Consummate dilettantism!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Amazon MP3 Service

It's really, really good. DRM-free files are at an excellent price and are of high quality (256 kbps), too, with album art and everything. Amazon's albums are priced better than iTunes', as well. Try it out.

Thoughts on Bush's 2008 State of the Union Address

These are just some thoughts I jotted down while listening to Bush's State of the Union address.

Are those boos in the crowd?

He's a terrible speaker, and he sounds slightly nervous.

I detect Obamanian undertones of non-partisanship.

He begins to discuss the slowing economy. Doesn't want to load up the "growth package" with junk. There shouldn't be one in the first place.

Make permanent the Bush tax cuts; good, but we've been here before.

Pledges to veto tax increases; again, this is all standard stuff.

Talks about a "balanced budget." Hasn't exactly lived up to that one, has he?

Talked about voluntarily cutting earmarks last year. His goals weren't met, so he pledges to veto bills with lots of earmarks. Public vote on earmarks; that's good. Full ovation, even among Democrats! Executive act enjoining federal agencies to ignore earmarks note voted upon. Really?

Reform Fannie & Freddie Mac.

Heath care; expanding consumer choice; Obama doesn't clap. Ending bias in tax code, expand HSAs, tort reform. WSJ's been all over this, but it's nice to see that Bush picked up on it.

Talks about schools; students, minorities especially, doing better. I dunno. NCLB succeeding. New $300 million program for private schools! Yikes!

Trade - globalization is good. Break barriers to trade. Open new markets, pass free trade agreements, especially in Latin America. No hint of protectionism, thankfully. Pass free trade agreement with Columbia, indirectly snubbing Hugo Chavez.

Dammit, I thought there was to be no protectionism here; talks about some programs.

Moving into energy, offers the usual platitudes. Reduce oil dependence, increase use of renewable energy, &c. Stuff about global warming, bipartisan standing ovation. Includes a loophole, of course.

More funding for scientists, more platitudes.

Talks about "respecting moral boundaries" with respect to science. Expanding funding. Standing ovation again; sort of stupid.

Justice now. Constitutionalism. Nominees being ignored; yes, the Democrats have been stalling on this one, and Bush is absolutely right.

Volunteering. Permanently extend ability to donate Federal funds to religious organizations. Hosting a summit in New Orleans? Why?

Spending on entitlement programs is growing too quickly. Come up with bipartisan solution to "save these vital programs."

Immigration; secure the borders. We will never fully secure our borders. Some Republicans cheer. Path to legalization. He actually gets quite emotional here - it's clearly a passionate subject for him.

Confronting enemies abroad. "Stirring moments in the history of liberty." "Images of liberty." Discusses horrors. Take the fight to the terrorists. Successes in Afghanistan. Adding marines to Afghanistan; very good. Thanks Congress for its work; standing ovation. Onto Iraq; success of troop surge. Counterinsurgency strategy. Congratulates troops. Long ovation. Discusses 80,000 Iraqi civilians fighting terrorists. Democrats don't applaud. Gets down to statistics. "Al Qaeda is on the run in Iraq, and this enemy will be defeated." w00t. Surge forces returning. Tells Congress to fund the troops fully. Yet 20,000 of our troops are coming home, says Bush. Mustn't allow excessive troop withdrawal. Iraqi rebuilding, progress in Baghdad. Things in the Iraqi government are getting better, some reconciliation. Don't fail Iraq. We shan't rest until the enemy has been defeated.

Now speaking on Middle East peace process. Wants to burnish his legacy, of course. Wants to define Palestinian state; unique among presidents in this respect.

Onto Iran. Iran is enemy of freedom. End the nucular weapons program, cease program of terror. America will defend its interests in Persian gulf.

Stopped plot to fly plane into Los Angeles. Very good. This is the proper function of government, if there is any. Moving into FISA. Congress must ensure flow of intelligence. He's absolutely right. Republicans only stand & ovate.

Darfur. America opposes genocide in Sudan. What will he say? Nothing else. Shame. Foreign aid. Splits an infinitive "to fully fund." More than half world's food aid comes from U.S. Help break cycle of famine. Excellent. Cut malaria deaths in Africa. Additional $30 billion in anti-AIDS programs in Africa. I may post more about this.

Increased funding for veterans.

I spy John Kerry! He's a tall man.

Military families. Expanding their access to heath care, more funding + education benefits.

Articles of Confederation; Governeur Morris changed first words to: "We the People." Interesting bit of history. Pro-people. "Let us set forth to do their business." What? That's sort of odd.

Bush smiles well.

This is all sort of silly and pompous. Conclusion? Not worth it. Mediocre.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Suharto's Legacy

My letter to the Wall Street Journal in response to this opinion piece:
One thing I often see shamefully omitted in discussions of Suharto's legacy is the fact that he presided over one of the worst mass slaughters of the 20th century. As a prominent army general, he staged a coup in 1965 against President Sukarno. In an astonishingly short period of time (with most of the violence occurring in less than a year), Indonesian civilians, incited and supported by the military, began an unprecedented wave of violence that left, according to the CIA, anywhere from 250,000 to 500,000 left-wing Indonesians dead. While this massacre may not have exactly been approved by Suharto, he certainly didn't do anything to distance himself from it, much less attempt to curtail it. Praise him for his economic record, perhaps, but in any discussion of his historical legacy, be sure to mention this.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Obama Wins South Carolina; Racist America, Eh?

This is bad. If Obama wins the Democratic nomination, he'll surely win the general election.

Go Hillary!

Oh, and I predicted this from the beginning. I said, in spite all of this "Obama can't win in a racist America"-nonsense, "Obama's blackness will more help than hinder him." I reasoned this (correctly, I might add) because of the facts that (1) there are far more whites unconsciously willing to especially support a black candidate to prove their lack of racism than whites truly unwilling to support a black candidate because of racism, and (2) that general identity politics will lead blacks to support Obama disproportionally.

According to the AP, 4 out of 5 blacks in S.C. voted for Obama. Half of the primary voters were black. And this is supposedly the most racist state in America. This is identity politics at its worst. (As Jennifer Rubin argues, identity politics does not explain Obama's broad base of support, but my point still stands.)

Additionally, I do think that if Obama were white, there would not be the level of enthusiasm for him there now is. There's something about an "articulate" half-black candidate that absolutely tickles white Americans. There he is, a black candidate; we're not racist after all! But it's more than that. I know because I myself felt the exact same reaction on first seeing and hearing Obama. The combination together is astonishing. Obama's blackness essentially causes one to think more about him as a candidate, and perhaps support him as a default; he is distinguished positively. When the candidates are essentially identical (I have no qualms about this; all of the Democratic contenders have the same policy proposals), Obama's being black lends to an immediate "why not Obama?" reaction. It's difficult to explain, but I've felt it, and I'm sure many others have. We've been instilled in our society to seek out and support and make note of outstanding blacks, for better or for worse. I am seconded here by the excellent Hillel Halkin, writing in the New York Sun. Halkin, older than I, is not conditioned in this manner as I am, and it is thus easier for him to write these words:
Even before the recent brouhaha about Barack Obama's membership in a church whose minister is openly pro-Farrakhan and anti-Israel, I found the thought of his becoming the next president of America unnerving — and not just because his rhetoric, general outlook, and location in the Democratic Party did not encourage one to think that he would tend if elected to be a particularly strong backer of Israel.

Perhaps I've grown cynical and jaded, but I've never been able to understand what the excitement generated by Mr. Obama in his supporters is all about.

Although he is constantly being called by them "dynamic" and "charismatic," every time I've watched him on TV has made me feel that I was looking at a stick-figure politician who spoke entirely in clichés. That his trite phrases were laced with verbal stimulants like "hope" and "change" hardly made them any less tired-sounding to my ears, even if they seemed to work like a shot of adrenalin on millions of Americans.

(Why so many millions of people in a country that has changed more in the last 50 years than any other society in history in a similar period should want still more change is something I have trouble fathoming too, but that's a subject for a different column.)

Politicians are rarely spontaneous animals and can't usually afford to be, but I've rarely seen one who strikes me as more calculated or programmed than Mr. Obama. Watch his eyes when he raises his arms and lifts his voice with emotion at a dramatic moment in a speech; they remain cool and appraising, as if they were standing back from the rest of him to rate himself and his audience. You can see him assessing his effect on his listeners as he speaks. In my book, that's working a crowd, not charisma. I don't deny that it's impressive that less than 50 years after the fall of racial segregation, America seems capable of electing its first black president. (Who is, of course, half-white. It's a curious fact about liberal America that it continues to accept the old white supremacist notion that any amount of African blood in a man makes him "black" — but that's a subject for another column, too.)

This is something America can justifiably feel proud of. And indeed it does feel proud of it — to the point, one suspects, that the only racism at work in Mr. Obama's campaign is the kind that is in his favor. To ask a politically incorrect question: If the junior senator from Illinois, with two years of undistinguished service in the Senate behind him, were white, could he ever have succeeded in making himself a serious presidential contender? Who would have taken the slightest interest in him?
I should also like to add that this post is highly politically incorrect. Such discussion cannot be brought up in polite conversation, and that is shameful. I am certainly no racist (that I have to add this is itself a sign of the times), and do fully agree with Halkin that Obama's running as a candidate and his widespread support in a country that was in many ways quite racist 50 years ago are very, very positive things. However, these things should be irrelevant to Obama's candidacy. His voting record is as liberal as they come. He is indeed quite charismatic, but so are Huckabee and Edwards and McCain. Besides, "charisma" does not translate into "presidentiality", not by a long shot.

This is not to say that Obama does not have a powerfully addictive sense of optimism and youth and charisma. He does indeed embody "change." But again, many politicians do, and when you hear people talking about Obama as "articulate" (who ever speaks of white candidates as "articulate?"), you have to wonder if what I've written is true at least to some degree. I don't mean to suggest that Obama's popularity is solely due to his blackness; far from it. What I'm saying is that this astonishing degree of support for Obama, especially among the young, is certainly helped along by his being black and charismatic at the same time.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


[16:14] : that test was unbelievable
[16:14] : it makes any of his other tests look like sissy tests
Yes, I do agree that the biology midterm was ridiculously difficult. The questions were confusing and misleading, poorly worded, indirect, and many were just downright hard.

The calculus midterm, on the other hand, was surprisingly easy. Which is odd, as I had studied for it much more than I had studied for the biology midterm, expecting the calculus one to be more difficult. Oh well. Grades don't count anymore, I suppose.

High Schools in Teen Dramas

I feel like Mugatu in Zoolander (emphasis added):
Mugatu: SHUT UP! Enough already, Ballstein! Who cares about Derek Zoolander anyway? The man has only one look, for Christ's sake! Blue Steel? Ferrari? Le Tigra? They're the same face! Doesn't anybody notice this? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills! I invented the piano key necktie, I invented it! What have you done, Derek? You've done nothing! NOTHIIIING! And I will be a monkey's uncle if I let you ruin this for me, because if you can't get the job done, then I will!
[flings "M" shaped shuriken at the Prime Minister]
Mugatu: Die, you wage-hiking scum!
It seems that nobody notices that high schools in teen dramas and movies almost invariably look and seem like college campuses. The 'kids' all have perfectly polished faces, the males all have beards, people are sitting down on the grass outside of the school (I go to high school, and I can assure you that nobody does this), the teachers have odd pseudo-English accents, and all of the students, even those straight out of 8th grade, look like they're in their 20s. It's ridiculous. Proof? Search YouTube for Dawson's Creek, My So-Called Life, One Tree Hill, &c.

Most college campuses, in fact, probably don't look like these high schools. The only shows I have seen that portray high schools accurately are those on Nickelodeon, the kids' TV channel; these include Zoey 101 (with respect to the ages of the kids, not to the pseudo-collegiate atmosphere), for example. One reason's obvious; to make teen dramas good, TV studios need to get college graduates to play kids in high school. Nickelodeon's shows need not live up to that standard, and so Nick hires actual kids to play these roles.

But I think there's more. I think in the minds of TV executives, there's this idyllic picture of what high school's actually like, and it sort of resembles college. See this video of O.C. clips, for example. The characters, all of whom could easily pass as college grads (and I'm sure many of them are), are dancing around, partying, and having oddly dramatic and weird interactions. High school, at least for me, is not like this nonsense at all.

Solution? How about "college dramas?" Honestly, they'd be a lot more believable.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Acne Scarring on Wikipedia!

Check this out. Yes, it's a sordid topic, but I created the page and wrote it, and I must say, I'm quite proud of it. ☺

Sunday, January 20, 2008

McCain; Shamnesty?

McCain wins in South Carolina! Hurrah!

Anyway, that loser Michelle Malkin keeps calling McCain "Mr. Shamnesty," all because he's quite serious about illegal immigration. Shamnesty is a funny word the bullies at Fox News have contrived essentially to demean those whose positions on the illegal immigration issue consist in something other than "GET THEM OUT OF OUR COUNTREZ LOL."

It's almost like a magic talisman she uses to demean and bully the guy; and of course, she never provides any argument in support of her position (unless some variant of "Grrr, they took er jobs" counts). Indeed it appears that "Shamnesty" is her argument. It's a very convenient little thought box in which to place your opponents, and it provides a handy substitute for debate; I can assure you that it's quite common in middle and high school. She links to this video, in which McCain is in fact booed on stage (for his discussing actual ideas and not mere platitudes), but neglects to mention that he was cheered after saying (rightly to my mind), "I'm not gonna call up the soldier that's fighting in Iraq today and tell him I'm gonna deport his mother, I'm not gonna do that, you can do it." They can indeed, McCain. Ignore Malkin and her deport-them-all nonsense; those of us who see the issue realistically support you wholeheartedly on this matter.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The McCain Surge

Look at this. McCain has surged in the polls just as Huckabee had a month ago. Huckabee is now going down. Giuliani is in free fall.

Moral of the story? Things are nearly impossible to predict in politics, and change astonishingly quickly. Not, unfortunately, to my liking; though I very much support McCain's stance on the Iraq war, and deeply admire his courage and ethical fortitude, he is too willing to yield to Big Government, and he's not much of a fiscal conservative. (Admittedly, however, he's an ardent budget-cutter; you have to give him credit for that.)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

New York Times Memo Re:Kristol's Hiring

The New York Times has hired William Kristol, neo-conservative commentator, to write opinion pieces for the editorial page. Shocking, I know. Here's a funny imaginary memo sent to the Times employees regarding his hiring:
Welcome back. I hope everyone had a wonderfully secular winter solstice.

Many of you no doubt have heard the news that, in the grand tradition of diversity that is a hallmark of this great newspaper, conservative Bill Kristol will soon join us as an opinion columnist. I’m personally quite pleased to finally add the elusive neo-conservative species to the New York Times employee mosaic. Further, I am confident that Mr. Kristol will look absolutely fabulous sitting in between the transgendered Mongolian-American proofreader, Genghis John, and Darnae, our formaldehyde-entombed, late-term abortion mascot.
Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

From the 'Water is Wet' Department

This important breaking news just in from Reuters:
Message, not gender, turns voters off Clinton
MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (Reuters) - Voters are not turning their backs on Hillary Clinton because of doubts about a woman in the White House but rather turning on to the optimistic message of her rival Barack Obama, according to some experts on gender and leadership.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

There is a potentially huge segment of the population that thinks homo economicus is missing the point. They're tired of the artificial and, indeed, creepily coercive secular multiculti pseudo-religion imposed on American grade schools. I'm sympathetic to this pitch myself. Unlike Miss Noonan, I think it's actually connected to the jihad, in the sense that radical Islamism is an opportunist enemy which has arisen in the wake of the western world's one-way multiculturalism. In the long run, the relativist mush peddled in our grade schools is a national security threat. But, even in the short term, it's a form of child abuse that cuts off America's next generation from the glories of their inheritance.
From this New York Sun Op-Ed.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Mitt Romney, a Doer?

I am slightly more sympathetic to Mitt Romney after reading this WSJ article:
At a recent "Ask Mitt Anything" night here, a nine-year-old girl asked the Republican candidate what is the first thing he will do as president. "I will build the right team," Mr. Romney replied matter-of-factly. "I tend to be a person driven by data and analysis, not just what's political."

The girl looked at him blankly.

The response was vintage Romney -- the 60-year-old über-management consultant who achieved front-runner status by planning and plotting details of his presidential bid, from PowerPoint presentations to performance benchmarks. Now, as he tries to close the biggest sale of his life, Mr. Romney's carefully-crafted "operating plan" is under siege.

Obama and Hillary Relationship in New Hampshire?

This is interesting. The pollings lines of Obama and Hillary in New Hampshire vary inversely with time, almost perfectly so; if Obama dips, Hillary rises, and vice versa. This would ordinarily be uninteresting were it not for the lines' perfect proportioning.

Bill O'Reilly the Bully

Bill O's been canvassing New Hampshire and talking to the candidates. Actually, "bullying" may be a better word, given this AP story:
A U.S. Secret Service agent (C) steps in to intervene after Fox News Channel television talk show host Bill O'Reilly (L) shoved Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Barack Obama's National Trip Director Marvin Nicholson (R) while trying to get to the Senator at the end of a campaign rally in Nashua, New Hampshire, January 5, 2008.
He then confronted Obama and began being, well, Bill O'Reilly.

Pictures and information here, here, here, and here.

The CBS story provides the fullest account:
Fox news host, Bill O’Reilly, who was not part of the traveling press, apparently stormed to the ropeline with a Fox News camera crew in order to speak with Obama. Many campaign staffers and members of the press were unaware that O’Reilly was at the event. However, after he got into a tussle with Obama’s trip director, Marvin Nicholson, everyone knew that he had arrived.

We found out about the altercation after news photographers returned to the press section. They said O’Reilly was shouting and pushing Nicholson, demanding that he get out of the way of his view of Obama. This happened as Obama was shaking hands with supporters just a few feet away.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Caucuses 2008

Huckabee and Obama win! I suppose this is a huge blow to Romney, whose millions seem to have come to naught. Still, I can't help but think that the Democrats are rejoicing in the Republicans' choosing "glass-jaw" Huckabee, and rightly so; if the Republicans end up nominating him, they deserve to lose.

Hillary's campaign has also suffered here, but I suspect she's following Giuliani's strategy of focusing on the well-populated East and West coasts.

Edwards pulled a surprising third. He's a fiery orator (dare I compare this guy?) in his railings against "corporate greed," all the more surprising given his fawning support from trial lawyers who themselves are no friends of big companies. Indeed the lawyers seem almost to make more money by suing the companies than the companies do themselves.

Bob Novak made a surprisingly accurate prediction yesterday. His lists were as follows:
1st Place: Mitt Romney
2nd Place: Mike Huckabee
3rd Place: Fred Thompson
4th Place: John McCain

1st Place: Barack Obama
2nd Place: John Edwards
3rd Place: Hillary Clinton
4th Place: Bill Richardson

Given the notorious difficulty inherent in predicting the outcomes of the caucuses, his accuracy is stunning. He got the Democrats' positions perfectly, and half of the Republicans', with the only reversal being that between Romney and Huckabee for second and first, respectively.

I Knew It!

Paul/Kucinich "unity" ticket.