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December 21, 2004

A Guide to Coping with the Release of Book Six

CNN reports that the sixth Harry Potter book will be released this summer. Given my wife is somewhat rabid in her affections for the books, I feel I need to be preparing for a number of eventualities:

  • Harry and Hermione become an Item in the sixth book: Squealing, strutting, and cheering expected for one week, minimum. Coping mechanism: Time for a vacation -- one week, minimum.
  • Ron and Hermione become an Item: Disaster, abject despondency, rage, flying books, angst-ridden deliberation over whether to buy book seven. Coping mechanism: Time for a vacation -- one week, minimum. Bring the kid.
  • Romantic subplots unresolved: Second-best case scenario. Coping mechanism: Continue expectation that there will be much downtime for playing computer games while feverish speculation on book seven continues on the other household computer.
  • Hermione dies: Worst case scenario. Coping mechanism: Witness protection program.
  • Rumor successfully propagated that Harry and Draco become an Item: Best case scenario. Coping mechanism: Bring popcorn, and grin evilly as wife breathlessly reports the latest reaction from message boards and shocked, shocked local media.

Lunchblogging: First Look at New Carbon Leaf Video

In glorious QuickTime, here's a clip from Carbon Leaf's upcoming video, Life Less Ordinary. Two snaps up, with a twist.

December 20, 2004

Babylon 5 Revival Casting Rumors

My favorite non-prematurely-cancelled SF show, Babylon 5, was being developed as a feature film, The Memory of Shadows. Series creator J. Michael Straczynski has been pretty tight-lipped on the subject for the last few months, and a potential reason why might be the reasonably well sourced rumors that the studio is trying to recast the major characters. JMS says he can't comment, though he wishes he could.

December 19, 2004

Know Your Barbecue

A great resource for North Carolina barbecue aficionados, including both Eastern and Lexington styles...

December 8, 2004

Extreme Punishment

"No, Daddy! I'm sorry! I won't do it again! Please don't make me wear...."

(Truth in advertising: Will doesn't really understand the depths of human loathing of all things Jar Jar. He's a good actor.)

(In our defense: The pajamas were a gift from his grandmother, who doesn't understand the depths of human loathing of all things Jar Jar either....)

December 6, 2004

LUNCHBLOGGING: Courage

Courtesy of my friend Jon, a reminder of what people are capable of at their best. Rest in peace, Sgt. Peralta.

LUNCHBLOGGING: Beinart Follow-Up

A little lunch blogging at the Schlotsky's with wireless access...

My friend Lex, in his inimitable style, had some issues with the Peter Beinart column I mentioned here, commenting that Dems were actually more serious about terrorism than the Republicans.

Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly also tackled Beinart's column here, and some of the readers' comments stood out, such as:

The Islamic radicals essentially want a theocracy in their own lands. They use modern technology as a means to an end (weapons, airliners) but they don't want to join the modern world. They are no threat if you leave them alone.

Personally, I think that the Republican party and its evil minions are the biggest threat to liberalism both here and abroad. Maybe I have to pretend to believe that Al Qaeda is a bigger threat in order to see my worldview triumphant again, but it would be dishonest for me to say that such an approach is anything other than dishonest.

You see a lot of comments like these (and of course counterarguments) all over the Atrios/Daily Kos side of the Web. I don't think the whole online activist segment of Democrats/progressives/liberals is unconcerned about terrorism, but I have seen a lot that makes me think that the party's grassroots activists -- the ones who want to "reform" the Democratic party -- really don't think a lot about terrorism, regardless of whatever foreign policy expertise there may be at the top of the party.

Am I overreacting to the pajamahadeen of the left, who may be out of step with the bulk (not the base) of their own party? Perhaps. But I have the sense that these guys have the momentum after the Dems' November thrashing. Either they're about to take over the DNC, or they're gonna walk, or at least tune out. Either way, their unwillingness to even seriously consider antiterrorism as a major issue is a major liability to those thoughtful Dems who want to protect our civil liberties and our national interests, chiefly our security. Kevin Drum follows up with these observations:

Let's take first things first: it's pretty clear that a lot of liberals really don't like being told they need to "get serious" about terrorism. And I don't blame them especially since regular readers know that I think Republicans are the ones who have trivialized terrorism by treating it more like a partisan wedge issue than a serious danger.

So let's be more precise: the charge isn't so much that liberals don't have a serious approach to terrorism, it's that liberals tend to think that terrorism and national security just aren't very important in the first place. Beinart provides one telling statistic to support this: 38% of Republican delegates to this year's national convention mentioned terrorism, defense, or homeland security as important issues. For Democratic delegates the total was 4%. Likewise, Matt Yglesias notes today that looking over the post-election roundtable at The Nation, the problem isn't dovishness, it's that nobody even bothers discussing national security at all. Whether or not liberals have serious ideas about combatting terrorism, I agree with Beinart that simple lack of interest in national security issues is a big problem for liberals.

Second, a number of people criticized Beinart for equating "tough on terrorism" with support for the Iraq war. But he didn't. There's no question that the Iraq war has warped the issue of terrorism so badly that it's almost impossible to unlink the two, but Beinart rather clearly refrained from criticizing Iraq skeptics as well he should have, since even TNR largely seems to have accepted by now that Iraq has been a disaster.

Rather, he criticizes MoveOn because they even opposed the Afghanistan war (and he criticizes Moore for flatly denying that terrorism is a real threat). This is quite a different thing, and a distinction that strikes me as pretty well justified. If the Taliban's refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden after 9/11 wasn't enough to justify military action, I'm not sure what is and I think it's fair to say that anyone who loudly opposed the Afghanistan war is just flatly opposed to any use of American military power at all. If this represents a sizable wing of the Democratic party, it's a big problem for us.

December 3, 2004

Things I'm Listening To These Days

A couple of music recommendations from the CD and MP3 players...

Carbon Leaf, Indian Summer: Released last July, this is possibly the most complete, balanced, holistic CD I own -- usually mellow and reflective, alternating between bright and dark. While the CD lacks some of the bouncy or rocking tracks that stood out on echo echo, such tracks would have been out of place on this consistently engaging album. Barry Privett's lyrics are less obscure but no less thought-provoking, and genius-level musicianship from guitarist/mandolinist Carter Gravatt and double bassist Jordan Medas make this an outstanding debut on the Vanguard Records label.

Scott Long, In and Out the Harbour: It's a classic no-win situation. You replace a popular, charismatic member of a band. You have a different personality -- an odder sense of humor, a little more sarcastic, not quite so warm and fuzzy. You help take the band in a different direction, and the band enjoys a peak of popularity and label/sponsor backing -- but you're still "the new guy" and the band "doesn't sound like it used to." That was the story for a few years after Long succeeded the Antipypr, Neil Anderson, as bagpiper for the Celtic rock band Seven Nations. What's changed since then? The Celtic fad has faded, which has returned bands like 7N to the core supporters who liked Celtic-derived music before it was cool. Fences have apparently been mended between the past and present generations, as Anderson shared the stage with Long and 7N in Florida at the end of November -- and a couple of fans asked on the message board, "Who was that piper who was playing with Scott?"

Now's the perfect time for Long's solo CD, released in June. In and Out the Harbour (Scott's from Nova Scotia, Canada) is a surprise. With Long, 7N traded improvisation and innovation for seamless accompaniment and clean technical proficiency. In and Out the Harbour is more experimental, although Long's pipe mastery continues to embody and respect the Cape Breton tradition. "Gravel Walks" is a crunchy rock and roll track, and a classic Ashley MacIsaac fiddle duet offers a taste of the pre-7N days. Rounded out with a few strathspey and reel sets and arrangements reminiscent of the first Peatbog Faeries album, this is a great piping CD with a little something extra.

Eagerly awaiting: New albums from Seven Nations and Fighting Gravity, word on how long Great Big Sea's upcoming break will be (hopefully temporary!), and the next Carbon Leaf concert at the Lincoln Theatre.

Skippy's List

183. My chain of command has neither the time, nor the inclination to hear about what I did with six boxes of Fruit Roll-Ups. ®

Courtesy of my friend Mark, the authoritative list of things you can't do in the military. From experience.

December 2, 2004

The Uncanny Valley

That's the weird space where "Hey, that computer generated imagery looks almost lifelike! Cool!" becomes "My God, they look almost human -- that's creepy!" An issue for moviemakers and video game developers, it could be the explanation for why The Incredibles is currently de-pantsing The Polar Express.

Tough Medicine for the Democratic Party

The New Republic's Peter Beinart thinks it's past time for liberals and Democrats to get serious about al Qaeda in a hard hitting piece in the December 13 issue (free registration required). Beinart points out that the willingness of the Democratic Party to reject communism during the cold war gave them the strength to advance a liberal domestic agenda (as well as, well, being the right thing to do).

Obviously, Al Qaeda and the Soviet Union are not the same. The USSR was a totalitarian superpower; Al Qaeda merely espouses a totalitarian ideology, which has had mercifully little access to the instruments of state power. Communism was more culturally familiar, which provided greater opportunities for domestic subversion but also meant that the United States could more easily mount an ideological response. The peoples of the contemporary Muslim world are far more cynical than the peoples of cold war Eastern Europe about U.S. intentions, though they still yearn for the freedoms the United States embodies.

But, despite these differences, Islamist totalitarianism--like Soviet totalitarianism before it--threatens the United States and the aspirations of millions across the world. And, as long as that threat remains, defeating it must be liberalism's north star. Methods for defeating totalitarian Islam are a legitimate topic of internal liberal debate. But the centrality of the effort is not. The recognition that liberals face an external enemy more grave, and more illiberal, than George W. Bush should be the litmus test of a decent left.

Today, the war on terrorism is partially obscured by the war in Iraq, which has made liberals cynical about the purposes of U.S. power. But, even if Iraq is Vietnam, it no more obviates the war on terrorism than Vietnam obviated the battle against communism. Global jihad will be with us long after American troops stop dying in Falluja and Mosul. And thus, liberalism will rise or fall on whether it can become, again, what Schlesinger called "a fighting faith."

Provocative, challenging stuff.

WUNC vs. IPAS

The Independent Weekly has a well-reported and balanced article about the dispute between WUNC-FM and the reproductive and abortion rights organization Ipas. WUNC has a very small-c conservative policy restricting political advocacy in its underwriting announcements, which led them to require the removal of the phrase "reproductive rights" from Ipas's announcement.

Ipas naturally balked. While I can see their point, this does seem an area where compromise was possible; WUNC's alternate phrasing, "whose mission is to provide women control over their reproductive health," seems strong and accurate to me. On the other hand, the article quotes a former NPR general counsel as not seeing a problem with the original text. One thing's for sure, the publicity Ipas has gotten from this fight has likely been worth far more to them than the value of the announcements, while WUNC may be feeling the hit from some rescinded pledges.

(IPAS press release)

(WUNC response)