Alex's Outlook

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Thoughts on The Passion of The Christ 


I saw the Passion yesterday. It was pretty good, very well done given the subject matter. Most of the major complaints are bunk.

There is no anti-Semitism in the movie; the Passion is no more anti-Semitic than the Gospels are. In my ever so humble opinion, the anti-Semitism charge is the most baseless of them all.

The movie is very violent, but not as violent as I expected. It was nothing compared to Kill Bill, and in contrast to Bill the violence of the Passion was entirely appropriate. (Has anybody else noticed how much hell has been raised over the purposeful violence of The Passion compared to the 100+ decapitations, complete with neck stumps spouting blood, featured in Kill Bill?) The only place where Gibson employed license was when Jesus was mauled before being presented to the crowd. In the most gruesome scene in the movie, one of the torturers takes out a cat-o-nine-tails thing with a metal barb at the end of each tail. The barbs dig into Jesus' skin and take away a healthy chunk of flesh when they come back out, and Jesus' blood spatters the crowd. Many critics dismissed that as completely gratuitous, but it made a point--Jesus' blood is on everyone.

Another complaint bounced around the media echo chamber a lot was that the movie placed too much emphasis on Jesus' death, and not enough on his teachings. Firstly, I think the fact that Jesus went through infinite torture and crucifixion for what he believed in (and rejected all opportunity to recant) is much more inspiring than Jesus' beliefs themselves, which received plenty of play anyway. So that charge is bunk too. (Maybe the liberals were waiting for the line about the rich passing through the eye of a needle before getting to heaven and were infuriated when they didn't get it.) Or something.

The acting was quite good, although everyone except Jesus was pretty much a prop. There just wasn't a lot of room for nuanced Tom Hanks-style acting.

Satan was particularly well done imho--a silent, malignant presence moving through crowds, a pack of kids with the characteristic Satan mutations (a random deformity on someone supposedly indicated that he was a devil). You have to see it to understand it, but I liked the way Gibson did it.

The only thing I'd say was not as good as it should have been was the sadism (not violence). There was just too much laughing going on when Jesus was being tortured, it was weird. If something weird had happened while they were torturing him, and the torturers had then burst out laughing, that would have been ok. But laughing at the torture itself was over the top. However, considering how cheap life was and how "entertaining" taking life was, I can give Gibson the benefit of the doubt on this one. After all, this was an era when people were butchered and eaten by animals as entertainment, and when boxers wrapped spiked iron bands around their wrists to gouge their opponents' eyes out. One walks away from the movie amazed at how cheap life was before Jesus' time.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Gay marriage amendment is the lesser of two evils 


I really do not understand the conservative objections to gay marriage. I think that it would strengthen the institution of marriage. I also think that homosexuality is a biological trait, and any sanction the law would give homosexuality is irrelevant as far as the number of gay relationships is concerned. It would increase the rewards of gay monogamy, which would significantly cut down on AIDS infection rates (homosexuals are an extremely polyamorous group). I think that the religious right's objection to it is nuts. The only thing going for the anti-gay-marriage amendment, from my perspective, is the message it would send to judges--that further legislating from the bench will get slapped down by a constitutional amendment if necessary. Unfortunately, since the amendment has no chance of passage, it will have the opposite effect. Judges will be emboldened by yet another victory. Policy-wise, this bill is a total loser.

Politically, Bush has to support a ban-gay-marriage amendment in order to retain the allegiance of our religious allies. It is their due, after all; the religious right has supported us neoliberals for a quarter century now, and rhetorical support is the least we can give them in return. Not that the amendment's going anywhere; it has a bare majority of the public's general support, and does not have the requisite two-thirds vote of Congress. Roe v. Wade had vastly more opposition, and 21 years later remains the law of the land. ERA had vastly more support, and was defeated. Amending the constitution just doesn't happen with 51-55 percent of the public's support. So, politically, Bush gets to fortify his base, and he won't pay much of a price in the short run. As time goes on, however, the Republicans will pay a price for this--the younger generation supports gay marriage; religious conservatives will become further demoralized by yet another Republican pledge not delivered upon; and, obviously, valuable, articulate Republicans who happen to be homosexuals (Andrew Sullivan) have bolted the party. I have a feeling that the Log Cabin Republicans' days are numbered...

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Fiscal sanity beginning to prevail in DC? 


Today the Senate rejected extending unemployment benefits, which cost the government $85 billion last year.

WASHINGTON - A Senate measure to extend federal unemployment benefits failed by two votes Thursday despite the election year support of 12 Republicans from states hit hard by layoffs.

Democrats tried to attach the amendment to a gun liability bill, but it failed 58-39 in the GOP-controlled Senate.

The measure would have extended the emergency benefits program for six months, providing 13 weeks of extra unemployment benefits to people who exhaust their state benefits ? usually after 26 weeks.

It might seem annoying that twelve Republican senators bolted on this, but I'm sure it was orchestrated beforehand. The vast majority of votes are pre-ordained, and "close" votes are usually just about giving as many senators/reps in the winning party political cover. Eg, Elizabeth Dole wants the bill to fail, so she confers with Bill Frist. Frist tells her he has the votes needed to terminate the measure, so Dole can vote whatever way would be more politically advantageous--against Frist if she wants to showcase "independence" and "pragmatism," or for Frist if she wants to bolster her street cred with the base.

Unfortunately, some safe Republican senators voted for the bill unnecessarily. They include George Voinovich of Ohio (Remember George? He was the guy who halved the 2003 tax cut in the name of budgetary sanity, but now wants more unemployment benefits and $375 billion in highway $$$). Kit Bond of Missouri, Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter and John McCain of Arizona also went over to the dark side. We already knew McCain and Specter were RINOs. Voinovich and Bond are fairly new to the pork-barrel-GOP scene, and would be good targets for the Club for Growth to knock off in their respective election cycles...

Speaking of elections, if you are interested in giving money to influence the 2004 elections, you couldn't do better than sending it to the Club for Growth. The Club is the most powerful free-market interest group within the GOP; you can think of it as the NRA of tax cuts and smaller government, although it doesn't have nearly as much muscle as the NRA does (yet). The Republican Party will not be forced to embrace free markets and smaller gov't for real until laissez-faire conservatives can build a powerful political organization of their own, much as the NRA has done with the Republicans and the pro-choice lobby with the Democrats.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Bush pulls out the long knives (finally) 


I've long been part of the chorus demanding that Bush roll up his sleeves and start throwing dirt, because his "above the fray" attitude has just gotten him mucked again and again by the venomous vituperations of Democrat presidential nominees, especially John Kerry.

Today, Bush apparently threw his failed nonpartisan strategy out the window:


WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush took the offensive on his re-election campaign Monday, casting Sen. John Kerry as a waffler and warning that the Democrats would raise taxes, expand the government and fail to lead decisively on national security.

Previewing his principal re-election theme, Bush made national security the centerpiece of his revamped re-election speech, explicitly invoking the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He questioned the credentials of the Democrats who want his job.

"The action we take and the decisions we make in this decade will have consequences far into this century," Bush told 1,400 people at a fund-raiser for Republican governors. "If America shows weakness and uncertainty, the world will drift toward tragedy. That will not happen on my watch."

In his 40-minute address, Bush mentioned none of the Democratic presidential candidates by name, but some of his sharpest criticism was unmistakably intended for Kerry, the front-runner.

"The other party's nomination battle is still playing out. The candidates are an interesting group with diverse opinions," Bush said. "They're for tax cuts and against them. They're for NAFTA and against NAFTA. They're for the Patriot Act and against the Patriot Act. They're in favor of liberating Iraq, and opposed to it. And that's just one senator from Massachusetts." His supportive audience erupted in laughter and applause.


Once Bush begins dishing back what he's getting, his polls should get a little padding, and that should improve more as he begins hitting swing states with strategic ad buys. Kerry's no-holds-barred vituperations are simply begging for retaliation, given his record as perhaps the most unprincipled politician in Washington history. (Now that's an accomplishment.)

Seeing how every single retaliation by the GOP, no matter how lukewarm, "impugns Kerry's patriotism," Kerry seems more than a little defensive about his paper trail in the Senate. Every time he brags about his three scratches in Vietnam, he only cheapens it even more. What is so revealing about Kerry is not his bravery in Vietnam, but rather his wearing his medals on his sleeve as an entitlement to inflict character assassination on Bush and receive no retaliation at the same time.

Islam's ascent continues in the UK 


Our libertarian friends across the Atlantic are worried:

I can think of all manner of intriguing discussions could be sparked off by this report in the UK Sunday Times:
MORE than 14,000 white Britons have converted to Islam after becoming disillusioned with western values, according to the first authoritative study of the phenomenon.
Some of Britain’s top landowners, celebrities and the offspring of senior Establishment figures have embraced the strict tenets of the Muslim faith.

The trend is being encouraged by Muslim leaders who are convinced that the conversion of prominent society figures will help protect a community stigmatised by terrorism and fundamentalism.

I rather hope it is but my ambitions are irrelevant. The question is whether this is just a conversion du jour among people with a God-shaped hole in them or whether this is the start of Islam making serious inroads into native British society. If it is the latter then it certainly has some way to go. Out of a population of some 59 million or so, I don't think a mere 14,200 could be called statistically significant.

The more interesting question for me is not in the number of conversions but the type and class of the converts. Assuming the article is accurate, the overwhelming majority of the converts are among (for want of a better term) the 'rich and famous'. Now why is that, I wonder?

And just how different from the history of Christianity in these Islands which took hold in Roman Britain as very much a working-class movement and which filtered up to the ruling elites.


Islam's rise in Europe certainly does have eerie parallels with Christianity's ascent in the late Roman Empire. Europe today is at least as hedonistic and morally bankrupt as Rome was, and it's not surprising to see a new, radical belief system take root as a reaction to the collapse of the previous one (Christianity).

Unfortunately, whereas Christianity's takeover of Rome was peaceful, I think that Islam's victory in Europe will be anything but, assuming immigration continues at current rates (which is admittedly doubtful). Sunni Islam, which is under the theological control of the extremely violent Wahhabis, lacks paleo-Christianity's convenient nonviolence clause. The overwhelming majority of European immigrants, as well as worldwide Muslims, are Sunnis.

Even if the rest of Europe follows in the Netherlands' footsteps and cuts immigration off, the European "pay-go" pension systems will collapse, along with tax receipts and economic activity. At least we don't have to worry about a nascent European superpower...unless it becomes Muslim-majority, that is...

Shame on the NYT 


It was pathetic enough that the New York Times made Noam Chomsky an op-ed columnist contributor. You thought the NYT couldn't go any lower than that...and then you got this whopper:

2-3-04: "Veterans Move to Kerry, Even from Afar":
"I don't think I could vote for George Bush again when I think of the 500 people killed in Iraq and what's happened to the economy in this country," said George Meagher, an independent, who runs the American Military Museum in Charleston and said he now favors Mr. Kerry.


2-22-04: "Disenchanted Bush Voters Consider Crossing Over":
"George Meagher, a Republican who founded and now runs the American Military Museum in Charleston, S.C., said he threw his "heart and soul" into the Bush campaign four years ago. He organized veterans to attend campaign events, including the campaign's kickoff speech at the Citadel. He even has photographs of himself and his wife with Mr. Bush.


So the Times manufactures two blatantly anti-Bush articles by going to the same guy each time for negative quotes. How can any conservative or liberal who values intellectual honesty read this newspaper??

(Hat tip: Instapundit)

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Ralph's baaaack! 



I don't know which would be more gratifying - watching Bush massacre Kerry and sweep in Republicans down-ticket, or watching the Democrats lose because of Ralph Nader *again*.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

...or maybe Kerry's lead hasn't evaporated. Or who knows? 


I am not sure I have ever seen this before:

  • Gallup, which typically favors Bush, favors Kerry by double digits (12 points).
  • A University of Connecticut poll shows a dead heat (Kerry 46-45 +/- 3).
  • And of course, as cited below, Rasmussen reported a 48-43 Bush lead.

    I'm not sure what's going on. Where did this ridiculous disparity come from?

    Even if Gallup's right, it is only relevant insofar as it gives Kerry more steam for the nomination fight (which is good). Kerry's rise has been due to the enormous positive press coverage received by Democrats generally during the nomination process, their relentless Bush-bashing and the baffling silence of the White House. The more the Dems' vituperations pass unanswered, the more they will sink in and the harder they will be able to dislodge by 30-second TV ads. I daresay Rove is waiting for a single candidate to appear before he begins counterattacking, because I can't think of any other reason to keep taking so much flak.

    Bush might as well stop staying "above politics" and at least defend his policies on their philosophical merits, even if he can't attack a particular opponent. Playing "Mr. Presidential" might have worked for Bush if he hadn't spent the post-Saddam windfall throwing various bones to interest groups (*cough* Medicare bill *cough* Mexican amnesty *cough*) that have only backfired since.

    UPDATE:Pollster John Zogby, whose polls have historically been among the most favorable to Democrats, has Kerry leading Bush 46-45 in blue states - and Bush leading 51-39 in red states. Looks like the Gallup poll is crap.

  • Kerry lead evaporates 


    Now I'm really starting to get concerned. Kerry's lead against Bush has evaporated two weeks too soon. The Kerry bubble needs to stay alive until after Super Tuesday on March 2, so he can clinch the nomination.

    Edwards is getting some serious momentum from his 39-35 "loss" (victory) in Wisconsin. With Dean's final collapse, if Edwards gets Dean's endorsement we will once again have a race. The problem is that Kerry's support is largely predicated on "electability," and the Polier affair may be giving some Democrats second thoughts. Electability is a rather precarious base, and it could be that the Democrats' support is lurching to Edwards because they now perceive him as more electable than Kerry. Which would be sad. Hang tough, JFK!

    Tuesday, February 17, 2004

    The scandal that isn't--yet 


    First all the rumors, then Alexandra Polier's father calling Kerry a sleazeball. Then a couple days' hiatus...her parents declare that they will vote Kerry for president. Alexandra, still in east Africa, says it's all a lie. Do I smell smoke?

    I remain firm in my conviction that Kerry's lead is a bubble waiting to be pricked, once it's too late to change horses for November. The Yale Fair model is reassuring - it's one of the most accurate presidential predictors around, and it predicts that Bush will gain 58.7% of the two-party vote. I'm thinking 54-55 percent myself, but either way it's a blowout. Kerry couldn't win a single Southern state including Florida even if Robert E. Lee were his running mate, and his pathetic defense/values record will torpedo him in the Midwest and Rocky states too. I'm also eagerly anticipating Kerry's negative coattails in the five open southern Senate races.

    According to Bob Novak's subscription-only Novak Report, "many Republican strategists think Kerry is highly vulnerable--more so than Dean."

    The Polier situation would be great icing on the cake, but I don't think it will be necessary. Kerry's Northeastern hauteur, uberliberalism and total lack of principle will get buried by Bush's $100 million-plus bankroll. I can't wait.

    Thursday, February 12, 2004

    Is it possible?

    In an article remarkably devoid of its typical anti-Bush invective, al-Reuters reports that Alan Greenspan has thrown his considerable weight behind making the tax cuts permanent and cutting spending, instead of raising taxes.

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan on Thursday lent support to a White House bid to make $1.7 trillion in tax cuts permanent, telling Congress spending control was the best way to cut the budget gap.

    "I am in favor ... of continuing the tax cuts that are in dispute at this particular stage," the influential central bank chief told the Senate Banking Committee, wading into a contentious election-year debate.

    "I would argue strenuously that it should be taken out on the expenditure side."

    Greenspan's initiative seems fortuitously timed with a House Republican initiative to slash government spending for FY 2005. House conservatives have prepared a very ambitious set of budgetary reforms that will rein in the senior appropriators (Ralph Regula and Don Young), constrain the future growth of government and cut current outlays.

    The package, containing close to a dozen reform initiatives, would also rein in House appropriators who are viewed suspiciously by many conservatives as a third party, independent from Republicans and Democrats.

    [...]

    Ryan said the GOP leadership has been receptive toward the proposals and has promised to give them floor consideration, even though the reforms would make it tougher for leaders to shepherd controversial legislation through the House.

    Most important, the initiative would give the budget resolution the force of law. This would significantly constrain the ability of GOP leaders to circumvent the budget, which is viewed by lawmakers more as a roadmap than an ironclad constraint on spending.

    [...]

    For example, the $534 billion Medicare bill that Congress passed last year would have died in the House for having exceeded budgetary limits had GOP leaders not waived those limits with a floor rule.

    In addition, the package calls for the growth of discretionary and entitlement
    spending to be capped at the rate of inflation.

    Conservatives also want to abolish the practice of designating spending as “emergencies,” a tactic that allows congressional leaders to circumvent fiscal constraints because such items do not count against the discretionary spending ceiling.

    Another proposal would give the president the power to target and eliminate wasteful spending in appropriations bills. Presidential proposals to eliminate such spending would be given expedited consideration from Congress.

    “I happen to agree with a lot in there,” said Castle of the conservative budget reform package. “I feel very strongly that you need some of these processes in place.”

    Mike Castle is the leader of the moderate House Republicans. If he goes along, the unified moderate and conservative wings should make this a slam dunk. Passing a budget only requires a majority vote, so the Republicans can probably squeak it by even in the face of ironclad liberal opposition.

    Wednesday, February 11, 2004

    Kerry wraps it up

    Edwards and Clark are not even competitive on their home turf. It might seem silly to say that Kerry has wrapped the nomination up, given Dean's incredible implosion, but the fight is basically over now. February 17 brings Wisconsin, where Kerry leads by a mile; that will set the stage for a massacre of the non-Kerrys in New York and California on March 2.

    Kerry's Tennessee and Virginia wins had the happy side effect of driving Weasel Clark out of the campaign. Clark's demise was one of the few things I actually got right about this crazy primary.

    Sunday, February 08, 2004

    Bush and Meet the Press

    I have mixed feelings about Bush's performance this morning. If I were he, I would have thrown in the towel about WMD (while acknowledging the distant possibility of finding WMD later) and focused on the other reasons for the war: planting the flag of freedom in the heart of the Middle East, undermining Saddam's support for Palestinian terrorists and talking up Saddam's connections to other terrorist groups. Keeping the WMD thing alive just looks bad.

    A lot of people besides Bush were wrong about WMD; it's time to move on. But at least he conceded that the WMD intelligence was substantially wrong, which was better than I expected.

    I thought Bush was very effective in responding to the Kerry/Michael Moore slander about the National Guard - it isn't true, he has opened his records to prove it, and you can denigrate me but don't denigrate the National Guard.

    There was too much of the "We're hunting down the maniacal ruthless killers" fare. Tedious. You've already used that phraseology about 99999 times. No need to flog a dead horse.

    Explaining away the $521 billion deficit as "it's all the war's fault" is stupid. Bush has been fiscally reckless. On the upside, he did take a stand against Congress' bloated transportation bill, but he got the details wrong. "I understand that the Senate version is about $370 billion and the House's is somewhat less than that"? Actually, the House version is the $370 billion one, and the Senate's is $311 billion. Pretty minor, but to me it crystallized Bush's careless attitude about domestic spending. The deficit issue could get really ugly if the Democrats decide to generate a PR debacle for Bush by voting en masse for the bill and helping the corrupt big-spending Republicans override Bush's certain veto. The deficit is doing Bush major damage, and he would have spared himself a lot of grief by acting earlier to put fatcat spenders Ted Stevens and Don Young (both R-Alaska) on a leash.

    Politics roundup

    Kerry smoked Dean in Michigan and Washington state, which was expected. Dean is going for a futile last stand in Wisconsin. Kerry has the nomination wrapped up.

    The Conventional Wisdom seems to be that Edwards will be Kerry's VP, but Edwards wouldn't help Kerry at all. Gephardt would be a more intelligent choice, in my opinion. Kerry will get zero votes down south no matter who his veep is, and I'm not sure Edwards would get any of the South either. Bill Richardson (moderate, popular governor of New Mexico) would be a good choice too, just to keep the Southwest competitive. Hillary would be formidable...but I think she is more intelligent than that. Kerry is going to lose badly unless Hillary signs up with him, in which case Kerry would lose closely.

    What's interesting about the Democratic primary is that the party base is so fickle. First it was Kerry, then (briefly) Gephardt, then Dean, then Clark, now Kerry again. The Democrats will have the same buyer's remorse with Kerry that they've had with everyone else, but it's too late. Better Kerry than Clark, who at least has the "southern moderate" and "war hero" veneer. Kerry's war record is somewhat more two-sided, with allegations of blowing away a dying Vietnamese soldier and publishing a book with a picture of students mocking the battle of Iwo Jima with an upside-down American flag. (Although FrontPage is admittedly not the most objective source...)

    Wednesday, February 04, 2004

    The Real Deal Express Rolls On

    Not a good day for Edwards. Edwards smoked Kerry in South Carolina, which he simply had to do. But he could have knocked Clark out of contention by winning Oklahoma and monopolizing the anti-Kerry vote. As is, Clark won Oklahoma by a fraction of a percent, keeping his campaign on life support. He's still not going anywhere.

    Unless he had won Oklahoma and SC himself, Kerry couldn't have asked for a better set of results. I almost think splitting Oklahoma and SC between Clark and Edwards was a better result than Kerry carrying Oklahoma himself. Clark and Edwards now have to compete for the South, while Kerry gets to monopolize the rest of the country. Dean is marshaling his resources for a last stand in Washington and Michigan, or maybe the twin pillars of the liberal Democrats - New York and California on March 2. Those are big markets, though, for which Dean will need a lot of money. I don't know what the CA and NY polls show for Dean, but I think he'd be better off ducking Michigan and Washington state to minimize the hype those wins will create for Kerry. Then he could make a last stand in Wisconsin a week later, or go all-in on March 2 in California and New York. Either way is a very long shot for Dean, and Kerry is almost certain to win the nomination, with Edwards as his veep.

    The Bush Drop

    Quinnipiac: Kerry 51-42.

    CNN/Gallup/USAToday: Kerry 51-46.

    Newsweek: Kerry 48-46.

    Should we care, given that Kerry pretty much clinched the nomination yesterday? No. Kerry's had a media bonanza with his primary victories. He has at most a few million dollars. Bush has over $100 million. Voters are aware of Kerry's Vietnam medals; they aren't aware that he's the biggest shill for special interests in the entire Senate, that he voted to slash defense spending in the 90's, that he is more liberal than Ted Kennedy himself. Kerry's numbers are ephemeral.

    That said, a good part of the drop is Bush's own fault. His fiscal gluttony over the last three years will land us a $600 billion deficit once the Afghan/Iraqi appropriations bills are factored in. His Hispanic amnesty program was nakedly political, and dead on arrival in Congress. His callow submission to Republican congressional appropriators has alienated moderate deficit hawks. There's no question that Bush has demolished his, and the GOP's, reputation for fiscal discipline, and he hasn't appeased anyone who likes big government: the Democrats will always simply drag the spending debate further to the left, as they have now. The deficit is a major issue for independents (I think second behind national security), and Bush forfeited it. As long as he calls for spending restraint and anti-spending legislation without vetoing any bloated Congressional appropriations bills, he will only damage himself further. If he were serious about restraining the growth of government (up 30 percent in his first term), he would have already used the anti-spending tool available to him: the veto pen.

    I never thought Republicans would get a scintilla of political gain by spending like French socialists on anything besides national security, and it would be sad if GWB had to forfeit a second term to learn that fact. I still think he will win a second term, but by pirouetting to the left he has made his defeat somewhat more likely.

    It was somewhat heartening to see that, deep in the recesses of Bush's 11-pound, $2.4 trillion budget, he has called for the elimination of 63 programs and cutting the budgets of another 65, including the politically sensitive EPA and Agriculture Department. The deficit explosion has forced the GOP to choose, and it's choosing spending cuts - albeit token ones - over tax increases. Bush has a ways to go yet, but it's a modestly good first step in the direction of fiscal responsibility.


    Tuesday, February 03, 2004

    Predictions

    Kerry wins everywhere except Oklahoma and South Carolina. Leaning Edwards for both, but Clark could win Oklahoma. Kerry has a good chance of carrying SC, too.

    Any of the top three (Kerry, Edwards, Clark) could carry North Dakota. It counts for something just because it could give Clark's or Edwards' campaign some much-needed bragging rights.

    Kerry has effectively been anointed frontrunner. He will win Missouri, Arizona and New Mexico without trouble. If he carries SC and Oklahoma too, I think he'll have the nomination cinched.