411 Radical Bay

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Terrorizing Democracy

There are countries in the world where you can be arrested and stripped of your rights by executive fiat; where you can be held without charge and without a chance to challenge your detention; where you can be put on trial before a military court and be convicted on evidence obtained by torture. You might never know that the evidence against you was coerced – the source of the evidence can be classified so you are unable to challenge it.

There are countries where, on these standards of justice, you could be put to death for your alleged crimes.

But who ever thought that the United States of America would be one of these countries?

Sometimes it’s hard to believe just how far we’ve come since 2001. The United States may not always have endeared itself to the world in the 1990s, but its place among the liberal democracies of the world couldn’t be seriously questioned. Now the United States, which seeks to project democratic values around the world, has become a country that practices disappearances, detains those it suspects of being its enemies indefinitely, and has just set up, under Military Commissions Act, a system of punishment so egregiously in violation of due process and human rights norms that it can hardly be called a justice system at all.

It is now possible, in fact legal, for the President to place the detention of an individual beyond the reach of civilian courts. The Military Commission Act actually strips those declared enemy combatants of habeas corpus rights. It allows them to be tried by military commissions on evidence obtained under cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and to have that evidence withheld from them on grounds of security. It prohibits them from invoking the Geneva Conventions as a source of rights in any U.S. court. And it can impose the death penalty at the end of this process.

This law does not apply to U.S. citizens – but one wonders how much protection that offers when a detainee has no right to tell a judge that he is in fact a U.S. citizen.

President Bush’s record demonstrates that he believes in the practically unfettered exercise of executive power. Never has the United States has a president who so fundamentally rejected the doctrine of the separation of powers. Congress, led until recently by the Republicans, collaborated in this shameful betrayal of American principles. (Given that these same Republicans, faced with the President’s admission that he had illegally spied on Americans, reacted by calling those who broke the story of this impeachable offence unpatriotic, we perhaps should not have expected too much from them.)

Under Bush’s leadership, the United States has held people in secret, without charge, and without access to the outside world, meeting the test of disappearances under international law. It has tortured, and it has sent hundreds of men, some of them innocent civilians picked up in indiscriminate sweeps by ignorant soldiers, into the pit of despair at Guantanamo Bay, where it has let them languish in a permanent state of limbo.

Now, to deal with this backlog of prisoners, it has created a system of kangaroo courts befitting Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

And there’s no end in sight: while Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War, that war had a definable end; the undeclared war on terror, conveniently for the Bush administration, is one with no definable end or any cohesive enemy.

The Bush administration’s illiberal depredations on American democracy provide a study in how not to respond to a terrorist threat. And it would be tempting to conclude that it is people like President Bush and his authoritarian coterie who pose the greatest threat to American democracy. But that would miss the more important point: look what has happened in response to an attack that killed 3000 Americans. Now imagine what measures Americans will not only accept but demand if Islamic terrorists succeed in their goal of detonating a nuclear weapon inside an American city.

We should recognize the threat that George Bush and the current leadership of the Republican Party pose to American democracy. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the bigger picture: that the real threat to the survival of liberalism, not just in America but in the West, is the terrorism that seeks to kill millions of Westerners in the name of God. Because there will be scant hope for liberalism if it ever succeeds.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Reopening the gay marriage debate

The Commons will debate whether to review gay marriage legislation next week. Good. Harper can say he kept his promise, the Commons can vote for the status quo, and we can move on to more important matters.

I imagine that Harper does not want this issue fresh in people's minds in case there's a spring election. The prospect of a majority government reopening the issue would hurt the Conservatives (and indeed the social conservatives have been suggesting that Harper postpone a vote until after the next election, after asking for it to be reopened). And I don't think Harper really cares about this issue one way or the other. This way, he gets to keep his word, Canada gets the proper result, and we all get to forget about this.

Incidentally, none of this would now be an issue if Paul Martin had allowed his cabinet a free vote on the issue in the first place. It's the proper thing that Parliamentarians be able to vote their conscience on this issue.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Who says we can't change?

We often hear that responding to climate change would simply cause too great a disruption to our economies, our lifestyles. The cost of inaction may be great, but, we are told, the cost of change is simply too great to expect that we can really prevent climate change.

Really? What are the major sources of carbon emissions in the West? Primarily, it's transportation. Can we imagine living without gas-powered cars? Well, why not? After reading this article, I'm more confident than ever that we could, with enough investment, create cars that don't require fossil fuels, or require only a small fraction of what we use now, and still get cars that meet our needs. Now, the uber-cool car (the electric Tesla Roadster) that the article discusses is obviously way more expensive than will be economical, but this is a small-scale operation by one small company; there's no question that economies of scale and more research would significantly reduce its cost. In the meantime, there are existing technologies that could dramatically improve fuel efficiency in traditional cars, allowing us to use much smaller engines, possibly just big enough to constantly charge a much more efficient battery-driven drivetrain.

I am an optimist about our potential: I think that if humans apply their ingenuity, there's no problem we can't solve. But we are also greedy, short-term thinkers, and we need incentives to make costly investments now to save (the planet) in the future. With global warming, I think it's increasinly clear we can't afford to wait and let the market do its work. The government should regulate extremely aggressive 10-year targets that would aim to force dramatic increases in fuel efficiency and emissions. All cars should, in terms of emissions, at least meet California's Super-Ultra Low-Emission Vehicle Standard. There should be much more dramatic steps in terms of fuel efficiency that would force manufacturers to employ hybrid technologies. (If this means we can't buy 500-horsepower cars anymore, well boo-hoo.) Beyond that, we should force car companies to make large portions of their fleet zero-emission within 10-15 years. This should include minivans and sport-utility vehicles, though not necessarily pickup trucks. (Though given the performance of that electric car, it's not immediately clear to me that we couldn't move all our vehicles to electic motors eventually.)

We should also force oil-sands companies to dramatically reduce their carbon emissions, probably by carbon sequestration. And environmentalists need to get over their reflexive distrust of nuclear power and realize that it's the only realistic alternative to fossil fuels for reliable, large-scale power production.

There. Global warming problem solved. That was easy, wasn't it?

A matter of principle

Agree or disagree, one has to respect Michael Chong for resigning from cabinet over the motion on Quebecois nationalism. Here's a man who has sacrificed something few people are willing to give up on a point of principle. Not that he'll be hard done by as an ordinary MP, but that's not the point. Mr. Chong wrote what I thought was an excellent op-ed in the Globe a couple of years ago about getting past identity politics in Canada, and his concern that this resolution recognizes an "ethnic nationalism" is quite understandable. It was interesting to watch how much trouble two cabinet ministers had explaining just who the Quebecois were in a press conference after the resignation.

Incidentally, I wonder if Gerrard Kennedy's opposition to this motion will help him in the leadership race, setting him apart from the rest of the field that seems now to have gone along with Michael Ignatieff's once-controversial proposal.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Take Off to the Great White North, Hoser

Official Friend of 411 Radical Bay Chris Harbord did just that recently, relocating to Inuvik, Northwest Territories to produce radio programmes. We hope he's happy, well and not letting the cold and absence of sunlight get him down. He also takes pictures. If you'd like to know what it looks like north of sixty, his online photo album can be found here. Awesome photos, Chris!

Oh for Pete's sake

Thanks, Jay. You've roused me from my torpor.

Muravchik's op-ed is sort of a greatest hits anthology of dumb reasons to bomb Iran RIGHT NOW. They can't be contained. They might give the bomb to terrorists. They might use it to attack Israel. The mad mullahs dream of creating a caliphate stetching from Spain to Indonesia. And so on. That, from Iran's perspective, the development of a nuclear deterrent might be an entirely rational response to American policy over the last few years is entirely ignored.

Look at it this way. First, Bush and his idiot speechwriter David Frum lump three entirely different (evil, I will grant) regimes into one "Axis of Evil." They then proceed to invade the least powerfully armed of the three, deposing its regime, while being far more circumspect in dealing with the one "Axis" member that has nukes. The prospect of attacking Iran, as Muravchik's op-ed demonstrates, is a constant theme in American politican discourse. So you have a powerful country, making threats against your regime, that hitherto has only been deterred by the acquisition of a nuclear arsenal. In this context, is it any surprise at all that the Iranians are developing a bomb?

The notion that the enemy du jour is an undeterrable madman is one with a long and idiotic history on the American right: The Soviets, the Chinese Communists, Saddam Hussein and now Ahmaninejad have all been held up, at one point or another, as examples of people in whom a healthy dose of self-preservation had been left out entirely. Because let's be clear about something: If Iran launches a nuclear strike against either Israel or the United States, it is committing national suicide, and everyone knows this. Iran's government, as Iran hawks never failed to mention when the relatively moderate Khatami was President, is split between the President and the Supreme Religious leader, who ultimately calls the shots. But now that a suitably alarming guy is President of Iran, you'd think from reading the hysterical "Bomb Iran Now!" stuff that the guy was the unchallengeable dictator of the country.

Also, I am willing to bet my eye-teeth that no nuclear power will ever give a nuclear weapon to an independent terrorist group. It is entirely imaginable that terrorists will succeed in stealing what they need to make a bomb, and for that reason urgent attention is needed in both Russia and Pakistan. But the idea that a state will just hand over the most powerful weaponry in the world to people they don't control is laughable. So when we talk about a threat from a nuclear Iran, we are talking, again, about a traceable strike. Which, as noted above, would be suicidal.

And here again is another of the manifest stupidities in Muravchik's article. In his own estimation bombing Iran in the manner he suggests "would not end Iran's nuclear program, but it would certainly delay it." Wonderful. We're going to kill an unquantified number of people, anger much of the Muslim world, make Iraq even more of a hellhole for both the Americans fighting there and Iraqis in general and provide the Iranian regime with even more evidence that the only worthwhile deterrent is a nuclear bomb in the service of...slowing down the program. This is, to be charitable, insane. For one thing, this assumes that Muravchik is right about the bombing having a significant effect-it probably would but we can't be sure. For another, this course of action would remove any restraints on the Iranians sponsoring non-nuclear terrorism against the United States and whatever other Western countries were stupid enough to sign up for this. It is extremely hard to believe that the Americans would invade Iran at this point-they're lost in Iraq, and Iraq genuinely was a cakewalk compared to what an invasion of Iran would be. There is no good outcome from bombing Iran, even by the hawks' own reckoning-though they don't seem to realize this.

Finally, the op-ed is staggering in its historical ignorance. Credit must be given, I suppose, for Muravchik's refusal to indulge in the Munich analogy: Hitler is mentioned, but only in passing, and the year is 1933 rather than 1938. By ignorant history-averse wingnut standards, this is restraint that should be applauded.

Unfortunately, Muravchik passes up on Munich only to indulge in a Churchillian fantasy that is if anything even more stupid. "After the Bolshevik takeover of Russia in 1917, a single member of Britain's Cabinet, Winston Churchill, appealed for robust military intervention to crush the new regime," Muravchik tells us. Unfortunately, he says, "His colleagues weighed the costs — the loss of soldiers, international derision, revenge by Lenin — and rejected the idea." Shame, shame! Pusillanimous limeys in their frock coats and top hats, ignoring the Red peril. Why didn't they send troops to Russia to fight for, um, the restoration of the Romanov dynasty or perhaps the installation of a pro-Western strongman?

Except that, as any student of Russian history (ahem) could tell you, they did. The British occupied Arkhangelsk. The Americans sent 15,000 troops. The Czech legion fought its way along the length of the Trans-Siberian Railway. The Japanese fought extensively in the east. It was not through lack of Western aid that the Whites lost the Russian Civil War. Also, it should be remembered that the Civil War came hard on the heels of the First World War, and that an all out assault on Soviet Russia, in addition to being an inherently Herculean task, would in all likelihood have been impossible. You might just as well ask why the Americans and Brits and Canadians didn't carry on through Germany at the end of the Second World War and attack the Red Army.

So there you have it. In its strategic blindness, air of barely contained hysteria and staggering misreading of history, Muravchik's op-ed might be very well placed to serve as an exemplar of all hawkish thought on Iran. The United States listened to guys like this onece already recently. For all of our sakes, let's hope they don't get fooled again.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

More Iran

Seymour Hersh, probably the best investigative journalist in Washington, writes about the deliberations underway over Iran in the wake of Rumsfeld's resignation. It's an article that gives people on either side of the debate plenty to worry about.

Joshua Muravchik, from the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, argues forcefully in the LA Times that we should bomb Iran. I think that with the mid-terms over, this debate is going to get underway more seriously now.

Sometimes I want to go into hibernation. Now is one of those times.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

That's not good

A report in the Telegraph claims that Iran is attempting to take effective control of al Qaeda, to use the organization to Iranian ends.

This is both odd, and disturbing. Odd, because al Qaeda is a Sunni terrorist organization, and its leaders have been highly intolerant of Shiites. Zarqawi, who was allied with bin Laden in Iraq, actually called for the genocide of Shiites. So it would seem either that this report is wrong, or that Iran is operating on the principles of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." This is in itself a little strange because Iran does not lack for terrorist organizations that it already has close relationships with, most notably Hezbollah. But if Iran is gearing up for a potential war with the U.S., then it makes sense to cultivate relationships with al Qaeda, as it is the organization most capable of striking at Western targets in the West in retaliation for a strike on Iran's nuclear program.

The prospect of al Qaeda becoming a proxy for (or at least a partner of) Iran is certainly disturbing, chiefly because of Iran's vast resources and its nuclear program. But would this closer relationship actually increase the risk of al Qaeda getting a nuclear weapon? Arguably, the closer the relationship between Iran and al Qaeda is perceived to be by the West, the more likely it is that the U.S./UK would retaliate against Iran if a bomb goes off in London or New York, regardless of whether it could be definitively linked to the regime. So this may not be a step closer to any "doomsday scenario." It is undoutedbly, however, a step closer to an alliance that cannot be in Western interests. Al Qaeda doesn't need a nuclear weapon to do serious damage to Western democracies; the more the Iranians work with them, the worse off we are.

Incidentally, Iran shouldn't be too cocky: while it's currently in an excellent position relative to the United States because of the disaster in Iraq, if Iran is seen as having been a state sponsor of al Qaeda following another attack of the scale of September 11, Americans' learned skepticism of regime change might quickly vanish.

Friday, November 10, 2006

411 Radical Racquetblogging Part 2

The inevitable has finally happened. I held out for two months - not bad, I don't think - but today, in a well-fought match, Ian beat me at racquetball. I won the first game; he won the second and the tiebreaker. The game was actually better than many we've played, and it's good to be kept constantly on my toes. We got a great workout because we've both gotten better - and more evenly matched. I just hope Ian stops improving so quickly now.

So, all credit to Bed A. I was beaten fair and square. Hopefully, for the first and last time.

Edited by Ian: Generals win! Generals win!

Unlike the Generals, though, I want to win more than one of these things. I don't think it's going to be quite as long a wait next time...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Giving First Nations hope

A report says that the Kashechewan reserve should be moved to Timmins from its remote location on James Bay. This is the reserve that made news last year because of its staggering problems with drinking water, prompting Paul Martin to send in the military (even though by the time they got there the problem had been solved).

I think the report is correct, and its logic needs to be extended as government policy to many Indian reserves. The fundamental problem with too many reserves is that they are too remote for any possiblity of economic activity. If you can't have jobs, you can't have hope, and unemployed adults turn to despair and substance abuse, as, too often, do their neglected children. Without an economy, there's no money to maintain infrastructure, and the federal government has proven totally inept at fulfilling its responsibilities to these remote reserves.

The chief of the reserve is quoted as saying, "We aboriginal people, our land is very important to us." But the relationship of aboriginals to land is insufficient. The people on these reserves are not living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle as they once did. They are static, in dilapidated communities, and unless they want seriously to go back to hunting as a way of life, they cannot remain in remote communities where there is no resource or service base with which to create jobs. They are trapped in a cycle of dependency, for which the racist, patriarchal Indian Act is partly to blame, but for which attitudes like "we must stay on our land" are also to blame.

Remote reserves should be shut down entirely, if they cannot sustain economies. The residents should be moved to where there are jobs, and helped to integrate into the communities. The government should spend money - lots of money - helping First Nations make the adjustment, but the end goal should be to have aboriginals integrated into the modern economy, maintaining their culture through community centres, shared spaces, if necessary living together near cities, but not separating themselves from the rest of Canada. First Nations should share in Canada's wealth and possibilities; an abandonment of isolation need not mean an abandonment of culture.

I think this could largely be accomodated withing the current Indian Act, but not entirely. The Act needs to be replaced. But before that happens, I need to go to class, so more thoughts on a new legislative framework at another time.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

On paper and pencil

I have to say, I don't agree with Jay regarding voting methods in the specific context of the American electoral system. Paper and pencil work excellently in our electoral system. I honestly can't see how they'll work at all well in the American system, which is, I will grant you, structurally crazy. The paper ballot counting at King's that Jay and I presided over back when we were wild and crazy would take two or three hours to count three hundred votes. Given that you'd have more races, more controversy, and infinitely more votes to count, I have to think that switching to paper and pencil would be disastrous for the American electoral system. Not that it isn't disastrous already.

That said, I like Jay have to ask why some sort of paper receipt for voter verification and recount purposes hasn't been a requirement for every electronic voting machine. It just seems like common sense. On the other hand, these are the guys who hold referenda on whether of not to ban gay marraige-common sense is perhaps in shorter supply than one would like.

Dancing in the Endzone

Ow. My head.

It's a refreshing change to wake up on the morning after an American election and only have to worry about the physical sickness of a hangover and not the emotional malaise the last few electoral contests down south have engendered. Also, as Jay notes, Rumsfeld's gone! Huzzah and hooray. The whole thing stinks to high heaven, of course-a week ago, Bush was talking about how he hoped Rumsfeld would stay through 2009. The instant the elections are over, he's out the door-just in time for the lame-duck Senate to confirm his successor.

But all of this is par for the course for this administration, and I'm currently too happy about last night's results to get too upset. Also, this year saw a shocking and unprecedented uptick in the accuracy of my election prognostications; bang on in the Senate, and reasonably close in the House.

Tomorrow, of course, all of this will have faded away a bit, and it will be back to normal. But it beats what happened two years ago...

Rumsfeld Stepping Down

Thank goodness. The worst defence secretary in American history is on his way out. Rumsfeld leaves behind him a broken, hobbled military, badly overburdened and humiliated by an enemy it can't defeat - an enemy it might not be facing if he had listened to his generals rather than trying to prove his vision for a new kind of military. He'll be replaced by Robert Gates, CIA director under....you guessed it! Bush's father. He likes to keep it in the family.

As an aside, I particularly liked at the news conference when Bush announced this that he said that some of the results were a product of people wanting honesty and integrity in their legislators. Perfect.

I'm also quite happy to see that it looks like the Democrats will take the Senate, now that Montana has been called in their favour, and Virginia is unlikely to swing back to Allen in the absentee ballots. It's a good day for the U.S. in many ways. But it was disheartening that the racist attack ad against Harold Ford Jr. worked to elect Bob Corker in Tenesee. Some things don't change, like the fundamental racism of the U.S. South.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Can't beat pencil and paper

Americans are voting in massive numbers today, many of them on electronic voting machines that have been malfunctioning throughout the day, delaying voters.

There are many things wrong with American democracy these days, including the dependence on money and the continuing debasing of public discourse as a result of vicious, personal, hateful Republican attack ads. But electronic voting machines have the potential not just to change how people vote, but to undermine the integrity of the very process itself. Don't forget that the CEO of Diebold, the company making most of these voting machines, promised in 2003 to "deliver" Ohio's electoral votes to President Bush; Bush won the election in Ohio, by 2%, with people casting ballots on voting machines that do not produce a paper record with which to verify each vote.

This is the most dangerous aspect of the machines - instead of producing immediately a slip of paper with each ballot counted, a physical record that the machine might keep in reserve, to be counted if necessary, all the information about the vote is recorded electronically. So anyone with access to the hardware could quite easily manipulate the machines to distort the vote subtly, within the margin of error of any polls, but enough to swing tight races.

Even if such tampering does not take place, the inevitable problems with this technology opens to door to legal challenges of close result, and given the blatant politicization of the judiciary in the United States, so shamefully on display in Bush v. Gore, that is something to be avoided.

What I don't understand is why this is an issue in the first place. Why are we so obssessed with using technology when we don't need to? Granted, U.S. ballots are nothing like our ballots - in Presidential elections, people also have to vote for Senate and House candidates, as well as ballot initiatives (oh direct democracy), as well as candidates for state offices. Nevertheless, as someone who has counted fairly long ballots at King's (a good comparison, I know), I can attest that while long ballots can be a pain, they're by no means unmanegeable to do by hand, and given the (genuine) spirit of democracy in America, there could certainly be found the necessary people to count and scrutinize ballots by hand, even if it would mean more volunteers per capita. The price would be small; the benefit - not having to worry if your democracy is being stolen from you - significant. Pencil. Paper. Sometimes the simplest answer is the best.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Things that will look forlorn tomorrow evening

And now, a post predicting the results of an election in a country not my own.

Tomorrow, our American friends and neighbours go to the polls to select a Congress for the last two years of the disastrous Bush administration*. Two years ago, I hosted possibly the worst party in the history of creation, as a large group of my friends and acquaintances watched the presidential election returns and grew steadily more depressed as the night wore on. What made it particularly depressing was that I had confidently predicted a landslide for that electoral dynamo John Kerry. It was a bad scene all the way around.

Nevertheless, just like the President, I refuse to learn from my mistakes, and so I am hosting another party to watch the election returns, and making bold and sweeping and almost certainly wrong predictions right here on this here blog. So, without further ado, my predictions regarding the Congressional elections tomorrow night:

In the House of Representatives, I think the Democrats will pick up 35 seats, giving them a majority of 238-197 over the Republicans. I've got a list of the specific seats they'll win, but much like Joe McCarthy I think I'll keep it under my hat for now. If I'm particularly prescient or howlingly off I'll publish the better picks.

In the Senate, I'm far less sanguine. I think the Democrats will win the seats they currently hold, including Maryland and New Jersey, but the pick-up picture is less clear. I'm pretty sure that Democratic candidates will win in Ohio and Pennsylvania. I'm pretty sure the Republicans will hang on in Arizona and Tennessee. Of the remaining races, I think Rhode Island and Montana are likely to go Democratic, while I'm less confident about Missouri and Virginia. Splitting the difference, calling Missouri for the Democrats and Virginia for the Republicans, that leaves the Democrats a seat short of the majority. I also think, unfortunately, that Joe Lieberman's going to hang on in Connecticut, so it might be more like 51-49 Republican than 50-50.

So it ought to be an interesting couple of years down south, if I'm right, as we all sweat out the last two years of the disastrous Bush administration. If I'm wrong, it might very well be another long November. (and December, and January, and...)

*I like to think that this is how future historians will distinguish this Bush administration from the previous Bush administration.

EDITED 'cause I can't sleep. House: Democrats plus 36, Senate they actually manage to pull off the six-seat swing. The Senate pick involves switching in Virginia, and the House pick ups will be NH-2, CT-4, CT-5, NY-19, NY-20, NY-24, NY-25, NY-29, PA-6, PA-7, PA-8, PA-10, OH-1, OH-2, OH-15, OH-18, KY-3, NC-11, IN-2, IN-8, IN-9, FL-13, FL-16, FL-22, WI-8, IL-6, IA-1, TX-22, NM-1, CO-4, CO-7, WY-AL, ID-1, AZ-8, WA-8, and CA-11. That concludes your pre-election geekery.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Saddam Hussein Will Hang

We've known this for a while, but now it's official.

Obviously, it couldn't happen to a nicer guy. While I will air my usual objections to the use of the death penalty, they're as pro forma as they get today-this is, after all, a man who fully earned the title of the Butcher of Baghdad. And while I can see where the guy from Amnesty International quoted in the article is coming from when he says that Amnesty doesn't "consider it a fair process," it seems to me that this is more a reflection of the inherent-and possibly unresolvable-problems of bringing the rightly infamous to justice than of any attempt to set up a kangaroo court.

We once had an offline discussion about Osama bin Laden, and what should happen to him. I'm prepared to admit that capturing him alive is likely to be impossible. That said, in principle I think it would be a good thing to put him on trial. At this point I realize that my anti-death penalty principles, if practiced, would lead as Jay says to a major security problem. I think in the event a trial were held, I'd be issuing another pro forma objection to a death penalty.

All of that said, I think that exercises like the one just concluded in Baghdad have an important symbolic value both to the Iraqis and to Americans and Westerners more generally. The problems of victor's justice are real and difficult, but an imperfect justice, and an imperfect process thereto, are better than no justice and no process at all.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The 411 on the Movies: The Prestige

So now that we've introduced ourselves, we can get down to the serious business of blogging: inflicting our unfounded, half-baked opinions on an unsuspecting world.

I went and saw The Prestige last night, and quite liked it. The trouble with discussing movies like this is that the entire purpose to go and see them is their suspense, so reviews of them are inherently more difficult to write than for other films. So I can't tell you why I thought the movie's ending felt like a bit of a cheat ("Wow! Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's dad!" "Thanks for ruining it for us.") but I can tell you that I felt a little let down by it. Which was a shame, because it had been a remarkable ride up until that point; both Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale are very good in the lead roles, I think I'd watch Scarlett Johansson doing about anything (except eating cheese, which apparently is something she enjoys. Ugh. Cheese.) and Michael Caine and David Bowie, of all people, are excellent in supporting roles. Plus I like magic. So it set up very well for the end, and then blew it completely in the final fifteen minutes with a two-part twist ending that was half obvious and half ludicrous. Say no more.

Anyway, it's still worth seeing, I think. I've now knocked off one-third of the movies I wanted to see in the next couple of weeks, so there's that. More 411 on the movies forthcoming...

Getting underway

Once again, Mr. Gray, you begin with a gross distortion of the factual record: the place does not always look like this; my side is impeccably neat and tidy, of course...

Welcome to our blog. For me, it's the first attempt at a weblog, so I'm a little behind Ian on the curve. I have to admit that I find the whole phenomenon of blogs a little bit strange - why would anyone want to spend their time finding out what I think on a variety of issues? - but I'll try to make my entries frequent enough, and interesting enough, to warrant your occasional persual. (And I since I can't say things like "warrant your occasional persual" very much in real life, I'll be saying them on the blog.) I hope this blog spurs thought and discussion, or at the very least provokes a response. Any complaints should be directed to Ian.

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