Sunday, July 23, 2006

SERIOUSNESS WATCH Another reminder of a sad truth with tragic implications: It's impossible to have a serious conversation with these people.
MR. RUSSERT: Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser, said that adult stem cells show far more promise than embryonic stem cells, and the White House could not identify any scientist who could confirm that. Is--does the president agree with Mr. Rove?

MR. BOLTEN: I'm, I'm no scientist, not, not quantified to speak on it, but I think the point that Karl was getting at is that there are alternative means to achieve some of the promise of the--of the embryonic stem cells that, that scientists...

MR. RUSSERT: No, he said "far more promise."

MR. BOLTEN: Well...

MR. RUSSERT: Can you--can you cite any scientist who believes that adult stem cells have far more promise than embryonic stem cells?

MR. BOLTEN: Well I can't cite scientists on either side of it, but what I can tell you is that adult, adult human stem cells have already shown enormous utility in, in the amelioration of disease in this country. Embryonic stem cells have, have yet to fulfill the promise that many see, but, but there--but there is a legitimate promise there, and that’s why the president has struggled so much with that difficult balance...[unintelligible].

MR. RUSSERT: But is there any ev--is there any evidence that you're aware of, or the president's aware of, that says that adult stem cells show far more promise than embryonic?

MR. BOLTEN: Adult stem cells have already demonstrated for--in the amelioration of disease...

MR. RUSSERT: So you agree with Mr. Rove.

MR. BOLTEN: I--like I said I’m not--I’m not a scientist and I don’t...

MR. RUSSERT: Well, I don’t think Karl Rove is, either.

MR. BOLTEN: Well, he knows a lot of stuff.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

"The situation seems far more stable than when I was here two or three years ago," [Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman] said in an interview in the fortified Green Zone. "The security seems better, people are more relaxed."
--New York Times, July 19, 2006
Now what is the effect of the disconfirmation, of the unequivocal fact that the prediction was wrong, upon the believer? The disconfirmation introduces an important and painful dissonance...

The dissonance would be reduced or eliminated if the members of a movement effectively blind themselves to the fact that the prediction has not been fulfilled...They may convince themselves that the date was wrong but that the prediction will, after all, be shortly confirmed; or they may even set another date as the Millerites did...

But whatever explanation is made it is still by itself not sufficient...Though they may try to hide it, even from themselves, the believers still know that the prediction was false...But there is a way in which the remaining dissonance can be reduced. If more and more people can be persuaded that the system of belief is correct, then clearly it must, after all, be correct. (Emphasis in original.)
--WHEN PROPHECY FAILS by Leon Festinger et al.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

PHILLY REMINDER The Spark Festival production of THE BOX doesn't officially open until tomorrow. But there's a preview tonight.

The bill of short plays runs through Sunday. (More coverage here.)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

SERIOUSNESS WATCH The mysterious, semi-anonymous DK catches a slip-up in the otherwise excellent big-picture editorial in the Sunday New York Times.

LAMONT WATCH Greg Sargent calls out Mark Leibovich of The New York Times for some truly terrible reporting in his Sunday story about Sen. Joe Lieberman's troubles. But the article is worse than Sargent lets on.

Yes, the piece is written just about entirely from Lieberman's perspective, and it includes almost no discussion of the stances and statements that have landed Lieberman in trouble with Connecticut Democrats.

But Sargent doesn't even discuss these two particularly egregious paragraphs:

[Lieberman] has also encountered a peculiar brand of stigma from his Democratic colleagues in the Senate.

Several of them say they will support their "good friend" in the primary. But only a smattering say they will support Mr. Lieberman no matter what happens Aug. 8. The rest have either avoided the question ("You never saw senators run for the elevators so fast," David Lightman of The Hartford Courant said on "Reliable Sources" on CNN) or vowed to support the primary winner, even if it is Mr. Lamont, whom most of them have never met.
Let Leibovich's clumsy writing slide. (Does one really "encounter a stigma"? And since when do stigmas have "brands"?) What he seems to want to say is that Lieberman's being treated by at least some fellow senators as if he has the cooties. And, Leibovich insinuates, these senators are hypocrites for not embracing Lieberman's independent run.

I don't see how else you can read it. Otherwise, why draw attention to the fact that Lieberman is thought of as "good friend"? Why go out of your way to note that most of the senators in question haven't met Ned Lamont? The implicit point is clearly that these senators are guilty of a betrayal. And Leibovich's use of the word "stigma" casts their abandonment of Lieberman as a step taken for the sake of appearance (to ward off the cooties).

Bottom line: Whatever you take away from the two paragraphs, you don't get even a whiff of the idea that the senators might have simple, defensible reasons for their stances.

But clearly, they do.

Come on: Should we really expect Democratic officials to line up to rule out endorsing the winner of the Democratic party primary--pre-emptively lending their support, instead, to an independent run by the primary's loser? What would be the precedent for it?

Would the more predictable move really be for most senators to allow personal loyalty to trump their commitment to the primary process? Based on what evidence?

Snarky quips notwithstanding, does Leibovich have any proof whatsoever that what we're witnessing here is something other than the typical operation of a modern political party?

I suppose it's amusing, to a certain kind of observer, that an elected official might endorse a candidate she's never met--even against a "good friend." Maybe Leibovich is just this kind of observer--one who sees politics as a chummy parlor game, where personal ties are the most important thing at stake.

But if that's his view of the political arena, he should be doing his writing somewhere other than in the news pages of The New York Times.

Monday, July 10, 2006

KURTZ: You were chided recently for writing several times in different occasions "the next six months are crucial in Iraq," the next six months. And now you’ve written a column saying that Americans are simply not going to tolerate this kind of anarchy for another two years and deadlines have to be set. Were you conscious that you were now shifting your position on this?

[THOMAS] FRIEDMAN: Not really...


The fact is that the outcome there is unclear, and I reflected that in my column. And I will continue to reflect.

KURTZ: Unclear, but you’re running out of patience?

FRIEDMAN: Well, it’s not that I’m running out of patience. The story’s evolving.
About this time more and more Millerites were accepting a new prediction first promulgated by one of their number, the Revernd Samuel S. Snow, who believed that the date of the Second Coming would be October 22, 1844...

The two partial disconfirmations (April 23, 1843 and the end of the calendary year 1843) and one complete and unequivocal disconfirmation (March 21, 1844) served simply to strengthen the conviction that the Coming was near at hand and to increase time and energy that Miller's adherents spent trying to convince others.
--WHEN PROPHECY FAILS by Leon Festinger et al.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

FRITTERING IT ALL AWAY DK, subbing for Josh Marshall over at Talking Points Memo, hits the nail on the head:
Let's nip this whole "Bush is shifting to a more enlightened foreign policy" theme in the bud, shall we?

Time calls it "The End of Cowboy Diplomacy" in this week's cover story. A David Sanger piece in tomorrow's New York Times is headlined, "Bush's Shift: Being Patient With Foes."

The sad truth is that the Administration's foreign policy has run aground on the shoals of its own incompetence. As Kevin Drum noted last week, "the Bush administration literally seems to have no foreign policy at all anymore."

Afghanistan is reverting to the Taliban. Iraq is beyond the point of no return. North Korea is acting with impunity. Iran controls its own destiny.

Worse, for an Administration that has instinctively favored military action over diplomacy, the nation's military resources are depleted, bogged down, and largely unavailable for any further foreign adventures.

Yet we have stories emerging that suggest the current foreign policy dilemma is a deliberate course of action chosen by Bush. Time, in a mishmash of its news and style sections, calls it a "strategic makeover" led by Condi Rice.

The fact is Bush has boxed himself in, frittering away lives and treasure, and leaving himself with few options. He deserves no more credit for a policy shift than the man serving a life sentence who declares that he will henceforth be law-abiding.

CLEARPLAY WATCH You'll remember that when the President signed the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act into law early last year, he carved out a copyright law exemption for ClearPlay, the company whose filtering technology censors dvds without modifying the discs themselves.

Things have been pretty quiet on the content filtering front since then. But this week there was news:

In a ruling in the case involving CleanFlicks vs. 16 of Hollywood's hottest directors, U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch found that making copies of movies to delete objectionable language, sex and violence hurts studios and directors who own the movie rights.

"Their [studios and directors] objective...is to stop the infringement because of its irreparable injury to the creative artistic expression in the copyrighted movies," the judge wrote in a 16-page decision. "There is a public interest in providing such protection. Their business is illegitimate."

Michael Apted, director of "Coal Miner's Daughter" and president of the Director's Guild of America, said Friday that movie directors can feel "vindicated" by the ruling.

"Audiences can now be assured that the films they buy or rent are the vision of the filmmakers who made them and not the arbitrary choices of a third-party editor," he said in a statement
Unlike ClearPlay, CleanFlicks copies dvds outright and re-edits them--an approach that put them squarely in conflict with the rights of artists and copyright holders.

Still, it's heartening to see their arguments--and their haughty, moralistic stance--rejected in court.

UPDATE: Just came across this page on the CleanFlicks site:

Are all the titles on your site edited?

CleanFlicks believes that you shouldn't have to worry while you are searching
the site, so all titles shown on the site are edited. There are however some
older titles that have H and D words left in as we did not take these two
words out the first year we were editing.
Are they referring to hell and damn? Hooker and dang? Hemp and Dukakis?

Any other guesses?

Saturday, July 08, 2006

QUOTE OF THE DAY In case you missed the Saturday Times:
"This involved multiple ambassadors, a prime minister, a prince, Lionel Richie, the senator and religious leaders in Atlanta," Mr. Reeder said.
More here.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

ACTING IN AMERICA Thanks to Jayne Houdyshell--no acting slouch herself--for her comments on my recent Alvin Epstein post. (For those interested in the KING LEAR production, The Playgoer has a review that covers all the important points.)

Why do many of our finest actors spend decades in the trenches, working in small venues outside of the media spotlight? There are many reasons, of course. And there certainly are worse fates: I'm not bemoaning the Sorry Life Of The Working Actor so much as I am the loss to audiences that accrues when our finest practitioners go underutilized.

In any event, I suspect film and TV are a big part of the problem. Specifically, the way an actor's success (or lack thereof) in those mediums seems to have become an outsized factor in casting decisions at our larger non-profits theatre companies.

(Let's not even talk about Broadway.)

Take Liev Schreiber, for example. A fine stage actor--one of my favorites. But would he get all the juicy roles in the big productions without the notoriety and cultural cache that his film career provides?

And without the big platform that such productions offer, would people like Charles Isherwood be labeling him "the foremost Shakespearean actor of his generation in America"?

Can we really imagine Isherwood conferring that kind of title on an actor known primarily for his or her work at the Pearl Theatre?

And so the celebrity culture seeps deeper and deeper into our national fabric.

It's a sorry state of affairs. And it's all the more reason for those of us with strong opinions to try to help get the word out about America's best, least-known stage actors.

So: If Gary Wilmes is in something--go see it. Christina Kirk signs on for a new production? Buy a ticket.

Noodging to be continued.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

WE WERE THE PROBLEM From Harvard Magazine:
Linda Greenhouse '68 went to a Simon and Garfunkel concert soon after the war in Iraq began, and in the middle of the concert she had a crying jag. When she accepted the 2006 Radcliffe Institute Medal at the institute's luncheon on June 9, the New York Times's Supreme Court correspondent explained: "Thinking back to my college days in those troubled and tumultuous late 1960s, there were many things that divided my generation...[Yet] we were absolutely united in one conviction: the belief that in future decades, if the world lasted that long, when our turn came to run the country, we wouldn't make the same mistakes...I cried that night...out of the realization that my faith had been misplaced...We were the problem."

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

ARTICLES OF FAITH Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) is fond of telling audiences that on Iraq, he's standing on principle.

But what principle is it?

Back in 2003, reasonable people disagreed about whether invading Iraq was a good idea. But Lieberman isn't in trouble with Connecticut Democrats because of his 2003 stance. He's in trouble for what he's been saying lately.

And for the questions he hasn't been answering.

In retrospect, was invading Iraq the most effective way for the United States to achieve its foreign policy goals? Has it been an effective use of our human, financial and political capital?

These are questions about the past--yes. But they're questions about Lieberman's current attitude toward the past.

And fundamentally, they're questions not about principle but judgment: Given Lieberman's original support for the war, does he have the intellectual objectivity to weight the war's costs and benefits? Or is his stance on a continued military presence in Iraq a product of stubbornness, immune to revision?

There's nothing in Lieberman's recent remarks to suggest he understands these concerns. It's hard to see him making any headway with his detractors on the left until he does.

Monday, July 03, 2006

LIEBERMAN CUTS AND RUNS Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) has now confirmed what was already widely expected: He will run as an independent if he loses the Connecticut senatorial primary.

If you're having trouble figuring out what's at stake in this race, here's a flashback to a New York Times editorial that ran July 14, 2005:

This was a sad week for the war on terror. The Senate voted, disgracefully, to shift homeland security money from high-risk areas to low-risk ones--a step that is likely to mean less money to defend New York and California against terrorism and more for states like Wyoming. Before the vote, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff made a powerful appeal to the senators to distribute the money based on risk. But the Senate, led by Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, and other small-state representatives, put political pork ahead of national security.


Senators had a chance to fix next year's formula, but they voted to make it worse. The original homeland security budget would have allocated 70 percent of the money according to relative risks. Senators from the highest-risk states, led by Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, introduced an amendment to raise that number to 87 percent. Ms. Collins, supported by Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, introduced an amendment to lower to 60 percent the amount given out according to risk. (Emphasis added.)
Connecticut Democrats: Vote for Ned Lamont. Connecticut voters: Send Joe Lieberman home.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

NEWS FROM REDMOND AdCenter is Microsoft's new search engine advertising platform, designed to attract more keyword advertising dollars to the company and to help MSN.com compete with Google.

Advertisers access AdCenter via a flashy new website--and you'd think Microsoft would want that site to be as widely accessible as possible.

But no: It just so happens that the site's been designed to be incompatible with both the Macintosh operating system and the Firefox web browser.

In other words, if you want to spend ad dollars with Microsoft, you better hope you're sitting behind a PC that runs Windows and IE 6.0 (or later) when the urge hits.

Memo to Microsoft: Denial is not a business model.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.