Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: January 2006

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Alito Thoughts and How's That Union Doing?

The Alito votes are over. The filibuster was defeated yesterday 72-25, with 19 Democrats voting against it (if 13 of them had changed their vote--or even abstained--that would have been enough to maintain it). The nomination was approved today, 58-42. Fifteen Democrats switched their votes to vote against the nomination when that vote had lost its power to stop Alito. But was the filibuster attempt itself good or bad? Until we have greater hindsight to get a better idea, you can line up behind John Aravosis's explanation for why it was counterproductive or Jane Hamsher's vision of a brand new day.

As for Alito himself, he was quickly sworn in so he can appear with the rest of the Supremes in the House chamber for tonight's State of the Union. I wonder if Sandra Day O'Connor will be there, or if she's already retired back in Arizona.

Speaking of the SOTU, everybody's saying the big subject will be health policy, with the Prez hitting health savings accounts hard. Josh Marshall explains that the thought behind this initiative is that Americans have too much insurance. We're all over-insured. I don't suspect it will be hard for the Repubs to find consensus on that. Not hard at all. It might not be the consensus they're looking for, but I'm sure the country will develop widespread agreement on the subject one way or another.

Not Quite a Bank Holiday

If your employer doesn't give you the day off, you may not realize today is National Gorilla Suit Day. It's inspired by the work of long-time Mad magazine cartoonist Don Martin. Mark Evanier, who's been counting down towards today for weeks, explains. And a few days ago, he also told us how he'd like to see the day commemorated.


I went back to the list of the missing in Louisiana after Katrina and Rita with a stronger computer, and as of this afternoon, the total number named there is 3,262. Even with a more powerful processor and a faster connection, it still took several minutes to load completely. There's a part of me that hopes many of the people on the list have just had too much trouble accessing the page to make sure their name gets removed, but I understand that this is just wishful thinking. I'm sure they have plenty to do in Louisiana without listening to some semi-computer literate blogger, but if they could redo the page with a link to each letter in the alphabet rather than loading 3,262 names and addresses on a single page, they'd make it a useful site rather than a bottleneck.

I can't really grasp what that number means. Every name on that list is connected to other people who survived the storm and the flood--at least one person had to notice they were missing to add their name to the list, after all--and everyone in that extended network is affected by the disappearance. While each disappearance is probably a loss, a person who didn't survive (whether final proof is ever found or not), at last a few are there due to a misunderstanding of some sort. Perhaps families have been separated--everyone in a family may have survived, but some are in Chicago, some in Houston, some in Nashville, some in Charleston, South Carolina, and they don't know the location of each other. Maybe some really have been unable to access the Website to find that their names are on it. But I fear the vast majority of the people named on the lists truly didn't make it through, and the friends, relatives, or even acquaintances who added their names to the list may never know for sure one way or the other. If only half of these people were to be proved dead, it would more than double Katrina's current death toll.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Oh, Manchester, So Much to Answer For

This has to be one of the oddest things I've seen in a while. The BBC is celebrating Easter in Manchester with a pop star Passion Play. They're recreating the Passion story through the streets of the city as a musical featuring songs and stars from Manchester bands. According to The Guardian, songs will include Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (sung during the Last Supper), New Order's "Blue Monday" (a duet between Jesus and Judas), the Buzzcocks' "Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)?" (sung by Mary Magdalene--duh!), the Smiths' "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" (by Jesus under the Roman whip), and Oasis's "Wonderwall" (Jesus and Pontius Pilate). Although producers are keeping most of the performers close to their chest for now, they've revealed the involvement of Ian Brown of the Stone Roses and Bez from Happy Mondays (although we're not sure what else he might be up for, there's no question that Bez will be dancing and shaking his maracas behind Jesus as he drags his cross to Calvary). The climax to the evening will be a resurrected Christ soloing on the roof of Manchester's town hall. The song he'll be singing is still a secret, but I'd be willing to put a wager down on the Roses' "I Am the Resurrection," if I could find anybody clueless enough to bet against it.

Canada Loses Another Little Piece of Itself

On Friday, Canada's (and North America's) oldest retailer, Hudson's Bay Co., was sold to South Carolina billionaire Jerry Zucker. Five years ago, George Gillette, a Wisconsin businessman, acquired the Montreal Canadiens. Just last year, Molson Brewery merged with Coors (Coors!). More than ever, especially since even the Chinese communists have embraced capitalism, the world's mantra is "Business is business" and "Money talks," but there's just something sad about a country's symbols emigrating to other lands. Strictly speaking, no one's talking about removing any of these three organizations or businesses from Canada, but if ownership goes, control goes. Perhaps the strongest tie any of these entities has to Canada is tradition, but without local control, there's much less keeping that tradition in place. The feeling of loss and tragedy was by no means as great as it would be for any of these iconic names, but it didn't take much for the Montreal Expos to move south of the border and ultimately set up shop in Washington. Other foreign-owned Canadian brands include Seagram, Tim Hortons, Labatt Breweries, and Laura Secord.

Hudson's Bay Co. calls itself "Canada's merchants," and I guess it still can, because the company is continuing to sell to Canada. But it is no longer of Canada.

Then again, Eric Reguly of The Globe and Mail argues that, without a massive retooling, Hudson's Bay Co. is on its way down the drain anyway and Zucker's wasting his money. I guess that's not the happy ending we all dream about, either.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Koppel Talks TV News

If you're looking for Frank Rich's column this week, you ain't gonna find it here. And you won't find it anywhere else, either. After his piece last week, he's taken some time off to work on a book. But in his place this morning, The New York Times is offering Ted Koppel, recently retired from ABC News. Alas, Koppel has literally stepped into Rich's shoes, right down to being hidden behind the Times's subscription-fee wall. Fortunately for us and unfortunately for the Times, of course, that wall hasn't proven to be terribly effective, so as Frank Rich has been week in and week out, Koppel can be found for free. We're getting him this week from to them for making him available.

Koppel doesn't really tell us anything we don't know, but it's nice to hear from an insider.

The accusation that television news has a political agenda misses the point. Right now, the main agenda is to give people what they want. It is not partisanship but profitability that shapes what you see.

Most particularly on cable news, a calculated subjectivity has, indeed, displaced the old-fashioned goal of conveying the news dispassionately. But that, too, has less to do with partisan politics than simple capitalism. Thus, one cable network experiments with the subjectivity of tender engagement: "I care and therefore you should care." Another opts for chest-thumping certitude: "I know and therefore you should care."

Even Fox News's product has less to do with ideology and more to do with changing business models. Fox has succeeded financially because it tapped into a deep, rich vein of unfulfilled yearning among conservative American television viewers, but it created programming to satisfy the market, not the other way around. CNN, meanwhile, finds itself largely outmaneuvered, unwilling to accept the label of liberal alternative, experimenting instead with a form of journalism that stresses empathy over detachment.

Athough the networks seem to be bleeding viewers and influence, Koppel points out that this view of the situtation might not be completely accurate.

What is, ultimately, most confusing about the behavior of the big three networks is why they ever allowed themselves to be drawn onto a battlefield that so favors their cable competitors. At almost any time, the audience of a single network news program on just one broadcast network is greater than the combined audiences of CNN, Fox and MSNBC.

Reaching across the entire spectrum of American television viewers is precisely the broadcast networks' greatest strength. By focusing only on key demographics, by choosing to ignore their total viewership, they have surrendered their greatest advantage.

Networks running scared is not exactly breaking news, but it's still interesting to note that, although network influence is waning, for the time being, anyway, it remains far more powerful than its cable competitors. If the nets would just try to regroup themselves and play to their own advantages, they could plot out their own future success rather than simply react to outside forces.

3,200 +

Five months ago, Hurricane Katrina was in New Orleans, and we were waiting to see just how much destruction it would cause. By now that destruction has been well documented, but if you want a reminder, you can check out special sections in both The New York Times and The Washington Post (and take special note of today's Post editorial "New Orleans Betrayed").

If you see photos of the devastation, it looks like one of those post-apocalyptic movies from the '70s or '80s. You might get a vague idea of what it's like to live in that area and have to rebuild your life from almost nothing. But I came across a fact in the last couple of days (that I missed when it was originally reported a week and a half ago) that's brought it home to me in a much more dramatic way. As of last week, there were still more than 3,200 people still missing in Louisiana after Katrina and Rita. 3,200. The AP story points out, "Some of those still listed as missing likely have been found already by relatives but the center hasn't been notified of their status, the call center said. Others may not want to be found because of criminal or legal problems." But some are still probably in the rubble of destroyed houses and buildings that has still not been thoroughly searched.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals has a site on the subject, including a link to a complete list of the missing (that page was too big for my home computer to handle, and I couldn't get all the information to load--I'll try it again tomorrow with a stronger computer).

The personal devastation that list represents is overwhelming to me and brings home the gravity of what happened and is still happening on the Gulf Coast. Our reaction as a nation so far is disgraceful. I've thought that I've had a reasonable intellectual grasp of the situation, but this just reminds me that emotionally, I have no idea.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Stacked Media Deck

In following up on the second paragraph in my post yesterday about the filibuster, I should mention this essay from Peter Daou examining just why the Democrats have such a hard time of getting their point across. If you read across the blogiverse, you've probably already come across it, but in case you haven't, it's worth taking a look. In short, Daou says it's the media's fault--OK, I know that's an easy target, but he takes the time to explain why, and his argument is compelling.

Talking about the same thing, but in response to a specific column on Wednesday from Maureen Dowd (which is hidden behind The New York Times' subscription curtain but, through the magic of the Internet, is available here through the courtesy of The Era: Outside the Lines) is Reed Hundt at TPMCafe. Dowd's column was decent enough, but the comment that caught Hundt's ire was:

As the White House drives its truckload of lies around the country, it becomes ever clearer that Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Al Gore are just not the right people to respond to the administration's national security scare-a-thon.

Hundt says Dowd and her brethren in the national media are to blame for that litany of "ineffective Democrats." He's angry and goes on at length (though he does it well, so the whole thing's still a good read), but here's the essence of his argument:

In its way, this sorry tale resembles that of many other erstwhile liberals in the mainstream media who, when invited to the never-ending Washington cocktail party, have chosen to smile obligingly at the contemptible remarks made about progressives rather than to express repugnance for the viciousness. Ms Dowd is famously shy in person, they say, but in writing she's laughing it up at the bar with the rest of the crowd. The original movie version was Gentlemen's Agreement, starring Gregory Peck.

Hundt and Daou provide a potent one-two punch against baseless assumptions about Democrats and progressives that keep popping up throughout the media. If you can't recognize it and call it for what it is, you can't fight it.

And while we're sneaking behind the NYTimes pay-to-read wall, take a look at Bob Herbert's Thursday column, also available courtesy of The Era. If you liked Wednesday's link to Harold Meyerson's "Bush the Incompetent," you'll love "A President Who Can Do No Right."

Friday, January 27, 2006

The 2006 Bloggies

If you haven't already, go take a look at the nominations for this year's Bloggie Awards. As I'm sure you've already figured out, these are awards for achievement in blogging. The nominations are narrowed down by a select committee, but the finalists in 30 categories are voted on by the general public. The vast majority of blogs nominated (the categories cover location, subject, design, etc.) are completely new to me--in taking a quick count through the nominations, I think there are only 15 or 20 with which I'm familiar, so there's an awful lot to explore. Go wander through and then vote for your favorites. Voting is open through the end of the month.

To Filibuster or Not to Filibuster

I was all ready to write a post about supporting a filibuster against Alito--there's not much point in holding on to it in case someone really conservative gets nominated for the next vacancy. While the Bushies never fail to go farther than I expect thy can get away with, I think Alito's plenty bad all by himself. His credentials as a jurist may be fine, but his credentials as an ideologue more than disqualify him for a seat on the nation's highest court. He's written against a woman's right to an abortion (although he also essentially told us to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, so maybe he's changed his mind), and his rulings support expansive executive and state power. He also strongly implied that, in the past at least, he's been more than willing to say whatever he needs to in order to land a position he wants, so we can't necessarily trust anything he's had to say. He's broken promises to Congress before, so what's a little white lie about the right to privacy among friends?

No, I've got no problem with the idea of using the filibuster to prevent him from joining the court. But then I read a post by John Aravosis, in which he argues that a filibuster without a strong campaign behind it will be counterproductive. I've already complained about the Democrats' neglect in preparing the groundwork for effective opposition to Alito. The Democrats don't seem to have a clue on how to go about being an opposition party. Harry Reid has some good ideas from time to time, but he hasn't been successful in organizing a consistent message or in rallying the troops. But it doesn't end with Reid. John Kerry's supposedly spearheading the current effort for a filibuster, and in a diary at Daily Kos, he tells us why. Unfortunately, he also tells us that he and Ted Kennedy have to do more than "just preach to our own choir." They're so insular up there on Capital Hill now that they apparently believe writing on Daily Kos is getting them beyond the choir.

Still, Alito will take us backwards, not just on abortion but on a wide variety of rights that we've come to take for granted. An attempt to stop his nomination, even through a filibuster that's destined to fail, is a worthy goal. Even if it doesn't pay in the short term, who knows what it can deliver down the road. If Alito turns out to be everything we fear, perhaps in 2008 (or even 2006, if he's really bad) voters will remember who put up a fight to stop him. I say, let's mount the filibuster. And if Dems can get the votes they need and Frist pulls out the "nuclear option," maybe the Repubs will miss having the filibuster at their disposal when they're in the minority again.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hard-Fi (and a Question)

I went out a couple of nights ago to see Hard-Fi, a new band from the outskirts of London. I'd heard their song "Tied Up Too Tight" on the Q year-end CD and liked it, so I figured I'd give them a try. Although their album is available here on import (at what seem to be particularly high prices, by the way), it won't be available as a domestic until March. They had a real Clash-during-a-dub-phase thing going on (think "Armagideon Time," "Bankrobber," much of Sandanista!), so I guess I can't hold it against frontman Richard Archer for doing his best Joe Strummer. Although they claim the Specials and Joy Division as influences, as well, those were harder to spot at the show. Their energy was high, the songs were decent (though not incredibly catchy--I can't bring anything but "Tied Up Too Tight" to mind at the moment), and it was a fun show. I'm looking forward to the album. If I can find it here, I may even pick up their DIY first run-through of the album on import.

But I've got a question about what's acceptable when playing live these days. Computers make it easier than ever to reproduce sounds manufactured elsewhere, so where's the line on what's appropriate and what's not at a concert? There are four members of Hard-Fi (only three of whom are touring the States), and they all seemed to actually be singing and playing the guitars, bass, drums, and melodica. But their music also includes keyboards and synths, and there were no keyboards anywhere in evidence. The sounds seemed to have been reproduced by a roadie on a soundboard at the side of the stage (although I'm assuming that the actual live mix went through the normal soundboard at the back of the room). Performers get criticized for using taped or augmented vocals all the time (for a little while, it even looked like Ashley Simpson's whole career might be taken down by her Saturday Night Live tape faux pas), but what's the story on reproducing electronic sounds? If you've got recordings in your computer, do you have to be a full-fledged member of the band to hit Alt-Control-G or whatever at the right moment on stage? Or do we have an ethos in which the "organic" sounds should be reproduced live but the "inorganic" electronic instrumentation doesn't matter?

I'm not intending to single out Hard-Fi for this question, it was just their show that brought it to mind. I imagine this applies to anybody who uses a synth in live shows, which I suspect is pretty much everybody nowadays. Even a boy and his acoustic guitar can get sidetracked through a phase shifter.

White House Flip-Flopping on NSA Surveillance

Glenn Greenwald is quickly becoming a must-read stop on the daily blog rounds. Yesterday I didn't get the chance to mention a post Greenwald wrote on Tuesday that could blow the whole NSA spying scandal wide open. In fact, Greenwald's new information is so explosive that the Washington Post and the LA Times each picked it up this morning.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales made one of the first comments about the secret NSA surveillance when the program was revealed late last year. In a self-contradictory statement at a December 19 press briefing, he said that the White House believed Congress had given the White House authority to conduct this kind of surveillance around the edges of FISA but that Congress would be very unlikely to change the FISA law to reflect that.

We believe Congress has authorized this kind of surveillance. We have had discussions with Congress in the past -- certain members of Congress -- as to whether or not FISA could be amended to allow us to adequately deal with this kind of threat, and we were advised that that would be difficult, if not impossible.

Apparently it's not quite so clear cut. Greenwald points out that in June 2002, Senator Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) introduced a bill to amend FISA to do just that. This amendment wouldn't have given the NSA the same free reign to set up surveillance that it's since assumed for itself, but it would've expanded the surveillance allowable under FISA. Given what we now know, surely the White House would've jumped at the chance to support this bill. But did they? No. The Justice Department declined to support the bill for two reasons: The current FISA requirements were not causing them any problems in getting the warrants they needed, and the amendment was quite possibly unconstitutional anyway.

So far, at least in the two newspaper articles linked above, the administration has not provided a coherent response to the situation. But an anonymous source in the LA Times piece suggests that the White House may have opposed the DeWine bill because it could've shed light on the secret NSA surveillance already underway:

There was a conscious choice not to have a public discussion about it. It could have exposed the program. This was a military defense intelligence program.

Thanks to Glenn Greenwald for bringing this to light in the first place. Surely more will be developing. We'll keep our eyes open.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Another Warning Ignored

So, according to documents released yesterday by Senate investigators, the White House received advance warning of the devastation in store for New Orleans as Katrina approached. A Homeland Security Department report predicted that the city faced massive flooding and the dislocation of hundreds of thousands of residents. The government could've made preliminary arrangements to respond to the impending tragedy, could've put resources into place to move at the first available opportunity. Could've but didn't. Instead, they thought it was better to wait and see what would happen and then claim ignorance--"How were we supposed to know that the levees would break?" We now know the answer to that question is, "By listening to the experts who told you all about it."

This is oddly reminiscent of the August 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Briefing entitled "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US." Like that instance, the hurricane warning wasn't enough to get Bush to cut short his vacation in Crawford to attend to the easily foreseen crisis. It was only the destruction of an American city we were talking about. It's not like anybody's life support was going to be withdrawn or anything.

It's getting to the point where we can no longer ignore the fact that either the Bushies don't have any idea of what they're doing or they just don't care. Enter Harold Meyerson in this morning's Washington Post. In "Bush the Incompetent," he makes an argument for the first point.

Incompetence is not one of the seven deadly sins, and it's hardly the worst attribute that can be ascribed to George W. Bush. But it is this president's defining attribute. Historians, looking back at the hash that his administration has made of his war in Iraq, his response to Hurricane Katrina and his Medicare drug plan, will have to grapple with how one president could so cosmically botch so many big things -- particularly when most of them were the president's own initiatives.

The entire op-ed is worth your time. Go read.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Canada's New Conservative Government

I've been delaying writing anything about yesterday's federal election in Canada because I've been trying to tie it into the context of pollster Michael Adams's book Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values, but I haven't been able to find a link to a nice summation of the book. However, especially after looking so long to find one and coming up empty, like that's going to stop me.

If you're in the States, unless you've been paying very close attention to the news, you probably missed the fact that Canada held an election yesterday for a new Parliament and prime minister. The Liberal Party, recently plagued by corruption and scandal, was booted out in favor of the Conservative Party. Sort of. In the last Parliament, the Liberals led a minority government--they had more seats than any other party, but they didn't have a majority. It was wobbly from the get-go, and when the New Democratic Party (NDP) pulled its support in November, the Liberals couldn't maintain their government, so yesterday's election was called. The Conservatives will also have a minority government. In fact, they have fewer seats than the Liberals had before the vote, so their government has the potential to be even more precarious.

Conservative Party leader and prime minister-elect Stephen Harper was generally perceived as a right-winger in the past, but he ran this time as a moderate. And this is where Fire and Ice comes in. On the whole, Canadians are generally more progressive than Americans, so although the two major national parties call themselves conservative and liberal, they are hardly analogous to any political parties that may come to mind to Canada's immediate south. If we do want to make comparisons, Michael Adams has one for us. He says that the most progressive U.S. state is Massachusetts and the most conservative Canadian province is Alberta. No surprise there on either count. But what is surprising is that Adams claims Massachusetts and Alberta to occupy roughly the same place on the political and ideological continuum. Although Canada may be prepared for Harper to be more conservative than Canada as a whole, Canadians are not looking for anything close to a George Bush-type conservative to lead the government, and if that's the direction Harper tries to take the country, he won't stay in charge for very long.

Actually, by U.S. standards, this particular manifestation of the government probably won't be there very long anyway. A minority government lasts for an average of 18 months in Canada (Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin's most recent government lasted from June 2004 until November 2005--17 months). In Harper's favor is the fact that Martin announced that he's going to step down as party leader (although he'll hold on to his seat in Parliament), so the Liberals will be squabbling among themselves rather than focusing on being an opposition party to the Conservatives for at least a little while. But even so, it's entirely likely that Canada will see another Parliamentary election before the U.S. inaugurates a new president.

For details about the election and the transition, check out this article in The Globe and Mail. And if any Canadian readers (I know you're out there) want to sound off in comments, please do so.

The Future of the Internet

Josh Marshall points us to a piece in Sunday's Washington Post about changes that may be coming up in how we experience the Internet. I hadn't heard about this controversy, and when I went back to check, this article wasn't included in the daily news updates the Post sends out, so they may not think it's important, either, but it seems potentially explosive to me.

As it works now, most Internet carriers provide equal access to any Website. But if Big Business gets its way (and with the Bush Administration and a corrupt Republican Congress, why would we ever expect it not to?), that could change. Apparently the telephone companies that provide Internet access are looking to charge Websites to deliver their content--pages, audio and video streams, whatever--and those who pay will have priority access over those who don't (or who pay less). It's another potential profit center for the phone companies, and if we’ve learned anything, it's that you don’t stand between a business and its profit center. But if you think, "Fine, the phone companies are going to charge more, so I'll just get my Internet through cable," you're naive to think that other carriers won't follow suit. The cable companies already decide what channels they'll include on their cable TV service and what channels they won't, so it's hardly a stretch for them to extend similar choices to the Internet when there's money to be made.

Christopher Stern, identified as a media policy analyst with Medley Global Advisors, wrote the piece, and he says most people aren’t too concerned with the issue, but they should be.

Maybe you've never heard of this issue -- and if so, you're far from alone. In my job as a media analyst, I've been talking in recent weeks to lobbyists for some of Hollywood's major entertainment conglomerates. These are people who know that consumers' ability to download their studios' movies and television shows as easily and cheaply as anyone else's will be key to the studios' future profits. Yet hardly any of them were more than vaguely concerned about the potential ramifications of network neutrality.

But lately the issue, a matter of heated debate on obscure blogs and among analysts like me, has begun to attract the attention of the mainstream press. There are a couple of reasons.

One is that Congress is taking first steps toward updating and rewriting the Telecommunications Act of 1996, a key legal underpinning for media, telecommunications and Internet activity. This process, required by technological advances, will probably take a year to complete.

More dramatically, executives at AT&T and BellSouth got into the headlines recently with a series of audacious statements. In a November Business Week story, AT&T Chairman Edward E. Whitacre Jr. complained that Internet content providers were getting a free ride: "They don't have any fiber out there. They don't have any wires. . . . They use my lines for free -- and that's bull," he said. "For a Google or a Yahoo or a Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes for free is nuts!"

That's a business logic that won’t go away. Certainly Google, Yahoo, and various other Internet entities have business clout of their own, so it's not clear which side will come out on top, but expect a compromise of some sort. And however it shakes out, that's a compromise that will restrict the Internet as we've all come to know it.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Count Off!

So how many other bloggers have linked to Wiley's Non-Sequitur strip today? That site must be getting an explosion of hits.

Hot Type's Truthiness

Michael Miner's "Hot Type" column in this week's Chicago Reader is just full of interesting tidbits. He also weighs in on "truthiness," mentioning the flap over James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, in addition to some other recent examples of the phenomena, but he ends up with a different result. If you can't beat them, join them:

If you think Frey did wrong -- well, that's fine. If not, you might be interested in my latest idea to restore newspapers to public favor -- a regular feature to be known as Mythellanea. Readers will be invited to contribute first-person accounts of dramatic, character-building travails. Documentation won't be necessary so long as contributors can assure readers that the story is truthy -- that is, the redemptive moment is being described the way the writer wants to remember it.

He also stops to note the recent movie Glory Road. While the 1966 Texas Western team was the first team to win the NCAA starting five black players, it's not like the idea of blacks playing basketball was any sort of a novelty at that point. Miner directs us to a column last week by the Sun-Times's Ron Rapoport, which opens:

In 1962, the University of Cincinnati won the NCAA basketball championship with four black starting players. Nobody ever made a movie about it.

In 1963, Loyola won the title with four black starting players. Hollywood took no notice.

By 1966, the four best players in the NBA were Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson and Elgin Baylor, and the top college player was Cazzie Russell. No movies.

Rapoport also notes some other facts stretched to make a better movie, but Miner sums it up: "Glory Road is a truthy classic."

But does Miner stop there? No, he goes on to invoke the failing book publishing industry, which no longer offers enough advertising dollars to keep the Chicago Tribune Sunday book section profitable. The Trib dropped the section down from a broadsheet section to a tabloid one, thus saving on newsprint. More interesting, however, was the fact that only four other newspapers these days have standalone book sections. What are they? The New York Times, obviously, and The LA Times (unless they recently cut it themselves). That leaves just two more. When we were in DC for the holidays, I think I noticed one in The Washington Post, but I'm not sure. My last guess would be The Boston Globe. Does anybody know for sure?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Just Gimme Some Truth (or Not)

I've been catching up on my reading of other blogs today rather than contributing new posts to my own, and in a few minutes I'm off to see a show. But it's Sunday again, so that means Frank Rich has another column. Today he's examining truth and its relevance--or lack thereof--to current events. (As you've probably noticed on your own, the truth really has very little to do with anything these days.) He nails Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats for dropping the ball on the Alito hearings.

Once Judge Alito came before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Democrats decided to counter the Republicans’ story by coming up with a fictional story of their own, or that’s what they did once they stopped bloviating. Their fictional biography cast Judge Alito as an out-and-out bigot. The major evidence cited to support this characterization was his listing his membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP), a conservative group founded in reaction to the upheavals of the Vietnam era, on a job application for the Reagan Justice Department.

Judge Alito testified that he had joined CAP because it supported the R.O.T.C. on campus, adding that he did not remember having “done anything substantial in relation to this group, including renewing my membership.” The Democrats plunged on, betting the house (or the Supreme Court) on Teddy Kennedy’s insistence that Judge Alito could be linked to what the senator described as CAP’s “repulsive anti-woman, anti-black, anti-disability, anti-gay pronouncements.” In one of only two dramatic moments in the whole soporific confirmation process – a “Sunshine Boys”-style spat with the committee chairman, Arlen Specter – Mr. Kennedy threatened to subpoena CAP “documents in the possession of the Library of Congress” to hunt down Judge Alito’s bigotry.

There was only one problem with the Democrats’ fictional story line: it had been exposed as fake on the front page of The Times weeks before Mr. Kennedy presented it to the nation. Mr. Kirkpatrick reported that he had examined the same papers Mr. Kennedy was threatening to subpoena – as well as some others at Princeton’s own library – and found no trace of Judge Alito’s involvement with CAP as either an active participant or a major donor. When the Senate committee did Mr. Kennedy’s bidding and looked at those documents yet again, it found exactly what The Times had in November, calling the senator’s bluff and ending any remote chance the Democrats had for keeping Judge Alito off the court. It says everything about the Democrats’ ineptitude that when they spin fiction, they are incapable of meeting even the low threshold of truthiness needed to make it fly in this lax cultural environment.

We're getting today's column from True Blue Liberal. It'll be the last such column for a while, as Rich "will be on a book leave, writing nonfiction about our post-9/11 fictions." He says he'll be back in the spring.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Frist Takes the Lead in the Anti-Alito Campaign

Are Republicans counting the days until Bill Frist's term as Senate majority leader is over? He's not running for reelection to the body, presumably because he's still planning to run for president in 2008. Somehow I don't see that panning out, but in the meantime, while he's still top dog in the Senate chamber, maybe the Democrats can put him to good use. As we saw in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Alito, Democrats are having a hard time mounting any serious opposition to the nomination. Sure, they were raising a few good points, but they couldn't work out any coordinated line of questioning or argument against him and no momentum to carry through when the full Senate debates the nomination before giving him its up-or-down vote. A few Dems are coming out ahead of time and announcing their intention to vote against Alito, but in the grand scheme of things, so what? Without some unforeseen damning revelation, Alito's got the votes. A filibuster is the only thing with a chance of stopping him, and the Dems have hardly set the stage to pull that off successfully.

Enter Bill Frist to the rescue. Last night, while touring some Republicans around the Senate chambers, he was heard to say that Alito would be the "worst nightmare of liberal Democrats." Not that this is much of a secret at this point, but the sentiment carries quite a bit more weight coming out of the mouth of the Senate majority leader than that of, say, Teddy Kennedy. Thanks, Bill. If the Democrats can't pull together their own offensive against Alito, I'm glad we can count on you to kick them back into shape.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Could We Possibly Have an Actual Opposition Party for Just a Couple of Minutes, Please?

Maybe we should just throw in the towel and admit we've got a one-party system. The Republicans have been playing hardball for years, and yesterday Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid indicated that he's ready to play a nice, friendly game of backyard softball.

On Tuesday, he seemed to come out loaded for bear. In a press release entitled, "Republicans Cannot Be Trusted to End the Culture of Corruption," he singled out thirty-three Republican senators by name who have ties to Jack Abramoff or have other questionable incidents in their past. The Republicans, who, don't forget, could often be found morphing the faces of their Democratic opponents into Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden--when they weren't accusing them of treason outright--complained. So what did Reid do? Did he stick to his guns? Did offer a new volley of criticism?

No. No, he didn't. Instead, he apologized. He sent a letter to Republicans admitting that he was sorry "for the tone of this document and the decision to single out individual senators for criticism in it." He also wrote, "The document released by my office yesterday went too far, and I want to convey to you my personal regrets." Way to pin those Republicans to the wall on Abramoff and ethics. We'll have them on the run in no time.

For the expurgated statement (which has no details but is still hard hitting--too bad he ceded the momentum to the other side), take a look at Reid's Senate Website.

The Book of Daniel

I was flipping around on the remote tonight and came across The Book of Daniel. Who's idea was it to put on a show where Jesus is the wacky neighbor? This is in, what, its third week now? Apparently it's a limited series and will only run two more weeks, so presumably NBC will ride it out, but the ratings are nothing to write home about. Don't expect to see a surprise pick-up for another handful of episodes. But how did they think they weren't going to get complaints from the Christian right about this? Maybe NBC was trying to move the pendulum back after the couple of more Christian-friendly shows it's had over the last few months. In the spring, the network showed Revelations, a show concerning biblical prophecy about the end of the world, and Three Wishes, a show in which Christian pop singer Amy Grant traveled the country granting uplifting wishes to people. Those shows are no longer on the air, so I guess showing Christian subjects in a good light doesn't bring in the ratings, either.

I'll admit to liking one thing about The Book of Daniel, though. When it breaks for a commercial, the frame freezes and turns into an illustration, sort of like The Wild, Wild West with stained glass instead of faux engravings.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Google Has the Goods

Talk about overreaching. I'm surprised this isn't absolutely everywhere (maybe it's such an audacious power grab that people aren't taking it seriously), but the Justice Department is going after Google. Google hasn't done anything wrong, but the Justice Department just wants some information, ostensibly to help it get a better understanding of the Children's Online Protection Act.

What does Google have that can help the attorney general? How about its entire database of searchable URLs? And to get a rough idea of how Google is used, maybe all the queries that were entered into Google during June and July 2005. That's right, every single one. Google first tried to negotiate with the government, and the Justice Department lowered its request to a random sample of a million indexed URLs and all the queries for a week. Google's still fighting.

The Justice Department made clear that it didn't want any personal information about anyone who made the queries, but Google said that it would be too difficult to separate it out. (Which demonstrates that Google has such information, so be careful what you search for.) But next time the attorney general calls, he may not be so interested in stripping that info out of the request. Search Engine Watch has a summary of the arguments, as well as links to PDFs of the documents (the Justice Department motion and Google responses). Search Engine Watch also has a related post on the story in which they report AOL, Yahoo, and MSN received similar subpoenas and apparently complied, turning over the requested info. So be really careful what you search for on those services.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

I Am the Audience

Well, I've had two Canadian visitors since I made my post about Canadian content, and they each came through searches for terms that had nothing whatsoever to do with Canada. I'm not planning to go on a crusade or anything to drum up Canadian readers, but in that vein anyway, here's an intriguing post I happened to come across in my own search for something that had nothing whatsoever to do with Canada.

But first, here's a little bit of background for the non-Canadians among us (which, if my hits are accurate, are all my recent readers except two). For a number of years, Canada has been very concerned about maintaining Canadian culture, which makes a certain amount of sense. Canada lives right next to the largest economy in the world, so it's only natural that Canadians are self conscious. American culture is pervasive throughout the world, and even if it weren't, its effects would seep through the border to its next-door neighbors. On top of that, Canada also has its historic ties to England and its culture. With all those influences stirring around, Canada has to pay attention to its own culture or, the fear is, it will become subsumed to a more amorphous "global culture" (with heavy American input). One way the nation has addressed this issue is by devising "Canadian content" rules for Canadian media, which usually take the form of requiring a certain percentage of what it carries be made up of such material. But what is Canadian content, you ask? Unfortunately, it often depends on who you ask.

Matt Watts is a Canadian writer and performer who addressed this issue recently in his blog. In talking about writing from a Canadian perspective, he also had some insights into writers and their audience. Who do writers write for? How much should they be concerned about the people reading their words (or in Matt Watts's case, seeing their TV show or listening to their radio show)? This is something I think about a fair amount, and this piece sums it up as simply as I've seen lately. I'm going to quote a little bit, but go read the whole thing--it's thought provoking.

All I can do - and I think it's all any writer can do - is write for myself. I'll write a story that I would like to hear, and HOPE that the themes, the characters, the story itself will appeal to as broad an audience as possible . . . Farmers included.

You can't please everyone. Or at least, you can't set out to please everyone. Shows that do that - that try to have universal appeal - stink of banality. We've all seen those shows, they're the ones that try too hard, and ultimately have no appeal.

Sometimes a story will, unintentionally, have universal appeal. Because it is a GREAT story, and it just happens to appeal to everyone.

. . .

It's a risk, of course. Because what I like might not appeal to anyone. And then, well, I'll be out of a job.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Happy Birthday, Ben!

Today is Benjamin Franklin's birthday. As my father would say, if he hadn't died, he'd have been 300. Ben is by far my favorite Founder. Even though he lived during the Enlightenment and after the Renaissance, he was a true Renaissance man. His interests were wide ranging--he was a scientist and inventor, a businessman, a diplomat and politician, a philosopher. He wrote a vast amount about a variety of subjects, and what may be his most popular line these days is evergreen: "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

In Al Gore's speech yesterday, he talked a bit about the Founders, and it's certainly on point here.

The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors. The very existence of our country was at risk.

Yet, in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the full Bill of Rights.

Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the British army was marching on the Capitol? Is the world more dangerous than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of nuclear missiles ready to be launched on a moment’s notice to completely annihilate the country? Is America in more danger now than when we faced worldwide fascism on the march-when the last generation had to fight and win two World Wars simultaneously?

It is simply an insult to those who came before us and sacrificed so much on our behalf to imply that we have more to be fearful of than they did. Yet they faithfully protected our freedoms and now it’s up to us to do the very same thing!

Happy birthday, Ben. May we live up to your example!

Gore Rallies Opposition

If you've been wandering around the greater blogoplex area at all over the past day or two, you've come across at least one link to Al Gore's barn-burning speech to the American Constitution Society and the Liberty Coalition at Constitution Hall yesterday. Don quotes part of it at Article 19, Kevin Drum quotes a different section, and Atrios quotes still another part. The short version is that Gore called for a special prosecutor to investigate White House law-breaking in ordering the surveillance of American citizens. The whole thing is worth your time, though, so here's my requisite link, too. Or, in light of our discussion yesterday about how Martin Luther King's words are more powerful when experienced rather than just read, you can watch the C-Span video.

The Bushies are apparently concerned. They wasted no time in getting Alberto Gonzales out to use the "they did it first" defense and smear the Clinton Administration (Think Progress explains how he got his facts wrong) and having Scotty-boy McClellan call Gore a hypocrite. I won't quote it, but here's Gore's response to that.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Canadian Content

I was all ready to start complaining about my lack of blog hits from Canada. It had been several days since I'd had any Canadian readers, and I was really annoyed. I've got relatives and friends up there and everything! I finally had a Canadian hit early Saturday morning, but that wasn't enough, I was still going to complain. But then I got three today! Fairly evenly spaced throughout the day, too. (If you haven't guessed already, this is not one of those blogs that registers daily hits into the five figures. The lack of advertising on either side of the page should've been your first clue.)

After I got over my annoyance at being ignored by an entire country, I realized that I might draw more Canadians over for a looksee if I talked about more Canadian things. In an effort to do just that, I pass along a story Chuck G sent me over the Christmas break. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that sex clubs are not illegal. Although you're still not allowed to exchange money--because that's prostitution and remains illegal--the Court wrote, "Consensual conduct behind code-locked doors can hardly be supposed to jeopardize a society as vigorous and tolerant as Canadian society." The Court moved from a position of asking how an average Canadian might react to such clubs to one of asking what active harm such clubs cause. Consensual conduct. Closed doors. Nobody gets hurt, thus no harm to society. It would be easy to make this topic salacious, but my, that's a civilized attitude.

Graphics Again Operational

As you can see, my graphics problem has been solved (although, truth be told, I don't know how, so if it reoccurs, my response will be just as useless as it was this time). The album cover above goes with this post. There's no real reason for me to show it to you again here--by all accounts, the album it housed was utterly forgettable--but I just like the cover art itself. It's got a certain Scott Pilgrim thing going on.

Dr. King's Legacy

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a fairly new holiday, and we don't really have any widespread traditions of how to commemorate and celebrate it (at least for those who get the day off work--which doesn't include me at my present job). Its official name is Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, so getting involved in a service project of some kind would certainly be appropriate. But what would be a perfect activity for everyone--it could even fit into a work schedule--would be to listen to Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Unfortunately we can't easily do that.

The King family and estate holds the copyright for that and Dr. King's other speeches, so the rest of us have to pay for the privilege of hearing it. (And arguments for public domain are not tolerated--when CBS included it in a news documentary, they sued for copyright infringement and won). I mostly have no problem with the concept of copyright (despite my weekly pointers to free copies of Frank Rich's columns), but it can easily result in unintended consequences.

As The Washington Post explored yesterday, a large number of young people have never heard the "I Have a Dream" speech (unless they saw the Alcatel ad that featured part of it a few years ago). The speech works as prose, no question about it, and a reader will come away with the power of its ideas, but it was the delivery of that prose that transformed the speech into a seminal moment in U.S. history. Without audio or video, that speech and Dr. King himself become more boring facts in the long list of dates and names that too often passes for teaching American history. It's been almost forty-three years since Martin Luther King told us about his dream on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, so if we've heard the speech at all, our memories are fading (although I will grant that its power is such that if you've only heard it once or twice, that may be enough). But what about the children, teens, and even many young adults who don't have those memories? In protecting their right to control the audio recordings of this and other speeches, the King family is actually contributing to the marginalization of Dr. King and his legacy. And that's not at all how we should be commemorating this day.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Abramoff Adventures

In case you don't want to shell out 50 bucks to The New York Times for access to their columnists but want to read today's Frank Rich column anyway, surf over to Peking Duck. This week Rich takes on the whole Abramoff scandal and tries to introduce some of the players and explain the ties they share. His overview may explain why the scandal is having a hard time getting traction:

This much is certain: 1) The Abramoff scandal, so far anyway, boasts plenty of cigars but no sex. 2) It has almost everything else, including the "Miami Vice"-style rub-out of a Florida casino-cruise-ship mogul who'd had contentious business dealings with Mr. Abramoff.

But as Law & Order and other crime shows prove week in and week out, murder without sex can still be interesting. Ipromise to post a link as soon as I find the first Abramoff flow chart that's easy to follow.

The Hype Is Losing Steam

Are a few people in the news media finally starting to question what kind of clothes our emperor is (or is not) wearing? It seems like it. On Thursday, the Bush Administration made a few predictions about how the deficit is doing. In covering the story for The Washington Post, Jonathan Weisman wrote (in his third paragraph!):

This is the third straight year in which the White House has summoned reporters well ahead of the official budget release to project a higher-than-anticipated deficit. In the past two years, when final deficit figures have come in at record or near-record levels, White House officials have boasted that they had made progress, since the final numbers were below estimates.

"This administration has a history of overestimating the deficit early in the year, lowering expectations, then taking credit when it comes in below forecast," said Stanley E. Collender, a federal budget expert at Financial Dynamics Business Communications. "It's not just a history. It's almost an obsession."

And then on Friday's Washington Week in Review, ABC's Martha Raddatz described her trip to New Orleans as part of the press corps accompanying the Prez. The transcript isn't up yet, so I'll paraphrase. From the airport, the motorcade went through areas of town that hadn't been heavily damaged by the storm or the flood, so there wasn't much to see. They never particularly left the freeway, so their view was even less than it might've been. She was able to get no feel for what life continues to be like in the city. Yet, somehow the President did. She was shocked when he told New Orleans small business owners:

I will tell you, the contrast between when I was last here and today, Stephen, is pretty dramatic. It may be hard for you to see, but from when I first came here to today, New Orleans is reminding me of the city I used to come to visit. It's a heck of a place to bring your family.

We could use some more reality-based media in this country.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The More Things Change . . .

In a comment to my post yesterday on Laurence Tribe's testimony to the Judiciary Committee, Ron offered some insight into an aspect of the culture wars that I thought deserved room up top in the blog.

The conservative movement seems to have successfully "delegitimized" conscious efforts at diversity -- on the court, in business, in academia. They have successfully reintroduced the equivalent of the "civil service exam" as the sole criteria upon which a candidate should be judged with "an up or down vote."

At the turn of the twentieth century it was the WASP powerbase that was threatened by the urban (ethnic) machine politics. Today it's white male culture in general that is threatened. The cultural responses to both are similar.

Well, That Didn't Take Long

We haven't quite completed two weeks of the new year yet, and already the new Medicare prescription drug program is in a shambles. Who would've ever expected that?

Two weeks into the new Medicare prescription drug program, many of the nation's sickest and poorest elderly and disabled people are being turned away or overcharged at pharmacies, prompting more than a dozen states to declare health emergencies and pay for their life-saving medicines.

Computer glitches, overloaded telephone lines and poorly trained pharmacists are being blamed for mix-ups that have resulted in the worst of unintended consequences: As many as 6.4 million low-income seniors, who until Dec. 31 received their medications free, suddenly find themselves navigating an insurance maze of large deductibles, co-payments and outright denial of coverage.

So far, according to NPR, nineteen states have agreed to cover the cost of necessary drugs for their seniors, but it's not like they're made of money, either. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for one, has said he wants to be reimbursed for the $70 million California is spending for two weeks' worth of medication. Good luck with that.

For good measure, The Washington Post has reminded us that this program was "hailed as President Bush's signature domestic achievement." The number of seniors affected, 6.4 million, is a large number that has the potential to get some notice (even if, as a class, low-income seniors don't have the visibility of the Hollywood C-List). Although most of the Bush Administration's failures aren't exactly swept under the carpet, we do somehow put them into a sort of limbo where we can keep them hidden, and then we agree to mostly look the other way. We can't say we're unaware of problems such as the war in Iraq or the fate of New Orleans, but as a nation we're--for the time being, at least--content to pay them as little heed as possible in the hope that they'll get better or go away. If the Medicare drug debacle continues for any amount of time, that's more than two percent of our population, spread throughout the country at large, who are affected. Will that get our attention?

The Fat Lady's Nowhere Close to Singing

Broadway got a new long-running champion on Monday night, as The Phantom of the Opera knocked out Cats to take the new top spot with 7,486 performances. I guess Andrew Lloyd Webber can't feel too bad about losing the crown for Cats because he gets to keep it for Phantom. I almost wasn't going to write this post, because I'm not a fan of Phantom--or Webber, for that matter--but I succumbed, because I suppose it's significant. It's been chic for quite some time to dis Andrew Lloyd Webber, but I want it on the record that I was a Phantom detractor from the very beginning. I had friends who were hugely into the show when it opened in New York (it had already been playing in London, so it was a known quantity), and they played the CD incessantly. I didn't find it a terribly likable score the first time I heard it, but to hear it over and over made me sour towards it all the more. Oh, well. Broadway can produce what it wants, and it's hard enough to get a hit, I guess if people will come at all you have to give them what they want to see. And for some reason, they still want to see Phantom, which continues to go strong and shows no sign of waning. God only knows why. Mark Evanier wishes he "knew more than a few people who liked it." I can't even make that concession.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Alito's Reasons Why Not

I said last night that I wasn't interested in blogging about Alito, but looky here--it's an Alito post. The Judiciary Committee today heard from other witnesses about the judge, and finally, in Laurence Tribe's opening statement, I heard the first real argument during the hearings about why Alito should not be confirmed:

It is quite clear that there are two, central concerns in the country and in the Senate with respect to this nomination, and they do not relate, honestly, to what a truly admirable, collegial, modest, thoughtful and brilliant fellow Sam Alito is. . . .

They relate to whether Justice Alito might, by casting a decisive fifth vote on many cases, narrow the scope of personal liberty, especially for women, and broaden the scope of presidential power at a time when we see dramatically the dangers of an unfettered executive by weakening the ability of both Congress and the courts to restrict presidential assertions of authority.

. . .

It is the liberty interest, which occurs not only in Roe, but in the right to die and in many cases that we can't predict over the next century, and certainly over the 30 years that Justice Alito would serve. It is that underlying liberty which is at stake.

And it is crucial to know that Judge Alito dramatically misstated the current state of the law. And I say that with deference and respect, but it was clear.

. . .

Never, in the descriptions that you heard from Judge Alito with respect to the issues in Roe, did he confront the question, does he, too, believe that that liberty is special? Or does he, as did Robert Bork and as do many, believe that there is no special liberty simply because the woman happens to have a fetus inside, her interest is no greater than my interest in learning how to play tennis.

So, it seems to me clear that the indications we have of Judge Alito's belief are that he does not have a conviction that that liberty is special. And he is unwilling not only to commit to treating this as a so-called "super precedent," he's not even willing to indicate to this committee that he believes that the court has a special role in protecting intimate personal liberties.

The Washington Post provides a transcript (scroll almost all the way to the bottom).

Tribe is one of the country's leading experts in Constitutional law (do your own damn Google search). I don't think he did himself any favors in insisting that he wasn't taking sides for or against Alito but was instead just offering information (so, in his words, "that senators not cast their votes with, to borrow an image from a Kubrick movie, their eyes wide shut"), and even he admitted that his personal opinion wasn't hidden: "I'm not testifying for or against Judge Alito. I'm explaining why I am very troubled by his views. Obviously, it follows from that that I would be hard pressed to recommend his confirmation."

To get further insight into how Tribe is troubled by Alito's views, check out this opinion piece he wrote for The Boston Globe last year.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

No Alito Blogging

I haven't had much to say about the Alito hearings because I've been pretty dispirited by them. They're boring and the Democrats didn't even mount much of an opposition, let alone carry one off. E. J. Dionne comes close to summing up my feelings:

It turns out that, especially when their party controls the process, Supreme Court nominees can avoid answering any question they don't want to answer. Senators make the process worse with meandering soliloquies. But when the questioning gets pointed, the opposition is immediately accused of scurrilous smears. The result: an exchange of tens of thousands of words signifying, in so many cases, nothing -- as long as the nominee has the discipline to say nothing, over and over and over.

The Democrats didn't establish why they should oppose Alito, and they certainly haven't set up a clear justification for a filibuster if they ultimately choose to pursue one. They needed fireworks to bring attention to the views and judicial opinions of this judge, but they didn't even bother to light a fuse. And for the time being, at least, I'm not interested in delving into it any further.

If you are looking for more detail, you can review the transcripts or take a look at live blogging and analysis by scrolling through SCOTUSblog or firedoglake.

Nikon Turns Away from Film

Wow. Talk about the end of an era. Japanese camera maker Nikon has announced that it is substantially moving away from the film market and putting all its development into digital. It's a whole new world. The company is not closing the door on film entirely (at least not yet) and will continue to make two film cameras available, the F6 and the FM10, but intends make no further updates to them. Mark Greenberg, a photographer whose work has appeared in National Geographic and Life, gave a great analogy to The Washington Post: "It would be the same as Ford saying it is no longer producing an internal-combustion engine."

I didn't think too much about it at the time, but over Christmas, one of my four-year-old nephews was quite put off by the fact that his aunt took a picture but couldn't show it to him afterward. I guess that's the status quo now. The future keeps moving forward whether we're ready for it or not.

Hal Foster in Evanston

According to yesterday's Chicago Tribune, the Noyes Cultural Arts Center in Evanston is planning an exhibition to honor Tarzan and Prince Valiant cartoonist Hal Foster, who lived in the city for a time. Spearheaded by long-time fan Sid Weiskirch, who wants to promote a higher local profile for the artist, the show is due to open in June.

I hadn't realized Foster lived in Evanston at one point. Heck, I didn't even realize that he was Canadian, either, something my Canadar should've alerted me to years ago. Apparently in 1919, he rode his bike 1,670 miles from Nova Scotia to Chicago to train at the Art Institute. Now, that's dedication. (Via The Comics Reporter, which was down when I tried to get a link to the specific post.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Truth Vs. Satire

When I saw this yesterday on National Journal's Hotline yesterday, I assumed it was satire.

Sen. Lindsey Graham said he believes Judge Sam Alito when he says he doesn't remember certain parts of his murder boards.

Alito smiled appreciately.

Continued Graham: "And if any of us come before a court and say we can't remember Abramoff, you'll believe us."

"Abramoff who?" queried another Senator.

"Wasn't he the guy in the Bible?" asked a third.

But then I heard the soundbite on the radio this morning. And sure enough, there it is in the transcript:

And I hope you'll understand if any us come before a court and we can't remember Abramoff, you will tend to believe us.



I guess you can make stuff like this up, but it's not as funny as the real thing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Why Can't Anybody Get My Name Right?

I don't know why this is, but people seem to have the hardest time picking up my name when I say it. I generally speak clearly, and I don't have problems with people not understanding other things I say, just my name.

I stopped in at a restaurant this afternoon to get some takeout lunch, and it was a place where the food takes a little bit of time to prepare, so they asked for my name. "Doug," I replied. The cashier squinted a bit and asked again. "Doug," I repeated, and spelled it--D-O-U-G--just for good measure. Something happened behind him and he was distracted for about ten seconds, but then he turned back to me. "Ted, was it?" I almost just left it at that--there weren't that many people in the restaurant, and I figured that if there was another Ted, it was highly unlikely he was ordering the same food as me, so I'd be able to get my order. But for whatever reason, I corrected him. "No, it's Doug." "Oh, Don," he nodded. I nodded back and went to sit down.

At least he didn't think my name was Todd. That's the most common wrong name I get. Don't ask me why, because the beginning and ending consonant sounds are different than in Doug, and te vowel in the middle is different, as well, but that's what people hear. It used to particularly rankle me because my girlfriend in grad school used to flit between me and a guy named Todd (maybe she heard the names wrong and thought we were the same guy), and for a few years after that, I'd always see his face when my name was misheard. That hasn't bothered me for years, but come on, I still want to use my own name.

A Couple of Random Alito Links

Atrios made a good point this afternoon about Alito and his respect of the rule of law:

When Alito says that no one is above the law it's an utterly meaningless statement if his view of law includes a limitless view of the president's Article II powers which trumps all other laws. Or, as Torture Yoo put it, Bush can crush the testicles of children if he wants to.

In other words, all "no one is above the law" means is that the law, in fact, allows Bush to anything he pleases as long as he claims it's for national security. Including, presumably, lying about blowjobs.

And in Sunday's New York Times (non-subscription) editorial page, the paper called for close questioning of the judge:

He may be able to use [his confirmation hearings] to reassure the Senate that he will be respectful of rights that Americans cherish, but he has a lengthy and often troubling record he will have to explain away. As a government lawyer, he worked to overturn Roe v. Wade. He has disturbing beliefs on presidential power - a critical issue for the country right now. He has worked to sharply curtail Congress's power to pass laws and protect Americans. He may not even believe in "one person one vote."

. . .

While Judge Alito seems intent on expanding the president's power, he has called for sharply reducing the power of Congress.

. . .

Judge Alito said in his 1985 application that he had become interested in constitutional law as a student partly because of his opposition to the Warren court's reapportionment rulings, which created the "one person one vote" standard.

. . .

The Senate should also explore Judge Alito's honesty. According to a senator he met with, he tried to dismiss his statement about the Constitution's not protecting abortion as merely part of a job application, which suggests he will bend the truth when it suits his purposes. Judge Alito has said he does not recall being in an ultraconservative group called Concerned Alumni of Princeton, which opposed co-education and affirmative action. That is odd, since he boasted of his membership in that same 1985 job application. The tortuous history of his promise to Congress to recuse himself in cases involving the Vanguard companies, which he ultimately failed to do, should also be explored.

Congress Watches Its Power Erode

In these days of instant information, I expected to see some transcripts of today's hearings, but maybe that's pushing the envelope just a bit too much. I suppose we'll have to wait until tomorrow. Early on this morning, I heard Arlen Specter make a point about Bush's use of signing statements that I hadn't thought of and haven't seen made anywhere else. I'd wanted to quote him but will have to paraphrase, instead.

After nearly five years in office, George Bush has never issued a veto. And with a signing statement, he doesn't have to. He can sign a bill, express any reservations he has, and let it be known (implicitly but effectively) what parts of the bill he'll enforce and what parts he won't. Let's take the recent torture amendment as an example. Bush made it clear that, although the law he just signed prohibits torture under any circumstance, he'd continue to allow torture whenever he felt it necessary. Had he simply vetoed the bill, Congress could've taken up the matter and voted to override, proclaiming that their word is law. But this way, the President has conveyed his support of the torture ban while expressing his willingness to set it aside. Congress is not going to pass another bill to say, "Oh no, you won't." And even if they did, Bush could just sign that one, as well, all the while issuing a signing statement to the effect of, "Oh yes, I will." Signing statements effectively castrate Congress and leave them impotent. So what's Congress going to do about it?

UPDATE: The Washington Post has a transcript. Here's Specter's actual quote:

In the memorandum you wrote back on February 5th, 1986, about the president's power to put a signing statement on to influence interpretation of the legislation, you wrote this: "Since the president's approval is just as important as that of the House or Senate, it seems to follow that the president's understanding of the bill should be just as important as that of Congress."

Is that really true when you say the president's views are as important as Congress?

The president can express his views by a veto, and then gives Congress the option of overriding a veto, which Congress does not have if the president makes a signing declaration and seeks to avoid the terms of the statute.

And we have the authority from the Supreme Court that the president cannot impound funds, can't pick and choose on an appropriation. We have a line-item veto case, where the president cannot strike a provision even when authorized by Congress.

Alito's answer was just one of many times he essentially said, "What I wrote in the past has nothing whatsoever to do with anything I think today."

Monday, January 09, 2006

Tomorrow's World

In Salon today, Tom Tomorrow asks the musical question, "If Bush can spy on American citizens without a warrant, is it OK if he robs banks, too?" Check it out.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Browsing CDs

I was out looking at CDs earlier today, and I noticed that, as the record companies are finally catching on to the idea that prices are too high and beginning to bring them down on (a few) newer bands, the prices of used CDs are going up. I saw used copies of most new releases at $9.99, and a few at $10.99 (including The Rolling Stones' A Bigger Bang--in God's name, why would that demand premium used prices?). A number of used CD shops have folded around Chicago in the past couple of years, and I wonder if Internet downloading and ordering online might be taking a bite. Specific songs and CDs aren't as difficult to come by as they once were, so maybe there's not the need for used CD stores that there once was. Are they squeezing a little bit more out of the customers they have?

By the way, if you're interested in finding A Bigger Bang without paying 11 bucks for a used copy, I also saw today that you can get it in specially marked packages of Effen vodka. I wouldn't've pegged the Stones for a vodka band, but I guess billionaire jetsetters have different tastes than--well, I guess they've been billionaire jetsetters for more than a generation by now, so maybe they can't remember being anything but a vodka band anymore.

One oddity I stumbled across in the used bins was the only CD by Woody Woodmansey's U-Boat. Unless you read liner notes of old albums, that name likely means nothing to you, but Mick "Woody" Woodmansey played drums with David Bowie when he was first making a name for himself. Some people call that band the Spiders from Mars, but I've never been comfortable with that--the Spiders were the fictional backing band for Ziggy Stardust, and although Bowie's band of that time is typically also called by that name, I think there should be a distinction. If nothing else, I don't want to have to decide whether Mick Ronson, Woody Woodmansey, or Trevor Bolder is actually the narrator of the song "Ziggy Stardust." I was tempted to pick up the CD as an oddity, but then I read the liner notes. These were written for the CD rerelease, but they were less than gushing over the band and their album. The notes called the songwriting "undistinguished" and the album itself "pleasant enough." If that's the over-the-top sell copy, I'm taking a pass. Come to think of it, I probably should've just been able to take a hint from the cover itself. In a band called Woody Woodmansey's U-Boat, you kind of expect Woody Woodmansey to be out front. But you'd be wrong. Woody's actually the one wearing the white puffy shirt and standing under the O.

UPDATE: I'd planned to put a scan in of the cover, but I'm having trouble with my graphics at the moment. If I solve the problem, I'll reload it later.

FURTHER UPDATE: Obviously, the graphics are working now.

God in the House for the Alito Hearings

According to The Wall Street Journal (via Salon), three Christian ministers anointed the doors of and chairs inside the room where the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin its confirmation hearings on Judge Alito tomorrow. In what they called a "consecration service" in the hallway outside the room, the three read from the Book of Psalms, knelt down to pray the Lord's Prayer, and drew a cross in oil on the door. Capitol Hill police kept them out of the room itself, but it didn't matter, because they claimed to have been inside to pray and anoint the chairs with oil the day before. Police couldn't confirm or deny that event, admitting that the doors of these rooms are usually kept unlocked because "they're not of interest to anyone."

Although they claimed their consecration service wasn't meant to sway the hearings one way or the other, two of the ministers revealed that they had made the same preparations before the Roberts hearings, which they felt "went very well." It is unknown what kind of Senatorial dry-cleaning bills resulted from their previous activity.

Rich on NSA

Frank Rich is being quoted more widely than usual this morning. His newest column (brought to us in full through ratboy's anvil) takes on the NSA spying scandal. He's saying that the administration's outrage is all one big diversion from its continuing failures and even suggests that the President's secret order to approve avoiding warrants for surveillance was a response to the debacle at Tora Bora a month earlier.

Such is the blame-shifting game Mr. Cheney was up to last week. By dragging 9/11 into his defense of possibly unconstitutional bugging, he was hoping to rewrite history to absolve the White House of its bungling. And no wonder. He knows all too well that the timing of Mr. Bush's signing of the secret executive order to initiate the desperate tactic of warrant-free N.S.A. eavesdropping - early 2002, according to Mr. Risen's new book, "State of War" - is nothing if not a giant arrow pointing to one of the administration's most catastrophic failures. It was only weeks earlier, in December 2001, that we had our best crack at nailing Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora and blew it.

Rich doesn't limit his comments to the illegality at the NSA. His criticisms are wide ranging:

The louder the reports of failures on this president's watch, the louder he tries to drown them out by boasting that he has done everything "within the law" to keep America safe and by implying that his critics are unpatriotic, if not outright treasonous. Mr. Bush certainly has good reason to pump up the volume now. In early December the former 9/11 commissioners gave the federal government a report card riddled with D's and F's on terrorism preparedness.

The front line of defense against terrorism is supposed to be the three-year-old, $40-billion-a-year Homeland Security Department, but news of its ineptitude, cronyism and no-bid contracts has only grown since Katrina. The Washington Post reported that one Transportation Security Administration contract worth up to $463 million had gone to a brand-new company that (coincidentally, we're told) contributed $122,000 to a powerful Republican congressman, Harold Rogers of Kentucky. An independent audit by the department's own inspector general, largely unnoticed during Christmas week, found everything from FEMA to border control in some form of disarray.

Yet even as this damning report was released, the president forced cronies into top jobs in immigration enforcement and state and local preparedness with recess appointments that bypassed Congressional approval. Last week the department had the brilliance to leave Las Vegas off its 2006 list of 35 "high threat" urban areas - no doubt because Mohammed Atta was so well behaved there when plotting the 9/11 attacks.

As usual, the whole thing's worth your time.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

They Cherry Pick so You Don't Have To

The Pentagon is refusing to release captured Iraqi documents because they're concerned people will pick and choose information--cherry pick, so to speak--and take it out of context in order to prove whatever point they want to make. According to Steven F. Hayes at The Weekly Standard:

The main worry, says [Pentagon spokesman Larry] DiRita, is that the mainstream press might cherry-pick documents and mischaracterize their meaning. "There is always the concern that people would be chasing a lot of information good or bad, and when the Times or the Post splashes a headline about some sensational-sounding document that would seem to 'prove' that sanctions were working, or that Saddam was just a misunderstood patriot, or some other nonsense, we'd spend a lot of time chasing around after it."

Why would the press, or anyone else for that matter, do such a thing? Where could the Pentagon have possibly come up with an idea like that? (Via Abu Aardvark and Kevin Drum.)

Kills Bugs Dead

Well, it looks like the Exterminator's dreams of returning to the House leadership have been squashed. He and Denny Hastert have been bending over backwards to get the House to put off elections for the top posts until he could clear himself of his Texas indictments (which, in my view, was an extremely optimistic assumption in the first place), but after a group of Republican members of Congress started a petition to hold elections for a new speaker, Tom DeLay recognized the writing on the wall. Interestingly, in his letter to House GOP, he couldn't quite bring himself to spell out his intentions, and his withdrawal from the majority leader race is implied rather than stated. Don't worry, though, he's not planning to leave the House altogether, so he can still maintain his position as poster boy for Republican Congressional corruption.

As spelled out in the Austin American-Statesman piece I linked to above, Hastert has planned to keep the House from coming back into session until the end of January to give DeLay more time to clear himself of indictment. Now that this is no long an issue, it's not clear whether Hastert will call the House back into session at a reasonable time (the Senate reconvenes on January 18) or if members of Congress will continue to take the entire month off.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Q: Are We Not Dolls? A: We Are Action Figure!

I just saw the new Devo action figure earlier today. One body with five interchangeable heads. What a brilliant idea. I was a big fan of the band (concept? movement?) when they started, but I ultimately thought they milked their main joke longer than it could sustain. This reminds me of why I was attracted to them in the first place.

Cry Me a New Year

For a very moving insight into life in New Orleans these days, surf over to Sunday's Times-Picayune for a column by Chris Rose. It's going to be a long time before it's entirely clear what happened (and what didn't happen) there, and even longer until we have a firm idea of the disaster's implications. Thanks to firedoglake for the link (the "hat tip" line gets a bit precious after a while).

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Is NSA Spying on Christiane Amanpour?

Who knows? The surveillance program is a secret, remember? This is a convoluted story, and there's no real answer yet, but here's a quick summation--or sort of quick, anyway. Andrea Mitchell interviewed James Risen about his New York Times story revealing the NSA activity and his book, State of War, which goes into the whole thing in more detail. Following up on a general question of whether the program targeted reporters, Mitchell asked, "You don't have any information, for instance, that a very prominent journalist, Christiane Amanpour, might have been eavesdropped upon?" Risen replied that he didn't.

John Aravosis wrote about this transcript yesterday at AMERICAblog, but then NBC edited the transcript to remove that follow-up question. Mitchell had some basis for asking the question in the first place, but when Risen couldn't respond, the implied charge just sat out there half formed, neither verified nor denied. What makes the charge even more ominous is the fact that Amanpour is married to former Clinton State Department spokesman Jamie Rudin, who's since gone on to positions as foreign policy advisor to John Kerry and Wes Clark. If Amanpour was a target, did Rudin get caught up in the surveillance, as well? (Or could he have been the actual target?) Aravosis spelled out the implications of this, as well.

A few hours later, NBC issued a statement to the effect that the transcript had been edited because the information had been released "prematurely" and was pulled back so the network could "further continue our inquiry." TVNewser then published a statement from CNN that neither the network nor Amanpour herself were aware of any eavesdropping. That network went further tonight, according to Aravosis, reporting the story on the air. CNN asked an intelligence official about the matter and were assured that Amanpour--or any CNN reporter, for that matter--had never been an NSA target. That was good enough for them, of course, because the NSA would never lie about something like that, would they? Apparently it's case closed, as far as CNN is concerned.

See, I told you it was convoluted. NBC has promised to continue investigating the story, so we'll see if anything further comes of it. In the meantime, let's all join CNN in its Pollyannaish acceptance of the intelligence community at its word. Move along, nothing more to see here.