Idle Predictions For 2006

Shorter William Safire predictions without that silly multiple choice convention (speaking of which, would it kill him to tell us in advance that “none of the above” or “all of the above” are options? Sheesh!):

  • U.S. troops in Iraq at 2006 year’s end will number 80,000 or below.
  • Speaker of the House succeeding Dennis Hastert will be Mike Pence.
  • Best-picture Oscar to Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain.”
  • The Robertscalito court will disengage from involvement in states’ redistricting in the Texas case; go the other way in Oregon, holding that federal power to prohibit substances trumps a state’s authority to permit physician-assisted suicide; decide that federal funds can be denied to law schools that prohibit military recruitment on campus; uphold McCain-Feingold, enabling Congress to restrict political contributions but not expenditures; and reassert citizens’ Fourth Amendment protection from “security letters” and warrantless surveillance.
  • Nonfiction sleeper best seller will be “In Search of Memory,” by Nobelist Eric Kandel.
  • Fiction surprise will be “Eye Contact” by Cammie McGovern.
  • Israel-Palestine affected by political split in successful Hamas, Mahmoud Abbas naming jailed Marwan Barghouti his Fatah successor, and dieter Arik Sharon’s centrist Kadima party winning big in March and forming coalition with Labor.
  • Government report most likely to resist investigative reporting will be both special prosecutor David Barrett’s 400-page exposé of political influence within the Internal Revenue Service and Clinton Justice Departmen and the 36-page report by the Senate Intelligence Committee about the 2000 terrorist attack on the destroyer Cole, cleared for release by the C.I.A. but suppressed by the Senate.
  • Stock market will finally reflect sustained 4 percent G.D.P. growth by Dow breaking through 12,000.
  • In Iraqi politics nationalist Iraqis and bridging Kurds will achieve a loose confederation and create a Muslim brand of democracy.
  • None of the following will be vote-changing domestic issues in this year’s U.S. elections: wiretapping and computer intrusions on privacy; extending reductions of dividend, capital-gains and estate taxes and reducing alternative minimum tax; growth in economic inequality and need for pension protection; or journalist jailing by the new leak-plumbers.
  • Thinking outside the ballot box – the dark-horse line for the 2008 presidential race will pit domestic centrists and foreign-policy hardliners Hillary (“You’re a Grand Old Flag”) Clinton against Condi (“I am not a lawyer”) Rice.
  • Conventionally, inside the box, Hillary vs. John McCain.
  • As Bush approval rises, historians will begin to equate his era with that of Truman.

Kind of boring, but this way you don’t have to flip the newspaper back and forth . . .

As for me, I have never been good at prognosticating, but I have a hunch about one thing in particular: Working on its own — without the blessing or knowledge of any state security or intelligence apparatus — the Fox Network will catch Osama bin Laden . . . and pair him with Kiefer Sutherland for Day 6 of the hit show, 24. The nation’s collective thirst for blood will be sated as the writers concoct scenarios in which Jack Bauer tortures UBL in order to move along various plot points. After the finale, bin Laden will be turned over to the U.S. government to stand trial.


Just when you thought things might be going well in Iraq, you read this

Kurds quietly ready for civil war
By Tom Lasseter
Knight Ridder Newspapers

KIRKUK, Iraq — Iraq’s Kurdish leaders have inserted more than 10,000 of their militia members into Iraqi army divisions in northern Iraq to lay the groundwork to swarm south, seize the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and possibly half of Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city, and secure the borders of an independent Kurdistan.

Oh boy. And just yesterday, Andrew Sullivan wrote:

Which is why the utopian idea that we really could transform Iraq is slowly yielding to the meliorist notion that we can help guide it haphazardly, and dangerously, forward.Which is why the utopian idea that we really could transform Iraq is slowly yielding to the meliorist notion that we can help guide it haphazardly, and dangerously, forward.

You call this forward?

Plastic Surgery Disasters

Forget savings bonds or a crisp twenty, whatever happened to the Xbox? Increasingly, people are giving plastic surgery as holiday — sorry, Bill — Christmas gifts:

Last year Helena Rasin’s grandmother gave her $200 for Christmas. This year her grandmother gave her a new nose.

“A nose job is the best Christmas present ever because you’ll have it forever,” Ms. Rasin, 25, a drug company representative in Los Angeles, said two weeks ago while at home recuperating from her rhinoplasty. “It’s not like some sweater you don’t like and have to take back to the store. Even with the bandages still on, I can already tell I look cuter.”

For a denizen of a looks-centric milieu like Los Angeles, Ms. Rasin, who emigrated from Ukraine in 1992, may seem like a plastic surgery late bloomer. Many of her peers had their noses bobbed back in high school and did not get cosmetic procedures this year, Ms. Rasin said. Instead they gave them to family members.

“It’s kind of in now, it’s kind of hip this year to give surgery,” Ms. Rasin said.

December has always been a busy month for plastic surgeons, whose schedules fill with patients seeking a little streamlining before the holiday party season or in advance of body-baring beach vacations. But this year, rather than going under the knife themselves, an increasing number of people conferred nips and tucks upon their loved ones, doctors say. Children financed $15,000 face-lifts for their parents. Sisters shelled out $500 for each other’s Botox treatments. And wives sent husbands to cosmetic dentists for $40,000 sets of porcelain tooth veneers.

A firm in Britain even sells gift certificates for procedures. Amazingly, some find this idea problematic:

But among some doctors and social critics the idea of buying loved ones new and improved body parts raises moral and psychological questions about the consequences of amending someone else’s appearance, especially if the gift was not requested.

You think?

In Praise of Unions (Maybe)

Although the NYC Transit Workers may have done their best to show the worst side of union labor, from clear across the country comes a story that shows just how important unionized workers are:

Alaska Airlines Flight 536 was 20 minutes out of Seattle and heading for Burbank, Calif., Monday afternoon when a thunderous blast rocked the plane.

Passengers gasped for air and grabbed their oxygen masks as the plane dropped from about 26,000 feet, passenger Jeremy Hermanns said by phone Tuesday.

So what happened?

An investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said baggage handlers had bumped the plane’s fuselage with loading equipment and caused “a crease” in the side of the aircraft. The handlers are contract workers hired to replace unionized workers in May.

. . .

Alaska saw an increase in ground-damage incidents at Sea-Tac after it replaced 472 unionized workers in May with workers from Menzies Aviation, based near London, the airline said. The switch contributed to a sharp increase in delayed departures from Sea-Tac.

Apparently the baggage handler didn’t think it was important enough to report the dent. Here’s to taking pride in your work!

L.A. Confidential

Over the holidays, I tend to spend the wee hours of the morning voraciously consuming my parents’ 400 channels of digital cable, a trend that will only accelerate when my Dad inevitably buys a Plasma TV and home theater setup.

After 7 years of catching bits and pieces of Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential during those late-night TV sessions, I finally caught enough of Act I to finally understand the whole movie! It’s a great flick, and if anyone hasn’t seen it, do yourself a favor and rent the DVD so you can watch it in order (though I have to admit there’s a certain post-modern, fragmented effect that’s achieved by multiple partial viewings over several years, like a Picasso painting).

It’s a remarkable feat, the way it pares down the novel to its essence without missing a beat. The editing is so tight it crams what could have been a 4-hour epic slog into a crisp 2:20. Good stuff.

A Great Miracle Happened Here, Or Towards A Better Drinking Dreidel Game

Dreidel, that silly game of chance, is even more fun as a drinking game in which the following rules* apply:

  • Set firm alcohol limits; we cannot stress this enough — one bottle of beer for every person participating is a good guideline.
  • Each player is given a small shot glass to be filled with beer. (Manischewitz would work, too, but it would be disgusting.)
  • Players take turns rolling the dreidel: a GIMEL means that everyone except for the spinner drinks all (glasses are then refilled); HEY — everyone except for the spinner drinks half (“half the distance to the goal” rules apply — do not refill); SHIN — spinner drinks half (“half the distance to the goal” rules apply — do not refill); NUN — no one drinks.
  • If NUN is rolled twice in a row, everyone drinks, including the spinner.

Drinking Dreidel is a pleasant before dinner game, and can be used as an ice breaker at Hannukah parties.

*To recap “traditional” dreidel rules: NUN (looks like an end bracket: “]”) — nothing happens and the next player spins the dreidel; GIMEL (looks like an end bracket with a tail, kind of like “],”) — player takes the whole pot; HEY (the letter appears alongside of “Yod” in the Jewish Chai symbol) — player takes half the pot; and SHIN (looks like a “W” ) — player must put one game piece into the pot.

Or, We Could Build…Nothing!

Via Slog, I see that Kevin Fullerton of The Sierra Club has jumped on the build-nothing option for the crumbling Alaskan Way Viaduct. The Professor and I disagree on this, and to be sure, there are still many questions to be answered. Personally, I just don’t see the need for TWO freeways cutting through downtown Seattle seven blocks apart. There are better uses for our transit dollars.

The thing about SR 99 that gets lost in all of this is that the road is NOT an interstate. it’s a four-lane boulevard and only through downtown Seattle does it have no traffic lights. So it’s not a HUGE change to add a couple of more traffic lights to this road going through downtown. Sure, it won’t be able to handle the same capacity that a six-lane viaduct did, but it’ll be close enough. And people will adapt.

So far, the build-nothing option hasn’t even been properly studied. A thorough analysis of this option would be to everyone’s benefit. The People’s Waterfront Coalition is starting the conversation, but it’s still very far from the “serious” planning professionals in the region. And if the Monorail project has taught us anything, it’s that a populist insurrection against an urban planning authority is futile, even if it has wide popular support and billions of dollars in funding.

Free Mobile Home

What are the odds that this is a former meth lab?

This home is on the property we own and would like to have it hauled away. Dont know anything about it… Broken windows, trashed… ETC…

May be used for parts or storage?? MUST TAKE THE WHOLE THING!!!

Has tow tongue still intact, dont know about axles, will look if any interest.

We will be tearing down and cutting up to take to the dum p soon.

I’d say 50-50 or better.

The Catholic Bishops May Be A Little Prudish When It Comes To Brokeback Mountain, But They’re Dead On About Police Academy 4

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Movie Review division recently gave Brokeback Mountain a damning “morally offensive” rating. The review noted that while the movie makers treat the controversial subject matter (“which a Catholic audience will find contrary to its moral principles”) with “discretion,” the USCCB could not abide their “[t]acit approval of same-sex relationships, adultery, two brief sex scenes without nudity, partial and shadowy brief nudity elsewhere, other implied sexual situations, profanity, rough and crude expressions, alcohol and brief drug use, brief violent images, a gruesome description of a murder, and some domestic violence.”

Even so, the Bishops found that Brokeback Mountain was not entirely without merit:

Director Ang Lee tells the story with a sure sense of time and place, and presents the narrative in a way that is more palatable than would have been thought possible. Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana’s screenplay uses virtually every scrap of information in Proulx’s story, which won a National Magazine Award, and expands it while remaining utterly true to the source.

The performances are superb. Australian Ledger may be the one to beat at Oscar time, as his repressed manly stoicism masking great vulnerability is heartbreaking, and his Western accent sounds wonderfully authentic. Gyllenhaal is no less accomplished as the more demonstrative of the pair, while Williams and Hathaway (the latter, a far cry from “The Princess Diaries,” giving her most mature work to date) are very fine.

Looked at from the point of view of the need for love which everyone feels but few people can articulate, the plight of these guys is easy to understand while their way of dealing with it is likely to surprise and shock an audience.

. . .

While the actions taken by Ennis and Jack cannot be endorsed, the universal themes of love and loss ring true. [Emph. added]

While battling puerile thoughts during Midnight Mass, we began to wonder what the USCCB reviewers thought about some other notable films through the years. A sampling:

  • Over the Top (1987), starring Sylvester Stallone: “Limp, unconvincing drama directed by Menahem Golan says little about the nature of father-son relationships and opts instead for the goofy contortions of an arm-wrestling championship.” (Suitable for Adults and Adolescents.)
  • While Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977) misses the mark (“Although the movie is frequently very funny and has a touch of humanity lacking in Allen’s earlier work, it falls far short of its more ambitious intention of making a serious statement about human relationships.”), his earlier Bananas (1964) is downright morally offensive: “Woody Allen’s patchwork comedy is loosely tied to a Latin American revolution which serves as the excuse for the standard fare of tasteless insult and irreverence, chock full of gratuitous nonsense dragged in seemingly because there was still a little film in the camera.”
  • Fortunately, all films in the Police Academy franchise are reviewed, some more favorably than others. Police Academy 4 (1987), for example: “Limp plot and lame script with unfunny Keystone Cop slapstick antics by Steve Guttenberg, Bobcat Goldwait and company is featured in this edition which deals with the academy’s post-graduate project involving a citizens action group. Tame in language and sexual references, director Jim Drake’s movie emphasizes aerial and ballooning chase sequences. Mild-mannered but sophomoric entertainment.” (Adults only.)
  • And finally, while good and decent movie buffs can respectfully agree to disagree whether a film is “morally offensive,” not even the most prudish of us will quibble with the USCCB’s take on the pretentious and overlong Quest for Fire (1982): “Ludicrously serious prehistoric adventure tale about three warriors (Everett McGill, Ron Perlman and Nameer Eli-Kadi) whose search for fire when that of their clan has been extinguished by a marauding band of Neanderthals leads to a humanizing encounter with a more culturally advanced girl (Rae Dawn Chong) who helps them learn to laugh and even fall in love. Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud who co-scripted with Gerard Brach, its attempts at authenticity are made even more ludicrous by brutal sex scenes, violent combat and other assorted caveman antics.” (Morally offensive.)