Begging The Question

Friday, April 30, 2004

Expect a UN resolution condemning Sydney Pollack by the end of the week
The Interpreter, a Sydney Pollack film starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, is currently being filmed in the U.N. headquarters in New York. Apparently, many U.N. diplomats were told they would be included in the film in cameo roles. That is, until the unions got involved. Sadly, due to a lack of work visas and lack of membership in the actors' union, the right honorable ambassadors will not be appearing in the film. At this news there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the diplomatic corps.
"It's ridiculous," said Arias, the Spanish Ambassador, adding: "So my opportunity to have a nomination for the Oscar next year went away because of some stupid regulation of the unions."
What a heartbreaking development for those very important members of that very important world body (which, incidentally, is about as pro-union as you can get short of Karl Marx). I guess that's what happens when socialism takes hold, Mr. Ambassador. The unions get their cut or you get kneecapped. Sydney Pollack ain't gonna clash with Johnny Sack no matter what that does for your Oscar dreams.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is what the U.N. diplomats get worked up over. Not Iraq, not North Korea, not Africa, not the developing news over the oil-for-food scandal, but whether they will get to appear in a Nicole Kidman movie.

(Story via CNN)

Car Commercials As Crime-Facilitating Speech
Maybe this is the kind of thing Prof. Volokh discusses in his big article on crime-facilitating speech, but I haven't had time to read that one yet. (Who knows, maybe Volokh will read this and I'll end immortalized in a footnote.) But last night I saw my approximately one millionth car commercial demonstrating the limits of the vehicle, accompanied of course by the fine print, "Professional driver. Closed course. Do not attempt." We've all seen these ads -- the driver uses the car in much the same way as a downhill skier navigates the slalom. Or else one is reminded of the way Nuke LaLoosh pitches -- "all over the place."

My question is, Would it be permissible to ban car commercials from showing driving maneuvers which would be illegal for the ordinary driver?

I'll admit that this arises mostly from my hatred of car commercials generally, if only because of their ubiquity. But it makes no sense to me to show a car doing something I can't do with it -- how is this a selling point? (And why do they even make cars that go 180 mph, anyway?)

Is this different from an ad telling consumers, "You can kill a lot of people really quickly if you buy this gun, but we ask that you don't"? Would a pharmaceutical company advertise a sedative by showing how it can be used to facilitate date rape? Does Dell advertise computers with CD burners by showing someone infringing copyrights? So why is it different for car companies?

I'm sure Prof. Volokh will tell me, if I find time to read his opus. And although it's been a while since I've thought hard about the First Amendment tests for incitement and commercial speech, I wonder if a balancing test would suffice. Weigh the danger (reckless drivers imitating the commercials) against the risk of it actually happening (probably low), the imminence of the danger (probably also low), the causal nexus (probably also low), and the value of the speech (query what that is here) and possible chilling effects, maybe.

So what is the value of this speech? I suppose the message is that if the car performs this well under these conditions, it will undoubtedly serve the meager needs of your humdrum existence. How necessary is that for the car companies? Would they be unable to sell cars if they were unable to show them doing things you can't do with them? Does it matter if they show something like an SUV in a tight high-speed cornering maneuver, given the risks of a rollover in such situations? And does the "do not try this" disclaimer matter?

I don't know the answers to any of these questions. I should also add, though, that I support a robust First Amendment freedom for these companies to advertise this way. It just annoys me, although it doesn't make me want to go execute J-turns on the freeway.

There You Go Again
I meant to post this last week, but got too busy. Anyway, I had some thoughts about the proposed Ronald Reagan University, but now I see that Mrs. Reagan has vetoed the idea. (Let me also say that I really admire how Nancy Reagan has conducted herself as an ex-First Lady, both because of her constancy for the former President and her steadfastness in downplaying attempts to canonize the man. And speaking of canonizing, check out the way Nancy is lit in the picture in that article -- is that a halo?)

So, even though it may be a moot point, I was wondering what the RRU sports teams were going to be called, assuming they decided to offer intercollegiate athletics. But given Reagan's experience as a lifeguard, and his portrayal of Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander (even if he later confused him with former President Grover Cleveland), I'm sure that the RRU folks would have seen the virtue of athletics.

My suggestions for nicknames were the Gippers, or maybe the Revolutionaries. When prompted, Fitz suggested the Trickle-Downs, which I like too. The Contras. The Bonzos. The Meese. Or, maybe like one of these modern-style nicknames like Magic or Heat, they could be the Defecit.

I suppose the Econ Dep't would be known as the Department of Reaganomics, where students can enroll in Voodoo 101. And while there would of course be a Physics Department, there would also be a Psychics Department.

I don't know who the Dean of RRU was going to be, but I'm sure Al Haig will tell us he's in charge if there's ever a crisis. (credit to Fitz for that line)

Honor, Courage, Commitment
The death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman has been widely reported in the last week. You all know the background to his story, so I will not recount it for you (Mr. P has the story here or check out Phil Carter's excellent post here). Instead, I will raise an issue that has been brought to my attention by my brother currently stationed in Afghanistan (and due home on May 6th, Lord willin' and the creek don't rise): some of the soldiers reading the major media accounts of Pat Tillman's death interpret the massive coverage of his death and his decision to give up a multimillion-dollar NFL career as demonstrating a feeling that his decision to volunteer for this man's Army was somehow more noble or more courageous than that of the "ordinary" soldier. They don't have anything but respect for Tillman as a soldier, but they are - well let's say "disgruntled" - when the reports of Tillman's story elevate his sacrifice above the level of their own choices to volunteer - and their own, unreported sacrifices. To leave hearth and home, kith and kin to serve your country is every bit the sacrifice for Pfc. Unknown as it was for Pfc. Pat Tillman but the soldiers are not seeing that in the media accounts of Tillman's death.

I did not bring this up to indict the major media outlets - I'll leave that to my betters. Nor did I write this to denigrate the service and sacrifice of Pat Tillman. To the contrary, I am indebted to him for my freedom and safety, but no more than I am indebted to the many other troops who have given their lives for our nation. I just wanted to reassure all of the servicemen and servicewomen who man that wall that we acknowledge their sacrifices, too.

[Insert SMP?-like post title here]
So I called to check on the status of some vehicles repairs this morning and what did I learn? My mechanic's name is Rusty Steel.

[Insert SMP?-like punchline here]

That is all. Carry on.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Touring Wormwood on 40 rubles a day
Check out this photojournal maintained by a young Ukranian woman who rode her motorcycle through the Chernobyl radiation zone. Cool, but sobering.

Link via Prof. Muller.

Back In Blog
Well, I'm back from my little trip, and I've spent the last day or so catching up. I have skimmed some blogs I usually read much more closely, so I'm afraid I've missed some good stuff, but what can you do? Anyway, from now on I'm going to refer to the city I'm living in now as Old City, and the city I'm moving to in a few months New City. I spent five days in New City trying to find my way around and start looking at housing possibilities. There's not a lot to report there. I think I will like some things about New City and some things I won't, but that's where the job is, so I guess I should make the best of it. (I should also say that I really like the judge and I think it's going to be a great time.) I had lunch with a few of my judge's current clerks, and got to meet one of my future colleagues. I'm starting to get excited about the clerkship, although I found out that the judge doesn't take all of his clerks to oral argument. That means a lot less travel for me, but that was the aspect I was looking forward to the most. Oh well, I guess it also means fewer days dressing up and polishing the wing-tips.

I've got a couple of things I want to blog about, but I haven't really had the time or energy to write too much since I've been back. And with both of the issues (love and war), I'm having a hard time figuring out exactly how to say what I want to say. So, give me a little time, and expect something soon. For now, a few really random thoughts.

First, I finally saw this week's Sopranos episode. For more on this episode, see Slate's discussion. My questions/comments: (1) I wonder if "stationed in Saudi Arabia" will become the new euphemism for "serving time in prison." Of course, never having been to either, it might in fact be a dysphemism. (2) After seeing how Tony S. acted towards Ade, whom he considered to be "like a daughter," wasn't it a little creepy when he pulled Meadow onto his knee? (3) I had to chuckle when Tony asked Johnny how Ginny Sack liked Johnny's new Maserati. Johnny claimed she didn't ride in it because her bad knee made it difficult for her to climb into the car. Please. Ginny is twice Tony's size -- that car would be scraping the ground if she got in it. While this white lie is another example of Johnny's tenderness towards Ginny, and Tony's asking about her another example of his boorishness, why would Johnny buy a car that would mock Ginny from the driveway?

On another note, a local Chevy dealer is running a promotion in which buying a car gets you airline tickets. I heard an ad on the radio with the lines, "Buy a Malibu, fly to Malibu! Buy a Colorado, fly to Colorado!" I wonder how far they want to take this offer. Buy a Monte Carlo, fly to Monte Carlo! Buy an Avalanche, die in an avalanche! Buy an Astro, go into space! Buy a Suburban, go home!

Oh -- one other thing I forgot to put in this post at first. I saw that a former writer's assistant on Friends is suing for racial and sexual harassment based on comments and activities from staff writers on the show. If her allegations are true, these guys are pretty despicable. But I was struck by one of the lines in her complaint, part of which is available from The Smoking Gun. She alleges: "I have never been aware of any of the 'Friends' episodes that I worked on involving pornography, people having sex on the show or nudity." Well, I've watched a lot of those shows, and I seem to recall quite a few dealing with pornography, people having sex, and nudity. I'm not saying this necessarily casts doubt on the rest of her allegations, but you've kind of got to wonder just which show she was watching all this time.

This post is in response to Milton's (aka TP) comment to my Toastmasters post of Wednesday.

TP writes: [A] native Texan explained to me a few years ago that I love grilling but don't like barbecue. I found that odd, b/c I'd always loved barbecue. Growing up in Miami with a dad who's a cholesterol doctor = lotsa grilling.

F-H: There is, in fact, a distinction between grilling and barbeque. Without disparaging Yankees (or their descendants recently descended upon the South) let me explain that in my experience our fellow citizens from north of Kentucky and east of the Mississippi frequently confuse the two. Barbeque can be prepared on a backyard grill (which is often incorrectly referred to as a "barbeque"), but barbeque is slow cooked through smoking or some method of indirect heat, whereas the grilled foods TP's father prepares are more than likely cooked over direct heat and in a relatively short period of time. Grilling times are measured in minutes and barbeque times are measured in hours.

TP: Of course, being raised kosher meant no porcine delicacies, and we honestly never thought about barbecuing brisket. Brisket was made in the oven; steaks and burgers, as far as bovine tasties go, was made on the BBQ.

F-H: First, TP illustrates the common misconception that the backyard grill is "the BBQ." BBQ refers to a cooking method (indirect heat and smoke) and the end-product of that method (smoked meats) not to a device. The grill is not a barbeque, nor are steaks and burgers considered barbeque.

Second, brisket is the definitive Texas barbeque. However, it is not as popular in other barbeque meccas (Memphis, North Carolina, St. Louis, Kansas City, and ,err, Florida). Trapped as I am to the East Coast, the lack of barbeque brisket joints is particularly difficult to deal with.

TP: Much to my shock, though I love almost everything else about Texas, one thing I don't love (don't hate me) is Texas BBQ. If it's not pork it's brisket, and pulled (i.e., shredded), at that--who the hell wants their meat shredded? Takes all the fun out of it."

F-H: Where in the hell is this boy finding his barbeque? Don't get me wrong, the occasional pulled pork sandwich is fine (really this is more of the "southern" style barbeque, not Texas barbeque - just ask Feddie and his boys) but one should have no problem obtaining sliced brisket in the fine barbeque eateries in Houston. Sliced brisket is the standard, served on a bun or piled high on a plate with a minimum of sauce to accompany the meat. If you don't have access to this in Texas, then you are just looking in the wrong places.

Note that I have nothing against southern-style pulled pork. It's fine for what it is, but, while you can take the boy out of Texas, you can't take Texas out of the boy.

TP: Same goes for BBQ chicken--it's often shredded, at most of the fine BBQ eateries I've frequented 'round here.

F-H: Pulled chicken is also a "southern" barbeque thing. Sweet mesquite-smoked chicken (whole or half-birds) should be widely available too. They are a great alternative if you aren't in the mood for brisket. Juicy, flavorful, low-fat and unshredded. Some of the very traditional barbeque joints may only serve brisket and smoked sausage but you should have no problem finding whole smoked chickens.

TP: Pork, ribs, sausage--TP just don't dig on swine.

F-H: If the establishments you frequent are serving ribs, and you are in Texas, then the ribs had better be beef ribs. There is nothing wrong with pork ribs (for the Gentiles in the crowd) but it ain't Texas barbeque if you are eating baby-back anything. Ask the server about the ribs next time - if he or she says something about pork then walk away.

TP: Now, BBQ turkey with jalapeno cornbread? Heaven on earth.

F-H: Agreed. Moving on.

TP: In any case, though I grill fairly regularly, I'm apparently not into Texas BBQ.

F-H: From your description, I just think you are not being exposed to Texas BBQ - more likely you are getting suckered into some southern-style BBQ joints that happen to be located in Texas. Not quite the same thing.

I'll put together a post this weekend on using the backyard grill to smoke a brisket and I'll include my sauce recipe, too. Despite my usual modesty, I feel confident in saying that I smoke a mean brisket. The sauce ain't too shabby, either.

In addition, while I can't say I've eaten BBQ in Houston (I have done my best to avoid Houston altogether), I have friends in the area. I'll make some calls and then provide a list of places in the Houston area where one can find authentic Texas BBQ.

If you are ever in my hometown of Abilene then I can suggest Harold's Barbeque on North 13th Street. A bonus feature of dining at Harold's is that you might have the opportunity to put your H2H skills to use as the neighborhood is a little rough. In addition, you should definitely eat at Joe Allen's. Joe Allen's is an Abilene institution (for what that's worth) though the quality today is not what it once was. I am a fan of the idea that a restaurateur should do one thing and do it well. Joe and Sharon Allen have slowly dipped their fingers in many pies - a Mexican restaurant, a catfish place, and upscale eatery in what is euphemistically called "downtown" - and the quality of the original barbeque and steak fare has declined. Still, some nice folks and a fine choice for real Texas BBQ. Bonus feature: You never know whom you might meet as you stand in line for sweet (edit: that's sweet, not sweat) tea and brisket. On separate occasions, I met George Strait (incognito) and Sweaty Teddy Nugent at Joe Allen's. You can't beat that.

Stop it! Stop it right now or I promise you I will turn this blog around and go right back to the house!
The following is a BTQ public service announcement: If you are looking for dirty pictures of Robin Weigert (Calamity Jane on HBO's Deadwood) this is not the place to find them. Oh, and you need help - professional help. Buy a plane ticket and fly to Vienna, because you need a team of doctors working around the clock to try and cure you. Good grief.

And no, we don't have any pictures of Stacey Pressman either.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

This post will test your brain . . . and your head . . . and your mind.
Look, I know that many of our readers (I'm talking about you Mary, and you too, Mr. P) and approximately 50% of the BTQ staff think that George Bush is a bumbling fool. I respectfully disagree. Bush may be intellectually incurious (is that "so curious he's in curious?" No, Dusty Bottoms, it isn't.) but he is not the idiot you imagine him to be. Nevertheless, I understand that his public performances do little to dissuade you from your opinions (see, e.g., any press conference or State of the Union address). I will admit that I experience physical pain when I try to listen to the President speak. The awkward, halting iambic pentameter of his speech makes me cringe. His inability to speak off the cuff is disheartening. Overall he is a disappointing figure when he gets behind a microphone. Rarely can I watch more than one or two minutes of his speeches without desperately changing the television channel. A 12-hour marathon of Curb Your Enthusiasm would be less painful to watch than a thirty minute speech by President Bush. Some people (Milbarge, for example) disparage the administration for the lack of press conferences and public statements from the President. I have to disagree with such sentiments, though, because when your man is that bad the best plan is to keep him away from microphones.

The one point I will concede to Bush the public speaker (perhaps Karl Rove should consider enrolling the President in a Toastmasters club?) is that he is either unwilling or incapable of engaging in "doublespeak" or "legislative speak." He applies the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) method to his public speaking engagements. He either says what is flashed on the teleprompter or he stumbles through an ad lib devoid of complex thoughts or ideas. Now, there are disadvantages to avoiding nuance and subtlety in public speaking, but there is a distinct advantage to such "plain speak" - Bush gives the appearance of having a clear message. He sounds like he is keepin' it real. And for most audiences, clear equals convincing (Evidence? Bush's poll numbers climbed after his most recent press conference even though objectively he performed poorly and many pundits and journalists felt he was extremely evasive in his answers). Most people just won't think you a phony or a "politician" when the only multi-syllable word you use is "nuke-u-lar." For better or worse, Bush connects with average people despite his horrible public speaking ability - think the red-headed no talent clown on American Idol. His lack of talent has endeared him to his audience despite Simon Crowell's indisputably correct assessment of the young man's abilities.

I bring this up because, in making my morning round through The Corner, which, incidentally, after Rep. Pat Toomey's loss to Sen. Arlen Specter last night in the Pennsylvania Republican primary is as pathetic as a Seattle coffee house on the day Kurt Cobain killed himself, I found a link (via Jonah Goldberg) to this New York Observer column by Joe Hagan. In it, Hagan discusses what Milbarge and I have been saying for a long time (well, since November 2003 at least): John Kerry was not, is not, and has never been "electable" - at least not in the sense that anyone can point to a reason to be affirmatively pro- John Kerry. At every turn he has given Democrats cause to engage in voter's remorse. Granted, this critique is nothing new, but that moment in which Kerry magically transforms into a likeable, personable guy who presents a clear message for why he should be President has yet to come and it finally has some Democrats worried. All of those people who voted for Kerry based on "electability" are now facing the reality that Kerry's "electability" was a pipe dream brought on by head-spinning hatred for George Bush. If the myth of "electability" (see William Saletan's excellent Slate article on this topic here) was based on something more than wishful thinking - it were as easy as George Constanza's "it's not a lie if you believe it" - then perhaps Kerry still has time to change. But there is a significant barrier in his path toward "electability." Hagan quotes a Democratic media strategist who acknowledged that Kerry has to "lose the 'legislative speak' and begin talking 'like a normal person communicates, speaking in simple, more declarative sentences that have a clearer meaning for people.'" And, in the most important line in the article, this media strategist explained that "Compared to President George W. Bush, he added, Mr. Kerry appeared more intelligent, 'but there are many instances in which George Bush communicates more clearly.'" (emphasis added) With the caveat that I think the last sentence should read "but there are many instances in which George Bush appears to communicate more clearly" I certainly agree that for all his weakness as a public speaker, President Bush is able to communicate effectively with many voters. For all the wishful thinking, John Kerry has yet to show that he can do the same and, as this article points out, some Democrats are finally starting to figure it out. But the one guy who really must figure this out is Kerry, and so far he shows no signs of change.

Is Kerry incapable of changing his delivery? Perhaps. Is it too late for him to change? I don't necessarily think so. Kerry is a smart guy, he is an experienced campaigner, he possesses more refined public speaking skills than President Bush, and the President has significant weaknesses that could be exploited. But unless he can covert this potential energy into kinetic energy, I envision a November 3, 2004 meeting between Kerry and his inner circle in which he repeatedly mutters (in his best impression of Jon Lovitz as Michael Dukakis) the clear, declarative statement, "I can't believe I lost to this guy."

Update [3:18pm EST]: My apologies for making a long post even longer, but I want to direct readers to Greg's post over at Hobbesian Conservative which illustrates my point about Bush's speaking abilities. No matter how awkward Bush is people relate to him.
"He talks like I talk. He may stammer a bit here and there-- you would too if you knew how many million people were watching you, half of them just waiting for you to slip up. But you know what he's trying to say, and better than that you know (or at least get the strong impression) that he means it.

And, when you boil speeches down to their essence, that's what makes a good communicator."
Precisely my point. No matter how average his oratory skills, Bush connects with listeners in a way that the "orator" John Kerry does not. The president's fans have known this for a long time, but Democrats are only know beginning to realize it. And it's too late because they are stuck with the "electable" Kerry.

Greg's post brings to my attention that I may have been too general in my assessment of Kerry's changelessness during the campaign season. Let me clarify by saying that Kerry is in a constant state of change - at least as far as his positions on any issues are concerned. What I have not seen evidence of is any change in his delivery of his message(s) on those issues.

Speaking of the HC, I want to take a moment to thank the HC for providing an invaluable service: his blog is, in part, a K-Lo free version of the Corner. I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to read some decent Corner content without having to scroll past the many useless K-Lo posts. For that, as well as the links to BTQ, I thank you, Greg.

Finally, I want to make it clear that I hope and expect that Kerry will lose the election in November. Do I wish Bush would do some things differently? Yes. Do I wish the president was a more polished communicator? Sure. Do I think we have some problems in Iraq? Uh, yeah. Do I think that Kerry would be an improvement? Not by a long shot.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Is this a trick question?
Seen on the FBI's online job application form:

The conditions listed below are automatic disqualifiers for the Professional Support positions:


12. Are you a member of any foreign or domestic organization, association, movement, group, or combination of persons which is totalitarian, fascist, communist, or subversive, or which has adopted, or shows a policy of advocating or approving the commission of acts of force or violence to deny other persons their rights under the Constitution of the United States, or which seeks to alter the form of Government of the U.S. by unconstitutional means?

Just another manic Monday
Sports fans, I am sorry to announce that BTQ will be quiet for the next day or two. Milbarge is out of town until Tuesday and I am under the gun at work. There will likely be no new posts until Wednesday. In the mean time, feel free to use the comments link on this post to let us know which topics you would most like to see discussed in future posts.

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