Monday, May 30, 2005

Alas, Babylon!

Ed Morrissey over on the Captain’s Quarters Blog has in interesting tidbit here that I find hilariously amusing for several reasons.

Partly, it’s fallout from the howling Democrat wolf pack, chasing Tom DeLay’s “ethical” violations. Partly it’s about the Universal Life Church (I’m deliberately not linking to it, look it up yourself if you must). Actually, I suppose the whole thing is a howler.

This particular piece is about a trip that the granddaughter of Tip O’Neill took, one Caitlin O’Neill, then working as an aide to Nancy Pelosi, she of the very unamusing grimace. It seems Ms. O’Neill went off to Cuba on a trip paid for by the Universal Life Church, while she was an employee of Ms. Pelosi. The stated purpose of the trip was “religious education.” Captain Ed does have a bit of fun with a liberal Democrat going off to Cuba for a religious education at the behest of a church noted for it’s very inexpensive and low-requirement ordinations.

But, my real topic is vastly different. In case you haven’t noticed, the political class in the US has become, for all intents and purposes an aristocracy. In England, if you sit in the House of Lords, you don’t have to worry about being elected except once. It is easier to die in office if you sit in the US House of Representatives or the US Senate than to fail of reelection.

For a long time, I didn’t believe in term limits, it seemed so simple to me: unelect the poltroons who swill at the public trough.

The problem is, they splash so much of the muck about, any more!

The sad fact is, not only are the Republicrat and Demican worldviews constrained by the next election, they don’t actually have, for the most part, any view of the world. Thus Caitlin O’Neill feels free to hop on a jet to Cuba for an entirely bogus trip for an entirely bogus reason; I suspect she returned with a real tan, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that was bogus too.

Our politicians have stopped being representative of their constituents; they’ve become entitled aristocrats who need only be elected on the national stage once, to be entitled for life. Congressional pensions are an obscenity, their pay raises are automatic, and their version of a 401K plan would make most executives in Fortune 500 companies drool.

John Brunner wrote a marvelous novel called the “The Long Result,” in which an alien who survived an aircraft being destroyed in flight by terrorists, tells the protagonist of the story why he isn’t embittered: “When you’re functionally immune [from physical violence] you can afford to be magnanimous.”

Our politicians are immune, very nearly, from the electorate, once elected. They can laugh at us, pull stunts like Ms. O’Neill’s, and still laugh at the rest of us. I think it was Adam Smith who worried about untrammeled democracy; that if the people found they could vote themselves all the money they wanted, they would. Well, he was right: Congress had found out that they can vote to spend all the money in the known universe. The rest of us can debate all we like about “fiscal responsibility,” “restraining spending,” “budget controls” and so on, ad infinitum, but our politicians just smile and vote as they please, because they funds they vote guarantee their reelection.

Time, I think, for term limits. Past time.

I don’t honestly think it will matter at this point, but at least it’s something. Too bad about the states where the legislatures have to vote for term limits: it will never happen in those states, will it? Nor will it happen if we continue to let judges overturn state constitutional amendments that pass with 70% voting in favor, either.

Alas, Babylon!

Sunday, May 29, 2005

EU Constitution Fails in Referendum

The Washington Post has an article on the EU Constitutional Referendum failing in France today.

The vote was pretty overwhelmingly negative, at least in the preliminary report, 57% to 43%. In the article a recent opinion poll on Chirac’s popularity is referenced, standing at about 39%. The article actually says: “Chirac's approval ratings have plunged to 39 percent in recent weeks...”

I was curious about Chirac’s approval rating -- I thought they’ve been poor for a long time, so I looked on the net to see what I could find. I found this in Le Monde. The article is in French, but the numbers are in English (er, that’s a joke, of course... they're actually Arabic). Le Monde is a socialist, opposition paper, there poll results show Chirac with higher negatives among the French than Bush -- Chirac 17% approval, 60% disapproval; Bush 8% approval and 56% disapproval. So it looks like the WaPo maybe got a little hyperbola in their description of the direction and rate of change of Chirac's approval ratings.

Considering that the quality of a poll is relatively dependant on the quality of the questions, I’m in no position to judge these results, but I will, for the sake of argument, assume they are no worse than a typical poll run by any MSM outlet in the US.

Frankly, I think the Europeans would have to be out of their collective minds to adopt the Constitution that’s on offer. It’s five hundred plus pages long and is filled with vague platitudes about governance and rights. The US Constitution has been interpreted to mean quite a few things, no matter how definite the language of the original document. You have to shudder to think what lawyers would do over the next two hundred years to something that long and that vague.

I think if you are going to have a constitution that will work it needs to be short, clear and above all, short.

The list of things that are wrong with the EU could easily fill up books, much less than a thousand words or less (which is what I want to keep my posts at). Right now we have the spectacle of some of the major partners (France, Germany, Italy) busting budget caps, and nominally subject to penalties. Except those worthies announced that budget caps were for the little countries, not them, and have proceeded to ignore the caps -- and the penalties.

It is my belief that the European Union has become a straight jacket on the “old” Europe Welfare states (like those mentioned in the last paragraph) and they will force the rules to be changed for themselves. The “new” European countries will realize that the so-called benefits don’t exist, the political goals of the EU aren’t compatible with their own forms of government, and will either pull out or at least pull back.

I know it’s a radical suggestion, and I know it’s coming from an American, and Europeans aren’t really in a mood to listen anyway, but how about trying to engage the people of Europe in this grand idea: “European Union.” The referendum on the Constitution was the first time, I believe, that the French people got to vote directly on the structure of the EU. The referendum Wednesday in Holland will be the first in that nation’s history. Why would people be enthusiastic about a government they have no say in? Just a question.

UPDATE: I was wrong about the EU Constitutional Referendum being the first chance for French citizens to vote on EU structure, they also voted on the Maastricht Treaty back in 1992. The vote back then was a squeaker, with only last minute opportunings of the French government pushing the vote into the "Yes" column.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Law and Faith

Eugene Volokh writes about a discussion he and Geof Stone had on the Huffington Post about religious reasons for law-making.

The relevant portions are from Eugene Volokh:

[I]t shouldn't matter whether someone supports [laws banning -- or allowing -- abortion, infanticide, the destruction of embryos or chimpanzees for medical purposes, or the killing of members of endangered species might be sound or unsound] because of his belief that laws should turn on the greatest good for the greatest number, his belief that we are all sons and daughters of Gaea and must thus protect our environment, or his belief in the Bible. For most, quite possibly all, of us, our moral beliefs ultimately rest on unproven and unprovable moral axioms. The Constitution doesn't consign those whose moral beliefs rest on unproven and unprovable religious axioms to a lesser citizenship, under which they may not enact their views into law, while others with the same views that rest on unproven and unprovable secular axioms are free to do so.

And Geof Stone:
George Bush appears to have no idea whatever of the difference between faith and morality. He acts arrogantly on the premise that cell-stem research, gay marriage and abortion are immoral, when in fact his views are based entirely on his own sectarian religious beliefs. His opposition to cell-stem research is no different, and no more legitimate, than a Muslim's opposition to Bush eating pork. Such a policy is merely faith masquerading as morality. As such, it is profoundly, blindly, and disturbingly incompatible with a basic premise of a well-functioning democratic society.

Stone’s views, to me, are functionally identical to Bush’s, which makes Stone as arrogant as he says Bush is. People have views of what they consider right and wrong. Even the most ardent moral relativist doesn’t press his wallet on a mugger and add, “Rape my wife and kill my children while you’re at it. Shoot me a few times and leave me for dead.” Nope, the vast majority of us have rules we live by. Bush has things he believes in and pushes for, things he opposes and seeks to block because he doesn’t think they are right. Stone’s ideas are different, but nonetheless there are positions he espouses and pushes for and things he objects to and opposes.

Volokh is correct when he says the Constitution doesn’t intend second-class citizenship on those who disagree with the majority. On the contrary, the Constitution is about protecting those minority beliefs as much as possible within an overall framework of a system that must work in the real world. The American Constitution is famous checks and balances and compromises between parties of differing interests.

I really hold the Left in the United States these days as the group of people who are fracturing our political system. They don’t accord people who disagree with them any respect, they don’t believe in being more than bare bones civil to them (and frequently not even that, consider pie-in-the-face as opposed to pie-in-the-sky).

It doesn’t matter if you are a religious fundamentalist who says “Everyone who doesn’t agree with us, goes to hell” or secularist who refers to the “Christian Taliban in the US” in both cases the people talking are dogmatic, intent on making everyone agree with them, no matter what.

Societies change; it is the inevitable result of growth and the passage of time. Ours has made great strides in the last few hundred years. We’ve given just about everyone in this great nation true civil rights, whether it be in front of a judge in a trial, or getting ready to vote. Race and sex no longer are relevant. Shucks, we’ve made compromises on age as well. We have debates on things like gay marriage that fifty years ago wouldn’t have been open to debate, and that is just one of a thousand things open to any and all of us today that were closed in the not-so-distant past.

However, more and more often of late, it has been small groups imposing their will on the rest of us, unilaterally and seemingly without recourse that has begun to cause some serious backlash. Yes, Christian fundamentalists and conservatives are upset with secularists about the direction their country is heading. And now, the Left and secularists are concerned that the fundamentalists are in charge and they are deeply concerned.

Well, let me tell both groups: the rest of us are concerned about the both of you. Too many of the extremes on either end of the spectrum aren’t interested in dialog and the free exchange of ideas; you want to step on the opposition like cockroaches. You want to do whatever you feel necessary to “save us” from “them.”

Well, we aren’t impressed. We want to debate ideas and beliefs, free of barbed rhetoric and ad hominem attacks. We want to use reason, belief, science -- any tool out there to convince the other side which ideas are best. Be it gay marriage or stem cells, abortion rights or immigration, we want a wide-ranging discussion of the issues, free of rancor and with at least a pretense of hearing out the other side. And, in the course of those debates, yes, indeed, we do want to hear what has informed your beliefs, be it God or your sociology prof at the University.

I suppose it is no more rational to hope for such free debate, as it is to hope to win the lottery. I, at least, am positive I won’t win the lottery, because I don’t buy lotto tickets. But I do like to engage in debate and discussion. Who knows, maybe I can win big in my own way...

No Excuse

*Sigh*

It’s easy to have aspirations about writing every day about interesting things, but the problem with that is to find such topics you have to read quite a lot. What’s the point of writing over and over “I agree with so-and-so?” That, and too many bloggers have comments enabled, which mean the temptation is there to respond at once. Which I’ve been doing -- which does my own blog no good at all.

That, and of course I was watching American Idol and I realized that of Bo, Carrie and Vonzell, I didn’t really care who won because none of them were going to sing something I like in a way that I’d enjoy. I have to say while I admire Simon Cowell, but he has to carry Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson on his back, and each, in their own way, is quite a load to have to haul around.

I rather enjoyed Star Search and I think the judging in that show was head and shoulders above American Idol, although I admit to not being much of a fan of Arsenio Hall’s brand of humor.

In order to get this viewer back, American Idol needs to revamp their judging, at the very least. Another thing they could do is stop hiding the professional development they offer the contestants, and start making a point of it. From wardrobe to makeup, voice and dance coaching, it’s all part and parcel of what goes into making a successful modern performance. Another thing that would be useful is reformatting the results shows. I think I watched only one of them, beginning to end. The rest of the time I’d tune in five minutes before the end of the show, hear the name and be gone a second later; sometimes I just read the results off the news the next day. A little suspense is one thing, but weeks of the same thing, over and over again begins to wear one down.

All of which is my freely non-associative way of saying I will write more often.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

American Idol Results 5-4-05

For the life of me I couldn’t tell if Ryan Seacrest was trying to imitate Tom Wolff with a white suit, or if the suit was pale yellow or tan -- every time he was in a different location the lighting color was different. Sloppy cinematography.

The group song was “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” done about as badly as you can do a song. Bo was his usual self -- the words were muddy. Scott sang clear notes -- about twenty of them -- before they went into a chorus. They did the chorus a whole lot more than they did the verses. Vonzell had a solo part that she sang at the top of her voice, kind of missing the point of the lyrics. If Carrie or Anthony had solos they were transparent to this listener.

At the end of the song I thought Carrie had finally had enough of the whole thing when she walked off the stage early. It wasn’t very good camera work it turns out, and I suspect it wasn’t Carrie who missed her cue to head off; Carrie ended up giving Simon a bouquet of flowers. The other two judges also got them, but I didn't see who handed them flowers because by then the cameras were panning all over the place from bad angles.

There was another Ford commercial with the performers from this week. Ford, guys: Milli Vanilli was a bad idea then, it’s a bad idea now. To put it politely, those voices didn’t match the singers.

Well, finally down to the final three... er no, make that two. Who didn’t see that coming when Bo was part of the gang of three?

Anthony and Scott make the bottom two; Scott gets the hook. The good news is that I named both of the bottom two this time as being at risk and in the great universe of true-false, either-or choices, I once again chose wrong. Oops, yet again.

See also Ann Althouse’s results blog for her take on the ABC “expose” piece on American Idol. She has a stronger stomach than I do... I’d have been ill watching it. Er, wait. I spent the entire evening being ill, which is why this is so late.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

American Idol Review 5-3-05

Tonight each performer did two of the American Idol short-form performances. Lieber and Stoller songs were the first topic.

Up first was Anthony singing “Poison Ivy.” I thought this was a much better performance, including his singing. than what he’s done of late. Randy thought he was out of tune, but he kind of got it together in the end. Randy is “looking for the winner.” Duh! Randy! What have we been doing the last umpteen weeks, eh? You think the contestants are up there trying to lose? Paula liked it but rather would hear torch ballads. At least, that’s what I think she said. One of these days I should invest in Tivo or something... Simon thought Anthony’s performance was
“insipid, amateurish.”

Scott sang “On Broadway.” I thought he did a great job singing, but looked like a total doofus. Randy said he had some bad notes, some pitch problems. Paula said, “you’ve got a lot of moxie” and she’s never heard another version of this song except by George Benson, and she liked it better. Hmmm... I’ve heard a couple of versions of it. Simon said, “probably your best performance.”

Vonzell sang an Elvis song, “Treat Me Nice.” I don’t like singers who start out with “woohoo” and “come on.” The way to catch my interest is to sing a really great song. I thought she was trite and pro forma, and that she ruined a great early Elvis song. Randy disagreed with me, saying "one of the best vocals; you made me like that song. That’s how to win this.” Paula said it was ”a consummate performance with a great vocal.” Simon said, “Overall, I thought it was a bit of a mess.” You and me, Simon!

Bo sang “Stand By Me.” This was one of his more restrained performances, more in keeping with the 1961 debut of the original. He bared his bare chest, going for the high notes at the end. I suspect he knew it wasn’t much otherwise. Randy said, “You are definitely on your way.” Paula said, “It’s always great when you pick a song young and old can sing along with.” And also, “There’s no reason to critique you.” Paula, how many people vote every week? Is that a critque of the performance or what? What is your opinion, just so much chopped liver? Simon agreed with the others saying that Bo had chosen “the best song by a mile.”

Carrie sang “Trouble.” She had straight hair again tonight, but a better “do”, one that didn’t add 10 pounds to her face. Another early Elvis song done poorly. Dude, dudette, I was there. I listened to these songs on the radio, I loved them. They rocked; they made me tap my toes. There’s a reason was Elvis was King and these people are wannabees. Randy said it was a great song choice. Paula said that it was “much fun to see a different side of you, my favorite performance.” Simon absolutely agreed with Randy, “you gave your fans what they wanted.” A note here: this is what Simon says when he thinks you stink, and he’s worried about the ABC expose being shown tomorrow night and he wants to sound nice.

The next song selection was from this week’s Billboard Top 40 hits. I realize the reason none of the songs was named was because we are expected to be up-to-date. Dear American Idol producers: the last time I listened to music regularly on the radio was 1973. I have no idea what the song titles are: if you’re not proud enough to put them up, I’m too lazy to look them up. We got the same contestants in the same order.

Which meant Anthony sang first. About the only thing that stood out for me was what looked like lavender lights playing on him. I freely admit to being a male with some serious color vision problems, but I’m pretty sure I know lavender when I see it. Bad choice, Anthony. A really bad choice. I thought the song and the performance were okay, but nothing to get excited about. Randy found the usual pitch problems, and didn’t think it was that good. Paula said she thought he was suited for songs like this, but there were some off notes. Simon said, “I think you did that very well.” I deduce from this that ABC’s charges have some validity.

Scott said he has a fashion coordinator. Scott, fire your fashion coordinator! The coordinator is making you look like a fat, dumpy white guy who dresses bad. I still like Scott’s voice, but I don’t want to hear lyrics like “I don’t gave a damn” in a family hour show. Old-fashioned prejudice on my part and yes, I use the word myself... but not at dinnertime. Randy used that other “D” word and said, “you pulled it out.” Hey, Randy, I’m a wannabee screenwriter. Talk to me, dawg! I can write you better dialog than this! Paula gushed “I have so much joy watching you tonight, this is your best night!” Scott dissed Simon for his comments last week about packing his bags but Simon remained cool. He said Scott was flat, and that he’d been much better on the first song.

Vonzell wore a nice dress for her second performance and had a more restrained intro. I liked this song about as well as anything she’s sung. My biggest problem with Vonzell is that she just comes across as fake and insincere. Randy and Paula were doing Standing Ovations from in front of their seats. Randy said it was a “perfect vocal, unbelievable.” Paula said it was beautiful and that she loves the song. Simon was more blunt: “I think you are very vulnerable, that you’ve had an off night tonight.”

Bo was even more restrained than earlier, except for his fringed buckskin jacket. Odd, I don’t have any comments about the song or his performance. Methinks the word “unmemorable” might apply. Randy said “dawg” twice, suggesting that Bo was “captain of the dawg pound.” Paula gushed. Simon said Bo’s making the others look like amateurs.

Carrie sang something that I suppose is the modern idea of a ballad -- you could have fooled me. Enya, Loreena McKennitt and host of others sing ballads. Carrie sang boring pablum. Still she was wearing an interesting necklace, a snake, I think. Some of the lyrics went “God bless the broken road” -- guess I’m a hypocrite because even though I’m far from religious I have no problems with that. Randy said it was another great perfect vocal performance from her. Paula thought she sang a simple song elegantly and beautifully. Simon is once again all over the map. He said, “Aside from the fact you sang it a little robotically, you did beautifully.”

Randy’s “dawg” count was four, for five contestants. Still, he got to judge them twice, so I should cut him a little slack. Not!

Deciding who’s out and who’s not is a little tougher tonight. It’s not news to me that I’m projecting my tastes on a national audience and falling a little short... still, I think Carrie, Scott and Anthony are the most vulnerable. I think people don’t want to limit things to just one woman at this point, so I’m going to pick Anthony to get the hook. Too many people remember Rueben, I think, for Scott to get the hook just yet.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Medium - TV Show Review

There is a TV show new this season on NBC called “Medium.” It comes after “Las Vegas,” a program I adore because of James Caan, one of my favorite actors. I’m a hard sell when it comes to the first episode of a new series. Publicize it wrong, have bad reviews and I never bother. Of course, this meant I missed the first season of Babylon 5, but hey, I can learn from my mistakes.

So, when a preview of “Medium” aired mentioning that it is set in Phoenix, I decided to give it a shot.

The show is about a suburban mom whose husband is a rocket scientist, trying to raise three young daughters. She’s bored... and she can talk to dead people -- although in fact, mostly they talk and she listens.

Generally speaking, for the genre, it’s not a bad series. I think they’ve pushed a little too far, too fast with two of her daughters having the same psychic powers, but that’s a judgment call on my part.

No, my single biggest gripe is that it’s a good show, with well-written dialog, interesting characters, clever plot points and geographically adrift. Alison's expired father-in-law is a cigar-smoking hoot.

I’m sorry; if you want to set a series in “Metropolis” feel free to create local geography to suit yourself. But Phoenix is a real place, with real geography. Could you imagine the hoots of laughter that would greet a TV show set in LA, LA being a town in the county of Angel?

In this week’s episode, the backdrop is the “Mariposa County Courthouse.” Gag. Barf. Why not call it the Maricopa County Courthouse? I mean they wouldn’t do this for a show set in LA, New York, Chicago or Miami, right?

Further, this show just has Arizona messed up from end to end. A paralegal assistant to a lawyer is said to be from ASU’s legal intern program.

Sorry guys, but it’s been something that’s irritated people in Phoenix for generations. The law school and medical school in Arizona are at the University of Arizona in Tucson, a hundred and twenty miles south of Phoenix. The rivalry between ASU and U of A is visceral for all of the alumni (at least those of us from ASU). Also there is discussion of a man being seen at a basketball game. I didn’t catch which Arizona university was playing Gonzaga in that game, but the dialog was clear on “it would take 45 minutes to drive from the arena to the murder scene.”

I drive in the old Arizona fashion: whatever is reasonable and prudent. Typically I drive the 120 miles between Phoenix and Tucson in 90 minutes, which mean I average 80 miles an hour. Since the speed limit is 75, not too shabby (ps: my last speeding ticket was in 1978). To drive between Phoenix and Tucson in 45 minutes would mean you'd have to average 160 miles an hour... sorry, these aren’t German freeways.

The characters on this show are human, facing events and situations they don’t understand. The dialog is better than good. The characters face moral dilemmas that would stump a solipsist. The plots are better than most shows on TV.

I’m just totally stumped why the writers can’t manage Arizona geography.