Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: May 2005

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Firecracker Frist

Despite what it may seem, I don't have a jones to go after Bill Frist. It's just that his position as Senate Majority Leader, essentially put into that position by the White House, makes him a meaty target, and the ineptness of his leadership makes him an easy one. In yesterday's Washington Post, Mike Allen provides a very positive, if not exactly gushing, profile of Frist attending the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, NC. He's apparently a rabid NASCAR fanatic. Let's let Frist tell it:

"I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee," he said. "Nashville Speedway was about, probably, four miles from my house. My first recollections of stock car racing were being in my house on Bowling Avenue, and on warm summer nights, when I was 7, 8 years old, listening to the sounds of cars."

He only lived a scant four miles from the Nashville Speedway? He must have gasoline running through his veins! You've got to wonder why he threw away an exciting career on the pit crew for Princeton, Harvard Medical School, and the life of a surgeon. I started to write about how Nashville isn't that large a city, and four miles is essentially across town, but then I realized that four miles is a long way in any city. Find your own address on a map, and draw a circle with a radius of four miles to see the broad diversity of neighborhoods and landmarks within that area. Are you intimately familiar with all of them?

In regards to Nashville itself, one of its quirks is that streets change names as they move from one part of town to another. The primary street linking the Frist family manse with the Nashville Speedway goes by four different names between the two. They may be four miles apart, but they're in totally different worlds. Bowling Avenue is one of the most exclusive addresses in Nashville. Belle Meade, the community of which it is a part, is the fifth richest in the nation. I also spent part of my youth in Nashville, though not in that area. I was about five miles from the speedway (but even farther from Frist--he was west of the racetrack, and I lived southeast), so NASCAR isn't in my bones to the same extent as it is in Frist's (although the main thoroughfare between my old house and the speedway only changes its name once). I also guess that the roar of the engines fades between the fourth and fifth mile, because I could never tell there was a race on just by sitting on my porch and listening (unless Frist has ears like Superman and can hear a penguin splashing at the South Pole from anywhere on Earth, in which case he could have heard the race just as easily from my backyard as from his).

Being the lifelong racing fan that he is, though, Frist must have been mortified when someone finally told him he'd mispronounced Sterling Marlin as Sterling Martin. Maybe Frist was laying outside on the grass listening to the stock car races instead of watching the local sportscasts that would've mentioned Sterling's dad Coo Coo Marlin. And the Marlin are a Tennessee dynasty. Not only did Frist insult NASCAR royalty, he dissed a constituent, too.

For a scalpel taken to the entire profile and not just a few Nashville details, take a look at yesterday's Daily Howler.

Hal Holbrook's Character Name Revealed

More than thirty years on, W. Mark Felt, denying the identification up until now, has stepped forward as Watergate's Deep Throat. Not surprisingly, after a period of no comment, presumably to determine that Felt had initiated the story himself, The Washington Post is all over the story. Bob Woodward is going to publish his side of the story on Thursday. It'll be interesting to see how the right-wing spin machine reacts. Will they leave it alone and let it run its course, or will they go on the attack, bringing out their normal tricks of questioning Felt's patriotism, accusing him of an attempted coup, etc.? If only to distract us from the problems at hand, my money's on attack. Regardless, I'm sure there'll be more to say about all this over the next few days.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day

According to, here are coalition deaths in Iraq through May 29:

US: 1,657

UK: 89

Other: 92

TOTAL: 1,838

(1,450 of those US deaths have occurred since the President declared: "Bring ‘em on.")

Reported US wounded through May 25: 12,630 (about half of these returned to active duty within 72 hours)

Although George W. Bush clearly intended the following statement as a joke, humor often presents uncomfortable truths: "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator" (CNN, 18 December 2000). BuzzFlash has two additional instances of Bush in a similarly wistful mood.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Canadian Comics Awards

In a post jam-packed with information earlier this month, I talked about a couple of new Canadian comics awards. The initial Shuster Awards were given out at that time, and this weekend at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, the first Doug Wright Awards were awarded. The inaugural winners were, for Emerging Talent, Bryan Lee O'Malley, creator of Scott Pilgrim, and for Best Book, Clyde Fans Book One by Seth (here's Seth's catalog from his publisher, Drawn & Quarterly). I've been familiar with Seth's work for quite some time ane enjoy it very much (in addition to Clyde Fans, I'd also highly recommend It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken), but I'll have to check out Bryan Lee O'Malley.

Criminal Intent?

This is a couple of days old, but it's pretty funny, so here it is for your jeering pleasure. Tom DeLay (Isn't he House Majority Leader or something? Doesn't he have better things to do?) was a bit annoyed that they mentioned his name on the season finale of Law & Order: Criminal Intent on Wednesday night. I didn't see the show, but the detectives were looking for the killer of a judge and, frustrated when they couldn't find any clues, Detective Eames (played by Kathryn Erbe) suggested looking for people wearing Tom DeLay T-shirts.

It was obviously not a line intended to puff up the Republican leader, but perhaps it was a misstep for DeLay to personally complain to NBC, accusing the network and the show with "a reckless disregard for the suffering initiated by recent tragedies and a great disservice to public discourse." He owned up to his own intemperate comments, but (in my favorite line from his letter) "when a responsible journalist like Brit Hume made an inquiry into such comments, he quickly understood them to be limited to Congress's oversight responsibilities and nothing more." Brit Hume said it was OK, so--case closed.

Kevin Reilly, president of NBC Entertainment, issued a reply claiming that no political content was intended by the line, but executive producer Dick Wolf, creative force behind the entire Law & Order franchise, got off the best line: "I do congratulate Congressman DeLay for switching the spotlight from his own problems to an episode of a TV show." You can read about the whole thing at MSNBC, and The Stakeholder, the blog of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Caucus, has the complete statements of DeLay, NBC, and Wolf.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Frist's Filibuster Frustrations

There's not a lot of time to get some blogging in before I no longer get the Saturday, May 28 date stamp, but now that we've made it to the end of the week, we can see that the filibuster issue is just as tenuous as it was when Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist tentatively addressed the compromise signed by the fourteen senators, none of them part of either party's leadership, over President Bush's appeals court judicial nominees. I wasn't terribly impressed by that agreement (and I wasn't the only one, of course), but I did react favorably to the damage it seemed to impart on Frist. I'm not sure the majority leader is out of ammunition, but he didn't follow with his reported plans to challenge the agreement by moving forward with the nomination of William Myers (although he still holds that arrow in his quiver, and we'll see how quickly he pulls it out after the Senate reconvenes in June). Frist's problems seemed to multiply as the week progressed. Democrats delayed the vote on John Bolton, and on Friday, The LA Times called for his resignation. Sunday morning brings a Washington Post examination of Frist's fading influence in the Senate. What senators hear from their constituents over the break may have some influence on how things progress in June, but for now, anything that undermines Bill Frist as George W. Bush's man in the Senate is a welcome development.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Stability and Democracy

This morning on NPR's Morning Edition, Condaleeza Rice echoed Benjamin Franklin: "People in the Middle East rightly understand that for sixty years the United States, and many others, tried to trade stability for democracy, and we got neither stability nor democracy, and it's not surprising to me that there are resentments about that period of time." She's wrong in her details: The Cold War did provide stability in the world, albeit an extremely tense stability, and it didn't begin to shift until the USSR started to fall apart. However, she's correct that we were trading democracy for that stability, cozying up to strong men and despots around the world (Saddam Hussein was but one of many) to buffer us from the Soviet Union. It's always reassuring to hear the Bush Administration spout these bromides about democracy and freedom. I'm not sure I trust their sincerity, but it never hurts to keep these sentiments front and center so we don't forget them. Benjamin Franklin's actual quote--roughly 250 years old--is, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." It's usually used in reference to domestic issues (and the Patriot Act in particular), but it's a good thought to keep in mind in foreign affairs, as well.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

When We Stop Believing

Don at Article 19 has an interesting post that dovetails to some degree with one I wrote last week about TV commercials. Citing a Tina Brown column in The Washington Post concerning Tom Cruise and his entirely unconvincing infatuation (or life-long love, depending on how it works out) with Katie Holmes, Article 19 wonders how the PR industry (which is extended to include politics) will react when it realizes we know it feeds us nothing but lies.

We're on to them. We know Paris Hilton isn't really that stupid; that Flavor Flav isn't really in love with Brigitte Nielsen; that Madonna isn't really Jewish now; that Bill Frist didn't really learn to love Jesus in Washington; that George W. isn't really like one of us.

TV cameras are the new truth serum. The harder they try, the clearer we see right through them. Famous people need a new schtick. We're so done with them.

That's an interesting question, but I'm more intrigued with how we react. My immediate, somewhat cynical reaction is that nothing much will happen. Are we becoming less consumer-driven? But then I have this odd bit of optimism (yes, Stevie T., there it is again) when I realize that movie theater receipts are currently in a slump. George W. Bush's approval ratings (as well as Congress's) are down and continuing to sink. Could this be a result of our coming to grips with being lied to for so long? If so, what happens next? So far, I don't even begin to have any answers. For the time being, my optimism extends to asking the question, not offering any responses.


It posted, and the template changes showed up, as well. Nothing more to see here. Go on about your normal business.

Blogger Glitches

In my last post, I mentioned I was adding a new link to the list on the right, but for some reason, the template is not accepting the changes. I don't know if Blogger is currently just having some sort of problem across the system or if I'm making errors of my own. I'm posting this as much to see if it'll show up as to explain the absence of promised alterations. Of course, you probably don't care. If you're reading this, then you'll probably shrug your shoulders and think, I hope it works this out. If you're not reading it, then you're not even aware there's an issue, and I'm typing for no purpose whatsoever. I'll stop now before I extend this line of thought to the meaning of life in general.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Alan Moore Cuts All Ties to DC Comics

Rich Johnston, after taking a couple of months off for the birth of his daughter, returns to Lying in the Gutters with quite the scoop. Writer Alan Moore is cutting all his ties to DC Comics. He'll finish up his current commitments, and then have nothing more to do with the company. Rich has all the details in an interview with the mage, and he also reminisces about the history of this troubled relationship between Moore and DC, as well as the obstacles that have seemed to take it down before. Moore is always an interesting interview subject, so see what he's got to say.

I'm not sure if we have any readers in England, but if we do, they might be interested in another Alan Moore scoop that Rich has tucked away in his column. Patti Smith is curating this year's Meltdown Festival in London, and she's asked Uncle Alan to join a raft of performers such as Portishead, Barry Adamson, and Tom Verlaine in an tribute to William F. Burroughs. That evening takes place June 16, but the festival itself runs from June 11 to June 26 and will feature Billy Bragg, Television, Richard Hell (any possibility of a reunion between him and Verlaine?), Kevin Shields, Yoko Ono, and Antony & the Johnsons, among many others. On the 25th, Patti herself will be performing Horses for that album's 30th anniversary.

For years, Lying in the Gutters and its antecedents have been among the most fun and most informative comics-related columns available. Although Rich always claimed he was not really a journalist, he was one of the few comics commentators to go after rumors and ferret out stories rather than sit and wait for the publishers' press releases. This time, he's making a go at straight-up investigative journalism, presenting only accurately sourced, completely confirmed fact-based stories (or as close to that as straight-up investigative journalism actually comes these days). No more speculations, rumors, or innuendo, at least not for six weeks. Once he's got that many columns under his belt, Rich has promised to give his readers a vote on whether to continue in the new journalistic vein or go back to publicizing the rumor mill. We'll see how this develops. Since Lying in the Gutters went on hiatus shortly before I started blogging in this space, it wasn't included in the links section, but now that Rich is back, I'm adding it. Go take a look.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

We'll Trade for What's Behind Door No. 3, Monty

After a few recent developments, I'm not sure I see what's in the Senate deal on filibusters for Democrats. The whole thing seemed very tenuous to me from the beginning. The Democrats got to defuse the immediate filibuster crisis, but they pretty much had to promise not to use it. There's the clause that the filibuster can be pulled out under "extraordinary circumstances," but since each senator gets to define those conditions for him or herself, what are the odds that all fourteen signatories to the agreement will see eye to eye? One senator's extraordinary is another senator's pretty bad, but not quite extraordinarily bad enough.

In exchange for seven Republicans agreeing not to support a rules change, seven Democrats agreed to vote for an end to the filibusters against some of the now apparently-not-extraordinarily-bad-enough appeals court nominees. Priscilla Owen's filibuster was shut down today by a vote of 81-18, so quite a few Democrats beyond the seven parties to the agreement were on board with that. William Pryor and Janice Rogers Brown will presumably follow. Last night on Hardball, Lindsey Graham said, "There will be at least one in the group that probably will fail in a bipartisan fashion" (he was apparently also including in that group nominees David McKeague and Richard Griffin, who were not mentioned one way or another in the agreement). That would be a wonderful surprise, particularly if the failed nominee is Brown, but I stress the presence of the word probably in that statement.

The agreement mentioned two other nominees who are also held up by filibuster: "Signatories make no commitment to vote for or against cloture on the following judicial nominees: William Myers (9th circuit) and Henry Saad (6th circuit)." (The New York Times has the text of the compromise.) That seems fairly straightforward, that whatever else this agreement does, it does not cover those two nominees, but apparently some of the fourteen compromisers asserted that the two would either continue to be filibustered or would be withdrawn. This seems odd, because none of the signatories to the agreement has the power to withdraw either of those nominations. The man who does have that power, Bill Frist, was not a party to the agreement and has no reason to abide by its details. Shortly after the agreement was announced, Frist was on the Senate floor making the following statement: "If Owen, Pryor, and Brown can receive the courtesy and respect of a fair up or down vote, so can Myers and Saad. So I will continue to work with everything in my power to see that these judicial nominees also receive that fair, up or down vote that they deserve. But it is not in this agreement." According to Think Progress, Frist is ignoring the deal and planning to schedule a vote on Myers before the end of the week. Of course he is. Not only is Frist not a party to the deal, his authority and ability to lead the Senate has been undermined by it. Why would anyone assume he wouldn't move as quickly as possible to circumvent it? Over in Wednesday's edition of The Hill, Frist refuses to set aside the nuclear option: "It remains an option. I will not hesitate to use it if necessary." And to make sure there's no misunderstanding, Mike DeWine, one of the Republicans who is a signatory to the agreement, is quoted in the same article echoing, "The nuclear option is on the table and remains on the table."

So what are the Democrats getting out of all this again?

Monday, May 23, 2005

Abstinence Only

Last night on 60 Minutes, Ed Bradley examined abstinence-only sex education, focusing to a great degree on the religious organization Silver Ring Thing, which promotes pledges of abstinence--so-called virginity pledges--to teenagers. These organizations currently receive federal funds to spread a message that is ineffective at best, and downright dangerous at worst. According to 60 Minutes, Silver Ring Thing has received more than $1 million from the government, just a drop in the bucket of the almost $1 billion doled out to teach abstinence only.

Books have been written (shameless plug: including parts of my book, Teaching AIDS,) on why abstinence-only education doesn’t work, so I’ll be short. Not only does abstinence-only avoid teaching about proper condom use for people who do have sex, some, such as Silver Ring Thing and Choosing the Best, a school-based curriculum, actively dissuade teens from using condoms, arguing that they aren’t effective. Choosing the Best cites a 14-16 percent failure rate (for the math-impaired, that’s an 84-86 percent success rate), without acknowledging that the vast majority of that failure is due to using the condom incorrectly. When used correctly, condom failure rates fall to 1 or 2 percent. (It should also be noted that “condom failure” means that a condom did not contain all the ejaculate released; it does not always result in pregnancy or the spread of STDs.) Thus, potentially life-saving information is being kept from teens so that these “educators” can promote their own agenda, which often comes down to Christian evangelism. Through some sort of loophole, religious organizations can still get the government money.

The report last night cited statistics that 88 percent of teens who pledge to abstain from sex until they are married ultimately break that promise, and that doesn’t even count those who have oral or anal sex to technically hold on to their virginal status by avoiding vaginal sex. This is illustrative of the breakdown of logic that’s more and more a part of our national dialogue. Condoms must be shunned because they are successful only 84-86 percent of the time. Abstinence-only education, however, successful just 12 percent of the time, should be continued, because at least it’s helpful for that 12 percent.

But, I hear you saying, abstinence is the only way to achieve 100 percent avoidance of pregnancy and the spread of STDs. Of course it is. That's why abstinence should be a primary part of any sex education program. There are a lot of good reasons to remain abstinent, and teens and other students deserve to be told about them. It's abstinence-only that's the problem. We should teach about more things, not fewer. I talk about that in my book, too, by the way.

A couple of weeks ago, it was reported that six Southern states (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina) saw their number of AIDS cases rise by 27 percent from 2000 to 2002 (North Carolina had a 36 percent rise form 2001 to 2003). Kate Whetton, a health policy expert from Duke University, said, "You're better off being born in Costa Rica or some South American countries than in Durham, N.C." We’ve got to come up with sex education that’s helpful for more than just 12 percent of the students. That means telling them the truth about condoms and shoving abstinence-only education to the side of the road where it belongs.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Thin Line Between Fact and Fiction

Watching previews at the movies recently, I noticed that we've got some films coming up that seem to be crossing over between documentaries and fiction films. A couple of years back, Spellbound was a popular documentary about kids taking part in the National Spelling Bee. But if the real-life drama wasn't enough for you, you'll soon be able to see Akeelah and the Bee, starring Angela Bassett and Larry Fishburne (I know he's officially "Laurence"now, but he made such an impression in Apocolypse Now and The Cotton Club that in my mind, he's always "Larry") as the parents of a girl working toward the National Spelling Bee.

Going the other way, from fiction to fact, is the Jack Black vehicle, School of Rock. Coming to a theater near you will be Rock School, a documentary about Paul Green's School of Rock Music. As you might guess, Green's program teaches kids how to be rock musicians. He's the real deal, though, not just some guy from a local band pretending to be his roommate as a substitute teacher. The school's Website declares that the school was established in 1998, and there are outposts across the country, so Green clearly didn't get the idea from Jack Black. In fact, he's reported to have considered suing the producers of the movie, but I imagine the publicity he's garnered from it has made it at least a little bit worth his while.

What are some other films you'd like to see move from fact to fiction and vice versa (none of the obvious Fahrenheit 911 jokes, please)?

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Picturing the War

Kevin Drum alerts us to a report in the LA Times about photos of the Iraq War. You've probably noticed, but we're not seeing any pictures of dead American soldiers and very few of wounded American soldiers. We're seeing a lot of people grieving for soldiers, however. The article reviewed photos in six prominent dailies around the country as well as Time and Newsweek over a period of six months in 2004 and 2005. Drum and Matthew Yglesias are talking about the sanitized coverage and its implications, and they're correct. But one thing I found interesting was the contrast between the way those papers and newsweeklies covered American casualties and how they covered Iraqi casualties. It's not a surprise that journalists have fewer qualms about showing dead and wounded Iraqis, and I don't really blame them for that. But there was far less coverage of anyone grieving for the Iraqis.

For the Americans, the total number of photos shown in all the reviewed sources were 1 dead, 44 wounded, and 195 grieving. The Iraqi totals were 79 dead, 84 wounded, and 62 grieving. This difference in mourners strengthens the impression that the violence in Iraq ultimately isn't that big a deal. It's tragic, certainly, but the appearance of apparently unmourned dead and wounded, particularly in contrast to deeply mourned American losses, immensely undermines their impact. It's much easier to see people dead and wounded if we assume nobody's going to miss them.

Speaking of war coverage, earlier this week, Sidney Schanberg (of The Killing Fields fame) wrote in The Village Voice about the whitewashed war photojournalism. In his piece, he quotes David Leeson, one of the winners of last year's Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Journalism:

I understand the criticisms about blood and gore. I don't seek that. When I approach a body on the ground after a battle, I'm determined to give dignity to that person's life and photograph him with respect. But sometimes, as with my pictures of child victims, the greatest dignity and respect you can give them is to show the horror they have suffered, the absolutely gruesome horror.

That quote reminds me of another topic we've talked about lately, that of Emmett Till's open-casket funeral and the photo of his beaten and disfigured body that appeared on the cover of Jet magazine.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Suburban Chicago Libraries to Get the Finger

It’ll soon be necessary to provide a fingerprint to use the computers in the libraries in Naperville, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Until now, you could access them with your library card and an ID number, but library officials argue that this system has been abused, with people using the cards of their friends and relatives. The library system in Buffalo, New York, has some fingerprint ID capability and allows patrons in the downtown library to opt for it rather than using a library card, but Naperville will be the first library in the U.S. in which fingerprints are intended to be mandatory.

Library officials don’t seem to think it’s a big deal. Deputy Director Mark West told the Chicago Tribune, "Right now we give you a library card with a bar code attached to it. This is just a bar code, but it's built in." To make sure we realize that he doesn’t take the situation lightly, he also insisted, "Confidentiality and privacy [are] my middle name."

Ed Yohnka, on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, provided the expected response: "We take people's fingerprints because we think they might be guilty of something, not because they want to use the library."

The library claims that the technology they will use reads the print of an index finger, takes 15 or more specific points, and uses an algorithm to translate those points into a sequence of numbers. The library insists that this information can’t be used to reconstruct a fingerprint and can’t be cross-referenced with other fingerprint databases such as those used by law enforcement.

Bottom line? As long as circumstances never change (and they don’t, do they?) there’s nothing to worry about. After all, it’s not like Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee is working on an even more draconian version of the Patriot Act, is it?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Gang of Four Review

I've been remiss in not posting a review of Gang of Four from last week. They performed a powerful show at the Metro in Chicago last Wednesday. It was so powerful, in fact, that I immediately got back in line to get a ticket for their second night on Thursday.

In my first Gang of Four post, I said that I was worried about seeing the reformed group. They're considerably older, and part of their appeal all those years ago was their brash and admittedly youthful idealism and energy. Could they still hack it? The rock world is littered with performers who've overstayed their welcome, and it's been particularly harsh to musicians who have retired and then decided they needed to come back for more. But positive reports from the road convinced me to take the plunge. Boy, am I glad I did.

They took the stage with force and authority, launching into "Return the Gift" from Entertainment!, and there was no question they still had every bit of power that they ever did. And why not? They're elder statesmen at this point. The sound they formulated twenty-six years ago is the template for much of the music that's out there today--Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, the Futureheads, Radio 4 (who opened the show), the Rapture--and they proved they were still the masters of it. Of course, there's no way nostalgia can be taken out of the mix--these four musicians haven't played together since 1981, and the newest song they performed was ten years old (it had more than a decade on the second newest). But given all the bands currently displaying their influence, the music was nonetheless contemporary, even up to the minute.

Where most musicians these days seem to line up at their respective microphones, with only the lead singer roaming the stage to some degree, Gang of Four danced, paced, hopped, and in the case of vocalist Jon King, flailed from stage right to stage left, upstage to downstage. King, guitarist Andy Gill and bassist Dave Allen possessed every inch of the performing space.

Although political lyrics are not in the same vogue nowadays as the punky funky reggae party beats, the words to these songs as phrases and slogans seemed as timely as they ever did. "Fly the flag on foreign soil." "Dirt behind the daydream." "The fatherland's no place to die for." "Aim for politicians who'll treat your vote hope well/The last thing they'll ever do act in your interest." "Each day more death." When Gill sang "Paralyzed ("My ambitions come to nothing/What I wanted now seems just a waste of time/Can't make out what has gone wrong/I was good at what I did") you couldn't help but see the employees of United Airlines standing with him, just a day after the airline pulled out from paying their pensions. Actually, the fact that Gang of Four is now older may give the lyrics even more gravity. It's not surprising when a young band spouts radical and idealistic opinions, but when the same sentiments are expressed by a group with the experience of trying to live up to those ideas over the years, it's clear that they mean it, man.

As for me, I couldn't have been more of a fan. I pogoed unashamedly and shouted out the lyrics to most every song. The band was so inspirational that, as I said at the beginning, I came back on Thursday night and did it all again. It seemed like the word about Wednesday night's impressive show had gotten out, because the club seemed much more full the second time around.

And there's more good news. This week Rhino reissued Gang of Four's debut album Entertainment!, supplementing it with eight extra tracks. This truly is one of the all-time great albums, and you owe it to yourself to have your own, personal copy. The CD version I've got is several years old and has only four extra tracks, so I'll be trading up.

Air America in Chicago

Somehow I missed this when it happened, but Air America is into its second week (or fourth, if you count the two weeks in 2004) of broadcasting to the Chicago market. The bad news is that it's on WCPT 850 AM, a 2,500-watt station in Crystal Lake, northwest of the city, that only broadcasts in the daytime. I just found the station today, so I guess I'll see how long it actually broadcast tonight. I'm guessing it goes off the air near dusk, which would be sometime between 7:00 and 8:00. It's better than nothing, I guess, which is what we had for more than a year.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Post-Ironic Commercials

There are a couple of commercials I've seen lately that just make me wonder what the hell the advertisers are thinking. Or are they thinking at all? The first is a GE commercial for cleaner coal technology that shows supermodels working in the mines. Yes, they're beautiful. Yes, they're ripped. Yes, they're sweaty. No, they don't appear to have black lung. All this is incongruous enough, but they soundtrack it with Tennessee Ernie Ford singing his huge hit from somewhere in the mists of the past, Merle Travis's "Sixteen Tons." Yes, that's right, GE chose a song that blasts the coal industry's vicious, immoral exploitation of its workers. And they don't even bother to edit around the words that damn their own industry:

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

Do they think people won't notice the disconnect? Are they right? Adweek and the Chicago Sun-Times are both impressed. Here's a link where you can decide for yourself (scroll down--you'll recognize the ad we're talking about).

The second commercial that strikes me as weird is one for Target that uses a duet by Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr.: "Me and My Shadow." I first heard this a couple of years ago, and it's certainly got its camp appeal, especially as it spotlights how tone deaf the culture at large of forty years ago was to racial insensitivity. But using it in a commercial doesn't make a wry statement about racial insensitivity, it just assumes that insensitivity for itself. Has this not occurred to anyone at Target? If it has, do they just think it goes over our collective heads?

If by some quirk of fate, there are any ad execs out there reading these words, perhaps they could offer some enlightenment about how such decisions are made. It makes no obvious sense to me.

Star Wars as Metaphor

Too many people to mention (read: I'm too lazy to look up links at the moment) have noticed that Star Wars VI: Episode III--The Revenge of the Sith seems to parallel the Bush administration a bit too closely. But that's not what George Lucas had in mind at all. And courtesy of the Chicago Tribune, he's happy to let you know.

"It was really about the Vietnam War, and that was the period where Nixon was trying to run for a [second] term, which got me to thinking historically about how do democracies get turned into dictatorships?" Lucas said at his Skywalker Ranch earlier this month. "Because the democracies aren't overthrown; they're given away."

It's just coincidental that the same situation (or worse) is echoing again.

"First of all we never thought of Bush ever becoming president," "Star Wars" producer Rick McCallum said, "or then 9/11, the Patriot Act, war, weapons of mass destruction. Then suddenly you realize, `Oh, my God, there's something happening that looks like we're almost prescient.' And then we thought, `Well, yeah, but he'll never make it to the second term, so we'll look like we just made some wacky political parody of a guy that everybody's forgotten.'"

But then, says Lucas, maybe you just can't escape the echoes.

"No matter who you look at in history, the story is always the same," Lucas said. "That's what's eerie. It was a little eerie that things have developed the way they have."

Of course, to push the metaphor farther, does this mean Jenna and Barbara will grow up to be Leia and Luke?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have a Scapegoat

These guys are shameless. Absolutely shameless. A couple of weeks ago, Newsweek published its now infamous item about an upcoming report from the U.S. Southern Command it claimed would include an incident in which an interrogator at Guantanamo flushed a Koran down the toilet. Shortly thereafter, riots broke out in Afghanistan and across the Muslim world.

On Thursday, May 12, General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, in a joint press appearance with Donald Rumsfeld, told reporters that the riots were not related to the Newsweek article:

It's the -- it's a judgment of our commander in Afghanistan, General Eikenberry, that in fact the violence that we saw in Jalalabad was not necessarily the result of the allegations about disrespect for the Koran -- and I'll get to that in just a minute -- but more tied up in the political process and the reconciliation process that President Karzai and his Cabinet is conducting in Afghanistan. So that's -- that was his judgment today in an after- action of that violence. He didn't -- he thought it was not at all tied to the article in the magazine.

But that was before it occurred to the administration to scapegoat Newsweek. Yesterday during his press gaggle, Press Secretary Scott McLellan changed the official story:

This report has had serious consequences. It has caused damage to the image of the United States abroad. It has -- people have lost their lives. It has certainly caused damage to the credibility of the media, as well, and Newsweek, itself.

Before scapegoating: “Not at all tied to the article.”

After scapegoating: “It has caused damage . . . people have lost their lives.” (It's really a shame, because everything's been going so swimmingly up to now.)

But let’s don’t forget what specifically Newsweek retracted: “Based on what we know now, we are retracting our original story that an internal military investigation had uncovered Qur'an abuse at Guantanamo Bay.”

They’re saying nothing about whether any Korans have been desecrated in any way in Guantanamo. They’re merely stating that the report they cited didn’t include the charges they'd claimed it included. (Why they didn’t offer this retraction immediately after their source backed down is a mystery. It was clear pretty early that, regardless of the truth of the Koran desecration incident itself, that charge was not made in that report. Dragging their feet before finally giving in allowed the right wing press slam to gain momentum.)

And what about those charges of flushing a copy of the Koran? Despite McLellan’s insistence to the contrary yesterday (“The Department of Defense said last week that they could find no credible evidence of it either. They have looked into it.”), the Pentagon has stated that this and other reports of desecration of the Koran are still being investigated and are probably several weeks from being completed. So we don’t know how much truth there might be in that allegation. But did General Myers almost give us a hint last week?

There are several log entries that show that the Koran may have been moved to -- and the detainees became irritated about it, but never an incident where it was thrown in the toilet.

That’s word for word, punctuation mark for punctuation mark, from the Defense Department transcript. It reads as though Myers started to say something and then caught himself. What do you think?

This story is all over the blogoverse, but for a nice pithy, prickly summation, Keith Olbermann offers a good place to start.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Bolton's True Purpose

James Walcott has some disturbing speculation about the real reason John Bolton is being sent to the UN. He quotes Jude Wanniski at, who reports that Bolton's mission is to muck up the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which would have the added bonus of crippling the International Atomic Energy Agency, the current source of nuclear inspections around the world. Why would anybody want to do that? To clear the way for the bombing of Iran's nuclear power plant at Bushehr.

The idea may be paranoid, but it all makes a diabolical kind of sense. Check out the links in Wanniski's piece to see the corroborating evidence.

Emmett Till on American Experience

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the FBI's plan to exhume Emmett Till's body to further the agency's investigation of his murder. For information on the Till case, I linked to the site for the documentary The Murder of Emmett Till, which had previously appeared on PBS's The American Experience. I didn't realize at the time that PBS was planning a rerun of the documentary, but I stumbled over it tonight. It's an extremely compelling story, and I recommend it highly. Check your local listings, because PBS stations around the country air shows at different times. If your station, like Chicago's WTTW, aired it tonight, check your listings anyway for a possible second showing. Many PBS stations rerun their primetime shows overnight on the same night or later in the week, so you may still be able to tape it and watch it later.

Evolutionary Views

Tom the Dancing Bug and This Modern World each offer some insight into the current Monkey Trials in Kansas. Both are in Salon, so if you're not a subscriber, you'll have to sit through a minute or two of ads to gain access.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Litblog Co-op's Choice

Last month, I wrote about the Litblog Co-op, a group of literary bloggers who were getting together to bring attention to fiction they feel has been overlooked. Today, after previously narrowing the field down to five, they've announced their first Read This selection: Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. Here's part of what Lizzie Skurnick, the blogger who nominated the book, had to say:

It seems impossible to believe that Kate Atkinson's sentences ever had an awkward stage. Each paragraph, each page, each chapter unfolds with perfect precision, the prose and pacing fully shaped. There's nothing flowery about the words, but no stripped-down drama either. Atkinson's a pro - a juicy pro.

The reader can also luxuriate happily in the plot. Now that I know her work, I'd be happy to read Atkinson ruminating on the benefits of fertilizer brands, but there's a distinct pleasure in watching someone handle what is essentially a stock murder mystery with expert literary precision.

Sounds interesting enough. The author isn't exactly as unknown as I might've expected. Her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, won the Whitbread Prize in Britain ten years ago, so she's the kind of author who gets attention when she releases new work. Still, Case Histories may deserve a wider audience than it received, so its choice could be fair enough. I wasn't aware of the book, and if I had been, I'm not sure I'd have considered reading it if it hadn't been named here (and I still may or may not, but I am considering it). As Skurnick, responding to criticism in the comments to the announcement, points out, "This was our inaugural choice, and nominators only had to work with what they'd been scouring up until then, big and small. In the continuing rounds, small press publishers will have the same chance to get a wide assortment of books in front of the nominators as the big guns way beforehand, and it will be as close to fair as any contest is." We'll see how the LBC's choices pan out over the long run to see how effective they are in turning their spotlight on overlooked work.

The LBC plans to announce a schedule for discussions with Atkinson, her editor, and others involved with the book. They'll also post about the four other nominees that weren't chosen for Read This. Check back with them over the next few days.

By the way, for anybody's who's going to BookExpo next month, or who's anywhere close the the New York metropolitan area, the Litblog Co-op is hosting a reception. Although I'd like to be at BookExpo this year, without a new title on the shelves, I can't justify the time and expense. For anybody who is going (I know Stu will be there--any other readers?), happy networking, and take home lots of fun signed books!

Commencement Hijinks

While looking around for what pronoun to use for Magorn in my previous post, I clicked over to that blogger's home site. Among some interesting posts was this one. Apparently, in looking around for a nice, fundamentalist place for W to give another shout-out to the Christian Right, his handlers set him up to speak at the commencement of a conservative, religious college. Aside from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, this will be W's only commencement appearance of the year, so they want to make it a good one. If you're looking for strict, doctrinaire faith, you usually can't do much better than John Calvin, so Calvin College, a school proudly bearing his name in Grand Rapids, Michigan, would seem like an obvious choice, right? Well, maybe not. The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin talked to some Calvin College students and faculty who are not thrilled about the graduation festivities being co-opted (scroll down to "The Calvin College Rebellion"). They've started a Google Groups e-mail list, Our Commencement Is Not Your Platform, where the rest of us can follow their discussion of how to respond. has come up with its own response to Froomkin's column. Although the writer admits, "I have no firsthand knowledge of Calvin College," a Google search offers reassurance that Calvin College is indeed safely enough ensconced within the Religious Right to make it safe destination for a Presidential address.

Calvin's commencement is coming up on Saturday, so keep an eye out to see if everything runs according to White House plans.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

I Want to Ride My Bicycle, I Want to Ride It Where I Like

Over at a diary for Daily Kos, Magorn adds some interesting context to the DC panic/Bush bike ride story. It turns out that the President probably wasn't as far into the distant wilds of rural Maryland as has been implied. According to Magorn, W was biking in a wildlife refuge adjacent to Fort Meade, which is also the home base of the National Security Agency. To let Magorn tell it himself:

While all this is going on GW is less than five minutes away even by bike from the absolute Nerve center of America's entire secure communications and electronic intelligence network. And nobody even bothers to tell him what's going on.

There's really no reasonable explanation for this except that his handlers made a deliberate decision to keep him away from the reins of power while the grown-ups handled the crisis.

He (or she, who knows on the Internet) has more to say on how this echoes the President's experience on September 11. The whole diary entry is good.

Staying in the Here and Now

James Walcott has an appropriate response to those, like President Bush and various right-wing bloggers, who want to second-guess American strategy in past wars: "Perhaps our where-eagles-dare laptoppers might want to concentrate on the present and focus on winning the war we're actually now in." Read the whole thing.

A Little Too Comfortable?

George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin review the Russian military in Red Square.

Friday, May 13, 2005

War Against FDR

Well, it’s all but official. The neoconservative movement has declared war on the entirety of FDR’s legacy. Social Security, of course, has been under attack for a while, and Bush has stopped even bothering to hide the fact that his plan will do nothing to address the “problem” he’d earlier identified as the reason Social Security must be “fixed.” But with his recent remarks in Riga, Latvia, the President took aim at FDR’s leadership in World War II, as well. “V-E Day marked the end of fascism, but it did not end oppression. The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. . . . Had we fought and sacrificed only to achieve the permanent division of Europe into armed camps?” Although he wouldn’t say it in so many words, the question on the President’s lips seemed to be “Was it worth it to fight Hitler?”

It didn’t take long for that leading light of backward-looking causes everywhere, Pat Buchanan, to jump on the beer hall wagon. Not only did he not mince words, he titled his most recent column, “Was World War II Worth It?” He had plenty more questions in the body of the piece.

If Yalta was a betrayal of small nations as immoral as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, why do we venerate Churchill and FDR? . . . If Britain endured six years of war and hundreds of thousands of dead in a war she declared to defend Polish freedom, and Polish freedom was lost to communism, how can we say Britain won the war? If the West went to war to stop Hitler from dominating Eastern and Central Europe, and Eastern and Central Europe ended up under a tyranny even more odious, as Bush implies, did Western Civilization win the war?

Pat ultimately works his way to his most self-damning question: “If the objective of the West was the destruction of Nazi Germany, it was a "smashing" success. But why destroy Hitler?” It’s not much of a leap to assume Pat’s preference would have been to pal up with Hitler in order to fight Stalin, but Bush hasn’t gone that far. He has implied, however, that FDR and Churchill rolled over to give Stalin whatever he wanted.

Did Stalin want free elections in Eastern Europe? Well, that’s what FDR and Churchill rolled over to give him at Yalta.

The establishment of order in Europe and the rebuilding of national economic life must be achieved by processes which will enable the liberated peoples to destroy the last vestiges of nazism and fascism and to create democratic institutions of their own choice. This is a principle of the Atlantic Charter - the right of all people to choose the form of government under which they will live - the restoration of sovereign rights and self-government to those peoples who have been forcibly deprived to them by the aggressor nations.

To foster the conditions in which the liberated people may exercise these rights, the three governments will jointly assist the people in any European liberated state or former Axis state in Europe where, in their judgment conditions require,

(a) to establish conditions of internal peace;
(b) to carry out emergency relief measures for the relief of distressed peoples;
(c) to form interim governmental authorities broadly representative of all democratic elements in the population and pledged to the earliest possible establishment through free elections of Governments responsive to the will of the people; and
(d) to facilitate where necessary the holding of such elections.

At the point in the war when the Big Three met at Yalta, although victory in Europe looked attainable, victory against Japan in the Pacific would still require quite a bit of effort. After Hitler was defeated, FDR wanted Russia to turn its attention East in no short order to finish the threat in that theater, as well. The diplomacy was delicate, to be sure, and the agreement that was signed (and later blithely ignored by Stalin) may have been more optimistic than called for by the reality on the ground–specifically the fact that the Red Army already effectively occupied Eastern Europe and wasn’t about to leave without being pushed out.

As the battle against FDR and his legacy opens a new front this week, we can do little more than go back to our own history books to arrive at our own opinions on the matter (yeah, right, like that’s going to happen in this day and age). For starters, we could do worse than look at this speech by Robert A. Divine, a pioneer of Cold War history, for some analysis of FDR’s wartime relationship with Stalin and the Soviet Union.

Thursday, May 12, 2005


I haven't been near a TV in the past couple of days, so I don't know how much coverage this may be getting, but I'm fascinated by the aftermath of the Cessna that mistakenly flew over restricted airspace in Washington. It turns out that Capitol Hill and the White House were evacuated and Donald Rumsfeld was preparing to have the Air Force shoot the plane out of the sky if necessary, but W, off on a jaunty bike ride somewhere in Maryland, was kept out of the loop. Nobody bothered to even tell him that there was an event until 36 minutes after the all-clear had been sounded.

In his press briefing this morning, White House Press Secretary Scott McLellan repeated over and over that protocols had been followed, so we can safely assume that protocol does not require the President's exercise period to be interrupted if the nation's capital is feared under attack. McLellan tried to finesse the facts by reminding us that there actually was no reason to worry, but of course, no one knew that for sure at the time. They're trying to have it both ways. Where is that thin line between this being enough of a threat to take the Vice-President and the First Lady to a secure bunker and to tell staff on Capitol Hill to (as The Nation's David Corn put it) "run, not walk as far away as they could"--between that and it not being a big enough deal to even mention it to the President? Wherever it is, McLellan was desperately trying to find it this morning.

Perhaps it's because they themselves were in fear for their lives, but the liberal media seems to get it this time. They asked many of the right questions, including this one: "Might there be something wrong with protocols that render the President unnecessary when the alarm is going off at his house?" McLellan assured the questioner (the White House transcript never identifies individual reporters), "That's not at all what occurred," despite having previously stated that the President wasn't notified about this until well after the all-clear. Editor & Publisher has a condensed version of the press conference here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Doing God's Work

Well, that was a surprise. After overseeing the removal of nine members of East Waynesville Baptist Church, Pastor Chan Chandler told the news media that it had all been a misunderstanding and then scheduled a follow-up church business meeting for Tuesday night. Instead of explaining at that meeting how people might have misunderstood what was really intended by voting out the nine members if it wasn't to kick them out, he offered his resignation and walked out of the church himself.

I have to admit that I didn't see that coming. He stirred up a lot of trouble for his congregation by bringing overt political action into the sanctuary, and then when he started to face resistence and adverse publicity, he simply walked away. One of his statements as he left is most telling: "For me to remain now would only cause more hurt for me and my family." His principled stands, religious, political, or whatever--stands he claimed he was making because of their biblical necessity--were abandoned because they would hurt him. He's left East Waynesville Baptist Church in turmoil, but roughly forty members followed him out the door. Among the members who remain, it has been suggested that some of those Chandler had brought into the church had been brainwashed. Maybe they'll all be able to set up their own little congregation, one that's not inclined to disagree with whatever Chandler might proclaim from the pulpit.

Controversial Vote Totals Rear Their Heads Again

The exit poll irregularities get another spotlight trained on them in the form of sportscaster Jim Lampley. Yesterday over at Arianna’s House of Blogs, Lampley called the 2004 presidential election “the biggest crime in the history of the nation, and the collective media silence which has followed is the greatest fourth-estate failure ever on our soil.” He even used In These Times and Common Dreams to bolster his argument. Congressman John Conyers, who conducted hearings into the matter last year, gave Lampley a shout-out elsewhere on the blog, and Byron York of The National Review offered the “don’t you go worrying your pretty little head” conservative rebuttal. Lampley and York go a couple of rounds here and here, and as of this writing, York has had the last word. Lampley’s original post was a call to action and investigation, not a detailed declaration of what went wrong where, so whether he’ll spend his energy with a public tussle against York remains to be seen. Of course, we should also be wise to the possibility that the whole thing is a publicity stunt to get people talking about the Huffington effort in the first place, which would mean Lampley will certainly be back for more. There's nothing like a fight to make people stop and look.

DC's New Look

According to The New York Times, DC Comics is refurbishing its logo, replacing the "DC Bullet" that's been the mainstay of its comics covers for about thirty years.
The new design looks fine, but it doesn't seem instantly memorable, like something people will see and quickly remember. (Although I ultimately got used to it, I was never overly enamored of the old logo, either.
It was fine, but it didn't seem to offer any inspiration beyond its identification of DC's brand. It replaced the truly iconic DC logo from the Golden and Silver Ages.
I only say that because I'm of a certain age that remembers this logo in the first place. It provides nice memories, but it's old-fashioned looking and has nothing to do with the here and now. And when's the last time the company was known as National Comics, anyway?)

Although DC has been present in various media for quite some time, they're using this occasion as a coming-out party of sorts, reminding us that they're a multimedia company. The new logo will appear on the comics, of course, but it will also appear on graphic novels in bookstores; a whole line of toys--mostly action figures, but a few other things, as well; DVDs of old series such as Lois & Clark and Birds of Prey; the shows that are on now like Smallville and Teen Titans; upcoming movies such as Batman Begins and V for Vendetta; and, I'm sure, a whole host of other things. The Beat has a few suggestions for further extensions of the brand. Will the new logo become familiar to the world outside comics in a way that the bullet never did? It doesn't appear to bring anything beyond brand identification immediately to the table, but we'll have to wait and see about its long-term effect, if there's any at all--because there's always the chance that, if it turns out to be as uninspiring as it feels on first glance, we'll have another new one next year.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Global Warming--The Whole Story

Still dealing with deadline fever for another couple of days, so I've just got time for a short post now, but I'll try to get some more up later tonight after the opening of Busting Out! The third and final installment of Elizabeth Kolbert's global warming series in The New Yorker has joined its forerunners on The New Yorker's Website, so you can finally read the whole thing, Part One, Part Two, and Part Three. Don't forget the sun block.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Those Election Results Again

Guest-posting for Atrios, Avedon Carol discussed Tribune Media Services columnist Robert Koehler becoming radicalized on details of the 2004 presidential results. He attended a conference on election reform last year, where he was introduced to quite a bit of information about the election he'd never been aware of. I'm betting not many of the rest of us are aware of it, either. After all, where would we find out? The liberal media's not covering it at all. I'm sure it's out there on the Web, but unless you know what you're looking for, it could be difficult to find. Did anybody hear about this election conference, which was held in Nashville? Was there any local coverage (I'm betting there wasn't much, or Article 19 would've been on it.) Koehler is one of the very few writers with mainstream access who's even touching on this. (He's syndicated nationally, so subscribing papers can choose to use his material on a column by column basis--not many are picking up his latest material. His column doesn't actually run in The Chicago Tribune itself.) You can read his columns at his personal site. Unfortunately, they're not dated there, so it's not clear when they were initially written, but my understanding is that the columns on election reform have all appeared within the last month.

His first of these was "The Silent Scream of Numbers," with the tag line "The 2004 election was stolen--will someone please tell the media?" He followed that with "Democracy's Abu Ghraib," tagged, "If they can disable an election, what's coming next?" Interestingly, although, as I said, Koehler doesn't normally appear on The Chicago Tribune editorial page, The Trib ran an answer column by Don Wycliff, responding to Koehler's first election column. When Koehler responded in kind, his column was spiked--the Tribune Media Service did not distribute it. Koehler was told it was because many who might be reading wouldn't have seen Wycliff's piece from the Tribune editorial page, which is true, but Tribune readers hadn't seen Koehler's material when Wycliff wrote his column, and that didn't stop it from running. Still, Koehler has said that, despite the column being killed, he was not being discouraged from writing further on the subject. Indeed, he replaced the column with one featuring letters from readers on the topic. Although there seems to be some internal politics going on at the syndicate, I'm inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt and take Koehler at his word that he doesn't feel he's being censored. It'll be interesting to see if anybody else in the liberal media picks up on this. At the very least, I hope Koehler continues to investigate it himself.

Arianna's Internet Thing--Update

Arianna Huffington has exploded onto the Net today with The Huffington Post, a place for news and commentary. Because it's the hot thing, she's got a blog component, but it's a group blog to end all group blogs. As of right now, there have been 63 blog posts since noon yesterday, all but two of them since midnight last night (and fourteen of them are listed as "featured posts" on the front page). The participants range from Walter Cronkite to John Cusack to David Mamet to Senator John Corzine. If they continue to add posts at that rate, they'll overwhelm readers, and a lot of the material will simply be lost and overlooked. Still, if they can get a good rhythm going, this looks to be an intriguing addition to online reading material. A couple of blog posts I enjoyed were Larry David on why we should cut John Bolton a break on his shabby treatment of underlings and Arthur Schlessinger on why, notwithstanding George Bush's recent comments to the contrary, Franklin Roosevelt didn't offhandedly sell out Eastern Europe to the Communists at Yalta.

UPDATED--Nikke Finke says it's all going to come crashing down.

The Press on Press Swarming

Howie Kurtz at The Washington Post talks about swarming today, particularly as it relates to the runaway bride. In The Chicago Tribune, (registration required) Bob Dole's former press secretary, Douglas MacKinnon, wonders why the press only swarms over missing women when they're white.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Happy Birthday, Chicago Defender!

One hundred years ago this past Thursday, Robert Sengstacke Abbott put out the first edition of The Chicago Defender, which soon became iconic in the black community. Starting out as a weekly, the Defender may, in effect, have been the first national newspaper in the United States. It was published in Chicago, where Pullman porters would pick it up and carry it throughout the country, particularly into the South. Much of this was done in secret, because Southern authorities, not to mention the Klan, would often confiscate copies they found. At its peak the paper sold 230,000 copies per issue, but it was assumed that each copy was read by four or five people, so its actual circulation may have been closer to 1,000,000. The paper took early and strong stands against lynching and for civil rights, and it was a significant force in the migration of blacks out of the South.

The Chicago Defender became a daily paper in 1956. Recent financial difficulties and changes in ownership have left the paper off balance, but it continues to persevere into the 21st century. Its Web page is here. And, going back to a post from a couple of days ago, the May 6 cover features the photo of Emmett Till in his casket that helped spark the Civil Rights Movement (the picture is very disturbing, so make sure you're ready before you click).

News in Japan

Thanks Doug. Nice to be here. In trying to figure out how to contribute a 'different perspective,' and not just write about eating Japanese food and visiting hot spring baths, I decided to try listing the top news stories on the Japanese morning shows (which more or less resemble U.S. morning shows).

So far, the train crash from a couple of weeks ago has been dominating. I saw a story about how Japan Rail puts extreme pressure on its drivers to be perfect, and how that causes undue stress on them. Then, this morning some Japan Rail higher-ups were publicly apologizing for continuing their golf tournament even after the crash.

Another recurring theme are the Japanese ballplayers in the Majors (may-jah). There are daily highlights and interviews with the main ones, Matsui (Yankees) and Ichiro (Mariners). I also saw some White Sox highlights, so they must have some guys (which may make the Sox more popular in Japan than in Chicago). There seem to be a bunch more too, and you too can learn about them at

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Guest Blogging

My brother Stephen recently went to Japan for a few months of research. Being halfway around the world can give you a different kind of perspective on things, so I've invited him to post comments here when he has time and inclination. Welcome, Steve!

More Fun with Church & State

Apparently Kansas is without a good theater group to perform a nice strong revival of Inherit the Wind, so the state board of education is holding hearings on how evolution should be taught in schools. New state teaching standards are being adopted, and some on the board of education want to deemphasize evolution to make room for the concept of "intelligent design." If you're not familiar with the term, intelligent design is the idea that the universe couldn't just happen but required some sort of intelligence to craft it into its current state. Scientists have boycotted the hearings, refusing to legitimize the argument, so the testimony is weighted entirely toward intelligent design.

As I understand it, intelligent design was intended to make the argument toward creationism a bit less religious. Creationism is the belief that life, the universe, and everything were created as described in the biblical story in Genesis. Intelligent design steps back from that a little bit, insisting that the Judeo-Christian God may or may not have been the intelligence in question. No, according to intelligent designers, God is not necessarily the author of creation, but if not, someone extremely similar to him is.

Making the whole series of hearings even more silly, many of the witnesses in favor of changing the educations standards admit that they haven't even read the document they're critiquing. Neither have two of the three board members overseeing the hearings (although one of those board members did have this to say in her defense: "I'm not a word-for-word reader in this kind of technical information"--so there!). If you want to be one up on the experts, here are links to the material. (I'm just a mildly interested observer, so add my name to the list of those who have only scanned the document.) Also, Kevin Drum helpfully points us to a writer in Kansas who's blogging the hearings.

Fun with Church & State

This started out in the blogs, but it was later picked up by the news. East Waynesville Baptist Church recently terminated the membership of nine members over their political views. You can see the details here, but essentially the church's pastor said back in October that anyone who intended to vote for John Kerry should leave the church, and the whole thing came to a head this week. When the Democrat church members wouldn't leave voluntarily, apparently, they were shown the door. To make sure that he's not misunderstood, however, the pastor has stated that his actions are not political.

Although a number of people are up in arms over this, I can see the pastor's point. This is a spiritual, not a political, matter. As we learned on "Justice Sunday" a couple of weeks ago, the Democrats are using the filibuster as a weapon against people of faith. If you're a person of faith, as the pastor and his congregation undoubtedly are, you don't want to have to worship in the midst of your enemies. If you're sitting, praying in the pew, do you want the minions of Satan sitting next to you? Of course not! Democrats should learn to stay among their own kind.

Free Comic Book Day!

Today is Free Comic Book Day, and it's exactly what it sounds like: a day when you can get free comic books. In order to reach out to people who don't rush to their comic book store every Wednesday when the week's new titles come in, the comic book industry has set aside an annual day to just give stuff away. Several companies have one comic book that they're showcasing, and they sell it dirt cheap to the stores, cheap enough that the retailers can give it away to draw people in. This year it looks like you'll be able to get Star Wars, the Simpsons, Batman, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Betty & Veronica, G.I. Joe, and other characters or series. You can find out more about the event at If you're not sure where the closest comic book store to you is, check out The Comic Shop Locator and type in your zip code. Not every store is participating, but if you find one that's not, don't worry. You didn't want to give them your business anyway, because they're idiots. For many stores, this is a big deal, and they may be offering their own specials in addition to the various company titles or featuring guest artists or writers for signings.

So go to a comics store, avail yourself of the free titles that look interesting to you, and browse for something real to buy to support your friendly neighborhood retailer. Had I not been distracted by my own deadline woes described elsewhere, this wouldn't have snuck up on me, and I'd have had some suggestions. In lieu of specifics, let me mention some general names of who you might look for. You can't go wrong with work by Art Spiegelman, Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, Seth, Alan Moore, and Joe Sacco, for starters. If you liked Sin City, pick up something from Frank Miller. Comics readers will immediately recognize these names as the usual suspects, and it barely scratches the surface of what's worthwhile, so take a look around the shop yourself for what else catches your eye.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Deadline Blogging

I've been overwhelmed with meeting a major deadline today (well, all week coming up to now, as a matter of fact), and I haven't been putting my attention here. There's quite a bit to talk about, too, but that's the way it goes sometimes. I'll try to get something more substantial tomorrow, but in the meantime, you can read part 2 of Elizabeth Kolbert's global warming series in The New Yorker. Part 3 is currently on the newsstands, but if the fate of parts 1 and 2 are any indication, the final installment will be online early next week.

My current project at work, the one the deadline's all about, is a book about the 1960s. Since that's been dominating my time lately, I might as well let it inform my blog. Before I go, I'll leave you with three commonly held beliefs about the '60s that I've learned are not true. Bob Dylan was not booed when he went electric at the Newport Folk Festival. There was not a local baby boom nine months after the New York City blackout. And Khruschhev did not bang his shoe on the desk at the UN. I just don't know what to believe anymore.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Revisiting Emmett Till

The FBI announced yesterday that it was planning to exhume Emmett Till's body to perform the autopsy left undone when he was murdered fifty years ago. Till was a fourteen-year-old African-American from Chicago visiting relatives in Mississippi in the summer in 1955. A few nights after he reportedly whistled at a Caucasian woman in a store, he was kidnaped, savagely beaten, and murdered. Although such occurrences weren't unheard of in the South in the 1950s, this instance was different. After Till's body was shipped back to Chicago, his mother insisted on an open-casket funeral, and the world could see what had been done to him. Two white men were put on trial in Mississippi but acquitted by an all-white jury. One of the men later confessed the murder to Look magazine, but because of double jeopardy, the law could do nothing. All this has been credited as causing a major spark in the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement.

A year ago, authorities reopened the case to find some answers. There was speculation that more than just the two men tried for the crime had been involved, and those new suspects, if they were still alive, could still be tried and punished. It's not clear just what will be gained by an autopsy at this late date, and Till's family is split over the idea (registration required). One relative who does want to see the exhumation and autopsy take place, however, is Semion Wright, who was sharing a bed with Till the night he was kidnaped. In the original trial, the defense argued that the body was not that of Emmett Till, so the charges were invalid to begin with. Wright maintains that if the body can be identified as Till, the state of Mississippi would be in a position to pursue a suspect who may be able to place Carolyn Brown, the woman at the store, at the scene of the kidnaping. Brown is still alive and could still be prosecuted if a case against her can be assembled.

Busting Out!

I should have done this earlier, but here it is now. If you’re in Chicago, go see Busting Out! from Stockyards Theatre Project. It’s billed as a “voluptuous evening of comedy,” and you can’t beat that, can you? Playing every Tuesday and Wednesday through June 1 at Stage Left Theatre at 3408 N. Sheffield (here’s a map), it features four original one-act comedies challenging the Beauty Myth: Barbie’s Dream House, One Hand Clapping, Lizzy and Rilla, and *Results Not Typical, plus the fabulous comedy stylings of Francesca Peppiatt. Here’s more information.

Speaking of Stockyards Theatre Project, they’re also hosting a Tea Party benefit on Mother’s Day. Tea will be served from 1:00-5:00 Sunday afternoon at Soliloquy Bookstore at 1724 W. Belmont (yes, I’ve got a map). Enjoying high tea and supporting Stockyards should be reason enough to come out, but the afternoon will also feature a 50/50 raffle and a silent auction. If you can’t make it but would like to buy raffle tickets through Paypal (or to look at items for auction) click here. You don’t have to be present to win--heck, you don’t even need to be in Chicago, or in the U.S. for our international readers. Support the arts!

UPDATED to add illustration.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Chicago Has Two Baseball Teams?

The Chicago White Sox get no respect. Even when they're doing well, they don't get that much attention. They're leading major league baseball, the only team above .700, and the primary reaction is yeah, well, they'll drop soon (which they well might--we're still a long way from October). Last week, Sports Illustrated's Mark Bechtel named the White Sox the worst team to root for in professional sports. Why? Well, according to Bechtel, their stadium's no good and their announcer sucks. Strikes against them, to be sure, but enough to make them the worst team to root for in all professional sports? The real reason is that nobody cares. Apathy toward the White Sox is so strong that Bechtel doesn't even need to justify his pick.

One of the most telling recent examples of how Chicago just can't be bothered about the team happened in 2000 after they won the AL Central Division title. They'd won it on the road, in Minneapolis (actually they lost the game that night, but Cleveland, their only rival for the title, was eliminated from contention by their own loss to Kansas City). For their first home game since clinching the title--the triumphant homecoming--they brought in a crowd of 23,000, just over 50 percent capacity at Comiskey. (In the interest of full disclosure, my reason for being there wasn't to see the White Sox, either--I came to watch Pedro Martinez win for the Red Sox on his way to nabbing his second consecutive Cy Young.) Meanwhile, over at Wrigley Field, the Cubs were playing the Phillies in a meaningless game for the standings (at 29 and 30 games out of first, respectively, both teams had been out of contention for weeks). Wrigley Field drew 3,000 more paying fans than Comiskey did. A team headed for postseason play versus a team with a far lesser record but a more pleasant stadium in a more popular part of town. When that postseason team is the White Sox, it's hardly a surprise that the bigger draw can be found across town.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

I'm Really Not This Shallow

Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo has been having problems lately. The most obvious trouble has been with the elephants, which have been dying. A year ago, the zoo had three African elephants, two of which have died since October. The final elephant was transferred to another zoo in Utah over the weekend, but it died there Sunday night after getting ill during transit (details here). There's talk that Lincoln Park Zoo might do away with the elephant exhibit altogether, if it can't provide a healthy environment. Administered by the city of Chicago, the zoo has free admission and is a wonderful resource in many ways. What has happened to the elephants is tragic, and I truly hope that any inherent problems the zoo has can be resolved. However, I can't help having a Beavis and Butthead reaction whenever I hear the name of the last poor beast: Wankie the elephant.

Apropos of nothing, I wonder if that's the same name the horse had in the joke Laura Bush told about the President at the White House Correspondents Dinner.

Quick Bits

Here's some interesting stuff to click over to.

Billmon talks about Shadia Drury's Leo Strauss and the American Right over at his Whiskey Bar. Strauss, formerly a professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago, is the inspirational light behind the neoconservatives who seem to have usurped our government out from under us, and Drury (as well as Billmon) has some interesting insights.

At Romenesko's Letters page (scroll down), Elaine Liner of the Dallas Observer had the following concern: "Recently I was told by a publicist for a feverishly hyped new Broadway musical that only critics who could 'promise positive coverage' would be allowed opening night comp seats. I bought my own $125 ticket. Turns out I liked the show. But as I read other 'positive coverage,' I wondered if it was honest criticism or just quid pro quo." Do we all know what show she's talking about, or has there been more than one feverishly hyped new Broadway musical lately?

Also at Romenesko's Letters, Roger Ebert brings attention to Sunday's B.C. by Johnny Hart and wonders if it suffered the same fate that sometimes befalls particularly political episodes of Doonesbury (or, although Ebert doesn't mention it, Boondocks).

The Toronto Comicon passed out the inaugural (and annual?) Shuster awards, named for Toronto-born Joe Shuster, co-creator of Superman. (Via The Comics Reporter.) As you probably guessed, the Shusters honor Canadian comics creators. The Shusters aren't alone, though. The first Doug Wright Awards, also honoring Canadian creators, will be given away at the end of the month at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival.

The Comics Reporter has a nice in-depth interview with Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk cartoonist fave Kyle Baker.

According to Time magazine, novelist Jonathan Lethem, author of Fortress of Solitude, will be writing Omega the Unknown for Marvel. Omega was an off-kilter but captivating series from the ‘70s that was canceled far too soon, before it could get close to whatever destination it was clearly headed toward. Creators Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes have never revealed what they had planned for the series, and it has remained one of the great unfulfilled comics titles. Marvel tried to tie up the loose ends without Gerber and Skrenes, but it was so unconvincing that anything outside of the original series receives no credence whatsoever. So far, no one's got a reaction from Gerber to the Lethem news, and he hasn't weighed in on his blog, but he might.

The New York Times on Gang of Four at Coachella: "Gang of Four, the postpunk band that smuggled funk into its furiously compressed punk songs, sounded every bit as vigorous as the younger acts (like the Futureheads) that uphold the Gang of Four legacy."

Monday, May 02, 2005

No Swarm Here

Did you see the London Sunday Times story of a leaked Downing Street memo from July 2002 detailing the Blair government’s agreement with the Bush administration to invade Iraq and depose Saddam before there was any public discussion in that country or this one? Although it was too early for a stated justification for the invasion--the press wasn’t talking WMDs yet, and Powell didn’t go to the UN until February 2003--they were working on it. The memo states, “The intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

Everybody’s talking about this: James Wolcott, Daily Kos (writing in The Guardian), Kevin Drum, Atrios. Everybody, that is, except the liberal media. I didn’t do an exhaustive search, but I couldn’t find the story on the home pages of CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, or USA Today. According to Raw Story, Rep. John Conyers is gathering signatures for a letter to the President asking for an investigation. In an accompanying statement, Conyers criticized the media: "Unfortunately, the mainstream media in the United States was too busy with wall-to-wall coverage of a 'runaway bride' to cover a bombshell report out of the British newspapers. . . . This should not be allowed to fall down the memory hole during wall-to-wall coverage of the Michael Jackson trial and a runaway bride."

Frist Can't Be Happy

For ages, I’ve seen no point in Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist running for president, and even less in anyone taking a Frist candidacy seriously. He’s got no natural constituency, and he’s only got his powerful position in the Senate because he’s a Bush yes-man and Trent Lott doesn’t know how to keep his mouth closed. Clearly, Frist realized he had a problem of potential support, as well, which is why he’s gone to such trouble to court the religious right. I believe (and I’m hardly the only one who does) his recent video appearance at “Justice Sunday” to curry favor with the religious right against the demonic filibuster was a transparent attempt to garner support for 2008.

He can’t have been happy with Pat Robertson comments on yesterday’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos. I preface this by saying that no one should take Pat Robertson seriously, of course, but if you’re trying to cozy up to him and his supporters, I guess it kind of goes with the territory. Sunday Morning Talk has the details:

ROBERTSON: Bill is a wonderfully compassionate human being. He is humanitarian. He goes on medical missions. He's a delightful person. I just don't see him as a future president. I think he's said he didn't want to run for president. Maybe I'm putting words in his mouth.

Maybe he is. What do you think?

I’m sorry I missed the broadcast, because Pat looks to have been in fine entertainment form. Atrios points us to this New York Daily News headline: “Robertson: Judges worse than Al Qaeda.” And back at Sunday Morning Talk, we can see that, although Pat could support a Rudy Giuliani candidacy, “McCain I'd vote against under any circumstance.” In relation to judges, he said, “It's a tyranny of an oligarchy that I'm concerned about”--that’s right, he wants a tyranny of a fundamentalarchy instead.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

History I Never Knew

Chicago's Channel 5 News just told us that Calvin Coolidge started the White House Correspondents Dinner in 1914. They didn't bother to explain why President Woodrow Wilson would encourage a Massachusetts state legislator to initiate anything with the White House press in the first place.


A recent dilemma here at Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk central has been whether to spring for tickets to see the reunited Gang of Four, who are playing locally next week. I saw them virtually half my lifetime ago, and it was one of the few times in my concert-going career that I saw what appeared to be an unplanned encore. (Webster's defines encore as "a demand for repetition or reappearance made by an audience." It's hardly a secret that "encores" are planned into a live show before a band even plays its first note, so to see someone come back to play some more when they hadn't expected to is a treat, indeed.) It was a great show, and they continue to be one of my all-time favorite groups, but as I said, that was half a lifetime ago. I've gotten older, and so have they. Part of their appeal is the energy steeped into the music--can they match it all these years later? If they can't, will they have some other quality to replace it with, making the show worthwhile anyway? I've still got the albums to play and my memories of the earlier show, and I don't want to sully either if this reunion turns out to be ill-advised.

Guitarist Andy Gill has continued to be involved with music. He produced some of the Futureheads album (although he stayed away from the single "Decent Days and Nights," which has a guitar line a bit too reminiscent of "My Sharona" for my liking), so he's still kept his hand in the new musical currents. Googling for recent news stories to see how they're being received may have made my decision for me. I found a few things that sounded interesting, but I think the capper was a New York Times story by Jon Pareles (which I'm linking to through the Contra Costa Times.)

It was Jan. 21 at the Montague Arms, a packed pub in the scruffy New Cross neighborhood of South London. . . . The four men, now in their 40s, were playing their first show together since 1981.

They immediately reclaimed the meticulous ferocity that made Gang of Four one of post-punk's most influential bands. Its old blend of the cerebral and the visceral was in full force.


"The goal is to be as incredibly intense as we were the first time around," [bassist Dave] Allen said. "What we have to do is leave them with their tongues hanging out again. If not, we don't retain our authority in the musical canon. There's no excuse that we're 23 years older."

As well as

The band members had to shape up for the tour. [Hugo] Burnham hadn't played drums since 1985; he started exercising with his wife, a Pilates trainer. [Singer Jon] King, who is still lean, teased the other band members with e-mail messages about the "celebrity fat club." But as they started to relearn the songs, old reflexes came back. "The blueprint was still in my body," Allen said.

On the 9-foot-by-18-foot stage of the Montague Arms, King flailed and twitched, dropped to the floor and leaped up like a funky scarecrow, as hyperactive as he was a generation ago. "It's the tragedy of old age that people stop doing stupid things," he said before the show. "When you're young, you're reckless and oppositional, and that's what you should be your whole life. Why should you not take a risk?"

It sounds like they recognized the same concerns I had, and they're facing them down. I'm getting my tickets tomorrow.