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Friday, December 29, 2006
The Post Of Christmas Past
I found this Christmas-y post from a couple of years ago, and thought I'd share it with you again. I like to think of it as an "encore presentation", not a "rerun". Happy Christmas, Lost Citizens!

Today is December 29, the fifth day of Christmas, which runs to January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. Our word Christmas is derived from the Old English Cristes Maesse or "Mass of Christ". It is neither the most important feast day on the Christian calendar nor the oldest. In fact, the day was apparently not officially recognized anywhere before the sixth century.

In the early days of the Church, celebrating the birthday of a divine being was considered a bit unseemly, the sort of thing the pagans did. And unlike Easter, there was no definitive date for Christ's birth anyway (in fact, the Catholic Encyclopedia notes that "there is no month in the year to which respectable authorities have not assigned Christ's birth".

At some point Christ's birthday got lumped in with the feast of the Epiphany, which the Eastern church celebrated in Early January. This is apparently because of a copying error in Luke 3:22 that crept into some ancient Greek manuscripts. Instead of the voice of God saying, Thou art my beloved son, in thee I am well pleased, the error changed the passage to Thou art my beloved Son, this day have I begotten thee.

As the custom of celebrating Christ's birthday with Epiphany spread, the leaders of the Church were troubled that many Christians took part in the pagan custom of lighting candles on December 25, to commemorate the birthday of the Sun and celebrate the solstice. The Church wanted to make it clear that the only true Light was Christ. Therefore, the celebration of Christ's birth was moved from January 6 to December 25.

Even though the Epiphany (which roughly translates to appearance of the divine) was associated with Christ's baptism in the Eastern Church, the Western Church interpreted Epiphany differently. It was sometimes connected to the Wedding at Cana, where Jesus began his ministry, but it was more often linked to the arrival of the Magi to the infant Jesus. So today, tradition holds that Christ was born on the 25th and visited by the Magi on January 6.

And you thought you had to wait a long time to open your presents.

Hope you all have a merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year. Thanks for walking with us along the streets of the Lost City and for being willing to listen to the nutty guys shouting from the soap box.

Thursday, December 28, 2006
Residual Intellect
Over the last couple of days I've been sparring with the hysterical but always-entertaining AAA on his blog Residual Forces. Andy, you'll remember, was the goofy and humor-deprived contributor to the dear departed Kennedy v the Machine. Now he's the loose cannon on his own ship, and it ain't pretty.

Earlier this week he opined that if Representative-elect Keith Ellison takes the oath of office on the Quran, that means he is endorsing all of it, including its most bloodthirsty and barbaric passages:

Only a mad man would allow a book like this drive their decision making process. Sharia law laid out in the Koran is barbaric. Some would say the Koran advocates torture, heck it recommends it for some violations of Sharia law.

So when Keith Ellison places his hand on that Koran next month, keep in mind, it has a whole other set of laws in it. Those laws smack our Constitution in the face....if Ellison doesn’t believe ALL aspects of his religion and the book he wants to use in his swearing in, then he should publicly distance himself from those barbaric acts and take the lead in reforming his religion.

He should educate his fellow Muslims that beating women is a bad thing. That chopping off hands is not humane punishment, and that caning is not as well. The burden should be on Ellison to prove he is not what we think he is, a radical muslim. Remember, not all of them are blowing people up, but some of them are trying to make it so the ones who will, can walk freely among us with out any question.

Now, if you think about this for five seconds, you see the obvious flaw: the Bible contains some pretty bloodthirsty passages too. Does that mean that people who take the oath of office on the Bible are endorsing those passages?

Andy's problem, of course, is that he talks too much and doesn't think enough; so now we're kicking this back and forth endlessly in the comments section. It's especially amusing because Andy has no grasp on how to construct a sensible argument. That, pitted against his insistence on having the last word, is leading to one of two possible outcomes: Andy will decide that he's being picked on and block comments on the blog, or he'll have a nervous breakdown. Not his first, I'm willing to bet.

Sunday, December 24, 2006
Hooray For Santy Claus!

"Why, you're the biggest toy I've ever seen!"

Merry Christmas, Lost Citizens!

In celebration of the fabled Most Wonderful Time of the Year, I thought I'd post a sort of Christmas card to each one of you. It's a still from one of my favorite movies, the bizarre and delightful Santa Claus Conquers The Martians

There are a few grinches out there who insist that this 1964 opus was a bad movie. Pay them no mind. Unlike many of the $100-million "epics" we find clogging the theaters these days, Santa Claus Conquers the Martianslived up to its billing. Santa Claus didconquer the Martians, in Technicolor and with tremendous enthusiasm, and it's a movie that will always hold a special place in my heart.

Happy Christmas! And may Dropo bring many presents to your door this evening!

Thursday, December 21, 2006
Over At The Corner, They Feel A Draft, And They're Shivering
Mario Loyola sorta kinda tries to argue why a draft is a bad idea -- but his argument rings, um, kinda hollow:

I think the main argument against any kind of draft proposal is that the army now is so high-tech that it often takes about a year to fully train a soldier. The return on the massive training investment comes in subsequent years, so we need soldiers to sign on for lengthy terms. This leaves little choice but to go with an all-volunteer force.

Huh?!? You smoking crack over there, Loyola? What kind of hitch do you think these volunteers are signing up for?

Not sure how much time volunteers commit to, but it's traditionally been three years. Then you're out. The thing about a draft is, you're in until they say you're out.

Sock-Puppets At CPB
Last summer conservative crackpot Warren Bell was nominated for a seat on the Corporation For Public Broadcasting by President Bush. Bell has no experience in public broadcasting, and said he was surprised that he was nominated.

He shouldn't have been. He's a right-winger. These days, that's enough.

CPB was expressly created to shield public broadcasting from political interference, but the Bush administration has been particularly aggressive in appointing political shills to the board.

Kenneth Tomlinson, the most famous of Bush's appointments, misappropriated CPB funds in order to conduct an "investigation" of left-wing bias in public broadcasting. Tellingly, the only program "investigated" was Now With Bill Moyers. Tomlinson was forced off the board shortly thereafter.

This didn't stop the administration from naming shills, but it did stop the Congress from rubber-stamping them. Bell's nomination stalled in Congress, and it seemed clear that he wouldn't survive a nomination fight with a Democratic Congress. President Bush decided -- once again -- to give the finger to the Congress by giving Bell a recess appointment to CPB.

For the record, Bell now says he regrets his "joke" that he'd reach across the aisle and hug Nancy Pelosi, except that that would stain his new shirt.

I guess that's what Bush means by "changing the tone" in Washington.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006
What A Predicament!
The Corner's Kathryn Jean Lopez: forced to choose between her beloved Mitt Romney and the religous right's thousand-year project, the War On Christmas.

She chooses Mitt.

Saturday, December 16, 2006
Baby, It's You
Time magazine has done dumb things before, but today they went all-out. They will never live it down. This, my friends, is the big one -- the Really Dumb Thing that starts that stultifyingly middlebrow and increasingly irrelevant magazine on a one-way slide toward extinction.

That Really Dumb Thing is Time's pick for Person of the Year 2006, announced with perplexing fanfare Saturday evening.

Now, call me old-fashioned, but if you're going to pick a "Person of the Year", you ought to pick an individual-- one person who's had a profound influence on events over the past year. Simple concept, right?

Sometimes that's an easy pick. Sometimes not. But either way, you ought to deliver on what you advertise, have the guts to pick one person, and live with whatever brickbats the public throws at you.

Time has chickened out in the past. They started by picking more than one person -- usually two or three. (Reagan and Gorbachev! Pons and Fleischman! Kirk, Spock and McCoy!) That wasn't too bad. Kind of a cop-out, but not unforgiveable.

Then they started picking a weird representational group as the "Person of the Year". The Harried Officeworker. The American Consumer. The Underpaid Working Mom. The Vanishing Pin Monkey. Sort of the Time trend story gone berserk.

Then they started choosing inanimate objects: The Personal Computer. The Smoke Detector. The Can Opener. One year they picked Earth as "Planet of the Year". Bold move! Time subscribers on other planets must have been very upset.

Ah, but this year, Time has gone to the ultimate extreme. The person of the year is...is....


Yes, you, bunky. YOU are the Person of the Year!

The article features some idiotic babble about online innerconnectivity, and the little geniuses who make Myspace profiles, and lie about their weight on Match.com, and why what they do is important, and why you are part of that group, and why that means that YOU are therefore the person of the year:

Who are these people? Seriously, who actually sits down after a long day at work and says, I'm not going to watch Lost tonight. I'm going to turn on my computer and make a movie starring my pet iguana? I'm going to mash up 50 Cent's vocals with Queen's instrumentals? I'm going to blog about my state of mind or the state of the nation or the steak-frites at the new bistro down the street? Who has that time and that energy and that passion?

The answer is, you do. And for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, TIME's Person of the Year for 2006 is you.

Gosh. Don't that make you feel good? You "seized the reins" and "founded and framed the new digital democracy"! Why, you're practically George Fucking Washington! Don't that just bust your buttons with pride? Don't you just want to run out and subscribe to a year of Time magazine (52 issues for only $29.95?)

But really, what we're seeing here is the ultimate iteration of the brainless pandering of local TV news: YOUR weather. YOUR sports. YOUR finance. It isn't really yours, of course, but saying it's yours makes it more appealing, more marketable. And Time's "Person of the Year" choice managed to be the most gutless one in a long series of gutless choices. Perhaps now they'll pick YOU every year. Or pick no one at all.

Or just go away. You can make them do that. You have the power. After all, they picked YOU.

Friday, December 15, 2006
How Could I Not Have Known?
Sometimes you find out that a bit of information you've been carrying around in your head is dead wrong. It's kind of like waking up in an alternate universe. Everything is just the same, save for that one little thing that has been altered.

Up until today, I would have sworn -- sworn -- that the film Network won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1976.

I mean, I was certain. If you were a contestant on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and I was your lifeline, that's what I would have told you. With supreme confidence.

Well, kiss your million bucks goodbye, bunky. Because Network didn't win the Best Picture Oscar that year.

Rocky did.

I would still be laboring under this delusion, had CNN.com not published this paragraph about the upcoming release of the imaginatively titled Rocky Balboa:

Releasing "Rocky Balboa" amidst the Oscar-bait season could seem like a punch-drunk decision. But Stahman believes the PG-rated film makes for good holiday viewing, and imagines fathers will take their sons to see it. The original reaped three Academy Awards including best picture -- beating an elite group of nominees that included "All the President's Men," "Network" and "Taxi Driver."

I looked it up, just to be sure. And sure enough, I was wrong.

In my own defense, Network was nominated for Best Picture, and in other categories it a big winner that night. Peter Finch won a posthumous Oscar for Best Actor (William Holden was also nominated); Faye Dunaway won Best Actress, Beatrice Straight won Best Supporting Actress, and Paddy Cheyefsky won Best Original Screenplay.

But still, I should have known. How could I have not known?

Thursday, December 14, 2006
L-Kud: Eternal Font Of Wisdom
All of America has been waiting for Larry Kudlow's official critique of Barack Obama. Rest easy, fellow patriots, L-Kud has weighed Obama in the scales and has found him wanting.

Do Democrats really want Obama to take them on a U-turn back to the left?

If the Democrats really want to embrace a rising star, they need look no further than Harold Ford, the young African American congressman from Tennessee who nearly captured a Senate seat last month. Ford appreciates free markets and capitalism. He has boldly crossed party lines to vote to extend the investor tax cuts and expand tax-free savings accounts. He avoids class-warfare platitudes and embraces the Ownership Society. He's optimistic -- Reaganesque. And his pro-growth vision stands in stark contrast to Obama's nanny-state predilection.

The good news for Obama is that there are about 700 days until Election Day 2008. If he decides to seek the Democratic nomination, he has time to change his message -- perhaps after a few chats with Harold Ford.

Ah, Kudlow. You crack me up.

First of all, the Republican strategy in 2008 will be exactly the same as it was in the last half-dozen presidential elections. It makes no difference whom the Democrats nominate this time. The Democratic candidate will be pilloried as a wild-eyed, left-wing lunatic, more liberal than Ted Kennedy, more liberal than Alec Baldwin, more liberal than Fidel Castro, more liberal than Karl Marx (in fact Kudlow himself as already branded Obama as "a Marxist").

As to Harold Ford, the Republicans didn't go after him with the loony-left label only because they were having too much fun painting him as an uppity negro who was after your white women. I'm sure the "uppity negro" angle will be an important part of the Republican campaign against Obama, should he run, but let's set that aside for now.

The fact that Kudlow brings up Ford at all is telling. Ford might have been a rising star in the Democratic party, had he won his Senate race in Tennessee -- he lost, you may remember -- and it seems odd that he would be touted as an example for Obama to follow, especially when you consider that Obama won his own Senate race in a landslide. Ah, but Kudlow, utterly without guile, tells us what they have in common: why, they're both negroes! Apparently, black candidates can only be compared with other black candidates. This was, you may remember, the same sort of thinking that led the Republicans to draft Alan Keyes to run against Obama: if voters respond favorably to a black Democrat, why, they'll respond even better to a black Republican!

Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations.

It would be delightful if the Republican party listened to Larry Kudlow more. Who knows what kind of wacky advice he'd provide? Perhaps he could convince them to run Alan Keyes against Barack Obama.

Now there's an election season I would savor.

Hey, Larry: call me!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006
The McCain Gambit
It doesn't seem to have occurred to the punditocracy or the blogosphere yet. But President Bush's probable next step in Iraq threatens to derail a John McCain candidacy for President.

Here's why: McCain has been calling loudly for more troops in Iraq. This notion runs so aggressively against the conventional wisdom -- embodied by the Baker-Hamilton Commission report and by every public opinion poll -- that one might reasonably ask why any intelligent candidate for President would give voice to it.

To find the answer, let's conduct a little thought experiment. Let's say it's December 2007. A year ago, President Bush gratefully adopted the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Commission.

But it hasn't gone well. Talks with Iran and Syria have been fruitless and humiliating. Troops are being drawn down as the Iraqi civil war rages. Americans are happy to have the troops come home, but it is clear to everyone that Iraq has been a mistake and a colossal failure. There is discontent in the land, a sense of anger and humiliation.

While the Democratic (and some GOP) presidential contenders mouth platitudes about the limits of American power, John McCain can say: we could have won this. It needn't have failed. Had we injected 20,000 troops we might have turned it around. And McCain would have looked like a steely-eyed, courageous patriot among mealy-mouthed politicians.

And it would have cost him nothing. Because he would be betting his theoretical victory against his rivals' actual failure.

But if President Bush decides to send 20,000 or 50,000 more troops to Iraq next month -- which is looking increasingly likely -- McCain wins only if Bush does. He only looks smart if the Iraq situation suddenly turns around.

Not bloody likely, boyo.

So if Bush chooses to go double-or-nothing, here's the most likely scenario: the gambit fails, the American people are appalled and outraged, Bush sinks to the bottom the the Black Lagoon of American politics -- and McCain, who has inadvertantly tied his fortunes to those of the Worst President In American History (you can cash in your chips at the door, James Buchanan and Warren G Harding) sinks to the bottom with him. Adios and good riddance, Senator. Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama takes the oath of office on January 20, 2009 and pledges to bring the boys home. And the Republicans spend 20 years trying to get out from under it.

Oh Well, It Could Be Worse
This AP story on the wire caught my eye this morning:

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, in yet another signal of her interest in seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, held an "intimate evening" with a handful of key activists with Iowa ties to talk about the unfolding race.

An "intimate evening" with Hillary? She's apparently more serious about getting that nomination than I imagined. Seems a bit demeaning, though.

But I'll admit it would be better than an intimate evening with Sam Brownback.

Monday, December 11, 2006
It's A Good Foreign Policy
The Bush administration's Iraq policy, considered as a nightmarish Twilight Zone episode.

Kirkpatrick and Pinochet: Together Again
It really is exquisite irony that former U.N. ambassador and neocon crazy Jeane Kirkpatrick died within a few days of her intellectual breathing-buddy, former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. The two certainly deserve each other.

The so-called "Kirkpatrick Doctrine" was, after all, nothing more than an attempt to dress up neocon hypocrisy in academic garments. Right-wing dictatorships ("authoritarian states"), Kirkpatrick argued, are morally superior to left-wing dictatorships ("totalitarian states"). And morally superior, she implied, to left-wing democracies: Pinochet took power in a U.S.-backed coup against Salvador Allende's freely elected socialist government.

Over the last few days, there has been a lot of gnashing of teeth and rending of garments at The Corner, as the wingnuts lament the passing of the brittle, nasty shrew whose intellectual legacy has been carried on by Bush's foreign policy brain trust -- Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, Don Rumsfeld and their helpmates.

But NRO's mourning of Pinochet has been a bit more cautious. Pinochet, after all, was not an academic writing papers in an ivory tower, nor was he making rhetorical red-meat speeches for convention delegates. He was the genuine article, the neocon word made flesh: the architect of a brutal police state who ordered the torture and executions of real people, people who threatened his grip on power. There was nothing theoretical about it.

In reading all the retrospectives about Kirkpatrick's career, what has struck me most profoundly is that she embodied, heartily and without apology, the cynicism and the brutality that lies at the core of modern conservativism. Left undiluted, that cynicism and brutality is poison to the body politic. The American people can only tolerate it in very small doses. What successes that the conservative agenda enjoyed over the last quarter-century can be credited in large part to Reagan's patina of sunny optimism. He provided conservativism with a human face. But without Reagan as a frontman, you're left with people like Kirkpatrick, alone -- consumed by hatred and suspicion of our own system of government, enamored with authoritarianism, ready to pin medals on Pinochet and P.W. Botha. Unable, at the very end, to disguise their hatred and disgust for those notorious hand-wringing sob sisters, the framers of the Constitution.

Monday, December 04, 2006
The Bush Administration: Explained At Last

Coming soon to your cable box: the first realistic depiction of the Bush administration's inner workings

You may remember that "South Park" bad boys Matt Stone and Trey Parker (or was it Matt Parker and Trey Stone? Oh well) created a sitcom for Comedy Central shortly after George W. Bush took office.

Or you may not remember it.

The show was called "That's My Bush", an irreverant sitcom featuring Bush as a good-natured doofus who just didn't get what was going on around him.

The show was mildly amusing in places, but it was never actually laugh-out-loud funny. It bumped along the ratings cellar for half a season, then disappeared.

Well, Comedy Central's unveiling a new Bush-themed comedy, called "Li'l Bush: Resident of the United States". George, Condi, Rummy and Cheney are all depicted as cynical elementary school tykes. Originally created by Amp'd Mobile as 5-minute episodes downloadable to cellphones, the show is viral video that's going big-time.

"Li'l Bush" is juvenile, petty, insulting -- and very, very funny. Think of it as "The Archies" meets "Beavis and Butthead". The original 5-minute episodes are accessible on Youtube. Check out the pilot episode here:

From The Museum Of Cracked Pots
So John Bolten resigns his interim post at the UN, presumably because President Bush doesn't have the stomach -- or the political capital -- for a protracted confirmation fight. So whom does the National Review immediately begin touting for the job? Why, the same guy they've previously touted for the Supreme Court and for Defense Secretary, of course -- Rick Santorum!

As John J Miller puts it:

Yeah, there'd probably be a confirmation fight. And he may want to take a breather after 16 years in elected office. But it's worth thinking over.

A confirmation fight over Santorum? Ya think?

But really, I'd love the White House to start taking the National Review's advice on major policy decisions. Nothing would more quickly lead to the Republican's political self-immolation.

Update: A different, and much more plausible, scenario is being bandied about on the Vast Network of Tubes this morning. Bush nominates Joe Lieberman to the U.N. post. Lieberman steps down, GOP governor Jodi Rell appoints a Republican to fill Lieberman's seat, and the Senate goes 50-50 with Cheney as the tie-breaker.

Makes sense to me.

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