Saturday, July 30, 2005

Dilemma in the big tent

Bill Frist made some political waves this week by endorsing federal funding for more expansive stem-cell research.

This must be a dilemma for any Republican politician on the national stage. Certainly, there are a lot of culture-of-life types who oppose this research, and they are influential in Frist's party. But I think back to my experience canvassing in Austin last fall. Occasionally I would speak to Republicans who planned to vote for Kerry. More often than not, Bush's stem cell policy was their reason.

Apparently, Frist is coming back around to his pre-2001 position (in 2001, Bush offered a compromise supporting research to support only using existing "lines" of stem cells). So, if all else fails, maybe Frist can say, à la Kerry, that he opposed stem cell research before he supported it.

Monday, July 25, 2005

A flow to things

In Sally Potter's Yes:

– The dialogue is in rhyming iambic pentameter;
– The characters are never named;
– There is a "one-woman comic Greek chorus";
– Dialogue comes interspersed with inner monologue and soliloquy;
– The longest speech is that of a dead woman.

So don't expect "realism." But the film is a treat! The verse shouldn't scare you off — it is neither particularly difficult nor excessively distracting. By foregrounding the formalism inherent to storytelling, the verse contributes to a film whose sum is far greater than its parts. The cast, too, is excellent, with strong performances by Joan Allen and Simon Abkarian (in his English-language debut), who play lovers caught up in the cultural conflicts between East and West.

Unfortunately, the conclusion of Yes is marred by an unconvincing and politically convenient solution to the characters' dilemmas that comes even as language, the staff of this film's life, recedes. Perhaps Potter lacked the stomach for a difficult ending, but the conclusion does suggest a certain despair over the power of language, otherwise celebrated in this film. Just how seriously can we take the final idea, that " 'no' does not exist. There's only 'yes' "?

Despite its flaws, Yes is a grand and mainly successful experiment. I hope that more filmmakers will follow Potter in daring to tell new stories through older forms. (And perhaps more poets should try it, too.)

Sunday, July 24, 2005


Eighty-two hours, thirty-four minutes, five seconds.
Armstrong paid tribute to his closest rivals and his team.

"I couldn't have done this without the team behind me - I owe them everything," said the American.

"Ullrich is a special rival and a special person and Basso is almost too good of a friend to race - he may be the future of the Tour."


"This is a hard Tour and hard work wins it. Vive Le Tour."
An exceptional athlete of exceptional graciousness.

Learning from angry men

The 1957 film 12 Angry Men is said to be one of the great liberal movies of all time. In this jury-room drama, Henry Fonda (Juror #8), a high-minded, liberal architect, persuades eleven peers to acquit a young man on trial for murder. Juror #8's triumph is an idealized version of the liberal American creed in action. The film's enduring appeal comes from its fascinating portrayal of the dynamics of a small and "angry" group. (In that sense, its appeal is similar to that of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)

Because we live in a time when liberals are in the minority, I'm interested in how Juror #8 persuades his peers. His approach offers today's liberals a useful lesson. Fonda's early speeches emphasize the mitigating factors of the defendant's troubled childhood and inadequate legal defense (an apparently liberal stance), but he only becomes persuasive when he casts doubt upon the prosecution's witnesses. This should not surprise us — not only would jurors not change their worldview in a couple of hours, they should be expected to vote based on the facts of the case regardless of their sentiment.

This observation can be applied to a recent political debate, the choice to invade Iraq. Following the example of Juror #8, opponents of the war failed to gain much support — although they did gain attention — by attacking the motivations of the Washington political class or the military-industrial complex. Their more persuasive arguments directly rebutted arguments for the war and offered compelling interpretations of its likely costs and benefits.

The disagreement in 12 Angry Men is over guilt and innocence; debates in political life are about virtue, feasibility and tradeoffs. In both cases, however, successful arguments are likely to be those that are narrowly drawn and closely linked to evidence. Our politics may inform our viewpoint, but it is not fellow liberals whom we need to persuade. We are more likely to convince others to accept our well-founded views on individual issues than to buy into our entire outlook at once. Understanding this should, furthermore, force liberals to recommit themselves to themselves to "reality-based" politics.

Of course, when folks find themselves repeatedly agreeing with liberals, however, they will tend to become liberals themselves over the long haul. In recent decades, the conservative movement has certainly converted millions of Americans in this gradual manner. A savvy liberalism that is both rehabilitated and persuasive will begin to reverse this process.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

What makes America great

At the Borders in Mt. Laurel, you can buy a Book of Mormon for $24.95.

Next thing you know, they'll be selling water in bottles.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Moorestown: Best town in the U.S.

So says Money magazine. This is a good excuse for me to add some more of my pictures from last month. Moorestown really is a fine place with a honest sense of civic pride. It has also managed to maintain an identity despite the rapid and homogenizing suburbanization of Burlington County.

Thanks, Judy, for the tip.

What a lot of photos I've posted! I didn't expect that when I started blogging. More "serious" Less photogenic posts to follow (I think).

UPDATE: The reaction from Maine!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

There's many a river that waters the land

Brazos Street by colorcritical.
Used with permission.
Here in Philadelphia, the streets are named after American trees, in order from hard (walnut) to soft (pine), north to south. In Austin, which I've been missing a bit lately, the names are from Texas rivers. There's an old song about those rivers that I heard recently, returning me to my time there.
Verse 1:
We cross the wild Pecos,
We forded the Nueces,
We swum the Guadalupe,
And we followed the Brazos;
Red River runs rusty,
The Wichita clear,
But down by the Brazos
I courted my dear.
The full lyrics. (I'm not aware of Little, Sabine or Sulphur streets. The rest can be found in Austin.)

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Ich hab noch einen Koffer in Berlin.

Today's object of desire: Ampelmann merch. Here he is in action:

Originally uploaded by Luke Robinson.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

In Solidarity

London 7.7.05

Originally uploaded by pevee.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Is the flag Republican?

Lawprof Althouse and other discuss the (assumed) politics of displaying the flag.

One of the first things I learned while canvassing for Kerry last fall was that I could usually tell, just by looking at a house, whether the occupants of a house were Republicans or Democrats. The most reliable sign of a Dem house was creative gardening, especially if it was somewhat overgrown. The most reliable sign of a Repub house was an American flag in the yard.

Sure, the flag belongs to everyone. But the right wing has claimed the flag as a symbol just as liberals have shied away from it. This is the wrong idea and liberals (and leftists) should resist it. In other words, we should place our beliefs and values within the American tradition, rather than allowing the folks with different ideas to claim that tradition for themselves alone.

This was on my mind when I took the Moorestown flag pictures. I bet these folks on Second Street are Democrats, and they have the right idea.

Happy Independence Day, everyone.