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Thanksgiving
It should have been some kind of big deal or scandal that I hadn’t celebrated Thanksgiving with my family, in America, since 1997. Back then we were discussing this movie “Titanic” which was going to come out and obviously make no money and become a legendary bomb. Shortly thereafter we relocated to a suburb of London, and our first English Thanksgiving was marked by my mother forgetting to make stuffing, which was my favorite part of the goddamn holiday. We had one more Thanksgiving in Blighty, then I shipped off for college, where I spent holidays with family friends to save the trouble of flying back to the east coast. No family has ever adapted more swiftly to my habit of reading books at the table when I get bored. Bless ’em.

Actually, it was the smoothness of these alternative Thanksgivings that made this real one seem so mellow. For the first time ever I had to navigate T-Day traffic – and it sucked! When I got home, the kitchen being used to prepare the meal was in familiar shape – mom stuck behind the sink, dad or brother getting occasionally in the way – so there wasn’t anything especially celebratory. Plus, after a few minutes we started eating in front of the TV. How unmagical can you frigging get?

Same old song

So CNN is on above my desk, and Wolf Blitzer is interviewing Joel Mowbray about the threat of Iran, and Mowbray is saying something about how no one doubts Iran wants to build nukes.

On Sept. 11, 2002, Mowbray wrote this column.

Over the last 14 months, Saddam has been scrambling to acquire thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which are used in centrifuges to enrich uranium. Saddam has been meeting with his top scientists in recent months, and Iraqi defectors have told us for years of his insatiable hunger for nuclear weapons.As an administration official explained, there are only three reasons to develop nuclear weapons: 1) as a response to a neighbor with superior conventional forces, like what Pakistan faces with India, 2) to counter an enemy’s nuclear program, and 3) to terrorize your neighbors thru some combination of blackmail or actual attacks. Iraq does not fall into the first two categories, and Saddam’s past actions alone make clear his designs.

Oh, and there was this.

The International Institute of Strategic Studies this week released a study, which found that Saddam could be merely months away from functional nukes under the right circumstances.Iraq’s eventual acquisition of nuclear capabilities is not even disputed by critics of an Iraq attack, such as former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. Every day we wait is another day we grant Saddam to build his arsenal of terror. Saddam may or may not have played a role in 9/11, but that is irrelevant—he could very well mastermind the next 9/11.

Again – I just saw this wanker* on CNN talking about what “everyone knows” about Iran.

I think it’s time to give Stephen Glass his own CNN show.

*originally a ruder word. Sorry, Joel.

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Hey, Cliff May!
On The Corner, you wrote this:

From the far left all the way to the center left, commentators are arguing that President Bush should appoint Cabinet members who disagree with him, who don’t share his vision, who aren’t eager to implement his agenda.

So why is it that these same commentators are not demanding ideological diversity on the campuses? Why don’t they want some young professors who will tell the superannuated hippies and old New Leftists that their vision is wrong, and their agenda outmoded, foolish and destructive?

Universities don’t have nukes. But thanks for playing!

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DVD review: Freaks and Geeks
(Note: I kinda wrote this on Friday, but my Firefox browser crashed, which happens every time I try to write more than 500 words in the browser instead of Word. Que sara sara. So this new post is less arty and more descriptive of what I like about the show.)Nostalgia for the belle epoque of Jimmy Carter has been with us ever since 1980 or so, but I think it was put on steroids with the 1994 release of Richard Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused.” The Texan director’s second movie, after the slice-of-life comedy “Slacker,” sent us into a high school on the first day of summer vacation in 1976. It was obviously compared to “American Graffitti,” but critics noticed that this movie was as cynical as George Lucas’s 50s movie was starry-eyed. The key line, spoken by half-assed rebel Jeremy London as he tries to avoid signing a drug-free pledge for the football team, was “If these are the best years of our lives, remind me to kill myself.”

Importantly, this was a new kind of nostalgia movie that said except for the music, life was no better when we were teenagers. More importantly, the movie totally bombed. So it became the template for Paul Feig’s series “Freaks and Greeks.”

Feig, an actor and writer of middling success, has not said a lot about whether “Dazed and Confused” inspired his shaping of this show, but the resemblence is close enough to make the leap – and the same stuff that made “Dazed and Confused” work is at work in his show. D&C was set 18 years before the movie came out, and F&G begins in the fall of 1980, 19 years before the show premiered. The setting is recognizable, and the interactions of the characters wouldn’t change that much if it were set a decade later, apart from the social mores. But their awkward relationships and aptitude for learning things the hard way could play out the same in a show set in 2004.

The protagonists are a high school junior, Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini) and her family, brother Sam (John Daley) and parents Harold (Joe Flaherty) and Jean (Becky Ann Baker). When we meet her, Lindsay is a smart kid who’s bored and deciding to rebel. We can tell this is a conscious decision because she’s bad at it – when the bad kids go out trashing houses on Halloween, she kicks a pumpkin too hard and gets her shoe stuck in it. This was a terrific and telling (and possibly unintentional) metaphor for the very identifiable Lindsay character. She’s got a feeling that the Mathlete crowd is dragging her down, and she’s cute enough to break in to the semi-popular crowd.

But like in “Dazed and Confused,” being in the semi-popular crowd (and even the popular crowd) is not an unalloyed boon. The life of a geek, as obviously tortuous as it is for the characters, seems pretty fun. Sam and his friends Neil (Samm Levine) and Bill (Martin Starr) goof around quoting Bill Murray and Steve Martin and not worrying about AIDS and fake IDs. When Sam actually gets a chance to date his dream girl, her shallowness and meanness drives him nuts. Still, “Freaks and Geeks” never allows a lesson to go unchallenged. One early episode has a pretty new girl start at the geeks’ high school, and Sam, Neil and Bill manage to charm her into hanging out with them. They’re convinced having a pretty girl in their circle is against the laws of nature, so after a few 007esque attempts to keep her from joining the in crowd, they set her free – and when she still sort of wants to hang out with them, they’ve so bought into their social rulebook that they don’t even notice.

The freaks – Lindsay’s new friends – are in some ways a little more enviable, and in some ways a lot less. They’re not very smart. Ken (Seth Rogen) is witty but lazy, Nick (Jason Segal) is a flake who got kicked off the basketball team for stashing pot, and Kim (Busy Phillips) is a bitchy bully. Then there’s Daniel Desario (James Franco). In any other show, the badass rebel would be Lindsay’s off-on love interest the Ross to her Rachel, the Niles to her Daphne, etc etc. Problem is, Daniel is not a sitcom rebel. He’s drawn to be real – he’s not bright, he’s dishonest, and he manipulates all the girls who fall for his charm. This isn’t presented in a malicious way. It’s just the way Daniel is, and Lindsay eventually realizes what she’s letting herself get into by humoring him.

It’s never enough to say a show’s “realistic” and praise it to high heaven. But the pathetic realism of “Freaks and Geeks” is the undergirdings of a funny, warm show about high school, and how if it’s the best years of your life you should kill yourself.

Coming next … episode-by-episode.

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Reports of their demise
Outside of blogdom, it looks like the Democrats have their shit together.

The prescription of Third Way — whose name derives from the idea that there should be an alternative to conservative and liberal orthodoxies — is by no means free of controversy. Some Democrats believe that Bush, who organized his administration and reelection by keeping his conservative base loyal and energized, showed that softening ideological edges or seeking common ground with opponents is not a winning strategy.

Among Third Way’s programs will be a “New South” project, aimed at crafting policies and political strategies for cultural and values issues that have played against Democrats in that region in recent decades. The project will be led by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), a vice chairman.

Third Way will also conduct a national security retreat and craft policy initiatives on health care, taxes, tort reform and Social Security reform — all identified by Bush as key items on his second-term agenda.

The group plans polling to help Democrats find more effective political language to advertise their policies, similar to the way Republicans embraced the phrase “death tax” to describe the estate tax.

“You can’t create policy around message,” said Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), another co-chairman. “But there is something important about finding the right message when you create policy.”

I bolded the bit about language because it’s the one thing Democrats have not done right at all since around 2001 and the “patients’ bill of rights.” Language really matters. That’s why in his stump speeches, Bush’s position on taxes was “our tax system is a complicated mess and we will reform it.” Taxes are a mess! Reform is good! All simple stuff to disguise the lack of a popular program (Don’t tell me a 28% national sales tax would be popular. I’m from Delaware.)

The reason I thought Kerry would win the election was his last-minute surge among voters on the “fighting terrorism” question. I figured if Kerry pulled even on that issue, Bush had nothing. 2004 didn’t turn out that way, but if the Democrats put together smart rhetoric to match their policies on war and taxes and economic issues, they’re going to come roaring back.

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Do it! Do it now!
The much-maligned Kos has a reasoned, factual post on what should be done to drag America’s voting system out of the mid-20th century. It’s good to read this. On the one hand, Kos’s decentralized diaries have been going crazy with claims of “VOTE FRAUD,” and Kos isn’t going there. Also, the evidence of the last year is that Kos has a little bit of pull with the national Democratic party. Not much – certainly it’s as antagonistic as anything else. But if he’s concerned with it, it’ll get into the ears of the honchos.

That would be a very good thing. It’s absolutely vital that America update and fix its election system. Europe’s elections are quick and clean and kick the shit out of ours – and when Europe is making us look bad, we should ask why. We need a centralized database that makes the wasteful and perennial claims of fraud and counterclaims of intimidation (from poll watchers alleging fraud) obselete. For Christ’s sake, we need to ease the huge lines on election day. That could happen with a national database and more machines.

And obviously – obviously – we need a standardized, checkable system for casting ballots. We need optical scan or paper-trail e-voting machines. On election day, I voted on a WinVote system that worked just like an ATM, minus the receipt. This is a disaster waiting to happen. Imagine an election taking place in, say Oklahoma, and a freak electrical storm knocking out a few dozen precincts, including the central location of the voting machines. The electronic votes would be wiped out. There’d be no way of counting them.

There was a bill in the last congress mandating a paper trail for all elections (Rush Holt’s Voter Confidence Act). It should be reintroduced and passed unanimously. This isn’t about party loyalties or conspiracy theories. It’s about making elections easier and preventing a historic disaster.