Thursday, November 30, 2006

Slapped, Not Stirred.

I've watched each of the twenty-one films in the James Bond series, in chronological order, over the last nine months. Thus I can say with authority that Casino Royale is hands-down the best movie in over a score of otherwise boorish action flicks, and Daniel Craig is easily the most dynamic, nuanced, intriguing, vulnerable, and skilled actor to portray the titular double-O. And guess what? He's sexier than all the five previous bonds. Guess what number two? He makes Sean Connery look like a flabby, balding, slimy, antiquated, meat-headed Neanderthal in comparison.

After viewing about fifty hours of Bond flicks, I've grown to appreciate exactly how misogynistic the first twenty (and, to a lesser extent, the twenty-first) movies are in their portrayal of women, men, and sex. Women are passive objects, men are violent saviors, and sex exists for male pleasure (or as a way to wrangle top-secret information from naive women). You know, the usual afflictions of any popular cultural output largely informed by male priviledge.

/Commence plot spoilers/ But Casino Royale paints a slightly different picture, much to some viewers' shagrin. Bond seems more interested in playing good poker than bedding a good partner. He only definitively sleeps with one woman, Vesper, whom he eventually falls in love with, and who is clearly the secret agent's intellectual equal. Rather than spending 150 minutes rescuing Vesper from improbable situations, Bond proves to actually be quite bad at rescuing anyone, including himself. If Vesper is a damsel in distress, she can't count on James being her knight in shining armor. Eva Green's character even enjoys the distinction of nearly double-crossing Bond, and only failed deliberately. One disturbing element of the movie, though, was in complying with the theme that the only good woman is a dead woman; the underlying violence toward women is a little hard to swallow, but necessary for the future of the Bond franchise. Far be it from me to choose between a married James Bond and the production of more 007 movies. /Conclude plot spoilers/

Casino Royale
critics having been falling back on the "Sean Connery is the quintessential Bond" argument when defaming Daniel Craig. Maybe this is because Connery helped sculpt Bond's anti-woman demanor over the course of his six films as the character, and the other fourteen pre-Craig* movies took that misogyny and ran with it, thus establishing Bond as necesssarily an anti-woman character. Connery is the definitive Bond specifically because Bond is the asshole Connery made him into. Daniel Craig does not portray a misogynist douchebag version of Bond, so he inherently cannot be what we expect of 007. To which I say, thank goodness.

But why listen to my analysis? Let's let Craig and Sean speak for themselves. Yes, the two men's Bonds aren't clones of the actors behind the tuxedo, but the actors' personal beliefs certainly shine through. Here, Sean Connery explains that it's okay to slap a woman if she's talking too much.** (Not only is that sexist, tasteless, and morally wrong, it's also illegal. Jesus.) Daniel Craig on the other hand, as if to prove how un-Sean Connery he can be, welcomes the idea of having James engage in a gay-themed scene in an upcoming Bond movie. How far in advance can I buy my tickets?

* Or B.C., as I like to say.

** For some reason the anti-feminist propogandists have fooled dullards into thinking that feminists should think that slapping women is acceptable because hitting men is also acceptable and, hey, you wouldn't want women and men to receive unequal treatment! There are so many things wrong with that argument that I'll have to address them in a later post.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Reviewing TNR: George Packer

In his heart-breaking piece "Save Whomever We Can" George Packer demonstrates his understanding of just how horrible the situation in Iraq has become. He doesn't offer a any Pony Plan's to accomplish impossible goals but he does describe one goal which is attainable in withdrawal:

...Those Iraqis who have had anything to do with the occupation and its promises of democracy will be among the first to be killed: the translators, the government officials, the embassy employees, the journalists, the organizers of women's and human rights groups. As it is, they are being killed one by one. (I personally know at least half a dozen of them who have been murdered.) Without the protection of the Green Zone, U.S. bases, or the inhibiting effect on the Sunni and Shia militias of 150,000 U.S. troops, they will be killed in much greater numbers. To me, the relevant historical analogy is not the helicopters taking off from the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, leaving thousands of Vietnamese to the reeducation camps. It is the systematic slaughter by the Khmer Rouge of every Cambodian who appeared to have had anything to do with the West.


We should start issuing visas in Baghdad, as well as in the regional embassies in Mosul, Kirkuk, Hilla, and Basra. We should issue them liberally, which means that we should vastly increase our quota for Iraqi refugees. (Last year, it was fewer than 200.) We should prepare contingency plans for massive airlifts and ground escorts. We should be ready for desperate and angry crowds at the gates of the Green Zone and U.S. bases. We should not allow wishful thinking to put off these decisions until it's too late. We should not compound our betrayals of Iraqis who put their hopes in our hands.

I'm with Kevin Drumm, the only question is whether this plan is practical. I don't really see why not. Surely getting them out of Iraq won't be a problem. Mostly it'll be a question of security. That we'd have to take on the risk of issuing visas to terrorists to make the best out of a bad situation is yet another grim irony for those who saw invading Iraq as a way securing the US.

Tom’s rating: 10/10

Probability of being instituted: 5/10

Pony plan rating: 0/10

Monday, November 27, 2006

A review of the latest issue of TNR

TNR recently put out an issue about Iraq and Aaron said he though I should read it. To do him one better I'm going to read it and comment one article at a time. I'll start with Peter Bienart's piece:
At this late date, the United States has only one card left to play in Iraq: the threat to leave immediately. Except for Sadr, virtually no one in Iraq's political class wants that to happen. We must wield that threat as dramatically as possible, and, if Iraq's leaders don't respond, leave as fast as we humanly can.

The vehicle for this last-ditch effort would be a conference of Iraq's leaders and Iraq's neighbors (along with Russia, which has more leverage over Iran and Syria than we do). The goal would be revising Iraq's constitution to guarantee Sunnis a generous share of the nation's oil wealth (which is practically Iraq's only source of wealth). This is precisely the guarantee that Shia leaders refused to offer after they won the January 2005 elections. And it is the only way to convince Sunnis to accept a new Shia- and Kurd-dominated Iraq. To give Shia leaders an incentive to agree, the United States should offer the biggest carrot possible: not just a continued U.S. troop presence, but a temporary troop increase and a dramatically larger, World Bank-overseen development effort. We should also offer the biggest possible stick: If the conference ends in failure, the United States should begin its full withdrawal that very day. (We'd leave some troops in the neighborhood for operations against Al Qaeda.)

My response: Bienart’s plan might have been a good one a year or two ago. Back then you could argue that Sunnis really were just upset about oil wealth. Now however we’re dealing with a civil war. Sunnis are fighting because they rightly fear for their lives.

But no matter, let’s say Maliki concedes – losing all support from his base in the process – Sadr won’t and he controls the most powerful militia. The militias in turn have the support of regular Iraqis because they’re providing the security and basic services which the central government and US troops couldn’t. So the grand bargain doesn’t disband the major Shiite militias and of course the Sunnis can’t be expected to disband theirs until that happens (have to defend themselves!). The only thing the plan does is destroy Maliki’s political career. And if they do accept the bargain our reluctant soldiers are then stuck dying… for what exactly? Train Iraqi soldiers who will never confront the Iraqi militias because the political leadership depends on those militias? I’m sorry but that’s not worth 70+ dead Americans a month.

Tom’s rating: 5/10

Probability of being instituted: 3/10

Pony plan rating*: 9/10

*See Matt Yglesias:

Anyone who defends Bush's strategy is going to wind up looking bad, because after continuing to fail for a while it will be abandonned in favor of withdrawal. Anyone who advocates withdrawal is going to wind up looking bad, because eventually it will be implemented and bad stuff will happen down the road. Consequently, what you need to go is suggest a pony hunt in some territory where you're sure the administration won't go looking (calls for a regional conference are the center-left version of this) that way when the stay-the-course-until-eventually-you-leave cycle plays out, you get to claim that if only they'd followed my advice the war would have been won. Meanwhile, blame for defeat will be located primarily not on George W. Bush, but on the stab-in-the-back crowd on the left who made it politically impossible for Bush to find the pony.

Why does Mickey Kaus have a job?

Why does Mickey Kaus get paid to write about politics? Mickey Kaus reads a WaPo article on the Medicare drug benefit and wonders :

Now They Tell Us--Tasty Donut Edition: WaPo, which before the election was running stories about the"'devastating'" effect of the Bush Medicare drug benefit "doughnut hole," now reports that the program "has proven cheaper and more popular than anyone imagined."

The cost of the program has been lower than expected, about $26 billion in 2006, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The cost was projected to rise to $45 billion next year, but Medicare has received new bids indicating that its average per-person subsidy could drop by 15 percent in 2007, to $79.90 a month.

Urban Institute President Robert D. Reischauer, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, called that a remarkable record for a new federal program.

Initially, he said, people were worried no private plans would participate. "Then too many plans came forward," Reischauer said. "Then people said it's going to cost a fortune. And the price came in lower than anybody thought. Then people like me said they're low-balling the prices the first year and they'll jack up the rates down the line. And, lo and behold, the prices fell again. And the reaction was, 'We've got to have the government negotiate lower prices.' At some point you have to ask: What are we looking for here?" [Emphasis added]

Reischauer has a deserved reputation for straight-shooting. WaPo couldn't have gotten that paragraph out of him before November 7? 6:44 P.M.

Kaus spends his time marveling that the Medicare drug benefit is proven "cheaper and more popular than anyone imagined." Which really would be marvelous if it were true. I suspect it isn't. I'm pretty sure there was one group that imagined it being cheaper, the congressional representatives who voted on it:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 - The Bush administration offered a new estimate of the cost of the Medicare drug benefit on Tuesday, saying it would cost $720 billion in the next 10 years.

That is much more than the $400 billion Congress assumed when it passed legislation creating the benefit in late 2003.

So is the plan really cheaper than congress thought when they were voting on it? I can't really tell without the new 10 year forecast but from the numbers I'm seeing it doesn't look like it is.

Meanwhile Dean Baker reads the very same article and has some very different thoughts:

Lobbyists and politicians often try to obscure issues when they advocate positions favored only by relatively small special interest groups. They did their job well in helping to frame a Washington Post piece on the Medicare drug benefit.

The article discusses the possibility of having Medicare negotiate drug prices directly with the industry, a position strongly opposed by the Washington Post editorial board. One would be hard-pressed to figure out what is at issue after reading this piece.

For example, the article raises the possibility that if Medicare negotiated prices directly with the industry, it “could drive prices higher.” Yes, this must be why the industry is lobbying so hard against having Medicare negotiate prices. They are worried that it would cause them to charge higher prices and get higher profits.

The article then raises the other potential downside of negotiated drug prices “it could significantly lower drug-company profits and discourage medical innovation.” Okay, let’s check reality here. Absolutely every person I know who supports having Medicare negotiate prices with the drug industry believes and hopes that such negotiation will lower industry profits. This is not a negative side effect of the policy – it is the point.

I read the article and wonder why the Washington Post felt the need to play up the "Democrats are screwed" angle. The article wants to make it sound like the Dem plan of allowing negotiation won't work. But when you read closer you discover that to the WaPo, "won't work" doesn't mean "won't save money" it means "won't save enough money to completely pay for the benefit donut hole ". If true it is a pity but it doesn't seem to be some fatal Achilles heal.

Adding: Granted the article explains that the Democrats hoped the savings would be enough to fill in the donut hole during the campaign, but really, was that some kind of foundational promise that won them congress? A much more accurate reading is that some Dems said they could fill in the donut hole without raising taxes and - though it looked like a good bet at the time - it looks like there might not be quite enough. Not exactly a giant blow.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Mormon Mayhem

Ann Althouse wants us to think that if Mitt Romney's Mormonism is a problem for him in the presidential primary, it's really because liberals brought it up. Uh-huh. Because the Evangelical wing of the Republican party is so well known for its religious open-mindedness. James Dobson, at least, is a little more forthright.

Meanwhile, this non sequitur from Glenn Reynolds is delivered without even the slightest hint of irony. No doubt Harry Reid is reconsidering his plan to run for president as a Republican.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Born Every Minute

I was having a conversation the other night with someone who admitted that invading Iraq was pretty clearly a mistake, but who also expressed her "love" of Joe Lieberman because "he's one of the few people who hasn't changed his position on the war". The midwest is a special place.

To be fair, though, a few days ago my girlfriend and I were discussing the strange things people on the Left Coast think. An old coworker of hers, for instance, rejects dietary supplements containing synthetic vitamins because they lack the "life force" you can get from vitamins extracted from natural sources. Similarly, I was once told at work that grouping students by birthday for a field trip was insufficiently random because we'd be concentrating zodiac signs.

My point is just that I think we tend to underestimate the prevalence of absurd beliefs.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The pro-war liberals long walk back

Oxblog has been on my occasional blog read list for a long time. Like many liberal blogs I like (Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias among them) they supported the Iraq war. Unlike most of the blogs I read they mostly haven't changed their minds. Imagine my surprise when I saw several posts by David Adesnik explaining why he and other Iraq war supporters were wrong:
HOW DOES A LIBERAL HAWK APOLOGIZE FOR IRAQ? That is the challenge facing Peter Beinart and other liberal interventionists. They don't want liberalism to return to the inward-looking dovishness of the post-Vietnam era. But they also must persuade their fellow liberals that supporting the invasion of Iraq was an accident, not a true expression of the muscular liberalism that Beinart and others prescribe.
I've always found his writing insightful - and infuriating - but now it's giving me a clearer view of how some pro Iraq war liberal thought. That they viewed the Iraq war as a way of distinguishing themselves from the "inward-looking dovishness" of certain liberals is no mystery but there are other more basic mistakes that lead many reasonable liberals to support the Iraq war at first.
Clearly, an aggressive push for democracy has not prevented the slaughter in Iraq. Why did I expect it would? Because I never expected the minority in Iraq to intentionally provoke a vicious civil war. In my post I cited the examples of Kosovo, Sudan and East Timor, where minorities were the principal victims of ethnic cleansing or civil war.

Even now, I don't understand how the Sunni minority expects to prevail. After a long interval of Shi'ite restraint, the death squads have emerged. If the Americans go, the Shi'ites will almost certainly prevail, thanks to both their militia and their American-trained army.
Civil wars aren't always embarked upon after deliberation and debate. And just because entering a civil war is not in the interests of a community doesn't mean it's not in the interests of individuals. I mean, how many guys did it take to blow up the Al-Askari Mosque? About six? What was in it for them? Did they think Sunni's had a chance of retaking the government? Most Sunnis don't know how outnumbered they are. Were they just seeking revenge? Did they think a blast could strengthen their hand politically? Were they a terrorist group hoping to turn Iraq into the type of failed state that proved so useful to them in the past? We don't know but perhaps we'll all think about this kind of thing before we advocate going somewhere and blowing it up.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Equality vs. Efficiency

This article (pdf) reminded me of the freedomg vs efficiency thread we had a while back. It talks about how a professor at the University of Chicago was able to effect a fair amount of conservative indoctrination merely by defining the terms of debate:
In the wake of Katrina and Iraq, this might seem quaint, but what Sanderson is doing makes sense. Temperamentally, it reflects his own, libertarian-inflected, “pox-on-both-their-houses” centrism, but his insistence on political equanimity is also crucial to his pedagogical success. Students are most likely to have been exposed to macroeconomic issues within the context of political debates about free trade, the size of the budget deficit, tax rates, etc. In order to assure students that they aren’t just learning a set of political talking points, he must go out of his way to hammer home the fact that what he’s offering is unbiased and nonpartisan: positive not normative, facts not opinion. “I don’t have a dog in this fight,” Sanderson tells the students. So every joke about George Bush is followed by a joke about Hillary Clinton, every shot at a Democrat quickly balanced by a shot at Republicans.

The effect, intentional or not, is that Sanderson appears to represent the exact center of the political spectrum, and that can leave students with a strange perception of just where the center lies. During a discussion of flat, progressive and regressive tax structures, a student asked about the argument against the flat tax. “What’s wrong with the flat rate tax?” Sanderson replies. “Well, the bad thing was that Steve Forbes was the spokesman. It’s not obvious that there’s that much wrong with it. There’s sort of a movement out there for a flat rate tax. Because it strikes some people: What could be fairer than that? It also doesn’t distort incentives. It has a lot going for it.”


Sanderson’s politics aren’t one-dimensional, and he certainly isn’t a propagandist. But the fact remains that he has the predispositions of someone who “learned economics from Milton Friedman.” First, there’s a tendency to see trade-offs between equity and efficiency even where they might not exist. Dean Baker, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and author of the book The Conservative Nanny State, points out that policies can be both fairer and more efficient. For instance, Baker told me, “it is not clear that a flat tax is more efficient than a progressive income tax. This is entirely an empirical question. It is entirely possible that taxing middle-income workers and Bill Gates at a 25 percent rate will create more distortions than taxing middle-income workers at a 15 percent rate and Bill Gates at a 40 percent rate. … They want liberals to say that we care about fairness and they care about efficiency. This is crap. They find ways to justify redistributing income upward and proclaim it to be efficient. The reality is it is not fair and generally not efficient either.”

Where's your Hippocrates now?

I just signed up for Blue Cross health care, and, being the nerd I am, I actually thumbed through my member handbook. In so doing I came across an interesting disclaimer:
Some hospitals and other providers do not provide one or more of the following services that may be covered under your plan contract and that you or your Family Member might need:
  • Family planning;
  • Contraceptive services, including emergency contraception;
  • Sterilization, including tubal ligation at the time of labor and delivery;
  • Infertility treatments; or
  • Abortion.
I knew that some retailers and hospitals allowed their pharmacists to refuse to provide birth control pills or emergency contraception to customers for ethical reasons, but it never occured to me that doctors or even entire hospitals could choose not to offer any family planning or contraceptive services to their patients.

Do health care providers routinely allow their doctors to apply similar categorical prohibitions to other types of health services? For example, are Scientologist doctors allowed to refuse to recommend psychoactive drugs to their mentally ill patients, or refuse to refer such a patient to another doctor who customarily issues those drugs? (Is there such a thing as a Scientologist doctor?) If I were a vegan doctor, could I refuse to issue prescriptions for any drugs that contain gelatin (which is many) or any other animal-derived drugs (including bovine insulin for diabetics)?

I'm very ignorant of the medical world, so I genuinely don't know if there are any analogous policies for other categories of health care like there are for reproductive health services. I can't help but feel, however, that the health care providers and pharmacies pay undue deference to their employees' religious oppositions to patients' basic medical needs.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Let Freedom Ring

The House, the Senate (probably) and Rumsfeld resigning. It's a bright day indeed.

California Election Results

Well, I may disagree with my fellow Californians on many issues, but at least propositions 85 and 90 failed. (And, on a national scale, three cheers to a Democratic-lead House and [fingers crossed] Senate!)

To sift through some very thorough (and very well-organized) California election return data, visit the Secretary of State's election web site. And take a look at the proposition results. And view the proposition returns from Alameda County. And (my favorite part), see maps of each county's results for each race (here're the Prop 87 returns).

These maps help support the prevailing theory that there are in fact two distinct Californias. Long live West California!

Update: To further drive the divisive wedge of geographically mapped voting records into the gaping canyon of American politics, take a look at these fabulous images. Long live the great republic of Urban Coastal America! (And viva GIS!)

Monday, November 06, 2006

RCB's Election Ho-Down

Governor: Phil Angelides. Arnold is a phony who favors image over substance. Phil hasn't proven himself to be reprehensible yet.

U.S. Representative: Barbara Lee. Duh.

And the Rest: Democrats down the line, though some are more supportable than others.

Propositions 1A-1E: No. I like the principles behind each initiative (what kind of clod votes against money for battered woman shelters?), but let's be selective with our bond measures.

Proposition 83: Double No. This is the one called "Jessica's Law" that would put further restrictions on convicted sex offenders. These laws are expensive to enforce, ineffective, invasive, and an affront to civil liberties. Plus, I'm with Kenny.

Proposition 84: Yes. Again, nobody likes bonds. But I care enough about natural resource protection to think that $10.5 billion over 30 years is worth the expense. Think of it as mortgaging the state of California. Besides, as any businessperson will tell you, a little government debt isn't inherently bad.

Proposition 85: Triple No. Forcing minors to notify their guardians before having an abortion will prevent zero (0) unwanted pregnancies. It will probably contribute to many more dangerous self-administered abortions. As the ad with the floating bubble reminds you, not all girls have a functional relationship with their guardians. This law will endanger teenage girls in so many ways.

Proposition 86: Double Yes. If passed, this law would mean a massive tax increase ... to people who buy cigarettes. Cigarettes hurt people and drive up non-smokers' health care costs. All the revenue will go health care or anti-smoking campaigns. The only three groups opposing this bill are smokers, convenience store owners, and tobacco companies; two of those are highly unreputable sources, and the other is just under the mind-control of sweet, sweet nicotine.

Proposition 87: Triple Yes. What Tom said. It's a long-term investment whose payoff you will live to experience (assuming you'll be alive 20 years from now, which you might not be if you don't quit smoking).

Proposition 88: Yes. Who doesn't like schools? Apparently the homeowners who can't shell out $50 a year to fix them. Dude, it costs less than two weeks' worth of lattes.

Proposition 89: Yes. Yay for publicly funded campaigns. But does that mean that Peter Camejo and Arnold Schwartzenegger get the same amount of taxpayer money? I'm confused.

Proposition 90: Triple No. (Not yes. Whoops.) From the CLCV: "Prop 90 includes fine print that would erode our ability to pass laws that protect natural resources, wildlife and habitat; ensure water quality and adequate water supplies; and regulate growth and development. The far-reaching provisions allow virtually anyone to sue claiming a new law or regulation has impacted the value of their property or business - no matter how far-fetched the claim. These new "pay to protect" provisions mean taxpayers pay, or state and local governments would be unable to enact even the most basic protections of our environment and quality of life."

Whew! Don't forget to vote.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Iraq war: A bad idea even with the right number of troops

Is the incompetence dodge still tenable?
1999 war games foresaw problems in Iraq

WASHINGTON - The U.S. government conducted a series of secret war games in 1999 that anticipated an invasion of Iraq would require 400,000 troops, and even then chaos might ensue.

In its "Desert Crossing" games, 70 military, diplomatic and intelligence officials assumed the high troop levels would be needed to keep order, seal borders and take care of other security needs.

The documents came to light Saturday through a Freedom of Information Act request by the George Washington University's National Security Archive, an independent research institute and library.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Bad News, Good News: Pre-Election Edition

Bad News: California's Proposition 85, which would require minors to inform their guardians before having an abortion, is leading in the polls.

Good News: South Dakota's Referred Law 6, which would outlaw all abortions (no, there's not even an exception for rape) unless the pregnant woman's life would be endangered by carrying out the pregnancy, is trailing in the polls. (Also, don't we Californians all look so progressive and enlightened compared to those South Dakotans?)