Stock Tips, Anyone?
Here's a case for internet stocks, and in particular the unstoppable juggernaut, ebay. It makes sense, though, as eBay has been ingrained into the very fabric of America. I myself am an avid eBayer. It's like mini-venture capitalism at its best! Go to garage sales and auctions. Buy boxes of comics, christmas decorations, books, and other odds and ends and then list them on eBay. Turn a profit and do it again. What could be more American?
Two Movie Reviews
I managed to get to the theater for two movies this weekend and I offer you my humble opinion of them.
My wife and I generally go to a movie approximately every other Friday night. The negotiations over which movie we will select are often quite extensive and each of us are quite satisfied with ourselves when we manage to get the other one to sit through a movie that we know they wouldn't otherwise attend. "Pirates of the Caribbean" was my choice for this weekend and the satisfaction of having managed to negotiate my way in the door was quite fulfilling. My wife had been opposed to seeing it since we first saw a preview a few months back. The previews got a lot of play out of the undead pirates with scraps of skin still clinging to their bones and so forth. She's not a fan of the horror genre (and neither am I for that matter) and she felt certain that it would be far too "gross" for her to enjoy it.
In the end though, she actually did enjoy it. I'm certain that I enjoyed it more than she did, but we both had a very good time. The basic plot of the movie is that a band of pirates stole an ancient Indian treasure of gold coins. This treasure was cursed and anyone who removed a single coin from the stone chest in which they were stored was cursed to live as a being half alive and half dead. As the captain of these pirates declared, "The moonlight shows us for what we really are," which is rather ghastly skeletons. The special effects guys did a wonderful job on this and the pirates look quite realistic as they walk in and out of the moonlight, seamlessly changing from skeletons to normal men and back again. The pirates have reclaimed every coin that was taken from the stone chest save for one and the plot revolves around their attempt to get that last coin back from the daughter of a colonial governor in a West Indian island. Johnny Depp plays the role of Captain Jack Sparrow, a pirate rogue who did not share the fate of the other pirates in the movie and who works to rescue the governor's daughter while also pursuing his own agenda. Depp's character is what really makes the movie as good as it is. He portrays the pirate captain as perpetually tipsy, though you always have the feeling that his drunkeness is more a ploy than a reality, used to keep his adversaries constantly underestimating him. He plays Sparrow flawlessly and I think the movie is worth seeing for his performance alone.
The other movie I saw was "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas." I saw this one with my six-year-old son who had been asking me to take him to it since he first started seeing the commercials for it a few weeks ago. He's very fond of pretending to be a pirate and swinging his imaginary sword around, vanquishing foes by the hundreds, so a cartoon movie about pirates seemed perfect to him. The movie itself has a bit of star power, Brad Pitt is the voice of Sinbad, his love interest is voiced by Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Michelle Pfeiffer voices Eris, the goddess of discord who is the antagonist. As with most movies aimed at young adults, there are some gaps in the plot line and some things that we are expected to accept a bit more readily than an adult crowd is acustommed to (the main catalyst for the intrigue in the movie is "The Book of Peace" a book that somehow protects everyone from turmoil when in the hands of the good guys. How a book does this, I do not know....). But overall, it is good lighthearted fun with enough action to keep older kids interested. It also has a nice moral to the story as Sinbad makes a difficult decision at the end that requires him to be virtuous even at risk of his own life. My son enjoyed it a lot. I'm sure there will be a lot more swordplay in my house in the next few weeks.
As I write this, I see that "Sinbad" has dropped out of the top ten at the box office this week, so it is likely that it will be gone from theaters this coming week, but I recommend it on video for any of you that have kids in the 5-13 range.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave an exceptional speech before Congress yesterday. Every time I read this man's words or hear him speak, I become more and more impressed. Here is a sample:
"There is a myth that though we love freedom, others don't; that our attachment to freedom is a product of our culture; that freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law are American values or Western values; that Afghan women were content under the lash of the Taliban; that Saddam was somehow beloved by his people; that Milosevic was Serbia's savior. Members of Congress, ours are not Western values. They are the universal values of the human spirit, and anywhere (applause) anywhere, any time ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the same: freedom, not tyranny; democracy, not dictatorship; the rule of law, not the rule of the secret police."
"That's what we're fighting for, and it's a battle worth fighting. And I know it's hard on America. And in some small corner of this vast country, out in Nevada or Idaho or these places I've never been to but always wanted to go (laughter) I know out there, there's a guy getting on with his life, perfectly happily, minding his own business, saying to you, the political leaders of this country, "Why me, and why us, and why America?" And the only answer is because destiny put you in this place in history in this moment in time, and the task is yours to do. (Sustained applause.)
"And our job my nation, that watched you grow, that you fought alongside and now fights alongside you, that takes enormous pride in our alliance and great affection in our common bond our job is to be there with you. You're not going to be alone. We will be with you in this fight for liberty."
Good stuff. The comparisons that some people make between Churchill and Blair are not without merit. It strikes me that a figure like Blair is what the Democrats have been lacking. In fact they may not have had such a man since FDR. I think the Democrats might have a chance in the upcoming election if they had a leader who spoke on international affairs with the character and strength that Blair displays. The Democrats seem to think they can beat Bush on the war issue, when in fact I think their only hope is to support him on the war effort and criticize his economic policies.
James Lileks sums up my thoughts on Blair perfectly:
"Blair is, at heart, a socialist; I’ve no time for half the stuff he wants and most of the stuff he’d agree to. But he’d get my vote. We can argue about the shape and direction of Western Civ after we’ve made sure that such a thing will endure."
Graham Slips into Absurdity
As if his op-ed piece in Newsday wasn't bad enough, now Sen. Bob Graham, a Democratic presidential hopeful, has raised the stakes and suggested grounds for impeachment may exist against President Bush. He is careful to state that such grounds would only exist if President Bush led us to war "under false pretenses," but again, the question must be asked: What pretenses does Sen. Graham, and the other Democrats harping on this Niger/uranium link, think we went to war under? Was a recent attempted purchase of uranium from Niger the only acceptable pretense for the war? Were the laundry list of violated UN resolutions not a factor? Did the stockpile of WMD that Hussein never accounted for post-1991 not weigh into the decision? Was Hussein's lack of cooperation with weapons inspectors unimportant? Did the long list of human rights abuses by Hussein and his regime mean nothing in the final determination?
Anyone with any sense knows that the case against Iraq was broad and multi-layered. Even if the British intelligence that showed an attempted purchase of uranium from Africa (not just Niger) proves to have been untrustworthy, it doesn't mean that the coalition did not have good cause for going to war. It doesn't even mean that Bush used "false pretenses" to get there. It just means that intelligence is fallible. Sen. Graham already knows that. But he is undoubtedly enjoying the headlines that include President Bush's name in the same breath as the word "impeachment."
It's sad when the Democrats are looking this desperate a year and a half before the election.
Sporting News features this article on the most dangerous ballpark obstacles.
Michigan GOP Wimps Out
Very disappointing behavior among the Republican leadership in Michigan. Ward Connerly, the chief force behind Proposition 209 in California that ended racial favoritism in that state, announced plans to get a similar measure on the ballot in Michigan earlier this month. Since that time, much to my dismay, it seems that most of the Michigan GOP party structure has been actively and publicly working against Connerly's efforts. Says GOP chairman Betsy DeVos, "I fear that this proposed ballot initiative would only serve to further divide people along racial lines which would be entirely counter-productive. What we need now, and what would be best for our state is to commit ourselves to reducing racial tensions and focus on policy objectives that unite us as Americans."
Good lord, get me a barf bag. Just for the record, this is the operative text of the California proposition. Let's see if it sounds "divisive":
"The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting."
So... ending race-based preferences, i.e. putting an end to government sponsored discrimination against people based on their race, is not a goal of the GOP in Michigan? In fact, according to DeVos, it would be "counter-productive." Excuse me? Making the government live up to the principles of the Declaration of Independence would be "counter-productive"?
Now I'm not so foolish as to think that most of the Michigan GOP actually support affirmative action or other policies which consider one's race as the key fact in determining value. According to John J. Miller at NRO, "It's no secret that the White House doesn't want a civil-rights initiative on the Michigan ballot next year, in the belief that its presence will boost turnout among black Democrats in Detroit without doing much to energize the GOP base — and thereby delivering a small blow to President Bush's reelection hopes." And this is precisely what bothers me most about the GOP in the last several years. I fully support efforts to make GOP candidates as electable as possible. I am not one to anchor myself so firmly to principle that I allow the enemy to succeed. But this is taking that notion to the extreme. Bush won, admittedly quite narrowly, without Michigan in 2000. He is much more popular today than he was then. Yet, the White House and the Michigan GOP are willing to actively oppose a measure that is supported by the party's platform merely on the off-chance that it might bring more Democrats to the polls in a single state. This is leadership without purpose and we don't need that.
The Flatulence Tax
In an effort to maintian high standards, I give you this: New Zealand farmers are outraged at the government's attempt to tax the "emissions" of their cattle and sheep. So much so that they've begun an interesting form of protest. I'm sure this tax gives U.S. lawmakers something else to think about...
THE HOUSE OF THE FUTURE
The PC house of the future features a bathroom for everyone!
Graham Joins the Fray
Sen. Bob Graham, one of the many unimpressive Democratic candidates for President in 2004, has an op-ed in New York Newsday today. His comments seem to me to be typical of what the Democrats are trying to spin and so much of it is demonstrably disingenuous or just plain false, that I don't see how it can really become much of a rallying point for them. Here are some quotes from the piece:
"To justify a pre-emptive war with Iraq, President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other high-level officials selectively used - and may have misused - intelligence information to make the case that Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to his neighbors, to U.S. interests in the Mideast and even to Americans here at home."
There simply is no evidence to indicate that this statement is anything more than the top item in Sen. Graham's campaign wishlist. Certainly the ongoing failure to find WMD in Iraq is troubling, but it certainly is not evidence that those WMD never existed or that the United States and her allies were not justified in feeling threatened by the Iraqi regime. There is much more to the case for war than simply finding warehouses full of anthrax and VX gas. Democrats are under the impression that the American people do not understand that there were deeper issues. That is both condescending and false.
"President Bush and others said high-strength aluminum tubes being shipped to Iraq were to be 'used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon.' In fact, the International Atomic Energy Agency said the tubes were not for uranium enrichment but for conventional weapons."
Indeed. For conventional weapons that also violated Hussein's cease fire agreement that ended the 1991 war. Fine, so Hussein didn't buy the tubes to break his agreement about nuclear weapons, he bought them to break his agreement about the types of conventional weapons he would produce. Either way aren't we still dealing with a leader who is recklessly violating international agreements?
The Democrats don't seem to understand that the American people, by and large, supported the removal of Hussein. The people continue to poll favorably when questioned about the war and criticisms of the war are likely to fall on deaf ears among the general populace. The danger that the Democrats face is that their candidates who supported the war and have been resisting the temptation of criticizing President Bush and the administration may not be able to run successfully in the primary. Already Joe Lieberman, once considered the odds on favorite for the nomination, seems likely to drop out unless his fundraising efforts improve in the short term. At the same time, the most outspoken war critic, Howard Dean, once considered a long shot for the nomination at best, is the current darling of the Left. If this trend continues, the Democrats may face a problem that has plagued Republicans many times in the past. The candidate that emerges from their primaries may not be electable.
Will the Democrats Really Be Able to Spin This?
The Democrats really seem to be going full throttle at this "Bush lied" attack and I honestly can't see why. What is amusing is that there are increasing numbers of liberals that are speaking out about the vacuousness of their claims.
The Democrats seem to think the fact that Bush said "[t]he British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" in his State of the Union Address, and that the documents that the United States had that purported to show an attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium from Niger have turned out to be false, is proof that he lied or deceived the American people. Huh? The British government still stands by their claim and it stands to reason that Hussein may have attempted to buy uranium from multiple sources in Africa. I gather that, surprisingly enough, Africa has several other countries besides Niger. And even if it turns out that American and British intelligence was not as conclusive as was first thought, how is this equivalent to lying? Intelligence reports are never going to be 100% trustworthy. You just can't expect that given the nature of the business.
The Democratic position seems to be that those 16 words in Bush's speech were the key to the entire invasion and that if they turn out to be false in any way, the administration had no justification for the war. I don't think the American people are going to buy the notion that we wouldn't have had cause to invade Iraq pre-emptively if Hussein wasn't seeking uranium. Far more important is that the Bush administration defends itself from these charges vigorously and explains why the information we did have was compelling enough to justify our actions. I don't think this is really a difficult exercise, but it is a necessary one.
Tom Brokaw for President?
Yes. The very idea is chilling. But it makes me wonder, if he won and he gave a speech on television, would he still be on afterwards to repeat exactly what he said one more time as if we all didn't just listen to the speech?
A Falcon Book Review: Moneyball by Michael Lewis
"Billy Beane was a human arsenal built, inadvertently, by professional baseball to attack its customs and rituals." This, in essence, is the key foundation of Moneyball. Beane uses reason and science to dismantle the superstition and wrongheadedness that has been engrained in baseball for decades. A compelling story about how a failed "can't-miss" prospect (Beane), with a few loyal lieutenants, turns one of the major league's poorest franchises into consistent winners. Along the way Beane dispels one classic baseball myth after another. Learn why statistical analysis is far better to evaluate players than searching for athletic tools. Learn why On Base Percentage is the most important stat in all of baseball. Learn why the sacrifice bunt and the stolen base are a defeatist strategy.
Billy Beane, and his philosophies, are not without enemies. The unthinking baseball traditionalists will continue to dismiss his approach, and its success as "luck". They will point at Oakland's lack of World Series success as the penalty for not playing "little ball". Yet, Beane is a pioneer in the game, and as other organizations fall into line with his thinking (Toronto and Boston, so far), the time is coming where "old baseball" will have to face "new baseball". The results of the conflict will resonate through the grand old game, and will have far reaching consequences.
Lewis' work flows like a fine work of fiction. He certainly understands Beane's vision, and presents it in a clear and concise manner. If anything, Lewis may be TOO worshipful of his subject, but in watching Beane's machinations and intelligence at work, that can be forgiven. The book is a "must read" for hardcore baseball fans, and an interesting read for the more casual...
While I'm less likely to pull the handle for Senator Voinovich (he's sure not loyal to his party-why should I be loyal to him) than my esteemed colleague, I wholeheartedly agree that Springer has little chance at derailing the Voinovich express. When Springer's chief fundraiser is selling bumper stickers, T-shirts, and his own rockabilly CD's, it's clear that there's much more to overcome than his former talk show's reputation of "profanity, fistfights, cheating spouses and incestuous relationships."
Jonah Goldberg on Jerry Springer
Jonah Goldberg has a devastating piece on Jerry's Springer's quixotic candidacy for the US Senate in Ohio. There's not much left to say that Goldberg didn't cover. My personal favorite is the reference to Springer as "the human incarnation of a burning bag of dog droppings." Indeed.
One point to make though. Many of my co-workers, who are not ignorant of politics by any means, believe that Springer may cause real trouble for George Voinovich in the coming election. Now I am no big fan of Voinovich, but assuming it came down to the two I would have no hesitation in marking my ballot for old George. However, I just can't see Springer being anything more than a sheep for the slaughter the same as every other candidate the Ohio Democratic party has had on the statewide ballot for the last ten years. A significantly more recognizable sheep, surely, but I don't see that Springer has a real chance in the general election.
My co-workers draw the comparison to Jesse Ventura in Minnesota, and while there are some parallels, I think the differences that exist are massive. First of all, Ventura never took his wrestling days too seriously in his campaign. He made light of it and he didn't do anything foolish like try to make us all believe that it was a real sport and not merely entertainment. This helped his credibility immensely. Springer, on the other hand, tries to convince us that his show is just a chance for the common man's voice to be heard. He tries to use it to show us, his potential voters, that he is one of us. A common man, not some fat cat Washington elitist. This is disingenuous and I think most people recognize him for what he is, an exploitative opportunist who makes money at the expense of other people's stupidity or naivete.
Perhaps more importantly, there are significant differences in the political landscape that existed in Minnesota then and Ohio now. Minnesota had two very weak major party candidates that year who had failed to make much of a mark for themselves. The governor's position was also an open seat. Running against a popular incumbent, such as Voinovich, is much more difficult than achieving a plurality against two non-incumbents.
Further complicating the task for Springer is the fact that Ohio requires its voters to register at least 30 days prior to an election. Minnesota has same day registration. This reportedly led to a large influx of college students voting in Ventura's race and may have been enough to tip the race to him. In Ohio, Springer will have more work to do if he wishes to achieve a similar feat. The "yokels" and "hicks" that he claims he will win over are notoriously unreliable voters. Furthermore, if by "yokels" and "hicks" he simply means rural Ohioans, Springer hasn't a prayer. Rural Ohio is extraordinarily Republican and not likely to vote for a candidate of Springer's moral standing in any great numbers.
It takes a massive grassroots effort for Democratic candidates to get their base to the polls. The Ohio Democratic Party in its current state is in no position to undertake such an effort. Springer's pockets may be deep enough to make that happen, but I doubt his ability to organize a successful get-out-the-vote effort. I may be proven wrong and I'm not suggesting that Voinovich should take Springer lightly, but my extremely early prediction is that Springer loses to Voinovich, 40%-60%, if he runs.
"According to legal lore, after Sandra Day O'Connor graduated from Stanford Law School, a law firm at which she interviewed was only willing to offer her a job as legal secretary. The wrong-headedness of this decision was decisively demonstrated a few weeks ago, as Justice O'Connor along with a number of her colleagues, both male and female determined that the Constitution does not ban racial discrimination, even though it does, and does ban discrimination against homosexuals, even though it does not. Anyone intelligent enough to be a legal secretary would not have made mistakes like that."
That's gonna leave a mark.