Friday, December 31, 2004

Terror groups call voting un-Islamic

I realize radical Islam is pretty void of beneficial ideas, but this point blank rejection of democracy surprised me.

"Democracy is a Greek word meaning the rule of the people, which means that the people do what they see fit," the groups said in a warning. "This concept is considered apostasy and defies the belief in one God — Muslims' doctrine."

Wow! I'm no muslim, but their rejection of the rule of the people seems to contradict the Koran. Somewhere down the line someone has to interpret Allah's intention and Sharia, right? Who better than the people? If it was otherwise, wouldn't the Koran have established a church hierarchy to do so? These fellows would rather return to the enlightened world of Ottoman rule, which consistantly produced horrible leaders that ran the empire into ground.

If the al Jazeera report is right and 250 election officials quit...if the Sunnis refuse to participate in the election...well, back in school, we referred to such stupidity as "pulling a boner." But I think the majority will participate, since that is the only path that offers a future.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

blog news

when i am spending free time online i often am content to read through the n y times online. sometimes the photos make me feel like i am there, staying with my friend in manhattan.

i have just noted an article about 'anonymouslawyer.blogspot', which i then took the time to look over.

pretty cool that a blog will get such attention, and then an article in the n y times. i can't help but think that the authour will surely get a book offer.

then, as i went to the dashboard here, blogspot has even more 'blog in the news' features. pretty darn cool.

so i am glad to have a friend get me in on a blog, even in a small way. thanks jeffrey.

oh also - i was wanting to comment on your last post - 'good news' - i would ask: Do you have a source for this? and sure enough you did, i found the link as i was trying to figure out how to post a comment. i'll figure it all out as i go. as i got some comments from my previous post. blog dialogue. dialogue.blogspot. is that there?

i apperciate that you've written extensively on your 90 minute thesis, i will go back to that for reading and will surely have comments for it.

Good News

While reflecting on 2004, it is important to note that despite the problems with terrorism and the recent earthquake, things, on the whole, are getting better on this rock.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The 90 Minute Rule of Comedy

(The following is a preliminary theory I have had. Thus far, I have not been able to get a sizable grant so that I could fully test the theory and submit a paper to a prestigious academic journal.)

Chico: I can’t think of the ending.
Groucho: That’s funny, I can’t think of anything else.
(Animal Crackers)


Nothing in entertainment is worse than going on too long at the expense of patience. Even the funniest joke can become exhausting if it is overtaxed. Who can explain why it has often been said that the act of smiling uses fewer muscles than frowning, and yet my jaws get tired after an extended period of hilarity while an extended period of moping about seems only to produce pent-up energy? It is with this in mind that I say that comedies should, as a general rule, be no longer than 90 minutes, and only that long if they are funny. Indeed, the unfunny comedy should not be made at all so far as I am concerned.

By comedy I mean any film that is not to be taken seriously. There are plenty of hybrids such as romantic comedies and action comedies that surpass the 90 minute mark successfully. Those will be addressed soon enough, but for now the focus is on pure comedy.

Now 90 minutes represents the longest singular loop of a comedy cycle, which can be captured on film. That is to say, all mediums of art have what I like to call biorhythms. By my best and humble estimation, the comedy film has a biorhythm cycle that can be stretched up to a maximum of 90 minutes (but is better left un-stretched). After that, it is very difficult to maintain hilarity because fatigue sets in and the law of diminishing returns goes into effect. I believe it was Billy Wilder who, upon talking of comedies, said that anything over 90 minutes counts double.

The director has every right to exceed this time limit of 90 minutes, but he does so at his own peril.

Now 90 minutes is meant as a limit, not a universal mean. Every comedy has its own clock and it is essential that it does not exceed that clock. The 90 minute mark simply represents the maximum amount of time to which a clock can be calibrated. If a film is designed to have x number of quips or gags a minute with a projected 33% or higher success rate (laughter rate), then 90 minutes may be justified. However, if the film maintains the quotient for x, but only intends to achieve a 10% success rate, then 60 minutes may be the ideal length. Conversely, if x is dramatically increased while the projected success rate remains at 33%, then the overall length of the film should still be shortened to prevent audience exhaustion. There is a medium effective range where the quantity of jokes coupled with the laugh rate will achieve maximum results and the mean value will always be 90 minutes or less. Violating this formula is like having a sprinter jog a 100 yard dash or marathon runner sprint an entire marathon – neither will earn a medal.

Can comedy fall short of its optimum mean, and if so, can it be improved with added length? The answer is yes. But consider, for example, how many director’s cut versions of films are actually better than the original theatrical release. The simple truth is that even during the most efficient days of the Hollywood system the human instinct is rarely adequately regimented towards brevity, even though, as Shakespeare said: “brevity is the soul of wit.” So, too, is it with comedy.

Duck Soup is a fine example of a film with a rapid joke dispersal rate coupled with a very high reaction percentage where the total running time wisely clocks in at a mere 70 minutes. Had the film gone on for another twenty minutes the law of diminishing returns would have happened prior to the 90 minute mark as evidenced by another great Marx Brothers film, A Night at the Opera, which is 92 minutes. Both are rightly hailed as excellent films, but the latter is clearly on the wane of their artistic achievement while the former is at the very apex. Reasons for this claim can be partly attributed to the difference in running times, including the noticeable fact that A Night at the Opera violates the maximum length by two minutes. Now it may be noted that with the shift to MGM, the Marx Brothers movies focused increasingly on song and dance as well as romantic plots in an effort to expand the range of the films to a more general pool of entertainment, yet these are precisely the elements that should have been trimmed down to achieve an ideal length of 77 to 80 minutes.

An evolution of the Marx Brothers is somewhat telling as they honed their craft to film. The first two productions, Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers, ran at 96 and 98 minutes, respectively. Both were adapted from the stage, which is not necessarily subject to the 90 minute rule. However, both films have slower editing, more intricate subplots and music that was typical of their stage productions. As such, Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers were almost exactly 6 and 8 minutes too long.*1 The Brothers hit their stride when they left New York City to make their next three Paramount pictures in Hollywood. These three films would constitute the greatest triumvirate of comedies ever: Monkey Business (77min), Horse Feathers (67min), and Duck Soup (70min). In these three films the editing was more polished and more brisk, thanks to the advanced skill of the studio system, the subplots were stripped down and the music was minimized.*2 When MGM bought the Brothers, they made sure to dilute their property with more serious romantic subplots, heavier doses of music, stricter censorship and less artistic license. Even when the MGM films fell under the 90 minute mark, this dissolution required an even shorter running time because the jokes were less risqué and the resulting reaction percentage was diminished. Thus, the greatest comedy team of the 20th century did not achieve the stellar record that should have been theirs, though they still hold the top spot in film comedy. Stricter adherence to the ninety minute rule, in all its subtleties, would have only added to their legacy.

Other comedy teams had virtually no conflicts with the 90 minute rule, and thus were able to maximize their performance. The Bowery Boys, who made over 50 films, not including ones under their other names like the East Side Kids, the Dead End Kids, etc., rarely made a picture much over 70 minutes long. Their track record does not warrant further mention except to say that such devotion to formula, to the point of re-using about seven plots almost equally, resulted in remarkable consistency. I would venture to doubt that a person would have anything more than a +/- 5 laugh differential between any two of their movies – and rarely a +/-5 minute running time differential.

At a higher level of comic achievement, Abbott and Costello, the quintessential duo for comedy timing, stayed very true to the rule. With the exception of three films*3, they did not violate the rule and maintained a rough average of 82.9 minutes per movie. Other comedians followed suit. The silent comedians tended towards films that ranged typically from 40 minutes up to 90 minutes, as did W.C. Fields, Laurel & Hardy, the Three Stooges, the Ritz Brothers, so on and so forth in diminishing rank.

Hybrids offer a way past the 90 minute cycle by fusing humor with another genre to expand the role and scope of a picture while, in theory, still enjoying the acute wisdoms of comedy. However, the success of the film past the 90 minute mark rests solely on whether the adjacent genre can stand on its own.

It is in this way that we can interpret the success of Howard Hawk’s screwball comedies, which consistently ran for lengths of 100 minutes. The performance on a romance/love story level was ably portrayed by Cary Grant and a high-powered actress – instilling longevity to the script. In contrast, the later, lesser, longer works of Charlie Chaplin weighed more and more on heavier themes as his persona virtually lived in torment. When the fusion works – and it’s arguable that it worked well with Chaplin – then the 90 minute rule is ceded in favor of the other genre. But this, too, can be a slippery slope. Such fusions are rarely consistent, and can often lead a picture to be but a hollow over-blown shell of entertainment. I would cite the several star-studded epic race comedies of the 60’s as a prime example (referring to films like Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies and It’s a Mad, Mad…oh, hell, even the title is too long!). Despite allowing for the rare hybrid exception, prudence warns against mixing “overlong” and “action” with “comedy” unless a “zilch” is what you seek. It is simply not in the natural design of comedy to support such things.

Of course, to every rule is a troublesome exception. Perhaps the most notable exception to thia rule is Jerry Lewis. Though many of his pictures that went over the 90 minute mark can be considered too long, it is hard to determine how to cut The Nutty Professor (107min) shorter and at the same time improve it. How he surpassed the mark is unknown, though perhaps that is a question for the French (thus solving two mysteries at once). And of course, there are other exceptions – though most have explanations (Blues Brothers – 133min: action/comedy, still too long; Young Frankenstein – 108min: period piece/comedy; Princess Bride – 98min: swashbuckler/comedy). The thing to notice here is the flexibility of the hybrid factor.

Since the late fifties, the rule as a limit is still often observed, but the calibration of comedy to running time has consistently been stretched and challenged. More and more film makers completely ignore the rule, often with the same predictable results: a funny movie that is x over 90 minutes too long. This has plagued Peter Sellers (as an early example); National Lampoon, Harold Ramis, Mel Brooks (when he decides to violate the rule) and so on.

At the very least, the 90 minute rule should always be applied if only to make a bad movie more bearable by offering a light at the end of the tunnel. It is one thing to be trapped in a theater for two plus hours, it is quite another to be out within 90 minutes. The difference may not sound like much until you accrue all the bad 90+ minute comedies one sees in a lifetime. So, if you are a director of comedies, please, pity your audience and let your conscience be your guide.

*1 As a disclaimer, it should not be inferred that the scores for either picture was sub-par in any shape or form.
*2 Musical numbers involving the Marx Brothers, particularly with Groucho singing or with all three singing, are integral to the films. So when I charge that “These are precisely the elements that should have been trimmed down…” I draw a distinction between the non-Marx romantic lead sharing a duet to the main actress (scrap) and any of Groucho’s songs or the big number at the end of Duck Soup.
*3 The three films include: Rio Rita –91; Little Giant –92; In Hollywood –111.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Millennium War

Austin Bay has an excellent piece on the prospects in Iraq and the more ideoligical aspects of the war. He has problems with the monicker "War on Terror" and suggests the "Millennium War", instead. I think this is a must read.

A good companion to a thick Tolstoy novel

These turn-of-the-century photos of Russian life have been linked from the AL Daily site for a long time. They're amazing.

news

When I go online, I have a standard set of websites I look at as well as email.

Then, when I discover I have plenty more time to stay online, I feel frustrated that with the millions of websites available, I only look at a handful. One of the worst feelings is going back to a news page I had just viewed to see if there are any new postings. It's like looking in the fridge again.

Of course I utilize google to search for things, I realize my only limits are my own ideas.

And I do know of many many pages, just like thisone, that have a long list of newspages/blogs/etc to refer to. I often do go to some of these lists and look at a website I am not familiar with.

I suppose really I am looking for a way to feel productive when I am online.

so here I just wanted to post in liverputty, thath makes me fee productive for the time being. I would be curious to know how others deal with the problem of having too much time online.

William Shatner Has Been

I’m not a Trekky or a Trekker or whatever it is called these days. I admit that at one time I had that Star Trek Episodes book, which had since been swiped by a friend of mine who denies being a Trekky, too. Personally, I think his problem is greater than mine. My appreciation of the show was chiefly driven by Captain Kirk, though I’m no Shatner completist. I mean, who can suffer through any episodes of T.J. Hooker? The furthest I get is that SNL skit about the hood riding.

Has Been is something else. It’s corny, sincere, hokey, and downright excellent. Joe Jackson finds a way to blend Shatner into the music in a way that Transformed Man did not. There’s plenty of opportunity to laugh at this album, but there’s plenty of real sentiment in it as well. Perhaps the difference between this recent effort and Transformed Man is that Shatner realized there would be laughter. His personality, alone, makes this record more interesting to me than anything on the charts, or even a recent release from a veteran performer trying to stir up old waves.

Monday, December 27, 2004

I'm a Marxist

So please indulge me for a moment.

As previously mentioned, I received a handsome box set of all the Marx Brother’s Paramount pictures. Although I refrained from over eating during the holidays and I only hit the peanut brittle jar a few times, I was no match for the lure of this DVD collection. Within about 24 hours I had watched all the films and the bonus material.

I’d read complaints that there was not enough extra stuff on this new set. Each movie had the corresponding trailer and the standard language tracks on it, but not much else. The Bonus DVD had three interviews from the Today Show (which was about as stiff and lame in the 60’s as it is now.) totaling a mere 30 minutes. It would have been nice to have some commentary tracks and a bit more on the bonus disk, but I’m just thankful the movies were released at all. Plus, since just about everybody connected to the movies is long gone, I’m not sure who would’ve done the commentary. Duck Soup was the latest film on the collection and that was 1933. Also, some had complained that the prints used were the same as the LD released several years ago. While I agree that these movies deserve a big restoration effort, the prints used are very watchable. There’s one scene in Horsefeathers where the film skips around some, but the rest of the prints are in great condition. Ultimately, the films alone are reason enough to get the collection.

Cocoanuts is the film I was least familiar with since the sound had always been muffled, making it hard to watch. I’d forgotten how racy some of the scenes were. It was before the Hays codes and some of the outfits were pretty hot. I particularly enjoyed some of the Busby Berkley-esque numbers and the Irving Berlin score. The premise of the film, the developement of Florida, was still in its first wave at the time. Topical comedy.

I remember showing Animal Crackers to my friend, Phil, years ago, which turned out to be a mistake because I think the staginess of the movie cemented his distaste for the team. That distaste still persists to this day. However, watching it now, I’m impressed at how quickly the jokes fly. Here are the brothers going over routines that had been honed down to perfection on stage over the course of years. And since the film was made in New York, it now provides a glimpse at the stage designs at the time. I’m assuming that the New York film industry was largely interchangeable with Broadway.

Monkey Business and Horsefeathers mark a clear departure for the team. Not only were these the first films that were not performed on stage, but they moved the production out to Hollywood. Both films are ably directed by Norman McLeod and are about efficient as comedy films can be. I believe Monkey Business was the first Marx Bros film I ever saw, at the tender age of eleven or twelve, and I've been in love ever since. In hindsight, Monkey Business was the picture I should’ve forced on Phil. Perhaps then he would not have the comedy disorder he has now.

Duck Soup is simply the funniest movie ever made. And it transcends the film medim. Its title should stand next to Jonathan Swift and Candide and perhaps a few other pieces of high art as an ultimate expression of humor. Today, most comedians try to be hip and cool and spell out all of the little ironies of life. There are precious few clowns that want an audience to laugh at them. Back then, during the age of comedy teams, there was plenty of the latter. In Duck Soup, as in most of the Marx Brother's features, they achieve the pinnacle of satire and, at the same time, spend themselves as clowns, a win-win for the audience.

So, if you still have some holiday time to burn at home, I can't think of a better way to spend it than getting a six pack of beer, some diapers and renting the set for a marathon jaunt through pure comedy. You may be a little slap happy towards the end, but it's worth it.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Two extremes

On the one hand, this is a great day for democracy as Yushchenko seems to be on his way to victory in Ukraine. But that story has been overshadowed by the horrible devastation and unbelievable bodycount in the Indian Ocean after yesterday's earthquake and tsunamis. The last body count I heard was over 11,000 and expected to go up. Thailand, alone, has suffered over 5,000 dead.

Here's a vivid account of what a tsunami is like as told by a fellow near Sri Lanka.

More on the disaster can be found here and here.

As for the Ukrainian election, this site was interesting.

My Christmas Booty

Most of the gifts exchanged this year went to my 2 year old nephew. No qualms there. But I didn’t do too badly either.

Mom got me a warm tan sweater/shirt thing. Posted by Hello

And this more traditional green dress shirt. Posted by Hello

She also got me this curiously soft pillow which feels a little like a large breast. Posted by Hello

I caught myself handling it a little more than I should have. Posted by Hello

A couple of months ago I mentioned that I liked some chai that she had made. Being a mother, she remembered, and she got me a can of it. Posted by Hello

My nephew got me this! God bless him. The newly released set of the first five Marx Bros. movies on DVD. Posted by Hello

As you can see, it's a nice multi disk set. Not a whole lot of bells and whistles like the MGM counterpart, but the prints of the movie look good and I'll be feasting on this for a while. Thanks Booger! Posted by Hello

My cousin in Arizona made these socks for Lady T____ and me. Mine is the cyclops. Posted by Hello

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas!

Regarding the future of this blog: it’s pretty obvious that since the election there has been a general burnout regarding things political, which was the raison d’etre of this site. But, like an NGO or charity whose initial purpose is no longer dire, I feel compelled to keep Liverputty going for its own sake. As such, I will be posting other things as well, whether it’s a movie, book or album review, etc. I encourage the other contributors to post anything that strikes their fancy. Of course, political postings are still very welcome. I will keep defending the Bush junta and the war when compelled to, since that has been my programming for the past six months and beyond, though I will try to be less antagonistic about it. However, by expanding the field of topics, I hope the blog becomes more pleasant for everyone involved. The recent addition of party poker to the list of contributors will certainly work towards that end. I’m hoping to get Mr. Clay involved as well. In addition to that, if Dude or Steve or anyone else wishes to include a friend on the contributor list, please send me their email address and I will forward an invitation. In the meantime, I hope everyone has a good holiday and happy new year.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Canadian Supreme court reviews whether or not the word kemosabe is racist

via the Corner.

"The idea that there are some words that are notoriously offensive and some that aren't, and the burden on the employee shifts depending on that, really creates a lot of confusion in the workplace," said commission lawyer Michael Wood.

"We think it's time to clarify that and have some ground rules so people know what's permissible and what isn't."

If I was a canoock, I would feel offended, nay, threatened that a commission lawyer wanted to clarify what was or wasn't permissable.

Pending further attacks...

This will be my last post regarding the defense of our defense secretary. Victor Davis Hanson's friday columns are consistently excellent, and this one is no exception.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

pop artist tom wesselman

i am sad to hear of the death of tom wesselman.

he really embraced the pop art aesthetic and created some beautiful images.

although i did not feel a personal passion for his works as i have for some other artists, it is a day to remember when an artist listed in so many textbooks and represented in so many museums fufulls his legacy.

a good article about his life and works in the new york times arts section, and a good assortment of images when you 'image'-google his name.

http://www.billdavenport.com/tireironarchive/images/tireironimages/Wesselman.jpg

UN report on Oil for Food to be released in 2005

"A weary looking Mr. Annan also acknowledged that questions about the $64 billion aid program had overshadowed the United Nations' humanitarian work this year..."

One scandal at a time, Mr. Annan, one scandal at a time.

Proof in Washington

that if you have a dream and a team of lawyers anything can be achieved. And it doesn't hurt if you're the attorney general.

I'm not sure if I follow the logic: if you're 250 votes behind then the election is too close to call, if you're 42 votes behind then the election is too close to call, but if you're up by 8 votes then you're ready to declare victory - from a manual recount no less.

The 700+ votes that turned up in King county were not included in the latest tally.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Rumsfeld responds

UPDATE: A few others join the response here and here.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Moving slide show

Purple Hearts: Back from Iraq

this documentary photography piece includes the soldier's own words. just hit the "next" box on the upper right.

Interesting post about the armored humvees

via Powerline. According to Major General Stephen Speakes in a recent press conference addressing the issue:

GEN. SPEAKES: The first point is that you'll recollect that one of the questions was the status of the 278 ACR; in other words, the date that we had the visit by the secretary of Defense, we had a question about their up-armoring status. When the question was asked, 20 vehicles remained to be up-armored at that point. We completed those 20 vehicles in the next day. And so over 800 vehicles from the 278 ACR were up-armored, and they are a part now of their total force that is operating up in Iraq.

Q: On the 278th, can you repeat this? At the time the question was asked, the planted question, the unit had 784 of its 804 vehicles armored?

GEN. SPEAKES: Here is the overall solution that you see. And what we've had to do is -- the theater had to take care of 830 total vehicles. So this shows you the calculus that was used. Up north in Iraq, they drew 119 up-armored humvees from what we call stay-behind equipment. That is equipment from a force that was already up there. We went ahead and applied 38 add-on armor kits to piece of equipment they deployed over on a ship. They also had down in Kuwait 214 stay- behind equipment pieces that were add-on armor kits. And then over here they had 459 pieces of equipment that were given level-three protection. And so when you put all this together, that comes up with 830.

Q At the time of the question -- summarize this, now -- that unit that the kid was complaining about was mostly armored?

GEN. SPEAKES: Yes. In other words, we completed all the armoring within 24 hours of the time the question was asked.

Q If he hadn't asked that question, would the up-armoring have been accomplished within 24 hours?

GEN. SPEAKES: Yes. This was already an existing program.

Proving again that he is one of few politicians in DC

with patience and foresight, Bush backs Rumsfeld.

Friday, December 17, 2004

It's funny because it's true

Here's a little perspective regarding our current occupation. (found through Instapundit).

The Kyoto Protocol is Dead

according to this Tech Central article.

Curious

Conservatives going after Rummy

As you probably all know, I am a fan of the Weekly Standard and both Bill Kristol and Tom Donnelly are top notch pundits. Therefore, I was a little taken aback to hear them join in on the pile on of Donald Rumsfeld. One expects the occassional rogue potshot from the likes of John McCain & one can easily dismiss comments coming from a senator like Trent Lott. But the folks at the Standard are a little different. It would be one thing if they were correct in their criticism, I don't expect them to tow the party line right or wrong. But their criticisms on Rumsfeld are not justified.

First, Mr. Kristol first attacks Rumsfeld for his much publicized response to the armor vehicle question, but even when Kristol is willing to move past that response his is misguided in his conclusion:

"Perhaps Rumsfeld simply had a bad day," he says.

But that's not so. He simply had a bad response. And it wasn't even a bad whole response. The first portion of the response about going to war with the army you have and not the army you want honored the soldier's he was speaking to by it's directness. Perhaps the secretary should have stopped there. Perhaps he'll be less like to think aloud in the future - but that's an insignificant mistake. Kristol then goes on to use Rumsfeld remarks to paint him as arrogant and stubborn regarding troop strength. Rumsfeld has insisted that he relies on the commanders on the ground to make that decision - not generals in the pentagon or think tankers. What's the problem?

Tom Donnelly thinks Rumsfeld should forget about transforming the military and worry about fighting the current war. The truth is, he has to and is doing both. Part of the reason we are now fighting this war with the army we have rather than the army we want is because for the previous 12 years, we haven't had a Secretary of Defense with Rumsfeld's transformational forsight.

And when it comes to equipment, I find it strange that senators like McCain, Byrd, and others are quick to pick on the secretary since they are the ones who've been on the committees that could have done something about it over the past couple of decades. Why are they passing the buck?

Fallujah movie?

I've been complaining that Hollywood no longer tackles current events in films - at least nothing like Hollywood in the 40s and 50s. So in that regard, a film about Fallujah is a good thing. Unfortunately, this picture, written by a Slate reporter and with Harrison Ford, won't likely be the pro war propoganda that I was hoping for.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Annan Pledges to Aid in Oil-For-Food Probe

Hasn't he pledged that before?

Annan: "We must get to the bottom of these allegations."

Such direct and forceful language from a man who's actions suggest the we mustn't bother getting to the bottom of the allegations.

Encouraging poll numbers in Iraq

via Powerline.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

I'm confused too...

This Jonah Golberg piece from December 10th epitomizes the problematic stance the DNC has with the war on terror, as does Peter Beinart's lengthy piece in the New Republic. From the former:

"'What he really needs to write,' harrumphed Drum, 'is a prequel to his current piece, one that presents the core argument itself: namely, why defeating Islamic totalitarianism should be a core liberal issue.'"

"Great bureaucracies don’t spin on a dime"

It seems like since McCain publicly criticized Rumsfeld after the secretary's armor comments, there's been a pile-on-the-secretary attitude out there that, to me, is simply narrow-minded and unjust. The criticism neglects that major reforms that Rumsfeld has initiated. It also ignores the bureacracy that is the Pentagon. Anyway, The Belmont Club has a good post defending Rumsfeld.

Austin Bay on the Palestinian and Iraqi elections

here.

"A successful Iraqi election following the Palestinian vote would make it a six-pack of electoral defeats for the twin evils of tyrant and terrorist. The other four? Australia returned pro-war-on-terror Prime Minister John Howard to power. In Afghanistan, voters braved Taliban terror to elect a president. In the United States, Bush won on the family value of protecting and projecting liberty. And people power thwarted thug attempts to steal Ukraine's presidential election, with a new vote set for Dec. 26."

A Blair victory could be a seventh.

From the BBC

Sounds like the U.N. is bitter that this oil wasn't filtered through their Oil for Fraud.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Again, leading sometimes means not joining

I'll credit Clinton for one thing, even when he signs off on an agreement, he doesn't send it to congress for ratification. I'm thinking the best parts of his legacy are when he doesn't leave one - like with the ICC or Kyoto.

Chilean pension program could be a good model

according to this Washington Times piece.

Egypt and Israel sign trade agreement with the U.S.

This sounds pretty substantive & could warm relations between Israel and its neighbors. Let's hear it for Bush!....anyone?

A related aside, this piece suggests that the Iraqi invasion may have positive consequences in the region.

Sometimes leading means not joining

I still think Bush is right not to accept the Kyoto Protocols. James Glassman covers the global warming crowd in this piece. On the more humorous side, Mark Steyn is back on the scene (thankfully) with this article:

"Evolution posits that species will come and go: some die out, some survive and evolve. I don't regard myself as anything terribly special but in a typical year I'm exposed to temperatures from around 98 degrees to 45 below freezing, in the lower part of which range I evolve into my long underwear."

UPDATE: here's a roundup of global warming news I found off the Corner. Of note was an article about China not wanting any restrictions on their energy needs, citing that they are a developing nation.

Since Dude hasn't been posting much lately

I'm forced to rain on my own parade by posting this article about Bush's economic team.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Upon seeing two Chinese pictures


Kung fu films never did it for me. My appreciation of them extends to a little Bruce Lee, more Jackie Chan and the “Fistful of Yen” mini film at the end of Kentucky Fried Movie. And if it’s a choice between Hong Kong or the mainland, I tend towards the latter. So I was looking forward to Hero, the newly released Jet Li vehicle directed by Mainlander Zhang Yimou, who is one of the finest directors alive. I can’t think of another contemporary director who is better or has a more impressive body of work, whether compared to Yimou’s string of masterpieces with Gong Li or his smaller budget pictures he did afterwards.

Hero was not as innovative or even as clever as one might expect from Yimou. It was too much in the vain of Crouching Tiger. There were some pretty shots and some impressive sequences, but it was too heavy on the flowing robes and way too poetic. When it comes to swordplay, samurai pictures generally work best because there’s not much in the way of clanking swords. Duels are usually decided by the first or second blow. This picture did not follow the samurai way. Every shot of Jet Li showed him floating softly along a cable with his sword outstretched looking utterly ridiculous. Every thrust of a sword was bound to be met by a parry and counter thrust and then on and on, as if they didn’t want to kill each other. After awhile, the action sequences seemed to lack any decisiveness at all. And the effects didn’t know when to stop. It one scene, when a unit of archers fire a volley, it becomes a steady stream of arrows that penetrate stone walls and turned everything into a porcupine quills. When arrows start to look like fur, it is time to stop. Going a little over the top is fun, but when a picture goes too far the law of diminishing returns sets in.

The Rashomon-like structure of the story was interesting, but wasn’t enough to make it gripping. And I believe it was supposed to be set near the end of the Warring States Period – a nice touch – but little is done with that.

What does it take to make a damn good martial arts film?

Enter Shoalin Soccer, which I had seen the night before. If Hero missed the mark, Shoalin Soccer was right on the money. By far it was a smaller production, but the computer effects were clever, the dialogue and comedy was top notch, the meat was present and it had some pathos. It was a mix closer to the Bad News Bears and Tampopo than to Rashomon and Crouching Tiger. The way it dealt with shoalin was light-hearted and reverential, pitting it against the “science” of the villain who was so sinister that even his soccer team was called Team Evil.

There are some brilliant scenes in this movie, but they don’t make a big spectacle of themselves. They just happen. In one scene, the main character is kicking a soccer ball against a brick wall from a hundred yards way as if he was playing racket ball. And that was better than any computer effects in Hero. Somehow the Shoalin effects team gives their craft real gravity, and when they go further and further over the top, they are mindful to avoid those diminishing returns. The result is that the climax of the film is just as fresh and enjoyable as the first scene. There’s none of that audience numbing that action pics (like Hero) are so keen on using.

In short, I will forget about Hero by the end of the week. However, Shoalin Soccer, probably the best movie I’ve seen in a few years, will stick to me.

Gum-flappin'

I'm sure the mullahs are terrified. My favorite line:

"The transatlantic community should not be trying to force a confrontation with Iran, but we must not fear one if that's what is necessary to prevent the introduction of another nuclear weapons program into the combustible Middle East."

The latest from Planet Zinn

the nutter is always good for a chuckle.

The New Republic goes after Rumsfeld

“It took only a few sentences on Wednesday for Donald Rumsfeld to demonstrate why he is both morally and strategically unfit to serve as secretary of defense.”

Or so says Mr. Scoblic. What so outraged him was Rumsfeld’s response to a query from Specialist Thomas Wilson of the Tennessee National Guard (and reporter Edward Lee Pitts from the Chattanooga Free Press though he is not mentioned in the article) about why some soldier’s had to scavenge scrap armor from dumps to put on their Humvees. Mr. Scoblic thought it was condescending for Rumself to say that even armored vehicles can get blown up but…

“…more astounding was Rumsfeld's contention that ‘[y]ou go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.’ Astounding because, of course, the United States did not go to war with the army it had; it went to war with a mere fraction of the army it had.”

Of course, but how does that relate to Specialist Wilson’s question? Or at least an accurate response to it? Scoblic goes on to criticize the invasion plans and troop levels, but the question was about the number of armored vehicles available for their mission. To this, Scoblic completely dismisses the role of logistics in the problem:

“On Wednesday, Rumsfeld assured the troops he spoke to in Kuwait that everything possible was being done to get them the armor and equipment they need--that only the logistical hurdles of producing and shipping the materiel stand in the way. But it should never have come to this.”

It should never have come to logistical problems? Earth to Scoblic, logistical hurdles are just a fact of life. Actually, the military has come a long way in solving logistics issues, but they still exist. Consider:

During the Spanish-American War there was a logistical nightmare that clogged the railroad lines from the southern most tip of Florida all the way up to Atlanta. Was that immoral and strategically unfit? Was it immoral or strategically unfit of Secretary of War Harry Hines Woodring to send Sherman tanks into Normandy to battle Panther divisions despite learning of the inferiority of the Shermans in Africa?

In his defense, Scoblic tries to pawn off the issue on Rumsfeld’s planning of the war, though much of that is simply a red herring. Take the following excerpt:

“The Washington Post has reported that Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, at the time the commander of Iraq forces, had written the Pentagon in December 2003, after a particularly fierce period of counterinsurgency fighting, to complain that his units were "struggling just to maintain ... relatively low readiness rates" on their M-1 Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, anti-mortar radars, and Black Hawk helicopters. He further noted that 36,000 soldiers still needed protective ceramic inserts for their body armor.”

Just because a field general requests something, does not mean that something is readily available. The assumption that Scoblic makes is that this material existed.

I remember an intercourse between Rumsfeld and Sen. Robert Byrd when the Secretary of Defense was before the Armed Services Committee sometime after the invasion and before the $87 billion Appropriations bill. During the intercourse, Byrd griped at Rumsfeld about the new ceramic body armor that many of the troops did not have. A senator has every right to light a fire under the butt of the Secretary of Defense, but there was no mistaking the motivation behind Byrd's comments. Rumsfeld explained to Byrd that the armor in question was recently developed and that the soldiers had an earlier version of armor. He also went on to explain that efforts were being made to get the new armor out to the troops, but cited the same logistical concerns that Scoblic so quickly dismisses. Byrd, like Scoblic, wasn’t concerned about logistical issues, but rather the political damage he could lay on Rumsfeld and the administration.

I wonder how many M-1 tanks, up-armored Humvees and ceramic body armor inserts were available in December 2003. I know that since then, production has exponentially increased on some of that to meet demand, but I doubt Scoblic cares about that. If the production increase for these items does not seem enough to him, then perhaps he’d accept a ration system similar to that of WWII or a series of duties on materials necessary for increased production in order to curb commercial demand ? Of course he wouldn’t. Scoblic would bitch and moan about the toll the war has taken on the homefront. To him, it’s not a question of logistics. He doesn’t think the war was necessary at all:

“…even the administration's most dire predictions of Saddam's capabilities did not demand action in March 2003.”

That’s ridiculous in more ways than I can account for here. I’ve discussed the timetables of the war before (links provided upon request). As hard as it may be for Scoblic to understand, the timing of the war was a major factor.

And then we come to troop strength. First, Scoblic misrepresents the initial war plan:

“So when, in late November 2001, General Tommy Franks, then head of Central Command, first briefed Rumsfeld on the existing war plan for Iraq, which called for the use of 500,000 troops following a seven-month buildup, the defense secretary scoffed and sent Franks back to the drawing board.”

Franks was sent back to the drawing board? It sounds like what Gen. Tommy Franks briefed Rumsfeld on was, for the benefit of Scoblic, a “contingency plan”. These plans, as hinted at by his own statement above, already existed. I doubt Tommy Franks drew up those initially plans afresh. It's more likely that he pulled them from a dusty shelf. Chances are, the plan was written right after the first Gulf War, if it wasn’t the exact plan that Schwarzkopf used. To suggest that Franks was sent back to the drawing board is inaccurate. He was sent to the drawing board. And, through many revisions, he honed the needed troops down to 140K. That’s the way things work. And, as it proved, even without Turkey allowing the 4th Infantry to invade from the Northwest, that was sufficient to topple the Baathists. Mission accomplished. Perhaps some future insurgents escaped because of Turkey, but that wasn’t in the mindset of the military or its detractors. Who knew then about looming insurgency trouble? Again, Scoblic thinks there was know timetable involved dictated that decisive action was required. He’s simply wrong.

So Scoblic probably thinks that 500K troops were needed for the invasion and occupation. Okay, let’s say that is what we used. You think our military is stretched thin now, trying to maintain a 100K + force, imagine if it was five times that. Sun Tzu pays special attention to troop strength and the logistics needed to support it…and for good reason. The U.S. can raise a 500K force, but what about sustaining it for months? That’s no small task, even for the world’s super power. How much greater would the “back draft” be? Especially since 200K are tied up in Europe and Asia? (This will soon change, thanks to Rumsfeld) Our friend, Dude, would have likely been called away from fatherhood to participate in the occupation if we were fielding such an occupation force. Rumsfeld had to be mindful of potential trouble elsewhere in the world, not just Iraq. Critics like to employ the term “war on the cheap”, but I prefer the term “efficient.” That doesn’t negate the problem of mis-estimations, but it is still a responsible, and yes, moral way, to approach the invasion of Iraq.

Does Scoblic think that by reducing the force by 80% (I’m rounding the numbers) we’ve reduced translators by the same amount? It is doubtful. The shortages our forces face are not so easily determined. Nor is the necessity of the mission. But such is the narrowness of Scoblic's perspective.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Another article to throw on the Kyoto heap

here. In a related note, Blair is seeking Bush's support for a new agreement.

Rumsfeld Expects Army to Resolve Concerns

This story was getting a lot of play yesterday & I'm sure it will continue through the echo chamber of the MSM. This line got me:

"Rumsfeld gave no indication that the soldier would face any kind of disciplinary action for speaking up."

Why would he? Rumsfeld gave a pretty straightforward answer to the query - worthy of the question, though he sort've lost me at the comment about being vulnerable in a tank just like in an unarmored vehicle.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Intelligence Reform

The skinny is here. I don't think it was necessary to get the bill passed this session, but what's done is almost done.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

More on the Yushchenko assasination attempt

Doctor's agree, he was poisoned.

Rebels Aided By Sources in Syria, U.S. Says

from the Post

I did not realize that I liked the 60 Minutes Dylan interview...

Until I read this piece in CounterPunch. I haven't laughed so hard in months. I came away thinking that Richard Oxman needs to work out a few demons. The interview wasn't revealing, Dylan had all the interviewing charm as John Ford, when asked a straightforward question, he gave a crooked answer - standard Dylan fare. That's hardly a reason for Richard to get bent out of shape pouting that Dylan Thomas is the only Dylan that isn't dead to him.

From the Belmont Club

Long rich posts all the time.

Classified CIA Cable Warns of Danger of Leaks

indeed

Monday, December 06, 2004

Dan Blumenthal describes a 'Unhelpful China'

here.

He's got some good points, though I think the Bush administration already sees China as a strategic competitor. That was one of Bush's first policy statements after 2000. That Bush might draw a happy face on the relationship doesn't necessarily change that.

My take on China is this: they have followed the vision of Deng Xiaoping who said China must open markets, allow some capitalism and avoid confrontation with the U.S. After the century they've had, living under Mao for decades, and now feeling the first traces of prosperity, that probably sounds like sage advice. I seriously doubt China would resort to military force to keep their N. Korean buffer. I'm not sure how successful we've been pushing China on N. Korea, but I suspect our diplomacy has been more fruitful that Blumenthal thinks. Taiwan is a different story. China seems intent on absorbing them. Our position is pretty clear: Taiwan and the mainland will re-unite when they agree two. In other words, not while the mainland is communist. A classic standoff, but one that China would retaliate to any undue provocation.

China's economy is the worrisome part. Much of their growth is because of artificially cheap labor (a result of the yuan fixed to the dollar, making it undervalued and artificially stable), a herd mentality by foreign investors that have convinced themselves that China is the place to be, and mammoth government projects like most of the building in Pu Dong or the Three Gorges dam. Back in 2001, you couldn't sling a dead cat without hitting some infrastructure work along a road way or the demolition of old neighborhoods to make room for industrial complexes. On the one hand, it is good that the Chinese economy is growing. However, their growth is in a race with their unemployment. Their banking system is corrupt and favors pro-government business. The projects that the government oversees are woefully inefficient and costly. Capitalism has not let the people down, but government control has. Yet, the young people are largely hyper nationalists. When the economy jumps the rails, it won't be the Party that they blame, but the U.S. But that's a ways off. Until then, we should pressure them on human rights, show some resolve to defend Taiwan, urge democracy and reform, and get them to take off their training wheels.

This may be a rehashing of old news,

but I thought it was worth posting because the conventional wisdom is the Powells low point was his WMD speech before the Security Council. That's a pity.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

A snapshot from 1998

before the War on Terror & the invasion of Iraq, France was displaying curious behavior towards our enforcement U.N. resolutions.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

UN looks at making changes

from the NYTimes

"One alternative would add 6 new permanent members - the likely candidates are Brazil, Germany, India, Japan, Egypt and either Nigeria or South Africa - as well as 3 new two-year term members.

The other would create a new tier of 8 semipermanent members chosen for renewable four-year terms and one additional two-year term seat to the existing 10."

Bad idea. The problems with the security council will only be worsened by making it bigger. Why not just call the General Assembly the Security Council? I would propose taking France off the permanent seat status and replacing them with Japan. That way, there's a regional counter to China's seat. Or, if there's such a push to get Germany at the table, we should combine the French/German seats into one EU seat, especially if they move forward on the joint EU special forces.

I'd be curious to hear more about reforms to the Human Rights Commission.

NORM COLEMAN: It's time for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to resign.

in the Wall St. Journal