Monday, December 31, 2007

Why Lie: The Assassination of Benazir Bhutto

Other than a futile attempt to avoid embarrassment, what benefit does the Pakistani government derive from lying to the world about the assassination Benazir Bhutto? Not that this one video is definitive, but it seems pretty likely that she was shot, all things considered.

Three Great Films: The Cooler, Vor, The Wind That Shakes The Barely

In the doldrums between Christmas and New Years amid the new noisy toys, I have discovered three films that are defiantly worth watching.

The Cooler with William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin and Maria Bello 2003. William H. Macy plays a man, a cooler, so unlucky that his very presence will “cool” a hot streak. Alec Baldwin, a hard case casino owner, employs him to make sure no one leaves the casino a winner. Macy’s character, Bernie meets and falls in love with Maria Bello’s character Natalie, and everything changes.
Performance wise, it’s a pleasure to watch good actors work their chops on a good script and a compelling story. William H. Macy is always awesome, in this role I don’t think anyone could have played it better. With all the nonsense that surrounds Alec Baldwin at times, it’s easy to forget that he too is capable of excellent performances when given a good script, i.e. this movie, The Departed, Glengarry Glen Ross, and Thick as Thieves. The beautiful and believable Maria Bello brings a mix of vulnerability and strength that allow us to believe she can change things for the uber loser Bernie.
Some weird belief systems are at play in this film, none more important than luck, both good and bad. In The Cooler, luck isn’t some notion to be wished for, it’s the elephant dominating the room that most people don’t seem to notice.

Vor or The Thief 1997, with a bunch of fine Russian actors you probably don’t know. In Russian, with subtitles, Vor is about a beautiful young woman with a young son who meets a charming rogue on a train and how they begin their life together. Set in the former Soviet Union just after the Great Patriotic War, this is one of those transporting films that takes you, convincingly, to a different time and place. Sadly the people in this time and place are still all too human, and like a work of great Russian fiction, we see how this unhappy family is unhappy in its own unique way. Sad, somewhat bleak but oddly not depressing, a film that you will remember.

The Wind That Shakes The Barely 2006. Starring Cillian Murphy as a young doctor who becomes an Irish Republican Army soldier in 1920 Ireland. Although this film is very sympathetic to the cause of Irish nationalism, it is by no means simple in it’s depiction of the choices these people had to make, that in a nutshell is what makes me love this film.
There is a scene where the Irish Republicans debate what is to be done in their New Republic. Each has suffered greatly and lost much, each has his or her own hard earned point of view but some are diametrically opposed to their former brothers in arms. The dialogue sounds as if the actors were allowed to argue their character’s position in their own words, while at times the brogues can be hard to understand with my American ears, some of the dialogue in this film is as good as any ever made.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sometimes Appearances Aren't Deceiving

A lot has been made recently over the physical appearance of candidates and how our nation's obsession with youth is particularly hard on woman candidates such as Hillary Clinton. I don't doubt that women are held to a higher standard, but most of that nonsense is their own doing. Last I checked, most men couldn't care less about fashion, makeup or sadly in some cases even basic hygiene. I don't think too many men found Ella Grasso, Golda Meir or Margaret Thatcher all that sexually alluring, but it was never about that with these women. It was about their policies, brilliance and excellence.
Hillary Clinton is politically and aurally abhorrent to me but there's nothing wrong with how she dresses or looks. If anything, she's much better looking now, than she used to be. Not that that matters in the least. If she looked liked Bella Abzug and thought like Ronald Reagan I'd vote for her. If she looked like Audrey Hepburn and thought like Hillary Clinton, I'd vote for who ever runs against her.
One look at Dennis Kucinich and it's plainly clear that the hamster's off his wheel. What you see is what you get with John Edwards, a primped and blow dried lightweight. That's a bit of a double standard, men are expected to be tall, blue suited, well groomed and preferably handsome, but not look as if they try to be. In my opinion, any man or woman who uses botox or has hair plugs is far too vain to be trusted with national office.
As a man, it's not hard to groom. You shave, shower, deodorize, clip, swab, comb and dress. What are you going to wear? A blue suit, a white shirt and a reddish tie. Black tie for formal events, white tie for very formal events. Jeans or khakis and a chambray shirt when casual. Never, ever be caught dead windsurfing in a little spandex outfit, that's just gay. Gay in the bad sense, not in the proud and perfectly OK sense of our robust homosexual community. Never, ever wear a sweater vest or cardigan sweater or a multicolored Cosby sweater, you're not running for president of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Mike Huckabee's Loathsome Christmas Ad

I don't like Mike Huckabee, it's nothing personal, I just prefer someone more adroit on policy, less lenient on crime, less socially conservative and more fiscally responsible and now a tad less bible thumpy. Don't get me wrong, I'll still vote for him or any other Republican over any other Democrat, but he is not my type of guy.

Then there's this Christmas ad, which I find very disturbing. It's not the sentiment, I'm fine with that, it's the intent and the context. Huckabee isn't just wishing you, me and everybody else a merry Christmas, he's reminding you, me and everybody else that he's the real Christian running for president. Enough already. Religion has it's place in our broad Republic, but it should never be the central issue for a presidential candidate. If this is who Huckabee is, God bless and keep him, he should stay in Arkansas get himself a church and preach away.

People complain that Huckabee's religiosity has gotten more attention than Barack Obama's. While true, I think that's because people pay Huckabee the respect of taking him seriously.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


If there's anything worse than a dumbass, it's a cheap dumbass:
BERLIN - A man nearly died from alcohol poisoning after quaffing two pints of vodka at an airport security check instead of handing it over to comply with new rules about carrying liquids aboard a plane, police said Wednesday.

Indiana Jones and The Plastic Hip Replacement

There's going to be a fourth Indiana Jones movie, yippee! The first was 9.5, the second was 4.3 and the third was a solid 8, on a scale of 1 to 10. I hope the fourth will be worth the wait.
The cast is outstanding, Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent, John Hurt, Karen Allen, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf and a spry 65 year old Harrison Ford. The screen writer David Koepp has written some pretty clever movies, The Paper, Zathura, Panic Room, Stir of Echoes among many others so the screen play has got to better than Temple of Doom. As I remember the screenplay wasn't all that bad, it was Kate Capshaw that was annoying. She and the twerpy little Vietnamese kid, Short Round. The Temple of Doom would have been a much better movie if they were devoured by fire ants.

Nerf Long Shot

I bought the boys Nerf Long Shots for Christmas, much to the dismay of La Duderina. They're pretty awesome. They come with a scope, integral bi-pod, two magazines and a second gun that attaches and fires co-axially, kinda like an M-203. The loading and firing procedure is eerily similar to most modern assault rifles except you have to work the bolt manually. The day they make a gas operated Long Shot, I'll buy three of them.
They work pretty well once you, I mean the kids, get the hang of it. The quality and design is impressive. They can shoot pretty far too. Some overgrown kids have posted modifications that will increase the range even further. Since I prefer my children with two working eyes, each, I'll pass on the mods for the nonce.

Sub Prime Mortgages

For many, many years people with poor credit, non-traditional income or both could not get a mortgage. The market responded about 10 or 12 years ago with sub prime and Alt-A mortgages, which to one degree or another addressed the needs of these borrwers.
In the last three years not only were these mortgages very lax in their underwriting standards they were also relatively inexpensive, which was seen at the time as very beneficial for consumers. While great for the borrowers, many sub prime lenders who could not sell the mortgage backed securities because of their low rate of return went out of business, sending waves of panic across the financial markets. Here in Connecticut the most notable victim of this was Mortgage Lenders Network who by most accounts went broke giving sub prime and Alt-A loans at better than A loan prices.
The problem with sub prime and Alt-A loans is that just because you can get one of these mortgages doesn’t necessarily mean you can pay it. Agency mortgages, i.e. Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, or government mortgages FHA or VA, require that you have decent credit and that prove your income, then they use mathematical formulae to determine what you can afford. Many of these sub prime or Alt-A mortgages did not require proof of income and lent money to people with marginal credit histories.
For the past ten years or so housing has seen steady if not rapid appreciation. Lenders counted on this appreciation when setting their underwriting guidelines. They calculated that if they lent you $300,000 on $300,000 house and you paid them like a champ for two years or three years before you ran into trouble, they would have recouped their origination costs, and then some, and the house would have developed its own equity in the rising market. Enough equity that you would either sell it yourself to protect your equity or they would foreclose and be made whole in the liquidation of their collateral.
These three factors unsound underwriting guidelines, low rates and a softening housing market have conspired to create the problems that face us today.
A perfect example of these factors is a loan I did three years ago for this young couple who were buying their first home. It wasn’t a starter home by any standard, it was a 3800 square foot newly constructed home with a marble kitchen and 3.5 bathrooms, central air and vacuum, 11 foot ceilings on all three floors including an additional 1900 square feet in the finished walkout basement. The couple worked at one of the major insurers in the area and made about $100,000 a year combined. Why were they looking at houses close to $500,000? Because with their credit they could, on paper any way, afford it with an Alt-A, stated 5/1 interest only adjustable rate mortgage. The borrowed the full amount, $478,000 and had a housing payment slightly more than half of their combined, gross monthly income.
Were these people stupid? Yes and no. I wouldn’t have done it, but they figured that they would buy as much house as they could possibly afford and as that house increased in value they would reap the benefit of that appreciation of the larger asset. The problem is that there has been no appreciation. This couple is about two years from their first adjustment on their mortgage when their rate will go up 2% and they haven’t paid a dime against their principle yet. Both of these borrowers were pretty sharp, college educated and financially astute. In two years they will probably own an asset that while appealing, desirable and functional will not be worth what they paid for it. Unless they have received substantial raises they will not be able to afford the house when their rate adjusts. What do you think they will do?
Now, do you believe these people are in need of some government intervention on their behalf? They are both adults, they knew the risks but felt the rewards and the added benefit of living in a grand home outweighed them. The lender knew the risks too. When two 25 year old borrowers with two years on the job at an insurance company states his or her income high enough to buy a $478,000 home and more importantly pays a higher rate so that they can state and not prove their income, you don’t need to be Warren Buffett to see there is some risk there. Apparently the lender felt the risk was outweighed by the rewards.

The Knicks and Why They Suck

I don't know too much about basketball but this can't be good.

Gun Control: Colorado Springs Shooting

So it turns out that the yahoo who shot up the missionaries in Colorado Springs was shot, but not necessarily killed, by an armed volunteer security guard. It makes you wonder how many people he would have killed if he had been met with only harsh language and a pissy demeanor.

There is a tendency in out society to look upon armed citizens as odd or bellicose. I'm probably a little bit of both, but even so I am very unlikely to shoot anybody who doesn't have it comming to them. So the question becomes are you safer in a crowd of people where every single decent, law abiding person is unarmed and only the crazies have guns or are you safer in crowd where 1 in 5 of your friends and neighbors are well armed? How you answer that question depends to a large degree on how realistic you are. The Liberal Utopian will say the scenario with no guns is preferable, even though that scenario does not exist. The realist will grit his or her teeth, curse the fact that there are insane and/or evil assholes in the world and strap up. It's the responsible thing to do.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Brandi Carlile

What a voice! Apparently everyone in the world has been onto this woman for months but me. I like this song for two reasons, the chord progression is so basic and familiar it's like you knew it even before you heard it while where she goes with her voice is pleasantly surprising. I'm a bit surprised sombody like this was given a shot in todays McMusic world.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Seasons Greetings From The Tree Brain

Visit The Sneeze.

Michael Vick

It's fascinating that Michael Vick's supporters are predominantly black and his detractors predominantly white. Do his supporters think that Vick is the victim of over zealous prosecution for a "sport" that is misunderstood? What, exactly, is the acceptance level of dog fighting in Black America? It seems, I'm speculating here, that Blacks are a little more tolerant of dog fighting than the rest of America. Or it could be that they value the freedom and wealth of a successful Black athlete more than the lives of a given number of dogs. Or it may be that dog fighting, per se, has nothing to do with their support, it may be entirely racial. If Vick were white I doubt he'd be enjoying the support of anybody.
Then there's the animal rights protesters who do their cause and race relations little favor by calling for Vick's death and or neutering. Neutering, where the hell did that come from? You don't have to be a Vick supporter to realize these people have their values misplaced.
Vick may get at little as time served today or he may be sentenced to as much as five years. I'd wager that he'll get something in the middle, two or two and half years and that will be closer to justice than either extreme could hope to find.

Andrew Young Opines on Obama and Bubba

ATLANTA (AP) - Civil rights icon Andrew Young says Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is too young and lacks the support network to ascend to the White House.
In a media interview posted online, Young also quipped that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton has her husband behind her, and that "Bill is every bit as black as Barack."
"He's probably gone with more black women than Barack," Young said of former President Clinton, drawing laughter from a live television audience. Young, 75, was quick to follow his comment on Bill Clinton with the disclaimer, "I'm clowning."

Hysterical. No wonder why Oprah is supporting Obama.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Common Thrill: Like It Is

It's funny to see the video, I was there in Brooklyn for the filming and it's funny to see how everyone comes across in the video.

The stripper is actually a very, very sweet young French model named Isabella and she's close to six feet tall.

The old bald perv in the peep show is a the only professional actor in the video, I can't recall his name for the life of me, but he's been in dozens of films and TV shows, like Rescue Me. We would bowl on Nintendo Wii while he was waiting around the shoot. He's about as far from a peep show perv in real life as a man can get, still he looks pretty convincing here.

Mark the bassist for Common Thrill looks and act pretty much as he does in real life as he drags John from the booth. I get the feeling he may have had to do this before.

Fight Club the Movie

Even though Fight Club has the Pixies' Where is My Mind in the soundtrack and a trampy looking Helena Bonham Carter, it is about as stupid a movie as you are likely to see that doesn't include a dog named Scooby Doo. I challenge anyone to defend the inane, nihilistic bullshit philosophy of the film. Anyone?

Are We To Believe The NIE On Iran's Nuclear Intentions?

I read the declassified summery of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities. I don't buy it.
The 2005 NIE said that Iran was intent on manufacturing an atomic bomb, the 2007 NIE says they "halted its nuclear weapons program" in 2003, ostensibly due to our military invasion of Iraq and subsequent deposition of Saddam Husein. Did our armies convince Iran to be good citizens or are they just hiding their activities better?
Much of this NIE reads like wishful thinking, as if those in the intelligence community would rather be writing policy than intelligence estimates. When I was a weather guy, a tool in forecasting was that you would predict persistence, i.e. that things will stay the same, unless you have twice the amount of reliable data to predict otherwise. This NIE is so drastically different in it's policy implications from the 2005 NIE, that I wonder what made them change their mind so abruptly.
Former ambassador John Bolton is not convinced either:
The real differences between the NIEs are not in the hard data but in the psychological assessment of the mullahs' motives and objectives. The current NIE freely admits to having only moderate confidence that the suspension continues and says that there are significant gaps in our intelligence and that our analysts dissent from their initial judgment on suspension. This alone should give us considerable pause.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

"How Ought We Order Our Life Together"

Over at First Things the always brilliant Father Richard John Neuhaus shares his thoughts on the separation of church and state, give it a read.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Selective Outrage

NOW is outraged that Don Imus is back on the air, but is "not putting out a statement or taking a position", or saying a damn thing about Gillian Gibbons the British woman imprisoned in Sudan for allowing her students to name a teddy bear Mohammad - who has been released btw, no thanks to NOW.
Is it too much to expect NOW to vigorously oppose Islamic extremism instead of a tired, old, radio hack? Some old fart calls a group of of woman, any one of which could beat his ass, "nappy headed hos" and it's gigantic panties in a knot time at NOW headquarters. Throw a woman in jail on absurd charges and NOW is mute. Search their website for "Ayaan Hirsi Ali" and they are mute. A woman is raped and then sentenced to 200 lashes, her rapists get a few years in prison and NOW is mute yet again. How can one take NOW seriously?

Hillary Gets The Vapors

This inspires confidence:
Clinton calls hostage crisis traumatic
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Hillary Rodham Clinton said Sunday that calling the families of the campaign staffers taken hostage at her Rochester, N.H., office last week was the most difficult part of the ordeal.
"Those were the most emotional moments, I have to tell you, calling them in the first instants to tell them what had happened," she told reporters after a campaign stop in eastern Iowa.

I don't believe Hillary Clinton was traumatised one bit by this inconvenience, she's merely trying to soften her shrill, flinty image. In a way it's not fair. If a male candidate is seen as insensitive in this sort of situation, he could claim that as president he needs to get things done despite his personal feelings. When Hillary does it, she's seen as an uncaring bitch.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Jesse Jackson Solves Our Subprime Mortgage Woes

Jessie Jackson will accomplish nothing other than line his own pockets with filthy shake down lucre.

Whoopi Goldberg: Dhimmi of The Month

You would think that Gillian Gibbons the 54 year British school teacher imprisoned in Khartoum Sudan for the egregious crime of allowing school children to name a teddy bear Muhammad would enjoy the support of feminists and liberals. Wrong. As threats of beheading swarm about her, the National Organization for Woman are "not putting out a statement or taking a position." Brave that. If only the outraged Islamic zealots had patted her butt with their collective hand, boy then they would face the full fury of a feminist hissy fit.
The there's Whoopi Goldberg who, like the clueless gomeril she is, blames the victim:
"You’d think if you’re going overseas, I mean, we had this discussion yesterday
about people coming to America and learning the customs and knowing what is
cool, and what isn’t cool. But I find that maybe we are not- and I say we just
as European and American, we’re not as anxious to learn the customs before we go
places. It’s just one of the reasons we’re called the ugly Americans."
I don't expect much from Whoopi Goldberg, but this isn't a tough one. What should be considered, at worst, an insensitive cultural gaff has an innocent 54 year old woman school teacher in prison with angry mobs literally calling for her head. Goldberg's typical liberal reaction only emboldens such behavior by validating it. Somehow I think if Gillian Gibbons was being held in an American prison for advocating the assassination of the president or any other seditious activity liberals are so fond of lately, Goldberg would be outraged.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Winning the War

Rep. John Murtha, Surrender Party, Pennsylvania now admits the surge is working. I give him credit for recognizing the ineluctable modality of the evident, no matter how completely, utterly and seditiously wrong he had been heretofore. But that brings up a big question. Who, other than our Islamicist enemies, pray for America's defeat? Who benefits from American servicemen getting maimed and killed? And since we all know the answer to my silly rhetorical questions, why would anyone vote for the democratic party who failed at their one tenet, their one goal: to end the war in Iraq and bring our armies home in defeat?

Boston Corbett

Boston Corbett was a trooper of the 16th New York Calvary who shot and killed John Wilkes Booth on April 26, 1865, he was also a nuttier than a pecan pie with almonds on it.
Born Thomas P. Corbett in London England in 1832 he emigrated as a child with his family to New York city in 1839, later becoming a hatter in Troy New York. It is suspected that the mercury used in the felting process made him mad. How mad you ask? In 1858 he used a pair of scissors to open his scrotum and clip off his testicles. Corbett did this to avoid the temptation of prostitutes. The historical record is silent as to whether or not this technique worked, but you have to admire his commitment.
Exactly why Corbett shot Booth is not exactly clear. Contrary to popular belief, there were no orders not to shoot and as a NCO Corbett could reasonably be expected to act on his own initiative if threatened. At one point Corbett said he thought Booth was about to fire on another trooper and he also said that God told him to do it. In addition to being crazy Corbett was also extremely religious. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton had hoped to bring in Booth alive to ferret out any broader conspiracy, but it was Stanton who let Corbett off the hook for shooting Booth.
In one of the ironies that make the facts surrounding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln so much stranger than fiction, Corbett shot Booth in the neck just behind his left ear - a wound eerily similar to the grievous wound Booth inflicted upon poor honest Abe. And like Lincoln, Booth was not killed instantly but survived the night to die just as the sun rose in Virginia. Unlike Lincoln, Booths was sentient as he lay dying, though paralyzed from the neck down. Allegedly, Booth's last words were "useless, useless", perhaps in reference to his hands that he had asked those attending to him to lift up for him to see.