The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Thursday, February 26, 2004


I'll be off on official TFM business until sunday night, after the Oscars. There may or may not be some yummy guest-posts between now and then though, so don't be afraid to check back here!
Check out former TFM roomate Josh Braun in the Discovery Channel's "Billy the Kid Unmasked".

Josh plays a Union soldier. If you see a thin guy with very red hair and dressed in blue, that must be him.

It airs at the following times:
Tues., March 2 , 2004 9:00 PM & 12:00 AM
Sun., March 7 , 2004 6:00 PM
Thurs., March 18 , 2004 8:00 PM & 11:00 PM
Lovely. From a college Republican candidate-rally in Utah:
During a Feb. 5 meet-the-candidate night for the newly formed College Republicans U. chapter -- not to be confused with the older and more established College Republicans -- representatives for several candidates revved up the jovial crowd with such statements as "We need to put an end to the liberal Matheson era" and support "the Democrat killers."

As the audience giggled off and on, Mike Clement, representing congressional candidate Tim Bridgewater, spoke excitedly about Republican successes when College Republicans work hard, citing the victory of Norm Coleman in the 2002 U.S. Senate race in Minnesota.

As Clement bantered with the audience, one Republican gadfly noted that they defeated former Vice President Walter Mondale in that race, adding: "We had to kill off Wellstone to get it." He was referring to the death in a plane crash of Sen. Paul Wellstone and his family before the election.

An audio tape captures laughter. But both Clement and Danielle Fowles, acting chairwoman of the club, said they did not hear that comment and believe the laughter was just a continuation of the ongoing banter.
What a great sense of humor. Let me dust off some of those Reagan Alzheimer's zingers I've been holding back...

TFM reviews The Passion of the Christ

I had a big block of time in the middle of the day, and I used it to see Mel Gibson's vanity project The Passion of the Christ, center of all sorts of controversy in the last several months. And here's my review:

Short version: It's Kill Bill without the character development.

Short version #2: It's Christian S&M.

Slightly longer version: From the start of the 2nd hour, it's non-stop hot Jesus abuse action. And there's plenty in the first hour as well.

There are points in the movie where our hero (James "Jim" Caviezel) has taken so many lashes to all corners of his body that he is 90% blood and guts (and in a Hollywood first, visible ribs! thanks, guys!), and only 10% skin. You watch the carnage, and you have two thoughts, in order. Your first thought is, "why wont the Romans stop?" Then you recover your senses and arrive at the second thought, "why wont Mel stop?"

The Passion is a graphic, gory, violent movie, and not only that, it is consistently so, from start to finish. Given that it is a movie about a biblical character who, you know, said a lot of stuff, it is disappointing that whatever message Jesus has is drowned out by all the relentless torture and gore. When the crucifixion scene is suddenly interrupted by a flashback to a brief snippet from the Sermon on the Mount, the effect barely registers, because of how overwhelmed the audience is by the violence at that point.

Just yesterday I watched another movie known for its extensive violence, Oliver Stone's mid-90's flick Natural Born Killers. In that film there was plenty of violence, but the reasons for it were clear, and undeniably understood by the audience as playing into the larger themes of the movie. In The Passion, one gets the sense that Mel Gibson sat in a room with his staff and tried to figure out all kinds of cool, gross ways to whip, break, rip, and physically destroy a human being. It borders on sheer S&M. ("Hey guys, what if the whip gets stuck in his skin, and they have to rip it out hard, and there's a loud juicy rrrip! sound!" "Cool!")

The Passion proceeds with the assumption that its audience has a pretty good prior knowledge of the events described in the Gospels, and thus, it will not be particularly useful as a mass conversion tool. Besides, "that poor man sure went through a lot" wont win that many converts anyway.

But surely I enjoyed portions of it, right? Well yeah actually:

--The sequence involving Judas' death is very well done.

--The cinematography is outstanding, and the music, while a little much at times, is solid.

--I enjoyed Satan, even though the slow-motion walk-through-the-crowd thing he did during the whipping precisely mimics the walking done by William Wallace's dead wife in that other Gibson-directed movie.

--The single best scene in the movie is the cute flashback to a non-bloody and rather buff Jesus, doing his carpentry and flirting with his mother.

--Oh, and Monica Belucci is still very, very hot.

Other tidbits:

--Mother Mary. Damnit. She reminded me waaay too much of the mother in Monty Python's The Life of Brian. (I know, that's like saying Frodo reminds me of Link from "The Legend of Zelda", but hey)

--Among the previews before the movie was a film that starred none other than Willem DaFoe, and if you know why that's funny, then good for you!

But what of all that anti-semitism talk we've been hearing about?:

--My personal perspective is that the charges of anti-semitism are overblown. Maybe I don't have extensive enough knowledge of the details of the Gospels to be upset by anything I saw in the movie, but my sense is this: Jesus was a Jew who proposed a lot of new shit, and all the other Jews, who were down wit da old-school shit, got upset and wanted him out for primarily political reasons, and were the most vocal about it. He was a Jew in a Jewish society, so the people around him who wanted him dead had to be Jews, but conveying that in a movie isn't equivalent to being anti-semitic, not by a longshot.

I consider myself to be post-religious (like John Lennon circa 1966), and even if I were Jewish by birth (and I almost am, since my dad is Jewish), I wouldn't be upset by how someone depicted the way my people acted thousands of years ago. So maybe I'm not the best barometer for the tolerance level Gibson offers in The Passion, but it's my opinion nonetheless.

All that being said, the final word on The Passion will be on its unprecedented violence. It will work for some people (Christians, particularly hard-ass Catholics), but it will be nihilistic and sadistic to others. The movie is Christian porno, and since I'm not generally predisposed to Christian porno, I didn't get a divine woody.

But for now, let's all sit back, relax, and wait for the even gorier video game.

A story from Reuters announces that oral sex causes cancer of the mouth!

Before Bush gets all righteous and blames Clinton for this, we should remember a couple of things:
1) Heavy drinking causes more mouth cancer (that, couple with cigarettes, accounts for 75-90% of cases of mouth cancer), and which sitting president used to do that?
2) You need to go down on someone with HPV first. HPV is, for those of you who didn't have a good non-abstinence-only sex education, the virus that can cause cervical cancer. The study shows that HPV can be transmitted orally, leading to possible cancer of the mouth. So if you're clean, keep at it!

(link via Jesse)

UPDATE: Jack has more over at TigerHawk.
According to Drudge, Rush Limbaugh said this in reaction to ClearChannel's decision to yank Howard Stern:
(excuse the caps, they're eggman's)

Uh, Matt, were you not paying attention during that whole JANET JACKSON BOOB THING? You can't show breasts on the radio, can you?

Of course, it is from there that Rush decides, in Talking Headsian fashion, to stop making sense:

Those damn anti-free-speech liberals at . . . Clear Channel . . . and Michael Powell's FCC.

Not to mention all the help those liberal bastards from the American Civil Liberties Union are giving Rush in his pill-popping case.

According to TFM reader Josh, this outstanding cartoon was once to be found on the Dean website, though neither of us can verify that.

Anyway check it out, it's good animal-liberation-with-a-vengence fun!

While somewhat spiritual, and interested in the faiths of all people worldwide and how they explain the world in which we live, I am by no means religious, and certainly not Christian.

But I love Lent!

What a great concept: Jesus makes the ultimate sacrifice (well, according to four pseudonymous men from the 2nd and 3rd centuries C.E.), and the way good Christians show their recognition is by giving up, say, chocolate candy. Man, he truly is the king of kings. (note: I just noticed that I made the exact same joke last year)

But nevertheless, it's a fun idea. Last year I observed Lent by giving up "centrist male movie stars of the action/drama variety". I went 40 painful, agonizing days without the likes of Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis, Robert De Niro, and so on.

This year, because I can't think of anything else, I'm going to be a blog nerd: For 40 days, including yesterday, I will read neither Instapundit nor Kausfiles.

Laurie wants to help me give up caffeine, but I'm knee-deep in winter quarter, so that's a project that will have to wait at least a little while, and besides, it may necessitate more than six weeks.

I should have kicked the insta-habit when Glenn called anti-war protesters "objectively pro-Saddam".

I should have kicked the insta-habit when he called the CIA agent leak scandal "bogus" because Valerie Plame posed for a photograph long after she was outed, an action completely irrelevant to the case, which involves two Senior Administration officials leaking the name of a CIA operative to Robert Novak. Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame could shoot a threesome video with Paris Hilton and it wouldn't matter.

And I definitely should have kicked the insta-habit when, after linking to a story saying that a stash of chemical weapons dating back to the 1940's was found in western China, he said this proves that "weapons can stay hidden for a long, long time". Nevermind, of course, that nobody was looking for weapons in China, and they were found there by accident.

So that's it, no more Instapundit for 40 days, possibly more after that. As for you, you're free to go read the whole thing if you want to.

And as a bonus Lent special, I'm throwing in Kausfiles, which is a glorified high-school gossip diary masquerading as political analysis. As TBogg points out, it seems that Mickey Kaus has something of a crush on that John Kerry guy.

(I was going to add The Corner, the National Review's group blog in case you don't know, but I don't really read it much anyway. And I kicked my Luskin habit a long time ago, thankfully.)

If I want to read conservative blogs, I'll check out the half-dozen blogs linked on the left (ha) side of the screen, plus I'll swing by Oxblog, Daniel Drezner, and a couple others. And yes, I'll still go to Drudge from time to time, because it's too much fun.

Have a happy, liberating Lent, everybody!

Wednesday, February 25, 2004


The Teresa Heinz-Kerry event at UCSB was cancelled, presumably due to the big rainstorm we're currently enduring.

Okay, the Kerrys split time in Massachusetts, where I'm sure they've braved at least one or two Noreasters. But they can't handle one measely California rainstorm? Obviously, this means Kerry got botox while fingering an intern and an AP reporter at the same time. But you can go ahead and make your own conclusion on the matter.

Asks about a fictional amendment that nobody proposed

The LA Times just did some polling on the issue, and produced these results:

There's a problem with these polls. A big one, actually. In the first question, 47% of those asked would favor "an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning same-sex marriages".

In the second question, a whopping 70% of those asked said that same-sex couples should be allowed to either "marry" or "form civil unions".

Here's the problem with this poll: The LA Times is asking about a fictional, bullshit amendment that, simply enough, doesn't exist and has never been proposed, not by George W Bush, not by Mrs Musgrave of Colorado, or by anyone else.

The amendment that IS being proposed bans both same-sex marriage AND civil unions. Read the text of the proposed amendment:
Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups. (emphasis mine)
This means that state civil-union legislation, such as the bill Howard Dean signed in Vermont, might not be enforceable based on this language. Jack Balkin has more.

What the LA Times is doing, amazingly, is promoting an outright falsehood that will stay in people's minds. And it's not like the Bush administration is going to do anything to clear up this issue. They thrive on political ambiguity. You know all those polls that showed 50% of Americans still believe that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks? And how incredibly reluctant they were to even whisper that Saddam had no solid links to Al Qaeda? (even after admitting as much, Cheney continued to spout such nonsense) This is exactly the sort of ambiguity that they're too advantageous to clear up for the greater good.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Via Atrios, we see that Bush has a bit of a waffling problem of his own, and on his issue du jour (gay marriage), no less.
KING: So if a state were voting on gay marriage, you would suggest to that state not to approve it?

BUSH: The state can do what they want to do. Don't try to trap me in this state's issue like you're trying to get me into.

KING: You just did. You have an opinion.
That damn waffler George W Bush. Is there a position he wont change on a political whim?
Apparently, possibly, whatever, Ralph Nader had a plan on how to help Howard Dean on the electability issue back when Dean was leading the pack: Choose Nader as his running mate.

Not that it really matters now, I suppose. Nevertheless, if this were true, I could think of some traits others have assigned to Nader that would make this event make sense...

(sorry if this gets diary-ish)

Tomorrow, Teresa Heinz Kerry -- the next First Lady of the United States? -- will be appearing in Corwin Pavilion on the UCSB Campus (for those in the know, it's on the east side of the UCen) at 7 PM, to accept the endorsement of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell. The event is open to everybody, so be there! I'll be doing some volunteering in the afternoon for an hour or so before it starts.

Today is one week before Super Tuesday, when voters in, uh, a boatload of states go and vote for their favorite candidate. There are local candidates on the ballot as well, of course: In the 3rd District of Santa Barbara County, John Buttny is running for supervisor. I will be volunteering in the wee hours of the morning, 6-8 AM, working to notify the Isla Vista community of the election day via doorknob hangings and so on. Apparently us volunteers will be originally convening at the Del Playa Drive residence of professor and author Mark Jurgensmeyer, whose book Terror in the Mind of God I read last summer for Professor Zook's PoliSci 140 class at Berkeley ("War, Violence and Terrorism"), which was also attended by a certain California Patriot co-founder who flunked out of school. Ahh, the circle of life.

Also, I met fellow UCSB blogger Nico Pitney of Not Geniuses and various other internet locales (, Generation Dean, Daily Kos diaries, etc). Nico will be leading the development of UCSB Campus Democrats' first recurring newsletter publication, on which I may soon be contributing as well. Hmm, nothing could better help my sister blog than leading by example. (:

Lastly, we were treated by one Campus Dem member to a revival of Don Rumsfeld's poetry, namely this gem from a 2002 DoD briefing (note: this is absolutely real):
The Unknown

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.
This reminded me of that famous Dubya quote from January of 2000, during the last campaign:
"When I was coming up, it was a dangerous world, and we knew exactly who the "they" were. 'It was us versus them. And it was clear who "them" was.... Today, we're not so sure who the "they"are,' he continued, pausing as giggles began emanating from the crowd. 'But we know they're there.'"
I think Andrew Sullivan, speaking on Bush's now-official support for a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, just won himself a Krugman Award.
The president launched a war today against the civil rights of gay citizens and their families. And just as importantly, he launched a war to defile the most sacred document in the land. Rather than allow the contentious and difficult issue of equal marriage rights to be fought over in the states, rather than let politics and the law take their course, rather than keep the Constitution out of the culture wars, this president wants to drag the very founding document into his re-election campaign. He is proposing to remove civil rights from one group of American citizens - and do so in the Constitution itself. The message could not be plainer: these citizens do not fully belong in America. Their relationships must be stigmatized in the very Constitution itself. The document that should be uniting the country will now be used to divide it, to single out a group of people for discrimination itself, and to do so for narrow electoral purposes. Not since the horrifying legacy of Constitutional racial discrimination in this country has such a goal been even thought of, let alone pursued. Those of us who supported this president in 2000, who have backed him whole-heartedly during the war, who have endured scorn from our peers as a result, who trusted that this president was indeed a uniter rather than a divider, now know the truth.
Go read the rest, there's plenty more where that came from.
George W Bush: Conservative extremist.

Tom DeLay: Pragmatic moderate.
Got that Passion-fever? Haha, me neither.

The reviews are in -- at least, some of them -- and the results are mixed. Some people really like it, while some others really don't. The common denominator among both the positive and the negative reviews is the protracted, graphic violence of the movie. Ebert writes:
...the film is the most violent I have ever seen. It will probably be the most violent you have ever seen. This is not a criticism but an observation; the film is unsuitable for younger viewers, but works powerfully for those who can endure it. The MPAA's R rating is definitive proof that the organization either will never give the NC-17 rating for violence alone, or was intimidated by the subject matter. If it had been anyone other than Jesus up on that cross, I have a feeling that NC-17 would have been automatic.
I'm probably going to go check it out on thursday, depending on my schedule, and I'll post my thoughts here.

But from what I've seen in the previews: I swear that Gibson's shot of the descencing hammer upon the cross looks exactly like the axe from Braveheart. Good to see Mel staying fresh.

UPDATE: Drudge whines that the New York Times slams the movie, pointing instead to a New York Post story about how some fans love it. Of course, Drudge doesn't mention that the actual review from the NY Post is rather negative:
Indeed, it is overwrought, sadistic way beyond the point of overkill, and oddly, spiritually dry given its subject. But then, unlike the great Passions of the past, it is a product of a distinctly perverted sensibility.


Eventually, "Passion" becomes a kind of pornographic catalog of Christ's suffering. And like pornography, it's initially powerful but eventually becomes numbing.


What distinguishes the film from the long tradition of gruesome martyrology in religious art is its lack of any sense of the meaning or reason for Christ's sacrifice.

The message of Jesus' death is all but drowned in Gibson's morbid enthusiasm for shots of metal tearing flesh, as if Christ was crucified so that Gibson - along with his hard-working make-up and sound people - could indulge his obsession with torture.
But as a historically accurate piece of art?
"Monty Python's Life of Brian" offers a more accurate guide.

Since I did one positive post on Nader, I need to balance it out with 8 or 9 negative ones.

Let's look at Nader's "issues" page, on electoral reform:
Our democracy is in a descending crisis. Voter turnout is among the lowest in the western world. Redistricting ensures very few incumbents are at risk in one-party districts. Barriers to full participation of candidates proliferate making it very obstructive, for most third party and Independent candidates to run. Obstacles, and deliberate manipulations to undermine the right to vote, for which penalties are rarely imposed, are preventing voters from voting. New paperless voting machines are raising questions about whether we can trust that our votes are being counted as they are cast. Finally, money dominates expensive campaigns, mainly waged on television in sound bite format. The cost of campaigns creates a stranglehold making politics a game for only the rich or richly funded. Major electoral reforms are needed to ensure that every vote counts, all voters are represented through electoral reforms like instant run-off voting, none-of-the-above options, and proportional representation, non-major party candidates have a chance to run for office and participate in debates, and that elections are publicly financed.
That's nice, but where are the possibilities of weekend voting, or a federal election holiday? What about all the working-class voters who are disenfranchised from the electoral process because of horrible hours spent working to go from rent check to rent check, and then coming home to unbearably long lines at the precinct?

...Controversial theory: Those voters include signifcant percentages of minority voters, who tend Democratic (Gore received over 90% of the black vote in 2000). In other words, Nader cares about enfranchising voters, but only if they are predisposed to voting for, well, him. Meanwhile, the Democrats stood strongly behind McCain-Feingold, as flawed as it was, because they were standing up for a principle even though it might hurt them electorally by putting them at a significant hard-money disadvantage...

Monday, February 23, 2004


...that I actually really like, is his gay-marriage blurb from MTP:
MR. NADER: I support equal rights for same-sex couples. I think there's an interesting quote by a lesbian leader in The New York Times a few days ago when she said, "It's not a matter of labels, it's a matter of equal rights." However, that can occur by adjusting state laws or having a federal law. That is certainly something that the gay-lesbian community is going to have to work out.

MR. RUSSERT: But gays should be allowed to be married if they so choose, according to you.

MR. NADER: Of course. Love and commitment is not exactly in surplus in this country. The main tragedy, what undermines marriage, is divorce, as Mayor Daley of Chicago just said.
While I'm curious as to why Nader had to be pushed to say that he supports same-sex marriage -- if this were a Kerry or Edwards talking, Nader would accuse him of being "mealy-mouthed" or speaking in "Senate-ese" -- I do like that Nader addressed ths issue (eventually) from a standpoint of "love" and just as importantly, "commitment". This was the angle suggested by Slate's Bill Saletan a few months ago. (Though somewhat annoyingly, Bill did imply some sort of equivalence between the "gruesomeness" of abortion and that of gay sex)

I think that stressing the commitment aspect of the gay marriage is a winning issue, but it's more than what the two frontrunner Dem candidates are doing at this point. Obviously Kerry has made a marriage/civilunion distinction, but let's leave that aside for the moment. Both candidates have emphasized equal rights in the matter, and in terms of the act of forming a union, they talk mostly about a couple's ability to legitimize their relationship, and have it officially recognized, either economically or otherwise. However, they've talked relatively little about commitment by comparison (They probably have done so to some extent, but not nearly enough).

At this point, the Dems have done a pretty good job of supporting equal rights for same-sex couples as a civil rights issue, a la the 1960's movement, but they have yet to stress the social/family values aspect of the issue, which is where it could potentially be a real winner. By stressing the positive relationship element of the debate, it may be possible to undercut both the Santorumian slippery-slope arguments and the Schwarzeneggerian soon-there'll-be-riots-and-drugs tactic. Combined with the relevant "live and let live" sentiment (one not shared by the Falwell/Bauer types on the other end of the ideological spectrum), independent swing voters might be ultimately turned off by the extreme measures advocated by the Bush administration and other social conservatives to stand between gays and their right to legitimize their commitment to their significant others should they choose to do so.

Bringing it all back to Nader: Policy-wise, I enjoy a Nader interview because I'll agree with around 97% of what he says, despite the fact that how he goes about getting it amounts to liberal suicide. I do want to hear the C-word, "commitment", from more candidates more often, particularly those candidates who share a first name with Mr Big.

(though in general, because Nader is a shift-the-debate candidate and not an actually-trying-to-win candidate, he is freer to say whatever he wants by virtue of that fact alone)
Bush's campaign chairman lied about Bush and the National guard this morning on NPR, and though host Juan Williams did nothing about it, Josh Marshall is all over it, and follows his pursuit of the issue with the apt comparison between the words of Bush and his chairman. Again, this is an issue because they continue to insist on lying about it.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Haloscan now has a trackback feature, which you can see at the end of this post. For those not down with internet comments and trackback features, it simply means that if you link to a post of mine on your blog, a link to your site will show up here. That is all.
"Liberal intelligensia"? Gosh, Ralph sure sounds like David Brooks.

Frankly, as an anybody-but-Bush guy, I'm not particularly worried about a Ralph Nader candidacy.

However, I do wish the Dems would make less of a deal out of this, let alone a big deal. CNN and others are itching to get "we're worried" soundbytes from Terry Mac and the candidates about Ralph's decision. Kerry and Edwards shrewdly downplayed it ("he can do what he wants, but i'm going to appeal to all voters yada yada"), but Terry served up some painful snippets today and yesterday.

Ralph's MTP appearance clearly indicates that he has no idea that Dennis Kucinich exists. But anyhoo...

I've said everything I mean to say about Ralph before, so I'll leave it at that.