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What Would People Think?

Saturday, April 29, 2006

It's 3:00 in the Freakin' Morning!

It's 3:00 AM. 3 O'Clock in the freakin' morning!

"I'm FINISHED with my paper", I said. "All I have to do is a little Bluebooking," I said. (For those of you who don't know, the Bluebook is the MLA Handbook's drug-induced nightmare. "Bluebooking" is going back and making sure your citations are accurate and in the right form.)

"A little Bluebooking." Ha!

For crying out loud 3:00 in the MORNING!

Have I ever told you how much I despise the Bluebook? Because I do. I secretly think it was written by the minions of Hell. I'm not at all surprised that the minions of Hell come from Harvard.

WHO THE HELL REALLY CARES IF I ABBREVIATE CALIFORNIA AS "Calif." OR "Cal."? I certainly don't at THREE.............IN...............THE................MORNING!

The writers of the Bluebook should be tied up and bled to death with papercuts. The writers of the Bluebook should be forced to figure out how to cite an Internet source over and over again, like Sisyphus pushing that damn rock up the hill. The writers of the Bluebook could all spontaneously combust right now and there would be joy and laughter and celebration in law schools nationwide. I'd start a movement to declare it a national holiday.

And if George W. Bush didn't make it a holiday, I'd sue him. With a very poorly cited complaint. Because this is AMERICA dammit! We don't need no stinkin' grammar.

For the love of God and all that is holy......it's 3:00 AM and I'm still Bluebooking!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Random Collection O' Stuff

....of varying seriousness.

1. The Smithy Code is solved! I hereby declare that "Jackie Fisher who are you Dreadnought" should be the new "All Your Base Are Belong To Us."

2. Actual good news. The economy went up on nearly all fronts in the first quarter of 2006.

3. The sky continues to fall. The expected bad report about Iran goes to the United Nations and Mahmoud "Should Be Kicked In The Teeth" Ahmadinejad responds with characteristic sober maturity. Bush still acts like he's interested in harsh, strong diplomacy and I pray that I can believe him.

4. Oh, and our good buddy Russia decides to lend a hand in that whole Iran thing by (a) launching a spy satellite for Israel to observe Iran's doings, (b) opposing sanctions of any kind against Iran, and (c) selling MISSILES to Iran! Thanks, Russia. This ranks right up there with telling Saddam our military secrets. Um, you guys do realize the Cold War is over, right?

5. My national security paper is finally FINISHED! Well, except for the Bluebooking. Coming soon, a teaser trailer of my paper. [Ben waits for applause. Crickets chirp.]

6. Mike asks the important movie-related question of the day: to see or not to see United 93? When I saw the trailer for it, I was beyond angry. It looked to me like they were going to cheapen the heroism of the passengers who fought back against the terrorists on 9/11 in that fourth plane by turning them into patriotic movie cliches. But now the movie reviews are out, including Roger Ebert, whom I all but swear by. (I do occasionally disagree with him on movies. For instance, I have a greater tolerance than him for plot twists. But that's beside the point.) The acclaim is nearly universal. I don't quite know what to make of that. I may be torn to pieces emotionally by it, but if it accurately portrays the events of that day and honors the heroes in a respectful but non-cliche way, I may have to see it.

7. Speaking of 9/11.....as part of the research for my paper, I read the speech Bush gave on 9/20/2001. Funny, it still moves me. As I discussed in my call to impeach Bush a while back, I was not opposed to him at that time...back before the Iraq war. As I read that speech now, I am taken back to that time, when I fully agreed with him and felt that we were beginning a tragic but necessary struggle against evil men. And I still do agree with that. I just don't think he's the man to do it. But that's not my point. My point is that I read that speech.....and tears still come to my eyes. It seems like a lifetime ago when I was rallying around the President with almost everybody else. I dunno. It's just weird.

My Other New Heroes

These ladies are way beyond awesome!

You know the writer had fun with this article when it begins "They came, they hobbled, they conquered."

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Smithy Code

A British judge, ruling on whether The Da Vinci Code violated the copyright of another book, has worked a secret code into the opinion he wrote. His name's Justice Peter Smith and he calls it "The Smithy Code."

This guy's definitely my new hero. I can't wait to find out who breaks the code. Where's that Enigma codebreaker when you need it?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Next Best Use of My Time

The PERFECT personality quiz for a C.S. Lewis nerd like me: Which Chronicles of Narnia Character Are You?

It turns out I'm Prince Rilian from The Silver Chair:

As Prince Rilian, you are brave, noble and intelligent, but easily misguided! Just make sure you don't go after any green women.

Green women. Got it. This is helpful. Thanks, Narnia Quiz!

Looks like they've got pictures from the old BBC production.

An an entirely unrelated note, I agree with a friend of a friend - much as I love criminal defense work, I would NOT want to be Zacarias Moussaoui's defense lawyer.

Now I Know Where To Go To Get Cheap Gas.....

Natrona, Wyoming.

This information brought to you by the fine folks who made a county-by-county gas prices map of the entire continental United States.

You will see from this map why I always stop for gas in South Carolina when I drive between Durham and Atlanta.

Nostalgia moment: remember when gas was less than a buck a gallon?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Intellectual Contortions

In the midst of writing my national security paper (still!), I have come upon the weakest portion of my argument. If any of you bother to read my paper (and yes, I'll send it to you upon request, if you are that desperate for reading material), I'll tell you what it is afterwards. But I feel no need to trumpet my weaknesses now. (Yeah, I've certainly never been known to trumpet my weaknesses.)

So anyway, I've had to engage in what might charitably be called "intellectual contortions" to make my argument. But luckily, it looks like I can look back for moral support at the father of all intellectual contortions: Thomas Jefferson.

Don't get me wrong. I think the Founding Fathers kick ass. I've read no less than seven books about them for fun! But Thomas Jefferson kicks the least ass among the Founders. Sure, he was a great writer. Check out the Declaration of Independence for proof. It's just that well.....he was a lying, backstabbing, slave-owning, self-deceptive hypocrite.

Check out these golden words he wrote on the topic of slavery:

Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever.

So, needless to say, Jefferson owned slaves. And, unlike Washington, he did not set them free in his will.

But, as usual, this is all just an unreasonably long-winded introduction to a passage by Thomas Jefferson that made my jaw drop.

To explain: Jefferson had an unusually restrictive view of the Constitution, especially of the power of the President. He feared Washington and Adams were turning the Office of the President into a pseudo-monarchy. For this reason, he tirelessly worked behind the scenes to undermine their Administrations, in the process stabbing his longtime friend John Adams in the back. He held these views with an all-consuming passion right up to the point when he became President himself. Then, he outstripped all his adversaries by negotiating the Louisiana Purchase.

Here's where the strange Jefferson quote comes in. Reflecting upon the Purchase, he wrote a friend:

The Constitution has made no provision for our holding foreign territory, still less for incorporating foreign nations into our Union. The executive [Ben: by which Jefferson means himself] in seizing the fugitive occurrence which so much advances the good of their country, have done an act beyond the Constitution. The Legislature in casting behind them metaphysical subtleties, and risking themselves like faithful servants, must ratify and pay for it, and throw themselves on their country for doing for them unauthorized, what we know they would have done for themselves had they been in a situation to do it.

Translation: So yeah, we totally violated the Constitution. Sorry about that. But we did it for your own good. Re-elect us!

Come to think of it, that sounds vaguely familiar....

I Really Do Hate That Man

One of my favorite thriller/adventure movies is Jurassic Park. I think it's under-appreciated by movie geeks. My favorite thing about it is not the rousing adventure, the special effects, or Samuel L. Jackson's arm. No, my favorite thing is the many throw-away moments that are unnecessary to the plot but define the characters. If you watch the movie closely (and I've seen it a zillion times) you'll see the movie's full of half-spoken lines under a character's breath, humorous asides, and great reaction shots. I get the impression that Spielberg let the actors improv a lot.

Anyways, that's my long-winded ways of introducing a line from that movie which recently popped into my head. Richard Attenborough commenting to himself on Jeff Goldblum's character, with an almost resigned tone to his voice: "I really do hate that man."

Now for a sudden shift in focus.

What made me think of that line? None other than Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I've made it pretty clear that I don't support a military attack on Iran, but I would appreciate the opportunity to kick this man in the teeth.

What fun-loving antics is Mr. "Destroy Israel" doing now? He's boasting about a 2nd, secret nuclear program and then refusing to answer questions about it. I swear to God, the man wants to get bombed.

Too bad he didn't heed my eminently logical advice.

I really do hate that man.

And now, another random Jurassic Park quote:
"I think this was Gennaro."
"I think this was, too."

Monday, April 24, 2006

More "Middle of Exams" Humor


If Fox News Had Been Around Throughout History

It's silly and unfair at times. But, hey, so is its target! And I don't think Fox News has the excuse of being satire.

[Update:] Here's an even better one.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Young Military Officers React

There's a fascinating article in the New York Times about the debates going on among younger military officers in military colleges and on the ground in Iraq in the wake of calls for Rumsfeld's resignation. It's not, as you might think from the fact that I'm posting about it, a Rumsfeld-bashing piece.

Most interesting part to me was the criticism some officers had for senior military leadership, who they feel let the "can-do" military attitude interfere with their advice to civilian leadership.

Anyways, read the article.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Best Use Of My Time

Bored? Looking for humor? Check this out.

Remember: all good things come to an end, or at least start the loop over again.

[Hat Tip: Monica]

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Brief Primer on War

David Barzelay posted a comment on one of my recent posts to which I must respond in full blog format. Here's the relevant part of what David (who I inexplicably sometimes refer to simply as "Barzelay") said:

Oh, and also, I think we should formally have to declare war in order to wage war.

In another part of the post, he describes the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq as "wars" with an emphasis on the quotation marks. Those quote marks already set me off on a rant once on Mike's blog.

Perhaps Barzelay and Mike were merely expressing aspirations about the way things should be in our legal system before something can be called a war or before military force can be used. I have no quarrel with that, I suppose.

But if they are arguing that a congressionally-authorized but undeclared military conflict is not, in fact, a war....or that the only way the United States government can authorize military force is through a declaration of war, they are wrong. They express the understanding of the majority of America...but they are in conflict with basically every modern national security law scholar. America has had over 200 uses of military force, but only 5 declared wars. As early as the 1800 Quasi-War with France (in the cases of Little v. Barreme and Bas v. Tingy) the Supreme Court held that Congress can authorize military force in ways other than declaring a full-scale war. Indeed, there is an argument that the act of "declaring" war was meant to create certain International Law consequences entirely apart from the authorization for use of military force (consequences which are now meaningless under the current state of International Law). The same clause that grants Congress the power to "declare war" also grants the power to issue letters of marque and reprisal. Technically, those letters were grants of military power to privateers, a practice the federal government hasn't used since the War of 1812. But the Founders often used the term "letters of marque and reprisal" to mean authorization of ANY low-intensity military conflict. Finally, every declaration of war in American history contained a separate authorization for use of military force.

So the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are not "wars"....they are WARS! So was Korea. So was Vietnam. If Congress authorizes military force, it's a war.

But.....big "But" here (jokes about '90s rap songs aside)....there is a related debate in the national security law community as to whether Congress has the EXCLUSIVE power to initiate any use of military force or whether the President unilaterally send out the troops in certain situations. It was generally understood that the Constitutional Convention - in changing the Congressional power from the power to "make" war to the power to "declare" war - intended to leave room for the President to act quickly in the case of an invasion when there's no time to call Congress. If Bush had ordered the planes shot down on 9/11, that would have been a perfect example of the President-initiated force the Founders had in mind.

But future Presidents have sought to expand the situations where the President can start a conflict. And therein rages the debate. Scholars range all over the place, from John Yoo (batshit insane) to Stephen Carter (the President can't fart without Congressional permission) (that may be a slight exaggeration). Most are in between those two extremes.

Those of you who believe Congress should have to declare war would be at least partly pleased to know that I lean HEAVILY in favor of the Congress-centric view of who can start a war or otherwise initiate military force when we are not literally being attacked. Which puts me on the fringe of many national security law scholars, but not totally outside the spectrum.

What might push me outside the spectrum is my contention Congress can also control, to some extent, how the President may conduct the war. (This, by the way, is what I am researching right now for my national security law paper on defining the War on Terror.) At least, Congress may set the scope of the war and define what tools the President has at his disposal. It can even do these things in the middle of a war. That's part of my argument. Not many people are saying that. (Although, thankfully for my paper, I've found at least one article that argues my point.) Now I don't imagine Congress would actually get that involved in the nitty-gritty of conducting a war ("this tank should attack from the East, not the South") because, let's face it, a body of 535 people is ill-equipped to take such detailed, speedy action.

The depressing part of my paper (depending on your point of view) is that Congress has given President Bush an incredibly broad Authorization for the Use of Military Force to fight those responsible for 9/11 (read: Al Qaeda and the Taliban). And he's milking it for all it's worth. I might find some limitations in interpreting the AUMF, but it's a pretty broad grant.

Interestingly, there IS a recent conflict which was performed entirely without Congressional authorization, forcing me to conclude that it was illegal: Kosovo. The House and Senate passed similar resolutions supporting some form of force against Serbia, but never agreed on the parameters of authorization. The conflict ended without Congress ever agreeing.

[Correction:] It turns out that Little v. Barreme was an 1804 Supreme Court case, not 1800. But it still arose out of that same Quasi-War with France.

A Bizarre Kind of Recognition

The Duke Law student newspaper, The Devil's Advocate, apparently did a survey last issue for various prizes for 3Ls. I didn't know about this. I hadn't read the last issue because (1) I've been really, really busy, (2) there wasn't anything by me in this issue, and (3) TDA is.....how shall I put this?.....not up to the journalistic standards of, say, The New York Times. Or the Washington Times. Or US Weekly. Or your high school newsletter. Or - dare I sink this low? - this blog.

As it turns out, I should have been paying attention. Even though TDA (par for the course) did not include the results of their survey online, it is available in the paper. Apparently I finished 3rd for "Most Liberal - The Al Franken Award." Actually, I only got 4% of the vote. The 2nd place winner, Ritu Pancholy, got 6%. My friend Ian Millhiser - who requires neither food nor air because he eats and breaths politics - won with 73% of the vote. That's actually about right.

Although I didn't rank in the "Nicest - Least Likely to Razor Blade Pages out of Library Books Award", I got honorable mention because I and one other guy - Chris Fulmer - were the closest any male came to getting in the top 3.

Also, in an article that actually did make it online, I am accused of being a gunner who raises his hand so many times his arm falls off. That, too, is about right. Although I'd like to note that I didn't even rank in the survey for "Biggest Gunner - The Rambo Award." No, the winner of that, with 55% of the vote, was my friend Ian Millhiser, who requires neither food nor...well, you get the idea.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Realpolitik Argument For Diplomacy

In case you haven't noticed, I don't favor military action against Iran. So it really didn't take much convincing for me to agree with Fred Kaplan's article arguing against military action and for diplomacy.

It's an interesting article nonetheless. It basically argues for diplomacy with Iran, not because he thinks it will work, but because it will make it easier to impose economic sanctions which he believes WILL work, and will be more effective than dropping tactical nukes in stopping Iran's nuclear program.

I'm curious to hear your feedback on this.

And Now For Something Completely Different

If that last post was too heavy, I present the following to you in the spirit of levity, amusement, and WTF-ness.

The Story of David Barzelay and The Sketchiest Turkey In History

Ego Brain

[Warning: It's long, rambling, introspective post time. If you're looking for anything interesting and insightful, look elsewhere.]

Y'know the System Of A Down song that makes the title of this blog post could be an accurate description of me. I'm a relatively smart guy (a "Brain") who constantly battles with an oversize ego. I've even written an entire song about it.

Now, my egotism takes a different form than, say, an athlete who brags about his skills all the time. No, my egotism takes the form of playing the "nice guy", getting people to like me, and basking in their praise. I mean, I suppose I'm a nice guy. But I'm not - as Jonathan O'Toole once called me - the "model of what a Christian should be like." I'm not the crusading Democratic leader that some of the 1Ls in the Duke Law Democrats seem to think I am (mostly because they kept seeing my name in e-mails I sent out to the listserv when I was the Dems' President).

It's not that I think it's bad to get compliments or recognition. It's just that (i) I think there's One who deserves praise a LOT more than I do, (ii) I begin to take an unseemly pleasure from the smallest recognition (I even swelled with pride when Mike quoted me in a comment during a debate over on Zhubin's blog) and to actually believe this praise about myself, (iii) as I mention in the paragraph above, some of this praise is undeserved, but I still eat it up, and (iv) it leads me to say and do things I think are wrong - or not say and do things I think are right - in order to maintain that approval.

Why do I bring all this up? I'm sure reading weird confessions like this isn't your cup of tea. If people who weren't my close friends read this, they would probably be a little freaked out.

Part of it was that I promised to explain what "The Perfect Scam" was about - just in case it wasn't blindingly obvious from the lyrics.

The other part is that I've been nominated to be class speaker at graduation. Now, there's probably a large slate of candidates and I only have an outside chance of winning. But I had to think a while before I accepted the nomination. Part of my concern was that my pride would run away with me if I won. (Of course, the other concern was that, if I won, I would fall flat on my face. It would almost be a relief not to win.) (But, then again, it would also be quite an honor to win.)

I ultimately accepted the nomination because I think I might have something useful to say to the graduating class of 2006. Or at least, I'm perfectly capable of delivering an entertaining little speech that will make people laugh for 8-to-10 minutes. (Probably stealing shamelessly from my old Slant article about law school.)

So I guess I wrote this mostly for myself. To remind myself that, if I somehow manage to win, I have a higher calling than making myself look good. So now that I've figured that out.....should I even publish this? Should I really waste other people's time with my ramblings?

Aw, heck. That's never stopped me before!

My friends - if you ever catch me acting egotistical, I ask you to call me out on it!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Short Easter Post

This is the day that we celebrate freedom.

This is the day of the captives' release.

This is the day that the shackles are broken.

The Light of the world has given Himself for you and for me.

We lift our hearts.

We lift our hands.

We lift our voices to the King,

For He is the One

Who turns the darkness into day.

Come as you are.

Come join the dance.

The river of life runs full and free.

Salvation has come.

Jesus is risen from the grave.


He is risen! Hallelujah!

(That's Christian-ese for "boo ya!")

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Truth, Civilian Control, and Rebellious Generals

The New York Times has a very insightful and informative article on the issues of civilian-military relations and civilian control of the military, which have come up in light of the recent demands by several retired generals that Donald Rumsfeld resign as Secretary of Defense. I highly recommend you read it.

I'm torn. On the one hand, I'm a huge proponent of free speech and people speaking their minds, especially people like these generals who have valuable insight into how the War in Iraq is being run. And, I must confess, I'd dearly like to see Rumsfeld go down. His handling of the war (and his helping get us into the war in the first place) is nothing short of a disaster.

But I'm a tad uncomfortable about these military officers voicing the critiques, especially since they say they are speaking for people still in the military. I do believe there's some danger to civilian control of the military when current military officers openly attack the civilian leadership. We're a far cry from a coup, but I'd prefer not to even go down that path. (In much the same way, I want to protect speech I find little of little value and possibly outside the purpose of the First Amendment - say, pornography, which I think contributes nothing good to society - because I don't want to go down the path which may lead to squelching of political dissent.) (And, in those last 2 sentences, you see a fundamental clash in my political values.)

I'm influenced in these ambivalent views by Richard Kohn, one of the experts cited in the article. Mr Kohn spoke to my National Security law class. His views are pretty well laid out in the Times article, but if you want to understand better where he's coming from (and where I'm coming from) read this somewhat lengthy article, which I had to read for class. Or, you might want to read this, much shorter article, also by Kohn.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday

I have tried you in the fires of affliction; I have taught your soul to grieve.
In the barren soil of your loneliness, there I will plant My seed.

Holy darkness, blessed night, heaven's answer hidden from our sight.
As we await you, O God of silence, we embrace your holy night.

I have taught you the price of compassion; you have stood before the grave.
Though My love can seem like a raging storm, this is the love that saves.

Holy darkness, blessed night, heaven's answer hidden from our sight.
As we await you, O God of silence, we embrace your holy night.

In your deepest hour of darkness I will give you wealth untold
When the silence stills your spirit, will My riches fill your soul.

Holy darkness, blessed night, heaven's answer hidden from our sight.
As we await you, O God of silence, we embrace your holy night.


Today is Good Friday. Today's the day when the world was at its darkest for Jesus's small, scared band of followers. Today's the day they watched their Lord undergo torture, injustice, and a humiliating, horrific death. Little did they know the important and wonderful work that was happening that day as the Son of God willingly endured all of it because of his boundless love.

And why should they have known? By all logical indicators, Jesus was a failure. Some no-name traveling rabbi from Nazareth - Nazareth! Might as well have been Las Vegas - who managed to build up a decent following before being wiped out in one fell swoop. Lots of people had hoped he would overthrow the Roman empire and usher in a glorious era of freedom for Israel. Instead he came to Jerusalem amidst parades and then one week later he...died. Some Messiah!

And the Romans....man, they must have been scratching their heads. If crack existed at that time, they must have thought everybody in Jerusalem was on it. Who the heck was this weirdo spouting nonsense about "the kingdom of heaven" and "redemption" and serving "the least of these." The Romans...they were the ones with all the freakin' power! And their gods - let's face it - looked a whole lot more impressive and powerful than some guy meekly being led to a criminal's death.

What fools we all are.

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.

- 1 Corinthians 1:20-25

As I said before about Christmas, so I say about Good Friday: It shows how God turns this world's wisdom on its head. By all logical indicators, Jesus Christ was an abject failure. In fact, in his moment of seeming failure, he achieved the greatest victory! In dying, he killed death. In enduring hate, he expressed unending love. In dying the lowliest of deaths, he proved his worth as our King.

God's love takes everything in this chaotic, power-obsessed world and turns it upside down. And THAT, my friends, is what I find so freakin' cool about Christianity.

Happy Good Friday!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Serious About Diplomacy? I Report, You Decide.

By saying "I report, you decide" I am, of course, admitting that I am no more objective than Fox News. Like Fox News, I am making my point by pointing you towards what I consider to be the important facts. Nonetheless, I will minimize my own commentary in this post. I give you the following stories in non-chronological order.

New Yorker 4/8/06:

The Bush Administration, while publicly advocating diplomacy in order to stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon, has increased clandestine activities inside Iran and intensified planning for a possible major air attack. Current and former American military and intelligence officials said that Air Force planning groups are drawing up lists of targets, and teams of American combat troops have been ordered into Iran, under cover, to collect targeting data and to establish contact with anti-government ethnic-minority groups. . .

There is a growing conviction among members of the United States military, and in the international community, that President Bush’s ultimate goal in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change. . .

One of the military’s initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites. . .

The attention given to the nuclear option has created serious misgivings inside the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he added, and some officers have talked about resigning. Late this winter, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sought to remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans for Iran—without success.

New York Times 4/10/06:

President Bush said Monday that he remained committed to using diplomacy to block Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, his first public comments addressing recent speculation that the United States was weighing military action to do so. The president, taking questions from an audience at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, dismissed reports published over the weekend that described military planning for attacks against Iran, saying they contained "wild speculation."

MSNBC 4/7/06:

Iran has prepared a high-level delegation to hold wide-ranging talks with the US, but the Bush administration is resisting the agenda suggested by Tehran despite pressure from European allies to engage the Islamic republic, Iranian politicians have told the Financial Times. . .

Iran's willingness to engage the US on Iraq, regional security and the nuclear issue, is believed to have the approval of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It represents the most serious attempt by the Islamic republic to reach out to the US since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

But the White House insisted on Thursday that its own offer of talks with Iran, extended several months ago by Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to Baghdad, was limited to the subject of Iraq.

Christy has suggested to me that now would be a good time to consider moving to Australia.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Another One of My Childhood Fantasies Goes "Poof"

....all thanks to a Google maps.

I can't be the only one. I distinctly remember that as a child, I was told that if I dug far enough, I'd reach China on the other end of the world. The lure of reaching the other side of the world and making some Chinese friends held the attention of my ADD-addled mind long enough for me to dig, like, 6 inches. Then I played in the sandbox or something instead. My mandate also included weird bugs.

Well, I find out from this website that if I somehow managed to dig my way from where I am sitting in my apartment in Durham, North Carolina......all the way through Earth's molton core....to the other side, I would end up in (drumroll, please). . . Nowhere, Antartica. It's no better from my family's home in Smyrna, Georgia. I'd end up in the Arctic Ocean. Man, this sucks. Another nostalgic childhood moment goes "pfffft."

In future years, I think I'll lie to my kid about this one.

[Hat Tip: Barzelay]

One Of Those Moments

It just occurred to me. I'm getting married in exactly 4 months.

My mind is blown.......

Um, I Appreciate You're Trying, But.....

Italy's "most famous porn star", Cicciolina, recently offered herself to Osama Bin Laden if he'll just give up that whole terrorism thing. She (?) actually said the following quote: "My breasts have only ever helped people while Bin Laden has killed thousands of innocent victims."

Um.....Cicciolina......I appreciate that you're trying.......but......well......

Words fail me.

[Got this courtesy of ThinkProgress. Just so you don't think I was out there Googling "Italian porn stars."]

Monday, April 10, 2006

Why That Article About Iran Is So Disturbing

So as I said in a recent post, it appears the Bush Administration is developing detailed plans for attacking Iran, plans that include the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons.

I discussed this story with my National Security Law professor, an ex-Air Force JAG who knows a lot of top military brass, and he basically confirmed it. He added that, while the military develops broad contingency plans for combat games and training, this kind of detailed planning is unusual. It does not bode well. Either Bush is actually planning to invade Iran, or he wants everybody to think he is. Either way is stupid.

My professor explained that the New Yorker article is basically correct in saying that a lot of the top military brass are urging against these plans, especially against the use of nuclear weapons as a contingency plan....and are basically being ignored by the civilian leadership. The brass are worried that, if we invade or bomb Iran, it will be a tactical nightmare. We are already stretched dangerously thin because of Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran hasn't exactly bunched all their military and nuclear targets together for us to easily bomb. There are so many diffuse sites that need to be taken out that it will take a massive bombing and invasion.....and we probably don't have the resources to pull one off.

In addition to being a military nightmare, an attack will be a diplomatic catastrophe. It will alienate the international community and further convince the Muslim world that we are against them as a civilization, making the War on Terror unwinnable. (It has always depended on convincing the Muslim world to turn against its most radical elements, not on beating it into submission.)

Even if we're just rattling our saber for show, it's counterproductive. The Administration has been hyping "diplomacy, diplomacy, diplomacy." To now suddenly do these war plans and exercises will only convince Iran that we don't really mean it...and lead them to pursue nukes with even greater speed.

The military leaders recognize all this. They are telling the Administration. And, apparently, the Administration isn't listening. With each bone-headed, single-minded decision, the Administration is getting more and more dangerous.

[Update:] ThinkProgress has a compilation of experts from across the political spectrum, including even the Heritage Foundation (!), saying that there are no good military options in Iran.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Reporting From Guantanamo

Well, I'll give the Defense Department props for letting Priti Patel from Human Rights First watch the military commissions in Guantanamo. And it seems clear that the participants are trying hard to do their job in a fair and professional manner.

But that's about all that I can say was good about these kangaroo courts. What good can possibly be said about a court that hasn't even decided what law it is going to apply? It doesn't matter how professional everybody is if the basic rules of the game are being made up as we go along. And since - with the Hamdan case awaiting the Supreme Court's decision - the legality of these commissions is in grave doubt, why are they even moving forward?

You can read Patel's reports here, here, here, here, and here.

The "Gospel" of Judas

Much of the media coverage of the ancient document known as The Gospel of Judas is pretty darn ignorant. It acts as if it exposes some sort of Da Vinci Code-esque conspiracy, or at least as if it undermines the core tenants of Christianity.

Um, no....not really. David Kopel over at The Volokh Conspiracy explains why.

(Note also the interesting discussion in the footnotes.)

Small Characters

After the horror of the last post, it's back to the movies with me.

[Potential movie spoilers. I intend to speak in vague terms, but I disclaim all liability for giving away plot points. If you haven't seen V for Vendetta, then...well, you've been warned.]

Just saw V for Vendetta. Very thought-provoking in that I was unsettled by the terrorist-as-hero (some images from the movie, especially the suicide bomb belt, brought up bad connotations in light of recent events). There were plenty of plot developments that threw me for a loop and anyone who has seen the movie knows what I am referring to.

But I was most intrigued by the character of Finch (Stephen Rea). More than "V" himself, Finch was an enigma to me. Here's this guy who's been in the Party 27 years, has been unquestioningly loyal, and who suddenly learns the truth about the government to which he has dedicated his life. What is he going to do? If he got to this point....to this high level in the Sutler government, he must believe to some extent in what it stands for, right? But he's also visibly disturbed by what he knows. And yet he continues in his job, trying to hunt down V. What's going through his head? In the end, I cared less about Evey, V, Chancellor Sutler, and England than I did about Finch.

[End spoilers]

That's par for the course for me. I'm always drawn to the small characters, the side characters, the best friends, the partners. I'm always upset when, invariably, James Bond's male colleagues bite the dust. In Lord of the Rings, my favorite character is Sam. In Harry Potter, it's Ron. In Casablanca, it's Louis. In The Big Sleep, I liked Harry Jones, the little guy Marlowe takes an inexplicable liking to....I guess because of his naive adherence to hoodlum rules.

Need I continue? In Citizen Kane, it's Jed Leland, followed closely by Mr. Bernstein. In Dark City, it's the William Hurt character. In Jaws, it's the Richard Dreyfuss character. In Romeo & Juliet, it's Mercutio, followed closely by Benvolio.

I've always liked Robin over Batman. Jimmy Olson over Superman. Horatio over Hamlet. (Well, okay that last one's pushing it.....but it's close.)

I can't explain it. I've just always liked the guy who's not the center of attention. While we're supposed to be paying attention to Mr. or Ms. Main Character, I'm always wondering about Mr. or Ms. Side Character. Not that I don't like many a main character, but well.....

Am I the only one like this? Anybody else out there understand what I'm talking about?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Dear God! Please no......

Our government is making concrete plans for a military operation against Iran. According to the New Yorker, we already have covert troops in Iran, planning to scope out potential military targets.

Have we learned nothing from Iraq? Nothing at all?

Friday, April 07, 2006

This Is Going To Be So COOL!

I have just decided I must see the new movie called Brick. Why? Because it's film noir set in a high school! Because Joseph Gordon-Levitt is channeling Humphrey Bogart!

I loooooooooooove film noir. Such a source of great lines! Such style! Such characters! Such cinematography! Such twisting plots! Such memorable, colorful characters! Such dark cynicism (which normally I don't like....but these movies are so stylish about it!). At some point I must post about how much film noir kicks ass. Until then, check out all the movies I just linked to. Actually, you should also check out these modern films which have a touch of noir influence (although I'm guessing most of my readers have seen those).

Man oh man....I cannot wait to see this movie.
On an unrelated note: Last night, I was at a home where this movie was filmed. You've probably never heard of it, but I sat down at the same fireplace where Christopher Walken sat (in a home of one of my professors) and that, my friends, is pretty damn cool.
You may wonder why I linked to a bunch of films in this blog post without just naming them, thus forcing you to go to all the trouble of clicking on a link. Why would I do that? Well, as a great man once said, "I must obey the inscrutable exhortations of my soul."

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I Just Became A Catherine Keener Fan

Introductory explanation: I hate, I hate, I hate celebrity gossip. I couldn't care less if Tom Cruise jumped on a couch. I only care that he was amazing in Collateral. Now, on to the main post.

I've always admired Catherine Keener as an actress, especially after seeing her ability to play such a terrible human being in Being John Malkovich and such a sweet soul in The 40 Year Old Virgin. But I just decided she is also awesome as a person. The following anecdote explains why:

Jennifer Aniston was amazed when Catherine Keener shielded her from a reporter on Today, after the journalist persistently questioned Aniston over reported wedding plans. Yesterday's interview grew tense when Jill Rappaport asked the former Friends actress to comment on reports talk show queen Oprah Winfrey is planning to throw an $8 million wedding for the star and her new boyfriend Vince Vaughn. The actresses were appearing on the show to promote their upcoming movie Friends with Money, but the interview inevitably turned to Aniston's personal life. Rappaport asked the intrusive question just moments after Aniston had expressed reluctance to talk about her private life. Keener snapped, "I thought you weren't going to go there?" But the reporter persisted, saying she was curious because she had never been to an $8 million wedding, only for Keener to bite back with, "And now you won't be." Aniston remained tight-lipped throughout the debacle.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Random Thoughts

With that most meaningless of titles, I present to you a couple undeveloped thoughts that do not merit an entire blog post.

1. Chronicles of Narnia on DVD! Hoo, yeah!

2. Inside Man is quite fun. You should go see it. It's the latest entry in the Well-Constructed Thriller genre (which I describe here). Sure, it's Spike Lee and he's just slumming by making simply a Well-Constructed Thriller. This is the man who made Do The Right Thing and Malcolm X. But....well, this is also the man who made Bamboozled and She Hate Me. Right now, I'm glad he's slumming.

3. Tom DeLay's out. Some Democrats are sad to see him go b/c he made such a good campaign issue. I say good riddance. That corrupt, ultra-partisan man was a cancer on the body politic.

4. And the Supreme Court doesn't take the Padilla case. That means Hamdan is potentially the last chance for the Court to define the War on Terror and the limits of the President's powers. Otherwise....yeah, it's President-as-King.

5. As always, I oppose the death penalty. But it's hard when you got an ass like Zacarias Moussaoui. An incompetent, blowhard, terrorist ass at that. Main reason to oppose the death penalty in his case: it's what he wants. He wants to be a martyr. I say humiliate him by throwing him in jail for life and making him eat meals with a burly man named Bubba.

6. Last night, I dreamt that I took a plane to London. But I didn't have my passport, and so couldn't get back into the country. (How I got out of the country in the first place is unclear. But we're talking dream logic here.) Don't quite know what to make of that. Of course, I don't quite know what to make of most of my dreams...like the one where I had a car the size of a Hot Wheels car and would shrink whenever I got inside it and then grow to normal size whenever I got out. (Again, logically, it would have taken me forever just to get out of my parking lot at that size....and I'd get run over by real cars. But dream logic doesn't know such things.)

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The REAL War on Christianity

So Tom DeLay, Rev. Rick Scarborough, Sam Brownback and others allege a "War on Christians" is afoot. Predictably, this conference inspired derision from my fellow liberals, expressed with all the restraint I've come to expect from the liberal blogosphere. In this case, that's an entirely proper response to such a blatant power play, especially by corrupt politicians such as DeLay. I don't want to hear anything THAT man says about moral values.

But that's not why I'm writing.

Tom DeLay says there is a war on Christianity. And I agree. But somehow, I don't think he and I are referring to the same concept. I don't think he would like what I have to say. DeLay and his allies - with their rote attacks against "The Gay Agenda", "The ACLU and Radical Secularism", "Hollywood", and "The Media" - fail to grasp the scope of this war, nor their own complicity in it.

I don't think most people realize how truly radical Christianity actually is. Karl Marx? Thomas Jefferson? Lenin? Robespierre? Moderates. Conservatives, even, in the only battle that truly matters - that of Love vs Selfishness. You want a real revolutionary? Try this on for size:

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

- Matthew 5:43-48

Or how about this little story?

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

- Matthew 25:31-46

Christianity calls for radical self-sacrifice. A total reorientation of the heart away from self-centeredness and toward God, and thus toward love. A transformation so massive, so fundamental that we Christians believe it cannot be accomplished without supernatural help: Christ's sacrifice on the Cross and the work of the Holy Spirit on our hearts.

No wonder there's a war on Christianity! If our power-mad, lustful, greedy, egotistical, and materialistic society didn't wage such a war, Christianity might well topple our entire value system on its head.

The REAL War on Christianity takes this form: co-opting Christianity. Watering it down. Making it safe and acceptable for general consumption. Turning Christians into just another target market. Channeling their political energies into the Republican or Democratic party. (Or into simplistic attacks on "Secularism" that, even if they contain a kernel of truth, manage to avoid all self-examination.) Making Christians more concerned about their 401(k) than their neighbor.

This war has - with few exceptions - been wildly successful for 2000 years.

Let me illustrate with an example of one of the many distractions which ensnare Christians: unthinking patriotism. Saint Augustine once made the following insightful observation about nations:

Without justice, [which Augustine found lacking in every society he wrote about] what are kingdoms but great robber bands? What are robber bands but small kingdoms? The band is itself made up of men, is ruled by the command of a leader, and is held together by a social pact. Plunder is divided in accordance with an agreed upon law. If this evil increases by the inclusion of dissolute men to the extent that it takes over territory, establishes headquarters, occupies cities, and subdues peoples, it publicly assumes the title of kingdom! This title is manifestly conferred on it, not because greed has been removed, but because impunity has been added. A fitting and true response was once given to Alexander the Great by an apprehended pirate. When asked by the king what he thought he was doing by infesting the sea, he replied with noble insolence, "What do you think you are doing by infesting the whole world? Because I do it with one puny boat, I am called a pirate; because you do it with a great fleet, you are called an emperor."

You think that thought crosses the mind of Tom DeLay or Pat Robertson as they wrap themselves in the American flag and proclaim the glory of the USA? No, Robertson gets so wrapped up in what he thinks is in the American interest that he advocates assassination of foreign leaders. (There is a rule against that y'know.) Or Tom Tancredo gets so wrapped up in his glorious nativist vision of America that he wants to criminalize charity towards illegal immigrants and attacks those who say it's un-Christian. Those are glaring examples, but almost all of us have our vision of the Cross blinded by the Flag in many ways. We let nationalism place boundaries on our love.

[Note: I'm not calling here for the overthrow of the American government or any government. As Augustine also argues, it's better to have some government to keep order than to have anarchy and the evils which follow anarchy.]

Unlike the speakers at the "War on Christians" conference, I can't get away without admitting I have a role in this, too. I'm still a product of my culture, so enmeshed in it that I probably can't tell how enmeshed in it I am. I, too, compromise my values for the sake of my interest. I, too, fail to think through the radical implications of my calling in Christ. When I do, I hope I am called out on it and that I am able to change.

But I think it's high time that those who decry the "War on Christianity" realize that some of the most effective footsoldiers in that war....are Christians.