Thursday, August 31, 2006
I miss frivolity. Sadly, the Red Sox suck (ANGER RISING), I haven't finished a book in a while (RISING), haven't been to the movies recently (you get the idea). Hopefully the three day weekend will help me recover Teh Funny...
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Former Whitewater special counsel Kenneth Starr petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to take up Alaska's "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case, a dispute involving a high school student, a banner and a tough school policy.I hear what you're saying. "Bong Hits 4 Jesus? I'd drink to that!" But for the uninformed, a little background:
As the Olympic torch relay passed by Juneau-Douglas High School in 2002, then-high school senior Joseph Fredrick was looking to catch the attention of television cameras converging on the event.Thought-crime, anyone?
So he held up a banner that read "Bong Hits 4 Jesus."
Fredrick's message also caught the eye of the high school principal, and it earned him a 10-day suspension. School District officials said his banner violated the school's anti-drug policies.
Enter Starr, who apparently has nothing better to do than to make sure that Juneau teens aren't encouraged to toast Jesus with a toke. I guess this means that nothing untoward has happened in our nation's capital in the last six years.Anyway, not only is this extremely silly, the lawsuit itself is doing more to "promote" the, er, religious use of cannabis than anything Fredrick did:
Fredrick, then 18, sued the school but lost in federal District Court.
On Friday, a three-member panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court order and said school officials violated Fredrick's free-speech rights. . . Superintendent Peggy Cowan said the school had to respond to the banner or risk sending a message that the school condoned illegal drug use.
On Jan. 24, 2002, the day of the torch relay, Fredrick was standing across the street from the school with other students who'd been let out of class for the event. Then-principal Deb Morse spotted his sign, crossed the street and told him to take it down. When he asked her about his freedom of speech, she said the message violated school policy against material that advertises or promotes the use of illegal drugs.
Morse grabbed the banner from him, crumpled it up and suspended him, according to the lawsuit. . .[T]he 9th Circuit Court said that even if the banner could be construed as a positive message about marijuana use, the question came down to whether a school may punish or censor a student's speech because it promotes a social message contrary to one the school favors.
"The answer under controlling, long-existing precedent is plainly 'No,'?" Judge Andrew Kleinfeld wrote in an 18-page opinion.
If the Juneau School Board, in its infinite stubbornness, is so worried that the message waved on a banner four years ago at a nonschool event will lead high school kids down the path to illegal drug use, why does it insist on giving the message such tremendous exposure?(And so it does.)
Google "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" and you'll get 14,100 hits. Included among them is proof positive that the message has become part of the vernacular: It has its own Wikipedia entry.
And forgive me for my cynicism, but I wonder how much of Starr's underlying reason for involving himself is the "Bong Hits" part and how much is the "4 Jesus" bit? (Further, I wonder how much of the original principal's, [about whom I know nothing aside from this case] hissy-fit about the sign was the drugs, and how much was Jesus on drugs...)
Cross-posted at Kakistocracy
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
My draft was last Friday and here's how I did (14 team league so the pickens got, er, Slim down near the end...)
QB Hasselbeck - Sea
QB Johnson - MIN
RB Portis - WAS
RB T. Jones - CHI
RB D. Rhodes - IND
RB T.J. Duckett - WAS
RB M. Jones-Drew - Jax
RB N. Davenport - GB
WR Owens - DAL
WR Horn - NO
WR K. Curtis StL
WR R. Curry OAK
TE B. Watson NE
K Vinatieri IND
Little thin at WR, but I think I did ok.
Monday, August 28, 2006
- Mike Murdock (hey, I thought it was a Bobby Knight quote. In fact assume it is...)
Just beneath the surface of Malcom Gladwell's "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" is a motif of preperation as a key to good decision making. Not necessarily a CPU-like heuristics routine or a detailed internal decision tree, but a backdrop of knowledge. Gladwell's proposition is that for all of our conscious learning, the power of the unconscious - the connections and relationships that we can see without necessarily being aware of what we are doing, can be a far more powerful tool.
This "Thin Slicing," as he calls it, is simply taking a mental 'snapshot' of something and allowing your subconscious to make the necessary calculations (to the slightly mathematical side of my brain, this strikes me as a similar approach to dx/dy) Unsurpisingly, this seems to have a great deal of applicablitly to athletics, among other endeavors. (Indeed, when I was in Seattle to see the Sawx second to latest Safeco debacle - it was listed as the favorite book of Raul Ibanez. This is the kind of in depth tid-bittery for which you pay me the big bucks.)
As intriguing as this theory is, and as compelling his examples (particularly that of Gen. Paul van Riper (ret.), I'm not sure there's really a whole book's worth of material here. As my roommate puts it "it's a two sentance thesis extended to 200 pages."
Pooh's View: Probably a magazine feature's worth of material extended Fortunately, Gladwell is such a talented author that it's a pretty breezy read. Where I a punster, I might even suggest that you shouldn't "Blink" - were I a punster...
Update: #23 "The Devil Wears Pinstripes" is up at Tuesdays With Torii.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
That is all, carry on.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
I suppose I should be grateful that Gregg Easterbrook's "[Tuesday Morning Quarterback column] devotes one percent of the column's annual line length to roundball issues." - because the man is an idiot when it comes to talking about basketball. Though considering the number of other topics on which Easterbrook is also an idiot, I'm willing to posit that he's an idiot with regards to football, I just don't know football well enough to realise it.
(Actually, yes I do know football well enough, and he is. But I tolerate him as sort of the 'pseudo-intellectual contrarian's John Madden.' Instead of "BOOM" he shouts "Stop Me Before I Blitz Again!" Plus, he does a good job of getting the ESPN.COM editors to put up 2-4 cheesecake photos per column. So he's got that going for him. Which is nice.)
Anyway, this week is hoops week for TMQ, and Easterbrook, when not pointing to the Miami Heat Dance Squad, is it his fact-averse, patronizing best/worst. Typically, he starts from a fairly safe premise - the rule against players moving straight from HS is probably good for the quality of NBA play - yet manages to say both less than he thinks he is, and far more than is warranted given the facts.
Take it away, Gregg-ay:
Pro basketball is in an "up" cycle partly because the new collective bargaining agreement forbids high school players from jumping directly to the NBA. The drafting of high school players was an unmitigated disaster for pro basketball -- it's no coincidence the league's decline in television ratings coincided with the arrival of high school kids. The high schoolers have immature games that drag down the quality of the sport: And never forget, quality is the essential feature of all products.Sure, quality = good. You don't have to do a lot to convince me that on average a 20 year old with two years of ACC experience is going to be better prepared for the NBA than an 18 year old who has spent the last 18 months either playing in all-star games or dunking on athletically overmatched peers. However, the reality-averse Easterbrook would know, with one simple google, that the NBA has played exactly...ZERO seasons since the rule against drafting high school players was implemented. (See picks 6, 10 and 18.) A change which had yet to take place caused an improvement in play for the 2005-2006 season?
With a few exceptions, the only style of play a high school kid knows is hey-look-at-me.And stay out of my yard, you damn kids.
Selfish basketball is far less entertaining than the ensemble version -- just consider the difference between last season's Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks.Or, one could make the stronger claim that more competent basketball is better than less. Yes, part of the reason that Phoenix was better than New York is that they played together. But it's also because they had players who could actually perform all the necessary tasks in winning basketball games whereas the Knicks had a lot of guys who could shoot pull-up jump shots.
Further, Easterbrook lauds the Dallas Mavericks for their entertaining style. Which means unselfish, right? Except the Mavs reached the finals by playing almost exclusively one-on-one ball. They did take turns, I suppose, but they were second to last in assists. I'm not going to say they weren't entertaining, but they also weren't running an intricate "Princeton-style" offense.
I'm just starting to get annoyed, but he has more
Plus, by jumping directly to the NBA, 18-year-old prospects fail to go to college and become well-known players about whom fans would be excited.A fair point, except:
It's this second point that seems haunting, because it means the NBA has spent the past decade depriving itself of stars who might otherwise have come into existence. Yes, LeBron James was terrific in the NBA right out of high school.No hype or excitement there. I for one had never seen him play before his first NBA game. Except for the multiple games broadcast on ESPN during his senior season.
But James also would have been great coming out of college. The players who have made the high-school-to-NBA transition successfully (Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, a few others) always were bound to become stars.It speaks to Easterbrook's hoops ignorance that he cites Kobe as an instant success - those who actually know something about basketball (and thus know we can't root for Syracuse) remember him from his first few years as an unapologetic gunner - exactly the same kind of "me first" player who GE seems to despise. But then I'm making his (bad) argument for him, better than he could...
Think about Kwame Brown, the high-schooler taken first overall in the 2001 NBA draft. Gifted with incredible physical talent,and cursed with 10 thumbs...
Brown is an embarrassing underachiever -- plus his personality appears stuck at his 17th birthday, lending him no marketing appeal.Because, as Lebron, Carmello, D-Wade, AI, Kobe, KG, the Fab Freaking Five, etc. have demonstrated, youthfullness has no marketing appeal. It couldn't be the fact that Kwame is, you know, bad at basketball?
Now imagine an alternate path for the same young man. Instead of jumping directly from high school to the NBA, he goes to Kentucky or UCLA or any good basketball college. His game improves, he learns on-court concepts other than brooding selfishness, and off-court he matures in his ability to handle the world. Kwame Brown becomes a nationally known college star. When he's drafted first overall into the NBA, fans are excited. By now, people like me would be saying to my kids, "Wow, Kwame Brown is coming to town, let's get tickets and go see him!" Instead not one person has ever said, "Let's get some NBA tickets to see Kwame Brown," and it seems likely no one ever will.Alternatively, he demonstrates himself to be a stiff and 10 years from now, he comes up in the same conversation as Schea Cotton, Felipe Lopez and Jerrod Ward - hey whatever happened to...?
This squandering of potential NBA stars is especially maddening because the pushing of too-young players into the NBA has been driven foremost by shoe companies. Somehow Nike and Reebok got it into their heads that teen sneaker buyers would identify more with 18-year-old unpolished NBA players enjoying instant wealth more than they would with mid-20s high-quality NBA players.Hey, whatever happened to "no marketing appeal?"
I don't know how this idea arose, since by far the most successful sneaker endorser, Jordan, did not realize his marketing success until he was a mature player in his mid-20s.There are so many things wrong here, it's hard to figure out where to start. First, I'll ask. When is LeBron's first commercial coming out? When he's a mature player...never mind...
Next, Jordan is sui generis in so many ways that the comparison is inherently stupid. But it's particularly moronic considering that he pretty much invented the art of athletes hawking shoes - so yes, he didn't reach his full potential for Nike until he created the industry.
And let me repeat, it's Michael Jeffrey Jordan. If you're analysis rests upon a combination of the terms "MJ" and "not as successful as," you lose. Do not pass go, do not collect 200 pundit dollars.
Perhaps thrusting high school players into the NBA maximized income for Nike and Reebok. But it was a disaster for NBA product quality, and hence hurt ratings.I'm all about alternative theories, so let me present one - Pat Riley. The mid-to-late 90's Knicks and Heat pioneered the 'art' of winning through sheer physicality at the expense of skill, and the NBA was complicit by not cracking down on overly physical D. The game became low-scoring, slow paced and ugly. It was a disaster for NBA product quality, and hence hurt ratings.
Now the new league-union agreement mandates draftees be at least 19, a rule intended to require at least one year of college. And you'd hope that even gifted, NBA-bound athletes, after experiencing college for a year, might think, "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get an education, maybe I should stick around."What a load of paternalistic bullcrap. Maybe they realise that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be exploited by both the shoe companys and the corporate backers of the NCAA. Hey, I'm all about education too, but is the purpose of college to become a philosopher king, or to prepare you to join productive society?
It has been discussed ad nauseum, but it's funny how no one ever bitches about people going pro early in sports that aren't football or basketball. I'm not sure to what extent it's racial (but given the hand wringing of Easterbrook and others about the 'bad attitudes' of the young, brash and overwhelmingly black, part of it certainly is) and to what extent it's the establishment of the sports where the cheap labor of scholarship athletes drives billion dollar industries while providing costless 'minor leagues,' but those factors are definitely at work.
Also note that it's only athletes. I don't hear any hue and cry about whether Dakota Fanning or Avril Levigne will get their educations.
You'd also think the shoe companies would be aligning themselves with education over ignorance.Why would you think this other than as rhetorical posturing to make a further, absurdly moralizing, point?
Apparently you'd think wrong.It's almost like I've seen this whole line of argument before...
According to this New York Times story by Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans, a shoe company consultant has been making the rounds, suggesting to some teenage future NBA prospects that they skip the minimum year of college and play in Europe, then file for the NBA draft. To avoid the horror, the horror, of having to sit in class and think!Or perhaps to make some money with the most bankable skill they feel they have. But way to cleverly make the whole thing seem so Apocalyptic.
The Times didn't connect the dots on this, so allow me. Dot 1: Most players being encouraged not to attend college are African-American. If athletic shoe companies believe African-American males are incapable of handling college coursework, they should state this for the record."No, they're the ones with racial motivations!" he seems to say. What possible basis does he have for this accusation?
Dot 2: Shallowness is a core problem of big-deal athletics.Sports are shallow? Isn't that, like, a feature, not a bug?
The NBA, NFL and MLB create celebrity athletes looked up to by the young. A few do become role models for an informed, intelligent approach to life -- think Tiki Barber. But most celebrity athletes couldn't tell you what Ernest Hemingway wrote, or what just happened in the Mexican presidential election, if their lives depended on it.So many athletes don't share my tastes in wine, either. Philistines.
Now the NBA is taking the high road, urging its prospects back toward the educational system.I thought they were concerned about the quality of play? Plus, erm, bullshit.
The shoe companies are resisting, while street-hustler types have been steering promising basketball prospects to storefront diploma-mill "schools" that make no attempt to teach -- see the Thamel-Evans article on that.Conflation Alert!Shoe companies are bad. Street hustlers are bad. There is no transitive law of badness from which it now follows that Shoe companies = stree hustlers. Further, the diploma mill issue is (as Easterbrook recognizes later in the column) an NCAA problem - apparently they don't really care about the education of the 'student-athlete' either. But then, we already knew that...
In their 2000 book "The Shape of the River," William Bowen and Derek Bok showed that in recent decades African-American career women have closed most of their degrees-earned and income gaps with white career women, while African-American males have made less progress compared to white males. One factor might be that many young black men look up to ill-educated athletes and pop stars, while young black women have role models such as Oprah Winfrey, who constantly emphasizes books and learning. Both the NBA and NCAA need to do far more to educate basketball prospects, if only for the role-model effect on young men.Just one shred of empiricism, please.
And while we're on this, thanks to Thamel, Evans and their editors for fighting the cultural assumption that it's OK for star athletes to be functional illiterates.My, that is a fine strawman...
I can't go on...but trust me, there's much more. I feel like I need to cleanse my palate with a nice bit of FreeDarko hoops-as-improvisational-jazz style.
First things first - the plot is ludicrous. Random down on his luck super-baddie insinuates his way into our hero's life and, and, and...James Spader! Somehow our hero transforms himself from complete wuss to corporate knife-fighter, yet is still too much of a doofus to see that JAMES SPADER is in fact, a Bad Influence.
Second, this is NOT a plot where starting at the end works well. Any suspense as to where we are headed is kinda ruined by putting the denoument in the prologue.
Third, TALKING KILLER FALLACY! This one just drives me nuts, even moreso in books than in movies. Just kill him and stop talking about it. Of course, that's a much shorter book with no happy ending, and we can't have THAT, now can we?
I guess the one positve is that there is an attempted assasination using Snakes...In A Bedroom? wATFO of that?
I'm skeptical of Amazon reviews, becuase I think there is a great deal of Astroturfing going on (and that's in cases where The General has not been at work.) That said, this one (amidst the sea of recycled tire products) tells it like it is:
What Mr. Finder does not know about the military could easily fill a book. Unfortunately, he chose to fill THIS book with a lot of made-up (at times laughable) cliches about what he thinks the military ought to be about -- and he is equally ignorant about how the corporate world really works. sometimes his dialogue and plot devices make one want to laugh out loud, though the author is dead serious and that is not the reaction he was seeking. The only thing that saves this book from zero stars is its rapid pace and serviceable prose. I will never buy any book written by him again.Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
Pooh's View: Thank you, no.
Cross-Posted at Kakistocracy
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
"You can't handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives...You don't want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.We use words like honor, code, loyalty...we use these words as the backbone to a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it! I'd rather you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand to post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to!"Andrew, a military man himself, is conflicted:
While I am a fan of the film and I believe the outcome was the correct one, I am not alone among military personnel in acknowledging that while COL Jessup was wrong not to accept responsibility for his actions, the points he makes in the above speech are nonetheless valid.(Read the whole post, it certainly deserves the attention.) In the very enlightening comments which follow, he adds
The passage of the speech I consider accurate is the opening: "Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it?" That is a fact. Is his current assignment vital to national security? I don't think so, but even a Colonel doesn't get to make that call. His orders are to hold Guantanamo and to protect his Marines, and he is attempting to do so. . . But in the bigger picture, until humanity decides it's 'not gonna study war no more' military personnel will remain a necessary evil. The rest of the speech I do not generally agree with, but as I noted above, I can sympathize with Jessup's position. It can be frustrating to be judged by people who have no idea what military service is like. But, I'd rather live under that system than any other.While dramatic convention demands to Jessop be portrayed as a unapologetic twirly-mustache type, the real-world proponents of an authoritarian, "get tough" attitude are not. By many accounts, John Yoo is quite personable, funny even. Aside from VP Penguin and Karl Rove, there is no one involved who is as individually loathsome on a personal level. No one fills the archtypical "lead baddie" role.
"You want me on that wall, you need me on that wall," he says. A lot (I'd say most) of Americans probably see it that way, though the advent of blogging has probably put the lie to the "deep down in places you don't talk about at parties" portion - we talk about it all the time. At times it seems like it's all we talk about.
But it's not enough to simply "stand the post", I don't think - Jessop himself uses "words like honor, code, loyalty" but his actions subvert their very meaning. He himself lies about his conduct, ignores orders and shows an appalling lack of loyalty to Dawson and Downey.
In reading Gaddis's "Cold War", I wrote that one of the author's key points was the extent to which living up to one's ideals (or at least making the attempt) matters. Obviously, he's a fictional character, so it's unwise to draw too strong a message, but Jessop is an object lesson. When means become an end to themselves what happens to the original goal? In this case, what started out as the productive and noble goal of providing a strong defense of his country got hijacked by the personal agenda to show just how badass he could be - yes being a badass probably helps the original aim, but they aren't the same thing, and in losing sight of this, Jessop lost his claim to nobility of purpose.
To draw a broader lesson, which I also alluded to earlier, it's easy to lose sight of the end goal (which is not "winning" unless you are actually playing a sport) - I don't espouse liberal ideology because Hillary Clinton has a right (divine or more likely otherwise) to be President in 2009, but because I think that certain things like civil liberties, respect for empricism, and the social safety net are 'Good Things' - to the extent I get sidetracked from these things to focus on merely 'winning,' it had better be instrumental rather than simple boosterism. Otherwise, what am I about?
(Cross-posted at Kakistocracy)
So in the course of discussions, we decided to start a group blog. And what do we call ourselves? The Kakistocrats!
What, you may ask, is a Kakistocrat? Well, it comes from a combination of the marvelous film The Aristocrats and Mr. Furious's nomination for 2006 word of the year: Kakistocracy:
kakistocracy (kak·is·toc·ra·cy) n.Obviously, this is going to be a left-leaning site, but given the private emails within the group, we are hardly homogenous in terms of viewpoints, experiences or opinions. I think the topics will be all over the map - I certainly don't plan to change my oevre (I love that word...) and other members have interests which range from computer programming to local politics (a subject I hope to tackle more in about two weeks - pesky 'ethics rules'...) There's even at least one Canadian! Who let the Commie in?
Government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens.
Cross-posted at Kakistocracy. All my posts over there can be found here
(Cross-posted at Kakistrocracy)
I first found Glenn Greenwald in the immediate aftermath of the NYT's story on what has become known (question beggingly) as Bush's "Terrorist Surveilance Program". With his careful legal analysis and forceful rhetorical style, Greenwald demolished one 'defense' aftrer another. Unsurprisingly, he quickly became a star of the left blogosphere. To a degree, this proved his undoing - as I noted in my review of his book, his authoritativeness on legal matters has been obscured by his work on seperate, though related, topics.
However, in the wake Judge Anna Diggs Taylor's ruling (.pdf) that the TSP is not only illegal, but unconstitutional, Greenwald is back on his firmest footing.
In response to crticism of the ruling lack of factual underpinnings (specifically, see Publius for a series of excellent posts, critical of the reasoning,) Greenwald makes some key points based on the procedural status of the case. Money Graf:
[A] principal reason why Judge Taylor was somewhat conclusory in her analysis of some issues, and the reason she repeatedly said that certain propositions were "undisputed," is because the Bush administration either failed or chose not to dispute them. Specifically, the Justice Department was so intent on telling the Judge that she had no right to even rule on these issues (because the NSA program is a "state secret," the legality of which the court cannot adjudicate without damaging national security and/or because the plaintiffs lack "standing"), that it basically chose not to address the merits of the plaintiffs' case at all.To a great extent, this is the chickens coming home to roost - if the first rule of
the DoJ twice tried to convince Judge Taylor not to rule on the substance of the ACLU's claim, but instead to rule first on the DoJ's "state secrets" argument. Twice, the court refused this request, ordering the DoJ to address the merits of the case . . . But the DoJ essentially refused to do so, and devoted almost all of its brief (.pdf) to arguing why the court lacked the power to adjudicate these issues, and almost none of its brief to arguing about the issues themselves. As Marty Lederman put it once he read the DoJ's Brief: it "did not quite advance or support in any detail that argument -- or any other merits argument, for that matter."In a seperate post, Greenwald (along with Professor Laurence Tribe) points out what should be obvious - all the focus on the "quality" of Judge Taylor's (often from the same parties who had significantly, uhm, fewer problems with the "quality" of Bush v. Gore) is a distraction from the:
As this excellent Comment to [law Professor Orin] Kerr's post reflects, the Bush administration's refusal to address the merits of the claims (which is part and parcel of its general contempt for the role of the courts in scrutinizing its conduct) meant that Judge Taylor was not only entitled, but was required by the Rules of Civil Procedure (Rule 56), to treat the ACLU's factual claims as undisputed for purposes of deciding the motion.
most unpleasant issue that Democrats and Republicans alike have sought to avoid.As satisfying as such a finding of criminality might be, there is a big question over the horizon - what then?
Here it is: If this program is unlawful, federal law expressly makes the ordering of surveillance under the program a federal felony. That would mean that the president could be guilty of no fewer than 30 felonies in office. . .The question of the president's possible criminal acts has long been the pig in the parlor that polite people in Congress refused to acknowledge. (emphasis Greenwald's)
Of course, the easy answer is "Impeach! Impeach! Impeach!" but that presupposes A) a Democratic landslide in the upcoming midterms and probably B) a willingness to put everything else aside. Incidentally, there is also a concern about not making this into Monica Lewinsky II: Electric Boogaloo - for me, this can not be a partisan witch hunt.
Screw the politics for a moment, the most destructive aspect of the TSP scandal (as well as related issues of torture and rendition) has been the revelations of the manner in which "the system" has been subverted, the protections and procedures enscribed in the Constitution overrun with certain classes cheering all the way, either not knowing or not caring (or in the case of the Cheney/Addington/Yoo authoritarians actively desiring) the destruction wrought upon the carefully checked-and-balanced scheme which has served this country pretty well, thank you. And using this incident as a chance to say "gotcha!" rather than repairing and reinforcing our institutions is both short-sighted and irresponsible.
Nailing this liar to the wall would feel fantastic in a playground revenge sort of way, but we also have to remember that this is not a game, there are real concerns both foriegn and domestic, and focusing on shredding what's left of the the Bush legacy allows that legacy's main aspect, the destruction caused by his brand of incurious incompetence to grow and grow.
Monday, August 21, 2006
So 'dead to me' blahbitty blah, go Twins, etc. At least it's football season. By which I mean the game in which an actual cirucular ball is manipulated by, you know, feet. Glory Glory Man United...
Sunday, August 20, 2006
I have not seen Snakes on a Plane, so I have no idea how good this movie is (or isn't). But I do know this: Its existence represents a weird, semidepressing American condition, and I'm afraid this condition is going to get worse. I suspect Snakes on a Plane might earn a lot of money, which will prompt studios to assume this is the kind of movie audiences want. And I don't think it is. Snakes on a Plane is an unabashed attempt at prefab populism, and (maybe) this gimmick will work once. But it won't keep working, and it will almost certainly make filmmaking worse.Archetypical Klosterman. Incredibly readable. Completely compelling as you are reading it. And whne you think about it later, there is the distinct impression that he's at least 25% completely full of shit in everything he says. Mostly, I think that's the way he wants it.
In that vein "Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto" is a compilation of Klostermanian goodies from Pam Anderson, to the umpteenth rumination on the importance of Lakers/Celtics in the 80's, to a spectacular (and to me, spectacularly annoying) hatchet job on the sport of soccer, it's all here. Probably the best piece is the essay exploring the insidious effect of Lloyd Dobler on the world of post-adolescent relationships (how is standing outside of a window with a boombox blaring Peter Gabriel anything other than "stalking," one might ask.)
Per usual, Klosterman is at his best when tackling topics where he can authoritatively take bold, yet completely non-falsifiable, positions (as he did so well in Fargo Rock City) - that is to say, rank opinionating. I can relate to that, I suppose...
Pooh's View: Entertaining as just-kidding-but-not-really pseudo-intellectual commentary on the things that the MTV generation finds important. Or is it "important?" I'm not quite sure how much ironic distance is sufficient...
Friday, August 18, 2006
She's a witch! (cue scientific wisdom, ducks, and great gravy...)
Anyway, back Monday, using airplane time to catch up even further on the reading...
Beyond this, several themes seem to emerge, and while Gaddis nowhere makes this explicit they do seem to have some application to whatever-name-you-want-to-ascribe-to-our-current-conflict:
1. Ideas matter: As much as the Cold War can be seen as a triumph of the U.S. over the U.S.S.R., it was market capitalism defeating communism. However a key aspect was a softening of some of capitalisms harder edges, which caused reduced support for collectivism amongst "the proletariat" - Gaddis even alludes to the notion that under a perfectly Hobbesian market, many people are less free, in effect.
And to the extent that poverty and underdevelopment fuel the appeal of radical Islamism, the problem is with us today. As an example, consider Greg Djerejian's (per usual) perceptive commentary on the Israeli-Hezbollah cease fire:
Let’s be clear. Beating Hezbollah ultimately must rely more on what might be described as counter-insurgency tactics, not some Dresden redux. To beat back Hezbollah one must moderate the 40% of Lebanese who are Shi’a, by over time having them pledge their primary allegiance to a strong central government, one that is sharing the economic fruits of Lebanon’s revival with all ethnic groups, so as to ultimately render the social welfare arm of Hezbollah largely irrelevant. (emphasis mine)2. Relatedly Ideals Matter. And living up to them, at home as well as abroad is important. Truman seems to have realised this before everyone else (it's no mistake the Bush frequently adopts Trumanesque rhetoric, btw) - if we want to preach to the rest of the world about freedom and democracy, then we had better be free and democratic ourselves. In Truman's time, this meant integrating the army (above howls of protest) and pushing (with varying degrees of success, it must be said) for civil rights legislation. In counterpoint, there was McCarthyism which, to put it mildly, did not help our image (not to say that there were not Communist spies, of course there were, but the irresponsible demogaguery and fear mongering did not present our political system in the best light.)
3. Transparency Is Increasing. And relatedly, the populous has less tolerance for what was once known as a "credibility gap" - the difference between rhetoric and action. This bit LBJ, and especially Nixon. (Though Gaddis makes the point that lying to the people is somewhat ok if the lie passes a sort of "sunlight test;" the necessity of the secrecy being clear in retrospect - Nixon's early diplomacy with China or Eisenhower denying the U2 program being examples of things which pass this test, whereas LBJ's escalation of Vietnam and Nixon's Watergate and Pentagon Papers actions, not so much.) The problem we are facing today is the words of Truman and the photos of Abu Ghraib.
4. Peoples and Nations Have Interests. For all the talk of the Cold War representing a stable "bi-polar" system, the time was rife with examples of the tail wagging the dog - little countries dragging the superpowers this way and that (what was the strategic importance of Korea, or Hungary, or Vietnam, or Afghanistan if not for "dominos?") Further, there is a danger in having your best laid plans rely on your allies doing what you know to be best for them, even if they themselves disagree (see, e.g., de Gaulle, Charles).
5. Lastly A Time For All Things. Sometimes ugly choices and realpolitik-based compromises are the best you can hope for. Gaddis certainly believes that in the first 20 years or so following WWII bold actions aimed at 'winning' the Cold War in the immediate future were not only futile, but destabilizing in a particularly dangerous manner. He even posits a plausible and very, very frightening counterfactual for the outcome of the Korean War if such an aggressive line had been taken - the 'bold' action would have been trying to decisively win that conflict through the use of tactical nuclear weapons.
But at on the other hand, a lack of ambition tends to ossify that status quo. While Kissingerian detente was stable, it wasn't good. Opinions differ as to whether it was Reagan's boldness or the simple failure of Communism as a viable economic system, but it seems clear that the Soviet Union needed a push (and perhaps a more worldly leader, such as Gorbachev - the only Soviet leader after Lenin to have attended a university). The difficulty lies in deciding whether it is a time for patience or a time for action - neither is always true, nor always false.
Pooh's View: A very crisp, useful and educational overview. Also a very quick read. Highly recomended to people of my generation who don't already know much about the period from 1946-1990.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
No false bravado and it's not that I don't take terrorism seriously. I do, which I why I voted for the guy who believed in securing our ports and fighting terrorism with criminal investigation methods -- which is, if we may remind everybody, how this particular plot was busted.(See also Will, George)
I am just not going to wet my pants every time some guys get arrested in a terror plot. I will do my best to stay informed. I will support the necessary law enforcement agencies. I will take whatever reasonable precautions seem, um, reasonable. But I will not be terrorized. I assume that the terror-ists would like me to be terror-ized, as that is what is says on their nametag, rather than, say, wanting me to surrender to ennui or negative body image, and they're just coming the long way around.
- Overheard in Ezra's comments:
This myth of "centrism" is what has kept the Democratic party back for the last 12 years. Bill Clinton didn't win because he was a centrist; he won because he was Bill effin' Clinton.Word. Based on a couple of books I'm reading, I'll have more on this in a few weeks, but with the constant historical analogizing going on (is it 1939 or 1968 or 1972 or 1994 in reverse? Are we fighting Vietnam or WWII all over again?) it seems we've forgotten the "contrast" in compare and contrast. All these analogies are used because there are some initial superficial similarities - but the dramatic differences are completely glossed over. I mean, if this is 1968, were are the hippies, and with them, my free love?
- Michael Totten. Damn. (Note to self, must read him more regularly. My news gets filtered so many times through so many different prisms, probably better to get a bit more raw data, if you will.)
- George Allen is a bad man. Truly.
- And finally Josh Marshall + a reader. I seem to link to this kind of thing once a month, but here it is anyway...
Not sure how I feel about getting my Sawx news from a Brit, but I'll live.
(Read/watch the whole thing...suck it Mel Gibson)
Monday, August 14, 2006
This is no fault of Seife's, who writes with wit and clarity, but rather reflects the intellectual paradigm in which I've grown up. Not just educationally, but experientially. I can't understand the posited fifth through tenth dimensions because I have lived in 3 (and with consideration, 4. "Time" fits in quite well with length, width and depth. If you think about it, you take it into account everday, whether it's driving, crossing the street to avoid traffic, or running to catch a flyball playing softball) and am perhaps only physiologically capable of seeing the world in those terms. (I may be splitting the logicial hair here, but the fact that humans cannot observe something does not mean it is necessarily unobservable.)
So while it's easy to ridicule the anti-Copernicans, or the Greeks who refused to even countenance the existence of 'zero,' to them, the concept of a void and/or infinity (the book is particularly excellent in discussing the infinity/zero duality) seemed as bizzare, counter-inutitve and frankly looney as something like String Theory might seem to me.
There's a generalizable principle at work here, I think, but I'm not sure I can spell it out just right, any suggestions?
Pooh's View: informative, educational, and most importantly digestable even for those who are terrified by derivatives, limits and Zeno's Paradox.
I was told I looked good in a tux. But they would say that, right?
Tyge was reasonably well behaved - my uncle and I declared the "jump up and ruin the dress" prop bet a push as the groom valiantly blocked the excited fellow, and it's much harder to see paw prints on a black tux than on a white gown.
As for my toast, well, first of all, I had a tough act to follow. My now-aunt is 20, quite fetching, and studies belly dancing. It's a bit nerve racking to follow that with "well that's nice, but I got jokes!" Beyond that, it seemed to go well, one of my dad's
Thursday, August 10, 2006
39% of Americans believe that Muslims should be force [sic] to keep special ID. 49% say that Muslim citizens aren't "loyal" to the United States.More:
A new Gallup poll finds that many Americans -- what it calls "substantial minorities" -- harbor "negative feelings or prejudices against people of the Muslim faith" in this country. Nearly one in four Americans, 22%, say they would not like to have a Muslim as a neighbor.This is the most depressing thing I've read all day. I don't see how it's possible to discuss this without Godwinning.
While Americans tend to disagree with the notion that Muslims living in the United States are sympathetic to al-Qaeda, a significant 34% believe they do back al-Qaeda. And fewer than half -- 49% -- believe U.S. Muslims are loyal to the United States.
Almost four in ten, 39%, advocate that Muslims here should carry special I.D. That same number admit that they do hold some "prejudice" against Muslims. Forty-four percent say their religious views are too "extreme."
In every case, Americans who actually know any Muslims are more sympathethic.
- Good. Phew. Well done, etc.
- A useful reminder that, to paraphrase Catch-22, just because our current leadership is cynical and manipulative re: "GWOT" (or, more generously, woefully misguided as to strategy and
completelylargely incompetent as to execution) doesn’t mean that bad people aren’t out to get us.
- Relatedly, I think in the race between bigger bombs and better armor, the bombs always win. If enough people want to kill us, some will succeed. A strategy that reduces that desire is, ceteris paribus*, better than one which increases it. Similarly, reducing the capability to do us harm is good. Under this framework Afghanistan = good, Iraq (certainly as executed) = bad, Iran = lunacy.
- This is legitimately terrifying. [Update: Reader Bill (no, not that one) reminds me that this was bombs, not gas - I should have linked more clearly that I think as a general threat that that is pretty nasty rather than speculating that today's plot involved poison gas. Mea culpa.]
- Finally, just saying...
Makes you wonder, doesn't it? Most of the big victories in "the war on terror" have been racked up by cops, not by soldiers. Why, it's almost as if terrorism is a law-enforcement problem -- and less of a threat when it's handled well in that fashion.I don't agree 100% - to the extent that terrorism is a 'state' activity, (see, again, Afghanistan) the bluntness of military force is probably useful and effective. In its non-state guise, I suspect that the conventional military "cure" may actually worsen the disease.
* All other things being equal. Though there is a certain level of "people wishing us ill" that we have to if not tolerate, than accept and expect, else we've granted a more deadly version of a Heckler's Veto.
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Francisco Liriano, Minnesota's rookie All-Star, is out indefinitely with what appears to be a left elbow injury. . . In a quiet postgame clubhouse, Liriano, 22, seemed on the verge of tears, and his voice crackled as he described the pain, pointing to the inside of the elbow this time, beneath the muscle and possibly in the joint.(Cue Pooh making the "kicked in the junk" face)
Of course, we can't even beat Kansas City, so, still advantage Twins. My original opinion stands:
I generally like me some TNR - the writers are skillful, and they tend to argue well, even when making points with which I strongly disagree. However, this affection largely ends when the discussion turns to anything even tangentially relating to the middle-east. To put it mildly, Mr. Peretz is strongly pro-Israel. And there's nothing wrong with that - conceptually, so am I, and I think so should most Americans for both moral and strategic reasons. However, Peretz's support goes well past unconditional, beyond vitriolic, and into unhinged.
I quoted extensively from Frankfurt's "On Bullshit", wherein he noted that the greatest enemy of truth is not the lie but the indifference towards truth, and subjects relating to Israel, no set of facts seems to dissuade Peretz from a position that Israel is good and the Arabs are bad. (Is this an overgeneralization? Perhaps, but given that this tendency was visible 15 years ago and compare these back-to-back recent posts on the situation in Lebanon. Not to mention this bit of folksy wisdom. Individually, each one is plausibly defensible, but as a gestalt...) But by now everyone has realised these tendancies of Mr. Peretz, so his (and by extension, TNR's) pontifications on those subject is taken with appropritate doses of salt.
What has been somewhat surprising is just how Pertez has taken Ned Lamont's succesful primary challenge to Senator Joe Lieberman as a personal affront. Once again, supporting Lieberman is not, in and of itself, objectionable. However, when that defense invokes red-scare tactics, (doubly ironic in this case - I'm not as up on my history of anti-semitism as I might be, but "unusually easy access to capital" has a 1930s code-phrase feel to it, no? More here) not-so-subtly racially-tinged guilt by association, and when all else fails, blaming Bill Clinton, (which never gets old, I suppose...) we have a problem. Given his choice of tactics, one could be forgiven for asking "Is there a difference between Peretz and Bill O'Reilly?"
(Actually, there is a difference - the comparison is unfair. To O'Reilly, he said snarkily...)
More: And since this will I guess serve as my one "ding-dong the witch is dead" post about the CT primary, I'd be remiss in not passing along the thoughts of my favorite conservative-libertarian Radley Balko:
So he's cool with bombing and nation building, and state-sponsored health care. He's okay with government censorship of video games and cable TV, and heavy-handed regulation of business.I don't agree with all of that, obviously, but it's always refreshing to see principles in action.
Golly. What a moderate!
In other words, he's wrong on every issue. He's a culture warrior, a values cop, a Nanny Statist, and a big government foreign policy hawk. He favors high taxes, and a massive welfare state. He's pro-pork, pro-status quo, and pro-business as usual.
So the choice for Connecticut was between a culture warrior, foreign policy imperialist, and welfare statist; and a socially liberal, dovish, welfare statist. I know who I'd have voted for.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
For a while there has been opinonating from Jim Emerson (Roger Ebert's guest blogger) on the opportunities presented by "long form" dramatic TV:
Movies, due to their limitations of length and inability to plunge freely into the depths of their subject matter (whether that involves the character's thoughts or pasts or whatever the writer wants to throw into his work), are equivalent to short stories in literary terms. Films based on great novels, no matter how well done, always fall short of the source material for those familiar with it. Yet for some reason, ambitious filmmakers are constantly trying to adapt novels, even though they are demonstrably not great sources for films. (Of course, I am making a generalization here--anyone can come up with plenty of what they feel to be exceptions).I've alluded to this before, but it's the writing, stupid. It could be self serving, but everyone from Shawn Ryan (creator and exec. producer of The Shield to Sorkin to J.J. Abrams has talked about the storytelling options writers are given when they have 12+ hours to work with.
Long-form television truly has the potential to give "moving pictures" a novelistic scope. In American television, market forces have previously hampered this potential: the pressure to crank out a highnumber of episodes each year and rake in as many advertising dollars as possible have usually caused declines in focus and quality. What's disturbing about this is that people come to expect their weekly fix regardless of qualtity: I am shocked every time I see someone who should know better whine in print that new season of "The Sopranos" is delayed too long or that "Lost" shows too many re-runs and should have a new show EVERY week. Do they just want it to descend into unwatchable nonsense like "Twin Peaks," "The X-Files," or "The West Wing"?
Combine this with the artistic freedom allowed by cable television, (and HBO's boldness or realization that controversy = substribers - take your pick) and it's really no surprise that cable is the best medium. You can certainly get away with a lot more if you aren't worried about losing ad revenues...
But even with these freedoms, The Wire is exceptional - standing above all but the very best of the Sopranos and the first season of Deadwood (and far superior to, for example, Rome. Cue Yglesias:
It's an extremely demanding show offering no flashbacks and very little exposition despite a sprawling cast of characters and very complicated, years-long plot arcs but the rewards to people who watch closely and pay attention are incredibly large. I don't know anybody who's sat down to watch it and not been incredibly impressed.With time to map out a whole season at a time, the creators are able to maintain consistent themes and put on screen a modern rareity - a three-dimensional character. At times it's heartbreaking, at times bitingly funny. There is also a very strong subtextual commentary about life in a modern American city.
Additionally, they somehow have either the foresight or the pull to cast quality talent in even the smallest of parts, knowing the might be revisted. (See especially the small "Senator Clay Davis" arc in Season 1 and the even smalle "Bunny Colvin" appearance in Season 2, played by standouts Isiah Whitlock and Robert Wisdom, respectively.)
With Season 3 arriving in stores soon and Season 4 starting next month, I cannot recommend this show highly enough.
Monday, August 07, 2006
Now that Terrell Owens is gone from Philadelphia, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie says it was a mistake to sign the outspoken wide receiver.You sir, are an idiot. In retrospect, having gone to a Superbowl (and almost won it due to one of the more legitimately inspiring comeback performances of recent times) you wouldn't do it all again?
"I would not do it again," Lurie said Wednesday in his annual state-of-the-team address. "You look back on it - one year great, the second year a disaster. Nobody should be able to be as disruptive and really cut the energy of the team down.
To quote my guy, Hermy Edwards, "You play to win the game," and with T.O. you did just that, and are now one of only 4 teams to have played in the championship decider in the space of the last two years. 28 other teams have, er, not made it that far.
Show me an executive who would not take a deal where I guaranteed him one year of that level of success followed by a year of turmoil and I'll show you an executive who should not remain employed as he cleary fails to apprehend the risks and rewards inherent in decision making.
Lurie seems to get this...almost:
However, Lurie won't let the Owens experiment make him more cautious.I'll never do it again. Except when I will. And even then, I might not. With such a strong hand at the rudder, how could the good ship Eagle possibly veer off-course?
"I'll always try to be aggressive and take risks and be willing to make mistakes," he said. "Yet at the same time when we're in the draft room or approaching free agency or picking up players or trading for players, character is probably No. 1."
What is objecticely true is that Ali G steals large portions of the movie as the French NASCAR driver (running the green "Perrier" car, no less). Mr. Baron Cohen may be the Peter Sellers of our time.
The experience is probably audience dependant to a degree - for whatever reason, a film mocking NASCAR Man didn't seem to play well in Anchorage. Funny, that. But if you can see it in some sort of movie pub, it would be absolutely perfect.
[H]e is neither on the side of truth nor on the side of false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whethe the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.
- Harry G. Frankfurt, On Bullshit
This is a wicked little pleasure of a book. (Emphasis on "little" - it's only 67 index-card sized pages. I've read, and probably written, wordier blog posts.) It's Frankfurt's, Princeton Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, attempt to set forth a unifying theory of BS - he examines and rejects comparisons to a similar study of "humbug," and eventually settles on a the definition implied above - not intentional perverecation so much as a complete disregard for truth and fact.
Of course, there is a sense throughout the whole essay that Frankfurt is simply, well, bullshitting. Consider the following:
There are similarities between hot air and excrement, incidentally, which make hot air seem an especially suitable equivalent for bullshit. Just as hot air is speech that has been emptied of all informative contente, so excrement is matter from which everything nutritive has been removed. Excrement may be regarded as the corpse of nourishment, what remains when the vital elements in food have been exhausted. In this respect, excrememnt is a representation of death that we ourselves produce and that, indeed, we cannot help producing in the very process of maintaining our lives. Perhaps it is for making death so intimate that we find excrement so repulsive. In any event, it cannot serve the purposes of sustenance any more than hot air can serve those of communication.Now, either that is the most pretentiously high-falutin' academia ever, or Frankfurt's tongue is practically stapled to his cheek.
Not that it matters of course - Franfurt's conclusion:
[S]incerity itself is bullshit.
Depending on the intended inflection, either shockingly relatavistic or delightfully ironic.
[T]lling lies does not tend to unfit a person for telling the truth in the same way that bullshitting tends to. Through excessive indulgence in the latter activity, which involves making assertionas without paying attention to anything except what it suits one to say, a person's normal habit of attending to the way things are may become attenuated or lost. Someone who lies and someone who tells the truth are playing on opposite sides, so to speak, in the same game. Each responds to facts as he understands them, although the repsonse of the one is guided by the authority of the truth, while the response of the other defies that authority and refuses to meat its demands. The bullshitter ignores these demands altogether. He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are. (Emphasis mine)Indeed.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
Worst of all, the Twins may never lose again (and are now tied for the Wild Card with the Sawx...if it keeps up this way, I will never, ever, ever here the end of it from these guys.)
Friday, August 04, 2006
Of course it's also food, which makes "Salt" a bit of a mix between the historical and the gastronomical. I'm not much of an epicurian myself, so I wasn't able to decipher many of the provided recipies (other than to say that many of the older dishes sound just awful, but I suppose that the pre-refrigeration palate differs rather greatly from our own.)
Also of interest are the linguistic aspects of salt. Many modern idioms from "worth his weight" to "red herring" as well as the description of certain nomadic tribes as "Celts" (almost literally "Salt People") come from the exploration, mining and trading of salt. Technology was also driven by salt exploration - in particular the Chinese method of percussion mining (according to the book, the Chinese were literally thousands of years ahead of the West on this front.)
And to bring it full circle, we learn that the best places to find oil? Underneath subterreanean salt-domes.
Pooh's View: Enlightening, entertaining read - if I was more into cooking I would have liked it that much more. Bonus points for discussing, at length, the origins of Tabasco Sauce.
Update: Bookblogging #16, "Baseball Between the Numbers" is up at Tuesdays With Torii.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
As one M. Corleone was once quoted as saying, "everytime I think I'm out, they pull me back in."
*see also Jayson Stark today:
Over and over in the last few days, people from all walks of baseball have been asking: That's all the Phillies got for Bobby Abreu? And the answer is: You've got it.GAH!
"I keep asking myself, 'Is there something I don't know about Bobby Abreu that they know?' " said a high-ranking official of a team that would have loved to add Abreu in a less complicated, dollar-signed world. "I'm just baffled that they could not get anything back for a guy this good. And they paid him $1.5 million to waive his no-trade clause. And they just tossed in Cory Lidle -- tossed him in. I know for a fact there were teams that offered better prospects for Lidle alone. I don't get it."
I have never painted a rosy picture. I have been very measured in my words, and you’d have a dickens of a time trying to find instances where I have been excessively optimistic.First of all, who says "dickens of a time?" What a rapscallion that Donald is. Secondly...Oh, really?
Feb. 7, 2003: “It is unknowable how long that conflict [the war in Iraq] will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.”Well, he said flowers (and candy) not roses. I guess it depends on what the meaning of "is" is, right Mr. Secretary?
Feb. 20 2003: “‘Do you expect the invasion, if it comes, to be welcomed by the majority of the civilian population of Iraq?’ Jim Lehrer asked the defense secretary on PBS’ The News Hour. ‘There is no question but that they would be welcomed,’ Rumsfeld replied, referring to American forces.”
More to come, I'm sure, here.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Anyway, as for the film, there was much to like. Michael Mann obviously fell in love with shooting digitally for "Collateral" and the same style works well here. So much of the film is at night, or shot in degrees of darkness, that the depth in detail supplied by digital filming is absolutely vital. The film looks fantastic. And Mann has always been great about shooting large, sprawling set-pieces, from the finale of "Last of the Mohicans" to the bank heist in "Heat." Again, no exceptions here. Similarly, the score is big and sweeping, more good stuff.
Going along with the look, the tone of the movie is almost mordantly dark. In retrospect, this isn't surprising, as behind the pastels and eye-candy, the TV show was most noted for being 'grittier' than what came before it. With "NYPD Blue" and "The Shield", that bar has been raised so that the original show is almost "Powderpuff Girls" by comparison.
The usual Achilles heel of any sort of cop movie, substandard baddies, isn't the problem either. They are menancing, mysterious, ruthless and plentiful enough for the final shootout (oops...SPOILER!. Like you didn't know there was a shootout...) to last a while.
So why, then, does the movie not totally work? Well for one, pacing. It's not too slow, it's just a little off. For once, Mann's work in the editing room doesn't seem to have equaled that produced on the set - the love scenes are nice, but they seem either extraneous or simply too long and still - in a different genre of movie they'd work fine, but here they impede rather than advance the story.
But the biggest reason is the casting of Gong Li as the pivotal female character. First, the screen chemistry between her and Colin Farrel is largely non-existant. Second, it's more than slightly confusing for this character to be Chinese-Cuban-Columbian (or whatever), accent issues aside. (And the accent issue is huge - it's hard to suspend disbelief about a relationship when you can't understand what one party is saying.) These combine to make this whole plot point labored, and ultimately unbelievable. Which wouldn't normally matter in a procedural, but Mann spends so much time on it that it is unavoidable.
All that said, this is still a quality film, just not up there with Mann's best. Penalty points for Jamie Foxx being made almost superflous to Collin Farrell's indescribably fantastic hair.
Pooh's View: B-