Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: April 2005

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Odds and Ends

The other day in talking about Marvel movies, I named a number of characters under option to various producers and thus unavailable to Marvel itself for potential movies. The Beat identified all the characters listed in a recent Marvel filing with the SEC, which included Luke Cage and Deathlok in addition to those I named, so that's perhaps two fewer to include in Marvel's slate of ten films. (Deathlok is optioned to Paramount, though, who will be distributing the new Marvel productions, so perhaps they can work some sort of deal.)

But before Marvel gets too excited about their future in the film biz, perhaps they should take a look at Ron Rosenbaum's latest column in The New York Observer, in which he attacks what he calls the "Cinema Stupido." He mainly rails against Kill Bill, but he gets a couple of licks in against Sin City and graphic novels in general. (Thanks, Dirk.)

I had no intention of making this entry a rundown of what's at The Beat, but Heidi McDonald's got the goods this week. You can check out the just-announced Harvey Award nominees from the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art here, and the latest grants from the Xeric Foundation for self-published comic books here. For a blast from the past, you can compare the Harvey nominations to the Eisner nominations that came out a couple of weeks ago (and which I should've noted at the time). Once upon a time the Eisners seemed more focused on the commercial mainstream than the Harveys did, but this year, although they don't have lots of overlap of nominees, neither appears more MOR than the other.

The Beat also points us to Tom Peyer's blog, which features pictures and more pictures of an important strategy session at the Pentagon.

Peyer has some fun stuff on the blog as a whole, particularly his illustrations of news events (and other things) in comic book covers. It's graphics heavy, though, so it may take a minute to load. I'm adding him to my list on the right.

Another blog I added recently is rocket to nowhere. I've divvied up the links by subject, but rocket to nowhere doesn't fit any I've got now. For the time being, I'll move it to the pretentious-sounding "Flights of Prose" (all pretension should fall on me, though--rocket to nowhere is not pretentious). Any suggestions for a category are welcome (and sh, you're also welcome to weigh in on the subject of in what box you'd like me to pigeonhole you).

The Mystery of the Transmutable T-Bills

I've seen this mentioned a few times, but I still don't think it's achieved the kind of attention it deserves, so here's my take on something the President discussed in his press conference the other night.

In talking about private accounts to replace Social Security, President Bush said:

I know some Americans have reservations about investing in the stock market, so I propose that one investment option consist entirely of Treasury bonds, which are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government.

Fair enough, but a few minutes later, he again took it upon himself to explain how modern banking works:

Now, it's very important for our fellow citizens to understand there is not a bank account here in Washington, D.C., where we take your payroll taxes and hold it for you and then give it back to you when you retire. Our system here is called pay-as-you-go. You pay into the system through your payroll taxes, and the government spends it. It spends the money on the current retirees, and with the money left over, it funds other government programs. And all that's left behind is file cabinets full of IOUs.

Given that bond is just a more respectable name for IOU, what's the difference between the trustworthy T-bills in private accounts and the worthless T-bills in Social Security? Is it the filing cabinet? If the private account T-bills were placed in a filing cabinet by mistake, would they lose the full faith and credit of the United States government? Conversely, if we took the Social Security T-bills out of the filing cabinet and put them in a safe deposit box or something, would the United States government agree to back them up again? This is an important question. I would be loath to put my retirement money in a private account if I was only going to end up with IOUs.

According to Brad DeLong, perhaps we should all be loath to put our money in the kind of account the President described. He did the math on how such an account would compare to what's available right now in Social Security if we do nothing to reform it at all. With a 28% differential, it's a pretty significant loss. The public doesn't like math, but that's what large swaths of this story will ultimately be about. Go take a look at DeLong's actual numbers.

Stan's Marvelous Settlement

In Thursday's post about Marvel movies, I mentioned that that was one of the day's big stories in comics. The other big story was Stan Lee's settlement with Marvel. He'd sued Marvel three years ago for his contractual share of the profits from the recent Marvel movies. While that trial was ongoing, it was often misunderstood that Stan was suing for the actual rights to the characters he co-created. Observers would sometimes get up in arms that, although Stan was getting his due, the artists that he originally worked with were still being ignored. But this was entirely a contractual dispute--Stan said the company owed him money it had promised and, as these things usually go, Marvel said it didn't. A big court decision in Stan's favor a couple of months back led to the expectation that Marvel would be coming to the table to bargain before very long.

That's exactly what happened, and now that a settlement has been announced, it seems that we're not getting the same kind of misunderstanding. (Examples are here and here.) The details aren't exactly public, but the assumption is that Stan gets $10 million. (The reasons for that assumption can be found in those same links.) Apparently everybody's happy. The AP has it on good authority that at least Stan is. They quote his lawyer: "We are very, very happy with the resolution." Yeah, I guess--although the speculation up until now has been that he would do better. Tom Spurgeon at The Comic Reporter took a look at headlines about the case and speculates that "Lee also seems to have won some sort of right to being referred as sole creator of the Marvel properties and various indifferent press sources even call him a cartoonist." Although a different AP report referred to "cartoonist" Stan Lee (or maybe it was the same one I quoted, but somebody at the Sun-Times knew better and corrected it for their paper), my own quick look at Google News didn't reveal anything about rights. Spurgeon, of course, has far better sources on this than I do.

Friday, April 29, 2005

A Closer Look at Social Security

Don Byrd at Article 19 is devoting his weekend to examining the ins and outs of Social Security reform. He's off to a good start with his first post:

So, the President, the one who does nothing about global warming projections that may drown our coastal cities in 150-200 years; the one that does nothing about North Korea and Iran getting weapons that could threaten the very existence of Western Civilization; the one that has done nothing to fix the budget he has left in such disrepair that the public debt in 2050 will be a far greater concern than some social security shortfall. In other words, our President has paid no mind whatsoever to any number of legitimate looming catastrophes; and yet, this potential fender-bender, almost 50 years down the road, has consumed the first 100 days of his second term.

I'll be checking in with him over the next few days.

So What Did He Talk About?

Once again, we received a very genteel performance from our President. No real challenges, nothing unexpected, no requests to identify one (just one!) mistake he may have made. The big news, although he framed it as though he were saying nothing at all, was that he intends to gut social security. Here's what he said:
I propose a Social Security system in the future where benefits for low-income workers will grow faster than benefits for people who are better off. By providing more generous benefits for low-income retirees, we'll make this commitment: If you work hard and pay into Social Security your entire life, you will not retire into poverty. This reform would solve most of the funding challenges facing Social Security.
That sounds nice and innocuous, but here's what he means. Benefits for higher-income workers will not rise with the cost of living as quickly as benefits for low-income workers will. Instead of staying at a flat line, at which someone retiring in 2025 would get the same exact payment as someone retiring today--ignoring the effects of inflation--payments for low-income retirees will grow faster than payments for higher-income retirees. Payments for higher-income retirees in 2025, then, will grow more slowly and will be closer to that flat line of what retirees get today!

Although Bush has refused before now to provide any specifics for his Social Security reform, the working assumption has been that he supports a plan devised by Robert Pozen, former vice chairman of Fidelity Investments and currently chairman of MFS Investment Management. The President's sketchy comments last night do nothing to undermine that assumption. For a more detailed idea of what the Pozen plan would mean, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities gives us an analysis. It tells us that progressive price indexing such as what Bush described "would impose substantial benefit reductions on average workers" and "would transform Social Security over time from a retirement program to more of a welfare system."

The President chose his bland and unassuming language on purpose, and it slipped past some people. Ted Koppel admitted on Nightline that he didn't think the President made any news, but he was corrected by The Washington Post's Dana Milbank. Although Milbank wrote analysis of the event for The Post, the lead on the paper's front page clarified the issue: "President Bush called on Congress last night to curtail future Social Security benefits for all but low-income retirees in an urgent new effort to address the popular program's shaky finances." On The Post's Website, Dan Froomkin helpfully provides a rundown of how other papers reported the press conference.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Free Expression Policy Project

In looking for some links for the previous post, I came across The Free Expression Policy Project, a fascinating site dedicated to issues of censorship, copyright, and fair use. It's run by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. I've come across their site before, and it's also full of incisive legal commentary. I thought the Free Expression Policy Project and the larger Brennan Center for Justice were too interesting to embed somewhere in the larger post, so I figured I'd give them their very own spotlight. Go take a look at both sites. I know I'm going to explore them further.

Your Own Personal Censor

President Bush yesterday signed a new copyright bill, the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act, that allows you to legally bowdlerize the film of your choice in the privacy of your own living room. Hollywood agreed not to fight the provision in exchange for much tougher penalties--three years for a first offense-- against pirating movies. (Is the film biz really in danger of going under due to some guy with a video camera in the seventh row? Last I looked, industry profits seemed to be doing OK.) The Director's Guild is reportedly still not happy, and who can blame them? This effectively puts into place a mechanism to "protect" the public from their work.

For the time being, the new law will primarily benefit ClearPlay, a Utah company that features cultural scold Michael Medved on its advisory board. ClearPlay will sell you a DVD player with built-in filters that will edit out unacceptable content while you watch a movie you've bought or rented. (By the way, this practice is not called censoring, bowdlerizing, or even editing--ClearPlay refers to it as sanitizing.) This just affects playback and does not change the DVD itself, and according to the new law, it does not violate the copyright of the DVD. Other companies have been buying copies of movies, cleansing them as they saw fit, making copies of the new versions, and selling or renting those copies. The new law does not protect these companies from being sued.

According to a list on ClearPlay's site, filters are available for Hotel Rwanda (genocide can really overdo the violence), The Woodsman (who wants to be distracted by sex during a nice outdoorsy movie?), and The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (I don't have kids, so I'll have to rely on informed readers to let me know what smut I'm spared here). A report on Morning Edition yesterday discussed another company, Nissim, which is currently in a patent dispute with ClearPlay. Nissim claims it's going to release a competing filtering system that will let viewers cut out whatever parts of a movie they want. If you want just the sex, violence, and crude language, you can sanitize away the rest of the filler material.

I can see my weekend plans falling into place already. After consulting the list of available filters again, I'll order up one of the ClearPlay DVD players and pop in Fatal Attraction for twenty minutes of good, clean fun.

Marvel Movies

One of the big stories in the comics world today is that Marvel has struck a new deal with Paramount for ten films based on Marvel super-heroes. The studio will be distributing, but Marvel will be producing, so all financial and creative control will be with the comics publisher. This is interesting, and not an obvious move on Marvel’s part, at all. Sure, we’ve seen a large number of Marvel characters up on the big screen of late: the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises have been huge. But not quite as popular have been the Hulk, Daredevil, Blade, Elektra, the Punisher, and Man-Thing. Fantastic Four is coming this summer, and Ghost Rider is currently in production. But all these films means that somebody else has the rights to those characters. In addition, the Sub-Mariner is in preproduction with Universal, Iron Man’s in preproduction at New Line, and Black Widow and Iron Fist are both licensed to Lions Gate.

So who’s left? The press release names Captain America and Nick Fury, for two. Also Thor and Dr. Strange come to mind. But, depending on your own personal ranking of Marvel characters, we’re well into the second tier at this point, and it just goes down from there. Tom Spurgeon suggests that this doesn’t matter. If they take a relatively unknown character, they can make a movie without any preexisting fanboy expectations. Look at Blade, for instance. There’d been at least one Blade comics series with a very short run before the Wesley Snipes movie came out, but for the most part he’d only appeared as part of a team or as a secondary character in some other book. There was no reason to think that a Blade movie would be a sure thing, but it was successful enough to spawn two sequels.

But I get the feeling that Marvel wants to go for some big names. One rumor is that $180 million of a $525-million credit line set aside for film production over seven years is earmarked for Captain America. Although he has some amount of name recognition (and can currently be seen in a triumphant star turn in a VISA check card commercial), I’m not sure the good captain is a slam dunk for film success. (His previous films haven't exactly been blockbusters--oh, you didn't know there were previous Captain America films?) The character could work if the film is set in World War II, Cap’s original milieu, but it could also be trouble if they try to bring him into the present day (where, admittedly, his series has been set for the past forty years). What does Captain America represent in the early years of the new century (we could also ask what does America itself represent, but my brain hurts enough already)? Does he fight in foreign wars? Does he go to church? Does he turn his back on the political and just catch bank robbers? I don’t see an easy transition to the big screen for this patriotic icon.

One interesting footnote to possible movies is the fact that for the last little while, Marvel has been courting movie and TV writers and directors to write their comics. Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is writing X-Men, Reggie Hudlin (House Party, The Ladies Man) is writing Black Panther, and J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5) is writing Dr. Strange, among several others. Could the publisher be trying to get at movie talent through the back door? Could the Black Panther and Strange series--two characters who may not already be licensed to other producers--be potential storyboards?

What’s He Going to Talk About?

Yesterday, the President scheduled an unexpected press conference for this evening. What’s he got on his mind? Scott McClellan said that the conference had been planned for a couple of weeks, but apparently the White House hadn’t bothered to tell anybody. This is a guy who hates to answer any questions that haven’t been carefully screened (although, judging from past performances of the liberal media, he’s got nothing to worry about), so he must feel this is a necessary evil. Will he try to give us a rah-rah, ain’t-it-great-how-Social-Security-reform-is-going-so-well session? (He’s just back from his barnstorming tour of the country in support of that reform, which he’ll not doubt claim was a rousing success--oddly, though, for some reason public support of the idea [he’s yet to issue an actual “plan”]) has dropped.) Will he declare his undying devotion to Tom DeLay and/or John Bolton? Will he repeat yesterday’s pitch for nuclear power and oil refineries? And how will the White House press corps respond? They’ve been getting barely more confrontational now that the President’s approval ratings have fallen. Will they just take whatever he’s willing to feed them, or will they challenge him at all? Will they feel more empowered knowing that Jim/Jeff Guckert/Gannon isn’t present to toss the President a lifeline question about Democrats being out of touch with reality? (And all along, I thought Democrats’ supposed problem was they were stuck in the reality-based community.) The Washington Post just reported that Bush will talk for a full 10-12 minutes about energy and Social Security, maybe even offering his much discussed but never-before-revealed plan for the latter (that’s what I get for taking so much time to craft these postings--the news goes and happens without me). Tune in to find out.

Well, maybe you can tune in. With a scheduled start time of 8:30 EST, Bush steps right into the first night of May sweeps. Will the networks preempt the second half of Survivor: Palau or The O.C., the entirety of Will & Grace, or the second half hour of Sweet Home Alabama for the President to talk to the nation and the press? As I write this, the four net Websites show no programming changes for this evening, but Internet Movie Database reports that FOX has decided to air the press conference. ABC is another possibility, because how much of a ratings draw is Sweet Home Alabama, anyway? But CBS and NBC? The President is likely to run over into CSI and The Apprentice. Don’t forget a couple of months ago how CBS was lambasted for interrupting the climax of CSI: New York with the not insignificant little tidbit that Yasser Arafat was dead. And NBC has so little ratings success to hold onto these days, that it can’t afford to let The Donald sit idle.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Fundamental Puzzles

Dr. Al Mohler is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He was one the sponsors, along with Focus on the Family and others, of last weekend's "Justice Sunday," in which the Senate Majority Leader and various fundamentalist religious leaders declared that Democrats (and anyone else who opposed any of George W. Bush's judicial nominees) were tools of Satan.

Coming up to the event, a statement he made a few years ago on Larry King Live was resuscitated and trotted out to embarrass him. Here he is, quoted in Texas's Baptist Standard newspaper: "As an evangelical, I believe the Roman church is a false church and it teaches a false gospel. . . . I believe the pope himself holds a false and unbiblical office." A few bloggers had some fun with the quote, and I was about to join in when I looked to see what I could find on Google.

Apparently, Colorado's Senator Ken Salazar, warned by a Focus on the Family spokesman about the "anti-Catholicism" of some of his Democratic colleagues, went on the offensive and wrote a letter to Dr. James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, pointing out Mohler's previous anti-Catholic statements. Mohler, on his own blog (!?), responded to the statement himself (scroll down), essentially saying, "Duh, they're Catholic and I'm Baptist, of course we disagree." OK, here are his actual words: "Well, I stand by my comments. . . . My statements reflect nothing more than classic evangelical theology. What educated person is unaware of the great theological divide that separates evangelical theology from Roman Catholicism?" (You didn't think so when you first read it, but my summation was pretty close, wasn't it?)

I'll admit it, I just don't get fundamentalists. In the particular political issues they advocate (abortion, the filibuster, a constitutional amendment against gay marriage, banning stem-cell research, etc.), their beliefs cannot be compromised, but when it comes to actual salvation--well, they'll just agree to disagree. Elsewhere on his blog, Mohler presents a link to this article in which he discusses ecumenism between Evangelical Protestants, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox at greater length (8,000 words). I haven't read it, but perhaps it sheds some light on when faith must be rigid and when it can be more flaccid. One night if I can't get to sleep, I might just check it out.

Hot Off the Presses

Speaking of magazines, the first part of Elizabeth Kolbert's global warming trilogy in The New Yorker is now available online. The second part is on newsstands in the current issue.

Toronto Magazine Scene

If you're into indie(ish) magazines, is Toronto the place to be? The new Utne Reader says it is. They've noticed a critical mass of periodicals old and new coming out of there, and they spotlight a number of them, including Brick, C Magazine, This Magazine, and several others. Utne already brought attention to The Walrus and Musicworks in their 2004 Independent Press Awards. On the off chance that we have any readers in Toronto, perhaps someone could let us know how it looks from the ground.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


The new Bruce Springsteen CD, Devils & Dust, is out today. When it doesn't sell as well as Born in the USA did twenty years ago, watch him get raked over the coals for campaigning for John Kerry and "killing his career." No one will pay attention to the fact that he hasn't sold at Born in the USA numbers since that album came out. (How did The Rising do? If I remember, it was a relative disappointment saleswise.) It won't be mentioned that this is a solo album without any extra players, just a boy and his guitar, so its more appropriate comparisons would be with Nebraska or The Ghost of Tom Joad, neither one exactly a blockbuster. No, the story we'll see in the liberal media will be that Springsteen's fan base has deserted him for getting political, that he's The Boss no more.

Why Is Reid Peddling a Compromise?

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has stood firm against Republican threats of using the nuclear option, he’s kept the Democrats united behind him, and across the spectrum the American people disapprove of the Republican maneuver. So why is he looking to make a deal? Josh Marshall has some speculation. It’s hard to tell from the outside, and maybe Reid does know what he’s doing, but we’ve seen too many instances of the Democrats giving away the store to feel confident about it.

In his defense, Reid's rhetoric doesn’t sound like he’s caving. In a press release on his website yesterday, he commented on his party’s blocking of 10 out of Bush’s 215 judicial nominations (the other 205 have all been confirmed).
Apparently, that 95 percent confirmation rate--better than the last three presidents--is not enough for George Bush. They want more…even if it means shattering the checks and balances in our government in order to put radical, right-wing judges on the bench. [Ellipses his.]

We don’t have a judicial crisis in this country. We recently saw the lowest vacancy rate on our courts in 14 years. What we have is a Republican party abusing its power in an attempt to stack the courts.


As I was putting this entry together, I came across Frist’s response to Reid’s offer of compromise: “The answer to that is no.” So Frist refuses to back down from doing something only the religious right wants, and Reid appears more reasonable, his attempt to meet Frist somewhere in the middle rebuffed. Maybe the Democrats have an actual strategy after all.

UPDATE: Edited to correct Reid's title.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Quick Celebrity Hits

Elton John is reportedly getting married. Or is he? Britain's new civil partnership law goes into effect on December 5, but is it "marriage"? According to this story, civil partnerships are available for gays and lesbians only--heteros need not apply. They have to get married or nothing. Most of the news sources I've seen are using the words wedding and marriage to describe what Elton and his partner David Furnish are planning. But if we're using the same terminology for gays and heteros anyway, why not just use the same laws for everybody?

Who saw Farrah Fawcett on Letterman tonight? Did anybody else think she looked like a Muppet?

Coming Soon to a Cell Phone Near You

Security was tight around "Speed of Sound," the new single from Coldplay. It was set to debut on BBC Radio1 DJ Steve Lamacq's show and would be available to registered members of Coldplay's Website immediately afterward. Chris Martin was delivering it to Lamacq personally. Coldplay fans the world over sat on the edge of their seats to hear the latest offering from the band--unless they already had the song on their cellphone.

For about a week before "Speed of Sound" made its radio debut, 30 seconds of it was available for download as a Cingular ringtone. And we're not talking the cheesy monophonic (or even polyphonic) ringtones you usually hear. "Speed of Sound" was available in its full master recording, the same sound you'd hear on CD. (For their part, Coldplay pointed out on their Website that this was a promotion for a U.S. mobile phone company and the group themselves were not involved.)

Record companies are eyeing ringtones as a new revenue stream and also as a way to keep their product in front of the public. (Here's one place to read about it.) Radio hasn't been very welcoming to new music for years, and videos have long since gotten shoved to the margins of the schedules, so for the past few years we've been looking to commercials and TV or movie soundtracks to break new music and artists. Now, with ringtones, we have the chance to hear them all around us (depending on the taste of whoever's cellphone goes off). On the down side, we also have the chance to get sick of songs before they even reach their release date.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Cohen for Nobel Laureate!

North of the border, CBC broadcaster Paul Kennedy is spearheading a campaign to promote Leonard Cohen for a Nobel Prize in Literature. It's not known how susceptible the Swedish Academy is to persuasion--only the Peace Prize takes outside nominations, and it's assumed that the committees for the other prizes routinely ignore any external influence. Still, an argument can be made for Cohen deserving of the honor.

In conjunction with the Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival, Kennedy organized a public forum to discuss the issue, which was later broadcast on his CBC radio show, Ideas. You can listen to the program here, and it's worth your time if you've got 55 minutes.

Unfortunately, Kennedy was not as well served in a segment on Public Radio International's The World. The introduction to Derek Stoffel's piece there set the tone that this was not an effort to be taken seriously:
Past winners include Kipling, Camus, Hemingway, Yeats, and Bellow. Only the world's greatest authors can lay claim to having won the Nobel Prize for Literature. But now, a campaign is underway in Canada to award the prize to someone who doesn't seem to belong in that company.

It's not that Leonard Cohen isn't a gifted writer. He certainly is. It's just that people think of him as a tunesmith as much as a wordsmith.
Stoffel did nothing to offset that tone when he took over the microphone: "Listening to Leonard Cohen, it's hard not to agree that he's not a singer . . . he's a poet who allows his poems to come alive as songs. But is this Nobel Prize winning material?"

The quotes they chose to use from Kennedy didn't do him any favors, either. Cohen's songs, the broadcaster said, "sort of provided punctuation to periods of my life--that make him a profound influence," coming across as though he believed the Nobel Prize was all about him. Kennedy has an ability to put words together, but you wouldn't know it from this: "There's something--if you could define that you can define what greatness is, what genius is, what poetry is. But he's managed somehow to make words fit together--very simple words--fit together in a way that is totally profound and affecting."

In closing his report, Stoffel found a forty-year-old Cohen quote suggesting that he wouldn't want a Nobel Prize, anyway:
Well, ah, I think that history and time pretty well builds obselecense [sic] into poetry, unless it's really, really the great stuff, and you don't know if you're hitting that. Sometimes you know about it. Sometimes it has a kind of ring. But I'm not interested in posterity. I like the stuff I do to have that kind of horizontal immediacy rather than something that is going to be around for a long time. I'm not interested in an insurance plan for my work.
Does Cohen still feel that way? He'd have to tell us. But points of view shift over time. If my memory's correct, wasn't Pete Townshend hoping to die before he got old at about the same time? He seems to have changed his mind--maybe Cohen has, too.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Summer Music

As band information was beginning to leak out, Lollapalooza organizers held their kick-off press conference yesterday and announced roughly half the bands in this year's lineup, currently scheduled for July 23 and 24 in Chicago's Grant Park. No surprises, particularly, with Pixies, Widespread Panic, Weezer, and the Killers leading the billing. Only 33 bands were announced, and the official Website still promises more than 60. Tickets went on sale after the press conference and start at $85 for both days, although that price will rise progressively (without notice) to $115. There's still not an official permit, but The Trib (registration required) quoted the superintendent of Chicago Parks to the effect that the festival would take place, with the permit likely approved next week.

There are some interesting groups on that list, but there doesn't seem to be the star power that one would expect. I know the point of festival bills like this is to get a lot of acts that will appeal to a wide variety of people, so that between them, they'll draw a big audience. It could happen, but I can't get out of my mind the fact that last year the tour was canceled outright when it couldn't sell tickets.

Another tour was announced this week, this one for the fall. Paul McCartney's coming around again, with his Chicago date scheduled for October 18 at the United Center. Those tickets go on sale Monday, with a top price of $250. So, you can spring for a primo seat to see perhaps the richest musician in the world, or you toss another five bucks into the pot and treat yourself and two friends to two days of music in the park.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Great Moments in Local Broadcasting

In an interview with Sarah Ferguson, visiting Chicago for some reason I missed, WMAQ anchor Warner Saunders wanted to know: "Is it comfortable to carry that royal thing around?"

Impeachment Follies

Here's a story from my own backyard that I had to find out about from Atrios because I didn't watch the right newscast last night. Retiring Representative Henry Hyde admitted in an interview with Chicago's WLS, the ABC affiliate, that the House impeachment of President Clinton was payback for the effort to impeach Richard Nixon 25 years earlier. I guess the Republicans in the 1998 Congress forgot that Nixon wasn't actually impeached. Perhaps they didn't notice that the House Judiciary Committee vote to approve three articles of impeachment against Nixon was not a strict party-line vote--the three articles passed with six, six, and two Republican votes, respectively (out of seventeen--ten Republicans, including Trent Lott, voted against all three). Maybe it never came up that, although the articles cleared the Judiciary Committee, they never went to the House floor for an up-or-down vote. But when it comes down to it, I guess revenge is not generally motivated by a careful examination of the facts.

According to The Raw Story, WLS pulled this report from its Website, but it's been reedited and put back (with a less obvious head and without a link to the video featured on the original). For the time being, that original can still be found in Google cache. In its first manifestation, which I'm assuming was a transcript of the actual broadcast, reporter Andy Shaw stated, "It will be interesting to see what happens when Hyde's comments hit the national media." He might be right, but Atrios speculated that the liberal media would ignore Hyde's statements completely. More than twenty-four hours after the original story aired, his assumption is correct. A quick search on Google News lists only three additional references to the original report (one of those is the Raw Story piece I linked to above, and none is a mainstream source). Not even ABC, the owner and operator of WLS, has picked this up at the national level.

UPDATE: As it is wont to do, Google updated its cache, so the link above now shows you the newer version of the report. For the record, as of 3:00 Saturday afternoon, Google News still shows no mainstream media picking up the story--just WLS, The Raw Story, one progressive blog, and two conservative blogs (without trying to step into the middle of the blogs/journalists war, why are blogs listed in Google News?).

I've got webshots of the original Google cache, but they're 2 megs apiece, so I don't want to put them in online storage. If any tech-savvy readers can tell me if these can be compressed without making them unreadable, I'd be greatly appreciative.

Another Update: Thanks to Stevie T., we can now offer you screen shots of the original report here, here, and here.

Happy Earth Day!

Find out about Earth Day past and present (or find out if Earth Day was really last month). Read the first of a three-part report on global warming in this week's New Yorker, which is available in hard copy only, but an interview with the author is available online.

Still More Bankruptcy

Here are a couple more thoughts on the new bankruptcy bill. President Bush had some wise words on the subject when he signed the bill: "If someone does not pay his or her debts the rest of society ends up paying them." (Via Article 19)

Bush is right--that's just basic economics. I hope this new recognition will extend to Bush's understanding of the Social Security trust fund. Just a couple of weeks back, he was in West Virginia looking at a filing cabinet. "There is no ‘trust fund,' just IOUs that I saw firsthand." Bush may not have seen what he expected to when he visited the Bureau of Public Debt, but perhaps now he'll realize that those IOUs are just as valid as debts as are credit-card bills.

(Another thing Bush said in West Virginia has continued to bug me: "A lot of people in America think there's a trust, in this sense -- that we take your money through payroll taxes and then we hold it for you, and then when you retire, we give it back to you. But that's not the way it works." While the President doesn't reveal whether he thought that or not, for anybody who does, I'd recommend getting a quick primer from Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life. As George Bailey, he staves off a run on the Bailey Building and Loan on Black Tuesday, quieting the mob with the following explanation of how banking works:
You're thinking of this place all wrong. As if I had the money back in a safe. The money's not here. Your money's in Joe's house... (to one of the men) ...right next to yours. And in the Kennedy house, and Mrs. Macklin's house, and a hundred others. Why, you're lending them the money to build, and then, they're going to pay it back to you as best they can.

Now that I think about it, Jimmy Stewart is also currently the poster boy for filibusters. Maybe we'd all understand our civics better if we took our lessons from Jimmy Stewart/Frank Capra movies.)

Getting back to the bankruptcy bill, Robert Reich pointed out on Wednesday's Marketplace that while we're making it harder for individuals to get back on their feet after becoming overwhelmed by debt, we're letting corporations that file bankruptcy largely off the hook. When such entities are pressed by rising medical and pension costs, bankruptcy judges will often simply release them from those obligations, which then fall onto their current or retired employees who, thanks to Congress and the President, now have an even more narrow margin of error in managing their own debt.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

A Blast from the Past

Ken Starr just showed up on Nightline to talk about the independence of the judiciary during all the attacks from Republicans in Congress. Interestingly, this time around he's not in favor of impeachment. And he's not sure he likes how the Satanic filibuster is being used, but he's not in favor of nuking it.

He also reminds us of the 1968 Republican filibuster of LBJ's nominee for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Abe Fortas. You'll recall that this effort successfully blocked an up-or-down vote on the nomination and kept Johnson from appointing a Chief Justice. After Earl Warren resigned, the office was not filled until Nixon became president and nominated Warren Burger. For a quick run-down on that situation and how it relates to the present disagreement over nominations, check out this piece from The Washington Post. Not surprisingly, when faced with the comparison, current conservatives argue, "Yeah, but that was different."

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Bankruptcy: No Longer the Last Refuge of Patriots

The President today signed into law the rigid new bankruptcy regulations Congress passed a few weeks ago. If you find yourself over your head in debt, you've got far fewer options today than you did yesterday. Four years ago, after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, President Bush asked us to go on with our lives as normal, continuing to spend and keeping our consumer-based economy afloat. If any of your debt was incurred in these patriotic endeavors, we greatly appreciate your efforts, but you're on your own now. Good luck to you.

No Justice, No Cheese

The National Family Farm Coalition demonstrated with the above chant in front of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on Monday in support of an international dairy policy that would establish price floors for dairy farmers around the world. Patty Lovera, Deputy Director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program, is quoted in an NFFC press release: “If the price farmers get for their milk is always dropping, why don't prices at the grocery store drop as well?” I don't have anything much to add--I just wanted to use the headline.

How Much Time Have You Got Left?

From out of the mists of e-mail comes this longevity calculator, in which you answer questions about your lifestyle. Answer as healthily as possible, and you'll have decades ahead of you. Give the wrong answers, though, and you're living on borrowed time. After I chose all the worst options, it told me I should've been dead 20 years ago. (Thanks to Bob and Ron.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Overlooked Fiction

Over at Baseball and Real Life, Stu Shea offers some comments about baseball's monolithic focus on the One True Rivalry (Red Sox v. Yankees–and there's no question where I stand on that) as well as East Coast publishing's self-involvement to the exclusion of other regions of the country--not necessarily a problem in itself except to the extent that the East Coast defines the national book publishing agenda. I think this is another manifestation of the media swarming I discussed below.

As a possible small corrective to all this, I noticed an article in today's Chicago Tribune (which actually first appeared a week-and-a-half ago in the LA Times--both of those papers require registration, so here's what appears to be the same piece on the open Web) about a litblog collective looking to spotlight overlooked works of fiction. Nowadays, it seems a book has to get on the best-seller list to have a chance at success, so if it's not written by Stephen King or Dan Brown (or, for more literary examples, the article suggests Tom Wolfe or Cynthia Ozick), it's been overlooked. I've paid more attention to political blogs than to the litblog scene, so I'm not familiar with the players here, but I'm intrigued by this small attempt to break the New York monopoly on culture (LA is also involved in the monopoly if we broaden the types of media, but if you're talking books, you're just talking New York.) The group blog is here, and it provides links to the various participating blogs. They're scheduled to announce their first overlooked book on May 15.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Congressional Retribution

That previous musing, of course, was set off by the current rhetorical attacks on the judiciary (I know, looking for consistency is a sucker’s game). Apparently “activist judges” are now those judges who don’t do something, that something being changing their opinions to reflect the current whims of fundamentalist lawmakers. (The reverse, though, does make some amount of sense--“passivist judges” would be those who sit and wait to be told what their opinions should be and then hand down their rulings accordingly. Somebody should be compiling a glossary of all this.) So is it OK now for judges to legislate from the bench if their rulings reflect right-wing preferences?

The punishment for not bending to the will of the current Congressional leadership appears to be the threat of impeachment (or if Michael Schwartz, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn’s chief of staff, is to be believed, impalement). Tom DeLay himself famously threatened retribution, and Reagan Supreme Court appointee Anthony Kennedy has been an early target. But I wonder how far they're prepared to go. All this gnashing of teeth is in the backwash of the Terri Schiavo case. My count could easily be wrong, but it seems to me that of the 22 federal judges involved in the various rulings after Schiavo's feeding tube was removed, only two chose to weigh in in favor of reinstating the tube. Are Congressional leaders willing to go after all 20 of those (including the entire Supreme Court) who, at best, kept their mouths shut, or will they be selective?

To look on the bright side, there is the possibility here of a chance to restore bipartisanship to Congress. One of the judges of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who did not offer a dissenting opinion against the court's decision to deny the appeal of Schiavo’s parents was William Pryor, appointed by President Bush during a Congressional recess because Democrats had threatened to filibuster his nomination. If Republicans are now ready to impeach Pryor for not standing up in the Schiavo case, a good number of Democrats who never wanted to see him on the court in the first place might be willing to join them.

Rule of Law

I can't say why, but I'm feeling nostalgic tonight for the Republicans and their devotion to the Rule of Law during the Clinton impeachment. The impeachment itself was an ill-advised exercise in hubris that ultimately failed, but you’ve got to admit, the rhetoric could be lofty. Let’s take a look at Henry Hyde’s opening statement to the House of Representatives as it considered the articles of impeachment:

Now the rule of law is one of the great achievements of our civilization, for the alternative is the rule of raw power. We here today are the heirs of 3,000 years of history in which humanity slowly, painfully, at great cost evolved a form of politics in which law, not brute force, is the arbiter of our public destinies.

• • •

The phrase "rule of law" is no pious aspiration from a civics textbook. The rule of law is what stands between all of us and the arbitrary exercise of power by the state. The rule of law is the safeguard of our liberties. The rule of law is what allows us to live our freedom in ways that honor the freedom of others, while strengthening the common good.

Remember when Republicans used to claim to believe that?

Things to Do in New York

I’m behind in reading James Wolcott, but last week he pointed us toward an exhibit at the New-York Historical Society, Thomas Paine: Patriot and Provocateur (I have no idea why they hyphenate New York, but it’s their name, so they can do whatever they want). It only runs through Sunday the 24th, but if you’re in the neighborhood, check it out. It sounds suitably incendiary.


I was writing up another entry to meet the promise that I made below to post something else before the evening was out, but I was thwarted by a power outage. I don't know if the new monitor is pulling more power, but it was the only thing I'm aware of that's different from any other night. I don't believe I'm using any more appliances than I usually do. I hope it's nothing more than a fluke. Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled post.

Until I was so rudely interrupted, I was wondering with my keyboard about the identity of the next likely subject of a press swarm. I'm not sure what causes the liberal media to clamp onto one story and hold on until they've drained all the life from it. Whatever the story de jour is, it pushes almost everything else out of the news, sometimes to the extent that you can't tell anything else important is even going on in the world. I'm developing some theories about it that I may share later if they seem to add up to anything, but right now I just want to speculate on what might come next. These have been happening more and more frequently, but it's been about a week since the most recent one, the Pope's funeral, and frankly I'm starting to miss it.

One possibility is the selection of the new Pope, but there are a number of variables at play there. First of all, it depends on how quickly the cardinals make their choice. The liberal media is no doubt hoping for a selection in a day or two because, as long as the cardinals are in conclave, there's effectively a media blackout on the whole story. We're just left sitting there, watching the chimney, hoping to see white smoke. That's not the most scintillating TV you'll ever encounter. And remember, whoever does come out of the conclave with the keys to the popemobile will, in all likelihood, be relatively unknown, particularly by the US-centric liberal media.

It may be interesting if Cardinal Ratzinger gets the nod, with the recent revelation of his involvement with Hitler Youth (he would have been entering his teens during World War II). Another wild card, which I consider so unlikely as to be virtually impossible but is worth mentioning, would be the elevation of Cardinal Law. His prominence during the run up to John Paul's funeral upset a number of people in the U.S., but I don't now how it played overseas.

The next swarm that everyone was surely expecting has completely fallen flat. The Michael Jackson trial has been one big bust from a media point of view. Even though he's had a freakish reputation for a number of years at this point, for quite a long time Michael Jackson had a huge fan base, by whom he was beloved. He was such a familiar and welcome presence on the pop charts that I think a lot of people find the circus of his trial truly distasteful. The public seems to be reacting to the whole situation as if an old friend had taken an unfortunate wrong turn. I don't think there's a great deal of questioning the evidence, but people just don't want to know about it. That makes the whole spectacle lose its voyeuristic appeal.

Tom DeLay is another subject of the next possible swarm, but I don't sense enough blood in the water at this point. New developments could change that, but I see DeLay fighting, probably unsuccessfully in the long run, but effectively enough to keep the press at bay.

It's always possible that the next press swarm could be over something that's barely on the horizon. I doubt many saw all the interest that was displayed in the Terri Schiavo case until it was already upon us. Or am I missing something? Anybody have any suggestions?

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Getting Back Up to Speed

I had to spring for the new monitor yesterday, but I'm back on my own computer, so I again have access to the files I need to make the last couple of updates to the format of this page. The monitor is getting some periodic interference from something, which was a problem I didn't confront with the previous one. That one was more than five years old, though, so perhaps the more recent technology in the new monitor is just more sensitive. I've tried turning off everything else in the room, but that didn't seem to make a difference. The interference is not constant, so I should be able to identify what's changing when it starts or stops, but so far no progress. My current best guess is that our downstairs neighbor is running some sort of electronic gadget.

I hope to get an actual post with something to talk about sometime later this evening.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Filibuster: Tool of Satan

My monitor problems are ongoing. I’m posting this from a borrowed computer--like it or not, I’ve made a commitment to myself to make at least one post a day, and I’m not going to let something stupid such as not having a computer stop me.

It may be just as well, but my limited computer access has kept me from adding my comments to the flap over Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s joining the conservative Christian Family Research Council’s nationwide simulcast rally next week to stop what they're calling “The Filibuster Against People of Faith.” That’s right. The Democratic filibuster against less than a dozen of Bush’s judicial nominees is no longer just an unpopular position on the right. And it’s not just un-Christian, it’s anti-Christian. (Although, if we look at the language they’re using, perhaps that’s not true, either. The Family Research Council is not saying the filibuster is against any religion in particular, it's labeling it against “people of faith” in general. Perhaps the filibuster is also anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim, anti-Buddhist, anti-Hindu. . . .) I’m sure they felt just as strongly when Strom Thurmond set the Senate record for filibustering against a civil rights bill in 1957 (which passed regardless, by the way).

Frist’s adding his voice to the rally gives it an appearance of respectability that it doesn’t deserve, but the story’s advanced since yesterday, so I’ll advance along with it. As I said above, perhaps it’s just as well. Via Article 19, I see the Clergy and Laity Network and DriveDemocracy is organizing a response. Here’s part of their press release:

Such an action is immoral, deceitful, and beyond the pale of even politics as usual. We call on Senator Frist to immediately cancel his plans to attend the event, and we urge all elected Republicans to condemn this wholesale attack on the religious practices of their political opponents.
In a related statement, Rev. Albert M. Pennybacker, executive director and chair of Clergy and Laity Network, said, “Attacks by Republicans on the religion of those who differ politically are offensive in America.” He’s right, and so blatantly so that we shouldn’t even need to discuss it, but here we are. One of these days the religious right will overreach so obviously that moderate Christians (and they do exist--I’ve seen them) will disassociate themselves from the fundamentalists who are speaking in their name. Tom DeLay may have started the process already. Will Bill Frist add to it on Sunday, April 24?

Friday, April 15, 2005

Lolla Revisited

The updates on the Border Crossing issue got me to take a look at what other posts could stand another look-see. There's apparently been a little, tiny bit of action on the Lollapalooza front. The organizers still haven't announced an agreement with the city for a permit to hold the festival in Grant Park, and they still haven't announced any bands. However, Dinosaur, Jr., have announced that they'll be ending their reunion tour at Lollapalooza. Two bands identified--68 to go.

Since what little info we've got is leaking out through bands making their own announcments, I thought I might see what I could find on google. Unfortunately, I couldn't come up with quite the right collection of search terms. But here are some bands we should not expect to grace this year's Lollapalooza stage: U2 will be in Rome; Chicago (the band, not the city) will be in Raleigh; Ozzfest will be in Pittsburgh and Washington, so that cuts out Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Rob Zombie; Eminem says he's not touring until later in the year; Elvis Costello will be in Boston (although he'll be in Chicago on Sunday night and then is coming back three days after Lollapalooza). More news as it breaks.

Has Bush Been Reading the Canadian Press?

Echoing Canadian complaints, the President yesterday expressed reservations about new U.S. requirements for entering the country. "When I first read that in the newspaper about the need to have passports, particularly the day crossings that take place, about a million for instance in the state of Texas, I said, 'What's going on here?'" Recognizing the dynamics of the problem, he pointed out, "If people have to have a passport, it's going to disrupt the honest flow of traffic."

This is mostly being reported as his calling for a review of the new policies, but I'm not sure it's all that. Once he's fully briefed, I have full confidence the President will be on board. The Globe and Mail is correct to point out that Bush isn't questioning the policies themselves so much as the details. As I wrote last week, biometrics are a distinct possibility for shortcutting the process, and the President brought that up again yesterday, suggesting finger imaging as a substitute. Bush wants the same kind of rigorous identification processes to cross the border that State and Homeland Security are calling for, he just wants to sidestep the cumbersome and time-consuming practice of pulling out and examining an actual passport. His comments have done little to change the issue.

Computer Issues

I may not get much up today. I'm having problems with the computer and may need to replace the monitor. Grrrr. Therefore, blogging just dropped down on the list of priorities.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Playing in a Traveling Band

I'm glad to see some of the new British bands taking on ambitious North American tours. For far too long in the ‘80s and ‘90s, most Brit bands would try to break the U.S. market through records and videos. They'd do journalist tours--play New York, L.A., and maybe another place or two along one of the coasts so the people who might write about them could see them, but that's it. They failed to wander into the hinterland to make any appearances for the potential fans who might actually buy their music. And guess what? With very few exceptions, they failed to make major inroads onto the charts. I blame the Beatles.

I've heard a number of theories about why and how Beatlemania came about, but none of them has been entirely convincing. It didn't have to explode the way it did. Capital Records had turned them down more than once, and Vee-Jay, which released their first couple of singles, could barely get any action on them. The boys' first appearance on U.S. TV was a film clip shown on Jack Paar's show, which Paar broadcast as a joke–the attitude was very much, "Those crazy British kids will fall for anything." The publicity turned around, of course, and by the time the Moptops arrived on these shores for their live TV debut on Ed Sullivan, they'd already hit Number 1.

Although no one would claim that the Beatles' situation wasn't a special case, I think that they made it look too easy and that for years after, British musicians somehow believed they could similarly take the U.S. by storm. No, I don't think anybody would actually have made such a claim, but, at least according to the evidence of the limited North American marketing plans we've seen over the years, that certainly seems to have been the mindset. It makes a certain amount of sense. The British press and media are more centralized than their U.S. counterparts, and even though bands tour around Britain, the shorter distances make the whole process easier. A major North American tour is a huge undertaking of money, time, and energy, so if it's possible to sidestep it, performers by all means would certainly do so.

I don't know what has changed so that modern bands seem more willing to take on the tours, but my guess would be that someone was paying attention in April 2002 when, for the first time since the Beatles charted almost 40 years earlier, there were no British acts in Billboard's Hot 100. We could no longer take for granted that Brits would always be a part of the American music scene. Whether that's the reason or not, we've certainly seen a stronger British presence in the clubs and on the concert stages than had been obvious a few years ago. Although I wasn't keeping a scorecard and could have missed some visits, I know Franz Ferdinand played at least three shows in Chicago in 2003, each time in a larger venue. The Futureheads have recently scheduled their third Chicago show in seven or eight months. Kaiser Chiefs played here in March and have another show scheduled for the end of May (which doesn't include their announced Lollapalooza date). Bloc Party finished up a three-week U.S. tour last week, but they're back in for more (though they're not apparently hitting Chicago this time), at the end of next month.

More bands playing more shows. You can't much improve on that.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

DC Drops Eurocomics

I know, nobody even realized DC Comics was doing Eurocomics, and before anybody much could even find out, they canceled the whole line. If you'd been interested, you certainly weren't going to hear about it from DC. I can't remember for sure, but I think I may have seen one (two at the absolute most) ads for the line. I thought it was a bold, exciting plan when I heard last year that DC Comics had decided to reprint and distribute material from Humanoids Publishing from France and 2000 AD from Britain. Although I hadn't picked up any of the Humanoids books that were already available in this country, they had been very well reviewed, and I looked forward to exploring the line after I had a chance to carve out a large chunk of time and energy (I know, but I can dream, can't I?). Over the years, 2000 AD has been a proving ground for a large number of British creators who have gone on to huge success in American comics--creators such as Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Dave Gibbons, Brian Bolland, and a host of others.

For whatever reason, DC never chose to promote this material. Although the comics store I frequent, Chicago Comics, stocked the lines, from what I hear DC's Humanoids and 2000 AD books were barely available in other stores. My guess is that DC had expectations of making huge inroads into mainstream bookstores. Why those plans fell flat, though, I have no idea. In the last few years, the normal superhero books from DC and Marvel have been getting trounced in Barnes and Noble, Borders, or wherever by imports of Japanese manga. It only makes sense that DC would try to vary its product and come up with something else that would sell to mainstream readers who never darken the door of a comic book store. (DC also recently introduced a new line of manga, which is having problems of its own. Although the publisher is so far continuing its commitment to those books, a few of the comics message boards and blogs are speculating on how long DC manga may have left.) What doesn't make sense to me is why DC would make a big splash with Eurocomics and then jump right back out of the water. As reported, the original agreement between DC and Humanoids called for 36 titles a year, and that's how many are now listed at DC's Humanoids Webpage. It‘s extremely odd to me that DC apparently just let them sit there. It's a publishing company, after all. You'd think the powers that be would have some sort of plan beyond if you publish, they will buy.

The good news is that Humanoids and 2000 AD will continue to publish. Humanoids was available in English before DC came along, and they'll continue to be afterward. The books that were already published will remain available in DC's backlist. Although the whole thing hasn't worked out as I'm sure they hoped, Humanoids has seen its profile raised quite a bit in the U.S. market, so the publisher is better off now than they were when this whole thing started.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Dignified Reading

In the comments to this post, Stevie T mentions that Maryland schools have started a test program using comics as teaching tools. The very next morning, NPR's Morning Edition featured that same story. Click here to hear it yourself. The report had pretty much everything you'd expect--teachers defending their use of comics as tools to get kids interested in reading, parents complaining that comics are wasting their kids' time, students coming down on both sides of the issue by enjoying the comics but still wishing they could play video games instead. My favorite moment came from the mother who wondered why, instead of comics, the kids weren't reading Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. Setting aside the fact that Twain's novel has run into its own problems as part of a school curriculum, the main reason these kids aren't reading it now is that they're not reading much of anything! Teachers turn to comics to get their students reading at all. With their pictures, comics can be less imposing than other textbooks. But they still have words on paper, and if young students begin to enjoy reading these words, they may go on to read more words in other places. If they don't discover the joy of reading, whether it's through comics or through encyclopedias, they'll never move on to Huckleberry Finn under any circumstances.

Apparently the schools are using a number of comics titles, but the one featured in the report was Jim Ottaviani's Dignifying Science, a collection of biographies of female scientists with art by a variety of comics artists. Schools could do much worse than reading Ottaviani's work. Not only are the comics interesting and enjoyable, they're informative and educational, too.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Banality's Downfall

In writing about the trial of Adolph Eichmann, Hannah Arendt described the banality of evil. I had a friend who vociferously disagreed with that concept. Evil, my friend said, was big and odious, and overwhelming. You always knew when you were in the presence of evil, she insisted. If that were true, of course, we'd always be able to recognize and sidestep evil no matter how it presented itself. It would also mean that all the evil we encounter in the world, both large evil and small evil, would be the result of conscious choice. I never had a chance to pursue this argument with my friend, and perhaps that's what she believes.

Downfall, the Academy-Award-nominated German film that chronicles the end of the Nazi regime in Hitler's bunker, presents its evil as fairly banal. The movie is gripping and fascinating, but a large part of that is due all the baggage we bring to it as viewers. We know who these people are and what they did. Many of them, including Adolf himself and perhaps especially Eva Braun, are portrayed as oblivious to the world around them. In a short segment at the very end of the film, the real Traudl Junge, Hitler's secretary who's portrayed by an actress during the film itself, says as much--although she claims she hadn't been aware of the atrocities of the Nazi regime while she served Hitler, when she did find out about them, she had a hard time relating them to her own actions, recognizing that these horrors had anything to do with the work she and her colleagues did during World War II. As viewers, we don't have that problem. We know what they did, and we easily assign blame where it is due. The characters themselves are symbols of evil, so banal or not, we're mesmerized by what they do and what happens to them.

If we were not seeing Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler, Speer, and the others now notorious to history, would this movie be as compelling? If it were telling the story of the end of some anonymous totalitarian regime, would it hold our interest as relentlessly as it does now? That's hard to say, but I'm not sure it would. This is a tale of hubris, of overreaching, of bringing about one's own downfall. And as such, it's something we've seen a number of times before, if not exactly in this guise. The familiarity of the basic situation can't be denied. And that, I'm afraid, is testament to the true banality of evil, to how evil can remain unassuming and unobtrusive, to how it can slip through our defenses and take hold before we even know what's happened.

Sunday, April 10, 2005


Have you got your tickets, yet? After last year's lackluster cancellation of the entire tour when the festival couldn't sell enough tickets, this year Lollapalooza is back with a single-site concert in Chicago's Grant Park--maybe. The Chicago Park District hasn't granted a permit yet, but they're talking in much more positive tones than they did a couple of days ago. In the past, they've turned down applications from Smashing Pumpkins and the Other Ones, a band made up of Grateful Dead survivors, for similar Grant Park shows, but Radiohead and Shania Twain have successfully performed there.

So far, no bands have officially been announced for the July shows, but there are supposed to be 70 on five stages over two days. Lollapalooza founder and Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell will reportedly be performing, and the aforementioned Kaiser Chiefs have announced a Lollapalooza date to close out their next US tour. Green Day, Beck, Widespread Panic, and Weezer have been touted as potential headliners, but those are, of course, only rumors. Even so, Lollapalooza sold 2,000 tickets in less than an hour and a half at their Website on Thursday. If they keep that up, I guess there won't be a danger of cancellation this year. That is, provided they can line up a concert permit and strong slate of performers.

Saturday, April 09, 2005


As I was roaming around online looking to see how various other people may have organized the accoutrement of their own blogs, James Wolcott pointed me toward this rather dreary assessment by James Howard Kunstler of life in these United States after the oil runs out in a few years. Sure, it's alarmist and Kunstler's timetable may be overly pessimistic (elsewhere--scroll down to the March 27 entry--he suggests Bush may be forced from office as the energy crisis develops), but I think his basic premise is valid and deserves discussion. The piece, which appeared in Rolling Stone, is adapted from Kunstler's upcoming book, The Long Emergency.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Run for the Border

A couple of days ago, U.S. officials announced they were looking to tighten the border between the U.S. and Canada. For decades it has not been necessary for Americans or Canadians to use a passport to go from one country to the other, but within a couple of years, it will be (though, at least for the time being, Canadians will not have to be fingerprinted to enter the country). Although some may see this as directed specifically toward Canadians, Americans coming back across the border will need their passports, too.

Is this evidence of isolationism on the part of the U.S.? I suppose it is, but I can’t get away from the fact that we’re talking about an international border, and the U.S. has the right to protect it as it sees fit. Will this slow commerce between the two countries? It might, but the U.S. and Canada are both talking about biometrics (my unease about which is a subject for another day)--that might actually speed up the process of clearing customs. To prove that the policy is not yet set in stone, they’re also talking about whether other documents, such as some sort of (not-yet-existent) border-crossing card, could be used instead of a passport.

I’m curious to see how Canada will devise its official response. I can see a quid pro quo, in which Canadian customs will also require a passport, but I can just as easily see Canada going the other way, keeping the requirements as they are now in a sort of gee whiz statement of “You guys are welcome here, anytime.”


I'm catching up on a backlog of subjects that have been gathering in my mind since I started thinking about joining the blogoverse. There's just too much to talk about these days.

Juan Cole has pretty much become the go-to guy for insight into the Middle East, but recently he had some interesting comparisons to make between Middle Eastern politics and recent events in the U.S. Congress.

"The cynical use by the US Republican Party of the Terri Schiavo case repeats, whether deliberately or accidentally, the tactics of Muslim fundamentalists and theocrats in places like Egypt and Pakistan. These tactics involve a disturbing tendency to make private, intimate decisions matters of public interest and then to bring the courts and the legislature to bear on them. President George W. Bush and Republican congressional leaders like Tom Delay have taken us one step closer to theocracy on the Muslim Brotherhood model."

A couple of weeks ago in a radio interview, Lt. Gen. John Vines in Iraq explained why some of the jihadists are antagonistic to democracy in that country. "They have the world view that man has no right to determine their own conditions, they have no right to make laws because all laws flow from God, and they think that democracy is anti-Islamic." Vines identifies this as an extremist view, but it's one that's finding a foothold in the U.S., as well, particularly in the calls for Jeb Bush to "storm the Bastille" and force Terri Schiavo's feeding tube to be reinserted from such sources as morality/slot machine czar William Bennett and perennial right-wing candidate and comic relief Alan Keyes. (Of course, when we later learned Jeb started to do just that but then backed down, the liberal media didn't exactly jump all over the story. The Miami Herald broke the story, and although they're usually subscription only, they seem to generously have made this article widely available--at least for the time being. But how many reports during the Schiavo circus did you see that even acknowledged that wrinkle in the story?)

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Kaiser Chiefs

I saw the Kaiser Chiefs a couple of weeks ago, and they gave us an upbeat little show. They've had too much press, even if most of it has been quite good, so they can't quite escape the aura of hype that's attached itself to them, and a backlash seems ready to pounce. Thomas Bartlett over at Salon's Audiofile called them posers (although he also offered a free download of their lead-off single "I Predict a Riot" for your trouble). I'm not ready to argue with him--lead singer Ricky Wilson is much too enamored with himself onstage as frontman to offer easy rebuttal (of course, I thought the same thing the first time I saw Bono twenty-however years ago, and we all know how that turned out). But the charge did bring up the question (Article 19 regularly ridicules those who misuse the phrase beg the question, so there'll be none of that here) of what it means to be a poser amid the neo-80s post-punk revival we're currently experiencing. Too much Tommy Tutone squeezing out Gang of Four among your influences? You've got XTC on CD rather than vinyl? Morrissey returns your page rather than passing it over to his people? Somebody's going to have to identify the edges of authenticity of newer new wave for me.

Declaration of Principles

OK, it’s a fair enough question. What makes this blog different from any of the ones I mentioned above or of the millions of others out there? Why should you spend your time surfing over to my little clearing among the online brush? While I’m tempted to paraphrase the Smiths (this one is different because it’s me) and leave it at that, I’ll spell out a little bit of how I see this developing.

I’ve chosen a title that I hope will spur me to keep this space well updated. A half dozen comments posted weeks apart can hardly be considered talking myself to death, so I’m setting my sights high and hoping I don’t discover that I’ve made a much larger commitment than I realize at this point.

In the grand solipsistic tradition of blogs, I’ll be writing about things that interest me, but I’ll also draw upon the communal aspects of the blogosphere and link to other items and opinions as I come across them. I’ll talk about music, movies, pop culture, et al. I’d like to talk about books, but I’ve got to admit that my reading is not as voluminous as it once was, so there may not be as much fodder as I’d prefer. Comics are likely to come up from time to time, though (a quick shout-out to all my “Comics can be books, too” friends). It’s impossible for me to avoid current events, but, like a number of other progressives lately, my patience for politics has worn thin. However (obligatory “out”/“pulled back in” reference), the subject will
probably keep popping up more often than I expect.

Most of all, though, I expect this process to evolve. Although I read a lot of blogs, I don’t entirely know what I’m getting into with creating and keeping up my own, so we’ll see how it develops. I may find the plusses and minuses of blogging to be far different than I anticipate.

--Only my second post, and I'm already confronting the Blogger problems I've heard so much about. If you're reading this, congratulations are in order--Blogger finally let me post.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Started a Blog, I Started a Blog–Look at Me! I Started a Blog!

Even in the absence of a huge groundswell of support, here I am on the old WWW. Although setting the blog up was, as promised, relatively easy, I had the worst time trying to establish a URL address. It seems everybody had already taken any appropriate address I could come up with. To tie into my title, I tried Taken. What about Gone. I did my own search for, and it sent me to the no known address page at blogspot, but I thought 20 letters before you got to was just too long. Maybe a different approach to the title. Nope, somebody else has I decided against using death in the address, so I don't know if something along those lines would have been possible (I imagine death is pretty well covered, though). I thought of using my name, but somebody already has Although doesn't load if you type it in, Blogger told me it was unavailable. I tried some that were more generic, but probably for protocol reasons, it wouldn't let me use Somebody must have dibs on thought at first that Blogger might not allow blog in the URL for some other protocol reason, but has been updated relatively recently, so I guess not. Other generics,,, all bring up pages. At one point, I was getting so frustrated I even tried, and sure enough, somebody's got a blog at that address. I finally came up with something I was happy with,, which you'll see if you glance up at the web address of this page, but I apologize in advance for any confusion this might cause with the good people at

I'll be back for more soon. In the meantime, make a visit to your local CD emporium and demand Art Brut.