Thursday, December 29, 2005

Congress at work?

Bob Novak ponders the dysfunctional Congress.

And these blowhards are making money from my tax dollars.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Chicago Tribune evaluates why the US went to war

The one story to read today above all others is probably this one: The results of the Chicago Tribune's "inquest" into the Bush Administrations justifications for going to war in Iraq and what we know today. The analysis is missing a few things that The Monk thinks weigh in favor of the attack (those transports to Syria, for instance; read our coverage of the Duelfer report and the testimony of Charles Duelfer, head of the CIA's Iraq Survey Group here, here and here and in early October 2004 (see the archives)).

Nonetheless, for a major US broadsheet to undertake this kind of analysis in an even-handed manner is a large step up from what the NY Times and even Washington Post have produced.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Under-reported sports stories of 2005?

Scoop Jackson of's Page 2 makes some interesting observations about the under-reported sports and sports-related stories of 2005. He lists a top 10, but the ones that stood out for me were these:

(1) Stephen A. Smith's Quite Frankly show debut meant that a black sports reporter would be fronting a sports talk show that is about HIS take on sports, on his own, on a major cable or TV network; Jackson notes that unlike Bryant Gumbel (establishment), Michael Wilbon (co-host) and other black hosts have had to meet the expectations of someone else, thus: "The fact that Stephen A. was given the format to do him -- to be himself, unscripted, unapologetic, unleashed -- was historical in the landscape of broadcast television."

(2) The missing White Sox SI cover. The White Sox have to be the lowest profile, lowest Q-rated sports franchise in a major United States city. I don't subscribe to SI anymore (and haven't for years) but this is a real low for the magazine. SI's stated justification for not putting the Palehose on a cover was that their World Series sweep of the Astros finished on a Wednesday, and SI is printed for distribution on Thursday/Friday. Big deal. In 1998, 1999, 2004, the World Series champ swept the loser, and each of those Series ended on a Wednesday too (The Monk should know about 1999, he was at the Stadium with Wongdoer when the Pinstripers thwacked the Braves), and the Yankees, Yankees and RedSax each received SI cover billing. In addition, the way Ozzie Guillen molded and manipulated his team through its regular season and its postseason run is worthy of cover billing. Why the omission? One big reason: SI is Chicago-based and its Chicago editors are known throughout the industry as Cub partisans (this does not apply to Verducci). Bad move: the Sox won the WORLD SERIES, the biggest event of October; they should not have been treated like a Stanley Cup winner.

(3) KG/Oprah and the Hurricane. Here's what Kevin Garnett did: he wrote to Oprah and said he would personally donate the cost of construction of one house every month for two years to her Angel Network. In other words, he would pay for 24 houses in the areas that Katrina wiped out. I didn't know about this. I would like to have known because I would have praised KG in these pages. Jackson's take is certainly justified:
A gesture that should have landed him on the cover of Time alongside Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono as Persons of The Year. A gesture that made Oprah -- read it again, Oprah -- break down [in tears].

* * *
In an era when it is too often publicly asked: "Where are our kids' role models?"; in a society that is starved for areas of positiveness to come from our professional athletes; in a world where we have been conditioned to believe that every one of these young superstars is unappreciative, ungrateful, undeserving and a void soul, a situation arose that could have shifted the entire perception of their existence. What Kevin Garnett did was just that big.


Kelo, my hero

Melanie Kirkpatrick profiles one of the most influential people of the year, Suzette Kelo.

Who? She's the plaintiff who sued to keep her home, fought the case all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and has helped start a movement to prevent private interests from kicking people out of their homes through the spurious use of eminent domain.

We covered the Kelo decision to great extent. Check here, here, here, here, and here. And look in our archives in early July and late June 2005 for reactions, links, and more coverage.

Hot Stove League: quiet, significant splash

The Yanks made a big splash by signing Johnny Damon; the RedSawx splashed around by signing Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell but losing Damon and Mueller; the BluJs overpaid for pitching, especially their closer. But the most quietly significant offseason may actually belong to the Texas Rangers.

First: they dump grumpy, undisciplined second-baseman Alfonso Soriano -- a dangerous hitter when he can make contact, but a detriment to the team in the field and if he's slumping (strikeout, strikeout, strikeout -- two words: 2003 playoffs, as Sori set a strikeout record and generally sucked). Although he should have been the hero of the 2001 WS after blasting that bomb off of Schilling in Game 7, The Monk has been down on Sori since 2002, when he pushed so hard to get a 40-40 season that he slumped at the plate and stank up the ALDS against the Angels (especially in the field).

Although they only got Brad Wilkerson and a spare in the Sori trade, the Rangers got financial room to work with -- that ultimately resulted in wooing and landing Kevin Millwood. The Monk has not been high on Millwood since the Yanks raked him in the '98 regular season and the '99 WS. But Millwood proved himself on a tough stage last season: switching from NL to AL (and the Jake is a decent park for hitters) and winning the league's ERA title. Millwood also pitched decently in 2003 with the Phillies (4.01 ERA) in their hitter-friendly ballpark (he sucked in 2004 but had injuries), so that gives the Rangers some confidence that he can pitch in Arlington.

The Rangers also landed Vincente Padilla, a solid starter when healthy, and Adam Eaton. Padilla's upside is better -- he's pitched well in Philly. Eaton could be a problem because he's had average to subpar ERAs while pitching for the Padres in their hitters' nightmare ballyard, in a division that also includes pitchers' parks in LA and SF. But Eaton is a decent power pitcher and with some work from Orel Hershiser (a solid pitching coach), could reach the potential so many baseball people see in him.

On paper, the Rangers have what could be their best 1-2-3 pitchers since Helling-Sele-Stottlemyre in the 1998 ALDS loss to the Yankees. In a none-too-strong AL West, that could put the Rangers in position to make a good attempt at the postseason.

Happy Chanukah

A belated good wish from all of us at TKM.

The BoGlo's best asset, Jeff Jacoby, explains the significance of Chanukah in the article linked above.

A belated Merry Xmas

From all of us at TKM.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Spitzer hate: "I will be coming after you"

We here are not fans of Gover, I mean Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. He's used the AG's office to bully firms into heavy fines using the threat of prosecution and the resulting deluge of lawsuits without really ever having to step into court. See here, here, here and here.

In today's OpinionJournal, former Goldman, Sachs chairman John Whitehead relates some reprehensible behavior from Spitzer after Whitehead wrote a strongly worded editorial against Spitzer.

Last April, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed piece by me titled "Mr. Spitzer Has Gone Too Far." In it I expressed my belief that in America, everyone--including Hank Greenberg--is innocent until proven guilty. "Something has gone seriously awry," I wrote, "when a state attorney general can go on television and charge one of America's best CEOs and most generous philanthropists with fraud before any charges have been brought, before the possible defendant has even had a chance to know what he personally is alleged to have done, and while the investigation is still under way."

Since there have been rumors in the media as to what happened next, I feel I must now set the record straight. After reading my op-ed piece, Mr. Spitzer tried to phone me. I was traveling in Texas but he reached me early in the afternoon. After asking me one or two questions about where I got my facts, he came right to the point. I was so shocked that I wrote it all down right away so I would be sure to remember it exactly as he said it. This is what he said:

"Mr. Whitehead, it's now a war between us and you've fired the first shot. I will be coming after you. You will pay the price. This is only the beginning and you will pay dearly for what you have done. You will wish you had never written that letter."

That is conduct unbecoming an Attorney General. and Governor.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Proper identification of a nutter

Jonah Goldberg tears into Time Magazine for its cotton candy profile of Iranian President Ahmadinejad -- the Holocaust denier who wants Iran to obtain nuclear weapons so it can wipe out Israel. Excerpt:

AMONG THE PROUD recipients of Time magazine's fluffy end-of-year "People Who Mattered" feature is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Here's how it begins: "He is an unlikely firebrand: the soft-spoken son of a blacksmith who still sometimes drives a 30-year-old Peugeot. But Iran's new President doesn't shrink from controversy. After winning a disputed election, he said…. " Now, before I finish that sentence, let's at least note that so far Time is using the same tone it might use to talk about John McCain, Joe Wilson, George Clooney or some other "soft-spoken" "unlikely firebrand" beloved by the media.

So, does Ahmadinejad have a wacky blog? Did he admit on "Larry King Live" that he voted for Ralph Nader in 2000? What makes him such a charming rogue?

Let's pick up that sentence where we left off and see: "After winning a disputed election," Time reports, "he said he would continue Iran's nuclear program, called the Holocaust a 'myth' and pledged to destroy Israel. Even some of the nation's ruling clerics are nervous about what he will do next." So even some of Iran's terrorism-supporting theocratic dictators are "nervous" about this guy.

What, one wonders, would it take for the editors to get really rough? Perhaps if Ahmadinejad offered a deeply negative review of "Brokeback Mountain"?

Time describes Pope Benedict XVI as perhaps "too polarizing a conservative." But for Ahmadinejad, who declared that a member nation of the U.N. should be "wiped off the map" and that the touchstone moral horror of modernity was nothing but a "myth" … well, let's make sure to bring up that he drives an old Peugeot. That's a crucial fact. If only we could find out what kind of tree he would be if he could be a tree. Maybe next year.


One of the classiest coaches in the NFL is Indianapolis head man Tony Dungy. The soft-spoken and reserved Dungy supposedly lacked the extra fire that Tampa wanted in a head coach (although that team lacked anything resembling a QB) and the Bucs ran him out of town. He landed in Indianapolis where Dungy turned around a no-defense, no-moxy 6-10 team into a perennial contender and Super Bowl threat, especially this year. Dungy is no pioneer -- there have been other successful black head coaches in the NFL (Art Shell, Dennis Green) -- but none have had the sustained run that Dungy has produced. Dungy's even-keel demeanor, intelligence, class and personal decency has helped pave the way for more black head coaches to follow in his wake (Marvin Lewis, Lovie Smith, Romeo Crennel -- each of whom has been successful so far: Lewis is the biggest reason Cincy has turned from laughingstock to winner, Smith's Bears are 10-4, Crennel's Browns are 5-9 with a midlevel NFL-Europe roster). Ultimately, Dungy may be remembered as the Sidney Poitier of black NFL head coaches -- not the first good black head coach, but a great one (and potentially a landmark if the Colts win the Super Bowl, just as Poitier was the first black Oscar winner) who opened up opportunities for others.

This morning Dungy's son James (18) was discovered dead at his Tampa apartment. Our condolences to Coach Dungy, his wife and James's four siblings.

On the second day, the Race Pimps came

On my drive into Manhattan yesterday evening I heard TWU Local 100 President Roger Toussaint speak on the radio at a press conference excoriating the MTA, Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki. Toussaint despite his strong Trinidadian accent is an eloquent speaker and scored some good rhetorical points.

My impression turned to dismay though when Toussaint decided to drag race into it. While impudent folk often declaim that "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel", truly "Race is the last refuge of the demagogue".

Toussaint, probably aware that his position and that of his local was precarious accused "city fathers" of racism saying (paraphrase) that "many of the drivers of buses today used to sit at the back of the bus" channelling of course Rosa Parks. He went on to declare in outrage that the MTA had not made Martin Luther King's birthday a paid holiday. [The reasoning for $9 million a year] Toussaint, who inexplicably continuously called the MTA's pension demand "illegal", declared that the workers and the union had a higher calling than the law (referring to the Taylor Law that made this strike illegal) which was justice. He said:
"Had Rosa Parks answered the call of the law instead of the higher call of justice, many of us who are driving buses today would instead be at the back of the bus."

The NY Times reported that the two of the usual suspects, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Herbert Daughtry accused the Mayor of, respectively, offending people of color and acting like the infamous Bull Connor.

The truth of the matter is it's not about race, it's about sensible economics and all the braying won't change that fact.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Sympathy for Strikers?

The Wongette had to go into Manhattan today using Metro-North, one of the commuter railroads which is not on strike and this is what she reported:

Well, by the time I got there, the line to get onto the platform was about 100 deep(didn't know that many people take the train from xxxxx). They were regulating the flow of people onto the trains. Had to buy special tix - costs only $4 each way but no receipt. But missed 3 trains while they made us line up (they had a couple extra trains in general) but clearly they were intentionally slowing down service - the train was completely empty when it was finally my turn to get on - and there was still a long line! Same was true when we passed by xxxxx station - I could see the line that snaked down the block but not that many people got on the train. Ridiculous. Is that their version of a sympathy strike?

Mohamed Ali Hamadi - terrorist scum

We didn't get a chance to opine on this the other day but the always reliable Little Green Footballs had the post and an excellent update today.

Hamadi was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in Germany for the murder of Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem during the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in 1985.

He was just released and has returned to Lebanon - his release may have been part of an exchange for German archaeologist Susanne Osthoff who was kidnapped in Iraq and just released.

LGF reminds us of Robert Dean Stethem: [link currently unavailable as its been LGF-lanched]

When the plane was at the Beirut airport in Lebanon, Petty Officer Stethem was singled out because he was in the US military. After many hours of being cruelly beaten, tortured, and finally killed by the terrorists, they threw his body from the plane in a final disgraceful, cowardly act. The wounds were so terrible that his body had to be identified by its fingerprints.

Throughout the ordeal, Robert Stethem did not yield, and instead encouraged his fellow passengers to endure by his example. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for heroism and bravery. He is buried at Arlington Cemetery.

Andy McCarthy, national treasure

Where does the President get the notion that he can order warrantless searches? Andy McCarthy shows where.

Inking the Caveman -- 4 years, $52M

As Wongdoer noted below, the Yankees exchanged one cork-armed centerfielder for another by signing Johnny Damon for four years and $52M, pending passing a physical exam. That's a big hunk of dough for the Raggedy-Andy-armed Damon, and makes the Yankee outfield a parade of $13M men (salaries of Matsui, Sheff and Caveman). So the risks are high and The Monk's preference for younger, cheaper and faster will not be satisfied.

Nonetheless, the potential benefits to having Damon are hard to ignore. First, Damon helped make the RedSawx go -- now he's gone.

Second, Damon will be the Yanks' first full-time true leadoff hitter since Chuck Knoblauch fit that bill in 1999 (in 2000, Knobby missed 60 games and didn't start the road games in the Series). Don't underestimate the potential effects.

Before the 1998 season, the Yankees' brass wondered what was missing from the '97 team that could make the difference between a solid 96-win squad and a World Series champion. David Cone provided the answer: Chuck Knoblauch. Get the leadoff hitter and the rest will work. And to some degree, Cone was right. Knobby is known for his infamously bad throwing and defensive problems, but at the plate he performed fairly well: 237 runs scored in '98-'99 when Jeter had his career high RBI totals of 84 and 102. Even though his '98-'99 totals were far from his 1995-96 levels of excellence, Knobby reached base (.361 and .390 OBP) and set the table for a lineup that included solid hitters but no neo-Ruthian bangers -- Williams, Martinez, O'Neill. Those teams are the last Yankees' squads to score 900 runs in a season.

The '99 team is the last great Yankee team that won the World Series -- the '02 and '03 incarnations were both very good but didn't win; the 2001 team was not a great team, just the tail-end of the dynasty; the 2000 champs are the worst Yankee team (87-74) to win the World Series. The Yanks have had players bat leadoff (Jeter, Soriano, Lofton) but no lead-off hitter at the top of his game who could bat lead-off AND would not be better somewhere else (the Jeter dilemma).

That changes on opening day in 2006. Damon is a pure lead-off hitter -- a player who walks a decent amount (about 60/year), doesn't strike out much (about 70/year), has some pop and can hit for average (career .290). Adding Damon takes Jeter out of the lead-off slot, where he still managed 78 and 70 RBI in the past two years. And Damon will also be covered by big-time bangers -- Sheff, Arod, Matsui, Giambi. When Robinson Cano is the probable #8 or #9 hitter, the lineup is pretty stacked.

So the Yanks upgraded defensively because Damon can chase the ball better than Bernie; they upgraded offensively by getting a player still within his peak; they cut some waste (Brown, Williams, Karsay, F-Rod) and may still swing a deal to salvage the Pavano situation. Plus, they'll re-sign Chacon, have Randy Johnson better in year two (look at the second-year-in-pinstripes trend -- Clemens, Cone, Wells all improved; only Mooooooooose slipped) and hopefully Wang and Moooooooooose will be healthy. All good reasons to feel decent about 2006.

As former Yankee beat writer Buster Olney indicates in the article linked in the title of this post, the Yanks set specific limits to their negotiations and waited for Damon to fit within their parameters -- four years, no more. As Damon's demands dropped from seven to six to five-plus-vesting-option to five to four, the Yanks waited while the RedSawx stayed at a proposal of 4 years, $40M. When Damon got to four years, the Yanks jumped in with a higher bid and told him to sign ASAP. He did. And the Yanks' off-season seems to be a success.

Coach of the Year: JoePa

The Monk's favorite college football team has been Penn State since my days as a tyke watching the weekly highlights show on channel 9 before Monday Night Football. My allegiance waned a bit under pressure of rooting for my university but the true colors never faded as I followed the Nittany Lions from Charlottesville -- those colors came out when Penn State came back to knock off Notre Dame in South Bend in 1990 on a late FG when the Irish were #1 and I called my old man to gloat (he's one of those NYC Catholics who identified with Notre Dame from afar -- the notorious "subway alumni").

Moreover, it's easy to root for Penn State because Paterno does what he's supposed to: run a clean program and ensure his players graduate.

So after four losing seasons in five years, and an especially terrible season in 2004 when the Lions were unable to balance an excellent defense with an offense any better than awful (paradigm loss -- a 6-4 home defeat to Iowa), it's highly gratifying to see Penn State win the Big Tenplusone, go 10-1 and end up thisclose to a perfect season. More gratifying is this:

Paterno won the AP Coach of the Year Award in a landslide.

Not bad for a 79-year old man whom the game allegedly had passed by.


Go to the Yankees.

W.W.J.D.D. of course stands for What Would Johnny Damon Do? Damon, Bosox centerfielder, heartthrob and key to their 2004 run, inspired those initials on a T-Shirt that unspeakable fall last year.

Damon just signed with the Yanks for 4 years and $52 million. It appears that while Boston slept, Brian Cashman pounced. Red Sox Nation is NOT pleased.

As we've mentioned on these pages here, here and here, we're not crazy about Johnny Damon. On the plus side Damon is a natural leadoff hitter with pop, pesky at the plate and on the basepaths, and as good if not better than Bernie in his prime running down drives in centerfield. This means Jeter will get to bat second again and Damon's defense will shore up the serviceable but hardly fleet Matsui and Sheffield. Damon is nearly as good vs. lefthanders compared with righties and deadly with men on base.

On the other hand Damon is turning 32 and will be past his prime at the end of this contract. While his line last year was strong: 10, 75, .316, .366 and .439 (par with career average) he won't benefit as much from hitter friendly Fenway. Compare last year: (stats from

(hr, rbi, ba, obp, slg)
Home 3 39 .334 .391 .440
Away 7 36 .298 .342 .438

and at Yankee Stadium though he's historically been relatively weak: (ba/obp/slg)
3 18 .265 .326 .376 (2002-04)
0 4 .342 .350 .368 (2005)

Finally Damon's arm is about as strong as Omar Moreno in his prime which detracts from his defense.

Would I rather have had Juan Pierre? Probably. But not by a wide margin. While 4/52 is high its not outrageous - what they gave Matsui - and probably fits what Steinbrenner and Cash want which is squeeze one more championship out of this crew which doesn't have that much runway left and in that regard a just past peak Damon may be better than Pierre who's faster but has much less pop.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

MTA's operating surplus -- as I expected, union funny math

As I said below, the Transit Workers Union claims of a $1 billion surplus sounded like funny math and the MTA's information confirms it. According to the article linked above, the MTA has a large operating surplus because it sold assets -- in other words, it has a one-time surplus. Add that to the fact that it is paying down some of its substantial debts and the union's claim of MTA greed now looks like a sham.

The Monk is pleased that a NY judge slapped a $1M per day fine on the union for its illegal strike. Too bad it's not triple that total.

Arik, skip the schmaltz

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel who had a minor stroke earlier this week needs to go on a diet: From the NY Times:

JERUSALEM (AP) -- The day before his minor stroke, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon enjoyed a typical meal with family and friends. The menu included hamburgers, steak in chimichurri sauce, lamb chops, shish kebab and salads.

For dessert, Sharon had chocolate cake -- and then some more cake, the Israeli daily newspaper Maariv reported.
President Bush even called Sharon on Tuesday and urged him to ''be careful about food, start exercising and cut back on work hours,'' according to a government statement.

''Be careful, my friend,'' said Bush, a former runner who frequently goes mountain biking.

Remember the Bush-haters who complained about his workout regimen? [when 'Mother' Sheehan was doing her camp out in Texas this summer]

Sign of the Apocalypse - The NY Daily News makes sense

The Daily News is high circulation middle grade sheet with good local and sports coverage and pretty poor high end coverage and whose editors lean fairly left. Their editorials today, therefore, were stunning and made one think perhaps one was reading the Post!

On the transit strike:

The full weight of the law must swiftly be brought to bear on the Transport Workers Union for having the irresponsible lawlessness to shut down the transportation system that is New York's lifeblood. Gov. Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg must seek severe sanctions against TWU President Roger Toussaint, his treasury and, sadly, the 33,700 workers who were thrown off a cliff by their leaders.

Pataki and Bloomberg must ask a judge to:
- Jail Toussaint and his bull-headed lieutenants.
- Impose fines on the TWU that double daily and are large enough to bankrupt the union within days.
- Hit every transit worker who walks with a penalty of two days' pay for every day out, as the law allows.

Then, Pataki and MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow must hang tough. There can be no amnesty for those who have broken the law, disrupted the lives of millions, jeopardized public safety and dealt a blow to the city's economy. There can be no making nice to extortionists.

The state Taylor Law bars strikes by public employees, so walking out would be unacceptable under any circumstance...

Since 1999, transit worker salaries have more than kept pace with inflation, rising to an average of $63,000 for train operators and $54,000 for conductors. The MTA proposal would have boosted those numbers to $68,000 and $59,000 while opening the door to substantially more. Toussaint responded by demanding raises totaling more than 25% and refusing what he called givebacks.

Even so, the strike is not ultimately about wages. It's about the MTA's health and pension costs. Because both are skyrocketing, the agency faces a deficit of almost $1 billion despite planned fare hikes. Riders and taxpayers are going to get hammered unless expenses are brought into line. And that's just fine with Toussaint & Co.

One of the newstations interviewed Ed Koch who was the Mayor during the 11 day walkout in 1980 who emphasized, "There can be no amnesty for strikers or the union."

On President Bush and wiretapping:

President Bush patiently explained: "The reason it's secret is because if it's not secret, the enemy knows about it." Well, of course. How hard is that? And we're not inclined to work up much of a froth over the fact that the U.S. has been listening in on phone calls to and from, say, Afghanistan since 9/11.

Spying on Americans, this is being called, because the administration chose not to seek warrants for the eavesdropping, but it looks more to us like an all-out effort to protect the country in a time of war. Granted, the legalities are not all that clear, but Bush has at least a colorable claim to be exercising lawful authority.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, for one, says the President can constitutionally bypass the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and monitor communications to and from home soil, just as the National Security Agency listens in where it pleases around the world without judicial review. While Congress sorts it out, we'd suggest the administration start asking the judges who handle national security cases for warrants as often as feasible. And we'll dismiss without deep thought the ravings of Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold that the lately reported eavesdropping constitutes an "outrageous power grab."

That's not exactly what we're hearing here. The White House briefed congressional leaders of both parties before the listening started, and it appears to have paid dividends. According to The New York Times, the spying played a role in busting the Al Qaeda operative who had targeted the Brooklyn Bridge.

What a shame the President's lustier critics weren't around six decades ago, so they could have complained about Allied code-breakers working the Axis intercepts.

Wow. Brief, hard-hitting and eloquent.

NYC Transit on Strike: too bad they cannot all be fired

The Monk has only vague recollections of the last NYC transit strike, which Evan Coyne Maloney describes in his post linked above. That strike was in 1980 (2+ years before The Monk commuted by train to school) and in the Spring.

This transit strike is calculated to inflict the greatest damage possible on the City at what is usually the best time of year in New York -- Xmas holidays. The fault there lies in no small part with the NYC Metropolitan Transit Authority that runs the trains and buses -- it negotiated the contract end date in mid-December instead of some other part of the year.

Nonetheless, the strike is illegal under New York's Taylor Law. That law states that no public employees are allowed to strike and imposes fines of 2-days' pay for each day that the worker is on strike. As Nicole Gelinas noted last week, the Taylor Law has previously failed as a deterrent. And compared to average New Yorkers, the transit workers are not starving. As Gelinas noted in an op-ed in the NY Times last week (archived now):
Subway operators and token clerks are blue-collar workers, but their paychecks match those of middle-class workers, even ones in New York City. According to the authority, the average subway or bus operator earns nearly $63,000 per year. The average subway conductor earns about $54,000. The average station agent earns about $51,000. A subway cleaner earns about $40,000.

Compare these numbers with salary figures in New York's private sector. According to the state comptroller, the average New York City worker earns about $60,000 a year. This number includes workers on Wall Street, whose six-figure salaries distort the picture. Take out well-paid finance-industry workers, and the average worker in New York earns just $49,000. What about workers without a college education? Most factory workers, health care employees and restaurant and retail workers in the city earn under $35,000.

More importantly, the transit workers contribute ABSOLUTELY NO MONEY to retirement or health care plans, yet they have full pensions starting at age 55 AND health care coverage that is worth thousands of dollars per year.

Did I mention that the MTA is deep in the red and relies upon subsidies to make ends meet? Although the head of the Transit Workers Union says that the MTA has a huge surplus (the first The Monk has heard of it -- sounds like funny math), he ignores that [1] much of that went to pay down pension liabilities; [2] the revenues that the MTA receives from train operations and NYC operations are only about 1/2 the cost of operations -- the MTA receives revenues from various other income streams (dedicated taxes, bridge and tunnel tolls) to offset those costs in a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul arrangement; [3] the alleged surplus can only be an operating surplus on the MTA's total operations, not the operations about which the TWU is striking; [4] the MTA's debt costs are increasing faster than its revenues.

Did I mention that the MTA had already caved from its proposal to raise the pension age from 55 to 62 for new workers and now only wants new workers to contribute all of 6% of their salaries for the first 10 years? Did I mention that the MTA wanted workers to pay all of 1% of their salaries as health care contributions? (See here for some contract issues).

Unlike the Air Traffic Controllers' strike of 1981, Mayor Bloomberg does not have a "nuclear" option available to him like President Reagan did. Pres. Reagan fired all the strikers, Bloomberg cannot (although his will to do so is questionable). Too bad. This bad faith by the Transit Workers Union deserves strong medicine.

UPDATE: CBS News in NYC reports that the International TWU may step in and take over negotiations from the Local branch that walked off the job.

NSA intercepts and the White House

Who said this?

The Department of Justice believes, and the case law supports, that the president has inherent authority to conduct warrantless physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes and that the President may, as has been done, delegate this authority to the Attorney General.

It is important to understand, that the rules and methodology for criminal searches are inconsistent with the collection of foreign intelligence and would unduly frustrate the president in carrying out his foreign intelligence responsibilities.

Not Alberto Gonzales, not John Ashcroft, not Pres. Bush, not VP Cheney.

The answer is: JAMIE GORELICK, the Clinton Deputy Attorney General who erected the wall between the FBI and the various intelligence gathering services (NSA, CIA, DIA, etc.) that thwarted US counterterrorism operations and helped prevent learning about the plot that led to the 9-11-01 attacks. Note that she defended warrantless PHYSICAL searches, which are vastly more intrusive than wiretapping or eavesdropping. Moreover, as Byron York shows in the article linked above, the Clinton White House approved physical searches of FOREIGN EMBASSIES; those embassies are, under international agreements, sovereign territory of the nation that has the embassy, not the US.

Gorelick gave that statement in testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee on July 14, 1994.

Don't kid yourself, even you George Will, this type of surveillance on potential foreign espionage agents has been going on for . . . at least 11 years. The Monk finds the whole Big Brother aspect ineffably disconcerting but no American, and no person on US soil, has a right to conspire with a foreign power against the United States. The wonks continually say that we need an MI-5 equivalent in the US, this is as close as we can get.

Monday, December 19, 2005

TKM's Person of the Year: the Iraqi voters

Time Magazine has annually issued a Man of the Year, Person of the Year or similar (remember the "Planet of the Year"?) since 1927. Formerly the Man of the Year award whose inaugural recipient was Charles Lindbergh, the award has an often-storied and often-checkered history.

Most frequently, the Man of the Year is the winner of the Presidential election (2004, 2000, 1992, 1980, 1976, 1972, 1964, 1961 for Kennedy [a make-up award?], 1948, 1932). There are great good men (and a notable good woman) who have won: Gandhi (1930), FDR (1932, 1934, 1941), Churchill (1940, Man of the Half-Century 1949), Truman (1945, 1948), HM Queen Elizabeth II (1952), MLK (1963), Reagan (1980, 1983), Lech Walesa (1981), and Pope John Paul II (1994). Evil men and one evil woman also have been named: Pierre Laval (1931), Wallis Simpson (1936, she and her husband were at minimum Nazi sympathizers), Hitler (1938), Stalin (1939, 1942), Khruschev (1957), Deng Xiaopeng (1978, 1985), Khomenei (1979), Andropov (1983).

Recently, the Man of the Year award (I'm using its initial designation) has become more of a political statement and less of a reflection of the greatest newsmaker or most important single-person influence on world events -- its original purpose. Consider: in 2001, the magazine named Rudy Giuliani, even though the President's leadership in the wake of 9-11-01 was more crucial to the nation; in 2002, it named three "whistleblowers" in the Worldcom, Enron and FBI scandals, even though the Enron "whistleblower" did so after the corporate graft had become a full-blown scandal. In 1999, the magazine completely failed history and posterity by naming Albert Einstein the Man of the Century over Winston Churchill. And in 1989, the magazine failed reality by naming Gorbachev the Man of the Decade, not Reagan. A full list is here. Time seems to be losing some imagination: for the third time in four years, it has picked a concept (whistleblower courage, American soldier strength, philanthropic generosity) over a person for the award.

This year's choice is highly curious -- as Democracy makes giant strides in the Middle East, Lebanese citizens reclaimed their country from Syrian dictatorship, Egyptians and Saudis went to the polls in the first semi-free elections in those nations and Iraqis voted THREE TIMES in free and fair elections, the magazine decided that the admirable but less consequential philanthropic efforts of Bono and Bill Gates (and his wife) were the most deserving of the award. If Time wanted to bestow this award on a truly deserving concept recipient for the 13th time, it should have abandoned the philanthropy bandwagon and awarded it to people who created history whilst braving Islamofascist depravity.

Thus, the Key Monk dissents from Time's award and bestows its own on the purple-fingered avatars of freedom, justice and democracy: The Key Monk 2005 Person of the Year is the Iraqi voter.

Hearts & Minds without the U.N.

The U.S. is making remarkable progress in winning hearts and minds in Muslim countries according to a piece in OpinionJournal today:

Long a stronghold for Islamic extremists and the world's second-most populous Muslim nation, Pakistanis now hold a more favorable opinion of the U.S. than at any time since 9/11, while support for al Qaeda in its home base has dropped to its lowest level since then. The direct cause for this dramatic shift in Muslim opinion is clear: American humanitarian assistance for Pakistani victims of the Oct. 8 earthquake that killed 87,000. The U.S. pledged $510 million for earthquake relief in Pakistan and American soldiers are playing a prominent role in rescuing victims from remote mountainous villages.

Released today, the poll commissioned by the nonprofit organization Terror Free Tomorrow and conducted by Pakistan's foremost pollsters ACNielsen Pakistan shows that the number of Pakistanis with a favorable opinion of the U.S. doubled to more than 46% at the end of November from 23% in May 2005. Those with very unfavorable views declined to 28% from 48% over the same period. Nor is this swing in public opinion confined to Pakistan. A similar picture is evident in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation. Again that's largely because of American generosity in the wake of a natural disaster. A February 2005 poll by Terror Free Tomorrow showed that 65% of Indonesians had a more favorable opinion of the U.S. as a result of American relief to the victims of last December's tsunami. If these changes in Pakistan and Indonesia influence thinking in other countries, then we could be looking at a broader shift in public sentiment across the Muslim world.

This underscores how we can reach the hearts and minds of the world. U.S. marked supplies delivered by U.S. troops. Cut out the middlemen and the corruption that goes with it. And the vipers like the U.N. and UNESCO who haven't a single decent thing to say about the United States.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

John Spencer, R.I.P.

John Spencer, who played chief of staff Leo McGarry on the popular drama The West Wing, died Friday of a heart attack in Los Angeles. He was 58.

I don't watch the West Wing. Just can't stomach Martin Sheen.

But I remember John Spencer very fondly from the 90's hit series L.A. Law. Spencer played scrappy, blue-coolar attorney Tommy Mullaney for the last four years of the show and was instrumental in extending its life.

Miranda for al-Qaeda

Andrew McCarthy at NRO argues that the McCain-al Qaeda Treaty is potentially an absolute debacle. Why?

It can be interpreted to provide Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination to enemy combatants as well as disallow the use of any statements if the detainees were not apprised of their Miranda rights when captured.

Surely not true? Read the whole piece. McCarthy is a former Assistant US Attorney who knows what he's talking about.

This idiot amendment will not improve our image either. If I were a detainee (who's been trained to do so) I would allege torture even more just to show how hypocritical the U.S. government can be. There's no benefit really and sets the stage for a PR disaster down the road.

Surveillance Silliness

The New York Times breathlessly reported yesterday that President Bush

Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible "dirty numbers" linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications.

It's started a bit of a tempest in teacup as Senators are 'shocked, shocked' that this is happening. The problem with this is that the National Security Agency is supposed to only eavesdrop outside of the United States with the FBI responsible for domestic security. This was done with the knowledge and consent of the Foreign Intelligence Surveilliance Court, a secret federal court that has jurisdiction in these matters.

The august Senator Arlen Specter (Jack*ss, PA) fulminated that "...there is no doubt that this is inappropriate" and promised hearings early next year.

The article [actually reasonably balanced as far as the NYTimes goes] does state that Congress was notified of these operations.

After the special program started, Congressional leaders from both political parties were brought to Vice President Dick Cheney's office in the White House. The leaders, who included the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House intelligence committees, learned of the N.S.A. operation from Mr. Cheney, Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden of the Air Force, who was then the agency's director and is now a full general and the principal deputy director of national intelligence, and George J. Tenet, then the director of the C.I.A., officials said.

It is not clear how much the members of Congress were told about the presidential order and the eavesdropping program. Some of them declined to comment about the matter, while others did not return phone calls.

Later briefings were held for members of Congress as they assumed leadership roles on the intelligence committees, officials familiar with the program said.


If there is one useful thing that the 9/11 Commission highlighted it was the fact that our intelligence agencies did not cooperate and as a direct result scuttled our chances of stopping the attacks. It was precisely the risk-averse self-handicapping encouraged by the Clinton administration (see Jamie Rosen) that the terrorists were able to exploit. It seems that Snarlin' Arlen's memory of U.S. citizens jumping to their deaths from 100 stories has been seriously dulled.

The Times even notes that the program resulted in the apprehension and conviction of one Iyman Faris who had planned to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge. Let me note for the non-New Yorkers here that New York City subway trains go over two of the three East River Bridges. [The Brooklyn Bridge happens to be one where there is no subway track.] The destruction of a bridge during rush hour when one or two trains are crossing could create over a thousand fatalities on the trains alone not to mention the vehicular traffic.

The terrorists will use any weapon available to create mass slaughter while we debate amongst ourselves whether we really ought to after them with all the tools at our disposal -- i.e., the McCain-al Qaeda Treaty, filibuster of the extension of parts of the Patriot Act and this idiocy.

Will it take another successful large-scale attack to jar these buffoons back to reality?

Other interesting points:

- The NYT congratulated itself thus:

The Bush administration views the operation as necessary so that the agency can move quickly to monitor communications that may disclose threats to the United States, the officials said. Defenders of the program say it has been a critical tool in helping disrupt terrorist plots and prevent attacks inside the United States.
The White House asked The New York Times not to publish this article, arguing that it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny. After meeting with senior administration officials to hear their concerns, the newspaper delayed publication for a year to conduct additional reporting. Some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists has been omitted.

According to Drudge, the NYT failed to note that the principal reporter of the story is about to have a book published covering this specific item in the coming weeks. Nice free publicity eh?

- Powerline argues we should have a special prosecutor on this case:

The Times believes that it should be the arbiter of what will and will not help the terrorists and thus impair our national security. I don't agree. Under the Plame precedent, this case is a no-brainer. The intelligence officials who leaked to the Times should be identified, criminally prosecuted, and sent to prison. Under the Pentagon Papers case, the reporters and editors at the Times who published the leaked story can't be criminally prosecuted. Perhaps the Supreme Court should revisit that precedent when the opportunity arises.

- Some on the Left are hacked off that the NYT held off publication for a year arguing that this revelation could have won Kerry the election!?! Talk about Bush Derangement Syndrome.

Friday, December 16, 2005

UGH -- what a misuse of a great name!

The Wampum blog is a liberal blog and it runs what it calls the Koufax Awards.

Sandy Koufax was the greatest left-handed pitcher in baseball history (although the argument can now begin re: Randy Johnson after the Unit's '98-'02 run in the NL). He is decent, honest, aware of his past and his potential impact (see 1965 World Series, Yom Kippur issue) and generally apolitical. He's also the greatest Jewish sports hero in America.

But some liberal decided to run his name through the mud by naming a left-wing blogging award series after him.


'Scuse me while I lose my breakfast.

Tookie Williams and the Left's malfunctioning moral compass

Pseudonymous contributor to National Review Jack Dunphy, an LA officer whose identity is protected by the magazine, demonstrates the immoral thought processes of the Left and its inability to even condemn the most evil:

. . . [An L.A. Times story described] preparations being made by Stanley “Tookie” Williams’s longtime friend and collaborator Barbara Becnel to receive the executed man’s body and stage a large public funeral in Los Angeles. The ceremony, the story says, will be “on a scale of the funeral for Rosa Parks.”

So, in the eyes of Barbara Becnel (and, apparently, many others), a man who murdered four helpless people during the commission of two robberies, and who is sometimes credited with founding a street gang responsible for thousands of additional murders, is deserving of no less a tribute than that given to a pioneer of the civil-rights movement. This is what passes for enlightened thinking on the fringes of the American Left, which for years has lionized such homicidal thugs as Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Yasser Arafat, and which now very noisily places Tookie Williams, like convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu Jamal before him, in this pantheon of heroes. How long will it be before someone proposes to name an elementary school after him?

* * *
The moral chasm between the opposing sides in the death penalty debate was perhaps best displayed on Monday’s Larry King Show, which featured defense attorney Mark Geragos, retired deputy D.A. Robert Martin (who prosecuted Williams), and syndicated radio host Dennis Prager. Also appearing were death-penalty opponents Mike Farrell and Sister Helen Prejean, who was made famous when she was portrayed by Susan Sarandon in the film Dead Man Walking.

. . . the signal moment in the program, the moment that distilled the entire debate, came in a brief exchange between Prager and Sister Prejean. Was it immoral, Prager asked her, for Israel to execute Adolph Eichmann, the architect of the Holocaust? Prejean hemmed and hawed, she bobbed and weaved, but she could not bring herself to endorse the execution of a man with the blood of millions on his hands.

Stark contrast, to say the least.

Up Yours

is what Iraqi voters said to Howard Dean and Jack Murtha yesterday as they turned out in droves to vote. Here's the first and last paragraphs of today's OpinionJournal editorial:

President Bush has done better at explaining his Iraq policy of late, but the most eloquent rebuttal to American defeatists came from the millions of Iraqis who voted yesterday for a new parliament. They are now practicing the democracy that the U.S. promised when it deposed Saddam Hussein. This is a great achievement.
We're increasingly confident that victory in Iraq is not only possible but likely. The biggest threat to winning now is in Washington, D.C. Let's hope that with their tremendous vote yesterday Iraqis delivered faint-hearted U.S. politicians the necessary dose of fortitude. [emphasis added]

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Brokeback Mountain

While we await the Monk's review of Brokeback Mountain, which some critics are calling the best picture of the year, Rod Dreher thinks it will flop overall but explains why critics are gushing. In a word, ennui.
[In case you are not already aware Brokeback Mountain chronicles the unlikely love affair between two married cowboys played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhal.]

[The Greatest Story Ever Told]...would be Brokeback Mountain, or so it would seem from the slobbery, but entirely predictable, press coverage. (My favorite comment so far: New York magazine critic Ken Tucker's declaration that, "You either buy into this tale of men in love or you join the ranks of those who've been snickering during the movie's prerelease trailers, and who can be divided into the insecure, the idiots, or the insecure idiots.") ...Brokeback Mountain might actually be a great movie, but I work such long hours and have so many responsibilities around the house that on the rare occasion when I have an opportunity to see a film, I can't work up much enthusiasm for spending that time and money watching two dudes betray their wives and children cowpokin' each other...

I predict "Brokeback" will be a box office flop, and we'll see a long, pearls-clutching round of media bashing of Red America for being insecure and idiotic. But really, film critics are insanely insular. I was one for seven or eight years, and they are almost to a man quite liberal. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but it's clear to me why so many people distrust film critics, and are mostly right to do so.

You know, it's not only liberal cultural politics that separate most critics from the mass audience, but something harder to pin down. It has to do with experience. Critics live in such a rarefied and aestheticized world, seeing five to 10 movies a week, that they quickly grow bored with the sameness of movies. Without quite realizing it--this happened to me as a conservative--critics become suckers for novelty, especially of the transgressive sort. [emphasis added] At its worst, you end up with a theater full of the most important film critics in North America at the 1998 Toronto Film Festival, roaring their approval of the creepy and misanthropic Todd Solondz's film "Happiness," which featured, among other transgressive delights, a comic set piece showing a suburban dad trying to drug his son's little playmate so he could anally rape him (he succeeded). It was one of the sickest movies I've ever had to sit through, but it received rave reviews--and, unsurprisingly, flopped at the box office. We're a nation of insecure, idiotic Philistines, ah reckon...

Feckless FIFA

Relying on the doctrine that you must keep politics and sport separate, FIFA will not ban, and likely will not sanction, Iran from the 2006 World Cup for the anti-Semitic rantings and nuclear violations of its government.

Amazing how that rationale applies when anti-Jew sentiments are at stake, but did not apply to South Africa during the apartheid era.

Then again, this is the same FIFA that allows the Muslim nations of the "Asian" Zone to keep Israel out of that grouping for World Cup qualifying -- which forces Israel to compete in Europe, a much tougher place to conquer in international football.

Environmentalism = collectivism, period

George Will rips into the environmental movement and denounces environmentalism as "collectivism in drag." The first half of his column exposes the idiocy of the ANWR drilling opponents:

Area 1002 is 1.5 million of ANWR's 19 million acres. In 1980, a Democratic-controlled Congress at the behest of President Carter set area 1002 aside for possible energy exploration. Since then, although there are active oil and gas wells in at least 36 U.S. wildlife refuges, stopping drilling in ANWR has become sacramental for environmentalists who speak about it the way Wordsworth wrote about the Lake Country.

Few opponents of energy development in what they call ``pristine'' ANWR have visited it. Those who have and think it is ``pristine'' must have visited during the 56 days a year when it is without sunlight. They missed the roads, stores, houses, military installations, airstrip and school. They did not miss seeing the trees in area 1002. There are no trees.

Opponents worry that the caribou will be disconsolate about, and their reproduction disrupted by, this intrusion by man. The same was said 30 years ago by opponents of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline that brings heated oil south from Prudhoe Bay. Since the oil began flowing, the caribou have increased from 5,000 to 31,000. Perhaps the pipeline's heat makes them amorous.

Ice roads and helicopter pads, which will melt each spring, will minimize man's footprint, which will be on a 2,000-acre plot about one-fifth the size of Washington's Dulles Airport. Nevertheless, opponents say the environmental cost is too high for what the ineffable John Kerry calls ``a few drops of oil.'' Some drops. The estimated 10.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil -- such estimates frequently underestimate actual yields -- could supply all the oil needs of Kerry's Massachusetts for 75 years.

That's the same Massachusetts that's being supplied with heating oil by Venezuelan madman Hugo Chavez, instead of by American companies using American workers to develop American oil fields that will not harm the American environment.

Saddam's WMDs went to Syria

according the Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, former chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces in an interview with the NY Sun:

The Israeli officer, Lieutenant General Moshe Yaalon, asserted that Saddam spirited his chemical weapons out of the country on the eve of the war. "He transferred the chemical agents from Iraq to Syria," General Yaalon told The New York Sun over dinner in New York on Tuesday night. "No one went to Syria to find it."

It seems that the MSM will resolutely NOT cover this until/unless Bashir Assad's government falls and we find barrels of anthrax in Syria with "Iraq" stamped on them.

HT: The Corner

This guy is an IDIOT

if you ask the Left or the MSM.

Matt Pottinger, a long-serving China correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, decided to quit his job and JOIN THE MARINES. Why did he join? It was a process:

When you live abroad long enough, you come to understand that governments that behave this way are not the exception, but the rule. They feel alien to us, but from the viewpoint of the world's population, we are the aliens, not them. That makes you think about protecting your country no matter who you are or what you're doing. What impresses you most, when you don't have them day to day, are the institutions that distinguish the U.S.: the separation of powers, a free press, the right to vote, and a culture that values civic duty and service, to name but a few.
A year ago, I was at my sister's house using her husband's laptop when I came across a video of an American in Iraq being beheaded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The details are beyond description here; let's just say it was obscene. At first I admit I felt a touch of the terror they wanted me to feel, but then I felt the anger they didn't. We often talk about how our policies are radicalizing young men in the Middle East to become our enemies, but rarely do we talk about how their actions are radicalizing us. In a brief moment of revulsion, sitting there in that living room, I became their blowback.
I was scrambled to Thailand, where thousands of people had died in the wave. After days in the midst of the devastation, I pulled back to Thailand's Utapao Air Force Base, at one time a U.S. staging area for bombing runs over Hanoi, to write a story on the U.S.-led relief efforts. The abandoned base was now bustling with air traffic and military personnel, and the man in charge was a Marine.

Warfare and relief efforts, as it turns out, involve many skills in common. In both cases, it's 80% preparation and logistics and only a small percent of actual battle. What these guys were doing was the same thing they did in a war zone, except now the tip of the spear wasn't weapons, but food, water and medicine. It was a major operation to save people's lives, and it was clear that no other country in the world could do what they were doing. Once again, I was bumping into the U.S. Marines, and once again I was impressed.
In a way, I see the Marines as a microcosm of America at its best. Their focus isn't on weapons and tactics, but on leadership. That's the whole point of the Marines. They care about each other in good times and bad, they've always had to fight for their existence--even Harry Truman saw them as nothing more than the "Navy's police force"--and they have the strength of their traditions. Their future, like the country's, is worth fighting for. I hope to be part of the effort.

Good Luck and Good Hunting, Matt.

Iraqi Election III

For those of you only paying attention to the mainstream media, the Iraqis are at the polls for their THIRD free election this year. Turnout is expected to exceed 70%. Gateway Pundit (link in title) has a roundup of coverage. Iraqi blogger Hammorabi is ecstatic.

And the Beeb's headline of its story on Iraqi voting quotes a voter's proclamation that "This is stability, at last." More important, this summation from BBC reporter Hugh Sykes in Baghdad:

In Muthanna, in Baghdad, it has certainly been the day of unity and celebration that President Jalal Talabani said he hoped for.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

KING KONG Movie Review

The Monk is again at the front of the event movie line as he went to the 11:59 showing of King Kong at his semi-local stadium-seating Loews theater last night/this morning. Sacrificing this much sleep just to give my (handful of) readers a review as soon as possible from someone who's not a movie critic should earn me something other than a hangover . . . but what can I do?

I've never seen the 1930 or 1976 movies, so I had nothing to go by except Peter Jackson himself -- the director who brought The Lord of the Rings to the big screen in an excellent adaptation that stayed true to the core of Tolkien's tale. If anyone can handle remaking Kong, Jackson can.

The verdict is simple: Peter Jackson is officially the Michael Jordan of directors. NO OTHER DIRECTOR could have achieved this monumental creation -- a three-hour tale full of action, adventure, fear, love, fellowship, betrayal and poignancy. Is the movie long? Yes. Does it have TONS of special effects? Yes. Is it excessive? No. Here now, the good, the bad and the ugly of King Kong.

The Good: The acting. Jackson's decision to secure A-list quality actress Naomi Watts for the crucial role of Anne Darrow pays off HUGE. Watts' interaction with the immense gorilla is excellent -- indeed, I did not want to leave my seat when the two were on screen together because the development of their relationship and her reactions (from fear to gratitude to friendliness to love) is among the better acting work you will see. Remember -- Watts had to do all this in front of blue screens or Andy Serkis (6-foot tall, not 25+ feet tall) in a literal monkey suit.

Additional kudos to Jack Black, who works the sleazy showman angle nicely without overplaying it; Adrien Brody as Watts' love interest who is smitten by the simple decency of Darrow and overcomes his initial haughtiness as a self-important playwright; Thomas Kretschmann, the German actor who plays the Captain of the tramp steamer Venture and does a fine job balancing his hard-bitten captain persona with a patina of heroic chivalry; and Evan Parke and Jamie Bell (the title character in "Billy Elliot") who put a new twist on the mentor and protege relationship in an homage to the 1930s-1950s templates (the twist = a black mentor for the white protege in 1930s America).

And a special note for Andy Serkis, the career character actor who has donned the movement-capture suit to play both Gollum and Kong. Serkis did a fine job with the Kong movements, and had a memorable cameo in his own right as the irascible ship cook of the Venture.

More good: the effects, naturally. Jackson is simply better than any other director at making his effects seem real, although there were two uncharacteristic hiccups. The Depression-era NYC sets were fantastic; ditto the tribal village on the mysterious island. And another positive that I failed to note in my initial post -- the screenplay. Credit the writers with NOT writing what need not be written. Watts' Darrow barely speaks with Kong, yet they have tremendous communication. Jackson's direction hits its high points here, as does Watts' acting, while concurrently avoiding the usual trope of human speaking to beast, which becomes inane as the actor or actress just ends up talking to him/herself.

Best of all -- KONG. From happy to sad to defiant to angry, the computer effects captured everything and did an extraordinary job. You see his intelligence, his love for Darrow, his concern for her safety, his jealousy, and more. Best of all (although saddest of all), his confusion and despair when he tries to find her in NYC. Great stuff.

The Bad: a short list here. First, audio looping failed to catch about 3 or 4 times when Watts' natural Australian accent slipped out. Second, the Bell-Parke relationship may have been a little extra stretched. Third, Kong doesn't appear until 70 minutes into the movie -- some of the earlier chaff could stand a bit of pruning and a trimming of about five minutes here and there on the Isle of Kong wouldn't hurt. Fourth, and perhaps least important, three hiccups: (a) two shots over the bow of the steamer when caught in a storm look fake; (b) the trolleys in NYC ran on overhead catenary lines (I think) but didn't have any in the movie.

The Ugly: Jackson does a great job of capturing the depravity of man, both during the immediate return to the US after Kong's capture when the great gorilla is made into a Broadway spectacle that a full house cannot pay enough to see, and after the great beast's fall.

Some notes: (1) King Kong, the origina 1930 version, is the movie that spurred Jackson's interest in movies; (2) catch the reference -- at one point showman Carl Denham is looking for a star for his movie because "Maureen" the lead actress had run out and he needs someone who can fit into her size 4 costumes. He runs through actresses with his assistant: Myrna Loy, Mae West and "What about Fay?" "No she's doing a picture for RKO with Cooper." Fay = Fay Wray, Cooper = Merian Cooper and RKO is the studio that put out the original Kong.

Ultimately, the payoff is so huge that the buildup is worth it. Jackson's reputation is etched in granite at this point.

Representative John Kline, ex-Marine, on Iraq

Powerline has a great interview with Representative John Kline (R-MN). Kline retired from the Marine Corps after 25 years after having served in Vietnam and commanded all Marine aviation forces in Somalia. He flew Marine One, the Presidential helicopter, and carried the 'football' for both Presidents Carter and Reagan. Read the whole thing but here are some excerpts:

(Kline had just returned from a trip to Iraq - comparing it with his previous trips)

It was different in two respects. One, overall the level of violence was down. We were able to stay in Baghdad, not Kuwait, and we spent the whole time inside the Sunni Triangle. And in the time I was there I didn’t hear a gunshot or explosion. But the most important thing was the prevalence of the Iraqi security forces. They are really out there now, and they are doing a good job.

(On disbanding the Iraqi Army - a decision relentlessly attacked)

It was thought it would be a terrible thing to re-field the Iraqi army, because they were Baathists, they were Saddam loyalists, and if you inflicted them on the country as a whole it would be disastrous. You couldn’t just take these guys who ahd been thugs under Saddam Hussein and send them out there. And that was right.

(About an elite U.S. trained Iraqi unit)

There is a unit called the Iraqi counterterrorist force that was trained by our special operations forces. These guys are the elite of the Iraqi forces. They are composed of Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shia. They fight all over the country, they are a focused unit in that they are going after Zarqawi and the like. And they are darned good and they are very very proud of themselves. That’s something that Americans can’t have a sense for, how proud the Iraqi forces are. Their allegiance is to an Iraqi nation, not to a militia, not to a warlord, not to a particular religious sect.

And they are good. We saw a live-fire demonstration of them taking down a building with a simulated hostage in it. It was lightning-fast, very professional. And when it was over they came and formed up ranks and we went over and talked to them and told them how good they were and even though all the soldiers had balaklavas on, you could see their smiles right through it. They were really proud of themselves.

(On U.S. troop morale)

The thing that they can’t understand is that these soldiers don’t want to be brought home before the job is done. The soldiers’ morale is high. One of the great things about my trip was I got to spend some time with my son, who is stationed outside Tikrit. He is an Army Major, the executuve officer of a Blackhawk helicopter battalion that is stationed just outside Tikrit. Part of the 101st Airborne Division.

I met with him and many of his colleagues in Fort Campbell this summer, and we sat in a room and we talked about their upcoming deployment. And my very firm impression was that their morale was absolutely sky-high, they were eager to go, they were confident that they were going to get things done, and the only concern they expressed was, with all this news reporting, are we going to keep the support of the American people? And I said, absolutely you are, the vast majority of Congressmen are supportive, we understand that failure is not an option, we’re not going to send you over there for nothing, we’re not going to betray your trust.

Now that they’re over there and they’re engaged, it’s still their only concern...

The good news story is just shamefully lost where you get somebody like John Murtha saying, we’re not making any progress, and you get someone like Howard Dean saying we can’t win. What is that possibly based on? Because all information on the ground in Iraq refutes that.

Naturally, Kline ISN'T a household name.

Liberal support for the Solomon Amendment

T.A. Frank at the New Republic argues in favor the Solomon Amendment. He takes a few potshots at the late congressman like calling him an "old-fashioned jackass" but his primary point is a good one.

Far less heartening, by contrast, are the trends in military recruitment at top schools. No one among the classmates I knew in college would have been willing to take a few years to serve in the military while their friends were launching their lives and careers. This isn't simply selfishness; the entire structure of society discourages it. Charles Moskos, a Northwestern University sociologist who specializes in military issues, likes to point out that, in his Princeton class of 1956, over 400 students of about 750 served in the military. By 2004, that number was down to 8 students out of about 1,100. These numbers are for undergraduates, of course, not law school students. But the fact is that the entire culture of elite education--undergraduate, graduate, and professional--has grown hostile towards the idea of military service over the past 50 years. Permitting the Pentagon to puncture the self-imposed bubble of privileged schools is essential to changing this mindset.

Frank's argument is that we need more of the 'elite' to serve in the military and not permitting recruiters on campus to promote the military is a bad idea for the Republic. Frank also hopes that introducing elites will hasten change in the military's thinking which fits right in with the Left mindset that change ought to be led by elites, and lawyers no less. At least he's on the side of the angels on this one.

Monkette2B's Birthday

The Monkette2B's Birthday is today.

Happy Birthday to the small woman who filled up my world.

I love you.

Enough already with Iranian stupidity

This is ridiculous: once again lunatic Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad went off the deep end, and once again the diplomat-speak of the Western world allowed him to maintain some dignity.

Ahmadinejad said the Holocaust is a myth.

The Holocaust is the most extensively documented systematic state-controlled mass slaughter in the history of the world.

Ahmadinejad is a liar.

But the Western diplomats refuse to denounce him in language that is appropriate.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier: "The recent remarks by the Iranian president ... are certainly shocking and unacceptable. I cannot deny that they may weigh on our bilateral relations and naturally also on the chances for the negotiations on (Iran's) so-called nuclear dossier."

European Commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin described the remarks as "completely unacceptable" because "such interventions will do nothing to rebuild confidence in Iran's intentions."

And even the Israelis acted like Frenchmen: "The combination of extremist ideology, a warped understanding of reality and nuclear weapons is a combination that no-one in the international community can accept," said Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev.

Here is the answer they should have given: President Ahmadinejad has lied to the world. His statements are evil and false. The Holocaust is an historical fact. If any non-Muslim said that Mohammed never existed, that statement would have no more veracity than President Ahmadinejad's declaration. Unless President Ahmadinejad can speak honestly, Iran will be ill-served by his leadership.

I'm waiting for the day when the Western diplomats will be as forthright and direct as the fools they deal with in regimes such as Iran, No. Korea and Syria.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

"McCain Treaty with Al-Qaeda"

Andy McCarthy's idea of the day is to call the upcoming McCain inspired anti-torture legislation for what it is.


FOMC raises rates

The Federal Reserve Open Markets Committee (FOMC) voted unanimously to raise the federal funds rate 25 basis points or one-quarter of one percent at its meeting today. The Fed Funds rate now stands at 4.25%. The FOMC, as expected, also dropped the word "accommodative" from its statement of the interest rate environment. This is a signal that an end to rate hikes is closer though not immediate as this phrase indicates:

The Committee judges that some further measured policy firming is likely to be needed to keep the risks to the attainment of both sustainable economic growth and price stability roughly in balance. In any event, the Committee will respond to changes in economic prospects as needed to foster these objectives.

The market currently is pricing in another 25 basis points for the January 31 meeting [Greenspan's last] and gives about a 75% chance of another 25 basis points at the March 28 meeting. As long as the economy is steaming along rate hikes make sense as they allow the Fed to 'reload' - they'll be able to have more room to cut when its next required.

Here's Larry Kudlow's take on the move - he's quite bullish.

Wal-Mart Employment

Greg Kaza at NRO has a piece on the Wal-Mart employment effect:

The U.S. economy entered its fifth year of expansion in November, with non-farm payroll employment, a broad economic indicator, having expanded by 4.5 million jobs (3.4 percent) since bottoming in May 2003. Wal-Mart, meanwhile, the nation’s largest private employer, has been creating new jobs at a much higher rate. Data obtained from Wal-Mart show the retail giant expanding employment by 15 percent in the same two-and-a-half-year period.
The Wal-Mart employment effect, rarely examined by economists, is so strong that it is counter-cyclical. In other words, the retailer has created new jobs in every recession since it went public in 1971, according to annual reports and monthly employment data. Few publicly traded companies can make such a claim.
Wal-Mart, by contrast, expanded its U.S. workforce by nearly 110,000, or 12 percent, during the eight-month 2001 recession.

Just consider for a moment that Wal-Mart is responsible for about 1% of all jobs in the country. Wags will complain about low wages and lack of a union but the fact is Wal-Mart is a tremendous job-creating engine and jobs, as opposed to lack thereof, is a good thing.

Tookie Williams' death and net 14 lives saved

California put Stanley "Tookie" Williams to death earlier today. Williams is the four-time murderer whose bloodstains have seeped throughout East LA and Southern California because he founded The Crips -- the notorious SoCal gang. Gov. Schwarzenegger denied clemency last night (scroll down to my post below for the clemency denial order), and naturally was ripped by the mindless European elites earlier today (note that Europeans themselves in most countries would allow the death penalty if they had the opportunity to vote on it).

But the most interesting concept that The Monk stumbled upon is the finding by LIBERAL law professor Cass Sunstein, who co-authored the study linked in the title of this post (PDF format). One of Sunstein's findings: each execution of a murderer DETERS EIGHTEEN OTHER MURDERS. In other words, USE of the death penalty potentially prevents about 18 killings! And Sunstein labeled his estimate "conservative".

The result? Tookie Williams' death directly results in a net saving of 14 lives (18 - 4). Unfortunately, that pidgin math cannot quantify the thousands of deaths that he, his Crips, their rivals The Bloods and LA gang wars have caused in the past 26 years.

Anti-Alito hitmen in the press

The fair-minded, slightly LEFT of center legal reporter for National Journal, Stuart Taylor, blasts the media's characterization and analysis of Samuel Alito. Taylor reserves special venom for Knight-Ridder's hit piece that appeared a few weeks ago:

. . . such egregious factual errors as the assertion on C-SPAN, by Stephen Henderson of Knight Ridder Newspapers, that in a study of Alito's more than 300 judicial opinions, "we didn't find a single case in which Judge Alito sided with African-Americans ... [who were] alleging racial bias." This, Henderson added, is "rather remarkable."

What is remarkable is that any reporter could have overlooked the at least seven cases in which Alito has sided with African-Americans alleging racial bias. Also remarkable is the illiterate statistical analysis and loaded language used by Henderson and Howard Mintz in a 2,652-word article published (in whole or in part) by some 18 newspapers. It makes the highly misleading claim that in 15 years as a judge, Alito has sought "to weave a conservative legal agenda into the fabric of the nation's laws," including "a standard higher than the Supreme Court requires" for proving job discrimination.

Taylor chronicles the factual errors, shoddy reporting (and inability of reporters to distinguish Alito's words from the sources he quotes) and shilling for liberal anti-Alito groups that major news outlets have performed. The result?

Through various mixes of factual distortions, tendentious wording, and uncritical parroting of misleading attacks by liberal critics, some (but not all) reporters insinuate that Alito is a slippery character who will say whatever senators want to hear, especially by "distancing himself" from past statements that (these reporters imply) show him to be a conservative ideologue.

* * *
The systematic slanting -- conscious or unconscious -- of [ ] news reports has helped fuel a disingenuous campaign by liberal groups and senators to caricature Alito as a conservative ideologue. In fact, this is a judge who -- while surely too conservative for the taste of liberal ideologues -- is widely admired by liberals, moderates, and conservatives who know him well as fair-minded, committed to apolitical judging, and wedded to no ideological agenda other than restraint in the exercise of judicial power.

The quality and ethics of American journalism has been poor for many years. But it has consistently dropped to new nadirs during the George W. Bush presidency.

Katie Couric coddles Ramsey Clark

Cliff May from the Corner takes NBC's Today show diva Katie Couric to task for gratuitous stupidity in an interview with Ramsey Clark.

Katie: “Now to another big story going on in Iraq: the trial of Saddam Hussein. And an unlikely member of his defense team: Former U.S. Attorney Ramsey Clark. He is here for his first interview since visiting his client in Baghdad last week. Mr. Clark, good morning.”

Unlikely? Clark never met a butcher he didn't want to coddle. May helpfully lists Clark's list of former clients:

- Slobodan Milosevic (war crimes)
- Radovan Karadzic (war crimes)
- Yasser Arafat (Achille Lauro)
- Muammar El-Qaddafi
- Karl Linnas (Nazi crimes against humanity)
- Jakob Reimer (Nazi crimes against humanity)
- Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman (conspiracy to murder)
- Elizaphan Ntakirutimana (Rwandan genocide)
- Charles Taylor (crimes against humanity)
- Leonard Peltier (murder)

I can't fathom what drives Ramsey Clark. May he spend eternity with Idi Amin.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Another must read

Andy McCarthy rips Secretary of State Rice for sloppy thinking and sloppy speaking on her trip to Europe last week. Specifically, he says "UNCAT [United Nations Convention Against Torture] simply does not prohibit the United States from engaging in cruel, inhuman and degrading conduct. It prohibits torture. Conduct arguably falling into the CID categories is prohibited, as far as the U.S. is concerned, only to the extent it is already illegal under our Constitution. The CID terms in UNCAT worked no change in our law or our international obligations."

Read it all to see why he's right and she's wrong.

Clemency denial -- Gov. Schwarzenegger's decision in full

Read the whole discussion of why Gov. Schwarzenegger denied Tookie Williams' petition for clemency.

Here is the distillation: (1) Williams is a four-time murderer; (2) the evidence of his guilt is clear; (3) the alleged problems of his trial have withstood judicial challenges at least eight times on both factual and legal grounds; (4) he has never stopped claiming his innocence therefore he cannot show remorse; (5) he cannot demonstrate efforts to curtail gang violence because he does not seek atonement for the death and destruction caused by the Crips and similar gangs who followed his lifestyle; (6) he dedicated his memoir "Life in Prison" to infamous prison rioter George Jackson, thereby casting doubt on whether Williams no longer sees lawlessness and extreme violence as legitimate expressions of societal viewpoints.

A well-stated denial by the Governor.

Clemency Denied for Tookie Williams

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has denied clemency to Stanley "Tookie" Williams who will die by lethal injection after midnight in California barring extraordinary circumstances.

We covered it here and here.

Here is a reminder of why Tookie is going to be executed. NOTE: THE PICTURES IN THIS LINK ARE EXTREMELY GRAPHIC.

Rewarding butchers - cut the PA off now

This is staggering - the appropriate response is to cut the Palestinian Authority off. Right now. Not a penny further.

PA chief Mahmoud Abbas approved this law last week:

Below is an English translation of an overview of the new law, as published by the PA newspaper, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida:

"...The fifth clause of the draft law includes granting a monthly allowance to the family of every shahid, taken from the general budget of the [Palestinian] National Authority… The sum of the allowance is estimated to be $250, but if the shahid was married [at the time of death], another $50 are to be added to the sum mentioned above, and if the shahid had children, [an additional sum of] $15 will be allocated to each of them. In addition, if the shahid had a [living] father or mother, a sum of $25 will be allocated to each of them. If the shahid had brothers, whom he had been taking care of, each of them will be allocated [a sum of] $15... The transfer of the allowances to the families of the shahids is expected to be carried out by the Institute for the Care of the Families of Shahids, through special [bank] accounts [opened] for the eligible people...

A 'Shahid' or a martyr is a euphemism for SUICIDE BOMBER.

HT: Jonah

Axis of Evil Update: the threat from Iran

Alan Isenberg rips the Europeans for their fecklessness and the US for its lack of direction in dealing with the man he calls "radical new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad." Tough language from a Newsweek International writer. He notes that "Tehran has masterfully exploited the limits of the U.S. and European approaches, pressing ahead with elements of its nuclear program, seeking strategic allies whom it can tempt with its vast oil and gas resources and further suppressing democracy at home."

His suggestions on a course of action seem fairly sound, although he places more trust in Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Ambassador to Iraq, than I would.

Meanwhile, Mark Steyn warns against viewing Ahmadinejad as merely a bombastic clown:

"Diplomatic" language is one of the last holdovers of the pre-democratic age. It belongs to a time when international relations were conducted exclusively between a handful of eminent representatives of European dynasties. Today it's all out in the open -- President Ahmaddasanatta [read: I'm mad as a (h)atter] proposed his not-quite-final solution for Israel on TV. [Bush press sec'y Scott] McLellan and [State Dept. spokesman Adam] Ereli likewise gave their response on TV. So the language of international relations is no longer merely the private code of diplomats but part of the public discourse -- and, if the government of the United States learns anything from the last four years, it surely ought to be that there's a price to be paid for not waging the war as effectively in the psychological arenas as in the military one. What does it mean when one party can talk repeatedly about the liquidation of an entire nation and the other party responds that this further "underscores our concerns," as if he'd been listening to an EU trade representative propose increasing some tariff by half a percent?

Well, it emboldens the bully. It gives him an advantage, like the punk who swears and sprawls over half the seats in the subway car while the other riders try not to catch his eye. The political thugs certainly understand the power of psychological intimidation. Look at Saddam Hussein in court, so confident in his sneering dismissal of judge and witnesses that he's generating big pro-Baathist demonstrations in Tikrit . . . It requires enormous strength of will on the part of free societies to bring blustering cocksure thugs down to size, even after we've overthrown them and kicked them out of the presidential palace. In Iran, President Ahmaddamytree figures that half the world likes his Jew proposals and the rest isn't prepared to do more than offer a few objections phrased in the usual thin diplo-pabulum.

We assume, as Neville Chamberlain, Lord Halifax and other civilized men did 70 years ago, that these chaps may be a little excitable, but come on, old boy, they can't possibly mean it, can they? Wrong. They mean it but they can't quite do it yet. Like Hitler, when they can do it, they will -- or at the very least the weedy diplo-speak tells them they can force the world into big concessions on the fear that they can.

Ralph Peters: Iraq is more important than a GOP Congress

NY Post columnist Ralph Peters predicts that the Bush Administration will begin drawing down troop strength in Iraq to give Republicans in Congress some political cover in the 2006 elections. This would be dumb, for the reasons Peters ascerbically notes and also because most Republicans are safe, especially in the House, where the Dems would have to win nearly all the few (27/435) contested races to regain control. Moreover, a Speaker Pelosi would put the Democrats' irrational defeatism and anti-Americanism squarely before the voting public for 2008 (when a reverse shift would occur).

The White House's policies should not be determined in any way by the desire to keep Rick Santorum or Lincoln Chafee in the Senate, especially because the Republicans still have a reasonable chance of dumping Democrat seats in Washington, Maryland and Minnesota.

Friday, December 09, 2005

FIFA to USA: you're still not welcome to succeed

The World Cup 2006 draw is in and once again the US has been placed in a group with two European sides, just as happened in 1994, '98 and '02. This draw, however, is the worst of the bunch because the US doesn't have two decent Euro teams (see '94: Switzerland, Romania; '02: Portugal, Poland); instead it has a quadrennial superpower, Italy, and the #2 team in the world (Czech Republic)! There is no way that a four-team group for the World Cup should have not only one of the eight "seeded" teams that are given preference as most likely to win the Cup, but also TWO of the top TEN in the World.

Here's the overall draw, which demonstrates how an undeserving Mexico benefitted from its seeding, while both the US and the Czechs were screwed; my comments are beneath each group:

Costa Rica

Not a complete cakewalk for the Germans, but only because Poland should give them some trouble. Nonetheless, Germany and Poland should advance; Ecuador has a chance.

Trinidad & Tobago

Easy pickings for the English and the Swedes, two of Europe's better teams. Justice means that the two will face each other first, not last, to add drama because each Euro squad will likely drub the other two.

Ivory Coast
Serbia & Montenegro

One of the two "group of death" groups: CONMEBOL runner-up and powerhouse Argentina plus two UEFA group winners in S&M (which topped a group that included Spain) and World #3 Netherlands. Poor Ivory Coast, in its first ever Cup.


This is why Mexico's seeding is preposterous -- the US credentials are better and the blasted Mexicans get this candy-a** draw. Portugal may be Mexico's equal, but who cares b/c the top two go through and the other teams cannot compete.

Czech Republic

The other group of death: Italy is #13 in the world and its history landed it a "seed" more than recent results; nonetheless, the Azzurri always do enough to get to the playoff rounds, then put on a run. The Czechs have no World Cup pedigree, but they are #2 in the World (even though Netherlands beat the Czechs twice in UEFA qualifying and won that group). The US won CONCACAF. The Ghanaians are fresh meat. The US needs to whip Ghana and either pull off two draws (ties) or beat the Czechs. This is rough going for the US.


A stroll in the park for Brazil, whose second-team could win most groups. Croatia is tough but Australia is the dark horse -- all of its players have European professional experience and the Aussies knocked off South American contender Uruguay to get this far.

South Korea

If the SoKors can play as tough as they did at home in '02, this becomes interesting because France is solid, but far down from 1998 and the Swiss are good, but not great. This is a similar group to the one the SoKors won in '02. Togo is lost at sea.

Saudi Arabia

This could be a full-on dogfight because Tunisia is typically one of the better African sides, Spain has a penchant for choking and Ukraine is very good, led by 2004 European Footballer of the Year Andrei Shevchenko. Everyone but Saudi getting two wins and a loss (with the Saudis losing all three matches) is plausible. Ukraine was the first Euro team to qualify, and it'd be a surprise if it didn't advance.

There you have it: the US screwed, the Czechs and Dutch screwed, Spain slotted in a group that should challenge it, while Mexico, Germany, England and Sweden can punch their tickets to the knockout rounds before kicking off.

Movie review: Classic, but not on screen

The Monkette2B and The Monk did our usual last night -- midnight show of highly anticipated movie. This time, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

As Cathy Seipp notes, there has been a great deal of chatter in the press about C.S. Lewis, author of the Narnia books, and Narnia as Christian allegory (or "supposition" as Lewis called it). The movie has been a frequent target of often knee-jerk anti-Christian commentary in the post-Christian left-wing British press, and the movie's release has enabled atheist anti-Lewis author Philip Pullman a soapbox (who wrote the Narnian antithesis, His Dark Materials trilogy) to condemn Lewis and fellow travelers to inveigh against Christianity generally. Ultimately, The Monk has no time for these idiocies: the criticisms of Lewis are usually superficial and motivated by anti-Christian or just anti-theist views. Pullman is a special sort of hack: anti-religion, anti-G*d, and a bit of a crank.

The movie itself is true to the book to a large degree, holds to its primary themes (betrayal, sacrifice and redemption) and it certainly does not proselytize. As for whether it's any good . . . that's a different story.

The story is well-known: the four Pevensie children are sent to the English countryside to escape the Blitz during WWII and are housed by the aloof Prof. Diggory Kirke. While playing hide-and-seek in his estate house (Brit profs made skads of money, it seems), Lucy hides in a wardrobe that leads her into another world -- Narnia. She returns, tells her sibs, and ultimately they all find their way in, learn of a prophecy that says Aslan the Lion will return to free the land from the White Witch and become embroiled in a war for Narnia's soul.

Herewith, the high points and low points.

The Good: the girls (Georgie Henley and Anna Popplewell as Lucy and Susan). Popplewell is the lone Pevensie sibling of the four with extensive acting experience and plays the secondary role of Susan very well. Henley is the breakout star, or should be, because virtuous and faithful little Lucy is the soul of the story and she does a fine job carrying the weight of the film, especially as a nine-year old actress in her first movie (at the time of shooting; she's ten now).

More good: the CGI creatures (much better than the costumed creatures), the exposition of the four sibs' relationship, Tilda Swinton's Cate-Blanchett-on-'roids performance as the White Witch, the sets, William Moseley's performance as Peter, the Beavers.

The bad: Some of the effects LOOKED like effects (i.e., the opening air raid scenes); the costumed creatures' makeup not up to the caliber of the CGI compositions, pacing often too slow.

The ugly: The Witch's dwarf sled-driver (the actor, Kiran Shah, who is only 4-foot-1 was Elijah Wood's stand-in for perspective shots in Lord of the Rings); washed out unnatural lighting for nighttime scenes.

Ultimately, the story is the key, the movie is missing some intangibles and requires a few too many leaps: why does Aslan's army follow Peter or (especially) Edmund? Why do the kids (other than Lucy) agree to stay shortly after they all fall into Narnia? Where the heck was Aslan for the past 100 years?

Overall, interesting movie, decently recreated, but not on par with The Lord of the Rings in style, scope, plot or movie quality.