Jasper Smith

Commentary on politics, economics, culture and sports.

Archive for December 2007

Thursday Tolkien blogging, or, exercises in geekery

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Ross discusses the Peter Jacksons’ participation in the upcoming film version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

…while I trust Jackson and Company more than I would trust anyone else in Hollywood where Tolkien is concerned, I can’t say that I was entirely wowed by the portions of Lord of the Rings where they veered dramatically from the original text. Which means the prospect of having them essentially manufacture a prequel – and if it does well at the box office, you know there will be others – leaves me a little cold, and a lot worried.

One of Ross’s readers chimes in to agree with his complaints about insufficient faithfulness to the story line in Jackson’s three Lord of the Rings films (warning, major league geek stuff to follow):

I hope that Peter Jackson doesn’t get his hands or “artistic license” on The Hobbit. Despite the fact that LOTR was a monumental effort, it still stands that Mr. Tolkein’s work was prostituted by Mr. Jackson who felt it necessary to alter the story to suit his own needs and ego. Frodo was represented as a weakling. Lady Arwen, or example, did NOT save Frodo’s life at the Fjord of Bruinen, it was his depth of character and Hobbit strength, as Mr. Tolkein intended. It was more than obvious that Mr. Jackson was more interested in CGI special effects and the bottom line than in representing the books as they should have been.

It does pretty much suck when you’re really into a certain literary work, and the filmmaker takes liberties with the stories. But the thing is, movies are movies and books are books. Sometimes elements that go into great books simply don’t work as movies. Unfortunately for the latter, there’s that itty bitty matter of making money. Liv Tyler’s a big star — and Hollywood movies need hot babes, after all — and it simply made financial sense to take a bit of poetic license with the character of Arwen. What’s so difficult about that? You can always go back and read the originals if you want the real McCoy. It’s not like the studio required Tolkien’s estate to alter the book’s prose. The original words will last for eternity, uncorrupted. Maybe some day a studio will choose to do a TV miniseries of LOTR, and there will be enough time to incorporate the character of Tom Bomadil. But theater seats and human arses aren’t designed to sit for four hours. I suggest people who get overly worked up about his sort of thing eschew seeing the movie, because they’re never perfectly faithful to the author. It’s not worth the blood pressure spike.

Side note: it’s been a while for me since reading the books, but I recall Frodo was semi-unconscious by the time the reached Bruinen. I know there was some kind of encounter with a wraith, but I thought it was pretty much Elrond who saved the day (not really Frodo) by using his power over the river to unleash a flood.

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December 20, 2007 at 9:42 pm

Dreaming of Bobby

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An Yglesias reader has this to say about Matt’s support for Barrack Obama:

Matt should just accept that his candidate is the least engaged in making bold domestic policy changes and move on. Obama is much more concerned with good government and atmospheric changes domestically and image changes abroad. That’s fine as far as it goes, it just doesn’t go as far as Edwards does.

Right. At the end of the day, Barrack Obama is running as a Bill Bradley-style process liberal, and that usually means stressing foreign policy, political reform, and social issues. It’s a type of campaign that traditionally attracts affluent, idealistic liberals. If this is your thing, Obama’s your man.

If economic justice is your thing, the obvious choice is John Edwards. I think a big problem for American liberalism in general is that, by soft-peddling the economic justice issue in such an incredibly lame fashion, (I mean, America’s safety net is absolutely fucking pathetic compared to the rest of the rich world) “process” liberalism is severely undercut. You can’t expect folks who are worried about homelessness or hunger or hospital bills to get overly worked up about gay marriage or climate change. Indeed, you might very well expect them to oppose progressive efforts in these areas, to the extent that financially-stressed working people tend to be overly susceptible to the siren call of right wing scare-mongering.

It’s no coincidence that the last time the two strains of liberalism were fused in a credible national candidate (Bobby Kennedy) came toward the tail end of a great period of expanding economic opportunity.

I think it’s high time we got our ducks in a row when it comes to economics.

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December 18, 2007 at 9:46 pm

When Hell is as cold as Boston is right about now

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A recent article in the Times of London recounts the latest goings-on in America’s presidential race. Here’s a taste:

…Fred Thompson picked up the much sought-after endorsement of the Iowa Republican congressman Steve King yesterday, while Mr Giuliani’s campaign was reported to be cancelling advertisements in New Hampshire so that it could focus efforts on later states such as Florida, where his poll lead was being eaten away by Mr Huckabee. The Republicans, who by this stage are usually uniting around an establishment candidate, are in utter disarray this year with voters indicating strong doubts about almost every one of their five top-tier candidates. Ron Paul, a sixth Republican candidate standing on a maverick libertarian ticket, is doing his best to make the field even wider and announced yesterday that he had smashed fundraising records for a second time by generating no less than $6million (£3million) on a single day, Sunday.

One Ron Paul zealot commenter in the “Have Your Say” field is upset with the insufficiently prominent mention of the most libertarian of the Republican hopefuls. “Sarah from London” complains:

Ron Paul is America’s anti-war, pro-liberty candidate with integrity and a coherent political philosophy. No wonder the powers that be are trying to bury him at the end of news stories.

But see, Sarah, the reason newspapers are “burying” mention of Ron Paul at the end of stories is that he has no chance whatsoever of becoming the next president. Why does a fringe candidate polling in the low single digits merit front page coverage? Sorry, this is the real world, not the fantasies of Ayn Rand. Americans, like the vast majority of voters in rich countries, sensibly value the economic stability afforded by government-provided social insurance, consumer protection laws, and prudent regulation of the economy. And there’s a reason such things are popular, by the way, and that reason is that, for millions of people, life was brutish, nasty and short before the advent of the evil welfare state.

Ron Paul’s radical libertarianism is thankfully a fringe movement. The numbers don’t lie.

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December 17, 2007 at 11:43 pm


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The Celtics now top Marc Stein’s power rankings.

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December 17, 2007 at 1:31 pm

Posted in Boston, Sports

On second thought: the case for John Edwards

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Ezra seems skeptical about the ability of a President Edwards to enact his plans:

I can’t figure out what the Edwards plan is. How do you fight like hell to change the power balance in the system? What’s the pressure point? The vulnerability? I’ve heard some suggest campaign finance reform, but that has to pass Congress, first, and Congress is where the system exhibits its most profound rot. Does Edwards mean to use the bully pulpit to spark social organizing, as Reagan did with his tax cuts, creating enough voter pressure to scare Congress into constituent service before corporate fealty? If so, how will that work?

Well, it remains to be seen exactly how things will transpire, but I reckon there are two elements that speak to the superiority of the Edwards approach when it comes to effecting change:

a) Longer coattails. This has been written about extensively. Edwards will take more states against the Republican nominee than either Clinton or Obama, and this will give down ticket Democrats the greatest possible chance at gaining for their party larger congressional margins.

b) His fiery rhetoric probably is a big plus. I’m about as doctrinaire a free trader as you’re likely to find in liberal circles, but even I think Edwards’s views on trade may be useful if one’s goal is to strengthen the safety net and modify the tax code. The last thing the plutocrats want is anybody messing with their ability freely engage in the no-holds-barred form of capitalism that has made them jaw-droppingly wealthy. A populist president who enters Washington possessed of both deeper congressional majorities and the imprimatur of the voters for his anti Wall Street, pro worker views is probably in a far stronger position to exact meaningful concessions from the business community than either a connected DC insider or a national healer-in-chief.

Edwards surely is correct about the need to take power. It won’t freely be given.

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December 17, 2007 at 12:07 pm

What’s the matter with John Edwards?

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John Edwards’s lack of progress is puzzling, especially given the increasing economic difficulty the country is experiencing. You’d think that the problematic economy — coupled with the high profile he has attained by a previous national run — would leave him in a stronger position.

I think it boils down to — and this is going to seem quite the cliché — that he’s just not sufficiently presidential. In the US system, we’re not just choosing the government’s CEO, we’re choosing a head of state. In a parliamentary system, were Edwards the leader of the opposition, he’d have a shadow cabinet minister dealing with economic affairs who could hammer away at the middle class anxiety issue. But Edwards has to make that case himself in the US style of politics. And his incessant, almost shrill focus on how much the economy sucks for ordinary folk — while music to my Denmark-lovin’ redistributionist ears, frankly brings him down in the eyes of a lot of voters. He sounds like he’s running for Consumer Advocate in Chief, or Povery Ameliorator in Chief. But John Edwards is running for leader of the free world.

Not that I don’t think that this election will probably be decided — as most ultimately are — on the economy (stupid), but you can make the economic case along with talking about other issues, especially after you get the nomination. To talk about how tough the middle class has it incessantly, almost 24/7 non-stop, hasn’t proven to be a winning formula. Even Americans who need a lot of help don’t want to think they’re voting for someone merely because that candidate is going to give them some rich person’s money. They want to be inspired. Edwards, I’m (truly) sorry to say, mostly hasn’t been inspiring.

It’s not over for him yet, but John Edwards doesn’t have much time to right his ship.

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December 10, 2007 at 7:11 pm

Could Huck win the general election?

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Over at Ezra’s place, Neil ponders the possibilities for Mike Huckabee, should the ex-Arkansas governor prevail in the primaries:

For a long time, I’ve regarded him as the most dangerous general election opponent. Like most Democrats, I remember how easily a red-state Republican cast himself as a ‘compassionate conservative’ in 2000, and I’m worried about seeing it again. But the more I think about Huckabee, the less I worry. I think people underestimate the extent to which his brand of social conservatism is a real liability in a general election. Bush’s success doesn’t have any positive implications for Huckabee, as Bush always blurred the lines on social issues before elections.

I agree with Neil about Huckabee’s vulnerabilities in a general election, although I think Huckabee’s weakness is mostly just a sign of the changing political environment. I believe events of the past eight years — especially Iraq and Katrina — combined with the shitty economy of 2008 — translate into real problems for the GOP. I think they’re especially in trouble in places like Ohio and Florida.  The country is suffering from major league Bush Fatigue Syndrome. The “Conservative Republican” brand has been terribly weakened. And I think that means the GOP needs to nominate someone who at least can be spun as a moderate who can take the country in a different direction. So that means McCain (a media darling who condemns torture), Rudy (used to live with gay guys and provided sanctuary to immigrants) or Romney (used to run the most liberal state in the country). Not that I think any of these three would likely prevail in a general election — I really do think it’s the Democrats’ to lose — but I can at least imagine a plausible strategy being put together for one of them to run to the center in a general election (much as the eventual Democratic nominee will do the same). And who knows, maybe the economy is stronger next year than I think it will be, and it ends up being a tight race.

But I just don’t see how the GOP possibly wins with a guy who thinks the Flinstones is a documentary. Sure, he’s a nice, personable southern gentlemen who lost a lot of weight. He’s just too much of a socialcon to be plausibly marketed to the disaffected, war-weary, Bush-fatigued, economically vulnerable purple state voters who want change, and who will decide this election. But hey, the Huckster will be certain to give the GOP great margins in holding down Idaho!

Bottom line: Huck is too much like Bush. And the last thing this country wants is another Bush.

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December 8, 2007 at 8:43 pm

Crook on Rodrik on Hillarytrade

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Clive Cook talks about Dani Rodrik’s calm reaction to Hillary Clinton’s recent embrace of protectionism:

Dani is right of course that having doubts about the current multilateral arrangements does not make you a protectionist. Raising trade barriers, or turning your face against opportunities to lower them, is what makes you a protectionist. I also agree with Dani that taking a breather on trade agreements does not mean that the global trade regime will collapse. But collapse is an extreme scenario. The danger is not collapse, but erosion.

Dani argues that to maintain the openness we have, we must improve the legitimacy of the existing arrangements and build political support for liberal trade. Yet again, we agree. The issue that divides us is whether Hillary Clinton’s call for a time-out on trade advances or retards those goals.

Acknowledging that there can be winners and losers from trade, and developing better kinds of social insurance to ease the strain, makes sense. I am very much for that. But those policies do not envisage restrictions on trade. It is very hard to maintain that (a) trade is good for us in the aggregate and (b) it makes sense to go slow on trade liberalisation. If you are going to argue (b), before long you will find yourself failing to mention (a). And once you have forgotten (a), or decided it might actually be wrong, good luck in trying to “maintain the openness we have”.

If liberal trade is not good for America in the aggregate, why even try to maintain it? Why not join forces with outright protectionists and pursue the “fair trade” agenda without inhibition?…Once the US decides that liberal trade does not serve its collective interest–and Hillary, in effect, is proposing a time-out to think about this–the openness we have is indeed at risk.

I suspect most of the “US” — that is, the American people — already think liberal trade is against its collective interest. That horse has already left the barn. It’s a most deplorable state of affairs, and it unfortunately means that, in the party of the left, at least, the path to power requires mouthing protectionist bromides to peel off at least some protectionist voters.

I really doubt Hillary Rodham Clinton truly believes the fair trade nonsense. But she’s evidently concluded gaining the White House is going to require a certain amount of pandering. Nothing new there.  Pandering is as muc a part of the American political condition as baby kissing or chicken dinners. I now suspect however, that, perhaps ironically, free trade’s best bet is to put a Democrat in the White House. The Republicans certainly don’t appear interested in making safety net improvements (heck, they don’t appear very interested in making the case for trade, either).

Perhaps after eight years of a safety-net-repairing Democratic administration, it will once again be morning in America for free traders.

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December 8, 2007 at 6:32 pm

Mitt’s speech

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I think it’s a bad move on Romney’s part. I don’t know who is advising him he should do a speech. It’s obviously a reaction to Huckabee’s rise. Does anybody really think that an evangelical who thinks Mormonism is a satanic cult is going to vote for Romney because of an eloquent speech, especially now that the former’s got a bonafide political playa he can vote for named Mike Huckabee?

I’m not one of those who has been of the opinion that Romney is in such bad shape merely because of Huckabee’s rise. I mean, Mitt still has a month or so to soften up Huckabee with negative ads, and there are a number of issues he could use: Huckabee’s non-hatred of illegal immigrants, for instance, and his failure to embrace torture, and also his preference for not funding government via debt. Romney, with lots of money, with a solid foundation in NH and Michigan, and with a disciplined, on-message campaign, should remain a very formidable candidate as long as he doesn’t badly underperform to expectations in Iowa (and those expectations are now muted, given what the polls are predicting about a Huckabee win). Indeed, I’d say up to now he’s still the favorite to win the nomination, especially with Rudy showing signs of implosion.

But this speech business strikes me as a real overreaction to an issue most people — even a majority of GOP primary voters — don’t really care about. To most Americans, Mormons are nice, large, hardworking, sober Caucasians with beautiful teeth and big families. A bit funny in the underwear department, perhaps, but certainly well-within the American mainstream. Heck, I’d even go so far as to say Mormons strike me in some ways as being quintessentially American.

Mitt better hit this one out of the park. If not, he’s leaving the door wide open for a McCain surge.

UPDATE: I should address the fact that the above post, while making the case that an Establishment Clause speech doesn’t help Romney, doesn’t explain why it hurts him. Basically, I think it’s because an unnecessary talk with lots of media coverage will muddy Romney’s message. Whatever themes he’s running on — mainstream conservatism, competence, immigration, reforming evil liberal Massachusetts, the Winter Olympics, whatever — will at least temporarily be drowned out by a discussion of his religion. And, while Romney’s Mormonism likely doesn’t hurt him with most GOP voters, I doubt it helps him with very many outside of a 500-mile radius of Salt Lake City. Staying on message seems to me like it’s been a fairly successful strategy for the Mittbot. Why mess with what’s working? Bad move. Or at least a risky move. As I noted above, Mitt had better “hit one out of the park.” I suppose it’s possible that, should he deliver a truly superb speech, the reaction and positive publicity might actually help him.  We shall see. It’s definitely not something I’d advise him to do.

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December 4, 2007 at 6:00 pm

Those cheating Hoyas

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Methinks somebody’s been up to some shenanigans over at Wikepedia. Notice anything wrong about the third paragraph in their entry on Georgetown University?

Georgetown University is a private, Jesuit university located in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. Bishop John Carroll founded the school in 1789, though its roots extend back to 1634.[6] While the school struggled financially in its early years, Georgetown expanded into a branched university after the U.S. Civil War under the leadership of university president Patrick Francis Healy. Georgetown is both the oldest Roman Catholic and oldest Jesuit university in the United States. Its religious heritage is defining for Georgetown’s identity, but has at times been controversial.

Georgetown’s three urban campuses feature traditional collegiate architecture and layout, but prize their green spaces and environmental commitment. The main campus is known for Healy Hall, designated a National Historic Landmark. Academically, Georgetown is divided into four undergraduate schools and four graduate schools, with nationally recognized programs and faculty in international relations, law, medicine, and business.

The student body is noted for its plagiarism and political activism, as well as its sizable international contingent.[7] Campus groups include the nation’s oldest student dramatic society and the largest student corporation, The Corp. Georgetown’s most notable alumni, such as former U.S. President Bill Clinton, served in various levels of government in the United States and abroad. The Georgetown athletics teams are nicknamed “the Hoyas,” made famous by their men’s basketball team, which leads the Big East Conference with seven tournament championships.

Update: Wikipedia, for what it’s worth, has changed “plagiarism” to “pluralism”. Sabotage or an innocent typo? Hard to say.

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December 2, 2007 at 12:56 am