Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: June 2005

Thursday, June 30, 2005

How Long Until This Gets Its Own Gate?

In the continued absence of any coverage in the liberal media, one intrepid celebrity blogger has been keeping alive the story of Dick Cheney's phantom visit to the hospital in Vail last week. I mentioned it a couple of days ago, as have a number of other bloggers, but Arianna Huffington, who originally broke the story, isn't just keeping it buoyant by talking about it, she's breaking new ground. You may recall that, although the hospital in Vail denied Cheney had been there, Cheney's office did admit stopping in, but only so the Veep could have an orthopedist look at an "old football injury." But it turns out, Arianna tells us, that the top orthopedist Cheney reportedly met with, Dr. Richard Steadman, was not actually at the hospital when the vice presidential motorcade dropped by (and hadn't been all day). Hmmmmm. As of yet, there's no response from the Vice President. Will there be more information? Arianna claims the hospital is reminding all its employees that talking about the situation could result in five years of jail time (ten if the talk is malicious). Now that the official cover story is in tatters, will the liberal media pick up the story? All I can say is that my breath is not bated.

Advancing the Homosexual Agenda

The liberal media in the U.S. is famous for not paying attention to anything happening anywhere else in the world, so there may have been some indication that this was coming up (apparently there was a protest march in Madrid a couple of weeks ago that drew hundreds of thousands and was endorsed by Spain's Conference of Catholic Bishops--I suppose that might've counted as a hint), but I sure didn't see it coming. Earlier today, Spain's Parliament legalized same-sex marriage, making Spain the third country in the world, after the Netherlands and Belgium, to protect such relationships. In doing so, Spain crushed Canada's dreams of becoming number three after its House of Commons passed similar legislation on Tuesday. Canada still has to wait for its Senate to follow through, which it's fully expected to do shortly, before same-sex marriage becomes legal there. The best Canada can hope for at this point is number four.

So the homosexual agenda moves forward internationally. I have to admit that I'm at a bit of a disadvantage on this subject, because I'm not entirely sure what the "homosexual agenda" is. I hear it's supposed to be dangerous to our way of life, but as far as I can see, lesbians and gays want to protect themselves from discrimination, and they desire to have the same rights that are regularly bestowed upon heterosexuals. I'm not sure I can see a problem with that. But maybe there's more to it that goes over my head. Maybe gays and lesbians want to be able to fire heterosexual workers. Maybe they want to make only same-sex marriage legal. Maybe they want to trade places with heteros so heteros are deprived of rights that gays and lesbians have. Boy, that would show us straight people, wouldn't it? I can't say I'd approve of any of that. But somehow I don't think that's what the "homosexual agenda" is all about. If anyone can offer any illumination on why the "homosexual agenda" is something to be feared rather than something that erases the legal differences among us, I'm all ears.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Place Gratuitous Drug Reference Here

While I was catching up on the entries at Howling Curmudgeons, I came across a link to a fabulous educational comic from the mid-60s.

Click through the panel above to learn why you should JUST SAY NO!

James Dobson Is Right

I don't know if it's ever happened before, but James Dobson and I are on the same side on what the Supreme Court's Ten Commandments ruling means. I've always thought that the courts have ruled that religious displays on government property are only acceptable if they're secularized, denatured, and stripped of their religious meaning. Prayers are OK to be offered before a state legislature or Congress if they have no reference to any specific deity and are generic enough that they could be taken for Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Scientologist, or whatever (atheists and agnostics are on their own, I guess). While I don't necessarily have a problem with that, I could never understand why religious people would find it acceptable.

Apparently Dobson doesn't understand that, either. Earlier today, Morning Edition paraphrased his argument: "If people don't have overtly religious reasons for putting up a Ten Commandments display, they're not taking them seriously"; and then actually quoted him on the Supreme Court decision itself: "What it said is that you can only post the Ten Commandments in public buildings if you don't believe it, if it has no meaning, if it's simply an historic document or edifice."

Once we've gotten together on that point, though, we seem to take leave of each other again. He wants to foist his religious symbols on me and anyone else, and I think he should keep his icons in his church, his business, and his home. It seems like they'd still get plenty of exposure there.

The Fictional Cost of Living

I missed this the first time it was around last week, but thanks to the magic that is Tom Peyer's Superfrankenstein, here it is now. Ever wonder how much it would cost to be Batman? The good folks at Forbes, apparently finding themselves with too much time on their hands, have figured it out (and if you're wondering, no, you can't afford it). At that Forbes piece, there's also a link to a previous estimate (in the vein of's TV dad salaries we talked about last week) of the net worth of fifteen fictional millionaires. Seeing this list brings to mind John Walton, an heir to the Wal-Mart fortune who died in an air crash earlier this week. His net worth (which was just a fraction of the worth of all the Sam Walton heirs, remember) was estimated to be $20 billion. Even though the Forbes list includes such luminaries as Montgomery Burns, Thurston Howell III, Bruce Wayne, Scrooge McDuck, and Charles Foster Kane, only two fictional figures are estimated to have more money than he did: Richie Rich and Santa Claus.

The Essence of Our Iraqi Involvement

A friend sent me the following link in e-mail (thanks, Ron). From the September 2004 issue of Harper's Magazine, it may be the best explanation of the original goals for Iraq I've seen. Building upon what she calls "the most cherished belief of the war’s ideological architects," Naomi Klein sets out the goal and some of the perceived potential costs of Bush’s Iraq adventure:

Greed creates profit, which creates growth, which creates jobs and products and services and everything else anyone could possibly need or want. The role of good government, then, is to create the optimal conditions for corporations to pursue their bottomless greed, so that they in turn can meet the needs of the society. The problem is that governments, even neoconservative governments, rarely get the chance to prove their sacred theory right: despite their enormous ideological advances, even George Bush's Republicans are, in their own minds, perennially sabotaged by meddling Democrats, intractable unions, and alarmist environmentalists.

Iraq was going to change all that. In one place on Earth, the theory would finally be put into practice in its most perfect and uncompromised form. A country of 25 million would not be rebuilt as it was before the war; it would be erased, disappeared. In its place would spring forth a gleaming showroom for laissez-faire economics, a utopia such as the world had never seen. Every policy that liberates multinational corporations to pursue their quest for profit would be put into place: a shrunken state, a flexible workforce, open borders, minimal taxes, no tariffs, no ownership restrictions. The people of Iraq would, of course, have to endure some short-term pain: assets, previously owned by the state, would have to be given up to create new opportunities for growth and investment. Jobs would have to be lost and, as foreign products flooded across the border, local businesses and family farms would, unfortunately, be unable to compete. But to the authors of this plan, these would be small prices to pay for the economic boom that would surely explode once the proper conditions were in place, a boom so powerful the country would practically rebuild itself.

The full article is long, but it's worth spending some time with. Given that it was published nine months ago (back before the election when, if anybody had been paying attention, it might've done some good), it's hard to say how much relevance it has toward the current situation. But I couldn't help but notice that nothing W said last night contradicts anything here. Given the administration’s penchant to "stay the course," it's possible that this article still sums up the guiding principles of Iraq policy.

There are a couple of other Iraq links that I want to pass along. Matthew Yglesias wonders how we'll know when the mission's accomplished if the administration won't specify what the primary mission is (are we fighting terrorists, or are we building an Iraqi government?). And I don't agree with everything in this piece in Slate by William Salaten, but he does make an interesting comparison between the Iraqi occupation and welfare. After quoting W's remarks last night ("Our strategy can be summed up this way: As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down"), he compares them to the traditional Republican argument against welfare:

If you prop people up, they'll never stand up, and you'll never stand down. You have to let go. As you stand down, they'll stand up.

Are we going to have to wait for somebody else to come along and end the Iraqi occupation as we know it?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Heart of the Administration

There's some scuttlebutt that Dick Cheney had some heart trouble when he was in Vail, Colorado, over the weekend. No, don't bother going to Google News. You'll only find denials there. Instead, you'll have to check out an entry in Arianna's blog from Friday. She also happened to be in Vail and discovered heavy security at the hospital and lots of "no comments," except for one person who claimed Cheney "was no longer there." She dug a little bit further and added an update to her entry detailing what she'd heard, that there had been some sort of cardiac incident. On Sunday, Arianna followed up with another post, pointing out that, although the hospital had officially denied Cheney had been there, Cheney's office said that he'd gone in to get an old football injury looked at. That's the story the AP's sticking to, at least for the time being. So far, I've only seen New York Daily News gossip columnist Lloyd Grove going after the story, and he developed his own sources for today's item rather than simply parrot Arianna. He made an error in his headline, though (which, to be perfectly fair, was probably written by a copy editor rather than Grove himself): Cheney EKG? Media pulse quickening. Well, maybe not yet. Until that actually does happen, we'll just have to content ourselves with our celebrity blogger and the gossip columnist.

Maybe One New Wrinkle

Although the administration's attitude toward the American public so far seems to have been "Ask not what you can do for your country," Bush did change his tune a little bit tonight. He closed with this paragraph:

And to those watching tonight who are considering a military career, there is no higher calling than service in our Armed Forces. We live in freedom because every generation has produced patriots willing to serve a cause greater than themselves. Those who serve today are taking their rightful place among the greatest generations that have worn our nation's uniform. When the history of this period is written, the liberation of Afghanistan and the liberation of Iraq will be remembered as great turning points in the story of freedom.

Lofty sentiments, indeed. Max Blumenthal, reporting from the College Republican National Convention in The Nation's Website this week, lets us know how such an appeal might be received:

In interviews, more than a dozen conventiongoers explained why it is important that they stay on campus while other, less fortunate people their age wage a bloody war in Iraq. They strongly support the war, they told me, but they also want to enjoy college life and pursue interesting careers. Being a College Republican allows them to do both. It is warfare by other, much safer means.

. . .

I chatted for a while with Collin Kelley, a senior at Washington State. . . . Kelley told me he's "sick and tired of people saying our troops are dying in vain" and added, "This isn't an invasion of Iraq, it's a liberation--as David Horowitz said." When I asked him why he was staying on campus rather than fighting the good fight, he rubbed his shoulder and described a nagging football injury from high school. Plus, his parents didn't want him to go. "They're old hippies," Kelley said.

Munching on a chicken quesadilla at a table nearby was Edward Hauser, a senior at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas--a liberal school in a liberal town in the ultimate red state of Texas. "Austin is ninety square miles insulated from reality," Hauser said. When I broached the issue of Iraq, he replied, "I support our country. I support our troops." So why isn't he there?

"I know that I'm going to be better staying here and working to convince people why we're there [in Iraq]," Hauser explained, pausing in thought. "I'm a fighter, but with words."

. . .

By the time I encountered Cory Bray, a towering senior from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, the beer was flowing freely. "The people opposed to the war aren't putting their asses on the line," Bray boomed from beside the bar. Then why isn't he putting his ass on the line? "I'm not putting my ass on the line because I had the opportunity to go to the number-one business school in the country," he declared, his voice rising in defensive anger, "and I wasn't going to pass that up."

And besides, being a College Republican is so much more fun than counterinsurgency warfare. Bray recounted the pride he and his buddies had felt walking through the center of campus last fall waving a giant American flag, wearing cowboy boots and hats with the letters B-U-S-H painted on their bare chests. "We're the big guys," he said. "We're the ones who stand up for what we believe in. The College Democrats just sit around talking about how much they hate Bush. We actually do shit."

In Case You Missed It

W said pretty much what you'd expect. Yes, he's continuing the response he began on September 11 (which he mentioned five times). Yes, we're making progress in Iraq, and everything's coming along nicely. No, we're not going to rush out of there. He was speaking in front of troops at Fort Bragg who remained very stoic throughout the presentation, so W did not get the cheering and enthusiasm he might've gotten used to in front of the crowds full of ringers to whom he usually speaks.

Harry Reid responded with something we should all keep in mind:

The President's numerous references to September 11th did not provide a way forward in Iraq, they only served to remind the American people that our most dangerous enemy, namely Osama bin Laden, is still on the loose and Al Qaeda remains capable of doing this nation great harm nearly four years after it attacked America.

The administration has no new ideas, and more and more people are beginning to notice.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The 80s and Today

Dovetailing nicely with my post on the Killers the other night, this evening on the way home from work I heard the Bravery. I didn't hear the band announced until after the song was over, but as it sounded like New Order and yet wasn't New Order (or the Killers), I surmised that it must be the Bravery and was correct. Maybe Brandon Flowers is annoyed with the Bravery because the song I heard, "An Honest Mistake," sounds more like New Order than Flowers's band does.

I was listening to one of those "shuffle" radio stations that pretend to be your iPod except with songs that you'd never put on your own iPod, and I also heard "Come on, Eileen." That got me wondering when we were going to see a Dexy's Midnight Runners revival band. We've got New Order, Joy Division, XTC, Gang of Four, the Jam, Duran Duran, and various other 80s bands covered, so what about Dexy's? Maybe they could mix all the band's incarnations together to combine banjos and fiddles with a full horn section while wearing preppie button-downs and topsiders. I say this as a big fan of the band, who unfortunately are remembered as little more than a one-hit wonder on this side of the Atlantic but had a number of hits and continue to be revered on the other. The band reunited a couple of years ago, but I haven't heard if they've stayed together or not.

Speaking of revival bands, when is one of these 80s echo groups going to display any Drastic Measures influences? That was a fun band. I've got their album (Canadian-only?) from '79 or '80 or whatever, and I understand that there was a CD at one point, but I don't know any more than that. Was the CD just the album, or was it a compilation of various tracks? Do any of our Canadian friends know whatever happened to Tony Malone? He had something to do several years ago with the soundtrack to a small Canadian film called Highway 61, but I couldn't find any other music from him at all. (Although googling him did turn up an anti-religion book he published a couple of years ago, The Bible for People Who Hate the Bible.)

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Pete Doherty in Vanity Fair

This month's Vanity Fair, in addition to the outing of Deep Throat, has Nicole Kidman on the cover (she's described as "beguiling," barely sidestepping the name of her movie that's opening this weekend) and a profile on ex-Libertine and current Babyshambles frontman Pete Doherty. I'd imagine he's pretty much unknown to the American public, and here they use the hook of "Kate Moss's boyfriend," but they give plenty of play to his status as drug addict (a rock'n'roll star on drugs? I'm shocked--shocked!). As far as I can tell, Babyshambles has no U.S. record contract, but they've had a hit in the UK, and their first album is due out there in September (he's also a known quantity from his time with the Libertines, whose glowing critical notices in the UK press shared space with his drug exploits). We'll see if this profile ups his intrigue for potential U.S. fans or if the drug angle really does turn them off.

The Soft-Shoe Stylings of Donald Rumsfeld

This morning on Meet the Press, Tim Russert featured an all-entertainment show (click for a transcript). He talked to Bono about Live 8 and poverty in Africa and featured Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as the opening act. Rumsfeld was quite entertaining dancing around any questions Russert posed to him (and Russert, for once, was a little bit pressing--not demanding, by any means, but not dropping a subject after Rumsfeld indicated he didn't want to talk about it, either). There were a number of highlights, but here are a couple of my favorites:

RUSSERT: So never any mistake made on troop level?
RUMSFELD: Who knows? Time will tell.

. . .

RUSSERT: Did you make a misjudgment about the cost of the war?
RUMSFELD: I never estimated the cost of the war. And how can one estimate the cost in lives or the cost in money? I've avoided it consistently. And how can that be a misestimate?

. . .

RUSSERT: What is the problem with arming these Humvees so our soldiers won't get hurt?
RUMSFELD: They are arming the Humvees. They've gone up like this, and they've gone from a few hundred to tens of thousands of armored vehicles in there. . . . And they've been working their heads off on doing it, and they've done it at a very rapid clip.

Can anybody remind me how the liberal media ever found these kinds of mumble-mouthed nonanswers charming?

Saturday, June 25, 2005

What's the Story on the Killers?

I heard "Mr. Brightside" on the way home from work the other day, and it reminded me about this flash-in-the-pan vibe I get from the Killers. "Mr. Brightside" and "Somebody Told Me" are both fun songs, and the band seems to getting quite a bit of response from the critics, but I can't help but feel that by the time their next album comes out we'll have had our fill and the album will stiff. I must admit that I'm mostly just speaking from a feeling that I get. I haven't seen the band live, and that could change my mind, but we'll see. I don't think that Brandon Flowers does himself any favors in his pointless feud with the Bravery (and, just for the record, I haven't even heard the Bravery, so this is not a protective lunge in favor of that band, either), claiming that they're just copying the Killers, as if nobody ever thought of channeling New Order before. You can see a couple of examples of the feud here and here. In googling, I found this recent Rolling Stone article that cites Blondie's "Dreaming," Blur's "Girls and Boys," Hunky Dory, Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, U2, and Paul Anka as influences. And, oh yeah, Brandon also wants to play the lead in Phantom of the Opera, but not for longer than a month or so. The more I read, the more I flash back to the Spin Doctors.

Friday, June 24, 2005

That Lynching Vote Again

My previous post about lynching is about to scroll off into the archives, but we had more movement on the issue yesterday when, a mere ten days after the lynching apology passed the Senate by a voice vote, Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona added his name to the list of cosponsors. That puts the number of cosponsors who joined original sponsor Mary Landrieu at 89. Only ten senators continue to refuse to officially attach their names to this anti-lynching resolution, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to keep that updated dishonor role visible for a while longer:

Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Robert Bennett (R-UT)
Thad Cochran (R-MS)
John Cornyn (R-TX)
Michael Enzi (R-WY)
Judd Gregg (R-NH)
Trent Lott (R-MS)
Richard Shelby (R-AL)
John Sununu (R-NH)
Craig Thomas (R-WY)

I'll continue to update and cross names off if they see the light.

Rove in Backspin

I don’t know if it's just because Karl Rove's comments came so quickly after the firestorm over Dick Durbin's statements about Guantanamo, but it looks a little to me like the Democrats are fighting back over this (but I'm trying not to get my hopes up too high).

The fact that Rove gave his speech on Wednesday night and here it is Friday evening and we're still talking about it and demanding an apology is wonderful! It's a page right out of the Karl Rove right-wing echo machine playbook. And Dems don't even have their own echo machine!

What makes me optimistic about this (sorry, Stevie T.) is the fact that there's absolutely no chance whatsoever that Rove will apologize. He said exactly what he intended to say, and to some degree, he's getting the reaction he wanted. So the fact that Democrats continue to demand an apology can only mean they want to make the whole thing backfire on Rove (and by extension on all the Bushies). It's nothing but PR! That may not sound so significant in and of itself, but the Republicans have got most of what they hold now based on PR. Limbaugh, along with a good number of the pundits who follow him, claims not to be a politician but an entertainer, and the entertainment he offers is frothy PR. If you spew enough froth at someone or something, it'll ultimately weigh down its target, and that's what’s been happening to Democrats and liberals for several years. But now they're fighting back, and they're proving that their froth can be sticky, too. The latest proof? Asheesh Siddique writes at TAPPED, The American Prospect's blog, that Rick Santorum--religious right matinee idol Rick Santorum!--has distanced himself from Rove's sentiments through his communications director.

If you're in a mood to read, there have been a number of good items about Rove's raw meat for the faithful. Peter Daou, who runs a round up of blog comments (on both left and right) for Salon appears to have started his own blog in the last couple of days and responded to Rove yesterday (scroll down to "Original Post"). Arianna Huffington imagines what next week’s "apology" by Rove will look like. And also at Salon, Joe Conason lists the lies embedded in Rove's statement.

What's in Your Wallet?

If you're like most people, at some point or another, you've wondered how your salary stacks up against your favorite TV dad. Unfortunately, there's never been an authoritative source for those fictional salary estimates. Not until now, that is. In honor of last weekend's Father's Day, has come up with a list of 60 TV dads and their estimated salaries in today's dollars. Not surprisingly, Blake Carrington and "Jock" Ewing top the list, each bringing in almost a cool million in annual salary and bonuses. Presumably Bruce Wayne would've been higher than either of them, but he's just a guardian, not an actual dad. George Jefferson moves on up to #5, at more than $700,000, but Family Affair's Uncle Bill Davis, who lives in a similar deluxe apartment in the sky and has his very own gentleman's gentleman, is barely into six figures--I'd hate to see his credit card bills. Surprisingly, Homer Simpson doesn't do too badly, falling right in the middle of the list at #30 with $65,000. Underachieving are Mike Brady, who supports six kids and a live-in maid on $51,000 (maybe Carol's first husband left behind a tidy inheritance) and Father Knows Best's Jim Anderson, who doesn't even break $40,000 selling insurance. But Anderson still squeaks by Fred Flintstone (who lands at #55; for some reason, there is no #54 on the list), who's hauling in $37,000. Bringing up the rear at #60 is James Evans, Sr., of Good Times, who's unemployed. Too bad I didn't have this list three years ago . . .

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Best Magazines

Also in today's Chicago Tribune is their staff's picks of the fifty best magazines, along with commentary on each selection (but you'll probably have to register to see it). Their Top 10 is:

National Geographic Traveler
Vanity Fair
Cook's Illustrated
New York
People en Espanol

There's nothing on the entire list that I read religiously, but I probably pick up six or seven of them on the newsstand to see what's in the new issue. Blender is not one of those, as it's just looked to me like another unexceptional indie-friendly music mag. Is it more than that? Does anybody here read it?

By the way, the Trib slots Mojo at #27, but they claim each issue comes with a CD. Mojo may have changed their policy, but it's always seemed to me that CDs are an occasional feature of the magazine. Are Trib staffers getting it mixed up with Uncut, which glues a CD onto the cover month in and month out?

Durbin Fallout

In The Hill today, Lynn Sweet tells us that Richie Daley, mayor of the country's third-largest city for the past sixteen years, had a little problem with political naivete earlier this week when he called Durbin's statements on Guantanamo "a disgrace."

The mayor did not realize the impact his remarks would have, [Daley’s press secretary Jacquelyn] Heard said. . . .

The mayor did not understand that his comments gave the right-wing Internet websites, radio and cable shows the opening they were looking for and undermined Durbin.

Poor Richie. Today's politics can be so confusing.

Meanwhile, over at today's Chicago Tribune, columnist Eric Zorn offers a rewrite of what Durbin should have said to Daley and the Senate. Here are just a couple of samples:

"It's come to my attention that the mayor of the largest city in my home state raged at a news conference earlier today that I said our soldiers 'in Guantanamo Bay are Nazis.'

"I'm surprised. Though Mayor Daley can't even pronounce Guantanamo--he says it 'Gwa-ta-mahn-o.' And even though he blithely presided over the Cook County state's attorney's office during the biggest police-torture scandal in Chicago's history. And even though he mistily invoked 'what America's all about' at the news conference in which he announced a 'presumed guilty' program of posting photos on the Internet of people arrested but not yet convicted in prostitution stings.

"Still, I thought he'd be able to see through the false logic and deceptive paraphrases offered by my critics and focus his concern where it belongs: On what FBI reports say is being done to prisoners at Gwan-tahn-a-mo in the name of the United States of America.

 . . .

"If anything I said caused you to believe that I was equating American soldiers with Nazis or equating American leaders with Adolf Hitler or Pol Pot, then you are an idiot."

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Comics for You

The Dark Horse Website is featuring a weekly webcomics adaptation of the original War of the Worlds by Ian Edginton and D'Israeli (apparently the timing is good because there's a movie coming out or something). They're responsible for the graphic novel Scarlet Traces, which picks up H. G. Wells's story after the Martians have been defeated and presents a Victorian England that has incorporated the advanced technology the Martians brought to Earth with them. Scarlet Traces also first appeared on the Web, so in a way, Edginton and D'Isreali are coming home. Dark Horse intends to post new pages every Friday.

Six Flags over Burning Mississippi?

This is very funny. Thanks, Stu.

The Future of the Comics Market?

After attending both BEA and MoCCA, Heidi MacDonald takes a few minutes to consider the current consolidation of comics and bookstores. Graphic novels made a strong showing at BEA, and book publishers were plenty in evidence at MoCCA. She talks about specific trends, but her main point is that the two markets will continue to overlap and merge. This is comics' moment to step into the big time their creators have always dreamed of.

In summation, it's good to be cautious. Hope for the best but expect the worst and all that. It's inevitable that some of this will come a cropper. Some people are clueless trend-jumpers, and there will be some huge failures. But there will also be successes.

Can't we have a little self confidence here? I know, I know, I'm talking about cartooners, your most self-loathing creative type. Do we really think that comics are that crappy a medium? Didn't we always say that if we could just get a fair shake, people would like us?

The fair shake is here. I'm sure there are going to be some disasters. Creators are going to make bad decisions. Editors are going to screw up. But I think we'll make it, I really do, because (choke) I believe in the power of comics. And so do you.

Outsourcing at Voice of America

We're all always looking to save a couple of bucks, and if that means shipping a few piecework jobs to sweatshops in China or help-desk jobs to phone banks in India, we can find plenty of people who don't have a problem with that. I'm not sure this is the smartest idea from on economical point of view, but I've never been able to develop a strong opposition to the practice based strictly on nationalism. But this latest example of outsourcing gives me pause. Maybe it's just me, but shouldn't the Voice of America be written by, I don't know, Americans or something?

Bush and Baptists

The President addressed the Southern Baptist Convention by video yesterday, and as Don at Article 19 points out, it didn't quite go as smoothly as it could have. Bush only singled out one local church in the entire speech--it was an example of mixing federal dollars with faith-based charity--but the church he chose is no longer a part of the SBC structure and instead supports the competing Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

I am proud that we have now opened billions of dollars in grant money to competition that includes our faith-based charities. For example, my administration awarded College Park Baptist Church in Orlando, Florida $5.8 million to build 68 homes for low-income seniors.

Nevertheless, he reportedly received a number of standing ovations on the convention floor.

Interestingly, according, College Park's new facility, built with money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, will join a HUD-financed facility the church built 22 years ago, long before there was any talk of "faith-based charities." "This kind of thing has been done for a long, long time," College Park pastor Ron Crawford said. He continued, "We never thought of it being applied to faith-based initiatives."

For those who don’t keep up with the ins and outs of relations among Baptist groups, there’s no love lost between the SBC and the CBF. Both are groups of local churches joined together to spread the Baptist message. Once part of the SBC, CBF churches broke off from that organization several years ago when the SBC moved toward a more fundamentalist viewpoint on issues of faith such as the inerrancy of the Bible. (In some circles, it's referred to as the conservative or fundamentalist "take over" of the SBC.) There have been a number of skirmishes between the groups ever since, and the CBF even maintains a page on its Website to respond to SBC attacks.

In other SBC news, the convention voted to end its eight-year boycott of Disney, presumably because the corporation has learned its lesson. It’s also possible that the number of SBC families tired of hypocritically vacationing at Disney World anyway finally reached critical mass. The SBC also committed to baptizing a million new members this year and to keeping an eye on the "homosexual agenda" in public schools (although they stopped short of urging members to take their children out of public schools, a proposal that had its share of proponents).

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Too Much of a Good Thing?

In my review of Batman Begins yesterday, I repeated the old saw that there's no such thing as bad publicity. Maybe that's incorrect. Internet Movie Database is reporting that Warner Bros, unhappy that Katie Holmes's romantic life continually upstaged the opening of their film, have not asked the star to reprise her role in the Batman sequel. Apparently Christian Bale, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman have all signed on, but Katie never received the offer. But enough about her, who's going to play the Joker . . . ?

What if Katie wasn't Tom's first choice for the woman he's fallen madly in love with? On its Website, in a story that's referenced further down the same IMDB page as above, Radar magazine tells us that, had she played her cards right, Scarlett Johansson could have been the woman of Tom's dreams. Johansson had been scheduled to costar with Tom in Mission Impossible III and met with him about the project. At one meeting, coincidentally held at the Scientology Center in Hollywood, Cruise apparently turned evangelist and gave her a couple of hours of in-depth counseling on what Scientology could do for her until Johansson begged off and left. Coincidentally, shortly after that encounter, she discovered that scheduling conflicts had arisen with MI III and withdrew from the project. Radar claims Tom also wooed Jessica Alba, Kate Bosworth, and Lindsay Lohan before becoming smitten with Katie Holmes. It makes you wonder if maybe Penelope Cruz had a moment of clarity similar to Johansson's. Pouring more gasoline on the fire is a report at FOXNews about Katie going missing for a few days before she showed up with her new soul mate (and also adding Jennifer Garner's name to the list of potential girlfriends). All this just strengthens my expectation for some sort of major development in the Cruise-Holmes relationship for the War of the Worlds opening.

Durbin Apologizes on the Senate Floor

This is being spun as though Durbin gave a full apology for his comments last week, but I'm not sure it's as straightforward as that. As reported in the Chicago Tribune, here's what he said:

More than most people, a Senator lives by his words, words are the coin of the realm in our profession. Occasionally words will fail us and occasionally we will fail words.

On June 14, I took the floor of the Senate to speak about genuine heartfelt concerns about the treatment of prisoners and detainees at Guantanamo and other places. I raised legitimate concerns that others have raised, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, about the policies of this administration and whether they truly do serve our needs to make America safer and more secure, whether, in fact, some of the policies might, in fact, endanger our troops, or in some ways disparage the image of America around the world.

During the course of that presentation, I read an e-mail from the federal bureau of investigation that was discovered to exist last August, and has now been produced as part of the Freedom of Information Act. After reading the horrible details in that memo, which characterized the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, I then, on my own, my own words, made some characterizations about that memo. I made reference to the Nazis, to the Soviets and other repressive regimes.

Mr. President, I have come to understand that was a very poor choice of words. I tried to make this very clear last Friday that I understood to those analogies to the nazis, soviets and others were poorly chosen. I issued a release which I thought made my intentions and my inner-most feeling as clear as I possibly could.

Let me read to you what I said. "I have learned from my statement that historical parallels can be misused and misunderstood. I sincerely regret if what I said causes anybody to misunderstand my true feelings. Our soldiers around the world and their families at home deserve our respect, admiration and total support."

Mr. President, it is very clear that even though I thought I had said something that clarified the situation, to many people it was still unclear. I'm sorry if anything that I said caused any offense or pain to those who have such bitter memories of the Holocaust, the greatest moral tragedy of our time. Nothing, nothing should ever be said to demean or diminish that moral tragedy.

I'm also sorry if anything I said in any way cast a negative light on our fine men and women in the military. I went to Iraq just a few months ago with Senator Harry Reid and a bipartisan Senate delegation. When you look in the eyes of the soldiers you see your son and daughter. They are the best. I never, ever intended any disrespect for them.

Some may believe that my remarks crossed line. To them, I extend my heartfelt apologies.

There's usually a quote from Abraham Lincoln that you can turn to in moments like this. Maybe this is the right one. Lincoln said, "If the end brings me out right, what is said against me won't amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, 10,000 angels swearing I was right wouldn't make any difference."

In the end, I don't want anything that I may have said detract from the love for my country, my respect for those who bravely risk their lives each day for our security, and this Senate which I am so honored to serve as a member. I offer my apology for those offended by my words. I promise to speak out on the issues that I think are important to the people of Illinois and to the nation.

My first reaction to the reports of the apology was disappointment, but on actually reading Durbin's remarks, that may have been an overreaction. He did not back off from the complaints he'd made about torture at Guantanamo, and we'll see whether he buckles in the next few days. These remarks were mischaracterized, and Durbin doesn't deserve the abuse he's been given, even from purported "friends" such as Mayor Richard Daley ("If you really believe that those men and women in Guantanamo Bay are Nazis, you better rethink what America is all about"), and it sends the wrong message when you let the bullies win. A quick look at Technorati reveals that, at least at this moment, the conservative bloggers are already piling on.

Since Durbin originally made his remarks, his main point has been picked up a number of times, with just a couple of examples from Kevin Drum ("So my question is this: what is the right historical analogy? There are lots of evil regimes past and present to choose from, but I'm not sure which ones are acceptable references when describing the use of torture at Guantanamo. Can I get some conservative feedback on this?" ) and even Andrew Sullivan ("It is this administration that has brought indelible shame on America, and it's people like Dick Durbin who prove that some can actually stand up against this stain on American honor and call it what it is. Good for him. Thank God for him."). Unless Durbin backs away completely from the substance of his remarks, and not just from the comparisons that have drawn all the criticism, we should keep the focus of this discussion there where it belongs.

My Weekly Snack Food Post

Miller Brewing Co. appears to have a big new marketing offensive underway, and some of their claims seem awfully ambitious. The first commercial I saw, for Miller Lite, features what to many might be a dream come true. It's raining beer! We see a Paul Revere of sorts excitedly spreading the news. People are standing in the beer rain with heads raised and mouths open. One guy is even filling his pitcher from the rain gutters. But then the Paul Revere guy runs into a bar and immediately stops short. Sure, outside there's beer falling from the skies, but it can't compete with the brew available for sale in the bar, Miller Lite. So this implies, what, that Miller Lite is better than rainwater? Have you tasted Miller Lite? I suppose, strictly speaking, that you can get a bit better buzz from Miller Lite than from rainwater, but if the rainwater is beer? I wouldn't bet the ranch on it.

A second commercial portrays another fantasy, but this one might be more on the part of Miller than the regular man on the street. Imagine, if you will, a world without beer labels. Yes, that's what Miller's conjured up here, in which all the beer labels on all the bottles mysteriously peel off and fly away. In such a world, the ad suggests, you wouldn't choose a beer based on its label, on its brand identity, but on its pure, unadulterated taste. And in this world, Miller Brewing Co. insists, the best tasting beer would be--Miller Genuine Draft. Have you tasted Miller Genuine Draft? I have, and in a blind taste test, while it might win out over rainwater, I'm afraid there would be a number of other beers in front of it on my list.

I saw a third commercial for the first time last night, and I find it even more mystifying. A newly married bride and groom get into their limo after the wedding. The bride admits to a little secret--she posed for pictures that are soon going to show up on the Internet. Well, no problem, the groom says. I guess love does stand for something, after all. But when the bride mentions something about her love of Miller Lite, the groom leaps from the car rather than give up his Bud Light. I guess that means he's a loser who can't help but follow the herd, rather than a free spirit who's willing to stand apart from the crowd, even if it is just for a minor rebellion such as Miller Lite, and that she's better off to stick to her guns with her own favorite brew, but I could just as easily see a Bud logo tacked on to the end as a Miller one. Couldn't it have been as believable as a paean to brand loyalty, that the groom loves his bride but he loves his beer more? I've got to admit that I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around this one.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Batman Begins (For Real, This Time)

Over the weekend, I really did go out to see Batman Begins. I was a bit concerned about getting my hopes up. I'd been lukewarm toward the first Tim Burton film, so the fact that Batman Begins was getting a similar critical and public reception (at least as far as I remember how that one was received) only went so far in reassuring me that I'd like it, too. I'm happy to say, though, that for the most part, I did. Once Batman came on the scene, the movie captured the best elements of the character from the comics: the mystery, the drive, and, well, the coolness factor. (I'm not going to get into massive spoilers, but I may mention some minor ones, so be careful if you read any further.) Gotham was properly corrupt (except for decent and honest police Sgt. Jim Gordon, played note-perfectly by Gary Oldman), with plenty of the dark alleys, nooks, and crannies that Batman needs to operate. Although he wavered a bit, for the most part Christian Bale projected the authority necessary for the Darknight Detective, and even when he didn't quite, there was still the fallback excuse that this Batman was just starting out and learning the ropes. Although I haven't read Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli since it came out almost twenty years ago, the tone of this movie matches what I remember of that story in which Bruce Wayne takes his first faltering steps into his new identity. We've got a Bruce Wayne and a Batman who's feeling his way, setting and readjusting the boundaries between his two identities, falling down so he can learn how to get up again. The villainous plot was threatening and chilling enough (though I did wonder what happened to the innocent people affected by that plot getting partway to fruition), and the effects of the Scarecrow's hallucinogenic drug were nicely conveyed.

My hesitation toward giving the movie a full-out rave is that it seemed like it took longer than necessary setting itself up. Certainly, we needed to understand what drove Wayne and how he got to the point of putting on the costume, but we may have been able to telescope it a little bit so we could have gotten to Batman sooner. Perhaps if we'd had a taste of Batman early on in the movie, that would have tided me over. One "rule" of screenwriting is to avoid falling back on flashbacks, but since they were already present here, one more layer of moving backward might not have hurt.

As for the other performances, I thought they were mostly strong. Michael Caine was great as Alfred, showing the balance the character must maintain as both a mentor and a servant to Bruce Wayne. I haven't been keeping up with Batman comics for a while so this may have changed (though I doubt it), but Lucius Fox has always been an underdeveloped character, and although he doesn't leap forward in depth here, as played by Morgan Freeman, we still get a fuller idea of Fox's potential as a prime mover at Wayne Enterprises. Liam Neeson was strong as Henri Ducard, one of the men who trained young Bruce Wayne, but a certain duality in the role kept the character from being as strong as he might have been. Although I understand why the script required this, I was disappointed that we didn't get to see more of Ken Watenabe. And Katie Holmes? She was OK. I think the film would have benefitted from a stronger presence in the role of Bruce's long-time friend. Although they say any publicity is good publicity, given her prominence in all the gossip columns these days, any time she appeared on screen, it pretty much knocked me out of the movie. I don't know if this occurred to anyone else, but my mind couldn't help but wander and develop comparisons of its own when she fell under the sway of the older Scarecrow and began to lose her mind. It also didn't escape my notice that Katie and Tom got engaged the weekend Batman Begins opened. Does anybody want to give me odds that they elope to coincide with War of the Worlds?

The gadgets worked, too. I would've preferred a sleeker Batmobile, but other than that, the car worked well. It makes sense to give the Batmobile the ability to jump, and I really liked the fact that Batman has to jump in and out of the Batcave. The glider wings on the cape weren't overused, but they looked fabulous. In closing out the movie, the filmmakers gave us a nice boost into a sequel. I'll be ready.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Seth on Respectable Street

From Tom Spurgeon, the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto is adding work by cartoonist Seth to its permanent collection. He'll also have his own exhibition at the gallery opening on June 29 and running through October 16, with an in-person Q&A on the evening of June 30. I'd be there if I happened to be in town (and I'll certainly attend the exhibition if I make it to Toronto before October).

Seth started out in independent comics about fifteen years ago and has since expanded his work to illustrations appearing in magazines such as The New Yorker and to books. The style he's nurtured is an old-fashioned one that looks as though it would be comfortable in the cartooning mainstream of the 1930s and '40s. It's extremely warm and reassuring and, as far as I'm concerned anyway, endlessly appealing.

I don't know as much about Seth as I'd like to, but his career seems to be very much a situation of talent receiving the notice it deserves. I'm not sure he's ever had a large audience for his comics. The primary publisher of that work is a small Canadian company called Drawn & Quarterly, which has built a reputation for putting out personal--sometimes idiosyncratic--work, often of quite high quality. There's some info on Seth to be found in an excerpt from an interview with The Comics Journal and a shorter but still in-depth interview at Newsarama.

Donuts, Chocolates & Life

In writing about donuts on Wednesday, I made a passing reference to Forrest Gump. Despite the fact that I brought the subject up myself, I despise that movie on any number of levels. Even so, I'm vaguely curious about the original novel, which I understand is quite different in tone from the movie. The book's first line, which only made it into the movie in highly paraphrased form, is "Let me say this: bein' an idiot is no box of chocolates," making me wonder if author Winston Groom was going for something closer to Jerzy Kosinski's Being There than what was depicted in the film. Being There, by the way, is a wonderful book that was made into a wonderful movie, and I recommend it highly in both forms. The book is a scant 141 pages and can be read easily in an afternoon or evening. Although I read it quite some time ago, my memory suggests that it might have something to say about our current political climate.

But back to Gump. As far as I'm concerned, very little of worth came out of that movie, but it did lay the groundwork for one of my favorite soliloquies. Reflecting on the disappointments of his life, the cigarette-smoking rogue government agent of The X-Files, or Cancer Man as he is sometimes known, took off from Forrest Gump's mother's original observation.

Life is like a box of chocolates. Cheap, thoughtless, perfunctory gift that nobody ever asks for. Unreturnable because all you get back is another box of chocolates. So you're stuck with this mostly undefinable whipped mint crap, mindlessly wolfed down when there's nothing else to eat while you're watching the game. Sure, once in a while there's a peanut butter cup or an English toffee, but it's gone too fast and the taste is fleeting. In the end, you're left with nothing but broken bits filled with hardened jelly and teeth-shattering nuts, which if you're desperate enough to eat leaves nothing but an empty box with useless brown paper wrappers.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Lynching Roundup

None of the 13 remaining senators who haven't cosponsored the Senate's apology for lynching added their names to the bill on Friday, but that gives us an opportunity to look at a couple of other aspects of the issue. Even the Chicago Tribune, long known as a by-the-books rock-ribbed Republican newspaper, chided the anti-anti-lynching senators on its editorial page:

But even with its action Monday, there is something unsettling, something incomplete. The resolution was passed by a voice vote because some Southern senators didn't want to go on record apologizing for past sins of their people.

An expression of regret over lynching is controversial today?

When called on the carpet by The Tennessean in Nashville ("Sen. Lamar Alexander was one of 16 senators who did not join in when the Senate apologized for its failure to pass a federal law against lynchings."), Alexander was explicit in his refusal to sign on. He prefers to look forward, he says, and with that in mind, the day after Mary Landrieu originally introduced her resolution of apology, Alexander introduced his own resolution commemorating Black History Month (assuming, I guess, that there's no better way to look forward than remembering where we've been). Alexander collected 35 cosponsors, many of whom also joined Landrieu in cosponsoring the apology, but four months after the end of Black History Month, Alexander's resolution hasn't even struggled out of committee. Alexander's spokesperson told The Tennessean that the senator would've been happy to have voted for the resolution if it had only come up for a roll call vote. I guess he can blame his fellow senator from Tennessee, Majority Leader Bill Frist, for avoiding a roll call vote and forcing him into the anti-anti-lynching dark side.

Neither of the Republican senators from Mississippi, the state with the most recorded lynchings, were willing to cosponsor. Thad Cochran told The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, "I don't feel that I should apologize for the passage or the failure to pass any legislation by the U.S. Senate." That's an explanation, I suppose, but in previous years he was happy to cosponsor bills apologizing for wrongs committed against American Indians and Japanese Americans. Presumably passing on the senator's reasoning, The Clarion-Ledger wrote, "The difference is the lynching resolution was not an apology on behalf of the federal government but just the Senate." So apparently Cochran is willing to apologize for the wrongs of some of the institutions of which he is a part but not others. The Hattiesburg American, calling this "a missed opportunity," also noted the disparity.

Frankly, we don't understand why Cochran and Lott - and 13 other senators - would forgo the opportunity to right a wrong that has hung like a dark cloud over this chamber for decades.

As individuals, Cochran and Lott are not culpable for actions committed years ago by their predecessors.

However, the institution which they now serve is culpable.

So why not join with the vast majority of senators who recognize this fact and endorse an apology?

Given Mississippi's deplorable history with respect to lynchings, it is deeply disconcerting that the Magnolia State's two U.S. senators chose not to support the resolution.

Trent Lott so far has made no comment one way or another, at least as far as I've been able to find. Of course, maybe he thinks that if only Strom Thurmond had been elected president in 1948, the Senate wouldn't have had to make an apology.

This would be a good place to note that anyone in or around Chicago can visit Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, a touring exhibition now on display at the Chicago Historical Society. These are the photos that Mary Landrieu saw in the book Without Sanctuary that inspired her to develop her apology resolution in the first place.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Support Dick Durbin

I’ve been waiting to write this all day. I intended to write that I'd called Senator Dick Durbin's office to register my support in the face of the Republican firestorm over his comments about conditions at Guantanamo (full comments or cut to the chase). I called his Chicago office several times throughout the afternoon but always got voice mail. (Toward the end of the day, I wondered if they'd been receiving so much flak that they'd simply given up answering the phones.) I never left a voice mail message in the hopes of reaching an actual person, but after the office closed at 5:00, I figured that would be better than nothing. Ooops, too late--the mailbox was full (although there's no telling how long it had been in that condition). So I wrote up my comments in a fax. After a few tries, it finally made it through. Here's what I wrote:

Thank you, Senator Durbin, for being unafraid to speak the truth about the torture conditions currently deemed acceptable at the American prison at Guantanamo. Such practices are un-American and have nothing to do with the freedom, liberty, and democracy we espouse.

I live in Chicago, and I tried to call your Chicago office throughout the afternoon but was unable to get through. When I tried to leave a message on voice mail after office hours, the mailbox was full, so I'm now faxing my support to you. In light of the onslaught of criticism you appear to be experiencing (with a mix of positive calls too, I trust), I don't require a call back from your office.

If you're in Illinois, contact Durbin's office with support (although, if you're not in Illinois, feel free to do so, as well; I'm sure he's getting plenty of out-of-state calls attacking him). He hasn't said what Republicans are claiming he said, and we have to show them they can't change the subject away from unpleasant truths by bullying tactics.

Firsthand Reports of the Nagasaki Aftermath

Via a heads up from Kevin Drum, the first Western reports out of Nagasaki after the city was hit by an atomic bomb, reports believed lost for almost sixty years, have been published today in the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun. George Weller, a reporter for the Chicago Daily News, snuck into the city while journalists were still officially barred nearly a month after the bomb had been dropped on August 9, 1945. He wrote extensively and sent his reports to General Douglas MacArthur's office in Tokyo to be censored before publication (a requirement of all journalism leaving Japan at the time). The reports were never released by the censorship office. Although he'd held on to his carbon copies (who here's old enough to remember those?), over the years the reporter lost track of them. After Weller died in 2002, his son went through his archives and found the missing carbons, the first of which became public today. Read the first of four reports, which also has links to the other three, as well as Mainichi Shinbun's backgrounder. Editor & Publisher has more from Weller's son.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

I Know You're Not President Anymore, Bill, but Try to Pay Attention!

David Letterman just asked Bill Clinton about the Downing Street Memo, and Clinton responded, "What is that?" After Letterman explained, Clinton said he'd heard something about it, but as he hasn't read it yet, he can't comment. I'm just going to lay my head down on the keyboard for a little while.

A Night at the Movies

Yesterday was the opening of Batman Begins, and a lot of people are excited about it. It's been getting pretty good reviews (you can sample a few here, here, here, here, and here; for a divergent view, go here or find my favorite line of all the reviews so far in Stephanie Zacharek's pan in Salon, "[Batman] speaks only when necessary, and then in a deep monotone devoid of feeling or expression, and when his work is done, he retreats to Wayne Manor to listen to his Morrissey records," here). The clerk at Chicago Comics called it a religious experience, and even though he immediately pulled back and claimed he was only joking, it was clear that he was at least half serious. It was an exciting day for comics-themed movies. So what else could I do? I headed out to put my money down for the Enron documentary.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is a story that should by now be more familiar than it probably is. Ken Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, and Andy Fastow essentially looted their way to fame and fortune (though these days, I imagine they could do without the fame part). That they falsified their financials goes without saying, but the more disturbing crime, for me anyway, was their ruthless manipulation of the California energy grid. Contriving power disruptions and rolling blackouts for fun and profit wouldn't be out of place as a scheme for the Joker in the next Batman film. That we know as much about this as we do (and if I recall correctly, it wasn't that hard to figure out what was going on as it was actually occurring) and that we have essentially done nothing to punish the perpetrators is hugely frustrating (probably to Gray Davis more than anyone).

But what most struck me as I watched the movie was Enron's facade that everything was perfect and getting more perfect by the minute, no matter how it may have looked behind the scenes. Any negative commentary on the company was the result of jealousy, corporate intrigue, or mean-spiritedness but certainly couldn't have anything to do with "the facts." Enron showed nothing but higher and higher profits because all its losses (which far overwhelmed the profits) were hidden from view, so they didn't really exist.

Shortly before November's election, journalist Ron Suskind introduced a phrase that was quickly seized upon in the land of eternal blogshine. It wasn't original with him, but in an article in The New York Times Magazine, he credited it to an unnamed senior Bush advisor.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

Although Suskind was writing about the Bush administration and not Enron, as that company is depicted in this movie, he might as well have been. The same arrogance, the same unwillingness to present straight facts and information, and the same willingness to win at all costs that we see day in and day out in Washington was on display at Enron. It would be tempting to note the ties between Enron and the Bush administration--the corporation was the largest donor to W's first presidential campaign; Ken Lay was in consideration to head Bush's energy department; and Lay certainly had a significant hand in Dick Cheney's top secret anonymous energy task force (if the White House can have anonymous sources, why does the press get so much grief over the same thing?)--but there's no way of knowing how much the attitude in one institution might have influenced the attitude in the other. Regardless, Enron was doing nothing less than creating its own reality as its stock price kept going up and up and up in the face of monumental losses. To get an idea of what creating new realities looks like, as well as what happens when the old-fashioned reality-based world can't be denied any longer and the matchstick structure comes crashing down, spend a couple of hours with Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. (And then slip down the hall in the multiplex and see Batman Begins.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Donuts Incognito

To lighten things up for a moment, why must filled donuts keep their identities a secret? Sure, they have that little hole on the end, but at best all you get is a color. Sometimes you might see maroon peaking out of that little hole, but that could mean raspberry, strawberry, or even grape jelly. The other day I had an encounter with a box of donuts that I expected (for reasons I won't go into right now) to be lemon-filled, raspberry-filled, or coconut (actually, the Dunkin' Donuts Website only lists chocolate coconut cake donuts; I don't especially like coconut, so I didn't have one, but the ones we had from Dunkin' Donuts sure didn't look chocolate to me). I had one of the lemon-filled and enjoyed it quite a bit. I went back to get another one, but when I bit into it, out of nowhere, all of a sudden it was filled with vanilla custard. I didn't want vanilla custard! (I was taught to eat everything on my plate, though, so I finished it.) Since I'd been thwarted in enjoying a second lemon-filled, I went back for a third donut, got my second lemon-filled but didn't enjoy it that much because I really shouldn't have had three donuts.

But why do donut makers have to make their fillings such a mystery? Perhaps there was someone present who would have wanted the vanilla-custard donut I ate by mistake, but they were deprived. I'm somewhat reminded of the line from the movie Forrest Gump, "Life is like a box of chocolates--you never know what you're going to get." Actually, you do know what you're going to get in a box of chocolates, at least if it's a Whitman's Sampler, because there's the little diagram that comes with it showing which chocolates are where. But you don't have that luxury in a box of donuts. That's our real metaphor for the mystery of life. (Another mystery is why don't Dunkin' Donuts have any pictures of donuts on their Website? They're going way overboard in trying to sell the coffee.)

Why Not a Roll Call Vote?

To the surprise of no one, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is reporting (registration required) that Bill Frist was responsible for the decision to pass the Senate's apology for ignoring anti-lynching legislation for more than a century by voice vote late in the evening rather than by a high visibility roll call vote during a more conspicuous time. What is surprising, though, is that he doesn't have his story straight about why he made that decision.

The group that pressed for the vote wanted a roll call vote, but Frist's chief spokesman, Bob Stevenson, said that the bill's sponsors had requested the voice vote. The primary sponsors were Mary Landrieu and George Allen. Landrieu was first to dispute the claim, but Frist's spokesman responded, "at least one of the sponsors" had made the request. Unfortunately, Allen's camp disagreed, as well, with Allen's press secretary offering, "I don't know why Bob Stevenson would characterize it that way." I can't imagine.

AMERICAblog also addresses this article, and Atrios quotes it at length if you don't want to register.

Latest List of Anti-Anti-Lynching Senators [UPDATED]

Congress has updated its webpage for Senate Resolution #39 and the list of senators who have climbed aboard to cosponsor Mary Landrieu's apology for refusing to pass anti-lynching legislation, and they now number 83 85 86 88 89. Here's the latest list of senators who still don't find cosponsoring worth the effort:

Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Robert Bennett (R-UT)
Thad Cochran (R-MS)
John Cornyn (R-TX)
Michael Crapo (R-ID)
Michael Enzi (R-WY)
Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
Judd Gregg (R-NH)
Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX)
Jon Kyl (R-AZ)
Trent Lott (R-MS)
Richard Shelby (R-AL)
Gordon Smith (R-OR)
John Sununu (R-NH)
Craig Thomas (R-WY)

A couple of senators who were identified as supporters of the legislation yesterday still haven't found it within themselves to actually sign on to cosponsor, so their names are back on the list.

UPDATE: Chuck Grassley and Michael Crapo jumped aboard as cosponsors on Wednesday, so they've been marked off the list. We're down to 14 hold-out senators. They also put lie to the claim that many of the anti-anti-lynching senators are making to constituents that cosponsors can't be added after a bill has been passed. It's never too late to add your name to that list. (I also deleted the link to the resolution's Congressional Webpage, which seems to change day by day for some reason. The list of cosponsors still worked as of Thursday morning.)

UPDATE 2: Orrin Hatch jumped on the anti-lynching bandwagon on Thursday.

UPDATE 3: I thought that when no new names were added to the list of cosponsors on Friday that we'd reached the end, but Kay Hutchison and Gordon Smith both joined the cosponsors on Monday.

UPDATE 4: Some are still coming late to the party. Jon Kyl added his name as a cosponsor on Thursday. Only ten senators still refuse.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Now We're Just Getting Obscure

Remember when Anima fought alongside Conan O'Brien to save the world (and the Oscars) from demons?

Trial TV

During some thoughts about the big picture of celebrity justice in the aftermath of the Michael Jackson trial, Mark Evanier has some interesting comments about “how unbelievably rotten the news coverage of something like this is.”

You may or may not agree with the verdict but clearly those jurors, like the ones in the Robert Blake case and maybe a few others, did not experience the trial that was described to us by the folks covering it. It's like the story of the blind men all trying to describe an elephant except in this case, you have blind reporters and most of them had their heads up the elephant's ass.

I didn’t follow either of these trials any more closely than I had to, but instead of marveling over how the jurors could possibly reach such nonsensical verdicts, maybe we should turn our attention to how we were led to believe they’d decide anything else? Could it have anything to do with the media? I know, it’s a reach--they’re doing such a sterling job of covering everything else.

Military Maneuvers

According to Baseball and Real Life, tonight is Army night at Wrigley Field.

Tonight outside of Wrigley Field, members of the U.S. Army, either in fatigues or in 'AN ARMY OF ONE' t-shirts, were passing out little American flags to fans coming into the ballpark. Members of the military, in uniforms, berets, etc. will be at the park all night, throwing out ceremonial first pitches and the like.

Count on me, a skeptic, to think this whole thing is fishy and out of place.

We're with you there, Stu.

Who Watches the Watchman?

This is sort of fun. David Corn and Jeff Goldberg are on to something intriguing about Mark Felt in the latest issue of The Nation:

According to originally confidential FBI documents--some written by Felt--that were obtained by The Nation from the FBI's archives, Felt played another heretofore unknown part in the Watergate tale: He was, at heated moments during the scandal, in charge of finding the source of Woodward and Bernstein's Watergate scoops. In a twist worthy of le Carré, Deep Throat was assigned the mission of unearthing--and stopping--Deep Throat.

This placed Felt, who as the FBI's associate director oversaw the bureau's Watergate probe, in an unusual position. He was essentially in charge of investigating himself. From this vantage point Felt, who had developed espionage skills running FBI counterintelligence operations against German spies in World War II, was able to watch his own back and protect his ability to guide the two reporters whose exposés would help topple the President he served.

Somebody ought to make a movie about this.

(Apologies to comics fans for the misleading headline.)

The Senate Pro-Lynching Caucus [UPDATED]

Last night, to great fanfare, the Senate approved by voice vote an apology for ignoring lynching throughout the history of the 19th and 20th centuries. The House has passed anti-lynching legislation three times over the years, but the Senate never followed through (it was often stopped by the filibuster of Southern Democrats). Now, passing a resolution offered by Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, the Senate apologized.

But a funny thing happened on the way to a vote. AMERICAblog reported that the Senate had decided to go with a voice vote rather than a roll call vote because a handful of senators didn’t want to go on the record one way or the other.

Narrowing down the identification of these senators is ongoing. The Congressional Website includes 78 cosponsors with Landrieu, so that leaves 21 candidates who wanted to avoid an up-or-down vote. Quoted in The Washington Post, John Kerry said, "I am personally struck, even at this significant moment, by the undeniable and inescapable reality that there aren't 100 senators and co-sponsors. Maybe by the end of the evening there will be, but as we stand here with this resolution now passed by voice vote, there aren't." It should be pointed out that a senator’s neglecting (or refusal) to sign on as cosponsor doesn’t necessarily indicate opposition, but in the absence of a roll call vote, it’s the only indication we’ve got, and it’s not hard for a senator to get on the record by cosponsoring.

A lot of contradictory information is floating around at the moment. LeftIndependent has posted a list of supporters of the resolution obtained from Mary Landrieu’s office, which ups the number to 84 (a supporter is not necessarily a cosponsor). That leaves 16 who haven’t officially signed on:

Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Robert Bennett (R-UT)
Thad Cochran (R-MS)
Kent Conrad (D-ND)
John Cornyn (R-TX)
Michael Crapo (R-ID)
Michael Enzi (R-WY)
Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
Judd Gregg (R-NH)
Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
Trent Lott (R-MS)
Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
Richard Shelby (R-AL)
John Sununu (R-NH)
Craig Thomas (R-WY)
George Voinovich (R-OH)

All but one are Republicans, and five come from Southern states. As John at AMERICAblog points out, it’s possible to become a cosponsor of a bill after the fact, so it’s not too late for any of these senators to make the plunge. Going on the record for regretting that the Senate did nothing to prevent lynching seems a fairly easy call. What’s taking them so long?

UPDATE: Daily Kos is reporting that Kent Conrad, the only Democrat on the list, has joined the ranks of cosponsors.

UPDATE 2: I've updated this list in a new post above, taking out the names of Lisa Murkowski and George Voinovich, who've since signed on as cosponsors. I wanted to cross their names out here, as well, though, so anyone stumbling on this list will have accurate information. On that updated list, I've also added the names of Kay Bailey Hutchison, Jon Kyl, and Gordon Smith, who were identified as supporters on Tuesday but, as of Wednesday morning, are not official cosponsors.

UPDATE 3: Chuck Grassley and Michael Crapo signed on as cosponsors on Wednesday.

UPDATE 4: Orrin Hatch cosponsored on Thursday.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Beware Autographed Books

I was in a national chain bookstore last week and noticed that they had a copy of one of my books on the shelf. I took it to the customer service desk, identified myself as the author, and offered to autograph it for them. The service representative was glad to let me, and he pulled out his “Autographed Copy” sticker and checked inventory to see if they had any more of my books in stock (I was pretty sure they wouldn’t, and I was right). Just another pleasant afternoon at the bookstore, right?

Yes it was, but there was an oddness to it, as well. At no time did the sales clerk ask for any proof that I was who I said I was. It was my own book I was signing, but it could’ve been anyone’s (well, maybe not Shakespeare’s, Stephen King’s, or Toni Morrison’s). Could any one of us walk into a bookstore, find a reasonably obscure book, and be taken up on our offer to autograph it as the author?

I guess this is where authentication for sports autographs came from.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Harvey Awards at MoCCA Art Fest

The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art held its 4th annual Art Festival over the weekend in New York, and as part of the festivities, the Harvey Awards were presented. I don't have time to dig up any art to go with these, but the winners seem pretty spread out. Daniel Clowes was named Best Writer for Eightball, Darwyn Cooke won Best Artist for The New Frontier, which itself won Best Continuing or Limited Series, Jeff Smith took away the Best Cartoonist award for Bone, and Michael Chabon Presents: The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist captured Best New Series honors. Heidi McDonald at The Beat has the details on all the awards.

Washington's Sunday Morning Wisdom

I missed Meet the Press this morning, but fortunately, Digby offers the blow by blow. It seems it was full of the normal out-of-touch chatter giving a pass to the Bush Administration and carping about Howard Dean. The whole thing is worth a read, but my favorite part is: "They used the Downing St. Memo as an example of how the press has been just as hard on Bush as they ever were on Clinton. I'm not kidding." As an added bonus, Digby tosses in a nifty passage from Christopher Isherwood.

I'm glad I decided to sleep in.

Downing Street Is Leaking Again

Today's Sunday Times of London has obtained a new briefing paper from Tony Blair's cabinet, written in preparation for the same July 23, 2002, meeting as the previous "Downing Street Memo." This one discusses the legality (or lack thereof) of the Iraq War:

Ministers were warned in July 2002 that Britain was committed to taking part in an American-led invasion of Iraq and they had no choice but to find a way of making it legal.

The warning, in a leaked Cabinet Office briefing paper, said Tony Blair had already agreed to back military action to get rid of Saddam Hussein at a summit at the Texas ranch of President George W Bush three months earlier.

The briefing paper, for participants at a meeting of Blair’s inner circle on July 23, 2002, said that since regime change was illegal it was “necessary to create the conditions” which would make it legal.

Interestingly, The Sunday Times was somewhat optimistic about the effect this new leak would have: "The briefing paper is certain to add to the pressure, particularly on the American president, because of the damaging revelation that Bush and Blair agreed on regime change in April 2002 and then looked for a way to justify it."

We'll see.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Partial Emmett Till Autopsy Results

This evening, WMAQ-TV, Chicago's NBC affiliate, reported that the FBI had found what they believed to be bullet fragments in the exhumed remains of Emmett Till (or at least what are believed to be the exhumed remains of Emmett Till--DNA tests to confirm the identity aren't complete yet). Of course, this being Saturday and all, WMAQ had not posted this story on their website--fortunately no significant news on this or any other story is expected to develop until Monday. The Chicago Sun-Times, however, did have a link available. (They also had, on their home page between the temperature and links for weather and traffic, a single word that I guess is meant to describe current weather conditions: skanky. I've heard that word used to describe people and I have a vague idea of what it means in that context, but what can skanky weather possible be referring to?) How these possible bullet fragments will affect the FBI's case remains to be seen, but at least this does put to rest the fears that exhuming Till's body would be nothing more than an exercise in disrupting Till's surviving family.

Al Gore and the Internet

Contrary to the impression conveyed by the liberal media, apparently Al Gore did have a little something to do with creating the Internet. At least, the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences thinks so. They give out the annual Webby Awards, and on Monday, they gave this year's Lifetime Achievement Award to the former vice president. Vinton Cerf, one of the scientists who really was responsible for creating the technology that developed into the Internet, described Gore's role as a congressman and senator in drafting legislation and providing support that made it all possible as prelude to presenting the award. One of the quirks of the Webbies is that acceptance speeches must be limited to five words (and they don't even have the TV time pressures of the Oscars, the Emmies, et. al.). Gore acknowledged the award with: "Please don't recount this vote."

For the record, here's Gore's original statement that brought all the derision down upon him:

During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country's economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Wal-Mart? Nazis? What?

Here’s something that I completely missed the first time around, but it fits somewhat with the conversation thread we’ve been having on advertising (here and here). In May, Flagstaff, Arizona, held some local elections, one of which was on a proposition limiting the size of big-box stores. Wal-Mart, which has done quite well with its big-box stores, thank you very much, opposed the proposition and campaigned against it. Part of the campaign included a series of ads intended to remind voters of various rights they enjoy (speech, religion, you know the drill) and to connect those rights to the choice of where to shop. It doesn’t sound like the most clever ad campaign I’ve ever heard of, but they didn’t ask me.

Where Wal-Mart made its misstep was in an ad that ran in the Arizona Daily Sun about our freedom to choose reading material. “Should we let government tell us what to read?” it asked. And what more dramatic way to illustrate this question than with a 1933 Nazi book burning? (A pdf is available here.) After people were understandably outraged, Wal-Mart quickly apologized but pled ignorance: How were they supposed to know the picture was of a bunch of Nazis? The head of the ad agency that designed the campaign said, "We believed it was a Southern book burning." I guess the Nazi soldiers, clearly visible tossing material on the fire, weren’t a big enough hint.

That Phoenix ad agency withdrew from its Wal-Mart contract after the election (the proposition to limit the size of the stores failed, so Wal-Marts in Flagstaff can be as massive as they please), and the resignation of Wal-Mart's regional community affairs director for that area, whose office had approved the ad, was effective today.

When all this blew up in the first place, Think Progress took a moment to appreciate the irony of Wal-Mart’s concern over our freedom to read what we choose coexisting with its policy of not carrying materials with which it disagrees (such as Jon Stewart and The Daily Show’s America (The Book)).

Speaking of NBC Late Night Shows

We can't overlook the time during the show's third season when Spider-Man was in the audience for Saturday Night Live.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

What Counts as Rock'n'Roll These Days?

Now that Blur isn't prominent enough to sustain a thriving rivalry in the British press, Liam Gallagher is looking for new sparring partners (just in time for the new Oasis album--who'd have ever expected that?). A couple of months ago, he called out a number of the new Brit bands such as Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, and Kaiser Chiefs, although he didn't get too much of a rise out of them. (Bloc Party's Russell Lissack was annoyed that his band just got retreads of the same slams Liam had used earlier against Coldplay and Travis: "I'm throwing down the gauntlet because we don't hate Oasis but I want a nice insult." Ricky Wilson of Kaiser Chiefs was beside himself that Liam even knew who he was.) In his original interview, interestingly, Liam did nothing but sing the praises of Charlotte Church, even suggesting, "She could be the next Liam." So far, I'm not aware that she's responded.

Hoping to get something going with someone, this week Liam turned his gaze toward U2. Upon learning that the band reviews video of its gigs, Liam was typically charming: "Wankers. Haven't they got fuck-all better to do? I'd rather be out there getting pissed. I certainly wouldn't go back after a gig and analyse it. No wonder they're the biggest band in the world: 'Oh Edge, the fourth guitar solo wasn't right tonight.' 'Oh sorry, Bono.' If that's what people think rock'n'roll is?"

U2 certainly don't need me to defend them (somehow, I'm sure Bono's already on it), and Liam's probably right, studying video to improve your performance probably isn't rock'n'roll. But neither is playing stadiums so huge that most of your audience can't even see you and has to watch the show on 25-meter video screens in the first place. (Maybe U2 is just trying to experience the show from the fans' point of view.) Oasis certainly isn't the only band of the necessary stature to play such shows--the Stones and McCartney are both making the rounds again later this year. But does the kind of rock'n'roll Liam's talking about even exist anymore? Rock music and the rebellion it supposedly embodies have been so coopted, commodified, and commercialized, I'm not sure rock'n'roll like we remember even exists anymore. What can a bona fide rock'n'roller do today to prove his or her authenticity? Can that question be answered any way other than nothing?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

What's Good for GM . . .

GM to slash 25,000 U.S. jobs in effort to stop growing losses

"For years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa. The difference did not exist."

--Charles E. Wilson, former president of GM, at Senate confirmation hearings for his nomination as Eisenhower's secretary of defense, January 15, 1953

How Goes the Nuclear Compromise? [UPDATED]

The filibuster against Judge Janice Brown was set aside yesterday, so now that we’re coming up to the actual vote, this would be a good time to review the courageous filibuster compromise that kept the Senate from going nuclear.

What the Democrats got vs. what they gave away: A vote on the nuclear option was put off until Frist feels like pulling it out again. That seems to be the extent of Democratic gains. Theoretically, the seven Republicans have agreed to vote against the nuclear option if it comes down to it, but they reserved the right to change their minds. Two of the Republicans, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Mike DeWine of Ohio, wasted no time in declaring that they’d vote for the nuclear option if the Democrats filibustered any future judges under less than “extraordinary” circumstances. (And what would such "extraordinary" circumstances be? They'll let us know later.) Since the compromise, Graham in particular has received pressure in his home state, and he has even tried to get some protection by asserting that he and DeWine were actually doing Frist’s bidding in the negotiation. If the rest of the Republicans are in line, Frist only needs to gain two of the compromisers to get a tie, which would be broken with alacrity by Dick Cheney. So that’s what’s in the Democrats’ plus column. In the minus? Priscilla Owen was approved and has already been sworn in to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Janice Brown is expected to get her up-or-down vote today. (Graham earlier suggested that at least one nominee might lose an up-or-down vote, so there’s still hope that 1) he wasn’t just yanking our chain and 2) Brown is that iffy nominee.)

What the Republicans got vs. what they gave away: Democrats agreed to close down the filibusters that had been blocking W.’s handful of nominees. What did they give away? They gave up an immediate vote on the nuclear option (a vote that they were not assured to win, by the way). But given Frist’s insistence that he’s ready to pull the nuclear option back out if the mood strikes him, I’m not sure they sacrificed anything else.

As I’ve said before, I’ve been unexpectedly impressed with Harry Reid’s success as a tactician. Although he theoretically wasn’t a party to the compromise (if Frist could have had emissaries in the back room, Reid certainly could have, too), he came out in support of it awfully quickly. We haven’t seen the whole thing play out yet, so I’m still hoping he knew what he was doing in backing it.

UPDATE: In an almost straight party-line vote, the Senate confirmed Janice Brown for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Every single Republican, plus Dem Ben Nelson of Nebraska, voted for her, and every single Democrat (except Nelson) voted against. The Senate's single Independent, Jim Jeffords of Vermont, sat out the vote. While they were at it, senators set aside the filibuster against William Pryor (who sat on his hands during the Terri Schiavo case, which, I guess, makes him an "activist judge"), who should get his up-or-down vote on Thursday. If anybody wants to argue that this compromise was anything other than a sucker punch for Dems, they're welcome to step forward.