Handful of Sand Goes Blu-Ray

blu-ray.jpgWith pressure mounting over the past few weeks as a result of the defections of Warner, Netflix, Best Buy, and Wal-mart, Toshiba finally acknowledged this week that the slow death of HD-DVD is complete. This announcment freed Universal and Paramount to announce their support for Blu-Ray discs (here and here). Roughly Drafted has a very interesting (and very detailed) history of the format war for those so inclined. With the emergence of Blu-Ray as the HD format of choice, this should be the year when HD moves into the mainstream. DVD still has plenty of life to live, but I think this will be the year that not-so-early adopters start buying into the new media.

Not-so-early adopters like me, in fact. Last weekend's developments gave me the confidence in the new format to go out and buy a Playstation 3. Now I'm not much of a gamer in my old age, but the Playstation 3 is also reportedly one of the best, cheapest Blu-Ray players on the market. As it has WiFi built-in, firmware updates can be downloaded and installed without much hassle (it was one of the first things I did after setting up the box). Since we already had a DVD player hooked up to our Sony 40" LCD via an HDMI cable, swapping in the Playstation 3 took less than 5 minutes. After completing the onscreen set-up, I popped in the Spiderman 3 disc that came with the system, dimmed the lights, and marveled at what high-definition really means.

Now I was convinced. I hopped onto Amazon, found a 3-for-2 sale, and ordered the first twelve titles of my nascent Blu-Ray library. The most exciting: the new, 5-disc edition of Blade Runner. I am practically salivating in anticipation of watching it.

UPDATE: Via The Digital Bits, a good example of why physical media is not going to be replaced by movie downloads any time soon.

Books Read - 2007

Last year I set a goal of reading 100 books, roughly two books per week. Though a quantity-based goal risks a distorting emphasis on shorter, easier books, I wanted to ensure that my busier schedule did not become an excuse for not reading.

It was during the summer before my second year in law school that I rediscovered my passion for reading. In 2004, the first full year of my Great Books Project, I read 89 books, including several doorstops like The Lord of the Rings, David Copperfield, and Crime & Punishment. Not too shabby, and more than I've been able to read since. After all, 2004 was the only year since my project began in which I was a student from January to December. I managed 69 books in 2005, the year I graduated, and just 52 books in 2006, my first year of full-time employment.

Last year, while falling short of my century goal, I managed to read 81 books. While this did include the Harry Potter novels and a few other children's books, I also finally got around to The Iliad, Beloved, and The Adventures of Augie March.

On the fiction side, the highlights of my reading in 2007 were Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, Raymond Carver's Where I'm Calling From, and especially Jose Saramago's Blindness. Among the nonfiction, the best were Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower, and Alan Taylor's American Colonies. The only real disappointment was Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union, a poor follow-up to his brilliant The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

We are now, of course, nearly two months into 2008. I again aim to read 100 books by the end of the year, and things have started pretty well. Thus far I have finished 15 books in seven weeks:

  1. Eventide - Kent Haruf
  2. Passionate Sage - Joseph Ellis
  3. The Assassins' Gate - George Packer
  4. Benjamin Franklin - Edmund Morgan
  5. The Survivor - John Harris
  6. Atonement - Ian McEwan
  7. The Tie That Binds - Kent Haruf
  8. The Cement Garden - Ian McEwan
  9. The Immortal Bartfuss - Aharon Appelfeld
  10. Cobra II - Michael Gordon
  11. Fiasco - Thomas Ricks
  12. In the Company of Soldiers - Rick Atkinson
  13. State of Denial - Bob Woodward
  14. Steppenwolf - Hermann Hesse
  15. The Sweet Hereafter - Russell Banks

My favorites so far are Ian McEwan's Atonement, read so that I could see the movie (which I have not done yet), and George Packer's The Assassins' Gate, easily the best of the five Iraq-related books on the list. 15 down, 85 to go. That's a lot of good books.

Blogging Again

More than seven months passed between my 29 June 2007 post and my return to blogging last week. As I mentioned shortly before my unofficial hiatus, I am now a military prosecutor at one of the Army's busiest bases in terms of courts-martial and criminal justice. As this began to take up more and more of my days last summer, it was hard to justify spending any of my limited free time on this blog. I had little energy at night for much beyond passive websurfing and watching DVDs. On the weekends I really had just two priorities: first and foremost, my wife; in a distant second, my reading.

Going into the fall, I had a number of time-consuming cases. I prosecuted a murder (resulting in a guilty plea and life sentence), a couple rapes (one conviction with a ten-year sentence, one administrative discharge), and more than a dozen other cases, including two fullly contested trials (both resulting in convictions, significant prison sentences, and punitive discharges). My last contested case was in mid-January, and I have begun to have a bit more free time to expend as I see fit.

A few other things have changed as well. I have made some advances up the steep learning curve for military criminal justice and am thus more efficient at my work. The primary election and my excitement at Senator Obama's campaign have me spending more time online than before.

Perhaps most importantly, in May I will PCS to a new office and will finally be co-located with my wife. I will also be deploying for three month rotations to Camp Arifjan, in Kuwait. While CONUS and co-located with my wife (for the first time in more than two years), my job will be less strenuous and I anticipate enough leisure time to be a more dedicated blogger. While OCONUS with Internet access, I will really appreciate having an online presence that my friends and family can keep track of.

So I'm back, and very happy about it.

Military vs. Marriage

As a military attorney married to a civilian attorney, any newspaper column titled "The Military vs. Marriages" is sure to get my attention; this one has been making the rounds since it was published in The Washington Post on Monday:

The U.S. Army recently announced that it would pay captains up to $35,000 in retention bonuses to stem the tide of junior officers leaving the Army, in part because of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bonuses may temporarily retain a few captains, but the problem will continue well into the future unless policymakers address a more fundamental issue: A military lifestyle makes the pursuit of a career nearly untenable for military wives.

While there are a few lines in the column tinged with too much self-pity, the fundamentals are spot on. The military system, with frequent PCS moves and deployments, places serious obstacles on any military spouse who simply wants to work or go to school. As the column's author is an attorney, she also identifies the issues faced by military spouses, like mine, who are pursuing professional careers their own:

Professionally licensed wives such as teachers (yes, and lawyers) are hit hard. Most licensed professions are regulated by states. Therefore, wives must test for, and pay for, new licenses with each move. In many professions, spouses get no credit for experience in other states, yet they must continue to pay annual fees to each state in which they are licensed. The process gets prohibitively expensive, forcing spouses to either pay hundreds of dollars per year to maintain licenses in multiple states (which is desirable, since the family may eventually be assigned back to that state) or relinquish the licenses they worked so hard to obtain.

And this is just the licensing aspect. This does not even touch on the employability of a military spouse whose roots in a community are never older than two or three years and whose Frankenstein-like resume would scare off employers looking for more than temporary help. What sort of legal practice is possible under such circumstances?

Of course the lawyer/lawyer marriage is going to pose special challenges. But this column makes clear that the basic problems are endemic to any military marriage where the spouse wants more than a purely domestic life.

Hillary's Unraveling

Senator Obama's big wins in Wisconsin and Hawaii last night further cement a solid delegate lead that I believe will be carried through the upcoming Texas and Ohio primaries. At that point, calls for Senator Clinton to drop out will start to emerge from corners of the Democratic Party currently inclined to let her lose demonstrably in the first week of March, rather than be seen as betraying her at this moment of weakness. I do not see this campaign lasting past that.

Somewhat lost in this forward-looking analysis is any discussion of why Clinton got to where she is... how exactly her campaign has so unravelled. The post-mortems on the 2008 primary season are yet to be written. After all, there is no mortem yet, despite the lifelessness her campaign demonstrated yesterday. But I think Ezra Klein has written an excellent column that foreshadows what the post-mortems will say, barring any substantial surprise in the coming weeks:

These results, in fact, have less to say about Obama than they do about Clinton, and in particular, the collapse of her campaign. Her aura of inevitability has given way to a fight for relevance. She is no longer the default candidate--her losses are not confined to demographically unfriendly electorates or surprise upsets. They have become the norm for her campaign and are damaging the foundations of her candidacy.

Ezra turns first to notice that for both senators, this is the first tough electoral fight either has faced:

Obama's path to the Senate largely required him to step over the bodies of establishment candidates who self-destructed in scandal. Clinton's 2000 victory over Rick Lazio and her 2006 triumph over the forgettable John Spencer demonstrated little about her readiness for combat.

Of course, Hillary was present and participating in her husband's numerous electoral battles, something that, as Ezra points out, she tried to rely on as evidence that she was the one who had the well-oiled machine, the experience and preparation not just to win the election, but to be ready on the infamous Day One to be President of this country. This picture was a perfect fit for the clear front-runner who was expected to sweep through the primary process and thus needed to focus on general election themes.

Unfortunately, there does not appear to have been a Plan B. Perhaps more surprising than Clinton's status as an also-ran over the past several weeks has been her campaign's total inability to adapt to this new reality. This is the well-oiled machine, loaded with experience? All I've heard is whining about Michigan and Florida, and the endless merry-go-round about superdelegates. How about, you know, winning some primaries? Getting people to vote for you? That's what this little democracy thing is supposed to be about. As Ezra points out, Obama seems to understand how it works:

Obama's campaign, in Iowa, South Carolina, and elsewhere, made good on their promises to excite new voters. Additionally, the Obama campaign ran a disciplined, forward-looking operation. It methodically organized--and, as a result, dominated--the caucus states; it predicted early on that the contest would drag beyond Feb. 5 and was thus better prepared in the recent primaries; the campaign ran a tight ship with little dissension, few gaffes, and no damaging leaks.

Clinton's campaign has done exactly the opposite. Aside from an important win in New Hampshire, she has not overperformed in any state. Tactically, her strategists have made a series of massive errors: They were so stung by their loss in Iowa that they largely turned away from caucuses, a disastrous mistake as the race became more dependent on delegates; they thought the election would be over early on and were unprepared to go past Feb. 5, which is why her organizing in post-Super Tuesday states has been so poor; they appear, only now, to be thinking through the implications of Texas' hybrid primary/caucus system--and Texas is a must-win. No one thought to dispatch an intern to ask the state's Democratic Party, how would March 5 work? How savvy of a campaign operation could this be?

Not so savvy, as it turns out. I think when we look back at 2008 and all the campaigns that crashed and burned, Clinton's will be the most interesting to dissect. Edwards got the same voters he got four years ago, but unfortunately his opponents were much better this time around. He did about as well as anyone expected, I think, so there won't be much more to say.

On the Republican side, Giuliani never stood a chance with the conservative primary electorate, no matter what the national polls said, and his Florida-firewall strategy simply reflected that. Thompson was a media mirage, lured into the race by pundits who falsely promised he would be greeted by as a liberator by voters. Romney's money could only mask his vacuity for so long.

Clinton is the only candidate whose plummet will be worthy of studied reflection. If she somehow pulls out a victory, it will be a revival of Charles Finney proportions. If not, I'm sure some will blame sexism, or Bill Clinton. But the truth will probably be a mixed tale of hubris and the bad luck to run against a man named Obama.

UPDATE: Scott Lemieux has more.

One Night, Two Victories

obama1.jpgThe only thing better than one electoral victory is two, and the progressive movement had two such victories yesterday. Barack Obama continued his march to the nomination with overwhelming wins in Virginia, Maryland, and D.C., and Donna Edwards won her Democratic primary battle against corporate incumbent Al Wynn in Maryland's 4th Congressional District.

As an enthusiastic Obama supporter (his is the first political campaign I've contributed to), I am naturally pleased by his victories. But the real excitement, with an eye towards November, comes from looking at the overall totals of the Democrats vs. the Republicans. In Virginia, which has trended blue but was still a Bush state in 2000 and 2004, Barack Obama received more than 619,000 votes, Hillary Clinton received more than 345,000 votes, and Republican winner John McCain received just under 243,000 votes. That's very good news for Democrats.

Well, it's good news for most Democrats. I do think Hillary Clinton is in real trouble. First, look at those results from the Potomac primaries again. Men, women, black, white, young, old... Obama Obama Obama. Then look at this photo from Obama's speech last night in Wisconsin:

obama2.jpg

This is a campaign that has people excited. It was good to see Senator Obama use this excitement last night to aim some of his firepower at his likely Republican opponent:

When I am the nominee, I will offer a clear choice. John McCain won't be able to say that I ever supported this war in Iraq, because I opposed it from the beginning. Senator McCain said the other day that we might be mired for a hundred years in Iraq, which is reason enough to not give him four years in the White House.

If we had chosen a different path, the right path, we could have finished the job in Afghanistan, and put more resources into the fight against bin Laden; and instead of spending hundreds of billions of dollars in Baghdad, we could have put that money into our schools and hospitals, our road and bridges - and that's what the American people need us to do right now.

And I admired Senator McCain when he stood up and said that it offended his "conscience" to support the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy in a time of war; that he couldn't support a tax cut where "so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate." But somewhere along the road to the Republican nomination, the Straight Talk Express lost its wheels, because now he's all for them.

John McCain is in real trouble too.

As if this was not enough, the other excellent news coming out of yesterday's contests was the Democratic Congressional primary in MD-4, where Donna Edwards has finally unseated the corporate-owned Al Wynn. Matt Stoller over at Open Left has been deeply involved in that campaign, and will certainly have thoughts on what the victory means for progressives, netroots, and the contests ahead. For the moment, check out these photos of some very happy people in Maryland last night.