Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: December 2005

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Another Music Delay

As I feared last night when I promised to write the year-end music post today, the vicissitudes of daily life (as well as imminent New Year's Eve festivities) have forced me to push the 2005 music wrap up to next year. I apologize for any inconvenience and disappointment this might cause. (Of course, I'd also be ready to put money on the fact that my publication of this post will be the last hit this blog registers until well into Sunday morning.) If anybody surfs by between now and midnight, have a fun and safe New Year's Eve!

Great Moments in Network News

Tonight's episode of the NBC Nightly News closed with what must've seemed like a great idea on paper. At the end of the show, they cut to a live shot of the Millennium Wheel, the focus of London's New Year's celebration, shortly before midnight local time. As you might expect, anticipation was heavy in the air as they counted down the remaining couple of minutes until 2006 began. And then--well, and then they ran credits and cut to a commercial, because everybody knows network shows don't go to the top of the hour, they end at :57 or :58 or something. I had to switch the channel over to a local PBS affiliate that showed BBC news to see the actual Millenium Wheel fireworks that ushered in the new year.

More Torture Memos

Former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray has initiated quite the holiday storm over in London. He left his post last year in a dust up over implicit UK and US involvement in Uzbeki torture and, as former government officials are wont to do, wrote a book about his experiences. When he ran the book by the British Foreign Office, they demanded that he delete all references to two British government documents (and return any copies that he had in his own possession, to boot). Murray's response: "Aaah, no" (or perhaps stronger words to that effect).

He posted the documents to his own web site, and they're devastating. Despite insistence to the contrary, both the US and the UK have been benefitting from Uzbeki torture and using information gleaned from it. Although Murray's site and the documents are currently online, they had apparently been suspiciously unavailable for a short time. If it goes down again, the documents are available at Daily Kos and various other sites around Lower Blogsylvania. For the time being, this is a bigger story in the UK than in the US (just like previous Brit torture memos), but there are a lot of implications for the Bush Administration and its attraction to torture. Look to the blogs to keep the story alive for the time being.

Friday, December 30, 2005

More Airport Blogging

I'm blogging again in an airport kiosk, stuck in Dulles Airport waiting for my 7:50 flight to Chicago that's been delayed until 10:15. I'd intended to post something after I got home tonight (the flight was due to land around 9:00 or so local time), but they're telling us now we can't get clearance to land until 11:38. So much for that plan.

As opposed to the last time I was in an airport, I can actually see my blog (although the "Censorship" post below was cut off after its title). There's not enough maneuverability to do much with links, though, so this is pretty much all I'm going to get to tonight. I've been remiss in my music blogging, though, and I've been getting Google hits for year-end albums and singles lists from NME, Q, MOJO, and even Uncut, so I'm planning to return to my much-delayed year-end music post tomorrow. (Of course, I've been planning to get back to it for quite some time now and something keeps coming up, but we'll see how it goes.)

Thursday, December 29, 2005


Another day heavy with family-related Christmas holiday activity and light on blogging. We return to Chicago tomorrow evening. John Aravosis has two new ads from the ACLU reminding us of the rule of law that seemed so damn important seven long years ago. Take a look.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Quick Hits

It's the end of a full day of Smithsonian browsing with a nine-year-old and two four-years-olds. They're well behaved, but I can't match their energy levels. Consequently, I don't have the wherewithal to post much other than links to a couple of intriguing stories.

Via Atrios, Amanda Marcotte at Pendagon has some interesting ideas about the essence of the culture wars. Kos points us to an Miami Herald editorial by Robert Steinback. There are too many good points to quote at length, so read the whole thing, but here's a snippet:

Is that America's highest goal -- preventing another terrorist attack? Are there no principles of law and liberty more important than this? Who would have remembered Patrick Henry had he written, "What's wrong with giving up a little liberty if it protects me from death?"

And Editor & Publisher notes something from Sunday's Meet the Press that I also caught but was too lazy to chase down on Christmas Day. Ted Koppel made the claim, and Tom Brokaw agreed, that had Bill Clinton been president during 9/11, he would've invaded Iraq, too. Clinton had no love lost on Saddam Hussein, but he also had the sense to recognize that Osama bin Laden had none, either. Given the ready agreement between the two, I can only assume that this is a basic assumption in the Washington corridors of power, but that only goes to show how removed from reality the powers that be truly are.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Hot Doug's

Here's a shout out to Chicago's (and possibly the world's) greatest Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium, Hot Doug's. I was last in there before Christmas but put off writing about it because I didn't want to tip off a Christmas gift. Proprietor Doug Sohn comes up with the most creative hot dogs and sausages you'll ever come across, making his main product out of whatever he's got handy--venison, alligator, wild boar, or even kangaroo, which is featured on their Specials page as of this writing.

One fun feature Doug includes on his Menu is celebrity names for the various dishes. One that's always intrigued me is the Steve Diggle, which was formerly the Howard Devoto. I'm a big fan of Devoto (though Diggle's no slouch, either) and always wondered if Doug had a specific reason for shouldering Howard aside. I asked him why the Devoto was now the Diggle, and he told me that he essentially named the dogs for his own enjoyment. When I asked if Pete Shelley ever got a turn, I tipped him that I knew the reference, and his face lit up. Although he has profiles of his hot dog stand from The New York Times, Chicago magazine, and even Punk Planet in his front window, he demonstrated particular pride in pulling out a recent issue of MOJO from behind the counter (it was the November issue with the Ramones on the cover) to show me a small write-up they'd done. He also pulled out an e-mail he'd received from Steve Diggle. Big times at the encased meat emporium.

Chicago readers (as well as those visiting the Chicagoland area) should drop by Hot Doug's for some of the best hot dogs and sausages to be found in the civilized world. But be sure to check the hours first, because they're not open evenings or Sundays.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Frank Rich for Boxing Day

The last family members arrived yesterday evening, so all the expected relatives are now in the D.C. area. We had a bit of opening Christmas gifts on the day itself, but we'll open most of our gifts and have a Christmas meal today, Boxing Day or St. Stephen's Day. Since we've now got a full contingent, Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk blogging will probably be a bit light for the next few days (though I'm still intending to post at least something new every day). I'd decided that I was only going to put up the one comics cover for Christmas day, but since Christmas came on Sunday, it coincided with a new Frank Rich column, so here's Rich a day late: "I Saw Jackie Mason Kissing Santa Claus," once again courtesy of donkey o.d. He's got good news--the War on Christmas is over, and Christmas won! Who'da thunk it?

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Eve

Last-minute shopping (and shopping today is last minute, shopping yesterday was kind of last minute, but anytime before that is nowhere near last minute; someone at work sent out an e-mail two-and-a-half or three weeks ago with suggestions for last-minute shoppers, and I deleted it immediately for irrelevance) and preparations took up most of the day today. Here in the Maryland suburbs of D.C., there didn't seem to be throngs of people shopping. Either that means that most everybody else is more organized than I am or retailers didn't have the bumper year they were hoping for. Supposedly the economy is taking major steps toward improvement, but it doesn't feel that way. Maybe the more well-to-do journalists are looking at their tax cuts and assuming that the benefits will trickle down to the rest of us (as they so often have in the past).

Most everybody's attention is anywhere but on the news, and I had to go looking to see if there were any developments worth noting. The New York Times had more on the NSA spying situation. Apparently the NSA got American telecommunications companies to secretly give them all kinds of data about telephone and Internet communications to sift through for interesting connections. The Bush Administration has tried this kind of thing before (the Times mentions the Pentagons Total Awareness System and the Department of Homeland Security's Capps program), but they've had to abandon it after a significant hue and cry. Will it happen again?

In another front of the war, the business magazine Barron's (like the Wall Street Journal, put out by Dow Jones), suggested Congress take a serious look at impeachment:

Willful disregard of a law is potentially an impeachable offense. It is at least as impeachable as having a sexual escapade under the Oval Office desk and lying about it later. The members of the House Judiciary Committee who staged the impeachment of President Clinton ought to be as outraged at this situation. They ought to investigate it, consider it carefully and report either a bill that would change the wiretap laws to suit the president or a bill of impeachment.

It is important to be clear that an impeachment case, if it comes to that, would not be about wiretapping, or about a possible Constitutional right not to be wiretapped. It would be about the power of Congress to set wiretapping rules by law, and it is about the obligation of the president to follow the rules in the Acts that he and his predecessors signed into law.
(quote via Atrios; non-subscription link via Article 19)

They may have made the statement on Christmas Eve, but Barron's is extremely influential, and this is a major story. I'll keep an eye on it to see if anything develops or it gets buried. I know which one the Bushies are hoping for.

Censorship Update

This is an experimental post. In my previous post, I wrote about Net Nanny, in its zeal to prevent me from stumbling into Internet porn, preventing me from visiting Slate, what I'd thought up to now was a perfectly respectable news and commentary site. But the word porn itself was censored in that post, replaced with four pound signs. I don't generally write about porn, so I never had the opportunity to see if Blogger would censor it, but I suspect this is my hotel's Net Nanny at work rather than Blogger. I'm not in the hotel's system at the moment--I'm visiting a friend of my brother--so we'll see whether we get the word porn or ####. If this post is littered with pound signs, I guess you already know. I'll be at the hotel later tonight using their wireless rather than their desktops, so I may give it another try. I assume Net Nanny has to be installed on the hard drive to censor what you can see, but one way or another, I'll find out.

UPDATE: Nope, no pound signs this time out. I went back in and took them out of the previous post, too.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Net Nanny

I'm posting (today only, I hope) from a public computer in a hotel accessible to any and all guests. Because the hotel doesn't know who's going to be surfing the net on the machine and how easily offended they might be, I guess it only makes sense to have some sort of blocking software activated. This computer, as I've discovered, uses Net Nanny to block potentially offensive sites. In the process of preventing me from looking at Internet porn, however, Net Nanny has also blocked me from seeing and some particular story at Think Progress, although when I just tried again to get the main site, it let me (because the browser crashed when I tried to pull up a PDF for my last post, I couldn't find the specific Think Progress page that was blocked). The message Net Nanny gives when it blocks a site is: "This area of the Internet is inappropriate for you to access." So if any of you are regular Slate or Think Progress readers, you might want to rethink the appropriateness of your activity.

Who to Believe on the NSA?

Once again, we've apparently got a difference of opinion about what the White House told Congress. Recently, the Bush Administration has argued that Congress had the same intelligence the White House did in the run up to the Iraq War, but we've discovered that this was not entirely true. Congress saw much of the same intelligence about weapons of mass destruction, but they weren't privy to the intelligence suggesting that the first intelligence couldn't be trusted. Now, we've got the White House claiming they ran the information regarding NSA spying past Congress and Congress didn't have a problem. Once again, not entirely true. In today's Washington Post, former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle wrote:

On the evening of Sept. 12, 2001, the White House proposed that Congress authorize the use of military force to "deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States." Believing the scope of this language was too broad and ill defined, Congress chose instead, on Sept. 14, to authorize "all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed or aided" the attacks of Sept. 11. With this language, Congress denied the president the more expansive authority he sought and insisted that his authority be used specifically against Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

Just before the Senate acted on this compromise resolution, the White House sought one last change. Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the administration sought to add the words "in the United States and" after "appropriate force" in the agreed-upon text. This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas -- where we all understood he wanted authority to act -- but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused.

. . .

The Bush administration now argues those powers were inherently contained in the resolution adopted by Congress -- but at the time, the administration clearly felt they weren't or it wouldn't have tried to insert the additional language.

Further, Jay Rockefeller, ranking minority member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, released a two-and-a-half-year-old letter (careful, PDF) he wrote to Dick Cheney expressing his concern over the project. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi requested a classified letter she wrote to the Bush Administration expressing similar concern be declassified.

Still, The New York Times, apparently trying to get back into the White House's good graces after blowing the whistle on the illegal NSA activity in the first place, has an article today backing up the administration's position by suggesting that Democrats pretty much didn't mind the program in the first place.

So which is it? Presumably the fuller story will ultimately come out, though most likely after the holidays. But in the meantime, when it comes to taking the administration at its word, we've learned that it's never a sucker bet to put your money down against it.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A Bit of This, a Bit of That

Today was a travel day, so I didn’t see much news. Before heading out to the airport, we heard all the various horror stories about lines backing up and how we should be there two hours early at the very least. Not wanting to jeopardize our chances of getting through security and safely on the plane, we complied with that advice. As we got out of the cab at O’Hare, we stepped into the terminal to a huge line--good thing we had two hours. I did a little bit more checking and discovered this line was for the Continental check-in desk. Fortunately, we weren’t flying Continental--our reservations were for Independence Air. There was no line at the Independence Air desk, so we got right in. Because everybody was on line for Continental, there was no one much at security, either, so that went quickly, too. We walked to our gate and were ready to go about one hour and fifty minutes before the flight was due to go out. Which is definitely better than being late, but that’s a lot of time to hang in an airport terminal. And it’s far better than having been stuck in that Continental line.

One thing I did see, though, was that the FISA court, which generally fell all over itself to give government officials seeking wiretaps the benefit of the doubt, is planning to hold a briefing on Bush’s little NSA flap. One of the judges, James Robertson, has already resigned from the court (he did so without comment, but the timing makes the cause and effect obvious), and the other judges want to know where they stand. Why have an overwhelmingly compliant court (they’ve apparently turned down a fraction of 1 percent of government requests) if you’re just going to ignore it? One of the judges anonymously made the same point to The Washington Post, suggesting that the court may decide to disband if they decided the Prez considered their contribution unnecessary. Bush has already asserted that he doesn’t need the FISA court’s authority to order wiretaps. Why keep wasting their time with this charade?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Are Churches at War with Christmas?

Since Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, a number of churches are scaling back or even canceling their services because of the conflict. I'm not sure if that's a victory or a defeat for Christmas. Certainly, it shows how significant and important Christmas is, making churches stop what they'd normally be doing in recognition of the holiday, but on the other hand . . .

Damming the Leaks

The Prez is mad about whoever leaked his secret illegal orders to spy on Americans at home, and who can blame him? I'd be pissed, too, if anybody came forward and showed how I broke the law, especially if I'd gotten away with it up to now. I didn't say Bush's reaction is justified, but it's certainly understandable.

In his Monday press conference, the Prez called the leak "shameful" and suggested that an internal investigation was already under way. This can't help but bring to mind that other leak investigation going on. It didn't get wide play because of everything else clogging up the news cycle, but last week Robert Novak (who you may remember from his column leaking Valerie Plame Wilson's status as a CIA operative), on his way out of CNN to move over to the friendlier climes of FOX News, had this to say on the matter:

I am confident the President knows who the source is. I would be amazed if he doesn't. So I think, don't bug me. Don't bug Bob Woodward. Bug the President as to whether he should reveal who the source is.

As I said, this didn't get the play it might've, and no one bugged the President about it at that news conference. But who knows. If he gets exercised enough over the NSA leak, he might decide to lead by example and come forward himself. No, I'm not betting the farm on it, but it's the Christmas holiday season--if we can't have hope now, when can we have it?

Science or No Science?

Just a quick note to point out yesterday's federal ruling against Intelligent Design in Dover, Pennsylvania, schools. U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled in the only way he reasonably could, but these days that's no reason to expect that he'd actually make that ruling. Intelligent Design is not scientific, he declared, and thus it has no place in the science classroom. Sounds fair enough to me.

Will supporters of teaching Intelligent Design disappear? I doubt it--they may go underground for a little while, but they'll be back. I think they've learned enough from their recent efforts that they'll continue to hide their true identity of Creationists, so whatever they come up with next will continue to be camouflaged.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Not Much of a Title to Speak Of

I just lost a post I was writing to finish off the day. Today was my last day at work for the year, so there was a lot I needed to tie up there so my projects wouldn't be left hanging. Consequently, I only got home about an hour ago and haven't had time to see what may have been going on today. My choices seem to be trying to replicate the meandering post I'd already written or just call it a day, go to bed, and try again in the morning. I fear it's no contest. I'm hoping to be able to spend a bit more time blogging over the next couple of weeks (yeah, I know, regular readers have heard that before), but we've also got holiday travel to work in, too. We'll see how things shake out. See you tomorrow.

Senate Democrats

A couple of Democratic senators have responded to the new revelations about the NSA.

Russ Feingold released a statement after Bush's radio address. Here's a snippet:

The President's shocking admission that he authorized the National Security Agency to spy on American citizens, without going to a court and in violation of the Constitution and laws passed by Congress, further demonstrates the urgent need for these protections. The President believes that he has the power to override the laws that Congress has passed. This is not how our democratic system of government works. The President does not get to pick and choose which laws he wants to follow. He is a president, not a king.

Barbara Boxer reported that on Sunday John Dean claimed Bush was the first president to admit to an impeachable offense. She wrote a letter to four unnamed presidential scholars asking for an opinion.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Another Bush Appearance

Last night he's addressing the nation from the Oval Office, and this morning he's holding a press conference. It almost looks like he's engaged in running the country. Or running scared. He was feisty in his press conference this morning as he tried to explain himself. Apparently, as paradoxical as it may sound, the Constitution itself gives him the power to subvert the Constitution:

Do I have the legal authority to do this [eavesdrop on American citizens without a court order]? And the answer is, absolutely. As I mentioned in my remarks, the legal authority is derived from the Constitution, as well as the authorization of force by the United States Congress.

It's like the Constitution has its very own uninstall key. It seems W is turning into the paradox president. On Friday, he told Jim Lehrer that whatever he and his administration did--in this case suspending civil liberties--they did to protect Americans' civil liberties.

Whoops--Here's Frank Rich

Uh oh. I was so busy running around to various places yesterday that I forgot to find and post a link to Frank Rich's latest column. Here it is, "Two Gay Cowboys Hit a Home Run," via the kind people at donkey o.d. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

How to Scam a Bar Table If You're a Working Actor

Last night we went to see our friend Jill in a nice little Christmas play about torture, murder, and Santa. It was a fun little story, and after the show we went with Jill for the traditional post-performance drink. It was a Saturday night, so the bar we went to was quite busy. After we were there for five or ten minutes, we lucked out and got a table when some people were moving into the restaurant. A little while later, one of the other actors from the show came over. Jill's back was to him, but he recognized us from being in the audience. He asked if we'd enjoyed the show (we told him we had), and then he tried to guilt us into giving him and his friends our table because they'd just finished working so hard to entertain us. At this point he noticed Jill and realized the jig was up, but she later told us that the scam had worked in the past. Apparently, audience members would give up their table and stand so the actors could sit down. There may be a pecking order in the theater, with the actors onstage and the audience sitting watching them in wonderment (theoretically, at least), but in the bar, we're all equal. We'd put our money down for the tickets, and he'd worked for us, which made us even in my book. Any debt either one of us owed the other was paid. If an actor tries to pull this on you after a show, stand up stay seated for your rights and make him get his own damn table.

Presidential Updates

The Prez was on TV tonight to tell us we're winning the war in Iraq. That's good to know, because my lying eyes were telling me otherwise. Since we're winning, he argued, it would be stupid for us to pull out, which makes sense in its own convoluted way. He's never actually defined what he means by victory, so it's always possible to define it in such a way that what we're seeing now is the U.S. winning.

On that other issue about which people are talking, the secret authorization to spy on American citizens within the United States, on Friday he told Jim Lehrer that he could neither confirm nor deny signing the order because talking about ongoing investigations could compromise them. But on Saturday that worry was set aside during his weekly radio address, in which Bush essentially said, "Yeah, I did it. Wanna make something of it?" I'm currently taking entries for a betting pool on how long it will take until he tells us that he is not a crook.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Riding on the City of New Orleans

I must just not be paying attention. It's been a few weeks since I looked at the upcoming concert schedule, so I knew it was possible that I could've missed a couple of things, but I would've liked to have thought that this Chicago date would've gotten more attention rather than me having to find out about it in The Washington Post ten days after the fact. Arlo Guthrie is riding on The City of New Orleans, his first time, from Chicago to New Orleans and holding fund-raising concerts along the way for that stricken city. He performed a kick-off show on December 5 at the Vic in Chicago (here's the Chicago Trib story I could've read if I'd been paying attention) and started the train trip the next day. He finishes at Tipitina's tonight in New Orleans. Various guests and visitors have joined him along the way--Cyril Neville's been accompanying him, and Willie Nelson is scheduled to join him tonight. I'm sure they won't be the only ones.

New Orleans and the fallout of Hurricane Katrina is something I've been avoiding writing about because our failure all around this catastrophe is so massive that I feel like a gnat buzzing around the issue without any light to shine on it (OK, the metaphor is strained--gnats don't often carry lights). But that's part of the problem, too. Because all the issues involved in the subject are just so big and hard to grapple with, waiting to get a better handhold actually adds to the indecision and avoidance of the whole thing in the first place.

In blogging about anything, I want to be sure I have some substance to add to a topic, but many of the major issues of the day are so huge and have so many facets that I feel I can never address them in the breadth they require. I keep a list of subjects I want to address, which continues to get longer and longer. Within five minutes of finishing a post, I inevitably remember three or four other points I'd intended to make but overlooked, but I just move on to the next subject. A number of my topics get dropped entirely, as a combination of too much time having passed (because, God knows, blogs have to be fresh) and other topics arising push them off the list. All of them deserve to be addressed, but I can't do them the justice I believe they require on my current schedule.

Oh well, I guess this is just typical blogger frustration, and it'll pass, I'm sure. In the meantime, back at the subject at hand, whatever you're doing to help the city of New Orleans and the Gulf area in general, do more. Whatever you're giving, give more. And speaking of subjects I'd intended to blog about but hadn't, the Tribune piece reports that Guthrie's kickoff show at the Vic was underwritten by Richard Pryor.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Timing Is Everything

A few days ago, Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold was considering a filibuster against the bill reauthorizing the Patriot Act. He was the only senator to vote against it the first time around, and he was hoping that he could get a few more people on his side this time. To be sure, it was clear that he wouldn't be alone, but whether he could sustain a filibuster was very much in doubt.

But then The New York Times broke a story it had been sitting on for a year. The President had, by executive order signed in 2002, allowed the National Security Agency to spy on American citizens. The NSA routinely carried out international spying, but domestic spying is a whole other matter. Despite the fact that "Administration officials are confident that existing safeguards are sufficient to protect the privacy and civil liberties of Americans," to question the legality of the situation is the least response one might have. The Washington Post followed up this morning, making the potential violations of law more explicit.

Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, said, . . . "This is as shocking a revelation as we have ever seen from the Bush administration. It is, I believe, the first time a president has authorized government agencies to violate a specific criminal prohibition and eavesdrop on Americans."

Caroline Fredrickson, director of the Washington legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union, said she is "dismayed" by the report.

"It's clear that the administration has been very willing to sacrifice civil liberties in its effort to exercise its authority on terrorism, to the extent that it authorizes criminal activity," Fredrickson said.

Apparently that was enough to sober up a few more senators and to keep the filibuster alive. Chuck Schumer said, "I went to bed undecided, but today's revelation that the government has listened in on thousands of phone conversations is shocking and has greatly influenced my vote." Frist could only get 52 senators to vote to end the filibuster when he needed 60.

This doesn't kill the reauthorization bill, it just delays the vote. One of the main Bush Administration arguments in favor of the Patriot Act was that we could trust them not to take advantage of its provisions to sidestep normal procedures. We've had plenty of evidence that the administration cannot always be taken at its word, but here's another reminder if we needed one (and plenty of us seem to). We'll have to wait and see what becomes of the renewed Patriot Act. We'll also have to be patient (though I hope not too patient) to see if some of the bipartisan anger and outrage we saw in Congress today will result in any actual oversight of the White House by the Republican legislature.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Ford Does the Right Thing

One story I've been following but not writing about is Ford's recent flap with the gay community. A couple of weeks ago, the American Family Association, led by long-time religious conservative media critic Donald Wildmon, announced that it would not be boycotting Ford, which it had previously criticized for advertising to the gay community and supporting gay rights and workplace diversity. The Advocate was first with the story, and they talked to a Ford representative who would not confirm an agreement with the AFA but certainly implied that was the case:

When first contacted, Ford spokesman Moran referred to the AFA statement, suggesting that the company had no disagreement with Wildmon's assertions. In a second conversation he confirmed that the company would no longer advertise Jaguar and Land Rover products in the gay media, saying that the decision was strictly "business."

John Aravosis was all over the situation, reporting on the developing story and organizing protests, e-mail and telephone campaigns, and other action against Ford. Browse through AMERICAblog over the past few days to see what he had going.

After meeting with representatives of the gay community on Monday, Ford released a letter yesterday--much more quickly than I'd've expected--repudiating the AFA's positions and reaffirming its commitment to diversity, nondiscrimination, and inclusiveness.

The AFA must've been caught off guard, because it took them about twenty-four hours to put a out a statement accusing Ford of reneging on its promise to cut its ties and advertising buys to the gay community. (Aravosis has that, too.) The AFA hasn't decided yet, but it just might go through with that threatened boycott, after all. I'm all for them boycotting. Ford has gone through a mudslide of bad PR over this in the past week or so and is trying to pull out of it, so now let's see what the AFA can bring on their side.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

More on Season's Greetings

The good news today is that we were supposed to get 3-5 inches of snow that just never developed. Less good news is that I'm coming up on a deadline at work, so I don't have as much time to spend writing here as I'd like. But I did see what seems in retrospect a fairly obvious take on this whole Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays deal. A column in today's Chicago Tribune takes a look at the etymologies of the words.

While the religious roots of "Christmas" are transparent -- the word began as a compound of "Christ's mass" -- it's less obvious [not that much less--Doug] that the word "holiday" has the word "holy" in it, as in "holy-day." It began in Old English as two words, "halig daeg" ("holy day") that were combined into one as early as 1,000 years ago, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

So it's all religious. Both sides of the "war" (though I've only been able to identify one side so far) are wishing others a happy (or merry) religious day. Or are they?

"Christmas," too, may soon (or already) function as a generic name--not to mention a commercial name for this season of spending--more than as a religious name, Pullum suggests." There is no hope of ever disguising the fact that the United States celebrates Christmas as a period of time off from work, exchanging of gifts, and rituals involving holly, ivy, mistletoe . . . tinsel, gifts, and a jolly white-bearded fat man wearing red," [Geoffrey] Pullum, [linguist and visiting scholar at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University] writes, adding, "And yes, for some people, a commemoration of the birth of a religious leader in Bethlehem."

Does Bill O'Reilly know about this?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Family Feud

Boy that must've been some blow-out at the Wallace household over Thanksgiving. What could've happened? And things seemed to be going to well. Only a month ago, 60 Minutes alum Mike Wallace was having a fabulous time being interviewed by his son Chris on FOX News (via Think Progress). If you don't click the link, trust me, it was a lovefest, particularly toward the end.

But then Mike gave an interesting interview to The Boston Globe. Progressives everywhere stood up and cheered at his first question and answer:

Q. President George W. Bush has declined to be interviewed by you. What would you ask him if you had the chance?

A. What in the world prepared you to be the commander in chief of the largest superpower in the world? In your background, Mr. President, you apparently were incurious. You didn't want to travel. You knew very little about the military. . . . The governor of Texas doesn't have the kind of power that some governors have. . . . Why do you think they nominated you? . . . Do you think that has anything to do with the fact that the country is so [expletive] up?

I can't say why (Was he doing his network's bidding? Did Mike not serve him enough cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving?), but Chris wasted no time in responding, hitting Boston's radio waves the next day (tip of the hat to AMERICAblog):

"Fox News Sunday" anchorman Chris Wallace says father Mike Wallace has "lost it" - after the legendary CBS newsman told the Boston Globe last week that the fact George Bush had been elected president shows America is "[expletive]-up."

"He's lost it. The man has lost it. What can I say," the younger Wallace lamented to WRKO Boston radio host Howie Carr on Friday.

"He's 87-years old and things have set in," the Fox anchor continued. "I mean, we're going to have a competence hearing pretty soon."

Given the opportunity to back off his remarks, to discount the whole thing as a joke, Wallace stood by his comments. I bet they're just counting down the days until Christmas the holidays. Maybe Mike can somehow unwrap the competence hearing under the tree.

Blog from the Capital

Our pal Don Byrd is expanding his blogging empire. His long-running Article 19 (it's nearing its 22-month anniversary--in blog years, that's a long time) is apparently becoming his vacation home as he turns pro and adds Blog from the Capital to his illustrious resume. Blog from the Capital is the official blog of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, an organization devoted to promoting religious freedom and the separation of church and state. It's supported by several Baptist denominations, though if you guessed Southern Baptists decided some time ago that they wanted nothing to do with such heresy, you'd be right. Other Baptists, however, recognize that if they have the right to believe and worship as they choose, so does everybody else. In more self-serving terms, they also recall their history, in which their Baptist forebears were at times persecuted by the state, and they want to protect themselves and others from such treatment. Believe it or not, the separation of church and state is a foundational Baptist belief, and the Baptist Joint Committee stays true to their traditions even if other Baptists do not.

Although Don's been putting up test posts for a little more than a month, the official launch was yesterday. He'll be keeping up with religious issues in the public sphere, so drop in from time to time.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Wilson/Plame Update

Patrick Fitzgerald, People magazine's sexiest special prosecutor alive (the issue came out in the run-up to Thanksgiving, and I meant to write about it then but allowed it to get lost amid the swirl of holiday activity), went back to the grand jury last week, spending three hours dealing with the Joe Wilson/Valerie Plame situation on Wednesday morning. The previous grand jury that handed down the indictment of Scooter Libby has adjourned, so this is the first time he met with the new group. It goes without saying that he's not going in to introduce himself and get to know them--he's not going to waste their time or his. He's also not going to bother telling them that his case doesn't seem to be working out. No, in the past few weeks he's talked to Bob Woodward, Robert Luskin (Rove's lawyer), Time magazine reporter Viveca Novak, and various other people, so he's connected some dots and gone in front of the grand jury to tell them about it. We don't know much about what's gone on, but Viveca Novak wrote about her own experience in this week's Time. While having drinks with Luskin, she passed on some magazine scuttlebutt--specifically that Rove talked to reporter Matt Cooper. It is believed (or maybe we actually know this, I'm not sure) that at one point, Rove denied talking to any reporter about Plame, but after discovering an e-mail that indicated differently, he changed his testimony. It appears that Novak's little revelation to Luskin was the ostensible trigger for that change in testimony, but it's not at all clear how the timing of their conversation and of Rove's evolving stories to the special prosecutor works out. Luskin may be throwing up a smokescreen, or it may turn out that this new testimony actually does vindicate Rove (don't hold your breath on that one, though).

It's worth reading Novak's account to get a refresher on the way journalism works in the capital. Following the lead of superstar newsman Bob Woodward, Novak didn't bother to tell her editors that she blabbed the identity of Cooper's source to not just anyone but to that source's lawyer. Don't forget, Cooper was facing jail time over this little secret, and yet it's valuable cocktail banter to the media cognoscenti. You're thinking, perhaps she told her editors after she discovered that the info was affecting Rove's testimony and thus the story itself. You might think so, but you'd be wrong. When Luskin told her the special prosecutor would likely want to talk with her? Not yet. When she hired a lawyer to accompany her on her prosecutorial interview? Don't be in a hurry. When she actually talked to the special prosecutor? You're jumping the gun. No, it was only when Fitzgerald actually told her that he wanted to talk to her under oath--something that could never remain a secret--that she made the leap to let her editors know she was stuck in the middle of the story that she was also covering. It should come as no surprise that she's currently on a mutually agreed-upon leave of absence from Time.


Why does Kentucky Fried Chicken use "Sweet Home Alabama" in its latest ad campaign? Have they officially changed their name to KFC now, so nobody is supposed to remember what those initials stood for? Do they run these ads all over the country, or is it just in the North, where they figure we all assume that the South is the South, and one part of it isn't really different from another?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Bush's Facade of Lies

I have to wonder if The New York Times's legal department sent a letter out to truthout, because their main page offers no links to Frank Rich or any other NYTimes columnist. Perhaps the Times finally got wise to truthout's posting of their "Select" columnists, who they so considerately hid behind a subscription curtain a few months ago. I looked around for a few minutes to see if there was some sort of explanation, but none could be found. I couldn't come up with any mention of it from other Websites or blogs, so this is entirely speculation on my part. We'll see if any of the Times columnists show up there again, but I wouldn't be putting money down on it.

Although truthout was a reliable source for Rich for quite some time, it was never the only free outlet, and his latest column, "It Takes a Potemkim Village," can be found in a number of places. I'm linking to Ed Strong, who seems to be one of the first bloggers to feature the column today. Rich examines the superstructure of lies that the Bush Administration, not constrained by the actual conditions on the ground and life as it truly as like those of us in the reality-based community, has built to insist that the U.S. is winning in Iraq, that the insurgency is in its last throes, and that, while we're at it, Brownie did a heck of a job.

NME's Best Of Lists

My schedule this holiday season has been completely thrown off. First we had the Q magazine Best-of-2005 CD available in the middle of November (which actually meant that it was imported from the UK more quickly than it has been in past years--it was available there from the beginning of November), but NME has brought out its Best-of lists at the beginning of December. It was a long-time tradition that these lists, identifying the best albums, singles, etc., of the year, appeared in the last issue of the year, which was generally a bonus-sized issue because the weekly added the issue that would come out between Christmas and New Year's Day into the one due out the week before Christmas. It often made it over to these shores about a week later, showing up in stores a couple of days after Christmas. The late, lamented Melody Maker published a similar issue, and together the magazines provided a one-two end-of-the-year musical punch. After Melody Maker ceased publication a few years ago, it's possible that NME sees the monthly British music mags, Q, Uncut (NME's "sister" publication), and perhaps MOJO to some extent, as its primary competition and has responded accordingly. Last year NME moved its list issue up by two weeks, and this year by a third week, so it hit the Brit newsstands before November had slipped into history. I hope they don't move it up even further in the future. Having it this early is disconcerting enough.

But, regardless of my feelings of ennui about having it at the wrong time of the year, what about the lists themselves? The Futureheads took top honors for Track of the Year with "Hounds of Love." Although I'm not sure it rates quite that highly, I like both the band and the song, so I don't have a big problem. The Futureheads themselves, though, must be feeling great, because last year NME ranked it as only the 13th best track of 2004. A rise of 12 positions from one year to the next is nothing to sneeze at. It did much better than other nearby tracks from last year's list. Kaiser Chiefs' "I Predict a Riot," 11th in 2004, fell to 18th on the 2005 list. But that's nothing next to the dive Graham Coxon's "Freaking Out" took. Coming in at 12 in 2004, it dropped all the way to 46 in 2005. It might as well not have shown up on the 2005 list at all. A fourth repeat track, "Banquet" by Bloc Party, rose from 40 in 2004 to 13 in 2005.

So how does a track (let alone four tracks) from last year make it on to this year's list? Ostensibly it's because it was rereleased, and both "I Predict a Riot" and "Banquet" were shown with different cover art than they had last year. But that argument only goes so far. Last year, NME changed the list from "Singles of the Year" to "Tracks of the Year" to acknowledge the difference in how we get our music. Through movies, TV shows, commercials, and especially Internet downloads, a song could become popular and influential without ever being released as a single, and now NME could include those songs as appropriate. In fact, "Hounds of Love" made the list last year as an album track, and the single wasn't released until 2005. I'm not for sure, but I think five of the fifty tracks on last year's list had not been released in the singles format at the time of that list (I don't believe any of this year's list sidestepped a singles release). But still, if something counted as a track for last year's purposes, new packaging shouldn't make it count as a new track this year. "Banquet" was originally released in April 2004, almost two years ago at this point. Even if it went largely unnoticed at the time (though it was certainly noticed by NME), a 2004 record is a 2004 record. We want to know what was best this year, not what was best in 2004 and is still really good in 2005. For 2006, maybe NME can shoot for less than 8 percent repeats from this year.

And we haven't even got to the album list yet. More later.

[UPDATE: Here's the next year-end music post.]

Saturday, December 10, 2005

So Much to Write About

No time to do it. I'd looked forward to the weekend to catch up on a bunch of posts I've been wanting to research and write over the past few days, but a combination of lots of activity around the holiday season (whatever holiday you may want to assume I'm pursuing) and a slow computer that keeps freezing up (I'm sorry to complain about that again, but I'm afraid I can't hold off getting a new system much longer) have conspired to keep me from the blogging time I'd hoped to have. I've lost posts I was writing about NME's Best of 2005 lists and Joe Lieberman's hardening defense of Bush in Iraq (I'd hoped to be a little bit ahead of the curve, but The Washington Post had its story this morning). And I've intended to talk about the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Montreal (which ended on a much happier note than we might've expected), Patrick Fitzgerald's recent activity before a new grand jury, and today we've got to remember Richard Pryor and Eugene McCarthy, as well. Perhaps tomorrow will be friendlier to blogging from these quarters, so we'll see what happens then. In the meantime, if you're looking for some interesting reading, take a gander at any of those folks over to the right.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Defending Christmas by Any Means Necessary

I have to admit that I don't understand this whole "war on Christmas" thing. Nobody's stopping anyone from celebrating Christmas. Why are some on the right so up in arms over the whole thing? Why would I want to wish a Jewish person a "Merry Christmas" any more than they would want to wish me a "Happy Hanukkah"? It makes sense that the White House would send out "Happy Holidays" cards because their card list is not directed specifically toward Christians, Jews, Muslims, or whoever. Should the administration separate their card list based on religion and send out several different cards depending on the recipient's faith?

And what exactly are the conservatives trying to defend? One of the big complaints I keep hearing is that some people are referring to Christmas trees as "holiday trees." Okay, I won't argue that this isn't happening, but how exactly is that denigrating Jesus Christ and his followers? Christmas trees come from a pagan tradition and have been coopted into the Christmas celebration. Doesn't the insistence that they be referred to as "Christmas trees" trivialize the actual reason for the season? And where do they come down on Santa Claus? Although he's sometimes referred to as "St. Nick," he's got nothing to do with Christianity, either. A few years ago there were the complaints (probably from these same people) that Christmas was becoming overly commercial. Now, they're embracing that same commercialism as long as we let them call it "Christmas."

I don't get it, but things are getting serious. The other day on his radio program, Bill O'Reilly laid down an ultimatum:

I am not going to let oppressive, totalitarian, anti-Christian forces in this country diminish and denigrate the holiday and the celebration. I am not going to let it happen. I'm gonna use all the power that I have on radio and television to bring horror into the world of people who are trying to do that. . . . There is no reason on this earth that all of us cannot celebrate a public holiday devoted to generosity, peace, and love together.

Willing to bring horror in the defense of generosity, peace, and love. Keep up the good work, Bill.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Wait Is Over

Remember a couple of weeks ago when the Republican House cut the budget for social programs but put off passing tax cuts because they worried the juxtaposition might be seen as unseemly? You may have wondered how long a waiting period is appropriate between cutting services for the needy and passing along tax breaks that allow the most well-off to hoard their riches. Well, it seems the magic number is two-and-a-half weeks. Over the past two days, the House has passed $94.5 billion of cuts over five years. For the record, that's more than twice as much as they saved cutting social programs.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Dems Show What They're Made Of

Yes, the Democrats are showing their stripes--unfortunately, in many cases those stripes seem to be yellow. After a few high-profile Dems argued that troops should leave Iraq as soon as possible, too many other Dems have become hugely concerned about watching their backs. They're worried that such positions on Iraq won't play, so they want to put as much room between themselves and those ideas as they possibly can.

It's not even a matter of whether immediate withdrawal is the best Iraq policy for the Democrats. But such a position opens discussion on the issue, which is something that's been sorely lacking in both the country and the Democratic Party. Worried Dems come off as concerned about nothing more than winning, and "whatever we need to do to win" is rarely a successful strategy. The main argument for John Kerry's candidacy last year was that he was "electable," and we all saw how that turned out. When it came time for actual ideas, he came up short and couldn't put together a winning campaign. Caution was the watchword, which was best exemplified by the campaign reaction to the Swift Boat Vets. (What reaction, you ask? Precisely.) In trying so strenuously not to offend anyone, they guarantee that they won't inspire anyone, either. The country may become so disillusioned with Bush and company that they do pass power back to the Dems, but a denatured Democratic Party won't be able to hold on to power and will get turned out just as quickly. The electorate may be willing to vote out the Repubs, but unless they have a reason to vote for Democrats, the donkey party can't keep Congress or the White House for long.

The minority Democratic Party has done little to offer opposition to the wrongheaded Bush agenda, and thus they've given us little to hold on to in expectation of what they'd do as a majority party. In that, they're not much different than Bush before he invaded Iraq. The Dems know who they want to get rid of, but we've got no idea of what happens when that target is gone.

Pearl Harbor

I've been noting anniversaries lately, so I might as well make mention of this one, as well. Sixty-four years ago today, Japan attacked the U.S. Fleet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. By the time the fourth anniversary of that tragedy rolled around, the United States and the Allied Forces had defeated the Japanese empire in the Pacific and Hitler's Nazi Germany in Europe. But it was a different world then . . .

National Geographic has a really sharp Pearl Harbor page. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Navy has some good online material, as well. You can start with their Pearl Harbor FAQ and check out some photos. Both pages have copious links to other material.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Liberalnesia--Not Just for Liberals Any More

In the run up to the war in Iraq, I learned a new word. An acquaintance of mine was distressed that progressives (aka libruls) were not concerned enough with going into Iraq to retaliate for the 9/11 attacks. (Never mind the fact that there was no reason to retaliate against Iraq in that situation--that was one of the points of disagreement in the argument in the first place.) In fact, he went so far as to suggest that liberals were so unconcerned with the 9/11 attacks that they had essentially forgotten about them. Liberalnesia, he called the phenomenon.

Well, it seems liberalnesia has struck again, this time in some of the oddest places. The Sept. 11 commission (which has officially been decommissioned) issued its final report yesterday, and in the words of former chair Thomas Kean, "More than four years after 9/11 ... people are not paying attention. God help us if we have another attack." It seems as though the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress, who campaigned last time as our last, best, and only hope for safety and security, has dropped the ball. They apparently have forgotten about fighting terrorism at home--at best they no longer care.

The excommission issued actual report card grades for the government's response to forty-one of the commission's previous recommendations. Almost half--nineteen--were Fs, Ds, or incompletes. Only one received a high grade--an A-minus for the government's "vigorous effort against terrorist financing."

Take a look at the entire report if you're so inclined. And demand more from your government.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The DeLay Trial Approaches

Tom DeLay's lawyers were in court today in Texas trying to have the charges of money laundering and general campaign malfeasance against him dropped. Judge Pat Priest set aside one charge of conspiracy but allowed other conspiracy and money-laundering charges to stand. DeLay, of course, has a crack team of lawyers at his disposal, who put their best arguments forward, insisting "that the Texas money laundering law does not apply to funds in the form of a check, just coins or paper money." Using that Texas common sense we've heard so much about, the judge ruled that money is money. There are still a number of hurdles to be cleared before an actual trial starts, but the money-laundering charge itself can carry a penalty of five years to life.

By the way, at the end of last week it was reported that the 2003 Texas Congressional redistricting plan that was the purpose of all this chicanery in the first place was rejected by Justice Department staff lawyers because it weakened minority voting rights protected by the Voting Rights Act. Fortunately for DeLay and the Repub majority in Congress, political appointees overruled the career Justice Department attorneys and approved the plan, allowing the Repubs to pick off Texas Democrats redistricted out of office. We'll have to wait until after the trial to ask DeLay if it was worth it.

The Bermuda Triangle

Today is the 60th anniversary of the loss of Flight 19 in the Bermuda Triangle, perhaps the most famous disappearance in that mysterious area of sea. The Bermuda Triangle was all the rage in the '70s, and various "explanations" were given for the disappearances of both planes and ships--UFO abductions, strange electro-magnetic fields, etc. Located off the southeastern coast of the United States, it overlaps the Sargasso Sea, a doldrums heavy with seaweed that was first reported by Columbus.

Flight 19 was a group of five planes that took off from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on a training flight piloted by one experienced flight instructor and four students (who were nonetheless qualified but less experienced pilots). The instructor seems to have gotten lost and believed himself to be south of the Florida peninsula when he was actually east. He thought that flying north and east would get him home, but it actually flew him further out to sea. Either that, or they flew into Close Encounters of the Third Kind. When a rescue plane also disappeared, that just added to the mystery.

The Bermuda Triangle was first named in an article in Argosy by Vincent Gaddis in February 1964 (I was hoping to find a copy of that online but came up empty) and was popularized as a supernatural mystery by John Wallace Spencer in Limbo of the Lost (which I read avidly more than thirty years ago) and Charles Berlitz in The Bermuda Triangle. It didn't take long, though, until all our scary-stories-around-the-campfire-fun was ruined by The Bermuda Triangle Mystery-Solved, in which University of Arizona librarian Larry Kusche took a no-nonsense approach to debunking the stories, which turned out to be not quite as mysterious as previously claimed. I guess he turned out to be pretty much right, though, at least judging from the fact that his book is still in print and the others are not (although a quick look in Barnes & Noble reflects a few new ones on the scene).

The U.S. Navy weighs in with FAQs on both the Bermuda Triangle and Flight 19. As you might expect, they have no time for paranormal speculation:

The Coast Guard is not impressed with supernatural explanations of disasters at sea. It has been their experience that the combined forces of nature and unpredictability of mankind outdo even the most far fetched science fiction many times each year.

If you are intrigued by unnatural implications of some of these disappearances, navigate around Although their home page is confusingly laid out, they've got some interesting pages on Columbus and the Sargasso Sea, various theories of what causes the phenomenon (if, indeed, there is a phenomenon), lists of aircraft and ships that have gone missing, and lots more. They even debunk the debunker.

And just for good measure, here are the lyrics to Blondie's "Bermuda Triangle Blues (Flight 45)."

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Rich on Woodward

Cruise on over to truthout for the latest NYTimes columns. Frank Rich today takes on Bob Woodward in "All the President's Flacks."

The reporter who with Carl Bernstein turned a "third-rate burglary" into a key for unlocking the true character of the Nixon White House still can't quite believe that a Washington leak story unworthy of his attention has somehow become the drip-drip-drip exposing the debacle of Iraq. "I don't know how this is about the buildup to the war, the Valerie Plame Wilson issue," he said on "Larry King Live" on the eve of the Scooter Libby indictment. Everyone else does. Largely because of the revelations prompted by the marathon Fitzgerald investigation, a majority of Americans now believe that the Bush administration deliberately misled the country into war. The case's consequences for journalism have been nearly as traumatic, and not just because of the subpoenas. The Wilson story has ruthlessly exposed the credulousness with which most (though not all) of the press bought and disseminated the White House line that any delay in invading Iraq would bring nuclear Armageddon.

While you're there, read about the Prez's "strategy for victory" from Maureen Dowd

(It's not a military strategy - classified or unclassified. It's political talking points - and not even good ones. Are we really supposed to believe that anybody, even the most deeply delusional Bush sycophant, believes the phrase "Our strategy is working"?),

Paul Krugman

(It's an embarrassing piece of work. Yet it's also an important test for the news media. The Bush administration has lost none of its confidence that it can get away with fuzzy math and fuzzy facts - that it won't be called to account for obvious efforts to mislead the public. It's up to journalists to prove that confidence wrong.),

and Bob Herbert

(We may not cut and run in Iraq, but with the G.O.P. sweating out next year's elections, the plans are already under way for American forces by the tens of thousands to cut and speed-walk toward the exits. Mr. Bush could have been honest about this yesterday, but he chose not to be.).

And before it scrolls off, you can still catch Dowd on Dick Cheney.

(How dare Murtha suggest that Cheney dodged and dodged and dodged and dodged and dodged the draft? Murtha thinks he knows about war just because he served in one and was a marine for 37 years? Vice started his own war. Now that's a credential!)

Happy reading!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Still Catching Up

As more and more people jump into the blogging game, it takes longer and longer to cover every blog I want to. I'm still working my way through everything I missed, which means that new things are being posted that I also haven't caught up to. Ah, the travails of modern life.

Although they're just about a week old at this point, Michael Giltz had a couple of good posts on AMERICAblog last Sunday morning that I only caught up with today. Following up a Thanksgiving post by John Aravosis about a club Sam Alito was involved with at Princeton that railed against women, blacks, Hispanics, gays, and handicapped people trying to expand their rights, Giltz pointed out that the group was so extreme even Bill Frist condemned it thirty years ago for giving a "distorted, narrow and hostile view of the university." Of course, in response to Alito's connection to the group, as they seem to whenever anything inconvenient pops up from Alito's past, his defenders encourage us to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Giltz also highlighted an interview with Ayad Allawi, prime minister in Iraq's first post-Saddam interim government, in The Observer in which Allawi suggests things aren't that different in Iraq than they were under Saddam.

'We are hearing about secret police, secret bunkers where people are being interrogated,' he added. 'A lot of Iraqis are being tortured or killed in the course of interrogations. We are even witnessing Sharia courts based on Islamic law that are trying people and executing them.'

Why exactly is it so important to stay the course, again?

Happiness on the Cell Phone Front

A little while ago, I complained about my cell phone breaking down. The mic wasn't working, so I had to use the earpiece, which had its own sorts. Then the phone would just shut down unless I clutched it tightly in my hand. Another problem that had occurred earlier was that the SIM card kept giving out. When I called the phone company about it, the operator suggested a high-tech solution, sticking a piece of paper on top of the SIM card to hold it in more tightly. That had pretty much taken care of the problem, so it wasn't foremost in my mind when I was ranting.

Well, that's all over now. No, I didn't get a new phone--I fixed the one I had. Last night, the SIM card was acting up again, so I took the battery out to take a look. What I found were the screws that should have been holding the case together were falling out of their sockets. These are tiny, tiny screws, so I had to find a tiny, tiny screwdriver, but once I did and tightened everything accordingly, my problems seemed to be solved. The phone won't turn off if I don't clutch it tightly together, the microphone works again, and I took the piece of paper out of the SIM card. So the phone seemed to be falling apart because it was literally falling apart. Talk about planned obsolescence. But for the time being, I love technology again.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Challenging Wikipedia--Updated

John Seigenthaler has a problem. He's had an illustrious career as a journalist, serving as editor and publisher of the Nashville Tennessean and helping to found USA Today. For a few years in the '60s, he worked as an administrative assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy. In 1991, he established the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center. Don't confuse him with his son, John Seigenthaler, Jr., of NBC News (who's taken to dropping the "Jr.").

Seigenthaler is prominent enough to rate a bio in Wikipedia. Unfortunately, very little of the information I just mentioned made it into the article. Instead, it included falsehoods such as this:

John Seigenthaler Sr. was the assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the early 1960's. For a brief time, he was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John, and his brother, Bobby. Nothing was ever proven.

The bio had other inaccuracies, which Seigenthaler wrote about in USA Today on Wednesday. Seigenthaler ultimately was able to get the libelous statements removed in October, but they'd been on the site since May (they'd also been on and, which pick up Wikipedia material wholesale). Seigenthaler also related his attempts to find the person responsible for what he called the "false, malicious" information, attempts which mostly have hit dead ends.

Online response to the editorial has been intriguing. Noting that Wikipedia is an open-source resource to which anyone can add information or corrections, a number of commenters, such as can be found here or here, take Seigenthaler to task for not simply quietly correcting the article or at least adding corrections as a comment, as if being implicated in a presidential assassination is equal to suffering a misspelled name or incorrect date. They also seem to think that Seigenthaler wants to sue someone. As it happens, he can sue to possibly find the identity of the writer, so if that's what he wants, there's nothing stopping him. My reading of what Seigenthaler would like to accomplish is just to hold responsible those who are responsible.

At CNET, Charles Cooper raises an interesting question:

On your ride home today, try pondering a future where Wikipedia's model of competing versions of the truth becomes the norm. Will the increasing influence of the wisdom of the crowd force us to rethink the nature of knowledge? With the proliferation of the Internet, more voices inevitably will become part of that conversation.

Whether it gets that far or not, with truth shifting depending on who was the most recent poster on a particular Webpage, the implication of this episode is that we're all responsible for keeping information about ourselves accurate, no matter where it appears or where it comes from. It won't be long before Googling yourself moves from the realms of curiosity and hubris to one of self defense.

UPDATE--Seigenthaler writes in more detail in Sunday's Tennessean, and The New York Times weighs in, as well.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Hurricane Wrap Up

Now that we've reached December, that means the 2005 hurricane season in the Atlantic is officially over (not that it prevents any new tropical storms from developing, it's just less likely). The last storm of the season, Tropical Storm Epsilon, is currently out in the middle of the ocean where it doesn't threaten any significant land masses. offers some final statistics of what was by far the worst hurricane season on record. Epsilon is the twenty-sixth named storm of the season, outdistancing the previous best of twenty-one in 1933. We also had thirteen hurricanes (1969 had twelve), three of them registering category 5 (1960 and 1961 each had two category 5s). Almost every hurricane record was shattered this year. Let's hope 2006 doesn't extend these records even further.

UPDATE--Epsilon reached hurricane force, so the total for 2005 is now fourteen hurricanes, two more than 1969's previous high. The storm is still in the middle of the ocean, though, and continues to pose no risk to land.

World AIDS Day

Today was World AIDS Day, so we had another opportunity to say, "Yes, this year we're really going to change and make an effort to address the problem of AIDS throughout the world!" The World Health Organization made such a promise two years ago in a program called "3 by 5." This set the target of providing 3 million people in less-developed countries with the anti-retroviral drugs they needed to fight AIDS by 2005. That would cover half of the estimated 6 million people who need the drugs and can't afford them. Guess what--the WHO fell short. At least Dr. Jim Yong Kim, who leads WHO's AIDS efforts, had the good manners to apologize. Improvements are being made, and a significantly larger number of people are receiving treatment today than they were in 2003, but there's still much more to do.

More people need to get effective treatment for AIDS, but more of an effort needs to go into AIDS prevention, as well. We're up over 40 million people living with HIV throughout the world. One reason that number is so large is that people are living longer with the virus, so we have fewer deaths to keep the stats low. But another reason is that the virus is spreading and new people become infected daily. If you're looking for some effective methods of educating people to prevent the spread of HIV, you could do worse than to take a look at Teaching AIDS over at the right of the screen.