Idle Predictions For 2006

Shorter William Safire predictions without that silly multiple choice convention (speaking of which, would it kill him to tell us in advance that “none of the above” or “all of the above” are options? Sheesh!):

  • U.S. troops in Iraq at 2006 year’s end will number 80,000 or below.
  • Speaker of the House succeeding Dennis Hastert will be Mike Pence.
  • Best-picture Oscar to Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain.”
  • The Robertscalito court will disengage from involvement in states’ redistricting in the Texas case; go the other way in Oregon, holding that federal power to prohibit substances trumps a state’s authority to permit physician-assisted suicide; decide that federal funds can be denied to law schools that prohibit military recruitment on campus; uphold McCain-Feingold, enabling Congress to restrict political contributions but not expenditures; and reassert citizens’ Fourth Amendment protection from “security letters” and warrantless surveillance.
  • Nonfiction sleeper best seller will be “In Search of Memory,” by Nobelist Eric Kandel.
  • Fiction surprise will be “Eye Contact” by Cammie McGovern.
  • Israel-Palestine affected by political split in successful Hamas, Mahmoud Abbas naming jailed Marwan Barghouti his Fatah successor, and dieter Arik Sharon’s centrist Kadima party winning big in March and forming coalition with Labor.
  • Government report most likely to resist investigative reporting will be both special prosecutor David Barrett’s 400-page exposé of political influence within the Internal Revenue Service and Clinton Justice Departmen and the 36-page report by the Senate Intelligence Committee about the 2000 terrorist attack on the destroyer Cole, cleared for release by the C.I.A. but suppressed by the Senate.
  • Stock market will finally reflect sustained 4 percent G.D.P. growth by Dow breaking through 12,000.
  • In Iraqi politics nationalist Iraqis and bridging Kurds will achieve a loose confederation and create a Muslim brand of democracy.
  • None of the following will be vote-changing domestic issues in this year’s U.S. elections: wiretapping and computer intrusions on privacy; extending reductions of dividend, capital-gains and estate taxes and reducing alternative minimum tax; growth in economic inequality and need for pension protection; or journalist jailing by the new leak-plumbers.
  • Thinking outside the ballot box – the dark-horse line for the 2008 presidential race will pit domestic centrists and foreign-policy hardliners Hillary (“You’re a Grand Old Flag”) Clinton against Condi (“I am not a lawyer”) Rice.
  • Conventionally, inside the box, Hillary vs. John McCain.
  • As Bush approval rises, historians will begin to equate his era with that of Truman.

Kind of boring, but this way you don’t have to flip the newspaper back and forth . . .

As for me, I have never been good at prognosticating, but I have a hunch about one thing in particular: Working on its own — without the blessing or knowledge of any state security or intelligence apparatus — the Fox Network will catch Osama bin Laden . . . and pair him with Kiefer Sutherland for Day 6 of the hit show, 24. The nation’s collective thirst for blood will be sated as the writers concoct scenarios in which Jack Bauer tortures UBL in order to move along various plot points. After the finale, bin Laden will be turned over to the U.S. government to stand trial.


Just when you thought things might be going well in Iraq, you read this

Kurds quietly ready for civil war
By Tom Lasseter
Knight Ridder Newspapers

KIRKUK, Iraq — Iraq’s Kurdish leaders have inserted more than 10,000 of their militia members into Iraqi army divisions in northern Iraq to lay the groundwork to swarm south, seize the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and possibly half of Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city, and secure the borders of an independent Kurdistan.

Oh boy. And just yesterday, Andrew Sullivan wrote:

Which is why the utopian idea that we really could transform Iraq is slowly yielding to the meliorist notion that we can help guide it haphazardly, and dangerously, forward.Which is why the utopian idea that we really could transform Iraq is slowly yielding to the meliorist notion that we can help guide it haphazardly, and dangerously, forward.

You call this forward?

Plastic Surgery Disasters

Forget savings bonds or a crisp twenty, whatever happened to the Xbox? Increasingly, people are giving plastic surgery as holiday — sorry, Bill — Christmas gifts:

Last year Helena Rasin’s grandmother gave her $200 for Christmas. This year her grandmother gave her a new nose.

“A nose job is the best Christmas present ever because you’ll have it forever,” Ms. Rasin, 25, a drug company representative in Los Angeles, said two weeks ago while at home recuperating from her rhinoplasty. “It’s not like some sweater you don’t like and have to take back to the store. Even with the bandages still on, I can already tell I look cuter.”

For a denizen of a looks-centric milieu like Los Angeles, Ms. Rasin, who emigrated from Ukraine in 1992, may seem like a plastic surgery late bloomer. Many of her peers had their noses bobbed back in high school and did not get cosmetic procedures this year, Ms. Rasin said. Instead they gave them to family members.

“It’s kind of in now, it’s kind of hip this year to give surgery,” Ms. Rasin said.

December has always been a busy month for plastic surgeons, whose schedules fill with patients seeking a little streamlining before the holiday party season or in advance of body-baring beach vacations. But this year, rather than going under the knife themselves, an increasing number of people conferred nips and tucks upon their loved ones, doctors say. Children financed $15,000 face-lifts for their parents. Sisters shelled out $500 for each other’s Botox treatments. And wives sent husbands to cosmetic dentists for $40,000 sets of porcelain tooth veneers.

A firm in Britain even sells gift certificates for procedures. Amazingly, some find this idea problematic:

But among some doctors and social critics the idea of buying loved ones new and improved body parts raises moral and psychological questions about the consequences of amending someone else’s appearance, especially if the gift was not requested.

You think?

In Praise of Unions (Maybe)

Although the NYC Transit Workers may have done their best to show the worst side of union labor, from clear across the country comes a story that shows just how important unionized workers are:

Alaska Airlines Flight 536 was 20 minutes out of Seattle and heading for Burbank, Calif., Monday afternoon when a thunderous blast rocked the plane.

Passengers gasped for air and grabbed their oxygen masks as the plane dropped from about 26,000 feet, passenger Jeremy Hermanns said by phone Tuesday.

So what happened?

An investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said baggage handlers had bumped the plane’s fuselage with loading equipment and caused “a crease” in the side of the aircraft. The handlers are contract workers hired to replace unionized workers in May.

. . .

Alaska saw an increase in ground-damage incidents at Sea-Tac after it replaced 472 unionized workers in May with workers from Menzies Aviation, based near London, the airline said. The switch contributed to a sharp increase in delayed departures from Sea-Tac.

Apparently the baggage handler didn’t think it was important enough to report the dent. Here’s to taking pride in your work!

L.A. Confidential

Over the holidays, I tend to spend the wee hours of the morning voraciously consuming my parents’ 400 channels of digital cable, a trend that will only accelerate when my Dad inevitably buys a Plasma TV and home theater setup.

After 7 years of catching bits and pieces of Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential during those late-night TV sessions, I finally caught enough of Act I to finally understand the whole movie! It’s a great flick, and if anyone hasn’t seen it, do yourself a favor and rent the DVD so you can watch it in order (though I have to admit there’s a certain post-modern, fragmented effect that’s achieved by multiple partial viewings over several years, like a Picasso painting).

It’s a remarkable feat, the way it pares down the novel to its essence without missing a beat. The editing is so tight it crams what could have been a 4-hour epic slog into a crisp 2:20. Good stuff.

A Great Miracle Happened Here, Or Towards A Better Drinking Dreidel Game

Dreidel, that silly game of chance, is even more fun as a drinking game in which the following rules* apply:

  • Set firm alcohol limits; we cannot stress this enough — one bottle of beer for every person participating is a good guideline.
  • Each player is given a small shot glass to be filled with beer. (Manischewitz would work, too, but it would be disgusting.)
  • Players take turns rolling the dreidel: a GIMEL means that everyone except for the spinner drinks all (glasses are then refilled); HEY — everyone except for the spinner drinks half (“half the distance to the goal” rules apply — do not refill); SHIN — spinner drinks half (“half the distance to the goal” rules apply — do not refill); NUN — no one drinks.
  • If NUN is rolled twice in a row, everyone drinks, including the spinner.

Drinking Dreidel is a pleasant before dinner game, and can be used as an ice breaker at Hannukah parties.

*To recap “traditional” dreidel rules: NUN (looks like an end bracket: “]”) — nothing happens and the next player spins the dreidel; GIMEL (looks like an end bracket with a tail, kind of like “],”) — player takes the whole pot; HEY (the letter appears alongside of “Yod” in the Jewish Chai symbol) — player takes half the pot; and SHIN (looks like a “W” ) — player must put one game piece into the pot.