Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: November 2005

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Catching Up

In comments on the previous post, Stevie T points out the story about the Pentagon planting news stories in Iraqi newspapers. I can understand why people would be up in arms about this, but I'm really not sure why anyone's surprised. We've had columnist Armstrong Williams taking money to support Bush Administration educational initiatives without revealing that conflict of interest. The Department of Health and Human Services produced fake news reports for domestic consumption and refused the opinion of the Government Accountability Office earlier this year that such activity amounted to illegal propaganda. Earlier in Bush's first term, the Pentagon set up the Office of Strategic Influence to develop propaganda for foreign media. Even though the office was soon dismantled as a result of all the bad PR it received, there's no indication that its duties were not continued elsewhere. So when stories secretly written by the military start showing up in Iraqi papers, we can declaim against it and declare it wrong and immoral, but only Louis Renault could be truly surprised.

I've also seen this little exchange in a number of places today. It's between Rumsfeld and Marine General Peter Pace, the head of the Joint Chiefs, at a press conference yesterday:

SEC. RUMSFELD: Any instance of inhumane behavior is obviously worrisome and harmful to them when that occurs. Iraq knows of certain knowledge that they need the support of the international community, and a good way to lose it is to make a practice of something that's inconsistent with the values of the international community. And I think they know that.

Now, you know, I can't go any farther in talking about it. Obviously, the United States does not have a responsibility when a sovereign country engages in something that they disapprove of; however, we do have a responsibility to say so and to make sure that the training is proper and to work with the sovereign officials so that they understand the damage that can be done to them in the event some of these allegations prove to be true.

Q: And General Pace, what guidance do you have for your military commanders over there as to what to do if -- like when General Horst found this Interior Ministry jail?

GEN. PACE: It is absolutely the responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene to stop it. As an example of how to do it if you don't see it happening but you're told about it is exactly what happened a couple weeks ago. There's a report from an Iraqi to a U.S. commander that there was possibility of inhumane treatment in a particular facility. That U.S. commander got together with his Iraqi counterparts. They went together to the facility, found what they found, reported it to the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi government has taken ownership of that problem and is investigating it. So they did exactly what they should have done.

SEC. RUMSFELD: But I don't think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it; it's to report it.

GEN. PACE: If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it.

Not that it's any sort of surprise at this point, but it's clear that, according to Mike Chary's definition of a superhero, Rumsfeld would never qualify. No wonder he seemed so taken with Cap and Spidey a few months back.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Back in Chicago

Just getting in from a late-night flight. I kept up with a few things through my limited connection--the Bears beat the Bucs, Duke Cunnningham resigned from Congress and pled guilty to taking a couple of million in bribes, the Sex Pistols (along with Black Sabbath, Blondie, Miles Davis, and Lynyrd Skynyrd) have been announced for the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame. I'll have more to say after I get caught up on current events again, but in the meantime, what did I miss?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Air America--Chicago's Reduced Hours

I've complained before about Air America's limited service in Chicago on WCPT, but it's gotten worse. We could see this coming for months, so it's not a surprise, but it doesn't make it any less annoying. WCPT only has a license to broadcast during daylight hours, so as the daylight shrinks, so does WCPT's broadcast day. At this point, it goes off the air in the late afternoon, and we've got another month before the days start getting longer again.

The station has been running a campaign telling listeners not to blame them, because Air America has nothing to do with this situation--it's just a long-standing FCC rule. That's true enough, but as I've said before, Air America does have some say in what broadcast outlet they line up for the third largest radio market in the nation. Surely they must be able to do better. Air America, get a proper radio station that can broadcast to the whole Chicagoland area twenty-four hours a day. For the media professionals they claim to be, that can't be so impossible a task.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Once Again, Mr. Rich

I want to thank The New York Times for instituting their subscription policy for Internet access to their columnists. Before they did that, I was a somewhat regular reader of Frank Rich. I'd read him when I'd remember to, and it was always worth the time spent. But since they tried to make people pay to read him, as a little game, I started to see where I could find him for free. From that point on, I haven't missed his weekly column, and this week's is a barn-burner.

Referring to recent information that has slipped out about administration machinations in the run-up to war and the vitriolic response from both Bush and Cheney this week, Rich writes:

The Washington line has it that the motivation for the Bush-Cheney rage is the need to push back against opponents who have bloodied the White House in the polls. But, Mr. Murtha notwithstanding, the Democrats are too feeble to merit that strong a response. There is more going on here than politics.

Much more: each day brings slam-dunk evidence that the doomsday threats marshaled by the administration to sell the war weren't, in Cheney-speak, just dishonest and reprehensible but also corrupt and shameless. The more the president and vice president tell us that their mistakes were merely innocent byproducts of the same bad intelligence seen by everyone else in the world, the more we learn that this was not so. The web of half-truths and falsehoods used to sell the war did not happen by accident; it was woven by design and then foisted on the public by a P.R. operation built expressly for that purpose in the White House. The real point of the Bush-Cheney verbal fisticuffs this month, like the earlier campaign to take down Joseph Wilson, is less to smite Democrats than to cover up wrongdoing in the executive branch between 9/11 and shock and awe.

He also refers to stories from The LA Times and National Journal last week that I read but didn't pass on here in the build-up to Thanksgiving, and they're worth your time to read them now.

And if you didn't click the link above, read Rich's "Dishonest, Reprehensible, Corrupt ...," as good a summation of where we are at this point as I've seen. The only question now is where do we go from here?

(By the way, I'm still on the boat and still without a spell-check, so pardon the typos.)

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Jack Kirby Museum

Here's another item I'd intended to post months ago before Hurricane Katrina usurped all subject matter for a few days back in August and September. On August 28, on what would've been Kirby's 88th birthday, The Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center was launched. Here's part of their mission statement:

The Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center is organized exclusively for educational purposes; more specifically, to promote and encourage the study, understanding, preservation and appreciation of the work of Jack Kirby by:

* illustrating the scope of Kirby's multi-faceted career,
* communicating the stories, inspirations and influences of Jack Kirby,
* celebrating the life of Jack Kirby and his creations, and
* building understanding of comicbooks and comicbook creators.

At this point, the site offers a video-taped interview, a couple of stories, a biography by Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman, a searchable database of Kirby's work, and promises of more to come. They're also planning a traveling retrospective and a documentary. I'll be checking in with them from time to time to see what progress they're making.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Buy Nothing Day

I feel enormously hypocritical in posting this. I'm currently accompanying my in-laws on a Caribbean cruise (thus the light blogging for the next few days), so I'm posting from the high seas (without a spell checker, so please, indulge my typos). I can hardly take the high moral ground and tell everyone to participate in Buy Nothing Day, and yet, here I am. I support Adbusters in general and this program in principle. Every year on the day after Thanksgiving--"Black Friday," as it's come to be known in the media, even though it's not the busiest shopping day of the year--Adbusters encourages people to protest by withdrawing from the consumer world for twenty-four hours. Although I'm conspicuously not withdrawing this year, I still think it's a good idea, so I'm providing the link. Do with it what you will.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Holiday Traveling

In just a couple of hours, I'm off to the airport (why do they fly planes at such ungodly hours?) for some Thanksgiving travel. By traveling in the middle of the night, I'm hoping to miss at least some of the Thanksgiving crush. It's my understanding that I should be able to have some sort of Internet access while I'm away, but I can't vouch for the quality of it. It's still my intention to have at least one new post up every day, but they'll probably be lighter and fewer for the next few days. Have a safe holiday, everybody!

Is There an Echo in Here?

The Washington Post is reporting that the Pentagon is looking to bring out some of the troops currently in Iraq:

Barring any major surprises in Iraq, the Pentagon tentatively plans to reduce the number of U.S. forces there early next year by as many as three combat brigades, from 18 now, but to keep at least one brigade "on call" in Kuwait in case more troops are needed quickly, several senior military officers said.

So they're intending to reduce the U.S. presence in Iraq, but they're keeping some forces close by, a "quick-reaction U.S. force and an over-the-horizon presence," so to speak. Why does that sound so familiar? Here's more:

Pentagon authorities also have set a series of "decision points" during 2006 to consider further force cuts that, under a "moderately optimistic" scenario, would drop the total number of troops from more than 150,000 now to fewer than 100,000, including 10 combat brigades, by the end of the year, the officers said.

"Decision points" during 2006 sounds like a good idea. Just so long as they don't use a timetable.

The New Adventures of Alan Moore

As anyone who follows comics knows, Alan Moore has a very contentious relationship with his publishers. His ties to DC Comics have been on-again, off-again (and they’re very much off-again at the present, as we’ll get to in a moment). For years he refused to give Marvel permission to reprint work he’d done for their UK branch twenty-some years ago, though in the past couple of years he’s relented. There’s even been rough patches with indies such as SpiderBaby Grafix and Tundra. (His relationship with Top Shelf seems blessed with long-term happiness, though, which I guess further attests to Chris Staros’s sterling reputation within the industry.)

About six months ago, we talked about a downturn in Moore’s relationship with DC--he cut all his ties to the company, intending to finish his current obligations and then move on. In a recent interview with Heidi MacDonald in Publishers Weekly’s Comics Week online newsletter, he upped the ante even further. He now wants his name taken off all material that he doesn’t own. That’s quite a provocative stance, and it would hit DC especially hard, as it continues to keep a lot of Moore’s work in print. There are the obvious examples of Watchmen, recently on Time magazine’s list of the 100 best novels since 1923, and V for Vendetta, soon to be a major motion picture starring Natalie Portman, but a quick look at DC’s Website reveals several more graphic novels currently in print, such as The Killing Joke, five Swamp Thing collections, a couple of WildC.A.T.S. collections, and a new edition of DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore. And that’s not even counting the America’s Best Comics line (for which the implications aren’t quite clear--creator ownership and control has always been a bit hazy). Rich Johnston (and Nate Lowry) offered an idea of how this all might play out.

In an art-driven medium, Moore was arguably the first writer, and is still one of a very few, whose name guaranteed sales. Taking his name off a work would rob it of a significant selling tool. Whether Moore intends it to be or not, this is a very clever move in the larger context of creator rights, a hot topic in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but not so significant now. Moore’s putting a spotlight on what creators contribute to comics and how they’re treated by the publishers. Surely writers and artists are treated better today than they were during the earliest days of comic books when Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster could sell all rights to Superman for a reported $130, but there’s still room for improvement.

Moore has long been unhappy with DC, and now he’s trying to do more than just cut all his ties. Is he disowning his work? Legally, he doesn’t own it anyway, and this is just an admission that he doesn’t own it in a moral sense, either. In his most recent interview, his main concern seemed to be V for Vendetta. That series was started in Warrior in the UK but was never completed--Moore and artist David Lloyd brought it to DC in the mid- to late '80s. Moore said the contract calls for the copyright to revert to Lloyd and him after the comic is out of print for 18 months, but it's never been out of print that long (if it's been out of print at all). I suspect that the two could probably negotiate their copyright back, but he'd be much harder pressed to regain control of its publishing until it reaches the out-of-print milestone. I imagine that this question is more about control than actual ownership--what substantially would he gain if the book's copyright page read "Copyright Alan Moore and David Lloyd" rather than "Copyright DC Comics"? DC would still continue to publish it as long as they wanted to.

So far, I haven’t seen any sort of official response from DC, although it’s certainly possible that there’s some wrangling going on behind the scenes. But DC ignores Moore and the situation at its own peril. The author has shown time and again that when he so chooses, he will not be ignored.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Not So Lame

With more and more attention being eaten up by the quarreling over Iraq and the growing problems at the White House, it's easy to overlook what else is going on up on Capitol Hill. On Thursday it looked like House Republican leaders might be losing their control over their caucus as twenty-two House Repubs joined Dems in voting down a final House/Senate compromise bill for hundreds of millions of dollars of appropriations for Labor and Health and Human Services. Was this a mutiny by the moderates? Was it the beginning of the true consequences of a House leadership without the iron fist of Tom DeLay? Was the Prez's growing stature as a lame duck finally starting to affect his agenda in Congress? Progressives started to get their hopes up--maybe it was the beginning of the end of Republican budget cutting.

Alas, that was premature. Only a few hours later, the House passed huge cuts in safety-net programs. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities passed on a number of Congressional Budget Office projections concerning the bill:

CBO estimates that the provisions that will cause many low-income Medicaid beneficiaries to be required to pay more out-of-pocket for health care, and will reduce the health care services for which these beneficiaries are covered, represent cuts of nearly $30 billion over ten years.

. . .

CBO estimates that child support payments made by non-custodial parents would be $24 billion lower over ten years.

. . .

CBO estimates indicate that more than 220,000 people a month would lose food stamps; the large majority of these are people in low-income working families.

Once they'd secured these cuts in services, the Repubs had the good sense to delay their vote on extending tax cuts on dividends and capital gains. Rep. Peter King said they were worried "the Democrats are going to say we're cutting services for the poor and cutting taxes for the rich."

Those crazy Democrats. Why would they ever think something like that?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Incredibly Aggressive Reporting Mode

This is pretty funny. Think Progress had this from a blurb for Larry King Live, but now you can read the whole transcript. In trying to explain how he got so deep into the Joe Wilson/Valerie Plame story, Woodward said:

Then, the day of the indictment I read the charges against Libby and looked at the press conference by the special counsel and he said the first disclosure of all of this was on June 23rd, 2003 by Scooter Libby, the vice president's chief of staff to "New York Times" reporter Judy Miller.

I went, whoa, because I knew I had learned about this in mid- June, a week, ten days before, so then I say something is up. There's a piece that the special counsel does not have in all of this.

I then went into incredibly aggressive reporting mode . . .

How do you go into "incredibly aggressive reporting mode" when you're the story? Surely he's got some sort of long-term agreement with himself, but are his thoughts always on the record, or can he only use them as deep background? Does he have to credit himself by name or by position if he ever uses any of his own information? Has he ever refused to pass along information to himself that he knew he had?

Actually, I guess I should point out that I did end the quote in the middle of a sentence. Woodward does provide an answer to my question. Here's the full quote:

I then went into incredibly aggressive reporting mode and called the source the beginning of the next week and said "Do you realize when we talked about this and exactly what was said?"

"Incredibly aggressive reporting mode" apparently means that, a couple of days later, he called his source and said, "Do you remember what you told me?" And there, ladies and gentlemen, is the kind of gumption and shoe leather that brought down a president. Woodward is inspiring a new generation of journalists even as we speak.

The Murtha Uproar

I have to admit that I got a little bit lost in the whole Rep. John Murtha fracas in the House of Representatives last week. I read Murtha's statement from Thursday, in which he stated, "The war in Iraq is not going as advertised," and provided a number of reasons that he believed the troops should be removed as soon as safely possible. The resolution Murtha offered did the same, calling for the redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq at the "earliest practicable date." The bill (which has thirteen cosponsors) was referred to the House Committees on International Relations and Armed Services where, in theory at least, it'll be considered for submission to the House floor. If Repubs merely wanted to kill the resolution, they could've quietly referred it to the committees and let it die of neglect there. But instead, they panicked and rushed a stupid alternate resolution to the floor that essentially left the House voting on whether the troops should've started evacuating ten minutes ago. This brought even more attention to Murtha's position and argument. Way to go, guys. Unfortunately, instead of sitting out the flagrant showboating of the Repubs and simply voting "present" on a meaningless resolution, the vast majority of Dems voted against the Repub replacement resolution. I guess it makes some sense--who really thinks U.S. forces should drop everything and be out within the hour?--but going along only encourages them.

In the meantime, Murtha got a chance to go on Meet the Press and make his case (he did a good job, too--read the transcript). After Rep. Jean Schmidt called him a coward on the House floor (a constituent "asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do"), she had to return to the floor and apologize, making clear that she didn't mean to refer to Murtha specifically. Even Dick Cheney had to backpedal: "I disagree with Jack and believe his proposal would not serve the best interest of this nation. But he's a good man, a Marine, a patriot, and he's taking a clear stand in an entirely legitimate discussion." All in all, I think we need to congratulate Rep. Murtha on a job well done.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Senate Intelligence Committee

Well, I didn't achieve the flurry of blogging I'd hoped this weekend, and there are still a handful of subjects I want to address before they're last week's news. But tomorrow is another day, as some slave-holding wench once said, so we'll see what we can do then.

And speaking of last week's news, I somehow missed the report from the Senate's bipartisan committee that was supposed to be looking into why the second half of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the run up to the war hadn't appeared yet, more than a year after it was due. When the Dems closed down the Senate one afternoon to discuss this, Bill Frist promised he'd appoint one to report back in two weeks. That should have been this last week. Of course, the Intelligence Committee chairman, Pat Roberts, said that would be a waste of time because he'd already planned extensive Intelligence Committee hearings and would have that second-half report out by the 14th. I must've been busier than I realized, because I never heard mention one of such hearings, of the report itself, or of the findings of the bipartisan committee. If anybody's got any links, please pass them along. I sure wouldn't want to see the Senate have to go into a closed-door session again.

If It's Sunday . . .

It's time for another Frank Rich column. I'm late with this tonight because I've been having trouble accessing the Truthout site tonight. I've normally been linking to Truthout's reprint of Rich's Sunday comments because I like Truthout's one-stop shop for a lot of interesting progressive writing. I'm sorry for the tardiness of this post, but it's worth the wait. In "One War Lost, Another to Go," Rich looks at the growing dissatisfaction with the Iraq war and the calls to pull out and contrasts that with the more important War on Terrorism that's also been losing public confidence. Here's his point in a nutshell:

One hideous consequence of the White House's Big Lie - fusing the war of choice in Iraq with the war of necessity that began on 9/11 - is that the public, having rejected one, automatically rejects the other. That's already happening. The percentage of Americans who now regard fighting terrorism as a top national priority is either in the single or low double digits in every poll. Thus the tragic bottom line of the Bush catastrophe: the administration has at once increased the ranks of jihadists by turning Iraq into a new training ground and recruitment magnet while at the same time exhausting America's will and resources to confront that expanded threat.

We have arrived at "the worst of all possible worlds," in the words of Daniel Benjamin, Richard Clarke's former counterterrorism colleague, with whom I talked last week.

Can we thread the needle and keep up effective counterterrorism efforts while pulling out of the negative consequences of our Iraqi adventure?

More on Woodward

I'm still intrigued by the Woodward story. He wasn't writing about the whole Joe Wilson angle when he was told about Wilson's wife's status in the CIA, so if the mention was off the cuff, as he claims, I can see him not thinking much about it one way or another. But once the Novak column came out, though, you'd expect him to sit up and pay attention. He claims he didn't let Post executive editor Len Downie know because he was protecting his source. But you don't protect your source from your own editor, so what was he up to instead? I don't think he had any responsibility to write about the information or to tell the public anything, and he didn't need to come forward to Fitzgerald, once that investigation got under way, so I don't think he's done anything wrong there. Where he has gone wrong, though, has been in coming out so publicly against the Fitzgerald investigation without telling us he was involved. Last week, Atrios very thoughtfully gave us a number of examples of Woodward's public punditry on the subject here, here, here, here, and here.

Somehow, despite Woodward's desperate attempts to keep his involvement on the down low and his name out of the investigation, the rumor that he knew something started to spread. The New York Times called Woodward to ask him about it, Michael Isikoff asked him point blank about it on Larry King Live, where Woodward denied it. Also on that show, he even denied that he told Downie when Downie himself had heard the rumors.

While I think Woodward deserves the criticism he's been getting, I wonder if it's not been laid on a little thick. I suspect that this is due to his high profile in general and his work on Watergate in particular. We can't know the details of everything that happened in Watergate or the intentions of Woodward and Bernstein when they reported it, but whether they deserved it or not, they became the poster boys for crusading journalists. I think that put Woodward on a pedestal from which he has a long way to fall. His biggest sin in this whole affair is that he's clearly no longer on the side of getting the full story out, of finding the truth wherever it may lead. He's now placed himself on the side of stonewalling, of innuendo, of standing by while his sources smear their enemies unchallenged. He's not the idealistic reporter we once thought he was. And that's unforgivable.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

I'm Suffering a Technological Breakdown

Machines have stopped working for me. My computer has been getting slower and slower, but I haven't been able to find any viruses or spyware on it. From time to time, though not less than twice a day, it'll freeze for no apparent reason. As I was getting ready to write this piece, the computer wouldn't read any signals from the keyboard, so I had to reboot again, and it probably took me about an hour to get everything back the way I wanted it. On a separate but equally annoying note, the drivers (or whatever) on my computer have forgotten how to recognize my two CD-Rom drives. You have no idea how much that cuts down what I'm able to do.

On another front, my cell phone is just about dead. The microphone of the phone stopped working some time ago, so I have to use the earpiece, which wouldn't be so bad, except that the earpiece has shorts in it, so the sound will come in and out. Over the past few days, though, the phone has gotten worse. If I don't hold it tightly, the power goes out on it, so I'm reduced to leaving it off and checking it every hour or so for messages. Then, if I have a message, I'll clench the phone firmly in my hand and call that person back.

As you can probably tell, I haven't been having a great time in dealing with the tech in my life. Maybe tomorrow will be better.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Woodward Comes Clean

There have been a lot of fast-moving stories at the end of this week, and I just simply haven't been keeping pace. Of course, many of them are evolving and developing quickly, so what I would've said yesterday is not what I'd say today. I'll see what I can do over the weekend to add my two cents so that those readers who primarily pop in during the workweek will have a lot to catch up with.

First up is the newest Bob Woodward bombshell (or, to hear him tell it, nondescript yawn). Earlier this week, he was behind closed doors answering questions from Patrick Fitzgerald. What? Since when was he involved in the whole Joe Wilson imbroglio? Who knew? Apparently no one did--not even his editors. Woodward released his own statement on Tuesday, in which he said a Bush administration official had told him about Joe Wilson's wife before Bob Novak wrote his column and before Scooter Libby told Judy Miller. This official approached Fitzgerald to tell him about the conversation, and Woodward was subpoenaed as a result. Although the official came forward to the special prosecutor, Woodward claims he still has to keep the official's identity secret to the public. That's because the discussion was a "confidential background interview" for his book Plan of Attack and another on Bush's second term due out next year. Woodward claimed that the mention "seemed to me to be casual and offhand, and that it did not appear to me to be either classified or sensitive." And yet it's still confidential. Recently, Woodward told Larry King, "When the story comes out I'm quite confident we're going to find out that it started kind of as gossip, as chatter." Since when is gossip and chatter covered by confidentiality agreements? If I'm gossiping and say, "You didn't hear it from me, but . . . ," does that put me on background? If I say, "You really didn't hear this from me . . . ," does that become double super secret background?

So, we don't know who the official is (although a number of officials have come forward themselves or through a representative to deny it's them), and we don't know why he or she decided to open up to Fitzgerald all of a sudden. Woodward told Time magazine today that when he reminded his source that the source revealed Wilson's wife's status with the CIA before Scooter told Judy Miller, "My source said he or she had no alternative but to go to the prosecutor." Why would this person have kept quiet on the matter for more than two years and then, once it was mentioned, immediately want to come clean to Fitzgerald? My best guess is that the source was concerned about getting a perjury indictment to match Scooter's. Feel free to offer your own suggestions in Comments.

There are more twists and turns on this, but I should've started earlier in the evening. I'm too tired right now to do proper justice to the ins and outs, so I'm off to bed, and I'll pick it up again tomorrow.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

National Book Awards

Last night the National Book Foundation handed out the 2005 National Book Awards. Europe Central by William T. Vollmann took home the fiction award, while Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking won the award for nonfiction. Jeanne Birdsall's debut novel, The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy, snagged the award for young people's literature; and eight-time nominee W. S. Merwin won his first NBA for poetry with Migration: New and Selected Poems. You can get a handful of links to reviews of all the fiction and nonfiction nominees if you want to find out more. Not impressed? Then you'll enjoy this weekend's essay by A. O. Scott on the uselessness of such spectacles. Here's a snippet:

Or, to put it another way, the prizes, transparently trivial, implicitly corrupt and utterly detached from any meaningful notion of literary value, will be greeted with cynicism, derision and, if we're lucky, a burst of controversy. It will escape no one's attention - not even the winners' - that the very idea of handing out medals and cash for aesthetic and intellectual achievement is absurd, if not obscene. Furthermore, the selections will inevitably reflect the rottenness of the literary status quo, which is either hopelessly stodgy and out of touch, or else distracted by modish extraliterary considerations - hobbled, that is, either by conservative complacency or by political correctness.

Happy reading.

Alito on Church and State

Don at Article 19 also took a look at Alito's job application (I wrote about it on Tuesday), and he's got some questions of his own. Here's what Alito wrote twenty years ago:

In college, I developed a deep interest in constitutional law, motivated in large part by disagreement with Warren Court decisions, particularly in the areas of criminal procedure, the Establishment Clause, and reapportionment.

And here's Don:

I will leave it to others to wonder about Alito's problem with the one-man, one-vote principle established in the reapportionment decisions. But what were the Warren Court decisions with respect to the Establishment Clause?

In Engel v. Vitale (1962), the Court held by a 6-1 vote that school-sponsored prayer in public schools, even if basically voluntary and non-denominational, was unconstitutional.

Abington Township v. Schempp (1963) determined--with an 8-1 vote--that public schools were not the place or time for officially sanctioned and organized Bible reading. Here it was determined that to meet Establishment Clause criteria of neutrality, activities must have "secular purpose" and that its "primary effect" must neither promote nor inhibit a particular religion.

Exactly which of these does Judge Alito have a problem with? Would he like to keep school-sponsored prayer or Bible readings in public schools?

It appears that this document (PDF file) is offering a rich vein of inquiry for anyone willing to pursue it. Let's hope the Democrats, who slowly seem to be waking up after a long, long winter's slumber, have the wherewithal to ask the questions.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Art Brut

Last night British pop sensations Art Brut hit Chicago, and they provided a high-energy set full of fun and excitement. Their first single, last year's "Formed a Band" (which was present in spirit in my very first blog entry), was an attention-getting salvo, and I've been keeping my eye on them ever since. Two more singles followed, and finally an album. None of this is available domestically, though, but that's hardly a problem these days with the possibility of ordering off the Internet. Their sound is straight-ahead, almost punky (as opposed to the more new-wave influences of most of the hot new Brit bands), but what makes them distinctive is front man Eddie Argos. His declaiming, haranging song-speak is highly reminiscent of Mark E. Smith (and how many commentators have made that comparison before me?--it can't be helped, though, it's just that blatant), but his persona is much closer to Jarvis Cocker (and I'm not the first to make note of that, either). I'd be very happy to get my point across by doing nothing more than quoting lines from songs (which is the approach taken in the Pitchfork album review), displaying their archness and irony (notwithstanding Argos's protestations to the contrary) but demonstrating how they keep their sense of humor front and center. Yet, Art Brut is not the one-trick pony it could be. Despite the knowing detachment they exude, they can still convey adolescent yearning in "Emily Kane" and even pathos in "Rusted Guns of Milan."

Since they don't have a domestic record contract, it appears that they've put this US tour together without the aid of a major or even indie label, a mortgage company, or an investment firm. Is it a DIY international tour? I don't know, but more power to them if it is. Argos established a nice interaction with the audience. After leading off with "Formed a Band," Argos archly opened the floor for questions but seemed genuinely surprised when he actually got a couple. Chicago audiences aren't as jaded as those on the coasts, and they're often willing to play along. Although the songs could have inspired remoteness or detachment, Argos never let his rapport with the audience slip. He claimed the band is determined to remain shambolic (an adjective that started to annoy even Edwyn Collins when it continued to be applied to Orange Juice year after year) no matter how successful they got, and judging from last night's show, they've got nothing to worry about.

Opening the show were The Hot Machines, which consists of Chicago musicians Miss Alex White, Jered from the Ponys, and Matt from the Baseball Furies. They rarely play together anymore, what with their various other commitments, and I'm not sure what the future holds for them, but they gave us a blistering set full of power. Two guitars (no bass) and drums seemed to make more noise than most bands I've seen lately. It was nice to get the blood rushing.

The Art Brut tour is very brief. They had a travel day today, and then tomorrow night they play the first of two nights in LA to close it out. Will they be drinking Hennessey with Morrissey? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

What Will We Learn from the Alito Hearings?

From the look of things, not much. Samuel Alito has been working hard at being all things to all people, conservative enough so that the far right will accept him as willing to overturn Roe v. Wade, but moderate enough so that Dem senators will accept that he'd do no such thing. He seems to be quite personable, and the Dems appeared to be buying what he had to sell.

Common sense tells us that, since his appointment to the Supreme Court depends on his making the Senate happy, as much as was possible he'd tell them what they wanted to hear. But questions were starting to arise as to how far afield he might be willing to go. Alito owns hundreds of thousands of dollars of Vanguard mutual funds, and he told the Senate during his nomination hearings for the Court of Appeals that he'd recuse himself from any cases involving the company. A couple of weeks back, The Boston Globe reported that three years ago, Alito not only refused to withdraw from a case brought against Vanguard (he ruled in the company's favor), but he complained when the plaintiff had the gall to argue that he should. Similar stories started to come out about his not withdrawing from cases involving Smith Barney, where Alito also had an investment account, and his sister's law firm. When his defense consisted of little more than admitting that he probably shouldn't have made such a promise to the Senate in the first place, I figured I could cleverly point out that the guy will say what he needs to say to get confirmed and worry about the consequences later. To be honest, it was a pretty obvious conclusion, and I was going to rely on my readers' generosity to consider me astute for making it.

Well, now Alito has gone and blown the lid off that whole line of thought. His 1985 application for a position as Deputy Assistant Attorney General (PDF file) came out earlier today, and it makes for some interesting reading. Here's a snippet of the essay that accompanied the application:

Most recently, it has been an honor and source of personal satisfaction for me to serve in the office of the Solicitor General during President Reagan's administration and to help to advance legal positions in which I personally believe very strongly. I am particularly proud of my contributions in recent cases in which the government has argued in the Supreme Court that racial and ethnic quotas should not be allowed and that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion.

Pretty damning, no? Well, according to Alito, apparently not. His defense this time? He was just trying to get a job. And we all know you say what you need to so that will happen. So how can I possibly look clever by arguing that the guy would be willing to say whatever he had to and to lie to the Senate if necessary--that, in fact, he had lied to the Senate the last time he was up for nomination--and he just comes right out, shrugs his shoulders, and says, "Yeah, so what?" He brushed off Senators Feinstein and Kennedy with that response today, and at least Kennedy had the sense to ask, "Why shouldn't we consider that the answers you are giving today are an application for another job?"

So I guess the current Alito position on how he'd react to Roe and all the other various issues that might come before him on the Court is that the Senate should confirm his nomination and we'll all find out together.

Premature Judgment

We're only halfway through November. Monday was the 318th day of the year. We've got 47 days yet to go before 2005 is over. That's 12.88 percent of the year still ahead of us. More than one-eighth. It seems to me that it's a mite early to be making year-end lists and wrap ups. But that's exactly what Q magazine has done. Their Best of 2005 CD is out with the newest issue. It seems that the release of these CDs shifts around from year to year. I don't know that I've ever seen it prior to December before, although there was one odd year when it didn't show up until January. Since Q is a British magazine, it's possible that it didn't show up around here until some time in December because of shipping and customs delays. Perhaps it seems so early this year simply because shipping has become more efficient. But since the CD theoretically compiles the best material of the year but the actual year-end issue doesn't come out until next month, we don't really know how Q considers this stuff to stack up. Two years ago, the CD included tracks from two albums that didn't even make their list of best albums in the following issue.

Even though it seems far too early to know, Q must feel that 2005 is an excellent year for music. They've come up with two CDs full of best-of-the-year tracks. With each CD including fifteen tracks, that gives us a total of thirty songs. For various reasons, I haven't bought a lot of music this year, so much of this material is new to me. Many of the usual suspects are here, as well as some newcomers who are entirely expected--Franz, Doves, Bloc Party, Arcade Fire, Kaiser Chiefs, Antony & the Johnsons. Somehow Q always enjoys Stereophonics, so they're here again, as are long-AWOL performers such as Depeche Mode and The Go-Betweens. I'm not sure why Q feels that greatest hits albums and rereleases should be recognized here, but we've got a thirteen-year-old Prodigy song as part of the collection. Kirsty MacCall's best-of collection is represented, as well, but at least there we get a previously unreleased track. There are a few new people who I've either heard of but haven't actually heard, such as Athlete, The Magic Numbers, and M.I.A., or haven't even noticed before, such as Hard-Fi and KT Tunstall. I'll write more about the music after I've had a chance to listen to it for a while.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Falling and Laughing [UPDATED]

It's Monday, so that means new polls. Has Bush been able to turn his slide around? Is the Prez on the rebound? Apparently not. The newest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll gives Bush an all-time low approval rating of 37 percent. There are various other polls out there, and each one seems to plumb new depths for the Prez each week. I think some of us on the oopposite side of the political aisle look at these numbers positively because, during the run up to and beginning of the Iraq war, his numbers were not just immensely high, but they appeared to be bulletproof. Now it feels like the chickens have finally started to come home to roost. But what do Bush's new, low numbers mean? They're ridiculously low compared to the 90s where his numbers once existed, but I haven't really had an idea of how they rank historically.

Fortunately, Tim Grieve at Salon put these numbers into a historical context:

Another day, another round of bad poll numbers for the president: A new Newsweek poll has George W. Bush's approval rating down to 36 percent.

That's a record low for Bush's presidency, and it matches the worst number that Bill Clinton ever got. The good news for Bush? He's still a few ticks better off than his father was in 1992, and he's not quite in the territory that either Jimmy Carter or Richard Nixon occupied during their darkest days. Carter's approval rating hit 28 percent in the summer of 1979, and Nixon's bottomed out at 24 percent in August 1974.

Of course, Nixon resigned in August 1974. Bush still has 1,162 days to go.

So he ties Clinton, but he's still got a ways to go before experiencing Carter or Nixon levels. I wonder what Reagan's lowest rating was.

[UPDATE] In comments, Ron points out that Reagan's nadir was 35 percent. Via Media Matters, I found a chart with highs and lows for every president since Roosevelt (scroll down). Interestingly, Nixon's popularity never sunk as far as that of Harry Truman, who occupies the cellar at 22 percent.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Mile-High Blogging

I'm blogging from a shitty pay terminal in the Denver airport. It seems to have blocked Blogspot blogs, so I can't look at anything I write, but I had to pay for a minimum of twenty minutes of Internet access, so just for the hell of it, I figured I'd see if I could find today's Frank Rich column. I can't cut and paste the address, so let's all just pray I type in the link correctly. It wouldn't let me cut and paste, and I can't remember the title of the column, so I'm going to have to post this, go to the column itself, and then come back and add it.

Okay, that's done. For those searching on Technorati, the title is "'We Do Not Torture' and Other Funny Stories." I've got another two minutes of surfing time left, so I'd better post this and make the most of my time.

Steve Bissette's Blog

A recent thread at The Comics Journal message boards reminded me of something I'd intended to post quite a while ago but was blasted out of the way by Katrina. Swamp Thing artist extraordinaire Steve Bissette has started up his own blog. Known primarily for his art, Bissette can also be an incisive writer when commenting on comics issues or current events. One of the most attractive aspects of his work, whether art or prose, is the passion that is never very far away.

As I said, I'd initially intended to mention this when he started the blog at the end of August, but natural events sort of took over for a little while, and then I never came back to it. (I couldn't help but remember, though, that during the Alan Moore/Steve Bissette/John Totleben run, Swampy lived in the area near Houma, Louisiana, which took a big hit from Katrina. Not germane to anything, but it stayed in my mind when Katrina was bearing down on the area.) But that delay means now you've got a few months of intriguing writing to catch up on.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Ever-Expanding Product Line

I certainly understand that corporations need to broaden their appeal and diversify their products. The whole name of the game in corporate business is growth and expansion, and the fact that they can realistically expand only so far has nothing to do with their expectation that this quarter's bottom line should exceed last quarter's. So you get brand names expanding into products that don't initially make obvious sense. If you stumble over a new product from an old brand that does make sense, you wonder why no one had ever thought of it earlier.

As we approach the Christmas season, your grocer's dairy section has started to bring out its selection of egg nogs. I've got a long history of preparing homemade egg nog (a tradition started while spending Christmas as an exchange student in Japan where, for all their love of raw egg products, I couldn't find it for sale). My egg nog routinely gets the nod from self-proclaimed egg-nog haters, so I can be somewhat picky about store-bought nogs. But making egg nog is extremely time consuming and labor intensive, so I'm not entirely averse to picking up store-bought nogs if pressed.

Passing the dairy case the other day, I noticed a new Southern Comfort brand egg nog. But, of course! Why hasn't Southern Comfort jumped into the egg nog market sooner? Well, perhaps there's a reason. The new Southern Comfort egg nog is nonalcoholic. That's right, there's no Southern Comfort--or, in fact, any other kind of whiskey--in Southern Comfort egg nog. Someone please tell me what, exactly, is the point of that. Why would I ever want to buy a Southern Comfort product that didn't have whiskey in it? Maybe distilleries just aren't good at coming up with extended product lines. I know you can get nonalcoholic Jack Daniels barbecue sauce, and I've seen some distillery (I'm not sure which, but Jack Daniels, Southern Comfort, and Jim Beam are all possibilities) selling charcoal briquettes. What other non-whiskey products do these companies produce?

Friday, November 11, 2005

More on Cheney's Resume

In response to my post earlier this week on Dick Cheney's past exploits in the White House, a regular reader told me that I'd linked to the wrong article. I suggested he bring that up in the comments of that post (a function of this page that, although you may not have noticed, is being seriously neglected, folks--we can't have a conversation unless you TALK BACK!!!), but he preferred to have a brand new post devoted to his suggestion. Well, Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk is nothing if not accommodating.

A couple of years back, Laura Flanders took the 40th anniversary of LBJ's War on Poverty to examine the part Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld took in destroying it. Unfortunately, it's not a surprising story. Rumsfeld headed the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) under Richard Nixon, which was charged with coordinating poverty programs, and Cheney was his deputy. Flanders asserts that the two used surveillance tactics to undermine and attack community groups in what might have been a trial run of the Patriot Act. The article is worth a look and offers a glimpse at how some people never change. Feel free to talk about it below in comments, as well.


The commemoration was first called Armistice Day in honor of the signed armistice that ended World War I, the so-called "war to end all wars" (a task at which it failed miserably). As time went on, the United States broadened the day to include veterans of all wars. While Memorial Day remembers those who have given their lives for their country, Veterans Day commemorates those who served and survived, though not all of them in one piece.

Since we're in the middle of an active war, it's only natural that our attention should first go to those who have served and are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we should remember all those who have served. I don't know if any World War I veterans are still alive, but our attention should go back to them and every member of the Armed Forces who has served since. They've given us their service, so the least we can do is give them our respect. Perhaps, as Nico at Think Progress points out, Congressional Republicans can keep that in mind while they're preventing veterans service organizations from addressing a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald

Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early!

Just a few minutes left to note this anniversary, but today is the 30th anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior. The Gordon Lightfoot single came out the next year, but at the time, I'd assumed that it was about some sort of legend and had no idea it was chronicling a contemporary event. But it was that ballad that put the name Edmund Fitzgerald into our collective memory and ensures that this anniversary is noted beyond the shipping communities of the Great Lakes.

The Internet being what it is, you can read Lightfoot's page about the ship itself and its tragic end (along with links to midi versions of the song and its lyrics). You can also get a lot of information at S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald Online or the Fitzgerald page at the Shipwreck Museum.

Watch Your Back, Dover

I should've added this in to the previous post. Unbeknownst to voters in Dover, Pennsylvania, they may have tempted the wrath of God by choosing reason and rationality over superstition. Pat Robertson was laying down the law earlier today.

I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God, you just rejected him from your city.

And don’t wonder why he hasn’t helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I’m not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that’s the case, don’t ask for his help because he might not be there.

If Dover citizens get too concerned, maybe they can commiserate with residents of Orlando, still waiting after seven years for the natural disasters Robertson warned against after that city wasn't anti-gay enough for his liking back in 1998. Good luck, Dover!

New Trends in Intelligent Design

Keyboard problems kept me out of the blogging game last night and earlier today, so I'll try to do a little catching up. I still want to talk about Tuesday's election. In today's fast-moving environment, that seems like several news cycles ago, but not even 48 hours have passed since Wednesday morning apparently ushered in a whole new era for Democrats (at least if you read the lefty blogs).

It's unfortunate that the Kansas State Board of Education held their vote to allow the teaching of Intelligent Design in Kansas classrooms on Tuesday. Surrounded by all the election coverage, I initially misunderstood what had happened and assumed that the voters had spoken through a referendum of some sort. In fact, it may be just as well that I had my keyboard issues, because I was preparing a post wondering why Don at Article 19 and Amy Sullivan argued that the Dover, Pennsylvania, schoolboard election in which voters booted out eight members of the local board who'd actually introduced Intelligent Design into the community's ninth-grade science curriculum trumped the Kansas decision. The eight new Dover schoolboard members ran on an explicit anti-Intelligent Design platform, so although there were other issues involved in the election, it's hard not to read it as a strong pro-science, anti-superstition decision.

Perhaps the Kansas Board of Education has reason to be concerned, although they're certainly not acting like it. They even changed the definition of science as it relates to Kansas schools--instead of limiting itself to natural observation, science can now take the supernatural into account. In 1999, the Kansas board took evolution out of the science standards and was repudiated (although not as conclusively as that of the Dover board) at the polls, but that hasn't seemed to slow them down from regrouping to make another grab at the brass ring. Will Kansas voters be embarrassed enough to follow their own lead from six years ago and throw the bums out again? If anybody sees the answer in their crystal ball, let me know.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Special Times in California

The Midwest doesn't stay up late enough for final election results from the West Coast, so I had to wait until this morning to discover that all of Arnold's propositions had fallen to defeat. I wasn't following the details of all this closely, but my understanding is that Arnold realized he could never get his proposals through the Democratic legislature, so he'd just go "over their heads" to the people and sell it through the sheer power of his charisma. Under normal circumstances, there would have been no election in California yesterday, but because Arnold insisted on putting his initiatives in front of the people rather than through the legislature, California taxpayers spent $50 million to set one up. And all so they could tell Arnold he really shouldn't have bothered. He was calling this special election the "sequel" to the 2003 recall that swept him into office, but if that's the case, then that makes next year's true gubernatorial election the third in the series. If this was The Voters Strike Back, we can only guess what happens a year from now.

For the time being, though, I suppose we can put away those Constitutional amendments allowing foreign-born citizens to run for president. We won't be needing them anymore.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Democrats Triumph

It's an off-off-year election, so there's not been that much to pay attention to, but of the two governorships up for grabs, Virginia and New Jersey, Democrats took them both. Senator John Corzine won the New Jersey governor's race by almost 10 percentage points, defeating Doug Forrester in what devolved into a very nasty, personal contest. He'll name his own replacement to the Senate. Perhaps more interesting, though, was Lieutenant Governor Tim Kaine's victory in Virginia over Republican Jerry Kilgore. Kilgore had distanced himself from the Prez through most of the campaign and even went so far as to pass up an opportunity to appear with Bush a week-and-a-half ago. Somehow (and I would've loved to be in the room to find out exactly how this was decided), it was agreed that Bush would fly in on his way back from the PR bonanza of his Latin American summit for a "Victory Rally" (from the White House transcript: "Thanks for the kind introduction, 'Governor'"--whoops) last night. Did Bush's stunt hurt Kilgore? It certainly didn't help. By putting his prestige on the line for a losing candidate, Bush may have ended up wounding himself, too.

Although I had no rooting interest in the race beyond curiosity, it was nice to see how the St. Paul mayoral race worked out. Last year, Democratic Mayor Randy Kelly supported the reelection of the President over John Kerry, and this year he paid the price. Chris Coleman, another Democrat, unseated Kelly by a vote of more than two to one. Pre-election polling indicated that this was going to be a single-issue race and voters would make their decision in reaction to Kelly's endorsement last year. In what is more blatantly a referendum on the Prez than either of those governors' races, the people of St. Paul have spoken.

The Cheney Resume

Wow. The occasion of Scooter Libby's indictment seems to have caused a few people to look a bit more closely at Dick Cheney. I don't know if nowadays we're just not used to such hard-hitting journalism from what's become a lapdog liberal media, but James Carroll's "Deconstructing Cheney" in yesterday's Boston Globe (via Atrios) is about as harsh an attack as I'd expect to see in a mainstream paper. Setting out "to consider just how damaging the long public career of Richard Cheney has been to the United States," Carroll identifies misstep after malevolent misstep throughout Cheney's public life.

As Donald Rumsfeld's assistant in Nixon's Office of Economic Opportunity, he helped undermine antipoverty programs. Again working with Rumsfeld in the Ford White House, he "set out to destroy detente, the fragile new relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union." Of course, as secretary of defense for George H. W. Bush, he rose to an even better position for such shenanigans: "Dismissing detente as moral relativism, Cheney so believed in Cold War bipolarity that when it began to melt in the late 1980s, he tried to refreeze it." Here's Carroll's framing of the first Gulf War: "Against Cheney's own uniformed advisers (notably including Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell), he forged Washington's choice of violence over diplomacy."

And I haven't even mentioned what Carroll's got to say about Cheney's reign as vice president. Although it doesn't carry the legal heft of what Patrick Fitzgerald launched against Scooter a week and a half ago, James Carroll's moral indictment of Dick Cheney is far more ferocious.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Torturing Legality

It's hardly difficult to notice the disconnect between the Prez's flat statement this morning in Panama, "We do not torture," and Cheney's efforts to exempt the CIA from John McCain's antitorture amendment. It could easily be written off as rank hypocrisy (which would be so unlike this administration), but I think there's more to it.

Let's look at the whole quote, "Anything we do . . . to that end in this effort [to fight terrorism], any activity we conduct, is within the law. We do not torture." Bush's logic is clear--torture is against the law. The U.S. doesn't break the law in its antiterrorism efforts, so anything it does can't be defined as torture. Whatever acts the U.S. performs in fighting terror are legal and by definition, therefore, can't be torture.

I've only got one question in all this. If Cheney gets his exemption and torture by the CIA is not explicitly banned, does that mean it's legal? And if it's legal, by the Prez's logic, is it still be torture?

Wrong on Rich

Boy, my prediction yesterday that announcing where Sunday's Frank Rich column could be found wouldn't do much to affect traffic on this site couldn't have been further off the mark. As a result of that post, I had three times the traffic that I did either Friday or Saturday, and today's hits look like they'll eclipse Sunday's. I guess there still is a market for finding out where you can get the NYTimes subscription-based columnists for free.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Thrill Is Gone in Sunday Searching for Rich

After The New York Times went to its subscription-based policy for columnists, I'd find that this blog would get a number of hits whenever I'd post links to sites carrying Frank Rich's latest column for free. At first, there were various sites that had him, and each week I'd feature a link to a new source. For the past couple of weeks, Rich (and the other NYTimes columnists) have reliably been found at, and I think everybody's pretty much caught on to that. Sure enough, today's column, "The Mysterious Death of Pat Tillman," is posted there for all to see. It remains to be seen whether the Times will do anything to crack down, but Rich readers seem to have gotten the message. Last week, I don't believe I received any hits from people searching for Rich. Let's see what happens today.

Quick Hits

Here are a few things from the last few days that I've noticed but haven't had time or perhaps inclination to work into an official post.

I'm surprised that more hasn't been made of the Prez ordering aides to take ethics classes. Harriet Miers's office will be conducting the briefings, and they'll cover proper handling of classified material, as well. All staff is required to be there, which includes our pal Karl, though he might've benefitted more from them a couple of years ago. Maybe nobody's talking about it because it's such a blatant Band-Aid for a gaping wound and the jokes just write themselves anyway. I'm sure those of you reading this have already come up with a dozen better lines than I would have.

Over on the Supreme Court beat, Alito's getting the good press, but he's not doing so well among the public. Chris Bowers at MyDD points out that Gallup has Alito polling slightly behind Harriet Miers. Both of them poll significantly behind Roberts, so perhaps the Miers nom did lasting harm to the public's attitude about the Prez's judgment. AP/Ipsos is even worse. Only 38 percent of respondents support Alito's confirmation by the Senate; Miers had 41 percent.

By the way, don't forget to follow the nomination process on SCOTUSblog.

Speaking of Alito, John Aravosis points us to some intriguing writings from the nominee's past. As an undergrad at Princeton, Alito chaired a task force that produced a report concerned with government incursions against privacy. The Boston Globe played up the report's arguments to end discrimination against gays and decriminalize sodomy. In a separate post, Aravosis links to Campus Progress, another blog that's posted a copy of the task force report itself, and provides some excerpts of his own.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Don't Let Your November Go to Waste

I'm a bit slow off the mark here, but you may have noticed that it's November again. Not too much left of 2005, is there. What have you done this year? What have you accomplished? If you're like me, your answer is "Not as much as I wanted to."

But it's not too late! November is National Novel Writing Month. You've already lost a few days, but there's still enough time to sign up to write a novel. NaNoWriMo shoots for 50,000 words in thirty days (if you start today, you've got twenty-six days, but that's plenty), and it defines novel as "a lengthy work of fiction." That's all--if you end November with a work that's 50,000 words and fictional, you've won. If you start out but don't hit 50,000 words by the end of November--you've still won, because no matter how many words you end up with, it'll be a whole lot more than you have right now. But what if some of it's not very good? Actually, that's partly the point. Here's just a bit from NaNoWriMo:

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

In the writing process, you have to get the crap out of the way to make room for the good stuff. If you want to do more with the good stuff later, you're completely welcome to. At least all that crap will have gotten out of the way.

NaNoWriMo, run by Chris Baty, has been around for six years and, according to the FAQ, about 85,000 novels have been attempted, with more than 12,000 completed within the time frame.

You like the artistic challenge but you don't feel you have the literary bent to pull it off? Maybe you're more musical. Then record a solo album. Douglas Wolk has taken Baty's concept and invited musicians in. National Solo Album Month (NaSoAlMo) follows in the tradition of NaNoWriMo and encourages you to write and record a solo album while others are writing novels. The original target length to count as an album was 29:09 (the length of the first Ramones album), but since someone pointed out that Nick Drake's Pink Moon is 28:22, that target now has an asterisk. Sign up now!

So there you go. Two ways of accomplishing something not just in 2005 but by then end of the month. Get going. Time's a wastin'!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Backstairs at the White House

I didn't comment on it at the time, but a couple of weeks ago, Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff during his tenure as secretary of state, delivered a devastating critique of the Bush administration. He described a cabal between Cheney and Rumsfeld that "made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made," and went on to discuss other members of the administration and how things worked.

Well, he's back again. He spoke to Morning Edition yesterday and claimed that the policy of abusing detainees held by the military could be traced back to the vice president's office. Earlier today, Dan Froomkin expressed surprise that no one (aside from Agence France Presse) had picked up this story, but he predicted that other press outlets would be following it soon enough. How much this boils down to cause and effect I don't know, but a search of Google News shows he was right. That link brought less than fifty hits when I checked it just before typing these characters. Let's hope it's risen by the time you're reading. Froomkin also provides a partial transcript of the radio interview.

Speaking of big stories that I never addressed, Brent Scowcroft sounded off against the administration in last week's New Yorker. Go ahead and read it if you haven't seen it yet.

Who's Ticklish?

I heard an interesting report from BBC Radio on the study of tickling and what it's teaching scientists about the brain. Here's the blurb from the Outlook Website:

Can you tickle yourself? What is the purpose of tickling? Can we ever tickle ourselves to make ourselves laugh? Why does it sometimes hurt? The purpose of tickling has always been a bit of a scientific mystery but new research has thrown some light on this area. We discuss the phenomenon with two tickling experts and travel to South Africa to see what younger ticklers have to say about this.

You don't get the chance to hear tickling experts very often. Listen to the whole show here, but do it quickly, as it looks like it'll only be available for a few more days (the report on tickling starts at about 26:25 into the stream). One fascinating tidbit I learned is that schizophrenics can tickle themselves.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Eating (or Not) in LA

Comics and Hollywood bon vivant Mark Evanier has launched a new section on his Website, Great Los Angeles Restaurants That Ain't There No More. He hedges on the word great ("Well, maybe 'great' is the wrong word for some of these. These are places I've dined in the past that are now defunct. Some I miss, some I don't, some I miss for reasons other than the food.") and perhaps memorable might've been a better word, but it neither rings nor packs the punch of the single-syllable great.

We didn't move to LA until 1989, so most of these were already gone, but I ate in three or four of the twenty-four restaurants he mentions. He says Ship's Coffee Shops closed in the '80s, so there couldn't have been much overlap between me and it, but I definitely remember driving by, and I may actually have eaten at the ones in Santa Monica and at Olympic & La Cienega. (I have distinct memories of the two meals in question, but it's possible that I've just put them at the wrong locations.)

I was at Chasen's for a big tented party, so although I ate the food at the establishment, I didn't have the actual restaurant experience. Part of the Chasen's experience, though, was seeing movie stars, and there were movie stars at the tented party, so that much of it was authentic, at least.

At various times, we went to both Hamptons (and actually didn't live that far from the one in Toluca Lake). They didn't last for very long after we got to town, though. The burgers were good (although on another page, Evanier provides more information and argues that the burgers weren't as good by that point, which is something I wouldn't know; I liked them well enough, but if they'd previously been even better, I'm sorry I missed them), but the atmosphere was even better.

I went to Kelbo's, a Polynesian-type place, once. Francesca had worked nearby the restaurant and had occasion to go a few times, and after one visit, she regaled me with tales of flaming bowls of liquor (which remains a catch phrase in our house to this day). It wasn't necessarily clear what the drinks were (though they undoubtedly included rum), but they were brought to your table in a giant shell-shape bowl and lit afire. Or maybe they were set on fire at the bar and already flaming when they arrived. I wouldn't know, because by the time I visited, only a couple of weeks after Francesca had her experience--surely not any more than two months--Kelbo's had apparently changed owners, toned down (though not eliminated) the Polynesian theme, and taken flaming bowls of liquor off the menu. You couldn't even get a mug and a Bic lighter. And now, according to Mark Evanier, there's no Kelbo's at all. We've been keeping our eye out for the possibility of flaming bowls of liquor ever since--if anybody's got a line on an establishment that continues to serve them, please let me know.

Mark promises more remembrances of LA restaurants of yore to come, so I'll be checking in to see what comes down the pike (and find out if any of my favorites have bitten the dust).

Democrats--Threat or Menace?

Bill Frist presents us with a true J. Jonah Jameson choice in a poll on his PAC Web page. Who knows how long it will remain there, so I'll quote the question for you:

Senate Shutdown
Why do you think Democrats shut down the Senate yesterday?

Party of No Ideas
Party of No Principles
Party of No Hope
All of the Above

As of this writing, All of the Above had 69 percent of the vote. (Hat tip to Atrios.) I think we can rule out "Party of No Ideas" as an option, because as I said at the time, we can see they had at least one idea, and it seems to have been a pretty darn good one.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Doonesbury--The Lost Episodes

Like all cartoonists with daily strips, Garry Trudeau works a number of weeks ahead. For this week, he'd prepared a series on Harriet Miers's nomination to the Supreme Court. That's obviously irrelevant now, so the syndicate sent newspapers a week of reprints to run instead. But fear not--the Harriet Miers's strips haven't been suppressed, they haven't disappeared. You can read all of them on the Doonesbury site. Happy reading!

The True Tragedy of Yesterday's Democratic Action

Predictably, there was a lot written about the Harry Reid and the Democrats' muscle flexing yesterday. As always, Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing is a good place to start for an overview. But what really brought home the gravity of the situation was a comment that was reported in Dana Milbank's Washington Sketch:

"Republicans are outraged," Sen. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.) reported. "I just ate lunch, and it's upset my stomach."

Here's hoping the Republicans need some Alka-Seltzer more often.

The Payoff

Harry Reid's unconventional maneuver this afternoon seems to have gotten at least part of what he was after. Bill Frist agreed to a bipartisan committee of six senators to investigate why the Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Pat Roberts, hadn't yet issued the second part of a report on the lead-up to war promised over a year ago. The six senators are due to report back in two weeks.

For his part, Roberts says all the falderal is completely unnecessary. He's planning to have Intelligence Committee hearings throughout next week and promised that it wouldn't be long before he had that report out. In fact, as reported in Newsday:

"We've been ready since May," said Roberts, who blamed Democrats for bottling up the report by failing to wade through reams of documents necessary to complete the probe. "That's hard work and they flat don't want to do it," he added.

I'm not clear on why he needs hearings all next week if the report was ready in May, but at least he's established that the delay is all the Democrats' fault. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Senate Democrats Come Back to Life

Wow. Harry Reid and the Democrats are finally taking it to the Repubs in the Senate. Bush can try to change the subject away from the Iraq War and the failures of his administration, but for this afternoon, at least, Reid's changing it back.

It started with a speech he gave on the Senate floor (text via Raw Story) decrying the lies that led to war and Congress's refusal to exercise proper oversight.

This indictment raises very serious charges. It asserts this Administration engaged in actions that both harmed our national security and are morally repugnant.

The decision to place U.S. soldiers in harm’s way is the most significant responsibility the Constitution invests in the Congress. The Libby indictment provides a window into what this is really about: how the Administration manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to sell the war in Iraq and attempted to destroy those who dared to challenge its actions.

. . .

What has been the response of this Republican-controlled Congress to the Administration’s manipulation of intelligence that led to this protracted war in Iraq? Basically nothing. Did the Republican-controlled Congress carry out its constitutional obligations to conduct oversight? No. Did it support our troops and their families by providing them the answers to many important questions? No. Did it even attempt to force this Administration to answer the most basic questions about its behavior? No.

That's bold enough based on their recent performance and a refreshing change from the silent acquiescence we've been seeing from the Dems. But this was only the beginning. Reid forced the doors of the Senate closed so that they could talk about national security issues of prewar intelligence in confidence. Senate Rule XXI, invoked by Reid, demands that galleries be emptied and no one come in or out until the end of the session. John Aravosis watched the news coverage:

CNN just said that by invoking Rule 21, Reid just shut down the Senate, all 100 Senators are called to the Senate floor, they have to turn over their cell phones, blackberries, etc.

This all came out of the blue to Frist and the Repub leadership, who were upset, to say the least. Here he is courtesy of CNN:

The United States Senate has been hijacked by the Democratic leadership. They have no convictions, they have no principles, they have no ideas.

I've been disappointed by the Dems for a while, but this afternoon, they've at least got one idea, and it seems like a pretty good one. The Repubs can end the closed session with a majority vote, but as of this writing, CNN hasn't reported that they have.

No Trick, No Treat

I woke up this morning in hope, but I quickly discovered that the Prez's nomination of Alito to the Supreme Court was not just a Halloween prank. Damn.

Alito Info

Here's some info about Judge Samuel Alito from People for the American Way and the Alliance for Justice. It's early yet, so we'll probably get some meatier material, but this will do for a start.