Monday, December 31, 2007

Presidential Candidates

We propose a general framework for evaluating presidential candidates.  The idea is not to come up with a model that provides a precise assessment of each candidate, but simply a framework for discussion.  If we can break down the candidates by key attributes, I think we are more likely to have an objective and fair discussion as free as possible from personal prejudice and ideology.  Let's make sure we agree on the categories and descriptions before we begin evaluations of each candidate.

Once we have established the framework I propose that we evaluate George W. Bush as a starting point (and perhaps Bill Clinton).  We don't have to agree 100% on this one to continue, but it will hopefully give us a good test case for how this works.

After that we will go through the major candidates - perhaps in order of current tradesports odds of winning to make sure we spend our time on the most important players.  The judgments need not be final, but can be updated as we learn more and think more about the various candidates.  Note: while the next president may very well be a woman, I am using male pronouns in the framework (as the vast majority of viable candidates are male).  If you are already offended by this you should probably find another blog to read.

Desired Attributes of the President of the United States:

  • Do you believe what he tells you?
  • Do his stated positions represent his personal beliefs or political expediency?
  • Will he abuse the power of the Presidency or seek to expand the powers of the Presidency beyond what he thinks is right and constitutional?
  • Will he stick to principle over ideology if and when he believes the states or congress should have jurisdiction (even if the states may adopt policies contrary to his own personal ideology)?
  • Will he make appointments that are best for the country or that reward loyalists?

Judgment (includes intellect, wisdom, and experience)
  • Does he have the intellect and confidence to take in (possibly conflicting) information and advice from cabinet members and other advisors and make the right (or best) decisions?
  • Does he have enough experience to have an intimate understanding of the key issues of the day and avoid naive judgments?
  • Do the key decisions of his career give you confidence that he will make the right decisions as President?
  • Does he appear susceptible to diplomatic gaffes or offenses in his speech or conduct?

  • Will he take an unpopular position he believes is right?
  • Will he confront his party/base in order to do what he believes is right?
  • Will he take a course of actions for the US that he believes is right in the face of opposition from the UN, NATO, other allies, and other countries if necessary?
  • Will be be willing to take unconventional approaches over politically safer options?
  • Based on new information and/or understanding will he make necessary changes to policy even if such changes will expose him to charges of inconsistency?
  • Will he stick with a policy he believes is right even if it becomes unpopular?

  • How good an ambassador will he be for the United States?
  • How well will he unite the country behind him?
  • How well will he be able to drive public opinion to his side?
  • How well will he be able to persuade congress to enact his policies?
  • Does he have enough experience and support to navigate politics in the capital and lead even if his popularity slips?
  • How good a role model will he be?
  • Will he be able to call upon the American People to make short-term sacrifices for the good of the nation?  If so, does he have the capacity to bring the People along with him?
  • Has he demonstrated the capacity to be a coalition-builder, across party lines if necessary?
  • In his career has he pursued constructive solutions over political stonewalling?

  • Does he have a good vision for where this country should be years from now or can he only think in incremental steps?
  • Is he capable of new and better ideas where they are needed in place of the standard Democratic and Republican party lines?
  • Is he capable of adopting a long-term perspective, or will he get drawn into simply putting out fires?


  • Will he defer to the expertise of his generals and political appointees?  Will he be so deferential as to abdicate his leadership role?
  • On that score, what measure of authority will he give political appointees over agency careerists?
  • Will he tolerate or even cultivate dissenting viewpoints on his staff, or will he value loyalty over truth-seeking?
  • Does he develop relationships or burn bridges?
Personal Ideology.  There are some desired qualities in a President which are inherently personal (eg, a person who believes that one day old embryos have souls and that destroying them is morally equivalent to murder may think differently about a pro-choice candidate than would someone who believes one day old embryos are little more than soulless blips).  These may be impossible to resolve in such a forum.  I say we leave them alone for now and use the other attributes as a starting point.

Candidates to evaluate:

Clinton, Obama, Giuliani, Romney, McCain, Huckabee, Paul, Edwards, Gore, Thompson, Bloomberg

Friday, December 28, 2007

Reason #77 Why I Feel Alienated from the Rest of America

Reason #77: People actually give a crap about the National Football League. Put aside for a minute Michael Vick's ongoing criminal enterprise and Pacman Jones "making it rain." Put aside the fact that they continue to rewrite the rulebook to protect the antiquated "dropback quarterback," who would be a bloody smear on the field right now if he were allowed to be hit and knocked over like the other 21 players on the field. Put aside the fact that there are 130 teams and 70 divisions. Put aside the de rigueur pregame kaffeeklatsch on every network, wherein the washed-up players and retired coaches rib one another for an hour and celebrate their effervescent jacked-for-TV "personalities." NFL pregame shows are like live jazz performances: the people on stage are having a hell of a lot more fun than the audience, and the entertainment gap is not just disquieting — it's flat-out aggravating.

Let's forget all that and talk about why this league really sucks. Right now Cleveland and Tennessee are tied for the last playoff spot in the AFC, going in to the last week. They have identical 9-6 records. On Sunday the Browns play the 49ers and the Titans play the Colts. There might be room for some drama here — except that the way the tiebreakers work, only one of the games needs to be played. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head competition. Cleveland and Tennessee didn't play this year. We proceed, then, to the second tiebreaker, which is record against AFC opponents. Cleveland is 7-5 right now against the AFC and will end the season that way, because the game against San Francisco is out-of-conference. The Titans are 6-5 and will be 7-5 — tying the Browns — if they beat the Colts. If the Titans don't beat the Colts, the Browns make the playoffs even if they lose, because they win on the second tiebreaker. But if the Titans win, we proceed to the third tiebreaker — common opponents, which favors the Titans, regardless of whether the Browns beat the 49ers.

In short, nothing Cleveland does on Sunday has any bearing on the playoff picture. They aren't in the playoffs, and they aren't eliminated. They are very much alive, going into the final week of the season, and the game they play will be completely irrelevant nonetheless.

It's absurd in any case that these tiebreakers decide the fate of teams on the playoff bubble. People complain about the BCS deciding teams' fortunes off the field, but the NFL playoff tiebreakers are about as arbitrary and arcane (if not as subjective). And it's certainly never the case that the outcome of the final game of a college team contending for the national title would be completely irrelevant going into the game.

If I'm Browns head coach Romeo Crennel, I'm calling a press conference to ask league officials why I shouldn't forfeit the game to get a higher draft pick.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Romney Doesn't Believe in Separation of Powers

If it's not enough that Mitt Romney tried hard to obstruct stem-cell research in Massachusetts when he was Governor, would it sway your vote to learn that Wily Willard doesn't particularly support constitutional government? Because he doesn't. Observe:

On May 31, 2005 the Massachusetts Legislature passed the state's current stem cell law, by a two-thirds override of Governor Romney's veto. Romney's objections to the bill, which affirmatively authorizes research on embryonic stem cells — but under strict conditions, and subject to a state regulatory regime — were that it did not incorporate certain amendments that he proposed on May 12. One of those amendments would have added the following language to the law:

No person shall knowingly create an embryo by the method of fertilization with the sole intent of using the embryo for research.

The Senate rejected Romney's amendment on May 19, without a vote:

Mr. Brewer, for the committee on Bills in the Third Reading to whom was referred the Message of His Excellency the Governor (Senate, No. 2052) returning with recommended amendments the Senate Bill enhancing regenerative medicine in the commonwealth (see Senate, No. 2039, amended) reported recommending that the Senate consider the amendments in the following form:

* * *

In said section 1, in subsection (b) of said section 8 of said proposed chapter 111L, by inserting after the first sentence the following sentence:- "No person shall knowingly create an embryo by the method of fertilization with the sole intent of using the embryo for research.";

* * *

The bill was before the Senate subject to amendment and re-enactment.

* * *

Mr. Lees further moved that the engrossed bill be amended in section 1, in subsection (b) of said section 8 of proposed chapter 111L of the General Laws by inserting the first sentence, the following sentence: "No person shall knowingly create an embryo by the method of fertilization with the sole intent of using the embryo for research."

The amendment was rejected.

That same day, the House rejected this proposed amendment on May 19, 2005, by a 107-48 margin:

The second amendment recommended by the Governor then was considered as follows:

In section 1, after the first sentence of section 8(b) in chapter 111L, inserting the following sentence: "No person shall knowingly create an embryo by the method of fertilization with the sole intent of using said embryo for research.".

After debate on the question on adoption of the amendment, the sense of the House was taken by yeas and nays, at the request of Mr. Peterson of Grafton; and on the roll call 48 members voted in the affirmative and 107 in the negative.

The votes to override Romney's veto of the bill were dramatic: 35-2 in the Senate and 112-42 in the House.

The limitation that Romney had proposed would have been a significant impediment to research of genetic diseases like ALS, Tay-Sachs disease, and sickle-cell anemia, as well as diseases like diabetes for which genetic predispositions have been established. The reason for this is that existing stem-cell lines will not support the research: investigators need to have the flexibility to create embryos with the disease gene, so they can harvest lines relevant to their inquiries. Barring developments with somatic cell nuclear transfer techniques (basically cloning, but for research purposes), the only way to derive these stem cell lines is to collect sperm and eggs from persons with appropriate genotypes and fertilize an embryo in vitro. Romney's amendment would have criminalized this practice.

But this was not the end of the story. The stem cell law authorized the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to draft appropriate regulations to advance the law's purposes. DPH was an executive agency under then-Governor Romney's thumb, and when the Department published its first set of regulations, sitting right there as Proposed 105 C.M.R. § 960.005(A) was a provision that was for all practical purposes identical to what the legislature had rejected:

No person shall knowingly create embryos or pre-implantation embryos by the method of fertilization with the sole intent of using the embryo for research.

So let's recap: Legislature writes law. Governor proposes Amendment X. Both houses of Legislature soundly reject Amendment X. Governor vetoes law. Legislature overrides veto. Governor writes Amendment X into a regulation. This is an absolute, unequivocal, not-close, flagrant, per se violation of the Commonwealth's constitutional separation of powers. A Romney can't make law unless the legislature authorizes him to do it. When it does, the Romney can only make law within the narrow parameters set down for him. You can't accomplish by regulation what you can't accomplish by veto.

This is elementary civics, and this Romney knew it. By the time these proposed regs were circulated in the fall of 2006, Romney had all but abandoned the Governor's office in favor of drumming up national interest: he knew he was running for the Presidency, and he could tell religious conservatives that he had fought tooth-and-nail against stem-cell research. He no doubt had plans to accuse justices of the Supreme Judicial Court of "judicial activism" when they invalidated the regulation, as they inevitably would.

Thanks to the 2006 statewide elections, however, Romney never had the chance to defend his actions — in a Massachusetts court or in the court of public opinion. Shortly after taking office in 2007, Attorney General Martha Coakley declared that the regulation was unconstitutional and practically begged someone — anyone — to challenge it in court. It never got to that point, as Governor Patrick took notice of the offensive regulation and withdrew it before it ever landed in the Code of Massachusetts Regulations.

All's well that ends well, I suppose, but what of a Presidential candidate who so willfully and casually acts outside his constitutional authority to score political points with another constituency? Massachusetts legislators wrote the stem cell law. As much as representative democracy can, the law reflected the "will of the people." Romney made much of the "will of the people" when the rights of same-sex couples were on the line. It's one thing, apparently, for a handful of justices to vindicate the rights of a political minority. That's undemocratic. But when one man unconstitutionally overrides the legislature — it's fair game.

But I'm running a bit afield of my thesis, which is that Romney evinced a staggering disrespect for constitutional government with his actions here. A certain amount of pushing and pulling is to be expected between legislators and executive officials grappling for a political edge. What happened here, though, is just startling. To be sure, it's not Jeb Bush sending a police squad to thwart the execution of a court order — Romney didn't use force to attempt a limited coup. He just overrode the rule of law. Whatever your views on stem-cell research, that should give you pause.

Friday, December 14, 2007


As I left the gym and stepped outside into the middle of yesterday's blizzard, it occurred to me that for whatever reason it gets REALLY quiet outside during snowstorms. By the time I got to the burrito joint I had three theories as to why this might be the case:

(1) Rain makes noise and snow doesn't. You get rain a lot more often, so when there's precipitation your mind expects it to spritz and pitter-patter on the street. Snowstorm quiet therefore isn't actually any greater than sunny-day quiet. It just seems that way, because of what you expect to hear on other days when you're getting soaked to the bone outside.

(2) There are fewer people around to make noise, because they've all left work and are hunkered down in their houses. Cars that are in the street are broken down or stuck in traffic and not moving, so their engines are quieter. It's just more peaceful, because most anyone with half a brain is inside and there's less sound kicking around in the air to begin with.

(3) Snow on the ground and on walls dampens reverberation and muffles sound. It might even be the case that big fluffy snowflakes in the air muffle sound a bit as well, just like the feathers would if you stuck your head inside a down pillow.

I think explanation (3) has the most appeal. In any event, I like the snow-quiet, and I'd appreciate it a whole hell of a lot more if it didn't come with snow-driving and -shoveling. Actually, I don't mind the shoveling so much, either. But the driving I can do without.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Interesting Terms of Use

I've been researching website TOU, and I happened across these at These terms are a kick:

(1) By accessing the content on the site, you agree to be bound by the terms.
(2) Users may not sue the InstaPundit site "for its content, whether original or linked or quoted from another source, in any court, on any grounds whatsoever in law or equity."
(3) Any user who sues in violation of (2) owes $1 million in liquidated damages.
(4) Any user who sends a demand letter must post $1 million in security for the liquidated damages.
(5) Anyone who reads the terms and wants to opt out of the TOU may do so, but he or she must destroy any and all copies of the site's content and send the InstaPundit an affidavit certifying to the destruction.

Has the InstaPundit completely limited his liability — even for copyright infringement?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I Hate the World Right Now

And here's why.

Monday, December 03, 2007


"No one alleges that Joseph was ever a terrorist, or a soldier, or a criminal. The military told him in 2002 he was innocent. Again in 2003. Again in 2006. He filed a habeas petition in 2005. He would be gone if the military could find a country to take him."

This from the Globe's op-ed page, by way of Mike: a "released" Guantanamo detainee urges his wife to leave him and get on with her life, because he'll never get out.

Here's an irony for you:

This country has worked itself up into a froth about America absorbing refugees and folks from other nations who want to feed their families, because a lot of them don't have any legal status and are commanding public resources. But then we have the folks in Guantanamo, determined to be innocent, who have homes in other nations and don't want to be here. Our government insists that they don't have any legal status, and we feel we have to keep them because the military can't "find a country to take them." And of course our so-dearly-bought public resources are paying for these people's involuntary room and board.

In short: it's okay to spend taxpayer money providing miserable subsistence-level provisioning for no-legal status foreigners who don't want to be here and are unable to contribute anything of value to the economy or to any local community. As to no-legal status foreigners who do want to be here and are working for their families and providing services to America's privileged native-born: screw 'em. They're living off our dime.

Nice one, America.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Threats Database/Is There an MCRA Claim Here?

The Citizen Media Law Project has set up a threats database to log instances of threats leveled (typically by lawyers and government authorities) against persons for their online speech. I'm not sure how effective the database will prove as a shaming mechanism, but it certainly raises awareness about the problem and lets you know Who the Bad Guys Are and What They're Up To.

As for How To Get 'Em Back, I wonder if the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act doesn't furnish threat recipients with a cause of action for damages against lawyers who target "objectionable" speech with demand letters. Chapter 12, § 11H of the Massachusetts General Laws makes it unlawful for any person "to interfere by threats, intimidation or coercion, or attempt to interfere by threats, intimidation or coercion, with the exercise or enjoyment by any other person or persons of rights secured by the constitution or laws of the United States, or of rights secured by the constitution or laws of the commonwealth." That section authorizes the state Attorney General's office to bring a civil case against violators to enjoin their unlawful practices.

Section 11I gives any person "aggrieved" by a § 11H violation the right to sue for compensatory damages. If the plaintiff prevails, he or she is entitled to attorney's fees and costs.

Although it warns that the law was not intended to create a "vast constitutional tort," the Supreme Judicial Court tends to read the MCRA pretty broadly. Speech certainly isn't "free" — at least not completely — if it's tortious, or if it infringes another person's intellectual property rights. But speech that isn't and doesn't (respectively) certainly is constitutionally protected, and a letter from an attorney has to qualify as an "attempt to interfere by threats, intimidation or coercion." My guess is that if any of the claims contained in an attorney's demand letter (defamation, copyright infringement, trademark infringement or dilution, etc.) has any merit, the MCRA claim would fail. If the asserted claim is a loser, the threatened party could well be entitled to damages — and certainly so if the case is frivolous.

A preemptive lawsuit would no doubt provoke a counterclaim from anyone who thinks he or she had asserted a nonfrivolous claim in the initial threat letter. But it has more kick than a lawsuit for declaratory relief, which would simply result in a statement from the court that the contested speech is not actionable, and the prospect of compensatory damages and attorney's fees adjusts the underlying economics of the confrontation in the threatened party's favor. At the very least, the MCRA offers a colorable predicate for a "threat letter-in-reply."

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, I don't see any reason why an attorney who overstated his or her client's position in a demand letter could not be personally named as a defendant in an MCRA case.

I'd be curious to know to what extent other jurisdictions carry laws similar to the MCRA.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Romney Can't Have It Both Ways

Christopher Hitchens deploys his snappy prose to explain why the public is entitled to inquire into his religious beliefs.

Now I enjoy reading Hitchens, particularly when I'm on board with his thinking. It's like watching a lion maul an antelope: if you can convince yourself the antelope had it coming, the mauling can be a thing of beauty. And Mitt Romney is a had-it-coming antelope in the worst way.

Hitchens's argumentation isn't always as polished as his prose, though, and here he skips over one crucial point: Romney put this issue in play a long time ago — not by initiating push-poll calls about his Mormonism in Iowa, but by leveraging his religiosity to appeal to Republican "values voters."

Back in June, Romney announced the formation of his campaign's "National Faith and Values Steering Committee." As he explained in the accompanying press release,

"The men and women of our National Steering Committee represent decades spent defending faith, religious expression and traditional values. I believe that our Party and our nation must stand for strong families, traditional marriage and the sanctity of human life. I am proud to be joined by these leaders in our campaign to change Washington."

A Presidential candidate can't make "moral values" a central component of his campaign, then declare that no one is entitled to inquire into the nature of his religious beliefs. Well, he can: but the candidate would have to state clearly and unequivocally that his personal religious beliefs do not inform, influence, or provide the basis of the "moral values" he hopes to advance as President. Romney certainly has not partitioned off his personal faith in that fashion. In fact, quite the opposite.

Three years ago, John Kerry "put in play" his military service. He "reported for duty" at the Democratic National Convention, and he stated that his tours in Vietnam uniquely qualified him for the position of Commander-in-Chief. Kerry could complain that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth made misrepresentations or outright lied about his military service, but he certainly could not — and to my knowledge he did not — turn on a dime and say his tour in Vietnam was off-limits in the campaign.

Likewise, if a candidate — as candidates do — makes a big show of parading his picture-perfect family in TV spots or on stage after debates, then it would not be a breach of privacy for a news outlet to report on skeletons in the family closet.

If politicians want to use their personal religious faith to appeal to voters, they should be prepared to give full and complete answers to the public about what they believe. If a candidate promises voters that he will govern in accordance with his religious convictions, we ought to know what those convictions are. If he does not, I'm not interested. But you can't have it both ways.

Hitchens didn't make this point, and I wish he had. His thesis seems more striaghtforward: the public should know if a leading Presidential candidate is a whack-job. And I suppose it is more of a kick for Hitchens to explore all the way-out tenets and prophecies of Mormonism. Missouri, indeed . . .

Reason # 119 Why I Feel Alienated from the Rest of America

Is it me or has ABC deployed every one of its other television shows to promote "Dancing with the Stars?" Since when do developments in reality TV qualify as "news?" I know Fox is in this habit, too: it devotes ten minutes in its late local affiliate news to recap "American Idol." But Fox is Fox, right?

It's bad enough that stories of celebrities' rehab stints/bail proceedings are crowding out world-important events (say, the political crisis in Pakistan) in the public consciousness. At least Hollywood scandals aren't manufactured by the very networks that promote them.

Newsflash, people: whether or not Marie Osmond delivered an effective cha-cha two nights ago is not, er, "Newsflash" material.

And finally, do you suppose Diane Sawyer ever looks at herself and wonders how her career in journalism went from possible Deep Throat candidate to Kathie Lee Gifford wanna-be?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Some Further Thoughts Re The Arcade Fire, and of the Importance of Irony in Rock Music

The recommendation I made below was sincere. The Arcade Fire is one of the best live acts I've seen in a while. But as much as I admire them, when the subject of this band comes up, I always feel as though I'm the least admiring fan in the room. Critics call them the second coming of U2 and Springsteen, their roster of celebrity supporters (the Edge, David Bowie) is impressive and apparently growing by the day. And as I say, wherever I go I feel like a bit of a heretic among The Converted.

I've wondered why this is, and I suppose it's because I'm a sort of heretic by nature. Naturally suspicious: "You say this is the best grilled cheese sandwich you've ever had. Why? Do you remember them all? When you can't account for all your sandwiches — and you certainly can't compare them under controlled conditions — would you stake your honor on so dubious a proposition?" And so on.

I'm pretty sure it was exactly this sort of heretical (maybe agnostic is a beter word) aspect of my character that drew me to rock music to begin with. There are so many repositories of sanctimony and earnest in the world. We create institutions of all kinds — nations, churches, ideologies, even sports teams — and we invest so much idealism in them. These institutions carry imperfections. They have to: they're the work of imperfect people. And when they inevitably rot, when they become corrupted and disappoint, we're torn to pieces. We get bitter.

Rock music, to me, lives outside that paradigm. Or it ought to. Because rock, more than any institution or art form (and let's call it what it is: an institutionalized art form), is founded on irony. Not so long ago Sasha Frere-Jones wrote a piece for The New Yorker in which he himself grappled with The Arcade Fire Problem. Frere-Jones concluded that The Arcade Fire is simply too white: his thesis is that the band has no soul because, well, it has no soul. Maybe he's getting at the same point I am, but I'd like to come at it from a different angle. Yes yes yes, the band is half-Texan and half-French Canadian. There's a lot of light reflecting on that stage, and not a lot of funk in their music. Maybe "blackness" or some derivative form of it is an important active ingredient of rock 'n' roll: I'll leave that to Sasha to hash out. My focus is on another such ingredient: irony. Irony makes rock not serious, and therefore worth taking seriously. Irony is the privilege of the young. It's a mark of sophistication, humility, and good humor. And The Arcade Fire don't have it.

Read this compilation of lyrics from Neon Bible, and tell me (1) if you could actually make it to the end without barfing, and (2) whether or not you did, if you agree with me that The Arcade Fire is comprised of 100% earnestness and 0% irony. This breakdown, if you can call it that (and I intended the double entendre), is just not suitable for a rock band. Let's have our cult leaders, our Dr. Phils, our Bolsheviks 100% earnest. But not our rock bands.

There's a time in life — as I wrote below, when you're around fourteen — when you're looking for conviction and depth of feeling, and the only medium you're in a position to explore is rock music. If you grew up in the 1980s, you found "answers" and "sympathy" in U2 and the Smiths. As you got older, you remember how ridiculous you were. You put those old Smiths albums back on, expecting to cringe in embarrassment, and you're pleasantly surprised because ten years later you're glandularly capable of identifying and appreciating Morrissey's irony. He meant every word of it, but he didn't mean any of it. As a result, the Smiths were geniuses.

U2 less so. The first half-dozen or so U2 albums, from Boy through Rattle & Hum, are so god-awful earnest that you have to be in a nostalgic mood to tolerate them. I'm not saying The Joshua Tree isn't a terrific album, or that "Sunday Bloody Sunday," performed live with the white flag at Red Rocks, wasn't brilliantly conceived and executed. But you just can't help looking at Bono (or yourself, as you sing along — "NO MORE! WIPE YOUR TEARS AWAY!") and seeing a complete naïf. To their credit, U2 recognized this and tried to correct it. They spent the 1990s recording "ironic" albums like Pop and Zooropa, and Bono began prancing around in gold lamé, with devil horns on his head. This was not brilliantly conceived and executed. As a result, U2, in my estimation, are not geniuses. You can't decide, mid-career, to add irony. You have to mix it in with some subtlety.

R.E.M. is an interesting example, because R.E.M., of course, cheated. R.E.M. recorded Top 40 pop songs with irony self-consciously written into the package — they even called one of the songs "Pop Song." So the record goes gold, and half the buyers like R.E.M. because it's catchy and upbeat, and the other half applaud R.E.M. for the great moment of satire. "Shiny Happy People" is the "My Name Is Earl" of pop music. R.E.M.'s doctrine was that they were earnest about being ironic. It was enough to tie you up into knots.

John Lennon, of course, was irony incarnate — the Primal Source From Which All Rock Irony Flowed Thereafter (although some will point to Elvis almost a decade earlier: note the smirk on his face as he did his signature hip-swiveling during "All Shook Up"). Lennon's mother lode of irony made him the perfect counterweight to McCartney's jaunty tunesmith character. Beatles? Genius. Punk rock was genrified irony. The bands of that era had the irony written into their DNA; they only had to conceive and execute, and those that did became signature rock 'n' roll acts. Compare the rock "street cred" of acts like the Pistols, the Clash, and the Damned to Yes, Genesis, and Rush: it's irony that made the difference.

I could go on at length, but I need to get back to The Arcade Fire. At some point, one or more of the hundred people in this band need to show me something — something that says they don't really mean to be taken as seriously as they are. It could be something as easy as a well-timed wink from Win or Regine. Or the drummer could get hammered and crash his car into a swimming pool. Or in an interview one of them could go off-message and declare that it's just a frickin' riot being a famous rock star. I just need something that will register the slightest bit on my irony-ometer. My worry is that so long as they have every fan, every critic, every rock band peer fawning over them like fourteen-year-olds, it's not going to happen.

And that's how I feel about The Arcade Fire.

The Arcade Fire on Austin City Limits

This is a terrific 60 minutes of television.

I saw The Arcade Fire at the Orpheum earlier this year, and they were extraordinary. I had bought both albums, found them both a bit overwrought — i.e., I felt like I was unable to "feel things" as deeply as Win Butler does, because I'm not fourteen years old (and neither is he, which is what made me uncomfortable).

That said, I enjoy the songs, particularly "Haiti," "Neighborhood 2," and "Rebellion" on Funeral, and "Intervention" on the new album, Neon Bible. Once I saw them perform live, I added them to my list of Bands Not To Miss When in Town. It's a real spectacle, and they actually put forth an effort. There are about a hundred band members, and several of them jump from one instrument from another. They produce crash cymbals — crash cymbals! why hadn't anyone in rock thought to deploy them before? — and carry drums out into the crowd.

If you've got a DVR, look for a replay of the Austin City Limits performance. Something to see. Note as well: the sample track they're showing on PBS, "Keep the Car Running," doesn't do them full justice.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

More Judge-Bashing from Romney

From today's Boston Globe:

"Twenty months after he put a career prosecutor on the Massachusetts Superior Court bench, confident in her law-and-order credentials, Mitt Romney called yesterday for the judge to resign because she released without bail a convicted killer who went on to allegedly kill again."

It's conventional wisdom by now that when a judge grants a convict/defendant parole/pretrial release, and then the convict/defendant goes out and does something [else] awful, it's the judge's fault. This is Chapter One in the Tabloid Journalist's Handbook. In this case, the murderess-by-proxy is the Honorable Kathe Tuttman, a former prosecutor nominated to the Superior Court bench by (gasp!) Republican Presidential candidate and Perfect Head of Hair Mitt Romney. Cue the feeding frenzy: Willie Horton, anyone?

Naturally, Romney has called for Judge Tuttman to resign her post. Of course, he's not Governor or Massachusetts anymore (he was barely the Governor back when he nominated her). So he doesn't exactly have the authority to sack anyone in the judiciary: no, wait — as a Chief Executive in a constitutional system with checks and balances, he never did have that authority. But that's never stopped Our Mitt from ranting to excess about judicial decisions he doesn't like, as is his right, and apparently his compulsion.

But why should Romney suddenly take such a keen, take-the-judge-down interest in a murder case in Massachusetts, where he hasn't had very much of a presence since, oh, some two years into his term as Governor there? The answer is straightforward: Judge Tuttman's career should be over because the consequences of her decision reflect poorly on Mitt Romney's law-and-order credentials. She's a political liability. And that's really what these murders are all about: not Brian and Beverly Mauck (the victims, in case you were wondering), but Mitt Romney.

Judge Tuttman, don't your remember your oath? You swore to uphold the constitution and laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, along with the Presidential candidacy of Willard Mitt Romney. On that latter score, you failed. Now pack up your gavel and robe and go home, so we can get on with the business of "doubling Guantanamo."

UPDATE — Nov. 25, 9:01 a.m.: This morning Romney also called for the deceased couple to come back to life, "pronto." "I can't see why they haven't done it yet," he told reporters at the Boston Herald. "It will be better for them and better for me."