush campaign.

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Movie shorts
The finest film you've probably never heard of appeared in video stores at the end of last month. Broken Wings (****), the first full-length feature from writer-director Nir Bergman, is an astonishing and beautiful rumination on the love that binds families together in difficult times. Orly Silbersatz Banai plays Dafna, a 40-something midwife trying to keep her brood of petulant adolescents and troubled pre-teens together after the family patriarch dies in a freak accident. Banai is magnificent, but the emotional and thematic core of the film is held together by Maya (Maya Mayon), a 17-year-old singer-songwriter aching to break free of the sadness and claustrophobia of her family's existence. Mayon -- who also sings the lovely bit of dream-pop that begins and ends the film -- gives a heartbreaking performance, and Bergman refuses to give in to easy resolutions to the family's multi-layered troubles.

The hottest soundtrack belongs to the hit indie film Garden State (***1/2), written and directed by Scrubs star Zach Braff. The pop soundtrack by underground favorites The Shins, Iron & Wine, and others, is used to great effect by Braff to hold together what is essentially a story of one man's awakening from a decades-long anomic funk. Braff plays overmedicated, struggling actor Andrew Largeman, who returns home to a nameless Jersey 'burb for his mother's funeral, where he tries to reconcile with his estranged father (Ian Holm) and to reconnect with his high school friends, including a bong-toking, nihilist grave-robber magnificently played by Peter Sarsgaard. Along the way he meets the habitual lying and almost certainly manic-depressive Sam (in a career-saving turn by Natalie Portman). While the film stumbles a bit at the end, and seems to skirt some of the more difficult questions it raises about mental illness and pharmacology, it's difficult to resist its charm and its heartfelt earnestness.

Less convincing is Goodbye Lenin (**1/2), a huge hit in its native Germany. Writer-director Wolfgang Becker's tale of East Germany's demise revolves around Alex (Daniel Brühl), a young man whose dedicated socialist mother (Katrin Sass) collapses when she sees him taking part in an anti-DDR demonstration shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall. She remains comatose for eight months, completely missing the capitalist transformation of her country. Improbably, she wakes up in the hospital, and the doctor tells Alex and his sister (Maria Simon) that the slightest excitement could kill her. From that moment on, Alex tries to maintain a fantasy world for his mother in which the DDR still exists and patches over the cognitive dissonance by having a friend record fake DDR newscasts of West German "refugees" pouring into East Germany to escape the decadence and destruction of capitalism. The film is permeated by a weird nostalgia for East Germany, and the central conceit is not particularly original, nor does one ever quite believe such massive deception is necessary. The viewer sympathizes with Alex's girlfriend, Chulpan Khamatova, who at one point angrily questions the wisdom of systematically deceiving this poor old woman. While there are some truly funny moments, like when Alex pays a couple of kids to sing some crappy old East German songs for his mother, the film never quite decides whether it wants to be serious social commentary or farce.

Still, a few genuine and funny moments are much more than anything contained in the straight-to-video bore Shade (*1/2) , which shamelessly rips off a thousand con movies, and doesn't even bother doing it particularly well. The only bright spot is Sylvester Stallone playing against type as The Dean, a master poker shark who finds himself the target (or so we think, nudge-nudge) of a group of thoroughly uninteresting petty hustlers who are trying to save themselves from some kind of mafioso kingpin. Poker afficionados will be disappointed to find that, unlike in the terrific Rounders, there isn't a single real hand of poker in the movie played straight-up. You can find ten times the drama on a single installment of ESPN's World Series of Poker broadcasts.

More satisfying is Girl With a Pearl Earring (***), which tells the (largely fictionalized, it seems) story of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer's painting of the same name. Scarlett Johansson plays one of Vermeer's maids, who gets drawn into the painter's unpleasant vortex of marital dissatisfaction and Calvinist emotional repression. Colin Firth is good enough as Vermeer, Johansson is reliably superb, and the film manages to convey a great deal of feeling without anything much ever happening. Yet one can't quite help feeling that the narrative itself falls short of major motion picture material.

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