Wednesday, 15 December 2004

Knotty but nice

A brief peek inside the “fourth wall” of my life:

  • I had a really good birthday yesterday, including dinner at Old Venice and a DVD-watching session† with my good friends Chad, Kamilla, and Kelly* at the humble abode.
  • My dad got me one of these for my birthday, which has already been something of a conversation-piece and satisfies some of my cravings for Blinkenlights. Plus it looks festive next to my holiday penguins and facstaff party door-prize poinsettia.
  • Normally I don’t blog about students, but one of my students from this semester has an interesting piece up at the Jackson Free Press website; I don’t necessarily agree with the all of its politics, but it’s thought-provoking nonetheless.

On commenting

I haven’t been responding to a lot of comments lately, and please don’t take it personally.

The only reason I’ve had any time to blog is because exams ended last week, though my work did not. Christmas is a lot like a stay of execution in grad school; I still have a lot of shortcomings to address, knowledge-wise, and it will probably take me until next summer to handle them to my satisfaction. So, during the day I address deficiencies and in the evening have been able to blog a bit.

It doesn’t leave much time for responding to comments, though I do read them all.


People blog about their obsessions, and one of mine is Martin Scorsese movies. He has a new movie coming out tomorrow, The Aviator, and it will probably cut into my blogging time.

Here’s an excerpt from a NYT interview with Scorsese:

With “The Aviator,” the pressure is on, because assignments should be hits, to enable quixotic auteurs to win backing for the movies they really want to make. Mr. Scorsese’s labors of love – movies like “The Age of Innocence” (1993), “Kundun” (1997) and “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988) – aren’t the kinds of projects studios line up for. His most recent film, “Gangs of New York,” released two years ago, was a 25-year labor of love whose box office returns weren’t overwhelming in relation to its $100 million budget.

Jay Cocks, a screenwriter who is Mr. Scorsese’s friend and sometime collaborator (on “The Age of Innocence” and “Gangs of New York”) explained the difference for audiences: “Movies like ‘Age of Innocence’ are what my wife calls eat-your-spinach movies. ‘The Aviator’ is not an eat-your-spinach movie. This is dessert.”

At least that’s the hope. As Hughes, Leonardo DiCaprio is meant to supply the sugar rush for the young moviegoers who make films into blockbusters. Mr. DiCaprio has been the driving force behind “The Aviator.” He is the reason it was made and the reason Mr. Scorsese, who directed him in “Gangs,” was offered the picture when Michael Mann decided not to direct.

I was apparently one of a few that really admired Gangs of New York and I’ve generally liked everything Scorsese has done, with the exceptions of The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun. Yes, I liked The Age of Innocence, too.

My personal favorites are the troika: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas, but as I said above, I like pretty much everything he’s done, with the noted exceptions taken into account.

Russia's backsliding

Anne Applebaum is one of my favorite columnists because she’s willing to take on just about anyone, including the left, though she’s an editor at the WaPo. She also wrote what is probably the definitive book on the Soviet gulags. And she’s a babe, from the looks of things—and I wasn’t influenced by the song Jet City Woman, which I just happen to be listening to at the moment. [Yeah, I realize that’s a “stream of consciousness”-type comment.]

Given her experience covering the collapse of communism in the early 90s, she’s a good person to look to for the state of affairs in Russia at the moment. It ain’t pretty:

She had just turned 18. She was a freshman at a small American college. In flawless English, she explained that she was home for Christmas, visiting her family in Moscow. We spoke about how much her city had changed in the past decade, about the new shops, about how many Muscovites now travel abroad. Then, because we were stuck in Moscow traffic and had run out of small talk, I asked her what she thought about recent events in Ukraine. “We’re really upset about it,” she said. At first I thought she meant that she and her family were upset because the Russian government had helped the Ukrainian government try to steal the election. But in fact, they were upset because they thought Ukraine might leave Russia’s sphere of influence. “If all of these countries around us join NATO and the European Union, Russia will be isolated,” she said. “We must prevent that from happening.”

These were casual comments, and they came from someone who was in no way a typical Russian. But that was precisely the oddness of it: A young woman, educated in the West, felt affronted because Russia’s neighbors want to join Western institutions. And compared with the views of some others, who are not educated in the West, hers are relatively mild. A few days later, at a seminar for high school teachers on “civic education,” I was angrily asked why the U.S. government funds Chechen terrorism and why the American government wants to destroy Russia. Certainly not everyone in Moscow labors under the belief, which my companion in the car also expressed, that Russia will never—can never—join any Western institutions, or that Russia must make a “last stand” against Western encroachment, or that Russia must, at all costs, defend the last redoubt of its empire. Last weekend, at a somewhat ramshackle congress of Russian democratic and human rights activists, I listened to a handful of them argue passionately about the nature of Russian xenophobia and how to stop it.

RTWT, and weep. It seems to me that the Russians should be focusing more attention on commerce and internal liberalization; less on any pretense of empire and the goings-on of their neighbors.

Applebaum’s old employer, The Economist, lead with Russian decline this week as well:

THE drama playing out in the streets of Ukraine in recent weeks has been gripping in its own terms. But its bigger significance for the West lies north-east of Kiev, in Russia. As the tide moves towards a presidential election victory for the opposition leader, Victor Yushchenko, on December 26th, the efforts of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, to thwart him have looked ever more cack-handed. But they have also depressed those who still hoped that Mr Putin’s Russia might move, slowly and tortuously, on to a path leading to political liberalism—and that he might prove an ally not a foe of the West.

As if Russia’s intervention in Ukraine were not enough, the Kremlin’s anti-western rhetoric has also risen. In an excess of hypocrisy even by Soviet standards, Mr Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, have accused the West of meddling in Ukraine in order to destabilise the region (see article). This week Mr Lavrov attacked the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe, whose monitors declared the Ukrainian election fraudulent three weeks ago. Mr Putin then widened the field of assault by criticising Iraq’s interim government and its plans to hold elections next month.

Of course, none of this bodes well for Russia’s future—and it doesn’t even include the news that Russia will develop a new class of nuclear weapon designed to evade missile defense. It seems that President Bush’s look into Putin’s soul wasn’t quite thorough enough. It also appears that Russia will be a long-term opponent of the U.S. unless things change. It’s a shame, really. China and India are pretty good examples of countries that can embrace economic reform and fix their situations at home rather than being distracted by the workings of other countries. Russia could do the same.

Update: Dale Franks has more. He also reminded of Churchill's quote on Russia:

Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
That's still true as far as I can tell. Completely inscrutable and untrustworthy.

Dealing with the Norks

I’ve actually been an admirer of how the Bush Administration has dealt with North Korea. It was one of the areas that Kerry tried to use to distinguish himself from Bush on foreign policy and ended up further alienating me in the process. I never really believed he would abandon the six-way talks and deal with the Norks directly—up to, and including, re-negotiating the armistice of 1953—but was trying to draw a distinction between himself and Bush.

I said at the time that I was opposed to anything that marginalizes China, since they are the only country that has any real pull with the Norks, outside of the threat of force. Apparently we will deal with them directly on a limited basis:

The Bush administration is willing to hold limited face-to-face talks with North Korea and will continue to help feed the country, but will not sweeten a proposed trade of economic concessions for a halt in development of nuclear weapons, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea said Wednesday.

Maintaining a tough line, Ambassador Christopher Hill said, “They have to come to the table and respond to the proposal,” which includes guarantees the United States will not invade North Korea.

Hill also stressed that any direct negotiations with North Korea would be conducted only under the umbrella of the six-country format the Bush administration set up, in contrast to the Clinton administration’s one-on-one negotiations.

“We are prepared to talk to North Korea as part of the six-party process,” Hill said at the Asia Society. “But we are not prepared to undermine the six-party process” that includes China, South Korea, Japan and Russia in the talks.

I’ll be keeping an eye on this—I’m quite serious about thinking it’s a dumb idea to deal with them directly in a substantive way since that’s precisely what they want—and I think, based on the news recently, that we’re closer to a collapse of the DPRK that at any time. Their starvation has become obvious—so much so that it has stunted their physical growth—and the number of refugees has increased in recent years. Likewise, Japan has taken a more hostile approach to the Norks just in the past few days.

We’ll see. I think this limited offer is just to keep the DPRK from walking away altogether.

Since this as close to a win against Ole Miss as I'm likely to get....

...I'll take it:
They’ve said the proper things all week, praising Eli Manning’s arm strength and reminding that nothing is given on a football field, even when a team on an 11-game winning streak meets one on a six-game losing streak.

But the closer the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense gets to facing No. 1 draft pick Manning, the more excited they get. They see the hesitancy in his eyes and the tentativeness of his throws, and they can’t wait to get at him.

While none of the Steelers wants to provide bulletin board material for the slumbering New York Giants by saying they erred by drafting Manning, it’s obvious they don’t feel he’s on the same plane as their own rookie quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.

To them, Roethlisberger has never seemed nervous or intimidated, or exactly how they expect Manning to be when the Steelers (12–1) play the Giants (5–8) Saturday at Giants Stadium.

Of course, if the Giants win this weekend I’ll have this post for people to throw back at me, but so be it. I’ll be watching if it comes on in the Patch.

Boo-F*cking Hoo

I’m really with Volokh conspirator Orin Kerr on this one: it’s hard to throw a pity party for a professor who has to “endure” Kerry / Edwards bumper stickers and a left-leaning faculty. His biggest gripe—horror of horrors—is that some faculty members will skip the RNC. Hardly evidence of oppression. Here’s “William Pilger’s” take:

My new tenure-track digs include a large office in a historic building with leaded-pane windows, sills deep enough to stack files on, and shelves on three walls filled with my own books, departmental gems, and junk from years past.

All the signs point to it: I’m finally a bona-fide member of academe.

Yet I’m gradually coming to realize that my membership card should read “in but not of”—something the 2004 presidential election set in stark relief. Maybe I should have seen it coming all along.

I was just finishing up the requisite two-year temporary appointment last spring—at my alma mater, of all places—when a relatively small group of conservative students asserted itself more publicly than the administration wished. Their claim: A leftist bias emanating from the college administration and faculty stifled discussion and real thinking in the classroom.

I had reached the same conclusion when I was a student there. During an “Introduction to Political Science” class, for example, I was required to write paper on how to solve global warming. My paper suggested that perhaps there was no reason to, since the scientific evidence was inconclusive. I got a D.

On the paper, I’m not sure what to say other than his paper was off-topic. He could have easily written on the virtues of carbon sinks and “the Geritol solution” if he were required to write about global warming as if it were real. Admittedly, it’s open to dispute and it’s an odd topic for a “political” science class, but it seems within bounds.

A reader's guide to Signifying Nothing

It occurs to me that some of the ongoing conventions of our little weblog may be unfamiliar to new visitors… so here are a few peculiarities that may be helpful to know.

Baseball and the separation of powers

The Mad Hibernian, Off Wing Opinion and James Joyner react to reports that the D.C. Council has approved a financing plan for the relocation of the Montréal Expos to Washington that doesn’t comport with MLB’s wishes. The Hibernian writes:

I’m sympathetic to the argument that D.C. taxpayers shouldn’t get stuck with the whole tab for a new stadium, but the City Council should honor the city’s original agreement with MLB.

It seems to me, on the other hand, that the city council as a whole is under no obligation to honor an agreement made with MLB by the mayor and a couple of city councilmen. If Mayor Williams wanted an agreement that would stick, he should have secured the backing of the council in the first place, rather than striking a deal independently and hoping a lame duck city council would treat it as a fait accompli.

Who is Margaret Cho, anyway?

And why is she quoting Vaclav Havel about orientals?

Erickson out, Orgeron in

Fresh off reports that 49ers coach Dennis Erickson was the leading candidate to replace David Cutcliffe, the Clarion-Ledger is now reporting that Erickson has withdrawn his name from consideration, yet school officials still claim they will make a deal sometime this afternoon.

In other Ole Miss-related news, David Cutcliffe’s former “prevent offense” sidekick John Latina has taken a demotion in the coaching ranks from offensive coordinator to coach the offensive line at Notre Dame, after initially agreeing to work for Steve Spurrier at South Carolina; reports that Cutcliffe will be joining the Irish as well, taking the role of offensive coordinator. John Hunt is Latina’s replacement at Carolina.

Update: Michael Wallace reports that the Rebels have hired Ed Orgeron, the current assistant head coach and defensive coordinator of the University of Southern California Trojans; the official introduction is scheduled for tomorrow morning at the Oxford campus in the indoor practice facility.

Also, this is my entry in today’s OTB Traffic Jam; bigjim has more.