Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: August 2005

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Changing the Mood

It's probably been a bit too long since I put anything new up. Even though I've got only tenuous ties to the region at best, I've found myself drawn to the coverage of the hurricane in Louisiana and Mississippi. I've been hitting those links in the previous post pretty often to keep up with what's going on, but I'm not involved with the situation in any other way. I've been going along with my normal activities--work, seeing friends, going out--as usual without any change due to the storm. So if it hasn't directly affected my life particularly (although I noticed one gas station raise its price per gallon by 18 cents between 1:00 yesterday afternoon and 7:30 last night), and if I don't have much new to say about the subject, why do I still have the feeling that it would be inappropriate to blog about anything else?

Maybe it's not so much that any other subjects would be inappropriate as that it's just difficult to follow a post about the devastation on the gulf coast with something lighter. Perhaps I need to wade back in to other material more slowly. We'll see if my mood shifts a bit with this post--it might jostle the topic just enough to allow a change of subject.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Breaking News for New Orleans [UPDATED]

Thanks to Don for pointing us to the New Orleans Times-Picayune breaking news blog. The most recent entries as of this writing report that water is still rising in the city. As reported in this 8:00 AM post, parish officials were pushing engineers to come up with the cause of the flooding in three or four hours. If they do, I'm sure we'll here about it at that blog first.

Today's Times-Picayune is an Internet-only edition. Its headline, unsurprisingly, is "CATASTROPHIC."

UPDATE: Wow, things seem to be getting worse. As of 9:40 AM (CDT, I think), rising flood waters are forcing The Times-Picayune to evacuate its building in New Orleans. They plan to relocate and resume offering news updates as soon as they can.

UPDATE II: AMERICAblog links to another New Orleans news blog, this one from CBS affiliate WWL. They've also evacuated their studios in the Quarter, and they quote Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco: "Worse than our worst fears."

Monday, August 29, 2005

Now That's Chutzpah

Wow. There's political courage, and there's just shameless cockiness. Which one is this?

Kentucky has recently seen some grand jury activity surrounding hiring practices in Republican Governor Ernie Fletcher's administration. I haven't been following the matter closely, but Kentucky law requires hiring for state jobs to be based on merit rather than political favors. The grand jury has charged nine current and former administration officials with misdemeanors in breaking merit hiring laws, and Fletcher himself is due to testify before the grand jury tomorrow (he's said he'll refuse to answer their questions). So what did he do tonight? In an appearance at which he was surrounded by cheering political appointees and that sounded more like a pep rally than a gubernatorial address, he boldly issued pardons for anyone who might be charged in the investigation. Not just for the nine who have been, but for anybody else who could conceivably still be charged, as well. He bravely exempted himself from the pardons, though I suppose he could always change his mind. Prosecutors responded that the grand jury will continue its work.

So Kentucky readers, can Fletcher get away with this? Will anybody care? Don't think George W isn't watching and taking notes.

Katrina Came Ashore

Now that the hurricane has actually arrived, let me add something new to bump the alarmist warning off the top of the page. The absolutely worst-case scenario involved the hurricane moving directly over New Orleans and stalling over Lake Pontchartrain, and that didn't happen. Still, huge amounts of damage are expected, and it's a strong enough storm that it can continue to batter the city for the better part of the day. We probably won't begin to get a clear picture of what's happened until tomorrow. Here's CNN, which will no doubt be updating regularly.

New Orleans in the Bull's-Eye

There's an absolutely chilling warning out from the National Weather Service about Katrina:







Is there still a National Guard to send out for the aftermath?

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Our Mighty Press Corps at Work

I'm sure I've mentioned before that Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing column at The Washington Post is almost always worth a browse to tell us what's going on with the Washington press corps. His Friday piece is no exception, tipping us to what seemed to be quite the party in Crawford on Thursday night.

About 50 members of the White House press corps accepted President Bush's invitation last night to come over to his house in Crawford, eat his food, drink his booze, hang around the pool and schmooze with him -- while promising not to tell anyone what he said afterward.

. . .

And in spite of all the recent press demands for senior administration officials to stay on the record more often, the press corps can't resist an offer of face time with the president, pretty much no matter what the conditions.

Nevertheless, I'm told that several reporters expressed squeamishness about last night's event, particularly as the press-pool vans drove by antiwar protester Cindy Sheehan's "Camp Casey" site. And later, a small handful watched askance as the rest fawned over Bush, following him around in packs every time he moved.

Our press corps--hard at work, as usual.

In Memory of Emmett Till

We've talked about Emmett Till before, so we should note that today is the 50th anniversary of his kidnaping and murder. You can get the details at the link, but suffice it to say that what happened to Till and the reaction to it was a significant spark for the Civil Rights Movement. Today's Greenwood Commonwealth, the local paper for the area in which the crime was committed, ran an interesting story on the murder; filmmaker Keith Beauchamp and his documentary, The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till; and the new investigation. That paper also featured a story on a group of Chicago teens who have retraced Till's journey another about an original investigating officer who no longer remembers enough to help the current investigation. (The Sun-Times provides the Chicago perspective on that group of teens.)

A few days ago, surprising absolutely no one, including the Mississippi defense lawyers who made the argument in the first place, DNA proved the body pulled from the Tallahatchie River was indeed Emmett Till. Part of the original defense, and an excuse the jury provided for finding the defendants not guilty. If any further living suspects are identified in the new investigation of the murder, at least this lame dodge won't be available to them.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Patrick Fitzgerald Is Busy

As Patrick Fitzgerald gets his facts in order surrounding the outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA operative, it's easy to forget that he's also on the job as U.S. attorney for Northern Illinois District. He's got a lot going on here, too. Just yesterday, federal investigators interviewed Mayor Daley about probes currently underway in Chicago city hall. Richie wouldn't say what they asked him about, but in a press conference after the interview, he said he "answered the questions fully and openly." We'll have to wait and see if anything comes of this. He's avoided discussing the corruption probes of city hall so far, but judging from his manner and comments yesterday, Richie seemed to be taking the situation seriously. Both the Trib and the Sun-Times described him as being close to tears when talking about his administration. He told reporters that the "probe has caused me to ask many questions of my own and evaluate how and where the system broke down."

But what about Fitzgerald himself? His appointment is up in the fall, and there's no indication yet about whether it will be renewed or not. In addition to his work in Washington and Chicago city hall, he indicted the previous Illinois governor, George Ryan. Obviously, he's a hands-on guy. But will George W. Bush keep him in office? He appointed Fitzgerald in the first place, and the decision is entirely his of whether he should stay or should he go. Fitzgerald's position in Illinois should have no bearing on his work in Washington, but questions about his future here still remain. Illinois Congressman (and Speaker of the House, by the way) Denny Hastert has so far been noncommittal, passing the buck to the President. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales did much the same thing, expressing his own confidence in Fitzgerald but deferring to whatever decision the President may make. As for Fitzgerald himself, he claims to be moving ahead until he hears differently. Time Out Chicago picked up the following Fitzgerald quote: "I'm just doing my job, and if the phone doesn't ring and someone tells me to leave, then I just keep doing my job."

Friday, August 26, 2005

F for Fake

The Chicago Tribune sure isn't mincing words in its headline today. "HOAX!" it screams from the top of the article. It's an odd story about a two-year deception involving the student newspaper of Southern Illinois University, Iraq, and a fake little girl and her single father sent to war. (The same article appears to be available without registration from the Duluth News Tribune.) It's not clear exactly what happened. One woman in the midst of the controversy used the name Colleen Hastings. She claimed to be an in-law of the father and the guardian of the little girl, "Kodee Kennings," while her father was in Iraq. The Daily Egyptian ran frequent stories about "Kodee," keeping the college community up to date with her exploits as she waited for her father to return, and "Kodee" would even visit the newsroom from time to time. The whole thing, it now turns out, was false from the get-go. "Colleen Hastings" was really Jaimie Reynolds, and the little girl was an acquaintance of hers who now claims she believed she'd been shooting a movie (even if she'd never actually spied a camera during the entire affair). "Kodee's" father was played by another acquaintance of Reynolds who also bought into the movie angle.

The whole thing started to fall apart when it was reported that "Kodee's" dad had been killed in Iraq. Reynolds and the girl attended a memorial service for him in an American Legion hall last weekend, but by this time they were starting to get too much attention. People, particularly reporters for the Chicago Tribune, who'd been tipped to the human interest story, began to ask questions that had no answers. Reporter, and later Daily Egyptian editor, Michael Brenner had been involved in the story from the beginning. He claimed to have been given a letter from "Kodee" criticizing anti-war protesters at the university and, after exchanging e-mail with the her, started to explore her alleged situation. Reynolds claims that she and Brenner concocted the whole scenario, but Brenner is denying any involvement at this point. He did, however, always seem to be the middleman between "Kodee" and the paper, a relationship that flowered to such a degree that "Kodee" herself was supposedly writing a column for the paper from time to time.

Jaimie Reynolds claims the motive was to help Brenner's career. She said that she didn't want to take it as far as it has gone but that Brenner "just wouldn't let it go." For his part, Brenner is so far sticking to his story that he was taken in as much as anyone else. From what's come out at this point, however, this is the only motive that makes sense (but I certainly acknowledge that the situation could become even more convoluted before it's all over). Although Reynolds seems to have been in a position to have exploited the situation for money, she never appears to have gone down that road.

The reaction of the parents of the real little girl seem very odd in all this, as well. The father, a Nazarene pastor, and the mother have been identified in the various news stories but I'll not identify them here for the sake of their daughter (who's also been named). The family lived variously in Kentucky and Indiana and would allow Reynolds to drive their daughter on trips of several hours to get to the SIU campus. The mother told the Trib, "I just realized that I didn't know [Reynolds]. In the profession that my husband is in, we move and meet new people all the time. What if she'd never brought [our daughter] back? We feel like we're idiots." I guess. You have to wonder if they were more than innocent bystanders in all this, too.

I'm not sure what fascinates me about this story, or even why it's been given front-page play in the Trib. I came across it this morning and haven't quite been able to work my way through this post (I've written and rewritten this thing over and over because it keeps shifting on me--when I first looked the story up in Google news, there were just over a dozen references, but on my latest search, the number was almost 200). Other than some people telling lies that give them attention they don't really deserve, there's not much to the story when you get into the details. But there are too many things about it that don't make sense, that leave me asking more questions. I don't know if we'll find out more or if it will just go away, but it's attracted my curiosity, and I don't appear to be the only one. The Trib has put up some examples of "Kodee's" writing, some of which appeared in her column "Kenningsology," and it's pretty terrible. The Southern Illinoisan of Carbondale is reporting that Reynolds seems to be holed up in her family home while various TV crews try to contact her. Tune in tomorrow, as they say.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Henry 4 on Eight Forty-Eight

The Stockyards gang was interviewed about their production of Henry 4 for Chicago Public Radio's Eight Forty-Eight morning show on Monday afternoon, and the segment is scheduled to run tomorrow (Friday) morning. Eight Forty-Eight airs 9:30-11:00 AM (after Morning Edition) on WBEZ, 91.5 in Chicago. If you're not in Chicago but want to hear it anyway, you can listen online.

And don't forget to come out to see the show--only two weekends left! In case you don't want to scroll down to previous announcements, it's at the Theatre Building, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago. Tickets are available at the box office or through Ticketmaster. As my wife keeps pointing out--it's got chicks with broadswords!

Building a Better Iraq

Although this New York Review of Books piece was up to date when it was published, fast-moving events surrounding the Iraqi constitution have made it a nice backgrounder on the situation. Peter W. Galbraith, former U.S. Ambassador to Croatia and current senior diplomatic fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, explains the reality of Iraq that we simply don't want to face: It's made up of three ethnic and culturally distinct peoples that don't want to live together. The Shiites have the majority, the Kurds have a strong minority (and a taste of autonomy while under the protection of the U.S. and Great Britain during the last years of Saddam Hussein's regime), and the Sunni Arabs--used to holding power under Saddam--have few current resources to maintain their position. Little of what Galbraith says is new, but much of it is barely familiar. He explains how the "Iraqi military" is actually no such thing:

Today, the Iraqi military and security services are a mixture of Kurdish peshmerga, rehabilitated Sunni Arab officers from Saddam's army, and Shiite and Sunni Arab recruits. What is little known is that virtually all of the effective fighting units in the new Iraqi military are in fact former Kurdish peshmerga. These units owe no loyalty to Iraq, and, if recalled by the Kurdistan government, they will all go north to fight for Kurdistan.

The Shiites, naturally, want a Shiite military that will be loyal to the new Shiite-dominated government. They have encouraged the Shiite militias— and notably the Badr Brigade—to take over security in the Shiite south, and to integrate themselves into the national military. Neither the Shiites nor the Kurds want the Sunni Arabs to have a significant part in the new Iraqi military or security services. They suspect— with good reason in many cases—that the Sunni Arabs in the military are in fact cooperating with the insurgency. No Kurdish minister in the national government uses Iraqi forces for his personal security, nor will any of them inform the Iraqi authorities of their movements. Instead, they entrust their lives to specially trained peshmerga brought to Baghdad. Many Shiite ministers use the Shiite militias in the same way.

The Shiites have strong ties to Iran, and they've been making good use of them.

Through its spies, infiltrators, and sympathizers, Iran has a presence in Iraq's security forces and military. It is virtually certain that Iran has access to any intelligence that the Iraqis have. Not only does Iran have an opportunity to insert its people into the Iraqi apparatus, it also has many Iraqi allies willing to do its bidding. When I asked an Iraqi with major intelligence responsibilities about foreign infiltration into Iraq, he dismissed the influx from Syria (the focus of the Bush administration's attention) and said the real problem was from Iran. When I asked how the infiltration took place, he said simply, "But Iran is already in Baghdad."

On July 7, the Iranian and Iraqi defense ministers signed an agreement on military cooperation that would have Iranians train the Iraqi military. The Iraqi defense minister made a point of saying American views would not count: "Nobody can dictate to Iraq its relations with other countries."

For whatever reason (and I can think of a few possibilities), the Bush Administration has shown little concern over Iranian influence into Iraq. As we have more time to digest the draft constitution, we'll have a chance to see how that influence may be playing out. In the meantime, Galbraith has a couple of suggestions:

There are two central problems in today's Iraq: the first is the insurgency and the second is an Iranian takeover. The insurgency, for all its violence, is a finite problem. The insurgents may not be defeated but they cannot win. This, of course, raises a question about what a prolonged US military presence in Iraq can accomplish, since there is no military solution to the problem of Sunni Arab rejection of Shiite rule, which is now integral to the insurgency.

Iraq's Shiites endured decades of brutal repression, to which the United States was mostly indifferent. Iran, by contrast, was a good friend and committed supporter of the Shiites. By bringing freedom to Iraq, the Bush administration has allowed Iraq's Shiites to vote for pro-Iranian religious parties that seek to create—and are creating —an Islamic state. This is not ideal but it is the result of a democratic process.

The Bush administration should, however, draw the line at allowing a Shiite theocracy to establish control over all of Iraq. This requires a drastic change of strategy. Building powerful national institutions in Iraq serves the interest of one group—today it is the Shiites—at the expense of the others, and inevitably produces conflict and instability. Instead, the administration should concentrate on political arrangements that match the reality in Iraq. This means a loose confederation in which each of Iraq's communities governs itself, and is capable of defending itself.

I've been quoting too much. Go read the full piece for yourself.

And while you're following Iraqi draft constitution links, check out Juan Cole's initial assessment of the circumstances surrounding the presentation of the draft constitution and of the draft itself. The Iraqi writers of the draft constitution have often been compared to the Founding Fathers. Matthew Yglesias runs with this analogy but adds analogues for slaves and indigenous peoples. But don't worry, he's predicting the emergence of a fully formed liberal democracy around 2170.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

More than a Peek at Peak Oil

Last weekend, The New York Times Magazine cover-featured the subject of peak oil. I've written about it before (though mostly as a reason to provide links), but it's a subject I fear we'll be returning to again and again. You don't have to be a geologist to recognize that oil is a nonrenewable resource. The planet has howevermuch it has, and when it's gone, it's gone. Do we know how much oil we've got? There are a few people who seem to have knowledgeable guesses, but as Peter Maass points out in his NYTimes Magazine piece, those are usually closely guarded state secrets. And in the cases of most of the oil-producing nations, it's very much in their interests to overestimate.

As I understand it, the phrase peak oil refers to the point at which we've extracted more oil from the earth than is left in the earth, the half-way point. We won't necessarily know when we reach it (or if we already have), but it's all downhill from there. We can assume that we'll already have pumped the oil that's easiest to obtain, so the second half will be more difficult and more expensive to extract. In fact, there may be some oil that we're never able to get our hands on.

But there's another factor at play, as well, that reliable old economic concept of supply and demand. Demand for oil around the world just keeps growing and growing. Although we always seem to need more and more oil in these United States, the real expanding markets are in Asia. China and India are coming into their own as economic powers, and they're modernizing by leaps and bounds. Modernizing, in this world at least, means more industry and more cars. For that, they need more power, and for the time being, more power means more oil. So the world is using more and more oil every day, and there's some controversy as to how much more oil the world can produce. Right now we seem to be at or near the top of production capability, but demand isn't going to stabilize. When demand surpasses supply, prices rise accordingly (is this why prices are so high now? Nobody that I've found is quite willing to say). When prices rise, people can't afford the product as easily, so they don't use as much, so demand falls. That's all simple and straightforward in theory, but what happens when we're the ones who can't afford to buy gas for our cars? What does that do to our lifestyle? And it's not just cars, but everything that travels (which excludes nothing, as far as I can see) is affected.

Of course, as our economic textbooks remind us, when demand falls, prices go back down. At that point, everything is OK again, right? No. Even if there's still some flexibility in the level of oil production, there's a limit to it. At that point, demand has to accommodate itself to supply. There's no rising supply to meet rising demand any longer. Matthew Simmons, a former energy advisor to the Bush campaign, is concerned that we don't have as much oil as we believe and discusses that in his book, Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy. Chevron has even admitted the problem in an ad campaign that states baldly, "The era of easy oil is over." Maass talked to Sadad al-Husseini, who recently retired as head of Aramco, the Saudi national oil company. He was far more candid than one might expect (Maass reports that it's rumored he was pushed out of Aramco):

"You look at the globe and ask, 'Where are the big increments?' and there's hardly anything but Saudi Arabia," he said. "The kingdom and [its largest oil field] Ghawar field are not the problem. That misses the whole point. The problem is that [demand goes] from 79 million barrels a day in 2002 to 82.5 in 2003 to 84.5 in 2004. You're leaping by two million to three million a year, and if you have to cover declines, that's another four to five million." In other words, if demand and depletion patterns continue, every year the world will need to open enough fields or wells to pump an additional six to eight million barrels a day--at least two million new barrels a day to meet the rising demand and at least four million to compensate for the declining production of existing fields. "That's like a whole new Saudi Arabia every couple of years," Husseini said. "It can't be done indefinitely. It's not sustainable."

That's only common sense. Whether the crunch comes in one year, ten years, or one hundred, it has to come. And we're doing nothing to prepare. The energy bill that the Prez signed in such a flourish a couple of weeks ago has barely any provisions for lowering oil consumption. Husseini had a response to that, too:

"Everybody is looking at the producers to pull the chestnuts out of the fire, as if it's our job to fix everybody's problems," he told me. "It's not our problem to tell a democratically elected government that you have to do something about your runaway consumers. If your government can't do the job, you can't expect other governments to do it for them."

It's our problem. We're the ones who will suffer if we don't address it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Robertson Redux

What was I thinking, writing my own post on Pat Robertson's ruminations over murdering for oil? I should have just linked to the obvious go-to guy on such matters of spirituality, Gen. J.C. Christian (patriot). The General's written Pat a letter congratulating him in his "gutsy move" and railing against the Church's centuries-long censorship of the Savior's "penchant for violence" and "knowledge of gymkata." Preach it, General!

Reinforcing the Wall Between Church and State

A few months ago, I wrote about a segment on 60 Minutes exploring faith-based abstinence-only sex education. One of the groups featured in that broadcast was Silver Ring Thing. Silver Ring Thing was apparently so successful in passing on its abstinence-only message that the government started sponsoring it with federal grants. Those grants were suspended yesterday, though, when the Department of Health and Human Services discovered that the faith-based program was--who'da thunk it?--proselytizing. (If this were a multimedia blog, I'd be cuing Claude Raines just about now). Presumably, if HHS determines that Silver Ring Thing provides "adequate safeguards to clearly separate in time or location inherently religious activities from the federally funded activities," they can get the money back. If you ask me, we’re just better off going back to the Constitution and keeping Church separate from State.

Monday, August 22, 2005


Who Would Jesus Assassinate? Pat Robertson apparently thinks it's Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela. Chavez has been popularly elected to that post twice in general elections (in 1998 and 2000), and he survived a separate referendum intended to remove him from office a year ago. After being toppled in a 2002 coup, he returned to power two days later. So he's hard to get rid of, and he's on the record with his belief that that's exactly what the U.S. is trying to do.

According to Media Matters, today on The 700 Club Robertson called Chavez "a terrific danger." He further claimed that Chavez "has destroyed the Venezuelan economy, and he's going to make that a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent." (Communism and Muslim extremism--as Afghanistan proved in the '80s, those are two great tastes that taste great together.) Perhaps Robertson's key sentence was, "And without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us very badly." Oh, that's right, Venezuela has oil.

So what can we do about this? Back to Pat:

You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war.

Now they think about cost effectiveness. But wait, there's more:

We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.

So now that we've answered WWJA, the only question left is WIJFHM? Who Is Jesus' Favorite Hit Man?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Another Henry 4 Alert

Stockyards Theatre Project's production of Henry 4 (Part 1) that I mentioned before it opened has been getting a fair bit of attention. WGN's Morning News ran a segment that featured Elizabeth Styles and Stacie Barra fighting with broadswords in what is the climactic confrontation of the play. The Chicago Tribune ran a preview article the weekend the show opened. And WBEZ, Chicago's NPR affiliate, is recording a segment tomorrow for Eight Forty-Eight, its local magazine show that runs after Morning Edition. If there's advance notice of when it's going to run, I'll post the info.

Henry 4 is on for two more weekends at the Theatre Building, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago. As I wrote before, there's cross-gender casting in some of the main roles (although the genders only cross one way--there are no guys in drag, but lots of chicks with broadswords [I mean that literally--you can come and decide the metaphorical truth of it yourself]). Reserve your tickets before it's too late.

Where Are the Modern Standards?

A few days ago, I wrote about the Great American Songbook. For reasons I talked about there, the question in the title is really a trick question. There aren't modern standards because everybody records mostly fresh material. Songs are repeated and reinterpreted enough to become standards.

Every now and again, somebody releases a covers album that's usually something of a novelty record. David Bowie and John Lennon each released an album of beloved songs of their youth, and Paul McCartney had one just a few years ago. Elvis Costello has released two, one country and one more eclectic. Tori Amos released hers a couple of albums back. Sometimes somebody from another genre will come in and cover rock songs in their "signature" style. Pat Boone, for instance, covered a handful of heavy metal tunes. In his brand new album, Paul Anka reaches back to a style from even before he started his own pop career in the '50s. Rock Swings puts hits of the '80s (or thereabouts) in a big band/swing context. Most of them sound pretty much like you'd expect--you'll enjoy it if you like that sort of thing. Some, such as Lionel Ritchie's "Hello" (does that even count as rock?), Spandau Ballet's "True" (although Anka listens to Ella all night long rather than Marvin), and Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Fell" were never very far from MOR to begin with, so they don't change that much. Anka keeps "Jump" by Van Halen in a quick, peppy arrangement, which isn't as effective as Aztec Camera's slower more ballady cover from about twenty years ago. "Wonderwall" from Oasis may be becoming something of a modern standard, having received a previous overhaul by the Mike Flowers Pops. Although I think the two versions have separate intentions, I prefer the Flowers performance. Perhaps the song getting the most attention is "Smells Like Teen Spirit," since it's the one that's most anthemic to its generation. It's fine, pretty much what you'd expect. How you react probably depends on how much Kurt Cobain and this song in particular means to you.

One song that Anka covers, though, is a revelation. "The Lovecats" from the Cure comes alive in a loungy arrangement with a slight bossa nova feel (although Anka drops the article, for some reason). I'm a big fan of the original (and of the Cure in general), but Robert Smith is nothing if not idiosyncratic. It wouldn't have occurred to me to include it in a collection of this sort, but Anka and his arrangers take what they need from the song itself and build an elegant performance around it. I don't know if that single song makes the collection worth getting, but it makes it worth considering.

Edwyn's at Home

Great news from Edwyn Collins. With the help of his wife, Grace, he posted to his bulletin board from home last week after being released from the constant care facility where he was recovering from the cerebral hemorrhage he suffered in February. Although he'll continue his recovery, just being in a more familiar environment should help him immensely. If you haven't got it already, this would be a good reason to go pick up The Glasgow School by Orange Juice. All the best, Edwyn!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Trade Up in Chicago, Air America!

A few months back, I noted when Air America finally established a new foothold in Chicago after the debacle of their ill-fated launch here in spring 2004. The network is on WCPT 850 AM, a small station northwest of the city that goes off the air at sundown. That's a bit disappointing, but you've got to work with what you've got.

Not surprisingly, they've been receiving complaints from people who are having trouble getting their signal. In an effort to reach out, I guess, they've started running ads telling listeners how they might receive a better signal. Some of their suggestions are common sense (though as cable TV and radio becomes more and more widespread, perhaps we've forgotten some of them): make sure your antenna is hooked up correctly, move the radio's location closer to a window, etc. One of the ideas, though, I find a bit ironic. Perhaps, WCPT suggests, listeners can go buy a bigger radio. Of course, there's always another alternative:


Friday, August 19, 2005

Stu's Beatlefest

This weekend is Beatlefest weekend in Chicago (or more particularly, Rosemont), and as usual, Stu Shea's probably in the middle of it. Take a look at his preview of the event in today's Chicago Tribune. And while you're busy clicking links, drop in at Stu's blog, Baseball, Music, and Real Life. He hasn't said one way or another, but at this point, I wouldn't expect any new posts there until early next week. He'll be too busy festing (of course, he could choose to live blog the fest, but we'll just have to wait and see).

I should also note that, presumably for some sort of copyright reason, the event is now known as "The Fest for Beatles Fans." Please change all your listings accordingly.

Newsweek Carries Bush's Water

Boy, Newsweek must still really be smarting from that whole Koran in the toilet thing a while back. How else to explain the article in the latest issue about Bush's grief over all the servicepeople lost in Iraq. With Cindy Sheehan camped out in front of his Crawford compound demanding answers about why her son was sent to Iraq to die, the Prez needed something to shore up his bona fides. It's not like he could've walked to the end of his driveway and actually talk to Sheehan. And he certainly doesn't have any stored up good will from all the funerals he's been avoiding. What better time to call in the guys who are still in the Pentagon's doghouse?

Holly Bailey and Evan Thomas step right up and knock it out of the park. In one occasion in "the grieving room," Bush's "eyes were red and he looked drained by the time he got to the last widow." Although the meetings themselves are private, crying can often be heard outside. When Laura Bush accompanies her husband from time to time, she leaves "devastated."

Much of the article describes families' descriptions of the sessions. One widow had a great idea: "It was like we were old friends. It almost makes me sad. In a way, I wish he weren't the president, just so I could talk to him all the time." Yeah, I wish he weren't the president, too.

But the best paragraph is saved for last:

As [Bush] spoke, [Rachel] Ascione [sister of a Marine killed in Afghanistan] could see the grief rising through the president's body. His shoulder slumped and his face turned ashen. He began to cry and his voice choked. He paused, tried to regain his composure and looked around the room. "I am sorry, I'm so sorry," he said.

Good job, Holly and Evan! At this rate, you and your newsmag will be off the shitlist in no time!

(By the way, after receiving news that her mother had a stroke, Cindy Sheehan left her vigil today to return to California. She's said she hopes to be back in 24 or 48 hours to pick up where she's left off.)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Flattery, Robbery, or Just Overly Paranoid?

Is anybody out there a fan of Coq Roq? That's Burger King's new heavy metal band that's trying to entice you to eat the fast-food icon's new chicken fingers (or "chicken fries," as the new, now name goes). If you haven't had a chance to catch up with the new commercial campaign, take a look, but I warn you--you'll need a more recent version of Flash than I've got.

Slipknot has apparently seen the commercials, and they're not pleased. According to The Smoking Gun, the band is charging Burger King with stealing its image, persona, and style. Slipknot claims that Burger King approached them last year to appear in a different campaign and that they turned the chain down. Burger King's taking the charge seriously and has filed a countersuit before Slipknot's suit even got off the ground. I don't especially follow Slipknot, so maybe someone can tell me how close Coq Roq actually comes to the originals.

Two Sides to Every Interview

It's a good thing that journalists are so devoted to the truth. Via Atrios, Chris Matthews owns up to being a shill for the Administration position on the war:

What I keep doing here is asking people on and off camera who come on this program, high-ranking officers, enlisted, former officers. I get sometimes, not all the time, two different versions, the version they give me on the air and the version they give me the minute when we're off the air.

The version they give me when we're on the air is gung-ho, we're doing the right thing, everything is moving along. The version they give me off the air is, Rumsfeld is crazy. There aren't enough troops over there. We're not taking this seriously enough, or, we shouldn't be there, sometimes.

No, nobody's putting words in Matthews's mouth. This isn't an extrapolation based on random comments or a quote taken out of context. This is from the transcript of Hardball from August 1 (scroll way down, it's near the end). He's in the middle of a conversation about how it's so difficult to get an accurate picture of what's going on in Iraq. Well, of course it is, if the people charged with telling us the truth roll over and enable the liars to prevaricate to their hearts' content. I have no illusions that Matthews would be able to get one of these people who tell him one thing on the air and another thing off to level with the American people on television (leveling with the American people--who'd be gullible enough to believe in a pipe dream like that?), but isn't it Matthews's responsibility to let us know that the "truth" in Iraq actually has two tracks? What's the point of having a free press if they're not going to do anything but parrot the official government line anyway?

The truly astonishing thing about this is that Matthews just blithely makes his statement, not realizing that he's just given the whole game away. This is simply how the system works, and he's not aware that there's anything unusual in what he describes. And maybe he's right. After all, here we are two-and-a-half weeks later, and we're just noticing it. This is absolutely the first I'm hearing of the fact that Matthews has multiple sources testifying to Rumsfeld's craziness. If Atrios hadn't posted about it, maybe it would've slipped under the radar altogether.

Could somebody in the press corps please wake up and do their job?

Howling Curmudgeons

I’ve been invited to join the All-New! All-Different! Howling Curmudgeons group blog about comics. They’ve been providing two-fisted comics commentary and criticism for almost a year and a half, and most of them date back a decade or two on Usenet comics groups, so I’m looking forward to mixing it up with them, giving as good as I get.

I haven’t been writing that much about comics here, and what I have has been fairly basic, so I don’t expect to change anything here at Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk. I intend to continue posting at the same level of frequency and make extra time for the Curmudgeons. Meanwhile, my first post is already up over there. Come take a look.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Great American Songbook

All this week, Doonesbury takes a look at aging rock stars who suddenly discover "The Great American Songbook." Today, the strip even asks, "Why do so many rockers record our grandparents' music?" Unfortunately, it doesn't provide a satisfying answer. I think the answer is that standards take us back to a time when the song had precedence over the performer. Songs had lives of their own, and singers would seek out the songs, usually performing and recording material that was already a known quantity. Singers usually had one or two signature songs, but the rest of their material was up for grabs. Even huge singers such as Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley sang songs introduced by others. The Brill Building in New York was famous as a songwriting factory, with occupants such as Goffin and King, Bacharach and David, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, and many others.

And then the Beatles came along. They started out singing covers of other songwriters' songs, and some of the early albums were almost half covers, but it wasn't long before originals squeezed everything else out. This started a new trend of performers either writing their own music or getting original songs. The songs took a back seat to the recorded performance. You might have a preference for one performer or another, but anybody can play "Night and Day," "My Funny Valentine," or "Stardust" without paying deference to a previous performer. But anybody who sings "She Loves You" is singing a Beatles song. Even "Yesterday," one of the most-recorded songs of all time, remains a Beatles song covered by somebody else. From the mid-'60s on, most songs "belonged" to somebody, and that's who we wanted to hear sing them. More often than not, when a performer or band recorded a song, that arrangement, as well as the production, became the definitive version. "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," "Somebody to Love," "Stairway to Heaven," "Pretty Vacant," "Life During Wartime," "Falling and Laughing," "How Soon Is Now," "Fight the Power," "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Paranoid Android," "Can't Stand Me Now," and countless others were written, recorded, and finalized. Others performers could tackle them if they wanted to, but they'd be borrowing the original performer or band's cache as much as breathing their own life into the song.

Older rockers such as Rod Stewart, who's on his third album of standards if I remember correctly, are past their prime and aren't the draw as performers that they once were. Through no real fault of their own--all they did was get older and fall out of fashion, after all--they're not longer in a position to break their own new material. So they fall back on standards, songs that have their own appeal, to prop themselves up. A lot of times, such as in Rod's case, they have quite a bit of success with it. Some Baby Boomers feel betrayed when aging rockers turn to even older material. In their prime, many of these performers seemed to stand for being more than just entertainers, and for them to reveal their true identities as song-and-dance men or women can appear to be a letdown. But part of this is as much our own fault as that of the musicians. We invested them with power and expectations beyond what they deserved and probably desired. I'm not especially interested in hearing Rod Stewart's versions of these various standards, but I can hardly be surprised when he falls back on doing what he's always done--being a singer.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

A Technical Request

Do any local (Chicago) readers have access to a DVD burner? I've got a DVD-R somebody gave me that I can't play, but I think the problem is as simple as the fact that it wasn't finalized. If I can just get to a burner to get it finalized, I think it'll be problem solved.

Also, does anybody have any experience with .vob files? I may be wrong, but that seems to be an extension that will play on DVD players but isn't Web accessible--if I provided a link to it, I'm afraid that the only way someone could actually see the video would be to download the clip, save it on their hard drive, and watch it on a DVD viewer. Can it be viewed online with Real Audio, Quicktime, or Windows Media Player? If not, I should probably get whoever is able to finalize my DVD-R to also copy the clip into a Web-friendly format.

Death or Glory

(There's actually a line from the song above involving nuns and the church that would make a more appropriate title for this post, but I try to run a family blog here, so I'm just using the actual song title instead.)

So Snoop Dogg is palling around a golf course with Lee Iacocca to sell Chryslers these days. It's a bit jarring, but I guess that it's sort of where Snoop's been heading in his career all along. It'll be no time until he's hawking Domino's Pizza with Donald Trump. Perhaps the title (or alluded-to title) isn't fair. Chuck D and a couple of other performers excluded, rap has pretty much always been all about the Benjamins. Snoop himself has a Chrysler, but I have to admit, if I had the Benjamins, I think I'd look a bit farther afield for my ride.

Take a look at the full Snoop and Lee commercial if you're so inclined.

How Not to Use the Internet

This is hilarious. Two teens allegedly (the news story says it, so I do, too) burglarized a house of about $20,000 worth of electronic and computer gear. I guess it's hard to find a fence in the Chicago suburbs, so they figured they'd just sell the stuff themselves. On the Web. With full photos and contact information (because potential buyers would have to get in touch with them, after all). The cops were tipped, the burglary victim identified all his possessions, and the two teens are in custody.

Haven't we all seen enough heist movies to realize that you've got to know how you're going to move the merchandise before it's worth your while to snatch it?

Late but Still Potent

We had guests in from out of town over the weekend (and don't worry, a good time was had by all), so I'm just now getting a chance to read Frank Rich's Sunday column, "Someone Tell the President the War Is Over." No surprise, but Rich (again) accurately points out what's been staring us all in the face. Neocons are starting to turn on each other, the Prez is in trouble, and even his stalwart supporters are taking a step or two back.

These are the tea leaves that all Republicans, not just Chuck Hagel, are reading now. Newt Gingrich called the [Paul] Hackett near-victory [in his race for an Ohio Congressional seat] "a wake-up call." The resolutely pro-war New York Post editorial page begged Mr. Bush (to no avail) to "show some leadership" by showing up in Ohio to salute the fallen and their families. A Bush loyalist, Senator George Allen of Virginia, instructed the president to meet with Cindy Sheehan, the mother camping out in Crawford, as "a matter of courtesy and decency." Or, to translate his Washingtonese, as a matter of politics. Only someone as adrift from reality as Mr. Bush would need to be told that a vacationing president can't win a standoff with a grief-stricken parent commandeering TV cameras and the blogosphere 24/7.

There's no way Bush can turn it around. The evidence started to pile up more than a year ago, but it's only now becoming as clear as it should have been then.

In an interview with Tim Russert early last year, Mr. Bush said, "The thing about the Vietnam War that troubles me, as I look back, was it was a political war," adding that the "essential" lesson he learned from Vietnam was to not have "politicians making military decisions." But by then Mr. Bush had disastrously ignored that very lesson; he had let Mr. Rumsfeld publicly rebuke the Army's chief of staff, Eric Shinseki, after the general dared tell the truth: that several hundred thousand troops would be required to secure Iraq.

I know I always say this, but the whole thing is worth your time if you haven't already read it.

Monday, August 15, 2005

They Don't Make Them Like They Used To

This is a copy of the first comic my brother ever bought. Since I continued to read comics and he didn't, it somehow came into my possession. Unfortunately, it was separated from its cover decades ago. I found a copy at a good price at Wizard World, so I picked it up. Since I couldn't post images until the last couple of days, here it is now. (Actually, the cover I've got is in a bit better condition than the one here, but I was lazy and copied a scan that was already online.)

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Images Again

I've been having some trouble with displaying images lately, so here are a couple that had been intended for display in the last week or so: The Postcard School The Glasgow School by Orange Juice and Elgin Avenue Breakdown by the 101ers (whose name I misspelled throughout that entire column: There's no apostrophe). Everything seems back to normal for the time being, so I hope you enjoy these CD covers.

[UPDATE to (again) correct the name of that damn Orange Juice CD. I really shouldn't post in the middle of the night.]

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Vaults Have Been Raided Again

It seems Orange Juice's Postcard School Glasgow School isn't the only vintage release from a stalwart of the late '70s/early '80s punk/post-punk scene that's new to the CD racks. I was in the record store today and saw an augmented version of Elgin Avenue Breakdown by the 101'ers. A couple thousand copies of this album was pressed in 1981, but there's been no action on it ever since. You could find CD bootlegs of it on eBay every now and again, but that was about it. Why do we care? Because before he was in the Clash, Joe Strummer was a 101'er. Punk hadn't yet hit, so the 101'ers were part of London's pub rock scene. They played straight-ahead, hard rock'n'roll. During the Clash's heyday, the political influences of the 101'ers were often played up in the press. For instance, it was said that the band had taken its name from the room where Winston Smith was tortured in 1984. No, actually 101 was the address of the building in which the band was squatting and rehearsing. But just because Joe Strummer's conscience hadn't yet been fully raised when he played in this band is no reason to let the CD slip by. The original album has been expanded with a couple of unreleased songs and nine live tracks. Here's a chance to look at the formation of one of the most exciting and inspiring musicians in rock history before he'd actually attained superstardom. Buy it!

[UPDATE to correct the name of the Orange Juice CD.]

Friday, August 12, 2005

Ooops! Maybe We Should Look at That Again

For quite some time, one of the main arguments against global warning was the fact that satellites monitoring equatorial temperatures were not showing significant rises and, in fact, sometimes recorded slightly lower than historical temperatures. Now we know why.

Apparently, the satellites had shifted in their normal orbits, which affected the timing of the measurements. Some of the temperatures recorded as daytime temps had actually been recorded during the nighttime. An error like that could actually affect the data, as well as the scientific conclusions based on it. Once scientists made the necessary corrections, guess what happened. The new readings lined up with other global warming numbers just as scientists had said they would. Imagine that.

This has taken one more arrow out of the anti-global warming quiver. Will it be enough to win new converts to the theory of global warming? Don't count on it. Religious fundamentalists are very used to ignoring inconvenient facts that get in the way of their dogma. And the fact that USAToday put the story on page 3 means that nobody will even be paying attention to the issue in a week's time.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Which States Allow the Teaching of Intelligent Design?

As I was doing some research for a post on Kansas's preliminary approval of new "science" standards in public schools that toss scientific rigor out the window, I came across an interesting passage in the Reuters report. "If they win final approval, Kansas will join Minnesota, Ohio and New Mexico, all of which have adopted critical analysis of evolution in the last four years." So that means Kansas, if it follows through with what seems inevitable, will become the fourth state to have such provisions. Eight percent of American states will be represented. Not that I think we should pull back on the coverage of Kansas, but what's the deal in these other states? How long have the more lax standards been in place? What's actually being taught in the classroom? Have there been any consequences inside or outside of the schools?

And while we're on the subject of Intelligent Design, last night Nightline presented a debate of sorts between a proponent of Intelligent Design and an opponent. Defending the Trojan horse was Cal Thomas, long a figurehead of the religious right, and leading the charge against was--George Will? Sure, he thinks God probably created the universe, but he argues that such a belief is the product of faith, not science. He's right in making that distinction, of course, but having a left/right debate between these two is just one more step toward the day when progressive views are completely irrelevant to the national dialogue.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Rock Snobs

While searching around to find links for yesterday's Orange Juice post, I stumbled over Steven Daly's new book, The Rock Snob's Dictionary: An Essential Lexicon of Rockological Knowledge, written with David Kamp. The Website defines rock snobs as "those arcana-obsessed people who speak of 'Rickenbacker guitars' and 'Gram Parsons.'" I only wonder if it gives any of us who may (and I stress may) be rock snobs some advice on how to behave in public.

There's also a separate Snobsite, which includes a number of features, among them a blog (which they prefer to call "Annals of Rock Snobbery") and a comix section. As an added bonus, the comix feature Al Jaffee's "Snobby Answers to Loser Questions!" The only disappointment there is that you can't fold a computer screen.

All in all, it looks like a fun project. I'm adding the book to my Christmas list already.

Henry 4 (Part 1)

It seems like we've barely had time to turn around since the last one, but Stockyards Theatre Project are back with their next production. They're going with a more established playwright this time around, a fellow by the name of William Shakespeare, but they're not doing his Henry 4 (Part 1) straight. Stockyards' mission is "advancing women through theatre arts," so it only makes sense that they'd have some sort of gender-reverse casting going on. And that's exactly what they've done--most (though not quite all) of the male characters have been cast with women. Katie Carey Govier devised the adaptation, which she's calling a "ferocious re-imagining." And if all that's not enough, Francesca's in it, too.

It opens Saturday night at Theatre Building Chicago (although the big press gala is Monday night) and runs Thursday-Sunday until September 4. Stockyards' last production sold out about three-quarters of its performances, so get your tickets while you can. Chicks with broadswords--what more can you ask from a night at the theatre?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Glasgow School

Today is a momentous day. Finally, almost thirty years after they originally formed as the Nu-Sonics and more than twenty years after they broke up for good, Orange Juice finally scores a U.S. release. The band went through several permutations over more than a dozen singles and three-and-a-half albums. Through it all, Edwyn Collins was the stalwart, the one constant through the band's entire history; he was front man, primary writer, and lead singer.

In many ways, Orange Juice was the personification of early '80s indie. As the name of this CD suggests, they were from Glasgow, Scotland (I know, I shouldn't have to specify that, but when I lived in Nashville, Tennessee, I told someone I was listening to a new band from Glasgow, and they asked, "Glasgow, Kentucky?"), which at that time wasn't even on the fringes of the London industry, so they had to set up their own local scene. That became Postcard Records (The Sound of Young Scotland), and Orange Juice recorded the first Postcard single, "Falling and Laughing." As it was all just beginning, there wasn't much money for record pressing, so less than a thousand were made (consequently, on the rare occasions it shows up on eBay, the bidding rises into the three figures). It was enough to catch the ear of the London music press, though, so the group got the support necessary to push forward. The band released three more singles (with larger pressings) and recorded an album's worth of demos. However, as the personification of early '80s indie, Orange Juice had no choice but to turn their backs on Postcard and sign to a major. They signed to Polydor and recorded their first album, You Can't Hide Your Love Forever, one of the all-time great pop artifacts. Even at the time, Steve Sutherland wrote in Melody Maker that it was "possibly the greatest record ever made," and it has only improved with age. But the original lineup broke up shortly after that album, and Orange Juice was never the same. Through two more albums and one mini-album, the group continued to be very good, but they never recaptured the exuberance, enthusiasm, and joie de vivre of the early material.

That's why it's lucky that The Glasgow School compiles all the Postcard material--four singles and B-sides and the unreleased-at-the-time album Ostrich Churchyard. In a sticker on the front of the CD, Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand says:

Whenever I listen to [this music], I feel overwhelmed with idealistic optimism. I'm still thrilled by the adventurousness of the songwriting. . . . I still feel yes, anything IS possible.

He's right. When I opened the package and put the CD on, my eyes started to well up at the first strains of "Falling and Laughing." I'm not ashamed of saying, I was close to tears. And understand--I've already got most of this stuff. Except for a couple of bonuses at the end, I wasn't listening to anything I couldn't have played over the weekend or even as I was driving to the CD store this afternoon. But that just speaks to the power of the material. No matter how familiar it might become, it remains magnificent.

Do yourself a favor and pick up this CD. Not only is the music amazing, but it comes in a very handsome package. Extensive liner notes are provided by original Orange Juice drummer Steven Daly, who left the group and went on to a successful career as a journalist, working for Vanity Fair, among other outlets. Once you put it on, you'll hear things that sound oddly familiar if you follow today's indie music. The aforementioned Franz could easily drop "Breakfast Time" into the middle of their set without changing gears. And I think Interpol already covers "Simply Thrilled Honey," they just call it something else. (Don't forget to add a comment about where you hear Orange Juice's influence.) But don't just take my word for it. Look at what The Guardian has to say, or Glasgow's Sunday Herald. Pitchfork gives it a 9.3. A news release at the helpful Domino USA site offers links to images of reviews from Magnet, Blender, MOJO, Uncut, and Rolling Stone. But it's not all glowing. Time Out London apparently called it mostly "unlistenable."

On a less fortunate note, Edwyn Collins, who you may otherwise know from his 1995 hit "A Girl Like You," suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on February 20 of this year. He's through the worst part and is improving at a reasonable pace (though not as quickly as he'd like). Grace Maxwell, Edwyn's wife, has been extremely good about sharing updates on his progress at Edywn's bulletin board. The most recent is from a couple of weeks ago, and at that point, Grace said that the hospital intended to release Edwyn to continue his recovery at home some time next week. I'm sure she'll post again when Edwyn gets home, if not before.

Selma Lives (Maybe)

It's been confirmed, sort of. Selma, the legendary creature who lives in Norway's Lake Seljord, has been found. Well, at least that's what cryptozoologist Jan-Ove Sundberg thinks. The founder of the Global Underwater Search Team (GUST), he's been gathering evidence for years, and last week he had an announcement to make:

"I have news today. We were just off Sanden Camping today, between noon and 2 p.m. We got two large objects on sonar, they were four to five meters (13-16.5 feet) long, and this was no fish," Sundberg told TV 2 Nettavisen.

"Afterwards we heard some very loud noises on the hydrophone. The sounds were so powerful that the our headphones banged and vibrated."

Banging and vibrating headphones! Ooooooh, scary!!

Sundberg has thought he'd had proof before, but poor quality pictures he came up with last year were unconvincing and won him no new converts. But he knows what he’s up against.

"If researchers are to be satisfied we have to catch it in our traps. Or we have to take photos or film that demonstrates it is an unknown animal. Half-bad pictures from long distance aren't good enough."

Ain't that always the way.

So how many of these creatures are out there? I'm not sure if I've heard of Selma before, but I do know of Nessie, of course, another in Lake Champlain called Champ, and the Ogopogo in British Columbia's Lake Okanagan. GUST has a huge list of sea monsters (and a couple of bigfoots) on its cryptids page. Just to keep themselves honest, the organization keeps track of "hoaxes, misinterpretations, and jokes," as well.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Catching Up

Even though it's August, there was still a little bit happening in the news over the weekend. You've probably heard about most of this stuff already, but here are a couple of things that caught my eye.

I don't want to get anybody's hopes up, but it looks like Robert Novak just might be starting to get what's coming to him. In an exchange that looked like a bunch of nothing to those of us on the outside, James Carville ran Novak off the set of CNN's Inside Politics on Thursday (Crooks & Liars has the video) and was consequently suspended by the cable network. In several posts at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall speculates about exactly what happened. Novak himself blamed Carville. Marshall later scored an interview with Carville, who also didn't quite know what to make of it all.

Poll numbers for the Prez continue to slide. An AP-Ipsos poll found that his approval rating has dropped to 42 percent--55 percent disapprove of his job performance. Half of the respondents--right at 50 percent--feel that Bush is not honest. A separate Newsweek poll found 61 percent don't like how W is conducting the war in Iraq, with only 34 percent approving. His overall job rating was better in this poll, but not by much. The same number, 42 percent, approved, but only 51 percent disapproved. The fact that the undecideds were higher is good news for the administration, but it's a very sad excuse for good news. If all this isn't off-putting enough, Think Progress notices a number of ways in which August 2005 is like August 2001.

Peter Jennings died over the weekend, and there are tributes and remembrances all over the Internets. Not surprisingly, ABC has a good one. Jennings accomplished the Canadian dream: He left Canada and made it big in the States.

Going from above America's northern border to below its southern one, Ibrahim Ferrer also died this weekend. A musician in the '50s and '60s, he had modest success in Cuba but had retired from the music business and was shining shoes when Ry Cooder approached him to join the project that became the Buena Vista Social Club. That CD, along with the film that followed it, made Ferrer an international star at age 70.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Lo-Energy Blogging

Another day of extremely light blogging. Wizard World Chicago ended on as sedate a note as it started. Nothing much happened. The con's non-panels announcing publishers upcoming plans didn't hold a lot of news--series were announced with few details about creators but promises that we'll all love it. Although I understand that Wizard will claim record attendance, it certainly felt less crowded than last year. The aisles never felt congested enough to make it hard to pass through, and that's a definite change from previous times. By mid-afternoon Sunday, people seemed to be calling it quits and heading for the exits a bit early. The show was somewhat of a disappointment, quite frankly.

On a personal level, I had a good con experience. Stayed out too late and ate and drank too much with friends in for the show. I picked up a few things I was looking for, mostly plugging holes in my collection. I have spent more money in the past, which is probably just as well to let this year come up a bit light in cash outlay. I fell asleep on the el home tonight, so it'll be nice to get into bed in a few minutes. Tomorrow we can look forward to returning to a wider variety of blog topics.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

60 Years Ago

As we're seeing just about everywhere (but not as much as perhaps we should), today is the 60th anniversary of the day the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Three days later, the United States dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki. This was the first time a bomb of this size was tested, let alone used as a weapon, and scientists were not entirely sure what to expect. We all know now, of course, that the devastation was massive. So massive, perhaps, that these uses of the bomb became their own deterrent for anyone ever using it again. We have not been deterred from improving the technology, however, and the destructive power and proliferation of atomic weapons have grown by huge amounts since August 1945. We're not entirely sure which countries have nuclear weapons (seven countries are known to have the bomb, and another handful are suspected to have or be close to having it), but certainly a lot more do than did on August 5, 1945.

In the 60 years since, however, we still don't know exactly what influenced the decision of the Truman Administration to use the bomb against Japan. Was the bomb necessary or not? The traditional answer is that using the bomb helped the Allies avoid a Japanese invasion, which it was presumed would have been savage and have resulted in a huge number of casualties on both sides. More recent historians have questioned that assumption and suggested that there were other strategic and political factors in play. I've been persuaded by this argument, of which Gar Alperovitz was an early proponent in his book Atomic Diplomacy (he updated his findings around the 50th anniversary of the bomb in the extremely detailed The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, and the Architecture of an American Myth), but it's hardly a settled issue. Each side pushes the argument its own way, and neither can come up with a knockout piece of evidence to put the struggle to rest. Alperovitz has a column in from a couple of days ago, "Hiroshima After Sixty Years: The Debate Continues," that reviews some of the main points. Although I don't have time to look for and provide links from both sides, Eric Alterman gives some background. My own view is that it's to some degree psychologically necessary for Americans to feel there was no choice but to drop the bomb, that for all its horrible effects, it was certainly the lesser of the evils available. If such a mental block is real, it provides a huge obstacle to the objective examination of the evidence.

Editor & Publisher reports on film footage shot very shortly after the bombs were dropped that's been effectively suppressed in the years since. Lt. Col. (Ret.) Daniel A. McGovern was in charge of U.S. military filmmakers in 1945 and 1946, and he managed newsreel footage shot by Japanese filmmakers at the sites, as well. All this material was labeled top secret, and for years McGovern was responsible for maintaining it. The understanding he had about this is quite interesting. Here's what Greg Mitchell wrote in E&P:

"I always had the sense," McGovern told me, "that people in the Atomic Energy Commission were sorry we had dropped the bomb. The Air Force--it was also sorry. I was told by people in the Pentagon that they didn't want those [film] images out because they showed effects on man, woman and child. . . . They didn't want the general public to know what their weapons had done--at a time they were planning on more bomb tests. We didn't want the material out because . . . we were sorry for our sins."

Much of this footage has been incorporated into the film Original Child Bomb, which will be shown on the Sundance Channel tonight and tomorrow.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Busy Busy Busy

Light posting today, obviously, as most of my time was spent at the comics con. The con has instituted a new offer this year, allowing a "preview" night on Thursday. I was there on the actual floor of the con itself for only about half an hour before they shut it down Thrsday, but it's coloring my perceptions. If that was Day One, this would have been Day Two. I'm feeling tired as though it's after Saturday night rather than Friday night, and I have to keep reminding myself that we have two full days of con still in front of us. I'm already exhausted, and the real crowds don't even start coming until the morning. Whether those crowd numbers go up or down from last year, there will be a heck of a lot more bodies on the floor tomorrow than there were today.

I'm hoping to write something more substantial tomorrow. We'll sre how that develops.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

All-American Vacations

I posted an earlier version of this at Article 19 a few weeks ago, but since the Prez is off on a five-week “working” vacation in Texas, it somehow seemed time to revisit the subject.

It’s no secret that vacation habits differ on opposing sides of the Atlantic. I imagine that readers of this blog hew close to the good old, All-American Protestant work ethic and don’t take much time off from work (for extra points, how many of you feel guilty when you do take vacation?). On the other hand, W unashamedly follows the French on the issue, taking huge swaths of leisure time. Other presidents might have stayed closer to Washington during a time of war, but not this one--he knows where he puts his priorities. Earlier this year, the Harvard Institute of Economic Research issued a paper entitled, "Work and Leisure in the U.S. and Europe: Why so Different?" (abstract here), which started some blog chatter. The main thrust of the paper, which I first encountered in a post by Matthew Yglesias, is that Europeans have traded lower annual salaries for several more weeks of vacation. Kevin Drum jumped in, which prompted this response from an American living in Germany and enjoying his leisure. On his way out of town to start his own five-week vacation, Pascal Riche, Washington bureau chief for Libération, also weighed in. He pointed out that Americans work more hours each year than people in most other industrialized countries: two months more than the Europeans. (He also claimed that we work two or three weeks more than the stereotypically workaholic Japanese, but from the stats I could find, it appears that we're about the same). He also mentions (citing this graph) that working Americans toil for 20 percent longer than we did in 1970, while the French, Germans, and Japanese work 23.5, 17.1, and 16.6 percent less, respectively.

So how do we feel about all work and not-so-much play (we've seen The Shining; we know what that can lead to)? Who'd give up some of our consumerism for a little more leisure time?

Haircut 100

"Love Plus One" came on while I was at the gym today, and I realized that Haircut 100 is probably my all-time guilty pleasure band. I certainly can't make any argument as to their significance or even the quality of their music. Redeeming characteristics? None come to mind. But I love their bubble-gum pop that disappears after just a moment or two. Some might call it empty, but I say, "Melt in your mouth."

The tape (or CD--join the 21st century, Doug!) they were playing was quite eclectic today. Haircut 100 followed Sister Sledge and was followed by Blink 182, then some tekno cover of "Bizarre Love Triangle."

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Promised Wizard World Post

This weekend the Wizard World comics convention comes to Chicago. A few weeks ago, I wrote about Comic Con International in San Diego (which I mistakenly called the biggest comics convention in the world; there are comics festivals in Japan and in Angoulême, France, that are considerably larger, although I suppose you could split hairs over precisely how you define convention). The San Diego con sets the standard for the American market, and Wizard World, unfortunately, pales in comparison.

Before I ever came to town and before Wizard magazine took it over, Chicago Comicon had a great reputation. It still wasn't as big as San Diego, but it was put together by people who loved comics and wanted to celebrate them, get together and talk about them, and buy and sell old ones. My understanding is that the panels were interesting and wide ranging and featured a variety of subjects and guests. But then Wizard stepped in to expand their business beyond strictly publishing, and the whole thing became far more homogenized. The focus shifted from celebrating the comics community to selling new comics. Panels were replaced with Marvel and DC (and some Image affiliates) presenting their upcoming comics lines. In case we all hadn't digested the Wal-Mart metaphor that the con had become, Wizard started franchising it, expanding into Philadelphia, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Boston (the first Boston show will open next month). Wizard wanted to open a show in Atlanta next year, but a controversy arose when they tried to schedule it the same weekend as Heroes Con in Charlotte, and Wizard backed down in favor of planning an Atlanta expansion in 2007. These cons are interchangeable. They've got no local flavor and no individual identity.

I intended to compare the panels offered at San Diego this year with those planned for Wizard World, but it's too depressing. You can click through to all Wizard World's program pages if you want to, but trust me, it's not too thrilling: Marvel and DC will tell us all about their various upcoming comics for the next year; the heads of both Marvel and DC will host Q and A's that will mostly cover current and upcoming comics; and there'll be a small room for "Wizard School," which will feature various pros talking about how they do their job (although at this point, a third of the available slots there are still listed in the program as "To Be Determined"). Just a few of the panels offered at San Diego this year were "Big-5 War Comics: War in the Funny Books" featuring Russ Heath, George Pratt, and Tom Yeates; "Producing Your Own Comic Book," featuring Terry Moore, Phil Foglio, Paige Braddock, Anna Warren Boersig, Rich Koslowski, and Mark Thompson; "25th Anniversary of [the New] Teen Titans," featuring Marv Wolfman, Nick Cardy, Barbara Kesel, Geoff Johns, and Glenn Murakami; "The Annual Jack Kirby Tribute Panel"; "Comic Collecting & the 21st Century: A Dialogue of Pressing Issues"; and "Golden/Silver Age of Comics: Working with Will Eisner," featuring Mark Evanier, Murphy Anderson, Lee Ames, Bob Fujitani, Nick Cardy, and Jerry Robinson. That was a small fraction of what was available on Friday--I didn't even get a chance to explore the other three days. Bask in Friday's program yourself, and click through to Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday to see what else you missed if you feel like it.

Oh well, enough complaining. Wizard World Chicago offers a chance to catch up with friends, meet creators (mostly new but some old), look at bunches and bunches and bunches of comics both new and old, and probably find a couple of panels worth your time. And it's the only game in town. That's where you'll find me this weekend.

Frist Falls from Grace

Uh oh. According to Josh Marshall, Bill Frist can wave bye-bye to his future as a presidential contender. That's what he gets for voting his conscience.

Intelligent Design--Another Salvo

The Prez wandered into the "debate" over intelligent design with a group of Texas reporters on Monday, but it made the front page of The Washington Post today. Although this seems to be the first time he's addressed the subject as president, it comes as no surprise that he thinks intelligent design should be taught in schools. Here's how The Post reported it:

"Both sides ought to be properly taught . . . so people can understand what the debate is about," [Bush] said, according to an official transcript of the session. Bush added: "Part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought. . . . You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes."

Apparently some conservatives are shocked (shocked?) at this. They just clearly haven't been paying attention. Kevin Drum responds with quotes from 1999 when the candidate came out for teaching creation science, let alone intelligent design, in public schools. In a note to unsettled conservatives, Drum writes:

You all knew what you were voting for when you put these guys in power. I'm happy to see you on the side of the angels here, but it's a little late to pretend to be shocked that the Republican leadership feels this way.

PZ Myers, in his own blog and at The Panda's Thumb, provides an extensive list of blogs he claims covers the ideological spectrum that are critical of the Prez's position. And this is just a partial list; Myers writes that he was so overwhelmed by people sending him links that at some point he just stopped adding new ones. As it is, it looks like someone (but not me--I don't have the stamina) could spend days following all of them.

While we're on the subject, Atrios helpfully draws a line between intelligent design and Intelligent Design.

Obviously most people who believe in some form of supreme deity are lowercase intelligent design believers of some kind, but that's entirely different from being believers in the "science" of uppercase Intelligent Design. People are free to believe, if they wish, that aspects of the universe including life suggest to them the presence of some form of divine hand. But that's spirituality and faith, not science. There is no genuine science of Intelligent Design and it has no place in science classrooms.

This shouldn't be a fight between religious believers and nonbelievers. It's a distinction between matters of science and matters of faith, and it also underscores the seemingly ever-narrowing division between church and state.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

A Reasonably Good Comic Art Show

No, I'm not talking about Wizard World (I plan to write about that tomorrow). I don't know how I missed this announcement last week, but Ivan Brunetti is set to curate a comics installation, "The Cartoonist's Eye," next month at Columbia College in Chicago. Seth will be there with his slide show "Brief Stories About Cartooning" for the opening on September 8, and Brunetti will offer his curator's talk in October. More than 60 cartoonists, including such names as Chris Ware, Robert Crumb, Dan Clowes, Art Spiegelman, Charles Schulz, Ernie Bushmiller, Bud Fisher, George Herriman, Winsor McCay, Basil Wolverton, and Harvey Kurtzman, have been confirmed for inclusion, and more are promised. Both Tom Spurgeon at The Comics Reporter and Eric Reynolds at The Fantagraphics Blog asked if this is the greatest comic art show ever. Could well be. Check out either of those posts for a full list of confirmed artists.


The air crash in Toronto earlier this afternoon is simply an amazing story. An Air France jet had problems on landing but seemed to get down OK, only to skid off the end of the runway. It was a stormy day, with lightning strikes all around that may have had something to do with it, but flames were reportedly soon everywhere. The plane came to a rest near the 401 highway, the busiest in Canada. Somehow, all 309 passengers, pilots, and crew got out; 43 of them were taken to the hospital, but none of the injuries were reported to be serious. On Nightline tonight, ABC's aviation expert, John J. Nance, said matter-of-factly that this was a survivable crash and it should be expected that most, if not all, passengers would make it through safely. That may be so, but it still seems just short of a miracle to me. It'll take investigators some time to figure out what actually happened. In the meantime, you can click through to a photo gallery at CBC, and CTV offers some other angles.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Willie Nelson's Place in the World

The Dukes of Hazzard opens up this weekend, featuring among other things Willie Nelson as Uncle Jesse. A couple of weeks ago, Willie came out with a new reggae album, Countryman (here's the Pitchfork review; Boing Boing explains the regular and "Wal-Mart ready" versions of the cover). Over on his personal blog (not to be confused with TAPPED or his space at TPM Cafe) Matt Yglesias asks what all of us must be thinking: "Does Willie Nelson just have so much cred that he can sell out in the most ridiculous way imaginable and no one will call him on it?"