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I was wrong
I’ll be honest, I predicted France would actually ratify the EU Constitution, and it didn’t. Nothing to add but the conventional wisdom – voters of the left AND right saw an opportunity to smack Chirac, and took it. And the EU’s a sort of victim of its own success, with its ambitious expansion across the continent inspiring some backlash from citizens of the “Old Europe” nations that founded it. It was expanding too fast, and now it’s going to re-enter the wheeling and dealing hustings again. Probably not a bad thing.

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“Unleashed”
I just saw the new Jet Li movie, and while it was generally excellent, the moment that keeps coming back to me occurs in the heated final battle.

Morgan Freeman smashes a flower pot over Bob Hoskins’ head, and he says: “That fella could talk some serious shit.”

I mean, seriously: Awesome.

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He’s back (the man behind the blog)
Sorry ’bout that. Spent the weekend in Delaware and unexpectedly got hired again at USAT while working on some freelance articles, so I’ve been busy. Here’s some stuff I meant to blog.

– I met Harry Shearer – star of “Spinal Tap” and “A Mighty Wind” and voice of a gazillion Simpsons characters. I was at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, and a singer-songwriter type named Judith Owen was playing piano, accompanied on bass by … Harry Shearer. Of all the random occurances in my life, that about takes the random cookie.

During the set Shearer has a solo bit, which he uses to play “Loco Man,” a song by the fake “Folksmen” band in “A Mighty Wind.” This is good, because when I talk to a celebrity I always want to mention a subject they hear less about. For example, if I met the RZA, I’d talk less about “36 Chambers” and more about what he thought about the availibility of Shaw bros. movies. Anyway. A while after the set is over, after most of the crowd is gone, I amble over to the stage where Shearer is chatting with a guy holding a Spinal Tap DVD. I figure if this guy just buttonholed him to get a signature, I can chat, too.

“Hey, Mr. Shearer, I just wanted to thank you for playing ‘Loco Man’.”

Shearer laughs. “Oh, thank you! Did you get to see us when we played the 9:30 club?”

“No, I don’t think I’d moved to town yet! Were you switching off bands?”

“Oh yeah, we came on as the Folksmen, and Mitch and Mickey came on and the New Main Street Singers came on, and we ended with everyone coming onstage.”

“Oh, I’m sorry I missed that. I love all the music from that movie. You actually got me into folk music I hadn’t heard of before, like Ian and Sylvia and Gordon Lightfoot.”

“That’s great!”

“I’m actually a huge fan of all your stuff, all the Christopher Guest movies. Just keep doing exactly what you’re doing, it’s great.”

“I’ll try! Thanks! Nice to meet you!”

Sharing this story with some friends, I learned that Shearer has a reputation as a dick. That may be true if he’s forced into a junket or something, but if you catch him playing music he’s the nicest guy in the world.

– I purchased “Chappelle’s Show” season 2 on DVD. The reviewer at USAT had a copy of this lying around since early April, which was really starting to weigh on me, but I caved and bought it with an estimated seventy billion other people in the Tysons Corner Best Buy. (One guy bought three copies.) I’m one of the holdouts who thinks season one was about as good as this season – c’mon, nothing is funnier than the Fisticuffs sketch. (“Turn my headphones UP! Turn them shits up!”) But it’s definitely glorious to finally have the skits from season 2 – black Bush, Rick James, “is Wayne Brady gonna have to choke a bitch?” and so on. The DVD insert telling me to “watch new episodes Tuesday 10 pm!” is definitely bittersweet.

– I saw “Star Wars III” and “The Aviator.” I’ve got epics up to (holds hand at forehead level) here.

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Moviedom
I am still, still catching up with the films of 2004, and I saw a new 2005 movie, all in the last few days.

Saw – Excellent first 2/3, absolutely irritating final 1/3. This suffers from the “Face/Off Conundrum” – the director (or whoever), having a handful of cool final-scene ideas, is unable to pick one and ends up piling climax on top of climax, until the heroes have blown six attempts to take out the villains and we just don’t CARE anymore.

Outside of that, this was better than I expected. Director James Wan borrows a lot of tricks from “Seven” but applies them to a more slasher-iffic horror movie, lingering over murder scenes, devising creepy atmospheres for characters to get lost in. Acting is awful, but the movie passes the horror-film acid test – the grisliest scenes really burrow into your medulla.

Kinsey – It’s weird remembering how much buzz this got. That was probably a combination of entertainment writers’ (and wacko conservative groups’) interest in a “moral values” hook after the election, as well as the fact we had very few Oscar-bait movies in 2004. In a better year this would have flown under the radar. It’s a very attractive biopic, gripping for parts, but mostly rote.

The performances are uniformly stellar. Liam Neeson starts awkwardly (his accent doesn’t fit), but as Kinsey becomes more popular and more stressed, he shrinks to fit the role. Laura Linney communicates at least four times as much as her dialogue allows. My single favorite role was probably William Sadler’s cameo as Kenneth Braun, the sexual predator who gives Kinsey reams of research after demonstrating how he can ejaculate within ten seconds of whipping out his penis.

But the plot gets less and less interesting as Kinsey gets famous – the part where he’s travelling the country to research his first book is just as dry as such a scene can be. Odd, because “Gods and Monsters” was so lively.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – For all the lousy reviews, this is actually as good an adaptation of a comic novel as I’ve seen in years. It strikes just the right tone, alternating between funny scenes and cartoon “pages” from the Hitchhiker’s guide, to move the plot along without missing any gags. There are whole scenes (like the sperm whale) lifted from the book, which would be utterly jarring in a normal movie, but gel nicely here.

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You said the magic word!
As Julian put it so well last year, dowdification – grabbing quotes out of context to bash your opponent – was a sorry mainstay of the presidential race. I had hoped it would end when the election did. But the conditions for it haven’t changed – there’s an ever-increasing amount of bloggers and hacks who think people saying mean things is worth talking and talking and fucking talking about. Often it’s not as much taking things out of context as it is taking phrases from 2000-word speeches and raising hell about them.

Exhibit A is this Santorum thing. Senators are currently debating judicial nominees with the usual melange of talking points and goofy visual aids. During his speech, Rick Santorum reached for an analogy to demonstrate how dumb Democrats’ talking points were. So he said “The audacity of some members to stand up and say, ‘How dare you break this rule!’ It’s the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in 1942 saying, ‘I’m in Paris. How dare you invade me. How dare you bomb my city. It’s mine.'”

Clearly Santorum wasn’t saying “Democrats are like Hitler.” He was trying to think of a way of saying “you just made up this rule, and you’re pretending it’s always been around!” and he grasped for a historical metaphor everyone in this History Channel-infected age would grasp. But he mentioned Hitler, so every liberal with a grudge saw an attempt to “gotcha” him, and they took it.

The same thing is happening with Howard Dean, which, let’s face it, was damn predictable. For some reason Ron Fournier thinks it’s incredibly fascinating that in a stemwinder at a Dem fundraiser, Dean said DeLay should “go back to Houston where he can serve his jail sentence.” As Fournier puts it, “the Texas Republican has not been charged with a crime, but Dean said he would not apologize.”

Seriously, who gives a shit? This is how normal people talk, isn’t it? I certainly hear this talk all the time about the non-convicted-of-crimes Bill and Hillary Clinton. I sure enough hear people call their politicians “crooks,” or samesuch mean names.

I do understand how this talk can piss people off. But then I’ll see it bandied about by Robert Novak or Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity. Hannity, who’s never heard a “Ted Kennedy murders people” joke that he wouldn’t tell. Limbaugh, who called Tom Daschle “el Diablo.” Novak, who’s … fucking Robert Novak. These people aren’t actually offended or convinced Dean has stepped over the line. They just pretend to be offended to push their political ball a little further.

Please stop it, everyone. You’re embarrassing yourselves.

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Godwin Strikes Back
I’ve heard all the commentary about “Star Wars” as anti-Bush propaganda. I’ve even seen the MoveOn/”Star Wars” ad. (To imitate Democrats paraphrasing Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “MoveOn, I beg you not to help me!”)

But … lacking Michael Medved’s Judeo-psychic powers and not knowing Lucas’s own intentions when he wrote this story, I think the media/politicos are pulling a postmodern violation of Godwin. That is, they’re assuming a story that resembles the Third Reich is actually about Bush.

When the first of the new trilogy opened in 1999, I figured the political side of the plot was a Hitler allegory. To recap: Scheming Senator Palpaltine, who’s precipitated a crisis in the Galactic Republic, gets the Senate to vote him Chancellor with increased powers. This is kind of Hitler doggerel – Hitler was a nowhere politician until the economy crashed and his Nazis started winning the 2nd-greatest amount of seats in the Reichstag. Hitler cleverly picked his battles and manipulated the Reichstag until Kurt von Schleicher fucked up the governing coalition and Hindenberg gave Hitler the chancellorship. This is very well known, and it’s what I thought of when I saw “The Phantom Menace.”

The new movie’s political plot seems to mirror the Reichstag fire and the subsequent granting of Hitler’s dictatorial power. I mean, the Third Reich is automatically what I think of when I see an allegory about a bad guy taking over an empire. Dunno why everyone has agreed that now that allegory = Bush.

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Facts? Facts are for communists!
Before I tried to parse this whole Patrick Hynes column, I came upon this bit.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of Americans below 125% of the poverty line was 21.3% when Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society war began in 1966.

The Great Society “war” on poverty began in 1966? Really?

Because it is right, because it is wise, and because, for the first time in our history, it is possible to conquer poverty, I submit, for the consideration of the Congress and the country, the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964.

The Act does not merely expand old programs or improve what is already being done.

It charts a new course.

It strikes at the causes, not just the consequences of poverty.

– Lyndon Johnson, March 16, 1964

I think I’m going to write a column about how Bill Clinton triggered the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1993.

UPDATE: Heh. I made the mistake of reposting this on Hynes’s blog, and he and his commenters go on a tear against me (I’m alternately called a “geek” and a “dickhead”). In Hynes’ defense, I went out of my way to say his stuff was “worthless” as long as it contained factual gymnastics like this, which was rude. I really have nothing against him – snarky-and-oft-misguided commentary on articles is what this blog does. (“Does best”? Let’s stick with “does.”) I get called on it all the time. Usually my critics use more grown-up insults than “dickhead,” though.

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Dean-bashing
It’s perfectly all right to point out that Howard Dean makes over-the-top statements, but this Robert Novak column holds him to a bizzare standard.

He has described the Republican leadership, in various venues, as ”evil,” ”corrupt” and ”brain-dead.” He has called Sen. Rick Santorum, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, a ”liar.”

Novak links all these quotes together, boom-boom-boom, but the Santorum quote was by no means over the top. Here’s the context.

On (ironically enough) Meet the Press in February, Santorum had this exchange with Tim Russert.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Santorum, your Republican colleague from Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter, said the president’s elimination of federal subsidies for Amtrak is unacceptable.

SEN. SANTORUM: Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you share that view?

SEN. SANTORUM: I would agree with–it’s not…

MR. RUSSERT: So you’re going to fight it?

SEN. SANTORUM: It’s not acceptable to me, either.

Santorum parsed the question, but gave the impression he would stand with Arlen Specter and oppose Amtrak cuts. Then he voted to cut Amtrak. This became a not-minor story in PA media for a few days. When Howard Dean came to PA in march, he picked up on it.

Dean, a former Vermont governor and former Democratic presidential candidate, called Santorum, a Republican who is up for reelection in Pennsylvania in 2006, a “liar” and “right-winger” who actually lives in Virginia.

“He doesn’t tell the truth,” Dean told a gathering of about 150 at Bluezette on Market Street.

Dean said Santorum had voted to kill Amtrak, an important service in Pennsylvania, and had then turned around and written a piece for The Inquirer saying he supported Amtrak.

That’s the context in which Dean called Santorum a liar. I think it’s totally fair.

The usual gang of idiots have tried to make something out of the remark, but it hasn’t had any salience in PA, where people know the context and Santorum has been falling in the polls. And really – calling a politician a “liar” is beyond the pale? I’d like a refund on the 1990s, please.

This irritates me because it embodies the faux-controversy I hate in mainstream political reporting. I’d be surprised if half of Dean’s MTP interview isn’t devoted to words and sentences he’s uttered over the last five months. Who cares, especially when they’re likely as robbed of context as Novak’s snit here?

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Factoid heaven
I’m always referring to old election results, usually when someone starts arguing that the GOP is destined for a permanent (or multi-decade) majority. But I didn’t have a good source for these results until now, when I googled upon wikipedia’s list. Wikipedia has the results of every House and Senate election – just replace “House” with “Senate” or “2004” with another year to get them.

The election I always bring up, 1964, is here and here. As you can see, the Democrats won a 68-32 Senate majority and 295-140 House majority, mostly thanks to the meltdown of GOP candidate Barry Goldwater. Two years later the GOP won 47 House seats and four Senate seats and elected governors like George Romney and Ronald Reagan.

Obviously our electorate is less fluid now (for one thing our congressional districts each represent 50% more people), and the South has gone from a Democratic stronghold to a Republican one. But you’re still nuts if you write off one of our political parties, or predict eternal greatness for one of them.

(Oh, and if Bush catches bin Laden and creates peace in the Middle East? That’ll be great for Democrats. Some of the most devasting defeats for the incumbent party have come after they win wars and the corresponding issues are taken off the table. 1920 – Wilson wins World War I, Republican landslide. 1946 – Truman wins World War II, Republican landslide. If I were a Steve Sailer type and I liked to name sorta-trends, I’d call this the “normalcy effect.”)