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Friday, January 30, 2009

Man on Wire

Man on Wire is one of the best 2008 films I've seen. The story is exciting, interesting and even funny, at times. If you didn't see The Colbert Report last week, then you may not know that the film concerns the "artistic crime of the century." In August 1974, just as Nixon was about to resign the presidency, Phillipe Petit walked across a wire between the tops of the World Trade Center Towers.

Though I haven't seen any of the film's Oscar competitors for Best Documentary Feature, it must be a strong competitor.

Thumbs up. See it.

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Monday, January 26, 2009


Today, at Duck of Minerva, I blogged "Obama at war: Pakistan." His administration recently launched its first missile strikes inside Pakistan. How did the target state react?

Thursday, January 22, I blogged "XX" about the appointment of Anne-Marie Slaughter as the first female head of the State Department's Office of Policy Planning.

Also on the 22nd, I blogged "Volleys in the war on terror" about Barack Obama's string of executive orders in the first 48 hours of his presidency. He rolled back a number of controversial policies of George W. Bush.

January 19, the Monday before Inauguration Day, I posted "Content-free weekend," which briefly mentioned Hillary Clinton's nomination hearings and an assignment I've given my undergraduate class concerning Obama's likely foreign policy course.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Photos: Obama at church

The woman in the foreground is blocking my wife from the picture, but my oldest daughter is in green, stargazing:

This is the best one of the group I received:

Pictures courtesy of our friend's cousin Jimmy. Click photos for a larger image.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Man in the Bed

Election night was difficult for me, as the excitement about Barack Obama's election was more than completely counterbalanced by that day's funeral of my father. Today, Inauguration Day, a family friend has lost her father who apparently wanted to live to see the festivities.

I offer my most sincere condolences and this song video by Dave Alvin, which I've listened to many times since November:

Alvin wrote the song about his own father's last day.

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President Obama


11:57 Joe Biden just took the oath of office, so Dick Cheney is no longer Vice President of the United States!

"Our long national nightmare is over."

12:05 Barack Obama is a little off his game -- he had a false start and a verbal stumble during his oath. The pressure is tremendous, I'm sure.

12:18 I just thought to check -- and yes, the White House web page now features President Barack Obama. It has a blog!

12:24 Bush-era links no longer work at I searched for the 2002 National Security Strategy, which this blog has frequently discussed.

12:26 Obama certainly sounded good. I'll try to read the transcript later and perhaps provide comments.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Whereupon I enter the 21st century

My kids got new iPod players as Christmas gifts, so my oldest gave me her used one (which merely holds about 1000 songs). Anyone want to buy a vintage Sony Walkman cassette player that hasn't been used in 15 or 20 years?

Look out readers -- I can now post those "Random 10" lists.

Additionally, our cable company offered a good bundling deal, so we came to an agreement with them and now have a DVR and free Showtime for a year.

Since Tuesday, I've had the device record about 10 movies that should help me pass the winter until March madness and the baseball season. For those who want to play along at home, cable is offering both recent movies I missed (such as "This Is England" and "Secrecy") and some good classics to revisit or check out ("McCabe and Mrs. Miller" and "From Here to Eternity").

Then again, I may need distractions all year long as this looks like another long and disappointing season for my team.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Worshiping with the Obamas

My wife and oldest daughter drove to DC yesterday in order to attend the inaugural. I've been worried for some weeks that the trip might be somewhat disappointing given the expected crowd. They do not have tickets to any events, so I figured they would be too far from the festivities to enjoy them.

This morning, however, they attended Nineteenth Street Baptist Church with a family friend (the woman who made our wedding cake in 1991).

As it happens, the service was also attended by the Obama family. As the Obamas were leaving, my wife shook hands with Barack and Michelle Obama, wished the latter a happy birthday, and received a brief and kind blessing from the President-elect.

It will be difficult to top that on the remainder of the trip.

Update: The Post story has video from inside the church Sunday.

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Friday, January 16, 2009


January 15, I posted, "The 'war on terror' is over" at Duck of Minerva. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband recently made the case in a speech in Mumbai -- I discuss his arguments.

On January 10, I blogged about "NGOs as 'New Colonialists,'" a charge levied by several writers in a Foreign Policy piece.

Regular readers have probably noticed that this site rarely now has foreign policy or international relations content. That's intentional. Though I started blogging here in 2003,primarily about the US in Iraq, the Duck of Minerva group IR blog seems like a more logical place for those posts. Frankly, that site gets 8 or 10 times as many readers on a daily basis and that kind of content is precisely what they are seeking.

As a result, my less frequent domestic politics material remains on this blog, along with more personal material (including baseball). I do try to signal new Duck posts here and will keep doing that. The links may appear days after the original.

Thanks for reading.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Watermelon politics

Fox News obviously thinks new climate "czarina" (their word) is a watermelon politician -- green on the outside, but red on the inside:
Carol Browner, President-elect Barack Obama's choice to be his climate czarina, served until last summer as a member of a socialist organization whose mission is to enact progressive government policies, including toward environmental concerns like climate change.

Browner's name and biography have been scrubbed from the Web site of Socialist International, the umbrella group for 170 "social democratic, socialist and labor parties" in 55 countries. But a photo of Browner speaking in Greece to the group's Congress on June 30 remained in the site's archives.
Specifically, Fox says, Browner "worked on Socialist International's Commission for a Sustainable World Society, which argues that the global community must work collectively to address environmental policies."

The prospect of "global governance" is more than a thought crime in Fox's world.

This former "Mother of the Year" is a pinko? Who knew?

The problem here is that the right still believes in "guilt by association," and doesn't want to explain very much about the associations. A simple word like "socialism" will do, thank you.

Here's what the spokesperson for the Obama camp noted:
"The Commission for a Sustainable World Society includes world leaders from a variety of political parties, including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who succeeded Tony Blair, in serving as vice president of the convening organization,"
And what about the Socialist International?
The Socialist International is the worldwide organisation of social democratic, socialist and labour parties. It currently brings together 170 political parties and organisations from all continents.
I wonder if Fox knows that many of those 170 social democratic and labor parties have governed American allies -- like Germany, Great Britain, France, Mexico, etc.?

Does Fox know what a social democrat wants?

These days, they do want to prevent global climate change.

I'm not quite as certain that social democrats would have joined Wall Street in advocating that government acquire huge equity positions in commercial banks by handing over hundreds of billions of dollars. They would want to make sure that people have enough money to eat and remain in their homes.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009


I would not have voted to enshrine Jim Rice into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Though Win Shares give only a crude indication of a player's overall contributions, the measure does provide a means for quickly assessing the 2009 candidates. By that measure, Jim Rice was no better than the 12th candidate among this year's class.

If I had a ballot, I would have voted for the following players:
Rickey Henderson
Tim Raines
Mark McGwire
Bert Blyleven
Alan Trammell (SS)
McGwire was a close call because of the many allegations about steroids, but given baseball's willingness to ignore racism for many decades in deciding Hall membership, I'm going to be willing to ignore alleged cases of steroid abuse. For now anyway.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Americana music 2008

As usual, I must outsource my music "best of" list. Once again, my friend Michael Young, host of the local "Roots 'n Boots" public radio program, recently posted his top 20 American albums of 2008. Note that I've deleted Mike's comments about the CDs, so you'll want to visit his post for his justifications:
1. Hayes Carll - Trouble In Mind (Lost Highway)
2. Chris Knight - Heart Of Stone (Drifter’s Church)
3. Drive-By Truckers - Brighter Than Creation’s Dark (New West)
4. James Intveld - Have Faith (Molenaart)
5. Malcolm Holcombe - Gamblin’ House (Echo Mountain)
6. James McMurtry - Just Us Kids (Lightning Rod)
7. Watson Twins - Fire Songs (Vanguard)
8. Chatham County Line - IV (Yep Roc)
9. Avett Brothers - The Second Gleam (Ramseur)
10. Miss Lana Rebel - All I Need (Wantage)
11. BoDeans - Still (He & He)
12. Tift Merritt - Another Country (Fantasy)
13. John Mann - Evening News (self-released)
14. Lucinda Williams - Little Honey (Lost Highway)
15. John Mellencamp - Life Death Love And Freedom (Hear Music)
16. Dave Insley - West Texas Wine (self-released)
17. Todd Snider - Peace Queer (Aimless)
18. Peter Cooper - Mission Door (Red Beet)
19. Alejandro Escovedo - Real Animal (Back Porch/Manhattan)
20. Grayson Capps & The Stumpknockers - Rott-n-Roll (Hyena)
It's difficult for me to evaluate this list since the only CD I own from the list is the one by Hayes Carll. Of course, I've heard singles by virtually all these artists on Mike's show or on XM radio.

My owning the Carll CD registers my assent because I bought it in the summer and have been playing it all year. No Depression's review includes a video of his "She Left Me For Jesus."

I did see James McMurtry, Tift Merritt and Alejandro Escovedo (#1 on the No Depression year-end list) perform live this year. Stupidly, I skipped Carll on a cold and wet night in Louisville this December.

Previously, I've seen the Drive-By Truckers, the BoDeans (nearly 20 years ago in Evanston, IL), Lucinda Williams, John Mellencamp and Grayson Capps perform live. I can vouch for some of their prior albums.

You can hear Michael's show on WFPK every Sunday night at 5 pm ET (live stream). That's right, this year, his show expanded by an hour.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Just ducky

Wednesday, at Duck of Minerva, I blogged "Silent coup?" about a recent Washington Post op-ed by former ambassador Thomas Schweich. In his editorial, Schweich warned about the danger of the militarization of US foreign policy. He warned of a "silent military coup" against the US government.

On January 3, I blogged "Foreign Policy and the Blogosphere" about the new Foreign Policy magazine on-line venture, prominently featuring several academic IR bloggers. Congratulations to Marc Lynch (aka Abu Aardvark), Dan Drezner and Stephen Walt.

December 29, I posted "I've never met a man..." which was about my family's trip to the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore, Oklahoma. It turns out that the well-known populist thought Americans are basically good-hearted liberals.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Free Rice

I hadn't really tried it out until tonight, but I am passing along a link recommended by my daughters: Free Rice. If you navigate to that page, you will find a tab allowing you to select from a number of subjects -- languages, vocabulary, art, grammar, art, geography or math:
  • Click on the right answer in the middle of this page.
  • If you get it right, you get a harder question. If you get it wrong, you get an easier question.
In a few minutes, I managed to get to level 5 on geography (and 800 grains of rice)...but then I faded.

Good luck with that timewaster. Maybe it will help students prep for standardized tests. That's the claim from my teenager.

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Movies of 2008

As I've written previously, I watch a lot of movies, though most are viewed as DVDs on my television. Because I do not see that many films in the theater, it can be difficult for me to write a post on the year's best movies (of 2008, or any other year).

Indeed, many of the best films I saw this past year were 2007 films that I missed in the theaters. Some were even older.

To make this rank-ordered 2008 list, I scanned the top 150 grossing movies of 2008, as well as IMDB's most popular titles for 2008 (and their most popular by average vote list). These were the only 2008 films I saw this year, so far as I know. Those marked with asterisks were viewed in a theater:

The Visitor **
The Dark Knight **
Smart People
In Bruges
Tropic Thunder
Burn After Reading **
Iron Man
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Rachel Getting Married **
The Bank Job
Baby Mama
Wanted **
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull **
Get Smart
Vantage Point
Be Kind, Rewind
27 Dresses

And here's the annual list of movies I intend to see in the near future (but probably in 2009): Adventures of Power, American Teen, Appaloosa, Brideshead Revisited, Cadillac Records, Cloverfield, Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Definitely Maybe, Diminished Capacity, Doubt, Edge of Heaven, Frost/Nixon, Frozen River, Ghost Town, Gomorra, Gran Torino, Hamlet 2, Happy-Go-Lucky, JCVD, Kung Fu Panda, Man on Wire, Milk, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Momma's Man, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Pineapple Express, Quantum of Solace, Revolutionary Road, Religulous, RockNRolla, Role Models, Seven Pounds, Shine a Light, Slumdog Millionaire, Standard Operating Procedure, Stop-Loss, Street Kings, Synecdoche, New York, Taken, Tell No One, Under the Same Moon, Vicky Christina Barcelona, W., The Wackness, WALL*E, What Just Happened, Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?, The Wrsestler, and Zack and Miri Make a Porno.

Keep in mind that I didn't get around to seeing several 2007 movies from last year's list: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Into the Wild, No End in Sight, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Note: I did not provide links to the Powell's Bookstore website, where you can buy DVDs of many of the films listed in this post. However, if you buy books or DVDs from my link, I receive a 7.5% sales commission. All funds are used to operate this blog -- or will be gambled away at my monthly poker game.

Powell's is a great independent bookstore -- always a highlight of my trips to Portland -- with union representation, tremendous selection, and reduced-price used or sale books.

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