Friday, May 26, 2006

One Sane Voice

As we go into this weekend that was intended to honor those that have served on behalf of this great nation, it pains me to note that the U.S. Senate took a giant step toward weakening (perhaps fatally) that for which those brave men and women have fought and died over the years -- namely, the strength, integrity, and sovereignty of the United States.

Take heart, soldiers of freedom: there is at least one member of Congress who does not have the word "surrender" in his vocabulary. I hope his side wins this one, since a victory for the other side (i.e., the namby-pambies and socialists in the Senate, the misguided voices of the Bush administration) would be a loss of devastating proportions.

Happy Memorial Day. Don't give up.

Read more!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

WTC Good and Bad

The TPS well has been a bit dry of late. I chalk this up to a combination of work and play among our contributors. Well, time to kickstart things again, and I figured what better way to do so than discuss the good and the bad of the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan.

It was only this past Tuesday that Seven World Trade, the last building to be destroyed in New York by the September 11th terrorist attack, officially reopened for business (with remarkably little fanfare, unfortunately). While much of Seven World Trade’s space has yet to be leased, and the few tenants that have signed on still have yet to commence their scheduled autumn move-ins, the structure’s opening is nonetheless a quiet victory for the City of New York and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), both of which played roles in ensuring a quick groundbreaking and construction timetable without skimping on quality or security.

The success with Seven World Trade, however, is juxtaposed against the disaster that is rapidly becoming the World Trade Center Memorial. The World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, the organization that was put in charge of the design, development, and construction of the memorial project, has succeeded in turning what was intended to be a simple yet solemn memorial into a brutally expensive boondoggle, with ever-rising expenses placing the cost of the proposed final memorial in the vicinity of $1 billion late last week. Only recently has New York Governor George “Wet Towel” Pataki expressed frustration over the rising cost projections and indicated that he would not allow the memorial project to be converted into a make-work project for fundraisers, nor would he allow the goodwill of donors and taxpayers to be squandered in the name of pork-barrel bureaucracy.

The New York Sun sums up the recent furor expressed by many New Yorkers over the project’s bloat and bureaucracy:

The September 11 attacks represent the worst day in American history, and the nation has an obligation to remember those who died with an appropriate and dignified memorial. At some point in the planning process, though, "expensive" became a synonym for "appropriate" and dignity disappeared from the discussion.

When the world's attention returns to Lower Manhattan in just a few months to mark the five-year point since September 11, New York should have more to show than a series scaled-back plans and a memorial that puts size over substance. In contrast to the high-priced plans for the World Trade Center site, the recent World War II Memorial cost $182 million, the Oklahoma City National Memorial cost $29 million and Vietnam Veterans Memorial cost $7 million.
(This last point is probably the strongest. I would like to know when a dollar value became the sole criterion by which we judge a respectful memorial. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, for those of you who have not had a chance to see it in person, is quite a site, but not because it is some ultra-complicated structure honoring those who fought and died. It is striking because of its simplicity of design, which almost demands awe and respect.)

The World Trade Center site is clearly far from perfect, and sadly, it will be too many years before the entire complex, including the proposed Freedom Tower centerpiece and the newly designed transportation hub, is brought to completion. But at least the opening of Seven World Trade stands as visual proof of not only the resiliency of the American people in the face of steep adversity, but also of the triumph of simplicity over complexity. If only the bureaucrats, er, fundraisers in charge of building the memorial could have understood that from the beginning, we might already have a worthy memorial in place, without the need to break the bank.

Read more!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Too bad mother nature can't have an IPO...

Or afford lobbyists for that matter...

Read more!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Responding to a crisis

In a bold move as Commander in Chief, despite concerns that we are at war and the troops might actually be needed to fight people that want to kill american soldiers and workers (not to mention each other, but I digress) instead of risking their own life and limb for the opportunity to bus our tables and mow our lawns, President Bush has announced that he will be sending out thousands of National Guardsmen to inderdict at the very flashpoint of our immigration "crisis" (see also, "29% approval rating"):

Oh, wait...

Read more!


Apparently the very fabric of Christianity is at stake on the chance that millions of people may see this movie--derived from a book, and believe all the fantastical stories in the book be true despite common sense and established historical fact to the contrary. C'mon, I mean if people who believe at their core that God created the earth and mankind in seven days and that you can't trust women with apples (ok, so maybe that one's a wash), are they that susceptible to some silly little book convincing them otherwise?

Read more!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Bartlet v. Allen

Several weeks ago, there were tales of the possible demise of Commander In Chief, which I have no doubt ABC executives hoped would be the answer to NBC's The West Wing. With NBC's award-winning drama drawing to a close (the series finale is this Sunday, May 14 -- check your local listings for showtimes) and no other dominant political show on the horizon, ABC probably believed it could swoop in and capture West Wing's market share with nary a fight.

Even a hasty review of Commander In Chief's ratings over the course of its first season of existence shows that this sort of thinking on ABC's part was woefully naive. The show has taken a beating, going from receiving stellar ratings in its opening weeks to barely staying afloat with Mr. and Mrs. Nielsen -- so much so that ABC has removed the show from its May "sweeps" lineup. Rumors continue to abound about the show's fate, with the most pessimistic saying that you might as well stick a fork in President Mackenzie Allen, because the show is done.

As someone who both likes political television drama and has suffered through a few episodes of ABC's feeble attempt at powerhouse politics, I can tell you why the show is sinking.

President Mackenzie Allen (Geena Davis) plays a bland vice president who is thrust into the presidential spotlight by the untimely stroke and death of the (considerably more conservative) elected president. After fighting off calls from the deceased president's former staffers and the Republican Speaker of the House, Nathan Templeton (Donald Sutherland), that she resign, President Allen endured hardship after hardship, ranging from ongoing sabotage by Speaker Templeton to the restless stirrings of the "First Gentlemen" (played by Kyle Secor, whom many of you, if any of you actually watched the show, would recognize from his tenure on NBC's mothballed police drama, Homicide: Life on the Street) to the challenges of being a president and a mother to her two teenage children.

To be blunt, Commander In Chief lacks most of what made The West Wing a hit, at least in the latter show's earlier years. I was able to put aside my conservative credentials once a week every Wednesday night to watch the trials and tribulations of President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen), Leo McGarry (John Spencer) (may he rest in peace), C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney), Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), and the rest of that amazing staff, and root for them. While The West Wing had its preachy moments, they were mild and easily disregarded. The trade-off for said preachiness was that you were guaranteed a unique blend of drama and comedy, a tightly interwoven storyline (due in large part to the writing talents of Aaron Sorkin), artistic cinematography, and characters with whom it was easy to identify. Depending on what you happened to catch it, The West Wing could be light-hearted or somber, comical or thought-provoking; it was, for much of its run, rarely predictable. For me, The West Wing was the best television had to offer because it brought a lot of elements of good television together.

People who tuned in to Commander in Chief after loving The West Wing for almost seven years were destined to be disappointed, since Commander In Chief (in my opinion) lacks all of the admirable qualities that make you want to watch, and keep watching, The West Wing. While The West Wing focused on the starry-eyed staff of an idealistic president and their myriad hurdles in workaday Washington, D.C., Commander In Chief has a decidedly different tone. It concentrates less on character development and the rich relationships among those characters, instead opting to create an overwhelming sense of hostility between the president and her husband, the president and the speaker, the president and her children -- detect a pattern?

Yes, The West Wing had tension; but it made that tension a by-product of the storyline rather than the storyline, and it counterbalanced that tension with light moments. The few episodes of Commander In Chief that I have seen were drearily heavy and laced with paranoia. It was as if Julius Caesar and Richard Nixon sat down to write a screenplay and it got picked up by ABC.

It is, however, the show's preachiness that made it unbearable to watch. Every episode (that I saw, anyway) guaranteed that two themes were hammered home repeatedly: (1) America likes moderate-to-liberal presidents like Mackenzie Allen (putting aside, of course, (a) the fact that the United States historically shies away from left-leaning leadership, and (b) Americans on the show did not even vote for someone of Mackenzie's bent, and it took a stroke to make her president); and (2) Republicans (which are represented in microcosmic form by Sutherland's character) are evil incarnate. Enough, already! If I want preachy bloviation, I will watch the Today Show or a Senate confirmation hearing. This not to say that a show cannot carry deeper messages, because many good ones do, but you need to take into account that audiences do not like being dictated to during the few hours they have each week to escape and relax. Indeed, Commander In Chief failed to learn the primary lesson of The West Wing in this regard, which is that you can get away with a certain degree of preachy provided that you can provide balance with a solid storyline and great characters.

Commander In Chief's attempts to score points with West Wing viewers continues to fail because the latter misses the mark in so many crucial ways, as its ever-dwindling audience demonstrates (although I wonder if Hillary watches). If you haven't seen Commander In Chief yet, I encourage you to do so -- but do it quickly. I have a feeling this one might not result in a DVD box set.

Read more!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A mish-mash of posts

I've been posting so much non-political stuff at the Cranky Con lately, that when I have posted some on political topics, I've forgotten to cross-post them here. Rather than hog all the space, I'll just alert some of the non-crossover readers to my most recent posts.

Yesterday I critiqued a Dick Morris op-ed in which he urges the GOP to move even further left. (Poor, poor, silly Dick.)

Here's a post on why I'm still inclined to vote Republican in November, and a follow-up explaining why the President and Congress are doing everything in their power to make me stay at home.

And, finally, one on the angry left.


Read more!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Judge Luttig and Judicial Salaries

The news that Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge J. Michael Luttig resigned today to become the Chief Counsel of Boeing comes as a bit of a shock, especially considering that he has been on quite a few short lists for elevation to the Supreme Court. While I rarely agreed with Judge Luttig, I am certainly able to cast aside partisan differences and note that he was considered to be arguably among the brightest and most accomplished Judges on the Federal Bench and his decision to resign leaves a gaping hole on the Fourth Circuit that will be difficult to fill. Yes, Judge Luttig was a conservative, but he was above all an accomplished lawyer and a good judge.

His reasons, both stated and unstated, for resigning, however, raise the issue of judicial salaries. I’ve long been an advocate for a substantial increase in judicial salaries, as well as the salaries of most public servants, both state and federal. (As an aside, being a public servant myself, I recognize that I have a lot to gain by large increases in salary, but objectively speaking, the fact that I could make close to 75-100% more in the private sector for the same or similar work is disturbing. I’m okay with small disparities, as salaries do not have to be equal, but the gap should not be nearly as large as it is.) As the chart below indicates the salaries for federal judges are, in my opinion, pitifully low.

Chief Justice of the United States $212,100

Associate Justices of the Supreme Court $203,000

Judges, U.S. Courts of Appeal $175,100

Judges, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Services $175,100

Judges, U.S. District Courts $165,200

I know that it is difficult for many to read this chart and think that $165,200 is low, but when you consider that most, if not all, of the nominees for the federal bench are accomplished attorneys, at the tops of their firms, with partnerships and client bases that are very profitable, it should become rather clear that almost everyone who accepts the nomination for such a position is taking a substantial pay cut. From my own experience as an attorney in DC, I could have made up to $125,000 as a first year associate right out of law school. Now, 3 years later, starting salaries are as high as $140,000 and people with experience commensurate to mine routinely make in excess of $150,000 at large firms. Of course, it is true that these salaries are not representative of the entire legal market, (rather are only at places attorneys call BIG LAW, or major corporate firms), but nevertheless, it should put things into a bit of perspective. Bottom line, if a person who has been a lawyer for less than 10 years can make more than what a federal district judge makes, we have a problem and a disparity that is, in my opinion, starting to make it difficult to recruit and retain the best and the brightest for service as a judge.

Now, in fairness, there is a counter argument, which I fully acknowledge. Namely, that people ought to engage in public service not for the gobs of money they could make, but rather for the honor and prestige that comes from serving their country, especially in a life-tenured position such as a federal judge. As someone who chose public service over private practice, this is the reason why. It’s not that I don’t want to make $200,000 per year, but rather that I value my service and enjoy being a government worker, besides the money isn’t all that bad. I, however, made my decision at 25 year’s old, single, and with no dependents. Others, say like judicial appointees, are often (Justice Souter is perhaps the most famous exception) married, with children, and existing financial obligations. In other words, for these people the money matters; a lot. And it especially matters when it involves a major life decision.

Is there a recruiting problem currently? I honestly don’t know, but my guess is that there might be but it’s not the kind of thing you would ever hear about. Presidents back their nominees 100% regardless of whether they were the first choice or the 50th. You would never hear a President say, I nominate Judge X for the Fourth Circuit because the pay is so low that he was the only guy who would take the job. Like I said, I don’t know if there is an actual problem, but I’d be willing to bet that several people over the last 10 years or so, have said, thanks, but no thanks, to a federal judgeship.

Read more!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Por Que Cinco de Mayo?

A good friend of mine sent me an article from the New York Times Sunday Style section about a Mexican drink known as "Agua Loca" ("Crazy Water"?). Jonathan Miles, the piece's author, describes Agua Loca as "a superspiked, sangria-ish drink" and a "fresher, bolder, [and] poquito bit tougher" than its more familiar Spanish cousin.

Why am I writing about Agua Loca on TPS? I'm not. I'm writing about an interesting blurb from the drink's maker, which can be found in the story's second paragraph:
"In Mexico we don't celebrate Cinco de Mayo," said Ms. Ballesteros, a native of Monterrey, Mexico, who is the former chef at Mexicana Mama in the West Village [in New York]. "And I can't understand why you guys do. It's a bit confusing. It's a national holiday in Mexico, so the banks aren't open, but we don't celebrate it like we do our Independence Day in September." (Ms. Ballesteros excused herself, in fact, to check with someone in the kitchen to determine what precisely it is that Cinco de Mayo commemorates: "A battle between the French and Mexicans.") (Emphasis added)

This struck me as odd. I mean, if Mexicans do not even celebrate the holiday that is touted in Mexico's version of our own Independence Day (which appears not to be the case, based upon the above quote), then why is it inescapable in the United States? Why is Cinco de Mayo a fixture here and not there?

I have two theories -- one slightly better than the other, and they may be intertwined.

My first theory is that it is part of a concerted, albeit unconscious, effort to make the growing Mexican population in the United States more comfortable. As I type this post, I am looking at my English-language desk calendar and see that Cinco de Mayo is but one of several Mexican holidays in May alone that are highlighted for the sake of the user. More and more signs are written in Spanish, more and more government forms are written in Spanish -- you get the idea. One has to question the wisdom of making Mexicans more comfortable with being in the United States, given that the vast majority of them are illegally here (I don't see the state reducing security around major targets so that terrorists might feel more comfortable, but I digress), but the strategy seems to be comprehensive.

My second theory has less to do with nationalism and more to do with capitalism. Cinco de Mayo appears to be less about the importance of another country's holiday and more about our society's desire to squeeze a dollar out of any given moment. Besides the obvious point that promoting Cinco de Mayo is a boon to companies that specialize in producing and importing Mexican cerveza, it also has the added advantage of filling the brief economic No-Man's Land between Easter (which can fluctuate between late March and late April) and the one-two punch of Mother's Day (May 14 this year) and Father's Day (June 18 this year). It is yet another chance to get someone to spend dinero where they ordinarily might not -- which, I suppose, is the very crux of capitalism.

It is here where the two intertwine: by combining the capitalist drive with the desire to make (mostly illegal) Mexicans feel more comfortable, it is part of a larger effort to capitalize financially on the influx of (mostly illegal) Mexicans. Perhaps the choice of Cinco de Mayo for this purpose -- which, if we are to believe Ms. Ballesteros, is not as important a holiday as others in Mexico -- was not blind luck: it is a holiday that catches people's attention without being too solemn an occasion to manipulate for commercial reasons. (For example, Mexicans might be repulsed at the use of Mexico's use of their actual Independence Day for such a business blitz. Then again, their actual Independence Day does not have the good fortune of falling at the beginning of summer, when beer sales begin to rise, so who knows. Similarly, use of religious holidays for commercial efforts might not be a good idea, given that many Mexicans are devout, conservative Catholics who might react negatively to images of Santa and the Easter Bunny hawking wares in a shopping mall.)

This is hardly the result of scientific research, but it seems sound. I look forward to tasting Agua Loca in the immediate future, although not if it costs $13 a glass. Ay, carrumba!

Hat tip to Jennifer and the New York Times.

Read more!

Because sometimes you just don't know how to respond

A few folks might remember when Joe D'Hippolito proposed an, umm, interesting set of policy proposals for his grand vision of the United States. I believe it was a response to this post from mouldfan. It seems Joe's comments got Mark Shea's attention. I love how he captures the general response to Joe.

I do believe it was a momentous occasion in this blog's history for it marked the one and only time that repeal and I had pretty much the same reaction to a comment.

Read more!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Moonbat article of the day

Courtesy of the Philadelphia Inquirer, an article on why Bush should be impeached.

It's actually too stupid to comment upon, but I thought I'd pass it along for your amusement.

And as usual, I must ask the question: What color is the sky in their world?

Read more!

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?