Saturday, January 29, 2005

You've gone all Sideways, man!

Shannon and I went to the Carmike to see this one on its opening night. We chose to go to the Carmike instead of the Grand because the Carmike gets indie pics (we saw the great "The Whale Rider" there last year) and we want to encourage this behavior. Besides, I find the kids that work there to be gracious (read: they laughed at my jokes) and helpful. I even killed some time waiting for the movie to start by talking to the ticket taker and it turns out he and I shared the same distaste for pseudoscience dressed up as science by using the word "quantum" (I'm looking at you, "What the (bleep) Do We Know".) And the stadium renovations have been completed so they can now compete with the big boy on Johnston St.

As for the movie, well, its great, certainly one of the best of 2004. And as opposed to many other comedies that are front loaded with laughs, this one actually gets funnier (and sadder) as the movie goes along. I think many movies lose their comedic steam as they progress because they start with situational gags and then have to drive the plot forward with more traditional exposition. But since Sideways is character driven, its not the situations per se that are funny, but the characters response to them.

Paul Giamatti is the slope shouldered antihero for our time (if you have not seen "American Splendor" you are missing the best movie of the past five years). Put upon and miserable, but not misunderstood, he is somehow both cynical and hopeful. He can make the most pathetic character sympathetic. And oh, is he ever pathetic as Miles the insufferable asshole oenophile in Sideways. As a struggling novelist, he's a very successful drunk. His love and knowledge of wine both inform and deform his life, work and relationships. But every misstep he makes is understandable and indeed logical. What else could he have done but to follow his life down this unfortunate path? I have to admit, every time Giamatti made me cringe in this movie, it was because I had done the exact same thing.

The real surprise here is Thomas Haden Church as the Jeff to Giamatti's Mutt. Church plays Jack, a fading ex-soap actor who doesn't mind trading on his d-list has-beenism in the pursuit of sex. His wedding is the reason for the week long road trip that the two college buddies are embarking on, and Jack, pussyhound that he is, wants to make sure he has as many flings as possible before getting married (although it seems that the wedding probably won't slow him down much). Church (Lowell in the forgetable sitcom "Wings" and Ned on the forgotten sitcom "Ned and Stacey") plays Jack as the poster boy for the unexamined life who takes going with the flow to an almost Zen level of shallowness. Church must be a good actor, because he comes off as stupid and vacuous as many of the men that I have known in real life (myself included, at times).

So who will like Sideways? Well, if you've read this entire review, you will. Only the most rigidly dogmatic thinkers and those that just can't be bothered to contemplate their own life and loves during a movie will feel they didn't get their money's worth. And that's only, what, 75% of the movie going public?

Electile dysfunction

SO here we are, on the eve of elections in Iraq. But will the election be the panacea that some hope it will be? Bush has expended alot of political capital by holding on to this date even though the country is nowhere near stable. And since these elections are seen as the first step toward ending the occupation, Mr. Bush needs for them to seem credible, important and effective. I think he will have a tough time making his case on all three counts.

In order for these elections to pass the sniff test for credibility, all segments of Iraqi society must feel engaged by the process. That obviously won't happen. Many Iraqis (not just Sunnis) feel that the whole system is illegitimate because it is being thrust upon them by an occupying army. It has helped that Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Sistani has endorsed the elections, but there are still many Shiah who are very skeptical. And of course the Sunni turnout will be very low (The Zogby poll predicts that 9% of Sunni's will vote). Even the Iraqi President states that turnout will be low and that any government that does not have Shiah, Kurd and Sunni participation is doomed.

As for the importance of the elections, here Bush has laid it on as thick as he can to attempt to instill the feeling that we have truly given the Iraqis the gift of freedom. But how much value does a vote have in a failed state? And what kinds of votes will the Iraqis have when the seats of power have been consolidated? Will they truly have the power to choose the kind of government under which they will be ruled? Or will the next strongman to concentrate his power simply restrict the choices of the populace to those that will not challenge his authority (a la Indonesia and Egypt)? Or will he simply suspend elections in the name of national security?

Democracies do require care and feeding. They don't just form in a vacuum. Without a history of any of the institutions that are important to keeping democracies alive (independent judiciary, rule of law, free press, church/state separation, separation of powers, etc.), how will this fledgling democracy sustain itself? Complicating this further is the fact that the US has let the Iraqi government know that only a market based democractic capitalism will be allowed, even though they have no experience with it (the Enlightenment was not as big a hit in the Middle East as it was in the West, don't ya know...). Monarchy, theocracy, oligarchy and socialism are the preferred historical antecedents in Iraq. If you surveyed the Iraqi people as to what form of government they would prefer, democratic capitalism would come pretty far down the list. Polling indicates that the communists will probably be the third or fourth largest political party. Don't get me wrong, I think that democratic capitalism is a fine system of government, maybe even the best. But then again, I don't read the Koran nine hours at a stretch while sitting on a bare floor rocking back in forth in religious ecstasy.

So there you have it, the major obstacles to a successful and independent Iraq, as I see it. But have you ever heard this administration honestly discuss even one of these points? Well, they just don't come up in the talking points, do they? The only thing you can count on is that no matter how big a debacle this adventure turns out to be, the administration will claim it is a success because the Iraqis were allowed to vote. And when the cure-all of elections fails to bring stability to Iraq, the President will start to shift the blame to the Iraqi people.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Internet cliche of the day

Ok, ok, I know nothing is lamer than all those dumb internet quiz deals, but this one is pretty cool.

You're Watership Down!

by Richard Adams

Though many think of you as a bit young, even childish, you're
actually incredibly deep and complex. You show people the need to rethink their
assumptions, and confront them on everything from how they think to where they
build their houses. You might be one of the greatest people of all time. You'd
be recognized as such if you weren't always talking about talking rabbits.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Link Review

See those things on the left there? Those are the links that I traffic the most. Suspect Device is a great link for two reasons. First, Greg Peters is one of the most talented political cartoonists I have ever read and, believe it or not, his beat is Louisiana in general and Acadiana in particular. B) He has a great blog that keeps you updated on the banana republic that is Louisiana politics. Check him out and let him know that MGIFOS sent ya.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Ok, here's the deal...

A new feature here on MGIFOS (ok, the only feature if you don't count sarcasm) will be the "Ok, here's the deal..." segments. When you see that headline, you know that some inane, absurd, asinine, daft, ditzy, driveling, fatuous, foolish, idiotic, illogical, imbecilic, innocuous, insipid, jejune, jerky, lamebrained, laughable, meaningless, mindless, nerdy, ridiculous, senseless, silly, trifling, unintelligent, vacant, vacuous, vapid, weak, worthless (those are the only synonyms of inane I could think of off the top of my head*) observations that I think are important enough to shoot out into cyberspace are going to follow. So be forewarned- Ok? Here's the deal...

Dasani is Coca Cola's brand of water. "Clean, purified, non carbonated water product" as it says on the website. It is sold in Coca Cola vending machines next to the other Coke products. It is, of course, the healthiest option from which to choose. No sugar, sweeteners, carbonation- I mean it's water, ferchristsake. Classic addition by subtraction. You see, Coke uses the same bottling centers and techniques to produce Dasini but they simply don't add in all the, well, additives. But the beauty part is that they charge the same amount as every other product! They could easily program their machines to charge less for the water but why should they? They know we'll over pay for the privilege of not drinking a coke. So that's the deal.

(*by "think of off the top of my head", I of course mean "copy and paste from")

Friday, January 21, 2005

The inaugural speech: a rebuttal

There is no freedom at the barrel of a gun, Mr. President. Just as we could not force the Vietnamese into accepting our brand of liberty, so too are we seeing the results of the shoot first, think later (never?) policy of this administration. And now Condi, one of the architects of this debacle, is the diplomatic face of our nation. That should help alot in the nation building phase of this operation. So, while we train a defacto Shi'ite Army of Southern Iraq (>60% Shi'ite with no Sunni senior officers) that will lead the opposition against their former Sunni masters when the US pulls out, we wait to see what post election Iraq will look like.

We'll be asked to leave (see post of Jan. 4), so we can declare victory and come home. I mean, they voted, right? So we've helped spread Democracy to one of the most troubled areas on the globe and overthrown an evil-doer and, gee-whiz didn't we do good? And we will try to gloss over the fact that the new killing fields and torture rooms of Iraq are being run by the "security" troops that we trained and armed. And anyway, shit happens, right Rummy? Bush will say that those that resist "hate freedom" and not mention the messy details of the genocide and civil war that was our gift to the Iraqi people.

But I think there is one group that may benefit from the descent into chaos. The Kurds have several advantages: they already have a well armed fighting force (Peshmurga, anyone?); they live in a defensive mountainous region; they have an independent, functioning infrastructure; and they hold the key to the stability of the parliament(Kurd and Shi'ite cohesion can give at least the illusion of statehood). Because of this, they have several intriguing options- stay in the government and broker the strongest deal for an autonomous region that they can. Or they can wait for chaos to descend and declare statehood. With the Shiah and Sunni at each others throats, who could stop them?

Well, Turkey, Syria and Iran might give it a try. And while we have little compassion for Syria and Iran's Kurdish problems, we have promised Turkey over and over that we would never support a Kurdish state. Will we keep our word and undermine the only region of Iraq (and indeed the entire Middle East) that has a chance at becoming a true Western- style democracy? Or will we risk further alienating Turkey and peeling her away from NATO and back into her fundamentalist brothers arms? What will we do when the tanks roll in from Eastern Turkey and attempt to crush our best allies in Iraq? Won't it be fun to find out?

Monday, January 10, 2005

From the dept. of sour grapes...

I know, I know, we're all tired of rehashing the last election. The people have spoken, and all that. But lets take one last look at who was speaking what to whom. This link says it all.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Philippine option...

Exit strategies are being discussed inside the beltway, according to the New York Times (you'll need to register if you've never visited the site before, you Philistine.) And, as usual, this story was being covered here at MGIFOS before the major media picked it up (see post of Tue. Jan. 4).

From the Times:
One possibility quietly discussed inside the administration is whether the new Iraqi government might ask the United States forces to begin to leave - what one senior State Department official calls "the Philippine option," a reference to when the Philippines asked American forces to pull out a decade ago.


Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, who had just completed a tour as commander of all marines in Iraq, said, "I believe there will be elections in Iraq in January, and I suspect very shortly afterward you will start to see a reduction in U.S. forces - not because U.S. planners will seek it, rather because the Iraqis will demand it."

Sure, he said that on Oct. 8th, but at least I beat the Times.

Friday, January 07, 2005

A full accounting.

The National Guard has released the names of all the soldiers killed yesterday in the Bradley vehicle bombing. Six of the seven were from the Houma area. One man was from New York. The six Louisianians are Specialist Bradley Bergeron, Sergeant Christopher Babin, Private first class Armand Frickey, Specialist Warren Murphy of Marrero, Specialist Huey Fassbender of LaPlace, and Sergeant First Class Kurt Comeaux of Raceland.

It's going to be a terrible weekend in Houma. Our thoughts are with the families of those men killed in Iraq.

Details trickle in...

The Advocate is reporting that most, if not all of the deaths from yesterday's roadside bomb ambush are likely to be residents of southeast Louisiana. They named one of the dead, Sgt. Kurt Comeaux, 34, of Raceland.

From the Advocate:

Officials told Comeaux’s family that six of the seven fatalities are believed to be a part of the Louisiana National Guard 156th Mechanized Infantry Charlie Company. The other soldier was from New York.

Charlie Company’s guardsmen come from Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, New Orleans and the Morgan City area. The troops were deployed in October.

It looks as if the Lafayette area may have been exempted from the bloodshed this time. I certainly hope so. But there are 5 more families in Louisiana who are getting unwanted knocks on their doors. And my heart goes out to them.

Bad news on NPR...

I just heard on "Morning Edition" that 5 of the 7 soldiers who were killed yesterday when a roadside bomb exploded next to their Bradley Fighting Vehicle were National Guard reservists from Louisiana. Apparently the names have not been released yet pending notifications. This literally strikes too close to home. More to follow...

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Well, at least we're trying?

The U.S. is sending a retired general to Iraq for an "open ended review" of the military's entire Iraq policy. Gen. Gary E. Luck (he's gonna need it...) will give his assessment of the whole Iraq craptastic mess to Rumsfeld in a few weeks in a "confidential" review. Who wants to bet the Washington Post or New York Times get their hands on it first? A boy can hope, anyway (any Pentagon operatives reading this who want to leak it to me directly, just leave it in the comments, please). If he's really independent and not just an administration lap dog, he'll come back and say we need lots more troops for lots more years.

But will his recommendations be rendered moot by events on the ground? What effect will the impending Iraqi elections have on our Iraq policy? The Sunni won't vote, the Shiah will win in a landslide. What if they then ask us nicely to leave on the next train out of Baghdad ? That will put us in the position of leaving and letting the place descend into civil war or staying and trying to suppress two insurrections. Or maybe we'll cut a deal with the some Shi'ite strongman and leave the place under another dictators control, but it will be more palatable to us because it will be Saddam's old allies, the Sunni, littering the killing fields. And the Kurds? With the Sunni triangle as a buffer, they can just let the other two factions fight it out. I truly hope I'm wrong, but I can't imagine Iraq as a stable democracy anytime soon.

Whenever I discuss the Iraq situation with someone who supports the war, their strongest argument is "But how can you argue that removing Saddam Hussein was a bad thing". I always answer "Because we can make things worse. This is worse." And I try not to scream it.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Clinton + Bush = love?

W., doing a pretty good job at playing P.R. catch up on the Asian tsunami disaster, has appointed Bill and GHWB to be goodwill ambassadors for the good 'ol USA. Besides throwing his dad a bone, he also gets to co-opt the democratic opposition's stance by making Clinton his mouthpiece. And Clinton, out of election season, has chosen to accept instead of chastising from the sidelines. Also, W. sent his most popular (and that's not saying much) cabinet Sectretary, Colin Powell, and brother Jeb to help coordinate the relief. Why Jeb? Oh, he's got TONS of bad weather experience, what with those 3 nasty hurricanes (73 deaths!). Also, maybe just a smidge to do with getting some pub, some exposure, some ink and looking, oh, what's the word....presidential? Let's review. Jeb is the republican govenor of Florida. So he nails down all the red states with Florida probably in the bag too. That leaves...OHIO! It's a very attractive scenario to anyone who wants the repubs in power again. The toughest part will be getting the nomination. So lets see if Jeb finds religion in the next four years and cozies up to the fundies. I'm betting he does.

Monday, January 03, 2005

The year in pictures

Let's introduce the cast of characters in our year in review picture series.

Shannon, me and Tante Lee about to board the Pas Bons Head Start bus at 2004 Eunice Courir de Mardi Gras.

B-boy kitchen pose down duel of death between my cousin Joel (l) and myself. It's obvious that I won...

Emily (l) and Jessie in their prefered habitat, Chuckie Cheese.

Shannon bundled up and out on the town.

Shannon and our friend Lilly making a toast. These glasses were not full for long...

Gabe, Emily and Jessie with the ever-present Barney hovering in the backgraound.

Gabe with a friend at her birthday party. He already has to "too cool for the room" look perfected...

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Auld Lang Syne!

Well, another year has gone, and we bid adieu to stinky old 2004 in style. First we had a family toast- me, Shannon, Gabe, Emily and Jessie- to health, happiness and love for 2005 (with sparkling apple cider of course), then Shannon and I went to the Blue Moon Saloon and Guesthouse to get our Zydeco on. If you've never been there, the Blue Moon is the cajun and zydeco hipster hangout in Lafayette and it's always a blast. Corey "Lil Pop" Ledet opened for The Bluerunners and we did the hop and the two-step and even waltzed a few. We also spent alot of time hassling Cal, bass player for the Bluerunners, from just off stage with his wife, Melissa. You gotta hand it to a guy who can keep the beat while his wife and friends are yelling incoherently in his direction. At midnight we had our kiss, and our new year was off to a great start. Happy New Year everyone!