Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: February 2006

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Memories in a Cathode Ray

Last weekend wasn't a good time to be an older TV star. Don Knotts, Dennis Weaver, and Darren McGavin all died within a day of each other. It looks like bad things not only come in threes, they also start with D.

Don Knotts is probably best remembered as Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show, but he also did groundbreaking television on The Steve Allen Show. He may also have been one of the first examples of a star leaving a hit TV show for a sure-fire movie career that never quite seemed to take off--The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, The Incredible Mr. Limpet, The Reluctant Astronaut, and The Shakiest Gun in the West don't exactly add up to a memorable body or work. He may still have done the right thing, though, because it's possible that he'd gone as far as he could with Barney Fife. He won five Emmys for the role in seven years, so to keep going may have just left him repeating himself.

Dennis Weaver broke through as another deputy, Chester, who worked for Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke. That was an idiosyncratic part (though it won him an Emmy), but he came into his own during the '70s in McCloud, playing the fish-out-of-water New Mexico lawman in New York. He also got to ride the cool airboat through the Everglades on Gentle Ben. My favorite Dennis Weaver role, though, was the night manager of the motel where Janet Leigh was being held in Orson Welles's A Touch of Evil. He was both creepy and hilarious in one of the most tense sequences in a tense film. Setting up that tightrope for an actor--too far in either potentially contradictory direction would've ruined the performance and undermined the sequence--was audacious (but hardly out of character) for Welles, but I'm not sure many performers would be capable of pulling it off, let alone of stealing the sequence out from under the other performers.

During the '60s and '70s, Darren McGavin seemed ubiquitous on TV. He may now mostly be remembered as the father in A Christmas Story (a movie I've always found overrated--I'm happy to have seen it once, but I don't need to see it over and over ad nauseam every Christmas), but to a handful of us, he'll always be Kolchak, The Night Stalker. That was a truly spooky show. And in my mind, at least, Carl Kolchak was as significant an icon for journalists digging out the truth at all costs as Woodward and Bernstein in All the President's Men (if only modern-day journalists, Bob Woodward included, would take another look at either of those works to figure out what they should be doing). But I had an odd theory about Darren McGavin. Although he appeared to be fairly well respected as an actor, his style always seemed very similar to William Shatner's. (Oh, no! It's another Shatner post in just a week. Is this becoming a niche blog?) They had the same odd sense of stop-and-start timing in their delivery, the same bombast that would sometimes slip through their line readings. I'd always hoped that we'd see them appear together in something, so we could compare them side by side, but as far as I know, that never happened. And now it never will.

R.I.P. to the three D's.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Now, There's an Idea!

It now appears that Dubai Ports World has no problem with delaying its deal to take over P&O's ports operations. According to today's Washington Post:

The Bush administration said yesterday that it has accepted a proposal from a Dubai maritime company to conduct a 45-day review of the national security implications of the company's plans to take control of significant operations at six U.S. ports.

I'm glad DP World was willing to step up to encourage the administration to follow the law that it was in the process of waiving. What's a 45-day investigation among friends?

Especially given that there are a couple of new developments on the issue. Remember all the talk about the six US ports DP World would be taking over? Kevin Drum noticed a UPI story that pointed out P&O operates 21 ports throughout the country. Oh well. What's an extra 15 ports between friends? That's only a 250% increase.

It's also important to remember, as the administration keeps pointing out, that DP World is not in charge of security at the ports, just operations. They're running them, not protecting them. That task falls to the Coast Guard. When consulted on the DP World deal, the Coast Guard expressed reservations that we're only hearing about now because the administration was rushing to push the deal through until DP World said, "Let's just slow this down for a minute."


In a Senate hearing earlier today, it was noted that the Coast Guard had raised questions about the deal last year. The full story and implications of that development still aren't completely clear (I linked above to the third Reuters update of that story, so it's still evolving), but we'll keep up with it as well as we can. An AP story cited by Josh Marshall states:

In a statement, the Coast Guard said the concerns reflected in the excerpt ultimately were addressed and that other U.S. intelligence agencies answered the questions raised.

Were they answered satisfactorily, or were they brushed under the carpet? And ow long will it take before we get a straight answer to that question (if we get one at all)?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Bill Buckley Claims the Iraq War Is a Failure

A couple of weeks ago, Glenn Greenwald wrote about how contemporary Republicans don't actually have an ideology--such as, say, conservatism--they just have a cult of personality built around the Prez. As if to provide a test case, William F. Buckley--the godfather of the modern conservative movement--wrote an editorial in The National Review essentially admitting defeat in Iraq. He's not the first to suggest such a thing--we've had John Murtha and Howard Dean to do the same recently. In fact, Greenwald compared Buckley's editorial with Dean's argument (they're essentially the same) and noted the conservative response to Dean. It was said to be treasonous and cowardly. Michael Reagan said he should be hung. Do all these things also relate to Buckley?

There's little doubt that anyone will be screaming for Buckley's scalp. I think most winger commentary would be just as happy to ignore the editorial. One indication of that is the fact that the editorial is time stamped at 2:51 Friday afternoon, but the first mention of it at The Corner, the National Review blog, didn't come until 6:01 Sunday evening, more than 51 hours later. Ramesh Ponnuru downplays Buckley's pronouncement, pointing out that he's been skeptical on the war for a while (although not really addressing the content of Buckley's opinion), and identifying Buckley's conclusion that the war is a failure as "premature." Still, he acknowledges that it's important.

It's foolish to expect consistency in a time when facts don't matter and every argument is one of convenience. But maybe some of the opinion-makers on the right (if not in the administration itself) will come around to Buckley's point of view on the subject. A boy can dream, can't he?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Cutting-Edge Computers

Regular readers of this blog will have long-since tired of my complaining about computer issues. Well, I'm finally ready to do something about it. I'll get something new that will allow me to work more quickly and efficiently and, perhaps more significantly, I'll shut the hell up about my complaints.

Getting back into the computer market, however, is a pretty big deal these days. My machine is more than six years old, so I haven't really been looking at new technology since the last millennium. I've still got Windows 98, and my hard drive has only eight gigs. My processor speeds along at 466MHz. I don't even know what my options are. What should I be looking for? What should I avoid? All help and suggestions would be appreciated.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Abortion Slips Back onto the Agenda

When Bush first rose to the presidency, I never would've thought that we'd be sitting around five years later wondering if abortion rights will be curtailed. I thought that they'd've been long gone by now. I figured that a couple of Supreme Court justices would retire fairly quickly, and Bush could waste no time in molding it into his own image. Boy, was I wrong.

There was no turnover in the Supreme Court until his second term, so we're a bit behind the schedule I expected. But Bush has had a chance to appoint a couple of right-minded justices to the court, and the wingers are starting to get excited about the possibilities. On Tuesday, the Court agreed to hear a challenge to a 2003 law that banned some abortion procedures, particularly dilation and evacuation abortions. So far it's been struck down by six federal courts because it doesn't have an exception to protect the health of the mother, but the Supreme Court doesn't have to follow the same precedents those lower courts did. In 2000, the Court struck down a similar law in Nebraska by a 5-4 vote, but all indications suggest that Alito will join antiabortion justices to uphold the law, health exception or not.

But that's just the opening act. Also this week, South Dakota passed a law in almost direct opposition to Roe, banning almost all abortions in almost all circumstances. Rape or incest? Tough. Health of the mother? Should've thought of that before you got pregnant. This is a big, old softball served up to the Supreme Court to knock out of the park and overturn the original Roe v. Wade decision. If the South Dakota law makes it to the Court, it's expected that Anthony Kennedy will be the swing vote (that's assuming that no one else on the Court--including John Paul Stevens, two months shy of his 86th birthday--resigns or dies between now and then). In 1992, Kennedy joined Justice O'Connor in surprising everyone by voting essentially to reaffirm Roe in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. But he was among the four mentioned above who voted in Stenberg v. Carhart to uphold the Nebraska law limiting abortion. Depending on how the particular issues are framed and argued, it seems to me that Kennedy could come down on either side of the South Dakota law.

Many progressives are reassuring themselves that conservatives don't really want to ban abortion, because it would just end up backfiring on them. While the possibility of it backfiring is certainly possible, I've long since learned not to put anything past this administration, which seems to thrive on brash, in-your-face maneuvers that are too brazen and audacious to question. Progressives have been stunned by what they otherwise termed unbelievable before, and they will be again. Abortion could be gone before we even know what hit us.

Illinois's Illustrious Governor

Rod Blagojevich is having a rough campaign start. He's running some tone-deaf TV commercials in which he says, "I know sometimes you wonder what the governor's up to." No, Rod, I can't say I've ever wondered what you're up to. I hope you're up to doing your job, but I don't think I've given it any thought beyond that. But don't worry, he tells us: "It might surprise you to learn the progress we've made." It might, but if your people were effective in getting their message out, it shouldn't.

But, yow, that's nothing compared to today's story. Blagojevich was interviewed a couple of weeks ago on The Daily Show about his executive order requiring pharmacies to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception. The only problem was, the governor was unfamiliar with The Daily Show and its approach to news and apparently expected a normal sit-down. Even when Jason Jones, after a couple of false starts in pronouncing his name, started calling him "Governor Smith," he didn't quite catch on. At one point, he turned to an aide and asked, "Is he teasing me or is that legit?" Take a look for yourself.

My first reaction on hearing about this--after laughing--was to wonder why, if this was on The Daily Show two weeks ago, it's only becoming an AP story now, three days before the official kick-off to the governor's reelection campaign. The timing seemed suspicious until I noticed that the original St. Louis Post-Dispatch story was based on a meeting Blagojevich had yesterday with the paper's editorial writers. Presumably this interview was one of a series the editorial board is holding with all the candidates for governor. Once it appeared in the Post-Dispatch, it was fair game for the AP to pick up. It's all above board, which, quite frankly, takes a bit of getting used to. We live in a time when a straight-forward answer to a suspicious question is awfully unexpected.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

What's Wrong with Technorati?

I started off writing a post about the nature and culture of blogging, about how bloggers read each other and want to boost their own readership. It was all very touchy-feely. While I was on the topic, I was going to mention a problem that I'm having with Technorati, but then I realized that my main concern was my annoyance with Technorati, not with the wonder of blogging, and I just wanted to bitch.

So here's the deal. For whatever reason, for the past couple of days, Technorati has not been picking up my posts. They're not propagating when I post, but it's not even accepting my the entries when I go over and ping by hand. The last time I'm listed, I think, was the post I made about William Shatner. I don't get huge hits from Technorati searches, but I get a few, and it pisses me off that those aren't coming through right now.

I know. I'm whining, and I'll stop now. Who knows. Maybe this will be the post that breaks through again.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

News from Iraq Gets Worse

With the bombing of Askariya shrine in Samarra, civil tension in Iraq took a strong turn for the worse today. This extremely holy shrine for Shiites was targeted, in the opinion of Iraqi government leaders, in order to foment war between the Shiites and the Sunnis. And it might just do it.

Whenever you're looking for insight into Iraq or the greater Middle East, it's always a good idea to take a look at Informed Comment, the blog of Professor Juan Cole. His first post on the subject is very stark, indeed.

Tuesday was an apocalyptic day in Iraq. I am not normally exactly sanguine about the situation there. But the atmospherics are very, very bad, in a way that most Western observers will miss.

. . .

Both Sunnis and Americans will be blamed. Very bad

Take a look at his second post, too, in which he provides links with more details about the resulting violence and the underlying implications. There's nothing much to do but watch and hope the whole thing doesn't spiral even further out of control. I think right-wingers assume that this is the kind of thing progressives hope for, a debacle that can be hung around the Prez's neck. The truth is that this will be bad for everyone.

Letterman's Cheney Commercial

I saw this Monday night on Letterman, but rather than try to describe it, I figured Crooks and Liars would soon have the video, and I'd just link to that. Sure enough, Crooks and Liars did come up with the video, but I forgot to go look for it until now. Calling Dick Cheney "Just a Big Bowl of Bad," this is an absolutely awe-inspiring litany of Cheney's ignominy. Even if you're on dial-up, this is well worth your time.

Veto from Ignorance

In true hands-off administrator style, Bush has threatened to wield his first veto over an issue he's still learning about. Contrary to how it looked yesterday, Bush did not personally approve the deal that would give Dubai Ports World operational control over six US ports. In fact, if Scott McClellan is to be believed (I know), he didn't even know about it:

President Bush was unaware of the pending sale of shipping operations at six major U.S. seaports to a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates until the deal already had been approved by his administration, the White House said Wednesday.

. . .

While Bush has adamantly defended the deal, the White House acknowledged that he did not know about it until recently.

"He became aware of it over the last several days," McClellan said. Asked if Bush did not know about it until it was a done deal, McClellan said, "That's correct."

Although this article didn't clarify, I assume Bush stands by his veto threat.


ReddHedd at firedoglake has been reading the comments on her posts. And yesterday morning, she spotlighted a few of them for the rest of us. A couple of the readers had some interesting things to say about branding political parties and how the Dems have been completely overwhelmed by the Repubs in this matter. But there were also ideas of how Dems can rebrand themselves. Here's a segment of what Pachacutec had to say on the subject (with apologies to Pachacutec for the extended quote):

To rebrand the party, we must

1 - fight, fight, fight

2 - be coordinated when we fight, because that's the only way to connote strength

3 - play to personality before policy (Senators are bad at this. The Senate tends to bleach out passion, though Feingold is against the grain)

4 - Slash, burn and discredit their brand. We need as much of what I call "honest calumny" as we can get. Be brutal. We do it on this sight. It's true the top carrier of our brand should be more sunny and affable in his or her personality, but he or she needs to be backed up by brutal attack dogs like us.

We can rebrand them as corrupt, aristocratic, incompetent, cowardly and dangerous (elements, for example, that all exist in the shooting story on some level). In fact, we must do this, if we are to win and change the 30 year tide.

We must rebrand ourselves as honest, public spirited, accountable, aggressive and tough. We can revive elements of the FDR brand but we can't replay it without updates, in my opinion.

There's plenty more wisdom where that came from. Go read it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

United Arab Emirates--Ports R Us

What's the deal with the UAE company taking over operations at six ports in the US (as well as ports in Canada, the UK, and various other countries)? Dubai Ports World is buying P&O, a "Great British" company that currently runs those ports, but the trick is that DP World is owned completely by the government of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Dubai hasn't exactly got the cleanest hands in all this terrorism business. The New York Times helpfully elaborates:

But Dubai's record is hardly unblemished. Two of the hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks came from the United Arab Emirates and laundered some of their money through its banking system. It was also the main transshipment point for Abdul Qadeer Khan, a Pakistani nuclear engineer who ran the world's largest nuclear proliferation ring from warehouses near the port, met Iranian officials there, and shipped centrifuge equipment, which can be used to enrich uranium, from there to Libya.

I'm not sure that any possibility of having DP World operate US ports should be dismissed out of hand, but it does seem to raise a few questions. Fortunately, we have a law that says a deal such as this involving a company controlled by a foreign country is subject to a mandatory 45-day investigation. That should provide an opportunity to give the deal a full airing, right?

Of course, we're talking about the Bush Administration here. There was no 45-day investigation--the Prez went around that law in approving the deal. Even the Repubs in the House and Senate are up in arms about that. Senate Majority Leader Frist and Speaker of the House Hastert have criticized administration actions. Legislation is being prepared to require that the 45-day investigation be completed--that's right, they're intending to pass a law to force the Prez to follow the law that already exists. And what's Bush's reaction? He's threatening a veto, which would be his first. So far, after more than five years in office, no legislation has been so problematic to him that he's had to use his veto. But now, a law requiring him to abide by another law already on the books--that crosses the line!

There's got to be more to this. Why is Bush so vehement? What's he getting out of it that we don't know about yet? What's the information--so far unknown--that would allow this to make sense?

It sure seems open and shut, but nothing ever is anymore. Stay tuned to see if Congress will step up and declare itself equal to the executive branch, or if our legislators will cave once again to a chief executive with approval numbers under 40 percent. There even seems a good possibility of overriding a veto if Congress actually sticks to its guns. I'm on the edge of my seat, myself.

The Song Stylings of William Shatner

William Shatner is on Craig Ferguson tonight, and he showed a clip from a concert film he's got coming up on TVLand. Ferguson asked him whether he was really "singing," which Shatner admitted was actually more "talk singing." It occurred to me that Eddie Argos out of Art Brut essentially does talk singing, and everybody says he's heavily influenced by Mark E. Smith. Does that mean Shatner's influenced by Mark E. Smith, too? Actually, it would be sort of cool to get a little bit more Mark E. Smith into Shatner's performance.

Monday, February 20, 2006

A Slow Day

I've been cleaning out my computer this evening, getting rid of things in the start-up menu that I didn't even realize my computer was doing. We'll see whether or not it speeds up my machine's performance. But consequently, I haven't had a lot of time to look around for subjects and links to write about. It's a "holiday" today, though, so it doesn't seem like there's as much going on.

By the way, how many people actually get today as a holiday? Government employees are off, banks are closed, of course, and I guess most schools are shut down. But other than that, how many private-sector businesses actually close their doors today? I was at work like normal. How about you?

Over the weekend, I heard about an intriguing movie that'll be opening soon, sort of wide. CSA: The Confederate States of America appears to be an alternate history in which the Confederacy not only won the Civil War but took over the Union, as well. The movie takes the form of a current-day BBC documentary on the history of the country. It'll probably be fairly episodic to cover 150 years of history. Until recently, I knew a bit about the Civil War but, even as a history grad student, didn't go out of my way to study it. But a couple of years ago, I oversaw a huge Civil War project at work, learned far more about the subject than I ever expected, and became fascinated by it (although not fascinated enough to take part in any reenactments--they're great if that's what you like to do, but I'm just saying). And I've always been interested in alternate history, in which one or two (or several) historic incidents work out differently to create a different reality.

A successful Confederacy is actually a fairly common theme, and perhaps the best-known example is the novel Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove. Although some of the ideas in that book are interesting, I had a real problem with its treatment of slavery. By the time we get to the end of the narrative, President Robert E. Lee and his nation have recognized the evil of slavery and set about to free the slaves. The issue had been glossed over throughout the book, and to be dismissed so easily undermined the work for me. Turtledove also has another series of books about a Confederate victory (which I haven't read), in which the slaves are freed about twenty years after the war, though I don't know how he treats the subject up until then.

CSA has no such reluctance to deal with the issue of slavery. In the movie, the modern-day Confederacy continues to keep slaves. In fact, that looks like a primary point of the film. I'm curious to see quite what they do with it. I said earlier that it was opening wide sort of. It opened last week in New York, and it opens in a number of cities (including Chicago) this Friday, with more being added in the next few weeks. But from what I can tell on the Website, it only appears to be opening in one theater in each city. This has the feel of a film that will be in its appointed theater in each city for only a week or so, so you'd better move quickly if you want to see it. (Of course, we live in an extremely modern world, so if you don't make it to the theater, you should have no problem coming up with the DVD in a couple of months.)

Sunday, February 19, 2006

More NSA

Tomorrow's Washington Post has a nice overview of White House efforts to shut down any Congressional probes into the whole issue of NSA spying on Americans. It gives us more detail about how the administration and Roberts avoided a committee vote last week, although it still doesn't give up the whole story. There's more going on between Roberts and Senators Olympia Snowe and Chuck Hagel than we know, and there may still be new developments. Stay tuned.

Flip Flop? He's Playing One-Man Ping-Pong

So what's the latest position Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts has taken on the Prez's NSA spying? Have you been keeping up with his shifts? For all I know, he's changed again between the time I'm writing this and you're reading it.

Traditionally, Roberts has been firmly in the Bush-can-do-no-wrong camp. He never had a problem with the NSA spying on Americans, because if the Prez needed to do it, he must've needed to do it. For a brief moment, it appeared that other Republicans on the Intelligence Committee might maneuver him into actually having to oversee an investigation into the program, but with the help of a full-court press from the White House, he was able to bring the errant committee Republicans back in line and put off an inquiry.

But then on Friday he talked to The New York Times, telling them that perhaps the NSA did need oversight. There was a fair amount of criticism of his committee for ducking its responsibility, and apparently he caved. Even Roberts himself recognized the incongruity of the situation. "'I think it's the function and the oversight responsibility of the committee,' he said, adding, 'That might sound strange coming from me.'" Yes, it might. But all of a sudden, he seemed to be on the side of the angels.

But not so fast--after that interview hit the streets, Roberts's office put out word that the article may not have accurately conveyed the senator's position, that it "did not reflect 'the tenor and status' of the negotiations between Congress and the White House, as well as within Congress." He wasn't sure oversight was really that necessary, after all. I guess he caved again as soon as he got those administration calls that you know were clogging up his switchboard. Will he flip again? The spectacle of a coequal branch of government sitting on its hands (particularly if the Republican House actually does practice some oversight) will generate another volley of criticism from the other side. It's no secret that Roberts is personally standing in the way of senatorial action. If we're lucky, maybe he'll flip another couple of times before it's all over.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Do You Want Freedom Fries with That?

I just lost a post that I've been working on for a couple of hours, and I simply don't have the strength to go back and start it again tonight. But in keeping with my promise to have at least one new post up every day, I'm going to punt by borrowing a funny link from Chris at AMERICAblog.

Proving that patriotism isn't really about, well, being patriotic but rather about semantics, instead, Iran has borrowed a page from American right wingers. They apparently love them some Danish pastry in Iran, but with the cartoon controversy from the Danish newspaper growing to such huge proportions, they couldn't keep selling them. Or selling them by that name, at least. So now Danish pastry is referred to as "roses from the Prophet Muhammad."

I have to admit that the first thing I wondered when I saw this was whether they really called Danish pastry "Danish pastry" in Iran, seeing as how they speak Farsi and everything. My doubts weren't vanquished, but they were severely diminished when I noticed that even Aljazeera picked up the AP article. In the caption to the accompanying picture, Aljazeera assures readers that Iranian Danish is baked domestically and not imported.

Friday, February 17, 2006

All Apologies

Over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall has up a somewhat distressing screen capture taken from the CNN Web page this afternoon. I'm glad, though, that Harry Whittington is sorry for standing right where Dick Cheney was about to swirl around and shoot at. His little lapse in judgment has put Cheney--and let's face it, all of us, really--out terribly. I hope he's learned his lesson.

For All Your Drinking and Shooting Needs

Just in time for the weekend!

I had lunch at a Polish deli with some friends yesterday, where we came across the perfect compliment for that next alcoholic hunting party. As Dick Cheney might say, it's two great pastimes that go great together (though Harry Whittington might beg to differ). Sniper Vodka is just what you need for tippling at the firing range, and it'll make a great gift for your favorite smashed soldier of fortune who's just so hard to buy for. So the next time the occasion calls for it, strap on a bottle of Sniper Vodka and see what kind of game you can bag.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

On Mistaking a Man for a Quail

I've been slow on the whole Dick Cheney hunting accident thing. But even at a few days distance, the incident doesn't seem to be getting any clearer. Apparently Harry Whittington was merely "peppered" with some shot from a "pellet gun." No big deal. He should be fine. Except that he's been in the hospital ever since and isn't expected to be released for a few more days. He's been in and out of intensive care, although he's currently in the ICU at his own request for reasons of privacy. (Which is not a bad idea, let me tell you. Whenever I need to get away from it all for a few days, there's nowhere better than the ICU at the local hospital.)

One of the odd questions still hanging out there is the nature of Whittington's injuries. Was he thirty feet from Cheney or thirty yards, as Cheney himself claims? There's been speculation as to whether Whittington could get hit by 200 pellets if he were a full thirty yards away--the most entertaining argument is probably put forward by General JC Christian, in his magic BB theory.

And then there's the issue of alcohol. Cheney admits to having had a beer at lunch (after it was claimed that nothing stronger than Dr. Pepper was consumed by anyone in the hunting party), and I'm sure he didn't have any problem with the beer interacting with what is undoubtedly a fairly complex regime of medication for his heart condition. Was it just one beer at lunch? Was it more than one at lunch and after? Did it effect his aim, his judgment, his vision, or all of the above?

There are plenty more oddities in the official story. Feel free to add your own questions in the comments section.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Tripping Over Global Warming Tipping Points

Don at Article 19 linked to this story from Britain's Independent earlier this week, and if anybody else is talking about it, I've yet to see it. (The Independent link is a pay link now, but you can still read the story at truthout). The latest trend in global warming research is concern about "tipping points" that we may reach, at which point too much damage will have been done to the environment to prevent at least some of the affects of global warming. There are three main "tipping points" scientists are concerned about:

widespread coral bleaching that could damage the world's fisheries within three decades; dramatic sea level rise by the end of the century that would take tens of thousands of years to reverse; and, within 200 years, a shutdown of the ocean current that moderates temperatures in northern Europe.

According to an investigation by The Independent, we've already passed a tipping point on the way to one of those tipping points. The Independent article is poorly written and takes effort to work through (which probably accounts for why it hasn't received more attention), but the gist of it is that, at a British government conference held last hear, "Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change," scientists warned of reaching a dangerous level of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere that would guarantee higher temperatures, which would in turn trigger a domino effect for further global warming. The level of greenhouse gasses (a combination of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and other similar gasses) necessary to kick all this off was estimated at the conference to be 400 parts per million. The Independent commissioned the head of meteorology at the University of Reading to determine the current level of these gasses. He found the current CO2 concentration to be 425 parts per million. Scientists cited in the article believe this puts us on track to see an average temperature rise of 2 degrees, which in turn would lead to the coral bleaching noted above as a firmer "turning point."

This is complicated and still somewhat speculative when it comes to details, but the Independent story suggests that we're on our way to the tipping points for this planet, and at some time, which we'll probably only recognize in hindsight, we'll pass a point of no return, from which the climate cannot recover.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Support Bush Inspires

Contrary to my previous entry, Glenn Greenwald wrote an interesting post on Sunday that asked the musical question, "Do Bush followers have a political ideology?" His answer was no, they just have a cult of personality around Bush himself. So just as cracks do indeed seem to be appearing in the Republican monolith, we have to recognize that other parts of that monolith are just as (or more?) rabid than they've ever been.

It used to be the case that in order to be considered a "liberal" or someone "of the Left," one had to actually ascribe to liberal views on the important policy issues of the day – social spending, abortion, the death penalty, affirmative action, immigration, "judicial activism," hate speech laws, gay rights, utopian foreign policies, etc. etc. These days, to be a "liberal," such views are no longer necessary.

Now, in order to be considered a "liberal," only one thing is required – a failure to pledge blind loyalty to George W. Bush. The minute one criticizes him is the minute that one becomes a "liberal," regardless of the ground on which the criticism is based. And the more one criticizes him, by definition, the more "liberal" one is. Whether one is a "liberal" -- or, for that matter, a "conservative" -- is now no longer a function of one's actual political views, but is a function purely of one's personal loyalty to George Bush.

Greenwald uses the example of Andrew Sullivan, who has long-time conservative credentials but has split with the Bushies on a few points and has thus been redefined as left-leaning and liberal. Greenwald then goes on to provide a number of other examples:

We see the same thing happening to hard-core conservative Bob Barr due to his criticism of Bush's violations of FISA . Similarly, the minute a Senator with years of conservatism behind them deviates from a Bush decree on a single issue, they are no longer "conservative." George Voinovich became a "liberal" the minute he refused to support John Bolton's nomination; John Sununu is now "liberal" because he did not favor immediate renewal of every single provision of the Patriot Act which Bush demanded, and Senators like Chuck Hagel and John McCain long ago gave up any "conservative" status because of their insistence on forming opinions that occasionally deviate from the decrees from the White House.

People who self-identify as "conservatives" and have always been considered to be conservatives become liberal heathens the moment they dissent, even on the most non-ideological grounds, from a Bush decree. That's because "conservatism" is now a term used to describe personal loyalty to the leader (just as "liberal" is used to describe disloyalty to that leader), and no longer refers to a set of beliefs about government.

Greenwald continues on at length to build a compelling argument that's well worth your time.

As if to prove his point, a correspondent in the comments to Greenwald's post calls him a Bush-hater and dismisses his entire point on that basis alone. It's a pretty useful strategy. Anything Bushies don't like (or don't want to address) can be blamed on personal animosity to Bush himself and tossed away without examination. It's easy to see why they would consider this a compelling strategy--if their support of Bush is based only on personal liking of and attraction to the man, then any negative response to his policies must be based on personal dislike. Greenwald was similarly attacked on Monday by conservative bloggers, and he responded to his attackers in a follow-up post. None of the critics he mentions took issue with the substance of his argument, so if we were scoring this like a high-school or college debate, we'd see that no one has laid a glove on him so far.

It's worth noting a little bit more about what Bob Barr's been up to. During the Clinton impeachment, he was perhaps the most rabid of the House managers, and he was a far-right conservative poster child long before that. Last week, he appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference (the same event where Ann Coulter received a warm response for calling Muslims "ragheads" and considering the assassination of Bill Clinton). Greenwald linked to a reference to Dana Milbank's Saturday column in The Washington Post about that appearance.

"Are we losing our lodestar, which is the Bill of Rights?" Barr beseeched the several hundred conservatives at the Omni Shoreham in Woodley Park. "Are we in danger of putting allegiance to party ahead of allegiance to principle?"

Barr answered in the affirmative. "Do we truly remain a society that believes that . . . every president must abide by the law of this country?" he posed. "I, as a conservative, say yes. I hope you as conservatives say yes."

But nobody said anything in the deathly quiet audience. Barr merited only polite applause when he finished, and one man, Richard Sorcinelli, booed him loudly. "I can't believe I'm in a conservative hall listening to him say [Bush] is off course trying to defend the United States," Sorcinelli fumed.

At least Barr understands what he's up against, as he compares his current campaign to the impeachment trial.

Barr elaborated on his conundrum. "It's difficult," he acknowledged. "It's not about sex, which was very easy to explain."

And there's your modern Republican party, folks. This is the kind of logic (or lack of same) we'll have to confront in the next elections. But, as we noted last night, at least (for the time being anyway) these people make up no more than 39 percent of the population.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Republican Black Sheep

It's only a beginning, but I think we've got a trend here. Republican party discipline is wearing down. The flunkies are no longer rolling over and letting themselves be the fall guys. I guess they've forgotten the Mission: Impossible spiel: "Should you or any member of your team be caught or killed, the secretary will disavow all knowledge of your actions."

Scooter Libbey has testified that he leaked classified information on the authorization of "superiors." (Of course, he assures us that he's not planning to actually use this as a defense when his case comes to trial. Maybe he'll be willing to take the bullet after all.)

Michael "Brownie" Brown has returned to Capitol Hill this week to complain that he'd been hung out to dry by the Bush Administration.

Brown told the committee he felt he had been made a scapegoat. "I certainly feel somewhat abandoned," he added.

He said he believed he had had a good relationship with Bush, but added: "Unfortunately he called me "Brownie" at the wrong time. Thanks a lot sir," he said, to laughter.

And Jack Abramoff isn't exactly going quietly, either. Bush has denied knowing the man, a Bush "Pioneer" who raised at least $100,000 for his campaign, but leaked e-mails written by Abramoff relate a different story. The lobbyist claims to have met with Bush a number of times and that Bush knows him well enough to talk with him about Abramoff's children. (The leak itself seems to have a bit of a convoluted history, too. Tbogg came across some interesting posts at The National Review's blog, The Corner. Think Progress said they received the e-mails from Kim Eisler, the national editor of Washingtonian magazine. But at The Corner, it was suggested that Eisler hadn't intended the e-mails to be published. Apparently, they claimed, he had passed them to Think Progress under the mistaken impression that they were Washington journalists who would continue to sit on the breaking news and keep it to themselves. And all along I thought it was the journalist's responsibility to actually report the news. That's so last century.)

In going into all this, though, it strikes me that maybe this lack of discipline isn't so new. In Bush's first administration, we had Paul O'Neill, the first Treasury secretary, who cooperated with Ron Suskind to tell his story in The Price of Loyalty. We had anti-terrorism guru Richard Clarke, who exposed the holes in the Bush Administration counter-terrorism program. And we had John DiIulio, former head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and one of the first Bush officials to break with the administration, who gave us the phrase "Mayberry Machiavellis" (and also talked with Ron Suskind in Esquire). We've had plenty of insider insights into White House incompetence, but we've (and by we, I mean the media) managed to completely ignore it up to now. Why is it all of a sudden getting traction? Have we reached a critical mass of administration failure? Do presidential approval ratings below 40 percent give the press newfound courage? I don't know, but I guess we'll take what we can get. At least all this bucking of the administration will make it easier for the next scapegoatted supporter to join the chorus.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

"Grandpa" Al Lewis's Secret

It's hardly a surprise when actors and other performers lie about their age. Hollywood, and pretty much our culture in general, reveres youth over experience, so nobody wants to lose an edge, whether its an edge they come by naturally or manufacture for themselves. But not many actors add years to their age. That's what Al Lewis did.

Born in 1923, Lewis claimed 1910. It's not clear exactly when he started the lie, but it may have been when he was going up for the part of Grandpa on The Munsters. Yvonne DeCarlo, who played Grandpa's daughter Lily, was born in 1922, so according to this argument, Lewis didn't want to lose the part by being younger than his "daughter." I'm not sure why any of that really mattered, because they were playing characters who were ageless immortals, but there you go.

Dan Barry had a nice piece about all this in yesterday's New York Times. (But was it kept hidden behind the Times's subscription-only service? You bet it was. You can still read it courtesy of donkey o.d.) Once he had a few more years to fill, as Barry pointed out, Lewis made the most of them. Over the years, he's claimed to have been an aide in the defense of anarchists Sacco and Vanzeti (in 1927), a supporter of the Scottsboro Boys (in 1931), a merchant seaman who was twice forced to abandon a torpedoed ship, and a recipient of a doctorate in child psych from Columbia.

Lewis appears to have been thorough in his lie. The first obituaries listed him as 95 upon his death, and the top news organizations had to run corrections when Lewis's son provided the actual date. According to Barry, even Lewis's wife of more than twenty years thought he was born in 1910. At some point, he was getting more attention for being as spry as he was into his nineties than he ever would have gotten for being in his late seventies and early eighties. Maybe we all just need to figure out the point in our lives when we're better off adding years than shaving them off.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Obama Smack Down

Speaking of Barack Obama and his Grammy win, he was also involved in a flap that looked poised to flare up huge but then just petered out. He and John McCain had been discussing lobbying reform, and Obama declared that he was going to ally himself with a Democratic plan. McCain wasn't pleased (to say the least). He issued a furious letter to Obama, accusing him of hypocrisy, disingenuousness, and general partisan skullduggery. And this was no simple misunderstanding--McCain released the letter as a press release. It was a hit on Obama.

To his credit, Obama did not respond in kind but did reiterate that his position on the issue had never changed. Before the news channels could go after this feud 24/7, Obama called McCain and spoke with him, and apparently the two settled their differences. Lynn Sweet wrote about the buried hatchet, and her report also includes links to stories about the various phases of the quarrel. Josh Marshall suggests what's really going on, and I have to agree. The Repubs are scared of Obama, and they're setting him up for more hits in the future.

Did I Miss the Grammys?

I might as well have. The Grammys just seemed like they came and went this year. Maybe they'd have some more staying power if they made an effort to reward quality instead of quantity. Rather than nominating the best-selling music, perhaps they could take one year to nominate the best music, to find out what's important in music rather than what is safe.

Once again, the Grammys had a chance to give Record of the Year to a rap recording, and once again they chose not to. Kanye West's "Gold Digger" was nominated, but Green Day took home the trophy for "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" (which was the band's only nomination). But this year still couldn't hold a candle to the notorious 2004 Grammys [recognizing records released in 2002 and 2003] when Beyonce and Jay-Z, Black Eyed Peas and Justin Timberlake, Eminem, and Outkast were all passed over for Coldplay's "Clocks." Back to this year, Kanye was also up for Album of the Year, but U2 grabbed it for 2004's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Kanye did win in the actual rap categories, though, taking home three awards for rap solo performance, rap song, and rap album.

Part of the Grammys' problem may be that they spread themselves too thin and try to recognize everybody. This year they handed out little gramophones in 108 categories. (In case you still haven't heard, Jimmy Sturr and His Orchestra won for Best Polka Album [it's Jimmy's fifteenth Grammy, by the way], and Jelly Roll Morton's Complete Library of Congress Recordings was honored for both Best Album Notes and Best Historical Album.) Barack Obama also won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album (which nowadays essentially means "best book on tape").

I actually did miss the Grammy telecast, but I'm sorry I didn't see Gorillaz (even if they were dueting with Madonna) and Sly Stone. I saw Gorillaz (such as they were) when they toured their first album a couple of years ago. At that point, they didn't have the technology to do anything more than hide the real musicians behind a screen so we could only see their shadows. Every now and again, they'd project a picture of one of the characters on the screen, but mostly we saw variously colored shadows in front of variously colored lights. The music was nice, but I felt like I was Plato or something. Gorillaz did actually win Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for "Feel Good Inc.," which they recorded with De La Soul. Somehow I have the feeling that this particular award wasn't televised, but if it was, did anybody see it? Did 2D and Murdoc accept?

I've rambled from topic to topic long enough, but before I finish, I should mention that I was at a used CD store tonight, and they wanted $11 for used copies of Gorillaz' Demon Days. I know that I could've driven a bit farther to buy a new copy for $14, so why on earth would I buy a used copy if I'm only saving three bucks? I've been meaning to write a post about the dwindling number of used CD outlets, but I hope that the list of stores that have disappeared isn't going to get a bit longer because somebody's trying to squeeze a few more pennies out of customers.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Keeping Up with Scooter

In the run up to a trial, you can sometimes get an idea of the strategies the two sides may be preparing by what pretrial motions they file. And the Scooter Libby trial is no exception. According to Murray Waas in National Journal, Scooter revealed classified information to reporters for one of the oldest and most popular reasons known to humanity--he was only following orders.

Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, testified to a federal grand jury that he had been "authorized" by Cheney and other White House "superiors" in the summer of 2003 to disclose classified information to journalists to defend the Bush administration's use of prewar intelligence in making the case to go to war with Iraq, according to attorneys familiar with the matter, and to court records.

Libby specifically claimed that in one instance he had been authorized to divulge portions of a then-still highly classified National Intelligence Estimate regarding Saddam Hussein's purported efforts to develop nuclear weapons, according to correspondence recently filed in federal court by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

One of Scooter's lawyers, William Jeffress, has denied that Scooter would actually try to shift the blame to his superiors at trial, but that can easily be explained as an effort to mend fences with Scooter's former boss, Dick Cheney, and the rest of the administration. Scooter's still receiving right-wing largesse, so he doesn't want to turn on them any sooner than he has to. You do have to wonder, though, how much of the rap he'll be willing to take all by himself. He may be trying to negotiate in his own mind exactly how much he can give up and still hold on to his reputation as a good soldier.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Big Brother Only Wants What's Best for You

My brother was in town for the day, so I spent much more of my time out and about and much less sitting in front of my blog and mulling over what to post. But I will share a point made by ReddHedd at firedoglake earlier this week. In all the fuss over the Prez's surveillance outside of the FISA court, it would be easy to assume that the spying might target other people but not ourselves. At this point, at least as far as the administration is admitting, the surveillance only covers calls coming into or out of the country. Most Americans don't make or receive international calls. Or do they? It's no secret that businesses have been outsourcing their call centers to India or other countries. Has your credit card company given you any "courtesy calls" lately? Have you talked with your cell phone provider recently? If you've needed any technical assistance for your computer or other electronics, without realizing or even intending it, you may well have called overseas. And if you have, the government is paying attention. In the comments to that firedoglake post, a reader pointed out that Blackberry routes its communications through Canada. Does that mean if you have a Blackberry, any e-mail you've sent or received on it--even if it's just to your home or office computer--is international? Does it fall under the spying program? As that program is currently (and vaguely) defined, yes it does. The non-FISA surveillance may be closer to each of this than we've realized.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Carter Calls NSA Spying "Illegal"

When Jimmy Carter was president, way back in the '70s, there was a lot of controversy about the U.S. government spying on its citizens. I don't know how much information is available about the subjects of that spying, but it's no secret that it included such menaces to the nation as Martin Luther King, Jr. Way back in those olden days, most (but not all) Americans believed that it was wrong to spy on their fellow citizens without a good reason (probably cause) and with a complete lack of oversight. Congress set about to correct this problem and passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. President Carter signed that bill into law. All that translates into the fact that Carter knows what he's talking about when he offers his opinion on covert surveillance and FISA.

And his opinion is that what Bush is doing is illegal.

"Under the Bush administration, there's been a disgraceful and illegal decision--we're not going to the let the judges or the Congress or anyone else know that we're spying on the American people," Carter told reporters. "And no one knows how many innocent Americans have had their privacy violated under this secret act."

. . .

The former president also rebuked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for telling Congress that the spying program is authorized under Article 2 of the Constitution and does not violate the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act passed during Carter's administration.

. . .

"It's a ridiculous argument, not only bad, it's ridiculous. Obviously, the attorney general who said it's all right to torture prisoners and so forth is going to support the person who put him in office. But he's a very partisan attorney general and there's no doubt that he would say that," Carter said. "I hope that eventually the case will go to the Supreme Court. I have no doubt that when it's over, the Supreme Court will rule that Bush has violated the law."

Of course, that may depend on how many more Alitos the Prez will be able to nominate to the court by the time the NSA case gets there.

Feingold on Monday's Hearings

Russell Feingold is talking about Alberto Gonzales and Monday's NSA surveillance hearings over at TPMCafe. Here's a snippet:

This administration reacts to anyone who questions this illegal program by saying that those of us who demand the truth and stand up for our rights and freedoms somehow has a pre-9/11 world view. In fact, the President has a pre-1776 world view. Our government has three branches, not one. And no one, not even the President, is above the law.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Hems and Haws from Alberto Gonzales

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales marched into the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday and proceeded to dodge every question directed to him. But even so, the session did have a few interesting moments. The senators started with a small controversy over whether or not Gonzales should testify under oath. When Gonzales provided sworn testimony during his nomination hearings, he refused to answer a question from Senator Russell Feingold about the president's power to wiretap U.S. citizens illegally without a warrant because it was a "hypothetical situation" and, besides, such an activity was "not the policy or the agenda of this president." Of course, we've since learned that the question wasn't hypothetical, and it was the policy or the agenda of this president to do exactly that. But Gonzales wasn't sworn in today (a decision Senator Arlen Specter justified with the ever-popular "because I'm chairman and I say so" argument), so Gonzales had even more wiggle room when Feingold followed up. Not surprisingly, when pressed again, Gonzales continued to play semantics and insist that it was a hypothetical question because, despite the clear laws against it, the surveillance wasn’t illegal--so therefore, according to Gonzales, asking whether the President would approve illegal wiretaps has no relation to reality in any way whatsoever, so why bother wasting our time discussing it?

Feel free to wade through the transcripts if you want to. You can get a nice play-by-play at firedoglake in five easy installments (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). I'm begging off from giving you more details myself, because there's really not much more too it than Gonzales stonewalling. He did remind senators from time to time that the nation was attacked on 9/11, but that's about the only spice he added. By the end of the day, Gonzales had left no question that he continues to act as the President's attorney rather than as the nation's top law-enforcement officer.

In his column yesterday, Dan Froomkin pointed out some nice comparisons between today's situation and the Senator Frank Church hearings on NSA surveillance of U.S. citizens thirty years ago. Revelations from those hearings led to the establishment of FISA in the first place.

The National Security Archive reports: "Despite objections from then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and then-CIA director George H. W. Bush, President Gerald Ford came down on the side of a proposed federal law to govern wiretapping in 1976 instead of relying on the 'inherent' authority of the President because the 'pros' outweighed the 'cons,' according to internal White House documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and posted on the Web today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University."

Yay! Blogger's Back!

I don't know how other people fared, but I haven't been able to access this blog or any other blog powered by Blogger for about twelve hours. Blogger announced that there would be a one-hour outage for maintenance last night from 9:00 to 10:00 central time, but even after that outage was scheduled to be over, I still couldn't pull it up at home this morning. (And since I'm at work, for all I know, I still wouldn't be able to access it from home.) I'm not sure how Blogger's set up, but I couldn't get into the basic Blogger home page to post anything, even if I wouldn't be able to see it, either. Atrios seemed to post through the night (and not all the posts were threadbots, either), and AMERICAblog had some late night posts, as well, so I guess the problem was not system-wide. Let's just hope we don't have another relapse anytime soon.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Another Hard-Fi Query

Since I've already linked to this post in my previous entry, let me ask a quick question about Hard-Fi. Why does frontman Richard Archer care whether the cognoscenti like them or not? (Yes, I've been listening closely and deciphering lyrics again.)

Truth in Lip-Synching

Lining up with a post I wrote last week about musicians using tapes in concerts, the Musicians' Union of Britain is calling for performers to acknowledge when they're lip-synching. It's truth in labeling, after all. Somewhat disingenuously, it seems to me, union spokesperson Keith Ames said, "Stand up and be honest about it. We won't knock you for using recordings." They won't need to knock those performers because the label of lip-syncing alone will be a stigma to many. Still, they should be stigmatized if they're trying to fool the public.

For me this really is an issue of live authenticity. If we think we're seeing a live performance, whether that's in person or on a TV show such as Saturday Night Live, we should be made aware if we're not. But I don't feel as strongly about using studio tricks on a recording. That's part of what recordings are for. I never understood the whole flap over Milli Vanilli all those years ago. People were buying CDs. The music on the CD still sounded as good (or not) as it always did whether it was sung by those two guys on the CD cover and on the videos or not. You're buying a song--it doesn't matter who did the song if it still sounds the same as it always did. I don't know if I'm blowing the lid off of anything or not, but if anybody's reading this who's old enough to remember Archie cartoons on Saturday mornings, the Archies weren't really singing, either. They're cartoon characters. They don't even have real voices. (And just for the record, it always sounded like Archie's singing voice was far closer to Reggie's speaking voice than it was to Archie's. In my imagination, Reggie was always the lead singer, whether Archie was the frontman or not.)

I'm with the British union. Let's make it clear when we're hearing a live performance and when we're not. If a performer or band can't replicate its studio sound live, then they've got no business taking their show on the road.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Blogging Difficulties

Blogger has been having problems for a couple of days, and yesterday evening I wasn't able to access it or any other blog that uses it at all. Other blogs have been reporting other problems, so I think it's erratic and may be interfacing with different ISPs and connections in different ways. We seem to be here now, though, and Blogger appears to be back to normal, so we'll see if that continues.

But speaking of blogging difficulties, I've also been feeling very restricted with the speed of blogging. Probably political issues move faster than other pop culture topics, so it may just be limitations I'm placing on myself. It's my blog, after all, and I can write about what I want to. But it's only Sunday, and I feel like I completely missed Cindy Sheehan's rough expulsion from the State of the Union on Tuesday for wearing a T-shirt with the number of dead troops from the Iraq war, her arrest, the dropping of the charges, and the apology from Capitol police because they had no grounds to remove or arrest her in the first place (according to Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer, they were enforcing "an old unwritten interpretation of the prohibitions about demonstrating in the Capitol"). I likewise didn't get to mention that the wife of a Congressman was (much more politely and without the accompanying arrest) asked to leave the SOTU for a T-shirt supporting the President's policies. The first Republican vote for House majority leader that counted more votes cast than voters present to cast them passed by completely unremarked upon by this blog. As I was writing yesterday about Oprah and James Frey, it felt like ancient history (which at least was tempered by the fact that I could link to a contemporary article about A Million Little Pieces's editor).

Maybe I've just got to adjust my expectations for what I want to do in this blog. When I started, I thought I'd write about politics and issues to some extent, but I've allowed myself to be pretty much taken over by them. Partly that's because we seem to live in a time when politics is electric. The stakes seem far higher than they were ten years ago, but that doesn't mean I've got to go all political all the time (or maybe just mostly political most of the time). I guess I've allowed current events to hijack the agenda of my blog, and maybe I need to reassert control a little bit more and lower the pressure I'm putting on myself to keep up with the news as it happens. Over the next few days, I'll reassess what I'm doing and what I want to do, and I'll see how I can get all that balance out to make myself a happier blogger.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

What Do the Oscars Tell Us About Ourselves?

I was all ready to write something about the backlash we seem to be getting against the five nominees for Best Picture at the Oscars this year (which I'll admit, isn't the most stirring list I've ever seen), but I couldn't possibly top this smack-down from Kung Fu Monkey (via firedoglake.

Truthiness, Warmed Over

This topic is so last week, but I'm not going to let that stop me from saying a few words about it. It was still a hot topic all around the office, and yesterday's Chicago Tribune printed letters responding to Julia Keller's Monday defense of James Frey. That defense essentially consisted of, "Sure, he lied through his teeth, but he certainly wrote a page turner."

I'll admit right up front that I haven't read the book, so I'm really commenting on the controversy itself. It's certainly hard to ignore, though. When I went to the Trib Web site, I did a search for Oprah Frey and had to wade through forty hits before I got to Keller's article. If I'd searched even further back, I would've finally reached their original coverage of Frey's most recent appearance on Oprah's show. Over in the Chicago Reader, Michael Minor clocked the Trib's coverage the day after that episode of Oprah at one news article (a banner headline on the front page) and six columnists weighing in. I think this really means it's a controversy about Oprah being upset, but I'm more interested in the publishing side of it.

At this point, I've rewritten the following paragraphs a couple of times. (I know, I know, that's so not in the blogger's handbook. I should've written, posted, and then come back and corrected. But all I can say is that I'm an editor--it's what I do. So sue me.) I'd started off saying that I wasn't sure how Nan Talese, essentially the publisher of the book, should have handled the situation differently and writing about the standard publishing practice of putting the onus of accuracy and originality on the author. Some publishers employ fact-checkers, but that's mostly targeted at harder nonfiction titles. A memoir is soft nonfiction. While a memoir is theoretically true, there's no hiding the fact that its appeal is the personal experiences and memories of the author. I argued that most publishers would say that if a memoirist is exposed as a fraud, the shame goes to the author, that publishers were duped just as much as readers were. Should Talese have gotten copies of Frey's imprisonment records? In retrospect, certainly, but I was ready to accept the idea that a certain level of trust should exist between the writer, editor, and publisher. I even pointed out that if the issue had come up among editors at all, someone would probably have asked the question, "Why would he lie about something that could so easily be confirmed or disproved?"

But then I saw a story about Sean McDonald, A Million Little Pieces's editor, in today's New York Times. Back in September, McDonald told the Times that he "made sure that everything actually happened." Further, when the publisher had questions, McDonald had said, "James had to provide them with all kinds of verification." McDonald had left Nan Talese for another publisher by that point, so he wasn't speaking for his former employer and may not have been offering what at that point was the official Talese position. But even so, that statement changes things. It seems that McDonald no longer stands by his previous statement. On Thursday in an official release, McDonald said, "Throughout the editing process, I raised questions with James about the veracity of events he recounted in the book and in each instance he assured me that his account was accurate and true."

So where does this put us in relation to the issue of trust between writer, editor, and publisher? To Oprah, Talese essentially conveyed that she and her imprint had taken Frey at his word and he lied to them. McDonald's most recent statement suggests the same. Was there verification? At this point, who knows. Should there have been? As I said above, in retrospect, certainly. Will there be for the next memoirist who comes down the road? You can bet on it.

Friday, February 03, 2006

When Did Peanuts Become a Normal Ingredient of Egg Rolls?

I used to love egg rolls, and I'd have them every chance I got. I had them in various places in the U.S., and even when I spent a year in Japan as an exchange student. I'm allergic to peanuts, but egg rolls never caused me any problem--until everything changed.

I had my first peanut-tinged egg roll on a visit to Chicago a bit more than twenty years ago. I hadn't expected to find peanuts in it, so I think I ate the whole thing. However much I ate, though, I became violently ill. (The proprietors insisted that they didn't use peanuts or peanut butter, but my allergic reaction begged to differ.) I lived in Texas at the time, and when I returned home, I could still eat the egg rolls there without a problem. I later moved to Tennessee and then to Los Angeles. Although I didn't keep a chart or anything, I remember that I could mostly eat egg rolls, but peanuts were encroaching on them more and more. By about ten years ago, they were such a pervasive ingredient that I always knew I had to be careful. Tennessee, at least, is no longer safe. I was looking around the Web, and the Federal Citizen Information Center in Pueblo, Colorado, even includes egg rolls as a hidden source of peanuts on its food allergy Web page. Now that I'm back in Chicago, the origin of the scourge of peanut egg rolls in my experience, I figure I can't ever eat them.

But I live in hope. We got Chinese take out last night, and the restaurant where I bought it offers two free egg rolls with orders of $15 or more. So I got them and took a bite to test. Unfortunately, it was too large a bite, so the rest of my evening was very uncomfortable, indeed. I guess I'm off even experimenting with egg rolls for the foreseeable future.

I don't know why chefs want to put peanuts in their egg rolls, but one theory I've heard is simply the rise of Thai influence. But I have an even odder question about the whole situation. My wife loves peanuts. She pretty much enjoys them anywhere she finds them. She provides me with a good warning system--if she tastes peanuts in any food we're eating, she immediately puts me on notice. She has yet to taste peanuts in an egg roll. Even after I've had an allergic reaction and can confirm their presence, she can't detect them. So if peanuts add so little to the egg roll experience that a peanut connoisseur can't even taste them, why bother with them at all? Make egg rolls inclusive again!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Joint Chiefs Do Not Approve

Washington Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles has some heavy artillery pointed at him over a cartoon that ran on Sunday. The Joint Chiefs--yep, all of the them--wrote to complain about the cartoon that they called "beyond tasteless." Of course, intentionally or unintentionally, the Joint Chiefs completely missed the point. The soldier, a multiple amputee, is not the target. It's "Dr. Rumsfeld," who refuses to acknowledge the soldier's injuries.

Certainly the men who make up the Joint Chiefs are entitled to their opinions about the cartoon, but complaining about it en masse on official Pentagon stationary can't help but have a chilling effect on the press (and that has to be their intention, whether they'll admit it or not). The Pentagon--or the President, or any other highly placed government official--should not be treading on the First Amendment and trying to influence what appears in the newspaper.

John Aravosis has been on top of the issue. His first post on the topic includes a link to a PDF of the actual letter itself. Editor & Publisher also has coverage, and, reporting right from ground zero in the Post newsroom, Howie Kurtz has responses from Toles and editorial page editor Dave Autry.

The State of the Union as Metaphor

The Prez's State of the Union speech on Tuesday wasn't full of big ideas, but he did have a few attention-getting lines.

Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. And here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology.

. . .

Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. (Applause.) By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past. (Applause.)

That is a great goal, but is it one to which the administration actually aspires? Maybe not.

One day after President Bush vowed to reduce America's dependence on Middle East oil by cutting imports from there 75 percent by 2025, his energy secretary and national economic adviser said Wednesday that the president didn't mean it literally.

. . .

"This was purely an example," Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said.

If someone could compile a list of all the other "examples" in the State of the Union, I'd greatly appreciate it.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Guest of the Times

The New York Times subscription barrier is hiding another guest columnist. It's somebody you've heard of, Sarah Vowell, so naturally they want you to pay for the privilege of reading her. Of course, you could always look around the blogosphere for a little bit, and maybe you could find it for free. Yes, donkey o.d. makes the column available for everyone. And today Sarah's got her own state of the union for us:

The state of our union is stunned.

. . .

The state of our union? Screaming for reform. Lately there have been justifiable calls to reform the influence of Congressional lobbyists, the structure of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the publishing industry regarding the veracity of memoirs.

You know the drill. Read the whole thing.

Pazz & Jop

The Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll for 2005 is out. Not surprisingly, Kanye West got album of the year for Late Registration. He also got single of the year for "Gold Digger." (Last year's The College Dropout topped the 2004 list, which makes him the first consecutive repeater since The Clash). What is surprising is that M.I.A. gave him a run for his money. In his roundup of the list, Robert Christgau ("the Dean," in case you were wondering) tells us that this was the closest margin of victory (percentage-wise, not by vote totals) in the poll ever. With 795 music critics voting from across the country, Pazz & Jop is more of a pure consensus than even Metacritic.

A handful of Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk faves placed nicely in the albums list. Bloc Party came in at 18, Gorillaz at 21, Art Brut (still on import) at 23 (they're touring the states again--check out their dates!), Franz at 26. Over on the singles side, Gorillaz and Franz both made the Top 10, Kaiser Chiefs slid into the Top 20, and Bloc Party made the Top 25.

Christgau's essay is interesting, as he raises points about how we receive and listen to music today and speculates upon generational differences among his voters. I haven't had time to scroll through the various comments by the other participants, but if I come across anything interesting, I'll let you know. (You know what, though. With almost 800 participants, it would be nice to let us know who's who. The Internet now allows access to all 795 ballots, but there are an awful lot of names there I don't recognize. Maybe it's hidden away somewhere I haven't found it, but a quick line to identify a critic's home publication, organization, or even blog if that's where their writing primarily appears would be nice.)